Monthly Archives: July 2008

The Envelope of Doom

Why be afraid of little pieces of paper?

Considering the possible attacks that we as a society have developed to be delivered in an envelope, it’s not surprising.

To name a few:

  • Court summons
  • Parking ticket
  • Divorce papers
  • Credit card bill
  • Report card
  • Pink slip
  • Electricity shut-off notice
  • IRS audit notification
  • Returned submission with accompanying rejection slip

Why do we torture each other with documents?

When I’ve got one of these, or any other scary scrap of parchment, in front of me, and my fight or flight response is fully engaged, it’s hard to remember that the flattened fiber pulp can’t really do me bodily injury.

Sure, I’ve gotten a paper cut or two.  But boy did I teach that piece of paper a lesson!

My preferred methods of paper destruction:

  1. Burning– There’s nothing like the instant gratification of watching the offending words be slowly eaten by the flames.  Take that!
  2. Paper Shredder- It’s a lovely faux grass bundle that emerges.  It’s even better to go a step further and compost the shreds (assuming the paper has no other toxic content besides its message).  Something about watching a threatening communique succumb to the elements that reassures me as to Who is really in charge.
  3. Recycled Art- There is a delicious, self-righteous pleasure in seeing it demonstrated that absolutely anything a two-year-old could scrawl in thick black marker is more pleasing and sensible than the original text.

When these methods lose their oomph, I peruse my alternate list:

Elimination methods I’m sure would be awesome but am loathe to attempt:

  1. Large Dog’s Chew Toy- Bundled and twisted together, the papers would meet a fabulously agonizing end amidst sharp teeth and copious slobber. 
  2. Decomposition by Shotgun- Oooooh yeah.
  3. Human consumption- What can I say… the papers would eventually emerge, unmasked, in their true form.

Not a big fan of bureaucracy? you may ask.  Government forms give you hives?  Red tape cause your heart to palpitate painfully?

Well, yes.  And I can’t see our society ever reversing course away from our obsession with having it all down on paper.

And then hitting each other over the head with it.

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Name that motor vehicle!

My husband and I have a tradition of naming our cars.

It officially began when I first met my husband, who at the time owned a white Ford Escort (I was a carless cyclist).  Though we hardly knew each other at the time, he loaned it to me while he was away for Thanksgiving (an omen of good things to come.)  I was given only two instructions: 1. Talk sweet to her.  2. She likes to be called “Abby.”

Growing up, my parents had a more offhanded approach.  My mother, when coaxing a temperamental vehicle, would always refer to it as “Nelly Bell” with plenty of affectionate encouragement, no matter if it were our rusty old pick up or our little Mazda GLC.

To my father, any vehicle that was acting up always earned a moniker that began, “Son of a…”

But my husband and I like to acknowledge each car’s individuality.  Maybe it’s our writers’ minds seeing character everywhere: the thrill of anthropomorphization (How often does one get to work that word into a post?).  When Abby gave up the ghost we bought another Escort, this time forest green and named “Bonnie.”  She’s been a good girl, taking us up and down the West Coast and across the continent to a new life in the South.  But since our fourth baby was born, Bonnie, who seats only five, bless her heart, just hasn’t been big enough.

Therefore, to visit my husband’s relatives last Thanksgiving (now I get to come too!) we had to rent a van.  An Uplander, it was a sweet ride and I got quite attached to it.  Within hours of pulling out of the rental agency we named him “Carl” and he made a ten hour roadtrip with four kids actually enjoyable.

Now we must get a grip, stop our small car idealism and purchase a van.  In case you hadn’t noticed the pattern, we’ve been naming in alphabetical order, so our next set of wheels must be D-something.

I pondered for days and finally came up with the perfect name: “Dixie.”  Friendly.  Sweet.  Acknowledges the Southern community we are now a part of.

And best of all, until we finally find her, we can appropriately sing… “Well I wish I was in Dixie!”

(No offense, Bonnie!)

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First Anniversary

As I reflect on passing the one year blogging mark, I am humbled and grateful for the experience.

A year ago my husband’s best friend was visiting us from Wales. He showed me the blog he had just started ( Movie Waffle  — A more witty and intelligent film review site could never be found!) and the idea of having an outlet for my thoughts was irresistible.  I had to be a copycat right then and there.

At first, seeing my words “in print” online was just as excruciating as it ever had been to see them genuinely in print. I remember the first time I got an essay published in the local newspaper, I stayed up all night wondering what stupid thing I’d said that the whole town would laugh at (and not in a good way) over their morning coffee.  My heart was racing when I heard the paper hit the front door, and my eyes could hardly focus as I scanned over my article.  Other than the stupid title they had given it, there was nothing particularly ridiculous about it.  Nothing to lose a minute’s sleep over.

Nobody read any of my first blogs.  Literally.  Not a soul.  That’s the great thing about WordPress: you can see precisely how few readers you have.  You can watch that hit line drag along the bottom of the graph, trawling for discouragement.  

