Sunday, December 12, 2010


I've been reading about reduced attention spans in our culture due to multi-media saturation. Since you are savvy enough to figure out blog reading, you are obviously at risk. In the hopes of keeping my readership interested, here are some blog post "trailers" that may actually get written this week.

1) Hanukkah Re-do: Why the Hell not? On any given night half of the household was sick during Hanukkah. Now that the festival of lights is over, the youngest one blinks Manga large, tear-filled eyes today and says, "Mommy, when are we going to shred the potatoes for latkes?" Looks like the miracle continues into 16 nights?!?

2) The Last Supper meets Asian Porcelain Porn Spent a few days in NYC with my adorable mother and was struck by the odd juxtapositions offered in that city. Yep, I took pictures.

3) Bish and Dame It - Teaching the next generation to cuss. I thought the hubby was getting our son closer to nature, instead he was teaching him the intricate laws of obscenities.

4) Well, looky there: I'm a joiner! - I was raised Unitarian Universalist - the only portal into religion for the non-joiners and staunch individualists of this world now that "Father Ted" is off the air. At 9 I already had issues with the rigid strictures of the Brownies. ("What do you mean we meet every Wednesday?") I believe that line dancing needs to be subverted and I relish going in through the out door. So how did I develop this recent compulsion for joining?

Don't those sound just grand? We'll see if I have a long enough attention span to write any more this week.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Blogger, Death Princess, Novelist

My head is as big as a gourd. I successfully finished Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month. My novel's title cannot be published here because either 1) it is under hush hush negotiations with a top publishing house or 2) it is such an awful title that the novel ended up having nothing to do with it and is filing for an annulment. Here's a hint: you won't be seeing it on any shelves at any book stores near you, but if you come to my house it is in the FedEx copy box beside the recliner.

155 pages, single spaced and I perused it yesterday. I'm pretty sure that the spouse was slipping me complex mushrooms for the whole month because I remember writing very little of that. Suddenly Keith Richards' memoir and Hunter S. Thompson make perfect sense. I am also way more sympathetic towards bad writers everywhere.

In other news, I will be posting some Hanukkah advice for the next eight days per request. The requester happened to steal my 3 to 2 prong computer plug adapter today while babysitting my sick daughter so you may not get it tonight... but soon.

Thanks to so many of you who checked back here at the blog or on Facebook throughout the month and kept me going. And thanks to my fan from Massachusetts, previously of Hawaii, who outed his fandom at his beloved grandmother's funeral. I love you, too.

As for those of you who didn't make Nanowrimo this year: we can sign up next year on October 15. You'll love it when it doesn't make you want to die.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Novel Ideas

November is National Novel Writing Month and apparently I have slipped and hit my head at some point and thus decided to participate. A concussion is the only reasonable excuse for doing something this harebrained.

Before the Nano hit squad comes to bludgeon me with red pens and coffee cups: I think it is a great idea for other people. I have always openly admired NaNoWriMo participants when reminded of them around November 20. I always like to think, "Oooh if only I had known in October."

But realistically, this is a recipe for disaster. I am not a good "daily"participant in anything except taking my medicine. And I can be a little iffy on the meds every now and again, so maybe that is not the best example. 2,000 words a day. A novel in a month. It just gives me the willies.

Anyway in spite of my fear, my unreliability, my poor health, my other commitments, my lack of plot, and the wee bit of sanity I cling to, I am doing it. I am 474 words in and I haven't ruptured any crucial blood vessels yet. I'll try to drop a line or two here at the blog. I owe you pictures from rebuilding in New Orleans post-Katrina. I'll put those up when writing block hits. That should be Thursday if my past is any indication.

One hint: my plot is NOT what if Yoda was a hobbit/vampire hybrid.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just What Your Funeral Needs

A few pictures of some of the more flamboyant sights at the National Funeral Directors' Convention in New Orleans. I call that top one origami urn. There appeared to be a language barrier between myself and the sales dude so I can't tell you what it is really called, but I think with some papier mache, twine, and couple of beers we could make this happen at home.

I loved these tree balls. Again it was the language barrier, but I did catch that they take very little time to dissolve. A reminder from me and my funeral buddies: cremains are inert. You will not be fertilizing your tree with Uncle Gerardo's ashes. They will just be peacefully co-existing. See my previous post and you'll find where you can procure some horse manure for fertilization.

This is a closeup of the jaw-dropping glazes on the snazzy handmade art urns. I wonder if Mama would mind if I made her into a lamp.

And the Steinway shiny black casket would be good for the man we call in my family Grandaddy Babe. Babe has created multiple generations of Star Trek fans in our family. I think it only appropriate that we bury him in something that looks like what Mr. Spock was briefly laid to rest in.

An SUV hearse for when you need that extra room. Or is it the horsepower? Driving in snow? Who do they think they are kidding? This is all about the bling.

Speaking of bling: a gold casket because you are worth it and you want to look like Liberace in your final moments above ground. Earth to gold casket maker: we are NOT pharaohs. If this can convert into a hope chest, a 7 foot mirror, and a dinette set, then you have yourself a deal.

For some reason, they did a big reveal on that hearse below. I think it is this year's new model. Call me an old fuddy duddy, but I think your brother would get over his car fixation at death and be satisfied with the lovely horse drawn caisson at right. Or with you giving him the ole' fireman's carry to a shady spot under a nice tree free of golden caskets and horse manure. But truly, if it makes you happy... go for it.

As for me, funeral conventions make me happy. I like the death work I do because it makes people less anxious and helps them through their grief. I like many funeral directors because many of them are characters. That's like looking in a mirror but the reflection has an uncanny knowledge of anatomy, life insurance, cremation regulation, and how not to stop a fistfight at a funeral home visitation. I like all the things pictured on this page because I may not want it for myself but I am glad there are many, many options out there.
I still want to be wrapped in a quilt and laid right down in the ground so the earth can take me back a little at a time and a I can be a tasty treat for worms and microbes. Maybe one day plants and a tree could grow up right through me and take a little of me back above ground for a new life as a leaf, or a seed, or even a petal.
That's what I like but it is hard to exhibit that in a convention center.

Thousands of Funeral Directors Again

Time for another year at the National Funeral Directors' Convention. This time it was in New Orleans and it is a wonder I survived and came back home again. I'm pretty sure if feather dude here had offered me and mine jobs as feather tamers or tambourine tuners, I would have not returned to the lovely Commonwealth of my birth. Thanks to this convention I could also be employed as a keg taster of NOLA craft brews, a gumbo ad campaign chairwoman, and a professional wanderer of side streets in the Garden District.

This was the best convention for incorporating local funeral customs as a jazz funeral was conducted in honor of those funeral directors and their loved ones who have died in the past year. Great music, a good homily, and everything ran smoothly as one would expect from the pros represented. Then there were the elements of the jazz funeral: from the dirge to the costumes, the horses, the band, the waving of the white hankies, the move from sorrow to jubilation, and the dancing in the street. I was very pleased that Emporia, Virginia's divine Miss Edna whom I eulogized this past summer was one of the honorees. I danced and waved a hankie in her honor.
In addition to the jazz funeral, there were classes on everything from embalming to marketing, from green cemeteries to business management. I did not include pictures of those, because the fantastic dancers from the funeral are better looking and more interesting to readers of this blog.
My son is old enough to read this blog now so I will point out that the horses did unload a pile of manure inside the convention center but funeral directors are good detail people so precautions had been taken due to the likeliness of such an event. (In other words, Little Man: there was a special carpet and a guy with a shovel who took care of the problem.)
Per request of one of the most faithful followers of Auspicious Jots, I am including some very nice urns here. Each one is handmade. The artist is a crafty and inventive woman who determined that we all aren't wooden box and ginger jar people. If my faithful reader posts a comment, I can provide the link to this gal's website to help you procure one. Prices ranged from $600-$1,000. Beauty ain't cheap but I like the symbolism of that bird one.
You know I won't lie to you. Not every minute of the convention was spent in classes, going to funerals, in cemeteries, or checking out the latest in funeral stuff. I did a lot of that. But much of a convention entails networking. In the funeral business that seems to involve a bar and good food, no matter where the convention is. With this one being in NOLA, there were just a LOT more choices for the food and beverages. Let's just say that we made the most of what the city had to offer and utilized its fine public transportation system on a daily basis.
As one of my new funeral friends likes to query, "Do you undertake what I'm saying?"
I will be posting a couple of the quirkier finds from the exhibit hall in a separate post. You know you can't help but check it out.

