There may be no textbooks on how to raise children, but history bulges with rules, how-to's and warnings on everything else in women's lives. Apparently we gals have been unruly, or at the very least, unpredictable since Lot's wife, against strict orders, turned around to check out what the rumble of falling buildings behind her was all about. (This strikes me as rather a common sensical response on her part--wouldn't it be like not staring with jaw dropped as the Murrah Building fell to the ground?)
Anyway, I'm sure everybody remembers where her curiosity got her that day. For ignoring the order from on high Lot's wife was unceremoniously turned into a pillar of salt. Biblical vengeance with a flourish. Even in Sunday School, this story struck me as just plain mean, but the lady who taught us apparently didn't question goosestep obedience.
Which brings me to a Mormon tidbit I read recently in a column from my hometown newspaper, The Cordell Beacon. It's a 19th century edict from Brigham Young to the women of the Latter Day Saints religion.
"If you see a dog run past your door with your husband's head in his mouth, do nothing until you have consulted with the prophet."
Wow, now that's taking the load off our shoulders. How cavalier. It's like, "Relax, ladies. We got this." I would, no doubt, be one of those meddlesome wives who would want more specifics, such as, "Do I chase the dog and try to retrieve the head so the prophet can reattach it?"
"What if the dog comes inside the house with my husband's head in his mouth? Should I grab the shotgun if the dog looks like he wants my head as well?"
"What if the dog only has my husband's finger or foot in his mouth and not the entire head?"
"If the dog is rabid, shouldn't I shoot him so he won't run by my door with my children's heads in his mouth?" Cujo does Salt Lake City .
"What if the prophet is out of town? Or out of the country??" (Back then, no phone, much less e-mail. Yikes! How long should the wife wait for the prophet's return?)
"When should I ready the kitchen for the incoming commiseration casseroles?"
Now I'm not here to bash the Mormons. God bless 'em. They strike me as gentle, loving people. And they send their children all over the world on missions of service, an act that grows tolerance of those who are not just like us. We could sure use some more of that.
This just happens to be the latest laughable example I've read of women being commanded over the ages to tamp down their instincts, stuff their feelings, and do as they're told. So I'm thinking, "If it's not okay to respond to the murder of a loved one, what should she do about picking out kitchen curtains? Should the prophet design her quilts? Can she wipe the nose of her little girl?" Is this any more extreme than the edict? I think not.
And why do men ask for all this decision making? Imagine all that high blood pressure from attending to, in this case, multiple wives who are waiting, toes tapping with impatience, for further instructions? Isn't this a recipe for early heart attack? Or stroke? Guys, you might want to think this through again. It's women, in this new millenium, who are seeing an upsurge in cardiac events. With power, apparently, comes clogged arteries.
But what I really want to know is, what happened to those ladies who disobeyed the prophet's edict? Maybe I am brutally mixing up my metaphors here, but what if they were turned into pillars of salt? Wait a minute, wait a minute. Is that what formed Salt Lake?
I definitely plan to write on my novel today, but the unruly committee in my head, which clanks through the halls of my cerebral cortex drooling like the walking dead, has other plans. And they've got the portable medieval rack and scythe to back it up. They're B-movie horror cliches in black hoods who've got Spielberg as producer and Wes Craven directing, so the screen's gonna be blood-sopped before the opening credits stop rolling. Oh yeah, it's serious now. I'm gonna need my warrior woman armor today, and an AK-47 with silver hollow points to stop their scorched-brain policy.
Yesterday, I cleaned my house (which happens with the regularity of a balanced budget) because--LIE #1--if everything's just so, without a dust-bunny film draped over the furniture, I can then begin to write funnier-longer-better. . .add hyphenate of your choice. I'm not alone in this tactic. You know who you are. I know people who have stopped writing in order to clean their bathrooms with toothbrushes, like speed freaks mainlining steroids.
