Mistakes

Welcome to the June / July submissions for The Blog Project. The topic is Mistakes. Return to this page during the months of June and July to read the submissions and make positive comments.

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The comment section will be open until the middle of August. After that you will be able to read the submissions but will no longer be able to comment.

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A Beautiful Thing

by Ruthy Wexler

Mistakes.  It’s the topic that I myself suggested for this blog, many months ago. During a congenial and productive meeting at Sheila’s house, we brainstormed ideas, I called out “Mistakes!” and as Ann wrote it down, I reflected that for me this topic would be a no-brainer.

After all, I’d made so many mistakes—dramatic ones, huge, that made for good stories—so when it was my turn,  I’d just choose a mistake and write it up.

Except when the time came, I felt stuck.

Just pick one, I said to myself, a bit impatient with the delay. I considered a particularly horrifying mistake, letting my husband (now ex) drive drunk with my daughter in the car. I contemplated more general errors,  like choosing the wrong career and cluelessly remaining in it for most of my adult life.

But my pen (mouse) resisted.

Really? I said to myself.  Is that all you have to say?  Because I’ve written about those mistakes. I’m reviewing all that material as I work on my memoir. Truth to tell, I have no fresh thoughts on those subjects.

What is it that I really feel about mistakes right now, a month past my 70th birthday?

Yesterday,  I was chatting with a good friend—let’s call her Tina—over coffee. As she delivered some news about her 35-year-old daughter, I watched my friend’s face and saw a roller coaster of emotions:  regret, concern, love and pain –and fusing them together was something else, her determination to stay in the present.  And I thought:   the people I spend a lot of time with now, the people I care about, are all living with their mistakes, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Let me clarify here. The people I spend a lot of time with now are not the sort who blame others; rather, they’re mostly women of a certain age, who try to look at their life truthfully and do the right thing.

But  living is a difficult business. I believe that for most of our lives, we’ve all wanted to do the right thing—except we sometimes miss it, even when it’s staring us in the face—because at that point in time, we may not have the resources—the correct eyeglasses, if you will—to see.

And then we age and gain wisdom, those precious eyeglasses which allow us to see the whole picture. But they come at a price. With those glasses, we can also see—and this is never fun—our younger selves doing the wrong thing.

Tina lives with the knowledge that as a single mother who was ambitious to get ahead in her field, she neglected her daughter at crucial points in the girl’s life. Tina sees that some of her daughter’s  neediness can perhaps be traced back to what she, Tina, failed to do.

So Tina has apologized to her daughter, describing with painful honesty her own lacks and limits as a  young mother. Tina regrets—this is the pain in her heart—that she didn’t do it differently. She endures that pain, keeping it to herself except if she thinks sharing it will help her daughter, and tries now to be the best mother she can be. She agonizes over decisions; e.g., will offering money help her daughter or impair her ability to fend for herself?

What I see is Tina choosing to be the best mother she can be now, with the knowledge that she could have done it better. I see Tina incorporating her daughter’s needs  but still loving and living her own life as fully as possible.

It’s not an easy balance.  But it is what I call beautiful: dear friends bravely carrying the weight of their mistakes, feeling the pain of regret, trying to rectify what they can and gaining acceptance about the rest—while still loving life with a full heart.

I’m trying to do it myself, but that’s a whole other essay.

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Eating My Words

by Sheila Wright

“Can I have just one?”

“What about me? Remember I didn’t like my breakfast, so now I am starving.”

“Sorry you two, but you are going to have to wait until we get through this line and pay. Then you can eat them all.”

Rob (10) and Chris (7) were exhausted and hungry. As was I. We had toured most of the White House that morning. We managed to get lost and found ourselves in the basement, where two men quickly shepherded us on to an elevator. One of those men was Teddy Kennedy. I had whispered something to Rob. “He’s John Kennedy’s brother. The president who was shot.”

That’s all it took for the two red-headed boys to ask a million questions. “Are you famous?” ‘Is your brother dead?” “Can we have your autograph?” “Will you become president?”

Every one of their questions got a chuckle and an answer. When we got off the elevator, I couldn’t stop talking about the wonders of The White House. And democracy. I waxed, ineloquently for sure, about honesty, truth, freedom and all things good.

