Monday, November 30, 2009

"Husband as Muse"

A few weeks ago, I danced over to Jazz's blog and enjoyed a welcome surprise: her post that day had been hand-written. It startled me how much I liked seeing her handwriting and not just her typing; it reminded me of the individual behind the blog; it gave me a glimpse into her Herishness.

Hence, I've co-opted that idea, as you can see below (click on the image to enlarge it--and then zoom in even more!). While my handwriting has never been stellar, it has seen a marked degeneration in the last two decades, as I've graded thousands of student essays. As well, I wrote the page below as we drove 70 mph on the highway last night, after dark, heading home from a holiday weekend away. All that in mind, you can still accuse me of being illegible, and I'll have to nod in agreement.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Ridding the Planet of the Scourge That Is Breathing and Upright Turkeys"

Sometimes I get all ranty on my students. This happens, in particular, when they kvetch about having to take classes "that don't have anything to do with what I'm going into"--although, were they at the keyboard, that sentiment would read more like "taht dont have any thing to with WHat im goin in to."

Whenever they act all put out at having to take a range of classes, at having to study things they have no interest in, at wasting their time in classes like history, political science, and psychology when they just want to be nurses,

I have to clench my slapping hands firmly to my sides.

Every now and then, if I'm able to temper my reaction, I attempt thought correction (which is the agenda of every leftist Ivory Towered college professor, according to the Fox Newsian segment of the population). Calming my voice, I venture a, "You know, I viewed every class I ever took as an opportunity more than a burden. I always really try to remember that education, in any setting, on any subject, for any reason, is to be treasured. Specifically, if you are lucky enough to be in college, you shouldn't start complaining that you are asked to take college classes. Of course, all of this is hard to see when you're in the midst of it, so let me put it in more practical terms. Studies show that most people end up changing careers 5-7 times in their working lives. Thus, it is in your best interest to get the broadest base of education possible, so that you leave college equipped to take on any possible type of job that might put itself in front of you in the next 35 years. Certainly, you need very specific classes to become a nurse/phlebotomist/massage therapist/auto mechanic/firefighter. But what happens when your body gives out, or the economy becomes bad, and suddenly you are face with a change in career? What if you've only ever had phlebotomy-related classes? How are you going to sell books/dig graves/start a company/substitute teach/manage an office? More than knowing how to draw blood for the rest of your life, you need to know how to talk to people, how to communicate, how to think critically, how to analyze possibilities and pitfalls. See, the whole point here, with this college gig, is to lay down a foundation that can support you through all of life's vagaries."

And then I slap them.

With very small, gentle, invisible hands.

Here's the thing, though: while I believe all of the above rant quite vehemently these days, the truth is that when I was a college student, I could get all pissy about classes, too. In my defense, I will note I went to a liberal arts college, so the entire nature of my degree was broadly foundational. Moreover, it wasn't that I was averse to the information in the classes I was required to take; it was that my brain was too busy processing Long Island Iced Teas to be up to the task of calculatin' and hypothesizin'.

As a result, I still did my best to avoid classes in the maths and sciences--them mean classes that could hurt me.

However, the college hinged its degree awarding upon my having completed a variety of classes from all disciplines, so eventually, I had to sign up for numbers and theories and stuff, which seemed a shame when I still had Jane Austen to read.

Fortunately, I wasn't alone in my recoil from hardcore math and science; in fact, I was in such good company that the college had been forced to create and offer watered-down versions of some classes in these disciplines. I took Math 10 one semester...we connected dots and made stars and stuff, and at some point, we may have added up all our dots and stars, which, since we got to use our fingers, was a breeze, so long as the answer never exceeded ten. Hey! Math was fun!

Fulfilling the science requirement was infinitely more taxing. I thought I had it sussed when I discovered a class nicknamed "Physics for Poets" existed. Hell, yea, methunk. I could dig a class where "torque" and "vector" were part of the iambic pentameter making up a sonnet. So great was my excitement, I bought pencils, friends. I bought pencils.

But. Hmmm. How to put it?

One time John McEnroe hollered at a line judge that he was "the pits of the world." I would like to assert here that Nikola Tesla might have been a line judge. 'Cause physics was the pits of the world.

Now, I already knew physics blew the shutters right off my weathered Queen Anne of a brain. In high school, fast tracked in all subjects, I had taken honors physics. My teacher then had served as an artillery sergeant in Korea. As I sat in his classroom, holding my head in my hands, stifling a wail, he would march up and down the aisles, whacking desks and hollering about how only dummies couldn't get this stuff. Clearly a dummy, I started going in before school to have him work through the problems with me. It never helped. I remained a cringing, cowering mass of confusion. But he did smile once when I make a joke about my having "zero capacitance," so I called it a victory.

Woefully, the college physics experience bore out my college experience. While the professor was a good man, he lived on Planet Throbbing Brain, unaware that we peons down in the mines, attempting to extract his brilliance, were gasping for air.

Full disclosure requires that I also admit I took the class Pass/Fail, so all I needed was a "D" to get through. At first, I aimed for my "D" by skipping lots of classes, which did the trick quite neatly.

But then we had the first test, and its return marked the single time in my academic career that I held and beheld the letter "F."

Muttering a word that started with "F," I realized I had to start cranking, start going to class, start attending study groups, start reading the text book.

And I did. Even still, I was profoundly bewildered and lost. Fortunately, I became just enough less lost to randomly encounter a path labeled "D," and I made it through the class--a little closer to an ulcer, a little less buoyant, a little less certain I was a fan of this "take a wide range of classes" concept.

Leaving me faintly nauseous and listing slightly to the right, college physics was the worst experience of my educational life.

Until I took Statistics.

But I'm not telling that story here. It's only twenty years in the past, and I'm just not ready yet.

