Ordinary Thoughts, Essays and Short Stories

Month: July 2022

It’s Just a Matter of Taste

A former friend once accused me of having an unsophisticated palate.  It’s not the reason we’re no longer friends — that’s a whole other story — but her comment never left me.  Not because it was hurtful but because, according to certain standards, it was true.

Using similar criteria, I suppose I’m guilty of a lack of sophistication in quite a few areas.  I never developed a high appreciation for art, music or poetry.  At least not the sort that would be considered valuable or cultured.  And telling the difference between an authentic Louis XVI armoire and a decent knockoff is something I couldn’t do if you held a gun to my head.  Same thing goes for designer clothes.

While I admire folks who educate themselves in these matters, I’ve never had the desire to devote my own energies to such things.  I suppose it would be nice to possess that sort of knowledge but, to be honest, I pretty much hate the learning process.  I’d just as soon magically know stuff…like through osmosis.  That might be because my attention deficit makes it so challenging to digest information, or it could just be that my lazy nature lends itself more easily to that which requires little effort.  Regardless, the whole osmosis thing hasn’t worked, so I tend to consider myself a bit of a simpleton, and I’ve spent the majority of my life worrying about being harshly judged by others.  I’m not exactly a cretin – I mean, I’m intelligent enough to walk to my mailbox without stopping to ask for directions – but my depth of edification leaves a lot to be desired.  Knowing I don’t necessarily measure up when it comes to being refined has always left me feeling insignificant and out of touch.

That doesn’t mean I’ve kept myself hidden away in the shadows.  The majority of my jobs actually required that I be front and center, and I somehow managed to choreograph my way through working with the public without coming across as the village idiot.  I even had someone once compliment me on my ability to finesse.  It was a nice thing to say, but I knew what she really meant was I was rather adept at the art of BS.  And she wasn’t wrong.  Dealing with individuals from all walks of life requires a certain level of savoir faire and, for whatever reason, that seemed to come naturally to me.  Still does most of the time.  As an introvert, maintaining that persona can be tiring, but it’s doable.  Even so, the back of my mind never lost that pesky notion that suggested I was somehow less than

I’ll never forget a coworker’s surprise when he found out my highest level of education was a high school diploma.  When he said I didn’t sound like someone who hadn’t gone to college, my snarky comeback was, “So, in other words, you’re saying I talk good?”  He turned red, tried to eat his words and we both had a good laugh.  But it served as a reminder to me that people might think something was missing in my general makeup because my horizons hadn’t been particularly broadened. 

I’ve had a lot of come to Jesus talks with myself over the years, and the most recent have involved letting go of thoughts that do me more harm than good.  Like thinking I’m not worthy because I was never schooled in haute cuisine, upscale fashion or fine arts.  My comfort zone has always been more in the neighborhood of Kool-Aid wine, blue jeans and classic rock.  (70’s…not 80’s.  I do have standards.)  When it comes to a posh lifestyle, it’s just not my thing.  A higher price tag doesn’t necessarily dictate worth to me.  I simply like what I like.  If it’s pleasing to my eyes, ears or palate, it doesn’t matter what value someone else might place on it.  My idea of the finer things in life are experiences that speak to me on more of a gut level than an intellectual one.  

It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally stopped dwelling on the fact that I will never be a connoisseur of anything.  There are probably those who think I missed out on the greater gifts in life by not pursuing further education – formal or otherwise – but, when it comes to what’s truly important to me, there’s nothing lacking in my little world.  I hold no envy toward those who enjoy sipping fine wine on their snazzy yachts, and they don’t need to pity me for savoring a local sweet red while swaying in my creaky old porch swing.  It’s actually quite fulfilling.  Shoot, sometimes I even get a little fancy, raise the bar, and throw in a couple of cheese sticks.

What can I say?  Happy is as happy does. 

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Who Decides This Stuff Anyway?

We all have pet peeves…for example, people who think it’s A-OK to barge out the IN door, sneeze without covering their mouths or talk out loud during a movie.  It’s normal to wish folks would use common courtesy when in the presence of others.  

But something else that has always bugged me is the fact that some unseen entities from the past decided to throw together a bunch of “rules” that we all had to follow if we wanted to live in a polite society.  Ridiculous things like never wearing white after Labor Day and keeping your elbows off the dinner table.  Many rules of etiquette definitely do make sense – belching and passing gas in a packed elevator come to mind – but I can’t help but wonder why we place so much importance on other people’s standards if what we’re doing doesn’t even affect them.  Call me a savage but, if I want to eat my entire meal with the salad fork, that’s what I’m going to do.  It really shouldn’t be anyone else’s concern.

Besides rules of etiquette, I also find it bothersome that the idea of not being conversant in certain matters might cause people to question my level of couth. 

It’s very possible that the real problem here is that I simply overthink stuff but, if you’d like to see what I’m talking about, click the link below and read It’s Just a Matter of Taste.  Who knows?  Maybe one or two of my little irritations get your goat, too.

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Reading is Fun…So Why Am I Not Doing It?

