Now you've got the chance
You might as well just dance
Go skies and thrones and wings
And poetry and things.
--Neil Halstead

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Yeah, It's Pretty Wonderful, Actually

Renaissance Festival, 2017. Only Eleanor and Bruce had
actual costumes. Betty and I just sort of randomly
over-accessorized and called it a day.
It's actually been a pretty wonderful year, all things considered. Not, of course, from a macro view--I'm sure the angels above are weeping with the war, famine, and general meanness of the world today. But in my little corner of it, most days, I'm content.

Granted, life has its share of irritations. There is a rhythmic noise coming from the living room that suggests Bob Cat is destroying something. I can still smell the acrid smell from when I got a little too close to our overly assertive fireplace the other night and my hairspray-encrusted hair got singed. I don't get to see the kids until Tuesday, which isn't too far away, but still just far enough to remind me that the day is coming in a few years when they will grow up and leave home (or--heaven forbid--move away).

And, WOW, the busy-ness! I knew it would be a busy year, with the reorg at work, working on the novel, and kids in every school level...but this fall has left me gasping for breath and wondering where all the time (and sleep) has gone. I can hyperventilate just thinking about my to-do list.

February, 2008. Probably the last time either Bruce or
Eleanor still thought Betty was adorable. And even then,
given her expression, it's likely Eleanor was whispering
some sort of threat in Betty's ears, probably beginning with,
"And, once you learn to walk, if I ever catch you in my room..."

And, yet--I'm appreciative. I remember where I was--physically, emotionally, mentally--not too many years ago. It's kind of hard to forget, actually. I have a super supportive friend who has metaphorically wagged a finger at me and said, "Remember how far you've come!!!!" every time I've gotten frustrated or discouraged to the point where my inner cheerleader now has that friend's voice.

So it probably shouldn't be too surprising that my favorite Christmas movie is "It's a Wonderful Life."

Conces Christmas Party, 2011. Eleanor's really getting into
the whole staged fratricide gag picture thing. 

I mean, okay, it does bother me that, at the end, all these poor people are giving George Bailey their money and they didn't actually need to because Sam Wainwright authorized a loan that would have covered Uncle Billy's deficit three times over. I hope he made them take it all back after they got through with Auld Lang Syne, although they were just dumping it on the table and singing, and it's pretty clear nobody knows who gave what. And, even if they knew when they started out, Mary was yelling at Martini to bring on the wine (even though Uncle Billy has a problem and George has been drinking heavily in two realities), so after the next few carols, I'm pretty sure Zuzu was gonna be fertilizing her flower with twenties. Which, if you think about it, shows some pretty irresponsible business skills, George. I'd like my $242 back, please.

But, aside from the ethically questionable Money Blizzard, I love that movie. I watch it every few years, and I cry every time at George Bailey's joy at appreciating the simple beauty of home and family. It is all too easy to get overwhelmed by all that doesn't go right. And some of those things (like George's looming threat of jail and bankruptcy) are real and big and serious. Big enough to get lost in.

And that's why we have each other--to find our way out of the dark places. The same friend who has cheered me on for so long is having a rough Christmas, and it's my turn to say, HEY, YOU! REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE AND HOW FAR YOU'VE COME! In other words, to do what I can to shine a light into the dark places and hope it illumines a path, as so many friends and family have done for me over the years.
Canada, 2016. There is a special place in heaven for tour guides who volunteer to take pictures of a single mom and her kids so that she can actually be in the picture with the most important people in the world.

So, Merry Christmas, or however you celebrate the season, and remember, in the immortal words of Clarence Oddbody, "no man is a failure who has friends."

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Bounty: The Other Kleenex

Even Hermione cries on a regular
basis, and she's the queen
of logical reasoning.
I do not like to cry in front of people. I suppose very few people do, really, other than professional mourners and the heroines of YA Romance novels. And maybe that's my problem--when I was supposed to be learning how to be comfortable expressing myself through tears as a teenager, I was awkwardly trying to shut off all brain activity to avoid crying in front of people.

