Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Brief Unwondrous Update

Yes, so it's been a long time, right? Needless to say, much has happened over Scotland way - including various hillwalking adventures, trips to Italy, London, and Berlin (where I am currently stuck until Edinburgh airport reopens), finishing the (very) rough draft of Novel #1 and writing 38,000 words in Novel #2, one very yucky case of conjunctivitis for Jack, said boy dressed as a friar (after an unauthorized haircut from granny) for Halloween, a great big bonfire for Guy Fawkes night, a huge Thanksgiving Celebration, the first night of Hanukkah, and so on and so forth. And none of it documented on the Internet. Did it really happen then? Hmmmmmm....

Monday, September 27, 2010

Just have to get ONE post in for September!

If you look back on my archives, you'll see that I blog in cycles. Sometimes I feel a compulsion to write every day, other times I don't feel the need to blog for months (years, at one point). I feel guilty about it sometimes--stupidly, I think, because I doubt I actually disappoint anyone by disappearing, though I hope people at least wonder about me sometimes--but, if you've read my Blogging Manifesto, then you know I am trying to give myself a break about it. Because I blog for me, right?

But I am still here, and do have some lovely pictures to post of all the things I've been doing here. I am tremendously happy. There were a few pretty bad days a few weeks ago, brought on when I ran out of my medication and fell into melancholy, but David convinced me to call up the doctor here and get more medication. I didn't think it was possible. Even in America it's a huge process to get antidepressants sometimes, seeing as you have to go through a psychiatrist and be assessed and all that. But GOD BLESS THE NHS. I don't care what anyone says, I have never had a bad experience with the Universal Health system here.

I went to the doctor--a GP, not a shrink--told her what I was on, she asked a few questions and wrote me a prescription right there. For free. FOR FREE. And I paid only three pounds for the drugs themselves, drugs that cost me a $15 copay at home, where I have insurance. It was like a small miracle.

So I am much better now, and after a few stilted writing days I'm back on the old word wagon. Plus the weather's been really lovely, and David's mother has been taking Jack and I for long walks through the Scottish countryside almost daily. Something about spending that much time outside, surrounded by green, is more therapeutic than a mountain of medication.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Festival Season is Upon Us

So I've been absent for the past two weeks, mainly due to the fact that I am having a wonderful time. It is festival season in Edinburgh, which for those of you who don't know means 250,000 people from all over converge on the city for a month to take part in what must be one of the most unique events in the world: the Edinburgh Festivals.

There are actually several festivals. The first is the International Festival, the original festival that brings in twenty(ish) incredible international performances from all over the world, including opera, ballet, theater, and modern dance.

But it's what has grown up around the International Festival that is truly amazing: the Fringe Festival. Basically, anyone from anywhere can put on any type of show they want. They just have to find a venue, pay a small fee, and bam, they're in the program. The program this year is 350 pages long. There are 2,450 performances. Let me just say that again: There are 2,450 performances. In something like 368 venues, including large playhouses, churches, community centers, pubs, street corners, schools--wherever. One show takes place on a bus that travels around the city. A show can happen anywhere, and there is a show happening basically at all times. Pick up the brochure, and you'll find something to see even at two in the morning.

Many of the shows are standard productions like plays, musicals, ballet numbers, stand-up comedian acts, etc. But a lot of them are not. One performance that ran for the first week was a one-on-one show (as in one performer, one audience member) that took place in a busy coffee shop. Another performance outfits the viewer with an ipod and sends him or her out into the city with a series of directions, ending up with the viewer unsure whether passersby are just people walking down the street or part of the performance.

Basically, it's a breeding ground for experimental, avant garde theater, and there's nothing quite like it. Performers typically put on one show a day, then spend the rest of the day advertising, so that when you walk down the Royal Mile, it is heaving with people in elaborate costumes passing out flyers, musicians busking to the crowd, mini-performances being put on everywhere in order to get people interested in a show. The atmosphere is electric.

So far I have seen a music-and-dance show from Zimbabwe with a cast of thirty extremely talented, extremely energetic singers and dancers; an early morning comedic interpretation of King Lear; four different stand up comedians; the meditative chants and dances of the Tashi Lhunpo monks of Tibet, and a few other random things for good measure.

So yeah, I've been busy. To top it off, the Edinburgh International Book Festival (the largest in the world) also kicked off last weekend, so 750 authors from all over the globe are traipsing across the city in between giving talks and signing books at Charlotte Square. The Literati Glitterari, you might say. Philip Pullman, Tess Gerritsen, Jeanette Winterson, Fay Weldon, Alexander McCall Smith, Louis de Bernières, Ian Rankin, Andrea Levy, Zadie Smith, Jasper Fforde--the list goes on and on.

So my days are full at the moment, and I'm happier than I've been in months. The activity and the happiness have been inspiring me: As of last week I've got 80,000 words in my novel. Only two scenes left to go. So please excuse me if my posting is sporadic. For the first time in a long, long time I'm too busy living life to actually write about it, and while it couldn't last (I'd burn out!), it feels really good right now.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Back in the 'Burgh

Thanks to everyone for all your kind words after last week's tragedy. I'm feeling better now, but it took a while. Thankfully I had much to occupy my time as we had four days to finish packing everything and hop onto a plane to Scotland.

So here we are, back in lovely Edinburgh, and I'm feeling better than I have in months. Nothing like new adventure to jolt you out of stagnation. I move to keep things whole, right? Anyway, we're here for nearly five months and I am ready to dive into life again. Wish me luck :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's very sad around here.

We just got back from our family vacation in Hilton Head, and what I wanted to be doing was posting pictures and gushing about how fun it was. But I just don't feel up to it. My sixteen-year-old cat, Koty, died while we were away. Alone. In the basement.

I know it's a bit self-indulgent to grieve so greatly for an animal when the blogosphere is full of people dealing with losses so significant and terrible that mine pales in comparison. But I am just so wrecked I have to write about it.

It's not so much that she's gone. She was sixteen years old, and her last year was full of health problems. She developed a mammary tumor in November that constantly opened up into a bleeding wound. Due to her age, we weren't sure if we should spend $1000 to fix her, as she wasn't in any pain and still ate like a horse. But she had to remain in the basement of my parents' house to keep from bleeding everywhere. Eventually, the thought of her living out her days in the basement was just too awful. So in May we sprang for the surgery. The vet almost didn't do it, because her blood tests revealed that she was in kidney failure, relatively common for older cats, but in the end the pros outweighed the risks.

She made it through, and David and I took her back to our house. For two months she lived there with the roam of the house, on our laps every night while we watched television. But she wasn't entirely well. Not in pain, but vomiting and urinating all over the house. Exceptionally gross.

Two weeks ago we moved back in with my parents in preparation for our departure to Scotland, and Koty had to go back to the basement. I was so busy and preoccupied that I basically only saw her when I fed her twice a day. She barely moved from the same spot in the corner of my Dad's office those two weeks. But she was still eating like a horse, and seemed perfectly fine.

When it was time to go, we couldn't find anyone to come and take care of her. Finally our housekeeper agreed to come on Wednesday and Thursday, but as we were leaving on Friday, that would mean she was alone for four days. We have an automatic feeder with hard food and an automatic waterer, so foodwise she would be fine, and she'd been alone for three days before. I felt bad, but honestly I was just so busy and stressed that I didn't think about it much. It never occurred to me that what happened would ever happen.

