April 30, 2018

hit the road

I'm curious:  When parents are on the cusp of having to teach their teenagers to drive, do they change the way that they drive around the time that the kids are going to start paying attention to their every wayward move, or do they continue to drive in their standard reckless-but-wreckless fashion and just keep saying, "See what I just did?  Don't ever do that," as the kids begin a running tab of the parents' myriad hypocritical faults?

This is a concern.  I have questions.

I drive eight miles over the speed limit while telling my kid at length that he can't do that; he needs to keep it to five-over at the most, because he's a targeted demographic as a teenage male.  Four-over is even better.  I do not slow down while I'm telling him this.

I point out the double right-turn lane situation plaguing the off-ramp on the way to his dad's house, noting that because they once eliminated the outside left turn lane for about a year, and then put it back, drivers in the right lane will frequently turn right and then immediately zoom over to the left across two lanes to get to the gas station with the consistently lowest price, without even looking to see if someone is there, believing that the left lane traffic at the ramp can only go straight or turn left.  He's seen this happen several times, and I'm teaching him to always assume it's going to take place.  And it does.  I demonstrate how to hang back a little so that there isn't a wreck, and to instead substitute the fully righteous privilege of honking your horn and cursing a blue streak at the driver, by way of educating him or her about the turn lane situation for future purposes.  It's a public service.

I do try to emulate the proper distance between cars on the highway and tell him that it takes almost a full second for the brain to get the signal once it perceives brake lights in front, and about how a car that rear-ends another is always the one ticketed, barring really rare and strange circumstances.  I point out that it's human nature to get competitive behind the wheel, to want to pass, to get angry if someone merges in front.  It's hind brain stuff.  And you have to overcome it rationally, immediately.

I don't do all that well with most things, though.  "Good example" is not in it.  My kid has learned much of the seedier aspects of his vocabulary from being a passenger in my car.

I do have a good side.  I abhor rolling stops and always use my turn signals.  (Much of that vocabulary has been directed at people who don't use them.)  I go slow in parking lots.  I back out of spaces with multiple glances and ample caution.

I can't give him our car when he turns sixteen.  It's red.  State Farm would blast us.

I think about all of the near-misses I had at that age, with a fresh driver's license and no parent sitting in the seat, teaching me.  I got through them somehow.  I've never been in a wreck that was my fault, and somehow people usually just make it work, even if they get angry, even if they have to shake their fists.  I learned.

I'm not going to be able to anticipate and show him examples of the hundreds and hundreds of sticky things he might face, nor am I going to be perfect in handling the ones that we  run into  hit  encounter.

I'm doing some of each, I think, the changing how I drive around him and accepting and pointing out my various faults and why they're faulty and then talking about them a lot to keep him from asking me why I don't just change and stop doing the faulty things.  The answer is, I don't want to so shut the fuck up.

Some day, far into the future, he's going to drive me somewhere.  I can point out all of his terrible habits and remind him of when he did me the same courtesy.  He'll roll his eyes.  Parents.

April 29, 2018


My psychiatrist used to be a monk and then he stopped being a monk and got married and had five kids, and now he's a raving liberal and wears turtlenecks, probably because he misses the presence of the collar or cowl or whatever it is that monks of his former order wear.  I have held off on going doc-shopping after working with him for a year because the frustration I experience when talking in circles with him about getting my meds honed and refined is outweighed by my belief that his personal history means he's a really interesting person and if we just keep trying, we'll be able to communicate.

Here, "communicate" means he listens to what I say and gives me what I ask for and doesn't argue with me.  I see nothing wrong with holding this bull-headed, immature attitude.  It complements being crazy.  If I were to suddenly present as reasonable at an appointment, he'd narrow his eyes with suspicion.

No worries there.  I'm bringing some printouts of totally legitimate studies to my appointment tomorrow, just to annoy him.  He wants me to try some different, hard-core mood stabilizers, and I keep refusing on the grounds that I suck giant donkey dicks at staying hydrated and it would soon be a toxic disaster.  I take Lamictal and these printouts say that I'm not absorbing it.  Lamictal has a pH of 5.7, meaning it breaks down and gets absorbed in the stomach, where the environment is more acidic than it is and can therefore tackle it, and not further down the intestinal train tract.  Since I have a gastric pouch and a stoma (which is just a hole at the bottom that lets things fall out and move on, because the pyloric valve that normally squeezes shut and keeps things in the stomach until they're ready to be jettisoned is sitting over attached to the bottom of my other stomach, being a completely useless overpaid slacker), the Lamictal gets the same fifteen-minute appointment with my pouch that I get with my psy-doc.  It's just started talking but everything is rushed and nothing gets explored in-depth, and before it knows it, it's being pushed out of the door, barely touched.  My body isn't breaking it down; I'm getting its first layer and nothing more.

Dr. Google says I'm right.  I have proof.  The papers I'm bringing are from NIMH and PubMed and he must respect them, at least for a few seconds.  I don't know which of us is going to win.

The doc has been adamant that there is "no proven therapeutic benefit" to going up on Lamictal beyond 200 mg, and he would be right, except that I'm different.  I refuse to try lithium and I don't want Tegratol and most of all, I don't want to continue having a mood chart that looks like a game of connect-the-dots.  I think connecting the dots from this past week would make Cthulhu.  (I spelled that right the first time, bitches.)  I want to wake up each morning relatively level and stay that way.  I want to connect the dots on my mood chart and end up with a picture of an EKG reading of someone about to croak whose pulse is three beats per minute.

My strongest argument:  What's the harm in trying?  I'm vigilant about the rash thing.  If my arm itches, I scratch it but also compulsively look at where I just scratched to see if the horrible Stevens-Johnson rash has chosen that day to appear.

And if it doesn't work, then I'll cave in and allow Tegretol or one of the other big-gun meds that probably mean I can't get life insurance ever again because I've crossed a threshold of fucked-up-ness.  So be it.

But I think I'll win.

Update:  Sonabitch, there's a blood test they can to do tell if your blood level of Lamictal is right.  Rare, but available.  So I'm going to have it done this week and then we'll know where to go from there.  I was not a very good patient today.  I told the doc I'd prefer to just stick my head in a hole in the ground and pretend I don't have any mental illness and let the world crash and burn and do nothing about it.  He said I can't because I have a kid.  Why do they always play that card?

Update two:  Lamictal test came back showing a therapeutic level, but quite low, so we're going to try upping it to 300 mg to see what happens.

April 28, 2018

twang on a wire

There have been times when I was so down
Mothers and lovers and preachers came 'round
No one could cheer me, not one could inspire
There's no consolation like a twang on a wire

- Kate Campbell

Both of my parents picked up guitars as children, drawn to them and quickly inseparable from their instruments.  They both played "by ear" and to this day, neither can read "a lick of music," as my daddy says.

I was late to my calling.  I didn't pick up my first guitar until I was twenty.  It was a cheap thing with nylon strings that sounded terrible but helped me build calluses on my fingertips.  We were newlyweds and pennies counted, but I shelled out anyway for the guitar and a five-dollar poster depicting a complete set of guitar chord tabs.  The poster was supposed to be decorative but for me, it was a sixteen-by-twenty holy scripture scroll.

I remember the precise moment when the bug bit me.  I had driven from the Bay area of Florida to Atlanta to spend the weekend with two never-met-before friends from the online Nanci Griffith fan group and attend one of her concerts with them (and attempt, in vain, to meet her backstage afterward).  That night, I slept in a guest bedroom in one of those incredibly comfortable, expensive beds with a mattress so thick and high you have to climb up into the bed using a step stool.  The next morning, we gathered around the breakfast table, the three of us, and one friend played the guitar well, so she played Nanci songs and the three of us sang, sometimes in unison and sometimes with lusty harmonies.  I watched her fingers gracing the frets, so easily, joy in her face.  That was the moment.  I drove home and within a week, my hands were clumsily trying to make G and C and D chords and I was wincing while typing at work with tender fingers.

As soon as we could afford it, I upgraded the guitar to something relatively legitimate with metal strings and wood pegs that didn't slip if you stared at them cross-eyed.

