Sunday, February 28, 2010

Experience

Just as no one can prepare you for the complexities of bringing a child into this world, no one and nothing can prepare you for the utter suckitude of ushering your parents out.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Where the sidewalk ends

Ran 4.85 miles today. It was a slow, really nice run, because I took a ton of pictures and amused myself vastly in the process of seeing how many LDS Churches I could find during one 5-mile loop.

Hidden Treasures

Just now, I was looking through my mother's desk drawers for a tape measure, so we could take her measurements for clothes shopping.

In the bottom drawer, I came across about 5 old cassette tapes from my BYU days that almost made me cry with surprise.

Most salient: Les Miserables and 10,000 Maniacs, In My Tribe.

p.s. The birthday party was really fun. I couldn't have been more wrong or twit-minded.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Deliberately

My training suggests that tomorrow, I should run 7 miles. The long, Saturday run, after all. I just mapped out what 3.5 miles from my parents' house is, and it turns out it is almost exactly where I lived my Freshman year of college. Hee, I should map the distance to where I lived Sophomore year. So, run down, turn around, run back. Right?

I keep thinking about how long it took me last week to recover from 6.5 miles. I'm only here til Monday. This may sound like a huge cop out, but is it really fair to my parents to a) spend two hours running (oh yes, oh definitely, because there will also be walking) and then the rest of my stay here recovering from said experience.

The half-marathon is in July. I think I can have a shorter run tomorrow.

Titles are for people who can think of titles.

My dad went to the doctor today to have some stitches taken out of his finger. He said this morning that it was bothering him more than it had been.

He has a melanoma on the tip of his finger. The lymph nodes in his right arm look okay, but now they need not only to look more closely at the finger, but also to make sure there isn't cancer anywhere else.

He is going to have to have about an inch removed from his right ring finger. We are feeling pretty somber about it. Today my mother (who has chronic pain) noted, "Dad doesn't have any pain, but when he gets sick, it's serious." [See: Triple heart bypass in August.]

After we found out, I showered, and was checking in on my computer, and my mother remarked, "You don't seem very upset about Dad's finger. I'm very upset. Are you upset?"

I glanced at her and pulled a Spock*: "What would you like me to do? Would you like me to lie on the floor weeping? Yes, I am upset. But there is nothing I can do about it." 

"Will you come out when he has the surgery?"

"Yes."

This conversation occurred about 5 times in the next ten minutes. Mom wants me to come out when Dad gets his finger operated on. Dad says I don't have to. It was the opposite when he had the heart surgery: my mother thought they could handle things fine on their own. But an inch of a finger? Well, my dad might need help counting out her pills.

I don't mean to sound glib or bitter. I'm not. I'm just tense, and I will probably be tense throughout this visit. That's the way it goes.

Sigh. I will see when his surgery is scheduled. He probably won't be able to drive himself home, depending on the anesthesia.

Today, my mother and I debated whether or not her autonomy in wishing to drive to the grocery store on pain meds and with severe arthritis and slow reaction times was worth someone's life. We chose to disagree. Guess which side I fell on?

I took my mother to get her hair done, then, as I do every single time I am here, went to buy her some clothes that she won't like, that won't fit, and that I will have to return tomorrow. We came back, and it was sunny and gorgeous and almost 60 degrees. I changed into my running clothes and then heard my mother faintly calling to me from her bed. I should perhaps note that I absolutely fucking HATE when I hear her faintly calling to me from her bed. It grates on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard. I went into the bedroom and she told me the clothes didn't fit.

I said, "Imagine."

"Can we take them back?"

"Yes. But not right now."

I left the room, and heard her faintly calling my name, so I faintly called back, "I am going running, and I cannot hear you."

I ran in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. I am seriously irked that I do not and cannot seem to have more control over my thoughts. They are my thoughts, they are in MY head, and I do not want to have them. Is it enough just to bite my tongue, not to act on them? I found myself thinking on my run today, "I shouldn't have brought myself with me when I came out to Utah. Who thought *that* was a good idea?"

I take out on my body my frustration with my mind, running again today until I felt like I would throw up. My time on my workout seems to suck, unless you consider how much of a vertical climb up a mountain that I walked (about half mile). I will take pictures tomorrow.

This evening, we are going to the 50th birthday party of my cousin Greg. Greg has struggled with an incurable, familial, genetic disorder for years. It mimics Parkinson's. His older sister Nancy had it and died at age 50, so Greg's goal has been to make it to 50. I haven't seen him for about twenty years, since his wedding, which ended badly three kids later. Greg has lived with his father (my aunt died shortly after Nancy died, probably of a heart attack) for many years. He has turned into an extremely talented painter over the years, which I find heart-rending, admirable, and beautiful.

I don't want to go to the birthday party. It will be awkward. I ran 4 miles today. Greg is dying. I don't know him. I don't know what to say.

I want a nap.

*Leonard Bones McCoy: My God, man, you could at least *act* like it


was a hard decision...
Spock: I intend to assist in the effort to reestablish communication
  with Starfleet. However, if crew morale is better served by my
  roaming the halls weeping, I will gladly defer to your medical
  expertise. Excuse me.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Driving down to the mall for a burger
Sitting in the backseat
40-year-old teenager
my parents sit in front , my mother
talks about neighbors
Connie doesn’t like the word dementia
So many variables

I stare out the window at the mountains
How beautiful the light is, hitting
Trees, brick buildings, windows.
Well, then what word should we use?
The sun lights up the bottom of the mountains,
Craggy brown rocks seep through snow.
There are just so many variables.
Bickering
Breaking through
All that light

Training

I am in Utah, otherwise known as the land of a thousand sticks of gum. Or maybe that's just my parents' house.

It hit 50 degrees in the car on the way to Provo from the airport. It was sunny and the skies were blue. So, even though I just got there, having sat a lot in the past two days, I immediately changed into my running gear and headed out.

I didn't want to take the time to map out a course before going today, so I decided to run out 20 minutes and then turn around and head back. I started by running half-way up Foothills Drive. I'll take pics tomorrow. I need to work on hills for the 1/2 marathon, but I didn't try to do the entire hill today.

Before I had gotten half-way in my run, I came across a small dog in the road. So, I paused my music and crouched down and tried to get the dog to come to me, so I could look at his tag and maybe return him. He growled and barked, so I sat down on some steps near the sidewalk, leading up to one of the many LDS church parking lots. I was sitting there, looking at the dog, who was growing and yipping and hopping toward the traffic, when two women drove past me in a little yellow car, glaring at me. I muttered, "It's not my dog. I don't even live here. I just got off a plane."

They pulled into the parking lot behind me, and the dog moved farther away, so I said, "Screw it," and continued on my run. Bad not-pet owner!

It takes me awhile to warm up sometimes when I run. I haven't run since Saturday. Took Sunday off, and then did the elliptical trainer Monday and Tuesday. My back is finally not hurting from the Sunday run anymore. Typically for me, once I hit the last leg of my run, I started to really hit my stride. And I found myself suddenly running faster. I was to turn right at the stop light and run about a quarter mile more to my parents' house, when I surprised myself by veering left and bursting into a full sprint. I ran the block hard, then crossed the street, ran another block at top speed, crossed the street, and repeated this for about six blocks until I felt like puking.

Then, I turned around and back.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Liminality

I have one foot in Missouri, and one out West. Whenever I have a trip, the days leading up to it are sort of dreamlike: I still have things to do: Feed the children. Pack. Pick up minivan from the mechanic. Drop off a contract on campus. Laundry, errands, packing. I have a list. I can't find my sunglasses. My belt is too big. My glasses are resting oddly on my face and leaving a bright red mark by my nose that alarms my youngest child, but I can't be bothered to stop and have them adjusted. I wear contacts. I can't find my sunglasses.

