All Souls, Forgiven

All Souls, Forgiven

So it’s that time: All Souls Day, Dia de los Muertos, Samhain.

These holidays, celebrated during  the time of year when the veil between the living and the dead is at it’s thinnest, call us to remember our ancestors.

Which is why, when it came time to write this week’s post, I was all set to talk about my mom, who passed away just over a year ago.

If you’ve read any of my past posts like this, you know a little about her, but I thought it would shake things up a bit if I tell a nice story about my mother, for a change.

True, it would take some digging, but I was determined.

Until, that is, I sat in front of my computer and thought, why would anyone care about that??  

A story about how my mother once cooked a nice leg of lamb won’t mean anything to anyone. It’s self indulgent and uninteresting.

Also, it’s not even true.

Blogging is dumb, I decided.

So,  I quit.

Just like that.

(It is worth noting that I quit blogging exactly two and a half times a week, and don’t really think it’s dumb, except sometimes. )

All of this brings me to Sunday night, when my sons and I were hanging out, eating the homemade chicken soup I had so lovingly prepared, and discussing something that had happened between my 13 year old and one of his friends.

(Those of you who are parents will know that, in recounting a conversation about my son’s friends, I am skating on very thin ice. It is for this reason that I will scramble all details, rendering the whole thing completely mysterious. If you think I’m being paranoid, check out this cautionary tale.)

So anyway…

My son mentioned that a friend (we’ll call him Chauncey) had an issue with a girl we know. According to my son, Chauncey finds this girl “spacey.” I, being an astute observer of human behavior (and also clueless in the workings of the adolescent mind) said, “Well, Chauncey is a little spacey, himself, so he shouldn’t talk.”

“No he’s not,” 13 said, his spoon frozen in mid-air.

(I know what you’re thinking. This is where I should have stopped talking. Who the fuck cares what Chauncey thinks?? Certainly not me, and yet…)

“Yes he is,” I said.

“Name one time he has acted spacey,” he countered, in full defense mode, like only a 13 year old can.

Looking back, I am warmed by his loyalty, by his willingness to have his friend’s back, even in the face of his own mother, who’s approval he still grudgingly,

almost imperceptibly,

but still most definitely, craves.

The rest of the conversation went pretty much like this: me giving lots of amusing examples of Chauncey’s spaciness. I was careful to keep it light, peppering the list with other observations, like how smart Chauncey is, and funny, and kind to animals.

“I love Chauncey!” I assured 13, who had already dumped his bowl of hot soup and was busy making cinnamon toast (a passive aggressive move that wasn’t lost on me), with tears in his eyes.

God.

The whole night went south from there, with 13 giving me the silent treatment, leaving me to wonder why in the world I feel it necessary to share my opinion on every little thing to anyone who will listen, or, in this case, anyone who has no choice but to hear it.

I let a little time pass, then delivered a sincere apology.

This wasn’t the “I’m sorry if I said something that bothered you” kind of apology, but the three part real deal apology.

He deserved it.

I had, for no good reason, criticized a friend of his. It  wasn’t kind, it wasn’t necessary and, as far as he was concerned, it wasn’t true.

Like the good and compassionate egg he is, he accepted my apology.

So why didn’t I feel better?

The maternal anxiety I was feeling was clearly out of proportion to the pretty minor screw-up. What was my deal?

It wasn’t that my son was mad at me, puh-leez. Happens all the time.

Only later, in bed, as I stared into the dark and hoped for sleep, that I realized what was gnawing at me: the whole thing, the petty observations, the criticism disguised as humor, the taking down of someone smaller and weaker—

all of it was straight out of my mother’s playbook.

Shit.

Thus commenced a longish stretch of self-loathing, which brought me to my kitchen table at around midnight, pen in hand, to hash it out on paper.

The veil felt thin alright. In fact, I had the unsettling sensation of my mother sitting right beside to me. 

Maybe even a little bit inside me.

I hated the idea of being like her in any way. Because I saw her as wholly awful in the mother department, I wanted her as far away from me as possible.

I remembered her falling asleep with her cigarette burning, spending the scarce money on Jack and stealing from my ballerina jewelry box. I would never, I thought, and opened my journal.

Unforgivable. 

I began to write.

But, weirdly enough, what ended up on the page, was this:

Yes, She Did That. But She Also Did This

She taught me to eat a balanced diet

She taught me that making art was worthwhile

She didn’t obsess about her looks or her body and that rubbed off on me

She was funny, and I learned that laughter is a survival skill

When I was eleven and chipped my front tooth, she didn’t let the dentist give me a silver cap, even though it would have been cheaper.

I put down my pen and looked at what I’d written.

Not bad, Mama, I thought.

I didn’t plan to post a blog about it. The list was long overdue, and it was just for me.

But then I noticed something had lifted.

I could see, or was finally letting myself see, in the dim light of the midnight kitchen, that I couldn’t help but occasionally sound like my mother. By the time I was thirteen (ah, 13), she had gone, but, like the sculptures she made of me as a child, I was covered in her fingerprints.

The only way to live with that, to forgive myself when I occasionally sounded a bit too much like her, was to raise the veil and take a long slow look at the truth, even if it complicates the story.

Even if it means I have to give in a little.

Like a lot of us, she was just an imperfect woman, raised by an imperfect woman.

And we are all forgiven.

 

The Princess, the Poison, and the Boy With the Pig Nose

The Princess, the Poison, and the Boy With the Pig Nose

Felt like a story this week. This one takes place in a town that might be the one I grew up in, with people I might have known, on an October 31st in the 70’s. Hope you like it 🙂

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It’s Halloween and Mama’s in a good mood tonight.

She made tacos for dinner with separate bowls for everything: tomatoes, lettuce, onions, hamburger and cheese. She bought taco sauce in a bottle and when you put that on at the end it tastes like a restaurant.

While I eat, Mama gets dressed in her costume.

She knows all about how to dress up, from being a professional actress in New York. Her costume is always the same: a long white dress like the girl wore in “Let’s Go Scare Jessica To Death,” (the scariest movie in the world), a gray wig, and a homemade noose.

I always make my own costume, like Mama.

This year, I was going to be Super Devil. I made a tail from yarn, and construction paper horns I stick on with bobby pins. I wrote Super Devil on an old t-shirt with magic marker. Mama saw, and she about laughed her head off because I messed up and put an extra P in “super.”

