Archive for the ‘ARCHIVES’ Category



Whether I’m in the pharmacy or in the health food store, I always see a cluster of senior citizens perusing the area of vitamins, minerals, assorted supplements and alternative offerings—looking for the magic combination of pills and capsules that might restore the robust, healthsome state of their youth.

Elsewhere in the pharmacy, in the aisle of painkillers, I always see an assortment of older people carefully studying the gallimaufry of nostrums there.

They’re in pain too, I think. They can’t wait for the vitamins, minerals and fish oil capsules to work. They need immediate relief. They’re just looking for a way to get through the day—or the night.

When you’re younger no one tells you about the pain that goes with old age. Or if they do tell you, you don’t listen. That’s too far away. Besides, we all think that old age (like death) will never happen to us.

A number of years ago I was taking an exercise class when the woman next to me groaned. “I forgot to take my Tylenol this morning and I’m paying for it now.”

“Do you take Tylenol every morning?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” she replied. “I have to.”

How strange, I thought, why doesn’t she just fix it? Tell the doctor.

I look back now, and smile at my naïve outlook. How innocent. How inexperienced. How young.

It doesn’t just happen in an instant—the day you turn 50. It creeps up on you. One knee aches a little when it’s rainy. You remember an injury you had in that knee years ago. A shoulder gives you trouble and you figure you played too hard on the weekend.

Finally, one day, you realize that the little pains are not going away.

Eventually you understand that nearly everyone gets arthritis sooner or later—not just that peevish old aunt of yours.

You explain to the doctor. He nods knowingly, feels of the bothersome area. It’s warmer than other spots. He nods knowingly. “Yup, you’ve got arthritis,” he announces. He may write you a prescription, but he doesn’t offer anything in the way of a cure.

Other bizarre aches and pains come along—mostly unexplainable.

If you’ve got an infection, they can give you antibiotics. If you have a broken bone, they can set it. If you’ve got a deteriorated hip, they can replace it. If you have a bad heart, they can open you up and do a miracle repair job. But if you’re just suffering from the most common malady of all—the slowly crushing effects of old age, they can’t do much more than wish you well.

You’ll soon find yourself in the pain killer aisle. And you won’t be alone.

(c)  Ruth Minshull  17 March 2016

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Three Short Ones

Three Short ones

by Ruth Minshull

Webster provides at least a dozen definitions of the word intelligence. The first two are: the faculty of understanding and the capacity to know or apprehend.
Curiously, the definitions all suggest a completely passive quality. They are not about doing. One religion, in fact, uses the word to describe sort of a disembodied universal spirit.
Intelligence by definition has nothing to do with living. It just hangs out.
A high IQ. means that a person remembers data, is fairly well acquainted with the language and can figure out a few test problems.
Among Mensa members (who have demonstrated that they are good at doing IQ. tests) I’ve seen a complete cross-section of people. There are the very rich, the penniless, and everything in between, the well-known (Isaac Azimov, for instance) and the unknown, the achievers and the laggards, the talkative and seriously introverted, the God-fearing, the agnostics, the atheists, democrats, republicans, libertarians, the grousers and the people-pleasers, the gays, the straights, the liberals and the conservatives, the interesting and the crashing bores, the nice folks and that other kind.
They can all read and learn and remember data. Some have practical intelligence and some would have to organize a committee to change a light bulb.
To me, the strangest aspect of intelligence as defined is that it has nothing whatever to do with living life.
So what good is it?
We can sit back and feel superior to people with less intelligence. We can carp and criticize and strut and preen. But so what?
I have known people who would not burn up the pages on IQ tests, but they know how to live a good life.
To me that is a better test than anything else: how well do we live our life? Do we spend more time smiling or scowling? Are we able to put our anger, our grudges, our disappointments behind us? Are we able to keep learning and changing? Are we doing the work we enjoy? (If not, perhaps we should change jobs–or learn to enjoy the work we do.) Is our overall attitude about life one of disappointment or one of fulfillment? To me, whether or not we score well is not nearly as important as whether we live well. Our intelligence is merely another tool.
We are sculptors waving our chisels in the air–useless tools, unless we use them to carve out a satisfying life.


