Death is not interested in your pleading, young pink pope. Well, maybe Death is interested, because Death is the sort of being who finds the fervent denial of bejeweled persons amusing, but in the end nothing you say will make to make any difference because Death brings everything and everyone and every situation to an end eventually, and thank god for that. Because death is change and change is life, and isn’t that a cosmic hoot.
The process of becoming Extremely Online again is going just fine, thank you. I updated my About page to reflect that fact that Let’s Panic went out of print last spring, after seven years of unrivaled success in the pregnancy-and-parenthood-expert mockery section of your local bookstore that probably closed two years ago. Actually, it feels like independent, brick and mortar bookstores may be on a bit of an upswing. That is my perception, it’s what I sense from my tiny perch on this stool in my attic office overlooking a hedge and three garbage cans.
I have that sense because now that I’m on a break from writing I am reading actual novels again, stories printed on paper, like some sort of literate person. I just finished Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, and have finally begun reading that classic True Grit. Neither book is all that recent, but I think any author would hope that their published work would last in the public consciousness at least as long as it took for them to write it. Even if the financial return isn’t that great, it seems like the energetic output you make ought to balance out somehow. Said the woman who just spent six years writing a novel and has been waiting five weeks to hear what her agent thinks of this latest draft.
In becoming online again I also made the terrible discovery that all my Yogabeans photos had vanished. I was pretty upset! Once upon a time I’d put a fair amount of work into that site and found a lot of chuckles in the writing of it and in the comments I got, so I never backed any of it up. I trusted the Internet to keep it forever. I deleted every single carefully posed action figure photo from my photo library to free up the space on my laptop.
Miraculously, Squarespace unearthed the whole site somehow and now the whole page is restored! That was Saturday, and now it’s Thursday and I still haven’t downloaded and backed up any of the photos. Will I? Who knows!
I was pretty depressed over the weekend and it took a while for me to grasp the source of it. The news has been terrible lately. Children are starving to death in Yemen and politicians got pipe bombs in the mail and a Pittsburgh synagogue got shot up by a deluded idiot, and also people I know had loved ones get sick and die, and it all leaves behind a lot of intense grief. I took on just a small part of this global and national and personal grief in an unconscious and unproductive way and was quickly swamped by it. “Do I need to get a divorce?” I thought in my darkest moment, wondering if this deadened feeling I had was because I had no one to turn to because my husband had spent most of the weekend doing his own recovery by watching a shitload of sports TV. And then I realized what I needed to do to feel better was mail in my ballot for the mid-term election because fuck all the awful people who shouldn’t be in charge anymore.
If I were in charge I might dress like a bee every day.
Not shown are the little bee antennae I wore for the bee ball that night, and I just realized that my slippers were criss-crossed on my feet so the bee prince will never be able to find me now. OH, well.
I got David Sedaris’s “Theft by Finding” for Christmas and finally read it last month, I don’t know why I waited so long except that ugh, it was so big, and diaries? Why. I mean, I know diaries are a venerable literary form and all that. I don’t even know what I’m complaining about, honestly. I’m just in a mood. A Big Mood, as the kids say. My kid is seventeen, by the way. I don’t think it’s legal for me to post photos of him anymore, so I’ll describe him for you: six-foot-two, hair longer than mine, a near-Barrymore profile, eyebrows like two fine kabuki smudges. He sleeps like a pony.
What else is new with me? Gosh, it’s been two years since I posted last. I knowingly broke my RSS feed by changing around the links a couple of times, because that felt like a fresh start, to cut off all ties. I finished writing my novel, I think. It’s being read by my agent right now, so fingers crossed she won’t come back at me with so many new insights that I have to rewrite it again. Some chapters have gone through more than twenty drafts. I can’t describe how it feels to not give up on a project of this breadth for six years. I just knew I had to finish it, see it through to a state where I felt it was complete, where I was done, where I’d said everything I had to say and said it the way that conveyed exactly what I meant. I grew deeply in touch with some long-suppressed perfectionist tendencies, and we are friends now. We have embraced, our hands in each others back pockets, inseparable as a long-haired 1970s couple who you can’t tell who’s a boy or a girl from behind. This is a deeply personal reference and there’s no promise that if you keep reading I will provide an explanation.
Well, okay: Cher and Greg Allman.
If I still owe you a drawing, will you please let me know? My spreadsheet disappeared and I never got the last dozen sent and I have been carrying this terrible knowledge around with me for five years or more. It may be why I stopped blogging, honestly, the guilt. Please yell at me through eden m kennedy at g mail dot com. PLEASE. Yell at me tenderly, though. Wrap me up in a blanket of your disappointment. We’ll fix this together.
