So, That Happened

I was at lunch today watching an episode of The Great British Baking Show when my regular pest control guy came by for the bi-monthly eviction of pests. Toodles ants! Not that what I was watching is particularly important to the story, it’s just a fun fact (you’re welcome). The contestants were busily creating Baked Alaskas (Alaskans?) a dessert I was only aware of thanks to the movie Mister Frost. (Isn’t that how everyone learns about desserts – movies where Jeff Goldblum is the devil? No?) More fun facts!

Anyway, he’s a nice enough fellow who manages to keep critters at bay, and I appreciate that in a person. Like the time April came by and relocated a face-hugging grasshopper or that time April came by and relocated a Kingsnake. (Seriously, I just learned that is one word – see, even MORE fun facts – you’re really benefitting from my wisdom today. Good thing you stopped by. You also learned that April has mad pest removal skills. She’s kind of great.) People who remove and or stomp things on my behalf are pretty up there in my hierarchy of cool people. Maslowe can have his needs. I have my cool. Pyramid to come. Watch this space.

Y’know how some folks have that one thing they can’t live without? Their “treat yo’selfs”? Well, for me, that’s pest control. True story for the Dirty Jobs fans: the only episode of Dirty Jobs that was too much – the pest control episode(s). (Why was there more than one?!?!? Why?!?!?) I’m not particularly squeamish, but let’s just say that on the night the first one aired Jay had to find another show for us to watch; it was just a little bit too dirty.

Anyway…

We chatted about the rude ants who’d stormed the walls not once but twice after a couple of storms a few weeks ago. He agreed they were out of line, which they were, especially since they decided biting might be fun. I didn’t agree, but rolling them into smushy balls for their afront to my person was. He asked me to come outside to look at a window he found concerning. “It’s broken. I just thought you’d like to know.” I moved to get a better angle and said, “no, you can see the clouds reflected in the spot you say is broken – that’s just an odd reflection of something.” He reached over and plucked a cat hair from my shirt, weird, don’t touch me, but ok. Then offered to look up in the attic just to confirm. He goes up, sees the window isn’t broken, comes back down, and swaps places with me so I can also confirm. As I headed up the attic ladder, “what does your tattoo say?” (I have two arrows crossed on my ankle with a set of coordinates. The arrows represent crossed paths, and the coordinates are a location where I met some of the most important people in my life.) The glass wasn’t broken. I climbed back down.

He then goes about spreading bait around the perimeter of my house.

I return to my show. Baked Alaskas/kans here I come! “I see you!” he hollers through my open living room window as he passes beneath. “Ok!” I sigh. I watch a bit more and then throw in the towel to move away from the window. Will Diane’s meringue be stiff enough and toasted perfectly? Who knows? I decide to wait to find out.

A text pops up on my phone “so and so has completed their service” – the same text I get at the end of every completed service, but this time his photo appears. “Hrmm… that’s new.” I ignore it and prepare to return to work. The doorbell rings. “I finished.” Okie dokie. Good job. I got the text. I didn’t really need another confirmation. I’m ready to shut the door. “I just have to take a risk.” Then he gestures to me, palm flat as he waves his arm about in the air, “I want all of that all over me.” I’m genuinely confused. Is there something on the house? On the porch? What could he possibly want all over him? I don’t see anything that could be spread. I furrow my brow, “What?” He says it again using the same gesture, “I want that all over me. Would that be something you’d be interested in?” Ew. “No.” “Oh, ok. I just had to take the risk. I hope you don’t mind.” I mind. He leaves.

Also, does that line work on someone? Anyone??? Is “Would you care to have dinner with me?” “Would you be interested in coffee some time?” out of style?? We now just go straight to, “I want that…” “that”??? the fuck you say as you’re gesturing to me???? I’m not a “that” “…all over me.”

Yeah… so that happened today.

I can’t get a date with a decent guy who finds me interesting or attractive, but hey I’m a pretty big damn deal to the creepy pest control guy thanks to my “that”. Yay?

If there’s a Heaven, and there better be, I get to punch Jay in the throat now four times before I say hello.

Call to Action: Burgers & Ice Cream

You, yeah you – my friends, my family, that person around the corner sitting near the coast, laptop flipped open or sitting in the comfort of your living room, even you, you know who you are – the one dangling precariously off the edge of a mountain – all y’all (real Texas phrase) – know that every September I come to you to ask for your support for Suicide Awareness. I talk to you about the devastating impact suicide has – the lives irrevocably damaged, and I talk to you about the importance of awareness – how you can make a real difference. Then, I invite you to walk with me or make a donation.

However, today I want to talk to you about burgers and ice cream…

…and of course, the aforementioned awareness and how you can make a difference, but hang on, no heavy sighing, this isn’t a bait and switch – go back to the start of that sentence where I said “burgers AND ice cream! I’m leaning heavy on that “and” there.

Here’s the Deal

AFSP is partnering with Phil’s Ice House and Amy’s Ice Cream located at 5620 & 5624 Burnet Rd., Austin, TX (y’know, places that get you to the burger and ice cream thing I was talking about)

What AFSP is saying about the event:

We’re partnering with Amy’s Ice Creams and Phil’s Ice House for the 5th year in a row! But there’s a catch. We only receive donations if we have at least 50 people check-in at both Amy’s AND Phil’s.
When you get there just simply mention the AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Austin Walk and you’ll be checked-in. But don’t forget to go to both Amy’s and Phil’s so we can qualify for the Party Time Donations. The dining room is open for those wanting to eat at the restaurant. But we also encourage you to use their curbside or home delivery services. While supporters will still be able to go inside the restaurants to order and check-in, we encourage supporters to order online and put “American Foundation for Suicide Prevention” in the chef’s notes. If ordering in person, when you get there just simply mention the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and you’ll be checked-in. But don’t forget to go to both Amy’s and Phil’s so we can qualify for the Party Time Donations. Want an extra incentive for you and your team? You got it. There is a chance to have all the donated money credited to your team! How to win the Party Time Funds:
Take a picture of you enjoying your burger and ice cream
Share your picture on social Media
1) Tag American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Central Texas
2) Tag Phil’s or Amy’s

The team with the most tagged selfie’s wins!

