Grief


Grief is amazing. It is the most universal feeling in the human experience, more than love even. There are plenty of people out there who never experience love. But grief touches us all.

It doesn’t have to involve death, either. We grieve over lost friendships and missing rings, over closed restaurants and totaled cars. My kid grieves every time I leave him with the sitter, though he gets over it pretty quickly.

Sometimes it is acute. Sometimes it is all encompassing. Sometimes it is just a weight sitting in your chest like a poisonous thorn in your heart. It makes your breaths shallow, your smiles falter, your mind slip. It makes laughter brittle. Grief is a frenetic energy that tingles in your fingers because you need to do something, keep moving, keep distracted or else be sucked down into malaise and swirling, deepening sadness.

It can make us selfish, callous, angry, spiteful, and jealous. It can make us uncomfortable, glib, and shallow. It makes us change the subject, avoid eye contact, struggle for the words that don’t sound trite and meaningless. My grief is genuine. Their grief is inconvenient.

And yet, with grief can also come empathy, deep and fulsome and painful. It is cathartic and destructive. Sweet and bitter.

It hits everyone differently. There is no comparing one grief to another because it will never strike the same way twice.

I don’t remember when my Mom’s mom died because I was very young. I remember seeing Mom crying and someone said it was because she missed her Mom. I didn’t cry, though.

The next grandparent we lost was my Dad’s dad, who was sick in the summer and gone by Halloween when I was 19. That was rough. He was much loved. When Grandma died right before Christmas, I was angry at her because she hadn’t given us time to heal.

Mom’s Dad died in 2008, and thanks to dementia it was a relief. I hate writing that down, but it’s true. He wasn’t Grandpa at that point. His memorial was a while later and I said I couldn’t go because I couldn’t get leave when actually I couldn’t face Mom’s grief, so I didn’t even try. I’m sorry about that every day. I was a coward.

I have mourned for cats, like when Lucky was put down because he had feline leukemia and when Buddy found Mahler just dead, dead, dead for no reason at only 5 years old.

I mourned Carrie Fischer, crying effusively when her CGI face surprised me at the end of Rogue One. Isn’t it amazing that we can feel loss for someone we have never met? That whole year we lost cultural icons, one after another, each another blow to our hearts. We came together to share how those complete strangers had influenced our lives, how their arts had saved us or inspired us. And of course others derided our grief as stupid because actors and musicians and artists aren’t heroes. We didn’t know them. They didn’t do anything special. I bet this police officer/soldier/fire fighter won’t get as many shares as some meaningless celebrity. But that isn’t how grief works. There isn’t a hierarchy to how loss effects you, a chart that dictates how much you suffer based on importance. I’ve wept for slaughtered school children and club goers and church members, for the miscarriages of my friends, and secondary mothers of my childhood. I’ve wept for fictional people just as much as for real loss, sometimes because of real loss. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince destroyed me because the loss of my grandparents was still very new. Granny Weatherwax just amplified my feeling of loss for Terry Pratchett, her creator. You cannot argue people out of grief and you can’t compare losses like comparing prices at the grocery store. So. Don’t. Do. It.

Mom’s brother died in 2016, the first of 3 uncles we lost in a matter of weeks (hubby lost one of his uncles and a great uncle). It was only 5 weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer of the everything. So we were prepared, but only just. And when I told people they’d get all concerned or horrified. And I’d help them feel more comfortable. We weren’t very close. I’m fine. It’s really Mom who needs your concern. This was nominally true. I was fairly gutted, but more so when I thought of what she was going through. How would it feel to lose a brother? And then all my past griefs would slide in and knock around as they do. Grief is accumulative like that. It never goes away, just waits until you need it again.

I don’t know if I was grieving my uncle or the loss of a relationship we never got to have. We were so estranged from that branch of the family (not for any reason, just no real interest in keeping up relations) that we found out about his actual death from the announcement posted on the website of the college he worked for. It was just heartbreaking. And when his wife died about a year later, we weren’t invited to the memorial. Which didn’t seem strange to me at all. Just, sad.

A little while after his death I was having lunch with a friend and she told me, fighting back tears, about the loss of her dog, who had been old and sick and beloved. And when she finished she remembered that I’d just lost a human being. But it’s ok. I’m fine. We weren’t that close. And I know the pain of losing a pet. Grief isn’t a competition. The pain of someone else doesn’t diminish your own by comparison. Just the opposite sometimes.

It is fascinating how selfish I can be when I am in pain. I want everyone else to suffer with us. I want everyone to know and commiserate and to understand that I have it the worst and can’t they understand how much pain I’m in?!? But when people do show sympathy, commiserate, understand, love and hug and pray for/with us, I want them to stop. It makes me feel it more acutely because I can see in their faces the grief that they live with every day. I want everyone to know without telling them. I want to be treated gently and I was to be treated normally. I want attention and I want to be ignored. I want to be alone and I hate to be alone. I want to be held but I’m afraid of what will happen when it happens. What if I lose control? What if I never get it back?

January this year we lost Buddy’s Uncle Mike, who had been in decline for a while. I didn’t know him very well, but they were only up in Baltimore so we drove up for the memorial. Buddy Boy took some of his first steps that weekend and he got to meet a lot of his family for the first time. I missed most of his memorial service because I was in the basement of the church watching Buddy Boy zoom around in his dress suit. I’m glad. It was hard seeing the naked grief of his daughters.

