Insomnia Sucks

I’m an insomniac. Last night and much of the morning, I worked 14 hours to get seven and a half hours of interrupted sleep, which, for the uninitiated, equals about six whole hours of sleep. It’s enough, but barely. So, in case you see me wandering around and I seem to talk with no ability to stop, then pat me on the back and send me home for a nap.

I’m having coffee now. It’s helping.

There are aftereffects of insomnia that coffee won’t eliminate.

When I’m exhausted, I talk like someone who’s drunk. I hear myself making sense one minute and the next, getting all verklempt about something that happened fifty years ago. I lose my filter and might tell you about my sex life or repeat a dirty joke to your mother at tea. My stories don’t know how to end when I’m tired. And sometimes I lie because a deeper truth is more interesting than the story I began.

When I’m tired, sometimes I see magic more clearly, like the voluptuous nature of tiny flowers through a magnifying lens. People, sex is all around us. Sometimes it’s too much.

See. There I go.

When I’m tired, I snap at bored children.

When I’m tired, fiction and dreams rise up, sometimes with agonizing power. I don’t watch horror movies when I’m tired. The other night, I dreamed about a line drawing with googly eyes. He resembled something a five year old might draw with oversized eyes and sticks for arms and legs. His fingers were so long. He just kept staring at me and appearing out of nowhere. It was terrifying. Then, I was awake with him. Insomnia sucks.

When I’m tired, I stare into the abyss and it stares back. It has sad eyes. It has oversized eyes that can see through any darkness.

When I’m tired, it’s hard to think I’ll ever be able to turn away.

Thank you for listening, jules

I am Quite Comfortable, Thank You

“Aren’t you hot in that jacket?” my student asked me today.

“I’m really quite comfortable, thank you,” I replied. I knew where this discussion was going and my words were clipped, but this guy didn’t get my nuanced tone.

“You should take off your jacket. You have to be hot,” he said.

“I feel fine, thank you,” I said.

Sometimes, when people say thank you, what they really mean is shut the hell up and leave me alone. That’s what I meant those two times I said thank you.

“You have to be so hot. Aren’t you hot?”

“So, what have you done with this problem. Are you finished with it yet?”

He hadn’t started. While he worked, I took a deep breath. I had to remind myself that he was a child. He had no filter, nothing stopping him from saying whatever bubbled into his mind. He had not completed his work on social etiquette. On top of that, he was probably used to being mothered by a lovely woman who was genuinely concerned for his well-being. I knew how it could be with kids. Sometimes they had no idea they were freezing or overheated until it was too late to avoid trouble. I, on the other hand, was fully aware of my level of comfort regarding my body temperature.

If it were just this one boy, I wouldn’t be sitting here ruminating on commentary about the heat. It happened almost a year ago.

Last August, I arrived late at my book club. The whole tenor of the club has changed since I now have to work late and always miss the first half hour. That night, it was eighty-two degrees out, perfectly comfortable for me in my jacket, especially since my boss had cranked down the air conditioner to refrigerator levels and I hadn’t warmed up yet. I sat down with my bag and opened up my book.

“Aren’t you hot in that jacket,” Jane said. It wasn’t a question. Jane had recently retired from middle management but hadn’t lost the commanding tone.

“I’m comfortable,” I replied.

“You’re making me hot,” she said.

“My boss had the air conditioner cranked, so I—”

“It’s eighty-five degrees in here. Take that jacket off.”

“But I’m really very comfortable, thank you.” I enunciated each word.

“I can’t stand looking at you. Take it off.”

Instead of telling her not to look at me then or just getting up and walking out the door, I took off my jacket and sat there fuming and chilled. After a year, I still remember how she treated me even though I have no idea what book we were reading. After a year, I still get mad whenever anyone suggests that I might be hot in my clothes. If she were a fish, would she require me to breathe under water?

This morning, though he was supposed to be working, my student looked up from his untouched math problem and said, “But aren’t you hot?”

Thank you for listening, jules

Unicorns and Dinosaurs

“Okay, come on. You can do it,”

When that’s how I start my day, I know I’m behind already. I know what kind of day it’s going to be. Doesn’t it feel like May has become one of those months to simply endure? The merry-go-round that is school builds up speed. Everything spins faster and faster, but doesn’t really go anywhere.

Yesterday, a ten-year-old told me he planned to be a doctor when he grew up. You know, I have no problem when kids know early what they want to do with their lives, when they’re truly inspired, but I have a problem when I know they’re saying all this because their parents and school pressures them to get serious so early. He’s a pretty serious kid. He probably would be anyway. I figure he’s the kind of kid I’d really like to have as a doctor someday, but why not let him be a kid for a little bit longer? Why not let him write about dragons?

Yesterday, a friend and I had a conversation about homeschooling versus the traditional public schools. I’m not a fan of either, really. I’ve met homeschooled students who didn’t know fifth-grade math on their way into college. Some of their ideas about science and history were wild. And don’t get me started on ‘you’re’ versus ‘your.’ But I also see that public schools are teaching in eighth grade what they used to teach in tenth, pressuring kids to read more advance material and produce serious responses to it.

I can imagine what they’re thinking: If most schools teach this stuff in high school, we have to get a jump on them and teach it in seventh and eighth grade. If homework gets serious in middle school, we need to prepare the kids by giving them as much in elementary school. I see kids who stand up to the onslaught of pressure. I also see kids who are bending. Those backpacks are fricking heavy. The reading material they cover is heavy too. The Hunger Games? Ender’s Game? Too much dystopia.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Farenheit 451 are really a high school texts. It’s not that younger kids can’t understand them. It’s just that I think the nuance of the books could be better grasped with a little maturity. I loved those books, but if I’d been challenged by them earlier, I’m not sure I would have.

I wonder about pushing kids to be developmentally ready earlier and earlier when its obvious that some kids just aren’t. It doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. It just means that they’re not ready.

I work with kids in first grade who are stressed about their sight words. They usually feel better after we play with the words for a while, make up stories with them, find words that rhyme. Maybe I should do opposite games with those words. But what is the opposite of ‘of?’

And why are they teaching structured writing in grade school? Last week, a fourth-grader insisted that a paragraph must always have five sentences. She said I was doing it wrong. She was so serious.

We were writing fiction.

I told her that a paragraph could be a single word if it worked for the story.

She looked at me dubiously.

Honestly, I think that during most of elementary school, the kids should be writing about unicorns and dragons with an occasional book report that’s more about what they liked or didn’t like about a book. Why wring the joy out of writing so early?

I’ve been thinking about teaching a new method for structured writing for the kids. If every sentence is categorized, why not have them stretch the limits of that categorization? Get them to surprise me, to write the craziest structured essay they could write. I wonder if I could make it into a game, a puzzle.

I’m feeling like a contrarian today. I want my students to write about unicorns and dinosaurs.

Thank you for listening, jules

Ramble On

I’m tired.

When I get tired, I talk too much. Tonight, I talked to a student’s parents for too long. They were very nice, and seemed to encourage me, but didn’t they have stuff to do? Weren’t they tired too?

And in the end, the boy’s dad encouraged me to write more about my dad. I’m just tired enough that it’s tempting, but somehow I had this stuff prioritized differently in my mind and I don’t know exactly why.

My dad had an experiment on Apollos 12, 13, and 14. He was an interesting man. He may have had legacy experiments on later flights, but he died and so he was no longer around the house talking about microwaves, triangulation, or signals floating on infrared waves. I always get stuck on the fact that he had such a sad ending to his story.

