Not Part of the Plan

life-is-what-happens-to-you-while-you-re-busy-making-other-plans-1-777x350June was a big month for me. We moved into a new home, we blended families. Sitting firmly in mid July now, I can say that things are going really well. We’ve settled into a dance of driving everyone to where they need to be and picking up and dropping off and dinners and baths and bedtimes for a family of five.

Five, not six.

It’s taken me a bit of time to process this turn of events, hence my writing absence.

Moving weekend finally arrived. The plan was for Norm and I to drive the four hours to pick up Callie and bring her up to Chicagoland to join us in this new start. The next day, the movers would come to Norm’s house to pack him up as I packed up my moving truck, and we’d all meet at the new house. That was the plan, anyway.

Saturday morning, Norm and I hopped in my car and started the roadtrip. I was giddy. On the way, we talked about how excited we were. The things we’d do this summer. We laughed, remembering how I lied to my parents about going out to dinner with friends instead of actually going out with Norm those first few dates, and how far we’d come.

“My boobs hurt,” I complained.

“Maybe you’re pregnant,” said Norm.

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Words in My Hair

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Girl with Wild Word Hair, by Lesley Dill

Last weekend, we visited the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. Set in the pleasant green hills of Lincoln, MA along Flints Pond, it’s just a short drive from home and a calm, lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon, even with two kids who tried to climb all of the sculptures in the Sculpture Park. Naturally, this is not allowed, despite the fact that many of them beg to be ascended. For instance, there was the tipped-over four-wheeler encircled by ruts carefully dug into the otherwise-perfect lawn – it was understandably hard for them to stay off that one.

We haven’t been to an art museum in quite a while, and now I remember why: my kids run through everything. They stayed well away from the art indoors, and we were able to steer them away from the art outside, but they went at such a pace that I didn’t really get to look closely at anything. The only sculpture I actually stopped and stared at for several seconds was the above, a part of the Lesley Dill exhibit that’s at the deCordova until October 13th. Everything about the woman with letters floating around her head really appealed to me. I love the idea of someone who works with language having the alphabet literally trapped, tangled, in her hair. It seems indicative of the creative process, the way you try to get your sentences and paragraphs right and, so often, fail many times to catch the right words until you’ve plugged away at it for hours, for days, for weeks. There you are, with everything ready to say and stacked up in your brain, and you can’t sort out how to say it. I’ve never seen that visualized so bluntly before. Continue reading

Iggy Azalea is NOT the Realist OR, Blackthroat is the new Blackface

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First things first, I’m the realist.” -Iggy Azalea

I’d like to make the argument that no, Iggy, you are not the realist. Not even close.

Like a lot of people, the first time I heard of Iggy Azalea was on the radio. Fancy came on and I thought, who is this? I pictured what I thought she might look like, and I pictured an African American female. I heard her again on Ariana Grande’s song Problem and thought ok, this is the New Girl, I gotta Google. I did not expect her to look like she does, meaning quite bluntly, a white woman. Continue reading

Going to the Trampoline

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Last week, my son’s friends asked if he was allowed to “go to the trampoline” with them. At first we suspected that this might be a euphemism for something because, although these kids had been talking for days about going to the trampoline, we had neither seen nor heard of it until quite recently, and you’d think that a giant trampoline would be big, constant news in a neighborhood filled with kids who sometimes wander around like a band of feral cats.

So we said no; to be more specific, my husband said no first, and then in the time-honored tradition of sneaky children everywhere, the kids found me and asked. Shockingly enough, I also said no. Our rationale was that, because we didn’t know precisely where said trampoline was and we didn’t know the person who owns it, our five-year-old was not going to go visit it unless one of us could accompany him. My son’s friends were unimpressed with our reasoning and proceeded to extoll its virtues:

“But it’s awesome. And we’ll be there.”

“It’s just up the street,” [waving hands vaguely off to the left] “and there’s a lady who owns it.”

“There’s like five adults up there, and a bunch of dogs and some cats, and the lady, and her trampoline.”

