Thursday, July 25, 2013

The man from the cereal aisle

People find each other, if they need to.

Several years ago I saw a man  in the cereal aisle at the supermarket. He was darting from one brand to another, reading the side panel information, trying to decide.  He rushed, like he had to be someplace else, soon.

He looked like he took care of himself. He was neatly dressed,  wearing a golf shirt tucked into jeans, and out-of- the-box white sneakers. Probably late fifties.   

"Excuse me," he said to me as I passed.

He held up two boxes of cereal. "Do you think there's a difference between these Raisin Brans? I mean, have you tried both? Because, you know that if it looks healthier," he indicated the side panel, "it's not always worth it, because healthy things don't always taste so good, right?" He paused. "What kind of cereal do you like?"

He wore no wedding ring. I remember thinking, divorced.

I said, "I like the Kellogg's, but I don't think there's a big difference. You'll be okay either way, I think,"  and I moved on. Before I rounded the  corner, I heard behind me, "Excuse me." When I turned, he was approaching a man around his own age. "Do you think there's a difference between the Post Grape Nuts and the store brand?"

At the check-out next to mine he chatted  with a woman behind him who struggled to soothe her fussy baby and seemed seconds away from a meltdown herself.

"I used to use the coupons," he was saying while he loaded the belt. "But I just didn't like being forced to buy what was on sale, do you know what I mean?"  She responded politely, "I guess, yeah."  He placed the last item on the belt and turned to the baby.  "This is a busy place for a little guy like you, isn't it? It certainly is."  He was still moving in that hurried way, like he was late for something else.

I shopped every Wednesday when I had children at home and he was there half the time. Same type of behavior...scrutinizing bread, cleaning products, batteries, chips, one product after another in the aisles, finger moving back and forth while he searched, rushing  in that quick, quick, quick, pick it out way. Straightening when a stranger passed, "Excuse me."

Once he came up behind me in line.  "You know," he said, "I thought it would be a lot busier today, with the storm coming. I was really, really surprised to see so few people here, weren't you?"  I said something like, "I know, hard to predict."

I remember thinking, lonely.

After I went back to work, I didn't see him again.

Two weeks ago, I entered the supermarket parking lot behind a driver who couldn't select from four spaces that were all close to the entrance. Turn, stop, start. Turn, stop, start. While he crawled along, trying  to pick one, I crawled along behind him, blocked from the spaces he wasn't selecting.  

I remember thinking, decide.

A few moments later, I walked into the store behind this driver and his companion.  She used a cane and limped along while  he darted ahead, then fell back to keep pace, then rushed ahead, etc. He was everywhere, circling her like a mosquito, it was like being behind six people.  They reached the carriages, he placed her cane inside and she said, "No. I'll push." He agreed and they moved on. She moved carefully, while he bounced around like a pinball.

I could not get away from these people. I went left, they veered left. I went right, so did they. They stood in the middle of aisles, talking to each other across displays,  scrutinizing their selections . Stopping, starting, stopping, starting.  "No wait!" she'd say, "Look at this one, it's better."

In the Crackers aisle a man in a Duck Dynasty t-shirt stood halfway between us, looking at the Triscuits display. The man left his companion and approached him.
"Hey!" he said to the t-shirt man, as if he knew him.
The t-shirt man turned.
"I love your shirt!" said the other man. "Duck Dynasty! I love that show!" He turned to his companion, "Look at his shirt!"
"Oh my God," she said, "We love that show! We just bought the floor mats!"
The t-shirt man, glanced down at himself, "Yeah," he said, "Friend got this for me."
"We love that show!"  said the other man, again.
"We watch it all the time," said his companion.
"Yeah, it's a good show," said the t-shirt man. "Take it easy," he said, walking away. 

The man said to his companion, "I should get a shirt like that," and she said, "Or a mug. They have mugs, too," and now I recognized him. The man from the cereal aisle, five or six years later. 

He was  exactly the same,  darting this way and that, bringing his companion a product, saying, "What do you think?"

When I passed them in the aisle, I slowed enough to check. Sure enough, they wore matching wedding bands.  I wonder how long it took for them to find each other, but I like to think that she had choices, and picked him,  before he was late for something else.

