March 31, 2018

committees

I am inexcusably complacent on my level days.  I quickly turn a blind eye to the sine wave and walk the flat line as though it is mine to have and keep.  This happens every time I have a run of them, days or weeks.  The curvy bits are what bring negative interactions and intrusive thoughts and 3:00 a.m. wake-up calls, and it's during these times, crest and trough, that I plainly see how much personal growth I need to undertake.

It isn't "on my plate" with the mashed potatoes neatly separated from the cranberry sauce and turkey.  I can count to three.  The areas of punctuated equilibrium that are overdue make me feel like I'm in the Pleistocene, twelve thousand years behind.  Therapy sessions are cafeteria-style and we can put anything we want on the plate.  So much to choose from.  And they change from country-style steak to fried flounder on Thursdays.  It's a seemingly endless menu.

My heartbeat quickens a little.  If I don't start growing, faster, I could ruin my marriage, my career, my friendships.  Lille could succeed in executing me.  I could turn eighty and still miss my Teacher and still be terrified of conflict and still have impulses to claw my left arm.  

What if I never grow up?

I can't tackle all of this, not even in the next forty years.  The list is too long.  I envision a board room somewhere, with the Watcher (my friend's take on that part of me that would correspond to a soul, maybe) hammering on the long, obscenely polished mahogany table and demanding order, order!

"I call this meeting to order.  We're here to address a matter of great urgency -- oh, thank you, Jenkins, a glass of water would be most welcome.  A dire matter that requires immediate action in a multitude of sectors.  The future of the company is at stake and time is of the essence -- yes, Jenkins, I know I'm speaking in clics, thank you for your astute observation, now please take a seat.  You all have a copy of the four-hundred-and-twelve-page memo in front of you, and as you can see, some of the bullet points require four levels of indentation in Microsoft Word©.  That, fellow board members, is unprecedented.  It surpasses dissertations.  It surpasses legislative budgets.  Had we been operating as we should have all along, this list would not have amassed into what you see before you.  We are twelve thousand years behind.  I'll give you a moment to read through -- oh, for fuck's sake, Jenkins, what is it now?  Yes, we should have been working on all of this before.  Please refrain from speaking unless you have something pertinent to say, and pay attention.  Thank you.

"There has never been a more appropriate time to form committees to tackle these areas.  Our company must grow, progress, and that with efficiency and speed.  Please turn to page three-ninety-two.  I propose the formation of the committees listed, beginning there."

(page three-ninety-two)

*The Conflict Avoidance Committee.  You will be responsible for one of the most important aspects of our agenda.  Not only will you be responsible for identifying areas of inappropriate acquiescence that prove detrimental to our company; you must also actively create conflict addressing those areas.  During those conflicts, you will find a way to circumvent the Fight or Flight Department (the load of ever-watchful bastards) and keep them from overriding our executive functions designed to approach the conflict rationally, and from running off to Emotional Management with information to tip them off.  Once they get involved, god knows it all goes straight into the shitter.  Failure is not an option.  If this company cannot restructure its conflict-resolving processes, none of the other committees stands a chance.

*The Fear of Disapproval Committee.  Your responsibilities are intertwined with those of Conflict Avoidance.  You will prevent interference while they create conflict, interference from all directions ... the Division of Fear is powerful; do not underestimate them.  Especially that wretched administrative assistant, Lille.  Working here almost forty years and shows no sign of retiring.  She practically controls the department, in that gatekeeper role.  We'll have to toss her chair one day.  She's made a butt groove in it all her own.  Formidable, but we have faith in your ability to complement the other missions.

*The Self-Care Semantics Committee.  Yours is a unique role.  We have danced around a good bit of jargon that would have otherwise enhanced operations.  If I recall correctly, our standard has been that of considering the company above such petty words and all that they imply.  From this day forward, you will work to re-incorporate use of key words into routine operations, especially "nurture" and "creativity".  Please comb through the archives and note the absence of other words.  "Self-care" is seldom used, and be on the lookout for any references to "intrinsic worth".  We embrace these or fold, ladies and gentlemen.

*The Bodily Protection Committee.  You will work closely with the Motor Function Management and Dissociated Aspects departments.  Your task is a difficult one, as the vast majority of your time will be spent waiting for an opportune moment to contribute; furthermore, when such moment arises, you will have a window of approximately one and a half seconds to perform your work.  Thus, the strategies you devise must be capable of instant implementation.  I recommend beginning with the ground work of recruiting members of Dissociated Aspects as committee members and gaining their buy-in.  Only in this way can you reduce their active staff enough to prevent an impulse to injure the company strong enough to overwhelm your efforts.  You might also convince the defectors to disclose any information about top-secret plans to destroy the company in its entirety through previously inconceivable means and methods.  They're a nasty bunch, but they're protected by the Division of Fear and we cannot divest them through executive order.  Subtlety and the slow cultivation of dissent will be your blueprint for success.  Meanwhile, Motor Function takes orders equally from all directions.  If you succeed in preventing other departments from reaching them with requisitions for action, you will enjoy a good working relationship with Motor and your directives will receive priority status.

*The Hedonic Suppression Committee.  It is no secret that our subsidiary, the Hedonic Pleasure Center, has been enjoying a hitherto unlimited amount of control over the full company.  They are one of the few branches of the company that has seen perpetual growth and they enjoy solid support from nearly every department.  How?  By pulling the wool over their eyes and telling them the company is faring extremely well.  This is a load of tripe.  That is why I have selected board members hailing from the Rational Action Control Center to head this committee.  Current trends show that Hedonics has not diversified in many years.  It has focused all of its attention on eating for pleasure.  This practice has consistently drained resources from multiple areas of the company and until now, Hedonics has successfully evaded any efforts by Rational Action to audit and shed light on this.  Committee, you must hire staff and train them well, as your task is to successfully supplant Hedonics in what will probably prove to be a hostile takeover.  Fortunately, any appeal they make to our board will fall on deaf ears.  Following the takeover, you will alter policies in such a way as to return a balanced distribution of resources throughout the company.  Hedonics may continue to operate, but it must be reduced to occupying a small suite of offices in the back of the building, functioning only through requests made in triplicate that must be examined and approved by this committee and staff in Rational Action.  The requests will often be ridiculous, but approve one now and then to keep the staff content.  As destructive as they have been, they are nevertheless a regrettably vital part of the company.


"You now know your assignments and have been apprised of the grave position the company is in.  Please begin after lunch today.  Harness any capital or asset that you encounter if it will help you succeed.  I shall expect regular reports of your findings, any unexpected barriers, and innovative solutions.  Thank you for coming.  Oh, mother of god ... Jenkins, wake up.  The meeting is over."  

March 30, 2018

crumbs

This morning, I was under a wrought-iron table outside the entrance of Starbucks, attempting to use the cap sacrificed from some lip balm in my purse to keep the table from wobbling.  It over-compensated, so I gave up and took my seat again, across from an old new friend and in front of my venti sugar-free freshly brewed coffee with some stuff in it and the best god-damned bagel I've had since The Smelly Cat closed in downtown Concord many years ago.

It was breezy out and I slept in and didn't have to hurry on my drive.  It was that kind of morning, so after ordering my complicated coffee, I threw the bagel onto the tab, riding the carefree wind.  I will pay for it with a walk tomorrow, but on this day, I had a bagel with a side of incredibly good conversation for breakfast, full of vitamins and minerals and stick-to-your-ribs heartiness.

Only after I resigned myself to a wobbly table and sat down again did I notice the first sparrow.  She landed not two feet away from us, on the sidewalk, looking for crumbs.  Within moments, there were six sparrows, sometimes five, then six again, pecking around to find crumbs of the baked goods sold inside, bits of danish and brownie and scone dropped by a steady stream of people.  

The sparrows weren't afraid of us.  I knew that they were conditioned to this behavior, like sophisticated trimmed-down Starbucks pigeons, and that the fearless crumb-scavenging ritual takes place every morning, regardless of who, if anyone, is sitting at that table.

But I want to believe they were just for me.  

I want a sparrow to land in my lap, and for deer to be unafraid and not run away.  Neither of these will happen.

I want hours more of the conversation with my friend.  Two hours went by and I felt we'd barely broken bread.  It was that kind of morning.  But we did, and the sparrows ate the plentiful crumbs under our wobbly table.

