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Move-ember

I covered a lot of miles in November. I’m not exaggerating or being facetious or even speaking in metaphors, which I have been known to do from time to time. I actually covered a lot of miles.

100.2 miles, to be exact. Most of them within eight miles of my home. I walked, and sometimes (very slowly) ran (downhill), 100.2 miles last month. My longest walk was over eight miles (Thanksgiving morning!); my shortest was two. I listened to hours and hours of podcasts. I walked at 5 a.m. and at 10:15 p.m. and all the hours in between. Mostly at 5 a.m. for a very good reason outlined below. I looked like an idiot many days, including times when my podcast made me laugh out loud or cry rivers of tears or that one day when the podcast app wasn’t working and so I listened to music, forgetting that the reason I stopped listening to music when I walk is that I can’t help but do this weird, funky, white-girl dance-walk thing that makes it look like I’m having some sort of fit because I love music and it makes me want to mooooove. I have learned how much to layer based on the temperature, and which jacket keeps me pretty dry when it’s raining, and to not stuff my headband into a certain pocket because it will fall out causing me to backtrack and search with the flashlight on my cellphone and throwing off my whole route with my exact mile markers. I have seen enough dead rodents to last a lifetime, including an unfortunate collision between a squirrel and a Ford Mustang. The Mustang won. The big Thanksgiving walk was the best, because I smelled wood fires burning, a turkey in someone’s oven, and, near the end, a pie baking. That’s pretty good motivation.

My legs weren’t the only appendage working in November. My fingers were super busy, too. I logged a lot of wordmiles on the keyboard. 54,288 words, to be exact. I committed to National Novel Writing Month again (NaNoWriMo), which is 1,667 words every day for 30 days, resulting in a solid 50,000-word novel. I didn’t start a new book, but finally fleshed out the novel I had started a couple of years ago before writing myself into a corner. Time off from the book plus lots of workshops, articles, and books on writing helped me figure out that I simply hadn’t made my main character suffer enough. She has suffered now, but I’m not entirely sure it’s enough. She may need to have some more terrible things happen to her. The book, as it stands now in all its SFD un-edited glory, is at just over 73,000 words. It needs a heavy red pen and I’m fairly certain that there are whole chapters that require replacement, but at least I have the base down. That ain’t nuthin’, friends.

Oh, yeah, and I also covered some miles in the air, traveling to Columbus, Ohio, for a conference for work. During which I continued my walking and my writing (boom). I can also now check the whole “travel with a Benedictine monk” thing off my bucket list. That was pretty fun.

I started walking in late September, when the weather was nice. I walked after work, when Zoe was at PSR or volleyball practice or piano. The timing was perfect and the weather was glorious. Then I decided to NaNo and realized that I’d need time to write every day. This isn’t something you can crank out in 15 minutes. At least, I can’t. Not fiction, anyway. I knew that some nights would require slogging away for almost two hours to get to that word count. And I knew that if I went walking after work and then made dinner and then ate dinner and then cleaned up dinner and did the family thing, all I’d be ready to write was a series of Zs on my pillow. I also knew that if I got up early to write, half the time would be wasted while I waited for my brain to fully wake up. So, starting November 1, I switched my walking routine to 5 a.m. most mornings. I can get four miles down in about an hour and be home at about 6, giving me a little over an hour to get ready for work and get us out the door before most of the bad traffic hits. This freed up my nights for writing. Food being a need most evenings, I subjected my family to a series of crockpot meals that I prepped late the night before and assembled that morning. Most were really delicious, which was a relief since I was trying new recipe after new recipe to stave off the boredom. I made real meals, too, but those crockpot dishes were a huge help on many nights.

So, in these ways, it was a great month. (In other ways, not so much, but those are topics for other posts.) I was completely absent from here which was disappointing, but there’s only so much a girl can do each day.

It’s no longer November, so I don’t have to continue walking so early in the morning. But here’s the thing: by the time I start walking at night it’s just as dark as the morning, and there are a lot more cars on the road. I get blinded by headlights, and it’s disconcerting to not see the sidewalk in front of me. I very much prefer the early morning walks, when it feels like hardly anyone else is awake and I’ve got the canvas of my whole day laid out before me. I now, much to my surprise, relish walking in the pre-dawn morning, before the cars are out but when there are a few other crazy people walking, running, and biking and when there are loads of stars twinkling or a gorgeous fog wraps everything in silence. It’s just a matter of launching my body out of the warm bed and into the laces. I never regret it, but dang, sometimes it’s hard. I did almost get clocked by a dude on a bicycle this morning, but he swerved at the last minute so all is good. (Aren’t bicyclists supposed to ride on the road, and not on the sidewalk? Eh, it might help if I wore a headlight like I’ve seen other early-morning people have. I do love the pre-dawn gloaming, though, and an LED headlamp seems rudely interruptive.)

Things I got from this blog post: I’m writing here again. Not anything spectacular, but I’m back on the beat. Which feels good.

Things you can get from this blog post: an amazing podcast list and/or good crockpot recipes. Send me a message if you want either. I’ll hook you up.

You’ll get the book I wrote later, I promise. This isn’t like last year’s book which was written with the intention of shoving it in a drawer. I’ll work on editing and then maybe recruit some beta readers and then shop it around for an agent. Since 2016 sucked on many levels, I’m determined to make 2017 rock.

This post is dedicated to my adorable husband, who put up with crockpot meals and an abnormally-cranky wife on the few days she didn’t walk and vicious snarls when he tried to talk to her about football, television commercials, and random internet stories while she was trying to write. I am well aware that many writers struggle with families who don’t understand their need to pound the keyboard, and I am so incredibly thankful to have a husband who has continually encouraged all of my art – be it writing or photography – over all of these years. You, quite simply, are amazing and I love you.

The Crash of a Hero

One of my favorite childhood toys was an Evel Knievel action doll. Evel’s diminutive doppelganger was a slim man in a white pantsuit with a deep, dark blue V chest applique that was studded with white stars. He had a matching white helmet and a cape. His white gloved hands were perfectly molded to clamp onto the handlebars of his shiny motorcycle. That motorcycle locked into a plastic hand crank that allowed me to wind him up and set him flying, just like the real Evel Knievel.

The real Evel Knievel was a stud. Even his name was cool, tripping off the tongue with the same fanfare and panache he displayed flying over rows of cars. We all, boy and girl alike, dreamed of doing the amazing stunts that Evel Knievel pulled off. We all dreamed of being the glitzy, famous showman featured over and over again on the Wide World of Sports. To a little girl whose heroes included drag racer Big Daddy Don Garlits and the boys from the Dukes of Hazzard, Evel Knievel was just one more daring flash in the world of fast cars, fast bikes, and reckless behavior. I ate it all up.

Fast forward 30 years, and I’m a middle-aged working mom married to a man who is solid, stable, and reliable. He doesn’t wear a white jump suit with a cape, or race a quarter mile in less than five seconds, or jump his car over creeks in an attempt to evade the law. Thank God I grew up and turned away from crass, renegade showmanship in favor of stability. This man, our child, and I were at a local amusement park last weekend, waiting for the train. We relaxed on a bench in the train station, chatting and watching a large television that promotes various add-ons in the park and features cartoons and trivia. A trivia question appeared about Evel Knievel and how many cars he had jumped during one of his motorcycle stunts.

“Evel Knievel!” I said. “Wow! I haven’t thought about him in ages!” I quickly launched into a tirade to my child, drowning her in my enthusiasm for some weird motorcycle stuntman she’s never heard of and couldn’t care less about. This was another one of my famous “teaching moments.” Wisdom gleaned from my own childhood. M and I reminisced about our Evel Knievel toys, and he’s the one who reminded me about the crank. (I vaguely remember my crank breaking early on, and resorting to wrapping Evel onto his bike, pulling it back to load the wheel spring, and letting him fly with abandon. It didn’t work as well as the crank as I never quite held Evel perfectly vertical before letting him go, but that didn’t stop the fun.) And then I made a huge tactical error.

