The Road Forward

Black is an odd color choice for a toilet. To be fair, going alone to a crowded bar on a Friday night and hiding in the corner bathroom stall is an odd choice too, but there I was.

It’s been a long and windy road that my dream has taken me. It’s taken me to Amarillo Texas.  It has taken me to a police station, a recording studio, and a lawyer. When I set out to follow my dream of being a writer I expected a lot of pajama-wearing laptop-staring afternoons.  Instead, I’m staring at a gurgling toilet in a bar because I’m afraid of what I have got myself into.

I wonder if this happens to other people who have crazy dreams.  One thing just leads to another.  The only path is forward -or quitting.  You usually learn this the hard way.

When I set out to record a trio of short stories, I supposed all I needed was a recording device.  I was wrong.  I was really, really, wrong. Soon I learned I needed to be in a professional studio. That may seem quite logical and glaringly obvious, but it wasn’t then. I was confronted with a true test.  Was I willing to invest in myself?  That’s a very hard question. I’m not a risk taker, I’m not adventurous. Self-doubt is my demon. He doesn’t just vacation in my brain he owns condos. He’s running for mayor. 

I had to decide if I thought what I wrote was worth it.

I did.

What I didn’t know then was that all kinds of things would pop up on this journey.  I learned that the best avenue to put it out in the world required it to be in print first. I had to hire an editor. I had to find a cover artist. I had to get a professional head shot. Good God, who would want a picture of me?  And I had to pay for the evidence that it happened! The list of requirements kept spreading like a rash, with little end in sight, constant irritation, and no relief.   

Writers have to be on social media.  I don’t like social media.  I like staying in and wearing slippers and writing stories about worlds that exist in my head.  Each challenge posed a new opportunity to quit. 

Do it or quit.

I did it.

That’s why I hid in the toilet at the bar.  I was afraid that I wasn’t a good enough story teller, that my story was not interesting, or funny, or worthy of their precious free time. 

I never imagined I’d join a group of storytellers.  I never imagined I’d have a blog where I create those stories to tell.  But I do.  And maybe if they like my story they might like to read my stuff.

I took a deep breath, told the mayor to take five, and reread my notes. I had to decide if what I wrote was worth it.

 

Eat It!

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Every once in a while I come across a news story that lets me know that I’m getting older, and the world is going in a direction that is beyond me. The article that put me in this weary state described that mealworm margarine and cricket flour is on our horizon.  Crickets will boost the protein in flour and mealworms are rich in nutrients and easy to farm.

Bugs!  Bugs in our food, and not by accident.  No. No. And No. That’s the end for me.  If bugs become an environmentally friendly, fat free food source, then one of the core tenets of my existence is obsolete.  I have built a life on the principle of bugs being icky.   It’s part of my fabric.  No amount of fat shaming or earth- loving green tyranny will change that.

If this becomes a reality, what will it mean for our relationship with bugs?  Will exterminators go out of business?   If your house gets overrun with ants will it suddenly be like when your bananas go bad?  You just make a bread? If your kid comes home with lice will you say, Good for you.  Now you have your after school snack. And kudos to you, kiddo.  You’re self-sustaining.

And how will the margarine be made?  Is it not butter because it’s not milk?  Or are they milking these worms with tiny little pumps?  Or, just gross speculation here (with an emphasis on gross) are they mashed up into a fine paste?  Is their poop part of the paste, or how do you keep the poop out of the product? Then again, perhaps feces is a trifle when, after all, you are eating worms.

What is outside the social parameters now?  What is unfit to eat?  Will all social taboos dissolve under the buckling pressure of healthy fats and global warming?

I think bug eating will change us as a people.  And I guess I’d rather be dead, than eat a worm.

Packed Lunch

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Every day I pack a lunch for my boys.  And every day it’s an experiment in what you want out of life and what you actually get. If I packed what my boys wanted to eat in the scant twenty minutes they are allowed to partake of sustenance, then all I would need is a cache of Snickers bars and a case of Dr Pepper.  Of course, I would never indulge this sugar encrusted fantasy, but a happy medium has to be reached.   

