Sunday, January 31, 2016

Advice from a Woman Who is Old Enough to Be Your Mother

I hate that time when I'm recovered enough from a virus that I can see everything I need to do but I still feel crappy enough that I can't do it.

I can see that my house is dirty. I'm not a neat freak, but this is too much. I don't mind things being messy. I just don't like when they're messy and dirty. I'll feel better when my kitchen sink is clean. Instead, I'm lying in my recliner feeling that it's too much effort to hold my hands up to type and maybe it would feel better if I were actually lying down. I tried lying down, but I don't need to sleep either. I'm sick of TV. Plus, I'm starting to feel flatter, as if I'd turn into a two-dimensional character if I lay in bed any longer.

I'm not quite feeling well enough to read my book either. It's a vigorous book full of angst and horrible things that people do, Trash by Dorothy Allison. I think it's magnificent writing. It may even be important and I don't declare a book important more than once every five or ten years. Endurance by Alfred Lansing is important. Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Maybe Dorothy Allison fits in there too, but it's so agonizing to read, especially since I'm still feeling dizzy and slightly out of phase with the world. I don't like feeling out of phase.

Maybe I should read a romance novel instead or some candy fluff book or comedy. I need more comedy but Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman hasn't arrived on my doorstep yet. Mike ordered light bulbs from Amazon and got them today. It's Sunday, people. Did he really need light bulbs today? Couldn't I have gotten Good Omens today too, then? But I did the right thing and told Amazon I wasn't really in a hurry for a comedy. Well, maybe I am in a hurry for comedy now. Too bad for my poor postal worker. He's a good guy, but he's starting to look too thin and hurry off before I can get to the door with Teddy, the excited dog, when he rings the doorbell. "Wait!" I want to yell after his departing truck. "Teddy loves you and you need a dog hug about now." But it would be futile, I see, as I watch him pull out onto the highway and look to see if my book has come. Light bulbs. Crap light bulbs.

I managed to take Teddy to the dog park yesterday. I was my big accomplishment for the day. Today, that accomplishment is holding my hands above this damned keyboard. At first, there were a bunch of people and dogs at the park. It was a glorious day, full of blue and yellow light, clouds that could have been painted by John Constable. People wanted to talk and I fell into that groove without feeling I had to work at it. I can talk to a wall, folks. One guy wanted to talk about his brother who paddled a drift boat. Another pair of men wanted to talk about dog breeds and behavior. I love that subject. Herding dogs, runners, independent dogs, big dogs in small bodies.

But there was this one last guy, a guy with a puppy. And he wanted to talk.

I'm telling you that I've reached a new age in my life. I hadn't realized it until the other day when I hiked to the viewpoint at Cedar Butte and this young woman slowed her ass down to my pace, glacial, to walk and talk with me. I was heaving, probably coming down with the virus I was about to get, but trying to hold up the conversation and not walk too slowly at the same time.

I finally managed to get her into talking mode so I could stop talking and soothe the light-birds who were sweeping around my peripheral vision. I'm honing the gift for asking the right questions to keep people talking. The problem is that it's getting serious from where I stand.

This woman asked me if she should move back to Bellingham. 'How should I know?' I wanted to gasp at her. 'If you want advice, go hike at Snoqualmie Peaks where you can find the Buddhist monk.' I wanted to wheeze.

"Hmm," I sighed instead. "That's a great place to live." And then I had to stop talking or stop walking, one. I stopped talking. She took that as a opening to go into the pros and cons for each choice. Crap, this wasn't simple chatting. I could end up saying the wrong thing and ruining someone's life, a total stranger's life. She seemed like a nice woman and I didn't want to screw up her future with my bad advice. I didn't know all the facts. I couldn't know which way she should go. I huffed a few responses as she pondered, a "that's true" and a "but where are your friends?" and such. I hope to think I didn't say anything meaningful at all, that she came up with all her own answers but I'm not sure I stayed in a neutral zone. I have opinions, you know. I'd hate to be the cause of misery from a bad choice, but maybe she was on the right track anyway. I hoped she was on the right track.

But why me?

It didn't occur to me then. All last week after her face kept popping up in my mind, I wondered about that moment when she stopped walking and turned around and waited for me to give her the best answer I had. "That's a great place to live," I had said. How lame is that? It all made me feel old, older than a mom with a fifteen year old boy. This woman was an adult asking adult questions.