Honky Tonk Queen

There are times when life is just flippin' perfect. My day with Whitey Morgan and the 78's was even better than flippin' perfect.

They came to my town because I begged them to. They liked the Southern food my homies and I whipped up for them. (Homemade fried chicken, hush puppies, cheese grits, the world's best green bean casserole, biscuits made with LARD, olive spread, brownies, bean salad, and deviled eggs all washed down with beer and some jello shooters.) They were kind enough to hang out with me and mine when they could have been napping. We got to know each other and then they rocked the house. It was great.

Their new CD is very different from their first one and I love them both, much in the same way that I love the 78's and the Chiggers who opened for them. It was great to have local honky tonk buds hanging with national honky tonkers. I would happily follow both bands all over the country if it weren't for that whole raising kids, family business, not a dime in my pocket thing I've been workin' here lately.

A quick review of the pics that don't speak for themselves: *Dancing with Chiggers frontman Wes who dances as well as he sings and that is a major compliment on both parts. Not pictured is me dancing with Mrs. Chigger who can cut a rug on her own with her fine self.
*Up next is Whitey himself who is surprisingly tall. You watch the YouTubes and you don't pick up on that. Reason being, the rest of them are pretty tall, as well. Some would argue that it is the boots, but as a later shot shows: we were all wearing boots.
*I am snuggling with friend of almost 15 years and Chiggers pedal steel player, Tim. He helped sweeten the deal to get the 78's to play by offering the Chiggers as an opening band. It was a great match and both bands liked each other immensely. That is the victory grin that Tim and I are sharing.
*The orange shot is of the bassist of the 78's, Jeremy. He was the one I talked into this insane adventure. As a buddy of mine who has passed his 70th year said that night, "That man is a darn fine bassist." I agree. He is just a fine person who has translated that into some fine musical talent.
The night was a dream come true and I will be smiling about it for years to come. There is a track on the new CD called "Honky Tonk Queen". Please see that it is played in my honor when I pass on to the great dance floor in the sky.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Positive Obsessions

Last night at gayraoke (gay karaoke) I was stunned as two women and three men sang every word, every note, did the drum parts and the spoken parts to the dreadful 1987 abomination "Naughty Girls Need Love, Too". My stun turned to nausea when I realized I was one of the women. I am only able to write this because just one of us had the mic and blessedly it was not yours truly.

Your Honor, I plead guilty by reason of obsessive teen behavior to the charges of creating a public nuisance, curse and abuse (at Samantha Fox and Full Force for unleashing that demon hymn into the world), and impersonating a pouty British accent. My defense is that my co-defendants and I were teenagers when the song was released and thus had no immunity to what Billy Collins calls "a mad fan belt of a tune".

I think it is a decent defense. But I have my own bail bondsman and lawyer just in case I'm wrong.

I have a brain full of Nick Hornby which leads me to believe that obsessions are a necessary part of life. Unfortunately, I happen to know that when he wrote his most famous odes to obsession: High Fidelity, Fever Pitch, and About a Boy, Hornby was a functioning madman. I've read all three of these works in the past month as part of my grief abatement program, so as a somewhat functioning obsessive, I know of which I speak.

But let's go back to songs that grab you this time focusing on the better aspects of that phenomenon. When I hear Paul Simon I can remember the sound of my mother's record spinning in our living room. I remember rapping along with my classmates to "La-di-da-di, we like to party. We don't cause trouble; we don't bother nobody." I remember stopping what I was doing in Germany to find out who Lisa Stansfield was in 1990. I remember the first time I heard the voice of Roger Carroll, a talented local singer and saxman.

And I remember when emusic offered me a free song that they thought I might like based on previous downloads. Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of these things knows that they are hit or mostly miss. If you followed the four hyperlinks of the previous paragraph you can imagine what the iTunes genius and programs of its ilk are up against when they have to guess what I am going to like. I downloaded warily.

The song was "Crazy" by Whitey Morgan and the 78's. After a few weeks of listening to that song more and more, I downloaded three more songs by this band. Within a month I had downloaded the whole album in this day and age when whole album commitment is either a sign of abundant wealth or maniacal obsession. For me it was the latter.

Since I had become fanatical about this Flint, Michigan Honky Tonk band I decided to take the next step: I wrote a fan letter. I asked them when they thought they would get this way. That probably would have been the end of it except soon after I sent the letter I found out that they had been this way and had performed at a small place with no promotion. I sent a quick PS saying "XXXXX?!? You played at XXXXX? That's like booking George Jones at the Krispy Kreme. Look, if we can lure you back to Richmond, my friends and I will come out to party with you and we'll feed you a big ole' Southern meal at my place before the gig."

18 months later Whitey Morgan and the 78's will be playing this Saturday at the Playing Field at 7801 West Broad St. right here in river city. It didn't hurt that the booking guru at the Playing Field also contacted them. Also helpful was that the pedal steel player for Richmond's own The Chiggers, another band I love, contacted them and asked (and were subsequently invited) to open. And then their record company was nice enough to send them out on tour - it was all meant to be.

Some think that my over-the-top enthusiasm for music is a sign of a stunted maturity. I say that if maturity is keeping your ass on a comfortable couch and watching whatever pathetic pablum American TV broadcasting has coughed up this week instead of kicking up your heels on a dance floor with people who are talented and drove 667 miles to party with you... then you are damn skippy I am immature. I also think being able to gush and effuse about a band I've never met, never heard live, and yet am as excited as if those four bowl haircuts just stepped off the plane at Kennedy in 1964; well, that just makes me damn lucky in this life. I think it could be worse. I could obsessively hyperlink. Oh, wait...

Speaking of obsessions, I am embarking on my 5th trip to the Gulf Coast to rebuild houses. Between working in the ninth ward on construction, eating gumbo, and listening to live music I doubt I will have time to be blogging. That's a shame because I am doing my annual pilgrimage to the National Funeral Directors Association Convention at the end of the trip and I know how y'all love my blogging from that event. You can wish me a bon voyage Saturday night because as soon as Whitey says "Thank you, Richmond!" and turns off the amp, my driving buddy and I hit the road to NOLA.

Thanks for reading when you could have been web surfing for bands. Word to your mama.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The past, the soccer, the evil within, and at the end: boobies

My mother used to say that her earliest memory was of family members gathered around her cooing and applauding as she did a dance number. She was the first born of the first born and was considered by a large web of loving family to have invented cuteness. I've seen photos and have to agree.

My earliest memory is of potty training. My parents are both in a very small apartment bathroom encouraging me in sweet "you can do it, little one!" voices. I am on the toilet and scared. Then I am in the toilet, wet, and scared. And can you guess what my beloved parents did in the face of this scarring tragedy of their only child?

Those peckerwoods laughed their tails off. I was furious at the two of them trying not to laugh and tears streaming down their faces as they coughed out, "It's okay, baby" between fits of giggles. I may have only been two, but righteous indignation was an instinct.

In those earliest memories my mother and I both learned lessons we have used the rest of our lives. For Mama it was: you can be adored by many, but you will have to dance your sweet fanny off to keep their attention. For me it was: they are going to laugh at you no matter what, learn to like it. (My lesson was closely followed by a fear of water and of falling. Mama has an aversion to lace trimmed panties and tap shoes. But that's another story.)

I share my first remembered life lesson to goad myself into sharing yet another humiliating story about myself: why I am not allowed to follow sports. This is on my mind for two reasons. First, I am immersed in Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, an engaging look at his decades long obsession with the English soccer team, Arsenal. Second, I am off in less than two weeks on my fifth trip to the Gulf Coast to rebuild after Katrina. This time I will be working in the 9th Ward of New Orleans and am finding the lure of Saints football to be almost overwhelming.

It may come as a surprise that in the marital rules by which my long-suffering spouse and I have lived for almost twenty years, there is a provision that restricts me from observing any sporting events other than German World Cup matches, the Super Bowl, and the occasional UVA basketball game. I can do an annual live baseball or soccer game only because in person I always find a crowd and our squirmy kids far more attention grabbing than the sport itself.

I will save the long version of my sordid sportsfan past for my memoirs. Let's just say that I have an ugly side that reared its head twice in the early nineties following a season of abysmal Raiders football and another of spectacular but ultimately soul obliterating Knicks basketball. After these seasons he enacted the draconian law that I am not allowed to follow a team for a full season. It is the only marital law he has ever enacted. The rest are requests, strong suggestions, and a wish list.

I have only been able to stop scowling and begin to laugh about this 17 year law for about... um... three... months. But in the spirit of dunking one's bottom in icy water and grinning, and seeing as how football mania is under way, I am sharing my struggle here.

