Fledglings and Their Moms

I’m kind of a mess. Nick leaves for college tomorrow. All week, I’ve been a mess. I keep thinking I won’t know what to do with myself after he leaves, but I have a lot to do.

I will resist the urge to write my list of everything I’ve procrastinated the last three months for you.

You might feel like you’re looking in my purse at that little notebook I keep in there if I write out my list for you. Every morning, that stupid list comes up in my mind. I swear that it’s my mother in my head, always giving me a list of stuff to do that I would never be able to finish.

Do you have your parents in your head too?

Will Nick’s mom-voice nag him to keep his room clean and communicate with his roommate for the things that he needs?

I hope so.

Wait. I don’t know how I feel about that voice always being in Nick’s head, making him feel less than what he should have been in the first place. But then, maybe he needs to hear that voice ringing through his thoughts so that he steps up.

I don’t know.

Our relationship will be different the first time he comes home for a break. He will manage his own stuff, right? Or will he revert to the kid who asked for help before trying himself? I don’t know what to expect.

We celebrated his birthday last night. I think he may have been disappointed in his present. I’m not sure.

He wanted ferrofluid. What came in the mail was smaller than what we all expected.

Maybe we were all disappointed about his birthday anyway. It was hard to celebrate because it was early. It was hard to celebrate because we were all so busy getting ready. It was hard to celebrate Nick’s birthday because we are in the midst of this great change in all of our lives and not one of us feels ready.

Mike finished changing the head gaskets in Nick’s car and buttoned it up last night. He survived the test drive. That was a huge job. Huge. And I finished the quilt I wanted Nick to sleep under at school. That felt like a huge job too. There was a point as I put on the binding when I made one mistake after another, stupid mistakes. It felt like my subconscious asking: If I don’t finish the quilt maybe he doesn’t have to leave.

It’s normal and healthy for chicks to leave the nest. I wonder if bird moms have this same heartache as they escort their newly fledged children around the yard where they are so susceptible to hunters. I wonder how they feel after their babies fly away from them. Do they have the urge to chase after them to tell them, again and again, how to stay safe out in the wild, wild world?

I picture a bird mom chasing after her reluctant, newly independent fledgling and telling him to stay safe, fly straight, and communicate with his friends. Is she a mess after he leaves?

I’m a mess. I’ll be more of a mess in two days when my boy is safely ensconced in his dorm room with his car parked nearby and his quilt on his bed. I will be that embarrassing mom with tears in her eyes as she meets his new roommate, the one who runs out to Target and comes back with more stuff that he’s so obviously going to need. Obvious to me, anyway. I’ll be that embarrassing mom who holds on too long during our last hug. I’ll be the one who cries too long on the drive home.

I know Nick’s not dying. He’s just leaving for college.

But I’m a mess.

Thank you for listening, jules

Listening to Poets in the Park

In the back of the picnic shelter on Saturday, I listened to poets, some sad and anxious, some shy and gifted.

It was chill so I put on my sweater. I wanted to write my thoughts but I was there to listen. Passersby sometimes made so much noise I couldn’t hear. A man carried a boom box at full volume. A gaggle of motorcycles squawked by. Children screamed as they chased bubbles that carried rainbows on the thinnest of shells, so like the words being spoken into air. Ephemeral skies caught in the sun.

And from nowhere, it seemed, I smelled a lake.

Where was a lake near here? What breeze could carry that smell into town, the one you found when you swam in the lake and you floated for a moment with your nose just above the water?

It was always such a private moment, when you stopped splashing, you in that inch above the water, breathing, where your vision cleared, and your nose told you myriad things of creatures too small to see. It was you in your natural environment, you being you, realizing your bones floated with the slightest movement from your paddle feet. You felt a fish kiss your elbow and saw his silver shyly dart away. You knew you could have once been an otter or bigger yet, a whale, so free in its wide water. You watched your pruney fingers, pale fish fluttering in front of you.

You were there, in this underwater picnic shelter, dark green depths of lake beneath your feet, overhanging trees and sky beyond, listening to a murmuring voice. She spoke light and shadow. You looked beyond her at drops of translucent children, sparkling in the sun, dancing to be rainbows, splashing joy.

You were there, breathing deeply the water of her poem, finding your own way home.

Thank you for listening, jules

Procrastination

Well, I’m here and it’s my day off. You’d think I could do whatever I wanted today, but I have joined the adult crowd of working people who try to jam a week’s worth of inconsequential errands into one day.

What does that mean for my poor little cat book, the one that stands edited three times and is one more edit away from being polished? This is the one that was so important to me that I started crying when I finally sat in front of a potential publisher and I hadn’t honed the answer to the question about why the book was so important to me. At that moment, it welled up inside me, the whole truth about how I am broken in the same way my little cat is broken and that’s why I wrote the book. I couldn’t just tell the potential publisher without having all that love rush up to my eyeballs and spill out.

Yeah, it ruined the interview. You’d think that passion would help, but no one wants to work with someone who cries. I still haven’t recovered in terms of my marketing strategy.

I’ll admit that marketing is daunting. Marketing is so daunting that I just now sat at this computer and played Solitaire for five minutes before writing anything more. I try to pretend writing books isn’t important to me. I try, but then I get a desperate feeling at the pit of my stomach as if my reason for breathing has suddenly been at question.

I was going to make some lame analogy about finding out your engagement ring isn’t gold and diamonds but cubic zirconium and a metal that leaves a green ring around your finger.

But if Mike had given me a ring like that, I would have laughed and given him grief about it for twenty seven years while we made our toast and tea in the kitchen in the morning. Twenty-seven years and it still would have been funny.

