Friday, April 29, 2011

Disappointments and Compensations

Shingles, the senior citizen’s version of chicken pox, is a painful malady that can pop out on the body at any time because people who have had chicken pox still carry the self-inflicting virus. We learned that when we discovered Roger’s latent virus had chosen to emerge at a time that made him contagious just as we were supposed to be getting on a plane and going to Miami to board a cruise ship for two weeks. It started as what his primary care doctor thought was a bacterial infection in his left eye. Treatment didn’t work. Over the following week it took trips to InstaCare, ER, and a specialist to finally diagnose it.

We had been planning this trip for months, looking forward to spending time with family members on an adventure we’d always remember. We are mighty disappointed to be here cooling our heels and assessing hour by hour Roger’s progress toward recovery. Don’t misunderstand—I’m also mighty glad he’s recovering, mighty glad there’s a specialist willing to see us on Easter Sunday afternoon, and a pharmacy open so we can get medication going right away, and mighty glad his vision has improved in that eye from 20/50 on Sunday to 20/30 on Wednesday. But we were both looking forward to a trip through the Panama Canal.

However, with the lesions still visible on his face, he is still considered contagious, although our doctor said in 20 years he had never seen anyone get chicken pox from someone with shingles. Since the cruise line believes it’s possible, and they make the rules, we would be barred from boarding the ship, or else Roger would be quarantined to the stateroom until the lesions were no longer visible, in about a week. Most vulnerable would be newborns and people with compromised auto-immune systems—not a lot of those people on cruise ships, but you never know.

Having purchased trip insurance, we will get a refund, and we’ll have some airline travel vouchers to use before the end of the year. So we have been consoling ourselves with an ongoing discussion of how to use this “windfall.” (And with chocolate; nothing consoles like chocolate.) We’ve decided to remodel a bathroom and take a leaf tour in upstate NY this fall. And I’ve registered for a day at the LDStorymakers conference next week.

Instead of sailing, I’m doing what I always do—writing and reading and reading and writing, and struggling with the ever-present challenges of clearing off my desk and generating some interest in cooking. Roger is puttering and medicating and sleeping and sleeping and medicating and puttering. We are both dealing with the disappointment and looking hopefully, expectantly toward compensations.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Curmudgeon’s Corner: Things I Really REALLY Hate

1. Those thin skins on peanuts that get stuck on your tongue and you can’t pick them off but you can still feel them inside your mouth.
2. Chewing gum—anytime, anywhere, in anybody’s mouth (especially people who answer the telephone in an office), on any street, under any table, on anybody’s shoe (especially mine), in anybody’s hair.
3. People who drive around with their car stereo bass volume at the “deafening” level so I can hear it inside my house at 1 a.m. when I’m otherwise alone enjoying a peaceful meditation.
4. Hangnails, especially the little ones that elude nail clippers. How DID Adam and Eve deal with that anyway?
5. People who say “Okay?” at the end of every sentence to be sure you’re following them, as if you were too much of an idiot to understand simple instructions. Close second: People who say, “Oh, uh-huh” at the end of every statement you make in a conversation, as if you somehow need to be occasionally assured that they’re still listening.
6. Slow internet connections.
7. People who friend you on Facebook just to play games.
8. Junk mail. Most of the mail I get is catalogs which go from my hand into the recycle bin. They could stop sending me those things and cut out the middle man, but it practically takes an Act of Congress to get OFF a mailing list you didn't ask to be on in the first place.
9. Interminable legal language of privacy statements that come with dismaying frequency from every company I do business with, leaving me wondering what privacy they’re protecting. One statement at the beginning of a relationship ought to be assurance enough.
10. Colonoscopy prep. Now there’s something to look forward to when you get up in the morning—self-induced diarrhea.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Fine Pestilence

Winter is the best time to be a putterbutt.

