Thursday, October 27, 2011

move the cutting board.

i don't like my kitchen. i mean, i really don't like it.

which is not a good thing because i spend so much time in it.

it's not a bad kitchen. it's actually kinda cute. i guess. except that it was filthy when i moved in. which pissed me off. the cabinet full of liquor left behind mitigated that somewhat...but still.

plus, the rental ad touted it as a 'chef's kitchen.' so i was excited until i was standing in it and i was like, uhhh...chef's kitchen? chef who? chef boyardee?

i have always maintained it's not the kitchen, but the cook. if you can cook, you can cook anywhere. with any set up. but i REALLY do not like my kitchen.

because it's not my kitchen. in my house. 3200 miles away. and before you start rolling your eyes and stop reading because this is another maudlin post about how a sillymortalmama lost her house and can't let the fuck go...don't. because it's not. at least i think it's not. sometimes i don't know until the x. goes at the bottom what's going to come out. anyway...where was i?

oh yeah. okay, so i keep a running list in my head about all the shortcomings my kitchen now has. and i mutter them while i'm cooking in said kitchen. or hand washing the millionth tub of dishes that day (no dishwasher) or rescuing small items from the monster of a garbage disposal (not another measuring spoon! the tip top of the blender? great! sigh.) or battling ants and lack of space and the never learned to shop or cook bachelor sized refrigerator i could go on and on somebody slap me.

plus. it's charmless. my old kitchen had windows and light and space and the classical station was always on. in my kitchen now, it won't come in. the classical station. it's cold and the light is bad. plus the neighbors have full view of everything i do. but if i draw a shade then there's no light. somebody slap me. really.

okay. so yesterday i was sitting in the green chair in the corner by the window in the living room. thinking about how things are these days. how my life used to be. and how it is now. how i miss my house, my life before. and my dad. my family. and my friends. thanksgiving is coming and we are so far away. (it's okay. i'm still within time limits for grieving. for all of it. don't send the men in the white coats quite yet. unless of course they're here to clean. or tell me my hair looks pretty.)

i was thinking my favorite thoughts about how this house is too small and my office doesn't work and i can't find anything. good lord i do go on. and thinking about how i don't leave the house except to do things for other people. how i've lost my sparkle. and how hard it is without sparkle.

and i just sat there. wondering if this was it. you know, it. like this is your life from here on out. so get comfortable sister because you have arrived. in this house that's too small and in this life that's filled with loss. go you.


(you know what's coming, right?)

and then i thought about something my cousin, dane posted on a certain social networking site earlier that day. i don't know why, as it didn't really fit with what was flitting about. but it kinda niggled in and held on so i went to the computer and looked it up.

*Positive and attractive feelings such as security and confidence are similar to their polar opposites insecurity and jealousy in that they often end up becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.*

not a new concept, but seen right when i needed it. holy shit. i'm fucking my own self up. yeah, those things happened. and it hurts. still. sure. life's rough. tell me about it. and i do tell y'all about it. but if you spend your time telling yourself how rough it is, well that's just dumb. crap. i know this. i do. why do i keep having to re-LEARN it. SOMEBODY SLAP ME.

i live here in this small house. in this life. i live here now. i won't have a different kitchen anytime soon. i won't see my family for thanksgiving. or go a day without missing people anytime soon. it's not going to happen. so what am i going to do about it?


so i thought about my kitchen. why i focused on that i don't know, but that's what flitted in. and i wondered how in the world can i make it work. HURDLE. big hurdle.

and i swear the hand of the divine reached out and smacked me right in the ass. it hit me. (i mean the idea, not the metaphorical hand of the divine.) i got up i went into the kitchen and i grabbed the cutting board from where it always is for prep and i grabbed the onions and the garlic and the chilies from where they are by the oils and the cooking utensils the knives and the stove.

and i switched them.

i put the cutting board by the stove. i put the onions and garlic and chilies where the cutting board was.

i switched them.

