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“These marks were made by a 1966 Pontiac Tempest”

I can’t believe that it’s almost Thanksgiving. This year has flown by. It’s been a year of learning for me. Of adjusting. Big, honking life lessons, and smaller just-as-important ones. This is some of what I have discovered:

Your weedlings will never cease to amaze you. When my middle child left to start at West Point, I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage without her. She was a teenager and certainly had her share of fun, but she also helped me around the house, played chauffeur for her brother, cheered me up when I was down, encouraged me when I was exhausted, got me moving when I was depressed, and could cook up a mean meal when it was her turn. Losing her from the household was hard, even outside of the emotional upheaval that comes when one of your brood leaves the nest. Even as I was full of pride for her accomplishments, I was worried about managing. I knew my oldest, who has always had more than a bit of caretaker in her, would be there to help me if need be. And she hasn’t let me down. What surprised me was the fact that my barely-teenage son has also stepped up. Getting his chores done without much complaining, sometimes even without asking. Doing for himself and taking meal duty if I am working late. Being as empathetic as a 13 year old boy can. Yes, he still leaves his smelly socks under the coffee table sometimes. But I have been pleasantly surprised at what he has taken on to help without cajoling from me.

You can enjoy things you never thought you could. This is a recent discovery. Coworkers asked me to join them at a haunted house. I can say honestly that I’d have rather rubbed a cheese grater on my face than pay good money to have rubber masked clowns jump out and grab me, but they were so excited, and I didn’t wish to be a party pooper, so I went. And it was fun. Yes, I screamed myself to near-laryngitis. Yes, my jaw is still feeling the sting from being clenched so forcefully. Yes, I’m sure I horrified some people with my repertoire of vulgarities and curse words. Yes, my abs (or what passes for them) are still sore a day and a half later. Yes, I wet my pants. More than once. Stupid animatronic dinosaurs. And no, I doubt I will go again. But I’m glad I went. If for no other reason than to prove to myself I could.

Punting is a viable option. I’ve been in this apartment a year now. In all that time, in spite of dozens of tricks and tries, I haven’t been able to keep my dog from peeing on the landing. Anger, frustration, disgust… These things are not good for one’s blood pressure and peace of mind. Finally, last week, I decided to stop running plays. I punted. Scrubbed the carpet for all of its worth and laid down plastic carpet protector. The first few days, she wouldn’t step on it – she jumped over it to the first stair. Then she tried peeing on it. Apparently that was unsatisfying because now, a week later, she is sticking to her weewee pads like a good little doggie. I’m not a big fan of plastic on the floor, but at least my budget for rug shampoo can be cut.

Letting go of worries gets easier as you go along. This time last year, there were people and things I allowed to consume my thoughts. Finances, exes (OK, really just one of the exes), the pets, the weedlings, the job, aging, change and OH-MY-GOD-THE-FUTURE… My blood pressure escalated, my depression worsened, and I alternated between sticking my head in the sand and letting my head explode like a dead possum in the sun (Yes, that visceral image in your head is exactly what it felt like). I’m not sure what happened. My emotional IQ reached its peak. My therapist started hypnotizing me during sessions. Bath and Bodyworks started replacing my wallflower scents with perfumed Haldol. God/Goddess/Universe intervened. Something. But one day, not too long ago over a cup of afternoon tea, I realized I wasn’t nearly as worried. All the things that normally kept me as tense as a cat hanging from the curtains were starting to lessen. Things slowly but surely were starting to even out. Not that I don’t still get concerned over my bank account or the future of my weedlings, etc., but somehow, in my heart and gut, I know it is going to work out. I know it is getting better, or at least coming to an end. My blood pressure is on the wane. And I feel hopeful. Really hopeful. What a gift!