But when I was nine and he talked about signals floating on infrared waves, it felt like I was looking at those crayon drawings that kids make when they’re in kindergarten. I pictured little squares and triangles bobbing up and down on a lake full of rough red water.

The whole thing was invisible, which I would have spelled ‘invzball’ but that just meant they were tiny squares and triangles on a narrow stream of wavy red water.

Can you tell I’ve been working with younger kids today? One of them kept putting his hands down his pants. What do you say to a kid that keeps putting his hands down his pants? I wanted him to go wash his hands before he picked that pencil back up. What do you say?

Nothing, I guess. I just pressed my lips together, kept my eyes on his page, and tried in vain to ignore it.

The other kindergartner I tutored was amazing at drawing so I showed him a line drawing of a panda bear and he copied it exactly, even with the little white spot in the center of each eye where the light seems to hit.

Damn!

I wrote a note to his parents that he had talent. I don’t know why my dream was that his parents would take him out of tutoring and put him in art classes, but I don’t really want to give him up. I think I’ll bring colored pencils for him next time and a cube or something geometric for him to draw.

Geometry is visual, right? There is art in math and math in art. Right?

Except that I’m supposed to be teaching him reading and writing. The funny thing is that he isn’t all that bad at reading and writing.

So, I’ll have him write comics where he can write great thought bubbles with panda bears that say, “See her run to her dog. See her pet him.”

Vocabulary words for kindergarten is so narrow.

Maybe it’s haiku, seventeen syllables, ready to throw a single image on the page.

And now you know what I sound like when I’m tired, one idea flowing uninterrupted into another, never knowing where or when to stop. It’s as if I’m a little drunk and think I’m so incredibly brilliant and I write something down that will be sage through the ages, but then in the morning, stone cold sober, I look at it and it’s cliche. Or worse, it’s something someone else said better, but I forgot that they’d said it. The best-case scenario for drunk writing was when I woke up and could not read a word of what was so brilliant the night before. I’m glad I don’t do that any more. It’s bad enough when I’m tired and will read this ramble-on in the morning.

Thank you for listening, jules

The Way Out

Why is this story about my cat so important? Why do I need to do this before I finish the story about Mike and I in the wilderness, our love story? Or any of the others waiting in the queue?

An insecurity recognizes itself in a mirror. It may not have a name for itself. It may not be labeled. For God’s sake, don’t label it publicly, right? Turning up an underbelly to this culture of cruelty could be fatal.

Ultimately, I looked at a terrified kitten in the corner of the euthanasia room, and I recognized his need to escape. It was frustrating to try to tell him I wasn’t the same as his fear. And I knew I was ridiculous, lying face down on the floor of the euthanasia room, trying futilely to get this cat towh let me approach, but I recognized myself in him.

I didn’t know exactly how to help him yet, but I knew that he was my soul’s twin, someone who needed to see the exit. Oh, I didn’t intentionally show it to the world, but the parallels were there.

And I wanted to be the exit for this guy. I needed him to have a way through the same way I needed to see that path myself.

Thank you for listening, jules

Invisible and Angry

Yesterday, a coworker referred to something my boss frequently asks me to do as “pulling out the old dog and pony show.” I was offended. Was it ageism or sexism or both? My husband said I should just keep quiet and live with it.

I woke up this morning wondering about an older woman’s relevance in our society. We organize things. We clean up afterward. We push our children and young people to succeed, to take care of themselves, and to try to enjoy the process. We are the primary people responsible to cook and clean at home. We work with enthusiasm, sometimes hard-won enthusiasm, at our jobs as well. We are to accept what crumbs are given to us and we are intended to be grateful. It is expected.

And yet, though we organize things, we don’t run them for the most part. Though we clean up the confetti and the balloons when it’s over, we are not the belle of the ball or the handsome prince who commands it. We are supposed to be in the background, fairy godmothers who make everything beautiful and perfect.

We are supposed to be the invisible structure, the joists under the floorboards. When they make noise, they have to be fixed or it annoys people.

We are not supposed to get angry. I remember my mother trying to instill that message into me, trying and failing. When a doctor regularly grabbed her breast at work, she felt she had to avoid rather than confront him. This was her message to me as well. It was my fault if I couldn’t prevent this kind of assault. What was I wearing to work the day it happened to me?

Fuck that noise.

Fuck my responsibility to be silent, to always support the featured reader, to be the one to hand the baton off to the new generation of raw talent. I want to tell the arrogant among them to hone his craft and come back to me if he wants to hear some examples. I want to tell him to look up the pronunciation of the words he speaks. Otherwise, he should get the hell out of the way and listen for a change.

I am angry. I am entitled to be angry. Younger people, especially men who expect it’s their due to run things, should shut up, sit down, and listen.

I am angry that people say that a  white man should be nominated as the Democratic candidate for the 2020 election because that's the only way to win the election. Fuck that. I want a candidate who is an LGBT African American/Hispanic Muslim woman so that I can vote for her to become President. It's about time. It's past time.

Yesterday, I was angry at a young white guy who drove six miles an hour under the speed limit, but sped up and wouldn’t let me pass him as two lanes merged into one. Do you see the metaphor in that? Road rage is always a metaphor.

I started reading the book Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly. Even in the first and second chapters, I was reminded of the myriad ways I was supposed to have stayed quiet, to be nice, to smile, to let someone else have the credit for what I just fucking said. Thank you Soraya Chemaly. This book is wonderfully dangerous.

I think I will speak out now because there are so many reasons why I am still angry. Are you listening?

Thank you for listening, jules

Face Off in the Euthanasia Room

Two and a half years ago, when I was face down on the floor of the euthanasia room, it wasn’t because my kitten was dead. In fact, it was the opposite. My kitten, the only one left unclaimed from its litter, moved too fast, always opposite me in the room, always facing me from at least five feet away. I tried to imagine what was going through this trailer-park kitten’s head.

If I take my eyes off this lumpy beast, it will eat me, he might have thought. It must have to eat many kittens like me to have grown to its current size. And what the hell is wrong with that ratty fur on its head?

He was not going to give in to me, not one iota.

Meanwhile, I wondered how I was supposed to fucking bond with this cat if I couldn’t even get near him at eye level. In the trailer-park litter, there was a pretty kitten, a playful kitten, a snuggly kitten, and a kitten who was ever so slightly more friendly than the one I faced off with in the euthanasia room. How did I end up in this situation, obligated to bring home a kitten who couldn’t stand the sight of me? How the hell could I make this work, knowing that my husband knew I had manipulated my son into begging for a kitten?

That’s the question I’ve been trying to answer ever since.

Thank you for listening, jules

Advice for a Writer Who Lost Her Dad

My dad died forty-six years ago tomorrow. I still hate April Fool's Day, the day when I was thirteen and I listened to doctors say that they'd gotten all the cancer, that he was going to be fine. Even then, I knew it wasn't a joke. I knew they didn't say anything with the intention of scarring me.

But it was a great and awful cosmic joke that I seem to have spent the rest of my life trying to understand.

These days, it doesn't hurt as bad. The anniversary sickness of April Fool's Day isn't as debilitating. But it's embarrassing when people ask me how long ago he died because I stand in front of them with tears in my eyes and I have to tell them the number in decades. See, I remember. It was a day around which my entire life spun until it aimed a completely different direction than the day before. I will always think of those doctors on April Fool's Day.

