Just beneath the surface of normal

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New Blog Name

So I finally found a name I’m happy with – hooray for crowdsourcing! And thanks, Fritz, for being awesome. But now  this means that instead of being productive, I have to figure out how to rename my url or transfer all the data in WordPress. I will probably entirely screw this site up, and possibly even delete all my posts.  I really hope not. Wish me luck!


UPDATE: I’m pretty sure I did it. All new posts will be at snarkeling.wordpress.com & all old posts can now be found there. Doing my part to keep it complicated!!

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From The Archive: Fun With Plastic Surgery II: Wound Care

The follow-up to yesterday’s post from 2006, in which I tentatively venture into the world of plastic surgery for the first and last time. The update at the bottom is from then, not now.

Last night I decided that I’m not really the sort of person who suffers for beauty. I wear minimal make-up, I don’t pluck – heck, sometimes I can’t even be bothered to shave for months on end – why did I think that I would not mind tending to five bleeding holes in my head?

The answer is simple: I didn’t know I would have five bleeding holes in my head.

See, when I went to my initial consult with Dr. Nippentuck, I failed to hear the part about treating post-op wounds and skipped straight to the bit about it leaving a little pale spot where the “mole” had been.

So what I imagined is that underneath the undesired lumps of brownish flesh my real skin would be waiting, all pristine and pale and ready to go. Much like when I was a child and I was sure that my real parents were wealthy and patient and would come for me one day and take me away from the horror of this poor, struggling single woman who called herself my mother, and even had the (clearly doctored, I thought) graphic black and white pictures to prove it.

In neither instance did that bear an even passing resemblance to reality.

What I have, instead of five flat, pale ovals, is a volcanic mountain range: steep, swollen edges which plunge at the center to a deep crater spewing forth blood at the slightest agitation.

Without access to mirrors all day yesterday, I was not aware of the masses of crusty blood forming around my band-aids, making me look like a soccer mom who thought it might be fun to take up street fighting.

So imagine my horror when I arrive home and stroll into the bathroom to check things out in the mirror, a mere twenty minutes before the start of my daughter’s holiday concert.

In a panicked rush of fantasies about huge disfiguring scars resulting from my four hours of wound negligence, I grab a bottle of peroxide and, in an act of charmingly optimistic self-delusion, a single cotton ball with which I will somehow sop up half a liter of dried blood at night in a drugstore parking lot in under five minutes, without glasses.

I dash through the drugstore like a contestant in Hospital Supermarket Sweep, grab up some of those subtle little round dot bandages and some antibiotic ointment and rush my loot to the car, where I proceeded to rip off the band-aid over my eye wound, which then begins to gush blood.

I clean this up as best I can with my lone peroxided cotton ball, dab some ointment on it, and whisper a little prayer as I slap a bandage on it.

Two seconds later the bandage is soaked with blood and sliding down my eyelid.

Running out of time and not knowing what to do, I shove the bloodied cotton ball between my eye and my glasses and tear off to the school, deciding that my appearance will just have to suffer.

I skid into the school parking lot at two minutes to seven, dab some more ointment and stick on another dot, which promptly falls off and hits my glasses because there is now too much gooey ointment to adhere a half-gallon of superglue, much less a few millimeters of non-latex adhesive.

I give up and go inside, wound gaping, and sit down next to the ex just as the first notes of the band began. About halfway through the second song of the choir’s performance, I feel a trickle on my eyelid. I look at ex and ask as casually as possible, “is my eye bleeding?” to which he shakes his head while I spend the rest of the concert dabbing at my eye in paranoia. Ah, some things never change.

Fast forward to the end of the concert. Corinne comes out to hug me and immediately recoils with a horrified, “mom, what’s wrong with your face?! It’s scary!”

I try to say soothing things and show her my open wound on my eye, which I’ve yet to see in the light, to show her that it’s no big deal. The look on her face indicates that it is, in fact, a big deal and that she will be sleeping with the lights on at dad’s tonight.

I do what seems to be the right thing to at this point, which is to take my hideous disfigurement and slink home, where I find myself peering into the smoldering depths of Mount St. Laser, with a flow of blood crusted all over my eyelid.

Oh, no – what had I done? This could never possibly heal over as a nice pale, smooth spot formerly occupied by the Wart That Ate Manhattan, like I had so often imagined.

