The nice folks at the Los Angeles Review of Books asked me if I could write a little essay about mini golf. “I can give you twelve,” I said, because I was feeling glib, and also, feeling the effects of a particularly mysterious beverage at the rooftop party in downtown Los Angeles that evening in April.
In any case, it was fun to write about Tom Thumb again. You can read it here!
And I apologize for not blogging during this month, but it’s been strangely busy for a summer month. When we looked at the calendar we realized that there have been only 15 days in the whole month of June when we have been home and not having house-guests. I mean, it’s been great fun (super fun to have Tim’s daughters here!). But blogging just, you know, doesn’t compete with sitting outside with loved ones on a warm summer evening, laughing at stories we tell each other, and eating some lovely berry dessert…. 🙂
I also taught a weekend class at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival on “Creativity: The Magic and Mystery of it All.” It was really fun! And I hope it inspired the students, because to be honest, it inspired me. I’ve been writing better and more easily since I taught the class. Huzzah, as they say.
No, Norway did not win the Eurovision Song Contest this week, and yet we celebrate. In this town where I live, we celebrate Syttende Mai (after first learning how to pronounce it.) Syttende Mai is kind of like the 4th of July of Norway, or so we tell each other, because honestly we don’t really know anything more. But it’s very happy, and the kids get out of school (presumably) because the highlight of the day is the Children’s Parade at 1pm. And then you can watch the Nordic Dancers perform. They do traditional Norwegian dances while dressed in traditional costume, you know, waltzes, polkas, stuff like that. There are two groups, probably 50 kids in each, (one of 10th graders, and one of 6th graders).
They audition a new group every five years, exactly. When I was a kid I desperately wanted to be in the Nordic Dancers, but missed out. They were only taking kids born in the grade behind me.
Consider this: I live in a town where both girls and boys are so eager to dance in costume in the street that they have to limit who is even allowed to audition. ! And it’s been going on that way since the mid-1960s. To audition the child has to be in the exact grade of school for that year’s audition — usually when they are in 3rd grade, I believe. Then they commit to doing it for the next umpteen years, until they are booted out, tearful and holding hands, when they graduate at age 18.
In this town, it is very competitive to get into the Nordic Dancers. The kids in it get the chance to go to Norway to perform, but that doesn’t really explain all of it. They dance! In wool costumes! When it’s 90 degrees in the summertime! Last year one friend of mine told me she had overheard other parents actually planning the birth of their next child so that he/she would be born in a year when they would be assembling the next group of Nordic Dancers. This town is like that. (Did I mention that last year everyone in town danced the World’s Largest Schottische on main street, including Tim and me? With 1880 people? Doing one dance together to the music of a live folk band, and it broke the Guiness World Book of Records (who may not have even known what the schottische even was?) And that the average age of the people dancing was about 18 years old, because in this town, the teenagers love, love, love to schottische?
So, Happy Sittende Mai. We don’t have green beer like St. Pattrick’s Day or margaritas like Cinco de Mayo. Um, so, all you really get to do is probably dance a bit of a schottische or waltz on your back deck while you are grilling your hamburgers… which is what we’ll probably be doing.
(Actually, I love the schottische.)
I was reading “Dear Abby” this morning, and by admitting that I am telling you in part that I am turning into my mother. She reads “Dear Abby.” Always has. And I can’t even tell you how it is I got started reading it daily, but it might have something to do with the fact that I read it in the morning when I really should be doing something else, but am desperately searching for things on the computer to look at so that I can delay doing the thing I’m supposed to be doing. I think that’s why the internet was invented anyway, as a beautiful and colorful time-waster, or so it appears on an average Thursday morning.
And “Dear Abby” is entertaining, I suppose, although I can’t even explain why that is. Today there were people asking for advice on rather… uh… benign questions. “I have had the same hairdresser for the last fifteen years. Should I tell her that it bothers me when she takes phone calls while she cuts my hair?” “Should I ask my wife a question about her personal life?”
The answer is of course: Duh. Or, as I would put it, “What’s wrong with you? Of course you can say that! Speak up!” But this is why I am not an advice columnist because you have to be nice to people, rather than blurt out the obvious, which is something I tend to do.
Which has me thinking… if you read “Dear Abby” you’d get a much different impression of Americans than you might otherwise, if instead you read the news, or perhaps angry people’s comments on the news, which in some circles substitutes for news.
If you want to know how much the U.S. is not a nation of fierce warriors, just look at the advice column. Today it features someone who needs a nudge to tell their hairdresser not to take phone calls during the haircut. It seems to me that if you need encouragement to tell your hairdresser not to take phone calls, then 1) your life is pretty darn sweet, because that is a helluva non-problem, that’s what I say, and 2) what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just say what you believe?
People are less assertive than they should be. They should consider teaching assertiveness in school, but then schoolteachers would have to deal with a classroom of assertive kids (and they already have their hands full). Perhaps assertiveness should be taught in after-school classes. You know, instead of how to kick the soccer ball, you learn how to say, “I can’t take it when you make me shop for Christmas sweaters.”
