“When are you going to die?” Sherry asked me.
“I don’t feel comfortable talking about that part.”
I’d told her about how I’d always known I wasn’t going grow old; I’d touched on the dreams.
“I dunno, Sherry, it feels like blasphemy.”
I’ve never wanted to be here anyway. Dying young wouldn’t be a big deal. That doesn’t make me suicidal, though.
“Will it be soon?”
“Sherry, come on.”
My whole life I’ve experienced intense bouts of Missing. Homesick, but this confounding sort of homesickness for a place I’ve not seen with my eyes; I’ve seen it with my heart.
“No, you. YOU come on!”
“Why isn’t it enough that I told you?”
You can’t just go around telling people about stuff like this, because they think you’re mentally ill. One thing I’ve always been is crazy. One thing I’m not is mentally ill.
“You know that thing where someone tells you that they have a surprise for you and it makes you nuts? You say that you want to know everything or nothing at all. Well, I don’t know nothing at all, and that only leaves everything.”
I can’t stand when people use my own logic and belief systems to get the better of me. The fact that they can means my logic and belief systems are flawed. So are yours. So are that guy’s over there.
“This isn’t going to go away.”
“Forty-four. I think it will happen when I am forty-four. Nobody else on this planet knows that, so keep a lid on it.”
There is one picture of me in my Mother’s belly. She is in an aqua housedress, holding a casserole dish out in front of her –gripped with potholder hands– and beaming. “It was my first banana pudding,” she said to me one time as I was poring over the old pictures of me, them, us. My mother, willowy as a song (despite fat-cheeked me being lodged solidly in her middle), with those dancer’s legs and that sassmouthed smile, didn’t make her first banana pudding until she was twenty-two years old.
How amazing is that? If you’d tasted one of my Mother’s banana puddings, you would know what I’m talking about. That she’d only just learned to make nanner puddin’ a couple of months before I was born sounds like a lie, because her banana pudding tastes like decades of gooey-delicious pot-tending and nanner-slicing.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
There is one picture of me with Scout in my belly. I was wearing a coral swing top and crisp white stirrup pants. I daresay I looked cute. It takes a lot for me to like a photograph of myself. That one? That one I like wholeheartedly. I have a rag in my hand and I’m wiping a table after an ice cream social that I’d thrown for my weekly class of eleven three- and four-year old Sunday Schoolers. I’m beaming, too; I look happy in a way that jumps out of the frame and wraps itself around me.
I look good in coral. I hate it overall as a color, but I look really good in it. Such a challenge, to hate something that naturally suits you. Startling, innit, how you can be happy and shine that far outward even if you don’t like the color you’re wearing. Funnier still is how we buck against things that naturally suit us. Are we pretending they don’t? How much truth is in our distaste, and how much self-delusion?
Anyway, I’m smiling big in that photograph, having forgotten both myself and the camera. I like to think that each time we smile while we are pregnant, womenfolk, that we ensure a tiny measure of goodness in our developing child’s life. Banking joy to shore them up, you know? I believe that laughter and song before these babies of ours get here means that they will learn early on what these things are –learn the chemical feelgood of them– and seek them out for themselves.
That sounds like something I should have just told them, my three and all the strays that I’ve inadvertently mothered: “Run toward laughter, putti, surround yourself with song.” Hopefully I showed them enough that they didn’t need telling. Maybe I was enough measure of goodwill and spirited approach that some fancy emotional osmosis manifested itself.
I reckon now that I’ve had that epiphany, though, I could just tell my grandkids when they get here, make it easy on them. That is the value of grandparents: The good ones make it easy on you. I am going to try like hell to excel at the fine art of grandparenting. I am going to Grandparent Like Whoa, is what I’m saying. I had a couple of really shitty examples and a couple of really good examples by which to cast my measure of What It Takes To Be A Bang-Up Grand.
They were all dead by the time I was fourteen, but they are each indelibly drawn deep in my middle. There was Clem and Mary and Susie and William: Two carpenters, one martyr, and one saint, every one a legend (if only to me). I reckon I am the best and the worst of each and every one depending on the day and the lighting.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
I wanted to be called Sugar. My whole family voted it down, and with extreme fucking prejudice.
What do they care what my grandkid calls me? It’s really between me and my grandkid. I don’t feel like a Nana or a Memaw or a Gramma or a Grandmother. I think it would be sensational and hilarious to have a three-year-old running around calling me ‘Sugar.’ Even better if it were accompanied by the same slight lisp that Scout had when she was stumbling around drunkenly in her toddler body.
So I’m not Sugar. I think that I will quietly teach all my future generations to call me The Best instead. How hysterical would that be?
But still: I wanted to be Sugar. I am going to hold this one against my ingrate family for a long time, maybe. Who are they to tell me who and what I am?
