06 December 2017

Meet Me in STL (a brief interlude)

Scene: Lambert St. Louis International Airport.

I’m finishing up some research on my layover when a man in his late fifties sits next to me at the charging station and starts a random chatty conversation. I have never understood why men in their late middle age want to talk to me. Like, can you not see I am nose-deep in Henry David Thoreau?

Anyway, he peppers me with friendly questions while we charge our iPhones on a power strip of dubious electrical safety. There's a steady patter: am I headed home, was I here on business, oh wow Nashville, so what was I doing, oh he’s an engineer so he wouldn't know about any of that but his daughter’s favourite class in high school is English, that’s really neat. I’m not really in the mood, but by this point it's impossible to follow what old Henry is saying (though really, what else is new) so what the hell. Besides which, having just recently finished boneless wings and a pretty decent craft beer, I'm feeling fairly amiable. (Also, this may have some bearing on my critical inability to follow Thoreau's train of thought. You'd think it'd actually help.)

Talk turns to his older son, in the Navy. He’s in IT, somehow; I can’t really follow because I don’t speak IT, but I ask where he’s stationed out of. The man pulls his baseball cap out of his carry-on and proudly shows me the embroidered USS Iwo Jima emblazoned on the front. I suppress a grin and tell him that by coincidence my cousin is also on the Iwo. We marvel a bit, the man and I, at how small the world sometimes is, and he wonders aloud if his son knows my cousin. By this point I am laughing. Hard. I tell him yeah, I’m pretty sure he does. The man is not convinced, because it’s a fairly decent sized ship, and what does my cousin do?

Well, er, he’s the captain.

So there’s a pretty good chance your kid has at least heard of him.

18 November 2017

Unexpectedly Inconvenient Ways In Which My Body Would Like to Remind Me I Am Still In Recovery, Mid-November Edition

Some of this I genuinely did not see coming.
  1. Grading 40 papers by hand instead of online. Who even knew I moved my shoulder that much when I wrote? It’s a puzzle. 
  2. Pulling up my pants. (And don’t even talk to me about tights.) Down, on the other hand, is no problem whatsoever. Make of that what you will. 
  3. Talking on the phone. Sorry I missed your call, but I only have one arm that reliably goes up past 90 degrees, and I was already using it for something.
  4. Feline affection. Solstice is a head-butter and a climber, and his favourite safe space is draped over my left shoulder. This dates back to kittenhood, when he was cute and wee and could nestle in the crook of my neck. Now that he’s approximately the size (not to mention shape) of a walrus, it’s somewhat less graceful under the best of circumstances.
    Happier times

  5. Trying to get out of this fucking bra.
  6. Flailing academic gestures, all sorts. If you’ve ever spoken to me in person, this needs no further commentary. 
  7. Backing into parking spaces. Backing out of parking spaces. Backwards in general remains somewhat of a mystery in my life. 
  8. Can I carry this full cup of coffee all the way back to Drown without stopping to switch hands? Possibly yes, probably no. (Bonus points for catching that reference.) But I am definitely letting you open that door. 
  9. Hair. Anything relating to hair. Combing hair. Washing hair. Styling hair. The fact that hair manages to exist so far away from my current range of motion.
    Seriously. How did that get over there?
  10.  Pillowcases. Pillowcases are far harder than I imagined. I was prepared for fitted sheets. I was not prepared for pillowcases. And yet, I agreed to this lunacy, so here we are.

08 October 2017

I Can Write This Dissertation With One Hand Tied Behind My Back

Which turns out to be a good thing.

Meanwhile, our fearless (ha! it's called acting chops) heroine has in fact run out of non-surgical options for her dominant shoulder and is looking down the teeny-tiny barrel of arthroscopic surgery in ten days. I made the mistake of googling--seriously, I know this, the first advice I always give to sick or injured people is NEVER GOOGLE--and discovered that per my diagnosis they are removing sections of not one but two bones in the joint.


So on top of having 40 papers to grade every four weeks, umpteen job applications to submit that all have different requirements for the writing sample, and a partner who has once again been eaten by the Blair Witch (it's ok, we know where she works), I now have to do all of this with one arm. It's going to take me forever to do things like brush my teeth, forget empty the cat box.