Yes, next week we will have been married for twenty-seven years. Rings and jewelry are not on our radar. I want more time as an anniversary present and he isn’t going anywhere. The rest of my time-management problems aren’t something he can do much about. He works full time and then some and I work part time, so I’m the one who walks the dog and shops for groceries. I’m the primary cook and cleaner too, but he helps some with that. I can’t complain.

I do complain, but I shouldn’t.

So, about the cat book. Yesterday, I had a conversation with one of my students. Periodically, I’m supposed to lecture them about finishing what you start, about having a good attitude, and generally doing your best. Yesterday, I sat with this bright little girl and realized that she didn’t need any lectures. So, knowing that I’ve got this book that’s practically finished but not quite, I asked her what I should do to make myself finish. She said I should do one small thing, then another small thing, then another. She said if I did that, it would get done.

I plan to finish my cat book when I get that week off before school starts so I can really focus. I just need a week of not working to do it. I just need time to think it through.

But will I be able to focus the week after my boy has gone off to college? Will I? Will I really? Or will I sit at my desk with tears in my eyes and wonder what my boy is doing right at that moment? I could imagine moping around for a month or two just trying to get used to the new silence in the house. And the lack of Nick’s specific energy. That boy vibrates the air when he walks through the room.

So, I’d better get busy before he leaves. I’d better do one small thing today. One. Then, tomorrow, I should do one more small thing. I promised you a new book. It’s a book that means something to me. It’s a book about a kitten and his fears. It’s a book about a woman and hers. I’ll get right on that…

…as soon as I get a little caught up on my errands.

Thank you for listening, jules

Reading Outside Your Zone

I just got home from work, annoyed. I love the nights when I can come home, shake off my irritants, and find that Mike has cooked the food I prepped for dinner, and Nick has done some of the work he knew he needed to accomplish. Wow! It’s a good night.

Annoying students’ faces fade into the background. I get to read. I can try to catch up with the areas where I’m behind.

I need to unlock Nick’s college funds, help him transfer credits from two other universities, finish piecing his college quilt, and practice my math for the days when my coworker leaves and I’m left helping students with calculus. I don’t really want to update my math, but I intend to be prepared. I’d really rather read and write than practice math.

I need to tell you about my brilliant student. It’s as challenging to work with a brilliant student as it is to work with a student who struggles.

This kid is in eighth grade, but has a vocabulary that’s beyond tenth grade. His comprehension is beyond twelfth grade. I told him to read Stephen Hawking and he did. He understood it more clearly than I did. I love working with this guy, but he keeps me on my toes. None of our existing material is challenging enough for him, so I have to push him beyond on my own. I have to push beyond where he is. It helps that he’s an eager learner, but I feel like a fourth-grader trying to teach sixth-grade math. What I do know is how to help him pick amazing books in science so he can begin his career now. And I get to tell him to write, to keep a notebook. He’s an adept writer, but he needs to be pushed to write more, to push his own mind in ways that writing about something seems to require.

I want him to write his ideas down in one place, to begin to keep track of his thoughts the way Leonardo Da Vinci did. I loaned him a book by Henry Petroski, Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of America. I haven’t read it yet. I loved Petroski’s To Engineer is Human and The Evolution of Useful Things. Nerd alert. I love reading stuff like this. I told this student to write in pencil in the margins of the book. He said he won’t do it. I said that it would help me understand what had an impact on him. It would. I should read, chapter by chapter, along with him. Yeah, that would be good for both of us.

And I need to look up a list of books for scientists.

Here’s my list:

Carl Sagan

Stephen Hawking

Jules Verne

Da Vinci

Henry Petroski

Dr. Oliver Sacks

David George Haskell

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Isaac Asimov

I’m sure there are more, but that’s my preliminary list. I’m going to sit down and read now. I’m going to try to stay a chapter ahead of my brilliant student. I’m going to write in the margins. I’m going to write about building bridges.I love the metaphor. Hopefully, I’ll take my brilliant student outside his comfort zone.I know I’ll be outside mine.

Maybe you should read outside your comfort zone too. We can all be uncomfortable together.

Thank you for listening, jules

Getting Oriented to a New World

Okay, I’m back from my parent orientation at Nick’s new school, Washington State University.

It was awesome, not perfect, but awesome. I was absolutely right in my previous post that I didn’t need to go. I didn’t. My son would have been fine on his own, but Nick’s friend Andrew drove out with a buddy and every time I saw him, he waved and smiled as if he wanted to see a friendly face. I’m glad I could be that friendly face.

I am so tired. Two nights on a narrow concrete mattress in a noisy dorm room was enough. Ten hours riding in a car was enough. Ten miles of walking up and down hills was enough.

But the kids were so excited. They sang outside the dorm rooms the first night. A thunderstorm came through the second night and they cheered every time lightning lit the sky. Seriously. They decked themselves out in school logos and colors. They went to every lecture. They lounged in the Student Union. They acted the part of college students until they were.

As for me, I imagined working there in the Humanities Department or the library. I pictured myself editing my next book at a study carrel. I wandered under trees, looked out over the valley, found cozy corners where I might sit and read. I remembered some of the good things about being on a college campus. I grew up in a college town. I miss the flavor of having students come back from summer break. I always loved those first weeks. The energy in town was great!

I want to tell you what this remarkable university is doing: They pick a single book that they recommend to the students to read over the summer, Common Reading Program. Then, many of the classes use that book in their curriculum. This year, they’re reading Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier.

I love it! A book club for an entire campus.

I’m reading it now. It will help fight the agony I feel over refugee children separated from their families and living in concentration camps at our southern border in the U.S. It will help direct my protest. It will help me point to solutions instead of lingering in anguish and shame.