Pretty easy! So, just to sum it all up (part 2, because who doesn’t love a sequel?!?! Am I right?)

  1. Go to Phil’s Ice House & Amy’s Ice Cream on Burnet Rd. in Austin (address above) to dine in, pick it up, or have it delivered
  2. Order food from both Phil’s AND Amy’s and let them know it’s for the “AFSP Out of the Darkness Austin Walk” – you can indicate that in the chef’s notes if you’re choosing curbside or delivery.
  3. Take a selfie
  4. Have your friends/family take a selfie
  5. Post that selfie, you gorgeous do gooder who’s out there making a difference, to social media (want to participate but don’t have a social media account? First off, good on you! Second, just send your photo to me and I’ll post it – AFSPJayWalkers at the gmail)
  6. Tag the following:
    • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Central Texas
    • Phil’s Ice House OR Amy’s Ice Cream
    • The Jay Walkers

Watching your girlish/boyish figure? Have it delivered to a friend or family member or those folks who are working hard throughout the day? (Just get them to take the photo and post to social media.)

Like AFSP said, they only get the money if there are at least 50 participants. So, come have a burger and some ice cream with me!

I’ll see you Monday, October 11th!

PS – Want to skip the clogged cholesterol but still support this cause? Please consider walking with our team (virtually) or making a donation.

A Confession, An Overreaction, and Some Lemonade

I’m taking a moment to confess to you something – something I’m rightly a bit embarrassed about…

Facebook

You all know the relationship we (FB & I) share is quite complicated. It’s about as unhealthy a co-dependent relationship as they come. In fact, Netflix has a whole documentary about us – The Social Dilemma. Sure, you think it’s about you or your friends and family, but it’s actually my autobiography. All of it.

Y’see, I’ve been living and dying (mostly dying) by reactions (or lack thereof) to my posts.

Normally, that’s ok. I’m not a regular poster. In fact, I’m 100% certain the FB algorithm unceremoniously dumps me at the bottom of everyone’s feed troughs because of that lack of participation,. But that said, I get enough attention to keep me happy and to keep me coming back.

Then I started posting for the annual fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and if you discount the link from the AFSP fundraiser page (which got a ton of attention – thank you, donors!!), I got no response. No really, none. I posted a link to my latest Big Blue Mess post about the cause and nothing. Over a three day period, only one reader came from FB when normally it’s the bulk of my readers. Weird, but ok. I marched on.

I thought, “maybe no one is responding because they’re completely over your sadness – over Jay – over talking about this subject year after year.” I was grasping at straws, trying in vain to fix something I couldn’t understand why it was broken. I decided to push the ridiculous incentives I picked to encourage people to donate hoping that might pick up some attention. Hey, they’re goofy! Who doesn’t like goofiness? “For $10 incentive you can receive a horrible watercolor portrait made by yours truly! A “disaster piece”!” I included samples of my dreadful paintings thinking I’d at least get a pity laugh or two. Nothing.

What the actual…?

My friend Anna stepped in after listening to several whine/rants (whants?) and reacted to those posts as did my friend Julie. Yay, two little reactions to each post. What the…?

I was taking it on the chin. Beyond wanting a reaction and wanting to raise funds for this cause, we’re talking still talking about a life-altering, devastating event, and we’re talking about Jay. My person. My FAVORITE person. The person I still like more than pretty much everyone else. The person for whom I would give up every thing I’ve gained these past 5 years – every friendship I’ve made – every adventure I’ve had – every opportunity I’ve been afforded to just have him walk through my door.

The lack of responses stung.

No one? Seriously??

The indignance of that question resonated through my core, and I chewed on it – really working up a solid mad.

…and that’s when I got a message from Anna this afternoon that basically went something like this. “Hey, I noticed when you’ve been posting that the notifications I receive say that you sent a message to me. I don’t know if this is it, but you might want to check to see who your audience is. I went back and looked – all of them were to Anna – not to “Public” or “Friends” or even “Friends; Except: (not that I would ever prevent someone on my feed from reading something, but y’know… ) I was embarrassed – so much energy spent on being upset over nothing. I thought about Occam’s Razor: Was it more likely that the usual FB suspects unexpectedly abandoned you because they suddenly didn’t want to hear about Jay OR that something went pear-shaped with your posts?

Ugh.

So, my feelings that live on my sleeve are now ironed back down – at least until my next irrational fit where I waste a lot of energy.

But hey, now that I’m sane again, have I mentioned that for $10 you can get an original disaster piece (or original haiku)?? All you have to do is donate that $10 to AFSP. Help make a difference!

Lemonade

Original Disaster-piece of My Sister-in-law – She’s a Florist! Get it?? There’s a flower!

The Jay Walkers – 2021

September is Suicide Prevention Month – the month when mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness. Each year my team, the Jay Walkers, get together to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and put a spotlight on this cause, and we’re doing it again this year. But our ultimate success relies on the generosity of people like you who believe mental health is as important as physical health. People who want to remove the stigma that is oftentimes associated with admitting to a mental illness and that can become an obstacle to getting necessary treatment.

Normally, I’d write a pitch about why this cause is important to me, but instead mixing it up this year.

