Monthly Archives: October 2013

Halloween ~ The Good, The Bad, and The Haters of My Favorite Holiday

Oh, Halloween! How I love thee…! A day and night to be whoever you want, to be as creative as your artistic muse will help you to be, to play the role of any person, place or thing from any era of any part of the history of the world, especially if for the other 364 days of the year, you feel as though you can’t fully express yourself, for whatever reason or because of whatever limitation. At least, this is a part of what October 31 means to me.

Ever since my husband and I dressed our daughter up as a puppy dog for her first Halloween almost four years ago (I know that I am probably biased, but she was so adorable!), Halloween has become about so much more than the enjoyment I get out of it: Now, it is about making sure that she enjoys it, but furthermore, for me, Halloween is about fun, happy family memories, a few of which we have already created, such as when I took my little lady to the pumpkin patch at a local farm during her first fall, or that first year as a puppy when she laid on our lawn on a cozy blanket while we handed out treats, because she was only 7 months old, and didn’t yet have the ability to sit up. It is also about the traditions that the three of us have started together, such as seasonal crafts, including carving a fun face or image into a large pumpkin — this year, she choose a smiley face — or attending our annual neighborhood party thrown specifically for the younger children.

This year's carved pumpkin. She choose the face, we did most of it together, then mommy completed the harder steps.

This year’s carved pumpkin. She choose the face, we did most of it together, then mommy completed the harder steps.

Seasonal puzzles that we colored together one recent evening during the week before Halloween.

Seasonal puzzles that we colored together one recent evening during the week before Halloween.

When my daughter was 19 months old, she and I made this mask together at our local art center as part of the neighborhood Halloween party festivities.

When my daughter was 19 months old, she and I made this mask together at our local art center as part of the neighborhood Halloween party festivities.

But, as with all things, even that which we most love has downsides. Halloween is not at fault though, for the con’s that occur with its arrival. I think sometimes when people don’t fully understand something, and/or don’t know the facts that lay behind it, they either inadvertently cause further murkiness on one side, or deem it bad and unworthy on another. This is where it makes sense to me to read up on a subject. How about a short history lesson?

The American Folklife Center (http://www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html) has an online article written by Jack Santino, called “Halloween: The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows,” which says that Halloween was begun by the pastoral Celtic as a festival of the dead called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween), which was their most significant holiday, and marked the beginning of the year on their calendar, (as well as the end and start of “an eternal cycle”) but on our modern calendar is November 1. Their belief was that spirits of the dead were more present among the living during Samhain than during any other time of the year. Since this was also the start of winter, all livestock was relocated to closer pastures, and all crops were harvested, then stored.

Samhain was celebrated by sacrificing animals, gathering fruit and vegetables, and lighting “bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living.”

“Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before missionaries such as St. Patrick and St. Columcille converted them to Christianity, the Celts practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids, who were priests, poets, scientists and scholars all at once. As religious leaders, ritual specialists, and bearers of learning, the Druids were not unlike the very missionaries and monks who were to Christianize their people and brand them evil devil worshipers.” But isn’t that just humanity for you? Always labeling something as “wrong” just because we haven’t bothered to clarify, forcing others to do as we want them to, and in the end, there are many similarities anyhow?

“As a result of their efforts to wipe out ‘pagan’ holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in it. In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples’ customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshiped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship.”

Of course, there’s more detail to the history than what I have included here (which you can read more of via the link to this article or other related writings), such as short explanation on how the Feast of All Saints, All Souls Day, All Saints Day and others derived from Samhain, or rather, from attempts to eradicate it.

In any case, the above translates to me as a time honoring loved ones by long-ago farmers who relied on the land, the cycles of life and nature in order to see each day, and in turn, each year. Until someone came along and not understanding or agreeing with them, took authority in bossing them around about their own personal beliefs.

As with all holidays that I can think of, Halloween has morphed considerably from its origins to what it is and how it is celebrated in modern day. Sacrificial animals might not be something everyone can wrap their thoughts around — I know it doesn’t sit comfortably with me — but in my eyes, there was no ill intent behind the birth of this holiday. Anything nefarious that correlates with Halloween is not derived directly from the date itself, but instead is the result of twisted persons that have added it in, tainting it for anyone who can see nothing but that stain. My feeling is that everything and anything is only about what you make it about and what it means to you. We all have the ability to take something positive out of any event, and then continue to present it in the same fashion.

