Cloudy with a Chance of Clearing


The neighbors are installing solar panels. I’ve never really noticed their house before, and we’ve never spoken. But we’re as linked as ever suburban neighbors who’ve never met can be. And I’m not happy with our relationship right now.

They had their baby about a year after we moved in, when my boys were sometimes kind and sometimes dreadful to each other. I’d listen to them coo at their newborn out in their yard, which adjoins our backyard, and they’d hear me try and try and try and sometimes lose my temper with my sweet children.

They brought their infant to play in the yard every morning at 5am, and celebrated his every milestone as their dog ran ’round them yapping joyfully.

If my kids weren’t up and terrorizing the neighborhood early I would have been angry at their timing. As it was, their baby’s outdoor shrieks of joy often woke me only moments before my youngest started his morning shrieking at his brother.

My boys liked, on weekends, to climb our tree so they could watch the baby on his little slide. I always explained about privacy and spying and politeness. None of my pseudo-adult lectures ever got a laugh from the neighbors. They pretended we weren’t there.

The baby wasn’t in the yard after 6am on weekdays. I’m guessing from the gorgeous kitchen renovation, from the new solar panels, from the complete lack of baby sound from 6am to 6 pm that the baby went somewhere while Mom and Dad went to work.

I hadn’t thought about it, really. But I am now. Today I saw the panel installation by accident, while I was quickly changing clothes to take the kids to school. It was the first time anyone had ever had a sightline into my room, and I thought about roofs and gutters and home ownership and losing our shirts selling our home to move up here in 2008 and not wanting to buy in 2012 because our marriage was a mess.

And tonight as I thought these things, I saw the neighbors—actually saw their faces—for the first time. They’re adorable. Everything about them and their house is just right. So I watched, from my darkened room, as the couple made dinner. I watched because they must know something I don’t. If they look just right and decorate just right and cook just right, they must have all the answers. And that somehow makes it okay to spy? Don’t interrupt my story.

Gorgeous kitchen. Caribbean blue walls. Flawless pots and pans hanging above a butcher block table. Working together. Each of them occupied by a task: him stirring something hot on the stove. Her chopping and adding to his concoction. Smiling. Working in concert. Probably composting, donating to charities, decluttering, supporting causes, and refraining from all manner of judgment and coarse language. She likely doesn’t binge on to-do lists, and he probably asks her about her day. I’ll bet they have no problems with dandruff or weight fluctuations, and I’ll bet their kid will never get lice. Or a C.

Jealousy wrapped around me and started to feast on my insecurities.

Between us, aside from millions of miles of choices and regrets and difference was the lovely deck I’ve rarely used. Sometimes the boys and I stand out there with a sky map trying to pick out the planets from the stars. Occasionally Peanut lurks out there during a water balloon fight to pelt his foes down below, and I’d drag him back in, giggling maniacally.

But I don’t go on the deck to read in the warm fall evenings, nor to entertain in the summer, nor to contemplate the meaning of life in winter.

I use the pieces of my life in utilitarian ways. I forget about poetry even though I’m often absorbing the details round me.
But tonight I’m hiding in the dark, assuming that other people have better lives. That money and love and a different career would solve my problems.

Wait. What problems?

I have a healthy and happy family. My kids fight. Big deal. My marriage is over. Big deal. We aren’t refugees, we made rent this month, and we see our extended family often.
I have a career. It’s shifting now, sure, and it’s not what I planned. I’m not enjoying consulting as I once did. Big deal. Plenty of opportunities to change jobs. Plenty of for-good clients who need my skills.
I live in a gorgeous, enthralling, expensive city. It’s beautiful and captivating. And I’ll find a way to afford it on my own. Or we can move. Big deal.

Jealousy is wretched. Because it’s often based in appearance not reality. I have no idea what the neighbors’ relationship is like. I have no idea whether their work-life balance is good or if they inherited their money, whether they’re cooking together because their therapist says they have to, whether the solar panels are a gift from a crime syndicate because of their drug smuggling efforts.

I have no idea whether the kitchen and solar panels make them happy. It looks as though their marriage makes them happy. So? They have that right. They’re allowed to find things that make them happy, to create traditions and habits that work for them.

