Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tried and True

Cranky (Ex-)Boss Lady was involved in a freak accident about a month ago. She was talking with a friend while the friend's three large dogs were tearing around the yard when one of them barrelled into CBL from behind, knocking her over and somehow breaking her right ankle. So broken was the ankle, that she had to have a screw surgically inserted to hold everything together.

She has an adult daughter, a live-in boyfriend, and a renter who has lived in the attached apartment for so long (at such low rent) that he has become a member of their highly dysfunctional family--all of them can help her out in the late afternoons and evenings. Which leaves mornings and early afternoons during the week to me because there isn't anyone else, because I don't mind helping out--actually like to be able to help out when I can. When she called about the ankle, she said, in typical tell-don't-ask Cranky Boss Lady fashion, "I'm going to need your help with appointments and stuff." The answer would've been "yes," but I couldn't help noticing that there was no real question there.

Cranky Boss Lady is, to understate it in the extreme, a high maintenance individual under the best of circumstances and clearly a severely broken ankle does not qualify as the best of circumstances. She is unable to support herself on crutches and so is wheelchair bound and home all day with three springer spaniels.

The two male spaniels do not get along owing to having been neutered only after having gotten into numerous scraps with one another and so there is an elaborate routine that CBL has devised involving segregation and rotation of the dogs. Since she is no longer working outside the home, she has plenty of time and energy to fixate, er, focus on the "needs" of these three dogs. In addition to being rotated (one male is in the living room with CBL and the other in the sun room with the female dog and then they switch), they go outside for potty breaks every hour and a half to two hours. They have stuffed toys that are dog-specific and it's extremely important to CBL (significantly less so to the dogs) that none of the dogs plays with someone else's toy. Therefore, the hairy-stained-up-spit-encrusted toys must also be transferred from room to room at each rotation. And one of these toys, a mangled Pumba from Lion King, which makes farting and burping noises, must be dropped over the gate to land on its head so it will make noise, whether the dog is standing there to hear it or not.

I think the whole thing is completely insane, but if that's how she wants to do things, so be it. I will say, however, that even if I were the type of person to be concerned that Benny is playing with Misty's toy or to engage in a "battle of wills*" with Buddy because he's not really interested in going out at the moment since he was out an hour ago, I would make an effort to simplify the doggy routine if I was relying on another person to help me with it. I would, not, in other words, visit my insanity upon someone who is taking an hour or more out of her own day to help me.

Along with going over every weekday at 10:30 and noon to deal with the dogs, I have also taken CBL to three doctor's visits (one of these of the "emergency" last-minute variety and thirty minutes away from home); winced inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) as CBL was whining and demanding and borderline verbally abusive to office staff at these appointments; paid her cable, gas, and electric bills (in person at three different locations); picked up prescriptions for her and her son; listened to the graphic details about the bursting of her boyfriend's sebaceous cyst; purchased bandages for her boyfriend's sebaceous cyst; stopped and gotten her lunch every day--usually a ridiculously complex order from the supermarket deli, which she has never yet failed to complain about; and more, oh-so-much more.

We also went through the McDonald's drive-thru at one point and she demanded that I order her fries "straight out of the fryer," which is how she always wants her fries. When I worked with her on a daily basis at the flower shop, I told her more than once that asking for that sort of special consideration at a fast-food restaurant is just begging them to spit in your food. Still, she persisted, though to be honest, when I was tasked with picking up her lunch and bringing it back to the shop I never, not one single time, requested fries "straight from the fryer" and she was none the wiser.

This time, of course, she was in the passenger seat next to me so there was no wiggling out of it and I asked for the fries "straight from the fryer." When the bag with the chicken tenders and fries was handed out to the window to me, CBL warned, "Don't drive away yet!" Then she snatched the bag out of my hand, stuck her hand in to test the fries, declared them "warm, not hot" and ordered me to send them back. I started to pull away from the window and she yelled, "What are you doing!?"

I calmly said, "I'm going to go inside to return your fries."

She said, "I would've just banged on the window!"

I said, "I'm not going to hold up the fourteen cars behind us. I'll just go inside."

Then she proceeded to complain about the fact that I drove around the building rather than parking at the end of the drive-thru lane where I would've been partially blocking traffic. I got out of the van to go inside while she was still talking.

The punchline, of course, is that she did not actually eat the fries until we'd gotten her home and in the door and settled on the couch--so the fries were no longer straight from the fryer. Therefore, her tantrum had been completely in vain.

On that straight-out-of-the-fryer day, which was fairly early on in this whole process, Hubby had come along at CBL's insistence because she was pretty sure we would need his help getting her in and out of the vehicle (we hadn't) so he was waiting in the van while I got her settled in at home. As I was trying to get out the door, she made a heartfelt speech, getting a little teary-eyed as she told me how much she appreciated everything I was doing for her. She told me, "You are a true friend."

When I made it out the door, I recounted her speech to Hubby and said, "When she called me a true friend, I thought to myself, 'If I were really a true friend, I wouldn't be about to get into the van and start complaining about every aspect of your personality before the door was even all the way closed.'"

So, what say you, my bloggy friends? What is the measure of true friendship? In which direction does peevishness tip the scales? Precisely how much annoyance (and often (OFTEN!) bitter resentment) is required to turn generosity from something sweet to something bitter? Is it better or worse if this annoyance is expressed behind the back of rather than to the face of the annoyer? What if this behind-the-back expression feels like the only way to be kind face-to-face?

Please, my bloggy friends, share with me your insight, your wisdom, perhaps your own stories of that special someone whom you care deeply about despite actively dreading the time you spend with him or her.

Please, because it's another few days til the cast comes off and weeks (maybe months) of physical therapy after that and I need all the help I can get.

*I am standing in the sun room, holding the storm door wide and negotiating with this dog who is looking at me like I'm a complete idiot (about this he is so clearly right that it barely bears mentioning) when CBL calls from the next room, "Sometimes you've got to kind of lead him out the door. It's really a battle of wills between him and me most days." Dude, I'm no vet or doggy psychologist*, but if the dog has to be cajoled or worse dragged out the door, and he's just been out an hour ago, odds are he's not really urgently needing to go out the door.

*Though CBL did, in fact, hire a doggy psychologist to come in and evaluate the situation between the two male dogs. Naturally CBL and her boyfriend dismissed every one of the psychologist's suggestions (most of which had to do with the interhuman dynamics rather than the dog-to-dog dynamics). They were then shocked and dismayed that their $500 had gone to waste.

(Update: I'm going to "cheat" a little and use this as my TidBit Thursday post at Larissa's. Hoping to use my computer time and energy to catch up a bit more on visiting everyone else.)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Random Quote Saturday

"How can we not still be rooting for the younger versions of ourselves as if they actually exist, playing catch-up in time? Who wouldn't like to implant their current brains into a scenario from the past? SATs be damned, how about the insertion of a few eloquent turns of phrase when, for no discernible reason, Michael Gruzman called me 'baloney boobs' on the bus home for a whole year?"
~~Sloane Crosley, "If You Sprinkle" in How Did You Get This Number?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ways I Am Not A Grownup, The Sixteenth In A Potentially Infinite Series

It's snowing! It's snowing!! It's snowing!!!

Big, fat snowglobey flakes!!!!

And I love it!!!!!

Every first time is like the first first time.

It was too dark to catch them mid-flight, so I had to settle for catching them at rest on the side of my van.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


[This post was my original Thanksgiving post--seven years ago. Even reheated and seven years old, it's better than anything I've got going on in my brain at the moment...]

Leftovers: You know how this time of year all the magazines and cooking shows try to come up with creative things to do with all that leftover turkey? I've seen turkey tarts, potpie, burrito, salads, and on and on. Well, I have the perfect solution to get rid of all those turkey leftovers--three teenage boys. They don't need it prettied up--they'll wolf it down straight out of the fridge with a little mayo and a slice or two of bread. Before you can even say leftovers, they're gone.