I learned every song on every cassette I owned.  And a year later, our fan group was gathered around a camp fire in Memphis, sitting in white plastic lawn chairs, taking turns playing music and singing together.  The friend who had played for us at that cozy breakfast table in Atlanta was astonished when I pulled out my guitar and deftly played and sang "The Wing and the Wheel" for her.  I don't know if I ever properly thanked her for the bug bite.

I took the guitar with me everywhere I traveled.  It gathered signatures ... Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, Richard Shindell, Kate Campbell, Buddy Mondlock, Vince Bell.  The case gathered stickers from those travels.  I did not have it with me when I met Nanci Griffith because I did not expect to encounter her at the Odetta concert.  It was sitting back in the hotel room, and would have come with me to the book signing the following day.  I would have had a new, black Sharpie in my pocket.

For several years I knew the joy of playing along with friends, including a gig in a bar in Atlanta, though I was limited in my repertoire because my hands are too small to make F and B-flat chords.  I played Alice's Restaurant and experimented with alternative tunings.  My arms were strong and my fingers nimble.  And there were times I played because, like the piano, the kinetic dance of hand and ear and heart and mind, the vibration of wood and string, had a unique way of making everything all right, for a little while.

My daddy gave me his precious 1976 Stratocaster and a small amplifier for Christmas one year during this era of my life.  Later, I gave him back the 'Caster because he had lost the will to play, and I hoped it would inspire him to start again, but it didn't.  He thought I didn't want the guitar and sold it to a guy at work.  I still feel a strong pang when I think of this, one of the countless trifling tragedies that pepper life.  That guitar that I watched him play in my childhood was my inheritance.  I think I failed to communicate, or he failed to hear.

I spent five years as a guitar player.  I got pretty good at it.  But my beloved signed guitar got put into its case and stayed there after my son died.  I still have it and sometimes I dust off the case when I'm cleaning the house, but I, too, lost the will to play.

April 27, 2018


When I was eight, I tried to take a sparrow out of the mouth of my neighbor's Chow Chow.  His owners fed him raw steak on a regular basis to make him a bad-ass.  He was about to sit down and enjoy his prey, and I felt sorry for the bird, so I tried to pry it from his mouth.  The attack was swift and I only had time to raise my right arm to my face.  Thankfully, it was also brief, and he went back to his sparrow snack after a single warning lunge.  I stumbled down the street back home, dazed and dripping blood from my face and the puncture wound in my forearm from a sharp tooth.

Nothing hurt yet, but I was quite the apparition and was whisked away to the emergency room, where a doctor told my parents that if I hadn't instinctively raised my arm to shield my eyes, I would have lost my right eye.  I had a tear across the bottom and side of the skin under my eye, but no nerve damage.  They put in stitches and sent me home.

When the stinging from the stitched wound stopped, I cried for the bird.

I also wonder, sometimes, why I didn't develop a general fear of dogs afterward.  I wasn't reared on a farm and didn't have reason to have embraced, at that tender age, an acceptance of the tooth and claw of nature or a matter-of-factness about the brutality of the cycle of life and death, but I knew it was my fault for interfering with the dog's inclinations and that it technically was my fault, not his.  That's how I moved forward.

P.J. has some stitches from her recent dermatology procedure.  They're starting to itch.  They'll come out soon.

Last night, she held my hands behind her own back as I flailed in the tidal wave of another impulse to hit myself, talked me through it, soothed me.  My ragged breathing returned to measured breathing and I looked into her eyes and said, "I fucking hate being crazy.  Why can't they just find it and dig it out and put in stitches, so it could heal, and then it would be gone?"  But what stitches could ever stop a tidal wave?

It's been a rough week.  My mood chart looks like the graph of a lemniscate with some errors in the calculations.  The preoccupation is not gone; it has surged.  The tide is in.

The ocean brings life and death.  The tide recedes and pulls under, creeps and claims, covers bare feet with foam and deposits debris.  It holds most nature in the world and the only thing I can do is accept tooth and claw, accept brutality.  Sometimes, there will be tidal waves.  Sometimes, there will be a beautiful sunrise and ripples of light on the surface of the water.  It conspires with the moon.  Sometimes, I will be prey.  I will be powerless.

April 26, 2018


There's another animal that balls up in self-defense.  Okay, turtles don't ball up.  Whatever.

P.J. got me a Folkmanis hedgie puppet for my birthday.  She and my son watched me open it and experienced some minor hearing loss when I squealed in soprano at the sight of it.  It is unbearably cute.  I put my hand inside the puppet.

P.J.:  "You can move its little arms and face.  I might have performed quality control before boxing it up for you.  You know, just to ensure it was all right and stuff."

Me:  *wiggles fingers around*  "Huh.  I can't find any holes.  Nope, still can't.  Maybe ... no, nothing there either."

Kid:  "Here, let me try."  *grabs it from me in a rash display of lack of survival instinct*  "... I can't find them, either.  There aren't any arm holes."

P.J.  "I know there are holes for the hands.  And nose.  I was using them.  For quality control.  Strictly.  There are holes."  *grabs the puppet from the kid* "... See?"  *wiggles ohmygodsofuckingcutelittle hands and nose around*

Kid:  *grabs puppet and inspects it, at which point I'm feeling possessive and want the puppet back*  "Oh, there are two holes in the bottom for your hand.  One does nothing and one has the arm holes to control it.  Hey, cool!  Watch this."

Me:  "GIVE ME BACK MY HEDGIE!"  *kid hands puppet back with fear and respect*  "Okay, he's right, it does.  Why does he have two holes?"

Kid:  "Did you just assume that hedgehog's gender?  Obviously female.  Two holes."

P.J.:  "Oh my god, and you didn't even use lube!"

Kid:  "Well ... maybe she likes it rough."

Me:  "It's a he!  God damn it.  He.  His name is Peter."

Kid:  "Weirdest name for a female hedgehog I've ever heard."

Me:  "Shut the fuck up.  Anyway, it's like one of those generic Xbox names.  LubricatedHedgehog87370."

Kid:  "'LubedHedgehog87370 has entered the game.'"

*gut-splitting laughter seizes all three of us*

P.J.:  "Um, anybody notice the tag that says 'turn me inside out here' sticking out of the second hole?"

Kid:  "Damn, she really does like it rough!"

Me:  "He."

P.J.:  *grabs puppet again and uses back pouch to turn him inside out, so he holes up protectively into a ball of hedgie fur that is so adorable I can't even stand it*

Kid:  "Oh."

Me:  "Oh."

P.J.:  "Oh."

Me:  "I thought you did quality control."

Peter came to work with me today.  I slept with him last night, along with Monkey and Sealy, so there's getting to be quite a brood and at some point we're going to have to get organized.

My dragon-game friends also snuck around and somehow found the umbrella with the sunshine and blue, clouded sky. This was not available anywhere in the known Universe, and I know that because I spent seventy-five hours looking for one so I could use the picture for that blog post instead of a shitty piece of chopped steak, but it just didn't exist.  Anywhere.  At all.  They must have access to a wormhole in space.  This leads to the socially awkward situation of wanting to ask them for all kinds of other things that don't actually exist, since they have a wormhole, but then that's kind of rude.  I think.  Is it rude?

April 25, 2018


Yesterday, in therapy, I turtled.

In the morning, I had three people call or write me to say that the piece on my sisters was moving, one of the better pieces of writing I've done.  Chills.  Tears.  They felt strongly enough about it to tell me that.  So I went back and read it again, and was startled to find a line that I do not remember writing.  It could not have come from me.

"A sister is a portrait frame missing its face."

But I had a fever, so this bypassed all filters and came from somewhere I do not recognize.  I'm still contemplating its meaning.

I had a fever.  When I write with a fever, and bypass those filters, things come out unhindered, things that have pressed to be spoken that were held back.  I read the piece again.  Then I went to therapy.

