Mom and Alfred, visiting

About twelve years ago I walked into the dining room to find my mother standing on one of the dining room chairs.


Sometimes,” she said, “I just like to feel tall.


Video Description: Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

Wind may blow, and many miles…

Why, we're for Marty o'course!

Every major metropolitan city in the U.S. has a West Allis. Fortunately for those of us living in the Milwaukee area ours is actually called West Allis. You’ll know you’ve reached your own West Allis when you find yourself surrounded by blue collar Mexican restaurants that serve polish sausage and french fries, no-cover bars with $1.50 tappers, brick paired with warped vinyl siding, and the wrong amount of street parking whatever the occasion.

I visited ours this evening to bid farewell to a friend who’s chosen to shuffle off this West Allisian coil for the damper climes of Seattle. A group of us met him for drinks at Benno’s Genuine Bar & Grill, a 30-tap townie bar with friendly staff, ample seating, reasonable prices, and after a few hours a girl suddenly resting her head on the bar, weeping her eyes out, sitting all alone.

Sweet merciful Jesus what cloying diva hell has descended upon us?” I wondered. But not in quite so many words on account of the volume of the jukebox had me a little frazzled. It probably went something more like “#*@&%. Now what?” The causes of all the tears I’ve seen at bars have rarely elevated their validity above such a response. But then I figured folks don’t cry that hard when things don’t hurt. And even if a cause is unreasonable it doesn’t mean the pain’s not real, right? Right.

So I walked over to her. Sat down on the stool to her left. Leaned in to talk through the hair covering her face. God was she crying. Even over the thumping twang of the jukebox her sobs burbled up loud enough to name themselves.

“Hey honey. What’s’a matter? You doing okay?”

Unintelligible mumbling escaped the curtain of her hair, followed by a “…no…” and more sobbing, this time with a key change.

I put my left hand on her forearm, my right on her shoulder. Rub, rub, rub. “C’mere honey. It’s gonna be all right. What’s going on, huh? You want to talk about it? We don’t have to, but I’m here, you know, if you want to.”

A pause in the tears, a mumble of something akin to “I’unno,” then a return to weeping.

Causes may be unreasonable, but pain is still painful, and sadness has a keen way with conjuring friends from strangers.

“Can I at least get you a water or…” I hesitated. I don’t like to see people drinking when they’re upset. But I forged ahead anyway. “Or a drink? Can I get you a drink?”

If you wink and nod, and then make pinch-y fingers toward the glass, the bartender’ll make the drink weak. I can wink, nod, and make pinch-y fingers. One Sprite, please; on the rocks.

“Yeah. Yeah a drink,” she coughed out. Finally– she speaks! “But just shots,” she yelled to the floor. “I’m only doing shots tonight. I just want to black out. Tonight I just want to forget everything.”

What have I walked into what have I walked into what have I walked…

“Aw no, honey. Not tonight! You don’t want to forget tonight!” I cheered. “We’re gonna have a nice time you and me, and you’re gonna want to remember it! Let me get us some waters, huh?” No reply. I tried again. “So what is it then,” I asked. “Is it a guy?”

It was like my question cut all her strings.

Pain is painful.

And it all poured out.

“I just got a call,” she whispered. “Fifteen minutes ago. I just got a call.” A pause. “It’s my best friend J—-. He killed himself today.”

Her face was still down, her forehead resting in her hands on the bar. I closed my eyes and prayed something like “Oh… God.” I mean, what else do you say? I may’ve also asked for help in not saying something stupid, but I’m sure that part was also fairly short and elliptical.

“Honey,” I whispered at the curls shaking on the side of her head, “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” I put my arm around her shoulders and squeezed. “Honey…”

“It was over a girl. His girlfriend. She broke up with him a few days ago and he couldn’t handle it.” Shuddering, sniffling, and then a hand drawn sloppily across smeared, wet eyes. There was not a line left on her person that remained defined.

She turned, giving me her face, tears, and story without a hint of her former reluctance. It started with a McDonald’s bill of $21.17. That was how much he spent on food the last time she saw him. She’s from out of town. Mumble-apolis. She last saw him seven months ago. He was in jail, then prison, for DUIs. He was finally out. They went out to a bar, then stopped at McDonald’s on the way back to her house. He got an Angus burger, a large Coke, a large Diet Coke (she has a large Diet Coke, no ice, every day), four McChickens with Mac sauce, a few other random items, and fries.

“$21.17!” she laughed. “Can you believe it?! He was so beautiful. So fucking beautiful. And he just ate and ate and ate. I finally went to bed and when I got up around 4 to go to the bathroom he was laying there asleep on the couch with half a McChicken hanging out of his mouth!” She roared like this was the funniest damned thing in the world, so I laughed too.

“$21.17?!” I sputtered. “That’s crazy!”

I know, right?!”

“He sounds pretty great.” I smiled. Rub, rub, rub.

“Yeah, he was.”

“So tell me about him, girl! What was he like?”

“He was my Best. Friend!” she gushed. “Like, okay: We went to a bar once and these haters were there and when I came out of the bathroom after we’d only been there like 15 minutes, they were like to him ‘Wait, you’re here with her?’ and he was all like ‘We’re leaving. Now.’ And I was like, whatever, you know, because I know I have a big ass so I don’t even listen to that noise so let ’em talk!” She laughed. “But he was all like ‘No. We’re leaving. Now.’ He was always so good to me like that. He called me beautiful. He was so beautiful. He was just 25.” Still laughing. Cackling, almost. “His girlfriend was beautiful too. Like, super beautiful and everything. But he was gorgeous. And then she left him. Dumped him on Facebook. Can you believe it? Facebook?”

I nodded. Facebook.

