Thursday, December 11, 2008

Introducing My Daughter, The Philosopher

On the drive to school this morning, Sophie mentioned the late Mona, our wonderful, nutjobby black Lab who died in July. Sophie's been thinking a lot about her lately, which has included a fair amount of crying, and I guess which is expected when you're figuring out what death is for the first time. And now that it seems most of the grief has passed for young Sophie, she's been contemplating the concept of loss.

"We used to have a different car, right?" Sophie asked, after confirming that Mona was never coming home from the vet. "The black one." It's true. At about the same time we lost Mona to some sort of brain injury or disease, we bought a new car and sold our old car, a black Subaru.

"Right," I said. "And now we have this car."
She was quiet for a few blocks and then said, "We have two things missing. One from our family and one from the garage."
I asked her, "Are you sure you're four?"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How to Torture Yourself: The Modern Parent’s Guide to Life (Based on true events)

Today's post is a re-print from my post over at the Zwaggle blog. And if you don't know Zwaggle, run on over there and get familiar. Yes, both of you. Thanks, now on to today's post.

Wake up to the words, “My bed is wet, Mama.” For some reason, you feel compelled to check for yourself instead of just stripping the bed, as if your child would lie about such a thing just for kicks. Notice that the bed is not just damp, but that it rivals the swampy conditions found in the Everglades.

On the way to school, categorize and prioritize your day’s tasks thusly: Should-do, Need-to, Said-I-would, Have-to, Dying-to. (Rearrange these several times during the day, until you have ignored them all.) Drop off your child at school. When the teacher tells you that there is now a confirmed case of pink eye circulating the school in addition to foot and mouth disease, rotovirus, and head lice, heave an audible sigh. Go to work at your desk, for example, and clear your schedule for the next five to seven days, knowing that your child is certain to catch all four ailments that day. Repeat, until June.

During the day, give yourself a headache asking yourself why you’re not doing more with your life. If you have a full bottle of pain reliever around (Motrin, if you’re not swayed by advertising controversy), draw harsh comparisons between yourself and those you consider to be “successful.” Forgo drinking water and eating healthy foods that day in favor of consuming only those things consisting of caffeine and/or salt.

When the economy tanks, pretend to understand why you should be freaking out, then secretly congratulate yourself for not having any money to lose in the financial black hole of 2008. When you notice the fallout directly affecting you in the form of a sharply reduced income—say a reduction along the lines of one hundred percent—genuinely freak out. To avoid worrying others, do your freaking out between the hours of 3 and 5 AM. Repeat, until June.

At the end of one of your daily freak out sessions, realize, very abruptly, that you’re 39 years old. (How did that happen?) Decide to become a librarian, based on someone once telling you that the average age of Library Science students is 39. Or is it the mean age? Try and remember what the difference is between averages and means. Forget it; write down, “become a librarian” on a slip of paper and leave it on the nightstand so that you can look into it later. Find it the next day while you’re straightening up, and misread your own handwriting as, “become a libertarian.” Scratch your head, and try to remember why it seemed like a good idea to drastically change your political affiliation.

Start a magazine, a radio show, or secret society by reserving the domain name. Then, run completely out of juice writing the mission statement. Seconds into transforming yourself into a member of the libertarian party, stop short and gasp. What if the note you wrote said “lesbian,” not “libertarian?” Imagine the changes you’ll have to make.

In an attempt to entertain and distract you from yourself, see David Sedaris in concert. Instead of enjoying the show, spend the time asking yourself, “Why can’t I do that?” Go home, write down, “Become an author who writes funny little stories about life and reads them aloud to audiences around the world. Rake in the dough.” The next morning, decide that it would be enough simply to spend a few minutes writing a funny little story. Feel a little better, a little happier, a little lighter. Make the bed. Congratulate yourself while you go to the sink to wash your face.

Try not to curse aloud upon discovering that you have pink eye.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Now You're Voting With Gas

What a relief: Election day. Today we not only get a new president; we get a break from the phone calls and door knockings asking us if we've voted. For someone who is already asked to repeat herself five thousand times a day because she lives with a four year old and a grown man with ADHD, OCD, and a few other initials, the civic commitment of some people and organizations came as particularly bad news.

Because I work at home, I'm forced to answer calls from unfamiliar numbers in case they pertain to something lucrative. Instead, it was often a recording of a plumber in Denver named Joe, who doesn't care for a certain candidate stereotyping his identity for the benefit of ideals he doesn't support. Or it was a woman in Duluth who told me I was a "good girl" after I gave her what she considered the good news.

Weeks ago, I'd voted by mail, an act that I thought would save me from all the hoopla, like the long lines and archaic practices of punching pieces of paper with a stylus that I would secretly sterilize with a Lysol wipe before touching.

So last night, much too late to make any kind of material gain from it (my timing is always this spot-on), I made a little sticker, as much to amuse myself as to keep others from asking me if I've voted. I've passed it, much like the dutchie, to the left hand side. Feel free to use it at your blog, and wherever else you like. Personally, I think Benjamin Franklin would be proud.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Doing Some of my Best Head Scratching

My guest post, or Octoberguest post as Laura calls it, is up at Laura Benedict's Notes From the Handbasket. (Thanks, Laura!)

Here's a hint: I guaran-damn-tee that it will give you the willies/the creeps/the heebie jeebies, in that I'm-glad-this-happened-to-someone-else kind of way. Get on over, and comment, too. Laura's giving away fabulous prizes, as they say on Wheel of Fortune. No vowel purchase necessary.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Out of the Closet, Into the Handbasket

Tomorrow, I'll be guest blogging at Laura Benedict's Notes From the Handbasket. If you don't know Laura, she's the author of Isabella Moon, and the forthcoming Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts. She's also the co-editor of Surreal South, an anthology. But she's more than that, of course. She's a mom and a wife--a writer's wife, no less--and a snake wrangler on occasion. And it's tomorrow at the Handbasket that I'll be making a very creepy confession, just in time for Halloween.

So go on over to Laura's place and make yourself at home. Hear tell she makes good bread.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


You were born on September 23rd, 2004 at 9:50 PM mountain time. “Hey, it’s Bruce Springsteen’s birthday too,” we said, laughing and singing "Born to Run" in the delivery room. You are four today, and I’m already doing that thing that parents do when they realize that in the blink of an eye, you’re going to pack up your 2017 vegetable oil-powered Subaru and speed away into your future because you’re THAT excited about what’s next. I’m a little misty, I’m a little verklempt. I realized on your 2nd birthday, the only one in which you would double your age in one year, that you weren’t going to stay little for very long. At the time, this was really good news. Today you’re twice the person you were last year, even if you’re only one year older, and I find myself trying to slam on the breaks. (See also: Good luck with all that.)

I couldn’t be prouder of you. You’re already the kindest person I know, with a self-awareness that I didn’t possess…ever, maybe. My friend Carol calls you “the future president of the United States” and says you’re the oldest soul she’s ever known. This is what friends are for, to tell you that you’ve managed to produce the finest person since Thomas Jefferson (who was born on my birthday, by the by.) But these are the things that stick with me: You can make friends anywhere, even if it’s a dog, or a bug, or a kid who doesn’t speak English. And you are able to give an unapologetic voice to your needs. As a woman who is guilty too often of torturing herself for needing anything at all, I can’t tell you what a relief it is that you’ve always been able to tell me what you need, and ask for what you want. I’m trying not to mess that up.

That day I was trying to hurry you into your car seat, and you looked at me, tearful, and said, “I’m fragile today” made me grateful beyond measure for your way with words. What a relief that you can at least tell me what’s wrong, or what’s right, even if I fail to listen right away. The night I was trying to get dinner made, despite your whiny requests for milk, for a snack, for some paper and markers, you finally said, “I need attention.” Dinner waited that night, our schedule got all messed up, and nobody died; in fact, we were all better off for it.

You’ve decided lately that your old man is OK. In fact, you’re pretty sure he’s cooler and funner than the rest of us. I knew this day would come; it doesn’t make it any easier, though. After four years of your unabashed worship, it’s downright painful to pass on the baton, even if it does make bathtime, bedtime, and life in general a little easier. I have my own plans, that’s true, but the day you decided to join “Boy Team” as you call it, I considered setting them on fire. You are joining the legions of all the other creatures I’ve brought home who have adopted the habit of ignoring me until sick or hurt, at which point you all come limping back to me. That’s OK. Let the record show that, no matter what, I will be your Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. I will be the president of your fan club. I will be your teacher, your student, your sidekick. And I will continue to uphold the doctrine your father and I carved into stone the day we learned of your existence: We will love you, whoever you are.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Praising Jesus: How the Blogosphere Might Just Resurrect My Tee Shirt Slogan Career

Now I've seen everything. Just minutes after pretty much bagging any plans I may have entertained involving my greeting card and tee shirt career, I find Jesus--and a black hockey one, at that--wearing one of my tee shirts. (Allegedly for church attendance purposes.)