There are a few considerations to take into account when assembling the contents of the lunchbox.  First, the kids have got to eat something.  It’s bad enough when they get home they eye up everything from the sofa to the dog with ravenous and predatory eyes.  

Second, you must face the reality that people are watching.  Teachers, lunch lady volunteers, moms who hang out at school are assessing your experiment and adding a new hypothesis of how this food translates into your child’s behavior.  Chances are their child is sipping water and nibbling broccoli while nursing a backache from toting home Dickens’ entire oeuvre.

And so the delicate dance of aspirations and reality are played out in the confines of Storm Troopers and insulated vinyl.  I pack a sandwich because I have not completely given up. I pack a stick of cheese because the sandwich always comes back with only minor abrasions.  I pack a juice box because they have a water bottle at their desks so who the heck would want more water? I pack a sweet, cookies or a pouch of yogurt, because pessimism has been a guiding principle in my life and why would it let me down now?

Finally, each and every day I pack a vegetable or fruit. It is the most time consuming of all the contents.  I take the stems off the grapes. I peel the oranges and put them in little containers. I slice cucumbers and provide dip. But each and every day, that fruit comes back. The truth is I send produce on a one hundred and eighty day walkabout.

I keep hoping we are all a little wiser when it’s done.      

I Love Sharks

I love sharks. I love shark movies. I follow tagged sharks on Twitter. I think Shark Week is one of the greatest television feats in history. Great whites are my favorite, they are stealth killers, a “perfect engine- an eating machine” as Hooper says in Jaws.  Sharks are real life living monsters with all the authentic proportions of something the Ancient Greeks could have imagined, a mammoth jaw filled with jagged teeth and dead eyes as black as the devil’s heart.  They are living myth. Plus, they have the kind of size that makes dinosaurs so irresistible.   

And I CANNOT get enough of them, which is weird because most aspects of my life are riddled with anxieties.  You would think that someone who would drive miles out of her way to avoid a left turn at a busy intersection  would not take a fancy to the sleek nightmare fuel that is the Great White, but you would be wrong.

I love them.  They embody my fears like no other creature on the planet, the lurking, the incredible speed, and a badass theme song.  A shark could be ten yards away from a swimmer and that swimmer wouldn’t know it until his legs are the side of fries with the shark’s seal burger. That’s the kind of scenario I envision in each and every mundane encounter in my life.  Disaster is always seconds away!   

The difference with sharks and why I hold them dear to my heart is the fact that they are contained. In my landlocked Midwest state it’s so easy to avoid sharks.  Unlike cancer, and bullies who might convince my children to commit suicide, and gun violence, and the opioid epidemic, and the painful changes of globalization, and drunk drivers, and tooth decay, and ageing, and stock market crashes, and tick borne diseases-  I can exercise my control over this fear.  All I have to do is stay the hell out of the water!  It’s such a wondrous simplicity.  It is so easy to talk myself out of this fear.  In fact,  as I write this with my back to the window and my feet dangling off my chair, I am confident  that I will not be eaten by a Great White. My loved ones who are out of sight are still safely on land,  and they won’t be eaten by a Great White either.

The thought of the shark actually makes me happy.  I have fear and I have control.  What a wonderful, singular situation.

Happy Shark Week. Happy trails to you, Mary Lee, you beautiful, awe- inspiring, scary as hell monster. 

 

EyeLashgate

First of all, I blame this whole thing on Megyn Kelly.  Second, I do not believe the decisions that I make deserve the outcome that they get.   

Back in October a writing colleague suggested that I look into Storycatchers, a local live story telling event.  An open mic night was scheduled for a Wednesday at 6:00 PM, hardly convenient for any woman between the ages of 25-55. Nonetheless I decided I must try it, and two of my friends wanted to come along for support.    That Wednesday afternoon out of the blue at 2:00pm like a lightning bolt to my neck, I was struck with spontaneous laryngitis.  Panicked and desperate I sucked on lozenges and drank tea with honey for the next four hours, with no sign of abatement. By 4:00 my voice catapulted over the sexy Jessica Rabbit stage and landed squarely on Marge Simpson.

