Month: May 2011

Gifts Come in Every Noise and Every Skin

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes.  They come in every noise and every skin.  They come with wine and they come with water.  They come in black and white and technicolor sunshine when you’re blind with sleep.  They wear the morning; words like dew on bitter tongue.  You can’t know what packages they will come in or what spice they will wear when they cross state borders and choppy oceans to reach you, battered and disfigured with the mystery of abuse.  They come saturated with the minutiae of love for you to open and be amazed.

Connectivity is a contradiction between a delicate reaching of mind and sweaty hands, grabbing dirty hands.  It is an endless chain of creation a million hands are grabbing and holding fast to through hurricane and mudslide.  A rope that chafes while it protects.  Connection ignites the the pile of tinder built in the center of our chests.  Connection is matter turning into other matter.  It’s a gift.  What connects is more than voice or note or convenience or weather or place or race or money or language.  What connects us also eludes us constantly.

The best you can ask of yourself is to offer pine-cones when they’re the most beautiful and available objects within reach.  The best you can ask of yourself is to see every object, every light, every voice, every rock, every thorn as a potential gift.  Sometimes for yourself when you’re crimped between the brambles and the quack-grass with the desperate tears of loss.  Sometimes for friends who’ve blossomed in the light of your happiness and broken under the weight of their own sorrow.  There is sugar in tiny mosses and twigs, fairies dreaming something to replace the tears.  And the gifts for strangers may seem the most impossible but it will come to you without thought or heavy head how to give the milky waxy gardenia in your hair to the rent boy passing you, seemingly impervious.

No one is truly impervious who has skin.

Perhaps fortune is thin on the ground these days.  Jobs are scarce.  Money is mean.  no one can afford to lose an inch but we’re all losing miles every minute anyway.  Still, there is something to wait for, something to wake for, something to drink for every single day.  There are always gifts, naked to expectation.  There are always gifts, climbing the graffiti up through the chain-link to open air.  There are always gifts, no matter how they’re wrapped or torn or broken or bruised or flecked or stamped or canceled.

Will you recognize them from your dampened morning pillow?  Will you see them from your window, looking up at you from the alley full of prostitutes and syringes?  Will you accept them with your grace, in any condition, and be thankful to have them at all?



I was electrocuted yesterday.  I didn’t see it coming.  There were signs.  For one thing, Armageddon failed to impress, so obviously something else bad needed to happen to the sinners like myself, and what better than a little sudden frying of flesh?

This guy saw it coming and was actually trying to send me a warning message telepathically which, afterwords, I translated as “Don’t touch that fence.  Seriously, lady, that wire is charged.  Are you a fucking idiot to not listen to me?  Stop- don’t- yeah.  You’re dumber than a pile of pellets.”  It HURT.  It was startling and weird.  I’ve had little shocks a couple of times before but this went THROUGH me, buzzing.  It was also embarrassing.  Naturally I immediately had to tell someone.  So I told my mother, who was waiting at some distance from the goats with her salivating dog, that I’m as dumb as a pile of pellets.  I patted her on the back and told her not to sob too hard over all her shattered hopes and dreams for me.  There are still group homes and rousing games of Go Fish for people like me.

All those farmers who say their fences aren’t charged strongly enough to hurt their animals are lying.  I realize that those fences are effective, but don’t tell me they don’t hurt cause they do.  All this excitement took place at Max’s charter school.  These windows you see above are his school building which is located on some church property behind which is goat pasture.  He goes to school in the real countryside in an old decrepit gymnasium.  It’s not for everyone but as Max pointed out, we’re a funky family.  School ends for him in three days.  He’s been going for two and a half months and he claims not to have had a single bad day at school.  I’m a realist and know he’ll have them at some point, but it’s looking like he might not have his first bad day there until next year.  Is it weird that I’m not sure if he’s graduating as a fifth or a sixth grader?  Yes.  We’re hardly living a usual life and this kind of stuff happens in irregular lives all the time.  He’s been doing some high school math, apparently.  And he may be ten years old entering seventh grade.  I was 12 years old entering 7th grade.  The kid will do alright.

A little suddenly, we’ve decided that we can just afford for me to go to Blogher 2011 in San Diego.  I wasn’t going to push to go, originally, because I am allergic to southern California.  It’s the land of eternal and purgatorially perpetual sunshine.  It’s bright as HELL down there unless the smog is especially thick and then you can’t even go outside unless you want to get instant cancer.  They have this thing called Santa Ana winds which blow 120° gusts of wind at you and fry your skin until it feels like cracklins.  I know whereof I speak.  I have been to southern California many many times.  I have family down there and consequently, most summers, we took a family trip down to LA hitting La Costa, Carlsbad, and San Diego.    I have many poignant memories of our Ford Van crawling up the grapevine, me counting the number of smoking cars on the roadside that broke down because their radiators couldn’t take the crazy pounding heat, me imagining us breaking down and a week later the highway patrol finds our vulture picked sun-bleached bones.  When we reached the top and saw Los Angeles sprawling like a malignant sore across the landscape we saw it through visible waves of heat rolling across the road.

On the other hand, my sister has made her home in Los Angeles (she refuses to live her life according to the comfort of my skin) and that’s only a couple of hours from San Diego.  I couldn’t possibly go down to the mouth of hell just for a Blogher conference, but the chance to see my sister was enough to tip the balance.  So I’m going.  Even though I promised I would never travel again as a fat person.  Nor see all those cute pretty women looking chic and getting drunk while my stomach protrudes farther out than my boobs.  Being fat in hot weather is definitely the worst, the humidity in New York definitely made me look like a really creepy sausage person with a sheen, but I had so much fun anyway.  So I caved to my desire to take part in the panels and to see my workmates and bosses.  I caved to the overwhelming desire to have a week away from my family, all to myself, with my camera, walking until my shoes fill with blood and I wash them in beer (or maybe the Pacific Ocean).

