Sports and Other Oddities

Girls were just beginning to be encouraged to play sports in the late 1960s. I had half athletic genes from my Dad, but my mother broke her collar bone trying to execute a forward roll during high school gym class. It was gym class, not P.E., and the teacher was the gym teacher, of course. Today, most athletic teachers hate the term “gym.” I just hate the whole subject. Everything we did was prescribed for us, and thank goodness the sexes were separated in high school.

In the fall, we played softball. I couldn’t figure out if I was a leftie or a rightie, because no one had taught me how to hold the bat until the gym teacher yelled at me to use my dominant hand. (“No, Sonya, the other side of the base!”) The first time my bat connected with the ball, I threw the bat and got tossed out of the game. I didn’t do it on purpose. I was just so surprised I hit something! Being in the outfield was worse. We didn’t have gloves to catch the balls flying everywhere, and I backed away from the falling balls instead of trying to catch them. It must have been hilarious to watch me as I cowered down when a softball started to descend near me.

It’s funny now, but I still stay away from flying softballs and other objects. Even in a room, if someone yells, “Here! Catch!” I hold my hands out uselessly. Sometimes I get lucky enough to catch it with my body. It’s not that I think catching things is a required skill in life. I just remember the hoots of laughter (even the gym teacher) when I couldn’t manage the ball.

Guess who was picked last for gym teams.

I think if I had made up my mind to catch the ball, I could have done it, but my head said, “You idiot! What are you trying to do? Be a baseball player?” It was impossible.

**********

There was something I was good at in gym class: square dancing. I swung my partner and do-si-do’d all over the gym floor. I loved it; as far as I was concerned, we could have done that all year. My secret desire to take dancing lessons had come true! Unfortunately, square dancing lasted only a few short weeks, and then the boys went back to their side of the gym, and the girls to theirs. It would be mid-winter by then, and I knew what was coming next: gymnastics.

In the next gym class, the floor would be outfitted with a balance beam, trampoline, uneven bars, and something the teachers called a “horse.” I had watched the Olympics, so I knew how athletes were supposed to use this equipment. We were beginners, but there were always a few girls in my class every year who were good at everything. Everything. And they knew it.

“Please, Miss Loren, please! Can I show how to do a cartwheel and split?”

“Well, Jenny, you may, but remember girls, not everyone can do this!”

And with that caveat, Jenny would do cartwheels and handsprings and double forward rolls and end in a split that earned her the applause and attention she sought. I cowered in the corner and prayed for my period to start and last for several weeks so I could get out of gymnastics. It never worked.

 

Spirits and Redecoration

I’m not seeing painting today! I am living in a house that is over 100 years old, and the previous owner just slapped some neutral paint on everything! Matte paint on walls? Seriously? “Oh well,”  he said, “I figured you would want to change to your own colors.”

Yes, actually I do. But there is so much woodwork. Oh dear, now I hear my Grandpa Irvin whispering in my ear–“Just get it done!”

Speaking of ghosts, I am feeling more energy in the house now that I have begun painting and moving things around. I am a fan of “Ghost Hunters,” and I remember they would tell clients that redecoration unsettles the ghosts. Maybe you don’t believe in that stuff and nonsense, so I will try to get some work done, and then tell you some encounters I had when I worked at a 250 year old girls’ school. Stay tuned.

It’s a Quiet July Fourth

But that’s okay. It’s hot, but I am inside, cool and comfortable. I can write anything I want to on this blog, and there is no “Big Brother” censoring me. I can protest the government. I can say how I feel about anything going on in the United States (and there’s plenty). Or, I can choose to not say anything.

Choosing to say nothing, though is a slippery slope for me. It implies that I agree with the status quo, and I am reminded of the wars, especially Vietnam. I was pretty naive during that war, even though I remember watching it on the news at dinner. Jungles and body counts. But then came something that caught my attention: a massacre at My Lai, a mass murder of people, including children and babies. Who could do such a horrible thing, I wondered? And I began paying attention. People were protesting; some fled to Canada. Was the United States going down? Were we a bad country now?

I tried to ask my parents to explain this war, but it was hard for them. Read the newspapers, they said, and I did. There was no internet, no 24-hour news feed, so I read the daily papers and Time and Newsweek. I still didn’t really understand it, so I watched for Vietnam to end.

It did, very eventually. But the men and women who had served, many of them drafted, did not receive the honor and attention they deserved. It was as though Vietnam was a bad word, and since they had participated, they were bad, too. Or maybe people were too embarrassed to talk about it. I did not know anyone who had personally been in ‘Nam, but I watched the big wigs, the military from a strangely-shaped building called The Pentagon. None of them said who won or lost the war, but I could see the truth, as I watched people running away from the jungles to get home.

Did it matter that we lost? Would it have mattered if we had won? What would have been our prize? Door Number One or Door Number Two?

After Vietnam, my husband served in the Navy and retired. My son will be retiring from the Navy in November. I thank them for their service because no matter what they saw or did, some of it was bad, and I am proud of them.

Moreover, on this 2018 July Fourth, I would like to thank the Vietnam vets, the ones who did not come home to a hero’s welcome, even though they deserved one. Thank you for your service. I remember you.

