February 28, 2018


P.J. is curled up under a weighty layer of blankets and sheets and is sleeping the sleep of the person who was hospitalized last night and therefore didn't get a wink.  I've been tip-toeing around in my sock feet, accomplishing small household things, sorting her medications by schedule, and taking the occasional stab at parenting.

It was all good until I accidentally bumped into my son's backpack and saw the library copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy slide out of it onto the floor.

The five books in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's trilogy are collectively as close to a holy book as I get.  They're the Geek Bible.  It was like the opposite of marijuana sliding out of his backpack.


Until I started to think about the monkeys ....

“Ford!" he said, "there's an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they've worked out.”

Infinite monkeys.
I didn't sleep so well the past couple of nights, either.

So if there were infinite monkeys hammering away on typewriters -- well, hang on, that wouldn't be possible, because you could have either the monkeys or the typewriters, but not both, because if you had infinite monkeys ... everything would be monkeys.  And they wouldn't even be separated out, individual monkeys, because they'd be infinite, so even the Universe, ostensibly also infinite, couldn't actually hold them, so everything would be this big mass of merged monkey tissue, every molecule in the Universe a bit of a monkey.  One big, cosmic monkey mush.  No typewriters.  No Hamlet.

We wouldn't even be here.

And would this mean everything would immediately implode, because all that monkey would mean infinite density, too?  Would the Universe fold up and disappear?  It wouldn't be like a bounded infinity of monkeys, like when a monkey walks half the distance toward an organ grinder, and then half the distance to the organ grinder again, and again, and so on.  This would just be ... nothing.  Because if everything is monkey, nothing is monkey, because there's no longer anything resembling a Cartesian dichotomy involved.

And what about the role of time?  Was it always this way?  Are we made of monkey?

Conclusion One:  Infinity is bullshit.
Conclusion Two:  This is what happens when a mentally ill person doesn't get enough sleep.

February 27, 2018


What does an atheist trust in, when her wife is having surgery and she has no control over the outcome?

There is no higher power, at least nothing manifest, let alone beneficent.  Look around.

What can be relied upon?  What isn't as shaky and uncertain as my heart is right now?  Human hands will open her today.

I don't trust much of anything.  I don't trust trees.  It's evident that they manage, somehow, to abound and flourish, but I don't understand how they pull nutrients out of the ground and convert them into what seems to be augmented matter.  Not photosynthesis; that I can trust; just not the endless supply that seems to come from nowhere.  I don't trust that the soil will give them what they need.  I don't trust them to grow.

What does an atheist trust in?

Gravity is pretty solid.  But today, it will be irrelevant. 

Homeostasis and time.  Those are what I've got.  They work together to bring healing.  I healed.  She will heal.  And she is strong, my P.J.  She's made of stern stuff.  We've been through a number of blister-raw gashes in the past decade, and each of them has mended and been soothed and left behind stronger stuff.  Stern stuff. 

I can trust in stern stuff.

February 26, 2018

help desk

Five years ago, somebody asked me where I'd like to be in five years.  Trump was just some asshole somewhere, so "as far away as possible" didn't come to mind.  I didn't have much in the way of career ambition, since my computer stuff was still in the "aggressively tinkering" phase.  I shrugged and said, "Dunno.  Happy right here."  The idea of working in a tech support call center wouldn't have occurred to me, and if asked to consider it, I would have laughed while discreetly pissing myself from fear.  Never mind being unqualified ... there would be all of those people to contend with, and I wouldn't know what to tell them, and they would get mad at me.  I have a Ph.D. in conflict avoidance.  Hang on --

[whips up fake doctorate]

Okay, no, seriously, I have a Ph.D. in conflict avoidance:

Fight or flight is my mastery.  People consult me on the subject of conflict avoidance and I give seminars on the subject and write scholarly articles.  I'm that good.  I'm that dedicated.  Remember me telling Barkbox that my dog was dead so they wouldn't try to talk me into continuing the subscription?

Working on a tech help desk would be, I thought, like wading into a swamp full of alligators who wanted to argue and blame me for everything and get hostile and ask to speak to my manager.  Only then would they mangle and devour me, out of compassion.

It's complicated, how I found myself here in this chair, wearing these headphones with a mic.  There was a zig-zag of tiny career moves within the same organization and then here I was, in a haze of trepidation and that period of haven't-adjusted-to-new-job.  I was 84.7% sure it was a mistake, taking the position.  

After a few months of it, I was astounded to find that I fucking love my job.

I love everything about it.  The people on the other end of the line are persons because I speak to them individually.  The thing where computers and programs and other various bits of technology are terrified of my aura extends through phone lines, even over VOIP.  So does that thing where I just figure things out without knowing how.  I get this rarely broken string of people whom I've been able to help, and they aren't shouting for my supervisor.  They're grateful and kind and offer up that wonderful small talk that floods my well of social fulfillment.  It's instant gratification meets connecting with all kinds of persons.  I eat it up.

I've talked to four mean people in three years.  That's unbelievably few parts per million.

I mostly help people reset their passwords, but I enjoy repetition, so that's a benefit.

Throw in having the grooviest boss in town.

There are five of us (it's a small help desk, and highly specialized).  When we're not on the phone, we curse, not as flagrantly as I do at home, but like that same sailor who maybe got around to sobering up and shaving, but is still a sailor to his core.  We trash out and string it together and pretend to hate everything.

We do this because when the phone rings, we're then able to pick it up and be nice and mean it.  There has to be balance in our little universe.  

We mean it even when we have to keep a straight face and say, "Have you tried turning it off and back on?"

We mean it even when we say, "Turn off your Caps Lock key and type your password again."

We mean it even when the person on the other line ... "has other talents," as one co-worker says.

We mean it even when someone has clicked a link in an e-mail they received telling them that Bank of America is about to withdraw $3,147.26 from their account and that must CLICK HERE to contact them immediately to confirm, and that person has never had an account with Bank of America to begin with, but they've clicked anyway and introduced a nasty virus into our network that takes days to eradicate.

I've been given the official designation of Class - er, Help Desk Clown.  If a snide remark is to be made under one's breath, doing so is part of my job description.  Everyone waits for it.  (If I don't make one, they know it's a down day on my mood chart and they take up the slack.)  This might be because of my twisted sense of humor, or it might be because of my variegated lexicon of foul language.  I have other talents.

I brought in this enormous stainless steel spoon to live on my desk, the kind you would use to stir a big cauldron of Brunswick stew for a church youth group fundraiser.  Its nickname is The Spoon.  Its full name is The Shit-Stirring Spoon.  The English would say it's for "taking the piss."  If one of us is feeling punchy and starts something, by bringing up a sore subject or tossing out an inflammatory remark, or just by tempting fate, then they get The Spoon. 

It's usually in my possession.

The best thing?  I rise early and drive to work each morning knowing that I will put my heart and being into my job, and that at the end of the day, not a syllable or mouse click will have helped some corporation make a profit.  I could make more money outside of the public sector, easily.  I can't think of much that would be more depressing than that.  I'm more motivated to grow and improve professionally by the intangible benefits here than I would be if I were chasing a bag of money out there.  You can't buy happiness, they say.  But you can plow and sew and harvest it without a penny in your pocket.

My energy and talents are spent helping in any way I can, and the profit is re-invested in other persons, the mighty and the lowly.  I grease the cogs so they can keep moving.  It's a behind-the-scenes role, my favorite place to shine.

And my second-favorite place to cuss.

February 25, 2018

there's a problem

I'm a product of my generation.  So is he.

There's a generational cycle where parental rigidity and strictness give way to leniency, then over-protectiveness, then a freedom to experience natural consequences.  Then back to strictness, as a result of resentment toward the lack of structure in childhood.  It repeats; not necessarily in that order, but it cycles.

I think parents of my generation are firmly in a socialized over-protectiveness mode.  Our kids are paying for it in a way that I suspect is, in spite of the cyclical nature of parenting, unprecedented.

They can't solve problems worth a runny shit.

