Widowhood 101

The day before the last day I ever saw Jack, we went to Paseo Nuevo to see Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood. When we came out of it and walked back up State Street to his truck, I felt like I was in a trance, the pace and the length of the movie had overwhelmed my sense of time. I wasn’t sure if I even liked the movie, I had to read some reviews to help me figure out my ambivalence, but Jack had no qualms, he loved it. Looking back now, I understand why—it was about him, it was for him. He grew up in the early sixties surrounded by the type of man in that film, a man he learned how to be: strong, loyal, masculine, self-sufficient. Jack's father was an actor in TV westerns (click on that link and you’ll see his photo). At one point in Once Upon a Time, Jack elbowed me and pointed to a TV Guide in Leonardo DiCaprio’s trailer: the actor on the cover was the dad of one of Jack’s friends who starred in a Gunsmoke-type show. Little things like that hit Jack’s Tarantino sweet spot, and that night we watched Inglourious Basterds for the twentieth time, just to hear the way Brad Pitt says Naaazis.

Jack was one of the best—maybe the best storyteller I’ve ever known. Give him a few beers and he was a one-man podcast. There was the story of smuggling a knife into summer basketball camp in Indiana; of driving around Memphis in a Cadillac with his high school friend Vamp, who was also a pimp; of his uncle dealing drugs in Little Italy in the seventies and then dying mysteriously in Florida; of getting mugged on the way home from school on the Upper West Side. The story of the girl who broke his heart and the girls who came after who didn’t know why he was making them pay for it. Hundreds of stories that as he told and retold them were slowly helping him come to terms with who he was and what he’d made of himself.

I had wanted to record as many of them as I could, so that Jackson would have audio files of his father’s life, but we never did it, maybe because Jack wanted to write down his stories, turn them into a novel or a script. I’m not sure what stopped him. Maybe he lacked the confidence; maybe he couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with his own brain.

I finally unpacked his suitcase yesterday, one of his friends threw his clothes in there and zipped it up before they put it in his truck and drove it all back down to me. Everything was sort of crunched up and none of it smelled like him, I guess I waited too long. I was going to wash it all before I gave it to the thrift, but I can’t imagine making the effort when he still has so much clean laundry on his dresser to put away! It’s been almost a month, why has he not put it away yet? The cat has been sleeping on it and it’s covered in fur and I don’t want to have to wash it all again.

I Have Returned with News of My Wanderings

I guess by now it’s clear that if I don’t post for five months it’s because I have been head-down-and-go on yet another “final” draft of this novel I’ve been working on. I still can’t write “my novel” without wincing internally—I can’t claim ownership of the thing that contains every ounce of my inner life for the last seven years. Who would put all their spiritual eggs in one basket like that? Just who do I think I am?

I feel like I’ve just shat out the digital equivalent of an overstuffed drug balloon (switching metaphors, sorry), I’ve been hiding in the handicap stall of an airport restroom and after five months I’ve managed to coax this massive thing out of my most shameful orifice and then watch it sink to the bottom of an unfamiliar toilet bowl. Relieved, I now pull up my pants (i.e., start blogging again) and stare at it wondering if I should fish it out and try to sell it to someone so they can possibly enjoy or benefit from the drugs contained therein (i.e., email it to my agent), or if I should just flush it away so I won’t embarrass myself further. Would you like some butt drug? Knowing that it may be so weak you can barely feel its effects, or so good it will give you a high that will last for days and you’ll think about it the rest of your life. That’s all—a modest goal, that’s what I’m shooting for, to provide a life-changing transformation for you, triggered by the thing that fell out of my butt and into the hands of a literary agent who will slit open the balloon, put a little bit on her pinkie and, I hope, say, Hmm, yeah. We can make a lot of money off of this.

LET’S GO BACK IN TIME, SHALL WE?

January happened and we got to February and I stopped noveling long enough to attend the Santa Barbara Film Festival. My friend is a stringer for one of those celebrity grocery-store magazines and she makes decent money covering red-carpet events, but she wasn’t available for part of the festival so she asked me if I could do it.

