Nostalgia

Every evening as I go to bed, I want the day back to do over. I want to adore my kids more than I do. And I certainly do. But the day gets in the way and I only fawn all over them for moments, not endless hours. I want to pay attention more than I do. Sure, I notice the sights and sounds and smells and am absorbing every day of jasmine and wisteria season. But I want to notice and feel and absorb even more.

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I want to laugh more than I do. I want to play more than I do. I want to revel more than I do. I want more from each moment.

While we’re asking for ponies and unicorn tears, I want 30 hours in each day.

I want my babies back. When they were tiny and helpless I devoured every moment. And I was exhausted and impatient and frustrated and raw. So I want that time back to memorize and be less exhausted and completely perfect. I want the highlights reel to be the whole thing.

I feel nostalgia so keenly lately. Deep into my knees, through my spine, up my arms. There’s a sensation just before a child is injured, or just before I’m sure they’ll be injured: an electric shock from my navel to my extremities and back again that levitates me momentarily. And experience that same feeling in coveting rituals from my childhood.

I decided last month that I need to redouble my efforts to create rituals for my kids. My family. Intentional, repeatable events that bespeak our values. More than holiday traditions, I want weekend traditions and weekday traditions. I want to cultivate our community of supporters and I want us to nurture them, too; I want art and music and volunteering and adventures that form the core of who we all are.

I mentioned the 30 hours, right? Those extra minutes are key to some of my plans.

My grandfather would sit every night at the dining table, breathing the cool desert air coming in from the kitchen door, surgically altering grapefruits in preparation for our breakfast. Sometimes in the crackle glazed ombré blue bowls, sometimes rippled white with burgundy flowers, sometimes, I believe, wooden bowls that seemed more like sanded coconut shells than bowls. I only saw him prepare the honeyed, halved grapefruit once, when I was considerably older, but I know for a fact that every night he held a paring knife and carefully excised the membranes from each section of grapefruit.

IMG_2521-0.JPGEach triangle detached carefully along the rind, down one wall, and then the other wall. Dozens of cuts, all around each fruit bite. Then on to the next bowl. Rarely piercing the skin, rarely allowing any pith to adhere to the fruit. Very rarely. We never struggled to get our citrus out of the rind with the bamboo-handled grapefruit spoons.

He split one grapefruit in two when it was just him and grandma. And extra two fruits, four halves, when we visited. At least thrice a year, sometimes more, with each parent in turn, beneficiaries of the brilliantly embracing love that was articulated to their daughter-in-law, my mother, as part of a permanent friendship cemented with, “we are not divorcing you. We rather like you and we love our grandchildren. Please, please: come see us. And always let them come see us.”

Oh, we did. Early mornings playing tennis, picking pecans from the trees. Eating honeyed, cold grapefruit from the bowls kept in the refrigerator overnight, careful not to spill any on the checked blue and white tablecloth, not because they cared about spills, flawless and jovial and kind as they always were, but because spilling mesquite-honey-sweetened grapefruit juice would be a tragic loss in our little lives.

Yes, playing tennis behind the Virgin Mary’s faded back, heat and dogs and lizards and piano and afternoon monsoons and grandma’s favorite blouses and Indian food and slideshows from their latest trip to exotic and wondrous places.

And I ache for those days so intensely it makes my knees weak and my eyes hot.

So last month I started making my family sectioned, chilled, honey drizzled grapefruit every night that I can. I judge myself harshly for not starting sooner. They need rituals. They need to know who we are.

And I got tennis racquets on sale. I try to sneak pecans into all their food so the sweet, dusty taste of the desert gets into their blood. I have little doubt that if I found a faded, chipped Virgin Mary that matched theirs I would buy it.

I make them some of my maternal grandma’s cream of potato soup. They’ve had it before, but now that she’s nearing the end I bought a 10 pound bag of potatoes and lots of cream.

A few months ago we made a version of my paternal grandma’s donuts. I varied the recipe only because I’m not deep frying in my kitchen. Hell no.

And we’re having daily sectioned grapefruit.

I realize I don’t have to do all this myself. How ludicrous. The little things their five grandparents and two great grandparents share with them will form memories, good or bad. I don’t have to force my memories into my children’s DNA. They will make their own.

I’m sure someone will force my children to watch interminable slide shows on a Kodak carousel, projected onto a retractable screen, and that they’ll roll their eyes and submit, only to revise history to adore being exposed to such culture and knowledge. Right? No? Something something YouTube, something something video game? Bah.

I just know someone will teach my children to make grapefruit meringue pie and will let them lick the beaters before feeding the dogs their nightly ice cream. Right? No? Something something premade dough, something something no human food for pets? Humbug.

Well, certainly, someone will teach my boys to play tennis and ride horses and catch horny toads and navigate the slip’n’slide and play gin rummy the proper way and Scrabble with an unabridged dictionary.

Right?

Yup. I will. Let the grandparents fill our lives with whatever they value. I’m filling our days with Bob and Anne, Rose and Jack.

