Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What's That Smell?

Objects in the picture are closer than they appear.
For better or worse, I have a very strong sense of smell. As you may know, smell is the sense that is most strongly linked to memory. I can be walking down the street in Seattle and all of a sudden be transported to Hong Kong with a whiff of bus fuel and a very distinct frying fat smell. When I worked with Alzheimer's patients, it was amazing to see the memories come flooding back to otherwise confused people with a simple sniff of vanilla or cinnamon or apple cider.

My sense of smell has been temporarily disabled by massive amounts of phlegm and I feel as though I'm a little bit blind. The Chief Lou and I sometimes play a game called "What's that smell?" in which we try to precisely describe someone or something with two scents. I'm sure everybody does this for fun, right? For example, an acquaintance of ours can be succinctly described as "Ben Gay and anger." Does that paint a picture? Can you see him? Funny how that works.

Now it's your turn. What's that smell? Can you paint a picture in two scents? Of whom does it speak? Does it give you an instant mental image? It can be someone you know, it can be a particular place, it can be a character in your mind. The rules are few. Only that it must be two smells (as with the example above, it can be figurative if need be - what does anger smell like? I think you know) and that there can be no other description. Leave it in the comments here or on your blog if you are looking for a very short post today. Then the fun begins, read through the comments and be sure to let people know what pictures they have evoked with their smells. Are you game? It's a simple audience participation this week.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your noses!

Here are a few to get those olfactory juices flowing:

Baby powder and ennui.
Latex and gin.
Bubble gum and desperation.

Have fun and keep sniffing!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sex, Drugs & Rock and Roll

Three conversations in my house over the last few weeks that prove I'm still rock and roll.


jBird: Look, your Hobbes doll has a bladder!
Hooligan: What's a bladder?
jBird: It's that pouch thing that dangles behind a boy's penis.
Me: Um, that's not a bladder. Your bladder is an internal organ that holds your pee.
jBird: Then what is that pouch thing?
Me: Those are testicles.
Hooligan: I have testicles! Testicles!
jBird: But what are they for?
Me: They hold sperm.
jBird: And sperm is...
Me: Uh, sperm are little swimming cells that fertilize an egg to make a baby.
jBird: [considering this] Like I ate for breakfast?
Me: Sort of. That's a chicken egg. Human eggs are much smaller and we don't eat them for breakfast.
jBird: Well, Hobbes has testicles then.
Hooligan: Testicles!
Chief Lou: What are you guys talking about in there?!


Me: Turns out my headache was sinus. My ear hurts, too.
Chief Lou: Oh, did you take some Sudafed?
Me: Yes.
Chief Lou: Did it help?
Me: Well, yes and no. It decongested everything, but it did not help me to learn that ear congestion tastes different from sinus congestion when it drains.
Chief Lou: That's so hot.

Rock and Roll:

Me: There aren't any love songs about stay at home moms.
Chief Lou: I'm sorry. There aren't any love songs about mid-level government employees, either.
Me: I guess you're right.
Chief Lou: We're just not that interesting.
Me: But we're still remarkably good-looking. That has to count for something.

I really wouldn't trade all this nonsense for the world.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Coming Soon

Listen up, ducklings.
I have to go put on my secret agent hat today and stand tall and represent for the housewife contingent at a focus group about protein bars, so there may not be a whole lot of writing going on. I hope there are free samples. They will definitely reward my troubles with some cash, though, so it's all good. It's like giving plasma, only without the giant needles - boring, mindless, requiring no skill except to sit still, and you get paid for it. Sometimes they even have free coffee and doughnuts. I digress.

So, listen up, ducklings. I have an announcement to make. A week from today, Thursday, November 1 is the first ever Mindful Writing Day. Why does this matter? Well because I said so, mostly, but because it's really going to be a fun celebration and you can get in on it!

Remember the Small Stones? Take a look at something in your day and really see it, savor it, write it down. Everyone can do this because it's short and it's sweet and there is no right or wrong way to see things. Why are Small Stones a good idea? Well, because they're short and they're sweet, for one thing. But mostly because they exercise your Noticing Muscle. And with a strong Noticing Muscle, you can learn to slow down for a moment and transcend whatever awful day you might be having or whatever writer's block you have or whatever you happen to be knee-deep in and take a breath. You can notice a thing of beauty anywhere, even if only for a moment. These Small Stones pile up and they make little towers and walls and sculptures of things and they change the landscape of your brain. This is all very scientific. It is.

So give it a try, won't you? You can join the Facebook page and post your Small Stone there next week with all the other little goodies and it will be a feast. You can subscribe to the blog and get one every day, or you can even subscribe to the Writing Our Way Home blog and get all kinds of goodness from Robyn and Kaspalita who have worked hard on this whole thing. You can also collect A Blackbird Sings - a whole anthology of small stones that they hand selected and put together. You may or may not recognize a name or two in there, too. (Wink, nudge, nod. Uh-huh.)