Gratitude: At last year's Thanksgiving celebration, my dad suggested we all say one thing we're thankful for. Daughter-Only piped up: "Can we all also say one thing we're not thankful for?" That suggestion was loudly vetoed (by me and a few others at the table--I mean, first, do we really want the entire extended family hearing what Daughter-Only is not grateful for and second, depending on her mood of the moment, it might take her an hour or two to narrow it down to one thing she's not grateful for and by then dinner would be stone-cold and we'd all have a whole new thing to be not thankful for). The big surprise, though, was when it was finally Daughter-Only's turn to speak her gratitude aloud, she said, "I'm thankful for the variety of people we have in our family--that we're all so different and we all still get along."

Caught On Tape: There is one of those old-fashioned home movies somewhere of my first Christmas--me in a red velvet dress, age 5 months--propped up in a high chair at the dinner table. I'm holding a turkey drumstick the size of my head. My mother always said I was insistently reaching for it and my grandparents, ever-ready to give me every little thing I wanted--including a turkey drumstick that may have weighed nearly as much as I did--gave it to me. There is no evidence that I actually ate any of it, but I am seen intently rubbing turkey grease all over my face and my little red velvet dress. Perhaps my distaste for dressy clothes and my not entirely healthy relationship with food can both be traced to that moment, but probably not.

Ghost of Turkeys Past: Last year, as I was hacking apart the turkey, a sizeable piece of white meat liberated itself from the platter and flew across the room. My (then fourteen-year-old) nephew observed, "Ooooh, looks like we've got a poultrygeist!"

Hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It's The Little Things...

Rushed out of the house first thing this morning due to a make-up removal emergency Daughter-Only was having. She was running late for work so I ran out the door, cranky and with my unbrushed hair yanked up into a messy bun. And did I mention...cranky?! Very cranky.

Walked into Walgreens and was greeted by this song:

I wasn't even a fan of it the first time around, but for some reason, this had me grinning like a fool. At least on the inside.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ways I Am Not A Grown-Up, The Fifteenth In A Potentially Infinite Series

"Eventually? Doesn't that usually fall somewhere between the months of Maybe and Never?"
~~My (now ex-)coworker, Mark Z.

I'm still pretty sure that procrastination is a viable life strategy. All evidence to the contrary is dismissed as the horrible side effect of me having not yet perfected my procrastination techniques, therefore requiring additional procrastination practice.

Practice makes perfect.



Monday, November 19, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: PostSecret

[A repost (original post Nov 2006) courtesy of the kind of day that is making me question every major life decision I've ever made. Please note that I no longer obsessively refresh the page on Saturday nights. Instead, I check it as part of my routine at work on Sunday mornings. And there are five books now.]

I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume most of you have seen PostSecret--the site where people send in their secrets on 4" x 6" cards, which may or may not get posted to the site and/or included in a book (there have been two books so far and a third is on its way). For those who haven't, check it out. It's disturbing and fascinating and awe-inspiring and sometimes you can't look away from it even if you want nothing more than to not look at it at all.

The secrets are updated on Sundays--at least in theory, though it's quite often updated by Saturday evening, when I log on to begin obsessively checking to see the new secrets. Every week, I scroll down the entire page and by the time I get to the bottom, I think, "What the hell do I do this for?" and I make a half-hearted pledge to not be sitting there the following Saturday evening, obsessively refreshing. I never promise not to check back, but you know, there's no reason it can't wait 'til Monday or whatever--the secrets are up all week.

What's even more fascinating to me than the individual secrets (which themselves range from the disturbing to the mundane), is the impulse so many people have to make a card and send it in. Is it that confession is good for the soul? Is it that there are that many people hoping for their fifteen minutes (or week) of anonymous fame?

Are there people who send in secrets not sincerely, but ironically, as a prank? There's no doubt in my mind, but the interesting thing is that these people are revealing something just as intimate about themselves as the people who send in sincere secrets--they're revealing their cynicism, their mean-spiritedness, their (perhaps misguided) faith in their own superiority, their willingness to put in a relatively large effort for what I can only imagine is minimal reward. In their insincerity, they are just as revealing as others are in their sincerity.

The fact that there's absolutely no way to tell if a person is sincerely revealing a deep (often, though not always, dark) secret about himself or just goofing on us all is part of the bargain you make in scrolling through all those secrets. I like to think most of the postcards we see--and the e-mails in response to them--are sincerely meant and that there is some comfort to be found in finding you're less alone in your little secrets than you might've imagined. And until the site collapses under the weight of its own fame, or I just get bored of it, you know where to find me Saturday evenings between 9 and midnight. (Jeez, I need to get a life.)

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Fascinating.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Tuesday, November 19, 1985

One of the enlightening things about keeping a journal for nearly thirty years is finding out how what passes for wisdom changes over the years. For example, tonight's Spiral Notebook selection is from an entry I wrote when I was seventeen lecturing myself for overthinking* a thirty second moment of eye contact between Mr. High School and I and my ongoing inability to behave in any "normal" fashion.  The word "revelation" may have been used to describe this passage:

Tuesday, November 19, 1985
Why couldn't I have been born an airhead? Bubbleheads dive straight in because they always bounce off the bottom and float to the top. 

*A phase from which I've never really recovered.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Random Quote Saturday

"The luckiest of us learn to use our histories as a ladder to climb to the future."

~~M.J. Rose, In Fidelity

Friday, November 16, 2012

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Last Sunday, I received a text from Son-One's Girlfriend and opened it to find this:

If you look closely, you can see Son-One up on the peak of their house, where he is stringing Christmas lights on a gorgeous (and rare-ish) seventy degree day in November. When I saw the picture, two things popped into my mind. First, there's nothing like your twenty-four-year-old son and his girlfriend buying a house to make you feel old. And second, I was reminded of this photo, taken six years ago:
Yes, that is Son-One swinging from the arm of a trebuchet-in-progress. And, incidentally, Son-Two's providing the counterweight that is holding his brother fifteen feet or so above the ground. While this may look merely like teenage boys with poor risk assessment skills1, insufficient parental supervision and unfettered access to power tools and scrap wood, it was, in fact, science--a physics assignment in which two of my sons, along with two other boys had to build a trebuchet capable of hurling a smallish pumpkin a specified distance. This photo was allegedly the boys "testing" the strength of the arm they had built by hoisting a human being roughly ten times the weight of the pumpkin in question.
I no longer remember the grade they received on this project (nor do I remember whether they were successful at the "extra credit"2 portion of their assignment which was to see how far they could hurl a (non-functioning) 19" TV), what I have never forgotten is the strange mixture of pride and utter terror I felt at the sight of this picture--at the sight of my boys using their intelligence and superior motor skills to put themselves in at least moderate danger. It was the same feeling I had as each of my children became fully mobile, wiggling, waddling and wobbling their way out into the world where I've since watched them face both physical and emotional dangers.  
And it's the same feeling I had last Saturday, as I looked at the photo of a grownish man on the roof of his house, framed against blue sky and wispy clouds, making a life of his own out there in the big, scary world.

1. Forgive the redundancy.

2. Let there be no doubt, the quotation marks are meant to indicate that any "credit" awarded for flinging a television would come not in the form of percentage points or letter grades but in deep (and deeply adolescent) personal satisfaction.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

It's A Good Thing Sleepy Joe & Larissa Are Patient Sorts

A ridiculously long time ago, Sleepy Joe nominated me for a Wonderful Team Readership Award and because I am a horribly negligent1 blogger, I have not yet officially accepted the award. (Updated: The fantastic, sweet-hearted Larissa also nominated me for this award--and, once again, my negligence meant I missed it until just now. Thanks, Larissa!)