I’m going.  I’ve already been doing things to take better care of myself in general and this trip has given me the push I need to make greater strides.  Before this sudden decision to go, I weighed myself.  I haven’t done so in months because I know what I’ve been eating and drinking and I wasn’t eager to find an excuse to hate myself.  Kindness seemed like not knowing too much and working blind to improve my self discipline.  I was surprised to find that I had not reached my highest weight again, or if I did (who can say what truth the scale may have revealed in January?) my recent efforts have kept me 13 lbs under that depressing top weight.  This was pleasing.  But what’s better is that in the past 5 days I’ve lost more weight.  Exercise + less cheese + less beer = less weight.  That’s an equation that nearly always works.  But do any of you remember all those years when I was plugging in the factors and coming up with this: exercise + less cheese + less beer = 20 lbs weight gain?  When I gained weight no matter what I did I seemed to constantly spiral downwards emotionally and upwards weight-wise.  So regardless of whether or not I maintain the self discipline necessary to lose weight, what is uplifting is that my body is working like it should again.  I have not forgotten (and if I’m being honest, I am still traumatized) all those years of frustration when my body wasn’t doing what it should have been doing.  Paxil did me many great services (sleeping at night even though an earthquake could happen at any time is a luxury I didn’t have before paxil) but that weight gain was evil and has damaged my self esteem severely.  I’m recovering.  Things are behaving the way they should scientifically behave.  I’m making effort and seeing results.  This gives me hope.  It is a world I understand.

After so many times I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and put the boxing gloves back on here in public only to fall flat on my face again, I’m reluctant to discuss it over-much.  I’ll probably be fat the rest of my life.  I’m not going to record the minutiae of my efforts here with regards to food and weight.  Not unless there’s some philosophical angle I’m thinking about.  I just thought I owed it to long time readers and friends to report that there really was something working against me all those years that was out of my control and if I do stay fat now, it’s definitely my own doing, and I can live with that.  But all those times I complained, railed, cried, and pounded the walls in frustration and gave up and resumed poor habits because- why not?, that wasn’t because I was failing myself.  I think I spend enough time taking responsibility for myself, for my life, for my mishaps, that it’s a relief, for once, to know that something WASN’T MY FAULT.

I’m amazingly sore today from practicing forms and walking distances.  It’s good to be sore from physical efforts that my body craves.  I love walking more than any other exercise.  I walk fast, in case you don’t know that from the personal experience of walking with me.

I need a striped sun hat.  The kind you can crush in your luggage and reconstitute.

I am really happy that the death penalty is now administered by lethal injection in most places.  Not that I’m a big fan of capital punishment, in general.  I am a fan of it in very very limited circumstances which I’m not going to explain right now.  Electrocution is truly ghastly.  Farm animals everywhere think we humans suck.  Oh, for so much more than the electric fences.  Our crimes are huge, but that one, that one is such an insult.  I get it.  I’m with the goats.  I’ve always loved goats.  I now think they may be smarter than humans.

Following the Water

This is ornamentation in my friend Angela’s garden.

According to some lunatics tomorrow is the end of the world.  Sometime after noon.  Ish.  So today is your last day to repent and have a private talk with Jesus.  I suspect Jesus is going to need some serious coffee because, generally speaking, the day before the end of the world is the busiest one for Lords and Deities.  I was reading a Christian lady’s blog the other day and was struck by how often she dropped the word “Lord” and “King” and “Ruler” and “Liege”*.  It struck me how human, how mortal and un-deity-like the words “King” and “Ruler” are.  Like she was just talking about any other despot with a crown.  People really like to throw themselves at the feet of power.  Apparently, even though we live in a world where modern people are less and less enchanted with the idea of absolute rulers who are generally viewed as being exploitative, there are millions of people who really do want an absolute ruler.  They just don’t want to have to give their money to one.  But their soul?  Now there’s real coin.

Won’t I look ridiculous tomorrow when the great Armageddon really does happen and I’m left here in the jaws of earthly hell to die like a mortal human being?  I can live (or die) with that.  I’ve never expected anything else.  I wonder if the ascension will look at all like the northern lights.  I can’t wait to see what will happen with all the different factions of Christianity – will they all be swept up together or will some get first glimpse of heaven and first shot at a place in Jesus’ impossibly huge arms?  Will only the Christians who believed that Armageddon was scheduled for Saturday be taken up?  What about the Mormons who believe in Jesus but have a whole separate plan to rule their own planets when they die?  Will all Christians get exactly what they believe?  Surely there can be no disillusionment in heaven.

My dad always slammed me for being irritatingly literal.  I’m only literal-minded when it suites me or amuses me.  He never did get that subtlety.  I actually think being too literal with faith is seriously problematic but I do love to imagine people’s religions being just as literal as they take it.  In reality I believe that religion makes a lot more sense if it’s mostly metaphoric.  It becomes much more respectable and reasonable and believable (to me) when the bible is taken as a general guide, like Aesop’s Fables, where the stories aren’t literally true (mice and lions hanging out together?) but illustrate important concepts of moral and ethical conduct.

I am only just now realizing how switching between the literal and the metaphorical in my everyday language has caused others to misread my actual beliefs and observations.  I don’t do it on purpose.  I am scarcely aware that I do it at all.  My humor is sometimes lost on people who take me too seriously.  Because I’m such a heavy and serious person so much of the time.  I have said it before, it bears repeating, I am a person built of contradictions.