So, darlings, I am going to go and examine the intricacies of protein bars and pretend to have a very strong opinion about such things so I can make a little scratch. And you have a good day. Find the beauty in something, even if it is tiny - especially if it is tiny. And do please consider taking part in Mindful Writing Day. Think of it this way: November 1st is also the beginning of NaNoWriMo, so you could either start your novel or write a Small Stone. You choose. I may do both, but I'm certifiably insane.

Even if you don't choose to participate publicly, I still hope you give the whole Noticing Muscle a workout.

Also, this: Go check out what else people have been up to over at Larissa's place.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Far To Go

Today is Wednesday. It is a rainy day in October, but above all, it is my birthday.
I am thirty-eight today.
I have a lot to do today; a lot of Wednesday things to do. This is how I love to spend my birthday. I love to walk around with the private knowledge that it is the anniversary of my birth and do things that I would do on any other day.

I putter and bake myself a birthday cake. My house smells like a bakery - warm and sweet with a side of coffee. I will share this cake this evening with two friends who also share my birthday. Happiness in triplicate, with cake. I putter and I clean and I take stock. I am here and I am healthy. I am happy and I am content. Those are two different things, and when they collide, there is magic.

There has always been magic. I have not always seen it so clearly. I see it today and that is enough. I saw it yesterday and some more yesterdays that I have forgotten to count. I hope I will still see it tomorrow, if there is a tomorrow for me. Life is long and it is short and it passes so slowly some days and then years slip away. I cannot get a grip on the slipperiness of time; so I stand here now, in the rain on my day and call it mine. I will taste it and smell it and wonder about it and I will be thankful for it. I will blow out the candles this evening and my only wish, as it has been for years, is that I live right now and find love in it.

The autumn wind chills and whips the leaves into a wet frenzy around me. I think of the frenzies of my life that come and go and remind myself to relinquish the illusion of control. I cannot any more stem the tides of good and bad that come in my life than hold the wind in my hands. I am free now to examine the purplish green leaves as they flutter past. I am free now to appreciate the warmth of my kitchen after the soaking, bone-chilling outside. I am free now to smell the wood smoke in the air and think of apples. I am not a victim of circumstance, but an active and acquiescent participant. I have lived enough of this life to know that things do change, that I can change if I want to, but I don't always need to. I look back down those thirty-eight years from now and see the pieces that have built this strange and wonderful life and I love them all.

Today is Wednesday, but I was born on a Thursday. Thursday's child has far to go. That's what the old rhyme tells me. I remember it every year and hold it close like the numbers 10 and 24, and the new number, 38. It reminds me how far I've come. It reminds me I've always got more to go. Today as I stand here with the rain and the warm cake and the day of mundane things to do in an extraordinary world, I remember to keep walking, one step and then another, taking the time to look around, switching directions when I need to. Nothing is assured, never perfect or painless. I don't want these things. I am Thursday's child and I'm busy wandering. I have far to go.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Embrace the Hotness

I started this whole funny post about femininity based in part on the really smart responses I received to my invitation to Stick Your Arm in My Washing Machine. I had an idea for a how-to manual entitled "How To Be Feminine Without Being A Douche" - the title was inspired by Tara's comment: "I can't think the word 'femininity' without ending up in a Summer's Eve commercial." It wasn't very funny and the discussion quickly devolved into odd specifics and personal preferences. The only thing very interesting about it was the title.

I have  my own long-winded definitions of femininity. I could write a dissertation with all of the research I've done over the years. But really, what it all boils down to is this:

My new cowboy boots. A birthday present to myself.
Embrace the hotness.
Yup. Take a long look. Not convinced? Perhaps you need another view.

Hey Mom! What did you do today?
I stood on a chair and took a picture of my new boots, of course.

Let us discuss my boots, shall we? They speak for themselves, really. They say I am tough and I am beautiful. I am sexy and a little bit threatening. I am practical and I go with everything - dresses and jeans and everything in between. They say I am bold and I am interesting. They say I got a wicked deal on the most awesome boots ever and I am going to wear them everywhere. They also say Be careful with me because I can just as easily kick you in the shins and step on your nuts as I can strut around being awesome and beautiful. And then there are the awesome socks, because everyone knows it's what's inside that counts. My socks are a mismatched, zig-zaggedy mess of imperfections and dirty spots and fun. My socks are crazy and I keep them close to me and they make me smile. Your socks look different, but that's all right too. That about sums it up, no?

Here's the deal: it's about embracing the hotness. We are all male and female, yin and yang, anima and animus, dark and light, good and evil, practical and stone cold crazy, ketchup and mustard. It's all in there inside those socks. We slide up and down the keys on this scale as circumstance dictates. Embracing the hotness is about owning it all. It's about honesty and authenticity. It's about rejecting the definitions that don't apply to you. It's about taking responsibility for who you are. It's about not being all drippy and vinegary.

Mostly, it's about my new boots. 