In fact, when I can feel the tears welling up, it's like somebody just powered up the shields on the USS Enterprise...I stop listening, lose track of conversation, basically divert all systems into ensuring that no tears fall--or, as a fallback position, that no one sees them fall.
Sort of like cat logic: So long as we can both pretend you can't see me, it's like I'm perfectly camouflaged.
So today I cried in my boss's office. I honestly can't explain why. He's not a mean person, and nothing especially bad happened. I wasn't in trouble, I'm still employed, I actually like my job, and we both agree I do it reasonably well. I think it was a combination of sleep deprivation, hormones, and general change fatigue: in my three years on the job, I've had five bosses, four offices, three mail codes, two phone numbers, and I'm still looking for the partridge in the pear tree (it probably got accidentally surplused in an office move).  Probably, in fact, the afternoon's unexpected indoor rain shower was precipitated (har, har) by the exercise of trying to get packets ready for my new employees who are starting on Monday and wanting to give them a current, accurate business card:
An optimist would point out that at least the building hasn't moved, but that would not account for the fact that I've moved to a different building and then moved back to this one. A particularly snarky optimist would then mention that I haven't changed names, which is true. My last name change was a whole five years ago. It is still true that this is Texas and I am still a manager, so FINE, Mr. Snarky Optimist, you WIN. Happy?
So, yeah. Change fatigue was definitely a factor. I think the boss's exact words were, "So, do you think that maybe we could try..."

I wish I could remember what it was I am supposed to be trying, but at that point, the USS Enterprise went on full alert and I spent the next few minutes behind my shields, doodling frantically in my notebook (which probably did not achieve the impression of attentive listening I was going for), trying to keep the tears in check. This awkward silence triggers the boss to talk, offering more new ideas, which triggers more silence, which triggers more new ideas. Must. Keep. Shields. Powered. Lights are flickering on the bridge, and even Captain Kirk is getting concerned.

Like this one.
Now, the boss knows his limitations, and has been trying conscientiously to overcome them. In particular, he fully admits to not being comfortable with emotions, but, being basically a good guy, he actually used the f-word (feelings) twice and made a point of emphasizing that my feelings are valid.

So Scotty's diverting all power to the shields, and then the Klingons try to beam in some chocolates and a funny cat meme.

You know what happens next. Yeap. The shields come down.

Now, the boss is, and I say this with love, a policy wonk. There's less crying in policy than there is in baseball, probably because there are twice as many rules. This whole supervising trainers thing is new to him, and he is not prepared. I've been in training three years now, and I've learned two things: (1) as a group, trainers are comfortable expressing emotions, and (2) never, ever run out of Kleenex. The boss has only been over our area for three months, and after frantically scanning his office, he reaches into a drawer and pulls out a giant roll of paper towels. Not the pick-a-size sheets, either...the ginormous, heavy duty, clean up after hairballs and/or violent crime kind.


I think machete skills in an author are
extremely underrated. Yes, she honed those
skills chopping coconuts for tourists, but
think of the practical applications in
dealing with agents, editors, and people at
book signings who want her opinion on Putin.
Because one square of Bounty means that neither of us can pretend I'm not crying anymore. I think about covering my face like Bob Cat, but there's not a point really. So I do my best attempt at professionally dabbing my eyes with a paper towel and work diligently to bring the conversation to a dignified end. I probably would've done just as well with Bob's approach.

In an ideal world, we would avoid each other for another few weeks until I could safely pretend this never happened, but somehow that seems unlikely to succeed. So, I took myself out to a nice margarita and went to Katherine Arden's book signing (The Girl in the Tower--sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale) at Book People. Spending half an hour listening to her adventures in Russia and Hawaii and her experiences as a new writer was funny, inspiring, and just what I needed to reset.

And not all of the changes of the last few years have been bad, not by a long shot. In addition to whatever change the boss was proposing while I was hiding behind my anti-crying shields, I've had some poetry success, lots of love from family and friends, and, yes, written a novel of my own. Sometime in 2018, that could be me behind that podium, telling the story of how The Golden Feather came to be. Just this week, I sent my novel to the copy editor for proofing and received some draft illustrations from my friend, Steve.

So, I'll get some rest, regroup, and set the USS Enterprise out on a scouting expedition to navigate all these new places and new people, shields down, ready to explore. But I'll also bring the boss a box of Kleenex for his office. Just in case.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Bob Slays Christmas

Yo, Bob here.

They also call me Bib, Bibbidy, Robert, Bob Cat, Mr. Bubbles, El Bob, the Murderous Marshmallow, Captain Fluffy Butt, Bubby, Turdbucket, Tut, and some other things that I probably shouldn't repeat (usually right after I help them get rid of excess breakables--I'm considerate that way).

Anyway, I'm here to tell you why this is my favorite time of the year.