In therapy, I told all of this to Therapist Gumby, staring at the small worn spots on the right arm of his chair and wanting to bring in a wood stain pen and color them in.  I tried to talk about my sister, and for the second time in my personal history, I broke out in hives during an intense session.  They traveled all over, arms, legs, back, face, head, and I scratched and scratched.  And suddenly, without warning, I was overcome with the need to strike myself, hard, repeatedly, and I sat on my hands quickly before I could hit myself in front of him.  And then I turtled.  I went deep inside myself and I could not emerge.  I stared at the carpet, at his perfectly-pressed navy blue dress pants seam, back at the carpet.  And I breathed, and could not talk easily in spite of his tender compassion and attempts to draw me out, and I wandered inside myself, away from my sister.  My mind blanked.  I was turtled.

I haven't fully come back out yet.  My pain and I are inside myself and things are not allowed in.  I ate a little of my breakfast but did not want the rest.  Food cannot come in.  There was no music in my car, only a Dar Williams song echoing in my head ... "You're helping me move from the inside to the outside / You're trying so hard and I can't even start / It's a war in there" ... music cannot come in.  I am still severely congested and my ears are clogged and I feel like I'm in a jar.  Voices are muffled and distorted.  They cannot come in.  I cannot taste.  I cannot smell.  My preoccupation object had to cancel coffee again, for more good reasons, and I can give and give, love and sympathy and understanding, but I cannot need or want anything back, cave in to longing for a piece of a person already stretched too thin.  I cannot take those things inside.  So my pain rattles around inside me, inside my shell.

P.J. sent me a birthday card.  I read it this morning.  It said, "Motherfucking unicorns and rainbows, bitches.  Love now and always, your P.J."  It even had a Pratchett cartoon.  She knows the secret ways into my turtle shell.  She is the exception.  She can come in.

April 23, 2018

the feels

You know how when you get woken up multiple times in a night because your dog starts screaming in pain for no discernible reason and you get up and comfort him each time and then try to go back to sleep, but then it happens again, and you go to work the next morning with bags under your eyes and three cups of coffee at once and phone the vet as soon as they open and get an appointment, and you spend the rest of the morning knowing you're about to put your dog down because it's obviously some kind of horrible bone-riddling cancer or a melon-sized swollen organ that's important and you're a terrible owner because you didn't know, and then you drive home with a pit in your stomach but you put the dog in the car anyway and you and your wife take him in and listen and talk and let them do x-rays, and you find out that instead your dog just has some hip bone stuff that hurts and needs meds and isn't going to die and you get to take him back home and have happy biccie time again tomorrow morning, and then you get home and freak the fuck out and cry and lose your shit because you thought he would never get to come home again, but he did and he's lying right there in front of you, sleeping and snoring gently?

That shit's exhausting.

Update:  And when the next morning, your dog gets up from his bed without crying out in pain and comes to get his biccie, you start crying again because this has happened every single day for years and years and you never once realized it was beautiful.

April 22, 2018


Friday night I announced that yesterday would be the day when I would finally tackle writing about my sisters.  I was then banned from e-mailing, texting, and blogging for a day by P.J., and I always trust her judgment when she says this.  I was as good as stoned.  I had allergies and a fever and cramps and anxiety all on top of each other, with a pill for each.  I kept falling asleep in mid-sentence and waking with jolts of panic every three minutes.  I was the kind of stupid I get when I'm sleepy, but without any aardvarks.

I faced all of this with maturity by insisting on painting the trim around a door outside, which was a project four years overdue and made perfect sense as a coping mechanism, since it involved climbing a step ladder and balancing when walking without stumbling was challenging enough, and trying to carefully not get paint on things while my eyes kept crossing.  Sometimes people say I'm brilliant.

I wanted to write, but I listened to P.J.'s wisdom.

Today is not yesterday, and I am still sick, and I don't know what to write about sisters, because I don't understand sisters at all.  I see sappy graphics on refrigerator magnets and greeting cards and Facebook about sisters and how much they mean to a person, how they're your first best friend, how they know you better than anyone else does and so forth.  That kind of sister is as fictitious to me as an angel or fairy.  It makes for a nice story, but it isn't real.

My fairy-angel graphic would say that a sister is the wrong end of a porcupine quill, someone who doesn't know you at all and makes you feel alien and defective.  Sisters make you glad you grew up and moved away.  A sister is a portrait frame missing its face.  A sister is your first best enemy, in beautiful, cursive pen, trimmed with lace.

I have three sisters.  We share a mother but have mostly different fathers.  That kind of turnover rate means you aren't going to end up around a dinner table together as kids.  The oldest two have the same father and are two years apart, and when the third sister was born during my mother's next marriage, their father took custody of them and moved them to south Florida, and my mother did not contest this or pursue them.  She never called them or wrote to them or spoke to them by phone.  She just let them go and tried to start over and do life right the second time.

I cannot comprehend sleeping at night knowing two of my children were growing up out of reach of my arms, my voice, my knowledge.  My heart recoils.

When the second marriage failed and my father came into the picture, followed by my arrival, we were a family of four.  The sister I grew up with saw my father, and me by extension, as the reason for all evils in the world in general and in her life in particular.  She hated my birth and my existence.  She was nearly seven years old when I came into the world, and I had single-handedly torn her family apart and subjected her to this other not-her-father man instead of leaving her alone with our mother's undivided love and attention.  I was the reason we had to stay with the babysitter where we were both subjected to abuse and neglect.  I was the reason money was tight.  I was the reason we lived in a terrible house and she had to go to the wrong school and wear inferior clothing and be unpopular.

She hated me, and I cannot blame her for it.  The sibling game was rigged against both of us.

In her resentment and pain, she found small ways to retaliate and act out.  Verbal cuts, sometimes plain and sometimes veiled.  Ugly.  Stupid.  Worthless.  Here, let me do your hair for you.  I trusted her again and again.  She burned me with a curling iron every time.  Looks of disgust followed by turning away and disappearing into her room down the hall.  Countless smacks, strikes, towering over me; left cheek, right cheek, threats of more if I told a parent.

I never told a parent.

When I was eleven and she a college student, the dynamic remained the same, but the interactions were mercifully fewer.  And in the midst of our sister-dance, the phone call came from the next-youngest sister, who had researched and dug around and learned the identity and phone number of her mother.  They reunited by phone, and some hidden things happened, and then she left home and moved in with us for almost two years, until she married and left.

This sister was different, but we were a decade apart in age and her story created its own barriers.  We scarcely spoke because we didn't have much to say, save for the morning it snowed and I woke her because I knew she had come from Florida and had never seen snow before, not in her living memory.  I had a sister that morning.  She became a kid again, and we made a snow fort together.  And snow angels, one big, one small.  They melted.

The oldest sister eventually came to visit, persuaded by her sister.  I remember meeting her.  She was tall and slender and dark-haired.  I held out my hand for a handshake.  She just looked at it.  I didn't know if I was supposed to hug her or stay quiet in the back of the room or disappear.

Everyone moved out and grew up and went their various ways, my mother the passive nucleus of a very unstable atom.  Thanksgiving and Christmas brought us together again each year, social custom serving as a substitute for bond.  We brought covered dishes and made plates and gathered around the television set in the living room with our plates in our laps.  We watched while we ate.  No one spoke.  We had nothing to say to each other in that room full of strangers.  Christmas gifts were always plastic gift cards, and smiles and thanks were always made of the same plastic.

When I was in my twenties and knew everything, I made the mistake of refusing to participate in that farcical dance one year, angry that I couldn't make us be a real family.  I suggested we have a picture made together or sit and make Christmas ornaments together, something meaningful.  Anything meaningful.  Not Wal-Mart gift cards and cold, dry turkey and re-runs on The Family Channel.  I was called Scrooge and I rebelled and boycotted family gatherings from that day forward.  No one protested except my mother, and that was feeble at best.

I earned final liberty when I came out eleven years ago.  One sister said she'd always known (she hadn't) and that she was a Republican and would always vote against me; one sister was deep into a fundamentalist evangelical church and said God hated my choice and what I was doing was sinful and wrong to my son, that I was damaging him by exposing him to my lifestyle; and one never even heard about it, because after meeting her many years ago, she went away and I do not know where she is or what her last name is.

