Doing Something Completely Pointless

October 15, 2012
Decide to do something this very day that has absolutely no purpose other than your enjoyment in doing it (keeping it legal, of course).

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A ”Fond Farewell” Article

When I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I have moved many of them here to the blog, where they will still be available and people can find them by using tags. Enjoy.

Today’s Fond Farewell is part of the former Take-a-Break series. Use today’s post as a respite from today’s “to-dos” and have a little fun.

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Like thousands (perhaps millions) of others, I was highly disappointed when the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” stopped running. I loved the exuberant joy of life exhibited by the young Calvin and his stuffed lion friend. Actually, of course, Hobbes is only a stuffed toy when adults are visible in the script. When they aren’t there, he’s a great buddy for Calvin, which is well illustrated in an expanded Sunday comics that ran three years ago.flag

In this strip Calvin carries a red flag high over his head, running through the grass, balancing along a fallen tree, leaping on rocks across a stream, climbing a hill, running through the woods, climbing up, up, up into a tree, exchanging the red flag for a purple flag stuck in a high branch, running back through the woods, jumping down the hill, going back over the rocks, across the tree again, through the grass and then, running up to the tiger, calls, “Time!” Looking at the stop watch, Hobbes exclaims, “Wow. 15 minutes and 30 seconds.” Calvin responds, “Ha. Beat THAT!” Then, in the last frame, Calvin comments, “Weekends don’t count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless.” Then Hobbes, who now has the purple flag, yells “Go!” and takes off, running to beat Calvin’s record.

Ah, yes, Calvin, there is a great deal of pleasure in doing something completely pointless.

What have you done lately that is completely pointless? Of course, if you’re recovering from the flu at this moment, you may think your life has been rather “pointless” because all you’ve been doing is lying around too tired to do anything “worthwhile.” But it seems to me that doing nothing — but doing it with enthusiasm — benefits our souls better than doing nothing (or something) with resignation.

© Copyright 1998, Revised 2008 Arlene Harder, MA, MFT

 Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.org

 

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Having the Last Laugh

October 11, 2012
Write a funny epitaph for either a friend or a foe. You might even want to imagine the type of marker on which you’d like to have your words carved for posterity.

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A ”Fond Farewell” Article

When I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I have moved many of them here to the blog, where they will still be available and people can find them by using tags. Enjoy.

Today’s Fond Farewell is part of the former Take-a-Break series. Use today’s post as a respite from today’s “to-dos” and have a little fun.

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Epitaph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While visiting a relative, I also visited their bathroom, where I discovered Uncle John’s Great Big Bathroom Reader by the “Bathroom Readers’ Institute.” Didn’t know there was such a thing, but it just goes to show what people will do these days to make a buck.

When I looked to see what kinds of things one is supposed to read in the bathroom, it happened to opened on a page called “The Last Laugh: Epitaphs”, which was one of the shorter pieces. However, if you needed to be there for a longer time, there were also articles of medium length and longer ones for extended sitting. As I read some of the epitaphs that have been carved onto tombstones, I could see how having such a book would make time fly when nature calls.

I especially enjoyed these two:

Here lies John Timothy Snow,
who died fighting for a lady’s honor.
(She wanted to keep it.)
—Tombstone, Arizona

❋ ❋ ❋ ❋ ❋ ❋ ❋ ❋ ❋ ❋ ❋

Beneath this grassy mound now rests
One Edgar Oscar Earl,
Who to another hunter looked
Exactly like a squirrel.
— England

These gave me an idea for this Take-a-Break because it reminded me of other humorous and unusual epitaphs I’ve heard through the years. Before I explain what I mean, I liked to share some others that come from R.I.P.: The Complete Book of Death and Dying by Constance Jones and a book by Thomas Mann and Janet Greene called Over Their Dead Bodies..yankee Epitaphs & History, which is no longer available in print. At a time when gravestones are often engraved with only names and dates, I hope you enjoy these tombstone inscriptions as much as I do.

The ones I particularly like are those in which a person’s name is cleverly used, since I enjoy a good pun. For example, my husband’s favorite line, upon introduction to someone who apologizes for a name that is hard to pronounce, is, “Your name may be difficult, but mine is Harder.” In any case, here are four name epitaphs.

Beza Wood, who died in Winslow, Maine, in 1837 is compared to her coffin.

