Imagine This

 

 

I KNOW IT’S BEEN A VERY LONG TIME since I’ve written anything here. My return has the potential to be like walking into the gym after a year’s absence, arms raised in triumph, proclaiming “I’m back! Sorry to keep you guys hanging!” But the people at the front desk are new, and your favorite gym characters like the grunting guy in the shorty shorts or the lady who lounges on whatever machine you need while checking her email, have been replaced by new characters in unfamiliar shorty shorts. Nobody knows who you are or how long you have been gone, and they really truly do not care that you are back.

However, in case you are curious and have a couple of minutes, there have been some interesting developments over the past year. Our family added a second dog, Minnie, to our menagerie. I posted here long ago about how I did not want a dog, but as my oldest son prepares for high school graduation, and the youngest is entrenched in middle school, I see why people in our particular stage of life get dogs. Dogs – unlike your children and the people at the gym – are excited to see you, and you realize you’ve forgotten what that feels like.

I’ve toned down the highlights and my hair is a little browner.

I’ve found I don’t like sushi as much as I used to and I’ve miraculously fulfilled my goal of regularly making pasta from scratch.

I’ve become more serious about my skincare routine and I’ve started listening to news radio and podcasts…all natural outcomes of turning 43.

Oh, and hot darn, I wrote a book.

Released in September, “The IFs” is my first novel, and the entire experience has freaked me out in very good and very scary ways. But mostly it’s been great…fun, exciting… a dream come true, that has allowed me the coolest opportunities to talk with people about not just the process, but the story itself.

If this is the first you’re hearing about it, “The IFs” is about otherwise fully functioning adults forced by the demise of social media to create imaginary friends in order to battle their loneliness and survive a foreign social landscape. It just so happens, in real life, I’m the mom of a Y2K baby and the book takes a speculative peek into the future, when the Y2K babies are venturing out into the world as new adults. I regularly categorize “The IFs” as a quirky beach read, but at its core, the book is about friendship and human connection and what might happen if we’re suddenly deprived of both.

So through a three-plus-year process with the book, I thought a lot about loneliness, isolation, friendship and our reliance on staying electronically tethered to each other. I often stared at my phone and wondered if the thing was making me happy or miserable. I stared at my children and their friends, and wondered if they were happy or miserable as they sat silently together staring into their phones. I sat on our local commuter train staring at people as they stared into their phones, startling them when they looked up to find me, a strange psycho offering uninterrupted eye contact from afar.

A few days ago, as I was parking my car, news radio cranked and thumping from my speakers, I sat just a little longer because one non-traffic story caught my attention. The UK has just introduced the Minister of Loneliness. Named for Jo Cox, the late, dynamic British politician who established the UK’s Commission on Loneliness, the position is designed to address the issues caused by social isolation. Loneliness is a recognized epidemic in the UK, and here in the US even though we don’t yet have a minister for it. (Find out more about it here and here)

This is what I thought about and wrote about and dreamt about for years. Not the minister part, and spoiler alert, I didn’t come up with a widespread solution for how the world should deal with our connection problem. But seriously, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?  WHAT WOULD HAPPEN if we experienced a radical shift in our surroundings that once again changed how we formed our relationships? Would our collectively deteriorating social acumen be enough to help us find our way?

We don’t know how the world will change next, or what we humans will have to do to adapt. But we’ve all had, at our luckiest, glimpses of loneliness and isolation. For those surrounded by people most of the time, an evening of solitude sounds ok, because you can eat a baguette for dinner and binge watch true crime shows. Soon enough though, you feel gross about the baguette and paranoid from the true crime shows and solitude loses whatever weird appeal it may have momentarily held.

Writing is the perfect way to repeatedly plunge into a messed up kind of solitude. You have to take yourself out of social media or you won’t write a word. You stare into space. You think about what snack you will have next and why your thumbs bend the way that they do. You look at your cat as nothing less than co-author of your work. One day, you think what you’ve written doesn’t completely suck, the next day, you’re ready to throw in the towel and never write again, not even your name. You’re operating in a vacuum. Giddy, depressed, numb, repeat.

And then, when the dang thing finally goes out into the world, you physically can’t sit there wondering if people are reading and liking it or maybe hating it so you occupy your brain and hands by reorganizing every nook and cranny of your house, trying on every piece of clothing you own to see if it brings you joy. Oh, and people…you find where the people are, and you go there.