Boxes, amiright?
Those Amazon people are so thoughtful about putting random stuff inside the boxes to help them hold their shape. Then my peeps take out all the random stuff so I can sit in them. Even in July, it always seems like just when I get bored with one box, another one's on its way...but Christmastime? I can't hardly shred one box before another arrives.
Most of the year, I just don't get my peeps. Well, Nana I get perfectly. We both like naps and cuddling in front of the TV and she always slips me people food. But mostly my peeps are just plain weird. They don't understand why running around and breaking things at night makes me need to eat at precisely 4:45 a.m. They don't get the importance of running outside for approximately 30 seconds to check on whether the outside world is still big and scary (it is, but I keep hoping it'll turn back into the living room someday--you have to stay optimistic). The older two kids have awesome velvet-lined boxes where they keep these wooden screech demons called violas but every time I try to go in there for a nap, the lid falls down on me and I roll over and wind up on the floor. Embarrassing. Also, whenever I try to express my feelings by breaking glassware, I get yelled at. MY FEELINGS ARE VALID, PEOPLE! (And much more important than that figurine.)

They even put a nice, soft
rug under it, just for me.
But, Christmas, now, that's a time when they do their best to make it up to me for a year's worth of Stop it, Bob! and No, Bob! and Bad kitty! and I'm gonna put your furry butt outside, Bob! 

First, as I said, is the constant parade of boxes, big and small, all arriving just for my sitting pleasure. Also for my shredding pleasure, because there's nothing so glorious on the claws as corrugated cardboard, except possibly human hands as the silly peeps unwittingly get their mitts too close to my box fortress. That box is mine, peeps.

Second is the tree. Now, as I said, outdoors is all big and scary. I think there's a goldendoodle next door that might eat my soul. So it's really thoughtful of them to bring me a tree inside. 

They do kinda suck at picking trees, though, because this one doesn't reach the ceiling, and there's no bark to dig into. And after I kept trying to climb it last year, all of the bottom branches bend permanently down, which is downright pathetic. It's like the tree is calling me fat. IT'S FUR, DAMMIT! Stupid wimpy tree.

Anyway, they try to make up for the pathetic tree by hanging it full of shiny, colorful cat toys. Boxes and boxes full of cat toys. Unfortunately, they really cheaped out last year and hung all these glass cat toys that broke after a single WHAP across the floors. Then, of course, they got all dramatic and spoiled the holiday buzz by yelling at me, as though it's my fault they went disposable. Seriously? You call that an heirloom? If I can't fling it up in the air with one paw, bounce it off the wall, and send it flying to the floor to knock against the desk without it breaking, it really wasn't worth keeping anyway. They should be thanking me.

So after a few weeks of that, they wised up and invested in some non-breakable cat toys. Jingle bells--that make a cool ringing sound when you bat them across the floor and whack them into a bedroom door at 3 a.m. Shiny glitter balls--that bounce and roll under furniture, where they will be discovered well into spring. (Note--the peeps were all proud of themselves and said these were unbreakable, which I sort of took as a challenge. Turns out you can break them, just takes a little more effort.)
You have to sneak up on the shiny glitter ball.
First, you walk away, look elsewhere, make it think
you've given up. Then, when Mom puts the camera
away, POUNCE! Those things can bounce two feet up!

Now, we get to play this exciting game for the next month. I systematically strip the bottom half of the tree of cat toys, often at 3 a.m., then, after the tree is nice and bare, the peeps go around the house and collect all the cat toys (the ones they can find, anyway) every weekend to hang them back on the tree just for me. It's like they're constantly restocking my personal hunting preserve!

Observe the tree in the semi-barren part of its life cycle. I seem to have missed a few, gotta get on that.
Speaking of stocking--they hang these stocking things from the mantle. They sort of dangle, and they're made of this furry yarn stuff (mine is the blue and green striped one--yay, catnip!). The stockings are just at the perfect height where I can launch myself up and latch on. If they were only attached by something stronger than Command Strips, I could then climb them, ultimately achieving my lifelong dream of breaking all the stuff on the mantle. But, bummer--Command Strips won't hold me AND the stocking (I SAID IT'S JUST FUR!). 
The empty space between Bruce's stocking and my so-called sister Daisy's stocking? Nothing to see there!
(Because that's where the purple stocking was that I just pulled off the mantle and have my nose in.
Mom's kinda rude--she didn't even give Betty catnip last year, evidently.)
On Christmas morning, my stocking usually gets filled with a cat toy and some drugs (catnip is my drug of choice). Then, for whatever reason, the peeps pack it all away and things get back to normal.