March 28, 2018

happy rat list

I do not remember if someone sent me this or if I just tripped over it.  I thought P.J. sent it to me but it turns out I sent it to her.  Neither of us is strong in the memory department these days, which comes in handy this week because we can hide our own Easter eggs.  The point is ... I mean, just look at it:

Found via Pinterest via CuteOverload,
and also on MemeCenter, so I don't even
know how to credit this, but I didn't take
it because he's not my rat.  God damn it.

I cannot look at this and not be happy.  Look at it!

I've long thought that I need to organize an arsenal, a combination of pictures and quotes and memories and objects and snippets of music, a box of things that bring me joy - because joy so rarely comes to me - so I'd have it in times of dire need, when I'm lying on my back at the bottom of The Pit with the breath knocked out of me from the impact.

This rat is totally going first.  Into the box with you, little fellow.  I think someone said his name is Morris, or maybe Morton.  Morton and the Milano and why wouldn't he be happy because Milanos are proof, atheism aside, that there is a beneficent god or goddess that loves us and wants to give us all good things.  "For me?  You really shouldn't have!  OMG, a Milano!  All for me!" he says.

I want a rat, but there is a one hundred percent chance that Rose would eat it.  The same thing goes for a hedgehog, but the rat wouldn't stick in her throat.

Other things that would go into the box:

1.  Listening to the end of Beethoven's Ninth, performed in 2004, my first time singing with our local symphony.  High school and college students from the School of the Arts made up the entire orchestra and they rocked the whole work.  I can't listen to the finale of this recording of us singing without smiling and then getting tears in my eyes, because I was so fucking proud of those kids, even when they left the conductor in the dust, flapping his hands pointlessly, and took off with it at warp speed, so full of joy themselves.  We could scarcely spit out the words.  It sped up and sped up, but they kept it tight, and the last note grabbed everyone and they jumped to their feet and whistled and cat-called and cheered with their hands clapping above their head.  My ex-father-in-law is a Beethoven expert and said that it wasn't the best recording he'd ever heard, but it was far and away the most energized and enthusiastic, not formal, the freude matching the words we sang.  See?  Tears even now.  It gets me every single time without diminishing returns.  Into the box it goes.

2.  The first printing of the first American edition of Good Omens that sits in a place of honor on our living room bookcase shelf.  P.J. gave me this for Christmas two years ago, and it is signed by both Pratchett and Gaiman, which is a very rare thing.  Sometimes I brush Terry Pratchett's signature lightly with the tip of my finger and know that he touched this and now I'm touching this and even though he's dead and so much dust, we're somehow connected by that, through time and space.  He touched it.  Awe and joy.  Into the box (very, very carefully).

3.  The memory of P.J.'s face when I gave her a Christmas present two years ago.  It was a set of four one-of-a-kind, small square baked-glass plates, each of which depicts an illustration of a fragment of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree".  I shall have some peace there.  These were intended for a cabin in the future, a declaration at the time of hope against all odds.  Now there is a place to hang them, but these, too, oh-so-carefully.  The memory of the light in her eyes, though, is not breakable.  She stared at them with tears streaming, speechless.  I had touched her to her core.  The power to do that is its own joy.  Into the box.

4.  Singing with Kate Campbell.  My best friend and I were at an atypically sparsely-attended concert in Carrboro one Sunday night, listening to Kate and Sloan Wainwright play together.  During intermission, my friend and I were both reading books, sitting on the front row, and Kate came over and made fun of us for having our noses down in books.  Even that felt good, but a short while later, Kate was trying to think of the next number she wanted to play in a very loose set list, and looked down at me and said, "Hey, want to sing one?"  I hopped up onto the stage and we kicked off "Visions of Plenty" and I sang harmony and there is nothing like being wrapped up in making music, far beyond singing along to the radio, far beyond humming to yourself in the grocery store.  It was a melding moment, and a gift.  Into the box.

5.  Sixth grade math class, when the Teacher wrote "Happy birthday, Lille!" on the chalkboard, all the way across it.  She never did that for any of the other kids in the class, and Lille felt incredibly special and loved and in love.  Even everything that came after has not touched that memory.  It's in a protective bubble, and I can climb into it sometimes and remember that unmitigated pure-strain child-joy.  Float the bubble down into the box.

6.  Reading "The Road Not Taken" by Frost.  It's an affirmation and it can pull me out, at least a little, of anything.  Simplicity that can be repeated without starting to sound weird, immune to linguistic saturation.  Into the box.

7.  Hugs from my brother-in-law.  He gives real hugs.  I never lose a sense of being grateful that I have been accepted into P.J.'s family, especially since the idea of a sibling that one actually wants to be around is otherwise foreign to me.  A pile of those hugs into the box.

8.  The first time I saw the Milky Way.  I was thirty-four.  P.J. held my hand and showed me the Universe.  But in this case, the Universe will fit into the box.

(Schrödinger's joy?)

I will keep adding to the happy rat list when something comes to me.  I know there are more things, and maybe some of them haven't even happened yet.  The box will always have room.

Update:  9.  My dog (the dumb one) is lying here, almost napping, ready to nod off, but I'm typing on my laptop and I look up and she's just staring at me.  Kind of worshiping, in a dog sort of way.  I look back and it makes her wag her tail.  I have the power to do that.  I speak sweet sleepy words to her and she sighs with contentment and puts her head down, closes her eyes, falls asleep.  She just needed that from me.  She was watching me.  A creature with a pure heart loves me unconditionally.  That dog and I are connected and more like each other than I realize.  She is highly attuned to my moods and comes to me when I'm upset, needing to reassure and receive reassurance.  She knows.  Oh yes, into the box.

March 27, 2018

first not-dead-yet day

"Go warn the Children of God of the terrible speed of mercy."  Flannery O'Connor

"What say we try to put away fear, put away self-questioning, put away doubt ... and allow joy to rush into that space?  The rest will sort itself out ...."   P.J., 2006



It's quiche.  I can't have cake.
Not even on special occasions.
I tried to kill myself one year ago today.  I meant to die.  I propped up a framed photo of my son so I could stare at it.  I didn't have one of P.J.; she would have been there, too.  I was giving them a great gift.  Dying for them, I told myself.  Setting them free.

We listen to the parts we like.  I listen to how angry I am that I failed, that I was thwarted against my will, that my sovereignty was violated.  I think about receiving a bill for the ambulance services that I tried to refuse, tried by throwing sloppy punches and kicking and screaming at the EMTs.

I listen to how I am certain I still want to be here.  The anger and the living can co-exist.  I embrace being alive but not because others tell me to.  I am angry and insolent and these cannot be touched by anyone.

I listen to wondering how much of my wanting to be here is from the chemical alteration provided by some pills, and how much is truly me.  Surely there is more to me than the disease.

I listen to idle, matter-of-fact thoughts about how I could have done it differently, done it right, not failed.  Analytical, the problem-solving bit, like getting a math problem wrong and re-working it and erasing a lot of things and writing again, until it's right.

We do not listen to the parts we do not like.  We tell ourselves the version of the story we like best, over and over, because if we say it often enough, it will become The Truth.  But one day last week, I heard Truth's thin voice clear its throat and remind me of a single detail, a sentence I said, one I have suppressed or ignored because it did not comport with how I wanted to remember and feel about trying to die.

The Truth is, my best friend saved my life.  The Whole Truth is that she responded to my good-bye text with a phone call I never meant to answer, and wheedled my location out of my vanishing sense of inhibition, and that I said to her, "Just come get me."  I didn't consider the possibility she'd get an ambulance involved.  Ambulances were for people who needed medical attention.  I was fine.  Not applicable.

That's the last conscious thing I remember, just before I succumbed and passed out, and before my brain began recording again, in the hospital.  "Just come get me."  All that was in me was resigned to and at peace with dying in my car.  It was the right thing to do.  It would fix things I had broken and make right some major things I had done wrong, and give a better life to my loved ones.  Clear me out of their paths.  I was brambles and they, they were barefoot.  It was a good time to die.  The disease said so.

And that was not the Truth, because I told my best friend, "Just come get me."

Something in me wanted to live.  I wouldn't have said that otherwise, even in a completely incapacitated state.

I don't like that Truth.  It makes me a cliché.

The hind brain stores our survival instinct, makes us afraid of death.  I've always considered mine to be a puny, anemic rhombencephalon housing a desire to live that is frail and brittle at best.  Was that what spoke, when the rest of my brain was silenced?  "Just come get me."

The plan I had formed that morning even included turning the data and location services off on my phone.  I had thought of everything.  So the rest of my brain was not silenced.  And it was not the disease.  I am more than the disease.  It must have come from me.  The Truth came from me.  "Just come get me."