On Thursday, the housekeeper called to say that Koty hadn't eaten any of the food she'd put out the day before, hadn't used the bathroom, and appeared very sick. We were all worried, and thought about calling someone, but weren't sure what to do. The craziest thing, what I feel so so awful about, is that we did nothing. I'm not sure why. I must have been in some serious denial. She's gone through periods of not eating before, but she's a resilient cat and I guess I just never thought she could be that sick. We would be home in two days, and then I would take care of her.

Only when we got home it was too late. We found her lying in the same spot in my Dad's basement office, eyes closed, cold and stiff. This was, no joke, one of the worst moments of my life. Finding my faithful, loving cat, whose favorite place in the world was on my lap, dead on the floor--where she'd spent her last week of life alone and sick, abandoned and helpless while we played on the beach--just kills me with guilt and shame.

I have no doubt that she died because of me. I know that if she were a healthy cat, obviously she would have been fine. But I didn't realize how sick she was, and without the wet food that she loved her kidneys probably shut down and she died of dehydration. I've heard that this isn't agony, more like a hangover that you spend a lot of time sleeping off, that she probably slipped into a coma and died peacefully. But I just picture her hurting and wondering why no one was coming for her. I honestly don't know how to get over my part in her horrible death. She deserved so much better.

If you've read this all the way to the end, I appreciate it. I haven't been able to sleep and have barely eaten since we found her. I know she was just a cat, but animals have such innocence that their suffering is all the more horrific. Anyway, I hope one day I can forgive myself. But for now, wow, that day seems far off.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ah, Cleveland

Once again I am getting nostalgic about leaving Cleveland. This city holds a paradox for me: I love it so much, and miss it while I'm away (often I can't imagine settling anywhere else), but within a few months of living here, I am inevitably desperate to get out.

It's not Cleveland, it's me. Something about coming back to my hometown regresses me into utter complacency. I can't seem to see it with the fresh eyes I wear in other cities I've lived in. Tourist's eyes, I suppose you could call them. I lose the energy to actually go out and do things here at a shocking rate, and end up doing nothing even though there's so much to do. This doesn't happen in other places. Maybe it's my history bogging me down here. Maybe it's the fact that I already have old friends, so don't bother making the effort to make new ones, even though my old friends are busy and, for the most part, a fractured group that doesn't form a cohesive whole (I know a lot of people who don't know each other, that kind of thing). I honestly don't know what it is, but living here erodes me. Which sucks. Because I love it here.

Before I leave, I should really do a Cleveland post that gets into the meat of what makes this city so awesome. But until I do, here's Anthony Bourdain talking up Cleveland in the wake of Harvey Pekar's death (RIP, Harvey):

The Original (Goodbye Splendor)

Friday, July 09, 2010

We interrupt this blog to talk about Lebron James.

So it's no secret that I'm from Cleveland. I grew up in this town and I live here now. And I love it. It's a great city, hugely underrated a far as I'm concerned, with a stunning amount of diversity, a world class arts scene (one of the top seven orchestras in the world, an amazing art museum that is always free, the largest theatre complex in the nation outside of Broadway, just to name a few), some of the top-rated restaurants in the country (Cleveland has recently been named a top culinary destination by a variety of magazines), a library system that is unrivaled by any I've seen (New York's libraries pale--I mean pale--in comparison), and a true Midwest friendliness.

But it's a sad town. People are leaving in droves, people like myself who love it (and nearly everyone who was raised her loves it), but can't stay in a place that constantly feels as if it's on the verge of dying. The school system is in a shambles. Unemployment is everywhere. Our economy is balanced precariously on the medical field and, until last night, on the Cleveland Cavaliers.

We're a city of perpetual disappointment, eagerly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory every chance we can get, and in no other place is this as true as in sports.

In football, baseball, and basketball, Cleveland has fairly consistently made it to the championships (with the exception of the Browns, who once were great...in the eighties). We play better than anyone else. But we always, we always, lose in the end. It's a metaphor for the city itself. So much potential, so much to offer, but not enough to make the difference between a city that is thriving and one that is dying. It's sad. It's really, really sad.

And now Lebron. Lebron Effing James. I am speechless about it.

Because it's not just a game in Cleveland. In a lot of ways, it's all we have keeping us afloat at the moment. He's brought hundreds of millions into a city that desperately needs it. He's provided a role model for kids in a going-nowhere educational system (though whether a ballplayer should be a role model for schoolkids belongs in another post). Most importantly, he brought hope to a city that had none. He was one of our own, born and raised, and he promised us--he actually promised us--a championship that he failed to deliver in seven years. And then he turned his back on us.

It's not just that he's leaving, though he shouldn't have left. I honestly think the best choice would have been to stay for five more years. To give five more years to the city that nurtured him and loved him, to try and give them the championship he promised, with the understanding that when that five years was up, he would be free to move on with no hard feelings. That would have been the gracious, some-things-are-more-important-than-Lebron decision. That would have been a show of true greatness.

But I know it doesn't work like that. Though it baffles me, I understand that the only loyalty that exists among sports players is to themselves. I hate this system, where people follow the money and the winning, rendering the teams they play for meaningless beyond being the economic engines that drive them. I don't get it; I hate it; but that's how it is. I know that.

So leaving is one thing. Fine, leave. He has to do what "makes Lebron James happy." (Is he always going to refer to himself in the third person now? What's next, the royal we?) So it's not that. It's how he did it. It's as if he set things up to provide the greatest possible humiliation to an already cowed region. He waits until the last possible moment, then he sets up a nationally televised Lebron Show to announce that he's leaving, only letting his team know a half hour before. He draws it out for dramatic effect, for maximum media attention. It's like breaking up with someone from Oprah's couch. Not only am I leaving you, but I'm going to disgrace you in the process. It's as if he has only contempt for us.

But of course Lebron wasn't thinking about that. Lebron was only thinking about Lebron.

So like I said, it's not that he's leaving. It's that he could have left with grace, and instead he leaves with shame. If this were a movie, the entire audience would be rooting for the Cavs to take the title next year and for Lebron to have his comeuppance. But sadly, this is not a movie, and the underdog seldom wins. Real Life doesn't reward loyalty or grace, Real Life rewards talent alone. And he took it all with him.

Good riddance.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Enough with the whining already!

Yeah, so that last post may have been a little complain-y. Every once in a while I get so passionately unhappy that I lash out at the keyboard. But I feel better now.

The problem is not 'normal life,' it's not the suburbs, it's not being a housewife--it's not any of those simple things that are so easy to blame. These are just surface things. And when I'm honest with myself, were circumstances different, I could easily love all the things I complain about.

So I'm trying to delve a little deeper to find the true source of my dissatisfaction, and, more importantly, to resolve it. I'll let you know what I come up with.

Friday, June 25, 2010

I'll be back soon. Hopefully.

I realize my blogging has been very sporadic lately. The main reason for this is that my life feels like it's on hold, and meanwhile I'm spending all my energy just surviving the transitional phase (I am crap at transitions).

We are moving back to Scotland. In a month. Plans have been in the works for a while--we've found renters for the house, bought our obscenely expensive tickets (which cost more than any trip I've ever taken--and that includes far-flung places like Fiji or the Cook Islands), and begun packing. Meanwhile I am so ready to be gone from here that all routine maintenance has fallen to the wayside. The house is ridiculously dirty, I can't be bothered to even do laundry, and I just cannot, cannot, cannot wait to be out of here. GET ME OUT OF HERE!

The suburban life has been an utter failure for me. I'm glad we came here, glad we bought a house that has proven to be a savvy investment, glad that Jack spent the first year of his life close to his grandparents. But I just cannot handle the boring, pointless, repetitive nature of my life right now.

