Just beneath the surface of normal

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To Give Is Human

Today is Giving Tuesday, which I think is an incredibly awesome idea. That a Friday pseudo-holiday dedicated to shopping is a thing is beyond disturbing to me. Holidays are commodified enough without rubbing away the thin veneer of illusion that holidays are about anything other than consumerism.

Though I have to admit, I do like to shop for gifts. I would pretty much always rather buy things for other people than for myself.

I learned to love giving when I was about eight. It was the first time I had any money, and I biked my three dollars and change a mile down a major road (because it was the early 80s and people didn’t freak out about kids running about on their own yet) to the Hallmark store and bought stickers for everyone on my Christmas list. Stickers, in case you didn’t know, were EVERYTHING in 1983. Hallmark had a wall with dozens of rolls of fancy stickers and you could buy them one at a time for your sticker collection, most for less than a dollar.


Hush – we didn’t have the Internet to keep us occupied yet. Also, don’t judge until you’ve known the brilliant shine of a new City Cats sticker.

I spent hours at the sticker rolls trying to select just the right sticker for each person, never once stopping to think that pretty much no adult on the planet particularly wanted a foil-backed rainbow sticker, no matter how carefully chosen. All I knew was how good it felt to be giving things to people I loved.

Likewise, my first inappropriate credit card binge/debt hole was from buying really nice Christmas presents for everyone I loved (proving that yes, Virginia, you CAN make giving a narcissistic activity).

Fast forward to today: my mom is sick. The short version is that she was born with a whole lot of issues with her large intestine. Sometimes they put her in bed for extended periods of time. Having been in bed for extended periods of time myself, I know how depressing that is. So I sent her a care package. Before you go “aww,” the care package included this:


Because of course it exists.

In addition to cheering her up, I now get to say “mother, don’t wear your colon like a scarf,” AND I get a lovely (if rather plushily graphic) picture of her suggesting that I kiss her ass to use as her contact photo. See? Generosity just pays and pays.

But even when you never find out who benefits or how much joy or relief it brought them, giving is always still worth it. Giving helps us remember that we’re all connected by our humanity and part of a community far larger than our brains are capable of comprehending. And as Terry Pratchett said, “sin…is when you treat people as things.” Today’s as good a day as any to remember to treat people like people by making sure they have the things they need to get by.

Whether you want to give to someone’s personal crisis fundraiser, or a well-rated charity in someone’s name or memory, or donate fancy gourmet brownie mix to your local food pantry/shelter/kitchen, or a pair of novelty Bad-Ass socks to a random homeless person on the street, go exercise your humanity today by acknowledging theirs. And then maybe again tomorrow. And the day after that. And maybe we could just start treating everybody like people every day. that would be something to celebrate.


Or, you know, not.

But for real: don’t wear your colon like a scarf.

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On Being Sensitive to Immeasurable Suffering

I’m the first to admit that I’m more than a little too empathetic. I have always had to curate what I watch on tv and in the movies, because I have a terrible sense of what they call “suspension of disbelief.” Basically I have a hard time feeling the difference between what is happening to characters and what is happening to me personally.

As you can imagine, I was the life of the fucking slumber party at 10. All my friends wanted to watch Nightmare on Elm Street for the 97th time, and I was like, “can’t we just rent Desperately Seeking Susan again? Or how about Earth Girls Are Easy?” I very quickly learned to look away and just fall asleep during horror movies, because otherwise I would lie awake terrified in a strange house positive that every sound was someone trying to kill us, while my friends drifted off obliviously. Also I spent my summers living in the woods with my dad. Friday the 13th basically rendered my entire environment potentially dangerous. Hell, I was even afraid of running into E.T. out there (at seven, I spent over half of E.T. in the lobby of the theater, because it scared the fuck out of me). So violent or scary movies were not ever really part of my growing up. I loved Star Trek and Steve Martin and Danger Mouse – sanitary sci-fi, comedies, and clever cartoons.

Even then I couldn’t always protect myself. When X-Men came out, I sat on the curb afterward and sobbed because Rogue not being able to touch anyone ever was the saddest possible thing I could imagine. My first husband was like, “oh my God, are you serious right now? It’s X-Men! It’s fantasy. It’s for KIDS! Get up and let’s go home.”

When Lord of the Rings came out, I only went because my best friend promised to help me through it. She would hold on to my hand and say “this part is going to be really violent, but it doesn’t last very long. Close your eyes and I will tell you when it’s over.” And she would squeeze my hand while the noises got scary, but I knew what was coming so I could handle it. And I was really glad I got to see LoTR, because it was fucking brilliant.