I googled Evel Knievel. Right there on my phone, while we waited in the train station.

Turns out, for most of his life, he was a real shit. A huckster, a scammer, a ne’er do well who floated from one money-making scheme to another. He dropped out of high school after sophomore year and went to work in a copper mine. He was promoted to earth mover driver, which lasted only until he popped a wheelie with the mover and hit Butte, Montana’s main power line. He was chased by police and crashed his motorcycle. He joined the army and then left the army and got married. He started a semi-pro hockey team, and it’s implied that he swindled the 1960 Olympic Czechoslovakian hockey team out of their expense money. The USOC had to pay the Czech team in an attempt to maintain diplomatic relations. He then started a hunting and fishing guide service, which did quite well until the U.S. Park Service discovered he was illegally taking clients into Yellowstone National Park to poach. After all this, he decided to go legit and started a motocross career. An early injury forced him into less flashy work, and he sold insurance to support his family. Ever the egomaniac, he demanded a promotion to vice president months later, and quit when his request was declined. He opened a Honda motorcycle dealership, then closed the Honda motorcycle dealership and concocted his daredevil show, serving as the promotor, logistics man, PR shill, set-up crew, ticket seller and emcee. The man was not in short supply of energy. He sustained injuries, but kept riding and jumping, adding more and more cars to his jump line when he’d return to a venue in an attempt to get old customers to come see his show again. All this was before the age of 29. He finally scammed his way into jumping over the fountain at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, by creating a fictitious corporation and hiring three fictitious “lawyers.” He crashed yet again, and earned increasing notoriety.

The man’s Wikipedia page lists a litany of bone breaks and injuries, including at least three concussions and a groin injury so severe it landed him in the hospital for nearly a month. He broke his arm, ribs, left wrist, right knee, and more ribs. He crushed his pelvis and femur, suffered fractures to his hip, another wrist, and both ankles. He broke his right leg and foot, his hip again, and his collarbone. He compound-fractured his right arm, broke both legs, his back, his pelvis again, and both arms again. He estimated his broken bones to number 35.

Later, when a former promoter wrote a tell-all book that exposed Evel Knievel as a wife-abuser, child beater, and drug user, Evel attacked the man with a baseball bat. He pled guilty to battery and spent six months in jail and three years on probation.

Who in the hell thought this man was a good role model for children?

My illusions of grand Americana clad in a white leather, star spangled jumpsuit are shattered. The man was a fraud. A hack. A huckster out to make a quick buck while achieving fame and notoriety. He spent more time in casts and braces than out. He swindled where he could, and resorted to physical violence when he couldn’t. I sat there in the amusement park train station, aghast. “Oh no,” I said. M leaned over. “What?” “Evel Knievel was awful.” With that, the train pulled into the station and off we went, while I thought about how I was much better off not knowing the real Evel Knievel. I was happier remembering the toy that represented so much that I hadn’t even realized. Bravery. Heroism. Daring American ingenuity. One of my childhood dreams is now shattered by reality. My superhero stuntman is grounded by super-human faults and foibles. His was a show driven by ego and greed, not by a genuine desire to reach further, go faster, do better. The fall of Evel Knievel in my mind is breathtaking in its severity, and astounding in its absorption of brain space. I am also appalled at my own naiveté for all these years. How could I have not known the real Evel Knievel? Why do I care about this so much?

Because I am stupid and don’t learn from my mistakes, I googled Big Daddy Don Garlits. I’ll be damned if the man isn’t a racist homophobe. Because of course he is. Farewell, Evel Knievel. Farewell, Big Daddy. There’s simply no room in my heart for reprobates and haters.

That’s it. I’m never googling anyone ever again. Next thing you know, I’m liable to learn that the Dukes of Hazzard were nothing but redneck scofflaws with questionable motives, a healthy disrespect for probationary boundaries, and a trampy cousin. I just can’t handle news like that.

Pop Goes The Small Town

We drove to Cincinnati for Labor Day weekend, and on the way home we drove through Brazil, Indiana, population 7,912, seat of Clay County. And no longer, unfortunately, Home of the Popcorn Festival. That slogan, emblazoned upon the tallest structure in all the land (a water tower), is now tragically outdated. We saw the water tower, and in a quirky mood to find fun, new places to visit, I googled it. “Maybe we can come back for the Popcorn Festival,” I chirped, as Zoe dozed in the backseat and M concentrated on not running into the idiots on the highway who camp out in the left lane going 15 mph slower than everyone else.

The first site that popped up is an article from the Brazil Times: “End of a tradition: No more Popcorn Festival.” I sighed and read the headline to M. “Why don’t they do it anymore?” he asked. “I dunno. Lemme read the article.”

There is a rich history of the Popcorn Festival in Brazil, Indiana. Turns out that the popcorn king of the world, Orville Redenbacher, was from Clay County, and a few enterprising Brazil volunteers thought it’d be great to honor him with a fun festival in a local park. The article goes on to explain that after a decade, the volunteers went to the Brazil City Parks and Recreation Board with a request. “Hey, like, we thought it’d be cool if we could serve beer at the Popcorn Festival. Wouldn’t that be delicious?” And the Brazil City Parks and Recreation Board said, “Yeah. NO. No beer. This is a family event and if there’s beer there people might have a good time and God knows we don’t want that.” And so the fine, beer-loving volunteers went, “Fine. Then we’re taking our Popcorn Festival and going home. NO POPCORN FOR YOU.”

This festival wasn’t just some random dude in an Orville Redenbacher costume poppin’ some corn in one of those fancy moveable popcorn carts. This was a serious festival. It was even, “after some legwork,” a member of the Indiana State Festival Association. These people weren’t messing around. That’s some serious gravitas, being a member of ISFA. They don’t let just anyone into ISFA. You’ve gotta do some serious legwork. They also got ConAgra Foods, which makes Orville Redenbacher products, to donate $10,000 to start the festival. 10k is a lot of popcorn. It grew to a four-day event, drawing around 20,000 visitors. Local and regional talent provided performances and food. There was even a carnival for the children.

And then the killjoys at the Brazil City Parks and Recreation Board ruined everything.

I related all of this to M, which wasn’t really newsworthy but helped pass the time as we drove through the oblivion of mid-western Indiana.

And then…and then I clicked on the comments link.

The Popcorn Festival debacle has engendered much debate in the sleepy community of Brazil. Some people support the Board’s decision because alcohol is evil and should be banned from the earth and those thoughtless and selfish festival volunteers were endangering children with their reckless suggestion. Other people point out that a golf course that neighbors the park serves alcohol all the time and there doesn’t seem to be a problem. The more I read, the more I laughed. I shared with M, and he stopped cursing at the slow drivers and started laughing, too. Here are some of my favorite comments offered by the citizens, present and past, of Brazil, with my comments following in italics (I left the comments unedited to retain the…ah…colloquial voice of Brazil, Indiana):

I have come to really dislike the annual rotary festival. It has gotten so lame over the years. I really looked forward to the popcorn festival.

Slamming the rotary festival won’t bring back the popcorn festival, dude. Plus, those party cats at the rotary probably serve beer, so maybe tie one on and you’ll have a good time.

Somehow Orville Redenbacher does not strike me as a beer drinker. Besides, We have enough idiots in this town without allowing them to get drunk at our park.

I think Orville Redenbacher loved beer. I mean, c’mon. He’s German.

the reason to not allow alcohol sales is bunk.the city lost their ***** with the forth of july due to rain,and when you figure in the expense of the new skate park and the expense of the new nature trail at craig park and the upcoming expense of the ALLEDGED four million for street repairs which will never happen,city hall forced the popcorn fest out.personally id rather see fourth of july fest gone,but the city hall knows better than take on rotary

Again with the Rotary. I’m starting to wonder if those party cats at the Rotary weren’t behind this whole thing.