‘Well,’ I sigh encouragingly to myself, ‘I can at least minimize it by keeping on top of my wound maintenance.’

It takes me seven cotton balls to clean up all the dried blood, and four wasted spot bandages before I give up on the fantasy of forcing tiny discreet bandages to adhere to my hemorrhaging eyelid and resort to mounds of gauze and surgical tape, which, combined with the spot bandages on my cheeks and forehead, make me look like someone who had been sucker-punched while shaving the upper half of her face.

Forty five minutes after I began, I finally walk away from the sink.

Less than two hours later I am back to see what the wetness leaking from the bandages on my cheek might be.

Why, oh why, had I even bothered to wonder?

Sighing, I wipe the blood from my cheek, tape a monster hunk of gauze to it, consider again Jim’s suggestion about wrapping my head like the invisible man, change the other bandages for good measure, and go to bed.

This morning I wake up extremely early for some reason. If you know me at all, you know that there are only three reasons for me to wake spontaneously: 1) it’s one o’clock in the afternoon, 2) there’s a vomiting child hovering over me, or 3) I have told myself exactly what time I’ll wake up before going to sleep, which is an extremely useful subconscious ability for which I have no explanation. This is none of these to the best of my knowledge, so I roll around under the covers for a while, looking for the right position to drift back to dreamland for another hour.

After thirty unsuccessful minutes I sigh, trudge out of bed and return to my new altar, the bathroom mirror.

Thirty minutes later, once all the bandages are changed and the old ones are flowing out of the bandage-wrapping-filled bathroom trashcan, I it occurs to me that my subconscious knew just how much time all this wound maintenance was going to take, and had roused me for just that purpose so that I might make it to work at a reasonable hour.

The bleeding seems to have largely stopped, which is a relief, but the tedium of maintenance is far from over. I find that it’s lunchtime now, which means it’s time to peel off the morning’s dots, add a new glob of ointment and put on a new one, yet again. Such is my fate for the next two weeks.

Except I forgot the gauze and tape for my eye. Perhaps this time I’ll run over to the drugstore *before* I remove this morning’s handiwork.

I beg you: If I ever begin to fantasize again about unnecessary procedures, please, please, please, stop me. No matter how enthusiastically I show you how small and invisible the currently giant spewing craters of doom have healed to become, just remind me of the wound maintenance before they got that way. That should bring me to my senses.

UPDATE: I’ve determined that there is a variation on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which explains that an adhesive may stick to skin or hair, but not both. The dots stuck to my eyebrow only and were pathologically repelled by my skin. The “sticks to anything” adhesive tape I bought at lunch sticks to anything BUT my eyebrow, which is still an important anchor, given the crater’s proximity to it. Maybe I could apply for a grant and something good could come from this after all.


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From the Archive: Fun With Plastic Surgery, Part I

Instead of actual writing, here’s a piece from 2006 that I was pretty proud of at the time. I’ll post Part II tomorrow.

It all started in October, as we were dressing for my boss’ wedding. I was putting in my contacts, because my glasses aren’t suitably styled for formal occasions, and touched the mole on my eyelid as I raised it to insert my right contact lens.

“Man, I hate that thing,” I mutter to myself.

“You DO?” asks Jim, intruding on my internal conversation. “I always thought it didn’t bother you.”

It mostly doesn’t, except when I’m not wearing glasses. But I hate how everyone I meet spends the first ten minutes staring at my eye, which has this giant, vascular lump protruding from above it. Even Jim admitted that it had bothered him a bit when we first met.

“Well, why don’t you get it removed?” he asks innocently, as though I hadn’t wished for just that a million times. Unfortunately, mole removal is considered elective plastic surgery and my HMO won’t have anything to do with it.

I explain this, and he sweetly offers to pay for it, as long as it isn’t prohibitively expensive.

So I make an appointment with a plastic surgeon with experience doing eyes, just to be on the safe side.

I feel really embarrassed going into his office. It is full of posters advertising such vanities as permanent hair removal and makeup tattoos. Of course, I know in my heart that this is no less vain.

I sit on the table and after a single glance he points out FIVE moles on my face. Suddenly I’ve gone from one hideous growth on my eyelid to having more moles than the CIA.

