This Thanksgiving, Think About a Do-Over

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and as usual, we find ourselves thinking about what we’re thankful for. At this stage in my life, I think about what I’m thankful for on a daily basis, so the meaning of Thanksgiving isn’t special any more. I’m on the other side of 50 and thankfulness has now become an everyday acknowledgment.

I’m thankful I got out of bed this morning with no more aches than I had yesterday. I’m thankful for this lousy, I mean great job that I have only a few more years to be thankful for. I’m thankful that I get to eat bacon and eggs every morning with a delicious cup of coffee made from the best coffee machine I’ve ever owned. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forgot about the big things that we’re expected to be thankful for, family and friends, and health.

Somewhere in between mulling over another Thanksgiving menu and adding another task to my “when am I going to get these things done” list, I got to thinking about what I would have done differently if I got a do-over.

Some may think about treating certain people better, or taking a different road in their career or deciding not to marry. If you could live your life over, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently? Really examine your life and contemplate every decision you’re going to make. These would be major decisions that would alter the course of your life. I share with you my list below.

For as long as I could remember, I wanted to know how to blast out a whistle. I’m not talking about the pucker up and whistle a tune kind of whistle. I do that all the time. I want the finger-less, roll up your tongue, loud whistle that you use to call your dog or your kids. I never had a dog, so maybe that’s why I never learned, or maybe my mouth and teeth aren’t shaped right. I know I could probably learn to do this now if I had the time to find a You Tube video. But at my age, what would I whistle at? My kids are grown and gone, and I don’t have a dog. My cat would give me an aloof stare and continue on its path of doing whatever he wants to.

My sister-in-law could do this, and used it to round up her five kids for dinner. You should have seen the kids’ ears perk up when they heard it, just like a German shepherd ready for chow time.

Another thing I would have learned to do is ride a horse. Ever since my father told me how much your muscles would hurt the next day, I shied away from the adventure. It’s too bad that I developed that fear because I think I would have really liked the activity. I feel a great sense of freedom when I ride my bike. I imagine that being on a horse would be ten times greater. And you look really cool when filmed in slow motion riding on the beach. I know I wouldn’t have been a 10, but I think I could have pulled off a strong 7.5. At this age, it’s not the pain I’m afraid of any more; it’s what am I going to break when I fall off.

That sense of freedom is probably why I would have done the next thing on my list. I would have bought land. It wouldn’t matter if I was planning to build a house, I would be able to claim a piece of property as mine, just like the early American settlers.

When I met someone. I could weave into the conversation the bit about owning a piece of land. Whenever I heard someone say that, I envied them. They sounded savvy about money and knew how to plan for the future. I’m sure owning land would have made me feel secure. No matter what happened in life, I could always say, I own some land.

High school shouldn’t really be considered in this endeavor because you’re not really an adult, but in this case, I have to. Doing this would have changed my approach to taking chances in the future. I would have tried out for the tennis team. Many years ago, you had to try out for a team. Not everyone made it onto the team, like today, and believe or not, horrors of all horrors, not everyone got trophies. I thought I was a pretty good tennis player, but now I’ll never know. I was much too afraid of failing, and as a result never learned to compete. The fear of failing has traveled with me throughout my life getting in the way of trying new things. I’ve led a play it safe kind of life.

Finally, I would have changed my major from English to computer science in college, knowing how easy to find a job it would have been. Although I admit, this would have been extremely difficult since this was the only subject I earned, yes earned, a D in. Those were the days of producing a program on punch cards. Each line of the program had a card that the computer would read. Carrying around boxes of cards with incomprehensible lines of programming and hanging out in the noisy computer lab until 4 am was not my idea of fun. College was supposed to be fun, right?

Alas, we know we can’t change the past. We can only learn from it. As I peruse my list, I notice that there would be considerable work involved. And we all know that I don’t like complicated and anything that involves a lot of work. Why not keep it simple with this solution. Marry a rich, old man, preferably one who was frequently out of town on business. I wouldn’t have to worry about a career. I could fill my days with lunch with the girls, reading, writing, horseback riding, whistling for my dog and making appointments with a handsome real estate agent in search of a great piece of land.

