December 30, 2018

in your dreams

My official position is that I am against taking naps, but sometimes naps happen, and when they do, I always wake up feeling guilty, worthless, down.  (Other people can take them and I wish them well.  I just can't.)  It doesn't take Freudian theory to work out that the force behind this is a nasty comment my sister made that intentionally woke me from a deep nap when I was barely a teenager.  The way the comment made me feel combined with being startled awake lodged like Excalibur in the stone.  I still can't shake it, almost three decades later.

I need to try harder not to take naps.  They can throw off my sleep schedule, which I'm supposed to be keeping rigorously regular.

I've also noticed that the most convoluted and fucked-up dreams I end up remembering happen while I'm napping.

I just woke from a nap that produced two dreams capable of making me question what passes these days for my sanity.

The first dream was mild sauce on the Weirdness Scale.  Kate Campbell was my therapist and we kept trying to have a session, except that she kept doing paperwork and getting up and going over to a desk a giving it her attention instead of me.  When she finally sat across from me, she discussed the amount of the check I needed to write, and then asked me what it is that I needed to say (there was something I desperately wanted to blurt out, but now I can't remember what it was, only that I was ashamed of it) ... at which point, my sister, unable to be present bodily to interrupt my nap, passed through the room and left the doors open so everyone could hear what I was about to say, so I couldn't say it.  Then Kate had to leave.  My sister continues to be a rusty, squeaky-handled cunt-bucket.

FreudIt is clear dat der underlying vish is to have more time to talk to dis Kate ven she is having concerts.  Der is little time in der intermission und after, she is packing up the wires und the instrument und the black sound-boxes.  You vish to be known by her, deeply.  Und der sister is objectively der cunt.  Das is ein "curve ball", as you say it.  You are calling me for das simple dream?

I said it was mild sauce, didn't I?  Let's hear your take on the second dream.  I was seventeen and was being raised in a sort of collectivist way in the skating rink I frequented as a kid by the kindly janitor, who was older now and had a grey beard and walked with a cane, and also all four of the Golden Girls, who stood over against the back wall like well-meaning mannequins until needed.  Most of the dream was spent trying to figure out where I was supposed to sleep, on the floor or the benches or on the rink itself.  The janitor ended up escorting me tenderly out of the door that had the "no re-entry" sign on it and told me I had grown up and was allowed to leave.  My RAV4 was waiting for me in the parking lot.

FreudVell, it is possible der is a vish to rebel, und clearly in das dream you vish to sleep with der janitor, your father, but he is censored by der cane und der beard, so -- vait, are you not der Sapphic?

Yes.  Yes, I am gay.  Good of you to remember.

FreudYes, yes, all right.  But you did kill das mothers by making them der mannequins.  Unless ....

No, I have absolutely no desire to sleep with Rue McClanahan.  Eww.  Negative, sir.

FreudClearly, however, der growing up und expulsion vas a manifestation of rejection by both of der parents, uncovering der vish to stay in der vomb und --

Dude, I couldn't wait to leave home.  I left high school a year early so I could fly the coop.

FreudLook at der time!  I am just remembering der pressing engagement across town.

*dusts off hands*

Right, that got rid of him.  Which is sad, because I didn't even get a chance to tell him about the dream I had during a nap when I was a freshman in college.  I dreamed I was Bat-Man and lived in the parking lot of my church and carried a cat around by its tail and was suddenly surrounded by a ring of Mountain Dew bottles and touched its leader, a three-liter bottle, on the cap, thereby making peace with the tribe.

Yeah, yeah, a desire to belong and to have power over my circumstances.  Whatever.  The point is, nap-dreams are far and away weirder than the ones remembered from just-before-you-wake-up-in-the-morning, and on top of being psychologically injured by my halfwit sister, nap dreams leave me mentally croggled for the rest of the day.

I'm told naps are supposed to be a good thing.  I wish to experience this.  I'll keep trying.