[T]he decision to dissolve was for other reasons than the beer/wine tent. We knew the board would say NO. It was what happened after that which showed the ugly side of Clay County. Trust me, you can call any member and get facts of what happened about many scary and threatening calls and the actions of disgruntled festival members who left.

Okay, some serious shit was going down in Clay County. Scary and threatening calls? Damn. These people take their Popcorn Festival seriously. Someone might want to check into whether the Rotarians are into burner phones.

I cannot really believe in the backwardness of this city and its officials for letting this to come to happen, I for one believe that mayor was just like our governor and the only causes he believes in is his own and what he can gain for his own agenda,,,, this is just another step in local dictatorship and to hell with everyone elses ideas to foster new ideas in our community,,, also for all of you church goers throwing out all those scary and threatening calls I am sure our lord is looking upon you in disgust,,,, for those of you who forgot jesus did make wine and hand it out to everyone…..also stop worrying about everyone else and take care of your meth head kids and mulletheads as you described them in other posts because the real problems lie in your own home and so called virtues,,,,,, this is my vent to you all that know all but know nothing

“Meth head kids and mulletheads” is now my favorite phrase.

I believe they should paint on the tower BRAZIL HOME OF BACKWARDNESS DON’T STOP HERE

But that won’t attract 20,000 people to Brazil, so you’re totally losing a four-day boost to the local economy. No, better to paint something like, “Brazil: Don’t mess with the Rotarians.”

There should not be alcohol where are kids and grandkids are present. There is not enough in brazil for families to do, and yet you do away with one of the functions everyone enjoys. It is to bad we have to go out of town to eat, shop and enjoy ourselves, I guess people can go to the corn festival in Sullivan, and give our money to Sullivan.

Great news, there’s always the Corn Festival in Sullivan! A great alternative to the drunken, evil Rotary Festival. Woot!

I live very close to the park and the last thing I want to see is drunk people on my lawn or driving cars.

I live close to a park, which has a bar right on the other side of it, and I’ve never seen drunk people on my lawn. Well, I’ve never seen drunk people I don’t know on my lawn. Just sayin’. Also, no one wants to see drunk people driving, regardless of where they’re coming from. The Popcorn Festival doesn’t corner the market on people behaving badly.

I don’t believe, as stated in some of the posts, we would have seen people walking around with beers, drunk. It would have been a beer garden just like at Terre Haute’s Octoberfest or the Little Italy Festival in Clinton. Yes, there are some small minded people in Brazil who don’t like change, but please don’t tar all the people here with that brush.

Oh, now we’re throwing around even more festival names. That’s right, give the people more places to spend their money outside of Brazil. Keep screwing those blasted Rotarians. And I’m sorry, but ya’all tarred yourselves with this awesome comment section.

I vote to eliminate all of the park board members and start from scratch!!

Great idea! I nominate the cool people from the Popcorn Festival. They’ve got loads of spare time now.

I know others will disagree, but in all the years I went to the popcorn festival I never got free popcorn. I was always charged.

Perhaps my most favorite comment. In the midst of a fervent debate involving drunken debauchery, volunteers, popcorn, politics, and meth head kids, this guy is whining that he didn’t get free popcorn, dammit.

All because of no alcohol? What a major cop out!!! That’s okay, I will go to the REAL popcorn fest in Valparaiso, Indiana where the ORVILLE REDENBACHER factory is located, that one is SOOOOOOOOO much better then this little cheesy festival anyway!!!! I HATE BRAZIL more and more each day!!! It has become the armpit of Clay County!

Dude, there is no reason on God’s green earth you have to stay in Brazil. Move already. Move out of the armpit. I hear Valparaiso is nice. Also, if Brazil is the armpit now, where was the armpit before? And how did they dig out of that? My guess? Popcorn and Beer Festival.

I can’t wait untill my house is sold so we can move out of this rat hole town…This town will NEVER amount to anything…

Good luck selling that craphole with all this negative publicity. Who in the hell wants to move to the town that drove out the Popcorn Festival but kept the meth and the mullets?

Wow! It looks like the decision to end the Popcorn Festival is having some unintended ripple effects. According to a tweet I got from one of the TribStar’s writers, it looks like there is already a Twitter campaign to come up with a new slogan for Brazil’s water towers. The Twitter account for the campaign is @BrazilH20Tower (Brazil Water Tower)

Okay, there is a lot to work with here. First of all, what should be an O in the handle is a 0, which isn’t right. It’s O for oxygen, people. Water is two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. H20 is twenty atoms of hydrogen. Which, last time I checked, isn’t water. But of course you know I went out to Twitter to find this. Last post was in February 2015. The Brazil Water Tower hates Tom Brady and redneck hunters. My favorite tweet is, “Thought I’d take a moment this evening to remind you all that I still have something about that old popcorn festival tattooed on my ass.” The tower has also taken credit for several water main leaks, demanding action in the form of a repaint in exchange for stopping the chaos. Genius.

I am sorry this has happened. The popcorn festival is a whole lot cleaner then the 4th of July festival. Since Johnny United left we have crappy festivals. My daughter said she is gonna start taking her kids to the Terre Haute festivals they are cleaner and cheaper. At least the popcorn festival was a clean one to go to. But that is the Brazil way, sorry folks Brazil does not know how to grow it is just a welfare town.

Everyone gets a festival…except Brazil. I’m feeling more and more sorry for the bloke trying to sell his home in Brazil.

I was raised there and am very glad I no longer “exist” in that backward area of a meth lab.

Seriously, real estate values have got to be plummeting here. Might be a good investment, though, if you’re still into mullets. Or meth.

I’ll just go to the park with my own popcorn.

Yes! Finally! A real go-getter! Way to show initiative! Watch out for the meth head kids and the drunks from the neighboring golf course, though.

This town is slowly dying, and I don’t think anyone is quite prepared for that news. We long ago stopped going to the Rotary Celebration, and quite frankly, Forest Park altogether. And the other parks(Wheeler, Craig) are populated by punks and questionable adults. You would have to let me drink a beer to tolerate some of the behavior I’ve witnessed in this town! Even on a trip to McDonalds, we hear foul language and see disrespect. We just take our $ and spend it elsewhere, as I suspect others do also. BRAZIL IS DYING(slow but sure)

I hate to break it to you, but the world right now is full of foul language and disrespect. Brazil isn’t anything special in that regard. Also, ya’all gotta quit piling on the poor Rotarians. Seriously. This is starting to look like you’re eating your young. The town isn’t that big, so how many innocent Rotarians have you upset with your boycotts and your Doomsday predictions? Those people are old. Cut them some slack.

Let me ad, we do have grandchildren and we know that the town pride we felt growing up will never be shared by them. We take them out of town for shopping, eating out, swimming, playgrounds, movies, etc. etc. the list goes on and on. We recently needed a wrench for a plumbing job, and had to go to Terre Haute to buy one. (Couldn’t find one in town)

No Popcorn Festival and no wrenches?! To hell with this piece of shit town!

what good things are in our town,none that I see of a police force that cant solve crimes unless they have a traffic stop a mayor that keeps adding on tax hikes and rate increases and hasn’t done anything for a good job in this town, a park where if you have a family gathering you have to pay thru the nose,,,,by the way my brazil city tax dollars help pay for it and I still have to pay streets and storm sewers and even city sewers flood and a mayor that doesn’t even consider hiring in house help, did you even know when he got in office he let the past administration help go

I’m beginning to think Brazil has way bigger problems than the Popcorn Festival. Call me crazy.

