inasmuch as it concerns Nostalgia:
One who has survived childhood, so they say, has all the material one could possibly need for a lifetime writing career. And here I am.
this time i'm taking notes
- 1,054 wds. long
This is another Monday post announcing a Friday Fictionette that got released on Saturday, because I am a time warp.
The March 2nd release is titled "Taking Care of Bigfoot" and it involves that near-universal childhood discovery of what usually happens when you try to keep a wild animal as a pet. My brother and I learned that lesson when we brought home a small... king snake? I think? In any case, one of the many harmless varieties whose coloring mimics that of the venomous coral snake, giving rise to the rhyme that goes something like "Red touching yellow, dangerous fellow; red touching black, it's OK, Jack." (Exact words may vary by region and generation.) It was a red-touching-black snake. We kept it in a terrarium. We took it out occasionally for the thrill of watching it coil around our fingers. We caught live lizards and dragonflies and spiders for it to eat, but it didn't, and eventually the poor thing died. And our parents said, "That's what usually happens when you try to keep a wild animal as a pet."
(We had much better luck with the crawfish we saved from a weekend crawfish boil. We put it in an aquarium that at the time was full of guppies. Soon the aquarium was empty of guppies, and the crawfish was a good deal bigger. We fed it bits of hot dog after that, hoping it would grow into a lobster. It didn't, but it made a sincere and noticeable effort before going the way of all flesh--at least, the way of all fleshly beings on a diet of nothing but hot dogs.)
Not to spoil the fictionette, but I feel obliged to reassure you that no one's pet actually dies in this story.
Now I'm looking back at last week and wondering where it went. It's hard to remember. Most of the details are lost to history because my Morning Pages are illegible, for one thing, and for another, I utterly failed to make any blog posts at all. Maybe I can keep better track of this week before it decants into the weekend, when the Boulder County Bombers "All Stars" and "Bombshells" will each have their first away games of the season. (It will be in Cincinnati!) Once I get on the plane Friday afternoon, nothing much else of use is going to get done. So between now and then, I need to keep up with the daily stuff (so far so good), make time to work on flash-fiction revisions (today not so much), remember to account in my planning for time spent fulfilling other obligations (such as taking the Saturn in for its oil change and tire balance/rotation and also picking up a Boulder Food Rescue biking shift on the windiest darn day of spring thus far). Meanwhile, I'm going to try not to fall off the blog quite so dramatically again.
Hi! Lookit that, I blogged today!
I have been better at getting to bed on time. Go me. Going to bed at eleven feels luxurious. Now that I think about it, that might be where some of last week went: going to bed earlier but not getting up correspondingly earlier. Math, that spoilsport, says if you do the one but you don't do the other you get fewer hours in your day. Stupid math. Math is clearly why we can't have nice things.
the car gets energized and i get ennervated because wednesday
I have a new Wednesday routine! It goes like this:
10:00 - Give up on the morning writing shift. Just get the volunteer reading done and uploaded so I can get out of the house. (True fax: I think I forgot to do the actual uploading, I was that much in a hurry to leave. DAMN IT.)
12:30 - Park the Volt at one of the electric vehicle charging stations at Village At The Peaks (used-to-been Twin Peaks Mall). Start that sucker charging. (Current state of car custody: I get the Volt if I promise to charge it, or if I have a Darn Good Reason. Otherwise, I get the Saturn.
12:40 - Ensconce myself at the Village Inn for a long working lunch. (I still think of China Buffet, because I am weak. But Village Inn has actual good food. Also coffee and wi-fi. And a shorter walk from the charging station. And a free slice of pie on Wednesdays. "Even if all you order is a pot of coffee, you get free pie!" Noted.) Get the daily writing tasks done. It's Wednesday, so I don't expect much, but do at least that much, yeah? OK. I did.
3:30 - Walk on over to Cafe of Life and arrive 10 minutes early for my adjustment and traction.
4:20 - Walk on back to the car, which is by now fully charged or almost so. Lament having to use some of that fresh battery capacity on driving home from Longmont.)
Ta-da. The car is charged, I have time to do a little writing, and I get to my appointment early (rather than late, which had been happening recently, because having a car meant the luxury of dribbling out the door at quarter-til-four rather than racing to the bus stop for 3:15). I like it. Let's do this again sometime. (Free pie!)
Derby doings this evening consisted of sitting on the BRAND NEW FLOOR and scraping old tape off the track. Obviously we pulled up the track boundary tape the night we emptied out the barn for subfloor construction, because there was a rope under there, but the rest of the tape we were in too much of a hurry to bother with. (The tape that used to be ten-foot hashmarks is especially hard to remove. The tape that formed our exercise ladder and jump-around crosses was fresher, less skated-upon, and somewhat easier. None of it was easy, though. Razor blades, chisels, paint scrapers, and rubbing alcohol were involved in the process. Which is not yet done.)
You would think this wouldn't be very tiring work, wouldn't you? Just tedious. We were all sitting down to do it, after all. But
- my back doesn't like hunching over floor work so long, and
- it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the time we were done, and it is possible to get exhausted from being cold.
