kind of day

What Kind Of Day Has It Been?

In all four of his television series thus far, Aaron Sorkin has named an episode “What Kind Of Day Has It Been?” It was the name of the first season finales for “SportsNight,” “The West Wing” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and it is the name of the upcoming series finale of “The Newsroom.”

The reason I love Sorkin so much, and particularly “The West Wing,” is that he writes for intelligent people and doesn’t assume that he has to dumb it down to meet the lowest common denominator (with the exception of the first four episodes of “The Newsroom,” in which every woman was a drippy damsel in distress, and every man a douchebag trying—and, somehow, being allowed—to be a knight in shining armor). It’s also witty when it’s right to be witty. “The West Wing,” in particular, is my go-to when I need comfort viewing. Something about it is the visual equivalent of macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes, the entertainment equal to being wrapped up in a cozy blanket with a mug of hot tea on a cold night.

Today has been an odd kind of day.

It started with me reading, for reasons passing understanding (big Sorkin phrase), a blog post on cocktailsandchemo.com that I saw posted on a friend’s Facebook feed. I have read posts on this blog here and there before, and it has always been a mistake, but, like a moth to a flame, there I was, and I was destroyed for 15 minutes when I should have been drying my hair. It’s heartbreaking. It’s about a very young man who is dying of colon cancer, and it is written by his wife. They have a daughter who’s not even two. Don’t read it. I swear, you’ll be done in from the combination of love and ache and beauty and sorrow and hope and anguish and just don’t.

At work, my colleague and I finished the last of the eight phone interviews we were conducting for a vacant position. They went fine, and we were able to solidly eliminate three candidates and put one on the bubble, leaving us with four we felt confident bringing in for face-to-face meetings. But as anyone who has conducted interviews knows, doing eight in a week pokes a bunch of big holes in your days, and between them and your meetings, you tend to feel like you haven’t gotten anything productive done. I kept trying to get a foothold, and being able to do little more than toe a few emails.

Then there was an absolutely ridiculous issue with a publication that really should not matter in the slightest, but required another redesign and another round of new copy after the clients had agreed on the design and sent the supposedly final final final copy. My vice president wound up involved in a way I’m not aware of, and as far as I’m concerned, she can handle it the rest of the way, because I am pretty tired of trying to do things for these particular clients and getting split decisions, too many revisions, and still hot breath down the back of my neck to get the final version to them in time for them to send it out when they didn’t give my team any time to do it in the first place. The real killer of this whole thing is that the designer spent four days hand-drawing this publication after all parties had agreed on a design concept, and now it’s scrapped entirely. I find it terribly disrespectful of someone’s energy, time and talent, and these clients do this constantly.

A bit before that, Facebook told me that my dear friend Sam is leaving and moving to Indianapolis to take a job. Sam helped me through a lot of really difficult times in my last job, listened and asked with great interest about my love life or lack thereof, gave me great advice I actually took, bantered with me Sorkin-style in solidarity to our shared affinity, gleefully played my political wonk game, and generally has been a precious friend. Nearly a year ago, he told me about something really difficult that he was struggling with, and five months ago, he stopped talking to me altogether. Nothing happened between us, no argument or conflict… he just stopped answering messages of any kind and never reached out again. It has always made me sad, and now that he’s leaving town, it makes me even sadder. I’ve sent him a message to congratulate him and let him know I miss him and hope to see him before he goes, but I don’t know if I’ll ever hear back.

At the end of the work day, as she was leaving, my coworker declared quietly that she was going to go get gas in her car and deal with her lingering depression. She wasn’t kidding. It was awkward, if not surprising. Most of us know she is struggling, and what makes matters worse is that she’s not terribly well-liked. I don’t know which begets which. I have always found her lacking in self-awareness, which leaves me torn between concern and irritation, which makes me feel awful because I know she is in pain.

But the weirdest part of the day, and that part that, along with Sam’s announcement, has me the most untethered, was around two this afternoon, when my friend Angie found my blog.

As many of my readers know, I am completely anonymous here, and none of my real-life family, friends or acquaintances have ever known I write a blog. I wanted it that way, because the anonymity gave me permission to speak freely, to blather on about things my friends might already be bored by, to say what I want about whomever I want, and to feel like I had a safe place to do it all. But today, after I quoted a particular song lyric in an Ohio 5 group message, Angie Googled it, and somehow, a blog entry in which I had also quoted it came up. She outed me in the group message immediately, and even told our other friends how they could find the blog.

I can’t describe the feeling I had. My heart pounded. I don’t log into the blog on my work computer, but I did today, first having to change the password because it’s cached in my computer at home and I couldn’t remember it. Then I had to quickly go through all my posts to see if my friends would be upset by anything. I will admit that I deleted posts that I thought would upset them enough to cause friction.

I got a message from WordPress that my stats had skyrocketed. Eighty-three hits to the home page.

That seemed excessive, even for my friends.

I worried that they might have shared it with a few other people we’re close to. It wasn’t really narcissism, any more than writing a blog is narcissism. It was just that I suddenly felt like I had lost the ability to protect something tender.

I’m not angry at Angie; She was shocked, after knowing me so well for nearly 20 years, that there was something I had managed to keep from her for three and a half. Her impulse to tell the rest of our friends was reflexive. Thoughtless and inconsiderate, but not malicious. She has apologized for it, admitting that she searched through all of it looking for her name so she could see what I have said about her. Meg has apologized for trying to find the blog after learning it existed. Joey, after finding the home page and reading the glossary, has promised not to read anything else, acknowledging that there’s a reason none of them ever knew about it and that he would respect that. Will came late to the conversation; I don’t know if he’s seen the blog or not.

I’m not holding it against them. But I feel exposed, like my clothes have been torn away on a busy street. I don’t have anything to be ashamed of, but if I was already feeling a little raw, now I feel like my diary lock has been broken. I know that sounds silly when I post things on the internet for anyone to read, but the pages in the diary don’t really contain anything these friends don’t know. What they do contain are some expressions I feel embarrassed for them to see, and empty pages where a certain freedom I had cherished has been taken away. There’s no lock to keep all of that safe anymore.

