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

Just a Little Bit of Plastic

I need to do a load of dishes. After everyone has gone to work in the morning, I try to get a load done so I’m not doing it at bedtime when I’m most tired. Some days, tired or not, I have to do two loads of dishes. The worst part of it is that no matter how I try to Tetris the hell out of that space, I still end up with one or two items that don’t fit. That leaves me with a kitchen that is mostly clean, but not quite.

If, as one friend suggested, I were to put dishes into the dishwasher as they were dirtied, then run it when it got full, I’d inevitably have to rearrange everything because someone didn’t play the Tetris game and there would be lots of extra room for dishes in a load. Plus, there would be a chance I’d forget where we were in the cycle and eat from a dirty plate. Ew.

But I like to pretend the main reason is that I’m good to the environment when I jam as many dishes into my dishwasher as I can fit to be efficient with water and energy.

Oh, the agony of doing dishes, right? Spoiled, right?

Yeah, I admit that I’m spoiled. Most of us are.

And let’s consider dishwasher tablets.

I shop at Costco and found that finish Powerball makes the ones that clean my dishes the best. Clean dishes in one load: efficient. Good for me. Good for the environment.

But then they began to package their tablets in little plastic pouches inside the plastic tub. What a packaging overdose. I guess it kept those tablets from breaking into pieces in transit, but I didn’t plan on returning a mostly-used box of dishwasher tabs because a couple of them at the bottom were broken.

Plus, it was hard to get the little suckers out of their plastic pouches after my hands had been slimed with water and food residue. The worst part was knowing that every single one of those little plastic pouches went into the garbage to join the garbage gyres in the oceans.

Then one day, I opened a new container of dishwasher tabs and they were coated with a little bit of goo that went right into your dishwasher and melted off during the cycle. Yay! No struggling to open any pouches. No extra plastic in the gyre. But these still came in a big plastic tub. It was better for the environment, but not perfect.

A few months went by and I realized I needed to go to Costco again. Damn! No time. I ran from errand to errand to try to get done before work, so I figured Mike would forgive me if I skipped Costco and bought some dishwasher tabs from Albertson’s instead.

The cool thing was that I could buy my favorite brand, finish Powerball, and they came in a recyclable cardboard container! Was this company joining in the effort to save the planet from being drowned in a pile of plastic?

It looked like it was.

That night when I ran a load of dishes, I opened that wonderful recyclable cardboard box.

Inside were nested fifty finish Powerball tablets, each individually wrapped in a little bit of plastic.

Argh!

Thank you for listening, jules

Wearing a Coded Message

I want to tell you a secret.

On the day of the midterms, I texted back and forth with my sister. She texted that she waited over an hour and a half to vote. I told her that I had voted in the comfort of my living room and dropped the ballot into a box by the library a week earlier. She voted in a sea of red. I voted in a sea of blue.

That isn’t my secret.

It was her birthday but I hadn’t even figured out what to give her yet.

That isn’t my secret either.

Every year, I am late sending her a birthday present. I’m derelict that way. As kind as she is, she always says that it’s okay. It’s really not. Finally, as I sat on my cozy couch anxiously watching election returns, texting her encouragement as she waited, I suddenly knew what I wanted to send her.

I wanted to give her a big blue tsunami for her birthday.

It would be hard, considering the conflicting reports I saw on television. I was just a single drop.

So, while my sister sporadically texted me about her progress toward the voting booth, I sat down at Amazonsmile, searched ‘silk scarf tsunami,’ and found this lovely silk scarf. It was patterned after the Japanese print, The Underwave off Kanagawa, by Katsushika Hokusai. This one was going to take three weeks to reach my sister. It was coming from China.

That’s not my secret either.

My secret is that after I ordered my sister’s birthday present, I bought one of those scarves for myself. I wanted something to commemorate my tiny blue drop in this blue wave, whether or not it succeeded. I wanted to wear it to remember that moment in history.