Which reminds me, actually. I'm off to go do just that, then grade some of that pile of papers.

I cannot convey to you the level of suckitude this week has contained. And that's not even getting into the real troubles, like several hundred maimed people in Las Vegas or the fact that Tom Petty died twice on Monday.

Bitey Bird is not pleased.

07 July 2017

Once More for the Guy in the Hot Dog Costume

If you're friends with me on Facebook (which, let's face it, you probably are, because how else do you know this blog exists?), you'll notice a pair of posts today addressing my ongoing depression. In the most recent one, I told you not to be worried, and I want to reiterate that. I'm not in any danger. Much like my anxiety and exhaustion--which are probably part and parcel of one big happy thing called my brain--it's not anything I haven't been walking around with for the past four years or so, so if you've seen me since, say, that one time Matt Nelson dressed up as a bass-playing hot dog, it's about like that, only the horrific anxiety attacks have mostly stopped.

Like you, I have many questions.
 Yes, it's for the most part rooted in Robin's death, which I learned later that week had occurred this same night, while I was in Ohio dealing with this bullshit. As a result, I dealt with this bullshit badly, and a whole lot of other things also didn't go as well as they might have if I had had at least a matching set of wits about me. In the last four years, I've lost relationships because of my grief behaviour (and other people's reactions to it), some of them dear friends and comrades of many years' standing whose (additional) loss I'm still grieving.

In the past four years, I've also learned how to navigate some of my changing limitations. I'm getting okay at saying no and not feeling guilty about it all the time. I'm getting better at asking for help. I'm getting better at opening up about my actual struggle, not just the frantically hilarious theatrics that I sometimes turn it into. I'm getting a lot better at forgiving people. I'm getting a little better at forgiving myself.

So it's not all loss.

This afternoon, my dad called to ask how my shoulder was feeling. (Answer: still about 90% terrible, which is what you'd expect when you've just had a corticosteroid injection in it for rotator cuff tendonitis but can't do anything one-handed and you live alone on the second floor and there are things like, you know, groceries and the vacuum cleaner to deal with.) I ignored him because I was in the middle of ignoring an appointment with my therapist.

Let me back up for a minute. I love my therapist. I mean, I love her. She also happens to be a Buudhist monk, and I genuinely enjoy my time with her and often actively look forward to hanging out spilling my guts all over her office. So when I'm too flattened to get out of bed in time to shower and see her, it's not necessarily the best of signs.

And this isn't the first time it's happened pretty recently either.

So anyway, when I called my dad back, I cheerily told him that yes my shoulder still felt like it's being sporked to death, no I haven't been to the DMV yet, and oh by the way I was going to go in to see about getting my antidepressant prescription increased on Monday morning.

As you can imagine, that went over well.

 It's taken me so long to ask about this (because believe me, Alien Boy has tried to convince me that all of this sleep is depression talking) in part because there are so many damn moving parts to my metabolism right now, between middle age and an endocrine cancer and perimenopause and fucking grad school because did I mention OH MY GOD PEOPLE--anyway, this doesn't feel like the same as any other depression I've ever had, because in the middle of it I'm also content. Much of my life is great. So I figured this couldn't possibly be depression. Because I don't hate everything.


Several of you, over on Facebook, have commented that it helps to talk. And it does. Immensely. It's why I have a therapist I usually manage to get to. It's how I'm functional the seventy percent of the time I'm functional (that, and coffee). My dad expressed a similar worry: "Counseling isn't helping?"

Yes, dad. Counseling helps. It helps immensely. But it can't replace whatever neurotransmitters aren't happening. Sometimes it just doesn't help enough. It doesn't mean therapy isn't working, or I'm not working my ass off at it, or anything else other than sometimes it's physically impossible to spatula myself out of bed for days at a time and nothing else has worked, so maybe it's time to try this. Kind of like how I tried ignoring my shoulder pain for two months, which went about as well as you can imagine, then tried a cortisone shot and a feeble attempt at rest, and next week I'm going to have to sort out the "what's next" of that as well (more enforced rest? Another injection? An MRI?? I have no idea. That's why they make orthopods). Nobody would dream of blaming me that the injection didn't work, or the NSAIDs. And I don't think people are meaning to blame me for this either, but sometimes helpful advice makes me wonder what planet I've apparently been on, that I now speak such a different language from everyone I love.