Doesn’t that just beat all?

Well I’m gonna carry a spoon and be a devil who just likes to cook supper all the time and it will be like on purpose, so I don’t even care.

It’s getting late, and I ask Mama if I can leave and start trick-or-treating.

“Sure, go play in the street,” she says, not exactly to me.

I grab my Kroger’s bag and run.

Outside it smells like fire and is so dark you can just barely see the kids in masks going from house to house. Some of them have reflector tape stuck on their shoes.

This year we all got sent home from school with a bag from the fire department, full of stuff that ruins Halloween: reflector tape so you don’t get run over, a list of treats that might be poisoned, and directions to a place where they x-ray your candy because people put nails in it.

Mama threw that bag right in the trash and said we should throw caution in the wind, which I liked.

Here’s my plan:

Start with the first house on the right, the Scully’s, then go straight down Baird Lane, turn on Addison, and all the way around until I get to the Deppings.

I move fast. Miss Depping is a bank teller and gives out whole normal sized candy bars from a fancy bowl.

After about an hour, my nose is running and my bag has a rip.

Right then, I see Kristen Kallenberger’s gigantic glittering wings from a half a block away. I recognize those wings because her father has been working on them with glue and wire at their dining room table since summer. She can barely walk with the weight of them on her back, but it doesn’t matter because her father has one hand and her mother has the other. They take a step and lift her up,

take a step,

lift her up,

take a step,

lift her up.

Is she supposed to look like she’s flying?

Oh brother.

My sneakers squeak in the wet grass when I turn to run. I got my devil spoon in one hand and my Kroger’s bag in the other, praying the Kallenbergers are to busy with their fairy princess to notice me. The tear in my bag is getting worse. Lemon Heads and Now-n-Laters are falling out everywhere.

“Friend!” She calls out.

She calls me that because I won’t tell her my name, which still does not stop her from coming over every day, acting like we’re siamese twins, even though I am nine and she’s in kindergarten. Kristen has every Barbie in the world and a dog named Cocoa who bites.

“Friend, wait!”

Dammit to hell and back.

She breaks away from her parents and runs toward me, her wings falling over to one side, silver reflector tape on her forehead.

“Um, I gotta go,” I call to her. “Mama wants me home before nine since it’s a school night.”

Mrs. Kallenberger catches up to us, all sweaty and shiny in the street light. “Well, we thought you’d be at home, Mae. Kristen says your mother puts on quite a show on Halloween.”

Kristin grabs her mother’s hand.”She dretheth up like a witch and thcareth all the kidth. She giveth out poithoned appleth!”

Mr.Kallenberger runs over, wearing an plastic eye patch. “Aaargh, that sounds scary,” he says in a pirate voice.

“Yeah, Daddy, and she hath  cauldron and everything!” He straightens her wings.

Kristen is hopping around like she has to pee. I can see that her pumpkin basket is almost all the way full and right on top is a whole Hershey bar.

“Well, I still have to get to the Deppings before I’m done,” I say, and start to go.

“Oh, poor Miss Depping just ran out of candy. I hope she doesn’t have any tricks played on her by goblins or,” Mr. Kallenberger winks at me,”Supper Devils.”

Oh brother.

“If you let me come to your houthe and get a poithoned apple, I’ll give you my Hershey bar.”

“I think you’ve had enough, Stinker Doodle,” Mrs. Kallenberger says. “And we still have to run your candy by the hospital. Mae, would you like to come with us and have your candy x-rayed?”

“Um, no thanks.”

“Pleathe, Mommy, pleathe?? Can I go thee the wicked witch?” She’s on her tip-toes.

Mrs. Kallenberger stands there, a big sweaty moon-pie, smiling at Kristen. “Well, since you’re a fairy princess I guess I can’t refuse, right? Give Mommy your candy so we can make sure it’s safe.”

“Tell your mother I’ll be by in a bit to collect Kristen,” says Mr. Kallenberger, and they walk off together with Kirsten’s pumpkin bag. We cut through back yards to get back to my house. Lights are on in most of the houses so we can find our way through sand boxes and swing sets and the Niedermeyer’s broken down Nova.

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When we get home I see a crowd of kids around our front door and the point of Mama’s hat. “Now who would like a bite of this delicious apple,” she croaks in her witch voice.

We scoot in for a better view.

“It’s poisoned!” A girl wearing a Wonder Woman outfit under a windbreaker hides behind a chubby Dracula.

“Poisoned? Why, of course it’s not poisoned, silly child. How could you say such a thing?” Her voice is low, like a snake. “Here, try it if you don’t believe me.” Mama knows how to be scary from being an actress, and all the kids are falling for it like babies.

“How about you? Or perhaps you?” When she’s in character she uses words like perhaps.

In front of her is a real cauldron, like a witch would have, filled with vinegar that stinks. Every few minutes she takes some white powder from her pocket and pours it into the cauldron so it fizzes. It’s only baking soda, but Mama says it’s a good special effect, like the red lightbulb she put in the porch light that makes her lips and nail polish look black.

“That’h you Mith —-! I know who you are!” Kristen pushes into the red light and close to Mama.

“Oh my, this potion must be attracting flies! Where’s my swatter?” Everyone laughs a little and Kirsten’s wings slump to the side again.

“You can’t thwat me. I’m a fairy printheth!”

I put a cherry Zot in my mouth and study Mama. She is very in character.

“Well, a fairy Princesssss,”she says, holding out the S sound right in Kristen’s face, like showing off, “is only good for one thing, and do you know what that is?”

Everyone is quiet. I try to stop my Zot from fizzing.

“Well, do you?”

Some kids are whispering, but Kristen stands there like a statue.

“It seems the cat’s got your tongue!” Mama says, so loud that everyone jumps. “A fairy princess is good for nothing but making princess stew.” She leans down to an Abraham Lincoln standing on our front steps and says “Delicious,” just to him. He backs up and his hat falls off.

“But should I bake you or broil you?” Now Mama is leaning over, combing Kirsten’s hair with her red nails, smelling her cheek. “Such decisions. I think baking is best, and you are just the right size to fit in my oven.” She holds Kristen’s face in her hands and pushes her against our front door until her wings are flat.

“You’re not nithe,” she says. Her tu-tu is shaking.

A red-headed cowboy turns around and pushes his way out of the crowd. “I’m telling!” He yells, and runs through the Niedermeyer’s yard into the dark.

