Go Figure

Unless I was protesting some great injustice, someone would have to ask me to sit down only once and I would do it.

Today at the Packers game, a Panthers fan sitting next to me stood up to watch every single play – when her team had the ball and when the Packers had the ball. Didn’t matter, she was on her feet and screaming.

She was the only one standing.

I figured she’d soon see that she was the only one leaping up but she didn’t. She stood long after the play was completed so the people behind and around her had to watch the replay on the Jumbotron.

I think the protocol at sporting events is thus: Stay in your seat unless the crowd is standing up, you know, for the National Anthem or the last out or to cheer some fabulous accomplishment like a touchdown or an interception. And even then, look to make sure the people behind you are standing up, are able to stand up, and that you won’t be blocking their view.

So my husband spoke to her, more than once but she continued to stand, oblivious to his complaint or that of the man behind us. It felt like defiance to me, like one of my kids asked to take the garbage out but continuing to stare at the TV.

After another request, she became offended and dispatched her boyfriend to a duel. Said boyfriend was wearing Carhartt overalls and an animal fur hat with a face and long fur tendrils. He started out belligerent, saying he was going to stand up the rest of the game just to block our view, but quieted as Howard explained the increasing phenomenon in the NFL of fans standing up at inappropriate times, citing some news article as evidence. He told the man his girlfriend’s standing up was inappropriate and then said, “There’s no reason we can’t be civil about this,” and then reached out to shake the fur hat man’s hand and, probably without thinking, the fur hat man shook his hand. And then he retreated to his girlfriend’s side and never stood up again unless we were all standing, which we were at the end, terrified the Panthers would make a touchdown in the final 30 seconds of the game.

So that’s my story from today. Amazement that someone would be so curiously rude and more amazement that my husband could get a mad man in a fur hat with a face to shake his hand and go sit down.

Deadpan Alley

The writing workshop that I’ve been going to the past two or three years is sponsoring a writers’ showcase at a famous local club called ComedySportz. I figured I should do it, you know, just to keep that dread/stress/anticipation thing in good working order.

My husband asked what I was going to read. I told him I was going to read The Fall, a weird tale involving my falling down at a little resort in Florida, a veterinarian from South America helping me, the EMT’s coming, my recovery, and then meeting up again with the veterinarian who was then hand-feeding a squirrel in a bougainvillea bush. It sounds funny but it’s not. It’s all about age and disability and being vulnerable and falling down all over the place. It’s very depressing, it’s ‘where is the rum, never mind the limes’ depressing.

“This thing is being done at ComedySportz, right?” I saw his point right away. I should read something funny.

So I’m going to read Crop Tending, a piece I wrote about my ever-futile attempts to be a gardener. The story involves insidious, plotting ferns, many types of pests, flying and crawling, plotting against my neighbor’s tree, wishing an evil dead guy across the street was still alive, and comparing going to my garden to visiting a dying bird, better to stay back until it’s over. The essay won a humor prize but the judge told me it wasn’t laugh out loud funny, it was subtle humor. Wry.

So I’m going to work on my delivery to be as deadpan as possible so as to really play up the wryness. But I don’t think people will laugh, ComedySportz or not, because who laughs at wry? People raise their eyebrows, roll their eyes, maybe slightly smile, they don’t laugh. Maybe they won’t know that it’s supposed to be funny. “It’s supposed to be funny!” I’ll tell them after I finish. And they’ll say, “oh, yeah, we get it” but they probably won’t. It’ll be too wry for them. Overly wry.

I don’t care. My husband will clap for me. That’ll be nice.


Red Oak Writers’ Showcase
ComedySportz Milwaukee
420 S. 1st St., Milwaukee, WI

November 13, 2019
7 pm to 8:30 pm


He came up to me in the lunch line, sidled in, taking cuts as we used to say in high school so we could talk. He told me he’d taken time out from our writing roundtable to finish his memoir. He was thinner than I remembered, not having seen him in a year or so, but conversational and so interesting. He was a writer I connected with in our group at Red Oak Writing. He was smart, agile as a storyteller, very descriptive in his writing but not cumbersomely so, able to toggle back and forth between his youth and his agedness in an introspective, almost celebratory way. I liked it immensely when he told me, just as we were next in the buffet line, that he really liked my writing.

We were both at the Wisconsin Writers Association annual conference, gathered up at a monastery – maybe former, maybe not, not sure – outside of Madison. I’d come to the conference because I’d won a 1st prize for humor and an honorable mention for nonfiction in the WWA annual writing contest called the Jade Ring. I actually won a jade ring. I could choose between receiving the actual ring or $100. I chose the ring because it seemed more durable than the hundred bucks which I would have used to pay the gas bill or buy ‘high performance’ dog food for our sled dog who doesn’t pull sleds anymore.

I loved getting the ring, I have to say.