Here lies one Wood
Enclosed in wood
One Wood
Within another.
The outer wood
Is very good:
We cannot praise
The other.

In Tombstone, Arizona, the essence of the old “Wild West,” is this famous epitaph:

Here lies
Lester Moore
Four slugs
from a 44
no Les
no more

In Bath Abbey, England, is another famous pun:

Here lies Ann Mann;
She lived an old maid and
She died an Old Mann.

Then there’s a name epitaph that is so clever I wonder if it really existed, or if all the survivors of men named Pease were equally clever. It was reported to have been in a Nantucket, Massachusetts, graveyard as well as in Searport, Maine. In Barre, Vermont, it was for a Solomon Pease.

Under the sod and under the trees
Lies the body of Jonathan Pease.
He is not here, there’s only the pod:
Pease shelled out and went to God.

What strikes me about these epitaphs is that, unless the wishes of the deceased are honored, the survivors get to decide what will appear on the tombstone. And if a couple didn’t get along well in life, it sure helps to be the remaining spouse, as a tombstone in Hardwick, Vermont, clearly demonstrates. The inscription on “his” side doesn’t make much sense until you read the words she’s had carved on “her” side.

Marshall Willie
1872 – 1944
He Never Did

His wife:

Della Longe
1876 –
She Always Did Her Best

Then there was the wife in Potterne, Wiltshire, England, who got in the last word posthumously, although maybe it was her family who realized her life with old John had been especially miserable.

Here lieth
Mary—the wife of John Ford
We hope her soul is gone to the Lord
But if for Hell she changed this life
She had better be there than be John Ford’s wife
1790

To give men their due, in Burlington, Massachusetts, is a monument that reads:

Sacred to memory of Anthony Drake,
Who died for peace and quietness sake;
His wife was constantly scolding and scoffin’
So he sought for repose in a twelve dollar coffin.

The second line of an epitaph in Massachusetts gives you a hint that this woman didn’t write her own epitaph.

To the memory of Mary Gold,
Who was gold in nothing but her name,
She was a tolerable woman for an acquaintance
But old Harry himself couldn’t live with her:
Her temper was furious
Her tongue was vindictive
She resented a look and frowned at a smile,
And was sour as vinegar:
She punished the earth upwards of 40 years,
To say nothing of her relations.

Now that you’ve come to the end of these epitaphs, you may have a good idea for doing today’s Take-a-Break. Of course, it may take more than a few minutes to come up with something humorous, so that’s why this is a Longer Break and not a Quick or Moderate Break. No matter how long you take, try as hard as you can to clearly express your opinion of that person’s character.

© Copyright 2001, Arlene Harder, MA, MFT

 Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

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Planning a Totem

October 8, 2012
Think about what you would commission someone to carve on a pole that would stand outside your house where everyone could see it.

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A ”Fond Farewell” Article

When I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I have moved many of them here to the blog, where they will still be available and people can find them by using tags. Enjoy.

Today’s Fond Farewell is part of the former Take-a-Break series. Use today’s post as a respite from today’s “to-dos” and have a little fun.

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Totem pole in Ketchikan, AlaskaWe began a tour of Alaska in Ketchikan in 2000 and the first morning attended a talk in the Westmark Cape Fox Hotel. Joe Williams, who is an informative and humorous Native speaker, told us about the customs of his people — and encouraged us to leave some of our children’s inheritance in Alaska.

One of the things that somewhat surprised me was that he is NOT an Eskimo. Rather, he is an “Eagle” and a member of the Tlingits, who comprise the largest group of Northwest Coastal Indians and primarily live in seaside towns and villages. Since I thought the Alaskan Natives are called Eskimos, I realized there was a lot I didn’t know about Alaska — and there is still much I need to learn. But some of what I now know forms the basis of the this Take-a-Break.

Let me explain by describing two characteristics of the Tlingits as I understand them.

Tlingit Relationships

First, in this culture relationships are quite complex and everyone follows their heritage through blood lines, home territories and ancestral clan houses. To begin with, each person is either Eagle or Raven, the same as his or her mother. The moieties were further divided into many families, or clans, each identified by their crests. Some of the Raven clans include Frog, Coho Salmon, and Swan, while those of the Eagle include Killer Whale, Shark and Bear.