I can very easily put the fanatic in fan. I have all the attributes: a long attention span, loyal affection, quick to forgive (although not at the end of the season). I am willing to alter my schedule for things I care about. I enjoy dressing in costumes. I like beer. Most of my friends are dudes.

These are the gifts I long to bring to the New Orleans Saints and possibly, through the miracles of the internet, Bayern Munich's soccer team. To the latter I also bring a gift of being able to mutter curses and shriek in glee in the German language.

Unfortunately, following sports even if allowed is pretty miserable for me because I become enmeshed. Ask my friends with whom I watched the World Cup this year. For the matches televised only on cable I arrived at their homes quiet and antsy. I failed at polite small talk. I barely spoke for the duration of the game unless it was in German directed at the TV. I was wearing German themed athletic gear. (And to think, I wasn't laughing at that point?!?) I exhibited a variety of nervous tics including sitting ramrod straight, holding my breath, and wringing my hands. God bless my friends. They laughed openly at me and let me drink their beer.

I handled it pretty well in the beginning. I mean who can't chuckle and enjoy the day when mopping the floor with Australia or cleaning the toilet with the jerseys of England? But there was never a point in Germany's meteoric rise through the tournament when I felt safe. After all, the pre-tournament talk was about France, the Africans, the South Americans, most anyone other than Germany's "young" team.

Like any good fan, I was wrapped up in the skills and failings of the players. I had fallen for the Polish powerhouses of Klose and Podolski four years earlier and was expecting good things from them. I had no hope for the newbie goalie, the aptly named Neuer, but was pleasantly surprised and soon gave him the pet name of the big Banana. It helped that I don't trust pretty men and thus had never been under the sway of former captain Ballack, so I was able to ignore the constant prattle that the team would be lost without him. (Is this talk creeping you out yet? It always stuns my family. I normally save this kind of detail for death, obscure theology, poetry, and rock and roll. Obsessive analysis of a sports team by yours truly is my equivalent of a sudden understanding of calculus.)

I could go on but I wouldn't want you to faint, so let me move on to my anxiety which reached its pinnacle in the days leading up to and including Germany's penultimate game that booted them from the final.

I was on pins and needles all week. I replayed the previous games in my mind. I followed World Cup news through a variety of apps and in three languages on my phone. I talked smack to Spain fans. I was so tense I didn't sleep well the night before. During the match itself I became increasingly unhinged as they were deftly over-powered by Spain. It has taken all these months to be able to stutter out that compliment to the World Champions.

But here is the best part. For that game I was in a van with my undertaker buddy and our kids on the way to South Carolina for his brother's wedding. In best-friend-enabling fashion he had let me watch as much as I could on his TV before we hit the road. Then we tuned in on some iffy radio stations. When those blitzed out another buddy... are you ready for this? ... gave me play by play analysis in a series of 90 some emails that I followed like a crazy woman on my phone.

When the game ended with Germany's loss I was green with carsickness and disappointment. In commentator buddy's last email he apologised to me and offered condolences on my loss. This from a man who probably gave himself acute carpal tunnel typing things like "Spain's striker rushes but Big Banana blocks it" for the better part of two hours. The undertaker held my hand and gave me his best undertaker comfort talk, while driving 75 miles an hour with the kids yakking away in the back in 95 degree heat. And folks, neither of these guys are German soccer fans.

It has taken me almost three months since the World Cup to realize why I am not allowed to follow sports and to laugh at long last on the marital moratorium: I am a sports menace. I have a natural ability to get people to jump in on my plans and in the sporting world this is called "inciting hooliganism."

"Hey y'all - let's go do karaoke even though only one of us sings and we all have stage fright." And the gang says, OK!

"If I lead a church will you come, even though you say you aren't religious and churches freak you out?" And the crew says, Sure, why not?

These are endearing and admirable traits when used for the good of humanity and honky tonk bands. (October 2, 8 o'clock, the Playing Field on Richmond's Broad Street. Be there and wear your dancing shoes.) But something about sports turns me into the Rasputin of the arena. Suddenly good, innocent people find themselves in bad places letting me act like an ass and bending to my fanatical will.

It is for YOUR OWN GOOD that I not be allowed to become a Saints devotee. If I were to follow the Saints this year, chances are some of my devoted readers would wake up in mid-winter with a giant Fleur de Lis tattooed on their backsides wondering how the hell that happened. At least one of you would be injured in a gumbo related accident. Far too many of you would be wearing feathers and flashing your chests come Mardi Gras. Mayhem would ensue and, should they start losing, quite possibly riots.

In the very best scenario I drink your beer and you have to email me play by play updates while I am at the opera. I just can't do that to you. So there you have it. My dark secret. My evil within.

But I know you did not read all this way for that. For my faithful readers who send me such sweet, supportive mail: boobies.

I was prodded, scanned, zapped, felt up, and squeezed by trained professionals and their high tech machines. Three well-educated medical specialists and two very expensive machines confirmed my high opinion of my faithful breasts. They are disease free. The diagnosis was another refrain of a mantra of my life: the problem is just another side effect from the nasty medicines I take.

Don't forget to get your mammograms! Save the ta tas and all that.

Thank you for reading. It keeps me from watching sports.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It is Not Like I Sprouted A Penis

Because that would be really embarrassing.

I talked to my beloved Dr. today. I had self-diagnosed myself with strep throat because I am brilliant that way. And by " brilliant that way" I mean that I have no idea what I am talking about.

I do not have strep throat. I have thrush again from the nasty medicines I take. And I have a lump in my breast because I do not know the difference between a swollen lymph node and a boobie bump. Brilliant that way.

So anyway, the Dr. and I were chatting about my other condition, grief zombietude (see previous post), when he asked me what my family and friends had to say on the subject. So I told him.

And he said, "How do you know?"

And I said, "Because I asked them, 'Just how much of a psycho-bitch am I right now?' "

And the Dr.'s jaw dropped. "You just asked them?"

But of course. How am I going to know if I don't ask?

This brings me back to my worldview and blog focus that people should talk about things. Mouths are good for eating, drinking, and breathing. Voices are good for yelling "HELP!" and singing along with Prince. Brains are good for eating. (Little zombie joke there.) Brains are good for everything.

Put a mouth, a voice, and brains together and you have someone who can talk which is a never-ending miracle unless they are talking about the MTV awards, Hollywood infidelity or are the Pope. (Secularism has made the UK a third world country?!? Nazis and atheism?!? He needs to have his potassium checked. Trust me. I'm brilliant that way.)

I've had concerned emails and calls today from the lovely tribe I call my friends about my blog post yesterday. Several of them are considerably more private than I am about their feelings and are a wee bit concerned that I would share such "intimate" details of my life. We have very different perspectives on this.

In review, people tell me stuff. All kinds of stuff. Stuff they don't tell just anyone. And most people tell me these things almost immediately after meeting me. After salsa dancing with a girlfriend I listened to the divorce and parenting woes of the man (a stranger) on the next barstool. My waiters share their money problems. My paper carrier and I have become blood sisters. I have never flown anywhere without hearing at least one deeply held secret from someone.

I think people tell me stuff because a) I don't mind a bit, b) I find people interesting, c) I encourage them because I think it makes them feel better and I always learn more about human nature, and d) I don't carry people's secrets around like they are secrets. I remember some. I forget most of them. If I see the person again, I treat them like I always have.

And this is what I have learned: secrets are just no big deal 95% of the time. They are usually just emotions that got housed in the wrong place and some strange occurrence resulted from the misfiling. Why should your pain be a secret? Why should your confusion be a secret? We all have these issues with love, grief, mortality, our bodies, and fear. No one is in a place to judge anyone else on these things.

So why wouldn't I confess to being a grief zombie? I've known lots of grief zombies. They were perfectly nice people. Why wouldn't I confront my co-workers on my level of bitchitude, more so since one is my husband and the other my best friend. Why wouldn't I talk publicly about suicide loss? It hurts. It sucks. And tons of people get it from a variety of angles. More importantly, I get it better now that I copped to it publicly. My willingness to talk about it has made lots of great people tell me their stories and I feel connected in new ways to old friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. This isn't "intimate". This is just life.

Not that I don't need help.

I called a new friend this afternoon because he'd sent the grief zombie a sweet message and I had then tried to put the toaster in the refrigerator. I don't know what the connection was and it turns out neither did he.

I called my blogging buddy Lizard Eater because I think this mammogram will probably hurt what with the lymph/boobie bump and all. She has more cancer experience than anyone should and we agreed that this is not a cancer scare. I may be brilliant that way but she actually knows a thing or two.

