January 31, 2018

garb

When I was sixteen, I ignored my mother's weary sigh after trying to tell me not to and then realizing what she'd done, and sewed some culottes out of some heavy beige- and blue-striped fabric that would have been better suited as a pair of sensible curtains for a bachelor's bedroom, or maybe a few neutral-colored throw pillow covers.  The culottes were boxy and clown-like, with overall straps of different lengths and mismatched buttons.  I had little experience with the Singer machine beyond what it had taken for my Girl Scout badge when I was nine, and this was coupled with an underdeveloped sense of taste in clothing.  

I wore them to school the next day.

I wore them exactly once.  I can still hear the derisive laughter.

I've always been ... challenged ... where taste in clothing is concerned.  Ironically, I'm a clothes horse now, and Old Navy and I are tight.  Now that I'm 40, I think I've figured most things out, and I dress well.  Not rich, not couture, but well-put together.  Swing dresses with cardigans and sweater tights and Mary-Janes are a staple.  Loose blouses with flowing linen or silk pants and leather sandals are standard fare in the summer.  But I haven't arrived at what one might term "informed taste" yet.  P.J. pointed out just the other day that I really ought to be wearing my favorite infinity scarf looped twice, not hanging down to my knees.  Now I have to cut the scarf and hem the edges.  I missed that memo.  I'm glad I have her to keep me straight. [sic]

It wasn't just those culottes.  I rolled up my jeans a lot and got laughed at.  I bought the clothes off the K-Mart clearance racks that were completely unsuitable and got laughed at.  I chose dresses for church that were designed for much older women.  I didn't get laughed at, but only because those around me wore veils woven of Southern decorum (97%) and Jesus (3%, for stretch), and kept it to themselves.


And it goes back even further than that.  My mother made some of my clothes when I was a kid-kid.  That yellow tank and shorts set with black floral trim when I was eight ... I remember not wanting to go outside and play that summer, lest I be seen.  I knew that something was wrong with that.  It's just that once I moved into adolescence and had the freedom to make my own clothing choices, they turned out to be rotten as well.


My slip and my knee-highs showed under my dresses.  I was helpless against static cling.  The use of undergarments to fight fat rolls is a very recent concept.


It's possible that I would have come to an understanding of these things earlier in life, were I the sort to allow photos of me to be taken.  However, anyone who has come within fifty feet of me with a camera has been shot on sight (in my mind).  I've invited a boss to fire me over not having my picture taken.  It was that crucial.  No pictures, no way.  I still don't know how I managed to engage in selfie behavior.  Oh, yeah.  Hypomania again.  Fine.  Maybe it has its uses.  But the few photos that exist reflect to me absolutely heinous clothing choices.  They're always a revelation.  They always effect change.  One I've kept because it makes the perfect "before" snapshot, were I ever to create a "before/after" pic.  Note to self, I said:  Do not ever tie your jacket around your waist again.  Ever.  Dear god.


I want to believe I've got it all together now.  I want to feel like I've arrived, and finally know all of the secrets that my peers had passed down to them by parents who took them shopping (mine didn't) and taught them about clothing basics and style and the particulars of their body shapes.  I've fumbled my way through the racks. 


And on some level, I must believe that I've more or less caught up.  I was at the grocery store Monday, and a couple of new teenagers, Josh and Riley, who are not just a welcome relief from John's Military Academy of Aisle Six but are actually engaging in their own right, were working another register.  A woman I've never seen in the store before passed by, heading for the exit, and waved at them.  "Bye, boys," she purred.  They waved back at her half-heartedly.  She was a little older than me and was wearing a tight, moisture-wicking fitness shirt and even tighter yoga pants that left nothing to the imagination.  I thought briefly of camels and mumbled something disparaging about the miraculous existence of tunics.  "What was that?" Josh said.  "Nothing," I said.  "It wasn't very nice, so I won't repeat it."  


They looked at each other, and then at me.  Riley grinned.  "Was it, perhaps, something ... comical?" he asked hopefully.  "It might have been, it might have been," I said while keying in my PIN.  "Hypothetically, it might have generally pertained to the lengthening of garments."  They looked back out of the sliding doors at the woman, then started laughing, and turned back to our conversation.  Riley kept bagging groceries and said, "Nah, I really can't say anything.  I have to be professional."  Josh looked at me and said, "But you can say whatever you want!" and kept laughing.  I instinctively looked down to make sure my swing dress hung to my knees and tights were slightly loose and scrunched.  "Hey, it takes all kinds.  Debit, please."  


Plain and modest and a little bit scrunched.  This is my garb.  This is me.

January 30, 2018

excessive disclosure

It kept happening.  No matter how many selfies I took in an attempt to find one just right for use in creating my profile pic, on the right over there, it kept happening.  Maybe another expression?  Maybe tilting my head?  Maybe different lighting.  No.  It made no difference.  In every single picture, I look like my mother when she was this age.  Exactly like my mother.  I have her eyes.

I waited for a week before making the previous post live.  I know that it constitutes an inappropriate degree of self-disclosure.  I imagine refined English women with their fans, whispering to each other.  "It's just not on," they say.  "It's not proper.  It just isn't done."  I have readers now, and some of them are going to file it under TMI in their minds and move on.  Some won't be back.  


I did not write it out of a desperate attempt to be known or to stir the pot of anything the least bit controversial.  The word "stalker" evokes shock and discomfort.  I'm aware.


It simply hinges on this:  I refuse to begin to censor this blog, to refrain from writing the spark that comes my way, no matter how deep inside it demands that I reach.  I would say that way lies madness, but we're already wandering around in that country, snapping photos and buying kitschy souvenirs, so I'll say instead that way lies dishonesty, and I am vehemently opposed to dishonesty, particularly dishonesty practiced for the sake of maintaining others' approval.  That is not why I write.


And anyway, I thought of a caption for the one-armed Barbie picture, which is what pushed me to publish it.  I think you'll agree this constituted a fundamental obligation to share.


