Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Good Advice

The world is full of advice. Self-help books, Dr. "How's that working for you?" Phil, religious leaders, teachers, doctors, celebrities, mothers, fathers, and friends all tell us what to do, when to do it, how to do it. Of course sometimes their advice is bad, such as when my father-in-law’s told us not to buy Apple stock in the late ‘90s. We didn’t listen to him, and can you say “iPod” and "iPhone"? YES! But too often, people’s advice makes sense, and if we followed it, our lives would be better, happier, and healthier.

Why, then, don’t we take advice, even when we know it is good for us? I’m baffled by this oh-so-human failing. Perhaps it’s the result of some evolutionary quirk because every person I know seems afflicted by it.

Two years ago, I took the
RealAge test. If you’ve never taken it, I encourage you to give it a whirl. The results show your “real” age, adjusted for lifestyle choices, diet, exercise, and general health. Just be sure to click NO on the questions asking if you want information on diet and exercise or your in-box will be flooded with spam. I’ve warned you in bold italics, so you can’t blame me if you don't take my advice.

In 2007, RealAge gave me a four-year credit for all the great choices I made, so at the age of 40, my RealAge was 36. Woohoo! At the time, I exercised a few times each week (it was summer and I walked the dog), and I also drove the speed limit, didn’t talk on the cell phone while driving, drank a half a glass of wine a day, had good cholesterol levels and blood pressure, kept my weight reasonable, yadda, yadda.

Three areas of my life warranted improvement, according to the experts at RealAge. They recommended I exercise more and at higher intensity, eat more fruit and veggies, and take a calcium supplement. No surprises in any of those suggestions, and I had no reason not to follow this excellent advice…except that I’m lazy, and prefer chocolate to fruit and veggies, and can’t seem to remember to take the supplements sitting on my bathroom counter.

Why is it so hard to follow good advice?

In the last two years, I pretty much quit exercising altogether. The dog now has arthritis and moves much more slowly, which means walking him hardly counts as a workout anymore. I intended to start rowing again and had George haul the rowing machine up from the basement. It’s now very dusty in the corner of our bedroom. Mr. Ironman keeps asking when I’m going to use it, and I answer, “Eventually.” I also intended to eat more fruits and veggies and to take the supplements.

You don’t need to say it. I already know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. When I took the RealAge test this April, the news was indeed hellish. I lost all but six months of the four-year credit I had.

Yikes. I really am 42.

Unfortunately, the RealAge test doesn’t ask how much soda a person drinks. By last July, I drank five cans of Coca-Cola Classic a day and had gained almost ten pounds in about six months. When I told George of my intention to quit, he laughed at me. He’d heard that particular intention many times before.

He’s not laughing now. I quit Coke in August and have lost 18 pounds. Kicking a life-long addiction to fizzy high-fructose corn syrup should be a good thing, right? No more bone-leeching carbonation, empty calories, and tooth-rotting acid, right? Wrong. Ironically, losing 18 pounds works against my RealAge score since it reflects a significant yo-yo in weight that isn’t healthy.

Sometimes a girl just can’t win.

When I took the RealAge test a few weeks ago, the experts had lots more good advice for me, truly reflecting my deterioration in the last two years.

Get more calcium, folic acid, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E. I guess I have to open those bottles on my counter and pop some pills.

Cut down on red meat. I’m sorry, but if God didn’t want us to eat cows, He wouldn’t have given them tasty parts, like ribeyes. Thank you, God, for ribeyes.

Vary your veggies. It’s not enough that I eat more, I have to vary them. Sheesh!

Work out more often and more intensely. Duh. I felt great when I worked out seriously, and my back was incredibly strong. I do want to feel that healthy again.

Tighten and tone with weights, which is useful for keeping my bones from disintegrating as well as for boring me to death. I hate weight lifting.

Stretch. I’ve intended to start yoga for years….

Protect your joints. The arthritis pains in my knees and hands need to be addressed rather than ignored, apparently. But seeing as I can’t take ibuprofen without giving myself ulcers, and the alternative meds can cause heart problems, I think I’m between a rock and hard place on that one. Hopefully, my doctor will have a useful suggestion.