The magazine sent me the event schedule for the weekend they needed me: Rami Malek (Friday), Glenn Close (Saturday), Melissa McCarthy (Sunday), all of whom were accepting awards for standing out in their fields. I had to DuckDuckGo Rami Malek (I am old enough to be his mother), and immediately thought, Oh no. I hadn’t seen his movie, the Freddy Mercury thing, and I couldn’t figure out a way to make that happen before the event. So I looked at some stills from the movie, wondering what I could possibly ask him that would be relevant. Here are some sample questions I came up with:

  1. Were the fake teeth uncomfortable?

  2. Did you like the way you looked in the fake teeth?

  3. Did they let you keep the fake teeth?

  4. etc.

Glenn Close I was a bit more relaxed about. I hadn’t seen her most recent movie, either, but I have, in fact, seen Glenn Close movies. My Glenn Close questions were going to be:

  1. What are you reading these days?

  2. Kindle or hardcover?

  3. Blah blah, comfortable shoes and general DGAF stuff, just between us pre-elderly gals

Sadly, the celebrity magazine gave Glenn Close a hard pass, because of the usual ageist bullshit. And my friend would be back in time to take care of Melissa McCarthy. So I put on my giant Trapper John coat on a rainy winter night to wait on the other side of a metal crowd-control fence hopefully until Rami Malek walked by so I could shout the questions that the magazine wanted me to ask:

  1. Have you tried the keto diet?

  2. What’s your skin care regime?

  3. Who do you think is going to win The Bachelor this season?

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Fortunately for me, Rami Malek ignored me completely (possibly because of the usual ageist bullshit, or possibly because I was dressed like Elliott Gould) and chose to talk to the adorable reporter from the UCSB Daily Nexus who was standing next to me. So I just stuck out my phone and recorded their entire conversation, figuring celebrity magazine could use those quotes if they wanted to. But that wasn’t the end of it. Next I went into the Arlington Theatre (and got grilled by the Daily Nexus girl about how I got the sweet gig reporting for celebrity magazine) and discreetly held my phone to record Mr. Malek being interviewed by a film festival guy about his entire life from birth to the Golden Globes, and then went home and transcribed everything so celebrity magazine writers could have every audible word by six o’clock the following morning.

The interview was interesting, and I came away with respect for Mr. Malek and the work he’s put in to get this far. But I have never cursed a job so much or as often as the three-and-a-half hours it took me to transcribe his one-hour-and-ten-minutes of talking. I finally got to bed around two-thirty a.m. after eight hours of this nonsense, and you know what I mainly learned? There’s no glamour on this side of the camera.

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That photo on the left? That was the red carpet, the whole thing. It was duct tape and klieg lights and tired venue managers and some anxious reporters for local news web sites who came an hour early just in case. I was fortunate to be standing next to a photographer (above, right) who was willing to chat to pass the time. When he told me his name was Rod Rolle, I was all, Like Esther Rolle? And he gave me this look, like, You remember Esther Rolle? And he said she was one of his cousins and I yelled, NO WAY! startling the gen-Zers all around me who did not share my fond cultural memories of Good Times and Maude. That was the most glamorous thing that happened to me that night, meeting Esther Rolle’s cousin. That and Lucy Boynton’s gorgeous peacock dress and Chinese-opera eye makeup. Thank you, Lucy, for bringing your A game to our little duct-taped award ceremony. And thanks also to this guy:

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Joe Mazzello played the bass player in the Freddy Mercury movie and none of the reporters was making much of a fuss over him, but I got a bit giddy when the actors started showing up and I yelled, “Nice shoes!” at him, and he perked up and said, “Thanks! I don’t know what kind they are. The suit is Top Man, that’s all I know.” I pretended to write that down, and then I asked him if I could take a picture of his shoes and he was fine with that. The light was terrible but we both acted like that was also fine, and I was relieved to have had at least one low-stress conversation with an actor that night, because this whole celebrity thing drives me a little bit nuts. I get uncontrollably star-struck, mostly when in the presence of writers I admire, but I found myself getting super anxious as Rami Malek got closer and fans started screaming his name. It’s an important practice for all of us but for me in particular to remind myself that people, if you’ll forgive me, all have the same share of cosmic divinity. I mean, as an American I know we’re all equal in theory, but it’s never really true, and I often involuntarily elevate some and denigrate others. There’s a wonderful Buddhist story about an old, venerated monk coming to visit a small temple, and all the temple monks lined up to greet him, but one monk noticed that his thoughts about this visitor were making him anxious, so he went away and meditated for twelve years until he realized that even a venerated person is still just a human being.