I think people around the world think of Americans as a nation of bullies, and if you listen to any randomly chosen politician, you’d have good reason. But the rest of us are standing at the glass case of an ice cream store finding it difficult to select a flavor, and it’s so difficult, that we ask for a sample first, and the ice cream scooper-people are so accustomed to this that they have purchased a bucket of special little spoon-thingies solely for the purpose of giving you a taste sample—there is an industry that manufactures little spoon-things just for this purpose. Apparently Americans find it nearly impossible to select a flavor of something that’s going to be delicious either way.
(When I’ve purchased ice cream in Europe I don’t recall being offered a “taste first.”)
But back to the North Koreans. Apparently their dear leader has been telling them that the U.S. is at war with them. I read in Wired magazine that there are some westerners who risk their lives to smuggle in memory sticks to North Korea containing American television shows, with the idea that American Housewives (or whatever it’s called) will change people’s attitudes about life in the U.S., will let them know that we are not angry people, but instead, perhaps self-indulgent people who are worry about things like about diets and nail polish. (Actually, I’ve never watched the show so I have no idea what the people talk about.)
But I have a better idea. If you want to let people know how non-aggressive we really are, that we are not warriors, but instead kind of a race of passive and doughy people, send them columns of “Dear Abby.” Send them footage from an ice cream parlor where people are wringing their hands between “Zanzibar chocolate” and “cappuccino with chips.” (Okay, that was me.)
An accordion has a bend in the middle. Okay, a number of bends. So many in fact that the word accordion has become a verb – which is quite an accomplishment, if you ask me, and you haven’t but I’m saying so anyway. “To accordion” means to fold up like an accordion, in pleats. Which is, coincidentally, what has happened to my back.
Well, officially my back is not in pleats, but that is how it feels. I injured it, I suppose you could say. This past Sunday, while we were canoeing the lovely (but don’t tell anyone) Upper Iowa River, we made it a job/task/fun thing to do, to pick up discarded cans along the way. It was the day after the 4th of July, and you know, some people had been celebrating. And a certain percentage of those people celebrating did so in a consume-a-beverage sort of way, and a percentage of those people left their cans behind like so much puffs of firework smoke. So, while we went down the river, husband and I paddled to the shore on occasion to pick up a shiny metal can, or what was left of one, and throw it in the canoe. And then pushing backwards, well, I fell backwards. One time. Which is all it took. I feel completely off my seat to sit on the floor of the canoe behind me, after first impacting the crossbar. Oooph. Actually, I’m pretty sure I said a few words that might better placed in italics, or is it quotation marks? When you don’t have a copyeditor looking over your shoulder, you are left to add emphasis in any way you like. So I will tell you that at this particular moment, when my shoulder blades impacted the metal crosspiece behind me, I added a lot of emphasis.
I couldn’t paddle the canoe the rest of the way, so for an hour and a half I just sort of lazily posed with an oar in one hand while the bald eagles flew overhead and my husband, sitting in the back, paddled us home.
Since that time, my back has improved. For example, I am able to turn over in bed – without emphasis. But I am skipping yoga class tonight, and wasn’t able to run today. (Did you know I am “experimenting” with running? Emphasis intentional. ) It’s been four days, and my upper back is less painful than it was, but I do feel a bit like an accordion. And I own an accordion and sometimes threaten to play one in public so I know what I’m talking about… or pretend to on occasion.
Anyway, here is a picture of our lovely river. I didn’t take this picture because I don’t bring a camera with me on the river for the reason that 1) our canoe leaks and everything in the boat at some point becomes “one” with the water. And 2) I don’t want to get obsessed with trying to take a picture of the bald eagles and herons and would prefer to just enjoy them. (And at this point I will tell you that while I sat bolt upright in the canoe, semi-wincing with pain, we heard the screeches of a juvenile eagle and then saw it with its mom or dad on the edge of the nest as we floated underneath. Breathtaking. I mean, these eagles are really awesome and were such an amazing choice as the official bird of these United States. Happy 4th of July! And Yay, bald eagles. (Not so “yay” to the discarded cans.)
There are so many birds out here in the woods that I put earplugs in so I can sleep past dawn every morning. I do–it just can be so deafeningly loud. And one bird just tried to come inside. There’s a screen on this window, but he fluttered around to check it out.
“What are you doing?” I said to the bird. “You have to stay outside.”
He was only three feet away, so I know he heard me. But he just fluttered around some more, looking for the way into my room. Then it cheetered as if in a huff, and flew away. It was very small and purplish, but I don’t know what kind it was. The woods are very exciting this time of year.
Yesterday there were six large turkey vultures nested together on the cedar tree outside. It was really something. I wasn’t sure how those spindly branches could hold that weight without snapping. The vultures travel in a group, you know, and most of the time, they look for dead bodies. I am a writer, but I admit I am stumped as to what to compare these vultures to. Thankfully, nothing comes to mind for “beings who group together looking for dead bodies.”
