I wrote something that I was going to post here, right now, but my friend Naomi and I are working on a book and I decided that I liked what I wrote enough that I’m going to save it, tweak it and expand it a bit and keep for that purpose.

I’m supposed to write 10 short pieces this month. That’s part of the book, part of the plan. Ten pieces, each a thousand words or less. I need 10 by the end of January, which should be easy, but of course proves daunting. I couldn’t figure out how to get started. I’ve got 50 ideas running through my head and I’m having trouble figuring out which 10 of those I’m meant to grab hold of and tug until they emerge as 10 distinct, separate stories.

So instead I just sat down to write a blog post because I had a bit of free time in between appointments today and I like what I wrote enough that I’ve decided to make it idea number 1. More often than not, this is how these sorts of things go for me. I stop trying so hard to find the words, and the words just come. Maybe I should stop searching so hard for success, for friendship, for real and lasting happiness? Maybe those things will just come to me when I stop trying so hard to make them appear?

Who knows? Anyway, I wrote something today and I was going to post it here, but I didn’t, so I posted this instead.

Happy Wednesday. A week from today we’ll be half way through this month. That’s surprising to me. It seems fast. I’m pretty sure I’m still dehydrated from all the champagne I drank 10 days ago.

Good Advice That I Would Give To Others But Often Fail To Take Myself

Nobody knows what they want out of life. Not really at least. Not honestly and openly. All your angst about what am I going to do with myself and am I worthwhile person and maybe I should be doing something that’s better, more useful, that makes a difference in the world, that I actually enjoy, that doesn’t run me ragged and so on and so on? That’s not just you, that’s everybody. And those people who seem so happy and so together and how come they get to do what they love and it’s not fair that they know what they want and how to get it and how come I can’t figure anything out, what’s wrong with me? Nothing is wrong with you. That’s life. Those people don’t really exist, they’re just better at pretending. They’re just better at hiding the fact that their job that they love so much and their life that is exactly what they said they always wanted is still pretty shitty, exhausting, frustrating, unfulfilling, a waste of time and energy, not exactly what they wanted but hey maybe it will be someday, baby steps, a stepping stone, ladder climbing, close enough, but still a not so infrequent source of unhappiness. Nobody’s got it all figured out and even if they do and you don’t it doesn’t make them better than you, smarter than you, more deserving of happiness than you are. It just makes them different people who want different things, with different goals and desires and benchmarks for what makes you a person of value and substance and besides they’re boring to talk to most of the time anyway and when you ask if they’ve read any good books lately they sigh all righteously and say they’re just much too busy to spend time reading for pleasure as if reading a book was some kind of childish indulgence that serious people with real jobs and important lives and let me see if I can pencil you in schedules simply can’t be bothered with and that’s supposed to be like a good thing and an adult thing and if only they weren’t such important people with important grown up things to do then maybe just maybe they’d be able to make time for a bit of light reading. I’m just saying, they can take their great lives with their super important and fulfilling careers and all those kudos and atta boys. I’ll be over here with a glass of wine and a good book and we can both be miserable about our existence in our own, wholly separate ways.

Idealism is a long road to a dead end that will loop around in a circle and send you back out the way you came. Not that you shouldn’t be idealistic. That’s all well and good and maybe you get some things done along the way and some kid decides they want to be a doctor or a great scientist because you encourage them and told them they’re smart and good and deserving and they can do something someday and maybe they go on to cure cancer or solve the global food crisis and that’s totally super and we all owe you a big thanks for your optimism and giving nature. But eventually you’re going to get a little older and notice a little more how institutions and society and the whole damn world is set up to hold certain people back and there are exceptions to every rule and thank god for that and while it’s great that you go in every week to help teach kids how to read or show them that there’s someone there for them who wants them to succeed and do well, eventually you’ll notice that none of the clocks in the entire school work at all and that’s such a small thing but an important thing and how hard can it possibly be to have some working clocks and you’ll realize that idealism is less about making the world a better place and more about making yourself feel better about the state things, but at least maybe some kid gets to learn how to pronounce the word “complicated.”

Don’t buy Honest Tea’s Pomegranate Red Tea with Goji Berry. You don’t even know what goji berries are and you’re definitely too lazy to bother looking it up but you still think oh goji berries, I bet those would be good for me, but you don’t fucking know. Goji berries could be poisonous for all your lack of science and weird plant knowledge and maybe this is Honest Tea’s attempt to slowly destroy the part of the human race that doesn’t know from goji berries and besides even if you did know what they are then really shouldn’t you know better than to drink this because goji berries don’t even taste good or maybe they do, you wouldn’t know, but something doesn’t taste good and it leaves a bitter flavor in your mouth and makes you thirsty for water and like shouldn’t cold tea quench your thirst? Just stop being roped in by all things pomegranate, sure the juice is tasty and yeah isn’t the color pretty but it’s not worth the effort and the mess because you can never remember what the trick is for opening them in water so all the seeds float to the top or however that’s supposed to work. Just stick to bananas or some other simple fruit.

