Sunday, March 19, 2023

I still haven't finished painting the closet

but I have made serious progress on it. The scraping. The caulking. One coat of primer, and yesterday,

another coat. But then I got stuck for a few hours contemplating the ceiling. First, because I realized I didn't have any paint rollers, and painting ceilings, I've learned, is much easier with a roller (and much more professional-looking too). So, off I went to the hardware store to buy rollers, mid-job, and somewhat paint-spattered. 

Also, I had less than a quarter can of ceiling paint. Would that be enough? I paid for the rollers but passed on the paint, and let me tell you later, what a nail biter that turned out to be. But whew, it was enough. 

Ceiling done, and now all that's left are the actual walls, the part of "painting the closet" that most people imagine I'm talking about when I say I am painting the closet. 

Everything takes so much longer than I imagine at the start. 

The book I began writing three years ago, for example. A messy draft "finished," but it wriggled around all over the place, morphing into several possible books. The therapy I started last year, just a little tweak of the psyche, I thought, at the beginning, but it has morphed along too, spiraling in multiple directions, 

breaking me open in ways I never dreamed, and still, barely past the scraping and caulking phase, and nowhere near the finished product. I know I know, deconstructing the very core of your own self isn't like painting a closet. Or writing a book. 

I'd put that away for a while, (the book writing) and a few months ago, plunged back in, trying to trace the various potential storylines and finding what seemed to be two decent possibilities. A friend told me, Hey! Why not write both books? And I laughed and laughed, but then I seriously considered it. Why not? 

The brainstorming and revising, the caulking and priming, the tearing apart and forgiving—others, myself— 

maybe the point isn’t perfect completion, but gathering the tools, dipping the brush, moving past the beginning, and somewhere into the middle, 

where it’s good enough, for today. 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Painting the closet

seems like it would be a fairly easy goal, 

a small project to check off a to-do list. I mean, I've painted entire rooms, entire houses, so what's the big deal with a closet is what I was thinking, when I set this goal, last year. 

I can get it done over a weekend, I said to myself, 

fifteen weekends ago. This is a small closet in my husband's office. But first it was our daughter's bedroom, Year One of the Pandemic, when she bounced home and nested here, and it was such a terrifying, anxious time, but also, beautiful in a strange way. The closet 

was a magnet for things, a catch-all, and not just stuff belonging to our daughter. Boxes of papers. Photo albums. Framed pictures that don't seem to fit anywhere on the walls. Musical instruments from the time when the kids played viola in their school orchestras. 

It took me a good four or five weekends to think about emptying it, to do the actual emptying, to find places for all of these things. One long weekend of looking at the violas (For the record, we have two kids and four violas), of calling the kids to see if they still wanted them.  

No. I don't know. Maybe, they said. 

One weekend I dug out an old jacket of my daughter's. It fits me perfectly. Not my style at all—much more fashionable—but I wear it out to dinner one night and feel like I am a different person.  

Maybe the kind of person who can paint a damn closet in a weekend.

But first I have to scrape off the peeling paint. The house we live in is nearly one hundred years old. There are so many many layers of paint. And I quickly discover, as I begin scraping, a layer or two of wallpaper buried in there too. I manage to do one half of one wall before quitting. A few weekends later, I try again. 

Uncover another layer, what looks like hand painted flowers, so surprising me mid-scrape, that I have to quit again for three weekends, four. 

When did I become this person, 

who can't finish an easy task, who scrapes into the past, and gets stuck there, gazing longingly at the pretty pictures on the wall? I don't know, but weekend fifteen, sixteen, whatever this weekend is, I am digging in deep, back to my old self, forward to a new self,

settling somewhere in the present, 

a present where I don’t imagine painting the closet, but do it. 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

You Made a Difference

is a thing we do for each other at the library where I work. 

What happens is you notice a coworker going above and beyond, maybe they're being extra helpful with a patron, or maybe they've stepped in to assist you, and you want to give them a little shout-out, a mention, a virtual pat on the back. At the library we have a special online form called YMD, and we fill it out and send it to the person who YMD-ed.  

It feels good to give them out. It feels good to receive them. For a long time, I thought that was all there was to it. But then I sent one to a coworker, and later she thanked me, and said she'd won a few hours of paid time off. Apparently, all of the YMDs for a particular quarter get thrown together and one name is picked out to receive this bonus reward. 

We need to do more of this, I said to my coworkers last week. Not on the off chance that we might win the bonus time-off hours, (Although this is GREAT!) but because it's an all-around nice way to treat each other, to recognize what are coworkers are doing, and to show our appreciation.

I feel so strongly about this that I volunteered to sit on the library's appreciation committee. This is a big deal for me because I have an aversion to committees. 