The upshot of my story is this: it's Thanksgiving time; I don't like holidays; and at some point someone will probably ask me what I'm grateful for this year. Since my attitude is bad, it's best to have an answer prepared. A prepared answer will get me off the hook, and, with words pre-packaged, ready to trip off my tongue, I can sidestep the family strife that would ensue from me hollering, "None of your damn business!" or "How come you never ask me this in April? Or September?"

So here's what I've got, in the off chance we all end up going 'round the table and forcing out statements of gratitude:

"I'm really, really thankful I'll never again have to take a college physics class. Now stuff that in your turkey and gobble it."

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Sweet Like Sugar"

I haven't seen the Spiderman, Iron Man, or Batman movies of recent years.

I don't applaud politicians who promise to change our lives.

I don't get all weepy over photos of my grandmother sitting in a big leather chair, doing her tatting.

I sometimes think members of the military are in it for the job--you know, so their families can eat--more than to sacrifice themselves defending their particular country's version of "values of freedom."

You see, I'm not much given to hero worship.

In fact, I chafe at the easy manner in which the word "hero" is thrown around, at the craving people have to laud something, no matter how vapid, at the compulsion to exhalt the world by slapping onto it such a label. People are people; sometimes they shine; sometimes they drain. We are all of us just us'ns, and to try to sort everyone onto tiers is exhausting, purposeless.

Flawed and full of smells, we are just us, we people.

That noted, I have to admit that often this is more of a principle than a reality for me. I do admire some others. I do look down on certain schmoes. I do vaunt others.

...but my rankings are not on a scale of heroic. That feels too cinematic and contrived. That feels like a one-armed Matt Damon on a zip line, whizzing through a jungle to retrieve a secret code before the bomb explodes in a lair where Cameron Diaz is being held by agitated guerillas. To tell you true, I'm equally put off by the Readers' Digestian notion of "everyday heroes"--those people who saved puppies and started foundations and knitted mittens. Misread me not: they have done good things. However, I don't think it's too much to ask that all people attempt, in their own ways, to be their best selves, to do the things they think they can in the world. If we keep the bar set at the point of Reasonable Expectations for Humanity, then these everyday heroes are actually just doing what they should be. Comedian Chris Rock has a riff on this idea wherein he rails at talk show audiences that clap wildly for any African-American man who sits on stage and announces proudly, "I work for my kids. We throw the ball around on weekends." Because expectatations have slid so low, the audience and the man greet his announcement with praise, with a feeling of "What a hero!" Chris Rock is quick to holler, however, "Don't. applaud. that. man. for. doing. exactly. what. he's. supposed. to. be. doing. Don't treat him like he saved the planet because he managed to show up."

At best, Us Good 'Uns display a certain integrity or follow the ordinates on a particular moral compass (which, notably for me, don't have to align with traditional views of "moral"; a person can be an admirable degenerate, so long as he or she is true to an impulse that remains essentially benign). At worst, the Us Bad 'Uns bring to life a desire to hurt weaker, smaller, younger, softer.

Everything in between is just people being us.

Therefore, as you have probably seen coming, I get particular gratification out of bumping into something special, someone who stops me short and makes me inhale sharply.

Surprise me, Sailor.

To wit:

In the midst of a stretch of trying days--and not in any overt way, wherein I feel granted the right to collapse and weep on the duvet, clutching Kleenex to clavicle, but more in an ongoing, grinding way where I try not to carve the words "Help me" into the living room wall with a bloody whisk--I have found soppy comfort in a thing. In the midst of a week when I rushed forward when I should have held steady, when I lost several nights' sleep with an agitated boychild, when I wonder if the family isn't maybe being slowly offed by a carbon monixide leak (or why else do we all feel this way?),

I touched a good thing.

And if I ever forget to slow down and touch a good thing, may they box me up and put the casket on the pyre. Better yet: bypass the casket.

The good thing was a she, young and blue-eyed, with a charming bit of a lisp. She helped me refind a sense of possibility during a weekend where everything was dark and negative, a weekend when I was ready to go out and buy a VW van just so I could drive off into the sunset in it, cranking Neil Young and savoring the melancholy of dusk.

This girl is nine; she wants to be an actress; she likes to catch tadpoles; she is my daughter's good friend; she has Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes. Mostly, she's just a white kid growing up in a middle class family in the Midwest. She has seen High School Musical the requisite number of times.

While she's been in Girl's circle of friends for the last few years, and we've had her over for playdates and birthday parties, we'd never ventured with her into the larger commitment known as Preadolescent Sleepover. Because, er, you know, it's a little intimidating to be the adult in charge of someone who could potentially die if you're not paying attention.

However, now that Friend A is nine, nearing an age where a certain amount of self-care is a valid expectation, we decided to extend the invitation, something which, gratifyingly, was greeted with shrieks and hugs and statements that she had never been so excited in her whole life, about anything. It probably helped that we were also offering up pizza and a ride ON THE CITY BUS downtown to watch the yearly Christmas parade with us, before the actual sleeping over even commenced. Not only had Friend A never ridden on a city bus, she had never been to a live parade before. There was quivering.

Seriously, you can't help liking her a little bit already, can you?

When her mother (in a separate post, I could probably make a case for this woman--with four kids, an out-of-town husband, an oldest daughter down with daily migraines, unable to get an appointment at the Mayo Clinic due to villainous paperwork--as heroic) dropped her off, they gave me the training I would need: I met the meter and the whole kit used for bolus doses; I met the pocketful of carmel rice cakes; I met the Ziploc baggie of glucose tabs (most effective and dramatic in the case of plummeting numbers); I heard her numbers ("she's been at over 300 this week...running high because she's so excited for this sleepover...but today she has a new site for her pump and new insulin, so she's evening anytime...anytime"); I was told the schedule for blood tests (after dinner, right at bedtime, two or three hours after bedtime, and then we'd see). My head spinning a little, we were ready to chow and dig for bus fare.

