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Early holiday presents

I got a card this week from a dear old friend. Hadn’t talked to her in almost two years, though I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately. I wanted to write but didn’t make time. She did, and now I’ll reply. 

I received a message from a darling friend I haven’t seen in five years. We’re having lunch next week when he’s in town for the first time in a decade. We’re both already giddy in anticipation. 

I saw a text this morning from a genuinely awesome friend. I’ve heard from her here and there over the past few years, but we haven’t talked…really talked…since the kids started kindergarten. They’re in fourth grade now. It’s time for a long email and a cup of cyber cocoa with her. 

Blogging again after a long break has brought me messages from good friends, too. I’ve smiled so broadly this week as I get comments and texts from people whose existence I cherish and whose words I welcome. 

I don’t know what I sent out to the Universe in the way of distress signal or joy beacon or reconnection magnet. But I’m incredibly grateful to be steeped in engagement with friends who genuinely make my life better. 

Hello, friends. Hope you’re well!

I know near a creek isn't the same as in the bath, but this is as close as I'm going to get.

“I’m not good at applying for jobs”

My five year old was in the bath tonight, and asked me how people get jobs.

I explained that there were several ways. I fudged the data a lot, and went on a bit too long, Neither of those will shock regular readers.

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Well, you’re qualified to thresh grain and grind it into meal, so you’ll be hired in no time.

My synopsis only had three paths to a job…

“After college, when you have lots of things you’re good at, you find a company you want to work for, and you offer to do those things you’re good at, for them.

Or you graduate from college and the professors who know what you’re good at call companies they know and say, ‘this guy is good at stuff you need…can he work for you?’

Or companies who need someone who is good at certain things can post a job, usually online, on the Internet, and ask for people who are good at the things they need done. And you apply to those jobs that match what you do.”

“But I’m not good at applying for jobs,” he sighed.

I looked at him. “Of course not,” I said. “You haven’t practiced it yet. You get good at what you practice, so you’d have to learn to apply, then apply a lot, until you get good. And then, when you practice, I’ll bet you’ll get very good at applying for jobs. And you’ll get a job you like, I hope.”

“Mom, did you forget this morning? When I said I’m not getting a job.”

“Oh, right, when you said you don’t want a job and asked how you could not work.”

“Yep.”

“And I said you have to have really rich parents, which you don’t, or you have to start a company and sell it for a lot of money.”

“Yep. And I’m going to do that one.”

“Yep. And we decided two million is better than one thousand.”

“Yep, because one thousand doesn’t even pay rent.”

“Yep.”

“Yep.”

“Mom?”

“Yeah?”

“Do I have to apply for the part where I start a company, or can I just do it?”

“You just do it, baby.”

“Okay. That’s definitely my choice.”

“Okay.”

“Yep.”

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Layoffs

You know what’s not fun at all?

Layoffs.

You know what’s even less fun? Knowing for 24 hours how many someones are going to go, but not which of the someones it’ll be.

You know what’s even less fun? Being, on layoff day, a relatively empathic person who cries very easily. I cry at telephone ads, I cry at diaper ads. I cry when someone wins Top Chef and Project Runway. So each name I’m hearing during today’s mass layoffs has me crying.

I haven’t heard my name. So I’m crying about that, too.

Survivor’s guilt, colleague empathy, and relief.

That’s a lot of tears for one morning.

Good luck to all losing their jobs today. May the new job you find come before the severance ends.

Good luck, too, to everyone out of a job. May your new job come soon.

And to all the people who want a new job. May the right opportunity arrive today.

And to all the people having rough days…

No, no, no. Stop. It’s too easy for me to spiral to all the stuff not going right and wishing those people clean water, indoor plumbing, safety, and shelter. And food. And respect. And…again. Spiraling.

I’m going to focus on the people I know, today, who are suddenly unemployed. Wishing you all the best.

 

 

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Roller coaster 

I do, sometimes, wonder if I’m mentally unhinged. 

Well, not mentally. Emotionally unhinged. I’m pretty okay mentally. 

But on a functional level, I am a professional maker of molehills into sizeable hikes. I am wont to speak in hyperbole, hypothesize in worst case scenarios, and react in outsized proportions. 