I’d like to get my son and his friends to read it too, but after talking to them on the way home, I don’t see much hope of that. Still, if you get an entire community to read a single inspiring book, can you change the world? Can you?

I think you can.

Thank you for listening, jules

A $ingle Purpo$e

Tomorrow, I go with Nick to his college orientation.

No, I didn’t have to go. I didn’t have to sign up for the parent segment of the orientation either. Nick’s best friend is also going tomorrow and his mom likes for things to be organized. She’s the type of person to sign up for the bonus orientation for parents. I usually like that about her, but I’d rather have a weekend to walk around campus and enjoy a long lunch at a sidewalk cafe with a notebook and a book on the table next to me. Instead, I’m going to two and a half days of parent orientation at my son’s college.

Here’s my version of parent orientation:

  1. Your kid is going to college.

  2. You are staying home.

  3. You will miss him.

  4. He will miss your lasagna.

  5. He will bring home a huge pile of laundry for occasional weekends and breaks.

  6. He will experience the rich love of learning at his college. Just kidding. He will experience his first hangover at his college.

  7. He will probably change his major at least once.

  8. He might graduate.

  9. You still have purpose.

  10. You pay for college.

  11. He can get student loans if you fail your purpose.

Get the picture? So, what else could I possibly need to know about being a parent with a kid in college that I need to go to this parent orientation?

Tomorrow, I’m going to find out.

Thank you for listening, jules

Up All Night

Do you think of old women as people with rich histories?

I don’t. Isn’t that sad? I am one and I still don’t.

I knew this woman who was nearly a hundred. She was frail and her hands shook. At her memorial service, I saw and heard about this adventurous life she’d had living in the Adirondacks. At first, I was dubious, but there were photos. Then, I was surprised. And now, enough time has passed that I’ve blocked out what she actually did and I only remember her as the frail quiet woman she had been when I knew her.

I’d like to say I awoke to my mistake, but then it happened again. Another friend died, one who wasn’t quite as old, but at her memorial service I saw photos of her water skiing. Her family said she’d been in a water skiing show. I had never imagined her water skiing let alone being in a show. It just seemed like an anomaly, a trick picture.

I’ve begun to feel that kind of response from people when I talk about my younger days. Yes, Mike and I really did take ten days off from work every year to spend time canoe-trekking in the wilderness. Yes, I’ve been charged by a bear, twice. Yes, I was almost struck by lightning and the tree next to me exploded. Yes, I was rushed by a bull once when I tried to cut through his field. Yes, I cross-country skied at 3:00 am in temperatures at twenty below zero. Yes, a train came as I crossed a trestle and I learned to run on railroad ties. Yes, I played in a band on New Year’s Eve in a private club in the Bronx. Yes, I’ve eaten a feta cheese omelet at a Greek diner at dawn after a night spend dancing in NYC. No, I’m not using my active imagination. I did these things.

Yet, I can see doubt in people’s eyes when I open my mouth to tell about my life. And I don’t blame them. I doubt women’s stories too.

Why is it that when an old man has lived a full life, an adventurous life, no one doubts his stories of running with the bulls and shooting the rapids? Why do people look at an old woman as automatically docile, apt to have made cookies, to have stayed at home to watch TV, to have no history other than cleaning her house?

It makes me want to take a hike, to get out on the water, to sleep under the stars, dance all night, but I might fall and break my hip. Just kidding.

It makes me want to hear more stories from old women.

Thank you for listening, jules

Staring into the Gaps

I just finished listening to Jodi Picoult’s book Leaving Time two days ago in my car. (Yes, I have a car that’s so old, it still has a CD player in it.) In the vacant space left by the end of that book, I popped its first disk back in to listen to it all over again.

I’m vulnerable in that space between stories. Are you? It’s like the edge of midnight when darkness looks different than it had the moment before. I sometimes look at the clock right at midnight. It feels like there’s a gap in reality that I don’t want to see during those seconds, especially when Mike has put in a horror movie and gone to bed before the end. I hate when he does that.

Leaving Time has me looking into those gaps a different way. Her story is about psychics and souls and elephants. It’s a lovely mix.

I used to be afraid to admit my sense of the souls that shift in and out of my life despite their deaths. But once I began a study of quantum physics, it has become easier to admit.

Quantum physics is weird. It theorizes the existence of parallel universes.

What separates these parallel universes?

Psychics talk about a thin veil between our reality and the other side. How is that any stranger than the existence of a worm hole or a universe in which my alternate self just made a slight right turn where I went straight?

The veil, for me, comes loose in dreams. I have seen my grandpa twice in dreams, my dad once when I had just awoken. These feel very real, surviving for years when less substantial dreams have faded away.

Do you have that, dreams that stay with you through the years, dreams that don’t fade?

I do.

One of my very first memories is a dream. My family was in it. The five of us sat on the bar stools where we ate most of our meals. In my dream, the bar stools stood on a wide square of wood flooring with a square hole in the center of it. The flooring was identical to what we had at home before my mother got her new green carpet. I was young when she got that carpet, around four years old, so this was a very early memory. Around us, everything was black, like being in space, but the square hole in front of us was a blacker place, a place that terrified me. We sat and talked about how we got there, what was going to happen to us.

Then one by one, all the members of my family fell into the hole and was gone. I was terrified to be left alone. When I was thirteen, my dad died and that memory-dream shifted so that the first person who fell was him. I honestly don’t know any more if it really was him who fell first or if my memory of the dream shifted it into position afterward. It doesn’t matter.