We played outdoors a lot, those of us who grew up in the strictness and leniency eras.  I tramped through copperhead-infested woods near my home and built a tree house because nobody pointed out that a nine-year-old couldn't do that.  We all rode bikes and jumped over creeks and handled our parents' power tools with a matter-of-fact quasi-respect.  If a problem came up, it never occurred to us to solicit parental assistance.  We built bridges and fixed our own flat bicycle tires and basketballs.  We hung upside down on monkey bars by our feet.  This playground (a new trend that I hope is a sign we're moving into a ground-breaking version of the next generation's parenting) would have been entertaining, but not all that different from our day-to-day doings.  We set fires and then considered coming up with a way to put them out.  Hammering nails and digging deep holes, crossing busy highways and climbing precariously weak-limbed trees, were standard fare.  We tended to our own and went home for lunch and supper.  Skinned knees earned an annoyed parent who reminded us where the ointment and bandages were located.

They certainly couldn't phone or text us.

My son recently rolled his eyes when I asked him to please, please begin using the facial acne wash that I had purchased for him months before.  He explained that he only washed his face in the shower and the bottle of wash wasn't in the shower.  I didn't have to count to ten; seven was sufficient.  It was one of my good days.  "Kid, the bottle is portable.  Why don't you pick it up and move it away from the sink and into the shower with you?"  A light bulb went off above his head that should never have had its filament disturbed.  "Oh yeah, I could!"

It had never occurred to him.

I don't think it's a case of the highly-intelligent absent-minded professor, either.  That comes out in the black and white shirts worn over navy blue shorts with orange piping.  His mind truly is elsewhere for most of any given day, but I didn't anticipate that the most basic of challenges would find him stymied and, often, defeated.

A voice calls out from upstairs:  "Hey Mom, I need help emptying this trash into the bag.  It takes four hands."

"No," I yell back.  "Lay the bag on the floor, insert the trash can on its side, then grab the bag while holding the plastic on either side and turn it upside down."

I tense and wait for the sound of discarded notebooks and outgrown socks and Popsicle sticks to crash together onto the floor, but he manages the task.  I want to rend my garments.  I should not have had to tell him this.

He was proud of himself afterward.  He was proud of himself the night he unboxed and assembled his Ikea kit nightstand with no assistance whatsoever, save for the instruction booklet.  That was a bright spot that left him glowing for days.  Novelty can do that.

He's nature-deprived and overly air-conditioned.  He hasn't had to think through many processes, at least not at home, because our parenting has unwittingly deprived him of the trouble in life needed to learn how to cope with the little things, then the not-so-little things.

My mantra now to him is, "Solve the problem."  He hates when I say this, but I've begun to refuse to help him.  If he's particularly frustrated, I use the Socratic method (P.J.'s idea) and make him think through it.  And I refuse to be the one to contact his teachers if there is an issue.  That's his problem.

He has to walk three blocks to his bus stop, now that he's in high school.  The first time it rained, he was at a loss.  The brand new, very expensive, high-quality rain jacket that I told him about the night before was hanging on its peg a few feet away, with an umbrella beneath it.  He texted me.

Another text:

What does he do?  My co-worker heard the dull "thud" when my forehead hit my desk.

It's too late to go back and provide him with a childhood rich in opportunities to problem-solve.  I'm scrambling now for ways to boot-camp his brain through when he encounters problems.  "Solve the problem.  What could you do?  What items do you own that could help?  What order should you do all that in?"  Think, kid.  Think.

He'll never build a tree house and I won't let him near a drill.  Boy Scouts did little to instill skills.  This is my fault, and I'm floundering now, grasping for remedial ideas.  I can't let him go out into the world when he can't figure out what to do once the toothpaste tube is empty, when time management and deadlines and budgeting are his and his alone to navigate.

He's lost in the woods.  There are wolves.  But we all found our way through them.  Will he?  This is a millennia-old parental worry, but the world is changed and these woods are unexplored and no longer have well-worn pathways.  And the worst thing we can do for our kids now is to hand them baskets of bread crumbs.

The only way out is through.

February 23, 2018

sticky notes

P.J. and I leave each other notes around the house.  We're far from the only family to do this, but our notes, I like to believe, are ... different.

Our son was seven and having some difficulty with completely oblivious to the concept of flushing the toilet in the upstairs bathroom.  When piled on top of little dribbles on the seat, having the loo regularly clog and overflow from catcher's mitts of toilet paper, and his missing the toilet and painting the surrounding floor yellow, Jackson Pollock-style, the non-flushing was maddening.  ADHD aside, we had to get through to him.

One day a sign appeared on the bathroom wall, scrawled on a sheet of notebook paper:

"Remember to flush the toilet :) "

Efficacy was not achieved.

A week later, another sign replaced the first, on a larger sheet of paper:

"Flush the toilet!  Thank you!"

A staggering amount of no change whatsoever took place.

Two weeks later, the final notice was posted, written in fat black marker on a full sheet of neon orange poster board:


Sometimes, that one worked.  Sometimes.  At least he noticed it.

Mostly, the notes are between P.J. and me.

The seminal note was actually straight from the mouth (crevice?) of a fortune cookie, opened by P.J. on our second date.  Instead of something inane and cryptic like "You will have windfall when least expected" or "Determination come to he who is determined to find it," hers said this:

"This person's love is just and true.  You may rely on it."

It might be the sole and enduring reason that she chose me.  The note is still tucked, to this day, up in the corner of her bathroom mirror.  I love the fuck out of that little old scrap of paper.  

Throughout more than a decade of marriage, we've left each other Post-It notes with a heart followed by an ellipsis drawn on them.  We'll find them from each other in the refrigerator, in our medicine cabinets, tucked into our work totes or purses, under pairs of jeans in dresser drawers.  Then we'll recycle them when we find them, and hide them in the other's path.  

Others are fun bits of commentary.  P.J. once opened a cabinet and found a note stuck to a package of seaweed crackers that I had opened and tried the night before, with a skull and crossbones drawn on it.  I didn't think they tasted so good.  And I've had a note appear in my lunch box, which was packed the previous night and contained peanut butter, that simply read "Ewww."  She abhors it and was feeling expressive.

The kid has found notes stuck to his backpack some mornings.  After being informed by him one evening that there's no such thing as luck, I left him a note on the morning of a big test that read "Good luck pattern of chaos in the universe!"

We have a small marker board in the kitchen where we [usually fail to] write out our weekly menu and items that need to be wedged into the grocery list.  There is a bogus perception that my handwriting on it is ridiculously illegible, so sometimes, there's a note above "Ziploc bags" that says "Wut?" and an arrow drawn to the offending passage.  The next morning, there's an arrow drawn to "Wut?" and a note that says "Can't you fucking read?"  That afternoon, in a different color of marker, another note appears that says "My moms are fighting.  I need therapy."  Doodles frequently appear among all of this.  

Some messages aren't written.  Yesterday morning, I found a box of Chocolate Frosted Flakes on the counter that had been quite obviously opened by the kid.  In other words, the top of the box and bag inside looked as though a starving cheetah had grown opposable thumbs and clawed it open.  It was sitting wide open, getting stale and inviting insect life, and in its condition, Tab A had no hope whatsoever of copulating with Slot B.  I visited the junk drawer and withdrew a roll of invisible tape, and placed it neatly beside the cereal box.  When I came home, I found that this had been ignored.  "Did you not get what I was trying to say?" I asked him.  "Well, what am I supposed to do, peel the tape off every day to get to the cereal?"  


When I left for work this morning, the cereal box had a new piece of tape across the top and a message written in Sharpie that said "END OF THE WORLD."  With the requisite arrow pointing to the tape.

The note-exchanging weaves through our family life and connects us.  We face not only the standard challenge of  having hyper-scheduled American lives, but also misaligned work schedules and biological clocks.  I rise early, work early, come home well before five-o'clock traffic thinks of forming.  Dinner, taking our son to his father's house for the evening, errands, chores, and all of that other stuff that seems to eat evenings and steal time.  P.J. works something resembling a second-shift schedule, so while we see each other enough to remember who lives in the house, we don't get a lot of opportunity to say all of the things that need to be said.  Those heart-ellipsis notes are fundamental.  

All of the sticky notes passed between the three of us that contain bits of our love and anxieties and mutually fucked-up senses of humor form a bond that would make Gorilla Glue slide its hands into its pockets and slouch and walk away, defeated. 