I’m not always sure what makes me happy, but I know it involves going out on that deck in the sunlight, not hiding behind the blinds festering with jealousy based on comparisons I’ll never win because I’m juxtaposing apples with lemons.

So I’m off to make some lemonade.


Both this post’s photos show the sky over the Bay last Friday. I rolled down my window and took them at stop lights several miles apoart. Because I may not be harnessing the power of the sun for my laundry, but I use sunshine for other happy-making purposes.

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.


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.


I’m sitting quietly tonight, coming to terms with failure.

Strangely, I’m wrapping the failure as a gift. I don’t want to give this package, but not because I’m dissatisfied with the results. Though I’m rarely happy with my creations, they’re not failures.

Here, for example, are nesting dolls I made for my sons and nieces. I’m not thrilled with the final results.





They’re not what I envisioned, but these dolls are my first try at woodburning, and represent my best attempt at art for people I love, so I’ll accept imperfection.

This, on the other hand, is failure writ large.


Not just the change in pattern. Nor the size. Or the ends I haven’t yet woven.

This was supposed to be a blanket for my husband. He chose the yarn just after we got married 11 years ago. I started the blanket eagerly, happy to be engaged in formal domesticity. I was in grad school and pressed for time, but I knit on trips, at conferences, and in the rare moments Spouse and I watched movies. I knit because I wanted to make him this gift to keep him warm and cozy.

I wanted him to feel loved.

But the project got heavy and I got caught up in other things. I wanted to finish. But life intervened and I slowed down. Then I stopped. Later I wanted to finish so I could free the needles to make a blanket for our baby. But finishing a huge project so I could start another didn’t motivate me enough.

After that I just forgot.

We moved the blanket, on its needles, not even halfway done, from one house to another, four times since our wedding. Each time I found the knitting bag, I wanted to finish this gift. But each time I stumbled upon the unfinished project, I was less interested in doing the work required to make it really beautiful.

Looking back, it’s a convenient metaphor.

I had excuses for dropping the blanket priority. It’s hard to remember the pattern. It’s too heavy. The cats, the baby, the other baby. Work. My book. Housework.

And so it languished.

I was hiding holiday gifts last week and found the 1/3 finished blanket. And I thought, “now that our marriage is over, why pretend? I’m not going to finish this blanket.”

I’m not. I have enough trouble trying to be consistently civil to my parenting partner. There’s no way I’m moving “make a present for my ex” up my long list. I bought him thoughtful gifts at the store this month, because I’m good at gifts and I’m good at kindness. I’ve been his partner for 15 years.

I just never made his blanket.

The trauma, though, of saying goodbye to the blanket is that I feel like a failure.

What if the blanket symbolizes the whole problem? What if decreasing effort and changed priorities are why my marriage died?

What if I had tried harder? What if I had made him feel more loved? Would I have been the wife he needed if I were the sort of Me that finished the blanket? Would that have helped him be the husband I needed?

Probably not.
Maybe not.

I cast off this weekend. I wove the loose ends from 12 skeins of yarn today. I trimmed off the extra.


And I wrapped the pathetic, too small blanket and stuck it under the tree. Not to be a jerk. To cement for myself that I’ve stopped trying. That’s a hard thing to admit.

Maybe I stopped too early. Maybe too late. Either way, there’s a physical, heavy, warm reminder of The End under the tree tonight.

And it hurts more than I thought it would. Trying and failing doesn’t hurt like trying, giving up, and thinking later that I didn’t try enough hurts.

Because this lumpy package screams at me about lack of foresight and laziness and stupidity and selfishness.


It represents the worst of what I offered my partner: a promise of love that I didn’t fulfill.

This present says I wasted time and energy by mis-allocating resources. The problem is: I don’t know if I invested too much or not enough.

And I’ll likely never know.

On calling a spade a spade

This morning, I was trying to find my lightbox. It’s finally raining in California, praise Neptune, and moisture is so welcome I have to hide my fear of all things dark and cloudy.