At four years old, I stared into the abyss. I couldn’t see beyond the veil. I felt as though I would never see the ones I lost ever again.

But it hasn’t felt that way for the rest of my life. Sometimes when I look at Nick, I think, ‘So, what do you think of my boy, Dad?’

I always get a flood of tears in my eyes at the silence that ensues. This doesn’t feel like an empty abyss. Sometimes, it feels like my dad is on the other side of something I can’t see through. Sometimes, not always, I feel him there. When I think of him, he is not the skeletal man who died of cancer when I was thirteen, but the strong and slightly pudgy man I knew who was in his prime, the man who submarined and clung to the ski rope for almost two minutes when he tried to get up on one ski behind my grandpa’s boat even when it wasn’t powerful enough to pull him out of the water. I feel the man who leaped into frigid water on April Fool’s Day one year to be first in for the season even though he came out of the water blue and chattering after swimming for just a few minutes.

So when I think about parallel universes, I also think of that unknowable thing that separates me from people I love who have died. Maybe that’s why I keep staring into the abyss and waiting for something, someone, to stare back.

Thank you for listening, jules

The Big Finish

Have you ever finished a big project? Do you remember that feeling when you realized it was out the door and, good, bad, or ugly, it was done.

I feel that way today. Maybe my son Nick isn’t quite grown, you’d tell me. Maybe he’s still living at home and not within his own means, you’d say, but he graduated last Friday, I would reply to you. I watched as he tossed that mortarboard cap into the air, as it confettied with the caps of elated students. I saw the joy on his face. Or was it relief? I want to think that whatever he chooses to do from this point is his own business and my job has become to watch, to cheer for his success and ache for his heartbreak. Well, and maybe throw money in his direction for a while longer.

He sits on the couch right now, exhausted. I figure he needs a week to absorb it all. I know I do—struggling with a challenging schedule, missing all his finals in January when he had the flu, working to catch up, applying to college, getting accepted, feeling the fear when his Calculus teacher miscalculated grades and they just looked so terrible, and rushing at the end to a lovely prom, to the pomp of graduation walk, to all night grad night, and then to all the parties in celebration.

I hope I don’t get started thinking what I should have done differently for Nick. It’s easy for a mom to get lost on that path. I’m too damned tired, too damned tired.

Now, we have summer. We can sleep in, float for a while, just go to work and not much else, soak in the sunshine, shop for his move to a dorm room, transfer his credits, send a transcript, take him to orientation at the college.

Oh God, I have a lot to do before August comes. I’m not ready. This isn’t the end. It’s just a lull. Crap!

Thank you for listnening, jules

Let's Get Sustainable

I’ve always wanted to write about products that use less plastic in their packaging.

Why is that important?

The whale, the dolphins, the albatross, even us. We’re all eating plastic and we don’t yet understand the effects, do we?

Voting with our pocketbooks is a great way to encourage these great companies.

Quaker Oats Oatmeal. I’m so glad that oatmeal comes in a round cardboard container. It’s simple. There is a plastic seal with a ring you have to pull off, though. I wonder if they could use wax to add that? The seal makes us feel safer even though it doesn’t actually make us safer. Did you know that? Wax would make me feel safe, as if my letter hadn’t been opened without my knowledge. So many other companies have converted, probably spent millions of dollars, for new packaging and it almost always contains more plastic than it had before, not less.

Am I the only one who buys according to the amount of plastic packaging when I can?

Arm and Hammer is another great example. Their baking soda comes in a cardboard box just like the ones I used in the 60s when I was learning how to bake cookies. I still love that little flap that folds down to allow me to scrape off the heap so I get a good measure. Does Arm and Hammer have a monopoly on baking soda? If they do, I’m okay with that. I still bake cookies and stuff. Plus, I use it to clean my oven and anything else that’s dirty and needs a little scrubbing with grit. I always feel safer knowing I didn’t use any weird chemicals that will bake into the food in my oven.

Arm and Hammer also makes good cat litter that comes in a sturdy recyclable cardboard container. There’s a plastic handle that I can pry off with a butter knife when I’m recycling, but it’s a minimum compared to the other brands that use heavy plastic tubs and jugs. I collected a good number of those tubs and jugs before I realized I had more than enough tubs to store stuff and too many reusable jugs for recycling used motor oil. Plus, I buy the fragrance-free cat litter and, again, there aren’t a bunch of chemical smells floating around my house. Most fragrances give me a headache anyway. My only question is why their unscented cat litter still has a smell? I had to learn the hard way, twice losing a day to migraine, that unscented and fragrance-free is different. I have to wrestle with that cardboard, again with a butter knife, to get it flattened, but I’m excited to tell you that cardboard is solid enough that the boxes have never trailed bits of cat litter across my floors. I just wish my cats could do that.

Can one of you scientists develop a bottle or jug that can biodegrade with the application of something cool like ultraviolet light or heat? Really, I would imagine it is possible, a rugged, stable solid that melts or crumbles to reusable dust? Wouldn’t that be cool?

On that note, I’ve heard that some of the 3-D printers work on recycled plastic. We need to do anything we can to get that plastic out of circulation. Anything.

And there’s tea. Today, I’m drinking Choice Organic Rooibus. The cardboard boxes have a clear plastic layer around them that I have to throw away. Could they make that out of waxed paper or something else biodegradable? After that, both the box and the teabag wrappers are paper. What I love about my tea is that it has one ingredient: rooibus. It’s a simple flavor and if I wanted a little vanilla, I could just add a drop of my own. I never do, though. Other types of tea come in foil and paper combinations and I have no idea if they’re recyclable. My husband drinks Red Rose Decaffieinated tea which comes in a cardboard box and the individual bags aren’t even wrapped, one step closer to a sustainable solution.