Mostly I got exhausted waiting for the car to warm up. I was shivering so hard I was out of breath from shivering. I was also irrationally angry--at no one in particular, just generally rageful--that we weren't home already. We got home and I promptly dumped myself in the tub, wasting in hot water all the energy I saved in charging the car. I think. These calculations are not exact.
(emotion-wrangling beyond this point - I said I'd warn y'all, so I'm warning y'all)
--apparently all that recent Working Through Childhood Trauma stuff I've been doing lately, here and in my Morning Pages and in my brain when I don't wanna has been chugging away in the background, because I had a dream about it this AM.
In my dream, I was moving into Awful Abusive Asshole Uncle's house. It was empty of everything but furniture. I wasn't inheriting it or anything. It was more like, it was empty, so someone might as well move in, and the rest of the family thought I might as well be the one. Anyway, someone had unpacked a few art canvases that used to be on the walls, abstract multimedia collages as well as portraits. There was a portrait of one of my younger cousins, whom I adore; I wanted to hang it on the wall going up the stair where my memory in the dream told me it used to be, but the nail had been removed and the nail-hole painted over when the house got emptied. I'd have to hammer a nail into that wall myself to do it, but not right now, because I had to go to the bathroom something awful.
I really did, too. I mean, in waking life. I may have mentioned my frustrations with my bladder's suddenly reduced retention at night? At least it didn't start to bother me until time to get up anyway. Nevetheless, I feel like it had dream symbolism too. I would have to hammer my own nail into the wall, but first I would have to process and dispose of some nasty substances. Get it? Get it? OK, well, I do. At least, I'm pretty sure I do. There's probably more to get later. There always is.
Anyway, there was also a portrait of my asshole uncle. And though I recognized that the portrait was gorgeous as a piece of art--just a really fantastic portrait of him standing there on a French Quarter street and everything in vibrant, exaggerated colors and the lines of his face emphasized in a way that showed personality rather than reducing the portrait to a caricature--I could not bring myself to hang it up. I didn't want to look at his face every day.
So I decided I would take one of the empty ottoman/storage chests that was positioned as a footrest in the living room by the big L-shaped couch, and put the painting inside it, face-down, and sprinkle it with salt to neutralize its energy.
That's right. I made up a magic spell in my dream. I haven't made up a magic spell in waking life in years, unless you count the creation of writing-dedicated ritual space I sometimes do with a candle and incense and an Enya CD these days. But I just made one up in my dream.
It's a damn good one, too. Right up there with taking a photo of The Bad Guy and rolling it up and tying it with string and sticking it in the freezer. I may have to do it in waking life. I think I know the item that can stand in for the portrait, too. I just need to find an appropriate storage space.
...So. That's the state of the Niki tonight.
new construction and reconstruction, neither being hardly done yet
I would like to be able to report a full day of working on all my writing tasks, including the novel-still-in-planning, but alas, today was almost entirely taken up by household chores and administrative duties. And, as usual, nothing constructive (except for this blog post) is getting done post-derby. Doesn't matter that "derby" right now means construction labor rather than skating; it's still physical work that turns my brain to mush.
The floor is coming along nicely, though. It's very exciting. A few small sections of the final floor are done, maybe an eighth of the total surface. I got to walk on it. I got to help haul pieces of plywood flooring into the work area so they would be in reach of the work crew nailing them down. I also got to pound nails into joists, which was immensely satisfying (except when the nails bent, the bastids). Spent time washing slabs of sport-court, too--well, I wasn't actually wielding the power washer, but I was part of the assembly line. I was schlepping slabs of sport-court to and from the wash stall, turning slabs of sport-court around, and picking bits of shredded plastic ground cover canvas out of the bottom of the sport-court tiles. In any case, we closed down the washing station when we emptied off the current pallet of sport court; and we washed the pallet, too. I am so excited for our new floor, you have no idea. (Unless you're one of my league-mates reading this now. In which case you have every idea.)
We're hoping to skate on it next week, but not expecting to be able to. It depends entirely upon the work crews we can muster between now and then. Tonight's work crew seemed huge. Hopefully that will continue.
Tomorrow doesn't bode well for writing, either. I get to take the Volt all over town on errands. The first of those is getting the car registered and license-plated. Also I'm to put gas in and charge the battery. And then there's chiro and groceries and who knows what else I'll remember I have to do. Then maybe I'll go skating at the Wagon Wheel, if the Wednesday night session is on. I miss skating. No floor means no practice means no skating. If I do not go to the Wagon Wheel, I'll probably just go outside, since the weather's supposed to stay sunny and clear and moderately above freezing. MUST SKATE.
Maybe I'll get in a little time on the novel while the car charges, who knows.
As for last night...
Woah-kay, emotionally charged blogging starts here. After last night's post, you knew it was coming. Stop reading now, or continue with a full understanding of what you're in for.
