This past week was pretty quiet around my house. I was laid low by some wicked back problems, the kind that make you want to cry after a half hour of normal activities, like cooking dinner or cleaning the house. With the exception of doing my weekly contract work, I kept everything in slow motion, none of my usual running around, no exercising, minimal yard work, just basically a slug. Not the kind of week I enjoy at all, but necessary given my hunched over status.
So I was in need of a lot of home entertainment, which was unfortunate, because we have reached that point in the year where most of the regular TV shows have ended their season’s run, and all that’s showing in prime time are reality and talent contest shows, neither of which I can stomach. Game of Thrones, my current favorite show, took the week off. My Netflix wasn’t providing anything exciting either, not sure why I received National Treasure, Book of Secrets this week when there were about 25 more desired films in my queue.
Of course I read. This week I tore through a wonderful new book, by Ruth Reichl. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since she was the food editor at the L.A. Times, years ago. I followed her career as she became the editor in chief at Gourmet Magazine, and have greatly enjoyed the memoirs she has written. The aptly named Delicious! is her first novel, and it’s completely charming. The book is a delightful combination love story/family drama/mystery/history with enough food porn thrown in to keep me famished as I was reading it. It’s a fun summer read, and I was sorry when I reached the final page.
I can only read so much, especially after spending most of the day working at my computer. In the evenings, I needed to chill out with something to watch, so I checked Turner Classic Movies to see if there was anything I wanted to catch, and I hit the jackpot. One of my favorite child actresses of all time was Margaret O’Brian. She was kind of the opposite of Shirley Temple, who was her contemporary, and who I also adored. Margaret was a more serious child, with her thin, sensitive little face, and she was famous for her ability to cry, heartbreakingly, on screen. You may remember her from Meet Me in St. Louis, as the winsome little Tootie. Or perhaps you have seen The Canterville Ghost, where she kept equal pace with the wonderful Charles Laughton.
This week TCM was showing two O’Brian movies I had never heard of. The first turned out to be her first starring role, in the tremendously overwrought and schmaltzy, A Journey for Margaret. This film, made in 1942, costarred Robert Young, he of Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby fame. The plot was predictable. Young played a shell shocked reporter during the London blitz. His wife lost her baby in a bombing and has been told she will never be able to have another child. Young goes to do a story at an orphanage, and who should be brought in, as a traumatized orphan, but our little Margaret. And within 5 minutes of her first appearance, she provides the hysterical crying scene we’ve come to know and love. Awesome! And what do you think happens? Is it possible this weary childless reporter will fall in love with our tear stained orphan? Is it possible there will be a happy ending? I don’t want to ruin it for you…but, yes.
The next O’Brian movie was slightly less saccharinely sweet, but not by much. This one, from 1944, was called Music for Millions, and Margaret got top billing, over June Allyson and Jimmy Durante. The plot was odd. Margaret plays another little orphan, named Mike, this one with an older sister, Barbara (Allyson) who is pregnant, a war bride, and who plays the bass in a traveling orchestra! Okay! The orchestra is made up mostly of women since the men are all away fighting in the war. The ladies band together to help Barbara hide Mike from their strict landlady, lots of hilarious hijinks there, with Mike constantly being shoved under beds, into closets, and of course, in to the bass case. Then things take a more serious, if convoluted turn. Babs hasn’t heard from her soldier hubby in months and fears the worst. She is tragically sad, although our precious Mike does her best to cheer her up. The gal pals intercept a telegram from the war office, we don’t know what it says, but obviously the news isn’t good. So, they decide to keep it from Barbara until after she gives birth. Good idea, Ladies!
To further complicate things, the duplicitous chicks bribe a shifty uncle of one of the girls to draft a letter, ostensibly from hubby to Babs, letting her know that he’s A-Okay. Sure, that’s an excellent plan, lull her into a false sense of hope until she drops the bambino, and then let her know she’s a widow. So Barbara goes into labor, Mike is worried, and wait, it’s time for her to have that famous crying scene. Hurray! She really can wail! Jimmy Durante comforts her, and the ladies go off to play in the orchestra. The baby is born, everyone is happy, but secretly sad, since the child will be fatherless. Except…the uncle never wrote the letter! The letter Barbara received from her hubs, telling her that he had been missing in action but now was found, is real! The baby has a papa, Barbara has a living husband, little Mike can stop crying and all is well with the world.
