Category Archives: Essays

Keeping Sacred in the Right Order

img_0404Last Night’s Sunset over Lake Chapala: jdbphoto

Keeping Sacred in the Right Order

How ironic that that which should unite us so often divides us instead. If there is one reality, then every religion that unites us with that sacred reality should unite us to each other as well. But sadly, that which should be sacred turns us scared instead. Just one slight shift in the letters creates what man creates when he attempts to define the universal instead of just feeling it. In vehemently insisting that our way is the only way, we are both demonstrating our fear that someone who thinks differently from us might prove our way to be wrong as well as setting up the same fear in them. We are one. Everything points to it, and it is what most religions profess in words regrettably finite which cannot quite grasp the concept that no matter what our belief, it should in the end profess that one truth. The fact that what prophets once expressed has been bent by those less prophetic to promulgate division instead of oneness is the great irony of organized religion down through the ages.

These factions and sects and denominations that set themselves above the rest—that declare one group heathens or infidels or unsaved, move themselves one step farther from faith and one step closer to dogma. The entire world is sacred. We see it in the petals of a hibiscus or a dandelion, a Christian or Jew or Muslim.  All children, in their innocence, possess this sacred quality and then we go about trying to help them define it and in doing so, kill the very thing we are trying to define.

Sacred is not limited to churches or synagogues. Sacred is a holy place within us that we go to to connect with the universal. We could do this as well at home if we took the time to do so. But all people and all places that call themselves holy are not so just for the telling. If the “holy” man speaks of divisiveness, he is not holy. If he holds his religion up above the rest and points fingers at those who believe differently, he is not holy. He is a politician as surely as the man who runs for congress. He is politicking for his own beliefs rather than trying to guide you to your own.

A walk in the woods or a swim in the sea, the painting of a picture or the careful stitching of a quilt, lying on a blanket in the shade with a child and watching the progress of ants—all are holy pastimes that can take you closer to the sacred in yourself.  Do not let anyone turn your “sacred” into “scared,” for holiness is in every molecule of our universe, and all of us have it spread equally within ourselves.  It is just up to us to find it.

The prompt today was “sacred.”

Hard Lessons

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Learning Disabilities

I have no water in my house. I’ve had no Internet for weeks. My dog is at the vet’s having major surgery that will cost $1,000 U.S. that I need to go to the bank to withdraw along with another $1,000 I offered to loan to a friend to buy a car they need to buy who just called to say they need the money tomorrow! Problem is I can’t get to the bank because I’m hoping for a call from Telmex saying they’ve figured out my internet problem––and the plumber who is going to try to come at 3. All this and to top off the perfect day, I have amoebas and the new medicine I got yesterday has given me a headache and fever. Or I’m just stressing out and the entire kit and caboodle is giving me a fever and headache.

I’m beginning to fear I’m no longer able to handle running a house. The floor is covered by boxes of three different types of tile I have laid out to try them out. I have a dozen things to complete before I leave in a little more than a week. I’ve been trying to get a haircut for a month, but no time to do so. Gripe gripe gripe. You would think I would learn, but somehow time and time again I am getting into these high-stress situations where hyperventilation is the norm.

From a perfectly organized house last night my house has turned into a disaster area. Files from the file cabinet lay piled on the headboard/case of my bed—leftovers as I looked for a brochure of the water system to try to figure out what particular tube I need for the purification system. My bed is covered by the contents of six different big baskets I pulled down from the closet to look for a pair of gloves to handle the tube I bought after visiting four different water supply places. No, none had a man to come install it. Yes, I broke it installing it. Good thing I had one glove on—all I could find.

My desk is covered by little slips of paper concerning tile types, prices, business cards, discarded amoeba meds (wrong variety for what the lab told me yesterday) and old VHS tapes (what are those doing there?) Earlier, when I needed to call the water place to see if they could locate another purification tube light (answer was no) I couldn’t find one phone of four that I have in the house that was still in its cradle. Then when I did, turns out one of the lost phones was clicked on so I couldn’t call anyway. Search house again. Finally found it on the bookcase by the doggie domain. What in the world was it doing there and where in the world are the other 3 phones that are still lost? Last night I found them all and restored them to their cradles. Do I have Telmex poltergeists infesting my house every night?