One more thing that I’m proud of: I’ve been using my insulated klean kanteens every day and I’ve only drank from one disposable plastic bottle of water in the past eight months. Dare me to do better than that in the next eight months. The bottles keep my water cool so it’s more refreshing. When I put hot tea in them, I have to leave the lid off for a little while so my tea will cool down soon enough for me to drink it. It stays warm all day and into the night. I put both the stainless steel and the lids into the dishwasher on a daily basis. Lately, I’ve been adding lemon or lime to my water because my urologist said that lemonade reduces the formation of kidney stones. Yay, lemonade!

And have you seen Boxed Water? Like the little cartons of milk, the cartons used for Boxed Water are recyclable. I’m going to get some for emergencies in my car because those things won’t leach plastic into the water when they get hot in the trunk in the summer time. Isn’t that a great idea?

No, I’m not being paid to write about any of these companies. I just thought you ought to know they’re doing the right thing without being harassed to do it.

Okay, so I want to know what other companies are doing the right thing. Really, don’t you get to a point when you’ve done everything you can think of to get to sustainable and you still need to know more about what responsible corporations are doing so you can support them? I know I do, so please leave comments.

Thank you for listening, jules

A Quivering Pickle

Suddenly, I’m a judge?

Somehow, someone applied voltage to my ordinarily inert state and my electrons have jumped into a higher orbit, something like the way a neon bulb lights up when you plug it in. Did you know a pickle will do that too, but you have to be really cautious about applying voltage to that pickle quivering there on a plate. Make sure it’s a ceramic plate so you don’t get zapped by electricity trying to go to ground. Seriously. And turn the lights off so you can see the glow.

Tomorrow at 2pm, I’m going to be a poetry judge at the Poetry Coffeehouse competition at the KCLS Redmond Library! Me. Imagine that. Either somebody thinks I can write or nobody else would show up and I was the dope who felt honored enough to say yes anyway.

Then on Sunday, I’m going to host the haiku booth at the Cinco de Mayo festival at the new Downtown Park in Redmond. That, I can do. I’m good at standing there while people work. I can be encouraging, too. That’s the only talent it’ll take, right?

Watch out..

I know I’ll have fun, but by Sunday evening, I’ll probably emit photons when I drop back to a lower orbit. I’ll just be a quivering pickle on a plate with no glow.

Thank you for listening, jules

Be the Show

I have to admit that I’m still having a vulnerability hangover after attending the Seattle Writing Conference on Saturday. It saps energy to sit in front of someone and condense the last year or two of your life into a three minute nugget. You have to justify the time you spent in front of a computer every step of the way. Will it sell?

Memoir takes the whole process to the next level. Ultimately, pitching a memoir to an agent is like reviewing your life.

“Couldn’t your character have done something a little more out there?” they seem to ask.

“Uh, um, my character is me. I’m not willing to decorate my cat at Burning Man or to leap from a helium balloon to snowboard Mt. Everest naked while detoxxing from methamphetamines.”

“Did you grow up in a cult or a brothel? Are you a member of any thrill-seeking fellowships, cosplay clans, or poetry slam charities?”

“Uh, I’m still in Scouting but I’m not as active now that I’m writing.”

“No, I’m thinking something quirky.”

“I’m quirky!”

“In what way? How does that manifest in your story? Do you have any issues with gender fluidity, mental illness, political resistance, or social justice? Those areas are hot right now. Hot.”

No, this isn’t the real conversation I had with an agent, but a river flowed under the surface. Don’t write what you know. Be the show.

It takes the navel-gazing of writing memoir to the extreme. Were the results of my life marketable? Would my actions sell a million copies and the rights to the Netflix special?

That could be the question that I am asked on the threshold of my death and my answer would have to be that I took a lot of walks and talked to a lot of people.

Thank you for listening, jules

Why Cats?

So many things in this world are such a mess right now that it's a wonder that everyone on the bus doesn't have their noses buried in a book about a kitten. Do you ever wonder why cats_of_instagram has 10.2 million followers? I don't. I know exactly why.

We need a break. We need to be drawn down the path of a story, something that will make us laugh, cry, and help us face the world when we turn the last page of the book.

Wouldn't you like to take a break from work and the news to follow a lumpy middle-aged woman into a room with a kitten that weighs just over a pound? If it were a battle, would you bet on the determined woman or the kitten? It may not exactly be a battle, but by the end, the woman lies face down on the floor and asks for reinforcements.

Two beings enter and only one leaves in one piece.

Clumps and Turds

What do you do when you have a cat that finally wants to be petted, but rolls in the litter box right after you clean it? I mean, what does it mean for a litter box to be clean, anyway? All I do is sift the clumps and turds out of the box and throw them into the kitchen garbage where they sit and stink up my kitchen for an hour and a half because the boy refuses to get off his video game in the middle of a mission to empty the garbage.

I only change all the cat litter in the box when it starts to smell even after all the clumps and turds are cleared out.

Am I supposed to empty the whole thing every time? Am I supposed to wash it, bleach it, and wipe it dry every single fucking time the cat pees in there? Who does that?

I might have to.

Thank you for listening, jules

Unintentional Fusion

Do you ever get tired of the same old shit you make for every meal?

Hell, I do. It seems like I go around and around repeating my usual meals until nobody wants to eat any of it, let alone the leftovers. Beans and rice, spaghetti and meatballs, peanut chicken, chili (which is more like goulash), wraps, and beef stroganoff. It’s not even a week’s worth of recipes. They’ve gotten old, seriously old.