Joke's on them, though--I know where I hid all the shiny glitter balls. Christmas is gonna last a long, long time.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Just Like Starting Over

Exhibit A: If you've ever loom knitted, you know it's a
ridiculously easy craft. You can loom a hat in an evening.
Or, if you forget about your blanket project for a few months
at a time, you can loom a blanket in approximately 2 years.
The 2 years part is a projection based off of my current rate
of "do 5 rows, get bored, and put it away for a week or ten."
So, after reaching 108 days of continuous writing practice, I skipped a day. I got the journal back out, started up the next day, and then...skipped five days. The sixes-and-sevens poems have been hit-or-miss for a month. And I'm okay with all of that, happens, and it gives me the opportunity to be kind to myself, which is a skill we all need.

I get a LOT of opportunities to be kind to myself. It's one of the side effects of having a teeny tiny attention span.

I blame Buddha.

So, I read a book about 15 years ago called, "The Zen of Eating." I was curious about Buddhism, and one of our trainers said, "If you want to understand Buddhism, read this book." It's a diet book, but it applies the Eightfold Path of Buddhism to eating...making the very abstract concepts of Zen extremely practical...and thus very easy to understand for those with a teeny tiny attention span.

Exhibit B: The jewelry repairs box. It's been there a long time.
Some of these are easy repairs. Some are failed projects or
partly finished projects or things that I kind of like but
have no idea what to do with. Every once in a while,
I go in and fish out a project and do something with it.
Most of the time, I pull each item out, go, "Wow! I
forgot that was in there!" and then put it right back.
One of the key takeaways I got from that book was not to be so hard on myself (which, frankly, may be a recurring life lesson)...that every day, every moment even, is a new opportunity to make better choices. In the context of the book, when you have a crappy day at work and eat a pint of Hagen Daz with a chaser of M&Ms, if you follow that with guilt and recriminations, your diet is going to fail because in a way, you're building your identity around that failure.  You become "a person who failed" rather than "a person who made a bad choice." One of those two is mired in identity; the other has a chance at self-improvement. The goal is to say, "My, that was a bad choice. But tomorrow, when I can once again look at food, I can choose better." Then, as you get more mindful about your choices, as long as you believe you can choose better in any given moment, eventually your choices align with your beliefs.

That practice has become a foundation of my identity: the ability to detach from present failures and acknowledge what went wrong without judging myself paired with a commitment to better future behaviors. So, when I realized I'd skipped a day of journaling, I didn't waste time berating myself for snapping a writing streak. I thought, "Okay, well then. That sucks. Guess I'll start a new streak tomorrow." And when the new streak lasted ten days, I shrugged that one off, too. I enjoy writing in the mornings; I have every confidence I'll do it again.
Highly recommended, even for non-Buddhists and non-dieters. Find it here.
Oddly enough, I've been mesmerized throughout October by watching somebody else's daily routine. I follow Shelby Abrahamsen (Little Coffee Fox), and in October she did a watercolor journal page a day, posting them on her YouTube channel, sped up so that you can watch her create a watercolor journal page in about two minutes. It is mesmerizing, particularly since I have limited artistic ability and it is therefore a bit like magic: watching lines evolve into shapes, colors layer, in surprising ways shadows deepen, highlights crackle on the surface...every day, my routine became watching her routine (which may, in hindsight, have led to me getting sidetracked from my routine, in one of those call-Alanis-Morrisette-THIS-is-what-irony-actually-is realizations).

It gives me a true appreciation for how much complexity is involved in art, which may not seem like it should be that much of a revelation to you, but you don't realize that the main thing I remember from sixth grade art class was getting pops from a coach because I drew a permanent line on the art work of an annoying table mate named Taco. I learned several things from sixth grade art, none of them about color, shading, or perspective.*

At any rate, when your artistic education ended with a loud thwack! approximately mumble-mumble years ago, the basics of watercolors can seem pretty magical. The whole time, you're like, "No, Shelby! Mushed pea green? There? On her face??? Wait. Whoa--that's beautiful! I never would've thought of doing that...which is why I should get out the loom and do another five rows on the 2021 blanket!"

Exhibit C: For someone who's been waiting anxiously at the ol' inbox for 2-3 months for her developmental edits, it sure did take me a long time (3 weeks) to actually open up the redline edits and go through them. Then it took me another 3 days to admit to anyone I'd actually finished. 

So, I'm okay with my lapses from journaling and acknowledge that I have the potential to make new good choices in the future. However, I do have that teeny tiny attention span, so I think that I want to give myself a shiny new challenge or two. I like the idea of building an image library and doing creative free writing based on images. I want to keep the poems and the Tarot, but give myself more flexibility in alternating those. The possibilities are endless; all I need is a brand new day to start over again. And a pint of Hagen Daz.