In spite of Halloween’s standing as my favorite holiday, there are four major things that end up correlating with October 31 that I could do without:

1) Since when was Halloween about being sexy? I know that I am not the first person to make this point. Just the other day, Amy Poehler (whom I love, but who does not share my love of Halloween) was on Ellen and told this story about when she was 22 years old, attending an 80s Halloween party, she was the only female to NOT dress up as a Robert Palmer girl. (Not really my idea of sexy — or even slutty,  but her message got across.) To me, there is nothing creative or even fun about a “slutty” anything. And we all know there is a slutty, or sexy, or naughty version of pretty much every costume that you can buy or make. There is nothing original about being a Slutty Nurse, if the chick next to you is a Sexy Kitten and the one next to her is a Naughty Maid. Excuse me, but arn’t all three of you beating around the same exact bush? Sheesh, get a job on a street corner already!

Seriously, the main disguise ends up not being a disguise at all as it is eclipsed by the base objective of showing more skin than necessary. I’m willing to bet that we need not take any bets that some of those ladies have the intention of getting a bit more than extra candy…and how!

Then, the initial idea is lost and you might as well just drop the other adjective, admit what you’ve really made it about, and say, “I’m going as ‘Naughty’ this year. Yes, just straight up ‘Naughty.’ I would certainly admire your honesty.

In addition to not being very imaginative, dressing sexy is moot. What I mean is, it can be done any day of the year. Halloween is not any day; it is a specific day. So, why not seize the opportunity to do something different? To dress up or in a way that you wouldn’t be able to all the other days?

I do want to share something humorous AND creative here before I leave this point, that was brought to my attention by my husband last night, which I think he saw on Twitter. Somewhere a gentleman melded imagination with sexy when he created his costume, Edgar Allen Ho(e). Here’s the link to the jpeg: http://i.imgur.com/sDlterD.jpg. Did you enjoy that, too? You’re welcome. Or rather, thank you, kindly to the man in the photo. I like this for so many reasons, starting with the literary reference and my personal love for Mr. Poe, all the way down to the tongue-in-cheek take on seductive Halloween get-ups.

2) Why should I be willing to buy candy for the disrespectful neighborhood children? I think it’s safe to say that most, if not all of us have experienced dealing with tiny terrors in our neighborhoods. You know the ones…their voices have the intonation of experienced and knowledgeable adults, which is ironic as they probably don’t have much of that surrounding them, they cuss, they ride their bikes hard up the sidewalk and in the street expecting all in their path to simply — poof! — vanish in thin air, they creep onto your lawn to vandalize whatever they come across, even if it is only a dinky pinwheel from the dollar bins at Target, they throw rocks at the vacant house behind yours because “no one lives there,” they litter like it’s a profession, they have no guidance or direction or love — from what you can see — and you both loathe them and feel sad for them, but don’t see why an entire community has to suffer their antics just because home life might not be what it should be.

And yet, you are meant to spend your wages on sweets to passively hand out at your front door to these little rowdy, rude, demanding vagrants?? Sweets that will probably further fuel their mischief? Honestly, who really wants these unruly Lord of the Flies youths on their step? I’m not a fan. I finally purchased ONE large bag of treats, even though every fiber of my existence was mad about doing so. And it’s a shame that this feeling is at all a part of a 24-hour period that I actually look forward to each year. It’s a shame that certain children — someone’s once-sweet babies — make me go on the defensive.

3) Why let negativity and hate ruin this day, when all of the other days of the year I work to prevent exactly that? Halloween Haters — as I have dubbed those who feel the need to spread negativity about an inanimate event and those that partake in it — are against Halloween and can not refrain from saying all sorts of ballsy things to you about it.

The example that comes immediately to mind for me is from last year when a 6-year-old girl that lives in my neighborhood stood on my step and told me to take down my decorations and burn them because her parents said that only devil worshipers celebrate Halloween. I inhaled sharply and counted to three, marveling at the so-called logic in this narrow-minded statement, as well as at the possibility that a parent would actually say something like this in their child’s vicinity. I also checked in with my mental calendar for the year. Unbelievable how slowly sections of humanity are to evolve…And…HI! NOT a devil worshiper, thank you. I couldn’t help telling this child that it was time for her to get off my lawn and return to her own home. But I did do it calmly. I did.

4) When will the outside world cease sending messages to our children telling them who they can and can not be? I made the mistake of allowing others — in fact, expecting others — to tell me who and what I was, and what I could and could not do for a sickeningly large portion of my earlier life. Since shaking that beastly habit and becoming a parent (which overlapped a little bit) gender specification is one of those things that pushes my buttons pretty quickly. When I’m checking out a product, if the marketing department is telling me via packaging, wording, etcetera that I can’t have it because it isn’t meant for me, I either buy it anyway and use it the way I want (hoping it burns someone’s bottom somewhere) or don’t buy it at all, because surely my money isn’t able either.