So if I don’t post for another twelve years, you’ll know that’s what I’m doing.

LINKS OVER TROUBLED WATER

Here’s a music video by the guy who directed Chernobyl! It’s a little bare-bones, visually, but the tune has been embedded in my mind for a week and caused me to follow two Deee-Lite-themed playlists on Spotify.

I have a bunch of interesting links to share with you but they deserve more than to be tacked onto the end of an already too-long post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Paradoxes, Pair of Sockses

I was walking to work one fresh morning between rains a week or so ago, enjoying my big warm coat and keeping the mist off my head with my fine fuchsia-colored umbrella, when I approached a man who was pushing a shopping cart full of some thoroughly damp belongings. And because I often deal with homeless folks at work I slowed down as I came up to him and I said, “Hey,” and he looked me in the eye to acknowledge my greeting, and the look in his eye told me he was fucking done with this rain shit.

I had nothing to give him but sympathy, but as I kept walking I started thinking about what I’d do if I had five million dollars. I would pay off my debt and I’d buy a house and I’d set up my finances so I could transition into a magnificently ordinary retirement at age 65. Then I would work with local government and buy a giant lot and fill it with tiny homes, a health clinic, a police shack, and laundry enough to comfortably house (spitballing here) 200 people who for one reason or another cannot catch a break in this town.

The gods must have heard my thoughts because I got to work and it wasn’t long before a nice seventy-ish-year-old lady appeared and sat down across from me at my desk and looked at me sweetly with her curly white hair and told me she needed my help getting into a shelter that night.

The problems of an unfamiliar lady off the street were not what I was hoping for that particular day, but let me tell you: when you work for a religious institution, no matter how small your function, some people look at you like you’re God’s right hand man.

I’ll admit, the miracles of the reception office are small and my ministry often centers on whatever speaks to you from the candy jar. But she came to me at the right time, and without getting into her personal specifics, I was able to help her get into a shelter. But if this nice lady on Social Security hadn’t found me she would have had to sleep in a bush somewhere, and if you haven’t noticed, the way our country treats its poorest people is incredibly fucked.

HERE’S SOMETHING IRONIC

I have a tendency to want to “save” certain items of clothing by not wearing them too much, and this ethic is applied daily and tragically to my socks. I have probably five pairs of Happy Socks that I really like because they’re well made and they’re man-sized so they fit my big feet. I buy them half-price at Christmastime from Marshall’s, where everything’s a little imperfect or odd, but inevitably one or two fantastic Happy Socks sneak through to the bargain bin and I GRAB them and HIDE THEM underneath my half-price Christmas purchases so no one will see them until I get to the checkout stand and then they are MINE.

The navy Happy Socks with red cherries on them are my most precious favorites right now, so naturally I never wear them. They stay lovingly rolled up in my drawer while instead I wear the slightly unpleasant green-and-blue geometric socks that remind me of a dress my Barbie had in 1972.

tl;dr My cherry socks spark too much joy in me, and I haven’t heard Marie Kondo say what I’m supposed to do about that.

SNAKES ON A PLATE

I realized this week while I was dishing out wet dog and cat food that I was also doing this thing where I’d break up the food and mix in the food-sauce, and generally try to make this hideous paté I feed my animals more attractive on the plate. My animals 100% do not care what their food looks like, and now that I’ve accepted that fact I just dump it out for them and their hearts still go pitter-pat at the sound of me clanking the spoon against their dishes to get the last bits off (I don’t want to actually touch it, of course, the horror paté I feed my animal companions) and they are still just as nourished as before, and they go shit in their boxes like it never mattered how much thought I put into whether they should have the Grandma’s Pot Pie or the Cowboy Cookout tonight.

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COS COB, LOVEY

I was at the thrift yesterday and I found a pair of intensely preppy patchwork Tommy Hilfiger men’s shorts for $2.99. I texted a photo of them to Jackson to see if he wanted them, but all he said in reply was: “Fancy.” (He thought they were women’s shorts for me. Communication is a fragile thing.) I bought them despite his indifference because what a bargain, right? And when I brought them home Jack lit up with ancient recognition of a distant tribe. (Jack spent many of his tender years in the New York/Connecticut MetroNorth corridor.) The shorts fit him like a dream, so he went and put on two Lacoste polo shirts and popped up the collars and began talking as though his jaw were wired shut. “Darling,” he’d say, “I’m going to the package store for some Rheingold.” Then he’d admire himself in the mirror and say, “Lovey, I’m going to the farm stand for some sweet corn and I’ll be back in June.”

