Monday, December 30, 2013

Memory box

Jeffrey was cleaning the other day and asked if I wanted to keep an invitation to a baby shower. The event had long passed; the baby had been born, and I had already gone to see the new little family and sniffed said newborn's noggin with abandon. I really couldn't think of a reason to keep the invitation, but I didn't want to toss it either, so I told him I'd put it in my memory box. He paused for a beat, then asked if that was a euphemism for something. 

It's not. I have memory boxes scattered throughout the house. They're full of pictures, old date books, articles, cards from friends, any little snippets that I liked. The main one is just plain corrugated cardboard, and I go through it maybe once every few years. It's painful and embarrassing to look through, but I keep it just the same.

I've been wondering about this practice lately. Not about it as such, really, but about the way I think about the past, specifically things I've done wrong. I'm a regret hoarder. I know the arguments against such nonsense, and I've spouted them plenty of times (sorry!): If you make a mistake, you either had bad information or a bad decision-making process. If it's bad information, you can't blame yourself; if it's a bad process, you can work to change it. I know. I get it. But I've never been able to do it.

True story: In second grade, our teacher used a sticker program to motivate good behavior. Sitting down quietly after recess and the like. And a few friends and I, who were the good kids and who would have had the most of these stickers anyway, gamed the system. As the year went on, we were the ones trusted to hand out these stickers (circles, they were called, since they were the cheap little round labels you'd get at an office supply store), and each of our friends would get more than one. So at the end of the year, we ended up with a really insane number of circles.

But here's the actual crazy part: When I was a senior in college (so, 14 years later), I wrote to Miss Randle about it. And this was before the internet had really come into its bloated own. I tracked her down (on paper!) and came clean. I never heard back. 

So that's the kind of person I am.

Facebook has made this act of leaving the past in the past even more difficult for someone like me. I somehow believe that if I become friends with someone now, I can undo whatever we did to each other in the past. For years I looked for a kid I knew in second grade (a troubled year, now that I reflect on it) who I think had a crush on me, because I wasn't very nice to him. Seven, I was when this happened. And you know? This year he tracked me down. I apologized right away. And he didn't remember any of it.

So here I am, carrying all of these things around -- things that I've done wrong, things that other people have done wrong -- and is it worth a damn thing? I could argue no, but I still do it.

I think, by extension, I do the same thing with relationships. A few years ago, I was chatting with a friend from college about how much I missed our other friends from college. I was lamenting all I'd done a lot wrong, and how I'd fucked up those friendships. He told me something that sort of rocked my world: Relationships have an arc. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. Like everything else. Some are longer, some are shorter. Goddamn it if he wasn't right.

I had just never thought about it that way before. I just figured, when you know someone, you know them forever. The idea of having someone I *used* to know was completely foreign to me. You may lose touch, but how can you actually not know someone?

But I'm starting to understand, finally, that that is not the case. That we can have endings to relationships and be OK. 

Someone recently unfriended me on Facebook. We didn't have a ton in common, but we knew each other a long time ago. And there are tons of people who won't accept my friend requests -- people who had been really important to me at one time. And you know? It's taken me a long time but I finally understand that that's OK. There are relationships that are open, in which both of us float in and out of touch for decades. And these are just not those. It doesn't change the fact that they will always be important to The Story Of Firstname Lastname. But their narrative can be written in past tense.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


During my going-away party from my first job out of college, one of the editors told me to never step foot in the building again. And that guy actually liked me.

He wasn't saying it in a mean way; it was as though he knew I would find a better situation elsewhere. And he was right. That was not a happy place.

I've been thinking about that conversation since Friday, when I went to three going-away parties at the paper. It was our latest round of layoffs, and it hit closer to me than it ever has. And I'd been feeling angry and stressed about it.

But what I realized Friday is that I have not appreciated what great fortune I've had to work where I work. I work with people who care about what they do, and who care about the people they work with. I've made amazing friends -- smart, warm, hilarious. And I've gone through a lot here (including the illness that I wrote about in great detail here several years ago). I've grown up here. My life is demarcated into two eras: The time when my mom was alive, and the time when I have worked at The Pilot. On the day that my mom died, Denis called me from the paper to see if I was ready to talk about coming out here. He had no way of knowing she had died; it was only several hours after I had found out myself. He was really great about it; he just happened to call on that day. And I was ready to talk.