by Ruth Minshull

I believe that each person has an image of himself that he carries around in his head and, to a large extent, it influences his behavior.
My best friend, for instance, is an outrageous being and, very often, behaves accordingly.
Personally, I’m a frivolous being. The dictionary says that frivolous means “lacking in seriousness or sense; silly. Of little worth or importance; trivial.”
I’ve never thought that I was of little worth (who does?) but I don’t attach a lot of importance or seriousness to life. So basically, I try to regard things in a frivolous manner. I try to move away and look at things from a distance. Everything seems less intense that way.
Have you ever watched the activity around the an ant hill? You wonder “What’s all this scurrying about? These guys are so frantic, they’re going to get an ulcer if they don’t slow down a little.”
To me, the opposite of frivolous is stressed out. Obviously a person in that condition is taking it all too seriously.
I don’t always remember that I’m a Frivolous Being, but after suffering a lapse, I try to get back in the right frame of mind.
A Frivolous Being does not: 1) worry about money, 2) worry about what the neighbors think, 3) get on the scales every day and adjust eating accordingly, 4) take life too seriously.
In fact, frivolity is basically a war against seriousness.
When I want to know whether something is right or wrong I ask myself whether people are happy about it or serious. Running, for instance. Running is serious. Have you ever seen a runner smile? Health nuts are serious. Very religious people are serious.
It may not be possible to become totally frivolous, but it’s a worthy goal.


by Ruth Minshull

When you have known someone for well over thirty years and you see that person almost daily, there are bound to be occasions when you don’t get along perfectly.
So it is with Ed and me. We’ve been friends so long that it’s hard to remember when we didn’t know each other. Generally, I would say, we have one of the smoothest relationships alive.
However, there have been certain times when we have disagreed more or less seriously. Such disputes have never lasted too long. They have ranged all the way from serious differences to rather superficial natterings. Quite often they have veered off into what we call creative fighting. This usually happens while we’re preparing dinner. Not because of our activities in the kitchen, but because–like most creatures–we get mean when we’re hungry. One of us will snap at the other, the other will snap back. And we’re off.
Pretty soon we’re exchanging nasty remarks. At the next level of argument, we become creatively nasty. Usually, when we’re on a roll, we end up laughing–as do any spectators around.
Anyway, we’ve never taken our squabbles too seriously. Offhand, I can’t even remember most of the things we ever argued about. They must have had no lasting importance.
One snappy exchange, however, has remained in my mind for years. I had a new cleaning woman coming, so the evening before I was picking up things around the house and putting them away. I guess I asked him to help, or to take away something of his. In what I thought was a rather snide manner, he said, “Oh, you’re cleaning the house for the cleaning woman, huh?”
This annoyed me so much that I lashed out at him. “I’m putting things away because I want the place neat as well as clean. Since she doesn’t know where anything belongs, I don’t want to spend a week trying to find everything again. I’m not cleaning the house, and I resent your using such a goddamn cliché on me.”
He looked stricken–as if I had smashed him in the face. And it was the last time he ever made fun of me for tidying up.
As I thought about it later, I was a little surprised. In the spirit of an argument, I had denounced him countless ways over the years. There were moments of cruelty, but my words were usually just rubber balls that bounced off him leaving no bruises. Why did this rumpus affect him so strongly?
Later I realized why–and I’ve never forgotten it. I could have accused him of being a slob, a bigot, a bum, a clod. I probably have. But they all rolled right on by, leaving him unscathed and unchanged. But accusing him of using a cliché–this crushed him.
It was then that I knew–no matter how much he protested, no matter how long it took for him to take full advantage of it–he had the soul of a writer.
Because nothing would cut more deeply into the thin skin of a writer than to be charged with the creation of a cliché.

(c) 2015 Ruth Minshull

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Ruth Minshull

Today I was wishing that I didn’t always feel driven to do something. Driven to work on the site. Driven to write a piece. Driven to do some exercising. Driven to keep up with all the day-to-day mundane tasks.
I asked the stillness of the morning: Won’t there ever come a time when I can wake up and find that there is simply nothing to do? .
I would have every choice in the world. I could do nothing. I could do anything. I could take the blank canvas of the day and paint it with any picture I wished.
Would I paint my day with bustling comings and goings, people entering and leaving in a blur of activity, phones ringing, beeping, chirping and tinkling melodically?
Would this artificial “action” make me feel that I was living life in the fast lane?
I think not.
I believe we all create our days-our lives-just the way we want them to be. Just enough action, just enough noise, just enough quiet, just enough players in the scene, just enough drama to satisfy, just enough difficulty to require a bit of fretting, just enough outrageousness to witness and cluck over. Enough good to enrich us; enough evil to astound us.

If I could wake up and paint the canvas of the day just the way I wanted it, I would do just what I’m doing right now. Work a little, write a little, loaf a little. Mewl and grouse a little.