Because that, and some fresh air, is what we all need.

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When the End Is All Wrong

For ninety-nine years my grandmother has been a tough, kind, gentle, funny, fierce, wonderful woman.

For my whole life she’s been my model of forgiveness and unconditional love.

For decades she has missed her husband keenly but has found joy in her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

For years she has been saddened by a body that does less and less of what she wants. Now unable to read, hear, follow television shows, play piano, or walk well, she has still found a reason to see the bright side. She’s the champion of silver linings. Not Pollyannaesque. But genuinely grateful for her lucky and blessed life.

I saw her Monday. She was sleepy after a rough night but she still told good stories. She still fawned all over my son. She perked up comedically for the Acme sourdough cheese roll I brought her. She loves to eat.

Wednesday she had a major stroke. She’s had small strokes before. But this time her left side is useless. Her speech is slurred and swallowing is compromised. She’s very conscious and very pissed.

She’s ninety-nine years old; long-term rehab isn’t in the cards, even if she were cooperative, which, thank heavens, she’s not. Because the only thing that makes being that old any fun is telling people you refuse to do what they tell you.

I am grateful to have her in my life. I’m grateful for the ways in which she has and does bring my family together. I’m grateful I saw her two days ago.

I don’t want this to be her end, not because I hoped she’d live forever, though I did until the last few years showed how threadbare living had become for her. I don’t want this to be her end because this is the wrong ending.

Quickly, silently, napping in the sun in the family room is the right end. Quickly, painlessly on the car ride home from a remarkable family gathering is the right end.

Immobile, unable to eat or talk, unable to do anything well that means something to her? Fighting for a glass of water to be told that good old dashing water isn’t in the cards for you anymore? Thickened water, whatever the fuck that means? That is the wrong story. I want to write her a different story.

How selfish I am. A wonderful woman lives a wonderful life full of love, and I have the audacity to complain about her frailty at age ninety-nine? In a world replete with poverty and hatred, wars, inequality, wide-scale Othering that hastens if not caused deaths all over the globe daily, I have the gall to ask for a different demise for a cheerful, privileged grandma?

Yes. I have that gall. I am that selfish.

She told my mom a year ago that she wanted to read my book. It isn’t done. I told my her it isn’t done. You won’t like it, I said; let me finish it. She can’t read now. She could a few months ago, in the afternoon sunlight with big print. But now not even that.

I need time to make a time machine and go back and finish my book and print it large and give it to her. Ten years ago. Two years ago. Two months ago.

Two days ago.

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I’ll go see her in a couple of days when hospice has figured out the details and she’s settled. When I stop gagging over the idea of thickened water. When I have some good stories to tell.

Because she deserves to hear some good stories now. Once she’s done high-fiving my kids.

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Under Pressure

The past few weeks have spiraled for me, and catching my breath seemed unrealistic. But a friend has given me a new approach to test for a while, and there’s a chance I won’t be struggling, chest-deep in mud much longer.

The panic lately of the mounting lists and tasks and projects and work and solo parenting have felt a lot like I’ve always supposed quicksand would feel: doesn’t matter how often I’m told to stay calm to ensure my survival, I claw and scratch and flail and scream to get to whatever I imagine dry land would be. I do emergencies very well, unless the emergency requires ignoring all the impulses of adrenaline.

Adrenaline feeds most of my days, and has since high school. Adrenaline wakes me with a slap and barks to all my muscles that it’s time to do. Accomplish. Hustle. Adrenaline gets me to each of the days’ moments just on time, if not a few seconds before. Adrenaline tells me not to sleep so I can finish a few more tasks, including daunting tasks that are rarely of the “just a few more minutes” variety.

Lately it takes more and more to elicit that adrenaline. Deadlines don’t impress me; I just parcel out the work and accomplish in bite-sized chunks without any terror. The thought of being late does little; I just walk in slow motion through jello starting a few minutes earlier. The physical need for a run can’t pry me out of my chair. In fact, the only thing that makes me quicken my pace even slightly is sibling bickering. And after years of trying to manage that, I almost don’t care anymore. I have no sympathy for either of those children, who insist on teasing and encroaching and generally menacing each other despite everything I’ve tried thus far.

And this worries me. A lot.

So I cobble together new approaches and find new ways to motivate myself. But I feel I’ve lost my way. I’ve worn myself down to a nub over the past decade, and my to-do list continues to grow while the day seems to shrink. I found an old list from last summer, and 22 of the 49 items on my list from last year are still waiting to be done. Someone joked that I needed shorter lists. Or a way to notice the 25 things I confidently cross of the list every single day.

I don’t know how to do either of those: shorter lists or feeling accomplished. Because everything left on those lists is important. Four journal articles, representing hundreds of hours of work, just languish, needing a few hours of edits each and then the honor of submission. Thousands of photos endured being pared down to dozens, but now need to be uploaded and made into photo albums for the grandparents. FSA forms pace across my desk impatiently, waiting for receipts and explanations and 57-point-checklists before releasing the money I paid almost a year ago. Summer glares at me from almost-full camps and annoyingly-paced flights, and cackles at my inability to commit six months early.