Let’s Talk Incentives

When you donate to the Jay Walkers for this year’s Out of the Darkness Walk (link below)… https://supporting.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.participant&participantID=2422339

…you get to choose from one of these many fine incentives:

  • $5 – A “thank you” shoutout on my social media accounts letting everyone know how awesome you are, because you are!
  • $10 – Your choice of:
    • A watercolor portrait of you or your pet. DISCLAIMER: I don’t know how to paint. Seriously, think of it as a disaster-piece, but hey it’s from the heart.
    • An original haiku. DISCLAIMER: I’m also rubbish at poetry, but again… from the heart!
  • $15 – Your choice of:
    • An AFSP Out of the Darkness Wristband (yellow band with blue lettering)
    • An AFSP You Are Not Alone button
  • $25 – A bad recap of your favorite movie/book on TikTok featuring my friend Anna and me! There may be props! There may be costumes!!! Who knows? The only thing I can guarantee is that it will be terrible! Think Siskel and Ebert, but like if they were really bad at their jobs – then imagine something 10x worse.
  • $50 – One entry to win a gift bundle – each additional $50 up to $250 will give you additional entries. Must be in the Greater Austin area or able to come to Austin to get this incentive. Here’s what’s included:
    • Gift certificate for Georgetown Pie Co. – donated in memory of Erika DeBrabander (1996-2021)
    • A Hand Crafted Candle by Bug Makes Candles – wine inspired scents donated by Bug, a crafty 17 year old
    • A Batch of Cookies – donated by my lovely and talented cousin, Kimberly – one of the best bakers I know
    • Gift Certificate for Lark & Owl Booksellers – a really cool independent book store and bistro founded by women in Georgetown
    • Gift Certificate for a Massage at Round Rock Health & Wellness
  • $75 – A batch of cookies – cookies made by Kimberly – (must be in the Greater Austin area for delivery/pick-up – trust me)
  • $150 – Hangout w/ Beth: Nerd Style Options!
    • Ever wanted to try D&D? Now’s your chance! Guest Star in a D&D Campaign – Homemade BBQ by Jim (Friends/Family Only)
    • D&D not your thing but board games are? Come play board games with a pack of board game lovin’ nerds? Now’s your chance! You, me, and a bunch of my friends will go to Emerald Tavern, play games, and I’ll buy you a pint. I’m really terrible. You’ll likely win. Who doesn’t like winning?
  • $200 – The “Let’s Get Serious” Options:
    • Axe Throwing at High Five – you, me and some axes
    • VR Sandbox – You pick the adventure and let’s go play a VR game!
    • Archery at Central Texas Archery – Grab your bow or borrow theirs, and let’s go shoot arrows (you must have completed the First Time class at CTA)

All donations come with the warm fuzzies of knowing you did something awesome. Whether you donated $1 or $200, you’ve made a statement that mental health is important and making an important impact on your community.

Do it for Erika and Austin (my close friend’s partner), who we lost in 2021.

Do it for those who struggle.

Do it for those who impacted by those deaths.

Do it for Jay.

Do it for me.

Choose to make a difference.

The Big Blue Mess: Summer Edition

Over the weekend, I may have made a promise to my step-mom on her birthday. I put may in italics not to be cute, but because I’m genuinely not sure there was an actual agreement. It may have just been guilt ferrets™ (Kevin Hearne) scampering about and planting false memories. “Psst, kid. Don’t forget that promise you made. Remember? She never asked ya for nothin’ for her birthday before – not gift, nor flowers, nor card. Today? Today she just asked you for a story, – a simple story, toots. You wanna be her greatest disappointment in 2021? On her birthday?? Then welch on that promise. Yeah, I didn’t think so, kid. Best you start typin’.” See? Guilt ferrets™ – who also happen to sound like Johnny down the block – y’know, the guy who runs that craps game with the perpetual cigarette hanging out of his mouth – the worst! Ferrets. Am I right?

As I’ve said before, my posts are just updates for my friends and family.

So, with that in mind – here we go – for my step-mom on (or nearish) her birthday.

Welcome to: The Big Blue Mess: Summer Edition

Mid-May, two weeks after my second Covid shot, I had vacation plans: Celebrate my best-friend’s big 0 birthday in Chicago, and celebrate another good friend’s 0 birthday in the Dominican Republic. It was a great summer to have friends with destination 0 birthdays who could also tolerate me well enough to have me along to celebrate.

In Chicago, we pretty much stuck to the tourist’s version of the city. We haunted the Inner Loop with it’s reflective bean, it’s museums, and tours. I could do a blow-by-blow, but most of it could be summed up in a postcard or any “Visit Chicago” travel ad. So, let me hit the highlight reel of favorite things:

  • Bisa Butler’s incredible portraits in quilt at the Art Institute of Chicago
  • The architecture tour on the Chicago River
  • The spunky, super enthusiastic tour guide for the Gangsters and Ghost tour
  • Three Dots and a Dash with Seth
  • Amazing pizza!! (not casseroles!!!)
  • Chicago-style hot dogs (I confess, I thought they were going to be absolutely disgusting and probably introduce a mouthful of wrongness into my face before being unceremoniously chucked into a trash bin. There’s so much going on there. Pickles? Relish? Onions? TOMATO?! Why? I was wrong! They weren’t just good, they were great.)
  • My buddy Johnny Two Shovels and his lovely fiancée
  • Walking everywhere
  • The time I got to spend with my closest friend.

Chicago made me regret never leaving my comfort zone by picking up, and moving away from the safety of my state – from my town. It made me wish I could right that wrong today and take a leap (and of course, move back here almost immediately to avoid November through April because cold. Texas fact: temperatures dropping below say 42 degrees (brr) are rude, obscene and wholly unnecessary.