I tried to kill myself a year ago today.  I am still here.  Terrible mercy.  Joy rushing in.

March 26, 2018

gimme three steps

My parents were in a band from before I was born; in fact, I think that's how they met, in the limited circuit of local musicians in our small town.  My mother played keyboard and bass guitar, and my daddy played his beloved '76 Stratocaster and sang lead.

There was Bo (Keith) the drummer, a stocky guy who did not, as far as I know, observe the convention of drooling while playing.  There was Keith (Keith), who did keyboard when my mother did not and also provided some good harmonic vocals.  And there was Alan (middle name Keith) who played backup guitar.

My daddy was passionate about correcting me when I referred to what I heard on our local radio station as "rock and roll".  "No, that's called Top 40.  We play real rock and roll.  And anything else that's good."

What appears to have fit the bill, from what I can recall hearing them play in early and mid-childhood, were things like "Play Me Some Mountain Music", "Elvira", and anything by Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Eagles.  There was country in there, too, which explains my eventual fully-justified distaste for it.  Anyone who says I just haven't given it a try never had a band in the house driving it into their skull.

I have a clear memory of a night when I was four, and the band was practicing "Heartache Tonight" in our small kitchen.  I kept interrupting to interact with my daddy, and then set about playing the drums along with them by banging on two upside-down Tupperware bowls with pencils for drumsticks.  My daddy sat me on the couch in the living room and told me to try counting to a million, then returned to his guitar and mic.  I got to 1,100-something before I fell asleep.  Slick, that one.

"Play 'Gimme Three Steps' again, Daddy!"  It was my favorite.

When the band would practice, our decades-old house would thump and vibrate and come alive.  The house to the right of us was abandoned and the lady in the house to the left worked second shift; there was an old textile factory across the street, the back fence lined with some abandoned barrels of questionable contents (it wasn't a great neighborhood); thus, there were never complaints from neighbors.  If anyone else could hear, down the road - and given how the house shook, that's a given - I have to believe they simply liked the genre of music and considered it free entertainment.

Otherwise, during band practice, I was left upstairs in my room to play by myself.  I remember being enamored of the 45 RPM single records lying around, the labels and the RCA dog, and the smell of the vinyl.  One night when I was five, I decided to be helpful and "clean" all of their records for them, which I did using liberal amounts of some hand lotion I found in my sister's room.  My daddy was torn, when he found them, between laughter and anger, because they were utterly ruined.

Sometimes the records were ruined by too many needle scratches.  Bo would sit at our kitchen table and use his cigarette lighter to melt them and make them wavy and rippled.  He found this more amusing than anyone should.  I don't know what he did with them afterward.

The sixth member of the band was Tyson.  I don't know who the man really was, how my parents knew him, or why he was involved, but I know he rented to them the eyesore parked on the shoulder of our driveway, the brown and orange van that was used to store and haul the band equipment each weekend.  Maybe Tyson was a guy who showed up at the bars where they played and happened to have a van he could rent.  Maybe he was in the band before I was born.

I loved going with my parents in the van to a bar or club when they were setting up their equipment on a Thursday evening.  The smell was always a mixture of stale cigarette smoke-coated walls, Peavy amps and black electrical tape.  The smell of a stage.  When they did the sound check, I could feel the music and "Check, check, one, two, three, check" through the soles of my sneakers.

I was in a store yesterday and heard "Gimme Three Steps" on the Muzak.  It's rubbish on the radio, once you've heard it live.

March 25, 2018

germany

Like most/all new bloggers, I'm tempted to madly engaged in checking Stats and Google Analytics every half-hour to see if anyone is reading, and if so, where they live.  How many people in town, how many times, whether Therapist Gumby read it during his lunch hour today, and so forth.

I have a steady reader living in Germany and it is driving me twelve kinds of bonkers.

I can count on one hand (with fingers remaining to count how many times I'll probably end up using the new electric mower I've ordered when summer arrives) the readers I don't know personally, not including the hits when I whore this blog by leaving a comment on one of Jenny Lawson's posts (also a perfectly normal, selfish behavior by other bloggers, but my and their comments are also sincere, and it's not my fault Wordpress lets you list your most recent post).  There's the occasional Peruvian bot-crawl, but other than that, it's family and friends all the way down.

Germany.  Germany.  I'm excited and flattered.  Who are you?  This post is for you.

My son's taking German as his primary high school language (with plans for Japanese later), and it clicks for him in a way that Spanish never did.  I don't understand that.  Spanish comes to me and out of me naturally.  I've sung multiple things in German - Bach's St. John Passion, Beethoven's Ninth, Brahm's Nanie - and I can pronounce all of the text and its subtleties moderately well, but usually I have no idea what I'm saying.  The mouthfeel of the words is singularly satisfying.  But embarking on even the most superficial attempt at the introductory, how-to-have-a-"how-are-you-my-name-is" conversation from the first week of my son's lessons left me stymied.  I gave up and memorized how to say "you are pig-shit" and was satisfied.  It covers most of my conversations with him anyway, whether we're teasing each other or whether he forgot to take out the recycling again.  A most useful expression.  See?  I speak German now.

His father and his father spent time in the late 1980s living in East Germany, during the kid's grandfather's interim professor position there (a very rare tolerance of the presence of Americans at that time).  Thus, his dad speaks a fair bit and is our resource in the family for correcting him and nudging him in his classes.  He gave the kid his old dog-eared fence German-English dictionary.  He brings him home at 8:15 each evening and I say to them both, "Du bist Schweinescheiße," probably a grammatical disaster, and it's a running joke.

Germany intrigues me.  They have their shit together in a way that America will never have again, as we're regressing at nine-point-eight meters per second squared.  Germany and France are now the leaders of the Free World.  And the kid is traveling to Germany in 2019, the summer before he turns sixteen (we're already making hefty payments on the trip cost each month), and I think his determination to move to Canada after college will be replaced with a lust for returning to Germany.  He will fall in love with it.  I am certain of this.  And while the idea used to fill me with dread, hope for his escape from our developing pit of insanity has replaced it.

I don't like feeling that way about my own nation.  But all his parents' eyes are open wide.  Every parent in history has wanted more for her children if grim prospects await them.  People once came here for a better life.  Now they leave, or send their children away.  Even immigration from Mexico and Central America to the U.S. has reversed flow.  Outbound emigration is increasing in frequency among our young people and I expect it will become a mini-exodus in the not-too-distant future.  Our best and brightest will come to you for a better life.

Reader, whomever you may be, you might just pass our kid in the street one day.  The Universe is a strange place.  It could happen.  And thank you for reading my bones.

March 24, 2018

concerning hobbits

Last night, P.J. and I sat by a nice fire, reading.  I asked her if the Silverlode was the same as Loudwater.  She said no, Loudwater was the name given to the Bruinen.  I said, "Oh, okay.  I forgot."  We went back to our reading.  The faithful fire crackled.

I'm undertaking another re-read of Lord of the Rings.  I don't do it every year like Christopher Lee used to do (he can't now, as the lighting is shitty in his coffin, but the books were sacred to him).  I try to every few years, though, when I most need it.  The escape is all-encompassing.  It has served me well over many years.

I first read it two months after my son died, when Fellowship of the Ring hit the theatres.  We saw the movie thirteen times in two months. I was submerged in the Tolkien universe, understandably far preferring it to the real one at the time.  The story line of Arwen and Elrond was poignant and gave me an analog at which I could direct my profound sorrow and draw catharsis.  I was madly in love with Hugo Weaving for a while because of that.

But the books - ah, the books, with their detailed descriptions of hillsides and forests and the inseparability of the land from the journey of the characters, provided sweet immersion and hours of forgetting my own world.  They always do.

Next week it will have been one year since I died.  I didn't die, but I meant to, and that is the same thing in a person's psyche.  I want to mark it in some way.  I proposed celebrating it as a sort of birthday, because there's little difference between a birthday and a not-dead-yet day, if you think about it.  This doesn't seem quite proper and the idea made both P.J. and me squirm.  I'm not one of those positive people who can do that, at least not well.  So I'm still unsure of how to observe this anniversary, or even if I should.  It's not something you can ask other people.  "How did you treat that day?  What kind of cake frosting did you use?"

It would appear that I've chosen to escape it for a while, to glide past it into Rivendell and beyond, to seek refuge with the elves and let gentle yellow leaves drift down onto my shoulders while walking on moss and soft grass.  In a mind, these places are real, part of the terrain, and it's my mind that matters right now.  The Elves provide sanctuary and peace.  A Silmaril shines down as the brightest star.