December 29, 2018

what it's like to be married

Early evening at home .... Me: "Do you need the bathroom right now?" P.J.: "Nope." Me: "Sure?" P.J.: "Yep." Me: "Okay, but also you have to go away." P.J.: "Okay." Me: "Because you know I have that thing about anybody being near the door and maybe hearing stuff." P.J.: "Yes, I know, going away now." Me (now yelling through closed bathroom door): "Seriously, thank you, I'm sorry!" P.J.: "OKAY, NO worries, love." Me: "YOU JUST CAME BACK IN - SERIOUSLY, GO AWAY!" P.J.: "I am! I'm GOING! .... GONE." Me: "You're awesome! I DON'T TELL YOU THAT ENOUGH!" P.J.: "WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME TO LEAVE BUT THEN YOU KEEP TALKING TO ME AND I HAVE TO KEEP COMING BACK IN HERE EVEN THOUGH YOU TELL ME TO GO AWAY AFTER I DO BUT THEN YOU KEEP TALKING!?" Me: (panicky) "NEVER MIND! JUST GO AWAY! SORRY! I'LL SHUT UP!"



P.J.: "WHAT?"


December 28, 2018

wherein the joneses go too far

I've mentioned before the complex I was given as a child by my neighbor-friend, a girl the same age whose parents "spoiled her rotten" (my mother's phrase) and who was perpetually showered with material possessions while I got rhythmic birthday-and-Christmas drops from an annoying leaky faucet.  I grew to believe it was wrong to have things.  What other defense was available?

It's been great fun, having that irrational mechanism in place while being all grown up and parenting The Kid.  It's not turned out so unhealthy as one might have expected; I feel the typical pressure to keep up with The Joneses while also feeling comfortable falling a certain number of feet short of measuring up.  I hold distaste for materialism, but I'm also resigned to knowing The Kid is, in fact, a kid, and is going to experience it at a sort of intense, voracious caveman level.  And I'm capable of getting mildly panicky when we fall too far short.  We've faced his angst when others have more and we refuse to match.  I don't want him to do what I did, have it rubbed in his face so often that he develops a coping mechanism, but neither do I want him to feel he has to have possessions to have worth, to look around him and measure, constantly.

It's damned difficult enough to toe that line, but we have an additional problem.

He's already met The Joneses, in the form of his friend Jason.

I'm sorry, but who in the sulfurous hell gives their child an Easter basket with contents worth about $400 in video games, gift cards, and graphics card upgrades?  The chocolate was probably real, too, and not that Palmer's bunny-coin bullshit.  The Kid got an Easter basket with candy and a stuffed seal that year.  He used to love that.  The year of Jason's Easter Basket of Majesty, however, he was on the cusp of adolescence and was hit with having to cope with a healthy dose of pure jealousy for the first time.  He got through it okay, and healed, and his appetite for games seems to have suffered no injury and is, in fact, commendably robust.

He's struggled since then, playing nearly every day with Jason and hearing about the things his dad got him just for the shallow gratification of it.  There are clear echoes of my childhood neighbor's mother.  If any new tech-related thing comes out, his dad buys it for Jason.  If his dad catches wind that someone else on the planet got something that his son doesn't have, he obtains it immediately, and sometimes one for himself as well.  I've never before seen such an adult-child as that man.  He has served as a perpetual source of disharmony in our house.  After every conversation about wanting this or that so that he can play the same games and keep up, The Kid retreats to his room (politely, to his credit) and I wrestle with The Complex, and P.J. just plain gets pissed off.  And around and around we go.

This week changed everything, though.  The whole Jason paradigm jumped the Christmas Shark and lost its power over all three of us.

The Kid wanted an HTC Vive for Christmas in the worst possible way.  He began his campaign back in the summer for a VR headset, and while we led him to believe that he was going to be disappointed, we did the research and took the plunge and got it for him.  Our shared value system bristled, but we caved in under the weight of wanting to see him happy.  And he was happy.  He couldn't stop smiling, even when he tried.  He made it whole hours before asking for helping mounting the sensors in his room.

Then the reports began coming in concerning Jason.  At first, the list consisted merely of an HTC Vive of his own (he already owns an Oculus Rift but "needed the other one"), another 4K TV for his room, and the latest iteration of the Xbox One with Red Dead Redemption 2, which makes three Xbox consoles in his possession.

We chuckled.  Because of course he did.

But wait, there's more.  Then The Kid reported that there was also a Playstation Plus one-year pass, another updated graphics card (a 1090Ti, currently running at about $1,400), and four more video games.

We could tell The Kid had moved beyond jealousy into exasperation and was starting to see the whole affair as bordering on ridiculous.

