Category Archives: nobody likes a curmudgeon

A Tale of Two Bed Frames:

recognizing when we use petty problems to cover more serious self-examination

Have you ever come to the unpleasant realization that you have participated in your own cover-up?

rows of metal bed frames lined up on a dusty street

CC photo “Beds” courtesy of cerebusfangirl on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

That you were your own architect, director of misinformation, and willing dupe? That, in fact, you’ve been avoiding a certain situation by creating some ancillary drama?

I have.

As I sat at my table/desk the other day, trying once again to organize my life, I surveyed the scene in my apartment.

It was a mess. I could only see patches of floor space between the scattered belongings. Everywhere I walked, I stepped on grit. Toppling arrangements of paper and books adorned the surfaces of tables.

My apartment had been a mess for going on two weeks, and was getting worse. The cause: bed frames.

I had two, in a small studio apartment, and I wasn’t sleeping on either of them. I was sleeping on the floor.

I sighed, thinking about all the other parts of my life that weren’t working, either. Then, I suddenly connected the dots.

Bed chaos = life chaos.

The disorder in my apartment was a microcosm of the rest of my life.

Behold: there were two

One of the bed frames, a white metal daybed, was loaned to me by a friend for a few months. Now was the time to return it. Disassembling the daybed was easy: one T25 screwdriver to remove four screws that held the center of the daybed frame to the head- and footboards; eight more screws (two per leg) attaching the head- and footboards to the metal spring frame. Final count: four metal pieces (headboard, footboard, center piece, and frame) and a handful of screws.

I couldn’t fit the frame into my car, as I discovered after I disassembled the bed and lugged all the pieces down two flights of stairs. My friend, who has an SUV, couldn’t pick up her bed for a few more days. I decided against putting the bed back together, and stacked the pieces against the wall in the corner.

The other frame was from IKEA. I got the cheapest wood option. The box containing the pieces was sleek enough: a long, flat rectangle, about 7 feet by 10 inches by 3 inches. There were a considerable number of pieces, however. The headboard alone contained seven pieces of wood, 10 wooden dowels, and four screws.

The IKEA frame was my Frankenstein, only I couldn’t find the spark of life.

I put together the headboard, and the footboard, and was in the process of trying to connect them via the long pieces which support the mattress, before I decided I’d much rather throw the whole lot out the window rather than wrestle with them any further. The long board did NOT want to attach to the headboard, no matter which long screw I used. About one AM, tired of cajoling splintery pieces of pine, I shoved aside my tools and put the mattress on the floor to sleep.

That’s where all the pieces stayed for another week. The headboard and one incompletely connected long piece of the IKEA frame lay on the floor and leaned up against another wall, catty-corner from the daybed, taking up more valuable space. I left the remaining screws, dowels, and metal supports scattered across tables and chairs.

What a disaster, I thought occasionally over the course of the next few days, looking at the stacks, the dust, the sprawled mattress and pieces of bed frame scattered around the room. If only I actually had a bed and all this went away...

Which was when it dawned on me.

I could clean up this mess… and then what?

If the bed frame mess magically went away, I had other aspects of my life to complain about. A list of disasters, in fact.

The bed situation was just a cover.

I’d deconstructed the simple, the straightforward, and borrowed, but I wasn’t able to clear it out of my life. I waited. I hung onto stuff which I would be better served letting go.

Then I’d chosen a cheap and complicated replacement, which turned out to be needlessly difficult to incorporate into my life, and of poor quality. I chose it for myself although I wanted better, because I thought that was all that I could get.

Sound familiar? I’m willing to bet that most of you can relate.

Don’t be fooled.

The bed frames are just a cover. If you take a closer look, I’m willing to bet there’s another mess hiding in the wings that you’d rather not examine. Confession time: when was the last time you created a little drama to distract you from a deeper issue?

That’s exactly what I mean. Literally.

Creative ways of being totally factual with language

cat making a funny sneezing face

I literally don’t know what you’re talking about. — Image Silly Rus’ courtesy of GloriaGarcia on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Kids are amazingly literal when they are small. We have to be careful how we phrase what we say to them, lest we be taken exactly at our word.

At a certain age, I learned to use literal to my advantage. For instance, when my friend T and I were caught playing on the furniture, I exclaimed: “But we weren’t jumping ON the beds!  We were jumping OFF them!” This was literally true: we were using the bed as a launching pad for tumbling routines on the floor. I was very proud of myself for not lying and felt very smart (see here for other ways I am smart and self-aggrandizing).

Another time, when T was at my house for a sleepover, we had gotten up early before everyone else, but I didn’t want them to know. When I heard the creak of the floorboards above us that indicated someone was awake and aware, I told her to lie down real quick on the living room floor. She had no idea what I was talking about, but she did lie down, and so did I. We paused for a second, and I popped up like a jack-in-the-box. “Okay,” I announced. “Now if anyone asks us, we’ve JUST GOTTEN UP.”

