When I was ten, I got my first diary as a Christmas present. It had a lock, but it was no problem to open the journal without the key. Turns out this was good, because soon enough the key had vanished, probably stolen by my brother or swallowed by the dog. I kept writing in the little purple diary for months, regardless. Continue reading “Why I wrote, and why I write.”
I’m a solitary person. I crave alone time and silence, and sometimes I’m much happier than I probably should be to indulge in as many hours as I can get. I’ll let the cat into my space, but only because he’s mostly silent and only seems to care about positioning himself on a comfortable lap. Plus, he keeps my legs warm while I read. Continue reading “Solitary”
My grandma used to say “variety is the spice of life.” She said it often and with a twinkle in her eye, but I can’t for the life of me remember the context. She and I were never particularly daring as a duo, though we liked people to think we were. Maybe the words were just her trying to amuse her 50-years-younger grandkid on a Friday night. Probably. But I love the memory of the smile that accompanied them, regardless.
I think, in general, that my grandma had a fairly unhappy life. When she told me stories, they were often traumatic or sad or both. She was once hungry enough to literally eat dirt. She was kidnapped. She was shot. She had cancer. She had bad relationships with her father and her second husband, and her feelings about both of them remained unresolved even years after their deaths.
When she said “variety is the spice of life,” I’m fairly certain that the traumas she experienced and the awful things she felt (and said) were not what she was referencing. In fact, I actually have no idea what she meant. I remember loving everything she cooked, but there was never anything surprising or spicy there — not until her first husband moved in (after fifty-some years during which she thought he was dead) and started doing his own cooking, and I was long grown by then. She never went anywhere except to visit her oldest daughter in Pennsylvania and maybe her sister in Florida once or twice. Her music was always the same; she never even got rid of the solid oak console television in the living room, because she needed it to listen to her Andy Williams records. She went to the same church for as long as I can remember. She parked in the same place, sat on the same side, and said hello to the same two or three people every week for 30 years. She drank a fair bit, but it was always the same thing: 7 & 7. When the first ex moved back in, she switched to wine. Aside from one brother, one sister, and a friend she’d had since grade school (but only occasionally liked), she had no friends and no standing social engagements. She had her hair done once a week by the same stylist from the time I was born til she moved away in her 80s. Aside from some flower and vegetable gardening in the summer, I have no idea what she did with her time; she hadn’t had a job outside of the house since her kids were little. In retrospect, she always seemed to know more about cleaning and stain removal than anyone should.
Where was the variety? Where was the spice?
I think sometimes that she must’ve had a very active fantasy life. In her youth, she was movie star beautiful, and people commented on how stunning she was well into her old age. Maybe in her dreams all that beauty took her somewhere. Certainly, she had the material on which to base her imaginings. She had learned to read early, and she often told stories of walking to the library in all kinds of weather. Her living room bookshelves were the inspiration for my own, and I spent many hours of my childhood inspecting each and every title they held. I know she read, but I don’t really know when or what. In later years, I saw her do it only occasionally and never more than 30 minutes at a stretch. She spent more time with our small town’s morning paper than with any book. She painted a few things. She meditated nearly every morning, from the time I was a kid until she moved away. What did she fantasize about? I never saw her do anything daring, and I don’t think I ever saw her truly having a good time (though I’ve seen pictures and old videos that make me think there must’ve been some happy times before and soon after my birth). The only family lore on the subject says that back in the day (the 1960s and 1970s), the brothers and sisters could throw down with the best of them. At the time, my grandma would’ve been in her 40s and 50s, the oldest of all her siblings. They sat around in one another’s backyards and basements, drinking and smoking, laughing into the wee hours of morning.
I wonder if she felt like her life was on a downhill slope once she hit 60, if it even took that long. She never seemed particularly happy to be married to the man I called “grandpa,” though they’d known one another for many, many years and even my mom considered him family. She quit smoking after forty years though it always seemed to be something that brought her joy. (I wonder if she still measures her life in seven minute segments.) She didn’t go out. She played solitaire for hours. When the first husband came back, she switched to gin rummy.
Where was the variety and spice in her life? I can only think that it was gone before I ever arrived, although I think we loved one another an awful lot for most of my existence.
I worry, occasionally, about my own life, about what I’ll do with it when I reach whatever age seems deadly and past hope to me. Maybe — hopefully — I’ll never land where (I think) she is, but people used to always comment on how similar we were. I worry. I wonder if I’ll think I did all that I was supposed to do, or if I’ll spend my remaining time daydreaming, wondering like I did when I was 10 if my life had been somehow switched with someone else’s, someone more fortunate or valuable.