And I’m baffled at myself, since I’ve always self-defined as driven to produce and accomplish…why can’t I focus on the big picture? Where’s the vim? The vigor? I feel as though I’m moving through coagulated blood, slogging, vaguely nauseated, from one task to another. Every non-work task feels like a burden. (I know I’m not depressed because work is still fun.)

So I make schedules of how to tackle the tasks I continually punt. But I’ve honed my efficiency pretty well over the past few decades, and I’m making the most of my time. After accomplishing what I consider the bare minimum each day, there are maybe 15 minutes left.

How the hell do I prep articles for submission to peer-reviewed journals with 15 minutes a day? How do I rework a novel in 15 minute increments? How do I learn the piano, make photo albums, plan summer camp, bake, do yoga, write up a separation agreement, and sell my wedding china on ebay with only 15 minutes a day?

The answer came from a friend after we saw The Theory of Everything this weekend.

I can’t.

She suggested that for everything task I sign up for, I’m choosing something lame over the important things.

Sure, on paper, but, but, but…

She suggested that making myself crazy with tasks to ensure a steady flood of adrenaline short circuits my brain.

Oh, come on….

She suggested that there’s plenty of time to do things later.

Oh, no, no, no, nononononono no. Just saying the words, “There’s plenty of time” made me physically panic. Sweat, twitchy muscles, racing heart.

“But I have to get the photo albums out!”

No. You don’t. There’s plenty of time.

“But the school needs better emergency preparedness and the teachers need reviews and my portfolio needs…”

There’s plenty of time.

“But I need to search Instructables with the kids and find projects for the next time I remember to plan a playdate.”

Please. Stop. There’s plenty of time.

I know that each yes means saying no to myriad things, so by definition the yeses should be to important tasks. I know that each moment is fleeting and that choosing how to spend them needs to feed either my family, my soul, or my work.

I know that intellectually. But my body craves long lists at which I’m failing, so I can adrenalize myself into action.

The problem is that to synthesize that adrenaline, I’m filling all the spaces with tasks that are basically crap. Not the play, the joy, the work. Probably only 40 of 49 things on the list are crap.

That’s a lot of crap, y’all.

My mantra this month is “There’s Plenty of Time.” I shoved all the papers on my desk into a box, sparing the tax documents for a special folder placed in a drawer for next month, and the two handwritten letters from New York friends to whom I want to reply.

Tonight I’m writing a blog post. If I feel like it. If not, there’s plenty of time another day.
I won’t put anything else on the list, because there’s plenty of time to do everything another day.

(I winced as I typed that, and felt twitchy. But I won’t delete it.)

Speaking of things that had to get done today, look at what the world around me did today.

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Yep. Jasmine, plum blossoms, and daffodils. That’s what the Bay Area does in February. Overachievers, the lot of ‘em.

Harry Potter, reprised

According to my boys, the Harry Potter series runs thusly:

Book One: Harry Potter Pees in His Pants
Book Two: Harry Potter Pees in the Great Hall
Book Three: Harry Potter Pukes on His Friends
Book Four: Harry Potter Poops in His Pants
Book Five: Harry Potter Potty Trains
Book Six: Harry Potter Goes to College
Book Seven: [we don’t know]

Brain Training (part 1)

After years of reading about the benefits of retraining my brain with meditation, after checking out from the library the book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story, and after realizing how hectic my days, thoughts, and to-do list are, I finally tried to meditate.
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[this is me: wrought iron vulture that’s lovable to only a quirky few. And the flowers my boys added last week are my hope for meditation: a little sweetening that doesn’t change the vulture as much as give it some soft contrast.]

[Yes, that’s a Halloween pumpkin. From early October. Get over it.]

I wanted to meditate in earnest this time. Not just writing it on a list, not trying to do a teaser session in the four seconds before I fall asleep at night. Rather, actually sitting comfortably in the kitchen after tucking in the boys, closing my eyes, and watching my thoughts without judging them.

It took several minutes to settle. I noticed sounds and tried to let them go, then wanted to get up. I noticed my wanting to get up and tried to let it go, and wanted to write about it. I noticed my desire to write and tried to let it go, and tried to make a mental list of things I should do in addition to write. I noted the compulsion to list how many things I’m not doing. I let the list go. And I breathed. The list came back and I noted that I tend to repeat lists so I can remember them. I noticed how I was forcing breath. I noticed my breath settle.

And then a loud crash lit every nerve in my body on fire with the surety that someone had broken through a window and was going to murder all three of us. I screamed at the absolute top of my volume range and forced my eyes open.