George Cooney is here to remind everyone who filed an extension about the upcoming tax deadline.
I got into my first #BlackLivesMatter argument with a stranger! It was not #superfun.
The organization I work for has a sidewalk sign and we change the message every week. Usually it's a short, inspirational quote, but it's a liberal organization so I'm often on my guard in case someone walks into the office and has a problem with whatever's out there. It's not really my job to defend the organization and its views -- I'm not a member, I just work there -- but often the higher-ups have better things to do than argue with strangers so my job sometimes entails defusing cranks.
Unfortunately, when Mr. All Lives Matter called our office this week, I did not have on my Welcoming Hat of Patience and Respect. Instead my plumage was bright with righteousness and spread wide about me, and soon, as witnesses will attest, I was just talking over the guy and he was talking over me and we were getting nowhere.
And I hate confrontation. You really have to push me hard before I snap. But after a couple of fruitless minutes where I'm sure my heart rate doubled, my many years in customer service finally kicked in and I just shut up and let him rant. Normally that's a good technique to use with angry customers, to let them explain the depth and breadth of their problem unimpeded. And maybe he just wanted to be listened to by someone he perceived as the problem, or the enemy, or just ignorant and in need of educatin'.
The second technique that works with angry customers is to find something neutral to apologize for -- "I'm so sorry this happened to you," is almost guaranteed to get them on your side and to believe you're actually going to fix their problem* -- but since there was no way on God's green earth I was going to apologize for my defense of our beleaguered Black brothers and sisters, Plan C was just to wait until he said something I could reasonably agree with, which he eventually did.
"Politicians are all crooked, they're not going to fix this!" he said, almost pleadingly, which allowed me to jump back in and say, "I agree, this is not something politicians can fix, the people have to do it." This gave us both the out we were looking for.
"You know, I learned something from you today," he said approvingly, "and I hope you learned something from me, too," though what he taught me was to get to the listening part a lot faster next time, and then tell him to put it all in a letter to my boss.
*Do not try this with me, Blue Shield, I see right through you.
The best thing to counteract all the office drama was the fact that, because I work in a historic landmark building, it's also a Pokemon Gym, so all throughout the week people were standing around the courtyard or sitting on the steps staring at their phones and battling with their Pokemon. I admit, I tried to pit my completely underpowered Rhyhorn against a champion Charmeleon, who immediately handed me my own ass.
I am now on what appears to be the final draft of my manuscript, and that is #superfun! I love editing and rewriting, it's the best part of all of this. I would tinker with this book for years, I would polish and touch up until I die but Jack would probably kill me first (I know that makes no sense but believe me, he'd figure out a way).
I still have no health insurance, but I've been assured by my insurer that should anything happen to me while they're untangling the unholy mess they made, I'll be covered retroactively. Jackson would like someone to look at his shoulder but I haven't made the appointment yet because I don't believe either Blue Shield or the state will reimburse me. I know that sounds like I value my money more than my son's health, but his vague discomfort is not pressing enough for me to start writing checks to an escalating cadre of specialists. Please use this post as evidence of my neglect when Jackson's NBA career is cut tragically short by a career-ending rotator cuff injury.
Lastly, I'd like to recommend a few newsletters I subscribe to. Alice Bradley's Weekly Newsletter, of course. The Awl has a great one called "Everything Changes" and it always manages to say just the right thing when I need it. Sean Bonner's "The Crowd" always points me in good directions. And Meaghan O'Connell's "Like This" is a wonderful chronicle of her life as she writes a book and lives with her husband and young child while feeling somewhat adrift in the Cayman Islands.
When something hard goes down that's outside my scope of personal experience, yet within my scope of human understanding, this is my first step: I empathize. There's an easy trick to putting yourself in someone else's shoes. It's a little thought experiment I like to call putting yourself in someone else's shoes.
There was a great Reddit thread where a bunch of (mostly white) people (men) posted their racist realizations, the experiences that woke them up to what shitheads they'd been. (The whole thread is here.)
This is the one that I still think about:
I got a lot of writing done this weekend. I took Sunday off (my normal work week runs Sunday to Thursday so I always get Friday and Saturday off), and then Monday was a holiday, and so I magically created a four-day weekend for myself without realizing that because I haven't worked at this job for a year yet, I don't actually have any vacation time accrued yet.
