Ducque's Eye View
Marriage Meanings and Myths
February 25, 2004
reprinted February 2008
“There is no subject on which more dangerous nonsense is talked and thought than marriage”. -George Bernard Shaw, 1908
"Tell me the goodness of a system where it is easier to get a marriage license than a hunting license", - Gov. Frank Keating (R) Oklahoma (“… is one of the last people I ever thought I would be quoting". -The Ducque)
On President’s Day I was driving home from northern California battling traffic, wind and rain while listening to talk radio. The airwaves were all abuzz about the hundreds of same-sex couples standing in line in San Francisco city hall to obtain marriage licenses. My first thought was, why is City Hall open on a government holiday? Then I asked myself how I felt about the gay marriage question. I mused that as in the equally controversial issue of abortion I am pro-choice. While, I don’t believe I could ever remarry, homosexuals should have the same right to chattel themselves as heterosexuals. To me the issue is marriage, not who has the right to marry whom.
As I listened to all the earnest callers I began to grasp how complex marriage is. A little of my cynicism melted away. Love, lust, legalities; celebration, commitment and co-habitation; insurance and inheritance; property and partnership; religion, ritual and routine; trauma and treasure; family and finance... This is big stuff. It certainly should rate more than a 10 minute ceremony at City Hall, but is it worth a 10 hour wait in the rain? Or, maybe waiting outside for hours on a stormy day with your potential partner should be a requirement for getting married? If getting a marriage license is worth going through so much inconvenience to these people, maybe it’s worth my taking a second look at it.
Like most girls growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s I dreamt of getting married some day. We planned our weddings, how many and what kind of children we would have. Some of us bought into the American dream, got married and had 2.3 children. But then coming of age with the rise of feminism in the 1970’s some of us disdained the institution of marriage. The socialist among us snubbed marriage as bourgeois. Some of us cohabitated. Some of us united in hippie ceremonies in the park. Some of us waited until we were older to tie the knot. Some of us chose same-sex relationships. Some of us remained independent. Some of us did all of the above. A lot of us, including me, didn’t plan much past the wedding reception. I hadn’t thought through what it means BE married and STAY married.
In 2004, three years of co-habitation, 18 years of marriage and six years of divorce later, I still don’t comprehend what marriage is. Nor do I totally appreciate the distinction between living together relationships (LTR) and marriage. I’m not alone in my confusion. Religious, political, cultural, historical and legal contexts all have different perspectives for marriage. Each state in the United States has the right to its own definition of marriage. But, more to the point, each individual has his/her own idea of what marriage means.
It is this very complexity that I believe creates a lot of myths about marriage. My topic this week isn’t my most original idea. In my internet search of “marriage myths” there were 128061 responses. Nevertheless, I invite my readers to join me as I retrace my steps on the primrose path of my thinking about marital meanings and myths.
1) Marriage is about being in love.
“In love” is an ill defined concept that has more to do with sexual attraction and excitement than it does with deep, enduring love. I have been known to fall in and out of love in the course of an evening. While that giddy magnetism can be maintained for years with or without a wedding ring, in many relationships the in-love feeling dwindles away as the reality of waking up make-up free, dirty socks on the floor and toothpaste without caps sets in. However, my successfully married friends tell me things like she still feel a thrill sometimes when husband calls in the middle of the day and he still feels ardor when he watches wife sleep in his arms. They make a point of prioritizing romance and time for each other. Nurturing the love and the “in love” of a marriage or LTR requires daily effort.
2) Marriage means “for better or for worse ‘til death do us part.”
With 45% to 50% of marriages ending in divorce the statistic belies this phrasing. It might be more honest if the vow read until one of us has had enough or until it gets too hard. Over time people grow, change and well, stuff happens. Some people never imagined what worse could be. The true test of marriage, or any LTR, is whether or not you grow in similar directions and tolerate your mate’s differences. Partners need good communication skills and humor to face adversity together without letting misfortune tear them apart. While going through a marriage ceremony certainly doesn’t guarantee that a commitment will be stronger or the marriage will last longer, it does become a public affirmation of the intent to commit.
3) My spouse will make me happy.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. WRONG! Many studies show that married people are happier than single people, and who am I to argue with science? But I do know for a fact that I am responsible for my own happiness and finding ways to meet my own needs. If you choose well and have a loving, giving spouse, chances are you will be happier. But, the happiness is coming from an inner sense of well being and sharing, not from another having the power to give you joy. If you weren’t happy before you got married, chances are nothing anyone else can say or do will make you happy now.
4) My spouse will fulfill my every need.
Compatibility and friendship are essential components to a good relationship. Common activities serve as glue to hold people together. But unless your mate is your clone, and how boring would that be, no one is going to share your every interest or be able to fulfill your every need. It is important for mates to spend time alone and with others without their partner in order to expand their horizons and bring back new ideas to the primary relationship.
5) Marriage is nothing more than a legal contract to insure paternity and property rights.
