The Secret To Getting Everything You Want…Sort Of

Do you have a pet peeve? I don't. Actually, I don't have any kind of pet...I'm too busy and lazy to take care of a pet. Pet peeves are especially difficult to feed and clothe, unless you're the chronically-angry type. I'm too busy and lazy to be a chronically-angry type. Plus, I have this problem with staying organized and focused, and pet peeves require a great deal of focus and organization. In order to keep the pet peeve fed, especially during dry spells when everything's going really well and nothing annoying is happening, it’s necessary to go out and look for trouble…and I already have too many to-do items on my daily list.

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Another strategy, if a pet peeve has gone into temporary dormancy, is to generate new pet peeves, at which point there’s a whole squirming litter of them, and it’s been my experience that it’s hard to farm out extra pet peeves to friends and family.

When I mentioned to an acquaintance of mine that I have no pet peeves, he remarked, “Yes you do!”

“Like what?” I said.

“Building construction.”

I thanked him for his input and went home to brood on the subject, which was difficult to do because of all the noise from the renovation of some nearby former art studios which were being converted into luxury apartments.

I decided the best plan was to take the bus to Minneapolis. Taking the bus to Minneapolis gives me the illusion of traveling somewhere else, possibly because I am traveling somewhere else. During the three blocks I was alone on the bus, I decided that building construction doesn’t qualify as a pet peeve. Pet peeves are things which only annoy certain people, not everyone. Pet peeves indicate some sort of grudge or neurosis.

I racked my brain, trying to think of something to develop a pet peeve about, something maladjusted and specific to me. All I could come up with are the kinds of things which anyone in their right mind would hate, like being called “ma’am”…or getting grossed out when people clip their toenails on public transportation…or becoming allergic to hair dye and having to go gray whether you want to or not.

Just as I was about to give up finding a pet peeve to claim for my own, a woman got on the bus. She expertly navigated paying her fare and getting seated, all while talking loudly on her cellphone.

As I listened to the woman’s conversation, I realized she was having success in every area of life where I wasn’t doing too well.

I got so envious and crabby overhearing all the good things happening to the woman and not to me, I realized I’d just developed a bona fide PET PEEVE!

My pet peeve: strangers who talk on cellphones in public, and their lives are better than mine.

For the next few miles, I explored my wonderful new feelings of resentment. I felt like I finally had something worthwhile to contribute to the global community. But then, after we crossed the achingly-lovely Mississippi River and stopped near the Guthrie Theatre, the woman got off the bus. As I watched her, something inside me snapped. I realized the woman was probably an actress rehearsing a part in a play, and the whole cellphone call was a hoax.

Just like that, my pet peeve evaporated, and my naturally-sunny personality kicked in. I found myself making mental lists of the ways I could be proactive about procuring the goodies the woman was pretending to have while she talked on her phone. I got off at the next stop and headed back to my studio…and ever since, my entire life has been an ongoing, raving success.

The trouble is, I still don’t have a pet peeve.

To Bee or Not to Bee?

When my  friend The Gardener waxed eloquent about watching bumblebees cavort in his magnificent  garden, I said in my most-wistful City Rat voice, "I wish I was a bumblebee flying around a beautiful garden."

"If I looked out my window and saw a 125-pound bumblebee flying around my garden, I'd be really worried," he replied.

Nevermind.

Finally I Get to be Right About Something

My late mother used to say outrageous things, great sweeping remarks about the nature of life in general. I’d tell her she was wrong, and she’d argue she was right… and much to my dismay, she always turned out to be right.

Except about one thing: my mother told me you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

I usually don’t have flies in my loft. I have other annoying creatures, both human and non-human, but not flies. Something changed, though, when I awoke one morning with the thought in my head that I should eat more fresh fruit.

Ignoring my own advice to never go grocery shopping while hungry, I threw on some clothes and rushed to a nearby food market. The moment I walked into the place, a shelf groaning with organic strawberries caught my eye. The winsome fruit was exactly the shade of alizarin crimson I favor in oil paint, hair, wine…and strawberries.

I grabbed a pound of the berries and headed toward the checkout counter.

