I Hate My Voice

IMG_0107 (1)I hate my voice. I’m not talking about the quality of my voice—though I wish it were stronger so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself when ordering at drive-thru windows. I’d love for my voice to be deeper like a sultry Jessica Rabbit (but I don’t want to take up smoking)—instead, I’m about two octaves away from sounding full of helium—an exaggeration, but not much of one—anyway this isn’t what I’m talking about. The voice I’m referring to is my writing one.

In literary terms finding one’s voice is describing the author’s personal writing style. Each writer is supposed to develop their own special something that sets them apart. For instance, straightforward and short is very Ernest Hemingway. Winding and picturesque is very John Steinbeck. Me, I’m neither a Hemingway nor a Steinbeck I’m not even a slight hybrid—although most writers aren’t and I don’t want to be just a recreation of either author. I want to be uniquely me.

The problem is I have no idea what my style is. I know I’m sarcastic, caustic, and an all-around smart-ass. I’m self-depreciating and earnest, but what does that sound like on the page? I have no idea.

I also know that I’m very moody, which means my writing is in constant flux from self-pitying, and dark, all the way to the opposite end of the emotional scale, giddy and manic. But then, what writer isn’t?

A temperamental writer is stereotypical, right? I might as well have a drinking problem and live in France. The issue is that for an author to write a book and make money at it, they can’t live on that emotional gradient every day, all day long. Can they?

Most days I feel I write in circles. I attribute this to my ADHD—which again, who doesn’t have an attention deficit disorder of some kind or another? For that, I blame television commercials. Just when you’re right in the middle of a really great program—Bam! A Sensodyne Toothpaste commercial—attention span suicide. Generally, I hate commercials. I’d hate to be the person writing them.

While on the subject, whatever happened to commercial jingles? I mean, what happened to those cute little earworms?

Of course, there are still the classics such as “Gimme a break, gimme a break. Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar.” But what happened to the age-old question of what would you do for a Klondike Bar? When was the last time a bully rewarded your beat-down with chocolate covered ice cream? See? Nobody is goaded for the right reasons anymore!

The worst commercials are perfume ones—who writes this stuff? And why? The worst of the worst is the Dior perfume ad starring Natalie Portman.

Picture the beautiful actress in a hotel room in the midst of a heated argument with some guy.

“I love you,” he yells. She spins around. “Prove it!”

Another shot has Portman running off the end of a pier or spinning out in a pink convertible on the beach. Sometimes, it seems, she sings seductively with her cheek pressed against a pole inside a subway train and other times she cries.

Whenever this ad comes on, I expect a voice over, “This is the face of Bipolar Disorder.” It would make more sense that it’s a public awareness ad rather than a perfume one.

At the end of the commercial, Portman looks directly into the camera and with a faintly tainted American accent (is it supposed to be French?) she says, “And you? What would you do for love?” Well, for starters, I’d probably begin a regiment of antipsychotics. And you?

Okay, I know I’ve just stated that my moods are all over the place. However, I am no Portman! My attitudes are gradual, not swinging. Still, my husband would say that I’m a real treat—did I mention, he’s pretty sarcastic, too?

Anyway, as I was saying, I hate my writing voice. It’s all over the place, disorganized, swirling, and abstract. But what can I say? So am I. I guess that everybody is to some extent. Who isn’t dashing from one thing, one idea, or one situation to the next? Who isn’t lacking in some respect when it comes to their career, or family, or lives in general? Isn’t life just that? Disorganized, swirling, and somewhat abstract? Isn’t it whatever we create it to be?

I don’t know. At least it gives me something to think about and grants me material to write about—even if that material comes out in a way that I hate.

 

 

 

 

 

A Rose Is A Rose By Any Other Name? Not Quite: How perception doesn’t equal truth

 

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I’m studying a picture of an Arctotis Stoechadifolia, or an African daisy. Characteristics of the plant aren’t different from any other daisy I’m familiar with—elongated petals in a sunray around a dark bulbous button—it’s a daisy. According to Wikipedia.org, the flower can be found innately in one place, the west coast sand dunes of South Africa. If I were to leave the information at that, confined to one Wikipedia page, it’s interesting but not fully formed, much like anything without background and context. One could argue that perception is reality and that reality is only as one perceives, but is that true? What is truth, anyway?