So, not to be dramatic, but in a way, today was a season finale. There’s every possibility and even likelihood of more episodes, but the anonymity was a major character in this series, and that character is gone now. Everything will be a little different from here on, if not for you, then at least for me. I will think twice where I never thought twice before. I am already wondering if my friends will read this post and be upset by it. In “SportsNight,” after that season one conclusion, S2 Ep1′s title is “Quo Vadimus.” It’s Latin for “Where are we going?” While I’m sure I’ll still try to be witty when it’s right to be, and I won’t dumb anything down, it’s going to be a while before I feel comfortable again.

In the meantime, I think I need some mashed potatoes.

Vacuuming At Midnight

I am supposed to be sleeping. Failing that, I am supposed to be reading academia. But instead, I am spraying an area rug repeatedly with a vinegar and water solution, then sprinkling it liberally with baking soda, then waiting five minutes and vacuuming it all up.

In other words, I have an ancient cat with a death wish.

The cat is 15 1/2 years old, if we’re going to count half-years. Since I think humans get to start counting half-years again at 90, I think cats get to do it by the time mine is this age. She’s lived with me her whole life save the first three or four months, and in that time, we’ve had our problems, but none as sordid as the one we’re having now.

She’s basically taken over the entire basement, which is to say the carpet is going to have to be ripped up and replaced. But that can’t happen as long as I have the cat, because at her age, it is impossible to remind her of exactly where her litter box is during the 9 to 12 hours a day that I’m not home. (When I am home and I see her make her way down there, I follow her, pick her up and actually put her in the litter box. That works.)

This results in the dreaded Cat Smell. You know how you hate walking into the homes of certain people who have a cat? Mine has become that home. It’s not as bad as a lot of homes I’ve been in, but goddamn. And I can’t do a thing about it. I have sprayed so many things on the basement carpet recently that I will absolutely have some form of cancer by morning. Nothing actually works. They all say they work. They all have helpful hints to make carpet pet stain/odor cleaning successful.

“Cats avoid the scent of citrus. Our citrus-scented spray makes sure they never eliminate in that spot again!”

LIE. She goes back again and again. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t find new spots, too. I could smother the whole carpet in lemon-lime-orange-grapefruit barbed wire. She’d still go back.

“Don’t use vinegar or ammonia. Cats smell it and link it to their scent, so they’ll go back to that spot again.”

IMMATERIAL. I’m pretty sure if you named the polar opposite of vinegar and ammonia, I’ve used that, too. Doesn’t matter.

“Be sure you clean the spot completely before you spray, or the cat will return to the spot.” IMPOSSIBLE. Do you know how many times I’ve soaked, patted, blotted, rubbed, scrubbed, and stood on towels? She always knows where it was. Or picks somewhere new. Or both.

Tonight, upon returning home from the halfway mark of another doozy of a work week and a class on top of it, things smelled unusually ripe. I checked the basement, and yes, the basement carpet still stinks, but it’s a different smell. I checked the garbage. I ran the garbage disposal. I got on my hands and knees at sniffed the vents to see if something crawled in there and died. I couldn’t find the source.

An hour and a half after I got home, while I was trying to read a textbook, I happened to look over to my right.

Oh heeeeyyyyy, huge pile of cat diarrhea on my area rug. You explain a lot.

(The cat, by the way, just slinked slowly up the stairs to my bedroom as I typed that. She is ashamed. She had better be.)

I have thus far attempted to remove the smell four times. After each attempted cleansing, I have gotten on my knees and put my nose to the carpet. If I were facing east, I could claim a new religion. If that religion could get rid of this odor in my area rug, I would claim it.

Alas… abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

More and more, this points to me needing to take the cat to the vet. I know some of you are currently gasping at the horror of the fact that I haven’t done this yet, but here’s what: I have no money for the vet. The vet, as we all know, is a racket, and I already have several required rackets sucking funds from my bank account in order to be allowed to live indoors with running water and electricity and the internet to work this here WordPress machine. So I’ve been stuck with this situation. But I think soon I’m going to have to take the cat to the vet and explain the absolutely out-of-control situation I’m dealing with, and face the music.

For now, I have to get on my knees, face the floor, and pray for a miracle.

Fifty Things You Would Have Been Fine With Not Knowing About Me

Misty over at Misty’s Laws, while consumed by an alien being that is taking all of her nutritional sustenance and strength for its own personal gain, has revealed to me that 50 Things About Me is the blogosphere’s new 25 Things About Me thing that went around Facebook circa 2009. Since I haven’t posted in a dog’s year, and since I’m both an open book and mysteriously mysterious at the same time, I thought you might jump at the chance to learn more about me that you could not possibly care less to know.

Yes, this is my lazy way of posting. But it’s also my way of saying hi, I miss you, I still read the people who show up in my reader feed (oh, btw, Hey WP, WTF is up with all the people who no longer show up in my reader feed)?

1. What are you wearing? The same clothes I wore to work: black pants, sky blue elbow-sleeve sweater. I did just take my contacts out and put my glasses on. *shazzam* New look!

2. Ever been in love?  Um, yes.

3. Ever have a terrible break-up?  Do you not read this blog?

4. How tall are you?  5’7″

5. How much do you weigh?  During which week of the month? Before or after the dirty martini?

6. Any tattoos? Nope

7. Any piercings?  Double-pierced ears (Usually don’t wear the earrings in the second holes, but, strangely, still run an earring through them at least once a day to keep them open. I make little sense. Also, pierced navel, still sporting the original ring with which it was pierced 11 years ago.)

8. OTP (One true pair, favorite fictional couple?)  Adam & Eve. Those two literally could not find anyone better.

9. Favorite show? I don’t get to watch TV much anymore, but I love The Daily Show. I DVR Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. But my all-time favorite TV show of all time in the history of ever is The West Wing. (My readers from the year before the last presidential election will not be surprised by this.)

