January 17, 2019

square clouds

I told Therapist Gumby earlier this week that I can feel the swing down into depression coming.  There are little portents.  Not many, but the one I've noticed this week is how I keep drifting onto memories of times when I did something stupid or wrong and was humiliated.  Like the time Kate came to play in my city and I was the host, and almost nobody showed up in spite of my canvassing the city with posters and submitting radio announcements to our NPR station and e-mailing the shit out of everybody.  And because that wasn't bad enough, I was cleaning up the main room afterward and Kate witnessed me rush and trip over the edge of a rug and stumble and drop the table I was trying to carry.

Just little things like that.  My brain likes to remind me.  You did that.  That happened.  That's you.

Sometimes I escape into Minecraft.  I started playing it when my son was much younger and it was suited for his age.  Now he's pimping in Grand Theft Auto V and leading open-server sieges in a virtual world.  I'm still looking for sand biome villages so I can trade coal and wheat and iron ingots.

If you're not familiar with the look and feel of Minecraft (many are turned off by the intentional pixelation), it has a day and night cycle as part of the play.  As the rectangular sun moves across the sky and grows large and orange and begins to set in the west, the square and rectangular patchy clouds drift in the same direction, and the sky begins to darken.  You can watch it wash over the sky in sheets, a line moving across the sky, a tiny shade darker, then another shade darker, until at last little square stars begin to appear everywhere.  The blue becomes black a little at a time.

That's what these humiliation-memories are like.  They come in waves, just before the night voices.

January 15, 2019

this north carolina woman took sudafed and you won't believe what happened next

"So yesterday, I had this really amazing accomplishment that demonstrated personal progress, except that I didn't do that at all."

Therapist Gumby's face did not change expression as he listened.  He knows better than to change his expression because it just encourages me.

I continued.  "But I really wish it had.  See, what happened is, I got angry.  At P.J.  Because [thing that happened].  Really mad, the kind that usually means I'm checking my face the next morning for bruises.  The kind I always turn on myself because it's not safe to feel at the other person."

He asked, "Why didn't you self-injure?  What was different this time?"

I said, "I went to Target at lunch time and got some Sudafed.  The short-acting kind because, yeah, you read my blog post.  Don't want that to happen again.  Jesus.  I bought it and took some when I got back to work.  That's when I found out about [thing that happened] and got upset about it.  I sent some angry texts and felt that horrible pressure build up, and then texted that I needed to spend some time calming down so I could think rationally --"

"-- always a good idea --"

"-- and set the phone down.  I tried square breathing and I tried not thinking about it and I tried empathy and I tried framing things so I could view the actual harm done realistically, and of course, it wasn't a big deal, but when you're angry, it's a huge deal.  And then suddenly, I felt kind of peaceful and light and like I'd reached the other side of the anger.  It was resolution.  Somehow I had worked it out and I felt positive again, and I grabbed my phone because I knew P.J. was probably miserable and I wanted to make her feel better."

"So what is it that you did that you think worked so well?" he asked.

"Nothing I did worked," I said.

"But you felt better," he pointed out.

"Yeah, I did.  You want to know why?  I realized later that it's because I took the Sudafed when I did.  It kicked in.  I didn't deal with my anger at all, at all.  I should have been hiding in the women's bathroom on the third floor, pummeling myself in the face.  I should have had claw marks running down my arm and a Kleenex to mop up blood.  It was totally the Sudafed.  It makes me high now."

He shrugged.  "Well ... better living through chemistry?"

"I wanted so badly to believe that I'd gotten better at letting myself be angry.  Fucking Sudafed, Gumby.  I didn't do anything at all."

January 14, 2019

non-drowsy formula

I know that my anti-depressants from pre-gastric bypass later poisoned me and made me suicidal, but I didn't expect the same one-eighty from Sudafed.

Come to think of it, I've taken the pee-water version of Sudafed for colds for the past two years, as punishment for accidentally buying a jumbo box of the phenylephrine stuff, which was summarily rejected by my family.  It helps me a little, almost enough to merit the effort of taking the pills in the first place, and I've slogged my way through the whole box.

I came home from work early on Friday, all sore throat and sinus pressure and the kind of fog that makes everything you squint and peer at in front of you look like an inviting, quilt-covered, fluffy-pillowed bed.  I tried to nap, but Molly kept wanting to snuggle and merge with me on a molecular level, so it was fitful at best and I gave up.  I dug around in the cabinet and found a box of 12-hour Sudafed tablets.  I took one, knowing the pseudoephedrine, the "good" stuff that requires a driver's license and fingerprints and FBI surveillance for signs of a meth lab in your garage, tends to put me to sleep, no matter how many times they slap "non-drowsy formula" on the box.

P.J. came to me at 4:30 a.m. to say good-night.  She went to bed.  I turned the next page of Welcome to the World, Baby Girl and kept reading.  I was tapping my foot and humming.

I was not drowsy.

Today, I stopped by Target and picked up the four-to-six-hour version, because I really need it, because all my top teeth hurt and my head has been pounding and the pressure has led me to recall that episode of The X-Files where the government tests sonic waves and the test makes some people's brains explode out of their ears after they bang their heads against their car windows because they ran out of road trying to drive west.

I took some of the Sudafed at noon.  Now it's three o'clock and I feel at one with the Universe and everything is beautiful.

I think I just discovered speed.

Peace, man.

January 10, 2019

big dumb stupid metal princess

On our first Valentine's Day, P.J. got me a cute little machine that made hot cocoa by heating and stirring around the cocoa and sugar and water you put inside it, and then made it frothy on the top.  That is what the machine did.  It had one job, which it did incredibly well.

Twelve years later, we know each other so much better.

I feel sorry for her.  She never saw the gargantuan practical streak coming.

And today, she set up the new cappuccino machine.  Apparently, as I watched, I had a face like a cat's ass as she demonstrated its myriad functional possibilities, all ending in "o" or "e".

Me:  "So what happens if you want to use grounds instead of whole beans?"

P.J.:  "Well, see this little hatch?  It's a bypass.  You can use this little scoop to put in grounds instead."

Me:  "What scoop?"

P.J.:  "This scoop."

Me:  "The one you need a microscope to find?"

P.J.:  "...."

Me:  And where do they end up?"

P.J.:  (pulls out fancy-ass metal drawer)  "They're in here."

Me:  "And what are those metal pointy things right there?"

P.J.:  "Sensors.  They tell you when it's full and you have to empty the grounds."

Me:  "It doesn't even empty them by itself?"

P.J.:  " .... "

Me:  "What does that thing with the little thing on it do?"

P.J.:  "Oh, this is really cool, watch.  You can lift it way up if you want a tall drink, or you can lower it if you have a small cup for espresso.  That way, it doesn't sploosh out."

