Goal Post


I thought I’d mentioned this here before, but Julie Goldberg swears I have not. So, I bless you with this ritual that I’ve been doing since I was a wee lass. Well, a wee teenager.

It started when I was at some kind of conference (I’m sure religious in nature, as I was quite the holy roller) and one of the speakers was talking to us about life balance. He told us to put a dot in the center of a piece of paper, and then he asked us to draw eight lines radiating from the middle, and the length of each line represented the time we’d spent in each of eight different areas.

  • Social
  • Educational
  • Financial
  • Spiritual
  • Health
  • Creative
  • Emotional
  • Community

Then you were to draw another line connecting the ends of those lines. I imagine in high school, my drawing looked something like this:


He then told us to look at our outer lines and if they were connected, to ask ourselves if it would roll. In other words, are we living a balanced life?

The lesson stuck with me. It’s so easy to get caught up in one aspect of your life, and totally ignore others. I decided that I would set goals in each area, and see what I could achieve.

So I did. I started soon after that first presentation, and eventually I decided to make it a New Year’s tradition, and then I’d revise the goals again in July.

The categories have changed over the years. At one point I had “Love” as a category. (?!) (I’m assuming I was referring to a relationship I had at the time, but really, it could’ve meant anything. I was young.) I saved some of them, and the earliest I can easily put my hands on is from 1995. I was 24, and one of my financial goals was “Balance Checkbook”. One of them was simply “Plan”. (I really get me-at-24. So much.)

So, after many years of doing this thing, here’s my Goal-Making Process. I hope you find it useful, or interesting. Or perhaps you will use it to mock me with, in which case I WILL HAVE MY VENGEANCE. Anyway…

Goal-Making Process

Rules. The purpose of writing these goals down is NOT to beat yourself up at the end of each year for not being a Juggernaut of Human Purpose. The idea is to keep your goals in front of you, to remind yourself of the things you’re working towards. You will not accomplish all your goals. You may make progress towards some of your goals, and if you do, that is enough. Life is hard. Don’t yell at you.


  • Social: This is your time spent with friends, communicating with friends, and focusing on friends. It’s important, because your network is important, and they need you, and you need them. Your social network provides you with support, love, understanding, sometimes mind-altering substances, sometimes sorely-needed excuses, and depending on who you/they are, alibis. At any rate, pay attention to your friends in whatever way possible. My own goal list has a specific party that I throw each year, and a commitment to actually go OUT of the HOUSE to some PLACES with specific people, and to (gasp!) write letters or postcards to others. (I’m trying to bring back letter-writing, which I love. It’s folly. I know I won’t do it, but I might do it a few times, and that’ll be fun!)
  • Educational: This is not for work. This is something that you want to focus on for yourself. If you keep learning, you won’t be that boring guy who everyone hates talking to. Just kidding, you’re not that guy. I mean, it’s true that some people are that guy, but that’s not why you should do it. You should do it because it makes your brain grow, and it expands your understanding of the world. AND because you’ll be thrilling to talk to at parties. This year, I’m actually going to figure out what it will take to earn my $%^&^%%#$ degree. I also want to learn to draw, I want to do better with my gardening, and I want to keep learning about writing. (I’ve decided to focus on domesticity this year. I’m calling my soul back to home and hearth. So there’s a lot of that in my goals.)
  • Financial: This is exactly what it seems. Have financial goals to pay off credit cards, save money, buy stocks, talk to a financial adviser, find a second job, or get in someone’s will? This is where you put that.
  • Emotional/Self Care: This category used to be about feeding your emotional life, and now it also includes acknowledging and taking care of all those icky emotions, like anger, sadness, and fear. Whatever you need to do to vent those emotions in a positive way, put those goals here. I journal, though I don’t journal enough, so I’d like to journal weekly at least. (I have to work it into my schedule, and if I do that, I’ll get it done. The only thing I ever listen to is my calendar.) Other goals I have are for gardening (one vegetable garden, and clean up the flower beds), because I like to take out my aggression on weeds; and organizing and throwing out junk, because I get hostile when my surroundings are chaotic. I should also put something about music here, because it does funny things to my brain, and sometimes it makes me cry. I’ll have to think about that.
  • Spiritual: You can include this, if it’s your thing. I think you could safely substitute the word “Inspirational” here, and indeed, I might do that, too. But I’m exploring different places of worship this year, so I listed that. Plus, I need to work meditation into my routine. I’m so much calmer and clearer when I meditate regularly.
  • Community: I typically reserve this for volunteering goals. I have three organizations that I volunteer with, and they’re listed here, along with frequency.
  • Health: Lose 20 pounds. Join a gym. Build muscle mass. Take your vitamins. Stop eating at Wendy’s. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Make that doctor’s appointment, finally. Stop eating entire cakes at one sitting. Whatever your particular nagging health issue is, this is where you remind yourself to get it taken care of.
  • Professional: What do you want to get better at in your job? Or do you want a different job? Or maybe you want to network? Whatever you need to do this year to advance your career, or change it, list that here.
  • Family: This used to be listed with Social, but now that I have a family of my own, I know I need to pay attention to them specifically. I started something a couple years ago called “Mommy/Daughter” days, and I’m supposed to have them monthly, but that’s too often. You don’t usually get a whole weekend day out of every month for just one thing. Another idea is a dedicated “Family Day”. Or maybe you want to get your family away from computer screens. Or maybe you want to try to consistently have those elusive family dinners. Or maybe you have extended family that you want to keep up with. Or maybe you just need to make time for your spouse. OR maybe you want to trade your family in for a collection of friends. Put that here.
  • Creative: I like to create things, so I have a creative category. Even if you’re not creative, I think it’s important to dip your toe in creative waters, just to see what you can make. Creating things feeds your soul. You’re giving the world a gift that only you can make. No, I don’t care if that sounds schmaltzy. Go make things! SHOW ME YOUR THINGS. I WANT TO SEE YOUR THINGS.