The Arctotis Stoechadifolia aka the African daisy got its name from the Greek words Arctos, meaning bear, and Otis, meaning ear, or bear’s ear in English. The title refers to the spidery dark middle amongst petals of yellow or white. I’d say it’s more akin to the all-seeing-eye over a bear cub’s listening device no matter how hairy the center. Still, does this mean the name should be changed according to my perception of what it looks like? Hardly. Context, details, and origin are crucial and add to developing one’s perspective on the way to finding the truth—in this case, truth is a fully formed understanding of something bigger.

An accepted fact is that giving little detail can skew information for positive or negative—everybody knows that! Here’s what I mean, I was the first runner-up in a Beauty Pageant and was featured in the newspaper. At first glance, this comes across as prestigious, an honor even. However, once some background is given, the title deflates like a three-day-old Mylar balloon.

At the time of this contest, I was five-years-old living with my parents and six siblings in a cramped apartment in a mining town called, Green River, Wyoming. My mom entered me in the pageant, I had no idea—by the way, it was called a Beauty Pageant back then, not a Scholarship Pageant like they are today.

Two females came to our brown apartment building. One curled and brushed my hair at my kitchen counter. The other woman had me hold a hand mirror and then took my photo. My best friend, Margaret Couch, was also there, getting her hair done and holding a hand mirror—she was crowned Little Miss Wyoming. Does this mean that Margaret Couch was considered the most beautiful girl in Wyoming and I was the second? No, and I think most people understand that. Still, even with the smallest amount of detail, it was a good outcome—for me at least. Ever wonder what happens when scant information is given and taken out of context?

In 1938, Orson Welles, the actor, writer, producer/director made notoriety after his radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ Sci-Fi, The War of the Worlds, where alien beings rove the earth eliminating humans.

After the program ended, approximately a million people piled onto America’s highways, and scavenged for gas masks, confident that New York City had been taken over by toxic gas spreading Martians.

However, not all million people had actually heard the program. The ones, who had, even though they knew they were listening to a storytelling program, which consistently featured fiction, became so enamored with the tale that they spread their emotionally biased views like a virus, convincing others who hadn’t heard the program at all.

So does me winning the title of first runner-up and having my picture in the local newspaper or America’s biggest spoof in history (even if accidentally) producing wide-spread mayhem mean this is what life is? Partially. Each situation is added to a larger picture—but each is a filler experience, not the whole enchilada!

In the States, daisies are stand-ins—an attractive ground cover, a stabilizer for sand bases, a filler flower in a bouquet of roses. As flowers go, daisies are a hint of flirtation, not a full-bloom romance. Although people do like bouquets of happy daisies, for the most part, they are an understatement of intent, and not an infiltration of what’s to come, but then, few things are.

For the last year and a half, a term has taken center stage in politics—Fake News. Of course, it’s known as other things—unsubstantiated rumor, fiction, and lies. One specific expression that rocketed out of near extinction beyond a high school classical reading list is “alternative fact.”

When George Orwell created “alternative fact” in his book, 1984, it pointed to a horrific future—two opposite ideas fused to complete an unquestioned picture. Orwell meant it as a cautionary prediction, not a pattern for creating a slight of hand as it is used today. So how can this fictional idea be used so often without folly?

A prominent trait to anything is having a seed of believability, a partial truth if you will, or else it would go ignored altogether. Still, there are some excellent uses for Fake News—they are attention grabbers, job generators, cautionary tales, and filler in a bouquet of dry factual information—fiction with a bit of fact sprinkled in.

Of course, one could argue that perception is reality and that reality is only as one perceives, but is it? Christopher Columbus discovered America—well, kind of. The Pilgrims broke break with the Indigenous peoples for Thanksgiving, and the two became all-time Besties—what genocide?

