Why Me? Why Write? Why Now? Why Not?

The Me is Doug Curran…Douglas M Curran…Douglas Metcalf Curran. Douglas is Celtic for “dweller by the dark stream”. Curran in Gaelic means “little spear”. And Metcalf? Scottish for “I met a calf”? Hey I don’t know! I don't have all the answers. I'm still trying to get the questions right. At least I seem to be a spear fisher by some dirty water. Or maybe I'm a Druid. And that Curran thing may not even be as Irish as my Irish American wife, Colleen Fitzsimmons, hoped it was when she married me. Ok, I might be a Viking. It's like this. I was reading this book, The Lion Of Ireland, see, and the author, Morgan Llewellyn, recounts a last battle between Brian Boru and the Viking invader king, to regain Irish dominance again throughout the island and kick the fureners out. The Viking king's name? Olaf Cuaran? Cuaran? Curran? I'm a Viking now, so I am? And a descendent of one of those marauding and murderous pillagers and plunderers? I've never pillaged a thing in my life...well, maybe a book or two from somebody. I'm really just a gentle giant who loves books and music. Ok, I bought a sword recently, but only as a wall decoration to enhance my Irish family history coat of arms! Honest! Viking, Schmiking, so rest my Irish soul! Or my wife will have my old bald Irish head!

August 2, 2009

Fish oil and crossword puzzles...

My chiro guy said to take more fish oil, a lot more, and that fish like anchovies and some others I can't remember right now are great Omega 3s that are supposed to be excellent brain food ...and oh yeah, a good crossword puzzle ever hurts either. So I give you a previous column I wrote when Colleen and I were fixated on puzzling and have only recently returned to this intoxicating pastime whilst she is enjoying her teacher summer vacation for a few more weeks and I'm still job hunting, not having had a vacation in years...

Always a Crossword! (My Puzzle Daze) – By Doug Curran

Now that I’m older and “wiser”, I have a lot more questions than answers. Like what is one of the ways to save your marriage from infidelity and Alzheimers?. No, it’s not watching CSI, because all those versions are starting to look like one big gross cadaver party just to keep you transfixed. No, even doing family history can bog down in the mire of correspondence and research standstills, though we are always up for filling in another family group sheet. So, my wife and I have discovered a boon that has revived many a dull evening or outing or dinner or drive, and has virtually eliminated a cross word between us – and I’m talking about…the Crossword Puzzle!

All of a sudden, we have a new interest in life and all that vast array of trivia it provides, because now we can gather it all into one little crossword puzzle and capture it and mull it over and cogitate and deliberate and scrunch our faces and furrow our brows with good reason. We are now in hot pursuit of the answers to the darnedest verbal quagmires we have encountered since trying to understand our eight kids’ first words. No this is heady stuff and we are on the verge of an addiction for which there might have to be a new 12-step recovery program! It is even starting to affect our dreams and cause us to refer back some days to word problems we couldn’t solve then and now can remember an answer for – without even having the puzzle in front of us!

I don’t know how it started exactly, that’s how sly and insidious an addiction it is. We were just into it before we knew what hit us. But now, instead of seeking the Sports page or the Food page or the TV programs or the Movies first – we go right to the crossword puzzle at night, hidden in the Classifieds in our Orem/Provo paper or on other pages sometimes, and can’t feel totally fulfilled and self-actualized until we have given it our best shot. Usually one of us starts it first, then hands it over to the other, like it is some kind of tag-team wrestling match. We can feel the pressure mount to finish it in one night, because we know there will be one waiting in the next day’s paper. And we relish the anticipation more and more. But if we really can’t finish it, or if we get lost in CSI or now NCIS lab intrigue again, trying to solve their mystery before they do, we will leave it by the tv chair in case we actually finish one and need another to keep us busy till we finish that one too .And now we’ve gone so far as to buy a book of puzzles because we can’t wait for the ones in the newspaper.