Me:  "Or you can lower it if you want it to blow bubbles while it's making your coffee."

P.J.:  "No.  You use the steam frother to make bubbles."

Me:  "You can't use the dispenser to make bubbles?"

P.J.:  "No."

Me:  "Why not?"

P.J.:  "It can't."

Me:  "I think you're holding it to really low expectations and that's not good for it."

P.J.:  "What?"

Me:  "I'm just saying that you're enabling sub-par behavior.  At this rate, it's never going to learn to clean itself or empty its own grounds into the trash can.  It's acting like it gets to tell you what it can use to blow bubbles.  You've got to raise the bar.  It's for its own good."

P.J.:  "Fine, I'll give it tough love."

Me:  "I'm just going to give it tough.  Tough-tough."

January 9, 2019

the c word

No, not "cunt".  Nothing offends me about "cunt".

I'm referring to "creativity".  (*ptooey ptooey ptooey*)

I indulged frequently in the holidays' ample comestibles and the time has come to pay.  No, not pay.  Restore balance.  Return to myself.  Experience a sense of control.

(Please don't let me become a Louise Hay-person.  If I do, kill me at once.  It's for the best.)

To re-frame thinking, a person has to try.  And it requires the C-word.

Last night, the frozen moment we all experience:  My hand had grabbed the protein bar, one of the really good ones, out of the habit of eating to eat.  My right hand was poised to begin peeling back the wrapper.  And then, I chose to stop.

I stood still, caught in that tense space between animal act and rationality.  Seconds passed.  I felt the wave of resentment that comes when dieting meets denial, when want meets "no".  I wanted to move forward, but my brain arm-wrestled with itself.

Thoughts passed through ....

... me telling The Kid ... "solve the problem.  Tell me three things you can do about it."

... from my recent readings about Buddhism ... meditate ... experience the moment; palpate it; feel it.

... from my current re-read of The Hogfather ... Susan holding her arms out, spreading her fingers, swinging them down to stop Time.  A ritual.  A motion.  A symbol.

I put the bar back in the cabinet this time.  I had somehow harnessed creativity.  Today, I'm spending mental energy reinforcing these things.

Don't you dare tell a living soul.

January 7, 2019

every head bowed, every eye closed

I finished Unbroken.  For a non-fiction biography, I found it a captivating read and devoured it in the same fashion as I would fantasy or YA fiction.  That surprised me.

But like a movie with a predictable, incredibly tidy plot twist, I didn't like the way it ended.

It had Billy Graham in it.

Zamperini got "saved" under the auspices of the evangelist, and forgave his captors and found peace.  That part is awesome.  Whatever works.  He deserved that peace a thousand times over after what he endured.

It was the account of Graham's tent revival in Los Angeles that chafed.

I already knew from video tapes I watched while growing up in my Southern Baptist church that he paced back and forth.  I knew the path of his sermon that seldom varied over decades.  I knew the cadence of his voice.

In the book, he then said a phrase that I heard repeated often by preachers and youth ministers and other adults, part of our unwritten liturgy:

"Every head bowed, every eye closed, no one looking ...."

I felt a gentle but tangible skin-crawl.

The phrase was used to induce a sense of ceremony, formality, a social tension made more effective after hypnotic preaching, and often mistaken for the attribution of significance to the words spoken next.  It was a manipulation of a state of the human mind and of emotions, an ersatz intimacy and connection with the speaker.  It was most frequently used on youth.  They weren't yet hardened to and familiar with the experience.

Then they were asked to examine their hearts and decide whether they had truly let Jesus in, repented of their sins and asked for forgiveness and grace.  Still hypnotized and surrounded by peer pressure, many left their pews and walked down to the front of the assembly in response.

Preachers called this a "harvest for the Lord".

I don't think it's fair to use a scythe.

January 5, 2019

omg this sounds so yummy

Four full days and nothing has come to me to write.  I've been reading instead ... Unbroken at my son's insistence ... he's been at me to read this since they read it in English class two years ago, his eighth-grade year.  I've been surviving in a raft in the middle of the Pacific, with only rain water and irrational hope in my possession.  Even now, all is quiet.

Below is a post I began earlier as a draft.  I will finish it, and then finally take down our Christmas decorations.  They've lingered not so much out of observing the Twelve Days as an artifact of both bustle and apathy.

Washing Your Dog (Double-Batch Recipe)

Prep Time:  2m
Cook Time:  6m
Clean-Up Time:  1h 30m

Stack of worn-out towels that are now kept in a pile in the hall closet
The pet shampoo behind the towels in the closet
Triple-antibiotic ointment

Preparation:  Change clothes.  Grab junk towels from hall closet and pet shampoo from bathroom cabinet.  Place in bathroom where washing will occur.  Sneak and close pet door to prevent victim from escaping outdoors.  Call victim in a sweet, sing-song voice to attract her.  Gently remove collars and coax into bathroom with a treat.

Recipe:  Open shower door, ignoring victim's wariness.  Remove hand-held shower head and turn water on, adjusting to correct warmth.  Secure victim and drag against resistance toward shower.  Pick up victim, step into shower together.  Close door.  Hold door closed tightly as victim makes futile attempts to escape.

With free hand, use shower head to thoroughly wet victim until fur is fully saturated.  Still using free hand, attempt to pump shampoo in bottle onto victim's back.  Curse.  Hold bottle between your knees and unscrew the lid of the bottle while continuing to hold shower door closed.  Pour shampoo liberally onto victim, ignoring mauling of your lower extremities during continued attempts to escape.  Rub shampoo vigorously into victim's fur, paying careful attention to mud-crusted legs, while speaking in soothing tones.

Still using the shower head, engage in seemingly eternal task of rinsing victim with one hand.  Continue rinsing until there is no sign of shampoo.  Continue rinsing.  Continue rinsing more.

Turn off water.  Set shower head on floor of shower.  Employ Olympic-grade skill level to open door and simultaneous grab the largest of the junk towels.  Use three-quarters of a second at your disposal to throw the towel over the victim before she begins shaking water.  Fail.  Follow victim around bathroom, drying with towel when accessible.

Note:  You may notice a shampoo ring around mid-section in spite of thorough rinsing.  This is a sign that the victim was not rinsed long enough.

Clean-Up:  Use remaining junk towel(s) to wipe down water-sprayed walls, cabinet surfaces, and fixtures around bathroom.  Use additional towel(s) if necessary.  Spray walls of shower to remove fur.  Dispose of fur clump sitting on floor drain.  Use clean towel to dry legs.  Apply ointment to any actively bleeding wounds, using bandages if needed.  Mop floor with all soiled towels.  Carry towels to basement and begin load of laundry.  Find victim.  Remove heavily dampened duvet cover from bed and hurry to add to laundry load before agitation cycle begins.  Notice additional wounds on hands and apply supplemental ointment.*  Use paper towels to wipe off any walls throughout house that have received water spray from victim's vigorous shaking.