But now we were in a long line, waiting to check out our food and sit down. Absentmindedly, I chewed a French fry and then another. The kids busted me so I had to let them in on the deal. One or two. A handful by one and a bigger handful by the other. Then we were done. The line was still long, but our stomachs slightly satisfied. About twenty minutes later we rounded a corner and came to a halt next to the trash bins. It was right there and then that I made the big mistake. I threw the empty French fry container into the trash. Out of nowhere. No thought, no malice. Just dumped it.

To this day, I cannot utter more than five syllables to Rob or Chris about honesty or doing the right thing without a “Hey mom, what about those French fries?” Those stolen fries have followed me through my sons’ junior high, high school, college and professional lives.  Alas, now my grandchildren know the tale. It’s the mistake that keeps on giving. And I keep having to eat my words.

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There’s No Mistaking 

by Ann Klaiman

It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every Bachelor of Arts,
That all sin is divided into two parts.
One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important,
And it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant,
And the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of omission
        and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people, from
        Billy Sunday to Buddha,
And it consists of not having done something you shuddha.
—- Ogden Nash, excerpt, “Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man”

From an early age, my gut told me Nash was right.  And I saw myself mostly as a sinner of commission.  I was the kind who blundered in without knocking, rather than failing to come to the door at all.  I said the wrong thing, went the wrong way.  As I grew up, though, I realized I also sinned by omission.  A sin of omission “lays eggs under your skin.”  The festering and pain come later, when the eggs hatch:  I should have called him.  I should have planned for this.

As the poem progresses, Nash is clearly speaking of sins you know about— you did it, or didn’t do it, with full knowledge. You were staring right at it. But what about sins for which it takes time to realize that what you did, or didn’t do, was bad?  Is that a sin, or just a mistake, I wonder.

Consider this scenario:

A young woman, long hair tossed by the breeze, rides her cruiser bike down city streets.  With a straw hat tilted just so, skirt flapping, her sandals showcase bright red toenails with each push of the pedals.  Her wicker front basket is festooned with yarn daisies, and SHE’S TALKING ON A  ((*&%^# CELL PHONE.  There’s possible sinning here.

How so?  She’s doing nothing illegal. If she were driving a car, any sudden traffic problem would cause her to toss that phone onto the seat and take care of business.  But on a bike?  She’s already riding one-handed in city traffic, albeit light.  She’s in an electronic haze, the world around her dimmed.  She just rode the block in front of the elementary school, unaware that she was frustrating parents trying to access the passenger pickup lane in which she was obliviously riding.  Would a sudden traffic problem cause her to drop that smart phone in the gutter?  ARE YOU KIDDING?   Has she committed a sin by riding and phoning?  —or has she sinned by omission by not realizing the dangers of this bad habit?

Now add me to the scene:  As I drive by, I could pull up next to her at a stop sign and yell, “Hey, Biker, hang up and ride!”   Or would that be a sin of commission? Though it’s highly unlikely, it might cause her to fall off her bike, or drop her phone, or accidentally ride forward into the intersection and cause an accident.  If I do nothing every time I see this, is it a sin of omission?  Or is my omission failing to advocate for laws banning phone use on bikes?  To avoid a whole list of sins of omission, do I have to become an advocate for change of every bad thing I think is happening?  Good grief!

You can see that this light-hearted Ogden Nash poem has muddled my brain.  Welcome to Nashville. Hear Nash himself read the entire poem at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9YcSNmXvtw/

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How I Joined the Dorks

by Nancy M. Peterson

“Don’t those women know how they look? I asked my husband in a whisper as we sat enjoying our after-movie coffee in our neighborhood Village Inn.

I didn’t need to point out the subject of my question, as a group of women in such short, wide, ruffled petticoats that their skirts stuck out parallel to the floor, paraded through the restaurant to settle at a long table. Accompanied by husbands/partners in shirts that matched their dresses, they were laughing and talking, apparently oblivious to the stares their procession inspired.

Wide was the operative word. Their combined skirts and petticoats took up so much room that chairs and tables had to be adjusted so they could each sit. And it seemed the wider the girth of the woman, the shorter and wider the petticoat.

