Confessions of a magazine & catalog addict

I’m a third generation magazine and catalog addict.  My grandmother loved them.  My mother loved them.  And a fourth generation is now well represented by my daughter.

When I was a child, even before I could read, Mother saved all her magazines and catalogs for me.  I was fascinated by how she treated them like treasures.  Not one was thrown away until it had been read and read and re-read.

I thumbed through her McCall’s, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Time, Newsweek, Life and Look.  She had a separate shelf for the big fat catalogs of the time, including Sears and Montgomery Ward and J.C. Penney and Alden wishbooks.  Those we kept forever, even after new ones arrived.  The magazines were eventually passed along to other families.

In later years she added subscriptions to Consumer Reports and lots of trade publications. As I grew away from her home and no longer shared all of her tastes in printed matter, still my reverence for those publications never diminished. Today I buy some magazines at the newsstand, subscribe to others, and am the recipient of still more from friends who pass theirs along. I enjoy them all. 

Some people complain about catalogs but I’ve never considered a mailbox full of catalogs an annoyance.  I welcome the ones that arrive unsolicited and then sign up for others, and pass them along too.  Next to my big blue reading chair right now there’s an eclectic stack.  One by one they’ll go into a box in the trunk of my car to make the trip to my daughter’s house.  She shares them with people she works with and they go round and round from there and end up who knows where.

I like the thought of this widening circle of readers.  When these publications fray and fall apart, as they eventually must, then all of us will have participated in a form of social interaction that some say is primitive, but I find satisfying. 

Sure I can order online without ever seeing a catalog in print, but the items seem different and somehow more appealing when I hold the pictures of the products in my hand and turn the pages back and forth.

As for ideas in newspapers and magazines, maybe it’s an illusion but it seems to me that I even think about things differently when I’m holding onto them in print. 

All this talk about newspapers dying  and magazines getting thinner and catalogs available only online has me worried.  I hope there’s a way to keep them coming.  They’re lifelong friends and I’d miss them awfully if they went away.

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Waiting is too hard.

Jack wanted that bag of cookies. 

His mom said,

“Jack, I told you, we need to eat our breakfast first.”

 He wailed and I mean it was loud, using the full extent of his lung power,

“Noooooo I don’t wanna wait.  It’s too hard!”

 In that small cafe, it doesn’t take much wailing to fill the room.

Jack appeared to be four or five years old.  His mother looked at the few of us gathered in the cafe early one morning last week and shrugged apologetically. 

I stood at the counter, placing my coffee order.  A young man waiting near me said, 

“Poor little guy.”

I nodded and added,

“I agree with Jack. Waiting is too hard.”

The mother heard us and said,

“I shouldn’t have bought the cookies ’til we finished our eggs.” 

But at this little cafe/bakery, decked out to resemble a French bistro, when you place your order, you pay for everything at once, so Jack knew that cellophane bag of treats was waiting.  Who could blame him for focusing on the treat?  Focusing on the treat is about as universal an emotion as I can think of. 

All of a sudden it got quiet in there.  Jack had stopped yelling long enough to say to his mom, 

“I am serious!”

The man and I, waiting for our orders at the counter, both broke into laughter at that, which probably didn’t help. 

Jack’s mom looked at us and smiled and over his now-renewed protests, she  said,

“He’s having a bad day.”

The man said to me,

“I can relate.”

I  walked past Jack, carrying my coffee and newspaper, and patted him on the head. 

He hollered some more and then gave it up and ate his scrambled eggs and toast. 

As Jack and his mom left, he asked her,

“Can I have a hug?”

She picked him up, and with his long growing-boy legs dangling, she carried him out, as he clutched that bag of meringues tightly.  He gave me a smile as they left.

I’ve been thinking about Jack and his bad day ever since.   I envy him.  It would be nice if once in a while wailing out loud in public was considered acceptable behavior for adults.  But since it’s not, at least we still have cookies.

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Sometimes a small rebellion is enough.

You know that feeling you get when someone cancels a plan and all of a sudden you have this unexpected clump of free time?  It’s exciting.  It’s a gift.  You were looking forward to the thing, but once it’s cancelled through no fault of yours,  you’re now looking forward  to not going.

It’s  a slippery slope from there to canceling something you planned for no reason except you don’t feel like it anymore.  At first it felt like a not-nice thing to do, but I have my rules:  

1) I consider whether anyone else will be hurt by my actions.

2) I never cancel at the last minute “just because.”  

3) I only say I’m sick if I’m sick.  

I’m too afraid of bad Karma to mess with that one.      

The first few times I used the “just because” clause, I felt a tiny guilt pang, but that was replaced quickly by a giddy feeling. Most of the time it’s like playing hooky with no consequences.  When it  feels like somebody else is running my life (no one else is – I have only myself to blame for my schedule) all it takes to restore balance is to cancel one thing that’s coming up.   

Still there’s that nagging feeling that a person ought to stick with what she committed to.

