April 27, 2019

what to do with an extra elbow

This hasn't been the sort of week for writing.  Nothing noteworthy has happened, except for my having a birthday and a potential major breakthrough in therapy and some good writing discussions, but those are trifles.

Instead, my attention has been commandeered by a series of (mostly) minor physical ailments, small bits of resignation, and a newfound addiction to online jigsaw puzzles.

I can stop any time I want.  And might do, too, if I can't find the last piece of this stupid bridge, where the light only hits part of it and there's that little brown bit that's darker than the other ones.

The ailments are vexing as well.  I took the first bite of dinner a few nights ago and was suddenly stabbed straight through the intestines by an invisible katana, then spent a good number of hours writhing and rocking back and forth and making whimpering noises and saying "please stop" in a tiny voice.  I called in sick at three in the morning, as I was savoring a piece of dry toast and deciding that I don't spend nearly enough time being actively grateful, every single day of my life, that I'm not having some random and excruciatingly painful intestinal event.

I still don't know what that was about.

I also need to start walking again.  I've been more or less consistently wearing the dictatorial plastic bracelet of accountability lately.  In the midst of all of the mental noise, the alarm about weight gain, the noticing that I dump more, the quiet despair creeping up, it got through silver-bell-clear when I noticed that walking between the bathroom and my bed and lying down found me slightly out of breath again, the way it used to do.  It's a level of being out of shape that I never thought would hunt me down and find me again, but it's here, and my feelings about it are not tied up in the emotional dried spaghetti wad of the rest of my choices and failings.  I do not want this.  Fatigue and inertia and low energy are in my present.  There is walking in my future.  

Today, I seem to be experiencing an allergic reaction to oak pollen, which is impossible because I'm one of the twelve people in North Carolina who does not suffer from allergies in the spring.  If I'm sneezing, there are mice around.  I had to sit through Endgame with a head full of snot, but that worked out because everyone in there had Kleenex and it was normal to sniff continuously.  To make things worse, I sneezed and it blew out my left jaw joint, so now it's throbbing and I can't bite down on that side and can't eat much of anything, and this leaves me with allergies and a simultaneous terror of sneezing again.

Also, there's a sore spot on my right elbow, right at the tip, and I don't remember hitting it on anything and there isn't a visible bruise, so it's probably sprouting bone and I'm going to grow an extra elbow soon. 

I just asked P.J., "What would you do with an extra elbow?"

She replied, rather reasonably, "The fuck?"

"Like if you just sprouted an extra elbow off one of yours, on the same arm," I persevered.

She looked at her arm.  "Well, I guess it would depend on which direction it pointed.  Doesn't seem like it would do much good if it didn't go the other way."

"What if it had a hand on the end?" I asked.

"Well, that would make things a lot more interesting, wouldn't it?  Then I could say 'on the third hand, she wore a glove' and it would have meaning," she said.

"Okay, that's nice.  That's all I need."  I was already typing this.

P.J. just stared at me.  I think she had questions.

I'm not sure our marriage is all it could be, honestly, because that wasn't a very good answer to the question and I still have no idea what to do with this imminent extra right elbow, whether it's going to have a hand or whether I'm going to have to get one made for it, and whether it will portend a career change.  Will I have to learn to write with the new hand if I'm technically still right-handed?  

In anticipation of this development, I need to state firmly for the record that the circus can't have me, because clowns.

April 21, 2019

letter to sarah

Glitter is carcinogenic.
Dear Sarah,

How hokey is this?  I thought you'd appreciate it.

I guess I feel that I need to apologize specifically to you because of all the writing insights, encouragement, and opportunities to get more creative with profanity that you've sent my way these past months.  Well, maybe not apologize, but somewhere between apologize and explain.

See, what happened is, a co-worker I know only well enough to have friended on Facebook, because we had seventeen mutual friends and it kept suggesting her in the upper right corner of the screen and I had to make it go away, commented on one of my posts there with a simple, "You should write books."

This is the seventh or eighth time I've been told this, but this one stood out because, apart from "my computer is borked," the co-worker has said exactly one thing to me and it was that.  "You should write books."

I related the Facebook comment to P.J., who smiled quietly to herself and said nothing.

"But I'm starting to wonder if I can write books.  The fiction just isn't coming," I continued.

P.J. said, "Did she say, 'You should write fiction books'?"


"Well, all right, then."

And in that moment, I decided that I'm not required to work on this project, and that I can write a different way, and a weight that I hadn't realized was there lifted off of me and floated away.

It's somewhere up there in the stratosphere now.  I imagine the jet stream is playing merry hell with it.