This goes back to 

(1) my first teaching job fresh out of college, and I was so amazingly young and naive about the ways of the adult working world, and we'd be sitting in these all staff meetings and someone would bring up a problem, and the principal would say, "Why don't you discuss that in the committee?" And I would think, hmm, what is the committee? 

Until one day, I brought up a problem and was directed to the committee, and whispered to the people at my table "What is this committee?" and they all laughed and whispered back, "Oh, Jody, you silly girl, there IS no committee." 


(2) when my kids were in elementary school and I was such a gung-ho volunteer that I sat on EVERY committee and I got so ridiculously enmeshed and burned out that when my husband found out his job was being transferred out of state, one of my first thoughts was YES! I CAN QUIT ALL OF THESE COMMITTEES. 

But anyway, I like this Library Staff Appreciation Committee, so far, (we've only had one meeting) but already, we had fun brainstorming cool things we can do to show the staff appreciation. First order of business: Oreos for National Oreo Day, which is March 6, in case you didn't know. (I didn't) 

Also, I don't really care for Oreos. But I do appreciate the gesture to show us appreciation. 

I was thinking about all of this on my drive home after the committee meeting and still feeling the after-glow from a YMD one of my coworkers had given me that day (for helping with the Baby Storytime the week before), and so I was late to start my afternoon writing work, but trying to gear myself up. 

Something about my writing work: the YMDs have to come from within. I truly believe this and have always been okay with it, but then I opened up my email and was surprised to see a YMD of sorts, a message from my Substack account with a note from a reader, 

along with some information about a pledge-payment feature the account offers and how to handle subscriptions if you choose to activate this feature. Until that moment, I hadn't even known that payment was an option, but I was still stuck on the message, the kind words from an old friend (coincidentally, a million years ago we sat on several committees together). How lovely and out of the blue to hear from her, and to know that she reads my words and likes them. 

And I hope she won't mind if I give her a little shout out now:

Dear Cindy, 

You made a difference. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

On Robot Recipes and Baby Storytimes

This week some writers I know were quietly freaking out about the new AI Chapgpt.

Apparently, you can ask it to write books. Oh my God, my writer friends say. What if the robots put us all out of business? As I am not presently in the business, I have been watching this conversation with some amusement. Okay, sure, someone's going to ask AI to write a book, and some publishing company is going to publish it, and some people will fork over the twenty-something bucks for it, 

but some people buy pet rocks.  

Meanwhile, my computer-programmer son asked AI to write him a recipe for a stir fry that featured "local vegetables and ground lamb." The AI generated all of the ingredients and the steps. At the end of the recipe, it added: "Enjoy!" The meal was delicious, my son said. We live in a strange new world. 

But I forgot all of that the other day. I was busy. The library's weekly Baby Storytime needed a sub, and I’d volunteered. Another co-worker partnered up with me and it was a good thing too. I really had no idea what I was doing. Read a story? Sing a song? I wasn't exactly sure what Baby Storytime entailed.

Turned out it was a Whole Big Thing. Props. Bins of toys. An iPad loaded with music we were meant to play. A PowerPoint so parents could sing along. But these parents were pros. Many of them come every week. They know the rhyme tunes and the fingerplay gestures. We all had a blast, and I didn't think it could get any more fun, but then, my co-worker brought out the bubble machine. 

The library has a bubble machine? How did I not know this? In only a few seconds bubbles shot out all over the room. 

I'd been sitting on the floor throughout the story-time, and I stayed there, watching the toddlers dance after the bubbles, the babies crawling around or still plunked on their parents' laps. I was having weird flashbacks to library story-times when my own kids were little. The weird part is that many of the parents in the room are the age of my kids now.

But here's a fun fact: no matter how much time has passed, you never forget the words to the "Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round" and "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands." 

For a moment, this strange new world is familiar again. I clap my hands.   

AI chatgpt-created Stir Fry with Lamb and Vegetables

Bubbles at Baby Storytime

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The dog has a new toy

and it's too much for her. Any kind of special, over-the-top, bone-like toy tends to put her over the edge. It's exciting at first, and she trots around with it clamped in her mouth, looking for a place to plop down and take her time with it, savor it. But that quickly turns to panic. The toy is TOO good. It must be protected!

Next step is the hiding. Outside to bury it? Or, in the case of crappy weather, inside? Which leads to more frantic decisions. Under a blanket? Under the couch cushion? Inside the couch cushion?  

The last time she had a fancy toy like this she wore some of the skin of her nose off during all of that manic nudging and covering. I don't know why we thought this time would be any different. 

But we are people of hope. And love for our dog... And impulse buys.

Speaking of, I have to confess I haven't been doing very well on my Purposeful Purchasing promise. Only seven weeks into it, and I've bought books (these were signed at an author event and I really really wanted them!) and a new pair of jeans (total boredom impulse buy, but I sorta needed them). 