Another text came in on his phone, and when he read us the message about the Nintendo Switch and the massive Steam gift card from the grandmother, it resulted in a fit of family laughter there in our living room.  Jason's Christmas Presents had turned into a game.  The Kid went back to his room and played with his Vive, and came downstairs later to report that his legs hurt from the activity, in a good way.

He also stated that he feels sorry for Jason.  That was one whopping leap for him.  On some level, he now appreciates that we have some boundaries in place.  He's realizing they're the result of being cared for and guided.

Meanwhile, a betting pool is already forming regarding the kind of car Jason will receive with his driver's license.

Merry Christmas, kiddo.  We wish your appetite for possessions was less than what it is, but like everything else we wish and think and do, it's only because we want you to be happy.  We'll continue to do our best to keep balance.  And we promise you that we will never, never ruin the world for you by laying it at your feet and depriving you of the chance to pursue it yourself.

December 27, 2018

love feast ii

The thing about real friends is that they're real.  They are flesh and blood and heart and mind and word and deed.

And that's why we went to another Moravian love feast this year.

The church is tiny, cozy, and rented from the Methodists, an unremarkable brick building on a hill close by the side of a winding mountain highway that touches no town and serves only to connect one place to another.

There were perhaps thirty people in attendance, fewer than expected.  There were illnesses and circumstances of absence.  A basket full of buns was to be left over.  I envied the baker, though one could tire of anything eventually, even a Moravian bun, with its hints of sweet orange and butter.

We sang all of the Christmas hymns.

We listened to a little girl recite the second chapter of Luke.

We listened to our friend, our real friend, the pastor of this humble yet fiercely cohesive congregation, give a homily about needing to give off brighter light in our growing darkness, give a blessing of peace based on that light and love.  We left the building with a sense of peace in our hearts, imparted by flesh and blood, heart and mind, word and deed, imparted by a real friend and real people around us.

The thing about real peace is that it is real.  It need not come from anything imaginary.

December 22, 2018

the thing about imaginary friends

... is that they're imaginary.  And boy, do I know about imaginary friends.  You should hear my illustrated litany of preoccupations with people I want to or do have as friends, role models, anyone who cares.  They unknowingly enjoy rich and busy lives in my imagination, extending fervent friendship and knowing me altogether.

I didn't tell you about that, though, when I replied to your e-mail.  I was kind enough not to say it.

I really was pleased that you suggested we exchange e-mail addresses during the Messiah dress rehearsal.  I like you.  You're easy to talk to and a fellow math nerd, and fully in spite of the Bible verses I noticed tucked into your music folder and your teenage daughters' religion-based home-schooled demeanor in the chairs beside you, I like you, and I'm glad you like me back, even knowing that I'm gay.  That means something.

And knowing that, I was cautiously optimistic in telling you in an e-mail of my tolerant atheism, my reasons for singing each year alongside Christians, how much common ground can be found between us.  It was a risk, intimating that, but those who truly know me would expect nothing less than honest over-disclosure.  It is something that I always, always do.

Your response was both gracious and comprehensive.  Thank you for iterating several times that no subject is off the table, and that you are not afraid of me and hope that I am not afraid of you.

You wondered why I was a little afraid of telling you I am not a believer like you.  You couldn't imagine why I would hesitate.

Then you went on to explain that hearing it made you cry, because I do not believe in your best friend.

You quoted great walls of scripture to me, capitalizing, on average, every third word.  You told me the story of your faith from girlhood, and about how it helped you then, and helps you now as you rear your six children.  You have even lost a child, like me. 

I smiled sadly as I read.  I do not believe in your Best Friend Jesus because he is imaginary.  I do not judge you for having an imaginary friend, nor for contributing mental and emotional energy to the friendship for several decades.  I am more than capable of doing the same.  The construct seems to have given you strength and a worldview by which to live.

I would never in a million years wish that you did not have it.

So why did you say you are now praying for me, that the beautiful words we sing together each Christmas in Messiah will reach my heart and I will see The Light?

I saw your daughter in her uniform at the grocery store this evening.  We smile at each other and say hello every week now, and exchange some chit-chat, having sung together twice.  She's become a lovely young woman and moves with pep and intent.  She's a hard worker and seems to be doing well in her job there. 

Tonight, I saw her and smiled and waved, and she managed a weak smile in return and then looked away.

Did you tell her I am an atheist?  Are you praying together as a family that I will come to love your imaginary friend?