But I really can’t make it through winter, even winters that are overcast only 10% of the time. I have biochemical needs, y’all, and bread can’t fill all of my seratonin gaps.

And as I pulled all the sheets down to look in the linen closet, my first thought was, “Seriously, woman, why don’t you fold your sheets?”


My second thought was, “I should really learn how to fold fitted sheets. My grandma can do it, and I’m pretty sure it’s what defines civilized people from uncivilized.”

My third was, “What a bunch of hooey! There is no correlation between civilization and fitted sheets. None. There is no reason I have to fold anything in this linen closet. I am a good person and I absolutely reject the notion that my worth and my family’s happiness revolve around the status of my stupid effing sheets!”

The lies we tell about “should” are increasingly unraveling my thin hold on propriety.

Because here’s the thing. For a long time women were expected to keep house. And there were no floors, but they swept dirt floors. And there was one set of sheets and they washed in the tub (or creek) and scrubbed on the washboard, and they wrung out sheets and banged them against rocks. And they hung their clothes to dry.

And I have no idea what that was like. Maybe I would have folded my sheets.

But now I have an electronic box into which I type my ideas, and buttons to push to get those words sent places, and sometimes someone pays me for those words. And from that box come tales of others in desperate need, forsaken by their government or their employer or their family and pushed into small corners by violence or racism or hatred or hunger or disease.

So you can take your folded fitted sheets and shove them in your linen closet, but I’m fresh out of fucks to give.

I refuse to buy into the bullshit of what I should do. I have never folded my sheets, and though there is something dark inside me telling me I’m wrong and bad and weak for not folding sheets, I absolutely refuse to start now. No way. Folded sheets don’t make me grown up. Making tough choices and doing the best I can and remembering all of every day that I am not the only human trying to make my way on this planet, and that, in fact, many of the rest need help seventeen levels beyond folded goddamned sheets…those are the things that make me a grownup. Holding up friends as they die and bringing dinner to a family whose child is dreadfully ill, that is what makes me a grown-ass, don’t you dare tell me about fitted sheets, woman.

You know what I thought as I defiantly rolled up the sheets and shoved them in the closet after I found my lightbox? I thought, “Eleanor Roosevelt sure as hell wouldn’t want me folding fitted sheets.” What has stuck with me most over the past few days since I finished the biography examining the personal lives of those in the White House during World War II, are two relatively simple concepts: 1) women’s role in society is almost always circumscribed for her by others and 2) really great thinking requires taking long and frequent breaks.

Doris Kearns Goodwin makes very clear that Rosie the Riveter was persona non grata after the war. “Yeah, thanks for the help, but we were kidding about you being important.” Once all the efforts of women on the homefront helped secure peace, years of begging women to sacrifice for the country, of asking them to work as hard as they could, had produced results beyond anyone’s hopes. Women kicked ass in the factories. They owned their work. And they loved doing it. According to Goodwin, 79% of women said after the war that they preferred work to being at home, and 70% of those were married with kids. They preferred being with others doing something meaningful to ironing and folding fitted sheets. Of course they did. So the women wanted to continue to work. But factories fired them without a second thought, telling the women who made the American war effort possible that they weren’t wanted.

And that’s when the propaganda morphed from Rosie the Riveter to Suzy Homemaker. This is the part ringing in my ears a week later…the ads that for years promised automatic dishwashing and automated clothes drying to enable working women were all of a sudden ads for intricate recipes that took all day to prepare. Magazine articles that had urged women to help their men by helping the military-industrial complex became articles about how children whose mothers work grow up to be delinquents and criminals. (All of this is paraphrased, from my faulty memory that is boiling in rage against linen closet manners. This is not my thesis, it represents the tea leaves left in the bottom of my cup by Ms. Goodwin. If you want the exact wording from No Ordinary Time, get it from your library and read for yourself. For now, all you have is me and my seething indignation to go on, so roll with it.)