Traditionally, everyone had to marry someone of the opposite group. This is what sociologists call a “moiety.” (However, if you were an Eagle and really, really wanted to marry someone who was also an Eagle, or was not even a Tlingit, you might get a Raven to adopt that person, clearing the way to a sanctioned union.) Another fascinating fact was the concept in the old Tlingit tradition in which children were taught life skills by their maternal aunts and uncles.

The consequence of this arrangement is that people in the same moiety may refer to each other as brothers and sisters, whether or not they are blood kin and the members of the Tlingits are all “family,” either through blood relations or through tribal ways.

The implications of this arrangement can be seen in the cultural pressure to respect one another and follow the ways of their people, since whatever one person does affects the entire community. Thus younger people take care of the older people, who in turn teach them. And since they value the ethic of fairness, if someone does something good or helps in some way, they are repaid with gifts or services of equal value.

Tlingit Totems, Crests, and Symbols

This leads us to the second characteristic of Tlingits that relates to this Take-a-Break. It is something that all tourists soon discover. They are noted woodworkers and weavers. Whether hand carved totem poles, ceremonial masks, bent wood boxes, robes woven with intricate geometric patterns, or flamboyant headdresses, the designs are expressions of their complex culture.

The massive totem poles interest me most. Emblazoned with bold, stylized designs that depict animals and humans, they stand in the open for all to see. But these designs are not merely decorations, nor are they icons of worship as some who are unfamiliar with the culture mistakenly believe. Rather, they are important crests that signify ownership, relationships and family histories. In fact, they represent that much less visible, but more unifying and complicated, relational aspect of Tlingit culture.

Traditionally the carver would be commissioned by a member of the opposite moiety. I don’t know if that is still true today, although the skill of carving is being revived. The pole’s owner pays the carver and all those who helped, often by hosting a potlatch party, which has to be one of the most elaborate, generous, and traditional family gatherings of all time.

When the completed pole is raised, the carver tells what the designs signify and the “story” of the pole. In fact, it is important that only the person or group who carved or commissioned the piece is entitled to explain the crests on a totem. The Alaska Geographic Society notes in “Native Cultures in Alaska,” 1996, “Dances, songs, stories and clan crests are ‘owned’ by individuals and clans. A source of irritation among some Tlingits today is what they see as disrespect from visitors who take pictures, make tape recordings or copy crest designs without permission.”

However, when I visited a totem restoration center, the guide made certain we had time to take pictures of a totem that was designed for that center. And other places we visited seemed to encourage, or at least allow, picture taking.

Commissioning Your Own Totem

As you consider doing today’s Take-a-Break, I suggest you think of it this way. Throughout history, politicians and people in power have commissioned memorials to their heroes Statues of pioneers, soldiers fallen in battle, generals and explorers are given prominent places in our city parks. On the front of public buildings are carved mottos of lofty ideals. In fact, maybe you walked into high school through a door above which was chiseled a quotation by a great author or politician. Can you still remember it?

But now imagine that you could commission a pole, or similar object, that would be placed in your city park to tell the story you want to share about your community — OR — in your front yard to tell the story you want to share about you and your family.

What would you like it to say? What symbols would you choose to represent the story you want to share? What would convey the relationships of the people that this totem or carving will represent?

Makes an interesting exercise, doesn’t it? In fact, once I decided this would be the topic of a Take-a-Break, I’ve been wondering myself what I would choose. Today’s culture offers a plethora of symbols. Computers for our fascination with technology. Religious symbols that divide us. Guns for war and violence in movies, TV and on the streets. Dollar bills for the pursuit of money. Skinny models for our pursuit of the perfect body. And on and on.

But wait, we also need to represent our genuine good intentions despite our failings. Religious symbols that unite us (although they also sometimes divide us). The love we feel toward friends and family. The thousands of hours that volunteers give to make our communities a better place to live. And on and on.

In any case, now that I’ve put the idea into your head, maybe you will pay greater attention to the statues in your parks and read more carefully the inscriptions above public buildings. That just might be a beginning step in planning, if only in your imagination, the totem you would carve for all to see.

© Copyright 2000, Revised 2002, Arlene Harder, MA, MFT

 Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

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Comparing Old and New Radio and TV Shows

October 4, 2012
Today’s Fond Farewell is part of the former Take-a-Break series. Use today’s post as a respite from today’s “to-dos” and have a little fun.