Don’t get out of the habit of reading and writing. I already knew to keep up my good habits of eating well and exercising. But I had forgotten to keep up the habit of reading. Books provide escape, intellectual stimulation, focus, and a break from technology (At least for me, as I prefer paper books). I may never learn to effectively meditate, but I will always be able to bury myself in a book and turn off the outside world. It really does help. And I often learn something in the process. Not a bad result for a habit that shouldn’t be hard to cultivate. As for the writing, that is a little harder habit to maintain. It requires both intellect and imagination, and stress has a tendency to turn off both in me. But doing it is like leaking a pressure valve. Tension and thoughts that have built up exit my fingers and end up here. Far more effective and beneficial than them staying retained in my jaw. And, hey, someone might get a laugh out of it.

I can’t stomach commercial meat in my house. It’s been coming on for a while, but I have finally gotten to the point where I can’t stomach the thought of something that lives its entire life in terrible conditions and then gets killed for my benefit. I have taken to buying free range eggs, local and/or free range meat, and far less of both than I have before (Which is somewhat a function of economics). I suppose there will come a time when I can’t even stomach that and will give up meat entirely. But for now, I still crave it sometimes. I just eat less of it. Maybe it’s a justification on my part to say that the lamb had a happy life romping around the pasture before slaughter. Maybe it isn’t true that the local farmer doesn’t slam his pigs to death like the videos I have seen posted about large scale farm corporations. If so, don’t tell me. I will work my way there. At least I am making progress in my attempts to be less of a selfish human. I don’t have to be a super human.

Tho not there yet, I am getting closer to being comfortable with my appearance. A little while back, I took an offer for a free consultation with a plastic surgeon here in town. My sagging face really bothers me, and I was curious what it would take to fix it. Apparently the answer to that question is $18,000. Either I am far worse off than I thought, or I am unreasonable in wanting to have my jowls cut off. I mean, I know I am looking my age, and I know my age is getting older. But $18,000 older? That’s at least 3 kick-ass vacations (more, if I go alone) – and I’m thinking the vacations might make me just as happy. Really, it’s all a moot point since I don’t have $18,000 lying around anyway. But still. Time to make peace with my face. I am 49 years old. Obviously, so is my face. New England winters, southern summers, beaches, coffee, a short smoking career, various other ingested chemicals, kids, hormones, a life as fully lived as I could tolerate… These things have left their mark. And tho I spackle and Bond-O and paint and detail every day, it’s still a Tempest and not a Mustang. And that’s ok. No one will be clamoring to restore me to my former glory, but at least I’m forever memorialized by Marissa Tomei.

There is no reason to be afraid. I may not have Underdog, but I still won’t fear. With all I have done, even in cases where my actions and hopes didn’t pan out, I survived. Even if it left me a step or two behind, I was still upright and walking. GGU has blessed me with resilience and resourcefulness. And I am grateful. So why have I kept worrying about the future? Changes in family, in physicality, in work, in life…. BRING IT ON! I may not win the game, but I’ll keep playing til the end. And if it becomes evident that even my best skills aren’t going to win this quarter, well then, I’ll channel the Harlem Globetrotters and play for style and fun. But I will play. I will keep playing. No more bench time for me, and no more forfeited games. I’ll be the most tenacious team in the league, even if I don’t make the playoffs. So bring it, world! BRING IT!

And on that happy note, I wish you all a wonderful day, and I encourage you to look back and see what you’ve learned this year. You just might surprise yourself.

Pregnant Pause

The words are within me, just waiting for birth. Growing. Taking on visuals and spins. Gaining personality and momentum until the day when they fly out of my fingers and onto the keyboard. The afterbirth, a mess of teacups and biscotti wrappers. But then, there it is. My baby. Yet another fruit of my mental loins. Yet another legacy of my expressed, or occasionally unexpressed, genetics. They very rarely look like I expect. And I have stopped trying to name them before they are actually born. I must let them reveal themselves and see how and where they choose to land. Then I name them. I groom them with spellcheck. I perform APGAR for word choice and grammar. I swaddle them in the cradle of my blog. (When I was a new parent and young, in lieu of a cradle, I had a Moses basket of a composition book.) I sing to them and rock them by virtue of introduction on social media. And, eventually, they take on a life of their own.