Most people spend their working years looking forward to that golden chapter where they no longer have to punch a clock.  They long to devote their energies to the things that bring them joy without having to squeeze everything into weekends and annual vacations.  Fun stuff like painting, hiking, writing and, yes, even couch surfing.  The idea of eventually being untethered enough to spend each day following our dreams is what keeps us going until our bank accounts tell us it’s safe to escape the daily grind.

While I never created what I’d call a bucket list, there certainly were specific activities I intended to do once I retired.  The top two were reading and creative writing.  I’ve finally gotten back into the latter, but…reading?  Not so much.  It’s not as though I don’t have the time.  Time has become abundant.  And it’s not as though I don’t have books crowding my shelves – both virtual and old school – that I’d like to sink my teeth into.  Those are abundant, too. 

So, what is it that’s standing between me and that next great escape?  I’m embarrassed to admit that, over the past couple of years, I’ve become addicted to three of the worst timewasters out there:  TV, the internet and the multitude of games on my iPad.  And that’s extremely counterintuitive because I love books.  The dream of one day being able to read to my heart’s content was quite the enticing carrot on a stick when I was slogging away in the office. 

If you were ever a fan of The Twilight Zone, you likely will recall a particular episode starring Burgess Meredith as Henry, a nerdy little bank teller who spent every spare moment reading.  When he wasn’t reading, he talked about reading.  Ad nauseam.  It didn’t seem to matter whether it was a book, a newspaper or a cereal box, reading was the only pastime he cared about.  The problem was, real life had so many extraneous interruptions, he couldn’t spend nearly as much time reading as he would have liked.

That all changed when Henry inadvertently avoided nuclear annihilation because he was hiding away inside the bank vault with his nose stuck in a book.  When he stumbled out and began wandering the remains of his town, he was at first frightened and then despondent.  He realized he was the only person left alive, and he didn’t consider that a life worth living. 

Henry’s miserable outlook did an about-face when he came across the rubble from his local library.  There were piles and piles of books – all for the taking – and he was overjoyed at the prospect of living out his life doing what he loved more than anything else.  Reading.  And the best part was, there would be absolutely zero interruptions.

Of course, as with any good Twilight Zone episode, there was a twist at the end that made you cringe and throw your head back while cursing the show’s writers.  As Henry sits amidst his treasured stacks of books, he leans forward and his very thick – and very necessary – eyeglasses fall from his face, shattering as they land on the concrete steps below him.  He is left alone with all the time in the world, and enough unread stories to entertain him until his dying breath, yet he can do nothing more than stare out into a blurry eternity, muttering, “That’s not fair.  That’s not fair at all.”

Since the day I retired, I’ve unwittingly emulated our practically blind Henry.  Obviously, there are a few glaring differences.  For one thing, my glasses are still very much intact and, for another, I’m fortunate enough not to have been thrust into some dispiriting, post-apocalyptic existence.  Also, I’m not decrying my current situation as being unfair.  Quite the opposite.  I’m well aware that this time in a person’s life can be wonderful and freeing and loaded with possibilities.  And I’m more than a little grateful for that.  I just haven’t been using it the way I’d anticipated.

To put it simply…my inner vision hasn’t been much better than poor Henry’s literal vision after his glasses hit the skids.  I’ve allowed other things – activities that are somewhat enjoyable, but not particularly riveting – to blind me to the very thing my heart wanted unrestricted time to do.  Read.

While I’m not the least bit interested in psychoanalyzing why I haven’t been utterly drowning myself in books the last two years, I am determined to stop wasting so much time on electronic squirrels. 

Those who know me know that my favorite author is Stephen King.  If he writes it, I read it.  That’s how it used to be anyway.  I’ve had one of his more recent books downloaded to Kindle since last fall, and it still sits there…heartbreakingly neglected.  I plan to begin remedying that situation today.  The very thought of it already has my mental taste buds tingling.  When it comes to those first appetizing paragraphs, no one prepares them better than Mr. King. 

At least, that’s how I see it in my book. 

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You know how people often claim they don’t have time for this, that or the other?  Chances are, they actually do have time, but they choose to use it for something unrelated to…well…this, that or the other. 

Oh, sure, there are those with such truly busy schedules they don’t even have time to change their minds but, for many of us, that old “I don’t have time” excuse is just that.  An excuse.  Once all our daily obligations are addressed, we likely do have some time to spare, but we choose to spend it doing things we want to do instead of things we’d rather not do.  I’m pretty sure the official term for that is “human nature.”

There are a few of us, though, who complicate it even further.  Our spare time is spent on things we sort of like to do instead of things we really love to do.  It doesn’t make sense, but it happens all the same.  There are certain activities that bring us more joy than others, yet we backburner those and while away the hours with mediocre pastimes.  Of course, I might be taking liberties with the pluralization here.  Maybe there’s a small cadre of people who share this trait, or maybe it only applies to the knucklehead sitting right here at my keyboard. 

To see if you possibly relate, click the button below and check out my essay Reading Is Fun....  If you find you don’t relate at all, odds are you’re much more levelheaded than I. 

But don’t get too cocky.  I set that bar extremely low.

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