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Mr. Inscrutable

January 27, 2018

SherlockHolmesYears ago, someone described my husband as ‘inscrutable’. I laughed – not only because I’d heard him called a lot worse, but because I could read him like a book (a Sherlock Holmes sort of book, mind you – the kind with lots of clues that you may not recognize as clues at first because they’re buried beneath a layer of mystery and misdirection, and you need to apply a significant amount of deductive reasoning and take more than a few leaps of faith to get to the bottom of things.)

A good deal of his inscrutableness comes, no doubt, from his Hungarian heritage (he is distantly and directly related to the last King of Hungary, who was also a Karolyi; he immigrated to Canada with his parents and sister in 1966, at the age of 10). Others’ inability to read him or his expressions may also come from the generous amount of facial hair he sports. His beard is as much a part of him as his six foot six inch height. (I mentioned to my granddaughter once [I don’t remember how the subject came up] that I had never seen his chin except in a photo of him at age 8 or 9; that he’d sported a beard for as long as I’d known him [and for twenty-plus years before that]. When she was here at Christmas, I noticed her casting surreptitious glances at him [he also noticed; it definitely made him uneasy – he’s not quite sure what to say or do around a clever and inquisitive three year old who thinks he’s a bit odd because he doesn’t engage with her like everyone else does]; later she came over and whispered in my ear, “I can see his little chin peeking through his beard.” I suspect I’ll never clearly see what lies beneath!)

WeddingPhotoWe met in 1998, shortly after he’d been hired to coordinate a prestigious post-graduate program at the College where I worked. He heard ‘through the grapevine’ that I was the departmental web design ‘guru’; he needed someone to run a weekend workshop in web technologies (and, ultimately, to teach web-based courses in the full time Program). To say our first telephone conversation immediately endeared me to him would be a lie; I thought he was brusque and demanding (I later learned he’d been hired only the day before the school term began and had been ‘thrown into the deep end’ without any time to plan or prepare [the previous coordinator had left rather spontaneously and the program was in disarray]; this was his first foray into teaching on a full time basis). Once I’d proven myself an able, experienced, and popular instructor – and one with the same kind of passion and approach to the teaching/learning process as him – things smoothed out and we learned to get along. Over the next five years we worked side by side, reinventing the Program (enhancing the course mix, improving delivery methodologies, reinforcing outcomes and expectations; as a result, enrollment doubled and employers competed with one another to hire our graduates). During that time our collegial relationship gradually grew into a genuine friendship, and then – after years of working together – something more. We were married in 2003 (the second marriage for both of us). And despite the fact that many people thought it would never last, we’re still living ‘happily ever after’ fifteen years later!

I admit that it took me years to figure out how he operates at times. That ‘inscrutableness’ of his often takes the form of annoyance over small things I’d just shrug off, delight over technical breakthroughs I simply don’t understand, and a clear preference for his own company (apart from me and one or two close friends, he really doesn’t like people all that much and is uncomfortable when forced into social situations with anyone other than immediate family). CoinsHe has an attention to detail and a need to figure things out that I admire; an ability to adapt and overcome any obstacle that I envy; a tenacity (obstinacy?) that occasionally drives me crazy. In many ways, we’re complete opposites (as with our teaching specialties, I’m ‘form’, he’s ‘function’); in other ways we’re far too much alike (we both like to be ‘in control’, which is fine so long as we’re each doing our own thing in separate areas of the house / property, but not so great when we need to make a decision about something we both have strong opinions about). Probably the best way to describe us as a couple is as two sides of the same coin (I’m Queen Elizabeth on the front; he’s the hard working beaver on the back of a nickel – or maybe the highly adaptable and always-on-the-move caribou on the back of a quarter).

During the early years of our relationship, I admit I tried to get him to change – to be less enigmatic and more easy-going (it didn’t work – any more than his attempts to instill an interest in complex scientific principles changed me into a geek freak!) He’s still unreadable at times, likes to ‘keeps himself to himself’ (my granddaughter calls our house ‘Grammy’s house’ and the garage/shop ‘Grampa’s house’), and is unwilling to accept anything less than the very best from himself, no matter the task (from making me tea in the morning to washing the dishes at night; from shoveling snow and chopping wood outside to rebuilding a car engine from the ground up in his shop).