Certain costumes, I’ve noticed, are labeled as “boys” costumes and certain costumes as “girls” costumes. This pervades everyday life (if you let it, and I don’t let it, as you might already be able to tell.) So, when my daughter spotted a Sulley costume (a character from the Disney films Monsters Inc. and Monsters University) at our local BJ’s  and decided instantaneously that that was who she wanted to dress as this year, I hesitated for a moment, then reminded myself what kind of parent I am: the kind that lets her kid be who she is now and always. And doesn’t let people who don’t even know us to tell us otherwise! You see, Sulley is marketed as a “boys” costume. I suppose this is because Sulley is a male character, voiced by John Goodman. But, bloody hell! Does it really matter? No! It does not. Casting the male label aside, (and mentally telling the company that produced the costume to sod off) I purchased the Sulley garb for my girl because I could see she was sure of herself, and my backing her decision would only add to her confidence and happiness. How could I not do that? As her mom, that is part of my job. We were looking for a costume anyhow.

Now even though my daughter is masquerading as a monster later this week,  I do NOT celebrate Halloween to make myself or others fearful. (Anyone who has seen the films knows that Sulley is not only a softie at heart, but also not very scary looking.) In fact, I am not much of a horror person in general. Sure, I’ve been through a haunted house or two during my lifetime around this season, and I have seen probably a dozen scary movies. But, because I gravitate more toward comedy — and the ability to sleep at night — the only television programming that I watch on the regular that falls anywhere within that genre is the brilliant Ryan Murphy series, American Horror Story. I hope that loving quality writing of a talented gay man and his equally talented staff doesn’t make me awful. Surely, someone somewhere thinks it does. But, truly — I know it doesn’t.

Contrary to what others might believe, or perceive of those of us that like/love/enjoy/appreciate Halloween, I definitely do NOT celebrate it to honor anything bad or evil, or to commit bad and evil. I don’t need the validation of opinions of others to allow myself to enjoy this holiday, nor to know that I am a good and kind person who walks through this world everyday with the intention of treating others with compassion. That being said, there will still be Halloween Haters. There will always be haters of some sort over something. So be it. I’ll be creating fond memories with my daughter and husband while the Haters stew in their darkness.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Happiness is Endless Rows of Fully Lined Bookshelves

As Benjamin Franklin once described himself, I shall apply the same to my own person: I am of a ‘bookish inclination.’ A bibliophile. A book worm. I don’t remember how old I was when I first learned to read on my own, but I am certain that ever since, I have loved words, loved learning new ones, loved how they sound out loud, loved the flow of text upon a page. The weight of a book in my hand or across my lap. The texture of the paper. The unique scent of the book, if it has one. All of this always was part of and adds to the enjoyable experience of reading.

For me, reading = happiness. Happiness is endless rows of fully lined bookshelves. (As a writer, these same stocked bookshelves make me yearn to one day be one of those authors who have earned the honor of having work perched up in a store or in a library). Luckily, my former job as a bookseller supplied me with a major expansion in my personal collection that will continue to keep my shelves flush for a few years to come.

Somewhere, someone's fully lined bookshelves. A beautiful sight! (At least to this avid reader.)

Somewhere, someone’s fully lined bookshelves. A beautiful sight! (At least to this avid reader.)

I don’t remember how long ago it was, but I was having this same lovely, recurring dream about spending unlimited time in what appeared to be an old, fancy, large, well-kept, beauteous library. There was nothing in life that was keeping me from every novel in this fictional place. At least, I assume it only exists in my mind within this dream. Nothing keeping me from slowly passing every shelf on every level of this unknown, unlabeled bibliotheca as my fingers touched every spine of every title, every format, every publication year that ever was or ever will be. I can’t help stifling a sigh just recalling the dream…

…Which brings me to one of my favorite scenes involving books, both as a visual and as an indirect part of the story: the film City of Angels, starring Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage, featuring the depiction of angels living in the public library (after a little poking around on the Internet, I found was the San Francisco Public Library). I wonder though, if this scene inspired my dream, or if already having the dream (again, unsure of how far back this nocturnal peace occurred) caused me to pay more attention to the angels living in the library than I already would have. It’s possible that my love of this scene simply springs from my love of books, and that the scene and my dream only relate through the main subject. In any case, I was jealous of those angels and wanted to be one of them! — think of how much reading one could accomplish if either an immortal or celestial being, that is hiding in plain sight after taking residence in a library. And a beautiful, sprawling one, too. Probably containing lots of its own history.