I am reminded of a poem that I wrote twenty years ago-- is that meta, or just narcissistic? Or just evidence that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It's the last stanza that I am reminded of. I actually say these lines to myself often: (will post the entire poem separately another time).


3

these are my concerns     oil
on the piano       cats

who keep their claws
perfectly out stretched

matchbox,
fractured

durable as egg

__________________________________________________________________________________

I walked through the snow today to drop off a contract for a project that has already been completed. Chasing down my own paychecks is one of the things I avoid the most, for some reason. If I could afford it, I would hire someone to take care of my invoicing and billing, depositing checks, etc. 


Speaking of meta and narcissistic, I was speaking with young poet Kasey today. She has a life story that should be written down. The fact that she is a beautiful writer just solidifies that fact. I told her that today. She said she doesn't think it's that interesting. I told her that that is how I respond when people tell me I should write a book about my first marriage. She replied, "I think it's fascinating." I said, "That is how I feel about YOUR life."

I think to some extent, we both worry that if we write about it, it will be viewed as a cry for sympathy, as, to quote Kasey, "an invitation to the pity party."

Her favorite book has some of the same subject matter. I said, "Why does this author get to write about it, and you don't?"

She said something about loving the author, but I'm not buying it. Kasey and I dribble little bits of information to each other, and she says things like, "Did he really do that?" and I say, "Is that a joke question?"  She makes offhanded comments, and I say, "I am absolutely horrified."

We sound like a fun pair, don't we?

Last week when I was with Aaron, we were standing outside, smoking Pall Malls (Garrison Keillor describes Pall Malls as "such a lovely cigarette for a young man," or something to that effect in one of his marvelous stories; I have decided that that makes it okay for me to smoke them sometimes too). Aaron said, "Most of the people I connect with the most are broken in some ways."

I have found that to be true of me too, though I am trying to balance that also with people who are either not broken or also fixed, lol.

Aaron also told me a quote by either Mark Twain or Kurt Vonnegut: "The difference between smokers and non-smokers is that non-smokers know they are going to die, but smokers know what they are going to die from."

While trying to find that quote exactly, I came across a couple of other ones I like:

Thank heaven, I have given up smoking again!... God! I feel fit.  Homicidal, but fit.  A different man.  Irritable, moody, depressed, rude, nervy, perhaps; but the lungs are fine.  ~A.P. Herbert
He who doth not smoke hath either known no great griefs, or refuseth himself the softest consolation, next to that which comes from heaven.  ~Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, What Will He Do With It? 
Here is a Vonnegut quote that approximates what Aaron said:
The public health authorities never mention the main reason many Americans have for smoking heavily, which is that smoking is a fairly sure, fairly honorable form of suicide.-- Vonnegut
[By the way, you should go here to read more Vonnegut quotes. I forget how much I love him.]

Here is a Mark Twain quote, and then I'll stop:
...when they used to tell me I would shorten my life ten years by smoking, they little knew the devotee they were wasting their puerile word upon -- they little knew how trivial and valueless I would regard a decade that had no smoking in it!
- letter to Joseph Twichell, 19 Dec 1870
It's probably wrong, but most smokers I know can identify with all of these quotes. Sometimes, if I am in the midst of telling a story from my life, I feel provoked to light a cigarette. I light it, exhale, and then gesture widely with the cigarette between the fingers of my right hand and say, "When people ask me why I smoke, I tell them, 'Why don't YOU smoke? Of COURSE I smoke!'"

Where was I? 


I was wobbling between today and Wednesday, hovering between now and then, hanging in the liminal spaces.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Snow Day

For once in their stupid little lives, the weather forecasters were right. 

Air Held and Let Go

His death was not air
held and let go:
gurgling, rise in the chest

head up, fighting for breath.
Years later
nights

are no easier.
Hospital rooms, long
corridors, dark
curtains drawn.    She draws her body up

night after night going deeper.
Each
morning awake

she is startled
she is here

she has found her way back.

Random

It's snowing. I've heard we should get ten inches. We already have... 3 or 4? Big fat flakes. The kids have been invited to go to a movie this afternoon, and I need want to get to the store. Of course, with a diabetic kid, there are things you *should* have around like milk, orange juice, fresh fruit, and carbohydrate snacks. We can get through today and possibly tomorrow without a run to the store, but I don't like to cut things that close. My van is still in the shop, so we'll see how the car does in the snow.

I doubt the kids will have school tomorrow. I mean, it's possible, but MODOT is not the quickest at clearing the roads. I understand that the school district hesitates to cancel school because of financial and other bureaucratic reasons, but if I [still] lived in the country, there are days this winter that I would have openly flipped off in the general direction of the superintendent and kept my kids home anyway. As it stands now, we can walk it, so we have no excuse, except my general grumpiness when I have to clear off the car and drive on shitty, slippery streets just so my kids won't have to go to school in June. I feel for the teachers; the kids can suck it. If a bus has an accident, they might reconsider their priorities; just hope that isn't what it takes.

My back still hurts today-- mostly from being pressed against the back side of the sofa while I am on the computer-- but the rest of my body feels much better today. I am still not running today, even though running in the snow doesn't bother me. My body needs a break. I logged 33 miles last week. I feel pretty good about that, and not like I need to push it. I didn't go to the play last night, though. I lay on my hardwood floor and tried to keep my puppy from sticking his tongue in my mouth while I stretched my back.

The first time Devon ran with Carol and I this week (we have all run together intermittently in the past), she told us, "[Mutual friend] Torbjorn says the first time you run with someone new, you should ask them to tell you about their relationship with their mother. Then, they will talk for the entire run, and you can kick back and breathe."

I thought that was really funny. I spoke with my mother last night, and we had a very circular, confused conversation. Par for the course. But as I lay on the floor with my own sore back, I was able to have more empathy with her, so I just modulated my voice and murmured soothing things to her as she had the same conversation, going around the track like a limping racehorse, four or five times until I decided that we could either do that all night, or I could end the conversation.

She is upset that I am only going to be there for a weekend. I told her that this is what I can do right now, but I will try to come out more frequently. Always easier to do when the weather is better. Fortunately, I don't think today's snow will keep me from driving to Kansas City on Wednesday, but, whatever. I guess I'll find out.

Yesterday, Royce posted about an April race on Facebook. With a note that it's to raise money for a local church. I messaged him for details. Specifically, it's to raise money for a youth program for the Baptist church. I wrote back and told him, "I'll be skipping that one." Fundamentally (haha, get it?) opposed to giving money to Baptists. Especially for their indoctrination youth program.

What are you up to today?
Testing

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Play's The Thing

Tommy is making taco lasagna for us for dinner. I know that I had never made a lasagna before my... twenties? I am assisting, of course, but he happily washed the 9 x 13" pan (because he dirtied it last night by making a cake). The kid is becoming a ridiculously good baker/cook. I asked him today if he were interested in learning to make bread. "No." hahaha, don't sugarcoat it, Kid.

Last night, I was so tired from all of my running this week that I went to bed before 9pm. Of course, I woke up at midnight. Took a melatonin, went back to bed. I was okay this morning mainly because I'd gotten the extra sleep early. My body was already tired this morning, and I was staring down a 6-mile-run. As part of training for a half marathon (July 3, here in town), we have to start increasing our weekend miles. I had been trying to map out routes last night and the internets were fussy and gassy, so I stopped. I had a general idea this morning of what a 6-mile-run would be, so we ran that. I mapped it later, and it was 6.48 miles. Oops.

I am feeling it. We are going to see a play this evening (Moliere really pumps my nads), and I am dreading it. Because it requires sitting and not moaning and not lying on my bed.  My back hurts. My knees hurt. My butt hurts. My whole body hurts.

I am taking tomorrow off. We are supposed to get ten inches of snow tomorrow and tomorrow night anyway. You know, every single year they make a prediction like that, it never happens. But if the rest of this winter has been any indication, we'll get every inch. Then the wonderful state of Missouri has until Wednesday to clear the roads so I can fly out of Kansas City.

