the power of rhubarb compels you

Have you ever wondered how hard it is to become a minister? Well, wonder no more, friends and gawkers! For I, Rhubarb Tiberius Swank, Queen of Steves and Lego Dinosaurs, Starter of Many Things and Finisher of Few, Supreme Glittering Viscountess of Run-on Sentences and Abuser of Ellipsis…es?, have recently had holy orders conferred upon my person.
That’s right, I’m now officially an ordained minister!
Why, you ask? Well, that’s kind of a funny story. And, as with a fair number of my questionable ideas, it all starts with Facebook…
dissolve

If you don’t know what this means, I’m a) very sad for you, and b) think you’re probably up past your bedtime.

So, the other day I was skimming through my Facebook feed, as I am often wont to do of a weekday afternoon when the rigors of sending the same emails to the same people over and over again have inevitably brought my brain to teeter on the precipitous brink of madness. It was during the initial aftermath of the recent SCOTUS decision about the case where that asshole baker in Colorado decided they didn’t want to make wedding cakes for gay couples. There was a friend on my feed posting about how she’s ordained and would be happy to perform marriage ceremonies for any gay couples in any state, etc. That made me smile of course, because love is love. People should be able to marry whoever the frig they want (assuming both parties are down with it, obviously), and it ain’t nobody’s business what flavor of human another human likes to boink.

But it also got me thinking. Not the boinking thing, I mean (although…), but rather, the ordination part. The person who had posted this was someone I call a friend, but I’ve never met her in person. We’ve never had any talks about beliefs, philosophy, or religion, but given the avenues through which I became acquainted with her, I was pretty comfortable in assuming that she leaned pretty atheist. Rather than send her a message and start asking all kinds of probing questions about her personal beliefs and religious affiliations, I instead took myself over to trusty ol’ Google and typed in “how to get ordained”.

Side note here: if anyone ever truly hacks me, I’d be 97% willing to give up my credit card and bank account information in exchange for the solemn promise that they not compile and publish a comprehensive list of my lifetime Google search terms, because HOLY POLE DANCING CHRIST, I would never live it down. Like…you don’t even know. You don’t WANT to know. It’s that bad.
Aaaaaanyway.

One of the first things that came up in the results was a site called Universal Life Church. Having never heard of them, I was 50/50 on whether it was some kind of “every sperm is sacred” situation (you know, the ones who say you can’t even masturbate because THINK OF THE POTENTIAL CHILDREN), a cult like that one that starts with an S and ends with -ology and kind of sounds like the word ‘science’ (I am genuinely afraid of them and refuse to type out the whole name online. If you aren’t afraid of them, you need to watch Louis Theroux’s movie about them. Google it. I’m not even linking it because I’m convinced they keep track), or maybe just a nice, gentle, UU-type “don’t be a dick and everything will probably be alright” kind of thing.

Wait, that was three options, not two. So rather than 50/50 I was…33.3333/33.3333/33.3333…ish. Shout out to infinite decimals, heyyyyy.

Fucking A, where was I?

Ok, yes. Universal Life Church. I held my breath, clicked on the link, and was immediately greeted with a cheerful banner image of a dove in flight, with the words “We are all children of the same Universe”. Following this was a link to a video of Conan O’Brien proffering his own certificate of ordination from Universal Life Church. I exhaled. These were clearly my people.

There was a big blue button mid-page that said “Online Ordination”, flanked with what I originally thought were lightening bolts (me, internally: fuck yes, let’s get Norse up in this motherfucker! Zap me with some Odin-juice! Wait…), but what I now see are actually rough approximations of olive branches. Which make more sense, to be fair…but are a little on the boring side.