More kids follow him.

Kristen is balancing on her tip-toes and the rope around Mama’s neck is dangling into the poison. I think about running, but there’s nowhere to go.

I hear sneakers running in the grass and kids voices growing fainter. Only one boy is left on the porch. His costume is a pig nose held by an elastic string around his head. He looks at me, and I know him.

Tommy Cribs.

Everyone knows Tommy’s mother works in the Coke factory, inspecting bottles. She’s so fat she has to sit on a special stool, or else stay home wrapped in a sheet on the couch. Mama says she can’t even get up to change the tv channels, so Tommy has to do it.

Me and him look at each other. His eyes say I’m one of his kind.

There’s a thud and by the time I look, Kristen is on the ground and one of her wings is bent into an L. Her face is red and crying.

“Oh, my mouth is watering. About an hour in my nice hot oven and you’ll be just right!” Mama thinks she’s so funny and gets herself into hysterics.

All I wish is that my Halloween candy could be filled with razor blades cuz I would eat it all and die and not have to be here with babyish Kirsten and Tommy Cribs in a pig nose who knows everything now.

Our front door is open now and Kirsten is crying, scooting onto the muddy carpet. “Thtoppit. I’m not playing!”

Mama is laughing like herself, not acting anymore.

“Kristen, sweetie??” Grown-ups can run really fast if they want to, and her parents make it across the street and through our front door in two seconds. “It’s Mommy and Daddy, we’re here! Honey, we’re here!” The two of them are on the floor, hugging Kristen like a cocoon.

I watch Tommy Cribs dip his finger into Mama’s cauldron and lick it. Then he’s gone.

“What have you done?” Mrs. Kallenberger gets to her feet. I’ve never heard her yell before. “You are a sick, sick woman, do you know that? A very unhappy, sick woman!”

People always say Mama’s unhappy.

Mrs. Kallenberger turns to me.”Mae, are you alright?”

I nod.

Mr. Kallenberger is holding a kleenex up to Kristen’s nose and telling her to blow, but her mother isn’t done.”We had a child run to our house in tears saying you were going to cook our Kirsten! That you pushed her down!”

“Oh shut up, Mother Goose, she fell,” Mama answers, pushing past her to the kitchen.

Her father picks Kristen up and the three of them head through the Niedermeyer’s yard, toward their house. For a while I can hear her hiccuping in the dark.

I turn off the red porch light and everything seems kind of normal again. There are still tacos on the coffee table, with all the little bowls, from before.

Mama turns on the hot water and stares at the wall where she always wishes there was a window. The steam floats up to her face and, standing over the dirty dishes, her pale make-up drips off, like milk.

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Something Borrowed

Something Borrowed

I have no idea where to even start this week.

I mean, seriously, right???

Like many of you, I have my own story of being groped by an asshole. I might write about it, I might not. There a lot of good writers and bloggers out there doing that, so…

And then there’s the feast of human suffering, always, always. No shortage of material in that department.

And we are all, in this country, getting a bit edgy about November 8th.

We’re pretty sure we know what will happen, but we’ve seen some crazy-ass goin’s on in the last several months, so we can’t exhale quite yet.

Maybe some of us who haven’t prayed much in a while are praying real hard right now.img_0996_lhasa_barkhor

Maybe some of us are gorging ourselves on self-righteous Facebook rants that taste great going down, but now we’re not feeling so hot.

It’s for these reasons, and the fact that I’m deeply grateful that you are here, that I’m using the blogger’s equivalent of “Phone a Friend” and posting something I read that made me

just

so

happy.

The blog is one I don’t know, probably because it is a Christian blog and I don’t usually read Christian blogs. Maybe now I will. In any case, quite a while back she had the good taste and wisdom to post this, from writer Mary Gordon, so I think she’s good people.

Some prayers, for a Tuesday. Don’t be scared, these are good ones 🙂

Peace, you guys.

Amen

larangan-bagi-wanita-muslimah

 

 

 

Eight Little Things That Helped Me This Week.

Eight Little Things That Helped Me This Week.

Let’s just get it out in the open:

I’m still in a bit of a funk.

But I gotta tell you, after dreaming about emptying port-o-potties all night, something does seem to have shifted and I feel slightly better, as of this moment.

But I don’t want to jinx it.

So because I had a Not So Great Week, which resulted in a lot of cracker eating and zero blog ideas, I woke this morning with nothing to post, thus breaking rule #1 of blogging: be consistant!

Well, shit.

Lately, the pressure of having to come up with a readable post every Tuesday has made me feel kind of like this:

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Which is why I had every intention of blowing it off this week. I wanted to write in my journal, or work on my other-thing-that-I-don’t-know-what-it-is-but-may-be-a-long-thing-which-I-might-call-a-book-if-it-didn’t-make-me-sound-all-fancy-and-full-of-myself.

But then I had half an idea, and it came to me like this:

Eight Ways To Make Yourself Feel A Little Better When Things Kind of Suck

The following is a list of little things that you can do today, if you’re feeling blue, instead of drink vodka or spend all your money on shoes.