It seems reasonable to assume that the kids won't have school on Monday.

I am going to go take another advil and try to psych myself up for the play.

Getting Booked

I had an unexpectedly good afternoon yesterday. That is, I knew I had some specific things to do, activities and errands planned, but I didn't know they would end up being so much fun!

First. I went running with Devon and Carol. We had to be done in time to go pick up kids from school. So, we ran our usual short route (which I have now reversed the direction of so the big hill that winds me is at the beginning of the run, not the end of it). Instead of running over to Osteopathy St. and back to First to lengthen the run to 3 miles, in the interest of time, I suggested we run directly to Mary Immaculate, so Carol and Devon could get their kids. We ran at a faster pace than we usually do, but I kept up and was even able to talk (I kept thinking, "Shut up, you can't breathe," but then I kept talking anyway). We made plans for a longer run today (we are hoping to do 6, but I am so tired right now, I am dreading it a little bit-- training for a half marathon is hard!), and then I jogged the rest of the way home.

Later, I mapped the route, and we had done 3 by the time we got to the school. The jog home added just a little bit more.

I got home, got my keys, and went to pick up the boys. It had been sleeting just a little bit since before our run, but I don't remember noticing it on the run. The boys, however, were grateful for a ride.

The other errand I had planned needs a little back story. I meet all kinds of interesting people at poetry slams and just because this is a small, college town. And as you know, I particularly like the poet/artsy types. Well, I met a student named Aaron, and we became Facebook friends (like you do). Aaron is an English major, but he does a lot of art projects and posts pictures of them-- and among his projects is making blank books and journals. Well. I have never met a blank book/journal I didn't like, so I have commented on his work, because it's so cool. And, because I am generally lazy (okay, I crochet and knit stuff), I admire people who make art in their spare time.

Aaron, being the nice guy he is, made me a blank book after I commented on how much I liked them! So, we kept trying, via Facebook, to arrange a time to meet so I could get it from him. This has been going on for a couple of months. So, he posted that he needed a ride to get a prescription filled on Friday, and I volunteered.

This is the book he gave me. Isn't that cool? I told him that I already had plans for it, and he approved of them.

Then we went and got his prescription dropped off at Walgreens (did you know you can buy paternity tests there, by the way? along with a bunch of other assorted oddities?). The prescription would take an hour to fill, they said. I had asked Aaron in the car if he would teach me about bookmaking sometime, and he agreed because, "Nobody is interested in bookmaking," so we went back to his apartment and he showed me how to do a Japanese book binding!

Aaron is about 1000 times more organized than I will ever be, but I do have a file of potential book covers I've accumulated. Also, some poorly made books I've attempted to do (need to work on those book covers). I have an awl and some string too (need to buy wax for it). After talking with Aaron and seeing a lot of his other books, I feel like I could make better books now. He showed me how to tell whether the grain on paper is vertical or horizontal. I told him I had bought some leather on Ebay awhile back to use for book covers, and he showed me his homemade book press, and also, in some of his books on the topic, why using leather is a LOT more complicated than paper or cloth.

For a person who buys as many notebooks as I do, making my own books could be a Very Good Thing. I have an unfortunate habit, however, of getting really excited about a project (say, knitting!), learning to do it, accumulating a lot of materials, doing it manically for awhile, and then stopping. So, I think I will not spend any money on bookmaking just yet. Aaron also told me how to make a paste for book covers from whole wheat pastry flour (which I have) and water. The good thing about this paste is that it won't stain the paper if it seeps through.

The whole time we were talking and he was demonstrating (Ahhh, user a hammer with the awl, don't try to just jam holes in the paper with the damn thing), I was playing with his extremely cute, friendly, and energetic kitten, Wallace.

Then, we went back and got his prescription, I got some Warhead candy for the kids, dropped him off, and went home.

Very fun. And now I know a lot more about how to bind my own books! I can't believe he doesn't know more people who are interested in bookmaking. On the other hand, I can't believe someone so young spends so much time on a really ancient art, either. There are really a lot of cool, artistic kids in this town. They also have a publication they run called Gadfly, that is their own, independent magazine. Both print copies AND online. So impressive.

So, I will have to take back some of the mean things I said about the Internets, because obviously, today's post was brought to you by the Internets, and Facebook. Wouldn't have been possible without it. Oh, and blogger. Heh.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Teenage boys are sex maniacs

1. Christian: Can you imagine Wicked porn?
Me: Er... yes. Can you?
Christian: Elphaba, Glinda, and Dr. Dillamond...
Me: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Christian: I'm sorry-- is it bad that I talk about sex so much?
Me: Nope. It's normal, healthy, and expected.

2. About five minutes later, Tommy came waltzing prancing into the kitchen.


"European or Gay?"

Definitely gay.  

Round is the shape of infection

*My chest aches
with the roundness of yearning
and expands like a cyst.

It's summer, sultry,
and I distract myself with
animals and sweat.

The red cat's ear is pregnant, taut,
A stretched football of skin, a hair egg,
at every meal a little bigger.

A stapled scab, black
crust matte fur, and I
suspect a fight:

Some bigger cat, claws unsheathed,
unmatched.
The vet says

in all likelihood
the cat did it to himself:
One sharp claw and one interminable itch.

My cat book says, An abscess is a deep wound
with a very small opening.
Most punctures don't bleed much.

They seal themselves off from greater harm
with pus around the site.
Round is the shape of infection.

The vet says
this abnormality, this ball, this pregnant anomaly
will resolve itself over time.

The cat will scratch, the wound will ooze, refill.
So it is with your section of my heart.
Every night I scatch the wound

seal it off
and in the morning
clean the blood and try again.


*Diana, if you're still playing along at home, this is the second to last in the series. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

One short day in the emerald city

A few changes around here-- just some minor color changes, and some new stuff on the sidebar.

I went running twice today. I went this morning at 8 a.m. with my friend Devon (pictured above at the Frostbite run) (who is married to Royce (at your left), whom I have mentioned) and she pushed her 11-month-old, sleeping daughter, Fern, in the baby jogger. We did 2.5 miles and talked the whole way. It seemed like a good pace.

I was tired after that, because I got up at 6:10 a.m. for insulin. Then, I ended up making cinnamon rolls for the kids for breakfast because I didn't go to the store yesterday for Christian's usual breakfast. He reminded me later to go to the story, and I drily remarked, "You know, it's not like I'm not providing you with other foods."

After my run, I found Christian's lunch sitting on the counter, so I ran to to school for him. Then, did a little work, and Dash and I drove down to Macon (30 miles South) to pick up our newly-butchered 1/4 cow. It turned out to be about 107 pounds of cow. That is so much ground beef that we could practically stand beside our trunk at the grocery store and make a tidy profit selling it out of our car.

And we may just have had to. I was reclined in my seat, tired from my early morning and then running, so I thought I'd nap a bit. We ate grinders at the Pear Tree Sub Shop, with homemade sweet potato fries, and verily, I say unto you, it was good.

So, we're driving, Dash is fiddling with the radio stations, I'm trying to doze. This goes on for awhile, until we both hear a ka-thunk! And I think, "Oh no, what did we hit?" Then Dash says, "Your battery light just went on. . . Aaaand I just lost power steering... Aaaand now the radiator is overheating. We are breaking down." He pulled over immediately and turned off the car. We now think that we didn't hit anything so much as something fell off.

Fortunately, we have cell phones, and the number of a towing service IN our phones. So, we called for a tow, then we called the place that fixes our car and got an appointment. Then we played Scrabble on his iTouch, while I texted with Kathy Howe, until the tow truck arrived, not very much later.

After the van was hitched up and we got into the cab of the tow truck, I turned to Dereck and said, "I hope the baby doesn't wake up and start crying."