But I write about my dad and that helps. Every time I think I might forget him, I write some story about him, like the time he blew up the stump in the back yard with dynamite or how he climbed higher in Old Sprawly than anyone ever had to hide a foil-covered Easter egg and when I found it in July, I ate that crunchy thing without hesitation. By now, I have a binder full of stories about my dad. I admit that I also talk to him and sometimes yell at him, at least when no one's looking. And that helps too.

It might feel better sooner if you keep writing about your dad until you're done. And yes, there will be times when it sneaks up on you anyway, even forty-six years later. You shouldn't have to apologize to anyone for having tears in your eyes over losing your dad even if he died decades ago. Dads are complicated.

I'm sorry for your loss. Take your time to grieve.

Thank you for listening, jules

A Pep Talk for a Writer

What do you do when the Universe has spent the past forty years trying to tell you what to do, what your purpose was, and you’ve mostly ignored her?

There was that time when you were nineteen and the director, who happened to be sitting next to you on a plane, asked what you were writing. At the end of the flight, he gave you his card and said that if you ever wrote anything good, you should send it to him. When you did that and he wrote back saying he liked it, you froze. You never sent him anything else or gave him permission to use what you had written. You squandered that opportunity.

Then, there was the editor who was sleeping with your roommate. You wanted to impress him, remember? You wanted to impress him so much that you almost did a line of coke except that you blew it out by accident instead of breathing in. You never ran to your room to find that story you’d written the week before. You made the wrong moves and ended up alone in your kitchen with the grit of blown coke on the vinyl floor beneath your feet. You knew you were ridiculous, even then.

There was the children’s literature class you took on a whim and the professor said you had talent, set herself up as your mentor, yet you stopped sending out your work and wound around and around, grinding words into dust with your editing. You were honest and told her you were afraid. You asked about pseudonyms instead of asking about pronoun confusion and the joy of contronyms.

What did you do when the Universe kept showing you what you needed to do and you kept ignoring her until finally you think that maybe she’d given up on you? When the minister preached about purpose and the only thing you could think of was that abandoned book? What did you do when the synchronicity stopped happening and the only thing left was the fact that the only time you felt truly happy was when you did your work, the stuff of your true purpose?

You didn’t have to write, you told yourself. You had a great life, a wonderful family, a fulfilling part-time job working with children. You could let it go. You wanted to scream it into the darkness.

You turned on the television and tried to ignore that awful feeling in your gut. You tried not to see the mouth of the abyss yawning in front of you as one medical issue after another slapped you down, held you down, showed you the end.

And yet, everyone can be a writer these days. The guy on your husband’s headset playing Destiny every night wrote a book. Destiny, get it? Maybe you need to play some video games. The woman who owns the cafe where you sit and write shows you a copy of her book. The woman you volunteered with at the school library wrote two books and is beginning to shop them around. Check out your old writing buddy’s new book on kindle! Look at the crappy book covers hawked on Twitter every day by people just like you, people who took the time to finish their books. You haven’t done that much lately, have you? Your teacher friend is writing a book and always has an excuse why she hasn’t written that second chapter. You pretend to be supportive, but secretly it satisfies your selfish little soul. You aren’t the only one.

You have excuses too. You’ve come to a grinding halt.

You’ve been sick a lot lately. Yet, you know the man who wrote ‘The Butterfly in the Bell Jar’ finished his book despite having locked-in syndrome. You know that the man who wrote ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ was going to die before the end of his book, yet he wrote it anyway.

You’re embarrassed because your other books haven’t even been mildly successful. You feel like a fraud, like that ridiculous woman who thinks, at 59, she might be able to break into acting. You google ‘authors who published late in life’ and most of the authors who are listed were in their early forties when they broke out of obscurity. That doesn’t make you feel any better. You tell yourself you aren’t looking to break out, just make enough to paint the house, get your boy through college, and leave a few words with someone who might need them. You wanted your donations, the ones you wrote about in the front of every book, the ten percent to charities that you love… you wanted them to add up to more than $11.13. You’ve paid most of them, but not that last one. You can’t seem to face giving $5.18 to your pastor because you know he hasn’t read your book. It makes you feel too ridiculous. Pathetic.

And yet this afternoon after work, you will make yourself sit down to finish editing that next book, the one about your wild kitten with the broken tail, the one who almost starved to death. You will keep trying because giving up seems so bleak. Pathetic or not, this is what you were meant to do. So you’re going to do it.

Thank you for listening, jules

Fifty Percent Infected

I’ve had a mild case of the flu for two and a half weeks now. It’s a relief that I haven’t had to miss work but a drag that it’s such a tenacious bug. I haven’t had the energy to do anything but the essentials: work, walk Teddy, shop for groceries, and do dishes.

I heard on the news that last fall’s shots were only 50% effective. So, I was 50% infected by a nasty-ass virus for the past two and a half weeks. If you’re shopping at my grocery store and you didn’t get a shot, you’re going to get 100% infected no matter how much Purell I used before I grabbed your grocery cart..

One of the kids at work infected me. I think I know who. He’s still trying to clear crap from his throat but he says he feels better now. He’s a nice kid so I don’t blame him. Not really. I just wish parents would keep their sick kids at home. Tutoring is only effective when a kid can breathe.

But, how am I any different than him? I went to work anyway. I rationalized that at least four or five other kids there had been sick first. Why should I stay home when the whole place was a snotfest anyway? A different kid literally picked his nose, blew a snot bubble, then hugged me and buried his head in my shoulder. It’s impossible for me to reject a hug from a kid when he’s sick even if all that snot is gross. That’s how people get sick. They fucking care.

Mike and Nick haven’t hugged me for two and a half weeks. It surprises me when I have to remind my newly adult son that he can’t hug me until I’m not sick. He’s the one with a compromised immune system. He’s the one who was in the first wave of shots back when the H1N1 virus was going around. It surprises me how much he still needs hugs even though he’s a burly teenager.

I felt a little better Sunday morning and felt responsible to go to church even though I wasn’t feeling great. I’m in the choir, a very small choir. Once voice matters in a very small choir. A friend of mine, a nurse, took one look at me and told me to go home. I told her that I only had a clearing cough, that I probably wasn’t even contagious any more. She shook her head and said that I could be contagious and that people would definitely hug me, people who might not have strong immune systems like mine. Like the kids that infected me in the first place, I thought. I went home before I touched anyone at church. I felt a little rejected, as if I’d been declared unclean. I wanted to stay, you know, in the back or up the balcony or something. I didn’t want to be treated like I had leprosy.

I met a woman at the dog park yesterday who was studying public health.

“Do you mean like the CDC and pandemics and stuff?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m studying how people behave and how that spreads or doesn’t spread disease. Especially AIDS, with its stigma. It’s harder to prevent the spread of disease that has shame attached to it.”

I thought about having leprosy. Or Ebola.

“What about Ebola?” I asked.

“Eh, Ebola is gross, but the media has had a field day with it. It’s harder to catch than they say and if the patient is monitored and is well hydrated, they usually live.”

I started thinking about the movies Contagion or worse, World War Z. Would I sound like an idiot if I brought up World War Z to someone involved in public health? I’d even heard some researcher made a video game out of the concept of an enforced quarantine.

“Did you hear about the video game that someone developed to simulate how people would behave in circumstances of a pandemic if quarantine were enforced.”

“I didn’t hear about that one,” she said.