Changing Your Goals. Even in the space of six months, our lives can change. Maybe you’ve accomplished a goal. Maybe you don’t want or need to accomplish one of the goals you have. At the beginning of each July, revise your goals. I like to do it around the 4th of July, because if my goal-setting takes place during holidays, it feels festive.
Display Your Goals. The whole purpose of this thing is to keep your goals in front of you, so you are constantly reminded of where you’re trying to head. I used to tape mine on the wall. Sometimes I put them on my phone. I once made them into my computer wallpaper. If you have a notebook you use frequently, put them there. Keep them visible.

Let me know if you have any ideas for this process! It’s been a constantly-changing thing for years now, and I love improving on a process. And whether or not you use this for your goals, I hope you accomplish everything you set out to do in the new year, and that you look fabulous doing it.

Two Years of People

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve posted in this space.

Since I last posted, I think I’m more focused than I used to be. I’ve been focusing on work, focusing on finding a new job, focusing on my family. I focus on things that I can change, as opposed to the things I can’t.

Of course, most of the things I can’t change involve people.

I’m not naturally good at people. If I’m good with people at all, it’s because of work. Being at the office allows me to practice my interactions with people. (“She said, not sounding like a space alien at all.”) I know that, most of the time, this isn’t a thing we have to practice. But I think, if we’re around non-family-, non-friend-people a lot, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Two years and ten days ago, I’d gotten a job after being out of technology for several years. In fact, I hadn’t had a desk in an office building since 2005. And this new office building was now 1:15 away from my home, door-to-door. I’d taken the job with the hope that I’d stay about two years, become current in my industry again, and then find a work-from-home job so I could be a mom, Girl Scout leader, writer, and home-renovator.

I remember when I first started working in an office again, I had to re-learn a lot of things: My face hurt from wearing the Office Default Smile – the one that says, “I’m friendly, and please don’t kill me.” There is subtle office etiquette in how you approach someone’s desk, in how you use their time, in how you communicate that you’re busy. You shouldn’t talk about politics if you can help it. You should, every once in a while, bring in bagels.

What the office taught me, after working at home for so long, was how to act within social patterns again. When I first started, I laughed VERY TOO MUCH HARD at jokes. They must’ve thought I had a medical issue. I didn’t know what to do with my hands while in meetings or in hallway conversations. (I’ve developed theories about hand positioning, subliminal messaging, and power dynamics. I mean. Not good theories.)

I would tell stories that would wander deep into the metaphorical woods, with little hope of finding coherence. “Where is the ending?” I’d ask myself, while in the middle of the telling. “Is that a punchline coming out of my mouth? No one is laughing… Am I laughing? Should I be laughing?

“None of the nouns in this story make sense together,” I would sometimes realize, mid-story.

But after awhile, I picked it up again. I even got kinda ok at it. I mean, I actually sort of like it, now. (” ‘In fact, interacting with humans in real life is an acceptable amount of fun,’ she said, seeming not at all like badly programmed AI.”)

Two years and eleven days after I started that job, I finally am starting a new job that is 100% work-from-home. I missed my deadline by eleven days, so that’s not too bad. I’ve cleaned and organized my home office. I’ve even set up an elevated dog bed, so my dog (Fred) can sleep next to me as I work.

It’s a dog perch, really.

While I’m overjoyed to be working at home again, I’m also afraid. For instance, I have already started wearing yoga pants too frequently. I worry that I’ll forget to brush my hair. I’m concerned that cookies might loom fairly large in my regular diet. I can see an inclination towards a lack of exercise typically only exhibited by fictional people who communicate via wires attached to a jar that their brains are being preserved in.