You look fine, and even if you don’t look fine, it’s your body and it’s nobody else’s business how you look and everyone can just shut up and go to hell and all the haters can fuck off. If you want to exercise more, exercise more. If you want to eat a little less, eat a little less. If you don’t, then don’t. Live your life and give yourself a break and don’t obsess over dimples in your legs or how can your butt sit higher and yeah you should be able to grab up hunks of skin because it’s skin and body tissue is this real thing that you can touch and pull and hold in your hand because you are a real person with real physical properties who takes up actual physical space and that’s okay because you are not a hologram that someone’s hand would pass through if they reached out to touch you and you’re allowed to exist so stop letting people and societal expectations and your own self esteem issues erase you and you diminish you and make you feel like maybe everything would just be better if there were less of you, or no you at all. Stop thinking that wouldn’t you be prettier if you could just x, y and z because you’re totally fine just the way you are, you’re better than fine even. Sure some people are going to be prettier than you, stronger than you, better than you at all the things you’ve never been very good at but wish you were. Some people are going to make more money and drive better cars and have nicer houses and live better lives and you’ll tell yourself you don’t care about any of that but wouldn’t it be nice if you could at least be prettier or thinner or have nicer boobs or a flat stomach and maybe if you really could just x, y and z someday their life could be your life, but the truth is that even if you did x, y and z there’d just be a whole new set of letters after that from some alphabet you don’t even recognize because when you stand naked in front of the mirror or when you compare yourself to every other woman that crosses your path or smiles up from the pages of a magazine or the computer screen or dances around on tv, well the alphabet goes on forever and there’s no such thing as pretty enough. So stop fixating on it. Stop worrying about it, or at least try to stop worrying about it and realize that you have a great sense of humor or an awesome laugh. You’re good at applying mascara so that it never clumps or you know how to put on eyeliner so that it’s totally straight and not everyone can do that. Or maybe you’re really good at walking in heels or you can run long distances or math is easy for you and other people struggle with math for their entire lives. You’re a great cook, you always win at poker, you totally understand fashion and dressing for the season, you know how to dance, your eyes are never closed in pictures unless you wanted them to be, you can get drunk without turning all red and splotchy, or you turn all red and splotchy every time you get drunk but it doesn’t matter because you’re the life of the party so no one notices anyway. Or maybe you’re super smart and you understand how the world works and you know that this fight, this desire to be more pretty, more fashionable, more everything than what you already are is an ongoing battle and it doesn’t matter how often you tell yourself to give up the fight and just be happy, the fight will always be there because the world is designed to make you feel like this, to agitate you and distract you and make you feel like you’re worthless and undeserving so that maybe you’ll be too occupied with the size of your thighs to notice when people try to take away your birth control or convince you that you’re not capable of making your own decisions. But you are capable and you’re great and you’re good at what you’re good at and you look like what you look like. No one could ever hate you as much as you hate yourself and maybe it’s worth it to at least try to stop being your own worst enemy.

When you are sad, do not put on sad music and formulate a list in your head of all the reasons you suck as a person. Put on Robyn or Florence and the Machine, make some mac n cheese and dance around in your kitchen wearing nothing but your underwear because fuck it, sometimes that’s all you can do. But don’t forget to turn the lights off. When you live in a rowhouse where the people who live on the street behind you can stand in their kitchen and watch you across the alley that runs between your houses, always remember to turn the light off when you dance around in your underwear. Or don’t turn the light off because damn the man. It’s your life and you can live it however you want. Do what you have to do to be happy.

Cowboy Take Me To The Edge of Sanity

It took me forever to fall asleep last night because I had the song “Cowboy Take Me Away” by the Dixie Chicks stuck in my head for about two hours. It has easily been ten years since I’ve heard that song and it bothers me that something can suddenly pop back into your head long after you’ve pretty much forgotten that it ever existed. I spent the first fitful hour repeating the same two lines over and over again and nearly convincing myself that is was worth getting out of bed to look up the names of each individual Dixie Chick so as to better plot their murders. The second hour was consumed with trying to trace the thread of my day, week, month back to the moment when this insipid song entered my subconscious and chose to lie in wait for this one optimal time of pure torture. It’s not even a song that I enjoy, from a band I hardly ever listened to, in a genre of music that could disappear entirely and I doubt I’d even notice its absence.