Yes. The Team Vagina baseball jersey. One of my favorite designs, not to be outdone, mind you, by the "Ask Me About My Vagina!" series, and the "Vaginas Are for Lovers" line of merchandise that has been for sale at my CafePress stores since sometime around 1865. I admit that offering to send Black Hockey Jesus a tee shirt was a no-brainer, considering that his daddy blog is called The Wind in Your Vagina. It is ironic, though, since I never would have predicted I'd be sending some of my favorite home-grown pieces of merchandise to a man, much less a man I'd never met. But these times, they are a-changin'.

"What gives, anyway," you ask, "with the vaginal slant to your work?" (No pun intended, I'm sure). That's a long story; put on a pot of cough medicine and hunker down, dears. I'm about to tell you what happened long before Jesus there got dressed up for church, and what's happening now. Side note: None of it has anything to do with the DNC, the RNC or the next presidential election, so if you've come seeking a political respite, or a way to cleanse your political palate, you've come to the right place.

In 1997, I was a fine young woman going about the business of figuring out who she was, and in my love of literature, happened upon a book called The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler. I admit, its brilliant simplicity hit me hard, and I immediately declared it one of the most important works of literature I'd ever read. Most of all, I wondered, "Hey, why hadn't I thought of that?"

Also at the time, I was busy launching my lifelong career as an Internet dilettante, and was enjoying the free time that being self-unemployed afforded me. I had launched a little 'zine called Saucy Chicks, which was receiving a modicum of recognition, and was fun. This, as I learned, was a recipe for hatching crackpot schemes that were sure to make me millions overnight. In other news, I'm still waiting for morning. And also, I became the author of slogans that I thought were funny, cool, and destined to further countless women's hard-fought battles for vagina liberty. Represent.

In keeping with all my networking, reaching out ways, I had become vaguely friendly with the folks over at VDay, Ensler's anti-violence philanthropy event, and was asked to contribute some of my merchandise for their first annual benefit in New York City. (They celebrated thier 10th anniversary not long ago.) I was so excited by it all, that not only did I send boxes of "Vagina" tee shirts to be auctioned off in support of Eve Ensler's flagship foundation, but I went to the event and met Ensler herself. She and her staff were friendly and enthusiastic, and the women I met were nothing but supportive. When I asked where the shirts and mugs I'd sent were located among the other auction items, they told me that everything sold within seconds. I admit: tee shirts at an Eve Ensler benefit is not a tough sell, but I was sure all that was a sure sign that I was going to be featured in The New Yorker at any moment. All told, I'd say it was a net gain. I still consider that year one of the coolest times in my life and remember it like it was yesterday.

And then shift happened, as it will. I became a different kind of writer, a wife, a mountain-dweller, a work-a-day gal, and a mom. I've had ups and downs in my career, a goiter in my neck, a false start on a memoir, a problem with discipline and time management pretty much everywhere. I passed off Saucy Chicks to its co-founder, and now we'll say it's just napping instead of defunct. A literary agent told me quite a few years ago that she considered the vagina thing kind of over with. Moreover, I stopped caring about funny little creative projects that were going to make me--the underdog, the dark horse-- into the heroine as the credits rolled. I think the word is "disillusioned," but I refuse to say it out loud. I admit that I kind of gave up for a good, long while.

And then some dude under the moniker Black Hockey Jesus starts a daddy blog of all things, and really embraces it with the same kind of enthusiasm most people reserve for gambling, or eating hot wings. It made me nostalgic. Inspired, even. Maybe even kind of fired up in the same ways I was fired up over Saucy Chicks, meeting Eve Ensler, my early writing career, technology, and my own creative potential. My tee-shirts and mugs and stupid little shit no one is supposed to care about. I think the word is "hopeful," but I'm not ready to say it out loud. Yet.

While I was at BlogHer '08 this summer, I happened to meet the nice people at Cafe Press. They gave me a free upgrade to a premium shop for a year, which I thought was right neighborly of them. I'm designing shirts again. They make me happy, which I think is important, no matter how many or few I sell. Some of them are more kid-friendly than others. Some are more philosophical, like my forthcoming signature line of What Would Charo Do? tees. And then there's a little special something for the bloggers out there. It's coming. Will you wait for it?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Marriage: The Great Equalizer

The second amendment is alive and well in our house, and that’s because my dutiful husband has started working out again. That means that he exercises his right to walk around the house, bearing his arms, flexing his biceps, asking me if I knew that the gun show was in town.

“BOOM!” he shouts at the top of his lungs, flexing both arms and holding a one-man pose-down in the kitchen. I’ve learned not to react, not to encourage him. I can’t even say something like, “Put the safety on and come to dinner, please.” Doing so only leads to statements like:

“Do you have any duct tape? Because I’m ripped!”
“Do you have any dirty laundry? Just put it here on my washboard.”

Give me strength. (No pun intended.)

There was a lot of this going on during our recent vacation together, which is another blog post entirely, as the painful emotional and mental machinations we go through to get through a flight or a road trip without my trying to leap from whatever vehicle we’re in will no doubt make for some good reading. In short, by the time it’s all over, one of us decides we’re not speaking to the other ever again. Don’t we sound like a lot of fun?

So we were sitting on a tarmac, delayed (as usual) from Chicago to New York, which is always a long, boring story. Alex had already regaled me with talk of his muscles to the point that even he was bored with the whole schtik. And we had already perused the SkyMall magazine, making fun of it throughout, and asking the same question we always ask: “Who actually buys this stuff?” (If it’s you, please write in and tell me how you’re enjoying your Deluxe Jewelry Chest in acrylic, your Embossed Jean Jacket, or your Wonder Woman Cuff Bracelet.)

Switching to the in-flight magazine, I saw Alex flip to the Sudoku puzzle, a first for him. Twenty minutes later, I looked over at the same, blank puzzle. Twisting his pen, scratching his face, he was obviously pained about the whole thing. I took a look over his shoulder and casually entered some numbers—in pen, an event that irked him so that that veins in his forehead were blocking the exit rows.

“Wait!” he cried, snatching the magazine away from my reach. “How do you know that’s even right?”
“You don’t, it’s just an educated guess based on the rest of the numbers.”
“But it could be wrong.”

I left him to his self-torture for another twenty minutes, at which point I had to look again. Still no numbers. “If they had seen you doing these puzzles, they would have called them Slowdoku,” I said, tickled at my own joke. There it was: the point he stopped talking to me for the rest of the trip.

And this is basically what sums up our relationship, ourselves. Alex is afraid to make guesses, fearing they may be wrong, thus rendering the whole thing a failure. And I insist on just going ahead with the guessing, damn the consequences, because at least then you can go on to figure out if you’re right and fix what isn’t. I ask you, which is worse: A blank puzzle, or a messed up puzzle?

Am I oversimplifying everything? Probably. Is it kind of accurate? Absolutely.

It’s just anecdotal proof of what I already knew: That between the two of us, we’re almost a sane person. Without me, nothing would ever actually happen, and without him, all hell would be breaking loose. The silver lining is that we met, and that we both equally hate the Albany airport. It’s a start.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Thank You, San Francisco, Good Night!

Last weekend, I packed a (very full) bag and left for San Francisco to attend the BlogHer conference. I had a fun time—maybe a little too fun—and met some nice gals (and a few nice guys, even. At BlogHer—who knew?) Mostly I was there in support of Zwaggle, the sharing and trading network for parents. And I met my blogging compatriates from b5media, who were nothing short of a hoot. I camped out, for the most part, in the Zwaggle swag recycling room by day, and the piano bar across the street by night: Lefty O’Doul’s.

Oh, Lefty, how I adore you. I adore any establishment, no matter how sketchy, at which a man at a piano openly asks, “Any requests?”

“FREE BIRD!” I yelled, as we walked in the door. I continued to sing at the top of my lungs, arms draped around whomever was close enough, "requesting" songs that are obviously not a part of the piano bar canon.

“Play 'Sister Christian!' 'Ghost BUSTERS.' 'It's Raining Men. It's Raining Men. It’s Raining Men.' 'ALL MY EXES LIVE IN TEXAS!'”