The trip was fantastic – something I needed.

A few weeks later, I headed to the Dominican Republic to stay at an all-inclusive resort.

About That

A couple of years ago, if you’d asked me what my favorite type of outdoor terrain to just “be” in was, I would have started with forests, then moved on to mountains, everything else, then desert, wading in bottomless tar pits, gator-filled marshes, and finally beaches – beaches rating a bit higher than they should because I lacked the imagination to come up with anything worse than marshes before having to end with “beaches”.

In my defense, I’ve really only been around the Gulf of Mexico, and let’s face it, the Gulf is just not pretty – not where I’m from.

Then I spent a day on a beach in Honduras, which was unexpectedly lovely and actually surprisingly fun. That was followed by an afternoon on the beach in Santa Monica, and finally there I was in the Dominican Republic looking out again at the Caribbean, and all I could think was “this is idyllic – no place I’d rather be.”

There’s really no way to describe the trip that wouldn’t make me sound very privileged or very white, so I’ll leave off most of the highlight reel and say I had a lovely time at a very lovely location. I was fortunate to be invited along with great people who made me laugh so hard I snorted a few times. But were I to list the highlights, they would be a bit odd and go like this (inside jokes intertwined with genuine moments):

  • The subterranean quarters beneath where Santiago’s family stayed
  • Studio 54 featuring every Quentin Tarantino film. Let’s face it, nothing says Studio 54 in it’s heyday quite like QT and zero disco music – just ask Liza, Halston, and Andy W. who all famously said at one point, “…And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers…” The 70’s – putting the groove in groovy. You’re doing it right, Dominican Republic! Just how I remembered!
  • The gigantic angel at 80’s night. Umm…
  • The Alabamians’ drunken drawled out request, “tell us more funny stuff!!” asked of my New Zealand friend after insisting she sounded English (she doesn’t).
  • Throuples
  • Darlin’ & El Gato “the cat” meoooowwww…
  • …y Mami y Papi
  • The Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor – the oldest Church in the Americas
  • The Covid test to re-enter the US that I’m 99% sure was not a legitimate test, but hey, I got to come back home!
  • Global Entry – worth EVERY penny

Random Thoughts from the Trip

Driving through the Santo Domingo in our modern, clean and cool bus, we learned that the minimum wage is $200-$400/month and the average monthly wage is around $800/mo. Electrical wires dangled above in tangled and twisted nests. Trash littered the sides of the road as we drove on to the comfort of our compound within another compound – a playland.

Another Thought

When I arrived in the country, I honestly didn’t remember that we were in the country formerly known as Hispaniola, nor did I recall that it was here where Columbus first set shore in the Americas. I stood in the places where he stood, where his son later stood. No matter how you feel on the subject of Columbus and the aftermath of that “discovery” (the exploitation, the slavery, the mass genocide), you cannot deny that on that fateful day, the world changed. So for me to walk where he walked made me pause and reflect on the enormity of how one day, one simple action could change the course of the world. Over half a millennium later I stood there because of that one day, and the days that fell like dominoes thereafter.

There was something very appealing about being on this island; I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to explore. I wanted to just be.

As the Summer comes to a close and this Summer Edition wraps up, I find myself thinking about how much I miss being in this world – seeing, exploring, and discovering all the things with my people who make me a richer person.

Happy Birthday, CJ! – A post just for you. I’m glad you’re part of my world.

It’s About a Dog

A few thoughts have been flitting around my head. They’re not the best thoughts, nor the most insightful, nor even the most original. They’re simply my thoughts in this moment – in this time – perfectly ordinary from a perfectly ordinary person whose blog you’ve chosen to read (and for that I am grateful).

The thoughts centered around the 5th anniversary of Jay’s death, just a little over a week ago – the first anniversary I didn’t sit in the last spot he lay at the time of his death pondering what the sky might have looked like that day – through those leaves. Did branches frame the pure blues of a clear day? Was the air still? It was the first anniversary I didn’t cry. The first anniversary I didn’t post a tribute on social media – a song (I Wanna Hold Your Hand by T.V. Carpio from Across the Universe a favorite – reliable – unrequited love usually capturing my mood) – a poem (e.e cummings [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] – a photo… something, anything, to show my scars to the universe of friends and family so I am admired for being brave or strong or a survivor – support counted in likes, cares, or hearts. It was the first anniversary I didn’t talk to him. I didn’t care to.

I’ve lived in a coffin enshrined in the spaces he occupied over a lonely year.

I thought about how I wasn’t as sad.

Those thoughts wove into thoughts about social media – our best lives lived through limited characters and well composed photos. I thought about how my own personal well-curated narrative allows me to be an admired adventurer “…always up to something!” “…such an amazing life” – admired for my strength of character “…so strong!” “…so brave!” Applause I get for simply leaving the house and taking a photo. “Look at that drink!” “…that food!” “… that art!” Applause for understanding Jay’s struggle with mental illness and continuing to have his back. Applause for the nothings of an everyday life enhanced beautifully through prose, a well-placed word, a well-composed photo and the myths we create around seeing another’s story. “She’s so…”

I thought about the disservice we do – the unrealistic murals we paint and try to pass off as our well-lived realities. Our collective exteriors swathed in impossibly glorious hues – a cacophony of color that overwhelms the senses.

When a person dares a duller palette, we move quickly to course correct – “brown isn’t a color, perhaps a magenta, my friend? We need you to fall in line… don’t you feel better – just like everyone else.” A Stepford model applied to a vast virtual landscape. As an Oracle once said, “Here, take a cookie. I promise, by the time you’re done eating it, you’ll feel right as rain.” We feed on each other as we create a narrative more in sync with our peers, more out of sync with our realities –the best versions of ourselves.