Have you noticed a change in the nature of your relationships? What you seek in a friendship? These aren’t hypotheticals – I’m truly asking you, yeah YOU.

We need to ignore each others’ ill-fitting shorty shorts and connect. The future of the planet depends on it.

If you’re interested in the book – you can find it here or here. If you’ve read it, thank you! And if you liked it, could you like mention it to a friend who’s looking for a quirky beach read? 

That photo up there on the left is me and my book club. I was terrified for them to read it, because they are all so smart and well-read and discerning. But they were incredibly gracious and supportive and amazing.

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And allow me to introduce you to Moe and Minnie

the b word

“Don’t say that…it’s a terrible word.”

“It’s true though, I am.”

“When you say you’re bored, it implies that everyone around you is boring…that we lack the sparkling personalities needed to keep life interesting for you.”

“I don’t mean that, I just mean I’m bored.”

“Boring” had long been on my list of no-no words, since it had also been verboten in my own childhood home. My mother used to say, “only boring people get bored,” which I then repeated to my son as his knees were slung over the side of the chair.

“Jacob, this is the part where I am legally obligated to tell you that if you are so bored, I can certainly find you something to do. Math drills? Cleaning your room?”

“But those things are boring too.”

And so weighing his options, he picked up a magazine and dramatically put in front of his face blocking my view of his freckly, and likely still disinterested face.

I thought of him less than 24 hours later as I had the opportunity to sit and repeatedly wait for stuff. I waited in the car, staring lamely at my phone, poking away at solitaire, and re-reading news stories.

We waited in the bleachers for one baseball game to finish so Jacob’s could start. I did not know one kid on the field, which outweighed the fact that I normally enjoy baseball. I tried eavesdropping on the boys from the opposing team, who like Jacob, were waiting to take the field. They talked about something not interesting that happened at practice, and TV characters I didn’t know, so I chose to stare at the dirt, then the sky. I was suddenly so keenly aware of my boredom, that it became exciting. I dug around in my purse so I could make a note of what I wanted to think about, and maybe write about at some point in the future, “being bored.”

The initial excitement of my boredom was sullied once again by the less glamorous realities of actual boredom, as well as the glimmering hope of something to focus my attention on.

I threw myself into Jake’s game with abandon when it finally started.

But, as it ticked ever closer to the 3-hour mark, his team sitting 12 runs ahead, the familiar feeling was back. John had to leave for a church event, and I’d tried to send chipper text updates, “Jake stole home!” and then it was “Jake stole home….again.”  Zach scooted dramatically down the bench to sit next to another dad to talk about the 49ers. The moms in front of me were checking the processing speed on someone’s new iPhone 4S. When it was my turn to Google something, I didn’t want to leave the owner’s search history littered with my attempts at finally discovering where I’d seen the actress who plays Amy Poehler’s mom on “Parks & Recreation,” so I stuck with searching “baseball.”  Wow, the processing speed IS fast.

I handed the phone back, only to see that the game was still going. Zach came back over and graciously let me pick from the fabric of his pants the hundreds of thorny little stickers he’d acquired while retrieving a foul ball from the bushes. The people in the stands had eyed him jealously as he’d scampered off with a task. He’d taken his sweet time returning the ball to the official, undoubtedly prolonging the excitement of it all.

After every out, someone would inevitably ask, “Is that it? Is that the game? Are we done?” Sometimes it was a parent from the other team, and sometimes it was whatever kid was at first base. Sometimes that someone was me.

A few months ago, I read Stephen King’s brilliant “On Writing,” where he stressed the importance of allowing yourself to be bored. He would take long daily walks (that’s how he got hit by that car) and carry a newspaper or book with him that he would not read. His mind worked best when he was bored, creating stories that would go on to successfully give the world the creeps.

If boredom is simply our brain at work, imagining what it would it be like to be doing anything other than what we are actually doing at the moment, then all of us are likely bored most of the time. How we respond to boredom then, is critical.

You could complain about it – most certainly what teachers and parents, my mother included, find so terribly irksome.

You could get into mischief.  The stats cited on militaryschoolalternatives.com (I was NOT there for my own children – it just happened to come up when I did my lazy Internet research) show that roughly 50% of kids are likely to drink because of boredom. Same goes for adults. Frankly I thought it would be higher, but we have to trust the dedicated statisticians at militaryschoolalternatives.com.