February 22, 2018


In a completely deranged fit of solidarity, I decided to mimic P.J.'s pre-op diet this week.  No one in their right mind would do this, but being in my right mind isn't something I have to worry about, so no matter there.

Two shakes a day, two "snacks" (a cheese stick, two ounces of meat, one egg, some raw vegetables ... that sort of rubbish), all the beef broth you want, and a dinner consisting of three ounces of lean meat and some vegetables with olive oil on them.  We wrote in "and coffee" at the bottom of the list.  (P.J.'s having to detox from coffee to avoid the nightmare headaches.  Fuck that right in the eye socket.)

You know I couldn't just sit there and eat mashed potatoes and BLTs at her while she sipped her shakes.  There's fair, and then there's sadistic.  Please don't tell her where I stashed my mug of coffee.  Solidarity only goes so far.

Transitive law:

a = "Lean Meat"
b = "Dry."
c = "You go through everything in the refrigerator door and there is nothing that can be used as a sauce because everything has fucking sugar in it except for the ketchup and you can't eat that on fish and you can't even use applesauce and how do they expect a person to choke this down because it's like chewing thread and you can't even drink water with your meal and you start to look at the green beans as a beverage because they have oil on them."

a = b, and b = c; therefore, a = c

Okay, maybe it isn't just out of solidarity that I'm along for the ride, though it's self-evident that volunteering to go through this again is firmly rooted in an unsound mentality.  I'm now officially ten pounds above my nadir and not at all amused.  I'm wrapping up the Bariatric Foodie Challenge this week and made this my last goal.  The weird thing is, I'm on day four, and I haven't killed anyone yet.

Yet.  Plenty of people have been submitting their applications for the chance to be first in line.

Metabolic flexibility has never been in my profile.  I'm one of the people for whom Mars, Inc. started putting "HANGRY" on its Snickers bars.  The "food mood" is real.  Four hours to the minute after I last ate something significant, I become confused and irritable.  You can see it appear on my face, hear it in my voice, almost instantly.

I was pre-diabetic and bumping right up against the full-blown disease when I had my gastric bypass.  The Roux-en-Y froze my A1C numbers and bumped the range down just a bit, and there it sits, sort of permanently pre-diabetic.  I can live with that and so can the nutritionists.

My body seems to be tailor-made for a low-carb diet.  I would have found my way to this eventually even if low-carb had never become a popular thing to do.  Some doctor would have set me on the right path.  I did well for a while after surgery, until the Bagel Addiction ("but the cream cheese has protein"), replaced later by the Triscuit Addiction ("but I'm eating them with a cheese stick"), took hold.  My brain loves it some carbs, never mind what's optimal for my body.  The pleasure center is all like, "Bruh!  Where you been?  Just been chilling here with nothing to do.  Sure, there's room - move your stuff in.  Mi casa es su casa."

Thomas' came out with their benighted maple French toast- and s'mores-flavored bagels exactly one week after I swore off bagels for good.  They need to be collectively violated with a cactus dipped in lime juice and rolled in salt.

My diet has progressed these last months so that it's now about eighty percent carb-based.  Even being a dumper hasn't deterred this.  And the weight has crept up.  And I've been sad about that.  So I've eaten more carbs to stop being sad.  I've been back in the craving cycle, hungry all the time, then eating when hunger has nothing to do with it.  Eating just because I enjoy the hell out of it.  Hunger hasn't been an issue because I never have a chance to feel it.  Hey, my intestines aren't absorbing as much of this stuff, right?  And if I drink with it, it just washes through.

They call this "eating around the pouch" and it is the nemesis of all bariatric graduates.

There are rules.  Chew each bite of food thirty times.  Do not drink liquid thirty minutes before or after you eat.  Take thirty minutes to consume your portion-controlled meal.  Don't get into the habit of snacking, especially on crackers.  Use protein shakes to make up for what your body needs.  Journal everything.  Always take your specialized vitamins to avoid dangerous deficiencies.  Get your protein in first, then vegetables, then carbs if there is room (there shouldn't be much).  Hydrate.  Be mindful.

What having an egg-sized pouch for a stomach does, when you follow the rules:

- It makes you feel full with much smaller portions of food during meals.
- Because you are full, it triggers brain-gut hormonal signals the same way a large meal would.
- It makes it possible to eat correctly and not suffer from constant hunger.
- A shorter intestinal tract means you absorb fewer calories from the food you eat.
- Insulin levels and associated maladies are (almost always) reversed.

What having an egg-sized pouch for a stomach does, when you don't follow the rules:

- *sound of whistling wind*
- *tumbleweed drifts by*
- *crickets in the distance*

And what having an egg-sized pouch for a stomach cannot do, regardless:

Handle being in recovery for you.

I'm a food addict in recovery.  Recovery from food addiction is identical to recovery in any other sense ... alcohol ... drugs ... gambling ... except that you can keep out the liquor and heroin and you can avoid your bookie, but you can't not have food in the house.  Recovery basically resembles the mentality one has when being on a diet, except that it's forever.  No going back.

My brain wants a hit, man.

I thought the same things everyone else thinks, in the beginning.  This will fix it all for me.  (My procedure was for intractable acid reflux, but it was also for weight and diabetes, so I'm not sure why I always throw in that qualification.)  And I will not be one of the people in the stories you hear who gain all of their weight back.  How does that even happen?  What the hell is wrong with them, after all they went through to lose the weight and get healthy?

Boy, did I go through it.  Two surgeries and seven days in the hospital with a huge tube down my nose and constantly collapsing I.V. sites.  Five decorative trochar sites plus a G-tube sticking out of my belly that had to stay put for two months.  Thrush.  A painful hematoma on the left that took weeks to subside.  Two weeks of narcotic meds that left me out of touch with most of reality.  A nurse that farted in my face and didn't say excuse-me.

Okay, so the feeding tube was actually kind of awesome, even though it stung constantly because the wound isn't allowed to heal and close.  Hydration wasn't an issue because I could just pour water in  through the tube without having to drink it.  One night, I poured in a can of traditional [read: rhino-shit nasty] V-8, just because I could.  It stained the tube pink.  This pleased me, because it would make the doctor ask why my tube was pink, and then I could tell him that I drank V-8 through my tube, and he would be weirded out.

And the thrush was awful, because you can't become incorporeal and run away from yourself, even though you really want to.  I had to get Cat Ear Medicine (oh, all right, Magic Mouthwash, but it still had to be refrigerated) from our pharmacy and use it, and because of the Lidocaine in it, our friends would always ask me to say "ssssssufferin' sssssuccotash" while my tongue was numb.  Our friends were assholes.  That's why we loved them.

But back to how it all looks in the shiny new beginning:  How in the hell could anyone let their weight start slipping after going through all of that?

You'd be amazed how many of us do.  Jesus Christ on a cracker (with cheese), it's so easy to do.  I have an inkling that I've just arrived at the threshold of The Hard Part.  The honeymoon is over, baby.  All of that wholesome stuff that makes me wrinkle my nose, commitment and self-discipline and exercise and the word "healthy" (*ptooey*), it comes into play now.  Shit just got real up in here.

I didn't form the habits I was supposed to form over the past two years.  It's not too late.  I can form them now.  I'm on a brink, and it's time to make a decision, to stand and deliver.

I went along with a Piyo DVD for fifteen minutes last night.  It's all about learning the various poses at first, and I think I might look like a fermata when I'm trying to do Downward Dog.  There isn't a mirror.

I haven't had a cracker in four days, either.  Or any sort of carb.  And there are even stretches of several minutes when I don't think about Milton's Crispy Sea Salts.  I keep peeing on Keto-Stix but I know it's early days yet.  After I lose what I've gained back, I'll have to strike a balance somehow, out of ketosis but staying away from the trap of all that is carb-y goodness. And then?

"Do, or do not.  There is no try."  Smug-ass Yoda.

February 21, 2018

everyday low prices

I need a shower.  A hot, soapy shower.  And some mouth wash.  And probably a two-week detox diet and some Miralax, just to be on the safe side.

I had to go to Wal-Mart today.