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
I am learning to let things go. It feels weird. Stay tuned, I’ll likely tell you all about it at some point.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
Okay, I was gonna hang onto this for a bit longer, because I am keeping it close and relishing it, but I remembered something that happened one afternoon and I am still real tickled by it, just like it was yesterday. Only, it wasn’t. It was on New Year’s Day.
In order to give you context for the story, I have to go like this:
:: Guys, guys! I’m going to be a grandmommy! ::
I’ll give you a minute, because I was reminded on Instagram lately that some of you have been around long enough to see my kids grow up, and in a very literal way.
You good now? You got your breathing steady again?
We –Maxim and me– got the news on Christmas Day, after brunch and just before Scout left out for her annual Christmas Afternoon Dinner with her father.
Just like a true Southern Belle: Don’t disrupt a brunch unless someone is bleeding real bad. Pumpkin Pancakes! Shrimp and grits! Hashbrown casserole with fancy, once-per-year, sausage and cheese.* Jett’s four peach bellinis (MERRY CHRISTMAAAAS!).
Plus, if we’re being totally honest here, she was playing it smart, that Scout. If things went downhill fast, she would be able to flee to her Father’s house while I was busy melting the paint off the walls with the steely ragelasers my eyeballs shot out.
She was terrified to say them, the words, so she put a smallish envelope in my hands and my heart flung itself into my sternum because the thing I was holding was neither thick nor heavy enough to be a card and I knew what was in there even as I touched it. Well I’ll be damned.How are we here already?
“I thought you were going to hit me,” she told me later about her reluctance to tell us. What a hard few weeks that must have been to be so sick and stay so quiet.
“Don’t be silly,” I laughed, “I’d NEVER hit a pregnant woman. I’m going to wait until the baby gets here and THEN I’ll beat the hell out of you.”
What I said that day, though, and what I mean to this day is, “Oh, Scouty, it doesn’t matter how it gets here; a baby is always a blessing.” She stepped into my arms then, and I squeezed her while kissing the top of her head.
So New Year’s Day, then: We were out in the big city getting Scout all registered up.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
She was there, the other grandmother, and we got to piddling around in the Christmas clearance. Scout had brought a friend and they were both equipped with scanners and excitedly lasering up the baby section. Eventually she texted me:
“Are you coming over here or what, woman?”
I put back the eleventy clearance stockings I had picked up, I grabbed Other Grandmother, and we went to squee over all the extraneous nonsense that American stockists deem necessary for optimal parenting these days.
(Please allow me to interject here that I think the Diaper Genie is the most ridiculous piece of baby-related detritus EVER in the history of EVER. Yes, I feel all-caps strong about that issue. I, who give not one single shit about what God you serve or what gender you feel up in backseats, will debate you for days and days over the stupidity of the Diaper Genie.)
I meandered behind Scout for a couple of aisles, then we reached the shelves where they keep the strollers elevated to eye level so’s you can remark on the awesomeness of the wheels or sommat. Scout creamed that aisle. She scanned various strollers and stroller/carseat combos, ranging in price from $24.99 to $289.99. I had perplexed face for about fourteen seconds and then disgusted face for about one second, and then I said to my daughter, “Hey. Pick the one you like best and go with that. Take the others off. That’s a bit much, don’t you think?”
“Mom!” Scout exclaimed, “I want people to have plenty to choose from, and also I don’t know what people can afford to spend.”
This drew me up short. Here I thought she was thinking only of herself with the excited wanton strollerscanning, but what she was actually doing was thinking of others, not wanting to limit them while she carefully selected five strollers.
It was an excellent reminder of the very real gap that often exists between the motivations of people and others’ interpretation of their actions. I nodded and told her that made sense to me.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
Nova. You are a rosy incantation to me already. One time your mama asked if the moon could come home with us, since it was following the car so doggedly. I told her to ask that moon to hang around outside her bedroom if she wanted it to and she did. I love your mama so much that I’d let her have the company of the moon if she wanted it.
:: m-o-o-n spells love ::
You, Novapie? Well you don’t even have to bother asking: For you I’d lasso the moon before you even got here and contain it above your bed for your amusement, because I am now and always will be your Sugar, and you will always be my glimpse into tomorrow and my perspective changer.
We are going to be one fine dynamic duo.
*but still with a generic can of cream of mushroom soup to keep us hillbilly humble
In the last several months, while hysterical things were happening to our finances, I found myself fantasizing about money over and over.
It’s not like you think. What I found myself fantasizing about was giving away money to people who need it. Just, you know, wandering up to someone on the street or in the Wal-Mart parking lot and saying, “Here. This is one-hundred dollars. You’re supposed to have it.” and shoving the money onto their person before they had time to react; I would walk away before they got their wits about them and began doing something foolish like asking questions or trying to give it back.