Yes. At.The. End. Of. My.Rope.

Should I move? Can’t stand to think about that. Perhaps there is someone pleasant willing to trade free rent of my casita for a few managerial tasks such as dealing with electricity, phone, internet, gas and minor construction. No, I don’t need a keeper yet, but my house certainly does. It seems to be reaching that age when everything needs attending to. Walls aren’t crumbling, but floors need replacing, the walls painted less than a year ago need a second coat, and someone needs to search the Virginia creeper vines to find those hummingbird moth caterpillars that are pooping bee bees all over my terrace table and the steps outside the doggie domain.

Yes. At. The. End. Of. My. Rope.

I need to pick up Frida in an hour and still can’t get hold of Pasiano or Yolanda to come let the plumber in. If the plumber comes. And even then, I won’t have purified water—just water, at least, to flush toilets and wash with.

Headache. Chills. Frustration. Breathe. No one has died, at least today. Calm down. Was I always such a fussbudget? Yesterday I was screaming “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” when I had for the zillionth time lost my keys. They were no place. How could I be so dumb???? It was past time to leave for something important and the other set of car keys had vanished into the void 4 years ago. This was my last set. Last chance. I looked in the outside locks, the inside locks, the bathrooms, kitchen, under the bed, on the nail on the wall where I usually hung them. Emptied out my purse. Twice.

I imagine, now, neighbors passing in the street hearing this madwoman scream invectives at herself. With all my doors and windows open, they must be able to hear me as clearly as if they were inside my house. For 15 years, I’ve overlooked this fact until once earlier this year when all three of my dogs were barking and I roared “Frida!!! Stop!!!!” above the din, a friend protested,“Judy! You are worse than the dogs. You should hear yourself. You must scare the neighbors!” my friend uttered this softly. Unlike me.

I had to shout to be heard above the dogs, right? But did I need to scream at the keys?

I found them eventually and was only 10 minutes late to the appointment I started to leave for half an hour early. I found them by calmly retracing my steps which took me eventually by my open closet door with the new file cabinet inside—my keys dangling from its lock. I had gone to get some necessary file, but the cabinet is so new it had not yet been added to my key recovery route. It has been now.

I am, you see, capable of learning. It’s the remembering that is the hard part.

The End (Perhaps)

Postscript: Just now the lovely lovely girl from Techno Agua called. She has called all over town and located the right water purification tube light. It is 60 pesos above the price I paid for one this morning. Is that a problem? No problem. The plumber can come at 3. I just called Pasiano and although he still is not answering his phone and although Yolanda is working and can’t come to let the plumber in, her husband has agreed to do so; so when he arrives, I can go, hopefully, to the bank and then to get Frida. The tide is turning. Maybe today will turn out to be slightly less frustrating than earlier happenings indicated. 

An hour later: good news and bad news. I got to the bank in time to get the $1,000 U.S. for the surgery and the $1,000 for the car, but when I got to the vet’s I was informed that Frida still hasn’t awakened and so I need to leave her for the night. They assure me they’ll feed and water her when she wakes up, but although I understand I can’t take an unconscious dog home, nonetheless I know she’ll be traumatized to wake up in a cage away from home and to have to spend the night there. Also, I was supposed to sit the info booth at the Lake Chapala Society tomorrow so will have to try to find someone to sit in so I can go get Frida and take her home. Always a new thrill. Still no internet at home, so I am at the mall. Getting to be a regular mall rat as they have free wifi and otherwise it is $15 U.S. a day to use my phone as a hot spot as I was over my limit in just four days.

Are you tired of my whining yet?

 

The Prompt word today was “Learning.”

Walking to Town

I was trying to post my blog when my sister and brother-in-law asked if I wanted to accompany them to town to meet friends at the Star Cafe.  Since I’d been trying in vain to post since I woke up this morning, I decided to stay in the motel until I’d posted, so she told me to call when I was ready to come into town and she’d come get me.

A few hours later when I was still unable to post, I tried to call, but alas––no cell phone coverage and no wifi!  When I went to the office, I was greeted by a sign that the office would be closed until 3:30 and with not a car in the parking lot, I knew I was the solitary person in residence at the moment.