“And he told her a few days ago he was going to kill himself, you know?” Still laughing, somehow, but wildly now, and with tears. “And he told her, and she didn’t go over there. She didn’t even go! He told her and that [impressive but forgettable series of expletives] didn’t even go to see him and now he’s dead!” The wildness turned desperate.

“Oh honey…” Rub, rub, rub.

“It’s her fault. It’s all her fault. He was a good guy. He had a good family. Like, his parents are still together, you know? They had three daughters after him. They’re 9, 7, and 3. They’re so pretty. And now he’s gone, and it’s that [similarly impressive string]’s fault! I would give anything if they could have resuscitated him! Anything! But that would only be the best thing for me. Not for her. Not for her.”

A loop of curses, flashing blue. A cry of pain. Her face returned to its hideaway in her hands.

I don’t remember what I said then. It couldn’t have been very good. It couldn’t have been very much. I’ve never experienced something like that myself. And even if I had, so what? What is my pain to you? It’s a mist to your rain, a suggestion to your thundering reality. What would it matter that I had ever suffered then when here you are suffering now?

I curled my arm through hers and we sat there in silence for several minutes, her tears eventually flattening out to match the beer taps, the paper napkins, the wood paneled decor. I asked if she needed a ride, if I could take her anywhere, if she needed to just get out. No, she told me. She has a ride. Her boyfriend is here.

I’m sorry–did I hear that right? Your what is here and you’re crying alone? He hasn’t walked you out to the car? Held your hand? Taken you home to cry and talk this out?

But I didn’t ask these things. I held my tongue. Angels must’ve been runnin’ them some mad interference.

“I think I’m ready to tell him I want to go home,” she mumbled, and rose from her stool. She found her boyfriend in the corner, was roundly ignored by him, shook off her tears, and donned armor of solid Brash. The last thing she said to me that night was a lyric from a hip-hop song on her way out the door. Something about being a bitch and having a big ass. Her group stumbled out into the cold and she was gone.

Oh honey… your mascara.

I wish I could fix it.


“Ho! Ho! Ho! To the bottle I go
To heal my heart and drown my woe.
Rain may fall, and wind may blow,
And many miles be still to go,
But under a tall tree will I lie
And let the clouds go sailing by.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

Paraguay Blog #8: Maybe it’s something in the (ice) water

Paging Dr. Freud. Paging Dr. Freud. Your assistance is requested in the F Wing…

Last night I dreamed I was watching a football game on TV.

Good grief…

© Jeff Zelevansky, Getty Images North America

So anyway, I was watching this football game being played in Wisconsin during the dead of winter, so I suppose it would be safe to assume it was a Packer game. The field was covered in ice and several feet of packing snow, and was surrounded by tens of thousands of spectators filling the stands while two balding announcers  in outdated neckties commented on every last detail from their overhead vantage point in their special booth.

I was ready to “change channels” on this waste of a dream when the announcers began shouting excitedly about a football player who, upon being run out of bounds during a play, had fallen into a frozen pit at the edge of the field. Overhead cameras zoomed in, filming straight down into the abyss. The pit went down a good thirty feet before curving slightly, keeping the floor of the hole just out of view. There was a flimsy red, metal ladder hanging down into the hole, but it only reached down ten feet or so. Beyond that, anyone in that hole would be on their own.

Cheers erupted suddenly from the crowd as the football player, using nothing but adrenaline and pure strength, climbed up out of the pit and ran right back into the game. That is a person who knows the terrain. That is a person who belongs there. That, friends, is a hero we can count on.

Cue the National Anthem.

Click the image to read about a group of scientists who climbed into ice pits ON PURPOSE.

I had begun wondering what the point of this dream was when the announcers started snickering into their lapel mics, laughing and joking as the crowd pointed and hooted, rolling their eyes. It seems another man, a man working in some capacity along the sidelines, a man whose other job was as some sort of art teacher, had also slipped into the pit of snow and ice after being told by one of his superiors to jump across it.

“He’ll never get out of there!” The first announcer’s tone was shocked but gleeful.

“You’ve got that right,” responded the second. “So ah- what would you say those temperatures are like down in the pit there?”

“Oh I’d say it’s gotta be at least below zero, eh?”

“Oh you betcha. At least below zero. Maybe even less than that, eh?”

“Oh yeah. Yeah, at least. Or more. Yeah?”

“Yeah. Probably more. I just hope he can get out in time!”

More chuckling.

“Yeah, I hope so too. ‘Cause there’s no way they can get a rescue crew down there fast enough to save him before he dies from that cold. He’ll die down there in that ice pit, wouldn’cha say?”

“Oh yeah. Definitely. He’ll definitely die if he stays down in that snow too long. And all that ice? Yeah. I’d say he’ll probably be trapped down there too long and there’ll be no saving him.”

I wanted to wake up. It was all too uncomfortable and my brain was getting all squirmy. But I couldn’t. Not yet. I had to know if the man would ever escape the ice pit, so I carried on dreaming, refusing to let things go lucid and shuttering my conscious mind from whatever my subconscious mind was trying to work through.

Though God only knows that by this point I was pretty sure I had a lock on that “great mystery”…

The crew of the Endurance playing football out on the ice (© Frank Hurley)

The crowd was beginning to give up on the man in the ice pit, the man who was a mind finding its way in a world of muscle in an attempt to make ends meet, trapped in ice and snow so foreign and so lethal that it was already taken as a given he would not- could not- survive. The cameras were zooming out, and retreating. The players were lining back up to resume the game. The announcers were laughing their way back to more interesting banter about subjects like how far someone had thrown a thing, or how someone else had failed to catch it.