Allow victim to dry completely before releasing her outdoors.

Observe mud-covered victim returning to house through dog door.  Dry towels while preventing victim's muddy contact with any surface.  Repeat steps above to make this recipe a double batch.

*Make note to purchase additional ointment.

There's nothing quite like the smell of freshly-washed wet dog filling the house!  So tempting!

January 1, 2019

why we don't have any espresso

*we agree that we need to buy a cappuccino machine*

P.J.:  So what's my budget on this?

Me:  Whatever you want it to be.  Just make sure the machine isn't huge because we've got to fit it in the kitchen somewhere.

P.J.:  I was thinking of putting it over on the brown counter.

Me:  What?  There's no room there.  Everything that's there needs to be there, like the dog stuff, and stuff.  You can't put it there.

P.J.:  We could move some stuff off of it to somewhere else.

Me:  Noooooo.  It needs to go over on the regular counter, like beside the cutting boards and banana holder.

P.J.:  That's prime cooking space.  We need that room.

Me:  No, I mean put it where the cleaners are.  We always have two or three bottles of cleaners sitting out taking up room.  We should just put those back in their cabinet instead of leaving them out.  Then there's plenty of room.

P.J.:  Cleaners don't stick out that far.

Me:  Okay, so we could put something there that doesn't stick out and then put the cappuccino machine wherever that thing was.

P.J.:  Even the small ones are pretty big.

Me:  Okay, so we could put away the KitchenAid.

P.J.:  But it's heavy.  So when I use it, it would be a nightmare to get out.

Me:  You mean once a year?  I'll be happy to get it out for you.

P.J.:  I use it more than ... well, yeah, okay, but it's heavy.

Me:  Plus it looks good.

P.J.:  Yep.

Me:  We could move the KitchenAid to where the cleaners are.

P.J.:  The fucking cleaners ... look, it's too big.  I told you.

Me:  Okay, well ... hmm.

P.J.:  We could move the toaster and put the cappuccino machine over by the Keurig.

Me:  And put the toaster where the cleaners are?

P.J.:  WHY ARE YOU OBSESSED WITH THE CLEANERS?  Anyway, no, we'd have to move something else.

Me:  What about the basket of hand towels?  It holds hand towels and pot holders from 1987.

P.J.:  Because you need towels sometimes!  Well, we could move it.

Me:  But then if you put the machine there, you'd have to move the paper towels.

Both:  Nope, can't do that.

Me:  What about the stuff beside the KitchenAid?

P.J.:  You NEED to have that stuff out!

Me:  When's the last time you used balsamic vinegar, 2014?

P.J.:  Within the last six months.  Yeah, that can go in the cabinet.  But the olive oil and salt and pepper have to stay out, beside the stove.

Me:  There's room for all that and the toaster.  Just put the salt in front of the olive oil.

P.J.:  In front of it?

Me:  Yeah?

P.J.:  But then it would always be looking over its shoulder.

Me:  .......

P.J.:  *sigh* I guess we could put away the KitchenAid.

Me:  We could move the banana holder.  We hardly use it.  We could slide it over to where the cleaners are.

P.J. is still laughing as I write this.  And this is why we don't have any espresso or cappuccino.

UPDATE:  P.J. is fighting back with subtlety and grace:

eschewing the calendar

I recently posed the question in the "game of tag" regarding whether the respondents observe significant events and anniversaries around the calendar year, or whether those things are left to drift and float and are brought to light when reminders appear, regardless of the date, the time.

I've always held close to the calendar.  In part, this is because of my memory and synaesthesia.  I remember that Ronald Reagan's birthday was February 6 because that was the same day as my childhood friend Kendra's birthday.  I met Nanci Griffith on October 24, 1998.  P.J. gave me her aunt's heirloom ring as a token on March 9, 2007.  Most dates bring something to mind, tinged with color, associated with weather and the slant of the sunlight, but far more based on a printed calendar, a number line in my mind that looks like a paperclip.

I still do the freaky date recall thing, but New Years Eve got on my nerves this year.  Last night I combed through Facebook and found any mention of resolutions and fresh starts to be unbearably annoying.  I stomped around the house a lot.  At midnight, I could barely be arsed to observe our family tradition of watching the ball drop and opening the back door to let out the old year.  I did it anyway, because tradition, but it was devoid of meaning, save that later, I'll look back and be glad it was done.

The dates are losing their meaning - and, more to the point, I am beginning to suspect that they're harmful to me.

It's warm out today, but the barometric pressure of social conformity presses down on me anyway.  I need to make a resolution.  And I know what that resolution is going to be.

Except for reminders in my Google calendar, needed to keep me from forgetting to put pants on in the morning and pick The Kid up from school and show up at the dentist, I am going to rip my gaze away from the calendar and, instead, focus on each day.

I know this is going to take serious practice.

I also know that it's the only thing that will save me.

It's the thing that will allow me to lose the weight I've gained back these past few months, because I'm the sort that looks ahead and feels doomed to "forever" and oppressed by the expansive terrain of the future.  Instead, I resolve to choose each morning what to do with that day toward the end of taking better care of my body and reversing the damage done.  If I fail, I have only fallen off a one-day-long bandwagon.

It's the thing that will allow me to release some of my anger at my disease.  I view it as a life sentence to be served, no time off for good behavior, no parole.  I want to learn to see it as a single state contained in a single day, whatever it may be, and address it as such, a string of pearls instead of a solid, infinite chain.

A friend shared a phrase in an e-mail years ago with P.J., who then shared it with me.  "Observe and allow."  I often think I need to buy some sort of book on how to be a Buddhist and start learning more.  Begin changing.

If I go for a walk today, it doesn't mean that I have "begun walking" and am hereby committing to walking every day for the next five months.  It doesn't mean I have to get used to wearing my step tracker again and deal with the pink ring of irritation around my left wrist.  It means I am going for a walk today.

That's as far as I've gotten in making a resolution.  I've likely set the bar too high.  For all that, it seems worthwhile.

December 30, 2018

in your dreams

My official position is that I am against taking naps, but sometimes naps happen, and when they do, I always wake up feeling guilty, worthless, down.  (Other people can take them and I wish them well.  I just can't.)  It doesn't take Freudian theory to work out that the force behind this is a nasty comment my sister made that intentionally woke me from a deep nap when I was barely a teenager.  The way the comment made me feel combined with being startled awake lodged like Excalibur in the stone.  I still can't shake it, almost three decades later.