But I like to think that for all the books I read, for all the time I spend writing or watching television or playing old computer games….I like to think that my life is spicy and various enough. I like to think that there are people in my life who make it bigger than just me, people who I love and who love me in return who will remember with me all the ridiculous and wonderful things we did back when we could still hold our liquor. I like to think I won’t ever be sorry for any of it, and that no one will ever look at me in my old age and think that’s all there is or ever was. I like to think they’ll know — without a doubt — that I was happy in my life. There was singing and silliness and joy and love…and all the spice I could’ve ever wanted.
And no matter how boring or unhappy it might have looked to anyone else, I’d like to believe that Gran’s life was happy enough, too. I wish I could go back twenty years, sit with her at her kitchen table, and ask her, nonchalantly, over coffee.
I’d like to imagine that she’d clear her throat, close her hands around the mug, look me in the eye, and be honest.
*Inspired by The Daily Post prompt Spicy
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about anonymous blogging, partially owing to Tiny Rubies’ post on the subject. A few weeks ago, I was toying around with similar ideas, though certainly I didn’t so eloquently put them down.
I can only say this: The new “normal,” the new online journaling environment is a struggle for me. I seem to have trouble navigating it at every turn. Back in the day (2000 to 2010-ish), I took care to leave off all identifying characteristics of myself and everyone else I knew when I wrote online. Even after talking on and offline for years, less than a handful of the other online diarists I was friends with knew the real names of the people I talked about. And boy, did I ever talk! It makes me more than a little cringe-y to imagine putting 75% of those things out there now. Then, my online diary was so indistinguishable from my paper one that while I was writing online, I totally stopped keeping the ubiquitous notebook that I had kept on my person since I was ten. I have no doubt that I over-shared with regularity, and my twenties and thirties were the most drama-infested of my life (or anyone else’s, I’d wager). Without batting an eye, I chronicled the ends and beginnings of relationships, as well as the everyday ups and downs that led to them. Most of the time, my readers even knew when I was getting a little “action.”
Jesus, I need wine just to think about it.
But I was fearless, and there’s an undeniable appeal in that, even now that I’m older and wiser. I guess I want there to be a happy medium for my online journaling, and for me as I exist here inside its entries. Presently, I put down on the page the interesting things I do and see, but I seem mostly to be stopping myself at the feeling. I know what my creative writing teachers would say if they were reading: there’s no blood going to it. I think they’re wrong; I’m just bleeding on the keyboard and on the backspace key where you all can’t see it. But yes, by the time it gets posted, a lot of it is bloodless. I only seem to find the more carefree version of myself in writing that is a decade old, and I end up re-posting that old stuff more than I would like (though I almost always have to go through it with a fine tooth comb beforehand to make sure it won’t offend anyone). It’s a strange spot to inhabit, because a big part of me really likes that there are people I actually know reading now. But again, I’m sure as hell not posting the stuff I used to.
Truth be told, I’m actually not sure about the extent to which I’d write like that again even if I felt entirely safe doing so. I grew up online, but I think the process was completed in the four or five years I spent away, when I was keeping my thoughts to myself. If I had gone back to my trusty Mead notebook in that time, I might never have come back to online journaling; but alas, I only have so much willpower, and I was using it to do other things. I put pencil to paper about twenty times in the four years I was gone, and that was it. Writing here again makes me push myself just a little bit, just enough. I tell myself I have to sit down and do this once a day, and then I have to make the rounds and read you all. It makes me move my brain around for awhile every day, and I also have to use the writing muscles that had just damned near atrophied.
I’ve said this before–I miss the community, and I’m trying to find it again. It isn’t easy, primarily because I have no idea who my community is anymore. I’m not nearly as young as I used to be, so those people who are putting it all out there and bleeding all over the interwebs aren’t my people anymore, though I can surely identify with where they are in their lives. Maybe it’s the younger me I miss. Then again, maybe I’d just like to see her again so I can slap the shit out of her.
I don’t know. I do know that I feel awfully exposed nowadays, and it’s definitely choking off my flow. I use my real name to blog here, and my mother, my husband, and my entire (real life) Facebook circle of friends have the address at their fingertips should they choose to use it. And of course, if I ever decide to trade in my SAHM card to go out and look for a real job, no HR person worth their salt would hire me without a Google search. I don’t know how the world of the employed works anymore — do people still get Dooce’d?