RealAge’s advice is all good. But is a life without ribeye worth living? I might be able to eat less red meat but cannot promise any more than that. Some changes, however, seem much more important than others. The exercise, fruit, veggies, and vitamins deserve immediate attention. I really don’t want to develop the osteoporosis that dissolved my grandmother’s bones. She spent the last 18 months of her life in a nursing home bed. I don't want to go there.

If I don’t do something now, though, that’s where I’ll end up. Guess I better get my butt in gear and take RealAge’s advice seriously. When I tell George this, hopefully he’ll laugh at me. Then I know I’ll succeed, just to show him who’s boss.

PS As for the funny grandparent stories, I decided to send cards to everyone who submitted Gina, chelemom, Susan, and Carrie, please send me your snail-mail address. And yes, Angela, you'll get one, too, even though you sent an email instead of posting a comment!

Friday, April 24, 2009

My Bad

Edited to add: You may now subscribe to Simplicity by following the link to that blog and using the box in the right should work now!

I just realized that people subscribing to my stamping blog, Simplicity by Lateblossom, are actually being sent this blog, Questioning my Intelligence. While I'm not quite sure what I did wrong, I promise to get this straightened out as quickly as I can.

Hopefully, some of you who were misdirected here find my writing interesting enough to stick around. If not, I promise not to be offended if you unsubscribe as long as you resubscribe to Simplicity when it's all straightened out. If you just quit me altogether, however, I'll be forced to eat chocolate to console myself. You don't want that, do you?

Have a happy weekend, everyone.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My New Favorite Picture

Here is my new favorite picture of my grandmother. The spots of rouge directly under her eyes are no doubt the work of one of her grandchildren. My, oh, my. She loved to clown around!

I'm always the one doing the "talking" on this blog, but today, why don't we get a bit more interactive? Please share a happy memory of your grandparents in the comments. I will send a card--a LateBlossom original!--to the person whose comment makes me laugh loudest. The deadline for comments is midnight Eastern time, April 26, 2009.

My deep and heartfelt thanks to all of you who have expressed your sympathy for my family's loss through cards, emails, hugs, and brownies.

And an aside to Karen DeRosa: I'm currently wearing the Miss Fabu-licious sash with the belief that if I think it, I am it. Thank you!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In Memoriam

Ann Lee Grigg Willis
February 26, 1920 - April 17, 2009

Ann Willis passed away early in the morning on April 17, 2009. She is survived by two daughters, Dianne Dumont and Linda Hinnant; by Linda's husband, Darius Hinnant; by four granddaughters, Susan Raihala, Lisa Dumont, Kathy Ives, and Jennifer Edwards; by eight great-grandchildren; and by one brother, Walter Grigg. She was preceeded in death by her husband, David Lee Willis; and by four brothers and one sister.

Below is the eulogy I wrote for her funeral on Sunday, April 19. I want to thank my brother-in-law, Tom McCarthy, for reading it so eloquently since I could not. I also want to thank Dr. Dewey Smith for making the service a true celebration of my grandmother's life. Dr. Smith, his wife Nellie Smith, Jim Thompson, Cam Gilbert, and Doris Norwood provided the music.

Today we gather to celebrate the life of Ann Lee Grigg Willis, an amazing, funny, strong, and beautiful woman who touched all our lives with grace and love and laughter.

She was born on February 26, 1920. Her mother died when she was young, leaving Ann and six siblings to be split up among friends and relatives until their father remarried. This early experience of loss and the rebuilding of her family by a loving second mother may explain the exceptional dedication to family that touches so many of our memories of her.

As a member of the Greatest Generation, Ann endured the Depression and World War II, with all the struggle and challenge of those two periods in history. During the war, she and her husband, D.L., moved numerous times, following D.L.’s ever-changing assignments from Canada to Florida to California and everywhere in between. It could not have been easy to keep the home fires burning, especially with a husband and five brothers deployed and a baby to care for, but whenever she spoke of the war, Ann emphasized the funny stories, the excitement, and the pride and patriotism of that time. Her grandchildren would beg her, “Sing the flag, Grandma!” and she would launch into a rousing chorus of “You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag.”