Tony The Tow Truck Driver didn't buy that we had left a baby in our van, but he did believe that we had left 1/4 of a cow in our van. That is Missouri, I guess. So, he very nicely offered to drop us off at our house with the beef on the way to the mechanic. And would you believe that our house was actually on the way? So, he pulled over, we hopped out and unloaded, then Dash went to the mechanic, and I put away the meat. Dash walked home and got home just about the time I had gotten all the meat sorted and put away. He walked in, and I said, "I knew you'd want to look at all the meat, so I left it on the front porch for you."

"No, you didn't."

"Did you already look in the freezer?"

"Of course I did."

"That's a lot of beef."

"That's a LOT of beef."

We are trying to guess how long the meet will last us. Dereck says August. I say October. We like beef, but we just don't eat a TON of it. Hahaha, I guess we will now.

So, I'm home, I'm updating Facebook, I am joining Daily Mile dot com (see widget in the sidebar), and Carol calls. She is back in town. Do I want to run?

Yep.

So, I ran again. 2.9 miles.

Now, my knees hurt, and I am really and truly going to take a nap.

The first memory of love

Next week, I am going to visit my parents. It's been since August-- it's overdue. Though, considering the fact that I was there for three weeks in August, I think things will even out.

The main trouble is that my mother probably doesn't remember much about that visit. What she does remember may be unpleasant: That was the visit that ended her driving. Getting her to stop driving was one of my prime objectives during that visit, apart from keeping my dad alive after his triple bypass surgery. And by "my" I should actually say "Our." My brother was also in Utah for three weeks, though we were only there for about ten days of it together. That was enough for us to talk about our mutual goals for improving our parents' quality of life. We spent tons of time shopping, cooking, cleaning, and then doing quiet research on the basement phone and computer. We identified home aid options, alternative transportation options, and began, quietly, to investigate nursing homes.

The driving is the only goal we really accomplished for that visit, but it was a huge thing. My mother didn't want to speak to me for months. I know that it permanently changed her life, made her dependent in ways she hasn't been since she was a child. I also believe that it saved lives-- potentially even hers.

On Valentine's Day, we went out for brunch with our friends Jamie, Karen, and Nancy. We spent most of our time talking about aging: Both our own ridiculous aches, pains, insomnia, the dark circles under our eyes, our heavy dependence on caffeine, and also on the joys (are there any?) and trials (there are many) of caring for aging parents. That came out worse than I intended it to. I love my parents. And I still have a solid, quality relationship with my father. We speak and email often.

Sometimes, I have a coherent conversation with my mother. The number of pain medications she is on for her severe, chronic pain (spinal stenosis; rheumatoid arthritis; two replaced knees) has been reduced. This has helped with coherency (somewhat), but also radically increased her complaints about her pain-- which were already... how do I put this?... Intolerable.

I am a patient person. But not with her. I know intellectually-- have known for more than three years, actually-- that my mother is not there any more. When my grandmother died and I spent a week with my parents, it became increasingly clear that I couldn't find my mother in there anywhere. I don't have a time of death or a death certificate, so I kind of assign my grandmother's death date to my mother's. Even though, it became clear at the funeral that my grandmother had already known my mother was gone. I went through a period of deep grieving for her that Fall.

I am still sad. I miss her. I've come closer to acceptance now, though. It's very difficult to have someone with dementia and its accompanying personality changes living in the body and using the voice of someone you love so much. It's confusing, insulting, and infuriating. I feel that it fundamentally disrespects my mother and who she was. She isn't really aware of it enough now to know how much she has changed. But when she was in that horrible, liminal state of knowing but not knowing, of fearing-- just like you cannot explain the experience of being a parent to someone who has not had it, I am not sure that you can explain the horror of this to someone who has not experienced it. And frankly? Why would you want to?

I have enough amusing anecdotes to fill an entire blog. Believe me, gallows humor is saving us all right now. But out of respect for both my parents, I will not post them. My brother and I, though, got a bottle of Red Stag last August and kept it in the pantry. And when our mother would do certain things, we would run in and take a drink. Our own, maudlin little drinking game. It helped.

I am not sure that posting the details would help anyone anyway. And I don't think strangers should laugh at my parents' expense. However, I think it is perfectly acceptable for my brother, father, and I to do it. I am sure the details are both the same and different for everyone else. If you are experiencing it yourself, you know the details. If you are not, again, why would you want to?

I admit that I try to compartmentalize. I try to be there for my dad, but I don't call as often as I should. I am both looking forward to and dreading this trip. It will be brief. And then there will be another. And another.

Since I have been thinking about it, though, I will post this poem I wrote about ten years ago, before my mother was "gone."

The First Memory of Love

My mother is a worried voice on the phone. I miss you, she tells me, instead of How are you?

I miss you too, I tell her because there are things I will not tell her.

My parents have come to visit after eighteen months of worrying and missing. There are grandchildren to see.

I tell my parents one secret each.

I tell my father that I have left the Church, it is official, in writing. This is a truth he will accept and admire.

My mother and I sit under the oak in green chairs while I tell her I smoke three cigarettes a day. One for each child I have carried.

I have resisted telling her this.

My mother lives in Utah with the Mormons, she is
Mormon and it hurts her that I am not Mormon too, although I have not told her.

The smoking is close enough.

She would rather be hurt by knowing I smoke than hurt by not knowing it, and as we sit in the Missouri summer wind, she can see that the smoking has not yet hurt me.

I bend over her in the kitchen at night and smell her hair, her clothes, her skin. Lanolin,  Clinique, Aquanet. How can one person smell the same for thirty years?

Her smell is my first memory of love.

Standing there in the kitchen, I circle her tighter and tighter, surprised by the strength and suddenness of grief. I miss you, I tel her, though she is in my arms and I am safe.

I miss you, I tell her again and again, and by now I cannot stop
the crying. She is in my arms and I cannot let her go.

It was so much easier not to miss her when she was gone. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Boomerang

Before they were born
she pulled his arm across her
bent at the elbow
hand at her collarbone
kissed the skin of his wrist
and whispered this is by design
so when she tore him from her
flung him far into the air
he would understand longing
to be the shape of that embrace
calling him to her, hurtling him
back

Running around in circles

Believe it or not, I've been running, on and off, since I was 12 years old. If you know how old I am, you can do the math. There have been years I haven't run, but, as with writing and poetry, I have always returned to it. In fact, I remember as a high schooler who had aspirations to be a writer, I didn't know whether running was compatible with wanting to be a writer. It didn't seem to fit a certain goth persona (that I also never embodied). I now know that the more experiences you can have period the better if you are a writer. I would also argue that if you want to be a writer, you are a writer.

But this is really a post about running.

When Carol and I were running a couple of years ago (on Jenorama, I called her The Dom, because she is a task-master. She will call every single day to go running, and it's much easier for me now, but at one time, it was a real pain), running wasn't very good for me. It was awful just about every time we went, and we got up to 8 miles. A typical run for us was 5 miles, and a shorty was 3. I hurt my foot on the treadmill one winter, and also, I had been running steadily for two years without progress, so I gave it up for another year and a half.

I ran track in high school, and recreationally in college. Then, I stopped for awhile, and picked it up again (not entirely voluntarily) after Tommy was born. It's been and on and off affair all these years. I joke that it is the only sport that I am coordinated enough to do. That isn't entirely true, though. When I was a child, I was a very promising swimmer. I had private lessons and swam competitively. However, I am not athletically very competitive, and my parents eventually let me drop it. I found out years later that my coaches had thought that I could do about what I wanted with swimming. I regretted quitting it then, but now I wonder how much of that is really true.