So I may not be a genius at calendar-using and job-having, but because of those four days I am about 95% done with my novel. It's been four years, Mrs. Kennedy, you might be saying, How long could it possibly take a person unable to read an employee handbook to plumb the depths of the modern human spiritual condition?
Well, first of all, you need to stop being so sarcastic (you were being sarcastic, right? It's hard for me to read your tone), but I'll answer your question anyway, Jeeves. It takes as long as it goddamn takes.
Okay, I'm sorry for cursing, but you have to stop creating so much drama all the time.
Actually, I was the one creating all the drama because by Monday I was unaware of my own mental exhaustion and took to stomping around the house, angrily folding laundry, and loudly blaming my husband for the boredom I was facing because he didn't want to go get ice cream with me. Then I stomped out of the house, intending to go get some goddamn ice cream by myself, but the sun was so hot that I literally got ten feet down the street and turned around and came back. Then I pounded on the door (because who brings a key when they're taking an angry walk to punish their family for already knowing that it's too hot to walk and get ice cream?), stomped back inside when Jack let me in, threw myself into bed, read five pages of the new book I'm reading, and promptly fell asleep for two hours.
Then I woke up and apologized to everyone. I am a giant toddler who just needs to go down for a nap sometimes.
I do some thinking on my walks to work, and this morning I was wondering if I should write some sort of farewell post for Peewee's Instagram account, or if I should just let it go. I mean, the Instagram bulldog subcommunity is pretty involved so I'm sure I'd get some nice comments, but on the other hand, the thought of thinking up something to say makes me tired and sad.
Then I wondered if I should just blow it off and start a new Instagram for the kitten, but the thought of trying to write funny captions and take cute-but-not-too-cute photos every day made me tired all over again. The only thing I like about the idea is picking a new username. Unfortunately, CASSCAT, ASSCAT, and CATASS are all taken. Sorry, Cassie. No Instagram fans for you today.
Looking to win a prize at your Fourth of July potluck? Want to be the envy of all the boys down at the pool hall? Eager to gain the acceptance of some terrible religious sect that would just as soon drown you for the heathen you are?
Have I got a recipe for you!
Potato Chip Cookies
(From a butter-stained July 2012 Cook's Country magazine I found on the floor of a closet at work.)
Makes 24 cookies
- 3/4 cup (3.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (1.5 ounces) reduced-fat potato chips*, crushed fine
- 1/4 cup pecans, toasted in a dry pan and chopped fine
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, softened but still cool
- 1/4 cup (1.75 ounce) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) confectioner's sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 rimmed** baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine flour, potato chips, pecans, and salt in a bowl.
- Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter, granulated sugar, and confectioner's sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg yolk and vanilla and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low and slowly add flour mixture in 3 additions. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and space 3 inches apart on baking sheets. Flatten dough balls to 1/4-inch thickness with bottom of floured drinking glass.
- Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until cookies are just set and lightly browned on bottom, 10 to 13 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Let cookies cool completely on sheets, about 15 minutes. Serve. (Cookies can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.)
* Cape Cod 40% Reduced Fat Potato Chips are the thing you need here because they stay crunchy and any other type of chip will be too oily, says Cooks Country magazine. I was afraid Cape Cod 40% Reduced Fat Potato Chips were going to be some Gwyneth Paltrow-level nonsense, but it turned out that people actually eat these things and they carried them at my neighborhood grocery store, which is frequented by everyone from transients to bewildered French tourists.
** If, like me, you are not a person who owns three rimmed baking sheets, I grant thee permission to use whatever the hell pan you can find that has a large-ish flat bottom.
And I know you're nnnnnot supposed to eat raw cookie dough, but who are we kidding? This stuff isn't going to wash itself off your hands, it needs help. From your teeth. The dough tastes like the 1950s Midwest to me. Like a fat grandma mixed them up with a wooden spoon that she once used to whip your dad.
But then, while they're baking, the mood lifts and the whole kitchen begins to smell like Christmas.
Finally, once they're baked, cooled, and in your mouth, the taste becomes something wholly different. It's the most delicate, crumbly, toasted-pecan sandie shortbread that I've ever coaxed out of a mixing bowl, and not only am I proud of myself for actually following the directions to the letter, for once, but I experienced a brief inner tremor that, left unexamined, would surely have led to me eating the rest of the cookies, the parchment paper, and the baking sheets, both rimmed and unrimmed, with a cup of roasted dandelion tea (which is so good for your liver and kidneys).
EDITED TO ADD: SORRY
In other news, this person is now halfway to thirty:
He arrived in our lives eight days late and he's kept a casual way about him ever since.