I was just in time to see the cat finish his leap on top of the fridge a few feet from me, creating a cascade of holiday cards and homemade magnets to the floor. Jackass. Abjectly terrified, with a sore throat and adrenaline absolutely shaking every muscle in my body, I thought that, with the murder threat alleviated I had to go check on my son. I had screamed loud enough that I was sure I’d awakened him.

So I ran up the stairs and whispered as I hurried down the hall and into his room, “It’s mommy, honey; I’m sorry about the loud noise.”

“What happened?” he asked.

“The cat jumped on the fridge and scared me. I was trying to rest my thoughts and my brain and he freaked me out.”

“I thought he had jumped on you and scratched you.”

“Nope. I’m okay. Nothing is hurt and nobody is hurt and I’m sorry I woke you.”

“I was awake already. I was trying to figure out who is tricking who in Harry Potter.”

“Who is tricking whom is a good question, buddy. You go to sleep and I’ll go try to meditate again.”

“You should, mom. We do it in school and it’s really nice to connect with your breath.”

“Okay, buddy.”

There was no way I’d close my eyes again that evening. I had things to do and wasn’t interested in associating meditation with terror.

I’m sure I’ll try it again soon. Maybe not at night. Not in the kitchen. And not with cats nearby.

In his defense, this is what happens to the mediation-murdering cat when he tries to meditate.

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Nightmare of Middle Age

I woke up last night in a panic. I’d had a nightmare in which I knew I had exactly two days to move. The current house had to be empty and we had to be somewhere else in 48 hours. But I had no plan, had packed nothing, and knew not where we could go.

I don’t remember many details, but I remember Spouse trying to get me to answer some questions. We had either reconciled or finished all the divorce paperwork—I don’t know which, but something was capital-F Final about our relationship—and he wanted to know what my plans were.

“I don’t even know what state to move to,” I recall keening. In the dream, I couldn’t even process all the possibilities: there were no choices except homelessness and utter hopelessness.

And a cheerful new year to you, too.

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The longest I have lived in a house is five years. It was the home Spouse and I bought just before we got married. We painted and decorated and improved. We devoted every moment for 40% of that time to an adorable little Peanut whose presence made love more important than location. And we lost all our equity selling it in 2008.

The second longest I lived in one place was during high school. My mom moved us just before I started freshman year, so I could go to the best public school in the area. When I left for college I’d been in that house exactly four years.

In a few months, I will have been in this current rental for four years. We moved on Butterbean’s first birthday. It’s been a rollercoaster, and I’ve been trying to find a different, less expensive place to live for almost two years. But this is the house both boys have considered home for most of their lives.

I don’t know what the dream is trying to tell me. I don’t believe in dream analysis. I believe the unconscious mind combines the days’ and weeks’ images into a new story which is sometimes enjoyable and sometime terrifying. Either way, it’s fiction. The stress is real, but the story is fiction. And I tried to remember that when I awoke. “Just get a job,” I told my waking self as the homeless/hopeless panic swelled. I assessed the level of light outside and the lack of small children’s voices, and I went back to sleep.

I’ve always somehow thought that moving would solve problems. At last count, I’ve moved 26 times in my life. Feeling uncomfortable? Pack up everything and move. Not sure what you want to be when you grow up? It’s probably the apartment; change it. Scared about money and the future? Get a new address to distract you.

I’m managed this urge, somewhat, as an adult, by rearranging furniture. But the furniture is heavy and I’m less reasonable in my dreams. So it’s time to move.

I thought about this on a long run, the hours when I ditch music and podcasts and children and distractions to just let my thoughts wander. I tried to gauge how my life is going: my parenting and career and status as an engaged citizen and human. And I found a big problem.

The few metrics we have for being successful adults are not useful measures of successful human-ing.

I like data on how I’m doing. Good or bad, I prefer being measured. I’ve always loved tests and grades and competition with metrics, because with numbers I know who I am. Without them, I’m lost. I need to know how badly I suck (or, rarely, how awesome I am) based entirely on extrinsic factors. I’m not kidding and I’m not being hyperbolic. I went through a long spell after college of measuring my worth by the numbers on the scale and my paycheck. I don’t enjoy admitting it, but I feel lost without rankings to give me a sense of success or failure.

The idea that I want to be measured…by grades, by the pound, by test score, by winner’s medal color…is problematic in adulthood, because there are very few quantifiable situations in which I’m compared to others. And I find that I’m failing at those which remain into middle age.

Happiness has no numbers attached to it. Nor does successful parenting, career prowess, or intelligent uses of time. I refuse to be measured by whether my kids eat the food I cook. I won’t look at the scale anymore, nor do I care what size I wear.

So what’s left to measure?
Run pace. (Awful, and getting worse the less sleep I get.)
Bank account. (Sob.)
Number of books finished this year. (No idea. One, maybe?)
Retirement account. (Fetal position.)
Number of friends. (Decent. They’re probably pretending, though.)
Salary. (I’m a consultant and this varies obscenely.)
Current client projects. (It’s December. Everything dries up.)
Books published. (…)

So how do I do I decide what to do if I don’t have a metric on which to base a decision? And if I use money and pages read to determine my worth, I’m a miserable human. But that can’t be true.