Another fairytale guised as truth is that the victor writes the history books. Sure, the last one standing in a fight is probably the only one who can write what happened. It is also true that they can write whatever they want without a whole lot of proof. Does this mean it’s a pure fact? No, it’s perceived information founded on experience—it’s emotionally based to either trump up or to pat down the truth.

We’ve seen this idea done over and over again with the present White House—a slight of hand to misrepresent the truth. So who cares? The people in the White House are the victors! They write the history, right? Nope.

The difference between penning history books and a White House press conference is the amount of time it takes to get the information and the margin of anticipated error. For one, by the time a piece is researched, written, edited, published, and distributed, it’s assumed to be outdated—especially today, where information is constant and instantaneous. Also, for any written report, a correction can be presented, a retraction sited—an apology can be made—it’s standard.

As for the presidential second, the material given is live—the world is a captive audience watching, listening, and trusting. During a Presidential news conference, corrections and retractions shouldn’t be standard, and though an apology could be made, in this presidency, one never seems to be uttered, creating a fictional blur of what’s right and what’s not, or rather, what’s right and what’s disastrously wrong.

But that’s just politics and some Science Fiction reference, right? Wrong. Limited information of any sort leads to misinterpretation. Take the Arctotis Stoechadifolia —to the untrained eye, a blanket of flowers springs out of the sand along the coast of South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope—by the way, the Cape of Good Hope was actually a tumultuous journey where most people died in transit. The African daisies are charming, interesting, and harmless. But are they? Charming and Interesting are perceptional biases. What about it being harmless? It’s a plant that is surrounded by nothing but sand. Can we know anything about the flower if there is nothing to corroborate it?

Recently, the African daisy has been transplanted to places with eroding beach-y landscapes such as North America’s west coast and Australia, and in its new digs a phenomenon has come up.

In its native home, a sand dune without a single blade of grass, the African daisy stands straight, it’s petals open to the sun, producing a blanket of budding glory. In California, however, this particular flower knows no bound. It grows across the sand, suffocates grasses, and overtakes gardens—it’s thick hollow stem like a straw, siphons all nutrients of its fellow life forces—it’s an organic form of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. This just in, alien forces infiltrating the earth sucking the life from its Indigenous peoples! Run! Hide!

So what can we make out all of this? Experience adds to information, which adds to our perception of fact. Context, details, and origin along with gaining many insights from various sources are where truth (truth as in a fully formed understanding) is found.

With all our technology, our fingertips hovering over our ergonomic keyboards, what’s the point of knowing what’s really going on in the world if we can’t see the forest for the trees, or for that matter, see the petals for the overgrown flower garden?

 

The Bird’s The Word

 

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A drake seconds before being chased off by a hawk

Outside my office window, I hear the coo-coo-coo of a mourning dove. I noticed a few days ago, a powder gray bird sitting on the peak of my house, the mechanical jerks of its egg-shaped head observing the Salt Lake Valley below. Dusk was approaching. In the west, amber, pink, and midnight blues washed the sky like watercolors.

My neighborhood butts up against a hillside carpeted by tall wild grasses and inhabited by voles, tail-less ground squirrels, and all manners of birds. I suspect my rooftop is a perch oasis to all fliers; small finches, ducks, and predatory ones, too.

Hawks frequent here evident by the scant bodies of headless field mice decomposing across my asphalt shingles that I kick off every fall when I climb up to hang Christmas lights.

One year, a baby snow owl, big black-eyed, almost translucent and square, tried nesting on the plastic wreath I hang on my front door. The car headlights of neighbors, as well as my own, was what made the bird pack up and leave never to return.

Often, young red-tailed hawks race each other nearby. Twins once spent the morning in our backyard playing in our Rainbird sprinklers knocking them sideways. Their mother, watchful and intense, her head constantly searching the area, sat balanced in the eves of a house across the street.

Last year a mouse-colored finch seemed to fancy one of our pillars on our front porch. She slept there when the nights turned cold, and the heat of our house lights warmed her. We named her Bernice the Bird. She’d watch us come and go, one round eye blinking a reply to our whispered, “Good morning, Bernice!” or “Goodnight!”