Two weeks ago I might have said that for the non-religious the only difference between LTR and marriage is the paper. It is true that marriage provides legal benefits. But today I’m ready to revise my thinking on this one. Dale Carpenter helped convince me by his remarks in “Bad Arguments for Gay Marriage,” Bay Area Reporter, December 11, 2003: “Emphasizing the riches of marriage misses the richness of marriage. Very few people marry in order to experience the magic of filing a joint income tax return. They marry because, in our tradition and history, marriage is the way couples in a community signal the depth of their commitment to one another. Their family and peers reciprocate by supporting and celebrating that commitment, which in turn reinforces it.” Plus wedding cake tastes better than regular cake and you get jewelry.
Now that I’ve established what marriage isn’t, what do I think it is? Good question. Some of the ingredients I’ve identified as being part of marriage include love, commitment, contract, partnership, tolerance, growth, nurturance, permanence, unconditional acceptance, respect, trust, fidelity, values, celebration, and spiritual union. Every relationship has its own mix of which elements are most important. In a LTR we affirm each other in all these ways; in marriage the union receives a societal affirmation as well. But because of the many definitions and myths of marriage I think the most important element in making or breaking any relationship is communication. The two people involved are going to have to learn how to talk to each other and come to an agreement regarding what their personal marriage vows mean.
There are those philosophies which believe in the interconnectedness of everything, a plan and meaning to life. On the other hand there are a fair number of folks who subscribe to a more random theory, giving little credence to higher powers or destiny. In the destiny vs. chance spectrum I live in the “Scrubs” land of lessons as portrayed in the “My Butterfly” episode. For those of you whose life doesn’t include values learned from sitcoms, this was the one which had two different story lines. A story based on whether a fluttering creature would land on a voluptuous female breast or a less noteworthy fellow’s paunch. The reaction to each of these events led to diverse event chains with life and death outcomes at Sacred Heart.
So, what does this mean besides proof again that I watch too much television? A lot of what I say and do is drivel and doesn’t matter much in the long run. But on the other hand, I have my moments. Momentous moments. Some events have literally changed the course of my life. There are those times when one knows the importance of their options, whether or not to go to college, to take a job, to get married, to have children, etc. But there are also smaller choices we make that can have unexpected results that direct our future. I already suffer from ambivalence a lot. If I knew in advance which itty bitty choices I make would have an impact on my history, I probably would be too paralyzed to decide anything at all. Luckily, I’m blissed-out by ignorance in the sooth saying department.
Mongo, who signs my check, has requested I write about the series of occurrences which brought me to this area. Rewind to August, 1994….
At that time I was living in Portland with my husband and children aged 12 and 9. I had just turned 42 years old, had one full time and two part time jobs. I was a Camp Fire leader and a retired Cub Scout den mother. I was settled in a busy soccer mom/urban professional routine. However, my House Hubby (HH) was underemployed having weathered an unhappy midlife crisis career change that didn’t fly. Life was stressful. Just when it seemed there were no butterflies anywhere on our horizon, HH was offered a managerial post in Coos Bay. (I now appreciate the irony of being promoted to an area that had unemployment in the double digits, but that’s another issue. At the time a permanent family wage job was an answer to HH’s prayer.)
Say What? Take this Metro Girl, who had fled Oklahoma to live first in San Francisco and then in Portland, back into Podunk? I don't think so. “Come on Ducque Honey, at least check it out. You love the beach. We can spend the weekend on the Coast,” HH enticed me.
We pulled out the maps to plan our route. HH noticed a place called Wildlife Safari so we decided to take the kids there first, and then cut over on 42. Innocuous Choice #1. It had been awhile since we had had a family outing. Everyone was on their best behavior and it was a great trip. What fun to drive among the wildlife in Winston. Then, “go west young man...” It was hot in the valley and en route we noticed a community swimming pool in the little town of Coquille. There weren’t that many people there for a hot summer afternoon.
This was where the magic began. We followed our butterfly.
After the kids were suited up we looked for a life guard to pay. No staff were in attendance so we asked some of the parents, watching their swimming children, who was in charge. The community center was closed. It turned out one of the local doctors had rented the pool for his son’s birthday. He took pity on the disappointed ducklings and invited them to join the private party. Free cake and hot dogs. I liked this place.
While the kids splashed the adults talked. Our benevolent physician (BP) and HH got along splendidly. Mrs. BP and I chatted. They gave us names of someone who might have a job for me and someone else who had a house we might want to buy. Score. After the party we checked out downtown Coquille. I saw the same purple roofed house I had seen in a dream long ago in the window of a realtor. We drove by the house the BPs had told us about. Both houses were perfect and more affordable than Portland. One of the partiers had suggested we check out the quaint fishing town of Bandon-by-the-sea since we were in the neighborhood. Our butterfly of life changing course had landed.
We arrived in Bandon about dinnertime that Saturday night. We saw several motels all with “Sorry” signs. The Gorman Motel didn’t have a sign displayed that evening, so HH went in to find a room. Mrs. Gorman was at the desk. “You came to Bandon on an August weekend without a reservation?” There was no room in the inn. Mrs. G called around. No vacancy anywhere in town. Undaunted, HH who is nothing if not charming, told our tale. Mrs. G knew his proposed employer and took a liking to our family of four. She told us about a beach cottage she owned but had been too busy with her sick husband to clean up and rent out that season. She suggested a restaurant we could try while she put fresh sheets on the beds and aired out the place. She rented us one of her Natureland cottages that night for less than two motel rooms would have cost.
