Wednesday, December 13, 2017

blue foam cake

My youngest son
doesn't interact with
other children.

Instead, he
makes me fake food,
pen sketches,
block buildings--
shows them to me,
waits for praise.

Sometimes I think,
in the way parents of 2017 do,
I should schedule play dates
for him, introduce
him to friends his own age. 

But I don't.
I love the attention
he lavishes on me
and quite frankly,
I don't actually believe
he needs any fixing.

He just brought me a
blue foam cake which I
pretend ate
with real enthusiasm.

Friday, December 8, 2017

great healer

My sister is here, in town with her baby.

What is it about babies that brings out our smiles?

Also, it is a weird phenomenon, being around family. I sing aloud again, do puzzles, dance in the living room. Everything is as it should be.

Like the good ol' days.

She took pictures of me and the boys, I ordered my Christmas cards. I started holiday shopping. I even finished revising my manuscript, which I've been meaning to do, and finished writing a short story.

We made cinnamon roll popcorn, she made caramels, we're going to make bath bombs. 

It's been a good week. 

Family, biological or not, is a great healer.

Friday, December 1, 2017

frat bros

I have an addictive personality. In both the chemical and compulsive behavior categories, I like to get fucked up. Fuuuuucked up. I wrote an essay about it this semester: about why I drink or smoke weed. I like to feel OK as I am and it seems I can only achieve that when I'm drunk or high or in the heat of sex. That is the only time I can ditch my self-loathing narrative, the one that runs on a loop saying I'm not good enough, I'm a fuck up, I won't amount to anything, I'm a piece of shit.

Instead of feeling like I'm spinning when I'm under an influence, that is the only time I feel calm. I have it all backward and it's when I'm sober that I feel like I'm spinning out of control.

But this year. Oh this year has been such a redemptive one for me. Blessed 2017.

I have this group of friends I met at school. We actually call ourselves a fraternity. These are friends who write, who laugh into the wee hours of the night with me, friends who road trip with me, who workshop writing with me. Friends who send me letters, friends who invite me to Thanksgiving dinner, friends who group text horoscopes, friends who eat Gandolfo's sandwiches, friends who moved me into my apartment, brought me housewarming gifts, FaceTime me. Friends who sustain me.

Yes, I have been known to get drunk or high with these friends. Most my friendships, really, have revolved around getting drunk together, getting stoned together. But other than my siblings, these friends might be the only ones whose friendships I sustain in the absence of drugs. When I was sick last week, my friends brought over teas and Werther's originals and Alka Seltzer and we played Sequence and laughed so hard snot poured from my nose.

I am going weeks on end between drinks now. One of my friends is sober and she inspires me to enjoy life as it is, without altering my mind to it. Some days I walk to the mailbox and see a brightly colored envelope from a frat member and I rip it open and read it right there in the cold, getting a high off our correspondence. These people have helped me realize my own strength, have listened to me cry when I didn't have any strength left. These friends are satiating my hunger for companionship, teaching me another way to live.

Friendship is my new drug of choice. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

and now a sandwich

It was earlier this week, while I was washing the dishes and Holden was playing with toys in the living room while a Pandora station played that I sighed and thought, "this feels like home." You know: a place to just be. A place that is comfortable. A place where you don't have to pretend.

My computer is plugged in now, my furniture is all moved into place. I decorated the Christmas tree. I bought plants which I water each morning. I keep this place so immaculately clean.

Days are falling into a rhythm.

Brandon tells me where he is going to spend each night, and he's always right.

I had worried about living on my own because of all the administrative work it would require. Steve has always taken care of scheduling repairs, remembering oil changes, paying bills, grocery shopping.

I thought I hated all that stuff. Well it's true I don't necessarily like it but it's also not that awful. I took Holden to the grocery store on Monday when it was quiet. I registered for a class without asking Steve to do it for me. And then today: I went and got my car door repaired on my own. I took care of it all.

Now I'm going to make myself a nice sandwich and eat it on the patio while the sun hits my face.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Friendsgiving

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday. When I was a kid it meant Grandpa's house, for my favorite weekend of the year. In the first two years of college, it meant tacking myself onto someone else's family holiday. Once in Wyoming where I shot a gun at cans in the foothills, once in Saint Louis when I was zig-zag parting my hair. 2005, the year of my baby, when I lived alone in my small apartment in Omaha, my sister came from Wisconsin and stayed with me and we ate smoked turkey bagels and pieced puzzles together.