The only solution I could think of was to walk to town–more than a mile away down a gravel road like this one:

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and then along the shoulder of the highway that leads to town.

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En route I would need to cross an overpass over Interstate 90 as well as an exit and an entrance.

IMG_1653It was a hot day and the way would be treelesss. Still, I set out on my adventure.

First, past the lonely horse in the pasture.

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Giving him a few pats on the nose, I was on my way again. We were both looking pretty hot!

IMG_1644As I approached the local cemetery, a police car pulled up to see if I needed help, but didn’t offer me a ride.

After a half hour walk or so, I encountered another solitary inhabitant of the road:

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And,as you can see from this view, I was drawing nearer to my destination. Just another 600 feet or so to go.

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I arrived at the Pioneer Auto Museum a bit wind-tossed and sweaty, and luckily the two very nice ladies in the gift shop loaned me a cell phone to call my sister. Ten minutes later, she picked me up and we did a short swing through town to see former residences and other haunts before returning to the motel.  It was, in fact, a bit of a futile exercise just to return to where I’d departed from an hour and a half before.  The rest of the day, however, turned out to be wonderful––old friends as well as some new ones, some surprises, a few tears, lots of laughs and a few messages from dear departed ones via stories I’d never heard before.  But it is 3:20 in the morning and I need to be up by 8 so I will desist and say as a famous man did many times in the past, that that is the rest of the story!

Forked!

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1967–Off  on the SS Ryndam on a four month around-the-world study adventure. Ga Ga Dowd was the oldest student aboard. She seemed ancient, but was actually one year older than I am now.  The other two girls, whom I had just met, were to be my best friends on the journey.  They are Susan (in polka dots), who was also a U. of Wyoming student whom I had never met before and Pamn, from Berkeley. I don’t know why the wind chose to blow only my hair.  Perhaps I had invested in less hairspray?

“The Zoad In The Road”
                                                          by Dr. Seuss 

Did I ever tell you about the young Zoad?
Who came to a sign at the fork of the road?
He looked one way and the other way too –
the Zoad had to make up his mind what to do.
Well, the Zoad scratched his head, and his chin, and his pants.
And he said to himself, “I’ll be taking a chance.
If I go to Place One, that place may be hot
So how will I know if I like it or not.
On the other hand, though, I’ll feel such a fool
If I go to Place Two and find it’s too cool
In that case I may catch a chill and turn blue.
So Place One may be best and not Place Two.
Play safe,” cried the Zoad, “I’ll play safe, I’m no dunce.
I’ll simply start off to both places at once.”
And that’s how the Zoad who would not take a chance
Went no place at all with a split in his pants.

Born in a time before television and the internet and even private telephone lines, (we shared ours with two other households), periodicals took on a special importance. We subscribed to three newspapers: The Murdo Coyote (my hometown rag), The Mitchell Daily Republic  and Grit–a newsy national weekly newspaper. My dad subscribed to Saga, Real West, True West, Argosy and probably a few others; and my Mom got Saturday Evening Post, Journal, McCall’s and Redbook.

One special feature of Redbook  over the years I was growing up was that they published the poetry of Dr.Seuss. I don’t know if the poem above was ever published anywhere else, but it was one of my family’s favorites, and I think I still have it out in a plastic storage case with other old letters and paper memorabilia. It is well-worn and wrinkled and yellowed, glued to a piece of cardboard to aid in its preservation.  I think I had used it as one of the poems I chose to memorize (along with “Out to Old Aunt  Mary’s,” ” The Wreck of the Hesperus” and “The Children’s Hour”) when I was in grade school.

I don’t know how much I actually listened to the messages of poems back then, but I do know that something prompted me not to just dream of those forks in the road but to make a decision and to take a chance.  Perhaps it was this poem.  Perhaps it was the fact that my parents rarely held me back when I had a chance to travel or experience something different.  Well, no, they didn’t let me take the Seventeen trip to Europe when I was eleven, but short of that, they encouraged me to reach out and experience life away from the town of 700 where I lived.

When I was a teenager, I traveled all over the state for district meetings for my MYF.  I attended church camps in the Black Hills and Lake Poinsett and traveled by bus to a U.N. Seminar when I was a junior in high school.

