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

doldrums

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.

December 7, 2018

it's different when you ask for it

A strange thought occurred to me this morning in the shower.  It was strange even for a shower thought, where most strange thoughts are known to originate.  The thought was this:

I did something stupid yesterday and I am grateful that I am the only one who has to suffer the consequences.

Sound ridiculous?  It isn't.

Yesterday, at the brisk, frosty crack of early, The Kid and I went out and tried to jump-start the minivan, which had turned up Wednesday night with a dead battery.  This was a complete fail, so I had to remove the dead battery and wait until the auto parts store opened and go trade it in for a new one, an act that called upon a fair amount of hubris, given that I had never removed a car battery before.  

It also involved pushing the van out into the driveway.  Minivans are heavy.  I know you think they're heavy, but you're wrong, because they're even heavier than that.  The Kid and I put everything we had into it, straining over and over, and moved the van a few paltry inches each time, panting and grunting and ignoring the cold of the metal and using visualization techniques and remembering everything every phys ed teacher had ever yelled at us, and by Dog we got it out there where we wanted it. 

Car batteries are heavier than you think, too.

I installed the new one and reprogrammed the van, and it worked, and nothing blew up.

I drove to work.  I came home.  I made dinner.  I went to bed.

I woke up this morning and instantly regretted it.  My first attempt to roll over alerted me to the fact that a team of CDC officials with advanced Parkinson's tremors had come in during the night and administered tetanus shots all over my body.  Understandably, this made me angry.  I'm getting sick of unauthorized government officials coming into our room at night

Then it dawned on me that this was the result of being a flaccid forty-something who suddenly decided to push a boulder up a hill yesterday.

And by the time I hit the shower, it further came to me that unlike the stupid things that I sometimes say or do because of the bi-polar disorder, this time no one else is affected.  I have extremely sore muscles and I keep having chills, and all that is very not-fun, but no one is having to tip-toe around my irritability, or deal with constant talking while wishing for a quiet evening, or feel compassionate or tolerant or anxious or amused or patient or vicariously embarrassed, or do anything other than think, "Thank fuck it's not me.  That sucks."

My anger about the illness - at the illness, and at the Universe - grows by the week, by the month.  I'm stuck in a loop of watching myself say and do things that I cannot tightly control through an act of will, then watching the sequelae.  Usually there's humiliation in there, peppered with guilt.  The anger doesn't feel like part of the process of moving toward acceptance.  It feels like a furnace with coals that glow more brightly over time.  The earth rumbles in the deep.

That's why I'm grateful for getting sore muscles.  They are logical.  They make sense.  They are mine and mine alone.

December 3, 2018

imma fuck up a photographer

Last night, I drove home from the Messiah performance thinking that everything went well.  Better than well, actually.  There was an unprecedented moment when, during the dramatic pause before the final word in the "Hallelujah" chorus, not a single person anywhere in the spacious auditorium suddenly and violently coughed, no one dropped something loudly onto the floor, no one's baby or toddler emitted a cry of distress, no one so much as sniffed.  No one messed it up.  We knocked that one out of Wrigley.

I would have gone on today blissfully assuming all was well, had a fellow alto not e-mailed me:  "We're in the newspaper!"  Just that.

So I went to the paper's web site and found the story.

And the pictures.

Including the one of me.

That was big.

Picture.

Of me.

Big.

Me.

Picture.

Me.

No.

There is a rule, in the way that gravity is a rule and inertia is a rule, and that rule is this:  You do not take pictures of me.

I once was an administrative assistant for a nice lady who was the head of our department and was kind to everyone and was the sort who thought people enjoyed little ice-breaker activities at the beginnings of staff meetings.  Let's call her Mary, or Our Lady of Impenetrable Cheerfulness.

Mary tried to take my picture with a little pocket-sized camera one morning, but I caught her in time and held my hand up.  She laughed.  I explained patiently, "I do not let others take pictures of me.  Please.  Do not."  She desisted.  But she tried again and again, at other meetings or any time a camera was out for some reason, only to be consistently thwarted by my sixth-sense camera radar and subsequent evasive maneuvers.  The looks I gave her were increasingly dirty but did nothing to deter her efforts.

Then one day, she asked me to stand still and pose for "a departmental directory" shot.  I said, "No."  There was almost a crackle of tension in the air, because this was outright insubordination; the directory was her pet project of the week and she was into it.  We stared at each other, a contest I normally lose in three-tenths of a second, but this time, I won.  I like to think she saw great flames billow up in my pupils.

And since I ran the web site where the directory was posted, I got to use a Yahoo-style blank head for my picture.  It's the little things.

My brother-in-law sneaks photo shots in on me, and I let him live in spite of this because I love him, and he'd better be damned glad about that, because otherwise his skeletal remains would be chained to a stray log on the banks of the Chattahoochee River.

I saw the photographer yesterday lurking around the stage door early in the concert, but at the time I assumed he was getting the yearly snapshot for our group's Geocities-looking web page.  I didn't realize that I was missing an opportunity for a preemptive strike.

And he applied some sort of horrible brightening technique to the photo so that my hair looks golden instead of dark brown.

The worst bit?  It was a side profile shot.  The part of me I most hate.  My mouth is wide open and my face is round and I hate it hate it hate it.