A Rare Conversation with Edgar Allan Poe

A rare opportunity presented itself to me that I feel I must share with my loyal readers. You may at first think I am mad, but I assure you that I am as rational as these black words on the page. I could not determine the impetus to this phenomena; maybe it was the season of scary apparitions or foggy graveyards, but there he was, sitting in the chair, ready to share his life’s story, short but prolific though it was.

I do not know from where he came or how he got in through the locked doors of the house, but there he was, ready to be queried about his works and his life. But why me of all the sane people in the world. I was far from an expert and even farther from being an admirer.

I read some of his works in school many years ago but dismissed them as they were not to my liking, because I did not fancy the macabre. But I do remember that I appreciated the impact and place in American fiction that he occupied. So I inquired again, why me of all people. I was nothing to him. I was merely curious about him, enough so that I could fill a page with an interesting story to provide a brief escape for an interested reader.

“Alright,” I uttered. “I see you’re not going away until we exchange what we need to exchange. Will you promise to leave me once I have asked you enough questions?” He nodded, recrossed his legs and rested his arms on the wing back chair, making himself open to the conversation.

To begin, I wanted to know the best way to address him, Edgar? Mr. Poe? Mr. Allan? He didn’t mind which I chose and proceeded to explain why he had two last names. His mother, an actress touring Richmond, Virginia, had died when he was an infant. His father had already left the two of them. He was taken in by a Richmond merchant John Allan and his wife. He was quick to add that they never formally adopted him.

I commented how fortunate he was that someone with means stepped in to raise and care for him. He nodded looking somewhat remorseful. He explained that John Allan had been fairly good to him, giving him the opportunity to study in Scotland and England and at the University of Virginia.

John Allan wanted him to become a businessman and Virginia gentleman but he strayed from that path. Allan had not given him enough money at the University and he ended up gambling trying to make up the money he needed. The debts were too burdensome and he had to leave the University. When John Alan died, he left Mr. Poe with nothing.

I felt that Mr. Poe wanted to deviate from the painful memory of how his relationship with John Allan ended, so I asked him how he pursued his passion to write. He told of his childhood hero Lord Byron and how he would write verses on the back of ledger sheets while working for his guardian. He knew very early that being a businessman was not for him. At age eighteen he had published his first book of poetry, Tamarlane and Other Poems.

I was impressed with this early accomplishment and must have shown it. He took this as a sign that I wanted him to continue.

He imparted of how he supported himself through the 1830s and 1840s by being an editor of various magazines. Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, where he published the The Fall of the House of Usher, and Graham’s Magazine were in Philadelphia. The Broadway Journal was in New York City. In 1835 he was the editor of Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. My interest must have appeared to be waning so Mr. Poe ended his editorial listing.

With trepidation, I determined that I needed to inquire about affairs of the heart. No thorough interview would be found complete if circumstances surrounding the subject’s love affairs were not relayed. Mr. Poe paused and seemed somewhat reluctant to embrace this line of questioning, but he finally relented.

He told of going back to visit his fiancee’, Elymyira Royster, after leaving the University only to find that she had married another. After discovering this news he went back to the Allan house for a short time until his relationship with John Allan became intolerable. Broke and alone, he left Richmond and traveled to Baltimore to find some of his father’s relatives.

His aunt Maria Clemm took him in, and it wasn’t long before Poe developed romantic feelings for her daughter. When he was twenty-seven, he brought the two of them back to Richmond and married his cousin Virginia who was still 13 years old.

The look of horror on my face did not go unnoticed by Mr. Poe, but I held my tongue. He was, after all, a guest in my house and was accustomed to a much different time. He tried to reassure me that this was acceptable and that he loved her until the day she passed in 1847 at the tender age of 24. They had just moved into a cottage outside of New York when she developed tuberculosis and died. He was devastated and found it difficult to write for months.

Mr. Poe ceased his story telling to regain his composure. He must have found it difficult, still, to tell this part of his story.

In 1849 he traveled back to Richmond and looked up his former fiancee′, Elmira. He found her to be widowed. They rekindled their relationship and planned to be married after his trip to Philadelphia and New York. He abruptly ended the story of his romance leaving me wondering if he was going to revisit the topic later.

But my wondering was short-lived. I realized that this was the beginning of the end. From my research, I knew that he was going to tell me of what would be his last trip.