So yesterday when I was at the store, I got chicken breasts and Italian sausage. I didn’t quite know what I was going to do with them. I also bought zucchini and Santa sweet tomatoes thinking maybe I’d saute them with olive oil, garlic, and oregano, that concoction I learned how to make when I lived in New Jersey with my Italian friends. That stuff tasted so healthy. I hadn’t made that in a while. We needed fresh vegetables, ones that hadn’t had the colors cooked out of them. I should have bought some Locatelli Pecorino Romano cheese to grate onto the top. That always made it so perfect. I forgot about buying any kind of Parmesan or Romano. In fact, I just remembered that secret just now.

On a whim, I bought a package that was labeled Louisiana Seasoned Crispy Chicken Fry. It’s been about forty years since I had real fried chicken, the crispy kind that so many fast food places try, unsuccessfully, to mimic. I miss fried chicken. I miss mashed potatoes with gravy on them. I do.

I’ve tried to copy what my mother used to make, but I refuse to buy Crisco and it drives me nuts to have all that grease popping and burning all over my kitchen. So, I’ve never managed to copy her fried chicken. Never.

So tonight when I got home from walking the dog and dropping of library books I would never have time to read, I pulled out all my ingredients: Santa sweet tomatoes, zucchini, Italian sausage, two chicken breasts, and the Louisiana Seasoned Crispy Chicken Fry. Then, I got out my usual acoutrements, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and olive oil.

I cut the zucchini on an angle. God, I am so predictable. Once years ago, I was served nearly raw zucchini cut on the diagonal and I’ve been doing it ever since. From the side, they look like little parallelograms. Face forward, they are ellipses. I like parallelograms and ellipses more than circles and rectangles. Don’t you? I set them aside next to the tomatoes.

Then, I heated up olive oil in a large skillet. I put a second skillet on another burner, added a touch of olive oil, and set it to simmer. I didn’t want my zucchini going gray and soggy in that thick layer of olive oil.

I cut the Italian sausage into bite-sized pieces and put them into the hot skillet. Flavor that oil, I thought.

Some people put rosemary or oregano into their olive oil to flavor it. Tonight, I was going to use sausage.

Once they were browned, I loaded them into the warmth of the secondary skillet.

I cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Then, I followed the directions to wet and dredge the chicken with the Louisiana Seasoned Crispy Chicken Fry. That didn’t take long to cook either. They looked like chicken nuggets. Damn. They tasted like chicken nuggets too. I still hadn’t found the secret of my mother’s fried chicken. It didn’t taste bad though. Who doens’t like chicken nuggets? Then, the nuggets went into the second skillet with the sausage. It smelled good.

I threw the zucchini into the second skillet, but picked it back out and sauteed it in what was left of the hot olive oil until one side blistered. Then I moved it into the second skillet and added the tomatoes.

Dinner was done. Easy as pie. Mmm. Pie.

But there was that gruesome pan full of fried batter, sausage bits, and oil. That was going to be a bitch to clean.

So, I did what some enterprising young mother once did long ago: I added the stuff I’d dredged my chicken through, stirred it into a slurry. I know there’s a fancy word for flour and oil cooked together, but for the life of me, I can’t think of it right now.

Roux. Thank you, Internet. It sounds fancy, but it wasn’t fancy when I made it.

Then, when the roux was bubbly, I added milk and scraped up all that crap that had been seriously stuck to the bottom of my pan moments before. No scrubbing tonight. Yay!

I got out a spoon. It was delicious, like having dinner at Grandma’s house.

So, in the end, I integrated my Italian zucchini into the wish for fried chicken and the reality of Grandma’s sausage gravy and served:

Salsiccia e pollo pepita (nuggets) con saltati zucchine e pomodori coperto di bianca sugo.

Did that come out right? It sounds impressive in my Internet Italian, doesn’t it?

I served the sausage gravy on the side, just in case anyone was offended by my fusion techniques. Yet, every plate came back to the kitchen scraped clean. Nick even thanked me.

For vegetables.

He thanked me for fresh vegetables, well, and for Grandma’s sausage gravy.

Thank you for listening, jules

Purple Mountains

I just got home from a flashbang roadtrip to see Nick’s college. We arrived late last night after a long drive, ate quickly, went to bed, and were up early for a seriously busy day of cheerful orientation today. It almost made me want to go back to college. Almost. Nick chatted all the way home in the car, even asked for advice. Man, I love road trips. I really do.

The whole thing reminded me just how young my son is. I forget that when he’s taciturn and hides in his room for too long. He’s still working on getting experience driving on an interstate. I tried telling him that he’d done well in driver’s ed three years ago, but then realized that it was probably only the third or fourth time he’d done it.

He did fine and I told him that by the time he’d driven that stretch of road for a year at his new college, he’d be an old hand at it.

“In the meantime, Mom…” he asked tentatively, “…um, could you stay awake while I drive?”

“Are you sure you need that, hon? You’re doing fine.”

“It would help,” he replied.

Yes, I forget how young he is.

He told me that he wanted to talk face-time about once a week when he leaves for school. That sounds great to me. It might add up to more time talking to him than I get in an average week with him now.

On the road, we talked about feminism, about girls, about classes, college, parties, friends, roadtrips, driving congested interstates, his dreams, our old dog Indiana, rotten apples, and about the view out the window. Sometimes, we didn’t even talk at all.

I talk too much. I talk to entertain people. I talk to make connections. I talk when I get nervous.

I love that there are two people in this world that I can be with and don’t have to talk to if I want to be quiet. That is a rare gift.