And of course, it works like a charm because now I want them ALL gone – I want to rout out that pesky mole infestation that has so clearly prevented me from experiencing true happiness all these years. Never mind that I hadn’t really noticed them thirty seconds before; now they HAD to go.

He offers to remove them all for $250, so I make an appointment for this morning.

This morning I arrive early for my appointment, I sign a paper and leaf through an old issue of Glamour, and thank goodness it’s a “men’s point of view” issue, in which the readers are implored not to take themselves so damned seriously and to just eat a cheeseburger once in awhile for chrissakes, so I do not begin to look seriously at the various posters on the doctor’s walls.

Finally I am called in and seated on a table/chair contraption, next to an articulating chrome arm with what looks like a telescope strapped to the end of it. It is humming ominously at me.

The doctor comes in and jovially asks if I have any questions.

I do. I sheepishly pull up my shirt and show him another mole on my belly, which Jim finally admitted he wouldn’t mind seeing disappear as long as the laser is fired up anyway.

The doctor suppresses a giggle and tells me he can’t laser it off – because it’s a nipple. I now have a third vestigial nipple below my right breast. He tells me they’re very common (some even have an ariola) and that he can cut it out, but I shield it protectively and tell him I would like to keep my freakish semi-mammary intact thank-you-very-much, so that just in case I ever run out of work options I can at least join a circus.

I lie back in the chair/table, he puts metal goggles over my eyes to protect them from the laser, and proceeds to inject lidocaine into my various moles. This is the most painful part of the procedure he tells me, especially the one over my eyelid. Feeling the sting of the needle, I believe him.

Extra lidocaine goes rolling down my cheek, making numb little tearstains. My eyelid feels numb and puffy like I just lost a prize fight and I’m not sure I’ll be able to re-open it anytime soon. I wonder quietly how I will explain this to the police officer who will be handling my car accident on the street in front of the office.

I am then handed a squeezable head, which manages to drain any confidence I might have had in his assertion that the worst is over.

He starts with my forehead. It sounds like a machine gun firing, and it occurs to me that the ominous humming was the build-up to a full-on assassination attempt. It stings just a little bit, but not near as much as it jangles my nerves. He asks me if I want more lidocaine, and I resist but he injects more anyway. I still feel it a little. I decide that’s fine – it really is better than the injection.

He moves on to my cheek. Takatakatakataka wipe. Takatakatakataka wipe.

A question starts knocking around in my brain, like a stray bullet from the machine-gun laser. I try to keep it there, where it is safe, but it ricochets right out of my mouth: “what…do you keep wiping up with that cloth?”

“The skin explodes when the laser hits it,” he tells me, as casually as if I’d asked what was for dinner.

“Oh,” I say, going along with the dinner theme, “like chicken in the microwave.”

Long pause.

“Yeah,” he confirms tentatively and far less casually, “kinda… like… that.”

He does my eyelid last. Due to the drooling dose of lidocaine, it doesn’t hurt at all.

Then he tells me the worst thing of all: “these aren’t moles – they’re all warts. They might come back.”

I feel horrified. Betrayed. Embarrassed. Somehow the idea of having lived through the peak of my youth with a face full of moles is okay. It was fine for Cindy Crawford and it’s fine for me. But warts – ew! And now it’s too late and my chin is starting to sag and before long I’ll be old and wrinkled and the warts will come back and I’ll be just like the old cartoon witches. Oh, alas!

I am then covered in band-aids, given cookies and water for my adrenaline shakes and sent on my way. My eyelid works again, but all the little lesions sting. I have to keep them covered and moist until they heal; scabs are the enemy.

I go for coffee and feel the compulsion to explain to the convenience store lady why my face is covered in band-aids. “Had some moles removed,” I say, covering the truth of my shame. Because somehow telling the convenience store lady is far more humiliating than announcing it to everyone on the internet.

But now I have moved on to imagining the mortification of attending my daughter’s band and choir concert tonight with my ex, looking like Bride of the Swamp Thing.

Jim suggests a hat. I remind him that Mush-Mouth hats are not currently available at the local Target. He suggests a scarf, wrapped all around my head a la the Invisible Man.

I’ve settled on a Guy Fawkes mask. I think it will still scare the children less than my face.