And yesterday we lost Dad’s big brother, Uncle Dave. He’d been fighting leukemia for the last year or so and had a bad reaction to one of his treatments. He went into the hospital Wednesday and then he died. His daughter posted on Facebook all about it and asked for people to share their memories. I can’t think of any. I know I liked Dave. I always think of him as a warm, funny guy, kind of like a walking hug. He wasn’t one of the intimidating adults at the family reunions. He was the only person in my immediate family who served in the military, though he was in the Air Force and Navy while I (and my youngest brother) joined the Army. He wasn’t really active on social media, which is how I keep up with the family I have scattered around the country. A few comments on posts I made about Buddy Boy, a political meme here and there. It was his wife who called me while Buddy was in SKorea and who did most of the communications. And still, I’ve spent the day frantically trying to keep my hands busy so I don’t start crying. I almost lost it while driving because I realized he never met my son. I know he’d seen him on Facebook and can now look down on him from Heaven. But I don’t get to see his face when he meets my boy. And a million other things keep churning around, drawing up the pain just when I think I’ve settled it. Is Dad okay? How are my cousins and his widow? His grandkids? He only outlived his own father by 15 years. He was only in his 70s. I know he lived a full, rich, blessed life (especially if the yearly Christmas letters are to be believed). But my loss has piled on with the rest, reminding me of grandparents and uncles and heroes and strangers and my fur babies.

And that is just grief.

Please send positive thoughts and prayers to Dave’s family. He is greatly missed.

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Notes for Translating Knitting to Crochet


I was recently asked to come up with a crochet version of a knitted shawl. And thus began two weirdly stressful weeks.

Some back story: I crochet a lot. Four years ago when my hubby got stationed in South Korea, I found myself with a brand new degree in English and no job. I went from the rigors of higher education to the sheer, unadulterated boredom of unemployment. It was nice at first to rest and recoup from academic stress. But after a while I was sleeping through most of the day, draining my phone battery playing sudoku non-stop, and growing depressed from lack of enterprise and sunlight. I had a How-To-Crochet kit and vague muscle memories left from my mom teaching me the craft when I was young, and that was that. I became an avid hooker. (Crochet is French for “hook,” and it’s easier saying that than “crocheter” all the time. Plus, it shocks the ladies in my knitting groups. Or makes them snigger, depending on the group.)

Anyway, I went total immersion and in no time progresses from novice to making shirts and designing cases for my hooks. That summer, I interviewed for a job at a craft store wearing a crocheted shirt. Now I run the classes at that store and I have students clamoring for my time. It’s not glamorous, but I do enjoy getting people, ahem, hooked. I offer my teaching services at one of the local yarn shops, too. I come up with projects and make samples that they display in the store and they pay me in yarn. It’s a neat system.

Recently, several shops in the area hosted a big Event that involved doorbusters, raffles, and all sorts of neat prizes. For knitters. One shop raffled a very nice set of interchangeable knitting needles. A few gave out free knitting patterns with your purchase. The kick off party at my local store gave participants a pack of stitch markers that only work for knitters. And this isn’t the first time I’ve run across this kind of prejudice. Previous events have had similar prizes all geared toward their primary consumer base. So when they asked for suggestions for the next event, I mentioned that not everybody knits.

I get it, honestly. Most of the customers, owners and employees are exclusive knitters, with a few who dabble in both and a handful who prefer hooks to needles. And nine times out of ten, I’m the lone hooker in the knitting circle. Part of that is certainly the illusion of exclusivity to knitting groups and yarn shops in general. “Knit Night” is the short hand for most groups because alliteration is alluring. However, I stress with my students that most groups are open and accepting of all fiber artists. Yeah, it’s a little weird the first few times but that’s true of any new social encounter. Pretty soon, you’ll be teasing the knitters about how long it takes them to make a hat and how many needles they have to carry around.

Sorry, got a little off topic.

My local shop recently teamed up with a few others for a friendly competitive Knit Along. The shop with the most completed shawls from their patrons gets a donation from the losing shops to a charity of their choice. My shop provided a pattern created specifically for the event. And half a week before it started, they asked me to come up with a crochet version. Because inclusion is a thing with these people.

I said sure, no problem. I am, as they say, the dumb.

I learned a lot in the process and I think I came up with a good mock-pattern. But boy was it a pain in the ass. I mean, I could not seem to write it correctly to save my life.

The first version was the wrong shape. It’s supposed to be a triangle/crescent shape. Mine was more reminiscent of a thong. I kept sending updates to the store and the pattern testers (who were kind and patient and holy crap I have no idea how they put up with me) and almost immediately they would point out embarrassing typos. Wrong stitch counts, wrong row numbers, weird wording on instructions, it was just awful.

After working on my sample for a week I knew I had to go back to the drawing board. Which involved so. Much. Math. Just, all the Math. And trial and error, which takes sooooo much time. In the end, my “final” draft, typed frantically while my son played nursing gymnastics on my lap, still had typos and I ended up sending one more corrected version anyway.

All this happened over two weeks that saw my son having a low grade fever over Labor Day weekend, spending the rest of the week teething, and then me getting a touch of mastitis, and having to work extra shifts at work.

The shawl is done now (except for blocking) and it looks fabulous if I’m being honest. And I’m tempted to say Never Again because holy cow that was exhausting. Unfortunately, I kind of liked the challenge and will absolutely do it again because I am a show off and I want hookers to be included in shenanigans.

For the next time, I have some tips.

1. Study a finished sample and determine which stitches will best mimic the knitted version

2. Study the knitted pattern for stitch increases/decreases, stitch groupings, color changes, etc.

3. Check the gauge. Using the hook with the same millimeter sizing, create a gauge swatch and compare it to the expected knitted gauge. Adjust stitch/row counts to accomodate any variance between the knitted and crocheted gauges.

4. Take a lot of notes. Like, TONS.

That’s all all I have for now. Both patterns are available for purchase on Ravelry (links below).

https://ravel.me/moonlit-waters-knitted-version

https://ravel.me/moonlit-waters-crochet-version

(Sorry about the crappy photos, but it’s late and I’m turning it into the shop tomorrow.)

Do you have any advice for translating betwixt fiber arts? I would love to hear stories of your most stressful project. Did I ever tell you about the time I decided to crochet a giraffe-pattern hooded scarf for my niece without a pattern? It was a DOOZY.