I kindly interrupted and told him that I read about his travel plans. He had stopped in Baltimore on his way to Philadelphia and disappeared for five days. To this day, mystery still surrounds his death, and I briefly hoped that this may be my chance to resolve that mystery. Do I dare ask him the question that so needed to be asked of him when they found him delirious, in the gutter outside a watering hole that was used as a polling place? He was wearing shabby clothes and looked as if he had been beaten.

I tried to broach the subject as gently and as humanly possible by explaining that there were many possible explanations as to what happened to him. Some think he succumbed to drink knowing that he couldn’t handle his liquor and wound up being beaten by ruffians. Others wondered if cooping was involved. Since I had not yet opined, I left the door open to hear his telling.

Time seemed to pause as I looked at his expression to glean some kind of clue of what he would say. But before I could say another word, Mr. Poe silently bowed his head and seemed to say “thank you.” I was not aware of any revelation that he could thank me for, so I responded with a confused “you’re welcome.” And with that final exchange of words, he vanished as quietly as he appeared.

I sat for what seemed hours, contemplating the appearance of a conversation that just occurred. Was this to be shared or was I to take this experience to my grave never to be talked about again? Who would ever believe that I spoke with Mr. Poe besides partakers of the supernatural, of which I was not. I finally came to my revelation and will kindly share with you my dear reader. Life is a mystery, and who besides the father of the mystery detective story would be so kind as to appear in my study to illustrate how true this was.



Natasha Geiling. The Still Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. Smithsonian.

Thomas Ollive Mabbott, etal. Edgar Allan Poe. Encyc. Britannica.

Who was Edgar Allan Poe? Poe Museum.

Edgar Allan Poe. Poetry Foundation.

The Ultimate Guide to Online Friendship

Today I want to talk to you about online friends. When you think about it, this is quite extraordinary.

You interact, and possibly share your photo with people who you have never met and may never meet.

We have ventured into a world that we have no rules for. What are the boundaries for online friendships? Are there protocols to follow? And the most basic question, what’s the bare minimum of time you need to invest in these friendships?

To answer these burning questions, we first need to define the online friendship.

I think we can all agree that Facebook is to blame for all this confusion. I remember watching “NCIS: Los Angeles” when Eric Beale, one of the computer geeks, was asked, “Does Karen have a last name?” He replied, “Can’t remember.”

“You can’t remember?”

“No. But God bless her, she has put me over the top. I now have over 1000 Facebook friends.”

Warning! If you have 1000 Facebook friends and you don’t know their names, please seek treatment immediately.

When you signed up for Facebook, you probably started with actual friends, old schoolmates or good acquaintances. If you wanted to keep your life private you chose the appropriate settings. Most of the people on my Facebook I would consider lunch-worthy, meaning that if I saw them in person, I’d ask them to lunch. I may even send them a Christmas card.

Facebook friends work pretty much like everyday offline friends. You can unfriend someone which is similar to having the “I’m never going to talk to you ever again,” fight. Or, you can hide someone which is the nice way of unfriending. Then your friend doesn’t know you’ve snubbed her. You can both save face, and feel free to say hi in the grocery store and maybe chat about how you both hate creamed corn.

I also found myself adding friends on Facebook that I didn’t know. This was a big step for me because I’m a private person. But I really needed Farmville neighbors and friends of my friends were playing so the common friend introduced us. I made the sacrifice. This was going to be a use and be used friendship. No need to invest any time in this friendship. The only thing I was sacrificing was my privacy. My desire to make a bigger farm won out over remaining private.

I’ve since quit playing Farmville and have only unfriended one person from my gang of five. I can’t seem to sever the ties with the others. We built up a camaraderie playing Farmville, and I feel it’s unkind to unfriend them. Mute yes, unfriend, no.

For the past year, I’ve been playing Forge of Empires where interaction between players is required. In all my years of gaming, I’ve never played this type of game. Fortunately, players can remain anonymous as long as they choose a good avatar name like Pith Lord Sexypants or Lord Skunklicker and talk only about the game. I did have one person open up and tell me where she lives and that she was a grandmother, which surprised me. That was too much information in this dangerous world of stalkers and perverts. But she seemed legit. I ended up helping her find her online photographs that she thought she lost when she bought a new phone. And I friended her in the game.