People who meet me and spend time with me, even on a daily basis, think I'm more or less normal.  I think the same of them.  I know nothing of their own depths.


It's entirely possible that I have nothing to fear after posting about my fracture.

January 29, 2018

today's episode: lille is a stalker

"I can't do the YMCA."
Lille is a stalker.   Pediatric psych analysts would say she falls into the “rejected stalker” category.   She isn’t allowed to actually stalk, so she sits on the area rug and plays with some toys and action figures and a Barbie doll that’s missing an arm, and imagines she is powerful and can exert her will.

She travels to distant cities and countries and hides in the bushes across the street from Her house, and pretends her View Master is a pair of binoculars that can penetrate walls and let her watch everything going on inside.  She is very careful to never be seen.  She knows she could be in big trouble if she’s caught.

She calls the phone number at the house on her Fisher Price phone and waits until She answers and says, “Hello?”  Then she hangs up quickly and smiles because she got to hear Her voice.  She waits a few minutes and then does it again.

Sometimes, she finds paper and crayons and writes Her a letter, and asks for a stamp and puts it in the mailbox.  But they are never answered.  A nameless, faceless adult takes the letter out of the box after Lille has gone to bed that night.  Lille doesn’t understand why She doesn’t write her back with words of open arms and loving welcome.  Lille doesn’t know what stalking is or how uncomfortable it would make Her feel. 

*********

I do not meet a single criterion for any form of dissociative disorder.  But my mind has a fracture, a canyon-fissure that runs the full length of its landscape, stark against the smaller fractures that all human minds collect over a lifetime.  There are bridges across it, and I am always reinforcing the bridges.  It would be so easy to fall in.  It's happened before.  It’s a pretty deep crack.

Therapists say Lille is “stuck” there. 

When Lille was in sixth grade, she fell in love with her teacher.  Lille was plain, unpopular, a social outcast, a nerd.  But the teacher was lovely, and kind, and treated Lille like she was special to her.  Lille would stare at her when she was supposed to be working her math problems, and her heart would pound with a child's love, and with being loved. The teacher would look up and smile back.

"Unhealthy attachment" was foreign to Lille.  She was eleven.  She only knew that there was one thing in the whole world that made her happy.  So when the teacher quit her job at the end of the school year, and Lille was never going to see her again, the fracture in her mind began to form.  It was small at first, and it should have become her first Grief and stayed small, sealed and bound by tears and time and healing.  But the teacher saw Lille crying on her last day, and had unwise mercy on her, and gave Lille a sticky note with her address and phone number on it.  Lille didn’t have to grieve or let go.  She clutched the yellow note that tethered her to the teacher.  The crack lengthened and widened, and Lille fell in.  She stayed there.

She stayed there for two years.  The steep walls were all she could see.

Lille’s letters were always answered.  She got postcards and letters and pictures from the teacher, and wrote back, and eagerly waited for the mail each day.  Sometimes Lille got a phone call, and once, the teacher even came to visit.  She stopped thinking about other things and only thought about the teacher, and when a letter from the teacher would come, and how beautiful the teacher was, and how much she wanted to hear the teacher’s voice, and how much she longed for the teacher to love her and mother her. 

The teacher didn’t know any of this.  Lille didn’t tell her.  She didn't tell anyone.

And Lille became acquainted with depression, and the cycle of joy and bliss when a letter came, then dejection when the high wore off and a reply to her next letter didn’t come in the mail, day after day.  Lille needed more.  She had a real phone, and she began calling the teacher’s phone number and listening to her say, “Hello?” and then hanging up quickly, so that the six seconds would not pass and the call would not show up on the Southern Bell long-distance phone bill.  If it did, her real mother would be furious.  She couldn’t call the teacher, but she could hear the beautiful “hello” over and over again.  Every day.  For months and months.  A brief moment of happiness, then a plunge into darkness.  Call again.  High.  Wait.  Plunge again, a little further down.

When Lille's depression deepened until it hurt worse than the pain of the cycle, she confessed to the teacher about the phone calls and hang-ups, the darkness, the thoughts about death and the feelings of love that she could not control.  She told her about living in the fracture for two years.  She asked for help, because she could not fix it herself.

The teacher was angry and hurt.  She had been in fear because of the calls and hang-ups.  She had had her phone line tapped by the phone company to find out who it was, but they could never catch the caller because the caller hung up too quickly.  She was hurt because a little girl she was fond of was a stalker.  She came to visit Lille again, and this time, she told Lille she was angry and that Lille was nobody to her, not special, just some student, just some kid, and that Lille was not allowed to ever call her or write to her again.  Then the teacher got up and left the room, and did not look back.

Lille blacked out.

*********

I can see clearly across the landscape.  In a certain light, you can almost not see the crack stretching across.

These days, the teacher would be a bright, enjoyable co-worker who would nevertheless have some habits and quirks that would get on my nerves.  She and I, we're human beings.  I hold appropriate remorse for the pain and frustration I caused, and I also see the parts that were not the fault of a child, the parts that were due to a first year teacher's inexperience and poor judgment.  Victim and perpetrator have merged into a healthy tolerance of ambivalence and shades of grey. 

But there is not enough fill material to even begin to smooth the fracture in my mind and replenish what was lost.  I spent far too much time during a critical developmental stage wearing and widening its length.  I still have rare but vivid dreams, just before my alarm goes off, of reconciliation bountiful enough to fill it all in.  We pat it down firmly with our shovels and wipe our brows and call it a day.

Once, in my 30s, I entered the fracture because Lille went online and learned that She lived just a few miles from a friend in a distant town.  I let myself be pulled in behind her, and from within the myopia of close walls, it suddenly seemed perfectly reasonable to phone my old teacher up and ask for a talk in a coffee shop somewhere, as I'd have accommodations.  Lille held on to my sweater sleeve and said she knew it would be different now.  And I dialed the number and listened to the rings, and the "Hello?"  I spoke, but it was Lille's voice that came out.  And predictably, I got the same response she had gotten all those years ago:  No, don't call me, leave me alone.  I am not willing to speak to you.  I heard myself acquiesce politely and end the call.  I looked up and down the length of the fracture, stretching as far as the eye could see, and saw an infinite puzzle in which I got smaller and smaller as I peered into the three-dimensional distance, an eternity of tiny, immutable replicas.  My lungs felt leaden.  My limbs were weak.  I drove home, but not safely.  It took weeks to climb out after that, and it strengthened my resolve:  Lille would never have control again.  I had to be responsible for her.  