and i discovered that prepping where i was was making me crazy. because there's no dishwasher so there are always dishes on the counter by where the prep space was. and no matter how often i do dishes it's ALWAYS a chaotic jumble right there. and the onions and garlic and chilies just spilled out onto the other counter making it impossible to use the space for anything but as a place to have STUFF.

so i switched them.

and i discovered a world of calm at the other counter. free of chaos. closer to the stove. walking across the kitchen with what i prepped to the stove was making me crazy. and it was stupid. why did i not see it before?

because i set that kitchen up in a haze of loss. through tears and irritation.

and i never revisited that. never once saw what i had done, and was continuing to do to myself.

and you know what else? with the onions and garlic and chilies gone the classical station comes in loud and clear. i kid you not. isn't that something? if i could make shit up like this i would. and make millions.

and then the husband moved the under cabinet light to the new prep space and it's the best lighting we've ever had. and it was a pleasure to be in the kitchen last night. and this morning making breakfast and preparing lunches with dvorak on the radio i actually found myself humming.

i don't hum.

sparkle. sparkle.

i'm fond of saying it's the little things. that the big things are never really what do you in. because you can see them coming. and you HAVE to deal with them. so you just do. it's the little things that do you in. swooping in totally out of the blue and leaving you lying broken on the floor.

like a stupid cutting board in the wrong place.

and it does make me wonder where else i can 'move the cutting board.' i mean shit, where to start, right? every one of us has that running list in our heads. but what if instead of letting it hang us up because we'll never tick everything off, what if we abandon the idea of ticking those items off altogether? what if instead of ticking we go for tweaking? just a bit here. a bit there. you aren't going to have a different kitchen soon? fine. move the cutting board.

it seems simplistic, sure. but the moment we decide to let our lives be about the 'positive and attractive feelings,' quit muttering our lists aloud, let our lives be about the small tweaks to get us to the next step, about tweaking *instead* of ticking, that's the moment we don't define our lives by 'this moment.'

life is made up of a string of moments. no one moment defines us. so why should we let it?

we shouldn't.

sparkle. sparkle.

so that's my story. i moved the cutting board. one foot in front of the other. lather rinse repeat.


Monday, October 17, 2011

loss, language, and a love letter.

be warned. i go off into the weeds in this one. really. i make blanket generalizations and assume a lot about what people do and do not do anymore. so if you have anything better to do i'd suggest doing it.

it started with andy rooney and morley safer on 60 minutes. okay, it started with my father dying...but the actual can't keep back the choking sobs started with andy rooney's farewell interview on 60 minutes a few weeks back.

i know what you're thinking, she's not going off into the weeds, she's smoking weed! (and yes, people still say weed. i know because i asked.) but bear with me. or go clean your fridge. it's up to you.

anyway, i couldn't get enough of listening to the two of them talk. the language. the timbre of their voices. like discovering full fat butter after growing up on tubs of country crock. and i got up and left the room and went to the bathroom and shut the door and started to sob.

people don't speak like that anymore.

and then i heard harry belafonte being interviewed on npr. and i got the same feeling. like i could listen to him forever. again, the richness of his language, the thoughtful way he spoke, you could feel his heart in his words. and i tried to keep the tears back while i made my way through traffic.

people don't speak like that anymore.

my father spoke like that.

i miss that about my father.

i miss my father.

he drove me crazy when he monologued when i was younger, but as i got older i appreciated our conversations. well, mostly. he could still drive me crazy. and during our last visit i spent it mostly listening to him speak. about everything and nothing. just soaking it in. and as his days here on earth waned i appreciated hearing from him on the telephone. just hearing his voice.

i wish i had recorded him.

my father could hold a whole conversation with himself and still keep you engaged. he knew words and meanings and phrases no one else did, and he strung them together so beautifully. and his voice. it was deep and rich, and he knew how to pause, and to dip, and to draw out and it was like a perfectly coordinated dance.

people don't speak like that anymore.

people don't use language anymore. they don't have conversations. they just talk. text. type. they don't pull words out of their head in mid conversation and float them out there in hopes that they convey what they mean them to. typing and spell check and delete makes everything more crafted and less interesting. at least less spontaneous.