You could do something important. Maybe you’ll get the idea for the next great American novel, or decide what to give the teachers this year at Christmas (always a stressful endeavor). Maybe you’ll give in and call your sister, figure out how to fix that thing at work, or finally remember that you need to buy stamps.

Be bored, but for Pete’s sake, if you’re sitting within conversation distance of me, don’t tell me your bored, it’s offensive.

*As our family settled in for the night after the game, I inadvertently proclaimed my distaste for something on television, by spelling to John that it was “b-o-r-i-n-g,” in front of Jacob who’s 11, and as it turns out, can totally spell words.

He leapt out of his chair, giddy with excitement. “A-ha!” he squealed, as he should. “I can totally think of things for you to do to not be so bored. Would you like to connect things, you know, like you do at work? Or do math drills, or connecting drills, you know…like for work?” His smile of redemption lasted all the way to bedtime.

**As I was writing this, I checked email no fewer than 10 times, entertainment news 3 times, and Facebook 5 times. I made two mugs of tea, and did a load of laundry. I stared out the window for a while, and thought about painting my nails. And then I stopped thinking about painting my nails, and painted my nails. I also completed my research: Pamela Reed is the woman in “Parks & Rec.” She played Arnold Schwarzeneggers’s partner in “Kindergarten Cop.” Now you can relax.

check please

Thanks to autumn, good ol’ fashioned check writing is alive and well: school donations, school photos, church camp, hot lunch, fall carnival, wrapping paper fundraisers, magazine fundraisers, cookie dough fundraisers, field trips, sports registration, class party contributions, and most recently, the kindergarten book order.

If you are not currently placing kids’ book orders, it’s likely the same company, and same process from when you were a kid (especially you, Gen X’ers.) It’s a little newspapery thing you get that looks like the Pennysaver, but it’s chock full of kids’ titles at great prices. Ring a bell? You may remember waiting anxiously for your own books to be delivered to class, and when the day finally came, you’d see what your friends got, and you’d look at what you got, and back to what they got. You’d realize that while your friend could look forward to happily thumbing through a nearly wordless print version of the latest greatest cartoon, you were saddled with a Caldecott or Newbery award winner. The gold seal on the front would give it away. Gold seal=serious=thinking.

I wrote out my check, tore it from the newly depleted checkbook, and handed it to our kindergartener to keep track of until he could deliver it.

“Can you please make sure to give this directly to your teacher? It’s a check.”

Blank stare.

“It’s like money.”

The blank stare was replaced by delight with a mildly alarming hint of scheming and wheel turning.

“It’s not money that you can do anything with. It’s a piece of paper that represents money.”

Blank stare followed by, “Why is USC on the envelope?”

“They sent me the envelope so I could send them a check too, for a donation.”

“Why aren’t you sending them the check then?”

“Um, we get a lot of those envelopes, and I will another day, but today it’s for the book order.”

“What book order?”

“I ordered you books from that piece of paper you brought home.”

“Wait…what?”

“I picked a couple of books for you from the paper, and then ordered them, and they need this check.”

“Let me see what you’re talking about,” he said, “I didn’t know about this.” Have you seen your own words and expressions mirrored back at you? It’s disconcerting.

I handed him the flimsy little catalog. He pointed directly to the Star Wars book on the front, “that one.”

“Yes, I saw that, but I don’t think it has words, and you’re learning to read words. Real words! Plus we have a lot of Star Wars books, both with and without words.”  I actually prefer the ones with just pictures, because then Zach doesn’t have to correct my pronunciation as I stumble over Padawan, and Luminara Unduli. (Oh, how I miss Luke.)

“Then that one.”

“The one about Mater?”

“Oh, that’s Mater? I guess not, I’m in kindergarten.”

“I thought this other one looked good – it said that it’s for both of us to read together – one part for you to read, and one part for me to read,” otherwise known as any book ever printed that has more than one sentence.

“Also, this Thanksgiving one,” I continued, trying to erase his skeptical look, “The turkey is looking for disguises. Sounds funny.”

Realizing the Star Wars portion of the discussion was over, he nodded and ran away with the check.

“Get it?” I called after him, “See, he needs disguises because he’s trying to escape Thanksgiving! He’s a turkey! On Thanksgiving! Funny!”

I thought it sounded funny, but once I said the plot out loud, I realized it was also kind of sad, and kind of gross, because next month, I will be eating a turkey who will have likely suffered the consequences of not having the resources to come up with adequate disguises.