I shook my head. “My father would have said, “They’re just as happy as if they had good sense,” I said archly, supremely confident I was far above making such a spectacle of myself. “You will never catch me in such dorky clothes,” I assured my husband.

WRONG!

One year later, having been pressured by friends to add square dancing to the Western dancing we already enjoyed, we had finished a square dance class. A dance was imminent. I reluctantly went to a shop that had square dance gear for sale and bought the mildest skirt and smallest petticoat I could find. And the lacy pettipants I was told I needed to protect my modesty. And shoes which looked like the Mary Jane’s I wore in the second grade. Reluctantly, I presented myself to our family.

My husband was too busy getting used to himself in his first pearl-snapped Western shirt and bolo tie to pay much attention. Our last nestling was a teenager. I was apologizing to him for my weird appearance, bracing myself for his guffaws, when he said, “That’s not so bad. I think you look kind of pretty.”

Bless his heart, I thought. He’s absorbed my preaching about, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” He’s even gone a step farther. Slightly encouraged, I girded my loins and walked out to the car, feeling like I was wearing a disguise. “Maybe no one will recognize me,” I thought hopefully.

WRONG!

Our neighbor was washing his car. He looked up. “Looks like you’re going square dancing,” he said. “We used to do that. Had a lot of fun. Made a lot of friends. He was

RIGHT!

We’ve been square dancing for 24 years now. It’s our favorite form of entertainment. In spite of the clothes. I never did go for petticoats that fill the back seat of the car, and I welcomed the broomstick and long prairie skirts that are more and more common today. But I couldn’t care less if other women like to wear them. Because I know the women who wear them and the men in the pearl-snapped shirts are the most good-hearted, kind, caring people you’ll ever meet. The salt of the earth, as they say. We know we’ve made friends for a lifetime. And they like to laugh and have fun.

These days when I’m part of that parade into a restaurant after a dance, I’m not embarrassed. I don’t care what people think. I feel sorry for them, because they don’t know what they’re missing.

When the caller says, “Square ‘em up!” I join a roomful of smiles. I’m happy because I had the good sense to try something I did not expect to like, to open myself to a new experience, to learn— again —when you judge people by their appearance you can expect to be WRONG.

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As I lay dying

Or

Oh crap. I should have thought that through

by Virginia Small

They were right. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried that at home.

Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to swallow the Mentos and drink the cola.

I shouldn’t have tried to eat that tablespoon of cinnamon.

Maybe I shouldn’t have teased the pit bull.

No one told me you couldn’t wear a suit of armor in a lightening storm.

Maybe I shouldn’t have run with the bulls until I was fully awake.

I guess a human cannonball wasn’t such a great job.

I should have learned more about those mushrooms before I picked and ate them.

I thought you could lick any toad and get high.

I should pay more attention to food expiration dates.

Wow. I really can’t hold my breath for five minutes under water.

I just wanted to get a little closer to the lion to take a picture.

Okay. So it wasn’t such a good idea to stow away in the wheel case of the plane. No one told me.

I thought it was just a garter snake when I picked it up.

Did I really win the Darwin award?

Gee.

Thanks.

I guess.

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Comments

Mistakes — 19 Comments

  1. I agree with Sophia above: that I love this blog because it has enriched my life and I’ve gotten to know different Pen women members way better because of it. I agree too, I can hear their voice, and somehow it’s more vivid when written down, not lost in the scufffle of conversation.
    I loved Nancy’s square dance story; it made me think how easily we dismiss stuff, when it could be something that we might learn to love and have such fun with. I loved the image of Nancy and her husband going into a restaurant and her not caring anymore if people look or not, because they don’t know what they’re missing.
    I laughed aloud at Sheila’s polishing off the French Fries and not paying and her kids ragging on her for years afterward. I totally resonate with Ann’s piece; I find myself actually correcting children and adults in the street or in stores when they’re doing rude or foolish things. And I loved Virginia’s free form list.

  2. Please click on the “reply” arrow to leave comments for A Beautiful Thing by Ruthy Wexler

  3. Please click on the “reply” arrow to leave comments for “Eating My Words,” by Sheila Wright.

  4. Please click on the “Reply” arrow to leave comments for “There’s No Mistaking” by Ann Klaiman

    Reply ↓

    • Ann:

      We can take this to the extreme and say we have committed the sin of omission if we fail to be a zealot; for the protection of children, the rights of animals, the protector of women’s rights, against police brutality, an against female genital mutilation, the rights of the poor . . . It could go on and on.