I need a calculation. I am ___% a success. I’m pretty sure the number is low. But if it’s not as bad as I assume, maybe I’ll feel better. And I could chart a path for improvement. To get better I should…what? Move? Begin a new career? Get a new job in current career? Find a new roommate? Move to a new geographic location? Cultivate a new hobby? Get back on stage?

I want some way to know if I’m doing okay. Fair to middling? Exceedingly well?

Relative to what? Younger me? Last year’s me? This year’s you? That guy down the street? Across town? Across the country? On the other side of the world? This is a stupid game and I shouldn’t be playing.

My experience of joy and of paralyzing fear, motivation, and sorrow have nothing to do with comparison or scores or rankings. But I feel someone should be showing me numbers. Evaluating. Measuring.

I need a grade. A score. A ranking.

42. It’s the answer to life, the Universe, and everything, right?

Doesn’t feel as though 42 is the answer. So I guess it’s time to fake it until I make it. Or ask what the question is, rather than what the answer is.

10 New Year’s Resolutions

My list this year isn’t as long as I’d like it to be, but it’s the day before and I have to call an end to self improvement at some point.

1. Sing loudly at the grocery store, especially when people get too close.
2. Show up to at least one client kickoff meeting in full clown regalia.
3. Send the kids to school with a lunchbox full of popcorn at least once a month.
4. Run, full speed, everywhere in the house.
5. Walk, excruciatingly slowly, when we’re a block from school.
6. Serve guests wine in coffee mugs. Serve kids soup on plates.
8. Speak in meetings only in pig latin.
9. Refuse to finish lists.

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Surprise!

Boo!

Low Expectations Holiday Gathering

‘Tis the time of the year for my annual celebration of hosting mediocrity.

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The invitations went out. By email. With no reminder two days before.

This is your casual, heartfelt, and festive but unadorned invitation
to our annual Low Expectations Holiday Party. Come to our house for a
minor-key gathering of joy, adoration, and minimal preparation as we
begin the seasons of Too Much to Do and Too Little Time.

Cheer with us an ambivalent welcome to Hanukkah, Winter Solstice,
Christmas, Kwanzaa, and any other cultural eating and drinking holiday you
embrace.

With music!

Come as you are, with your favorite minimal-prep-time food or drink.
We will be here, without any promises to clean or decorate, but with
warm exclamations of how much we cherish you in our lives.

Guaranteed to be unassuming, but not underwhelming.

RSVP so we know how big a pot of apple cider we need to leave
simmering until you get here.

The day before the party I bought some cheese. I’m not gonna lie: it was good cheese. The kids were fighting and I offered threats and bribes in equal measure so I could select a triple-cream brie, petite basque, herbed goat cheese, and salty mountain gruyere. Later I ate the gruyere and had to serve a cheddar/parmesan blend.

I cleaned the bathroom. Then went for a run.

A few minutes before the party was supposed to begin I surveyed the Martha Stewart scene I had created.

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Microwave covered in crap: check.

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Mantle undusted and still home to a Lego piece, Pokemon card, and related detritus I have no home for: got it.

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Decorative gourds still on the porch two holidays too late: handled.

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Wax-covered menorah ready for next week and almost hiding random Halloween gift bag I’m too lazy too move: check.

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Lots of crap shoved in a closet: nailed it.

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Bag nobody uses and box of important projects crammed under antique seating: perfect.

I knew then that we were ready to underwhelm.

I think we exceeded expectations, actually. Hard to disappoint when you promise fair to middling.

I’ll admit it: I moved the candy corn bag off the table. Because good cheese deserves better than that. But I didn’t move the cat toy.

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Or the spider ring and backpack tableau. Yes, seriously. So little effort required and so little given.

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Redefining baggage rather than ditching it

There are many things in my house that shouldn’t be here anymore. Not because I’m a hoarder, though, honestly, I have more of a tendency than I’ll admit on a blog.

But I’m not talking about dozens of unused tchotchkes or decades-old, half-eaten yogurt parfaits. I’m referring to items that represent a time in my life that’s gone; stuff that I should rightfully give to charity so someone else can make a life with my stuff sans the bad memories.

But for various reasons, I hang on to a few key items that both remind me of a painful time in my life and offer me a portal into the future. Not the flux capacitor kind. Just the “hey, I’m okay with the choices I’ve made so I’m moving forward despite not having a DeLorean” kind.

The most obvious, and frequently used items that some people might shed as life progresses, are remnants of my marriage.

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But it’s pretty easy to keep winding a gorgeous clock twice a day, marveling that it’s still as compelling to me in its metronomically clicking timekeeping as it was when we found it in a small mountain town on our honeymoon. I don’t need to still be in the marriage to appreciate the clock. Or the memory. Or the joy visitors find when they stumble upon the lovely mechanical creature.