We tucked the USC envelope with the carefully completed book order into his backpack. I’d been meticulous because I was thinking of the book order volunteer on the other end of this transaction. I had been the book order lady once, when our oldest was in pre-school. Talk about transactions and high finance…I was the book order person for the whole school! Everybody! 2-year-olds….3-year-olds….4-year- olds….all of them. That’s a lot of “Skeleton Hiccups,” “Brown Bear, Brown Bear…” and “Fancy Nancy. “

A USC football game would be humming along while I sat on our couch in our seminary apartment, sorting through checks and tallying the number of “If You Give a Pig A Pancake” from the order forms.

I’d shove an order form in front of John who was trying to learn Hebrew and watch football, “Hey, do you think this is a two? Or a seven? Do you think they want seven copies of ‘Pinkalicious?’ Two, definitely two. They paid for two. Good, I did not want to have to call them.” But inevitably, I would have to call, and my palms would sweat, because my half of the conversation would go something like this:

“Hi my name’s Colleen and I’m calling about your book order through the Children’s Center? Yes, you ordered from two different catalogs, so I’ll need two checks. Yes, two separate checks. The Dragonfly order form is different from the regular one…yes, I know, it’s complicated. So can I please get two new checks and I’ll give you this one back? I understand that’s three checks for two books totaling $8. I know, I’m sorry, listen, I didn’t make up this rule, but unfortunately, if you’d like me to fill this order for you, I’ll need two checks. No, I’m not threatening you…ok, it’s a dumb, dumb, ridiculous rule, there, I said it…so, you’ll send the checks tomorrow? With your 4-year-old? Perfect.”

will there be bears?

“Will there be bears?” I asked.

John shook his head and explained that they would be spending their boys’ night a few minutes from our old bearless suburb across the Bay, and probably 100 yards from the main road on which you can find a CVS and Round Table Pizza.

“Do you have everything?”

“Yes.”

“OK, well….be careful out there.”

“You be careful, and have fun. Don’t worry about trying to do too much, you can sleep for hours if you want to.”

John had provided the opportunity to go camping with them, and I was admittedly less than pleased. I think you could describe the look on his face as half confused, a quarter surprised, and a quarter not-at-all surprised as I explained that I was unhappy with the invitation because now I was put in the position of having to feel bad about saying no, and I would rather just not even be asked in the first place.  It made sense at the time.

My friend Margie has a cheeky little napkin hanging on the bulletin board in her kitchen that says, “I love not camping.” I point at it when we visit, and quote it often, and I quoted it again when he asked.

Oh how I want to want to camp. It seems to be a popular thing for people to do and the snacks would be right up my alley…I hear there’s often chocolate and marshmallows AND bacon.

But after realizing the weekend’s arrangements were likely best for everybody, I was excused from going, and from the jobs of monitoring stick usage, dirt abatement and maintaining a 40-foot perimeter around the campfire. The guys loaded up their tent and stove and other supplies I did not recognize. John pointed out the ingredients they left me on the counter for my own “in the house” s’mores, and headed off into the beautiful sunshiny weekend for a night in the wilderness.

We waved at each other enthusiastically and I dashed up the stairs, ready to tackle my list. Of course I had a list; I wanted to use this time wisely.

I had just under 24 hours and a few simple things to do:

  • Clean out and organize all rooms, closets, bookshelves, and areas that could possibly contain LEGO’s and/or baseballs
  • Fully prepare for the start of school, short of packing lunches two weeks in advance
  • Give self manicure and pedicure
  • Catch up on DVR’d shows (that, my friends, is a legitimate to-do)
  • Plan meals for the week, nay, the month
  • Read backlog of magazines
  • Return backlog of emails
  • Think about exercising
  • Finish reading The Help then go see The Help in the theater, and of course…
  • Re-start, finish, and finally fall in love with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I am almost positive that I had NOT written:

  • Make and eat entire box of pasta salad
  • Run out of things to read on the Internet, because you have simply read it all
  • Don’t read any books at all– I mean it, NO books
  • Watch Hoarders, then feel yucky after
  • Watch romantic comedies until your eyes hurt, and feel way worse than you did after watching Hoarders
  • Argue with the cat about her incessantly stealing the drain things out of the sinks
  • Take picture of the cat with the drain things, because even though it’s so annoying, it’s kind of cute
  • Argue with the cat about her trying to remove the vent grate with her tiny little claws at 2:00 am, which unfortunately is shortly after you will finish watching a Drew Barrymore romantic comedy, and not one of her better ones.
  • Paint nails and allow to dry while laying motionless for the length of DVR’d Gossip Girl season finale
  • Rediscover long-dormant and impractical love of French house music
  • Use minimal math skills to evenly space out consumption of the three Hawaiian sweet rolls that are in the kitchen
  • Become overwhelmed at how many areas in house contain LEGO’s and/or baseballs

Though that is most certainly the list I did not write, it is the list I diligently completed while the boys were frivolously frolicking about in the woods.

giving the boot to getting the dirt

I hit rock bottom last week on something that nobody should really hit rock bottom with.