I want to give something to someone, I don’t want them to owe me anything, I want to facilitate a blessing when the Spirit moves me. That’s right, I capitalized Spirit. My doing so probably made you squirm in your seat, right?
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
Six weeks ago we are lolling on the couch together, hanging out, when I tell my husband that this is my fantasy of late.
“Can you imagine,” I say, “Can you just imagine how that would feel, to help enable some financial freedom in someone’s life?
“Just walk around, listening for God, waiting to hear That one, yes, her over there and moving into the gap at the necessary moment.” I say it with excitement and surety.
“I’m going to do this one day.”
Maxim doesn’t flinch when I tell him this, doesn’t bat an eye. This is his endorsement. This is his statement of faith in my mission or me or that the universe is wobbling in just the exact right way. Maybe all three. He is sometimes enigmatic like that, enigmatic in a comfortable way.
Comfortably enigmatic sound like some sort of fictional state, doesn’t it?
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
I keep watch on the walls, Maxim keeps watch at the gate. This is good in a friendship. This is completely stellar in a marriage. Keeping watch on the walls and at the gate isn’t always a defensive thing. The Watcher on the Wall sees the first dangers, but that vantage point offers the first advantages, as well. The Watcher at the Gate might take a beating holding back the unwelcome, but also gets to fling wide those gates to receive visitors or facilitate an adventure.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
This past two years has consisted of a bunch of crazy, seemingly-mismatched surges forward. Rocking along and living life and then PUSH and trying to get bearings and oh look this way is up and I have my legs under me and there goes three feet behind me, ten feet, eighteen and PUSH oh God let’s find up again, again, again and again.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
A couple-three weeks ago opportunity came knocking. Like, right on my forehead. I embraced it and probably even dry-humped it a little. I wanted take things to third base with opportunity, but it didn’t have a condom and momma dint raise no fool, child.
With opportunity comes excited planning. Opportunity gets your blood up and working.
About a week later Maxim’s boss showed up at our house and delivered the news right there in our dining room.* There would not be a company soon, because the company would fold in on itself and well, here we are. Let’s pedal as fast as we can over the next few weeks and see what happens.
Opportunity just turned into Just Enough.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
Most years Maxim goes to NAMM around this time. The trip was already booked, and so was our room in Birmingham so last week found us down in the city burning through the couple of remaining restaurant cards from our Christmas haul. We went for Italian that evening. A man kept catching my eye, even as we were waiting for a table.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
There seems to be a prevailing practice lately wherein individuals select a word at the beginning of the year to define or guide or gently suggest to the year that it might want to let this word represent it, pretty please, maybe? I have seen genuine anguish slathered across various channels of social media because HOLY FUCK GUYS WHAT IF I BOMB THIS WHOLE DEFINING-YEAR WORD AND MY YEAR IS TOTALLY SO TOTALLY BONED BECAUSE OF IT.
I don’t mean this as snotty, but it’s going to come across that way and so be it: I don’t really have any understanding of this practice, because the words have always tended to pick me. They snuck up and attached themselves to me and by the time I figured out what the the hell was going on it was just a relief to recognize what was up on and go all, “Oh! This year’s theme is ___________.” Most of them have been really good ones, too, the words. Hell, the last decade alone has yielded up kamikaze and warrior and song and spirited. There have been rougher ones like obedience and desire, but even those had benefit, once the callouses softened back up and some of the lumps went down.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
Before we left the house, I spied the grocery money Maxim had handed me earlier. I’d only half paid attention to it at the time, setting it on the taller of our two dressers as he and I talked.
For the third time that evening, I was moved to put it in my wallet. Half-exasperated, I pulled it down and headed out the door to the car where my husband was waiting for me.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
The man was small, his shirt was immaculate, and everything he did was crisp, efficient, quick. He did not stop moving and he didn’t piddle-ass around. Back and back and back my eyes went to him. I’ve known this sensation before. It’s the one that says I have something to do and I have to do it or it’s gonna bug me so bad that I’d regret not doing it. Which, when written down that way, looks sort of insane and compulsive, doesn’t it?
You’re just gonna have to take my word on this one, the word that I know the difference between mental illness and letting yourself help along something that you don’t have a great deal of understanding about. The line dividing the two, I’m sure, is pretty thin and open to a degree of interpretation on a case by case basis. Or maybe most people just waver oh-so-slightly back and forth over it, in microscopic drunken swoops.
This time was different, too. It was just slightly different.
“Maxim,” I finally said, “Do you have anything on you to write on? I don’t want to write on a napkin.”
He didn’t. He is no longer perplexed by these requests, if he ever was. I went in search of paper. I came back to the table and pulled my fancy pen from my wallet. I wrote down the words that were yelling to be let out and then I pulled out one-third of the grocery money –a twenty-dollar bill– and folded it up in that piece of paper covered in excited, inky loops.
I hunted up the manager.
