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It Doesn’t Matter What You Call It

“When you finish drying that pot, can you help me pick down the turkey, Diane?” asked my husband’s aunt.

 I nodded yes on the outside, while shaking my head in silent disbelief on the inside.  After nearly a decade since marrying into this family, they still regularly called me Diane. 

Not that it was really all that unusual.  For my entire life, people had been calling me Diane, even though my name is actually Denise.  Never Becky or Donna or Lisa, always Diane.

Now, I admit that sometimes I get names wrong, too.  Usually it’s because I am preoccupied when they tell me their name, or they resemble someone else I know.  I always get Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio mixed up when I see them in films.  Some people just seem like their name should be something else, I guess.

 In 1963, when my mother was expecting, there was no ultrasound to predict the sex of your baby.  There were plenty of wives tales, though.  Everyone from her best friend to the grocery clerk had a “foolproof” way to tell whether her baby would be a boy or a girl.  Dangling a wedding ring over her pregnant woman’s belly, a neighbor whispered “If it swings back and forth, it’s a boy.  If it moves in a circle, it’s a girl.” 

If she looked prettier during her pregnancy, it’s a boy.  If she looked tired, it’s going to be a girl.  Others told her just the opposite.  In fact, the ways to predict the baby’s sex seemed to flip-flop depending on who was doing the telling.

Taking no risks, my parents chose a boy’s name – Robert – and a girl’s name … what else … Diane!  For months they talked about Diane or Robert.

When she arrived at the hospital, a little radio playing tunes eased the tension in the room.  He’s so Fine made the nurses laugh.  Surfin’ USA lightened the mood when the contractions passed. Song after song filled the room as the hours passed.  If I Had a Hammer was a favorite after tougher contractions.  The labor was hard, lasting through most of the day and long into the night, sapping her strength.  The songs had started to repeat themselves, like a modern day Muzak track.  A little before midnight, the disc jockey played Randy & The Rainbows’ title Denise, Denise for what seemed like the thousandth time that day. 

 As the next contraction wracked her body, my mother swore, “If this damned baby is a girl, I’d better name it Denise, since they keep playing that song!”  At 12:19 am, the little baby who had been imprinted with Diane for all those months arrived but now she was named Denise.

Inevitably, when someone has my name wrong, they still call me Diane.  I gently remind them that my name is actually Denise.  But, I always silently thank the DJ for not having played the Edsals’ Rama Lama Ding Dong!

What Direction Are You Headed?

“YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE.” My Maine friends tell me that’s a common response to give tourists who don’t appreciate the mountainous or cove-studded terrain of that state. The first time I heard it, I thought “That’s nonsense – of course you can get anywhere from where you are.” What I realized they meant is that you can’t get there if you keep going in the direction you’re pointed.

When I travel, I often rely upon my portable GPS device or Mapquest directions. Mapquest asks me such helpful questions as:

• Shortest time? Or shortest distance?

What it never asks me is if I want to avoid the mess of The Big Dig in Boston or the DC Beltway at rush hour. Nope, it’s up to me to make alternate decisions when I’m faced with those unexpected surprises. The map and step-by-step directions make it look simple and straightforward to get from where I am to where I want to be.

Our lives are much like a Mapquest direction sheet. You start out with a printed map and what seem to be turn-by-turn directions but then you come upon 17 miles of taillights because an oil tanker has overturned on the road ahead. Who knows when the traffic will clear! You can stay in the traffic and fume about how unfair it is, how it’s delaying your arrival and costing you money. You can be a lunatic blowing your horn or pacing the shoulder of the road shouting into your cell phone, or you can take a breath, be grateful you weren’t the guy just helicoptered from the scene or his family. Then you can start thinking about finding an alternate route. You might get off the highway, have dinner and wait for the traffic to clear. You might call someone on your cell phone and ask them to give you directions on side streets. Maybe, just maybe, you might decide to cut your own suffering and try to enjoy this alternate route you’re forced to take. After all, life’s about the journey, not just the destination.

The difference is, if it’s only an overturned oil tanker on the road, you know that at some point they’ll get it cleared and traffic will begin to move. In this market, it’s more like a giant sinkhole just occurred and swallowed up several lanes of the highway. There’s no telling if it will be weeks or years before crews will be able to repair the damage. It might never return to its former wide path of lifestyle mobility. Waiting it out probably isn’t realistic for most of us.

When I make a turn from the pre-programmed instructions, my GPS device urges me to “Return to the highlighted route.” But sometimes, I just listen patiently while it tells me “Recalculating Route”.

Each of us has an internal GPS device to help us recalculate our route. Sometimes our detour sped us along the career highway and this is an opportunity to return to the highlighted route toward our family. Other times, this detour returns us to simpler times of hosting friends for a potluck dinner and playing a card game together. For some of us, seemingly without a map, following the stars by moving into a new but lesser paying position in a completely different field that holds a passion for you (an arts and crafts gallery, a teaching position, being a scuba instructor). Others will pull off the road, sit in a diner and enjoy a book like The Number by Lee Eisenberg which talks about how much is really enough, or How to Find Your Mission in Life by Richard Bolles, and then revise their map given these changing conditions.

What doesn’t work is staying stuck in the traffic fuming and hoping. By all signs, the road isn’t going to return anytime soon to its formerly high speed six-lane condition we became accustomed to. You’re going to be “late” arriving “there.” Recalculate your route, align your economic goals, expenses and lifestyle, and do it soon. It might, in fact, take us each a while to get back on the road we had planned. Ultimately, if you really want to reach your destination, you’ll get there. The real surprise will be how many interesting experiences you’ll be able to relate to the others when you arrive.