The same goes for the wedding china. The kids and I eat off wedding china every meal, and some nights, the man who helped pick the pattern joins us. Do I want to be cooking several nights a week for four people rather than three? No, gentle reader, I do not. Do I cook meals to be enough for four anyway, and (somewhat) warmly invite the boys’ dad to join us when he comes over? Yes, I do. And whether he’s there or not, the plates are gorgeous.

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They’re important to me because they represent grownup decisions that I stand by even if I would now do things differently, given volumes of information and a dozen years’ additional experience. We all know that’s not how decisions work. There is no going back to change history just because you’re older and wiser and in a completely different place mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. I stand by my life and I stand by my wedding china. (Plus, honestly, the stakes are much lower if kids break dishes—they haven’t yet, but I have. It’s not as though the tableware is any indication or harbinger of the health of our marriage. In fact, a dear friend recently broke a crystal wine glass, and it made me quite happy. Really. I use the wedding crystal every day, because we don’t have many fancy things, but the fanciness we do have I like to be part of my daily life. That one broken wine glass reminds me a of joyful, funny evening with people I love, and I’d rather have something momentous like a broken glass cement my gratitude than have a full set of unforgettable wine glasses and boring, forgettable friends.

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Maybe I’m blase about using fine china and crystal every day because I don’t care about stuff. Sure, that’s part of it. Maybe I don’t get rid of it because I don’t have many genuinely fancy things and it’d be a shame to ditch them just because I’m not married anymore. The relationship changed and did not survive, and the plates and glasses remain. No need to be weepy and metaphoric about it. They’re plates. And glasses. And maybe that’s because I’m not in pain about the end of my marriage. It was clear the relationship was over. Irreconcilable. Painful to maintain, kinder to dissolve. So sure the plates aren’t a big deal.

But these glasses are.

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The family who gave us these researched the best glasses for red wine, my favorite beverage (other than water), and chose these because they look a bit like beakers. We were science nerds together, and I respected and envied their research once I ditched the lab for a career in language. So they bought me carefully crafted nerd goblets to show their attention and care. We all married around the same time, and we supported each other. We had babies around the same time, and we supported each other. And they ditched me, saying I was too much. After fifteen years it finally dawned on them, it seems, that I’m not worth knowing.

But I still use the glasses. I got rid of every other gift they’d given me over the course of our long friendship, but I kept the glasses. Because the glasses are gorgeous. And they’re for red wine and for sparkling water, and I will not let them take from me the joy of red wine in a flawless glass. No, ma’am and sir. I will not. I am worth knowing and I am worth really nice glassware.

I don’t let the kids use those.

One of the items in my house that, by all logic should be tossed straight into the trash, will never leave my possession if I can help it. As with the treasures hand made by my grandfather, and the photos of beloved family and friends, I get weepy about this particularly dear item in the living room.

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My penny sculpture is a pile of coins made molten and fused by the Oakland Hills Fire in 1991. I retrieved them from the pile of rubble at the Parkwood Apartments, which had gone from a delightful roommate compromise to an elevated concrete slab of ash and post-apocalyptic barrenness in a matter of hours.

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When I repossessed the pennies, I had to sign a waiver stating that, to the best of my knowledge, these were my pennies. I’m going to be honest: I have no idea if these were my pennies. I have no earthly recollection whether I even kept a pile of coins in my bedroom at the time. But the penny sculpture, formed by natural forces and placed by the management company right near a coffee mug that had definitely been mine, claimed me when I saw them.

So I signed for the pennies, thinking, “damn it, there are dozens of fused-coin sculptures around here, and it’s not as though I’m taking one that clearly has a wedding ring or an heirloom necklace melted into it. I’m taking a small, worthless clump of coins that might or might not belong to me because I’m not fully functioning, I’m a bit of a hoarder, and I cannot walk away from this tragedy with just a coffee mug that has a lump of concrete fused to it. I signed my name and bond that I was the rightful owner of the mug, too. I did not take or sign for some corningware that looked familiar. “I don’t want baking dishes,” I thought angrily, “even if they are mine.” A lot of corningware survived intact, and there were distinctive flowered logos on baking dishes with and without fused cement blobs in most of the regions on card tables marked by address with white copy paper and black sharpies.

I didn’t scan through all the items, as some survivors did. There might have been more to claim, I suppose, after the entire community burned to nothing in a 14,000 degree exploding landscape of eucalyptus and oak. But I didn’t care about getting more stuff. I went to the area labeled as our address, grabbed pennies and a mug, and left. Probably sobbing. I threw away the mug away soon after, some time in the beginning of the year of undiagnosed PTSD. I have no memories of that year other than a music class in which the room swam every time I opened my eyes, a smelly and disordered breakfast of seven hardboiled egg whites peeled on the walk to literature class, and a meeting with my counselor in which I asked to drop organic chemistry after two months of trying, desperately, to do homework in a cavernous frat house room.