“Now this won’t make much sense,” I said. I felt awkward. I didn’t care. I tried to hammer the words around the concept so he could at least get a feel for the shape of it. I said three sentences containing slippery words like ‘God’ and ‘anonymous’ and ‘led.’ He let me off the hook, “I go to Highlands church. I get what you’re doing. I understand.” And just like that I was thrilled to realize that it had started, this business of blessing strangers with cash, and that I had to give some twenties away so I could work my way up to hundreds.
Just like so many things in my life, it started before I knew it was time, before I knew I was ready.
I feel crazy-awkward telling you this story, because it could read as if self-aggrandizement is at play here. It’s earnestly not, though. It’s the biggest wash of humility when stuff like this occurs, because I don’t want to interlope on someone’s blessing by basking in it. There are certain profundities that I’ve gotten to witness that I had no claims to but I’ll be damned if they didn’t wash into me, too, just because I had the fortune of standing nearby.
It makes me feel like a Cosmic circus geek. Here, let me contort for you, it’ll be neat!
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
My word for this year is soul, only like this: Soul.
Yeah, this year’s about Soul for me, about putting a little more English on everything I do. It’s about letting the roots go deep because the soil is finally rich enough to sustain them.
The roots go deeper, the fruit goes sweeter, the bugs are still bugs but they have better table manners.
Soul is about caring so deeply for the right things that the wrong ones can’t even catch your eye.
Soul is about a hip shake and a lip turned up in pleasure and a good ole impolite wail cooking itself up right there underneath those collarbones.
Soul is knowing where and when to assign the wail.
Soul tells you important things like,
You have to begin. You have to Begin. YOU HAVE TO BEGIN.
*(my dining room needs some good news –is a little overdue for some, in fact– so if you should see some, sneak it over in a casserole dish)
I will not let my experiences define me. I will, however, allow them to inform how I view others and how I make decisions. Being hemmed in builds a propensity toward risk. Risk is invigorating, even when you are pissing yourself.
I will not be defeated. I may experience defeat, I may feel it from time to time in every fiber I cart around on these bones. Character and empathy spring from life grinding away at you a little.
I just ate a good meal, and I’m sitting in a comfortable house. Neither the meal nor the home were guaranteed when I hit this world squalling. They’re still not. I need to learn to embrace this truth, and not panic when I am reminded of it.
The reality of happiness is this: You have your eyes open, you breathe, you look around and you are satisfied.
The reality of sadness is this: You have your eyes open, you breathe, you expect and you are disappointed.
The reality of creativity is this: You have your eyes open, you breathe, your brain itches and you scratch that itch with the movement of your pencil, your pliers, your legs, your imagination.
The reality of stagnancy is this: You have your eyes open, you breathe.
I will be happy, I will be sad, I will be creative; I will not be stagnant.
Destruction is the prelude to creation, everything is impermanent, and all things are possible, even the impossible. I’ve been doing the impossible my whole fucking life. Sometimes I am silly and forget.
Today Maxim got locked out of his PayPal account due to a goofy glitch in the system. There was money sitting in there, money that he needed –we needed– and he started to freak out a little bit in his Maxim way, while I sat over here in this chair plugging Very Important Words (these days all the words that are worth eight cents or more are Very Important Words, I’m afraid) into the part of the ether that in my head is called Clientspace.
(Clientspace is inhabited, just so you know, by other fools zooming around on their keyboards and jockeying for the eight-cents-or-more words and making pewpewpew noises at all the other kamikaze writerfolk who want to eat their lunches and steal their house payments, how dare they.)
It was simple: “Maxim. Just call them. It will be no big deal, I promise.” He was also having an issue with getting client e-mails through his domain, so that fueled his angst even more, because not only could he not get to the money that was already there and his, he was losing money that potentially could be his if he were only given air and opportunity. He was doing that thing where he channels his mom and something that is not truly fussable gets fussed over because it is more convenient and safer altogether than Fucking Way The Fuck Out Completely over the big deal stuff (and there is a veritable fuckton of that leeching at our ankles, let me just tell you) that could cause a collective nervous breakdown around this joint should we let it give us our marching orders.
Stuff is not the boss, okay? Not even the big deal stuff. We are the bosses and sometimes stuff gets all snipey and back-bunchy and whoops, there we go, letting stuff get the better of us just because it’s being obstreperous. Stuff is an errant child and it is up to us to not let it drop its drawers and shit in the living room.