The mountains really were purple and majestic. The fields weren’t amber waves because they’d all been harvested, but they were cropped golden in some places and a new green in others. In one spot, it looked like a slash of gold, a smudge of purple, and an immense sky of gray-blue. I wanted, more than once, to stop and take a photo of the stark beauty of this world.

But we were on a mission to get home to cats who’d been partying by themselves overnight and Nick felt safer with my phone set to navigation mode. So, I let him rush me home.

Now, he’s back in his room with the door closed. But I feel a whole lot better about that than I did two days ago.

Thank you for listening, jules

Live Your Own Dreams

I work with a student who is brilliant. He’s equally brilliant in both math and language arts, but he loves math and computer science best. For as long as I’ve known this boy, he’s worked two hours a night twice a week at tutoring, one hour in math and one in comprehension each night. He’s ahead. He’s bored. He wants to quit, but his mother says he can only drop down to one hour.

So, I’ve been asked to weigh in on which he should study, math or language arts.

If you know me by now, you know that I love the written language. I love reading. I love writing. I love learning new words and the nuances of words I thought I knew. I’m not too bad at math, but my love resides on the other side of my brain.

So, it is with no hesitation that I plan to tell his mother that he needs to study math. He needs to study math because that’s where his brain is leading him. He needs math.

“What if Einstein didn’t have time to think about gravity?” I will ask her. “What if Stephen Hawking was made to take foreign languages instead of courses on astrophysics? We need to let your boy’s brain lead the way. It knows what it wants. It knows, innately, what its own strengths are. If I worried about his proficiency, I would argue in another direction. And yes, I would have him read a bit every day, but ultimately, I think that he should pursue his passion and learn young to live his own dreams.”

This is my advice to you as well. Read a little every day and live your own dreams.

I can’t wait to deliver my message, even to my own soul.

Thank you for listening, jules

Feed Your Soul

Do you know what your purpose is in this life?

I reread that and it sounds as though I believe I get more than one life. There are theories about reincarnation, but none of us can know for sure until we die. Personally, the way nature works, dying back and spring forth in bloom again, makes me believe that there is a similar function in souls. Think about that: cycles for a soul. A strand of DNA or a solar system, spiraling out into space.

I don’t know what to believe but I want there to be more than one chance to get it right. I do. That’s because I’m not getting it right. I’m living the life I’m supposed to be living instead of the one I was born to live.

Does that make sense?

What do you do that you know you’re supposed to do?

Well, I brush my teeth and clean out litter boxes. I serve my community by tutoring, something I did without pay for twelve years before I finally got a job doing it for a little bit of money. I cook real food. I think real food is important. Because Mike earns most of the money in the household, I clean and run errands and try to keep up with the people I need to hire to fix things that we can’t fix ourselves.

And generally, my life of doing what I’m supposed to do is a good one. Generally.

But I have a creative streak through me that doesn’t want to look at a clock, that needs to dawdle over words. Oh, I try to make that come into work with me. It’s lovely how our group of tutors now argue over pronunciation or origins of vocabulary words we.

Today, we argued over the root of ‘abracadabra.’ One guy thought it wasn’t even a real word. I found it in the dictionary where it said it had Latin roots and two meanings.

“I will create as I speak,” another tutor said. “That’s its translation.”

And somehow, we talked over her for a little while. Why am I the expert? I have a good vocabulary, but not the best one in the room. Obviously.

Because I just now looked it up on the Internet and she was right. And there’s another potential root that says, ‘perish like the word.’ Isn’t that just lovely? It’s almost as if the two roots have a cycle themselves that involves creation and death.

And that’s what I’m here to think about: creation, meaning, and death.

I told you that I thought I could die back in September, didn’t I? I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. When I felt like I really could die, there came a sadness over me: I had not finished my work, my stories.

Yeah, existential angst.

And I haven’t quite gotten over that dread that I could die before I finish what I was put here to do.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I will continue to take care of my family. I am so blessed to have these people. I am so blessed to be able to care for them. They love me.

Nick leaned over the cat last night for a hug. He does that and once he goes to college, I’m afraid there will be a hole in his daily life where the cats once were. But then, he scooched over and leaned on me for a hug. He buried his head in my shoulder and held me. I can’t tell you how much I needed that yesterday. It was lovely and he knew it. My boy is growing up.

But since my boy is growing up, I’ve needed to refocus and the words came back with a sense of urgency. I’m getting older. Creativity. I used to play the piano as a creative outlet. Then, I took almost all the art classes my local community college offered. Now, it’s words and I’m not done until I’m done. I get that. When I was about to pass out because I wasn’t getting enough air, that was the thought that made me feel incomplete.

Now that I’m feeling better, I’m still messing up. Yesterday, I watched three and a half episodes of ‘Call the Midwife’ on Netflix. It’s good. It really is. Before that, I watched a whole season of ‘Russian Doll.’ I loved it. Netflix is awesome!

But when I got up afterward, I felt emptier than when I sat down to reward myself.

So, I bought a book called Sanctuary by Gloria Burgess. In it, she asks what I feel I ought to do compared to what might renew me.

Yes. What do you need to do so you can do what you’re supposed to do?

What makes you feel as if you can go out and help others again?

That was what I was missing. Every day, I felt obligated to either sit at my computer or clean something. There was no time for renewal. None.

Am I going to get to work and finish my work?

Nope.

I’m going to play for a few days. I’m going to play with words, take long walks, look into depth of the sky, search for art. I’m going to turn off the TV, as much as I like the shows, and see if I don’t feel more refreshed when I get up than I do when I wait to be entertained.

Feed your soul.

Then, you can feed others.

Thank you for listening, jules

Hope

Last night, I dreamed I was going to speak briefly at an assembly. Thousands of people stood waiting.