So it's been my mom, and The Pilot. Nothing in between, and no overlap. That's pretty big to me. And I feel good that it was here, and not somewhere else.

The Apple and The Tree And All That, Part II

Abbott sometimes uses incorrect words to tweak me; for months he called soy milk "foy milk" as a joke. This fact leaped to mind this evening as I sat down to write "Happy holidays" in my Fox-News-loving dad's Christmas card just to tweak him. 

So, you know, the apple does not fall far from the tree that sprouted nearby the previous tree after having fallen and rolled only a short distance.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Music, by the numbers

So, I've been compiling a list of the albums I've listened to the most in my life. I'm obsessive and a creature of habit, so it's no joke when I say that I've listened to some of these more than 1000 times. In the beginning of my serious music-listening career, I had no disposable income to speak of and just a few tapes, which my sister and I would listen to every day as we did the dishes or played Super Mario Bros. And when we weren't listening to those few tapes, we were listening to the radio, which is harder to quantify. Anyway, then there was college, and the Walkman that accompanied me everywhere. Then driving around in my '94 Corolla, with the same tapes over and over. Now, though, it's a Civic with an iPod, so I'm rarely listening to whole albums anymore. I don't really actively seek out a ton of new music (which drives Jeffrey nuts) -- even from artists whose other albums I really like; once I find something that's relatively in my range and that I like, I stick with it for a while. Also, I'm not really an album-cut kind of a gal; I was raised on MTV and radio, so I know singles. And some albums only have, like, 2 good songs. So they didn't make the cut, but you'll see that a ton of Greatest Hits collections did.

I decided that there were 3 groupings that made sense for these albums: > 100 listenings, > 500 listenings and > 1000. In the first category are albums I mostly like. But either they didn't really take or they came too late, after the revelation of cherry-picking MP3s. In the second category are most albums I know by heart. In the third category are albums that stayed important to me for a long time, for whatever reason. They probably say the most about me. Within each category, they're in the order in which my addled brain recalled them. 

Notes: 1. For the purposes of this list, I'm including albums of which I listened to at least 80 percent. Most have 1-2 fast-forward songs. 2. There are also a lot of mixtapes/CDs I'm not including, which sort of makes me sad. It's just a little harder to accurately remember all of those. 3. I'm surely forgetting many; this list is subject to change without notice when I remember more of them. 4. Some of these albums I will never be able to listen to again (I'm looking squarely at you, Billy Joel).

100 < x < 499
Grease, Original Broadway Cast (I think I would have listened to this one more if there hadn't been a rapey line in one of the first songs. Not cool.)
Mozart, Requiem (I mean to listen to this one more than I do, but I did listen to it a ton in high school.)
Henry V, Motion Picture Soundtrack (I had such a crush on Kenneth Branagh. Plus there's a song in Latin, which I love. Non nobis domine domine ...)
Adele, 19
Adele, 21
Janet Jackson, Control
Barenaked Ladies, Born on a Pirate Ship
Barenaked Ladies, Maybe You Should Drive (I tried with these two. I really did.)
Phil Collins, ... But Seriously (This is, for many reasons, painful for me to type out.)
Madonna, True Blue

500 < x < 999
Sting, Dream of the Blue Turtles
They Might Be Giants, Severe Tire Damage
Boston, Third Stage
Chicago, Greatest Hits 1982-1989
Bon Jovi, New Jersey
Beth Orton, Central Reservation
Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs (only the first disc)
Richard Marx, Richard Marx (Yes, I said it!)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Greatest Hits
George Winston, December (though to be fair, at first I thought this was my ex-boyfriend Mike playing. It wasn't until Betsy Carmody told me freshman year of college that I learned he had lied.)
REO Speedwagon, You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish
Natalie Merchant, Tigerlily (I still fast forward through "My Beloved Wife.")
10,000 Maniacs, MTV Unplugged (Natalie Merchant, you may have some complicated feelings about parenthood to explore with a counselor)
Queen, Classic Queen
Dennis Miller, The White Album (I mean, didn't everyone in the early '90s?)
The Monkees, whatever greatest-hits album was available in 1985 or thereabouts
Pearl Jam, Ten
The Sounds of Murphy Brown (Motown)
The Big Chill, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (also mostly Motown)
The Police, Every Breath You Take: The Singles
Night Ranger, Greatest Hits 
Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen 
The Eagles, Greatest Hits 
Don Henley, End of the Innocence
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars  
Kansas, Best of 