I thought of the movie I Am Legend. That was one of the most terrifying movies I ever saw, even worse than Hellraiser or The Exorcist. After watching all the parodies of The Exorcist, I didn’t think it was all that bad by the time I actually saw it. I actually laughed in some of the places where I was supposed to be afraid. But I Am Legend was a vaccine gone wrong. People acted like they had rabies. Terrifying.

I looked back at the woman in the dog park. Had I stood there too long with my mouth hanging open? She was watching the dogs chase each other. Maybe I really didn’t have to constantly throw words out at a person. Maybe I could stand quietly with someone I just met and not say anything for a moment while I thought about movies I’d seen that reminded me of what we’d said.

She looked up at me as if remembering I was still standing there.

“When I was a kid,” she said, “I really liked the movie Contagion. You know, the one with the little girl and the infected monkey?.”

“Oh yeah. I liked that movie too,” I replied grinning. I hope she didn’t catch my bug.

Thank you for listening, jules

Secondhand Pain

I’ve decided to be crabby today.

This has to be quick because I have to leave for work in a half hour and I want to make myself a mocha first.

A mocha with vanilla, stevia, and fair-trade cocoa. Doesn’t that sound good? I traded up when I stopped buying so many mochas from baristas who couldn’t remember the word ‘decaf’ and began to make my own in my own way. The only problem is that I don’t get to walk around doing my errands with a hot mug in my hands unless I’m really on the ball and allow an extra ten minutes to get ready before I leave.

Just now, I actually typed hug instead of hot mug. That’s pretty good, isn’t it? Now you want a hug, don’t you? I know. I want a hug too. Everybody in Seattle wants a hug when it’s all cold and wet outside, especially when water and snow almost always drips down the back of your neck when you walk under a tree or the edge of a roof.

I meant to complain about how I’m dizzy now because my optometrist popped the right lens out of my glasses because I can’t see distance in them anyway and at least I can see near pretty well. Not only are my poor eyes confused at the change, I feel like a dork. Who walks around with just one lens in their glasses?

I guess cataract patients do before they get their new glasses.

But I can’t really complain because I have a good life and I’m pretty healthy. I am. Really. I’ll eventually get my other cataract done and will continue my journey into bionics, but right now, I’m a pretty active and healthy old woman.

I have a friend with a horrendous disease and I have to tell you that everything hurts in my gut whenever she says the pain is bad for her. Let me tell you that the pain is usually bad, but when she says it’s worse, it hurts me to read it.

Is this why people are so bad at listening to old people’s medical complaints?

I think it is.

So my friend, not an old friend, or old, struggles to exist. In the meantime, she bakes for her children’s events. She shows up. She puts on makeup. Basically, she outshines any shit effort I make in almost any area of my life.

I keep thinking good thoughts toward her, you know, kind of like praying except that I’m not sure of her spiritual propensity so I’m reluctant to put that word on it in case she wouldn’t like it.

In my car, I’m listening to an audiobook, ‘Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics’ by Dan Harris and Jeff Warren.

I LOVE THIS BOOK!

Sorry about yelling but I mean it in a good way. I sit serenely in traffic listening to the smooth voice in meditation and I watch that road rage in front of me like watching a tornado from behind a six-inch thick screen of safety glass.

It’s not quite that easy, but it is helping. Seriously. I am happier. So, now I have to actually spend some money instead of mooching off the library and get a copy of this book to mark up and practice meditating.

My friend? You ask what happened to my friend, the one with endurance and a smile?

Right. See, there’s a meditation in the book that is perfect for me when my friend is in pain. It’s about widening my scope out of road rage and how stupid my glasses look with just one lens in them. I get to include my friend in my meditation, to imagine relief and healing in her direction. I get to do all that, which doesn’t seem like much if I think about it, but since there is nothing, absolutely nothing, I can do to ease her pain, it’s my little something.

Thank you Dan Harris. Thank you Jeff Warren.

And thank you for listening, jules

What Hurts

I had cataract surgery yesterday. Today, my back really hurts.

I blame the rush and the snow.

See, I shoveled about 450 square feet of snow in the past week, not counting yesterday morning. Yes, I calculated it. Yes, I’m a nerd. The length of my driveway, the width of a car, the height of the new snow, the number of times I shoveled, all multiplied.

And never once did my back hurt after doing it. Yes, I was sore, but my back didn’t threaten to blow out and lay me up for a week. I’m at that edge today.

The difference?

Yesterday morning, after Mike had shoveled most of the driveway, all that was left was a section by the road that was about 15 feet long. If I multiply that by the six feet of width and the ten inches of new snow, adjusted to feet, it adds only 75 more square feet to my total. It wasn’t that much.

I think what happened was that I couldn’t take my time with it, let my back unclench each time after I flung a scoop.

See, I know my back. I had surgery on it in 1984. That’s a long time to figure it out. My back likes exercise. It does. But, it likes to be able to rest in between and go at its own speed.

A surefire recipe for me to have my back go out is to try to keep up with someone faster. I just can’t. But since I have a competitive nature, it’s hard for me to back down. That’s probably the main reason why I hike alone these days. I can hike with my nephew, but even with Mike, I feel rushed and end up straining.

So yesterday, when we were trying to move ten new inches of snow, when I had a surgery to show up for, when I was trying to be on time, I rushed. I did.

This morning, the morning after my surgery, the only thing that really hurts is my back.

Thank you for listening, jules

Old Tricks

Yesterday, I made the pretty girl cry at my tutoring job. I told her she needed to do the page of word problems that she didn’t understand. I told her that she couldn’t skip it because she needed the practice, that she’d have lots more word problems before her schooling was finished. She’s in middle school. She did not want to work. She worked very hard not to work, but I insisted. She could not skip that page.

So, she started crying.

It was that simple. All the men came to her assistance, as if pheromones of a damsel in distress had been released into the air. Every one of them wanted her to be freed from her terrible burden. And not a soul in the room got anything accomplished for the rest of the hour. The pretty girl had worked for ten minutes and missed two problems out of four. But she got what she wanted. She cried.

I’m going to tell you a secret I’ve never told anyone until this morning when I told Mike.

I can cry on cue. I can produce real tears. I can use it to change the outcome of an event that is about to happen.

Here’s an example: In New Jersey, the police have quotas for speeding tickets, so at the end of every month, you’re going to get stopped. I lived there in my twenties, back in the days when I was cute, especially in a seated position where you couldn’t see that I had no waist and wasn’t very well endowed. At the end of the month, when I was on my way to work and forgot, when the speedometer crept to five miles over the speed limit, I’d invariably get stopped by a police officer.

One time, I could tell by looking in the rearview mirror that it wasn’t going to be enough to tell the officer that I was so sorry. It wasn’t going to be enough to bat my long eyelashes at him. The tell was his swagger and the way he rested his hand on his gun as he approached my car. Machismo oozed out of his pores, stank up fifty square yards around him.

So, before he reached my car window, I got to work. I tilted my head forward. I thought of the most devastating thing I could recall. Remember that summer after my dad and my grandpa had both died and I was only fourteen? I was so lonely that summer. And I was on my own in this big state of New Jersey and I was still so lonely. It helped when I could tease any truth out of the situation. I let my shoulders shake just a little at the thought of all that loneliness.

I still didn’t have tears though. It takes some energy to produce tears, but I let my fear of this uber-policeman take over. He’d have the power to leave me half dead in a ditch if he wanted. I stalled for time by struggling with the window crank.

Remember window cranks? They were great if you needed more time.

So, by the time I got the window down and lifted my head to the man standing with his arms crossed and his feet planted wide apart outside my car door, I had a glistening glob of a tear in one eye.