I need to try harder not to take naps.  They can throw off my sleep schedule, which I'm supposed to be keeping rigorously regular.

I've also noticed that the most convoluted and fucked-up dreams I end up remembering happen while I'm napping.

I just woke from a nap that produced two dreams capable of making me question what passes these days for my sanity.

The first dream was mild sauce on the Weirdness Scale.  Kate Campbell was my therapist and we kept trying to have a session, except that she kept doing paperwork and getting up and going over to a desk a giving it her attention instead of me.  When she finally sat across from me, she discussed the amount of the check I needed to write, and then asked me what it is that I needed to say (there was something I desperately wanted to blurt out, but now I can't remember what it was, only that I was ashamed of it) ... at which point, my sister, unable to be present bodily to interrupt my nap, passed through the room and left the doors open so everyone could hear what I was about to say, so I couldn't say it.  Then Kate had to leave.  My sister continues to be a rusty, squeaky-handled cunt-bucket.

FreudIt is clear dat der underlying vish is to have more time to talk to dis Kate ven she is having concerts.  Der is little time in der intermission und after, she is packing up the wires und the instrument und the black sound-boxes.  You vish to be known by her, deeply.  Und der sister is objectively der cunt.  Das is ein "curve ball", as you say it.  You are calling me for das simple dream?

I said it was mild sauce, didn't I?  Let's hear your take on the second dream.  I was seventeen and was being raised in a sort of collectivist way in the skating rink I frequented as a kid by the kindly janitor, who was older now and had a grey beard and walked with a cane, and also all four of the Golden Girls, who stood over against the back wall like well-meaning mannequins until needed.  Most of the dream was spent trying to figure out where I was supposed to sleep, on the floor or the benches or on the rink itself.  The janitor ended up escorting me tenderly out of the door that had the "no re-entry" sign on it and told me I had grown up and was allowed to leave.  My RAV4 was waiting for me in the parking lot.

FreudVell, it is possible der is a vish to rebel, und clearly in das dream you vish to sleep with der janitor, your father, but he is censored by der cane und der beard, so -- vait, are you not der Sapphic?

Yes.  Yes, I am gay.  Good of you to remember.

FreudYes, yes, all right.  But you did kill das mothers by making them der mannequins.  Unless ....

No, I have absolutely no desire to sleep with Rue McClanahan.  Eww.  Negative, sir.

FreudClearly, however, der growing up und expulsion vas a manifestation of rejection by both of der parents, uncovering der vish to stay in der vomb und --

Dude, I couldn't wait to leave home.  I left high school a year early so I could fly the coop.

FreudLook at der time!  I am just remembering der pressing engagement across town.

*dusts off hands*

Right, that got rid of him.  Which is sad, because I didn't even get a chance to tell him about the dream I had during a nap when I was a freshman in college.  I dreamed I was Bat-Man and lived in the parking lot of my church and carried a cat around by its tail and was suddenly surrounded by a ring of Mountain Dew bottles and touched its leader, a three-liter bottle, on the cap, thereby making peace with the tribe.

Yeah, yeah, a desire to belong and to have power over my circumstances.  Whatever.  The point is, nap-dreams are far and away weirder than the ones remembered from just-before-you-wake-up-in-the-morning, and on top of being psychologically injured by my halfwit sister, nap dreams leave me mentally croggled for the rest of the day.

I'm told naps are supposed to be a good thing.  I wish to experience this.  I'll keep trying.

December 29, 2018

what it's like to be married

Early evening at home .... Me: "Do you need the bathroom right now?" P.J.: "Nope." Me: "Sure?" P.J.: "Yep." Me: "Okay, but also you have to go away." P.J.: "Okay." Me: "Because you know I have that thing about anybody being near the door and maybe hearing stuff." P.J.: "Yes, I know, going away now." Me (now yelling through closed bathroom door): "Seriously, thank you, I'm sorry!" P.J.: "OKAY, NO worries, love." Me: "YOU JUST CAME BACK IN - SERIOUSLY, GO AWAY!" P.J.: "I am! I'm GOING! .... GONE." Me: "You're awesome! I DON'T TELL YOU THAT ENOUGH!" P.J.: "WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME TO LEAVE BUT THEN YOU KEEP TALKING TO ME AND I HAVE TO KEEP COMING BACK IN HERE EVEN THOUGH YOU TELL ME TO GO AWAY AFTER I DO BUT THEN YOU KEEP TALKING!?" Me: (panicky) "NEVER MIND! JUST GO AWAY! SORRY! I'LL SHUT UP!"



P.J.: "WHAT?"


December 28, 2018

wherein the joneses go too far

I've mentioned before the complex I was given as a child by my neighbor-friend, a girl the same age whose parents "spoiled her rotten" (my mother's phrase) and who was perpetually showered with material possessions while I got rhythmic birthday-and-Christmas drops from an annoying leaky faucet.  I grew to believe it was wrong to have things.  What other defense was available?

It's been great fun, having that irrational mechanism in place while being all grown up and parenting The Kid.  It's not turned out so unhealthy as one might have expected; I feel the typical pressure to keep up with The Joneses while also feeling comfortable falling a certain number of feet short of measuring up.  I hold distaste for materialism, but I'm also resigned to knowing The Kid is, in fact, a kid, and is going to experience it at a sort of intense, voracious caveman level.  And I'm capable of getting mildly panicky when we fall too far short.  We've faced his angst when others have more and we refuse to match.  I don't want him to do what I did, have it rubbed in his face so often that he develops a coping mechanism, but neither do I want him to feel he has to have possessions to have worth, to look around him and measure, constantly.

It's damned difficult enough to toe that line, but we have an additional problem.

He's already met The Joneses, in the form of his friend Jason.

I'm sorry, but who in the sulfurous hell gives their child an Easter basket with contents worth about $400, in the form of video games, gift cards, and graphics card upgrades?  The chocolate was probably real, too, and not that Palmer's bunny-coin bullshit.  The Kid got an Easter basket with candy and a stuffed seal that year.  He used to love that.  The year of Jason's Easter Basket of Majesty, however, he was on the cusp of adolescence and was hit with having to cope with a healthy dose of pure jealousy for the first time.  He got through it okay, and healed, and his appetite for games seems to have suffered no injury and is, in fact, commendably robust.

He's struggled since then, playing nearly every day with Jason and hearing about the things his dad got him just for the shallow gratification of it.  There are clear echoes of my childhood neighbor's mother.  If any new tech-related thing comes out, his dad buys it for Jason.  If his dad catches wind that someone else on the planet got something that his son doesn't have, he obtains it immediately, and sometimes one for himself as well.  I've never before seen such an adult-child as that man.  He has served as a perpetual source of disharmony in our house.  After every conversation about wanting this or that so that he can play the same games and keep up, The Kid retreats to his room (politely, to his credit) and I wrestle with The Complex, and P.J. just plain gets pissed off.  And around and around we go.