And then yesterday, there I was at the dog park with his guy, an adult guy, and his puppy. All I wanted was to pet the puppy, an adorable puppy, while the guy just wanted to talk.

"Are you sleeping through the night yet?" I asked him, laughing at my choice of words.

"Not yet, but she's a good girl. She's trying so hard."

"I can see she's a good girl. She's going to be a great dog. What a sweet disposition," I said as I leaned over her and petted her with both hands. She wiggled and stared into my face while Teddy swung around to be loved a little bit too. I had actually zoned out a little bit, looking into both dogs' eyes one after another as I petted them and didn't quite realize that this man had begun to spiral the conversation into a different zone. I managed to put in some minor comments to keep the flow of conversation going. I needed more time with this love-fest that was happening at my fingertips. I'd been sick and this was making me feel better. But all of a sudden, this adult man was asking me a question, looking at me as if I'd been sitting in the back of class and I had missed an important oral quiz from the teacher while I daydreamed. I snapped to attention.

"So, what do you think?" he asked as he looked deeply into my eyes. "Do you think I'm ready for the responsibilities of a real baby?"

Oh shit. What the hell do I know?

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Snot Wins

There's a moment when you're beginning to feel better from a virus that you're not quite better yet. Television bores you. You're still a mouth breather, but for a moment, you start thinking of all the things you need to do, the pile of stuff that didn't get done when you were sick and you are going to be hit with when you get up from the damned couch. Your butt aches from sitting on the couch so long. Your eyes are gummy bloodshot marbles in your head and you've mostly listened to all twelve episodes of 'This American Life' because you began to have bad dreams about the scooter and life alert. You'd already watched all of the NOVA episodes during previous viruses along with Dr. Who and Downton Abbey. You no longer call it Downtown Abbey but does that really mean you're smarter than the people who do?

You stand up to get a cold Perrier and for the first time in three days, your left nostril opens. Momentarily, it feels like a caterpillar is crawling around in there. Wouldn't that be a horror flick? Right. They did that. Was it Dune? Your mind isn't clear, but the sensation gives you the creeps.

And then your nose begins to run, faster than you can get to the tissues to catch it. The tissues are in the living room next to the spot you've inhabited for the past three days. Gross. As you throw down the unopened Perrier and are running for the tissues, snot goes down your lips and onto your cupped hand. You can only blow on one side of your nose, but what a relief. You experimentally breathe in and out a bit, but the worm moves. Remember the worm? So you go back to being a mouth breather, go back into the kitchen, wash your hands, and look at the pile of dirty dishes your family has so conveniently stacked on the counter for your return.


You begin by emptying the top rack of the dishwasher. It was loaded wrong and that rice pot should have been rinsed out. Still, a human other than you ran a load of dishes while you were as much as gone. Only three things need to be scrubbed and rewashed. It isn't bad, but before you're finished with the top rack, your nose begins to run again.

And you didn't remember to put a spare tissue into your pocket. You'll try to remember that as you run to the box in the living room again. Snot wins. What a mess.

You blow, toss the tissue, wash your hands, and go back to unloading the top rack of the dishwasher. You're stacking seal-able plastic containers that never seal when it begins again. Pocket? No tissue. Run, drip, blow, toss, wash, and go back to stacking seal-able plastic containers that don't seal. And then you unload the glasses. Somehow, with all the free mugs, canteens, and inherited cups, yours don't quite fit into the cabinet without being organized a certain way. You're ruminating about other people's perfectly matching glass glasses with room to spare in beautiful new cabinets when your nose begins to run again. Fine. You have a tissue in your pocket. You win.

But only for a moment because this job needs more than one tissue. Snot wins again. You run, stuff four spares, blow, toss, wash, and go back to the dishwasher. This is getting exhausting. You're about to gather silverware when your breath hitches. You quickly toss them back into the dishwasher. Three spoons and a fork fall onto the floor. A dirty floor. Damn. You stand up and grab the counter so you won't accidentally pee yourself. Kegels, ladies, stoplight kegels. Or you can do them when you're talking to boring people. You haven't been in a car for three days or spoken to anyone but your family and every other muscle has become flaccid and weak.