Ann’s daughters loved visiting historical sites with their mother. Williamsburg and Washington and Monticello came to life for them with Ann’s knowledge of the details of life in early America, and these tours contributed to her collection of historical memorabilia. Her grandchildren grew up playing with this treasure trove, which included such things as Confederate currency, print portraits of all the presidents, numerous books and pictures, and a small bust of her hero, Abraham Lincoln. Ann particularly enjoyed Civil War history, and she took great delight in teasing Kathy’s husband John about his lack of proper reverence for Mr. Lincoln.

Her faith in God was always strong. She taught Sunday school, was an active member of the United Methodist Women’s Circle group, and regularly attended church when she was able. When she could not attend, she studied her Bible lessons through the Upper Room and First Sunday School Quarterly. She always perked up at the nursing home when Linda or Dianne read to her from the Bible, watched church on television Sunday mornings with Dianne, and appreciated visits by ministers and receiving communion.

Ann’s life truly centered on her family. She was always happiest when surrounded by loved ones and took pride in making her house a warm and loving home. It was always neat and clean, with every little detail attended to. She liked to rearrange the furniture and collected the most interesting conversation pieces and knick-knacks, like old wrought-iron scales, a hand-operated coffee grinder, and maracas from Mexico, which she would shake while singing La Cucaracha. She sometimes moved things from their original containers, which caused one houseguest, thinking he was using body powder, to sprinkle Comet cleaner all over himself.

A happy family is a well-fed family, and Ann’s cooking kept people coming back for seconds and thirds. Her specialties were biscuits, fried cornbread, country-style steak, spaghetti, banana pudding, and deviled eggs. Her chocolate cakes were absolutely decadent. She made a moist chocolate layer cake but used real fudge for the icing. When the cake inevitably cracked down the middle due to the weight of the fudge, she’d fill the gap with more fudge. She was the only one who cared that her cakes weren’t pretty; everyone else just fought over who got the biggest piece with the most fudge.

Ann loved gardening and could make almost anything bloom. She shared that love with her daughters and took her grandchildren to Freedom Park to see the trees in flower each year. Birds fascinated her, so she kept a bird bath and feeders for them. When a couple of vagabond chickens decided to take up residence in her back yard, they found avian heaven-on-earth with regular food and an ardent admirer.

One family role that especially delighted Ann was that of grandmother. She was so much fun and would laugh at every little thing her four granddaughters did and recorded their antics in her diary. When her granddaughters wanted to play with her make-up, she allowed them to “make her pretty.” The girls would slather far too much lotion on her hands and face, mess with her hair, apply bright red rouge to her cheeks, and even brush globs of mascara on her lashes. Sometimes, the lipstick stayed in the general area of Ann’s lips, but not always. She let herself be their doll and reveled in their laughter.

Woven throughout all our memories of Ann is her mischievous sense of humor. She loved to tell stories, jokes, and outright lies for a laugh. Her daughters believed she was a Martian who had eyes in the back of her head. She continued this myth with her grandchildren, who thought the fancy rolls of her hair in one of her portraits concealed her antennae. She even convinced one gullible granddaughter that Abe Lincoln slept in MawMaw Willis’s bed.

Those of us who were lucky enough to call Ann either “mother” or “grandmother” have our own favorite memories that come to mind. Here are a few of them.

Dianne moved to Raleigh after marrying, and each time she returned home for a visit, Ann filled the house with wonderful smells, warmth, and comfort, which made Dianne feel so loved and special.

Linda remembers how her mother was always home waiting when she got home from school. One stormy day, however, Linda couldn’t find her mom and started looking everywhere. She eventually found Ann and the dog hiding from the storm under the kitchen table. Also, any time Linda was sick for days on end, Ann would have her take a nice, warm bath. While Linda bathed, Ann put fresh, line-dried sheets on the bed for her.

Darius remembers Ann’s competition with her brother Bill over who could give the silliest presents. He also recalls that special look she would give someone when she felt they were sassy or teasing her, a sort of “What did you just say?” look that often dissolved from sternness into laughter. After dinner one night, when Darius was new to the family, Grandma asked him if he wanted some chocolate pie. He answered, “I sure do!” She smiled slyly at him and said, “I do to. I wish we had some.”