*Things I learned in sixth grade art: (1) Being a coach affords many opportunities to perfect the art of swinging wooden objects. (2) Sharpies are not an instrument of social justice. (3) "Because he's always annoying me" isn't an acceptable defense for vandalism.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Wearing No Masks

2007, Fairy version 2.0 with a fidgety (yet adorable) monkey.
Yesterday, of course, was Halloween--or, as we like to refer to it around here, five days till Eleanor's birthday (which, to bring it full circle, is known as The Day to Get Rid of Excess Halloween fact, if you were to ask her what to serve at her birthday party, the first thing she'd say is, "Halloween Candy").

When the kids were younger, we went with more traditional, store-bought costumes. Eleanor was a fairy for four years straight, Bruce was once a pumpkin, Betty a bumblebee. I wore jeans and sneakers and accompanied them on their trip down Sugar Street.

All that changed a few years back. First, they all got big enough that store-bought costumes became exceedingly pricey. Second, Molly, their bonus mom, and I were separately in agreement that homemade is more fun. Third, I rediscovered the joy of dressing up.

And thus, the fruit fly was born. Note that
I am proudly carrying my Mini Max and
have a fruit necklace. 
It was 2011, and, in a move that should surprise no one who follows state government, our agency had decided to cut back on janitorial services and implement personal responsibility for trash at the same time. We were all issued a small plastic recycle bin with a mini trash container that hooked onto the side. I think this was supposed to encourage us to create less trash and recycle more. However, people still eat at their desks, and some of them even eat healthy things like fruit. If you have a little bitty trash can right there, you throw your peach pits in it, and then it may sit for a few days because we're saving all this money on housekeeping. And that is how you get fruit flies. This led management to send out stern letters about fruit flies and the need to empty your Mini Max regularly and perhaps not throw food waste into it. I believe it was suggested that we get up and walk to the break room to throw away our food trash. This was not a popular concept, and I rode that groundswell of bitterness to a 2nd place in the Annual Costume Contest. (Note: I do not remotely feel robbed of the title, because 1st place went to our CFO, who dressed as a pirate, and the depth of irony in that is a thing of great beauty.)

From there, the costumes got more creative. In 2013, Eleanor was a kitty cat and Betty a bee. Molly made Bruce a robot costume, starting a two-year trend where Bruce wanted a costume with a mask, only to insist on taking the mask off within the first few houses.
I was Incognito. All night, every time someone said, "Mom!" I'd say, "I don't know who you're talking about. You don't know me."  Or, "SHHHH! I'm in the witness protection program!" Or, in an accent, "Whoo izz zist Mom you speak of?"

In 2015, Eleanor was Teen Wolf, with knitted ears and a poofy yarn tail. Bruce was a ninja, and Betty was a cheetah. Cats are a recurring theme with Betty. She has stated on many occasions over the years that her life goal is to be a Crazy Cat Lady, and the number of her future cats has varied from 10 to 300. We've tried to explain zoning laws to her, but this has merely strengthened her desire to live in an unincorporated area. Which would be helpful, because she also wants goats.
I was Bad Mommy. I wore pajama pants and fuzzy slippers, a bathrobe, hair rollers, and a shower cap. I had a fake cigarette and some very dark eyeliner circles under my eyes. All night, Bruce would tell people, "This is a costume. She's really not like this! She's a good mom!" And I'd be like, "What are you talking about? I'm not wearing a costume!"
Last year, Betty found a yellow dress at the thrift store, paired it with yellow tights and a yellow boa and a Chica mask and became her favorite video game character. Bruce and I made a Pokemon trainer costume out of a thrift store t-shirt/cap and some duck tape. Eleanor found and ripped up an old plaid shirt at the thrift store (there's a trend is well understood in the family that Macklemore & Lewis's "Thrift Shop" could've been written for me) and sprayed it with fake blood. (Ripped jean shorts, however, are all the style, so she didn't actually have to doctor those.)

I was Medusa. I painted my own snake on crepe paper and attached plastic snakes to my headband. I borrowed the snakes from Betty. I'm not sure how she came to have technicolor plastic snakes. And I'm not entirely sure what happened to them after Halloween. With Betty, you never know. They could reappear anytime, probably in the toilet.
This year, we were very resourceful. Betty wanted to be a llamacorn (which, to the uninitiated, is a unicorn-llama hybrid, that evidently has self-esteem issues because it hates unicorns). We found some colorful leg warmers, which Amazon, mysteriously, described as "club wear." I had sort of assumed that was some sort of Chinese translation error, because I really couldn't fathom anyone over age 9 wearing them, but my friend works near UT and says that, no, the college girls really are wearing them, even at 2 p.m. in broad daylight, and we are just both getting old.
Those leg warmers make me so confused. And a little despairing of the future of America. But mostly old.
I was a Precious Little Snowflake, Just Like Everyone Else. I overachieved by making quilled snowflake earrings (which promptly dissolved in the rain) and a woven snowflake necklace.
Yes, Bruce and I got our shirts from the thrift store, why do you ask?