I will steal away to Middle Earth, for I am battle-weary and afraid of the power of my upcoming not-dead-yet day.  Therapist Gumby says the first one is the hardest.  There is no shame, I have decided, in running away and hiding.  Lille isn't ready yet.

March 23, 2018

the beg-pardon

One of the bits of American subculture that most fascinates me is how women behave in public restrooms.  Something as universal as waste elimination outside the privacy of one's own home is governed by a complex weave of rules and behaviors that only the vestiges of a Puritanical background merged with individualism could possibly generate.

Things that I've noticed in the first-floor bathroom in our building (seven stalls, four sinks):



1.  Sometimes the bathroom serves as a social gathering place.  Two people will exchange chit-chat while washing their hands, and one might ask the other a question about how some aspect of her life is going.  They end the conversation in an acceptable amount of time, drying their hands while talking, and leave.  Other times, three or more women will stand in front of the sinks, blocking them, and discuss some major, top-secret, highly-inappropriate topic in voices that they think are hushed but aren't.  A person can learn a lot.  These last ten minutes or more.  It's ridiculous, how they think the bathroom is a private place.  They'd do better using a broom closet.

2.  There are women who have no compunction whatsoever regarding talking on their Bluetooth earpiece and/or phone.  The person on the other end can hear everything that's going on.  This confuses me, because ....

3.  While peeing is completely acceptable, women will not defecate in a public restroom if they can be heard by even one other person.  The anonymity of being behind a door does not help in the least.  This results in outright warfare.

Case scenario:  One person who needs to poo enters the bathroom, and she is delighted to find she is alone and can do her business.  But just as she closes her stall door, a second person who needs to drop friends off at the pool walks in, and is dismayed to find someone is already there, but hopeful that the person will just pee and move on, thus giving them the needed solitude, if only they wait.  So both women sit in their stalls, on their respective queenly thrones, silent as midnight, and wait.  Not even breathing is heard.  Each waits for the other to pee or leave, hopes for the sound of toilet paper being pulled from the industrial-sized rolls, but she knows it's the trenches of war.  Silence.  Waiting.  Tension.  It's a stalemate, and one woman has to break or they will be there forever.  Usually, it's the second woman, as the first one has squatter's rights (pun intended).  Or the cavalry comes in, a squadron of women who take all of the other stalls and start flushing a lot, giving auditory cover to the two women in dire need.

It doesn't always go well.  You can walk in, check for feet under doors, find you're alone and happily set about your business, and then at the critical moment, a second woman will walk in, whereupon there is a sound that comes from your stall like unto someone climbing a high-dive ladder with a watermelon tucked under her arm and dropping it into the deep end of an Olympic pool.  Then you wrap your arms around yourself tightly and sit in shame until at least forty-five people have come and gone, to be sure no one knows you are you.

I love IKEA because every bit of this is moot.  Those hand dryers are really loud and one is always blowing, so the ambient noise covers a multitude of sins.

One co-worker is an exception.  She says she just goes ahead and does it proudly, because she's too old for all that and doesn't give a ... well, you know.  Whoa.  Meta.

4.  There is one stall in there that's everyone's favorite.  If two women enter simultaneously from opposite sides of the bathroom and begin heading for it, etiquette will be identical to how we handle an open parking space, except that in this case, all of the other parking spaces would be empty.  Everyone wants that parking space, and I am willing to bet it's because that stall gives the best view of whether there are feet in all of the other stalls, indicating the stealthy presence of a squatter.

5.  What allows a person to drop squares or strips of toilet paper on the floor and then leave them there as somebody else's problem?  Do they feel the floor is disgusting and even though it's their fault the thing fell to the floor in the first place, they're too good to deal with their own mess and then wash their hands, which they were about to do anyway (I do hope)?

6.  Every woman has had another woman point out to her at least once in the restroom that the back of her dress or skirt is tucked into her underwear.  There is no shame in this, just a thank-you courtesy.  We look out for each other.  We see tags sticking out of shirts and walk up and tuck them in, even if the other woman is a stranger.  Maybe this is what became of the primal tendency to pick fleas off of each other.

7.  It is supremely annoying to enter a stall, close the door, and realize there is no toilet paper only after you've pulled down all undergarments and settled in.

Elsewhere, I judge the quality of restaurant and other public bathrooms by two key criteria:  Whether there are paper towels available instead of a blow-dryer, and whether the soap is foaming and decent-smelling or whether it's that nasty-ass pink or green goo.  Nothing else matters to me.

I don't know how much of this has an analog within the culture inside a men's room in America.  There's a whole world there I will never know about and I suspect it's vastly different.  And feminism aside, I doubt their subculture is nearly so complicated and irrational as ours.

Update:  My son enlightened me on one aspect of men's bathroom culture, concerning urinals.  It seems that if there are three urinals, and the left one and right one are being used, the middle one is dead to all and guys will stand there and wait on one of the others, because you don't stand right next to another guy there.  There has to be a space.  And if you're a douche-bro, you take the middle one, in which case all three are considered taken.  This is interesting to me.  I always thought that it was okay as long as you looked straight ahead and didn't make small talk.  So it's not so simple in there.

March 22, 2018

oldies

We all have stories about the horror show that was our first vehicle.  It was a rite of passage, having an absolute junker in which to learn to navigate town.  It built character.  Maybe our parents thought that if we could drive that first terrible car, it would ensure that we could handle anything newer and more mechanically intact later, and because it was still a ride, our very own car, we would truly appreciate what we had.

I never got to drive my first car.  We bought it for cash from a guy the next county over.  It was an old Chevette with four different shades of navy blues and grays on various panels.  It was represented to be ugly as a hatful of assholes but sound under the hood.  My daddy decided it was a good idea to buy it; my mother disagreed, but she was out-stubborned by my daddy and me.  He drove it home and it was a miracle it ever made it, given how much smoke started coming out of the back.  We went back to the guy's house twice, but for some reason, in spite of cars in the driveway and sounds in the house, he was never home and no one answered the door.

My daddy took it to someone who "works on cars" but it just wasn't salvageable.  It was towed from there and forgotten.  My mother's smug expression lasted for months.

My "real" first car, then, was the 1981 Mazda 626 in metallic infected-snot green.  It had been sitting for a year on the lot of the dealership where my aunt worked, and they were quite eager to get it out of there for a song.  I started working the day I had turned fifteen, so I had enough saved up to pony up the $500 needed to buy it.  The engine and starter had to be rebuilt immediately.  This was done in the garage of a neighbor who also "worked on cars", side by side with my daddy.  Somehow they knew how to do it.  All of the wiring needed to be replaced, too, another hit to my paltry passbook account at the savings and loan in town, but by the time I turned sixteen, I had a running car.

The first time I drove it, my plastic driver's license still warm from the DMV printer, I drove straight to Virginia because I could, and lost three hubcaps.

That Mazda was kind of a Cadillac in its day.  They were ahead of their time.  It had automatic door locks and windows, power steering, and power brakes, and the interior was brown leather that wasn't ripped up and still smelled good on warm days.  It was just the right size and just the right amount of boxy.

And it developed ... character ... during the two years that I owned it.  At one point, my daddy tired of repairing the solenoid switch on the starter and even showed me how to do it, but it wouldn't stay fixed, so he rigged a wire with a 3.5 mm terminus to the starter and tucked it away.  Every time I wanted to start the car, I had to turn the key to "on" and then pop the hood and touch the tip of the wire to the negative terminal on the car battery.  Vroom.  

This worked well until the latch cable to open the hood broke off in my hand one day.  I had to pry the hood cover up with a tire iron until I could just fit my hand in there.  I like to imagine that people thought I was stealing it all the time.  I could leave my keys in, windows down, doors unlocked, and no one could make off with it.  Character trumps Lo-Jack.

But the first manifestation of its depth of character was the AM/FM radio, which was stuck on our local oldies station.  All music from between 1957 and 1971 was on offer.  Pop and top-40 were not an option.  It was oldies or silence.  If I wanted to play a cassette, I had to have a battery-operated player sitting in the seat beside me.

This led to my best friend and me learning the lyrics to absolutely everything from late-50's bop-rock to Motown and The Beatles.  While the frequency-turning knob was stuck and useless, the volume button worked well, so we cranked it up and sang every word of "Bus Stop" and "My Boyfriend's Back" and "Hey Jude" during the morning ride to high school.  