Susan remembers a day when Ann saw an elderly woman sitting alone on a bench in front of a doctor’s office. Ann struck up a conversation with her and discovered the lady had to wait several hours before her son could pick her up. When Ann offered to take her home, she thanked Ann, who replied, “I hope someone would do the same for my mother in the same situation.” Susan also remembers how she and her grandmother had competitions to see who could say “I love you more than you love me” first.

Lisa appreciates how Ann drove her to and from ballet classes, and bought her Easter dress every year. One day when Ann, Lisa, and Susan were leaving JC Penney, a stranger said to her, “What pretty daughters you have!” Ann was pleased to be mistaken for their mother.

Kathy remembers sleeping over at Ann’s house as a little girl. Ann read Charlotte’s Web to her, and the two of them started laughing uncontrollably over Wilbur. They pulled themselves together and tried to keep reading, but instead they just started laughing all over again. Ann later gave Kathy a ceramic pig, and whenever Kathy sees pigs now, she thinks of her Grandma and all the laughter they shared.

Jennifer loved how Ann took the grandchildren to Freedom Park and the Nature Museum, and bought them pencils with little polished stones in them. When Jennifer was tired, Ann put a pillow on her lap and laid Jennifer across it to rock her to sleep in extra comfort. One day, when Jennifer wanted to play barber shop, her grandmother actually let her shake talcum powder onto her hair. It must have taken a lot of shampoo for Ann to get all that powder out of her hair!

Mother Teresa said, “We cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” This is the legacy of Ann Willis: a multitude of small things done with great love. We will miss her.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It’s Raining Dead Trees and Whine

Decades ago, when I was still a child, I remember listening to adults discuss the move to a paperless world. In seventh grade, my computer teacher told us that in the future no more trees would die for paper, and we would do all our work on computers.

Why is it, then, that I am drowning in more paperwork now than my mother ever had?

The biggest culprit is the schools. Even discounting the reams of paperwork generated by the schools for two children on Individualized Education Programs, the amount of school paperwork I have to manage is ridiculous. Yesterday, I received the following pieces of paper that require some sort of response from me:

Nick’s Spring Picture Order Form. When I was in school, we took pictures once a year, not twice.

Jack’s Preschool Spring Conference Sign-up Form. This is 3.5 sheets of paper, printed front and back. I’m supposed to pick three time slots and rank them in order of preference, as well as write what I want to talk about with the teacher, and return all sheets to the school. With better formatting, the whole thing could be front and back, one sheet.

Permission Form for Preschool Animal Visits. Jack’s preschool class is inviting the students to bring their pets to school for show-and-tell in May, but for obvious reasons, parents need to give permission for their children to participate.

Kindergarten Weekly Newsletter. Every week, Jack’s kindergarten teacher sends a newsletter in a cheery but hard-to-read font telling parents what their children are doing that week in school. Attached to it was…

Weekly Kindergarten Homework. I don’t remember doing homework in kindergarten, but Jack has homework every week. It’s usually math, but this week Jack has to write sentences about what he did during spring break. It will take us all week to accomplish this because getting Jack to write sentences is a bit like teaching a cat to walk on a leash. Neither Jack nor the cat quite understands the point of the exercise and therefore neither can understand why the universe is torturing him in such a horrible way.

In addition to these papers that I have to do something about, I also received 30 pieces of school work, including one “cup” cut from an egg carton covered in glitter, a kite with paper-folded tail and more glitter, and 27 sheets of 8.5x11 paper (mostly worksheets, a “book” written and illustrated by Jack and thus largely blank, and a sheet covered in colored dots probably used for some sort of counting exercise).

The thirtieth piece of school work is a brown paper cut-out that looked like a peanut with eyes to me and a potato with eyes to George. I asked Jack what it was. He said, as if speaking to a complete idiot, “It’s my botato.” Well, duh.

That makes a grand total of thirty-four paper-based items brought home from school all in one day. I wish this were unusual, but it’s pretty standard. We’re drowning a deluge of school paper here, which leaves me wondering how my friend Karen manages to keep her head above the sea of dead trees because she has four children in school. God help her.

