The Irony of Wrinkles: Reflections On Our Utter Lack of Control

by Emily Kemme

Nurse Lovey sent me a text the other day, one of those simple placards that, with a pithy handful of words speaks volumes. “Irony. The opposite of wrinkly.” That was all, but it propelled me to the dictionary in search of meaning. Conditions giving rise to irony add spice to our experience, affirming our sneaking suspicion that we humans striding on the elliptical trainer of life have very little control over where we’re headed, that no matter how much we plan, posture, think or contrive, situations don’t always go as intended. Irony crops up in the wrinkles of life. Without them, life could proceed at its pace, no questions asked, no worries broached. So, why doesn’t it happen that way? I suspect it has a bit to do with a planet full of people, all pushing their own envelopes, each containing a different agenda. With all of the potential ripples and ruffles, at times I wonder how we ever get anywhere.

Complications and the sinuous twists and turns of life are what the big picture is all about. If only we could realize that the natural state of things is basically erratic, it might make us happier.

Take, for example, spending a summer week in the mountains with friends. What a great way to get away from the heat, bike and hike, and throw in a little relaxation time. There are three couples, each pairing comprised of unique individualists. Will we be able to agree on something so basic as what to have for dinner?

First we have Phil and Joan, expert Wooly Mammoth hunters. These two intrepid adventurers are the stars of the all-time top ten blog post on Feeding the Famished:  Why Don’t They Stock Wooly Mammoth Meat at the New King Soopers?

Then there are Susan and Gil, artist and clown-explorer, respectively. They are also my life coaches, and come in handy when I’m under duress, need a laugh or just can’t breathe.

You are familiar with the third couple, Dr. K and me. The photographer and the wordsmith, the techno-geek and the clotheshorse. We are at opposite ends of the ROYGBIV spectrum. He buys computers, I buy shoes.

Throw in a teenager or two, and there is the possibility of mayhem. That remains to be seen.

It all began so innocently, no whiff of irony, with Joan’s emailed suggestion two months ago that I coordinate menus for the week, since she and Susan tend to wing it when it comes to meals. Joan knows I’m a “planner”, meaning I’m happier if I have a list. It points me in the right direction. Of course, it’s perfectly fine to veer off the paper, it’s more of a guideline, but there is something about setting pen to paper and writing down my thoughts that has a calming influence. I happily responded that of course, I would love to organize! I could throw together a bunch of recipe ideas, we could each select two (thereby covering all six nights) and then I would generate a shopping list to divide amongst we three. What fun!

The extent of my efforts, up until a week ago, consisted of me jotting down five or so recipes on a scrap of paper, the same scrap on which I scribble all my cooking ideas. If I could pin down a method, I suppose it is best described as an attempt to capture a stray thought as it flits through my mind, informing me that this would be an interesting dish to prepare, somewhere down the road. The list grows, I cross off an item here and there, and I believe I’m accomplishing something of merit.

I provided Joan and Susan with dinner prep alternatives, in multiple choice format, as follows:

a) we could assign suggested recipes to one family per night;

b) we could all be friendly and helpful and cook together with great camaraderie (and alcohol, of course);

c) let’s scrap all ideas suggested above (including recipes) and go out for dinner; or

d) we could eat dirt (Dr K’s way of saying that no one likes my ideas and therefore I’m going outside and will just eat dirt. Not a pretty picture.)

This was about the time that the Battle of the Organizational Systems began.

Joan circulated another email, somewhat apologetic in tone, stating that she knew I was coordinating meals to help her become organized, but she was attaching a “4TH OF JULY SPREADSHEET.” She hoped I wouldn’t mind, and seeing how little I’d completed towards getting the three of us organized, I was thrilled. It was then that irony kicked me in the stomach. I’d spiraled off on a different trajectory, one where I was required to deal with Isabelle’s high school graduation and all of its incumbent emotionalism, a family vacation and then, just to add grist to the mill, an attack of pneumonia. We had diverged from “keep it simple, let’s just wing it,” to a full-blown organizational chart with little slots for us to fit into. We were getting quite wrinkly.

Up until this point, I hadn’t heard a peep from Susan, but I was certain she would chime in soon. Susan is our wise woman, the one who allows us all to make merry and make fools of ourselves in the process. Then she steps in, adds a pinch of wisdom and a tablespoon of common sugared truth, and we all step back and say, “Whew. We very nearly went over the edge again. Thanks, Susan, for the reality check.”

Susan began by revealing that the spreadsheet attachment had not surfaced on her email, but then went off on a tangent of her own, reminiscing about her mother’s list-making technique, a low tech version also-known-as writing lists on the back of used envelopes. One year for Christmas, her sister-in-law had created a notepad from envelopes stapled together, primitive innovation at its best. I was beginning to breathe easier already.