I know exactly what planet it is, though. It's Planet Dead Guy Who Was My Whole Life, and I'm not back yet. It's been four years, and I'm not over it yet. I live here now, so I guess I'd better start unpacking.

09 May 2017

Another Exhaustive List

I don't want to come in here and constantly bitch and apologise about the fact that I'm never fucking around. I want to love this as much as I used to. I do love this as much as I used to. But.

Grief is exhausting. Seriously, I was not prepared for how long it would take all my energy just to exist every day, for how hard it would be not to collapse in a slithering wailing heap of bones Robin is dead in front of everyone. My diss advisor. My writing partner. My students. My friends. The mirror. People at the grocery store. Sometimes out of the blue I will be shopping in the cookie aisle at Shop-Rite (as one does), and the goddamn Pepperidge Farm Chesapeake Farmhouse cookies with the dark chocolate and the pecans will attack me from the side and I'll be crying my eyes out before I know it, because we used to wolf them down by the little white sleeve watching 60 Minutes or whatever. Mostly I'm better about this, but everything is still harder than it was.

Grad school is exhausting. I'm pretty sure I don't need to explain that, but just in case I do: OH MY GOD PEOPLE. This whole semester has pretty much been me hanging on by my fingernails, catching up just enough to keep from losing my shit entirely, and waiting for this week to finally arrive when all I have to do is grade finals and calculate grades--oh, and write an entire syllabus for English 1 for the fall, and a course description for the spring catalog for the lit class I have to finish designing that now has to have seven people in it in order to run, and oh hey yeah, how about that dissertation because you're totally fucking on the job market starting last August?

Also, it has been medically exhausting to be me for various reasons every since they decided it would be a good idea to take my gallbladder out before it exploded (which it apparently promptly did, all over the little pan they put it in once they took it out of my abdomen, which is equal parts funny and horrifying and also ew), and apparently now harbouring a case of IBS, which is exactly as unpleasant as everybody says it is. And because I'm in my mid-forties--and can we talk about that for a minute, because how did that happen all of a sudden--and have survived an endocrine cancer, every single hormone in my body has recently begun going haywire all at once, the finer details of which I will spare you, but suffice it to say that I have had no fewer than six gynecological appointments since my spontaneous ten-hour trip to the ER in mid-February and am now on a first-name basis with my uterus. (Actually, it's the fibroids that have names. I call them Snap, Crackle, and Pop. Though "pop" is more accurately a description of the hemorrhagic ovarian cyst that got me sent to the ER in the first place. But I digress.)

It was a long winter. And I'm still trying to get to the bottom of the endless fatigue.

But this guy.

                                 another day in Paradise, PA (no, really)

This guy. He is everything. He has been through so much, and he is still so alive and fighting so hard to return to the living, and I could not be more amazed and in awe of him. Twenty years later, we are able to open up to each other with trust in a way that I didn't think was possible, and if this is to be my entire life I will clutch it with both hands and bless it, because it contains him.

24 March 2017

Face the Strange

Horrifying to see how long it's been since I've posted. Lots has changed, lots hasn't.

What's changed (since you might not notice all of it)?

My last name has changed. Again. I reverted back to my maiden name effective this past Christmas. Don't tell the DMV yet, I haven't even gotten to the Social Security office.

My email address is changing for the first time in 18 years, so that's a little freaky and will take some adjusting for everyone. Goodbye, Earthlink, you've been lovely, but you're charging me for a service you can't provide and that's dumb.

I'm finally ditching Verizon's crappy sub-sub-sub-DSL because my neighbourhood isn't even wired for FiOS, too (related to email change, above).

My hair has been some very interesting shades of blue the past 18 months, some of which were entirely by accident.

Alien Boy. Well. That's changing, but it's also still the same. It's complicated. But what in life isn't?

What's the same?

My dissertation is still driving me crazy in a very good way. It's also eating all of my time, which is why I haven't posted in forever.