And then we saw him. Me, the crowd, the announcers– we saw an arm from the man in the pit as it clawed its way into view before the last camera finished moving away. The crowd held its breath. The man’s other arm inched higher up the wall of the narrow pit. He swung a leg out as he gained on the narrowest part of the pit near the top, pushing his back against one side and his feet against the other. Rescuers could have helped him at that point, but they didn’t even try. He had been as good as dead in their eyes. All this was just a bonus, just something to watch, his struggle mere filler before a commercial break during which he would be forgotten.

His hand flew up over the top of the pit, ice melting under his fingers before refreezing to his skin. Another moment’s struggle and he was free. Above ground. Safe.

But the crowd did not respond.

I wanted to tell the man to run, to get away from the pit, from the field, from that world where he did not belong, but of course I couldn’t. I was just a spectator myself, as guiltily silent as the tens of thousands watching these events take place in person. Maybe the people in the stands were holding back because they, too, felt powerless in their position as spectators? Or was it because for them it was all simply something unexpected they were only casually trying to figure out?

Whatever the reason it soon didn’t matter, because just as I reached that moment of wanting to warn the man to leave, someone on the sidelines pushed him back into the pit. The announcers resumed their babbling. The crowd returned their attention to the field. The players locked their eyes back on the ball.

He would be forgotten.

But not by me. Not even after I woke up.


Incidentally, when Googling the phrase “ice pit” the first result was for a place in Wisconsin where one can intentionally climb ice

Book Review: “Nearing Home” by Billy Graham

Genevieve, a praying great-grandma

Title: Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well
Author: Billy Graham
Pages: Hardcover, 180 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8499-4832-9
Publisher: Thomas Nelson*

Billy Graham‘s most recent work, Nearing Home, is one of those thoughtful, peaceful sorts of books you can either read cover-to-cover, or stroll through at random and still come out ahead either way. It’s like memories of your childhood; you don’t have to bring them up in any certain order to enjoy them.

The focus of the book is on the challenge, and the beauty, of aging well. It deals with recognizing one’s value and responsibilities during a stage in life when it may seem like there’s little left to do, or fewer places where one’s value will be recognized. And it’s as much a pep talk for older readers as it is a guide for younger readers on the importance of respecting their elders for the wisdom and experience they can provide. It reaffirms the importance of standing fast in one’s relationship with God regardless of the inevitable challenges that accompany the changes of time.

Glenda (Mimi), a praying grandma

Reading his commentary on dealing with the pains of aging and grief (Ch 5: “Fading Strength But Standing Strong”), and on providing wisdom and counsel to younger generations not only through words but through actions (Ch 7: “Influencing the Impressionable”), I was reminded again and again of the Godly examples set for me by my grandparents through their love for the Lord and for their families.

It made me think of my Mimi, in particular, and the way she boldly- daily- lives out a hope shared by Graham that her children and grandchildren will “become men and women of compassion, honesty, morality, responsibility, selflessness, loyalty, discipline, and sacrifice… trusting Jesus Christ as their Savior and seeking to follow Him.” (p. 120) In fact, multiple times throughout the book I heard the words in her voice instead of his. I guess you could say my Mimi served as my litmus test on whether or not what Graham was saying checked out as worthwhile advice. (Way to go, Mim. ;)

Lenart, a praying grandpa (Mom's caption on the back: Ruth is telling all about 'her church.' )

A few words of advice Graham shares with his readers on “bridging the gap” (p. 121) between generations hit home for me in terms of my own family because I regularly see them living out this guidance in realistic ways. (Way to go, fam. ;) I’ll share it with you here, and trust you’ll also read beyond the list’s disarming simplicity: Pray Consistently, Keep In Touch, Encourage [Your Family], Remember Your Place, and Be An Example.

There were times I found it difficult to stick with the book, as it speaks to a decidedly older demographic than my own. While I appreciated the sentiments the author shared, it was a bit like reading about dealing with grief when you’ve never lost a loved one, or about bonding with your troubled teen when you’ve never had children. I know there is value in his words, but for now I’m just filing them away in the hope that they spring back to mind about forty years from now.

Bette, a praying grandma

A good summary of the book appears on page 48: “One day you may not be able to do everything you once did or everything you would like to do. Instead of feeling guilty or frustrated or resentful, however, thank God that you can still do some things- and make it your goal to do them faithfully and do them well. Commit your time- and your whole self- to Jesus Christ, and seek to do His will no matter what comes your way.”

Words to live by.

And it wouldn’t be a Billy Graham book if it didn’t end with an alter call.

“No one ever grows too old to accept Christ’s forgiveness and enter into His glorious presence. When we look back over our experiences along life’s journey, we may have regrets about the choices we made, but remember, that was then… this is now. … “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2 NKJV).” (p. 180)

Lucille, a praying grandma

While I wouldn’t want to discourage younger readers from attempting to tackle this book- there is a lot in it to appreciate and learn from, and so many insights into perspectives it’s impossible to gain oneself until later in life- it is most definitely geared toward an older crowd. It is to them I would recommend this book. I think anyone dealing with the issues presented in it will find it encouraging, and will find its sentiments expressed in such a humble, straightforward way they will want to pass along to others Graham’s uplifting take on a potentially difficult subject: that of moving closer to our promised time with God, to nearing home.

*I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Cart and Bull Fall Down

Wesley's interest in helping with laundry extends only as far as emptying the bag. Kids!

I’m trying to get my ferret Wesley to come sit by me on the couch.

“These fingers could be scratchin’ yer itches!” I promise, waggling my fingers at him. He is not impressed, and waddles away to redouble his efforts at destroying the carpet behind my couch.

Dig dig dig…

Oh ferret.

Dig dig dig…

The landlord will have to replace it all whenever the boys and I move out. It should be replaced anyway since I’ve been living with this carpet for almost five years now. Surely they wouldn’t pass it on to the next tennant? No, it will be replaced. Replaced, and with some reason why my security deposit should be used to foot the bill. Fine. Let them keep it. It’s been worth it for your  special company, weasels. (See: “Things I Never Thought I’d Say To a 1 lb. Carnivore.”)

