Just beneath the surface of normal

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Fixing a Hole (Not for the Squeamish)

I swear this isn’t just an excuse to talk about my vagina – that’s just a special bonus. This is a public service message for all the moms I know and don’t know whose junk was totally ruined by having babies. I spent the last fifteen years suffering from stress incontinence, and this is the story of how I discovered that it was needless.

It all started in August when I went to visit my mother to help her with the two step-grandchildren she and her husband found themselves unexpectedly fostering. I could write a novel-length aside about that whole saga, but I’m going to skip over it for now because it’s more tragic than funny, and I have to leave some good material in the event that someone actually reads this blog and likes it enough to offer me a book deal on a memoir.

Anyway, mom picked me up at the airport in Milwaukee and we hit the Perkins because when you get on a plane at six o’clock in the damn morning, you’re legitimately allowed to have Second Breakfast. We caught up over eggs and copious amounts of coffee, because if a plane departs at 6 AM and another plane is moving 500 miles per hour in the opposite direction, and you live 30 minutes from the airport, at what point does the time you have to get up cease being considered “morning” and qualify for “middle of the damn night”? 3:30 AM, that’s when.

So yeah, gallons of coffee. Followed by an urgent visit to the ladies’ room, where there was a small billboard on the wall of the stall which essentially said, “Worried you wouldn’t make it in time? Call our Uro-gynecology office!”

Fortunately there was no one in the bathroom when I responded to the sign out loud: “Uro-gynecology? That’s a thing? You’ve GOT to be kidding me. I’ve only been telling my doctors for the past fifteen years that I pee a little when I sneeze. Assholes.” Especially the one that kept complimenting me on having natural childbirth after tricking me into taking an opiate and then almost missed the part where the baby fell out. Seriously, fuck him.

A couple months went by, with many exciting episodes of “achoo! DAMMIT!” and that weird thing that happens when I wear my Diva Cup and it crowds out my urethra and I have to push on my bladder to pee. Because for some reason it comes out when I don’t want it to, but not when I do. Since we’re handing out Asshole Cards, here’s one for you, bladder. So after an incident in which I bit my tongue trying not to sneeze, I finally found a doctor and got an appointment for three months later.

I picked her because she ‘s a teacher and because she goes to Africa and does pelvic surgery on women who are so disfigured and incontinent – both urinally AND fecally – from fistulas formed in childbirth that they are cast out of their villages and left to fend for themselves, leaving their children motherless. It’s horrible. She goes to put their insides back together so that they can rejoin their communities. Which, I don’t know how that reconciliation would even work, I mean, like, “oh hey, Kala, sorry about the whole traumatizing you and your children and nearly starving both of you to death over your whole poo problem, but hey, bygones, right?” seems sort of hard to swallow, but I guess if you need a community to survive and you just want your life back, you suck it up. But so she started a foundation so that more of these surgeries could happen. How could she not be awesome?

She totally was. AND she used to be an engineer, so we had immediate geek chemistry. I saw her three weeks ago.

I got a little anxious when her medical assistant called me back and she was a little person, which almost stopped me in my tracks because I’d never seen a dwarf gyno assistant before, but suddenly it made perfect. sense. But I started to panic that I would say or do something accidentally offensive, like “how awesome is it that you’re already at vagina level?” but instead I just got a drop of pee on the outside of the cup, which I felt the need to announce and apologize for in the common area because I didn’t want her to accidentally touch it, and that pretty well filled my mortification card for the day and put me at ease, especially since she was so nice about it.

I waited long enough that I read every label in the room three times and finally wrapped myself up in the paper sheet to get my phone, which of course calls doctors in like they’re dog whistles. The doctor came in seconds later, busted me with my phone, and asked me how I found her, at which point I had to explain that I was there because of a billboard in a bathroom stall at a Perkins in Milwaukee. Jim told me not to because it I might as well just say, “well, I saw a bunch of surgical tools in an alley so I decided to have an abortion,” but I’m compulsively honest and it just sort of came out.