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A ”Fond Farewell” Article

When I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I have moved many of them here to the blog, where they will still be available and people can find them by using tags. Enjoy.

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RelaxingRecently I opened an e-mail from a friend with whom I went to college many years ago. She began with, “Now this really hurts! How can something which is part and parcel of our life be unknown to someone just 10 years younger?” Then she went on to explain that in a conversation with a carpet installer, she had mentioned her closet was like Fibber McGee and Molly’s closet.

When the guy (whom she knew by a previous conversation to be fifty-three years old) gave her a blank look, she explained that the phrase came from a radio program with a running gag about everything falling on the person’s head who opened the closet by mistake. Finally, he said, “That must have been before my time!” “Well, it’s not before mine,” she huffed.

The incident got her thinking about how old (or young) we need to be to remember the show. So she took what she acknowledges is a highly “unscientific survey” and the youngest person she came across who either remembers the radio program or knows the reference to it is a woman in her late fifties. As my friend pointed out, if you lived in a house with only one radio or, later, one TV, everyone listened to the same programs — and everyone learned about the same characters and the same jokes.

She ends by saying: “Just think about Lucky Strike Hit Parade and Inner Sanctum and The Lone Ranger (on radio, anyway) and Lux Radio Theater.” They and similar ones “will disappear with us! Bah humbug!”

Further, many homes today have more than one TV and cable offers variety never available to those who grew up in an earlier era. We exercise with an iPod plugged into our ears, listening to different programs or, in my case, listening to audiobooks. You can bet your bottom dollar that all the drivers on the freeway aren’t listening to the same radio program. And don’t forget our awareness of cultural and racial diversity. Radio shows from the 1950s would never make it past the politically correct guardians of today.

The inevitable march of time and new technologies mean there will always be some things that are only understood by those of us who are older. Other things will slip beyond our grasp. Our children will shake their heads in amazement that we don’t recognize the names of their favorite rock bands.

So today my suggestion for a Take-a-Break comes in two forms.

1. For those who consider themselves part of an “older generation” (a definition you get to make):

Create your own “unscientific survey.” Choose a radio or TV program, book or expression that was popular in an earlier time and ask the ages of those who remember it and those who don’t.

In my own family a phrase like “Sock it to me” — from those delightful Laugh-In TV shows — isn’t part of my children’s vocabulary.

2. For those who consider themselves part of the “younger generation” (again, a definition you get to make):

Create your own “unscientific survey.” Choose a radio or TV program, book or expression that has recently become popular and ask the ages of those who know what you’re talking about and those who don’t.

Since I see few movies and don’t pay attention to the lives of the rich and famous, I could never win a million dollars on a TV show that required me to know the trivia of today’s stars and often have no idea who are the “newsmakers” in the People section of TIME magazine.

I would love to know what you discover in your unscientific studies from either Break One or Break Two.

© Copyright 2000, Arlene Harder, MA, MFT

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Deli Dance: Being Thankful While Eating Cheek by Jowl

October 1, 2012
Today’s Fond Farewell is part of the former Take-a-Break series. Use today’s post as a respite from today’s “to-dos” and have a little fun.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A ”Fond Farewell” Article

When I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I have moved many of them here to the blog, where they will still be available and people can find them by using tags. Enjoy.

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In an ideal world the chance to get out of the office for an hour for lunch would be reason enough to enjoy a break from work. But things don’t always go well if you’re eating at a crowded deli and your date has not shown up. Yet that’s exactly the time you need to remember this advice from Mina Hamilton’s great book, Serenity to Go: Calming Techniques for Your Hectic Life.

Deli Dance: Being Thankful While Eating Cheek by Jowl

BY MINA HAMILTON, Reprinted with permission

eating spaghetti 2Your lunch date fell through. Instead of holding hands and gazing romantically at your honey, you’re alone, having a tuna-on-rye at the most crowded deli in town. The decibel is that of a NASA rocket launch. Whether you realize it or not, this is the perfect time for practicing a little gratitude. Begin by thinking of the complicated chain of events that produced this particular and, you hope, tasty sandwich. Bend your mind around this question: Who were the people key to the creation of this morsel?

