My conversation with Mark Twain

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Mark Twain and I were chatting the other day when he said to me, “When in doubt, tell the truth,” as if I hadn’t heard THAT before.

What was he even talking about? Of course, I tell the truth, that’s the whole point of my memoir. But you can’t just tell the truth as if it is a finite thing, Mark. Nope, I’ve learned over the years, and it’s been a difficult surprise, that my truth is not necessarily your truth.

“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything,” he explained.

Mark Twain seemed a little exasperated as he stared back, not even batting an eye. He sat still as a stone, a cold chill flying off his shoulder directly at me.

But you might consider, he continued, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Thanks for that, Mark, but I can’t stop myself, I told him.

He seemed a little testy now.

Best I can do is be as honest as possible and hope others see that’s what I’m aiming for. I want to make a point, you know. About how we try to love each other and about how it doesn’t always work out that well.

Mark softened and I thought I saw him smile. His parting words, which I chose to interpret as supportive, were all I needed to head back to my desk and hit the keyboard again, back on my way after our brief interlude.

“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.”

Thanks, Mark. Looks like I’m ready then.

Some books get more love than others

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Look at the place of honor my childhood etiquette book has on my shelf at home, right on top of old Charlie Brown comics and even Charlotte’s Web. I’ve always loved this book, set in rhyme, because it spelled out the expectations of adults. It seemed I was always getting everything wrong as a kid and this book held hope that if I only studied the rules I could lift myself into the world of those who knew how to behave. And even though it reinforced the gender stereotypes of the day it was still a book embued with hope.

There is plenty of advice in there about not bothering one’s parents and being nice to pets, lots of ideas that helped me learn to be civilized even when the world around me seemed less so. But this page seems especially sweet. I have shelves full of dear old books that have served me well over the years speaking to me with unqualified respect every time I open them.

I love books. But some are more special than others.

Poetic gesture

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Image may contain: 2 people, including Anne Allanketner, people smiling, people standing, tree, plant and outdoorMy friend was recipient of a most romantic gesture. Her partner built and installed this beautiful poetry post. It is positioned right next to the sidewalk so passersby may read her poetry every time she puts up something new.

You never know when writing skills will come in handy

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If you’ve ever heard a student ask why they need to learn to write if they don’t plan on having a job that requires it, this opinion piece might answer that question. If you have an idea that needs conveying writing is an effective way to go.

This guy taught me how to laugh

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Jane Paffenbarger Butler – author – with the man she captured in her giant blanket

Somehow at the age of nineteen, I spotted a guy who would stay with me for the next 40 years and counting. To be fair, he spotted me and I ran the other way, and it was only because several acquaintances pointed out his obvious interest and implored me to take him seriously, that I finally noticed him as a potential partner for life. He’s been nothing but steadfast, nothing but kind, and nothing but improved with age. Thank you friends who did that.

He knew not how to plumb a bathroom when I met him. He was not a loving parent or sole breadwinner. But since then he has become all these things and more. And in addition he’s propped me up through thick and then, he’s counseled me on what I have not known and he has encouraged me and been my advocate when I didn’t know I needed it.

His winning attributes in the beginning were that he was funny and he was kind. He made me laugh and then taught me how to do it, and now, all these years later we are still laughing together.

Believe me, I had no idea what I was doing back then, but my gut reaction to this man has served me well through the years. He hasn’t changed much really. The kind, shy, funny, smart, encouraging guy I met at nineteen is still there, it’s just that all of that has morphed and matured and come along in an even better form right up to today.

This month, in Psychology Today online I tell the story of my young husband who takes me to his Aunt Maureen’s at Christmas where I discover that everyone refers to his Uncle Dave as Meathead, thus beginning my education in humor. Take a look at “Introduction to Meathead Therapy” on the Healthy Connections blog post by Maryann Karinch.

Introduction to Meathead Therapy

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This month I am featured in Psychology Today’s Healthy Connections blog by Maryann Karinch where she tells the story of what she calls my introduction to “meathead therapy.”

When my husband and I were young and first married we went to his Aunt Maureen and Uncle Meathead’s on Christmas Eve. Theirs was a modest gathering, but I loved it because the one thing that was not modest was the connection I saw between the people who came and went. Folks arrived at the door and each was welcomed like a king. They were offered a drink, some food, a seat, and all the time in the world, crowding onto the attic stairs when room at the table ran out.