I have created a rather large brood. And most of my offspring are happy-go-luckies with no aspirations further than a smile and a chuckle. But some are rather dark and broodish, as if I were part Sylvia Plath. Some are the quiet, philosophical types, playing Dungeons and Dragons in the attic. Some are angry, poster children for social disorders. Some are fragmented and broken, needing a therapist to sort them out. And some are mischievous, horny little goats. I love them all: The good, the bad, the temperamental, and the just-plain-mental. Some children are easier to deal with, but they are all rewarding and loveable in their own way.

I have spent whole years pregnant with essays and poems. And I have spent times barren and childless, fawning instead over others’ offspring. I have held gatherings with friends’ children. I have spent lifetimes alone with my own. I have celebrated their victories, cried over their defeats. And I have spent time defending them from bullies and people who cannot see the soul within. I am inordinately proud of them, as all parents are of their children.

It’s a real commitment, this choice to be surrogate for verse. And as I watch each child board the bus for school, where they will be subjected to the opinions, prejudices, and actions of others, I pray that they remain true to themselves. Standing tall amongst the other stories and poems. Even if they are never as recognized or celebrated as some of their peers, I know they are important. I know what they represent. I will read them and love them and cheer them on.

That’s what a mother is for.

Mums The Word

It slipped out.

I didn’t even know it was coming, and “Pop!”, there it was.

My daughter wrinkles her nose.

“Ma, did you fart?!”

“Damn! That is pungent! My eyes are watering!”

I am mortified. We are in her flower shop, fer gossakes, and I am overtaking the roses, carnations, and freesia combined. I can’t come up with anything to say as I watch her wipe tears from her eyes and back away. I mean, what COULD I say? I could apologize, but really, the damage is done, and I’m sure the color of my face conveys a heartfelt “mea culpa”.

She is waving herself with a palm frond.

I’m looking around for a can of Lysol, but, DUH, it’s a florist! I’m the only one who could need Lysol in a flower shop. There aren’t enough gardenias to cover my accidental fumigation. I’m pretty sure the lilies are wilting. The cooler fan sounds like it is coughing. Great. Just great.

This is as embarrassing as the day I broke the camera at the DMV.

Hold up… Two young guys headed toward the shop. Holy shit! Literally! Short of burning sage, I don’t see how the stench could be vanquished. Now I have tears, as I realize my tail pipe is about to be the talk of some trendy bar tonight. I am running around, fanning the room with two big, waxy leaves. I know they can see me thru the large plate glass window, but the discomposure of being seen doing such an awkward dance is still preferred to them whiffing my indiscretion.

My daughter is laughing at me as she pulls out the arrangement that she assumes they are coming for.

I drop my green fans as the door tinkles open.

I put on my best smiley face, hoping to God and everything magical that the Brick Wall of Sulfur had disintegrated before they entered. As we welcome them and talk about the flowers, I am acutely aware of their facial expressions. I search for wincing. I look for bared teeth. I peek fervently for their eyes to cut sideways with looks of horror or nausea. None appear.

The transaction complete, they turn for the door. As I exhale a sigh of relief, I hear the cork again. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

They turn. “Sorry. Did you say something?”

“Just have a good day!” I say with a smile. Now please hurry up and leave before it hits you! Please, please, PLEASE!!! In the name of everything Holy, go now!

As the door tinkles, I turn to my daughter. An explosive bark of laughter exits her mouth like an untied helium balloon. She runs for the flower cooler, yelling as she goes, “I’m not coming out til it’s gone!”

This sucks. I fan the room once more. Wave the door open and closed a few times. Toss around the aged flower heads in the trash bin. Then I head for the car, where I will be sure to open all the windows before driving off.

It’s true. Everybody farts. And sometimes you just can’t control when. But if you can’t hide one in a flower shop, then it’s the devil at work. Or the kielbasa. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

I Am Atlas

My eyelids weigh 1000 pounds.
Akin to Atlas, the world is my eyelids.

I went to bed last night hoping they would be lighter this morning, but it isn’t so.

Caffeine, the alcohol of fatigue, has failed to artificially convince them they are light and beautiful.

Lumps of clay, unable to be spun into any sort of vase or vessel or anything useful. Just big, gray, heavy blobs of clay.