So now I have to find him, and do things that will include something with his camera grotesquely reminiscent of stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey, and then I have to make sure I have friends who will help me get rid of the body.  I have it on good authority that boric acid and a stainless steel vat can do wonders for the eradication of evidence.

December 1, 2018

the devil shits pimiento cheese

I begin by posing this question:  Who the suppurating fuck lists a "three-cheese pizza" on their posh restaurant's children's menu and then includes pimiento cheese as one of the three cheeses? 

Some of these pretentious assholes made my son cry during our wedding dinner four years ago.  He had already ordered a Caesar salad, something he ordinarily loved, but it arrived with pre-plague-era romaine lettuce, a single crouton, and three large, whole anchovies laid on top.  He was troubled and looked to the pizza as his consolation.  It failed him miserably.

It's become pervasive.  Any restaurant advertising itself as having edgy, hip, neo-Southern cuisine - the kind of restaurant that lists the prices beside its menu items in single digits with no decimal points - seems to be putting pimiento cheese in everything ranging from its vegetarian gumbo to its gluten-free pecan pie.

This is clearly the work of the devil.

I grew up in a smallish town that was, ironically, the birthplace of Stan's World-Famous Pimiento Cheese.  It's a North Carolina thing, and you'll find this stocked in stores from Murphy to Manteo.  I don't know if the man grew the pimiento peppers in his back yard over off of Elm Street or if he imported them, but he welcomed possession by the devil himself and mixed them with Duke's Mayonnaise and started this product line, which rode the evil tides of the world and became an acquired taste among the locals. 

I'm baffled by how it ever got off the ground, and positively gobsmacked by today's apparent predilection for the vile paste.  People will grill it in sandwiches.  They will layer it atop juicy, glistening burgers.  They profess love for it, demons commandeering and confounding their minds. 

Pimiento cheese is cat-shit, crusty-underwear, toenail-clipping, gazelle-entrails, month-old-corpse nasty.  I do not understand.

The smell of it nauseates me, and that isn't even getting into the gradual acceptance of the misspelling "pimento", which makes me want to go around breaking noses indiscriminately.

The devil, I'm telling you.

November 30, 2018

mile marker

I remember driving home after visiting friends in Kenosha, Wisconsin in my early twenties.  We had driven down I-57 for what seemed like three forevers, through countless miles of stark, featureless winter farmland.  Illinois is long.  We finally passed through Urbana.  Then we saw a green, rectangular highway sign.  It read: "Memphis - 415 mi."


I knew despair.  It was as close as I've come to an ability to ponder the concept of infinity.

Therapist Gumby says I am not the same person I was a year and a half ago, and I don't think he means cellular division.

I blink at him when he says this.  I cannot see it.

But today, I will try to see it.

I'm wearing a necklace this morning.  It's a leather strap with a hammered copper medallion.  I am wearing it and miraculously, I am not experiencing a sensation of being choked, of gasping for air.  It's been a very long time since I wore a necklace.  I rather like it.

I'm in the midst of a preoccupation with someone, but this time, I'm approaching it with something akin to world-weariness, the anticipation of having to get a flu shot, the upcoming child's birthday party and wondering if I'm going to royally fuck it all up as an incompetent parent, and knowing how exhausting it's going to prove.  Driving through fog down a road that I've driven hundreds and hundreds of times before, surroundings familiar yet strange.  A combination of all of the above.  I'm still angry that this happens, but I'm also wiser, and equipped, and resigned.

I'm not writing as much.  The sense of desperation to be known has lessened, so the frequency driven by that need has abated.  I now write when a spark comes my way, but the sparks have settled into a rhythm, and I am wary of how comfortable I am with that.  This is still change.  I am not the same writer I was a year ago.

As for the rest of the work we find before us, I feel I'm standing still, stuck, unable to progress in the least.  The episodes of self-injury still take me and I have mustered only ephemeral defenses against them.  I still bruise the right side of my face when I deserve to be punished.  I still have not transcended to the point where the preoccupations do not occur.  The weight of guilt for all the wrong I've done still visits and settles on my weak shoulders.  I'm still prone to irrational behavior in hypomania and to feeling depression will grip forever.  Trauma is still triggered.

I read this inventory, and look down at my necklace, and think about the object of my current obsession and how it's a little easier this morning, and then look at all of the things that may well never budge.  The highway is unbearably long and it feels I will never get there.  And I may not.

But I choose gratitude.

November 29, 2018

because of course you cleaned your room

7:23 a.m. text exchange:

The Kid:  "Think I sprained my ankle further by sleeping wrong"

Me:  "What the fuck were you doing in your sleep, running?"

The Kid:  "No, just twisted or something"

Me:  "There's an ankle brace that you left on top of your dresser three years ago.  Try it."

The Kid: " .... not on top of dresser"

Me:  "Sock drawer under all the single socks?"

The Kid:  "... nope"

Me:  "Maybe under those manga books I asked you to put on your shelf back in April?"

The Kid:  "IT'S NOT THERE"

Me:  "How about the drawers in the bathroom?"

The Kid:  "No"

Me:  "Buried in the recesses under your bed?"

The Kid:  "Really?"

Me:  "Whatever.  Just limp, then.  I can't help you if you don't clean your room.  Also, once you clean up your shit in the basement like I told you to yesterday, I'll tell you where I hid the PlayStation controller this morning."