I’m a little wary that I may start to understand my dog. I’m more worried that I may start to understand the hidden cultural anthropology of dog language, and that I’ll research the development of aural dog life by comparing the barks from domesticated and non-domesticated canis genus animals.

The last time I worked from home, I did so for 7 years. Most of the time, I was a normal-esque person. I did get a little weird toward the end, there; but I think it was after I gave myself a serious head-bonking, and things went all aswirl.

I’m going to say that I abused social media back then. To be fair, it abused me right back. But I’m going to try really hard not to do that. Don’t get me wrong: there were people on Twitter who I might not have survived those years without. That’s not hyperbole. Somehow, I found a group of strangers (plus Julie, who is not a stranger) who sustained me during a really terrible time (which I won’t go into here because this post is too long, plus I already have 11,000 words written about it, and that’s just the rough sketch) and many of them remain the ones I look forward to hearing from every single day.*

But the other problem is more fundamental to me. I don’t really care about social rules, aside from “be kind”. I’m not really averse to eating alone at a restaurant, or reading books in public about cult murders, or staring at things for a really long time while I’m thinking. Or, you know, doing all of that at once, which…is not a good look.

Also, I don’t have much of a filter when I’m out of social practice, and so the opening salvo of many of my conversations might be something like, “Hey, it’s nice to see you! Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were somehow transformed into a tennis ball? Do you think a tennis ball would be a large enough container to store a human soul?”

So, I think I’m going to try to talk to actual humans more frequently. I’m going to try to spend more time in various coffee-vending establishments and libraries. I’d like to avoid saying, “I just realized, I haven’t left the house for four days.”

I’m hoping to maintain enough contact with real-life humans, that I can safely enter — and seem natural at negotiating — this world of people.

“She said, not at all like an emotionless half-robot whose task is to assimilate the people of Earth.”


*These people helped me during a very specific time, but I want to be clear that I love every one of you in a beautiful, possibly sinful, way. Thank you for reading my post and for being lovely.

No Big Deal

This is just a quick post with a quick observation.

The other day, I was leaving my parking lot at work when I noticed that one of the guys who worked at the lot left a check (from another parking lot patron) in my front seat.

Instead of exiting the rear of the lot as I usually do, I went out the front so I could hand the guy his check.

Whenever anything happens that alters my routine, I always question whether The Hand of Fate is guiding events; and the more innocuous the deviation, the more suspicious I am. (Now, I don’t actually believe in Fate. But I do like to keep my eye open for irony. If there is a god, for sure they’re messing with us just because they can; and I swear sometimes their sense of humor is a little obvious, if not downright predictable.)

As I was pulling out of the lot and onto the street, though, I thought, “Maybe that happened because I’m meant to see or do something on THIS route, as opposed to the other route.”

This is significant because, for the first time in a long time, my impulse was NOT to think, “I’ll bet something horrible is going to happen now that my route has changed.”

I’m not a pessimist by nature, but for the longest time now — years, in fact — I’ve had this permeating feeling that the other shoe was about to drop. All the time. It was like I was living my life under the shoe of Damocles. (I’ll bet Damocles didn’t even wear shoes.)

If you don’t like the weather in Ceil’s world, I thought, just wait awhile and it’ll get worse.

But that wasn’t the case the other day. It was just a regular weekday, and I was just returning a misplaced item, and I drove home by a slightly different route, and I didn’t feel harassed by circumstance, or the gods, or injustice. I felt…normal?

There is a chance that I am beginning to dip my toe in the waters of predictability and emotional stability these days. I recognize how bizarre it is, to recapture a sense of control during a time that most people would describe as “a ride in the Devil’s handbasket.”

But there it is nonetheless: I felt normal for the first time in so long, I almost didn’t recognize the feeling. I was a regular middle-aged woman, in a regular minivan, driving home from work on a regular day. It was so regular, in fact, that it was remarkable.

Operation: Healthy Ceil


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Driving back from a party at my friend Julie’s house this weekend, I was listening to a podcast and was reminded of a study about how people make better choices about saving for retirement when they’re exposed to their own age-progressed photographs. A short interview with one of the researchers is here, in Harvard Business Review from 2013.

What they found was, when you imagine yourself as a substantially older person, you tend to think of yourself in the third person. But when you can actually see yourself as that older person, your thinking changes.

As I was driving, I tried to picture myself two years or five years into the future. It was difficult, but I did begin to get the thread of who I might be. A vague and unappealing Ceil peaked through the gauzy neural haze, as though the next 2-5 years might involve some kind of possession by a ghost who likes to ride the rails and smoke unfiltered clove cigarettes.

Not that this lifestyle sounds completely distasteful. But at 46, it’s probably not practical.