10
. Favorite bands?  So, I don’t really listen to current music much. Apparently I’m 81 years old. I’m pretty faithful to Counting Crows even though Adam Duritz’s retreaded lyric ideas sometimes get on my nerves. Turns out I like solo artists a little more.

11. Something you miss?  The days when nothing hurt.

12. Favorite song?  Impossible to pick one. Can’t. Moving on.

14. Zodiac sign?  Aries.

15. Quality to look for in a partner?  Does “Willingness to be my partner” count?

16. Favorite Quote?  “Do you wanna invoke the wrath of the Whatever from high atop the Thing?! Go outside, turn around three times and spit!”
~Toby Ziegler, The West Wing
(I know. It’s pretty deep. I’ll give you a minute to process.)
 
17. Favorite Actor?  Kevin Spacey is pretty brilliant, even if he’s kind of a dick.
 
18. Favorite Color? Blue
 
19. Loud music or soft? Yes.

20. Where do you go when you are sad?  Bad places. You don’t want to come.
 
21.  How long does it take you to shower? Depends. Am I paying the water bill in this shower?

22.  How long does it take you to get ready in the morning? I can do it in 45 minutes if I have to, but it somehow usually takes me 90 minutes from the time I get up until I get out the door. This is inexplicable.

23. Ever been in a physical fight?  Ever? Sure. I have siblings.

24. Turn on?  Humor and intelligence.

25. Turn-off?  Assholery.

26. The reason I started blogging?  I like to write. I think a lot. My professions have been very writing-intensive and very thinking-intensive, but not very personal-expressiony.

27. Fears?  At present? I’m about to start watching the first episode of this season’s American Horror Story, so…clowns.

28. Last thing that made you cry?  Reading a testimonial about Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening service 37 minutes ago. Goddamned breast cancer.

29. Last time you said you loved someone?  Last night, on the phone with my dear old friend, Will. Or just now on Facebook when I said I love Jon Stewart. Depending on your interpretation of the question.

30. Meaning behind the name of your blog? I tend to turn one tiny thought into an entire onslaught of neurosis. Single=one thought. Cell=neuron.

31. Last book you read?  The last book I read for fun was “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt.

32. Book you are currently reading?  Well, I’m reading “Manufactured Consent” by Noam Fucking Chomsky (the “fucking” is silent) and some other douchebag windbag for a class I’m taking. I read textbooks. Some day I’ll finish “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn, which was what I started after “The Goldfinch” but didn’t quite finish before this term of grad school began.

33. Last show you watched?  The Daily Show last night.

34. Last person you talked to?  A classmate.

35. The relationship between you and the person you just texted? Last person I texted was Javier, my Colombian friend/neighbor/pseudo-crush. (Text was of strict Neighbor nature.)

36. Favorite food?  Anything terribly unhealthy and delicious.

37. Place you want to visit?  All of them. Maybe not something that ends in -stan. Actually, I’d love to learn more about the people in those places.

38. Last place you were?  The bathroom…?

39.  Do you have a crush? See #35.
 
40. Last time you kissed someone?  Kissed nine people goodbye on Sunday.
 
41. Last time you were insulted?  Probably on Sunday. I was with family.

42. Favorite flavor of sweet?  Chocolate. Are you kidding me with this question?

43. What instruments do you play?  Snarfblatt.

44. Favorite piece of jewelry? I wear two rings. Each one features the birthstone of a godson. One is sapphire, the other is citrine.

45. Last sport you played?  Played? Is gossip a sport?

46. Last song you sang? Presently, the Bach Magnificat is on repeat in my head.

47. Favorite chat up line? Hoping “hey” qualifies.

48. Have you ever used it?  Can’t imagine it would be my favorite if I hadn’t used it.

49.  Last time you hung out with anyone?  Sunday. Family birthday dinner festivus + football proclivity.

50. Who should answer these questions next?  All of you. Do it.

Shaken, Not Stirred

I have just finished cleaning up… I don’t know… how many ounces are in a magnum bottle of vodka?… off my kitchen floor. Along with the glass in which it used to be held.

This is how that looked.

I haz a sad.

                                I haz a sad.

It’s basically how the week went, embodied in the cruel denial of all those drinks that now occupy space in my dish towels, grout, and the area under the refrigerator I can’t reach.Twenty dollars’ worth of probably-not-high-quality-but-eminently-drinkable freezer-stored distilled fermented wheat (not potato) byproduct is now seeping into every crevice it can find and getting the housebugs drunk instead of getting in mah belleh whenever required. It was the only alcohol I had in the house, since I broke up with the wine club over its refusal to come to my house because some law meant it couldn’t cross state lines, so I always had to go pick it up somewhere else. Made me feel dirty.

This week, you guys.

I feel sure that you will all understand that at least half the reason we blog is because it gives us the freedom to write what we choose in the manner and time we choose. Though writing is a significant portion of my professional life, I am nonetheless constrained to write the way my professional superiors feel is best. And I understand that, even though a web feature piece I felt strongly about and constructed with a real-life character and real-life conflict set up by said character got dismantled when the web content manager (who is great at copy editing and proofreading, but not so good at recognizing how to tell a story) banished the character to the sixth paragraph in favor of literality and deleted entirely the quote that set up the conflict which would be resolved throughout the rest of the piece. A piece, now, that resolves a conflict to which readers have not been introduced.

My VP approved the edit because my version “was more New Yorker, and the edited version is more USA Today.” I get that. I get that the audience for which I have to write is not necessarily the audience for which I want to write, and her observation was valid and one that I will keep in mind going forward. But it was nonetheless disappointing in light of all the time and energy I had spent developing, crafting and writing the piece, and in the way I had interviewed the subjects in pursuit of that concept—a concept, I should add, that the web content editor had known from the beginning.

Add to that a major publication blunder, a bunch of misplaced frustration heaped onto my shoulders by others, a raft of relatively unimportant but highly time-consuming tedium and some internal personal oodginess, and you have a week of Suck that leaves yours truly feeling torn between fair questions about ego vs. effort and unfair assessments about worth.

There was some good news. Some Best Possible News that redeemed the week at least in part.