  1. Wash your car. Now, technically, this can cost you money, especially if you live in LA where using water is illegal, but even if you have to plunk down a few bucks, it’s a small price to pay for the lift you get. I took mine in, and the guy even dug out the melted tootsie roll from the back door handle, which revived my will to live, for an entire day.
  2. Make your favorite song into your phone’s ring-tone. I don’t pretend that this isn’t old news to anyone under the age of thirty, but to me, it was a revelation! I knew you could make a song your ring-tone, but I didn’t know that you could use, like, ANY song you want. And I didn’t know that it would change your entire response to a phone call, from an annoying interruption, to a little mini dance break! (Do yourself a solid and find a kid to do this for you. I used tech support, aka, my eleven year old, so now I hear Beast of Burden when my phone goes off in yoga class, which eases the sting of shame.)
  3. Get completely absorbed in a book that takes you somewhere else. You know that thing about “being in the moment?” This is the opposite. This strategy is ripped from my Grammie’s playbook, who may not have been a voracious reader, but she was a big fan of living in denial, and you know what? She seemed pretty happy! Right now I’m reading this, and it transports me to a whole other world, makes me laugh and cry and forget all the shit that needs forgetting.
  4. On the subject of books, put a poetry book in your car. Full disclosure: I actually left the used volume of Anne Sexton poems in my car because I tried to give it to a friend and she was all, “Um, thanks, but I’m not really into poetry,” and so I took it back and left in under the pile of sweaty gym towels and Chipotle bags on my front seat. In doing so, I discovered that the time it takes for my son to go search for his ridiculous $20 water bottle, which I will not replace (do you hear me? I will not!), is just enough for me to read a nice little poem about death.
  5. Clean something dirty and boring. It has to be boring because the last thing you feel like doing right now is thinking, and it has to be dirty because you really need, you desperately need, to feel that you can make at least some things better. I chose to clean the baseboards of our house. By the way, this is something that, at age 50, I have never actually done. I am gross. In my defense, life has gone on just fine, even with dirty baseboards, so if this sounds like something that you have no interest in doing because cleaning shit feels like half the reason you want to eat all the cheese and stay in bed, skip it. I was comforted by seeing my wet rag covered in grime, revealing hope for the future underneath, but you may want to give this idea the finger, which I wholeheartedly support.
  6. Get rid of all your shit that’s broken. I have a necklace that I loved, but which has been tangled up for so long that I finally threw it out. Sure, I could have taken it somewhere to be fixed or buy a new chain, but in the three years it’s been sitting on my bedside table, I never did that. There’s a pair of pants that need new zipper, and a lamp that wobbles so much it falls over every time I turn it on. There’s the hose in the back yard, and my mini-food processor that smells like burning hair when I try to make pesto. Out they go. I had to make peace with the fact that some things just aren’t going to get fixed. That realization alone may have given me my first decent chunk of sleep in a fortnight.
  7. Start back doing that thing that you used to do before, for no apparent reason, you just stopped doing it. I used to wake up and write in my journal every day. I didn’t write anything great and I didn’t write for long, but it was a very civilized thing to do and for some reason I stopped (I blame my dog). So this week I started writing in my journal again. Not blog ideas, not to-do lists, just good old boring blah-blah-blah that goes straight from my heart, down my arm, and onto the page. It feels reassuring that I can go back to something I used to love, and it’s still there. I imagine this could work for almost anything, provided you’re being straight with yourself and you actually liked it and didn’t just wish you liked it. For example, I would never go back to trying to learn how to do this:                                                                                       unknown
  8. Give something up. I am not talking about sugar, or gluten, or god forbid– swearing. Fuck no! I am talking about something you tried on, but that just isn’t you.  Like, I’m giving up having my books arranged by color, as I saw on Pinterest.flickr_color_blocked I also saw it at a very artsy and cheerful friend’s house and I thought, “Oh, how cool! I’m going to do that. I’m going to be neat-o.” Cut to me cussing a blue streak while searching for the book on anxiety that “I could really fucking use right now, but was the cover orange with blue writing or blue with orange writing?!”  You may have something more deep and meaningful to give up, like a whole relationship, but it’s ok to start small, I think. Find something that just isn’t you and scrap it. Its the psychological equivalent of taking your bra off when you get home, and don’t you love that feeling?

Okey-doke, there you have it. Free advice from someone who doesn’t have a single clue what she’s talking about! Why else would you read a blog?

No, wait.

I know why you might read a blog, it’s the same reason I read them, and the main reason I write one: it’s a window. It’s a window into someone’s life, and that can feel kind of nice, or at least interesting. Because we all wonder if we’re super weird, or just a little weird, don’t we? And it’s also a window to see out, to yell across the unkept yard, “Hey neighbor! How’s it going?”

And to answer,

“A little better, today, thanks for asking.”

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This Week,

This Week,

This is one of those weeks.

It’s one of those weeks when I don’t know how I can possibly come up with a post, because something bad happened and I don’t have the words, or the will to find the words, that will make a neat and tidy story of it.

A friend died in a tragic hit and run accident. He was walking, someone hit him with their car, and left,

just like that.

I found out about this on Saturday morning, when I was standing in line at MineCon with my sons. We had checked into a hotel the night before, meeting up with dear friends who live far away, set for a weekend of fun that they had been excited about for months.

I opted not to tell the kids when I found out.

There wasn’t anything to be done, and plenty of time for grief, ahead. Might as well let them have a day and a half of believing the world is built on solid ground and can’t change in an instant, the way we know it can,

from ok,

to complete shit.

Besides, I needed time to figure out exactly what I wanted to say to them. What I had in mind didn’t seem quite right. What I had in mind was something like,

“Hey kids, I sort of forgot to tell you, between bugging you about table manners and the wet towels on the floor, that life, this whole experience that we’re all having, really doesn’t make any sense at all. Blink, and the whole thing looks different. Good luck.”

But I kept quiet.

So, we went to MineCon and I spent most of it with my nose buried in my phone, texting and trolling FaceBook, as a way of feeling connected to the people I love, who love Rob. Accidents like he suffered take a while to compute, and I needed to get it through my thick skull, what had happened.

I ended up with this:

The guy who loved my Grammie’s brownies, who sang my name every time we said hello, who helped direct my son in all those musicals, who played piano and wrote songs and stayed open and goofy in the face of so many challenges, who appreciated my boys and told me exactly why, who has a wife and daughter who absolutely adore him— that guy is gone from planet Earth.

Because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

WTF???

Just leave it, I thought. Like rain on clay soil, eventually, it would sink in.

At the end of the weekend, I told my boys about Rob, and after talking and hugging for a moment, we drove the freeway home, my thirteen year old staring out the window in silence.

My husband was waiting for us when we got home, happy to see us.

Then, when I went to get my bag out of the car, I couldn’t find my keys.

I was holding myself together by the most delicate thread and, now, between the car and the kitchen, I had somehow lost my keys and, I thought, this might just be the thing that does me in.

You know those moments.

It seemed to me, at the time, that my husband didn’t understand,

or didn’t want to.

And maybe— I’m sure I saw it (well, pretty sure)— he sighed heavily.

What?!

Why would he sigh heavily, like he can’t believe I lost my keys. Like I’m the first person to ever lose her keys! I thought to myself. Why, at a moment when I, so clearly, am hurting?

And just like that, I am curled on my bed, crying the scrunched up face of crying that feels painful and also delicious.

Why couldn’t C understand how completely on edge I was, after holding in so much and then telling the painful news to our boys? Why had he looked annoyed that I couldn’t find my keys?