I get teased quite a bit by my friends who wonder when I'm going to "grow up and live in real life." Not all of my friends, mind, but a select few who have viewed my vagabond, nomadic lifestyle as some kind of immature Peter Pan quest to never grow up. I dispute that. My lifestyle has always been the result of conviction, from the time I was in high school and decided that I didn't want to live a Normal Life. (What is a Normal Life anyway? What is Real Life? What the hell does that mean? But I digress). Well, if this is Real Life, people, then I want no part of it.

I didn't intend to write this post just now. It's meant to be a longer, more thought out post about the competing desires that control my life choices. But as you can see, my frustration with feeling trapped in my home (remember that I have no car? Yeah, it sucks), and my impatience to be in a new place, doing new things, is particularly overwhelming now. Hopefully I will find the time and energy to expound tomorrow.

For now, I'm off to purposely not clean my disgusting hovel.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Jack's Daddy

My boys. Pretty damn handsome, the two of them. Wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Where she been at?

I know my blogging has been a bit sporadic of late. It all started when I watched the final episode of Lost a little over a week ago. It was so terrible, such a huge disappointment, that I was severely depressed and angry. Yes, I take my fiction very seriously, and as far as I'm concerned this was the biggest narrative failure since the Star Wars prequels. I'd like to pretend it didn't exist like I pretend they don't, but unfortunately this failure happens at the end of the story instead of the beginning so I can't really allow myself to unimagine it in the Lost corner of my brain.

Anyway, then I spent many days attempting to write a post on just how awful it was, which I have saved in a draft but which never quite achieved the level of outrage I was going for but may still get published on this blog one day, and then I sort of lost steam and sat on my arse for a while. So here we are.

For a post that almost perfectly describes my feelings on the epic awfulness that was the writer's total screwing over of their characters in Lost, you can go here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Waiting for a good day

So I have good days and I have bad days. And by that I don't mean some days good things happen and some days bad things happen, but rather some days I feel good and some days I feel bad. It dominates my life, really, this feeling good or feeling bad. Tragically, irritatingly, frustratingly so.

On a good day, I wake up and get straight out of bed, because I am anxious to greet the day. I have energy, hope, expectations of goodness. On days like this everything feels effortless: I make sure the house is clean, because it makes my mind feel in order, I write at least a thousand words, I update my blog, I work on projects. I get stuff done. I exercise. And I still manage to have plenty of attention to give to Jackie, slobber him with love and affection, and even cook dinner. I feel happy. I feel alive. I feel normal.

On a bad day, I have to work really hard to drag myself out of bed. I feel bone-weary, so tired I can't keep my eyes open. When I walk downstairs I feel overwhelmed by all the tasks that lay before me. I don't want to do anything. I can't. I actually can't do anything. I make sure Jack eats and naps and is taken care of, but that is all I can manage. The rest of the day I sit on the couch, staring, wondering why in the world I feel so bad. Just so, so bad. Everything feels hopeless. I can't write a word, because walking to the computer feels like an enormous chore. My life feels stifling. The feeling is one of flatness, boredom, and mostly just an entire lack of energy.

On those days I can take emotional stock, can step back and look and realize how incredibly weird it is that just yesterday I was a whirling dervish of happiness and activity, and today I can't. I just can't. I can't tell you how strange it is to recognize that this is just a mood, a feeling, a rogue chemical emotion, and to still--still!--be powerless to change it.

So on a day when I feel good, I rush to do as much as I can. I am depressive, not bipolar, so this feeling good is not mania. But I still feel the need to take advantage of it, because who knows if I'll feel this way tomorrow?

Today I feel okay. It's not a good day, and it's not a bad day. On days like this I can make the choice. If I start moving, I can make it a good day. If I take the lazy route early on, it will almost certainly turn into a bad day.

So I'm posting. Taking the bull by the emotional horns and claiming this day as a good day. Already I am starting to feel my spirits lift, just from having accomplished one small thing, just from the joy of a few quiet moments to myself while Jack naps. Good day, I will it to be. Good day, good day, good day...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Deep Breath!

It has been a long, long time.

My excuses are as follows:

1. I spilled coffee on my macbook pro the first week in May. I was feeding Jack, drinking coffee, and surfing the net (a dangerous trio), when I bumped the mug and several tablespoons of sticky-sweet coffee landed straight on the keyboard. Having lost a computer (or, rather, a thousand bucks for repairs) to a glass of red wine a couple years ago, I took quick action. I flipped my beloved laptop over, tearing out the plug, and removed the battery within seconds. I didn't even bother with a shutdown. For 24 hours she sat, upside down in a tent position, before I took 'er apart. Oh yes I did. I opened her up and cleaned the inside out with rubbing alcohol. Then back together she went, with a couple packets of silica crystals on the keyboard, and into a plastic bag and then a drawer for many more long, painful days. Finally I turned it on, and thought the keyboard still smells faintly of coffee, all seems to be in order. Biiiiig phew.

2. Right after that I went down to Hilton Head in South Carolina. My parents, bless them, recently bought a beach house on the island. They, along with myself, Jack, and my sister Anne went down to get the house in order before the stream of summer renters hits next week. The house, by the way, is too beautiful to post pictures of without seeming like an asshole show-off. I am very lucky to have parents who can afford things that I will never be able to afford in my lifetime.

3. After a week of home improvement madness, my parents took Jackie home (again, bless them) to deliver him to his waiting Daddy, and three of my girlfriends came to stay at the house for four days. My friend Molly, who I met years ago when I spent three months working on a dude ranch in Colorado and who has been my soul mate for 15 years, my friend Luise, who I studied with in Israel and who flew in from Berlin with Julia, a Barcelona native I'd never met but who was a lot of fun. We ate. We sat on the beach. We rode bikes all over the island. We ate fresh seafood. We drank margaritas and played in the pool. It was my first time away from Jack and I had too much fun to miss him!

4. The day after I got back from the beach, I packed Jack up (he looked so big!) and my mother and I headed out to the Poconos mountains for my aunt's wedding. She has been a widow for four years, and fell in love in October and was marrying the best friend of her late husband. It was so good to see her happy. Th entire family descended upon her house at Poconos manor, and there was much eating, drinking, and Townley story-swapping. I got back last night.

So as you might guess I am exhausted. And found precious little time to write. The next few days will be devoted to catching up on my blogfeed and recovering from the insanity of the month. Hope you're all well, and can't wait to hear what's going on in your lives!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I am actually halfway done.

I currently have 51,000 words in my "novel." A few thousand more and I may even drop the quotation marks! In all seriousness, I am proud of myself for getting this far and not giving up. And reading over it, there's a whole lot of crap there, but there are also a few nuggets of pretty decent writing. It's a muscle, it really is, and it's been out of shape for a long while now. But I've been working it out again, and it's coming easier at last.

It's not all roses and sunshine over here though. So apparently my son, my beloved son, has decided that I am persona non grata around these parts, at least compared to Daddy. If Daddy leaves the room, and he's stuck with me, he cries. If he bangs his head and I pick him up, he reaches out his arms to Daddy. When Daddy's not home, I get his sloppy seconds, but the second that key flips in the lock.... Bam. Chopped Liver.

I know this is normal, and sometimes I even find it amusing, but it's happening so much these days that it's starting to hurt my feelings. Any thoughts?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Today I am 33...