So Friend A had a piece of pizza, got really big eyes during the bus ride (especially when a man in a wheelchair got on, and the huge mechanical ramp unfolded, and then the bus driver had to clip in his chair five different ways), and danced and jumped during the parade. At one point, when people on a float had tossed out candy, and all the other kids were unwrapping their suckers, Friend A turned to me, holding up a small mint, and asked, "Can I have this? It's less than one carb, so I won't need to dose." Jokingly, as I told her yes, I said, "Honey, I sooo don't have a grip on all this stuff; I have to believe anything you tell me." Her immediate, vehement response was, "I. take. it. very. seriously."

At that moment, it was all I could do not to hug the very breaf out of her body.

A few hours later, home, watching a movie, snacking, readying for bed, she checked her blood levels ("two-two-two," she told me), called her mom, dosed herself, and ran, giggling, up the stairs. As I tucked her in, I admitted to her that I was nervous to come in and wake her up in a few hours: "First off, we have a household policy never to wake a sleeping child, but also, since you're not my kid, and you're not used to me in the night, I worry that you're going to be scared when you wake up and think, 'Hey, whose big face is hovering above me?'"

Friend A nodded and admitted, "I'm probably going to be mad at you, actually. Because I'm tired, I'm pretty mean when I get woken up for a night time check."

"Hohboy," I sighed back at her. "Well, how about this: if you're really crabby when I wake you up, I'm going to start telling you things like how I'll buy you a pony in the morning and then we'll go get you some new roller blades and $500 worth of clothes at the mall, and then we'll go to the waterpark, if only you're nice to me?"

Having a complete bead on me, knowing I'm full of malarkey, Friend A grinned and said, "Deal."

Thus, once the rustling sounds in the girls' room ceased, the waiting began. Despite being outrageously tired from Paco's recent nights of no sleep, I decided to stay up and noodle around for a few hours instead of going to bed and then having to drag my own cranky self out of it a few hours later. 'Cause when you have to promise to buy yourself a pony, it doesn't feel special at all.

At almost one a.m., I crept in, ready for battle. Juggling her meter and kit, a tupperware full of rice cakes, and a bag of glucose tablets, I prepared to stroke her hair until her angry eyes opened.

However, Friend A, keyed up by the unfamiliar situation, woke immediately; she sat up, shivering, and rubbed her eyes. "Okay, honey, here's your stuff."

With unimaginable efficiency, she stabbed her finger, failed to draw blood, lanced it again, squeezed, put the resultant drop onto the slide, inserted it into the meter, licked her bleeding finger, and waited for the number.

A big 63 popped up.

Even I knew "low" when I saw it; only the next day did I look up the technical definition of "hypoglycemic." Immediately, Friend A said, "I have to eat something" and cracked into the rice cakes. Silent except for the crunching, we sat in the dark. "Now I need a tablet, too," she announced, and continued chewing.

When she was done, I asked, "Hey, girlie? That was kind of a low number. Do you think I should check you again in a few hours?"

And here's where she got me forever. The soft, sleepy, clinically-efficient nine-year-old in a sleeping bag responded, "I don't know. Maybe you should call my mom."

Certainly, the mom-to-mom phone call at 1 a.m. is no one's favorite duty. Fortunately, Friend A's mother is worthy of such a daughter and snapped to attention quickly. "Yes, that's low. She needs to eat." She did. "She needs to eat more. Do you have a granola bar? If you can get a granola bar into her, she'll be fine 'til morning. Was she really crabby with you? She gets like that when she's really low; her brain isn't firing right, you know. "

Yes, I had a granola bar. No, she hadn't been the slightest bit crabby. Oh, holy Richard Simmons, but her brain had been firing just fine.

We decided that, in the middle of the night, when you're nine and hypoglycemic, it's sometimes best to hear from Mom that you need to eat more. After a quick phone conversation and goodbye, Friend A and I sat again in the darkness, listening to her munch.

After the last swallow, she plopped back down onto her pillow and cashed out. Moments later, head plopped onto my own pillow, I took a few minutes to consider

how there is something heroic--something that qualifies as "above and beyond"--in a kid who lives stoically with chronic illness,

how jaw-dropping it is to see matter-of-factness in a little person who doesn't get to take her body for granted,

how much I respect that she doesn't inveigh against her blood, her pancreas, or the fact that her innards have a notion to defeat her,

how resolute she will have to be for the rest of her life--even during her college years, when she moves away from home, when everyone around her is engaged in a season of purposeful neglect of schedules and health and accountability--to even have a rest of her life,

how she gets to be her own best hero,

how I no longer needed a VW van at sunset

because I had a date to go buy a pony at sunrise.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"And People Say Kids Don't Pick Up After Themselves"

With the friendliest of intentions, one of our neighbors handed us a stack of magazines the other week.

They were very good magazines, but the realities of life mean it would be three years before we would ever actually read them. Clearly, while some of them could be donated to the rack at the gym, many of them just needed to go to recycling.

As I made a stack of Get Rid of These Magazines, a curious little face popped up from under the counter. Holy hell, but that startled me! What was it? A monkey loose from the zoo? A Killer Bee? A Tse-Tse fly? An airborne blood pathogen? A magical sprite?

Yes, a sprite. Of sorts. Which I realized only after I took out my handy-dandy fly swatter/monkey catcher kit and starting whacking wildly at the curious face.

"MOOOOOOM! Stooopppp! You're hitting me," the face hollered.

What. the.

When had monkeys learned to holler? Evolution is so cool.

It was Paco. Sensing an opportunity, he had crawled into the room and been watching me mutter and stack and start heaving magazines into the recycling bin.

"Could I have a couple of those?" he asked.

"Do you have matches?" I countered.

An innocent "no" came my way.

No dummy, I then asked, "Do you have a Bic lighter?"