It feels like taking off some really awful shapewear that I bought a size too small.  I can breathe now.  My voice was being squeezed into something altogether more shapely and conforming than it is in reality.  My voice has curves and fat rolls and wears an elastic waistband.

I am going to write Something, but not this current Thing.  Not right now.  Not first, not this year and maybe not this decade.

The Thing wasn't in vain, either.  I got two vignettes and a pretty good short story out of it all.  I'm going to finish Neil Gaiman's Masterclass without prejudice or an eye toward making something work that ... well, isn't working.  I'm going to make room for Something Else.

Your advice still rings true, because you told me about your own writing process, so I know what I started will wait for me.  But for now, I'm going to breathe.

Thank you for being a sage sounding board and don't go away because I will need that and you're amazingly awesome and so is your writing (I don't always comment) and so are your sketches.  And your cats.  They're awesome, too.  Even if one of them is a dog trapped in a cat's body.  I don't judge.

[I just agonized for five whole minutes over what to put as a closing word or phrase, because "Love, Lille" is presumptuous and "Hugs, Lille" is trite and "Your friend, Lille" is unflavored-oatmeal bland ... "Stay awesome, Lille" sounds like signing a yearbook ... so I'll go with something like "Peace and death to purple gel pens, Lille" ... that's assuming you don't like purple gel pens, and if you do, I apologize for that statement, too, but I've always felt they force a person's hand to go put little hearts for dots over all the instances of the letter 'i' ... yeah, maybe that one doesn't work either ... see? this is why I don't write letters ... fuck it, come up with your own closing, because the Internet is weird and gives us things and I'm glad it gave me a writing buddy,]


p.s. It has come to my attention that a good number of readers have strong positive feelings regarding purple gel pens and have taken umbrage at my assertion that they would ever, in any circumstance, put hearts over any characters in handwritten material.  I'm not going to retract my statement because I've seen things, but I will admit that it's possible - maybe - that I've just had a string of uncountered bad experiences regarding the existence and use of purple gel pens.  Perhaps many do not realize the danger they are in; perhaps they are strong in character and have subconsciously resisted lo these many years.  Beware, my friends.  Beware the purple gel pen.

April 20, 2019

how to fry catfish

P.J.:  "That's a different kettle of fish."

(long pause)

Me:  "How can you have a different kettle of fish?  Different from what?"

P.J.:  "Hmm.  I guess you'd have to have at least two kettles of fish."

Me:  "Who has two kettles of fish?  Why would anyone have even one kettle of fish?  What kind of fish would even fit in a kettle?"

P.J.:  "Catfish."

Me:  "You can't fit catfish in a kettle.  They're big."

P.J.:  "Yes, you can."

Me:  "No, you can't."

P.J.:  "Yes, you can."

Me:  "No, you can't!  Okay, you could chop one up, but why would you do that?"

P.J.:  "To fry it."

Me:  "You can't fry things in a kettle."

P.J.:  "Wait, what kind of kettle are you thinking of?  Like, a kettle you boil water in?"

Me:  "Yeah?  That's what a kettle is.  It's sure as hell not for frying anything.  Weirdo."

P.J.:  "There are frying kettles.  Big ones.  Like for kettle-cooked chips.  Great, big kettles.  Like in this picture."

(shows picture)

(long pause)

Me:  "Oh.  .......... Shut up.  And my kettle would be different."

April 15, 2019

massage therapy

When The Kid was seven or eight, we got a Wii for the family, complete with a Wii Fit board and the sports games to use with it.  He used the Wii for Mario Everything and I used it for learning three yoga poses and finishing four whole minutes of kickboxing, after which I was told by a sadistic animated cash register on wheels that I was obese.  From this, I learned that cash registers do not give a shit about your self-esteem.

I also tried the meditation game a few times.  This involved sitting on the Wii Fit board in a yoga pose and staring at the flame of a single candle on the screen before me, while trying to be completely still for three full minutes.  If I had more than two slight movements or twitches during the three minutes, a stern-looking hachidan Mii would suddenly pop up and yell at me angrily in a language I couldn't understand, and the candle would be snuffed.  This did wonders for my startle reflex.

I didn't exactly bond with the game, but that candle flame came back to me today as I lay face-down on the massage table, trying to get comfortable before the therapist came in to start the session. 

I go for a massage once a year - sometimes skipping a year - for my birthday.  It's almost unbearably decadent.  Normally, my mind goes all muzzy and trance-like pretty quickly, and I'm able to fully relax.

Today was new:  I had to relax my body and make my jerky, whizzy hypomanic brain shut the fuck up for an hour.  (Spoiler alert:  I totally failed at this.)