Ultimately, I’ve come to accept him the way he is – to read his moods and expressions (or lack thereof) and allow him the space he needs to be quiet and think, or provide an ear when he wants a sounding board. And he’s adapted to me and my habits as well (e.g., he’s learned to stay out of my way when I do housework, and to not interrupt me when I’m typing madly at my computer). We share a number of hobbies, interests, and activities (even more since retiring to the country), but still enjoy ‘doing our own thing’ as well. It’s a good fit.

And while he’s probably still unfathomable to some, he’s mine, now until the end of time here on … the other side of 55.

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The Squirrel in the Attic

January 21, 2018

Not long ago, someone asked me about my writing strategy. Where did I get my ideas from, and how did I turn them into a story? At the time, I muttered something along the lines of, “Well, stuff just sort of comes to me and I get it down as best I can, and then I rework it until it forms a story.” Not the most profound exposition on how to write a coherent tale, but the question had honestly caught me by surprise.

I was thinking today about how ideas actually do come to me (because, let’s face it, thinking is easier than actually doing something productive on a dull, dreary Sunday afternoon) and I recalled an excerpt from Anne Lamott’s book (on writing and life), Bird by Bird, that dealt with that very subject. She put forward the idea that our unconscious (which is where a writer’s most insightful ideas form) is sort of like a child (or, in her case, “a long-necked, good-natured Dr. Seuss character”) who lives in the cellar, spending his or her days creating characters (as if playing with paper dolls) and handing them up through the cellar door for us to use in our story-telling. She encourages writers to come up with their own image or metaphor for this “collaborator” who resides in the non-rational, unconscious mind.

ScaredySquirrelI immediately pictured a squirrel in the attic.

Not a real squirrel, of course, but one that looks like Scaredy Squirrel from Mélanie Watt’s storybooks – a little wide-eyed and eager to please. I envision him running around in the narrow space above my writing room, gathering and hoarding not nuts and nesting materials, but random people, situations, settings, and snippets of conversation he’s found who-knows-where. Things I never could have come up with on my own, even if I’d sat in front of my computer for a hundred hours.

I picture him dropping them through a teeny, tiny hole in the ceiling, right next to the cedar beam that runs across the centre of the room, where they land on my head, seep into my brain, and rush through my nervous system. They emerge through my fingers, which hammer rapidly on the keyboard, forming words which get strung together, as if by magic, into sentences and paragraphs and pages. Then, ever-so-gradually (but not effortlessly), these disparate pages weave themselves together and form a story. With luck (and some perseverance), the end result is a tale about flesh and blood people living complex but authentic lives in places we can see and hear and smell. They’ll have convincing conversations about real problems, and overcome any number of obstacles to reach their goals. Ultimately, they will survive and thrive, while growing and changing dramatically before they reach “The End”.

Clearly none of this could happen without the assistance of my collaborator – the squirrel in the attic. I suppose I should take the time to thank him (I think I’ll call him Musey, because I see him as part muse, part research assistant, part general dogs-body) for his contributions and his participation in my creative endeavours.

ScaredySquirel_PeekI suspect, though, he’d just stare back at me with his beady little eyes, through the hole in the ceiling, twitch his fluffy tail a time or two, and get on with the business of gathering more nuggets of brilliance to pass along.