Amanda’s first restaging scans since her Stage IV metastatic triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis came back showing significant reduction in cancer activity.

It is the best possible thing she could have heard. It means, for the first time in four and a half months, she can breathe. She can, for about two more months, stop worrying that the chemo wasn’t working.

It makes me feel a little silly about being mad that my vodka bottle shattered and ruined about 20 future cocktails.

Still… if anyone needs me, I’ll be over here…sucking on a dish towel with my hand in a jar of olives.

Flowers Are Red

Twin Nephs started first grade on Thursday. They were blithely dismissive of the fact that there must have been some sort of mistake and they must still only be about three years old. They were excited to get school supplies—well, alright, Neph 1 was excited—and bore the burdens of heavy backpacks well on Day One, as evidenced in the photos I received. But along with all this excitement came not only the usual tinge of sadness for us grown-ups, but a little extra kick in the head. And not the way Sinatra would mean it.

Sister 1 took Neph 1 (Neph 2 chose to stay at home) and her mother-in-law to the store to get the supplies listed in the emails the boys’ respective teachers had sent. There was a distinct difference between these lists, I’m told. Neph 2′s teacher requested the usual stuff: four folders, a few sharpened No. 2 pencils (awwww, remember No. 2 pencils?), a pencil box, crayons, markers, paper, etc. Neph 1′s teacher, on the other hand, was much more precise.

  • 12 No 2. pencils, sharpened
  • 12 No. 2 pencils, unsharpened

(“Can I get a pencil sharpener?!” Neph 1 excitedly asked. Sister 1 and her mother-in-law looked at the list.

“Sorry, honey. Not on the list.”

Cue minor dejection.)

  • 1 pencil box, primary color
  • 4 folders: red, green, yellow, blue – no other colors

(“Mom, what about this one?!” asked Neph 1, holding up his favorite color: orange.

Sister 1 checked the list again. “Nope. Can’t be orange. Sorry.”

Cue rolled eyes.)

  • 1 marble composition notebook – black and white only (awww, remember marble composition notebooks?)

(“‘Com…poh…sssih…’ I found a composition notebook, Mom!” exclaimed Neph 1, proudly holding it up. 

Sister 1 wrinkled her nose. “Sorry, buddy. That one’s purple. It has to be black and white.”

“But I like purple!” Neph 1 declared, wide-eyed and smiling with remaining hope.

“I know. Sorry.” My sister frowned for him.

Cue big sigh.

“I hope I wasn’t this tough on my students’ parents,” remarked the mother-in-law, a retired elementary school teacher.)

  • 1 eraser, pink, rectangular
  • 2 1″ binders, black
  • 1 16-pack Crayola crayons, standard colors
  • 1 8-pack regular size (not fat) Crayola markers, primary colors

…et cetera.

Neph 1 was still enthusiastic despite having some creative hopes dashed during the shopping trip. So was Sister 1, who was later photographed sitting at the kitchen table with her label maker, carefully branding all the kids’ stuff with their names. Amazingly, she did not label the kids themselves.

At a family get-together a day or so later, Sister 1 was telling a cousin, Callie, this story. Callie is a third grade teacher. She explained that she bets Neph 1′s teacher is older, more experienced, and more structured, while Neph 2′s teacher is probably younger and less organized. “By the time I get them in my class, I can tell which teacher they had in first grade,” she said. “The kids who had the tougher, structured teachers are more organized by the time they’re in third grade.”

My sister realized she’d forgotten to get Neph 1 the hand sanitizer from the list. Brother-In-Law 1 ran out on a quick trip to grab it, and, since there were no rules listed about what kind of sanitizer it had to be, he grabbed a bottle with an orange cap. It turned out to be peach scented stuff. Which thrilled my nephew. Less so, my brother-in-law.

I called the boys at 7:15 a.m. on their first day. My sister was combing their hair before sending them downstairs to get breakfast. “I’m going to do my hair sideways, because I think my teacher will like it,” said Neph 1. (“Do my hair sideways” means “part it on the side.”) He likes to impress people. He and his brother chatted to me energetically via speakerphone about how they get to ride the bus and how Neph 1 knows one other child in his class already but Neph 2 doesn’t know anybody in his. Neph 1 was giddy as he told me, “I get to have my own hand sanitizer! And it smells like peaches!” I’m telling you, it really doesn’t take a lot to make this kid happy. Realizing that they probably weren’t chewing their nutritious breakfast while they were talking to me, I wrapped up the conversation and let them prep their bellies for a day of learning.

That night, I got a message from my sister. She’d come home from work and asked the boys how their first day of first grade went. Unsurprisingly, my darling, exuberant, people-pleasing, sensitive, curious, purple-and-orange-loving, peach-scented godson piped up first.

“Well, I had a GREAT day!,” he told her. “I only got two time-outs—”

Two time-outs?!” my sister cried. “On the first day?! What did you do?”

Neph 1 screwed up his face in a classic expression he may have inherited from his favorite aunt. “I talked. I talk a lot, Mom.”

He may have inherited that from me, too.

“And do you know what?” he continued with vivacity. “Did you know that you’re not allowed to sing in class?”

He turned and looked sadly out the window.

“Today I learned that you’re not allowed to sing in class,” he finished.

Well. I went all Harry Chapin “Flowers Are Red” about it. Do you know the song? It’s about a little boy who goes to school all excited and starts coloring a picture, and the teacher says, “What are you doing?” and the boy says he’s painting flowers, and the teacher says, “It’s not the time for art, young man. And anyway, flowers are green and red.” She lectures this boy: “Flowers are red, young man. Green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.”

But the little boy says, “There are so many colors in a rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in a flower, and I see every one!”

And the teacher says, “You’re sassy.” And after he argues again, she puts him in a corner, where he gets lonely, and he goes to the teacher and tells her she was right, that flowers are red and green leaves are green, and there’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.

Then the boy’s family moves to another town and he goes to a new school and the teacher is smiling and says, “There are so many colors in a flower, so let’s use every one!” But do you know what the little boy does? He paints all the flowers green and red. And when the teacher asks him why, he says, “Flowers are red, and green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.”