Another big culprit is junk mail. Yesterday’s mail was entirely junk…eight separate pieces of it. Today, we did slightly better, with only five separate pieces. NOT ONE IMPORTANT OR FRIENDLY ITEM of mail came yesterday or today. But I had to touch and evaluate each one of them.

And what about the mail that isn’t junk? No one will every hear me complain about the two Easter cards, one thank you card, and two scrapbook magazines I found while going through a big stack of mail delivered after our vacation. Yahoo! Happy Mail!!! But the bills, bank statements, insurance statements, subscription renewals, and PIN notification that were also in the stack took me over an hour to sort through and attend to.

Yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition. It’s just that sort of day.

Then there are the taxes. We owed the federal government this year for the first time in 18 years. (The previous sentence is totally irrelevant to the current essay, but while I’m being whiny, I thought I’d throw that in for added sympathy.) George used TurboTax for the federal and state taxes but couldn’t get the local online filing to work. No matter. We still had to print everything out (twenty-four pages) and add them to the rest of the contents of the 2008 tax file (more than thirty items).

I can do nothing about all this paperwork and typically try hard not to complain about things I can’t fix or that are necessary for living a law-abiding, responsible life. But not today. Today, I’m a big bundle of complaints, and I’m not sure why because I don’t have PMS. Perhaps it’s the weather: gray and drippy for three days straight. Perhaps it’s the fact that seven people I know and love right now are suffering much more than a deluge of paperwork and have real, painful problems I can do nothing about.

I have faith in tomorrow, though. This bad mood will pass, I will regain a sense of perspective and laugh at the fantasy of a paperless world, I will send chocolate and a good book to a suffering friend, and I will take delight in seeing the tulips in my neighbor’s yard. God’s time is not my time, and it all works out in the end.

Note: The morning after writing this, my friend Susan gave me a hug, which was the beginning of the end of my bad mood. Bless you, Susan!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Peace be with you."

We often say these words in church as a rote greeting or part of the liturgy, sometimes without really thinking about them or what they mean.

"Peace be with you." Jesus said this when He appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, at a time when they needed all the peace and comfort they could get. They were probably also freaking out since He was, after all, dead, yet standing before them. "Peace be with you," He said, and then He charged them to share that peace with the world.

As we celebrate Easter today, please remember His blessing in its fullest meaning and not just as rote phrasing. By His death and resurrection, He blessed us all with a peace that passes understanding.

Peace be with you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Note: If you don’t know about the Word of the Year Project, check the links at the top of the sidebar.

My word for 2009 is Fearless, and so far it is working for me. I’m writing more—though not as much as I would have hoped—so I need to focus on increasing my output, especially for my book on autism. The best success of my Fearless project has been the launch of my stamping blog, an enterprise that scared the heck out of me because I truly feel my cards are okay but not exactly special enough to support a blog.

My attitude toward crafting is shockingly democratic. I believe that crafts, in contrast to fine arts, give us ordinary folks who lack artistic genius the opportunity to express ourselves creatively. What we make can be as kitschy as a crocheted toilet paper cover or as gorgeous as a perfectly turned piece of pottery. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we feel a sense of satisfaction in the act of creating, like a kindergartner who makes an Easter bunny out of a paper plate and cotton balls. That elemental creative pleasure is all a crafter needs to make the time and effort spent entirely worthwhile.

Over the past few years, my hobby of choice—rubber stamping—has grown in popularity, and like other hobbies that become popular, it has become increasingly trendy, complicated, and professionalized. What was once a fun and accessible hobby that “anyone can do” has developed into an intimidating activity that seems to require actual talent as well as extensive knowledge of a huge variety of products.

I frequent an online stamping community called Splitcoaststampers, or SCS for short. The gallery at SCS contains hundreds of thousands of handmade cards to inspire and motivate other stampers. The stamp-related forums are friendly places where perfect strangers will take time to help you figure out how to pierce a straight line of dots or choose the best ink for clear stamps.

The trend toward more embellished cards came to my attention gradually through the Favorites of the Week thread, started every Sunday morning in SCS’s general stamping forum. Anyone can post links to their favorite cards for the week. When I first started looking at this thread several years ago, the styles of favorite cards were quite diverse, with everything from very simple to very ornate represented.