Sometimes I wonder if bi-polar disorder can begin with conditioning, a pattern of ups and downs sustained over time, or the introduction of trauma.  It doesn't run in my family.  And the fracture runs straight through the addiction centers in my brain, so the hit-deprivation-hit cycle of that part of prepubescent childhood only augmented the effects of an enduring disease process.  


*********

In today's episode, Lille sneaks and uses the Internet and learns that She has moved again, to a different city, and has retired.  She uses the action figures to make up a story where One-Armed Barbie and She-Ra go to a restaurant near Her new home, and Moondancer Pony and G.I. Joe happen to come in, and they all suddenly look up and notice each other from across the restaurant, which serves barbecue today, and they reconnect and Moondancer sees that One-Armed Barbie is actually a good person and says okay and lets her write crayon letters and dial her Fisher Price phone again.  All she wants.





January 26, 2018

the fine line between brave and stupid

Sometimes, it's the Universe that tells me I can't or won't do something.  The air and the sky and gravity just imply it.

And if it tells me to be patient ... that's so cute, isn't it?  Does it think I'm going to stop and sniff the shaker to see if it's full of cumin instead of just deciding it's full of cinnamon and Stevia and sprinkling it all over my cream-cheese-smeared Bagel Thin?

We've all done things that were plain stupid, not brave.  They weren't brave because we were ignorant and didn't realize there was any sort of risk.  Like when I was nine years old and a neighborhood kid and I decided we were woodworkers.  His father had a shop in an attic room above their garage, where all of his nice tools and sharp carving knives and the mother of all vice grips were located.  Down the road, there was an odd cabinet-making shop in our otherwise residential neighborhood.  We gained the cabinet makers' permission to rummage through their dumpster out back for any scraps of wood we wanted.  And we climbed around in that dumpster many times.  I think the rats and snakes in there were probably so startled by our presence that they just sat back and watched, and talked about it afterward, told stories of us to their grand-rats and great-grand-snakes.  "Did you see those kids?  They were so stupid that we didn't even have the heart to bite 'em."  Then we'd carry the scraps up to the workshop and I don't even remember what we did with them, but I recall carving things with those very sharp knives and never once getting cut, while the radio played "I Can't Fight This Feeling Any More" and "Pour Some Sugar On Me".

There's plenty of things we do that are brave and not stupid at all, too.  Like giving birth.  Holding your kid down so the nurses can give him his kindergarten immunizations.  Driving every day.  Leaving bad situations, even if it means being alone.  Brave is an individual thing.  One person's impassioned speech to a crowd of thousands is another person's letting a waiter know the steak wasn't cooked properly, even though it means making a fuss.


I have a tendency to sit on the fence between the two.


Brave, stupid things I have done:


1.  Taken a cold shower.  Not a wake-me-up cold shower, and not a not-tonight-dear-I-have-a-headache cold shower.  We were in the mountains once, in the dead of winter, staying in our converted RV, heated with space heaters, that served as a cabin and had a built-on bathroom and porch.  The bathroom held the shower and the water heater.  I can't remember why we had no hot water that weekend ... it might have been one of the times we forgot to turn the well pump on before the breaker for the heater, and listened to the heating element go "BANG!" again because there wasn't any water in there.  Anyway, we didn't have any hot water because Reasons.  The water was so cold that after washing dishes, we had to hold our hands over a space heater for a while and rub them together to stop the aching.  But I felt greasy and scungy, like the man from Bearskin who hadn't showered for seven years, and got fixated on taking a shower.  I just had to.  Going without showering and washing my hair was making me miserable.  So miserable that I decided it was worth it to make myself an honorary member of the Polar Bear Club and shower in 33-degree mountain well water.  


In retrospect, I'm sure I had to enter an altered state of mind to make myself get into that shower and let that water hit my body, and to stay there long enough to get clean.  It blew right past "refreshing" and sped by "invigorating" and parked firmly in front of "painful".  It felt like needles against my skin.  But I shampooed and soaped and everything and got out and toweled myself off, changed clothes, and felt like a million dollars.  I don't think I would do this again, but that's subject to circumstances.


2.  Removed my own IUD.  (WARNING:  INVOLVES FEMALE BODY PART STUFF)  I had a Mirena implanted many years ago, back when it mattered, but after a year, it malfunctioned or blew a gasket or something, because I suddenly went into full-blown pseudo-menopause.  I called my OB/GYN office and was told that they could get me an appointment in four months, not tomorrow or next week, because it wasn't an emergency.  This was not a judicious thing for the scheduling clerk to say out loud to me, though I'm sure she was able to piece her life back together after long-term counseling.  I hung up and thought about the whole situation, and got even more pissed off, and walked over to the computer and pulled up the Physician's Prescribing Information pamphlet for the Mirena.  Yep, that's what I thought.  Forty-two sections and diagrams and warnings about carefully inserting and positioning it, and exactly one line about removing it, which was to grab the wires with a pair of tongs and pull.  The thing is made of flimsy plastic and folds up like an Olympic diver.  So I took it out and threw it away.  The next day, I felt better, back to normal.  I called and canceled the appointment, and told them all about why.