Those thoughts stuck in my craw as I pushed past this anniversary. I didn’t want to post a lovely song or a meaningful poem on my social media, I wanted to flip a coffee table and scream at the universe instead – to say that while I understand that Jay’s death was related to mental illness that this year I wasn’t mad at his mental illness, I was mad at him. I wanted to say it in a way that was heard, that didn’t get shut down, where I wasn’t reminded “you are so strong” which to me amounts to congratulating me for sucking it up well – year after year – like a little trooper – not causing anyone distress.

I didn’t want to play the good, long suffering widow who lost her best friend. I wanted to yell – to be unforgiving – to demand that the universe sit down in front of me and explain itself.

The barely pent up frustration (trust me, it was pent up – it’s still more pent up than I’ll give myself permissions to share) came to a head when I returned the puppy I was fostering two days before the anniversary of Jay’s death. That perfect dog: fearless of sounds – firecrackers, thunderstorms, rain – they didn’t matter – loves car rides, all sticks, soft blankets, chasing things – great at hanging out while I worked, didn’t mind her crate, slept through the night – a grass shark, whose whole body said “wheeeee” as she dove through the blades over and over until she fell over on her back happily panting at the sky – on the Pill Bug’s “Most Wanted” for casually slaying (nomming) whole pill bug families. Eight weeks of pluck who loved chasing the kitty and would plop on her tush puzzled as to why the kitty kept running, when the kitty could now chase her. “Kitty! I’m over here. You chase me now?”

Four years before, a year and a week after Jay’s death, our dog passed away. Two days before the anniversary of his death this year, I took a dog back, because I couldn’t have her – because he wasn’t here to help.

After her plaintive whimpering-filled ride back to the shelter, I handed her back. There was a downpour.  I sat in the car moaning and shrieking pitifully.  Finally breaking. A sharp reminder of the things I cannot have, because of an event five years ago. The one condition I made when we first got together, “I will give up these things, but I get to have a dog.” But no, the deal I get is to give up everything.

I deleted all of her photos… all of her videos… I deleted posts on social media. My virtual equivalent of flipping a coffee table and setting it on fire.

I can try to make what I’m saying more palatable by talking about the stages of grief, but I think this more closely sums up how I feel.

My Experience with Grief

All of those thoughts on his anniversary.

So, instead of a lovely song, a poem, or sweet story commemorating a person whose death I’m supposed to understand, I can only offer what I’ve written – I offer these thoughts – this abject frustration – my honesty in this moment (the one you may want to think about claiming to admire) – this part of me that doesn’t understand.

An Electrical Storm Wrapped in a Tornado Concealed in a Tsunami: My First Day Back

After over a year of working from home, this past Thursday was my first day back in the office.

I was excited – a little bit anxious, but overall looking forward to the excuse to escape the house. Sorry house, you’re pretty great. We’re bros and stuff. (Err… I may be too old and the wrong gender to announce that, but there it is.) But you lack some things I need – namely co-workers or ANY people. (People – the often-overlooked base level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Hey, don’t believe what you see on that pyramid graph – it was obviously created by artists who have an anti-relationship agenda. C’mon, food and water at the base level? Before people??? Are they kidding? Have they not heard of Soylent Green? People can and should be part of that base.)

I digress you say?

Let’s face it, my social interactions this past year have been limited to staring sadly out of the window eagerly hoping for trash day to come around again (why only the one day per week?) or bribing people to leave things at my door. (Dear Amazon, you didn’t need to send me notes or photos announcing a thing had been delivered. I knew. I really knew, but thank you – also, call me if you’d like some pro tips for composing more interesting photos – I feel your delivery team weren’t making any effort to create visually compelling package tableaus. Opportunities missed!)

Ahead of that first day, I called up my gym and renewed my membership. I have a well-established routine for going into the office that starts with a 5am stop at the gym. There I repeatedly step on things, push them, pull them, slam them, throw them, or pick them up and set them back down again before showering, fluffing, and heading off to work. Before that fateful return to work, I blissfully fantasized about all my choices. What would I choose? Were “all the things” an option? (Fast-forward: today my body is telling me that I did the things that make my glutes, quads, hamstrings, traps and lats excitedly scream, “You remembered us!!!! Hi, friend!!!” like a hyperactive attention-starved cheerleader.) I knew ultimately whatever I chose wouldn’t matter, I was just excited to go and see if anyone I knew was around and be in that space again. I even made a little post about it on Facebook ahead of going. Yay, gym! Celebrate with me!

That morning the alarm went off at 4am, which was quite rude and way too loud. (If someone could send me a sunrise alarm, that would be fantastic. I’d send a little thank you card and stuff.) I got up, threw on my gym clothes and loaded the car with various bags. (Actually, that part was a little out of control as I apparently thought “Why one bag, when MORE…. MANY MANY MORE would be even better!”)

Today was going to be the best day ever.

But before leaving the house, I had forgotten something….

I forgot that I live in (nay, star in) an ongoing, @#$!$^!-ing  I Love Lucy episode.