PLINKETY-PLINK / I DON’T HAVE A LINK

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

It Was Nice Knowing You

This was the birthday that left my youth behind. I’m not sure what triggered that realization. Was it going to the DMV and finding I could only read the eye chart with my bad eye screwed shut? Or was it lying in bed and thinking of my pregnant mother waking up in bed fifty-five years ago, three weeks past her due date, putting her bare feet on the floor and wondering if this would be the day. Fifty-five years ago: that’s probably what did it. Fifty-four still had some pieces of youth clinging to it. But then it turned inside out and died.

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I took my birthday off from work and everyone was all, Have an amazing day off! Do something fun! And I woke up Thursday morning and thought, I’m going to have an amazing day off! I’m going to do something fun! But the only thing I had lined up for myself was to renew my driver’s license. If you need to know one thing that sums up my entire personality, congratulations, you have arrived at your destination.

The holidays sort of lovingly decimated our house this year with puzzles and pine needles and cardboard, but I wouldn’t let myself do a big clean. It was my birthday and I would not spend it decalcifying the espresso machine and organizing the recycling! So when Jackson got home from school looking aimless, I said, let me take you out for lunch. (I had already eaten lunch. Can you guess what I had? Cold leftovers! You win!) We drove to Cal Taco and I watched him eat a burger and fries. At one point he stepped out to make a phone call, which: mysterious, but he’s 17, he needs privacy, fine. He comes back in and says, “I know what I’m getting you for your birthday. We have to go to Best Buy.” We were like six blocks from Best Buy so I’m all, Hmm, what is it? New ear buds?

On the way home with a new Nintendo Switch in the back seat, I texted the only other grownup I knew who owned one: Alice. “What games do you have?” I typed excitedly. She seemed a little nonplussed about my suggestion that we both download Fortnight and get out there and shoot a bunch of strangers together. Understandably. Alice lives in New York, shooting strangers for fun isn’t something you suggest to her lightly.

When we got home I loaded up my one game and together Pikachu and I meandered about our village collecting wild Pokémon together in my new non-youthful way until it was time for me to pick up some real-life take-out sushi. Then Jack and I watched an episode of Ozark and shared a slice of Jeannine’s chocolate mocha cake, and I realized that if you were to ask me two things I’d miss about Santa Barbara if I moved away, I would say: Kyoto take-out sushi and a slice of Jeannine’s chocolate mocha cake on my birthday.

So I had a good birthday after all, thanks to zero planning on my part, but some spontaneous and well-placed trust in my mens.

LINK ME UP, SCOTTY

1 The Only Part of 'Red Dead Redemption 2' That Matters Is My Horse. “Rockstar Games created a sprawling open world for me to play cowboy in. But truthfully, all I care about is Jeffy.” [via Todd Levin]

2 I am super excited about this Bob Fosse/Gwen Verdon thing, and not just because Sam Rockwell is in it:

3 “Immerse yourself in the forests of central Sweden, where around two-and-a-half-thousand people speak Elfdalian.” A BBC podcast collage of forest sounds and the endangered Swedish forest language, older than the Vikings, which is in danger of dying out. (19:39)

4 What I’m reading right now: Undermajordomo Minor, by Patrick deWitt—and I am not loving it the way I sincerely loved his two others, The Sisters Brothers and French Exit. If I get to page 100 and still feel ambivalent I will call it and move on, since I have A Gentleman in Moscow and The Great Alone on my library pile.

And Now it is the Future Again

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The lead-up to Christmas this year was really fun. Nature wasn’t trying to murder us (compared to last year, when we had the Thomas Fire crawling up our butts and then the mud literally killing people), and we had enough money to throw around on superfluous things like fire wood and snacks, so we loaded up. Christmas day itself was a bit pressured. There were some sneaky “Did I spend too much money on you?” feelings and their terrible confederates, “You didn’t spend enough money on me.” So at dinner time Jack and I ended up in one of those stupid bickering whisper fights that isn’t about what it’s really about, and we ate our Christmas dinner fried chicken and waffles with a palpable chill in the air. Jackson didn’t really notice, or maybe he did and knew how to avoid the whole thing by falling asleep on the couch while we were still eating.