Familiarity with the older, good stuff is probably what led to my easily keeping away from mainstream music and delving instead into classical and folk and what-not.  I was sad when I had to junk that car two years later (when the transmission decided to select random gears without soliciting my input in the matter).  Even the next car I had, that Pontiac T-1000 that cost twice as much as the Mazda and that once made flames shoot out of the air vents at me, wasn't as much fun.  I never could find anything good on the radio.  And it had a cassette player.

My daddy was right.  I truly appreciated what I had.

March 21, 2018

stromboli

Some say it's easier now for women in the tech field than it once was.  That is, to quote Douglas Adams, so much cross-eyed badger spit.  Absolute bollocks.  We're here, mind you, but it's touch and go sometimes.

One of my zig-zag career moves meant taking the lowliest position available in our tech department here.  I was designated to clean up "The Cage".  The Cage was the storage area for computer parts, old power cords, tangles of network cables, and whatever anyone felt like putting back on any old shelf.  Years of disorganization and haphazard tossing of objects had created the ultimate Rubik's cube of inventory.

It took four full months of moving, sorting, hauling, ladder-climbing, learning about network equipment, and cataloging, but The Cage was sparkling when I finished, and anyone who came looking for a gonculator or double-edged franistan could walk right up to it and find it, instead of undertaking a half-day's digging and poking about.  It felt good.

Afterward, I was moved into The Shop, where the other (male) technicians had their messy desks covered in various cords, empty Mountain Dew bottles, and "just in case" laptop parts.  It was heaven.  I was tasked with managing printer toner dispatches and helping "the guys" with their computer repairs when they got overwhelmed.  No more hiding my penchant in file cabinet drawers.

I'd go out with them to remote sites sometimes, help carry ladders, insist on pulling my weight.  I worked harder than they did, on purpose.  They tried to make it easy on me and I wouldn't let them.  Sometimes they looked worried when I was wielding a simple screwdriver.  I ended up as more of a sidekick than a technician.

Back at base, I was a female, in their Shop.  My presence was a cork stoppering their banter and sense of ease, probably because they liked to let swearing fly and even make the occasional misogynistic joke.  They wanted to crank up the radio and play "I Got Ninety-Nine Problems and a Bitch Ain't One".  You could feel it in the air.  I was harshing their buzz.  I needed, desperately wanted, to be one of them, just one of the guys.  Even being openly gay did nothing.  Their mamas had taught them what to do in the presence of a lady.  Behave yourself.  Sit up straight.  I had to show them I was no lady.

Enter the stromboli, stage left.  I had a rapport with the technician who had served my former office location, and he was a lifeline for me.  He would walk into the office and just say, "Bitches," and keep walking.  Banter.  He knew I fit there, but the others did not.  And he found out I had just begun eating low-carb.  So one day, he and a few of the other guys were at lunch at an Italian joint in a strip mall, and he ordered a beautiful steak stromboli.  And snapped a photo of it, because I couldn't have it, and texted it to me with the statement, "Stromboli, bitches."

His phone had a good camera.

I looked at the glistening work of art, strips of dough baked over juicy beef, and replied, "You suck the greasy, smoking, festering, boil-covered, nit-crawling cock of Satan."

He showed this to the others at the table.  Their eyes got big.  They looked at each other.

Word got around.  And after that, I was one of the guys.

March 20, 2018

bad cop

My son started Wellbutrin a couple of months ago.  It's been doing wonders for him, and in spite of his ADHD, he's been phenomenally good about remembering to take it every morning.  Until yesterday.  Shit.  I texted back that if he took it as soon as he got home from school, that would suffice, no harm done.

He forgot about that, too.  And he has been whining since bedtime last night.  Tired, massive headache, sluggish, didn't  know why.  Went to bed early.


I can't abide whining.  It's profoundly irritating.

This morning, I'd barely arrived at work when the text conversation began.  Oh, toasted shit, I thought.  Here we go.  He's going to try to get out of going to school, or some other bullshit, and I'm going to have to be Bad Cop.  I'm always Bad Cop.  Why doesn't he ever text his dad?

Transcript:

Him:  Uhhhhhhhhhn.

Me:  I think symptoms from yesterday might have been from not remembering meds, may feel bad or weird this morning.  Please take one!  It will sort you out in a couple of hours.  Love you.

Him:  Ookk

Me:  Will be ok, promise

Him:  Uhh.  Still feel bad.  Righjtg now I fell souper tirde.

Me:  Take med, go.  It will get better.  And Tylenol.

Him: I aalready took meds.

Me:  It takes TIME ... Extended release, duh.  Wait for it.  Push through.

Him:  Ohko.  I think I got a quiz in Mathh though.

Me:  You will be OK.  Study in cafeteria.

Him:  Ikeepmzoning ouht.

Me:  That is how important it is to take it every day, hon.  Why I was willing to drive it over to your dad's house twice when you forgot to pack it.  Important ^ 10,000.

Him:  Supprr trred.

Me:  Can you please just trust me?

Him:  Do jbhave anyhthor choice

Me:  Push ahead, stop whining, be strong.  It will pass in a couple hours, less now.  Next time, remember to take it.  We need to set up a foolproof system for remembering.

Him:  Kok.

Me:  OK

Him:  I need to slepppp

Me:  No.

Him:  Why not?

Me:  Kid ... you did this to yourself.  Keep moving.  Sorry to be harsh.

Him:  Okijjh.  I bbcan brely type.

Me:  I know.

Him:  I think I'm fukckinbn hllhuccinat in.  I heard an animal in my room.

Me:  Go to school.  You know why this is all happening, just push through.  Please stop.

Him:  Mmnotb siccllk, jusdtt dleepy.

Me:  Have caffeine.  Solve the problem.

Him:  I don't have any.

Me:  Ask Jason's dad to stop at gas station?

Him:  I don't think I can do that.

Me:  See?  You can text now.  Already helping.

Him:  Autocorrect.

Me:  Isn't there a place next to the cafeteria where you can buy a drink?  Srsly.  Stop.  Solve the problem.  You are ready for school?

Him:  Thaye shut dowbbn the machine.

Me:  Dressed?  Then be patient.

Him:  Yeass.

Me:  Are you packed?

Him:  Yesss.

Me:  Ready for them?  OK, good.  Just explain to them.

Him:  But I have to present tWo thibgs today.

Me:  YOU WILL FEEL BETTER.  For fuck's sake, would you listen to me????

Him:  Mmmhmmmm

Me:  Then relax, go.  Wait, there's grape Crystal Light with caffeine in the kitchen cabinet, just remembered.  Get some.  Will help clear your head.

Him:  OK.

Me:  OK.

Him:  Caffein dlooesnt cllaer your head, it just makes it so you can't feel the tirheednwss.

Me:  Then why are you even texting me, if you just want to argue and not take my advice?

Him:  I can't remember.

Me:  Either drink some or don't.  Up to you.  Just go wait for Jason.

Him:  OK.

**********

Jesus gum-chewing Christ.

He did that at his doctor's office once, too.  Went in for a check-up and reported some vague ailment, and his doctor would propose something that might be causing it, and the little lawyer would say, "No, because ..." and explain why that particular thing couldn't be the case.  After about six rounds of this, his doctor calmly laid his stylus and laptop down, folded his hands in his lap, looked at the kid and said, "Well, I'm out of ideas," and just stared at him.  The kid didn't quite know what to make of this.  They regarded each other.  And then regarded each other some more.

I can't remember who broke first.  This would be a much better vignette if I remembered that.  Sorry.

The ironic thing is, I'm normally over-the-top compassionate toward the kid, but when he starts argue-whining, it triggers a hard-ass, tough-shit reaction in me.  I don't say, "Suck it up, Buttercup," because I know someone who uses that phrase and it totally rubs my fur the wrong way and I hate it rather a lot, probably because it's mean and it rhymes, yet my responses and demeanor are just so.

And please don't ask me for my advice, if you aren't going to at least consider it, and maybe even take it to heart once in a while, just for a change.  If you're up for an argument instead, there are any number of perfectly good walls in the house to talk to, and brick walls outside of the garage if you need something more substantial.  Wood fence in the back yard.  It's all dog-ears.  Just leave me out of it.

Months ago, Therapist Gumby pointed out that I was whining about a Thing.  I can totally cope with criticism.  After working through introspection, self-hatred, fantasies about punching him, fantasies about punching myself, and eventual acceptance that he had found legit fault and I deserved to have it pointed out and I should and could take responsibility for it, I did grudgingly agree that he was right.  He can't abide whining, either.  He harnessed my intolerance of it and helped me change my perception of the Thing.  He made me see that I was doing exactly what I can't stand when my kid does it.