Whenever a television show has books on a shelf, or even in an artfully laid pile on a table, I notice. I salivate a little, wondering which titles are there. How many have I read? How many have I not yet read? One show that is already full of pretty, distracting things and people, White Collar, stops me in this delightful off-track way. In Neal Caffrey’s stunning New York apartment, there’s the stunning Caffrey himself (played by the marvelous Matt Bomer), paintings, wine, and a wall containing a mostly-filled bookcase that I would love to explore, while sitting in what is essentially a cozy reading nook in front of said bookcase.

NealCaffreybookshelves

As a very young book worm, Reading Rainbow (who can forget Lavar Burton?) a show about books reviewed by kids for kids, solidified my already big love for reading and books. A cross-pollination of subjects, it gave me one of my first tastes of history when an episode featured ancient Egyptian civilization, and I immediately fell head over heels in love with the subject. The show made proof of how much fun reading is, how much fun learning is, how those two come together, and how you can go everywhere through books…without going anywhere at all.

Take a look. It's in a book!

Take a look. It’s in a book!

Remembering Reading Rainbow makes me recall another book bonanza of the late 1980s, the Reading is FUNdamental, or RIF objective. If you’ve never heard of RIF, or forget what it is, here’s a boiler plate from wikipedia: “‘Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. is the oldest and largest nonprofit literacy organization in the United States. Founded in 1966, it is based in Washington, D. C. RIF’s community volunteers in every state and U.S. territory provide 4.5 million children with 16 million new, free books and literacy resources each year. RIF’s priority is impoverished children from birth to age 8 years.'” As an elementary student, I enjoyed RIF, especially since my school held a book fair in conjunction. Even though I haven’t heard anything about it since then, it is still active, and hopefully still inspiring children to learn to love reading.

RIF

Unfortunately, reading has become a wistful, just-out-of-reach activity, as with adulthood — and definitely with parenthood — the amount of responsibility increases while the amount of free time simultaneously decreases. So, even though I aim to read at least 35 books a year, that goal has been severely challenged a few times over ever since the birth of my daughter.

She’s a little admirer of books though, too. Whether that is a result of my indirect (seeing me read when I get to) or direct influence (making a point to read to her), her own proclivity for stories, or a dual combination, yet remains to be determined. So I suppose the pride in that fact — as well as her recent attempts to start learning to read by recognizing the names of her favorite shows when she sees them across the television screen —  makes up for all the opportunity I miss out on to read for myself, like I used to. Of course, that doesn’t completely stop me from trying to still read what and when I can…even if it means it takes me three months to read what would naturally only take me three weeks. And this is usually what transpires.

Nevertheless, no matter how the world changes and in what ways, and no matter how my own life changes, book reading will remain a constant for me. Reading gets you outside of your own head. Sometimes we really need this. Yes, it is also an escape. Another option that is sometimes desirable. But in addition, it is a way to gain new perspective, whether to clarify things for ourselves or to understand other people better. Or even just to think in a wholly new and open way.

Seussquote

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

…Fear Itself

“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves — regret for the past and fear of the future.” ~Fulton Oursler

Just as a stop sign in a random point on a highway would disrupt the flow of traffic, so does fear disrupt life.

For not being tangible, for only being a concept sprung from the overactive state that the mind is able to put itself into, fear is powerful stuff. Sweat-inducing, heart-racing, stress-producing, powerful stuff. Fear can either launch you into a frenzy of action, or debilitate, rendering immobility. Worse yet, the long-term effects — when fear has become a pattern keeping you from you.

Without knowing exactly what started it, fear was an umbrella theme of my youth, and it kept me from myself, from happiness, from trying new things. I regret how much fun I might have had, but didn’t. I regret energy wasted trying to figure out who others wanted me to be, instead of just staying true to myself.

Nothing to fear? The me of 20 years ago would strongly disagree. Fear of failure kept me from constant pursuit of writing, even though I’d known since about age nine that it was what I really wanted to do. Fear of not being accepted or liked by my peers caused me to say and do reckless things. Fear of social situations caused me to behave oddly. Fear of the unknown blocked me from new experiences and activities. And the fear of loneliness or ending up alone ironically solidified my loner status.

“Fear of failure must never be a reason not to try something.” ~Frederick Smith

Luckily, I eventually realized that I not only had to overcome all of these fears  in order to live any sort of productive life, but that if I didn’t try at all to put them at least somewhat behind me, I wouldn’t have much of a life of which to speak. Because any kind of fear is part of the human condition, and because it is normally deep-seated, it is not something that I could ever claim to be finished dealing with. But, as an adult, I feel that I am better able to realize when a fear is showing itself, which one it is, how to face it head on (no matter how uncomfortable that can be), how to work around, through and passed it…eventually.