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I Turned My Anxiety Talks Into a Roleplaying Superpower And Other Things You Might Not Know About Me


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The Formula for a successful marriage! At Last!


Excellent points.

solomonsadvisor

Oops.

A famous guy with a message of sexual abstinence is separating from his wife. He promoted his philosophy as a way to nearly guarantee a long-lasting and enjoyable marriage. It was such a simple message–don’t engage in sex until you’re married. Tada!

Look at people that have been married 40+ years. Ask them what exactly they did to stay married that long.

“We’ve always been best of friends.”

“We just never got around to visiting a lawyer for the divorce papers…too expensive.”

“Well, I kept thinking I couldn’t lift or wield anything heavy enough to bash his head in while he was snoring, so I got earplugs.”

How many had premarital sex? They never answered that.  They just grinned. “What a stupid question to ask! If you get married for the wrong reasons, it doesn’t matter what you did before you were married. If you get married for the…

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Freshman Francis – The Library


Most of the grandeur of campus came down to its architecture. The planners had worked very hard to transform a normal collection of boring office buildings, from the original 1970s college campus, into something more closely resembling some 200 year old Ivy League university. Almost every building had been systematically demolished and rebuilt with Doric collumns and a great copper dome. The only structure left alone was the library and that’s because it was actually built in the 1770s and they had transported it brick by brick to the campus right after getting national accreditation from the Council. Most of the books were originals, black leather covers protected by plastic sheeting and anti-dust spells. According to a gold placard by the door, the library had belonged to a prominent Boston witch who had been the ancestor of one of the founding Councilors.

Francis hated the place. It was dark and smelled of old books and rats. She always felt watched when she sat at the cheap formica tables, scribbling notes in a notebook because the magic always tampered with her laptop.

“Nice gloves,” Simon whispered over her shoulder, gently setting a stack of books next to her. He was hoping to startle her but she had obviously seen him come in.

“I can’t afford to keep buying pens,” she replied distractedly, squinting at a line from handwritten census charts (Ellis Island, 1860-1880). She really wanted 3 more examples for her paper (Talent Nomenclature: Before and After the Great Potato Famine), but sources were proving scarce. When she looked up, Simon was staring at her, his eyebrow cocked in inquiry. “Research stresses me out and I channel stress into the metal things I touch. I don’t need bad luck written into my essays. Usually, pens just dry up, but sometimes they vomit ink all over the paper. Or they’ll find their way into my laundry.”

“And pencils?” He pulled his own notebook out of his bag and settled in the seat across from her.

“Graphite. They start breaking after a few words.” She made a few careful notes, wrote out a quote 3 paragraphs long on a 4×6 note card, then carefully closed the book and reached for the next on her stack (Notable Heroes of the Antebellum Era).

“And your laptop?”

She sighed heavily, and looked him full in the face since he seemed intent on disrupting her studying. “Most of the hardware is coated in gold. Gold only takes good luck.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” she snapped. “Do you mind maybe letting me study? Kind of came in here to work, not to socialize.” She watched the bright curiosity scatter from his face. He lowered his eyes and mumbled an apology, but she saw the dull flush creeping up his neck and into his cheeks. They worked in dense, hurt silence for several minutes. After reading the same paragraph 3 times without taking in a word, she slammed her book shut with an audible growl.

“Look, I’m sorry. This place creeps me out. Wants some coffee?”

“Uh, yeah. Let me just put these on hold.” They gathered their things and took their books to the Reserve desk, where they were set in lockers for sfe keeping. They each got a card with their locker number on it and a date/time stamp. These were not the type of books one could check out.

Once outside, Francis took in a great breath of crisp air, pulling her cowl away from her face so the early winter breeze could get the last vestiges of library musk from her nose. The breeze accommodated by whipping her hair into her eyes along with some icy flakes from the of snow piled up on either side of the entry. She quickly wrapped up her lower face in the cowl and pulled up the hood of her jacket. Simon zipped up his own heavy coat and pulled on a ridiculous, lumpy knit cap. It was striped in to school colors and looked ineptly made, with a bobble perched lopsidedly on top. Simon saw her looking and shrugged.

The coffee shop on campus was adjacent to the library and the best she could say about it was that it was always open. It was always crowded, the tables were never completely clean, and the coffee was one step up from break room coffee, which she’d had plenty of during her time in retail. When Simon turned toward its convenient glow she grabbed his arm and dragged him to her car.

“You listen to public radio?” he asked, buckling his seatbelt. In the confines of her little hatchback, she could smell his deodorant, which was not Axe but something clean and bland. She was grateful for that. She was beginning to think the school was sponsored by the overpowering hygiene company with the stink of it on every male on campus.

“Yeah, only when I don’t have an audiobook to listen to. The radio stations around here are all pop and country music. Not really a fan.”

“Shocking.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I dunno, you just don’t seem the type to jam out to Katy Perry or Lady Gaga.”

“I was, uh, out of the country for a while. Still feel out of the loop, you know?” The heat finally came in through the vents and she gratefully put her gloved hand up to thaw, switching hands on the steering wheel as she drove through the late afternoon traffic. “It’s all the dead words in there.”

“What?” Simon turned down the news report.

“Dead words, crammed together, imprisoned in leather and stone. It just, it feels like, I don’t know. Just wrong.” She pulled up to a stoplight and risked a glance at her passenger. He looked thoughtful, but not in a bad way. She never tried to explain stuff like that before, her weird reactions to things like libraries and museums. Nobody had ever understood when she had tried as a child. It wasn’t until she’d confided in her grandmother’s people that anyone could explain. You have an affinity for the spirits, daughter. Not the dead, but the imprints of their lives.