It didn't make me less of a hard-ass.  It made me more of one.  Both the kid and I get the brunt of that now.  So does P.J.  These days, I am less and less a nice, kind person.  I am changing.  I feel like my compassion is dissolving on all fronts.  Maybe it's the hypomania.  Maybe I'm wrong, and blind right now.

So I just made myself break out of Bad Cop and do a compassionate thing.  I texted the kid again:

Me:  Feeling less croggled?

Him:  Still tired.

Me:  Sorry.

Him:  Almost fell asleep in cafeteria.

Me:  You're spelling better and not hearing random animals.  The fatigue will lessen.  Hang in there.

**********

See?  I can at least pretend.  I can do compassion.  If someone hums a few bars, I can fake it.

Maybe it's in there, somewhere.

March 19, 2018

green beans

Years and years ago, part of my job as office assistant involved running an in-house food pantry for families in need.  Managing the pantry included everything from federal compliance paperwork to visiting a food bank and churches and hauling large boxes in my car, and then pushing a laden hand truck uphill on the sidewalk in front of the building, wanting to shout, "See?  I'm a government employee and I'm working hard" to onlookers.  You can't say there wasn't job variety.  It was one of my favorite duties as an otherwise desk-bound secretary, second only to secretly taking apart laptops and hiding the bits in a filing cabinet drawer when I heard someone coming.


I would bring in boxes upon boxes and fill our shelves with peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, and Pop-Tarts, accompanied by fourteen million cans of corn and green beans.  Pop-Tarts are the opposite of green beans.  A scientist somewhere could prove this.  I'm certain of it.  There is something in the American psyche that says, "I am going to donate some food to those less fortunate than I am.  I will give them canned corn and green beans."  Together these staple vegetables took up an entire wall of shelving.  And the rate of sending them out could never exceed the rate at which they came in, in the boxes of donated goods, so that they eventually became part of the load-bearing structure of the back wall.

(My mother tried to make me eat some canned green beans when I was seven, but I had reached the point of full refusal and decided I would never again ingest them.  There was a battle of wills, during which I sat for hours confined to the dinner table pending consumption of the mushy grey-green fingers of vileness, sat waiting for bedtime, serene and cross-armed, until my mother admitted defeat.  It hurt me later, when putting cans of green beans into a bag for a family.  It felt like assault.)

Our refrigerator accommodated the fresh eggs from our regional food bank and cast-off bakery goods, doughnuts and cakes and cookies, from grocery stores.  There were several freezers, too, and we would get boxes of roasts and ground beef, frozen pizzas, sandwich ham, chickens and turkeys, pounds of bacon, and whole hams around the holidays.  Fortunately, many of these things go well with corn and green beans.

The food bank had its own rules.  The bulk of their items came from grocery store cast-offs, not expired items but perhaps items that just weren't moving, or that were getting close to their expiration dates.  The bank would box things up such that if you wanted to score a good item, like a large jar of pasta sauce, you also had to be willing to take thirteen packs of chicken bouillon cubes and two bottles of salad dressing.  Two jars of peanut butter were usually accompanied by Peeps from the previous Easter and some olives.  If you started combing through and playing mix-and-match, you were kicked out and not permitted to return for a significant period of time.  So you took what you could get.  Boxes of cereal were premium, so you found a way to work Vienna sausages and Heinz squeezable relish into the outgoing boxes.

Churches held food drives for us, too.  We put things on our wish list and got them sometimes.  Meals you could eat in a car.  We knew families who lived in their cars; this was during some of the worst of times of the Great Recession.  Cereal bars and fruit cups for kids.  Crackers and peanut butter.  Canned spaghetti.  That sort of thing.  Theses churches came through for us like champs, as usually, less than half of what we received from them consisted of canned corn and green beans.

Once, a Bunco group decided to take up food for us.  I do not know how this came about, how they heard about our humble little pantry, or what possessed them to do it.  This was different.  We received some interesting items, all of them at least four and a half years out of date and unable to be used, but it was a curious thing, going through them before tossing them in the garbage.  A carton of Thai coconut lentil soup.  Imported Italian pickled whole garlic cloves.  Lingonberry preserves.  Chia-pepita granola.  A jar of artichoke-infused tapenade.  And from very far back in someone's cabinet, organic corn starch -certified organic, not just your regular old workaday organic.  It was all delivered by a perky lady in a large Pampered Chef bag with handles.

The bag came in handy.

I loved packing things up for families the way I love the grocery store.  I'd put together meal ideas and work with what we had, odd items included, trying to give them something that only marginally relied upon green beans, food that would make them feel human instead of the recipients of a hand-out.  Things they'd have selected themselves on a shopping trip.  I was truly happy when I was doing this.

The food pantry wasn't always a source of joy, though.  When someone else came and packed up her own boxes for a family (I was absent that day), she accidentally left an entire chuck roast sitting on a shelf beside some cans of green beans, and then we had a three-day weekend, and when we returned Monday morning, the stench that greeted us cannot be described.  It was so pervasive that it took nearly an hour to hone in on the source of it, and two days of fans and enzyme sprays and air freshener to make breathing bearable in the office again.  Another caretaker learned that if you're doing a clean-out and throw chicken in the garbage can, it is vitally important to take out the trash before leaving for the weekend.

There was also the paperwork involved, if your agency/organization/entity was to receive federally-supplemented foodstuffs.  In exchange for canned pork, blocks of cheese, chubs of ground beef, and shelf-stable milk, hell to the yes, every family had to be grilled regarding their monthly income, number of individuals in household, whether those kids were all theirs, whether they'd received assistance before, how often they moved, and a host of other very invasive questions.  We put up with it for a few years because what you got in return was worth it, so very worth it, but then we were rendered ineligible to participate because of some technicality, like maybe which direction our building faced, or maybe it was the fact that we don't lock our doors because fire code won't allow it and that means people could technically walk in and steal all the food and so the federal government said we couldn't have it.  It was too risky.

Good riddance to the paperwork, but I could spit nails at the petty ivory-tower dwellers who made these sorts of decisions.  They snatched it right out of the hands of hungry children.

When you run a food pantry, you bump against the hard realities of other peoples' lives.  You learn how the welfare system works and know that while it needs to be fixed, attempts to fix it just make things worse for the least among us, so to speak.  You can't stay comfortably on the other side of town in your wood-floored, mood-lit premium grocery store, perusing walnut grape chicken salad and smoked salmon in the deli case.  Not for long.  Sooner or later, you come back to the pantry and paper bags and cardboard boxes, and acknowledge that with a few turns of rotten luck, you could end up with fifty-two cans of green beans and someone at your house, indirectly questioning your work ethic and life choices.

We are cruel to our poor and our unlucky.  That's why I always smiled when I could put in a box of Pop-Tarts.

March 18, 2018

trickle

I'm sitting in the same spot at The Lodge where, three months ago, I casually decided that because I had one piece to write, the bit about ninth grade, I was going to start a blog.  I think it started the way all blogs start, with a set of good intentions and enough tinder to get a fire started, followed by looking up Blogger versus Wordpress.  Some people have a good idea and a framework and a mission statement, and they keep to their theme.  Recipes.  Political happenings.  Photographs of various types of turtles.

Me?  I just wanted to write about my student teacher, and see if perhaps I had a few more things to say.  I assumed all along it would be the idiomatic flash in the pan, the quickly-snuffed project that bi-polar folks tend to begin and never finish.  I'd tried to blog before and never made it past five posts before I got disgusted and deleted the entire thing.  Except for the one about Weight Watchers and learning to like green beans.  That one lasted for two months, precisely as long as my tolerance for dieting lasted.  It's a bunch of overwritten sectors and scattered electrons now, too.

Why am I writing?  I can tell you all the reasons I'm not writing, but knowing those doesn't provide enough graphite dust to scatter on the paper and reveal the patterns, the real reason or reasons.

What I know is this:  I didn't write, and now I do.  A dam did not burst.  Instead, somewhere on top of a high mountain, a little rivulet of snow melt began trickling down and deviated and formed a new path, barely noticed, and that is the headwater of my writing.  The water keeps coming, never much at a time, but it's starting to form a little arroyo and establishing itself as a going concern.

I don't get floods, though when hypomanic, the ideas sometimes rain down.  That hasn't happened since the inception.  My ideas come one at a time.