I really wanted to give up, just say forget the whole thing because I’d probably embarrass myself anyway, but my two friends inconvenienced themselves and their families just for me.  I would have chickened out but the wheels of babysitters and microwave meals were already set in motion. Marge Simpson or not, I was taking the mic.   

I croaked out a version of a story despite the iron grip fate had secured upon my vocal cords. Surprisingly, the coordinator of Storycatchers said she definitely wanted me to perform at the next evening event.  That she liked my voice.  Fully confident that she meant my writing voice and not Marge Simpson, I agreed to do it.

Then I went home and thought about what I had agreed to.  A seed of panic turned into an unwieldy weed garden.  I couldn’t do this.  What would I say?  It was scary up there.  So I decided to do what I normally do in the face of something unpleasant.   I buy lipstick.  Only this was really scary and lipstick alone was not going to do the job.  So I’m doing what I do best, which is being paralyzed by fear, and on the TV is Megyn Kelly promoting her new book.

Now, I don’t care what your political leanings are- the fact is Megyn Kelly is cute as a button.  And I notice when they show her from a side angle that she is wearing false eyelashes.  That’s it, I declare to myself and the dog – I am getting some false eyelashes.

And I did, I bought the best ones I could find.  The saleslady put them on me and I felt like a diva.  I texted all my friends.  Forget Botox, you gotta get yourself some false eyelashes. 

One of my more grounded friends reminded me that I better practice putting them on before the big event.  And I knew just the place I needed the confidence boost. Earlier in the week, when I was submitting my idea for the Storycatchers event, the coordinator, Tara, asked if I would be interested in recording my blogs for her website.  This would be the perfect trial run for my new “lash on life.”

Tara had also suggested that she would be willing to record anything else I might have.  I aim to please, but I don’t have much else.  Most of my other projects are lengthy and they are spoken for.  But I did have another story.  It was older, not my usual flavor. I wrote it when my Dad was dying of cancer.  Here’s the tricky part, I have never been able to read that story aloud.  I just can’t get through it. A lot of time has passed since I wrote that story, and I’ve done a lot of live readings and audio work since then. I was certain I could do it. 

With my blogs, the story, and my super eyelashes, I headed for Storycatchers. I met with Tara and told her I had the blogs and one other story.  I cautioned her that it was not the same as my other pieces and perhaps she would like to read it first to see if she would like to include it. She read it and agreed it would work. We got to recording the blogs first.  All went smoothly and when I was done, she handed me the story.  Now the story doesn’t start off sentimental, in fact in the beginning it’s sort of funny.  I’m reading fine, giving no indication that I might have some sort of breakdown.  Well, then I get to the part where the Dad comes into the story.  And what’s weird is that this Dad is not at all like my Dad – still the words will not come out.  They are stuck in my throat.  I can see the words but my heart, my mouth, is seized by an overwhelming emotion.  My eyes well up. 

As you can imagine, this does not go unnoticed by someone sitting next to you, let alone someone who is recording you.  I turn to look at her and apologize. I repeat that I am sorry.  I confess that I just can’t read this story aloud.  I apologize again for my complete, as it must appear, spontaneous onset of insanity. 

It is just at that moment that I notice a grayish cloud in my vision.  My false eyelash is dangling vertically over my right eye. I ask, “Is my eyelash falling off?”  She nods her head, no doubt rendered speechless at my emotional ungluing and cosmetic malfunction. I peel the eyelash off and grasp it firmly between my index finger and thumb.  Just then, her famous brother walks in.  (Really, he is a local celebrity.  He can put asses in seats.) The whole scene is awkward and is in dire need of clarification, I’m looking like Clockwork Orange, the air is charged with grief, empathy, and embarrassment, and it would be rude to ignore people right in front of you. 