My mother and I did not speak for five years after I came out.  When we reunited, I made it clear that that reunion would not include - would never include - my sisters.  I have not missed them in the least.  It has been sweet freedom to never again have to interact with them.  My mother has had to accept this and has done a pretty good job of honoring it, though I know she wishes it were otherwise.  She still invites us to every holiday meal.

I want to think my mother must have sat in the back of the living room on those Thanksgiving afternoons, pretending to stare at the television but watching us instead, chewing Stove-Top stuffing and pineapple casserole and taking us all in and wishing we were a family.  She might have felt responsible.  She might have known that what was done could not be undone.

I want to think she thought and felt and knew these things.  I want to believe that she sat and imagined her daughters were sisters.  I want to think we share that sorrow.

April 20, 2018

pull the other one, it's got bells on

You know that thick silence and stillness and increase in static electricity that comes right before a powerful thunderstorm hits and knocks down three of your trees and scares the shit out of your dogs?  That's how I feel right now.

Somethin' ain't right here.

Lille's preoccupation with her object has gone from a nine to a two.  It's been that way since last Friday.  This never normalizes this quickly.  At no point in my life has that happened, not for the genuine article.  My record is roughly two months.

What I have done differently is, I've been successful at avoiding well-worn triggers like checking e-mail every forty-two seconds, contacting the person based on impulse instead of a legit, organic flow, and intentionally engaging in attention fantasy, preferring the idea of the person, which Lille can manipulate as she pleases, to the real person.  I prefer the real one this time.  Maybe I'm getting time off for good behavior?

If this is genuinely done and dusted, then I don't think the credit is due me.  The person's understanding and accommodation have been nothing short of prodigious.  That's a new variable in the equation.  A well-pitched curve ball.

But I still don't trust the change in me.  For the past week, I've been stuffing my mouth with whatever is at hand, sweet or crunchy or bread-y or even marginally edible.  Salad isn't in it.  I really do think my brain has swapped addictions and is capable of swapping them back for its own undisclosed purposes, probably with a vengeance, just as soon as I choose to get the eating under control, which must happen and happen quickly.

Case in point:  The person and I were supposed to have coffee together yesterday.  Not only was I not thinking about this every single moment with angst and anticipation (the way I did the first time we met for coffee), instead perceiving it merely as a pleasant thing to look forward to later in the week ... which is absolutely not normal at all and makes me raise an eyebrow at the food thing ... but we also had to cancel at the last minute, for some good reasons, and instead of being devastated and Lille feeling all rejected and abandoned and gasping for air, I was actually an adult about it, with normal feelings of mild disappointment, understanding, and the ability to forget about it fairly easily.  There will be another one and I feel patient.

That's the point.  No one, in even the most far-fetched of circumstances, has ever accused me of being patient about a thing.  I fear my brain is trying to trick me.  I keep holding my hand to my forehead, peering into the distance, looking for the storm clouds.  I'm due.  I have to pay.  I always pay.

I don't know what to make of this.  The preoccupation feels like it's transitioned to a healthy friendship, the best of all possible worlds, and I'm thinking that's a Halloween costume, except that it's April.  Gratitude wants to burst forth, and fondness, and eagerness to know and be known, but they're held back by suspicion.

It's too risky to hope for the reprieve.  *smacks table*  I call bullshit.  Pull the other one.

April 19, 2018

stuff it

Cocoa sniffs using a glue spot.
When I was ten and eleven, I had a black Pound Puppy named Cocoa (a sure sign of my future predilection for very dark chocolate) that I slept with every night, held so tightly for so many years that his nose came unglued and his plush was piled.  I still have him.

Some nights, when I was trying to fall asleep and had exhausted the fantasies about my Teacher, I went through a phase wherein I would fantasize instead that Cocoa was running away from [fill in random pursuing menace] and accidentally ran right to me, and was terrified of me as well as [same random pursuing menace], but decided to trust me, and I banished [still the same random pursuing menace] and earned his enduring trust and affection and he decided to be my pet and I loved him unconditionally and comforted him and spoke soothing words.

The anthropomorphism pales next to the blatant manifestation of childlike need-meeting.  I was a bit old for that, but apparently not so old that the basic need to be trusted couldn't come through play.

Cocoa came with me on my honeymoon.  Don't fuck with my stuffed animal.

But he has been shelved for years, replaced eventually by my son's stuffed Build-A-Bear monkey, named Monkey.  (I don't know why we thought we'd be stifling his creativity by not going along with the name he gave it, as clearly there was not any.)  The making of Monkey at the Build-A-Bear store at the mall was a torment.  The workers dumbed things down to the level of their young customers (approve), asking them to make a magic wish and close their eyes and jump up and down three times to make the animal come to life, but then expected the parents to play along as well and do those things (drop dead into licks of flame, lady).  I was never so happy to give somebody at a cash register some money to make it all stop.

Monkey has always been well-loved.  But once my son moved on to seals, Monkey was up for grabs, and he became mine.  I still sleep with him.  He's never had to run away from [yet another random pursuing menace] into my arms, because he knows he's always been well-loved.  And anyway, um, it's for good sleep posture, since I'm a side-sleeper.  That's the only reason.  I swear it.

Sometimes P.J. poses Monkey in various yoga-type positions for me to find when I come home from work.  She has nothing to say on the subject of my sleeping with Monkey, because she has a head-sheep named Lambchop that she uses for shutting out light and sound.  She is going to murder me in my sleep tonight for making this disclosure.  I hope Monkey doesn't see it happen.  He will be scarred for the rest of his life.  So much blood.

April 18, 2018

sweet sorrow

It's been about a year since our friends-who-were-family departed our lives.

I still wrestle with how much of the falling out and parting of ways was my fault (the attempt and the first catastrophic hypomanic episode and making a big deal out of everything), and how much was their fault (being burned out but not having the courage to say as much, which was the repetition of a pattern they have long experienced), and how much was just the Universe being its dependable self and pushing things through their natural progression.  Things have life spans.  Friendships have to live and breathe, and sometimes they are born, live good, long lives, and then die.  This is not always true, but the enduring ones are exceedingly rare, I would guess.

I always say that people are like chemistry class.  If you take any two people and put them into a beaker together, you might get salt or it might turn purple or it might explode.  You never know.

Our friendship lived a good, long life.  They were brother and sister to us, and still it feels like we are estranged from family rather than bumped forward in life with them in the past.  There is always a tug toward them, and then comes the memory of all that was said and done, all that happened, all that is immutable, and we sigh and think about other things, and let it be.

Thus it was a sweetness tinged with sorrow when I got a Facebook message from their daughter earlier this week.  She's the same age as my son, and he lost a friend when we lost ours.  She reached out to me with her own account, just to say hello and that she's "still awkward" and that it's been a while.  She shared a picture she had drawn (one hell of an artist, that young woman) and said she's coming to the same high school as my son next year.

Joy and dread.  Sweet sorrow.  What if we run into them at an open house or an event?  Fear.  Hope.  Terror of confrontation.  Fulfillment of dreams where I run into them somewhere in public and all gets healed.  Reality of looking around when I pick up an order in a restaurant that we used to frequent together on Friday nights.  We live in the same town.  I'm always looking over my shoulder.  Hoping.  Fearing.

There were good reasons for parting ways.  A lot of good reasons.  But love does not die after living and breathing, and we overlook a good many faults in our brothers and sisters.  In our friends-who-were-family.  I do not know what the future holds.

I do know I loved hearing from our niece.  A precious thread not cut.

April 17, 2018

being 'that person'

I retrieved my son from driver's ed last night.  We've been rewarding him with frequent fast food in exchange for having to go to school three extra hours each day for two weeks.  This is not in his best interest, but it's damned convenient and short-lived and keeps him from whining (mostly).

Maybe it was all that waiting, or maybe it was the semi-rancid coffee, but yesterday evening, I was in an odd mood, a house blend of bold and indifferent to others' opinions and sanctimonious and irritable, tinged with upright citizenship.  Fits my hypomania.

Is there anything more fun than making your teenager squirm?

As we were leaving his school, we read the sign out front:  "Congradulations [Random Academic] Team - 1st Place State Championship!"  The "d" screamed at me.