This is a word I learned from my friend Elaine, and as a serious lover of useful made-up words, I installed it in my vocabulary immediately. It means to just fool around and sort of flirt insincerely with your To Do list, that primary source of proof that you are an adult and can be trusted with Serious Responsibilities. Putterbutting is my form of Attention Deficit Disorder, a diversionary tactic to avoid tackling a task I don’t really want to do. Somehow, when I’m trapped by winter’s tricks, there’s more opportunity, knowing the task has to be done eventually, to put my trust in eventuality and allow my attention to wander shamelessly, aimlessly, toward anything, everything else. That’s putterbutting.

Being a putterbutt helps me keep a positive attitude under gray skies and in white storms. Having been born in Oregon, and raised on nuts and berries like a bear, I have an inclination to hibernate in the winter. Sleep is a putterbutt’s hobby. For that reason, I have never found winter depressing and endless – boring maybe with its frigid sameness – but I believe spring will ultimately win. The tutoring message of winter is introspection, reflective pondering, putterbutting, while the triumphant message of spring is progress, action, resurrection.

A practiced putterbutt knows the unbridled, guilt-free joy of saying No. With experience, a savvy putterbutt knows not to wear a watch or make appointments that will certainly be sabotaged by motivated forgetting.

A putterbutt has an intimate knowledge of procrastination, which can be justified and rationalized despite an inbred work ethic and overgrown sense of duty. Slow-paced low-metabolism winter days with short daylight hours are perfect for putterbutting. Stuck with mostly indoor activities chokingly dull in any season – things like cleaning out drawers and closets, updating the address book, making an inventory of the food storage – I am desperate for interesting alternatives. Being a putterbutt helps me deny the existence of those chores, firm in my conviction that if ignored long enough, they’ll either disappear or become irrelevant. There are plenty of other days when I can prove I’m worthy of my over-21 privileges.

Putterbutting is a proud occupation for one or two, but it’s too personal to be a group activity. It is conducted by the rules of Whatever, guided only by whim and whimsy, curiosity and quizzical wonder. A dedicated putterbutt can spend hours reading greeting cards in the Hallmark store and never buy one, search through bottomless bins of Kmart clearance items she doesn’t need and won’t buy anyway, wander pointlessly the aisles of thrift stores, all motivated only by Because It’s There.

For a putterbutt all the world’s a museum, opening life to the wonders of serendipity, the unexpected discovery of delightful surprises, sweet moments that make me smile or possibly even giggle, moments that will contribute to sparkling conversation later in the telling. Things discovered serendipitously are like lovely, intriguing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that may fit together sometime in the distant future, but until they do, can be appreciated now for their individuality.

But I digress, and that’s what makes me a champion putterbutt. Wandering from place to place around the house, or the town, noticing details, nuances, subtleties, shades of differences, I ponder, dissect, deconstruct and reconfigure. I take the leash off my imagination. I ramble over unnumbered unscheduled detours to What If and Hmm. I take pleasure in the vistas on the hill above Maybe Some Day, and make mental reservations to return when I can stay longer.

An occasional day spent in putterbutt limbo can be most satisfying. It is “wasted” only if I allow guilt to intrude with its shameful Should Haves and imperative Oughts who come shaking their scolding fingers dangerously near my sense of responsibility. There will always be other days ripe for taking charge like an adult and rampaging headlong through the To Do list, masterfully checking off jobs as if they won’t have to be done over again in another week or two.

Putterbutting has a cleansing effect, decontaminating the soul from the anxiety that keeps it earthbound on tooth-gritting deadline days. At the end of a long delicious putterbutt day, not much has been checked off the To Do list, but I’ve been everywhere and thought everything and put all the problems in perspective.

If there were some magic elixir that would cure my seasonal bouts with putterbutting, I would tear up the prescription. I look forward to the appearance of this welcome coping mechanism every winter, my capitulation to the animal hibernation instinct. It’s a disorder that doesn’t strike very often, but when it does, I plan to indulge completely. I refuse to be cured of this fine pestilence.
(essay written 2005, revised 2009)