3.  Left high school a year early.  I took a notion to leave high school after eleventh grade and go straight to college.  This was partly because I wanted to major in math and the math teacher who taught the higher grades at my high school was a burned-out long-timer who usually put his feet up on his desk and told us to just work on our homework problems from the previous day.  And partly because there were early acceptance programs out there at several colleges and universities and the idea was intriguing.  But it was mostly because I was terrified of giving the valedictory speech.  My GPA was a whole head above that of the salutatorian, and standing on the stage at the podium in front of an auditorium full of the doting parents and siblings and grandparents of my classmates was looming in my future.  There was no way in hell I was going to give that speech.  It never occurred to me that I could just stick around my senior year and enjoy that full, rich experience, and then suddenly get sick on graduation night.  I had to run away at a sprint, with rock-solid legitimacy on my side.  So I went away to college at 17, and got my diploma in the mail that winter, when my high school let my first English course suffice as the last credit I needed to graduate.  It came in an impersonal envelope without a note.  


I paid handsomely for the stupid aspects of this, though:  That May, I attended what would have been my own graduation ceremony.  This was brave x 10,000.  I watched my peers, most of whom I had known all my life, walk across the stage one by one.  I watched my best friend give the speech I would have had to make.  The clash of emotions from all over the spectrum I experienced was exhausting, gutting, but I went all the same, for her, and sat with her parents.  She nailed it.


Hey, psssst, Random Writing Prompt.  C'mere.  Know what?  I don't regret any of these things.

January 23, 2018

stubborn

I haven't written about my teenage son yet.  This part of my life feels compartmentalized and guarded, probably because of that whole protective mother instinct thing.  In spite of my possessing more than a scintilla of mental health diagnoses, and the effect of the attendant irritability and forgetfulness, erratic personality, and my areas of advanced weirdness, the boy seems to be turning out to be a pretty decent guy, and somehow, once in a while, I do a good job parenting and get something right.  It's baffling to me, but it happens.  


The kid got a number of traits from his father ... desirable ones like a strong logical mind with strength in math and spatial relations, a keen interest in history, slightly olive-tinted Scots-Irish skin that tans beautifully in summer, and the ability to remain silent while mentally formulating a retort to an argument ... and some really unfortunate ones like a penchant for making puns.


He got some traits from me, too ... strong verbal skills from an early age (well, that's really from both parents), a sophisticated and geeky sense of humor (okay, that's from both, too), and an ear for music (that's me) ... and really nifty negative things like a strong will, a gargantuan stubborn streak, and an honest personality that makes him wear everything on his sleeve, something that's bloody useful in high school when you're trying to keep your feelings under wraps and conform and fit in.  I've explained that these will transform into real assets later in life, but that does shit for him in the immediate future.


And then there are the parts that are just him and came not from genetics, but from space, alien intervention, or some kind of chromosomal drift with incredibly low odds.  He's tall where both of his parents are five-foot-three, and his feet are already a size 12.  
His eyes are grey-green where ours are brown.  (Kid, please shut up about polygenic alleles and height determination because I have no idea what you're on about and it makes me feel stupid and anyway you're not a pea pod.) 

Sometimes I tell him he's recessive.  He doesn't appreciate this.  I also gave him the trait of having prehensile, independently-moving toes, which P.J. says means we are both close to our ape ancestors and evolutionarily regressive.   


He has ADHD.  And if you don't think this is a legitimate thing, you obviously have not lived it.  Kindly stuff any advice about Red 40 dye, sugar, sunlight, and "boys being boys".  ADHD is so much more than hyperactivity and impulsivity and inattentiveness.  There are developmental delays in areas like empathic perception.  There are different dopamine receptor patterns.  He's a third creature, because he's also highly intelligent, and in the gifted/advanced programs at school.  So imagine knowing all the material well but getting lower-than-deserved grades because you forget to do or turn in work, and you're in a class of gifted peers who excel, and you end up feeling like the dunce and develop anxiety and an increasingly negative self-perception.  Oh yeah, anxiety.  He got that from me, too. 


It goes without saying that like all kids, he grows and changes.  A lot.  All the time.  That's one of the universals of parenting:  Just when you've got the hang of something, it changes. Don't decide they like broccoli or hate sushi.  Don't assume you can pick out their clothes because you know their taste.  They're different people every week.  Many of us have stopped growing.  They haven't.  You're asking for trouble if you make the slightest assumption about anything.


Which brings us to the Great Salisbury Steak Meal Incident.  


The kid has craved them for years, always wanting a Stouffer's Salisbury steak dinner with macaroni and cheese for his lunches during the summer and on weekends.  But last fall, he informed me out of nowhere that he didn't like those any more; he liked the Boston Market variety, with two patties and the spiral macaroni.  Fair enough.  I started buying those for him.  Then a month later, he told me that he didn't like Salisbury steak, period.


There was one dinner still sitting in the freezer.


There arose a mighty power struggle between us, the Immovable Object meets the Irresistible Force.  We are both fabulously stubborn.


I asked him to eat it for lunch on a teacher workday, to get rid of it, and then I wouldn't buy one again.  Deal?  Deal.  He said he would.  He didn't.  It was still sitting in the freezer that evening.  I got mad.  He got sullen.


The next week, I intentionally bought nothing suitable for lunch for him that Saturday, so that he would be forced to eat the Salisbury steak meal.  He walked five blocks to Subway and used his own money.


I worked on a snow day while school was out.  I left P.J. instructions to make him practice the cello, do his homework, and eat the Salisbury steak meal for lunch.  She was caught entirely off guard by the gale-force resistance that swept through the kitchen.  I think he just forewent lunch that day, in protest.


I lit into him about it when I got home.  He put his foot down and said he just was not going to eat it.  I yelled about wasting money and taking having food for granted and developing fortitude and all manner of character attributes that were obviously malformed because of his refusal to eat something that, incidentally, he asked me to buy for him in the first place.  He stayed quiet rather than saying the things he was thinking about me.  (He got that from his dad.)


And so on.  This went on for weeks and weeks.  


Last week, the issue raised its head again, and it was the dawning of another terrible battle; you could hear blades being sharpened and troops gathering into formation.  And I finally realized how asinine it all was, locking horns over a god-damned inconsequential $2.79 box of processed food.  So I grabbed my phone and instead of making the next move in battle, I texted him and said that if he'd go down to the curb and bring the garbage can back up to the house, through the snow and ice, he could then enjoy the act of taking the Salisbury steak meal and slam-dunking it into the empty can, which would result in a satisfying noise and considerable emotional gratification.


