Heroes & Icons

What if we memorialized every great person who ever existed with a monument? Would there be a spectacular array, an endless crowd of museums and statues, or would it be a pitifully paltry showing?

We are accustomed, most of us nowadays, to thinking of people celebrated for simple excellence as entertainers of various kinds as being iconic or heroic. Does this last? Of course it does–in some small few out of the thousands. Mostly, though, at some point it becomes easier to see through the facade of greatness to recognize natural, ordinary  mortality, albeit often tinged with real excellence. photoAnd what recognition and reverence do we afford the true human treasures among us? The teachers and nursing home attendants, the hard-working janitors and the patient and nurturing parents who all work without expectation of worthwhile recompense for the true betterment of the world? Imagine the world decorated with art and architecture honoring the dedicated fireman who didn’t die in a dramatic explosive fire while saving orphans but instead served faithfully as a firefighter in his town for twenty-six years before quietly retiring to a modest split-level where he keeps his two young grandkids under his loving, watchful eye after school until their mother gets home from work. Picture statues commemorating the great deeds of the quiet lady who owned the small neighborhood grocery and after a hundred-year storm opened it and gave away everything on the shelves to the neighbors so they could survive until the needed services could be reestablished.photoThe collection of dedicatory art might be a lot less flashy and showy. But if every real great among us were recognized in this way, there would surely be a whole lot bigger and more meaningful museum of marvels among us, wouldn’t there.

Twists of Fate

It shouldn’t surprise me, as little sense of direction as I have and as seldom as I have an inkling where my path is leading, that I end up in some weird and completely unpredictable spots at times. Take the time I was at a luncheon with the queen and king of Norway. It’s entirely safe to say that they forgot the occasion right about the minute their motorcade zipped off with its Secret Service escort to ship them back to the White House for their next performance. Having lunch with a bunch of foreign academics, even if it’s coupled with getting a doctoral degree (Queen Sonja was receiving an honorary doctorate for her humanitarian work) and having a permanent outdoor sculpture dedicated in your honor is so yesterday. Like that kind of stuff doesn’t happen to royals every day of the week. I, on the other hand, don’t have that sort of thing occur very regularly in my life and found the events of the day pretty memorable.

photo

(Left to Right: King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway; Pacific Lutheran University President Loren Anderson; Gene and Esther Grant, donors; the Rev. David Wold, Bishop and university board Chairman; li’l ol’ me, sculpture designer; David Keyes, professor and chief fabricator of the sculpture; Frank Jennings and other assorted faculty and board representatives. That’s the sculpture, Generations of Oak, behind me.)

It was amusing to take part in the bizarre hoopla that takes place when an assembled group of citizens in a country that takes itself far too seriously as being above such things as royal-worship (erm, Have you not looked into the mirror, O nation of celebrity-slavish fools?) gets a chance to suck up to the high and mighty of another nation. To experience the hilariously artificial and probably pointless stiltedness of security instruction from our friends the Feds; to shake hands with other humans who have been designated super-important and wonder why they would bother to shake hands with me–or, admittedly, I with them–and to hear all of the earnest speech-making and watch the well-meaning maneuvers; all of this was really educational indeed. That it was so for me in the context of the university where I taught was certainly not lost on me. I almost felt like I should get some undergraduate credit in sociology or anthropology for being involved in my little way.

But I’ll admit that most of all, it was entertaining to realize that through no particular virtue of my own I had once again stood in a spot that others might envy and reaped unearned rewards that would remain in my memory-book for a long time to come. Just call me Lucky.

You can Dress Me Up but You can’t Take Me Anywhere

I’m one of those people whose life has put me in circumstances and company well beyond my training and capabilities, let alone deserts. Meaning, I get to hang with the Cool Kids despite being a doofus, dork and/or nerd. Yes, I do know I’m out of my depth 99% of the time. I’m just incredibly lucky that others don’t seem to begrudge me the privilege. It’s amazing, really.digital illustrationI’ve gotten to taste recipes being beta-tested for an international cooking publisher’s latest cookbook, go bass fishing on a Texas ranch that predates statehood, been coached by a team from the US Secret Service, stage-managed the live broadcast of a major political figure’s keynote speech at a national convention, and had a photograph I shot featured on the cover of a multinational European magazine. I’ve spent a few days on a fully rigged tall ship, written thousands of poems, designed theatrical sets and costumes, and played on a cathedral carillon. Ice skated on a lake, dined with royalty, and sung in a quartet. Did I do all of this because I was specially qualified? Don’t be silly! What utter nonsense.

We all know that most of us Ordinary Folk find our way into any sort of distinguished company or notable situations only by stumbling into them or having them handed to (if not thrust upon) us. The truly remarkable thing is if and when we manage to rise to the occasion–or at least not fall down all over ourselves and our betters in the attempt. Me, I seem to find that quite often I’ve genuinely tried to prepare for the event so that I could almost fool some people that I look prepared, so perhaps it’s not entirely shocking that someone might tap me for the honor while under the misapprehension that I am prepared. Of course, there remains that delicately sad moment of revelation when I prove that it was in fact strictly an appearance and I am completely and absolutely not capable of anything spectacular, but fortunately for me that nearly always happens too late and I’ve already sneaked in on the honor.

I don’t know why I’m admitting all of this in front of you except that I’m not naturally a big liar, only incapable of recognizing my own limitations fully until I’m standing in that spotlight revealing them to all the world at the same second. Just consider yourselves politely forewarned that, no matter how well I might have polished up for the occasion, underneath it all still lurks the same cheerful incompetent, secretly knowing that I will be outed as such yet again but happy to be allowed into polite company in the meantime. Pipe down, Your Majesty, I’m enjoying my moment.