Me:  "You have got to be fucking joking.  This is out by the road.  It's, like, everybody driving by knows the best high school in the county can't be arsed to proofread its own marquee.  I'm e-mailing the principal as soon as we get home."

Him:  "Oh my god, no.  Don't.  Seriously.  Don't."

Me:  "It's not like our last names are the same.  He won't know."

Him:  "He will.  He knows.  You always write him about stuff.  We're associated.  He knows me because of you.  Do you know how mortifying it is when you're walking down the hall and the principal walks by and singles you out and says hey?"

Me:  "So what?  He cares.  He'll come out here tonight in his truck, you just wait."

Him:  "Jesus Christ.  Please don't."

(The principal wrote me back almost immediately and was on his way to fix the sign last night.  I let the kid think I forgot to e-mail.)

We hit the McDonald's drive-thru and he asked for a Big Mac meal.  The voice coming through the speaker was extremely loud and distorted and if they hadn't had the display screen showing the order, I would have had to proceed on faith alone.  I pulled forward.

There was a large sign placed at the corner of the building showing the current Happy Meal toy offerings.  They're endangered animals, I think, and they all look slightly demon-possessed.  A wolf.  A tiger.  A tree frog.  If I were four years old and got one, I would not be able to fall asleep in my own room while it was there with me.

Him:  "Those are spooky as fuck."

Me:  "Agree."

Him:  "Next time I'm getting a Happy Meal and giving you the toy."

We reached the first window.

Me:  "I'm going to be an asshole."

Him:  "Please don't!  Stop!  Don't be an asshole.  Just pay, okay?"

Me:  "If I don't tell her, nobody will."

(The employee was using her hand to press her headset mic right to her mouth whenever she spoke to someone in the drive-thru line.)

(Window opens.)

Her:  "$5.42."

Me:  "Here you go.  Hey, can I tell you something?  I wear a headset all the time so I totally get it, but back there, it's really distorted, so try not pushing the mic all the way to your mouth.  Just trust it.  It'll free up a hand, too.  Just letting you know.  Thanks!  Have a good one!"

I pulled to the second window.

Him:  "You really did just do that, didn't you?"

Me:  "Well, how else would she know?  I just fixed her life.  She has a free hand now and people won't keep saying, 'What?  Hunh?'  See?"

Him:  "I wanted to disappear."

Me:  "Here, take your drink.  And here's your Big Mac.  You're welcome."

Him:  "Are we going straight home now?"

I don't want to become "that person" ... you know, the one who makes it her business to go around setting the world to rights.  And I'd like to blame it all on the hypomania, but that would leave out the part where I was at his elementary school spring carnival years ago and saw signs in all the door frames that said "PLEASE KEEP CENTER ISLES MOVING" and I didn't see any sand or palm trees, so I took a pen and wrote in the missing "A" on all the signs.

This was not by any stretch the first time I'd done that sort of thing.  I can't tell you why correctness in the world is so important to me.  It isn't necessarily OCD; it's more an aversion to apathy, that of others and the temptation of my own.  Not OCD.

Um ... there is a difference, isn't there?

Scariest.  Creepiest.  Fucking.
Thing.  Ever.  See?
Now you're awake.

April 16, 2018

waiting room

They've taken her back and I'm in the waiting room.

She said it's a simple procedure and shouldn't take too long.

I'm restless and before choosing a chair in the sparsely populated room, I go over and make myself a tiny foam cup of coffee with powdered creamer and Splenda packets and coffee dispensed from a push-top carafe.  The finished product is sour and I make a face, but I keep drinking it.  I didn't sleep well.

I select a chair next to an end table and out of anyone's direct view, and sit and arrange my possessions, the tart coffee on the table and my computer bag and purse beside me.  I pull out Lord of the Rings and join the battle in the Pelennor Fields again, stab the King of Angmar with Merry, feel Eowyn's arm go numb, hear Theoden's last words to Eomer, and then I'm jerked back into reality by an elderly couple nearby.  They are sharing a publication and saying back and forth to each other, "Boy Scout Mega-Camp."  He says it to her, and then she says it to him.  They say it seven times in total, then lapse back into silence.  He has a hearing aid.

I return to my book and shift the position of my feet.  My shoes make it uncomfortable to sit cross-legged in the chair, but I do it anyway, and feel the Velcro buckles biting into my calves.  This is a posture of drawing in and self-defense.  I have a complete lack of control over what they are doing to P.J. in the back of the building.  I make myself compact in the chair and draw my arms in, hold my book closer.

Frodo and Sam cross Mordor slowly, dust in their mouths.  The seconds and minutes creep by, the ring heavy around Frodo's neck.  The clock in the waiting room is deficiently slow.  Except that it agrees with my phone's clock.  Sam finds a tiny creek and refills their precious skin with water that is foul-tasting but safe to drink.  I get a second cup of coffee.  It's colder now and this does not improve it.

By now the procedure must be well under way.  I notice I'm gently rocking back and forth, but no one can see me.

A man begins to open the door, peeks in, realizes he is in the wrong place, backs out and closes the door.

Faramir stares east from the wall in the garden outside the Houses of Healing of Minas Tirith and waits.  It is all he can do.

April 15, 2018

lodge ii

You know that urban legend where a guy goes to a party in a hotel room where he doesn't really know the people, and gets drunk and somebody drugs him and he passes out, and then he wakes up in a bathtub full of ice cubes and there's a note that says those people harvested his kidneys and he needs to call 911 immediately?

Yeah, it was like that.

I need to start treating hypomanic episodes exactly like being drunk.  It would be like going to a party and just before going inside, I'd turn to P.J. and say, "No matter how much I drink, do not let me tell the story about what happened that time at the midnight pig-calling contest in Virginia."  But then we'd get pulled apart and would be mingling and then she'd get a horrified look as she heard me across the room, loudly and artlessly telling a cluster of people all about that one pig and the rubber mats from the car and the barbed wire and how funny the whole thing was, as they stood transfixed with shocked smiles and glasses that suddenly needed filling elsewhere.

Yesterday, we attended the annual property owners' association meeting for The Lodge's neighborhood.  It sounds all stuffy and official, doesn't it?  This place is great, though ... the dues are low and are all used for the roads, and people pitch in and help each other out with problems that crop up, big and small.  There's a community gazebo with a broom left there, so whoever comes along and feels moved by the Holy Spirit of Community Pride to do so can sweep off the pine needles.  I did that one day.  People walk their dogs and wave at each other.  A man once took a picture of our cabin in the snow and e-mailed it to us so we could see what it was like, because we couldn't get up the mountain due to ice.  There isn't an obscenely expensive and unnecessary clubhouse or an invasive political undercurrent.  It's laid-back, humble, the people and the place together as a gestalt.

Anyway, I'm mildly hypomanic right now, and we went to this meeting, and listened, and asked thoughtful questions.  Then they asked for volunteers for next year's board, and I leaned over and whispered to P.J., "Do not let me stand up and volunteer.  Seriously.  Don't let me."  Because I suddenly cared, a lot, and felt moved by the Holy Spirit of Committees to volunteer.  It's probably because I love this place and what it stands for, all that humble-ness and laid-back-ness, but that does not excuse my ignoring P.J. and standing up and volunteering, tossing my name into the hat as though there is the least bit I can contribute, short of a willingness to stuff lots of envelopes when needed.  And there wasn't even a vote because they had just enough people to volunteer, so now I'm on the board of a POA and I don't know how to be on the board of a thing and I never volunteer for committees because I'm not one of those totally with-it people who instinctively know how to do things, and now I've gone and put my foot in it and probably have to talk in front of some people at some point.

Lille is just staring at me with a blank look because she doesn't know who I am or what the fuck to think.

This is something grown-ups do.

April 14, 2018

what it's like to remodel a motor home

"I'm not proud.  Or tired."  -Arlo Guthrie

When you've been in a desperate situation for an extended period of time, knocked down again and again by Life, questionably sane things can seem like perfectly reasonable options.

This is an expansion on part of our cabin saga.