Psychology Today (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay/200902/fear-failure) sites a link specifically between fear of failure and procrastination. “‘It isn’t unusual for any of us to have fear. In fact, it can be considered part of the human condition. A key question in spite of this fear is, are we fulfilling our basic human needs, finding the ongoing nutriments and supports from the social environment in order to function effectively?'” I don’t recall it ever really getting so bad for me that my basic needs were escaping my attention. Not even at my worst. My issue normally was having available support.

The Psychology Today link goes on to say that “‘developing and maintaining our sense of competence plays an essential role in our ability to pursue our goals effectively. In fact, to the extent that we feel competent, our fears of the potential for failure are not related to our procrastination.'” I agree with this, as if you feel competent, you in turn feel confident, thus not only pursue what you desire, but pursue it well. I was missing my confidence until at least college graduation.

“‘The question now is how do we foster that sense of competence in our lives that is so essential to our well-being? Competence, sometimes known as self-efficacy or our confidence in our ability, is built on earlier success. It is an upward spiral of confidence in our ability based on previous experience. It’s also partly perception. When we recall the past, what do we recall? Where do we put our focus? Are we feeding our fears by remembering times when we did fail (because we all do at times), or are we optimistically and strategically focusing on our many successes to bolster our sense of competence?'” Indeed, how? Especially when as an impressionable youngster it wasn’t fostered by the then-adults in your life? Perception is certainly part of it, or at least it has been in my personal experience. I try not to recall the past; where does that get anyone, really? It is only fodder for fears. And not to mention, negativity, which will not boost optimism, confidence, success…Instead, I try to narrow down like a laser beam on what I want to do and why, as well as I perceive the probability and possibility of doing said thing. I think another element is having the say, the power as an adult to facilitate goals in a way that is not present in childhood and adolescence.

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” Tons! Who would have any other answer? If there was no such thing as fear, we wouldn’t have inhibitions of any sort, we would go after more adventures and opportunities…but then, if we couldn’t fail, ever, at all, how human would that be?

The page on fear on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear) provides a reminder that fear can not be erased simply by “forgetting or deleting memories,” as the complexity of fear requires an individual to confront it in an ongoing and active fashion. “‘By confronting their fears— in a safe manner— a person can suppress the fear-triggering memory or stimulus. Known as ‘exposure therapy,’ this practice can help cure up to 90% of people, with specific phobias.'” I can certainly attest to the high rate of failure in the ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away approach when it comes to any fear. Any improvements that I have made in my own life regarding this area have been a result of staring down the barrel of a gun (if I may take dramatic license), not so much to shut off the feeling, but more to allow myself to feel it in conjunction with gaining control of it.

Back to Psychology Today: “‘The attempt is the ‘courage to be’, and our well-being depends on our moving forward with this courage in our lives.'” Even so, every week while writing this blog, and then while posting it, that same old general feeling of fear comes over me again, coupled with all the self-doubt possible. I fret that my writing isn’t good enough, that I am not really saying what I aim to, not making clear points, not putting together interesting content. This is exactly where simply pressing onward takes courage, all the while being courageous in itself.

It seems to me that in spite of being “nothing,” fear equates to much thought and discussion, to much study and reasoning, to lifetimes of seeking and sometimes finding healthy coping mechanisms. To quivering under the perceived pressures that may never come into fruition. But pose a threat nonetheless.

“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure” ~Sven Goran Eriksson

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Who Are You? Who, who, who, who? or My Personal Seduction with Genealogy

I didn’t always love history. During high school, in my boredom with history class, I would wonder how any of it was relevant to my life, especially as I struggled at the time to absorb and retain the information for testing and beyond.

But, like many things in life, my feelings and opinions regarding history changed, and changed quickly, as by the halfway mark in college, something in me had been awakened to history and intrigued by it. Credit being a few years older, credit my very solid, respected history professors, credit what you will…I did a 360, and I am seeing even further that it was the first of a handful that have already occurred, as well as several more that probably lay ahead with progressing age and life experience.

Silly, silly teenage me. How was history relevant to life? How is it NOT? I’d ask former her now. Now, that even with all the interests and hobbies that I already have, a newer one has been rising to the surface for the past two or three television seasons, as I fell in love with and have watched every episode of the genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?