not my father, language was and remained incredibly important to him. he got it from his own mother, this idea that words always meant something. everything. the idea that you don't just toss words about, and that you don't use a cheap and easy word when there are so many magnificent ones to choose from. that you don't abuse language. ever. even as he was being admitted into a strange nursing home room that he was certain to know would be the last room he would know, my younger sister and i were admonished for our use of language with the nurse. he felt we were in poor taste and being crass.

and whenever i think about this i can't hold back the sobs. because i won't hear him again.

and i think about kids these days, and young adults and how no one really has conversations anymore. and i know there is merit in the use of screens and text, and that life changes, and we adapt, but i can't help but mourn real live conversation.

but who am i to talk. pun intended. when i lost my house and had to move so far i all but stopped speaking on the telephone. and since my father died even more so. i can't think of what i would say if someone asked how i was doing. i can't find one more way to say 'okay' and not start sobbing and put us all in that awkward moment. people get tired of grief. they don't know what to do with it. and so i don't force the issue. i figure if i jaw on about in my blog it's their fault if they read. ;)

which makes it even more lonesome to be so far away from family and friends, people with whom i talked with. not only on the phone, but in actual person, on holidays, and during bbqs at the farm. i don't have that here. a bit, here and there, but not on the regular. like it used to be. and the more the year catches up with me and the more grief i bear the less i want to speak.

but i remember conversation. especially when i was younger. and there were few responsibilities and no social media and no one ever lost a house or a parent and hanging out and talking with friends was the best time ever. real live conversation. jesus, i sound old.

and i remember one of my very favorite people to have a conversation with was my friend kelly. he and i used to talk.all.the.time. sometimes for hours. there was this little park in our hometown we had our own nickname for and we'd go there. and if it was nice we'd head out to where the park rose into a little knoll and we'd pick a spot just shy of the top and we were off. if it was cold we'd sit in his car. it didn't matter. even if all we had was 10 minutes we'd take it.

we talked about everything and nothing. like you do when you're 16 and 17 and 18 and the world couldn't be more confusing and amusing. and if we weren't at the park we'd talk on the phone.

all of my friends were fabulous conversationalists, but kelly was my favorite. we were actually very different people, but he wasn't afraid to go to the places people are afraid to go in conversation because it's so unformed or new or scary. to explore those differences. and when you are a girl teenager or a boy teenager that's everything. because it meant being able to let go of some of the guard. and going to that place of being so sure you knew it all and yet none of it made any sense. and we could admit that. so, we did. and we'd try and figure it all out with words.

those conversations lasted for years, and then when we were apart we wrote letters. i hadn't thought about that in so long. but kelly was also my most constant letter writing companion.

and in those conversations and letters i learned what i thought about the world. and how that shaped who i was. was going to be. when you have everything floating around inside and you have someone who will not only listen, but respond, it's such a gift. especially someone so gifted with language. someone who understands the importance language.

and writing to kelly was some of the first 'writing' i did. i think because i always respected him as a person and a musician i was trying to make it to that level of being 'interesting enough.' and i found i had a voice when i wrote. plus, in some ways i suppose i was trying to impress him. and so i tapped into the writer in me to do so. all because i was under the misguided notion that he was cooler than me. we have since worked that misconception out. ;)

and yes, he talked about girls. and i talked boys. and we gossiped worse than two women over a backyard fence.

i always say my friends in high school saved me. i think my father thought so, too. he was grateful for my friendships, for what they gave me, and he loved my friends. he especially loved kelly. he once told me that kelly was the kind of boy he'd love for me to marry.

kelly and i did not date or grow up to marry. but there's something very sweet and precious about close friendships at that age. opposite sex or same sex friendships. i recently read an interview with jonah hill and he's talking about the sleeping bag scene at the end of 'superbad' (which is my favorite, BTW) and he said "The great romance of your youth is your best friend at that age." and i am inclined to agree.

i am feeling especially fragile these days. and anything that reminds me that there was a 'before' to all of 'now' is so dear to me. and i don't want to stay so long here where it's sad and i have a hard time keeping the tears back. but i'm here and while i'm here i want to be reminded that things used to be sweet and precious. to be reminded of my father in the positive. not just gone. because it helps.

