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

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Psst.

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.

#purity

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.

Timeline:
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

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

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-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.

Home

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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.

Kid Shaming

A girl committed suicide because her father internet video-shamed her. As parents, we have a contract of trust with our children to protect them from the world when necessary, not throw them, defenseless, into it. Please don’t make or share kid-shaming videos.

http://jezebel.com/13-year-old-girl-dies-by-suicide-after-dad-shares-publi-1708967488http://jezebel.com/13-year-old-girl-dies-by-suicide-after-dad-shares-publi-1708967488

Kitchen Fire

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Today I started a kitchen fire.

We’ve got all kinds of activities tonight, so I decided to get ahead of the dinner-time rush by making dinner this morning.

I had hot oil in a pan, and was putting rice noodles in to stir fry, but the starchy water dripped out first and a column of fire blasted up from the pan towards our ceiling.

And this is why I suddenly do not believe in evolution.

Because I stood there watching fire burst forth from my stove and you know what I thought of?

Not, “Where’s the fire extinguisher?”

Not, “I should get water.”

Not, “Maybe I should put down these noodles or something.”

The only thought going through my head as my feet were anchored to the Pergo was, “There’s a fire! A fire! Oh! Oh! It’s fire! Fire! Oh! There’s a fire!”

How did generations of my ancestors survive with this spectacular piece of crisis thinking? How can we be hundreds or thousands of years in the making of the blood line that can only identify a threat, but not flee from it, or neutralize it?

The fire went out, and I thought, “Fire’s out,” and I scanned the kitchen for damage. There was none thankfully.

But now I find myself in the position of refuting years of modern science, and I already had a lot to do today.

Or maybe Darwin was right, and I’m supposed to be the end of that line? That’s not comforting at all, either.

Frank

Tonight, I met someone in a bar I used to frequent when I needed to get out the house to write.

I haven’t been writing lately; in fact, I’ve had trouble producing anything resembling writing for some time now. So I thought it’d be a good idea to visit my roots: The dark wood and vaguely Irish setting of Mr. Toad’s.

This place has been elevated to mystical status for me at this point. Something happens when I enter that allows me to write without thinking too much. One could argue it’s the Guinness, but I have my drinks here at home, and that doesn’t seem to do the trick.

However, tonight I met this great guy.

I don’t want to name him, because it feels like a violation of trust, so let’s call him Frank. Frank is a ball of gruff joy. I described him on Twitter as a cross between Tony Robbins and Tom Waits. He is connected with the bar in some way (“she said, elusively”), and he was very excited to have a writer there. He spent a lot of time telling me about the writer’s groups that used to meet at the bar and how much he missed them. He also told me about the architecture (built in 1919), and he wanted to take me up to the upper floors that they were renovating in art deco style, but he was too tired. Next time, he said. I’d just met him, but he was sure we would be friends, and that we’d meet later, and somehow I’d be comfortable enough to tour this building with him.

He first walked into the bar during his oat-sowing days, in 1988, and instantly fell in love with the brick and dark wood. He has been there in some fashion ever since.

I was trying to permanently cement in my brain all of the wonderful things he said, but I only seem to have silt lately, so not much stayed except when I asked him who his favorite musicians were. Here, came a long explanation of Irish Catholic guilt, because his favorite musician is his grandpappy who used to fix instruments (lots of mandolins) and always tested the instruments by playing a particular church song (God forgive me, it was great, but I forget what it was. I mean, it was a perfect instrument-testing song). But his mother played organ for the local church, and even though neither of them are alive, he felt that he had to name his mother as his favorite musician. Because of Irish Catholic guilt. But outside of those two, it was Jimmy Page.

He asked if I wanted to do shots with him, and this is one of those responsible adult moments where you should say, “No, absolutely not,” but then you think, “How do I resist hanging out with this person?” So instead of saying no, I asked what he’d do shots of. “Fireball whiskey,” he replied. Oddly, I had only heard of Fireball whiskey the day before, so this felt like kismet of a kind. “I want to do shots with someone in this bar, and I look around, and I think I just want to do shots with you,” he said. In my world, honestly, this is a pretty high compliment. I don’t take drinking with a body lightly, since I don’t generally like to drink alone, and I understand the fraternity of the properly done drink. He had a shot and a beer poured for both of us, and we drank to health and happiness (“Always in that order,” he said, “because that seems to be what you usually need.”)

I asked him how old he was, and he said 52, but that his soul was 155. “That’s a good age,” he said, “One hundred fifty-five. But now maybe it’s one hundred sixty-two, because I forgot about our conversation, and that we must’ve had it before.” I aged his soul seven years. Not sure how I feel about that.

I told him that he was a delight to talk to, and he is, but he made me repeat that to the two female bartenders, who confirmed that yes, Frank is a complete delight, though they’d never phrased it exactly like that. In asking if they knew his soul was 155, they both nodded. Yes, they know how old his soul is.

It’s not lost on me that he could be a great source for a character, but I honestly think this guy is an actual muse, and I want all of you to come here and drink beer with me, and do shots with Frank as soon as is reasonably permissible. Bring your notebooks and tablets. He loves writers.