November 27, 2018

lines, dots, and ties

The ability to sight-read music and sing is a gift that came to me subtly, a little at a time, through church hymnals and piano lessons and sitting beside my grandmother in the choir at age twelve.  I was learning a second language without realizing it.  It was a bewildering shock to me later, when I learned as an adult that others could not simply pick up music and understand all that was on the page, could not "listen to it" with only their eyes and mind.  That was when I grasped the magnitude of the gift I was given in childhood.


In December of 2007, I left work when my lunch hour arrived, because I had forgotten my cell phone at home and needed to retrieve it.  While passing through an intersection, a very large Chevy work truck owned by a landscaping company ran its stop sign and plowed into my door at thirty-five miles per hour.  My Subaru Forester ended up on a different street.  You can say what you like about the solidity of a Volvo, but that Soob saved my life.  The door was dented up, and I had soreness and a lot of glass embedded in the left side of my head from when my head slammed into the glass.  That was all.  I was fine in a few days.

Well, almost all.  During the ambulance ride to the emergency room, I knew that I needed to contact someone, anyone, but all of the phone numbers in my memory danced in swirls, fragments and snippets, and I was unable to piece anything together but the number at work.  The EMTs called for me and my co-workers got the word out to everyone, including P.J.  I was released a few hours later and sent home with instructions to stay with someone who could watch me in case of concussion.  The numbers eventually pieced themselves back together.

It wasn't until the start of the spring symphony season in January that I encountered the worst consequence of that wreck.  At the first chorale rehearsal, the score of the Verdi Requiem was passed around and we began singing from the first page.  That's how we did things there.  I was on that level.  And as the hushed harmonies of the first measures were sung ... "Requiem ... requiem ... requiem eternam" ....

... I realized that I could no longer read music.

It was gone.  I knew that the car window had slammed the side of my head right smack in the Wernicke area and language center, but there had been no other apparent sequelae, no word-finding difficulties or signs of speech impediment.  I stared at the dots and lines and ties and markings on the pages in front of me and realized, with rising panic, that while I knew the dots were named C and F and G and that their color and shape told me how long they each lasted, these were facts truly in black and white, disconnected from my ability to translate them into music.  I was reading in a foreign language that I once knew but seemed to have forgotten.  The bridge was out.  I was out.

I spent the rest of the rehearsal as a puddle on the floor of the far stall in the bathroom.  I was shaking, and still shaking, I told the conductor after rehearsal was dismissed.  He listened and concluded that I was going to have to do the painstaking work of rebuilding the bridge.  He suggested that I use a recording and memorize the whole bloody thing - no small feat and something normally anathema for a choral singer - and then follow along and re-learn the language.  He was confident that I could do it.

And I did.  I cobbled it all back together.  But to this day, my skill set looks like an Igor.  The intervals don't come naturally.  I can't look at a note and automatically hear its tone in my head; I have to have something to reference.  The ear for music is gone and memorizing is a poor substitute.  I have reclaimed enough, but I have lost much.  I feel it keenly.

It is enough to allow me to sing Messiah.  It is enough.  This week is a relentless run of intensive daily rehearsals, homework and hydration. On Sunday, we will perform.  I will once again tell the story.

November 24, 2018

sprig

Soon after our local grocer gets its first shipment of fresh Fraser firs in from a nearby tree farm in the mountains, I find myself stopping in on a quick errand and, upon leaving the store, I look on the ground in front of the trees until my eyes land on the perfect small sprig that has fallen off a branch.  I bend over and pick it up, and sniff it for potency, and carry it away with me.

I have done this for eleven years.

There's always the moment when the conversation plays out with the imaginary irate store employee, the projection of my own conscience, who states that the bit of branch doesn't belong to me, that it's technically store property and I don't have a right to take it, and I have to argue that they couldn't sell it and my taking it doesn't hurt anyone.  It's a silly, repetitious thing, but every bit part of the tradition.  I steal it anyway.

I put the bag of groceries in the back and climb into the front seat of the car, and pass the sprig of Christmas fir to P.J., so she can inhale deeply with it placed just under her nose.  She gives it back and I do the same.  We pass it back and forth like a crack pipe.  Then I leave it in a cup holder, and for the next week it transforms the car into a pocket of evergreen bliss.

Thus our holiday season quietly begins.

November 22, 2018

to face the dark of giving thanks

Art by Gloria di Simone
It's Thanksgiving Day.

Alice's Restaurant will play on NPR in just under an hour.

We're guilty of it having become almost entirely about the food.  This isn't as bad as it sounds.  Every culture in the world has its dishes that are prepared and eaten only when marking a significant day or cultural or religious rite.  Food can evoke the cyclical grounding points of human existence.

In our celebrating this day, the awareness of the atrocities committed by a conquistador and his crew that over centuries came to be sanitized and painted in pastels for children has led to a divorce from promulgation of Thanksgiving's simplistic origins and, instead, a shift to a focus on gratitude.  Gratitude for food, gratitude spoken around a table of plenty, gratitude for "blessings" among those of faith or, for us, for what simply is, what came to be, and for what did not.

