The Birthday Lecture

Category: Writing

On the night before my tenth birthday, my dad came to tuck me in to bed last. I got to choose to be last by virtue of being the first to pass tooth-inspection and, although as my littlest sister reminded me just recently, last was not always the most advantageous choice if “Daddy-time” was what you craved, last was super if you had a good book going.

The next day would be my birthday; fat chance I wouldn’t get plenty of talking-time with Dad that night, last was the only choice for me. I was reading Little Women again, trying to get it through my thick head that, as the oldest of three girls it was my lot, like Meg’s, to be pretty and to long to be fashionable, to marry a nice man and settle down, to learn to cook, make jellies, keep house, and be content.

Lordy, lordy I wanted to be Jo. I wanted to write stories in the attic, to keep a pet rat, direct and act the dramatic parts in plays, and have Laurie Lawrence fall in love with me because I was wildly courageous and unconventional.

I had to be honest though about the fact that I was probably much to shy and afraid of everything to give a convincing Jo.

Maybe that is what we talked about that night when Dad came to tuck me in. I don’t remember. I’m sure he gave me the Birthday Lecture. He gave us the Birthday Lecture every year, and every year I was surprised that he remembered - I didn’t. It started like this:

“Daughter dear, tomorrow you will be ten years old. This is a milestone in your life and those are always good for looking back and assessing. Was there something you always wanted to do when you were nine? If so, and you haven’t done it, you have missed your chance forever. Tonight is the last night of your ninth year, and you will never, ever be nine again.”

You may think this sounds depressing, but it wasn’t. Daddy delivered the birthday lecture with such a philosophical face that you couldn’t help but consider the actuality of it, and should there have been even a hint of regret, we would have all resolved to pay more attention and do right by our next year.

“But, eldest daughter of mine,” he would continue, “tomorrow you will be ten years old! Think of it: Double Digits! Nearly a teenager! And you will have an entire year, three hundred sixty-five days, to make your dreams come true. Everything you have dreamed — all your life — of doing when you are finally ten will be within your grasp when you wake up in the morning. Reach for your dreams.”

Is it any wonder that I was still calling him on the telephone the night before I turned thirty-eight? He did his best, but the time difference meant that he was delivering a late-night lecture before his breakfast, and if he couldn’t seem to muster the grandness and enthusiasm I remembered from those birthdays long ago, who could blame him - he had delivered the birthday lecture by then at least one hundred and one times. My dream of becoming Jo instead of Meg felt very far away when I hung up the phone.

I didn’t make it that year. Or the next year, or the next five years. Maybe, though forty-six to forty-seven is my lucky number. I’m still shy and afraid of pretty much everything - but these days I’m more afraid of being afraid and running out of time before I experience my Jo-hood.

Red Nose, Reindeer?

Category: This is My Life

*My Cold and Flu Tip for the Year:* Take one of those little packages of travel “Nosenex” (as my mother always called Kleenex when we were kids). Be sure you use the good thick ones for this. Open the package, and pour some cold water into it. Let the tissues soak it all up, then squeeze as much water out as you can. Take ‘em out of the package and set ‘em beside your cranberry tea, snuggle on the couch with a warm blanket and a good book.

You’ll understand what’s so great about this trick the first time you sneeze. These Nosenex are cool, and don’t hurt. You feel clean after using them, unlike the expensive ones with creams and aloe embedded in them that only leave you feeling a still slimy about the nostrils.

What do you suppose moved the marketing department to think that “slimy” is a feeling consumers relish when we have a cold?

Germany -vs- England

Category: This is My Life

The last German national soccer game of 2008 was so boring that even Jürgen noticed the advertising around the field. “Hey, we use that company at work.” he said.

In the first half England made a goal. In the second half Germany did. The announcer said “One should always leave open the possibility of a stupid mistake on the part of the English goalie.” I thought that was a fresh statement and said so, but the guys assured me that was pretty much the way Germany wins against England %mdash; when Germany wins against England — which they don’t when the game is in Berlin like it is tonight.