Anyway, I made her a rainbow yarn tail, and we found a unicorn horn on Amazon, and she was set. Bruce wanted to be the Candy Bandit. Since he has started Theater Arts, he takes character development extremely seriously, so the Candy Bandit wasn't merely a costume--he was a character. A complex character, with a backstory that was revealed gradually over the course of the evening.

The Candy Bandit, you see, is the spirit of a 17th century Portuguese pirate who is possessing the body of a sixth grader for one night. This is an obvious plot hole in the backstory, because nobody, ever, would willingly possess an 11-year-old, but I didn't point that out. The Candy Bandit's goal is to use Bruce's body to steal candy from people in the greater Fern Bluff neighborhood, and he uses his arsenal of a trick plastic knife and an arrowless bow (he thought the crossbow was a bit too intense, so he took off the cross piece with a screwdriver) to liberate candy from people. On the way back home, Bruce began to reappear, dazed and vaguely amnesiac, claiming to not remember the events of the last few hours, almost as though he had been possessed by a rather underachieving 17th century pirate who prefers Skittles to gold.

Eleanor, however, wins for the Most Overly Complicated Costume Concept. In order to understand her concept, you have to have watched The Little Mermaid as many times as Eleanor has (approximately 862). For those of you who haven't (I'm assuming that's pretty much everybody), the sea witch Ursula steals Ariel's voice and keeps it in a sea shell. She then transforms into a beautiful human named Vanessa, and bewitches the Prince so that he thinks Vanessa (rather than Ariel) is is true love. Eleanor wanted to be Vanessa for Halloween. Teenagers are so complicated. And edgy.

So we found a tank top, and I made her a skirt out of a pair of $20 faux silk curtains that my mother has already claimed for her room, although Eleanor sent me a text today, "DONT UNWRAVEL THE DRESS YET I NEED IT FOR RENAISSANCE," which is teenager for, "Please remember that I was planning to wear that dress to the Renaissance Festival, so, if you would be so kind, please don't take out the stitching and give it to Nana just yet, Mother dear!" Although, if you read the last post about Eleanor being a Scorpio, you'd know that it was more likely Eleanor for, "IF MY REN FEST DRESS GETS TURNED INTO CURTAINS I WILL IMPALE YOU WITH THE CURTAIN ROD. Kk? Luv U! Thx." Eleanor spent Sunday painting a shell gold, and borrowed Nana's shiny shoes to complete the look, which would have been a spot-on reference, if anybody had actually known who Vanessa was without being told.

Already, some of us have ideas for 2018. Betty, for one, is going minimalist. She wants to be a PJ party, so she can wear PJs and flip flops with a party hat. Bruce has suggested that I embody the pun, "Mummy," and do some sort of Mom-mummy hybrid. We'll just have to see what strange new characters possess us next year.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Signs and Serial Killers

Betty, age 4, perfectly capturing the moment.
No pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin lattes,
pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin potato chips
(Okay, I probably made that WAIT, I
googled it. It exists. NOOOOOOO!)
It's been a while, right? October hit with the force of a thousand pumpkins flung by an industrial grade catapult, which is one of the main things pumpkins are good for, except the roasted seeds.

But I digress.

It has been a busy few weeks. Choir, orchestra, volleyball, school dances and football games, long division...and yes, getting ready for Halloween.

One of the small things that's given me some laughs during all the craziness is a little Internet meme I came across based on astrology. I've always been skeptical of astrology, mainly because I never wanted to be a Virgo. They seem so fussy, so particular, so...uptight. I am not detail oriented, I boring! At which point, a friend gently reminded me of the surgical precision with which I dissect other people's writing as an editor at work. Okay, fine, I said, but I don't enjoy it. And then the next day caught myself spending an hour researching the correct use of punctuation in legal citations. Oops.

