You can live 45 years on this Earth, learning something new every day, and still get the same old things wrong. Well, at least I seem to have a knack for it anyway.
One of the handful of cardinal rules I try to live by is: Pam shall not brag. Not a boast, nor a self-praise, nor a minor, pick-me-up touting. Not even an eensie, little, innocent atta-girl. Nope, non, nyet, nein, no. Don't do it — because the odds are frightfully high that the thing I bragged about will somehow die or be transformed into its evil twin, if I do more than privately feel a sense of profound relief that I didn't mess up.
It's tragic, really, to be the victim of such relentless irony. I'm like a lightning rod for the universe's dark powers of satire.
Knowing better, I still blunder into saying a nice thing about myself on occasion and suffer the deep emotional wounds for it.
Back in April, I posted a little story in my blog about my husband John and I having a funny conversation that demonstrated a small success at spousal communication and said that, after 21 years of trying, we'd finally figured out how to understand each other. Mistake.
We spent the next two months like we were speaking in different languages, one of us in that African clicking language and the other in some obscure Bulgarian dialect.
Or maybe it was like we were magically transported to an Egyptian pyramid site, one of us landed in front of one side of the pyramid and the other at a corner of it and we stood there in the desert discussing — with increasing irritation — whether this pyramid was a giant triangle or a sharp ridge between two flat sides.
Both of us right. Both of us wrong. Both of us getting stuck at the point of argument and failing to see the big, three-dimensional picture: that some freaky-amazing magic bounced us from our white trash abode in Montana to the deserts of Egypt without food or water. What kind of stupid magic forgets food and water? Am I right?
We've gotten back to our comfortable range of hit-and-miss communication. We don't make a big deal out of the misses and try to celebrate the hits as if they're touchdowns or a last-second 3-pointer that saves the game. Focus on the positive, yada yada yada.
Occasionally, though, we're still missing the mark of understanding so wildly that I have flashbacks.
One of our verbal shorthands is to reference the punchline of a story from John's childhood. For a class assignment, he and a friend once surveyed the lunch program foods the kids threw away. As the boys stood by the garbage cans carefully tracking the mounds of Spanish rice being tossed into the garbage one day, the custodian, who had a lot of firsthand knowledge of how much of what foods were discarded, commented to them that he didn't understand why the cook insisted on continually serving foods the kids didn't like. Then one student came by and threw away only a napkin and an empty milk carton because he'd eaten the entire meal. The custodian looked at the boys and said, "Then again, some people would eat s**t if you put sugar on it."
Brilliant observation, and a good conversation reference for John and I to connect with through the years.
So the other morning we were chatting while getting ready for the day. I commented that I was glad our dog hadn't gotten sick during the night since I'd let him clean a few bites of rice and vegetables off my plate after dinner, but he'd also licked off the blob of homemade barbecue sauce too.
"I guess some dogs will even eat ketchup and vinegar if you put sugar in it," I said with a light-hearted verbal wink.
Now, to be fair, John's not a morning person, but still, how did he get from there to this: "We need to put ketchup and vinegar on the shopping list?"
I kid you not. He really asked that.
"No," I said. "Well, maybe we need ketchup. I don't know. Wait, I wasn't talking about shopping. I was telling a funny about the dog and, y'know, the 'some people would eat ... .' Whatever."
"But," he said, "I kind of remember that we need ketchup." For real? Are you kidding me? We're going to start this again? No, just ... whatever. I take back the whole conversation.
Misunderstandings are so exhausting.
(Wake me when the sugar kicks in at http://viewnorth40.wordpress.com.)