And then there was my frequent, random demand for more cowbell. At the end of belting out certain songs, I liked to take the mic, throw a kiss to the audience and yell, "Thank you, San Francisco, goodnight!" My only regret is that I didn’t get enough sleep, not that I didn’t make some other conference gaffes. Live and learn.

Mistakes were made, understanding that they were bound to happen. First off, despite fervent warnings from everyone about finding a place at the intersection of comfort and style, I brought the worst possible selection of shoes that were neither comfortable nor stylish. A rookie mistake, which on the mistake spectrum is located far from taking your friend hunting, and then shooting him in the face, and closer to, say, sitting down to an evening of cable TV, only to discover that perhaps H.O.T.S. is not the kind of movie you want to watch with your grandpa. It was a slightly painful and long-remembered, but could-have-been-worse scenario for sure.

Next, I failed to bring my North Face down jacket, mostly because I didn’t realize that walking along the streets of San Francisco in July would feel like an Everest assault, temperature-wise. I brought a wimpy little jean jacket, a faux jacket really, a jacket that gives only the illusion of warmth and doesn’t even have good pockets. I mentioned one night while shivering on a street corner that Mark Twain said that the coldest winter he ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco. That was when my conference comrade and colleague Adam looked at me, deadpan, and said, “Really? I’ve never heard that one before.” I only mention it because you would think that someone who was so familiar with the saying would have actually brought a jacket. Just saying.

And I didn’t allot enough time for non-conference shenanigans. My cousin Kevin, who’s lived in the Bay Area his whole life, came to the city to meet me and catch up. We haven’t seen each other for at least ten years, and seeing him connected me in a new way to memories of visiting California every year as a youngin’. Kevin is a kind and funny guy who decided to attend Berkeley as a thirty-something after attending community college. He’s been running his mother’s tax preparation business since her death, and plans on teaching English as a second language to Spanish speakers. He's visited 29 countries, whereas I have visited about that many counties. We had dinner and a walk together, but it wasn’t enough. I can’t believe we don’t talk more often.

I also met up with…wait for it…a couple of MySpace friends, who happened to be in the city to see Eddie Izzard Saturday night. It was my first-ever MySpace moment; perhaps my first Internet-Only Friend moment, and I’m sure that there are people scratching their heads about what the big deal is. This is the part where I repeat: "I’m Amish, remember?" In short, they were totally nice, normal people with excellent taste in comedy, which is perhaps the best endorsement anyone can get from me.

In the "win" column, both my cousin and my MySpace pals commented on the quality and reputation of the Westin St. Francis, and it was all I could do to pretend like I had chosen it for that reason, dahlink. I have to agree that I was thoroughly impressed with the concierge who took my call the night I asked where I could get some Band Aids. He said, "I'll send some right up" with such enthusiasm that I wanted to call back and ask for a pony. Providing speedy free Band Aid delivery is the mark of a good hotel (are you getting this down, Frommer's), but it just so happened that’s where the conference was happening, and I got a really good rate on my closet room.

My plane was delayed in Salt Lake City both ways, but seriously, I don’t remember the last time I got to sit quietly in an airport, reading the latest David Sedaris collection and laughing until I literally embarrassed myself, instead of following around a youngster with too much energy, who insists on licking everything in the airport. It was like going to a spa, only a spa located in a cattle car instead of in a fancy hotel on Pearl Street. And instead of getting little fluffy slippers and a robe to wear, I was wearing the cruelest shoes money could buy.

And without shitting you in the slightest, I can’t wait to do it again.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sans Sans-A-Belt: A Blogumentary in 3 Parts

[Cue the Frank Sinatra music to go with the home movie footage of hip white guys hanging at the Sands or the Pink Flamingo or Caesar's, ca. 1971.]

[Imagine a black and white photograph] This is my dad, Frank, a first-generation American born in Colorado of all places, in the mid 1920s. Here he is walking the Vegas Strip with his friends, a bunch of other "goombas" that he's known practically since birth. Although they're of all shapes, sizes, and incomes, they pretty much all have one thing in common besides their Italian-American heritage: Their pants.

[Pan down] Note the multi-colored offering of polyester pants, which by the way, are a real bitch to crease down the front like that. (I ironed my dad's pants once a week from 1991-1993.) They aren't just any polyester pants, however. First off, as my friend and fashion guru, Suzy Ten Bears says, "They're not even really pants. I find myself wanting to call them 'slacks.'" And she's right, they are more like slacks than anything else. They're Sans-a-belt slacks.

Thirty years later, you could still see my dad, and most of his friends, wearing the same pants, by which I mean the exact same pants. Not a new pair of the same style of pants, but the very pants they'd been wearing all along. (For those of you who rage against the half-life of plastic grocery bags, please add Sans-a-Belt pants to your list of Things That Last Four Thousand Years in a Landfill.)

They wear them to the bocce courts, and to lunch, and to card games. They wear them to do all the same stuff they've always done, like stand around telling stories and gambling on...everything. Dad's got grungy pairs he puts aside for doing things like disassembling the sprinkler system in his yard, and digging up the flower beds. Shoveling snow, and what have you. He's probably got nicer pairs that he wears to tournaments and Olive Garden, and in-between pairs that he wears for watching Antiques Roadshow. He's an older guy now, my dad, which means that his favorite slacks are getting old, too.

And here we are: No matter how well you take care of a garment, it's bound to forsake you. It's going to wear out at some point. I think Shakespeare may have been hanging out with my dad and talking about slacks the day he walked home from Ye Olde Olive Garden and wrote, "therein lies the rub."

Dad's been troubled by all this, I hear. I can relate. The expiration of my favorite things is often cause for reflection, and reflection isn't always comfortable. There's the nostalgia. The stories. The history. I imagine dad patting one leg of his trousers and saying, "Before deciding that blankets were more appealing, the government approached me about using these pants to introduce smallpox to the Native Americans, but I would have no part of it."

Mom says that San-a-Belt pants slacks are hard to come by these days, and so Dad is hoarding them, as I probably would. They probably still make them, but unless you're a referee or clergyman, you probably can't get your arthritic, spotted hands on a pair anymore. Not one to make assumptions, though, (you know what happens when you ass u me, right?) I took a look for Sans-a-Belt slacks. Sure enough, there's a "dealer locator" page at the Web site, which is interesting. I've never thought of clothing as being something that required a dealer, but, well, we are talking about an American institution here, an iconic brand that is perhaps made of petroleum products and sheet metal.

My mom, a woman who still has the red hounds tooth polyester pantsuit uniform she wore every day of her career as a reservations agent for Western Airlines (from 1865 until I graduated high school), had finally had enough. She thinks it's time to move on. I kind of agree, although this probably means that Dad's only alternatives are jogging suits or Dockers separates, or cheap jeans from COSTCO. Really, it doesn't matter. Whatever's comfy enough to watch Matlock in while you openly discuss your bowels.

But take heart from physics, friends, because matter is neither created nor destroyed. There is, somewhere in the cosmos, little pieces of Sans-a-Belt pants swirling and mingling with other materials, becoming reincarnated--with divine guidance, no doubt--into something new. Something wonderful. And for those of us who fear change, who deny death its right to a speedy trial, for those of us who would forget that the world is an impermanent place, I say simply this: Dillards. I called, and while the news is not great, "I have only a very few pieces of them," they do exist in the here and now. For now.

So go on, take an opportunity to grab a piece of history. You can someday set a pair next to your piece of the Berlin Wall, your autographed picture taken with the drummer from Def Leppard back when he had both arms. Put them in your time capsule. And wait for it, the dawning of a new age.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Late, Great, Really Needy Mona Reale

One more post from the Grieving Mona files, and then I'm going to put posting about her passing to rest for a while. I'll stick to just the facts, ma'am, to avoid some of the blubbering I'm prone to doing when I'm terribly sad about things having to do with the creatures in this house. (Confession alert: I still get a little misty over the demise of Charles, the beta fish I rescued from my workplace four years ago. So.)

Last week, at the age of nine, we put our dog Mona down. She was suffering; we were all ready. It was hard. I've received many heartfelt condolences from friends and family, but this one is my favorite, for its mix of using just the right amounts of sympathy, understanding, realness, and irreverence. It's from my good friend and writing coach, David Hicks, and is also reprinted here without any permission whatsoever.

We were really, really sad to hear about Mona. She was a truly great dog. You must have been so sad, and Sophie must have been confused. Anyway, long live Mona, the neediest dog on earth.