Oh, there are the football games in the afternoon, talk of plans for camping out that evening for a Black Friday sale, but the gratitude can come forth in its cocoon and the hope is always there, ever there, that it will emerge and land in the heart again and again year-round.  We must learn to begin the exercise somewhere, and the Thanksgiving table is for many that place.  An awkward effort, but a beginning, a reminder.  A tender shoot, a growth, a nudge, and perhaps in time a wellspring of knowing we cannot practice gratitude sans acknowledgement of its inextricable twin, a willingness to see those invisible in our community, our world, who are without, and to give to them from our own abundant table.  If we have and they have not, our gratitude is incomplete, tainted.

Uncomfortable gratitude until both its facets are honored.  Gratitude unsullied.

May each of us speak of gratitude around a table today, with others bearing witness, and may we each grow uncomfortable instead of complacent.

November 19, 2018

back the hell away from my muffins

To the person who also enjoys Thomas' cranberry English muffins:  Fuck off.  I got there first.

It's a start.  And they're
LIMITED EDITION.
Sometimes we look for ways to measure ourselves, who we are, how far we've come, whether we've changed as we've grown older.  For my part, I learned today that I care a lot less about what others think of me than I once did.  It used to be crippling, that need to be sure that everyone, everyone, approved.  I demonstrated my freedom from those chains today when I saw that Harris Teeter had stocked up on cranberry English muffins overnight.  I took them all.  Every last package.  I gathered them into my arms in a swoop of greedy exuberance and threw them into the cart.  There were none left on the shelf.

I usually care about others, the effect that what I do has on them, whether I'm being selfish, unkind, but those good qualities in a person are often set aside when addiction takes over.

Don't judge me if you haven't tried them.

I owe my ex a few bucks for something The Kid bought and he is accepting a package of these as currency.  That's how good they are.

The English muffins were flung into the cart and buried the apples, potatoes, onions, and herb stuffing.  They were joined shortly by heavy cream, cheese, butter, bacon to be cooked so the grease can be used for gravy, and also because bacon.  Neese's country sage sausage, used to make stuffing as God intended it to be.  Pepperidge Farm frozen crusty heroin rolls.

I said don't judge me.

When there was nothing else I could do to put it off, I reluctantly turned my cart and entered the baking goods aisle, which transported me into the zombie mob outside of The Winchester in Sean of the Dead.  Have you ever heard of caster sugar?  Neither had I.  I called P.J. and asked her if she'd meant to type "cane" and it had just auto-mangled it for her.  But it hadn't, and she said they probably didn't have it, and then damn if it wasn't right there in front of me, in a tiny bag and costing roughly the same per ounce as heroin (those crusty rolls are way cheaper), but apparently better than heroin because it's made out of cane sugar and angel tears.

As I pondered whether I could make more money growing vanilla beans than I do working in technology, I nabbed the items on my list, except for walnuts because that lady couldn't make up her mind which bag of pecan halves she wanted and stood there for a solid fifteen minutes trying to decide and I walked away before bad things happened to her and then I lay tackled on the ground and realized that I didn't remember the last thirty seconds.

We can always just put crumbled-up cranberry English muffin on the apple cake.

Update:  P.J. just wisely pointed out that in order to grow vanilla beans, which would indeed be highly lucrative, I'd have to live somewhere like Madagascar, where they have roaches three feet long with exoskeletons and also probably shivs and brass knuckles and opposable thumbs.  For this reason, I am opting to live on a more humble budget and continue in my current position.  If you need your computer fixed, let me know.

November 17, 2018

seriously, starbucks, we need to talk

Dear Starbucks,

Photo courtesy of Keurig.com.
Bullshit courtesy of Starbucks.
I am writing regarding your line of flavored Keurig-compatible coffee pods - specifically those labeled "mocha" - and asking that you remove these from shelves across the world on the grounds of what should be the company's bare-faced embarrassment.

"Toffee nut" is tasty.  I admit to the prospect of a cup of "toasted graham" being the thing that convinces me to roll out of bed some mornings.  And any corporation providing a line of double-caffeine pods is due respect and recognition.

I must present your "mocha" pods as a striking anomaly set against an otherwise solid performance.

We purchased these for our teenage son, who had only recently encountered that unquestionably delicious product widely known and enjoyed as a Starbucks glass-bottled mocha frappucino.  We thought that perhaps a cost savings could be achieved in empowering him to make his own reasonable facsimile of the beverage at home.  For a goodly number of reasons, this plan did not bear fruit.  The remaining eleven pods were abandoned.

These "mocha" pods take me back to childhood.  They evoke a memory of me as a young girl, standing by my mother in the grocery store.  I remember begging for a bottle of chocolate syrup with which to make chocolate milk, and my mother's hand reaching up past the Hershey's Genuine Chocolate [-Flavored] Syrup and instead seizing upon the bottle of Val-U-Time Rich Chocolatey Syrup, because that was how things were in our house.  I made a glass of chocolate milk using the syrup that very afternoon, the bottle's label sporting a yellow starburst proclaiming "Now with 200% MORE FLAVOR!", and even my unrefined child's palate noted the alarming fakeness of what could have only been corn syrup with brown dye and some chemicals that vaguely suggested a flavor of chocolate.  Triple the concentration of the dubious formula, in fact, if one was to believe the label.  I used the whole bottle over the ensuing weeks, to avoid the accusation of being wasteful, but the taste lingers in memory.

I did not expect to revisit it when I made my first cup of Starbucks "mocha".