UPDATE: I have since learned that a dermatologist could have identified and removed them and my insurance would have covered it. Plastic surgeons are assholes. I am probably the only person surprised by this realization.


The Pit of Despair

So this is my third attempt at writing a new post. I keep trying to be funny, but I’m not really feeling it at the moment, so everything seems strained and not like anything you would feel compelled to pass on to your friends out of its sheer awesomeness. I’m feeling navel-gazey. I’m feeling like taking myself seriously, and I know that I asked that you post something absurd like “balls!” when I do that, so I’ve been trying to avoid it, but I guess sometimes you just have to take your testicles like a good girl when you line yourself up for it.

The trouble is, Seasonal Affective Disorder – and who gave it that pansy-ass name, anyway? It should be called something like Seasonal Anxiety, Hibernation, and Emotional Evisceration Disorder, but I guess SAHEED isn’t as catchy and it sounds kind of like you’re kidnapping Muslims to say “I have Saheed”. What was I saying? Oh, right. SAD. Remember when we all used to think it was really funny when Howie Mandel would inflate a rubber glove on his head with his nose? SAD feels sort of like what you might imagine it’s like to walk around with a translucent, inflated latex glove on your head (it doesn’t have to be a glove, though, it could also be a condom. Or, you know, whatever. What I’m wearing on my head is entirely beside the point. Unless it’s the leggings hat-scarf. Everyone should wear one of those).

On a good day the glove comes off, and you get to connect with the world in vivid clarity; your wit is sharp and life is fun. The rest of the time everything feels cloudy and distant; you’re tired and nothing is funny, least of all Howie Mandel. Trying to write from there is excruciating. Everything looks rambling and whiny. It might be funny, but you wouldn’t even know it for all the fog. When I first started writing this blog, I had just come home from a trip and the novelty brought the glove off for a few days so it all came easy. But I can’t just keep endlessly pursuing novelty, because the next thing you know you’re doing lines with Charlie Sheen and his sister-wives, and nobody wants that. Least of all Charlie Sheen, come to think of it, since he’s clean now. Or at least, as clean as you can be when you’re made out of cocaine.

what happens when you pursue novelty? You turn into a fucking bear, that’s what.

But writing is important to me, and building this blog is important to me, and posting nothing at all for a week does not convey that, though I totally did predict this in my About post. So here: I’m writing. Even if it’s shit, I’m writing. I’m writing about how hard it is to write, which is the writerly equivalent of musicians making whiny meta-songs about how much it sucks being on the road, but it’s writing. Let’s just consider this my sophomore slump & hope it’s short.

We just passed Groundhog Day, which is midwinter, which means that there are literally six more weeks to the first day of spring regardless of what some coddled rodent does or does not see outside his paparazzi-plagued front door. Which means I have about 5 weeks remaining before the fog lifts. If you will stick with me, I promise to keep writing.

For what it’s worth, this isn’t even the lowest I’ve ever gone into the SAD pit. When I was 19, I got it so bad that I stopped going to classes to sit at home in the dark and watch golf on television because it was slow and everyone spoke in soothing voices. Imagine having to explain on your college re-entry applications fifteen years later that you flunked out the first time due to golf, and you don’t even play.

Now that I’m older, I have a gym membership and the ability to cook vegetables. And good antidepressants. And a light therapy box. And even so, some days are more coherent than others. Oh well, at least the company’s good.

don’t even think about trying to escape.


My Million Dollar Idea

OMG, you guys, I just stumbled across the Next Big Thing. Don’t try to steal it, because my readership is so small that I probably know where you live.

This morning I finally found the gray, fleece-lined leggings I’ve been looking everywhere for tucked into the cushions of the big red chair, which isn’t surprising because you could lose entire extended families in that chair. I showed them to Jim, who squinted at them skeptically.

Jim: they’re awfully small.

Me: they stretch, see? (I tried to stretched them out wide but they didn’t actually stretch that far.)

Me: Well, I bought them in New York, so they’re probably some kind of New York M/L, which is like a size 4.

For no reason I can possibly explain, I then put them on my head like a hat. 

Jim: What. The…  What exactly are you going for here?

Me: (lifting them up a bit) They’re big, droopy bunny ears, see?

Jim: Yeah, okay. I was thinking more like those head things the kids have that have pockets at the end of them.