After the winners were announced, the Association President asked who wanted to read their pieces to the group. Of course, I raised my hand. We were cautioned to only read a few paragraphs of our winning pieces so that’s what I did. It bothered me that I had to stop before the really funny parts. There were smiles when I stopped but no guffaws. It wasn’t a guffaw kind of piece, though, subtle humor it was. Really subtle. But prize winning, just the same.

Then my friend who had joined me in line got up to read his piece. And I listened. Listened hard. But I was in the back of the room and had to strain because, you see, even though I have a cochlear implant and a hearing aid, I’m not fully capable when it comes to hearing and there are times that whole lives are described right in front of me and I come away thinking someone sailed to France when they really sold shoes at the mall. It’s happened more than once.

But I heard him.

He read his cancer treatment story, of buying LED light bulbs, how long they would last versus how long he would live. He did the math – he might outlive the bulbs but he would be very old. And lucky, it sounds. Very lucky. His essay revealed the peril he was facing but in a way that was quiet and matter of fact, a calculus of time, of odds. It was a remarkable, understated piece, clear and frank.

It is the magic of writing – people showing the hidden parts of themselves in small slivers of words that become art. After my friend and his LED bulb/cancer story, there were poets and humor writers and storytellers, all of us reading our words like perfect apples just picked from a tree. If you never read your work to other people, if you stay to yourself and hide what you have written, if you are afraid of what people will think, you won’t ever hold all that perfect fruit in your hands. I say that as one writer to another.

That was the beauty of today.

The Nakedness of Reading

The practice at my writing workshop is that each writer reads their piece aloud to the other writers present. While the reader reads, the listeners jot notes and the reader tries to ignore their jotting, hoping that it is all praise and not harsh phrases like “reword this,” a stiff rebuke I remember from college to which I always wanted to respond, “I already picked the best words I know.”

Today at my writing workshop, I read a piece I have brought at least twice before. It is a long essay, for me, 1,500 words, that talks about my tangled relationship with one of my children. Some in the group, certainly the leader, might suspect that the essay is itself my therapy, my way of working out the tangles, the way I was taught to put olive oil on a snarled gold necklace to make it sleek and straight again.

It was okay today. I didn’t have that catch in my voice that I’ve had in the past. Maybe because now I know how things turned out or are turning out, everything always in motion in life until it isn’t. I caught one woman looking at me from across the room and she had such warmth and sympathy in her eyes, I wanted to leave and go down the hall to the bathroom or get up and make a cup of coffee in the Keurig on the counter, anything to stay writer-like and not mother-like.

Reading aloud is precious. Sometimes I read things to my husband while we are riding in the car. My daughter, the former newspaper reporter, told me long ago, to read all of my work aloud before sending it to the world and this works in so many ways. You can hear the cadence of a piece, appreciate its pace and wording, know when you’ve stalled and are about to run out of gas, expose yourself to the air and its judgment. Because, you know, that is the fundamental thing about writing — the sound of the words on your heart.

Dog Day

We went to the Midwest Sled Dog Symposium in Curtis, Michigan, today where our retired sled dog, Swirl, was fussed over like a returning war hero by the people who raised, trained, raced, and ran him for seven years. One after the other described him as “the happiest dog we ever had” and scratched his back and his ears while he stood as he does, quiet and smiling.

The owner of the kennel sat down in front of me and said, “You’ve done everything right. He looks great, really fit, healthy.” And thus, my fears about his thin tail just evaporated (see last night’s post). Then was explained the reason why Swirl had become a touring dog instead of a racing one. On track to be an Iditarod dog, Swirl was taken to Oregon at the age of two to race. It was there it was determined he was a plenty fast runner but had a slow recovery time. A good sled dog will sleep four hours after running a long ways and then wake up ready for more. Not Swirl. So he became a working dog. And then a pet, which it appears was his plan all along.

Blair Braverman, Iditarod musher, author, and Twitter maven, was the keynote speaker at the conference along with her husband Quince Mountain. Blair described her missteps as a rookie in the 2019 Iditarod including her forgetting to pack any water in her drop bags – the supplies that are sent ahead to the race checkpoints. So she traded Costco cheesecakes for other mushers’ water and when she ran out of cheesecakes calculated that it would take three weeks for giardia to set in and the race would only take two weeks so she might as well just drink from streams which is what she did. I loved that.

I also loved that her husband, Quince Mountain, a military veteran, former cowboy, now dog musher, and, along with his wife, a former competitor on Naked and Afraid, is a trans man and there seemed not to be a single weird look or vibe or anything about that in this conference center in a little U.P. town where down the road a big Trump 2020 sign sat in a front yard. Of course, maybe folks drove off and talked amongst themselves but I don’t think so. I don’t think anybody cared and that was very cool. It was like, at last, something very good I lived to see. Of course that was my take as a spectator. Quince’s impression might have been completely different.

It couldn’t have been a better day.

Tomorrow I’ll be back to writing about anguish, death, self-doubt, and various forms of mayhem, my natural habitat. Dog day is done.