I shut the door, hoping my boys wouldn’t come in, and I kept crying.

Like when a magician stuffs a handkerchief into his pocket, then pulls a different colored handkerchief out, connected to another, and another, more things that needed crying about showed up, asking for their due.

First, it was about C. and “why couldn’t he just…”,

and then because I was angry,

and then ashamed,

and then it was about how nothing is the way it should be,

and why are people so blind to each other’s pain,

and then finally,

(oh, there it was)

It was about Rob.

11 came in, his face wet because something wasn’t working the way he wanted it to on his computer, and he was exhausted and frustrated.

Before I asked him to please leave, to give Mom a minute, I remembered,

he had lost a friend too,

so we held hands for a while.

I know I’m supposed to wrap this up into some kind of story, right?

Well, apparently, if I’m a writer at all, I’m the kind of writer who can’t write about the really hard things, which, in my opinion, makes me like a chef who can’t turn on the stove.

All I’ve got is this:

Conditions are foggy here this week,

and since I can’t get where I’d planned to go,

I’ve cut the motor

to have a good long cry

about the situation.

 

 

 

 

Street Ball For The Win! (Ten Reasons I’m Glad My Son Quit the Team)

Street Ball For The Win! (Ten Reasons I’m Glad My Son Quit the Team)

 

My son, 11, has been playing in a basketball league for the past four years.

The poor kid comes from a family of theatre folk and bookish nerds, so when he begged to learn the game and play on the regular, what else were we to do?

Organized Sports are important, right? I  read it somewhere everywhere. As I’ve mentioned before, we’re a homeschooling family, and while this educational path has many advantages, team sport opportunities are not on the list.

So we put him in a league. He loved it. Life went on, (minus our free Saturdays, of course).

Late last Spring, when 11 announced that he didn’t feel like playing in a league anymore, I’ll admit I was sort of bummed. After all, basketball was his thing and, even with the hoop in our driveway,  I was worried that without scheduled practices and games, he’d never have an opportunity to play. 

As parents, my husband and I had a choice: make him play, because team sports have been so good for him and he’ll be glad he pushed through, or let him quit, and find something else that he loves. At times like these, I have this guy in my head, telling me what “the right thing to do” is:

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But part of my problem is that I also have this guy knocking around up there, telling me to take a chill pill and stop with the fascist parenting:

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Together my husband and I decided that it’s basketball, not dental hygiene. If he wants to skip it, fine. Finish out the last few games of the season, we told him, and that’ll be it.

Not long after he played his last league game, 11 asked me to take him to a park, a few miles from our house.

Not much was happening there, unless you count a soccer class for some pre-schoolers, suited up in safety gear like a liliputian S.W.A.T team, a few personal trainers barking orders and flinging kettle bells around, and a D-list celebrity, puffing his way around the track with an iPhone strapped to his arm.

(Oh, LA, how I love thee).

But for a boy with a basketball and an afternoon to kill, not exactly a happening place.

I asked if he wanted to stay, and he did.

I asked if he was ok if I walked a few laps, and he was.

As I made my way around the dirt path, he practiced layups on the blacktop, then free throws, and eventually sat down on his ball and kind of stared into space.

This sucks, I thought.

On my next lap around, I noticed that a couple of guys had shown up. They weren’t 11’s age, in fact, they looked to be in their early twenties. I caught 11’s eye, making sure he was cool and got a thumbs up, my signal from him to keep walking.

By the time I completed one more lap, a fierce game of three on two was on.

Two hours later, 11 and I were both exhausted and happy, and I was convinced. After four years of being a basketball mom, schlepping my son to league practices, Saturday morning games, “shoot outs” (I know what those are now), and trophy ceremonies where “everyone is a winner!”, I became a street ball zealot.

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11 in a typical game of pick-up ball at our park, photo taken on the sly 🙂

The following is a list of  reasons why I love that my son has chosen to forgo league play for the unorganized, untamed, unprocessed pastime of street ball, which can be played at our local city park for exactly zero dollars:

  1. No fair? No problem. One-on-one is fair, unless one player is a seven year old with an eyepatch, and the other is a high school senior with a basketball scholarship and an hour to kill. Que sera sera!
  2. He plays with people of all ages, races, economic backgrounds, and skill levels. You want to play? You’re in.
  3. He risks failure, and by failure, I don’t mean losing. Occasionally, my son shows up with his big goofy grin and his sneakers double knotted and no one is there. When this happens, my son calls it “a fail.” I call it a bonus! Whether asking someone out on a date, starting a business or writing a blog, the good stuff in life isn’t orchestrated for us, and all of it requires a certain amount of risk.
  4. No refs means he works it out, old school. Unlike what I’ve seen with league play, this almost never involve screaming or the throwing of tantrums (and that’s just the coach I’m talking about).
  5. He has a second home. No matter where he goes in the world, if he can find a hoop, a ball, he’ll be in familiar territory. If he’s lucky, he can make a friend. The world can be kinda shitty sometimes and, I say, the more places you can feel at home, the better.
  6. He has to talk to strangers. Again with the risk taking. Here’s how he does it, near as I can tell: he shows up, lurks around, shoots a few layups all casual-like, then asks if he can get in on whatever game is in play. Can you imagine??? Me neither. So cool.
  7. He’s unplugged. I’m always on the lookout for fun that doesn’t include a glowing rectangle in front of my boy’s face. Luckily, we need look no further than our local park. Street ball is analog fun at it’s finest.
  8. No buzzer kills the mood. When things are hopping on the blacktop, games can last way longer than the hour that a usual league game is allowed to go. More play time means more fun, more exercise, more practice, and one more lap around the track for me.
  9. He does it for his own bad self. Not only am I not expected to watch his every move in a pick-up game, but he prefers that I ignore him completely. He probably waves me off because having your mom hang around and beam at you is a little dorky, but I prefer to think it’s because, at the park, he’s playing for his own enjoyment, not for cheers, gold stars, or the requisite post-game snack of Go-gurt and Hi-C that some very together mom always shoves at him. Also, no one has ever received a basketball scholarship for street ball. What a relief.
  10. No trophies! Those of you who have had your kids in organized sports will understand why this is a grand thing. You understand because you too have a box of crappy plastic trophies that your child has been given for just existing, and you are as sick of them as I am. Even my son knows they’re bullshit. Anyway, no trophies will be coming at you for shooting hoops at the park, no sir. For his time, commitment and skinned knees 11 will only receive a slight sunburn (bad mom), and some pretty useful life skills.