I think that pretty much says it all. And also this: Thanks, Mona, for being our dog.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

When? or, Tuesdays With Mona

If most of my duties as The Lady of the House are unglamorous and menial, there's one that's undeniably important, if difficult: the task of keeping the living things in our home alive and well. And as the prime caregiver to family members of the canine kind, I'm also sometimes burdened with the say-so over the dying part.

Our nine-year-old Lab/husky mutt, Mona, is the victim of something that has taken away the use of the right side of her head. It's moving fast, whatever it is; this morning her right eye is rolling around, her lip is dangling from her jaw, and her head is perpetually tilted. She can still walk, but the right side of her body is visibly atrophied. Plainly, it's all in her head. It's probably a tumor.

Knowing that there are people who put their dogs on life support, I know that veterinary care for one's animals is one of life's deeply personal decisions. We've decided against an MRI, because we've decided that we're not going to opt for brain surgery or chemotherapy. She's sedated, medicated, and for now, comfortable. We call her Sister Morphine. I'm sad to the point of paralysis. I didn't think I'd be this sad. I never do; I'm a procrastinator that way.

I knew something was up when Mona began acting funny a few months ago, slobbering and eating funny. I thought her teeth were bothering her. At least we can say that, when she gets to Dog Heaven, she will have nice, clean teeth.

I'm doing the best I can with this, the strangest of all familial duties, and I know the drill. After what's done is done, I will say something stupid like, "No more dogs. It's too hard when they leave." My friend Dawn, who has had dogs and horses and all kinds of animals for a million years, will tell me what a shame that kind of thinking is, reminding me that the price of being a Dog Person is outliving most of your friends. "But at least we can give them a good life," she would say.

I may have to decide when to say when, which is one of my job's cruelest or merciful decisions. It's a hard one, even if Mona could tell me whether or not she is suffering under pain's harsh rule. I may have to make some distinctions about quality of life, both mine and Mona's. She will forgive me.

Whatever happens, I can enjoy her company now, and remind myself of our time together later. I'm grateful to our Mona: for being our friend, our companion, the gentle and infinitely tolerant introduction she gave our daughter to big, loud dogs. She is proof that I like a big, dopey, old dog more than anything in the world. She has something to do with the feeling of safety I enjoy in our home. I like that she has replaced me as the resident nutjob for the past five years. And I like that she still perks up at the invitation of a walk, and barks with what's left of all her might at whomever dares cross her lop-sided path. She's still eating with the gusto of a pup; I'm happy to feed her steak while she can still eat it. We're sympatico that way.

And when she's unable to act crazy, or look interested in knocking over the trash; when she can't walk, or eat, I'll know that we're there yet.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

When the Lights Go Down in the City

It's with just a pang of nostalgia that I'm going to San Francisco for the BlogHer Conference in July. I realized, while shopping for a hotel room, that I haven't been to the Bay Area in twenty years.

My sister lived there, just before her life took what could be called a dismal turn, followed by several other disturbing ones, and eventually culminated in one big tragic one. She was ten years my senior; we were never close. In Facebook parlance, "It's complicated." So were her relationships with pretty much everyone else.

The anniversary of her death was about a week ago, and when I think about her, I'm not sure what I feel is grief. It's something closer to remorse. Now that she's been dead five years, the time we spent together in San Francisco is my fondest, clearest memory of her. I still have one thing she gave me ten years ago: her dog. He's old and gray and ornery. I love him.

The year Sophie was born, I began to wonder what my sister would have been like had Things (with a capital t) been different. I began reinventing her in my mind, making up the kind of person she might have been. In my mind, she became someone who always had gum in her purse. Her karaoke song was "It's Raining Men." When she laughed, she would show you every filling in her mouth. She would be my example that there is nothing to fear from forty. And whenever visiting The City, she would pick me up at the airport.

Friday, May 30, 2008

I Want a New Drug Car

If it's considered romantic to continue to learn things about one's spouse long after the nuptials, consider this: I realized not long ago that I happened to have married a man with a very interesting feature. Somewhere in Alex's head is a little invisible clock, a timer that is constantly counting down to zero the minutes and seconds in which it will be time to rid ourselves of each of our worldly possessions. He seems to own one of these little clocks for everything material thing--mine, his, ours. Nothing escapes his timer; even the houses we've lived in have been on the clock, and in fact, deciding on a dime to sell our first home was how I learned of his expire-o-meter in the first place.

A few months ago, Alex began making little noises about my car, a Subaru sedan. They were little, introductory-type messages that indicated that it was becoming time to sell my car, as opposed to the statement, "I sold your car today." I appreciated the warm up to the main event. I , of course, dug my heels in and proceeded to drag my feet, kicking and screaming all the way to Craigslist the day we put it up for sale. Someone bought it the next day. I cried, wee wee wee, all the way home.

I enjoy forming attachments to my things, and keeping them until death do us part, which is why Sophie is using my childhood bedroom furniture, and--no kidding--sleeping on my Snoopy sheets from 1974. Apart from finding this sort of conservationist quality in myself a strength, I also know that I do it because that's how much I really hate shopping to replace the stuff we've parted with. I think I may also have contracted a case of Being Old Fashioned, which makes buying new things with new features and shiny buttons and knobs a lot like putting the cast of Hee Haw on the space shuttle: an embarrassment to those who have spent their lives and enthusiasm furthering technology's advances, and a plea for space aliens to just shoot us all and eat our brains--NOW.

I say all that, knowing I'm a little sad that I'm no longer such a gadgety gal. The truth is, technology doesn't do it for me like it used to, and that's perhaps because I live in a house full of nutjobs intent on ruining everything I care too much about. Motherhood has done things to me, beyond the obvious, physical things that it does to all of us, and I'm afraid that it's shown me that anything with buttons on it, anything mechanical or digital or electrical, is soon rendered inoperable with extreme and swift prejudice.

I also know that I've inherited a lot of my no-nonsense, frugal behaviors from a long line of people who had just enough, and needed to save every bit of it for as long as they could. Just today, I built a fort for Sophie out of the same (reupholstered) couch cushions with which my dad made countless forts for me. My first car, which made it past college graduation, was the 1971 Camaro my dad bought when I was two years old. Mom and Dad still live in the same house they bought when they married in 1968; they probably always will.

Without entering territory that I would call stingy or cheap, my family's Depression-era thinking has rubbed off on me, a fact that I'm almost proud of, in a noble way; a kind of waste-not-want-not kind of way. In a way that makes my husband, a person I also plan to keep as long as possible, dizzy with anxiety. Funny, that.

So in addition to calling him Rapunzel (behind his back), I shall now refer to Alex as Chronos, Timekeeper of All Our Things. It's a good thing, and an annoying thing, and I'll take it because at least the man is the buying type in addition to being the selling type. Yesterday he bought me a car--a "pre-owned" one, as I like to call it--at my urging. It's just like my old car, only newer, and neater, and in much better shape. No, Dr. Freud, it's just a cigar.

I told Alex that I wanted a newer car that was modestly priced, and that got good gas mileage. I wasn't looking for anything fancy, understanding that fancy is relative; I reminded him that my cell phone only does two things: takes phone calls and makes them. (I think I actually had to pay extra for that.) And now I have exactly what I asked for. For now.

Now it's time to wait and see. Because maybe the clock that governs his clocks is going to wind down to 0:00:00, and he will forget to stop me from keeping and loving every single thing that has ever served me, and we will finally see each other for who we are: People who need deserve each another.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Of Mouth and Men, or, Down in the Mouth: Thirteen Years of Dentists and Dread

There aren't many cruel fates that have befallen me; my health, overall, has been good, and I've said before that, without knowing whether luck is something that you make or something that you get, I've always had a lot of the good kind. It's true that I can't cook, and I'm a terrible photographer--I know these things about myself, and I don't suffer much over them. There is usually little money in the things I enjoy doing the most. A coincidence, or a self-fulfilling prophecy? You tell me, Grasshopper.

There is one regrettable card I've been dealt, however, that causes me a considerable amount of scowling and pouting about once every five to ten years. It's this: My teeth could give a shit about Novocaine.

I discovered this, of course, in the worst possible way: At the hands of a totally incompetent dental technician named George. (After such an experience, you would remember his name after all these years, too.) George worked for the dentist I had chosen the year I finally landed a job with good benefits, Dr. P.V., DDS, a Denver dentist who owned one of those dental franchise-things called Perfect Teeth.