As soon as I got home, I washed some berries and popped them into my mouth. They tasted so good, I gave my reflection in the mirror a double thumbs up. I put the remaining berries in my refrigerator to feast upon later.

Several hours later, after a satisfying session of painting, I took a break for a snack. When I opened the refrigerator door, clouds of fruit flies flew out and converged upon my kitchen counter, which held the remains of my previous night’s party. The unwashed wine glasses especially attracted the tiny, winged vermin.

I ran a sink full of hot water and liquid soap, plunging the wine glasses into lavender-scented suds. Most of the fruit flies perished immediately. A few of them escaped, so I rolled up a copy of The New York Times and taped it into place, fashioning a deadly artisanal swatter.

Then I marched the uneaten fruit to the dumpster outside.

The next few days were hellish. Every time I thought I’d killed the last of the fruit flies, a new batch would appear. I put out a little dish of honey, thinking the vermin would get stuck in it and I could squish them to death, but they ignored the honey. All they wanted to do was hover around my head, making it difficult to do anything constructive.

It was time for a fruit fly trap.

If I’d lived near a cute little hardware store, I’d have gone there to ask if they had any fruit fly traps. But all the cute little hardware stores have been gentrified out of my neighborhood, so I had to go shopping online.

Oddly enough, no one had fruit fly traps for sale online, but I found lots of DIY hacks. Several involved filling a shallow container with apple cider vinegar and squirting a dab of dishwashing liquid into the vinegar.

Luckily I had all the required supplies in my loft, so I made a fruit fly trap and put it on the kitchen counter.

Within two hours, 43 fruit flies had drowned.

Three days, later, the infestation was over.

The possibility that my mother was wrong about other things besides how to catch flies has opened up a whole new world of potentials. For example, what if it’s not true that the early bird gets the worm? What if it’s not true that if you make your own bed, you have to lie in it?

What if it’s not true that it’s a man’s world and nobody can ever change it?

Hmmnn…

I Love a Parade

As I traversed the cobbled streets near my loft, lost in a cloud of oblivion, I suddenly noticed a pigeon ambling beside me. I stepped up my pace, thinking I’d lose the scruffy bird; the pigeon trotted faster. I slowed down; the pigeon followed suit. I ground to a halt; the pigeon stopped in its tracks.

The whole situation caused me great unease. The pigeon seemed too friendly. It seemed unusually unafraid of humans. Rummaging through my brain, I tried to remember whether pigeons can get rabies.

Then I noticed the pigeon was unabashedy oogling my feet. I examined my sneakers, thinking I must have a smidgen of food stuck to the sole, but the cross trainers looked pristine as the day when I bought them.

“Oh swell.” I said to myself. “I’ve attracted a pigeon with a foot fetish. Why do things like this always happen to me?”

Then I took a closer look at the situation. I suddenly realized my athletic shoes had the same exact markings as the pigeon.

“What a relief,” I said to myself. “The pigeon doesn’t have a shoe fetish. It just thinks two other pigeons are walking down the street.”

I resumed walking. The pigeon matched my steps. We promenaded all the way to the corner. As I stepped off the curb, the pigeon turned tail and returned to patrolling its turf.

All in all, I’d say it was a good day in the city.

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Nancy Robinson, Alone in the City 1996, mixed media (2D/3D acrylic on foam core board, plastic figure), 13" x 13" x 2"

Terrible Marathon

Do you spend your days dodging cloudbursts of unbearable emotions?

I hope not because...well, because I like you.

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Nancy Robinson, 2017, Self-portrait with the Bluebird of Happiness, oil on canvas, 24" x 18"

Never Trust Anyone Over 30

I had a wonderful birthday this year, filled with good food, yummy art projects, lovely men and happy sunshine.

Around 10 p.m. on the night of my birthday, I sat at my project desk making a gratitude list. I had so many things to be thankful for, I filled page after page.

Suddenly, my phone rang.

The voice on the phone sounded tired but resolute. "Hi. I'm downstairs. I have something to give you, to celebrate your birthday."

I smote my brow. "But you're in graduate school. You're too broke and busy to be doing this!"

"I'm never too broke and busy to celebrate my friends' birthdays."

I shrugged. "Well then, sure, I'll buzz you in."