What about sharing your personal life?

Other players are more open about their personal lives. Some will share where they’re going on vacation or that they have to take care of their 80 year dad. Usually they offer this information because they will be offline and not able to play which most guilds require or you’ll be booted. Life can be cruel in the gaming world. It’s a good thing the gaming world rules don’t apply to spouses.

I can safely say that all of these online friends will only remain fellow gamers judging by their lack of spelling. Call me old school, but just because this is a game, doesn’t mean you have to show your stupidity and laziness. Some players write like they’re texting. I was a latecomer to texting and still don’t use the shortcuts, probably because I don’t know text speak. If I have trouble understanding what you are saying, then you haven’t held up your half of the line of communication bargain. Delete with no regrets.

Another set of online friends may include your co-workers. When I got married almost five years ago, my commute to work would have almost doubled because I had to move. My company said I could work from home but I had to work the late shift until 8 pm. Hello home office, goodbye corporate cubicle. I did cartwheels and thanked my supervisor as I headed out the door, computer and monitor in tow.

Since that time many people have come and gone in my department, and there are only two left who I’ve talked to face to face. Everyone else is a name with an email and sometimes a fuzzy, poorly lit photo uploaded in Skype that won’t help you identify this person if you had to pick her out of a lineup. This is my work world. I’m sure this sounds familiar to many of you as more and more of us work from home.

After reading emails and hearing a voice over the phone, we create a person in our mind. If you’re a naturally noisy person, you’ll strike up an IM (instant message) with someone you want to get to know. You may get the chance to talk to your fellow employees directly or in a meeting. It is through these interactions that you base your opinion of whether or not you like the person and how much you want to share your personal life. Not really much to go on, is it?

If I determine the person works hard, and can join sentences with a period instead of a comma, I’ll try to develop that online friendship. I find the last caveat weeds out many and saves me a lot of time. Each of us has to figure out our own criteria.

When do you know if your online co-worker can turn into an online friend? The key question to ask is would you invite her to your Facebook world? If not, then chances are you’ll remain online co-workers. But that’s okay. You can still have lunch like co-workers do.

Who’s up for lunch?

Speaking of lunch, this is a perfect test to see if you want to pursue a friendship, so if you have an opportunity to break bread, take it. You can tell a lot about a person by going to lunch. If they are courteous to the wait staff, then it’s safe to assume that they’re considerate to others. Do they eat with their mouth closed, or do they make annoying smacking sounds that deserve a dagger-filled glare and a smack upside the head? If it’s the former, then they are probably conscientious and follow good habits. Finally, do they leave a 15 or 20% tip? If not, you know the person is cheap, cheap, cheap, a gigantic red flag in my book. Failure to pass these tests will probably move them to the “come up with good excuse to not meet again” group.

Finally, I have a group that fits THE definition of online friends. These are people I’ve never met in person, but would love to. I interact with them on a regular basis. They are the wonderful group of writers at Two Drops of Ink. We know each other by our writing and our comments. I’ve come to know the editors and feel comfortable sending them an email anytime I have a question. They have welcomed me into their world, and I feel fortunate to call them friends.

If you blog or interact in small groups online you may find yourself developing the same kinds of friendships. These are great to have, but don’t let them take the place of your real friends.

Many years ago I decided I wanted to try camping, but I wanted to go alone. It was at a time in my life when I was unhappy and trying to figure out what would make me happy. I left my husband and kids for a few days, borrowed some camping supplies and headed to a nearby campground. I spent many hours reading, walking and journaling. At night I made a campfire and pondered my life while staring into the flames.

It only took me a few days to realize that I had become touch deprived. I realized that I needed human interaction: hugs from my children, a pat on the back from my friend or holding hands with a loved one.

Having online friends is entertaining and fun, but they can’t take the place of real human interaction. As with all things in my life, moderation is key. I don’t plan on going to a crowded event where they have to check my purse before I get through the door nor do I want to be alone for any length of time, unless it’s in my house with my computer and cat by my side helping me put words down on paper. I do have my exceptions. It’s okay to have your online friends, but you need to go out to lunch now and then.

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