People find each other, if they need to. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Trolls in the forest

 The average troll

Last night, I was to have the house to myself. Larry was traveling and Sam, who plays Sunset League baseball, had a game. I had a new movie to watch as well as a new novel to start and would prepare my favorite "me" dinner of steak and tater tots (it used to be tacos before I made tacos half a million times for my children).

We were in the middle of a heat wave. It would be over 90 degrees when Sam threw the first pitch.Frankly, I didn't think he should play, but he's 18, he's a college sophomore, and does this for fun. 

Mid-morning, Larry texted me "suggesting" I try and catch Sam's game. He had been looking forward to it himself before his trip came up, maybe I could go instead.  

Well, no, I thought. I will not be Mommy and Daddy tonight. Tonight I will be Mommy handing Sam his water and sunscreen as he leaves, and making him his own dinner of steak and tater tots when he gets back. 

I was fine with this. Until my troll showed up.  Her name is "Selfish Mother."  

Selfish Mother reminded me of how life is short and that Sam will probably be too busy next summer to even come home and while he is on the field, doesn't he deserve to see someone cheering him on from the stands? Does it even matter that he had to explain to you in (embarrassingly) recent years that in baseball you have to be up to score?  Of course not. Was it your happy, proud face that mattered? Yes, it was. With all the opportunities I have to do exactly what I want, asked Selfish Mother, couldn't I just eek out a few hours for the sake of my son's happiness? 

In comparison, asked Selfish Mother, would this be my last opportunity to have steak and tater tots? 

As promised, today I will discuss trolls.   

First, a word about Mood Therapy (est 1980-ish) ) which is about changing our view of reality by changing what we tell ourselves about it. It is based on scrutinizing self-talk. Anyone who has even flipped through a self-help book knows that self-talk goes on every minute of the day, and not always in silence if you can drive and pretend to be on the phone.

Every now and then, like everyone does, I get hung up on a negative thought, or a social stumble, or a mistake that might have hurt someone's feelings.  Sometimes my "self-talk" leads me to sulking or dwelling, or feeling guilty, etc. Other times my self-talk leads me to the drive-thru at McDonald's, where it is very supportive of cheeseburgers, as long as I don't have fries.

When we're fragile, or feeling insecure, or overwhelmed, or unloved, or not popular, or haven't published our novels yet, self-talk can be very unfriendly.  

I call this "Trolls in the Forest-talk" and as crazy as it sounds, (that's"Crazy Troll" talking) I've shared my thoughts about troll-talk with people I respect who have responded with, "That's. So.True."  When someone says "That's. So.True," a blog post is born.


Susan's Trolls in the Forest Philosophy for all Ages

 Life is a forest.  It is a magical, sunlit, dense-with-meaning, occasionally gloomy, but overall mystical place of beauty. There will be paths, of course, some which exist and some which may need to be forged. The length and depth of the forest is not known, but it's not your job to know. It's your job to travel, take in the surroundings and rest when you need to.

In every forest are trolls. They vary in shape and size, some are fierce and frightening, some are big and annoying. None of them are attractive. They will stop you. They will tell you things. They will make you sit with them. They aren't pleasant, yet they seem truthful so you listen.

As you listen to troll-talk, the forest grows gloomy. The path looks different and difficult now, shrouded in shadows from overhead, gnarly branches.  Your troll ignores this and continues to advise you of your mistakes, your failures and your shortcomings. You wonder: could  such an ugly troll be right? But there you sit, listening.

When you realize you need to move on, your troll leaves you and you resume your travel but now you're thinking about how tired you are, how hungry, how hard this journey really is. You think about this instead of things you should be thinking about and the forest darkens around you. You suspend travel for another day. 

Your troll meanwhile, has moved down the path to wait for you.

The thing to remember about trolls is that they are there to challenge your confidence and attitudes. They thrive on making you question yourself. It's their job. When a troll has done its job, it's good for another visit.  The only way to deal with a troll is to look right at it and call it what it is. 