Because that’s what he does!

~~~

And now you know how I write what I write here on … the other side of 55!

 

Perhaps It’s in the Fine Print

January 16, 2018

Is there some loophole

in the contract of a family

that allows one or more members

to cast out,

disown

and disenfranchise

another

without qualms

or guilt

or even so much

as a backwards glance?

 

You are born into a family,

you don’t get to choose

your parents

or siblings.

You are taught

to honour

and obey,

to respect

and fit in.

But what if you are

the black sheep,

the outlier,

the one who just

doesn’t belong?

 

Does that give others

the right

to judge you

and criticize your decisions,

engage in treachery

and deceit,

be disloyal

and two-faced,

to celebrate your failures

and disparage your successes

as if you didn’t deserve them,

and turn envy into hatred

and resentment into lies

repeated so often

they become their truth

and their insidious licence

to destroy relationships

built on a lifetime of

love and trust and blood?

 

Hollywood makes movies

and TV shows about

dysfunctional families

who are more authentic

than most would admit.

Someone once said

“family is made up of people

you wouldn’t associate with

if you weren’t related to them”.

Surely that doesn’t give them

the right to

rebuke you for

not sharing your personal pain

or not asking for their approval,

their sanctification

for decisions made,

roads taken

that were none of their business

in the first place.

Or to censure you

for supporting and caring

for another

with total unselfish devotion

when they wouldn’t

or couldn’t

do the same.

 

Where is the loophole

in the contract of a family

that allows

jealousy

and envy,

suspicion

and distrust

to eek past

loyalty

and faithfulness,

familiarity

and affection

to so thoroughly

and contemptibly

taint the principle

of “true brotherly love”?

 

Perhaps it’s in the fine print.

FamilyOutlier

 

NOTE: I’d like to give a shout out to KJ Eastwick (“Stories from an Eclectic Mind”) , whose Daily Prompt-inspired poems have motivated me to rekindle my own interest in writing poetry, something I hope to continue exploring here on … the other side of 55.

Speaking to the Void

January 1, 2018

How do you

start a conversation

that no one wants to have

about truth

and loyalty

and trust

about respect

appreciation

and gratitude

How do you

start a conversation

when no one is willing to listen

to the words

the thoughts

and feelings expressed

about wrongs

that need righting

lies that need exposing

How do you

start a conversation

that frightens people

so badly that

they cover their ears

and close their eyes

shutting their minds

to anything

and everything you have to say

How do you

start a conversation

with people who simply aren’t there

NotThere

This poem was inspired by today’s Daily Prompt (conversation); © Margo Karolyi, 2018; The Other Side of 55

Maybe Next Year

December 30, 2017

Now that Christmas is over and the presents received have been put away, the wrapping paper and gift bags have been stashed in the storage cupboard, and the decorations are starting to come down (slowly but surely), I can sit back and reflect on how I almost met the ‘country Christmas’ resolutions I made back in early November:

  • I almost didn’t set up and decorate a real tree on the front deck (that only I can see)
  • I almost didn’t avoid buying a few gifts for myself that I knew my wonderful husband wouldn’t think to get me
  • I almost didn’t put out so many Christmas ‘knick-knacks’ that the cats could barely find a place to sit on the window sills
  • I almost didn’t buy more presents for my family than I should have
  • I almost didn’t rush out on Christmas Eve to buy last minute groceries for Christmas dinner
  • I almost didn’t spend too much time making an overly ambitious Boxing Day brunch dish (which turned out great, but still …)
  • I almost didn’t allow myself to feel just a little gloomy when it was over too soon
  • I almost didn’t write this post to reflect on all the promises I made but didn’t quite adhere to

Maybe next year I’ll do better. After all, I’ll have another year of living under my (jingly Christmas) belt here on … the other side of 55.

ChristmasTree_Outside

toomanygifts.jpg

Too many gifts?!?!?

Gloomy

 

A Poem Worth Sharing …

December 19, 2017

I found this poem by KJ Eastwick to be quite thought-provoking and wanted to share it with my followers.

I have a compass

A moral one

To do the right

And not the wrong

But with this needle

Comes some grief

For right is hard

And long and tiring

This arrow points in one direction

It never moves

And never quivers

And thus I do what’s right

For those who fall off the path

I congratulate your ability

To throw that compass

Out of the door

For those who change direction

I’d really like to know

Just how you did it

And why it does not pain you so?

via A moral Compass — Stories from an eclectic mind

The Age of Elegance

December 11, 2017
Typical1953Dresses

Typical women’s wear, circa 1953

My husband and I have been watching a BBC Masterpiece Mystery series (Grantchester) that is set in 1953.  The women are generally attired in flounced dresses and/or full length gowns (‘evening wear’); the men wear sharply pressed shirts under suit jackets and ties (or tuxedos for ‘fancy dress’ parties). Only last night, I commented to my husband how elegant they all looked, and lamented the fact that the ‘age of elegance seems to have passed us by.