Eh, I’ll figure it out. I’ll get some blood flowing to it again. I guess when it comes right down to it, I’m going to have to sink or swim. Shit or get off the pot. Say something or sit down and shut up. Thank goodness I’ve never been one to back down from a fight, even when it’s with myself.
Sometimes, I feel a little less than inspired. Granted, I haven’t let the lack of inspiration stop me in the past couple weeks, but before that, I went months without writing at all. I’d feel bad about my inaction when I remembered — which was usually about the time I looked in the direction of my bookshelf and caught a glimpse of the beautiful, empty notebooks stashed there — but usually, I really didn’t think about it. Obviously, my urge to write has not always been so easily forgotten or dismissed.
In high school, for example, I carried a mid-size, spiral Mead notebook wherever I went. I wrote in class and at home, at band rehearsal and play practice. I didn’t bother to hide what I was doing, and I took more than my share of flak for doing it. Truth be told, somewhere in the back of my head, I’ve always felt a bit like Harriet the Spy when I carry around my notebooks. I can write whatever I want and it’s true and no one can debate me on it. I can think what I want to think and how I want to think it.
Writing in this forum has been an adjustment.
Nowadays, of course, my fallback excuse when I don’t get the writing done is the children, the chores, the cats, Donald Trump, The West Wing, and/or the insurmountable and all important READING LIST. Naturally, I’m only making these excuses in my own head; I set these arbitrary deadlines and quotas for myself. No one else is asking for my word count. But for some reason, it feels important that I (figuratively) get off my ass and do something, in some area of my life. There’s no two ways about it: our current political situation (which is also very personal and immediate to me and so many of the people I love) has got me down. I end up saying “fuck the diet” every day, regardless of how honorably I begin. I also say “fuck the cleaning,” “fuck the reading,” and “fuck everything else,” because even seven months later, sometimes it’s still difficult to put one foot in front of the other.
Writing makes me move. It makes me get other things done first before I can allow myself time to do it.
Today, while I was staring at the blank screen and fishing for a sentence with which to start, my sweet husband managed to convince me that instead, I should really come lay down with him and take a short nap. I never take naps, but Step-son was gone to a friend’s house, and even the cat looked exhausted. I had nothing in my head to write, so I decided to take the hand of the man I had to wait half my life to marry. Sometimes, it seems like I don’t choose him often enough or well enough, even though I try to be grateful for and mindful of every moment I get to spend with him. I slept draped over his chest like I haven’t since we were dating.
When we got up, I cooked supper and ran a load of dishes. My husband went to the store for a Coke and ended up with a pack of cigarettes and a pair of lottery tickets. We hope the lottery tickets win us enough change to send us to the Netherlands for the rest of our lives. The cigarettes are because they won’t.
Don’t worry, Mom. We’ll quit again tomorrow.
I still don’t know what to write.
A few days ago, I spent some time feeling homesick for the interwebs of my misspent youth and for the people I met there. At least a fraction of what I missed about those days (and that place) was the extent to which everyone had a sort of instant audience for the things they were writing. Recently updated journals would pop up on the main page feed; there was a running list every time you’d log in. There were thousands of journals, but after awhile, you “knew” the ones Continue reading “Coming out”
Boredom is a rarity for me. There are too many books and blogs to read, too much television to watch, too much Amazon browsing to be done to ever allow it. This afternoon though…I just finished a book (Hillbilly Elegy), and before I can really get into another one, I need some silence and a steady lack of company. Neither are happening. Step-son is having technology issues that I must periodically attend to, step-daughter is trying not to throw her phone in frustration with one of her friends (who seems to think that sending a screenshot of her phone will show evidence of her broken screen). Husband is trying to sleep for a little while before he returns to work tonight for another 12 hours. The cat is high from the catnip spray we bought last night, and the neighbors are mowing their grass in the 95 degree heat of the day. The trains roll through repeatedly, too many to count and way too loud.
So I’m not bored, not really. But the book was good and a little thought-provoking and my mind is certainly wandering.