So, at one point about fifteen minutes in, Maxim pushed himself away from the desk, saying “I’ll be back in a minute.” My only response to that was a silent, “Thank. God.” because I had a deadline, you know? Me and Maxim and this everybody working out of the house thing….well, there are some kinks yet. There are no stabbable offenses thus far, but we are teetering Damn Closetm to hit-you-with-a-hammer-in-your-sleep-so-that-you-can-fully-understand-the-true-weight-of-interruption offense. The ongoing battle against writerly interruption has stepped up its motherfucking game, is what I’m saying. Sometime in July he asked me to devise a system by which he might know I was working and not longingly window shopping Amazon for fancy things like new music and helium tanks, so I came up with this,
My husband asked for a better indicator of when I was working, so I designed a simple notification interface for the back side of my lappy.
only that didn’t go so well, because that is a cheapo sticky note (someone perpetually makes off with the good ones [ed. note: SCOUT, ALL TEH MUFFINASSES KNOW IT'S YOU WITHOUT MY HAVING TO TELL THEM] and there are better things to waste money on these days….things like toilet paper and electricity) and it kept falling off, causing Maxim to say, “Hey, is the sticky note on the floor on purpose, or on accident? Because I need to know if I can interrupt you or not.”
Yes, the exasperated sound coming out of North Alabama is me, Entire Rest of the World. I’m sorry, I’ll try to keep it down over here.
So back around to it: Maxim came back into the room some twenty minutes later, armed with his shoulder bag full of important things and his hands full of paperwork, announcing, “I’m going to go sell some stuff because I need a boost to my ego. I’ll fuck with PayPal and e-mail when I return.”
“Great!” I said back brightly, “I’m making BLTs for dinner, so take your ti-iiiime!”
And I thought him a very smart man in that instance, because instead of caving to drudgery he did what he knew he’s great at and what would make him feel like rock star so that he could power through tedious, frustrating mess that he gets no joy from.
This year, man. This year in our lives. Some people know one chunk of it, other people know other parts of it, still others know an entirely different slice. Suffice it to say it’s been hit after hit after hit. What sums it up for me, I guess, is May the thirty-first. That afternoon I got an e-mail from BlogHer announcing that I was a Voices of the Year Honoree for this year. AIRHORN!! RIDICULOUS AGOG FACE! SELF-PRIDE! ALL THE ELEVENTY!!1! IN MY HEART! because, to be real honest, there was a lot wrapped up for me in that acknowledgement. I’ve long felt overlooked by much of this community because I don’t fit the regular mold (hint: Nor do I have any real plans to going forward. Love me, hate me, I’ma do me no matter what side of the coin you call for yourself). This year’s list of honorees is an incredible roster, and whoa nelly, that was vindication in and of itself, to be bookended by such talent, and sitting in the company of some of my favorite voices in Cyberia. So, you know, super-high.
May the thirty-first, continued: Later that night we learned that Sam is to be deployed to Afghanistan for just under a year. My heart fell down to my toes and just dribbled out the ends of them and onto the carpet. Good thing we’re going to get rid of it anyway, this hideous carpet, because once you get heart-stains on it they never really go away.
That’s what the entirety of this year has been like, over and over and over again, with so many circumstances both big and small. I am yanked through the clouds at dizzying speeds, then I am flung so viciously against the hard plane of ground that I make dents.
Last week’s cloud flight was the announcement that Sam and Randi were expecting a child. This week’s cratering out was the phone call –on Labor Day, so cute– that Randi had miscarried. The eedle yellow and mint sleepers I have thus far gathered for this child (who I’d already had adventures with in my mind’s eye) sit on the table next to me as I type, in fact. They will go to the local foster parent resource center tomorrow.
It has taken me all the way up until September, but I’m finally learning part of what this year wants to teach me: Just don’t make any plans, either to the positive or to the negative. Just sit with it, this instance in this hour in this day. The Adapt and Overcome portion of my brain was dormant, a little rusty from comfort. It took a minute to get it humming.
There’s still so much looming, I can feel it. I’m not afraid. That seems such a strange thing to say, given all that’s gone on this year and the complete lack of surety here in this place that we’re still inhabiting. I may have hiccups of despair, but I’m not afraid and I’m okay and that counts for something. Some days that’s all there is and alright then, alright.
When he returned today, Maxim came bearing a box of Triscuits; he was convinced they would score him a gratitude lay. “This is what we’ve been reduced to,” I exclaimed in delight, “Triscuits are marital baubles!” We laughed together, long and deep and with giddy gulps.
A few years back, my life was in a state that could best be described as ‘high and dry’.
As I started regaining myself, I met a man who was drunk and kind and whose smile had this ridiculous mix of boyishness and let-me-show-you-what-can-happen. We waved hello and goodbye at parties, we played cards at crowded tables heavy with cigarette smoke and laughing drawls. It did not occur to me to date him until one night he said to me, “The next time I see you I’ll be taking you home with me.”
There was a lot of whiskey involved. When I told him of this later –the third or fourth time we slept together, maybe– he sheeted crimson and I shook my head, holding my amusement in check. A smile leaked past my lips but what I really wanted to do was laugh so hard that it shook one of us out of that bed.