I read an email from a friend who became a close friend after I admitted on this blog to putting my dress on backwards, dropping my pants by accident in public, and making my own underwear. He has more Grief Abatement ideas a-brewing. Clothing will be firmly in place.

And somewhere along the way I explained that talking about these things for me is not intimate. Then I blurted, "It is not like I sprouted a penis." Since that is one of the funnier things I've said lately, I do believe I struck a blow against grief zombie-tude.

Rock on witcho' bad selves. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Long Wait

I have not been a very good grieving person. I wrote twenty thank-you notes in August. I have no idea where I put them. I have lost my ability to cry which is like a normal person saying, "I have lost my ability to pee." Every time a thought about grief starts sneaking into my consciousness I squish it like a spider. I don't have much to say because I am wrapped up in trying not to think about it. And when I try to think about it... nothing comes.

People have been so kind to me. I call them the Grief Abatement Patrol. They have taken me to movies, to the musem, cleaned up my yard, brought me food, taken me to karaoke, given me hugs, sent cards, cuddled my children, called, stopped by, even made me some mix CD's. It is really, really nice. But I am having trouble remembering it, absorbing it, showing my gratitude. I think something inside me died this go round and all that is left is a shell.

I have become a grief zombie. Zombies are no good at thank you notes.

I have watched my family and others who are feeling the pain and shock at my uncle's sudden death by his own hand. I try to mimic them. These are people who remember to buy groceries. These people seem to have a full range of emotions although they are predominantly sad and confused with an occasional angry outburst. These people seem to be able to speak and don't look like zombies. They smell good.

It is hard to write accurately what it feels like to be a grief zombie because the core of my zombie life is not having feelings. I say I try not to think about it, but what I mean is that when thoughts of sadness start floating in an emotionless voice says, "Not yet." It is not conscious so much as zombie survival instinct kicking in. I can no more will myself to feel, to not feel, or to concentrate than I can will myself to cry.

I used to see zombies like me all the time when I did grief counseling for a living. It was always a creepy thing to watch from the outside. The grief zombies I worked with never knew they were zombies. They thought they weren't upset. They thought they were handling their loss surprisingly well. They thought that they kept forgetting things and losing stuff because of some medication they were on. They never ever thought that their emotions were now undead: not functioning as alive, not yet dead.

The grief zombies were some of my toughest cases. They refused help. They had car accidents and fell down stairs. They lost interest in the usual joys of life. They tended to become ill, some of them terminally. And still, they did not know they were zombies.

So, I guess it is a good thing to know. Knowing I'm a grief zombie allows me to make a blog post to help explain why people aren't getting thank you cards or may get them in November. It means I don't have to worry about a Halloween costume. It takes the pressure off at meal time - I'm not hungry and no longer interested in food not because I am sick... I am just undead. And best of all, I can joke about it, because if I can laugh I can cry.

Speaking of crying, I have been able to cry twice in the past two weeks. Since we are in the middle of the High Holy days I have gone to some Jewish services. And I have managed to cry during the Mourner's Kaddish. It just sneaks in. I guess zombies can speak Hebrew.

If I were my grief counselor I would say, "Keep going, Zombie Girl. It takes awhile. If you cry at Shabbat services and no other time... go to Shabbat services. There is something in you that is trying to get out. You will come back to life but you need to give it time. Sometimes it is a Long Wait."

Zombie Girl Me would then tell Grief Counselor Me to shove some things where the sun don't shine and then have a "Long Wait" before getting them removed. Just because I am undead does not mean that I've lost my sass. I've lost my thank you cards, the stamps, some of my passwords, my allergy medicine, some bills, many shoes, my appetite, half a dozen partially read books, and my coherence.

But I got my Hebrew, my Grief Abatement Patrol, and my sass.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Back in the Valley of Shadows

No, I am not Job but I think we are related.

Last week my erudite, generous, beyond energetic, gentle uncle decided that he had nothing to offer the world and so he left us. He was a Princeton man, did a Fulbright in Rome, had a PhD, loved opera, was interested in church history and theology, was brilliant on Shakespeare, drove people around who couldn't drive themselves, and was kinder to my children than you can imagine. He was a teacher in profession and in calling. He was steadfast in his support of me personally and professionally. And now he is gone and for all the wrong reasons.

His death came one year and four days after my aunt (no relation to him) took her own life.

His death is like an earthquake in our family. In just a few moments everything looks different; there is no stability, and three generations of us no longer feel safe. There is no "getting used to" suicide. There is no "better suicide" than another. It is all a nightmare, but each a different nightmare than the other.

In the years since I have had this blog, my parents have fought cancer and a coma, my last two grandmothers died, even my dogs died. I have tried to understand my own health problems (considerable to the average healthy person, absolutely nothing in light of this week) that limit my ability to live as I would like. I have waited for test results with my friend Lizard Eater and a buddy Undertaker. I now pray for another one of my hero buddies as she enters into another fight against her own cancer.

Through it all my goal has been to be honest and open about grief and loss. I wanted to pull back the veil on some parts of death and dying so it was less terrifying for people. I have shared my worldview that not only is life still funny when you pay attention to death, sometimes it is funnier. My thought has always been: maybe if we talk about it, it will help.

But I am run down to the ground on this one.

My uncle left me a package. It included a long letter and a bag of items. The letter was his instructions for his funeral, his asking for me to perform it, and some suggestions for what I might include. The package included some of the items he mentioned in the letter - photos and notes mostly.

It would appear that in all my comfort concerning death, all of my talk about pre-planning, all of my suggestions for finding meaning at the end of life... my uncle had listened very carefully. Too carefully and I am left with the realization that I never said the most important things.

I never said: if you are physically healthy but wanting to die, something is very wrong. Yell for help, and when help does not arrive start sprinting for help, and when you can't find it scream for directions.

I never said: all the pre-planning in the world is not helpful when you hand it over to your own brothers, your own niece, your dear friends after your unexpected and fully intentional death.

I never said: LIVE! LIVE! LIVE! If life has lost its siren call to survival before anything threatens your physical well-being, treat your mind like a body with cancer and fight for life.

I know that this was his struggle not mine. I know that his choices were set in granite a long time ago. I know because he said so in what he left behind. I know that my words could not have changed his mind.

But my heart does not believe as I look over the meticulous plans done to the very letter of how I have taught people for a decade to plan. He did everything I asked. I just wish I had asked him to live.

So I post again in the face of very personal and deep pain because every time I come out as a survivor of suicide loss, I meet more people who have walked this road with no more ease than I. I share my selfish feelings that resist the lessons of my psychological training because that's just how I feel. It may not be "right" but it is true. Our feelings rarely behave in times of grief and I am not going to compound the pain by shaming myself for how I feel.

If I want to dream that something could have made him save himself, who would be so cruel to take that little dream away from me? I don't plan to build any structures on that foundation and it isn't hurting him, that's for sure.

And I share, most of all, because there has been a stunned silence in the wake of my uncle's death. "How can one family have so much loss?" "What do you say in the face of compounded suffering?"

I don't know. Unlike Job, I don't even have a theory. But like Job, I feel judged, blamed, avoided, pitied, feared, misunderstood, fussy and really damn weary.

As for my family, we are all putting one foot in front of the other, getting through each day as best we can, trying to keep talking to each other gently but honestly. We are hugging the children a little too tightly and saying "I love you" more. We are fussing over stupid stuff and apologizing. We don't know what we had for dinner any day since last Wednesday. Our cell phone minutes are all used up. We don't sleep well.

Day after day we do this because there is only one road through grief and it is THROUGH it. Not over, under, or around it. The only way out is through. We aren't courageous, just reasonable.

And we will all get up tomorrow and see what that day brings. Some days we cry. Some days we are angry. Some days we are sick to our stomachs. But one day it will be better than this. So we keep walking through it all toward that inevitable auspicious dawn.

You'd do the same. That was always the lesson of Job to me: you'd do the same.

Friday, August 06, 2010

A Room of One's Own

Virginia Woolf says I need a room of my own. I think a nap, a loft, a secretary, a nanny and a well-stocked bar could be more helpful.

If I had a room of my own, I'd just fill it with all those boxes of crap in my attic that I haven't taken to the thrift store. In fact, I had a room of my own. It was my sewing corner. It is now full of clothes to mend, sweaters looking for a summer home, the children's art supplies and another pile of things that I don't have the energy to throw away. I'm no longer sentimental, I'm just really damn tired.