And so what is the propaganda telling us now, I’ve been mulling this week? Be thin and pretty and submissive, paint yourself perfectly, write the code but don’t criticize what the code depicts or enables, be there for your kids all the time unless you’re a CEO, buy lots of things, have a bucket list, spend time in nature, care about those in need, meditate, do yoga, put away your phone, buy another phone, be fully present every moment of the day, promise to sleep a lot but cheat and barely sleep so you can play the ‘I’m more tired than you are’ game of personal success, and eat only what you’ve grown yourself and spent 48 hours sprouting and 12 hours preparing but then god help you if it’s not raw and exactly as it was hunted by cave people.

Because pancreas. Or something. Spleen? Spleens that you need if you’re freediving, for that burst of oxygen just before you die? Save your freediving spleen with the paleo love of coconut and dates!

Geezus Cheeses on a Cracker. What else are we supposed to do? Please, do give me another list. I’m sure you can tax the limits of human endurance further.

So I see balled up sheets, I begin to tell myself to fold them, and I rage against post-war misogynist propaganda for a while.

Easy enough, right?

Nope. Because the other thing that stuck with me about No Ordinary Time is how much time FDR spent relaxing. And I’m not making any allowances here for his physical pain and exhaustion, and I note that. But I’m not mocking his leisure, so I feel rather free to recap the man’s daily schedule, which included a lot of sleep and entertainment. I’m reiterating what I understood from the book: that his leisure, including copious time spent with good friends over good food and good wine and good games, was integral to his ability to create. That without nightly card games and trips to the islands, he never would have come up with lend-lease. The guy woke late, ate, read, worked a bit, ate, relaxed, worked a bit, and held court in the library every evening. He played cards and spoke with friends and took some time to stare across the yard now and then. And he was a war-time President. I’m guessing he had quite a few things to do. I mean, he didn’t have to submit FSA receipts by the end of this month, or anything, but still.


He managed to take a break several times a day. We don’t do that. As a culture, we don’t do that enough. There are now articles telling you that it’s important to let your brain rest. To do some dishes and let information sink in so you can really process it. The are gorgeous, moving diatribes against productivity that render me incoherent with longing and sadness and a renewed refusal to fold my sheets.

So what is this bullshit about doing everything and having everything? I can’t do or have or be everything. Can’t. Won’t.

I will not fold my fitted sheets.
I will not do yoga retreats.
I will not make my nutty spreads.
I will not make my family’s beds.
I will not mop the stupid floor.
I will not scrub my muddy door.
I will not put my dear self last.
I will not eat my food so fast.
I will not say yes anymore.
I will not take on tasks galore.

I will not keep a crazy pace.
I will not join your insane race.


A good solid pout

Last week, Butterbean had a traumatic crash. We were running, despite his protests, to get me some energy for a long day of obligations. I was pushing his scooter when he hit a big bump and fell on his face. The big piece of meat fauceting blood off his chin threw me into an adrenaline-high that lasted the whole day. I was exhausted that night, sore from tensing everything, including my guilt muscles.

The next morning I got up early to run so I would be to the soccer game on time. A glorious 10 mile run at dawn. Too short, I pouted silently, but exactly right to prioritize my son.

I fell on a relatively uncomfortable asphalt hill trying to take a shortcut to Peanut’s game—braced my fall with my outstretched arm and likely tore something in my shoulder. I’ll see the doctor tomorrow, but decent amounts of pain and very limited mobility don’t bode well for a quick recovery. It’s a shoulder, nature’s most ludicrous of joints.

Rice University image via Creative Commons

Rice University image via Creative Commons

It’s been three days of looking on the bright side, caring for a stitched up preschooler, and trying to protect my injured arm, I’m officially worn out. I’m pouting.

Pain brings out my nastiest, grouchiest, most petulant side. I hate being injured. I have plans. I want to run and cook and write and chase my kids. I want to not regret having a stick shift and to wash three heads of hair without thinking about it. Guess how much you use your dominant arm for when you make your living on a computer and spend a good portion of your waking hours with children. I’ll help you on this one: a lot.

I’m a single parent trying to function with one arm. And that’s not a big deal, given that it’s temporary and I’ll be fine eventually. I’m lucky. Other people live with chronic pain, other people live with altered mobility…a few weeks isn’t going to be a big deal and I want to kick myself for whining.