As with most bloggy awards, this one is to be passed along to a certain number of others and as with most bloggy awards, most (if not all) of the bloggers to whom I would pass along the award have already received it. As always, if you have not yet received it and would like to play along, consider yourself nominated by me and snag the questions below and leave a link to your answers in the comments.

As do many bloggy awards, this one comes with questions which I will answer below:

1. Why do you blog?
Originally, I started this blog in hopes of using it alongside a newspaper column of the same name. Somehow, the blog kind of took on a life of its own and I would say now I blog primarily for the sense of connection and community it offers and secondarily for the writing practice.

2. If you were trapped on a desert island, what book, DVD, food, cartoon character, and childhood game would you bring?
Book: Wuthering Heights, primarily because I have read it so many times and each time I do, I discover something else about it that I'd missed before. DVD: The Breakfast Club, of course. Food: See my previously mentioned dysfunctional relationship with food. The odds of me picking a single food before the midnight NaBloPoMo deadline are about equal with the odds of me ending up on a desert island that has a DVD player. ;o) Cartoon Character: Squidward. Childhood Game: 10-4 Good Buddy. It came out during the CB radio craze in the '70s. I don't understand why I loved it so much, but the original one I had as a kid was misplaced somewhere and about seven years ago, I bought a used one online.

3. Share a funny joke or one-liner. As I commented on Sleepy Joe's post earlier this week, I have a standard go-to joke that I never miss an excuse to tell: "What do you call a dog with no legs?" ~~"It doesn't matter, he's not coming anyway."

4. What is your favorite thing about yourself? My curiosity, which may kill me someday. Rumor has it he's killed before.

5. What one word best describes you? At the moment: exhausted. In general: immature.

6. If you could have a lifetime supply of any candy/candy bar what would it be? This is a tough one--made all the tougher by the fact that I have eaten three Christmas tree Peeps2 during the writing of this post and, as always happens when I eat Peeps, I NEVER want to eat sugar again.  But, there are two candy bars that (as far as I can tell no longer exist) either of which I would LOVE a lifetime supply of: Nestlé Choco'Lite bar and Marathon bar.

7. What fictional character do you relate to most? Laura Ingalls, not to be confused with the actual Laura Ingalls Wilder, who, confusingly, named her fictional(ized) character after herself.

8. If you were to write the story of your life, what would you call it? Well, when I was fourteen, I had a big plan to write a slightly fictionalized3 version of my life story with the title "Chasing a Cross-Eyed Butterfly." I remember that the title seemed profound, but I have no recollection of why. The alternative title would be "I Wrote This, Angie" which is what I promised a girl I knew briefly my senior year I would name my first book so she would be able to know that it was written by the weird girl who moved to her school in January of our senior year and who she would likely never see again after graduation.

Thanks, again, for thinking of me, Sleepy Joe & Larissa. And thanks for your patience!

1. In addition to negligent, I have also been insanely busy both personally and at work in the past few weeks. Much of the busyness has been positive (or at least neutral) busyness, for which I am deeply grateful. Nevertheless, I am having that wrung-out dish rag feeling x 10 this week, especially.

2. Okay, was actually six Christmas tree Peeps.

3. The fictional part: the girl actually had the courage to express her feelings for the boy and they lived happily ever after. Heh.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Random Quote Wednesday

"Or perhaps the danger was in him. Perhaps, he was the danger, a fanged animal gazing out from the shadowy cave of the space inside his own skull."
~~Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

Counting Thoughts

NaBloPoMo November fail. Ugh.

Just got home from work 30 minutes too late to post on time and nearly two hours after I was scheduled to get home.

Just wanted to whine before heading to bed.

Thanks for listening.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: This Is How

Back in the late '90s, when our kids were small and our lives felt hectic and borderline out of control (and sometimes, really, completely over-the-edge out of control), Little Sister and I used to joke about writing a book of life advice full of lessons culled from doing everything exactly the "wrong" way. We planned to call it What Not To Do because while we hadn't stumbled on much of what worked, we sure as hell knew what didn't.

About a third of the way through This Is How, Augusten Burroughs flashes what could be considered the official membership card of the What Not To Do school of advice-giving when he says, "I am a complete and total fuckup. Which is why I am equipped to write this book and tell you how to live."

Much of Burroughs's own particular training in what not to do is chronicled in his previous books, including Running With Scissors and Dry, many of which I've read and a few of which I count among my ever-changing top 10 (or top 20) favorites of all time. The Burroughs-of-the-page possesses a degree of self-awareness that comes from not taking oneself too seriously. His writing is full of penetrating observations about human nature--most especially his own, delivered in a darkly humorous, sometimes even sarcastic, style. These observations sometimes feel brutally honest, but never unkind because they are shot through with compassion and acceptance of the inevitability of human failure.

When I learned that Burroughs's newest effort was a book of advice, I wasn't sure what to expect.  That the title font on the book's front cover is vaguely reminiscent of the lettering painted on the side of a nineteenth century traveling snake oil salesman's carriage led me to suspect that Burroughs's tongue was lodged firmly in cheek as he dispensed the cure-alls to be found in these pages. And, too, the trademark Burroughs tone did not seem likely to lend itself to sincerity so I was more than half-expecting a satire or even an exposé of the self-help industry. Instead, I got a book of real advice that is both cynical and sincere, humorous, helpful and deeply human--and above all bluntly truthful.

This Is How, is a self-help book so thorough that its subtitle1 runs to over twenty words, with chapters such as "How To Fail" and "How To Feel Less Regret" and "How To Stop Being Afraid Of Your Anger." The book opens with the chapter (and possible inspiration for the entire book) "How To Ride In An Elevator," in which Burroughs lets loose a bit of a rant about the affirmations and power of positive thinking mantras that are the foundation of many self-help books and programs. Burroughs dismisses affirmations as "the psychological equivalent of sprinkling baby powder on top of the turd your puppy has left on the carpet."

For anyone who picked up This Is How expecting just another feel-good, spoonful-of-sugar-so-the-medicine goes down sort of self-help offering, that opening chapter serves as notice that they've come to the wrong book. Anyone brave enough to stick around will discover a book full of bits of wisdom gained from keen observation and hard living, from making mistakes and recovering from them (or learning to live with them). It is a wildly quotable book--I carried a pad of bright orange Post-It page markers with me the whole time I was reading the book and ended up getting horrible writer's cramp copying down all the quotations that caught my eye.

That quotability, enjoyable though it was for a quote geek such as myself, makes for some bumpy reading at times. It is repetitive in spots and there are whole sections that are comprised of sound-bite-like snippets with little or no transition between them. In places it feels as though Burroughs took years worth of notes he'd made to himself on napkins and backs of envelopes, shuffled them and transcribed them in that order. Many of the chapters lack conclusive endings; Burroughs seems to wander off mid-thought in a couple of places.

So frequently does this wandering off happen, I began to wonder if it was Burroughs subtle way of saying that there are no final right answers to most of these questions. The answers he does offer are some mixture of common sense and pure genius and many of them hit me with epiphanic force or at least with the ping of an epiphanette.2

Rare is the answer that struck me as off-key, but it did happen. In the chapter entitled "How To Get Over Your Addiction To The Past," Burroughs says, "Writing six autobiographical books is what freed me from my past." He then goes on to say that the books could've been cookbooks and he would still feel just as free because it was the act of writing, not the subject matter, that freed him. Writing kept him busy, he says, and "When you're busy, you lack the time to fondle your emotional baggage." As someone who doesn't feel a moment has been fully lived until it's been written about, this does not ring entirely true to me. And since Burroughs did write memoirs, and not cookbooks, we'll never know if it was the subject matter or the simple engagement that did the trick.

Another quibble was that in several chapters, there were variations on the theme of "It's simple, but it's not easy." He says this in different ways so many times that I began to think of it as some sort of incantation or chant--if we say it enough times, and spin in a circle under a full moon something magical will happen and everything will start to seem simpler than it actually is. Or maybe everything is actually simpler than I make it--there are certainly legions of people in my life who can attest to my capacity for overthinking.