As I said, I had been at a party the night before. Sometimes I think that it’s not the quantity of alcohol that you drink, but the number of hours over which you drink it, that does you in. For instance, I don’t think I drank that much wine, but the fact that I drank it for something like 10 hours probably was one of two defining factors of why I felt like a nervous puddle of gritty sweat the next day.

The other factor was that I had finally stopped chatting with friends at about 4am. And I’d woken up just after 9am. That’s actually statistically not bad for me. My new Fitbit tells me that, since I acquired it five weeks ago, I’ve had 16 nights with fewer than 5 hours of sleep. Of those nights, eight contained less than 4 hours’ sleep.

I don’t take care of myself. I used to. But for several years now, I’ve been dealing with Bigger Things and Busier Things. And — even though teams of experts who have studied stress and aging have all but taken out billboards to inform us that taking care of ourselves is most important during times of extreme stress —  my own way of dealing with stress usually involved giant helpings of IDGAF and staring into the closest electronic device.

But now, as I was driving, I mentally assembled slides and graphs, and began to have a meeting with myself that began something like, “Look, you’re 46” and ended something like, “…and unless you want to kill yourself, it’s time to stop checking all the way out of your health.”

It’s interesting that, as I’m caught in the throes of any terrible, terrible habit, I know two things conclusively:

First, I know I shouldn’t be doing it; and

Second, if given enough time and space to deal with myself, I know I’ll stop.

Right now, for instance, I’m so bad with paperwork. So, so bad. It’s hard to overstate how much I despise paper, or how puzzled I am that the world has not banded together to either make it stop, or come up with a cute little solution that clips onto a person’s wrist, and neatly, digitally files papers. Or eradicates them. I’m ok with paper destruction. BUT: my relationship with paper is better this year that it was last year. And I’m much better than I was the year before that. I will figure this thing out.

So, I’d said I’d taken care of myself before. Right after my child was born, between 2007-2008, I was finally ready to break my bad habits, and I lost 70 lbs. Here’s how I did it: Diet. And exercise.

I should also mention electronics. These websites/apps helped me tremendously:

My Fitnesss Pal. The ability to accurately and (more-or-less) quickly log, measure, and track my meals was invaluable. You can’t fix what you can’t measure, every corporate HR goal-setter will tell you. But it’s true. You always want to think you  didn’t eat THAT much. You’ll always say that ice cream isn’t THAT high in calories. When you log into Fitness Pal, you know exactly how many calories you can eat for the rest of the day. Plus, it measures exercise, water, and macro/micro nutrients.

Freedieting.com: I stop here for the calculators. I admit, I used it a lot more at the beginning of the whole process. But I do think that it’s helpful to calculate which percentage of macronutrients you want to stick to, and then enter those percentages into My Fitness Plan.

Map My Run (or possibly the Fitbit app): There is nothing more satisfying than looking at a route you created on a map, running that route, and seeing your stats. Bonus if you were faster than you were the last time you ran that route.

CalorieKing.com: Out somewhere and don’t know what the average calories, etc are in a given thing? CalorieKing probably has those food stats.

(If you have favorite apps or sites, pls comment below! I love learning about new stuff.)

My other goals, besides weight loss, are a) get more sleep; b) drink more water — and I already drink a lot; c) take my damned vitamins, which I hate with a fierceness usually reserved for unexpected house insects; and d) try to get off my brain meds. (I am new to ADHD.  I was diagnosed in 2015, four years after a 2011 concussion. Late ADHD diagnoses in women is not uncommon based on our understanding of ADHD in women. But my doctors tell me that it’s likely my concussion exacerbated a mild tendency toward ADHD, and now I just have it.)

So, today was my first day of Operation Healthy Ceil. Successes include:

  1. Actual sleep last night. I went to bed at midnight and woke up at 6am. It’s not enough, but I’m planning to build on it.
  2. Implemented a diet & stayed on it. Day One, of course, is not usually significant. I worked from home today. We’ll see what happens when the morning Flight of the Bumblebees kicks in tomorrow.

Shortfalls include:

  1. Not enough water. I drank about 4 cups, falling short of my 8-cup goal.
  2. Didn’t take my vitamins. Ugh. So gross.
  3. No exercise. Giving myself a mulligan here. My back was hurting pretty badly today. Try again tomorrow.

Operation Healthy Ceil could definitely stand improvement. But it’s a start! Off to bed now. Will post again soon.

Something Awful About Me



Wanna hear something awful about me?

I am an insufferable purist about certain things. I think decaf coffee should only be used in emergencies, for example. I don’t think anyone whose music career is less than 30 years old should cover Bowie. I think you should at least be conversant in the Star Trek of James T. Kirk before you come at me with any Trek stories made in the 21st century.

And in my heart of hearts, I think writing is an art that shouldn’t be motivated by the desire to be published.