Embrace the hotness. The most confident girl in the room is the sexiest girl in the room.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When Life Hands You a Car Door, Make Small Stones

This is a multimedia presentation. Please play this song in the background while you read.

I am not exactly clumsy, sometimes I just do random bits of inadvertent violence to my body.

Yesterday when I picked the monkeys up from school, I was looking at a tree and opened the car door - full force - directly into my face.

Just imagine a car door and the tree and a loud, squishy
"ka-thonk" noise.

 This is not the first time I have done this. I did not cry or swear or scream. I just checked for blood and then told the monkeys to fasten their seat belts.

Note the points of impact.

I was not dripping blood and I did not break my glasses, which protected my eye from being unceremoniously removed with the corner of the door.

(That is not my mustache)
It would have taken forever to replace my glasses
 and then I would have had to wear my sunglasses
around all the time. 

Which, now that I think about it, would have its advantages.

Behold the awesomeness of prescription sunglasses.
That is not my mustache. It is a trick of the light.
So, my face hurts to smile today and I may end up with a few more distinguishing characteristics on my mug when all is said and done. I had to practice laughing with a limp face last night (try it, try it now) and that made me laugh even harder.  I woke up this morning with a renewed sense of purpose and euphoric relief to be alive after my eye-wear's brush with untimely death. I have recommitted to appreciating the small, yet important things in life.

I still have my rugged good looks:

Do not be jealous.
Shaun Cassidy hair just comes naturally to some folks.

I've got my sanity. A positive attitude can go a long way. It is important to get all of your chins and a thumb involved, if possible.

This is what winning looks like:
grinning maniacally at your YouCam because you can,
even though it hurts your broken face like nobody's business.

And this guy. He just keeps turning up as I'm trying to write this post, so I'll let him stay.

"I smile coyly at you, Earthlings. Love me. Accept me.
Make me your leader."

Thursday, November 1st is Mindful Writing Day. Mark your calendars. It is to celebrate the launch of A Blackbird Sings, an anthology of small stones that are all about magnifying and celebrating the little things in life... even when they are completely absurd.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Think Outside the Dead Horse

Several years ago someone sent us a movie about talking ponies with falsetto voices who rollicked around baking cakes and rollerblading and pouting and misunderstanding each other and then making it all up in song at the end. I generally don't allow such falsetto nonsense in my house, but the jBird was intrigued and I didn't want to come across an evil dictator, so we watched it. There was a sort of musical interlude where the ponies sang directly to the camera something to the effect of: "Your dreams can come truuuuuuuee!" and so on with all of the self-esteem building that pastel animated ponies could muster. My jBird looked at me and her little chin crumpled up and wobbled.

"Yes, honey. I know. It's so bad it makes me want to cry, too."
"Mama! They are saying that my dreams will come true!"
"Uh, yes..."
"I don't want my dreams to come true! They're strange and a lot of times they're scary!"

Looking into that frightened little face was a moment of pure maternal adoration. I shut off the movie and hugged her and reassured her and explained to her about clichés.  She snuffled around a little bit, verifying several more times that the giant spider who walked on her bed the night before in her dreams would not actually materialize because the talking ponies said it would and then she got angry.

"Why would they tell kids that? That's just mean!"

Why, indeed?

I tell you this because it's hilarious. Also because it perfectly illustrates one of my pet peeves about language. I'm not a fan of the cliché. (Even though I just used one in that sentence. Ooh! Quick digression: when jBird was tiny, we would say "I'm not a fan of ..." instead of "I don't like..." or "I hate..." because we'd rather she not learn those particular phrases when she was two. One time we were in an elevator and a man got in with us and stood rather too close to jBird for her taste and she ducked over behind my legs and looked out at him and said: "I'm a fan of my mom." It was cute and he laughed and she and I were the only ones who knew that she was really saying "I don't like you" to the man. See what I mean? Language matters.)

So, pet peeve. It would seem that we indoctrinate kids from a very young age to think and speak in catchphrases and clichés and then they grow up and think that's honest communication. We tell them things like "your dreams will come true" and expect them to know that we're pumping them full of delusions of grandeur, not threatening them with their nightmares made corporeal. Not only do clichés oversimplify things (which is why, I suppose, they turn up so much in children's literature and on Facebook), they are boring, and to a certain extent, dishonest.

I will fully admit to being a bit of a language freak, here. I didn't speak baby talk to my children, even when they were babies. We taught them the correct words for things when they asked. (Well, except doughnuts. The Chief Lou gave the jBird a doughnut hole when she was about 18 months old and I said, under my breath to him, "She doesn't need to eat that crap." The next time we got doughnuts, jBird piped up and said "I want crap! I want to eat crap!") There were no binkies or ba-bas or tee-tees or ta-tas in our house because I am a curmudgeon about such things. Having these two little language sponges around really made me stop and think about the language I used with them and in general and how I communicated not only with them, but with everyone. We get used to speaking in shorthand, we accept the strange clichés of our particular demographics, and we take the words we use for granted.