For years now I’ve been fighting hard for change in myself, forcing my own hand with such horrible self recrimination that it’s no wonder it’s proved so ineffective.  I’ve been fighting against the current and have paid with exhaustion and diminished self esteem.  In spite of that one accusation that I am narcissistic**, I am only as self obsessed as a writer has to be in order to see into the hearts and minds of other people.  If you can’t see into your own self you can’t see into anyone else.  I’ve spent so much time hating what calamity made of me.  That’s putting distance between me and my responsibility for myself.  I’m the one who’s made me what I’ve become, not calamity.

It’s so easy to shine a spotlight on the things I hate about myself that have been revealed in the past six years.  It’s easy to see how much I fell apart.  How I’ve become physically disgusting to myself.  How my self discipline in all things has become a ghost I try constantly to put my hands around and curse as it slips away again, melting into the shadows of the past.  How I’ve come so close to crossing the line into alcoholism in order to cope with all the uncopable stresses out of my control or that could be in my control if  I could only put my hands on my old strength, the same strength it took to crawl out of teen-hood into adulthood.   It’s so easy to count all those crimes against myself and punish and punish and punish.

Self flagellation is not attractive.  I have to give myself credit for having continually tried to make change in myself.  For never giving up on finding my strength again.  I haven’t been sitting idle for six years.  I’ve continually and exhaustively asked myself to step up to the plate and take control again.  All of this has helped me to grow as a person.  I have grown philosophically and mentally.  I have evolved.  These years have not been static or stagnant.  They’ve been fertile in ways I hadn’t let myself count.  Because I’m a shit.  I’m counting them now.  If I hadn’t gone through everything I’ve been through I may never have found the key that let me open up my own path to the fiction I always meant to be writing and previously repeatedly failed at.

Max is doing much better and that’s made a big difference, so that’s a huge stress that’s been lightened.  My mom has brought energy to our life and to our garden that we’ve been missing.  So that’s changed.  It doesn’t look like much on the outside, there’s still a lot of chaos here in our tangled up yard.  Quitting Kung Fu classes that require me to use up absolutely all my energy for maintaining my own madness in public has allowed me to relax a little more.  To be kinder to myself because I’m not subjecting myself to a big group of people every week who have, without meaning to, made me feel so awful for being so huge.  So I am exposed to less reason to feel shame.  I guess there’s been a lot of change.

I have not been sleeping so well lately but it seems indicative of other change.  Instead of being tortured by it I am just allowing it to be what it is.  If I don’t get any real sleep until 6am and have to sleep in until 10:30 am like a slob, it’s okay.  I have a job with the kind of flexibility that allows me to make my daily schedule how I need to make it.  So why curse and fight the strange sleeping patterns I’ve been experiencing?  I’ve been getting more exercise lately but I’m not letting myself agonize over it or hold myself to a specific goal.  “More exercise” is as specific as I’m letting it get.  I’ve been eating better.  Less cheese snacking late at night.  Less cheese in general.  Lighter breakfasts.  Less food.  Not starving or dieting by any means.  Just less.  Because it feels good to eat less.  I have no specific food goals except to not over-indulge.  I have been drinking less beer and changing up my routine, which for an OCD person like myself, is pretty difficult.

Except that when you let go of the fight and simply float down the river it’s amazing how far you’ll get and how close to what you’re looking for you’ll come without tearing yourself open.  Anyone who has known me a long time, or who has been reading my blog for a long time, will recognize this as part of my continuing cycle.  I forgive you if you don’t see anything new in these crumbs of change.  It’s not important that you see what’s changed.  It’s not important for you to be impressed.  Because it isn’t about you at all.  Except for how we all tend to mirror each other without meaning to and you may find that you’ve been following your own cycles and rivers and if you’ve been fighting against yourself, against the tide, against inevitability and against the suffocation of perceived helplessness, then this is about you too and you’ll see the small change I’m enjoying if you look in yourself.

What’s important is that I have been reclaiming self discipline during a time of stress, of change, of uncertainty, of Armageddon leering down at me.  What’s important is that I’ve been recognizing the small triumphs.  The inner victories.  The ones you can’t really see from the outside.  I have been drawing my boundaries in the sand and not crying when the water washes them away.  I draw them in the clouds instead.  Until the winds blow them away.  Instead of feeling futile I draw them in my spirit because no one can wipe those lines away without me letting them.  What’s important is that I’m not pounding my head with the same damn two by four every day.

If tomorrow is the end of the world I’m at peace with it.   How about you?

*Okay, not liege.  But with all the talk of Lords and Kings it’s what jumped next into my head.

**I only pulled that old insult up because it still amuses and confounds me.  It has long since lost its sting.  It’s just that it’s got a permanent place in my head now and though it no longer hurts it has become part of my story.

Don’t Leave Banana Peels on the Stairs

Slippery Things + Steep Things = Broken Things

Likewise, don’t leave tacks on the floor by your bed.

Sharp Things + Unseeing Feet = PAIN

There are so many ways of saying this but I think the best way is to shout really loudly the following words:


Self saboteurs are a smug lot.  I speak from past personal experience*.  They like to go around the world blaming everyone for why they spend their lives fucking up and falling down.  They create an atmosphere of dangerous accidents they can get righteously angry about and then not take responsibility for.   But to an outside observer, it is generally obvious that they’re setting themselves the most clumsy and obvious traps imaginable very much like Coyote who continually thinks Acme will definitely maybe someday make a contraption that WON’T backfire on him (smash him, cut him, blow him up, break his bones, or drop him from the sky).  He keeps buying from Acme because he can blame all the malfunctions on a genius fake cartoon company instead of asking himself why the hell he doesn’t stop trying to catch that same road runner every single day and move on to something else or move to a city where there are lots of kittens to eat and trash cans to ransack for food less stringy and tough than that wily hateful bird**.