(Did you know there isn't even a Salisbury steak emoji in my text app?  Jesus.  Don't know how they expect people to communicate.)


He hates getting the garbage can from the curb.  But it was up at the house in less than five minutes.  He slammed that meal in there like a spiked football.


Somewhere, behind closed doors in a well-appointed office, treaty papers were signed by high-level officials.


This might fall under the mommy-blog header of "pick your battles" ... but this was a full-blown war, and like most wars, it was pointless.  


I'm just waiting until he complains about having to make a sandwich instead.


Update:  The kid read this post and approves of my depiction of him and of the situation.  You are now bearing witness that he is forewarned about the sandwich-complaining business.  Remember:  You heard it here.


January 21, 2018

coffee

coffee mug
They're just joking.  Mostly.
Appalachian Mountain cabin.  Today, I woke before dawn, and my bleary-eyed stumbling around with my hands out, trying to find the Keurig machine, is being rewarded by an east-facing window seat, a mug of good coffee, and the softly growing light.  I’m being treated to a sunrise in the mountains.

Right now, it’s a pale French flag, a strip of pink, then almost-white, then pale blue on top.  The trees are still black silhouettes against the background of sky. 

A person could do a hell of a lot worse for bias lighting.

I suppose now I have to thank Rose for shoving her wet, eager nose into my face while I was huddled under a heavy comforter and drifting along a stream of half-dream free thought.

The sun hasn’t burst above the distant ridge line just yet.  But the moment is pregnant.

I sip my coffee.  I’m alone at this early hour, so I slurp on purpose.

When I was 19 and had finished my year at UNC Chapel Hill, my daddy, who was deeply concerned, in his detached way, about my being brainwashed and turned into a Flaming Liberal, issued a prophecy:  By the time I was 35 years old, I would be smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and voting Republican.  Translated, I think he meant I’d slough off my youthful assurance that I knew absolutely everything about the world (show me a 19-year-old who doesn’t), stop judging those around me and pick up some vices and bad habits that nevertheless brought me satisfaction, and come to see things as they really are (he didn't know about Lille), abandoning liberal ideologies and being a little embarrassed about ever holding them.  I recall that he repeated this prediction several times, always taking a long pull on his cigarette afterward.  He was rock-solid sure of it.

I was seven kinds of damned if I was going to let it come true.

The cigarettes have never been an issue.  I wouldn’t dream of touching one, based on my neurotic need for fresh air and a childhood memory of walking into my living room one Sunday afternoon, where both of my parents sat smoking, and seeing thick smoke curling in billows in the rays of afternoon light shining individually through the curtains.  I've been conscious of air ever since. 

I do think I voted Republican once, but it was an accident.  It was right after I turned 18 and registered to vote, when I didn’t yet understand or care about politics.  I voted just because I could, but it was a blind exercise of rights, and my only comfort there is that because of where I was living at the time, my vote didn’t really count.  And I’m not die-hard; if Colin Powell ran for President, I’d vote for him so hard.  Having said that, the proverbial team of wild horses couldn’t drag me to the Board of Elections to change my affiliation away from either Democrat or Independent.

As for the third part of the prophecy, the idea of coffee was dead to me until I was 35.  About a week after my 35th birthday, I tried it.  I learned very quickly that I required massive quantities of cream and sugar with a bit of coffee for flavoring to make it palatable, but I still loved it.

A ball of orange is gathering behind that mountain right there.  Soon.  I should put on Haydn’s “In vollem glanze” right about now (depicting the very first sunrise during the creation of the Earth).  There’s yellow growing.  And now it’s peeking, and now becoming a sphere.  I stare at it until my eyes can’t tolerate the intensity.  And now it’s highlighting the beauty of trees and rocky ridges and people sitting on their front porches in rocking chairs, greeting it as they do faithfully each day.  And illuminating my pouchy-eyed, bed-headed, bedraggled visage that hasn’t had enough coffee yet.  Nobody deserves the sight of that, not a front-porch dweller and certainly not our fiery, oft-worshiped Sol.  I relocate to the couch and continue slurping my medium-roast with hazelnut creamer.

It started with making the occasional pot at work, having one cup and offering the rest to others, who drank it.

Then my daddy got P.J. and me a Keurig for Christmas that year.  This was my downfall.  The easy access proved to be the slippery slope to my genetically-predisposed coffee addiction.

I think it qualifies as an addiction now.  I’m up to three cups of caffeinated a day, followed by a couple of decaf cups later in the day, so I can sleep at night.  A mug in the hand often helps me fight the urge to snack, as I’m also a food addict in recovery (and not doing so well with that right now, either). 

Peet’s Coffee’s Brazilian Minas Naturais is the best coffee on Earth.  This is objective fact, not a mere opinion.  Go try to prove me wrong.

I do feel guilty about the pods and when the biodegradable ones appear, I’ll pay the few extra pence for them willingly.  We throw away a respectable one-quarter shit-ton at our house on a monthly basis, easily.

There’s, er, a bit of a problem, too, which is that by no means should I be drinking this much coffee post-gastric bypass.  It makes any given “Top Ten List of What NOT TO DO FROM NOW ON UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER” prepared by bariatric nutritionists.  In addition to putting a person at high risk for developing ulcers, some of which can be life-threatening, the diuretic effect is downright dangerous.  I don’t do all that well with hydrating.  I don’t measure my water intake.  I just have some now and then, if I think about it, and hope it’s enough.  And just ignore the fact that most of the time, I get dizzy when I stand up.  I thought that decaf counted as hydration, but Nikki at Bariatric Foodie recently pointed out in a motivational e-mail that her nutritionists told her after her surgery that clear liquids do things that decaf coffee can’t, and that living off of it doesn’t count as hydrating.  The body can’t use it very well.  Maybe that’s part of why I’ve felt so lousy lately, with weak spells and general yuckiness.  Decaf has pretty much become my staple liquid.  We got a Keurig at work recently and that tipped me over the edge into wondering what water even looks like, except for the water that gets poured into the Keurig tank.  I see it now as that clear stuff that is being put to its highest and best use.  Coffee.