“I’m so sorry, Officer. Is something wrong?” I said with a hint of my hometown twang.

We both knew that I had been going five and a half miles over the speed limit.

“Ma’am, I clocked you at sixty-two miles per hour in a fifty-five zone.”

I didn’t quibble about his padded number. I would swear that the whole department cranked their calibration up to as high as they could go without being out of specs.

“Was I?” I said and looked up at him, opening my eyes a little wider than normal. I thought hard about that long lonely summer when I was fourteen. More tears pooled there but didn’t spill. Then, I sighed and looked down before going into my spiel.

“I’m really sorry. I was trying to get onto Route 9 and I always get so confused at Route 9 when I want to get onto Route 1 going south. I was so turned around and I must have gotten flustered and this stupid map doesn’t show Ninth Street in Hackensack. Is there any way, after you give me my ticket, that you can tell me how to get to Ninth Street in Hackensack?”

I blinked a single tear onto my cheek.

Did you see how I used diversionary tactics there? This was a war against the unfair system of ticketing quotas and I used my best battle plans. First, I apologized profusely. I didn’t use big words, and I managed to look utterly dumb and lost. Police officers are the connoisseurs of giving directions to lost girls. The last ploy I used was to pretend to assume I was already getting a ticket, to lie down and play dead.

“Why yes, I think I could help you with that, ma’am.”

“Do you need to see my license?”

“Well, there may not be any need for that, ma’am. Are you going to the east side of Hackensack or the west side?”

I handed him my poorly-folded New Jersey state map upside-down. If I looked too organized, it wouldn’t be authentic. I kept that map on the passenger seat under my purse. I’d gotten the officer to thinking about the best route to take to Ninth Street in Hackensack and he needed to focus. Ninth Street was one of those roads that ended in one block and started up again four blocks to the west.

And then, he spent nearly twenty minutes giving me directions to a place I had no intention of going. I did not act impatient. It was so hard. I smiled a watery smile and listened to the first four turns carefully, in case he followed me to make sure I was on the right track. The good ones always did and I didn’t want him, even after he’d let me go, to realize it was all a ruse.

And that is how a pretty girl can get out of getting a speeding ticket in New Jersey, despite the monthly quotas. The teary eyes were a subtle touch that seemed to work every time.

So, when I saw a show of tears from the pretty girl in the room, I knew what I was looking at. She didn’t want to do the word problems. And dammit, she knew how to get out of doing them.

Maybe I should try tears on her next time she objects. I haven’t tested the power of making grandma cry.

Thank you for listening, jules

This is Not a Cat

What is so important about a cat that I need to make more time in my life to write about him?

I am not happy. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. I’ve been complaining about studying for the SAT, extra hours at work, inconveniences that pop up, and the myriad errands I need to run. I want more time to write about my cat.

Yes, my cat.

Neruda wrote about a pair of ugly socks that someone knitted for him.

Van Gogh painted his mailman.

Magritte painted his pipe.

Mary Eliza Crane wrote a poem about peanut butter sandwiches.

Not every piece of art needs to be about Guernica. If I admit it, I don’t even know what happened that left Picasso with the compulsion to paint Guernica in the first place. I just know the title Guernica and the gory, thought-provoking art that Picasso produced. Do you know the history behind the work?

I tried to explain this at work. I did. I’m trying to fit my words around my need for more time to write. When I tried to talk to a coworker about Van Gogh and his mailman, his response was, “Are you comparing yourself to Van Gogh?”

Suddenly the conversation was no longer about my need to carve out space for my art, but my qualifications to make art.

That’s the problem, isn’t it?

I’ve always admitted that I don’t have a degree in writing, yet I’ve been writing since I was thirteen, publishing since 1995. Even though I intend to be funny, I take the work seriously. And here I am, still trying to justify carving out time for my art to a coworker. He’s never even read anything I wrote. So how can he judge?

The point isn’t that I am as qualified as Van Gogh or Neruda or even Mary Eliza Crane, but the point is that I feel compelled to write. That’s the issue at hand. But then, I want to tell this guy, nearly a week after the conversation is over, that even Van Gogh wasn’t qualified to be Van Gogh when he began his four year pilgrimage of painting. He sold one painting, one, and he painted over 900 others in the last four years of his life. From the outside, it looked like a compulsion to produce art, a need.

But that guy who questioned me isn’t here now. When he asked me that question, he had no interest in listening to what I needed. His is a misunderstanding of my art, at best, and a desire to tear at the fabric of creativity, at worst.

So, again.

I am not happy.

I have become that forward-leaning person who takes up whatever job people want to throw in her direction because they need someone, her, to do it.

Today, I am going to have a conversation with my boss about my time. I need to tell him that I don’t want more hours added to my schedule. I have to tell him that I can’t give any more unpaid time to his SAT project. I will no longer prepare at home for a test I don’t need to take. I did what he asked me to do: I gave his SAT tutors an opportunity to teach the SAT; I raised my scores significantly so that he can use them to market to potential clients. I could, with my new and improved scores, get accepted into a good university if I wanted that. I did my part for his cause. I need to tell him one more time that I do not want the job of teaching the SAT. So,if I don’t qualify, I don’t really care, except for the embarrassment of having failed to qualify.

I need to make more space in my life to write, to edit, to polish my books, and get them ready to publish. I need to do this. I need to finish what I started.

I need to write about my cat.

Thank you for listening, jules

Define Failing

Remember last week when I complained about my life?

I’d had a flat tire, Nick had missed all of his finals when he caught a virus, I’d caught his virus, and on top of everything I’d been scheduled for a mammogram and the SAT in the same week? I needed to retake the SAT to tutor the SAT for work at the age of 58. I felt ridiculous. I had other work to do, work that was only important to me and to no one else and I wanted to do it. I needed to do it. Remember all that?

Oh, last week is not over. Last week’s episode continues and I am the main character of the story.

My test results weren’t good.

So, I’m guessing that your age will determine which test you think I’m talking about. Young people will automatically think of the SAT and old achy people will think about medical exams gone awry. Which do you think I mean?

Both of them, actually.

My SAT scores improved. They did. My boss was excited about being able to market the change to his new clients since I was coached by my coworkers for the past eight weeks. My math scores rose by 18.5% but my reading and writing scores only rose by 1.6%. Neither score was good enough for me to qualify to teach to the SAT at work. It was embarrassing.

I’m still smart. I know I’m still smart, but I take longer to solve problems than I used to take, longer to read, especially with a cataract in one eye. What if this is as good as it’s going to get? What if my improvements are finished? What if this is the limit to my mental capacity?

I really don’t want to keep trying. I have other stuff I want to work on. I NEED to do my other stuff before I die. I don’t want to keep striving for a position that I don’t intend to take. I kept telling my boss that I only wanted to be the person he called when someone was out sick anyway. I NEED to do my other work.

But no. I’ve got two weeks until my next opportunity to retake this SAT. I’m going to keep working until then to get my scores up as high as I can get them. I am. I feel conflicted. My scores are high enough to get me into a good university, but they aren’t good enough for me to be smug with my smart coworkers at my job. It’s not exactly confidence, because I know I’m good at my job, but it is something more insidious. Do I really need that feeling? Why am I still trying so hard?

And there’s my mammogram.

I was happy to be finished for another year. Let’s face it. I would have procrastinated that sucker for an extra year if I could have. So, I should have said I was happy to be finished for two more years before I had to get my boobs smashed again.