Anyway. Running. Running has become, once again for me, a pleasure. After Tommy was born, I would often run for an hour to an hour and a half a day on long, dusty, country roads with huge hills. Now, I run on slightly more paved roads, though, if I run for more than two miles in any direction, I am basically in the country. More dust. More hills. When I'm alone, I like to run with music, though I realized during Saturday's race that by the end, your hat, your extra long-sleeved T-shirt, and your ipod/headphones are all just a big pain in the ass that slow you down. A lot of people I know have given up running with music, but I still cling to it. I have learned, lately, though, that I can't listen to a random mix of songs with a good beat but no thread. I have been listening to albums that have a sort of story to them: Wicked, Rent, Rocking the Suburbs. The problem is that I am getting sick of them all, so I am going to be searching soon for new music to run to.

There are a lot of people who run competitively in this town. (I mean, really, what else is there? Running and alcoholism. Take your pick.) Last summer, when I had not been running, I went to a race where 5 friends were running. I felt so left out and forlorn that I picked it up again. Last Saturday was my first race in three or four years. I'll run again on St. Patrick's Day. There is about a 5K a month around here. Lots of new running T-shirts to be had.

The thing is that I am still not very competitive. However, I *hate* coming in last. I hate it. It's embarrassing. And when you run in the winter, you are running against people who are hardcore. They are gazelles. They run in shorts in every kind of weather. They have long, thin, tapered legs and they run like the wind. You will see them line up for the start, and then you will not see them again until you come puffing in at the end and see them sitting around, wearing sweats now, eating the free bananas and clapping at you, and you want to smack them.

In better weather, you start to see some of the fair weather runners come out. We will probably get some for the St. Patrick's Day run-- people who have only been running for a month or so. That will increase my chances. But not as much as if I could convince myself to "blow lung," as Carol calls it.

Royce and I have been talking about running and strategies for racing. The thing is: If I want to get faster at races, I have to train faster.

This may not seem like a big deal. But it kind of is. When Carol and I run, because she is in Iowa City for half the week, we spend most of it catching up on each other's lives. We have to run at a slower pace so we can talk. And one of the pleasures of the run for us is the conversation. Also, the mileage. Not necessarily the speed. Carol is more gazelle shaped than I am, albeit shorter, so she can get medals when she wants to. But she likes to talk, she likes me, and she prefers running with me to running alone, and considering how slow I am, that's very flattering.

After Saturday's race, I told Carol in the car on the way home, "I want you to teach me to blow lung." She said she would, but not more than twice a week. Well, we only get to run together on weekends, and with this winter as snowy and icy and cold as it's been, sometimes we only get two runs in a week. Two hardcore, fast runs = no conversation. Also, today when I went out, I had thoughts of trying to run faster, but I was running against wind for the first mile, I was cold, and my left leg hurt from using the elliptical trainer. So, I had a great run, but I didn't run very fast. Afterward, I sent Royce a message on Facebook:

I trained slowly today. One of the things I like about my runs is that they are a little slow and meditative. I did add mileage. I'd rather run a long distance at a slower pace than go faster.

I still want to do the half-marathon-- I just want to do it at my pace. I'm afraid if I try to change it up too much, I may lose some of the emotional/spiritual components of running that I find just as important (maybe more) as the physical.

Royce, who is a gazelle, responded with:

So far as I understand you will get all the physical benefit of running faster by doing what you're doing. I'm running at the rec tonight. Took two days off because I had a sore muscle. Good thing I warmed as much as I did Saturday.

Bless his heart.

I get teased sometimes for running, because I run in a wide loop, but I never really go anywhere. I am just leaving home to run for home. However, I find that when you have run out for a few miles, you have incentive to keep moving when you have to get home, rather than stepping off a treadmill or off an indoor track or off an elliptical trainer. About 35 minutes of the elliptical trainer is all I can tolerate. But I can run for over an hour, if I'm outside.

While I was putting together this post, the above paragraph reminded me of a quote I saw on a blog yesterday (Michelle de Seattle sends me the most scandalous links, evah). Out of respect for the blog's author, I'll let you follow the link rather than aping her stuff. Fortunately for me, it's a quote from Albert Camus, about Sisyphus. It concludes with, (with my apologies): "We must imagine Sisyphus happy."

I have thought about that line off and on since I read it. If you are not familiar with Sisyphus, go here. Camus used the story of Sisyphus, the man who was punished eternally to push a large rock up a hill, only to have it roll down, rinse, repeat. His repetitive, meaningless existence was, Camus, as an existentialist, posited, that life itself is as repetitive and meaningless as Sisyphus's fate. Existentialists also believe, according to Kierkegaard, that "the individual is solely responsible for giving his own life meaning and living that life passionately and sincerely, in spite of many existential obstacles and distractions including despair, angst, absurdity, alienation, and boredom."

Therefore, to paraphrase my father on Sisyphus, life involves being the best damn rock pusher in the world. If you can push up that rock with finesse and grace and passion, then you can find meaning in the act. You can be happy.

However, even though I know all of this intellectually and have been fascinated with existentialism since my introduction to it in high school (I KNOW, right? Who let THAT happen??? And thus began my existential crisis, thank you very much), I walked around yesterday and today muttering, regarding the supposition that we must imagine Sisyphus to be happy, "Well, I don't know about THAT."

However, it occurs to me that in my enjoyment of my little runs, my circular route that I don't vary much (I added some mileage to it today, but essentially kept my path the same), and the music I listen to over and over-- what changes day to day are the weather conditions and what I think about. However, isn't my running habit sort of like my own Sisyphean rock? It has no real meaning, I never get anywhere. But I get stronger. I gain the benefits of running off stress, of feeling the power in my legs and lungs as the runs get easier and easier. I no longer have to think about running. I no longer have to persuade or cajole myself into going. I put on my shoes. I run. And while I am running, I think about things. I couldn't even tell you, really, what I am thinking about when I run. But I know that it helps. Clears the cobwebs, puts things in perspective. It's a form of meditation. And increasingly, I find meditation to be important. Meditation, or just quiet-- and I don't mean "without music," I mean without the static, the staccato of our lives. Perhaps it is running away, even though, like a boomerang, I return every time, that helps.

I like to think that perhaps one of the things that helps Sisyphus is that he gets to go down the hill and up again, rather than just grinding away his life running in place on a treadmill. But perhaps it all really does amount to the same thing.

What I know it this: Today, I am Sisyhpus. And I am happy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Public Serve Announcement #37

Feigned Indifference

If you want your children to watch one of your favorite movies1, the worst thing you can do is invite them to watch it with you. This will guarantee groaning, muttered complaints that go on for the duration of the movie, eye rolling, and misery for the entire family.

Instead, if there is something you really want your kids to watch, sneak off to the TV room without a word. Silently close the door behind you. Turn on your movie, and wait.

A variation that works handily is to say before you go into the TV room, "I am going to watch something and I don't want to be interrupted unless you are bleeding from your carotid artery."

This is a time-tested, guaranteed technique to pique their interest.

When they inevitably open the door and pop their heads in, bark, "What? I don't interrupt you when you're trying to watch something!"

"What are you watching?"

"No talking. Come in or go out, but shut the door and be quiet."

They will slip into the room and sit in a chair by the door, and try to make themselves as small as possible so they won't be kicked out.

You're welcome.

[Some restrictions apply.]2

1 Such as Chariots of Fire, Rent, or Wicked.

2Use extreme caution in engaging in these techniques if you are planning to: have sex, watch porn, smoke a cigarette eat some very expensive ice cream or chocolate.

Douchebaggery

I am so irritated that I even feel the need to respond to this. I let it go for a couple of hours, hoping it would go away, but it didn't, so here I am.

I objected to this story when I saw it posted on Facebook for two reasons:

1)The utter and complete douchebaggery of the man who decided he needed to tout this on his very popular website. it is the worst kind of rhetoric: Hey, in the pretense of saying that this is a controversial issue that needs to be commented on, I will disseminate this misogynistic bullshit!