...Which sounds really, really old and yet feels really, really young.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wee Jack

While we were in Denver, my sister's friend Julie Harris, who is an amazing photographer, took pictures of Jack. I love how they turned out:







Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Today is a Good Day

1. Jack did not wake up at all last night

This was normal, up until we went to Denver. Suddenly, if he heard a noise at all (he only ever woke up while we were still awake and moving around, never in the middle of the night thankfully), he would wake up and howl and howl until I came and cuddled him for a little while. Then he'd go back to sleep. The trouble is, he got used to waking up and having a cuddle.

We did cry it out with Jack, only because he never really got hysterical. We just let him fuss and minimally cry, going to check on him every ten minutes, until he went to sleep. We got lucky, because it worked well, was only nominally uncomfortable, and he became a stellar sleeper. But this crying that he does now is different. He screams and screams and I hate it. I know he's not in real distress, that he's actually just angry that we're not coming and he's throwing a little tantrum, but I cannot stand to listen to it. It makes my insides ache. So we've just been making it worse by giving up and going in and picking him up. A few nights ago we made the stupid mistake of actually bringing him back downstairs for a while. I know, I know, stupid. A couple hours later he was awake and inconsolable. Even picking him up didn't work, because he didn't want to be picked up, he wanted us to take him downstairs again.

I didn't give in this time. But I didn't leave him to cry either. I just held him while he sobbed and sobbed and gestured for the door.

I believe in not giving in. I believe that teaching him is more important than comforting him sometimes, that learning to have a good night's sleep is one of the most important lessons I can teach him, that letting him know the boundaries from the outset is as crucial to his sense of security as are my arms around him. So even though he cried for well over forty minutes, until his voice was hoarse, I didn't bring him downstairs. He got the boundaries and the arms at the same time, and finally, after a tiny bottle to calm him, he went to sleep.

Last night he didn't get up at all. This makes me very, very happy.

2. I got up early and knocked off 1,200 words before 7:00 AM

I now have almost 44,000 in my "novel." I cannot express how arduous it is for me to write sometimes, but this morning it flowed and it felt good. I'm going to try and get up at six a few times a week, before Jack gets up. When I try to write at night I am just too zonked. It doesn't work unless I drink. and because I'm down to only three times a week of my red wine fix, that's not going to work.

But this morning was great. Never mind how exhausted I am right now. I feel good.

3. I lost three pounds

It's not really a huge celebration, because anything less than five actual pounds may just be a fluke, but hey, I'll take it. I've been eating so much better these days, drinking less, and working out more. Again, I feel good.


4. We've done, like, a bunch of big home projects in the past two weeks

Finally, with the help of David's cousin, who is staying here and is an angel from heaven, I'm getting to all those things that I've been putting off. We've organized the office and the reams of paperwork. We've cleaned the basement. We've laid new grass in the backyard. We've reorganized all the kitchen cupboards. We put up brand spankin' new shelves in the pantry. Damn, it feels good.

I feel good. Life is good. All is good.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

I have tapped into the zeitgeist

Just when I thought I was original, snapping a photo of everything I eat for my fat blog, the New York Times reveals that, once again, I'm just like everyone else. Only fatter, obviously.

"First the Camera, then the Fork," NYTimes April 6

Monday, April 05, 2010

Celebrating Pesach

Passover is, without a doubt, one of my favorite holidays. It is a time of renewal and remembrance, a real spring holiday in which we gather strength from the winters of the past and move forward into the summer of the future, if you'll forgive my grandiose description. But Passover is grandiose. It is a celebration of the single most important historical event int Jewish history, the Exodus from Egypt, when the Israelites went from a ragtag bunch of slaves to an enduring and powerful people. The seder celebration is thousands of years old. The last supper of Jesus was a passover seder. He celebrated it much the same way as we celebrate it today, with wine and unleavened bread and feasting.

I'm not going to get into the "truth" of the Exodus or not. Whether or not it actually happened, believe it or not, is not all that important to me. So much of history is simply storytelling, collective myth-making, the creation of a cultural identity through a shared past. And that is enough for me.

Passover starts with a massive Spring Cleaning. Every corner must be emptied and cleaned, lest some "Chametz" be found there. Chametz is basically any leavening agent, or anything that has been leavened: bread, pasta, any wheat product that hasn't specifically been created for Passover under strict supervision. So we clean our houses, our cars, our closets, our offices, and we clear out everything. Kosher Jews bring out an entirely different set of dishes and pots and pans just for Passover, items that have never touched Chametz and never will.

After the cleaning, there is the seder on the first evening of Pesach (those outside of Israel have two seders, the first two nights). How can I describe the seder? It is a long, ritualistic commemoration of freedom, in which we who were once slaves are meant to lounge and feast like royalty.

The table is set with fine china and the seder plate, which contains the symbols of passover: Maror, or bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery which the Jews endured in Egypt; Charoset, A sweet, brown mixture representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt; Karpas, or parsley which is dipped in salt water to commemorate the tears of the people in Egypt; Z'roa, a lamb shank bone symbolizing the ancient Pesach offering; and Beitzah, a hard-boiled egg also symbolizing the offering. We eat these things, and follow many other rituals: washing of the hands at the table, breaking and eating the matsoh, drinking four glasses of wine throughout the meal, each one symbolizing one act of God's redemption. From one glass we remove ten drops to remember the plagues visited on Egypt, and to remind ourselves that our joy is lessened by the suffering of others, even our enemies.

But the most important part of the night is telling the story. We tell the story of the Exodus, however we want. I've been to seders where the children put on a play; I've been to seders where each participant was given a piece of the story to tell in whatever creative way they chose; I've been to seders where the story was simply read from the Haggadah, which is basically the program for the evening. We tell, we laugh, we ask questions--questions, in fact, are very important--we sing songs, loudly and late into the night. We discuss tyranny and how and where it still exists in the world, and how we as individuals can further the cause of freedom today. And somewhere amid all the ritual we eat until we feel sick. At the seder I went to last week there was course after course, and wine flowing freely, and we were there for five hours, singing and arguing (as Jews do). How could anyone not love this holiday?

After the seder, the festival lasts for eight days. Eight days in which we consume no chametz, only matsoh. At the end of the eight days we are free to eat bread again, until next year.

I love ritual; I love tradition. I know in our age that most people look skeptically on ritual, but I love it. I feel like it connects me to things that have been lost to time. It grounds me and roots me and makes me feel like I belong. It was the seder that first made me want to convert. I was in Israel, and my roommate brought me home with her family. They were all secular, not religious at all, and yet every year they got together and performed these rituals. There were at least thirty people there; it was warm chaos. I loved it. I wanted me some a'dat.

So just add Pesach to the list of Jewish holidays that are awesome. Anyone who wants an invite for next year, let me know. We'd be happy to have you!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

I'm Baaaaaaack!

I had far too much fun in Denver. It was an exhausting, food-filled, wonderful time with my sisters in a city that had more sun in a week than Cleveland gets all spring. I am only now beginning to recover.

One thing I recommend avoiding if possible: Wait, no, two things: One, traveling alone with an extremely active eleven-month-old. We made it to the gate just as they were making the final boarding call (I had to run the entire length of the concourse while pushing a stroller with one hand and dragging my carry-on, because I refuse to pay the f*cking airlines to check a bag). We are the last ones on the plane, only to be told that the pilot has to file some "paperwork." We sat at the gate for over an hour. Now distracting Jack for four hours, as he desperately tries to pull the hair of the passenger in front of me, pull things from the bag of the passenger beside me, and crawl furiously up the aisle while I chase him, this is not so fun. Not recommended. Number two on the not recommended list, is flying home on the afternoon of Pesach (Passover) when you have to prepare the seder that evening. I managed it, somehow, and thankfully it was just David, me, and my parents, but Wow. The Stress. Not recommended. Still, I produced, with my father's help, a halfway decent meal and set, with my mother's help, a halfway decent table:


So while I don't recommend you engage in my folly, it did turn out all right in the end. Now let me leave you with a few choice scenes from Denver:

My sisters have dinner parties, like, every night.