As writers, this cannot be so. As writers, we can't take the words we use for granted. We can't resort to shorthand and clichés.  I suppose we can, but we wouldn't be very good writers, then. (One last digression: that is not to say that we wouldn't become published writers, though. This is an odd conundrum.) So, for the writing. Audience participation time! I have it on good authority that people enjoy this. And so do I. Immensely.

Let us think about cliché.  Pick one out.* Write about it. Explore what it actually means. Make a defense of it, or disprove it. Think about the language that you use and blast that cliché wide open. (And, for funsies, you can do what I do, go through all of your old writing with a Sharpie and eradicate anything trite or at least admit that it is and try to find a new way to say it.) Send me a link or an email or leave it in the comments. Share with your friends. There's no particular deadline, just let me know what you come up with and when I get a bunch of them I'll share in a link-up post. Fun, no?

Remember: Think outside the box on this one.

(All right, it physically pained me to type that.)

*This is based loosely on a prompt in The Writer's Idea Book. I highly recommend the whole book.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Year of Blogging Dangerously

$20,000 annual stipend, a brand new iMac, a pocket video camera. All of this in exchange for writing 500 innocuous words a week and occasionally handing out T-shirts and key chains at public events. Why not? I ask you, why not?!

My credit union is big on community. That's part of the reason it's my credit union. That, and they have free pomegranate lip balm in their lobby. I'll never have to buy lip balm again. Besides making sure that all of their customers have smooth, supple lips, they also have a series of blogs linked to their web page to foster this sense of community. Every couple of years they have a contest for their Mom blog. After circling it like a hyena for a year or so, I finally entered last year. Because why not?

Suffice it to say that I didn't get the gig. I didn't even make the first cut. They weren't looking for me. I submitted a post about potted plants; they were looking for potty training and wine at the end of the day. I have no talent for that sort of thing. So I decided that I would blog for free. Because why not? I didn't know anything about blogging. I read a few, wondered who their readers were and stumbled into BlogHer, where they were just gearing up for NaBloPoMo. I was amazed to discover that people actually would willingly read my stuff and share it with others. I was completely enchanted with all of these other people out there quietly doing what I wanted to do. I discovered some invaluable friends and have gotten so much feedback on my writing that I don't even know what to do with it.

I am a terrible blogger. I don't always respond to comments, I don't join blogging groups, I read posts all the time without commenting. I am sporadic and grumpy. I am not a networker, I barely understand social media and I chafe at the unwritten "rules" of it all. I am a terrible blogger, but I keep blogging. Because of you, of course. Because I read your words and I am inspired. Because I am thrilled with the knowledge of all these smart people thinking and writing it down. Because I feel connected to something larger than my own journals and notebooks and scribbled post-it notes.

I am a decent writer. Shall I tell you a story? I have written forever. I can't remember not writing. I can't remember a time when I didn't look around and make up stories in my head. I don't know what it would be like to look around a crowded room and not wonder what is happening inside the brains of others. Something happened, though. Some kind of message received through the garbled reception of my perception. Back when I was making the kinds of decisions that I was far too young to make and everyone tells you that it will affect the rest of your life, I decided that writing wasn't a "real job". I decided that I could keep my silly little hobby to myself. I decided that I must do something "useful", something "worthwhile". I had this nonstop Morse Code of negative bleeping through my brain: self-indulgent, waste of time, pipe dream, useless, immature, arrogant, self-involved, etc. And I believed it. And I went to college and got a semi-respectable degree in a field I enjoyed, but really only so much. I mostly enjoyed it because it facilitated the writing; it gave me fodder for the stories in my head.

A year ago, I decided to listen to myself for once and get serious about the writing. Not about the blogging; about the writing. There's a difference to me. Blogging is a means to an end for me. It is a space where I can make connections with other writers, explore ideas, try different writing exercises, etc. People blog for a lot of reasons. I had no clear idea what I was doing when I started. I just wanted to write every day. That has evolved over time. Most of my writing is now done off the blog. But I keep this going because I like the community. I like the lip balm in the lobby. There are Mommy blogs, DIY blogs, journalistic blogs, some read like a diary - thoughts for the day, current events, a place to gripe, to shine, to rejoice. Mine has never felt like any of those things. I have no pigeon-hole and I'm all right with that, mostly. But sometimes I feel like it makes my readers a bit uneasy.

I am a terrible blogger, but I'm a decent writer. I am writing, writing, writing when no one is looking and it is thriving. I am having some blogging growing pains. I am casting about for some direction. I don't want to give up the community, but sometimes the blogging is a distraction from the writing. I guess I'm trying to figure out what this blog wants to be when it grows up. If you're reading this now, then it's for you that I keep blogging.

What would you like to see?
What's working?
What isn't?

Be honest. I'm really asking. I am not fishing for compliments.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fashionably Late

Here's a not-so-secret: I don't get invited to many parties.