What makes all of the advice not only valuable but palatable is that there is not one discernible ounce of arrogance in any of it. Burroughs is occasionally blunt, even forceful, in making his point, but he is never, ever smug. I think that lack of smugness is another of the hallmarks of the What Not To Do school of advice giving--and it's the one I love the most.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: (Self-)Helpful.

1. This Is How: Help For The Self: Proven Aid In Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young And Old Alike.

2. "In general, I am not a big believer in epiphanies, I guess because I rarely have them, or if I do, they are usually not reliable. But just then, I had a ping. Ping! A measure of clarity, an epiphanette." ~~Jane Hamilton, Disobedience

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Of Heroism In Just A Few Of Its Many Variations

[This post originally ran a year ago in a slightly different version. After some of the pre- and post-election patriotic posturing I've heard on Facebook and face-to-face, I decided to rerun it. The pointless and pathetic purple prose of the Spiral Notebook will return next Sunday.]

Working at the flower shop in April of 2004, I was in a position to see a portion of the outpouring of sympathy, gratitude, and respect accorded the family of Marine Corporal Jason Dunham, a local boy who gave his life by throwing himself on a grenade in Iraq, thereby likely saving the lives of two of his squadmates. Perhaps it doesn't do to call a 22-year-old man who gave his life for others a "boy," and Dunham's last actions on this earth were certainly the actions of a courageous and mature man, but as the mother of three sons aged 24, 22, and 21, it's hard for me to see him as anything other than a boy in the same way I will probably still be referring to my own sons as "my boys" long after they have boys and girls of their own.

Corporal Dunham's mother, Deb, is a truly remarkable woman in many ways. I do not know her personally, but for the five years after Jason's death that the flower shop was still operating, orders would come in from all over the country for Jason's birthday and the anniversary of his death every year--people wanting his family to know he was not forgotten. On one of these deliveries, bearing several baskets and vases of flowers, I was met at the door by Deb who was holding a napkin full of still-warm chocolate chip cookies for me to take back to the shop. It may seem an inconsequential thing, but something about that simple act of thoughtfulness on a day when many moms would've been curled up in a corner mourning their loss really touched and amazed me.

In the years after his death, Corporal Dunham was publicly memorialized in numerous ways. The post office in his hometown is now the Corporal Jason L. Dunham Post Office. A naval destroyer bears his name as do various facilities on military bases around the country. In January 2007, Corporal Dunham was awarded the Medal of Honor--only the second soldier to receive the Medal for actions in the Iraqi War and the first Marine to receive it since Vietnam.

Corporal Dunham's mother has been present at various ceremonies honoring Jason over the years and she has done many print and on-camera interviews in various venues, including for a short documentary on the Marine Corps site. Without exception, Jason's mother has behaved with amazing dignity, grace and generosity while bearing one of the worst burdens a mother can bear.

I admire her strength and really see her actions as a way of honoring the sacrifice her son and so many soldiers like him have made for our country, but there have been times when I wondered how I would've handled myself in a similar situation.

The footage of the ceremony where Deb Dunham received the Medal of Honor from then-President George W. Bush especially made me think. This was at a time when doubts were steadily spreading about the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in Iraq. Those alleged WMD's had been the rationale for our presence in Iraq to begin with and not only had they not been discovered nearly four years into our involvement there, new information was emerging with some regularity that indicated many in the administration had known all along that the intelligence behind the WMD theory was faulty.

I had had my doubts about Bush and his motives in Iraq and elsewhere long before that point. If I had been in the position of standing next to him to receive an honor for my dead son, would I have been able to take comfort in the President's apparent appreciation of my son's sacrifice? Would I have nobly accepted the award being offered on behalf of a grateful nation?

Under the influence of such a loss, would I have been able to restrain myself from asking impertinent questions about the "cause" my son had died for? Would anything other than the presence of the Secret Service have been able to prevent me from calling the President of the United States a murderer and a liar directly to his face?

There was another mother who lost her son in April of 2004. Army Specialist Casey Sheehan was killed in Iraq when the Humvee he was driving was ambushed. His mother, Cindy Sheehan, chose a different--and some would say much less dignified--path than Deb Dunham did. Within a few months of her son's death, Cindy embarked on a path of anti-war activism that included the hyper-publicized "Camp Casey" in August 2005 during which Cindy set up camp a few miles from President Bush's ranch in Texas, demanding a face-to-face meeting with Bush so that he could explain what "noble cause" her son had died for. Cindy waited there for nearly four weeks and was never granted that meeting, but she did not go away quietly and continues "speaking truth to liars" (the tagline of her current website "Cindy's Soapbox" ).

Along the way, Cindy has weathered many criticisms--she has been accused often of being unpatriotic and of dishonoring her son's memory with her protests of our government's actions. This strikes me not only as an incorrect assertion, but an absolutely ridiculous one. Cindy has been vehement in taking advantage of the very rights and freedoms her son--and thousands and thousands of others--died to protect. She has done so at great personal cost not only to herself, but no doubt to the rest of her family as well. She has been arrested many times--including as recently as October 2011.

Do I agree with every idea Cindy Sheehan has put out into the world in the eight years since her son died (especially some of her most recent thoughts)? Not by a long shot. Do I think all of her methods are the most effective available? Also, no. Do I believe her actions are her sincere efforts to honor rather than dishonor her son's sacrifice? Absolutely.

If our soldiers are going to continue to fight and die, isn't one way of honoring them to continue to ask those in power how, exactly, these sacrifices our soldiers are asked to make will protect our nation and its citizens? If the places our soldiers are asked to fight and the actions they are asked to take seem only indirectly and incomprehensibly related to the safety of our nation, are we not entitled to a full accounting of how these efforts will make us safer?

It is not only possible to support the troops and still question the government, it is in some ways the most meaningful and long-lasting support we can give.The notion that our soldiers fight and die to protect our freedoms but that by exercising those freedoms we are somehow dishonoring our soldiers is absurdly un-American.

Deb Dunham and Cindy Sheehan are two mothers who chose to honor their sons in wholly different, but equally valid, ways. Today, my thoughts are with not only those lost sons, but with their mothers as well.

To all those men and women who fought and are fighting still, here's the thing: That America you're fighting for is a complicated place; the gratitude of your fellow citizens sometimes comes in some messy packages. May your sacrifices never be forgotten or taken for granted.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sister Jackie Said I Could