I can make mac-n-cheese and scrambled eggs for several weeks if I have to. I can give up fencing for a few months or years. I will get back to running, maybe even in time for the race I’m already registered for. I can have the boys’ dad come over and change sheets like I did yesterday. And he can help with pumpkin carving.

But I’m not in the mood for this. Even with daily gratitude and warm bright smiles at everyone who needs one, I just can’t find the cheerful. Joyful, yes. Cheerful, no.

I have a big presentation this weekend, and I’m excited. I’m a demonstrative presenter and I like gesticulating. So I’m now rehearsing with one arm pinned against my side. I’ll be fine, it’ll be a good talk. But I’m still grouchy at my stupid decision. I gauged the slope of the hill and thought I could make it. I knew I probably couldn’t, but I live most days by the skin of my teeth, so I figured I could do this.


And I fell flat on my face rushing from on “should” to another. I got up, brushed myself off, shrugged off the blood dripping slowly from my knee, and went to the soccer game. I took more than 200 photos and chatted with several parents.

They’re delightful. We’re so lucky to have such kind people in our lives.

I’m just tired of all the DUTIES I must perform. I’m so exhausted from loading meals with vitamins and fiber and whole grains. I’m tired of driving people places. I’m tired of worrying about what comes next. I’m tired of deadlines and clients and having four minutes to myself a day. I’m tired. That’s not unusual. In fact, it’s rather droll of me to even say aloud, given how terribly sleep-deprived most of us are.

I fully acknowledge how ludicrous to write in a late-night blog post that I’m tired. But, I believe we’ve been over this: I’m so g*ddamned tired.

The man who drove us to the hospital to get Butter’s stitches lives several miles from us (we were on a run, remember, and too-far-too-drive-my-kid-to-the-hospital far from home when it happened). Our hero was so incredibly kind and selfless that I brought his family a thank you note and gift certificate. His favorite team is in the World Series tonight and I wanted to make their day easier with some Zachary’s. I handed the envelope to his wife, who told me I didn’t have to do this. We fell in front of the right house, she said. “This is what he does,” she insisted. And she pointed to my shoulder, in a sling, and said, “It’s time to slow down, you know.”

The idea is so foreign to me I can’t quite articulate why I found her insistence at once sweet and ridiculous.

How the heck can I do that?

I’m scrambling to get enough work to pay the bills, and I’m filling up every waking minute with obligations. I am not giving my kids enough, my creative work languishes in files untouched for months. There’s a long list of people I want to have over for brunch, which is genuinely the way I show love. I haven’t seen my favorite human on the planet, my grandma, in almost a month.

How exactly am I supposed to slow down?

Last night, in pain and unable to take any more sibling bickering, I lay down on the couch to take a break. I’d never actually sat on this couch. The old one got a big hole from two children pretending to be ninjas and launching themselves off it, so I scoured craigslist for a daybed. Our guest room has been rented out, and it’s nice to have a couch friends or family can actually sleep on. But we’ve had it for several weeks and I’d never sat on it.

I was lying supine, protecting my shoulder, for about a minute before I fell asleep. At 6:00 pm with my kids fighting 20 feet away about a frisbee, I just passed out.

I don’t know if my exhaustion is physical, emotional, or mental. Or all three. I cleared a huge deadline and went straight into two more, smaller deadlines. I helped my little guy get stitched up and then hours later screwed up my precarious sense of wholeness. The separation is still a logistical struggle and I’m overcommitted. All my runs, except the long run on my day without the kids, take place in the presence of a preschooler on a scooter, chasing him at top speed downhill and pushing his full 40 pounds uphill.

How dare I complain…but I can’t not type this: can’t anything be easy?

I’m worried about us. I’m worried that I don’t have enough to offer my kids or myself. I’m worried that I’m trying too hard to keep consulting rather than find a staff job.

I’m worried that if I slow down I’ll lose. Lose what, I’m not sure. But I know the feeling at Mrs. Hero’s suggestion about slowing down felt like panic.

Sheer, unadulterated, panic.

I hope, whatever the doctor says this morning, it involves the words, “do yourself a favor and play this track on the way home…”