Pairs of Mallard Ducks fly into my neighborhood the beginning of every spring. They waddle the streets like an old couple holding hands, considering real estate. They inspect front porches, landscaped islands, and nooks under Bay windows in which to lay eggs.

A mottled feathered female and an emerald green male are known to my family and me, as The Martins, and are returning vacationers. They have chosen the house directly north of mine several times in which to live. My next-door neighbor has installed a flat piece of plywood to shield The Martins’ nest from the street and passerbys.

I love where I live. Something is always happening here. Last month, coming back from a walk with my dog, I spotted a male mallard relaxing in the zone where the cooing dove sits now. In seconds, the drake barked a secession of four quick quacks and frantically dove off my roof. Soaring behind him, without a sound, rushed a red-tailed hawk chasing him away.

 

 

 

Doggie Duet

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Last week I was in my car, windows rolled partially down, my dog Zoey sunbathing on the passenger side when Blister In The Sun by Violent Femmes came on the radio. I turned it up and began singing because I’m sure it’s against the law not to do so. As I belted out the inappropriate and dated words that I looove, Zoey made a strange whining-wailing noise I’d never heard before.

I switched off the radio to hear her better. She stopped and turned her long neck so she could see me. We regarded at each other. Nothing seemed wrong, so I turned the radio back on and got back to singing.

Again, I heard Zoey over the speakers, her head lifted, nose pointing into the wind, yowling. Of course, I was offended. My dog hated my voice! It was auditions at my high school’s competition choir all over again. I thought I was a decent singer until those tryouts—but then, everyone’s a great vocalist behind the steering wheel or inside the sound safety of hot running water in a shower.

When I stopped singing, Zoey stopped moaning. My heart sagged and felt as if it turned dark brown. We finished running my errands with the radio down low and me not humming a word. Thank goodness David Bowie didn’t come on, I wouldn’t have been able to help myself, and Zoey would have jumped out the window!

Later, during dinner, I repeated the story to my kids, but they both didn’t understand why I felt defeated.

“Zoey was singing with you,” Lorrin said.

“Yeah, she probably was.” Nate agreed though neither had experienced this with our dog before.

It hadn’t occurred to me that her cry wasn’t a reflection of how badly I sang, but that she wanted to croon along. See, it’s proof; you just can’t help yourself when Violent Femmes comes on, and that’s why it’s probably against the law to remain silent when one does.

I’m tempted to try out this theory, blast Blister In The Sun once more just to verify that Zoey’s a singer and not a critic, but what if my dog doesn’t sing after all?

 

 

 

The Long Goodbye

img_3952.jpgToday didn’t start out as planned. I made the pilgrimage to get my hair done—that dreaded time that comes every five to six weeks and keeps me up at night toiling over the cut, color, and style. It is unwanted and unwarranted madness, and I hate it! When I arrived at the salon, a small sign out front said that they had moved and gave an address.

I traveled another mile to the new place and discovered that neither my records nor my appointment were on their computer—and by the way, my hairdresser didn’t work for the company anymore. I went home, defeated.

Although it was the middle of the day, I decided to take my dog for a walk. The sun was out, and the thermostat blinked seventy-one degrees, a beautiful day. Zoey and I tracked our regular route skirting the edges of the lake and roving in and out of candy-colored Cape Codes.

At the end of our walk, we noticed an older woman sitting in the shade on a front lawn wearing a wide-brimmed hat made of straw. She was reedy, long-limbed, and she smiled exposing a yellowing front tooth that slanted at an angle.

As we came closer, she wished us a good afternoon and wanted to know what kind of dog Zoey was.

“A Chiweenie,” I said. The woman twisted her mouth into a knot.

“Is that some kind of a Chihuahua—wiener dog?”

“Exactly!”

She was puzzled over the breed I had tethered to my leash but eventually moved on to other inquiries. She was easy to talk with, and our conversation grew and waned like an ocean tide, being about everything and nothing at all.