A few minutes later, my friend dragged into my place and set a bottle of wine on the counter. "You like chardonnay, right?"

"Sure," I said.

He rummaged in my silverware drawer for a corkscrew. "I know it's probably too late for wine, but I wanted to toast you on your birthday."

He uncorked the bottle as I mused silently that I'd never witnessed such murky chardonnay.

"Oh no." My friend held the bottle to his nose and sniffed. "This isn't chardonnay. It's catnip ale."

"Here. Let me smell it." I took a whiff of the pea-green liquid. "Omigod, it's so strong."

He hastily recorked the bottle. "I think it's gone bad. I made it a couple of years ago and stuck it in my wine cellar. I didn't mean to bring it...I was in such a hurry this morning, I grabbed the wrong bottle."

I laughed. "Don't worry, I think I have something milder  we can toast my birthday with:  I just bought a new bottle of rubbing alcohol."

His lower lip curled into a pout. "It's not funny. I wanted your birthday gift to be perfect."

"It is perfect," I said, and I meant it. "It's a much better story than if you arrived with a nice bottle of wine. I can always buy my own bottle of nice wine, but a good story is priceless."

My friend looked at me gloomily. "I suppose you're going to make this into a blog post."

"Of course not," I said.

YOU HAVEN'T GOTTEN SMALLER...THE SNOWSTORM HAS GOTTEN BIGGER.

Are you depressed by today's unseasonal blizzard? Do you need an inspirational story to perk you up?  If your answer is yes, read about how Nancy Robinson cheered up a friend who was caught in the grip of uncontrollable natural events:

KNOCK KNOCK

(Reprinted from October 8, 2015)

I ran into a writer friend of mine at Trader Joe's the other day. My friend is very nice but struggles with melancholia, so I like to try to cheer him up.

"How wonderful to see you!" I said. "Did you have a fun summer?"

"No,"he said. "I spent the summer defending my house from woodpeckers."

"Woodpeckers are so cute!" I said.

"They're destructive," he said. "They poke giant holes in my siding and make so much noise I can barely concentrate on my writing."

"You sound depressed," I said.

"I am," he said.

"There must be some way to make this fun," I said. "Since birds are technically dinosaurs, you should tell people you spent your summer defending your house from dinosaurs."

"You sure are full of bright ideas this morning," he said.

"Seriously," I said. "You should take a picture of yourself dressed like a caveman and then post it on your Facebook page. It will get you lots of attention and help your writing career."

 "I don't do Facebook," he said.

"Why not?" I said. "Facebook is a valuable career-building tool for a writer like you."

"I don't have time for Facebook," he said."I'm too busy defending my house from woodpeckers."

"Dinosaurs," I said.  "You're defending your house from dinosaurs."

"Okay, dinosaurs," he said.

"Now, didn't I just make you feel like your life is a TEENY bit more fun?" I said.

 A smile played across his lips. "Maybe."

"See? I'm like a woodpecker poking holes in the siding of your depression," I said.

"I guess that would be one way of looking at it," he said.

  Nancy Robinson , detail from   The Human Condition  , oil on canvas and mixed media

Nancy Robinson, detail from The Human Condition, oil on canvas and mixed media

Oral Hygiene

I'm a strong believer in good oral hygiene and make regular visits to the dentist. My dentist is very nice, and one of the receptionists at the dental office gets all starry-eyed at the sight of me because she thinks I'm a famous artist... which of course I am!

Although most of my visits to the dentist are quite pleasant, in a practical sort of way, last November I had to have a routine procedure done which filled me with what turned out to be misplaced approbation. Consequently, I was in a rotten mood as I hopped off the train and headed down the street to my appointment. To make matters worse, my parka-covered head got pelted with icy rain at such intense volume, moisture dripped off my faux-wolf-fur hood and into my face, thus spoiling my age-defiant makeup. I bent forward, thrust my hands into my pockets, and kept my eyes on the pavement as I shuffled along.

The street leading to my dentist's office is busy, urban, and lined with edgy entrepreneurs. Usually I love the camaraderie, since I too have been an entrepreneur on that street (selling my paintings, obviously), but my thoughts that day were tinged with dread of mortality: I desired to talk to no one.