How do things like this happen? What kind of world is this where I can turn out the light after a long weekend, desperate for the softness of my pillow and the pleasant relief of some much needed sleep, only to have my head ache and pound for hours as lines like “closer to heaven above and closer to you,” bounce against the inside of my skull with no obvious genesis or direction? I’m not saying I’m this great person who should one day be unquestionably venerated like a saint, but don’t I deserve better than this? Aren’t I good enough, hardworking enough, don’t I care enough about the general wellbeing of others that I should be exempted from the hideous cruelty of “Cowboy Take Me Away” ringing through my head at one in the morning? Yes, I’ll admit that I turned to my husband several times throughout the night, saw him sleeping soundly and without hesitation thought, “I hate this man.” Those were not my best moments. Those were thoughts that are perhaps deserving of death by Dixie Chicks refrain, but you have to understand how maddening this was, how worrisome and terrifying an ordeal it had become. What if “Cowboy Take Me Away” was some kind of Dixie Chicks Pandora’s Box? What if I was opening my mind to the chaos of two or three lines from an entire catalogue of Dixie Chicks songs that I could just barely remember from my youth? What if this wasn’t just some horrible infliction that I would suffer for one night only, and wake the next morning wired and restless but mercifully released from the horrid grasp of twangy country vocals? What if this was my life?

I pride myself on being a fighter. On my ability to face the world and shout “fuck you” with my shoulders back and my voice strong and determined, before racing off to cry in the privacy of my bathroom with the shower running to cover the sound of my sobs. If people remember only one thing about me, let it be that I did not go gentle into that good night. No sir. It might have been three on one, but I was not going to let these Chicks of the Dixie defeat me. If I could not rid my head of their incessant song, I would simply have to drown it out. I would fill my mind with so much music that space would be a commodity so rare that even the Dixie Chicks with their platinum records and millions of dollars could no longer afford to take up residence in my brain. All I needed were more songs, different songs. Songs that I could remember in full or in part. Songs that I loved and songs that I hated. It didn’t matter, I just needed enough songs to create such a tempest of noise in my head that eventually there would be nothing left but a drone that would lull me into a glorious sleep.

I opened my mind and my arms to a torrent of music, but nothing came. Any song, I told my brain. Any song, I pleaded with the universe. Then it happened, building slowly, quietly:

I could stay awake just to hear you breathing
Watch you smile while are sleeping
While you’re far away and dreaming
I could spend my life in this sweet surrender
I could stay lost in this moment forever
Where every moment spent with you is a moment I treasure

Don’t want to close my eyes
I don’t want to fall asleep
Cause I’d miss you babe
And I don’t want to miss a thing

“I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing”. That Aerosmith song from Armageddon.

And that’s when I realized that Tired Me has a seriously fucked up sense of humor.

Infected

I woke up on Thursday morning feeling off. Not sick per se, but more like the energy in my room had shifted and turned into a negative, almost menacing pulsation in the air around me. I felt dizzy, like the entire world was spinning on its axis in one direction and I, in an act of confusion and a desperate need for some kind of control, was attempting to spin the other way. I thought I might tip over with each step, or just collapse with the weight of all the blood in my body rushing away from my head and pooling thick and stagnant around my ankles. It was like every bit of me had been drained into my toes and I moved through the house in a slow, lumbering kind of way that was positively terrifying.

One time when I was a child, I had head lice. Or my brother had it, or perhaps my sister. It didn’t matter. Once one person had lice, everyone had lice. It spread through our schools like chicken pox, like a common cold. Head lice was like a yawn during a particularly tedious test or quiet study period. It jumped from one student to the next, making its way around the room until everyone’s mouth was stretched wide with exhaustion and it made no difference who yawned first, everyone was tired. There is no Patient Zero with head lice. Once you find it on one child, you can be sure there’s already another 10, 15, 2o carrying the bug home, sharing it with their siblings who will then go to school and pass it on to their classes, spreading it from one grade to the next until the whole school is throwing down their pencils in frustration and angrily scratching their heads.

My mother had to strip all the beds. Sheets, blankets, towels, clothes. Quilts that had been locked away in cedar trunks. Bath mats and rugs and every hat in the house. Everything had to be cleaned and disinfected. Cycle after cycle of laundry needed washing. It was like head lice had been genetically engineered by detergent companies. You could go through box after box of Tide and still not be sure the pests were truly gone.

We had to sit in the bathtub and comb a special lice-killing shampoo through our hair with a special lice-killing-shampoo-spreading comb. We had to be extra clean for the days and weeks that followed. No piles of dirty clothes on the floor. No going to bed without showering. It was frustrating and tiresome, but it was also in a strange way kind of pleasant. That kind of dedicated, stripped down house cleansing was soul cleansing as well. It felt like a fresh start, a chance to begin again free from pests and irritations. It required a kind of mindfulness and devotion that is so rarely applied to the mundanities of everyday life.