      Someone said we have to choose out battles. We can’t save the world and it would do us no good to die trying.

      • Virginia, you make a good point. Thank you. What we do on the personal level every day, like snitting about traffic laws, when taken to extremes, can become funny. But you’ve exploded that idea— saying that the small, personal debates we have about everyday things contain within them implications for how we should treat all humankind (not just the one idiot on a bike with the %^&^ cell phone). We have to decide when to laugh and when such ideas “must give us pause.”

  5. Dear Bloggers,

    Blogging has enriched my life, my funny bone and my friendship with fellow Pen Women. Each of you has such a distinctive voice that when I read your blogs I actually hear your voice in my mind. That’s memorable!

    Sophia

  6. Please click on the “Reply” arrow to leave comments for How I Joined the Dorks by Nancy M. Peterson.

    • Nancy, I loved your piece about square dancing. It brought back memories from my college days when my boyfriend who is now my husband reluctantly joined me in looking dorky at a few of these square dancing functions. I have to agree that the folks we met were very friendly.

      Kay

      • Kay, Our club has a new class starting Sept. 10. Maybe you should brush up and get back to dancing? Lots of fun to be had.Our club will celebrate its 75th anniversary in October. We’re the oldest club in the world (because we’re the oldest club in the U.S and square dancing is an American invention.) But you don’t have to be that old to join!

        Nancy

    • Dear Nancy,

      Jerry and I also square danced. I made my dresses, and the way I did it was to make each additional ruffle twice as long as the one above it. There was a lot sneezing and spitting from the fabric lint as I connected 3 or 4 ruffles to each other on the sewing machine.

      I’ll never forget the square dance where we had left at home a 4-year-old son with his 8-year-old sister and 12-year-old brother. In the midst of dancing and music someone touched my shoulder and said, “You have a phone call. I took the call and heard my oldest son’s frightened voice say, “Mom, Karen and I just pulled out David’s 2 front teeth. He bit down on a licorice stick and it took both Karen and me to pull the licorice out of his mouth because his 2 front teeth were inbedded in the licorice. Now David’s spitting out blood, what shall we do?”

      By now my husband was standing by my side wondering who I was talking to. I handed him the phone and put both my hands over my mouth to muffle my laughter. I heard my husband tell each child, one by one, that they should save those baby teeth for the tooth fairy and we would be home in a half hour; not to worry-the teeth were ready to come out or they wouldn’t have come out so easily. The Titans, our square dance group, never stopped ragging us about practicing dentistry without a license.

      • Sophia, What a funny story! My husband loves licorice. I’ll have to warn him. Though his baby teeth are long gone. What do you suppose it would to to implants??
        Nancy

  7. Please click on the “Reply” arrow to leave comments for As I lay dying…. by Virginia Small.

    • Dear Virginia,

      What if? What if? I know there is a zodiac sign that shows a head looking forward and backward at the same time. If there is anything I hate about myself is how I’m always second guessing myself. In the Bible someone was warned not to look back at a burning city, and damn if the temptation wasn’t so great, she looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Second quessing is a human condition because we don’t want to be hurt, we don’t want to be left out, we want to live fully. That’s what elevates us above every species. But the flip side is we are made in the image of God with God like confidence warring with human frailaties. It’s not fair!!!

      Guess what-I’m wondering if I should send this philosophical thesis to you. Maybe, maybe not.

      Your mixed up friend, Sophia

      • Sophia, great comment. The “head looking forward and backward” is that of the Roman god Janus, after which the month January is named. He’s not a sign of the zodiac; he is the god of beginnings, endings,and time. Like you said, he’s usually shown two-faced because he looks to the future and the past (sort of like the month of January does). In the Bible, the woman turned into a pillar of salt is Lot’s Wife.

      • Virgina: Loved the title. Kept me reading and enjoyed your list. Nancy, I used to Square Dance quite a bit when I was young. Took my husband to dance only a couple of times, but he was not happy with it. I was disappointed, but what can one do? Enjoyed both posts very much!