He may have went to shake my hand in the introduction, quite honestly I’m not sure.  In the confusion, we explained that I had lost an eyelash.  Being a gentleman, he starts scanning the floor not sure what to do in this kind of lady emergency  to which I show him the furry caterpillar looking thing that is my eyelash clenched between my fingers.  I think Tara at some point explains who I am and either she or I mention how I lost my voice at open mic night.  He asks, “Was it nerves?”  It’s a perfectly normal question, not loaded or accusatory but when it gets to my brain which contains a Rube Golberg type contraption that runs on neuroses, self-loathing and low self-esteem a normal question sounds like an attack on my talents. No, I declare with unwarranted indignation I had a legit cold.  I had mucous. 

These are the types of introductions that I make, a veritable roadmap on  how to win friends and the respect of intelligent people.

All this from eyelashes. Darn that Megyn Kelly.        

 

     

Sweet, Sweet Nothing

This year, when my family asks, what do you want for Mother’s Day? I can truthfully answer “nothing” because…

The fact that my living room furniture does not include plastic anything

The fact that you do your homework without me screaming my head off

The fact that you think crawling into bed with me is as bad an idea to you as it is to me

The fact that if you want to play outside I don’t have to go outside with you

The fact that none of the snacks in my house are squeezable

The fact that we can go to the movies and stay the whole time

The fact that no one has pooped their pants in a very long time

The fact that I can talk on the phone or pee and no one seems to care –

That’s my Mother’s Day.

The fact that when I serve something you don’t like, we can all honestly agree that nobody cares, and then you eat it anyway

The fact that I don’t know the cartoon line up on Nickelodeon

The fact that when we go shopping the only one who may end up crying is Daddy

The fact that the cashier at the McDonald’s drive thru does not know our names

The fact that I can go to the dentist or get my haircut and it doesn’t involve a neighbor, a teenager, or a family plan

The fact that on a Saturday or Sunday I can sleep till whenever I want

That’s my Mother’s Day.

The fact that you realize I am not interested in seeing what you built on Minecraft

The fact that your annual flu shot is not something either of us has to mentally prepare for

The fact that when you are tired, you go to bed

The fact that a stroll down the cereal aisle can no longer be equated with an extreme sport

The fact that I can wear white, or dangly earrings, or things that must be dry-cleaned

The fact that I don’t wipe your nose

The fact that you agree that bees should not cause the same level of alarm as, let’s just say, a pit viper

That’s my Mother’s Day.  

The fact that if I step in a pile of goo we can all comfortably blame the dog and our integrity will remain intact

The fact that I no longer have to hide the permanent markers

The fact that we drink out of actual glass

The fact that no one has brought pudding or other snacks into the toilet in more than one calendar year

The fact that I don’t have to sing silly songs to get you to perform basic hygiene

The fact that I can carry a small purse

That’s my Mother’s Day. 

Kylo Ren and Us

chasing stormtrooper

What I most love about Disney is the unexpected magic.  Last time I went to Disney a super fan and imagination collided at the intersection of childhood wonder and storytelling.  It was sublime.

I love Star Wars, as does my son, but we keep it in check. Sure, I’ll abandon my children and run toward a spontaneous sighting of Stormtroopers, but no one is going to question my grasp of reality when the day is done and the park is closed. That’s not the case for everyone- as I soon found out. I was at the Star Wars museum or Launch Pad or whatever they call it, and the lines were unusually short.  This was our chance.  I grabbed the only other willing member of the family, my nine year old son, and scooted in the queue for Kylo Ren. 

In front of us a perspiring young man of about twenty darted about while examining helmets, suits, model ships, and other film paraphernalia encased in glass. His movements were frantic and jerky, and like his sweat glands, they were a touch outside of the bell curve.  He took pictures of absolutely everything.  My son and I paused our casual banter at the spectacle that was unfolding before us. The line moved forward. He paused to catch his breath wherein he removed his shirt, used said garment to wipe his dripping brow, and revealed a sweat soaked tank to us and the other befuddled patrons waiting to shake hands with the new Darth Vader. I was speechless. If I could have uttered a word, I think it would have been cocaine. And it would’ve come out like a question.  My son, also rendered speechless, gave me the side eye. 