1000 < x 
Barenaked Ladies, Gordon
Barenaked Ladies, Stunt
Barenaked Ladies, Rock Spectacle
They Might Be Giants, Flood 
They Might Be Giants, Lincoln
A Chorus Line, Original Broadway Cast
Rent, Original Broadway Cast (including Taye Diggs and that guy from Law and Order!)
Alanis Morissette, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (I have never heard the song "Baba" all the way through. No idea why. Also, "Heart of the House" can make me cry, so I usually fast forward through that one, too.)
Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill
David Mathews Band, Crash
Billy Joel, Greatest Hits, Volumes 1-2
Elton John, Greatest Hits, Volumes 1 and 2
Indigo Girls, Rites of Passage
Indigo Girls, 12,000 Curfews (only the first disc, though, strangely)
Def Leppard, Hysteria 
Gin Blossoms, New Miserable Experience
Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend (This one's hard to listen to again but sometimes creeps up on shuffle.)
Simon & Garfunkel, Greatest Hits
Journey, Greatest Hits
Jim Croce, Greatest Hits
Damn Yankees, Damn Yankees (To this day, I'd have Jack Blades' baby. I'd at least consider it, at any rate.) 
Melissa Etheridge, Yes I Am

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanks giving

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend about how I was not in a great frame of mind. He listened, then very genuinely suggested that I start a gratitude journal -- jotting down a few things each day I was grateful for. I tucked it away, and thought about it without acting on it.

A few days later, I was driving back from scouting out a gigantic house for a photo shoot. I was feeling put-upon for not having landed in the womb that would have given me access to the neighborhood with big houses and people jogging around on a workday. And then I thought, maybe I need to start this journal.

So I made a quick detour to Barnes and Noble to get a pocket notebook. And as I was driving, I composed my first (and so far, only) entry:

I am grateful to have had an upbringing that results in me having the trust of people I trust, the respect of people I respect, and the love of people I love.

This, I believe, is more than enough.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The apple and the tree and all that

Tonight I told A that he could have another Clementine if he ate more quinoa and more broccoli. He laughed and said, "Why did you say 'more'? I haven't eaten any!"

The kid's precise. Jeffrey calls it karma.

Gone in a flash

Abbott watches a video series called Monsters. It's live-action, truck-roaring excitement -- Dirt Monsters, Fire Monsters, Garbage Monsters, et cetera. He has maybe 6 of the videos that he watches. There are about 10 total.

This morning he asked if he can watch Hedge Trimmer Monsters. It almost certainly does not exist, so I told him that. He said it was probably at the library and someone had checked it out and now they have returned it. And then I started to explain how every media item that we consume is made by someone -- someone had to sit down and write this book, and then someone else had to publish it before we could read it; someone had to make these videos, and so on.

As I was explaining all of that, I realized how infinite his sense of reality is right now, and how absolutely magical it is. And I know that he'll only have this completely mundane and innate sense of infinity for a nanosecond, that he'll understand finiteness so well tomorrow. And that understanding may one day feel crushing to him, as it has at times to me.

So I stopped explaining how things come into existence. It was just as well; he'd moved on to something else. Maybe he can keep the magic for one more day.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mothers without mothers