The goal was to entertain, to tell funny stories even at each other’s expense, even as it exposed each other’s bullheadedness, ignorance or misery.

And I was spellbound.

These folks cared for each other. I’d go so far as to say they loved each other. My family didn’t sit around the kitchen table on Christmas Eve welcoming one another in with drinks and smiles and all the time in the world because of our handicap of taking life seriously and rejecting one another for our human foibles.

Since that night with Maureen and Meathead, and with my steadfast husband next to me, I have worked hard in psychotherapy and have learned about the healthy attitudes of accepting one another for who we are and learning to celebrate one another no matter how goofy we get.

I think the healthy connections we make are born of the dedicated showing up at each other’s kitchen tables no matter what the circumstance.

 Check out my story in Psychology Today.

 

 

Is my truth showing?

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some people get more dressed up than others to visit Times Square

I just want to put everything on the table, like this lady did. She took off all her clothes then stood on a platform in the middle of NYC while her unique outfit was painted on stroke by stoke.

In the same way, I’d like to demystify my life. Tell the truth. For me growing up, everything was such a secret. No one said how they really felt and I couldn’t get a straight answer about anything that mattered. People’s feelings and thoughts were hidden in sarcasm or blame or silence and you had to guess what was going on. Really. I had no idea if my parents even liked me there was so much intrigue in my life.

So now, I can’t help myself from just saying the truth. Revealing everything so people can see it and we can all be talking about and reacting to the same thing, without the confusion of hidden meanings and cloaked references.

That must be why people often react to my memoir by saying it is strikingly honest, or transparent. That I have been courageous in telling my story. To me it is about compulsion. I am compelled to tell you what really happened rather than hide it in stories that hint.

It is scary and daring and cold out there with no clothes on, but it feels better to reveal my truths than to hide them and hope that someone will see through it all to who I really am.

This is no way to decorate

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I used to have a lovely authentic Japanese kimono on this wall at the foot of our bed. Then one day I carried it to the spare bedroom where I draped it over a mirror and then put up the rows of painters tape you see here. Now every morning I wake to the unavoidable sight of my job. That giant self-assigned project I’ve been working on….my book.

This is a diagramatic representation of every story and every turning point in my memoir as directed by Blake Snyder in his book on screenwriting, Save the Cat. He has chapter after chapter discussing the virtues of deliberately laying out a story in order to measure the pacing and to be sure the critical elements that move a story forward are present and are effectively tied to one another. He’s the one who recommended this wall.

Some days when I open my eyes first thing in the morning, I’m disappointed to see the decorating that must be driving my husband crazy. (Why didn’t I do this in the spare bedroom and leave the kimono in our room?) Other days I so clearly see my progress and know that the most recent switching of sticky notes was correct and the story solidly conveys the themes I intend.

Sometimes after a long daydream or walk in the woods I run upstairs to see just what order I have arranged certain elements, or if the big climax is really where I think it is. Other days I have to see if my favorite story made the cut or after all the shuffling I’ve done it made the reject basket instead. I am using this wall to check points in my book proposal, or to see if what I told my agent makes sense.

I love this wall of bad decorating even though I look forward to the day the kimono goes back up.

 

Is it possible to be more romantic than this?

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Paris Opera House Ceiling

Everything about this moment was romantic. It wasn’t enough just to be back in Paris thirty-five years after we’d honeymooned there, but we were also staying at the same hotel and stopping in at Fouquet’s, the same place on the Champs-Elysee we’d stumbled onto late one night when we were newlywed where we had chocolate mousse we hadn’t ever forgotten.

No, all that wasn’t romantic enough.

My husband thought we should have a date out on the town and lined up a trip to the opulent Paris Opera Garnier. We donned our fanciest travel clothes and sat beneath the blessing of Marc Chagall’s colorful celebration of art itself.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the program that night, an homage to Jerome Robbins, harkened back to our early days. As newlyweds we often attended the New York City ballet at their outdoor summer home at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. The staging of “Glass Pieces” in particular was so familiar that it took my breath away to know I was in Paris, France, at the Opera House, with my boyfriend who was still following me around and delighting me with his thoughtfulness and kindness and shared joy of all things artistic, that I could barely watch through the tears in my eyes.

We left that night, awed by the layered gilded building, the rainbow of Chagall’s ceiling, the drama of ballet and the deep thankfulness in our hearts for one another and for the great good fortune to be able to hold each other’s hands still and take it all in.