But yesterday, I got a calm message from my GYN’s nurse that I needed to call about some test results.

Shit, no. It had to be my mammogram. I hadn’t done any other medical tests recently except see my eye doctor.

Did I also tell you my cataract is bad enough that, according to my cheerful optometrist, I am a candidate for lens replacement surgery? Did I tell you that?

When I told Mike about the eye surgery, he said, “There are no breaks.” He said it again this morning when I let him listen to the message from my GYN’s office. At least it was a nurse and not the doctor. If the doctor herself called me, I think I might really freak.

So now, I’m a candidate for eye surgery and also what else?

Well fuck. Will it get me into a great university to be a good candidate? Will I be a good candidate for a mastectomy too?

You know I don’t need to go all the way there, don’t you? I don’t need to think something is catastrophically wrong, but that’s what a mind does with a message like that in the hours before a clinic is open and you get to find out what it was really all about.

I’ve never known what to say to people who had to wait like that before they found out the results of some biopsy. You can’t say to them that everything will be fine. If everything were fine, the doctor wouldn’t want to look into it further. You just have to wait it out with them.

Will you wait it out with me? And while you’re at it, would you hand me that big book of SAT practice tests so I can resume trying to be good enough? Fuck the bucket list. I have work I have to do.

Thank you for listening, jules

Failure to Be Kind

I’m mad at my brain.

I have to change pronouns for a friend of mine. I have to, I need to, and I want to change pronouns for my friend. He, I mean she, is a kind and creative soul. See? Those tiny letters are hard to shift. Let me keep trying. He, no, she is funny.

Suddenly, I can’t even type.

She has been depressed for a very long time, as long as I have known him, I mean her. Her. Her. Her. I have to say ‘ her,’ but ‘her doesn’t come out of my mouth. She, her. I visualize her and the pronoun that happens is ‘he.’ But I can’t do that any more. My brain needs to undergo a transformation. It is necessary.

I always thought … I always thought that she … right, she, had an issue with … her identity, that… she… was in the closet. He was a big guy with broad shoulders and a five-o’clock shadow even right after he shaved, but he had an air about him that I thought I understood. It was clear, I thought, but unstated. Is that offensive to say that?

Wait! Let me start over:

She was a big… person with broad shoulders and a five-o’clock shadow even right after she shaved, but she had an air about her that I had thought I understood.

It’s a word minefield. Does her past change too? It has to, right?

I’m being offensive again, right?

I am.

We all, yes, we is the right word … we, her friends and acquaintances, accepted who she was and stayed quiet but silently cheered him… dammit …cheered her on, silently, of course because… she deserved it… She is kind. She is helpful. She is the nicest and the most creative among us. We thought we understood.

Then one day last week, she finally told us her truth, quietly, but with a resolute look in his… FUCK! …in her eyes. We had guessed wrong. We all nodded, asked… uh… her how she felt. One of my more enlightened friends led the way with compassionate questions and long quiet moments so… wait… so she could answer. It was great.

Then, I leaned over to another friend sitting in the folding chair next to me and said, “This is important. We need to support him.”

Air sucked out of the room. I’d said it out loud. Him. Fuck. I’m such an ass. I am.

Pronouns used to be so boring.

Thank you for listening, jules

Colds, Flat Tires, and Saggy Breasts

I’ll admit that this has been a hard week.

Nick got sick and missed all of his finals. A couple of his teachers, after I sent emails, still haven’t responded. The other teachers have been very kind. It’s still a hard week despite the kindhearted teachers.

I had an almost flat tire when I was at the dog park and realized that I didn’t know how to change a tire for my car. I managed to limp home and air up my tire there. Luckily, it stayed inflated while I was at work. My boss offered to help change it if I needed him to help. It’s still a hard week despite a thoughtful boss.

The next day, I had to get a mammogram. I was overdue. The technician was funny. When she clamped my breast into place, she said, “Now, don’t you go anywhere. I need to flatten these things.” You know, it hurts when you laugh and your left breast is pressed so tightly between two plates that you can’t move. She managed to keep from bruising me like the one two years ago did. It’s still a hard week despite a funny mammogram technician.

After that, I noticed that my tire had gone low again, so I stopped at my tire store to make an appointment. He got my car in and out in just a few minutes and said the tire repair was free. It’s still a hard week despite a generous tire salesman.

I caught Nick’s virus and went to work a little sick yesterday. My coworkers covered for me and sent me home early. It’s still a hard week despite helpful coworkers.

I didn’t get to the grocery store yesterday because I felt like crap. Mike picked up what we needed and stopped to get pizza for dinner. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad a week after all.

I’m surrounded by kindhearted, thoughtful, funny, generous, helpful, and loving people. I intended to complain here, but everybody gets colds, flat tires, and saggy breasts. Not everybody is as lucky as I am regarding the people in their communities.

Thank you for listening, jules

Three-hundred and Sixty-five Factoids for This Year's Demotivator's Calendar

Every year, Mike asks me to give him a Demotivator’s built-it-yourself calendar for Christmas. Every year, I order one for him, adding a few custom dates for his entertainment. He likes factoids. This year, he asked for a factoid for every single day.

And somehow, I agreed to do that. If you add all those little nuggets of information together, I essentially wrote, rewrote, or edited 10,920 words. The average novel is 55,000 words. In the three days after I finished shopping for Christmas, but before Christmas, I sat my ass in this seat in front of this computer and produced 20% of a novel or about 40 pages of text. My ass hurt when I was done.

The calendar arrived today. Yes, I know it was late for Christmas. I realize that, in fact, it was late for Mike to benefit from the first day of information. Poor guy. He had to go back to work last week and missed six whole mornings of excitement when he could have discovered the 300 characters of information that I gathered just to enlighten him.

Here’s what he missed:

January 1 - 22% of all New Year’s resolutions fail after a week. 40% after a month, and 60% after six months. You might as well give up now.

On New Year’s eve, I asked Mike if he was going to make a resolution and he said, “Probably not.” He couldn’t even commit to not making a resolution. Whereas, I noodled around with resolutions like: write every day; finish at least one book; try to be nicer; and find ten minutes to myself in the morning. Yeah, essentially, I made four New Year’s resolutions and already I’ve broken three of them. I’m in the 22nd percentile. Pathetic.

January 2 - One percent of employers allow their people to take naps during work hours. Your company isn’t one of them, is it? I’ll bet you don’t even have a ping pong table.

Mike and I both occasionally suffer from insomnia. He could use a little cubby where he could catch twenty winks some days. Twenty minutes lost doesn’t sound productive, but a nap could make 6 1/2 more hours much more productive. I know. I get to go back to bed almost every morning after Mike and Nick head off on their merry ways. I am more productive and much nicer after I’ve gone back to bed for enough sleep. (Refer to January 1, resolutions.)

I’m going to skip January 3. Meh.

January 4 - Something is messed up in the United States. Harvard accepts 8.9% of all its applicants while Walmart only accepts 2.6%.

Nick is applying to colleges for next fall. I really fear for a world with statistics like this. But we didn’t want him to work for Walmart anyway. Not really.

January 5 - Look out. You are twice as likely to be killed by a vending machine than by a shark. Now, you’ll hear the Jaws theme song every time you walk into the break room.