It’s well-known that post-surgery, food addicts will transfer onto another addiction.  Fortunately, I don’t care for the taste of alcohol, and I’m too stingy and skeptical to gamble.  Coffee is it.

Sheetz isn’t helping.  Their coffee bar is a thing of beauty.  They have a station where you can tank up a huge refillable mug for $0.89 and then visit machines that dispense sweeteners (All The Splenda), creamers and milk and half-and-half, and sugar-free flavorings.  You can mix and match and make your perfect cup, every time.  I’ve written them and suggested that they add a sugar-free non-dairy creamer, and the e-mail response, from a real human, said their Marketing Department would consider it, so that quickly became a wistful pipe dream, but whatever.  It’s still damned near ideal.  And it’s on my way to work. 

And to complicate matters even more, I’ve found scientifically that if, on some insane impulse or due to a rare coffeeless crisis, I forego my morning cuppa, it affects my mood profoundly, and I swing down hard. 

I need to get back to the main road, where I was post-surgery.  A compromise between the horrified expressions I imagine my nutritionists trying to hide and what I need to survive these days.  One cup of caffeinated Brazilian in the morning, savored, and one cup of decaf in the evening, as dessert.  It’s dessert because of Torani and Da Vinci sugar-free syrups (which you can buy here in bulk from a restaurant supply company, because fuck those little bottles in the grocery store that cost three times more than they should).  You can roll your own.  I recommend the chocolate and salted caramel, as well as the raspberry and the chai for protein shakes.  The cup of decaf was for a long time enough to provide psychological satiation after dinner.  I should probably tell my therapist.

So I find myself at the point where I must gather long-abandoned internal resources and make a commitment to do this, and to drink more of that clear liquid stuff they call “water” throughout the part of the day that will become known and measured as “the torment-riddled epoch of time when I’m between cups of coffee”.   Right now, I seem to be fresh out of Waldorfs internal resources.  I’ll find a self-help book or call them forth from raw firmament.  Or hire someone to send me daily e-mails telling me that I can’t or won’t do it.  Maybe I'll get a Despair poster for my cubicle.



“Know thyself,” said Shakespeare.

The trees have turned from shadow into lush, verdant pines.

January 20, 2018

inappropriate laughter

Look, you know from an earlier post that we love our dogs like we love our kid.  Let's just set that out from the get-go here.  Hold on to that.  You'll need it.  Ready?

Inappropriate laughter may be one of the signs of hypomania, but in our case, P.J. and me, it has nothing to do with mood and everything to do with being sick, jaded, differently-thinking creatures who find humor in the strangest places, "found humor" that others wouldn't see and that we often can't tell anyone else about because they'd ostracize us afterward, or maybe phone someone up to come around and evaluate us to see if we're fit parents and safe to allow to continue participating in society at large.


I mean really, really sick senses of humor.


Yesterday, I read a Facebook post from a former co-worker.  It was very sad.  The kind you hate to see because a dog gets dead in it, but this sort of tribute has become as essential as a back yard funeral when a pet dies.  If you don't post a memorial on Facebook with at least six pictures of your dearly departed fur-kid, things just weren't done properly.  Ergo:


"We lost our [Buddy] today after 13 years of ... companionship. We found out yesterday during his annual exam that his heart was enlarged ... He died suddenly today. He was a ...  sweetheart who would walk with his chest puffed out like he owned the world. We are missing him."


I should have choked up, reading that, as I so often do, but instead, inappropriate laughter struck, because what kind of choice of words is that?  His chest puffed out, after just saying he had an enlarged heart?  I tried to go about cooking dinner and tidying the house, but kept bursting into giggle fits over this.  Poor Buddy (not his name).  Poor lit-- little-- poor Bu -- snrrrrkkkghhh OHMYGODWHYDIDHEWRITEITTHATWAY????


But that's nothing compared to what I did a year ago.  


I flat-out adore BarkBox.  We subscribed to them for about a year.  This is not a heartless, cold stone wall corporation, y'all.  It's a company run by people who passionately care about dogs, plain and simple.  I found this out because I tried once to stop the subscription.  Their marketing folks are crème de la crème (one of the few instances in which I don't begrudge the marketing thing, because their creativity knows no bounds).  I did this by phone and got an offer to continue the subscr
iption at a discounted price, one that I couldn't refuse.  So we kept subscribing, until I remembered the reason I called them in the first place, which wasn't about the money at all.  Chester was eviscerating the "indestructible" toys they sent within ten minutes, and then eating the fuzz and bits of cloth that, while nowhere approaching indestructible where his teeth and steel will were concerned, did prove to be indestructible in his intestinal tract.  He would lie around miserable for hours afterward, with his belly making suspicious gurgling noises, and we'd stand over him, worried, waiting for the episode to pass.  Eventually our combined intelligences managed to figure out that maybe we shouldn't have these toys around.  The treats were always top of the line, but the toys were the focus of getting a BarkBox in the first place, and so I decided that we really, truly did need to end the subscription.

But I'm a spineless wuss when it comes to being the least bit assertive about something.  I'm pretty sure I was a doormat in a former life.  I wasn't going to call them again.  I resorted to their online customer contact form.  And because I am a wuss, I didn't want them marketing at me some more, so I decided to say that Rose had died.  That would be sure to put paid to any further attempts to get me to continue the subscription.


They understood, and confirmed the discontinuation of the subscription, also by e-mail.  All real-time human interaction avoided.  But you know what?  Payback is hell.


Four days later, we got a fucking sympathy card for Rose in the mail.  Hand-written from upper management folks or the owners of the company or something.  Not even that bullshit typeset that's designed to look like handwriting.  I mean the genuine article.  The message was sweet and sincere.  Which means that a) they do this for every dog that gets reported to them, and b) I was, and perhaps still am, the scum of the earth.