 

see the moon? huge vs. tiny is about perspective, of which I have little

 
But my feelings are real, so I try not to tell myself that they’re wrong. 

Even though they’re totally wrong. 

Today included a talk with my son about behavior I anticipate will lead to a career in crime. I talked to colleagues about a mass layoff that begins tomorrow. I spoke with a pediatrician who, in filling in for our regular doctor, actually laughed at my concerns and asked me what’s wrong with me. And I talked the babysitter of the ledge when my kids were fighting about the packing material that came in a box delivered (and opened) last week. 

I should be exhausted. And grouchy. 

I’m not. For now, there a cat on my lap, a book within reach, a cup of hot water, and a quiet house. 

So is it a mood disorder that I’m not stressed right now? That I notice the calm and warmth of cat and steaming mug? That I’m willing to forget the day’s roller coaster? 

Maybe. 

  
Maybe not. 

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Worst call ever

Last night, I received the worst phone call I’ve had, thus far, in my life. 

The call telling me about the deaths of my grandparents and my friend were devastating, but expected. Those calls upended me in ways that haven’t righted.

But last night’s call has to be remedied. Fixed. 

 

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I was blindsided and sickened tonight by a call that detailed how my son hurt another child. On purpose. While they were playing. 

Not out of anger. Not in retaliation. I’m not yet sure why… he was already sleeping when I heard the awful story. So now I get to hear why he did what he did. 

And I have rather low expectations, because what I’ve heard so far is deeply upsetting. From sources I trust. With proof. 

There aren’t many posts online when you search “what do I do if my child is a bully?” People are, it seems, terrified to talk about what it means to be the one who harbors the maladjustment that leads to aggressive behavior in children. 

Yes, I tend to make mountains out of molehills. But I have several friends whom I call and ask for sanity checks. My parenting sanity check was not willing to place this on the innocent to sociopath scale. But we both understood it’s much closer to the latter. 

My preliminary searches suggest low self esteem. I knew that part. Lack of conflict resolution skills. I don’t think so, from what I’ve seen. Role models who coerce or shame or intimidate?

I don’t want to write this post. I don’t want anyone to read this post. I sure as hell don’t want anyone to talk to me about this post. 

I barely slept last night, my churning stomach nauseating me awake every time I managed to relax and forget. 

I have to go have the talk soon. His dad is coming over so we can present a united front. 

I might throw up. 

Better than chocolate

For my birthday, my boys wrote special notes to me, courtesy of a sweet little book that prompted them to spell out why they love me.

The oldest said things that warmed my heart…


  

But he also made me laugh.

they are so horrified when I start dancing mid-dinner because the song is just. too. good.

That’s a fact, boy. No j/k about it.

The little guy melted my inner Grinch, too…



One of those previous two is true, by the way.

But the best line from each gives a little window into their personality.

literal. also very literal.

daily focus on gratitude? check.

That’s about all I need in a birthday present, right there.

The feeling is mutual.

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Pure Bliss

Early morning run.

Write client web copy.

Quick shower.

Drive to the ocean.  

 Large plate of fresh fruit, pumpkin scone with spiced pepitas. Mimosa. Decaf mocha. Write client ad campaign.

Kale, garbanzo bean salad with fig balsamic vinaigrette. Heirloom tomato greek salad. Mimosa. Homemade pistachio toffee. Write more web copy.

  
Sauna, with a book.

Walk on the beach at sunset.

  
  
Pear and brie in phyllo, asparagus with roasted red pepper sauce, ricotta blackberry tart, strawberries in balsamic glaze, and zinfandel.

  
   
 Episode of Sherlock.

And then another. 

Full night of sleep.

The beginning. 

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Friday

In August, I kept telling myself to make it through until school started, and things would be simpler.

When school started, and logistics got harder, I told myself to just make it through the two big September work projects, and things would get easier.

When the first week of October brought big challenges at work, I told myself to make it through one big project.

Before that project ended, there were three new projects.

And so this week, I told myself to make it to Friday. To put my head down and push hard, because this weekend I’m going away with a friend. Without kids. With big projects looming, but time carved out for no work. The beach. A massage. A nice dinner.

When the kids were little, and there were no breaks after the milestones, I longed for the project-based rhythms of work. When those projects came back, both freelance and staff, I longed for a time with downtime between projects.