When we were young, history seemed stuffy and full of stodgy old folks who couldn’t see their hand in front of their face. Funny how youth disillusions the young into believing they know so much and would have obviously (dramatic eye roll) done things differently. Duh!… All the while, missing — possibly even ignoring — the warning (one that I could swear now my high school history teacher even spoke aloud): history repeats itself. Or rather, you foolish child! Pay attention, lest you suffer any similar consequences, whether direct or indirect.

A piece of music that works really well here, History Repeating by Propellerheads and Miss Shirley Bassey:

The word is about, there’s something evolving,
whatever may come, the world keeps revolving
They say the next big thing is here,
that the revolution’s near,
but to me it seems quite clear
that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating

And now that I see this as an adult, now that one reason I have any passion for history, as well as genealogy, is because of the lessons that can be learned from others that have been before us, without experiencing the hardships, IF we actually do pay attention.

History and genealogy overlap. Venturing even further, I won’t hesitate to say that genealogy is a type of history, one that is fascinating due to how as life stories are unveiled, it’s impossible not to see that we are all part of something larger than ourselves, that we are all part of each other, even when it doesn’t feel that way. Our personal histories — regardless of how little or much we are aware and informed about them — run parallel with all history. To me, there’s something titillating about that, to be connected, entwined, enmeshed, and then, when knowledge of how and why and when and through who, simply moving. Simply special. Simply human.

Whenever I think on genealogy, or watch a show on genealogy — as I did on Friday while viewing an episode of a show I just found, Genealogy Roadshow, which incidentally is where one can find Josh Taylor, who has also been on Who Do You Think You Are?  — my mind does what it does and on the mental record player begins the refrain to another apropos tune…:

Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?

…Who Are You? by the further fittingly named band, The Who.

The song further questions, much like genealogy does:

Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
‘Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Now, I know these guys weren’t intending the song to translate the way it is in my mind, but even understanding that, I can’t not reference the song while thinking about or talking about genealogy, when even further along one line heeds: You can learn from my mistake but your posing in my glass again.

To be honest, part of what attracted me to Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA?) in the first place goes beyond being a lover of history directly to The Who’s inquiry: I don’t really know who I am in regards to my family history. Sure, I’ve been told little dribs and drabs throughout my life, but I don’t know for certain how much of it is grounded in pure fact versus how much is assumed. Being of both Irish and Italian decent, it seems intelligent to conclude that at some point someone on either one side or both sides traveled over by boat. Of course, many of my ancestors are deceased, so that’s one approach to getting informed and confirmed that is automatically deleted.

Growing up, I was never interested in finding anything out due to the pain of my parents’ divorce and the realization that my father wasn’t someone I would ever want to know, as well as the general pain of being born “too late” to have become acquainted with the relatives that could have told me about our family and the people that were once part of it.

I think that my willingness to answer questions now comes down to the adult ability to see passed certain things in order to learn about the entire tree, which might also inform me on who I inherited certain traits from, as well as recognizing the importance of gaining information for my child, who very well might develop this same form of self-awareness later in her life.

Even though I am not yet a member of any genealogical group or club, I intend to become one, and should have no issue with doing so, as my county has a fairly well-known genealogy society. I think that I haven’t joined yet because my interest is so strong that it’s overwhelming. I don’t know which questions to start answering, or even exactly what the questions are, other than just wanting to find out everything, from the very beginning of my bloodline.

With my interest in genealogy, comes interest in genealogy websites, and like any topic, there are loads to choose from. I’d feel remiss as a fan if I did not at least mention these: http://genealogyroadshow.org/http://www.pbs.org/program/genealogy-roadshow/http://www.ancestry.com, and http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/who-do-you-think-you-are/videos/who-do-you-think-you-are.htm.

Genealogy Roadshow helps everyday people looking to answer questions or solve mysteries in their families, who sometimes find out that someone famous is in their bloodline. During the hour of airtime, genealogists, historians and other professionals present about five different individuals whose inquiries require varying degrees of research.

Even though WDYTYA? always focuses on a celebrity, facts quickly narrow that aspect down, quickly cut the public figure down to the size of an actual person because, in spite of the societal pedestal, that is what each one of them are; a person. It’s one of many things that I love about the show, as it makes the famous much more relatable, much less intimidating, and reinforces the idea that we are all one.

We are all living history.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My First Yard Sale or Navigating A Sampling of the Human Race

Once you begin and get underway with adulthood, there arn’t really many more firsts to either look forward to or plan for. I thought that if any more firsts existed for me, they would be indirectly and vicariously through my daughter experiencing her first firsts.