[One week ago]
"Do you want to go out for dinner for your birthday?"
"I don't know."
[Four days ago]
"Do you want a cake?"
[This morning -- I bring him a hard-boiled egg with googly eyes sticking out of it for breakfast in bed]
"Happy birthday, Beast."
[One eye opens]
"Love you, Mom."
[Falls back asleep. Eons go by. A comet destroys all humanity. Dinosaurs re-take the earth.]
[He sits up]
"Dad, I finally figured out what I wanted for lunch."
[His father gurgles from the grave]
"Seriously, Dad? I have to make my own hot dog?"
I keep putting off writing this post. It's a beautiful day, where I am, in a bright room with a breeze, and yet here I sit, sad for no reason. My normal coping method is to lean into it, to hunker down and find a way to enjoy the bluer moods. Don't feel like smiling? Then don't. The only problem is that I work in a public place and it's 50% of my job to be welcoming and helpful. If I were the boss of me, today I'd have sent me home.
Peewee died ten days ago, and I have to figure that's at least part of the sadness. I keep thinking I've cried all my tears when, whoops, here come some more.
He almost made it to nine years old, which is a good, long life for an English bulldog. I read an interesting article a few years ago that talked about how bad the breeding has gotten for many English bulldogs, and as an example they used Uga, the mascot for the University of Georgia Bulldogs. There have been a string of white, male bulldogs named Uga who trot out onto the field while people cheer, and then hop back into their crates and die. At young ages, like two and three. Yay for over-bred dogs. Peewee had congestive heart failure for the last two years of his life -- not a disease bulldogs are known for, surprisingly -- and I threw thousands of pills down his throat to keep him alive and snoring in Jackson's bed at night. (If you live north of L.A. and need a good veterinary cardiologist -- and I sincerely hope you never do -- I recommend Dr. Nick Russell without reservation). With Dr. Russell's guidance, my willingness to max out a credit card, and Peewee's kidneys of steel, we gave him two extra years of life. Our regular vet said she was amazed at how well we took care of him, when most other dogs would have been long dead by that point. Most people have a $500 limit for what they'll spend to save a pet's life, I'm told. I respect your $500 limit, but we exceeded that to a laughable degree. Did we love our dog more than you loved yours? I don't know. Ours was a pain in the ass. He barked at strangers, and at people he'd known for years. He produced impenetrable walls of gas from his butt. He also had the softest ears, and the biggest, brownest eyes, and when he liked you he'd sit on your feet. And he had just as much of a spark as you or me.
Remember Cookie? She's dead, too. I stopped writing about her a long time ago, though occasionally people would e-mail and ask what had happened to her.
They say there are no bad dogs, just bad owners, but you don't have to be abusive to be a bad owner, all you have to be is dumb. Cesar Milan would have wept to see how lost I was with Cookie. Me trying to tell her what to do was a joke. She'd listen to Jack all day long, but I was mildew to her; I was a mushroom.
And yet Cookie was a cuddler. She was the neediest, lap-sitting-est bulldog on earth, and everyone loved her. I took her to three different trainers, and they all said, What a wonderful dog! She's so sweet! She sits, she's gentle with children. Enjoy her! But she had no respect for me whatsoever. I did not deserve to control her leash, and she made sure I knew it. She was constantly nipping at my hands -- "correcting" me, I'm told -- leaving bruises but never drawing blood. I had no idea why until I read that you're never supposed to hold a puppy over your head, because they'll take that to mean they're superior to you. I don't know if it's true, but I know that I hoisted Cookie up into Jackson's bunk bed every night so she could sleep with him, and I can imagine, every night, Cookie looking down on me and thinking, Yup, I'm the Alpha Bitch. Sleep tight, Beta.
In the morning I'd take her down and then put on her leash so she could go out to pee and she'd nip and yank and drag me up the stairs and then I'd cry because I didn't know how to grow a spine and dominate her -- be the pack leader! -- like I guess I was supposed to. I called Marcel, the breeder we'd gotten her from, and asked him what he thought I should do. Like any good breeder, Marcel is involved in rescue work and he said he knew the perfect home for her, if I wanted to let her go. There was no judgment on his end, so I let her go. The people in her new home named her Roxy, and they had a little girl who loved her until Cookie/Roxy died of bone cancer two years later. So thanks, Universe, for sparing us that, at least. We'd already done the cancer thing with Katie anyway. Katie Potatie. I think I have a few tears left for her, too.
I might as well come clean about Peanut, while we're at it! Remember our tortoise? We had some good times.