I boycott Wal-Mart and have for almost twenty years, mainly because they can't be arsed to pay employees the thirty-three cents an hour minimum wage in Bangladesh.  But sometimes I'm forced to break that boycott, when they've run everyone else out and made themselves the only game in a small mountain town, or they've positioned themselves so that they're the only place I can turn to when I have exactly four point two minutes to obtain ground beef, a tie, dress shoes, potting soil, and a three-ring binder or some kid's birthday gift for my son's exciting educational and social life.

A Wal-Mart store is a throbbing vortex of bad.  It's IT from A Wrinkle In Time.

The parking lot does a good job of painting a succinct picture of the experience.  The spaces are just a little too narrow, the better to fit more cars.  People are rude and basic vehicular and pedestrian courtesies are absent.  No one makes eye contact, though they do so in other parking lots a mile down the road.  Rogue carts left in parking spaces gather rain drops in testimony to the attitude of "fuck it, it's somebody else's problem, let them deal with it."

Inside, everything from the font of the price tags to the exhausted visages of the wage-raped employees pulls on my psyche like someone turned up the gravity.  Bins crowd and clog aisles and make it impossible for two cart-pushers to pass each other, so more rudeness ensues.  Displays are cunningly arranged to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Every year on Black Friday, someone is trampled to death when the doors open at midnight.  Seems it's always at a Wal-Mart.

This is not cultural snobbery.  I don't laugh at "The People of Wal-Mart" pics.  I'm normally a fan of social commentary, but they're mean.  Those are just people and when I pass them on an aisle in a Wal-Mart, I make sure I speak and turn them into persons.  The fact that breathing the air inside Wal-Mart prevents them from returning the courtesy is, I feel, not their fault.  I don't believe that I'm too good to walk around the clothes and hangers and various other bits of merchandise lying on the ground.  Never mind that I compulsively put things where they belong when I'm in the grocery store, and the floor-to-hanging-up ratio at Wal-Mart leaves my OCD in helpless shreds.

It doesn't stop at the unpleasantness of being inside a store.  What Wal-Mart has done to our society, to our mentality, to our future.  It has fifty-six years of abhorrent practices and gross irresponsibility and pervasive damage to the world to answer for, and those answers will never be forthcoming.

Where are all the local shops?  Where are the places in America that don't look like every other place?  My generation feels the phantom ache of something missing that it never had.  We hear stories.  They seem quaint and otherworldly.

I had a conversation with my mother long ago, when I first began boycotting Wal-Mart.  She shopped there weekly (and still does).  I explained carefully and at length about sweat shops and bribes to corrupt governments in third-world nations.  I explained the practice of reverse-vendor price setting and how it erodes our economy.  I explained the effect of harsh union-busting practices.  I laid out the information in such a way that anyone could plainly see that Wal-Mart is nothing short of dangerous and vile.

At the end of all of this explaining, her response was this:  "But their prices are so good!"

And there you have it, Earth.  Everyday low prices, courtesy of the magnanimous Waltons.

They distract us from the other price tag.  The one we're already paying.

"There's a monster on the outskirts,
says it knows what your town needs,
And it eats it up like nothing,
And it won't spit out the seeds .... "

Dar Williams, "Bought and Sold"

February 20, 2018


When I was five, I would bury my face in a throw pillow on the living room couch and quietly recite my limited lexicon of "cuss words".  It gave me a sense of satisfaction, not just because I had gotten away with a high crime at that age, but because the words themselves were satisfying to say.  I never got the sense that this had anything to do with God, who lived outside in the sky above the next-door neighbor's old poplar tree and who looked exactly like Dick Clark, but taller.  Saying the words didn't seem immoral.  I just didn't want to get spanked.

Profanity holds allure for children; they're getting away with something that would be frowned upon or punished.  Teens use it to rebel.  But adults ... we have to have different reasons, don't we?  Our collection of words is expansive and we can discern the consequences of using them, from mere irreverence and offense to personal debasement and deep hurt.  Morality does come into it on that basis, and here is where the fork in the road is found:  Morality for its own concrete, self-proving sake, or morality defined by flexible context and circumstances?

Let the religions debate morality for generations, since they feel it's in their exclusive purview.  (It isn't.)  Uttering profanity is not intrinsically immoral.

I think I enjoy cursing so much because I wasn't allowed to do it for far too long.  I didn't allow myself, as a good Christian, but I did it anyway, and then beat myself up and asked for forgiveness so regularly that God, if existent, would have considered it ambient noise.  Guilty pleasure was far heavier on the "guilty".  I was trying to keep my true self from breaking through the packed-down soil and sprouting in the sunlight.

The guilt fell away when the rest of my ersatz moral constructs collapsed and the sun shone on me.  Now there's just pleasure.  I love profanity.  I use it early and often.  I still stay within the confines of social conformity, to the extent needed to keep from injuring others.  But when I'm in a safe environment and no harm will be done, it flies freely.  It turns out I have a talent for it.  And if no other justification existed, there is this:  I do tech support.  Cursing like an unshaven sailor on a three-day bender is a required qualification.  It's how I know I'm in the right career field.

I gave it ten good, mostly clean years with my son; after that, nothing was held back.  He's pretty talented himself, though a bit more creativity is needed around the edges.  We consider our home a place where he can leave the world behind and be fully himself, and that includes letting F-bombs land all over the house.  It feels good.  It releases stress.  It's a form of honesty.  It gives us a family bond that says, "We know what matters in the world and this isn't it.  There are evils and this is not, inherently, one of them."

It's not a popular parenting style, from my observations.  But no matter, that.  I was inspired to emulate this approach to family life by my best friend and her family.  That same kitchen table where Uncle Jack would sit also sometimes sat my best friend, her parents and me, when I was invited to dinner.  It was always steak and mashed potatoes and buttered green peas, with a bottle of Heinz 57 sauce on the table.  We would begin eating, and my friend would give her father, sitting directly across from her, the finger.  Her father would say with indignation, "Ellie, she just flipped me off," and my friend's mother would sigh with resignation and say, "Don't do that to your father."  "Sorry, Mama."  Another bite of steak, some potato.  Then her father would flip her the bird right back.  "Mama!  Daddy just did it to me!"

I watched all of this transpire with a one-sided grin of fascination.  My best friend was so polite in "real life" and I didn't see how this dichotomy could exist.  She was safe in her home and didn't get in trouble.  How could this possibly be?  Wrong is wrong.  Er, isn't it?

My kid long ago developed the ability to shift gears and suppress curse-all-you-want mode, just another communication style, when he walks out of our front door each day.  He knows he'll be able to return soon to the Safe Zone and let it all hang out.  He knows that when he's up in his room, shouting at his laptop while wearing headphones, and I stomp to the foot of the staircase and yell, "SHUT THE FUCK UP!  JESUS CHRIST!" I actually mean, "Dear child of mine, I would be ever-so-grateful if you could be considerate and decrease your vocal volume to an acceptable level, thank you."  And when he shouts back, "HANG ON, I'M IN THE MIDDLE OF A FUCKING BOSS BATTLE!" I know he means, "Oh dear, I didn't realize I was being obnoxiously loud, it's these headphones, you see, please forgive me, it won't happen again."

P.J. can out-swear me without breaking a sweat.

Even the dogs are into it.  When Rose is outside barking her fool head off, we can call her sweetly in a sing-song voice, and she doesn't even notice us.  But if I push the dog door open with my foot so she can hear me and yell, "ROSE GOD DAMN IT GET YOUR STUPID ASS IN HERE RIGHT NOW AND STOP FUCKING BARKING," she comes happily trotting in, wagging her tail because all is right with the world.  She actually likes it.  I'm miffed that this does not seem to work on people.

These words, they're syllables with mouthfeel, compact bursts of expression and release, paradoxically composed of arbitrarily strung-together letters that have been designated as foul and, in some places, publicly illegal.  And I agree that they can be hurtful, and that being needlessly offensive isn't a great idea.  But there are merits to letting loose great strings of profanity.  Things are released that would be bottled-up poison in the mind.  It's healthy.  Even religion has, on the whole, come to terms with a nightly glass of wine.  It just needs to make the leap to a nightly glass of relaxing cussin' that makes a person live to a ripe, old age.

February 19, 2018

a corner

P.J. is having gastric sleeve surgery next week.  This marks the culmination of a frustrating year-long journey, a winding road dotted with the lemonade stands of insurance bureaucracy and less-than-perfect communication from her providers that resulted in delay after delay, each one a pang of injustice.  She has put one foot in front of the other with fortitude and has now arrived resolute at the gate at the end of that road.