Anyway. Last night, after I published that blog post, I got bowled over by Manhattan-sized APPREHENSION and DREAD. I couldn't quite parse it. I didn't even want to look at it head-on, let alone try to understand it. I told myself, hey, what are you afraid of? Pretty much none of your immediate family are online beyond that necessary to forward urban myths and tasteless jokes to everyone else in the family. The only people reading this blog tend to be either school friends or writing friends or derby friends. Or some combination of the above. Or John's sister, or his mother, both of whom are A-plus phenomenal people. What I'm saying is, this blog's audience is made up of at least 99.8% people sympathetic to its author. It is safe to tell stories here about Why Niki Grew Up Dreading Family Gatherings.
But the APPREHENSION and DREAD weren't susceptible to this logic. And they were very specifically the APPREHENSION and DREAD that accompany GUILT. Put them in words, they go like this: "I done wrong. I gonna get punished. I been bad."
When I finally figured it out, I nearly laughed out loud, it was so damn classic. it was because I'd actually used the "a" word--abuse--to describe a long-running family interaction, and I'd done it in a publicly viewable space. I had outed a family dynamic as abusive. What a betrayal! What disloyalty! What an absolutely stereotypic taboo to defy. That's the common rule most abused children learn: this stays in the family. You don't tell people. You don't shatter the illusion that we are a healthy, happy family. That's the rule, and I have finally, unambiguously, broken it. Of course I was a mess of GUILT and APPREHENSION and DREAD.
(To be clear, in many ways, we were a healthy, happy family. But in many ways, we were not. I don't identify with the phrase "abused child," partially because it seems too absolute, too much one thing without allowance for anything else, and partially because--though I know this shouldn't be a factor--so many people had it so much worse, I don't want to dilute the term. Still and all, I absolutely identify some of how I was treated as emotional abuse. I can even understand where some of it came from! I can just about work out the rationale. It doesn't excuse the abuse, but it contextualizes it. It helps me square the circle of "loving, supporting family" with "abuse and abuse enablers." People are complex. They are capable of heartbreaking kindness and jaw-dropping cruelty. They are capable of carrying both off simultaneously.)
Weirdly, when I woke up this morning, most of that roil of emotion was gone. I felt pretty good, actually. Abusive Asshole Uncle has not been in my head at all today. If anything, the memories involving him are hanging out in the middle distance, easy to spot if I look for them, easy to ignore if I don't. That's restful.
I'm very likely not done blogging about it. Not only is it dramatically, demonstrably freeing to be able to concretely describe it all in words, and words that people other than me can see (when I break a taboo, I mean to break it hard), but also it's probably kind of important for me as a writer. Authors draw on their experiences when they write; I need to be clear what my experiences are. I need to be able to own my experiences and put them into words. I need to be able to put them into my words, look at them through my own lens, rather than continuing to tell myself the same stories the rest of the family told me and told themselves. I gotta know my own story if I'm gonna write new stories.
So don't be surprised if more stories about Abusive Asshole Uncle And His Team of Enablers show up here in the coming days. 'Cause they will. Where possible I'll try to put it after the writing-related stuff, make it easy for y'all to skip if you'd rather. But it's not always gonna be easily separable, because writing. Hope you'll understand. Anyway, you've been warned.
my brain is a jerk: christmas reminiscing
All right. Hi! New week. So: Friday Fictionettes for the past two Fridays were "Kill or Cure," which is about a symptomatic tree, and "The Miraculous Hide," which is sort of about Good King Wenceslas before he got to be all saint-like. I got 'em out both on time, more or less, but I never got around to announcing them here, so. There you go.
And now we are approaching the fifth Friday in a month, which means--woo-hoo!--I get a week off. Except I don't, because I still have to put together the Fictionette Artifacts for November and then do all the end-of-month stuff for December. And even if that were done, goodness knows I've got all the legacy catch-up work to do: backfilling the Wattpad excerpts, recording audiobook editions for the archives that don't have them yet, producing epub and mobi editions ditto. But it's cool. I don't have to do that and put together the next brand-new story-like object all at the same time, so things are vastly more doable than they could be.
So yesterday was Christmas. John and I did nothing special for it. We're more Winter Solstice types than Christmas types, which is to say, Pagan not Christian. Also our families are all multiple states away. So we did with Christmas the same thing we did with Thanksgiving: a whole lotta glorious nothing. We played on our computers and we cooked for each other.
Which right there puts it miles and miles beyond last Christmas in terms of enjoyability, i.e. I did not get into a shouting match with my bigoted, bullying, emotionally abusive uncle, and spend the rest of the evening sobbing myself sick. Yay?
Except I kept thinking about it. All my brain's idle cycles pointed right at it. I spent a self-indulgently huge number of hours just playing Puzzle Pirates all day long, which should have been uncomplicatedly fun, only it wasn't, because while my eyes and hands were busy with the mini-games, my brain kept re-running that shouting match and rewriting it and re-running the rewritten version and then revising that.
To be clear: My brain was not fixated on just one argument with my uncle. That shouting match catalyzed an epiphany about a lifetime of bullying at the hands of that uncle.
Wait. Wait up. Go fix yourself some coffee or something. Apparently I'm going to unload here.
Ready? Cool. Here we go.