Today, I’ve been thinking about people I originally encountered on the internet, met face-to-face, and now haven’t seen or heard from in more than a decade. Thinking of them led me to a sort of homesickness for OpenDiary, a community I joined in 1999 and stayed with off and on for the five or six years following, even though I was also self-hosted during most of that time. (OD, of course, closed permanently in 2014, but even looking at the Wayback screenshots of its standard crappy page design makes me more than a little sad for those days long gone.) It’s funny the things that stick with us and that become synonymous with “home” in our heads. Place–I guess even virtual place–becomes something so much more once feeling is attached to it. On OpenDiary, I met Leah, whose last name I no longer remember, whose emails were lost to the ether when my old standby email address was shut down due to inaction. She made me soap, sent me a book on powerful historical women, and hugged me in the Charlotte townhouse of a friend of hers. She was a first-year teacher with a lot of frustration…not at all a new thing for that school district, even then. Then there was Essdee (Shawn Dana), whose last name I never knew, whose face I never saw, but whose comments on the every day minutiae of my life made everything so much easier. And, of course, Dominica, who accompanied me and my then-partner to a Star Trek Voyager convention in Cleveland (where we all patently refused to sit in on Jennifer Lien’s section, even though she hadn’t yet become a psycho with a record), who was so very kind, who loved us both, who was a brilliant web designer, and who herself had more psychiatric problems than any of our circle of friends could have possibly imagined.
Where do these people go? How do we all drift so quickly in and out of one another’s lives, especially if what we have seems to be good for all involved? I like to think that I am a person interested in people, that the people I love and have around me are more important than any thing I might accomplish or any money I might make in my time on this planet. I would rather excel in friendship than in the accumulation of possessions, and I hope that the people who are (or have been) in my life know without a doubt that this is where I stand.
I am Jewish for a reason: I believe that this life is all we get, that our only company for the journey is one another. That we have to take care of our fellow humans even in their weakness and sadness and madness and baddity. (I don’t care if “baddity” isn’t a word, I’ve still been using it for more than a decade and it works.) I was young once, so of course I didn’t always feel this way. As young people, we rarely value the right things, and I’m sure I threw away many people I should’ve kept, and vice versa. It’s just so hard sometimes to remember (even now) that it’s not just me in the world. People don’t do the things they do because of how those things will affect me; rather, like me, they mostly only consider how they themselves will be affected. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I am not the end all and be all, that the teenager neglecting to pick up her mess cannot be taken as a personal affront anymore than the weather can. It’s a freakin’ struggle, but I’m guessing it’s one with which we’re all fairly familiar.
I’ve digressed a little. My point is that I’m missing all those long-gone folks today, and I’m taking their gone-ness (and OD’s gone-ness) more personally than I should. Conventional wisdom tells me that I can’t go home again, but today….today that’s just making me really, really sad.
I turned 40 in 2014, and as I was staring down at my much over-candled birthday cake, I made a decision: I was tired of being fat, and I was going to make sure I never was again. In the succeeding six months, I lost 60 pounds, which got me within 15 pounds of a normal BMI for the first time since I was ten years old. I managed to keep it all off for a year before I started dating my sweet husband, and…I guess I can only agree that it’s true what they say about happiness and heaviness: if the former is a new thing, then it will almost certainly cause the latter. By the end of 2016, I had to put all of my “skinny” clothes into the boxes that had previously contained my “fat” clothes, but from the moment I did it, I knew I couldn’t stand to keep things that way for long. I could not go back to plus-size clothing, not with my pear-shaped build (read: I am not so blessed in the boobies department, and plus-size clothes are made for women who are).
But I ended up keeping the weight longer than I intended. It turns out that feeding a couple of teenagers means keeping in the house a lot of Oreos, cheddar and sour cream potato chips, ice cream, and pizza, and after more than a year on a calorie counting diet, I found not a single thing on that list that I could resist. That is…until this week.
A week ago last Saturday, we got home from a week in Myrtle Beach. It was the first vacation we’d ever taken as a family, and the first vacation that the kids had ever had in their lives. It was a good time, even though the heat was stifling and led to much less time on the beach than we wanted. But despite the good time and the total joy of being in a place I love with the people I love most in the world, here is what I primarily took away from our vacation:
THERE IS NOT A SINGLE PICTURE OF ME FROM THAT WHOLE AWESOME VACATION THAT I CAN STAND TO LOOK AT.
So I came home, ate about ten more Harry & David’s chocolate covered cherries, and decided that come Sunday, it was back to counting calories for me. I’ve done great. As of this morning, I’m down eight pounds and back on the road to being able to wear my sweet American Eagle jeans by fall. But I’ll tell you what, it feels even more amazing and unbelievable than it did the first time–I can’t believe I’ve found the willpower to do this on top of so recently giving up smoking. The first time, all I had to do when I felt like eating was light a cigarette. This week, I haven’t had that fallback and so I had to find something else to occupy my mind and my fingers. It’s been rough though, I’m not going to claim that it hasn’t.