Like lots of other Harry Chapin songs, it means a lot more than a cute story about a fun kid and a dour teacher. It means that kids start out in life all excited and full of joy and natural curiosity and natural creativity, and stupid rules and the way they’re enforced start beating all of those great things out of them starting in first grade.

I read my sister’s story and thought, “That kid is going to get all that precious, wide-eyed excitement and innate joy beaten out of him, starting today.”

I actually cried.

This is another reason I can’t have kids, by the way. I’d be that mom who’s always falling apart at some perceived injustice or another.

Hell, I cried just typing the story out.

I totally get, by the way, why the kid can’t sing in class. I remember first grade, and I don’t recall being scarred by the realization that I wasn’t allowed to sing in class. (I don’t recall getting in trouble for singing, anyway. I recall getting in trouble for talking and being out of my seat without permission. And I recall standing in corners. In fact, I recall a particular moment in second grade when, standing in the corner, I glanced up at the crucifix nailed to the wall above my head, and my teacher saw me and said, “Yeah, you’d better pray!”) I am not psychologically damaged or less creative for these rules. I think Callie is probably right about structured teachers instilling organizational skills and an understanding that there are times and places for behaviors. It’s not the teachers’ fault. You can’t have a kid busting out with a Katy Perry song in the middle of an addition lesson.

Still… I think I might buy Neph 1 a few supplies he can keep at home. Like a purple composition notebook, and an orange folder. Because there are so many colors in a flower. And I want him to see every one.

And I’m glad my brother-in-law accidentally picked up peach-scented hand sanitizer. 

Now on my bookshelf: The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

I Suppose I Should Have Seen This Coming

It’s a wet day. It’s raining, and everything I’ve been doing in the house is related to water: washing the floor, scrubbing the bathrooms, cleaning the kitchen (and the dishes in the sink), doing laundry. I’d decided to run the washer through a self-cleaning because I’d accidentally left a wet picnic blanket in it for a week. I put some laundry detergent in it and set the cycle. The only thing the electronic read-out tells me is Cln, so I have no idea how long it will take. It does what it does. It’s done when it’s done.

So I don’t know how much later it was that I went to check on it and decided to squat down and watch the process through the door. I was a little surprised that I couldn’t see anything.

That’s because everything was suds. It was up to its top in suds.

Huh. 

Did it do this last time?

Everyone knows a front-loading washing machine is hypnotic. It spins this way and then it stops, and then it spins the other way, and then it stops, and then it does a crazy superspeed spin thing, and you’re just there with your mouth open like, “How does it work?” Or maybe that’s just me, because most people don’t really spend that much time staring at their washing machine. But at some point, a noise broke my trance. A tiny, delicate noise.

Hey… what’s that sound? Is that the rain? 

I cocked my head. Listened.

Waaaaiiit…. that sounds like…

It did not sound like rain.

…SUDS.

Shit.

THAT SOUNDS LIKE EXTERNALLY ORIENTED SUDS.

I peered into the space between a stack of stored paint cans and my stacked washer and dryer.

THE SUDS WERE ESCAPING.

I believe my first thought was, Oh, for fuck’s sake.

You see, it has not been an ideal week. Lots and lots of very bad things happened to good people I know this past week. Four things just on Thursday. That’s, of course, in addition to all the bad things that were happening in all the places with the good people elsewhere, as the universe continues its seemingly unprecedented conspiracy to make everyone on Earth feel like there is absolutely no order to things anymore. And Friday started with a part of my car falling off and dragging beneath it as I drove to work, so that I had to pull into a parking lot, grab a large stick, and shove said part around until it was no longer dragging, so that I could at least get it to a gas station, where a nice young fellow told me I didn’t really need that part anyway, and ripped it off.

"Why did you run over that man?" Eliza wanted to know when I sent her this pic.  "Only way I could get him to stay still," I replied.

“Why did you run over that man?” my friend Eliza wanted to know when I sent her this pic.
“Only way I could get him to stay still,” I replied.

I feel sure the universe will prove him wrong about the car part. Also: does it seem odd to anyone else that there is even such a thing as a car part that isn’t necessary? Don’t misunderstand me: I’ll accept the answer, because the ordeal cost me $20 and not $2,000, but still, that seems odd to me.

I was attacked by a vicious curling iron the other day and have two pretty ugly burns on the inside of my left forearm that would be alarming to anyone who might see them.

One of them looks like a hickey. It is not. It just happens to be two or three colors.

One of them looks like a hickey. It is not. It just happens to be two or three colors.

Today I discovered that the cat had broken one of my grandmother’s porcelain dishes (don’t ask), and then I cut myself with it when I was trying to clean it up.

It's just too gruesome to show you without the bandage. Suffice it to say I had to stop cleaning. Obviously.

It’s just too gruesome to show you without the bandage. Suffice it to say I had to stop cleaning. Obviously.

Obviously, all of these things that have happened are far worse than the cancer diagnoses and wars that have been going on with my friends and other countries. And now I had this sort of Bobby Brady laundry situation happening. Because why wouldn’t it be happening? The universe is coked up and blitzed on an epic bender, hell-bent to prove its power while also being cross-eyed with irrational mania. Of course my washer is vomiting soap bubbles.

I grabbed a towel and squeezed into the space I had to work with, throwing the towel on the concrete floor to sop up as many of the suds as it could get (we were working on about two inches).

This is the space I was squeezed into.

I should not have had that ice cream the other night.

I should not have had that ice cream the other night.

While I was back there, I found the valve the suds were spewing forth from.

Escape hatch

Escape hatch

To  keep the constant output of suds from running down the machine to the floor, I had to hold the towel over it while contorting myself as much as my back would allow to see what was going on inside the washer.

Impenetrable.

Foam fortress.