Thus has the box sat on the top of our refrigerator for these past four months, the occasional pod removed and used as a component of a sacrificial guilt offering or delicate en pointe relationship navigation after one indulgently imbibed the last of the Brazilian the previous evening.

There are five pods left.  They are considered small sentences, to be suffered through and sipped while simultaneously depriving one's self of a true cup of coffee at a given time.  No amount of doctoring with other flavored syrups and creamers, or even rich, heavy cream, mitigates the experience.  We do not throw things away in our home.  The sentences will be served.

I write not for myself, but on behalf of those who may haplessly purchase these "mocha" pods in the future.  Please discontinue this line and spare these future customers an encounter with coffee bearing a misnomer that borders on false advertising, at best, and a two-week run of bad mornings that turn into bad moods taken out on family and colleagues, at worst, after these consumers begin their days with a mug brimming with hot, steaming childhood disappointment in lieu of all that a cup of coffee is supposed to bring.

Pull this from the shelves and try again, Starbucks.  I have faith in you and the vast resources at your disposal.  This time, do it right.  May I suggest Valrhona?

Lille

(p.s. Dear Google, Please do not attempt to replace the sacred name "Valrhona" with the word "hormonal".  While the two may intersect during certain phases of the moon, you do not know this.  Your Blogger dictionary is woefully inadequate.  You, too, have resources.  Get to work.  Thank you.)

(p.s.s. Dear Bots Trolling the Internet In Order To Bring Me Pertinent Ads, Please get your shit together.  I mean, really?)


November 15, 2018

the black leather belt

Coiled like a snake.
I want so badly to believe that it only got under my skin because I was tired and worn down yesterday.  I was the zombie who drank a record five cups of coffee during the day.  I was the person who had to answer all the difficult questions at work, covering for others.  I was the woman who longed to spend her lunch hour napping in her car, until she stopped short just before pushing open the back door that goes the parking lot, remembering what happened the last time she lay down in the back seat, the ghost of the suicide attempt, and so went back to her desk and tried to stay awake.

I was the mom who had to attend the first of three dance performances and ducked backstage to apply fake mascara facial hair to my son so he could be Chris Pratt in their Guardians of the Galaxy dance.  I was the mom who sat with his friend and politely looked at dreadful memes on his phone every three seconds and pretended to be interested in them when all she wanted to do was rest her eyes, just for a moment, just for a moment.

I want to think I was exhausted and unprepared, that somehow it would have been a non-event otherwise.  But I don't think I can believe that, because I know it isn't true.  I recognize trauma when it's triggered.

"It was really good," I said afterward.  "Yeah, you nailed it, except for that one awkward part that I'm not going to rub in your face ... oh, wait, yes I am," his friend said, grinning.  "I missed that part where our arms go over our heads in Narnia, our timing was really off," The Kid said, but overall he seemed pleased, or maybe relieved that the first of three nights was over and he could go home.

We drove to Sheetz to pick up a late meal.  The boys engaged in their usual world-of-their-own bonhomie in the back seat.  "Those jeans are really loose now," The Kid told me.  "Can you wear those suspenders under your t-shirt for that one?" I asked.  "Don't I have a belt"?  he replied.

His friend, who is gangly, the epitome of one hundred pounds when soaking wet, started to take off his own belt as a joke and said, "Here, you can use mine."

And I heard the slithering sound of the belt coming out of the belt loops of his jeans, the clink of the buckle, the sound of leather against itself.  Suddenly, ragged breathing, my brain drowning.

"Please put the belt back on.  Please," I said in a robotic voice.  He noted the edge in my words and said, "Yes, ma'am," and put it back on.  We F-bomb all the time.  "Ma'am" was absurd.  But he heard it in my voice.

I don't know how I got through Sheetz, through ordering and paying and waiting forever for the food.  I stared at the coffee machines in a daze, focused solely on keeping my shit together.  The belt ... the folding in half of the belt, pushing it together to puff up in the middle, then pulling it apart abruptly and the snap sound that would make a small child hit the ceiling from fear and what-was-next?

I was shaking and breathing hard and counting on the protective factor of my son's presence and my maternal drive to prove stronger than the reaction that commandeered the rest of me.  It was tenuous, but it was enough and I clung to it as I stared blindly at the word "Sumatra" on the coffee urn.

I dropped off the friend and drove us home, and it was only in P.J.'s waiting arms that I finally began shaking for real, and I could cry and let go.  Then I took meds and dropped off to sleep and woke this morning with the belt-snap-what-next? still weighing on me, taking all my thought.

I can wear a belt, though it's rare that I do.  I can stare at the long-stripes belt displays in stores.  But I cannot bear a belt in the hand of another, taking it off, holding it, snapping it menacingly, what-comes-next?  A black belt, an inch and a half wide, rough leather on the inside, matte on the outside, what-comes-next?

Today I am three years old and there was nowhere at Sheetz to run and hide.

P.J. is frustrated because she doesn't know who it is she needs to go kill, and never will.

November 13, 2018

cramps like thundering hooves

Welcome to Target Downs, home of the world-famous Menstrual Cup!  It's a beautiful day, folks, and the sun has dried out the track, so after two days of delay because of the rain, everyone's here and beyond eager to see if they've bet on a winner.

And we see the jockeys lining up at the shopping carts, ready to race ... they've been ready for days and this is finally it ... everyone has high expectations this month - AAAAAAAAND THEY'RE OFF!