A dear friend of mine is pregnant. She shared with me a few of her fears and it brought back a lot of mine. Of course, the bottom line is that I had a very successful pregnancy -- I have a healthy baby to show for it. But it was very difficult for me. I bled a lot, not in large amounts but frequently, so I was always going in to see if anything was wrong. And it never was, but I was so afraid. I remember crying in the car many, many times. Not safe, by the way.
Now, three years later, crying in the car again, I think I can finally put all the pieces together.
When my mom died, I figured (subconsciously) that the worst thing that could happen to someone I love (and by extension, to me) had happened. I've talked a lot about how when I was taking care of her, I would literally jump out of my seat whenever the phone rang. And the day she died, I stopped jumping, for what I thought was ever. It's the converse for people who lose someone suddenly, I think. Once they get that call, every call thereafter holds the potential for horror.
But today I finally realized that it's more than the phone calls. When she died, I cut myself off from caring that deeply about anything. I kept my distance.
But a decade and change later, it was impossible to keep my distance from my own baby, growing inside me. It's primal. And the more I cared, the more scared I got. The last time I had cared for someone -- literally cared for them, took care of them -- she died. It was my only record -- when I take care of someone, that person dies. A hundred percent. So I was waiting for that to happen again.
When my mom died, a guy at the paper I would very soon leave said, "One day, not today, you should check out 'Daughters Without Mothers.' It's for women who have lost their moms." Well, I never did. But I wonder if there's a group for mothers without moms. Because I could really use that right now.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

In which everyone grows a little bit

Jeffrey's parents were in town last week. Jeffrey and his mom went shopping for Abbott's birthday one night; I couldn't go because I was home with the soon-to-be-3-year-old. But through modern phone technology, I was able to see everything they'd bought -- the I Love My Grandpa and I Love My Grandma books, the three (three! He is a lucky kid!) Play-Doh construction toys, and the big pink bag they'd bought to put it all in.

Pink is Abbott's favorite color. He told us maybe a month ago, and I've had a little bit of anxiety about it, I have to confess. And it is a confession in the truest sense of the word -- I feel ashamed of the anxiety. I'm afraid someone is going to say something shitty to him, and I'm afraid of the decisions I might make because of that fear. I haven't really told a lot of people (ashamed of that, too), only people I have considered to be "safe."(the heck does that even mean?) And I wasn't sure whether Jeffrey's parents were going to be on that list -- his dad, especially. No reason to believe he wouldn't be safe; I just didn't think there was any reason to tell them.

But here we were, with a pink bag. And an automotive shirt with pink notes. So, Grandma was on board. Ok. Grandpa was always the question mark.

The next morning, they came over a little bit late; they had to do some more shopping. Grandma came in first, with a gigantic red polka-dotted bag that I had not seen in the pictures. Where was the pink bag? I didn't even want to tell them! And now this!

As Abbott started pulling apart the red bag to see what was inside, in walked Grandpa. Carrying the pink bag of course. Then Abbott pulled all his gifts out -- all wrapped in pink paper. That was what they had had to shop for that morning. I even think Grandpa pointed out the pink on the shirt when Abbott opened it.

People sure will surprise the shit out of you if you let them.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

The proof is in the proof

Jeffrey worked today (a Saturday), so Abbott and I had a day to ourselves. With the threat of a tropical storm overhead, we settled in and just played analog-style for hours. We made an ice cream truck out of his Duplos and set about serving all of his minifigs frozen confections.

At one point, he started wiping down the carpet with his hand. He was making sure the "playground equipment" was dry so that his little character could go play and not get wet. First he wiped down the slide (my back), then the swings, then the other equipment. It was one of the sweetest things I have ever seen.

Yesterday someone asked me if I was a good mom. Of course, I said, "I don't know." Who can know that kind of thing? And you know, I still don't, but I have to say that at that exact moment, with all the wiping, I felt like yes, I have done a couple things right.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

So this is what adulthood looks like?

This week  I have been reminded of the last few days of my mom's life. All of us were crowded in the biggest hospital room on the floor (the staff liked us). My mom was floating in and (mostly) out of consciousness. About a day before she died, my oldest brother leaned down to her and said, "Mom, your body is tired. You can go home now."

And honestly, I think it was the most adult thing I have ever seen or will ever see.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Snippet from the dinner table

A: Um, Mom? Will you please put on the song I'm singin?

J: Well, Buddy, I don't hear you singing any song.
A: It's quiet.

He's dry, this kid.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


A friend loaned me "Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself," a book about a road trip with David Foster Wallace. The back has this quote:

"If you can think of times in your life that you've treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it's probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we're here for is to learn how to do it. I know that sounds a little pious."

I've been thinking about that quote a lot, and looking at who I am a bit differently. I think so much of what I do and say and how I react to things is driven by my fear of someone offering me a ball and suggesting that I might like to bounce it. Anyway, I don't have anything fully formed to say about it yet, but I'd really love to stop it.