Rants in My Pants

Yeah, yeah. I get that itch and I just gotta scratch it. Clearly, I’m not much on keeping my feelings to myself. Secretive? Uh-uh. Obviously I’m not paranoid about my privacy. Got nothing worth stealing but the loves of my life, and they are all masters of their own destinies thankyouverymuch. The skeletons, if any, in my closet would likely bore the socks off of any self-respecting archaeologist, and any idiot that puts in the effort to sneak a peek into my nekkidness, physical or spiritual, will get the severe eye-poke he she or it deserves without requiring any action on my part beyond existing in my infinite beauty.

Then again . . .

photo collage of blue/white images + text

The unmapped life is full of wonderful surprises . . .

What I could never have designed for myself or expected as a reward for my humble personal resources is a life history marked by the remarkable and filled with the fabulous. To take inventory of the amazing things I have experienced and the outstanding people whose paths I have been privileged to cross is to stand in awe of my incredible good fortune and all of the odd and pleasing presents it’s tossed in my circuitous life’s wanderings. Here’s a little inventory of some of that funny life o’mine in the form of a list, in no particular order, of things I have or have not done, for good or ill. I guess we all do this sort of self-inventory from time to time because such reflection is an intriguing way of finding out surprising things about each other and, more than that, about ourselves.

Here goes.

Things I Have Done:

*   Been bitten by a pony
*   Exposed a thief by revising a public swimming pool’s accounting system
*   Captured a bird by using a veiled antique hat
*   Canoed the Kickapoo River
*   Designed/sewn a ball gown out of plastic trash bags for a special party
*   Used an arc welder—very briefly and ineptly, to be sure
*   Seen celebrities at airports and discussed tuna sandwiches with one TV star
*   Forgotten very nearly as many things as I’ve learned
*   Grown vegetables
*   Been president of a theatrical organization
*   Helped rebuild an old toilet by custom manufacturing obsolete parts for it
*   Changed tires
*   Been the pianist for a wedding and for a theatrical production
*   Attended a formal banquet in a foreign palace
*   Told lame jokes
*   Been served coffee by a famous symphony conductor
*   Gotten stitches for a hockey injury
*   Drawn pictures
*   Drawn a crowd
*   Drawn butter
*   Drawn a blank
*   Slept with my hairdresser (okay, my husband cuts my hair)
*   Won a Best Actress award
*   Won a safety-orange knit dickey
*   Fallen through a ceiling and hung by my armpits from the joists
*   Rooted plants from cuttings
*   Grilled shark
*   Had an allergic reaction
*   Taught university courses in art, English (writing) and learning strategies
*   Ice skated on a frozen lake
*   Stage-managed a national convention
*   Practiced archery
*   Delivered a homily to a chapel full of theologians and religion professors
*   Darned socks
*   Made dinner for an internationally famous cookbook author-editor
*   Carved alabaster
*   Run lighting for a professional ballet performance
*   Created a computer cataloguing system for a library
*   Disassembled and reassembled an ellipsoidal reflector lamp
*   Played guitar
*   Fried eggs
*   Worked as a temp in a software company
*   Served on a jury
*   Danced onstage at the Opera House
*   Photographed dead flies
*   Shaken hands and exchanged greetings with a reigning King and Queen
*   Driven a shuttle van
*   Attempted Bikram yoga
*   Written and produced a one-act melodrama on commission
*   Taken Chinese calligraphy lessons
*   Slept on a tall ship                                                                                                         *   Glazed a window
*   Been the subject of a midnight police raid on the wrong house
*   Won a baseball trivia contest without knowing a thing about baseball
*   Composed a song about a pony (not the one that bit me)
*   Gone snowshoeing
*   Seen a Blue-crowned Motmot in the wild
*   Fallen in love

Then there are all of the Things I Haven’t Done (yet, anyway):

*   Won a cash lottery
*   Had a dental cavity
*   Owned a four-legged pet
*   Broken a bone in my body
*   Been to Asia, Australia/NZ, or Antarctica
*   Learned a second language (some will say I’ve not yet mastered a first)
*   Eaten escargot
*   Written a bestseller
*   Visited all of the states in America
*   Cured cancer
*   Gotten skillful at any sport
*   Truffle hunted
*   Been able to understand and/or believe what politicians are talking about
*   Milked a cow
*   Danced gracefully

*   Lived overseas longer than a few weeks at a time
*   Mastered the marketing skills to sell my artwork and writing well
*   Been chased by a badger
*   Looked attractive in yellow or orange clothes
*   Died
*   Played golf
*   Decided to have children
*   Swung on a trapeze
*   Competed willingly
*   Overcome all my fears and anxieties and inhibitions
*   Made glass artworks
*   Had an audience with the Pope
*   Been arrested
*   Successfully raised Himalayan blue poppies for more than one season
*   Figured out how to get square pegs OUT of round holes once in
*   Knitted (except my brow)
*   Gotten irrevocably bored
*   Hybridized a plant
*   Studied marine biology
*   Piloted an aircraft or any boat larger than a rowboat

If I were to do even a tiny portion of the latter list, imagine where the remainder of life will take me. Oh, yeah–you can’t, nor can I. It’s the whole wacky and delightful point, isn’t it. There’s just no way to guess where the next turn in the road will lead. That’s how an ordinary broad like me managed to get to this point in life. Coo-wull.