I thought I’d lost one of the ferrets yesterday; Brodie, my skinny boy, my hyperactive climber, my sable.

I was in the living room watching a show on Netflix when Wesley trotted in. He ducked behind the couch where I was sitting, and immediately began to whimper. Was he hurt? Was he sick? What’s going on?! I paused my show and pulled the couch away from the wall to find Wesley pawing at the face of a suspiciously inert Brodie, who lay on his back, legs splayed wide. I swooped down and picked Brodie up, his body cool and limp in my hands.

Oh no.

Ferrets are notorious for going into such a deep sleep they can seem comatose, or even dead. It’s important to know this before bringing one home because at some point, probably at multiple points, you will witness this condition. It’s not unusual, it’s not dangerous. It is normal ferret behavior. But this time? This time it shook me. Brodie’s oddly low body temperature, his uncustomary position, the whimpering and pawing from my other ferret… And mustelidae lover that I am I of course immediately assumed the worst: That Brodie was dead or dying, right there in my hands.

I cradled the pound of fur, teeth, and claws to my chest, trying to find a pulse, trying to find any sign he might simply be deep, deep asleep. His tiny, chilly body was so relaxed I could barely keep him from slipping through my arms as I played out worst case scenarios in my critter loving head.

After pushing the bottle around for an hour with his face, a neck-lick was apparently in order.

Wesley padded over to us and crawled onto my lap where he began sniffing at his fellow troublemaker, alternately pawing at his belly and licking his face, a new behavior couplet. I held Brodie tighter, trying at first not to cry but almost immediately giving up on that plan in favor of weeping openly and praying aloud that I would be able to keep this bounding, thieving, sneezing, pooping, hopping, climbing, giggle-inducing beast a little longer.

Eventually one of his eyes opened slightly, but then rolled back. He was still completely limp, folded almost in half against my chest as I pulled him in closer and closer toward my face, unwilling to let go in case he really was on his way out.

I would rather die while being held, wouldn’t you?

I rocked him, rubbed his cheeks and head, trying for several minutes to wake him. It had never taken so long before. And as I sat there blubbering I knew I’d feel so stupid if he turned out to be okay, if it turned out I was just overreacting to a common situation. But when it’s your own pet? And everything is a few degrees off from normal? And your other pet is exhibiting unusual behaviors too? And you’re all alone?

I freed a hand to phone my mom and asked her to come over so I wouldn’t be by myself, just in case. She said she’d be right over. I love that woman. I hung up and dragged my sleeve under my nose. I was a wreck.

I rolled the pound of dead weight over in my hands, rubbed my little guy’s face, and thanked him for being my buddy for the past two years. And then? His eye flickered open again, this time followed by the other… A hopeful sign? There came a head shift, a paw wave, and finally a sigh from him as Wesley decided we were fine and lumbered away to find something crinkly to crawl in.

We made it! All three of us.

Brodie came to slowly, resting peacefully in my arms. My hope grew less cautious. A minute passed, and then another, each making me feel happier, and more ridiculous, my babbling grin catching tears I no longer needed. My little guy, for now, would remain my little guy.

My dudes, fast asleep.

I knew I’d let myself freak out. I’d let my fear of losing my fuzzy pal overtake me. And the worst part is at some point I realized there might be nothing to worry about, even as it was all still happening. But what is my head to argue with my heart? I will almost always laugh with you, cry with you, sigh with you long before I will even attempt to reason with you.

I’m trying to figure out why I’d want to share this story in such a public way. It makes me seem over-dramatic, I think, because in the end it turned out I’d been wrong and so was upset over nothing. And to anyone without a similar type and level of appreciation for a pet I’m sure it sounds downright silly.

I think– and don’t quote me because I’m still not sure– but I think I just wanted to share a time when a feeling of loss was replaced, quickly and completely, by a feeling of joy.

That’s it.

If I were a master story teller I’d do the same by inventing some clever tale involving not-overly-beautiful people in a loss/joy cycle in a universe of my own design. I’d O. Henry an unexpected heart-string-tug readers would be able to relate to, and they’d share it with their friends on Facebook. I’d submit it to a literary magazine, they’d publish it with watercolor illustrations painted by a tenured biology professor, and over the next three years my characters’ names would climb to slots 7 and 8 on “Most Popular Baby Names” lists across the web. It would span so many forwarded emails it would eventually earn its own page on Snopes from all the people asking if it was true.

But it wouldn’t be.

Maybe that’s why I’d rather swallow my pride and tell you about a pet that didn’t really die, no matter how foolish it makes me look. Because foolishness is believable. As believable as loss. And almost as believable as joy.

Twerpshire Hathaway

I love me some community theatre. I’ve been acting in it, and loving it, for seven years this July. Sometimes it’s (amazingly, movingly) great, and sometimes it’s (agonizingly, painfully) terrible.

But so are kids and that doesn’t stop people from having ’em.

From time to time I run into folks who aren’t as fond of community theatre as I am. Folks who aren’t as fond of it, and who like to share that lack of fondness verbally. Dissing the interests of others is, I mean– that’s kind of weird, right?

Sometimes these- and other- people ask me why I do community theatre instead of “real theatre,” as they so charmingly put it. And they don’t know it, but more often than not this question makes me want to shake them by the face.

See, it’s kind of like this:

An image you may find amusing if you like your numbers aggravating.

Let’s say you’re somebody who digs numbers. You dig numbers, so you go to college and major in Seven or Avogadro or Counting or something. You graduate, maybe even with a 4.0. (See? I know some numbers too.) Then you go out and apply for a job at companies that like people who like numbers- insurance companies, accounting firms, grocery stores (cash registers, duh)- and then you sit back and wait for the interview requests to start pouring in.