Since I've been married, we've alternated between my family's Thanksgiving and Steve's, more often Steve's due to convenience.

This year was to be the year of my family's Thanksgiving, but with divorce in full swing and people not yet knowing it, we didn't make plans to head back to the Pacific Northwest. I called my mother on Thanksgiving Eve once the boys were asleep and I heard my newest niece crying and my sister talking and my mother was making her famous rolls and there was so much going on that I wasn't a part of, as usual.

Mom asked if I had anywhere to go for the holiday and I said I did, I have this marvelous friend who not only invited me to her house for this holiday but also was with me on the fourth of July and sends me cards through the mail because she knows those are my absolute favorite. I made green bean casserole and drove to her home where her girls were on the lawn waiting for me. I rolled down the window and said, "can I drop by for dinner?" in an accent and they giggled because they're the most delightful age (ten). There were name cards set on the table in the living room to designate where we each sit and mine was inscribed by one of the twins in the most gorgeous kid affection that I almost cried right there.

Then we ate and I gorged myself on tortilla chips and a cheeseball (which more people should have as an option in the lackluster Thanksgiving spread). Then we toured the small town and played Yahtzee which I lost very miserably (I even had to cross out my Full House). I drove back and thought not of what I was missing by not being with my family, but instead of what a good time I'd had in a Friendsgiving.

And I was thankful for that: the surprises that pop up that we can make the most of or lament.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

upended

There are times when I sit in the garage with the car idling, willing myself to turn off the ignition, drag myself up the stairs, and go about my day.


And then, there are homemade pancakes.


There are times when Brandon is crying to his father, asking when everything is going to go back to normal, when mom is going to move back into the blue house.
There are times Brandon gets disobedient behavior colors at school.

There has been a time at school drop off when Brandon started crying and then I started crying too and his Kindergarten teacher came and wrenched him from my arms and said he could lead the class with her and made him happy and I walked back to my car with the cold wind freezing my tears onto my face, wishing someone would calm me down and make me happy.

We have been upended.

And then, Brandon falls asleep in my arms and his body is warm and his head leaves a sweat mark on my shirt and I smile and lie down in my bed alone with a book and I realize not everything has changed and I can totally do this, I am a strong independent woman.

There are times like today when the boys put on gloves and pretend to be trash men and then they rescue their stuffed animals who they call pets and they are so alive and vibrant and even if they're sad, I know they can pull themselves out of it.


There are times when I sit at my computer, crying into my coffee and Holden says, "I'll make you better" and brings me a blanket and kisses me on the cheek and I think, god damn it, kids really can do everything. They help us, ground us, heal us, fix us, make us realize the length of our problems  Our problems are only as wide as we let them stretch.


But there are times when I open my new garage door and Holden, from the back seat, sighs and says, "home sweet home."

There are times when Brandon takes long showers at my apartment and marvels at the water pressure, how perfect it is, and I record him singing so I can remember that despite what people tell me, that I've ruined our family and destroyed my children, the kids are alright.

Upended, yes.
But not ended.

There is a difference.

There are times I make us my favorite childhood comfort foods for dinner. There are times we eat endless breadsticks at Fazoli's. There are times we eat cereal. There are times we share a bag of Doritos and watch a movie in my bed.

We are feeding ourselves in the ways we know how, as imperfectly as that is.

Still: we are still feeding ourselves.


In this new life so precariously perched in two separate places, we are finding the path that connects them.

I am writing again. Running. Finding my balance.

The boys are doing puzzles and reading library books and sleeping in their new bunk beds.
Keeping their balance.

I am alright, or I will be. The kids are alright, or they will be. Just a little upended for now.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fucking Finally

Whenever I've thought of what I want to do, the only things I ever came up with were writing and teaching.

I have been writing. But we all know that doesn't pay the bills. So I'm dipping my toe into the water of teaching. Just a tiny baby toe. I'm working one afternoon a week, at a high school. There, students meet after school to write and read poetry. In the spring, they will compete in a spoken word poetry competition.

I'm going to be a part of it all.

I was excited yesterday, to be in a room full of people who wanted to write, who are already writing, at fifteen or eighteen. I wish I had been involved in such a thing during high school, to have the healthy outlet for coping with raging hormones and petty friendships. I would've known that there are communities of people who are also passionate about writing and I would've anchored myself in one much sooner. I want to do high school all over again.