But after a while, maybe it’s the sheer consistency of its horizontal straightness, you start to feel comforted by the fact that you can say anything you want and no one is there to judge.  You start to loosen up, speak your mind, send your internal editor off to play on Myspace and just sit with your authentic self and her thoughts and emotions.  You keep writing, now not with a desperate longing to be read but just to craft what it is you really want to say, even if no one is there to hear it.  (Yes, a tree falling in the forest really does make a sound!)

Then, after months of cruising and commenting on blogs, you find you have commented on the blogs of some writers who actually come to check out your blog.  You find that you enjoy the companionship, that you derive just as much satisfaction from reading and commenting on their posts as you get from seeing your own blog read, something that might not have happened at the beginning when your blog was new and you were so focused on developing it.  As happens in so many aspects of life, you find that once you have let go of what you so desperately wanted, in this case a community of intelligent and entertaining folks, then it comes to you in its own time.  Perhaps it has to be earned, by hanging in there and not giving up.

Or so I like to think.  I don’t know how representative my experience is of the majority of bloggers, maybe there are those who are highly popular immediately, and contrary-wise, those who never find an audience.  But this year has been such a great learning experience for me as a writer and I am really enjoying this new phase of interacting with some wonderful bloggers.  I hope they are getting as much out of my blog as I am from theirs: this is my new goal for year two.

And my Year Two wish to myself and my fellow bloggers (forgive me on this sentimental occasion one appalling cutesification): May the words be with you!

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Starting to Sweat the Summer

Well, I made it until yesterday.

I try not to whine about the heat… try and try… for as long as I can.

Yesterday, standing over the stove feeling stickier than the muffin batter, greasier than the oil heating in the frying pan, and hotter than the pre-heating oven, I had an involuntary longing for my long-sleeved flannel shirts.  It doesn’t help that my mother-in-law, through whose faithful yardsaling I am periodically supplied with a new wardrobe, has recently sent me some seriously snuggly new plaids.  

Now, like an alcoholic in a dry county, I am pining pathetically for what I cannot have:

  • a chilly bite in the air that clears my mental vision (I often feel I cannot think in the hellish haze of summer’s heat)
  • the welcome early darkness that justifies my homebody tendencies  
  • the opportunity to snuggle with a family member without an accompanying shout of, “Bleh!  Get off me!  It’s too hot already!”
  • the ability to ride around in our no-A/C car without being able to hear the important bits in my cranium sizzle (“This is your brain in an old sunbaked Ford Escort!”)
  • a craving for stew and biscuits, hot cocoa and all those other cold weather treats
  • and most of all, the chance to put on those soft comfy flannels and denims that right now are kryptonite.  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get out there this morning and do the yardwork before the grass melts.

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Damning Debt

How much does debt destroy a person’s integrity?  Is credit rating the new and improved way to judge a human’s worth, or is it just a shallow measure like breast size or bicep thickness?  Should I live in fear like the guy on the commercial who finds himself in a pirate get-up earning minimum wage, or is it all just an empty threat by the cruel credit industry to get us to slave our lives away to buy them more yachts?

About 8 years ago I was living debt free.  I was also living without a car, without cable or a cell phone or indeed most amenities that mainstream society considers essential to basic survival in the modern world.

But I was happy, and I was proud that I didn’t owe a dime.

Then, for reasons I will blame on the heartache of being dumped by my then-husband of 10 years, I went a little crazy.

Next thing I knew I was back in college, racking up student loan debt I never imagined possible, holding scary new credit cards that were used to buy food and other necessities for me and the kids.

And if anything is going to keep me up at night, it is thinking about money, most specifically the phenomenally huge piles of it that I will end up shoveling into the yards of those to whom I owe.  Despite my new husband’s reassurances that there isn’t a debtor’s prison in the US, I definitely feel shackled by the red numbers that haunt me.  I am simultaneously grateful and guilt-ridden to think of him shoveling next to me, trying to fill the holes I dug before he even met me.

The worst part of it, worse even than the bag of tater tots I charged way back when that I will have paid $49.73 for once it is paid off, worse than being afraid of the friendly neighborhood mail carrier, worse than the feeling that I will hyperventilate myself blind when I write out yet another check for nothing in particular except that I HAVE TO OR ELSE, the absolutely worst part is that I feel like the lowest kind of person.

I try to imagine for an instant that I am a murderer hiding out, then wave my reality wand and *POOF*  Now you are perfectly innocent of homicide!  Don’t you feel better now?  That trick lasts about 6 and a half minutes.

I imagine that my house has burnt down and I’ve lost all my photos and writings.  Then, *ABRACADABRA* your house is actually intact!  Doesn’t life seem more rosy?  That ruse is good for 11 minutes.

I picture what a debtor’s prison was actually like, the fear and shame and suffering.  The utter darkness of the body and soul.