The therapist focused on my croggled right shoulder and spent the rest of the time on Swedish massage.  This is a transcript of my brain during the part of the massage.

Picture that candle flame.  Remember that time you tried to learn to meditate from that woman at church?  She said you could shut out thoughts and try to empty your mind, and you would catch yourself thinking, and you could just tell yourself, "Thinking," and then push it away and go empty again.  I have to stare at the candle flame and not think about anything else.

Am I relaxed?  Yes.  Good.

Candle flame.  

I remember that Wii.  Why did it stop working?  Did I ever clean it with that disc cleaning stuff in the basket?

Thinking.  Candle flame.

Is she supposed to grind muscles against somebody's shoulder blade like that?  Stop, she knows what she's doing.

Thinking.  Candle flame.  Breathing.

My nose is stuffy.  How do people keep from drooling and dripping snot when they're in this thing?  Did I ever do that before?  What if I did and I didn't realize it?  I'll bet they have people who clean the carpets and always have to pay attention to "the drool spot" under where people put their face in this padded thing.

Thinking.  Cand--

Oh, that is so funny!  Last night we were laughing at Molly because she had her head draped over my leg and then she added her paw, but she fell asleep and the paw started to slip off my leg.  Then she put it back but dug her claws in to keep it from slipping.  I just did the exact same thing because my arm was sliding off the bed and I put it back and hooked my thumb on the sheet without realizing I was do--

Thinking.  Candle.

Is she going over an hour?  It's supposed to be an hour.  Should I offer to pay more if she does?  What if she just wants to make extra sure I get good work on my shoulder but it's going to take a lot of time to do the rest of it?  There's no way she's going to make it.

Candle, god damn it.  Candle.

She's pushing on my shoulders in an alternating pattern and she's doing it to the music and doesn't even realize it.  See?  It's perfectly in time.  Left, right, l-- Wait.  No.  Now she's deviating.  That is just like fucking windshield wipers not matching the radio!  Gahhhh!

Thinking.  Yeah, I'm thinking.  I can't shut up.  Candle.  Candlecandlecandle.

It has definitely been at least an hour and fifteen minutes now.  She hasn't even gotten to my feet.  She'll have to let some stuff go.  I won't complain.  I'm one of those people who doesn't complain.

Did I bring the tip money?  Phweww.  I put it in my keys.  It's over there.


I hope she doesn't spray lavender everywhere like they did when I tried that yoga class.  I put on the sheet that I'm allergic to lavender.  What if she didn't look at the sheet?

Am I anxious?  Is that why I thought that?  Thinking.  Why can't I shut up?  Where is that candle?

She finished and left so I could get dressed.  I opened my eyes.

11:55?  Oh.  I was worried for nothing.  

I stretched and everything was fine, until I looked in the mirror and saw my hair, massed in a hopeless configuration.  Then I realized that I was about to be put through that awkward part where they ask if you liked it and you say yes and then they try to talk you into signing up for regular massages and you have to say no but do it politely and then extract yourself and leave.

I'm home now, so I did escape, and my shoulder hurts, but only because I asked her to beat the shit out of it on a therapeutic level.  I'm also supposed to be "flushing my body with water to rid it of toxins that were released".  You know what?  Coffee's a liquid, too.

April 14, 2019

the really bad thing

Once, I did a Really Bad Thing.

I can't say out loud what it was.  It was that bad.  Some might disagree, but I think it was worse than attempting suicide, and it was worse than some things I haven't done, like setting fire to someone's shed and watching the ember sparks spread the flames to their house, or fleeing the scene of a wreck, or driving my family into bankruptcy and destitution.  Ruining lives that are not my own.

There are things I cannot even contemplate someone doing, like intentionally running over a dog.  It wasn't as bad as that.  But it was a Really Bad Thing.

When I think about the Really Bad Thing, which isn't often, a door bangs shut in my mind.  The Really Bad Thing lives in a closet of trauma behind the door.  When I open the door to look, I find a skeleton and dead flies at the bottom.  I am not afraid of skeletons, but I slam the door and run anyway, because I remember when it was alive and had flesh.

The Really Bad Thing was not the kind of bad thing one does as a child.  Children pit primitive human nature against the fear of punishment.  The equation is simple and the bad things are simple.  I stole chewing gum inside a store when I was four and tried to hide from Grandma under a clothes rack while I chewed, because I knew on some level that I was doing something wrong.  I climbed a tree with a neighbor friend and the stolen soft porn magazine from her brother's room, and we spent the afternoon looking at forbidden things, just because they were forbidden.  Later, there were the nights when I would sneak out and put shaving cream in ceramic bears' mouths.