But…I do so lust.

What I really want is a book tour. I want to have obviously-intelligent throngs of people (throngs, small groups…a beach volleyball team…a family of four…this all counts) gather around me and ask probing questions about my scholarly/funny/brilliant work.

“I never could have done this,” they’d say as I sign the inside cover of my best-seller. “It’s beyond my farthest imaginings, how you constructed a tale so intricate, yet so insightful and funny. It changed my life. I’m moving to Thailand and dedicating my life to the less-fortunate because of you.”

“I’m obviously overwhelmed, Aalliiyyaahh,” I’d say with real humility, and I’d inscribe the book, “To Aalliiyyaahh, YOU ARE the change in the world.”

I know it’s wrong to be motivated by a) an image of a writer’s life that I’m pretty sure is a fiction of its own, and b) the validation of strangers. I try to reason this ridiculousness out of myself, especially since this doesn’t even seem like a thing I’d be comfortable with, much less desire. The unpredictability of the public has always made me really dislike the public. “Fame is nothing I want,” I tell myself. Then the devil on my other shoulder chimes in. “But ‘widespread appreciation’ sounds nice, right?”

This is something I want on a molecular level. I want strangers to love and appreciate the thoughts in my head and the things that I say, as though each utterance were sustenance itself. Ok, maybe every tenth utterance. Maybe they really like chapter 12. I will take any laud you can spare.

For the love of all that is holy, TELL ME MORE ABOUT MY EYES.

I’m exaggerating for humor’s sake, of course. It would be ludicrous to be motivated by the love of faceless strangers. There would also have to be obscene amounts of money. Like, DANIELLE STEELE money. I want to brush away adoring fans only to find more adoring fans behind them, but bearing fistfuls of Franklins.

But what about the story? Shouldn’t I be motivated by the characters? The plot? The theme, and pacing, and tone? Isn’t just writing the story enough? God, I wish it were. I have had more than one character in the waiting room of my brain, pacing, smoking, and getting irritable.

“What’s my next scene?” Russ demands, He shows me blank pages and then spits his tobacco. It doesn’t hit anything because I haven’t written in the newt, or the chipmunk, or the forehead of an unfortunate child’s doll where it would have landed. “Dammit,” Russ says. “Did you SEE THAT? I SPIT MY TOBACCO AND IT VANISHED. THAT SHIT AIN’T RIGHT.”

“I’m so sorry,” I say. “Girl Scouts started selling cookies this week and I had to look into server administration for work. Do you know how hard that is? Gosh, it’s really complex.”

“What? SERVERS? This is BULLSHIT,” he rants, stomps off and then disappears because I haven’t written him a setting. Low, from the void, I hear a distant, “FUCK. Where AM I?”

So yeah, sometimes I’m motivated by characters, but a lot of the time, I’m angling for glory. It’s wrong. I know it’s wrong.

But here I find myself in unfamiliar territory: for perhaps the first time ever, I don’t want to be right. God help me, let me be so, so wrong. And Lord, let me be wrong through a terrifically successful writing career, with throngs…or groups…or perhaps knitting circles…of fans.

And Lord, one more thing: Let there be a fat ton of cash, too.


Reported Observations of a Woman Relearning Early Life Lessons


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(I haven’t written a blog post in a while, so now seems like as good a time as any.)

A List of Lessons That Were Reviewed:

Refresher Course in Life Lesson #5: Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

Refresher Course in Life Lesson #438: Daily routines are valuable, but if disturbed they can lead to entropy.

A woman, rushing out of the back door of her house with her child, neglects to press the garage door button firmly enough to actually open the garage door. This isn’t discovered until they have already left the house and locked the back door behind them.

An alternate solution, initially perceived to be faster, is quickly formulated: Enter the garage by an alternate method, open the garage door from within.

Woman and child enter the vehicle, secure seatbelts, and proceed to back into the closed garage door at a low speed, buckling the garage door and breaking the glass on the rear van hatchback door.

Human Physical Reactions: Upon hearing a crashing sound, the woman stops the van and turns around to see vein-like lines in the rear van glass, emanating from a jagged hole in the center of the same glass. The hole measures about two feet across by one foot high, is vaguely oval in shape, and is characterized by jagged edges. The child, eyes wide, observes the woman’s reaction.

Human Emotional Reaction: The woman, initially surprised, exhales deeply and rolls her eyes. “Well. That’s not good,” she says aloud. The child seems ok, but then begins to get upset. “It’s ok,” the woman says to the child, “It’s just a thing that’s broken. It’ll be fine. But I guess we have to catch the bus, because I can’t drive you to school in this thing.”

Observational note: Later interviews reveal that the woman was imagining driving down the highway, shards of glass flying onto cars behind her. At the same time she also assumed that showering broken glass onto the highway and other drivers constituted some kind of moving violation.