Here's the thing. I think the reason he got so enraged when I called him on his hateful bullshit that Christmas afternoon is that no one else ever did. Everyone else in the family may grumble about him, but to his face they smile and reward him and tell him he's funny. Meanwhile, all my life, every Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter that he ruined for me, everyone told me I lacked a sense of humor. That's why I didn't find his bullying of me funny. And they told me it was my fault, the bullying; he wouldn't do it if I didn't give him such entertaining reactions. No one told him that there was anything wrong with a grown-ass man getting his jollies by verbally tormenting a little girl until she fucking lost it, and then laughing at her while her parents punished her for her unacceptable behavior. Everything he said, every word that came out of his mouth, was by definition golden, because it was coming out of his mouth.
Of course he hasn't changed a bit--why should he? He gets perfectly fine results as things stand; why should he do anything differently? And why wouldn't he be flabbergasted to the point of near-speechlessness that someone finally told him he was being a shit-head? If anyone ever tried to say it to him before, they sure as hell didn't make it stick.
I'm surprised it took me this long to come to that realization. I suppose I had some idea that, now that I was an adult myself, and not a powerless child, interactions would be better. And, well, to some extent, they are better. At age forty (well, thirty-nine at the time, but still) I'm not getting sent to my room or told to sit on the floor in the hallway and stare at the wall and think about what I've done. There is a different protocol for dealing with other adults than there is for dealing with children. And, being an adult, I'm a lot more capable now of putting my thoughts into words even while I'm furious, and of resisting my uncle's attempts to put me back in my place, the place he was comfortable with me inhabiting, the place that's entirely under his power, the place where I have to dance for his entertainment while the rest of the family laughs at his wit and my immaturity.
All of which added up to me being able to sit there and say, "That's some hateful, dehumanizing, transmisogynist bullshit you're spouting, not gonna pretend otherwise, I mean, you should be ashamed of yourself, and also you should grow the hell up, and, by the way, transwomen aren't existing at you just to spite you, and if you're tired of watching news stories about Caitlyn Jenner you can damn well pull up your big-boy paints, grab your big-boy TV remote, and change the fucking channel." And the worst he could do to me in response was sputter a bit and finally proclaim, "Don't get so fucking offended," like it was the last word on the matter (but it wasn't, because I could damn well spit back at him, "Then don't say such fucking offensive things, asshole," and walk out the room).
That's the worst he can do. But I can do so much worse to myself every day for the following year. I can relive that entire argument on a near-daily basis. I can also relive all the times he bullied me as a child, and I cried, and he laughed at me while I cried, and my parents told me I was defective for not enjoying it and/or morally weak for letting it get to me. That last shouting match doesn't exist on its own--it reconfigured my understanding of our interactions over my entire life.
I don't want to talk to him ever again. I don't want to see him ever again. But at the same time, I want to stand up in front of him and tell him, hey, you remember how you treated me while I was growing up? That wasn't even bullying. Bullying is between people of at least nominally equal standing. When a grown-ass man does it to a little girl, someone he has power over, and when he does it every time he sees her, from the time she's five to the time she's fifteen, that's straight up child abuse.
Wow. OK. So, that got real heavy real fast. Long story short: It's not that I fixate on 15 Minutes of Awful. It's that those 15 Minutes of Awful sort of recontextualized about 15 to 20 Years of Constant, Unremitting Awful. And that I'm liable to fixate on.
My fucking brain. My brain is a fucking jerk.
There's this fantastic Steven Universe episode, "Mindful Education," that kinda-sorta addresses the whole "I can't stop thinking about it, and it hurts, and I'm sick of hurting" thing. Rewatching it was soothing balm, but in a few hours the balm wears off. That's because the strategy of looking at the pain, understanding why it hurts, and being OK with the fact that it hurts, only goes so far. It's fantastic for surviving the painful thoughts, but it doesn't make them stop. And I can't spend another year going "Yes, I see that thought. Yes, it hurts. It's OK. I'm OK" on infinite repeat. I need to get my brain to stop running that damn program.
So here's what I did: I decided to actively fill my brain's idle cycles up with Other Narratives. I pulled up a blog I enjoy reading (one of several Steven Universe livebloggers, speaking of Steven Universe) and positioned it so I could read it while playing Puzzle Pirates. Then I pulled up some Mark Reads Discworld audio and listened to that while playing Puzzle Pirates.
The idea is, the longer I just sit there trying to play a particular video game while my brain keeps pushing the rewind-and-replay button on Worst Experiences Ever, the stronger grows the mental association between the two. It begins to feed itself: Playing the video game starts to cause the painful mental replay. But if I can associate the game strongly enough with something else, then playing the game will make me think of that something else--like, for instance, a gaggle of wizards arguing on a desert island, or the character development arcs of the Crystal Gems.
It's terrifying how easily programmable my brain is. The good news is, I can program it too. I just have to take, and keep taking, conscious action counter to the unwanted programming, until the unwanted programming has been thoroughly replaced my the preferred programming. That's all.