Me: I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about, but this could totally be a hat. A hat with a built-in scarf. OH MY GOD! That’s brilliant! They would always match, and they would never get separated!

First: if a furry hat with ears and a pocket-scarf can be a thing, then my legging hat/scarf can totally also be a thing.
Second: is this the most insanely trampy way to model an animal hat with a pocket scarf ever, or what? Exactly what demographic are they shooting for here?
Third: Furries are taking over the world.

I ran over to the mirror to admire my legging hat with the legs draped jauntily about my neck.

Me: And then when you don’t want a hat, you could turn it around and it would keep the back of your neck warm! This is totally going to make us a million dollars.

Jim: Or you could drape the underwear part in the front to keep your neck warm, like a dickey. That’s what I’m always trying to do with my scarf, is spread it flat so that it keeps my chest warm where my coat opens.

Me: OMG yes! An underwear dickey, you are brilliant! OR…it could be a bib. NOW how much would you pay!?

Jim: And all you really have to do is repackage existing leggings.

Me: AND this is New Jersey, I’m sure those things fall of of trucks all the time! It’d be like FREE money!

Jim: Free felony money!

I swear to God, officer, they were just lying there abandoned.

This is another reason we’re married: anyone else would have me committed, but Jim actually humors my crazy. Probably because he knows I lack the initiative and motivation to follow through.

Actually, on second thought? If you love this idea, you should totally run with it and just give me 5% in perpetuity for the concept. I would totally accept that in return for you doing all the work. Have your people talk to my people.

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How I Almost Shot My Toilet

So the other night I was lying in bed, running the shiatsu neck massager collar thing to soothe my tension headache – which I swear is not a euphemism for anything:

There’s no way you could even try to use this for any other purpose. It’s totally covered in fabric.

Suddenly there’s this huge crash/breaking glass sound coming from the bathroom. My reaction to it is proof that Lexapro works on anxiety: I was all, “shit, what the holy hell was that?!” but then I got up like a grownup and went into the bathroom to see what it was, even though there was a tiny part of me screaming that I would be going to my death in doing so.

We keep a little glass tray on the back of the toilet with colored rocks on it (shut up, it’s decorative). Well, I should say “kept”, because it was scattered all over the floor in a thousand chunky semi-shards, as though the manufacturer couldn’t decide whether to make it from safety glass or regular glass and so just threw in both like some kind of crazy home decorators’ Russian roulette. Being that it was after midnight, I figured I’d deal with the rocks and broken glass in the morning and went back to bed, wondering how it fell off. Was it a poltergeist? A hiding home invader? The vibrations from the shiatsu neck massager? No matter – damage done, more neck massagies for me!

And then it fucking happened again.

At that point, my anxiety kicked Lexapro in the balls and I dialed 911, just so I could have someone on the phone with me while I checked out what kept breaking glass inside my house after midnight. I would have called Jim, but he has a cold and went to bed at like 8:30 and I figured on the off chance there actually was a burglar in the house, there wasn’t much he was going to be able to do about it from Manhattan. So 911.

Be forewarned: when you call 911, they are legally obligated to send someone to your house to check things out. I checked everything out with the encouragement of the nice man on the phone, and determined that nothing else was broken. The windows were intact, and nobody else was in the house. That I could tell. I totally forgot to check behind the shower curtain.

I begged him not to send over an officer, not only because I was pretty sure I was in the clear, and because my house was far too messy for strangers to see, but also because my ability to tell them what happened without things getting weird was failing.

When asked what I thought was the source of the crash, I sort of skirted around the whole, “my vibrating massager may or may not have caused trays full of rocks to fall off toilets in the next room” and stuck with “I really don’t know.” And for reasons I can’t even explain, except maybe that one lie begets another, I didn’t tell him how there were two crashes and it was only the second one that scared the bejeezus out of me. I just went into the bathroom and “discovered” all the stuff on the floor again, and nothing was really any different so there was no point in backing up (I still don’t know what that second crash was). So now I’ve lied to an emergency dispatcher, which is kind of like perjury, so I’m totally going to jail. So no, I don’t want an officer to drop by, thanks.

