June 15, 2019

shovels and rakes and implements of construction

A sonic screwdriver
would have weighed less.
There were four of us out there this morning patching up the road leading to our little mountain-cabin neighborhood.  Last weekend brought record flash rainfall and unforeseen road damage, the kind that needs immediate attention lest things go pear-shaped.

We were all members of the property owners' association board.  It stands to reason.  Anyone who volunteers to be on a board of directors is a known masochist and a born sucker.

I volunteered to help but very quickly realized this gesture was all heart and very, very little actual muscle.  I was the short, scrawny girl among three strong men, two of whom have worked construction all their lives and one of whom owns six shovels.  If we had been the Department of Transportation, there's no question I would have been the one holding the "SLOW" sign for traffic.

Instead, we were the Department of Volunteer Half-Assed Road Patchers With No Hard-Hats.  It doesn't make a good acronym.

The experience was educational, though.  I learned how to shovel gravel into the back of an ATV without hitting anyone in the face with flying pebbles.  I learned how to spot road damage and threats and determine where repairs are needed.  I learned that some people are demented assholes of such breathtaking saturation that they will stop their vehicle and climb out holding their ash tray, intentionally dump fifty cigarette butts into a pothole, then get back into their vehicle and drive away.

My first job was wielding the tamper packing-down stick thingie on the layers of asphalt patch.  It's supposed to be used in such a way that a person brings it down flat and it makes a satisfying, muted "thud" and compacts the tar stuff.  I managed to make it bounce with kickback and clink and scrape and cause the construction guys to wince.  I got worse with practice.  Once, I lost my balance and fell.

I showed marginally increased adeptness with a gravel rake.

Asphalt cold patch comes in bags and it is the coolest substance in the known Universe.  It's just a mixture of fine gravel and tar, but when you dump it out, it crawls by itself and looks like creeping black, shiny organic matter that exercises sentience and oozes into the needed shape with very little coaxing.  It would have made an excellent villain in a Tom Baker episode of Dr. Who.

It was hard work, and I don't mean the physical labor.  I mean the search inside myself for humility.  I was the weak one today, all the more sensitive to being patronized after this week's news that I'm not getting a field-based promotion.  I felt like a child this morning, playing with plastic rakes and shovels while three kindly dads looked on and let me do enough to gain a sense that I was contributing, lest I feel left out.  They all had to go behind me and re-do my work to make it right, better, done.  It was hard, not letting tears well up.  It was hard, not injuring myself trying to stubbornly match them muscle for muscle to prove I have worth.

And credit is due them, because when I lifted the fifty-pound bags of Dr. Who asphalt patch out of the back of the ATV and carried them, no one tried to take them out of my hands.  No one said, "Here, let me get that," not even when I was struggling and wheezing.  My comparative weakness was an objective thing, but that didn't stop our board president from trying to the very end to teach me the right way to tamp down a road patch.  He finished tamping when I couldn't lift the tool any more, but he didn't give up on me.

So there's something honest about these blisters on my hands and these sore muscles, and in the bond we formed this morning, working together.  They don't know I'm crazy, because being mentally ill doesn't matter when you're working from the heart.  And I might be a weakling, but I was there.  I showed up.

Epilogue:

I got tar stains on my white t-shirt.  I went on Amazon to look for some tar stain remover.  They have some.  I have questions.


June 14, 2019

what it is like to sell a computer

Last night, I sold a computer.  It was The Kid's old gaming machine.  The listing had languished on Craigslist for over six months, so I lowered the price to fire sale territory and immediately got a hit.

She said she would come to my house at 7:00.  She arrived at 6:40.

At 8:15, we were still standing in my driveway, talking.

That is not true.  She was talking.  I was listening.  I was barefoot.

I'm Southern.  There was nothing I could do.  I was helplessly bound by my upbringing and at the mercy of the lady's oxygen levels and eventual need for sleep.  Neither of those saved me, though.  The Kid came home from his dad's house and she was forced to back her truck out of the driveway.  Thankfully, she had the grace to end the conversation at that point.  Her husband had called a few minutes before to ask if she was dead in a ditch somewhere; even so, I had little difficulty envisioning her driving back up to finish what she was saying.

I learned much.  I know things now.