These kids are going to write some good fucking poetry. Really good shit. We're going to do it together. It's going to blow all of our minds.

I'm getting paid to write and teach writing. Can you believe it?
I'm thirty-four and I'm finally figuring my life out.

Fucking finally.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Adulting So Hard

This is hard to admit, but here goes:

Steve and I are separating.

To say I'm overwhelmed would be such an understatement.

On Friday, when I walked into the office to get my apartment keys, the office manager said I needed my co-signer with me. So I called Steve who thankfully dropped everything and drove over so I could get into my new place. The office manager asked for the form proving I had set up gas and electric. I had set up neither gas nor electric. She let me in anyway (with gas and power on) even though the paperwork says they won't.

I am so thankful for the kindness of strangers.

The weekend was a whirlwind of hauling boxes up the stairs and unpacking them, of finding new places for old things to go.

On Monday, I drove Brandon to school and then went to Steve's house with my laptop to use his WiFi. I scheduled to have my utilities started. I called to get my own WiFi. I texted Steve to find out what routers and modems are and if I should buy or rent one.

Yesterday, I drove to Lincoln to order a couch. Holden fell asleep in the car so I sat in the parking lot returning emails I had forgotten about, crying. This was my first time missing a school deadline. I woke up Holden and we ordered a couch which won't be here for 8-10 weeks. I bought a chair which we finagled into my car with only one seat down, Holden in the other one. I bought a trash can from the hardware store which rode in the passenger seat. I had so many blind spots: behind me and next to me. I could only see what was going on around me by contorting my neck.

What a perfect metaphor.

I stopped and picked up a router/modem and installed it myself. I have WiFi now.

Last night I stayed up late unpacking the last boxes. I vacuumed the floor, loaded the dishwasher. Today I submitted my workshop materials five days late. I set up automatic bill pay for my utitlies. I made an email folder called "Adulting So Hard."

I am learning to live this way.

Every day is easier than the last.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Halloween 2017

It's always cold here on Halloween.
 
But this was the first year it snowed. Just light snowflakes that didn't stick to much, but snow nonetheless. I looked up into the streetlights and watched them fall as the kids ran from house to house, shivering in the snow, collecting candy.
 
This is embarrassing to admit, but when I was nineteen, I went trick-or-treating in West Omaha to get some candy for my dorm room. I know, I know. I was one of those kids. But I remember I was wearing flip-flops because I hadn't accustomed myself to the weather here, how it gets cold quickly. One day you're wearing flip-flops and the next you're freezing your toes off.
Brandon was a trooper, he could've trick-or-treated all night. But Holden my homebody said, "let's all go home." So we did. And we ate a lot of candy. And watched Charlie Brown. Brandon manned the door and handed out candy to kids much older than him and Steve and I marveled at how big he's become, how grown up sometimes.
But happily, only sometimes.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

why i write


I am overwhelmed sometimes and feel a great deal of wonder at words, just simple words and how deeply we can touch each other with them, though I know that most of the time language is the most abused of all human abilities or traits. 

On the river a few weeks ago, we wrote about why we write.  Here's what I came up with:

I write as a way of wondering aloud about people. Who are we? Why do we act the way we do? What are the traits that connect us, the emotions that fuse us? Although we have such varied experiences, there is a universal humanity that we all share.

How do we move through the world in relation to other people?

We wouldn't be able to navigate completely alone, without those connections that sustain us.

I write to join in. To add to the conversation, sometimes by distracting it: by thinking of it differently, challenging why we are this way--imperfect and flawed. But are we, if there is no perfection, no pinnacle? We are only not good enough when measured against others we think to be better, only OK when measured against who we think to be worse.

There is no scale, no scoring.

We are people moving through the world in ways so differently they can divide us but with motives so identical they could connect us.

*

Writers often seem like loners. And we are, in social ways, a lot of times. But we write as a way to connect to people, to understand ourselves and the people around us. In that way, we are not loners. We just do our work alone.

We use language to fuse ourselves to other people.

But through stories from each other we can feel that we are not alone, that we are not the first and the last to confront loss.

*

All semester, I have been writing my own story. A self-indulgent past time, it feels. But it has been cleansing nonetheless, to say the words I hadn't, admit my faults, wonder aloud about my future.