If you do have any interest in seeing the films of Margaret O’Brian, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting with these two, but corny as they were, they were still kind of fun. They kept me entertained for two nights, and for two hours at a time, I forgot about my aching back. But I think I may need something a little more contemporary for my next viewing. Thankfully, I never sent back National Treasure, Book of Secrets, so I’m good.
The end, for now
I was recently asked to provide a few lines about myself for a biography, and I was completely stumped. When you meet someone new, what’s the first thing they generally ask, as they try to break the ice? So, what do you do? And if you do nothing, does that mean you are nothing?
I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot lately. I recently read a lovely book, called The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer. It originally caught my attention because it’s about a group of people who meet as talented teens, at an arts camp. Their friendship spans decades, but as some of them go on to great fame and fortune, while others lead a more grounded existence, the question of self-identity, potential, lost and achieved, and how those ideas affect relationships all come into play.
It was easy to relate to the characters in the book, especially at the precocious teen level. I also grew up with an extremely talented and gifted set of friends, and many of those people are still close friends today. Watching some of these friends achieve their dreams, while others have floundered, and still others have course corrected and found new roads to travel down, all had me wondering what really makes for a happy life. I don’t think it’s fame and fortune, the people who I see that achieve these things don’t seem particularly happier than anyone else. In fact, I lost one of the people closest to me when they finally achieved these things. Not because I could no longer relate to them, but because their values had changed so dearly, they could no longer relate to me.
I made a mistake in my life, the mistake of defining my worth with my work. While I’ve certainly never been a mega success, I was proud of what I had achieved career wise. I was able to support myself quite comfortably and completely independently. I had bought my first house while still in my thirties; I had a healthy retirement income well under way. I was a leader, a boss, a manager, a director. I was proud of my accomplishments, while always remaining grateful for the people and opportunities that brought me to them.
And now, now, I am none of those things. I’m also not a wife, a partner or a mother, additional definitions that shape so many of those close to me. I honestly don’t know what I am anymore, but I know it’s wrong and backwards to think I won’t have that answer until I find my next job. I have to figure this out, and be more than what my business card tells me I am.
Who am I? I’m a daughter, a sister, a friend. What do I do? I live; I love my friends and family. Fiercely, I protect those I care about. I keep a roof over my head by any means. I think, I dream, I hope. Sometimes I cry bitter tears of fear or sorrow. Far more often, I laugh. I worry, far too much. I sing, I dance, I write. I think, I dream, I hope. I try. And I never stop trying.
Will that work for my biography? Probably not. Does it tell you who I am? Maybe, a little. This isn’t one of those weeks where I have things wrapped up neatly in a bow. It took me a lifetime to get to this place in the road, until I too saw a need to course correct and find a new road to travel. And I don’t have a map, and I don’t know where it’s all going to lead. I’m just going to keep trying, and keep going, and hopefully, keep growing, until I get there. So if you see me on the way, please don’t ask me what I do. Just tell me you’re happy to see me.
The end, for now
I know weird things. Totally useless pieces of information, randomly acquired. For instance, the other night I was flipping channels, just as the final Jeopardy question was asked. “Opened in 2012, the Belfast museum seen here commemorates this, also constructed there.” Without missing a beat, in a sort of odd, Rainman like way, I answered “the Titanic, what is the Titanic?” And I was right.
And then I laughed, because I have never been to Belfast or even heard of the museum. But because I like to know about weird things, I had watched a special once on the building of the Titanic, and remembered it had been built in Belfast. Plus the quick shot of the museum they showed looked like a ship. Voila.
Before you think I am bragging about this talent, let me assure you, I am not. I am severely deficient in enough other areas to keep pride at bay. For example, I have lived in my house for almost ten years and I still haven’t mastered how to program the automatic sprinklers. There’s even instructions glued to the system, but when I look at them, they may as well be in another language. The same issue applies to the heated floors in my bathroom, installed by the previous owner. They are heated winter and summer, because I have no idea how to adjust the controls.