But he did, and I apologized for my messy house, explaining that we’d just had a death in the family. Which kind of made it sound like we’d just inherited a bunch of stuff, not that I’d been bummed out by my grandfather dying, but I wasn’t about to straighten that out, because before you know it I’d be trying to explain how my vibrator causes poltergeists. And technically, that would have been more perjury, because it’s still just a neck massager.

So now it’s 12:30 a.m. and I’m wired with adrenalin and embarrassment, so I did what anyone would do in such a situation: I Facebooked it.

The short version, in case you don’t want to read this whole post. Except there are only a couple of paragraphs left, so you might as well finish it. Sorry, this should probably have gone up top.

And then I tried to go to sleep, even though I never noticed how many little noises my house makes that sound like someone moving around in it. I’m pretty sure it was just the radiators, because they can be pretty noisy on a cold night. But it could also have been someone quietly stepping out from behind the shower curtain and leaving because “what the hell have I gotten myself into here?”

Mostly everyone on Facebook was really sympathetic, but a couple of my friends from back home suggested that this is why people have guns.

Now, arguments about regulation aside, I am all about them having the right to have one, if that’s what works for them. But you know what? I’m exactly the sort of person who shouldn’t own a firearm. I don’t really want to get into the politics of it because I’m a total fucking chicken there are people who express my thoughts on the subject far more eloquently than I. But suffice it to say, I am exactly NOT the person anyone wants as a firearm representative. I am the kind of person who gets so scared that she loses her head and shoots first and asks questions later, and let me tell you – DEAD TOILETS TELL NO TALES, PEOPLE. Worse, I could have shot the cat. I would be to the firearm cause what the Westboro Baptist Church is to Christianity.

That was a pretty weird metaphor. Let me state that more clearly: PTSD and firearms do not make great bedfellows. One unfortunate toilet incident and the NRA would throw up their hands and be all, “you know what? Just forget it.”

Not my toilet, but you get the idea. There are no winners here. Except maybe the Internet, where you can find a picture of literally anything.

You’re welcome, NRA.


The Long Road Home

I just returned from four days in the Midwest to attend my grandfather’s funeral in Iowa. Because I’m cheap, I flew into St. Louis instead of Des Moines, because even with flight and rental car, it still cost half of a flight from Philadelphia to Des Moines less than 2 weeks in advance. It also gave me a chance to visit with friends in a city I once lived and started a family in, long ago and far away.

I picked up my rental car, reveling in the relaxed ease with which everyone connects. I learned from the Budget shuttle driver where he had gone to college and what his sons were up to. There was no need to pry; he offered it freely. The counter agent kindly upgraded me to mid-size – it turned out to be a red car with Florida plates. I found my old ability to accept politely and without complaint, even though I had essentially rented a Nissan Police Revenuemobile.

The real injustice began when I tried to leave. Evidently newer model cars no longer have keys. They have start buttons. I know what you’re thinking, because I once thought it too: a start button, how brilliant! You push the button and go! Except that five minutes later, I got out of the car and roamed the parking lot in search of someone who could show me how to make it go. Pro tip: you have to depress the brake for the start button to turn on the engine. Not the emergency brake, the brake brake. You’re welcome.

I drove north through the east side of Missouri and up into Iowa, marveling at the total lack of phone service. It turns out that the bars on my phone turn blue when you can access the internet and stream your entire music collection through the car stereo. It turns out that you shouldn’t expect to be able to do this outside of a metro area. My phone dwindled from 4G to 3G to 1x, singing “Daisy, Daisy” ever more slowly as it reduced to a couple of gray bars that I couldn’t even say what kind of service they were. Analog? Does my phone even pick up analog? Bless Jim, or it would have been a long and lonely drive through a rolling landscape littered with creepy anti-abortion billboards about murdering cute babies and nothing but either country or christian radio to to keep me company. Before phone service went away entirely, he told me that the songs you stream onto your phone get cached and you can listen to them locally. I’m pretty sure I owe him something important now, like letting him wear that awful quilted flannel shirt in public.

On my drive, I looked at the stratified layers of limestone crumbling away in the places the hills were cut away to accommodate the road. I had an extremely deep thought about the metaphor of growing up in land like that, which I was totally going to blog about, and I even stopped and took a picture of it:

Like layers on a roadside cut, so are the days of our lives.

Like layers on a roadside cut, so are the days of our lives.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was now.  Think of it as a philosophical version of Hedbanz.