Here's a fun one. I have scoured Oklahoma City, like a serial killer searching for prey, so that--LIE #2--I can have the exact purple-inked pen I need for inspiration. (Ink may also be green, or brown, or a new color that is unavailable from any pen company anywhere.)
LIE #3--I need to do more research first. The rational part of my brain fights to break through, saying "Why don't you use all the stuff you've already got?" This is a particularly effective argument because what couldn't use more research, for god's sake? ANSWER: The sequence you've spent 30 hours Googling and 15 minutes writing on. Try getting off your fat ass and string a few words together. Your mother would be so proud.
LIE #4--I can't write because I don't know what I want to write about. LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE!! We don't write because we already know what we want to write about. We write so we can discover what we want to write about. Gotcha on that one, huh?
So if you're still with me here, I'd like to know which of your own lies you believe. Maybe I can add them to my own list. Please leave a comment. What are the lies you tell yourself to keep you from doing the one thing that you love with a passion, the one thing that makes you feel truly alive, the thing that sets your free? I await your replies, which will, ironically, keep you from writing your own stuff.
I wonder how different my life would be if Instruction Books were the kind of reading that keeps you up until the wee hours, eyes bloodshot for the answer to the killer mystery, the resolution of the heart-thrumping thriller, or that elusive drop of simple fictional truth that feeds our souls for days. Personally, I feel nudged toward something real and necessary (like fictional riddles solved and soul snacks) if I'm to keep up this pretense. Okay, sorry to go all Vonnegut on you, but it is 104 in the shade right now and I'm not optimistic about the rest of the week.
But about instruction books. You see, I've been putting together this BLOG. And no matter how many graphics, photos, clever captions the "how-to pages" work in, I would rather stick a stake through my head than read them. Which is probably why at the end of this I will have no idea whether this will be the first BLOG heading on the overhead menu choice, or the second one. Because I have managed to create two, which is so more than I wanted to say.
I have gotten this far by doing it the way the 7-year-olds I watch do. They try almost the same thing every time, but click a different button somewhere down the line. They are fearless where it may take them. They, unlike many of the adults I know, realize that they can always find their way back home. I like the way they think, don't you? I often emulate the young to great success (what I affectionately refer to as my version of the cunning of age).
But back to the reading dilemma. I was once married to somebody who actually read these kind of books. It was sorta awesome, but it also freaked me out a little. How does anybody's brain stay awake long enough to absorb the technical order of things? My mind literally bolts from the experience, as though it were dashing from horrific truths I will never be able to face. But to sit for hours and read how to build a room-add-on? Make a mailbox? Change a pipe fitting? It boggles my chaos-addicted mind. Is this what men do when they go out to the proverbial garage? And if so, does that mean they do this on beer? God love 'em.
The closest I come to reading technical books would be cookbooks, which I love to peruse because I never execute a recipe exactly as written, unless it's a souffle because you'd better not mess around with anything beaten that's supposed to rise up an aluminum foil sleeve. The margin of error is miniscule. But with any other recipe, I'll skew the herb proportions, substitute ingredients, cut the proportions from servings for ten to intimate dinner for two. (I once knew a great Army cook who said he could slam down spaghetti and meatballs for 500, but couldn't make a dinner for two of said description to save his life.) Cookbooks are the low-tech lovers' technical reading of choice. We insist on some small outlet for individuality.
Now, all that said, I certainly must admit that this inability to absorb technical how-to's does make me feel stupid. Isn't my I.Q. sufficiently high that I should find the how-to information just as pithy and exciting as the end to that psychological thriller? But tonight, I'll be curling up with Pete Dexter or Michael Connelly. If that's a character defect, bring it on.
Linda Lee McDonald
I live comfortably poor in Oklahoma City, have a backyard garden in constant need of a weedeater manicure, am visited by birds every day when they bathe in my mixing bowl birdbath, and am blessed with my two rescue dogs, Jake and Roxie, who save me every day of my life.