This week changed everything, though.  The whole Jason paradigm jumped the Christmas Shark and lost its power over all three of us.

The Kid wanted an HTC Vive for Christmas in the worst possible way.  He began his campaign back in the summer for a VR headset, and while we led him to believe that he was going to be disappointed, we did the research and took the plunge and got it for him.  Our shared value system bristled, but we caved in under the weight of wanting to see him happy.  And he was happy.  He couldn't stop smiling, even when he tried.  He made it whole hours before asking for helping mounting the sensors in his room.

Then the reports began coming in concerning Jason.  At first, the list consisted merely of an HTC Vive of his own (he already owns an Oculus Rift but "needed the other one"), another 4K TV for his room, and the latest iteration of the Xbox One with Red Dead Redemption 2, which makes three Xbox consoles in his possession.

We chuckled.  Because of course he did.

But wait, there's more.  Then The Kid reported that there was also a Playstation Plus one-year pass, another updated graphics card (a 1090Ti, currently running at about $1,400), and four more video games.

We could tell The Kid had moved beyond jealousy into exasperation and was starting to see the whole affair as bordering on ridiculous.

Another text came in on his phone, and when he read us the message about the Nintendo Switch and the massive Steam gift card from the grandmother, it resulted in a fit of family laughter there in our living room.  Jason's Christmas Presents had turned into a game.  The Kid went back to his room and played with his Vive, and came downstairs later to report that his legs hurt from the activity, in a good way.

He also stated that he feels sorry for Jason.  That was one whopping leap for him.  On some level, he now appreciates that we have some boundaries in place.  He's realizing they're the result of being cared for and guided.

Meanwhile, a betting pool is already forming regarding the kind of car Jason will receive with his driver's license.

Merry Christmas, kiddo.  We wish your appetite for possessions was less than what it is, but like everything else we wish and think and do, it's only because we want you to be happy.  We'll continue to do our best to keep balance.  And we promise you that we will never, never ruin the world for you by laying it at your feet and depriving you of the chance to pursue it yourself.

December 27, 2018

love feast ii

The thing about real friends is that they're real.  They are flesh and blood and heart and mind and word and deed.

And that's why we went to another Moravian love feast this year.

The church is tiny, cozy, and rented from the Methodists, an unremarkable brick building on a hill close by the side of a winding mountain highway that touches no town and serves only to connect one place to another.

There were perhaps thirty people in attendance, fewer than expected.  There were illnesses and circumstances of absence.  A basket full of buns was to be left over.  I envied the baker, though one could tire of anything eventually, even a Moravian bun, with its hints of sweet orange and butter.

We sang all of the Christmas hymns.

We listened to a little girl recite the second chapter of Luke.

We listened to our friend, our real friend, the pastor of this humble yet fiercely cohesive congregation, give a homily about needing to give off brighter light in our growing darkness, give a blessing of peace based on that light and love.  We left the building with a sense of peace in our hearts, imparted by flesh and blood, heart and mind, word and deed, imparted by a real friend and real people around us.

The thing about real peace is that it is real.  It need not come from anything imaginary.

December 22, 2018

the thing about imaginary friends

... is that they're imaginary.  And boy, do I know about imaginary friends.  You should hear my illustrated litany of preoccupations with people I want to or do have as friends, role models, anyone who cares.  They unknowingly enjoy rich and busy lives in my imagination, extending fervent friendship and knowing me altogether.

I didn't tell you about that, though, when I replied to your e-mail.  I was kind enough not to say it.

I really was pleased that you suggested we exchange e-mail addresses during the Messiah dress rehearsal.  I like you.  You're easy to talk to and a fellow math nerd, and fully in spite of the Bible verses I noticed tucked into your music folder and your teenage daughters' religion-based home-schooled demeanor in the chairs beside you, I like you, and I'm glad you like me back, even knowing that I'm gay.  That means something.

And knowing that, I was cautiously optimistic in telling you in an e-mail of my tolerant atheism, my reasons for singing each year alongside Christians, how much common ground can be found between us.  It was a risk, intimating that, but those who truly know me would expect nothing less than honest over-disclosure.  It is something that I always, always do.

Your response was both gracious and comprehensive.  Thank you for iterating several times that no subject is off the table, and that you are not afraid of me and hope that I am not afraid of you.

You wondered why I was a little afraid of telling you I am not a believer like you.  You couldn't imagine why I would hesitate.

Then you went on to explain that hearing it made you cry, because I do not believe in your best friend.

You quoted great walls of scripture to me, capitalizing, on average, every third word.  You told me the story of your faith from girlhood, and about how it helped you then, and helps you now as you rear your six children.  You have even lost a child, like me. 

I smiled sadly as I read.  I do not believe in your Best Friend Jesus because he is imaginary.  I do not judge you for having an imaginary friend, nor for contributing mental and emotional energy to the friendship for several decades.  I am more than capable of doing the same.  The construct seems to have given you strength and a worldview by which to live.

I would never in a million years wish that you did not have it.

So why did you say you are now praying for me, that the beautiful words we sing together each Christmas in Messiah will reach my heart and I will see The Light?

I saw your daughter in her uniform at the grocery store this evening.  We smile at each other and say hello every week now, and exchange some chit-chat, having sung together twice.  She's become a lovely young woman and moves with pep and intent.  She's a hard worker and seems to be doing well in her job there. 

Tonight, I saw her and smiled and waved, and she managed a weak smile in return and then looked away.

Did you tell her I am an atheist?  Are you praying together as a family that I will come to love your imaginary friend?

Did you hear the hesitation in her voice last week, when she was my cashier and I asked her where you teach, and she explained that you used to teach math in high school, but now home-school them?  She was a touch embarrassed.  She probably gets a negative reaction when someone finds out.  There's prejudice out there.  People think she's not socialized.  People think she's sheltered.  People figure she's being formed into a cookie-cutter religious freak by zealot parents.  They're pretty unfair, those assumptions and misconceptions, aren't they?  Her voice caught, just a little.  She was afraid to tell me.

You wondered why I was a little afraid of telling you I am not a believer like you.  You couldn't imagine why I would hesitate.

There are prejudices against atheists, too.  Your daughter turned away.  I think perhaps she believes them.  The weekly smiles have now been poisoned.

I don't feel kind about this any more.

I could tell you that I, in turn, am praying for you, that you might see the light and realize that your friend is imaginary, that you would lose your faith.  I could try to persuade you, through sharing my own journey, that you are mistaken to be a Christian.  But I would not do that, because aside from the attendant problems in an atheist praying for you, it would be incredibly rude.