I don’t keep and cling to and commune with the pennies to rub salt in a wound. I keep the pennies as a “holy fuck, if you made it through that, today is going to be okay” talisman. Because holy fuck. In fact, I should, rightfully, call them the Holy Fuck sculpture, but every time I ask if anyone has seen them, I call them My Pennies. Has anyone seen My Pennies? I moved My Pennies and I can’t find them…Peanut, do you know where My Pennies are? Wedding China Picker Outer, where are My Pennies? Yay! I found My Pennies! They’re just where I left them.

Of course they are just where I left them, placed ceremoniously in front of Foucault’s History of Madness or Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood or the complete works of Faulkner. Or in the bird’s nest I found walking Peanut to school. Nobody is going to move My Pennies. Some objects are too important, both for the past and the future, for anyone to mess with them.

Did you look in the kitchen?

Tonight I couldn’t find my book. Could not. This distressed me for several reasons, the chief among them not the potential cost of rebuying a book or of trying to find my place again.
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Most of what frustrated me about not being able to locate the key piece of entertainment and escape in my day is that there aren’t very many places the damned thing could be.

Computer bag is the most likely place. Nope.

Desk? Nope.

Ah…hiding under the covers? Nuh-uh.

In the kitchen, next to either the stove or microwave, the two places I’m often putting down a book so I can attend to the whistling tea kettle? No.

On the dining room table where it often naps because of that space’s central location in our house and lives? No.

On the boys’ bookcase where I placed it when I traded my reading material for family time? No.

On the floor by my bed? By the LEGO staging site near the couch? In the car?

No, no, no.

I gave up. My phone was down to 20% charge and it was time to get on the train for a talk downtown, so I couldn’t get enough battery power to listen to a book. I grabbed a magazine and stuffed it in my bag, then stomped up the stairs, musing that I had actually been meaning to read The Atlantic article on midlife crises so this wouldn’t be a total loss.

I stopped in the bathroom and saw the magazine I skimmed three nights ago while the boys took their baths.

And right underneath, I remembered, was my book.

I like that my life revolves around family and food, LEGO, my briefcase, and a whistling tea kettle.

I just wish my memory could save me some damned time already. Or that I read frequently enough to remember where my book is.

Priorities, people.

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The end of almost daily blogging

I missed three posts. I made twenty-seven. I like two of those twenty-seven. Not bad.
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I’m descending into hibernation mode. As much as I love lights and celebrations and family and cocoa, this is the time of year I want to curl in a ball and cry for a month. The Counting Crows’ song Long December makes me stand immobile and bawl my eyes out every time. Every time. I once played it on a loop in December and drove from Quincy MA to the ocean near Cape Cod at 3am because Oh My God, December could you be any harder?

Seasonal Affective need for long days and sunlight, holiday obligations, end-of-the-year panic about not having done enough or been enough, serotonin-seeking bread consumption, knowledge that I have nothing to give yet knowing family and friends and colleagues and homeless neighbors all need me to…these are the colors that paint December gray on grey on silver on slate on granite on gray.

Even the word December gets me a little downcast.

So I’m going to try to wake up early every day of December and sit with my light box. Writing. Either the old novel or the new novel. No client work. No cleaning. No email or audiobooks.

Writing.

Not “every day writing challenge” writing, but”do it because it makes you feel whole and you really need something in December that keeps you feeling human” writing.

Goodbye, November. It’s been a lovely time, really. And I now take all my energy and ask myself to rise to December.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Make hay while the sun shines

Because of Thanksgiving, Self-care Saturday has become Facial Friday. And that means the 20 minutes I spend scrubbing toilets and scouring the boy-grime out of our tub tonight also includes a light glycolic mask quickly smeared on my face as soon as the kids were in bed. No time like right now to exfoliate, I always say. Or sometimes say. Or just said right now on this blog, so at least I have it in writing and you can’t go back later and claim I never said it.

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[sure, you can buy a facial mask. But why not use the sand your nephew dumped out of his shoes on your floor? That’s making lemonade out of lemons, right there.]

I find these simple moments of bathroom-cleaning and pore-extraction multitasking leave me with not only my signature Glow of Accomplishment but also with Opportunities for Self Care amidst the Chaos of Life. I also feel that capitalizing random Moments as though they’re Life’s Lessons Writ Large helps sell my theories and ideas better. Because we all learned capital letters first, we all assume those who uses them most knows that mythical Something We Don’t.

Since the mask needs another five minutes to chew through my epidermis, and I’m sitting here in flannel jammies, leisurely panicking while I listen to the sound of rain sloshing from the gutters into the walls and eroding the house around me, I thought that I’d share with you some of my multitasking self-care tips. They apply equally to working moms, stay-at-home dads, grandparents in too many book clubs, and time-pressured people of all genders. The only readers who might not need ideas for cramming seven things into ten minutes are the many newly graduated, single, child-free, and slightly-employed 20-somethings who flock to my blog. Never fear, though, friends. Since you aren’t trying to shoehorn thirty activities into your one free hour a day, you’ll never notice that this post might waste your time. Because all of your time is free time. There’s no penalty for the extra 90 seconds reading this post will cost.