Did you hear the hesitation in her voice last week, when she was my cashier and I asked her where you teach, and she explained that you used to teach math in high school, but now home-school them?  She was a touch embarrassed.  She probably gets a negative reaction when someone finds out.  There's prejudice out there.  People think she's not socialized.  People think she's sheltered.  People figure she's being formed into a cookie-cutter religious freak by zealot parents.  They're pretty unfair, those assumptions and misconceptions, aren't they?  Her voice caught, just a little.  She was afraid to tell me.

You wondered why I was a little afraid of telling you I am not a believer like you.  You couldn't imagine why I would hesitate.

There are prejudices against atheists, too.  Your daughter turned away.  I think perhaps she believes them.  The weekly smiles have now been poisoned.

I don't feel kind about this any more.

I could tell you that I, in turn, am praying for you, that you might see the light and realize that your friend is imaginary, that you would lose your faith.  I could try to persuade you, through sharing my own journey, that you are mistaken to be a Christian.  But I would not do that, because aside from the attendant problems in an atheist praying for you, it would be incredibly rude.

How dare you?  How dare you engage your family in asking your imaginary friend to make me be just like you?  You said you would not reject me because that "would not please the Savior."  Please, tell me the difference between rejecting me on my face and appealing to what you believe is a higher power to change me in the way you think best.

For the first time, I understand other atheists' intolerance of religious evangelicals.  And because I understand it, I will not become a reciprocal evangelical myself. 

I will rise above that.

I will continue to smile sadly and write you back with softened words, and encourage you to keep your imaginary friend.  I will choose to enjoy talking with you, but I will also be watchful and guard my heart, because behind some of your words, there will be something ugly, something your imaginary friend would not condone.  And you will never perceive it's there.

December 21, 2018

things that come in threes

Dear M.J. of Wayward Sparkles,

I have a serious problem here.  You tagged me and I promise to answer the three questions, somehow, but I don't know three people to tag who haven't already been tagged along the way, so I'm going to end up being That Person who's the gnarled branch on the tree that doesn't grow any other branches and makes the tree off-balance and misshapen so that artists look at it and keep right on walking with their easels and tote bags full of paints, looking for something better to paint.

That's what you get.

Also, I've lost sleep over this because I don't know the answers.  Could you maybe give me math problems instead?  Or Harry Potter trivia questions, or Lord of the Rings trivia.  I have a fighting chance with those.

*deep breath*

All right, Ass-Crack Sparkles *evil grin*, here goes ....

1.  If you could go back to a moment in time to re-experience it just as it was, fix something or change something, when and what would that be? It can be a time during your life or a time before you were born. It can be something personal or something like preventing Lincoln’s assassination.

This is that thing where my Fantasy Deficiency Disorder gets in the way, because I would say something like preventing Constantine from converting to Christianity, but then my brain is all, Yeah, but how do you know things wouldn't turn out even worse? and You couldn't have any influence anyway at that point in history because you'd have been a woman and thus merely decorative.  But if we're thinking Touched By An Angel-style stuff, then I'll suspend disbelief for a bit.

Yeah, Constantine would be an option, but I'm going to toss that one because we'd just find some other equally stupid religious reasons to want to blow ourselves off the planet.  I fully trust human nature in this regard.  Other contenders for prevention would be credit deregulation in the U.S., the Trail of Tears, the Irish potato blight, and the invention of pimiento cheese.  Donald Trump is a problem that we're going to have to get out of ourselves.

In my own life, I would re-experience two moments:  The day I met my wife, that spell-cast morning; and the vignette I have of my son sleeping on my shoulder, just shy of two years old, while I sat in a rocking chair, holding him and letting him sleep.  I would relive the smell of the nursery, the combination of baby powder and allergen-free detergent and my son's hair and even the hint of Diaper Genie.  I would relive the sense that I could shield him from everything bad and wrong in the whole wide world just by keeping him wrapped in my arms.

And if I was to fix or change something, my first son would have had his surgery weeks before he did, and would have lived.  This, too, is fraught, because who is to say that my second son would have then been born?  This is where not being in control of the Universe comes in handy; mind games like this can be abandoned because these aren't decisions one has to make.

Stare at the Milky Way one night soon and say "thank you" out loud for that.

2.  In a fire, what possession would you grab on your way out and why?

(This is assuming my family is out safely, including the dogs.)

I weed through the inventory ....

Not ashes, because they would return to ashes.