I pictured myself at ninety, telling my grandchildren about the years I fought tyranny that somehow crept into the White House, how I worked to protest as loudly as I could. I would show them the book I wrote, Angry Housewife Fights Tyranny, the posters I carried when I marched in the Women’s Marches, the March for Truth, and the March for Science. I would show them the letters I wrote to the editors and to my representatives. And I would wear my blue tsunami silk scarf as a reminder of the days I watched midterm returns unfold into a blue wave that I hoped would be big enough.

Finally last week, it arrived. It was perfect, beautiful and soft. It matched almost everything I wore so this past week, I had to stop myself from wearing it every day.

But that’s not what feels so right about wearing my new blue wave scarf.

After the example of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I wear my blue-wave scarf to continue to protest the way trump separates children from their parents at the Mexican border. I protest the cold rooms in the detention centers. I protest lobbing tear gas at groups of women and children inside Mexico. I protest bringing troops to the Mexican border. I protest the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and trump’s weasel response to the Saudi prince’s involvement. I protest the incursions into the freedom of speech, our First Amendment right. I protest interference in Mueller’s investigation. I protest Mitch McConnell who refused to allow a vote on a bill protecting Mueller’s investigation. I protest the way trump treats Muslims, women, and people of color. I protest almost every single tweet he posts, except an occasional one that was obviously written by one of his staffers because it contains words trump couldn’t spell.

I protest still.

So, when you see me wearing my scarf, you’ll know my message, that I protest. If I see you wearing one, I’ll know that you protest too.

Thank you for listening, jules

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Stress

Did you ever have the perfect storm of events all happening on one day?

Today, there are five things that I want to go do and, at best, I can make it to three. That’s only if I get cracking right now and only if I get stuff done right now.

Crap!

I also want to sit here with you for a minute. I haven’t vented. I haven’t cheered. I haven’t told you my innermost wishes for this new season. I haven’t told you how I’m worried I’ll peak too soon, how I’ll sing Christmas songs from Black Friday on (for which I stayed in my pajamas and bought nothing) to some time the week before Christmas actually happens when I suddenly get sick of the whole endeavor and turn the cheerful songs off in frustration. I just don’t know if I can make it through four weeks of merriment.

That’s what it takes these days, doesn’t it?

I’d rather take a couple weeks to think about what the season means to me first, the way I do on Thanksgiving Day, a quiet gratitude. I’d like to work on smaller gifts that really connect me to the recipient, maybe homemade gifts this year.

Oh my God, I have to make my friend Rachael a quilt by Christmas! How am I going to get a quilt done in four weeks, even a lap quilt? And if I make a quilt for Rachael in my copious spare time, don’t I have to make quilts for all of my best friends? Can I just substitute something of equal or greater value? And what about a baby quilt for my niece who is expecting any moment? And what about my sister? I have a partially-finished quilt for her already. Can I get that done in time to send it across the country to arrive before Christmas? If I even walk into my sewing room, there are five quilts that beg for me to make them. Plus, I need to make something for each of my students, something meaningful, quick, and economical. What would that be? Something that a variety of children would appreciate? And when will I figure out what to do for Nick? He’s an adult now. What do I make for him? And poor Mike has never been given a quilt yet. Can you imagine? I’ve been quilting for twenty-eight years and I’ve never finished the quilt for Mike. He wants it to be hand-stitched. That’s the problem. Hand stitched. When? When can I do all of this marvelous work?

After I come home from all of my parties tonight.

Thank you for listening, jules

A Gift of Flight

Two days ago, I lost my friend, Jon. I’m not sure what happened, but I didn’t even know he was sick.

I’m mourning. I’m shocked. I keep trying to remember the last time I talked to him.

I want to tell you about Jon. That will help.

Jon was a pilot. His wife is a pilot too. He once took Nick and his friend Adrian up flying when they were ten. I’ll never forget that day. We arrived at their house and Jon used some kind of assisted pulley to back the plane out of its hangar. Jon’s wife said there wasn’t enough room in the four-seater for her to join us, so I nodded my head and the four of us climbed into their plane without her.

