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Archive for the ‘Crap That Defies Catagorizing’ Category

Planning for the Unplanned

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

The human mind is a marvelous thing. Capable of limitless ideas and thoughts. It tells us how to walk, talk, breathe, smile and eat. What the human brain is not very good at is estimating its accompanying body’s energy capabilities. Just because we can think we can do something, does not mean we can. As for me, I have a great zeal for making plans—until it comes time for the execution part. Here’s my mantra: “This is a lot harder than I thought it would be and is taking twice the time.” I routinely overestimate my abilities by about double. Which means I am continually behind. And continually frustrated.

I figured by the time I’d reached my fifties I’d have all this time management stuff figured out. While I’m a bit better at it, I still suck. I pile on the plans until I collapse under their weight. But I don’t notice I’m falling apart until I am in pieces.

I am acutely aware of this issue because as I write this, it is three days after Christmas. I woke up this morning still exhausted from the holiday onslaught with few brain cells left. First thing I did was spill hummingbird food all down my front and flip out—in the front yard no less. I finally dragged myself inside so I could yell without censoring myself. While I knew that the level of anger I was experiencing was totally disproportionate to the severity of the mishap, I was so tired, all I could do was watch myself freak out. When I finally got hold of my emotions, I realized how bloody tired I was. And that I’d been way too tired for far too long. Not only because of the holidays, but because I’d tried to cram a year’s worth of activities into the previous four months.

Why do I think I can do more than I can? Why do I set myself up like this? Why do I believe that if I just try a little harder, I can get it all done? Haven’t I noticed what I’ve been able to accomplish so far? Why can’t I properly anticipate and gauge my energy levels? Did I used to be a disembodied brain? Am I unconsciously referring to a past life? Was I an alien that had no need to sleep? As far as I know, I’ve always been human, although some would debate that fact.

As I look back at my plans for the last four months, they don’t look that crazy. All I had to do was MC the Pescadero Arts and Fun Festival in late August; go on two back-to-back vacations in September (dumbest idea EVER, so tired we couldn’t enjoy the second); host a Halloween party for 20; then host a two-week in-law attack—I mean, visit—over Thanksgiving; get oral surgery; shop, clean and decorate for Christmas; host a party for 17 at my house on Christmas Eve; clean up the party on Christmas Day and fix a special Christmas dinner for my sister and husband. Oh, and also complete the final edits on two books—and publish them—and write my columns while working on two new novels. Plus I started a new diet and exercise regimen in July, which takes two to three hours a day. The only thing I didn’t accomplish was a full first draft of the new Patriots’ novel. Which was bumming me out until I just read this paragraph.

I think my problem is two-fold: a hefty dose of denial regarding my abilities, coupled with the unplanned. I didn’t plan on rats chewing through the wires on my car and stranding me at home for a week in October. I didn’t plan on being sick for the remaining three weeks of October. Ditto on the toe surgery I needed two days after my oral surgery. And I completely forgot about the high drama that accompanies most interactions with my family or Frank’s and the subsequent drain on my energy levels. And there was a LOT of “interaction” during the holidays this year. Nor could I have anticipated what happened on Christmas night. I was exhausted and barely keeping awake during a movie before bedtime when the hot water valve to the dishwasher broke and flooded part of the kitchen. We were forced to shut off the water to the house and stayed up all night waiting for the plumber, who finally showed up at 8 AM. And we had overnight guests and couldn’t flush the—you get the idea.

At this point, I suppose I should stop wondering why spilling sugar water on myself made me cry. But it does make me want to do something to prevent the same kind of meltdown from happening again. I need to realize that life doesn’t fit neatly into task lists and datebooks. Lists are a man-made artifice/tool used to navigate life, but life isn’t good about obeying rules or lists. The old Woody Allen quote comes to mind: “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

So as I head into the new year, I am going to take this column and glue it to the inside of my calendar. I am going to write “Plan for the Unplanned” on every page. When I receive an invitation or make a date, I’ll look at my calendar closely. I won’t merely look at the day of the event; I’ll look at the entire month before and afterwards. If any of the plans coincide with a recent visit with certain family members, I will decline. And I also won’t make as many plans. As much as it bothers me, I have to finally admit the truth: I’m only human and can’t expect so much out of myself.

So now, if you will excuse me, I have to go clean the house, write and publish three books, host a party for 20, and fill the hummingbird feeders.

©2012, Janet Periat

Now And Then

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Magine Watches Dad Steve Ride Her Hovercraft

“I want to build a hovercraft,” my neighbor Ginger’s eleven-year-old daughter Magine announced to her mother recently. “For the science fair.”