And in the meantime, well, I'm here.
you're gonna carry that weight for a long time
- 59,193 wds. long
- 128.50 hrs. revised
As expected, I haven't been able to write much this week. Any time not spent sleeping or at derby practice, has been spent moving items from our old address to our new. There have been many carloads, and each carload required multiple trips up and down the stairs that I'm so pleased to leave behind. I can almost do those stairs blindfolded by now: Eight steps down, three paces to U-turn on the landing, another eight steps down and another landing worth three paces, one last bunch of eight and three paces forward to finally descend the three steps of the front stoop.
Most of those carloads have been packed solo, either because John did it while I was at derby, or I did it while John was working. A solo carload takes longer, and it takes a higher toll on the person making it happen. I was done today an hour before we had to leave for practice and scrimmage, but it was an hour spent half asleep because I simply had nothing left for anything more productive.
Today was mostly me, and my goal was to completely empty the office closet. Six clear-bin stackable plastic drawers plus a Rubbermaid bin and a couple bags full of crafting supplies, three stackable plastic file cabinets, two big boxes of miscellaneous removable data media (CDs, DVDs, 3.5" floppies), another box full of "all manner of useful cables" according to my Sharpie memo to myself, a great variety of stationery...
...and a surprisingly large amount of my own writing. Early NaNoWriMo novel drafts printed out for revision. Copies of my short stories with critiques scribbled between the lines and in the margins. Spiral notebooks with drafts, writing exercises, and notes toward rewrites. The three chapters of The Drowning Boy that went with me to Viable Paradise in 2006 and came back looking like they had bled from innumerable cuts. (Not that they all bled red. But oh, how they bled.)
There were in that great mass of paper several copies of other people's stories that they chose to share with me or to send by mail as part of a critique exchange. But for the most part, the author whose works were contained in that box was me.
It was almost too heavy for me to lift. But I managed. I got it down the stairs and into the car without breaking either it or me. I felt strangely reassured by both of these things. The weight of that box was a reminder of how prolific I really have been. And yet I am capable of lifting the weight of my own words. There's something symbolic in that.
Still, when I pulled up to our new front door, I was happy to accept John's offer to take one end of that box and help me lift the load. Just because I could do it alone didn't mean I'd always have to.
There's something symbolic about that, too.
a stitch in time to cheer up my inner child
Waking up on the train Wednesday morning the 31st, I had that dream again, the one where I go home and discover a pet that I'd totally forgotten about and been neglecting for years. As you might imagine, it's a dream full of guilt and self-recrimination. But because the pet is always alive and healthy, or at least mostly healthy, it's not too late to do something about the situation. So there's guilt, but there's also relief, a sense of undeserved reprieve, while I scramble to make things right.
Great timing, brain. If you're going to give me a kick in the subconscious about childhood aspirations and responsibilities, why not deliver it on my way to New Orleans, so I can maybe do something about it while I'm there? (Do what? I don't know. Go through my boxes in the attic. Go visit teenage haunts. Something.) But no, you had to drop it on me as the train arrived in Denver. Great.
Sometimes the dream invents a pet for the sake of giving me guilt over it. Once, I dreamed that a miniature horse was waiting for me in my old closet in my childhood bedroom. I opened the door, and there it was, just standing there, patiently waiting for me to feed it.
Most often, though, the dream is about a real pet I took care of throughout my childhood, an albino parakeet whom I had from ages eight to fifteen or so, and whom I had unimaginatively named White Wing. That's who the dream was about yesterday morning:
A too-small birdcage, maybe two feet by one foot by eight inches tall, crowded with quiet parakeets of all colors. One of them is White Wing. I had forgotten about them, hadn't fed them in ages, and this isn't the first time I forgot about them too. I hurry to give them food. I don't have the proper food I used to give them, just this bag of small sunflower seeds that my parents picked up. It's labeled for budgies, but the dark blue one with black accents is mildly sick soon after eating. I resolve to get the proper food as soon as I can.
White Wing is an especially appropriate focus for the dream because there was a period of time when I did neglect her. It was totally understandable: I had just been diagnosed with leukemia and whisked away to the hospital. I wasn't at home to take care of my budgie. But I wasn't even thinking about it until I came home and she wasn't in my room. Apparently someone told my parents that there was a chance I could catch something from her, or from the mites she might be carrying, while my immune system was suppressed, so they moved her to another room and cleaned mine very thoroughly. I had no idea they were doing that; I was busy being bored at the hospital, wondering when they'd let me go home.
(Note to self: There's probably something here in the dream about gratitude owed to my parents. In certain ways this visit home was fairly trying, which made it difficult to remember gratitude and appreciation.)
Having White Wing in the next room over, where I couldn't hear or see her without consciously going to her, rather than in my room where her activity was a constant part of my life, made it easy for her daily care to slip my mind from time to time. I'd remember late in the day with a sudden oh shit! And yes, I'd feel guilty about spending less time with her than I should.
So she's permanently etched in that part of my subconscious symbols lexicon. There are other associations that this visit would have reawakened, but I don't have the energy to go into them right now. They are not happy associations, and I don't want to deal with them at the moment. Besides, this post is getting long enough as it is. So let's stick with the "neglected responsibilities from childhood" theme for now.