We went to the zoo!




And celebrated my nephew's second birthday:


But mostly just did fun sister things:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mile High Madness

After a somewhat harried three-hour plane ride, Jack and I arrived in Denver last night. We are here to visit two of my sisters, Anne and Melissa, who live together here and are trying to convince the rest of us to make the move West. It is sunny and beautiful today, and I am considering their request.

Let me just put this out there: This shall be a week of much merry-making. I miss my sisters. We gonna have us some fun.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

One last verse, so good it needs to stand alone

Matthew 25:41-45
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least among you, you did not do for me.'

Dear Church,

So basically, if you refuse to give health care to the 30 million uninsured people of this country, you're refusing to give it to Jesus. Good luck with that, you know, in the next life.

Dear Country,

Thank you for passing this bill. We're not done yet, but this is a big, big step.

xx

An Historic Day?

Today, Congress may or may not pass one of the most important and controversial bills of the last several decades. Whether or not the bill is perfect, which it almost certainly is not, is not the question as far as I am concerned. The question is, what kind of nation do we want to be? Just watching this video made me so sad. It just made me sad. It's kind of long, but so telling.



The worst part of it, in my opinion, is the fact that the vast, vast majority of tea party members, anti-healthcare activists, and Fox News Junkies are professed evangelical Christians. The people in the video are what caused the very first cracks in the foundation of what was once a strong, life-giving faith for me. I simply cannot stomach being associated with such ignorance, such lack of compassion, and such scandalous misinformation. The bizzare mistrust of government, the institution responsible for public schools, fire departments, police departments, highways and transportation systems, fair labor laws, constitutional equality, and countless other things that were probably once vehemently opposed but now form the fabric of our daily life, I find maddening. Are they serious? I'm no champion of the government, God knows that any institution run by flawed people will naturally have flaws, but give me a break. Ameristan? Because of providing health care to its citizens? The ridiculousness of the argument is almost too obvious to bother arguing against, and yet it has so many people so angry.

I have to reiterate how much it breaks my heart that the most vocal opposition comes from people like my parents. My parents are doctors, intelligent, compassionate, generous people, and yet they follow this viral campaign of propaganda and scare tactics because it ultimately comes from a source they trust: the Church. The Church that was meant to be a place of sanctuary for the widow and the orphan, that was meant to care for the needy, that was taught from the beginning to put other's needs first. Paul originally ordered all Christians to sell their possessions and give to the poor and live together sharing everything. You know, like commies. The church was one big red commie-fest. But we forget that.

The best book I ever read that dealt with this, the book that saved me from joining the ranks of angry ex-Christians everywhere, was Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing about Grace. Yancey is an evangelical, a faithful Christian, but he is time and time again criticized about this book. It's message was simple: the Church should not, and in fact cannot, by it's nature, be involved in politics. A political church will inevitably be a corrupt church, because politics are power and power is a corrupting, corrosive force. The church is about grace and grace alone, scandalously so in fact, and because government is an enforcer, it cannot ever operate under the principles of the church. The government has justice, the church has mercy. The world needs them both, but never mixed.

Jesus never once took on the government, Yancey points out. He never once paid even a single second's worth of attention to any laws, never railed against political figures; in fact the single time he was asked about the government in any direct way he said "Give unto Caeser what is Caeser's." He had nothing to say about the Roman occupation of Israel, nothing to say about homosexuality or prostitution or drunken orgies or gladiator kill games or any of the laws of Ancient Rome. But he had plenty to say about the religious leaders of the day. He saved all his venom for them. He called them a brood of vipers, who ignored the poor and lined their own pockets, who followed every law to the letter but had no compassion or mercy, who were self-righteous and claimed to be close to God while turning away from the very people they were supposed to serve. Jesus never ate with senators, he never ate with religious leaders, he ate with society's rejects and taught his disciples to do the same. That was it. That was his message. When asked what the most important commandment, he answered Love God, and Love your neighbor. All other commandments come out of those two.

So I look at the Church today, and all I can see is that they have become the enemy of what Jesus taught. If he were to be born today, you know who he would come down on like a righteous tidal wave? Not Obama. Not democrats or republicans or abortion doctors or homosexuals. Oh no. He'd leave them alone. But he would have plenty to say to the people who use his name to advance their politics, who insist that the law of the land be work for what you get and not neighbor helping neighbor. It makes me so angry. (An aside: I feel the need to point out that there are many, many Christians I have met all over the world that exemplify loving your neighbor and being generous and compassionate. I am speaking here only of this strange, new, conservative right wing church that seems to have overtaken so many in this country).

I realize this is a really long post, and kind of off the health care topic, but I think it's apt. Because health care for all is just one of the many evolving aspects of a good, citizen-centered nation, the ultimate in neighbor helping neighbor philosophy. Never mind all the myriad practical reasons to put it into place! I hope, I really really hope, that it passes.

Now I'll just leave you with this: a video taken at an anti-health care rally in my own state last Wednesday, followed by a mess of Bible verses showing just how ridiculous this line of thinking is for any human being, let alone the ones who are supposed to be living by what the Bible says.



Deuteronomy 15:7, 11
If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

Leviticus 23:22
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.

Proverbs 11:24-25
One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

Proverbs 14:31
He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

Proverbs 28:27
He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

Isaiah 1:17
Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 58:6-7;10
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? ...and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. (My aside: this was in response to the people's tendency to spend their time fasting and praying to be more holy. God had this to say: save your fasting. Go out and DO something. Just another l'il note)

Ezekiel 16:49
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (My aside: notice the sin of Sodom was NOT homosexuality, bu indifference to the needy. Just a l'il note)

Mark 10:21
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

James 1:27
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

1 John 3:17-18

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I want this to be me



Maggie May posted this on her blog, and it made me so happy. Right before it made me green with The Envy.

I have decided that I am going to do this too. I am going to do this and one day you will be watching me up in this piece. Obviously I can't do exactly this though, so I have been trying to come up with ideas of what I could do all over the world and film and then make into a nice wee video.

Here's what I have so far:

1. Me attempting to do the splits all over the world (Where the Hell is Bendy Becky?)

2. Me flashing strangers all over the world (Where the Hell is Naked Becky?)

3. Me talking to myself all over the world in the manner of a crazy person (Where the Hell is Crazy Becky?)

4. Me making out with David all over the world (Where the Hell is Necking Becky?)

5. Me changing Jack's diaper all over the world. (Where the Hell did Jack Poop?)

What do you think? Any suggestions?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Cousins



I wish we all lived closer together :(

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blastoff!

Up and running for your perpetual amusement:

Bex, Obsessed

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Big Oops

So I've been back on Effexor for a wee while now, and slowly I am feeling close to my normal self. We're not all the way there, but I can see something recognizable on the horizon.