Some day, however, you’ll benefit from my genius. So read on with the rest of us poor creatures who need every bit of help we can get.

As already mentioned, apply a facial mask before you toothbrush the grout in the shower. If you find one that pretentiously lists chemical ingredients by the Latin name of their natural source, you’ll find that the time pondering mildew goes more quickly.

When you’re driving to school, then a different school, then work, then the first school again, then the second school, a lively podcast will make you feel as though you’re engaging with the world around you. When life conspires to keep you locked in a mobile machine for most of the day, try The Serial or Radiolab. You’ll get to vascillate between how clever you are and how deprived of genuine human contact you are. And seeing both sides of an issue will keep that pesky self acceptance at bay!

Since preparing meals requires a significant portion of every adult’s day, let’s all do ourselves the favor of putting the power of MOOCS to work for us. Nothing compliments carefully julienned peppers like History of Physics. You’ll be amazed at how quickly time flies when you’re trying to hold complex theories in your head while timing the preparation of stir fry. And if mistakes happen, remember that there’s a 30 second rewind button, a modern 911 system, and 10 somewhat redundant fingers.

Finally, use your self-care multitasking ideas to boost your income! Start a Strolling Cafe where people get a cup of coffee, then join their friends on side-by-side treadmills. Using what you learned from your online physics course, modify the equipment so nobody can walk faster than 3mph. That saves your gym from spills and keeps away annoying runners whose insistence on sprinting while reading is making the rest of us feel grossly unproductive. Make sure, too, to alter the view so the floor-to-ceiling glass panes don’t actually reveal the harsh world outside, but rather reflect a dream scenario in which sunshine and genuine racial and gender equality drift comfortingly past the multitasking coffee walkers.

See how easy it to be Glowingly Accomplished and Culinarily Edified and Socially Fit?

Delightful.

Moby Dick Parenting

When a friend posted on his blog that one of his favorite artists, Matt Kish, was selling off the original artwork he created for every page of Moby Dick, I clicked right over.

I actually dislike a fair percentage of Melville’s text, but there are some moments in his novel that resonate. I spent seven years studying literature, plus a reading of Moby Dick in high school, which lands me squarely in the “well, damn it, after reading it three times I at least appreciate it, so show me whatchya got” camp of Moby Dick art lookeylooism.

And as I scrolled through the artwork, I realized that the most compelling images correspond with parts of the story that I’ve always connected with. Not man vs. whale, because honestly that trope is too annoying for words; but man against natural elements and against darker forces within himself.

I love these images drawn and painted on found paper by Matt Kish, each inspired by a line from Moby Dick, and each recalling for me some of the hardest moments of parenting.

And my post yesterday inadvertently featured the artwork, so here’s a detailed look at each.

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Moby Dick aphorism #6: “When a fellow’s soaked through, it’s hard to be sensible, that’s a fact.” I have to admit, this one makes me smile, then choke back the sob that still lives in my throat remembering the intense undertow yanking violently at me when I was the sole source of everything for newborns.

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“‘I say, pull like god-dam,’ cried the Indian.” The vivid graphics of this and the wave of rhythmic belief in the way Matt penned the words gives me courage when I don’t have any. Melvillean racism aside, I’m buoyed and girded by the Indian’s entreaty.

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“A sort of badger-haired merman, with a hump on his back, takes me by the shoulders, and slews me around.”  This piece is, for me, the most aesthetically beautiful. This is ocean and woman and chaos and man and embodiment and swooning all at once, and I love it. The mental image, too, of a rough and scruffy sea-creature just shaking the crap out of me evokes the paint-spattered, tyrannical toddler who has to power to absolutely upend my life, one moment to the next.

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This I selected with the intention of hanging it over my son’s dresser to calm me and ground me when nighttime rituals went all to hell. “So, too, it is, that in these resplendent Japanese seas the mariner encounters the direst of all the Typhoon. It will sometimes burst from out that cloudless sky, like an exploding bomb upon a dazed and sleepy town.”  Resplendent, oceanic, dire, exploding, sudden? Yup. That’s my kid, and I love him. And instead of placing this in his room, I centered it with the other art in the living room. It’s the frame most often threatened by children illegally jumping on the couch.

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My photo of this is terrible, so here’s the original.  I love so intensely that the found paper on which Kish painted this vicious and tempered and vibrant art is the dedication page to a book that says “To my Mother and Father with Fondest Love.” Because juxtaposing that parental adoration with the text is priceless. “You is sharks, sartin; but if you gobern de shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is not’ing more dan de shark well goberned.” Melville had it all over Freud, because Superego besting Id has nothing on sharks well governed.

This concludes the art tour of my living room wall. Join me tomorrow from the art on the other side of the room.  Maybe.