Of all the things I imagined her saying in response to my admission, the words “which doctor, do you remember?” were not even on the emergency tertiary backup list. I kicked myself for not taking a picture of the billboard.

So we talked about pee for awhile – which I swear was totally germane and not just a casual conversation – and then she lifted the hood and started prodding around, and then she said the thing you never, ever want to hear a doctor with that much experience say: “whoa.”

Me: Um. Whoa?

Dr.: Are you having your period?

Me: …no…?

Dr.: You’re totally bleeding. Like, a lot. I barely touched your cervix and now it’s really bleeding.

Me: Oh, yeah, sorry – it just does that. I bleed when I poo, I bleed when I have sex, I bleed when I ovulate, I bleed when it’s a bit windy out. I spot more days than I don’t.

It’s like I was describing my old Nissan that I had to park on hills so I could start it by popping the clutch. It was broken, but it was my normal. Nobody ever mentioned it being a fixable problem before, and I definitely mention it on all patient intake forms.

Dr.: Um…yeah, that’s not normal. I’m going to send you to see a Gyno-oncologist.

Me: What, now? Like, vagina cancer??

Dr.: OH – jeez, no. I think you might have polyps.

Assistant: ooh, I went to see her for polyps a few years back, it was awesome! I used to bleed all the time like you do & she took out 26 of them and now I’m fine. I promise, it’ll be great. Best thing that ever happened to me.

I then had a brief and complicated fantasy involving Glinda the good witch and the women of the Lollipop Guild and polyps, for which I am most certainly going straight to hell.

So she prescribed me some physical therapy to fix my “pelvic floor disorder” which is really just a fancy medical way of saying “dude, your junk is totally jacked” and something called “hypermobile urethra” – which seriously should be the name of a sports car – and gave me a referral for the polyps.

This week I went to my first day of Physical Therapy, which we’ll cover in Part II, in which we learn that not only are there special doctors for jacked junk, there are also special physical therapists, and mine mostly works with old lady junk. Stay tuned. Because with a teaser like “old lady junk” how could you NOT?



Oxygen Deprivation is a Terrible Muse

Holy nipple-cubes, Batman, it is effing COLD in here. It’s so cold it’s hard to type. Or maybe that’s just the carbon monoxide talking.

Jim insisted on turning off the thermostat because the basement is full of the smell of fuel oil and he works down there and something about carbon monoxide poisoning that I can’t really remember because I started thinking about how nice it would be to take a nap. But the upshot is that it’s 63 goddamn degrees in my house. I’ve got on my tall boots that smell like tires and seem to radiate their own heat, my warmest sweater, my panty hat, and am wrapped in a blanket, and I’m still cold. The cat keeps barking at me and looking at me pleadingly to just fix it.

I called the oil company to have them send out someone to take a look at the furnace, but I got the girl I’ve dubbed Paris Hilton, who can only be the owner’s relative (or possibly mistress) and possibly permanently damaged by carbon monoxide herself, because she’s so inept that nobody who came about that job the normal way would still be employed. The last time I called it was also a Friday afternoon, but it was snowing heavily and we had just run completely and unexpectedly out of oil. She told me that she would send someone out the next day & then hung up without taking my name, so I couldn’t really see how she would send anyone out to us at all, ever. So I called back and got the with-it but incredibly-put-upon-sounding (clearly for good reason) phone lady who took my name and sent someone out immediately because she had an actual grasp of the existential gravity of no oil on a Friday evening during a very windy snowstorm.

So anyway, Paris answered again this time & helpfully informed me that she’d send someone out today. She didn’t say approximately when or anything, she just casually doomed me to an afternoon of waiting and freezing to death in the Carbon Monoxide Caves of Doom. Fortunately with-it lady called back a little later to say that the repair guy is on his way, but I’m seriously trying desperately not to fall asleep between now and then, because Jim went off to the gym and I don’t want to be in a cryogenic coma when the furnace repair guy shows up.