Simon remained silent for a few more blocks. “My sister could smell ghosts.” Francis laughed. “No, seriously! No one believed her, but then she recognized Grandma’s perfume. I mean, Grandma had died before most of us were born and some perfume lady in a store spritzed some at us and she goes THAT’S GRANDMA and Mo just started crying. I get having weird talents.”

“It’s not weird! It’s just inconvenient. I hate research and it’s so much worse in a place like that.” They laughed, finally letting the awkwardness evaporate.

“Where are you taking me?” He studied the little shopping center she’d pulled into. “Are we getting liquor, pawning jewelry, or getting a tattoo?”

“Ha, I have all the tattoos I need, thank you. No, this is my coffee shop.” And crammed between the neon signs of a pawn shop and a loan office was a tiny cafe called Ruby’s Coffee, Wine, and Yarn Emporium. There was a French cafe-style table out front, thoughtfully attached to the building with an industrial bike chain. In the bright display window was a lifesize cartoon sheep reclining in a lawn chair and sipping from a large mug. On closer inspection, Simon saw that the entire thing was actually knitted.

They had to walk past a group of chattering middle-aged women, needles clicking furiously, rows of multicolored yarns hung on poles in twisted hanks, and a set of bookshelves crammed with novels surrounded by austere leather armchairs. The coffee bar was clear in the back and was manned by a purple-haired teenage girl.

“Oh, hey Francis. Usual?” Francis nodded and the girl bustled away, stopping in front of a monstrous espresso machine the looked straight out of a Medieval torture chamber.

“Is that Ruby?” Simon asked, raising his voice over the sound of beans grinding.

“There is no Ruby. It’s just a name.” The girl busily stirred together syrups and foamy milk, yelled incoherently to someone beyond a black saloon-style door, then brought over a mug roughly the size of her head filled. In the foam, she had spurned traditional pretty fern patterns for a sigil to keep the late warm.

“Your soup’ll be right up. And you?”

Simon had been so distracted by the spectacle of the place he hadn’t even looked at the menu, which was chalked neatly on the wall behind the register. Like many people faced with too many choices in an unfamiliar setting, he started to panic.

“Gimme your hand,” the girl said impatiently. He obeyed and she studied his hand, tracing the creases of his palm and noting the length of his nails. “Ok, you’ll have the Ruby Roast and a bowl of chili,” she concluded and set about filling a mug from a cistern next to the espresso machine. She yelled something about chili through the door and returned with the coffee.

“Wow. Is that your talent? Knowing what people want to order?”

“No,” she snorted. “Everyone likes the house blend. And we made too much chili.” Francis laughed with her while she paid (“I’ll take some chili to go, too”).

After they sat, she admitted that Gemma had pulled the same joke on her on her first visit, and on pretty much every new customer she could. The coffee, once doctored with a lot of sugar and a touch of cream, was indeed delicious and stayed just the right temperature for drinking thanks to the “keep warm” sigil he spotted baked into the glaze at the bottom of the cup. The chili was also satisfying, though he was surprised by the heavy cinnamon flavor and the mushrooms. Francis let him try her lobster bisque, a creamy, buttery concoction that he vowed to get on his next visit.

The two of them wasted the rest of the afternoon drinking coffee and complaining about research papers and essays and spending an hour to do 5 Math problems. Eventually, Francis told him about some of her travels. She didn’t explain why she’d gone to first Ireland, then eventually Nigeria, or why she had come back. But there were plenty of stories about monsters in the black forests of Europe and exactly how bad camel bites were and the time river nymph had taken to following her around half of Greece. By tge time the knitting circle was packing up, all the anxiety fromthe library had disappated naturally and she felt ready to get back to studying.

On the drive back to campus, Simon found a local pop station and started belting out the words to every song that came on while Francis giggled raucously. She made him stop when she nearly ran a red light. They parted companionably in the parking lot, Simon headed back to the library and Francis to her dorm to grab more note cards.

It didn’t immediately occur to her that something was wrong when she got to her room. She dug around in her desk for a fresh pack of note cards and some staples for her mini stapler. With those supplies transfered to her coat pockets, she was halfway out the door before her brain caught up with what her eyes had seen. Slowly, she turned back to the room and she stared at the empty jar on her bedside table. Blood drained from her head, making the floor seesaw under her feet as she rushed to the table. She snatched up the jar, twisting off the metal lid and peering disbelievingly into the cold, clear glass.

She sat down hard on the bed, feeling clammy, a tingle of sick anxiety creeping through numb limbs. The quart jar had been nearly full of cursed coins when she left for the library that morning. Hundreds of pieces of bad luck, some strong enough to be fatal in the wrong circumstances. And there, on her bedside table, scrawled across a bright pink sticky note, was Karen’s sloppy handwriting.

Had an emergency. You never spend this anyway so…

Karen xoxo

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On Birthdays


I don’t like a lot of things other people love. I don’t like Christmas. I don’t like drinking. I don’t like loud, raucous parties or Game of Thrones (books, I haven’t seen the series) or M&Ms. I’m not interested in rock concerts, even for my favorite bands. Okay, maybe the Beatles, but only because it’d be a miracle since half of them are dead. I don’t care for fast food or Starbucks and I flat out HATED Hawaii.

And I’m not a fan of my birthday.

Hold on, you say. Join the club! Nobody likes their birthday after 21. Anyone saying otherwise is lying. And women aren’t even allowed to have birthdays after 29!

And, yeah, that’s all pretty true. But there’s still a weird pressure? expectation? implied societal contract? that I should at least enjoy my birthday. I should skip work, stuff myself with cake, buy myself presents, or do whatever it takes to fill that void.

What void? It’s the space that exists between everyone’s normal day and what makes it your special day. It’s the absense of change between yesterday you and one-year-older you.