I was in my mid-20s; it made me feel all grown up and responsible to choose a dentist and actually go to an appointment. I was new to being a good consumer of medical and health services, and I believe I chose the good doctor by closing my eyes and pointing to the "Dentists" section of the Yellow Pages. I opened my eyes, my finger resting on a listing called Perfect Teeth. "Perfect Teeth," I gasped, opening my eyes. They must be good.

I went to my first checkup appointment after several years of not making any checkup appointments, and of course I had a whopper of a cavity making a tunnel between two of my bottom molars. What with being a grown-up and all who didn't need her mother to tell her that such things require attention, I made an appointment for a filling.

It was early, maybe 7:00 AM, and still dark the day of my appointment. I had taken the first one of the day so that I could still make it to work on time, even if the weather was bad. I took the chair and met George, the technician assigned to my case. He made chitchat as he set up the workspace, which included explaining that, because he loved snowboarding so much, he had his hands insured. "If I mess these up," he held up two meat hooks, "I lose my livelihood." I looked around at the otherwise empty office and asked, "Where's the dentist?"

"Oh, he's not coming. I'm filling your tooth." This sounded strange to me, but I figured it was just a no-big-deal filling, and could be handled by the superstar snowboarder whose dunlop* hadn't escaped my attention. George gave me several Novocaine shots, and put his Lloyd's of London policy on his drill.

"Ahhhrgh," I said, flinching. George told me to relax, but I could still feel the drill, a sensation that, at first, was unpleasant, but not unbearable. Like maybe picking a fresh scab, or listening to a John Tesh song. As he continued, things became more like taking a pick ax to that scab, or turning up the John Tesh to 11. I was trying to hold still, but found myself squirming and sinking, slinking down out of the chair, my fingernails impaling the pleather of the armrest. "Arrrgh! Arrawaah!" I protested. George tried several more shots of Novocaine, to no noticeable effect. Finally, he put down the drill, filled the tooth, and called it good.

I went to work, to answer phone calls with half my face, and went home to a throbbing sensation in my teeth that night. By bedtime, the throbbing had become a jackhammer in my jaw. Knowing that I faced a sleepless night, twisting and turning myself inside out trying to get comfortable, moaning in agony, I called the dentist's office number. I took down the emergency after-hours pager number the answering machine rattled off. My phone rang in a half hour.

"Take some Advil or Aleve," said Dr. V., unconcerned. I explained that I had already taken enough Advil to kill Keith Richards. He refused to call in a prescription, telling me, in so many words, that shit happens. For whatever reason, I believed him. Two months later, I still couldn't chew with the filled molars, and anything cold was out of the question. This was adulthood, I figured. Fillings hurt, which is why, I guessed, all the old people I knew were so pissed off most of the time.

I thought that for a few months, until the day a I felt a tiny little earthquake, then a tiny little landslide of metal going on in my mouth. I couldn't take it anymore; I made an appointment to see Dr. V. "What day is George's day off?" I asked the receptionist.

I realize now that this is a lot like returning to the hairdresser who just gave you the Borat after you had asked for the Rachel, but these were desperate times. Times during which there was no Yellow Pages in the cafeteria at work.

It turns out that George, untrained in how to deal with a patient who couldn't get numb, said, "Fuck it, Dude, let's go bowling," instead of dispatching the remaining decay before filling the teeth. With such shaky footing, the amalgam could find only limited purchase, and eventually it cracked and shimmied its way out of Dodge. "Douchebag," I mumbled at the news. Dr. V. Himself performed the replacement, with the help of a nice technician with a bad perm and prison work tattoos, andNovocaine, and a generous helping of nitrous oxide gas, which I learned doesn't so much lessen the pain of the drill so much as it lessens how much I care about the pain of the drill. While it was an improvement, I considered the situation a lose-lose one, but the best I could do given the circumstances.

Six years later, I knew I needed another filling, and chose a dentist with the care one would take to choose a babysitter, a roommate, a spouse. I had asked friends and family for referrals; I had learned to ask, "Are you the kind of dentist who performs the procedures, or are you the kind of dentist who does the books and buys the furniture?" I had made an important DUH-scovery that maybe not all dentists were alike. And when my new dentist asked me why I hadn't had a checkup in so long, I didn't lie. I had become self-unemployed, and didn't have benefits. I think I said something like, "The only thing worse than asking someone to hurt you is to pay someone out of pocket to hurt you." I made sure to tell her my story, which for some reason, entertained her as much as it informed her. She gassed me and filled my tooth. It was a little thing, it was no problem, and she was nice and competent enough that I actually don't remember her name.

Since then, I've been more diligent in seeing my dental professional. We have insurance right now, which is a bonus. Alex found the dentist we have now, a congenial fella with what I thought at first sounded like an exotic last name. I balked a little when I found out he was an Air Force dentist, but he quickly bucked the stereotype. (No offense to persons trained and working in the armed forces, but I spent years as a Planned Parenthood patient, and found myself in the stirrups across from a few former Army nurses. When you've had a pelvic exam from Maj. Margaret Houlihan, you can argue with me about the differences between military and civilian care.)

At my last appointment, last week, I learned that my filling of eight years ago, installed by the nice woman who laughed at my jokes and tolerated my nervous nellie patient style, was going bad. I launched my well-rehearsed presentation of George: The Man Who Hurt Me. My exotic-named dentist patted me on the arm, promised to gas me, and assured me that he would do no harm.

I went to my filling replacement remembering the nice dentist who thought my dental story was such a hoot. I lay in the chair in a full sweat, waiting for the ensuing jolts of pain that were coming, coming, coming. Then after the drilling was over, I lay trembling from the chills I got from sweating the previous hour. "Poor dear," the hygienist said, draping a blanket over me, and wiping down my forehead with a mop. Later, I vomited, which I considered a fair price for the modicum of relief the gas gave me.

The dentist's assistant, Xena, was waiting for me when I walked in, showed me to my chair; she asked me if I wanted to wear my own sunglasses, or wear the office goggles. "It's just for your protection," Xena said, and I wondered what kind of filling replacement could put out a person's eye. "Do you want some headphones?" she asked. "They might help if the sound of the drill bothers you." Considering that the drilling was going to go on inside my head, using earphones to dampen the sound didn't make sense to me, but I accepted them anyway, and put them on.

The dentist took a seat next to me, and we prepared each other on what was about to happen. "I can't get numb; there's nothing we can do about it," I said, and he looked at me sideways and said he didn't know about that. Nevertheless, I told him I wanted him to gas me, ASAP, but not too much. "Somewhere between Dead show and Pink Floyd." He gave me my shots and I lay there with my sunglasses and headphones on. I sent up a prayer of thanks that John Tesh was totally absent from the FM dial.

And then he said, "I couldn't tell from your X-rays for sure, but I see now that you definitely have a little cavity in the tooth next to this one. Do you want to just take care of it now?" This was an unwelcome surprise to me, but only mildly so. It's a little like having your mechanic tell you that, during your break job, he discovered you have a tail light out. No biggie, but another 10 minutes in the chair is another 10 in the chair. I told him to go ahead and fill it, to be conservative, and so I lay there, waiting, waiting, waiting. As the drill spun around in my head, I have to say I never felt a thing.

While I don't know if it was a change in me, or a change in the dentist, it turned out to be my most positive dental experience to date. And you can ask me for the man's name and number, but I'm busy organizing a ticker tape parade in his honor, and sending bouquets and gold bouillon to his office. I'm lobbying our local and state governments to name a day after him after offering him a key to the city. Sure, I may sound overzealous, but this kind of breakthrough means that maybe I'm living in a world in which anything could happen after all. Like, for example, how Dr. V.'s stellar filling continues to hold up to this day.

And how, if teeth can change their minds at the hands of one Air Force dentist with an exotic last name and a staff member named Xena, then who knows what other pains I'm tolerating that could turn themselves off one morning? Shoot, I'll bet that in a world like this one, I might even be able to forgo cavities altogether. Just as an experiment, I'm having Lindt chocolates for lunch. And just as insurance, I'm going to brush and floss afterward.

*Dunlop--shorthand parlance to describe one's abdominal physique, as in, "His belly done lop over his belt."

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Place for My (Old) Stuff: A Bonus Post Compliments of Digg

Take a gander at the following story about my all-time favorite site: Zwaggle.

read more | digg story

When Day Planners Go Bad

Since I've successfully ignored my to-do list for a solid two weeks, I'm going with a new approach: The To-Don't List. Make your own! Franklin Covey, call me!