Ginger, an artist/Girl Scout mother/soccer mom/mega-school-volunteer, thought of the myriad other tasks on her over-filled plate and deployed the most common deflect used by mothers today. “Go ask your father.”

Not a week later, Ginger called, very excited, and invited my husband and I to ride Magine’s new hovercraft. We raced up the block. I’ve never been more impressed. Magine’s father Steve reported that all he did was cut the wood, Magine and her classmate did all the rest of the work: planning, measuring and building the plastic air cushion along with securing it to the base. The damn thing actually held the weight of my 280-pound husband. And the contraption was hella fun to ride.

Not only was I impressed that an eleven-year-old had made a working hovercraft, I was struck by the parental support that enabled her to build it. Since I moved to San Mateo, I’ve spent a lot of time in the company of Magine and her parents. And I am continually amazed by the differences between how they raise their children and the way I was raised.

I can see my Mother’s weary face now if I had announced at eleven that I wanted to build a hovercraft. First, a withering stare. But no words. If her icy reception didn’t diminish my eagerness, then she would have said something to the effect, “Are you insane?” If that didn’t work, she’d use the ultimate, “No, and don’t bring it up again.” While we were properly cared for—read to, bathed, clothed, fed, given braces and piano lessons—parents in those days lived separate lives from their children.

When I grew up in the sixties, there was the Kid World and the Adult World and they didn’t mix. Most parties hosted by adults in the sixties did not include their children. When Mom and Dad had their cocktail parties, we were not seen nor heard. We were banished to the den to eat our TV dinners, which were manufactured back then using aluminum trays that made the meal taste like metal. Nowadays, parties mainly include both children and parents. The parents drink around the barbecue and the kids jump in the rented bouncy house.

Most of my friends today spend lots of time with their kids, doing activities. During my childhood, the relationship between parents and children was much more formal. When Dad came home, he and Mom had cocktails and we were not allowed to bother them. Dinner was a serious affair. You sat in your chair, you didn’t put your elbows on the table and you couldn’t talk out of turn. You didn’t reach across the table for the salt, you politely asked for it to be passed to you. And you had to ask to be excused from the table.

After school and during summer vacation, Mom would say, “Go play outside and don’t come back until dinner.” I spent most of my time as a child in the company of other children with little to no adult supervision. Our parents didn’t know what we did and didn’t want to know as long as it didn’t involve the police. Or blood.

While I would have liked a bit more attention, the benign neglect I experienced as a kid enabled me to explore the world of my imagination. We didn’t have video games or computers or cell phones. TV was limited to five channels. Besides, parents in those days didn’t let you laze around the house. Your life was spent outdoors with other children, creating your own entertainment.

My favorite game from childhood? Crawling Hands and Tarantulas. The lawn was infested with the horrid creatures. If you walked down the front stairs and stupidly hung around on the bottom step, the severed, bloody crawling hands would grab you and drag you screaming onto the lawn where the tarantulas would try to eat you. The cement walkway next to the lawn was unfortunately made of quicksand. So if you managed to escape the crawling hands, you could die in the quicksand if your friend didn’t save you. Kool-aid served as “super sauce” that enabled us to recover our strength and fight the evil monsters.

I credit my days of free play for giving me the ability to write novels. I was able to immerse myself entirely in another reality for hours on end, a vital skill for a successful writer. Most helpful was the make-believe world I created for my troll dolls. My trolls endured many tragedies. They lived through floods (the backyard hose) and savage tiger attacks (courtesy of Cabbage, our cat). Dad Troll fell off the roof (read: was thrown in the air as far as I could) and had to be rushed to the hospital for an operation (this is when I learned if you chop off parts of a troll, they don’t grow back.) When people ask me today how I write my stories, I tell them I’ve been doing it since I was a child. I just don’t use the trolls anymore.

When I think about the differences between now and then, I see positives with each. Magine’s parents are amazing, supportive, interactive and inspiring. Magine will grow up to be an incredible person with no limits on what she can accomplish. Yet without any guidance from my parents—living an almost feral life as a child—I have managed to perform in over fifty plays, achieved two college degrees and have written over thirty novels.

Was it the hours of free play that helped shape who I am? Are novelists born of benign neglect? Or did I need to retreat to a world of make-believe to soothe myself because I was left alone so much?

I don’t have the answers. All I know is that I’m fine. But deep in my heart, I can’t help wishing that Magine’s parents had been mine.

©2011, Janet Periat

The Last Dance

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Paula and Curtis Distract The Audience Away From Janet's Dancing

Janet Attempts To Learn The Dance Finale With Help From Teri

Recently I performed in the Gavilan College Reunion Show Fundraiser. Initially, I thought a reunion show was the most dreadful idea on record. But the experience gave me a new lease on life. And forced me to live out my worst nightmare.