So my advice to you, if you are a self saboteur like me, stop putting banana peels on the stairs and admit that you’re trying to fuck yourself up so that no one else can do it to you first.  Living in the world never knowing where the next punch is coming from is more frightening than setting constant traps for yourself so that the blows are always coming from yourself, but there comes a point when these old gags  become ridiculous and lose their effectiveness.

It’s time to take the punches like a man.  Or, better yet, a kick-ass resilient woman who can not only take the punch but parry it before it ever hits and pin the pugilist to the floor.

Underlying message: no need to hurt yourself, there are plenty of people out there waiting for their chance to hurt you and the less time you spend trying to hurt yourself first to take away the sting, the more life you’ll get lived and the stronger you’ll be, making you perfectly able to take the blows when they come.  The other message here is to take responsibility for the things you’ve messed up on purpose and stop looking for ways to deflect all the blame outwards for your mistakes and falls and breaks.

*Two days ago.

**I really hate Road Runner.


Sometimes the right thing to do is to keep your own counsel and trust yourself above all others, to listen to yourself and know that though the answers might not have come to you yet, and they might take a lot longer than is comfortable, they will come.  Sometimes you have to trust that they will rise up from the cesspool of your brain where all dark shapes live.  You have to trust that they will rise and reveal the truth in thin vaporous ideas that you must not try to catch.  You have to wait.  You have to listen.  You have to watch.  With a quiet and patient heart that isn’t really quiet or patient at all but straining at weak seams to be set free.

Every answer I have ever gotten of value has come from myself.  There are a thousand glittery pearls of wisdom you may explore that others have to share and these pieces of the truth are good.  They are valuable but they’re not the whole answer.  Other people’s experiences can shore up your courage and help you feel less alone which gives you the strength to keep looking to yourself for what you really need.  Sometimes you need to gather the glitter and the hope around yourself to get to the next moment.  There is no shame in this.

There is no shame in asking for help either.  I say that sometimes you need others to hold your hand, either literally or spiritually.  We all need each other.  It was the thought of a friend at the second I was going to jump from a cliff that made me stand very very still at the edge.  I had nothing left to give myself or ask for from myself in life.  I was done with it all but for a friend who might turn to me for help and I couldn’t bear the thought of not being there should she ever need me?  We weren’t stable people.  We were like matchboxes in a perpetual dry hot summer sun threatening to ignite all our light at once so that we’d burn out and self-extinguish before we had a chance to meet real tinder.  We all need each other.

I am listening and watching for answers now.  I am holding a posture of acceptance and patience though my muscles are burning and trembling with the effort not to move across my own shadow to grab at the slurry in my head.  I am bending with the weight of my own spirit and looking for a coat hook to hang it on just to take a break from it pulling at my shoulders.  There’s no coat hook in here, just the suspension of everything as I wait for it all to be revealed; as I wait for my eyes to see what’s already there, my iris always ten steps ahead of my conscience is already breathing the dawn while I am walking through twilight to a promise of sleep.

Life is no perfect science.  Even when answers come there are so many ways to interpret them and use them and be shaped by them.  We have so many choices and opportunities to grow, to become something better than we were, to evolve, to heave the outmoded ideas for the new ones that will bring progress.

While I’m standing in this posture I’m distracting myself with thoughts about my actions in the world and my interactions with other people and wondering how I can temper myself.  Like chocolate.  I have a temperature at which I become more stable and flexible.  Recently I’ve become angered and frustrated by people and events and let myself loose like a wild arrow from a bow, hitting people with my sharp edges without thought or intention.  I’ve repented.  I’ve apologized.  But what I want to know is how to lower my temperature to where I can keep my arrows to myself and not throw rocks instead.  What keeps going through my head is the reminder that we’re all connected and when I hurt you I hurt myself.  No different than how hurting myself hurts others too.

As I think about this connectedness I am also watching others fight with each other.  Not just the bloody wars we’re all fighting right now both between countries and individuals, but the verbal sparring that gets ugly so fast you can’t even see it coming half the time what with everyone so desperate to  be heard, to protect the protectors, to defend the defenders.  Everyone around me is scrapping and throwing verbal punches.  When I step aside and don’t play I have the greatest urge to mediate, to make everyone talk to each other as though they were connected by threads.  I love a good debate but there’s such a poisonous atmosphere out there right now it seems that no one, not even people with great big gentle hearts, can keep their knives sheathed.  It feels like everyone is self destructing around me.  It isn’t just me anymore.  It never was.

I am not looking for answers.  I’m just waiting to understand the ones I already have.

Worst Ways to Die: my top 10 list

Warning: if you are squeamish, find the discussion of death distasteful, are gentle souled, have panic attacks and existential crisis’ every time death is mentioned, or don’t enjoy a macabre nature, this post is not for you.  Cease and desist reading at this moment.

While I am prone to nightmares in which I routinely die in all manner of ways (though usually I’m shot to death) I find it interesting and in some ways palliative to discuss death openly and often.  This is somewhat perverse and I can’t explain it.

The 10 worst ways to die:

1.  Being eaten by Dorylus army ants.

They don’t deliver a complimentary numbing agent nor do they paralyze you first.  They DO enter any available entry cavities such as your nostrils and ears, and all the others, and you will probably suffocate before they eat you.  The experience of being completely covered and devoured in teeny tiny bites terrifies me more than any other way of dying.  Humans are NOT their preferred prey and it is not difficult to get away from them unless they come through your house.