I know about all of her medical problems and that she carries her medications around with her in a large, clear purse, to make the point.  She frequently sends photos of the clear medicine purse to her insurance company because she is trying to convince them that she needs a surgery and they will not pay for it.

She and her husband work for some real estate investor people who deal with repossessed homes.  They go in and get stuff left behind after the owners or tenants or squatters have been kicked out.  They pack things up in boxes.  Sometimes they help themselves to nicer items.  Now they have four hand mixers and three Kindles that actually still work.  They have a Sunbeam stand mixer from the 1950s, back when they made things to last.  They are lucky because the hallway in their six-hundred square-foot singlewide is lined with closets.

I know about every dog she has ever owned, beginning in her girlhood, and how each dog suffered and died.  One of her Rottweilers killed ducks because its previous owners used to give it toy ducks from PetSmart.  Another Rottweiler was named Hank when they rescued him from the shelter, but they named him Chewy instead because, she explained, "You can't name a dog Hank that ain't got balls."  Chewy is afraid of cats.  She had a Shih Tzu that had a stroke and bit its own tail off.  She carried the dog and the tail to the vet.

I know that her son once spiked a laptop like a football onto a concrete paver and the laptop still worked.

I even know that her brother-in-law is terrified of midget clowns and will go to the circus with them and wait outside.

Midget clowns.

I sold the computer.

June 12, 2019

colored balls

I'm not sure how to write about not getting the job I wanted and was all but assured I would get. 

The thoughts and feelings are jostled and milled like the colored plastic balls in the kid-filled pit at a McDonald's PlayPlace.  The red ones are fiery rage that would raze all the land.  The yellow ones are meekness and sorrow for my inferiority.  The green ones are acceptance and irrational hope for change in the future.  The blue ones are relief that the waiting is, at least, over.

The white ones are the surreal suspension, the stunned disbelief.

The black ones scare me.

June 9, 2019

inside where it's dry

It's late Sunday morning and loads of people around me are shaking out their umbrellas under the covered porches outside their churches' vestibules, propping them in corners, finding their usual seats in pews and an intensified sense of the word "sanctuary".

I'm not there, though.  I'm at home, engaging in my normal late weekend morning activity of trying like mad to find things to do, to stave off depression and existential despair.  Sitting and "being" is just not something I can do.

Add my current layer of waiting to hear about the job and you can see that running away mentally is my only option.

In between re-washing the laundry I started yesterday and then forgot and let sit and go sour, putting together a puzzle, cooking a very weird paleo pancake, and assembling a recumbent bike from parts, I got shaky and realized I needed to eat.  The weird pancake was hours ago.

I have bacon-wrapped asparagus here beside my laptop.  I've stolen The Kid's lap desk for the duration.  It's large enough to serve as a banquet table for twenty guests.

I've visited Facebook and read things, some of them a second time.  I've popped in on blogs.  I've checked the weather again and regretted my current lack of a well-appointed boat.  Old Navy has nothing new.

Now I'm clicking on "Other Bookmarks" in Chrome and looking down the list, and there is nothing to see here.  The list is useless to me.

I have a site where I can get wallpapers for my desktop background.  (That reminds me of something else I can do:  My ring tone is driving P.J. nuts; I need to find a new one.)  But I don't need any wallpaper today.

I have three links to medical providers.  I could go look at test results from a year ago and feel smug that they looked good.

I have three links to my public library's digital online services, which are spread out in a bizarre fashion because part of it has been outsourced to a third party and part is still in-county.  That doesn't matter.  Typically, anything I search for is unavailable.

I have links for checking to see how many people have read my blog.  I haven't used these in months.  There's also a link to a site that has some Java script that I can use to keep it from counting me as a hit.

I have links to project ideas, like sewing a new cover for an Ikea Poang chair.  I even bought the fabric.  A year and a half ago.

I have six recipe links.  One is for bacon-wrapped asparagus.

I have links to sites that occasionally need money from me, like the pet insurance people and the people who manage The Kid's cafeteria funds for school. 

I have Neil Gaiman's MasterClass bookmarked.  I've only taken two lessons.  I don't feel I deserve to have the likes of him speaking to me.

The rest are links to job search sites, and that's a sore subject at the moment.  Lately I've visited them out of rote habit, compulsively, every day, every five minutes, every time something in my current work environment hits a nerve.  Or five minutes.  Whichever is the lesser interval.