Traffic had been bad and I hadn’t prepared. I put my tights on in the back of the Uber, but my feet became soaked in my open-toed shoes after I stepped out of the car into a puddle of sludge. A woman with a baby in a stroller and a dog on a leash mired in the snow. I tried to help her, but I was useless and in a hurry. The organizers had asked the main speakers to lunch privately beforehand and had studiously avoided eye contact with me. They didn’t expect much from me. They didn’t care, really, if I even showed up.

Doesn’t it amaze you when you have these vivid dreams?

But finally, I made it into the building. Without having time to sit first or collect my thoughts, I was ushered to the podium at just the right time. I stood blinking past bright lights at thousands of faces.

And then I woke up.

God, I was nervous, as if I were going to address a huge crowd in real life, as if I actually had cold wet feet, was almost late, and felt incredibly unprepared.

I can still feel that cool tingling of fear in my gut and my shaky hands gripping the podium..

I write almost every morning. It can be a drudgery and I feel sorry for anyone who ever thinks to plow through all the chaff of my notebooks looking for something of value. Sometimes it’s hard to drag myself to the blank page. But sometimes, I can’t get to the page soon enough. This morning was like that.

In my dream, as I stood in front of all those people, practically petrified, this is what I had decided to say:

Sometimes in February, it is so incredibly cold, so bleak.

Sometimes in February, I look out over dirt and desiccated leaves, over patches of dirty snow, and I think that spring will never arrive. Hope will never come.

They say that plants already work under the soil in February. I can’t see changes. It feels so hopeless.

This political season is much like that, endless, cold, dark, and, seemingly without hope.

Then, one day, as I trudged outside toward my car to go to work teaching mostly immigrant children, I looked down at the ground, came aware and it was there, a tiny green shoot barely peeking through leaf litter. I stopped, dropped my bag of books, squatted down, and touched the tender shoot.

I looked around and a dozen other shoots peeked through, bright green against dull winter colors. How did I not see them before this? Here is hope, evidence of change coming.

Senator Kamala Harris is that green sprout of hope for social justice.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is that hope against the ravages of climate change.

Representative Rashida Tlaib is that hope against xenophobia.

Representative Kyrsten Sinema is that hope against intolerance.

Senator Amy Klobuchar is that hope for equality and for Trump’s ultimate impeachment.

Beto O’Rourke is that hope against children separated from families and housed in prisons.

All during these dark two years, we’ve looked at the ground, at dirty snow, and thought that nothing was happening, that spring would never come. But here, embodied in their diverse faces, is our evidence. The roots of morality, of equality, of science, of inclusion, of the rule of law, and of social justice have not died.

Here is our hope, springing into the light.

Thank you for listening, jules

Which Valentines Day was Best?

How could I be crabby when Mike made eggs Benedict?

It feels like a holiday.

We practically skipped Valentines Day so it feels like Valentines Day. Last Thursday, I wrote him a note on a card with a dog on the cover and he bought me new slippers that haven’t arrived yet because of the snow. We are old, old valentines. We’ve celebrated thirty-three Valentines Days together. The first one was amazing.

He’d been house sitting and made me dinner. He bought me a dozen red roses. He lifted me onto the kitchen counter, leaned in, and said, “I would make a really great husband.”

Yes, he said that on our first official date. Oh, we’d worked together for six months while an old boyfriend slowly broke up with me and a new one treated me like dirt. He’d taken me camping, to happy hour dance clubs with our coworkers, to play tennis, and to a Moody Blues concert, our first unofficial date.

Are you old enough to remember ‘Your Wildest Dreams,' the song that was on the radio every five minutes back then?

In my mind, at least, that was our song.

It’s funny that I had to look that up just now, that what i had so fervently thought of as ‘our song’ would be something that I’d have to google using 80s popular songs and then scan through. Seriously.

Our fourth Valentines Day was amazing in a different. This time, he’d moved to the Pacific Northwest and I was still deciding if I was going to follow him. I had a great job and had never been to there. He wanted to explore, but he hadn’t asked me to marry him.

On Valentines Day that year, a dozen dead red roses arrived.

Later in the day, he called.

“Did you get them?” he asked.

We both knew what he meant, but I still wanted to know what he meant by sending me blackened roses. The night before, he’d said he loved me before hanging up the phone for the night.

“Yeah, they were…”

I tried to keep my voice even.

“What? They were what?” he said.

He really sounded a little panicked.

“They were kind of dried up. Did you mean them to be that way?”

And then my boyfriend, almost for the first time, got mad over the phone.

“I told them it was important. They were supposed to be perfect. I can’t believe it. Did you think that I… Oh man. I really have to call that florist and have a TALK. I’m not fucking paying $90 for them to deliver dead roses from three thousand miles away. Fuck?”

I think that was the moment I decided to move out here with him even though we weren’t married or even engaged.

The next year, he said he couldn’t bring himself to buy me roses again. Then, he slid a huge thin package out from behind our new couch.

It was an Ansel Adams print of Half Dome. It still hangs in our living room. I still love it.

And after that, our Valentines Days got simpler. I made him pie and he wrote me love letters and gave me simple gifts.

A couple years ago, he decided that I needed a good backpack for all the hikes I took with Teddy. That was a good one. He made sure I had the ten essentials so that if I got lost, I wouldn’t be helpless. That was one of my favorite Valentines Day gifts, better than the black roses message.

And today, he made me eggs Benedict. I really enjoyed eggs Benedict. Later, maybe, I’ll make him an apple pie, but first I need to head out to take Teddy for a hike in the snow. I’m bringing my backpack.

Thanks for listening, jules