It looks like the leader right from the start is Crimson Tide, pulling alongside this season's display of new, cozy sweaters, to the right - but no, he's back into the fray in the center now! 

Wait, wait ... now Aunt Flo has veered left to take the curve, and she's grabbed a pair of fetching flannel pajama pants ... the jockey has grabbed them and is pushing her onward ... and now the sleek neck of Gushing Delight is out just ahead and he appears to be heading unexpectedly for the sale on the coffee aisle, folks ... he loses his lead as he stops to make a decision ... same for the creamer, and we can safely say that Gushing is out of it, and sorry to all of you who were betting he was a sure winner ....

... returning to the horses, we see Red Roof Inn round the bend to the toilet paper aisle, falling back quickly because of the overwhelming number of choices, which puts Shark Week clearly ahead and pulling forward ... we might have a winner folks, as the finish line isn't too far away, only a lap to go ...

But wait!  Shark Week veers right and takes it wide, completely ceding what was an incredible lead as he picks up protein cookies ... Crimson Tide is back in it but having difficulty pulling up ... and there's The Cotton Pony, with incredibly low odds, taking the lead! 

She's focused - wait, she's focused on the crotch swab and discreet diaper aisle and now she seems content to pull back ... Crimson Tide still not able to pull into the lead ahead of Raging Rag, who seems -- wait!  Raging Rag slows as they round left again and pass the makeup brush aisle!  Crimson Tide may be able to pull this one off, folks! 

And they're approaching the cash registers ... Strawberry Moon not favored but clearly with a chance ... folks betting on Strawberry Moon are white-knuckled ... the cash registers are near ... but Crimson Tide puts on a burst of speed and has a neck on her ....

... and it's over, folks!  Crimson Tide overcame incredible odds after what should have been a fatal mistake in the first lap and has won the Menstrual Cup!  We have a winner!  I repeat:  Crimson Tide wins the Menstrual Cup!

November 11, 2018

if i shook a veteran's hand today

"Welcome home."
... I would want that veteran to know that the hand was at the end of an arm appended to a bleeding-heart, raving blue liberal desperate to represent that we, too, appreciate the hell out of our veterans and our military.  Being against a bloated military budget and the industrial-military complex, being against unnecessary war and dubious justification of our military presence in some foreign locations, can co-exist alongside outrage at how the V.A medical centers are underfunded and a deep appreciation for the sacrifices these men and women have made, the things they've endured, with gratitude sometimes so intense that it moves us to tears.

I have a salient memory from when I was twenty-one and visiting my childhood church.  Saving Private Ryan had just come out.  I remember a clump of the older men in the church, deacons who were WWII veterans, standing in the back of the sanctuary after church one Sunday, discussing the movie.  Two of them were telling the others, "Don't watch it," shaking their heads vigorously.  The movie was too full of triggers.  These men with wrinkles standing in suits and ties, about to head out to B&J's Restaurant with their wives and a few friends for fried chicken and greens and cornbread, living a simple life in a small town, carried inside them the horrors of war they brought back home.

Bill Phillips had one leg.  He had lost the other in the war.  Every week he wore a gray striped suit with the empty pant leg folded in half and pinned up.  He always smiled and he gave out Carefree chewing gum sticks, torn in half, to children.

"I mean it, Bill, don't watch it, don't rent the tape.  They did too good a job, like it's real."

Thank you from the liberal girl.  You didn't notice her listening in on your conversation, but she heard you, and she thought about it, and she understood.

November 10, 2018

zero shades of gray

In my ceaseless, muttering internal pursuit of discovering a core, some part of me that gives me a self instead of capriciously fluctuating with chemical manipulation, I've made it as far as noticing that sitting in the chair next to the empty one I'm trying to fill is the idea of honesty.  Honesty sits next to reality.

Am I honest?


It's something of a joke with those closest to me.  I'm not referring to the fact that I don't lie because I suck at it; it's deeper than that.  I go beyond wearing my thoughts and feelings on my sleeve; I hand them out on a tray.  Therapist Gumby and I have laughed together ruefully at what we call my tendency toward "excessive disclosure".  Somewhere along my developmental line, the road forked and instead of heading right and learning to withhold most things, lest they invoke disapproval, to be a closed book, I steered left and became someone who shows nearly everything, holding it out for examination.  This technique sometimes backfires, but most often it allows me the sense that others see me and aren't displaying any signs of wanting to annihilate me because of what they see.

There's probably a psych term for this, buried somewhere inside a tome on attachment disorders and object relations.  I just don't know what it is.

There are problems here.  One is that I can't have a stable fantasy life.  I have next to zero mental tolerance for allowing something to exist in my mind that isn't real.  Any fantasy either crashes and burns within seconds because a voice interjects like a snobbish art or antiques expert and points out all of the reasons it's a fake, or it turns toward plans and, eventually, behaviors meant to render the fantasy reality.  Things that are not true are lies and lies deny reality.  Nothing is allowed to set up house in that gray twilight space between the light of real and the dark of not-real, between want and cannot-have.

In this, I am still a child, still Lille.  And this fundamental lack of grayness is the reason my preoccupation episodes wreak havoc.