One thing you may not know about the woods is that the shortest distance between any two points is through the woods. I’m not kidding! For example, our mailbox is more than half a mile away–if you’re driving. But if you just take a walk down the trail, (and then are willing to kind of stumble down a steep slope, mostly on your behind) you can get there in s only about five or ten minutes. Voila.
So too with tonight’s book event. Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight I am the featured author at a book group that meets—and I’m not kidding—through the woods. They are not meeting in the woods—that would be a little weird, and, of course, it gets dark and buggy by 8:30pm. No, instead there is a book group meeting at the neighbors, the next house up. They are a retired dentist and wife who live in a log cabin not unlike our own. They aren’t super close, I mean, I’ll have to walk about twenty minutes… through the public-owned woods and then past a deer-blind and through some woods owned by people who we never see. But to be honest, I’m walking there because it is the shortest way. If I drove to the book group, I would either have to: 1) take the car up the road that we never, ever drive because it is a gravel road without gravel-=the county calls it “Grade B, Not Maintained”, or 2) drive all the way to the highway and back down the neighbor’s gravel road, which would feel really silly and take approximately forever.
The shortest distance to this book group (who are discussing my book “My Family and Other Hazards” tonight, is to walk through the woods. Which I will do. As the sun sets. Along the ride about 50 feet above the river. (A great hardship, as you can imagine.)
“Bring a flashlight,” my husband said.
“I’ll probably walk along the road on the way home,” I replied, “but yeah, I’m taking a flashlight.”
It’s very exciting to me to take a walk in the woods to arrive at a little party where I will be served a glass of wine. You know, small exciting things. That’s what life is all about anyway, isn’t it? Small exciting things? And they just all read my book. So… that’s very cool.
(And after this little excited rant, you kinda hope I don’t slip in the dark and slide down the ridge towards the road below, don’t you? )
Monday was St. Penguin’s Day. It came unexpectedly, as it always does. Two days before we had toasted each other with “Happy First Day of Spring!” When you live in the Midwest, where winter lasts about six months, and you get tired of wearing a scarf around your face, and even more tired of cooking up “frozen mixed vegetables,” a dish which greatly resembles fishfood, spring is perhaps more joyous than Christmas.
But we had forgotten about the penguins. Oh, the penguins.
“We got a foot of snow!” we said, peering out the kitchen window Monday morning. It started coming down Sunday night, and it didn’t stop until morning. School was cancelled, the construction guys didn’t show up to continue work on our basement. The snow arrived–heavy snow–twelve inches, and it stuck. It hasn’t melted away like it is “supposed to” this time of year. So now there is more snow on the ground than we have had any other time this winter. And it’s supposed to be spring! Happy St. Penguin’s Day!
(By the way, I just made up St. Penguin’s Day, but I’m going to keep it. Neologism, it’s called, when you invent a new word. And I’m at it again. My first, “melbonic relationship: for the moments when you look across the table at someone who’s talking, perhaps over a cup of coffee, and you are smiling, but you think I am never going to understand this person. It’s going to be a ‘melbonic’ relationship.” And my latest invention: “St. Penguin’s Day: a day in early spring when you get an unexpected dumping of snow.”
(Well, after all, why not blame the penguins? They are cute, so they can absorb a bit of loathing. Also, it’s late March, so Antarctica is approaching winter. They’ve extra snow on the way and they’ve got to put it somewhere.)
By the way, I made a terrible mistake, it seems. I posted that hot dog blog yesterday, not realizing that I had posted it earlier. Actually, one year earlier! The draft of it had been lost on my old laptop, and I started using my new laptop, and then discovered it on the old one in a file for “not posted things” I didn’t realilze I had posted it some time ago. My apology.
(Having a blog is weird. It’s a bit like having a dog as a pet. Fun, sure. But there are times when you look at it and you just feel guilty.)
If you are friends with a man, and just friends, and only friends, we say that it is a platonic relationship. I believe the word comes from Plato, the Greek philosopher. So you can be talking about your college roommate that one summer when you rented an apartment together, believing he had no interest in you in “that way,” because you thought it was platonic, only it turned out he wanted to lose his virginity with you, and told you so in a penclled note he left on the kitchen table… and you are mentioning the problem with Plato when you talk about it.
I would like my own name, Melby, to be attached to some kind of equally sticky situation. I don’t like things to be cut and dry. I would prefer to be attached to some kind of murky situation. Not sexual, that tends to be an area that’s just laden with discarded words and labels on the side of the road. No, I need to come up with some other kind of relationship or situation that really could use a new name…
“It is a ‘melbonic’ relationship,” the young man explained to his grandmother over a cup of tea. She leaned out of her dark green nursing home chair as he explained: “We spend a lot of time together, but mostly we are just confused by each other’s view of the world. We are close friends, kind of, but also we just don’t understand anything at all sometimes. It’s completely melbonic.” Ah, said the grandmother nodding. She understood things like these. She was coming on 92. She had been through troubles of her own….
So, there you go, reader. Melbonic. Use it. Because there are times when other people are just confusing.