I have, however, really tried to make lemonade from the lemons. I started writing again–every day, whether I felt like it or not. And then, a few days ago, I came back home to online journalling…for the first time in more than four years. It’s great to be back, and I intend to stay long past the time when I can stand to look at pictures of myself again, perhaps even after my fingers stop itching for a cigarette.
The truth is, I’ve been off the online journal circuit since before it ever got popular. In fact, I’m going to bet that the last time I wrote consistently was 2008-ish, which was about two years after my crazy ass Vegas girlfriend and I called it quits. (Though I had to keep slogging along at the journal for a while afterward because APPEARANCES.) I was pretty burnt out after that–I’d been writing several times a week for about seven years at that point–and I just let the last cute domain name (and there had been several over the years) fade back into the ether from whence it came. In the intervening nine years, I haven’t kept much of a journal in any form. I buy expensive and beautiful notebooks and keep them in decorative baskets on my bookshelves, preparing for the unavoidable eventuality (ha!) that one day I’ll be walking by and decide that today, instead of reading, I’ll write. That happens not nearly as often as I would like. I have many pretty notebooks with writing in them, but unfortunately, it stops after no more than 20 pages and never picks up again. I don’t know how it is for other people, but I’m just bizarre enough about my notebook journalling that I cannot allow too much of a passage of time between entries…skipping a year, for example, is totally not cool and absolutely necessitates beginning a new notebook. Were it not for the fact that I cannot stand to waste paper and that someday there’s probably going to be an apocalypse wherein I’ll need all the paper I can get, I would throw them away in a heartbeat. As it is, they just sit there and torment me.
The great thing about writing in this forum is that there is no paper to waste (and no money to waste on buying it). Also, until I decide I need all the bells, whistles, and customization options (which is at most a couple weeks down the road), it’s free. I admit, writing online again is also a lot like coming home, only it’s more than a little strange to have no history making the journey with me. Once upon a time, y’all, I didn’t go ANYWHERE without my archives, and quite honestly, I’m still having a hard time with the idea that they aren’t–and won’t ever be–here. Obviously, I’ll end up retelling some stories, but wow, it’s pretty weird to be out here all alone and unknown in this place where I once felt so seen and so at ease. (Isn’t it wild to hear anyone talking that way about the internet in this day and age?) I guess I’ll just have to move along by taking the advice of my high school public speaking teacher and fake it til I make it…someday, dammit, I’ll look (again) as prolific as I feel.
I have five books going at the moment. The majority of them are decent enough, and yet whenever I park my ass on the couch, I don’t end up reading a single one of them. My excuses are varied and only occasionally acceptable even to me:
- I have a cat on my lap who won’t stop nosing the Kindle.
- I have this pretty new Chromebook and I need to download ALL THE APPS and create ALL THE BOOKMARKS because I’ve never had one of these machines before and OHMYGOD I love it so much.
- I’m writing on the internet again and sweetbabyjesus, I have to write on the internet again right now.
- I have rolls and rolls and ROLLS of yarn pressed against my left leg and a 10-ton half-finished scrap afghan draped across my lap that I must work on RIGHT NOW because otherwise it’s just going to sit there forever and eventually suffocate me (and the cat).
- Truly, I have to watch the next episode of The West Wing, otherwise I’ll never finish, and I’d like to start over again with the pilot (for the twelfth time) by next week at the latest.
- The teenager(s) won’t stop talking to me long enough for me to read two sentences in a row. (Actually, I wouldn’t mind so much if he was talking. He’s laughing neurotically and making me watch stupid YouTube videos…what is it with these kids and their ridiculous videos?)
- I have to start supper/laundry/cleaning the bathroom. (Doesn’t that one sound responsible? I like that one.)
- If I read, I’ll just want to drink tea and eat way too many Sixlets, and I’m really trying to stop being a fat ass by Christmas.
- I can’t figure out what I’m in the mood for. What the hell do I want? Should I reread Harry Potter or The World According to Garp for the tenth time, or should I finish Hillbilly Elegy or the third Diana Gabaldon (which you can go ahead and shame me for because I’m already ashamed anyway)?
There are too many damned options and too many damned distractions and I’m overwhelmed by my way-too-lofty Goodreads reading goal for the year.
I think I’m just going to go to bed.