I Should Have Known Better

I should have known better. I really should. I’ve been this way for 54 years and I should have known better: I am not a joiner. I don’t like clubs, committees, coffee clatches, or consciousness-raising groups. So why, o why, did I say yes when I was asked to join a group of women who were starting a do-gooder “peer” group here on Long Island? Why? Especially since they meet on Thursday night and that’s the night I watch Survivor with Top Cat (are we bad people because we like Russel the Villain?).

So I met with the ladies, a group of six or seven (not counting me) of 2 retired teachers,  2 social workers (one is still an psychotherapist in private practice) , a lawyer, and an HR professional, and I listened to them talk for an hour and 45 minutes about how they kinda wanted to do something “empowering” for women, either locally or not, either through fund raising or not, but they were sure (after much, too much discussion) that whatever they got off their asses and did it  had to be about “social entrepreneurism” (whatever that is, nobody could say) which may or may not be “therapy based” but it had to be done with “loving kindness”. 

Now, you might think this was their first get-together and they were still hashing out an agenda, or a focus, or a point to their group; but no, it was the fourth time they had gotten together and they still hadn’t figured out what they were doing. But I floated the idea that we might want to connect with a woman’s veteran association on Long Island to help with Iran/Afghanistan female vets and nobody said no, so I said that I’d bring them some info about that to the next meeting.

I left that meeting with a stomach ache, and then I had a headache for two days. Because  I spent the next  morning researching the lack of  support systems for returning Iraq-Afghanistan female armed services veterans in our county, and I contacted a wonderful organization in Manhattan and had a conversation with their Outreach Director about how a group of “active” and “caring” Long Island retired professionals could help setting up their program in Nassau County. The Outreach Director was very eager to meet with us to discuss how we could be of service, so then I emailed all the ladies and asked if we wanted to invite the Outreach Director to join us for our next meeting to get an idea of how the goals and needs of their organization might mesh with the group’s desire and willingness to find some worthy cause.

Of course, nobody in the group wanted do this; they want to talk some more, at the next meeting, about what they kinda want to do.  It seems that all we had decided to do at that last meeting  was to meet again to talk some more amongst ourselves.  And with me actually forging ahead and bringing in some concrete ideas, I was also told that I was not respecting the group dynamic.

I should have known better. I should have known the first  time I heard someone in the group say the word “empowerment” that this was not going to work out (and that talk about “loving kindness” should have set my head on fire); I should have known when someone (the lawyer) brought up the idea that our group of do-gooders could put on some kind of theatrical event —  of course, the Vagina Monologues were discussed — I should have known that I was not their kind of gal. When the suspicion that this was all going to be a huge waste of my time started to make my stomach ache, I should have cut my loses and bid them good riddance and driven straight  home in time to see who got voted off of Survivor.

I simply should have listened to my gut. But better late then never; I wrote the ladies a scathing letter about their “group dynamic” and all of a sudden, my two-day headache went away! I didn’t email the letter of course — it’s sitting in my Draft file, poised for launch – but just getting them out of my system made me feel ten years younger, and happy, and free. Talk about empowerment!  I promise myself that, if there ever is a next time, I will know better.

Now, on to the art:

Do you now why March is the most fun month to paint ? Even though, really, we all know it’s a deadly dismal month when all we want to do for the next 31 days is stay in bed and have servants bring us grilled cheese sandwiches on pumpernickle bread three times a day while we watch Bravo TV reruns and buy every Trifari crown pin from eBay?

It’s because when I paint March, I get to use one of my most fun tools. I get to use my toothbrush.

March snow is cruddy. And  the way to capture that crud is to first paint your scene with pure, white (blue in the shadows) snow. Then you rip up scrap paper and cover the parts of your painting that is not snow. (You don’t have to tape the covering down. Just leave the snowy bits uncovered.)

Then you get out your toothbrush. Me, I use a special-purpose painting toothbrush, but if you want to use your daily dental hygiene toothbrush I will not judge you. Although I wouldn’t recommend it. And of course I’m lying: I will totally judge you to be a moron  if you use your daily dental hygiene toothbrush! Ewwwww!