I was born that year (1953). Growing up, my parents both attended and hosted social gatherings with friends (we were a ‘middle class’ family) where the women always ‘dressed up’ – most often in knee length ‘party frocks’, but occasionally in full length dresses (at Christmas and New Years) and the men wore their best suits, often with vests and always with a tie.  Weddings and high school proms (right through the early 70s) always called for full length ‘evening gowns’ for the women/girls and dress suits for the men/boys.  Even the youngest of girls wore pretty dresses with crinolines underneath, white gloves, and occasionally a fancy hat to Sunday School or church. Their mothers wore stockings, gloves, and hats with their dresses; men had ‘Sunday best’ suits and they always removed their (required) hats when entering the church (or any building, for that matter).

MadMenPhoto

A photo from “Mad Men”

Working women (teachers, office workers, nurses, etc.) never wore slacks; men (unless working in a ‘skilled trade’) were always dressed in suits and ties (and if they removed their jackets while working in their solitary offices, they always put them back on when meeting with customers, clients, or managers). You only have to look at movies or TV shows about the era (or images from them) – like “Mad Men” – to see what I mean.

LeisureSuitsIt wasn’t until the late 1970s that ‘pantsuits’ became acceptable office attire for women (that often indecently short ‘mini skirts’ were allowed prior to that time, but not slacks, has always struck me as a bit odd), and men were ‘forgiven’ for not wearing a jacket or a tie at all times (unfortunately, the late 70s also brought about the age of the polyester ‘leisure suit’ for men).

TypicalOfficeWearToday

Typical office wear today

Gradually, as the years passed, dress ‘codes’ (or the unspoken expectations regarding appropriate attire for those working in offices, schools, etc.) were relaxed and we now find both men and women wearing everything from pretty ‘day dresses’ (women) and three piece suits (men and women) to casual slacks and shirts (on both sexes) in just about every environment. It seems the only ones who really get ‘all dressed up’ these days (in evening gowns and tuxedos) are the fabulously wealthy – and then only when they attend awards galas or events hosted by other members of the ‘extremely rich and famous’ set. It’s sort of sad, if you ask me.

sharon_margoWhen I was young I loved getting ‘dressed up’ for church and friends’ birthday parties, or other special events. I couldn’t wait to be allowed to wear stockings (complete with garter belt), high heels, and lipstick. Putting on a full length gown for a wedding (or my high school prom) made me feel like a princess (I still love to wear them; at my niece’s wedding in 2008 [see photo, right], there were only three guests in full length dresses – myself, my mother, and my sister; at my son’s wedding in 2015, the bride’s grandmother and I were the only ones, other than the bride, who chose to wear long dresses).

DressForSuccessBookCover_80sEven at work, I resisted the trend towards wearing pants in the office (and later, in the classroom). I still remember the first time I decided not to wear stockings (‘pantyhose’ by that time) to work; it was the summer of 1983 or 84 and we were in the midst of a blisteringly hot heat wave and the classrooms were stifling. The (female) instructor who taught in the room next to me actually noticed my bare legs, and we got into a discussion about how we both believed that teachers (we taught at the local Community College) should dress to set an example for our students (magazines like ‘Working Woman’ and ‘Dress for Success’ [amazingly, written by a man] were very popular around that time). Then we looked around at our (all female) classes (we taught Office Administration specialties) and realized most were in cut off jeans, shorts and t-shirts – and laughed. Clearly, no one had been paying any attention! I started wearing pants to work shortly  thereafter (mostly because I often ended up on my hands and knees under desks, trying to repair computer connection issues – something you didn’t want to do in a dress). Slacks, a dress shirt with a vest or blazer became my ‘go to’ teaching attire for the remainder of my career.

Convocation1997

A colleague and I, Convocation 1977

By the time the 21st century arrived, pretty much everyone I knew dressed very casually (with the exception of two male Business teachers who always wore dress shirts, dark pants, and ties to work every single day – bless them). If a female teacher appeared at the front of the classroom in a dress, some student would invariably ask, “What’s the occasion?” (Admittedly, it was usually an Awards or Convocation Day!) “Dressing down” on “Casual Fridays” (where ‘casual wear’ took on a whole new meaning – and not, in my opinion, an appropriate one) was far more conventional than “dressing up” for special events!

AllDolledUp

My parents ‘all dolled up’ for a nostalgia night at the museum (mid-1990s)

I don’t have much occasion for ‘dressing up’ these days. I suspect I will always don a full length ‘gown’ for weddings, and a respectful ‘day dress’ for funerals. During the summer, I nearly always put on a long sundress (‘maxidress’) after my shower at the end of a long, hot day in the garden (my mother always ‘dressed for dinner’; I take after her in many ways!), and I like nothing more than to put on something special (occasionally a dress, more often than not dressy pants and a nice top) when my husband takes me out to dinner (even if it’s just the local family restaurant).  There is something very special about getting ‘all dolled up’ (as my father used to call it) to go out – it’s demonstrates a combination of respect (for your host/hostess and/or venue), self-confidence, poise, and pride in your appearance. I wish we could bring it back into vogue, because elegance deserves to be recognized and celebrated – not relegated to the annals of nostalgia by those of us on … the other side of 55.