Our lodging was funky but awesome. There were twelve species of wood in its architecture. We had never heard of myrtlewood, let alone seen the stuff. We could smell the sea air through the open windows. The kids loved their loft and hubby and I basked in our getaway. The next morning was clear and beautiful. We played on the beach and climbed rocks near Devil’s Kitchen. A fantastic time was had by all. God’s best kept secret is Bandon in the summer. The worst thing that happened that sojourn was Daughter’s losing her blue suede shoes.
1949 postcard of Natureland
We drove into Coos Bay to see its sights. My first image of CooCoo Bay was the big pile of wood chips next to the hog fuel burner on 101. Had we not veered south the night before I would have been convinced this area wasn’t for me. However that initial impression was superimposed on the wondrous hours we had just spent in the smaller burg of Bandon. In that welcoming light Coos Bay seemed big enough. I joked that maybe I could give up Nordstom’s for WalMart.
While the kids slept that long drive home, HH and I talked about new beginnings and taking risks. I wasn’t convinced, but I was allowing the possibility of moving. Monday morning I called a man the BP’s had mentioned who hired people in my field. He answered his own phone. That never happened in Portlandia. He was expecting someone who wanted to leave the area to give notice soon. Although I had some experience in her niche, my particular area of expertise was different. But my qualifications were good enough. I left my phone number but let go of the impulse to move. I told HH we should wait and see. The Rose City was home after all.
Then, my future boss called me back a couple of weeks later. A woman named “Jane” who worked in my specialty had unexpectedly given her notice; I could direct my own program. It was a career move I couldn’t refuse. We drove back to Coos County for an interview. I was hired on the spot. Luckily, the previously proffered position for HH was still unfilled. Wow. Our luck had changed.
What would we do with our Portland home? We were in the middle of a remodeling project and the place was a mess. How to overcome this obstacle? We called our son’s Little League coach, who was also a realtor for advice. Problem solved. He offered to buy our home as is. That butterfly was flapping her wings awfully fast. We loaded up the truck and we moved to Beverly, no, actually we moved to “the other Bay area.”
I had some questions about my new career. I requested a meeting with Jane. Innocuous decision #2. My Coos boss arranged for me to go to Jane’s new job site to train. Coincidentally Jane worked in that charming village of Bandon. We drove to the Beach to talk without interruption. I told her the story of how I left Portland for Coos Bay and I showed her that cottage where my family had had such a good time. Jane introduced me to her new boss, commonly known in these pages as “Boyfriend” or “the Ex” depending. But at that time he was just another guy.
Fast forward a few years. My marriage was failing. HH had used his position as a rung on his career ladder. He had obtained a 6 figure job as a traveling salesman. I, on the other hand, had a personality conflict with an administrator at my dream job and had taken a lateral transfer to avoid him. Life was not good. The quality friends I had made and loving the Coast made up the silver lining in my Cloud of Misery. Small town life agreed with me. However, Coos County was too provincial for HH and our children. They moved to Sacramento. I felt like a female cliché being dumped as soon as the man made money.
Through my new circumstances I met a woman, let’s call her Kitty, who at one time had applied for the position of secretary from HH. My butterfly revisited on her shoulder. I confided in her about my relationship troubles. Innocuous decision #3. Kitty had also been rejected by HH and we bonded quickly. Kitty pointed me out to her recently divorced boss who liked what he saw. On day when I was picking her up for lunch she “introduced” me to this guy who had the good sense to hire her. He had changed jobs too. ”Er, um, we’ve met. A few years ago. My friend Jane worked for you when I first moved to the area.”
My soon to be Boyfriend lived on Beach Loop. He started asking Kitty to bring me to his house for parties. I was NOT ready to date, but I needed distraction. I started making frequent trips to Bandon with Kitty. As we drove by Natureland, I remembered that delightful weekend in 1994. I told Kitty the story of how I landed here against my better judgment. Over the next few months her boss became my on-again-off-again Boyfriend of the past nine years.
Bandon is now a critical piece of my existence. I love its beaches and restaurants. I enjoy Old Town stores and local gossip. Bandon is not boring. People come here to retire, to play and to adventure. So they are more open. Where else in the world do ex-hippies and ex-loggers congregate at the same coffee shop with cranberry growers and realtors? Although we disagree we are passionate about our coastal lifestyle. It’s an excellent place for a crossroads. There is something magical here.
The best thing about a New Year is its opportunity for new beginnings. The unkept resolutions of last year are well, last year’s. We can forgive ourselves and dream anew. In the dark and stormy coastal nights there is a lot of time for reflection. What do I want to do with my life? Where do I really want to go, be, do, see? What decisive movements can I make now to change the course of my days? What innocuous choices am I making that will forge my identity? Where will “My Butterfly” land?
Of course we can’t know the answers to those questions in advance. We DO have the power to take steps toward carving our destiny. Mundane marches. I CAN start saving more money and working a little harder so that maybe I can really retire this year. I CAN live healthier so that I can live longer.
Then there are Spiritual Strides. In addition to keeping body together, how about feeding the soul? Imagination, travel, outdoors. Love, hope, charity. 2008 might be a good time to see something new or see something old in a novel way. Adventure doesn’t usually just happen passively. Quests tend to be accepted and undertaken actively.