In the meantime, people you know- well meaning idiots who love you- say things like:

“Berkshire Hathaway employees make tons of money using numbers. You should go work there.”

Oh? I should, huh? Okay, well I’ll do that then. Throw on the ol’ Willy Fioravanti, walk in through the front door, and sit down at the first desk that strikes my fancy.

Ah, but you know it doesn’t really work that way. You don’t work places that are great simply because they’re great and you want to work there.

So you snap back to reality. You snap back to the interview calls tying up your phone. Except that they’re not tying up your phone. The real calls are few and far between, and often non-existent from the Big Guys. Maybe it’s because you’re good at pi but bad at 11. Maybe it’s because your plus signs lack professional polish. Or maybe it’s because they’re just not looking for someone right now who does what you do.

So you gratefully accept the position at Mom and Pop’s Bean Counters, even after a friend (read: “friend”) let’s fly some doozie like:

“Mom and Pop’s Bean Counters? I hear they’ll take anybody. You should at least be working at Aunt and Uncle’s Legume Talliers. Their receptionist’s phone has way more buttons.”

Numbers made relatable.
© We Sign

But you don’t let it get to you because you’ve met Mom and Pop. You’ve interviewed with them over burgers on the grill. They are awesome and chill and professional and dependable and the commute is practically walkable.

So you don your Kohl’s shirt-and-tie-combo-pack, head on in to work, and enjoy the fact that the day ends at 5 pm no matter what, that you are awesome at using numbers in order, and that Pop brings the basset hound in on Fridays.

It’s not that you no longer want the Berkshire Hathaway paycheck or prestige. It’s just that those things don’t appear to be in the cards for you, no matter how many times you apply.

But!- and here’s the important part: You can still be a totally rockin’ counter of things someplace else.

Aw yeah. Look at you all countin’ up in there. Right on, right on.

So, back to theatre where those kinds of assumptions and statements are just as absurd as they are in the “working” world. Back to:

“The Rep is a great theatre. You should act there.”

(Responses to which are almost always followed by “It can’t be that hard to get in,” and “You must not be trying hard enough,” all, incidentally, based on the totally erroneous premises that 1) this is the only theatre in town where one could possibly want to act, and 2) once again all you need to get into a place is the desire to get into it.)

And back to:

“XYZ Community Theatre? I hear they’ll take anybody. You should at least be acting at ABC Community Theatre. Their ushers have nicer name tags.”

But you don’t let it get to you, because screw them anyway. You’re fine. It’s fine. It’s all fine. And a lot of fun. And the source of some of your greatest memories and friendships and experiences. And you make people laugh there. And you make them cry. And you get to play parts you’d never be considered for at places that offer direct deposit. And you get recognized at places like the Vitamin Shoppe and it weirds you out. And you get reviewed in the paper and that weirds you out too.

And even though it doesn’t pay, and even though the hours are long, and even though you still get asked condescending questions in an unintentionally insulting fashion– you still love it. You wonder why you feel like you’re always being asked to justify your participation in it, but that’s fine too because by now you’ve gotten pretty good at that. You’re still fine. It’s all still fine.

And then?

And then you blow a community theatre audition.


And then you fear that friends who don’t respect community theatre will make some well-intentioned but totally humiliating comment about the situation and mid-blush you’ll have to come up with some kind of response because they’re your friend after all and you can’t just ignore them even though it’s so awkward blowing it for something they look down on, while not really being totally awkward because you were there and you know the other auditioners were solid, and yeah you mind that you weren’t cast but you also kind of don’t because sometimes that’s just how it goes so it’s fine and all but still upsetting and at least now your weekends will be free, though really that just gives you more time to worry that you’re getting too fat for the parts you want to play which doesn’t really matter too much yet because at least you’re still in your 20s even if only for a few more months but even that is all good because “30 is the new 20” and you love how that sounds because… it’s got numbers in it and… you know I always… wanted to pretend… I was a mathematician…

I forgot where I was going with this.

In conclusion: If you’re going to ask a question, try not to be an jerk about it because you never know how many run-on-sentences you’re up against.


Self-Diagnosing vs. The Internet

After doing a little self-diagnosing with WebMD I’m thinking maybe I’ve got… bronchitis?

And not, like, Big Bad Scary Bronchitis. Just plain old Regular Type Bronchitis, which is not nearly as milkable for sympathy since its main symptoms are coughing up stuff, being sleepy, and having an annoying voice.

WebMD saysmost cases of acute bronchitis in otherwise healthy people go away in 2 to 3 weeks.”

I’m “otherwise healthy” and I’ve already had it for about a week. Thank you, Internet, for giving me a time frame for Bronchitis Countdown 2011.

It also says “you typically only need nonprescription medicines to treat your symptoms.”

Enter: Eclectic Kitchen Cabinet Pharmacy. Vitamin B, vitamin C, echinacea, lotsa water, ibuprofen, hot tea with honey, a delicious-stage-of-ripeness banana, three apples, key lime yogurt… I will OWN you, bronchitis!

I would appreciate any home remedy recommendations you may have to offer in addition to my using the things listed above. Any Mom Tricks, special teas, spells besides “Anapneo” (which totally didn’t work)… That’s actually the reason for this post: Get-Better-Quick advice. And yes I know I could Google how to treat it, but that doesn’t tend to yield as many worthwhile personal recommendations, and it doesn’t allow for follow-up questions.

And I really do need some good tips on how to kick this thing. I’ve gotten it for about a month every late-Spring/early-Summer since ’07 and every time there’s about a week long span of sleepless nights in which my chest feels like it’s being used for a caber toss field. (Still not sympathy-milkable right now as this year’s bout has not reached telephone-pole-tossing proportions.)

Advice? Tips? Suggestions? Leave ’em in the Comments below!