(By the way, did y'all know I have a website all about dreams and dream interpretation? I have been neglecting it for far too long, too. The public dream journal is probably chock full of link spam by now. I need to clean out the database and give the whole site an overhaul.)
Anyway, every time I have this dream, I think about what I valued during my childhood that might have fallen off my radar. Am I making good strides toward the writing career I always envisioned having? I was fascinated by lucid dreams and out-of-body travels back then; when's the last time I tried to have a lucid dream? What about my religious/spiritual identity, practices, observances? Discovering Wicca meant so much to me around that time, but this year, being at my parents' house and also exhausted (or lazy), we didn't even observe the Winter Solstice.
Things like that.
Sometimes, even if I don't have good answers, I can honor this dream in a symbolic way. I can't necessarily reclaim a sense of spiritual urgency or suddenly get a book published overnight, but I can participate in some other activity I enjoyed during the White Wing years. For instance, I used to cross-stitch a lot when I was in and out of the hospital. It was something to do with the long, boring hours lying in bed. I worked any pattern or kit Mom brought me: teddy bear bookmarks, fleur-de-lis, streetcars, all manner of Christmas ornaments.
I did much less cross-stitch through high school and college, though I still found patterns from time to time to work as gifts: Witches Stitches' "Star Maiden" for my sister-in-law, an illustrated Prayer of St. Francis for Mom. But when I picked up knitting about fifteen years ago, it usurped cross-stitch entirely.
Well. Today, I started a new pattern: "Hurricane Tracking Map: Cajun Style!" by Leslie Wristers. I bought it at The Quarter Stitch during a visit home some eight to ten years ago--probably ten or more, come to think of it, as Katrina hadn't happened yet. But I never touched it until very recently, in early November, and even then all I did was go to the store and buy cloth and thread for it.
But I made the first few stitches on it tonight.
Look, younger me! I am cross-stitching again! And it's a New Orleans-themed pattern, too! I haven't forgotten you, I promise.
a fictionette walked into a smoke-free bourbon street bar
- 1,255 wds. long
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OK! With that done, I shall make excuses for my habitual lateness.
You may remember that John and I are in the New Orleans area right now? Right. So. Today was our day to be tourists in the French Quarter. You can tell we were playing the role of tourists by our resigned willingness to pay $35 plus exit traffic stress for little more than five hours of parking. Usually I try to park like a local, finding a spot in the residential parts of the Quarter or off to the side tangential to the Marigny, but today I did not want to think that hard and neither of us felt like walking that far. So we got on North Peters and turned right at the first sign that said PARKING in huge, hard-to-miss letters.
What wonderful things did we do? We ate lunch at Angeli on Decatur, marveling at the existence of a New Orleans restaurant with a meatless pasta marinara on the actual menu. I know there must be oodles of restaurants down here that can do this dish, but we have historically suffered bad luck in finding them. We also tend to fail to stumble upon restaurants that do veggie burgers round these parts, which is why we did a bit of research before deciding on a restaurant for dinner. One of the results of our research was Cowbell on Oak Street. And while the burger itself was not destined to supplant John's current favorite (that would be the one at the Walnut Brewery in Boulder, I think; John may correct me if I'm wrong), the creme brulee he had for dessert made him drunk with delight. Also the scotch he ordered to accompany it may have made him actually drunk, with drunkeness. I only had a few sips of it; I had already enjoyed two cocktails at the smoke-free and wi-fi-enabled Bourbon O where we'd rested and played on our laptops after a couple of hours of sightseeing and shopping.
Speaking of shopping, I may have found a gift for my Secret Skater. (That's what you call a Secret Santa exchange when a roller derby league does it.) I may yet find something I like better before I leave New Orleans. We'll have to see.
Tomorrow the family convenes for Grandmama's funeral and memorial service. I'm actually looking forward to it. It means more time spent with my brother and my cousins, which is always in short supply. As children growing up in the same metro area, we were always in each others' faces and driving each other batty; as adults who've more or less scattered across the states, we're friends who don't see nearly enough of each other. If it takes a funeral to bring us together for a few hours, I'll put on a skirt and go.
Afterwards, there may or may not be an outing to the Airline Skate Center. John and I brought our skates on this trip, and if I have anything to say about it we are damned well going to use them. And the late night hours will bring another outing to Hurricane's, this time for what I'm told will be the farewell performance of a cover band that my brother's been telling me I really, really ought to hear.
So it's going to be a full weekend.
Talk to you Monday.
who's behind the door
Can't stop too busy rockin'--
Randy Jackson is playing Hurricane's in Metairie. Yes, that Randy Jackson. Frontman for Zebra, New Orleans's own contribution to the mid-70s-to-present-day progressive rock scene. As in, solo project China Rain. Apparently he plays Hurricane's when he's in town. Lots of Led Zeppelin and Beatles covers in addition to stuff from his own ongoing career, a few other random covers thrown in--pretty much the definition of rockin' out.