Peanut was entertaining as hell but she must have hated us because as soon as we moved to a new house in March of 2012, she R-U-N-N O-F-T. It was, again, my fault. I took her outside to our new brick patio and said, Look at all this space you have now, Peanut! Thinking our fence was tight and secure; thinking, She can't move that fast and I'll only be gone a minute. I went inside to get her some lettuce, and when I came back she had vanished. I was frantic. I hoped she might be hiding under a hedge or something -- I thought she'd be back when she got hungry enough, but now it's been four years so maybe she's not hungry anymore.
BEFORE YOU WRITE THAT ANGRY E-MAIL: about a year after she'd disappeared I saw a post on a neighborhood message board asking if anyone had lost a tortoise. I immediately e-mailed and said, Yes! I have lost a tortoise! and asked them to send me a photo of the tortoise they'd found, and I will bet you my last bottle of Wolfgang Puck Caesar Dressing that it was Peanut. Her shell looked a little dry, but she had all the same markings, I couldn't believe it. Somehow she'd made it out of our neighborhood and ACROSS A BUSY STREET and into a new yard. But someone else had already claimed her! The lady who posted the "lost tortoise" announcement apologized to me, but I guess the other people said Peanut was theirs so she let them have her. I forget what they called her, something fancy. Maybe she has a little velvet bed now, and her own princess phone. I almost mounted a protest to get her back, but I let Peanut go, not wanting to break someone else's heart.
So now we have this little bit.
Jackson named her Cassidy, but we call her Cassie. She's teeny and she sleeps with him every night.
She's indoor-only -- I will not have her carried off by coyotes, thank you very much -- and she likes everybody.
I think we really lucked out this time. I mean, she's going to live forever, right?
Last night I was reading the book I'm reading about Zen Buddhism and I came across something that I had to read three or four times until it all really sunk in:
The first thing great human beings need, according to Dogen, is "small desire."
Dogen quoted Buddha, who said, "People of abundant desire abundantly seek gain, and so their suffering also is abundant. People of small desire never curry favor and bend in order to gain the minds of others. They are level in mind; they are without worries and fears; when they come into contact with things, they have latitude; and they are constantly free from dissatisfaction."
Notice that we're talking about small desire here and not some imaginary state of desirelessness. We can never be completely free from desire, anyhow. But the less desire you have, the less of a pain in the ass your life will be. It's only when you desire things that you can't be yourself, and that you end up worrying way too much about what everyone thinks of you.
I feel like the last sentence is grammatically a little weird, which is part of the reason I had to read it over a few times, but I'll go ahead and assume it was the author's clever way of making sure the reader stops and puzzles the concept through. You can't be yourself when you desire things, and when you desire things you also end up worrying way too much about what everyone thinks of you.
Desire things like what? I mean, I desire a job so I can help pay the rent, I don't think that's too much to ask. But it's the unbalanced desires that make you miserable. Sex comes to mind (as it does occasionally, despite my advanced age). I was always the girl who got totally tongue-tied and shy around boys I really, really liked because what did I want? I wanted them to like me back so much that out love would consume our very souls and melt us into some sort of pillar of eternal, mystical oneness, but I was too embarrassed to say all of that so I just acted quiet and creepy and, gee, I wonder why they'd never pick up when I called?
But more than that this quote makes me happy because it directly addresses the main fear that blocks people from their own creative expression, whether in writing or with music or, I don't know, wearing homemade hats to church. Because when you desire approval/success/fame, it's harder to just let loose and see what happens when you express yourself and then shape it into something unique that makes you glad.
We now turn to this Shouts and Murmurs piece from a few years back that I photocopied and stuck to the staff bulletin board at the library because I loved it so much. No one ever commented on it so I can only assume that all my coworkers were too ashamed to admit that they were illiterate. If you haven't clicked the link and read it yet, which I'm sure you'll do in just a minute, it's entitled, "Book-club Guide to a Remaindered Book," By Rebecca Mead and George Prochnik, and it's a wonderful list of discussion questions for an unsuccessful book of fiction. The Venn diagram of Buddha and the New Yorker overlaps in the very first paragraph:
1. When the author’s agent initially asked the author who he thought the readers of his proposed book would be and he defensively replied, “Everyone,” do you think the author should have immediately realized that there is a thin line between everyone and no one?
True wisdom is everywhere.
After abruptly finding I have no health insurance last night and putting a peasant curse on seven past and future generations of Blue Shield claims supervisors, in the morning I got a nice call from a lady in the county health office in Santa Maria who looked at all my files online and said, What the hell? I'm going to see if I can fix this.