2)It's misogynist. And every time the hatred of women is perpetuated, particularly by other women, it pushes my buttons.

I don't care if you are tripped out on ecstasy, dancing naked on a table in a room full of fraternity boys who have been drinking from a keg of beer and shown porn for three hours. That does not excuse them for rape, and you are not to blame for their crimes.

But if only that baby hadn't cried so much, that adult wouldn't have gotten so angry that they HAD to hit it.

Well, if you hadn't gone to New York City in the first place, that mugger wouldn't have been irretrievably tempted to mug you!

And for God's sake, stop breathing. It is going to lead to your eventual death.

Let's say it again, folks, because apparently we have not yet learned this: Rape is rape. It is not a crime borne of horniness. It is about power, control, anger, domination, and hatred of women. It is ridiculous to say that a naked woman in a bed made a man so uncontrollably horny that he *had* to rape her. That she asked for it by being there. There is one way women ask for sex, and that is by asking for sex. And we are, in fact, allowed to change our minds no matter how many inches are inserted.

For one thing, if you have ever watched a movie, read a book, listened to a song, or met a guy, you know that pretty much everything turns them on. Pretty much constantly.

"Breast."

"Pussy."

"I want to suck your cock."

Do I deserve to be raped for writing those words on a website? No.

Despite raging male hormones, thankfully, most men don't use their biology as an excuse to violate women.

But let's turn the tables for a minute, ladies who think that women should be blamed for being raped:

How many men do you think should accept responsibility for being sodomized because they were drunk or naked? Even just a little bit of sodomy? Because we all know that men wouldn't ever be naked or drunk in a fraternity house unless you really wanted to be sodomized. Because all men really want it. And if they say no, well, they are lying. And besides, they had the audacity to tempt that other horny man.

For God's sake, when can we finally put the notion that horniness excuses ANYTHING to bed? And when, oh when, women, will you stop hating other women?

/end rant.

Edited to add these handy Sexual Assault Prevention Tips (With thanks to Kat, who linked to them, and to Melissa who suggested I follow the link).

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!

1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are commiting a crime- no matter how “into it” others appear to be.

Apt

[From the Infinite Wisdom of Dan Jones, who taught me to stop thinking that it is okay for governments to have the power to kill their own citizens with the death penalty. [From the Infinite Wisdom of Dan Jones, who taught me to stop thinking that it is okay for governments to have the power to kill their own citizens with the death penalty. Lester is talking first and foremost about film and filmmakers, but I think you'll agree that this quote is about a lot more. This sums up how I am feeling these days pretty nicely.]

'More of Lester [Bangs, who was a legendary rock critic from The Rolling Stones] (and if you don't know who he's talking about, it doesn't matter. Think of any "dark"artist. I tend to think of filmmakers like the Coens, PT Anderson and Christopher Nolan):

“Just for the record, I would like it known by anybody who cares that I don't think life is a perpetual dive. And even though it's genuinely frightening, I don't think Richard Hell's fascination with death is anything else but stupid. I suspect almost every day that I'm living for nothing, I get depressed and I feel self-destructive and a lot of the time I don't like myself. What's more, the proximity of other humans often fills me with overwhelming anxiety, but I also feel that this precarious sentience is all we've got and, simplistic as it may seem, it's a person's duty to the potential of his own soul to make the best of it. We're all stuck on this often miserable earth where life is essentially tragic, but there are glints of beauty and bedrock joy that come shining through from time to precious time to remind anybody who cares to see that there is something higher and larger than ourselves. And I am not talking about your putrefying gods, I am talking about a sense of wonder about life itself and the feeling that there is some redemptive factor you must at least search for until you drop dead of natural causes. And all the Richard Hells are chickenshits who trash the precious gift too blithely, and they deserve to be given no credence, but shocked awake in some violent manner.

Either that or spanked and put to bed.

Look, I started out this thing saying how much I respected this guy's mind and perceptions. I still do, in a curious way – it's just that he paints half the picture of total reality with consummate brilliance, and the other half is Crayon slashes across a field of Silly Putty and Green Slime. In other words, he's got a great grasp of the problems of being alive in the seventies, but his solutions suck.” (Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, 267)'

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Whiteout

Happy Boost-Hallmark's-Stock Day!!!

It's been a pretty nice weekend. Since I posted the other day about being sad, the universe has taken a little pity on me. I'm still cautious, taking life day by day, but grateful for some relief.

This morning, we went to brunch with some friends. They offer six different kinds of eggs benedict, and $3 mimosas and bloody marys. Despite the cheapness of the drinks, I had only one mimosa and so much coffee that I'm still running to the bathroom every half hour or so.

Of course, the fact that I came to the coffeeshop to work (not as a barista) afterwards probably did not help. Carol and I were going to run today, but last night it started snowing, and, well, it is still snowing. She left early for Iowa, and well, I decided to stay at the coffeeshop.

I am at the coffeeshop with my friend Karen, whom I never get to see. She came to brunch. She is grading papers and hoping to be snowed into Kirksville (she lives several hours south). I just looked out the window, and since we have been here, the streets and cars are coated with snow.

This is the snowiest winter we have had here for awhile. The children don't have school tomorrow anyway, but they may get snowed in at their dad's. He lives in the country and the snow drifts a lot where the wind has nothing to block it.

Tonight, we have plans to go to a buffet at the Episcopalian Church, because nothing says romance like a benefit for Haitian relief. I kid. It's a great thing to be doing. Though, this weather doesn't make me feel like going outside. I want to stay inside with a fire and a cuddly puppy. Time enough for that later, I suppose.

Nothing very exciting happening here. Thank God.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Frostbite Run

Me: "Hey, can we wear our numbers around all day?"

Her: "Only if you want to answer the question all day."

Me: "What question?"

Her: "How did you do in the race?"

Me: "Oh. Nevermind."

Do I get points for rolling out of bed and finishing the race?

You bet your bippy I do. And after the race, she bought me a mocha.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Puff, my ass

Me: I think today will be better. My god, you should have seen how puffy it was under my eyes when I got up today. I had to put hemorrhoid cream under my eyes. So now my face smells like ass.

Her:
Now your face smells like ass. Mwah-ha. That's ironically, sadly appropriate for the whole emotional slough you're in right now, somehow, though I can't quite follow the thread... And I probably shouldn't laugh. Oh, of course I should. I'm sure you meant me to.

Hugs to you, oh puffy one. I'd never, ever thought of using PrepH for that purpose, but I'll be tucking it away in my "beauty secret" file, for sure.

Mwah!

Me:I did mean for you to laugh-- I will have to think about that thread, too, hahaha.

Of course, maybe worse than smelling like ass may be smelling like the remedy for swollen ass veins...

That's not very elegant, is it? Oh my god, scary puffy face though. I learned about this trick a few years ago at karaoke. The women carry it in their purses (in case they cry at the bar, haha-- there's a blog post, right there). Because after all, it was made to shrink tissues...

Some of them use it regularly and preventively. I try to limit the ass-cream-on-face time to when I really need it. Call me crazy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I am sad. Actually, sad doesn't really approach it. I have cried more in the past six weeks than I have in a long, long time.

But I have decided that it's okay to admit this, and probably detrimental not to.

I am sad, disappointed to my core, I feel betrayed, and I am really starting to question my judgment. Because if you looked closely at my life-- or if I let you-- you would probably agree that my judgment absolutely sucks.

Wow.

I have wasted so much time. So much.

I am 40 now. I don't really have the energy or elasticity to bounce back from things like this anymore. I can see cracks in the rubberband, little cracks that no amount of care or lubrication can repair. If I am asked to stretch, if I am asked to reach around or hold anything, I am going to break.

I am not completely sure what that break looks like, but I am pretty sure it feels like this.

Decidedly

I have decided not to make any decisions today.