I have never actually seen the place this packed. I'm used to coming in on a Sunday evening when nothing's coming on and I'm literally the only non-staff person sitting at the bar. It's smoky and loud and there are a couple people who need to cool off, please (and consider that other people's bodies belong to other people, dammit--I was this close to warning my brother he might have to bail me out of jail because a particular egotistical hair fetishist might benefit from a broken nose and/or kneecap), but over all it's a great crowd. Lots of old school Zebra fans who are guaranteed to go nuts when Randy starts in on "Tell Me What You Want" or "Bears" did, indeed, go nuts in a fun and musical way.
Every once in a while Randy reminds us that there are "T-shirts by the toilet" for our T-shirt buying pleasure. That just happens to be where the swag table is, on the way to the restrooms, but I kind of want him to describe them as "freshly flushed" or something. That would be funny.
We're in between sets right now. Fans are shaking hands with Randy and posing for pictures with him. And I'm typing this up because I don't think I'm going to get another chance to before 1:00 AM, which is when I try to get these things done. Actually, I try to get these things done by midnight, but what the hell, it's Christmas and I'm in the Central Time Zone. I'm due a little slack.
That, by the way, might have something to do with the lack of writing content all week. I haven't been an entire slacker, mind, and there will be a Friday Fictionette tomorrow, but do give me a break. I'm on vacation.
Gotta go! Show's about to (re-)start.
the last pelican kaffeeklatsch
Today was sunny and breezy rather than overcast and rainy, so John and I took a walk down to the Bonnabel Boat Launch. It was an even more fantastic day for it than we'd realized--when we got past the kids' playground and down into the parking lot on our way over to the water, a pelican suddenly seemed to fly right at us. We ran the rest of the way and saw about eight of them just hanging out on the pier, a kaffeeklatsch of pelicans standing around with their beaks hanging down to their feet. Seagulls jostled around them like seagulls do, playing their eternal game of "I want your perch," but the pelicans just stood there, unflapping and unflappable.
We watched them for about ten minutes. Couldn't get enough of just looking at them. Brown pelicans are the goofiest-looking birds in the Gulf South when they're standing still. When they're flying, they're graceful and huge in a way that I never quite get used to. But when they perch, or when they spot a fish and take a dive, they look like clowns.
On our way back to the house, as we crossed the low, flat pedestrian bridge over Bonnabel Canal behind the pumping station, a pelican actually flew under the bridge, skimming the surface of the water for about twenty feet before pulling up and soaring away again. Two cormorants followed it, swimming a similar distance completely under the water before resurfacing in the pelican's wake.
"We should tell Mom about the pelicans," I said. "She'd be delighted."
John looked pained. "You know what she'll say, though, right?"
And I remembered.
Ten, fifteen years ago, Mom would tell me about the pelicans. She'd tell me how they were coming back to Lake Pontchartrain in huge numbers. She'd tell me how she'd count them as she crossed the Causeway Bridge on her way to see her mother and sister in Covington. Her mother was needing increasingly more care, such that first she needed to move into my aunt's house to have family close at hand, then to an assisted living home, then finally to a memory care center. Mom would drive over two, three times a week to spend time with her, take turns with her siblings taking her out for lunch or keeping her company or giving her day-to-day care. So Mom got a lot of opportunities to count pelicans on her way to and from the northshore. It was a good day if she got to see one diving for fish. The sudden cannonball splash made her laugh. She'd tell me that pelicans are proof positive that God has a sense of humor. She was the one who decided "kaffeeklatsch" was the appropriate collective noun.
But now her mother has passed away, and she herself is beginning to follow in her mental footsteps: losing her memory, as she always feared she would. With sufficient encouragement, she'll do crosswords in a book rated "fun" and "easy" to try to keep erosion at bay. She needs help remembering how common sayings go, what concur means, or how to spell kneel. And with the memory loss comes personality loss, the sharp wit and the sarcasm I remember gone (which, admittedly, is sometimes a relief; her sarcasm could have a nasty bite) from conversations now uniformly shallow, repetitive, delivered with a childlike smile. She still goes to work, she still drives, she still handles day-to-day obligations, but she doesn't discuss, converse, argue, or analyze.
When we came home on the train Saturday and I told her about all the pelicans we saw perched atop dock posts in Manchac, she just smiled absently and said, "Remember the rhyme Grandpapa used to say about the pelican?" Which she then repeated, because once it came to mind she must say it, inexorably, no use trying to stop her: the limerick I always misattributed to Ogden Nash but that Wikipedia tells me is by Dixon Lanier Merritt. Trigger, response. No conversational branches. Just push the button marked "pelican" and out comes the rhyme. Then comes the next part of the ritual. "And did I ever tell you the rhyme I made up about our basketball team? 'What a favored team are the Pelicans / We hope they'll score more than their opponents can...'" Yes, Mom. Yes, you have.
And the weird thing is, she's been like that a long time. At least as long as I've lived in Boulder and called home every week. Trigger, response. Push button, get familiar anecdote. Is that because the mental changes that have seemed so sudden have been growing on her for a longer time than I realized? Or is it because the mental changes have simply crystallized around habits she's always had, eroded away everything around them to leave them stark and bare?
I don't think I'll ever know the answer.