Not the baby book, with its saccharine references to angels ushering him away.

Not P.J.'s precious Widmanstatten meteorite cut, because it would easily survive the fire and be found again.

Not the lock of Chester's hair and his paw print, because P.J. would grab those.

Clothing can be replaced.  Pictures can be duplicated by family.  Important documents are already in a fire safe.  Most files on the NAS are also in the cloud.  The same goes for cell phones and computers.  Collectibles can be re-collected, even imported French aardvarks and hedgehog pants and Mary Engelbreit cookie jars.  Love letters are bread crumb trails to the living, breathing thing inside us.

As crazy as it sounds, I would grab the first-edition hardback of Good Omens that P.J. gave me for Christmas two years ago.  It's autographed by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and when I touch the place where Pratchett, too, touched the page, I feel connected to someone who is dead and part of the larger World now.  It's similar to the wonder of touching a piece of meteorite, an object that did not come from this planet.  I would grab the book, because he is gone and that, that could not be replaced.

3.  Who is your favorite writer/author and why? What would you recommend others read from this author?

Hell, my last answer didn't set this up at all.

There was a time when I would have said Fannie Flagg, whose writing I love so much that I don't dare write seriously myself, because she exists.

There was a time when I would have said Douglas Adams, because he introduced me to English humor.

I'm even tempted to name Ken White over at Popehat, because he is a brilliant writer and I would have his babies and also his pony-themed posts are capable of making me laugh so hard that milk shoots out of my nose and my diaphragm hurts for a week.  He is also the inventor of the character "Mr. Feculent Q. Pus-Crust of the Society for Cornholing Unsuspecting Children".  Nose-Milk City.

But P.J. gently coaxed me until I picked up Small Gods, which isn't nearly Pratchett's best, and the tortoise flying through the air, changing forms, hooked me into a spree of reading almost everything the man wrote (I'm still working on it).  He was a beloved, delightful human being whose atheism and wit allowed him to deliver scathing social satire wrapped in accessible characters, places, and circumstances.

Then he up and died.

Fuck early-onset Alzheimer's right in the eye socket.

I finished falling in love with him anyway - or, at least, with his work, and with his authorship.  So to trace the outline of his autograph in that book with a very light touch of my finger is as close to a holy ritual as I come.

I'm giving his work to my daddy for Christmas this year.  I bought a first-generation Nook on eBay and loaded it up with Pratchett books, and if he reads nothing else - not the Watch series, nor the Witch books, nor the Industrial Revolution stories - he must read the Death books, beginning with Mort and continuing through at least to Hogfather, which is the single book I long for him to read.  It will resonate.  He will howl with laughter over and over.  This is a man who welded mobile homes during the day and then came home and watched Masterpiece Theater and old British sitcoms on PBS.  He loved Rumpole of the Bailey.  He stayed up late to catch Dr. Who in the Tom Baker days.

It's just a matter of getting him to read at all, and if you wonder where I get my stubborn streak, I'll introduce you to him.

That goes for you, too:  I would recommend Mort, Reaper Man, Soul Music, and Hogfather, after which, if you're thoroughly enjoying yourself, you can add Thief of Time for good measure.  If you don't read these, you'll never know why Duck Man has a duck on his head.*

Okay, M.J., if you have three un-tagged names, shoot them to me and I'll come up with three questions and maybe save a tree-painting artist from getting walking blisters on his ankles.

(*And if you do read these, you still won't know.  Even Death himself had to ask.)


UPDATE:  Names!  That means I have to think now.  Okay, thinkie-face on .... (a lot of time elapses, grocery list gets made, dog naps on feet and then leaves) ... right, then:

1.  What is the first thing (like an essay or creative writing piece, not tracing your alphabet) that you can remember writing?  It can be from childhood, adolescence, early adulthood; what's the earliest thing that comes to mind that you'd consider you-writing?

2.  Do certain dates (births, deaths, anniversaries of all sorts) carry great weight and significance for you, around the calendar, or do you tend to observe them as things come up at any point in time and remind you of those people and events?

3.  What did you do the first day you had your driver's license and unaccompanied access to a car, keys in hand?

Tagging Pip, Suzanne, and Lori!  Can't wait to read your thoughts.  Well, I mean, I can wait, but I don't want to.  Hurry up, damn it.

December 19, 2018

bearing witness

"We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things ... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying, 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.'
-- Susan Sarandon, Shall We Dance?

