Thursday, November 22, 2007

Balls! Balls! Balls! Turkey!

That xkcd guy built himself a ball pit instead of a buying a couch. Of course, I'm totally in love with his geeky math sarcasm, and, besides, something about pictures of nerds sitting in a sea of primary colors cheers me during this cold and dark season. I think we've all learned a valuable lesson about Al. She likes her colors bright, her days long, and her men a little bit silly and a lot bit geeky.

I imagine his Thanksgiving gathering with TV trays set up in the ball pit. It makes me happy, even though I know he's probably really at home with no ball pit for the holiday since he's just a young guy.

Mine will not involve any plastic balls at all. I'll be at the dad's for the meal. We will, however, play games and eat lots of good food. Happy Thanksgiving to anyone reading. Be good to yourself as the seasons shift to a darker and grayer time. Today, I am thankful for ball pits and geeks and lightboxes and the fine dusting of snow covering our gray and dormant ground.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


It seems like little kids always have skinned knees, and it's no big deal. They just shed a few tears after hitting the pavement and then get up and run around again like nothing ever happened. On the other hand, I fell yesterday (for no apparent reason, just a misstep off the edge of a sidewalk), and now my knee is raw and bloody and it seems like it's still all I can think about even 24 hours later. I suspect that this may the difference between surviving the impact of a 40 pound body falling on top of your knee and a 140 pound one, although it could also be that I am just wimpier than your average 4-year-old.

Speaking of little kids, the overly intelligent and far too-good looking Nephew was baptized today. He was the oldest baby at the font, hardly even qualifying for that term. In fact, he took a stroll through the pews while waiting his turn to get anointed, ducking his head and playing peek-a-boo with whatever grandfather or aunt who happened to look his way. Because of his childcare situation (daycare by Jimmy on Thursdays and Fran on Fridays) he looks at older men as a source of comfort and care, which amuses his maternal grandmother who has to carefully warm him up to her each time they meet while the grandfather can just pick him immediately even after a long absence.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Dark

It's starting. The sun barely rises just as I arrive at work. It sets long before I get to leave. Little things, like filing papers, answering phone calls, and planning for class seem overwhelming. I can't force myself to do laundry because I still haven't put away the clean clothes from last time, and I can't put them away because they aren't even folded yet. This is the season when I most need to get my ass outside for a run, but it's also the season my ass is least likely to want to go outside. "It's dark out there," says my ass. "And cold. Leave me alone. I'll make microwave popcorn, and we can watch TV. It's much easier than all of that running."

My house, buried in newspapers (I can't recycle them because I haven't read them. I can't read them because there are too many of them) groans under my neglect. Buddy's footprints cover the floor. His hair finds its way into all of the corners. I'm cold even in my sweatshirt. It would be so much easier to just crawl back into bed. Why do I always have to clean? I'm never even home to enjoy it.

But I'm wise to this business, and I know it means two things. #1 I have to suck it up and clean, or I'm going to beat myself up for living in squalor and #2 I'd better start taking care of myself before the I get to that God-awful crying stage. Crying for sunlight never seems to produce it. It just gives me another reason to beat myself up (weakness, you know, so unattractive).

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Wounded

There was the one who couldn't even hold a pencil or type an email, because of Pain. There was the one who gambled away his house and had to move in with friends before running home to his family. There was the blind date who really was blind. There really was a crack addict, even though it seems like a lie. There was one who gave himself a vasectomy because of what a terrible parent he thought he would be. There was sort-of one who still woke up swearing over the woman who abandoned him years before. And the one who divorced his new wife for cheating on him.

I keep telling myself that I, in comparison, am pretty healthy and happy. I'm the one who has emerged from this battlefield relatively unscathed. I can barely even pick at any of my scabs anymore to remember what the pain felt like.

On the other hand, I seem to be the one encased in bubble wrap. I'm the one who doesn't feel any more. I can go from smitten to over-it in three short weeks. I have turned off my compassion to you for your depression/your gambling debts/your suicide attempts/your chronic pain/your inability to combat your own drunkenness/and your broken heart, because feeling it for each of you turned out to be too much for me.

And so, I say it again, because I keep forgetting: I'm opting out until I can feel my own self again. You can keep your wounds and your stinking pheromones. I'll be the one at the dog park with Buddy.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Stevie's Obitchuary

In April, my cat died. On the way home from the vet (where I swear she spoke twice after she was pronounced dead by the vet) her obituary came to me nearly fully formed before I got home to frantically type it out. Here it is, in honor of a very old, very mean cat.


20 years ago...

in the midst of the Iran-Contra Affair, Stevie was born. Ronald Reagan was president. The Twins had never been World Champions. I was 13-years-old and for Christmas I got a fuzzy little blue-eyed kitten with certain violent tendencies, but she was mostly OK as long as you didn't make eye-contact or pet her the wrong way or piss her off by laughing or talking too loudly.

Today, the oldest cat I know died quietly at the vet.