I am wrapping up what I have to say about myself, but I am not done writing. I will finish out grad school writing fiction again, telling stories.
  
I often wish I had more to say, but somehow it comes out in a story. such as these. 


(Italicized quotes are Leslie Marmon Silko's, pulled from her letters to James Wright. They can be found in The Delicacy and Strength of Lace). 

Friday, October 20, 2017

fly in my coffee

I had plans today: clean the toy room, do the laundry, take the boys to the wildlife safari.

But instead of following them, I allowed spontaneity.

Today was one of the last nice days of the year, before the winter winds blow in, freeze us, coop us up. So we played outside, me and Holden still in our pajamas.

I read Annie Dillard, who is something like a naturalist and a scientist and a writer and a quiet thinker all rolled together. She is the queen bee of being present, of observing.

I put down my book and watched my boys as they played. I noticed what I usually don't: the way the wind ruffles Holden's hair, how in charge Brandon is. I watched a fly land on my leg then fly away, again and again.

Brandon brought out cheese and chips and we had an accidental picnic.

We lived the day as it wanted to be lived.

I drank around the fly in my coffee.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

hear us

Recently, spurred by Harvey Weinstein, women have been posting #metoo online to show how widespread sexual assault and harassment is.

I have not been assaulted, but I know so many women who have been.

I have been harassed, I guess you'd call it, but only with words.

Once, by my boss when I closed down the bar. I went into the office and said, "anything else you need me to do before I leave?" and he spun around in his swivel chair, his bald head shining under the florescent light and said, "you can suck my dick." Wordlessly, I left.

Another time, a co-worker from the Olive Garden came to my apartment between lunch and dinner shifts and while I was filling up Tucker's dog bowl, he said, "are we gonna have sex or what?" and when I looked up, his pants and his sailboat boxers were around his ankles, his arms outstretched. I chose the "or what" and drove him back to work. I never saw him again.

Both times, the men were not aggressive and I had an escape. I am one of the lucky ones.

I know from my friends who have been physically assaulted that the pain is deep and doesn't go away. I know that they feel they can't say anything or shouldn't. I know they feel like it's their fault even though it isn't. I know they feel helpless and afraid to ask for help.

I know I feel helpless, knowing this happens so often to so many. 

So what I'll do is everything I can to keep my boys from turning into demonic men who see women only as sexual objects. I will teach my boys that women are people with the same rights and liberties they have, with brains and humor and ambition. I will teach my boys to appreciate girls for who they are, not what they can offer. I will teach my boys to never use a position of power as a manipulation. I will teach my boys to be gentlemen, not depraved goons.

To the women who haven't had it as good as I have: every day you have been brave and courageous. You are beauty in the world, making it despite the ugliness.

To the women who have had it as good as I have: we are lucky and relatively unscathed but don't let that blind you to what is happening around us. Let us raise our sons to be better. Let us rally around women who haven't had it so easy. Let us teach our daughters they have a voice and we want to hear them.

We are women, hear us roar, howl, wail, and growl.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Q317 songs

Dark Side - Bishop Briggs
Habits of my Heart - Jaymes Young
Summertime Sadness - Lana Del Ray
White Lightning - The Cadillac Three
False Alarm - The Head and the Heart
Like I'm Gonna Lose You - Jasmine Thompson
No Diggity - Chet Faker
Bloodstream - Stateless
Sparks - Coldplay
The Night we Met -Lord Huron
Copycat - Billie Eilish
Dive - Ed Sheeran
Feel it Still - Portugal. The Man

Monday, October 2, 2017

writing on the river

This weekend I spent on the Missouri River, at a writer's retreat. A writer's retreat is a place full of artists, other tribe members. These retreats exist so we can be learn from each other, inspire one another, read, write, and watch the birds fly south overhead.
On the first night, we each wrote on three scraps of paper what we were leaving behind: a role, maybe, like mother or wife or job title. Or maybe it was grief or blockage or being a public figure or guilt or chores.
We dropped our scraps of paper into a jar and Karen screwed the lid on tight. We gave ourselves permission to focus on writing, to do writerly things.
We have to do this, give ourselves permission to focus on what doesn't pay bills and what doesn't serve anyone else (yet), but what is important because it fuels us, this exploration, how we find our place in the world.
Because then we go back to our lives and our roles, the ones that distract us from our writing but also give us something to write about, fuel us differently. We are finding our place, these misfits who write because we must, it's a current running through us.