Top 10 slogans to put on the water tower

  1. Welcome to Brazil: Home of 4th of July Carnival. Where teeth, shirts, and deodorants are optional, but we don’t like beer.
  2. Welcome to Brazil: Come to Jesusfest in the Forest Park. He may actually show up.
  3. Ahh Brazil…disagreeing with evolution since 1913.
  4. Brazil, Indiana. Where prohibition never died.
  5. Brazil Indiana: where the park board supervisor can make 105 by adding 103+2+1.
  6. Brazil: Where the Park superintendent can be a citizen, then an official, then a citizen, then an official.
  7. Brazil: If you’re gonna murder a teenage girl, this is the place. We haven’t solved a murder in years.
  8. Brazil: Where we believe in Jesus, but even the cows sleep with one eye open.
  9. Brazil, Indiana: we’re nowhere near as open-minded as that country in Europe or wherever it is.
  10. Brazil, Indiana: Where we spell “park”: C-H-I-L-D-R-E-N!!!

No comment necessary.

And to the “citizen” that states that Brazil can’t solve murders…I suggest you go back and do some simple research. I can only think of a couple that have yet to be, and know of many that were resolved.

Um. How many murders are there in a town of 7,912?

The only threat those golfers pose is having to look at those stupid pants they wear. As long as they keep their booze in that building that no one worth their salt goes into anyway, I am good! If I see someone drinking booze in the main park area, I WILL report them. I hate liquor and I do not want my kids around it. It does not belong in the park. If you want to drink, go to one of the many stupid bars in town. That is what they are there for.

So, to be clear, in this comment section we’ve insulted the Popcorn Festival volunteers, the Parks and Recreation Board, citizens of Brazil, the mayor, the police force, bar owners, and golfers.

As for the water tower…my question is, how did it get painted the way it is to begin with? Who made that call? I don’t remember any public input or public meetings where this would have been discussed.

Okay, now we’re really getting to the heart of the matter. Forget the threatening calls, the unsolved murders, the wandering drunken golfers in bad pants. WHO APPROVED THE WATER TOWER PAINTING ANYWAY? WHO?

I don’t understand what the big deal is about the Water Tower, Why do you think it should be painted at this time..just leave it alone. It will be alright.

Finally, a voice of reason.

Why can’t we have fun sober?

This here article and comment section is undeniable proof that we can indeed have fun sober.

 

Thank you, Brazil Water Tower, and the citizens who live in its shadow. You are awesome. All of you. Even the Rotarians.

Dear Henry, let’s talk chickens

I’ve been reading about writing lately, which is not as good as actually writing, but some days it’s the best I can do.

And I keep being reminded, over and over, that the only way to be a writer is to actually sit down and write. Duh. This sounds easier than it is. Butt in chair is surprisingly difficult. At least it is for me, right now.

Stephen King says, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

He also said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” which is awesome and true, but that’s a topic for a whole ‘nother post.

He’s actually got quite a few good quotes about how sitting down to do the work is the hardest part, but I’m too lazy to go look them up right now.

When I was journalism school, my favorite professor was a crotchety old adman named Henry Hager. He was of the 3-martini-lunch generation who didn’t cotton to the newfangled sensibility that it wasn’t a good idea to get hammered halfway through the work day. He bought me my first martini, Henry did, that next year when I went from being his student to being his teaching assistant.

One of the exercises he had us do was write him a letter each week. One page, double-spaced. It could be about anything we wanted. It was an exercise in sitting down and just letting the words flow. It was my favorite homework ever, even the weeks when I struggled to find something worthwhile to write. He read every single one of our letters, leaving comments about the writing or the content or both. I treasured them. At the end of the term, we were to choose our favorite ten, print them out and bind them, and hand them in. He gave us a grade that didn’t really matter in the scheme of the semester, and handed it back. I still have staple-bound packet, and it’s one of my most treasured possessions. A snapshot into my life as an undergrad journalism student dating a cute engineer who lived hundreds of miles away. Now, as a crotchety old person myself, I understand that the whole point of our turning in our ten favorites as a collection was that it gave us something to hold on to, a package. I may have all those loose letters somewhere, but I doubt it. I only have the packet because he made me make it.

I should get back into that routine of writing whatever I want, stream of consciousness, regularly. I can write to Henry. He’s pushing up daisies now; I cried when I read his obituary in my alumni magazine a few years ago. But I could still write to him, or at least to the idea of him. I imagine he’d get a kick out of it, even if I’m as far away from Hemingway as you can get.

Dear Henry,

I have two friends who are amazing and who keep me laughing and who keep me grounded. Well, I have more friends who do that than just two, but for this letter we’re talking about these two phenomenal women. We call ourselves The Chickens, mainly because of many experiences and jokes that all stem from a Jenny Lawson blog post. We didn’t start out calling ourselves The Chickens, but we ended up there and now our husbands call us that and, apparently, so do our children.

It’s incredible how well our children know us, despite the front we try to present to them. “Oh, hey, I’m your super-cool, awesome mom who always has her act together, who loves you more than you could ever imagine” is what we like to think we are. Instead, my kid is all, “Oh, hey, you’re my mom who tries really hard and who is innately human and therefore makes plenty of mistakes, and who loves me more than I could ever imagine but sometimes just needs some beer and a good cry.”

We were taking Zoe to camp on Sunday and I was doing my whole Woe-is-Me routine about how I was going to miss her and how she was going to have all the fun while I had to go to work every day. I lamented, “What will I do without you?” And she deadpanned, “You’ll get together with The Chickens and drink wine.”

Touché.

Just for your information, I haven’t seen my chickens at all this week. This is my busy season at work (well, busier season…there’s never really a slow season) and I’ve been putting in long hours. And I got my hair cut last night. Which, come to think of it, is a lame excuse for not getting together with friends. But still, what I’m trying to say is that I don’t just get together with my friends and drink wine, although I do that sometimes and with enough regularity that my daughter has lodged it in her head, and therefore knows when she grows up and becomes a busy mom that it’s important to have chickens. And wine.

So maybe I’m doing okay at this mothering thing after all.

IMG_5532Today’s pretty picture is from Sunday’s sunset. We dropped the kiddo off at camp and picked up the car with only two seats and went for a Sunday drive.

Love Notes (or…What Really Sticks)

IMG_5444Our family has a tradition of leaving love notes on post-its scattered around the house, especially when one of us parental units is leaving to go out of town. We stick them on doors and bathroom mirrors, on (and in) the mudroom shoe rack, on cookie boxes in the pantry, under her morning cereal bowl. They go in her piano and in her school books and backpack and pencil case and under her pillow. It eases our guilt when we have to leave her, and she pesters us over the phone the whole time we’re gone, wanting to know how many we left and wondering if she should keep looking. We’ve gotten pretty creative, hoping to stretch the search out over the time we’re gone and, in turn, keeping ourselves relevant even in our absence.

She collects them on her door, and her door is nearly full now, a neatly-gridded, brightly-colored collection of notes that tell her to behave and to have a good time at this function or that event and practice piano and don’t eat too many cookies and remind her that we love her and to take care of the parent staying home. Some have little inside jokes on them. M’s are sweet, while mine tend to be punny. The week she gave her Mozart presentation I left a note on her Mozart poster that said, “Mommy loves Mozart and Zoe. She loves Zoe more. Sorry, Mozart.” She still laughs at that one. She also still has the one I stuck in her mitten that says, “I gLOVE you!” and another from her shoe that says, “Peeee-yew!”