We dated for a good while. He had a fair amount of change in his bank account, but we did simple things: We went shooting, we made runs into Georgia for scratch-offs and forties and just for the simple satisfaction of riding some back roads, listening to some good music.
There came a day when he turned to me and said, “Babedoll,
(yes he said babedoll in a way that no fancy movie cowboy will ever, ever be able to nail)
“you like to shoot pool?”
Well do I ever, sir: I owned a pool cue when I was just about chest-high to a table and I wish my dad would have taken me and my sister to a pool hall and hustled the shit out of the patrons with two little toothless ruthless billiard-rounding towheads. Alas, he did not, and we had to satisfy our competitive natures sharking the neighborhood boys who hadn’t got the memo yet (it was forthcoming; this was the late seventies in rural middle America) that Sisters Are Fucking Doing It For Themselves.
“I do indeed enjoy a game or two on the now and again.”
People, I had been such a billiards dork between the ages of seven and twelve that I watched televised matches whenever one was aired.
I found myself being escorted into the local pool hall, which –despite its existence smack dab in the middle of the main street in town– I hadn’t known was there. It was, ah….stealthy and low-key on the outside, but inside was the magic of wide industrial windows facing an alley at the back and high, high tin ceilings. This place had always been a gathering spot and never wanted to be anything else; you could tell.
So we lined up healthy stacks of quarters and played and played; I was the only woman in the place and I was treated well, with respect and deference. At one point we noticed the group of men that had been occupying the other tables were loosely gathered around a television in one corner of the room. We made our way toward them; the televison was older, with rabbit ears and flip dials. It rested on a metal teevee tray, but nobody seemed to be worried that it would tip its perch and explode upon impact with the concrete floor. A flat metal stool that stood nearby held a cup and an ashtray.
The fellas were watching ‘Jeopardy’, flipping quarters into the cup between questions. Trebek would read the answer, and the first person to roll out the correct question won the pot. They were playing with two cups, so that each time a quarter-heavy one was pulled, an empty was put back onto the stool. The game had a rhythm, a frankness, a confidence that was exciting. The cowboy and I hung back at the edge of the group, taking in the scene. Thing about him, well…he was a gambler. He was so good that he likely could have made a living at it.
As we watched, I shot out questions under my breath, knowing ninety percent of them and beating everyone in the room. I was wearing the cowboy’s leather coat, the cuffs of it skimming down around my knuckles. I tapped the tips of my fingers against them when I issued a correct question; I can still feel them rat-tat-tatting, the index and ring fingers of each hand, but mostly my overexcited right. The cowboy began to move his eyes from the television to me and back again, quietly running the numbers in his head.
A week later we went back; in his jacket were two pocketfuls of quarters and Jeopardy started at six on the money. We steered to our previous position; my job was to roll out responses and his job was to pull the cup. Over and over, glory hallelujah, he pulled that cup as I calmly navigated the rounds. My voice was clear and measured where the week before it had been tucked into my chest. I’d had most all the questions. I just hadn’t been speaking them loudly enough to be a competitor.
At the end of the episode, I was given a civil nod from the other players and we found an old Folger’s can to hold what our pockets wouldn’t. We sat later at the kitchen table, rolling and counting. When we were done, he pushed the winnings toward me.
“My God, woman, that was one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed. That was one fuck of a lotta fun.” I bit my lip, because my mouth was threatening to melt off with all the smiling, all the smiling.
I feel something happening. Don’t ask me to go into details, because hell if I know that bit.
It occurs to me, though, that I’ve known a fair share of what I’ve needed to all along, and I have been speaking it low and to myself, getting a feel for the rhythm of the game. I’m pretty sure that I’m about to start speaking up and out, pulling quarters and having a fine time.
Sometimes I wake up and I think, “I don’t know who the fuck I am.”
That is what age and wisdom does to you. The more you discover yourself, the less you know who you are. The trick is to get comfortable with being off-kilter most of the fucking time, standing ready in the rocking shift of consciousness. You get to pick from “I am enlightened and tickled about it,” or “I am a nervous fucking wreck.” Some days you’ll swing from one to the other like a big ole meat pendulum, you with your smirking mouth and your weak ankles. But you have a strong back and your bowels work, so there’s that to make up for the other.
Back to this waking up business: You wake up every morning and there is a certain amount of magic and science you expect to be on your side. Most of us are lucky enough that it is a fair deal of the time.
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Apparently I have gotten far too comfortable in my life, is what the universe is trying to tell me today, All You Folk.