It touched our tender hearts.  We stood with our mouths slightly open and stared at it.  


Then we started laughing.  This thing we were holding was preposterous.  What I did was preposterous.  We laughed so hard we were doubled over.  It went on forever.  We were wheezing.


It came in handy in later months, when Rose would lie and do her high-pitched eternal whine and I would say, "Rose, shut it.  I've already gotten a sympathy card for you, you know."


They say we laugh to resolve cognitive dissonance, and the greater that dissonance is, the harder we laugh.  So the utter inappropriateness of the things we laugh at must be why we end up clutching our stomachs and begging for mercy and then falling right back into it, unable to stop.  And why we bring it back up months later and start laughing again.  So much dissonance to resolve.


But I'm sorry:  That shit is funny.


Epilogue:  We bought BarkBox subscriptions for all dog-having family members this past Christmas.  And if you have a dog that isn't a single-minded sharp-toothed destroying machine, bent on removing the entrails and rending the flesh of squeaky-toy alligators, do yourself a favor and go sign up.  It's not a bad deal at all, price-wise, and we've got to support this small business, one of the Forces of Good in this faltering world.


Update:  I sent this post to Barkbox as a confession and then braced myself.  They were totally cool about it.  I really don't even know how a company can manage to be that amazingly groovy.  


January 19, 2018

today's episode: lille doesn't go to therapy

My therapist and I have an arrangement, one that has worked well for me (and presumably my therapist) over the years, which is this:  I am allowed to write reams and reams of e-mail to him, but he is not expected allowed to write back (save in an emergency, of course).  There are so many good reasons for this ... the trifling ones like healthy boundaries and ethics and my therapist having a life outside of reading his e-mail, and the massively important ones, like that I will grossly misinterpret anything that is said - or, if nothing is said, that I will check my e-mail every three seconds until something is said, and very quickly spiral down into feeling rejected if a response isn't lightning-fast.  This arrangement is the only thing that works.

This can be proven.  Because sometimes, we have to e-mail back and forth regarding scheduling and appointment times and so forth.  Even this is fraught.


Example:  This week, it snowed on the day I was supposed to see my therapist.  


What I wrote:  "If I recall correctly, that sheet of paper you gave me when we first started working together said something about your office being closed if school was canceled.  Are we on for today?  Thanks, Lille"


What I meant:  "I know it's snowing out there and the roads are already covered and slick and I went to the store earlier and saw two cars in ditches, but can you please risk it and come out anyway, because I'm willing to make the drive and you should be, too, and I'll die five times if we can't.  Please make an exception for me.  I need to be special to you."


What he replied:  "Yes, office is closed.  See you next week."


What he meant:  "Yes, office is closed.  I don't dare go out there and drive because it's dangerous, and I don't want to put myself or my clients at risk.  I'm so sorry we can't meet.  See you next week, which will be here before you know it.  Hang in there."


What I read:  "I care nothing for your angst about wanting to come in.  It isn't going to happen.  Our sessions are totally arbitrary to me, so see you next week, whatever you name is.  You're a client, right?  This is an automated response.  Press '1' for more options."


Lille's on the air, if I recall correctly.  This is inner child reality TV (or at least, reality TV as I imagine it; I haven't watched television in a really, really long time, at least 15 years).  





So right now, Lille's all mad at her therapist and is lying in bed with the covers over her head, and pouting like it's an art form.  She doesn't like not getting her way.  Eventually she'll leave the bed and go get a plate full of snacks and eat them all, to punish her therapist.  One of the nameless, faceless adults on this show will point out to her that she's hurting herself, not her therapist, but she'll just give the adult a look that would make Damien envious and go for seconds.  She's trying to feel better, but the audience is biting its knuckles and glued to the screen because they know she's going down a terrible road.  They'll tune in for the next episode, when Lille finally gets to go to therapy and is sullen and recalcitrant until she can see first-hand how things actually are and everything gets mended.  The audience will sigh.  


That's the running gag in the show.  Lille always forgets how things really are.  



January 18, 2018

dear sparven - comic sans edition

Dear Sparven,

I don't know what to do!  My co-worker attended a webinar and typed up notes for the rest of our department.  I realize this was a big favor she did for us.  But the notes she typed are completely in Comic Sans!  I don't think it's fair to let my co-worker continue to think that this is acceptable behavior, but I also don't want to ruin our working relationship because we get along really well.  How should I handle telling her?  Should we approach her as a group?  Should I tell her in person?  By e-mail?  I need your advice!


Dismayed in Denver



Dear Dismayed,


Your concerns are not to be underestimated!  The use of Comic Sans in our society is tantamount to employing racial slurs and failing to wash hands after using the restroom.  It ultimately hurts others and simply cannot be tolerated.  No doubt by now your communication with your co-worker is already feeling strained, and you are right:  It is not fair to let her continue day to day oblivious of this faux pas.  Think of the visual and psychological pain you could be saving others in the future.  Think of your moral duty to help her avoid becoming a workplace pariah.


Because you say that the two of you get along well, I would go with an individual approach instead of a group one.  Invite her to lunch and be frank and honest with her about how you felt when you opened the document containing the webinar notes, being careful to maintain eye contact and remain calm.  Communicate compassion for her understandable mistake, implying that she simply did not know what she had done (in spite of the great deal of effort that has gone into educating the public about this issue).  This will give her a "way out" and allow her to correct this behavior going forward while saving face during your conversation.  Hopefully, it will go well, and you will continue to have a good, Comic Sans-free working relationship for years to come.  You have my heartfelt wishes for the best of luck.


Sparven


January 16, 2018

random subject prompts

I've resorted tonight to using a site that offers random creative writing subject prompts to get one's brain chugging on something.

It isn't going so well.





"Write about a special summer's evening."


Trying to think of one.  Can't.  They all have bugs in them.



"Is there anything you regret?"


Hails!  Hails of derisive laughter, Bruce!  *wipes tears from eyes*  Oh Jesus, is there anything I regret?  Seriously?  Too many to list.  I'm 40.  They dot the landscape.  But there's a lot I don't regret, and most of it was the hard stuff in life.  A lot I have no regrets about whatsoever.