I’m going to have to stop waiting for breaks, and start making them myself.

And I will. Starting about four hours ago.

get me outta here!

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The Day I Quit Parenting

Day off school? Cool! I’ll rearrange my week so we can hang out together. Have crepes and play video games and read and play soccer and go to a movie. At the theater! With snacks and everything!

So, how about you help get the day started…by fighting non-stop with your brother. Not just about important things. Scream at him for breathing too loud. Punch him while you think I’m not looking just because you want to see what happens. Tell him how bad he is at the video game I’m going to take from you in three….two….one, just for being nasty.

And you, little follower. Give it right back to him. There’s nothing I’d like better on a day where I’ve planned to focus on you and make life awesome. Pick on him. Stick your tongue out. Make sure to trip him each time he walks by. When he reacts, pinch him. Tell him he’s a princess and tell him that you’re going to break his toys if he goes to the bathroom.

That’s it. Now wrestle! Not the fun kind, where everyone is laughing and panting and exhausted. Wrestle as though gouging out his eyes were your job. Yes. That’s the way.

Too cool to hear you, mom.

***

That’s the way the first two hours of our day went. Then, screaming and crying when I said it was time to walk to the theater. Then, grabbing each other in the lobby while I was trying to show tickets.

Listening? No. Heeding requests for modified behavior? Nope. Crazy, jerk-ish, rude behavior all morning.

I thought by evening it would be better. I made their favorite dinner, I paid close attention to their stories, I laughed at their jokes. When kids act like jerks, according to the hippie attachment parenting books I’m now totally throwing out, means children need more attention. Need connection. I have it all I had.

When they asked for a joint bath, I reminded them that they can’t take baths together anymore. It doesn’t work. Tub’s not big enough, nobody seems capable of keeping their hands to themselves. Take baths alone, I urged, and cuddle up together for stories later.

They swore they’d be kind. They coached each other, in front of me, on what to say to convince me.

So they started a bath together. And three minutes is this one snapped at that one, and the other grabbed painful parts in retaliation for the sharp tone. I talked gently and reminded them of the rules. I was patient, I was kind. And they kept pushing and grabbing and shrieking. And one, then the other was told to get out. Ignored me, fought with each other.

I’d had it. I yelled that everyone had to get out of the tub. I told them this isn’t the way this family is supposed to work. I said that I demand that when I’m asking for attention about a safety and kindness issue, like hitting, that they heed me. Both reacted rudely to my own rude behavior.

And then I quit. I went to the living room and started a project. I decided I wasn’t going to make meals anymore. I wasn’t doing laundry or helping with homework. I won’t remind anyone about library day or music day or any other day. Forget to brush your teeth or wear a jacket or do a book report? I don’t care. Not my job.

I’ll buy groceries, pay the rent, and ignore them. Forever. Because all I have to do is survive 15 more years. They’re not hearing what I say, they don’t care whether my points are valid or not. This is Lord of the Flies, and I’m Piggy.

The little one stomped down the stairs and started an art project. He was supposed to be sorting laundry, and I seethed but ignored him. Not my job anymore.

The big one stomped up the stairs and started an art project. He was supposed to be doing homework, and I ground my teeth. That kept me quiet, though, which is fine since they don’t plan on hearing me ever again, anyway.

And first one, then the other handed me an apology note. The little guy sounded out all the words himself.

 

 The big guy went winter-themed with his contrition. And multicultural, it seems from the punctuation.


And I decided that I could maybe try being their mom again. As much as I enjoyed my 20 minutes of full abdication, reinstatement as matriarch does have perks. I get all the handmade art I want. I get to read stories. And despite feeling, when they’re fighting, as though I have no influence, role, or value, I’m pretty sure that they at least get enough fiber, protein, and long explanations in answer to their questions when I’m on the job.

I wish the dynamics were different. It’s intensely hard on me that they’ve been fighting for four years, almost without pause. But life has been getting better. They read each other books last week. And played a duet, unprompted. I hope tomorrow is like last week.

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TMI

The most challenging part of regular blogging is all the things I can’t say in this space. I write to be honest, to share, to ask questions. 

But I don’t write to shame or embarrass other people. So I’m sometimes stuck fighting the urge to write everything I’ve experienced and how I feel about it. 