Gradually, however, as the embellished style became more popular and product choices expanded, fewer simple cards were posted. Seeing as I have precious little artistic talent, my forays into the gallery at SCS in general and into the Favorites thread in particular became increasingly intimidating. All those beautiful cards with ten layers of cardstock embossed and distressed and embellished into little works of art are beautiful, no doubt about it, and I admire the talent and time put into creating them. My personal style, however, is cleaner, simpler. If I were a graphic design artist, I’d want to design print ads for the Gap. Anything with lots of restful, empty space attracts my attention.

I had quit visiting the Favorites thread until January, when I decided to see what styles were getting posted. Trends change, after all, and I knew the pendulum would swing back to cleaner, simpler cards eventually.

The pendulum hasn’t swung back yet. I clicked on about 40 cards and every one was like the first: eight or more layers of cardstock, multiple embellishments, time-consuming techniques, embossing, outline stamp images artistically colored with Copic markers, and so on. Every single one was stunningly beautiful. By the time I reached the end of the thread, I felt like a total loser: that kid in junior high who suddenly realizes her project for the science fair looks like it was made by a five year old, while all her classmates’ projects look like graduate students made them. I felt embarrassed I’d ever posted a card at all, much less over 300 of them. I wanted to delete my whole gallery and slink into oblivion.

Those of you who know me personally know that I do not have low self-esteem. Years ago, I overcame my tendency to beat myself up for not being perfect. Yet there I sat, staring glumly at my computer, feeling totally beaten up and humiliated because my cards didn’t look like the cool kids’ cards.

This is what happens when you compare yourself to other people, and forget who you are and why you’re doing something. The results of such comparisons are never, ever good.

Then I remembered Julie Ebersole. Julie makes “clean and simple” into high art. When I’m thumbing through a stamping magazine, I can pick out her cards without looking at the credits. I want to be her when I grow up. I thought about Krystie Lee Hersch, who credits Julie as her major source of inspiration and makes gorgeous cards I adore, often with a single piece of cardstock and some ink. I thought about Nichole Heady, whose success with clean and simple designs led her to start up one of my favorite stamp companies, the enormously successful Papertrey Ink.

These women taught me a valuable lesson: celebrate who you are, and create what you love. I love clean and simple cards, and there’s nothing wrong with that, even if it’s not exactly trendy at the moment. These positive thoughts began to ease my humiliation, and it occurred to me that if I, with my, um, comfortable self-esteem, could feel intimidated and humiliated, there must be others who felt the same way…or worse. I brainstormed ways to celebrate the clean and simple style. The most obvious and easiest thing to do was to start a thread at SCS titled “Post your Clean and Simple Cards Here,” and here’s what I wrote:

“Okay, just checked out the favorites of the week thread and my ego has been battered to a pulp. Ouch! I've stayed away from that thread for months and months for just this reason. Those Totally Awesome Stampers ROCK!

”But for those of us who don't do techniques that require anything like ‘talent’ or ‘skill,’ who don't layer our cards into inch-thick confections of pure gorgeousness, who don't have all the latest nesties or copics, who don't have coloring skills above kindergarten level, and who do love to make clean and simple and, most of all, EASY cards...please post your favorites from your own gallery, the ones that make you happy as long as you don't compare them to what the Totally Awesome Stampers are making…. Rather than feel sorry for our simple, easy, and basic cards, let's celebrate them...because they really do deserve to be celebrated!”

Putting my neuroses out there for the whole world to see made me nervous, but something amazing happened. People admitted to feeling the same way I did. Many said they had always felt too intimidated to start a gallery themselves, but after seeing all the clean and simple cards linked to that thread, they felt energized and eager to share their work. Some people even sent me private messages thanking me for being so courageous in standing up for clean and simple stamping.

Courageous? Me? Huh? I hadn’t thought of it like that, and I guess from a certain point of view it was rather fearless of me to buck a trend. The truth, however, is that talented clean-and-simple stampers like Julie, Krystie, and Nichole have been bucking the trend all along, fearlessly doing what they love. They are the leaders, and I’m just a devoted follower who knows how to make a little noise.