Mongo and I have been talking about other planes of existence, about stepping outside our boxes. Natureland, the cottage or the world, might hold more mysteries to unfold. That butterfly might be seeking a place to land at this very moment. Stay tuned to these pages to see where she lights.
May You Make Your Dreams Reality in 2008!
The Neurosurgeon Bakes Cookies
My relatives are all odd ducques. We are opinionated and passionate, but paradoxically accepting of each other’s many, many idiosyncrasies. Therefore, we really don’t have any “black sheep.” If you are kin, you are part of the flock. However, the adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” is lost on us. We tell each other what we think about their piercings, lifestyle choices, and money management practices. I must confess sometimes it gets a little loud at family get togethers.
My siblings are 14, 16 and 18 years older than me. We’ve all led very different lives. My middle brother is the glue that has held the family together, at least he’s the one that has kept me reined in. So when he traveled from New Mexico to California for a holiday visit to his daughter and was speculating driving up to Coos County to see me, I said, “No, Bubba, I don’t want you driving in this winter weather. I’ll come see you there.” Don’t think I’m totally altruistic. The 12 hour drive seemed an easier task than cleaning my house for company. Plus his daughter’s home is pretty fancy and I would have some nice digs to enjoy. I cleared my schedule and spontaneously headed south.
Many families have one success story of whom they are especially proud. My niece, who is ten years younger than me, is ours. I’ll call her Ele (short for elephant which is the totem that stands for: “Royalty, ancient wisdom, education, removing obstacles, strength, patience, confidence.”) When Ele was a little girl she wanted a swimming pool. Bubba, who was raising four kids on a teacher’s salary, told her that they couldn’t afford to pay someone to install such a luxury. “That’s okay,” she said, “I’ll start digging.” She used this same determination as an adult not to become a mere doctor, but is actually a neurosurgeon. On the other hand, she also shares the same gene pool as The Ducque.
That fateful Sunday of my sojourn Bubba and I went to Safeway to buy Gewürztraminer, non spiced rum, tomatoes and organic lunch meat. We had clear instructions regarding where each of these items was to be found in this unfamiliar store. Bubba and I snickered at the specificity of our list, but dared not disobey. We were looking for the wine the doctor ordered when the overhead page instructed Bubba, who had forgotten his cell phone, to come to Customer Service. Ele had decided it was time to bake cookies with her own six year old daughter. After reviewing her recipes she realized she needed more brown sugar and some molasses. She called her daddy to save a trip. So many choices, dark or light sugar…mild or robust blackstrap. My brother and I, who have 12 years of college education between us caucused, and were able to make our selections with only one more call home. We substituted a less expensive Riesling. We forgot the rum. We bought non-organic tomatoes. Despite our shortcomings, we were graciously thanked for our efforts.
After lunch Ele began preparations for the bake off. I played Liar’s Dice with Bubba and my nephew in law, Mr. Ele. My role in life is to offer to help when the work is about done or I am not needed. With Ele, her mother and daughter already ensconced in the kitchen I thought I was safe that afternoon. But no, my sister-in-law Bubbina gladly bowed out of the baking ventures. Ele decided I needed the opportunity to spend quality time with my grand niece and assigned me the task of making St. Nick cookies with Li’l Ele. She pointed me towards her Kitchen Aid with all its bells and whistles and a recipe.
Since I make a practice of never paying more than $20 for an appliance, I was at a loss. “Er, um, Ele,” I said, “I don’t know how to use this contraption…I did have a nice mixer once that I got at a garage sale, but I broke it,” I confessed. “You can’t break a Kitchen Aid Aunt Ducque…not unless you throw it.” “Well, it was more of a drop than a throw.” “Don’t drop this one. Li’l Ele will help.” Surgeons believe in no nonsense.
I entertained Li’l Ele with stories about her mother when she was a little girl. One of them involved cracking an egg, which led to a detour to the back yard to see their urban chickens. Did I mention that Ele got that swimming pool she always wanted? There is something incongruent about a chicken coop behind a million dollar home.
In the meantime, Ele was focused on conquering gingerbread. She realized there wasn’t enough flour for two batches of cooking and her shortening might be too old. “Daddy, wouldn’t you like to take your afternoon walk by the corner store?” Bubba and Bubbina headed off for the market.
No more distractions. Li’l Ele and I were creaming butter and sugar together when my elaborate domestic device stopped short. Oh, no and I was being so careful not to drop it. I was embarrassed so I called Boyfriend, who is a chef quality cook, for a consultation. He instructed me that I shouldn’t be using the “paddle” attachment for that task, but need to use something called a “dough hook.” I asked Ele where the dough hook might be. “I’m not sure. I’ve gone through so many nannies and maids it could be anywhere.” Ele, Li’l Ele and I searched. This involved crawling on the floor, climbing to the top shelves and balancing a flashlight under the lazy Susan. Finally I decided to blend by hand the old fashioned way. I know how to use wooden spoons. My brother and sister-in-law returned with the flour. Ele and I traded equipment.
The baking was progressing nicely. Li’l Ele is very smart. She correctly read all the names of the spices from the jars. I taught her fractions with measuring spoons. The recipe called for 1 tsp salt. All I could find was sea salt so we used that. The recipe calls for 3.5 to 4 cups of flour. Ele and I debated how much flour St. Nicks need. She called the friend who gave her the recipe. Scientists that we are, we used exactly 3.75 cups. It was done. We refrigerated the dough.
Bubbina was cleaning the kitchen behind us. I’m adept at making messes. Ele had bought pumpkins at Halloween to make fresh pies, but never had time for that. Someone had to have their head examined instead. Her mother convinced her that the pumpkins were past their prime and they dropped them down the garbage disposal. “When you write about this, be sure to mention, that Ele bought THREE pumpkins to make ONE pie” Bubbina coached me.
Meanwhile, Ele resumed her gingerbread which also needed salt. “Aunt Ducque, I don’t have any regular salt. I guess we need to go back to the store.” Baking cookies isn’t brain surgery. I assured Ele that sea salt would work just fine. “I’ve used it before myself.” My niece has been taught to respect her elders so she dutifully did as told. I didn’t mention it was only 15 minutes before that I had substituted said salt. Ele finished mixing her cookies. The paddle was too intimidated to misbehave for her. She inspected her batter. “Oh, Aunt Ducque, it’s all grainy and there are salt crystals in the dough.” I examined her product. I quizzed her about her butter for shortening substitution. Instead of looking at the package to determine how much 1/3 cup was she had make an advanced, albeit incorrect, calculation. We reread the recipe. Ele had also forgotten the water. She added butter and water and beat some more. The batter looks better. But there were still crystals. I called Boyfriend in Bandon again. He told us to let the dough sit at room temperature for 35 minutes so the water could dissolve the salt crystals. We waited but the gingerbread was still dry and crystalline. Time to call in the family matriarch. Bubbina suggested we add a bit more liquid, maybe some alcohol for flavor. Due to Bubba and Ducque’s memory lapse, we didn’t have any rum. But there was some expensive cognac in the back shelf. We poured and stir, refrigerated the dough, and called it good.
By now the St, Nicks were thoroughly chilled. Ele and Li’l Ele rolled, cut and baked and I tasted. Yum. I nibbled on a star shaped one. A little dry. Next time I’ll stick to 3.5 cups, but mostly yum.
It was getting late. Ele and Bubbina made dinner. We could bake the gingerbread after dinner. I tasted another cookie. “Time to wash up before we eat.” Bubba strolled to the master bedroom. “It looks like someone threw dirty dishwater down one of the designer drains”. Not to worry. We could wash our hands in the kitchen sink. Except when we did that sink clogged. We had a Level One Emergency on our hands. I comforted myself with a cookie cross.
Call in a professional? No way. We had two men in the house and their inner plumbers emerged. Mr. Ele was snaking. Bubba was plunging. The women and children ate dinner in relative silence. “How did this happen?” Bubbina felt terrible. Apparently three raw pumpkins are too much for even state of the art garbage disposals. The bathroom in the master bedroom was now covered in Drano and grunge contaminated water. Bubba joined us at the table. “Maybe we should call a plumber.” “It will cost a fortune on a weekend.” I announced we now had a Level Three emergency. Ele pronounced it Level Five. I didn’t argue with her because my mouth was full of a slightly burned heart. Shop vacs, faucets, gaskets and Channel Lock pliers were discussed.
Mr. Ele spent the dinner hour in the bathroom mopping up water with towels. Having eaten, Bubba took off his dress slacks, shoes and socks to help. “Daddy, you can’t do that. You have diabetes. You’ll have to have your feet amputated.” “Bubba, I know Ele usually exaggerates, but this time she’s right. That Drano and grunge could really hurt your feet. With diabetes you don’t heal right.” “What do you mean I exaggerate?” “Well, you called this a Level Five and it’s only a Level Three.” “I think it is serious enough when I have to wade to get to the toilet.” “You can use one of the other bathrooms.” “yeah, but can I flush?” “Oh, it’s not that bad. There are no blood or broken body parts.” Bubba got up out of the mire as much to stop his sister and daughter from squabbling as anything else. Ele started to take his place, but I insisted she let me. “You still have on the good pants you wore to church.” No one mentioned that Bubba was now dressed in his undershorts. I demanded rubber gloves and paper towels. I finished around the corners while Mr. Ele snaked some more. As I sat on the edge of the muddy Jacuzzi, I reflected how glad I was that I took my candlelit L'Occitane foamed tub yesterday.
One advantage of living in big California cities is they have hardware stores that stay open until 9:00 PM on Sundays. Ele, Bubba and I went out for supplies. I grabbed a cookie ring for reinforcement. There was a tool shed at Home Depot that is almost as big as my little Coos cottage. We joked that I would finally be able to afford my retirement dream. Ele promised me if I ever need a place to live I could set up my new shack in her backyard next to the chicken coop. We returned to the manse. The men resumed plumbing. At long last we concluded we need to call in a professional. Ele telephoned a plumber to come in the morning. We didn’t get around to baking the gingerbread.
Monday morning we all got up early. I obtained permission to write about my family foibles. I hugged everybody good-bye and started my long trek home. Mr. and Mrs. Ele and I left Bubba and Bubbina to wait for the Roto Rooter guy. As I drove north I reflected upon my kooky clan. My tummy was still full of cookies. I gained a pound that weekend. I also lost a $150 bucks to a speeding ticket.
You know, it’s not whether or not you have troubles that determine the stock from which your family is made. Divorce, financial problems, and plumbing disasters are all facts of life. It’s how you pull together, bake cookies, and help each other out that matter in life. I can pretty much guarantee that my family is going to tell me whatever they think is wrong with my political and religious views. We all tell Ele and Mr. Ele how to raise their children. My kinfolk are the first to laugh at me when I goof up. My brothers used to tease me until I cried. But likewise, if I ever need a place to live or something to eat, the tribe will always be there to help.
I called to say I arrived home safely. Bubba told me he thought as he wrote the check to the plumber, “That was one expensive pie.” The raw gingerbread was still in the frig. “If you don’t bake it, toss it. Don’t put it down the disposal.” Ha ha. At least my extended family can fearlessly flush again.
(Author’s postscript: Bubba’s and Ducque’s oldest brother James Richard died on December 17, 2007 at the age of 73, a week after she returned from baking cookies. This column is dedicated to his loving memory. On December 16 I was at a holiday party talking to a young Port Orford fisherman. He mentioned his brother had died a year ago that day in a boating accident on the Rogue River bar. I told him I was sorry. He said, “Don’t be. He died doing what he loved, fishing.” My new friend added, “Don’t put things off. Do what you want to do now. And tell those that matter that you love them.” Happy Holidays, bandon.tv Viewers. I love you all.)
The Schlong Shrine
Peter Pan has Wonderland where Tinkerbell flutters. Linus Van Pelt has his personal pumpkin patch where the Great Pumpkin rises. Not to be left out in these dark winter nights when we need a little magic, my friend Krab and I have the Jetty where we await with bated breaths a revisitation of the Giant Schlong.
It all started in August. Krab, Just A Simple Country Doc, (who first appeared in these chronicles in “Love and the New Carissa, February, 2007) and I were going to have an early dinner before heading to the Sprague to see “Oklahoma.” JASCD had instructed us to meet him in Bandon at 5:00 sharp because he was really getting off work on time that fated Friday. Well, like all workaholics he lied. Krab and I could have waited in his office counting the cracks in the ceiling or we could go have a glass of wine at the Boatworks. We carefully examined our options.
Since we have a hard time concentrating on ceiling cracks we chose a carafe of chardonnay with a calamari appetizer. Social creatures that we are we struck up a conversation with our waitress with whom we soon became friends. She confided to us that a golfer had hit a hole in one at the Dunes that afternoon and was celebrating by buying rounds of Maker’s Mark in the bar. His comrades had preferred beer, and the management was stuck with a lot of pre-poured whiskey. Ever helpful, Krab and I offered to take the extra bourbon off of their hands.
By the time JASCD arrived, the Krab and the Ducque were now the Skunks, as in “drunk as.” Our new best friend had a contact high and introduced herself to JASCD as “his blind date for the evening.” JASCD was not amused at our raucousness and thought the two of us were quite enough for any one man, thank you. But as we shared our booze and a lovely meal he mellowed and paid the tab. Thanks JASCD.
We had time to spare before showtime. Since we did not want to force anyone to have to kick us out of the Sprague for rowdiness, we decided to go for a walk on the jetty to sober up. I know, I know, you’ve been waiting for me to get to the Schlong part. (What does that say about you?) But I had to set the scene.
JASCD left first. Krab and I had to visit the Ladies. We drove very slowly to the residential side of the beach. Parked across from JASCD’s little sports car was a big pickup like all the others you see around town. No big deal. Well, ahem, actually it was a very big deal. A young man was relieving himself by the side of the road. Normally, well mannered girls that we are, we would have averted our eyes. However that summer day we were under the influence so our eyes roamed downwards to where the action was. For the next ninety seconds time stood still. The image is burned into my brain.
Our conversation went something like this: “Is it real?” “It must be, there’s pee coming out of it.” “Yeah, at first I thought he was holding a piece of driftwood.” “Have you ever seen one that big?” “Well, there was this porn flick once, but I thought it was fake.” The tête-à-tête degenerated from there. We were transfixed. We couldn’t tell you the color of his truck. Krab thought maybe it was black. I sorta remember green.* I’m pretty sure there was a girl in the truck with him. I vaguely remember wishing I was her. Neither of us could begin to describe his face, but I would recognize a part of him in any line up, anywhere, anytime. He stood there a long time. Something that big can hold a lot of tinklejuice.
The Mystery Man zipped up his jeans. We tore our eyes away and hurried to the beach to join our host. The magnificence of the waves, the gifts from the surf, all was lost on us that day. We eagerly told JASCD about what we had just witnessed. We could speak of nothing else. Something so large can hold a lot of a woman’s interest. JASCD wondered why he ever let us go anywhere together. “Men are more than just the sum of their parts” he informed us. “But all of his parts are related” we told him in earnest. “He had huge Popeye arms from having to hold that thing,” I explained. Krab added, “He never needs to work out on a Bowflex. He just drinks a lot of water and then lifts his weight.” “Do you think he suffers from lower back pain from carrying it around?” I fretted. We agreed that his “vital 5%” was a significantly higher percentage. Ok, maybe size does matter. But then again there is something to be said about too much of a good thing. Can you imagine…? There was a lot to discuss here.
You might think such a trivial thing as a guy urinating on the road would be chalked up as tacky and soon forgotten. JASCD certainly thought it was time to change the subject. Not then, not now, maybe not ever. When we returned to our cars Krab and I showed JASCD the puddle that proved we hadn’t imagined the whole thing. Clearly he had had above average bladder capacity. JASCD conceded his amazement at the evidence of his passing.
When you have seen the Perfect Penis it becomes a cause.
Oklahoma was a fun production but discussing our sighting was funner. Summer is party time for me. At BBQs, soirees, and various other get-togethers in Bandon, Coquille and Coos Bay over the next few weeks I felt compelled to tell our story. I was positively evangelical as I waxed poetic about the jetty jettison. There was a house for sale near The Scene. I contacted the real estate agent and offered to hostess an open house for him. Boyfriend, JASCD and other men did not understand my mission. But women everywhere, both old-friends and new acquaintances, were enthralled.
We found ourselves going out of our way to drive by the jetty. “It’s a nice day, wanna have a picnic… at the jetty?” Word of mouth spread and traffic began to pile up there. It wasn’t just the tourist trade causing the jetty jams this summer. I began to worry about the chained over evacuation route in case of tsunami. (Take that up with the city council, Mongo.) While I didn’t find time to write a Ducque column in September and October, I did locate a few spare minutes to hang out on the jetty. In my circle, the jetty has become a Shrine to a Schlong. As recently as this Thanksgiving’s dinner, I was asked again to tell the tale.
Alas, the Giant Schlong (GS) has not been sighted since. Winter is upon us. It gets dark too early for after dinner strolls on the beach. There is rain and wind where once the GS stood in the sunshine. I always get a little SAD (see January 27, 2004 column “Let the Sun Shine In”) this time of year. But now along with the knowledge that the days will start getting longer the end of December is the memory of something else that was longer. And the promise that next summer I can resume jetty patrol.
* Note from Mongo: I have two pickup trucks. One is black, the other is green.
In Defense Of Anger
As someone who grew up in a family of yellers (the loud kind, not the color or the dog) with a father who believed whipping with a belt was a reasonable punishment for a 16 year old girl, I am familiar with anger. In fact, my own rage was a contributing factor to the end of my marriage and the neuroses of my poor kids (who somehow turned out fine despite me.) My big mouth and short fuse have also gotten me in trouble more than once at work and in a couple of close relationships. I have had to “work through” my anger issues a 1000 or so times.
You might think with that kind of history, I would not be advocating anger. But you would be mistaken. When I went to Mongoland the other day and saw my webmaster friend examining his life by numbering incidents of sex and anger in the same category he did ciggies and coke, I emailed him my concern. In my world smoking nicotine based concoctions, and using drugs stronger than marijuana are no-nos. However, I view anger as healthy and sex as good. Mongo metamorphed from buddy to boss and challenged me to write about anger. He’d been nagging me for a couple of months to get off my frump and write. (Sex might be another column another time. But you’ll have to beg for it.)
The bandon.tv boy is in good company. There are a lot of people who I think misunderstand anger. (Since they disagree with me they must be misguided. Mmmmm, I’ll work on my judgmental nature another day?) Nevertheless, as I’ve talked to others the past few days I have been surprised by some of the comments I’ve heard: “I can’t afford to get angry. I might hurt someone.” “When I get angry I get thrown in jail.” “Anger is a useless emotion.” “There is no such thing as anger.” “Anger is depression turned outwards.” “Anger is just fear based action.” “I’m not angry; I’m upset, or irritated, or having a bad day.” “Anger is usually a cover-up for other emotions.” We humans certainly spend a lot of effort denying, minimizing or philosophizing anger. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Anger is just anger.
The thing is I now make a huge differentiation in my mind and in my value system between the feeling anger and behavior controlled by anger. I do not condone abuse of people or animals. Graphic violence in the media makes me nauseous. Name calling is seldom fruitful unless you have a taste for rotten tomatoes. Plus, I’m here to tell you that yelling at your boss in a meeting is not effective communication. These are examples of actions, not of feelings. Anger is a feeling. Anger does not equal outburst.
Nor is all behavior fueled by anger damaging. Sometimes it takes anger for a woman to leave a domestic violence situation. If she uses her anger to get in the face of someone bigger and drunker than she is, chances are she will get hurt again. But if she uses her anger to develop a safety plan and take a calculated risk to leave the situation her life could radically improve. When my son was in his first week of first grade his teacher would not excuse him to go to the bathroom and he had an accident. I was furious at this instructor. Had I strode into her classroom, punched her out, or called her the names I was thinking in my head, it would have been nonproductive. Instead I wrote a professional, albeit strongly worded, letter to the principal that precipitated my six-year-old’s transfer to a different class. The commonality in these two situations is recognition of feeling, thinking about responses and then choosing implementation of carefully thought out action rather than impulsive behavior. Acting, not reacting, is effectiveness.
In my journey of personal growth I have come to believe that a feeling is just a feeling. It can be changed. In fact it is pretty much one of life’s few guarantees that whatever you are feeling at this moment will be different in the next. Feelings are neutral. Feelings are valid. While feeling angry can be quite powerful, there is nothing inherently negative in the feeling itself. Likewise, I believe thoughts are just thoughts and equally impermanent. Behaviors on the other hand are often public and can trigger a whole chain of reactions. Behaviors have consequences; once the snowball is rolling, it is hard to stop its momentum.
To me the danger is in not identifying, acknowledging, accepting and letting go of a feeling - either to move onto the next sensation or to choose what to do with that emotion. When feelings, especially strong feelings like anger, get stuffed they grow and can explode, much like a seething volcano inside of you. I know first hand what a hot temper feels like. Often with 20-20 hindsight after my tantrum is over I can break down the events and the reactions leading up to my explosion. Usually I discover that there was a tiny precipitant which I ignored, a little pebble, but then that event or similar circumstances were repeated. The pebble grew and became hot inside of me. Other stones, both related and unrelated to the initial event, started rocking and rolling, heating and steaming. Finally another innocent little nugget got added to the mix. I erupted. Not a pretty sight.
I have learned the hard way that unspoken anger turns into resentment that can simmer inside of you for a long time. Sometimes my pot boils over creating a big mess on the stove. Sometimes it simmers away for years taking up perfectly good room in my soul which could otherwise be filled with joy.
Too much metaphor? My life is fraught with examples of not slowing down and completing the steps in the process from feeling to thinking to behaving: Here are examples with both remote and recent repercussions:
About 20 years ago I had invited a friend Ursa to live with my family and me while she got back on her feet. My then husband overheard her complaining to someone about us and confided to me about the conversation. I was angry. I felt hurt and betrayed and reacted by being really mean to Ursa. If anyone needs lessons on carrying grudges I would have been a great instructor. Within a short period of time, she left our household, partially because of my nastiness. Over the next few years we gradually ceased contact entirely.
(Through a fluke actually related to another lost friend Cheerberry, reading a bandon.tv column, I reconnected with Ursa. I had lost contact with Cheerberry over a similar communication problem involving anger, jealousy, and pain 30 or so years ago. I won’t go into the details of that episode. You already know how petty I can be.)
Life gave me the wonderful present of a second chance with two friends who knew me when I was a duckling and now love me as an old babe. To unearth each of these treasured friendships, we have had to go back in time to share missing links in our sagas. Many years later the anger still had to be addressed in order to move beyond it. I visited my former roommate recently and belatedly told her about the eavesdropped conversation. This is her response:
“Thanks for letting me know more about the unpleasantness we both suffered in your old house.
That really helped for things to make sense for me. I can really understand now.
You were not really as mean as it seemed when I know more of the story.
So thank you for telling me. You are a good friend.“
Cheerberry sent me a similar email when we patched up our relationship a year or so ago. Her reaction to this column is:
“Great topic and very informative and thoughtful….it was definitely of value.
I think it is a testimonial to restraint and communication.
As far as reconnecting after estrangement, I say, "better late than never!"
It is a blessing to have you back, that's all.”
I will never know how our lives would have been different if we hadn’t “lost” the past 20-30 years. I wonder if maybe at that time I didn’t have the maturity to discuss our respective conditions. Maybe we all had to experience a lot more living before we could appreciate what we had in our youth. It is clear to me, now that Ursa and Cheerberry are back in my life, that I might have missed out on something precious by not responding to the anger differently years ago. As scary as it would have been to have experienced our anger by confronting our issues openly then, by not doing so we unconsciously chose to let go of solid friendship. While ignoring is a suitable choice in some situations, it does have repercussions. Not acting is a way of acting.
You will be relieved to know that I have learned a little in the past couple of decades. As you have probably already noticed my dear friend Krab is writing a restaurant review column on this site now. When I read her first review I was angry. I felt jealous and left out of the loop. I wanted to get paid for eating good food and writing about it too. Why should she get that opportunity instead of me? I handled this situation a little better than I did the ones with Ursa and Cheerberry. I called Krab. She was empathic, conciliatory but firm. I emailed Mongo and Krab. They were honest, compassionate and firm. And I got over it. Knowing me, if I had not identified and validated my feeling it would have stewed. The outcome could have been ugly. I might have either aggressively ended contact with Mongo and Krab, or passively aggressively pushed them away.
By the way, there is not going to be a change in the editorial decision, but by allowing myself to feel my anger there is a change in me. I’m thrilled for the addition to the website and for the opportunity for Krab in her own words,
“… to develop my writing skills, check out Bandon some more and offer my friends an occasional treat.”
In summary, there is some truth in all of the comments I quoted earlier. Anger is powerful and can trigger disastrous results. Anger is complicated and often tied in with pain, hurt, guilt, and/or fear. There are different degrees of anger from slightly miffed to blind rage. There are lots of minor and major reasons to feel angry in this world. Since anger is usually directed towards another person instead of a mere thing or condition, it has a stronger interactional component than some other emotions might have. Authentic communication related to such a complex combinations of emotions can be tricky.
The bottom line in my belief system is: a feeling is just a feeling. As an individual I have the right to own all of my feelings, whether they make sense of not. I also have the responsibility to decide what to do with each of those feelings. Sometimes to do nothing more than to let go is appropriate. Sometimes I need to wrestle a bit to unearth my answer. I do believe Mongo is on target with identifying his feelings of anger; I just disagree with the judgment that feeling angry is bad. While I can visualize whirled peas, I see each pea as having to go through the blender named anger before it can achieve whirled status.
Previous columns from the Ducque are available here.