As a kid, your birthday is a big deal. Or, well, it can be. Cake, presents, maybe a party. Maybe a party no one shows up for. Maybe not the presents you wanted or no presents at all. Maybe burnt cake or “the year Mom became a Vegan” cake. I can’t remember most of my birthdays as a child. I’ve seen a few pictures of the early ones. Regardless, I know what it’s supposed to feel like. I started remembering my birthdays because they stopped living up to that gut feeling.

That’s not to say I had an awful childhood or anything. Far from it. I had great birthdays, with slumber parties and pizzas and all manner of fun all the way through high school and then well into my 20s.

But you wake up the next day and think, so this is 16? 18? 25? 34? Doesn’t feel any different. I look back on some of my more recent parties and it looks like I was trying to capture that essence of BIG CHANGE that came with blowing out those candles.

I mean, it’s a lot harder to get that rush as an adult. Turning 10 is a big deal, but turning 34? I keep having to do the Math to remember my age. And that’s not an “I’m so old I can’t remember” thing. It’s a “this number has little to no significance in my day-to-day life” thing.

Plus, parties are so difficult now. It wasn’t so bad in our 20s, since most of our friends were also in their 20s and eager for weekend shenanigans. Now? Friends we’ve known for over a decade can’t find the time for lunch or miss our son’s birthday because their kids have competitions or games. Adults are busy. Adults with kids need sitters and 6 months notice just for brunch.

But listen, I could go on about how birthdays are always lacking. Even if all my Facebook friends and family post on my page, a sulky part of me will wonder why I didn’t get more calls or texts (which, yes, is super dumb and petty, but try explaining that to my Id). Or more birthday cards. My husband has an unparalleled record for amazing gifts, but somehow the fact that my family typically doesn’t go in for birthday gifts will still bother me. This is despite knowing that there are 5 adult kids in my family, plus 3 spouses, 1 girlfriend, and now 5 grandbabies, which is just a TON of people to keep track of let alone afford cards/gifts for. It’s actually kind of nice that there isn’t that pressure to get something for everyone for every occasion because when I do manage to get bday cards sent, I feel like a superstar and not like it’s some obligatory thing.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to go all negative about this so I hope you stuck with me through the moping. I wanted to approach this year a little differently to maybe alleviate that inexplicable post-bday let-down.

First, to address that lack of BIG CHANGE between 33 and 34. Let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of your life not a lot changes over a year. You, as a person, are pretty much set by the time 30 hits. But on the other hand, so much can change for you. This time last year, I had a newborn and I was clinging to sanity like Gandalf hanging off the bridge in Khazad-Dum. Did I let go to go fight the Balrog? No, because I stayed sane and didn’t have time for smoting my enemies and getting reborn with new threads. Now, I have a toddler who is mobile (understatement) and a daily/nightly challenge. Am I the same mother I was last year? HA, no. I am a little bit more confident even if I am still vastly intimidated by the tasks that lie ahead (17 more years of them, yikes).

And last year, I was still trying to integrate Mom into my personality. I recently saw a meme about how having kids doesn’t make the person you used to be disappear or some shite.

My friend (mother of 6) who posted it was pissed and at first I didn’t get why. It seemed like the normal inspirational drivel I usually scroll on by, but I’m new to the whole Mom game still and there was some context I wasn’t privy to. Anyway, the woman I was 2 years ago, before I was even pregnant, is kind of a stranger to me now. Weird, right? I mean, she’s still there, utterly confused by how difficult it is for me to get a pedicure on a whim. But I can’t seem to see her as me anymore? And I don’t want to go back to being her. I sometimes wish I could, on bad days or long nights. Just, not really. If I could get a full night’s sleep, crochet all day and still get my happy boy, that’s the deal I’d take. So yes, that person matters, but only because I couldn’t exist now without her. There’s no going back to her. No giving up Momming to indulge the illusion. Having a kid changes you because you must or they die.

Good grief, this is getting all over the place. This year qualifies as a BIG CHANGE year for me, but every year can do that if you just tally up all the little ways you have grown, whether emotional or psychological, or whatever. Every moment you are alive is BIG.

As for the gifts and cake and filling that void, well, I have a cupboard full of chocolate. My hubby got me the writing seminar with Neil Gaiman (SQUEE). My good friend is making me a super cool bag. My boy now plays by himself during the day so I can get crochet done again. And the universe has been plentiful with blessings.

To wit:

Tim Curry narrates the audiobooks for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

2 of my good friends just had healthy babies, one on Buddy Boy’s birthday.

I am alive and in shape (round is a shape, I checked).

I have a decent, caring husband who does dishes and vacuums and folds laundry and plays with his son.

Our tax refund is enough to pay for a flight home this summer so our boy can meet all his cousins and aunties and uncles.

Captain Marvel was pretty great.

I could go on. And so could you. The world is filled with awful, more every day. Take time to remember the good if you can. It won’t fix anything, but it can make things bearable for a time.

Now go forth and enjoy my birthday!

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Francis – Hero Trials


She didn’t quite understand why Simon continued to lunch with her. She rarely joined in the discussions he had with Chad about their shared classes or the news or other people they knew from prep school. And it wasn’t as though he had no other friends. He was frequently hailed by other students, more so than Chad, which was surprising considering the latter’s uncanny attraction. Random kids (she called all of them kids, even upperclassmen) would join their little table for a chat, completely ignoring Chad and her. If she hadn’t been so focused on not appearing interested in her boys (when did she start calling them hers?), she might have minded the intrusions. As it was, she amused herself ignoring everybody while she studied and munched on salads. Chad’s clear annoyance at being left out pleased her to no end, though he hadn’t been nearly as rude as their first meeting.