Then, Jon taxied out of their driveway, down the road, and onto the little neighborhood airstrip. Imagine living in a neighborhood designed for pilots, one with its own runway, one where every house had a hangar instead of a garage. My dad would have liked Jon. For some reason, my dad had a lot of friends who were pilots. I guess I like pilots too.

I sat in the back seat with Adrain for the first leg of the trip. The plan was to let each boy have some time at the controls. Jon was calm about that. I was nervous. Looking over Nick’s shoulder where he sat in the front seat, I could tell Nick was nervous too.

“For this first part, you let me handle the stick and once we’re in the air, you can give it a shot,” Jon said.

“Okay,” Nick said. I could tell by his voice that he wasn’t going to touch anything until Jon gave him the go-ahead.

I loved the feeling of being pressed back into my seat whenever I lifted off in a plane. I was so excited, I don’t remember if Jon talked to anyone on his headset or if you just had to keep an eagle-eye out whenever you took off at such a small airstrip.

And then we were airborne.

“Can you show them where they live?” I asked over the hum of the engine.

“Roger,” Jon said and the next thing I knew, we followed our road up and circled around our house. Adrian’s house was easier to identify because of it’s oversized deck.

“There’s my house! I see it!” Adrian shouted. “There’s my mom’s van! It’s so little!”

“I see it, and my house too,” Nick yelled.

We were so low to the ground that if I’d been looking out my front window, I’d have wondered at the plane circling overhead like a hawk.

“Do you want to fly the plane?” Jon asked Nick after he’d straightened the plane out and gained some altitude.

“Can I do that?” Nick said. Oh, he was nervous. I’d let him have a go at steering my car a few times, but he hadn’t even had control over a go-cart.

“Sure, I’ll tell you what you need to know.”

Then Jon walked Nick through the altimeter, the artificial horizon indicator, and the stick.

And Nick proceeded to wobble up and down in our flight path, continuously over-steering until Jon suggested he let go of the stick completely.

Nick looked at him in abject fear.

“Just let it go. We’re not going anywhere,” Jon said.

Nick looked down at the ground, then over at Jon again and finally let go with his hands hovering over the stick just in case. Jon laughed.

The plane evened out.

“Wow. Did you do that?” Nick asked.

Jon explained that changes made to the plane’s direction could be controlled with small moves, that the plane stabilized when you let go.

“So, we’re not going to spiral straight down to the ground?” Nick asked.

“Nope. Do you want to make a turn?”

“Sure, if it’s okay.”

Nick wasn’t going to do anything unless Jon said it was okay. There was a glow to his face. He was flying the plane. We spiraled to the right. Jon told Nick to keep an eye on the altimeter and told him to lift the nose. We swooped up as if entering a loop-the-loop on a roller coaster. Jon calmly told him to even it out and Nick evened it out, only dipping the nose below the horizon a little bit when he did. Then, we spiraled to the left. Meanwhile, I kept my head on my window so I could see where we were on my mental map, more than half way to the airport in Snohomish. Cars below us on the road were tiny, the mountains on the horizon looked closer, and any people I could see looked like ants. I thought of the time when I was nine when my dad chose me to go flying with him in his friend Larry’s plane. I’d been ecstatic. Larry had let me fly the plane all by myself.

Just then, Adrian groaned.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” he said.

“Ah, Jon,” I said over the buzz of the engines and whatever Nick had been saying, "We need an airbag back here, just in case.”

“It’s in the briefcase under my seat.”

I pulled out the briefcase, popped it open, and handed Adrian the little green bag inside. Jon turned around and looked at Adrian.

“You’re a bit green, aren’t you?”

Adrian couldn’t answer, just nodded and clutched at the open bag I had given him.

“I’d better get this puppy on the ground for a bit. Nick, may I have the controls?”