I also had a car of my own. It looks like my children got some weird chewing disease and ground through our belongings leaving nothing but shreds, crumbs, and my blotted lipstick prints. My car has become a possum den on wheels. That is not to say that I don't sometimes get in it and drive nowhere in particular just to feel quiet and alone, as much as that is possible with Ben Nichols hollerin' at me on the hifi and that infernal honkin' sound behind me at stoplights.

My grandmother bequested a man chair to my husband which quickly became a chair of my own. Just last night I wasted some hours and sanity I can never recover on that chair watching "Sin City". Does any movie ever need that many severed heads? In addition to causing me to make questionable choices of cinematic "entertainment" that chair also gives me a neck ache and I have to fuss with the children to sit in it so it is not the throne of my calm. (Hopefully all men reading this are toasting my poor seatless husband at this point because no matter who is blogging it: that man never gets that seat.)

I gave up on the bathroom as the room of my own when the children arrived. As Mom, I am the one person everyone is allowed to interrupt in the bathroom. How did I become the least interesting naked person in the house? Sometimes I forget that I am allowed some privacy and just leave the door open so I can skip the process of screeching, banging and sudden entry most favored by my 5 year old. Today two of my buddies pulled shower shifts in there due to a power outage in Southside and the DIY renovation of a bathroom in Carytown. These are my drinking buddies so I have this dreadful feeling that when I take my shower limericks are going to appear on the mirror and walls as soon as they steam up.

There was a brief and wonderful period when the kitchen was all mine. I picked everything out for its renovation and personally rode herd on the construction crew whom I also picked. The light strip now needs replacing, the floor needs a moppin', the fridge needs a scrubbin, and I feel like Loretta Lynn every time I go in there. Plus both those dudes who used my shower today cook better than I do so I've lost my will to excel in that joint. It has become a place to put the cereal box and the dog bowls.

So I whine and pout about not having a room of my own and then I have a day like today. This morning I toured a shelter for people trying to rebuild their lives. They live in 6 by 8 foot cubicles for a year. For lunch I visited a new friend and broke the bad news that she needs to convert her lovely sitting area of her beautiful historic home to a hospital room for her mother. I then came home and joyfully played hostess to the friends needing showers and the friend coming to get his dog we've been babysitting for a week. And when they all left, I truly missed them and wished they'd all come back.

Now I sit at the dining room table trying to blog and have been interrupted countless times by phones and texts, yelling and hungry children, sneezing dogs, and various reminders of the countless undone chores. And I am gateful for a big heart with room enough for all of this and more.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

When Outfits Attack

Life after 40 is not for the easily embarrassed. I am in a process of reflection to decide whether I can live with that truism or if I need to seek other options. As the other options are looking bleak, I'm temporarily embracing the ludicrous in my life and sharing in the hopes that the cosmic joke is meant to be laughed at.

I have had so many humiliating moments lately that I decided for the sake of sanity and brevity to share only one category today. And the winner is: sartorial humiliation.

(Warning: this post is not a great one for men, my mother, the easily embarrassed, or anyone with a shred of personal dignity. If you have given birth, breast fed in public, been employed as a health care worker, or would rather laugh at me than realize you've been wasting your life on sudoku and bad television then this is the post for you.)

First Episode: Clothing Confusion

I arrived at work two weeks ago feeling well-rested and enthusiastic. As my boss is also my husband I figured he'd be doubly pleased to be in my ebullient presence. I practiced being a happy morning person on the children and the other parents delivering their kids to school. I assumed that the surprised smiles on the parents were affirmations that people love cheerful and energetic. What a stupid ninny I am.

At work I bounded up the stairs, merrily opened the door to the office, and called out in my best Debbie Reynolds impression, "Good Mornin'!" The boss was out. Our best friend, co-worker, and chief heckler was in. "What happened to you?" he muttered. Not the reaction I was hoping for.

"Good night's sleep I guess," and in an attempt to remain positive I launched into some of the many hopes I had for the day ahead that I had been considering on the way to work. I was coming to the end of my list and wrapping up with an expansive arm gesture when I felt a breeze that no woman ever wants to feel suddenly at work.

For want of a better term, I'll call it a nippular breeze.

With my arms still spread wide I looked down to blessedly NOT see my own nipple. What I did see was both explanatory and briefly more perplexing.

The source of the nippular breeze was a strange gap in my dress at the cleavage. The gap was caused by a stiff piece of fabric known in some circles as a tag. This fabric looked suspiciously like the tag in the back of the dress but I wondered, who puts a tag in the... front of... oh NO! With a trail of decidedly un-cheerful expletives behind me, I dashed into the bathroom, took off my dress, and turned it right way round with the last of my energy for the day.

Upon returning red-faced and discouraged to the office lobby the heckler said, "Don't worry. You didn't flash me. It was just hanging in a way that made your butt look huge." How very comforting.

I eventually confessed to this morning horror on Facebook hoping for some, "I do that all the time" comments. Instead many friends ruptured appendixes and gallbladders as well as spitting perfectly good coffee out their sinuses guffawing at my expense. Oddly, I still felt better.

Oh, if only that were my sole tale of clothing woe...

My lifelong friend turned 40 last week and was planning a great big night of: nothing. I kidnapped her for a full schedule of fine dining and crazy karaoke wearing her favorite color in a pair of pants that I made at least 6 years ago. I have only worn these pants a few times because they are quite dramatic. They are essentially wrap-around pants and a stiff breeze can show an acre of thigh. I was well prepared for this and wore a blouse that was rather long for some coverage, while being attentive when I sat down to keep the side vents closed.

If only I had been more attentive to the ties.

Anyone who has ever worn anything wrap-around knows that the ties are crucial. In these pants the front tie is particularly important. Why anyone would put a crucial tie in the front where it can be sneakily undone by a seat belt on the twenty minute ride to the birthday girl's house so that when a person gets out of the car the entire back of the pants falls to the ground leaving a person standing with a two yard long apron in the front and causing a shocking breeze that for want of a better term can only be described as an assular breeze in the back... is beyond me.

When that cool assular breeze blew past my behind I screamed like I had been shot. I sat down very fast but I couldn't stop laughing and tears were running down my face, so my daughter and friend panicked thinking I was having some sort of a fit.

As I tried in vain to communicate my predicament, all I could think of was that I was wearing a pair of back-of-the-drawer underwear. They reside there because the pattern on them is so loud they can be heard even under denim. They are the vuvuzela of panties and here I had just flashed half her apartment complex with them.

My friend swears no one saw, but I think my daughter had temporary partial blindness and I know that the security cameras, some satellites, and the man on the other moon caught it.

Final Episode: Making One's Own Mayhem

For our final vignette of the day I will share with you some sartorial humiliation in the making.

Because I am demented (it really is the only possible explanation) I have decided to make my own underwear. This idea came to me at an outdoor concert where my store bought undergarments were not cooperating with the rest of my outfit. Enough said on that. Use your imagination. (Oh, now she gets discreet.)

At that uncomfortable concert I thought, "Pants, blouses, jackets and shoes don't fit me... why should I expect underwear to fit me? I make some of my own clothes. I should make my own undies."

Thinking just like this is how the world ended up with toxic waste, nasty fast-food, and bad TV.

If only I hadn't gone through with it, but after much consternation, very little research, and some pre-sewing bragging... I made me some underwear this afternoon.

I am wearing this article of clothing... RIGHT NOW and I am about to get in the car for a 90 minute drive. Say what you will, but I question if anyone at Exxon, BP or Three Mile Island could possibly be as stupid as I am. This is a disaster in the making.

Did I mention that I did not use a pattern? I just took another pair of underwear from the drawer (front of the drawer this time) and cut fabric around it.

Did I mention that I did not use elastic? Elastic seems to be the source of my woes in other undergarments so I decided to skip it. I wonder why they even put elastic in panties? I bet I'll know the answer to that question by the end of the day.

Did I mention that I don't own a serger? All the sewers reading this just passed out on the floor. For those of you still conscious, making women's undies without elastic or a serger is like building a house without anything sharp and nothing to pound stuff with. A person might could still get away with it if a person had a pattern… oops.

Did I mention that I got front and back, inside and outside all confused? With the right combination of those mistakes everything could work out. You already know that I did not get the right combination, don’t you?

Did I mention that I tried to take a picture with my phone of the article in question on the behind in question and that was almost more humiliating than every other story I have told today? My thinking on this was that with a picture I could see what they looked like, because having not gotten into a car yet, they feel just fine. The good news – the photos were all blurry and are all deleted. The bad news – turns out that patterns are very, very important and that every warning you have ever heard about stripes is true.