Of course it’s possible that 11 will turn around tomorrow and ask to join a league again (kids are weasels, after all). That’s ok. But never again will I buy into the idea that team sports need to be organized. We’ll continue to take back a corner of our park for play, with our own, tiny, everyday act of rebellion: showing up.

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My Plan to Not (always) Plan

My Plan to Not (always) Plan

Happy New Year!

I can’t help it. I’ll always think of September as the start of a new year. Even at my age, I still love a thermos, a sweater, and a fresh stash of #2 pencils right about now.

And also— New Year’s Resolutions!

Some people hate resolutions, but I love them.

Even if they don’t stick, they almost always bring me closer to where I want to be, if only in tiny ways. One resolution to cut out all sugar from my diet resulted only in my cutting out all sugar from my coffee, but that little habit has stuck like glue and I’m damn proud of it.

Baby steps, people.

The nice thing about making new year’s resolutions in September, is that you can ride the wave of back-to-school energy that’s got everyone buzzed, and that can give your new habit some lift-off. Also, it’s kind of like taking it for a test drive before Classic New
Year’s, on January 1st. If you’re doing pretty well at your resolution come January, I say just slap that sucker up on your status update New Year’s day and proceed to crush it!

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If, however, you are failing (as I did with my resolution to keep my inbox clear), then you can just quietly sweep that one aside and do the thing where you resolve write thank you notes or run a half marathon.

As for me, I only have one resolution for the coming year:

I resolve to loosen my grip.

I like that it’s short and snappy so I’ll remember it. It’s also kind of relaxing when I say it to myself, so it can double as a mantra for my daily meditation (which was my New Year’s resolution for last year, and probably the five years before that).

This new resolution has been a long time coming, let me tell you.

I’m a planner, and I’m not super chill about those plans changing. Because of this, I get a lot of shit done, but I also miss out on the spontaneous joys, on account of the anal-retentive side of my nature. People are often surprised when I describe myself that way, maybe due to the fact that I have a filthy mouth and a very casual wardrobe, but trust me, I can be one rigid lady.

Last week I got a text from someone I really like, but don’t know that well, saying she had to go to Target and pick up a few things and would I like to join her, just for the hell of it.

It was a totally retro moment!unknown

She might as well have asked to borrow a cup of sugar or join her for a hand of Bridge and a Virginia Slim.

I stared at her text message and thought about a response, and the fact that I had my day pretty much nailed down already.

Which reminds me, as things often do, of an Ethel Merman quote.

At the last dress rehearsal of every Broadway production she was in, she would announce to cast and crew, “Call me Miss Birds Eye, the show is frozen.”

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Preach, Ms. Merman!

Each Sunday, after I complete my To-Do list and planning ritual (which is almost a sacrament to control freaks like me), I close my beloved date book, satisfied that all The Things will get done, that no time will fall between the cracks, ergo, I will never die.

Or something like that.

But somehow the charm of this young woman’s invitation melted my frosty grip, just enough. I knew that anyone who would suggest such a madcap scheme as running out to Target together would probably make a good friend.

So I did this to my Saturday list:

Pay bills, fill out insurance forms, get dog food, fix leaking hose, pick up glasses
and said, “Sure, let’s go.”

And that, reader, is how I managed to have an unexpectedly fun morning, make a new friend, and buy a box of jumbo paperclips, which no one needs but which make me weirdly happy.

In fact, I got so much happiness mileage out of allowing myself to take a little detour in my day, that I decided I want to do it more often. Friendships, passions, even solitude, need and deserve a little space.

When I was a kid, I used to catch lightening bugs in jars, poking holes in the tops with an ice-pick, to let air in so they would live until I could set them free the next morning (or until I could smash them onto my fingers and earlobes to make glowing jewelry. Sorry, lightening bugs, and God).

In the coming year, I will try to remember to take an ice-pick to my carefully planned days.

To always let in a little air,

so the unexpected

can breathe.

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My Homeschooling Confessions

My Homeschooling Confessions

Back to school time, my friends!

Or not.

I haven’t talked about homeschooling on this blog yet, mainly because when I mention it to people at first, I often get a look like this:

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I get it.

Even though it’s becoming more and more common, it’s still sort of a fringe thing and a lot of people have yet to know any of the thousands of self directed learners that are quietly kicking ass out there in the world.

Because I’m in a mood, I’m just straight up going to tell you a few things that might surprise you about how my family does it.

I’m coming clean, people!

If you’re a homeschooler, please feel free to make your own confession in the comments at the end. I think we could all afford to let our hair down a bit.

If your kids are attending a traditional school, my hope is that this post will entertain and enlighten you just enough to keep you from putting me in the weirdo box.

Here goes:

I don’t homeschool my kids.

Wait, what?

There are those parents who sit their kids at a table and “do school,” with their state standards in one hand and an American flag/bible/green smoothie/Harvard brochure (take your pick– I might as well offend everyone) in the other.

The best kept secret is that most kids are perfectly capable and completely driven to learn, once released from the system of compulsory schooling. Homeschooling is not something that’s done to anyone. As for me, I research, pay, drive, fiercely defend free time, and help out when asked.

Also, I make a stupid number of grilled cheese sandwiches.

I don’t want to be with them all the time.

“I’d go crazy if I were with my kids all day!” people say.

Although I do know people, nice people, not lunatics, who don’t seem to need a time-out from their kids, I for one require frequent  breaks from my boys and their scintillating conversations around Minecraft, parkour, basketball and farting.

Of course, I’m always there for the wholesome family dinners and in depth discussions on the plight of global indigenous people (a mom can dream), I make sure to have occasional social plans that do not include my boys, and they have plenty of opportunities each week to get away from their ever-loving mother. Thus, we enjoy domestic bliss!

And also not killing each other.

I don’t have teaching credentials, or even a college degree.

And as if that’s not enough, I hardly remember any math beyond the fifth grade level, and am pretty iffy on the proper use of a semi-colon. I’m not proud of this, in fact, I spend a lot of time trying to fill in gaps in my own education.

But guess what?

Go online and take a look at what is now available free, to those who want to learn. Boy howdy, things have changed in the past twenty years! Add to this the fact that there are classes, homeschool co-ops, the help of smart friends, etc., and I can sleep pretty well knowing my kids aren’t going to end up like this:

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I get bored sometimes.