A group of classmates came up with the idea to gather the old gang together to perform monologues and songs as a fundraiser for the S.T.A.R. program, an educational theater program for children held at Gavilan College in Gilroy.

I was horrified. First of all, I wasn’t good in junior college. Most of us—while loaded with raw talent back then—hadn’t exactly matured as performers. To revisit this “bad acting” time of my life terrified me. I’d gone onto to achieve a BA in Theater from UC Santa Cruz and had become a much better actor.

So I initially refused to be involved with what I assumed would be a crime against nature and the theater.

Then a professional dancer/Gavilan alumni—and one of my favorite people—Curtis Caudill, called me up and asked me reprise my role of Calamity Jane for the show. He caught me at a very bad time. I’d just agreed to finish my novel in two weeks for my agent and had about a month’s worth of work to do. I think I cut him off with a stream of expletives followed by a litany of excuses. But Curtis knows how to work me. He agreed that the book should be my priority. He assured me that there was no pressure. He was so sweet, I found myself asking, “So what’s the rehearsal schedule like?” Curtis replied, “Saturday. That’s it. We get there at nine, rehearse the show and go on at four.” Somehow I still managed to say no.

After I hung up, a guilt bomb went off in my belly. How could I say no to one measly day of my life? To do something good for kids? What kind of a Grinch was I? I called Curtis back and capitulated.

Happy I was onboard, he began enthusiastically describing the dance finale. I assumed he had assembled a group of dancers. Then he started saying things like “…then you guys do a ball change…” The stark realization hit me like a tanker truck full of ice water dumping on my head. The performers were the dancers. Meaning me. Trapped and terrified, I couldn’t believe I’d been duped.

I am not a dancer. I’ve never been a dancer. I have a nightmare at least once a month that takes place on that same Gavilan stage. I am either on stage without knowing my lines or am flailing around in a dance routine that I can’t remember and am completely humiliating myself.

And now my nightmare would become a reality.

For the record, I’ve never learned a dance and performed it in the same day. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever done a dance right in my life. Even with months of rehearsal. My brain doesn’t remember dance combinations. My feet and legs don’t understand counting, they don’t know how to do kick ball changes and they rarely obey me. On top of that, three days before the show, I piled it in front of six lanes of traffic on El Camino, scraped my face all to hell and injured my left knee.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t hurt enough. Still, I arrived that morning at the theater in partial denial. Curtis knows I’m a klutz. He wasn’t actually going to make me dance, was he?

I ran into all my old buddies and the hugging and crying commenced immediately. I forgot about the dance and was overcome with nostalgia. I can’t count the hours I spent in that theater, but I performed over thirty shows on that stage. Suddenly, the years vanished and I was back home with my best friends.

The minute I began to feel good about my decision to perform, Curtis ordered us to our places to rehearse the dance finale. That’s when it became real. Adding to my terror, everyone else had a previous rehearsal, one I couldn’t make. They all knew the dance.

My worst fears quickly became reality. I could not learn the dance. I tried, I worked, but kept forgetting steps and ending up in the front of the stage, dancing like a chicken with vertigo. And then the rehearsal was over. And I was still lost.

Next, we did our technical rehearsal, the final one. I screwed up the dance yet again. The irony of dancing to Michael Jackson’s song “Bad” was not wasted on me. I was convinced the show would be awesome (my friends have all matured amazingly and have become top-notch performers) and I’d ruin the whole thing with the finale.

All of a sudden, we were breaking for lunch. When I returned to the theatre, I went off in the wings to practice the dance. Before I knew it, the stage manager said, “Half-hour to places.” I could only pray.

Aside from a minor technical difficulty, the main part of the show went well. I was happy with my Calamity Jane monologue. But the finale loomed ahead of me, terrifying me.

And then we were on. My heart pounding in my ears, my legs shaky, my face flushed, I went out there, and for some reason, remembered the dance. I couldn’t believe it. I was thrilled. My cousin said, “You blended in.” Best compliment EVER.

Aside from the tremendous relief of surviving the dance finale, I came away from my performance energized. I’ve been writing alone for many years. While writing is my primary passion, too much solitary time isn’t healthy. I’d forgotten how much I love being on stage and doing a project with a group of people. So now I’m writing a play and plan on performing it with my friends. And I can thank Curtis for all this.

But I won’t thank him for making me dance in public. While I managed, hopefully I’ll never have to perform the magical “feet” again.