In case you have not formed a full visual yet, there I am in the middle of the afternoon standing in my kitchen squinting at a blurry picture of my fanny crookedly clad in a pair of undies that may be on backwards and are definitely inside out when I hear the voice of Stevie Nicks singing "Landslide" in my head. I start humming along as I scroll then delete. Scroll, squint, gasp in shock, delete.

"If you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills, the landslide will bring it down..."

Lovely tune. That's when it hits me: these panties make my behind look like a landslide took out my right cheek. No amount of hitching seems to put that snow covered hill back together again. Oh heavens. Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

For those of you looking for the big spiritual meaning in all of this, I'm with you. At the most obvious, I need a tailor. More subtle are the lessons I have yet to learn. Perhaps today, particularly in the next 90 minutes, I am going to learn essential life and sewing lessons, all of which should decrease future embarrassments of aging. Maybe by sharing these humiliations I am becoming a wiser person.

One thing I know for sure, should I end up in an ER today, somebody is in for quite a surprise.

"Doctor, we don't know what happened to her but some sort of disaster has befallen her britches."

No dignity. No dignity at all.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

In the Company of Dudes

I work in an all male environment and it is turning me into That Chick who spends too much time in the company of dudes.

Exhibit A: Today I opened up a sleeve of Thin Mints. I called out to Ink Dude in the back office, "Yo, Ink - you want a Thin Mint?" He did not respond. Before I became That Chick I would have gotten up and walked (Thin Mints in hand) to the back office to offer again. Instead That Chick muttered, "No response, no cookies."

Exhibit B: Last week I used an expression the boys taught me in a conversation with one of their male friends. Let's say the operative word I used was "Weltmeisterschaft".

That Chick: You know he is all Weltmeisterschaft.

The Friend: Ack! (He kind of squeaked like a mouse.)

That Chick: What? You're a musician. You know I'm right. He's got Weltmeisterschaft written all over him.

The Friend: Okay. Whatever. I'll agree as long as I never have to hear you say that word again.

That Chick: Huh? You mean Weltmei...

The Friend: Ack! (And he ran away.)

Exhibit C: I held a staff meeting a couple of weeks ago to discuss toilet cleaning responsibilities, the lack of non-alcoholic beverages in the office refrigerators, and the office sexual harrassment policy. The jokes those boys made about the agenda were unrepeatable. By the end of the meeting Ink had cleaned the toilet but nothing else had been decided and I was laughing too hard to care.

Exhibit D: Speaking of Weltmeisterschaft, that's how the Germans talk about the World Cup. That Chick wants to buy a TV for the office so she can watch her team (Deutschland, of course) when they play. That Chick is all down in the mouth because her team is not looking good this year. That Chick has choice words in several languages that are not fit for polite ears when she thinks of her team not placing in the final three this year. That Chick says fussy things to her co-workers regarding sports apps on her droid. I read over that list and all I can think is, "Who is this woman? Sports... apps... on her... droid???"

I have always thought that gender differences were overblown in our society. I thought that "masculine" and "feminine" were cultural constructs with often nefarious power implications. I never felt like I fit in with the extremes on either end of the spectrum. Yeah, I sew, cook, and do crafts with the kids but I like philosophy and sci-fi, homebrew and barbecue. It all seemed to end up being a kind of gender neutral collection of interests shared by both men and women. Until I worked with all dudes. Now I am either "the girl" of the office which is a role I have NEVER coveted or I am That Chick who runs with the big dogs rather than stay on the porch.

Don't get me wrong. I truly work with three of the nicest guys I have ever known. They are smart, funny, responsible, loving Dads. They are serious about their work and they work hard. They have been incredibly patient with my office music choices which range from jazz to bluegrass, alt-country to hip hop, Sinatra to Snoop Dogg to Springsteen and back again. But put them together and throw me in the room and we become Three Dudes and That Chick.

I am not in full feminine crisis mode yet, but the day is nearing. When I give one of the boys a "Good Game" bum smack and belch out loud I'm checking myself into testosterone rehab: a quilting convention.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

June 6 - Libby Booth Was Born

There are people who hide from honest emotional engagement because it is too messy, too scary. I admire those folks like I do fire-eaters and tightrope walkers: I could never do it, but I imagine that it would be cool if I could. At least for a little while.

This is the eve before my aunt Libby's birthday. I love birthdays. Can't remember them to save my life, but I love them. Reason #5 for having a large percentage of male friends - most of them don't remember birthdays either and are thrilled when you buy a round to celebrate theirs even if it is 6 weeks late.

I would not have remembered that Libby's birthday was tomorrow. My mom told me today. She is the oldest sibling and not only remembers birthdays, but has all those other responsible, thoughtful habits that are the hallmark of so many firstborn.

My aunt was many things but responsible was a little lower on her list, let's say. But she had many other fine qualities including a great laugh, a green thumb, an eye for design, a flair for theatrics, and the most beautiful eyes in a family full of beautiful eyes. She loved animals. All of them. She loved Jackson Browne and the Allman Brothers, and dancing. She loved Mardi Gras and Halloween. And she was alive for her birthday last year but is not this year.

I am envying the emotionally distant folks of this world because I imagine them handling something like this pretty easily: the anniversary of the birth of a unique and flamboyant life ended too soon by her own hand. I like to think that this imaginary "they" do all kinds of things in the face of something like this. They play golf. They watch TV. They don't think about it. They don't regret. They don't wish for time machines or amnesia or to wake up and it will all have been a dream. They sure as hell don't blog about it.

I don't eat fire. I am afraid of heights. If I know you more than a day, chances are I'll get emotionally attached to you. And the anniversary of my aunt's birth makes me so sad I don't even know what to do with it. In writing this I am not looking for pity, or comfort, or solace. As I keep looking at the clock waiting for it to be midnight so her birthday will start and we can be closer to it ending I just think... I am not alone.

My mother remembers her sister's birth and has two other siblings who will be trying to get through tomorrow, too. My aunt grew up with twins who remember her birthday like they remember their own. Libby was their "third twin." I inherited the twins in the will Libby did not have. They keep her alive for me. I keep her alive for them. There's Libby's son, her step-daughters, her friends, her neighbors, her husband. Everyone has to deal with tomorrow and the realization that her birthday this year has become something we all "have to deal with".

I have several friends and other family who carry the weight of being recent survivors of suicide loss. Tomorrow may not be their day of lost promise, but they know what I mean. I stopped crying and feeling anxious and wrote this for them. Nobody else seems to be talking about the way it feels when someone you love kills herself and then her birthday comes ten months later and you feel so strange and extra sad. I think it translates to other traumatic deaths and the grief of those survivors, too. I think. I know for sure that there are some losses that make other people afraid to talk to you and this is a big one.

The pain of love lost is dreadful but when I imagine my world without ever having Libby in it, that feels much worse. Maybe next June 6 I'll know what to do with myself. Maybe next year I'll have some emotional distance. What I hope is that next year when my mother reminds me that it is the day before Libby's birthday, I can think about more birthday kind of things in Libby's honor and less funeral thoughts.

More Mardi Gras less Maundy Thursday.

More beer less tears. (She'd find that one extra funny.)

May those who were unable to die at peace, rest in peace. May those of us left behind know peace, too.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Cheerful Survival

This post was nixed because it is sad and I'm tired of bummer posts. It is resurrected as more news from the Gulf Coast comes in.

I'm standing at an oyster bar in New Orleans with a dripping empty shell in one hand, beer in the other when it occurs to me - misery changes not only how we see the world but also what we are capable of seeing in the world.
Now I was not miserable at that moment as I had my own friendly fireman in tow in case the Tabasco got out of hand, and I was eating in New Orleans - how bad can life be? There was the looming possibility that we would never eat indigenous oysters in that city again, but this was the third fine establishment of the evening so the threat of of environmental annihilation had been pleasantly and intentionally dulled by hops, barley, andouille and other gifts of the land of Saints.
By my second oyster I had already started a friendship with our shucker who asked what brought us to the city. We explained that we had finished another volunteer week of Katrina rebuilding in Mississippi and were observing the sabbath in that unique NOLA fashion of eating and drinking too much. And the Shucker said in complete seriousness...

"NAW! Mississippi got hit by Katrina, too?"

I then proceeded to break the very bad (and very old) news that his childhood summer playground had been wiped out. He was shocked. It was surreal. I listed off the cities in which we have worked: Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, Waveland... he knew them well, but was hit particularly hard by the news that Bay St. Louis had been heavily damaged. At first I thought, how could he not know? Now I think, why would he know?