"You mean one of those clicky things that makes a flame?" the innocent voice queried. "No, I don't have one of those."

"Do you have gasoline or a scythe or low-level explosives?" I needed to confirm.

"Not right now," he conceded. "But I do have scissors. Can I use scissors?"

Yes. Scissors fall under The Parental Umbrella of Approved Tools to Use In Conjunction with Newsprint, Recipe Cards, and Magazines.

Quickly, however, the boy realized that, compared to the claws that grow naturally on the ends of his fingers, scissors are clunky and ineffective.

Bare-handed, he tore the stuff apart.

Then, after he shredded it beyond repair (and as a boyfriend once did to my heart), the boy--curiously--felt the need to cradle the remnants for a brief period.

A quiet moment to consider the damage...

...and then--Hand to Heave and Martha Stewart!--an unaccountable need to clean up struck.

Seriously. What 6-year-old boy wants to tidy up? (not coincidentally, did you happen to read a previous post about this kid called "My Fine, Gay Son"?)

Reassuringly, midway through the clean-up, Paco realized he was actually a trash compactor, one that used its head.

...and its feet. High-end trash compactors have feet these days, you see.

Spic and span. Tidy and tight.

But what to do with the bag of scraps?

Sighing in defeat, I handed over the Bic lighter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Still At It"

Since I have stacks of papers this week--both revisions and new essays--I'm going to continue to milk the anniversary in this post.

Here are a couple of videos wherein I babble about our weekend. The first video has ice and gives you a spin of the kitchen.

This next video has a picture booklet and a quilt. Buckle up:

Friday, November 13, 2009


My dad was the person who taught me to be comfortable with silence. We could get in the car and drive for twenty minutes without a word being spoken. While his and my mother's relationship ultimately cracked under the weight of that silence, for me, the daughter, his quiet felt benign, reassuring, a safe place to be.

Even more, when he did speak, his words carried weight. A handful of my favorite memories, in fact, center around moments when he engaged in verbal expression. One time, after I'd won a forensics tournament out of town, returning from the meet late at night, I left my trophy on the dining room table. By the time I woke up later that day, my dad had left me a note, telling me he was so proud, he was "busting his buttons." Another time, after I'd behaved badly, he sat across from my hungover self and told me he was "deeply disappointed." Many years later, during the night when a bat flew into my house, and I had a fairly apeshit "I'm all alone, and the bat is trying to kill me" meltdown for three hours in my bathroom, I managed to grab my phone (with the bat only gnawing off one of my fingers above the knuckle as I reached for the receiver) and call my parents, over a thousand miles away. When I sobbed and sobbed that a killer beast was out there, and all I had were tampons for friends and nail files for weapons, my dad, casting about, counseled, "What you need to do is try to reach way down inside yourself now and find something you don't think you have. Dig deep, and you'll find something you need." He was right. We hung up, and I dug deep, finding inside myself the numbers 911, which I punched into the phone with great bravery.

Perhaps my fondest conversation with my dad occurred about a decade before his death. Chatting on the phone, we stumbled across the subject of my sister and me and our many differences. Trying to qualify the nature of the differences, my dad remarked that my sister took after his side of the family, where a certain dourness and pessimism sometimes manifested itself. “She reminds me of myself,” he noted, continuing, “and you don’t. You’re more, well, effervescent.”

There it was: one of those moments we hope for with our parents, those moments when they give us a word, an adjective, a feeling of being seen, and it signifies everything. It signifies that our parents see us as separate, as differentiated beings, that they have thought about us, that they have taken stock of us, that we are far enough away from them that the space has cleared everyone’s vision. Because such words, such adjectives, are born from the lifelong process of symbiosis to independence, they have power. Plus, anytime someone describes me to myself, I believe him.

It wasn’t even so much that I wanted to think of myself as “effervescent”—-although it was a welcome label—-but rather, it was more that I wanted to think of my dad thinking of me that way. Sometimes, from then on, I effervesced just for him.

It surprised me, then, to learn—-repeatedly--that a pipping personality didn’t reap greater rewards, in the larger scope of the world. Certainly, I didn’t expect to be voted into office on the Effervescence Platform, nor did I expect the medical field to approach me, asking me to donate to the Effervescence Transfusion Bank. But I did think being smiley and liking sunshine might have snagged me a boyfriend.

Fer damn crap smeared on a thrice-read Jane Austen novel.

Oh, all right.

I did date a guy through my 20’s, and then I truly, madly, deeply dated another guy—-one who left my two liters of effervescence out on the counter with the cap off and made all the bubbles go flat. He de-carbonated me in a way that no one ever had before, not even the boys on the high school bus who moo-ed at my sister and me.

He made my sizzle fizzle.

And then my grandma died, and the doc found a lump in my breast.

I was thirty-one.

Thirty-one wasn’t my favorite year.

Fortunately, I still had girlfriends who called, just when I was pacing the circle of my small kitchen for the 123rd time in an hour, gnawing on my cuticles, and they opened with, “Oh, honey. I just heard. Talk to me.” Even when I would have to set down the phone to grab another handful of Kleenex, they would stay on the line, shouting things like, “From the amount of snot you’re emitting, you do seem well-hydrated. And that’s something, right?” Also, I had family who knew how to circle ‘round gently and never look me straight in my teary eyes. Instead, they gave me food and invited me to participate in the yearly post-hunting butchering of the deer, and they talked at and around me.

Eventually, the molasses movement of seconds turned into minutes finally adding up into hours and days, and then months went by. My grandma was buried; the lump was benign; the former boyfriend had a new girl.

Just after the new year, one of my hunting cousins sent me an email, asking if I’d like to drive North to come visit them and, by the way, if I would be at all interested in letting him serve as my “agent in the field,” romantically.