This is a tough one, since whining about boredom can get you an epic eye roll from stressed out moms with too much to do and not enough time, money, or both. It’s not fair that our culture expects so much of women and gives so little support, and I know a few of you would probably give your right arm and last Ambien for a little boredom in your life.

Roll your eyes, sister, feel free!

But to the mothers who look at me and say, “I could never homeschool, I’d be so bored!” let me tell you that I do get bored. Because they are not quite old enough to go to the beach or run around town on their own, I go with them. I wait while they are in a science class, or basketball practice. There are days when I’m completely swallowed in the mind numbing dullness of just waiting.

Oh well, big f’n deal. You can always piss away the hours working on your blog 🙂

I had a career, and sometimes I miss it.

There is an assumption people sometimes make about parents who choose to quit their job to be at home with their kids, and that is that they must not have had much of a job to quit in the first place.

Once upon a time, I had a career and it was lucrative, rewarding and fun, but as we learned more about homeschooling, it became clear to my husband and me that we wanted to give it a shot. We loved the freedom of it and I was up for the challenge.

And this is a topic for another post, but it has to be said, so I’m saying it: I am aware that we were crazy fortunate to be able to make that decision.

Here’s the thing, it’s not that you can’t work full-time and travel this educational path, you can, mainly because this path is one you make yourself. But it’s a trickier balance, and one I couldn’t quite figure out, even though I tried.

So, while I miss being offered coffee, hearing, “good job!”, and working for real live dollars that would come in very handy, it’s totally worth it.

My kids have never written a book report or done a science fair project.

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The upside of this is that I’ve never had to force, bribe or bully them into doing a book report/science fair project, and p.s., we’ve saved major bucks on Mentos and Pepsi.

The downside is that they might never make it in The Real World without the experience of the book report/science fair project, and will probably live at home until their mid-thirties, playing video games in our garage.

Welp, hindsight is 20/20, people.

I consider homeschooling my job.

I take it seriously, and even if we spend some days playing Battleship in our jammies, most of the time we have shit to do, even if it doesn’t look like it to you. So, while I totally love the fact that we have the freedom in our schedule to help friends out when they need it, I don’t call you at your office and ask you to come wait for the cable guy for me, since “you don’t work”, because that would be obnoxious, right?

Right.

I am not any more patient than you.

Here’s something we homeschoolers hear a lot: “I gotta hand it to you. I wouldn’t have the patience.”

Newsflash– I don’t have the patience either! Holy shit– someone call the patience police!

Of course,  I make it a little easier on myself by not forcing my kids to do book reports/science fair projects (sorry, I couldn’t resist), but my temper flares up big-time when we’re running late. I lecture, I yell sometimes, I just pretty much lose it in general. The only difference is that when I screw up, I have the luxury of time during the day to breathe, apologize, and move forward. It’s true that since we’re together more, there’s more opportunity for conflict.

But there’s also more time for the good stuff too, including practicing the art of repair.

I sometimes worry about what my kids are missing.

It might surprise you to know that I’m not talking about social stuff. Homeschoolers are nothing if not social, and I’m actually so bored by that worn out argument, circa 1970, that I can’t even bring myself to write about it.

No, instead I worry that they might not know all the words to the Star Spangled Banner, how to locate the spleen in a frog, make a spitball or work a combination lock.

I wonder if my youngest will have to teach himself cursive when the zombie apocalypse happens and the only people who survive are cursive-writing people, which might be unlikely, but this is where my mind goes at night, you guys.

For every hour someone else spends worrying about whether their kid will get into the gifted and talented magnet, I spend an hour wondering if my kids will look at me one day and say, “WTF were you thinking, Mom???”

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And maybe that’s our common ground.

We’re all doing our best, and it still might not be good enough, whether we checked all the boxes, or ignored the boxes completely. In reality, most of us fall somewhere in between. We all lose our patience, need a break, adore our kids and hope for the best.

Here’s to a great year ahead, whatever path you make 🙂

Do What You Love (and also some stuff you don’t)

Do What You Love (and also some stuff you don’t)

You know how everyone says that hitting midlife is so awesome for women because we stop caring what anyone else thinks and can finally be who we are, without striving to live up to some weird made up standard “out there?”

Well all of that may be true but, as always, I gotta flip that shit over and look at the underbelly, because I’ve got an issue.

The truth is that while I am happy to stop torturing myself over the fact that I suck at thank-you notes and drink straight out of the milk carton (sorry),  some of those old self-imposed external expectations worked pretty well, and I miss them.

Take, for one, staying in shape.

Fifteen years ago, I used to go to the gym regularly and I felt great! It was just a part of my every day, a healthy habit. But make no mistake, it was fueled by the mirror and the x-boyfriend and the stupid asshole size whatever-it-was that I thought I needed to be.

All of that is gone, and I am thrilled.

But what motivates me now? If it’s no longer the fear of not measuring up, then what? Of course I want to be healthy as I age, to be there for my kids and husband, to feel strong.

I get it.

But in the face of a night out with girlfriends and plate of garlic fries, let’s just say they those goals get a little bit fuzzy around the edges.

Garlic fries are so yummy, you guys.

And fifty year old me has been a good girl for long enough.

But just recently, I stumbled into a strategy* that totally works for me, and because this blog is all about helping the world, I will let you in on the secret now.

By utilizing the energy of my largely untapped and renewable resource, anger, I feel like maybe I’ve figured out the secret to bringing about positive change in my life, or at least getting some shit done.

Here’s an example: Yesterday, I knew I should go to the gym. (One thing I will never discuss at length here is exercise. 1. Because there are lots of people who do that and know what they’re talking about, and 2. Because zzzzzzzz…..) Anyway, I knew I should go, but I just didn’t want to.

Like I seriously didn’t want to.

I was pissed that I had to take time out of my busy life of doing things that I can’t explain right now but that are very important (not), VERY important (no, seriously not), and the nagging awareness I had that, at my age, it is more important than ever to stay active just served to make me feel more resentful, and therefor more likely to drink all the wine.