In times of difficulty we shield ourselves whether intentionally or instinctively because we cannot bear to be wounded again. Why would someone who was trying to get through the devastation of his home, the jewel of the South, take an inventory of other devastation? Where would the TV be that he would watch the coverage on? And who would begrudge him if once he had the luxury of turning one on he chose to change the channel instead of watching more bad news?

Optimism is powerful taken straight but a chaser of willful ignorance can be just the boost one needs in the face of the unfaceable.

I've thought a great deal about this cheerful man since I left NOLA assuming I'd eaten my last real all Louisiana gumbo and oysters. I used to be an optimist. It was one of my finest qualities. Then I got a series of life beat downs that I found it hard to stand up after. I have not become a pessimist but I do always have a plan B, a packed suitcase under the bed, a few lines prepared should I need to deliver a eulogy. I can't embrace life with both arms any more because one is always guarding my gut from the inevitable sucker punch. I do endeavor to give life a mighty high five, though.

When asked about the oil spill the Shucker firmly and cheerfully told us that it was not going to be a problem for New Orleans. (To his credit, this was only a week after the spill when the news was still ridiculously low key.) His exact words were: "We gonna' be alright." This one was going to pass them by. Good point of view for a professional shucker to hold onto, in my opinion. And even if he no longer shucks, I do believe that he will be alright. He had that mindset and air about him: the cheerful survivor.

I then started to wonder where I could get some of that. I want to be a cheerful survivor. I'm very good at gallows humor, gutting it through, and empathy but I want to work on my cheerful survivor chops. I want to have the chutzpah to relax into the turbulence instead of thrashing determinedly.

This is becoming more important to me now that the life of a survivor of suicide loss is less of a postcard I look at wondering who on earth would have mistakenly sent it to me and more of a package I unwillingly carry around because I don't know where to put it. I found myself thinking the other night that through a strange series of connections, addictions, and errors, my aunt's death is one of the late casualties of the Vietnam war. "If there were no such thing as agent orange then..." This is fruitless thinking. It heals me not a jot. (And ain't auspicious!)

I follow a similar fruitless line of thinking on my grandmother's sadness. "If her mother had not died so young..." I think, and then I imagine this line of history threading from the 1930's to today where everything would have been different. This is regret, not optimism. This line of thinking fails to take into account the innumerable blessings in the lives of we, her descendants, that come from that flawed line which connects the young mother who died suddenly in rural Virginia to my giggling children running about acting like Bengal tigers 80 years later.

If there's any lesson from my grandmother's travails, or my aunt's suicide, it is the Shucker's lesson. We are going to be alright. We may need to put some blinders on to the woes of the world for awhile, but we will survive.

Today when I am overcome by the empty awful feeling of no going back that comes with grief; today when I heard my aunt's beloved Jackson Browne haunting me through the radio; today as more bad news comes about the Shucker's homeland I try on the weight of the cheerful survivor. If misery changes the world I see, I can have some control on how blurry or defined the picture is, can't I?

Sap is Rising

Beware: Post fest is coming. I've been muzzling myself again. I figure if I put them all out there at once, no way will you read every one, so my perfectionism will be unnecessary. This nixed post was some time in April when I was supposedly publishing whatever drool I could spew.
I was inspired by my blogging buddy of the Great White North, Guy Wonders, to capture some of the joy of a Southern Spring day. For Guy's take on Spring in suburban Canada go here.

The Doctor has said I need to beef up the walking and I swear he muttered "while you still can" but that was probably just the chatter of my anxiety. So I'm doing five times a week, mostly in my neighborhood which is loveliest in Spring. This weekend was another Virginia stunner. Because I was just too darn healthy (HA!) I have developed a mild but irritating eye condition. The upside is that colors are astonishing this Spring. I go outside and the world looks like a cartoon. I'm a big fan of green and with lush grass, fluffy bushes, and fresh trees there is much to celebrate.

I like to sometimes walk with headphones on but have had to adjust my tune choices because I just love that depressive Southern music. But Ryan Adams crooning about the slow death of his soul, Jason Isbell lamenting another failed co-dependent relationship, and my beloved Lucero's detailed descriptions of sobering up only to sink down again do not jive with the abundance of lilacs, azaleas, tulips and other happy bursts of color in yards and alleys all over my 'hood. For respite I have turned to R&B because they sing about Spring. Well, they sing about sex, but my high school coach said that was the same as Spring. And at least they are happy about it.

R&B also helped me realize that my 7 year old has reached "student of the human condition" status. He has been grounded for three weeks for lying his tail off to me about school assignments. After the misery of having to deal with his sulking and sighing the first couple of days, it has been quite pleasant to have him underfoot making anthropological and philosophical declarations.

Recently I was flipping through radio stations because my parental discretion slipped. While driving I zoned out listening to a satellite R&B station and when I came to, Little Man in the backseat was trying to figure out why Rihanna wants a Rude Boy. I barely caught the dial in time before he asked why the neighbors know Trey Songz' name.

For those of you lounging around listening to opera and Garrison Keillor on the weekends, let me explain modern R&B to you. Much of it is very dirty. Short on metaphor, little left to the imagination, and all about sex. Makes Marvin Gaye look like a celibate monk. Makes Gladys Knight sound like a prude. Makes Teddy Pendergrass, god rest his fine sexy soul, seem kind of prim.

That said, I have enjoyed my month long foreign exchange listening program because R&B is not only good for walks. It is danceable and I am alone in the office for extended stretches that beg for dance breaks. Say what you will about the "Ah-a-a-a-a-alcohol", but it begs for some shimmies.

So, Little Man is in the back seat as I hurriedly switch off Trey Songz crooning about his vociferous and insatiable girlfriend. I jump through three stations and we hear, "Look into my eyes, can't you see they're open wide, would I lie to you, baby?' then "Love to love you, baby" then "I love..." when he sighs and shakes his head.

"Whazzup, Lil' Man?"

"Mama. (sigh) Why are all songs about the same thing?"

"You mean love?"


"Lack of imagination, my boy. I heard a song about animals today. It was a mystery, a who-done-it involving a peacock, a wolf, a Mama Bear, a raccoon or two. Very interesting stuff."

"Now THAT sounds like a good song. Was it on the kid's station?"

"No, outlaw country."

"Mmmm... outlaws..." he said in the same tone as he says, "Mmmm... cookies." I love little boys.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fire the Editor

If anyone sees a scapegoat wandering around Northside, I've been looking for a speckled one. I need someone to blame some stuff on, mostly my lack of blogging. I don't drink enough to take Jamie Foxx's advice and blame it on the A-ah-ah-ah-ah-alcohol. (And if you do not follow that link, your views of Ron Howard will never be enlightened.)

I received three friendly reminders this weekend that my sorry behind had not posted in a month. Oddly enough, I have written three posts but the inner editor nixed them all. They were pretty highbrow as I recall and I swore off that for Spring, and maybe Summer, too. One was on animal research, I recall that much. Did you just spontaneously yawn? Me too.

I have been busy with my social life and happy mindless activities so blogging just has not been an option. Do you have any idea how many years I have waited to say that?!?! It is fantastic. In the past month I have been to an amazing gala celebrating the grand re-opening of the Virginia Museum. I had to dismantle and rebuild a very fancy hand-me-down evening gown for that one which took almost a week. Then there was the recovery from the festivities themselves in which some blaming it on the Ah-a-a-a... might be appropriate.

There was a fourth trip to Mississippi to rebuild after Katrina. I now recall that I blogged on that and the editor sent it to the cutting room floor, too.

There was a brief trip to New Orleans that was almost entirely about great food and good beer, but the best part of that story is when a strong-armed stripper zinged me in the neck from a Bourbon St. balcony with a strand of Mardi Gras beads thus hexing me into believing with all my heart and soul that New Orleans is the greatest city in the South. But that hasn't worn off yet, so I am not telling that story.

Then there's my sci-fi book club. I walked into the bar where we meet to discuss this month's book, the American classic The Man in the High Castle and the waitress says, "What are you doing here?!?" because there wasn't a band and it is a touch out of character for me to walk into a bar with a book. I told her I was there for the book club and she looks really confused.

"You mean those g... guys?" I should have said, "No, those geeks," because we all know she was thinking it. The greatest geeks in town are in this book club and I hope to grow up to be just like them. I don't understand 2/3 of their references, but they are very nice about my smiling ignorance. They even let me choose next month's book. They had their doubts with the title, The Sparrow but once I gave the plot in three words they were sold: Jesuits in space.
I have also in the past month gone over to people's houses where they cook food and share it with me and my family. It is amazing and fun and you should try it some time. (I think I have had as many meals with friends in the past month as I would in a year while engaged in my former profession.)