I don't know why not. It probably has something to do with halitosis and appalling small talk. When  I was younger, I used to dream of fancy cocktail parties and freeze-frame moments of glamorous frivolity. I'd show up in black and heels and turn heads and say amazing things and laugh with my head thrown back, just so. Dah-ling! You are too much! Oddly, this is not exactly how my life has turned out.

I got invited to a party, though. Larissa is throwing a link-up shindig over at Papa Is A Preacher and I don't even have to wear pantyhose and make up. It started yesterday, so I am as per usual, late. Patience please, with the chronologically challenged among us. I thought yesterday was both Wednesday and Tuesday for the better part of the day. Don't ask. It's amazing I get anything done, actually.

So, here I am. A little late, a little out of breath, and my cupcakes got crushed in the car on the way here. Fortunately, Larissa is a gracious hostess and you can't see any of this anyway. I brushed my teeth and now for the appalling small talk: What have I been up to?

First and foremost, I have been contemplating my light switches. You know how when you have two switches that turn on the same light and then the up/down/off/on thing gets all out of sync? I have a switch that's up when the light is off and it makes me a little bit edgy. So sometimes I engage all of my mental faculties trying to figure out the exact sequence of switch flips to get this sorted out. Up = on. Down = off.

I have also been melting crayons with a hair dryer. This is so fun. It's all over Pinterest, so the law of averages says that at least some of the people who pinned it will actually do it. It's like the strip mall  of DIY - you can walk into any number of homes in any region in America (and sometimes Canada) and find the same cheap art. In a few years, you'll be able to find waxy canvas messes in Goodwills across the country, too. But for now... for now... watching those multicolored drips fall down the canvas are worth the price of admission. I will be hanging these in the monkeys' rooms to use as message boards. Everyone needs a message board.

So, the writing. This is the portion of the cocktail party where the dreaded "What do you do?" gets asked. The only worse question for me is "Where are you from?" I answer that one with "Nowhere" and then if people are interested I can elaborate. What do I do? I write. What do I write? Nonsense. Um, OK, then. Seriously, though, I'm working on several essays at once right now. They may become blog fodder, or they may actually turn into something I'd like to send out somewhere. It remains to be seen, really. I don't want to talk about them much because I'm coy like that. Not really. I find that discussing a project rather than just working on a project tends to suck the life out of it. For now, though, let me tell you this: for the writing, I have been spending a couple hours a day dwelling in a lonely, confused and angry place to get these things written, so I am not always a whole lot of fun to be around. It's worth it to me, though, in the service of authenticity. Some of the fumes from these particular gas leaks may show up on the blog from time to time. Just hold your nose and try not to inhale too deeply. It's all good.

Here is my most useful tidbit, though: pick up a copy of The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron and keep it handy. There are so many useful kinds of prompts in there and just the right kind of encouragement when you need it. Keep creating, folks. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fire and Rain

The sky is near tears today.

I get so tired of all of this. This thinking, this reasoning, this constant voice.

There is no quieting it for now. I grow tired of my own company and reach out. I listen to their stories and carry them home with me. I take them to the place where everything lives and they crowd in and raise their voices too.

I dream in houses and turns and twists and unexpected rooms. I wake screaming with the horror of the lights turned on and the room suddenly empty. Something dark has leaped in the window and snatched important people from me. I choke and startle and creep shaking through real darkened hallways to check breathing forms, undisturbed in slumber by my cries. I can't shake the feeling that something is missing and bury myself in a book to forget.

The waking nightmare is that it's all slipping away from me. That my charade will end and no one will guess the answers and I will stand there, foolish; sweating and miming the actions of a real life. There's an empty room where I store up all the words. It echoes with forever. It hisses to me from behind a closed door and my lesser self wants to toss a match, lit and careless, and see it all consumed. I want to walk amid the silent ashes of it all and listen to the dampened quiet that follows disaster.

Sometimes the cheerful flame by which they warm their hands and light their ways is just the reflection of a conflagration that devours a soul. The safety glass holds and their distance is safe and they can't hear the screams. They don't smell the melting tallow and the burning hair. A fire that burns and burns and burns and never fully consumes. I explain to them that the forest sometimes needs to burn and that we are the interlopers. They look around, confused; their forest isn't burning. I am grateful they can't feel the heat. The gentle rain on its way will do nothing to assuage the flames, though. Only add to the hissing, the nonstop background crackling din of potential energy released into nothingness and smoke.

These are the demons who speak to me. The ones that sit in the base of my skull, just below my right ear lobe. I can feel them there like a presence in the room sometimes. They fog my words as they come out, the take the meanings and intentions of my surroundings and smear them with oil; distorted, out of shape, grotesque. They tell me the things no one else will admit and so I trust them. I believe they are my friends, the only truth speakers on the days when the mirror lies and the voices of love and affection drop quietly to the ground. Matter of fact, pitiless, and full of the confidence that comes with proclaiming half-truths.