The land we bought in 2013, as I mentioned before, was full of good points.  We'd searched long and hard and after trekking up the steep roughed-in driveway and standing panting on the cleared pad at the top, we took in the mid-range views of green forest and felt the sunshine on our faces and heard near-silence, and we knew we'd found our place.  P.J. said it was a "light place," far more of a statement about how it made her feel than about solar rays.  We made an offer and signed some papers in a lawyer's office and we were handed the proverbial keys.  An acre and a half of light place.

We went through the Burger King drive-thru and took camping chairs up and sat and had lunch in the middle of a small field.  We knew peace.

That was the good part.  That day right there.  There was a gentle breeze.

Then we started learning Things ... like how the other residences on the mountain had completely tapped out the local reservoir and nothing else could share in that water supply.  And how the zoning regulations were incomprehensibly strict and we were zoned with the strictest of the strict and we probably weren't even allowed to sit there eating Whoppers on our own land.  And how a few of the trees, excepting the one that fell down right across the driveway, would need to be felled.

We could deal with these things, of course.  We'd have a well drilled and put in septic and then build a small house.  The cleared area wasn't terribly wide, but the tiny house movement is all the rage in that area of the mountains, so we'd go that route.  It would be cute.  We'd be all environmentally responsible and shit.

Oh, except a tiny house would completely fail to meet zoning regulations.  And a yurt?  Forget it.

We decided to build an "accessory structure", a twelve-by-sixteen shed to be used, of course, for storing things like lawn equipment and chairs and other purely non-residential items.  They didn't need to see our plans for converting it into the tiniest of tiny houses.  Then the guy we hired to coordinate the various tradesmen and processes went down to the City Permit Office to get a copy of something and sat at the counter and ran his mouth about our big plans to sneak and use the shed as a home.  We were outed as the criminals we were and from that day forward, invited intense scrutiny of all our doings.  He was a nice guy.  Too nice.  "Surreptitious" was not in his vocabulary.

We still needed water, no matter what the future's dwindling prospects held.  Then the well rig truck couldn't get up the driveway under its own power, and we would have had to hire construction equipment to push it up, and there was only one spot because of all of that that they could try for water, and if they didn't hit after six hundred feet, we were royally fucked and the property became next to worthless.  We called off the well-drilling.

We sat in our camping chairs on another Saturday and munched BK chicken sandwiches and made our puzzlers sore.  Then we had an idea.

A motor home.

We were allowed to park a motor vehicle on our own property, weren't we?  Libertarian sentiment swelled within us.  And if we decided to live out of one of our cars, let's say, what could the City possibly say?  This was the point where reason took a lunch break and planned to call in sick for the rest of the day.

And that is how we ended up buying an old motor home, not a coveted silver Airstream but a 1980s beige-but-yellowed-with-age Georgie Boy with great potential.  A gay couple had already begun renovations, ripping out the orange and brown carpet and painting the walls sky blue, and we liked where they were headed aesthetically, so we bought it and named it Madame George in their honor and drove it home and then realized it was going to be hell getting it up our driveway, but we did anyway, and there it sat for a year and a half. We couldn't park our cars in the garage.  It loomed.

I wish I had some way of knowing how many dollars and calories we burned while giving almost every spare moment to this undertaking and ordering hot- and cold-running widgets from Amazon.  I know I spent a fair amount of time, many, many hours, on the roof and went through fourteen tubes of caulk and some special paint-on sealing stuff because there was a leak in one of the bedroom cabinets in the back and we could not find the source.  When I wasn't busy attempting to not fall to my death, I was laying new vinyl flooring that looked like wood plank, re-building the shower, cutting and hammering quarter-round trim into place, and painting various things.  A fold-out table became a small bookcase with a tile top.  The sofa was re-covered in Ikea fabric.  So were the two "living room" club chairs.  Curtains were dyed.  New carpet was cut and laid in the console area.

The front seats lost their hideous brown textured plush pattern and were painted a tasteful gray with fabric paint, as were the bits of orange carpet that couldn't be removed.  The broken door handle was sourced and found and bought and installed.  We had a guy with a truck and large muscles take the broken generator out and we replaced it with our own baby generator and two marine batteries, after I rebuilt the housing for all of that.  LED lights that would not tax the new electrical setup were installed throughout.  Solar panels and a charger system came into play.  We bought a rain barrel and pump and filtration system for non-potable water safe enough to use for showering and dishes.  I built the most beautiful composting toilet in the history of mankind.  It used a Home Depot bucket underneath that said "Let's Do This" and was still capable of passing liquid to the black water tank.  We even scrubbed enough to return the exterior to a pale, acceptable beige, and used Coca-Cola and aluminum foil to remove rust from the tongue and chrome bumper.

The twin beds in the back bedroom had new pillows and comforters and good mattresses.  A small lamp sat on the table between them.  We placed an artificial orchid on top of the bookcase.  It was ready to move to our light place.  It would be our home there, and no one had a leg to stand on in protest.  It was just an overgrown truck.  We would have a patio there made of wood pallets (which are far more difficult to come by, if you've tried, because of all the people on Etsy making artistic things and bits of reclaimed furniture out of them, when all we wanted was to line them up on the ground and put an outdoor rug and couple of chairs on top of them).  I had it all sketched out on graph paper, which made it official.  We have friends in the vicinity who were sneaking wood pallets and collecting them for us whenever they saw them.

The day came.  It was time to move it to the mountains.  P.J. buckled her belt while I waited in the RAV4, ready to follow the motor home, and she turned the key.

It wouldn't start.

We made sure the gas was fresh and in both tanks.  We made sure the battery was good and properly connected.  It still wouldn't start.

I will omit the yawn-inducing details of the mechanics and Google searches and tinkering with various tools and all of the things we tried, but in the end, the way we got it to move was by means of a huge hook and cable attached to its chassis, which was in turn attached to a large tow truck normally used for tractor trailer cabs.  We had to sell it to a guy for about one-sixth of what we had put into it, all the nickels and dimes, and watch it go away.

We were very, very happy to see it go.  I think we hugged each other and smiled.  We had our lives back.

We went back to the land with a bag of Croissanwiches and some hash browns one day, and looked up from the bottom of the driveway and realized that even if we'd gotten it there, there was no way in any hell you care to name it would have made it to the top.  We'd been wrong all along.

We ate the Croissanwiches and then phoned up our realtor and sold the property to a nice couple in Ohio who would drill a well and build a little house and enjoy the spectacular view.

April 13, 2018

complex ptsd

(Warning:  Bucket of psychobabble quicksand ahead.  Enter at your own risk.)

Therapist Not-Gumby-But-Some-Other-Flexible-Thing-As-Yet-Unspecified stumbled upon something that resonates.  There is this relatively new concept called complex PTSD.  It's the equivalent of carpal tunnel syndrome vs. an anvil falling on your arm and snapping it off at the elbow.  Childhood trauma, it posits, can result from lower-grade abuse (including verbal) and neglect (just enough to cross a threshold into not-enough) that happens chronically, as opposed to an acute traumatic event.

But you weren't abused or neglected, I protest.  So many kids have had it way worse.  Locked in closets and shit.  How dare you consider yourself to be among them?

But I was also a "sensitive child", so it wouldn't have taken nearly as much to inflict the lacerations on my psyche.  That is not anyone's fault.  It isn't whining or self-pity.  It just is.  And was.

I know the sources of neglect, many of them from the late-1970s parenting style.  "Don't pick her up when she cries, it will spoil her."  That sort of thing.  And my sitter, where I had to shut up and refrain from asking for anything whatsoever - affection, comfort from scary things, food, a diaper change - because she found it annoying and weighed in excess of 500 pounds and did not want to get out of her chair.

Here is the bit from Pete Walker that grabs me:

When anxious perfectionist efforting [sic], however, fails over and over to render the parents safe and loving, the inner critic becomes increasingly hypervigilant and hostile in its striving to ferret out the shortcomings that seemingly alienate the parents ... the child’s nascent ego finds no room to develop and her identity virtually becomes the superego. 