Ensuing Events: The woman backs out of the driveway in the van, just in time to see the school bus in the street. The woman, trying to get the bus driver’s attention, blows her horn. The bus driver is unable to hear the horn, however, and the woman decides to follow the bus to the next stop, which is just around the corner.

The bus, however, is too quick. A single child gets on the bus, and the bus pulls away.

Inside the van, the woman’s child begins to cry.

The woman reassures the child.”Oh, no! Don’t cry! It’s ok! Everything will be ok!” she says.

The bus stops a couple hundred feet down the road for the next bus rider, and the woman immediately parks the van and tells her child that they’re definitely getting on the bus this time.

The woman exits the van with the child and begins waving her arms wildly. The bus appears to be waiting for them. The child boards the bus as the woman explains to the bus driver that she has backed into the garage door several minutes ago. She then calls the child back, hugs the child (who seems to have recovered from the earlier emotional distress), repeats to the child that everything will be ok, and thanks the driver for waiting.

As the child is selecting a seat, the woman catches the child’s eye through the bus window and gives her a smile and a thumbs-up. The child smiles back.

The bus pulls away from the stop, and the woman goes back to the van, drives it around the corner, parks it in the driveway and looks at it for a long time.

Exhibits A and B: Ragged Glass and Interior Objects

Exhibit C: Humorous (?) Window Decal on Broken Glass


Exhibit D: Attempted Artistic Impression of Broken Glass Viewed Through a Rear-View Mirror


-End Report-

Sunday ADHD


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Today, after I helped my child figure out a video game puzzle and cooked breakfast, I decided to clean up the table but then I remembered that I had to plan tomorrow’s Girl Scout meeting. As I sat down, I remembered that a new girl had joined the troop, and I’d gotten an email about it, so I opened my email, and there was a notice about a new blog post from my friend Joshua, who goes by @alfageeek on Twitter.

I misunderstood the title, thinking that he’d finished his 2nd book (which I knew he’d been working on). But apparently he’d been working on a Twitter meme-maker, because tweets show up so badly on Facebook. So I went over to Twitter to get a few of my tweets to try it out with, and I found some and posted them; but while I was there I saw that @AnnaAnthro had RT’d an article about witch hunts and the history of bite marks. It was accompanied by a fascinating .gif which I was going to steal and add a stupid caption to, but I started reading the article instead.

Even more interesting, though, was @wunderkamercast‘s timeline, because she has declared it #WitchyWeekend, and I got wrapped up in an article which she tweeted with her comment, “Much of the world’s history has to do with adults being terrified of teenage girls” which wouldn’t surprise me at all. Teenage girls are a force to be reckoned with; and the metamorphosis of small, sweet creatures into formidable beings who are just beginning to decide whether to use their powers for good or evil is a shocking thing for any community to deal with. Especially one that’s usually governed by men. I followed her.

But I digress.

I was reading that article, but stopped halfway through because I remembered that I still had to email the parent of that new Girl Scout troop member, and I also had to find the email address for the local Girl Scout Service Unit manager and ask her about a sleepover location she had some ideas about.

Went back to my email, wrote an email to the parent, hit sent, then realized that I had forgotten to tie up the details about tomorrow’s cookie pickup. OhMyGod the Cookie Pickup looms large on Monday’s horizon. My husband has graciously volunteered to do it, and I need another parent, too. Girl Scout Cookie Pickup Rules require two people. It’s an efficiency thing, and they’ve been doing this for a long time now; and since this is my first year, I’m just gonna shut up and produce two people. But I still need to tell the other parent what time everything’s going down tomorrow, and how it all works. (As of this writing, I still haven’t sent the other parent the information.)

I got on Facebook to get the Service Manager’s email and saw a post about ADHD. Read it. Laughed. Posted it to Twitter. (Looking back now, maybe this was the first thing that distracted me on Facebook, because the other post comes after this. This day is a jumble. I’m probably forgetting some other stuff, too.) What was I on Facebook for? Oh, right. I finally managed to make it over to the Service Unit page, but not before reading about a friend’s kid’s broken finger, and my friend Randy Smith’s post about Tupelo Press’ 30/30 fundraiser, which I’d been really wanting to read, but kept not having the time for.

Tupelo Press puts out 9 issues of poetry each year, and they have this really neat fundraiser that Randy (aka @Thing_Finder on Twitter) is involved with for February. I looked into it, and maybe I’d like to submit. But that reminded me that I need to follow up with the woman who led the last free-writing seminar I was in, because I’d asked about some poetry critique packages she was offering. But first I went to check my ello account to see if I could find that one poem I wrote about angels that I simply can’t get out of my head.