Y’see, I was nearly at the gym when I ran over something – something huge that I dragged along the highway – dragged an uncomfortable (and loud) amount of time (time can have sound levels – don’t judge). I exited, still heard it, although at some point it sounded “not quite as bad,” and I just sighed a bit. This was really not the way I wanted to start the day. I arrived in the gym parking lot, parked, looked underneath the car, saw nothing, and went inside. Here, I naively thought, “Whew, at least that’s over – probably dislodged the thing when I made that last corner. Good job me.” As I leave the gym, I think “Let’s get coffee! You deserve it! First day back!!” I drive the half block down the street to discover my Seattle’s Best coffee place is now called Jo’s and Jo clearly doesn’t believe people need coffee before 7am. Also, my car is still making that sound. I’m now in a dress and heels. I pull over, check the wheel wells, they look clear, then decide to look at the front end of the car. Obviously, the best way to do that in a dress and heels is to do a full plank in front of your car next to a busy street, because I’m hill folk and that’s how we do, I guess??? I discover the issue: a plastic piece is down (splash guard). I deduce it’s part of my car, because while in this plank I can’t rip it off despite giving it my all…multiple times. It’s a bit scuffed from being dragged around. I pulled myself off the ground (you’re welcome, Austin, Tx.) and made the decision to drag it a mile further to my mechanics. Hey, it’s not like it was going to get less scuffed.

I then confirmed my former boss wasn’t going into the office, then reached out to his deputy. These are the people who understand and accept that I live in the world’s longest sitcom and have grown accustom to my pre-7am “OMG! My world is on fire” calls that they rarely blink and are now desensitized to my morning dramatic upheavals. They’ve been there for some of my classic hits like calls where I state, “Hey, running late – forgot pants again” (because why would a person forget them only once?).

The call started off with a casual, calm Texas gal drawl, “Hi buddy, you in the office…?” then ramped into what my former boss (the one who likely later thanked the universe, Jesus and his mother, God rest her soul, that it was his telework day) describes as sounding like a “squeaky toy” when I become animated – and animated was an understatement that morning. In fact, marine biologists around the globe probably noted some strange behavior within dolphin pods as I squeaked out and rapid-fired the words that indicated I needed him to pick me up from the mechanics.

I was now in full-blown over-stimulated mode when I reached the office – pupils large, ears flattened and ready to pounce anyone who dared to say hello. Here’s where you need to show some pity for that first co-worker – a guy I hadn’t seen in over a year – a victim who only wanted to say, “Good morning.” Someone who’d probably forgotten what I was like with a much welcome absence of my verbal pattering and innocently thought, “This will be a normal exchange without event.” He was mistaken. I imagine he deeply regretted not bypassing my door before being forced to retreat to his office to avoid being sucked into the vortex of crazy I’d brought in. Sorry!  

As I reflected on the day, I lamented the dream I had of a calm/normal return to the workplace, then accepted that “calm” was never really an option for me. I was always going to roll in like an electrical storm wrapped in a tornado concealed in a tsunami that hid a kaiju monster on the hunt for a fresh city to level. It’s just my nature. I am the storm.

Hope your first days back were filled with an equal amount of sound and fury.

A Metaphor About a Rock

Hubris told me that I could take any topic thrown my way and spin it into a story.

“Beth, write a metaphor about a rock.”

I paused on “metaphor,” brain fumbling – a metaphor about a rock. “My writing relies on anecdotes,” I weakly protested. That’s always my fall back – anecdotes or rants – my writing go-to’s. I quickly spun the rolodex and plucked out a few stories featuring rocks:

  • When I was around 5, I firmly believed all rocks came from the Moon carried back to earth by the members of the Apollo 11 space mission, and I was quite distressed about the whole thing. Didn’t they realize that children were getting hurt because they were throwing these same rocks at one another? How could these American “heroes” be so irresponsible? I launched a complaint to my parents who thought I was absolutely adorable. It was that same short-sighted, patronizing attitude that likely drove the astronauts to bring back all those rocks in the first place. Adults were exhausting back then – they just didn’t take the growing rock crisis as it related to childhood rock injuries seriously enough. Why were they idolizing these monsters?
  • By 8th grade, I realized I had it all wrong – the astronauts had really opened the door for new collaborative ways to bring kids together. Each morning, the bus stop kids divided up, choosing respective sides, and would line up on opposite sides of the street. Rocks would rain down until the bus came into view. I’m not great at many things, but I can nail you with a rock when motivated (or just cranky). This likely explains archery – it turns out I naturally have a decent sight picture. Combine that with not being a morning person, and well… you get the idea. On a particular morning, where I probably wasn’t in the mood for a prolonged battle, I ended the day’s rock shelling by picking up a large rock and charging the other side in what could best be described as a determined run-waddle. Tossing the thing more than three feet would have been impossible; however, the results were undeniable – the other team scattered in fear. I returned to my side the victor for the day.  Thank you, astronauts! Who needs coffee to get you going? Adults were clearly doing things wrong.
  • Fast forward to Covid – that little thing that’s still going on that you may have heard of – that thing doubtlessly created by Netflix to keep you glued to your couch and away from hugging your grandmother. Why does Netflix hate your Meemaw?!?! Anyway… I was chatting with a friend, “I need a movie suggestion.” “Beth, this is easy. You’re kind of going through a Dwayne Johnson thing which is pretty ridiculous, but might I suggest one of those?” I watched Rampage. It was great – my kind of stupid – though, to my knowledge, astronauts had nothing to do with this particular Rock.

The rolodex stopped spinning, and that’s all I really had and they were anecdotes, not metaphors.

Rock as a metaphor.

I started thinking about rocks in metaphor – symbols of permanence, unwavering strength – immovable, unchanging, reliable, a challenge. I thought about Sisyphus and his eternal punishment to push his enchanted boulder. I thought of the punishment of the Titan Atlas – his burden to hold the celestial heavens (arguably a large group of rocks and a whole lot of vacuum).

Rocks as punishment was becoming a theme within my thoughts.

I mean, let’s be honest who doesn’t enjoy a good stoning? Ask any proponent of cannabis and you’re bound to find a fan or two.