The day after Christmas I had to go back to work, which gave me some emotional distance from the previous day while simultaneously allowing my family to wonder if I was going to feel martyred about leaving when they had another day off. So when dinner time rolled around again and Jack was all, Are you done yelling at me? I was all, I don’t know! Maybe! Maybe not!

And then I asked myself, Is this really who you want to be? And I know it sounds really hokey but that’s all it took for me to snap out of it and A Better Me to take over and say she was sorry and grow the fuck up. The holidays trigger some childish reactions to stress in a lot of us, and since I no longer drink my problems away I need to somehow remember to invite my better self to step in when things get ridiculous. Maybe some knuckle tattoos would remind me. G-R-O-W-A S-P-I-N-E would work, if we’re going to use thumbs.

RESOLUTIONS

Jackson always says that he won’t wear anything that isn’t comfortable, and he says it with the sort of mystified air you might take on while watching a woman struggle to zip up her jeans after a turkey dinner. Yesterday one of his girl friends came over wearing a head-to-toe sloth onesie so I thought, If all the teens are doing it maybe I’ll try this comfort thing, too. I don’t want to get rid of my pencil skirts yet, but if you’re looking to throw off some unreasonable beauty standards I urge you to read this post by a grown woman who said Fuck it, it’s sneakers from now on.

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“I paired my new sneakers with floral mini-dresses, with shorts, with jeans and with slacks, and instead of picking up oxfords or loafers for autumn, I just kept buying sneakers. I'd forgotten how light they were, how comfortable and how I was able to walk around without spending the following days complaining about how sore I was from simply being alive.” 

“GIMLET HOLES IN A PIECE OF PORK”

How to take awesome food photos, a useful set of guidelines by Helen Rosner.

How Peter Jackson Made WWI Footage Seem Astonishingly New. [NY Times] “The clarity was such that these soldiers on the film came alive,” Jackson said in a phone interview describing the restoration process. “Their humanity just jumped out at you. This footage has been around for 100 years and these men had been buried behind a fog of damage, a mask of grain and jerkiness and sped-up film. Once restored, it’s the human aspect that you gain the most.”

Yearcompass, a free tool that helps you look at the last year and make plans for the next one. I’m excited to sit down and give this a try.

Okay, but when you say it like THAT

I call it self care.

I call it self care.

I have been going back and forth on whether to attend the one holiday party I get invited to. The family who hosts it is tight-knit and emotionally healthy and fun. The first year I was invited I went with my friend P. and we stayed elbow-to-elbow the whole time because we didn’t know anyone but the hosts, but we drank champagne and had a good time.

The second year, P. brought two of her college-age daughters along and they were a goddamn delight. Because I’d switched jobs the previous summer, I suddenly knew almost everyone at the party because the hosts are members of the organization I now worked for. The problem was that I felt I had to put on my work face for everyone, and as an introvert muddled by alcohol and with no graceful exit strategies, I felt trapped in my own cheer.

The third year, P. brought her husband and all three of her daughters, so she was well insulated. I could have spent five minutes figuring out how to avoid getting overwhelmed again. Instead, I smiled a little too intensely at everyone, creating the effect of a raccoon rearing up to scare you away from a pile of spaghetti (in this metaphor I’m both the raccoon and the spaghetti), and then lumbered off to sit with P.’s family. P.’s family turned out to be funny, intelligent, and functional (spoiler: I am none of these things) and my few attempts to join their conversation fell flat. Also, I was six months sober, and I had to leave before I started crying. I probably should have gone and found a therapist the next day, but I didn’t! Bootstraps!

The fourth year, the party was cancelled because Southern California was on fire and the air was so smoky that everyone had to stay indoors. I had no other choice but to stay home and get a shitload of writing done. I had the best time. I badly needed the break; my wheels were starting to come off. The Universe gave me what I wanted most that Christmas: to have my family happily engaged in other rooms while I sat alone and wrote. The news was terrible and I came through it all refreshed and ready for the new year.

And now: Year Five! A beautiful evite sits in my inbox. Will I talk myself into having a wonderful time? Will I wear a bandit mask, climb the Christmas tree, and then stuff all the leftovers into a trash bag and drag them home?