In consideration of the public forum, of readers both known and unknown, of future lights in which these words will appear, of parties relictant to have their lives discussed in my blog…there’s a lot I can’t say. 

Four bits from today I simply can’t tell you. One silence is a legality, two are rooted in decorum to protect asshats who wronged me, and one silence is because I don’t want to reread in five years and feel like a jerk. 

So here is a photo of twinkly lights. Consolation prize. 

    Twinkle lights, like right now, in my living room. On the bookcase. 
Maybe tomorrow will have content for public consumption. 

Or more lights. 

    That’s lights and books and microscope. That’s pretty good, y’all. Pretty good day. 

It's complicated

So how’s your divorce going?

Slowly. My divorce is going slowly, thanks for asking.

Everything is fine. We’re still being friendly and still sharing time with the kids. I’m not a big fan of shared parenting, but it’s much better than having one parent erased from the kids’ lives, and it’s infinitely better than what we were forcing to make work long after it didn’t work.

We’re nice enough that we both go to all the soccer games. We’re annoyed enough by each other that conversations go best via text. It’s not a “between a rock and a hard place” kind of situation. It’s a “rock and everything that’s not the rock seems pretty soft” kind of situation.

rock sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, from my first of two visits

rock sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, from my first of two visits

The legal stuff has barely begun, but we’re hoping it will be easy. We haven’t disagreed on any details yet, and we’ve covered a lot of territory. It never occurred to me, when we decided to end years of misery with a responsible divorce, where both of us strive toward being respectful and kind, that we’d have to put in writing who gets to decide when the kids learn to drive (both have to agree) or who has to agree to moving to a different pediatrician, dentist, or school (again, we want both of us to agree). This isn’t hard. It’s a lot of thinking ahead, though. Thinking about being linked for decades. Gah.

I’m not enjoying the added burden of finding and paying professionals to help us make sure our kids are fairly treated until they’re adults, since we both agree they should be fairly treated.

But I’m trying to be smart about this. Some day he might remarry. Some day I might remarry (hahahahaha that’s a good one). And we have to make sure that what makes sense now is written and witnessed and legal and binding. Because it would really suck to go forward on goodwill, and have someone derail that spirit of cooperation with legal shenanigans.

I don’t enjoy the limitations of single parenting, but my happiness at being done with a very challenging time in my life trumps inconvenience.

gutter, rainwater, pollen, leaves. un-still life.

gutter, rainwater, pollen, leaves. un-still life.

I read exactly one article on divorce before deciding I’m not reading any more. In a highly recommended listicle, divorced women said retail therapy is exactly the wrong choice during a separation.

And so, for a while, every purchase I made seemed like a statement on my mental health, on my divorce, and on my potential for happiness. New shampoo was a cry for help. A new coffee mug was clearly demonstration of intense loneliness. And a new mattress was a therapy cornucopia: in attempting to erase the marital bed I was hiding from reality.

What ridiculous nonsense like that ignores, is that people moving through a change in marital status are just carrying on with life the way a regular person would. If you’re engaged and buying a new bed, that’s symbolic. But my buying a new mattress wasn’t a statement on my mental health. That purchase coincided with an uptick in work that meant I finally had enough money to fix a chronic back issue that had me waking, in pain, on a 15-year-old mattress.

I’m not sure why it was so easy to jump to a place where I associated my choices with my change in marital status. Since high school, I’ve refused to use the word Mrs. because I think it’s ridiculous to categorize women into only two groups: married and unmarried. So why do it to myself?

I thought I’d be upset about my divorce. I thought I’d second-guess myself, feel uncomfortable, or feel ashamed of my choices. But I don’t feel differently. I’m not embarrassed to kiss my kids goodbye after the soccer game because they’re spending the rest of the weekend with their dad. I’m not shamed that the teacher asks gingerly if she can have a conference with me and the boys’ dad together. I think it’s a good question. I tell her we’re happy to have just one conference. And I would feel just as comfortable telling her that we needed to be apart if that were true.

To my Catholic grandmothers, divorce was a big deal. As the adult child of an 1970s divorce (none of which seemed to exist on the same nasty-to-amicable spectrum we’ve set up for ourselves this generation…they were all relatively uncivil and acrimonious, right?), I thought divorce was a big deal.