Once I got everything sopped up, I stared at the washer door for a very long time. The suds were impenetrable. In seeming desperation, the washer kept trying another rinse cycle, but that was only making it worse. I kept squeezing back into the space to wipe the suds off the back of the machine before they’d make it to the floor, then coming back around to the front to stare at the door, willing the suds to thin just enough for me to see some sign that it might be over soon. I didn’t feel like I could leave my station for more than a few minutes at a time, so I kept running up and down the basement steps to try to get other things done before going back to check on what was going on with the machine. I think it took about two hours before there was a break in the wall of white and I could see steel.

Really, really clean steel.

Eliza and Jay’s youngest daughter is staying with me this weekend while her sister is on vacation with a friend and her parents are out of town on a quick romantic getaway, and she had come knocking while all this was happening. Fortunately, she’s used to a relatively steady dose of madness, and, being the rare delightful 14-year-old girl, just sat sweetly on the loveseat upstairs in the living room, texting her friends, while I pretended to have my household in hand. Now that she’s hanging out with a friend who’s been overseas for several months, I’m pretty sure I’m going to get a text that she’s accidentally gouged out an eye.

It’s just the way the week has been going.

The Problem With Privilege

I can’t possibly have anything unique to say about pretty much anything relating to over-reactive police, racial tension, media, or  anything else that factors into the trouble in Ferguson, Missouri over the last week.  But in the constructs of American life, there is a certain element that we just can’t seem to see our way through.

I’ve read a lot of reports and opinions from professionals and amateurs; one of the great ironies of the Internet is that it gives everyone the same volume at which to speak, which means people who should probably just sit down and shut up get a megaphone that amplifies their voices just as loudly as those who know far more than anyone else about whatever topic is discussed. The result, often, is the wider dissemination of what is inflammatory rather than what is rational and measured, because inflammation is more visceral and therefore more instinctive. I believe that’s why demonstrations that begin with one goal end up a melange of goals and opinions, and things that start off peacefully end up sporadically disruptive.

In everything we’ve read and seen, it seems there is a lot of visceral reaction, natural and instinctive, that leads to accusation and defense—or defensiveness. Sometimes these are overt. Other times, less so. It’s when the accusations and defenses are less obvious that I think the most trouble arises, because it’s harder to know what just happened.

To me, one of the most interesting forms of inferred accusation and applied defensiveness centers on the concept of white privilege.

For the record: I’m white. So I can’t pretend to fully grasp the perspective a person of color would bring to this situation. But I also live in a dense urban area, in a city whose majority population is black. (And I use the term “black” deliberately; not all “black” people trace their heritage to Africa, which means they are not all African-American.) In my environment, to not acknowledge white privilege is to basically stay in my house and never look out the window or turn on the news. Which isn’t to say there aren’t people in my environment who don’t understand the construct.

I used to rebel a little against the idea of white privilege, because I didn’t understand that I wasn’t being blamed for something and I wasn’t being defined as better-off, necessarily. I’m not sure when I realized what it really was, but I think it was some time around when the stalker thing happened, because it had a lot to do with what motivated me to take activist action; I realized I could use my privilege to benefit other people, not as some great, benevolent white lady, but as someone the system automatically took more seriously and cared more about because I was white. (I also speak what people would categorize as proper English, with no discernable accent.) In all of my reading this week, I have come across a few essays and op-eds from white people who are upset about being assigned a kind of privilege, saying things like, “I refuse to apologize.” The content of their writing reveals that they just don’t know the definition of white privilege.

White privilege is simply about the fact that white people do not have to deal with the possibility of being underrepresented, mistreated, suspected or demeaned, as persons of color.

For example: If I walk down the street in the dark, no one is going to look at me sideways, unless he or she is concerned for my safety. But if a person of color – a black or latino person, in my community – walks down the street in the dark, someone is going to wonder, “What’s he up to? Where did he come from? Does he live here? Where is he going?”

If I get pulled over by a police officer, I will have no reason to wonder if it’s because of my race. (The only time I got pulled over and didn’t deserve it was when an officer thought I was talking on my cell phone, and all I had to say was, “Oh! No, I wasn’t.” That is literally all I had to say. He believed me even before I offered to let him see my phone’s call and text message logs, and he let me go without checking them. If I were a man of color, the odds would be much higher that he wouldn’t believe me, or that he would take me up on my offer to see my phone’s logs.)

In fact, getting pulled over after having done nothing in violation of the law is much less likely to happen to me than it is to a person of color, and my story is more likely to be believed.

When I go through airport security, no one thinks they should look in my bag; if it’s searched, it’s purely because of a randomized approach. But when my friend Adhira goes through airport security, there’s a greater chance that someone will think that because she is Pakistani (they might not know she’s Pakistani; they’ll just know she’s brown and looks Middle Eastern), they should search her bag.

And the chances of me, a white woman with no criminal record, being shot by a police officer are essentially zero. Whereas the chances of a person of color with no criminal record being shot by a police officer are higher. Statistically speaking, even if I was armed, even if I was threatening, the chances of me being shot by a police officer are still lower than if I were an unarmed person of color. Thirty-seven of 45 people shot by police in Oakland, California between 2004 and 2008 were black. None of them were white. In 40 percent of the cases, the person who was shot was unarmed. (No officers were charged. Other shows of force were not categorized in the data set.)

My whiteness means not only that I am presumed innocent more often, but also that I am presumed more innocent than a person of color. I am presumed to be a better person. Even when I have done something wrong, and even when a person of color has not.

That’s white privilege. It’s not my fault. It’s just a side effect of my having been born white. For persons of color, suspicion is a side effect of having been born something else.

You’d be irritated about it, too, after a while.

But here’s what dawned on me while reading an essay today written by a Princeton University student some months ago: white people tend to look at privilege differently. We think of it as socioeconomic. Of course we do; we’ve never faced discrimination—or incrimination—because of anything else. So we reflexively resent when someone seems to accuse us of having an advantage, because, if we’re socioeconomically comfortable and not trust fund babies, we probably did have to work to get where we are in life. Because we have never had to struggle to be considered equal in any other respect, our only understanding of privilege comes from the idea of money. But for people of color, the struggle to be seen as equal goes way beyond lines of credit and sizes of homes. It’s rather telling, isn’t it? We define everything by our own perspective…including our own privilege. Maybe if white people were better able to understand how other people define privilege, we’d be collectively more able to understand why so many people don’t have it.