2.  Being tortured to death by a sociopath.

Let us just include all forms of medieval torture, biblical torture, and government methods of torture in this category.  Torture.  It’s bad.  Sociopaths everywhere choose torture to hurt and kill and those government officials who perform torture for information are themselves sociopaths who have simply found a legitimate way to use their inability to empathize with other human beings.  No person with a normal range of human emotions can perform torture on another human being.  Hurt them, yes.  But torture is special and, to me at least, the worst form of pain one human can cause another.

3.  Being buried alive.

Sometimes sociopaths bury people alive and this is a form of torture that would be included above.  However, sometimes people are buried alive by accident so I thought it deserved it’s own number.  Every person has their own individual fears, many we share but there are infinite variations on why we fear things or how much.  Our minds process things differently.  I fear being buried alive as a form of purposeful torture more than being buried alive by accident though the reality is exactly the same in each case.  Unless your torturer buries you alive with a snake in the box or something.

4.  Disembowelment or any other form of extreme mauling (and eating) that animals do.

This is what skunks do to chickens.  It’s what a lot of animals do to their prey before eating.  In fact, it’s what humans do before eating their prey too, we just aren’t naturally equipped with teeth and claws capable of doing this so we use knives.  It’s nasty and though I imagine death might be quick, any moment of awareness before death comes must be extremely frightening and painful.  I would like to avoid this death at all costs.  I have a lot of nightmares involving all the various large cats left in the world.  I am very afraid of being mauled by them.  I have heard a thousand times that mountain lion really do want to leave you alone and you should make a big noise if you see one and it will leave you alone.  I don’t actually believe this.  It’s irrational, I’m aware.  But there it is.

5.  Poisoning, slow or fast acting.

A slow poisoning might be gentler than a quick working poison but both of them are going to make you feel bad and most poisons make you feel nauseous.  I hate throwing up.  I hate feeling nauseous.  I will do A LOT to avoid feeling nauseous and/or throwing up.  The more severely poison is administered the more immediately painful your death will be with violent throwing up.  But long term poisoning is going to involve, most likely, a long period of nauseousness.  This is like an eternal pregnancy.  I could not bear it.  Fact is, to poison me at all you will have to act fast because I would discover I was being poisoned too fast for you to get away with it slowly.

6.  Exsanguination.

I can’t say how often I fixated on the idea of slitting my wrists when I was a teen in order to kill myself.  I cut myself open again and again, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.  During that period of time I was not able to feel most cuts I made.  I was so numb emotionally I couldn’t feel that kind of pain in my skin.  However, as much as I obsessed over my desire to die and the method best suited to me to accomplish this, I could never muster up the courage to give myself the kind of deep cut it takes to exsanguinate and I’m certain that if I had managed to do it, I would have felt it and it would have hurt.  Hurting myself never hurt the way it hurts when other people do it to you.  So being stabbed to death or shot is not at all the same thing as hurting yourself.  I am terrified of being stabbed to death.  I am terrified of being sliced open by glass (I’ve been sliced open by glass but on a small scale) and the thought of bleeding out fills me with horror.  A kind of creeping insidious horror.

7.  Defenestration.  And all forms of death involving being pushed from a great height.

I am terribly afraid of heights.  Part of the reason is that I have an intensely uncomfortable urge to jump whenever I am at the edge of anything tall, a balcony, a cliff, or a bridge.  Believe it or not, this has nothing to do with suicidal ideation.  This is a compulsion not related to my emotional state.  I would feel the compulsion to jump whether I was happy or sad.  Having this compulsion makes all ledges and edges with big drops feel excessively dangerous.  Being pushed from a window, or falling from one, is a fear I’ve had for ages.  Though if I had to experience it, I think the higher up the better so that you die more quickly when you reach the bottom.

8.  Strangulation.

This is so much less scary to me than any of the deaths mentioned above.  Not that I want to die of strangulation.  I plan to die in my sleep.  Obviously.  But of all the scary violent ways I can think of dying, this one is not messy, doesn’t usually take that long saving you the long hours of terror that suffocating underground would cause.

9.  Drowning.

I’m not that scared of drowning.  I’m not.  I’m scared of tsunamis, but not dying from drowning.  At least, I don’t shudder when I think of drowning while I’m awake.  What my subconscious does when I’m sleeping is another story.  Drowning sounds much more peaceful to me than any of the above deaths.  When I am underwater swimming (I rarely swim now but couldn’t get enough swimming in when I was a kid) it is quiet and enveloping and feels almost like home, except for the part about not being able to breath.

10.  Smoke inhalation.

This would be before drowning if I hadn’t just seen a documentary about the moment of death in which people were saying that people who die in house fires almost always die before they experience being burned to death.  Considering how many people have survived fires with tragically and painfully destroyed skin might have a different side of this story to tell, but we’re not talking about people who get rescued, and I am specifically saying that dying of smoke inhalation is number ten on my list because though fires are terrifying (remember, we had a housefire!), if you die of smoke inhalation it is apparently quite fast and relatively painless because the lack of oxygen puts you to sleep before the rest happens.

There are some diseases I might, at some point, replace with the above list of ten worst ways to die.  I definitely fear disease but my mind works in such a way that though dying of disease might in actual fact sometimes be way worse than dying violent deaths, I fear the violent ones much more.  I rarely die of disease in my nightmares.  I fear malevolence.

Violence and malevolence, either separately or together.

I think this is why the two novels I’ve written so far have both involved a surprising amount of violence.   It’s cathartic to write about the things I fear and dread most.  The things that prey on my mind and live in my subconsciousness.