It was a Friday night, and as I was about to go to sleep I perused the entertainment headlines like I tend to do, oooohhhh…every night and every morning, every day of the week. There it was… a horrible terrible headline insinuating in a snarky tone, that I might have enjoyed under different circumstances, that my favorite celebrity couple was on the outs, and on the verge of a breakup.

I read the words over and over in disbelief. What was the feeling that was welling up? No…it couldn’t be… what is that? Panic? Sadness? Worry?

The offending “article” was not even from one of my reputable high-end elitest go-to sites like E! Online, TMZ, or US Weekly. I died a little bit of embarrassment every time I clicked on one of 30 or so related headlines, posted on sites like celebritypoppycock.com and youretoooldtobereadingthis.com, and dontyouhaveanythingbettertodo.net. I scrolled through, thumbs flying and eyes scanning back and forth across my tiny screen like I was (best show ever) Alias’ Sidney Bristow trying to memorize and decipher pages of code before being discovered in the secret offices above the party she had infiltrated in another fantastic disguise while her partner Dixon pretends to be a bartender or a DJ downstairs… but I digress.

Each story cited the last terrible story as a legitimate source. I should have shrugged, turned off my phone and read something more worthwhile, which would have been absolutely anything else in the house. But no. I read every last gossipy word, then I lay there in the dark, sad. Sad for the couple*. Sad for myself. “Well,” I thought as I lay pouting, “there goes my weekend.” There. Goes. My. Weekend. That’s when I realized, I might have a problem.

Celebrity gossip was changing the trajectory of my day.

“Tomorrow…,” I thought. “Tomorrow, I will read those something elses, and I will regain the perspective of an adult with a thoughtful and well informed world view.”

And so I tried it. I pulled out a stack of magazines from our coffee table and picked the most serious looking back issue of Time I could find…Joel Stein’s Awesome Column wasn’t even in it. And I read it cover to cover, the entire time thinking, “I’m back to being a serious adult. I’m very actively not thinking about celebrity gossip. Who cares about that drivel? Look at me reading about the 2% economy, unemployment, our failing education system, troubles in the Middle East, stalled American innovation, rising airline prices, ugly Washington politics, uglier cancer, the Miami Heat, and rhino poaching. This is fun!”

I thought I was sad when I was reading celebrity gossip…but grown up news, consumed in large intentional doses, is much worse, thus answering my long lingering question, “why did I ever start reading celebrity gossip in the first place?”

Not wanting to turn to anemic summer TV, I needed something else as a distraction. iPad Boggle. I could dedicate my pursuit of intelligent input to playing this delightfully whimsical spelling puzzle game! I would be exercising my brain, which is the exact opposite of celebrity gossip. Then I remembered my iPad Boggle thing from a few months ago when I first got the app. I’d ended up on the couch nearly getting carpal tunnel syndrome from shaking the iPad to “toss” the letters into the wee hours of the night, my fingers flying (Sidney Bristow style again, I like to think) only to end up making the same stupid 1 pt. words just about every round: eon, eons, tones, tone, tons, ton, ones, one. What really killed it was John yelling from the other room, “I can hear you Boggling from here!”

So I guess I can’t avoid them any more; I’ll go back to books. Our house and offices are strewn with (mostly) very good books on faith and theology, in varying stages of being read, or studied, or annotated. But an occupational hazard is that those can sometimes feel workish when you’re looking for a summer read. John, while out of town, sent me books from my wish list like one would send flowers: Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and my own copy of Stephen King’s On Writing (brilliant!). John sends flowers too, but books keep better.  And now, thanks to my friend Margie, I also have The Help sitting right there. No matter what room I go to, it’s there, eerily calling out…. “Read me! Hurry, before the movie comes out. Everybody else has…they are going to take your girl card if you don’t.”