"Write about how you drive."


When I'm not singing in the car, I'm cussing out other drivers.  P.J. says I drive like a granny, but she wouldn't know because she used to race sports cars.  I go eight miles per hour over the speed limit and use my turn signals religiously.  I'm basically like the other grannies, but for their part, I can't speak to the cussing liberally.


Oh my god, a few weeks ago, I was going down the interstate and I saw a truck with a license tag that said "ROWSDOWR," and I wanted to follow the guy until he stopped, even if that was five states away and I had to wait until he ran out of gas, just to tell him that I understood what his tag meant, and then turn around and leave.



"Write about a phobia."


I once wrote an essay about my house centipede phobia.  I'll have to post it.  I can't do the little fuckers justice here.



"What kind of animal are you?"


A sparrow, obviously.  But a mutated sparrow with opposable thumbs that can throw things and that chirps way too much.



"What do you keep in your purse?"


After removing the beeswax candle and the artificial sweetener and the Christmas ornament, I'm left with a checkbook with a Hello Kitty cover on it, a vial of Tylenol tablets (because I can't take Advil any more), a really good pen that I stole from work, a really good pen that I stole from my wife (*see comments), some receipts that need to be thrown away, a multipurpose screwdriver tool, a few random computer parts, loose change, two pairs of earrings that I think I've lost but actually haven't because they're in my purse somewhere, and a glasses case.



"If you could pass a law right now, what would it be and why?


Soft ball.  I would pass a law introducing term limits of no more than two terms per senator or representative, national and state levels, every state in the U.S.  This would fix so much; so very, very much.  A girl can dream.



"Write about swimming."  


I don't remember learning to swim, and my daddy says I didn't.  We went to White Lake, North Carolina when I was four, and he threw me into the water to find out if I could.  That was the 1980s, when you did that sort of thing.  Inflatable arm floats and helicopter parents weren't around yet.  And I swam. 



"What is in your fridge?"


This is way more complicated than the purse.  Right now, there's an awful lot of cheese, because the store was clearing out my favorite kind.  Rather a lot of cheese, really.  Sugar-free jams and tubes of ginger and basil weigh down the door, followed by sugar-free pancake syrup and 14 bottles of expired salad dressing.  Ignatius the Sourdough Starter is still hanging out on the bottom shelf, unwilling to give any signs of either life or death.  It has not yet produced written language or tools, unlike the cottage cheese that is back there beside it.  The cottage cheese has gotten as far as corporate mergers and class action lawsuits and daytime television.  There is way too much coffee creamer, which is to say, we're almost out and need more.  There's almond milk that I drink and regular milk that my son doesn't.  Some asparagus and a pork roast for later in the week, mixed in with half an onion, some ground beef, and some cauliflower.  There's a tiny carton of a half-dozen free-range eggs that I paid way too much for, but they promise 101 square feet per chicken, and god damn it, I have to do something good once in a while, seeing as how I salivate when staring at slices of dead cows that probably had names at some point.  I can at least support whatever is represented out there as humane treatment these days.


Oh, and my leftover stromboli.  Don't touch my leftover stromboli.  I will cut you.



"Describe a special place using all five senses."


Sheetz has me covered here.  Sheetz is a place where you sit on a hard plastic chair at a table in a cold room and drink delicious, fragrant coffee that burns your mouth while staring at the hypontic ad screens showing various sandwiches for sale and trying to filter out the TV in the snack room that's blithering on about some team sportsing against some other team.



See?  I have nothing to write about.  Not yet.


January 15, 2018

the white pages

A friend recently read this blog and said he was glad that I've sidled up to whatever the equivalent of a blank sheet of paper is for me and started writing in earnest.  He said I have a voice he recognizes.

The ideas have been coming like a meteor shower for over a month.  I've but needed to reach out and grab one any time I felt.  Fire sparks kindling the bones.  Fire sparks raining in my head.  Hypomania.


My best childhood friend had an uncle, her father's twin, who would visit them every couple of years from Texas.  He would be passing through on business.  But he wouldn't write or phone them up first.  He would just come in through the back door into the kitchen and go over to the refrigerator, help himself to some cold cuts and a few Reese's Cups and a glass of lemonade, and pull up to the dining table with his plate and glass.  They'd come running to find out what the commotion was, and there would be Uncle Jack, and a frenzied reunion of hugs and everyone talking at the same time filled that little kitchen.


Hypomania is my Uncle Jack now.  I spent a long time tearfully frightened of it, freaking out any time the slightest sign of a swing fluttered by.  But I've come to trust my meds and I've seen that what it mainly brings, besides some regrettable irritability, is creativity.  It doesn't write or call.  It just walks in the back door and sits down.


Saturday night, the depression came back.

I had to go to the grocery store today.


Depression doesn't call or knock, either.  And the ideas have been extinguished, have dried up.  Gone.


I have to face this part, the first time that writing is a struggle instead of being as easy and natural as exhaling.  I am doing the one thing that helps, which is to stay busy around the house and do projects like deep-cleaning closets and selling off old computer parts and cleaning grout with an old toothbrush, something, anything.  But I'm supposed to be writing.

You don't have anything worthwhile to say.


Nobody cares.


You're stupid for writing.


You're wasting your time.


You're worthless.


Stay away from everybody.  Go to an empty room.  They shouldn't have to be around you.


Jenny Lawson says depression lies.  I believe her.  But this is the only thing I can squeeze out right now, the only thing I can grasp and put to paper.


Word.  New document.  Blank document.  Times New Roman.  12 point.  No, wait.  Courier New, because everyone hates it but me.  One inch from the left, one inch from the top, blinking cursor.  Stare.  Wait.  Stare.


How can a bunch of 1s and 0s mock me to my core?


You're just software.  If I wait long enough for the storm to pass, I can cover you in black shapes and you will be obliterated.  You're paper.  A fire spark will come and burn you away.