Returning from the halftime dishing up of dinner in the kitchen (curry with chickie, cauliflower, and yummy little baby melanzane), Oliver Kahn is standing on Gunther Netzer’s chalked in footprints to the right side of my television screen. What is he doing there? He is wearing a silver-gray suit and a striped tie and I want to scream. “Ollie? What are you doing? Get back outside where you belong. For heavens sake, stop talking and be useful!”

At the seventy-sixth minute marker Jürgen is bemused - “Hey, they are playing better.”

“Yeah”, I said. “It takes fifteen minutes for the half-time drugs to kick in.”

“Mmhmn, maybe. I don’t know.” he mutters.

He’s not listening to me. I can tell.

England makes a second goal. They need it in order to beat us 2-1. At the precise moment the ball passes into net on the right side, the German goalie is standing at the left post. waving his hand in the air as if to say “No, over here!”

The goalie has an exasperating job.

In England tonight the fans are happy. I hope they are as happy as the German fans were the last time the teams met in England. Germany wins at Wembley, England wins in Berlin. It’s tradition and let’s be honest, don’t we love to see a winning streak continue as much as we love to see it broken? Maybe those nice young men listened when their mothers said “It’s not polite to invite guests over to play at your house and then trounce them roundly, dear.” Bravo!

Selfish Woman

Category: Writing

They are gone now
those mythical beasts
known as stepsons.
And they have taken with them
entire landscapes of my heart.

©2008 Nancy Carroll

Let’s Talk About the Truth

Category: Writing

The truth is, I don’t believe that any existence is arbitrary. You aren’t any accident. How could that be? If I read the signs right, you are the product of a moment of intense heat (wow.) and you came into being through a specific act that was a conscious decision your parents made.

Ok, maybe they did not decide to “make a baby” (I’m reasonably sure my folks didn’t) but they knew the risk they were taking. And will you just lookee here: skulking around behind *their* risk, was *your* chance!

And you took it! You grabbed it and ran!

Now, here you are! Triumphant! Brilliantly individually yourself and perfectly evolved to suit the world you live in for the time you are here. You are a wry combination of Mother Nature and the nature of your parents; propelled out of that very specific moment when one single egg, just hanging around whistled all sassy-like to the sweet little sperm swimming happily by. He turned his head to have a look-see and BAM! You, my dear were the one who had the tenacity to reach out and grab a hold of Life.

Good work, Dude.

We Are the Echo of the Future

Category: Quotes

%p We are the echo of the future

On the door it says what to do to survive

But we were not born to survive

Only to live

Thirteen Years Later

Category: Quotes

Each man’s life represents a road towards himself, an attempt at such a road, the intimidation of a path. No man has ever been entirely and completely himself. Yet each one strives to become that - one in an awkward, the other in a more intelligent way, each as best as he can.”

Herman Hesse Demian

Utopia - Thomas More

Category: Quotes

And this is all I could achieve in a prince’s court. For either I would think different thoughts from the rest, and that would be as if I had no thoughts, or else I would agree with them and thus (as Terence’s Mitio says) be an accessory to their madness. I do not understand what you mean by saying that a man should guide policy indirectly and strive to make the best of things, so that what is bad will at least be made as good as possible. In councils there is no place for silent and unwilling acquiescence. A man must openly approve of the worst plans and the most pernicious resolutions. One would pass for a spy or even a traitor, if he approved of such plans only grudgingly. A man has no chance to do good when his colleagues are more likely to corrupt the best of men than be corrected themselves. He will either be corrupted himself by his colleagues, or if he remains sound and innocent, he will be blamed for the folly and knavery of others. He is far from being able to mend matters by guiding policy indirectly!

Thomas More Utopia

A Place on Earth - Wendell Berry

Category: Quotes

He was vastly more inclined to learn than to be taught, …

Wendell Berry A Place on Earth

Hour after hour the world pours itself into his deafness like a high waterfall that turns to mist before it can strike and make a sound.

Wendell Berry A Place on Earth

First quote on page 26, second on page 65