"...I have so craved silence and solitude that in the past half-year or so I have had recurring fantasies of using the keys to various churches we have at the flower shop--to just sneak in some afternoon with a book or a pillow or just me..."
~~Me, in the Spiral Notebook Journal, Thursday, January 13, 2005
On Tuesday nights, residents at the halfway house where I work have the choice of an in-town AA meeting or an out-of-town AA meeting. For the first few months that I worked Tuesday nights, my coworker drove to the out-of-town meeting and I drove the guys to the in-town meeting and then snuck home to poke around on the internet or watch DVR'd shows with Hubby for an hour before having to return to work. That routine changed after one too many complaints about the driving skills of my coworker--he was working two jobs and going to school; some of the guys suspected he was occasionally dozing off at the wheel. (Happily for everyone, the coworker moved on to a single higher-paying job that required significantly less driving.)
So, I took over the out-of-town meeting--about a half-hour trip one way to a town with very little going on at any time of the day, still less between 8 and 9 p.m. on a weeknight. Short of spending the whole hour in a back corner of the tortuously brightly lit McDonald's out by the highway, I was stuck in the van in the parking lot of the church where the meeting is held.
Mostly, I didn't mind. I got into the habit of lugging my pansy bag full of books and notebooks and magazines and paper scraps along on these trips. I would crank the radio and contort myself into some pretzel-like-yet-oddly-comfortable position and read a book or write a bit and, yes, sometimes take a nap with my cellphone alarm set for five minutes before the meeting's end.
Sometimes, though, I felt guilty over having to run the van's engine against the cold--that made me itchy from both an environmental and a budgetary standpoint. Sometimes, I couldn't contort myself into any remotely comfortable position. Sometimes, not just limbs but whole quadrants of my body would end up numb and tingly.
One night, a couple of months ago, I had the seat fully reclined and my left leg bent up in such a way that my foot was on the dashboard beside the steering wheel and my right foot was resting in the cup holder. I was reading the latest issue of Harper's magazine and a Tom Petty song was blaring on the radio when there was a knock on the window next to my head.
I sat up immediately and looked out to see a sensibly dressed older woman smiling up at me. She was wearing a navy skirt and a white button down blouse with a gray cardigan over it. Her hair was graying and pulled up into a loose ponytail. She adjusted her glasses and introduced herself as "Jackie Somebody, from the church."
She pointed to a house peeking over the fence at the end of the parking lot and said, "I live right over there. And for over a year now, when I walk past my upstairs window, I see you out here in the van on Tuesday nights and think to myself, 'I'm going to go out there and introduce myself.' and then I never do, but now here I am."
She then told me I was welcome to go inside the church, that there was a room upstairs, away from the AA and Al-Anon meetings, where I could sit to read instead of tangling myself up in knots in the van. My first instinct was to politely refuse (which tends to be my first instinct practically every time anyone offers me any sort of aid--an instinct that really needs to be looked at, probably professionally), but as I started to say I was okay in the van, she said in a voice somehow eager to please and vaguely annoyed at the same time, "Why don't you at least let me give you a tour?"
So, I let her give me a tour. There was a nice sitting area and a meeting hall full of tables and a kitchen where she told me to help myself to something to drink whenever I wanted. She showed me where the rest rooms were and even took me into the sanctuary briefly. She told me I was welcome to come in any time and that if anyone saw me up there and asked what I was doing I was to tell them, "Sister Jackie said I could."
After the tour, I knew I would never be sitting in the van again on Tuesday nights. Instead, I lug my pansy bag full of notebooks and books and magazines and paper scraps up the steps into the dark upstairs of the church and find my way to the meeting hall where I turn on the row of lights second from the right, which shine on the round table nearest the door and I sit down and open my notebook. Every week since Sister Jackie said I could, on Tuesday nights, for one hour, I do nothing but write, undistracted by music, momentarily untormented by budgetary and environmental concerns, and wholly, blessedly unpretzelized.
A few weeks into this routine, still giddy and reveling in what had started to feel like a sacred hour in my week, I thought to myself, "I'm going to dedicate my first book to Sister Jackie I-Can't-Remember-Her-Last-Name." I get more writing done in those little snippets of time than I do the rest of the month combined.
A few more weeks into this routine and it hit me that I was absurdly grateful to Sister Jackie for a gift I could've given myself a long time ago. Not the mostly empty church part, of course, but the hour of quiet where I focus entirely on my writing part. And, I could do that more than once a week.
Oprah likes to talk about "Aha! moments." Let's call this one my "Duh! moment." 

Friday, November 09, 2012

Random Quote Friday

"The past creates us and we are powerless to change it. We can only--if we are very persistent and very lucky and usually not even then--change ourselves."

~~Donovan Hohn, "Falling: Confessions of a Lapsed Forest Christian" in Harper's, April 2008

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Keep Moving Out Into The Gap*

"Over the course of a lifetime a man will overhear a fair number of remarks about himself and learn from them how very wide is the gulf between his public perception and the image he hopes to project. I've always known there's more going on inside me than finds its way into the world, but this is probably true of everyone. Who doesn't regret that he isn't more fully understood?"
~~Richard Russo, Bridge of Sighs

One of the first things we were told during training at Burger King (where I worked for most of my high school years) was that old nugget of minimum-wage wisdom "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean."

It was my first job and I was an earnest and socially awkward girl, so, in the beginning, I often did clean when there was time to lean--all things considered, scrubbing baseboards in the dining room, crawling under tables and booth seats to scrape away months' worth of built-up burger grease and globs of petrified chewing gum, was a more manageable and pleasant task for me than trying to make conversation with guys and girls my own age.

Eventually, I became slightly more comfortable, having both consciously and unconsciously honed my strategy of self-protection by sarcasm--and I spent less time cleaning and more time goofing around.

Much of the goofing around involved hat stealing or water spraying--occasionally things would really devolve and someone would grab a wad of defrosted, uncooked Whopper meat from the waste barrel and fling it at someone else. All hell would break loose at that point, of course, resulting in flaccid pickles and soggy tomatoes ending up on every exposed surface. Once they'd dried on, they were especially fun to clean off of the lattice work that divided seating sections in the dining room. Turns out tomato seeds come encased in their own adhesive, which few man-made solvents can destickify.1

I remember one very slow night--in the middle of an epic New Hampshire snow storm when we hadn't had a customer (in the lobby or drive-thru) for over an hour--we got into a deep2 discussion on what exactly a portion of defrosted, uncooked Whopper meat should be called--a wad? a clump? Someone threw out "globule," which was somehow gross enough (with its guttural opening "gl," short "o," softly percussive "b" and squishy "ule" at the end) to be perfectly suitable. Added bonus--"globule" was alarmingly close to the sound made when one such portion landed with a plop-slide against the plate glass window and stuck there. Positively onomatopoeic.

Food-related mayhem was surprisingly uncommon, though. Mostly, like I said, hat-stealing, water battles and relentless verbal teasing. At this last, I was a star--the queen of quips, quick with a cutting comeback. It was not just fun and games to me, of course.

Truth was, on the inside I was a quivering mass of hokey pop song lyrics and hormonally-charged emotions. For some reason, it was imperative to me that this information not get out. So vulnerable and raw did I feel on the inside that it seemed impossible to me that it did not show on the outside. Surely, everyone could see through my shield of sarcasm, well-crafted though it was.

One night, I found myself alone in the kitchen with two guys--Tommy and Terry--on whom I'd had alternate and occasionally overlapping on-again, off-again crushes. Needless to say, I was certain (and horrified by that certainty) that they were both aware of my deep3 feelings for them.

It was a slow night and things rapidly degenerated into their usual chaos and I soon found myself in the walk-in freezer while the two of them held the door shut. I struggled against them briefly before giving up and making myself comfortable-ish on a stack of boxes of frozen chicken patties, where I intended to wait the guys out.  

It did not take long. As Terry yanked the door open, he remarked, "C'mon Tommy, we better let her out before she lowers the temperature in there!"

They laughed. I laughed. Laughing was the sportsmanlike thing to do--and besides it was pretty funny.

I'm so cold-hearted, I'm going to lower the temperature in a walk-in freezer! Ha ha ha h--hold up a second...

On the one hand, I was delighted--or at least relieved--at this assessment. Maybe the soft and sappy self was safely protected after all.

On the other (utterly paradoxical) hand, I was deeply wounded to be so very misunderstood. The connection between this misunderstanding and my own efforts--some of them made consciously--to obscure my true feelings, to thwart any real understanding of who I was did not immediately occur to me. When, much later, in an entirely different context, it did occur to me how ridiculous it was to feel sorry for myself that no one saw the "real me" when I worked so hard to hide the real me, it was a revelation that did not immediately stick. It was a lesson I've learned over and over again and it's a lesson I'm learning again, still.

I've long nurtured a fascination with the gap between how I see myself and how others seem to see me and if the walk-in freezer moment was not the seed of that fascination, it certainly fertilized the ground it was planted in. I have sometimes hypothesized that the true self, to the extent one exists at all, lives in that gap.

Even the clearest vision of one's self is pocked with murky smudges and blind spots. Sometimes people around us can help bring that vision into fuller focus--but the assessments of others are only as valuable as they are accurate and, at least in part, they are only as accurate as we allow them to be.