After a few weeks of Simon’s inexplicable presence, it occurred to her that perhaps he joined her little table since it was ideal for discouraging lunch visits. The times when her preferred dining location was taken and she was forced to choose a larger table seemed to coincide with the times when Simon was bombarded with hangers-on. And not just kids saying a quick word on their way across the grounds. If there was room, every chair would fill up and more would be added until she couldn’t eat for all the elbows and chatter. And the conversation didn’t ever mean anything. Small talk, the weather, gossiping about other students, sure, but nothing important or even vaguely interesting. It got to where if she couldn’t secure a small table, she’d box up her lunch and eat in her dorm, though she ran the risk of socializing with Karen. More than once, she’d been shouted at for waking up the girl (and subsequently shouted at for letting her sleep in and miss class).

She considered, the first week or so that this went on, just leaving upon the arrival of her boys. But that felt too much like running away. She was there first, after all.

Today, however, the inclination to bolt to her room was stronger than usual. Despite the smaller table, there were at least a dozen other students. They crammed chairs around until she was caged by them, all excitedly discussing the latest Hero Trials in boisterous voices. Apparently, this year’s Capital course was especially challenging.

Trials were most frequently made up of a series of obstacles, some physical, some intellectual, and all aimed at testing potential Heroes to their absolute limits. Even with strict safety precautions, people died every year in the attempt to earn their capes.

Territory Capitals, which usually drew the highest density of prospective heroes, would have monthly Capital Trials conducted by Betas and overseen by the City Alpha. Sometimes a Territory Alpha would observe as a way of screening Betas for promotion. Outside of the Capitals, most cities held Trials at the Spring and Fall Equinox celebrations. Rural communities might hold Trials at Midsummer, but few bothered. The best training schools were in the big cities so anyone with the right talent would be sent there.

Smaller Trials weren’t very interesting, however. Except to the families and friends of those participating, of course. There isn’t much renown in becoming a Hero in Podunk, USA. Most small communities didn’t get enough participants to hold a Trial,so as long as you passed the written exam and completed a basic fitness test, you got your cape and the rank of Charlie.

Territory Trials were the only ones worth following. Participants who successfully navigated Capital Trials would automatically be granted Beta status and given the opportunity to try the Territory Trials at Midsummer. Surviving that event grants immediate promotion to Alpha, a rank that takes years to achieve otherwise, if it is ever achieved at all.

The chattering group was discussing the most recent Capital Trials, exclaiming loudly about the spectacular failures of this or that competitor. Raven Man had just lost his grip on the Razor Netting of Justice. Glamorella went down on the Unsub with a Gun steps. Deceptron lost his actual leg – his actual leg! – on the Lava Pit Gauntlet. No one had finished the event in 3 months, despite dozens of potentials competing.

“It’s rigged,” one boy was saying. “That course wasn’t built to be completed. Too many women succeeded last year.” Some of the girls scoffed but they didn’t contradict him. Statistically, women rarely completed the major Trials because they were so physically demanding. Last year, a record 17 women had finished, nearly 6 times the number who had even competed the year before.

One of the girls, a tall athletic blonde, argued, “They had to make it more difficult, yeah, but they went too far the other way. Now it’s just impossible.” Murmured assent passed around the table while Francis focused on her salad.

“Well, and why shouldn’t it be impossible? Maybe that’s the point,” said another boy, a short freckled kid with breath she could smell from across the table. “Bunch of the winners last year didn’t even finish their first posting. Disgraceful.” More assent and sage nodding. Her stomach swooped uncomfortably and she set down the forkful of greens she had been about to eat. She could feel the heat radiating off the kids directly behind her.

“Funny way of putting it,” Simon said coldly, making Frances look up. “So they ‘didn’t finish,’ huh? It’s not like they just gave their 2 weeks and went off to pursue their dreams of…of becoming a hair stylist or something. Half of them were killed by criminals in the line of duty and the others were removed by their own Alphas. But I guess ‘didn’t finish’ is as apt as anything else.” The kids all froze and she realized 3 things all at once: Chad had a restraining hand on Simon’s arm, the other kids were definitely afraid of Simon, and she wasn’t the only one who had lost someone to the Trials.

“Simon, he didn’t mean anything by it,” a brunette in a pink sorority sweater said softly. She nudged Bad Breath and he nodded fervently. Simon glared at the group, a dull red flush on his cheeks, but then he dropped his eyes to his lunch. Released from his direct gaze, the kids half-heartedly chatted about homework and in swift order found excuses to leave. Chad didn’t drop his hand until it was just the three of them left. Simon pushed around the remains of his chili mac burrito, then jerkily stood up and marched off with his tray. Francis watched him dump it with the precision of someone trying very hard not to smash everything within reach and then stroll away in the direction of the meditation room, long hands shoved deep in his jeans pockets.

“His sister two years ago,” Chad spoke, seemingly to his loaded baked potato taco. “She, uh, was one of the women killed in the Territory Trials when that guy went nova. And last year’s City winners were almost all alumni from our school. I didn’t know them, but Simon’s got lots of older siblings so.” He shrugged and took a large bite of his taco, the hard corn shell shattering between his sharp teeth, spilling potatoes and sour cream all over his plate.

Francis understood.

Her friends use to tease her because she seemed to know all the upperclassmen in high school. It was a side effect of having a highly popular older brother. She was one of the few freshmen and sophomores invited to all the senior dances and she was never hazed like other freshmen. And when some of those kids popped up at local Trials, she’d root for them even if she only recognized them as ‘that one kid who threw up popcorn and jelly beans at Patrick’s 16th birthday party.’

“So that’s why they all suck up to him? Pity?”

Chad took a moment to spoon some of his potatoes onto a larger piece of taco shell. “Yeah, that’s part of it. But you ever wonder why he’s at this school even though he doesn’t have powers?”

She had, but it just wasn’t polite to ask. It was enough of a shock that he even mentioned it at their first meeting, rather like someone introducing themselves with their porn preferences. Maybe she had been too long in Nigeria, but things couldn’t have changed that much.