We swapped stories about growing up in a large family—she, the oldest of ten children, and me, the fifth among eight. Her name was Charmaine, and she was weeding her daughter’s yard. She told me she was eighty-two years old and then the subject turned to Alzheimer’s disease.

Charmaine asked if I had known anyone with the disease—I had, my grandmother.

“Oh, Alzheimer’s is the long goodbye,” she said. Her mouth twisted back into a knot.

I told her that before dementia, my grandmother was terrible; mean and critical and often said I’d make a more attractive boy than I did a girl. But when her illness was in full bloom, she was delightful; sweet and giggly and I learned to love her.

The woman smiled but her eyes shined sad. I worried I might have said the wrong thing. I asked her if she knew anyone with Alzheimer’s and she nodded but didn’t share. We spoke for a while longer talking about our children and pets and then it was time to go. She wished me a nice day and returned to weeding.

I may not meet Charmaine again, but I’m grateful that we met. Although we shared only a moment, it’s a moment I’ll carry with me forever and perhaps that is what a long goodbye can be.

 

Is This Shirt Yours?

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Nate is the kid at the top of the photo in navy.

A few days ago, as my family and I sat in front of the television and folded laundry, I came across a shirt I didn’t recognize. It was black rayon with long sleeves and a scoop neck and according to its label was from the Women’s Daisy Fuentes collection—from where I have no idea.

“Whose shirt is this?” I asked.

“Yours, isn’t it?” they replied.

I’d never seen it before, and it wasn’t in my size. We talked about where the foreign blouse could have come from everything ranging from a friend of my daughter or son to a burglar who didn’t quite understand how to burgle. We discussed its origins for a few minutes until it occurred to us that we accidentally stole it.

Over the weekend, my son was competing at a Track and Field meet at Taylorsville High School that was hosting over five different schools in the Salt Lake Valley. It was bitter cold that morning, and my husband and I brought blankets. We sat in the stands watching the events among other spectators and competitors waiting for their event to start—most everyone sat shrouded in blankets.

After several hours, the sun came out and burned across the stadium seats making blankets and layers unbearable. People began peeling off anything extra and discarding items at their feet.

When my son’s events were over, my husband, daughter, and I piled up our gear and headed to the car. In doing so, we must have inadvertently picked up an audience member’s spare shirt.

I don’t know what to do with this shirt. I have no idea to whom it belonged or how to go about returning it. So if you know someone who is missing a shirt, let him or her know I may have it! Or if you want a new shirt, I may have what you’re looking for—Mother’s Day is coming, and the shirt is clean.

Later this afternoon, my son has another track meet, only on a smaller scale. My goal is to leave with the exact amount of objects I bring. Wish me luck!

 

Ice, Ice, Baby!

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Close-up of woman’s smiling mouth and soft drink

Yay! I can have ice, again. I sit at my kitchen table and to my left is a glass of Strawberry sparkling water floating in ice! It sounds silly over triumphant, I know. I’ve been off ice for close to a decade—not because I was addicted to the stuff and not because I’m a European enthusiast—I am, but not when it comes to ice—the issue was the blunt pain that radiated through my weak enamel and hammered at my gums whenever ice cream or an icy cola entered my mouth.

I was told of my sensitivity condition when I went to a dentist—one who was highly recommended by, I suspected later, people who hated me—to fix a filling in a tooth. I must state, that I have a brother who is also a dentist, a good one at that, however, he lives one hundred miles away from me, and so, I decided to try someone local. As the new guy used a water pick infused with what seemed to be liquid nitrogen squirting my gum line, I howled.

“You have sensitive teeth,” he told me.

I’m always fascinated with two abilities dentists all seem to have—the capacity to understand a patient with tools, cotton balls, and a vacuum jammed in his or her mouth and still manage to carry on a conversation, and how dentists always state the obvious.

“Looks like you have a cavity.”

Yeah, I know, that’s why I’m here.

“I haven’t seen you in a while.”

That’s because you’re a dentist and next to nose-diving towards the earth in a fiery plane, dentists are the next most terrifying things there is—that and sharks.