A Ferrety Kind of Friday

Things I find myself saying (with an alarming degree of regularity, considering as these are one-sided conversations) to my ferrets, whose sole aims in life appear to be taking my things and pooping on my carpet:

Rough day? Writing Decepticon poetry usually helps.

When they are attempting to steal my notebooks:

“That is a notebook. Ferrets don’t write emo poems; they only think they do.”

They take after highschool Me; what can I say?

When they are attempting to walk across my laptop as I type on it:

“That is a computer. Ferrets don’t walk on keyboards; they only think they do.”

Especially when said computer is in use and there are still keys whose functions are mysterious and cannot be reversed without the Geek Squad.

When they are attempting to nest in my purses:

“That is my purse. Ferrets don’t use purses; they only think they do.”

I keep my purses in a pile on my closet floor, let the ferrets play in them for a while, then search the wreckage for the contents they’ve loosened from zipper pockets I’d long since forgotten about. Thanks boys!

When they are attempting to steal my socks:

I collected these 96 pairs of socks (plus various and sundry other items) from Brodie’s hidey holes all over the apartment. I love that guy.

“Those are socks. Ferrets don’t need socks; they only think they do.”

Actually– I might be wrong about this one…

When they are attempting to scale my shins:

“Those are my ankles. Ferrets don’t eat ankles; they only think they do.”

And ohhhhh do they ever think they do this! Particularly when I’ve just climbed out of the shower and am protected by nothing more than a towel (which one of them is, inevitably, trying to climb). At least let me put my glasses on first so I know which way to go as I plan my escape!

When they are “playing sandbox” in their litter boxes:

“That is a litter box. Ferrets poop in them; they only think they don’t.”

Every time one of the boys hoists his round little rear into a litter box I find myself crowing with delight, my hands alternating between pounding the meters of victory on my bouncing knees, and waving in the air at the sweet, sweet stink of success.


Love being a pet mom or dad? What do you say to your critters when you’re sure no one else is listening?? :D

A gift for my darling Freudians: A dream

The Gift: Wherein Ruth shares a dream she had last night which is instantly quite telling, and even more so with a brief overview of a few threads weaving themselves together in her waking life.

Keturah! Ben! Becca! Mandy! Help!

The Backstory: Work

About a month and a half ago I was asked to test up to the next level at work. If I didn’t pass: no harm no foul. Things would stay as they are, and I am happy with things as they are. I get to learn why most Medicaids deserve to be cursed into the ground, and to make friends with 20-somethings in Mumbai. What’s not to love? And if I did pass I’d get a small promotion and the work would only change ever so slightly. Ah, but there’s the rub: the changes would be ever so slight but ever so stressful given the mental requirements of some of the other things I’m working on.

So I didn’t take the test. It just wasn’t the time to run the risk of success.

The Backstory: Money


Joy's Broken Nose

For the past several months I’ve been going to extra lengths to save money. Not denying myself the nice shampoo from Walmart, nor the $1 novels and videos from Half Price Books, but still: I’m saving. I’m pocketing. I’m adding financial caution to the agenda. And my efforts have actually proven themselves somewhat effective, all things considered. And once my car is paid off in December (HALLELUJAH!!) I’ll be able to put even more money away every month.

But what am I saving for? I know there doesn’t need to be a specific *something* at the end of the Savings Rainbow for guarded spending to be a good idea, but it sure does help to have something to work toward. But what do people my age save for? Houses? Better cars? DJ Hero? I’unno. I’m not really looking to put down the kind of roots right now that owning a house would entail, nor do I have any desire to replace Joy, especially not now that after 5 long years of forking over buckets of cash to Toyota every month she’s almost mine outright. And DJ Hero? Please. I top out with Solitaire. This leaves me with two savings goals that actually mean something to me: Furthering my Education (which I just misspelled… twice…) and Travel.

The Backstory: Here it comes…

The education thing? That’s a topic for a different entry. Maybe one I’ll write in a few months. Or not. It’s a bit dull, so perhaps never.

The travel thing? I know where I want to go, but I don’t want to go alone. It’s just not how I operate. I know what I want to do, but I don’t think I’m useful enough to even bring it up. At least- not useful in the right ways. But I do want to go, write, take pictures, blog, help, maybe entertain a brief brush with malaria. I want to hop on a plane and enjoy lengthy layover after lengthy layover in Texas, Costa Rica, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina on my way to Paraguay where I will finally get to laugh when I see how short the walk really was from home to school.

But I continue to not make plans to go there because I am afraid it’s a stupid thing to make such plans. A silly thing. A silly thing to want so much to visit a place I lived so long ago and probably wouldn’t recognize, full of people I don’t know and who wouldn’t remember me. I was so young, you understand. Wider eyes have never graced a 10 year old. I feel like I haven’t earned the right to deserve a visit. Like I am only cool enough to be the one Yankee on the tour bus to know you don’t stir with the bombilla or you’ll get a mouth full of leaves.


In the backyard pool

And it was such a long time ago. Before Wasmosy, even. (But post-Stroessner, which with the hindsight of a 27 year old is rather fortunate I now realize.) So very, very long. Not as long ago as the white house on Linder Avenue in Midlothian, IL. Ah, but I want to see that again too. To knock on the side door by the kitchen and tell the new owners I dropped and broke a jar of spaghetti sauce right there on that very step. To show them where I sat by the heating vent watching operas and televangelists on our wood box TV set. To show them where my yellow desk used to sit in the pink bedroom. To show them where I wrote articles for the newspaper, solving all their crimes, peaceably calming all the grown-ups’ arguments. To show them the tree I climbed in the side yard; the one with dials carved into its branches; the one that was an airplane that flew me over the jungle.

