Archive | January 2015

“May you live in interesting times.”

Mom, look I'm telling you 2 They say “May you live in interesting times.” is an ancient Chinese curse. Indeed, ‘interesting’ can be horrible if there is war, political unrest, famine or real trouble in your life. To me, the curse sounds wise enough to be Chinese, but there is some doubt about where it actually originated. No matter. Some of us who are lucky don’t consider ‘interesting’ as ominous.
The other day, over lunch of Eggs Benedict, a friend who has reached the venerable age of 90, declared: “I’ve lived through the most interesting of times”. She shared with me all she had seen during her long lifetime — and since she has been truly lucky, she’s absolutely right. An elderly Los Angeles friend had said the very same to me over 25 years ago and I still remember….

He remembered his family's first radio

He remembered his family’s first radio


He had recalled with pleasure and wonder his family’s first radio — all of them sitting around the table wearing earphones, with the contraption of open tubes and wires sitting in a place of honor in the centre of the table while they heard a symphony on radio for the very first time. It was a thrilling event he never forgot. He told me about the time their gas lights were changed to electric and when his mother no longer had to go out into the hallway of their apartment building to get water because new plumbing was installed right in each and every suite. He thought it all miraculous.
An 1895 automobile

An 1895 automobile

He also remembered the excitement of receiving wires, seeing his first automobile, the introduction of the telephone, then later television, microwave ovens, electric typewriters, and his first computer and printer. He did not dwell on the fact he had had to flee for his life from his beloved Vienna and then, serving in the U.S. Military, had witnessed the liberation of a Nazi death camp. He felt he had had a fascinating, interesting time of it.
My lady friend who last week talked about all the wonderful changes she has seen has been even more fortunate. She spent her whole life in Canada. And, yes, the advancements we’ve experienced are great in many ways, but sometimes I wonder…..
I am old enough to remember learning to type on a manual typewriter and how difficult it was to deal with my first electric one. Those keys typed letters at the
I learned to type on a manual typewriter

I learned to type on a manual typewriter

slightest touch, and it was frustrating. If I found that intimidating, you can imagine how intimidated I can be by the complexity of modern computers.
I also remember when we called any business and a real, live person answered the phone. Now, a machine tells us our call is important and the wait will be 15 to 30 minutes. Or, we must push this button and that while the minutes tick by and we desperately concentrate on following the recorded directions correctly because just one blunder — and we’re out of the loop with no possible way back. And, since these electronic telephone systems aren’t always perfect, we can do all the right things and still end up with a dial tone. No wonder we grind our teeth!
Just where oh where have all the people gone? And if our calls ARE important to them, why don’t they employ enough people to handle them? Perhaps we’ve made a Faustian pact with the devil where modern technology is concerned. Even flesh-and-blood humans are beginning to behave more like humanoids than people. We bank at machines, our bills are paid automatically and too often we have little human contact in our everyday lives. I miss that, don’t you?
Will our grandchildren who nuke potatoes in a microwave ever know how great a real baked potato tastes? Is that important? Will future generations who grow up texting each other and using cell phones have any idea how to have a real conversation? Will the youngsters who are no longer taught how to write at school know how to sign their names? Does any of this matter to anyone besides me?
True, my own relationship with modern technology is tenuous. My computer and I have an agreement — I try not to goof too often and it tries not to scare me too much. I know how to turn on my microwave, but have no idea how to decrease the power, so everything gets heated on high. Still, we manage to live together in peace.
And, all those unnecessary clocks that are pre-installed on microwaves, CD players, and most other electronic gizmos in my home remain unset, so don’t bother looking at them for the correct time. I don’t know how to set them and nor do I care.
There is just so much I can handle.

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If silence is golden, is speech platinum?

Some friends are still trying to keep their New Year’s resolutions. However, I gave up making them years ago. I know better. They’ve never worked for me.
For instance, nobody ever suggested I was shy or quiet. Even when I was really little, my oldest sister said all she needed to do was tell me to recite or sing a song and it was like turning on a tap. (I could recite the ABCs before I knew what they even represented and believed “lmno” was a word!)
I’ve always been a verbally expressive creature and rarely hesitate

On our debating team, we were taught to respect differing opinions

On our debating team, we were taught to respect differing opinions

to say what I think although I learned, on our high school debating team, to respect those who disagree with me. (Which doesn’t mean I can’t get really angry when someone is dishonest, or unethical.) I am interested in differing opinions, because I realize I may be wrong, or change my mind about the issue in the future. Through the years, goodness knows I’ve often enough changed my position on things.
We gathered for coffee and conversation every Sunday morning

We gathered for coffee and conversation every Sunday morning

I once made a New Year’s resolution to refrain from talking so “enthusiastically” (ahem!) and to allow others more of an opportunity to express themselves. At the time, I used to meet with friends early every Sunday morning for coffee and conversation. We gathered at the beginning of that January and each and every single one of them noticed my unusual silence.
“Muriel, are you alright?” “Are you sick?” “What’s happened?”
“I’m fine,” I responded, “I’ve just made a resolution not to talk so much.”
That led to a discussion about what “talking too much” meant, and the conclusion was that interesting conversation was not “talking too much”. These friends hoped I would give up my resolution — they expected me to fully participate. They felt I contributed to our get-togethers and didn’t like the “new” me. It was just as well. I don’t know how long I would have been able to keep my mouth shut anyway.
Do I talk too much?

Do I talk too much?

So, you wonder, what made me want to change in the first place? An incident which occurred years before, when a troubled neighbor told me I talked too much. I knew she was not well, but it nagged at me and I took it to heart.
During the next week or so, every person in my life was asked the same question. “Do I talk too much?”
“Talk too much?” my sister said, “Naw, you wouldn’t be you if you didn’t talk.”
“But is it too much?” I persisted, “Tell me the truth!”
“No, you have a vivacious personality — I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
“Do I talk too much?” I asked my friend Hans.
“No.”
“Are you sure?”
“What brought this on?” After I told him, he said: “Definitely not, I don’t enjoy chatter, but you don’t chatter — you’re interesting.”
(Okay, he was the man in my life so what else could he say, huh? And since he was talkative too, we used to laugh about fighting for “air space” when we talked.) This continued with family and friends until I finally let it go.
Still, that one comment stuck around like a ghost reluctant to leave and for some reason, continued to haunt me. Thus, years later, I felt a New Year’s resolution to talk less possibly was in order.
Well, they say silence IS golden. Nowhere in all the reading I had done had I ever found anything that offered encouragement to those of us who are avid talkers. At last, here is one. Hurrah!
Author Jan Struther, 1901-1953, she left us too soon

Author Jan Struther, 1901-1953, she left us too soon


“If silence is golden, then speech is platinum. It spreads wisdom, dispels ignorance, ventilates grievances, stimulates curiosity, lightens the spirits and lessens the fundamental loneliness of the soul.” (Jan Struther, author of “Try Anything Twice” and other books.)
Bless you, Ms. Struther. You left us too soon!