I'm ready to be her Wonder Woman support person.  No, not ready.  Chomping at the bit.  I'm nesting, cleaning the house so that she'll have a tidy, spotless environment to come home to from the hospital.  Bleach the shower.  Linens in super-hot water.  Dust.  Jesus Jumped-Up Christ, those shelves in the refrigerator.  Is there room to put what she needs in the kitchen cabinets?  Toss stuff.

I'm going to make sure she has hot and cold running liquids and protein shakes and soft foods.  Break out that little food processor and the portion-control dishes.  Watch the clock and bring meds.  Add e-books to her Kobo.  All this will only be needed for a few days once she's home, but I want to serve as soldier and mother and everything in-between.  I will provide for her.  "When you're needed is when you shine," she told me.

I'm also scared shitless.

The odds are a good bit lower than 1% that there will be anesthesia complications and she'll never wake up.  She's had surgery requiring a general twice before.  I get that.  Logically.  And she's chosen this of her own will and any pain and discomfort that accompanies it, and the path afterward, learning to be a sleeved person, are also her choices.  And she's safer having this surgery than she is out driving on any given day.  I know that.  Rationally.

But I have this minor problem with people taking her away and sticking needles in her.  A wee, itty-bitty problem.  She had to have an injection at an outpatient center once, years ago, and I drove her there and sat in the magazine-strewn sitting area for People Who Sit And Patiently Wait.  They took her away, to a room, and I couldn't follow.  Yeah, she was in a room a whopping thirty feet down a small hallway, and she made the appointment and asked for the injection, and I can't keep her from pain in life, but they took her away.  I was wound up so tight that you could have plucked and played a tune on me.  They had her in a room and they were hurting her.  Any time a random nurse would walk past, I would start to jump up.  A lot of random nurses wandered past in that eternal forty-five minutes.  My quads got a workout.  I sat with clenched fists and very good posture and the inherited shaking leg, pupils probably dilated.  I was fighting an impulse, you see, to go back there and take the baseball bat I didn't have to all of the doctors who might be considering approaching her with a needle or sharp tool or anything else that would hurt her.  When she finally emerged (just fine, of course) and went to pay at the check-out desk, I stood rigid against the wall behind her.  And when we walked outside, into the parking lot, I collapsed and wept and shook uncontrollably, in spite of awareness that this was becoming All About Me and wasn't supposed to be, as I wasn't the one who just got all shot up with a great, big needle.  They hurt her! something in me screamed.

She'll have the same surgeon I had.  I trusted him with my life - twice, as I had revision surgery two days after the first operation - and I trust him with hers.  But what this should look like is me sitting in the spacious but crowded waiting area, tense, the clock moving so slowly it sometimes jumps backwards, knowing that a bunch of people have taken her away and are hurting her, cutting her open and sticking things inside of her body and taking things out, guarding her very life's blood.  It should look like me jumping up and running down the hall, bursting through the doors of the operating area, knocking out any interfering personnel on the way Jackie Chan-style, and then -- what?  What?  What would I do?  Impulses don't plan so well.

It isn't going to look like that.  At all.

For one thing, I do martial arts about as well as a four-year-old.  One who hasn't taken tae-kwon-do classes.  At our local dojo, there are classes for toddlers who could whoop my ass.

And I won't be in the waiting room.  I've done my tour there, waiting for them to tell me that my baby boy made it through surgery after they took him away and cut him open, broke his rib cage, meddled with his heart, and many hours later, returned him as a swollen mummy, sleeping peacefully and engulfed in bandages.  I remember the carpet and the walls and the secretaries of the waiting room, the smell and the coordinates on the Earth, the exit and restroom signs and the April 1998 copy of Golf Digest on the table to my left.  They've since remodeled, but I don't forget.

We've been mindful for months of the need to find me alternative accommodations while I wait.  About six hours to kill, knowing my Klonopin will be sugar-pill pee-water against my volcano of anxiety.

They're taking her away.  What if I never get her back?

Yesterday, we went to the hospital and walked around.  We vetted a few places for me to pass the time, but all of them had room for loads of people and the chairs looked uncomfortable and there was that smell.  Nothing qualified, until we found a little-used meditation room tucked away in a forgotten corner of a low-traffic area in the hospital.  Inside, it was dim-lit, no hospital smell, and a corner of the tiny room held an invitingly cushioned love seat, a small table, and an electrical outlet, which will be needed if I'm to plug into my lifeline, my chosen family.  Just those things, and a table across the room containing a Bible and the Q'Ran for those who find comfort in such things.  I can park the suitcase with all of the things for P.J.'s room later that evening, and get updates regarding the surgery on my phone.

I sat down on the love seat and claimed it.  "This.  This right here.  Yes.  Me.  Here," I said.

P.J. is having surgery.  She is not thinking of herself.  She is taking care of me, soldier and mother and everything in-between.  She has provided for me.  She continues to be the bravest person I've ever known.

I will be blessedly alone (but not alone) while I wait for them to bring her back, and the sense of being tucked away and hidden in a safe pillow-fort room has calmed much of the internal storm of panic and dread.  I will have a place to be.  I will have a corner.

February 17, 2018


One of the best things a person with bi-polar disorder can do to stay stable and fill in those dots right down the middle of the mood chart is to regulate sleep.  I don't just mean getting eight hours every night; having the same bedtime and same waking time is critical.  Something about biorhythms and the regulation of some chemicals and processes that I can't pronounce.  I've found it's true.  This must be why my psy-doc allows my regimen of nightly meds, taken exactly forty-five minutes before I intend to be in bed and sound asleep.  Lunesta and Vistaril and melatonin work together like they're the A-Team from season three.  Lunesta is definitely Mr. T.

The problem is, they work.  Period.  You can't just take them and then feel free to move about the cabin.  So if I'm not in bed yet, errantly wandering around the house, doing that last load of laundry or helping the kid with his homework Internet connectivity issues, filling out last-minute paperwork for a school function or even reading or gaming, I'm still going to fall asleep exactly forty-five minutes after taking the pills.  P.J. calls it "hitting my wall."  I suddenly go stupid and incoherent and sometimes have to bumble down a flight of stairs, while she shepherds me.  "Hold on to the hand rail!  Are you holding on to the rail?  Hold the rail!"

P.J. follows me down the stairs and tells me something and I just stare at her, wobbling slightly on my feet, my jaw slack, and make a noise that would be "Hunnnnnnhhh?" if I were able to articulate something that complicated.  I think I end up sounding like a yeti with a speech impediment and the flu.

"Go to bed."

"Akahiuhhhhhn."  I'm suddenly holding a pen and trying to fill out a field trip permission slip, and I see this really cool aardvark on the kitchen counter.  Then he joins the other aardvarks and they head to the coliseum where I'm supposed to be running the concession stand but everybody only wants Mountain Dew and we're out of it and the basketball game is almost over --

"Yes, you can.  Go on, go to bed."

"Ejssvvtofnshhhss."  P.J.'s voice.  Awake.  Paperwork.  Right.  I can do this.  Except the aardvark footprints are all over it now.  There was a stampede to get the Mountain Dew.  Somebody just shattered the backboard and I'm sad because I can't see over the crowd of people's heads and the man is mad at me because I didn't buy a ticket, and I'm a lowly concession stand worker, and he's carrying an injured aardvark --

"No, you don't need to finish that.  You can do it in the morning.  Go to bed.  Go."

"Szzrk."  Jerk awake again.  Paperwork.  It's still here.  Why does my handwriting look like that?  Why won't she get me a bandage for the aardvark's nose?  Can he breathe like that?  Permission slip.  Last name, First name, Middle Initial.  Date of Birth:   08 / 11 /  20aardvark .

Unfortunately, being asleep on my feet also means my stubborn streak is unrestrained by my consciousness and allowed to run rampant.  And soon I start making whimpering sounds of feeble protest.  The longer I'm up, the more tough love it takes to get my recalcitrant, dozing form under the covers with my head on a pillow.

It's in everybody's best interest for me to hit the sack before I reach this state.  Someone begins a conversation and I say, "You've got fourteen minutes.  Talk fast."