Hold up for a sec —

Before any of you leave comments suggesting I simply find an activity I enjoy, like salsa dancing or whatever, let me say that I’m a grown-ass woman. I lived through Jazzercise and Tae Bo and that dumb kind of walking where you wag your ass around, and it all sucks. But I want to be healthy, so I’m committed to figuring it out. (If the tone of this post is not to your liking, I totally get it. Feel free to skip the rest and go do your Prancersize.) giphy

Anyway, yesterday, for some reason,  I did not do what I usually do, which is try to make myself want to exercise. Instead, I let myself be pissed at a glaring flaw in the otherwise perfect human machine, which is that you have to drag it off the couch and make it sweat and breathe hard if you want it to work right. And even if you somehow managed to do that today, you just have to wake up tomorrow and do it all again!

Intelligent design? I think not.

So I did what I so often do, I vented a little on Facebook:

“Damn you bastard gym! I’m mad I have go to you and sweat in you and smell your stinky smell and listen to your bad pop music and to your grunting hairy guys! I give you thirty minutes. That’s all you get of my precious day.”

Just admitting how I really feel about the whole exercise thing gave me a boost.

This is bullshit, I thought, pulling on my Target sports bra. What a total pain in the ass, I musedas I closed my locker next to a naked water aerobics lady who seemed perfectly happy being there.

Weirdo.

Oh, I kid.

Anyway, before I knew it, I’d done thirty minutes of something that felt like exercise and was free to go! Changing in the locker room, right next to the same lady from before (why does that always happen?), I realized that a good chunk of the negative shit I have around going to the gym is really just me fighting my nature.

It turns out, I don’t have to want to exercise, or go to the gynecologist, or stand and chat with my elderly Republican neighbor with the hair weave who is just a really lonely guy, to do it.

I and I do want to do it. Or at least, I want to have done it. 

Feeling bad about the fact that you feel bad, only makes you feel worse. (There’s some Buddhism in there somewhere, but I can’t exactly find it.)

So, thus concludes the probably one and only fitness tip you’ll ever get from me. Also, I’m not giving up the fries.

(*This might not work for you, especially if you’re a nice person.)

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Back In the Saddle

Back In the Saddle

Well, hello there!

What’s that law that says a body at rest stays at rest? I have come to the conclusion that this also applies to laptops, since it’s been full on forever since I posted here.

I have some reasons for blowing off my blog lately and they go like this:

It’s summer, which means my kids are home, which means more requests to drive them all over the godforsaken universe Los Angeles. barefoot-414385__180There are also more dirty dishes, more brother on brother fights, more late nights, and more sudden uncontrollable urges to pile everyone in the car to get salted caramel frozen yogurt. In other word, there’s shit to do, y’all.

 Camp NaNOWriMo. I signed up, announced it here and (spoiler alert) totally failed at it.

Lucky for me, failing is the new winning! And because I failed at completing my word-count goal for the month of July , I finally learned that I don’t do so well with external rewards and “challenges” to make me do things, even if they’re things I really want to do.

Maybe you’re like that too. To find out, take this short quiz: When someone asks you to join their “30 Days of Tongue-Kissing Selfies With Your Spouse” challenge, do you right away kind of know on some very deep cellular level that those are not your people? If so, you’re like me!

While it might be a very good thing if I would meditate daily, write a screenplay or eat more legumes, signing up for that kind of accountability mind trick is not the way to get me there. Unfortunately, I’m just not that motivated by fear of public shaming. If I was that scared of shame I would never have given myself a home perm or done all that musical theatre in my twenties.

So I failed at writing 30,000 words of a fictional story during the month of July, but I succeeded at writing 16,000. And guess what? No one gives a shit. Yay!

Trump. Unknown-1I’m sure I could just stop right there because you probably completely get why I couldn’t bring myself to write blog posts about my little life in the San Fernando Valley when our country is fucking itself up so royally. Did I spend more time than I should have watching videos like this? Yes. Could I have used that time to write? Does it do any good to watch Trump flaunt his idiocy? Would my time be better used getting active in local politics instead of eating my weight in pickle flavored potato chips and inhaling toxic youtube videos? Yes, no, yes and stop yelling at me.

Black people keep getting shot by police, like, just because they’re black. And yes, some police are  getting shot too. Everyone keeps getting fucking shot, you guys! And  if while all that is happening, I sit around and blog about stuff like menstruation and Facebook  I can’t help but imagine people doing this:

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It’s not that there haven’t been things happening in my life that I want to write about. Plenty of things happened this summer which I might eventually share here, but for now just let me just get you up to speed:

Our family road trip was great, and by great I mean that I saw parts of the United States I’d never seen before, we all still love each other, and only one of us got food poisoning from a  corn dog. Unknown-3

In July, my husband took the boys with him to the east coast for five days and I had the house to myself, which hasn’t happened in, well, ever.

No, wait. Go back and read that last thing again. If you’re a mom with kids, feel free to flip me off for even complaining for one second about the chaos of summer break.

I know, Mama. I know.

Having that time to myself was so great. Now, I could have used that time to write, but did I?

(I think we’ve established that that’s a negatory.)

Instead, I spent the time making these and binge watching all five seasons of Girls on HBO.  I did, however clean my venetian blinds, which took three whole hours, so, you know, props to me.

I also read a whole bunch of memoirs, including Lit, Cherry, Slow Motion and Safekeeping. All wonderful. All make me want to stop writing and take up scrapbooking.

And finally, there’s another thing.

Recently I learned that my dear friend, therapist, and mentor will not survive the cancer that she discovered not even a year ago. (Have I mentioned how much I hate cancer? You too? No shit.)

She is an angel to me and many people I know and, you’ll just have to trust me on this, if you knew her, you too would want to throw in the towel on trying to make sense of life and why it ends when it does.

You’d shake your weak mortal fist at the sky and tell whoever is or isn’t up their that they have lousy fucking judgement! Get it together, would you??! You’d bring wine and food to the family of your dying friend and feel helpless in the face of their suffering. And you’d think about how your own mother died almost exactly a year ago, and how, even though you were there in the room with her when her gaze went fixed and the nurse turned off the machine, you didn’t feel it like this, like you do now.

And the force of what you’re feeling now would pull the memory of your mother up,

up,

by the roots,

like it

or not.

Well, at least that’s what it’s like for me.

So, thanks for reading, and for visiting here again even though I disappeared for a bit. We all need to give ourselves permission to disappear, to have the chips and drop the ball occasionally, right?

There’s your thirty day challenge, right there: Give yourself a goddamn break. It’s ok.

It’s really ok.

 

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