Flattened, completely without zest or hope, my response was worthy of my father’s side of the family: “Go ahead, if you want to, but I won’t expect anything from it.”

Turns out my cousin already had someone in mind, a 28-year-old guy he worked with in a very small town of about 300. One day, sitting in the office, looking across at this 28-year-old, my cousin started musing, “How’s Guy ever going to find someone in this bohunk town?” A moment later, he thought back to Thanksgiving and the deer butchering and the conversations we’d had, which resulted in, “For that matter, how’s Jocelyn ever going to find someone in the bohunk town she’s living in?”

His head swiveled back and forth, and his thoughts rammed into each other. He approached Guy, who agreed, “Sure, you can be my agent in the field. But this cousin of yours, since she lives more than five hours away, she’d have to really knock my socks off for me to start seeing her.” Fair enough. Next, my cousin approached me.

It was agreed: I’d drive the five hours North and, while visiting my cousin’s family, meet Guy. In the past, imbued with effervescence, I’d greeted any opportunity to meet a potential partner with gusto and a knee-jerk, involuntary planning of our lives together. This time, I didn’t think much of the whole thing.

So we’d see.

That February, over Presidents' Day weekend, I visited. I got to hold my cousin’s baby a lot and watch his 4-year-old ice skate. One afternoon, we swung through the campus where Cousin worked. As we drove away, he said, casually, “Oh, that man back there who was leaning down, talking to people through their car window? The one in the red hat? That was Guy.”

Cousin, perhaps, didn’t understand that such information would have been welcome, say, two minutes earlier. Cousin is a man.

That night, the guy in the red hat strolled into Cousin's house, there for The Meeting, there for dinner. He carried a six-pack of homebrew.

I liked him already.

In short order, I learned that Guy not only wore a red hat and was quite tall. I also learned he really liked making bread, reading the Atlantic Monthly, and running on trails. I learned that he was an anthropology major who'd minored in Environmental Science. I learned that his Desert Island food would be cheese (dropped from a helicopter once a month, to supplement the fish and coconunts he would be living on otherwise); his Desert Island album would be Van Morrison's Moondance; his Desert Island book would be some sort of reference book, all the better if it contained maps.

I learned that, while the idea of him hadn't infused me with bubbles, the reality of him was creating a few tiny pops.

Dinner lasted five hours. As soon as he left, my previously-cool cousin and his wife, who had discreetly retired to the kitchen 8 feet away after dessert, were all nerves. They gave me all of thirty seconds after the door closed behind Guy before yelling, "SO? SO?????"

My response was positive, but guarded. He seemed nice. I would see more of him. If he wanted to.

But all the little broken pieces inside of me weren't quite realigned yet. I wasn't going to put myself forward this time. I couldn't take another dashing.

Fortunately, a few days later, Guy asked my cousin for my email address. It had been mutual. Apparently, his strongest first impression of me was that I had a lot of hair. He thought he "could get lost in it."

What ensued was a modern epistolary courtship. For three weeks, we sent messages back and forth, discovering that writing is an excellent way to get to know someone: the small talk is non-existent; the conversations get to meaty matters right away; there is no body language to read or misread, no annoying laugh to cringe from.

After three weeks, Guy announced he was ready to "jump off the comfortable dock" and into the potentially-frigid waters of face-to-face. Thus, during my Spring Break in March, I headed North again, for our first real date.

As we sat in a dingy bar, having burgers and beers, conversation flowed. Snow fell.

Like 14" of it.

When it came time to take Guy to his house before driving back to my cousin's place, my car got stuck. In the snow. At Guy's house. He didn't seem to mind. His roommates were friendly. I stayed over.

I had no choice.

What I learned in those days of my Spring Break was that Guy liked to listen to me read aloud--and if that's not an activity of the infatuated, I don't know what is. He also proved that he's very good at necking.

And, about three days in, after he'd had a bath one night, Guy came back into his bedroom, where I lounged. "Brrrrrr," he exclaimed. "My feet are cold!"

"Why are they so cold? You just got out of the bath tub," I noted.

"They're freezing because. you. knocked. my. socks. off" was the answer.

Suddenly, right then, right there: there it was. The effervescence was back, the flatness banished.

It was all going to be all right.

Not too long afterward, as I stared very hard at the ceiling, I admitted I had fallen in love. He had the right answer.

By the end of my Spring Break week, five days after our first date, we had talked about what kind of wedding we wanted.

Four months later, one July morning, as I slept on a futon on the floor, he crawled in with a plate of pancakes and a Betsy Bowen woodcut entitled "Fox on a Journey."

And he asked me to marry him.

In quick order, we planned a wedding for the following May.

In even quicker order, like, the night we got engaged, I got pregnant. Three months after that, I had a miscarriage. Four days after that, we found out I'd been carrying twins, and one was still hanging on.

We moved the wedding to that November 13th, not nine months after we first played the Desert Island game over dinner. Guy became Groom right there at the environmental learning center where I'd first not-quite-spotted-him in his red hat. The bleeding from the miscarriage had stopped three days earlier. I sobbed through the vows.

Four months later, Jocelyn and Groom became Jocelyn and Groom and Girl.

All of that wonder unfolded in 1999. Not given to dreaming about the future before then, I have since been granted beauties I couldn't possibly have imagined.

He likes to touch me. He likes me to touch him.
He cooks dinner every night.
He has been our stay-at-home parent since Girl was born.
At promptly 8:00 every night, he brings me a drink.
He is unfazed by my random bursts of tears.
He is whimsical. He is dry. He is perceptive.
He sees that my ability to talk to people is as valuable as his ability to do everything else.
He likes to play cribbage.
He knows how to give me directions that make sense, like "go straight until you see the big rock shaped like Richard Nixon's head."
He takes my ideas and makes them happen.
He just brewed a new batch of beer.

And, like my father, he is gentle. Like my father, he has a thousand-watt smile.