So what is your top 10 list of worst ways to die?

Simple Mothering©

I don’t know what all the fuss is about, if you follow a few simple steps, kids practically raise themselves.

People ask me all the time “Wow, Angelina, you’re such a great mother.  Can you tell me your secrets to Simple Mothering©?”  Today, in honor of Mother’s Day, I will share a few of my secrets to Simple Mothering© free of charge!

  1. I feed my child EVERY SINGLE DAY.
  2. I only hit him when he’s really annoying and NEVER out of anger.
  3. I never neglect him when I don’t have something better to do.
  4. I let him speak his mind whenever I’m in the mood to listen.
  5. I only give him certified 100% recycled plastic straws for toys.*
  6. If there’s only one cupcake left I will always eat it myself, teaching him discipline.
  7. We avoid all schooling.**
  8. I never raise my voice to my child, unless he’s not listening.
  9. I only use restraints for his own safety.
  10. I only give in to his wishes when he no longer cares, this prevents a sense of entitlement in him and saves me tons of energy and money.

It’s all well and good to share these easy Simple Mothering© techniques with you, but it’s meaningless unless you can hear for yourself how successful I am, and what better way to demonstrate this to you than to let my son tell you, in his own words, what makes me a great mother:

“I love my mother because she never makes the restraints too tight.  I can get out whenever I want, if she’s in the mood and doesn’t have any guests over.”


“My favorite thing about my mom’s Simple Mothering© method is that I know exactly what starving kids in China feel like, so my mom never has to give me boring lectures about finishing my daily meal.”

And if that doesn’t convince you, there’s more!

“My favorite thing to do is pretend that my straws are Legos and Bionicles.  It keeps me happy for hours and I almost never get them stuck on my tongue or up my nose.”

So stop making such a fuss over mothering and follow my Simple Mothering© method today, contact me for price and details!

*They’re CHEAP, they’re more or less safe, and I believe that kids should be put in a situation where ALL their play is forcibly creative and none of their ideas are supplied by overly-designed products or crafts that may inadvertently or intentionally turn children into crappy human beings.

**We simply got tired of all the arguments for and against every method of schooling out there, including the allways fascinating “un-schooling” which sounds a lot like our method of avoiding school but is actually a very rigidly undirected method of education that I find much too stringent.  If you’re tired of all the parents bitterly arguing about how to properly educate children, simply don’t educate them at all!  It saves time, it gives them plenty of room to decide for themselves what level of achievement is right for them, and best of all, you don’t have to argue with ANYONE!

Disclosure:  Results may vary.

Here is what Max really says about why he likes me for a mother:

“You’re not overly careless, but not overly strict.  You’re not all yell-y when your kid does something wrong.  You’re smooth-going.  You don’t pressure your kid, you know, to do a certain job.”

Well, no one, NO ONE, besides my kid has EVER called me smooth-going.  I must be doing something right with him!

Kung Fu Forms Class, and bad spinach salad

Last night I attended my first Kung Fu forms class.  I was, predictably, very anxious before class.  I was feeling it in my stomach.  (I have actually had an uneasy stomach quite a lot lately when eating, which is bizarre and probably means I’m dying) We had our family night out before my class which means we went to Golden Valley Pub for dinner.  I wasn’t really hungry but knew I needed some fuel before class so I got a spinach salad.  I’ve been thinking about ordering that salad again for months.  (I always order the nachos or once in a very blue moon I’ll get a veggie burger for a wild change of pace.  I don’t like to be disappointed when going out to eat.  Once I find something good on a menu at a restaurant I’ll pretty much never try anything new there again.)  The last time I got the spinach salad was a total flukish moment of complete madness and it turned out to be really good so I’ve been thinking about doing it again for months.

Most likely, at this point in my dawdling tale, you are either nodding your head vigorously saying things like “Exactly! Why mess with something sure?” or “You are the most reasonable person I’ve ever listened to, go on!”  OR you’re feeling really impatient and annoyed at the ridiculousness of anyone taking months to try to work up the guts to order something different, especially when they already know it’s good because they’ve tried it once before.

I ordered the spinach salad and an American Pale Ale.  I love spinach.  I love Pale Ale.  However, this time the spinach salad was a serious disappointment.  It was oily without the lemon that’s supposed to be in the vinaigrette (and which I very much enjoyed last time) and the spinach was a little tough and their grilled onions were crunchy (I don’t like food that’s half cooked, either give it to me raw or make sure that when you grill it is isn’t limp AND toothsome).  Total fail.  Plus my stomach was not feeling well what with all the anxiety about the class.  I couldn’t finish the salad.

Sometimes I want to get into the kitchens of restaurants and show them how to do their business.  I am not professionally trained but I have often thought that professional training leaves much to be desired.  Give me home cooks any day of the week and I’ll have just as good a chance of getting great food as I do from eating out.  Maybe I only say that  because most of my friends are great cooks.

(I just avoided saying something scathing about cooks who make things like “Snickers salad”)

Wait, that just reminds me that I wanted to ask how it is that so many people have “extra” candy bars just lying around their houses that they feel they need to find ways of using in their cooking.  Candy bars only enter my house once a  year and they make a swift exit.  If you find you constantly have random bags of candy bars lying around exasperating you, I think you should STOP BUYING THEM instead of finding as many ways as possible to pollute otherwise decent wholesome home baked desserts with chopped up Mars bars or whatever kind of candy you “accidentally” put in your shopping carts.  When I saw that someone made a “salad” using candy bars, that was just the outside of ENOUGH.