As I don't really do trust, this is a new and strange thing for me:  Enough water flows through the channel now to bring me something each day.  I don't know what time it will happen, or what it will consist of, or whether it will be sad or funny or introspective or reminiscent.  I can't sit down in the morning and say to myself, "Today I will write about [thing]."  I have to wait for it.  It always comes.  I am learning to wait and trust the process.

It always comes.  I encounter some small detail in the course of my day, and then this wheel-turning sensation begins somewhere in the middle-back of my head.  It's a physical sensation.  Left and right start talking to each other, and then there is my post, all laid out, just waiting to be typed.

P.J. asks if I have to work at it, based on a framework, or whether the writing just comes out in a sort of blurt.  It's the latter, but then I go back and edit and tighten things up, sometimes days later.  A repeated word, or a better way of telling a piece of story.

I'm still writing down bones.  At this point, mostly the little ones that only a handful of orthopedists can rattle off by name.  I don't share a basement with Stephen King's muse.  Save for the depression days, I don't stare at a blank page and push myself to effort.  I'm just pouring out cupped hands of water.

Should the trickle slow and dwindle - and it will - I will still sit cross-legged by its path and wait, because of what a few treasured people have said to me.  P.J. says I have "the chops".  A friend says I have a voice he recognizes.  Another, that she is glad I am finally doing what I've been meant to do all along.  And perhaps the most important one, still ringing in my ears:  "You make me laugh, and then cry."  I've heard "you have a gift for this" enough times now to get my attention.  I don't think that I do.  But one of the few things that stuck in my mind from college was about communication:  It has nothing to do with what you say, and everything to do with what is heard.

Whether or not I have a gift, this is my writing's highest and best use:  I want to be so raw and flawed and brutally honest that it will in some way, at some time, make another out there feel less alone, a little bit understood.  It's why I have to capture each handful of water without spilling a drop.  Being audaciously open gives my illness a purpose, spins it into an asset and creates a vantage point from which I can perceive and ponder and then tell the truth, in my own voice.

It's all for naught, if I don't tell the truth.

Well, that's it, then, isn't it?  That is why I write.

March 17, 2018

branches

The sunrise happened unexpectedly north along the mountain ridge, given that less than two months have passed since I rose before dawn and witnessed it in the southeast.  Has the world turned that much in so short a time?

The tangle of younger still-leafless trees bordering the property formed a network of interlaced black branches against the deep blue of sky.  They echoed my drive here last night, when my own mind was a tangle worse than any Christmas-box extension cord and I was grateful for the chance to grip the steering wheel, to protect myself from my own hands.

I've swung hypomanic, this time bringing only irritability and impulsiveness, and last night I was outdoing myself for snapping and overreacting to every small thing as we drove to The Lodge.  A light-hearted joke I heard as an accusation; an observation became a finger pointing directly at all my shortcomings.  My disease, my effect on others, my worthlessness.  Then the over-sensitivity leads to deserving to be punished.  It's a simple thing.  P.J. could say nothing mundane or helpful that I didn't latch onto as proof.

I owe her a substantial apology this morning.  She will not accept it.  She does not see me the way I saw myself during that hour of grinding pain.  She is incredibly patient with me.

The tangled branches are mountain roads, climbs and descents and dark valleys, small gravel roads with dead-end signs and very few other markers.  The way is thorny and dark and there's no moon out.  That is what it is like when I find myself in the place where I want to hit or claw myself.  The branches.  I follow the thoughts, using what sense of direction I have, trying to find the path that redeems.  Some roads lead to "insights" about all the wrong I've done.  You can't do anything right.  Every time you open your mouth, you hurt P.J. and the kid.  You shouldn't talk, ever.  What kind of person can't be normal from day to day?  It's intrinsic to your character.  Not a disease.  You're defective.  They deserve so much better than you.  Awkward.  Idiot.  You do everything the wrong way.

Once in a while, one road proves a lifeline tying me back into reality.  I can see the main road, pick up the trail and leave the tangle.  It's a disease.  This isn't the real "you" talking.  It lies.  What is the truth?  I'm loved and I have to trust it, even if I don't deserve it.  If roles were reversed, I'd feel the same way.  You don't turn down a gift.  I will be back to level soon.  This is temporary.  Let the thoughts drift, pass through and move on.  Don't pause to give them quarter in your conscious mind.  Square breathing.  Change the subject.  Sunrise.  The smell of fresh wood.

Most nights like this, though, I clip my nails with trembling hands so I can't hurt myself (except for my cuticles, because my hands are shaking) and then perform my household and parental duties, robotically, and seek out sleep as quickly as possible.  It's safest that way.  But I won't lie.  When I cross the line, I enjoy beating the hell out of myself. 

Once, I gave myself the edges of a black eye.  This caused P.J. to fret, afraid of accusations, because since when has domestic violence been between a person and herself?  Foundation make-up did the trick for the eye and the outlines of finger marks from the force of the slaps.  Estée Lauder covered my tracks.

Sometimes, when I can, I cheat, and that with a clear conscience.  I take a full milligram of the Klonopin prescribed to me for panic attacks.  I've decided unilaterally that in addition to panic attacks, those nights are what the meds are for.  Most days I'm on a low-level maintenance dose to prevent general anxiety and the worst of the wrist-and-neck-touching stuff, and I'm one of a few very lucky people who can not take it at all, or take a significant amount, and have no issue later from withdrawal symptoms or rebounding.  There's a Klonopin-shaped hangar in my brain and arrival and departure are always smooth.

I try to explain this to my psy-doc, but he wants me off it soon because of the new studies emerging showing a link to early-onset dementia, particularly Alzheimer's.  I look at those statistics, then I look at my life and how it would be without the benzo, and conclude that I'm better off taking the risk and having a weapon against the devil I know.  He's confined by oversight and best practice and does not agree with me, because he can't.


March 16, 2018

the lodge

Our friend Maggie in Dublin is a scary Druid witch.  She knows things without being able to know them.  When we bought our mountain cabin last summer, we referred to it as The Bothy, or just The Cabin, but she continued to call it The Lodge, based on her concept of what it would become to us.  It wasn't until we were nearly moved in and unpacked that we noticed the sign above the door, left by the previous owners, that read "The Lodge".


Our friend Mo is also a scary Druid witch.  She knows things.  What are the odds of knowing two?

Finding this cabin was the culmination of an actual odyssey, a journey of a decade that began when P.J. and I first bought our house.  The plan all along was to find a little something in the mountains, not too far away, that would be an escape and a place for P.J. to work from time to time, recharging and finding balance through beauty and solitude.  I have longed for her to have this almost as intensely as she has despaired of ever finding it.  And I have learned along the way that there is much I find and draw from mountains, too.

We worked hard.

Our first season of searching involved shedding, at least on my part, the naive belief that real estate agents list things honestly.  We viewed photos of an adorable little cottage that turned out to have a busy highway less than fifty feet from the edge of its yard.  The photography was excellent in terms of its deceptive angles.  The seller's agent stood us up.

No.

The next weekend, after driving for an hour through an ill-mapped forest through and over muddy ruts that had somehow earned the right to have a street name, we used the heavy-gauge wire railing to pull ourselves up and along cut-earth steps that were far too steep to hike.  The unfinished cabin sat at the top of the hill.  This was the only way to access it.  Reaching the top felt like the Cliffhanger game on The Price Is Right.  But reach it we did, and found that the shell of the place wasn't even completed and it had become infested with wasps' nests.  A lot of wasps' nests.  The hasty descent was even more fun than the climb up had been.

No.

And the next weekend ... the mobile home that was reached by driving through the property of a hostile neighbor with large, hungry, unrestrained dogs.

No.

Two weekends later, a harrowing zig-zag drive up a mountainside, no railing on the open side of the road, to visit a wee cabin with a hollowed-out dirt "basement" that makes me wonder if, here ten years later, it hasn't fallen off and gone tumbling down.  "Precarious as fuck" was one phrase that came to mind, and "I'm not setting foot inside there because it looks like something out of a cartoon where physics are very different" was another.

Not no, but hell no.

Chester guarding our first cabin
We found the place we had been looking for:  A 1975 R.V. with a built-on porch and bathroom (the one where I took the Polar Bear Club shower), to which we added a deck.  There was a single shed-type structure that served as an extra bedroom storage.  This sat on a half-acre situated so that no one could see you and no houses were visible, with good mid-range views.  We are not and were not snobs.  It was a place to be, and peaceful, so we made it ours and set about reading articles about the efficient use of twenty-eight linear feet of space.  Yes.