This time, I was not a child.  The Really Bad Thing was chosen in the fullness of adulthood, knowingly, guiltily, and intentionally, by me.  I hurt people I love on purpose.  I put them in danger of disaster.

Afterward, excuses were made for why I did the Really Bad Thing.  I did not make them.  The people that made them brought armfuls of excuses and wheelbarrows full of Good Things to fill the other side of the scales, to make it heavier than the Really Bad Thing and tip the scales in my favor.  I have been urged to forgive myself, as I have been forgiven.  I have agreed to do this, but only because it will help the people I hurt, and I know that it will take the rest of my life.

April 12, 2019


The fifty-something woman with short, fake-auburn hair stood outside of the drug store, bent over with fatigue and leaning against the newspaper machine, tapping out a message on her phone, using the same two fingers that held her cigarette between them.  I passed her on the sidewalk.  She noticed my copper toenail polish and I noticed her shoes.  They were a kind of shoe that told me she stands a lot during her work shifts.  But I didn't mark the early wrinkles in her coppery skin from tanning beds, and she didn't note the way I look down when I walk by people, a thing that makes me unqualified to wear copper toenail polish, a thing that makes me pay attention to shoes.

April 10, 2019

kids these days

I waited too long to take him to the doctor ... I didn't believe him when he said his throat was so raw that he didn't want to swallow sips of water ... he always plays up his symptoms, so much drama, and I'm the one who gets the texts from school, always, the one who has to be Bad Cop and tell him to stay, see it through, fight it out, make it through the day.  And sometimes it's depression, not a runny nose.  See it through.  Make it through.

Will he make it through?

I signed up for this.

Sort of.

My generation does a shit job of rearing children.  Our kids don't know how to solve the simplest of problems.  They aren't chomping at the bit to get their driver's licenses at sixteen, move out at eighteen and never look back.  They don't care about independence.  The shame of living at home until age thirty has been eroded by our economy and our parenting.

We've protected them unwisely and too well.  The milk cartons turned into curfews.  The curfews turned into omnipresence.  The omnipresence turned into safety standards and rubber mulch, knee pads and hand sanitizer, play dates and books that can tell you if your child is developing as quickly and as well as other children.

I remember when I was seventeen and my car broke down.  It never occurred to me to call my parents.

Is it because cell phones are in our hands now?  Have the means forged the expectation that we be in contact, reachable, always?

I don't think so.  Instead of flipping through the grotty Yellow Pages of the phone book dangling from the pay phone by a steel cord, I would have searched the Internet for a towing company nearby.  I would not have considered calling my mother or father.  What good could they do?  I was out in the middle of rural North Carolina, just northeast of nowhere.  Why bother them?  It was my problem.

I signed up for this.  All this driving to school, sitting and waiting during rehearsals, making his life my own life.  This is what we do now.

My mother picked me up after the softball games.  She didn't ask me who won.

If his dad and I had dropped The Kid off at soccer practice instead of bringing camping chairs, it would have triggered a call to Protective Services.  He was only ten.

I walked the mile to school when I was ten, because I wanted to.  I had to cross a busy street.

We know we're doing it all wrong.  We know we're not serving their best interest.  But the boulder rolls and we're carried along with it, unable to slow it down, let alone stop it, let alone push it back up the hill.

Have I involved him in enough activities?  His dad and I wanted him to have a free childhood, not scheduled, not overbooked, not focused on molding an attractive college application from the time he hit preschool ... now it's time to apply for college, and he's a gaming addict, and he knows it, and he wishes he could quit, but he can't.  His entire social life is on the Internet.  That's not true.  He was in the play.  He went to the party because he had made friends.  It was the first time he wasn't avoidant of a social situation.  And he got sick there.  They catered dinner and everyone handled the serving utensils.  He got strep throat.

The Kid is home sick today.  The doctor looked at his throat yesterday and winced.

I shouldn't have waited so long to take him to the doctor.  He suffered longer because of me.  

I am a product of my generation.  We don't let our kids suffer.  We don't let them learn to suffer.  We take the suffering on ourselves because we love them.  We love them so much, we hug them so hard, that we squeeze the very life right out of them.

April 8, 2019

wherein infanticide is contemplated

Against the odds, my family functions reasonably well, given our collective memory issues.  Between the meds prescribed to P.J. and me and The Kid's ADHD and adolescence naissant, we are making our way through the world with Swiss cheese for brains.

Thus it is in a state of unequivocal hypocrisy that I consider murdering my child.

Fun fact:  One of The Kid's chores is helping me carry up groceries on Sunday afternoons.