And as we build up a residue of uncompleted puzzles, we start leaving them around the house to finish, wherever we might park, like in the bathroom. But we can’t forget to keep a pen or pencil handy or it will be very frustrating just looking at it and not being able to write. And we also leave them in the car so we have one to do while we’re driving or to take with us into any restaurant we might be stopping at or into the doctor’s office. But we don’t throw them away either, because if we actually finish one, it’s a trophy – and if we can’t finish one, it’s a challenge to overcome. We actually spent our last anniversary dinner at a restaurant doing separate crosswords, because we found one in a USA today in the waiting room, in addition to the one we brought - and telling our young recently-engaged waitress that this was what she had to look forward to in aged married life.

Recently, we ate out at a little greasy spoon we had a “twofer” coupon for and just by chance found a copy of the same paper there that had the puzzle we had brought with us. This was a double bonus, because now instead of just competing with the puzzle creator, we could now also compete with each other, eating and competing, competing and eating, chomping and scrawling and trying not to cheat by looking at the other’s puzzle. This worked out pretty well, because I finished just a few squares ahead of my wife. But we did miss the conversation and the teamwork, which is half the fun. It was actually a little too quiet and pensive – yet, I didn’t mind doing it on my own too, because I didn’t have to keep asking her to repeat something or other to help her find the answer.

It’s really more difficult for me to give her my answers when she gives me verbal clues than it is to just see it, because I can play better off the other visual clues, go quickly to the Across and Down and cross references to try to solve it faster. And we start learning a lot about each other too as we do just one puzzle together. Like she will often go for the first impulse she has for an answer – and it’s usually wrong. She’s so impulsive. But she’s already written it down – in ink! So then when she gives it to me and I see a better answer, the right one of course, then it is very hard to correct it and it make a big inky mess and is usually very hard to decipher clearly. But she often sees an answer I don’t too, before I do, and it’s crazy how giddy and overjoyed we get with each other at getting it right. It’s pretty sick.

And it’s amazing how validating to my manhood it is for me to be able to finish a puzzle she just couldn’t figure out. She’ll go off to bed leaving me with the scars and wreckage of a puzzle she’s worked and worked at and fretted and fumed over for awhile. And when I go through it and correct a few mistakes and actually get it done, I like to reverently leave the completed puzzle by her nightstand as she sleeps, so she knows in the morning there was a way to finish it, and that all her iffy guesses that were giving her such frustration could actually be resolved and left without loose ends. There’s nothing more calming than that in this universe, eh? I can’t fault her for trying though, for her tenacious problem-solving attitude. But if I can make her world just a little more peaceful and coherent, I’m all over that. And she’s certainly smart enough too, with a masters degree in Special Education, and teaches classes in English and Math.

And though I have masters degrees in English and American Studies, I don’t like to seem like I’m trying to show off or show her up in any way. And I’m not trying to be smug or cocky either – much. But I might have a little more patience and unwillingness to just throw my first thought down on the page and try to make all the other words fit around it. And I might do it in a lighter pen or erasable pencil so I can clean it up before it gets so inked up it can’t even be deciphered anymore. No, I think I take a little more time, check the cross words that integrate with it, search my mind for more possible meanings, get those Acrosses and Downs working more in harmony with each other, before I commit everything I have in my mind to that page. Yeah and I’m humble too. But I can still get as frustrated as hitting a bad golf shot, which is why I don’t play golf, when I can’t figure something out, though it’s so obvious – or it’s something I’ve never heard of and I want to sue whoever put that puzzle together.

In any case, doing the crossword puzzle has been a way for Colleen and I to join forces against a common adversary rather than quibble and quarrel adversarily ourselves over the usual unimportant things. We can tax our brains to the max and practice more patience with each other when we are both dumbfounded and mystified. We’re getting better at skirmishing with words, finding out that there are some tricky phrasal verbs to contend with, and that there are still definitions of things we have never heard of in this miraculous world of things and thoughts. How long will we stay on this kick before we find something else to occupy us? As long as they don’t repeat too many clues and we keep having grandkids to play with as alternatives – and if, like life, we don’t have too many Acrosses and Downs. No strain, no brain - and take about 3000 mgs of fish oil every day too...

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