I’d Rather Not Take “Fun and Games” for $500 or How Jeopardy Tipped Me Over the Edge

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hBack in college I had a good friend whom I began to avoid. I loved him dearly, but at some point during our years together, he went through a prolonged Eeyore phase. Every time I approached him, I learned to anticipate doom and gloom.

“How’s it going?” I’d ask tentatively.

“Not good,” he’d inevitably reply (and that was on an up day!).

Then, he’d elaborate. Whatever the opposite of rose-colored glasses is, he was wearing them, and he never hesitated to share his pessimistic world view.

I’m not proud of myself, and perhaps I could have been a more stalwart friend, but sometimes I avoided him and his unrelenting negativity–a quick duck into the student center, a turn down Main Street, whatever it took. Not all the time, but sometimes.

Unfortunately, it has occurred to me recently that I might be becoming that person.

This past week, there was a non-mandatory Open Enrollment Health Insurance meeting after school. I decided to go because I had a few questions. My oldest is getting kicked off my insurance (aged out!) and I’d received a confusing form about that, and my middle daughter is on better insurance through her new job, so I needed to delete her from our plan. 

After school was over, I straightened up a few things, then rushed upstairs into the meeting, hoping to ask my two questions and be on my way. Unfortunately, the presenter had other plans. My heart sunk when I saw that she was busy setting up the overhead projector to display a Jeopardy-like screen.

What?!?! I thought we were just asking questions!

I’ll take “Deeply Concerned” for $200.    

“Someone recently told me that when I start talking about benefits, they fall asleep,” she said. “So, I decided to create a Jeopardy game.”

While I sat there, my jaw on the ground, my to-do list making like rabbits, and the clock ticking toward my meeting with a parent in 23 minutes, she proceeded to divide the room into teams.

“This isn’t happening,” I thought. “This can’t be happening. I know her creativity is admirable. I really do. But I don’t have time to play insurance Jeopardy. I don’t want to play insurance Jeopardy. I have two questions. Just two questions.”

I’ll take “On the Brink” for $300.

Next, she went over the categories. Honestly, I don’t remember what they were. I think I blacked out temporarily. When I came to, the first team had asked for some category or other for $400. They seemed to be entering into the spirit of things.

I’ll take “Who Are These People?” for $400.

“OMG,” I thought, “I am feeling incredibly antagonistic about this whole thing and I need to leave before I blurt out something awful…or simply scream. But really…how is this reasonable? Health insurance? Jeopardy? In May?? AHHHH! Please just tell me what I need to know so I can cross one more ridiculous thing off my list and move on to the next one!”

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Edward Munch’s The Scream

Ten minutes later, we had uncovered three squares (out of  30!!) and learned about open enrollment dates, health plan choices and vision benefits. None of which helped me. I muttered something to one of my team members. It may not have been intelligible. It may have been a subdued guttural scream. I don’t really remember, but I knew I had to escape. I literally felt like my head was going to explode. So, I left, aware that my degree of distress was irrational, but still feeling extremely frustrated, and with my two questions unanswered.

I walked downstairs and into my colleague’s classroom.

“How’d it go?” she asked, turning from her computer.

“It was a torture chamber!” I announced dramatically.

That’s when it struck me. I realized that I might just be becoming that person–the one others are ducking to avoid. Here’s this nice, motivated HR woman going out of her way to make educating us about health insurance fun. And how do I respond? Practically antagonistically! It was just one more thing taking up too much time in a long list of one more things. And then I had to interrupt other people’s valuable time to tell them about it. I’m not exactly a ray of sunshine here. Clearly, I have to work on this.

But for now, I need to e-mail the well-intentioned HR person to get my questions answered. I guess I should have just done that in the first place.

I’ll take “Hindsight” for $500.

 

Time Traveling With John Smith

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Captain John Smith sits on my desk. To be more precise, he stands there. I found him a while back, tucked in a closet corner, forgotten. I picked him up and assessed his condition. He was missing some accessories–his helmet and one leg protector were gone, and the sword I dimly recalled was nowhere in sight–but overall, he seemed to be in fighting condition. He must have fallen out of some haphazardly packed box of my son’s childhood ephemera. I carried him downstairs to place him on my desk.

On our journey downstairs, I idly wondered about the original historic John Smith. What did he really look like? Was he tall, blond and muscular? Did he have all his teeth? What did Pocahontas see in him? I imagined the real man was probably vastly different than this bold Disney-ified version. 