P.J. bears witness to my intricacies.

I need never tell her that depression has taken me under.  She comes and hugs me and kisses me and then looks on my face, and sees my eyes, and knows.  She sees the half-smile that I struggle to give, the one my muscles fight against.  She bears witness.

She watches me at the dinner table, sees me stare for five minutes at the Mrs. Dash on the lazy Susan in the middle of the table, and says nothing, because she respects what holds me.  She allows me to Be.

She pushes my hair back and strokes my cheek with her thumb, and I force my downcast eyes to look up and meet her gaze, and in it I see love and compassion so intense that I feel a visceral shock and I have to look away.  And this she witnesses.

And she witnesses the days that follow, when I surface and breathe more easily and reach for the salt shaker beside the Mrs. Dash, when I once again consider my food worth receiving savor.  She witnesses the easing and the return.  I push her hair back and stroke her cheek with my thumb, and in my gaze, she sees profound gratitude and the beauty in the eyes of her beholder.

She bears witness.

December 17, 2018

some momentary awareness

Therapist Gumby handed me a printed copy of a Rumi poem before we last parted, and asked me to read it, let some time pass so I could move beyond my predictable gut reaction of thinking it's absolute rubbish, and then consider what it has to say.  I have done all of that, and I'm still considering.  This is apparently one of Rumi's best-known pieces, but it was novel to me:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I can be very specific now, after letting that first impression quiet down, about why I think it is rubbish.  I think about the immense anger I harbor toward my mood swings and have difficulty with the idea of inviting them in, but I can't disagree with it; the idea simply seems out of reach.  I resist letting new books, movies, music in; how much more these things he names?  But it's his conclusion, based in mysticism, that makes me toss it in the rubbish bin.  I simply cannot.

One thing, however, seems to have persevered:  For the first time, I found reason to be grateful for my swing into depression.

I hoped yesterday that it was a result of circumstance ... the completion of reading a trilogy and the let-down that always brings ... a perceived rejection ... clumsy mistakes piled up.  This morning, I knew better when I looked at the box containing the Charlie Brown Christmas tree replica that I had intended to bring to work and thought, "Why bother?"  I left it sitting there, and turned and left for work.

I drove to work with depression.  And when my mind turned to its continued grappling with the questions of why I write, whether I have a core, what is real, what stays, I found the depression gave me clarity of thought.  I can't speak to whether it's worth it, and I'm normally inclined to follow the wisdom of others and distrust anything I think while in the night, but I was grateful for this anyway.  The depression has swept away all protection against seeing myself clearly, leaving frightening, razor-sharp introspection, unfettered honesty.

Why do I write?

I know that in part, I have written to be read, because the loss of that feels just so - like loss.  What does a person do when she writes a book, but shows it to no one?  Why does she attempt to get it published?  Is it always money, or is it to be read, heard, validated?  How does she cope with suddenly being vulnerable to criticism?  That external validation may not be what led me to begin, but it is the cornerstone of why I have continued.  It's the same drive that gave birth to Facebook and keeps it alive.  Tell others or it isn't real; tell others or it didn't happen.  It's likely a conditioned worldview, and I share it.  I wish this was not true, but in the moonlight of depression, I can see it for what it is.  I write to be read.

Why do I write?

It's who I am, not just what I do.  I cannot deny this.  My snippets of thought often come out written in some style.  This is how I would put that, I say without saying it.  I phrase things a certain way when I speak, especially to P.J.  Writing affects me the same way music does.  When I listen to music, my vocal cords contract and lift and form sounds and notes almost involuntarily, and I have to become aware that I'm doing that in order to stop and listen instead.  Likewise, when the world comes to me, I put it into writing in my head.  I seldom realize that I'm doing it.

My Grandma was right.  You can't help writing.  It's who you are.

Why do I write?

If I stopped writing, I would lose part of my identity.  Right now, I don't even know what "my identity" means, but I know I would lose part of it anyway.  A consistent behavior can feel like a core in the midst of existential negation, when nothing else can be detected.  I am looking for a constant Me, and I cannot find her, but there is constant writing.  It's a flimsy twig on the cliff's side that I can clutch with white knuckles.

Why should I write at all?