T thought this was so hilarious she still tells the story now, decades later.

The same interpretation is at work in bad translations. Taking every word — literally and individually — and replacing it with the closest possible counterpart in the other language is a recipe for Japanese English translations. Okay, so that was a low blow. But can you imagine translating the following literally? “I’ll keep my eyes peeled.” How about: “waiting for the other shoe to drop”?

A good translation is nothing less than a kind of re-writing, a re-imagining of the work. Translation is poetry in motion. No language has an exact one-to-one vocabulary correspondence to any other language.

The literal trailers found on YouTube play on this concept (search for the movie of your choice along with the words “literal trailer” and prepare to be bemused). The trailers are a kind of spoof in which sequences from Hollywood films are shown without their soundtrack, while a narrator “sings” a description of exactly what is visible on-screen. Closed-captioning accompanies the text. My favorites include the trailers for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Twilight. Stories become sublimely ridiculous when literal-ness is taken to this logical extreme.

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What about you? Have you on occasion played literally with the truth? Did you create good entertainment value with this technique? Please share — I’d love to hear more stories about the literal use of language!

I like the rain

(and you do, too. You just don't know it yet)

Why do I do this to myself?

image courtesy of layoutsparks.com

When I was in New Zealand training for the second women’s team going to the World Ultimate Club Championships in Perth, Australia, we arranged several “training camps” for the members of all our teams (we had five: a men’s, two women’s, a master’s, and a co-rec squad) to actually play together. We had folks from all over the country, both North and South Island, who had no regular opportunity to do so before the tournament. The folks in Christchurch, or Wellington, or Auckland, knew each other pretty well; but the teams were a geographical hodgepodge. Some things we could do remotely, such as logistics and brainstorming plays. But team chemistry really means training and playing together.

And the weather was not cooperating.

The second camp, in Wellington in the winter, was a three-day event. Our time was limited. We didn’t have the option of re-scheduling. Scheduling the original dates had been hard enough. Those of us from out of town flew in on cheap Air NZ flights, and those from Welly hosted all of us — sometimes up to four or five guests — on floors and couches. Together, we contemplated our miserable luck with the weather.

It wasn’t just a little drizzle. This was a decisive, stay-put type of rain. It rained all night before the start of camp, and it was still raining the following morning. The fields were soaked. Nobody wanted to get out of the car, which was where we changed into our cleats, wincing internally about the instant we had to set foot on the saturated ground.

picture courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

One of my teammates was a kindergarten teacher in Christchurch. She was cheery at all times, something that appears to be a constitutional requirement of pre-K and grammar school teachers everywhere. As we huddled together in the cold and wet before warmup, she told us about a song she made her moody students sing when faced with nasty weather. “I like the rain,” she said, in a happy sing-song. “I like the rain. One, two, three, four…. I like the rain!”

I felt like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, but I kept my mouth shut — until we started our warmups. Up and down and around the fields as we moved more quickly, high stepping and doing cariocas, we chanted as a unit, getting louder as we went. Squish, squish, went our feet, our shoes entirely soaked and our socks as well, sending up sprays of mud onto ourselves and anyone running close by. The rain wet our hair and seeped through our clothes. “I like the rain,” we sang, then shouted. “I like the rain! One, two, three, four! I like the rain!” Our ridiculous behavior did not go unnoticed by the other squads, warming up on adjacent fields. In response, we reacted like any good kindergartners would, prancing and throwing our arms in the air, hamming it up for the crowd.

And a remarkable thing happened. By the time we reconfigured to start drilling our plays, we actually did like the rain.

Strength in numbers.

Some things, we really can’t change. We don’t have any control over traffic lights, if we don’t work in the city department that programs them; we can’t control whether our kids don’t feel well today or whether the grocery store has run out of the most inexpensive brand of butter, or whether our boss is in a lousy mood. Some of us have no control over the heat in our building; and we can’t control the weather. The only thing we have any say over, really, is how we relate to these things. But here’s the dirty secret: relating is contagious.

It’s a good thing, too. Because I’ve chosen to run in the mud again.

image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

In the next week, I start my first ever writing workshop. It means I’m going — on purpose — to share my work, and not just some finished product, but the bones of my work. It’s a prospect both thrilling and horrifying.

The beauty as well as the yuck of writing is that it requires sinking into my own head. Sometimes it’s glorious, and sometimes the field is soggy and I don’t even want to step out onto it because I know I’ll have wet feet for the next several hours. It’s cold, and my socks will get ruined.

I just need to remember, I’m not alone out there.

Strength in numbers.

One, two, three, four….

I like the rain.