So I’m keeping myself alive by writing this post, even though I keep hitting the wrong keys or accidentally typing the wrong words, and it’s taken me like four times too long to type this out than it should have. But that’s probably okay since the repair guy STILL isn’t here and the thermostat has dropped another degree since I started typing, and I’m seriously so fucking tired I could drop. If I fail, there will be a trail as to why that won’t implicate Jim and he can move on and remarry and not rot in prison for a homicide he didn’t commit. Although it’s also entirely possible this post isn’t even in English. Suddenly I think I understand what happened to that spam poster.

Between this, the toilet incident, and the fact that my thermostat fell off the wall and stopped heating the house in the middle of the night twice this week, I’m beginning to think I’m going to need an old priest and a young priest.


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“I Similar” to What, Exactly?

When you start getting gibberish spam posts, does that mean things are going well, or just that you’ve been online long enough for the bots to find you? This morning I found this affront to all things right and grammatical:

“I similar to the helpful information you present into your articles.I’ll bookmark your blog website and check yet again here repeatedly.I’m rather absolutely sure I’ll discover an awful lot of latest stuff right listed here! Fantastic luck for your following!”

I don’t know what to take from this. You’re similar to the information presented as in, you’re weird, neurotic, and inappropriate? If so, bless your heart for finding it helpful. Or, since this blog is pretty much about me, are you saying you’re like me? OMG, you guys, is my usage really THAT bad? I mean, I know my sentences can run a marathon, but I like to think that they are at least followable (on the other hand, Word Press’ spellcheck has just about given up on me: “Followable? You know what, just forget it.”).

Maybe this used to be a perfectly articulate person who is suffering something far beyond “Engineering looks nice” levels of writers block.

Or maybe spambots need Strunk and White too.

…So I just spent a half hour searching for images that I could Photoshop into a spambot holding up a copy of Elements of Style with steam coming out of its head. And then I remembered that I have no clean dishes and that there are still boards on the living room floor from this weekend’s partially completed Operation Cheap Ikea Shelves in the Attic and realized I should probably come to my senses. Except now I have pictures on my desktop of a robot head, a can of spam, an open book, and the cover of Elements of Style, along with pictures of The Albino, a hand holding a knife, and Charlie Sheen. If Charlie Sheen ever gets knifed by a spambot or an albino, my laptop will be the most misleadingly damning evidence ever.

Could you just sort of pretend that the picture I never photoshopped is here, and that it’s freaking hilarious? Thanks. My attic and I owe you one.

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No, I Actually Am Crazy

Ugh, you guys, I am having the worst shame hangover after all that putting myself out there. Tuesday was awesome: I conquered my fear and asked an important person for an interview for my book, AND I set myself up as a product on Facebook to start really publicizing myself and regularly having more readers than I can count on my available digits. It was major progress, and I was so proud that I told everyone who would listen how great I was doing, which I should so know better than to do because…

…then I froze.

Fortunately I was scheduled to see my therapist that day (which I totally forgot about in the midst of my panic attack and wound up being fifteen minutes late for) and so I got to ask why I get all fuzzy-headed and spacey when it’s time to start getting into this business for realz. He made me do all that head-trippy stuff I always have to do with him: clear a space, see what comes up between me and feeling fine, blah, blah, blah, BORING. Why do I even pay this guy when he makes ME do all the work? He’s like a mechanic for crazy – isn’t HE supposed to fix me?

But I was there & the session was paid for, so I figured what the hell.

I focused on my breathing – which is actually kind of hard and sometimes it makes my hyper-ventilate to focus on it too much, unless I pretend that I’m the ocean and my breath is like waves full of giant, man-eating squids rising and falling, and I can’t believe I just told you something that airy-fairy (is it? it’s about water, so shouldn’t it be watery-fatery? No. actually it shouldn’t. Forget I ever said that). But so I cleared a space in my mind and tried to connect with the part of me that goes all foggy when it’s time to write. I was rewarded with a great fuzzy cloud of bzzzzz and the urge to curl up in the chair and take a nap, which began to look like an excellent use of over a hundred bucks. But I sat with that feeling, which is what I’m supposed to do, trying to be present to it like I’m being supportive of a friend having a little freak-out and not watching a crazy imaginary drama happening inside my own head.