If no one read what I wrote here, ever again, the blog would become a private notebook.  Something fundamental would be missing if it came down to my writing out loud to a wall instead of a window.  Something rudimentary would remain, the part that needs the unbroken and dependable aspect, the part that cannot help but write, the part that would form and mouth the unheard words because it must.

December 16, 2018


It seems it's time to grapple again with the question of why I write in this blog.

I suspect that what happened to me over the past few weeks has happened, or will happen, to anyone out there writing, and that the effects have varied.  Some blogs you see with the last posts from 2012.  Some writers have shrugged it off and kept going and their encounter with it went unnoticed by the rest of us.

I'm losing readers.

I don't even check statistics any more, so I don't mean stagnant growth or dwindling numbers "out there".  I mean my base.

I learned last week that my therapist has stopped checking in on a daily basis, the way he once did.  This is because I haven't been writing on a daily basis.  It's perfectly sensible.  But hearing it took some of the wind out of my sails.

The week before, I realized in a conversation with a friend who once read daily that he hadn't checked in for what must be several months now.  He lost interest.  I know he won't be returning.

The brief flurry of readers who came and went because of a blogging group I found was just that.

Sometimes, I even have to remind P.J. to read, though I know she always checks.

As I sit in my boat, still on the water, the wind insufficient to move me back into the currents and waves of ideas and enthusiasm and long hours at my laptop, I have nothing but time to ask questions.  Was I writing to be read?  Has the pace slackened because the bones have been written?  Is this a normal phase, one everyone hits?  A crossroads of sorts?  And the darker ones ... have I become boring, trite, uninteresting?

I revisited my statistics page and studied it, and was struck by how readership is consistently higher when I'm funny instead of serious.  For that matter, the same is true of my Facebook posts.

That makes me feel that to be heard, I have to be the clown, not the deep waters.

To be heard.  My boat is not moving.  I know by watching the clouds and the stars.  There is nothing to hear.  I have not been writing.  Now the wind has gone.

Now I must discover for myself whether I'm seaworthy.  Now I have to learn why I write.

December 12, 2018

to make french onion soup

On Sunday, which was the twelfth anniversary of our meeting, P.J. made French onion soup for supper.

The prep work was meticulous, the slicing of many onions and the measuring of sherry and white wine and beef stock.

On a chilly, windy Sunday twelve Decembers ago, we moved heaven and earth to meet at Atlanta Bread Company, long since out of business, during early breakfast hours.  There was babysitting to arrange, a work schedule to bend, sleepless nights for both and long drives to the restaurant.  We lived almost three hours apart.

There we talked for hours, first in armchairs by the fire, then in a booth.  We exchanged our favorite Far Side cartoons, anecdotes, personal histories, opinions, books, quotes.  We felt the affinity between us, drawn, pulled, matched.  We found a richness in each other that we had each longed to hold, appetites for true fulfillment suddenly insatiable by anything less than the other.  A kick in the chest.  A gasp.  An awakening.

A stick of butter melted in the Dutch oven, and the onions were tossed and coated and began the process of cooking, white to translucent, translucent to light brown, light brown to dark with caramel.  It required stirring, constant stirring, a dedication to the process, an unwillingness to settle until the rich dark was brought out.  It required detail, a bay leaf, salt.

There is a joke widely known:  Q: What does a lesbian bring on the second date?  A: A U-Haul.  Our origin was not so precipitous.  There was a marital separation involved, and there were houses to sell, and a nigh-unbearable year of long-distance dating faced us.  We took turns making the long I-want-to-see-her-so-badly drive, and each Sunday afternoon, when it was time to part, a car driving away felt like hearts rending.  In this way, we withstood the test of time and commitment.  It turned our love into a full and precious thing, worth the stirring, worth the crazy patience.

After it had simmered all afternoon and early evening, I spooned my first bite of soup from the ceramic bowl and closed my eyes, tasting the layers and flavors, the highest and best manifestation of a simple beginning seasoned with time.  My eyes remained closed.  I savored it.

Her kiss is just like that.

December 9, 2018

what became of whimsy

Last night, I began a re-read of His Dark Materials, and in the first pages of The Golden Compass, it happened again ... I was reading with an eye for craft as much as content, admiring the odd turn of phrase, trying to get a grasp on the slippery ways in which an author achieves flow and paints characters.