Even worse, I am exceptionally nonobservant, a sort of curly headed Mr. Magoo. I have a stationary bike, which I have owned for years and ride for a minimum of 120 minutes a week. For months I have been complaining that the bike had somehow gotten stuck in the wrong position, and that it was exacerbating my knee problem. So, being the wonderful friend that she is, Kerry stopped by last weekend with some WD-40, and her muscles, to help me straighten it out. Only to point out to me the solid metal bar that keeps the bike locked in position, and does not allow for it to be adjusted. So, the bike is in the same exact position it’s always been in. Scary!
Now, before you start planning a telethon for me, let’s get back to my heightened knowledge of the useless. Did you know the name of the cottage Eleanor Roosevelt built, so she could enjoy time away with her lady friends? I do. It’s called Val-Kill (no relation to Val Kilmer). Did you know the dot over the letter “I” is called a tittle? Does it make you titter?
Did you know Buffalo Wings were made for the first time at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY? Well, now you do! And here’s one of my favorites, especially since it relates to one of my favorite people. Did you know the name Wendy “allegedly” originated with J.M. Barrie’s Wendy Darling, she of Peter Pan fame? Supposedly (there is controversy about this one), Wendy was never used as a first name prior to publication of that book, although there is some lore that it is a derivative of Gwendolyn or Guinevere.
Now, don’t you like knowing all of these completely unimportant things? Aren’t you just itching to go to your next cocktail party and casually mention that there are no clocks in Las Vegas casinos. At least not in public gambling areas because they don’t want you to know how long you’ve been there, throwing your hard earned money away.
Knowing all of these silly little nuggets of information doesn’t make me smarter. And I’m by no means a know-it-all, thank goodness. I mean, who likes a know-it-all? I’m more of a know-it-sometimes-especially-if-it’s-random-and-obscure. So, if you want to know when World War 2 officially started in Europe, or some other really important historical fact, look it up or better yet, call my dad. But if you ever want to know who Jennifer Anniston’s godfather was (Telly Savalas) or if Duncan Hines was a real person (he was), and your iPad, laptop, cell phone and desk top are on the fritz, give me a holler. I might just be able to help you out.
The end, for now
I love candy! More than I should. More than you know. I love it a lot. A LOT! Not chocolate, necessarily, although I’m not going to turn my perky little nose up at a nice piece of See’s, preferably dark with caramel. Or a Bordeaux. This is described on the See’s website as “a heavenly blend of creamy brown sugar covered in rich, dark chocolate and decorated with chocolate rice.” I mean, who would refuse that? Not me, that’s who would not!
I believe my love of candy to be hereditary. My Grandma Julia, may she rest in peace, was also a candy fiend. Better yet, when she was a young woman, she worked in a candy factory! Imagine the wonder and delight of little Kathi, leaning on Grandma’s knee, listening to the stories of the candy factory.
Like many things I have become obsessed with through the years, for instance, the whereabouts of Amelia Earhart, chicken wings, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, and sandwiches, my candy knowledge ranking cannot really be considered amateur status. I probably would not be allowed to compete in the candy Olympics; it wouldn’t be fair to the other contestants. I can name 47 different kinds of candy within three minutes. I know this, because for the sake of scientific research, I just set my timer for three minutes and listed candy on an excel spreadsheet. It started, oddly enough, with Zots and ended with Mary Janes. Not the kind you smoke, the delicious little peanut butter chews.
I like chocolate well enough, the darker the better. But offer me a whole box of See’s or a roll of lifesavers, and I might have a hard choice to make. Offer me a box of See’s or a bag of red licorice wheels, and I’m going with the wheels.
I don’t especially like Jelly Bellys but I will eat them if I have to. If you’re wondering to yourself, why would she “have” to eat Jelly Bellys, well, I’ll tell you. For Christmas each year, my bff, let’s see, this week we’ll call her Sherry, we exchange stockings. We’ve been doing this for decades now, and it’s one of my most favorite things about Christmas. These aren’t just trivial stockings, we shop for them all year, and they are filled with wondrous things, like candles and foot balm and boxing nuns and goofy coasters. I always get Sherry shortbread, because she loves it. And she always gets me candy. Lots of candy!