The character meet in greet is set up so that Kylo Ren is behind cool looking space doors that slide open. Cast members in film-extra garb, wait at the door to prevent a log jam of visitors.  Well, when our sweaty little friend got the ear of these hapless employees, he barraged them with facts and questions that did not require responses despite their grammatical syntax.  The doors opened much to their relief and, as a trio, we were escorted in.  An unsuspecting and unprepared Kylo Ren awaited.

I’m certain that in most instances, Kylo Ren takes the lead and you just do as he tells you and go about your merry way. That’s not what happened here. The young man first ensured that pictures would be taken.  Documentation was of the upmost importance to him.  It was agreed. Just as Kylo Ren appears, the young man gets down on one knee, bows his head, and covers his eyes as if it’s medieval times not space times. He utters the most cohesive string of words I had witnessed him put together.  They were a type of futuristic fealty that included liege, pledge, and master. And they were definitely the product of much craft and practice. 

My mouth is agape.  The cast members’ mouths were agape.  And my son is taking this whole scene in like only a nine year old boy can.  The sweaty super-fan exits. The air is charged with frantic energy and confusion.  Now it’s our turn.  We step forward.  Kylo Ren in his mask altered unnerving voice instructs us on where to stand.  My son, a rule follower, misunderstands Mr. Ren and gets down on one knee and begins to repeat the whole awkward scene.  He thought that was what he was supposed to do!  I yank on my son’s arm and pull him up while explaining that the other guy was crazy and we don’t do that. Kylo Ren, maybe limited by voice control buttons, attempts his spiel again. My son and I return to a normal fan stance when Kylo Ren leans down close to our faces and declares, “My condolences.” This is the first sentence he has said that I’ve understood since we stepped forward so I ask, “To my husband?” and he retorts, “To the Resistance.”    

I start laughing, the employees start laughing, my son is still in awe and mild confusion.  A gentleman hands me my phone and we are escorted out another set of space doors. 

My nine year old and I had an awkward encounter with a super villain. Does vacation get any better than that?

 

A Heap of Hope

I live on the edge of town, five more miles out from here and you would be in a place where post office boxes are necessary to receive mail and cows outnumber people about ten to one. It’s pretty quiet, and other than a roaring milk truck, traffic is sparse. That’s why what I’m about to tell you is so remarkable.

The other day I set out to walk my lazy Labrador.  It forced me to leave my placid dead end and traverse a long stretch of back country road where cars generally zip along at fifty to sixty miles per hour because the landscape generally looks the same in a blur as it does at a resting glance.  So there we were, my faithful pooch and I strolling along when we came across this. 

And I thought, as you are probably thinking, well, who the hell would want that heap of junk? Why would someone even bother to offer it up to the world?  We walked on, baffled. 

Then, a mere twenty minutes later, back from our loop around the block, a car was stopped at the pile of stuff and a woman in denim shorts and bright purple sneakers was lifting an item from that same garbage heap.  She smiled at me as she hopped back into the driver’s seat as if it were my tough luck that she saw it first.

Suddenly this pile of junk got me thinking about my writing.     

If someone liked that pile of garbage enough to stop, get out, lift it, and bring it home, then surely there is someone who would like my writing.  And this stuff wasn’t even reaching a vast and wide audience. It wasn’t like this garbage was on the endcap at Target.  This was a far out country road, in a far out small town, in the far out edge of nowhere. What are the chances someone found it, let alone found it and liked it? So could there be someone out there who likes my stuff?   

Yes. 

May you find hope on your creative journey.  Don’t pay attention to all the cars that speed past you. Focus on finding the driver that slows down and decides that what you have to offer is a treasure.

Technology, Litter Boxes, and Heroism

 

I’m like a black hole of technological skill.  To be honest, I’m not sure that’s even an accurate description.  People who understand black holes are not generally the kind of people who are befuddled by multiple hash tags, the concept of google docs, and the like button on Facebook.