But she’s growing up and for her birthday this year we are redecorating her bedroom to bring it up to middle-school standards and so she’s looking at everything with the critical eye of a discerning almost-eleven-year-old. Thankfully, she has inherited from her parents the chuckit gene. After two weekends of both of us working on her room, I took four bags of clothes and six bags of toys to St. Vincent de Paul, and we have a few special items pulled out for hand-me-downs for family. Her room is open and clean and ready for its make-over, which will consist of new bedding, a lamp or two, throw rugs, possibly a new overhead light, and a tetraptych of Space Needle images she made with her iPhone when we were in Seattle over spring break (her idea, which I think is awesome). It’s a bit disconcerting to me, this “new” room. Even without the new stuff yet, it looks so different. The clutter is gone. The little-girl detritus that surrounds all grade-schoolers was bagged and donated or throw out. Her room already looks different, more grown-up. I’m simultaneously proud of her and sad for the ending of that phase, because it means she is also growing up.

In The Great Purge, she decided to clean the post-its off her door. My heart shattered but I said nothing, because it’s her room and her decision and I have to let go because that’s what we’re supposed to do when our children are gaining independence and learning to live as their own people. Then she said she wants to get a book to keep all her notes and my mama-heart instantly mended itself and I acted like my allergies were flaring up and wipedIMG_5445 away the tears and gave her a bear hug and danced her around the great room while she laughed at the ridiculous of her mother. I love that she wants to keep the love notes. Sweet girl. And then later, in our bathroom, she saw the two notes on my mirror from M to me, and the two notes on M’s mirror from me to him, and she graciously determined, “Just because I’m taking my notes down doesn’t mean you have to. You can keep yours!”

When I’m old(er) and gray(er) I’ll be able to read this and laugh all over at her precociousness, her willingness to indulge my whims and to reassure me that I can, indeed, make my own choices.

Clearly, she’s letting me grow up.

Regulation 1: Good Conduct

Over spring break, on our magnificent train trip out west, we visited Alcatraz. The island has been on my bucket list for many years, and it did not disappoint. Here and there, the parks department had posted signs and placards with tidbits from the United States Penitentiary Rules & Regulations book that every inmate was issued upon entering his cell for the first time. The more rules I read, the more I realized that these rules are actually pretty good for those of us who aren’t incarcerated for committing heinous crimes. At the end of the tour, when we were dumped into the gift shop (as all tours now tend to end), I felt compelled to purchase a book of 24 Rules & Regulations postcards so I could remember them.

Regulation 1, for instance, says:

Good conduct means conducting yourself in a quiet and orderly manner
and keeping your cell neat, clean, and free from contraband.

That first part is what I’d like the girls in my scout troop to learn. They don’t do anything quietly or in an orderly fashion. Ever. In fact, I think they go out of their way to be loud and disorderly. We had to implement rules and regulations for our inmates scouts that, upon reflection, may have worked well at Alcatraz, too: no shrieking, no cartwheels, and keep your shoes on. Although the administrators who put together the USP Rules & Regulations book probably classified cartwheels under being orderly in general, we found we had to be quite specific. “No gymnastics” could be interpreted, by some, as “cartwheels are okay because even girls not taking gymnastics lessons do those, so they aren’t really gymnastics.” They are wily, those scouts.

When I worked in a cube farm, I would have very much appreciated if my cubemates kept their desks neat, clean, and free from contraband. Contraband mostly being the stinky remnants of their fishy lunches. I would have liked if they didn’t cut and file their nails there, too. Ew.

Really, the person I would most like to apply these rules to is my child. She could use some good, old-fashioned, penitentiary-style raisin’. She is mostly quiet and orderly (save when she gets around a gaggle of her peers), but she most definitely does not keep her cell neat and clean, and she relishes her giant collection of contraband.

I had no idea how much kid contraband is out in the world until I got one myself. A kid, that is. Then the crap level in my home exploded exponentially. There are bits and pieces – her stuff – everywhere, all the time. Right now, without even being home, I can guarantee that there is a pair of sky-blue slippers, size 4, sitting on the floor of the great room somewhere in the vicinity of the couches. I don’t know that she ever actually wears them, although I sort of suspect that she might as they do move around. They never move into her room, though. They always hang out by the couches, and are usually lurking in places where I will trip over them. At any given time, the kitchen counter is home to: sunglasses, piano music, pencils, bookmarks, earrings, books, Hoot, candy, water bottles, school or camp papers, and a variety of bags in which she carries all of the above in random combinations. After weeks of clutter, I finally cleared the entire island counter the other night. There wasn’t a thing on it. It shocked me every time I walked by or looked that way. The great expanse. A huge plane of blessed emptiness. It lasted less than an hour, basically until she came out of her room again.

I don’t even want to look in her closet. That closet is the nexus of the contraband universe. We (meaning: me and I) go in and clean it out every few years, and she’s decently good at letting me get rid of stuff. She is not as good as her mother who would take the entire contents of said closet and stuff them into garbage bags for trash pickup Monday morning, but she does let stuff go. I have cleaned out Valentine’s from last year and countless trinkets gathered at the annual school picnic that she is thrilled about winning that day and then forgets she ever laid eyes on by the next morning. Plastic slinkies and googly-eye glasses and tiny prism kaleidoscopes and flags and capes and a flamingo hat that she can wear for only five minutes at a time because it makes her head hot. There are enough stuffed animals to staff an army of fur. Most of her bears have wardrobes far more extensive than my own. She does not have a food stash, probably because her militant parents have threatened her with solitary if they ever catch food in her room. And also because she doesn’t have siblings who steal her candy, so she can keep it in the giant candy bag in the pantry that also requires a good clean-out every year or so.

Right now, it is time to do that most dreaded task of mothers everywhere: cleaning out her clothes. Her drawers are stuffed full of clothing ranging in size from 8 to 12 (except for that one bizarrely large size 4 tie-dyed t-shirt she got at a preschool friend’s birthday party and won’t part with because it’s the softest shirt she owns) and for all seasons. Looking for her special Independence Day shirt the other day, we tore every shirt she owns out of the drawers. Both of us were close to melting down and I left the situation in M’s capable hands. He engineered the problem (because that is what he does, which is one of the many, many reasons I married him all those years ago, and because he kills bugs). He found that her drawers were so over-stuffed that, “she had a whole wardrobe of clothes that had been shoved out the back of the drawer and had fallen into the no-man’s land under the bottom drawer.” He found the desired shirt and rescued Fourth of July, and I took that as my cue to suck it up and clean out her damn drawers again. This is a job that takes half a day, infinite patience, and a bottle of wine. The patience is required to argue with the inmate over keeping a tie-dyed t-shirt that is finally too small.

This rule about contraband applies to my child’s parents, though, too. I’ll admit that there is something appealing about the idea of living a life that is neat, clean, and free from contraband. Monks actively choose this life, giving up their worldly possessions in return for room and board and life of prayer and good, honest work. Their rooms are even called cells. The cells in the monastery where I work are a good size, not tiny but not large, either. They are austere. It takes only minutes to straighten up your space if there’s not much in it. The inmates at Alcatraz had a bed, a small table and chair, a toilet, a sink, and two shelves. They were allowed only 12 books at a time. My cell, personally, must have wifi, and I could probably get around the 12-book rule with a properly stocked Kindle. But then I think I wouldn’t need much else. Not really. Neither monks nor inmates have extensive wardrobes; both essentially wear the same thing every day. There is no need to root around under the bottom drawer to find a missing garment. There is no need to argue with your inmate over whether these shorts from last year are suitable or have risen into hoochie-mama territory with a year’s growth of leg. (And, by extension, there is then no need to explain to your inmate what a hoochie-mama is.)

We have things in our house that bring me joy when I see them. This is the rule, right? Only keep what brings you joy. It’s the theory behind the tidiness movement. I have objects that bring me joy. The small pottery bird I found in Ireland when I went on my graduation trip with my father. The clay saki jar given to M by the owner of a small restaurant when he visited on two consecutive trips to Japan. A tiny black Squamish eagle acquired when we toured an aboriginal sweat lodge atop a mountain in Vancouver. These things spark wonderful memories when we see them, and bouts of cursing when I have to pick them up, dust them, and dust around them. I don’t know if I would remember that night in the Squamish lodge without the bird, or if M would ever think about that restaurant without seeing the saki jar. Do I need the rusted buffalo sculpture to recall our first Corvette trip out west, or the train that circled our wedding cake to remember the day we married? Are these items necessary memory totems, or are they just more clutter in lives already overly-bombarded by sensory inputs?

