Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems.

Leave a comment >

At my parents’ dinner table one night, my brother updates us on his health:

John: “They don’t think it’s rheumatory arthritis anymore.”
Mom: “What do they think it is?”
John: “Possibly psoriatic.”
Mom: “What kind?”
John: “Psoriatic.”
Mom: “No, what came before that?”
Me: “He said possibly psoriatic, Mom.”
Mom: “Oh…I thought he said something about a ‘possum.”
Dad: “Me, too.” <adjusts hearing aid>
Mom: “I’m sorry, honey. So, you were saying that now they think it’s psoriatic…”
John: <brilliant deadpan> “Possumly.”

Leave a comment

Help Desk: Conspiracy

HD: “Help Desk.”

Caller: “Hey, I just got this error message that says ‘Something went wrong.'”

HD: “Can you be more specific than that?”

Caller: “Uh, no. That’s exactly what the error message says: ‘Something went wrong.”

HD: “Can you replicate the error?”

Caller: “How can I replicate the error if I don’t know what it was?”

HD: “Look, don’t get testy with ME! I didn’t make the error.”

Caller: “I’m not sure I did either.”

HD: “Well, you’re the one with the error message.”

Caller: “Ha! But it doesn’t say I made the error. It Just said that something went wrong. Passive voice. I might not have made the error at all.”

HD: “What are you talking about? Of course you made the error!”

Caller: “No, no. See: People use passive voice when they’re trying to shift blame or hide something. So I think SharePoint made an error and is trying to blame ME!”

HD: “That’s insane. Passive voice is used all over every Microsoft error message.”

Caller: <pause> “I rest my case.”

HD: “Oh, so now you’re saying that Microsoft blames you for everything, even though it’s actually at fault itself?”

Caller: “No, that’s NOT–…Well, maybe. I mean, think about it…”

HD: “Oh, wait! That’s my other line. Gotta go!”

Caller: “Hey! HEY!” <dial tone> “He hung up on me.”

HD: <answering second line> “Help Desk.”

Caller: “Yeah, hi. I just got this error message that says ‘Something went wrong.'”

HD: “Oh, no…”

Caller: “I know, right? I think it’s a conspiracy.”

HD: “There’s two of you.”

Caller: “I mean, people only use passive voice if they’re involved in a conspiracy, right?”

Leave a comment >

From the kick-off meeting for a client work group:

<JG introduces himself and explains his role to the group.>

JG: “I represent Corporate Communications.” <glances around the room; then, deadpan> “And I represent The Men.”

<Roomful of women laughs.>

JG: <more seriously> “I’m not directly on this project, but I’m managing the Media Center project, which another vendor will be building for us. I’m here so I can listen and take things back.”

TW: <chortling a little> “To The Men?”

JG: <again, deadpan> “What?! We have meetings, too, you know!”

Leave a comment

Bodhi TV

Bodhi: <from the dining room> “OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!!!”

Me: <running to him, clutching my chest> *gasp* “What is it, Bodhi? Are you OK?…Oh, for the love…”

Rabbit: <outside the dining room door> “Huh. What a weird place to put a TV.” <sits down facing the door and nibbles a nearby weed>

Me: “…it’s a BUNNY! I thought the world was ending. You scared me half to death!”

Rabbit:  <perks up his ears and leans closer to the door> “It’s a show about rabbits! How cool is that?!”


Rabbit: <gasping> “It’s…it’s a horror show about rabbits!”

Me: “Stop shouting. And, no: I’m not letting you out.”

Rabbit: <sniffling> “My hero!”

Me: “While I understand that ground rabbit meat is on the menu, the stuff I feed you is farmed, not nasty wild rabbit — which is probably riddled with parasites and disease.”

Rabbit: <huffing> “Well! A horror show written by haters! Bad TV!” <hops off nonchalantly>

Bodhi: <wailing> “It got awaaaaayyyyy!!!”

Me: <looking out at the departing fluffy tail> “He doesn’t seem in any big hurry. What was he mumbling about out there, anyway? Pretty cocky, sitting that close to the door with you carrying on in here…”

Seriously. It just sat there, watching us through the glass and chewing a weed, while Bodhi barked his fool head off.  I might need to check out that weed…

Photo of little brown bunny

Image by David Solce:

Leave a comment >

Conversation before getting a massage. Except there was more laughing. 

Friend: “Wasn’t that tilapia the other night amazing?”

Me: “Oh, man! I couldn’t stop eating it.”

Friend: “I don’t know what they do to it. It’s like crack!”

Me: “Oh, I know what it is. It’s that damned brown butter. You could put that stuff on toe, and I’d be chowing down on it.”

Friend: “Did you just say ‘toe?'”