But, then my friend Anna told me she was planning to hold a yard sale at the condominium complex where she lives, and asked if I would be interested in joining her. Initially, I was going to, but then it fell off my radar, until she texted me the morning prior to check if I was still on board. My knee-jerk was: ah, I forgot about that! And never had time all week anyhow to gather all the various things that I would attempt to sell. So, I told her no…but then, I thought about it and after talking with my husband, began to have second guesses with myself, realizing that I would be passing up an opportunity to try to do a solid decluttering of our family abode. A few texts later, I was back in and spent the better portion of that recent September Saturday huddling together all that I could find, organizing, packing, predetermining some prices.

After going to bed past midnight (I’ve got to stop doing that!), I sprang from slumber when my 5:45 alarm sounded — I had forgotten why I set the alarm until I really woke up. Once I was alert (credit to the coffee!), and headed for the door, I began to feel nervous. My guess is that this was my instincts, telling me that I would need to stay on my toes, literally and figuratively.

When I got to Anna’s place, even though my husband was helping me unload our car, I still felt as frantic as a spooked mouse, so I used that nervous energy to just get all my wares out and displayed as quickly and organized as possible. With a few early gawkers driving by roughly half an hour before our selected start, time felt like it speed up, even though for all of my glances at the digital clock on my phone, only handfuls of seconds passed between each check. I imagined that a swarm of highly interested persons would descend on our temporary outdoor business venture.

That wasn’t exactly the case. In fact, there were many pockets of slow quiet in our day. I found myself appreciating my ability — acquired from past jobs — to stand for long periods without being bothered at all by it. That’s not to say that we weren’t ever busy; we certainly also had pockets of activity, of chaos, of grinning to attract and grinning to deflect, to get through a moment with as much grace as possible. If you, dear reader, have any yard sale experience at all, even as limited as mine, I think that you just might understand me without explanation.

But, the 8 hours in the mix of shade and sun (that earned me a red chest in the crescent shape matching the cut of my crew neck top — I’m normally more vigilant with sunblock) I learned some lessons about yard sales that I already knew about life, and dealt with a sampling of the human race. Always a mixed bag of tricks. Even armed with kindness, as I was.

In spite of what I read randomly here and there over the course of the last year in newspaper articles, people ignored all my prices (apparently some of which were a tad too high — duly noted) and went straight for passive-aggressive haggling. I had prices clearly listed for all items and yet, I’d still get the question: “How much?” Why did I spend the better part of the previous day determining prices and making little signs??? I thought people traditionally appreciate immediate knowledge of what the seller would like for items…You can always trust reality to turn theory on its head.

Like life, a yard sale is a free-form experience. I have a type “A” personality, so I’m always trying to get and be prepared, put in place lists, put into motion methods. One reason or another, these sometimes go the way of defunct. It was the neighborhood kids who swarmed like bees once, twice, three or more times, that made me realize my legal pad and Sharpie color code and file folder labels cum price tags and calm checking of my inventory was feeble and immediately meant nothing as soon as they set their little scheming sights on our unassuming tables. In their own odd way, they were some of our best customers. But, not because I felt at ease. The exact opposite was true. With a little salesman among them, whom I felt sorry for initially as he was allegedly short on piggy bank change, I wasn’t certain I could trust any of them. Especially as it seemed they went home to shake down the entire family abode just to return, looking for deals of the century.

We had plenty of walk-ups, who both my friend and I greeted with politeness and bid good day with politeness, even if no purchase was made. Truthfully, if a person decided efficiently that nothing they saw was useful to them, I can’t find a foul there — you didn’t waste your time and you didn’t waste my time, nor did you offend in any way two women who were simply being honest and respectful. That being said, there were a handful of colorful characters who not only didn’t buy anything, but either got too comfortable and chummy with us, or made me want to put my dukes up. Like life, at a yard sale, people will say the most inappropriate things and act like you deserved it.

The first of these such customers was a chubby old guy confined to a wheelchair who seemed to think he was a Mac Daddy Pimp. He mostly conversed with Anna, who even though I felt badly that she was getting the brunt of his attention, I wouldn’t have known how to deal with him. It started with him talking down to her regarding her pricing on a group of chairs and ended somewhere with him eyeing her up and down, asking her how she stayed so small once he learned that she is a mother. The final straw for me was when he then told her that he’s told his own wife many times that she should “get that surgery” to facilitate weight loss. Oh, man. I had to turn away so I could mumble secret things to myself…I was ready to knock this fat gross excuse for a person flat on his ass. I tuned back in to hear him say something to Anna along the lines regarding his (probably imagined) ability to “keep going.” I think both she and I felt assaulted by the time he rolled his disgusting self down the hill to whatever hole he lives in. Of course he bought nothing.