1. Talk about Fight Club.*
2. Take candy from strangers--or babies.
3. Sell anything, buy anything, or process anything.*
4. Bring a knife to a gunfight.*
5. Take the gun in favor of the cannoli.*
6. Take a cannoli to any kind of fight. Unless it's a food fight.
7. Talk about Foodfight Club.
8. Trust a dog to watch your food.
9. Let any bulls into your china shop.
10. Let your babies grow up to be cowboys.

*Extra credit for naming the movie referenced in this item.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The "P" Word

Ours is a household with loose rules. We try not to sweat the small stuff, parenting-wise, so that Sophie, Alex and I are together and present, instead of arguing over whether it's OK or not to wear your Crocs to bed. It's not for everyone, but this is the way our family is. Sophie takes great pleasure in picking out her clothes each day before school to create a very unique look that I like to call Boca Raton Bag Lady. Further, the rules are: You can pretty much wear what you want to bed, as long as you sleep; you can pretty much have whatever you want for dinner as long as you eat at least some of it. Wearing seatbelts in the car is non-negotiable, but, hey, you can use any word you want at home, as long as you don't cuss at school.

And then today, the chickens came home to roost.

"Mom," Sophie explained to me today, "you can call big girl underpants 'panties.'" I think I may have lost consciousness for a moment.

You see, for reasons I can't explain, but that probably have to do with a certain series of obscene phone calls that plagued my childhood home in the early '80s, I can't bear to hear the word "panties," much less say it. Even typing the word gives me the heebie-jeebies, and I'm probably going to have to spend the rest of my night with my fingers resting in a bath of sulphuric acid. ("You're soaking in it!")

No one is sadder than I that a new reign of censorship has begun between my daughter and I. Here we are, after three and a half years under my careful tutelage--"These are your underpants"--arguing over the P word in the backyard.

"No, honey, actually you can't call them panties," I said, wincing. "They are underwear or underpants or even undergarments, but that's all." And thus a new rule was born: You can call them panties, as long as you only do so at school. I can't wait for her teenage years; I'm considering getting it over with and taking a pickax to my eardrums now.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Winter Time Warp: How a Virus Turned February Turned Into April Part I

A few months ago, which seems like a few years ago, I was trying my damndest to get Sophie well from some virus that desperately clung to her like one of those creepy boyfriends we’ve all had. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Steve.) She’d been sick with something or other pretty much all winter, which I was trying not to take personally, even though in Boulder, that’s almost impossible. When learning that a family has fallen prey to cold and flu season, it’s not just customary—it’s mandatory—to ask the mother if she’s fed her family anything but organic vegetables, or to blame gluten, sugar, artificial colors, or hand sanitizer. And if the mother had committed to breastfeeding longer, her children wouldn't get sick in the first place. Yes, mea culpa on making sensitive, deeply personal decisions, like weaning Sophie a month, a day, a year longer than someone else thinks I should have. (Like sometime before she started shaving her legs and bringing home calculus homework, for example.)

And while Sophie was entering the third or fourth day of viral symptoms, I slogged inside our nearest drugstore with my clammy, whining toddler draped over my shoulder for an over-the-counter medication we use when things go south. The woman at the counter looked at me as if I had just asked for cyanide. “We don’t carry it,” she eyed me, “people overdose their kids with it.” I’d been fetching juice, laundering the vomit out of everything we own, and watching Blue’s Clues for 48 hours straight, and it took herculean restraint not to overdose that woman’s face with my fist.

This illness, at first, wasn’t anything that I hadn’t endured before, and I had to be grateful that we’d moved away from Vail, where I didn’t know anyone who could help me while Alex was away, and where the physicians were more like EMTs in really expensive shoes. It was during that winter we spent in Vail that I invented a system of helping nurses and doctors triage their pediatric patients in the waiting room just by looking at the kind of shape their mothers were in. When Sophie was on the well side, I looked like a regular mom who could have used some highlights and a breath mint, but was otherwise holding it together OK. When she got really sick, and when her fever rose to 104.5 the minute her medication wore off, I looked a lot like Nick Nolte’s mug shot from 2002.

Living in a real place, where my parents can help me when things get really bad, and the doctors know how to do other things besides treat ski injuries, I felt a little better. Then on the night of February 5th, after we’d seen Sophie’s pediatrician, and were taking a new round of antibiotics, I looked at Sophie and didn't like how she was doing. I couldn't put my finger on it, but something told me things were bad, and were going to get worse. With my spidey sense tingling, I paged the on-call doctor, and got a phone triage nurse at Children’s Hospital. “What you’ve just described to me constitutes a 911 call. How does she look?”
“Like shit actually,” I said. I hung up, and packed us all into the car. I didn’t bother changing my clothes; despite the weather, I didn’t even put on a coat. I headed for the emergency room without passing go or collecting two hundred dollars.

Stay tuned for the continuation of Winter Time Warp: How a Virus Turned February Turned Into April, coming soon.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

On Sunday, I'll turn 39. The end of the road for my thirties, and the beginning of the road for things like menopause and Matlock re-runs. Not only will this call it quits between me and what was for the most part a painful and dare I say transformative decade, but it's also one of those birthdays that falls on the day of the week I was born. I'm sure that somehow, maybe to someone who studies astrology or some sort of mysticism, this is important. Practically speaking, the liquor stores are closed in Colorado on Sundays, which means that I'll have get my shopping out of the way on Saturday if I plan on drinking alone.

I will say that, age notwithstanding, I still don't feel old, and if last night's trip to the liquor store (do you see a theme here?) means anything, I don't necessarily always look it.

I went to my friendly neighborhood liquor store last night for a bottle of wine to pour down the kid's throat before bed share with Alex. I don't usually go there, since the strip mall that it's in kind of gives me the willies, and because their prices remind me of the shower scene from Shawshank Redemption.

I was there because I was in a hurry, and in my haste, grabbed a bottle of something resembling red wine. What could possibly happen? All wine in any container smaller than a gallon is pretty much good wine. I went to the counter, where the clerk asked to see my I.D. He looked at it and laughed, looked up at me, and said in whatever accent he has, "Ha! You look so young!" We laughed together then, maybe a little too much, and then I proceeded to take home perhaps the worst tasting bottle of wine possible, which is saying something, considering that my palate is not that much more discriminating than my garbage disposal. So.

I guess I'll leave the gun and take the canolli, so to speak, and just assume that the clerk was telling the truth instead of trying to throw off my consumer spidey sense that the wine I was about to drink was nothing less awful than what a frat boy would mix up in preparation for the next backyard bash. Maybe the guy is right now having his vision checked, or the light bulbs in the store replaced. Maybe the life expectancy of the women in his country is fourteen, or maybe I just look younger than 39. Since I don't plan on going back there--ever--to ask the man in the new glasses, I get to decide that the answer is the latter. It'll be my birthday present to myself. Just in case, the next time I try my wine-buying skillz, I'll have my I.D. handy.

Why Google is King, Plus a Suggestion

In furtherance of failing to post any original thoughts of my own, I'm going to tell you about my friend Dawn, who managed to recently do two things:
1. Join the new millennium and switch her email provider from Excite (which, by the way, refused to deliver any of my mail to her, each and every time); and,
2. Explain in plain terms why Google is the genius giant it has become.

Note that Dawn is a lot of things, but she's not an information age guru. She's not a tech biz junkie, nor is she electronically inclined. In fact, she doesn't own a TV. She's a wife, a dog and horse person, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a damned good writer. She's terrible at keeping in touch for the most part, but when she does, it's always a learning experience. Take, for example, the email she sent me yesterday, in which she demonstrated point #2 from above, and which is posted totally without any kind of permission whatsoever:

"My new email is through google, and it seems to know what's best for me when it comes to picking out sidebar advertising depending on with whom I am corresponding, and about what. For some reason, whatever we are talking about makes it think of 'Guitar Lessons in Boulder' and 'Find a Therapist.' Hmm. There is a niche job for me right there. If I could only play guitar and or give advice."