It is not all beautiful. There are these days that come. The days that the sky is near tears. The high pressure areas have relented and the clouds and I cry in the sudden release. It was unnatural, you know. Out of season, all that brightness. Too vivid and perfect and burning up the grass; blinding enough to believe that it could always be that way. It's beautiful in its way. It has to be. I pledged my allegiance to this kind of beauty years ago. The shadows illuminate the smile. They must be there, the relief of an etching, the texture in the landscape.

I get tired of all this, though. I get tired of renaming the ugly as beautiful, for excusing the softness that forms, easily damaged. I grow so weary of redefining, rearranging, wandering shamelessly into light. The fire rages on and blackens what it licks. It will regenerate. The phoenix will rise and the lupines will bloom again. I know this. I get tired of this knowing. This thinking, this reasoning, this containing. Were it only I to consider I would cry a new Dead Sea and lie back; let the salt water hold me for a while.

*Author's note: Lest you fear for my sanity, I am working on a series of free write exercises over different topics. I was named after James Taylor's Fire and Rain and that was the inspiration for this post. This is not a confessional, nor is my blog my personal diary.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tolerance and Altered States

I have a very low tolerance for drugs and alcohol, so I avoid them. I can't take so much as a decongestant without unpredictable and often drooling results. I have a very scientific theory about this, if you're interested. I think that my natural state is altered enough, thank you very much, and if I add any sort of chemical enhancement to this, things go completely haywire. I am afraid to mess with my equilibrium.

Altered states and tolerance.

Tolerance has become a buzzword. Generally it is trotted out when you think I am wrong and I want you to shut up. You should be more tolerant. If you were tolerant, you would just admit that I'm right. When we practice tolerance, it's usually of things and people with whom we already agree, or of whom we already approve. I am tolerant of children if they are well behaved. I am tolerant of people who disagree with me on matters about which I don't care a whole lot.

Tolerance. It sounds like it should have a "p" in front of it, like Ptolomy. Ptolerance. Maybe if we put a "p" in front of it, it would remind us to p-p-practice it. It would elevate it from a mere retaliatory talking point to an art, a science, a Philosophy.

Inherent in the definition of tolerance is disagreement. I would argue that it implies a sort of structural, atomic disagreement. I would argue that in order to tolerate something, you must reject it. Wait a second, that doesn't make any sense. No, it doesn't. But neither does tolerance when you think about it. It's unnatural. It is an altered state.

An example is in order here. I absolutely hated and despised the book Eat, Pray, Love. I thought it was whiny and self-indulgent; I thought the writing was only mediocre; I thought that the author spent a lot of money and a lot of time to learn nothing at all. Do you want to know how I really felt about it? The book was a bestseller. It was highly recommended to me by people whom I respect and love. Enough people loved it that Julia Roberts agreed to be in the movie version of it. I cannot fathom at all how all of these people could be so wrong. I have tried very, very hard to understand the liking - even loving - of this book and alas, I cannot. I fundamentally disagree with anyone who says it was a good book. Therefore, they are all idiots and I shall never speak to them again. I will degrade them and belittle them for having such abysmal taste in literature at every opportunity I get.  I will create opportunities to tell them how awful it was. This, of course, is ridiculous. What kind of jerk would act that way? Don't answer that.

When it's boiled down to something as relatively silly as an opinion about a book, it's kind of obvious, isn't it? Of course I can accept a difference in perspective. I don't have to believe that my assessment of it is wrong to understand that other people might have reached a different conclusion. Nor do I have to believe that my assessment is the only correct view of the book. Of the friends who recommended the book to me, one was at a particular place in her life where elements of the story "spoke to her", another just liked the descriptions of the food and the places. Fair enough. There needn't be any judgement in that, really. They live in their heads, in their lives and they know what works for them. We practice tolerance of each other's points of view because we love each other and because that's more important to the greater good than whether or not we enjoy the exact same books.

It gets trickier, though. I know this. The root of intolerance, I believe, is fear. We are intolerant of things that we perceive as a threat to our well-being or way of life. We don't want our equilibrium upset. We are afraid of the unpredictable, perhaps drooling, results of the viewpoints of others.

There are some things that shouldn't be tolerated: murder, dishonesty, theft, injustice. Yet, we sometimes find ourselves tolerating them by default. My jBird told me a lie a few weeks ago. I will admit, I completely lost it, folks. "I will not tolerate lying in my house!" boomed the Mama voice. But I do, don't I? What can I do but put up with it when it happens? I can correct, instruct, fume and rage about, but when it comes down to it, I must tolerate it because I have no control whatsoever of the things that my jBird chooses to say. I can only control how I react, the input I give her, and the encouragement I show for doing what's right. The rest is up to her.

That's the root of that intolerant fear, isn't it? The rest is up to her. We are so convinced of our rightness. We are so sure that ours is the way things should go. If only they could just see how it is. If only they would just admit they are wrong. It is frightening to leave it up to them. It upsets our equilibrium. Except when you realize that you are them. To someone else, you are them. You are the they who have it so backwards. I don't care what your stance on anything at all is, you are someone's them. The idea of you making up your mind on your own is keeping someone else awake at night. And you know what? They are every bit as committed to their viewpoint as you are. They believe with all their hearts that their beliefs are valid. They fear for their future just like you do. They worry about the state of things, they get excited when things seem to go their way, they have their doubts, their discouragements, their concerns, just like you.

