My oldest brother, on the right in this picture, died in his sleep on Friday, April 29, 2016. He was 84. It was a peaceful passing. (My brother Lee is on the left in the photo.) After escaping our violent birth-family as a teenager, Doug was free to create a good life for himself, and he certainly made the best of that opportunity. Ironically, though, along with his three brothers—me included—his initial ticket to a “safer” and happier existence turned out to be a career in the military.
After his service in the army, Doug made a happy marriage that lasted for well over 50 years. His four children, two girls, two boys, turned out well. Doug was a happy man and had a great sense of humor. He was healthy right up to the end. And he was a lucky man, too, in other ways—lucky to be loved by his extended family and a wide range of friends, many of whom dated from his Korean War days in the 1950’s.
It’s not surprising that in many ways, with the exception of marriage, Brother Doug was a roll-model for me. He still is. Doug left this life the way I’d like to go—in bed, asleep, oblivious. A few days after I got the news of Doug’s death, this thought popped into my head: Except for the dreams we have nightly, I believe that deep and contented sleep is the ideal practice for a good death.
Thanksgiving Day, 1975
If you have a “selfie” from a date earlier than 11/27/75—and I’m sure they must be scads and scads and scads of them out there—please share it with Doodlemeister.com readers. We need to find out who really “invented” the conceit, or at least locate the individual who sort of came up with the idea—or concept—or whatever. Send your entry to: email@example.com
Other People’s Teeth
By Susan Middaugh
But for me, it’s teeth. Capped, gold plated or stained with nicotine, the condition of your teeth tells me whether you care about and take care of yourself. There’s probably a correlation between family income, dental insurance and a million-dollar smile. But sometimes there’s a disconnect which makes me scratch my head.
A successful career woman I know has three single-family homes, one for Monday through Friday and two for weekends and vacations. She has spent a considerable sum remodeling and decorating these houses and is a gracious hostess. But she has crooked teeth. To me, her mouth is a puzzle – on a par with crosswords, anagrams, and Rubik’s cubes. The contradiction is intriguing and makes her more interesting. Why has this woman neglected her appearance when she can afford to get braces? I was embarrassed to ask.
So I went to the library. It seems the career woman’s priorities are in sync with many Americans. In the year 2000, according to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, consumers spent an average of one thousand five hundred forty-nine dollars on household furnishings and equipment compared to spending two hundred and four dollars per capita on dental services.
My own dentist believes fear, bordering on phobia, prevents many patients — at least one out of five or more — from having procedures that would improve their appearance and/or their dental health. Some men and women are terrified of pain or needles. Others simply have different priorities for their discretionary income. Expensive cars? Yes. Crowns, bridgework? Not on the list. And there are also those, my dentist said, who are “blissfully unaware of how they appear to other people.”
President George Washington, who suffered from dental disease most of his life, was not one of them. He must have known the colonists would not elect a guy who had broken or missing teeth. Over a 40-year period, George Washington had four sets of dentures and was known to tinker with them till they fit properly. Our first President’s dentures were not made of wood, but of cattle teeth and carved ivory. The ivory came from hippopotamus, walrus and elephants. One set of George’s dentures contained eight human teeth which were fixed in place with gold pins. The museum does not say who the donor was.
Is this fascination with teeth apt to become a trend like hoola hoops, miniskirts or “Survivor” mania? Doubtful. During a Sunday afternoon trip to the Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry in downtown Baltimore, I was the only visitor.
Copyright © 2012 Susan Middaugh.
Susan Middaugh got her first and only set of braces when she was in her 40’s. She is a self-employed business writer in Baltimore who also writes the occasional personal essay. Her essays have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Baltimore Sun and on the website New-Works.org. Susan is also a playwright with short and full length works produced in the United States, Canada and England. The One Act Play Depot in Canada has published her short play, Such Good Neighbors. Several of her personal essays have appeared on this blog. To find them, simply type her name in the little search window, or check out the archives in the sidebar, beginning in April of 2009. Also in the sidebar under the Blogroll, Business and Writing labels, there are links to Susan’s website, Have Pen Will Travel.
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Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 8
Interviewed by Lloyd Richards
By eighteen, by the time I went to university, I knew that somehow my life was going to be about putting words on paper. Originally I thought I was going to write the great South African novel, then poetry, and only when I was twenty-four or five did the thought of theater come into my head. That obviously relates to my meeting my wife Sheila, who, when I met her, was an out-of-work actress.
I can’t think of a single one of my plays that does not represent a coincidence between an external and an internal event. Something outside of me, outside even my own life, something I read in a newspaper or witness on the street, something I see or hear, fascinates me. I see it for its dramatic potential. That external event affords me the opportunity to deal with what has been building up inside me. For example, the writing of The Bloodknot. I remember the genesis of that, even though it happened twenty-five years ago. I am singularly prone to that most human of all diseases—guilt. I’ve had my fair measure of it. But the image that generated The Bloodknot had absolutely nothing to do with the racial situation in South Africa. The seminal moment was my returning home late one night and going into the room where my brother was sleeping. My brother is a white man like myself. I looked down at him, and saw in that sleeping body and face, all his pain. Life had been very hard on him, and it was just written on his flesh. It was a scalding moment for me. I was absolutely overcome by my sense of what time had done to what I remembered as a proud and powerful body. I saw the pain: that is the seminal image in The Bloodknot.
I was trying to examine . . . . the existential guilt that I feel when another person suffers, is victimized, and I can do nothing about it. South Africa afforded me the most perfect device for examining this guilt without going into the area of the absurd as Ionesco did by giving a man a rhinoceros’s horn.
I got to know an Afrikaner in Port Elizabeth who had been committed to the struggle for decency and dignity and human rights, but who was suddenly suspected of being a police informer. His name was Piet. Piet’s story gave me a chance to deal with the fact that you cannot simply dispose of the Afrikaner as the villain in the South African situation. If that’s the only sense you have of the Afrikaner in South Africa at this moment, your thinking is too naive, and you are never really going to understand what is happening in that country. You’ll never understand how we landed in the present situation or what’s going to come out of it. The terrible and challenging thing about the Afrikaner is his complexity: he is not just bad; there’s good as well. The case of Piet Bezuidenhout occurred at a time when I was ready to put an Afrikaner—not a hero, but a survivor—up on the stage. That was my internal provocation.
If you’d like to read what people such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.
Part II of this Athol Fugard series will post next Wednesday.