There are some less boring aspects of being a Virgo, though. Idealism, creativity, integrity, poetry...and the ability to beat the crud out of a serial killer (after an initial freak out period). Here's the meme:
Now, this is hilarious, because it is pretty much dead on (I know, bad pun). I shared it with Eleanor, and she immediately started cracking up, as did one of my closest friends, because any major thing that happens, I legitimately lose my mind for anywhere from 5 minutes to 24 hours...then promptly settle down and get to business and solve whatever the problem is. In fact, these days I can recognize the early onset hysteria and tell myself, "Wow. That even sounds irrational to me, and I'm the one thinking it. Okay, self. I'm giving you 30 minutes to write about how horrible this is and how it might actually result in the end of life as we know it, and then we're going to bed so we can be back to normal in the morning." And that pretty much works.

It is also pretty accurate for the rest of the household. Bruce and Betty are Sagittariuses, and they would talk to anyone and try to sympathize with them and understand their point of view. Eleanor is a Scorpio, and all of us, including Eleanor, agree she is most likely to kill the killer. In fact, if there is ever a zombie apocalypse, I highly recommend tracking down Eleanor and getting into her group. It would totally increase your survival chances, at least until you become sick, injured, or any sort of liability, at which time she will immediately cut off your leg and leave you for bait so the rest of the group can escape. Don't be that way---you know it needs to happen.

So this is how I'd imagine this going down:

Serial killer brandishes knife.

Me: Ohshitohshitohshitohshit.

Eleanor: O.M.G.!!! <exasperated sigh> Which one of you IDIOTS let in the serial killer?

Nobody says anything. We all look at Betty, and Betty looks down guiltily, because we all know she was the most likely culprit. He probably looked lonely.

Eleanor: Fine. I guess I'll have to take care of this, LIKE I DO EVERYTHING. <Stomps off.>

Serial killer: You're all gonna die.

Me: Okay, I got this. <starts looking around for weapon> Nobody panic!
Adorable, cheerful, and very clearly comfortable embracing
their inner crazies....yep, they are so ready to be accomplices!

Betty: That's a cool knife, Mr. Serial Killer. I like the blade. It sparkles. Wanna see my fidget spinner? It sparkles, too.

Bruce: I'm taking fencing lessons. You want me to show you the stance? Here, it's like this.

Bruce goes over and gives the serial killer pointers on knife movements. Betty borrows his blade and slashes the sofa cushions, then wanders off to get a sock so she can make a sock puppet with all of the fluff from the pillows.

Eleanor <returns>: SERIOUSLY? What is WRONG with you people?

In fact, if the serial killer gets anywhere within
two feet, he gets impaled with the bow.
Look at that face.
Serial Killer <somewhat disoriented, takes pillow fluff out of his hair and grabs his knife back from Bruce>: Um...I'm gonna kill you? I think?

Eleanor pulls out a gun.

Bruce: No, Eleanor! He's just misunderstood!

Betty: I am opposed to hurting people. Or chickens or pigs. Except for bacon.

Bruce: He's got feelings!

Eleanor <shoots serial killer>: And now he's feeling dead. I am NOT cleaning this up. I got rid of the serial killer; you people clean up the corpse.

Bruce and Betty: BUT, BUT...

Eleanor <puts up hand>: Nope. We're done here.*** I'm gonna go watch Netflix.

At which point I immediately begin organizing clean-up and corpse disposal, notify the necessary authorities, and bake cookies to comfort Bruce and Betty for the loss of their new friend, while Googling how to get bloodstains out of sofa cushions and trying to find the cats. Because, you know, I'm a Virgo...and that's what we do.

***Eleanor is known in the family as the Arbiter of Done. At some point in any conversation, it will cross some arbitrary line, and Eleanor will declare, "Okay, we're done here." My boss wants to hire her to follow him to meetings and declare them done, reckoning it would be a huge time saver. I think she has an excellent future in organizational consulting.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Constellation of Low-Grade Anxieties

I've been thinking lately about anxiety, and all of its different manifestations, and how seldom any of the things we worry about, usually between the hours of 2:30 and 3:45 a.m., actually manifest in the bright light of day. (Planet X, I'm talking to you.)

If we're unlucky, I'll get tongue tied,
then manage to say something so
incredibly awkward that the other
passengers will attempt to throw
themselves down the elevator shaft
to escape the noxious cloud of
I have no trouble reading deeply personal poetry into a microphone, or delivering a presentation to a hundred people (thanks, no doubt, to a career that has frequently required me to babble at length in public settings about subjects on which I am at best marginally well informed). However, ask me to make small talk to people on an elevator and, if we are all very lucky, I'll be tongue tied.