I think a human’s natural inclination is to collect, to gather. That’s why it’s so powerful that the monks choose to relinquish their possessions, and why it’s such a punishment that inmates aren’t allowed to keep theirs. There is a relatively new tiny-house movement that appeals to so many of us. It appeals to me, too. (Except for the composting toilet part. No way am I giving up the conveniences and cleanliness of modern plumbing.) With tiny houses, it’s the idea of freedom that is appealing. Because with possession comes responsibility. With possession comes commitment. A grounding. Roots in one place. I have to stay here, because here is where all my stuff stays. I have too much to leave behind. When I reflect on this, I have to fight the urge to take everything I own to Goodwill.

Here is what I think, though. Ultimately, I don’t want my daughter to always be quiet and orderly. Sometimes it’s necessary to raise hell, to speak out, to shout, even. It’s necessary to do these things to stand up for yourself, and to stand up for others. Sometimes, it’s good to shake things up with a cartwheel. I want to keep the small clay bird that makes my heart sing when I hold it, cool and heavy, in my hands. I smell the damp peat of an Irish October when I hold it, and feel the wind at the Cliffs of Moher all over again. I want to keep things that, when I look at them, flood me with feelings and memories from the places we’ve been, the things we’ve seen, the experiences we have shared. Our home may be cluttered at times, but it’s not cluttered with the latest home decorating trends. It’s filled with evidence of lives well lived. We have done a good job of being very conscious about our purchases. Do we have a place for it? Will this evoke a memory? Does this bring us joy?

And so, I will sometimes raise hell and I will keep my beloved belongings.

I can probably get rid of most of the crap on the counter, though.

Thursdays

Thursdays have been my Monday lately. Thursdays used to be my Saturday, but for the past month-plus, they are definitely Mondays.

Thursdays used to be my favorite day because of doughnuts, dress downs, and patty melts. I am a simple woman with simple pleasures. And then Thursdays consistently blew up.

It was Thursday when I found out my dad had lung cancer.

It was Thursday when I blew up my family.

It was Thursday when I realized that a week after surgery to treat the lung cancer, Daddy was still in the ICU and I still hadn’t heard him speak or laugh.

It was Thursday when the doctors did an MRI on his brain and found “something.”

I know these Thursdays because of how you remember exactly where you are when catastrophe strikes. My mother remembers (well, she used to remember) where she was when Kennedy was shot. I remember where I was when Challenger blew up, and when the twin towers fell down. I remember who was around me, how I felt, how other people reacted.

Every Thursday night I’m with my writing group. This small band of diverse people gather each week to write, to bounce ideas off each other, to celebrate victories (submissions, acceptances, the finishing of first drafts, new story ideas)…to be writerly. I was thrilled when one of them invited me to join, as this is the sort of group I’ve been longing for my whole writing life. What I didn’t realize was that this little band of writers are now much more than just the people who give me good synonyms and encourage me to keep writing.

They give me real support, the kind that goes well beyond writing.

I know this because when my life blows up each Thursday night, I am with them. And they immediately give me hugs. There is no judgment, there are no questions. Just loving concern. I sit at my computer and then I start crying and they kindly ignore me until I look up, shaking, and make eye contact and they realize I’m about ready to bolt or lose my shit or, quite possibly, both at the same time.

The hugs are the good kind. The kind that are tight and long and unrelenting. The kind that say, “I have you. You are safe, at least for this moment. I get it.”

The first time this happened I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared for these people to give so much of themselves, so much of their own humanity. Our conversations around the writing table are typically pretty light-hearted. I inevitably end up laughing and feeling so thankful that I was invited into this little community where the topics are wide-ranging and I learn something new each week. I considered this group my friends, definitely, but they were segmented into my “writing friends” group. Not my “cry my heart out friends” group. (I have those, too, but I don’t get to see them the same night each week, although I should because that would be awesome.)

Then one Thursday night all my fears and emotions about my mother’s Alzheimer’s came tumbling out, manifesting themselves awkwardly in public through my tear ducts. I stood up to bolt, because no one wants to bawl their eyes out in the local coffee house. I was cramming my belongings back into my backpack when one of my writer friends stood up, too, and wrapped me in a giant bear hug. All he said was, “I know.” And I remembered that his mother has Alzheimer’s and that he cared for her until he couldn’t anymore and that he visits her all the time in the facility that now cares for her better than he can. And I knew that he knows exactly how I feel and that I am not alone, despite feeling that way most of the time. Why do I forget I’m not the only person to go through this? Why do I think that I should hide my feelings about this because no one would understand? That’s the sort of garbage thinking that derails me completely. Left to its own devices, my brain will spin and spin, gaining in speed and destruction. It takes someone who has been there, reaching out to stop the escalation and still the spin, to get me back on track. It takes someone who knows the wide range of ever-changing emotions that comes with having a loved one with Alzheimer’s. It takes someone who can say only, “I know” and have it mean worlds. Only then can I slow down, stop, and remember that I am not alone, that there is a path through. It may not be the same path, but it’s a journey that none of us has to take alone.

I’ve written a lot over the past couple of weeks, and it has helped me feel better even though I know it’ll never be published anywhere. It’s been too dark here, though, even though the dark is sometimes comforting. I need my presence here, even while I want to hide under the covers.

Daddy’s surgery was almost two weeks ago. The surgery went fine. All the stuff after – the stuff that’s supposed to be the recovery – hasn’t gone well. At all. It took over a week and half to hear him talk. I miss his laugh. I miss his ever-present concern over our well being. Instead, I’ve seen him in conditions that I will never forget, and that will always make me cry.

They don’t know what’s going on. At first, he was aggressive when they feathered off his sedation. They don’t know why he woke up once and, even with restraints, managed to yank out his IV, his NG tube, and his chest tube. The nurses finally got him subdued and tightened his restraints and, I imagine, gave him something that knocked him on his ass for his own good.

It’s not supposed to be going like this. He’s actually supposed to be home now, grouchy but whole. He’s supposed to be grimacing as he sits up and doing his breathing exercises and setting up follow-up appointments. He’s not supposed to be still incoherent at best, and unconscious at worst.

Mom knows what’s going on, generally. She doesn’t understand why he’s not home yet, which is perfectly normal because we don’t understand, either. She forgets that she’s already been to see him today. She cries because she misses him. We all cry because we miss him.

I think perhaps the hardest part is the unknown. We don’t know what’s wrong. So we don’t know how to fix it. We don’t know when it’ll be right again.

Sometimes I’m able to step outside my reality, and look at it objectively. That’s the woman whose dad is in critical condition. That’s the woman whose father has been in the surgical ICU for almost two weeks. How sad that must be for her. I wonder what’s going to happen? I wonder how she’s dealing with that? I think I’m able to do this mostly because some part of me just can’t believe that this is what is actually happening. At work, one day last week, colleagues started showing up in my office. “I’m so sorry about your dad and mom. I had no idea.” Over and over. I realized that someone must have sent out an email. It was touching and weird all at the same time, because I have been on those emails, have felt bad for the subject of those emails, have wondered how that person is coping with so much tragedy all at once. That’s when I could step outside my reality and look at myself clinically, as someone else. That poor woman whose world is crashing around her.