I could imagine that would have a lot to do with the likelihood that you’d get mad and hit the vending machine when your Snickers bar got hung up on that little auger that is supposed to spiral and drop your snack. Don’t be that dude who hits the vending machine. Just don’t. Mike really isn’t that guy so I’m not too worried, unless he’s the guy who stands next to that guy. I used to work in an office that had a wicked vending machine that cheated someone almost every day. There was this guy who watched and waited for you to slap the machine and walk away in disgust. Then, he’d pull out change, select what you just selected, and be gifted with two Snicker’s bars. Everyone hated that guy. Why can’t vending machines go after people like that?

That’s enough for now. You get the idea. In a perfect world, I’d be able to credit the people who researched all these wonderful little bits of information like the fact that there are black rings around Uranus. If you wrote any of the factoids I repeated for the first week in January, please let me know and I’ll credit you where credit is due.

I should tell you that they don’t pay me to advertise for the Demotivators products. But I was totally excited that they sent me an extra calendar with Mike’s delivery. The cover on my new calendar says, “The sloth is my spirit animal.” That’s so perfect for me. Maybe I need to go back to bed for a while.

Thank you for listening, jules

Long Press Three Second

I was going to tell you what stuff I liked this year, but I’m too late. Nobody is shopping this week. Nobody.

Well, I’m sure there’s some schmuck out there who makes his family wait until two days after Christmas so he can get cut-rate prices on gifts. I met that man when I was in junior high. He was proud of his Christmas shortcut. He was also the teacher who made up excuses to punish girls in his classes, especially the innocent ones, by using a paddle with his name routed backward in the wood. This left his name printed in welt on my ass for a few hours. My mother wasn’t too happy when I showed her that. She didn’t call to complain though. Women didn’t complain as easily back then as they do now. I didn’t talk to that teacher except when it was absolutely required for class for the rest of the year. He was a creep. He’d be roasted alive if he did that today.

So, I can’t write about what I love because of that guy and his cheap-ass Christmas tradition.

Instead of writing about what I love, I’m going to write about some of the presents that I got.

Mike gave me four new books, real books, with textured covers and embossed titles. I love the feel of a good book. I really hope that the recommendations I got from David George Haskell for books he liked are really going to be books that I like. That’s what I asked Mike to put into my stocking. I loved Haskell’s book The Forest Unseen so much that I felt like a stalker when I asked him questions about it and about other books I could read in the same vein. He seems like one of those quiet people who was surprised by the success of his books. I hope he’s writing another one. And I promise to stop asking him questions.

He also gave me a spit test to see who I’m related to. I would bet a lot that we’re all cousins.

“Do you think I’ll mess up the results if I eat just before I spit?” I asked him as he wadded up and recycled wrapping paper.

What a waste of resources, wrapping paper. Mike paused and looked at me as if he were trying to determine my lineage. I already knew my lineage. I’m a mutt, one hundred percent certified mutt.

“They can probably eliminate any DNA that belongs to another species, right? Maybe it depends on what you ate. Your results might say that you were related to the Bovine clan or the royal house of Poultry.”

I’ll brush my teeth before I spit. I could be related to you. I’d bet we’re all cousins. I’ve heard that people share 25% of their DNA with trees. I’m a distant cousin to the trees. It won’t say that on my results, but I’ll be looking for Neanderthal. I’m hoping for a little Neanderthal. It would explain a lot.

Nick gave me earbuds for Christmas. I love them. Yes, I’ve joined this century by having my first Bluetooth earpieces. I asked Mike to help me to set them up.

“Have you looked at the instructions?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Can you try?”

I picked up the instruction packet, opened it, and read aloud.

“ ‘Rotate to open the charging case and remove the earphones’ “ I said. “No period at the end.”

“So, it was translated. You’re always going to get some punctuation errors in translation,” Mike replied.

“Okay then,” I said. “ ‘Choose right R slash L earphones insert ears…’ Does that help?”

“Insert ears?”

“Yes, insert ears.”

He chuckled. I like when I can make Mike laugh.

“And this - ‘When Earphones in power off <comma> Long press earphones Touch button 2 second.”

He laughed again.

“Of course. Long press earphones. Touch button two second. Makes perfect sense,” he said.

“To turn them off, you ‘Keep press earphones touch button 3 second, the light in red LED flashing’ “ I said.

We both sat on the couch and laughed as I held the pamphlet in my hands and scanned for more. I went into the settings on my iPhone and clicked the Bluetooth button. The little timer spun around and around while we laughed. It didn’t stop spinning so I handed it to Mike.

“It can’t find them,” he said.

“Here it is,” I said. “ ‘Bluetooth pairing way:’ That must be the section we need.”

“Bluetooth pairing way. You should take a picture of that and post it on Facebook and ask for a translation,” he said.

Now, I was only looking for good phrases from the instructions.

“ ‘About 10 seconds the earphone will paired succeed.” I skipped lines that were almost normal. “Another earphone in blue led slow flash. If the left and right earphones cannot be paired auto, please following below: Keep press two earphones. Short press, after 5 seconds left and right earphones pair succeed.” I paused to let Mike breathe. “ ‘The earphones has been paired when in factory, Listen music: Short press touch button, then can play/pause. Long press the main earphone for 2-3 seconds, Last song.”

Mike laughed during my entire monologue. Mission accomplished. I love my new Bluetooth earbuds. When Nick gets up, I’ll have to read some selected instructions to him too.

The miracle is that we got them to work. I’m using them now.

Thank you for listening, jules

Fucl<ing Cookies

Yesterday I decided, since it was my day off, that I wasn’t already busy enough and needed to make Christmas cookies.

Save some money, I thought. Make homemade Christmas presents. I could give cookies to my students, cookies to my friends, cookies for church, and have leftover cookies for Mike and Nick.

So, I bought flour, sugar, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, chocolate chips - because who doesn’t want chocolate chip cookies? I even bought baking soda because I didn’t know the state of my baking soda. And maybe I needed another bag of chocolate chips. When I got home, I realized I already had two open bags of mini chips, one open bag of regular chips. Crap! I also had an intact bag of Lily’s chocolate chips. Mmmm, Lily’s.

I want to tell you right here that I don’t advertise even though it seems like I do. This is just me, loving the things that I love. You know, like Oprah, and Omnicon. Just kidding. I don’t know anything about Omnicon.

I set straight to work. I washed my hands then lined up my ingredients on the counter so I’d have half a chance to end up with only one open container of anything. I ran a load of dishes, shifted the ingredients to clean the counters, washed my hands again, and put on an audiobook, Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. I love anything that Kingsolver writes. I was good to go. I briefly considered listening to Christmas music, so I added a Christmas CD to the player for later. It could take six discs. That should be more than enough kitchen entertainment. Right?

As soon as the dishes got going, Mike came into the kitchen to make himself a sandwich.

“Who are those for?” he asked.

I could tell he wanted his portion of cookies.

“I’m going to make cookies for my students. If I buy something for them, it would get expensive fast.

“How many students do you have?”

“I don’t really know. I’m not sure if I’m giving a package to every kid or just to the ones I work with this week.”

I went back and forth in my mind, trying to figure it out as Mike made his sandwich and wandered out of the kitchen. I could have as many as two kids an hour for the next three days of work before Christmas break began. Plus, there were kids who would be working with other tutors but would want cookies too. I needed to consider that some of them weren’t going to show up. I’d already heard from one kid that he was going to Hawaii for vacation.

Hawaii. Shoot! Where was I going over the break? Nowhere.

Then I remembered that a bunch of other kids came twice a week and I’d never bothered to figure out who those kids were. So, I had no idea what real numbers I was working with for them. It could be fifteen kids. It could be eighty. Fuck.