which brings this full circle, i hope...the other day kelly told me he was going to go by the house i grew up in. just drive by. a bit of a pilgrimage. and until he said that's what he was going to do i didn't know that that's what needed to be done. but of course it does. i've always said that kelly knew me before i knew myself. and it's because we sat on that grassy knoll for so many hours talking about everything and nothing at all.

dear kelly,

thank you. it made all the difference in the world.

and when you drive by the house pour one out for my father, wouldja?

with love,


Saturday, October 15, 2011

pretty smart.

when i was in high school i believed i was not smart, not pretty, and i was pretty shy. i was surrounded by pretty, smart, and outgoing friends, so i covered this up with bravado, sarcasm, wit (no shortage of ego there ;) ), and really really short skirts.

why? because my father, who raised me, didn't ever really tell me i was. not in general, and not on the days it was obvious i was suffering with some sling or arrow of adolescence. not just for the sheer parental praise of it. not ever.

thus i spent my high school years with, at time, crippling self-esteem that extended well after high school.

before you feel sorry for how i felt about myself, don't. we, and by we i mean me and my younger self, worked that out. it got better.

but in high school? not so much. i couldn't figure out why i was in the advanced classes if i wasn't smart? (for everything except math. stupid math)

my grades were crap, even though i fully understood the material (for everything except math. stupid math) and at times was so bored i couldn't keep my eyes open. but i was not raised by someone who paid a lot, or really any, attention to grades, and test scores, and attendance. my father was so busy trying to keep the lights on and food in the house and his own demons at bay that i was on my own.

my father loved me and he did the best he could, but parental praise and educational participation were not his strong suits. which is funny because i always knew he was my biggest fan and the smartest guy in the room.

but, if you grow up incredibly shy, and grow up never hearing, 'you're pretty, you're smart' by the ones who love you best how do you know?

you don't. and you believe that you are neither of those things. and you proceed accordingly. and are graded accordingly. and you measure the boys who like you based on that they like you at all, and that brings your self-esteem up. and then you add in short skits and a smart mouth and if you weren't basically a good girl what a recipe for disaster, right?

thank god my low self-esteem 'mistakes' were made MUCH later. you know, in the days when you know a little more than you did in high school. making ALL the difference in the world. still not always pretty, but keeping you out of the places you shouldn't be in in the first place.

all right. where were we? oh. yeah. all about me. i SWEAR I HAVE A POINT. i do. really.

okay, so it took a LONG time for me to understand that how i felt was not how it really was. when it finally dawned on me that what i never heard from my father DIDN'T automatically mean the opposite was true, it was a light bulb turned on.

the reason i tell you all of this?

the duke is failing math.

and yes, they are related.

see, okay, he's getting a high D. so not technically 'failing.' but c'mon, there's not a lot of difference between a D and an F. well, except if you're me and it's two days before graduation and you just learned you failed the geometry class in your SECOND ATTEMPT taking it and you are most certainly not going to graduate and add to that your mother is already in town for the graduation and how can you NOT FREAKING GRADUATE YOU DUMBASS so you cry to your teacher with big wailing gasping sobs and he takes pity on you and gives you a D and you pass and now you can actually graduate and no one is the wiser. then. yes. it makes a difference.

in the duke's case, it's in a sophomore advanced algebra honors class. so. it's a tough class. but still, none of us can understand it? it doesn't add up. pardon the pun.

so there's that and here's a recent snippet of conversation:

'the kids in my history class are all really smart.'

'yeah? well. you're smart, too.'

'i am? i mean, i know i'm not dumb, but they are like, really REALLY smart.'

'um. you're really smart, too.'