Which brings me to Netflix.  One day I returned a Netflix rental  WITHOUT WATCHING IT and when I tore off that skinny sticky strip on the return envelope, plopped the unwatched DVD  inside and closed it up, I felt a surge of whatever that feel-good hormone is.  It was  a small extravagance, but a huge emotional victory.

Here’s the shoot-myself-in-the-foot part:   More than once I’ve returned a selection, only to re-order the same title again later.  Evidently even my small rebellions have a price. 

Ó Anita Garner 2009

The Saint of Search Engines

My files disappear into my computer with great regularity – even the ones I name myself using such explicit language that I’m certain they’ll pop up when I need them.  Wrong.  Whatever language I used is not the language that comes to mind when I search for them.

I have had this trouble going as far back as the Yellow Pages.  I have never been able to quickly decide what the Official Namer Of The Yellow Pages will call, for instance, car repair.  Oh – I say car – they say auto.  And so on and so on.  My only successful Yellow Pages search was pizza, after they created pages in the “P” section for it. Everything else in that book remains a mystery to this day.

Those were the early days – the days of innocent assumption, believing that my own logic was clear and superior and that I categorize the same way everyone else does.  Today I am stripped of that illusion.  Nothing points out differences in thinking more quickly than a searchable  database.  

Recently I was one of several people looking to find a specific CD holder for children’s music.  This favorite CD holder was shaped like a ladybug.  It went missing.  The young owner of the ladybug was inconsolable – more over the container than its contents.  We tried every store we could think of.  No children’s CD holders in friendly shapes.  We went online.  Meanwhile the child decided she might be even happier with a butterfly-shaped CD holder-replacement. 

I typed in every conceivable description of such an item that I could think of.  I changed the order of the words. I found out during this search that they are often called “CD wallets.”  I added that phrase to my searches and kept looking for one shaped like a butterfly. 

An ebay-friendly acquaintance was puzzled I was having such a problem.  He said everything relies on the way you seek.  Duh.  I already know that.  But evidently I don’t speak Search language.  He said it just comes naturally to him and he let loose a stream of descriptive words in a sequence I would never have thought would work.  Meantime my daughter had also asked a Search Engine Specialist who gave her the words that led to the one and only butterfly CD holder that any of us found. She bought it immediately and happiness is restored.

This experience points out again that my thought process in no way matches the way searches are conducted. It doesn’t even match my own thinking from the previous day. This is not a good outcome for a writer who opens the same files again and again.  I name them when I first create them.  Evidently a gremlin enters my brain’s Center Of Logical Response while I sleep and by the next day I am hunting endlessly.  When I accidently locate a correct folder, it’s now called something I find hard to believe.  Who named this file?  I am forced to reprise the old-school write-it-down method.  I open the file, make changes, then write the name of the file on a piece of paper and attach it to the hard copy of the manuscript in progress.

If I can’t even find my own files, with my own quite specific descriptions, is it a wonder I can’t figure out what to call something I’m trying to buy?  Google tries to help by suggesting that perhaps I might try another word. My friend Catherine tries to help.  She says  ask the saint of lost objects.  She’s not Catholic but she speaks to Saint Anthony frequently and she says he helps every time. 

I need a Saint of Search Engines – one who’ll whisper in my ear “Look here.” and point me to which words to type, which items on the pull-down menu to select.  And while he’s/she’s at it, explain who decided  which letters will comprise an entire text message? 

I don’t even try to think like a search engine anymore.  These days I ask everybody, “What would you call that, online, I mean?”  The correct answer is generally the opposite of what I thought.

So my wish has been granted in a way.   Friends who communicate clearly with search engines are my new Search Engine Saints.

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Making the case for girlfriends (If I could talk to my mother today)

I would have girlfriends today if for no other reason than that my mother didn’t, and I viewed her life as lacking in that one very important way.

Of course I think of my own mother this time of year, and I remember sadly the way she died.  ALS is a scary ending.  She was already widowed by then and was lost without him.  Those years before she left us are difficult in memory even after more than a decade.  During that long time of being bedridden, no girlfriends came to visit.

And not a single solitary girlfriend crossed my mother’s threshold in all the years I lived at home.  Her husband and her work were everything to her.  She talked about school chums, but I never met any. 

Maybe her own mother would be the closest she had to a girlfriend, if by that you mean telling each other nearly everything.  But there was more competition there than support and I wouldn’t want  a relationship like the one they had – not with a friend and not with a mother.

At the end of her life, her accomplishments were (I hope) what she had as comfort.  Professional colleagues phoned – singers and musicians and fellow evangelists.  But no girlfriend called.

It’s not because we’re going to die eventually that we need girlfriends.  It’s not just so we have them available for bedside vigils. It’s because of the ways they help us live.

Everything is easier with girlfriends and when the going gets rough, even if a girlfriend can’t make the trouble go away, her presence makes it better.  Boyfriends and husbands and other relatives can be a comfort, but perhaps because the language between girlfriends doesn’t require translation, understanding is immediate.

Not just for mothers, but for all women, I wish us more time to appreciate girlfriends – both old and new.  For anyone who’s lost a girlfriend – through moving or death or attrition of any kind, go find a replacement right away.

Ó Anita Garner 2009