When it came time to go to college, I was quick to choose an out-of-state college and in my junior year again chose to travel–this time around the world on the U.S.S. Ryndaam as a student on World Camput Afloat––a university extension of Chapman College in Orange, CA.  We traveled for four months, stopping in countries around the world, studying their cultures, taking practicum side trips and in some cases taking off on our own.  The first country I did this in was in Kenya, where my newly met friend Pamn and I rented a little Fiat and took off on our own to have a few adventures.

My sister told me afterwards that she had been the one to encourage my folks to let me go, telling them it would get the travel bug out of my system, but if you’ve been following my blog for long, you know that just didn’t happen.  Immediatley after college, I emigrated to Australia and after a few years there, I traveled overland as much as possible to Africa, where I stayed for two years. After that travel was a summer and vacation experience until I moved to California thirty-five years ago and then Mexico fifteen years ago.  At each of these junctures, there was a fork in the road of my ife and each time, I made the decision and took it. Nine times, by my own counting, and in that time, although I’ve split a few pants seams, it was more due to local cuisine than to indecision.

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/fork/

Wheat

(To get a larger view of photos and to read captions, please click on first photo and arrows. To get back to read the essay, click on X at upper left of photo screen.)

Wheat

A stalk of it usually extended from between his teeth when he was out inspecting a field come June or July. It collected in his pants cuffs and in the hat band of his broad-brimmed work hat.  Bags of it wintered in a huge pile that filled our garage one year when there had been a good crop and all the barns and silos were full to bursting. The cars stood outside in the gravel driveway just off the alley and behind the garage that winter and our house was strangely empty of mice as they took shelter in the garage instead. Our outside cat grew fat even though he rarely came to the back door to be fed.

Ours was a little ecological system all its own.  Mice feasted on  grain spilled from burst seams in the garage. The cat feasted on the mice and we feasted on the steaks of Black Angus cattle who had eaten the ensilage from wheat stripped of its grains.

If I have always worked hard to furnish the bread and butter of my life, it is wheat that has furnished the dessert–my college education, my first car and, after my dad died and I inherited 1/6 interest in the farm and ranch, my first house.

Our lives were run by wheat and cattle.  During the summer, no time for family vacations. Wheat and cattle were my dad’s alarm clock. He rose before sunrise every morning and was often asleep in his chair before sunset, wheat spilling out of his pants cuffs or high top boots or stuck by the hooked spines of its beards to the fabric footstool in front of his rocker.

He slept hard, my father, and rose early to insure everything worked to the cycle of the nature that had surrounded him from the time, as a three-year-old boy, he had stepped off the Union Pacific train that had brought him and his mother to the little South Dakota town both he and later I grew up in. As they descended the metal steps, my grandmother had held one hand down to grasp the hand of my three-year-old father. The other was extended upward, holding a cage with two canaries. My grandfather and teenaged aunts were there to greet him and my grandmother, who, even though she had been the one who decreed that they should leave their safe security in Iowa to claim a homestead on the Dakota prairie,  had not traveled by wagon, but instead had sent her young girls and husband on ahead to prepare a way for her and her youngest.

My grandfather––a Dutch immigrant who was not a farmer, but rather a baker better suited for working with wheat in its miled state––did what most people did when my grandmother issued demands.  He complied.  It made for a hard life for them all–fighting the harsh South Dakota winters out on the plains as well as prairie fires, plagues of grasshoppers and schizophrenic weather that could furnish either drought, unseasonal rain or hail–all of which could ruin a wheat crop. So that later, when I asked my dad why he never frequented the games parlor where the other men played poker and lofted a beer or two, he said that he had no need for games of chance. His whole life as a rancher and farmer had been the biggest gamble of all.

My grandparents never did learn the correct formula, but my father, surrounded by the prairie from age three to seventy, learned its secrets well. Enough to buy out his parents as well as others who tried and failed. Enough to ensure the comfort of his wife and children and his grandchildren. Enough to die at what, now that I am nearly  69,  seems like the young age of 70.

Year after year, as he tilled the rich South Dakota soil to plant the grains of wheat he’d saved to seed a new crop––he seeded my life as well, along with that of my mother, my sisters, my nieces and nephews–all of our lives growing and prospering from those millions of shafts of grain that he planted and watched over and harvested and stored and replanted over a period  of fifty years.