Google, if you're listening--and I know you are--there's some gold there in that last sentence. What if, while you were pushing targeted ads, you could also provide some sort of career/life coaching to go with them? I know it seems like a long shot, but you were too once. Take that idea for free; after all, you're the Big Brother I never had.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Double Dipping

Dear Friends,
Cross-posting alert: I'm too swamped to post to my own blog, but have found the will to post to someone else's. My entry at, entitled Thinking Outside the Basement Box, is not only pretty good, IMHO, it's kind of a useful. Next week, at Kill Your Lunch Hour: Our heroine explains why she will never again be caught at a hospital without tampons in her purse. Stay tuned. Until then, Zwaggle, everyone!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Patry Francis. Period, or, P.F. I Love You

Last year I signed up for a six-month long master essay/memoir workshop at Denver’s only independent writing school, the kick-assish Lighthouse Writers Workshop. I laid down my good money and my essays for people I hardly knew so that they could tell me what they thought, and in turn I would tell them what I thought about their work. We squirm and giggle before each class, and make disclaimers before having our pieces read and critiqued. We apologize in advance for what we are about to submit. “It’s really rough,” we say, or, “For those about to read this piece of crap, I salute you.”

We turn in our stuff, dead trees be damned and wait for the slings and arrows, and of course, my classmates are not hiding in the bushes the next day to napalm me on my way to the car. Nor am I filling their gas tanks with sugar and figuring out how to do them bodily harm with their own manuscripts. We are nice and tender and supportive while being honest and helpful; the way I’d like to be treated with my craft and calling, yes, but it’s also the way I’d like to be treated in general.

It’s no worse than a lot of other vocations, but it’s a hard gig, this writing thing, and without role models, without community, it’s too easy to be too hard on one’s self. I made the mistake of trying to work in a vacuum for several years, and because I’m me, tried taking inspiration from the suite of quality programming at VH1. I would spend my lunch hour watching Beyonce Revealed, or The Fabulous Life of Christina Aguilera, or Behind the Music, shows that weren't helping me develop any sort of skill, but that started me on the important tack of thinking that success in the arts is possible. Period. The problem with these shows is that, while they do mention the struggles and sacrifices these stars-to-be had to make to further their careers and empires, it’s easy to overlook them. What we don’t see and can’t see in these glossy shows are the real doubts, the hurdles, and backbreaking, soul-breaking setbacks that artists must endure to bring their works to light. What we don’t get is the journey vs. destination philosophy. We get a lot of imagery, but none of it has anything to do with real heroism. Well, duh. What did I expect?

Once I’d drawn the conclusion that one can only spend so much time with VH1’s reality shows without risking brain injury, I imagined other heroes of the journey. Every time I pushed myself away from the desk and said, “This is too hard,” I would remind myself of Jane Austen, who had to use a well of ink and a quill by candlelight for god’s sake to do her writing, which was frowned upon in the first place, since she was shirking her other womanly duties like using her spindle and loom or something. But eventually I decided relying on Austin was lame, too, because to be honest, I don’t really identify with someone whose work I haven’t read since high school, and even then I was only pretending to read it. As long as I’m telling the whole truth, I should also say that the things I know about her are only secondhand; they’re bits and pieces of facts I’ve heard my well-read friends mention, and I’m probably making up a fair bit of it to fill in the gaps.

But forget all that, because today it’s with great relief that there’s a new hero in town, and her name is Patry Francis. She’s the author of the just-released novel, Liar's Diary. **UPDATE** Penguin Group, publisher of THE LIAR'S DIARY is offering a 15% discount if you order direct from them. To receive the discount, type PATRY in the code field.

To use the lovely and talented Susan Henderson’s words from LitPark (with permission), here’s why:
“What if you worked for years as a waitress and then went home at the end of the day to your husband and four kids, and in those rare minutes of free time, you dared to dream that one day you might write a book? This is the story of my friend, Patry - a story that leaves out years of false starts, revisions, and rejection slips. It's a story that writers know intimately, though the details are different. Every one of us is well acquainted with the struggle of getting a story on paper, of honing it and believing in it enough to send it out, only to receive rejection, or worse, silence for our efforts.
Imagine, after many years, you beat the odds. You finish that book. You find that agent who sells your manuscript. Your dream is about to become a reality. But just as your book is due to be released, you discover you have an aggressive form of cancer.
Patry's story struck such a deep chord with many of us, not just because she is our friend, but because those of us who know her or read her blog have relied on her company through the ups and mostly downs of trying to write and sell a book. She is our buoy. She has shown us time and again her great gift for shedding light in the dark. Even her blog post about her cancer showed this - in her greatest time of need, she was still somehow comforting all of us and showing us glimpses of joy. Patry is part one of this amazing story.”
What happened after that is like one of those holiday movies about giving and love that you can’t help but watch again and again, despite the corniness and what your cold-hearted husband might say. (As if he doesn’t cry like a baby during every episode of Little House on the Prairie ever taped.) Uh-hem. On New Year's Day, or thereabouts, author maven Laura Benedict wrote to author maven Susan Henderson, calling her attention to Patry's publication date. "Perhaps we could do a 'Patry Francis/Liar's Diary' blog-o-rama or carnival or something to promote the book?" she wrote. "I'm such an amateur at this stuff that I don't know what's possible."
Susan didn't give a moment's thought to what we might try to pull off, or how; Susan simply said, "Yes! Let's do it!"
Susan writes:
“In less than one month, over 300 bloggers, writers, readers, and just big-hearted people signed on to take part in this day. I am overwhelmed and grateful for every single person who said yes or helped spread the word, but let me reserve some enormous thanks for the people who traded hundreds of emails with me to put this together: Karen Dionne of Backspace, Jessica Keener of Agni and The Boston Globe, Dan Conaway of Writers House, and Alice Tasman of the Jean Naggar Literary Agency.
What began as a personal gesture of caring for a friend became an astonishing show of community - writers helping writers; strangers helping strangers; and most surprising of all, editors, agents and publishers, who have no stake in this book, crossing "party lines" to blog, to make phone calls, and to send out press releases.
This effort has made visible a community that is, and has been, alive and kicking - a community that understands the struggle artists go through and rejoices in each other's successes. It's a community made up of many small voices, but - guess what? - those many small voices can create some noise. So while today is for Patry, it's also a symbolic gesture for all of you who work so very hard for little or no recognition, for all of you who keep going despite the rejections, and for all of you who have had illness or other outside factors force your art or your dreams aside. We are in this together.”
So Patry Francis, when I’m struggling or fighting with myself or isolating myself from what’s wonderful and right, I will think of you—and Laura, and Susan, and all the other friends I’ve met along the way. I salute you. And as my three-year-old likes to say, “Love you, mean it.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Right Thing to Do, but Not That Tasty of a Way to do It

Every year I see pretty much all my doctors for checkups at the same time, which only used to take a few appointments. Now it takes an entire Franklin Covey day planner, two tanks of gas, and a withdrawl from my savings account to cover the co-payments. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve built up quite a stable of medical personnel, which makes me wonder if I should start hosting those MLM home parties, but instead of inviting my friends over to buy Tupperware or PartyLite Candles, or vibrators (I’m looking right at you, Carol), you could get a Johnny On the Spot appointment with the medical specialist of your choice. And I call dibs on the dentist’s tank of nitrous. The rest of you can play rock-paper-scissors for the proctology appointment.

The good news is that I have no big-time complaints about my health right now. My eyeglass prescription is still the same, although my taste in eyewear continues to worsen. (The next thing you know, I’ll be shopping for my next pair of frames from the Bea Arthur collection.) The bad news is that I now have an extra item of health-related paraphernalia for the bedside table. “Try keeping your eyes more moist to reduce the redness,” said my eye doctor, after I told her that when asked what color my eyes were, Sophie said, “Mommy’s eyes are red.”

“Was it worse when you lived in Vail?” she asked me, making notes in my chart.
“Everything’s worse in Vail,” I told her. “I think that’s the town motto, as a matter of fact.” And then we affirmed to each other that it’s just so dry here. Before I could edit myself, I then just sort of blurted out what must be the truth: “I think my body is just really sick of not living by the beach.”

The good doctor gave me some eye drops to use before and after sleep, and I said, “Awesome, this must be the warm-up for the portion of the show when I travel with an extra carry-on bag just for my prescriptions.” On the bright side, I’ve got some relatively innocuous stuff on my nightstand: saline nasal spray and an asthma inhaler—and now eye drops. The three of them are probably talking right now, wondering when the Ben Gay is going to show, along with his wife, Aspercream, and some sort of stomach acid remedy for those occasions when I go crazy at dinner and eat something like a boiled potato. Woo! I’m looking at my scaly shins and feet ashy enough to convince anyone that I make my living as a firewalker, and can understand why the nice-smelling skin lotion is probably standing off to the side, alone, feeling all snotty and self-righteous about how she’s the last vestige of evidence that I was once a normal young woman. The poor thing, she’s been relegated to the back of the drawer, no doubt snuggling up to the KY for comfort, wondering what will happen to her the next time I clean out my drawers.