You grab the wad of tissues out of your pocket and you sneeze. It's a serious sneeze, but you hold your water. However, you don't manage to get that wad of tissues away from your face without goobers all over both hands. And your ribs? Why are your ribs so sore? It feels like you've been doing stomach crunches.

It's all the sneezing.

At least you've gotten some exercise. Right?

Snot wins another point. You toss, wash, and go back to staring at the dishwasher. Fuck the dishwasher. You shuffle back to your spot on the couch to see what's on TV.

On the way, your nose begins to run again. You reach into your pocket. No tissues. Snot wins, folks. Snot wins again.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, January 16, 2016

An Imaginary Lunch with Judi Dench

I'm generally not big on cleaning, but I'm cleaning today. It's a good day to clean because I turned the music up and I can think. I needed to think still today because it's been a hard week with people dying. I just want to hold up my hand to the face of Death and say, "Wait. Wait for a while because you've been overwhelming me with all these people."

I need to clarify. No one I actually knew died this week. It's just been a series of people who I almost knew or who I thought I knew because I saw them all the time. 

Alan Rickman.

Here's the thing - I never even told Mike that I had a secret crush on Alan Rickman. Oh, he probably knew because I sat through any movie with Alan Rickman over and over, but I never admitted it out loud. He was one of the few I had looked up on IMBD and figured out if I was old enough to marry. Thirteen years. That's close enough, but it's too late now. And I'm happy. I hope Alan Rickman was happy too.

I can't even have lunch with him now. Alan Rickman is one of those guys I would have liked to invite to lunch so I could ask him all these impertinent questions. Why did you like to play the bad guy? How did it feel to play the hero in a Jane Austen movie? Did your life ever imitate your art? Did you ever feel like you were acting out your own life, like someone was watching this cosmic movie and you were the main character? How did you pick all these amazing movies from their scripts alone? What made you most happy?

Alan Rickman joins Einstein, Buddha, Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart, Neil Armstrong, Marie Curie, Jesus, my dad, President Obama and his wife, and Paul Giamatti on my list of people I would like to invite to lunch. Oh, there might be others, but if I can't think of them right now, should they really be on that list?

I loved Alan Rickman. I always will. It's even better because I keep reading that behind all those evil and superficially evil roles, he was kind. Kindness is a big attraction, guys.

So, I've been listening to my music and wondering if he'd ever heard this song or read that book that I just read and loved. Did you read 'A Man Called Ove' yet? Oh man, read it. Stop everything and read it now. I laughed and cried and wanted it to go on and on and on forever. Come to think of it, Alan Rickman would have done a good job playing Ove in a movie. And now he never can.

There's another death that's closer to home. I can't talk about that death here. I really can't. It wouldn't be a good thing. I just want to tell you that this nearer death was a tragedy. It might have been prevented but it wasn't somehow. It was someone I didn't know, but there was only one degree of separation between us. I knew his mom, his brother, and his dad a little. I knew friends of his. I had only met him once and he was kind in that moment.

So, I'm cleaning today and thinking about him. Actually, most people would call it praying. I'm hoping that this boy's mother and brother and father can keep breathing during these overwhelming days. I'm thinking that I'm so grateful for Mike and Nick and all the wonderful people around me. I'm thinking that there might be peace and relief from pain for this boy. I'm thinking about all that lost potential.

I hate being obscure. You know, how people get onto Facebook and write this longwinded request for sympathy and they don't even tell you what's happening in their lives. The worst is when they check in at a hospital or clinic and still don't tell you. What the hell?

This is different. It's not my story and so I can't tell it. I can only tell you that I'm impacted by it all, that it's in my head, swirling around and around. My mind wants to fill in blanks, explain what can't be explained. My mind wants a continuance, a conference with Death. There is no going back and fixing things with Death.

I know Death. Twice, I've watched Death fly off with someone I loved. The moment, the exact moment of death is ethereal, but it hurts so bad afterward. I've bargained with Death and won. I've bargained with death and lost. Some day I should tell you about when my dad died. It would not be an easy story to tell, but I know it's there, like Death, waiting in the wings to be told, a long dark story with one moment of peace or beauty or vision at the heart of it. I'm still not sure how to describe it to you, that one moment when you can see or feel life leave a person and it is whisked upward. There's a pause, an almost audible pop of a bubble, when life leaves a room and is gone.