I thought of telling a story about ripples in a pond as they form, then spread out once a stone is skipped. But that story is about the ripples, not the stone which now lays quietly on the bottom – no longer in the sun. In the metaphorical world, rocks really get a bum rap. While they occasionally get to shine – they never dance like light, make a splash like rain, rumble like thunder, or gently stroke a cheek like a breeze. They’re grounded. They’re slow to change.

Then I remembered…

  • a piece of quartz I have sitting on my computer, a reminder I will heal
  • stones from the Mediterranean, brought by a friend after their travels overseas
  • rocks from the Kingsland slab, one handed to me – a reminder of a quiet and beautiful day in a cool breeze – fish dancing in a stream
  • a discovered rock to start a garden

Symbols of time and friendship.

So, I offer this to a bard –

True friendships sometimes form through the heat of life – friendships that once opened, reveal something wholly unexpected and breathtaking. Some friendships are built over time – layer by layer – each day, each week, each year adding something new, something unexpected, while others come through a metamorphosis – as a person transitions from neighbor/classmate/colleague to friend. Each is unique… beautiful – made of the dust of stars.

I guess I owe thanks to a group of explorers who brought pieces of the Moon down to Earth – who brought you to me.

You are my rocks.

The Dust of Stars: From the Mediterranean to the Texas Hill Country

A New New Normal

At the beginning of March, the Governor of Texas (that little plot of land I live in) lifted the mask mandate and increased the capacity of all businesses in Texas to 100 percent. When I read that news, it sat there in the air like a bad Frito pie on a still day in August, and my brain did the thing it loves to do best when faced with potentially stressful information – it dumped a load of adrenaline into my system while screaming, “Throw up your hands, kids! It’s anxiety attack time!”

Quick housekeeping note: This isn’t a post about Governor Abbot’s decision. I believe we’re all reasonable people who have very passionate opinions, and I respect you enough that I’m not going to try to beat you over the head with mine. I mean, it’s pretty spot on, and definitely the right point of view, but I respect your right to be woefully misguided. See, don’t we all feel better?

Like I said, this post has nothing to do with where I stand on the mask/no-mask line, and more to do with the fact that in a year I’ve gone completely feral as social skills have devolved at an alarming rate.

 My thoughts over the year ran like this:

  • This is only going to last a couple of weeks – we’re doing our part! Our doors are marked. Break out the lentils and lamb!
  • Why has everyone gone weird about toilet paper?
  • Crap! I need to get on the hoarding bandwagon!
  • Do I really need a mask?
  • Ordering in is fun! I’m stimulating the economy one DQ Blizzard at a time! (Just kidding Jenn! Err… maybe not kidding)
  • Hrmm… ok, maybe this is over by Summer? I’ll plan a costume party!
  • Curbside margaritas? Yes, please!
  • I’d better tell the parents that the holidays are off.
  • If I mute my mic I can scream in meetings! Cathartic!
  • If I turn off my video feed, I can make faces in meetings, too!
  • Knocked out another series on Netflix!
  • Birthday trip to Big Bend cancelled; we’re killing everyone in West Texas.
  • No, I don’t want to talk to you on Christmas Day. Please, go away.

None of those thoughts are new or particularly unique to me. And actually the folks over at the blog The Dihedral did a much better/funnier job of summing up exactly how I feel and how things have changed in their recent and quite clever post Then and Now.

Like most, I went from hopeful for a quick return to normal, to feeling stabby everytime someone used the phrase “new normal.” It doesn’t matter how you brand it, it’s not normal. I’ve gone from sitting quietly and patiently in meetings, to standing up and pacing the room in big circles when they’re dragging or occur right after lunch. I started wearing flipflops and t-shirts regularly. Funny thing. It turns out I can still produce the same quality of work while wearing something that looks much dumber with matching dumb and uncomfortable shoes. Also, natural lighting and open windows are kind of nice.

How can Governor Abbot reasonably expect me to return? I can already picture that first day with that first post-lunch meeting as the presenter drones on and I’m expected to keep my seat with a placid look on my face. It’s going to be Hell. And considering that I have no facial control on a good day, pre-Covid and despite my very best efforts for a semblance of restraint, I know I’m still going to be rudely kicked under the conference table by my delightfully evil ginger midget colleague as she endeavors to get me back in line. Hrmm, I’m probably going to be expected to not refer to her in that way anymore either.  Something non-PC about referring to her as “evil” I suppose. No wonder I had that anxiety attack. The world is turning upside down again.

On a more serious note, this year I’ve been reminded of how important our community of friends and family is – how a simple hug can resonate through your soul and nearly drop you to your knees in tears – how real connection, that we had taken for granted for so long, is essential to our physical and emotional wellbeing.

I’ve adapted as needed. I have a gym in my living room. I moved out of my office to work where I can stare out of the front windows. (I’m now the Gladys Kravitz of the street – ask me about the rocket ship I’m certain the neighbors are building.) I’ve tried new things. I’ve gone back to old things. I’ve traveled. And while I arguably feel more comfortable than most, I declined two recent offers for larger gatherings. The idea of them makes me extremely anxious – even with vaccinations. (I’ve had my first.)

I’m nervous about returning to the world.

How will that look? How will it work?

That’s technically the end of this post. Stick around for a playlist.