“Okay,” Nick said.

After a few words and numbers stated into the headset and a garbled response, Jon dropped the plane onto the runway like a duck landing on a pond.

“I don’t think we’re going to stop for lunch today,” I said.

Adrian groaned.

“The Buzz Inn has good burgers,” Jon said, raising his eyebrows hopefully. Jon had expressive eyebrows.

Adrian groaned again.

“Nope, sorry. No lunch today.”

After three trips to the Museum of Flight and its flight simulator plus a couple of rounds around the fairway at the State Fair with Adrian, I knew he wouldn’t make it if he even sat at a table with food on it. And I didn’t want to have to steam clean Jon’s airplane after we got back either. That smell would take a year to come out of the back seat.

So, Adrian and I walked in circles around the plane trying to settle his stomach while Jon did the preflight check with Nick. Before I knew it, we were airborne again. Adrian sat in the front seat this time, but held both hands on the airsick bag I’d given him. Jon kept the controls.

That trip back seemed to take only about seven minutes. Jon flew straight. He flew without any flourishes that I so loved about flying. And then, we were back on the ground. Adrian and I got out of the plane at the landing strip and walked back while Nick and Jon taxied back to the hangar.

When we got back, I told Jon we’d have to take him out for lunch another day, that Adrian needed to go home and just sit for a while.

“Can I give you money for the fuel?” I asked.

“No. It was a pleasure. I loved going up with the kids.”

I kept trying, but Jon wouldn’t have it. He said it was a gift. And it was, despite Adrian’s queasy look. Nick still had a glow and a grin on his face.

It was a gift. And now, when I’m missing my friend, it will be a gift I will never forget.

Thank you for listening, jules

Squeeze the Day

It’s 5:51 am. It’s a holiday. No work. No school. I’ve been up for an hour.

My mind, despite a week of telling it otherwise, is still on Daylight Savings time.

Fuck Daylight Savings time.

I’m not some farmer with six kids I have to set to work milking the cows before school. Is that even why some idiot in the courthouse switched the time by an hour every summer? Who the fuck knows? The truth is out there, but I’m too mad and too tired to give a damn.

All I know is that it’s a week later and I’m still getting up at the same time. Productivity sucks whether it’s spring forward or fall back. It’s going to take me a month to get used to the new time. I’m going to walk around zoned for the rest of the day because I didn’t get enough sleep.

Scratch that. I’m going to walk around zoned all day anyway. I’ve been zoned since college when my roommate called me a ‘space cadet.’ I didn’t like my roommate. I’ve been zoned since I was a teenager and spent a whole summer reversing my days and nights so I could... Well, I’m not exactly sure why I did that. It just happened.

If there really are circadian rhythms, then I used to have a twenty-four and a half hour one. Once school let out for summer, I’d have flipped my days for nights within a month. In forty-eight days, I could have cycled back around to the beginning and would be getting up at a normal time. I don’t know why I didn’t. Back then, circadian was easy. I could stay up all night on a Friday and a Saturday, sleep all day and night Sunday, then head happily back to school on Monday. Okay, we’re being honest here. Calculus class, the first class of the morning, was always hard. I might have done better if I hadn’t dozed through so much of it. Still, sleep seemed so easy then.

Now, my inflexible old brain wants to go to bed within five minutes of the hour I went to bed the previous nights. Now, if I go to bed late, I seem to wake up early, meaning colossal fatigue for two or three days. That makes me follow the rules more closely. So right now, bedtime wants to be 8:30pm. I’ve been hungry for dinner at 5;30pm. Pretty soon, I’ll arrive at Denny’s at 3:45 in the afternoon and order dinner. Or I’ll fall asleep on the couch at 6:45 pm, then get up at 3:30 am and wander the halls of my assisted living and wonder why breakfast isn’t ready. My grandma did that. Sorry, Grandma.