Who makes it onto your list depends upon your imagination. A sample of folk the luncheon roster might include: The woman at the seed manufacturer, checking for quality control. The laborer who drove the tractor. He plowed the field where the seeds were planted. He also tinkered with the Deere engine to keep it humming. The engineer who designed the irrigation system that watered the lettuce. The field hand. He bent over in the hot sun, picking the lettuce. Whoa! Bending over hours at a stretch is tough.

eating spaghetti-1Send some gratitude to each of these folk. Incredulous thoughts popping up? “Thankful? No way, not when I’m surrounded by people suffering from verbal diarrhea!” Wondering, “How can I be grateful with somebody’s sports page spilling over into my soup?” Breathe. Long, deep breaths. Politely ask the guy to remove his newspaper and then let your neighbors do their thing. Return to doing your thing.

Continue with your list. The seasick bloke who stayed up to four A.M. in a cold, driving rain on a tossing sea to pull in that amazing fish. The truck driver. He sang an old Stevie Wonder song as he blasted his semi across the continent, rushing the lettuce to your local market. The gasoline station attendant pumping diesel fuel into the six-axle semi. The waiter in the diner where you are currently munching down said sandwich. Recently hailed from Pakistan, he says “whiskey down” with the greatest aplomb. It’s astounding the web of humanity that labored hard and long to deliver you lunch. Give thanks to all of these human beings.

Wait! Don’t just lump these individuals together, giving them one big thank you and then rushing onto the next part of Deli Dance. Meticulously, slowly, go through the list of people. Conjure up in your mind a picture of each person. Thank him or her personally, taking a deep breath in and out as you do so. If you’re really clever — as I know you are — your list could easily include 200 folk.

Worried that this will slow you down? Secretly yearn to inhale your food at breakneck speed? First, you can go through this list as you’re twiddling your thumbs, waiting for your order to arrive. Guess what? The delay will seem less onerous. You’ll be occupied, not be champing at the bit, muttering, “What’s wrong with the waiter?”

Second, it would be a fine thing for you to eat a trifle — just a smidgen — more slowly. Gulping down your food assures that this afternoon you’ll be as sluggish as a python that’s just swallowed a forty pound pig. If you eat fast, you’ll eat more. Slow down, you’ll eat less. Extra food in your gut equals more blood rushing to the belly. Less blood available to fuel your brain. Less brainpower to impress Oprah Winfrey during the conference call this afternoon. And if I might gently suggest, you just might find the luncheon experience more pleasurable, if you weren’t gulping your food.

So take your time with graciously thanking all those hard-working folk. Having a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon? A tofu and curry stew? A yogurt, cucumber and red pepper salad? Come up with your own list of the amazing panorama of living, breathing humans who made today’s food. You may find your roll call of twenty folk takes you right through your meal. If so, you can do the next part of “Deli Dance” at lunch tomorrow. Or go for it now.

Focus on some of the natural resources that made possible your repast. The sun. Its warm rays nourished the lettuce plant. Good old sun. For centuries humans worshipped its regular rising and setting. (And became truly petrified during its occasional eclipses.) Of late humans have gotten a bit casual. We tend to take it for granted. In the clamor of a mid-town coffee shop, with dishes clanking, waiters shouting and a cash register ringing, thinking of nature, any part of nature, can be challenging.

Cast your eyes out the Deli’s plate-glass windows. Look at the bars of sunlight falling across the street. The glints of light reflected off of the chrome on a limousine cruising by. The brilliant yellow-green of leaves backlit by the sun’s rays. Neat, eh? Without this fiery ball twenty three million miles from the earth, our planet would be one cold, uninhabitable hunk of rock. No lettuce, no bread, no tuna. No humans. Nada.

What about the ocean teaming with life? The billions of plankton paddling and pulsating around the sea. These ubiquitous critters, some the size of a grain of rice, some invisible to the eye, some transparent as glass, others iridescent pink or blue are tasty tidbits for small fry. They, in turn, fodder for small fish, which are eaten by bigger fish. And bigger fish. Along comes your tuna and — gulp.

Without those wiggling plankton your tuna would not have had a chance. Send some appreciation to all the flora and fauna of the ocean that helped create your lunch.

It’s a privilege to be at the top of the food chain. Enjoy it for a few more moments before returning to your office.

© Copyright 2001, Mina Hamilton

 

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