You have probably guessed by now that I will not order the spinach salad ever again.  I forgot to mention that the kid was in a turmoil over the fact that we didn’t get a real booth last night.  We make reservations and always ask for a booth.  This is because we all hate open seating.  We got one of their half-booths last night and the kid went into a tailspin of discontent.  (I don’t like the half booth either but as I’m a veteran mentally ill person I have learned to cope- mostly- better).

After dinner Philip and Max went to Philip’s office (he wasn’t quite done working) and I walked to Kung Fu.  Walking a little before class was great because it released a little bit of my relentless tension.  I stretched before class (a really good thing to do since I am constantly injuring myself doing anything physical) and class began.

Forms class is basically doing the horse stance for an hour.  If you have ever done the horse stance* for 60 seconds you will appreciate what an hour of it would feel like.  Kung Fu forms are amazing!  I have watched some of the blackbelts in our school doing them and it’s such a beautiful and graceful set of movements meant to replicate different battle actions.  If you’re having trouble imagining what it might look like then think of Tai Chi.  It’s not unlike it in a general way though my Kung Fu teacher would certainly jump in here and cut my head off for not being very specific and rattling off the huge differences between them which are not known to me.  Forms is exactly what I need right now.  You are in a class with other people doing forms but it’s solitary, you don’t work in teams, you don’t get in each other’s faces or touch each other.  It’s solitary and inward.  It is about intensely focused actions that you practice over and over and over.

I am self conscious about being the only fat person in Kung Fu.  I do feel I look ridiculous.  I know I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do.  I did NOT let this thought permeate my head while I was doing it, it kept coming to me and I kept pushing it aside so that I could breath through the movements.  What occurred to me was that if I continue to revise my eating habits during the week and keep working on reigning in the beer habit, and if I were to practice forms a few minutes every day in addition to riding my bicycle to run errands, I might actually make some progress and become less fat.  However, there is also high risk of ankle and knee injury so we’ll see how that goes.  It felt great to be back on my Kung Fu path.  I don’t know how long I’ll need a break from taking the regular classes and I don’t want to worry about it.  I really do want to get my black belt and the longer I stay away from the regular classes the longer it will take me.

What’s important right now is to reduce the number of things I’m pushing myself over.  I have until I die to earn my black belt.  I have until I die to publish a book.  I have until I die to grow things and be a good parent.  Since the parenting is something I have to work on all the time without breaks, I must give myself breaks in other areas of my life.  Because I have to write every day or have my head explode, I choose to push myself with the novel writing.  So Kung Fu must be the place where I let myself not push quite so hard.  This feels right, and it feels good.

I am so sore today, but in a happy way.

Now I’m going to shower and ride my bicycle to the Saturday market for some produce.  Hopefully we will all go picking nettles later today.  Maybe I can get my mom to take me back to Grand Island.  The nettles will all go to seed soon, if they aren’t already.

Go do something nice for yourself.

*Horse Stance and you can read more about Kung Fu forms here.

The Height of Things

There isn’t a holiday in existence for which I can’t find some cranky-ass detail to dislike about it.  Mother’s day is no exception.  My lack of sentimentality is well established.  If I was an important person it would be legendary, but as I’m not, it’s merely irritating.  I’m feeling charged with the magnanimous air of spring and have decided not to tell any of you my thoughts on this up coming holiday which I don’t dislike but about which I have some predictable complaints.  I am tucking them in a tender hand-tatted handkerchief where you will not trip over them.  Unless you are on facebook, where I already let the acid drip a little.  That can’t be helped.  I’m tucking it all away now.

I have recently become height obsessed.  I suppose I always have been, what with my old teenage wish to be 6’3″ tall, but it’s become very focused now on famous people.  I just can’t get over how a man like Jon Stewart can appear so tall to me and yet only be 5’6″.  My perception of people’s height seems to be always a little skewed.  I feel like a tall person but I’m only 5’7″ (and shrinking), my brother thinks he’s taller than me but when we had Philip decide the issue it turns out we’re the exact same height.  I am fascinated how some people who are very tall appear average until standing right next to a much shorter person.  This slight obsession is finding its feet in my television watching.  I now look up actors’ heights constantly.  IMBD nearly always lists their height if a height is known.

I imagined that Mathew Macfadyen was tall but it wasn’t until I saw him in Little Dorrit next to Claire Foy that I had to wonder if he was crazy tall or if she was crazy short.  I couldn’t find anything on Foy but Macfadyen is 6’3″ so even if Foy was average she’d appear quite short, still, the scene near the end where he picks her up and kisses her?  She looks like a mere child (slightly disturbing) so I think she must be quite short.  Why does it matter?

It doesn’t matter one tiny little bit.  But aren’t you happy not to come here and have your brain taxed for once or your conscience prodded or your reason questioned?  The question of height has zero importance.  All heights of people are interesting and I don’t see any heights as bad.  That’s very boring of me.  So it isn’t a question of ideal heights or heights I prefer but is simply my fascination how tall people can appear average or short and short people appear average or tall all depending on their surroundings, the people they’re standing next to, and what perspective your eye is allowed to see them in.

I am also fascinated with the idea that Americans are generally super tall people and English people are more average yet many of the English actors I most enjoy are quite tall.  Rupert Penry-Jones is 6’2″, Richard Armitage is 6’2″, Lawrence Fox is 6’3″ and there is one I’m forgetting right now who is 6’4″.  That’s a lot of tall people.  But if you suddenly see a person who is 6’5″ all those men seem sort of average.  But then there’s Jon Stewart who calls himself a small man, which I thought was just his little joke for a long time, or until he stood up next to Liam Neeson (6’4″), and then I had to find out if Stewart really is short or what.  He is.  Reports vary between 5’6″ and 5’7″.  I think he has a tall personality.  Then there’s Tim Roth, who I love, and he’s only 5’7″ too.  My height.