All these many years later, I am still, again, mostly a quivering mass of hokey pop song lyrics and hormonally-charged emotions. If I am not yet parading that self around for everyone to see, I am at least a little more comfortable with acknowledging that she exists--and a little less petrified that my secrets might get out.

*Don't feel left out, Larissa. I'm probably one of only ten people on the planet who would get this '80s reference and three of the other nine used to be the Thompson Twins.

1. The thesaurus was oddly unhelpful in finding a synonym for destickify--so we're stuck with it.

2. Did I say "deep?" I meant high-pitched and hysterical as we leapt from booth to booth, running across tables, trying to escape the deadly aim of Jim, Globule Sharpshooter.

3. Did I say "deep?" I meant shallow and fleeting. Not to mention painfully embarrassing.


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Ways I Am Not A Grown-Up, The Fourteenth In A Potentially Infinite Series

I am far too easily disillusioned for someone of my advanced age. In order to be so easily (and frequently) disillusioned, surely I must still be clinging to a great many illusions. Allegedly, with age comes wisdom; theoretically, with maturity comes a diminished capacity to be deeply disappointed in the state of the world. Shouldn't I at least have developed more reasonable expectations and a better sense of reality by this stage of the game?

Alas, I am still far too routinely stunned and appalled and just generally outraged by the behavior of my fellow human beings (and sometimes even myself) and I chalk that up to my stubbornly persistent immaturity.

In a twenty-four year old, a certain degree of naïveté can be sweet and charming. In a forty-four year old, it's mostly just pathetic.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Random Quote Tuesday

"...stories don't start and stop cleanly, not like crossword puzzles or income tax statements, where answers fit in small boxes. Romance, families, and domestic arrangements--these, in my experience, are sloppy, overlapping and riddled with exceptions."
~~Harley Jane Kozak, Dead Ex

Monday, November 05, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Election Eve

Whichever "side" you're on--even if you don't have a side (especially if you don't have a side)--you're probably glad it's almost over.

I know I am.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Finally.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Wednesday, August 7, 1991

[At the time of this entry, Son-One had recently turned three. Son-Two was 19 months old and Son-Three only a little over a month old.]

Wednesday, August 7, 1991
 A slice of my life:
(Thunderous stomping noises coming from the next room)
Me: Son-One stop stomping on the floor.
Son-One: I'm not stomping on the floor, I'm stomping on the bench.

(Stomping continues...)

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Ways I Am Not A Grown-Up, The Thirteenth In A Potentially Infinite Series

Two words: Cool Spot.

Two more words: All day.

PS--A previous ode to this game (and something more closely resembling an actual post) can be found here.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Random Quote Friday With A Smidgen of Commentary

"If we are conducting our lives in the usual fashion, each of us serves as a constant source of embarrassment to his or her future self..."
~~Michael Chabon, "Like, Cosmic" in Manhood For Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son
To which I would only add: And, all too often, to our present selves as well.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Can Your Blog Award Be Revoked?

So, I'm back from my, um, let's call it a sabbatical, and the first order of business on this fine first day of NaBloPoMo is to graciously and very belatedly thank Sleepy Joe for the Reader Appreciation award she bestowed upon me lo these many weeks ago.

This bloggy award, like so many bloggy awards came with rules*, and like so many rules, I will not be following them because I'm naughty that way. I will not be passing along the award because it has already made the rounds of our little corner of the internet, but if there is anyone who does wish to play along who hasn't had a chance, let me know and I will devise a list of questions for you to answer.

Now, the answers to the questions asked by the ever-patient and thoughtful Sleepy Joe.

1. Who is your favourite band or singer or song?
So much of my enjoyment of music has to do with my mood-of-the-moment that I'm not sure I could fairly pick an all-time favorite in any of these categories. I will say that my tastes tend to be both mainstream and all over the map, which means that while many of the artists I listen to are fairly well known in their genres, it is not uncommon for a mixed CD that I made to feature both Tanya Tucker and Eminem, Loretta Lynn and Five for Fighting, Dierks Bentley and Soft Cell.

2. Describe yourself as the main character in your own fairytale.
I would be the socially awkward, overgrown tomboy who learns, over and over, of both the power and limitations of words. There is great magic in words, thoughts, ideas--they can be tremendous tools or terrible weapons. They may save the world or utterly destroy it. Of course, this being a fairy tale, my money's on the first.

3. If you have a nickname, what is it and how did you come by it? If not what would you like your nick name to be and why?
When I was a freshman in high school, my mother bought me a T-shirt with "Witchy Woman" written on it in lettering in the style of the album cover for the Eagles' Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975). It was intended more as a reference to my hormone-driven behavior around the house than as a reference to the song itself. Regardless, I wore the shirt to school a few times and suddenly, I was "Witch" for the rest of my time there. For whatever disturbing reason, I found it kind of flattering.

Currently, I frequently refer to myself at work as "Chief Nag." But I'm pretty sure it doesn't count as a nickname if you give it to yourself.

4. What is your favourite word?
I'm pretty sure that's a diabolical trick question designed to leave me so overcome with indecision that I crawl under my bed to hide.

5. Who are your favourite literary couple?
The fact that I cannot at this moment (nor at any other point since I originally read this question) think of a single literary couple leads me to believe I most likely do not have a favorite. I'm sure something will come to me at 3:47 a.m. when I wake up from a sound sleep under my bed where I've gone to hide from the trauma of question #4.

6. What is your favourite Poem?
I am kind of intimidated by the concept of poetry and tend to love any poem I "get" right off the bat. I tend to like short but powerful poems. The one that almost always comes to mind is Charles Simic's "War."

7. Do you like having someone play with your hair?
This is by far the easiest question on this list for me to answer. NO. I not only don't like it, I have an active phobia of it, especially when it comes to a stranger (including, unfortunately, salon personnel) touching, let alone "playing with" my hair. I'd rather have spiders in my hair than someone else's hands. No idea why.

8. What is your greatest ambition?
Self-acceptance. At this particular moment, in my particular frame of mind, I think of that as the "greatest" ambition both in terms of the value of achieving it and the magnitude of the unlikelihood of achieving it.

9. If you have time alone, where do you go to feel at peace?
Outside, near water. Or the library, where I can hide in the corner and bury myself in my own words or someone else's.

10. What is your favourite film?
Still The Breakfast Club. It is the media gift that keeps on giving. I have bonded with more people from more age groups and walks of life over this film than over any other single item of pop culture or outright art.

*The rules can be found here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: More Snippets & A Late Link-Up

The fantastic and oh-so-industrious Larissa over at Papa Is A Preacher has started TidBit Thursday, a link-up party and guess who's ever-so-late to the party? (It's Thursday somewhere, right? In an alternate universe, maybe? So alternate me, better in every way, is punctual as always.) My two-birds-with-one-stone excuse for both my lateness and the fact that this Media Monday post will largely be yet another collection of other people's words is that the past week or two has been go-go-go around here with Youngest Sister's family's visit from California and the recovery at work from the time I took off to (thoroughly) enjoy that visit. Add in a slow-moving but all-absorbing cold and you have not only the most-hyphenated post in the history of Masked Mom, but a recipe for bloggy laziness.

So here I am, with more quotes culled from my Post-It-befeathered quote notebooks. When it comes to quotations, I'm like Hubby is with every found screw, scrap of wood, or loose bolt. He saves every single tidbit he stumbles across because "You never know when you might need it." Twenty-plus years of socking away everybody else's breathtaking turns-of-phrase, wisps of witty wisdom, and eloquently-put epiphanies and I could wallpaper my house with these things. I figure Hubby will be happier if I just share another batch of them here instead. 