'i am? like how?'

i just looked at him and he was getting his backpack together and the bus was going to come and so we left it at that.

when he left i was left with the thought that the duke does not think he's smart! he's in mostly honors, doing well in EVERYTHING but his math class and he doesn't think he's smart? how can that be?

because he was never part of the public school system with its segregated classes of 'smart' and 'regular.' because he never had several teachers at once telling him or demonstrating to him that this was the case. and because he never got progress reports or report cards or awards or spelling bees or labels from the school and from other kids. because when you homeschool there is no honor roll. because he wasn't ever part of that process he never had a clue.

did i tell him he was smart? sure. but not on the regular. because we spent so much time together and he did so well on all his work, and i would tell him he did well. and help him when he didn't. and because he understood what i was saying to him and what he was reading and he taught himself geometry and algebra and did high school latin and greek and french.

i just assumed he knew? he finally started getting graded in 7th & 8th grade and i would tell him he got all As, but that was a pretty abstract concept to a homeschooler. and because i never emphasized grades as much as comprehension and participation and dedication to learning, i guess it was even more abstract.

it was just never an issue.

so he goes to school. and he's in these classes. and he looks around. and based on what kids around him say about who is and who is not 'smart,' and now there's As AND A pluses and minuses and Bs and Cs and Ds and Fs and everyone is so hell bent on grades and percentages and splitting hairs about pluses and minuses and suddenly he doesn't think he's smart. or at least 'as smart' as the other kids in his class. even though they are ALL in the same class. he's lost some confidence.

and it's impacting him. even though it couldn't be further from the truth.

so. i got out every year-end cumulative test result from every year he took the test starting in the 3rd grade. every year in may i would take him for a two day standardized test proctored at a big creepy church in the middle of nowhere. and every june they would send the results and i would look at them and file them away. so i got those test results out. and when he came home i spread them out in front of him. and he looked at them. and he saw how highly he scored in everything every year. grades and grades above the present grade he was in. by 7th grade he was scoring post high school in every single subject.

i'm not telling you this to crow about my kid. i'm telling you this because i never told him. and i think i probably should have.

he was dumfounded. again, pardon the pun.

'why didn't you ever show me these? whenever i asked how i did you just said i did well.'

'i didn't show you these for the same reason i wouldn't have shown you these if you did poorly. they are a measure of a time. a few days in the month of may. they aren't the whole picture of who you are as a person or a student.'

'yeah. but they're pretty FREAKIN' awesome!'

'yes. you did well.'

'WELL? i'm like totally smart!'

i may have created a monster.

but at least he's a monster with a new healthy dose self-esteem that will hopefully serve him well. and hopefully in algebra. and hopefully soon. (he's got a plan in place. someone to help. they offered to move him down but he declined. 'i've already taken geometry. why would i take again just for a good grade? and moving to a lower algebra 2 class would mess up my whole schedule. so, i'm just going to do it.' good for him. fingers crossed)

look, being a teenager is so tough. just 'being' a teenager. and then you start measuring yourself against everyone around you. and if you find you come up short, and who doesn't, really, you grab and reach for whatever makes sense. to keep you afloat. to bolster you.

if the duke starts wearing really really short skirts i'm going to begin to worry.

and add to all this that pesky frontal lobe. throwing any logical reasonable thinking out the window when you need it the most. so you NEED your parents to believe in you. to support you. to tell you you are pretty and you are smart. and i'm not saying my father didn't believe in me, quite the opposite, but he never told me what i NEEDED to hear.

the duke is different. he knew even before seeing those test scores that he wasn't dumb. that he had the chops, and that he was doing well. BUT he was letting his perception that he couldn't possibly be as smart as his peers affect his performance. at least in math, and who knows how far it might extend as time and pressure wears on. simply because he hadn't grown up being told that 'this is what you are. you are smart.'

all i know is it's pretty darn hard to sit in a room full of people and feel like an idiot. to hang out with pretty friends and feel not pretty. for four years solid. to know there is something there, to you, in you, that is *more* than what you think of yourself, but not have access to it. just because you believe this one thing. just because you never heard differently.

i don't want that for the duke. i don't want him strutting around like he's gods gift to the educational system either, but i'd rather he feel empowered. and we'll see where that takes him. either way, i'm a proud mama. no matter the grade.

and yes, i told him that. he's been hearing that for years. :)

so there you have it.

and just in case no one ever told YOU;

you are pretty.

you are handsome.

and you are smart.