Dip your toothbrush in a watery solution of dirt-brown paint. Then, using your thumb, flick the bristles of the toothbrush so that it sprays little droplets of crud-colored paint onto your snow.

You might want to practice the technique befroe you aim your toothbrush at your painting — there’s no way to fix a picture that’s been badly splattered with toothbrush flotsam. And that’s what makes it so fun!  Because no matter how many times you practice, there is still an enormous element of chance with this technique, so you never know if you’re making your painting look gorgeously smack-dabbingly authentically March-like or if you’re ruining it!


I didn’t have a good dream this weekend (just the usual recurring one about me walking in my old junior high school trying to find my way out but, in my dream, it’s become maze-like and is flooded with a foot of water).  I want to wait for one of my flyingdreams, or maybe I’ll just wait for a strong case of deja-vu)  — and I hope some more of you will email me your dream pictures for our Gallery.

So, until Friday, I will  leave you with the news that it got up to 58 degrees here on Long Island(!!) and I am so tired of looking at the snow in the backyard that I went out this morning and moved the last big pile of it into the sunshine. Meaning, I shoveled snow from the shady side of the yard into the sunny side, and as of 5:30 PM on Sunday night, most of it was gone.

Of course, all the backyard cats were out there, sun bathing and watching me shovel snow (not one of them lifted a paw to help) so that’s how I got these pictures of Butter squeezing in and out of the Rabbit Hole (the hole that Top Cat knocked out of the side of the house so that all the backyard cats have access to our basement, and all their downy cozy kitty beds and their three-squares a day).


7 comments to I Should Have Known Better

  • Deborah

    Oh, Vivian! My stomach tightening into knots just reading about the group meeting. I’ve had a similar experience, complete with being told I’m not group-dynamic compliant — too many years of having to do it myself to realize that I was being offensively pro-active.

    But your project idea sounds wonderful, and I hope you’ll find a way to pursue it. I have students who are female veterans.

    And splattering feels very therapeutic, even though one of the joys of living in the Louisville area is a dearth of dirty snow — daffodils are in bud now.

  • Sally

    Oh, Vivian, think of the joy you have brought to the lives of the ladies in this group! ;-) They will get to gossip about you for weeks, and get terrific mileage from your disrespect for their (I can hardly type the words) group dynamic. Your admirable idea for what the group could do certainly revealed them for what they are.

    And thank you, I am reminded to pack a toothbrush as I go off to my watercolor class today. I think all the splatter we have done in that class is white snow, and I wanted to show my students something that could well do with a little dark paint spatter…

  • I second Sally’s comments..You have certainly set a fire in that well-meaning/non-doing group of people.I remember after I got drummed out of my only book group, members told me they were still talking about me years later.
    We finally got some snow, fresh and white for about another hour before the Big Toothbrush in the sky starts its work. Thanks for showing me that even March is worth observing. Otherwise I would go back to bed for the rest of the year.

  • Kim

    Thanks, Vivian, for articulating what all we “non-joiners” feel and observe. Here’s to all the “NJ’s” (Ninjas?) who walk amongst us; with you being the Head Ninja!

  • Elise

    And I thought I was the only one in the world who did not want to be in a group! What does one do to politely refuse these requests? While an NJ,I also find myself flattered to be asked. Wierd, huh? Perhaps the Queen NJ Ms. Vivian could devise a polite response for us other NJs to use. Thank you, Elise

  • Dovey Foster

    My favorite NJ response – vague but firm:

    “Oh I would love to, but I’m afraid it’s just impossible. Thank you so much for asking”

    Never ever give reasons for refusing because 1) you don’t want them to try to accomodate you by changing the meeting date or some such and 2) you don’t want to be told your reason isn’t adequate when “it’s such a good cause”.

  • Even the “99′s” – Women PILOTS, f’gawd’s sake – were like that. Shouldn’t it be different? But they just wanted the MEETING. Not any DOING. Yikes.
    (I think there’s a Meeting Lovers Gene that missed some of us. T.G.)
    Vivian – the format, the drawings, the miniscule chapters – are cool and inspiring. (Especially since I share your age, travel, Africa – totally speaks to me.) Thank you!

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