And feel fortunate that I’m alive to experience all this
© Ruth Minshull 2013.

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Spring Fever


Spring Fever is a commonly recognized malady that manifests itself differently in each of us.

It usually occurs somewhere near the first day we can go outside without a coat. A balmy sort of day with sparkling sunshine and a gentle breeze.
It’s the kind of a day when students want to skip school, workers want to call in sick. Homeowners want to start planting flowers, though it’s much too soon.

It’s the kind of day when people want to fly a kite, stroll along the beach, play ball in the park, buy a new hat.

The main thing about Spring Fever is that it makes us vaguely restless. We want to be doing something different. We sense that we’re missing out (on some unnamed something). We want to play hooky from real life. Maybe sail around the world or learn to fly an airplane.

I’m not sure how people in the south celebrate Spring Fever. There isn’t that much difference in the weather. I was in northern Florida when spring arrived this year, and I didn’t even know it. One day I noticed that there were azalea bushes blooming everywhere. Then I heard a couple of morning TV hosts saying something about winter being over. What winter? I wondered. I guess I missed it. Must have slept in that day.

For me, I usually take long rides and short walks, exploring the countryside, discovering new places–taking in the smells and soaking up the gentle warmth.

I always have a strong urge to run away. This is accompanied by a nagging, guilty feeling that I should be cleaning out closets and beating mattresses–but so far I’ve always summoned the strength to fight off such sickness.

I go play somewhere instead.

(c) Ruth Minshull 2014

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by Ruth Minshull

We never really know people until we spend time together under the same roof, until we see them when they wake up in the morning, until we watch the news together, share a few meals, walk to our favorite places with them.

There may be countless acquaintances (or even public figures) that we assume would be enjoyable companions or spouses. But we don’t know this, because we haven’t lived with them. We see them only on their “good behavior” and (in our imagination) we may add intriguing depths beneath the veneer of their “company manners.”

But sharing our personal space with them dissolves the mystique. We discover their true character and whether or not it is compatible with our own.

This week I spent three days with an older relative who came for a visit. I have never been with him for more than a few hours at a time. He lived in the same town I did when I was young, so he was someone who stopped by often, would chat with the folks for a few minutes and leave. Sometimes he would take us all for a ride. But we had never lived under the same roof and he had never before been a guest in my house.

My lifelong impression of him is as a good-natured, decent soul who seemed to maintain a child-like wonder about life. He has loved trains since early childhood. He spent his entire working life on the railroad–as a fireman, then an engineer. Even now, at the age of 88, one of his favorite forms of evening entertainment, is to drive to the nearest railroad crossing, wait for a train to come, watch it go by, and return home. (To me this is only slightly more exciting than standing in the Laundromat and watching the washing machines run.)

I’ve always liked this man, although I have guessed that he is not a person of towering intellect. Only by living in the same house with him have I learned to know him well.

To my amazement, I discovered that a very short visit was enough. In that time I could learn all there really is to know about him. I would hear his repertoire of stories and anecdotes, his philosophical commentaries, his collection of colloquialisms, his litany of fatuous clichés.

In less than three hours I could hear it all. From then on it becomes excruciatingly, boringly, exhaustively redundant.

If forced to spend much more time with him, I would feel that I was being severely punished.

To a thinking person, there can be no greater cruelty than having to maintain a facade of polite interest in the company of a stupid, shallow, utterly predictable bore.

Of course, my relative is still the good-natured, decent soul with a child-like wonder about life.

But he is also so much more–of so much less.

I thought about what’s required for a good marriage.

Well, for starters, the couple must be on similar mental and spiritual wavelengths. Too much disparity in intellect leaves both people very lonely.

Neither person should be trying to manipulate the other.

They must grant each other space–to be in, to grow in, to change in.

Most important of all, they must not bore the hell out of each other.

© Ruth Minshull 2014



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Color Me Cherry

                                               COLOR ME CHERRY

                                                     by Ruth Minshull

            A while ago I was looking at an elegant raincoat in a mail order catalog.  It was available in Natural and Mallard.  Mallard?

            This was a new one to me.  There was no accompanying picture, no further description, just the name Mallard.

            Now, all the mallards I know have several colors.  The moms are mottled brown with a small band of blue on the edge of the wing.  The dads, of course, are more colorful.  They have a deep green head, a white neckband, a rusty breast, brown back and a white tummy and the same band of blue on the wing.  So what color is mallard?  Pretty sloppy merchandising, I thought.