As I tend to do when anything weird (i.e., practically anything) happens on my street, I texted several of my neighbors about this, trying to pool our knowledge to figure out what the deal really was. Continue reading

The Bane of My Existence

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After much thought, I have determined the thing I hate most about adulthood: the paperwork. It is neverending and inescapable. It is like death and taxes: a certainty. It is like this scene in “The 12 Tasks of Asterix,” in which the intrepid Asterix and Obelix almost go insane trying to obtain permit A38 from a government office. (Spoiler: in a sweet twist of justice, it is the government officials who go insane instead.)

Since my entire office was almost buried recently under all the mail, I have resolved to be better about paperwork. It’s a sort of 12-step program I’ve invented for myself that only involves 6 steps, really, which are (1) admit the mail is a problem, (2) open all mail immediately, (3) shred as much as possible, (4) give as much as possible to my husband, (5) file the few things worth filing, and (6) stack everything else in my nifty silver mail holder to be dealt with at some future date that will definitely arrive before I get buried again. Depending on the contents of the mail, sometimes there is an additional step, which is to have a beer, obviously a departure from your typical 12-step program.

You’d think that there would be less actual paper involved in paperwork these days, what with the fact that most bills are payable online, many stores now send their coupons and reminders of sales this way, etc, but honestly all that has done is encourage me to create a separate email address that is devoted entirely to communications I don’t want to read because they are mind numbing and frequent. If they go to this particular email address, it’s great because I often forget it exists for weeks at a time. Then eventually I go and glance through everything for a couple of minutes and move on with my day, back to whatever is the most pressing matter at hand, like staring into space while trying to write an essay or listening to Sia’s “Chandelier” on repeat while proofreading or trying to stop the head-butt war my sons are having in the next room.

Recently, I read an interesting article about procrastination that suggests that it can become a serious problem for people who are depressed, angry, or otherwise bored with large aspects of their lives. I am not typically any of those things, unless paperwork is involved, and then I am always simultaneously angry and bored. (Depression doesn’t set in unless the piles of mail start to tower over my head.) Do you know how exhausting it is to be angry and bored at the same time? It is oddly tiring, maybe because your brain doesn’t know whether to tell you to punch something or fall asleep. It’s the fight or flight response’s much less useful cousin, fight or pass out. Continue reading

Modern Family

The-Brady-BunchI come from a long line of worriers. I’m a worrier by nature. I’ve accepted this now and try to manage it rather then to fight it. I’m going to imagine the worst case scenario, then make it a little worse. Then I’m going to think of four of five ways I can respond to the four or five different possible outcomes. That way, I’m prepared. And that way, I’m a little safer.

But it’s a false safety, as nothing has actually happened yet. Here I sit, in the same chair as before, unchanged. Nothing has changed in my life. The only thing that has changed is my state of mind from being a-ok to getting all worked up.

The rational person would then say, “Well, the only harm done is the harm you’ve caused yourself by worrying about things that may or may not happen! So save yourself the pain and stop worrying, dummy!” I am a rational person. And for the most part, I have been able to take this self-advice and manage my anxiety. But it is still almost always there.

In a few weeks, Norm and I are moving in together. Kiddo and I will pack up our stuff at my parents’ and join Norm and his two kiddos, who we’ll call PB and Jelly, in a big new house not far away. In addition to our blended family of five, Kiddo’s 18-year old sister from her father will be joining us as well. We’ll call her Callie.

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A Must-Read: Men We Reaped

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I am obsessed with survival stories. In some ways, I always have been, but my obsession has morphed as I’ve gotten older and people I’ve known and loved have died. I used to wonder about the How, the gritty details of what made continuing to breathe possible in an extenuating and difficult circumstance; now, I just want to know Why. Why do some people live while others don’t? Why do some people get a second chance? Why is it often so unfair, who’s “chosen” by happenstance or by God to keep on living and who is not? Why why why?