So, tolerance. Or, if you prefer, ptolerance. Does it mean you lay aside your own opinion, your own beliefs? Absolutely not. Who are we if not a product of our beliefs and preferences? I guess that's the rub, though. We are all that product, which means we are all as different as the ingredients that make us up. We can't control anyone except ourselves. The rest is up to them. And that's tolerance in a nutshell, isn't it? I may think you've misjudged. I may not be able to understand at all where you are coming from in spite of trying. I may believe exactly the opposite about something and you won't be able to persuade me otherwise. I may even offer suggestions to you about how to see it my way. But when all is said and done, tolerance is my understanding that the rest is up to you and that's all right.

I am speaking of personal tolerance, here. In the end, it is the only sort of tolerance there is. As fanciful as it may seem, there is a vast human civilization out there who operate or have operated for millennia under immensely different codes of law, types of government, living conditions. We can legislate all the tolerance we want, but if it is not found in the hearts of the citizens, the law is difficult to uphold. I am not talking about voting here. I am talking about how you decide to live regardless of circumstance. Expressing your tolerance with your vote is a terribly important thing, but even more important is expressing your tolerance with your life. With your everyday interactions. You cannot blame lawmakers for your reactions to those who disagree with you any more than my jBird can blame me for lying to me. That part is up to you. It is always up to you.

Tolerance is seeing the person behind the belief; it is thinking in terms of individuals rather than stereotypes. It is accepting your own doubts and understanding that you could be wrong, but you choose to believe you are right. It is knowing that other people are doing the same thing. It is listening for what people are actually saying rather than hearing what you expect. It is disagreeing right down to your very core and accepting the possible validity anyway.

It is not our gut reaction, it is an altered state.

Friday, October 5, 2012

I Met Margi

I got my new cowboy boots in the mail today and it reminded me that I have yet to write about meeting Margi.

She was disappointed that I didn't blurt things at her. She should take it as a compliment, though. It means that I wasn't nervous and that I already considered her a friend when we sat down to chat. That's weird, right? I don't know. I'm not a twenty-first century baby. Margi and I talked about this. It's still a little weird for us to say we've made friends online. It's a hangover from the days when the Internet was only used by sweating nerdy folks in their basements - a command center of Radio Shack components teetering on leftover pizza boxes and a tangle of wires. Remember when Internet access was something that involved a series of swapping diskettes in and out and stretching a phone cord across the house? Don't call me. I'm online. You'll only get a busy signal. Whatever. If you don't remember that, it's OK. But that's why it's weird to meet people for the first time that you already kind of know and admit it. I am, in fact, a dirty old man. Everyone knows that. Now Margi has seen for herself. She didn't take a picture, so you will never be quite sure if I'm telling the truth about this.

I met the J-Half, too. He was polite and brief and had some work to do. He was carrying a mysterious black bag with headphones attached to it, so I'm pretty sure he's a spy. Margi told me about what they both do for a living, but I didn't understand. It's all right. I have a hard time explaining my job, too. Have you noticed how a lot of jobs are sort of nebulous? One of my very best friends has been extremely successful at her job for years and continues to get promotions and pay raises and goes on trips and everything. Every time I see her, I ask her what she does. She explains and I listen very carefully and think "This time I will remember." I still have no idea what she does. But sometimes she gets free espresso, so it must be fabulous.

Margi is just like her blog. She is witty, very smart - like, really smart - thoughtful, kind, and entertaining. Here's what you don't get from reading her blog, though: she smells good. I am envious of people who can smell good. Not an overpowering perfume, product-y kind of smell. Just... I don't know. This is getting weird. I don't mean it to be. I smell things, I can't help it. I wonder if she stank, would I have liked her as much? Her smell is irrelevant, really. It just struck me from time to time as we were sitting and talking: "Hey! I'm talking to Margi about things that I've always wanted to ask her about and I can smell her."

We talked about really everything. Politics, religion, kids, husbands, families, writing, grammar, depression, the Puyallup Fair, football, and my new cowboy boots. I didn't censor myself which would explain the lack of blurting. It's usually when I try to edit what I say that the weird things come flying out. I don't think she did, either. She and I come from fundamentally different backgrounds, we hold extremely different beliefs, but not really. This is the exciting part for me: I love talking to intelligent people who think about things instead of just reacting. Margi doesn't react. She listens, she thinks, she speaks with kindness and consideration, even when she disagrees. There should be more Margis. Seriously.