Well, I’m not in an assisted living arrangement, not yet. But I do feel zoned out regarding time.

Every spring and every fall, I wonder how we’re still stuck in this outdated mode of switching time. Yeah, that hour that ancient politician reset aeons ago, that Daylight Savings, as if we’d be fooled into thinking we were saving anything, that time is fucking us all up and we should stop. We are not more productive because of Daylight Savings time. I like to remember the Native American’s view of Daylight Savings time: ‘Only a white man would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket and sew it to the bottom of a blanket and have a longer blanket.’

Who’s in control of time in this state?

Not the fucking state of mind.

I mean Washington state. You know, the other Washington, the one that’s still reasonably sane. Who’s in control?

Hello, helloooo. We want our time unchanged. Hello? Is anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me.

Thank you for listening, jules

It's Always Something

I have to admit that I’m in a bad mood because I washed my favorite dress and managed to get clumping cat litter stuck onto it. Then, I had to pick it all off piece by piece and rewash it. It was all in how I rolled it into a towel after rinsing it. Usually that’s a good idea. This time, I made the error of spreading the towel out on the laundry room floor so I could roll it up more easily. Big mistake. I’m behind. I’m really behind since I was sick for eight weeks. There are things that haven’t been done.

Men.

Men just don’t vacuum the way women do. Don’t tell Mike or Nick I said that. I LOVED that they cleaned the house when I was sick. Can you picture an eighteen year old guy hugging his mom and pulling out the vacuum cleaner after just one request?

It was awesome.

Except that they vacuumed the living room but not the stairs, the kitchen but not the laundry room, the floors but not the cobwebs on the ceiling. They did dishes, but didn’t wipe the counters. They collected the leaves in the yard waste bin, but didn’t rinse the leaves out of the bird bath.

Are all women detail freaks or is it just me?

So, I was supposed to be reading my book, American Gods this morning. That Shadow is hot and the cool thing is that he’s kind of my age so that doesn’t have to be creepy. It’s what I love about books. The characters become your characters. Shadow looks a little like Mike.

But instead of reading my book as long as I wanted to, I recognized that this house does not spin right without my version of maintenance. Plus, I was happily reading on the couch, tucked into my favorite dress and blankets, when Seth jumped onto my lap to snuggle, the blankets shifted, and a waft of foul air met my nose. Ew!

I showered yesterday. I was not exactly the problem. It was my beautiful dress.

So, I unceremoniously dumped Seth onto the floor and got up to get some stuff done. He walked away as if it had been his idea, but he was miffed. I could tell by the way he twitched his tail.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realized the importance of doing the cleaning in the right order, cat litter first, then clean-but-wet-favorite dress pressed into a dry towel before hanging it. It’s much more work when you do things in the wrong order.

Thank you for listening, jules

Dissident Poetry

What if it doesn’t work? What if the voice of the people isn’t loud enough?

What if voter suppression negates too many votes? How is it that Debbie Cox from Dodge City hasn’t been arrested for her involvement in moving a single polling place for thousands of poor people out of town, out of reach, and with the wrong address on the labels?

What if nobody fixes those machines that were set to switch blue votes to red at the last moment? Is that even true or is it an urban myth?

What if gerrymandering has been so effective to have isolated blue votes into an ineffective place? I am an example of someone who has a narrow blue line drawn around my house, a tiny peninsula, that keeps me from voting against a red incumbent, the guy who has had the most influence on my community and Nick’s schools. Our house has been excised from that equation. My vote has been rendered useless.

The Russians have come into our country to ‘monitor the election.’ Doesn’t that give you a chill up your spine? Who let the Russians in and why do they get to ‘monitor’ our election?

So, I’ll admit that I carry a weight of trepidation today. When Mike was in the bedroom getting ready for work this morning and I walked in to talk to him, I saw he had the news on and I backed out the door before I got drawn into it. I am not ready to see.