Robin is still dead. It still sucks just as hard as it ever did, but it doesn't always shock me as much when I realise it.

Solstice the cat is still the derpiest derp in derpville. He's now my only kitty, the others all having gone to the land where cats go (aka the field out behind my parents' chicken coop, under several inches of dirt and a very large rock to keep from being dug up). We're adjusting okay.

I'm still behind in my grading. Some things are constant. This is one of them.

18 December 2014

There Is Only One Path

About three years ago, I had an otherwise random dream on what I assumed at the time was a random night. Presumably this dream had a plot, inasmuch as dreams ever do (mine are very often Edward Gorey-esque affairs with roast chickens on velvet cushions, cartoon dogs piloting flying handlebar mustaches, or what-have-you) but what I remember from this dream was waking with a very clear image of a tattoo. I've had two tattoos since my mid-twenties. One means a lot to me spiritually and metaphorically; the other is a random lizard on the small of my left hip. I frequently forget I have that one since, you know, I'm so rarely standing behind myself while I'm naked. I remember thinking I wouldn't ever get another one. I didn't want it to become a habit, something that I just did the way I occasionally pierced my ear or my navel
--that last is something, by the way, I'd advise against doing within twenty-four months of cancer surgery and multiple doses of radiation. It helps to have an immune system if you're going to be poking bits of metal into the soft parts of your body. Just a lesson from someone who didn't think that through at the time. As Dooce says, be ye not so stupid.

Anyway, back to the dream-tattoo. It was just a simple word, in a simple font. In a basic American Typewriter-type font, in black, was the single word:


on the inside of my right wrist. In true annoying dream fashion, the "o" had been turned into a red heart. (Because, really? Apparently my dream-self is kitschy? Gag.)

When I woke up, I thought I had been having a dream about 9/11, which was the next day. Then, on making my morning rounds of teh interwebz, I learned it was World Suicide Prevention Day. Apparently this is a thing on 10 September every year, and I hadn't known it. And I found this out that September tenth via a tweet from the fine folks at To Write Love on Her Arms, otherwise known as TWLOHA. It's an organisation I've heard of but not really had a whole lot of interaction with, though I hold its founder, Jamie Tworkowski, in high esteem by reputation.

It's possible my subconscious knew the significance of the date, and it's certain that somewhere in the back of my mind I had the name of the organisation filed away--but that the dream happened when it did has stuck with me since.  I've known since putting the pieces together that I was in for one last tattoo. But I wanted to wait until I was certain that the design was what it was supposed to be (since, you know, this is a permanent thing I'm sticking on a much more visible part of my body than my butt or my ankle).

Over the years I toyed with some design elements, textual phrases, fonts. Nothing seemed right. I had just about decided on a design--a particular phrase written in a research notebook for me by a beloved friend while I wasn't looking, in his handwriting--when (as previously recorded) the, erm, excreta hit the overhead air circulation device with said beloved friend, not to mention said friend's unwitting embroilment in a certain, shall we say, "tattoo snafu" and, long story short, such a design became inadvisable.

A few weeks ago, it dawned on me. What better way to write love on my own arms than to use the words and the hand of a man who loved me better than I loved myself in those darkest days? And what better place to mark this love than Nashville, a place that is struggling to teach me so much about love these days, in all its widest and most illogical forms, whenever I'll give in and let it?

Yesterday, the first night of Hanukkah, a night when I was always guaranteed to talk to Robin even though it was often only a text or email conversation, I scarred myself one final time, with his words in his own handwriting.

(the tattoo is straight; it's my arm that's crooked here)
Remarkably, without meaning to, the tattoo artist (a friend of my hosts') aligned the design perfectly with the, uh, existing real estate, so that the first downstroke of the "t" emerges directly out of one of the deepest and most traced over scars. Even more remarkably, I'm not ashamed to look down at my arm anymore. The scars from the cutting are still there. In fact, while the tattoo is healing they're even more visible, I think. Maybe they always will be. But for the first time, that's ok. Because for the first time, the love is visible too.

Maybe it's always been there. Maybe, as usual, I just needed him to point it out to me so that I could see it.