Having now decided this, I have also decided to go back to bed.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Nature may hate a vacuum

But I would sure like one right now.

It is almost impossible to describe the level of suck right now that is the short, shitty life of Jen.

But not quite.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:--
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all--
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all--
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
. . . . .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

-- TS Eliot

________________________________________________________________________ 


Lying In A Hammock At William Duffy's Farm In Pine Island, Minnesota


-- James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Faceless

Like the man
who stands by the window

because he lost his wife
in the crowd there

are people we love
whom we will never meet

until the rain comes in teeth
over the mountains

we see
it is coming for us
I came across this article this morning in my blog reader (and the fact that that is where I found it is funny to me-- you'll see why when you read it).

I am not only linking to it, but re-posting here [what is in blue is quoted material]:


There’s a lot going on in George Packer’s condescending post about Twitter, but I think this is his core point:
Here’s another: Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic’s very good politics blogger, was asked by Michael Kinsley to describe his typical day of information consumption, otherwise known as reading. Ambinder’s day begins and ends with Twitter, and there’s plenty of Twitter in between. No mention of books, except as vacation material via the Kindle. I’m sure Ambinder still reads books when he’s not on vacation, but it didn’t occur to him to include them in his account, and I’d guess that this is because they’re not a central part of his reading life.
And he’s not alone. Just about everyone I know complains about the same thing when they’re being honest—including, maybe especially, people whose business is reading and writing. They mourn the loss of books and the loss of time for books. It’s no less true of me, which is why I’m trying to place a few limits on the flood of information that I allow into my head.
This is all correct, and yet despite his protestations to the contrary, it just amounts to Packer offering a luddite argument. The life of a prosperous American man circa 1960 was pretty good. No risk of starvation, no idiocy of rural life, decent job stability, etc. For your leisure time you have many books to enjoy, can listen to records (or the radio), go to the movies, or watch one of three television networks. Plenty of social problems around, but nobody was writing about “the crisis of the under-entertained American” or anything like that. And yet just consider the volume of new books that have been written in the past 50 years. Just consider the volume of new good books that have been written in the past 50 years. And yet the earth still revolved around its axis in 24 hours and around the globe in 365 days. All those new books represent a loss of time available to read all the great pre-1960 books. Less Hamlet, less Great Gatsby, less Moby Dick, less Crime and Punishment, less Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and we mourn the loss of these great works!


Obviously, though, the publication of new books is progress rather than regress. A person who chose to never read a single piece of post-1960 fiction could still live a rich and full life. He could even adopt a sneering attitude toward people who insisted on reading new novels. And people who subscribe to cable television (later: DVRs). And people who buy VCRs (later: DVD players). And people who read blogs (later: Twitter feeds). But what does it really amount to? To take advantage of new opportunities to do new things means, by definition, to reduce the extent to which one takes advantage of old opportunities to do old things. One shouldn’t deny that the losses involved are real—of course they are—but simply point out that it’s unavoidable. To say, “aha! this is the thing—this Twitter, these blogs—that’s crowded books out of my life” is a kind of confusion. Life is positively full of these little time-crunches. The fact that something displaces something of value doesn’t mean that it has no value, it just means that it’s new. To displace old things is in the nature of new things, and to cite the fact of displacement as the problem with the new thing really is just to object to novelty.

I have to say, I agree with the guy who wrote the condescending article about Twitter. I will smugly tell you that I easily spend $28/week on books. Yes, actual books that I hold in my hands, fold pages over to keep my place, and that have a few hundred pages, a sustained story arc, a narrative, plot, climax, denouement, place, and characters. True, the books I buy are complete tripe, but I read them. 


I agree and disagree with some of the things above. All things are NOT equal: Twitter is not just "new" compared to Moby Dick. But it's a lot more interactive, you can respond to the authors immediately, and its vapidity makes it fast to read. 


Again-- sort of a fan of vapid, just like mine in the form of a crappy paperbook novel. 


So, it's not vapidity at large that I am criticizing. But I don't try to polish the crap I am reading and call it literature. Sure, there have been a lot of great books written since 1960. But it does concern me that there isn't enough time. 


I always say that the reason I don't read "real" books is because it can send me spiraling into a depression. But now that I think about it, most of those books that can do that are books that have been written since the 1960s. They are often these hugely tragic tomes: The woman whose son is kidnapped for years from a hotel; the harrowing novel that opens with a toddler's drowning and continues with a school nurse being accused of things that ruin her life; a young girl who is raped and murdered, and then watches and describes how her family unravels, from her cozy little perch in the after life; the horrible, misogynist patriarchal preacher who takes his wife and daughters to live in a shack in Africa and risks their lives with predatory insects, forcing the mother to choose which of her children she will save. The fact that the one she did NOT choose survived and had to live with that-- well, do you really wonder why I read crap all the time? Formulaic crap in which I know that the earth is going to remain firmly beneath my feet and that I'm not going to read about a housewife whose life is so depressing, so parallel to my own that it will wake me sobbing...


But maybe the real problem is that I need to go back to the classics. It took me 6 weeks to read Go Down Moses. I was challenged at the time by someone who didn't think I had what it takes to read it. So, even though it was difficult reading-- Faulkner is NOT easy, it remains to this day one of my most treasured reading experiences. It is probably, if I have to choose, my favorite book. I taught it when I taught American Literature to young university students, and I took six weeks with them, just as I had given myself, and damn if they didn't GET it. And love it too. 


Just as I worry about my own fragmentation in this world, I think there is a decrease in quality in the fiction we are producing, the art we are producing. It's not okay with me that because we have Twitter and wikipedia and Salon.com and Facebook and Cracked. com that we aren't reading poetry anymore, that we complain that we have no time to read books. 


I have no control over anyone's life but mine-- and to some extent my children's, but I am surrounding us with books. Lately, I have considered, really looked and pondered, the Kindle or the Nook. I know that books are probably on the way out. Factories that produce newspaper ink are going out of business. The world is changing. I am not saying that I want to be a luddite or a dinosaur. These are truly exciting times we are living in. And I am excited that my children get to be a part of it, learning and changing and growing as fast as the world around them changes.


But I want them to be rooted in classics. Christian started reading The Iliad the other day. He was marveling at how old the book is, and how it survived in oral form for hundreds of years before its writing. This book has endured for thousands of years. The Internet is in its infancy. Perhaps before we give ourselves over to it completely, we can assign the proper respect and time to things that have endured and have endured and have endured. 


Because I don't want to spend my entire life-- my entire time-- on the cotton-candy, transient nature of Twitter and Facebook without knowing also the pleasure and nutritional quality and, yes, the importance of slowly cooking and enjoying a steak with cheddar potatoes, homemade bread, and home-grown vegetables, so as to provide a balance, less artificial ingredients, less processing. More authenticity. More health. It's not just our physical health at stake. 


I think there are things at stake. And it bothers me. I don't care if it makes me sound hopelessly unprogressive and old-fashioned. 


The author of the above blog post from Yglesias wrote: 


To say, “aha! this is the thing—this Twitter, these blogs—that’s crowded books out of my life” is a kind of confusion. Life is positively full of these little time-crunches. The fact that something displaces something of value doesn’t mean that it has no value, it just means that it’s new. To displace old things is in the nature of new things, and to cite the fact of displacement as the problem with the new thing really is just to object to novelty.


I strenuously disagree. And what the hell is so great about novelty, anyway?


Edited to add: I went and read the George Packer piece that spurred the response that I responded to (is this called "meta" or "conversation?"). It's well worth the read. 


And this

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fragments

The other day, I got an email from the Business Office at work. We now have the option to have our paychecks deposited into multiple accounts.

Instead of making me happy (which it should have-- I have three accounts that I could divide it among), it made me feel really crabby... and a little scared.

Sometimes, I think of the Internets in terms of, "Long-term affects have not yet been studied."