He’s going to tell me, she thought, and it’s going to change how I look at him. All those kids pretending to like him, seeking his approbation, they aren’t his friends at all.

Am I his friend?

“Don’t,” she said before he could say any more. “Whatever it is, he can tell me. Or not. Doesn’t matter to me why he’s here. Don’t have to be a witch or a faerie to be bad at math.” The bell rang for the end of lunch and she cleared her tray, thinking hard about the stricken features of Bad Breath. She probably should have passed him one of her bad pennies, but perhaps he had his own bad luck coming.

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So Let’s Talk About Socialism


Puppettron's Blog

There’s been an incredible number of memes passed around about what socialist parties or people would want to happen in the US, mostly scare memes filled with a load of the most ignorant things I could possibly encounter, and I honestly wonder how people I know to be fairly intelligent can come to such vastly ignorant conclusions.

Let’s take this meme here, Socialist Monopoly. socialist monopoly

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The Nature of Sympathy in a Global Community


It’s pretty well established that tragedies bring out the humanity in people. This is not always a good thing.

When terrible things happen, usually the overwhelming response is positive. Outpourings of support, donations, prayers, and sometimes change are the norm. You’ll see this most with natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, etc). At first, anyway. There’s only so long people can focus on one disaster before another one crops up. Mother Nature is trying to wipe us out one tidal wave at a time and it’s hard to sustain sympathy for very long.

We are still recovering from Maria and Harvey and Sandy. We’re still recovering from Katrina. Puerto Rico and Haiti are still in shambles. It takes a long time to rebuild the bones of our lives when they are swept away by the whims of nature.

But you can’t get mad at the transient nature of human sympathy. We can’t sit bemoaning the plight of others all the time. There are cat videos to watch. We gave our thoughts and prayers, donated $10, added a banner to our profile picture, maybe ran a marathon or bought a shirt. But then we had to move on to the next sensational tragedy. Surely someone is still helping, the government or the cajun navy or whatever. Even if there isn’t a new disaster to focus on, we have to get back to our lives, sharing political memes and watching reality tv and making fun of Florida Man. Until we are directly affected by a disaster, we don’t have the emotional space to cling to it.

Keep in mind when you are chiding people for forgetting about Haiti and Puerto Rico and Flint and California that, while humans are communal creatures, the global community is a relatively new invention. Our true community is the one we see/physically interact with every day. It is difficult to maintain a mental space for people and places that exist only vaguely in our social media feeds and the price of produce.

I guess what I’m saying is KEEP REMINDING US. People complain about how the media isn’t covering this or that. Well, they cover what gets them ratings. And we constantly tell them that we only want to hear about NEW, SENSATIONAL STORIES THAT CONFIRM OUR WORLDVIEW. Congratulations, kids. YOU are now our source for news. When Nebraska got flooded last week, I kept seeing complaints that the national media is ignoring this huge catastrophe just because Nebraska isn’t on the coast. And, yeah, that’s pretty awful. But, come on. Who even trusts the Media any more? I’ve given up on nearly all of them, except NPR and The Daily Show. And honestly, I don’t watch/listen to the news much at all because everything is so sh*tty all the time. I just get angry or hopeless, usually both, and life sucks enough without adding the weight of everything falling apart and dead whales and callous politics. I didn’t notice the lack of media coverage because all my friends and family in the Midwest have been posting about it constantly.

So, yes, keep posting current updates because I don’t mean to forget about you and I do want to know how you are.

Ok, that is not actually what I wanted to write about, but I had to cover that first to get to what really ticks me off.

It’s not so common with natural disasters, but there’s a response I see time and again around more controversial tragedies. First of all, how is that even a thing? People are dead/homeless/starving/suffering, but sympathy is doled out based on what? The source of the suffering? The race/religion/sexuality/nationality of the victims?

Here’s how not to respond to a tragedy (here defined as any pointless loss of life): that’s sad, but…

Anything you say after “but” is wrong. The victims should have done something differently so it’s their own fault they died? NO. There are other tragedies that involve our own people so let’s focus on us first? NO. Okay, but the victims are actually the perpetrators NO. It’s all just a conspiracy to take away our NO. STOP. JUST SHUT UP.

If you respond to a mass shooting at a Mosque by sharing articles about Christian genocides, what exactly are you trying to prove? If you send “thoughts and prayers” and then sit on your hands and do nothing because it might upset your corporate backers, what are your prayers actually for? If you terrorize survivors of mass shootings just to prove they’re part of a conspiracy to make Nazis and gun owners look bad, FUCK YOU. Nobody is coming for your guns. If the government decides to go all tyrannical on you, they have nuclear bombs. They aren’t actually scared of you and your toy pistols.

And now I’m angry and hopeless again. Because when people are murdered for their beliefs/gender/sexuality/locality, assholes come out of the woodwork with their well actually, Irish people were slaves, too and Muslims are the real terrorists and Sandy Hook was an inside job.

Tragedy is not a competition. It is not a conspiracy. It is not a chance for you to get up on your soapbox about how none of this would have happened if. If what? How does that even help to drag in your political agenda? Especially if that agenda would rather blame the victims than address the issues. You don’t want stricter gun control, fine. Come up with SOMETHING, ANYTHING. FFS, how much more bloviating do we have to suffer through? Cuz closing our eyes to every sh*tstorm because it brings up awkward questions about human rights/religious freedom/climate change/etc ISN’T. FUCKING. WORKING.

But hey, don’t worry. Because we have the attention span of a hummingbird. I’ll be mad about this for a bit, I’ll worry about my home state, mourn the massacred in New Zealand, weep for the Parkland kids who are still dying, and lament the death of another whale to a stomach-full of plastic bags. But before anything can change, before your thoughts and prayers have even gotten cold, the news will turn to the next SENSATIONAL TRAGEDY THAT CONFIRMS MY WORLDVIEW and I will forget. Sorry.