Next, was a retired military man, originally a “poor farm boy,” who oozed so much hate for his ex-wife and her current man that waves of negativity emanated from his flesh into the atmosphere, poisoning  the very air we breathed. We heard the whole long account of how his ex cheated on him with this other man, that he basically described as a troll, and lied to their daughter for an entire year, who was then mad at her father until she discovered the truth and apologized to her father. We heard about his girlfriend. We heard about how due to per diem, his daughter celebrated her ninth birthday in Paris, and her tenth somewhere else cool — I think I was glazing over by now. (Oh, and for her 17th birthday, she got a car. Poor girl!) Not only did he not buy anything, he bored me out of my skull while providing too, too much much information. Actually TTMMI as Anna and I ended up saying to each other. 

The worst though for me, was this woman with an accent that I couldn’t identify who poked around a bit, then asked me what I wanted for two of my daughter’s baby toys — two out of possibly a dozen in a box that were all in mint condition, other than a small amount of dust because she outgrew them so quickly, no pieces broken off, batteries still with plenty of juice, really practically new — who cut me off before I could finish answering her to then ask me how much for the entire box. That put me on the spot, which I suspect was her intent in the hopes that I would accidentally low-ball myself. “$30”, I said, balancing between being nice — to someone who exhibited hostility even as I tried to treat her kindly — and making sure to not let her basically rob me. “$10.” She very firmly and over confidently said. “$25,” I countered. “$10,” this bully of a woman says back, yet again. “$20,” I said, beginning to lose my patience. “$10,” she pushes again. “$20 or nothing,” I said. “I am not going below that. These toys are in really good shape.” She dropped it, but only long enough for my adrenaline to knock off a bit. She begins to look around again and picks up an item of Anna’s: a clear zip-case of colorful elastics that has never been opened or used in any way. I knew from previous inquiries that she was only asking $2.50 for them, which I would have paid her myself if I needed any. This lady asks me about it. I tell her it’s my friend’s item, and how much she wants. “$2,” she says. I shake my head. This chick just wouldn’t let up. “No,” I say. “I know she definitely wants $2.50 as these have never been used.” After a beat, she says what sounds like “I want to buy everything.” I chuckle and say back to her what I thought I heard. “NO!” she says. “You won’t sell me anything!” Grrr, she was asking for my Irish/Italian temper to flair. I was holding it back with everything in me screaming to do so. “Look,” I said as calmly, but dead serious as I could. “That box of toys is in good shape, nothing is missing, everything works…I’m not selling it for less than $20.” She ended up finally leaving.

My husband was off to the side, witnessing the entire exchange, and vindicated my firm stance on this blessed box of toys. His theory was that she was probably going to turn around and resell every toy. Probably, which heated me up even more.

Anna told me that while doing yard sales with her church, she encountered a lot of this, of people expecting items for practically free. And what’s the point in that? You might as well just donate everything to charity if all you’re going to get is a hard time and a dime.

All of that nonsense aside, we also had a few individuals that reciprocated the kindness and respect that we were putting out. These were our best customers. A woman who just came from church talked amiably with us as she browsed. After sharing that she had been a part of yard sales herself, she gave us some friendly pointers. (As I write this, I realize that I’ve forgotten all that she offered up.) She really liked a few rings I had there, and bought them.

Later, a young man and his sister enjoyed looking at the jewelry that both Anna and I had out, but they particularly favored the various brands of makeup that she was selling. Once we got chatting with him (his sister was extremely quiet – I assumed that she was shy), we learned that he used to work for Sephora where he did makeup, which he missed and wanted to get back into. He also dreams of being a model. His mother, another male relative, and his 8-month old nephew joined the conversation shortly thereafter. The young makeup artist showed much enthusiasm over Anna’s beauty products and bought a bunch of it from her, clearly excited to get home and experiment with all of the colors. They also bought some baby books and a baby ball from me for the baby, who already knows his name, and responded when his grandmother spoke it.

Finally, after Anna and I called it a day an hour earlier than our signs read, when I was fatigued up to my eyeballs, I learned that yes, people really do wait until the end to show up. I was in mid-stream of my packing up and only had two dresses yet to put away, when a woman briskly swept through and made an offer on one of them that was lower than I hoped for, but I wearily accepted because I was thankful to sell one more thing so as to not have to lug it back home.

I’m wondering if I might have a touch of the insanity as on October 12, I’m having my second yard sale. My husband and I are participating in one that our community board has initiated. Maybe that experience will be a bit more…stable.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized