Archive for February, 2010


I saw this list on Apartment Therapy– it’s one woman’s “Top 100” of life skills we all ought have.  I like it.  I’m surprised both by what I know how to do (make my case in writing, feel confident naked, interview for a job, make a new friend) and by what I don’t (drive a stick, express condolences, use a fire extinguisher, ask for a raise). Here are the top ten from Mighty Girl’s Top 100 Skills Everyone Should Master:

1. Set goals
2. Keep a plant alive
3. Care for a baby
4. CPR
5. Feel confident naked
6. Interview for a job
7. Bake a birthday cake
8. Use a fire extinguisher
9. Use a compass
10. Express condolences

One slight problem I have with it is that the list is very middle class-y— that is, it presupposes that these are life skills you need if you are already comfortable finanically and socially.  I’m thinking of Ruby Payne’s ground-breaking (for me) book, _A Framework for Understanding Poverty_, precisely.  Payne’s book totally exploded and rebuilt the way I teach, think about fundraising and charity, and see class (and class privilege.)

But– all of that said, I like Mighty Girl’s Top 100 because it’s cool to think about simple things that I haven’t yet learned, but could.

I feel particularly bad about No. 10.  I feel things, I love people, I think I’m a decent writer…but when someone experiences a great loss, I’m mute. It’s awful. I let days and then months and then years go by, thinking of the person, framing things I’d like to say, or wish to convey in my head, and do nothing.  It’s really a horrible failing, because to me it means that I’m ignoring people dear to me, when they might need affirmation most.

I’m working on it.  Two summers ago, my Aunt Ruth was killed by a falling rock. She had been hiking with friends. She was my Dad’s beloved older sister, and a glamourous intellectual figure in my young Southern Illinois childhood. Like: she had a degree in anthropology and traveled to Taiwan with her husband. Her daughters studied ballet and piano. And my Dad had nothing but glowing stories of her: she introduced him to everything fair and good.

I don’t really know my Uncle Barry, her husband. I think he and my Dad didn’t get along. And my family didn’t go to lots of extended family trips and things like that, so I didn’t see Ruth’s family, or those cousins. Maybe twice in my entire childhood. Barry, maybe once.  Facebook has meant that I am now in touch with my cousins, and that’s wonderful.  But when Ruth died, I had all of these feelings, and desires– I wanted to say something to my Dad, and my Grammy, and perhaps send a note to my two cousins, and Barry.  And I did, said, nothing.  It was overwhelming, to pare down the difference between what I wanted to say, and what ought to be said, and what one writes and sends off into the post…  Terrible.

Last week, I got a congratulatory wedding card, with gift, from Barry.  Mind you: I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to the man– I have one memory of him running on a beach from childhood, and the unfounded sensation that my own Dad didn’t get along with him. That’s all. But I had sent him a wedding invitation because if I didn’t, he’d be the only person in my whole family not to get one. And that just seemed wrong. Also, if Ruth were alive, I’d have of course sent one. So I sent one.

His note was late, and he wrote, “I’m sorry this is late. Your Aunt Ruth would never have let that happen.”

My eyes promptly filled up with tears. What a perfect, sad, and good thing to say.

I wrote him a proper note in the thank you note. I told him how sorry I am that Aunt Ruth is gone, and described what they as a couple (an idea of a smart couple traveling the world) meant to me as a child, and that I had thought of him frequently– and that if he ever came to our city, he should let me know, because I’d like to see him in person.

Anyway. I felt anxious when I mailed the note– flurries of “it’s too much!” and “it’s not enough!” and “why even try to say these things?!” for a full 24 hours.  I eventually told myself, “You had to write something. We’re only human. Better to try and write something clunky, and convey it awkwardly, than ignore these things.”

Wow: that’s a lot of unpacking from the original list post. Maybe another reason I like the list is because it reminds me that many of us are still not good at everything.


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Little icon lost

Our dear friend Tom visited us this past weekend. My former roommate, Matt’s former colleague, our groomsman, the Thomas I took to Haiti with me the second time I went, my date for the fanciest ball I ever attended, and photographer for many, many trips around St. Louis.  We used to get up early on a Saturday morning, to explore an old graveyard, or an abandoned house, or the train tracks in East St. Louis.  I would climb, enter, trespass, go up staircases and marvel at old peeling wallpapers, peer into chapel doors, and he would take photos.

Here is one shot he got at one of our favorite neighborhood places, a life-sized stations of the Cross, with holy grottos and various chapels, outdoors.  I don’t have anything else to say, just that I love this photograph, and feel like the little figurine looks like a storybook character gone lost and found.

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