What happened next was like….okay, did you ever play with binoculars when you were a kid? Where you turn that little dial on the nose-bridge back and forth really fast and it would go in and out of focus? My brain did that. Inside my own head. Without my permission. What the hell, brain? The weirdest part was that evidently that was good news, because it meant that my fuzzy part (the part that makes my head go out of focus, not my vagina, which would have been really inappropriate) was responding to me.

Without boring you with psychobabble details, we (well, technically he, but if I’m going to have to do all this work I’m taking some of the damn credit) figured out was that this part is trying to protect me from shame and judgment. So going all fuzzy headed means I can’t write because I can’t think through what to say or manage delayed punchlines or anything like that. Which means that you don’t have to read and I don’t have to be vulnerable and everyone wins, except for the part of me that actually wants to be a successful (and dare I hope, someday paid) writer, and you if you came here looking for something new to read. Which sounds a lot like “nobody wins,” come to think of it. Especially when the shame and judgment comes from the inside as much as the outside, so it’s not like I’m escaping anything and the longer I go without posting anything the more I beat myself up.

On the other hand, in the past week I have: installed Ikea shelves in the attic and started organizing them, stowed all the holiday crap, balanced the household budget (precariously), helped a friend work on marketing his music, volunteered extra hours, made cupcakes, had quality time with my teen during her two half-days last week, gone to the gym four times, read all of Pinterest and Facebook, and let my friend try out her new body wrap business thing on me (which is sort of like having a piece of paper covered in vapo-rub saran wrapped to your middle for 45 minutes, but it made my tattoo darker again and my stretch marks kinda disappear, so that’s nice, but now there’s the awkward part where I don’t want to get one every week because I don’t get a manicure or shave my legs every week either). So I can say this for avoiding writing: it sure does make me productive.

You know, unless you count writing.

So in the interest of not going a-whole-nother week without posting anything, and shutting my internal Judge Judy’s pie-hole, here is yet another post about how fucking hard it is to write. Engineering, man. It’s looking better all the time.

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Writing and Existential Terror (not a particularly funny post, sorry)

Okay, I think I just figured out what all that writer’s block was about.

It seems like that post last night worked, because I picked a chapter for my book this morning. Feeling like a badass engineer, I happily dove into some research, which made me realize that there’s someone I need to interview and make a chapter for in my book in order to pull a lot of the elements together, and because talking to people who are interesting is a lot of what makes Gladwell so readable, and that’s sort of my model for this book. So I wrote this man, who serves on a lot of really prominent boards of directors, and does a lot of other Big Deal movey-shakey things and said (more or less), “hi. you don’t know me and I have essentially no credentials whatsoever beyond writing for free on the internet and getting an A on my senior history research paper, but I want to write about you in my book. Can I schedule to come shadow you for a day and learn about who you are and what you do?”

And now I am having a panic attack. Not a little case-of-the-vapors panic attack, but a great, oceanic-waves-of-energy-and-self-doubt level panic attack, with palpitations and profuse sweating. And for some reason it seems like a good idea to share this in public because I’m so freaking coherent right now.

I guess every writer struggles with self-worth. Every writer looks at the finished product of a work they admire and asks “who am I to think I am capable of this?” And I like to believe that every book I admire was written by someone who once looked at the writers who came before them and asked, “who am I to think I am capable of this?” and then fucking did it anyway. If they can get through that, then so can I.

Because really? I am capable of this. Those guys probably knew they were, too. What I’m less sure about is my value. How will I, as a drop in an ocean of unpublished works, ever get the attention of a publisher (and then readers), and make all this work worthwhile? Is getting published the only arbiter of a work’s value? Of mine?

Ah, there it is.

This is the work I’m in right now: owning my power. Feeling my value as intrinsic. My therapist makes me do awful stuff like accept progress I’ve made and feel good about it so that I can get the hang of what that feels like to own being awesome. I hate him. Sort of. Not really. I just hate this. It’s terrifying.