Today is the first anniversary of Sparven.  It began on December 9 because its origin included one frustrating evening and morning attempting to contend with WordPress, then choosing to roll the dice in the face of admonitions that technically, through using Blogger, Google owns my content.  Many of the people who work for my organization think the networking department remotes into their machines by stealth and monitors their surfing activity.  There are five of us.  Even if respect for privacy wasn't ingrained in our unspoken ethical code, who has the time?  Google is bigger, but busy.  I doubt they'd register my blog as a blip on the radar unless some lawyers found a reason to start some shit.  The lawyers are busy, too.  I chose Blogger.

I've been looking back through my posts, the volume of which is stupefying when considering that this was supposed to be a flash in that gleaming pan of Good Intention, born of a whimsical notion.  I'm looking for progress in my writing, progress in my therapy, progress in areas in my life and psyche in which writing has served as a catalyst and a nudge.  It's the New Year for me, for once not the least bit arbitrary.  I'm looking for who I am, one year later.

I have acknowledged my seed-sowers:  Leslie Perry, a high school English teacher; Dr. Sylvia Little, a college English professor; my grandmother and her scratched-out notepads and Bic pens on the vinyl dining table cover; Kate Campbell and Dar Williams, two of the most influential songwriters woven through two decades of life (and counting); those who have come to read and comment and cheer the writing on, some older, dearer friends and some newer, blossoms waiting to bloom; and my wife, whose gentle, relentless hand has rested on my shoulder as she watched me take my time and come to this on my own, for she knew she could never push me toward using a talent that she alone perceived.

I still want to find Ms. Perry and thank her.  I believe I've kept my promise to Dr. Little.  I've already thanked Kate for her example.  And when I can't write, when the darkness takes me, those who read and know my name now do not go away.  They patiently wait.  They are a boat's anchor, dropped and still in the waters that always recede.  They help bring me back.  I thank them by writing again.

I wrote earlier of my longing to see progress after a year of therapy and processing those internal workings through writing.  I intentionally dissociated the child part of me into Lille, and have since reintegrated her, and speak of her less and less.  I have wrestled with my perception of my Teacher, and in doing so, have moved it down the line toward an adult perspective.  That hasn't stopped the pattern of preoccupations, but I rarely, if ever, think of her and the town tantalizingly close by where she retired.  Together with Therapist Gumby, we've taken on learning to navigate the bi-polar disorder and self-injury episodes, treading water during suicidal ideation, spelunking for a core that is me and not the chemical slosh of my medications.  If he had asked me to journal during this past year, I would have refused, or agreed to it and then exactly failed to do it at all.  But he hasn't had to ask.  He reads this blog every day.  After all, it's my journal.

I've processed relationships in what has often been a clumsy fashion, primarily what lies between my mother and me, all that is not, all that unfortunately is, and how I move forward.  I've delved into the significance of the abuse I suffered at my sister's hand, the infuriation and enjoyment found in what constitutes a far more normal relationship with my daddy, and the undeserved celebration of the precious jewels spilled into my hands, my wife and my son.  We laugh and strive and enjoy the hell out of profanity.  We challenge each other, form each other.  As he grows up, so do I, and P.J. is my oxygen.

And in between, I've had the luxury of writing the humor that has come my way, simple stories and commentary on having dogs, loving music, being an atheist, being an acceptable human, and having a stomach the size of an egg.  I can make others laugh, and there are few joys that compare.

If I abandon false modesty, I can say that I think I've developed a writing voice.  I omit articles where they belong and place them where they do not.  I have to be careful because in the same way that I inadvertently begin to mimic someone when speaking with them by phone, picking up their accent, I find myself slipping into the style of other writers whose material I read for more than five minutes at a time.  This is a critical point.  I wonder how much Philip Pullman's voice will creep in over the next two weeks.

My pace has slowed to one that is sustainable.  This is to be expected.  And I am willing to write a book, but I cannot.  Many of my scars and defense mechanisms are the very things that prevent me from conceiving fiction and fleshing it out.

But I am forced to say this, albeit grudgingly:  I do not know what my second year of writing will bring.

December 7, 2018

it's different when you ask for it

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

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

Sound ridiculous?  It isn't.

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

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

Car batteries are heavier than you think, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 3, 2018

imma fuck up a photographer

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

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

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

And the pictures.

Including the one of me.

That was big.


Of me.






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 1, 2018

the devil shits pimiento cheese

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

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

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

This is clearly the work of the devil.

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

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

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

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

The devil, I'm telling you.