The WordPress prompt today was “Grain.”

Controlled Chaos

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The other day in a comment to another blogger, I said something on the order of how I think life is cyclical.  We go from the intuitive state of children to the increasingly rational world of the adult and then, as we retire and age (or age and retire, depending on how anxious we are to do so) and get on to the next stage, we start evolving back into the state we were in as children.  We perhaps start to forget details of the present in favor of remembering vividly details of our past. Our present seems to fall into an increasing sense of disorder as our past comes back with a strange clarity.  In the farther stages of dementia, this seems to be true as well.

Judging by the fragmented comments made by my sister who is experiencing the journey of Alzheimer’s, she seems to be going backwards through her life.  In her mind, she was for awhile once again married to a husband from whom she had been divorced for twenty-five years.  A year later, she was talking about her high school boyfriend as though he was waiting for her; and this year, when given a baby doll, she sat rocking it and calling it Judy.  Eleven years older than me, I’m sure she was remembering me as a baby.  More proof of my theory, because she has had three children and five grandchildren since she rocked me in that long-ago rocking chair, most of whom she doesn’t remember.

All of this speculating is a roundabout method of preparing you for what I really want to talk about, and that is the topic of “chaos.”  As we age, our rational mind seems to give way to intuition–forgetting details like what we are driving to town to do or what we came from the bedroom to the living room to find. Instead, we wander from task to task as we get distracted by whatever our eye falls upon, much as we did as children.

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In a similar fashion,  objects collect on the table-like headboard of my bed and on my night tables. Have you ever seen the room of  a teenager?  A perfect example of chaos.  Dirty clothes and caked ice cream dishes are swept under the bed, dirty clothes are in piles mixed in with the clean ones delivered by mom a week earlier, magazines, electrical equipment, soccer balls and school books all seem to be placed in the same category and spread evenly over the surfaces of the room.

The bedroom or playroom of a toddler or child seems to follow the same organizational plan:  Leggos, the detached limbs of G.I. Joes or Barbies, coloring books, plastic kid-sized furniture, trikes, blocks, kiddie computer games, unmatched socks, clothes outgrown months ago, plastic trucks and assorted game pieces from kiddie games cover the floor as though organized by a tornado into the perfect organizational plan of a child: chaos.

So it was in the house of my oldest sister.  Every year, more piles appeared in her bedroom.  Her kitchen drawers were a jumble of knives, jewelry, old electrical receipts, diamond rings, half full medicine bottles, plastic lids to butter tubs, photographs, drawings her children had done twenty years before, unused postal stamps and corroded batteries.

When I visited a few months before she went into a managed care facility, hoping  I could facilitate her staying in her house for at least another year, I reorganized her house–– putting labels on all her drawers.  In the bedroom, I sorted out a tangle of necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets.  In doing so,  I discovered  23 watches–all dysfunctional.

“Betty, why do you have so many watches?”

“Oh, they all stopped working.”

“Did you exchange the batteries?”

“Oh, you can do that?”

Now I look at the boxes of slides and photos of the art work of my husband and me–sorted and condensed from four boxes  into two boxes, then abandoned unfinished when I needed to use the dining room table to entertain guests. Now the unresolved mess resides between the bed and the closet in my bedroom. Sigh.

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There are junk drawers I’ve been shoving things into for 15 years thinking one day I’ll sort them.  Boxes of miscellaneous papers I packed up 15 years ago to bring to Mexico still sit untouched in my garage.

Like the rest of the universe, having come from the chaos of childhood, I seem to be returning to it and I wonder what the solution will be.  Perhaps, as many of my friends have, I will start shedding the accumulations of a lifetime and simplify my life so there is less in it to be transformed into chaos.  Or, perhaps as has been my pattern for the past 15 years, since divesting myself of most of my possessions to move to Mexico, I will continue to collect thousands of little items for my art collages, dozens of bracelets, rings, necklaces, earrings–even though I wear only a few favorites.

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Perhaps I’ll continue to buy the books of friends, the paintings of talented Mexican artists, huipiles from the market, woven purses and alebrijes from beach vendors, gelato makers from the garage sales of friends.