Like my father, he is given to quiet, most comfortable in stillness.

Thus, ten years in to the marriage, we often sit and watch the world flit by

holding hands in companionable silence.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Just Jam It All into the Inbox and Yell 'F*** It' A Lot"

There is a National Association of Professional Organizers.

In the Denver area, a professional organizer makes $75/hour.

My sister, overwhelmed and anxious in the face of her stacks of belongings, uses a professional organizer. In fact, she's committed to drawing upon the inheritance from our dad's and grandmother's estates to pay this organizer until the job is done.

The thing about being overwhelmed by stacks of crap is that the feeling doesn't go away easily or for pay, necessarily. At the very least, we might need a great aunt to die in the next few years. See, my sister's garage holds her teaching materials. And she's taught for more than twenty years, at four different grade levels, in four different countries. Plus, she seriously loves her some kiddie lit.

Friends, there are milk crates and shelving units and big plastic tubs in my sister's garage. There is the intention of organization. But it ain't there yet.

In fact, we might need all remaining relations to kick off before Kirsten's garage is entirely inventoried and ordered. It would help if those relations could please get richer before they die.

Despite hiring a personal organizer, my sister has been needing further outside assistance. Cleverly, she did the math (carrying the one) and realized it would be cheaper to fly me to Denver than to pay her organizer for equivalent hours. With the plan that I'd come for a weekend and help her get organized, she bought me a ticket.

Just to double the oomph of the whole thing, though--and a clear sign of her desperation--she also booked her personal organizer for 4 hours one of the mornings of my visit. Even though we all worked with great diligence, I'm not sure my sister got her $500 worth.

And that amount doesn't even figure in the lateral filing cabinet she was instructed to get, nor the new bookshelf I told her she needed. Or the in and outboxes. Or the six new plastic tubs. Or the picture boxes.

Or the graduated metal desktop organizer.

We pretty much had to take a moment in Target and thank our dad for working so hard all his life and having the foresight to set up some paperwork that brought his leavin's to us, after he passed.

One day, Kirsten and I spent some time in the garage, going through her bins of books. She only had every Beverly Cleary book two times over. Ultimately, we got rid of four milk crates of kid books.

She only got a little teary twice during this process. Then she announced it was time to be done. We needed to watch some HGTV shows. We were people who were hunting for houses. Internationally.

The next day, the professional organizer came. She wore camouflage pants, which made me fear and respect her even more than her well-slicked hair did.

Professional Organizer is going through a divorce.

Apparently, some things can't be stored in a box with a lid, no matter how well labeled.

She had a plan for our morning. She and Kirsten set up a filing system for the new lateral filing cabinet, which Kirst and I had spent a few hours putting together the night before.

It helped that Kirsten knew where her three tools (flathead screwdriver, Phillips screwdriver, hammer) were. It also helped that we had a vast repertoire of cusses.

We only broke one of the two drawers during the process.

But you hardly notice the absence of the broken drawer (the glue was still drying), do you? That's what a Vanna White flourish will do for any situation: mask and distract.

The next morning, when the organizer came, the drawer was in place. We appeared, so long as one didn't probe or test the glue, competent.

Then Professional Organizer opened the drawers and noted that they were wrong--that this shelving was made for legal-sized documents, not 8 1/2 x 11" papers.

Kirsten called a handyman. He will come next week and saw some new slots into the drawers, at which time all the bins of newly-filed papers will be put into them. Until then, the whole desk area looks a little undone. A little disorganized.

But the papers are in file folders. And everything is labeled. Almost makes a person think Professional Organizer's marriage could work out after all.

While they worked on papers, I tackled the upstairs closet, which was full of All Kinds of Everything, including a broken cuckoo clock.

Everything came out, and I followed Professional Organizer's three-step process (she went to class for this, incidentally, so the information you're about to read is probably patented and trademarked):

1) Gather together like items (such as all photos) in a heap;

2) Go through and decide what you need to keep and what you need to get rid of;

3) Deposit things you need to keep into a containment system. Get rid of the rest.

I know.

So, after jotting down a few notes on my palm, I did just that. Actually having my sister go through things and get them into a system, however, would take weeks. So I regrouped stuff, asked her a few questions (only one of which made her cry), and made it tub ready. In the future, she should go through the tubs and make further decisions or do more detailed organizing.

That's probably not going to happen. The Amazing Race might be on that day.

There's also a lot of Bejeweled Blitz to play on Facebook.

Here's the final look of the closet, when I was done.

As I worked in the closet room, which houses my sister's books, I realized her book mania was spilling over. Every shelf had stacks of books with no home, stacks that obscured the books behind. I lobbied for a new bookshelf.

Worn down, powerless, amenable, my sister agreed. Two nice young men at Target hefted the thing into the car, sideways, across the front seat. I rode in the back and called Kirsten "Jeeves."

Once home, we had to turn to Flathead, Phillips, and Hammer one more time. We didn't break anything.

Of course, a few pieces went on backwards.

WHAT? The shelf still holds books, no matter how backasswardly it was assembled. Don't get all poncey and superior on me.

The back of the shelf was supposed to be attached with forty screws.

Kirsten decided eight would do.

These guys are just waiting to bust out the flimsy back door of their new home.

There were about ten more stacks, not seen in these photos. They were at Starbucks.

The end result. Please do not comment that there appears to be an unhung clock on the chair. I don't have time to write about how Kirst won't actually put nails in her walls, which leaves all pictures (and clocks) leaning against their intended place. She's lived there 2.5 years. One step at a time, my friends. One step. at. a. time.

Another end result, despite files remaining unfiled, the garage remaining unorganized, and my sister's wallet being seriously deflated,

is that I spent time with one of the two people on the planet who will know me cradle to grave.