Besides my mouth, what’s there to talk about with a dentist anyway? Does anyone just hang out with his or her dentist, I mean if they’re not related to you?

While Mr. DDS was testing his theory of whether or not I felt pain, spraying my mouth with cold and the hot water—me, wincing and jumping—he insulted me.

“You know, you should start buying Sensodyne toothpaste.”

Sensodyne—as in old people toothpaste?

“Aren’t I too young for that?” I garbled.

“No, you’re close to forty, right?” He stepped back and assessed me.

“No!” I wasn’t yet, thirty-five!

“Oh, well, your teeth think you are.”

Nice.

Then, the appointment got worse. As the man was dismantling an old filling, he accidentally punctured my root with one of his miniature diamond pickaxes. I saw blinding white for thirty-three seconds before I tasted rusted pennies on my tongue.

“Oops. Sorry.”

FYI, oops and sorry should never be uttered during any procedure—ever!

He went on to tell me that he wasn’t qualified to perform a root canal, but had a buddy whom he’d call, and request an emergency appointment. Root canal? Emergency appointment? My teeth think I’m forty-years-old? He left.

After a few minutes, the dentist returned.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but my buddy can’t see you for two hours. So what I’m going to do is numb you up real good, and then you can see him this afternoon.”

I have no idea how much Lidocaine the man shot into my gums and cheek, but it was enough to make the whole right side of my face lie immovable.

Killing a couple of hours, I decided to head to a nearby Barnes and Noble. Along with books they also have a place to order a sandwich.

When I got in my car, I checked out my face in the rearview mirror. I was poufy but looked fine—until I smiled. An invisible line seemed to wall off one side of my face from the smiling side. I looked like I had had a major stroke and recently.

I had two choices; I could drive all the way home to wait for my appointment watching daytime television—ugh! And then drive all the way back a few hours later, or I could suck up what I looked like and go to church—aka Barnes and Noble. I reasoned I rarely had the opportunity to do nothing but read in the afternoon, so I chose option B and drove to the bookstore.

At a corner section of B and N, was Starbucks and I scanned the menu items above the barista. As I opened my mouth to order a sandwich and a drink, a thick string of slobber spilled from the sagging right side of my face and puddled onto the counter.

Horrified I snatched a handful of napkins from a dispenser and sopped up my juices. I tried saying sorry, which led to more drool and pitying looks from “Becca” behind the cash register.

“That’s a grilled ham and cheese and a diet coke without ice, right?” she asked, enunciating each word. I nodded and handed her my credit card.

“I’ll bring it out to you,” Becca said, producing a damp yellow rag and mopping up my saliva.

I tried convincing myself to stay, fighting the adrenaline spike prompting me to run out of the building, to my car, and drive somewhere dark—somewhere in the shadows to hide.

To my surprise, I didn’t run. I found a book. I found a table, and I sat down. This is good I kept telling myself, this is a social experiment—what it’s like to be at Starbucks and Barnes and Noble with partial facial paralysis.

After a few minutes, someone other than Becca brought me my order. I popped a corner of sandwich into my mouth and tried chewing off a piece. I bit my cheek instead. I ripped off a section by hand and shoved it passed my lips. The bread slipped out of the right side of my mouth and landed on the table in a wet mess.

Not Becca was watching me from the counter. I felt his stare boring into the side of my broken face. I pretended not to care. I tried taking a long drag on my straw, picturing the dark liquid shooting through the tube like my own stubbornness, but this too just poured out the side of my mouth and splashed onto the tabletop.

Becca and Not Becca hurried to me, holding handfuls of napkins and a damp yellow cloth. I couldn’t handle it. I packed up my things and hurried out to my car vowing never to go to any dentist other than my brother and that maybe I should start using Sensodyne toothpaste?

Today, I sit sipping sparkling water on ice—though it has nothing to do with using old person toothpaste—that stuff doesn’t really work. Recently, I found a toothpaste containing fluoride, and within a week, here I am with an icy drink! Miracles do happen!