LINK ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED

  • Goddamnit I want to see this — the roller rink was such a big deal in my life as a kid, and it thrills me to know this community has risen up: United Skates

  • A coworker gave me half of a reindeer cookie the other day and it filled me with such a buoyant longing for what Christmas could be, if only my piping skills were better: How to Decorate a Sugar Cookie Like a Pro

  • If you love being both organized and adorable, everything at Mochi Things is 30% off right now

  • US and UK covers for the same books: Who Wore it Best?

  • This bothers me a little, I’ll be honest (I never trademarked the phrase, so I have nothing to complain about), but I wish I at least liked their design: Writing Well is the Best Revenge

Speaking Ill of the Dead

A few years ago when Jackson was playing youth league basketball, he jammed his finger pretty badly and we ended up at the ER, and then we were referred to a hand specialist because it was a weird break. The bone at the tip of his finger had actually split, like if you took an ax to a log. There’s a name for that type of break but I Google image searched and couldn’t find an example, and now I’ve creased my brain with so many truly horrendous hand injuries and I’m not even done with my first cup of coffee.

Jackson’s break was small and it healed up well, but the hand specialist kept telling us to come back for what felt like unnecessary follow-up appointments. I began to feel like we were being milked for not only our precious time but for $50 copays. Did he need to finance his winter trip to Arugula, I wondered? (I mean Aruba, you knew that, but I left Arugula because it’s funny to watch someone’s mind crumble.)

Here comes the point! I titled this post for a reason! So this last Wednesday it was starting to rain, and everyone around here gets edgy now when a storm comes in because enough water could trigger another debris flow through the areas that burned in last December’s fires. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a video from the moment last January 9 when a couple of Highway Patrol guys realize that they need to get the fuck out of there:

I started this post feeling kind of jokey about the whole thing but now having watched that again I’m all choked up. It was so awful.

Because the place where I work is a hub for the Warming Centers, where people can come and sleep and eat and get out of the cold when it rains or the temperature drops below 40, people who need shelter tend to gather outside my office to wait for the shuttle bus. I am not supposed to let people hang out or stow their stuff or use the restroom, but I will occasionally make an exception. Wednesday a slightly addled woman showed up and I went outside to see what her deal was, and I ended up listening to a long, substance-fueled monologue about some recent not-great events in her life, including an ugly hand wound that had required stitches and antibiotics and a trip to (ah ha) the same hand surgery office that I’d taken Jackson to for his broken finger. Except now it has a memorial plaque in the waiting room with a photo of Jackson’s finger doctor, because he was swept away and died last January 9 in the mud slide, along with his daughter.

Then a cab driver got out of his car and came up and started arguing with the addled woman, accusing her of stealing $10 from him, and I wandered back inside. When I looked out again later the woman was sitting on her duffle bag and crying, and then my office mate, who is much kinder than I am, brought her out a cup of coffee and a candy cane.

A ball bounces up a Penrose staircase while a Shepard scale plays. The staircase is everlasting, and the Shepard scale creates the illusion of tones that steadily rise, but don't actually seem to get anywhere. This is a combined audio and visual illusion.

Happy Sleep-in Pie Thursday

I know that many of my fellow and sister white folks who live in the United States annually take some time to reflect on both the origins and the consequences of the first Thanksgiving, as I do. I am not thankful for that first boatload of Europeans, though my ancestors were among those that took advantage of the blood-soaked ground they left for others to build upon. Only a psychopath (which I am mostly not) would miss the paradox of celebrating such a terrible legacy.

At the same time, a four-day weekend devoted to pie, sleeping, a jigsaw puzzle of Volkswagen buses, and dicking around online is pretty much exactly what I needed. Fall is always a hard time for me, I never do well with the time change and as I get older the colder weather demands that I lay low just when work and everything else is heating up. Inevitably, I get sick.

With God as my witness this will be the last bland, Libby’s-based pumpkin pie I make in this lifetime.

With God as my witness this will be the last bland, Libby’s-based pumpkin pie I make in this lifetime.

On Thanksgiving day Jack started up in the kitchen at 7:20 a.m. He is a man who likes to get shit taken care of early, and who am I to stand in his way? I laid in bed while he boiled potatoes, made stuffing, and put the turkey on the barbecue so that the oven would be freed up for me and Jackson to make pies. We must have some kind of magical Weber grill because even though the math said our bird needed four-and-a-half hours to cook, it only took two? And there were no raw parts, it was all perfectly done? The bird cooled, I finished all the sides, and the three of us sat down to eat at 5:00 and watch The Incredibles 2. It’s been a good sixteen hours and none of us has come down with salmonella, so I’m feeling pretty solid about our chances for survival.