It is with this question that I approached Jesmyn Ward’s amazing and painful memoir, Men We Reaped. It is in some ways a survival story and in other ways a war story. Although it is not an easy book to read, it is a necessary one. She tells us multiple stories, but ostensibly this book is about the deaths of five young Black men, her friends and cousin and brother, in four years. They die due to murder, suicide, car accidents, and an overdose, and she interweaves their tales with her own and with those of her family and the cities – DeLisle and Gulfport, Mississippi, and New Orleans – where they all grew up. She talks of poverty and racism and family problems, of leaving home and then returning because you just can’t stay away. It is a masterful book of person and of place as well as a way to honor the men who died: Roger, Demond, C J, Ronald, and Josh. Continue reading

I Am Missing the Bride Gene

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bride_of_frankenstein_3

Ever since I got engaged in March, people have been asking me about our wedding plans.

My first reflexive thought is, Huh? We have to have a wedding? I thought we were done? Get engaged, the end.

Whatever it is that many women have that thrills them to plan a wedding, I do not have. My teen step-daughter said, “Jill, you lack the Bride Gene.”

It’s true. I never was the type of little girl to dream about her wedding day. As an adult, I have zero desire to plan, organize and pay for a wedding. Which is odd, because I love weddings. I love going to weddings, love all the decor, the shmoopiness, the gathering of friends and family, the eating and drinking and dancing. So why can’t I get down with having a wedding of my own?

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When Dying Becomes Real

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One of my random actor contracting jobs this year was working for a local medical school, where I played a fake patient. I got to pretend I had an illness and the doctors in training would attempt to respond accordingly. In the past, this has usually meant I pretended to have bulimia or OCD, but the last case I was given was breast cancer. In this case, the medical student had to break the news that I was dying, then pretend to visit me in hospice after. Finding out you are dying is…well…pretty shocking. Even when it’s fake. It surprised me actually, how real it felt. Maybe because it’s the first time these medical students are having to tell someone something so horrible, but their anxiety spilled over into me emotionally. Tears streamed down my face, thoughts of how my family would cope filled my head. The craziest thing was that the patient was supposed to be my actual age, and it hit me that being a 30-something means that people I know are actually going to die. Not the accidental shocking 20-something deaths that happen in college, when a university student is hit by a car or overdoses on prescription drugs. Horrible as these are, they are abrupt and usually circumstances of a bad environment or situation. So in some ways, they feel less real, or at least less telling of everyday life. Now, however, people are starting to die of illness, of their bodies giving up on them, of life, and from here on out, it’s only going to get worse. Hurray!

Just as this was sinking in I got the news I’d be attending my first real funeral. Continue reading

How To Do Counseling

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I’ve been thinking about counseling lately. The kind where you go and sit in a room with a stranger and tell them all of your feelings. I’m not considering going at this moment myself, not because I don’t “need” to, (we all “need” to in my opinion), but because I’m in a pretty good place right now. Again, in a perfect world, that wouldn’t matter. We would get to go to therapists once a week or month and talk about our how we’re affected by this often effed up world around us, whether we’re “in a good place” or not.

I’ve been thinking about it lately because I’ve had a few friends recently talk to me about going to therapy, either alone or with their partners. This was always said in a bit quieter voice, or accompanied by a specific reason why they were going. That makes me sad, though I must admit that I have done the same myself. I finally took the approach of “It’s 2014, who isn’t in therapy these days?” It’s sort of weird if you haven’t gone to some sort of counseling session in your life. Kind of like divorce. “What? You mean you haven’t been divorced yet? You’re still on your first marriage? Oh. Well… don’t worry too much about it, you have time.”

I’ve been thinking about counseling in general and remembering the first time I went. I was in college and it was offered as a free service to all students. It was the late 90s and I felt both very nervous and hyper-modern and empowered at the same time. Not in a “I’m finally going to take time to take care of me,” sort of way, more in a “Look at you go, girl! I’m a real independent woman, going to her therapy session before my other fancy adult appointment I have somewhere in the city, vaguely sexy and important.” I had no idea what I was doing.

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