I clicked on the button. Through the dark arts of tiny HTML gnomes with pixel-axes (get it? Heeee), I was whisked to another page which said a bunch of stuff about how this ordination was legal in all states, how I couldn’t lie and give a fake name, some crap about online communities that were available if I had questions, etc. Much more interestingly, there was also a sidebar showing some of the other famous people in addition to Conan who had been ordained through the site. You know,  in case I needed more confirmation that I would be in truly esteemed company. The list included such luminaries as:

  •  Lady Gaga
  •  Stephen Colbert
  •  Ian McKellan
  •  Paul McCartney
  •  Richard Branson (maybe not as compelling of a selling point as they think)
  •  that Beneflick Clumbermonk guy, and…

…wait for it…

…waaaaaaitttt…

…Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who I personally have oft considered worshiping as a supreme being in and of himself.

sold

 I couldn’t hit that next big, blue, definitely-olive-branch-and-not-lightening-bolt-festooned button that said “Begin Ordination Now” fast enough.

The next step was a web form to fill in. First and last name, email address, state and country of residence, and password to use for the site. I filled it all in and read the fine print at the bottom, which was just some junk about being 18 years of age, and how to access your paperwork later on.

I hovered over the “Submit Ordination Request” button for a minute, wondering what I was getting myself info. Would there be a background check? Would I have to submit references who could vouch for the fact that I’m not secretly a puppy-kicker? Would I have to demonstrate my knowledge of…well, anything?

My gaze floated back up to the ecstatic pearly grin of Mr. The Rock. It was almost as if he was offering a benediction through the computer screen, a blessing for my interminable curiosity and the weird places it often takes me. And my roody-poo candy ass, of course.

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I’m shining it, Mr. The Rock. I’m shining it! (If you’re unfamiliar with The Rock’s wrestling catchphrases, that’s going to sound really sordid out of context. I acknowledge this, but I do not apologize.)

I don’t THINK I actually uttered the words “I’m doing this for you, Rock…” out loud as I hit the button. My co-worker didn’t ask what the shit I was talking about at least, so I’m probably safe.

A split second after I hit the button, the screen flashed up with a big certificate with my name across it (my real name…I didn’t lie to the church like I do to most of social media), proclaiming me officially ordained, legally capable of performing marriages…

…and starting my own ministry.

[ Imagine a picture of my official certificate here. I can’t actually show it to you because it costs $39.95 to download and I haven’t coughed that up yet. You’ll just have to trust me.]

That’s right. I could actually start a Church of Rhubarbology, if I so chose. Or a United Church of Swank. Or I could start a religion where there were ascending orders of holiness named after the chapters in The Hobbit, where you’d have to complete thematic initiation rites for each order. I could start an actual church devoted to the worship of perfect avocados. Or the smell of freshly cut hay.

I COULD CREATE THE CHURCH OF LATTER-DAY STEVES.

squirrel

Praise Nuts!

In all seriousness, though: I didn’t actually do this as a joke. I saw the potential for amusement in it, sure…but my sincere motivation was to be able to make myself available to conduct marriage ceremonies for people that might otherwise have a hard time finding someone to do so. It is remarkable and continually infuriating to me that we still live in a country where some people can’t love who they want to love without being given a load of shit about it. If my silly little ordination adventure can be counted as taking a stand against that oppression, then I’m truly proud to do it.

And if you’ve already got an officiant for your big gay wedding but are having trouble finding someone to bake you a cake, I can sort you out there, too.

I promise I won’t even make you have rhubarb as one of the flavors.

Gay_flag.svg

 Happy Pride!

history

Once upon a time there was  a woman named Rhubarb. Her name wasn’t REALLY Rhubarb but she was paranoid about getting found out and losing her job so she started calling herself Rhubarb online because she liked the sound of it and also rhubarb was her favorite type of pie and besides she’d always had kind of a thing for hiding behind screen names that sound cooler than she ever hoped to be in real life.

Anyway.