I feel like I've read the whole Internet and there is nothing to see here.  I wonder what would happen if I got rid of all my bookmarks and made a bunch of new ones using random web sites.  No, I don't wonder that.  I wouldn't read them.  My mind is as closed today as my bookmarks are dry.  And outside, it's raining.

June 7, 2019

sky

the sky is pregnant
rolling thunder comes before
shedding life-water

the glitter sparkle interview

I had prepared for almost everything.  Name three strengths and three weaknesses.  Why do you want this positionWhat assets would you bring to it?  But stupidly, I forgot to prepare an answer for one question, one that they always ask in a job interview.

"Assume you were working with a difficult co-worker, someone you didn't like, someone who didn't like you, but you had to work with them closely anyway.  How would you deal with that?"

I probably would have handled the question better if I hadn't been half-stoned.  I was on a pain pill that day, for reasons unrelated to the interview, combined with an anxiolytic that was related to the interview, and everything was cosmic peace and unicorn-fart rainbow glitter in my brain.  It beat the hell out of finger-wringing nervousness and square breathing, but I doubt it served me during the actual critical hour of making an impression and providing shrewd, stellar, knock-'em-out answers.

I also would have handled the question better if I wasn't in that exact situation right now and more or less completely failing to cope with it.  It's been eating at me for a year.

"Fuck that, that's why I want this job.  I'm trying to run away from a situation exactly like that," I didn't say.

"It doesn't matter, we're all going to die anyway," I didn't say, though this was sound advice given by a friend.

"I break shit and throw things.  I blow things up.  I bend large metal objects over my knee.  I send co-workers invoices for wasting my time," I didn't say.

Instead I stood on the table and placed a hand over my heart, extended my other arm into the air, and waxed Shakespearean as I held forth about the virtues of self-control, one's inability to exert any control whatsoever on the world and the individuals around them, and the need for one to always look on the inside for the change they want to see, the resources they can harness to render such scenarios bearable and even, at times, positive.

At least, I said that stuff, sitting in my chair across from five scrutinizing stares.

At least, I think I said that stuff, through the glitter.

I wonder if they know you suck at that, said the glitter.

Later, I realized that even that was bullshit, because I'm super-experienced at it.  I deal with someone else difficult who is up in my life, who never leaves, who can walk into the room and bug the shit out of me and nearly incapacitate me with no warning.  I can't lock the door and I can't carve out a secret hiding place.  He's male.  I don't understand that.  The thing that lives in the back of my head that emerges in times of intense stress, pressure, pain, anything that triggers a desire to escape, is some asshole guy.  He walks around whispering of annihilation, and he is someone I don't like and someone who doesn't like me, and I have to work with him closely anyway.

How do I deal with that?  I just do, that's how.  I can do it.  I do do it.

"I've run away from toxic, corrosive people before, just to escape.  I've done it more than once.  I don't handle it worth a shit," I didn't say in the interview.

Don't tell them, said the glitter.

I am waiting for the call, to find out whether I got the job.

If you don't, you're trapped, says Asshole Guy.

I am waiting for the call, to find out whether I got the job.

Waiting sucks the greasy, smoking, lousy, boil-covered cock of Satan.  I do not like waiting.

June 2, 2019

i'm not running from destiny or anything else

Me:  "Hey, have you poured enough coffee into your temple yet?"

P.J.:  "What's 'enough coffee'?"

Me:  "Enough to help your system absorb, say, something disturbing."

P.J.:  "I'm reading the news, aren't I?"

Me:  "Yeah.  Um, I need to tell you something."

P.J.:  "Let me take another pull at the coffee.  This sounds ominous."

Me:  "Okay.  This is hard.  Um.  Okay, you know I said I was going to go walking this morning, because it would still be cool, since I took yesterday as my day off."

P.J.:  "Yeee-eees?"

Me:  "I did.  I went walking.  I went up through town and got a lot of steps in.  And it was nice and cool.  Lovely, really.  A little breeze w-- "

P.J.:  "When do you get to the part that requires the necessity of coffee?"

Me:  "I'm getting there.  I'm getting there.  So, yeah.  I was walking ... "

P.J.:  "You said that."