On weekend nights, I succumb to the peace and quiet of the hour and I stay up late.  I shouldn't, but I do.  So after I've taken my meds, I settle in to play my dragon game.  My battle team gets concerned on nights like this.  They've fought a few hard-won battles and then they look up and notice me.

Fireball:  "Uh-oh.  Her head's tilting again.  And her eyes are closed.  Shit."

Warrior:  "Wake her up!  We have to finish!  Otherwise, the game will time out and these assholes across from us will win."

Energy:  "I can't, War.  She has the volume muted.  She always has the volume muted."

Warrior:  "Hey, she just jerked awake and is looking at the screen.  She's blinking.  Any second now, she's going to remember that we're in the middle of a fierce battle here."

Fireball:  "Right!  Woo-hoo!  She just told me to fire away."  (roasts a few dragons on the other side)

Energy:  "That's more like it.  Click on me now!  Click on me!  Wait.  Noooooooooo, her eyes are crossing again.  There goes her head.  Now she's snoring.  God damn it!"

Warrior:  "Fuck it, I'm leaving.  We all know how this will end."


Energy:  "Do you always have to be so dramatic, 'Ball?"

Fireball:  "Fuck off."

My dragons have become as foul-mouthed as I am.  I guess that's the whole bonding-with-your-master thing.  It makes me sad that I miss most of these conversations.  But I'm asleep.

February 16, 2018

the price

My first son died in October of 2001.  He had an extremely rare birth defect that required open-heart surgery within a narrow window of time, if we were to preserve his brief, ill-fated life.  He was two months old.  That window of hope opened and closed immediately following the 9/11 attacks.  He was diagnosed early on the morning of September 11, 2001.  The hospital had kept him overnight in an oxygen tent for observation due to wheezing.  When I arrived that morning, the news was heart-stopping:  The doctors said it wasn't croup.  It was something in his pulmonary-arterial structure.  And he needed surgical intervention.  Now.

They began to ready a specialized incubator for the ambulance transport to the larger children's hospital, for admission to the pediatric ICU.  All of the TV sets in the hospital suddenly turned on at that moment.  The TV in his room showed planes flying into buildings.  Buildings crumbling.  Screams and smoke and the inconceivable.  I looked back and forth between the incubator and the TV.  They merged.  They were the same thing.  It was crumbling.

The surgical team required the participation of a doctor who was stuck in Denver; like everyone else, he couldn't get a flight or a rental car.  They say he bought a car and drove it across the country, took a nap, performed the surgery, and then sold the car.

But the window had already closed, and even with successful surgery, my son was never able to wean off of his life support systems and breathe and pump blood on his own.  When everything tried had failed, I cradled him in my arms and sang to him, and then told the technician to turn off the ECMO machine.  My son opened his eyes and looked at me, and died within seconds.

They've never added him to the body count of the 9/11 casualties.

The parallel events.  We were in the hospital, by his bedside, for three weeks, and during those three weeks, all of the intensive media coverage, the shock and grief that unified the American people, the immersion in details, happened to everyone else, but not to us.  I was inside truly concrete walls and was not exposed to media coverage.  I missed it all.  I was attending to my own corner.  Yet the two tragedies were woven together for me, macro and micro, one a symbol of the other.

We went to Ground Zero that Christmas, two blocks away, as close as the orange barriers and yellow tape would allow us, and we stared, on purpose.  I tried to feel something, anything, but couldn't.  Numbness.  I felt like a heartless monster.  But you can't see things that are the fabric of your universe.  You can't see air.

That trip to New York City is proof that at the time, I wanted to participate.  I wanted to be part of the whole, to feel what others felt, willing to let the force hit me full-on.

A few months later, several sequelae were uncovered.  I couldn't watch movies with violence or horror in them.  I couldn't read some books.  I would weep, and retch, and vivid and intact scenes would haunt me, one of the perks of having a partially photographic memory.  I couldn't read the news any more because it seemed that whenever I did, some mentally ill mother in Texas had sawed her baby's arms off and been taken into custody, or drowned four of her kids in a bathtub full of water and corpses.  I stopped watching.  I stopped reading.  I stuck with safe things.  Harry Potter.  C.S. Lewis.  Cartoons.

I was at work when the Sandy Hook shooting took place.  A co-worker called me and told me.  I dropped to my knees and was violently ill, throwing up into my trash can long after there was nothing left.

And so those who love me began to shelter me.  Since that time, they've withheld news from me.  I don't read and they don't talk.  They turn off the radio.  They refrain from discussing things that happen when I'm within earshot.  I'm handed the rudiments and the rest is left out.  I'm told when to stay off Facebook for a couple of weeks.

I've been grateful for this.  So grateful.  The bubble they keep me in saves me pain, intense pain.  There's nothing I could do as an individual about these things anyway, I have reasonably concluded.  I'm allowed a bubble.  I've paid the price.  And yet ....

So far this week, I've learned there was a school shooting.  Then that it was at a high school.  Then that there were multiple casualties.  Then the town the school is in.  News leaks in through the permeable membrane of the bubble, in spite of everyone's best efforts - even my son's - to protect me.

The price.  The politicians who say this is the price of liberty and freedom.  The grinding machine that turns a deaf ear to our cries for change and help and mercy.  Cries for a few rational minds to pair with the balls or ovaries to act, no matter their lobbyists' protests.  "If I find ten righteous people in the city, I will spare it."  Find me ten Republicans who will act.  Just ten.  You can't.  The god I don't believe in would smite them all and bury their feculent rhetoric under the sea.

The price.  I have come home every day this week to find P.J.'s eyes red and puffy.  She stops crying when she hears my car pull into the garage.  She needs to vent and rail and all of those things that help grief move forward, but she chooses not to, negates her own needs, to protect me.  She is a stoppered vessel of pain, to protect me.  She pays a price to protect me.

Beneath the gratitude, I've long had deeply buried doubts about whether I should be afforded such delicate-velvet-cotton-cloud treatment.  Is it wrong to ask for it?  Is it unethical?  And the real questions, these:  Does the pervasive availability of information about everything happening across the globe, here and now in this Internet age, constitute a person's responsibility to keep herself apprised?  Is it part of the social contract?  Is opting out somehow not just selfish but harmful?  Do I deserve to be spared pain and anger, when pain and anger are appropriate and, perhaps, productive?

They're not idle questions.  Whenever our revolting refusal to come together like we did after 9/11 and take up the guns, melt them en masse, is thrown into relief, the questions don't just drift by; they plague me.  And I never see them debated.  (No surprise there.  I stay away from sources where they might, indeed, be bandied about and developed.)

I made a decision this morning.

I decided the price is too high for me to continue in my blissful near-unawareness.

Not because I feel I can make a significant difference.

Not because I want to fulfill my part of the social contract and be relieved from my nagging doubts.  

Not because I no longer throw up when the trauma is triggered, because mass-tragedies and my son's I.V. lines will always be tangled together.

I read the news today.  I know what happened now.  I got through it.  I have my answers to the questions.

The price is too high because I have come home every day this week to find P.J.'s eyes red and puffy.  She needs to vent and rail and all of those things that help grief move forward.  And I am her wife.  To have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish.  To grieve.  Together.

February 15, 2018


I wanted to write something witty and humorous today, but I spent my energy on a poem about my grandmother for the church.  I sent it to the preacher.  I'm big on those epilogues.  I tried to make it sound like one of hers, but I suck at scan and rhyming lines.  Now my brain is stuck and all of my thoughts are coming out in iambic pentameter.  This is likely to last the rest of the day.  

Like Grandma said, if you're a writer, you can't help but write.  You have to.

Pan out to seven years ago.  I was making breakfast for dinner, and when I reached up to get something sitting on the top shelf in the cabinet, standing on tip-toes because I'm short, I accidentally knocked some honey off of the shelf, which landed in the bowl of pancake batter below it, which knocked the whole kaboodle onto the floor.  It was, of course, a glass bowl, and the splattery, gloopy, shattered-shards mess that resulted was quite impressive.  It oozed off the sides of cabinets.  It covered a whole corner of the kitchen and lay an urgent hazard for bare feet and curious dogs.  And it was loud, but no one came running.