I don’t know a lot of things. Wait, scratch that. Yes the fuck I do. I know a metric ton of stuff. One of the things I know is that I’m very self-aware (metaMetaMETA!), and I have a good grip on my strengths and weaknesses. Mostimes I am just as liable to tell you the ways in which I’m a sore fuckup as the ways in which I am strong and capable. I try not to make excuses for myself, especially if I’ve engaged in poor behavior. If I can be proud of the good things in my life, I can own the shabby ones, too. I try not to luxuriate in the one or self-flagellate with the other. These are all just things. There are happies and there are sads and graces and contemptuousnesses and all of the other point-counterpoint that life weaves through you. You enjoy the one, you motor through the other. You take a knee where it’s called for and you jump around like a fool where it’s appropriate (and, if you’re like me, sometimes where it’s not).
I like to be in the moment, to wring everything I can out of it. It’s simple, really.
Another thing I know is that your secrets are the very things that will kneecap you and make you worthless. The tighter you hug them to yourself, your burdens, the colder and heavier and more unrelenting they become. They will drag you down without compromise. Some people will tell you to keep your game face on, to always telegraph surety and success. They want you to believe right alongside them that you should never leave your neck exposed, even if it means sacrificing the act of turning your head, craning it for all it’s worth, to look at something amazing like a baby’s laughing mouth or a pretty, unselfconscious woman. You know, things worth exposing your soft meat for.
I can do stoic like nobody’s business. I learned from some of the best. I’m not convinced it’s the best way to live, though.
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I have been sitting here all day fretting. I’m not supposed to tell you that. I was raised by a mother who took on as our family motto the phrase, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” I see where she was going with that, and it was a well-intentioned route, one that encouraged us –my sister and me– to be proactive and not wallow and not have a sense of entitlement. She wanted it to be clear that we were to do our part in our destinies, whatever those may in fact be.
But you know, over the last couple of years I’ve been thinking, and those thinks tell me that “If it is to be, it is up to me” is just a titch arrogant, and inadvertently prideful. It implies that I can do it all on my lonesome….or worse, it implies that I should do it all on my lonesome. So my father actively drilled superiority into our heads while my mom passively did so, even as she touted the good virtue of humility in our hearts. That’s startling. (It also makes me think: “How many didn’t-mean-tos am I responsible for where my own bairns are concerned?” We are all so well-meaning, aren’t we?) If there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that I need a tribe. I’m not especially co-dependent, but I am hugely loving and tribesmen bring the lulz and sometimes buy the beer and they let you hug them. Most of them hug back. My tribe doesn’t need to be huge. It just needs to be mine.
I am a tough motherfucker. I can take a shot to the head, no sweat. Depending on who you are, I may taunt you for another (I’m off-kilter but I ain’t dumb) . I can take a verbal bludgeoning and laugh and shake it off later via elaborate voodoo rituals on your person
by knifing your tires
with a rowdy game of darts and your picture,
leaving it be. This is not to say that I don’t believe in being vulnerable, however. I do. I just need to correct myself in the error of thinking that I should have absolute control over where and when I’m vulnerable. I mean, I don’t advocate walking around being a slobbering mess, but what’s the harm of showing armor chinks? I’m sure as shit not afraid of someone seeing me beat my spear on my shield. Truth be told, I don’t even need a spear OR a shield: I have a fearsome haka, just ask anyone who’s seen it.
Hell, ask my husband. I love him the most fiercely of all, and he has seen my most brutal parts and all the weapons that I brandish outwardly, only to turn them inward on myself.
Now then, there is something that the guys with the no-vulnerability mindset and I agree on: Faking it until you make it; I believe in a certain degree of that for sure. I don’t believe in lying. I do believe in saying, “Fuck yeah I can do that,” partly for the other guy in the room, but partly for yourself, too. You gotta hear yourself say that you can do something. You gotta hear those words. Then something in you is beholden to step into them and make them fit, see? Something in you is challenged, awakened, teased out. I believe in challenges, because I’m big on adventure. If you’re not an adventurer, then that’s fine. You can, for instance, believe in challenges because you are a glutton for punishment. Hahaha. (no really)
(I love you. We will get to the end. You can take a pee break or whatever and come back.)
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
A friend tells me that the air conditioning in his house has broken again, almost as an aside in another conversation we are having. I know that when the air goes out he gets sick. I also know that his clients have been slow to pay. I pray for his air to work, both so that he can be well and so he doesn’t have to lay out any more money on that damn unit. He doesn’t know that I am praying. I pray for his wife, who must surely worry and fret over him when he is sick, even though she may not actively show him her worry so as not to cause him any strain. I know this dance; I am a wife.
I pray for life to be less mean for you.
I pray for the doctors to find out what’s going on in your physiological self so that it will stop being an albatross on your spiritual self.
I pray for you to find a job.
I pray that you don’t have to make the shitty choice between medication and shelter, between living and L!I!V!I!N!G!
I pray for those little shitbirds at school to stop bullying your sweet kid.
I pray for you even though you mock people like me, people who pray and believe that it works.
I pray for peace and understanding between you and your family, for them to accept and love, for you to forgive hurts, for unification and joy and laughter around a laden table.