And so I'll go back to cleaning. I'm more behind than I'd intended. And I'll let my thoughts swirl around and around and around these people who left this world this week.

I want to tell you, Paul Giamatti, Judi Dench, President and Michelle Obama, and Patrick Stewart. Take care of yourselves this week. Take really good care, because there's a lunch me in your futures if you're ever interested. No, I'm not an important person and I certainly can't add to your already blisteringly bright futures, but it could be fun, right?


Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sending a Valentine's Day Card to My GYN

It's a beautiful day out and I have not yet sent out my Christmas/New Year/Whatever-Holiday-Comes-After-That Cards.

I've finished half of my cards, the easy ones, the ones replying to people who still sent us Christmas cards even though we missed last year entirely. They are easy. These are the people that like me no matter how much I procrastinate or dork up a conversation or the words on the back of our family photo.

I wish I could show you what most of these cards look like. I start out all writing big and pretty and generic with my sharpie pen because it's the only thing that doesn't continuously smear on the back of photo paper. Then, I get real and tell you about what really happened last year and my writing gets smaller and scrawlier. Then, just before the end, I write something stupid about how Nick broke his finger twice, got a concussion, and how I spent Christmas in the bathroom because some stupid medicine I took for my skin made me have a terrible, and according to the online description of the side-effects - a possibly permanent case of raging IBS that would forever keep me shackled to within fifteen feet of a bathroom. Then, as usual, I realize my mistake and run out of room to write. At the bottom of the card, I squeeze in all the right sentiments about how great friends they are and how I hope we all have another fun year yakking at Starbucks together. (Talking, not puking.)

I do that for the first fifteen cards then realize that these people DO NOT EVER want to hear about my potentially-permanent case of IBS even if they are really good friends and I figure out that if I keep out the last card I wrote and look at it while I write, I can skip that part and the whole thing goes a little smoother except that I'm still writing myself into a tiny little corner of the card and I barely fit our names at the bottom.

So much for neatness.

And punctuality, unless these are Valentine's Day cards in which case I'm really on it, people. I am cruising and it's all beautiful because these people will have to put our photo onto their refrigerator for a while and, if they're like me, that photo could be there until the next Advent season comes because they've already taken down their Christmas cards for this year.

Unless our photo goes straight into their recycle bin. You know you can't recycle photo paper, don't you? In which case I wish I'd never sent you a card to begin with if you don't look at our loving faces for more than a day or two before you recycle us.

I always have Mike order too many cards. One year, we had about twenty left over when I got done with the people I really cared about and I sent a bunch to people who almost definitely recycled us after looking at us for all of three minutes when they realized they couldn't read my crazy Sharpie handwriting anyway. And they must have been wondering why I sent them a Christmas card since they didn't send me one, would never consider sending me one. Some of those people, the nice ones, put us on their Christmas card list for a while, but dropped us again after we missed last year entirely. They only know that we didn't send THEM a card, not that we missed the activity completely. I find I want to explain this to them, that it wasn't personal. But do I really pay attention to who doesn't send me a Christmas card? I barely notice after three years that my brother and his wife send me two cards every year because I imagine somehow I've gotten onto both of their independent lists and they don't want to mess up by not sending one at all but they don't communicate to each other who they're individually sending cards to. They too could order about twenty fewer cards, I imagine.

I always say I'll never order too many cards again, but this year, I have about ten more cards than I needed and Mike was right about how many we would actually use and I'll have to try to find some kindly places for our extra cards with people who are willing to adopt us onto their fridge for at least a week before they toss us into the proper bin.

I hate imagining our faces at the bottom of that pile of inner cereal box linings, kitty litter, and uneaten salad from Nick's lunch. I hate it. Even stacked with junk mail and envelopes from bills is better than the bottom of the garbage can even though you're not supposed to recycle photo paper.

So, here are my requests regarding our Valentine's Day card. Don't bother trying to read my messy message on the back of our photo unless you want to hear TMI about potentially permanent IBS that wasn't in fact permanent. If you're not going to look at our faces on your fridge for the next month, if you're going to recycle us directly or worse put us at the bottom or the limp salad and kitty litter, don't add us to your list of Christmas cards next year. If you do discard us immediately, just smile discreetly when you see me next and fake it for all of our sakes. I will know we ended up in the kitty litter. I will just know. And I promise, I vow that I will not send Christmas/Valentine's Day cards next year to my veterinarian, my GYN, or my mammogram technician.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, January 4, 2016

Clutching the Back of His Coat

There's that moment, when the blank page faces me, that I freeze up a little. It hurts, knowing that I have nothing to tell you except old lady ailments and daily irritations. I'm going to have to go back to telling you stories about being a kid in the woods or how I fell in love with Mike.