I estimated that I’d have about twenty kids and that I could bring a container of loose cookies for kids who I didn’t work with that week. I should be okay.

I had to back up the the CD to hear what I’d missed while I was thinking. It was a hazard, thinking and listening to a book at the same time. I doubled the ingredients and got both of my mixing bowls in on the action by adding one batch to each one. My only problem was that I usually creamed the sugar and butter together before adding all the flour and since I’d added almost all the ingredients to the bowl that wasn’t in the mixer mixing, I had to stop the whole process, scrape the blade, and switch bowls to get all the goo and part of the flour mixed in the second bowl.

I stopped the CD so I could think. How much of the partial flour had I added to the second bowl? Was it one cup or one and a quarter?

And had I added that last quarter cup of flour to the first bowl?

Had I added vanilla to the second?

I shook a cup of flour into the bowl that was mixing. When the blade hit it, flour poofed out of the bowl and coated the front of my shirt, the counter, and the left side of my espresso machine. Crap. I stood there and let it mix while I tried to wipe flour off of surfaces and organize my next steps.

I washed my hands again. I have something against the kitchen sponge. I replace it as often as I can, but it still smells and I have to wash my hands after I use it. When that was mostly cleaned up, I switched bowls in the mixer to blend in the chocolate chips. Did I still need to add flour to the second bowl?

Wait? Which one was the second bowl?

Finally, I sorted it all out as well as I could and set the CD player to proceed. I spooned dough out onto foil-lined baking sheets.

Why did I use the foil? So what if my baking sheets got dirty? Was I collapsing the environment with excessive one-time use of resources?

I backed up the CD to hear what I’d missed.

And then I realized that if I wasn’t sure about the flour in one bowl and the vanilla in the other, I should do test cookies.

So, I scraped up all the cookies I’d dropped so far except one blob from each bowl.

Then, I turned on the oven. I’d read that it helped to conserve energy if I eliminated the preheating time when I used the oven. Okay, but how long would the test cookies have to bake? How many times would I let heat out as I checked them before they were done? How much energy did that waste? I set the timer for twelve minutes, figuring that it would preheat in about three minutes and I could check them a minute before they’d really be done.

I backed up the CD.

Then, I had nothing to do for twelve minutes. Dishes were running. Ingredients sat lined up on the counter, ready for another batch. Two test cookies consumed as much energy as two dozen because I couldn’t keep track of my ingredients.

The earth was going to hell in a handbasket.

Mike brought his lunch dishes back into the kitchen just as those two cookies came out of the oven. What timing.

“Will you be a taste-tester?”

“If I have to,” he said, grinning.

“I need to make sure I added enough flour in one and the vanilla in the other.”

The grin dropped off his face.

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

Just then, Nick walked into the kitchen. Timing.

“Want to help taste-test?” I asked him.

“Oh yeah,” he said with a glint in his eye.

I have a theory about the olfactory timing of these two men. Humans have evolved to love the smell of food that is cooked to a point that it is safe for us to eat. It’s similar to the connection between beauty and good genes. Scientists have discovered that the perception of beauty is related to symmetry and conformity which is a result of genes that are free of aberrations. Beautiful people were the ones that were more likely to survive and procreate. As for anything delicious, anyone who didn’t get proper smell genes ate raw food, got parasites, died, and left no spawn to pass on their tasteless genes to.

Both cookies passed muster, but we all agreed that one of them really did need a little more flour, maybe that quarter cup. Which bowl was that? I poked at the dough in both bowls with my spoon. Hard to tell. I added a quarter cup to one bowl, hoping it was the right one. The mixer popped more flour across the counter. Shoot.

I poked the backup button on the CD player then went back to spooning out perfectly proportioned globs of cookie dough. I grabbed a second spoon from the drawer so I could scrape the goo off one spoon with the other.

A clump of cookie dough fell onto the floor. Damn! If I left it, I’d step in it and track it all over the kitchen. If I picked it up, I’d have to wash my hands one more time.

I used a paper towel to wipe it up and washed my hands. One more paper towel for the landfill. If there weren’t so many rodents in the forest around my house, I’d have been able to put it into a compost bin. We had bears, squirrels, rats, voles, mice, shrews, and raccoons. Mike was adamant about not having a compost bin after some animal chewed right through plastic to get through the last one we had.

Suddenly, I was in a groove. I alternated two pans of cookies so the oven was never empty. As one pan baked, I stacked and packed the other cookies. I loaded big Ziplocs with cookies for each of the friends I was too cheap to buy presents for. I labeled them and put them into the freezer, yelling a warning to Mike and Nick not to eat them. I don’t know if they heard me. Then, I began to load snack bags with funky wrapped candy I’d gotten from Uwajimaya earlier in the week and added a cookie to each one. I thought it would be cool for the kids to get candy with the Japanese characters on the wrapping instead of English. Environmentally, I felt bad about the little bits of extra plastic for each piece of candy, but it was for a bunch of kids and I wanted it to feel sanitary.

Some of the cookies were slightly too big to fit. And would the outside of the candy wrappers get too greasy from the cookie to be nice to open? Or was it going to be yucky? Plus, there was that plastic packaging question again. The environment. I voted for less packaging and figured the kids wouldn’t mind if a piece of wrapped candy sat in a bag next to a homemade chocolate chip cookie. I scraped a few edges off cookies to make them fit into the snack bags.

Mike appeared again. Time for tea.

“Are you just putting one cookie in those bags? It looks kind of chintzy.”

“What?” I said a little bit too loudly. “I thought it looked cheerful with all the candy in there.”

“One cookie? Seriously?”

Seriously.

Then, I got behind in loading my baking trays with more cookie dough as I opened all the snack bags and added another cookie to each one. The oven was going to bake empty for a while. Damn! What about the environment?

Mike got out the ingredients to make dinner. Fish and potatoes. Suddenly, the counters were jammed with stuff and I didn’t want to have to share my kitchen. I’d been in a groove. It was hard to stay in a groove when I was tired and had to dance around someone else in my small kitchen. I popped the pause button on my audio book.

I went back to wrestling with each snack bag to get it closed. Two cookies were almost always too big to zip closed. A cookie fell onto the floor.

“Fuck!” I muttered.

I picked it up, threw it away and washed my hands again. The floor was still a little gritty under my shoes.

“You should put those into the bigger Ziplocs,” Mike added. I know he was trying to be helpful. He put the fish and potatoes into the oven, leaving a rack free. Lovely. My chocolate chip cookies were going to smell of fish. I glared at him.

“But then they’ll need three cookies to look like there’s anything in there. And I have to have enough cookies for Rachael, Lily, and Penny. Plus, I volunteered to bring cookies to church next Sunday.”

I didn’t say anything about the environmental impact of throwing out twenty greasy and crumbly but unused snack bags so I could put everything into bigger, thicker plastic bags.

“Three cookies sounds good,” Mike said.

“But that’s a whole -nother batch of cookies. I’m going to be baking all day.”

“You’re going to be baking all day.”

And Mike left the kitchen. He popped the play button to turn on my story.

Fuck the cookies. I jammed the second cookie into each of those narrow snack bags, breaking off any edges that got in my way. Each of my students was getting a snack bag filled with two broken cookies that smelled of fish along with greasy pieces of unidentifiable wrapped candy because all the lettering was in Japanese. Two cookies. Not three.

Just then, Christmas music came on.

Fuck those fucking cookies.

Thank you for listening, jules