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It’s been a couple of weeks since then, and John Smith is still standing on my desk. I like him there. He strikes an interesting note amidst the writerly clutter, and I stop and look at him from time to time. I never did google him. I don’t wonder about his appearance or his life now. I don’t think about his story. Instead, when I look at him, I always think about my son. I remember him playing with this treasured figure, and oh-so-many others, devising elaborate scenarios of derring-do and rescue. I remember his small hand clutching John Smith about his trim waist, moving him to and fro and his young voice artificially deepening to create his version of an adult masculine voice. It never fails to make me smile.

Note: I saw my son this past weekend. He’s 25 now, almost 26, and I mentioned to him that I’d found his John Smith figure. He immediately grinned. I could feel the sands of time shift for him as well.

 

SOL–Dawn at Scarborough Marsh

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On a chilly morning in April, there is a subdued beauty to the marsh. Filled with subtlety and variation, it’s a sensory feast. The sky transitions from peach to brilliant gold, lighting the mist that lies low over the grassy hummocks and tide-carved channels. The promise of color lies hidden in silhouettes. The rising sun rays brush the low-lying mist, setting it aglow. They light the feathery edges of fern grass with an amber glow and caress the bellies of flying mallards against brilliant blue skies. Gulls call and crows caw. The air is chilly and permeated with the deep rich scent of damp earth and the organic tang of swampy water. Song sparrows rustle and flit from shrub to shrub, intermittently singing their sweet notes. A great blue heron picks its way through the shallows. It’s a glorious place to greet the new day.

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Some people say there’s no magic in the world. Clearly, they have never have walked in the marsh at sunrise.

NPM 2019 Paint Chip Poetry

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I thought I was all worn out after last month’s SOL writing challenge. Phew! No daily writing deadlines. Less pressure! More time for….other stuff. Woohoo!

56157671_2292250211056165_7153227001665421312_nBut… it’s National Poetry Month. There are challenges and invitations everywhere! Much to my surprise, I’ve found myself “Playing Around with Poetry”. I’m still not quite sure who gets credit for issuing the initial invitation, but think it was Mary Lee Hahn. I know that Jone MacCulloch, Margaret Simon and Christie Wyman are playing along. Yesterday, I gave in to temptation and messed around with my own version of some Paint Chip Poetry.

This morning, much to my surprise, I couldn’t resist trying again. I changed it up a bit, deciding to pull out three random strips and point at one color on each strip without looking. I pulled: “dapper tan”, “papaya”, and “euphoric lilac.”

Spring Dawn

One plump sparrow
with dapper tan stripes
forages beneath the euphoric lilac
heavy with exuberant blossoms
whose scent drifts up
to sweeten the
papaya-streaked sky

(rough draft)©2019 Molly Hogan

SOLC 2019 Day 31: “We’ll Leave the Light on For You”

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March 2019 SOLC–Day 31
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.

http://www.twowritingteachers.org

It had been a long satisfying day. I’d begun the day at sunrise at the river watching an incredible natural display of spring exuberance. Then, I’d come home to write and was thrilled by some unexpected new visitors at the bird feeder.

MOLLYCARD_WEB_SIZE.jpgAfter that, I spent three hours gallery sitting at the last day of an exhibit of my photos at a local art center. I returned home to finish off my blog post and pack, and then we were off to drive to Massachusetts for a celebratory dinner with my son and his fiancee and her family. Instead of trying to drive the 2+ hours back home, we’d decided to stay overnight.

After dinner, we were both more than ready to get to our motel, check in and settle into bed with our books. We left the restaurant with hugs and goodbyes, and headed toward our destination: a Motel 6 about 30 minutes away. On the way, we recalled Tom Bodett reciting their quaint welcoming slogan, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”

I hunched over the wheel, working my way through the unaccustomed traffic, following the narrated GPS directions to the hotel, eager to arrive. As I merged across multiple lanes of traffic and made various quick stops and turns, I remembered how much I don’t like driving at night and in the city. Around us, to my country eyes, our surroundings looked increasingly ugly and somewhat sketchy.

Where was this hotel anyway?

Finally, we saw the Motel 6 sign up ahead.

“There it is!” Kurt said.

Ah, relief was at hand!

“Stay to the right, then make a sharp right onto Popes Lane,” the GPS voice directed.

In the midst of the unattractive suburban concrete sprawl, I turned as directed and then maneuvered into the motel parking lot.

“Go that way,” Kurt said, pointing.

“Slain,” the GPS voice suddenly announced as if she were a tour guide on some grisly sensational murder tour.

“What?” I asked, looking at Kurt. He looked as confused as I felt.