Like a lot of folks, I’ve been known to mix up my physical and emotional health in an entanglement that has traditionally been called psychosomatic. But if you asked just about any wellness practitioner who has even a dash of common sense, he or she will tell you that just about all illnesses are caused at least in part by an emotional or intuitive component. The mind-body connection is a strong one, and there’s no better indicator that I’m ignoring some suffering that’s going on inside than some condition or other that’s going on outside.

For months on end, I’ve had some low-grade, all-over, nonspecific feeling of unwellness that doctors so love trying to treat. During the summer, my asthma was pretty bad, and I was tired and fatigued all the time. My body ached and my head hurt, and I wondered if the Grave’s disease was making a comeback and trying to film a sequel entitled Goiter II: Son of Goiter. (This time, it’s personal.) The last time I felt this way, my friend Lisa, who is usually the voice of wisdom among 500 channels of nothing on, asked me, “Have you tried entering your symptoms into WebMD?” And I told her that, on paper, that was a fine idea, but that WebMD scares the shit out of me. The last time I consulted the digital physician, my condition was either pancreatic cancer or a pulled muscle. So I chalked my symptoms up to having just moved for the third time in eighteen months with a toddler, two dogs, and a husband who can’t be bothered with packing anything besides his outdoor sports gear and his collection of ‘80s vintage ski sweaters.

And then the unignorable happened. My nose completely stopped working. I know that this is bound to happen from time to time, and so I dealt with it as I usually do. I unearthed the humidifier from storage, I cranked the air purifier up to eleven. I dug the Breathe-Rite strips out of the plastic tub full of medicines in the linen closet and put them next to my asthma inhaler, saline nasal spray, and eye drops. (Sigh.) Mostly, though, I just waited, remembering with just a touch of panic that the last time I had rhinitis this bad, it was because I was pregnant. (Going back to the tub in the linen closet for the spare pregnancy test elicited an even bigger sigh—of relief over the negative result.) And then I waited some more, and wondered what I was all stuffed up about in the metaphorical sense. The answer was likely, “Everything.”

Three months later, I went to see my general practitioner, an MD in family practice. He’s a long winded fellow who takes his time, shares endearing and comforting personal details about himself, and doesn’t interrupt me when I speak. His office has an overcast, unloved quality to it, though, and the tattooed members of his staff teeter into the room on platform heels. It’s kind of a weird scene, but it’s close to my parents’ house, and when I have an appointment, I can drop Sophie off for an hour of the ice cream and candy therapy my dad is famous for administering to all the young members of the family. Just by looking at the place, and at our friendly doctor, I have concerns. I wonder if his heart is in this. It’s the thing that keeps me from really trusting him like a good patient should, even more than the statement he made in passing several years ago that ruffled every pro-choice feather I’ve got. But—but!—he is available.

When I am confounded about what seems a minor health issue, I don’t have to wait weeks on end for an appointment with someone who doesn’t have time for me and my nose. I don’t have to take a brow beating for why I’m bothering an over-busy doctor with my irksome respiratory constipation. He makes it easier for me to seek medical attention, whether I need it or not, which for me is a net gain. He is the closest I’ve ever gotten to my dream doctor, who I imagine looks and sounds like Wilford Brimley, the Quaker Oats TV pitchman of days of yore: older and rolly-polly, with Old West country doc sensibilities peppered with just a touch of motivational speaker. If the members of Cake were looking for a girl with a short skirt and a looooong jacket, I’m looking for a nice, gray-haired doctor who will chuckle at my jokes and tell me that everything’s going to be all right. And I want him to call me by a pet name like Pumpkin or Sweet Pea while he does it.

“Allergies,” he said with confidence. “Take some Claritin and wait for the first frost.”

I waited, ditching the Claritin and ten other over the counter preparations that didn’t touch the congestion. I took what could be called extreme measures ridding the house of whatever it was that had aggravated my immune system into the extended dance remix of one of those movie scenes in which angry villagers arm themselves with torches and gardening tools to flush out whatever offender has disturbed their peace. “It sounds like you have a cold,” was the statement used by every single person I spoke to over the phone between July and October, which was heart-warming at first, and then later became…tiring. “Hello, it’s allergies,” was how I began answering the phone sometime in November.

In December, practically weeping nonstop from the sleep deprivation and overall annoyance that comes with having a perfectly fine-looking nose, but being unable to use it for its intended purpose, I made an acupuncture appointment. This was a big step for me, as not only was I asking someone else for help—again—but I was asking someone with sharp objects for help. These were desperate times.

Let me just say that I hate acupuncture treatments. I feel hot and cold at the same time, I lay on the table with literally a full-body shudder going on from what feels like an electrical current running all the way up and down my body. I get sweaty with the extra added bonus of my hands and feet alternating between ice and fire. Nine times out of ten, which is actually two times out of three, I leave feeling slightly nauseated and just the least bit disoriented, like one of those wild animals that has been sedated, tagged, and left in the field to figure out why she’s wearing a great big new earring.

The treatment my acupuncturist had in mind for me didn’t just include needles, but needles topped with a pile of herbs that he intended to light on fire. “It will be smoky,” he assured me, “but it won’t burn your skin.” I almost walked out at the idea of becoming a kind of fleshy birthday cake, but then I remembered that while the acupuncturist was asking me a million questions about my body and its various peccadilloes, I mentioned that I’d been feeling, quote, sad. My allergies were actually starting to ruin my life. And so I lay down and watched this nice young man with crooked teeth and a long goatee, the very antithesis to Wilford Brimley, poke eleven holes in my body. “Ow,” I said.
“What kind of feeling is it?” he asked, scrutinizing the offending needle.
“Like there’s a pin in my foot.” I said. And then he went to work with his Bic lighter, and I meditated on the phrase, “Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.”

A month later, things were just as clogged, and even my acupuncturist encouraged another visit to my doctor, just to make sure that I hadn’t grown a grapefruit sized tumor in both nostrils, for example. I went back to my doctor and explained, “It’s like the inside of my nose is totally swollen and engorged.” And it was. It was like my nose had this ridiculous, errant, adolescent-type erection. “I just want someone to take a look, just to make sure that nobody’s hiding up there without paying rent.”

“You have allergies,” said the good doctor. “God!” I said, pulling my hair, “that can’t be.” And after we went down the list of things that could alleviate them, and after I said, “That didn’t work” after each one, I looked at him with my saddest eyes. “Is there anything you can do for me?” And he patted me on the shoulder and said, just like Wilford Brimley would have, “Well Sweet Pea, I can give you a shot of cortisone.”
I said, “Will it do anything to me that I’ll hate?” knowing full well that if he had told me that it would give me anthrax in addition to crystal clear nasal passages, I would have said, “Let’s do it.” Because when it comes right down to it, I have no pride. Once my suffering threshold has been reached, I just want relief. He could have told me that we could try putting a leach on my head, and I would have swept my bangs aside to give that slimy, creepy crawler a nice place to sink its teeth.
“No, it’ll just clear up your nose,” he said.

It was supposed to take a week to work, but the next day, the angels began to sing and the world in all of its frozen splendor looked sparkly and new, like White Christmas, instead of hopeless and dark, like Doctor Zhivago. For the first time in six months, I was breathing through my nose again. I almost cried, but didn’t want to take any chances stuffing up my nose again. I stood very still and looked down at my nose, dizzy from the enjoyment and from crossing my eyes, wondering how such a miracle happened overnight.

I have this fantasy that ends with finding out that my doctor filled the syringe with nothing but saline, a placebo, in stunning proof that such things happen, and that I was in the hands of someone who knew how to exploit those things. “Salt water,” I imagine him telling me with a sly smirk, “Pumpkin, you just needed a little nudge.” But who cares? Saline, cortisone, flesh-eating bacteria. Whatever works.

And now I have yet further proof that it is an act of strength to ask for help with something “silly,” and that that being honest about what’s killing me makes me transparent, but not invisible and there’s a difference. What They say is true, no one is coming to save me, and thank goodness; I might not like who shows up. I’d rather do the hiring—and I don’t always have to go in-house. Sometimes, I can outsource, like everyone else. I can still be a self-help enthusiast without doing everything myself. So, I will get into the habit of asking so that I can receive. I’m not above it all, I’m a part of it all. Please pass the fancy, nice-smelling lotion. (Note the obvious absence of any mention of the KY.)And I can be nicer to myself. Watch me. It’s my new thing.