I woke up Thursday morning infected by a sort of existential head lice, and the only way I could think to rid myself of this feeling of confusion and disconnected self was to vigorously clean my entire house. I swept and wiped down all of the hardwood floors. I vacuumed the bedroom carpet twice until I was sure that every deeply buried speck of dust and melancholy had been sucked away. I reorganized all my jewelry and toiletries. I folded every last piece of laundry, and washed random items, like the slip-on covers of our dining room chairs that had never occurred to me before as being in need of washing. I rearranged the furniture in the dining room to facilitate a better sense of flow from the living room to the kitchen, as if flow was something I had always cared about, but previously neglected. As if flow was something I even understood. I wiped down all the counters and table tops. I dusted the shelves and picture frames. I spent ten ridiculous minutes fluffing the pillows on the couch. I needed to cleanse my life of whatever bad energy had followed me from sleep to waking. I needed to stand in the middle of my house and smell the strong scent of disinfectant. I needed to stand beneath the spray of the shower head and feel the blood return to my limbs and cheeks. I cancelled my appointments and focused solely on the task of cleansing my world, my self. I was Patient Zero and I would not let this bug spread to anyone else.

I felt better. With the floors free of dog hair and the soap scum banished from the tub. With clean clothes neatly stacked in my dresser drawers and my brightly colored scarves hanging organized on the same rack that held my earrings. I felt the air in the house slowly stop trembling and pulsing. I felt my feet resting ever more steadily against the floor. I don’t know what it was that infected me on Thursday morning, but I knew that I had to wash it away. I had to purge it, scald it, bury it under a spray of household chemicals. I had to strip away everything that felt disorderly, chaotic and begin again fresh, free from the pests and irritations of my psyche.

 

Down On The Farm

All my mother remembers is that I suddenly stopped eating beef.

I was a smart kid. Not smart by the standards of private schools, or households where you are expected to excel in subjects that refuse to make sense, like chemistry or any kind of math, but I was smart all the same and, more importantly, I was good. I wanted to do well and pay attention. I wanted my teachers to like me and tell me that I was special, I was hardworking, I was their favorite. When you grow up in a small town in Texas, in a school district where by the time you reach high school it seems like half the class is either pregnant or constantly stoned, being both smart and good does not go unnoticed. They put you in EL, Extended Learning. It’s a special class where they gather all of the well-behaved smarty-pants in one room and teach you stuff the other kids don’t get to learn, like how to cook seaweed, or how to become a smug know-it-all asshole. While other students were learning Texas history again, we got to do reports on exotic, far off places like Bhutan and Canada. We learned how to weave baskets–it’s one of my most useful skills–and made necklaces out of arrowheads. We made volcanoes, and learned about the ocean and the sun and the moon and the stars, and all about Pluto when it was still worthy of being a planet. We learned lots of really exciting, interesting stuff, the kind of things that all kids should learn instead of constantly focusing on test prep. Best of all, we went on field trips. We went to a pond to learn how to test the water for chemicals and pollutants. We went to a library where a woman with glasses and a beige jacket taught us about archives. And we went to a farm, so that we could learn about where our food comes from, how it gets to the grocery stores and how that process is related to keeping us healthy and alive.

It was a cattle farm. Some type of ranch where they kept their cows until they were big and juicy, then slaughtered them and sold the beef to restaurants and distributors down in San Antonio. They drove us around in a wagon pulled by a big, noisy tractor, and Blake got yelled at for trying to reach down and touch one of the wagon wheels. This was EL, Blake. We were the good kids. We didn’t do that kind of dumb shit.

We got to touch some of the cows, and point and laugh at piles of cow crap. We got to see where they go to slice and dice them. Where the blood gets pushed by a giant squeegee into an even more giant floor drain that led down to some kind of blood catching apparatus. The smell of flesh and heat and something I couldn’t identify and haven’t smelled since–does cow angst have a scent?–hung in the air around us. “Cool,” the boys kept saying. I felt like I might throw up.

They showed us the giant freezer where they stored the cuts.

On the bus ride back to school, I kept my face pressed against the cool pane of the window to stop the rush of vomit to my throat. “So what did we learn today?” the teacher asked. Too much. We learned too much. We learned things that we didn’t need to know. I was only 11.

All my mother remembers is that I suddenly stopped eating beef. But it wasn’t a sudden decision, far from inexplicable or rash. It came from a place of knowledge and experience. It came from extending my learning far beyond anything my stomach could handle. In the 16 years that have followed my trip to the farm, I have never returned to eating beef. Though in fairness, I’ve never once cooked seaweed either.