That being said, the only side effect of the drug is the fact that I can't sleep (yeah, I know, only....ha). It makes me, for lack of a better word, squiggly. I can't stay in any one position for more than a minute, and end up tossing and turning and residing in this odd place where my brain is sort of asleep but my body is all over the place, constantly waking my poor brain up. Not pleasant in the slightest. So I take another drug, Trazedone, to sleep. (Aside: Yes, I am on two drugs. But if I have to choose between two drugs and days full of black voidiness, I'll take the drugs.)

This is all beside the point. The point is, last night we stayed up to watch the Oscars, which dragged on foreeeeeeeever so we didn't crawl into bed until after midnight. Par for the course a few short years ago, but unthinkable now. And I must have been really out of it because I accidentally took an Effexor instead of a Trazedone. Needless to say, the night dragged on and on, with nary a snooze in sight. It was, in a word, awful. So I am in a bit of a stupor today.

Was it worth it, you ask? The Oscars, I mean? Meh.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Friday, February 26, 2010

Spare the Rod

Jack has taken to spitting his food. Not spitting it out because he doesn't like it, just spitting it, loudly and all over the place, to signal the end of a meal.

I do not like this. As you can see from my previous post, living with messes has become par for the course, but having food spewed on the carpet, not to mention my clothes, is just pushing it a little too far for me.

So the other day, when Jack spit pureed green beans all over me, I calmly paused, looked him in the eye, and said firmly "No. We don't spit food." I didn't raise my voice, I didn't make a mean face, I simply used a stern voice.

He went absolutely catatonic for ten or fifteen seconds. Wouldn't look at me, wouldn't accept another spoonful of food, just stared straight ahead. And then he burst out crying. Big, sloppy tears, a real wail. And my heart turned to water, I swear it. Of course I immediately swooped him out of his high chair and held him close, but I felt so terrible.

The truth is, I'm no softie. We did cry it out, and when I was a nanny I never took any crap and was not swayed by tears in the slightest. But seeing my baby cry, not because he had to stay in his crib and didn't want to, but because he knew Mommy was upset with him--seeing that just wrecked me. It just made me think how the things we do as parents have such an enormous effect on the lives of our children. Not that I want to sit and freak out about it, but the weight of that... Wow.

I believe that discipline is important. I think order and rules are necessary to give children a sense of control and security, and I have no problem enforcing this. But what scared me so much when Jack cried was the idea that he could feel rejected by me. Not disciplined, but rejected. And I can't handle that.

It worked though. Now all I have to say is "No," and he stops. But I don't know. It's just so hard to think you hold someone's sense of self worth, even before they have any concept of self, in the palm of your hand. It scares the crap out of me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I get by with a little help from my friends.

I honestly don't know what stay-at-home mothers did before the Internet. Correction: I don't know what housebound stay-at-home mothers did before the Internet. Because having people remind me that my feelings are normal makes a huge difference to my sanity. Of course I know that many mothers feel trapped and bored and lost at times, but it's still all too easy to beat yourself up about it. Guilt is just something you birth with a baby I suppose. I never struggled with guilt issues before Jack was born, and now they seem to be my constant companion.

Still, this week has been muuuuuuuuch better. Two of my sisters have made the pilgrimage home for the week, and we've all moved back in with my parents for the duration of the visit, so that life is full of people and chaos (and help!) again. Which is just how I like it. Unfortunately, the Eating has resumed as well. The Eating is an unfortunate byproduct of time with my family. We love the Eating. We live for the Eating. We are wonderful at the Eating. Thankfully I am now doing pilates twice a week, if you can believe it (I can barely believe it), so hopefully the damage will be minimal.

An aside: I have thus far written 38,000 words in my "novel," which shall remain in double quotes until I feel I have earned the right to take them off. Let me repeat: 38,000 words, people. Not the 50,000 I was meant to have by Christmas, but it's something and I'm proud.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An alarming new trend

Jack has decided he no longer needs to nap. I am beside myself. I know I shouldn't complain, because he sleeps thirteen hours a night straight through. But I am alone with him for ten hours every day, snowed in, unable to go anywhere anyway because I have no car, and most of the day is spent following him as he crawls around and stopping him right before he puts something electrical/poisonous/small enough to choke on in his mouth. I think I might be going a little bit crazy.

After two or three hours I have taken to putting him in his high chair and feeding him puffs, one by one, while I surf the net. This lasts about a half hour. Later, I fill a box full of stuff and he takes it all out. Then we do it again. And again. This lasts maybe another half hour before he is tired of it. After that I put him in his pack and play with some musical-lighty up toys. I can get ten minutes out of that before he pulls himself up, bites the side, and proceeds to wail.

Five or six hours in I might try to watch a little television on the DVR. I sit him on the couch with me and give him toys to bang together. Sometimes I make it through a whole program. Most of the time I don't. How many hours to go now?

Yesterday I put him in the ergo and walked to the library because my brain was slowly melting. It was blizzarding. I had to squeeze my eyes shut because the snow was blowing in my face so hard. Don't worry, Jack was under about a thousand layers so he was snug and warm. My face almost fell off but my brain firmed up again. It was so worth it. Two hours passed that way.

The sad thing is I spend most of my day trying to keep my precious, beloved baby occupied so I don't have to pay attention to him. The lack of any time to think, to write, to do anything that reminds me of who I am means that our time together, all of it, is spent in a haze of me just trying to get through it. By the time David gets home, I hand Jack to him and crawl into bed for an hour. When I get up, the baby is fed and sleeping, the house that over the course of the day had become an embarrassing mess has been picked up, and David is more often than not cooking dinner.

I am so lucky. I know this! I am so lucky. But still. Is it awful that I wish I had less time with Jack, so that I could be renewed and alive enough to be able to give myself completely to him in the time we do have? Quality over quantity? I know one day, when he is grown (he grows so fast!), I will look back on these days and long for them. But right now I just feel like half of a person.

Wow, just read over this. It's unbelievably whiny. And it started out all lighthearted! Clearly there are some deeper emotions going on there. I know I am not unique among women in the way that I feel, but I can't help but wonder sometimes if I am missing some all-important mommy gene that makes women love every waking second with their babies. Because I don't. And it pains me to admit it.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Today is the first day of the rest of this blog.

I am really moved by all of the comments people made on my last post. Life is always such a paradox. The minute we stop struggling so hard, whether in love, parenting, or even blogging, is often the minute that what we want comes to us. In order to write something that resonated with other people, I had to stop trying to write what I thought might resonate with other people. I had to, as mothers have told their children forever, "be myself."

I know all of this. So why is it so easy to forget? How can it possibly be so difficult to be yourself? Because it is. It really is.

I went in search of an e.e. cummings quote I once heard on being yourself, and here's a few I found along the way:

Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess, and to gain applause which he cannot keep. ~Samuel Johnson

He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away. ~Raymond Hull

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. ~Oscar Wilde

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. ~Dr. Seuss

Most of our faults are more pardonable than the means we use to conceal them. ~François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld

Just being yourself, being who you are, is a successful rebellion. ~Author Unknown

And the quote I was looking for:

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~e.e. cummings, 1955

If it weren't so hard, if it were just something that came naturally, than I suppose there wouldn't be so many people encouraging us to do it. The strangest thing, to me, is that for centuries great men and women, poets and artists, admirable people from all walks of life, they've all been telling us: Here's how I did it. Here is how I became great. Because I didn't care what other people thought, I cultivated a character that could withstand life's storms, I worked hard, and I ferociously fought to be an authentic version of myself. We have been provided with a blueprint! And still we try to do it the easy way. Get on a reality show. Be really hot and wear cool clothes. Have the right profession, say the right thing, be in the right place at the right time. We don't have to be great, just famous. Because famous is great.