Bruce is anxious about nuclear war, North Korea, being left without adult supervision for more than 30 minutes, and where he and his sisters will live as grown ups that will meet their individual preferences while still being close enough to not be a hardship for me to visit them. Yet, on the fourth day of his first year in junior high, he got up in front of a class of fellow sixth graders and acted his little heart out for the first time, displaying emotions and facial expressions that had the class laughing and clapping. He likes to play his viola for me, but he worries if I am ten minutes late in the driveway.

Number of times I've heard her sing: 1
She tells me this is because Alto 2 is really
boring and all she does is hold a single note
for a really long time so there's nothing to hear.
This is called lying.
Eleanor doesn't worry about international politics or war, but every choir competition or performance sends her to the bathroom for a ten-minute panic attack.

Betty can make friends with the new kid in class and deliberately change seats every single day so she can sit with as many new kids as possible, but attempts to hide behind me at family gatherings.

I have a friend whose anxiety sometimes won't let her leave the house, but is brave enough to share her struggles on social media and even begin a memoir about them.

So anxiety is something we all have, but in strange and subtle ways, like a fingerprint whose swirls and ripples tells the story of our emotional lives.

I've been embarking on a sort of challenge here lately, inspired by <I apologize for the banality of this in advance> Pinterest. I know, right?

Okay, it's 15 minutes before
6:00 a.m. But still. Until this
summer, I was pretty sure
all times before 6:00 a.m.
were part of some sort of
alternate and particularly
sketchy dimension.
So, this challenge is in addition to all of the other challenges I keep giving myself. First, there was the Continuous Practice challenge, inspired by a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook. That challenge was to do something creative every day as an act of mindful creation. Now, the actual challenge, I never could figure out how to join on Facebook. But, never fear, I blended it with the Morning Pages challenge from one of my favorite bloggers, Little Coffee Fox. (Her motto is "Inspiration Through Organization," and I promise you, I feel the irony, and it burns.). So, my "something creative every day" became "to write morning pages." I even, and this should call for some form of electroshock therapy, have been getting up before 6:00 a.m. to meet these challenges. And because that wasn't challenging enough, I decided to make one of my three morning pages devoted to a challenge from one of my other favorite bloggers, Brigit Esselmont of Biddy Tarot (since college I've used tarot cards as a tool to help me examine my thoughts, question my motivations, and generally find new ways to think about what's going on in my life). And when you're already doing three writing challenges a day, what's one more? I intended to go to a poetry critique group one Saturday with the prompt of writing a seven-line poem. I didn't actually go, because Hurricane Harvey came through and I wasn't sure if I'd need to go into the office or not. Never fear, though, because I really got into the prompt and began writing a six- or seven-line poem every evening.

So, of course, when you're already doing four overlapping writing challenges a day, what you obviously need (besides to stop following so many bloggers) is to go on Pinterest and find inspiration for a fifth writing challenge. And, oh, my friends, Pinterest will provide!

*Also interesting? How the truth journaling
aspects of my morning pages manifestation
of my continuous practice is reflected in my
tarot draws and expressed in my daily poems.
Because I am a multi-tasking beast, people!
(For those who don't tarot, the reversed
ten of swords, very appropriately, suggests
cutting through the lies you tell yourself.)
Anyway, Writing Challenge #5 is something called "truth journaling." The idea is to pour out what psychology folk call the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) on paper, and then methodically cross-examine those and debunk them. I like me pretty well as a person and am reasonably content with my life, but I do have some very deep anxieties about my exterior. The interesting part of the truth journaling aspect of my morning pages manifestation of my continuous practice* is how, when I really reflect on each little thing I don't like about my appearance, it really traces back to some bit of social anxiety from my youth. I'm too tall? Comes from years of kids asking me how the weather is up here, hordes of well-meaning adults asking if I played basketball, and decades of frustration in department stores trying to find sweaters whose sleeves reach the wrist. My feet are too big? Comes from the horror of needing black shoes for marching band and having to buy granny shoes at SAS. All minor, low-grade anxieties that linger like the after-effects of a pot of sauerkraut, polluting the air long after the ridiculousness of teen angst has passed. Examined in that light, they were as outdated as the granny shoes and much easier to put in the dumpster.

I highly recommend any one (or more!) of the challenges above. Since July 16, 2017, I have written 267 pages, 74 continuous practice sets of morning pages, reflected on 88 tarot cards, and written 36 six- or seven-line poems. I've gotten some great insights into myself and others, and I've gotten at least a bit more comfortable with looking in the mirror. All of which may, possibly, just maybe, be worth getting up at 5:45 for.
The journal my kids got me for Christmas. I started writing in July and it's half full. This will make them happy because it will give them something concrete to shop for next Christmas.
Also, Sharpie pens are awesome.