We talked about happiness. We talked about the ability to look around and say "I am truly happy," even when there is a beast of a dark cloud following us around sometimes. That's a valuable skill. We talked about blogging. We discussed why we do it, why we hate it, why we love it. Oddly, a lot of the reasons are the same even though our ultimate goals are very different. We talked about being able to say "I don't care what you think" while at the same time valuing the input of others. Margi likes words as much as I do. We read books and we write and we get ridiculously excited about ideas just for the sake of them.

We talked about so many things I can't remember them all. The time just flew by and all of a sudden I had to run out the door to pick up the monkeys from Running Club. I spent nearly all day talking to Margi and there still was not enough Margi in my day. I like this kind of thing. I like to leave before I'm finished. I like to have so much more to say and ask and hear. I like to miss talking to someone I just met for the first time ever. It is so much better than surreptitiously looking at my pocket watch and suppressing yawns.

Here's the deal: Margi is the genuine article. She's an incredible woman with so much to offer this world. She has a light heart and a deep impact. I never ever ever would have met her if it weren't for this bizarre blogging world. It's weird and it's wonderful and, as I discovered a few weeks ago, some of it is even real. I met Margi. And I'm so glad I did.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tangled Errands

At the library, a man is speaking to the librarian in a loud, but calm voice.
"I am just telling you that if I find any overdue fines on my account, I will sue you and the library and the city."
I wonder how many overdue fines he has that would justify the legal fees for a massive lawsuit. I also wonder if it is worse to be a city librarian or a city bus driver. I envision this man speaking in his loud, even tones to the bus driver, too. I check out my stack of graphic novels and dark Australian rock and roll and try not to stare. I can't afford a lawsuit right now.

Well dressed people walk down the street and shout to themselves. That's all right, though, because they have hands-free phone devices screwed into their ears. It's not like the other people who walk down the street and shout to themselves. I heard all about one woman's divorce while I looked at sweaters I wished I hadn't touched. What fiber is it that makes sweaters feel slimy in designer discount chains? Why do I keep touching them? I smell like someone else's perfume. There were lotion samples. I tried them all. I'm a fruit bowl now. Did any of us know what verbena  was a few years ago? Do we know now? It is a relaxing shade of green and it tempts me with promises of invigorating citrus undertones. It smells kind of like a urinal cake.

I am drinking French bottled sparkling water to soothe whatever beast has set up shop in my belly. I am trying not to blame three days of enchiladas. Anything but the enchiladas. It is an international incident in my intestines. The French and the Mexicans squaring off for possession of 23 feet of dark, cramped real estate. For now, the French are winning. The Mexicans are blaming the Americans. Never eat enchiladas from an establishment that is also known for its tater tots. They can call them "Mexi-fries" all they want, but we know the truth - the delicious, dangerous truth.

I am pretending that my car is a shuttle to another world. The world where I buy things like window treatments and decorative candle holders and create tasteful "tablescapes" in my home instead of buying lime green striped socks and seasonal M&Ms and thinking of places to shove piles of paper. My shuttle smells like corn dogs and feet. This is not a dignified mode of transportation, I fear. What if the corn dog smell clings to me along with the lemon verbena urinal cake and combined with my crazy hair makes me One To Be Avoided like the man in the library? How would I know the difference between the usual avoidance and the purposeful avoidance? I console myself that I am drinking French bottled sparkling water and therefore, classy.

I imagine I am tall and elegant and practice walking as if balancing a plate of apples on my head: neck extended, shoulders back, drawing a line from the top of my head to my coccyx. I have replaced my flapping gap-toothed jeans with flowing skirts and an ermine cape, just so. I am tempted to sweep through the aisles like a dowager, commanding the cans of black beans and bags of coffee to jump into my cart, to do my bidding like eunuchs, chop-chop. I amuse myself and then remember that it's just me, walking around trying not to think about how my hair just feels like it looks ridiculous today.

I am spending my fortune a dollar at a time on half-finished ideas and promises; shadows and imitations of things stacked in bins. Only one dollar. I forgot what I came in here for. It's like a casino with the distracting lighting and ambiguous exits. I have things in my hands that I don't remember picking up: a box of note cards, a kitchen gadget, cupcake papers that look like Russian nesting dolls. Perhaps I should eat the cupcake papers; send the Russians in to settle the Intestinal International Incident. Would that start World War 3? Probably so. Domino effect and whatnot. Not to mention the ramifications of eating twelve useless, beautifully designed cupcake papers. I should set these things down and step away. It's dangerous in here.

I am listening to children who are hungry and bored, two women who are very upset with someone and say so over and over to each other, clucking and nodding affirmation each time. I am listening to a girl explain to her boyfriend about the socks. I catch snatches and bits of words that float around me, muted and distorted by large tiled spaces stacked with consumer goods. I wonder if they know I will write about them all. That I will try on their perspectives like outfits and wonder what it's like to be so angry about library fines. To remember being small and bored in the store with my mom. To gossip freely with a friend about someone who has wronged me. To speak with such bitterness of my new-found freedom from matrimony to the invisible person on the other end of the line. I wonder if they know they are being watched. I wonder if any of them will write about me. It's possible, you know.