But this post isn’t supposed to be about movies. I wish it were, because even though I get caught up in them, movies aren’t real. What is real is the waves and waves of suffering the news keeps washing up. Today a hotel in Mali is taken hostage. Before that, Syria, Paris, Nigeria, Beiruit, and on and on and on – people in terror, grief, and pain. Bloody devastation everywhere. Except in these cases I can’t just turn away until it’s over, because it will never be over. There has always been pain and rage and loss. Someone is always plotting revenge for their own grief in a cycle of suffering that every religion tells some kind of story about, because it’s pretty much always been there.

When I turned on the radio and heard today’s tragedy, I climbed back into bed and pulled the covers over my head, just for a minute, just to turn away and find comfort so that I could go out into that world and not get overwhelmed by its pain. That sense of agency is a luxury plenty of people in the world don’t have right now, and that’s what got me back up and moving. People without blankets or food. Without the people they love to touch them, without sanitation, without a home, without a sense of power. I wish there were a way to love the world whole and bring peace, and it’s an entirely selfish wish because I can’t seem to stop imagining the sort of suffering that leads to that level of heartless violence, or the suffering that reaction engenders. So I walk around raw and heartbroken, because that’s what I imagine it feels like in their shoes.

I think I understand why Buddhists pray for the immeasurables – because they don’t fucking know what else to do in the face of mountains and mountains of pain, relentlessly piling up across the planet every day forever. I don’t either, so let me add my voice:

May all beings have happiness
and the causes of happiness;
May all beings be free from suffering
and the causes of suffering;
May all beings never be separated from
the happiness that knows no suffering;
May all beings live in equanimity,
free from attachment and aversion.

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Sometimes You Just Have to Maraud

Every marriage has its own weird language that’s kind of hard to explain to outsiders. I’m going to try to explain a bit of ours so that I can tell you a story.

First of all, Jim came to me with the nickname Bear. That’s what Corinne called him, which conveniently sidestepped the whole complicated “what do you call the step-dad” mess. Together we have a number of bears, and there are many stories told about their antics, including the absurd lengths to which they will go to procure hidden sweets in the house. When something is askew, we nod to each other knowingly and whisper, “bears.” When I get overwhelmed – which happens to me sometimes – he says “your bear is right here if you need him,” and it is really incredibly comforting.

Early on, I tried to be a bear too. It never quite fit, though I had my momma bear moments when the world would fuck with my kid. We tried on a few things, and I don’t even remember any more how we landed on tiger, or why it was a secret. But I am the Secret Tiger (except it’s not a secret any more, I guess – I’ve always been horrible with secrets. Never give me secrets unless you explicitly tell me to forget as soon as you’re done telling me, which I can do, but I can’t hold onto a secret for any period of time. This is why I do my holiday shopping at the last minute).  When Jim gets overwhelmed, I say “tigers are standing by” and he finds it incredibly comforting.

It’s not THAT unusual.

After a decade, a whole lore and language has arisen around our alter-egos. I have other friends who have evolved other versions, and I suspect it’s a common thing in intimate relationships.

Anyway, today we had to run errands, but we were both feeling overwhelmed. Unfortunately, the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon was pretty much unavoidable, even though we just needed one thing. We made a plan:

Jim: We’re just going to get in and get out. No browsing today.
Me: Right. We’re marauding.
Jim: YES! Let’s maraud!
Me: Rawr!
Jim: we’re more-odding. Those people are less-odding, but we’re more-odding.
Me: none more odd!

And that’s how we made it through there in 10 minutes with nobody dropping everything and running. Afterwards there were celebratory fist bumps. Now we are sitting at home in the quiet for a few minutes before we do the next Thing Which Must Be Done.

There really is nothing in the world like someone you can be vulnerable with.

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Greeting Cards: Now With Actual Empathy

Today is the 11th day I’ve been sick. Today is the day I woke up with pinkeye. What the hell? Do childless adults even GET pinkeye? Probably they do when their doctors blew off their symptoms a week ago and they have a festering sinus infection. How is that doctors under age 30 are even a thing? I should be able, by virtue of my damn life experience as ME, be a slightly greater authority on my body than your diagnostic software and your still-damp medical license. I’m just sayin’.

"How long have you been having these symptoms, doo-doo head?"

“How long have you been having these symptoms, doo-doo head?”

Anyway, after two delightful days at work (that’s how you know it’s bad – when you’re so sick of being sick that you say fuck it and go to work because at least you can be sick somewhere less boring), I’m back home on the couch in my bathrobe, feeling my eyelashes stick together every time I blink, and surfing the Internet.

One of my favorite things about social media is that despite being sort of a shut-in, I get to find out about neat things. The work of Emily McDowell is one of the neatest things I’ve found out about in awhile (though evidently she’s been making them since May, because viral is weird that way). They’re greeting cards for vulnerable, emotionally intelligent people! Why is there not more of this in the world?! Why do other greeting cards even need to exist anymore? The entire greeting card aisle is fired.