I have played Twister (a major coup for someone with my unique body chemistry.) I have sung in a car for hours with a friend to and from Mississippi. And he survived it. I have brewed beer. I have made graduation presents on my sewing machine and delivered them... ON TIME. I walk the children to and from school. I have been introduced to a disturbing but hilarious sub-genre of music in which white g... guys sing gangsta rap lyrics to re-written music like bluegrass, lounge music, or power ballads.

In other words, I am living a normal social life for an extrovert who took the road less travelled 15 years ago and discovered it led to a place devoid of life beyond work so got a helicopter to pick her up in a meadow and airlift her tail back to the real world so she could try again.

But I have not blogged. And I did have one little slip into old bad habits. I preached a sermon. At least I think I did. It happened pretty quickly and was followed by eating at a friend's house and going to a music festival so I might not have. If I did preach, it was on the ideas of Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, Christian Arnsperger and a naked Alan Greenspan and how they could all use a little gleeful hope in their lives. And if I preached, one thing is for sure: the music was awesome.

I will go back to the cutting room to see if anything can be salvaged from those earlier posts. Thanks for the pants kick from my fans. Always nice to know that someone is reading.

Hope to see you all on a dance floor somewhere soon.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Tears Make Big Pharmaceutical Rich

Pharmaceutical companies aren't the devil. Maybe they've just sniffed too many non-FDA approved powders.

If they did, I would say that sometimes these wild card drugs make them brilliant.

Evidence A: They realized that saying "Call a doctor if you have an erection that lasts more than four hours" sold a LOT more erection drugs than images of middle-aged couples ballroom dancing.

Other times they should have passed on the magic happy powder.

Evidence B: I live with chronic illness. I hate it. I do not think that if I could turn back time I would keep the disease. I would ditch it in a hot second and become a bikini model. I hate my meds. I hate the side effects. I hate going to the doctor frequently. I hate falling down. I hate being in pain. I hate waking up in the middle of the night crying from anxiety about disease progression because now that my eyes are involved, tears hurt.

And I hate you, pharmaceutical company who makes the expensive eye meds I now need. Your frequent buyer program that tries to make me feel better about the gobs of money I have to spend on yet another medicine that has yet another set of side effects by giving me some of my money back in a form that can only be used to buy more of your meds? I hate it. It makes me angry and it makes me write run-on sentences.

I have no doubt the medicine will work and I will feel better and then join your rewards program and try to make jokes about being a card-carrying-member of the art museum, the botanical gardens, the ACLU, and an eye drop fan club.

But the evidence for me that someone in marketing has been sniffing around the experimental lab is that you call your despised progam for your product I take reluctantly "My Tears, My Rewards."

Insensitive, asinine, and kind of cruel, you big, rich meanies who make stuff I need.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Brief Career in Law Enforcement

(Another previously unpublished post per request of my friends who read my blog as part of their court-ordered community service. This one is from October, 2009. I did not post it before because it reveals how stupid I can be. I post it now because... I have no idea why I am posting this.)

Well, my fun career in law enforcement came to an abrupt end, and it had nothing to do with marijuana as had been prognosticated by the tie-dye-clad Unitarians of my mother's generation. (I passed my drug tests, Uncle Jethro. Can you say the same?)

No, the State Police of this beautiful Commonwealth and I turned out to have many things in common, much to our surprise, and would have most likely remained a good employment fit. Some examples:

1) We both think that it is safer to gargle pesticides than to drive during rush hour.

2) We feel that the world is a better place when people are allowed to use the full extent of their language mastery, particularly in times of stress and aggravation even if those times are during working hours. Our shared motto: Metaphor is more meaningful when paired with profanity.

3) We are all addicted to FarmVille, YoVille, Mafia Wars, or all of the above.

4) We are hard on our automobiles.

There were other similarities involving WaWa sandwiches, karaoke, and that holiest of beverages - beer, but let me just say that we ended up getting along better than anyone would have thought considering my strong predilection for pacifism and fondness for Nobel Peace Prize recipients, and their affection for carrying a varied inventory of weapons both in full view and concealed.

So there we were getting along and trying new things... in my case: new combinations of bad words, in their case: listening to a preacher try out new combinations of bad words... when cruel fate intervened severing us like star-crossed Shakespearean tweens.

The deus ex machina in our little one-act turned out to be the Governor who laid off 596 employees of the Commonwealth, an inordinate amount of whom were female, and #347 was yours truly. Serious bummer. They got my girls Ollie and Tonia, too. My brilliant new career cut short by budget cuts.

I was really in a ^&$$#* of a mood about the whole thing and was able to say exactly that during working hours, but I am old enough to know when a relationship was not built to last (or I am cynical) and recovered fairly quickly. In the end, I had to admit that we had a communication problem as so many relationships do. For all we had found in common, there were some chasms that perhaps should not be crossed.

It started with the fact that they refer to one another as numbers. "Have you seen that slackass 2929's new ride?" Or "What does 6737 have a booger up his butt about?" Or my personal favorite from a dispatcher, "What the hell? Is 1040 waiting for an engraved invitation to get in on this pursuit? Come on, knuckle head, COWBOY UP!"

I love that talk but I couldn't remember anyone's numbers. I knew the name of the king of drunk driver catchers, the sweet man who brought us coffee at 3AM, and the one who looked like a slightly redneck Richard Gere. I could remember the trooper who is named after a famous mystery writer, the one whose name should be a hero in a romance novel, and of course the one who shared my last name and called me 'Cuz. But I was no good at calling people by a number. As a dispatcher, that became problematic. You don't get to blab on the radio, "Dave, sugar, you got a possible drunk driver headed toward you. If it's one of my relatives, remind them about the Christmas gift exchange this year, 'Cuz."

Then there was the military-like insistence that natural human reactions should be avoided at all costs. The nature of law enforcement work on our highways necessitates a shockingly high instance of on-the-job encounters with body parts that have left their owners. It is my personal opinion that a person who sees another person in parts should be given some emotional distance should they need it. The cadre agrees with me in writing. The men and women who serve live by their own code, however, so woe unto those who slip into normal human responses. I kept my opinion to myself on this.

So, we had our differences, too. And then there was this colossal miscommunication...

I decided from my gleanings on shifts that there was an epidemic of religious intolerance in the force. I was very wrong but had copious examples and a whopping case of antibiotic resistant dingbat to support my conclusion.

As I give examples, insert a religious persuasion with which you are familiar (like Presbyterian, Quaker, or Theravada Buddhist) anywhere you see the five capital X's.

An agent says to a dispatcher supervisor, "Did I ever tell you about the time 1999 and I were at that bar off duty and he realizes that the guy he's been talking to all night on the next stool was, of all things, a XXXXX!"

Or, "Yeah, that lardass pulls over a XXXXX all by himself and doesn't give a location, the numbskull! Like anyone wants to risk hanging out on the side of the highway in the middle of the night alone with one of them."

And, "You don't hear much about those XXXXX's any more. They're killing their own selves off at this point."

I did not like what I heard but the more I heard it I realized that the prejudice was at every level of the force. The State Police had seen too much unlawful activity perpetrated by XXXXX's and they were not going to put up with it.

I wanted to tell them they were wrong. I wanted to tell them that the XXXXX's I know throw delicious vegetarian potlucks and celebrate Earth Day. I wanted them to know about the XXXXX priestess I know well who is a devoted friend, grandmother, and teacher. I know there is a lot of ignorance in this country regarding XXXXX's but could not believe that the State Police would be of one accord about a religion. And yet, they were.

Thanks be to all that is holy that for once in my life, just once... I kept my giant, chatty mouth shut.

Because one day some pictures of some XXXXX's came across the wire as persons of interest in some tale of illegal activity and general violent nefariousness. And I looked at them. And I thought to myself, "If that's a XXXXX, they must be a Yankee XXXXX because they would not fit in with the Virginia XXXXX's at all!" Maligning kind, sweet Yankees from Maryland to Maine in defense of Virginia XXXXX's, I swear to you, I really was this stupid.

For the record, there is no religious intolerance epidemic in our State Police. There is concern over the safety for the citizens and officers of the Commonwealth regarding an outlaw motorcycle gang who happen to go by the very same name as a group of peaceful, nature-based spiritual practitioners. The motorcycle gang tend to draw their weapons on law enforcement, while my friends celebrate the cycles and seasons of the Earth and make good tabbouleh.

In case you are as sheltered as I... you say Pagan, I say Pagan. And the governor called the whole thing off.