You just never know what the consequences of your actions might be. Because several people suggested it might be a good idea, I started a regular Clean and Simple Favorites of the Week thread, which has turned out to be quite popular. Then, a wonderful stamper named Jen started the Clean and Simple Weekly Challenge on SCS. I’m on the first Design Team for it and post a card each week to inspire others in the challenge.

You have no idea how truly strange this feels to me…being an inspiration to others. Heck, I just wanted to feel better about my creative vision, and now lots of other people feel better about their vision, too. I’m giddy with joy over this beautiful example of my karma working for good in the universe. Too often, karma is biting me on the butt.

During this clean and simple love-fest, lots of people (well, more than five, but I’m easily influenced on things like this) asked me to start a stamping blog. I’m a first-born pleaser, so of course I had to do it. Simplicity by LateBlossom is the result. I still don’t feel that my cards are “blog worthy,” but you know what? It doesn’t matter whether they are or aren’t worthy. What matters is that I’m having fun posting them and at least a few people are having fun seeing them.

Best of all, the gallery at SCS now has many more clean-and-simple cards posted every day. Those cards inspire me and put a very silly grin on my face every time I visit the gallery now. Long live Clean and Simple!

So far, living my word Fearless hasn’t gotten me published, but I’ve made new stamping friends and once again feel like a kindergartner with an amazing work of paper-plate-and-cotton-ball art to show my mommy. Knowing that I helped others feel the same elemental joy of creating something beautiful for themselves motivates me to create more, stamp more, share more. If there’s a downside to this situation, I’ll be darned if I can find it.

Now it’s time for me to get to work “creating” that book about autism. I feel pretty Fearless about that.

So please do tell, how’s your word working for you?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"You People"

When I was in high school and someone asked me what my college major would be, I said chemistry. Or maybe biochemistry. Marine biology? Well, something in the sciences, but not physics.

Physics is boring.

Then I took organic chemistry my first semester in college and was given (yes, given) a B- by a very kind professor who made me promise never to take another chemistry class or any course that required organic chemistry as a prerequisite. His kindness kept my GPA reasonably intact and sent me scurrying to the English Department, where, word-nerd that I am, I made myself happily at home.

My love for science didn’t die, however, and I subscribed to both Discover Magazine and Scientific American shortly after graduation so I could get a monthly fix of science news. After a few issues, I realized that both magazines basically reported the same stories but for different audiences. Scientific Americans writers assumed that their readers already knew something about science and used more technical language. Discover Magazine’s writers, in contrast, assumed their readers had an eighth-grade education and chose their words accordingly. For a while, I appreciated getting both magazines but preferred Scientific American because reading it made me feel smarter, cooler, geekier, more in-the-know.

Even with that regular science fix, my valuable brain synapses dedicated to Heisenburg’s Uncertainty Principle and Boyle’s Law and the difference between meiosis and mitosis gradually atrophied from disuse. I formed new synapses to hold information on deconstructionism, zeugma, Old English verb conjugations, and James Joyce’s Ulysses. As a result, I had to let the subscription for Scientific American lapse. It no longer made me feel smart; it made me feel stupid with its big, technical words.

For the past 18 years, I have kept my Discover subscription going because it continued to make me feel like the geeky Renaissance Woman I perceive myself to be, even if this particular Renaissance Woman is only in eighth grade.

Aren’t we all deeply appreciative of the little things that keep our delusions alive?

A few years ago, I started getting harassing phone calls from telemarketers trying to bully me into extending my Discover subscription to six years: “You don’t want to miss out on this great opportunity! News stand prices are going up! You’re too smart to pay more, aren’t you?!”

I have written a lot of advertising copy in my life and am therefore immune to this sort of panicky, “act now!” tactic. My response to telemarketing rhetoric is as intelligent as the rhetoric itself: “Bite me.” Okay, so I really said, politely at first, “Take me off your call list.” But I thought, “Bite me.”

Unfortunately, the telemarketers were persistent. They kept calling, more and more frequently, in fact. I sent a complaint to Discover’s customer service department, but the calls didn’t stop. Finally, when the calls were coming about once every two weeks, I snapped. The polite veneer of manners lovingly glued onto me by my mother peeled away, and I got snippy: “If YOU PEOPLE call me ONE MORE TIME, I will CANCEL my subscription!”