How dare you?  How dare you engage your family in asking your imaginary friend to make me be just like you?  You said you would not reject me because that "would not please the Savior."  Please, tell me the difference between rejecting me on my face and appealing to what you believe is a higher power to change me in the way you think best.

For the first time, I understand other atheists' intolerance of religious evangelicals.  And because I understand it, I will not become a reciprocal evangelical myself. 

I will rise above that.

I will continue to smile sadly and write you back with softened words, and encourage you to keep your imaginary friend.  I will choose to enjoy talking with you, but I will also be watchful and guard my heart, because behind some of your words, there will be something ugly, something your imaginary friend would not condone.  And you will never perceive it's there.

December 21, 2018

things that come in threes

Dear M.J. of Wayward Sparkles,

I have a serious problem here.  You tagged me and I promise to answer the three questions, somehow, but I don't know three people to tag who haven't already been tagged along the way, so I'm going to end up being That Person who's the gnarled branch on the tree that doesn't grow any other branches and makes the tree off-balance and misshapen so that artists look at it and keep right on walking with their easels and tote bags full of paints, looking for something better to paint.

That's what you get.

Also, I've lost sleep over this because I don't know the answers.  Could you maybe give me math problems instead?  Or Harry Potter trivia questions, or Lord of the Rings trivia.  I have a fighting chance with those.

*deep breath*

All right, Ass-Crack Sparkles *evil grin*, here goes ....

1.  If you could go back to a moment in time to re-experience it just as it was, fix something or change something, when and what would that be? It can be a time during your life or a time before you were born. It can be something personal or something like preventing Lincoln’s assassination.

This is that thing where my Fantasy Deficiency Disorder gets in the way, because I would say something like preventing Constantine from converting to Christianity, but then my brain is all, Yeah, but how do you know things wouldn't turn out even worse? and You couldn't have any influence anyway at that point in history because you'd have been a woman and thus merely decorative.  But if we're thinking Touched By An Angel-style stuff, then I'll suspend disbelief for a bit.

Yeah, Constantine would be an option, but I'm going to toss that one because we'd just find some other equally stupid religious reasons to want to blow ourselves off the planet.  I fully trust human nature in this regard.  Other contenders for prevention would be credit deregulation in the U.S., the Trail of Tears, the Irish potato blight, and the invention of pimiento cheese.  Donald Trump is a problem that we're going to have to get out of ourselves.

In my own life, I would re-experience two moments:  The day I met my wife, that spell-cast morning; and the vignette I have of my son sleeping on my shoulder, just shy of two years old, while I sat in a rocking chair, holding him and letting him sleep.  I would relive the smell of the nursery, the combination of baby powder and allergen-free detergent and my son's hair and even the hint of Diaper Genie.  I would relive the sense that I could shield him from everything bad and wrong in the whole wide world just by keeping him wrapped in my arms.

And if I was to fix or change something, my first son would have had his surgery weeks before he did, and would have lived.  This, too, is fraught, because who is to say that my second son would have then been born?  This is where not being in control of the Universe comes in handy; mind games like this can be abandoned because these aren't decisions one has to make.

Stare at the Milky Way one night soon and say "thank you" out loud for that.

2.  In a fire, what possession would you grab on your way out and why?

(This is assuming my family is out safely, including the dogs.)

I weed through the inventory ....

Not ashes, because they would return to ashes.

Not the baby book, with its saccharine references to angels ushering him away.

Not P.J.'s precious Widmanstatten meteorite cut, because it would easily survive the fire and be found again.

Not the lock of Chester's hair and his paw print, because P.J. would grab those.

Clothing can be replaced.  Pictures can be duplicated by family.  Important documents are already in a fire safe.  Most files on the NAS are also in the cloud.  The same goes for cell phones and computers.  Collectibles can be re-collected, even imported French aardvarks and hedgehog pants and Mary Engelbreit cookie jars.  Love letters are bread crumb trails to the living, breathing thing inside us.

As crazy as it sounds, I would grab the first-edition hardback of Good Omens that P.J. gave me for Christmas two years ago.  It's autographed by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and when I touch the place where Pratchett, too, touched the page, I feel connected to someone who is dead and part of the larger World now.  It's similar to the wonder of touching a piece of meteorite, an object that did not come from this planet.  I would grab the book, because he is gone and that, that could not be replaced.

3.  Who is your favorite writer/author and why? What would you recommend others read from this author?

Hell, my last answer didn't set this up at all.

There was a time when I would have said Fannie Flagg, whose writing I love so much that I don't dare write seriously myself, because she exists.

There was a time when I would have said Douglas Adams, because he introduced me to English humor.

I'm even tempted to name Ken White over at Popehat, because he is a brilliant writer and I would have his babies and also his pony-themed posts are capable of making me laugh so hard that milk shoots out of my nose and my diaphragm hurts for a week.  He is also the inventor of the character "Mr. Feculent Q. Pus-Crust of the Society for Cornholing Unsuspecting Children".  Nose-Milk City.

But P.J. gently coaxed me until I picked up Small Gods, which isn't nearly Pratchett's best, and the tortoise flying through the air, changing forms, hooked me into a spree of reading almost everything the man wrote (I'm still working on it).  He was a beloved, delightful human being whose atheism and wit allowed him to deliver scathing social satire wrapped in accessible characters, places, and circumstances.

Then he up and died.

Fuck early-onset Alzheimer's right in the eye socket.

I finished falling in love with him anyway - or, at least, with his work, and with his authorship.  So to trace the outline of his autograph in that book with a very light touch of my finger is as close to a holy ritual as I come.

I'm giving his work to my daddy for Christmas this year.  I bought a first-generation Nook on eBay and loaded it up with Pratchett books, and if he reads nothing else - not the Watch series, nor the Witch books, nor the Industrial Revolution stories - he must read the Death books, beginning with Mort and continuing through at least to Hogfather, which is the single book I long for him to read.  It will resonate.  He will howl with laughter over and over.  This is a man who welded mobile homes during the day and then came home and watched Masterpiece Theater and old British sitcoms on PBS.  He loved Rumpole of the Bailey.  He stayed up late to catch Dr. Who in the Tom Baker days.

It's just a matter of getting him to read at all, and if you wonder where I get my stubborn streak, I'll introduce you to him.

That goes for you, too:  I would recommend Mort, Reaper Man, Soul Music, and Hogfather, after which, if you're thoroughly enjoying yourself, you can add Thief of Time for good measure.  If you don't read these, you'll never know why Duck Man has a duck on his head.*

Okay, M.J., if you have three un-tagged names, shoot them to me and I'll come up with three questions and maybe save a tree-painting artist from getting walking blisters on his ankles.

(*And if you do read these, you still won't know.  Even Death himself had to ask.)