"Hard work may pay off in the long run, but the benefits of laziness are immediate."
 ~~Marc Acito, How I Paid For College: A Novel of Sex, Theft Friendship, and Musical Theater
"In a family, what isn't spoken is what you listen for. But the noise of the family is to drown it out."
~~Joyce Carol Oates, We Were The Mulvaneys
"Ultimately, other people are amateurs compared to me in the horrible things I can say about myself. I cannot even bear to list the things that fill my mind during these episodes of self-loathing. I think we all have our own messages, the tapes that play over and over in our minds, that weaken us, that desecrate the holiness of our lives, that come disguised as a way to motivate ourselves, when really they are all about self-sabotage."
~~Margaret Cho, I'm The One That I Want
"Cliches are like those little crosses you see at the side of highways: They mark a place where a genuine feeling or insight has met its end."
~~Peter Selgin, "The X Files: Confessions of a Cranky Lit-Mag Editor" in Poets & Writers, May/June 2006
"The book of things that I have forgotten contains most of my life. But then, what would we do without forgetfulness? I feel like there is hardly room for everything I do recall."
~~Sven Birkerts, My Sky Blue Trades
"Who knows when memory, unbidden, will burst out and take hostages?"
~~Gregory Maguire, A Lion Among Men


Masked Mom's One-Two-Word Review: Still Random

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Man I Wish I Had A "Real" Camera But At Least I Got To See It In Person Fall Foliage Post

One of my favorite places on earth...the dirt road where my dad lives in (very) northern Pennsylvania--about twenty-five minutes from Masked Mom Headquarters. 


Monday, October 08, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Snippets

"I think all artists, regardless of degree of talent, are a painful, paradoxical combination of certainty and uncertainty, of arrogance and humility, constantly in need of reassurace, and yet with a stubborn streak of faith in their own validity, no matter what."
~~Madeleine L'Engle A Circle of Quiet
"Words dice the world into pieces small enough for the mind to hold, but the world itself is undivided. Every being, from lilac to lover, overflows the boundaries of its name."
~~Scott Russell Sanders, A Private History of Awe
"...I suppose this--the ability to empathize with the people we hate--is exactly the quality that makes us human beings, which makes you wonder why anybody would want to be one."
~~Brock Clarke, An Arsonist's Guide To Writer's Homes In New England
"One of my problems is that I like to be nicer than I actually am. While this personality discrepancy is better than being unkind, it does create a lot of confusion and pain for me as well as for others."
~~Mary-Lou Weisman, Traveling While Married
"A love of language may not guarantee happiness, but it allows you to express your despair eloquently. As any poet (or blogger) knows, misery expressed is misery reduced."
~~Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search For The Happiest Place In The World
"There are some people who insist that every time one door closes, another door opens, but this isn't always the case. There are doors that are meant to stay closed, ones that lead to rooms filled with serpents, rooms of regret, rooms that will blind you if you dare to raise your eyes to the keyhole in all innocence, simply to see what's inside."
~~Alice Hoffman, The Blue Diary
"The woman looked as if she thought Inman spoke the greatest foolishness she had ever heard. She pointed her pipe stem at him and said, You listen. Marrying a woman for her beauty makes no more sense than eating a bird for its singing. But it's a common mistake nonetheless."
~~Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain
 "I would take a vow not to worry so much but I would have to have a prefrontal lobotomy to keep the vow and that seems excessive."
~~Ellen Gilchrist, "The Geology Field Trip," The Writing Life
Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Random.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

A couple of weeks ago, Margi over at The M Half of the M-n-J Show posted about her struggles with depression in "Depression is a Lying Sack." If you've ever dealth with depression, you should definitely read it--and if you've never dealt with depression, maybe it's even more important that you read it. It's full of links to other posts on the topic as well as a glimpse into Margi's personal struggles with the illness.

Margi's discussion of the lies depression tells her reminded me of a quote from Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron about what might be called depression's most dangerous lie:

"In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come--not in a day, an hour, a month or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul."

While I have struggled with depression (a.k.a. capital-F Funks) off and on since my teenage years,  the depression Styron suffered--and recorded in this slim volume--was of an entirely different magnitude than my own. Nevertheless, Styron's work resonated because he was able to eloquently articulate so many feelings that I'd had but had never been able to put into words before. The book is an unflinching journey alongside a man trudging through a debilitating illness. The writing is spare and evocative, deeply felt but simply written. 

Years ago, a friend of Daughter-Only's said, "Misery loves company, but company only likes misery as a friend." It struck me at the time as kind of sneakily profound. I'm not sure how I feel about it now, but I do know that there is tremendous comfort to be found in knowing we're not alone.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: True.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Thursday, June 6, 1991 & Then Some

[Blurt Alert: This is an absurdly long post, which occasionally mentions words like "boobs." Consider yourself warned.]

[Thanks and/or partial blame for tonight's post goes to TangledLou, whose post "Stick Your Arm In My Washing Machine", which asked some questions1 about femininity, inspired me to dig around in my journals tubs and in my drafts folder for things I've written about it over the years.]

I take comfort in the fact that at least the "i" is not dotted with a heart.

Cheapskate that I am, I often use notebooks I find on clearance for my Spiral Notebook Journal. The one I'm currently using is lavender with the word "Diva" printed on it. I bought it because it was 75 cents and it had a plastic front cover, which is great because regular paperboard covers crumple quickly under the rigorous abuse my notebooks are often subject to.

Overgrown tomboy that I am, it's impossible for me to overstate how inappropriate the word "diva" is to describe me in any way, but a bargain's a bargain.

One night a couple of months ago, I had been writing in my journal in the van while the residents from the halfway house where I work were in an AA meeting. Usually, I tuck everything away into my bag before they get back in the van, but I was in the middle of a thought that wouldn't wait and I was just closing up the notebook as the first resident returned to the van. He is a repeat resident, meaning I've known him (and vice versa) for going on three years. He glanced down as I tried to inconspicuously slide the notebook into the console between the seats.

He said, "Diva?!"

And then he laughed, loud and hard.

And I laughed with him, though not quite as loud or hard.

I said, "I know! It's hilarious, right?"

And he was still laughing, loud and hard.

So, I said, "Gosh. It's not that funny."

And we both laughed some more.

Oh, all right. It was hilarious. And I should've been totally okay with the hilarity for all kinds of reasons--not least because part of the reason I am able to do my job as well as I can is because the men I work with generally do not seem to see me as stereotypically feminine (which for many of them automatically equals "weaker"). Furthermore, I am forty-four friggin' years old and I should, by now, have come to terms with exactly how feminine I am (or am not).

But clearly, I haven't quite because that whole thing stung a little. Even though I don't want to be a "diva," not even a little bit, I guess it bugs me that someone thinks I couldn't be a "diva" even if I wanted to.

This moment was how I learned, again, that my thoughts on femininity in general and my own femininity in particular are still a muddled mess despite years, decades of poking around in them. What follows is excerpts from three entries--the most recent written sixteen years ago--each of which is comprised mostly of things I could've written last week.

[At the time of this first entry, I was enormously pregnant with Son-Three, and did not yet know he was a son.]
Thursday, June 6, 1991
Daughter. I've been announcing to anyone who will listen that this "baby had better be a girl" but the truth is I would not be even a little disappointed if this is a boy, too. The whole thought of a girl terrifies me. I know that's silly--especially since I said only a few minutes ago that the line between girls and boys is narrow. But there are concerns with girls that don't come up with boys. How can I teach a daughter to truly appreciate her femininity when I had (and continue to have) no appreciation for my own? What kind of role model am I? Just the fact that I am concerned about this, that I think there is a right way to bring up a daughter proves how incompetent I am to raise a daughter. Just the fact that I think there is some trick to raising girl babies that there isn't to raising boy babies is proof enough of what little right I have to bring daughters into this world.