Me: “Yeah, I’d be all <nom-nom-nom>, and you’d be like, ‘What’s that?’ and I’d say, ‘Toe.’ and you’d go, ‘Ew!’ and I’d say, ‘Smothered in brown butter.’ and you’d go, ‘Can I have some?’ and I’d share my brown-butter toe with you. Because you’re my friend. And  I love you.”

Friend: <pause> “Where do you go…y’know…when that happens?”

Me: <thinking> “Not sure. But it’s not as far as you might think.”

Leave a comment >

Quinn-Sensei <demonstrating, with Chris taking ukemi>: “You want to get their hand and expose their wrist so that they…”

Chris wickedly doesn’t go down, preventing Quinn from finishing his instructions.

Quinn <twisting harder>: “Hey! I said so that they…”

Chris smirks and subtly messes with Quinn’s defense.

Quinn <breathing in and finishing the move — and his sentence> “…don’t have anywhere to go but down.”

Quinn pauses, signals Chris to stand up again. Chris complies.

Quinn: “So, again…get their wrist exposed and turn them…”

Chris <shouts & drops, laughing>: “OK, you got me that time.” <shakes his hand to stop the tingling>

Doug <raising his hand from the sideline>: “Sensei, I don’t think I quite got that. Can you do it again?”

Quinn: “Sure. You’re with me.”

Doug <opens & shuts his mouth, smirk sliding from his face>: “OK, that didn’t go as planned…”

Leave a comment >

First, a bit of background, from the dojo handbook:

“Ukemi: Techniques of falling. The art of protecting oneself from injury.”


Joe-Sensei: “OK, so I want you to stay loose. Uke can do anything they want to you. You have to stay loose to be responsive.”

Doug knits his brow, opens his mouth, then shuts it again.

Joe: “Doug, you have a question?”

Doug: “I was just thinking it’s like marriage. You never know when they’re gonna attack, or why. They just come right at you, and you have to figure out how to roll with it to keep from getting clobbered.”

Class laughs.

Doug: <shifting a little uncomfortably> “Katie would kill me…”

Joe: <not missing a beat> “OK, everyone! Marriage ukemi. Go!”

Leave a comment

The Vinegar Tasters

Frank and I face off. I move quickly toward him, a wooden practice knife — or, tanto — gripped firmly in my right hand. At the last moment before I enter Frank’s space, I playfully switch the tanto to my left hand and jab him lightly in the ribs, throwing off his defense and forcing him to adapt his technique. Frank laughs and smiles that brilliant, open smile of his. “Thank you!” he exclaims, with a twinkle in his eye. He has accepted what was given him and learned something from the exchange.

For about a year, I trained in aikido, a Japanese martial art brought to this country back in the 1970s by a man named Mitsugi Saotome. Aikido was appealing to me on a number of levels, but it was how my fellow dojo-members — especially my teachers — responded to the practice that made it feel somehow right for me.

When the technique’s essence is captured, and the uke (attacker) finds him- or herself hitting the mat, there is almost always a smile, a laugh, a congratulatory “Yes!” or “Nice!” to the nage (defender). The energy in the room was light, playful, happy. And, yet, we were engaged in attack and defense.

As I trained over those months, I had this funny, nagging bit of memory knocking at the back of my brain every time someone fell to the ground with a smile or a laugh. It finally broke through: The Three Vinegar Tasters.

The Three Vinegar Tasters is a painting that comes from Eastern tradition and its story goes something like this: Confucius, Buddha, and Lao Tzu are pictured around a vat of vinegar, which represents life. Each of the men has dipped his finger into the vat and tasted the vinegar, and his facial expression reflects the nature of his philosophy about life. Confucius wears a sour expression; Buddha’s grimace is bitter. Lao Tzu, however, smiles with an expression of “Ah, yes!” And why shouldn’t he?

Life is, after all, perfectly itself.

In my observations, martial artists can also be vinegar tasters. Certainly, some wear sour expressions as they practice. Some look angry or bitter. Many look as though the practice is a strain. But I somehow landed in with the smilers. So, in addition to feeling (especially on some Saturday mornings) like I’d just walked into a roomful of rowdy brothers, a pile of squirmy puppies, or a gang of otters at play, I also associated my dojo-mates’ smiles as they tumbled and rolled with the smile of Lao Tzu. There was an “Ah, yes!” expression on their faces as they learned from the energy they exchanged with one another. Any why wouldn’t there be?

That energy — attacking, defending, moving in agreement — is perfectly itself.

These are a few of the moments I captured and recorded after our Saturday morning training sessions. These people made me laugh, made me bruise, and brought me back into myself at a time when I felt so very, very lost. I am grateful to them all.