I am teetering on my soapbox here, so I'm going to climb off. I'm just feeling really passionate these days about things I have lost, the biggest one being me. That happens a lot. But I'm on the mend, off to find it again. Fight the good fight! (insert fist pump here)

Monday, February 01, 2010

On Blogging: A Manifesto


Or: Why I bother blogging.


I started this blog for friends and family only. I wanted them to be able to keep track of me on my travels, and I also didn't want to have to send a million letters or emails because I am crap at keeping in touch with people. Thus this blog was born. It existed in various incarnations, and in various places, with various periods of dormancy in between for many years. The last of these dormant periods took place when I got pregnant by surprise and proceeded to fall apart. Then spring came last year, and a baby was imminent, and I was trapped in my house and lonely, and I started writing again.

But more importantly, I started reading other people's blogs. I'd done this before, loving the thrill of being a voyeur into the lives of others, but it's as if the blogosphere had become a new thing: Suddenly there were communities, and communities within communities, and followers and comments and strangers becoming cyber-friends and all these things that probably existed for years that I had never noticed before.

And there were so many people like me. Originally I was searching frantically for blogs written by people with unplanned pregnancies, and landed on Girls Gone Child and Mommy Wants Vodka, both of which led me to most of the blogs you'll see on my sidebar. I was ecstatic. I was not alone. Others had made it through.

So I started writing again, and commenting on people's blogs, and finding blogs I really liked and people I really liked. It should have been simple and easy, but I have an unfortunate tendency to make things complicated and difficult. Some days it was enough to write how I felt, and read how others felt. But other days, I would read a blog and see how many comments the writer received and think, I want that! I want people commenting on my blog, telling me to hang in there when I'm feeling low, and encouraging me to go for it when I want to do something crazy. And more than that, let's be honest--I want people telling me how awesome I am and how great of a writer I am. Seriously, the amount of ego-stroking that goes on around the Internet is unbelievable, and I wanted me a piece of that.

So my childish ego wanted recognition! accolades! fame!--and in the wake of that childishness came an even worse vice: Envy.

Envy is one of the big three for me, something I despise and try to keep out of my life along with Shame and Regret. These three little demons destroy lives from the inside out, stealing joy and creating bitterness, and I fight them with everything I've got. Most of the time, I succeed. But for the past year, when I've felt alone and bored and powerless to change my circumstances, Envy has taken up residence in my head, and it is a nasty tenant. And it feeds--my god how it feeds--on the ability to see into other people's lives through blogs.

I envied everyone. I envied people who seemed happier than me. I envied people who had perfect-seeming relationships. I envied people who were talented. I envied people who were funny. I envied people who had tons of commentors every day, telling them how great they were, how talented, how brilliant their thoughts were. Because wait a minute--I'm great, right? I'm talented! I've got brilliant thoughts!

How was it that someone could start a blog in March, and have a hundred followers by May? I've had my blog for nearly seven years! Why don't people like me? Why is everybody so much goddamn happier than me? Why do I suck so incredibly bad? And why, when I comment a million times on such and such's blog, do they never come to look at mine? Why do they hate me?

I would go through periods of commenting like mad on a bunch of blogs, because I knew that's how people got other people to look at their blogs. I did it even though it bothered me so much when somebody else did it, this fishing for followers. But eventually I couldn't do it anymore, because I have a really hard time being insincere, and trying to think of a comment just for commenting's sake was exhausting. Instead I found myself commenting over and over again on certain blogs that I enjoyed, or only on posts that really touched me. It was better that way.

But it didn't bring the masses to my blog. So there was still the issue of the Envy.

And finally, I had to stop and think. What do I really want out of this blog? What am I really writing for? Because when I'm honest with myself, do I really want a million followers? Do I really want the pressure of trying to be funny, or poignant, or profound, every single day? Sure I would love the attention, but do I really want to work that hard for it? Because it is hard work. To cultivate these virtual relationships, and to create like mad on your own blog, is a lot of work. And here's the thing: I don't want to do that. I am way, way too neurotic to have a large amount of people following my personal life. I want to be free to write horrendous shit, to be whiny and sad sometimes, to tell jokes that aren't particularly funny. And if someone should tell me I'm great, I want it to be someone who is, well, invested in me, the way I'm somehow invested in the blogs you see to your right.

I don't want a bunch of followers, I want friends. Because with friends you don't have to try, and you can just be yourself.

The truth is I work better in relationship with others, however that relationship is defined.

So how to create these relationships? For a long time, when I came across a new blog I'd add it to a folder marked "New Blogs." If I came back to it again and again and found myself going over its archives, I'd add it to my reader. If I didn't, I'd erase it. Now I don't do that very much because I pretty much know the first time I go to a blog if it's one I want to read. If I can't stop reading, then voila. If I can leave without looking at any other pages, then there's really no point in saving it.

So what keeps me reading? It's not necessarily snark or just being funny, because sometimes I get annoyed with blogs like that because I feel like they're trying too hard. I like funny, yes, but the kind that's like salt: it should flavor the blog, not dominate it. It's not necessarily beautiful writing either, because I'd rather read books if I'm reading just for the sake of lovely words on a page. I like blogs written by people who are authentic, who are kind, who sometimes struggle, who are open-minded and pure of heart, who have a good sense of humor and don't take themselves too seriously. But there are a lot of people like that. So they have to be, more than anything, people who I get. People who I identify with. People I would choose to be friends with should I ever meet them in person. People like that are the only ones with blogs I want to read, and the only ones I hope will read me. Should such people remain small in number, and should my followers be few but loyal, I will be happy.

Having determined these things I hereby submit the following resolutions:

I resolve to grow not a mass of readers but a network of friends, and to do so organically, not methodically, by sharing experiences and exchanging thoughts.

I resolve not to envy those who have worked hard and earned multiple readers, and to be happy for those who are talented, successful, and blessed.

I resolve that I shall no longer allow this blog to be a source of any neurosis, sadness, or frustration due to its readership, content, or lack thereof.

I resolve that this blog shall be a place where I can be myself, collect my thoughts, and document my experiences. Upon it I shall be free to write the worst drivel ever written without fear. It shall be a forum for cultivating relationships with like-minded people wherever they may be in the world, and it shall be used for the sole purpose of making me happy, not famous, successful, or even popular.

Hereafter, this blog will be something I control, not something that controls me.

Welcome.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Things in the works

I'm still catching my breath, still easily overwhelmed. But I'm better. I'm much, much better.

I am back on Effexor.

Already the clouds are beginning to lift a little bit. I have more energy, and, most importantly, more hope. It's the lack of hope that makes life unbearable, when I feel like things are bad and will always be. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Right now I feel that it will all turn out as it should, and that feeling is like a warm blanket wrapped around me keeping the cold at bay.

I'm trying to organize my life again. It is nearly the end of January and this mediation should have been done ages ago, but here we are. I need to remember what I'm living for, where I'm heading--all those things questions that are so important and yet so easy to ignore.

I've been thinking about this blog, seeing as it has replaced my journal and is thus my main outlet for reflection and remembrance. So what am I writing for? What do I want to get out of it? I feel like I need to answer these questions. I need to write a Philosophy of Blogging. Heavy, I know. But I'm the type of person who needs a bit of structure, a mission statement if you will, lest my neuroses take things over. So I'm taking a few days to figure that out.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bex and the City

Living in Cleveland, I missed New York all the time. I still do. But being there with Jack left an appreciation for the convenience of life in the suburbs. No carrying a stroller up and down subway steps. No walking thirty blocks because the downtown line of the A train is out of service. No negotiating jam-packed streets with a stroller and a pack'n'play or carrying suitcases up five story walkups. No paying half your income just for the privilege of living in a shoebox. No lines, no waits, no getting bumped on the sidewalk or cursed by passing cars for walking just that bit too slowly across the street when they're trying to make a right turn.