I don’t exactly know what I’m going to do tomorrow if the blue wave fails to have an impact. I might crawl back under the covers and hide for a while. I might not look at the news for a few weeks. I might go into a mode of grief as if I’d lost a member of the family. It could feel that bad, knowing that children might not escape their cages, that racists will continue to feel they can scream obscenities at people of color, that the caravan will be met with hostility and armaments, that freedom of the press will be repressed, or worse, murdered.

Maybe I’ll take to the streets. Maybe I’ll have the courage to get arrested for standing up against a dictator. Maybe our relatively peaceful way of life will tilt into an age of chaos, driven by a man who can’t remember to get into the limo that waits in front of him, who can’t condemn violence, in fact, encourages it, who openly mocks people of color.

Maybe I’ll write dissident poetry and land in prison with lots of people like you.

Thank you for listening, jules

Priorities

Well, I’m back to work full time, or rather my usual half time. I feel mostly okay most days. I’ve slowed down thinking about my mortality.

Well, I’m still thinking about my mortality, just not as morbidly as I was before. I’m going to die. I’m GOING to die. Everyone is GOING to die and I’m no exception.

Just not right now.

Intellectually, I’m a fan of mortality.

On all levels, mortality seems like a blessing. I know our culture doesn’t see it that way, but it is.

On a global level, it’s easy to see how the balance of mortality and reproduction has to remain stable so that we don’t overwhelm the Earth. We are, in fact, in the process of overwhelming the Earth with ourselves and our by products. Any habitat must achieve equilibrium or risk the suffering of its individuals and the habitat itself. Have you ever seen the destruction and starvation caused by an overpopulation of deer? I have. New Jersey, 1986. I agree that it is difficult for our minds to comprehend our actions on a global level, but it’s starting to sink in, isn’t it? The one problem, the potentially catastrophic problem that we have is a result of our resistance to mortality combined with our love for procreation.

Climate change.

Oh, we might mitigate the problem with science and a reduction of our dependence on fossil fuels, but climate change is, ultimately, about population.

But I have to admit that I have been repulsed by any attempt to limit either the birth rate, for example, China’s one-child law, or any limit on a person’s age. What was the name of that movie, where people were put to death when they got too old? Apparently, there is more than one. Logan’s Run was the oldest one I could find. They were cut off at age thirty!

Plus, I’ve heard scientists describe death as a scourge to be conquered.

On a local level. It’s a little harder to see the benefits of mortality in your neighborhood. Your friends and the nice people at the grocery store would never die, but neither would that crazy guy who stares across the fence at the elementary school and curses at other pedestrians. Food and housing would get scarce. Seattle is a good example. Teachers can’t afford to live in the neighborhoods where they teach. Food and gas are much more expensive, not scarce, but demand has had its impact. Traffic is a nightmare. Imagine if everywhere was like the metropolis that lay between Washington DC and Boston, one continuous city. People would have to be rooftop farmers. Livestock would live in enclosed buildings all their lives. Oh right. much of livestock already lives cramped and miserable lives, never seeing fields or

sky.

And there’s the experiment run by John B. Calhoun, who described the collapse of society when too many rats were put together in a cage. The rats couldn’t procreate or nurture their young, cannibalized each other, prevented groups from accessing food, and generally lost their peaceable social skills. Would that happen to people? Just think of the occurrences of rage on increasingly cramped flights.

And there is the effect of mortality on an individual. I can tell you about that. The past six weeks of kidney stone pain combined with my oxygenation problem left me knowing I could die sooner than later or or leave me brain damaged. As I struggled to breathe, on what felt like it could be my deathbed, I grieved over Mike and Nick. What would my loss do to them? Was Nick old enough to manage without a mother? And there were things I needed to accomplish.. I was not done. I wanted to fulfill my purpose before I died.

Now that I’m not dying, my priorities are more clear. My love and that of people around me is a solid presence, not just an ephemeral fog. I don’t take things for granted, at least not now. My time is limited. I can noodle around, but I can’t waste it. (Noodling around can be fun.)