Maybe then a lot of things would get better.

This Is Not Yet 40

“Are we old enough for this?!” the Ohio 5 tends to ask each other. We’ve kind of morphed out of “We’re too young for this,” because we’re pretty much not too young for a whole lot anymore. But the nuanced former question comes up with somewhat surprising frequency.

It’s not really because of our own respective, and relatively minor (though increasingly surgical), maladies. Two are married with children, two are aging, single gays (oh, they would just hate me for saying that), and then there’s me. Our lives, in general, while happy, are fairly banal.

I have had occasion to think about a lot of things in the last week or two. A lot of very heavy things. Thinking about heavy things makes me feel old and tired. It’s lovely to avoid that. Being an old soul who has recently found a sort of invigoration of forgotten youth, I have been able to shut out some heavy thinking. I needed to develop that ability.

But if you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you have come to know that I can be both incredibly shallow and really pretty deep, sometimes at the same time, and I can’t have one without the other. I would like to believe this is true of most, if not all, of us. If not, I imagine this must be maddening to try to understand from a not-me perspective.

And so it is with the stuff I’ve thought about for the last couple of weeks, alternating between a cavalier thought, a smart-ass comment, and a stare-at-the-wall-for-an-hour bout of What Does It All Mean? There’s the shootdown of MH17 over Ukraine. The actual warring there. The warring in Israel and Gaza and who is the more murderous party (I have my thoughts, and turn them over, regularly). The chaos in Libya. Ebola in Liberia. Endless instability and insurgent takeover in Iraq after more than a decade of American blood and treasure to save it from itself.

There is the House GOP deciding to sue the president for delaying something they’ve been screaming about being against, anyway. The refugee/immigration struggle and its heartbreaking human toll.  The disappointment, even for a lot of his supporters, that is President Obama. The general nightmare that is Congress, which nobody likes anyway, but now likes even less. There is what I see in the streets of my city every day: generational poverty, lack of education, joblessness, ill health, homelessness, lack of opportunity, lack of respect for self and others. I think about that a lot. Every morning on the way to work, and every night on the way home.

I thought about this stuff when I was younger, but usually from the perspective of an impassioned academic or idealistic observer. Now I think about it with a sense of connection I didn’t have before.

My cousin, already a single mother of a ten-year-old, is pregnant. Her father—my uncle—died of leukemia 14 years ago. She just finished putting herself through school for her BSN and got a job as a geriatric nurse. She moved out of my aunt’s house. She’s pregnant by a… well, I won’t call him what we call him in today’s vernacular; I’ll just say he’s a casual partner, who already has two other children. In this twisted world and her struggle of a life, sex in a car that she swears did not result in his satisfaction has somehow resulted in her conception of fraternal triplets.

I understand biology as much as the next person, but what. The. ACTUAL. FUCK.

I wonder sometimes, as a relatively spiritual person, how God or the universe or whatever you want to call it can be so overwhelmingly mysterious on a good day and just really messed up on a bad one as to govern a world in which so many people despair of their inability to have a child while people who could not possibly want one less can wind up conceiving three at once and announce their intention to keep all three. (Unspoken risks remaining unspoken.)

You might realize already that the news of her pregnancy led me right back to the generational poverty/lack of education/lack of opportunity/lack of respect for self and others thing.

My dear friend Will’s father died yesterday. He’d been in the hospital for six weeks with diabetes-related heart and kidney problems. Thursday morning, he arrested. They did CPR and intubated him, and Will jumped on a plane from Seattle. He arrived in Ohio just after midnight. His father died 14 hours later, as hospital staff were transferring him from a bed to a gurney to take him to inpatient hospice and take him off life support. Will had gone to carry some things to his mother’s car. Will’s father is the third parent in the Ohio 5 group to die. None have been older than 65. Two had diabetes-related heart problems.

My friend Kyle’s father was just diagnosed with a rare duodenal cancer. He is 51.

Amanda learned she has a stress fracture in her femur from the tumor and her weight. She has to find out whether she needs surgery to stabilize the bone, and whether that will derail her weekly chemo treating stage IV metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. She is 43.

My former coworker, Cedric, also died yesterday. Out of nowhere. He owned a gym, which is where his wife found him right after he collapsed, surrounded by personal trainers using the portable defibrillator. She’d had a funny feeling and doubled back on her way to work. He was 45.

Also, Facebook crashed yesterday. For like an hour. It was awful. I could not post pithy status updates about Facebook being down because Facebook was down.

Some of our brighter citizens called 911 about it.

Did not make that up.

I don’t really know where all of this is going. I started writing this post last night and then, bleary-eyed and exhausted from so much of life’s thinking, went to bed and left it to marinate. Today I find myself with even less direction. The initial plan to get as many of us to Ohio from our far-flung reaches for the funeral, with the understanding that Joey couldn’t be there that day, but would see the family a few days later on a trip he’d coincidentally already planned, has morphed into a plan to converge 36 hours later because Will would prefer that we could all be there at once. (This, for the record, never ends well.) We have joked more than once during funeral plans (we’ve had one every year since 2009) that it’s our version of “The Big Chill.”

That movie is 31 years old.

So I guess we are old enough.

South American Border Policy

You know how I wind up falling for men I shouldn’t fall for? They say something sage about my personality and I get all, “Oh, he understands me!” Dammit. The Colombian is making resistance so difficult. I have this very well-established border and he keeps poking his fingers through it.

We were out to dinner last night, and then to drinks afterward, and then to my house for a nightcap. Apparently because I feel a need to project my issue with Jack (it’s indefatigable) onto him, and because of a not-insignificant amount of delicious chardonnay, I wound up bluntly stating – again – that he doesn’t love his girlfriend and just uses her, but this time went a step further and told him she loves him, which I know because if she didn’t, she wouldn’t have gotten upset about not being invited to Colombia.