One day I finally did fly over the jungle, but by that time I was no longer piloting myself in a summer of popsicles and cicadas. By that time I was being flown, listening to tapes on my very own Walkman, reading any and all chapter books having to do with horses. I hadn’t forgotten how to fly, I just didn’t need to do it for myself any more. Flight was now my reality, so my make-believe time could be spent on even wilder impossibilities, like seeing snow, or eating a pizza from Barraco’s.

Paraguay was where I learned I love to move. And somehow moving from Midlothian to Milwaukee wasn’t the same as moving from Chicago to Loma Pyta. Even Waukesha, WI to Canyon Country, CA wasn’t enough of a jump. It’s where I learned buying milk can be its own adventure. It’s where I learned heat and mosquito bites are survivable. It’s where I learned even the most passionate stubbornness cannot keep a sponge from absorbing.

Today my most passionate stubbornness cannot lead me to water. And I’m so thirsty.

The Dream:

In my dream last night I was at work when the phone rang at my desk. I put on my headset and clicked “Answer,” but before I could say anything I saw through my mind’s eye the two other people in the call: S, one of my coworkers, and D, a woman who works at the school I attended in Asuncion.

The thing you must know about S is that she’s charming. Friendly. A quick learner. Totally unpretentious, even in heels. A mother of two who, according to her Facebook “About Me”s loves all the right books, all the right movies, all the right music, and writing. She looks like she belongs on Mad Men. You wish she worked with you; she’s that cool.

The thing you must know about D is… is… Well now see: I don’t rightly know what you must know about her. She was never my teacher in grade school; we left before I ever had her. She knew my mother; my mother who also taught at that school and is so adorable in her classroom pictures you wish she was your mother; she’s that cute. I know D in that new “internet way” you know people these days as we’re now friends on Facebook. I look at her pictures, read her posts, and find myself liking the person she is, and the person she must’ve been then, and kind of wishing I could take her and my mother out for pumpkin spice frappuccinos to hear them talk about what I blindly, nostalgically, ignorantly dream of as “the good old days.”

I’m just rotten with nostalgia, kids. Absolutely over-flowing with the stuff.

But back to the dream. To the phone call. To the phone call I knew had only been intended for S, so why had my phone rung too? And why was I able to hear them and they were unable to hear me? I wanted to hang up, but it was such an odd pairing of people, of worlds, I couldn’t disconnect. I had to know what had brought them together.

And then I knew. And I didn’t know how to respond.

teachers in truck

Driving to the camp

D had called to offer S a job at the school as a teacher. S didn’t want to teach, and hadn’t applied for a job there, but she was being offered a job there just the same. A job and a chance to see things I wanted to see. A job and a chance to blog about things I wanted to blog about. A job and a chance to eat things I wanted to eat. They talked, they laughed, S turned down the position, they talked, they laughed. Listening in I laughed too. It was just such a pleasant conversation, even just to overhear.

Should I have felt jealous? I didn’t think so. I didn’t want any such job, any such contract. I didn’t even know if I wanted to be away for so long. I’d be alone, you understand, with no family or ferrets to comfort me. So I didn’t feel jealous.

Should I have felt excited? I didn’t think so. This new connection wouldn’t necessarily have any bearing on me or my activities. And I couldn’t be excited for S because she hadn’t wanted this in the first place. So I didn’t feel excited.

Should I have felt… wasteful? Maybe. Or something like it. Maybe that was it. I felt like there was some opportunity I’d misused. Some chance that had come up, perhaps once, perhaps repeatedly, which I’d ignored because it was easier.

Maybe the dream centered around work because it was there I had so recently, and so willingly, given up an opportunity for advancement in the name of ease and comfort during a stressful season. But isn’t life always stressful? Don’t you run the risk of missing out on everything if you wait for smooth sailing to make your next move?

Maybe the dream centered around my old school because it was there a switch was flipped inside me that taught me to love writing and acting, two things I have consciously built into my life ever since. Maybe it represents things I can still go after if I really want them, but which are not going to come calling me up and offering themselves to me on silver platters, and the roads to which will be neither easy to navigate nor cheap to travel.

I have this beautiful family that I love. The best, most beautiful, most lasting gift I’ve ever been given. I live in a friendly town, curiously navigable and relatively clean. I have a job that teaches me new things, pays the bills, introduces me to new people. I have ferrets that are playful, ridiculous, and soothing. I’m surrounded by more books than I’ll ever read, more CDs than I should’ve ever owned, and access to every piece of information- from grand to asinine- through my home internet connection. These things are enough, but I know the world is bigger than Waukesha and I’ve only got 60 years left to learn it. And yet I won’t explore Oconomowoc just for the heck of it on an empty Sunday afternoon.

But isn’t that always the way? Always something more you long for? Hope for? Dream about on restless Sunday nights? I dream of heat that makes me nauseated, diesel fumes that trigger my brain into thinking it’s lunch time, swimming with fish too dark to see, and empanadas.

I do not dream of Oconomowoc.

In Conclusion: Ferrets


peach pit

"The best way to know God is to love many things." Van Gogh

Cut it into halves along this seam, he tells me, insisting the freestone peach into my hand, and the flesh will break clean from the pit.

I did.

It does.

I brushed the skin with my thumb and it was soft the way leaves are soft when they begin to yellow.

I was alone, so I brushed the skin with my cheek and smiled that it felt rougher there, like a worked palm.

I bit into the first quarter and in my mouth the skin had a new feel, like a delicate piece of canvas meant to be worn close to the body.

Each bite was soft, perfect, unusual. Sugared gold, honey yellow, autumn red near the core. Sweet with no addition, no rot, no wood clinging from the pit. Part of the pleasure was the novelty of eating a thing that had a texture on the outside like it shouldn’t be eaten, so I didn’t remove the skin.