I have a special fondness for one basket vendor who sells the lovely baskets made by his family in Guerrero. I have them in every shape–square, obelisk, round, rectangular–as well as every size from coin purse to three feet tall.  Yet I keep buying them because I admire his perseverance.  For the fifteen years I’ve been here, he has traversed the carretera from Chapala to Jocotepec, laden front, back and to each side with these baskets.  He wears five straw hats piled neatly one on top of the other on his head.  Baskets nest within other baskets or are threaded onto a long cord and worn diagonally over his chest.

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He is a a master of organization–and to query about any basket as one sits at at table in the Ajijic plaza  will invite his ceremony as he divests himself of baskets to display them.  Soon the floor around your table will be covered in so many baskets it seems impossible that one man has been carrying them up and down the ten miles between the towns on this side of the lake–all day and for years long before I moved here.  His is an incredible sense of organization that is the opposite of chaos, and in admiration, if I am unable to persuade visiting friends to buy his baskets, I always buy something myself.

Back home, I fill one with outgrown underwear, another with scarves, another with old keys and padlocks I may one day need.  It is as though his organization rubs off on me as I fill baskets, instilling some order into a life potentially chaotic–but at the moment held within the confines of normalcy.

Ten years ago, my other sister opened my junk drawer in my kitchen and declared, “There is no excuse for anyone to have a drawer like this.”  Because I know of no one who does not have a drawer like that, I was somewhat surprised, and was especially surprised because before her visit I had more or less organized my junk drawer.

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But now I look around and realize I have a number of those drawers.  In spite of the basket vendor’s good example, my sense or organization seems to be veering toward having a special drawer to thrust categories of things into: batteries, items of clothing, kitchen tools, jewelry.  Controlled chaos––the way of the universe and certainly the seeming course of our lives. For some of us, at least.

(If you are dying to make out exactly what is in these drawers, clicking on the photos will enlarge your view.  Snoopy!)

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/chaos/

Dare I Tell How I Excel?

                                                judy 3

                                                     Dare I Tell How I Excel?

No matter how much we might admire ourselves, there is something off-putting about revealing the fact. For some reason, by pointing out our own good points, it makes others less likely to admire them.  The one place where this fact of life is not true is in the resume,  where we can revel fully in revealing to the world how absolutely wonderful we are.

Some of us exercise our right to brag by the family wall.  Here we can display our successes as well as the successes of the families we have raised and  dynasties we have sired via photographs that show us at our most beautiful and successful periods of our lives.  Pictures with presidents or other celebrities,  awards and impressive vacations may all rub shoulders on this family wall.  By placing them in a prominent place–in entryways, offices, studies or staircases––we insure that they call attention to themselves without having to actually do so orally.  Thus we retain our humble natures while more subtly revealing to the world what superior human beings we really are.

The Christmas letter is another invention wherein we seem to think it is perfectly acceptable to toot our own horn.  The result is probably a lot of mail that, once quickly scanned if read at all, is quickly relegated to lighting the Yule Log. How much good news goes up in conflagration during the holiday season has never been calculated, but I can imagine that a good many gain a bit of satisfaction by sending these notices of how well their friends’ lives are going up in smoke.

So, when given the opportunity by WordPress to extol my own virtues, I must demur.  Luckily, in this cyber age, we need not call attention to our own virtues, for Google is always there to do it for us.  If we are lucky enough to sport an uncommon name, both the laudatory and shameful facts of our lives are there for all to see for the price of a few moment’s time and a little patience in sorting through the hundreds of thousands of bits of information available when our names are typed into the subject bar.

It is true that most of these bits of information probably do not apply to us at all, but the search for the ones that do can be as satisfying as a scavenger hunt, and the prize is, that in addition to all the good bits, we get to dig out the little bits of scandal or failures as well.  And who doesn’t like a little bad news sprinkled in with the good?  It gives a certain flavor to a life, as well as comfort that perhaps our own life–as boring, humdrum and plain as it may seem in comparison––isn’t quite so bad after all.

The Prompt: Toot Your Horn–Most of us are excellent at being self-deprecating, and are not so good at the opposite. Tell us your favorite thing about yourself.