I grabbed my purse and coffee this morning, ready to set out for the drive to work, and found when I stepped into the garage that yesterday, after grabbing the grocery bags, he left the garage door open (which happens sometimes) and also left the back door of the RAV4 wide open (which has never happened before).  

I think I'm supposed to be happy that no one crept into our house last night and killed us and/or stole all our shit, but all I could think of in the moment was that it's spring and the weekend weather was clement and all manner of flying and creeping things have been awake and about and vigorously asserting new life.

I wanted to drive the van instead and let the car sit untouched until next winter, when I would push it out of the garage, fling the doors wide and let icy breezes purify it.

I had to force myself to climb in and hit the road, convinced there were at least fifty-eight spiders in the car with me, together with two or three creatures of as-yet-unidentified genus and species, and probably also a mouse.  I endured seventeen miles of creeping, tickling sensations affecting both ankles, my right shin, and my neck.  The ankles were the worst bit.

It's going to rain today, too.  The creatures are going to form a new ecosystem in my car because the rain will keep them from wanting to exit the vehicle.  My only hope is that there is a mouse and that it will eat all fifty-eight spiders and anything else it can find.  And that it will be stuffed after the feast and will be sitting somewhere under a seat, belly swollen with delicacies, with its front paws resting on its abdomen, and will have no inclination to get up and run across my feet while I'm driving.  

State Farm would have a difficult time understanding the macabre aftermath of a mouse running across my feet.

I want to kill him for leaving the door open, yet I can't bring myself to do so much as text The Kid and berate him.  I'm surprised at myself; normally I don't bat an eye at lighting him up over some transgression based in forgetfulness.  He's easily pushed into feeling down on himself about his memory these days.  He also has a natural talent for pointing out instances of my hypocrisy, complete with imaginary charts and graphs.  Both of these things play into my hesitation, but more to the point, there's nothing he can do to go back in time and fix it.  There's no benefit to saying a word about it until the next time he's helping with groceries.

Of course, I'll probably forget.

April 3, 2019

of course you realize this means war

Signs have begun to appear in my workplace.  They are, in the truest sense, positively wretched.  Index card-sized refrigerator magnets, cards taped to the bathroom mirror, small posters hung outside cubicles ... someone has mounted a campaign with its inception some time last week, and I feel rising up in me the clarion call to fight back.

I'm trying to decide what it says about me, this desire to sneak around and rip the offensive signs to shreds and aggressively dispose of them.





Seriously - these are real and they're appearing all over the place.  Some of them have flowers.

I'm offended by insincere (I hope) bullshit like that, preferring despair.com posters instead ... yet I walk to the back of a parking lot and retrieve a wayward cart because I don't think the store employee should have to put up with some lazy asshole's disrespect for life.  I pick up garbage I didn't put there.  I smile at people.

Then when I see a plaque that says "HAVE A BLESSED DAY!" I want to destroy it and replace it with "HAVE A DAY".

Who is putting this stuff up?  I need to catch the culprit in the act so I can find his or her lunch in the community refrigerator and put squeezie-bottle garlic mayonnaise all over it.  Barring that, I need to buy some 1980's vintage Mr. Yuk Is Green stickers and go a-decorating.

Because I'm going to be the change I want to see in the world.

p.s. This reminds me so much of Becky's sister's teddy bear angel.  Don't follow the link if you're generally offended by photos of testicles.

April 2, 2019

the skeletal remains of betsy devos

I do not have
one of these.
An imaginary conversation took place in my head while driving in to work this morning.

The setting was a starkly furnished room, with only a stainless steel table, two chairs on one side, occupied by Hugo Weaving-looking sunglasses-wearing federal agents of a very secret department, and one chair on the other side, where I sat, making my case.

"Yes, I did say that I wish Betsy DeVos would get dipped live into a vat of hydrochloric acid* and that I could watch them remove her grotesquely cratered, dripping skeletal remains in their rubber harness after the acid had done its job.  I don't think that constitutes making a threat, though.  It would be a threat if I had the means.  You know full well that I don't.  I don't have a vat of hydrochloric acid, and so what if I researched and learned that sulfuric acid wouldn't do the job?  I don't have a vat of that, either.  It's like saying that I would nuke Donald Trump right where he stood.  I'd love that, but I don't have a nuke handy.  Do you?  I don't, either.  That's not a threat, it's wishful thinking.  A dream.  And I'm allowed to dream.  You're violating my First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights at this time and I demand to be released and the issue dropped, in full."

Such are the thoughts of the unfettered mind, regarding the world and driving to work in the dark, early on a Tuesday morning.

*Dear Google:  You've really never heard about hydrochloric acid?  Why did you underline it?  I refuse to believe no one has ever, ever blogged about hydrochloric acid before.