©2010, Janet Periat

A Conversation With My Ten-Year-Old Self

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Today, I’ll be traveling back through time to visit my ten-year-old self. I’m interested to know what has surprised her about the future and her future self.

Adult Janet: Hi, kid. How goes it?

Child Janet: This is weird. You’re old now. I mean, I’m old now.

Adult: Yes, I am. And I’ve got a job to do, so let’s get to it.

Child: I thought I’d be working in corporation or teaching. And where are my kids?

Adult: Sorry. Forgot.

Child: I do think it’s pretty cool that I get to play make-believe everyday. I love reading. But I didn’t see myself being an author. I like that. So what happened to the kids?

Adult: I told you, Frank and I forgot. Now onto more serious matters. Give me the number one thing that’s surprised you the most about the last forty years.

Child: Well, I expected to be dead by the time I reached ten. I thought I’d be killed by a nuclear bomb. The school scares us a few times a year with air raid drills. The siren goes off and we have to get under our desks. But kids aren’t stupid. We know hiding under our desks won’t stop us from getting vaporized. But I’m really glad the Russians didn’t kill us.

Adult:  Me, too. What else has surprised you?

Child: I thought I’d be vacationing on the moon by 2010. Why can’t we travel to other planets?

Adult: Turns out it’s harder and costs more money than we have.

Child: And where are the flying cars? And why aren’t fully functioning robots cooking and cleaning for people? I expected life to be like the Jetson’s. At least you have big plasma TVs and cable television. I’ve got five channels of TV, you’ve got hundreds. I would kill for Cartoon Network. And speaking of cartoons, your generation really improved them. They were terrible in the late sixties and early seventies. Characters barely moved. Sometimes just their mouths moved.

Adult: Yeah, you could hardly call it animation when the characters ran by only moving their feet, not their bodies, like in the Flintstones.

Child: I thought adults would kill off cartoons.

Adult: Well, if we had any real adults around, they might have.

Child: Yeah, adults your age are more like kids. Here in 1970, my parents aren’t like me at all. They listen to stupid music like Perry Como and smoke and drink cocktails and talk about important things. They don’t like rock and roll and they don’t watch cartoons or play games. In your time, adults listen to the same music as their kids, wear the same clothes, and guys are staying home with their parents until they’re thirty instead of growing up and having kids themselves. Why don’t the adults in your time want to be adults?

Adult: Good question.

Child: I expected rock and roll to die by the mid-70s. It’s still new in my time. All the other forms of music have come and gone. Mick Jagger looks so old. I thought all the rock stars would grow out of rock and roll and be playing old people music.

Adult: Yeah, old people music now is rock ‘n roll. What else surprises you?

Child: I can’t believe girls get to play sports and race cars and do all that boy stuff I’m not allowed to do. It’s so cool that women are running corporations and flying planes. They tell us we can’t do any of that. All we’re supposed to do is get married and have kids. I’m glad that girls growing up in your time can be anything they want.

Adult: Me, too. What upsets you the most about my time?

Child: That the government is so full of bad people. The people in charge only care about being in charge. All they want to do is get rich. They don’t care about the schools or the future of America or anybody but their friends. And they keep starting wars. I hate that. They tell us in school that the President and the government are great. But when they lie and hurt people, how can we consider them great?

Adult: Agreed.

Child: And why are we still polluting the Earth? In the sixties, everyone knew we were hurting the planet and that it was a bad thing. But nothing’s changed and everything’s gotten worse, except for the air. The moon in my time looks orange from all the pollution. If they can fix the air, why can’t they fix everything else?

Adult: Good question, kid.

Child: And why did they change the formula of Cracker Jacks? I liked them with more molasses. And what happened to the cool prizes? Now all you get is a dumb sticker.

Adult: You can thank lawyers for that. What are you happiest about?

Child: I really like computers. I wish I had one now.

Adult: What about me personally? What are you happiest about?

Child: That you get to write cool stories, you have tons of neat toys and Frank is great. It’s weird you living in Nana Periat’s house, though. I never thought Nana and Papa Periat would die. Or Aunt Jacquie and Nana Sahm. I don’t like that at all. But I’m glad Mom and Dad will still be there when I’m fifty.

Adult: Me, too. So if you had a choice, would you be my age or yours?

Child: Yours. Hardly anyone tells you what to do and you get to drive a car and eat before meals if you want to. And you don’t have to go to school anymore. Or church.

Adult: Anything you think I should improve about myself?

Child: Yeah, you should have more fun and not be so mean to yourself. You try to do too much stuff and forget to stop and enjoy life. You need to play more.

Adult: Sage advice from a ten-year-old.

©2010, Janet Periat

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