And that’s when I realized that I have just been spinning and spinning and spinning in place, and all I really accomplished was a little Girl Scout meeting planning and I sent two emails, basically.

And then I laughed at ADHD again, because this is a silly thing to have.



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1128151735-1The past several years have been the most puzzling ones for me. They contained professional, health, financial, and emotional challenges. Sometimes, crises came in multiples. Some were brief while others stretched seasons and years.

There were times I didn’t even feel like I knew myself. There were times when reaction replaced reason. I’ve looked back on how I handled certain situations and felt alternately lucky, proud, and mortified. (You can’t get ’em all right. Sometimes you go so far wrong you can’t figure out how you got there.)

I’ve been in my home state of New Jersey for the last few days. When I visit, my schedule is usually a crowded tour of the state’s fine highways. Close friends live in south, central, and northern Jersey, as well as in New York City and New York State.

This visit has been more than a litany of local destinations, though. It’s been more like a journey back to myself.

It’s funny how home sometimes does that to you.

It may be that my brother is here, or because we visited the beach with our kids. It might have been seeing my college roommate, or the liesurely Thanksgiving dinner itself.

Today, we went shopping for my parents’ Christmas tree, and in under an hour it was up and decorated. The youngest kids iced gingerbread cookies. Mom baked a cake. Dad watched hockey. The rest of us relaxed in unhurried mutual company: Here’s a headline…I heard this joke…Have you seen that TV show?…I love this actress.

It’s such a lovely, light, and familiar thing: to exist with people, and without conflict. Home wasn’t always like that — but even if there was a fight, the consequences were not dire. As a kid you could screw up, but you couldn’t screw up everything.

Maybe this weekend has taught me that as parents, we should create an environment that our kids can come back to, year after year, and regain a sense of security.

Maybe sloughing the perplexing complexity of adulthood is what makes up the charm and the sanctuary of home.

It explains why it can be such a relief to visit, and also why you can’t stay for too long.

I Am Not A Cake Decorator


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So tomorrow’s (August 24th) my birthday. I’m going to be 1,548 years old because it actually doesn’t matter, and now I’m that person who worries about whether chairs and shoes have enough support, and if you think the place we’re going later on will be too echo-y, because then you can’t hear anyone. And I really, really appreciate flannel now, and my mother gave me this hair mousse that covers up gray.

Unsolicited, lying hair mousse.

Anyway, very little planning went into my birthday this year. Actually, that’s not exactly correct. Earlier this year, a LOT of planning went into my birthday. I was going to create some kind of mythical gathering in the tradition of a French salon, and friends would read poetry inspired by Dalí, and other friends would play music, and there would be singing, and probably no clowns, but lots of alcohol and maybe people would say nice things about me, like, “I’m so glad I flew 12,000 miles from that war-torn country where I work with the International Red Cross so I could be here for Ceil’s birthday.”

But while recreating a smaller, cleaner, temperature-controlled, middle-aged version of Woodstock seemed like fun, I thought maybe it wasn’t practical, and also I don’t buy pot from a guy in the dorm across the highway because I’m an adult now. So all planning halted until about 31 hours ago, when my husband asked what I had in mind for my birthday.

After I set aside thoughts of a parade of gophers playing tiny brass instruments while wearing really, really cute hats (but they had attitude, you know?), I decided on dinner and cake in the park.

There’s a new-ish park nearby that has a really nice gazebo with a picnic table that no one uses, because they put it in the corner of the parking lot, 80 miles from the playground equipment, near absolutely nothing. But it overlooks a really pretty valley, and you’re more or less alone, because “Hey, let’s eat dinner in the corner of a parking lot” is a thought that only occurs to me, apparently.

Tonight was cake-making night, then. Scott had never made a cake, but the directions are on the box. You have to pour the cake mix on the floor and mix it with roadkill to mess it up. I had picked out this ridiculous cake mix with sprinkles IN it, because if I’m not going to have a party, the inside of my cake will have one, I guess.

Anyway, here’s the box. This cake is having more fun than you ever did. This cake went to Studio 54 and dropped acid with Warhol. This cake sung backup on Karma Chameleon.

Cake To Be

“There’s LSD in the mix!”

Anyway, he made the cake while I got the child ready for bed, and at some point he asked if I had a minute, which meant that there was some kind of cake problem.

Actually, it was a question about frosting, and there was spirited discussion about icing cakes, and how to get the icing “bakery smooth” (I explained that no one does this unless they have a corrupt value system). I have a collection of (and here I’ll say that none of these words sound good) spreaders and scrapers (stop it) which allow you to do a nice job of icing a cake, but don’t damage the psyche (unless you think of the words) because with these tools, there’s no way to achieve Total Icing Smoothicity (say it a few times, you’ll like it).

Cake was iced, and then festooned with sprinkles. It looked like Stay Puft at 3am on New Years’ morning, but it definitely was festive and certainly held up its side of the birthday contract.