            Some time later I received another catalog from the same company.  Again it had the ambiguous mallard-colored coat.  This time, however, my curiosity kept me hunting for the answer.  Finally I found a dress that came in mallard.  According to the picture it was teal green.  Some bored copywriter got tired of that color description and decided to switch ducks.

            Actually, it’s just as inappropriate, since the teal has only a bit of green on the wings and the rest is brown and white and speckled and such.

            But, the thing is, we’ve agreed that a certain color is teal blue or teal green.

            We’ve also agreed that lime green is a soft color not quite aqua, but nothing like the rather sharp yellow green of the fruit.

            Dove gray is another example of the sheltered lives these writers live.  Real doves are kind of brownish, not the pale gray that bears their name.

            We’ve all agreed that the color violet is light purple, but the flower comes in dozens of colors.

            There’s a certain shade we call wine and yet the drink comes in myriad varieties.

            There are dozens of colors, old and new, that have no relationship to their namesakes.

            But we’re good sports and go along with it.  We buy almond washers, nutmeg dresses, persimmon pillows and mushroom rugs. 

            Maybe we should feel sorry for those poor writers locked up in their fluorescent-lighted, air-conditioned prisons, probably on the 30th floor office of some NY ad agency.

            They may have never seen a dove, or a mallard or a persimmon.

            No doubt, they are often hungry, as suggested by the abundance of food names they use:  we have nutmeg and cinnamon and sage, pomegranate, apple green, peach, avocado, chocolate brown, pumpkin, watermelon and just plain melon.  Then there’s lemon and ginger, champagne and brandy, cherry, blueberry, raspberry and on and on.

            Wow!  There’s almost enough for a meal here.

©  Ruth Minshull 2014

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Filling the Holes



Ruth Minshull

A few years ago I was working an acrostic puzzle when I was stumped.  Only after I had filled in all the surrounding words did I discover that the one I needed was “piñata.”  “Well, who on earth would know that?” I asked of the world at large.

“I do,” my friend Ed said.

“I do,” my older son said.

“I do,” my younger son said.

I was stupefied.  How could I have lived all those years without encountering the word?  How could everyone else around me know the word when I didn’t?

This wasn’t the first time I discovered a word that was totally new to me.  Even more often I had found that a word had a different meaning than I thought it did.

A friend of mine, a college professor (of linguistics), used the word “debacle” to describe the serious situation a mutual friend was in.  I pondered that for a time.  To me, “debacle” meant a fiasco.  The word seemed far too lightweight to use about a person who was facing prosecution and prison (as was our friend).  When I had a chance to look it up, I found that the primary meaning was downfall or disaster.  Fiasco was a secondary meaning.

Amazing.  Another word I hadn’t fully understood.

I had another learning experience with the word “enormity” which I thought always referred to size.  It turns out that old man Webster considers size as a poor second use of the word.  The primary meaning is “great wickedness.”

Once again I was astonished to find that I didn’t know.

Many times in my life I have discovered these strange holes in my knowledge.  They’re missing files in my data bank.

The most befuddling aspect is that I not only didn’t know, but I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

I understand very little about the field of astronomy, so it would be no surprise to me if I encountered a whole passel of unknown words in that field.  This would never bother me.  I wouldn’t expect anything else.

But to find that there’s some common word that I don’t even have a nodding acquaintance with (which practically everyone else seems to know on a first name basis) —now that leaves me aghast, astounded, taken aback, confounded and discombobulated.

How could this happen?  This gaping hole?  It wouldn’t be so hard on me if I had merely learned that I didn’t know something, but when it is common knowledge to practically everyone else—that’s when it spins me for a loop.

Did I miss school the day that word was introduced?  Was that page missing from my dictionary?

The only consolation is that it happens to others.  A friend of mine knows practically everything.  He’s a walking encyclopedia who soaks up facts like a giant vacuum.  He’s our go-to guy for any information on any subject.  The other day he discovered that he had never known that “dairy” and “diary” were spelled differently.  He was mortified and chagrined.  He couldn’t believe that this fact had successfully eluded him all of his life.  It was obviously humbling to one so knowledgeable.

He and I are not the only ones, however.  I hear people giving speeches and interviews who mispronounce words or select the wrong word.  It’s no longer much of a surprise to me.

English is a complex language.  We spend out entire lives trying to learn it.  Even then we all encounter the occasional hole, one that appears to be filled.  But it’s waiting there—a sneaky trap—ready for us to fall into and emerge with our egos battered and bruised.

Humbled once again.

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