It takes all my strength to hold them up. If all my efforts are keeping my eyes open, how do I get my tasks done? My life done? I am afraid to rest even one weary arm, sure that if I do, the lid will fall and stay closed forever.

That will not do.

It rains around me, and still I cannot let go. I hope the rain stops before I drown like this, holding my eyes open instead of treading water and staying afloat.

What a choice to have to make.

Drown or let the sun go down.
It’s true, the lifeguard may save me. It’s true, the sun may rise again tomorrow. On which shall I lay my hopes? Would that the gods Who have me holding this weight would tell me which cure will lighten the burden. I am without a clue.

For now, I keep my hands up, supporting the heavy gray masses. I watch the water rise and keep my chin up to breathe.

I believe I can hold it for

One more day.
One more hour.
One more minute.
I can do this.
I can do this.
I can do this.

Where is Willy Wonka When You Need Him?

Every woman knows that when she is feeling depressed, sad, hormonal, lonely, angsty, or just blah, there is one thing that will perk her up instantly. Lots of men know this secret too. And there is science to back it up. Bars, drops, kisses, chips, or even melted in hot milk, chocolate can make you feel better when nothing else will. Your body responds to it with endorphins and good memories and sugar rush. Mr Hershey knew what he was doing when he got into the chocolate biz. It’s not just a commodity, it’s a flat-out need. And there will always be a need.

Chocolate soothes and balms the mind body connection when there is too much hurt or sadness or stress running thru. It is the quintessential happy pill, and used as directed, its only side effect is a few moments of guilt (Maybe a little extra if it happens to be Lent,) when you remember you’re only supposed to consume 1200 calories today. It is perfection. Especially if you skip over the cheap stuff and go straight for the Ghirardelli. Sad no more, your belly and brain share a contented smile as the rich, brown valium-ish diffuses in your cells.

Lately, tho, I’ve been feeling something a bit beyond the usual stress and loneliness. A bit more than the usual undercurrent of my depression water table. Just like the geological water table, the levels rise and fall depending on the length and frequency of the rainstorms passing thru. It’s been raining like hell for a while now, and the well is overwhelmed. Like a good Earth Scientist, I realize these things happen in waves and that eventually the rain will subside and the flowers will be brighter in the spring for it. But one still has to survive the storm.

If the rain were, in fact, a literal thing, i’d be putting up sand-sack barriers, setting out cisterns (to store for later), getting the important things to higher ground. And, if it were reality, true to my own self, i’d be doing it unemotionally and efficiently, making the best of it by making up songs and stories like some comical village shanachie. And when I was ready to sit for a spell, i’d find myself some Reisen or a fudgy brownie with walnuts. And i’d know it was going to be ok.

But in this figurative state, Cadbury won’t cut it.

I need existential chocolate.

I have found things that come close: An outdoor nap, a walk on the beach, puppy and kitty cuddles, pretty much any song by Paul Williams. These come close. Existential Russell Stover, maybe. They soothe a bit, but they don’t quite take the pain away. There is really only one thing that does, and it is rarer than any gemstone.

Real and true love.

The certainty, deep down inside, that another human cares for you, all of you, as much as they do for themselves. That they wish and pray for your happiness as if it is their own. The one whose contact remains electric even when the battery is old and dusty and depleted. The one whose lips, like a metaphoric Hershey’s kiss, take the bucket of the well and reel it back up to the top. The one whose hugs bail bucket after bucket until the water is below your chin. Emblematic M&Ms. Existential chocolate.

If you are lucky enough to have found that one being who can coat all your shorted wires like the best Godiva ganache, then you have found the answer to life, the universe and everything (42 truffles, anyone?). It will protect you from rushing water, elevate you over the floodplain, and fill your tanks for the next drought. And you will know without a doubt that everything will be ok. True Love is existential chocolate. The substance that makes it all better.

That is what I need.

Unfortunately, Target doesn’t sell it. Not even in the candy aisle. No amount of Facebook chain prayers will make it appear. No Amazon sweat shop can fabricate it. I can’t borrow one from Sallie Mae. And it’s not like you can find a used one on eBay. So, no denotative Dove bar for me.