We ate teriyaki bowls. She took me to Whole Foods and to its inbred cousin, Sprouts. She smiled tolerantly when I squealed over the quality of the napkins at the Whole Foods gelato counter, napkins that could serve as a night-time diaper on a three-month-old. She shared candy bars with me. She showed me how to use the remote. She burned me six CD's of songs out of her Itunes. She took me two Jazzercise (which is another twelve posts in itself) and to three running trails.

She gave me a big hug at the aiport and asked when she can fly me back out, to help with the garage.

As a result of this whole trip, now I have a friend in Austin, Texas, who's planning to give me a ticket to visit her.

Seems she still has the dress she wore when she graduated from college twenty years ago. It doesn't fit.

Also, her Christmas decorations are already out.

Because they were never put away after last year.

I am delighted by her tousled state of affairs, if it means I get to see her.

And I'm considering--seriously--doing some training and starting a side career as a professional organizer. We could use the money (especially if I precede my sister in death; if I've earned some supplemental income, I'll be able to bequeath her enough to hire Professional Organizer for the twelve hours it would take to go through her stacks of sweatshirts).

Before I can start this new career, though, I'm gonna need some camouflage pants.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

"Hello, PetCo? I'd Like to Cancel My Line of Credit"

When I met him, my husband was a naturalist.

Raise your hand if your first thought, after reading that sentence, went a little something like "Jocelyn's husband was a nudist????"

Now put your hand down, Tinkerbell. You're all alone in front of your computer, after all, which means it's kind of queer to keep sitting there with your handing waving around, as though Mrs. Hwiggens will call on you eventually and let you shout out--wrongly--that "12 x 12 is 142!!!"

Indeed, put down your hand now. Straighten your shoulder pads, and wet down your forelock. Stop trying to learn your times tables (as if you can learn anything new at your age). Come back to the story.

When I met him, my husband was a naturalist. This meant he taught outdoorsy stuff at an environmental education center: white-tailed deer; beaver; water ecology; rock climbing; snowshoeing; the ropes course. Before working at the center an hour and a half north of Duluth, he had worked at a center in the Adirondacks in New York, at Florissant Fossil Beds and Mesa Verde in Colorado, and on a barrier island off of North Carolina. To this day, he has strong memories of each place, of communities of friends; of helping to slaughter a pig; of appearing in National Geographic in his full park ranger gear; of grits.

Interestingly, he is a naturalist who doesn't care for animals ("I like the flora, not the fauna," he explains). Most people greet that bit of information with a gasp, as though it signals a moral failing. In fact, we were at a dinner party some years back when it came out that two of the guests weren't "animal people," and the discussion that ensued over this was only resolved when one of them--the not-my-husband one of them--stated categorically, "It's actually okay for me not to like animals. It's within my rights not to want animals around me everyday. I'm still a good person." She was so clear, so strident, so much the hostess of the party that the hubbub fell silent; thusly chastened, the animal lovers returned to cutting off large bites of their pork loin.

Because Groomeo doesn't care particularly for animals, and because I have felt in the last decade that I already have enough small creatures, in the shape of Girl and Paco, to take care of, we haven't had a pet.

Girl, who would be more aptly tagged "Groomie's Girl," is just like her father. Occasionally, she has made a limp gesture at pretending to want a dog, but mostly she's too busy avoiding all animals in the vicinity to finish the thought. Paco has followed her lead, until recently, when he finally expressed a desire to get a pet. His only caveats are that he doesn't want to touch it, clean up after it, or feed it. He would very much like to name it, though.

Paco has learned much at his mama's knee.

At any rate, we tried to feed the boy's need last winter, when we got him a beta fish. You know, Anikin. That fish, with only two balled-up fins and a baleful glare, actually managed to convey anger, misanthropy, and even a feeling of malevolence. I fully anticipated he would leap the tank one night and crawl down someone's throat, just for the joy of choking off an air supply.

It wasn't our saddest day when Anikin hated his way to the Grave That Flushes.

Then we had a quiet few months of relative ease, months when we merely struggled to care for our own curfuddled selves.

On Labor Day, however, we drove up the shore of Lake Superior and hung out with some friends for the afternoon at a place called Gooseberry Falls. There, Paco and a compatriot found some warm pools in the rocks, pools full of tadpoles. Desperately wanting one, but completely unwilling to touch anything slimy (he's the anti-six-year-old boy, you see), Paco tried to cajole his parents into catching one. Better luck came when we gave him an empty tupperware for scooping; he managed to snare one and, in turn, pride himself on being a veritable lion tamer.

Get this: over the ensuing weeks, we didn't kill the thing. I don't know how it happened, but the tadpole didn't die, and when it went through its evolution, we were fascinated. Before September, I thought I'd had a good sense of the whole "and then the little tadpole becomes a mighty frog" process, having seen it in the 1970's in a filmstrip--but the truth is I had no idea. Watching the tadpole get legs and become more frogian everyday was riveting.

Suddenly, though, the transformation was complete. We had a frog, and not just any ordinary hopper but, rather, a tree frog, replete with them space-age type grippy sucker toes and a jet pack. Paco named him Grippo, and we were off, skipping down the path of pet ownership...

which entailed us running around in circles, dithering, "What do we feed a tree frog? What kind of habitat do we need? Who will clean its habitat? Do we need to clean its habitat? Do frogs even poop, or can we ignore it and thereby never have to clean its habitat?"

Fortunately, there were neighborhood experts mere yards away: the family with four boys. They gave us a lesson in catching crickets and loaned us a habitat, and we all settled in to the idea of watching our new pet climb every pencil we stuck into his tank. A tiny piece of me felt--no, not love--but contentment that my children might one day exhibit interest in going to a zoo.

Grippo suckers up the side of his house

The frog mansion...

which all too quickly was returned to the neighbors when Grippo hopped off to the Great Froggy Mansion In the Sky after about three days.