Sometimes I post something on Facebook and then delete it within an hour.  This has been happening with increasing frequency.  Last night I whined about getting hit yesterday with a stomach bug.  Three people said get-well, so I decided it constituted attention-seeking and that no one needed to know I was sick (the audacity of asking, asking for sympathy!) and I took it down.  If no one likes a post or someone misunderstands me, or if I re-think what I've said and decide I don't want to be perceived that way, I delete it.  But it's usually the former; otherwise, I'd think this was an absurd sign of progress toward keeping some things inside, learning discretion, even if it's retroactive.

This question has been added to my growing burden:  If I harbor products of my mind instead of putting everything in a display case for others, if I retain things that are not seen and thus externally validated, am I honest?

November 8, 2018

lille vs. the sewing machine (but not really)

(You asked, so now you have to read the whole thing.  -Lille)

That thing I was saying about Supermom?  I suck at not doing it.

Because I'll be damned if The Kid isn't going to have some thought given to his costume for his dance performance next week, just because he's the only boy.  He's in two dances.

In one, he's Star Lord/Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy, and I've already hooked him up with that awesome dark red leather jacket (which cost a fortune, but GOTG III comes out soon and I can sell it before Halloween and get my money back) and some great black jeans.  We've even figured out how to give him facial stubble using mascara.  Learning the technique involved some dangerous flirting with Pinterest, from which I normally run screaming, because Crafts.

In the other dance, the theme is Narnia.  The girls will all wear beautiful, flowing, deep cornflower-blue dresses.  The teacher told The Kid to just wear a white shirt and black pants like he did last time they performed.

I was piqued by this.  I took umbrage at it.  I should have been all "thank fuck I don't have to make an effort for this bullshit," but instead, I felt like he'd been overlooked.

Enter the Quest for the Vest.  "What colors are the dresses?" I asked him early last week.  "Just turquoise," he replied.  "Like, teal-turquoise, or closer to blue-turquoise?"  "Closer to blue.  I think."  We then walked around the basement pointing at various blue objects until he decided one was spot-on.  It was turquoise.

(This was where it all went wrong, in retrospect.  I was asking for an accurate color description from a child who wears navy blue shorts with orange piping paired with a black t-shirt with red lettering.)

Bring on Supermom:  I whipped out a tape measure like a professional seamstress and measured his chest, then ordered a vest on eBay.  Bam!  I even rolled the tape measure back up and everything.

Two days later, he texted me a photo of one of the dresses.  It was not turquoise.  Not even close.

I tried to cancel the eBay order.  They shipped the vest an hour later.  Because of course they did.

Shit.

I then spent a few days in complacency denial.  But yesterday, I received another text from The Kid:

"We have to have our costumes tomorrow for the dress rehearsal, not next week."

Blistering hordes of fuckwads.

There ensued a frenzied afternoon-long online search, punctuated by phone calls to various formal wear stores in our vicinity, which turned up a multitude of blue vests, all navy, and exactly fuck-all in the strange-shade-of-blue-shiny-vest category.

Fine, I'll fucking SEW him a vest, I decided, at that point half-crazed and in despair and fully divorced from any shred of perspective and proportionality.  I spent another hour speed-devouring web sites about How To Sew For Unbalanced People With No Aptitude Whatsoever Who Will Probably Die Of A Needle Injury.

I am.  I'm going to damn well go to the fabric store and buy some fabric and thread and buttons and a pattern and sew him a silky Narnia vest that matches the girls' dresses and I know where P.J. keeps that thing she calls the "sewing machine" and I kind of remember from Girl Scouts when I was eight years old what to do with that trick with the thread all through the top thingies and then the other thread in the bottom and the hangie thingie and them both coming up and being long enough and I think there are some round things, too.  And there's Google.  And booze.  And I'll probably be up until dawn doing this and the booze will help me not throw anything through the sliding glass doors.  Probably.  And the finished product might look like harem pants or maybe a handkerchief used in a magic trick when I'm finished, but it's going to god-damned well be a vest!

I picked The Kid up from school and headed to the fabric store.  En route, he chose to share that in his backpack, he had a basic microfiber men's tee that his teacher had handed him during class that was the same color as the dresses and he could wear it.  I very sweetly inquired as to why he had not shared this information with me when we discussed my picking him up and my grand plans to overcome Crafting that very evening.  "Um, I was really into doing my math.  Uh, sorry about that."

We went home.  He tried on the shirt.  It was a little too small.

But a black vest would make it perfect.

And you can buy black vests in this town all day long and twice on Sundays.

"We're going shopping.  Get your shit," I said.

We went to Men's Wearhouse and found an okay black vest that rode up a little but everyone knows they have the best stuff, so whatever.  I even kept a straight face when they rang us up and the total was over a hundred dollars, and handed the gentleman my credit card while dreaming wistfully of Goodwill.  We left the store.  We got into the car.  We closed the doors to the car.  Then I let out a lightning-fast scream-rant about the price of that vest and exactly what they could do with it.

"I didn't actually catch all that, but I assume it meant that there went my Christmas present," The Kid said when I had finished.

"It cost too much," I whimpered quietly, my head in my arms, folded on top of the steering wheel.

I drove The Kid to his dad's house while muttering, "I have to take it back, I have to take it back."  On the way, we formed a plan, which was that I would go on a shopping spree for a cheaper, better vest, then grow a pair of ovaries and return the one we'd just purchased.