The final three quarters are wrapped in the kitchen so I may live the moment again tomorrow at breakfast, but I know I won’t. I can’t. The sky then won’t be dark and clear outside my window, the air won’t be cool and filled with the sound of crickets, and the peace that comes from being only a few hours removed from the end of the work week will have passed.

But I enjoyed that standalone quarter tonight more than almost any other part of my week, of my month, and so I’m glad for it. And smiling.

Questions to Make You Rethink Your Blah Blah Blah

These questions have no right or wrong answers. Because sometimes asking the right questions is the answer.”

*dun dun duhhhh*

Okay, so hokiness aside? Some of the questions from the above linked page really are worth thinking about. Or blabbing on about in one’s blog. And some are so cliche one would be doing one’s readers a favor to remove them from said list o’ blabbing. There were 50 to begin with. Now there are 11.You’re welcome. They’re all a bit Facebook meme-y, but I don’t generally get this personal here on WordPress so I figured I’d go for it. Change of pace. Keeps you on your toes. Spices things up.


My siblings and me in... '96?

My siblings and me, '96(?)

1. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?

I falter for a split second whenever I’m asked my age. My instinct is to say 29. I’m actually 27. When I was 26 my instinct was to say 28. Eventually I say 27. But I feel 23. I think I’d go with 23. 23 was a good year. A fun year. An easy, beautiful, freeing year full of love and friends and living. I’d do it again. Not many years I’d say that about, but 23? 23 I’d do again.

6. If happiness was the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?

Something where I could help people. Something where I could set things up, get things running, bring people and information and resources together to improve living conditions, go new places, write about my experiences, hold people when they’re lonely, share joy with people when they’re happy. What’s that job called? Are they hiring? Would they want me? I could get better. I could be better.

7. Are you doing what you believe in, or are you settling for what you are doing?

*pffffft* No. I believe in helping people, so in a very roundabout way I’m glad I’m getting their insurance claims processed, but wow is it a stretch to say I “believe in” processing medical claims. I believe in learning new skills, trying new things, meeting new people, acclimating myself to new environments, so in those respects I suppose I’d find fulfillment in just about anything I was doing provided I was actively doing it. But I think that’s what’s got me so unsettled these days- the fact that I don’t feel like I’m actively doing anything.

10. Are you more worried about doing things right, or doing the right things?

I’m more concerned with doing things right, and because I can never do everything right I end up taking failure very personally because it means I’m not achieving what I’m after; namely: doing things right. Every shortcoming is magnified by 1000 as I watch my best attempts crumble in my foundation of inevitable mediocrity. I know I should concern myself with “doing the right things,” but I feel like I’m more likely to be judged by peers and strangers alike for the former than the latter that I let the “right things” slide far too often.

Mom and her babies, '90

Mom and her babies, '90

17. What one thing have you not done that you really want to do?  What’s holding you back?

Travel. I’m waiting until I don’t have to do it alone.

19. If you had to move to a state or country besides the one you currently live in, where would you move and why?

If I had to move to another state, I’d probably pick Washington, maybe South Carolina. Both are geographically quite beautiful, and the feel is a lot different from that of the Milwaukee area. If I had to move to another country… That’s a little harder. What’s Argentina like? I think I could do that. As for “why”: I don’t rightly know why. Just to try something new I suppose.

23. Have you been the kind of friend you want as a friend?

Ha! No. I’m petty, judgmental, self-centered, forgetful, passive aggressive, whiny, insecure, lazy, bossy, jealous, undependable, cloying, predictable, immature, stubborn. I could go on, but that list kinda stung. :S I have some good traits working for me too, but if I’m totally honest: I don’t think I’d have the patience to look past those particular negative traits in order to enjoy the positive ones if I was contemplating a friendship with someone just like me.

I’m grateful for my friends but am not at all surprised the number of people I’d call “close” is such an awfully low one, and getting lower every year. I’m kind of a jerk in a lot of ways and I think the fact I have so few close friends is a testament to that fact. Doesn’t that usually seem to be the way? The things we suffer from the most socially, emotionally, and in relationships are a result of things we’ve brought on ourselves? The truly frustrating part is I think I’m actually less abrasive than I used to be, but the damage appears to have already been done. I’m trying to do better from here on out, but I’m aggravatingly human so it’s an uphill battle most days. Sorry guys.

30. What is your happiest childhood memory?  What makes it so special?

Stepping off the plane at ASU. I was so excited to land that in my haste I tripped on the gangway in front of two armed guards. They chuckled. I didn’t care, I just kept running. Couldn’t wait to get outside, touch the ground. I was on an adventure with my family whom I loved and it couldn’t get rolling soon enough.

Becca and Me, '06

Becca and Me, '06

37. If you just won a million dollars, would you quit your job?

I’d give my two weeks’ notice at 8:35 tomorrow morning after I got CRM running, checked my Outlook, and refilled my Nalgene bottle. Gotta do it the right way, y’know. Gotta keep your hiring promises if you can, million dollars or no.

39. Do you feel like you’ve lived this day a hundred times before?

Yes. 160 times before, to be exact.

50. Decisions are being made right now.  The question is:  Are you making them for yourself, or are you letting others make them for you?

Is it possible to come up with an honest answer to this that isn’t painful and perhaps a bit too humbling for public consumption? I’m just going to mull this one over. You do the same. Promise you will? Promise?

I’m 27 now.

Me and Rachel, a 7 year old's best bff

Me and Rachel Williams, the best bff a 7 year old could ever have.

I’m officially in my late 20s.

Now what?

Does the acne go away?

Does the metabolism?

And the wrinkles under my eyes that catch my dripping eyeliner and then fade by morning, do they stop fading?

Do I stop having jobs and start having a career?

Am I suddenly married and the proud owner of a 2BR ranch with a yard and a dog fence?

How the heck is this supposed to work?