This is the best thing ever. I will probably never be that pithy, but I really wish I were.

If I were going to get a card right now (or ever), I would want it to be one of Emily’s. I am trying to avoid buying everything in her shop in my vulnerable state; so far I have loaded up my cart, but not hit check out. So…it’s not looking good for me. However it’s looking pretty amazing for Ms. McDowell.


Almost – But Not Entirely – Unlike Soup

I’ve come down with some kind of yuck that makes it very hard for me to think clearly, but unless my friends are pranking me and this is complete gibberish, I’m still expressing myself well enough to blog about an incredibly pressing issue: the sad dearth of pre-made gluten-free chicken noodle soup.

Do not for a moment, ye gluten eaters, take for granted how easy it is to get your hands on passable chicken noodle soup when you get sick. It is a privilege – a luxury even. If not for the bloating and dehydration that comes with gluten, even when I take Gluten Cutter (which only avoids the migraine part of the adventure), I would be eating real chicken noodle soup even now. But bloating and dehydration are not a sick person’s friend.

Soup is good-GOD, what just happened to your waistline?! Are you possessed?

Last time I got sick, I lamented my situation such that I vowed, with God as my witness, that I would never go soupless again. I bought a couple of cans of gluten free chicken noodle soup (which will henceforth be referred to as CNS, because typing is hard when you’re sick) and smiled smugly to myself every time I saw them in the pantry, knowing they would be there in my time of need.

My time of need arrived today. Jim dutifully heated me up said CNS upon my request, and I was excited enough that I even came downstairs to eat it. Which was frankly a lot more fanfare than that soup of the damned deserved.

Pictured: an abomination.

Aside from the inevitable spongy cubes of chicken-like material – which certainly serve their purpose in providing chicken flavoring to the soup, but are not edible in their own right – that seem to grace most canned soups, this soup was…wrong. It was almost like CNS, except…not. It is the uncanny valley of sick food. Not wrong enough to stop me from eating it, but definitely wrong enough to stop me from enjoying it, or from accepting it as The Real Deal.

Once my head stops unleashing lightning bolts of pain, I will have to make goddamn GFCNS from goddamn scratch and freeze it so that I can eat reasonably decent soup like a civilized sniffling zombie in a bathrobe the next time I get sick. Except by then it will probably be freezer-burned, and I’ll have that to resent instead – but It will still be better than this depressing canned horror.

Take it from me: next time you get sick, remember to deeply appreciate your soup being there for you. Because there may come a day when it won’t be. May your day never, ever come.


This is Probably Why I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Much

Jim and I are pretty hardcore homebodies. If there were an Olympic-level competition for Couples’ Introverting, we’d be guaranteed to at least bring home the bronze. That said, a friend of mine has an annual pumpkin carving party that we’ve never made it to, and we decided to finally go this year. It was BYOP(umpkin), so I decided to pick out the most misshapen pumpkin Aldi had on offer for $2.99. I was not disappointed.

Me: OMG, it looks like a butt!
Jim: (accusingly) are you going to carve a butt-pumpkin?
Me: No, that’s the low-hanging fruit. Surely I can do something more creative than that. Also, holy crap, the stem looks like a boner! Choices, choices.
Jim: Are you really going to get that thing?
Me: TOTALLY!!! How could you not?! Also, nobody else will. It’s like the gimpy cat at the shelter that nobody wants. Isn’t that sad?

Fast forward to Saturday night at the carving table, with me turning the pumpkin in all sorts of directions, waiting for inspiration. My friend Jodi walks up.

Jodi: Whatcha doin?
Me: Trying to figure out how I want to carve this suggestive pumpkin.
Jodi:  Oh! just turn it on its side, like this…., draw a hand *here* and *here* and pop them out 3-D like. Voila!
Me: Oh. My. God. That is BRILLIANT. Thank you!!
Jodi: See, this is why we’re friends.

I had some trouble with dismembered fingers, but in the end (ha!), I think it was a success.

Butt Pumpkin

I give you: Goatse Pumpkin. The red candle wax was totally accidental – there had been another pumpkin there earlier, and I guess it leaked. I did not make some kind of bloody santorum pumpkin, because that would be gross. Unlike my gourd butthole, which is comparatively classy.

And then I stepped back and looked at it in among the happy, family-friendly pumpkins (because there were a TON of kids there) and the creative masterpieces and I thought, “yeah, this might have something to do with my empty dance card.”

pumpkin party

Pictured: how normal people carve pumpkins. Not pictured: butt pumpkin.


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