My sister and I take turns breaking down and building each other up. We text and email a lot during the day. She calls me with updates after she talks to the ICU nurses. She tells me over and over that I can call them myself and get updates, but I don’t know what to say to the nurses, or how to understand what they tell me. She has the medical background. She asks questions in that special code of medical language that I can’t decipher, the code that tells her volumes through data. She gets his temperature (the highs and lows). She checks on his oxygen, on his heart rate. She knows what all the different medications are that they’re trying, and what their dosages mean. She knows which is a sedative and which is for fever and which are his normal medications that he takes on a daily basis. She takes in all those terms, all those numbers and knows if he’s doing better today than he was yesterday. I say only, “What’s going on? Is he better? Have you fixed him? Why can’t you fix him?”

When the nurses answer my sister, they speak in that shared, common language. When the nurses speak with me, they speak in the dumbed-down language that they reserve for the Muggles of the medical world. “He’s doing a bit better today! Just wait, one of these days it’ll be like flipping a switch and he’ll be back to himself!” They are kind and professional and caring to both of us.

He has started coming back to us, slowly. He started speaking yesterday. When I visited him this afternoon, I couldn’t understand much of what he was saying. He wasn’t too responsive to me, and I realized that I wasn’t speaking loud enough. The nurse bustled around, belting out questions and getting crisp responses from him. I went to leave and spoke loudly, like she did. It felt like shouting to me. “Daddy! I’m leaving now but I will be back tomorrow. I love you!” He opened his eyes, puckered his lips, and gave me a kiss. He said, “I love you.” My heart soared and everything inside stilled and the universe tilted a little bit back towards center. And I realized that I will never again take it for granted when he says, “I love you.” I will remember when he asks me, for the fifth time, “Did you lock your doors? Did you close the garage?” he is really saying, “I want you to be safe because I love you.”

This Thursday was good. I am moved into a new office at work and today felt settled there. (Maintenance hung my pictures yesterday, which always makes it feel like home.) I had a wonderful end-of-the-year lunch with colleagues after an end-of-the-year plenary faculty meeting where five of my peers were recognized for being amazing people. There were doughnuts in the faculty lounge this morning. The rain stopped and the sun came out and Daddy said, “I love you.”

I’m sitting here with a group of writers, some of us writing and some of us talking about writing, and nothing is blowing up. When I arrived tonight, anxious because of how the past Thursdays have gone, two of my writer friends immediately looked me in the eye and asked how things are going. I relaxed, and said, “Much better, thanks.”

And then I sat down and started writing.

I’ll just put this out here…

My mother has stage six Alzheimer’s.

My daddy has a tumor in his lung.

And a girl with heavy, kohl eyeliner challenged my myopia tonight.

I keep trying to write here, and I keep getting nowhere. I’ve started and stopped, and started again. Over and over. Each post seems whiny and definitely not funny at all. I try to find humor every single day, and at the moment it eludes me. So I just don’t post anything. I go dark, and admittedly have found some solace there.

I’m not saying I don’t laugh at all. I do. People at work are funny and they say things in passing that make me laugh. Zoe regularly cracks me up, as does M. But I don’t have sustained, gut-busting, tear-inducing, therapeutic laughter. I haven’t had the kind of experiences lately that make me think, “Now that’s a funny blog post.” Instead, I’m feeling battered. I’m dodging curveballs and continually assessing and adjusting, and I’m so exhausted I can’t even imagine what might be coming next. I’m day-to-day right now. A friend told me that’s how I’ll get through this, and I know she’s right. I’m starting to truly understand that day-to-day is another way to say survival. I remind myself that this is where I am right now. I am going through this, but that’s the beauty of it…I are going through it. I am not standing still. I will come out the other side. Bruised but whole. Stronger in the broken parts. Hopefully.

I went to open mic tonight, having in mind one piece to read (which started as a short story but has largely just been an extended character study so far) and wound up changing at the last minute to something more light-hearted. The only thing I’ve written with any humor in it lately, largely inspired by half a bottle of wine. It was okay. It got a few laughs. People came up after and told me they liked it and I ran out of business cards, which is not as impressive as it sounds after I admit that I only carry three at a time. I was asked to join a critique group, which both thrills me and makes me wonder if I can handle adding anything else right now, even if it’s something I desperately want and need to continue to improve my craft. The critique group may have to wait. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it can’t. I’ll have to see when I get to that day. It’s on the fifteenth, I think. That’s a million miles away.

I woke up at 3 a.m. one morning last week and wondered how in the hell can I be a mother. I feel so lost, so unmoored…how can I be raising a child? If I don’t know what I’m doing, how can I guide her? It was unsettling, and kept me up. That one might fester for awhile.

I’ve been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast, on the recommendation of a dear friend who knows me to my soul and always seems to point me in exactly the right direction when I’m wandering lost. The podcast, perfect lengths for a commute to and from work, is like a little bit of oxygen in a starved environment. It helps me remember that I’m not alone, that other people are struggling to create (music, writing, paintings), too. Everyone has some sort of struggle. One woman Ms. Gilbert interviewed has found herself creatively stuck after losing her sister two years ago. I could hear her grief, which sounded as fresh as if she had lost her sister yesterday. And I am grateful, for at the very least, despite everything else I’ve got going on, I still have mine. (I tried like hell to lose her last week, but we persisted and she’s stuck with me and I know that even when we fight it’s because we love so very much.)

I cry a lot now. I’m all for a good cry every now and then. It releases everything, leaves the heart clear, fresh and shining like the world after a good storm. My crying, though, hasn’t been the good, clearing kind. It’s been the kind that comes unexpectedly when someone looks at me – really looks at me – and asks, “How are you doing?” Yesterday it was my monk who triggered my tears; he who contains whole worlds in his eyes. His students swear he can see into your very soul when he looks at you. I understand why they think that.

There is a group of women – mothers – where I work who have offered to help me, to help my family. They are offering to bring us meals. I received an email from one of them and burst into tears. Their kindness stunned me into speechlessness. I couldn’t even write back immediately. I waited until the next morning. I explained everything that is going on. She wrote back and said I know. She said I know exactly where you are. She said My dad had Alzheimer’s. I cried again and my heart broke for her and for me and I found comfort in this awful, shared experience.

I went to open mic tonight and when a girl with kohl eyeliner stood up and belted out two powerful poems, I was transported out of my world and into hers, just for the briefest of moments. It felt good to be challenged, to be reminded that there are so many other experiences happening every minute of every day. Some are just as painful as mine, if not more. Some are joyous and full of delight and wonder. The former gives me strength; the latter gives me hope.

When Nora Ephron’s mother was on her deathbed, she told her daughter, “Take notes.” She had also told her, over and over again, “Everything is copy.” I believe that, and because I believe that I write through it all, good and bad. So I’ve decided to just put this out there, and you all can see where I am right now. It’s not a happy-fun place. It’s nothing that will make you laugh. It’s simply where I am, who I am right now: raw and battered, red-eyed and exhausted, and definitely not funny. My mother has Alzheimer’s. My daddy has a tumor in his lung. As painful as this is, it’s my reality. Maybe you’ll find some strand of shared experience, something that makes you think, “Me, too” and realize you aren’t alone, either. Maybe you won’t, but you’ll get a glimpse into a life different than your own and learn something new. Maybe you’ll say, “Bah. I liked it better when she wrote funny.” Me, too, friend. Me, too.

The gift

I read a business book years ago called A Complaint is a Gift. The premise is that businesses should look at customer service not as a wearisome task that needs to be dealt with, but as an opportunity to better your organization while potentially creating brand ambassadors. The concept is so stunningly simple that it’s amazing more companies don’t adhere to it. Listen to your customers, admit your error, and graciously fix what’s wrong. This happens so little these days that when it does, customers are blown away and won over, often leaving even more happy with the company than if they’d never had an issue to begin with. “I will stick with this company, because they stuck by me.” What seems like should be a basic human value – treating others well – still clearly needs to be outlined in a business book. It’s a good reminder for all of us, though.