So it was really nice seeing my family, meeting my dad’s cousins and their kids, and feeling so connected to my roots. I got to see ancestral graves, the dilapidated farmhouse where my great grandmother lived, and hear lots of family stories. I enjoyed seeing the funny little habits and traits I share with my family. I wish I could remember one, but I had lots of “me too!” moments where I saw all the amazing ways that coming from the same genetic/cultural soup gives you the same flavors, even if you’re distinct in lots of other ways. Oh yeah, here’s one: my super-dry skin and scalp totally comes from my dad. Thanks, Dad. But there were other, funner things (Also? Spellcheck didn’t flag “funner” as not a word, though it did mark “spellcheck”, which is weird. I feel so vindicated. I hope you’re reading this, Jim.). The upshot is that I come from funny, kind people with a lot of integrity who are so genuine that they sometimes don’t realize they’re stepping on your toes, and you hate to point it out because they’re so nice and you know it wasn’t on purpose. Make of that what you will.

But so what made this funeral so special was that my grandfather planned it himself several years back. I gather his sister(?) passed away and he was dealing with funeral arrangements and was all, “dude this totally blows,” and he decided he’d never put his loved ones through that hassle. So he spent a year – I didn’t even spend a year planning my wedding, people – planning his funeral. He wrote his own obituary, he picked out family photos for a slide show, he picked out music, he covered all the details (perfectionism would be one of those family traits). It was kind of awesome, like a final party he threw for friends and family. Granted, a rather sad party, but it had his fingerprints all over it and I loved it. Except the part where the military salute included gunshots that I wasn’t expecting and I jumped two feet in the air in the front row where everyone could see and it probably ruined a really solemn moment for a lot of people, but I didn’t want to bring up my PTSD at a funeral, so I’ve just decided to believe that everyone else behind me jumped, too.

From now on we should totally all plan our own funerals. Mine will have crazy costumes for people to change into, and conversation starters with dick jokes on them, or perhaps an assortment of anecdotes about times when I embarrassed myself. And there will be gypsy music. Sort of like if a Jazz Funeral got lost and wound up in the middle of Burning Man. There will be a quiet room where people can look at pictures and feel sad for a little bit, but I want my life celebrated and gently mocked. Preferably with tropical drinks. At the hotel my aunt made Old Fashioneds, which were grandpa’s evening drink of preference (though completely different from the recipes I just found online – his involve fresh squeezed oranges and maraschino cherry juice, so it’s more like a whiskey sunrise, I guess?); it was delicious and I felt very close to him at that moment, so I will definitely serve up my favorite drink at my funeral. Well, not personally, because that would be weird. And gross.

I drove back to Missouri on Sunday & spent a couple days visiting with old friends. Not as many as I would have liked, but I wasn’t there for long & I just left a funeral. I had once belonged to a very tight-knit group of pagans, which is kind of like belonging to an evangelical Christian church, but with more nudity and dancing and being cool with everybody doing whatever works for them. But the being religious all the time and tightly connected to your worship community and potlucks part is very much the same. I’ve sort of moved on from there and my spiritual practice/quest for inner peace is basically going to therapy, and it works really well for me. But I miss the sense of community. A LOT.

It was wonderful to visit people who I know so well that I don’t have to guess whether they’re laughing the uncomfortable laugh or the appreciative laugh. People who will take your outrageous jokes about vibrators, or eating babies, or whatever, exactly in the spirit they are meant – which is to say, holy crap, of course I would never eat babies or wield a vibrator in that fashion, but it sure is funny to imagine, isn’t it? – and then they will one-up me. I love those people. When I leave social events in NJ, there is always the conversation in the car that goes something like this:

Me: So, do you think that dead baby joke went over okay? I hope those quiet, conservative looking people weren’t too uncomfortable.

Jim: No, people laughed, and everyone loves you, I’m sure it was fine, and it was completely germane to the conversation, it’s not like you blurted out something about dead babies into a silence.

Me: Please don’t let me drink at parties anymore.

Jim: You had two glasses. You got a little loud, but you weren’t outrageous or anything.

Me: Do you think I should send them flowers?

Old friends mean never having to worry about whether that joke went too far. They will instead tell you that it was a horrible joke and give you tips on how to improve it. Because that’s what friends DO.