I didn't grab paper towels as first responder and get to work on cleaning it up.  Nor did I react in my usual way and go into an anxiety attack because I broke dishes and now The Whole Planet was going to condemn me for it.  Instead, I sat down at the kitchen counter on the other side of the room with my laptop, careful not to get the flecks of batter all over my pants on the stool, and promptly wrote a sonnet about it and sent it to P.J., by way of notification:

Among the many lessons learned today:
Pyrex, while strong, is not unbreakable;
The sound of crunching glass and flying shards
Throughout the house was unmistakable.
An errant honey jar, top-heavy, fell
Into the pancake batter bowl below.
The kitchen-coating mess of which I tell
Is one of majesty, if you must know;
And that is why your dinner is delayed,
Your bacon and your berry smoothies sweet,
Though even now amends are being made,
And soon you’ll hear the lad call out, “Let’s eat!”

I didn't do the last two lines.  Did I say I was Shakespeare?

I didn't exactly write it, either.  I caught it.  The lines just started forming in my head.  It was like when you know some plumbing is about to start leaking and you run and get a bucket to catch the spilling water. 

The puddle of glass-shard batter had finished spreading and decided on its expansive shape, and had begun to dry around the edges, by the time I got to it with cleaning supplies.  It was almost art.  I made the next batch of batter in a stainless steel bowl with a matching lid.  And I've learned my lesson:  When I need something off the top shelf, I use tongs now.  Much less drama that way.  P.J. wants to know what's wrong with using the god-damned step stool.  But she knows.  That's the easy way, and this is me.

February 14, 2018


Yesterday, my therapist looked me right in the eye and whispered, "You are ... so weird."

I held his gaze without wavering and said, "Thank you.  But you just understood what I said.  So what does that make you?"

He said, "I'm weird.  Thank you.  And you're welcome."  There was kindness and a gleam in his eye.

I really don't see why the therapists I've had over the years have considered me oppositional and difficult, just because I contradict everything they say and don't respond well to traditional methods and end up with a completely different result from every other client they've ever had.  For some reason, they think I'm resistant.  They suspect I just came in for an argument.

I worked forever with a therapist who is revered in the mental health community here.  She wanted to try a proven technique with me, one in which the person develops "resources" for their inner child, a nurturing person and a guardian and a spiritual guide.  I'm taking liberties here; I know it's not as simple as all that, and there's research behind it, and testimonials and what-not.  So I only spent eight years refusing to try it.  I think the words I used were "hokey" and "contrived".  Once, I agreed to start it, and then promptly broke out in full-body hives during the first minute.  (I had never had hives before.  I didn't know what the fuck a hive looked like.)  Three years later, I grudgingly agreed to try again.  We started, and I fell asleep and dropped onto the couch like a rag doll.  Undeterred, we tried it again a few months later.  I got further this time.  But then I pointed out that the three resources, who were supposed to form a ring around Lille, needed to all be in separate rooms, like maybe in offices down a hallway.  "Why?"  "Because I don't want them talking about me."

We stopped trying after that.  She had had scores of clients over her many years of practice who had benefited immensely from the technique.  No one had ever said that before.  "Strange.  Usually, that's the easy part for folks."  Well, Lille doesn't want these people she doesn't even know talking about her, let alone ganging up on her after having their secret conversations.  She smells a conspiracy.  And they're probably all positive people.

I saw a therapist briefly, years and years ago, who tried to convince me I wasn't gay.  Not a pray-the-gay-away type, just someone who believed that because men temporarily engage in homosexual behavior while in prison, he could make the homeopathic extrapolation that all homosexual identities were artificial and circumstantial in nature.  I think his closet was probably a walk-in with room for a Tatami mat and a lamp and some bookshelves.  A chic Ikea closet.

I chose my current therapist after deciding that he might just be the one person out there who can call my shit and break through the difficulty and "challenging client" thing.  He's tack-sharp and goes where I go, along for the ride instead of pushing an agenda, and possesses a rare flexibility.  He's like Therapist Gumby.

Sometimes we do hypnosis.  The first time we tried it, we set up my special, safe place, and then he asked me to focus hard on a particular spot in this imaginary place and then zoom in on it, so close that I could see tiny details.  I snapped out of it and gasped for air because I felt like I was suffocating. The thing was right in my face.  Okay, throw that one out.  We tried imagining somewhere a little more roomy.  He wanted to put a screen there, which is a great way to let the unconscious mind project things.  I insisted on a hologram.  Then once we were using the hologram, I tossed it and went all Lothl√≥rien and decided on a pool of water instead.  Now that I mention it, I don't think I've shared that with him yet.

If he were on a baseball team, he'd be the star outfielder who always manages to run like hell and catch the errant pop-fly.  He should be on a card, one that comes with bubble gum.  He'd be humble, too, and give his autograph to any kid who asked for it.  Lille's shy but is thinking of walking up to him and shaking his hand, then running away and hiding behind my skirts.

Know what kicks ass?  He does cut through my shit and how difficult I am.  He says hard things without flinching.  I'm his challenging client.  He wouldn't give me any less.  He knows that when I argue, it isn't for its own sake.  I'm trying to be clear, to articulate granular distinctions needed to navigate complexity.  He gets that my brain has an i7 Coffee Lake processor and thinks through a suggestion in roughly the same amount of time it takes a person to formulate what they would say if they were going to disagree just to have control and be right.  I'm not just being contrary.  In that snap of time, I think it over, weigh it, compare it to various bits of life, sift through merits and drawbacks, and consider its applicability.  Then I say the thing that comes out sounding contrary.  But it's actually raw honesty.

I wouldn't give a star outfielder any less.

February 13, 2018


"The sun, the moon, and the stars make the wind blow
It took me twenty years to understand
But lost to me is how the lives of friends go
Like autumn leaves in Oklahoma wind."

-Vince Bell

"Best friend" in childhood gives way to semantics in adulthood that reflect our first-world compartmentalization.  A person comes to have a "best gym friend," a "best work friend," a "best playgroup friend," and maybe a "best church friend."  But there was only ever one best friend in the beginning, and that person retains a lifelong status, even if clarifying terms relegate him or her to "best childhood friend."

My best friend and I sometimes live many hours apart, but she moves a lot, and sometimes she's in adequate proximity to enable punctuated mini-eras of lunch dates.  We can go three years with only an e-mail or two between us; then we meet at Wendy's and no time has passed at all.  We pick up on whatever thread of conversation was left sitting beside the plastic salt and pepper shakers on the table.  Twin worldviews and overlapping experiences have forged a distinctive bond that weathers time and place and the ways in which we both change and grow, a bond preserved in amber.

Most of my friendships, and those shared with P.J., follow the same kind of punctuated pattern.  It doesn't help that most of them, like us, are introverts, or that they live at least an hour away in this direction or that.  For every e-mail I have written to my best friend, I have written another to a friend who has drifted away, both of us being lousy correspondents who keep the other frozen in time in our minds.  Copious, warm and wistful thoughts of the friendship, but never quite having the time to reach out, then not knowing what to say, then knowing we have to say it anyway.  And always the "we really need to get together soon," and meaning it, but seldom seeing it through.  When we do see it through, it's always good, and we say, "We're going to do this more often, I've missed you."  Then we let them drift again, return to our routines and ruts and know that they will be out there.

We are all of us fools.

"Taking things for granted" doesn't even begin to suffice.  We do not savor and attend to what we should, when the world has taught us that things and people are snuffed and vaporized, that our friends are living, breathing vessels of change, and mortal.  We fail to understand that the amber comes later, when only memory remains.  We are guilty of indefensible complacency.

P.J. and I reeled when a friendship was snuffed last spring.  Friends who were family, who took precedence every holiday meal, whose daughter was a niece.  Friends imperfect, and so the more endeared to us.  A friendship so comfortable and broken in that there were sock feet on the coffee table.  Twelve years of friendship, never neglected and very possibly burned out.  They grew tired of us long before they were brave enough to say "yes" when we asked if it was so.  Unforgivable things were said, and then they were ghosts.  We have not seen or heard from them again, though they live close by.