Some facts about Stevie
  • Her parents were siblings. She was the only kitten in her litter. “Auntie Mom” ate the next litter of kittens. And we wonder where she got her personality...
  • She was named after Stevie Smith, a little-known poet, about whom a little-known Glenda Jackson movie was made. I happened to see parts of it before I met Stevie. I have since thought about changing the story so I wouldn't have to pretend to know much about Stevie Smith the poet. A good alternative: She was named after Cat Stevens.
  • She's lived in eleven different houses and apartments, and twice traveled across country in a moving van.
  • She's lived with eight pets: Mandy, Dewey, Theophania, Corey, Sati, Louie, Koji, and Buddy. Nobody ever bossed her around until Buddy, who took a month to learn to submit to her will.
  • Her roommates included Janice, Marvin, Perley, Jimmy, Judy, Jake, Beau, Dorothy, Sarah, Anne Marie, Josh, Jen, Rory the Boy, Ann, Nicky, and me.
  • Her claws were stuck in my face twice.
  • She's eaten the “senior” version of Science Diet since 1994.
  • She's been totally deaf since 2001.
  • Her favorite place in the house was behind the toilet.
  • In the end, she lost all of her violence, and enjoyed sitting quietly on my lap, just absorbing heat and hanging out with me. She liked it when I sat still. She even let me touch her back feet.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I was never the kind of kid who dressed as a bride and fantasized about getting married and having a husband and kids (well, at least not the husband part). Blame feminism. Blame divorce. Whatever it was, I just never got into the whole parading down the aisle thing. Well, never, except for that one time.

I was thirteen years old. My dad and step-mom used to take me up to the North Shore every summer for a week in a cabin on Lake Superior. We played a lot of board games, cooked homemade food, and drove up and down the shore looking for good hikes. We picked fresh raspberries and saw the witch tree, and then every year, we'd take part in some kind of indoor/cultural activity, too. There was a little play house in Grand Marais, we'd sometimes attend.

One year, my dad took us out to dinner at the Naniboujou Lodge up past Grand Marais. I fell in love the minute I walked in the door. It could have been the immense rock fireplace (the largest in Minnesota) with elaborate natural stone designs, but, since I'm not really a subtle person, I'm thinking it was probably the brightly painted walls and ceiling. They are decorated in rich primary colors with Cree Indian designs. After a lifetime of white walls and subtle trim colors, the effect blew me away. I couldn't believe that this abundance of color hid behind the sedate exterior of the place. There was a hush in the dining room. People talked, but, at least to my teenage ears, it seemed that they spoke with reverence. They were in the presence of great and unusual beauty. These were people who survived the grayest months of winter, so they knew how sacred it was to spend even one meal basking under vividly saturated walls.

I toured the rest of the public spaces of the Lodge. I discovered the "solarium" with the immediate infatuation of a dedicated reader. I longed to stay there instead of our simple cabin, spending my week next to the warmth of the fireplace and those improbable walls. I would have been reluctant to leave even for hikes and excursions to Witch Trees or Canada. I decided, since I knew it was too expensive for just a regular summer week, that someday, I'd get married at the Naniboujou, and when I did I'd spend one perfectly happy week in my own personal temple to beauty.

Anyway, this weekend I finally did get to attend a wedding there, even if it wasn't my own, and I did get to square dance under that fantastic ceiling, even if I didn't have a partner to swing round and round. I also finally lived my dream of sleeping at the Naniboujou, in a single bed, granted, across the room from Fern's single bed, and the bed totally sucked, even for a single bed. But I did wake up the next morning and drag my book down to the solarium for some quality time before I ate my final breakfast under a resplendent ceiling.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Novel I'm Not Writing

There's a perpetual question for teachers. "What do you do over the summer?" I always try to come up with something good to answer, because, damn, I don't know what the hell I do over the summer. Somehow day after day, I just use up the time, and then after the exhaustion from the school year has finally passed and just when I'm starting to get bored, it's time for school to start again.

My first year, I bought my ticket to Hungary at Christmas time, so that I knew I was earning something good for surviving until June. The trip was only two weeks long, but no one had to know how short it was, and I could answer with confidence: "I'm going to Hungary to build houses." Theoretically this was enough for a summer. It sounds impressive, anyway.

Two years ago, I told everyone about my brilliant knitting-pattern book idea and pretended like I'd spend my summer working on it. I even fooled myself that year, because I spent some time at the library researching architecture for my patterns and talking to librarians about the idea. Notice: I said talking about the idea. Very little in the way of knitting-patterns actually got put to paper that summer. Still, you know, it was a great answer to the question and gave me all sorts of freedom not to plan another trip to Hungary to build more houses.

Last summer was the summer I was writing my novel. Writing my novel was an outstanding answer to the question. I explained that November is National Novel Writing Month, and I pointed out that I can't possibly write a novel in November, when school is in full swing, so I would have my own personal Novel Writing Month in July. Perfect. Well, almost perfect. It turned out that the thought of a novel paralyzed me. I wrote fewer words last summer than ever before in my life. The thought that what was supposed to be coming out of my fingers was a Novel was enough to shut down my brain. I had nothing. I can't even call it the Summer I Had Writer's Block, because that's giving me too much credit for trying to write. It'd be more fair to call it the Summer I Slept in a Lot and Took Buddy to the Dog Park.

All of which just increases the amount of impressed I am with all of those regular people who started their novels today. I'm not doing it. I might write pithy little blog posts this month, but I leave the novel-writing to the un-paralyzed.