For the first time ever, I thought about moving home. I don’t think I could, because Jim needs to live near the ocean. But I wanted to. One of my best friends likes to say, when asked how she ended up on the west coast from Missouri, “they opened the gates and I ran,” and I used to agree. But I miss that pace, and the friendliness. I have managed to mute the memories of judgment and anxiety that go along with that culture, and I suppose I like to imagine that I’ve been in therapy long enough not to take that crap in anymore. But I guess the best part about visiting is that you get to experience the best, and then go home and miss it some more.

Yesterday would have been the 40th birthday of the daughter of the woman who shuttled me back to the airport. She died of a rare and aggressive cancer six years ago. I hope it was a good funeral. I’m glad I got to share in celebrating her for a moment on a shuttle bus back to the airport to fly home.

If home is where the heart is, I’m going to need more hearts.


A Very Good Place to Start

So it may or may not be obvious that my blog title is a play on the word “self-actualization.” I’m not vain (or confident) enough to pretend that I’ve achieved anything like it, and the Great Gooracle doesn’t retrieve any good words for “aiming for self-actualization” so I went with wordplay. Not my best work, to be honest (got a better idea? let me know), but it’ll do. An aphorism is:

1. A tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion; an adage.
2. A brief statement of a principle.

I can get behind that. Every time I sort out a new piece of myself, I find myself slapping my forehead and going, “holy shit, dude, that’s actually true!” Less so with the “beer then liquor” (or is it “liquor then beer”? Damn. See, this is why I can’t drink), but totally so with things like “early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Which totally sucks because I really like sleeping until noon. Especially in the winter. But when I drag my sorry ass out of bed early and get some light therapy and start doing things, my whole day is different. Fuck you, Ben Franklin. You probably just meant, “I’d better get my sorry ass out of my mistress’ bed and back home before the wife wakes up or she will beat it to a bloody pulp.” Most wise men were actually a total mess. So that’s one thing I’ve got going for me, anyway.

So this blog is a few things: my entry back into a consistent writing practice and the concomitant building up of the callouses needed to be read by an audience of potentially hostile strangers; my musings on growing up, which appears to finally be happening in my late thirties thanks to seven years of funding my therapist’s amazing vacations; satisfying my occasional desire to be annoyingly self-righteous about shit I’ve already worked through in therapy that other people haven’t in such a way that if you’re like “self-actualized? More like self-ass-you-alized” you can just click away without worrying about seeming rude. But seriously, you need to work on your wordplay. And obviously I need to work on tightening my sentence structure. So we both win! Or lose? I’m not sure. See above about clicking away quietly.

Sometimes I take myself way too seriously. I try not to, but if you come here often I inevitably will. Please do me a favor and comment something like “balls!” when I do that about my personal growth. Because nothing good ever comes from taking yourself too seriously about growth. Remind me to share my therapist’s anecdote, Rule Number Three.

That said, I have a very serious side, and I will probably indulge in it here. I like to talk about geeky topics like organizational dynamics and history and science and cult sci-fi television. You may be the person who comes here for that. You may be the person who comes here for the navel-gazing. If you’re here for both, why the hell aren’t we friends?

I also totally love giving advice, because it’s way easier to solve other people’s problems than your own. I kind of secretly hope that people will write me and ask me for advice so that I can pontificate, because some people knit, or scrapbook, or work on old cars; I like tell people what they should do. I guess that’s not a secret anymore. Unless no one is reading. Or knows me at all.

Thanks for joining me. I hope I don’t bail on this in a week when I don’t have much to say and am crippled with anxiety over the judgment of my character by total strangers.

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Recent bedtime conversation:

Me: do you think if your name is Jesus [the Spanish pronunciation, hey-soos] you get a big ego? Everyone’s all “praise Jesus” and “Jesus is lord” and all that.

Jim: If my name were Jesus, I’d open a fat rendering shop called –

In Unison: -Jesus’ Lard!!

Me: Awesome! Right next to the Cheeses of Nazareth artisanal cheese shop?

Jim: Totally.

After that we simultaneously broke into “Hey Jude” using “Jesus” instead. And this is why I am happily married.

(I published this out of order because I didn’t want to make my intro post go away from the top of the page yet)