The voice continued, “to kill violently, wantonly, or in great numbers; broadly, to strike down, kill.”

We both turned and looked at the motel, trying to make sense of this unsolicited announcement. Why was the GPS suddenly narrating the definition of slain? To make things even odder, Kurt doesn’t even have voice activation on his phone, and this was simply the default GPS narrator.

“Well, that’s a bit alarming,” I finally said.

Kurt and I looked at each other and then again at the waiting motel. What!?!

As I moved the car forward and into a parking spot, we eyed the hotel with growing trepidation.

The helpful GPS voice then intoned, “You have arrived at your destination.”

We looked at each other and burst out laughing at the strangeness of it all. Then, we both glanced at the motel again. Suddenly, that famous Motel 6 slogan, “We’ll leave the light on for you”, seemed a bit less charming than it had before.

SOLC 2019 Day 30: A Springtime Brew

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March 2019 SOLC–Day 30
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

This morning I swung down by the river to catch the sunrise. As I pulled into my parking space, a juvenile bald eagle flew right before me. I thrust the car in park and grappled for my camera, hoping to catch a quick shot. I didn’t realize yet that the hour ahead would be full of such opportunities.

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Quick! Take a pic! It’s an eagle!

I noticed my friend, Roger, was already at the water’s edge snapping photos. I took a few pictures and then wandered over to join him. Last weekend I’d seen him, but I’d been in a total stress zone. The river magic hadn’t worked on me. This weekend Mother Nature was pulling out all the stops, and together, we were a rapt audience.

We took picture after picture, delighting in the beauty unfolding around us. I went back and forth between gawking and wildly swinging my camera around trying to capture the cauldron of activity. The seagulls were back, ducks flew, floated and fished, and eagles swooped by periodically. The air was filled with song, and bird after bird made an appearance–cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, pigeons, hooded and common mergansers, grackles, robins and more. The fish were jumping, and the river ice had receded dramatically, bringing back those intoxicating reflections. I could have spent hours watching bird shadows swimming amidst reflected clouds. Add the rising sun to the mix, and it was intoxicating. An ambrosial springtime brew!

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Hard to catch a sharp photo when everything’s moving!

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Hooded mergansers coming in for a landing

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Seagull at sunrise

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Incoming! (This one cracks me up!)

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Swimming bird reflections

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After sunrise, the sun still puts on a show

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juvenile bald eagle 

 

 

 

SOLC 2019 Day 29 and PF: Ekphrastic Poem

This week I’m again sharing a dual post for the SOLC and Poetry Friday Roundup.

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This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Carol’s Corner. She’s sharing a sweet spring poem by Ralph Fletcher.  Stop by to see what other poetic treats await you! 

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March 2019 SOLC–Day 29
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

Back in January I drove down to the Portland Museum of Art. I was scouting for a piece of art to respond to for an ekphrastic art contest there. I wandered through the galleries, considering paintings, sculptures and photographs. I lingered at a Wyeth landscape, eyed one of my favorites by Ipcar, and considered the paper mache sculptures by Christopher Patch.

Eventually I arrived at a temporary exhibit of Richard Avedon’s photos. This photo of Andy Warhol drew me from across the room. I stood before it and stared for the longest time. I was struck by the violent patchwork of scars and the artist’s hand pressed against his stomach, as if holding himself together. I kept thinking of the violence of the injuries, of the surgeon working his artistry on the canvas of the artist’s flesh. I had no idea of the story behind this picture until I looked it up when I got home (Click here if you’d like to read about it.), but I knew immediately I wanted to write a poem in response to it. In fact, I wrote several.

I ended up submitting two poems to the contest, one responding to this photo, and another to a self portrait by Lois Dodd. I just got my rejection letter yesterday. I was disappointed, but on the bright side, they said that the Warhol poem “came close.” Sadly, that only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, right? I’m a big proponent of celebrating rejections, but at some times it’s easier to do that than at others. Of course, another look at this photo puts a poetry rejection into perspective.

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Andy Warhol, Artist, New York City, by Richard Avedon

Picture this
inspired by Richard Avedon’s photo
Andy Warhol, Artist, New York City

Pop Snap
Bones crack
blood splats
flesh heals but wounds steal
pieces and peace
new reality
bullet’s trajectory changes topography
each line sewn but no way home
life’s shattered, rearranged
transformed canvas
this man’s skin
life’s pulse
so damn thin
one hand to hold it in
Pop Flash
Photo
Snap

©Molly Hogan, 2019