Before dinner I don’t make everyone go around and say what they’re grateful for, I know my family and it just embarrasses them. This year I merely offered what I was grateful for, which meant acknowledging the heinous acts of our forefathers that somehow led to the glory on plate in front of me: bird, stuffing, cranberry, two kinds of potatoes, one green thing, gravy, a pause, and then two kinds of pie.

Despite everything I hope you were able to create some comforts of your own this week.

LINK DUMP

“Once I put the top on, in the privacy of a changing room, I saw how well it complemented the male body: its low crew neck and tight, stretchy fabric showed off my chest and arms. To the surprise of the shopkeeper, and myself, I bought it.” Letter of Recommendation: Women’s Clothing

“You know, for many birds, their coloring comes from what they eat—fruit, plankton,” Logan observed. “Flamingoes, they’re basically ink-makers.” Ink Foraging in Central Park

“A legend is growing in Nepal, where people say a meditating boy hasn't eaten or drunk in seven months. He barely moves, just sits under a tree, still as a stone. It's impossible, some say. Is it a miracle? A hoax? Let's find out.” The Incredible Buddha Boy, by George Saunders

The ten digits of a GN-4 Nixie tube. Wikipedia

Whatever Makes You Different Makes You Pretty

I’ve been going through my drafts folder and inadvertently publishing ten-year-old posts about caulk and LeBron James, which is kind of a funny glimpse back into the mind of the person I still, basically, am. I saved the title of this post on September 19, 2007, and “whatever makes you different makes you pretty” was probably a notion that struck me while I was doing the dishes or photographing action figures pretending to talk about Downton Abbey. (I only have the dialog from that particular post I was paid to write for Babble.com, and sadly they’ve taken it down. I wish I had backed up the photos I took of the entire cast of Twilight action figures I once purchased so I could pose them talking, in character, with Hulk and Iron Man about the new maid who was lying about her past to Lord Grantham.)

My mom having a good time by a lake in Minnesota in the early 1950s.

As far as brain secretions* go, however, “whatever makes you different makes you pretty” has some merit. It might have come out of remembering the time when I broke my nose, and after it healed it had a bump in it. My mom wanted to pay to have the bump removed. I declined her offer, because I sort of liked the change, to be honest. I liked feeling that my face had been roughed up a bit, that pretty wasn’t as important as the lesson I learned about my own ego after being a showoff on a bike and having my face ground into a stucco wall. My mother’s own nose was scarred after a childhood run-in with a door frame, and she never seemed to mind the way it looked. She had a tiny bit of a pug nose. Maybe she owned that nose of hers, maybe she realized that was part of her work, not to be bothered by the scar from a split nostril. She also had one eye that was half blue and half brown.

If we listen to the Taoists, we’ll see that when some things become pretty, then others become ugly. If you start dividing things up into good/bad categories, all you’re doing is creating a lot of suffering.

* Uchiyama Roshi said,

“Thoughts are the secretions of our brains, the same way as stomach acid is the secretion of our stomachs.” The brain is a bodily organ with a job to do. It digests the impressions it receives the same way the stomach digests the food it receives. We don’t pay close attention to every little thing the stomach does to get on with its work, and we don’t need to pay close attention to what the brain does either.

But we’ve all developed the habit of being obsessed with the content of our thoughts. It’s not easy to break that habit. People often want to learn some special technique that will change that habit.

This is part of a larger discussion on meditation technique that I found really useful. It’s also useful if you’re working on impulse control, or just being a more peaceful person.

Anyway, I finished reading True Grit yesterday, and every time I think about the end I start to choke up. It’s so good, honestly. I might read it again as soon as Jack finishes it, because I pressed the book into his hands with the kind of silent gravity that made him look taken aback and assure me that he’d start reading it right away. Because he’s probably going to spend the day on the couch taking his antibiotics and watching football anyway, so he might as well turn off the sound and read a novel instead, right? Ha ha, yes, that’s the way husbands work. I just rolled my eyes so loudly I could hear cartilage crunch.