I feel responsible.  I broke it, I say.  I broke our friendship during my hypomania and because of my attempt.  There were wounds there that my actions opened fresh, and it was too much to bear, even for family.  I drove them away, I tell myself.  I cost P.J. and my son their closest friends.  I have to be reminded that no one is capable of doing that single-handed.  We are not in a vacuum.  They are ghosts because they chose to become ghosts.

Not gone, but estranged.  No one has ever discovered a ghost preserved in amber.

February 12, 2018

snow globe

Redemption is not the copyrighted, trademarked property of Christians.  It belongs to us all.

Much was as I expected.  The bones and sinews of the church were intact.  Scant remodeling has been done.  The mid-century water fountain in the hallway has been removed.  A projector screen has been added in the sanctuary.  The rest of it, the door knobs and hymnals and cinder block walls and brochures in the vestibule, are encased in a snow globe.  Time has barely brushed against this place.

The book of my grandmother's poetry is of the unwieldy large, square scrapbook variety, which made it nearly impossible to deal with on the seasoned copier.  Half of my time was spent trying to figure out a way to capture the pages.  A second book held one-page memorials to many I knew in childhood who have since "gone to be with the Lord."  She wrote poems for most of them.  I snapped photos of these with my phone.  I gathered her in, as much of her as I could.

The pew is still wobbly.

But the good stuff, ah.  Four people who also seem untouched by time, save for some graying hair, like mine.  The hugs were not dignified; they were long, tight hugs that spanned twenty-five years, the kind of hugs where you sway back and forth just a little, hugs that embraced my grandmother's memory.  Mary Jane.  Martha.  Vickie.  Jim.  I jumped up with joy each time I saw one of them.  They did the same.

They did the same.

I could venture that an exception was made for me because of Grandma.  I could say that Southern hospitality was substituted for love.  I could even go so far as believing that they didn't know, that the protective barrier created by my cowardice in not coming out as an atheist, never mind gay, turned it all into just a kid raised in the church coming back as an adult and triggering trips down Memory Lane.  But I know better.  I wrote an open letter to the church many years ago, about my orientation and scripture that challenged the church's rigid stance, and entrusted it to Mary Jane by mail, asking her to share it with key people.

They knew.  They knew, and they did the same.

How old is your son now?  You are kidding me!  You remember babysitting for us?  Well, he's an attorney now, and she's got two young children, they still go here.  He's not doing well.  We had to move into a one-level house so he could get around.  I'm retired and loving every minute of it.  It was a year ago that your grandmother passed, right?  Oh, we miss her so much.  She was a dear woman, and hit every alto note.  I always listened for her voice in the choir.  You tell your daddy I hope they're doing all right.

My daddy surprised me when I came out to him, around the same time I wrote that letter.  I expected it to terminate our relationship, but instead, he said, "Well, when can we meet her?"  Later, thinking out loud, he told me, "You know ... I think I believed what I believed because somebody told me I should, but when I got to thinking about it, I realized I don't."  Coming from a man who used to tell me that a report card with straight A's was "fair," that was absolute acceptance.

There is much lip service paid to love in those fundamentalist churches.  The love of God within us, shown to us, shining through us so that others might see it and know it.  Evangelism.  Conformity.  Believing what they believe because somebody told them they should.  But some sneak out human, leave the safety of the shells and windbreakers of their faith.  They love.  Not with their faith, but with their hearts.  Not the love of God.  Their own love.  One of these is real.

(I wasn't wrong to be wary.  There is real hate, too.  The love, then, is all the more precious.  Love because of.  Love in spite of.  Love that isn't saccharine.  Love that taps roots.)

I stayed for choir practice and part of Sunday evening service.  We sang "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee."  We sang "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us."  I sang out loud and clear.  Vickie sat beside me and said I sounded just like Grandma.  I sang out to the vaulted ceiling, to the stained glass windows, to the loose hinges and bolts and the scent of the worn hymnal and my old seat in the choir loft.  I sang out to my child's simple awe and to all of my memories in that place, sang out to shake the little globe and watch the snow swirl in chaos and then fall around us, landing on the branches of the olive tree.

When the piano playing stopped, I retrieved my jacket and purse, hugged Martha and Mary Jane goodbye, and put the snow globe carefully back on its shelf.  It would have felt selfish, having taken so much away, but I left behind extra paper in the copier, and an epilogue, and a graft of a small part of my deviant branch back onto the tree.

I drove home, returned to the present time, the love of four people within me, shown to me, shining through me so that others might see it and know it.  P.J. was relieved that it went well, and saw that I was glowing.  In that moment, I felt like the most loved banana in the world.

February 11, 2018

puzzle piece

Three years ago, on a mild May weeknight ....

8:22 p.m.: (Me to my kid) "Go upstairs and take your bath and do your reading, and let me know when you're done. You need a good night's sleep because you have an end-of-grade test tomorrow."
8:22 p.m.:  (Kid to me) "Okay."
9:07 p.m.: (P.J. to kid) "What are you doing up there? Are you in bed yet?"
9:07 p.m.:  (Kid to P.J.) "Um, no, actually.  I'm starting on a 1,000-piece puzzle, just to calm my mind down."
9:08 p.m.: I march up the stairs in a huff, to effectuate an immediate cease-and-desist and get the kid to bed.
9:37 p.m.: P.J. comes upstairs and finds me on the floor, helping the kid find edge pieces.

I specialize in 996-piece puzzles.  This is what happens to anyone who lives in a house with a kleptomaniacal dog.

I tend to stay away from puzzles, precisely because I enjoy the hell out of them.  A puzzle consumes my life until it's completed.  The dining room table is swept clean of the Lazy Susan and place mats and crumbs, and its four corners are then occupied by a puzzle board and its felt cover, a box showing the picture, 1,000 Ravensburger pieces meticulously turned right-side-up, some separated into trays, and a coffee mug placed precariously on the edge beside the board, responsible for moral support.  Displaced family members can go suck an egg.  Meals are eaten elsewhere, plates held in laps, until such time as the puzzle is completed.

A puzzle, for me, is a foray into a brief but intense life experience of frustration, deep breathing, teaching Lille not to throw things, squinting, activating atrophied brain centers, fortitude ... and at last, perseverance, punctuated by finding my way around the sore-thumb four missing pieces and the acceptance of imperfection, because life never shows us the full picture, does it?  (Did you know Chester's full name is actually Chester God-Damn-It?  He frequently gets called by his full name.  We're formal around here.)

My current puzzle indulgence is Merlin's laboratory.  I am working this puzzle in spite of the large owl, which I am tolerating because it is looking elsewhere.  I have an Owl Thing.  When I was very young, we lived in an old house in which the bedrooms were upstairs and the bathroom was downstairs.  I was scarcely out of toddlerhood, and faced the nightly fear of a 2:00 a.m. obligation to go pee.  I would stand at the top of the staircase looking down, squirming and crossing my legs, at the owls hung on the wall at the bottom of the stairs.  My parents had come across a set of four Richard Hinger paintings at a yard sale of these vicious, threatening killer owls, black-on-brown rendering of piercing stares, challenging me to walk by them, if I dared.  To this day, I fucking hate owls.  

My co-worker in the next cubicle, as the Universe would have it, is an owl fanatic.  Her cubicle is decorated with owl pictures, owl paraphernalia of the craft shop type, and a large brown macram√© owl that glares at me each time I walk by.  If there is a god out there, he's a sadist with a sense of humor even more twisted than mine.

The rats in the puzzle, on the other hand, don't bother me in the least.  I went and fetched this old rubber rat toy from Chuck-E-Cheese's that I knew was still in one of my son's toy bins.  It's a white rat, so old that the black had worn off of its eyes, giving it a cold, dead, white stare.  I drew the eyes back in with a black Sharpie, and now he's a cute little mascot for my puzzle.  P.J. would think I'm crazy, but this has already been established, so she just shakes her head, and sometimes places the rat in different positions around the puzzle for me.

We won't discuss the monkey or the beetles.

I'd make a lot more progress on the puzzle if I wasn't spending so much time writing in this blog and re-reading some Terry Pratchett.  My priorities are all wrong, and my family would like to eat at their dining table again.

In preparation for my visit to my old church tonight, I'm going to work on the stained glass window now.  And maybe put something a little stronger than creamer in my coffee.  I'm nervous.