I remember the moment I realized I loved Mike. He had changed out of work clothes. It's not that he doesn't rock a good suit, but back then, his mom still picked out his clothes, fat ties and all. It was the eighties. Skinny ties were in. Plus, I think that most moms pick clothes never quite being able to get their sweet boy out of their heads and let them grow up. Let's just say that Mike came a long distance when he began to shop for himself.

And then there was the moment after work one day when I saw him in a pair of Levis and a flannel shirt. Oh man. I knew I loved him then.

Or maybe it wasn't that deep an emotion yet. Hmmm.

Okay, so how's the weather out there? Nice? We had slush this morning, enough that school was delayed.

And we finally went out and took our Christmas pictures on New Year's Day last week. I can tell you about that. Yup.

We can't call them Christmas pictures, now, can we? By the time you get yours, it'll be well past New Years too. What the heck do I call them? Midwinter photos? A Snowflake Snapshot?

There was no snow, but as usual, something went awry after we lugged the camera, a tripod, and various and sundry photo gear to a spot that Mike chose. Every year is like this, stuff happens.

One year, the breeze buffeted our hair. That was back when I had good hair and each of us, as Mike previewed the photos had bangs standing straight up. It was a riot looking at them and we laughed so hard I remember my eyes watering.

One year, Mike decided to take the picture in Nick's new play fort which we had decorated to the gills with Frosty and twinkle lights. The problem was that he had trouble getting up the ladder before the flash told us our time was up and popped the photo with Mike still scrambling up the ladder. Those were some great outtakes. Plus, we had to lean way out of the play fort for our faces to show up. It was a little dizzying, leaning out that way and holding onto the back of Nick's little coat as he leaned out too. There's nothing like motherhood to give a girl an adrenaline rush. Adrenaline junkies beware. Motherhood gives you the biggest rush of all, watching that four year old lean out over a fifteen foot drop, arms extended.

Mike took one picture of us clinging to a stump that appeared to be in the middle of the river but had a narrow spit he could run after leaping off the bank where the tripod stood. We had a great time taking turns pressing that timer button and trying to beat it to the stump and get into our spots. It was a muddy adventure that year. I wasn't the only one that skidded down the bank on my butt. Again, the outtakes were a riot.

This year, since Mike hurt his knee - another torn meniscus - I knew we couldn't challenge his leaping skills. Still, I let him decide where to take the picture. He led us to the one lookout where you can see both the Snoqualmie Falls with Mt. Si perfectly poised above it.

It was beautiful. And it was breezy again. This year, gusty wind kept knocking over that little reflective umbrella Mike got a couple of years ago for his linked flash. That thing really makes a difference lighting up our faces, but it's a great foil for three people who are all trying to be in the picture.

Plus, we tried to get Teddy to look at the camera a bunch of times and he kept trying to wander around and face us. A couple of pictures look like he's being choked by whichever person is holding him. He made the cut into our favorite photo but Snapfish could only fit half of his face and we had to use the second-place shot instead. Unfortunately, it cut out all the surrounding ambiance as well. I was blocking the falls with my big head and Mt. Si turned into a white blur that could easily have been a cloud.

There was one phenomenal photo that included both the falls and a clearly delineated Mt. Si, but I had a dorky look on my face, my hat was pulled down too far on my head, Mike's eye was covered by a reflection on his glasses, and Teddy was half out of the picture. Only his butt-end remained visible.

The funny thing was that in each of the photos, all sixteen or seventeen of them, Nick grinned in an oh-so-confident way. He was the only one with his act together, nary a reflection or a dorky look. Maybe it's because he got his braces off last month or that he's on the football team or his grades are coming up. I don't know. That boy has suddenly got it together somehow.

I'm not ready for that yet. It seems like I still have my fist clutching at the back of his coat. At least, in my head, I do.

Thank you for listening, jb