But it hasn’t turned out that way.

Maybe because I’m not done yet. Maybe because I’m at the center of it, and I enjoy being the center of an issue. Maybe because divorce doesn’t seem intense when it’s such a relief. Or maybe because trying our best to be kind, to talk nicely about each other, to support the kids with whatever they need in the transition to a two-household family, we’ve actually taken some of the biggest hurts out of divorce.

I don’t know. But I do know that, other than the logistics, my divorce is going quite well. Thanks for asking.

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Blog vs. Surf

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I didn’t start using photos in this blog until 2012, according to my photo gallery. I checked because I was going to steal an old photo instead of uploading a new one.

Walking back through them, the dirty worms photo made me smile. They’re about as awesome as this blog’s photos get.

He sure was proud of those worms.

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And of the things his truck could do.

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And of the sand he brought home in his shoes but remembered to dump before he came inside.

I don’t have a point, really, except that this blog has some nice memories tucked inside. Some moments that I remember more clearly, cherish more deeply, because I shared them.

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from KTVU footage of our apartment caught in a massive wildfire

When you cross SAD and PTSD

I had a rough couple of Octobers as a young adult. Big earthquake one year. Huge fire two years later. Terrifying car crash a few months after that, which wasn’t October, but which also didn’t make fire recovery much fun. In Boston, also October a year later, I struggled with a major injury; another big injury the following October.

And as I was acclimating to those psychic bruises, I walked through Harvard Square to rehearsal one October night. The sky was absolutely black, street lights painfully bright, and life flowing all around me. I didn’t notice that I was having to try much harder to get through my days since the time change. But I did notice that it was starting to rain. Barely.

I stopped at a red light and looked down a side street. And the tiny rain drops looked, in the street light and against the black sky, like snow.

And I lost my everloving mind.

I paced like a wild animal, knowing I had to get out. I had to leave, escape, claw, leap, fly. Fly! Yes, that’s it. I ran back up the street to a pay phone (yes, it was when there were pay phones but not cell phones). I pulled out my credit card, and checked the back for an airline phone number. I called and asked for the first flight back home.

I laughed at the price. I had to find a way to make it, and not lose my mind. Because I couldn’t afford a panic trip home.

Instead, I talked myself down, went to rehearsal, and the next day looked in the yellow pages for a therapist. (This was in the time of pay phones and email. I’m pretty sure there was a search engine of some sort. I just don’t remember if this was still yellow pages time, or if we were able to ascertain the location of a therapist by just typing in “Boston therapist seasonal affective disorder.”) Now that I think about it, I called my insurance company. From a land line. They gave me three names.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is pretty easy to remedy, he said. Generally, it takes lots of outdoor exercise in the daylight, and 15 minutes a day in front of a light box. For me, he said, based on my reported symptoms, it had to be 2 hours a day of full spectrum light. Read a book in front of the light box, he said. Every morning. Eat your breakfast, write letters, do whatever you need to do, but get within six inches of a medical device every day for two hours. If it feels like you’re euphoric, back off by 10 minutes. And if you feel unable to work, get out of bed, or eat, come back.

It was a long winter. So was the next one.

When I came home to a place with more sunshine, milder winters, and longer days in winter, I had fewer problems. But winterns are still tough.

And without fail, some time in October I start to a panic a bit. Is there any chance to get closer to the sun, quickly, for at least four months? Will this winter be bad? Will I be able to make logical decisions or am I beyond all hope until March? Or beyond? Am I just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, anyway? Is there any point to the light box or exercise? Or healthy food? Or getting out of bed?

It's a long walk off a rotten pier.

It’s a long walk off a rotten pier.

November, to me, is both intensely tough and intensely joyful. Thanksgiving is coming, and I love seeing family. Fall is lovely, and soup plus corduroy plus cocoa make anything wonderful. But the dark and the cold leave cracks into which sadness creeps. Even in cords, drinking soup and stirring cocoa. I ser the sad coming. I know it’s here. I know I have to fight.