So, think about your mortality. It’s not morbid.

Who is important to you? Make the presence of that love a solid presence in your life. Tell them. Feel that joy.

What is your purpose? Do one thing today toward that purpose, even one small thing. Then, schedule yourself to completion. Tell people about what you want to do before you die, about your dreams.

I guarantee that the world will be a better place if you act on that purpose.

I’m sure that people will be better off if you tell them that you love them.

Thank you for listening, jules

The Gift of Ordinary

I made Nick’s lunch. He looked at it, then emptied similar uneaten items from yesterday’s lunch, only the fruit and vegetables, into the garbage. He looked at me and packed the new lunch into his insulated bag. Insulated. I opened a can of wet cat food and fed the cats. They didn’t eat it, just stared at the bowl and then at me, in unison. Stared. I fed the dog. He ate some of it and then went to the door and asked to be let out. I let him out. It was raining. He stood under the eaves on the deck and gazed up the hill into the darkness. When did it get so dark as I made breakfast and lunches in the morning? I missed so much when I was sick. I tried to see what he was looking at. I didn’t see anything but darkness. The rain. He came back inside. He burped. Then, he stood by the door and asked to be let out. I ignored him. Now, he’s lying on the couch, staring at the side of my head.

I made my smoothie. I didn’t complain about it. I didn’t glare, stare, or gaze in another direction in hopes of something better. My smoothie was ordinary. It was perfect. I was the only one who saw that through the darkness.

Thank you for listening, jules

Some Days Are Still Hard

This morning, I yelled at Mike for buying the wrong carrots. The wrong carrots. WTF?

This morning, spilled a whole CPAP tube full of soapy water on the bathroom rug, the rug where the little cat had dragged out at least three-quarters of a cup of used cat litter from the litter box, used cat litter that was still ready to clump. I took a good hand towel, the only one immediately available, and threw it on the floor to mop up everything. Then, I stepped on it to squeeze the water out of the bathroom rug into the good towel. Now, the good towel has clumping cat litter stuck on it.

This morning, I spilled a half a cup of water on the bathroom counter. It all rolled toward a row of new books I liked to keep in the bathroom because new books make me happy. Yes, I decorate with books I want to read. I took the good hand towel, the only one immediately available, off the floor with the used cat litter still clumped onto it and wiped up the half cup of water that was rolling toward my nice new books that I hadn’t yet read. I will need to bleach the counter, the good hand towel, and the bathroom rug.

This morning, I folded the good hand towel with used clumped cat litter on it into the bathroom rug and brought it upstairs to the laundry room. Then, forgetting to scrape the used clumped cat litter off the good hand towel, I threw all of it into the washer.

This morning, I spilled a few drops of bleach on top of the washer where I keep the cat food for the two cats so that the dog won’t eat it when no one is looking and throw up in my garden shoes by the sliding glass door.

This morning, I threw away a whole bowl of prescription cat food in case any of the bleach I spilled got into the little cat bowl. I tried to smell it to see if it smelled like chlorine, but by then, everything smelled like chlorine so I just threw out all the kibbles and put the little cat bowl into the sink where I could run it through the dishwasher.

This morning, the cat sat forlornly on the washer where his bowl should have been and cried. Since I hadn’t run the dishwasher, I was out of little cat bowls, so I put wet cat food into one of my grandmother’s Memory Lane Royal Ironstone berry bowls and hoped the cat wouldn’t push it off the edge of the washer as he ate. I stood there and watched him eat so I could take the bowl off the washer before I washed the bathroom rug and the good hand towel on prewash-extra-rinse-high-spin.

Later, I’ll need to clean the used clumped cat litter off the inside of my washer because I forgot to scrape it off before I threw it in to wash.

This sounds a little like ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie’ only not as cute and definitely not as sanitary. Doesn’t the mouse go back to bed at the end of the story?

Thank you for listening, jules