This is the first legitimate thing I've been presented with that might point to the source of the self-injury.  It's really survival instinct.  No matter what I do, you're not meeting my very basic needs to survive, so I have to be perfect, and if I'm not, if I do something to threaten perfection and risk your disapproval and the withholding of what I desperately need, I'm hostile to myself, all superego and no ego, and the anger turns back on me, furious and fierce.

Fierce.  I wasn't allowed to be angry then.  I am now.  And it rides a boomerang and comes right back at me.  Black eye.  Blood.  Fingernails.

It explains why when an obsession-object gets put in the place of that caregiver by Lille, having shown some sign of promise that they are a fountain-head of need-meeting (even though they're not, but I've always likened it to a pedestal), the appetite for their unceasing attention, the need to possess them and draw from them, is so voracious.  And all of that goes on at the same time that I'm successfully adulting, maintaining healthy relationships and parenting and being the grown-up I've become.  Is it any wonder that I'm mired in mental chaos when all of this is clashing and vying for mental real estate?  Is it any wonder that Lille's pitiable interference is capable of fucking up some of the adulting?

Unfortunately, the therapeutic approach for resolving all of this meshugas involves a barrage of positive self-talk, months and years of it, and I would rather drink warm yak milk from a used Home Depot bucket than consider engaging in that mantric bullshit.

There simply has to be another weapon to disarm the superego.  Maybe I have to build one.  And it turns out I'm surrounded by some amazing, loving, creative people who might be able to help me draw up the schematics.  They've got pencils tucked behind their ears.  They're as crazy as I am because they think I'm worth the effort.  (Yo, Pete, "efforting" is not a word, man.)  I'm tired of self-injuring, not the least reason being how it affects those crazy people who love me.

The side of the Home Depot bucket says, "Let's Do This."

April 12, 2018


"The only constant is change."   -Heraclitus (who is not Louise Hay)

So there's about to be massive upheaval at work and I'm all croggled and need to sit down and make a pros/cons list, but I'm still at that early stage where you sit slightly gape-jawed and zone out because it's too much to think about and you'd rather listen to music in your head and ponder the color of the fabric on your cubicle walls.

There is a job I applied for three times in the past and was turned down each time because somebody better came along.  Now there are ten of them, and I know I should apply because I would get one of the ten, or at least consider myself firmly told loud and clear to never try again if I didn't get one.

I could decide not to try, to stay put because I'm very happy where I am, but even if I do that, there is going to be a mass-exodus in my little room here and new people will be coming in and I might not be able to be the one who sits in the back and cusses a blue streak and makes snarky comments any more.  I might have to rein it in and be stifled.  Right now I can completely be myself.  Everyone in here already knows about my attempt, my orientation, and my propensity for expanding their vocabularies a bit.  For some reason I know all kinds of medical shit, so they call me Dr. Lille.  I have an established identity.  I make our boss laugh.  I make my co-workers laugh.  I'm settled in.

And that is about to be taken away.  So if change is inevitable, I might as well grieve the loss of comfort and face the boulder-roll of fear and make a decision based on everything that is not those two things.  Because I can totally see around the boulder right up in my face.  Yeah.

This is going to sound DeVos-level shallow, but the other job would mean wearing a uniform, and I have amassed everything Old Navy sells for the past two years and I have all these dresses and tights and Mary Jane shoes, sandals and scarves and silky flowing pants and blouses, and I feel good about myself when I wear my clothes, and I'm not going to get that from khaki Dickies men's pants and a polo shirt.  That doesn't sound like a big deal, but, well, it kind of is.

On the other hand, nobody would look at me weird this time if I had a screwdriver in my hand.  I think I was born to be a field tech.  I like climbing ladders and poking my head up into dropped-tile ceilings and making network cables by lining up the tiny little wires.  I've had several of "the guys" pop in and ask me if I'm going to apply, and I get the sense they're not going to take "no" for an answer.  It appears to be a coordinated effort.

That should make me feel really, really good.

But my tennis racket is on the wall now, and the plants that I've had for years that are all healthy and green because they came from Ikea and also they're plastic, and my certificate that one of the guys made for me for dealing with a particularly difficult customer, commemorating the "get your crap off the keyboard" incident of 2016.  I have coffee pods and my calcium chews and my little Ikea lamps.  (P.J. once said the sentence, "But we don't need to go to Ikea this weekend, we don't need anything there."  Isn't she funny?)  I've got Dilbert cartoons pinned to the wall and a place to hang my umbrella.  I have a place.  A space.  It is mine.  I would lose it and be ousted.

My daddy came by an oscilloscope once when I was a kid, maybe while he was doing the electronics correspondence courses.  My wavering looks like the read-out on that little screen.

April 11, 2018

louise hay was a very positive person

Just like everybody else.
No, really, I mean what I said:  Fuck that affirmation shit.

A friend phoned me up yesterday to take the piss and present me, out of the blue, with a "life affirmation" from Louise Hay.  I'm pretty sure I told him to fuck off and hung up on him, but only in the most loving possible way.

He sent me another today, a photo of it, so I couldn't hang up on him.  I had to take a Zofran to ward off the nausea.

Okay ... I have been known to say that it doesn't really matter what a person adopts as their worldview, even if some or most of it is completely and against substantial proof incorrect.  If they do no harm, then they can have at it as seems best to them.  I apply this to pagans, to the religious, to conservatives, and sometimes even to positive people.  But the line has to be drawn somewhere, and I can't even see this woman, she's so far off in the distance and beyond the line.  Nor does all of this fall within the scope of "does no harm".

I had gone my whole life without knowingly reading her tripe.  Thanks, my friend.

From her official web site, a few snippets of drug-dream nonsense she wrote while riding on the back of a unicorn over a distant rainbow:

No, wait, I have to address the photo first.  The one of her gazing at stone-wall wildflower blossoms with an expression that makes her look either constipated or three sheets to the wind, or both.  What is even up with the matching enamel yellow earrings and bracelet?   I don't care if you were close to 90.  Just stop.  Chico's wants their costume jewelry back.

Sorry, back to the affirmations:

1.  Life loves me!

Life is not animate and does not have higher-level executive function capable of producing emotion.

2.  I am divinely guided and protected at all times.

I assume this includes time spent in the restroom?

3.  Only good can come to me.

Put spin on the flu.  Go ahead.  I'm listening.

4.  I am beautiful and everybody loves me.

I hear this in Cartman's voice, during his tea party with his stuffed animals, in the early seasons of South Park.

5.  I am safe in the Universe and All Life loves and supports me.

Somebody please re-animate a saber-toothed tiger.  Right now.

6.  I become more lovable every day.

This is called dementia.

7.  My life gets more wonderful every day.

See number six.

Absolute refuse.  (I re-discovered the word "refuse" by Googling "rubbish synonym".)  The sort of stuff you'd find in God's Little Coffee Table Book.  I keep seeing people trudging along the sides of our highways carrying all their worldly possessions in a backpack, or people in third-world countries hauling skins of water while flies land on them, and then I read these and wonder where on the planet she holed up in order to produce delusional personal bliss.

Hay House Radio, live stream:  I dare you.

What I do not understand is why others pay money to read these.  Why is she revered?  Who can look around at the world and then turn and swallow all of this?

There are people in my life right now, people I love and respect, who will gently chastise me for writing this and who will point out that positive thinking can do a person good, help them change from within.  And maybe I'll go along with that, since I already think it's arbitrary and since I'm probably delusion anyway at this point, given all my other facets of mental illness.  Why the hell not?

Here, let me try one:  I am surrounded by a field of positive energy and all my movements are one with the Universe.

Hey, did that sound good?  Can I have some money now?

They say it's wrong to speak ill of the dead, so I'll say something positive about Ms. Hay:  At least she can't write any more of this stuff.

p.s. Some actual real, non-unicorn-riding affirmations can be had in Jenny Lawson's coloring book, You Are Here.  Even I can stomach these.  They're good stuff.

April 10, 2018

piano piece ii

Official-looking thingie
Not only did I repair the pedal ... I tuned my own piano last night.