Books are longer, and bigger, and heavier, and they don’t tell me what was happening 27 minutes ago, but they will certainly be a worthwhile anecdote to fretting over the economy, or the celebrities who I don’t know, and who don’t know me, and who I’m almost certain aren’t lying awake wondering what I’ll be up to tomorrow.  

*I will not name the celebrity couple because I do not want this post coming up when some poor sap like me catches word of the hopefully not true rumor, and frantically Googles additional stories. Also, you’re better than that.

a tree falls in side yard

Last week, I pulled into the garage without noticing that the tree that once stood taller than our house now lay across the side yard. John came home an hour later and gave me the report as I stared lamely at him. At first I couldn’t even picture what tree he was talking about…I don’t venture to that part of the yard much, I guess. (You would think we lived on 30 acres instead of a regular suburban smallish lot). But I finally figured out that I knew quite well about 5 feet of that tree, somewhere near its middle top.

It once grew majestically outside Zachary’s window, with a narrow trunk and long graceful branches that would thwap against his window in the wind or create sinister looking shadows in the night. I don’t know what kind it was, but it was a resting place for many a bird who would chirp their greetings to Zachary inside.

Zach went to his room to look. “There aren’t any branches there anymore,” he said, “That’s where the birdies were.” I thought about the birds too, but was hopeful he either wouldn’t notice, or would celebrate the fact that they wouldn’t startlingly crash into his window anymore. His sweet face looked sad, and the way he said “birdies” made me want to go buy him a pony.

John stood outside surveying the situation. The tree had fallen into a wacky corner of the yard, missing our neighbor’s fence by a few feet. The neighbor stood there too. “Now I have to look at your boring, window,” he told John with his usual charm.

The subsequent days have passed in a flurry, and the tree continues to lay there, beached. Every time the subject comes up, Zach mentions the birds. I have to stop talking about it altogether because every time I do, he flashes me his big brown puppy dog eyes, and I instinctively move toward the candy shelf for a distracting treat.

A few months ago, my parents had to have two of their three front yard trees removed, because alas, the old trees had died…suffering what I imagined a stoic and noble passing befitting of a couple of fine Modesto Ash. Now that, I did notice. I gasped when I drove up to their house for the first time without my old leafy friends there. The home base tree of my childhood, right there near the corner – gone. The hide-and-go-seek tree at the far end – dunzo. My parents have since picked out replacements, but they are baby trees, and I don’t think I could very effectively hide behind one, unless I shed a dangerous amount of LBs.

We’ve taken down diseased trees at the church, and today on my way to work, I saw what looked like a 20-man hard-hatted crew perched on some poor soul’s roof, collectively eyeballing a huge Oak tree. By the time I drove home, half of it lay in the street in front of a wood chipper.

Now, I’m eyeing the palm tree in the backyard. The wind has brought down these pieces that resemble huge pencil shavings, and frankly it looks weird standing next to the uppity, haughty redwood. There’s the orange tree in the back corner. Sure, I like the idea of a fruit tree, but I’ve never actually eaten one of its oranges. My guess is that I’m so much of a city girl that I can’t possibly imagine that any plant life that I’m responsible for could produce actual, edible fruit.

I’ve come to realize, people are weird with trees, me included, which even I find odd since I refuse to camp. Trees are scary or friendly or wise depending on what Disney movie we are watching. They serve as literary metaphors for everything from life to growth to the passing of time, and if I were more well-read, this list would undoubtedly be longer. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has been on my reading list for about 5 years, but I would be willing to bet that’s chock full of smarty pants examples.

I cannot stand that horrible book, The Giving Tree. I so loved Shel Silverstein’s provocative and intoxicating A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends, that I would memorize the poems and recite them for whoever would listen. My copies, with my name written in my 3rd grade script, sit on Jake’s shelf, and are now favorites of the boys as well. But The Giving Tree sucks big time. Spoiler alert! The kind tree gives and gives and gives until it is taken down to a stump for the selfish brat of a protagonist to sit on in his old age. The only moral I take away is don’t be awful, or you will end up tired, alone and confused on a stump.