The Internet is so new, so fresh, changing and growing so quickly that sometimes it makes me fearful that it is a cancer that has swept us all along. The 21st century's small pox or black plague. Yes, I know that I am using the Internet to write this, and you are using the Internet to read this. But I am still a little fearful and suspicious about all of this.

Actually, the word "still" is a misnomer. I have only recently become a little fearful of it. Perhaps it goes back to a search for authenticity and simplicity. The Internet does nothing but fragment and complicate things. It divides my attention between the 5 tabs I have open, between me and my family, between work for this and that client.

Yes, it has provided me with a much larger, more personalized sense of community than I could ever have had otherwise. But I don't see depression rates dropping nationwide. We still seem to be a nation world focused on consuming, dependent on artificial ingredients designed to increase shelf lives (including BOTOX).

We have been making a conscious effort in our family to move away from processed foods and artificial ingredients. We have seen successful changes in our bodies and energy levels. I have lost 6 inches from my waistline since August. Of course, I largely credit this to a change in the medication that was bloating me for 8 years. However, I am running, I am eating mindfully, and Dereck and I are constantly seeking simplicity and locality in our foods. We are splitting half a cow with some friends, and will have it butchered this week. I can tell you exactly where it came from, its complete genealogy. I have declined to find out its name, because that seems a bit pointless and morbid now.

We buy pork from a local producer. We have eggs delivered to our house when we can. We drink whole milk, because it is the least processed. If we did not go through milk so fast, we would shell out the $6 for organic. Maybe we will get there. We often have lentils, rice, and homemade chapatis for dinner. We no longer use Ragu or other pre-made sauces on our pasta.

It just seems, in the face of these changes, that perhaps I personally need to simplify my online life. However, I seem to be so entrenched in it that I'm not sure how, except to try to walk away from the computer more often, instead of using it idly because it's here. I have a separate excel sheet (password protected, of course) that keeps track of my online accounts, usernames, passwords, and balances. I deposit money electronically, shift it from account to account electronically, pay bills electronically. The only time I actually touch money is when I have a little cash out to go on a pop run with the kids after a run-- and even then, I often use a credit card.

I prefer running outside and being in and part of the world more than I like exercising inside. In fact, today it is snowing hard, but I am still going to attempt to run outside. Yesterday, I ran 4.7 miles, and it felt great, even though the day was grey and dreary. But we have to coax and cajole the kids to go outside and get away from the Internet, which is infinitely entertaining. I know this. I know this. Apart from their gaming, the kids also read Wikipedia constantly, watch videos on Youtube, read reviews of everything under the sun. On one hand, this encourages their critical thinking skills. On the other, it makes them squabble and try everything under the sun to bargain for more time on the computer. We only have one computer that's really fast enough for their gaming and internet-- we also have a dinosaur desktop. And Dereck has been particularly good about resisting the pull to get each of them a decked out gaming computer (that we couldn't afford). They don't need to have a computer at all for anything but the occasional word processing for school. This is a luxury we provide them with-- and if I am fearful about the fragmenting affects of the Internet on myself, I should be doubly concerned for my children.

What is ironic is that some of my best friendships have been sowed on the Internet. My entire career depends on it. I don't think the Internet is inherently evil. I just worry that I have one foot planted firmly in a virtual world, in which I talk to people I don't see, whose eyes I do not look into, who I can't touch, and ultimately, everyone's voices start to sound the same.

Oh, I am savvy enough linguistically to know that we all have our own fingerprint, our own style, our own individual quirks. It's not that. But... it's so quiet. So inhuman.

One of the conversations Sam and I have a lot (that he initiates-- it is too far removed from the reality I can perceive or concern myself with at my age) is about whether or not humans will eventually become part machine or computer. There are people who believe that we will eventually insert computer chips of who we are into machines in order to increase our... our what? Our lives? Our intelligence? What is it exactly that we would be doing?

What makes us human? Is it a soul, a body, intelligence, compassion, or opposable thumbs? Is it the ability to make connections through written language, which other species cannot do? Does the Internet make us more human or less? Are we more human because now we can have high school reunions daily on Facebook, and let hundreds of anonymous, faceless people know that we ran 4.7 miles, or we are pissed or we are tired or we want coffee or... And why do we seem to crave this information about others?

I have a suggestion on that point. I remember when I was a young teen, living outside of town, hanging out in sweats and pajamas on a Saturday. If we didn't go into town, there weren't really kids in our neighborhood to hang out with. We barely had cable television, let alone video tapes or dvds. No itunes, and just some primitive mario brothers video games.

I remember being bored a LOT as a child. Sunday afternoons were particularly harrowing: Nothing on TV but sports or PBS. I could read, I could write, or I could listen to records while lying on the living room floor. I could bake. I could write letters. My brother and I played a lot of cards when we were growing up. We also played a lot of board games.

I'm not saying that kids have to be bored, or that that was a particularly enviable or great way to be a teen. But my brother and I are both writers, and I have to wonder: Did our boredom have anything to do with it?

I don't know. My kids are all writers too. Last night, Christian patiently explained to me about how to edit his 9-page story: "Grammar, spelling, and punctuation."

I gravely nodded and said, "I do this for a living. I think I've got it."

Christian and Tommy will often set up our typewriters at the dining room table and tap out stories. Are they more or less prolific thanks to the Internet? Does it affect anything but their ability to research more effectively, share their stories with more people?

But back to those days of physical and intellectual isolation when I was a young teen: I used to wonder and wonder what my classmates were doing. I was convinced that their lives were more interesting than mine, that they weren't just hanging out in their basements in their sweat. But now that I have the internets, I know for an absolute fact that everybody is basically doing what I am doing, except now we are all tapping away at keyboards and letting each other know: Yes, I'm human, you're human, we're all human, we are all lazy, tired, hate Mondays, stay up too late, have trouble with insomnia-- as much as I am somewhat skeptical about the Internet, I do love the fact that all of this makes me feel... normal. Like, I'm not so alone in what I'm doing and how I am doing it.


Am I worried for nothing, like parents in the 1950s worried about rock and roll?

Probably. Probably. This is my age showing. My fearfulness about change and things I do not understand. I understand blogging and facebook and twitter, but I am baffled by slurp! I don't particularly like Twitter, but I use it to drive up my blog traffic. Because of my time online, I write more non-fiction (prose) and less poetry... though that has actually changed lately too. I've been writing more poetry. And it has more to do with the change in my medication than about anything else, I suspect. Or perhaps the company I keep. If you hang out with a bunch of poets, maybe your own writing will take off.

Yesterday, I was talking to Jay Allen (aka The Zero Boss). We have both gone through periods of not blogging. I asked him, "Did you write privately when you weren't blogging, or did you store it all up?"

"I stored it all up. Blogging is my platform."

Blogging seems to be my platform too. Though, Jay is better at reinventing himself at the same site with the same blog persona he has inhabited for years. I am not so good at that, as two abandoned blogs can attest. I need a different space, a different name, a different look. Otherwise, I get cranky. And most importantly, otherwise, I will not write there, Sam-I-Am. I am comfortable here, it's a good space. It is a clean, well-lighted space.

And I am still undecided about whether that's a good thing or not. I would like to write even if I knew that nobody would ever read it. I journaled for YEARS with the specific intention of NOBODY reading it. So, am I trying to get attention? Trying to make connections? Y'all are a pretty quiet bunch of readers, generally. I see you in my stats, but you come and read and then you go away. I don't know what you are thinking. Is it enough that you are coming to read? Would I still want to blog if I shut off my comments and stopped tracking my stats?

No. I know myself well enough that the possibility of making a connection, even if it is a silent one, is too much of a lure for me. I do want the attention. I can tolerate being ignored-- I really can. But I do not like it, LOL. Not one bit.

This is a rambling bit of a blog post, but I'm trying to figure it all out. This world we live in, and my place in it.