That part was definitely the wine’s fault.

Somehow, this does not make him hate me. To my surprise, instead, he pivoted, and said, “Have you ever had a relationship that you learned nothing from and got nothing out of?” We wound up having a very long conversation about relationships, and he said something that completely shocked me: the last time he truly loved a woman (which he says takes him a while – he doesn’t fall easily) was from 2003 to 2007, and he learned, he says, absolutely nothing from that relationship. He said she had been through a lot of really awful things – “Like, everything bad that you can think of has happened to her” – and he kind of wanted to help her, but the relationship didn’t work out and he took nothing away from it.

So why is that so shocking? Well, besides the fact that I don’t think it’s possible to have a significant relationship and not take something away from it, I was shocked because I think he was referring to the ex-wife he doesn’t admit he has. Unless, somehow, his great, wasted love coincided directly with that marriage, but involved a different woman.

Thankfully, although I am a pushy broad at exactly the wrong times (see: ten minutes prior to this revelation), I managed not to call him out on that particular life event at that moment. He still doesn’t know I know about it, and It seemed unnecessarily cruel to trot that out on top of the mild tongue-lashing I’d given him about Lydia.

So then he said, “Can we talk about you now? Why are you still single?”

Ugh, I hate this question, right? But I didn’t in this context. I said I didn’t know, told him I don’t get asked out much (to which he responded, “I find that hard to believe,” which is, for some reason, everyone’s response), and asked for his perspective. And his answer (and this is one of the things I really like about Javier) was immediate and honest. He said, “Well, I think you can be intimidating to some guys… like, they might say something they think is really cute, but you think it’s stupid. And I think you need someone who will challenge you. And not everyone can do that.”

Holy shit.

So, the intimidation thing, that’s not so new, right? I’ve heard that before, though I made the observation to him that it was usually uttered by some married guy friend with no dog in the fight who just wants to know why I’m single. I, of course, took note of the fact that Javi himself is not intimidated by me. But what surprised me was that he said I need someone who will challenge me. While that’s absolutely true, only one person has ever said it, that I’m aware of: my friend Deb’s husband, Arnie, to her, in conversation about me, which she later shared. And I thought it was a brilliant observation, but not one that everyone would put in that way. I think most people would say, less precisely, than I’m difficult, or argumentative, or something about how “tough” I can be. It’s a nuanced word: “challenge.” And here’s a Colombian using it in exactly the right nuanced way to apply to my personality vis-a-vis my relationship status.

Honestly, the consistency with which I find adorable his excellent use of the English language is disturbingly racist, unless one considers the fact that I find most Americans terribly inept at the English language.

The thing is, at least from my perspective (and Arnie’s and Javier’s), setting aside the trust issues that make me a little hard, I’m not really difficult – I just really like debate and discussion. It’s how I get closer to people. The people I feel closest to in my life are the ones with whom I can have a good discussion. And here’s the kicker: it’s what I miss most about Jack. Now, that’s relative, since I try not to think in terms of what I miss about Jack, but when I look back at what I think I lost when that thing imploded, the most aching memory is the way we talked with each other, about all kinds of things, without arguing – just talking. I loved talking with him. And I don’t find that very often with men. Except Javi. In fact, Javier and I can debate things – which makes him think we disagree, and every time he says that, I point out that we actually usually agree, but debate fine points.

I find debate and discussion sexy.

Huh. Wonder if that’s why I like politics so much.

 

Anyway, he left at 1:45 (“Since I cannot stay here,” he said with an impish smile – and no, he cannot. BORDER POLICY.). And I woke up this morning and immediately felt bad about foisting my thoughts about his relationship with Lydia onto him at the bar. Suddenly it was very clear that, while I don’t particularly care for that relationship’s track on the basis of what it means about him (and I had told him I didn’t want him to be That Guy), the issue is really entirely mine. So I texted him an apology for the ambush and confessed that his relationship is really none of my business.

Because really… I just want him to ditch her and be a good boyfriend for me. Right? Because he’s not intimidated and he knows I need a challenging partner.

Shit. Call in the National Guard.

Chemistry and Reading

My heart is still beating, more or less in reliable fashion, and I don’t have Lyme Disease. Or any other disease found in a CBC, chem panel, iron/ferritin and two other types of blood tests I can’t really remember now. I’m fine, except for the daily calf swelling. In case anyone wondered, in my absence, what might be causing my absence. Really it’s just grad school + life. But huzzah! My final is tomorrow, and then I have six glorious weeks of nothing academic to do! I feel sure I will fritter them away in a not-at-all useful manner. Which will be awesome. 

I cheated and started early tonight when I sandwiched an Arbonne party between two chapters about political interest groups.  Are you guys familiar with Arbonne? You know, the skincare line that charges you $600 for six bottles of stuff measuring between one and four ounces? Sheeeiiit. I thought my Aveeno Positively Ageless was pricey! 

But there was sangria, so all’s well that ends well.

The Arbonne rep is a neighbor, so one never wants to alienate. Fortunately, she’s the no-pressure type, or so it seems. And that’s good, because don’t ask me to slather six layers of product on my very persnickety face and then ask me to buy something on the spot. I have to see who I’m going to look like tomorrow. Could be Hilary Duff… could be Muammar Qaddafi. Hard to say. And since I’ve just slathered six layers of stuff onto my face, it will also be difficult to determine exactly what caused the conversion.

PS I’m broke, I have two classes to sign up for, and my property taxes just went up 46 percent. Oh! And do you know how much a Holter monitor costs? Here’s a hint: $16,000.

Of course I don’t pay that. Apparently they write the whole thing off or something. Health care. Who understands it?

Now, during these upcoming Six Glorious Weeks, I plan to read some stuff for fun. This will be the only fun stuff I will get to read all year. As you may have noticed, this could include blogs. So, without shamelessly promoting your own book, please leave recommendations in the comments section, provided by our lovely WP hosts. Fiction, but no sci fi or bodice rippers, please. I’d love for it to be something I can’t put down… especially since I might need to hide my face. 

 

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