Monthly Archives: June 2014


The prince handles the archaeological find, unearthed while digging through piles of books, looking for the copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.

“This– thing— it’s called a–?” {his finger makes circles in the air}…

“It’s called a rotary phone–”

“-so if we plugged this into the wall you could call someone–” {disbelieving.  This thing weighs 8 lbs.  An anvil is as likely a communication device.}

“Yes.  I spent hours on it as a teenager, talking to my boyfriend.  Right out in public, in the middle of the house.  My mom and dad could hear every word I said.”

“–oh my gosh–” {shakes head in pity}

“Have you ever heard of a party line?” {I explain this antiquity}

“Oxymoron.  Not a party…”

“You are correct.”

Remember Gumby

Just did a search for it but can’t find the Gumby episode in which Gumby has a dream about eating too many sweets and is forcefed candy from a conveyor belt and suffers distended bloat as a result.  Did I dream this?  Anyone with me?

It comes to mind as I’m thinking about the aperture through which I, an introvert, must filter sensory input.  The aperture narrows as I reach my capacity and when that happens I have to be around fewer people, less noise; I have to cross things off my ‘should do’ list and tend only to the musts.  If that’s not possible, I have sensory distended bloat, just like Gumby.  I get extremely irritable, and seek ways to check out.  I have read that this is why introverts can easily become alcoholics; alcohol blurs the edges of the aperture so the forcefeeding of input is tolerable.  Alcohol has always been an easy fix to a problem I didn’t understand, a way to make this quadrangle fit into the ellipse.  With age and understanding I have learned to say, “no, I don’t want to go.”  “No, I don’t want to be around that many people.  No, I just don’t like parties.  No, I already have one social engagement in a three day span, can’t do the second.  Another time.  Maybe.”

This week the prince was part of an awards ceremony.  His award was modest but unexpected, and as I sat there alone among other beaming parents I found a different sort of aperture dilating and shrinking crazily, like I couldn’t decide how to handle this.  As I listened to the band play “Call Me Maybe” badly, I vacillated between mentally composing the amusing anecdote and feeling the music, allowing the Hallmark-commercial-small-town-parade swell of pride and nostalgia and joy wash over me.  If I could have watched the whole ceremony alone with no regard to needing a public facade I would have sobbed with heart-squeezing exuberance.  As it played out, the vacillation continued: I was amused by the puppy dog lank and curve of the boys and girls, the trombone player jerkily reaching for the low notes, the self-consciously furtive eyeballs of the award winners, including my own, seeking the nods of parents– all of which helped me rally from the tears spilling.

It’s a struggle I struggle to understand.  I came across an interview with psychoanalyst Adam Phillips.  Dude is wicked smart:

“We all have self-cures for strong feeling. Then the self-cure becomes a problem, in the obvious sense that the problem of the alcoholic is not alcohol but sobriety. Drinking becomes a problem, but actually the problem is what’s being cured by the alcohol. By the time we’re adults, we’ve all become alcoholics. That’s to say, we’ve all evolved ways of deadening certain feelings and thoughts. One of the reasons we admire or like art, if we do, is that it reopens us in some sense–as Kafka wrote in a letter, art breaks the sea that’s frozen inside us. It reminds us of sensitivities that we might have lost at some cost.”

It can be easier to close that aperture to a pinprick.  Everything is easier if you experience it only shallowly– what fun, what a lark, isn’t that funny?  That’s how I operate, because it’s a way to kill the scary feelings of resentment and pity and despair, the equally scary feelings of optimism and desire and euphoria.   Sometimes it can be too much.

“Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.”
Jean Racine


My friend Claudia, whom I haven’t seen in a while (hey Claudia!), is among the most gracious people I know.  I have said of her and her white carpeting that one could evacuate one’s bowels on her carpet and she would rush to reassure, “oh, seriously, that happens all the time, don’t worry about it…”  And though she is lying, the sentiment is no lie: “don’t worry.”  She wants you to feel comfortable even if you embarrass yourself, even if you overstep.   But while Claudia, or any excellent host, wants you to feel at ease when she says, “please, make yourself at home,” she doesn’t really mean for you to scratch your balls and make yourself a bologna sandwich to eat on the couch before you take a nap.  What’s meant is, “within the bounds of expectations of reasonable behavior for a guest, please be as comfortable as you can be in my home.”

Who gets to define the bounds of reasonable behavior?  This is where common sense is said to be not so common.  My current annoyance:

Our cul de sac contains about thirty town homes, twenty six of which have tiny backyards.  My home has one of the four BIG yards.  Two of the homes’ yards are largely backyards, while my yard stretches largely to the right side of the house, so it appears to be a sizable gap between our connected string of homes and the next connected string.  Since we bought the home approached people in our yard who, they confess, thought it was public property.

Two weeks ago a fairly new neighbor was allowing their puppy, on a long leash, to romp in the yard.  I approached and offered a plastic bag for the lawn-warming gift the puppy surely would deposit (we have cleaned up many many such gifts over the years).  The neighbor introduced herself and waved her own bag, at the ready.  I said, “oh, that’s great, thanks so much.  I want people to feel welcome here with their dogs, but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t clean up after.”  We then chatted for a minute or two and parted.

A week later, I had started trimming weeds and hedges and I see the same puppy yards and yards into the lawn (again: “what’s common sense?”  When I walk Lola and let her peruse another’s yard, I allow only shallow access- three feet at most).  At the other end of fifteen yards of leash is a woman my age who, it turns out, is the younger woman’s mother.  Oh, and she was seated.  On the lawn.  On my grass.  While on her I-phone.  Just enjoying the sunshine.  “Hey,” I said, and smiled.  She waved, just comfortable as can be.  Scratching her balls and making a bologna sandwich.  I went over, introduced myself.  We exchanged pleasantries for a minute, this woman clearly more at ease on my lawn than I was.  I said, “hey, I’ll be mowing shortly, just wanted to give you a heads up because I don’t want you to feel I’m running you off.”  ??!!

The next time I ask them to bring the puppy over– hey waitaminute…!

That’s where I veer away from Claudia’s forgiving mindset.  Puppy people, I did not ask you over.  When I said you’re welcome here I did not mean, bring a hammock, relax, mi casa es tu casa.  Do I have to spell it out?  Your dog is welcome to evacuate his bowels on my green lawn.  You are welcome to clean it up.  And then you are welcome to leave.