I've come to realize over the past couple years that we will probably never have a meaningful conversation again. The late night discussions we used to share at the kitchen table, when she'd just brought me home from the airport and neither of us wanted to go to bed yet, and we talked about religion and politics and philosophy and our worries and our fears and our hopes--those will never come again. The person I used to have them with is, for all intents and purposes, gone.
I just didn't realize until today that the person who counted pelicans and laughed at God's jokes is gone too.
never too old to need you
Sometimes interactions with my family make me feel as though my adulthood has been confirmed. Anything to do with alcohol, for instance. Sharing a bottle of Abita's "Bourbon Street" Imperial Stout with my dad. Sitting down at Hurricane's as my brother, the bartender, sets a napkin in front of me and makes beer recommendations. (Last night the recommendation was the stout from Arabi-based 40 Arpent, which was tasty all the way down the pint.)
Other interactions make me feel like a child again--some in a frustrating "will they never take me seriously?" way, but others with that "everything will be OK, Mom and Dad will take care of me" feeling that some people were fortunate enough to experience through their childhood. My parents weren't perfect--who is?--and once in a while they screwed up, or indulged in pettiness, or found me hard to like--it doesn't take an outright abusive or dysfunctional family history to look back and see moments like those--but on the whole I was a fortunate child who experienced that cared-for feeling more often than not.
Anyway, John and I went to my dad's pediatrics office and got our flu shots today.
Having a parent be my primary health care provider from shortly after I was born until the day I left home for college was, certainly, in some ways, a little weird. There came a time when it became unthinkable to ask Dad to diagnose certain ailments (mumblemumblepinwormsmumbleblush), and I resolved to make do with a hand-mirror and hard-won experience. I'm sure that time came as a relief to him, too; he never questioned my self-diagnosis, but just poured me a dose of the despised but effective medication.
Mostly, though, having Dad be my doctor was convenient. Too convenient, really. As a college student away from home for the first time and finding herself with a fever of 102.5 F on Friday night of a three-day weekend, I had to develop the skill of finding a doctor and making an appointment from scratch and in adverse conditions. And I still called home to wheedle a prescription out of Dad. "Yep, sounds like strep. Where do you want me to call it in?"
But again, I did get well trained in the art of self-diagnosis. If I told Dad, "I think I'm coming down with something. I should stay home from school tomorrow," he would not only quiz me about my symptoms but also test and verify. He didn't even get up from the living room chair. It was just, "OK, bring me my coat." The trepidation, the urge to plead and beg for mercy, the crawling dread of the inevitable that some children learned to feel upon hearing the words "Bring me my belt" or "You go out to the back yard and you bring me back a switch, and no wimpy one either," my brother and I learned to feel upon hearing the words, "Bring me my coat." In various pockets of that coat were the stethoscope, the otoscope, the tongue depressors, and the dreaded throat swabs. O the gagging! The ordeal! I learned early to recognize the symptoms of strep throat, and also to never, ever cry wolf.
The staff at Dad's office includes several nurses who remember me well as the patient who pitched terrible fits about impending needles well into my early teens. A year and a half of treatments and exams to do with childhood leukemia taught me nothing about accepting a shot without making a fuss. If anything, it made the tendency to scream worse. (Do not get me started on the increasingly traumatic experiences with installing an IV needle. Suffice to say that the last few times they simply had to gas me first.) But finally there came one afternoon during the summer that I worked a part-time data entry job at the old office, the one on Robert E. Lee Boulevard that Katrina totaled, when it was discovered that I was due an MMR booster.
I stood against the wall telling myself, You're too old to have a tantrum about this. I kept myself as still and calm as possible, breathing deeply and evenly, attempting to mentally remove all conscious awareness from the arm about to get stabbed. Those years marked the height of my interest in lucid dreams and out-of-body travel; I tried my damnedest to astrally project out of my left arm.
I was so proud of myself! I didn't let out a peep. My first time taking an injection like a grown-up, ever! And I continued being proud of myself as I slid down the wall into yet one more first time experience, that of falling down in a partial faint. (The nurse who'd administered the shot caught me as I sagged, and she made unkind remarks about how "the poor little baby needs her mommy." I remember hearing every word, and feeling her jeers unjust; hadn't I just taken that shot without begging or crying or attempting to flee for the first time in my goddamned life? Anyway, that's how I know it wasn't a complete faint: I remember every word.)
These days I try to get my flu shots regularly, not just to protect myself from the coming season's edition of influenza misery, not just to do my part for herd immunity, but also to continue proving to myself that I can take it like a grown-up. I may always need to prove this to myself. And though it may sound ridiculous at the age of 38 years and 8 months, it felt good today to also prove it to the nurses who knew me back when I couldn't take it at all.
Having proven my grown-up credentials beyond a shadow of a doubt in this manner, I suppose it wasn't too childish of me to have asked my Dad to set up our flu shots in the first place.
"It's OK. Mom and Dad will take care of me."
I suspect there's some joy in that for my parents, too: "It's OK. Our little girl still needs us."
She always will, you know.
Love y'all, Mom and Dad.