On Valentine's Day I bought a box of chocolate covered strawberries. But I can slip that in the food category, right? And a plant (a gift). Other gifts: Comfort Soups for friends recovering from surgery and a dear friend mourning the loss of a loved one. 

Also: a new furnace. And a dinner out with friends. Tickets to an author event. An airline ticket to visit a faraway and much missed friend. A new dog toy.

I was going to say, forget that stupid resolution. I obviously have trouble with spending. But then I went back and read what I'd actually agreed to and realized that except for the new jeans, I haven't broken any of my own rules. Old Me of Seven Weeks Ago made exceptions for gifts. And furnaces. And food. And even dog toys.  

But that really was an impulse buy and a dumb one, knowing what we know about our dog. There we were though, in the pet store, buying her special easy-on-her-digestive-issues million-dollar dogfood, and everywhere you looked there were all of those fancy toys and forever-lasting bones and colorful balls and teeth-cleaning chewy-sticks. 

We bought the toy and three minutes after giving it to our dog, and seeing her panic, we took it away. 

A lesson in something. Making rules versus breaking them. Taking a chance versus facing reality. The entire cycle of hope and love. Forgiveness too. For the dog and her not so funny fears. 

And for us, for forgetting before remembering again. 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

One day it is spring

a balmy 74 degrees that breaks records in our area. The next day it's winter again. The weather doesn't know what to do with itself. 

When I walk the dog, I wear a sweatshirt and have to shrug out of it before we've made it halfway around the block. In the morning it's back to a coat and hat, a scarf knotted around my neck. I don't know what the dog makes of this. 

The gray sky. The sun. The snow clump in the shady part of the yard. The flowers poking up. But I am having trouble getting my bearings. In therapy I have a breakthrough. 

This is something I haven't talked about with many people--the kind of therapy I'm doing--but it's a big part of my life lately, so I'll mention it. It's called EMDR. Which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Basically, it's a way to manage traumatic memories that are still impacting your life. 

When I first heard about it, I was skeptical, but I was curious too, and open to trying something that might alleviate symptoms. Six weeks into it, and I am finding it weirdly helpful. I only wish I hadn't waited so long. 

For one moment during a session I have an alarming feeling of dizziness. Caught between the past and the present. It's breathtaking. But then the therapist leads me in a grounding exercise (Another handy trick I wish I'd known about years ago), and I am back where I started, but somehow seeing myself for the first time. 

Later, I walk out into the oddly warm day. I bundle up against the cold. The dog scampers happily ahead of me, tail twitching, ears perked up, no matter the weather. 

Sunday, February 5, 2023

All week I was reading a book about the secret life of groceries

which a friend had recommended, but I'd put off picking up because I wasn't sure I wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes with my groceries. I suspected it might not be great. 

And I was right. I don't know what to do with this information. I have to eat, which means I have to shop for my food. I know the case can be made that I can grow my own food, and I do, sorta, but I can't grow everything, and it's not like I want to raise chickens in my front yard. (Note to my friend who keeps joking about sending me chickens. Please don't.) 

Some backstory: my front yard has a grub infestation. I discovered the problem last fall, when in the process of cleaning up leaves, I raked up large chunks of the lawn. Turns out grubs had eaten the grass roots and now entire sections easily roll up like an old carpet. Pesticides seem to be the go-to solution, but as a rule I don't spray anything in our yard. After some further research, I learned that chickens eat grubs...  but I don't have chickens.

And I don't want them (I REALLY DON'T, DEB!) But a potential fun small business idea (courtesy of my engineering-brained son who lives on a farm): 

"Rent-a-Chicken," where you rent out your chickens to people who have grub infestations. How it works is you set up a fence around the grubby area and let loose your chickens to do their thing for a few days. Come back with your truck to collect the chickens, and on to their next grubby destination! 

But back to The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket by Benjamin Lorr. The story is equal parts fascinating and terrible-- whatever Capitalism has to do to give consumers what they want at the moment they want it, and as cheaply as possible, which regardless of how you want to spin it, involves horrific treatment of the people laboring at the bottom of the supply chain. 

The book isn't all dark though. There are chapters on the man behind Trader Joes and one marketing woman's quest to get a coleslaw-like relish on the market and what it's like to work at the fish counter at Whole Foods. Also, what happens on the nights the workers break apart the ice and clean out what's been collecting under that counter. 

Yeah. Probably you don't want to know this. But I hope you will read the book all the same. In the fall when I first discovered the grub infested grass, I had a brief moment of horror, followed by another moment of Let's Pretend I Just Didn't See What I Just Saw. I tamped the dead clumps of lawn back down and decided I'd worry about it later. 

But here I am approaching Later, and I still don't know what to do about the dead lawn. I don't know what to do about the complicated feelings I have about my groceries either. Be grateful, for one, that I have an abundance of food, that someone--many some-ones--did what they had to do to get it to my grocery store. 

And maybe it's time to start looking into renting some chickens?