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6 Yards of Fabric


(Trigger warning – pregnancy gone bad)

The sand is cool under her feet. She likes the way it shifts with each step, dragging her down as though it knows her intent. The breeze coming off the water cuts through her hospital gown, raising goosebumps on her bare legs. Her cheeks are flushed red, the tip of her nose numb, and each breath is like swallowing needles. But the exertion from walking here has warmed her limbs enough that she welcomes the gusts that send snow flakes dancing through her streaming hair. Somewhere behind her are alarms and panicked voices calling her name, but here there is only the grit of the sand, the frigid wind, and the still, deep water before her.

Her and the boy. He is safe from the cold, wrapped tight to her chest in six yards of fabric and zipped into her winter coat. His tiny feet are carefully tucked away and his hands balled into delicate fists between her breasts. She places her lips on top of the dark hair that lies thickly on his head and she sings to him. She sings and remembers.

There was an anomaly at the 20-week scan. Nothing to worry about. We’ll run some tests. And then some more tests. They brought in an expert, who performed more tests and stared at charts and took samples of blood and umbilical cord and amniotic fluid.

No one had wanted to tell them. The nurses, the midwife, the expert all looked at something else. So she knew before anything was said that the registry should be taken down. Little onesies and toys and diapers and books and all their dreams for who he was going to be, all had to be returned or given away or abandoned.

She hated that while the expert explained about genetic disorders, she was mourning the fact that they had only just decided what stroller to buy and her sister would have to cancel the baby shower. But perhaps her mind was focused on the shallow details so she wouldn’t feel her soul bleeding out in that cramped, cold, sterile room.

Her husband argued. And when they explained calmly again that there was no chance, he sat on the floor and wept, arms wrapped painfully tight around her legs. She just sat with her hand resting on the little bump and asked the only thing she could. What now? Nothing. It must run its course.

Her mother cried, her face pressed to her swollen belly. She set her church to praying for a miracle. He was still alive, so there was hope. It was easier to let her think that.

She quit her job and stayed home, finishing the blanket she had started for him. Late at night, she felt him move, an alien creature discovering his cage. Her hatred was palpable then, a thick viscous poison in her throat. She refused to cry for him. She wept for her husband who was so broken when he looked at her, his face crumpled like an empty shirt. She let him hold her when he needed and she nodded along when he planned to try again. One day, when she’s ready. We can get through this.

The time came and it was the perfect birth. Everything went exactly as it should. She pushed him out after only an hour of active labor and they plugged him immediately into their machines. Just to monitor him. Nothing could help him. It was only a matter of time.

A day passed. Then two. He wouldn’t stop crying, a piteous wail that filled the little room and carried down the hall. She fed him as often as she could because when he latched on her he couldn’t cry. But he was is pain every moment, limbs trembling and each breath a gasp. His very bones were on fire, nerve ending alight with the agony of life.

On the third day, her husband brought the baby wrap. It was the only thing they had kept. Six yards of stretchy fabric that cuddled him to her chest. He stopped crying. Her husband smiled, his face betraying the stupid hope he had carried all along. She didn’t crush that hope. She was a coward.

The monitor was a simple device, really. The mute button was easy to find. They weren’t going to come running to her room, in any case. The ward was full of other new babies, babies who would live and needed constant attention. There was no reason to be attentive to her baby.

He stopped crying because he couldn’t anymore. He whimpered, his fists balled tight, his face pinched. He couldn’t open his mouth to latch anymore, just curled tighter into her chest, face turning blindly from one side to the other. She walked around the little room, bouncing him gently with ever step. Her bare feet slapped softly on the linoleum and her hands absently stroked his back through the fabric. She paused, just a momentary hesitation in her pace, and her husband woke from his fitful sleep on the recliner.

She ghosted a smile, assured him the boy slept, and asked for something from the vending machine. Nothing crunchy. She didn’t want to wake him. He pulled on his shoes and gave her a swift kiss on the cheek. Still hopeful.

Her winter coat had an added panel, a gift from her best friend when they first announced it. Pregnant women need to be able to zip up their coats, too! And when he’s born, you flip the panel and it will zip over the carrier. Isn’t that neat? It was very convenient for walking out of the ward. He was so small, the coat completely hid him from the drowsy nurse at the desk. Most of the nurses had taken to looking through her, anyway. Grief is so very painful to look at.

The rest of the hospital was dark, lit by exit signs and dimmed hall lights. The walk from the ward to the elevator was deserted, as was the lobby near the exit. It only took a few minutes to cross the parking lot and the main road, follow the little walking trail passed the ghostly park, and come to the serene, frozen lake.

She had stared at it for three days from the fourth floor. Not a large lake, but it was deep and dark. When he had relaxed on her chest, the pained breaths ceasing their static rhythm on her skin, she had paused in surprise. A swift glance at the monitor confirmed her suspicion. A little red light was flashing urgently, but everything else has stopped.

She knew she was a coward. That’s why she had left work before she had to tell anyone. It’s why she had hated the life growing pointlessly inside her. Why she had allowed her husband to think she would survive this and certainly why she had sent him away at that moment. She couldn’t tell him his son was finally at peace.

She can hear sirens now. There are distant voices calling and flashlights hunting the darkness for her. She finishes the lullaby verse and then walks out onto the water. The ice burns her feet, cracking like broken bones. She is glad for the ice. It is unlikely she could have swam far enough out otherwise.

She walks a dozen steps, two dozen, and begins to worry that the ice is too thick. She brought nothing to break through it. But she keeps walking, feet thankfully numb, tears freezing to her cheeks, and still humming the lullaby. Until she steps through the ice. A moment of paralyzing cold, an instinctive gasp for air, lung full of icy daggers. Then nothing but the little weight on her chest, secured safely in six yards of fabric, dragging her down into blissful night.

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