At least not today. Who know what tomorrow holds? For now tho, I must make do with actual chocolate. Not a cure-all, but at least a Band-Aid. And if that isn’t enough to keep my head above water, perhaps I will take the advice of Miracle Max: A nice MLT, when the mutton is nice and lean and the tomatoes are ripe…

I Do Declare!

I, the Mab. In order to form a more perfect soul, establish self-justice, ensure sane tranquility, provide for self-defense, promote my family’s welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for myself and my weedlings, do ordain and establish this constitution of, for, and by myself.

So I was given a writing prompt to try. I’m supposed to write a declaration of independence. Yes, I realize that I stole from the preamble to The Constitution, but lets just excuse the mixed metaphor for now, ok?

My last year before 50. I’ve done a lot in my life, but before I turn my personal clock past half a century, there are things I want to change. I’m not much of one for miracle cures. Rather, I would just try and fail and accept it as fate, or proof that I was incapable. Screw that. Other people do it. Why can’t I? And this year, I will. I will plan and undertake and adjust. I will make my life closer to what I want.

I will adjust my career to get me on the right path towards my eventual goal. I have passed by many opportunities, afraid of being turned down, or believing that I wasn’t worthy. There were some that I passed by because I knew they would require a lot of work. And there were some that I passed on because the logistics seemed impossible. I have opportunities coming my way soon, and I will seize them with both hands and make the move toward a better future. (But I really do wish schools would just accept my 25 year old GRE scores.)

I will take better care of my health. I will eat regularly and healthy. I will walk daily. I will drink water. I will listen to my body and do as it requires: Sleep, Meditation, Exercise, Brainwork. By doing this, I will keep my body and my brain in better condition. Laziness for me becomes an instigator of depression, and I’ve had too much of that already. I may not be able to slay the beast, but I’ll keep him in his cage. And if I’m lucky, he won’t howl too loudly.

I will indulge my spirituality. I will stoke the embers of my faith with books and conversations. I will listen with open mind and open heart. I will accept the wisdom of others. I will let it fill me to the brim so that my self-defeating nonsense has nowhere to reside.

I will cut myself loose of unsolvable worries and excess “stuff”. I will use less and buy less and invest more in time and people. Or time with people. Relationships. Experiences. I have plenty of clothes, movies, coffee cups, gewgaws. (Note: Yarn and books are excluded from the list on purpose. I may be resolved, but I am also realistic.) This is the year to bring out the Buddhist in myself, and I’m not talking about the belly.

I will write more. I will listen more. I will learn more. I will read more.

I will talk less. I will waste less. I will complain less. I will yell less.

I will stop worrying about my possible pending crazy-cat-lady-dom. Lets face it, I’ve already been there and done that, so why fear it? I know I can rock it if I need to. Besides, it will lend some marketing legitimacy to my tarot reading skills.

I will find my long-lost belief in love. I had it once, but it was so long ago that it is probably lying mildewed and moth-eaten in some figurative trunk in the part of my brain that houses the Periodic Table and the rules of backgammon. I just need to find it. And air it out. Darn a hole or two. Repair a seam or three. And bleach the shit out of it. Lots and lots of bleach.

There you have it. I’ve spent too much time as of late playing defense. Time to get offensive! (No, in the other way… I’ve already got that way covered.) Blaze a path toward my quinquagenarian years. (Yes, that is a real word. But I had to look it up.) I cannot guarantee success for myself. All I can do is promise that I will make the effort. God/Goddess/Universe willing, there will be payoff. Regardless, it’s hard to go backward when walking forward. Unless you’re moonwalking. But I can’t think of another pithy phrase to use, so forget about moonwalking. Just believe me when I say that I will put one foot in front of the other and make my way down the path. And I hope you will join me. After all, journeys are much more fun with companions.