But none of my extreme mental ploys can really dispel this little cloud that hangs about my head, casting gloom into the future.  Nothing gets rid of the certainty that I have signed on with the Devil, or at least some of his demon minions, and the road to eliminating the spot on my eternal soul will be long, difficult, and perhaps impossible.

What have we as a society done to ourselves?  Am I the only one who confuses my essential self with the paper trail that my material existence leaves behind me like the slimiest kind of slug?  Is there a way to take responsibility for the choices I have made without drowning in discouragement? Is there a way to set the debt aside as separate from me, to isolate it in a hermetically sealed section of my life so that it does not contaminate the flavor of food or the color of the sky?

I hope that someone somewhere is enjoying their yacht, and that guilt over their criminally high interest rate is not spoiling the caviar.

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Noisy Chores

My chores each have a different pitch to their whine: that incessant complaint that each makes to get my attention and ruin any chance I have of doing something enjoyable until I’ve attended to the work at hand.

An unmade bed makes a soft noise, sounds kind of like, “I want to look priiiiiteeeee.”  Most days I just reply, “Hey, take a look, if I can’t be bothered with my own face then there’s no hope for you.”  Then the bed changes its tune.  Starts whispering, “Naaaaaap!” So I oblige.  Can’t be overly cruel to the furniture.

A full laundry basket makes a low moan almost completely below my radar, kind of a “Helloooooo” as though from a mole lost down a hole.  The mole isn’t really bothered about being lost down the hole, since it’s in its own territory, but it still would like some attention.  Clothes must like being roughed up a bit.

I can’t hear dust.  The thickness of the general household coating must result in the dust voices canceling each other out, a situation I highly recommend.

The dishes, on the other hand, have a high squeal.  I can’t even go near the kitchen without being assaulted.  It’s kind of an ear-piercing “EEEEEeeeuuuww!  EEEEeeeuuuww!”  Approaching this task requires that I steel my nerves in the same way I imagine an EMT might have to force themselves to save someone who had killed the EMT’s dog.  

If you haven’t guessed, I DESPISE the dishes.  I would rather clean the toilet… in a gas station bathroom.  I would rather clean out the fridge… in a frat house.  I would rather organize the garage of the worst pack rat in the world.  But please don’t make me do the dishes.  My goal in life is to learn to scream louder than they do and maybe scare them off.

I still feel guilty about a recent trade I made with  my 12 year old.  He was whining about having to mow the lawn, a chore which I absolutely LOVE, so I threw out the idea, jokingly of course, because who would be foolish enough to even consider such an idea, that we switch: I would do his weekly mowing if he took on another night of dishes.  He accepted without hesitation.

I must stand up for him and say that he is a very smart and wonderful kid, but he has apparently lost his mind.  I am very concerned.  We have gone through a whole week of this arrangement and he appears content with it!  I came in after mowing, glowing with the experience of sun and fresh air, and then stood proudly at the front window where my handiwork was laid out in public, to be admired by all of humanity, and I said to him, “You REALLY don’t  like mowing?”  I was giving him another chance, see.  I’m not completely heartless.

But he remained firm.  A day later when he was doing the dishes, I expected to hear the customary wailing and gnashing of teeth that I myself always emit when faced with such horror.  I came tiptoeing into the kitchen, arms shielding my head from plates that might be flying from his rage, bracing for the inevitable outcry of a tortured soul, and he turned to me and said, “Hey Mom.  You okay?”

Am I a bad person for allowing this arrangement to continue?  What am I going to do if Child Protective Services finds out how badly I’ve tricked my own offspring?  

You’ll have to excuse me… my radar is picking up a dirty diaper in the vicinity.  If you’ve never heard it, you really don’t want to know what noise THAT makes, but it is definitely NOT to be ignored.

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Numbers revisited

I finally watched “The Number 23.”  I think it demonstrates a couple of important points about superstition and the human imagination.

First, we interpret.  From religious texts to emails to light conversation over coffee, we filter everything through our necessarily limited sensory perception.  Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception” is a great illustration of the idea that humans must screen out almost all of the infinite amount of sensory stimulation coming at us at every second and focus on just the few details that have developed a particularly important meaning for us.  Being animals, we are programmed to watch for the glimpse of a tiger out of the corner of our eye and then spring into action.  Since there aren’t many tigers around in our modern world, perhaps we sometimes subconsciously invent danger signs, like superstitions, to give our systems a chance to rush with adrenaline.

Thus, having an infinite amount of material to filter through, we can always find what we are looking for, such as the number 23.

The other point the movie brought up at its conclusion, although stylistically I did not care for the end much, was the main character’s emphasis on choice.  We can choose our interpretation as well as our reaction to the meaning we have found.  Though we are animals and must deal with all our physical/instinctual programming, as humans we also have the right and responsibility to decide for ourselves.

I cannot argue with its star-and-a-half rating, but it was definitely an entertaining flick.

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