I have my lightbox out, and will use it tomorrow. I’m trying to get more sleep. I have all my bright scarves out, so I remember to wear one on particularly emotional mornings. I have healthy foods planned so I don’t sink into a self-medicating pattern of whole loaves of bread for dinner this winter. I will move around, outside in daylight, every morning.

I hope that everyone who notes that the change of the season, and particularly the end of daylight savings time, makes days a bit harder, a bit slower, a bit more claustrophobic will make time for outside activity, bright colors, good food, and a lightbox if necessary.

They make a big difference.

So does making it through October. Thank you, Universe, for making it through October.

The Blessing of Expired Coupons

The first week of this month is my favorite. Hope, possibility, and the permission to recycle a fistful of expired coupons.

I don’t use coupons. The circulars that come in the mail go straight into recycling. Envelopes of alleged deals do, too. Most of the things I buy don’t offer coupons. But every once in a while, I wind up with a few coupons or micro gift certificates for things I actually use, and will likely buy before they expire.

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So I start a pile. Near where the mail goes and papers to be signed go. And I see the stack every day, winking at me with the possibility of a few dollars off.

But I can’t seem to remember them when I shop. And though that local restaurant is good when we go once or twice a year, our infrequent outings don’t ever seem to coincide with a month where I have the appropriate coupon.

I functionally ignored the coupon pile, even as life’s odometer rolled over to November.

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Today I realized that ten coupons are now an impossibility. Their “you should use this” glare died October 31. “Hurry and use that coupon. Or that one. Or one of them. Take your pick, but go to a place and buy a thing and save several monies.  Come on. You should do this. Or do something with your life for heaven’s sake!”

Sorry. Can’t. Coupon expired. Phew. One fewer thing to forget. I am no longer burdened with the “remember coupons” line item on my to-do list. Clearly I wasn’t paying enough attention to them. So why pay any attention at all?

I threw them away. And for good measure, I threw away the rest of the coupons, too. Expiring December 31? That’s cool. But you’re already wood pulp for something new. I don’t care. And I shall say that loud and proud.

Eff off, coupons.

As I tossed the now dead scraps of paper, I saw the four screws on the kitchen counter that have been waiting for weeks. Or months. I don’t remember. I’ve been trying to recall what they’re for, and I just don’t know. But I thought if I kept them out and visible, I’d remember eventually. Or need them for something.

And I should have just put them in the toolbox. But I wanted so much to find their role and allow them to fulfill their screwy destiny that I left them out in a vIsabel heap of junk-drawer-gone-obligatory

Today I tossed the screws. In the trash. Not in the toolbox, not out on the curb where the whole city seems to dispose of its unwanted but useful things.

I pitched them gleefully.

Good riddance, obligation. Goodbye reminder that my memory is crap. Goodbye unreasonable expectations.

Coins, burned out light bulb, watch that needs a new battery, but no coupons.

Coins, burned out light bulb, watch that needs a new battery, but no coupons.

And now I’m wandering through the house with a bag, drunk with power. Sock without a mate? Whether it’s been waiting a week or a year, it’s gone. I’m tired of waiting. Tired of telling myself I’m not doing enough. Tired of hoping all the messy ends of life will get neatly tied together.

Goodbye, book I know I won’t read. You’re going to the library.

Goodbye tea I don’t like. I’m not saving you for guests. Friends deserve better.

Goodbye, game I don’t like playing with the kids. I play other games, and I don’t care about you at all. You’re a pain and now you’re headed to Goodwill.

Goodbye wedding china. You’re “supposed” to go to eBay, but you’re going to the other half of my failed marriage. He can sell you or use you or give you away. I don’t need the should of your box shaming me from the closet.

Goodbye, tax receipts. I don’t…just kidding. I’m want to, but I’m not stupid. Freedom is symbolic, and currently only at the coupon, gift certificate, and third-rate novel level for now.

But that’s a pretty good place to be. Shedding what I don’t need. Streamlining. And knocking dumb things off my list.

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Finally Fall

The story is the same every year: Hot in September. Hot in October. Eighty degrees on Halloween. 

Then mid-sixties the first week of November. A battle between me and my mother as to who turns on the heat first. She claims to make it until November 11 some years. 

I rarel make it past Election Day. 

Happy boot weather, Bay Area! Bring out your cords! Bring out your cords!

dude! they took my blanket! please let me cuddle in right here.