Melodrama--maybe. But the truth is I want a daughter who wants to be who she is. I want to instill in a girl the self-esteem I don't have. I want her to appreciate herself, appreciate her right to be whatever kind of girl she wants to be. That is the root of my worries--that I will pass on to a daughter all those stereotypes that I have made myself a victim to. Because I tend to picture "femininity" as a rigid set of criteria (the prissy kind of things, you know) instead of a beginning point for a strong, complete person, I have never strongly identified myself as female. I am the proverbial tomboy, but not because I want to be but because I've always seen womanhood as an either/or proposition. Either you simper and giggle and primp or you hide any sign of your femininity beneath baggy clothes and tough talk. I've never been happy to be female. But I want a daughter to be exhilarated by her femininity--by the possibilities.
Whether this baby is a boy or a girl, this is a subject I need to explore further for my own sake. But not this second. This second I need to go exercise the domestic side of my femininity by making my exceedingly masculine husband breakfast. (Have pity on him. It's nearly 2 p.m. and all I've done today is write. The whole house is starving, myself included.)
Thursday, August 20, 1992
I have been thinking a lot about "femininity." It has been an off and on fascination of mine, rising and falling in my interest according to its own schedule--I never know when the issue will raise its pretty, little head. This time around, its messenger was Little Sister. ...we had one of our marathon phone conversations. Among other things, we talked about friends of hers--KW especially and a couple of other girls, who developed early and couldn't resist teasing Little Sister (who hadn't). Anyway, these girls with chests that Little Sister was surrounded by made her feel so "unfeminine" (her confession on the phone, not a guess by her older sister--just by the way). This was such a revelation to me and it got me thinking.
Maybe because I got my boobs early--before my friends did, way before I had any use for them--boobs have never held any fascination for me. (Nan says I once said I was going to have big2 boobies like her but I must've been very young because I don't remember it and I do remember that by the time Little Sister was asking for a training bra, I was no longer even remotely interested in boobies or bras. Little Sister was six or seven then, I'd guess.) I don't remember ever equating them with femininity because if boobs were what femininity was about, I was feminine. And I never felt feminine, particularly around Little Sister. That's why her comment was so revealing to me--there was Little Sister, who made me feel so inadequate in the femininity department, feeling unfeminine.
And so I've been thinking about what femininity really is. We are force-fed society's narrow definition of femininity from an early age. Things about boobs and fingernails, hair and jewelery, makeup and the right clothes. All of these things that change on the whims of people we never see, people we may guess are sadists and be pretty close to the mark. Boobs are in, then they're out, short skirts (fingernails), long skirts (fingernails) and if we don't stay on top of all these things, we have these twinges of doubt.

Not that I have been ceaselessly chasing some elusive feminine ideal--not that I've gotten out of my chair in pursuit. It's more an occasional pause--am I feminine enough? Why am I not more feminine than I am? Can I be more feminine or will I just look like I'm trying to be more feminine? And all the while, I've never really had a clear idea of what feminine is. I'm full of these vague ideas that I've pretty much covered, things I've rejected for as long as I can remember. I am not sure, though, why I reject society's demands--I don't shave my legs on a regular basis, or wear make-up, or (my god!) pluck my eyebrows, or dress-up. I've kind of run away from these things--I like to pretend I've rejected them on political grounds, having recognized them for the sexist, superficial things they are and though I do see them as sexist and superficial, the more compelling fact is I am afraid of them. I am not very good at them--partly from lack of practice, but the lack of practice comes from not having a knack, an instinct, a desire to really practice.
So, at 24, I have none of the skills of femininity as society defines them. I don't think I can learn them and even if I could, I am sure they would always feel false to me. And it has come time for me to pick up the word feminine and find my own meaning in it. I mean I am female undeniably and by definition, anything I do is "feminine." (I looked up "feminine" in Funk & Wagnall's. It says: "of, pertaining, to or appropriate to women." So there.)
I've been going on for four pages now about this and still feel like I haven't made my point, have not expressed myself convincingly enough. I certainly am not convinced.
As succinctly as possible--I have both loathed and coveted the qualities and accessories of femininity as American society defines it. It has been an issue entwined with my (lack of) self-esteem. At this point, I am unable to walk away from the word "feminine" though my desire is to run and so in order to stop beating myself up, I am going to redefine the word. Being truly feminine is about being truly yourself, comfortable and alive in your own skin. That is the goal I am working toward. Do you follow me?
[At the time of this entry, Daughter-Only was two years old. And I had reached the ripe age of 26, without making any real progress in the "what femininity means to me" department--though I apparently had some clear ideas about what the hell it wasn't.]
Monday, September 2, 1996
The other day, Daughter-Only was dancing around on the deck in nothing but a bandanna, which Hubby had tied on her like a skirt...While Hubby was arranging her impromptu sarong (which she needed because she'd run outside straight from the bathtub carrying only a bandanna), he said, "I hope you plan on buying her some skirts and dresses soon."
I said, "Why?"
In fairness, I won't even try to quote Hubby's answer directly because I don't remember the exact words. His basic message, though, was that he wanted her to be a lady or some such crap. I calmly pointed out that a lady is a lady in jeans and sneakers as much as she's a lady in a dress. He said, "But you're not comfortable in a dress or skirt and some occasions require one."
I pointed out (not calmly, exactly) that the reason I was uncomfortable in dresses has nothing to do with what I wore as a child. If you can find more than six photos of me before the age of 5 in which I am wearing anything besides a dress, I would be surprised. When I picked out school clothes for kindergarten, I chose only dresses. In fact, up until sixth grade, I chose at least one new dress a year. I don't deny I wore them less and less often the older I got. I don't deny I wore no dress at all in seventh or eighth grade. I wore a skirt on a dare for freshman picture day. And after that, the next run-in with a dress was June of my senior year--graduation. (I am still outraged about that. We had to wear them to the school, but everyone took them off and went bare under their gowns because of the heat. Everyone knew no one would keep the dress on--but we still had to wear them to the school. I hated Mr. Biddle before that, but that guaranteed him a place in my Hall of Infamy. The insistence on white shoes pushed him into the number 2 or 3 position.) (In light of the fact that I only now invented the Hall of Infamy, I've no idea who the first and second inductees might be, but it's food for thought.)
Obviously, the whole dress/skirt equals femininity issue is a heated one for me. It didn't go any further between Hubby and I...
But the clothing thing does bother me a lot. I have not been much of a dress wearer since puberty because dresses are inherently uncomfortable to me. Also, if I wear a dress, I want to want to wear it...I am not against dresses on principle--I am against the idea that dresses are superior in some way to pants. I am against the idea of "training" my daughter to be comfortable in dresses because I think comfort in a dress is more nature than nurture. I will not force or "encourage" her to wear dresses anymore than I would stop her from wearing them.
Obviously, my own issues are rearing their ugly has taken me years (a good twelve or thirteen) to realize people who equate "femininity" with frills and lace and knee-length skirts (and not pants, etc) are the people with the problem. It is their flaw, not mine. I am not less of a woman because I wear a dress only rarely. (I had to borrow a dress for Mom's funeral.) In fact, in steadfastly being me, maybe I am more of a woman than I would be if I caved in to others' expectations
I'll be damned if I'm going to set Daughter-Only up for the same problems. If she is dress-inclined--great. She will always have options, but I will not let her learn she is more valuable with her legs exposed than with them covered.

1. One of those questions was "Do you have trouble typing femininity like I do?" I mentioned in my comment that I had an entry in which I had consistently spelled it "feminity." Turns out, I have at least THREE entries in which I did that. But only one in which I went back and fixed it, by repeatedly scribbling out the offending purple ink. Who says I'm not a girl*?
2. 50DD, in case you were all needing something for your "Things I Really Didn't Need To Know" files.
*Practically everybody, actually. Daughter-Only's recent Facebook status, copied and pasted, verbatim:
Good thing I have my dad for my fashion crises.
"Okay, dad, so do I put the tank top under the skirt, or over?" "Under looks better."
*As mom sits there minding her own business.* =P