During the summer, I was fairly distraught, so I asked friends for their best “f-you/I’ve got this” songs. I culled through the suggestions and put together a decent playlist. I’ve played it way too many times, so much so it’s become my Covid “woobie”. It’s also now one of my workout playlists. I also promised Jarod I’d share it, so really… this is for Jarod. I’m just a few (many) months late. 😊 Jarod, I’m putting asterisks by some of my favorites:

  • Rich, White, Straight Men – Kesha – (not recommended for RWSM)
  • F**k You – Lily Allen
  • Bye Bye – Jo-dee Messina
  • March March – The Chicks
  • Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) – Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
  • Angels of the Silences – Counting Crows
  • Work B**ch – Britney Spears
  • Go Your Own Way – The Cranberries
  • Oh Well – Pt. 1 – Fleetwood Mac
  • Sing a Song – Earth, Wind & Fire
  • All Night – Icona Pop
  • The Middle – Jimmy Eats World
  • Firework – Katy Perry
  • Basso Profundo** – DeVotchKa
  • Say What You Mean** – Lunachicks
  • Sheela-Na_Gig – PJ Harvey
  • F**k You** – Headstones
  • Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) – Kelly Clarkson
  • Blow Me (One Last Kiss)** – Pink
  • Come With Me Now – KONGOS
  • Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels – Todrick Hall
  • Boss Bitch** – Doja Cat
  • Love Bites (So Do I) – Halestorm
  • Make Me Wanna Die – The Pretty Reckless
  • U+Ur Hand – Pink
  • Blank Space** – I Prevail (a recent add after hearing their remake of Taylor Swift’s song)

The Story of a Texas Snowflake

You may have heard Texas had a little weather event over the last week. If you haven’t, due to cave dwelling, brace yourself. If you know a Texan, we’ve all got a story to share, and it’s kind of our birthright to tell a tale – spin a yarn – to tell that tale – just hold our beer (or margarita, or mojito – look, could you just hold it without questioning the content? Sheesh! So judgey!)

Ooh, so quick disclaimer: this is all what I think I know but am way too lazy to do a lot of fact checking or boning up on meteorological explanations. Basically, read at your own risk and enjoy a grain or two of salt with that.

Right – let’s get to the recap! Around February 11th, a cold front (arctic blast, polar vortex, Canadian Snow Circus) began making its way through our State. Everyone North of Texas giggled like their obnoxiously precocious younger (yet bigger – bigger than all y’all  (Alaska doesn’t count)) was finally getting a well-deserved weather reckoning. “Oh Texas, now you’ll know first hand what cold is really like.” I imagine everyone in the Panhandle gave a collective shrug, while the rest of us looked eagerly at our phones and thought “ooo, maybe more snow! Snow pics!!!”

Then we had a 133 car pile-up on a road in Ft. Worth which killed six. We reminded ourselves that: overpasses can be notoriously dangerous in icy conditions. We thought about the families and the first responders who had a heck of a time getting to many of those cars and we wished them all well.

Then the snow came. We ran outside and oo’ed. We saved the ahh’s once we retreated to the warmth of our homes after demonstrating our snow sculpting “skills”. Photos were uploaded into Facebook. Thumbs ups and “wow” faces were handed out by the hundreds and thousands in support.

News traveled around telling us we were taxing the electric system, unplug things or they’d have to start rolling blackouts. That turned into actual rolling blackouts. Unfortunately, the rolls became single flips – like a disinterested teen being told they must take out the trash. “Son, put down your game and go flip that very flat stone.” Those flips (plural) were really just a flip (singular), and everything stayed on “off”. The electric grid was too unstable to support “rolling”. In my cause, the water plant for my city lost electricity, so we also lost water. This is nearly everyone’s tale where I live. The only difference is really in the duration and outcome to pipes and water heaters. I had friends who were without power for a couple of days, while others who were without it for 3-5 days. 

It should be noted that there are a lot of places down here that only use electricity. They do not use gas (and we all know “fuel oil” in the South is like talking about unicorns and Chupacabra – not a real thing, especially here – except Chupacabra, they’re actually real – hide your goats). So, luxuries like turning on the oven to cook warm meals wasn’t a possibility for many, nor was leaving your residence if you didn’t leave earlier in the week.

The teasing from the North (all y’all) went from “it’s not that cold, you adorable little snowflakes” to “wait, what? How long have you been without heat and water? Your whole city?” Yeah. Whole cities.

Y’see, this was an abnormal weather event, and Texas doesn’t have the infrastructure for that. Though, I have heard our Governor is going to have a little chat with our energy provider soon.

That’s our collective story – the one you’re going to hear a lot from the folks around these parts.

But I want to add a bit here to talk about how fortunate I am. When the weather started turning, and I lost power, friends immediately started reaching out to give me updates on the situation in our neighborhood and to check on me. After I was without power for 24 hours, my friend John (one of the few people in my bubble) reassured me I wouldn’t be a burden, then drove to my house, picked me up, and hosted me at his place for three days. The first night, I was handed a heated blanket, and a cup of hot chocolate. A fluffy cat welcomed me by making sure I remained seated, and there was an unspoken, “you’re ok” in the air. I spent three days enjoying a warm house, hot showers, outstanding meals, good conversations, and a cooking lesson or three. I am so grateful for the hospitality that he and his son showed, and for getting to be counted as one of his civilian tank crew. (Which I have come to learn is both a compliment and maybe not so much, yet it still fits.)

It is sometimes easy for me to deep dive and tell myself a terrible narrative that sounds like “you will die alone – unloved and unremarked. That will be your story.” And while it has nothing to do with the reality of my life, and everything to do with continuing to mourn the loss of my husband, it sometimes feels absolutely real.

These past two weeks serve as a continued reminder that that is not my story – that I am surrounded by an amazing group of people, both family and friends, who love me very much and look after me.

Thank you all for checking on me and making sure I was safe. Huge thanks to John for accepting his Texas friend is a gigantic “snowflake” when it comes to cold (and might not fare well in a weather event alone) and providing safe harbor.

As for you, Punxsutawney Phil, well, you and I are going to have words. Groundhog to Texan.