Horse

I don't talk much here about my deep and abiding love for LeBron James. But there it is. How much do I love LeBron? I wish he'd get traded to the Lakers so I could buy his jersey and wear it to bed, and that's not the half of it.

Jack knows and understands my crush on King James, so he sent me this video of LeBron losing a game of HORSE to some guy with amazing trick shot skills. I don't think you need to be a huge basketball fan to like this, and it's a nice reminder that there are a lot of great playground shooters out there who could, in the right circumstances, put an all-star to shame.

Rock Out With Your Caulk Out

This was originally published on my blog Fussy some ten-odd years ago, but somehow Squarespace thought everyone might like to see it again in 2018, and I’m not going to fight it. Enjoy.

Along with light bulbs, nuclear energy, and shows on a network I don't really watch, General Electric now also makes caulk. Personally, I like to focus on just doing one or two things at a time, like beading and knitting, until I can do them well, as opposed to GE's tack which seems to be "let's manufacture an impossibly wide variety of somewhat evil products. And make an ass-load of money." So that's one clear difference between G.E. and me: I bead for free. Profit motive aside, the packaging for these decidedly non-electric "caulk singles" G.E. sent me to review is great. A+ for that, General Electric! They're hefty and squeezy and feel great and not at all evil in your hand. So I took my little packages of caulk into the bathroom because I had some cracks in the grout in my shower. Because being married to a contractor does not guarantee that you'll live a grout-crack-free existence. It guarantees a lot of other things, including food to eat, cable TV, and fancy hand-me-down cellphones, but between Jack's understandable desire to come home and stop working and my housework ADD, a lot of shit can go by the wayside. So I thought I'd try fixing up our shower grout cracks all by myself with some free G. E. caulk.

Anyway, here you see some of the cracks I had to tackle. I'm a crack tackler!

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Nice housekeeping, I know. Please.

Once I had photographed my cracks, Cookie and I examined the free caulk.

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The best choice seemed to be the one on the right: white waterproof silicone. I set the others aside and opened up the label to read the directions.

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"Remove dirt, grease, moisture, and old caulk." I supposed my shower was clean, grease-free, and dry. Enough. No old caulk, just the original grout.

Then came this mysterious piece of advice: "To finish: Smooth or "tool" bead if needed." I knew for a fact that I didn't know what "tool" beading was, it sounded like some sort of professional tile-setter lingo. But I knew that if they were marketing this stuff to people like me it couldn't be that hard to use, right? Just squirt in in the crack and let it dry! What could possibly go wrong?

God, isn't this exciting? I can't wait to see what happens next.

What happened next is that I made somewhat of a mess. The caulk has the consistency of toothpaste so it's easy to manipulate. But it squeezes out of the package kind of irregularly, and I ended up with cracks that looked like they were filled with badly applied toxic birthday cake icing. And because I still didn't know what "tool beading" was, I went and got a Q-tip, thinking I could jam the grout deeper into the cracks and then smooth it out nicely. Why I thought a cotton swab would be the best tool for the job, I have no idea, but it ended up just creating little peaks and swirls with the caulk and just generally looking like hell. So then I did what any normal cave-dweller would do, I used my finger. This had the advantage of smoothing out the caulk somewhat more evenly, but once you get this shit on your hands it's almost impossible to wash off. I went and got a damp paper towel to wipe the excess caulk off the tiles, but then I'd accidentally touch the caulk and mess it up and have to start all over again.

This is what my cracks ended up looking like:

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Jack came home for lunch and inspected my work. He immediately went to the utility closet and got a big yellow sponge that had been left by the guys who originally set all our tile. He showed me how you make it damp and then wipe the caulk off the tile. But it didn't wipe off. Then he went and got a scraper and scraped it all off the tile. Then he tried to wipe the caulk off his hands and said, "What the hell is this shit?"

"It's caulk. By G.E.," I said. I showed him the package. "See? It's for small jobs."

"Why don't you just buy a tube of Dap? It comes with a cap, you don't have to use it all at once, it's waterproof, and it wipes off a lot easier than this shit," he said, scrubbing his hands with a wire brush.

"But this is for people who are intimidated by big professional products. It comes in a cute little package."

"So you're paying for a cute package filled with shitty caulk, I get it," he said, lowering his welder's mask and firing up a blowtorch to clean his fingernails.