*smug dance*

See, what happened is, there is this little screwdriver-type thing in the bottom of the toolbox in our kitchen that has been there for eleven years, and I never threw it out because I didn't know what it was for, and it had a curved end and a square socket so it looked vaguely official and important, so there it sat, conversing with pliers and bits of wire and some kind of device that has a flashing red light and measures something.

I was looking at piano tuning kits on eBay yesterday, because I absolutely, compulsively must fuck with things, and saw one of those curved tools among the rubber stoppers and metal tuning forks and was all, "I have one of those!"

A shortage of hubris wasn't an issue.  I brim with it.

I did my weekly grocery shopping.  John was gathering carts out in the parking lot and I told him that he has mad skills because he pushed a mile-long line of carts in-between two cars and had less than an inch of clearance.  He didn't say anything.  Once I got home, I grabbed that weird gadget and went downstairs and opened the piano.  It fit the pegs perfectly.  For all, um, two hundred and thirty strings in there.

Right, then.

I started with the note that made me make Picasso faces when it was struck, because it was supposed to be an A but was sort of a B-flat-flat-flat-flat-flat.  There are three strings and you have to get them all on the right note and make them all agree with each other so they sound like one string.  What I learned is, you have to possess amazing subtlety (not my strong suit), because the slightest little turn has a profound effect on the sound.  I immediately gained great respect for the hand strength and prowess of professional piano tuners.

But I don't need this to be grand-piano concert-grade tuned by a pro who could do it with perfect pitch.  I just need to be able to stop whimpering while trying to play it.  I got it across that threshold.  I can keep at it until it's right, but god-damn-it, it felt good to sit down and try to play.

There have been some extra little moves added to the smug dance and it probably looks really stupid now, but I danced it anyway.  I danced like no one was watching, but only because they weren't.  Fuck that affirmation shit.

April 9, 2018

southern lies

My weekend was a fiendish hell and looked like a seismographic read-out during a minor but detectable earthquake.

This morning, I came to work.  "Hey, how was your weekend?" I was asked by several co-workers.

"It was good, can't complain.  Too short.  How 'bout you?" I replied.

It's rote.  Nobody wants the actual answer.  They want to hear this instead.  It's like honey bees waving their right antennae, greeting each other through instinctive behavior.  We're Southern.  It's what you do.

There is truth, and there are lies, and there are Southernisms.  They're more of an omission of the truth, cleaner than white lies.  It's socially unacceptable not to stay within their confines.

"How's your son doing?"

Acceptable answers:

"He's doing well, thank you!  Growing like a weed, you know how it is.  Eats everything we've got in the refrigerator."

"He's doing good.  Hard to believe he's already in high school.  The time really flies, doesn't it?"

"He's good, he's good ... I never realized I'd be spending most of my time driving him around!"

Unacceptable answers:

"He's all right ... has some anxiety issues now and high school has hit him square between the eyes, but it's going to get easier."

"So-so.  God, puberty is hard!  He can't keep the body odor under control.  I don't mean deodorant; I just mean that sometimes, he kind of smells like ammonia, you know what I mean?  Like, his sweat, or something.  His dad says it's like bologna left out on the counter for three days.  I hope he gets through this stage soon."

"Oh, lord, honey, you just don't even want to know.  I keep having to buy him lotion and Kleenex and he stays in his room all the time now."

See?  The first three aren't untrue, but they aren't the truth.  They comport with a few universals that keep it light and on the surface.  The last three would land you soaked and wet in the town square water fountain of Awkward City.

Spouses are always fine and you don't discuss their chronic health problems, job search, or the argument you had last night.  But if a parent is ill or died, it's perfectly okay, and expected, to say that, and to share every detail.  It's probably been that way for two hundred years.

“Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between."  -Harper Lee

The Southern modes of speech are perhaps the biggest lie.  You really can't take the South out of the girl.  Somewhere along the way, even though I was reared here in North Carolina, I lost my accent and came out sounding network-neutral, when I'm being myself and around my family and friends.  I don't really think like most of the people around me.  But if I'm talking to someone with a Southern accent, mine kicks in, usually involuntarily, and I lay it on thick.  It's my native language.  Someone hearing just my end of a phone conversation with a Southerner (like my daddy) stops and stares and usually gives me hell afterward and makes fun of how easily I just turned single-syllable words into three-syllable ones.  It just ... happens.  "I belong to y'all," my temporary accent says.

That's a walloping Southern lie.  But there's truth in it.

April 7, 2018

meet lille

Lille, age seven and a half,
because the half counts.
Someone found an old clipping from when Lille read a zillion books at school and got her picture in the newspaper, along with a group of other book-zillionaires.

My best friend was beside me, but says she was too obsessed with buttoning the top button of her dressy blouse to help me with my collar that day.

Lille thought she was ugly back then.  Her sister told her so.  Now I think she was adorably imperfect, the kind of kid I would dig today.  I don't say that lightly.  I don't really "do" kids in general.

She doesn't look vicious, does she?  I've decided she isn't.  There is something else afoot.  Where's my god-damned magnifying glass?


The sixth time I woke up this morning, I knew there wasn't going to be any real writing today.  My brain is full of cobwebs.  Last night was terrible, one of the truly bad ones, and sleep can usually act as a "reset button" on my brain and stop the spinning thought funnel, lift the reality-blindness, give me at least a fighting chance at doing it differently the next day.

I awoke at five and immediately regretted it, then spent the next four hours refusing to not still be in bed asleep.  The fucking reset button had failed me and I chased after it, cheated.  I dreamed.  I dreamed that my obsession-object was touring a campus today with a college-bound daughter, and I was not her.  That dream contained a glimpse of this incredible garden-stone area, little fountains and Greek statues, places to sit and complete peace, all somehow naturally formed and not landscaped.  I wanted to go there, badly.  I still do.  I dreamed that I was back at my old church and sneaking in on a Saturday morning with my coffee mug and pajamas and increasingly worn Lord of the Rings paperback, to sit in the big preacher's arm chair up front, corresponding with where I sit on my living room sofa during such a weekend morning ritual.  I kept getting caught by members of a band who were practicing in an adjacent hallway and were also serving breakfast.  I was warily handed a plate of bacon and pancakes; then the person hurried out because even though they had been there all morning, I arrived and I belonged more than they did.  I exuded it.  I went back home to get my phone to check for e-mails containing healing words, but there were none, and on my way back to the sanctuary and my cup of coffee, massive webs blocked my way and I couldn't get through them or around them.  I was denied.  I dreamed I was staying in Iowa with friends and someone I've seen photos of but never met was also staying there, and he was a drag queen, but I knew it was a fucked-up dream because no drag queen ever employed a muumuu and Dorothy sparkling red flats and I couldn't find my milkshake because everyone's cup looked the same.  I kept checking my phone in the dream for a text from my obsession-object.  I wrote e-mails in my mind, processing, while looking out over the ocean from my host's apartment balcony.  In Iowa.

When I finally threw back the blankets, pissed off, at 9:15, I knew I was doomed for the day.  My head was already spinning with what I should say and anger and forty reasons why the anger is not deserved and little poison arrows aimed at me by my own self, pricking my skin.  I hadn't even brushed my fucking teeth yet.  Coffee was a bitter subject.  I began picking apart and sweeping aside the cobwebs of dreams and thought, trying to discern what was real, what mattered and what could be released.  No spiders.  Just cobwebs.

It's 9:55 and today is going to be one of the hard ones.  My son wants to go clothes shopping and watch a movie with me tonight.  His presence will be what keeps me from self-injuring; he'll pull me out of my own head a bit.  But this morning, my protein granola tastes like ash and my bloodstream is full of poison and my worldview would wither a slug if I stared at it.  The arrows are relentless.  I need laughter.  There is none.

There will be no real writing today.  This isn't even a blog post.

Update:  Except that laughter comes when you're out shopping with your kid and he points to a purple t-shirt and wants it and you tell him that he's fucking queer, because he is and that's how the two of you joke around, and at that moment he, being a teenager and thus hypersensitive to others' opinions, turns around and out of the corner of his eye sees a rack of shirts right behind him with a sign about head-height and thinks it's a person and that person heard all of that and the kid nearly jumps out of his skin.