Because what if I’m not that great? What if I make a total ass of myself, or worse, what if nobody cares? I struggle so much with feeling invisible; it’s one of the few things that really pisses me off. And yet, I spend so much energy trying to make myself invisible, to fly under the radar, unless I’m absolutely positive that I am The Best. I have made my entire value as a human being dependent on the validation of others, and it’s the hardest habit I’ve ever had to break.

And, oh brilliant me, I have managed to set it up so that breaking that precise habit is the only possible way I can succeed/avoid having a day job. I’ve bumped up against the possibility of this several times in other venues, and backed away panicking from the edge. But this book, this really means something to me. Enough that I have no choice but to jump. Enough that if he doesn’t reply to my request, I will try again. And probably again after that.

Because I’m an author – that’s what I do.


Writing About Not Writing (Gives You a Headache)

Holy crap, you guys. I set myself up to work on my book all day today and I thwarted myself at every single turn. I took a nap, I did some web surfing, I did research into how to submit an article to Cracked (which is a lot harder than you might imagine). But I didn’t even get beyond opening the document in terms of my book.

I know how to do this. It’s not a comedy book, it’s research. It’s journalism. I’ve been doing it for years. Hell, I majored in history; it’s like falling off a fucking log to write like this. My senior research paper was an extra twelve pages long for no good reason.

And yet, every time I sit down I get lost and forty minutes later I’m all, “what was I doing here again?” just like when I walk in the door at Lowe’s. I have run out of Facebook posts to read. And Pinterest. I’m starting to think about browsing Twitter, for fuck’s sake.

I can’t STAND Twitter. I know I’m supposed to need it to pimp my blog so I’m sort of trying to figure it out, but where Facebook seems like a giant cocktail party consisting of everyone you’ve ever known, Twitter is like that scene in The Lonely Guy where it pans out and you see that every roof has someone on it shouting someone’s name into the night. Something like 71% of Tweets go unread. And yet, it’s purported to be this great connector.

When I post to Twitter, it’s probably for one of three reasons: WordPress has posted a new essay for me, I’m yelling at Twitter for doing something annoying, or I am pointlessly replying to a celebrity like some kind of squeeing groupie. Which means Twitter is pretty much nothing but an exercise in embarrassing myself. I figured out in junior high that trying to get the popular kids to notice me was a pointless exercise (except for that one time when I wrote “you’re sucha cow!” in everyone’s yearbook, which I thought was a compliment because I like cows – they’re pretty funny, really, and that’s certainly how I took it when I saw it written in my own yearbook, which was why I was copying it into everyone else’s yearbook that year in the first place). Which is to say I’ve never had much of a clue as to what is cool or will be well-received so why am I here, 25 years later, doing more or less the same damn thing?

Instead I come here and complain to you, because it’s still better than staring up the Matterhorn that is my book, it’s peak obscured by fog and its slopes stalked by vicious man-eating capybaras. Which doesn’t even make sense because the internet says that capybaras are semi-aquatic and not really cut out for mountain climbing. Maybe I don’t mean capybaras? Or maybe the internet is wrong. But it’s such a cute word I can’t stop saying it. Especially because if I do, I might have to write something. Other than “capybara,” I mean.

What is it with writers and avoiding writing? You don’t ever hear an Engineer say, “yeah, I’ve had Engineer’s Block for days, dude. I mean, sure, I sketch on the internet- but I have never fully engineered a thing. I’m an Engineer at heart, thwarted and tortured. But I’ve made three soufflés and cleaned out the linen closet rather than engineer this week.” No, they assault their cardiovascular system with thirty gallons of red-bull-spiked espresso and build a fucking skyscraper to Mars with flying buttresses and a zero-gravity swimming pool on top. So is “writer” just a nice way of saying, “too flaky to even apply for mental health disability”?

You answer. I’m running out for Red Bull.

Wow, thanks, Red Bull. We evidently had really different ideas of how this works. You really shouldn’t have. Really.


UPDATE: I picked a chapter to work on. It wasn’t so bad. Now I have a list of questions to research. One step at a time.