The first place I stopped didn't have any vests.  But they did have dress shirts, and that's when my eyes lighted upon a black dress shirt and a pair of black suspenders, and it occurred to me that many male dancers wear all black and it's a very classy look, and also fuck vests, so I bought a black shirt and the suspenders and left the store floating on a shimmering cloud of unicorn-sparklies triumph.

The cloud was so wonderfully drifty and glittery that it carried me straight to Men's Wearhouse, where I returned the vest with my head held high.  It was almost not even noticeable that I was slinking away wishing I was running when I walked out of the store.

I called The Kid and told him about the wonderful new Thing that had happened.

"Do you think the teacher is going to be okay with that?  Let me text her."

Poof, went the cloud.  Sparklies were all over the floor board of the car.  It's going to take years to get that shit out of the folds of the seats.

I called P.J. for reinforcement and moral support.

"Isn't that going to make him disappear on the stage?  Black against black, no color at all?  Hmmm."

She was, of course, right.  That's when the high of being faced with doing the impossible and the ironic low of being relieved of that duty combined with feeling like I failed when I thought I had actually been the genius of the world, and I started crying.  P.J. was the unlucky, undeserving recipient of the unattractive noises involved in crying over the phone.

So if the teacher raises an eyebrow today, I suppose we have the option of buying a different black vest.  Maybe from Goodwill.  And it's a happy ending, really, because I think the black shirt will work, and also that sewing machine thingie remains lurking in the back of the upstairs closet, and nothing got broken or smashed, and no one got hurt in any way.  The world is safe from Lille trying to do Crafting.

UPDATE:  It's so gratifying to pull something like this together, especially when the stress of it nearly did you in ... we got The Kid dressed up all snazzy in black and he looked great, and we drove through the rain and heavy traffic but still got to the school right on time for rehearsal to let out because that's what time it ended instead of what time it started because The Kid got it all wrong.

Oh.

Happily, they think the dance will be fine anyway.

November 7, 2018

do you want that toasted

The Kid has decided that he wants a job at the Subway a few blocks from our home.  He's using their online application process.

I've been rubbing my chin and trying to figure out his motive.  It might be money, but it also might be wanting to feel better about himself, as he sometimes lapses into self-pummeling bouts of low self-esteem for being lazy (merited) and forgetful (totally merited) and in danger of living in our basement forever (please get the laundry off the floor, okay?). 

The Kid's a good kid.  He knows his own mind.  And as his preschool teacher once told me, he's going to do what he's going to do.  Orders and commands and rules are taken as guidelines and advice. 

Come to think of it, that isn't exactly going to serve him well in the workplace.  But he does well at school, so there is evidence that he knows when to switch that off.  I've just never personally been the beneficiary of it.

I started working at Wendy's the day I turned fifteen years old.  I think they hired me because during my interview, I stated (with full sincerity) that I wanted to be a missionary some day.  This was considered tantamount to a strong work ethic and an infusion of wholesomeness into the staff.  In retrospect, this is downright infuriating, but at the time, it served.

That illusion lasted until I was asked to mop the floor, and I stood holding the mop and staring at my manager.  "What do I do?" I asked.  His face was blank for a moment, and then started turning red, because he thought I meant that I considered myself above such a menial task.  "You're too good to mop?" he sputtered.  Whoa.  "No, sir," I said, "I want to mop.  Really.  I've just never done it before.  Show me the ropes and I'll know.  Please?"

I redeemed myself and became a kick-ass crew member.  Within a year, I was running the drive-thru on Friday nights, working the cash register and window with my left hand, the drink machine and order pad with my right, and the foot pedal to talk and take orders.  I turned around and bagged.  I made the line fly by.  The other managers loved me, but the Mop-Manager forever after took delight in asking me to do things like scrape ketchup residue from around door seals and scrub out the tea urns until my elbows ached.  I managed not to smile when the others called him by his nickname, Golf Ball Head.

There was a lesson there, and it was this:  There are small-minded people in the world and sometimes you still have to do what they say.

I learned other lessons:

Food fights aren't worth it, primarily because coffee grounds go everywhere and it will take you until two in the morning to find them all.

People love when you remember them and have their order ready before they even say what they want.

People can change their minds and surprise you, just when you think you know them.

A chocolate Frosty is just four-percent chocolate milk poured into a magical machine.

You will gain weight if you pour and drink a glass of Frosty milk instead of pouring it into the machine.

If you put your forearm against the door of an industrial-grade potato-baking oven, you will later have a scar to show your kid and a story to tell.

Don't fuck with a three-legged wharf rat.

Don't judge others because they're working in a job that represents the height of their potential.  They might not be academic scholars living the American myth of unstoppable upward mobility, but they have grit in spades, and that is something the vast majority of us could use.

Sometimes, the tables just wobble.  Life is going to have wobbly tables.

If you play a joke and put sardines inside the hubcaps of your manager's 1986 Pontiac in July, don't get caught.


I wonder if The Kid will get a job.  I wonder if, if they say "no" the first time, he'll persevere and work to convince them, even if it takes months.  I wonder if, if they say "no" the first time and maybe the second time, he'll stop even trying for any job and consider himself condemned and worthless. 

I wonder how I'll keep from stepping in as Supermom, instead letting life deal with him and letting him deal with life.