If you're a visual type (and by now in this post, I hope you are) look at the troll . Talk to it. Say, "Troll" and move on.  If another troll pops up further along do the same thing. Have fun. Punch your troll, push your troll over, maybe refer your troll to the forest of someone who done you wrong. But keep moving.

Some people can't see the forest for the trolls, but with all my heart, I believe we would like to. Keep your reasonable mind open and clear because it casts light on the path and trolls don't enjoy a well-lit path. They lose their power, they shrink. Eventually they become too small to see and get stepped on which is how many trolls meet their end.

The End

My troll wanted me to attend the game out of guilt. I told my troll that guilt as a motive is more selfish than anything, and then I pushed my troll over. 

Then, I kind of wanted to change my plans. 
I kind of wanted to see an inning or two. 
Maybe three. 
I kind of wanted to wring another nice memory out of the summer.

Sam smiled at me from the mound.
He pitched a shut-out. 
Later,we had steak and tater tots together, and he explained what "shut-out" means.

All is well in the forest.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Foreword:  This post will be about coping with the  loss of  my brother Bill and it's going to be sad. You may wish to leave  and come back next week when I'll post about trolls.  If that's the case,  I will understand. On the other hand, I recently posted "Now to Then and Back Again" about the shock of grief,  and was contacted by readers who found comfort in those words. If life isn't  always happy and funny, at least the way to deal with sad and serious can be shared.

Remember. Next week, trolls.

The basic process


It stops. 
The struggle stops. The suffering ends.    
And then he's gone.

The place in your mind where you did your circular thinking  - I need him in my life, but his suffering needs to end, but I need him in my life, but his suffering needs to end - is an empty room, clear of debris.

It's over. 
It's not over-over.

Beyond the death, the reaction, the announcing of it, the work to cobble together a service which will both offer comfort and tell of an entire life, is where over-over begins. It starts the first night you don't have to think about saying goodbye in public, when you take your grief off display.

Over is what was. 
Over-over is what won't be.

Over-over happens when you drive behind a truck that looks too big for its driver like his seemed. As you watch, the driver doesn't just reach for something on the passenger seat, but disappears from view altogether to fetch something from the glove compartment or floor, the way he would have.

You will not see that truck parked at  gatherings anymore, or know that inside  he'll be waiting for you - hand raised high so that you are sure to see him in the crowd.

Over-over happens when you're in line at the supermarket and you see a short, wiry guy in a baseball cap standing a register away, who looks like he should sleep more, party less, and probably shave. He holds a six pack and a package of hotdogs, and stares at the woman in front of him who is demanding to know why they stopped selling the generic brand of tile cleaner that she likes.

You will not hear about the kinds of people who really piss him off anymore.

Over-over happens when you're in your work out, or folding laundry and realize it's Tuesday - the night you had dinner together each week. You crumple a little as though the wind has been knocked out of you. It's less startling than the last time . You know now that  there will be more moments like this bad one and  that it's easiest to stop and wait it out.

Over-over happens when you roam through a day without a plan, without doing anything especially meaningful other than to let your mind travel where it wants to go. You realize you're wading into sadness that is beyond the help of those who would do anything to make you feel better and it scares you.

In the days that follow, you cry less often and less easily. But you always  cry to remember his face when he told you, "This scares the shit out of me" or, his eyes when he said, "I dream about being healthy." Or, the way you helped him reconstruct a memory of his youth the way you would help someone remember lyrics to a song.

Over-over happens when you sit alone with your too-heavy thoughts and consider how grief has already changed you. You don't know when, or even if you'll feel better, and it's occurring to you that this is what has replaced him.

You look to the night sky and say to him, "I don't think this is going to get better."
You wait.  You want a response.
You don't get it.
He  doesn't appear like a deer at the edge of the forest, as you hoped he would.

And yet, later, something lifts. You don't know what to call it, but you feel like you do after a good night's sleep.  

Later still, you're loading the dishwasher and you think of something funny he did once. You smile. You hear yourself laugh.

In the days that follow, it happens more often, and more easily.

You know you'll have trouble when you see that supermarket guy again.
But you know there will be more moments like the dishwasher ones.

You know they will come, as over-over begins.