Me:  "... and I crossed the street after I passed the Methodist church, because I wanted the people pulling into the parking lot to see me smiling, so they would know that I was happier not having to sit in a stuffy Sunday School classroom and -- "

P.J.:  "Lille .... "

Me:  "Okay.  Fine.  So I crossed the street and I was in front of the old mill, the part that's a coffee shop now, and, um ... I mean, there was a good song on, and ... I, um, sort of started jogging."

P.J.:  *spews coffee across dining room*

Me:  "It was just for a short distance, I promise!  Just to the grocery store, right there.  It wasn't far!"

P.J.:  "It's happening."

Me:  "NO!  It's not happening.  I swear.  It's not!"

P.J.:  "You're going to be one of them.  You're turning into a runner."

Me:  "I am not a runner!  I'm not!  It just happened, I don't know why, I think I was wondering if it would make the steps go faster, my body did it on its own, I didn't get tired like I normally w-- "

*slaps hand over mouth, eyes wide with horror*

P.J.:  "See?  See?  'The lady doth protest too much, methinks.'  I knew it.  I knew this would happen."

Me:  "Is it a disease?  Is this a disease process?  You hear about it all the time.  But I didn't even enjoy it.  I didn't.  I promise I'm going to only walk from now on.  No jogging bits in there."

P.J.:  "You just said 'bits'.  That's plural."

Me:  "Um.  It hypothetically might have happened twice."

P.J.:  "Oh my god.  That's day four of 'couch potato to 5K'.  Oh, fuck.  You're lost."

************

None of that happened.

Except the jogging.

June 1, 2019

arms flung wide

I was in a public place with my sister.  No, not the one I've met only once, and not the self-righteous fundamentalist zealot who condemned me for harming The Kid by removing her essential influence from his life.  This was the sister who was in my life the most, the one who alternated physical and verbal abuse with attempts to be sisterly, a poisonous recipe for deep reinforcement that leaves a child a confused and complicit victim.  The least likely sister you'd see beside me in a public place.

It doesn't matter why we were outside under a sheltered porch in the midst of a milling crowd of people, in a city, perhaps on a Saturday.  These things seldom matter in dreams.

It does matter that I was tolerating her presence as an equal because I had a purpose for being in that place that did not involve her.  I was fully adult and fully capable of bluntly stating I was off, and turning and walking away.  It does matter that she was powerless in that moment and had no say.

That isn't why the dream is haunting me.

I walked away because I realized I had to find my car.  The crowd parted for me as I sought it, trying to remember on which Victorian-yet-modern street I had parked.  I had just looked at my watch and realized that P.J. had told me our friends were visiting from 4:00 to 5:30, and that it was 5:15 and a fifteen-minute drive home.  I found the car.  I sped.  I dreaded what I would find.  I dreaded what I might not find.

They were outside bidding their farewells when I arrived, holding a blue cooler and an umbrella and some wrapped-up leftovers.  I leaped from the driver's seat of the car and ran to them both, flinging my arms around their necks and bursting into tears, great sobs of relief-yet-sorrow.  They were surprised at the strength of my feelings, so intense that I thought my chest would burst, and that I would show all that love and desperation openly, but they both hugged me close anyway because they knew why.

And then they climbed into their car and drove away.

And I awoke with tears flowing.

I don't believe that dreams are a gateway to any predictive mechanism, whether supernatural or leading to some astute cluster of brain cells responsible for intuition and pattern recognition.

I do believe dreams are a bullet train that can plow straight through defense mechanisms and arrive at stark confrontation with how we really feel, what we really think, what we know that we don't want to know.

We saw these friends a week ago, a visit years overdue.  I threw hugs around their necks and acted appropriately in the social moment.  But it would seem that deep in my brain, in a place only a dream could reach, there was also heart-wrenching fear that it could be the last time we saw them, that we were late and catching the tail end of their lives, that we had been neglectful and poor stewards of the treasure of their friendship.

Death.  Time.  Space.  Attrition.  How many people do we lose?  Why do we live our lives in fear of spreading ourselves too thin?  Why do we apply logic and measuring spoons and ought-to and should-only to our own beating hearts?  Do we do it to drown out the greater, stronger fears we refuse to feel?

That is why the dream is haunting me.

I still want to cry.  I still want to fling my arms around their necks and let my heart pound with love.  I still can't stuff back into its subconscious hiding place the awareness that no heart beats forever.