But although Sherry is an awesome best friend, sometimes there’s a miss on the candy selection. Like the year she gave me a big ole hunking bag of Jelly Bellys. Which I then had to eat. See? Question asked and answered. But now, to avoid such mishaps, I give Sherry clear information in advance on candy purchasing options.
Here’s the list I have given her the last few years:
• Papabubble hard candy, the Cadillac of hard candy. Handmade and ridiculously expensive. But Christmas only comes once a year, right? If the budget won’t stretch to Papabubble, any hard candy is very welcome. Hard candy is my favorite kind of all candy. Which may account for my expensive relationship with my dentist.
• Licorice, red. Not soft, not Aussie. Whips and wheels, preferably. Or licorice pipes. Yum!
• Salt water taffy, from Atlantic City, not Chicago. Remember, I said I wasn’t an amateur.
• Salted caramels.
• Zots or Napoleons. Fizzers, which are like fizzy smarties, but you can’t find them anymore. Refreshers, which have to be ordered from England (like large Fizzers, they are DELICIOUS!).
I could, obviously, go on. But moderation in all things is always best. And while I have been known, in the distant past, to eat a whole roll of lifesavers in one sitting, these days I am much more prudent with my candy consumption. Too much sugar isn’t good for anyone, and I’m certainly not advocating for an all you can eat philosophy. But one little piece at a time, candy is just dandy!
The end, for now
It’s coming up on a year since the day I was informed at work that my presence was no longer required. Just to be clear on that, a layoff. It’s business, and it happens. I don’t spend too much time dwelling on that, because I don’t think it’s healthy. But with the anniversary looming, it’s hard not to think about where I’ve been, and wonder where I’m going.
It’s coming up on a year since I have been able to collaborate with colleagues, mentor employees, participate in group brainstorming sessions. It’s coming up on a year since I have been compensated for writing and editing. It’s coming up on a year since I felt valued and recognized for my contributions.
But, it’s coming up on a year since I have had to wake early in the morning, drive in traffic to an office, sit in endless meetings that generally accomplished nothing, feel stymied by office politics and frustrated by stalled opportunities. It’s coming up on a year since I have driven home, stressed and exhausted, unable to leave the problems of the day behind. It’s coming up on a year since I have had my blackberry by my side during weekday evenings, so I would be sure to catch any request that might come in, regardless of the hour.
If you had asked me a year ago if I could survive a year without a steady job, I would have answered no. But here I am. If you had asked me a year ago if I would have been able to mentally and emotionally cope if I went a year without a steady job, I may have been doubtful. But here I am.
Some things have been really hard. I admit, I worry all the time, especially about finances. Since my severance ran out, I’ve had to survive by going through my savings, and now, my retirement funds. I joke that I will have to die early, because there will be no money left for my old age. And I’m only partially kidding. Thankfully, I have been able to obtain contract work, and while I can’t earn enough through that to fully support my non-extravagant but heavily mortgaged life, it definitely helps.
I miss going to an office. I miss working for a company that I believed in. I miss my coworkers, especially those who also became good friends. I miss wearing business clothes. I miss lunch in the fancy schmancy cafeteria. I miss being in the midst of the health care reform debate. I miss being employed. It’s a state of grace.
But on a day to day basis, in spite of all the worry, and missing things, I still feel very lucky. Mortgaged or not, there’s a roof over my head. I haven’t gone hungry. I won’t go homeless. In many ways, I have less stress than I did before. I have time to think, to write.
Earlier this week, I read a blog post written by Marc Chernoff, entitled “8 Things to Remember When Everything Goes Wrong.” It was a very inspiring and encouraging post. The part that resonated the most for me was this, “Everything in life is temporary. Every time it rains, it stops raining. Every time you get hurt, you heal.”
That echoes something I’ve been saying to myself for the last year. This is just a period of time. At some point, it will end, I’ll find my next, great job and things will change. A year goes by, maybe more. So, I’ll keep moving forward, maybe not on the path I thought I was supposed to travel, but forward all the same. It’s coming up on a year, and I’m still here.