Nonetheless, I have a dream of writing, scratch that, I have a compulsion to write.  The problem, the main antagonist to my life’s narrative is technology.  I wrestle with it daily. Social media gives me sudden onset diarrhea.  Facebook gives me high anxiety, and the internet exhausts me. Yet, these are all necessary to get my writing out in the world.  It’s so frustrating.  I find it akin to cat ownership.  I love kitty cats.  They balance statuesque majesty with adorable cuteness like a tight rope walker.  They are purring snugly little balls of soft fluff. Yet along with all their furry magic is a shit box in your home.  The writing is my cat, the technology is the shit box.  Unless the cat is dead, I need the box.  And I don’t want to author a dead cat.

I’m making peace with the stinky clumps of technology that are yoked to my writing adventure. Sometimes I even find humor and happiness in them. For example, when I check into my blog, inevitably I have spam. I’ve come to appreciate spam in all its absurd glory.

Here’s an example that delighted me beyond what the spammer could ever imagine.  “I am impressed, I must say.  Actually hardly ever do I encounter a blog that is both educative and entertaining, and let me inform you, you may have hit the nail on the head.  Your concept is excellent; the issue is one thing that not enough people are speaking intelligently about.” This was the comment on They’re Out There, an unhinged malediction of house dwelling arachnids.  I can’t help but wonder what part deserved the “educative” qualifier.  Could it be the part where I plead to my readers to be wary of a spider’s cognitive capabilities and even more so a spider’s undying devotion to complete evil?  Perhaps it was how to properly dispose of a dead spider given their ability to reanimate like a science fiction villain.

I also love the idea that not enough people are speaking intelligently about this issue. Could you imagine a world where the fear of spiders drove policy making decisions and curtailed daily events?  To be honest, my posts are hardly scholarly, unless one was looking to demonstrate the mental health void in our country.

Sometimes spammers appeal to my vanity. On the post The Pet Equation a spammer left a comment with a very serious call to action that “your authority on this subject deserves a wider audience and I can help” Yes, I agree I am an authority on how my mathematics education has led me to an equation about stink and pets. And I’m quite sure this post would find a comfortable place in scholarly discussion, perhaps right next to Newton. The fig, not the man.

So my journey with my nemesis, technology, has forced me to grow, compelled me to learn, proved that I can do some things that I never imagined I could – and made me realize I could be the hero of this narrative.  In fact, that sounds like the perfect fodder for a story.

 

We Care About Teeth

 teeth picker

I always walk with my head down. It’s part low self-esteem and part amateur anthropology. I do it because I’m fascinated with stuff that gets left behind. 

I had this habit since I was a child. Back then, I remember a lot more garbage in general.  People used to toss fast food bags, beer bottles, and unwanted detritus out the window as if the world was their dumpster.  Mostly, I remember the shiny brown tangled cassette tape freed from its casings and blowing in the wind like angry Lo Mein. Then CD’s came along.  I don’t remember them being tossed as much as cassette tapes.  Maybe it’s because they were far pricier than their temperamental ill-designed predecessor. Today, music garbage is nonexistent, it’s yet another victim of the digital age.   

Back in the day, cigarette butts made up the bulk of the treasures awaiting my inspection on the asphalt.  Not so much today.  Smokers, for the most part, have been conditioned to carry on their misdeed in a designated area and when they are done they are to put the butts in a squat metal contraption that looks like it was designed to encapsulate a gnome.

 

Today the most ubiquitous trash is plastic tooth flossers.  I am baffled by these.  When I first spied these odd little specimens, I thought they were the work of one individual.  Yet, I kept finding them in different towns, by railroad tracks, in the library parking lot.  Could I have a dental obsessed stalker?  The answer came when I went on vacation. Lo and behold, those little plastic suckers were all over the ground in that part of the country too.  I realized then that these flossers replaced the cigarette butts.

 

What I wonder is who is using these?  Do they have a trove of them on their person at all times or do they pick up a few on the way out the door like car keys?  And do they pick their teeth out in the open?  In front of everyone?  I’m just curious because it seems to me flossing is on par with toenail clipping.  Sure, you could do it in public, but is it really a spectator sport?    Finally, I wonder is this a new phenomenon? Maybe people were always this gum-health obsessed but the old school floss without the plastic handle just disappeared in the wind like dandelion fronds.