Still, there is such a trade-off. In Cleveland, there is no running downstairs to pick up a gallon of milk because we're out. No getting wasted with the boyfriend at a party because neither of us has to drive home. No endless supply of ethnic restaurants within walking distance. No good sushi. No piles and piles of cheap takeout menus, in fact no really easy food just a phone call away. No streets overflowing with multiple languages. No walking really at all. No teeming life right outside your window. No vibrant, exciting, anything-can-happen feeling greeting you with every new day.

Some days I would trade anything for that feeling. Others I thank God for my wonderful house (the mortgage on which is less than what I paid for my 8x10 room in a two-bedroom on the Upper West Side) and my wonderful yard and my wonderful, magical car that can get me all the way across town in less than fifteen minutes.

Oh, but that taste of the city.







David showing Jack where he used to work: the Empire State Building!



Jack loved diner menus.



And the subway.



And mugging for the camera.



But still, we left him home when we went to the wedding.



It was good to be around Scottish people again.



Overall, it was a great time. But "great time" has a new meaning when you have a child. Meaning: It was a "great time," but boy am I tired. And glad to be back home.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Heart New York

We leave today for New York City, to attend the wedding of one of David's good friends and to visit with my sister and cousin, both of whom are lucky enough to still live there. Sigh. David promised we could go live in New York again for a year, but the job situation makes that pretty difficult. So I am considering foregoing that dream in exchange for us traveling the world for a year with Jack in an ergo. But that's a post for a different day.

Anyway, will try to post from the big city but I can't make any promises as I intend to be very very busy doing New Yorky things. I lived there for two years and, as is always the case, rarely did anything touristy. I intend to remedy that in the next five days.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thinking of Haiti

There was a time when I worked with the very poor. Those were the most poignant, most difficult, and most satisfying times of my life thus far, and when something like the earthquake in Haiti happens, it makes me wish I weren't sitting in my living room feeling helpless. Or worse, feeling disconnected from a tragedy that is so far away it doesn't seem real.

Just as an aside, last night I heard what Pat Robertson said about the tragedy in Haiti. Attitudes like this are what created the very first fissures in my Christian faith. There is a certain kind of Christian, the kind I worked with in the third world, the kind who was probably the first to arrive in Haiti to help, that represents the best of humanity to me. It's too bad that what "Christian" means to most of the world is represented by people like Pat Robertson. I hated being identified with that.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Townley Christmas Extravaganza, Part Two: Christmas Day (twice)

This year we had to do Christmas Day twice. Three of the cousins didn't arrive into Ohio until afternoon on Christmas Day, so we opted to come back the following day, dividing the festivities into two fun-filled, extremely chaotic, mind-spinning days.

So this is how it went.

Christmas Eve, as you know, is spent at my parents' house. It is one giant slumber party. (In the old days, all four girls slept in one bedroom, but now two of us are coupled and babied and in need of privacy, and the other two don't really have a desire to share a bed when there are plenty of beds in which they could stretch out and have a night free of kicking and fighting over the covers.) In the morning, we are awoken bright and early by my parents, who have been playing Santa as well as cooking breakfast downstairs. Now here's the embarrassing bit, because you knew there'd be one: We all have to sit and wait on the landing until they call us down. Yes. We do that. It used to be the four of us, waiting eagerly for the go-ahead while my parents held loud discussions downstairs ("Honey, did Santa come?" "I don't think so, dear, looks like he didn't make it this year, hardee har har.") Now it's six of us and two little ones, looking like we've been punched in the face from lack of sleep, slightly irritated that my parents still insist on videotaping us coming down the stairs.

(Let me just state for the record that in my twenties I made many, many attempts to get this tradition to go away. It is very hard not to feel silly as an adult sitting on top of the landing, hung over, waiting to be called downstairs while being videotaped in ridiculous Christmas jammies. But I've mellowed out a bit and accept it for what it is: the pure peculiarity of my family.)

When we come down, we open presents from my parents. There used to be a mountain of gifts, now, thankfully, there are just a few. Usually one slightly expensive thing my parents know we want and can't afford, and a few little things. The mountain of gifts has now moved onto the grandkids, in spite of my protests (We didn't even buy Jack any toys this year).

After the mountain has been conquered, there is breakfast. On the red Christmas dishes with the tree on them that only come out for this One Special Day. Like most traditions, breakfast gets more elaborate every year. Eggs, bacon, sausage, cinnamon rolls, pancakes, coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice (to put in the mimosas, duh), and hot chocolate were all on the table this year. I gain about twenty pounds on Christmas day alone. Afterward, we have to rush to do the dishes lest my mother do them all before we get there; then it's off to grandma's house.

We used to sleep over there on Christmas Day, but now there are simply too many of us. And besides, this year every bedroom was taken with out-of-town Townleys. Which means we had to make the hour drive there and back twice, but it was worth it.

Christmas at grandma's follows the same presents-then-stuff-your-face pattern as at home. But we saved the presents for day two this year, and went ahead with the face-stuffing both days. There is your typical Christmas feast, right down to the two twenty-pound turkeys my grandmother cooked up this year, all washed down with mulled cider and SoCo, wine, and champagne. There are two tables, the "adult's" table and the "kid's" table, so stated because the only children at the kid's table are our children. Over the years, the kid's table has grown as the cousins got married, and now have children, but we still sit at the same plastic fold-out table-cum-chairs combos (the kind you all have to sit down on at the same time lest they collapse) that we've been sitting at for years, while the "grown-ups" sprawl out at the dining room table. Not that I'm complaining, because the kid's table is way more fun. Often at the other table there is absolute silence. No doubt they are listening in on our conversations.

As far as presents are concerned, there is a very organized system. All names are put into a hat at Thanksgiving, and everyone picks a name (couples count as one person), so everyone buys and receives one gift, with a price limit of $30. This year Tommy gave David and me two bottles of wine. Somehow we drew his name too. We got him a sweater. He is not easy to shop for.

Normally all of this is a very relaxing, good time. This year, it was utter chaos. Forty-three people, four babies cycling naps in two pack-n-plays upstairs, three toddlers running amok, a few tiny person meltdowns, harried parents waiting their turn for the changing table and trying to hold a conversation while balancing a baby and a gin and tonic, loved ones who haven't seen each other in two years trying to catch up with everyone and finding there just isn't the time. And family pictures. Oh, family pictures. These took place on Day Two, and, though worth it, were unbelievably stressful. Trying to coordinate that many people, seven of them under seven, is actually insane. It is actually insane. But I am glad we did it, because every single Townley was in that photo, and that is something.

So there you have it. Allow me to follow it up with some of those hard-earned family photos.

Our immediate family:



The great-grandbaby 2009 quartet:



Grandma, Grandpa, and their great granchildren:



The Townley military men, all in uniform for a photo. From left to right: my cousin Richard, a doctor in the air force, My grandfather, retired air force, My cousin David, army, special ops--shipping off to Afghanistan in March, Uncle Jim, Coast Guard, retired Captain of the Port of Portland, Oregon.



It's so amazing to think that the Townley family went from this:



To this:



To this:



What a Christmas.