Today is the Birthday I Don’t Want

I know. Birthdays are inevitable, and I just turned 63 today. This year is significant for me because my grandma Lilly died at 63, and I keep thinking about her. I was twelve years old when she died very suddenly, but I thought her age was old. I was young, still a kid with a lot of life to face ahead of me, and 63 sounded a world, a universe away from where I stood. I was just beginning to feel the signs of depression apart from Lilly’s death, and four years later, I would be in the grip of an illness, no one could either define nor understand. Including me.

I wonder if Lilly hadn’t died then, would I still have had depression tighten its tentacles around my brain? Or not? That’s not really fair. No one really knows why some people contract illnesses, especially mental ones. And I know it is normal to be depressed at times in our lives and that sadness is inevitable. It’s just that the depression I have is not “sadness.” It’s part of my life, my view on the world. Some days I can see pretty, and some days I cannot. I’m not writing for anyone to feel sorry for me. In fact, I could have had much worse happen to my brain.

Let me tell you about a student I had who always struggled to learn but tried anyway. I used to work with him on almost every subject, every school day. But then, one day, he walked into my office to work, and he was different. He spoke differently, and it was almost as if his personality had changed. As I talked with him, I realized something was very wrong. And then he looked me straight in the eye and said,

“Miss, you know when I told you I talk to God?”

“Yes,”

“Well, now I am God!”

I tried to stay calm. It was as though all the air had been sucked out of that little room when he said that. I don’t remember what I said next, but I tried to continue his English lesson as usual. I thought he was joking around, but the next day, he told me again, this time, leaning back in his seat, “Miss, I am God.”

Very soon, the counselors got involved and everyone else who deals with this sort of thing in the school pipeline. In a few days, we got a verdict.

Schizophrenia.

That’s worse than depression. I think.

 

Taking Criticism

I’m in a writing workshop where online classmates and I will “exchange papers,” and try to critique them fairly. We are all grad students, but, I swear, there is always, always, someone who tries to be the English teacher, which is ridiculous because we are all English teachers. I usually struggle to find suggestions for the writer because this is a group of very good, but unpublished writers.

There are times, though, when the criticism stings a bit.

For example, I had a screenwriting class, and during the workshop, the professor and several students suggested I take out the middle of the play, put it at the beginning, and change the story arc of two main characters.

“Wait a minute,” I thought, “that changes them completely!”

But then, I remembered how, years and years ago (black and white tv, and no remotes), I was sitting in a feature writing workshop, cringing at the slight criticism of a nonfiction piece I had written. Like an idiot, I left the room crying and refused to make the changes.

I couldn’t take the criticism. I couldn’t take any criticism. My mother used to call me “thin-skinned,” and that is true, to a point. Part of my problem was trying to be perfect, without realizing how Don Quixote that was! No one’s perfect. But, sometimes, people who know what they are doing help you get closer to it.

Return with me to that screenplay, years later. Did I change it? Yes. And the professor said he never had a student follow his advice the way I did. Did I cringe a bit? Yes, of course, but I learned a long time ago to listen to people who criticize fairly and have your best interests at heart.

That’s all. I changed the play because I didn’t take the criticism personally. I used it to make my writing better. For the record, I earned an “A.” An “A” for listening and putting my ego in a drawer for a change.

Evenings

I have liked evenings best since I was in college the first time. So a while ago. So why? I’m a claustrophobic introvert, so it’s not the partying. It’s the closing down part of the day. I have gotten through another one. And some days are just that. Getting Through. In the evening I can let down my defenses, the ones I wear for protection…oh about that. I learned as a little girl that I had to hide my depression, and I didn’t even know that’s what it was. To be fair, most people didn’t. Nonetheless, people didn’t ask questions or look at me funny if I kept quiet and pretended to be like everyone else.

So, evenings are best. I can breathe deeply and tell myself to get some sleep. Another sunrise is coming.

Mornings

Getting out of bed is hard for everyone. Some of us are day people and some are night people, and some fall somewhere in the middle. With depression, I slipped from being as up in the early morning person to someone who can drop onto any sofa or chair and sleep anytime. Too much anytime. I use sleep to hide away from my Bad Critic, (that’s what I finally named my depression), and I picture him as some kind of jelly-like creature who attaches to the part of my brain to prevent my real psyche from coming clear.

So, mornings are a groan. When I’m working, as I am currently, I literally have to say to myself over and over, “Get up. get up, get up, get up” until I throw back the covers and put feet on the floor. throwing back the covers doesn’t count as getting up. Feet on the floor does. Then, there are the cats, and thank goodness they want to be fed with absolutely no concern for me because once I have my feet on the floor they will not let up on me until I head downstairs to feed them. Then once I have the coffee brewing, I’m usually good. Although, I could just as easily go right back to sleep because once the cats are fed, they will curl up with me again, purring and sleeping the day away.

If you are a normal person, this whole rigamarole probably sounds ridiculous! Just get up, woman, right? It doesn’t work that way for me, and I wonder if there are other people out there who have to do the same thing.

Darkness is another matter.