The book was interesting in that it gave statistics to back up why it’s so important to listen to people and resolve their issues. You know, just in case you need proof that you should be a decent human being. For every one person that calls (or emails) to complain, there are seven more who are just as unhappy but who choose to stop doing business with your company. For the silent seven, their resolution of choice is departure, which is not what any company wants, and telling everyone they know about their horrible experience, which every company dreads.

On the heels of reading this book, the president of the organization I was working for proposed a new policy that virtually guaranteed an unhappy customer base. I saw it coming a mile away, and counseled (loudly and persistently) against it. I was overruled, the policy was implemented, and I watched, horrified, the revenue carnage that ensued. After a few weeks of tracking complaints, I took a report in to the president. She leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms, and replied, “If they’re unhappy, they can go somewhere else.” Well, they did. Sales tanked. Cash flow slowed to a crawl. It was like watching a car accident happen in slow motion.

After a year, remembering the book I read about complaints, I conducted another analysis mostly just out of curiosity. I took the complaints that I had tracked (number of calls, emails, and in-person complaints), and multiplied by seven based on the book’s statistic. This gave me a total number of unhappy customers, if the book’s premise held true. I then took the total number of unhappy customers and multiplied it by our average sale amount, and I’ll be darned if it didn’t come out to almost exactly the amount of sales decline over the prior year. I was stunned. I took my statistical proof to the president, and suggested that our customers had indeed done exactly what she challenged them to. They left. She waved me off, the policy stayed, and I eventually departed like so many of those unhappy customers.

Now, I’m sure there were many other variables that contributed to the decline in sales. But still, those numbers were pretty compelling. And it taught me, again, that when someone tells you you’ve done something wrong, you should listen and apologize and learn and change. Because I think this is a good thing for people to do, not just companies, I try to apply it to my own life.

This week, someone told me I did something wrong. It’s one of you, dear readers. The concern was expressed anonymously, which doesn’t lessen the validity of the complaint in the slightest. The fact is, I messed up. I own my mistakes, all of them, because they all teach me something. I won’t get into the details of how I messed up or how I tried to fix it (because who wants to blast their own imperfections out to the internets…especially if one is mortified, as I happen to be), but I do want to acknowledge to myself (and maybe to the reader, if I haven’t lost him or her, and maybe to the seven others who didn’t complain but felt the same way) that I am still growing and learning and figuring things out. I am so grateful that someone had the courage to point out to me what I had done wrong, otherwise I’d have never known. How many of us can easily see our own faults?

I receive gifts every single day. My family, friends, and colleagues make me laugh, which is a huge gift. People show me love and support through their words, their hugs, and sometimes a bottle of beer. My daughter snuggles with me and tells me she loves me. My husband insists that I don’t skip writing group, knowing that this time is so important to me. My photography friends share their beautiful images, and my writing friends share their beautiful words. My extended family shares their lives with me. And I have people in my life who help me be a better person by pointing out ways I can improve. I am rich in an abundance of gifts of all kinds. This is what I must remember when life feels hard, when in addition to the gifts I receive bad news, as I did last week (also not willing to disclose). (At least not yet.)

I am grateful for these gifts. All of them.

The lesson of Boaty McBoatface

I received three bits of disturbing news today. My best friend from 7th grade is back in the hospital with a headache from hell that will not go away, my dad had to have some testing done for a potential health issue, and the U.K.’s science minister announced that despite overwhelming polls to the contrary, he will most likely not allow the country’s new research vessel to be named Boaty McBoatface.

Let’s dig into that last one, shall we?

The National Environment Research Council (NERC) in Britain conducted an online poll to name their new $300 million research ship, due to launch in 2019. They accepted nominations from everyone. After Englishman James Hand jokingly suggested Boaty McBoatface, the internet did what it’s best at and pandemonium ensued. Thousands, then tens of thousands, then over a hundred thousand people voted, and Boaty McBoatface won in a landslide. It received 120,000 votes, four times the number of the next entry. There were so many voters that at one point the site crashed.

This, my friends, is awesome, and a great lesson in “How to ask a question so you get the answer you want.” Also known as, “That time an open-ended, online poll bit me in the rear end.” Someone at NERC was asleep at the wheel when this promotion was launched. Or NERC decided that no one knows what the heck they do anyway and so only nerds geeking out on oceanic exploration would bother to nominate names, and only names of worthy deceased explorers or forgotten politicians who supported exploration or other Important People no one has heard of. Regardless, the outcome is not what they wanted.

My guess is, as the numbers started ticking up and Boaty McBoatface took off in a run-away landslide blowout of epic proportions, the NERC folks started breathing in paper bags. “No no no, Nigel! This is not how it was supposed to go!”

That’s the way it went, though, and then the internets did what it’s second-best at and the story went viral. I’m generally not the most plugged-in kind of person (yet another sign of my advancing age…darn whippersnappers) and even I knew about it. So that unequivocally means it went viral. The more I read about Boaty McBoatface, the more I laughed. In fact, I pretty much haven’t stopped laughing about it since I first read the words “Boaty McBoatface.” I mean, c’mon. That’s just funny. I told M about it last night and he started laughing, and then promptly texted the Brit who works for him and gave him nine kinds of hell. Richard’s response was something along the lines of “I’ll take Boaty McBoatface shenanigans over Trump any day. Wanker.”

And then today I read that the science minister (which is a cool title, I’ll give him that) announced that Boaty McBoatface is in fact most certainly not funny and that no, NERC will most likely not be naming their hoity-toity research ship that and will indeed select a most proper name. All delivered, I’m sure, in a snotty British accent. (He’s British, after all, so that’s to be expected.)

He’s quoted as saying, “I think we were clear when launching the competition that we were looking for a name that would be in keeping with the mission.” He then sniffed with disdain.

I think he’s making a mistake. I mean, sure, the poll didn’t go the way they planned. It went way better. This is a public relations dream. I’m going to hazard a guess that the vast majority of people who voted for Boaty McBoatface hadn’t even heard of NERC and their mission before this poll. And if they had, they didn’t give a rip. Boaty McBoatface gave them a reason to invest, to be involved, to care. And care they did, in record numbers.

If NERC had a PR professional worth her salt (like, you know, if they had me), they’d be full steam ahead with naming their ship in accordance with what the people want. Think of the fan base they would engender. So many people would follow the adventures of Boaty McBoatface way more than they’d ever pay attention to what’s happening on the HMS Simon Smythingtonshireham. The marketing opportunities are endless. The educational potential – enchanting children on a level that appeals to them – blows my mind. This is the chance for NERC to really engage the public on polar research and climate change. It’s like in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s world in Kansas is in sepia and then she steps through her tornado-blown doorway into a Technicolor world. Who wants to view vibrant marine life in black and white?

Science minister Johnson instead said, “You want a name that fits the gravity and the importance of the subjects that this boat is going to be doing science into.” Seriously, this man should not be allowed to talk to reporters, much less make boat-naming decisions, but I digress.

I posit that there is too much gravity in this world. There are too many serious subjects, and after awhile, most people tune them out despite their importance. The sheer volume of data flying in our faces means that unless it’s catchy or super-intriguing, it’s gonna be gone without a second thought in moments. If it even lasts that long.

My recommendation, as a PR professional, would be to keep “Boaty McBoatface.” Exploit it. Use it to your advantage and leverage the heck out of it. Match the quirky moniker with real education, good information, facts about our planet. Make science actually fun and appealing. Sneak in some learnin’ while people are having a good time.

My prediction, as a PR professional, is that “propriety” will rule. The ship will be named something no one will remember, and it’ll steam off to do its work in boring ambiguity without fanfare, without good press, and without the interest of anyone not actually on the boat.

As for me, after years of wondering what I’d name my boat if I ever got one, well, I think I know my answer.