What does it mean?  What are my conclusions?  Nothing and none.  Except that I can’t stop looking people’s heights up.  I’ve mostly been mentioning men here and I suppose I am more fascinated with men’s respective heights than women’s because in general* there is less wide variation in women’s heights.  There are very very tall women, of course, but it’s more unusual.  But lest you think I’m sexist, I actually have looked up quite a few women actor’s heights as well.  I love Hermione Norris so I looked her height up, she’s 5’7″, pretty average, but I actually thought she looked much taller.  Heels will do that, of course.  Keely Hawes (who is married to Mathew Macfadyen) is fairly tall at 5’10” but appears much shorter to me than another of the costars on MI-5, Miranda Raison, who is actually 4″ shorter than Keely at 5’6″.

And lastly, Nadia, my mom’s dog (pictured above), is quite tall and makes my medium sized dog look very small in comparison.

This also is meaningless but curious.

*Generalities being what they are.

Writing Crisis Management

It doesn’t look like an action shot, but it is.  See the tiara falling?

One thing I have learned in my life is that you need good friends.  Maybe you only need one, or two, but you need them.  This is universally true for everyone.  Even if you aren’t a crazy writer like myself prone to sudden evil bouts of self annihilation, you will at some point require a bit of Crisis Mangagement.  This is not something you can do yourself.  It requires that a very firm hand (not your own) comes in from left field with a smack worthy of Joan Crawford that lands in your face and shocks some sense into you.

Or possibly a less violent version of Crisis Management would do the trick, but it must be firm, swift, and merciless enough to freeze your rising hysteria.

I have such a person who happens to be only slightly less mad than myself, a stalwart friend and fellow writer who, from her gorgeous blog full of pretty things, you’d never imagine could execute such a tactical blow to one’s head.  Angela talked to me at great length on Sunday during the worst of my writing and personal crisis.  The crisis was not as sudden as it may have appeared but its force was pretty breathtaking.  Angela spent at least an hour IMing me (what a modernist I really am) and I knew that all she said was sensible and to anyone less intent on implosion, must have made me feel instantly better.

It didn’t.  Because I had to feel bad just a little longer.  However, all of Angela’s words, and the warm care she offered in friendship did get through to me and when I was much calmer I was left with some homing questions to answer and some reassurance that I’m not suited to a life as a grave digger or steel mill worker.  Once I stopped crying (I suppose this was my annual crying jag) all her words did their work.

Even better than that she read my last version of chapter one and the newest one to compare them and offer her own opinion, which is very trustworthy.  It turns out I was right.  The newest chapter is a piece of crap compared to the last version.  (She did NOT use such words, those are mine)  The outcome is that she thought all I needed was to add a very FEW more pieces of information to set the whole story up than I have now and might possibly benefit from a prologue.  In fact, her verdict was very encouraging.

Conclusion: trust my gut or I’ll rewrite the entire book into one huge festival of pulp.  She gave me some practical suggestions on how to achieve the goal and I have taken notes.

She also asked important questions:

  • Why do I feel it’s so important to finish this book right now instead of letting it rest and starting a new project?  (Hold the phone!  I have to write more than one book?!)

This was the most important question of all.  I have been pushing and pushing myself very hard.  What’s the rush?  Other than my middle age being upon me and knowing that getting anything published (unless you do it yourself) is a torturously long process, I need to have one finished book to be actively submitting to agents and publishers.  I need to write the kick-ass query and since it probably won’t be kick-ass going out of the gate, I need to practice.  I want to practice with a real finished project.  While working on the next book I need to have one to be actively pushing.  I can’t bear to have a string of unfinished books with nothing to show for the unbelievable amount of hours I’ve put into them.  If someone says “You wrote a book?  Can I read it?” I want to be able to let them read a manuscript that is good enough for an editor.*  Once I have an editor ready manuscript to work at selling I will be fine having several unfinished projects to work on.

  • Most authors don’t get their first or second book published but more likely their third or fourth (point is, it takes a lot of practice for most authors to write something good enough to get printed) so am I pinning all my hopes on this one getting published?

I am NOT.  This book will get published.  It will get published because I believe it needs to be in print and available for people to read.  If no publisher will take it on I will print it myself later on and make it available in very small numbers directly through me.  I don’t expect this book to be snatched up and if it is published by a publisher I don’t expect it to make me a fortune.  That would obviously be very helpful, what with my house and health care situation, but I have very low expectations as far as that is concerned.  But I’ll tell you what- I do think it will get published and I do think if it gets a chance and any publicity at all, it will do reasonably well.

  • Am I going to freak out like this every single time I have to write a third draft and if so, can I please provide chocolate for the event?

Yes, I absolutely anticipate freaking out every single time and I will try to be more thoughtful next time and provide chocolate.  I tried to be one of them new-fangled mellow authors who aren’t hair pulling mental cases with a strong taste for liquor, but I am, it turns out, quite traditional.  (Though beer is my poison of choice, not something more awesome like whiskey or gin)  Apparently I have a writing breakdown that makes me want to engage in very bad behavior like punching windows out with my bare hands or throwing my laptop from the roof about every sixth chapter.

My advice to you, if you are a writer in the classic style, is to have a writing friend with infinite patience and the calm good sense to talk you out of smashing your laptop with that hammer you keep swinging around.

*I don’t propose to get my manuscript to what I would call a “perfect” place because the second and editor gets their hands on it they will change things and force a clean up of the most minute details, there is no point in agonizing to that degree before it ever gets in the hands of an editor.