This was all well and good until we attempted to gain Internet access, which is when we learned that the phone line running to the property was old and incapable of carrying DSL service.  Satellite was not dependable.  The map of Verizon's broadband coverage of the entirety of North Carolina was solid blue, save for a tiny white hole in the mountains that, I shit you not, contained our cabin.  That's even weirder than knowing two Druid witches with magical psychic abilities.  It was then relegated to a sometimes-on-a-weekend place, never enough time, and it seemed we had to leave as soon as we arrived.  The plumbing issues started piling up.  Lightning struck and knocked out the well pump.  Judging from how long it took to finish decaying and move on, I think a large raccoon died behind the refrigerator, which could not be pulled out because of the tiny kitchen wall in the way.  The insects had the upper hand.  We gave up and sold the place, and took a loss.  Sometimes, moving on holds its own value.

Despair moved in.

We began searching again, mainly through MLS listings, and years passed without anything suitable appearing.  We changed tactics and decided to look at land, and found a beautiful lot two hours away from home, on the top of a ridge from which we could see, in the distance, the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We put down earnest money and sketched out plans for building, until we were told by our attorney that there was no actual legally viable right-of-way through the neighborhood below to the property, and that ingress and egress would depend on the goodwill of those residents.  Future selling would thus be a major hassle, and being a gay couple, goodwill was something we could depend on like a rock.  Made of limestone.

No.

Months later, after looking at a cabin up such a steep hill that our vehicle couldn't traverse it, we found another lot near the first, one that was perfect for a tiny house and screened porch.  The view was kind of spectacular and privacy was ensured.  There was DSL service.  We bought it.  Then we found out that the county it was in had extremely strict building code and zoning regulations and we couldn't build a tiny house, and we were stuck.  We attempted to move forward with an elaborate plan to put a twelve-foot cleverly designed shed up there and secretly live in it, but that, too, fell through.  We bought a motor home and renovated it well enough for it to be featured on some home-and-garden show.  That took over a year.  Then the motor died and the steering went and we had to have it towed away.

We decided to do things right, beginning with having a well drilled, and then the well truck couldn't get up the driveway and we were going to have to hire some kind of big yellow expensive construction equipment to push it, and if they didn't hit water the first try, the property would have become worthless.  We sold it.

The despair was getting a firm grip, with sharp nails.

Stubbornness has its good side.  We took a breather and then started searching, yet again, this time a little closer to home.  A promising quaint red cabin listed on Zillow led to the bumpiest, muddiest tour of Confederate flags and packs of bare-teethed canines we'd experienced yet in our serial string of adventures.  We never even found it.

No.

A double-wide mobile home on a paved road had nearby dwellings but also a great view and a good price, for sale by owner.  Our criteria were getting pared down to little more than four walls and a roof at that point, and P.J. went to have a drive-by look at it.  No one seemed to be home, but she knocked on the door.  No one answered.  And then, legend has it, the door opened by itself and invited her inside.  She checked things out, briefly, but long enough to take in that the ceilings were low and it was ill-lit and smelled of very old carpet.  The house next door was much closer than the photos had made it seem.  The expedition was fruitful.  It told her what she needed to know.  She shut the self-opening door behind her.

No.

A second cabin in a development with a hyperthyroid homeowners' association looked nice, but the floors didn't come quite up to the thresholds of the doors and the layout was such that at any given time, one of us would have been in the process of falling down some steep wooden stairs into the basement.  The realtor kept calling it "rustic" to explain away the fact that the current owner had mostly built it himself and its compliance with code was marginal.  We liked it, but ....

No.

This is the point in any odyssey when the main characters decide that fate is against them and they were never meant to reach their golden destination.  They undertake introspection and wax philosophical, stoic mixed with bitter.  In short, we were never going to have a cabin.

Then some unbearably sad things happened, and we were able to get a cabin.  A real one, but a sore non-monetary price paid, unwillingly.  We would feel guilty, but after our journey, well ... we just don't.  You won't find many who hold greater appreciation for what they have than we hold.  There are photos and mementos throughout The Lodge of those who made it possible.  They dwell there with us in welcome memory and love.

Our Lodge is a smallish, stately, cedar-sided vaulted-ceiling cabin with a deck and a loft and a finished basement, fiber-optic Internet, paved roads and driveway, energy efficiency, and neighbors who are down-to-earth and accepting.  It smells of fresh wood.  There are sunrises through large windows over a distant mountain ridge.  The cold mountain well water refreshes.  To walk through the door is to know peace.  Ten years coming.  Then Athena appeared.

Yes.  Very, very yes.

March 15, 2018

little green army men

I wish I knew what became of my vintage-model Annoy-a-Tron.  Not the puck-shaped kind that ThinkGeek currently sells, but the older model, the one that simply emits a beep at intervals between one and eight minutes long, randomly.

It's magnetic and ideal for sticking to the top of the inside of a filing cabinet or under a metal desk, such that the victim of the incessant, inexplicable beeping cannot figure out where the fuck that noise is coming from.  Ingenious.

Back in the day, I relished April Fools' Day, though I shouldn't have, since I could dish it out but not take it (and still can't).  There were tech-related jokes, my favorite of which was the keystroke combination to turn the image on someone's desktop monitor upside-down.  Had I been a SQL programmer and able to hack into our network's print servers, I would have put an "INSERT COIN" message on the display of our office printer.  Alas.

I was like this as a kid, too.  I would have a friend or two sleep over, and we would sneak out of the house at 2 a.m. and walk around the neighborhood.  The friend(s) would simply enjoy the act of sneaking; I had bigger plans.  My favorite was tormenting the neighbor lady one block over, who insisted on filling her yard with all manner of ceramic woodland creatures.  Not just a cute bunny or three; there were ceramic squirrels going up trees, ceramic gophers and woodchucks, ceramic birds on ceramic birdbaths, ceramic deer, and two snarling ceramic black bears.  I took my daddy's can of Barbasol shaving cream and made the bears rabid on more than one occasion.  I stuck marshmallows on the deer antlers.  She had it coming to her.  I mean, gophers.  Really?

And when I slept over at one friend's house, we took advantage of the fact that her house had two phone lines, both of which had a cordless phone and the full bundle of services available from Southern Bell.  We'd take both phones into her room and shut the door and call each other.  Then we'd use the three-way calling on each phone and call a random phone number, switch back so that there were now four parties to the call, and hit the "mute" buttons on the phones.  We'd listen as the first person answered the phone, heard ringing, heard the second person say, "Hello?" and groggily engaged in the ensuing hilarity.  They couldn't hear us giggling uncontrollably.

Unfortunately, we got caught and grounded for that trick.

These disturbing tendencies continued into high school, when my best friend and I had several teachers that we tormented on a regular basis, on a driving circuit around town.  One teacher made the mistake of going out of town for a week and saying something about it in class.  When she returned from her vacation, there was a large thrift-store bed sheet hanging from the side of her deck that said "WELCOME HOME TROOPS!" and roughly four hundred little green plastic army men in perfect formation in her driveway.  It took for-fucking-ever to purchase those plastic soldiers.  K-Mart had to keep getting them back in stock; then we'd clean them out.  The stock clerk was probably scratching his head.  We barely made it in time.

I can't remember if that was before or after we made the paper clip chain (also at the K-Mart stock clerk's expense) and wrapped it around her house four times.  It was definitely after the time we filled her entire screened-in porch with inflated balloons.

Unfortunately, last April 1, I had just gotten out of The Bin and wasn't quite in the place to observe it properly.  It was a rather serious, painful day, maybe as penance for nearly forty years of taking the piss.  But this year, it's fair game.  Wait.  Shit-biscuits.  Easter Sunday.  I can't even discreetly modify a chocolate bunny; my kid's too old for those.  (At least he can eat them; I never could bite their ears off, and they stayed in the freezer and turned all white and chalky and had to be thrown out, every single year.  Last year, I saw a chocolate crucifix at a drug store.  Not a chocolate cross, but an actual crucifix, with a chocolate Jesus nailed to it with chocolate nails and a chocolate crown of chocolate thorns.  This was in bad taste, and I only say that because it was that cheap-ass Palmer's-style watered-down chocolate and not Valrhona or Lindt.)

I'm more inclined to smart-ass remarks than practical jokes at this point.  But a former colleague is returning to work tomorrow after an extended absence.  A friend has done things up properly and stuck Barbie dresses on all of the sci-fi character action figures in his office.  This is good and right and just.  I approve.