UPDATE:  Names!  That means I have to think now.  Okay, thinkie-face on .... (a lot of time elapses, grocery list gets made, dog naps on feet and then leaves) ... right, then:

1.  What is the first thing (like an essay or creative writing piece, not tracing your alphabet) that you can remember writing?  It can be from childhood, adolescence, early adulthood; what's the earliest thing that comes to mind that you'd consider you-writing?

2.  Do certain dates (births, deaths, anniversaries of all sorts) carry great weight and significance for you, around the calendar, or do you tend to observe them as things come up at any point in time and remind you of those people and events?

3.  What did you do the first day you had your driver's license and unaccompanied access to a car, keys in hand?

Tagging Pip, Suzanne, and Lori!  Can't wait to read your thoughts.  Well, I mean, I can wait, but I don't want to.  Hurry up, damn it.

December 19, 2018

bearing witness

"We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things ... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying, 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.'
-- Susan Sarandon, Shall We Dance?

P.J. bears witness to my intricacies.

I need never tell her that depression has taken me under.  She comes and hugs me and kisses me and then looks on my face, and sees my eyes, and knows.  She sees the half-smile that I struggle to give, the one my muscles fight against.  She bears witness.

She watches me at the dinner table, sees me stare for five minutes at the Mrs. Dash on the lazy Susan in the middle of the table, and says nothing, because she respects what holds me.  She allows me to Be.

She pushes my hair back and strokes my cheek with her thumb, and I force my downcast eyes to look up and meet her gaze, and in it I see love and compassion so intense that I feel a visceral shock and I have to look away.  And this she witnesses.

And she witnesses the days that follow, when I surface and breathe more easily and reach for the salt shaker beside the Mrs. Dash, when I once again consider my food worth receiving savor.  She witnesses the easing and the return.  I push her hair back and stroke her cheek with my thumb, and in my gaze, she sees profound gratitude and the beauty in the eyes of her beholder.

She bears witness.

December 17, 2018

some momentary awareness

Therapist Gumby handed me a printed copy of a Rumi poem before we last parted, and asked me to read it, let some time pass so I could move beyond my predictable gut reaction of thinking it's absolute rubbish, and then consider what it has to say.  I have done all of that, and I'm still considering.  This is apparently one of Rumi's best-known pieces, but it was novel to me:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I can be very specific now, after letting that first impression quiet down, about why I think it is rubbish.  I think about the immense anger I harbor toward my mood swings and have difficulty with the idea of inviting them in, but I can't disagree with it; the idea simply seems out of reach.  I resist letting new books, movies, music in; how much more these things he names?  But it's his conclusion, based in mysticism, that makes me toss it in the rubbish bin.  I simply cannot.

One thing, however, seems to have persevered:  For the first time, I found reason to be grateful for my swing into depression.

I hoped yesterday that it was a result of circumstance ... the completion of reading a trilogy and the let-down that always brings ... a perceived rejection ... clumsy mistakes piled up.  This morning, I knew better when I looked at the box containing the Charlie Brown Christmas tree replica that I had intended to bring to work and thought, "Why bother?"  I left it sitting there, and turned and left for work.

I drove to work with depression.  And when my mind turned to its continued grappling with the questions of why I write, whether I have a core, what is real, what stays, I found the depression gave me clarity of thought.  I can't speak to whether it's worth it, and I'm normally inclined to follow the wisdom of others and distrust anything I think while in the night, but I was grateful for this anyway.  The depression has swept away all protection against seeing myself clearly, leaving frightening, razor-sharp introspection, unfettered honesty.

Why do I write?

I know that in part, I have written to be read, because the loss of that feels just so - like loss.  What does a person do when she writes a book, but shows it to no one?  Why does she attempt to get it published?  Is it always money, or is it to be read, heard, validated?  How does she cope with suddenly being vulnerable to criticism?  That external validation may not be what led me to begin, but it is the cornerstone of why I have continued.  It's the same drive that gave birth to Facebook and keeps it alive.  Tell others or it isn't real; tell others or it didn't happen.  It's likely a conditioned worldview, and I share it.  I wish this was not true, but in the moonlight of depression, I can see it for what it is.  I write to be read.

Why do I write?

It's who I am, not just what I do.  I cannot deny this.  My snippets of thought often come out written in some style.  This is how I would put that, I say without saying it.  I phrase things a certain way when I speak, especially to P.J.  Writing affects me the same way music does.  When I listen to music, my vocal cords contract and lift and form sounds and notes almost involuntarily, and I have to become aware that I'm doing that in order to stop and listen instead.  Likewise, when the world comes to me, I put it into writing in my head.  I seldom realize that I'm doing it.

My Grandma was right.  You can't help writing.  It's who you are.

Why do I write?

If I stopped writing, I would lose part of my identity.  Right now, I don't even know what "my identity" means, but I know I would lose part of it anyway.  A consistent behavior can feel like a core in the midst of existential negation, when nothing else can be detected.  I am looking for a constant Me, and I cannot find her, but there is constant writing.  It's a flimsy twig on the cliff's side that I can clutch with white knuckles.

Why should I write at all?

If no one read what I wrote here, ever again, the blog would become a private notebook.  Something fundamental would be missing if it came down to my writing out loud to a wall instead of a window.  Something rudimentary would remain, the part that needs the unbroken and dependable aspect, the part that cannot help but write, the part that would form and mouth the unheard words because it must.

December 16, 2018


It seems it's time to grapple again with the question of why I write in this blog.

I suspect that what happened to me over the past few weeks has happened, or will happen, to anyone out there writing, and that the effects have varied.  Some blogs you see with the last posts from 2012.  Some writers have shrugged it off and kept going and their encounter with it went unnoticed by the rest of us.

I'm losing readers.

I don't even check statistics any more, so I don't mean stagnant growth or dwindling numbers "out there".  I mean my base.

I learned last week that my therapist has stopped checking in on a daily basis, the way he once did.  This is because I haven't been writing on a daily basis.  It's perfectly sensible.  But hearing it took some of the wind out of my sails.

The week before, I realized in a conversation with a friend who once read daily that he hadn't checked in for what must be several months now.  He lost interest.  I know he won't be returning.

The brief flurry of readers who came and went because of a blogging group I found was just that.

Sometimes, I even have to remind P.J. to read, though I know she always checks.

As I sit in my boat, still on the water, the wind insufficient to move me back into the currents and waves of ideas and enthusiasm and long hours at my laptop, I have nothing but time to ask questions.  Was I writing to be read?  Has the pace slackened because the bones have been written?  Is this a normal phase, one everyone hits?  A crossroads of sorts?  And the darker ones ... have I become boring, trite, uninteresting?