 Suddenly a man's voice called out, "Oh Miss! Excuse me, Miss?"

I ignored him, trying my best to look like an ancient crone from a fairy tale, the sort of person who boils dragon toenails in pond slime and feeds the broth to her pet hydra.

He walked beside me."Excuse me? Miss?"

I waved him away without looking at him.

He persisted."Why are you waving me away?"

I raised my eyes heavenward and screamed at the top of my lungs, "I don't feel like talking right now!" Startled by my own behavior, I watched my words echoing around the tops of the buildings.

"Sorry to bother you." The man's apology plopped onto the pavement like a scoop of ice cream which had fallen out of a small child's cone. "It's just that..."

I sternly looked him straight in the face, accidentally noticing he was young and meltingly handsome. "It's just that what?"

"It's just that you dropped your mitten." He held up a bright pink cocoon of knitted wool.

"That's not my mitten," I said, softening my voice.

"Oh, sorry. I thought it was yours because it matches your scarf."

"That's okay." I smiled at him.

He smiled back.

"Have a nice day," I said.

 As I walked away, I noticed the air was suddenly infused with a beautiful, rose-colored light...which happened to be the same exact hue as somebody's lost mitten.

 

Whoops.

I have a lot of friends. I speak to some of them every day. Others are like distant planets; we only collide occasionally.

The one thing I can say about all my friends is: they’re very good listeners. I feel lucky that way.

Late last autumn, one of my gardener friends appeared on my doorstep carrying a potted smidgen of foliage. “I brought you a marigold from my yard.”

I peered at the plant. “It doesn’t look like a marigold.”

“Critters ate all the flowers and most of the leaves, but it should be okay if you put it in a sunny window.”

“Why are you giving it to me? I’m not exactly a plant maven.”

“You once told me that marigolds are your favorite flowers.”

“I did?”

“Yeah.” The gardener peered at the plant. “You said they remind you of you.”

The gardener’s words shone a light through the mists of my memory. I vaguely recalled delivering an extemporaneous speech during a lawn party, something about gaudy and irreverent late-bloomers.

After the gardener departed, I placed the marigold in a sunny window next to my other two plants, a pony tail palm and a miniature evergreen tree. The palm and the evergreen are rescue plants, salvaged from my late mother’s nursing home when they’d ended their tenure as cheer-up gifts.

Although the marigold didn't die, it also didn’t grow or bloom. It just sat there for two months, looking sad and raggedy.

In the middle of January, feeling kind of sad and raggedy myself, I decided to project my feelings onto the plant and give both of us a pep talk. I strolled over to the sunny window and said to the marigold “Hey, wanta have lunch?” (Plants will talk to you if you close your ears and listen.)

"Sure," the marigold said.

I transported  the plant to my kitchen island, where I’d prepared a small repast for the two of us: a solitary piece of chicken for me (I felt it would be disrespectful to eat a salad) and a pitcher of water for the marigold.

“So, what’s going on?” I said to the marigold.

While I munched on my lunch, the tragic little plant recited its tragic little tale. It turned out that the scrubby shrub felt intimidated by the lush green beauty of the other two plants.

“It's not fair to compare yourself to them,” I said. “They're hothouse plants. Hothouse plants are supposed to be beautiful: it's their job. Your job is to celebrate your wild nature."

The marigold leaned forward, listening.

"You've had the kind of life hothouse plants can only dream of. You grew up in a vibrant urban garden, while those poor things have never even been outdoors." I took a sip from the marigold's water pitcher. "You've slumbered under starry night skies and danced with woodchucks and rabbits. You’ve smooched fireflies at sunset and kissed dewdrops at dawn.” I stood up. "You're the hippest shrub in this entire loft, and everybody seems to know that except you." I smiled at the marigold. "Now... I'm going to put you back in the window, and  I want to see you grow into the biggest, best marigold you can be.”

Within days, all hell broke loose. The marigold grew several inches taller and popped out so many flowers, I could almost see it blooming in front of me. I had to transplant it into a larger container, and now it’s towering over the rescue plants. If things keep up like this, I’m going to have to move to a larger apartment.

It just goes to show…everyone can use a little encouragement sometimes.

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