The Thirteenth Side

Sometimes there’s a big difference between perception and reality. When you get a text from a friend saying, “Where are you?” and you instantly panic because you think you’ve forgotten something important…. But the reality is, they are hoping you’re at Walmart because they are out of toothpaste and have a hot date in an hour. Or when, at dinner in Naples, you think you are impressing everyone with your foreign language skills by asking for the check in Italian, only to be quietly and politely told by the server that you actually asked for freight charges. (To be fair, we did eat a lot .) We’ve all had moments like this. I personally find them amusing. In fact, I often entertain myself by considering reality versus perception. Since I am both relaxed and chatty this evening, let me show you what I mean…

I’m on my patio sipping a glass of wine while I type. I’m frequently out here this time of day. Usually with a glass of wine (or a toddy in the cooler months). Last night I was crocheting. The time before, I was reading a book. I like to think the passersby are musing to themselves, “Oh look! That lovely cosmopolitan woman is at her café table again. What is she up to this evening? Typing. I wonder what she types? Maybe she is a writer of mysteries or fantasies. Maybe she has a pen name! She looks so chic with her wine glass, sitting in the middle of her little herb garden. One of these days, i’m go to introduce myself to her and her cute little dog.”

But I think there’s a good chance the reality is more like this: “Oh Lord. The wino is outside again. Why does she keep her planters full of weeds? Maybe it is weed. Good grief! And what is it with all the typing??? I’ll bet she’s tattling on all the neighbors. Last night she was out there with her yappy dog and this hideous blanket she is making for some poor bastard. Maybe it’s for the yappy dog. Oh my God, she’s looking this way… Just keep your head down and keep walking.”

Or maybe they are thinking something more like, “There’s the gypsy woman again. Patio covered in herbs and fairy lights. I sometimes see her out there later at night in long, flowy nightgowns. I’ll bet her apartment smells like incense. I wonder what she’s typing? Magic spells? Notes for her next Wiccan gathering? A thesis on Stonehenge? She seems harmless enough. I mean, she caters to that little dog like it’s a child. It’s not like she’s harboring black cats or anything. She could be kind of cool. Maybe we should go say hi.”

Maybe they find me patient and zen. “There’s the woman who lives next to the Moroccans. You know, the noisy ones that hate everybody and stay up all night fighting with each other. I don’t know how she can deal with the caterwauling. She and her dog sit out on the porch in the evening. She sips wine and listens to modern classical music while typing or knitting or whatever. She just seems to ignore the chaos caused by the neighbors. Her dog hates it tho… Always yapping at the kids when they come close to the fence. I see she has a pretty little herb garden. And fairy lights. I love it when she turns the fairy lights on. Makes her patio look so pretty. If it weren’t for her blasted neighbors, i’d go have a glass of wine with her.”

Maybe they enjoy a good story like myself. “There is that crazy dog lady again. Out with her wine and her laptop. I wonder what she’s doing? Probably just cruising Facebook, but wouldn’t it be funny if she were writing porn or something? Like maybe she writes those salacious vampire romance novels. Or gory horror stories. Or violent comic books. She has that great smelling little herb garden and those Christmas lights up, listening to film scores… Kind of reminds me of those eccentric women from Oprah novels. I wonder what she’s doing here? I mean, how did she get here? Do you think she moved here for work? Or maybe she’s on the run from the law. One of these days, we should ask her.”

Or maybe they are caught up in their own lives and the thoughts are far more simple: “There is a woman drinking wine with her dog. I wonder if I have any wine at home?”

They say there are three sides to every story: His side, her side, and the truth. But with enough imagination, there are infinite sides. Some more true than others. Some more entertaining than others. The best stories are the ones that are both true and entertaining. You know what I mean… The kind of story where you have to preface it with, “You can’t make this stuff up…” Except you can. You can make it up. In this stressed out world, very often we need entertainment more than truth. We need imagination more than fact.

So if you pass by my apartment and see me on the patio, wine glass in hand, dog on my lap, the scent of herbs and the sound of The Lord of the Rings surrounding, make up any story you’d like. Make me a spy. Make me a cult fiction writer. Make me a fashion model. (OK, the last one’s a biiiiiiiiiigg stretch.) Make me anything you’d like. Then hop over the fence, grab a chair, and tell me the story. If I like your story better than my reality, maybe I will keep it 😉