I revisited my statistics page and studied it, and was struck by how readership is consistently higher when I'm funny instead of serious.  For that matter, the same is true of my Facebook posts.

That makes me feel that to be heard, I have to be the clown, not the deep waters.

To be heard.  My boat is not moving.  I know by watching the clouds and the stars.  There is nothing to hear.  I have not been writing.  Now the wind has gone.

Now I must discover for myself whether I'm seaworthy.  Now I have to learn why I write.

December 12, 2018

to make french onion soup

On Sunday, which was the twelfth anniversary of our meeting, P.J. made French onion soup for supper.

The prep work was meticulous, the slicing of many onions and the measuring of sherry and white wine and beef stock.

On a chilly, windy Sunday twelve Decembers ago, we moved heaven and earth to meet at Atlanta Bread Company, long since out of business, during early breakfast hours.  There was babysitting to arrange, a work schedule to bend, sleepless nights for both and long drives to the restaurant.  We lived almost three hours apart.

There we talked for hours, first in armchairs by the fire, then in a booth.  We exchanged our favorite Far Side cartoons, anecdotes, personal histories, opinions, books, quotes.  We felt the affinity between us, drawn, pulled, matched.  We found a richness in each other that we had each longed to hold, appetites for true fulfillment suddenly insatiable by anything less than the other.  A kick in the chest.  A gasp.  An awakening.

A stick of butter melted in the Dutch oven, and the onions were tossed and coated and began the process of cooking, white to translucent, translucent to light brown, light brown to dark with caramel.  It required stirring, constant stirring, a dedication to the process, an unwillingness to settle until the rich dark was brought out.  It required detail, a bay leaf, salt.

There is a joke widely known:  Q: What does a lesbian bring on the second date?  A: A U-Haul.  Our origin was not so precipitous.  There was a marital separation involved, and there were houses to sell, and a nigh-unbearable year of long-distance dating faced us.  We took turns making the long I-want-to-see-her-so-badly drive, and each Sunday afternoon, when it was time to part, a car driving away felt like hearts rending.  In this way, we withstood the test of time and commitment.  It turned our love into a full and precious thing, worth the stirring, worth the crazy patience.

After it had simmered all afternoon and early evening, I spooned my first bite of soup from the ceramic bowl and closed my eyes, tasting the layers and flavors, the highest and best manifestation of a simple beginning seasoned with time.  My eyes remained closed.  I savored it.

Her kiss is just like that.

December 9, 2018

what became of whimsy

Last night, I began a re-read of His Dark Materials, and in the first pages of The Golden Compass, it happened again ... I was reading with an eye for craft as much as content, admiring the odd turn of phrase, trying to get a grasp on the slippery ways in which an author achieves flow and paints characters.

Today is the first anniversary of Sparven.  It began on December 9 because its origin included one frustrating evening and morning attempting to contend with WordPress, then choosing to roll the dice in the face of admonitions that technically, through using Blogger, Google owns my content.  Many of the people who work for my organization think the networking department remotes into their machines by stealth and monitors their surfing activity.  There are five of us.  Even if respect for privacy wasn't ingrained in our unspoken ethical code, who has the time?  Google is bigger, but busy.  I doubt they'd register my blog as a blip on the radar unless some lawyers found a reason to start some shit.  The lawyers are busy, too.  I chose Blogger.

I've been looking back through my posts, the volume of which is stupefying when considering that this was supposed to be a flash in that gleaming pan of Good Intention, born of a whimsical notion.  I'm looking for progress in my writing, progress in my therapy, progress in areas in my life and psyche in which writing has served as a catalyst and a nudge.  It's the New Year for me, for once not the least bit arbitrary.  I'm looking for who I am, one year later.

I have acknowledged my seed-sowers:  Leslie Perry, a high school English teacher; Dr. Sylvia Little, a college English professor; my grandmother and her scratched-out notepads and Bic pens on the vinyl dining table cover; Kate Campbell and Dar Williams, two of the most influential songwriters woven through two decades of life (and counting); those who have come to read and comment and cheer the writing on, some older, dearer friends and some newer, blossoms waiting to bloom; and my wife, whose gentle, relentless hand has rested on my shoulder as she watched me take my time and come to this on my own, for she knew she could never push me toward using a talent that she alone perceived.

I still want to find Ms. Perry and thank her.  I believe I've kept my promise to Dr. Little.  I've already thanked Kate for her example.  And when I can't write, when the darkness takes me, those who read and know my name now do not go away.  They patiently wait.  They are a boat's anchor, dropped and still in the waters that always recede.  They help bring me back.  I thank them by writing again.

I wrote earlier of my longing to see progress after a year of therapy and processing those internal workings through writing.  I intentionally dissociated the child part of me into Lille, and have since reintegrated her, and speak of her less and less.  I have wrestled with my perception of my Teacher, and in doing so, have moved it down the line toward an adult perspective.  That hasn't stopped the pattern of preoccupations, but I rarely, if ever, think of her and the town tantalizingly close by where she retired.  Together with Therapist Gumby, we've taken on learning to navigate the bi-polar disorder and self-injury episodes, treading water during suicidal ideation, spelunking for a core that is me and not the chemical slosh of my medications.  If he had asked me to journal during this past year, I would have refused, or agreed to it and then exactly failed to do it at all.  But he hasn't had to ask.  He reads this blog every day.  After all, it's my journal.

I've processed relationships in what has often been a clumsy fashion, primarily what lies between my mother and me, all that is not, all that unfortunately is, and how I move forward.  I've delved into the significance of the abuse I suffered at my sister's hand, the infuriation and enjoyment found in what constitutes a far more normal relationship with my daddy, and the undeserved celebration of the precious jewels spilled into my hands, my wife and my son.  We laugh and strive and enjoy the hell out of profanity.  We challenge each other, form each other.  As he grows up, so do I, and P.J. is my oxygen.

And in between, I've had the luxury of writing the humor that has come my way, simple stories and commentary on having dogs, loving music, being an atheist, being an acceptable human, and having a stomach the size of an egg.  I can make others laugh, and there are few joys that compare.

If I abandon false modesty, I can say that I think I've developed a writing voice.  I omit articles where they belong and place them where they do not.  I have to be careful because in the same way that I inadvertently begin to mimic someone when speaking with them by phone, picking up their accent, I find myself slipping into the style of other writers whose material I read for more than five minutes at a time.  This is a critical point.  I wonder how much Philip Pullman's voice will creep in over the next two weeks.

My pace has slowed to one that is sustainable.  This is to be expected.  And I am willing to write a book, but I cannot.  Many of my scars and defense mechanisms are the very things that prevent me from conceiving fiction and fleshing it out.

But I am forced to say this, albeit grudgingly:  I do not know what my second year of writing will bring.