“YOU PEOPLE” is a very satisfying phrase when you’re upset, isn’t it? It is the rhetorical equivalent of the pointed finger, yet even more insulting because the phrase makes the recipient a nameless member of a namelessly offensive group, the human equivalent of slime molds. “YOU PEOPLE!” Indeed.

The next day, George brought me the phone while I was blow-drying my hair. He looked suspicious. “It’s some guy named Bob,” he said, handing the receiver to me. I had no idea why some guy named Bob would call me at nine o’clock on a Saturday morning. My imaginary Latin lover’s name is Juan, as George well knows, and Juan knows better than to call me at home. Between George and my imaginary Latin lover Juan, I don’t have time for “some guy named Bob.”

Anyway, Bob immediately launched into his script: “Hi, Susan, I’m calling from Discover Magazine with a great offer for you….”

I interrupted Bob. Loudly. “I can’t believe YOU PEOPLE! I told the guy who called YESTERDAY I was canceling my subscription if YOU PEOPLE called me ONE MORE TIME! And now you’re calling me, pestering me about this ONE MORE TIME! I’m DONE with YOU PEOPLE….”

Sometime during my yelling, Bob hung up on me.

I finished blow-drying my hair and got on the computer. I wish I could find the email I sent to Discover. It was a rhetorical tour de force of outrage. Sadly, you’ll miss out on the entertainment value of the contempt that dripped from the rapier of my wit. I suspect you’ll get over the disappointment, but seriously, you would have loved it because I know each and every one of you reading this has been as mad at “YOU PEOPLE” as I was and you have all wanted to skewer “YOU PEOPLE” with your own rapier.

Come on. Admit it. You can be honest here.

That day, I received a subscription offer from Scientific American in the mail. I saw this as a sign from God and signed up immediately.

A week or so later, the phone rang. George answered, and when the person on the line asked for me, he asked, “Who may I say is calling?” I heard a pause, and then George started laughing. When he got himself under control, I heard him say, “I can’t believe YOU PEOPLE are still calling her! She cancelled her subscription because YOU PEOPLE wouldn’t stop calling.”

I now have three issues of Scientific American in my possession. I’ve had a lot of years to get stupider about science, so reading Scientific American is, not surprisingly, hard work. For example, the March issue contains an article titled “A Quantum Threat to Special Relativity.” The article is labeled "Physics," so it’s bound to be boring, right? Wrong. Doing physics is boring. Reading about it can be fascinating and even intelligible if you’re reading Discover for Dummies Magazine. When you read Scientific American, however, you find passages like this one:

“Quantum mechanics…embraces action at a distance with the property called entanglement, in which two particles behave synchronously with no intermediary; it is nonlocal. This nonlocal effect is not merely counterintuitive; it presents a serious problem to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, thus shaking the foundations of physics.”

Hmmm. Sounds serious. I know what all the words mean, but the authors seem to be using some of them in, shall we say, nonstandard ways. Take “entanglement,” for instance. I don’t think it means what I think it means, if you know what I mean. And “nonlocal” doesn’t mean “foreign” here. I don’t know what it does mean, but it doesn’t mean “foreign.”

Later in the same issue, the article “Saving New Brain Cells” places the final nail in the coffin of a long-held belief that adult brains don’t make new cells. Adult brains, it turns out, make new cells all the time, which really is a relief to me given how many brain cells George killed with alcohol on Friday nights at McConnell AFB in the mid-1990s.* The article states that our new brain cells “ultimately help with learning complex tasks—and the more they are challenged, the more they flourish.”

It’s good to know that my righteous indignation over Discover’s persistent telemarketing will ultimately give some of my new brain cells a fighting chance to flourish because my Scientific American subscription is certainly challenging them. On the other hand, I may need to thumb through a newsstand issue of Discover each month so I can see the Cliff’s Notes version of the science news and figure out what “entanglement” and “nonlocality” really mean.

That’s not cheating, is it?

*Yes, I promise to tell delightful stories of those drunken adventures eventually. Stay tuned.