“But wait,” I thought. “Rainbow sprinkles INSIDE the cake, and rainbow sprinkles ON the cake don’t seem like enough. We can make this cake a birthday TOUR DE FORCE.”

In Scott’s defense, he didn’t know what was happening until it was too late. I had gotten these terrible, awful decorating gels with sparkles a while back. They were within easy reach.

“Red,” I thought. “It needs red. Around the whole cake. Right now.”

As I started squeezing the gel on the cake (gross, right?) I had forgotten that it’s actually pretty watery. It began to drip down the side.

Me: “Ugh. That kind of looks like blood, doesn’t it?”

Scott: “That’s horrifying.”

Me: “I can fix this.” I shook the tube. “There. It should thicken up now.”

I finished it.

Me: “Nope. My cake is bleeding. It’s an atrocity.”

Scott: “It looks like you beheaded a clown.”

Me: “I can fix this. If I add another color, it won’t look like blood.” I started with another tube of weird gel stuff. “I’ll add yellow.”

Scott [watching for a minute, then]: “You can’t really see yellow on white icing.”

Me [finishing the yellow]: “Maybe I’ll add green.”

Scott: “I can’t believe you’re doing this to my first cake.”

Me: “It’ll be ok.”

It wasn’t ok. If you were thinking of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man before, now imagine that he’s just had a kidney removed in a cheap hotel room in Singapore, and he’s 3 hours from waking up in a bathtub of ice.

No, don’t imagine. Here’s the “finished product”.

Cake has blood

Happy Birthday to y- OH GOD IT’S ALIVE.

And here it is right before it gets in a shower in a Hitchcock film:

Cake With Knife

Scott, as he watches me set up this shot: “You’re going to be here a while, then?”

The thing is, I love it. No one else has a kidney removal cake for their birthday (that I know of personally) and it adds a certain je ne sais quoi (or maybe a pourquoi) to the whole affair. And I will definitely remember this cake, even if I don’t remember turning 1.5 millennia years old.

And now, a piece of advice that crossed my mind: If you are in the business of removing peoples’ kidneys, the least you can do is get them a cake. Kidney-removal cakes should be a thing, at least as much as actual kidney-removal is. Like, “Sorry we took your kidney, but at least we left you dessert.”

I’ll stop now. [Throws confetti.] Yay! I’m older.

Scarlet Ribbons


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Even at about age four or five (1974-5), I was tuned-in to the popular music scene. There are some songs I’ll never forget: “Seasons In The Sun” by Terry Jacks; “Cats In The Cradle” by Harry Chapin; “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” by Charlie Rich. Wings’ “Band On The Run” was so ubiquitous in the summer of 1974 that – even now, decades later – it evokes images of shimmering swimming pools and damp sand castles, shrill outside laughter and high diving boards.

It’s indicative of something that I remember very few moments from those ages, but the ones I do are almost always accompanied by some kind of soundtrack. For instance, the Charlie Rich song is me in my bedroom, standing next to an open window on a summer day, song ragged from the sketchy AM transistor radio reception, sky cloudless and deep blue, air clean but slightly damp, the scent of grass clippings following the breeze into my room. “I lost my head, and I said some things,” sang Charlie Rich. At three or four years old, with little understanding of idioms, I puzzled: How was the man singing with no head? The head must be nearby, on a shelf or a table. It bothered me for a long time.

Many moments like this, curled up with my radio, determined to know everything about the bands, the songs, and later the producers and labels, started me on a professional path with music, first in performance (which ended in colossal failure) and later in music retail (which ended when I started picking up threads of information technology and computing, and after selling CDs became largely unprofitable.)

Anyway, I had a great memory today.

Another childhood favorite was Harry Belafonte’s “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair).” I used to ask my mother to play it incessantly. I was transfixed by the story: A little girl who prayed for hair ribbons; a father heartbroken that he couldn’t get his daughter the one thing she wanted. But then! The next day the family awoke to find that the ribbons had appeared magically overnight!

I have no idea how old I was, but my parents – knowing how taken I was with the song – decided to surprise me with my own scarlet ribbon experience. It may have been Christmas, or my birthday, or maybe it was just a regular day. But I went to sleep one night, probably in the thick of fantasizing about the girl and her mystery, and upon waking I found six or seven red velvet hair ribbons arranged in bows on my bedspread!

You can’t imagine the excitement. My parents denied any involvement, and while even at the time I doubted their veracity, it didn’t matter. For just a little while, they allowed me to be the little girl in the song.

I happened upon the song today, and the memory was so clear and thick, I thought I would share.

Spotify sometimes works in WP, sometimes not, but here’s the link if you want to hear a song that a kid from the 70’s used to get lost in for hours and hours.