Heck, the trees in the Bible are kind of a big deal – there was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that Adam and Eve couldn’t resist, getting them kicked out of what up until that point, had been a pretty sweet living situation. Jesus invited little Zaccheus down from his tree so they could break bread. And of course, there was Jonah. Jonah sat and waited futilely and with spite for an entire city to suffer God’s wrath. As he sat there pouting, sweating and waiting, probably still reeking of whale innards, God gave him a shade tree, which promptly withered and died. Jonah grieved and ranted and, much to God’s annoyance and utter frustration, showed more feeling for that day-old tree than he did an entire population of people. And again we learn, don’t be awful or you will end up tired, alone, and confused on a stump.

fine. be that way.

I’ve had better weeks. I’ve had worse… but I’ve definitely had better.

You know when your week is kinda going ok, and then it starts to take a turn for the worse? First it’s one sorta small mildly unpleasant thing, and then it’s like a medium not-so-good thing. Then boom, boom, it’s two blatantly sucky things back to back, and you start looking around for an explanation? As part of my investigative process, I usually pull up the full moon calendar. There is seriously something to it. For the first three years of his life, Zachary would be up all night fussing the two nights leading up to the full moon. EVERY month for three years. After a while, John could not argue with my hypothesis anymore, as much as he wanted to. The moon pulls on the ocean, I know it can screw around with our tiny little bodies & mess with our heads and make us cranky and irritable. C’mon, I know it’s not always the moon that gives us grief. It is fun, however to think of the moon as an adversary. Whaddaya gonna do – throw down with the moon?

When you’re mad, and feeling kinda beat up, I’m sure you notice that everybody else’s driving is really terrible. Then I look at myself, and I see that I’m hunched over, chin all the way over the steering wheel, knuckles white, in my best defensive driving position. I’m sure if you peeked in the window, I’d look Cruella De Vil driving that crazy car of hers, wild hair, gangly arms, lips thin and growly. I don’t have that cigarette holder or a puppy fur coat though, so I’ve got that going for me.

I just want to get home and hide. I want to pull the drapes and turn off the phones. I’ll drag the sleeping bags into the living room and let the boys watch a movie and eat dinner picnic style, just so I can feel cozy and protected from the maniacal villains who are running around loose out there, intent on making me miserable.

I know by now that you can’t control people – that never ends well – so I will try my darnedest to control things from within the house. The laundry. The dishes. That candy shelf. The photo cabinet that is currently sitting open because I was going to pour all of my frustrations, and swear words that I wanted to say, and dirty looks that I wanted to give into reorganizing that horrible horrible closet. And I wanted to sit down and write something funny about anything, but every opening line I typed sounded like the beginning of a manifesto.

Reading’s good and takes my mind off things, but the book on my nightstand is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’ve been trying for months to read it, refusing to pick up another book until I finish. Actually, I angry like Hulk every time I pick it up, because I can’t get past all the Swedish, and it makes me feel dumb. I really should just quit trying. I tossed aside Eat, Pray, Love after the Eat part and never looked back. Then there was the added bonus of one less Julia Roberts movie I felt obliged to see.

When you’re mad, like really good and mad, there are few practical ways to dissolve the anger. A choose-your-own- adventure of sorts. Part of being an adult, a responsible, thoughtful, and prayerful person, is to select the right adventure. Sometimes I goof and pick “rant”. I’m spoiled rotten that I have people who will listen and be patient with me. That my husband, who even out in the mountains of Idaho, will drive two miles just so he has better reception to hear me gripe. And that I have amazing friends, who on any given day, if I hint the slightest that I’m upset, will text and call to say that even though they don’t know the story, they’re mad too, on my behalf.

Or, sometimes the adventure starts with yelling, stomping, muttering, crying, or the unfortunate combination of all of the above.

Moses finally had it, let his fury get the best of him, struck that rock with his staff and was kept out of the from the Promised Land, even after all that work and all those years of being obedient. Fine. I guess I’m supposed to get my you-know-what together, let go of my worries and fretting and the anger that for some reason I seem to enjoy holding on to. Surrender. Bluch, really? Do I have to? It’s not like I’m trying to take it out on everybody else so they’ll feel terrible too, right? Right?

Surrender is not very glamorous. I’ll try, but I’m telling you right now, it’s not easy. I’m pretty sure it’s my least favorite option. Channeling anger into an activity that’s obviously counter-productive can be fun and bring relief, even if it’s temporary. I can rage-eat a bag of Wavy Lay’s like nobody’s business. It feels fan-flippin-tastic at the moment, but does it feel better later? Definitely not, especially since, in a blind fury, I probably also whipped up a batch of clam dip to go with it.  Like yelling, like crying, like complaining – the joy of clam dip furiouso is fleeting.