Seems a piece of his tail never fell off when he left the tadpole stage. Takes about three days for remnant tail to mold and toxify its carrier. Takes about two seconds to flush a frog corpse.

Takes about two months for a six-year-old boy to find a replacement pet. Yup, this week Paco has hit upon a solution that satisfies the whole family, from his animal-averse father to his allergic-to-cats sister to his Pilates-loving mother:

His name is Max. He doesn't eat, so there's no food to buy; he doesn't poop, so there's no cleaning up; he likes to play with kids, so we get to hear their giggles; he doesn't bite, so we don't need a muzzle; he doesn't mold, so he won't gradually become glassy-eyed and moss-covered; he is perfect.

Max sleeps at the foot of Paco's bed each night, and every morning the lad rolls his pet into our bedroom. They romp together, and sometimes Paco holds Max on his lap while he eats dinner.

One thing, though:

if he ever pops, Max is going to be a bugger to flush down the toilet.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

"A Guest Post from My Pal Jim Who Grew Up in Wisconsin, Spent Many Years in Minnesota, and Now Lives in Palm Springs"

So, yes, the post below is the latest pinch hitting by my friend, Jim; in past times, he's also written about performing in GREASE and seeing Elizabeth Taylor. In this latest, he considers his move to California a couple of years back. Enjoy his musings, as I jet off to Colorado this weekend to help my sister organize her clutter! (I've been practicing a severe expression as I announce, "You don't need that. You don't need that either. Get rid of that. Take that one to the Goodwill. Burn that.")

My only addition to Jim's post are a few quotes about the phenomenon that is Governor Schwarzenegger's state:

“As one went to Europe to see the living past, so one must visit Southern California to observe the future.”--Alison Lurie

“There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California.”--Edward Abbey

“Southern California, where the American Dream came too true”--Lawrence Ferlinghetti

"A View From the Porch"

It’s been two years and three months since I arrived in the desert. High time I wrote some thoughts about living here.

I’m sitting on what I’m going to start calling my “Writing Porch.” It’s one of three patios at my apartment. And I’m sitting in the sun, laptop on the table, and the sun is so bright the apple on the other side of the screen is showing through. Do you think I’ll write more if I call it the Writing Porch? Michael Chabon has a writing studio in his back yard. Just sayin’.

I’ve been such a crank lately, bitching over cocktails about everything from problems at work to my dismal love life. (No offense to the two guys who have dated me this month; not talking about you.) I better get some thoughts in about what is good about living in this beautiful area.

For the beauty of it, I will just give you this photograph.

There is little more beautiful than the view of snow from a distance.

(Photo by Tony DiSalvo)

Okay, just took off my shirt. (Take that Michael Chabon.) Yep, it’s warm here in Palm Springs. Eighty-five degrees on November 1st is, let’s just say, insane. In a nice way--not like Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun, more like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Puerto Vallarta.

What’s really insane, in the way of ET having a frontal lobotomy against her wishes, is this place in the fracking summer. Alex: “June, July, and August.” Jim: “What are the best three reasons to be a teacher?” Not so much here. Three to four months of heat in the 120 degree range. It’s a dry heat my mother’s aunt! An oven’s an oven, sweeties.

Having lived in extreme cold, though, I can tell you this: extreme heat is more bearable. You can sit still on a hundred-degree day if you’re in the shade and drink a nice shandy. Outside. Then you can go into your air-conditioned apartment and watch Keith Olberman. Can’t do that in the tundra of Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Maine (other places I’ve live) when it’s 30 below. (Okay, you can watch Keith if you have cable, a hot toddy, and a snuggie.)

It’s no use, you northerners, saying how much you like the cold or value the Change of Seasons. You might as well say you enjoy the Change of Life. My stalwart brother even posted on Facebook the other day the opening line to “California Dreamin’”: “All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray.” I couldn’t help but reply that he knew where and how he could be safe and warm.

The view from my Writing Porch.

On the other hand is the bitching. A couple of years before I moved here, a friend talked about weekending in Palm Springs. Well, talked is a bit generous. He ranted: “There’s nothing to do there! There’s NOTHING to do there.” And he’s pretty much right. Sure, there’s hiking in the mountains, drinking in the bars. And tennis for those who play. And that Scottish game that takes up all that lovely parkland. But nightlife? Forget it. One museum: good. Movies: good. International Film Festival: two weeks in January.

There’s no one under sixty who is single (see above re: love life). Why even yesterday there was a rather fetching guy my age getting his haircut next to me. “I think he has a partner,” says my Guy with Scissors. Natch.

So we’re saved from boredom by our proximity to Los Angeles and the coast.

But Jeeves! I think my laptop’s overheating.

And did you see those mountains?

Epilogue: just this week, Jim decided to start his own blog, Long Slow Distance. If you have a minute, please go visit him and his post at their new crib:

Monday, November 02, 2009

"You Want to Come to Their Potluck"

I noted in my last post that my body is descended from a long line of human couches. I like to think our cushions are covered in the softest of plush upholsteries and that those allowed to fluff our throw pillows are both deserving and grateful.

Below is a literal line-up of my genetic line: three great aunts, plus my grandma, Dorothy (she's second from the right). They all grew up on a ranch in Montana; they all married ranch hands; they all made (make!--two of them are still alive and cooking, albeit with limited sight and fluctuating memory) hella good chocolate cakes and peach pies; they all never shirked a day's work in their lives.

Interestingly, while the La-Z-Boy trait passed on nicely to me, the "work ethic" gene got lost in the bloodline somewhere along the way.

Anyhow, this is the photo that caused my dear galpal, Pammy--herself a bit of an overstuffed chair--to exclaim, "I look at that picture, and all I see are hips and breasts! Oh, honey, you didn't stand a chance, did you?"

Not when it came to breasts and hips, I didn't, no.

But in so many other ways, I did.