Joan weighed in first, answering my set of multiple choice questions, and declared that b) was the winner! We should all cook together. This sounded nice, and boded well for a friendly week. Susan made all of our lives simpler, suggesting (without the use of a spreadsheet) that we could divide and conquer for the dinners, better known as BYOF and B. Perfect and brilliant. She also offered to provide fresh organic produce, which comes with its own “real garden dirt” still attached, so we could all eat dirt together. (I recently learned that “eating dirt” is considered a good thing, and promotes a healthy immune system.) The week was looking even better.

It’s beautiful. Until you realize what it is. High Park fire at night, near Fort Collins, CO at Horsetooth Reservoir. Photo courtesy of Mary Demchok.

There is one more wrinkle which could crop up. We are in the midst of the worst wildfire season in recent memory here in Colorado, and Mother Nature has primed her throwing arm, aiming curveballs at diverse spots, striking pristine forest, quaint historical villages, wide prairie grassland and a couple of the largest cities in the state. Wrinkles can be as simple as a minor irregularity or snag; they can be as sinuously complex as a convoluted coil. Wrinkles such as these can displace people from their homes, reclaim populated landscapes and leave humans wanting. Wildfires in North America burn, on average, 13 million acres annually.

The irony of this particular wrinkle is, do you plan to go on vacation in the mountains? Do we make plans at all? The irony is thinking we have control over shopping for dinner, when in fact, there are no guarantees. We can devise spreadsheets, or staple scrap papers together to be environmentally conscious. In the larger picture, it may not matter.

FYI:  I’m having a FIRE SALE, for the WHOLE MONTH OF JULY. Buy “In Search of Sushi Tora” in hardcover from any source and I’ll donate $1 to Pikes Peak Community Foundation and $1 to the American Red Cross. OR, purchase the novel on your e-reader and I’ll donate 10% of the proceeds to the ARC! Visit for where to purchase the novel! And thank you for helping Colorado fire relief efforts!

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Lynne Hugo July 3, 2012 - 9:10 am

Maybe we write fiction as a way of being in control of something. Works for me! Have a wonderful trip and know that the entire country is, I believe, holding our breath for your state, the safety of people, property, wildlife, and that beautiful land.

Emily Kemme July 3, 2012 - 9:27 am

Thank you. We are all holding our collective breaths, too (and not just from smoke). There are no fires, currently, where we are, but I know the entire west is affected by these intensely dry conditions. I think people read fiction as a way of escaping from life’s harsh realities. So, for both readers and writers, the relationship is mutually beneficial.

Sarah July 1, 2012 - 7:17 pm

Perhaps you can get Chef Tony to prepare his yummy fried chicken. Bon apetit.

Sarah July 1, 2012 - 7:16 pm

I absolutely love the ‘irony’ ‘ wrinkly’ play on words. Too too funny.

Diane July 1, 2012 - 6:56 pm

Hope you all will have a lovely time! You’d all eat well even if it was just saltines and cheese – Ms. K would fine a way to embellish it.

Sorry, that pic is not beautiful, it is horrific. We, too, removed family things and pics from Estes. One never knows. And my bro is on his second evacuation in SW CO. It’s a hellish season.

Emily Kemme July 2, 2012 - 7:27 pm

Ooooooohhh! I love a challenge. Saltines and cheese, let me see: I suppose peanut butter and jelly would be out, but I always like that. Cheez Whiz is fun. Cream cheese mixed with sun dried tomatoes, or diced jalapeños. And don’t forget with a slice of ham, topped with mint jelly!

You’re right, the situation in our horribly dry mountains is terribly scary, particularly because it brings into question how we are living, these days, and our water supply. I suppose I take my mind off it by planning recipes.

susan June 29, 2012 - 11:20 pm

My angst about the coming week is not menus and shopping; rather it is leaving my home unguarded from fire. (But I must admit to roasting veggies for the lasagna tonight, as I cooked our dinner) We have not been directly threatened by fire yet. One was right in town, but it was extinguished before it got out of hand, but not before the destruction of more than 20 homes. One was 10 miles north of us, but the fierce winds blew it north and west. It is finally contained, but more fires ignite every day. We’ve taken a couple of carloads of documents, art, family treasures, and photo albums to Jenny’s home, out of the danger of forest fires. We realize it’s only “stuff,” and what’s important is our lives and our family. Still the land is so DRY, it’s frightening. But after many discussions (what could we DO, if a fire came, other than leave?), we are cheerily off to Summit County and biking with great friends.

monica July 5, 2012 - 2:27 pm

So all said and done, are your meals spectacular? I think I need your comfort spaghetti tonight with my left over barbequed rib.

Emily Kemme July 5, 2012 - 9:40 pm

We’ve been eating very well up here! I think all the exercise would make anything taste great, but there are a houseful of fantastic cooks. But “comfort spaghetti” sounds good, too. Maybe next week.


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