Rhubarb’s brain was full of weasels. Not real weasels, but thought-weasels. The weasels gnawed away at her insides by whispering terrible things:

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’re not as smart as they said you were as a child. No one likes you. They just hang out with you because they feel bad for you. They feel bad for you because they see how you struggle with the simplest things. They laugh behind your back. You can’t even speak in complete sentences half the time! You’re too slow, you take up too much space, you’re in everyone’s way. You’re a burden to those you care about. You’d be better off just walling yourself off and becoming a hermit. Don’t kill yourself because that would make you even MORE of a burden to those you care about. Just push everything inward, keep compacting yourself until you implode, like a neutron star. Except you probably couldn’t even do that right because nothing you do is ever good enough…”

She went to the doctor and got some medicine to try and purge the weasels, but all it did was muffle them on an inconsistent basis. Their whispers still broke through. Their gnawing still drew blood. The doctor gave her some other medicine, and some other medicine, and some other medicine. Some of the medicine worked some of the time, some of the medicine worked none of the time. None of the medicine worked for very long.

Rhubarb got sick of dealing with medicines that only sometimes sort of worked. She went to a different doctor who wanted to talk instead. Rhubarb talked and cried, and talked some more and cried a LOT more, because the weasels fought and bit and thrashed. They were not fans of the talking.

One of the things talk-doctor asked Rhubarb was what she liked to do. Rhubarb liked to make things with her hands: things with string, things with paint, things with wood and music and words and whatever else she could get to hang together in some precarious way. Making things gave Rhubarb’s motor some steering and wheels, it gave her the means to distance herself from the weasels, even if only for a short while. The talk-doctor suggested that Rhubarb try to cultivate a habit of making as a way of keeping the weasels at bay. That seemed like a decent idea so Rhubarb gave it a try. She was already making things with string or paint or food most days, though. She needed something new.

When Rhubarb was a girl, writing had been one of her favorite things. A couple of her teachers made noise about how she was OK at it, which made her feel good. Writing fell by the wayside for her not long after high school, though. Rhubarb went to college and got pretty brain-sick with a big weasel infestation not long after, then got kicked out of college, had to become an Adult (not recommended), and didn’t  have the time or energy to write for a long time after that. It was something that she often missed and was sad about having given up. When talk-doctor told her to find something to make a habit of making, she decided that writing could maybe be her making thing. Her brain-weasel fighting thing.

Rhubarb started a blog about cooking, which was another making thing she really enjoyed and was pretty good at. That blog was fun for a while but the weasels eventually found a way in. Rhubarb started to feel like the blog would never be good enough and was pointless if she wasn’t going to try to turn it into some kind of actual enterprise. Because, you see, the weasels do a really good job of convincing Rhubarb that having fun isn’t as important as getting peoples’ approval. So, she quit. She ran away from the cooking blog, giving herself up to the weasels’ picking and gnawing for a while.

One afternoon many months later, Rhubarb wrote an account of something amusing that had happened to her and posted it on Facebook. A friend from childhood, one that she had only recently reconnected with via the dark magic of social media, commented on the story that it reminded them of The Bloggess, and suggested that Rhubarb should write a blog about her (mis?)adventures. Rhubarb had heard of The Bloggess but hadn’t read a ton of her writing, so off she went to look her up, and down the rabbit hole she fell. The Bloggess was weird and hilarious and dark, and she was honest about her brokenness. The Bloggess held her busted bits up for the light to shine through, and Rhubarb saw a constellation that looked a lot like herself. She wanted to do that – use stories about the ridiculousness of life to make people laugh, and stories about her own brain weasels to make people maybe not feel quite so all alone.

So, Rhubarb bought a domain name called How Bad Can It Go and started venting some of her spleen on the internet. She hasn’t made a single dollar doing so as of yet and thus must keep using her fake name so that she doesn’t get found out, get fired, have to file for bankruptcy, lose everything, move into a tarp-and-stick tent in the woods, and spend her days trying to figure out how to make herself eat grubs for nourishment.

The End.

****

This post came about because I got nominated for one of those chain-letter-esque “blogger recognition awards” (by the inimitable Non-Euclidean Sofa – you should read his blog, it’s very funny). Those things always come with rules, and one of the rules of this one was to give a brief story of how your blog started. A thousand words is brief, right? I mean, in the grand scheme of things.

Here’s the complete listing of rules:

Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.  (check)

Give a brief story of how your blog started.  (cheeeeeeck?)

Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.  (1. Don’t, there are already way too many of us and the box the internet lives in only has so much space. 2. This is more of a life tip than a specific blogging tip: be yourself and be OK with that not being interesting to some people. I fucking hate spiders, but some people like them. There’s no accounting for taste. Just do you and don’t base your sense of self worth on whether anyone else likes it because life is bound to be eternally disappointing to you otherwise. I’m old and I’ve learned the hard way. Trust me on this.)

Select 10 other bloggers you want to give this award to. (No. I don’t even fucking have time to read five other blogs, let alone ten. What do you think I am, a kept woman lounging with her tablet and her box of bonbons by the poolside day in and day out?)

Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them and provide the link to the post you created. (Not applicable because I’m a jerk who isn’t participating in the circle-jerk portion of the proceedings. Which is not to say that anyone who does is lame, mind you. I’m the lame one for not participating, but I’m ok with that. Like my Twitter bio says, I’m Next Level Awful. Which, as an aside, I’ve been considering using as a new name for this blog. It’s probably already taken, though. Kids these days, snapping up all the good domain names. YOU RUINED THE INTERNET. GET OFF MY LAWN.)

Alright, I think we’re done here. Thanks again to Non-Euclidean Sofa for the nod. I make a lot of noise about these things being silly, but it’s still nice to know someone other than my three meat-space friends (Pterodactyl club for the win!) is occasionally enjoying what I write.

Peace out.

ice

Word to your mother.

ants

There are times, like this morning, when I can’t sit still. It’s a physical feeling: the proverbial ants in my pants. I don’t feel the sensation of actual bugs on my skin though (thankfully, because that kind of shit is pretty high on my Not Cool list). It’s more like kind of a low-level buzz under my skin, but not quite IN my muscles. Like in my fascia, I guess? I don’t know. I’m not a frigging doctor, Janet.

Sometimes I only feel it in one or two spots. That’s the best case scenario, because that often means I can find a way to shake it out. When it’s in my lower legs I might be able to clear it up with a bout of the classic leg-bouncing-under-the-desk, or as my mom refers to it, ‘jigging’. If it’s in my thighs or hips, doing squats may help. Shoulder and back twitchy-ness often responds well to wall yoga poses and stretches.

When the twitch hits everywhere all at once, it’s not quite so easy to manage. I usually start out fighting it, doing my best to stay in my chair and get my work done. It’s a fight I don’t often win though, because it almost never goes away on its own. Sometimes a trip downstairs to fill my water bottle or get a cup of coffee will help. Sometimes I walk laps around the conference room table, or go down to the shipping room two floors away and count the rolls of packing tape we have in stock. I have a convertible workstation and can pull my desk up to work from a standing position, but trying to stand still is often almost as bad as trying to sit still. I’ve been standing for almost an hour as I type this, and I’ve been alternating between knee bends, shuffling my feet back and forth, and stretching pretty much the whole time. Between the constant movement and making myself write this post (thus giving my hamster brain a new wheel to spin in for a while), the twitch is finally starting to calm down a little bit.

It’s all in my head. I don’t need a doctor to tell me that. The twitch is the physical manifestation of the anxiety my ADHD causes.

It’s the spill-over from when the always-brimming-full cup of word soup that wobbles precariously in my skull gets nudged and sloshes over the side.

It’s my body reminding me that the more I fight this faulty wiring in my head rather than trying to find ways to make it work for me, the harder I make things for myself.

 

ants

a month and a day

It’s been a month and a day since we lost Junior.

This morning on the way out the door to head to work, I almost turned to Mark and asked him to check if Junie’s water dish was full. The dish hasn’t been in its spot for a month and a day.

I don’t hear him anymore, at least. For the first few days, I’d swear I could hear him snuffling in the living room or at the foot of the bed at night. I think my brain just automatically knew what sounds he’d be making when, and was filling them in of its own accord. My brain only wants to be helpful with remembering things when it comes to me being haunted, I guess. Go figure.