I pray for you to stop being scared of the world, and for it in turn to reward and be good to you.
I pray for your beautiful son, locked in a different self, and for you, because the way you parent him is so big and so lovely and so perfect that you could never, ever fail.
I pray for you to stop believing that lying thing inside you that says you are not enough.
I pray for your trust, your openness, and your ability to receive those things from others in return.
I pray for understanding between us.
….and so on.
I’m pretty bad at asking God for things for myself. I used to be pretty bad at asking a few select people to pray for me, over me, but I’ve gotten better at that. There have been a handful of people praying for me and my family about a specific thing for about a week now.
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Today I sat with myself, dragging myself from task to task until I just finally quit trying to focus on other things and sat frozen, petrified, unable to do anything but cry, even though I hate to cry and I believe that worry is unnecessary things like a) taxing and b) a flavor of abomination. Up and out, right? Crying is the emesis of the soul or some shit and today I just couldn’t quell the spiritual nausea and so I bawled like a tit on and off, using a corner of an old towel I’d torn up for rags as a kleenex.
That! Is how thrifty! And repurposeful! I have become! Behold my prowess! I will never ‘make my own toilet paper’, though. There are leaves and catalogs and corncobs left in the world, my Lord.
Then I reached out tentatively to some more people, willing myself to place in them the trust I know that they are worthy of, because they’ve never shown themselves to be full of anything other than integrity and goodwill. (some of them are full of beer, too: tribesmen)
I told them: There is a very strong chance that we may lose our house. I told them: I need every bit of Spirit you can muster my way. I told them: This is humiliating. This is infuriating. I am on the cusp, on the cusp, but there are still bricks to be shoved into place, and I’ve set enough of them that it makes no kind of sense to turn back. I told them: Maxim’s income has steadily declined. Worse, his morale has steadily declined as he’s had to slash away at the jobs of others. His nerves are taut and he has this stress tic where his jaw clenches and unclenches and I am furious at the state of this country for what it has done to the state of my husband, the state of many of its families. The pigs that stole away with all the lifeboats cannot so much as throw out the stray pair of arm floaties to the drowning masses they’ve helped to shipwreck.
Banks, you see, would rather a corpse be fished out of the drink than aid the able-bodied to survive and swim. They don’t hear you when you tell them, “Um. Ahem. I see rocks ahead,” and ask about preventative measures. They aren’t concerned with the fact that you have dwindled your modest but promising nest egg (YOU HAD NEVER BEEN ABLE TO SAVE BEFORE! IT WAS EXCITING TO SEE THOSE NUMBERS TICK GENTLY UPWARD!). They don’t give a shit that I love that studio up there, the one it took me so long to get. It doesn’t matter to the suits that my dining room is the heart of this house, and that so many amazing things have happened in there. They would just blink at me if I told them how this big ole ambly thing was a literal garbage dump when we found it and although it’s not the Taj Mahal yet, we do a little at a time as we can and everyone but everyone without fail remarks on the easy sense of peace they pick up on when they come into this place. I’m not the only one, you see, with a story like this. They probably don’t even hear the words anymore.
It’s only been a few days since I’ve known the full gravity of our situation and something in me is insistent that I cannot allow it to mow me under. If I keep it a secret, it will.
….and so now I’ve told you, too. I need rooting-for. I need LOUD, SPIRIT-FILLED, YODELING-TRIBE HOLLERING AND STOMPING ON MY BEHAAAAAALLLLF!
Freedom. I am speaking freedom over myself, whatever it turns out to look like. It may have different square footage or even be in a different town, another state altogether. It may be right here where I will bounce fat-cheeked grandbabes on my lap (“this is the way the farmer rides, hobbledy-hoy, hobbledy-hoy”) someday. Whatever. However. I’m asking for you to speak freedom over me, as well. I trust you. I trust you over there with your integrity and your goodwill and your hoping heart inside your rowdy chest.
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In the last few weeks I have been communicating with someone in a deep and meaningful way. We’ve been pondering on the nature of our respective beliefs and how it’s hard sometimes to be what we are in a world that either misunderstands us or perceives us to be something that we are not; they do so based on a mess of ignorant zealots who act like they don’t know anydamnbetter. We have been awkward and vulnerable and funny with one another. We have been mortifyingly honest, broken, excited to be in the company of someone of the same ilk: “Hi. I’m the fuckup who is here to love you.”
I have never written a truer or more naked assessment of myself: “Hi. I am the fuckup who is here to love you.” See what happens?
Anyway, I shakingly asked for prayers. I got a message back saying, “well. it isn’t a coincidence that I was listening to this when I got your message:”
And no. No it wasn’t. Because that freedom paragraph up there? I’d written it a couple hours before I reached for a hand.
‘Only chain a man can stand / Is that chain of hand in hand /Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on’