Leave a comment

Bodhi Makes a Tactical Error

Bodhi: <from the dining room> “Huh. That’s weird.”

Coyote: <from cushion in living room>: “What’s that?”

Bodhi: “Usually when Mom gets mad, she puts us outside. This time, she put me inside.”

Coyote: “What did you do?”

Bodhi: “I don’t know. We were playing ball, and then Mom was doing something, and I went over and laid down to wait.”

Coyote: “OK…”

Bodhi: “And I love my ball. It’s so green and bouncy and-…”

Coyote: “Right, right. You love your ball. But what were you DOING?”

Bodhi: “So I rolled in it, and Mom said something I didn’t really understand-…”

Coyote: “It’s probably just as well.”

Bodhi: “Hey! I think one of the words rhymed with that!”

Coyote: “And, when you started rolling, where were you lying?”

Bodhi: <sighing happily> “Over in the corner. The yummy-smelling corner…”

Coyote: “Where Mom grows her strawberries.”

Bodhi: “That’s the one! They smell so sweet and yummy when you crush them against your fur.”

Coyote: “And then she sent you inside.”

Bodhi: “No, then she picked up the ball and threw it.”

Coyote: “I don’t get it. What happened? Did you chase it?”

Bodhi: “No, I kinda lost track of it. I got distracted for a second.”

Coyote: “By…?”

Bodhi: “Well, I went to chase it, and there was this HUGE bowl of strawberries sitting there, and-…”

Coyote: <rolling her eyes> “Let me guess: You shoved your whole head into it and started eating.”

Bodhi: “YES!” <pause; then, in an awed voice> “How did you know? It’s like…you’re magic!”

Coyote: “OK, so. Some parting words of wisdom for you. First: Leave the strawberries alone.”

Bodhi: “OK.”

Coyote: “Second: Leave the strawberries alone.”

Bodhi: <cocking his head, unsure> “Those sound really similar.”

Coyote: “You noticed that, huh?”

Bodhi: <wagging proudly> “I did!”

Coyote: “You might actually survive a couple of weeks after I’m gone. Now, come over here. I’m too tired to get up and kiss your foolish head.”

Bowl of ripe strawberries

Leave a comment

A Walk in the Fading Sun

On a walk in July…

Me: “I used to bring you and Sachi here to run sometimes.”

Coyote: <sniffing deeply at something in the grass> “Mmmhmm.”

Me: <continuing> “Well, I did, once I could trust you off-leash.” <pause, reminiscing> “It always amazed me how consistent you were, coming when I called, especially since in the beginning you spent so much time and energy trying to escape.”

Coyote: <pausing in her sniffing to glance up and ponder> “Well, I knew it was a bargain, and I had to keep my end of it. You’d let me off the leash, but only if I came back when you called. You made that pretty clear.”

Me: “Yeah, but Sachi wasn’t always that consistent.”

Coyote: “Sachi didn’t come from where I came from. She had a very different history. I was awed and touched by your generosity and trust.”

<I break down.>

Coyote: <looking up sharply from her sniffing> “What are you doing?” <I can’t answer.> “Oh no-no-no! No you don’t! Stop it. No crying. Not on a day like this. Look at how beautiful the sky is! Listen to the birds! Use that weak, generally useless nose of yours to sniff the breeze! NO. CRYING.”

Me: <finding my voice> “The weather is turning.”

Coyote: “It is.”

Me: “And you said you didn’t want to stay for the heat and humidity.”

Coyote: <exasperated now> “I don’t. But I’m not gone yet! And today is too beautiful to waste a single tear on it. Celebrate today, Mom. Just stay here with me, now.”

Me: <kneeling down to her level> “I just hate that you’re leaving us. I don’t know what we’ll do without you. You keep us grounded.”

Coyote: <her tone softening> “I told you: I’m not going anywhere. I’m just shedding this sick, old body. I’ll be right there with you and Bodhi until it’s time for the two of you to cross over. Then I’ll be there to guide you. Now, c’mon.”

Me: <trying to pull myself together> “I’ll miss how soft and thick your fur is. I’ll miss your velvety ears. I’ll miss the freckles on your pointy little nose.” <kissing her nose>

<Coyote leans in to kiss the tip of my nose, as she sometimes does, then suddenly stops and turns her head.>

Me: “What? No kiss?”

Coyote: “I’m SO not kissing that! It’s all drippy.”

Me: <tearing up again> “Dammit.”

Coyote: <huffing> “What now?”

Me: “I’m even going to miss the snark.”

Coyote: <returning to her sniffing> “Good. If you had any idea how long it took to perfect that… You might be a blubbering fool, but at least you appreciate art.”

Coyote walks in the field.