We still have all of his stuff. His bowls got washed and tucked away in the cupboard almost as soon as we got home. His harness and leash are still on the back seat of the car, which seems perfectly fitting as going for rides was just about his favorite activity. Most of his toys are still piled up in the same place we always returned them to on the rare occasion we bothered to tidy them. A few of his special toys got put aside in other places – his little stuffed bantha sits atop the carved wooden box his ashes are in on the table-cum-altar in the living room. LeRoy, the wee squeaky giraffe whose squeaker gave out but who Junie still often picked up and tried to make squeak, now resides on the bookshelf with some other mementos. L’Alligator the stuffed alligator whose head I once had to surgically reattach due to Junie’s frequent, enthusiastic attentions, sits on the desk upstairs in our bedroom. He’s a far quieter night sentry than Junior ever was, but we do feel like he’s getting the job done OK so far.

His beds are still there, all four of them (one for each bedroom and two in the living room), though Mark moved the one from the foot of our bed into the spare bedroom, and I tucked the favorite living room bed under the other, deeply hated living room bed (he took after me and had a complicated relationship with beds), so that we wouldn’t have to see them empty. We really should get rid of at least two of the beds. One belonged to our old dog Buttons and predated Junior by several years. The faux sheepskin atop the other one bears the scars of much scuffing, as Maltese tend to like to scratch up their bedding into a suitable nest before settling down to nap. We should go through the dozens of toys and donate some of them to the local shelter as well…but we’re not there yet.

It’s only been a month and a day, after all.

 

 

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L’Alligator and Junior

we goat this

Today is my 8th wedding anniversary.

My husband got me a nice card  and wrote a heartfelt note in it, then wrote a further heartfelt post on Facebook and included a link to our wedding song.

The card I got him has two baby goats on the front and inside it says “we goat together”. It was completely selfish because I’m the one that loves goats, not him. I also don’t have the attention span to stand in the store and read all the lines of text on all the pretty, sentimental cards. I suck at heartfelt notes, too. I’m really more of a long-form person.

And yet, for some reason he thinks I’m a keeper. I have a feeling a lot of it is to do with my willingness to incorporate bacon and/or cheese into most dishes that I cook.

My husband is a lot of things. He’s smart, but he’ll tell you he’s not. He’s an excellent writer. He is kind and has a generous spirit – he’s forever helping people out, even people he doesn’t know and will never meet. He’s principled but also compassionate. He’s funny.  He sings his guts out no matter who might hear, because music is more important than what the neighbors think. He is sentimental and deeply sensitive. He has no time for close-minded, intolerant people, and yet he can somehow still be nice to them (which I am always in awe of, because it’s something I am utterly incapable of doing). He’s a champion-level trip planner, he’s incredible at cards (and most games in general, much to his poor-loser wife’s chagrin), and though he’d never in a million years admit it, he’s a natural leader. He’s wildly charming. He could sell ice to a polar bear at twice the normal mark-up and the polar bear would leave thinking she’d gotten such a good deal that she’d send all his friends over to buy ice from him as well. And, probably most important when it comes to being married to me, he has the patience of a god damned saint. Like, if there were a Nobel Prize for patience, they’d just rename it the Mark Armitage prize and stop even trying to give it to anyone else because no one else would ever even be in the running.

He keeps me afloat on days when all I can imagine doing is sinking. He laughs at my awful, puerile, completely inappropriate jokes. He drags me out of my shell and forces me to be social, but he’s also gentle and understands when I say I’m not up to it. He tolerates my inability to keep house and my (literal) piles of yarn. While he may not entirely understand my compulsive drive to always be making things, he never complains about the whiplash-inducing frequency with which I switch from craft to craft. He doesn’t hold my lack of executive functioning capability against me and he respects the weird routines I come up with to try and keep myself somewhat regulated. When I fall apart crying and can’t explain why, he doesn’t try to fix things and he doesn’t back away. He doesn’t think it’s weird that I stand outside for extended periods of time talking to the birds in the yard, or that I try to make friends with every animal that crosses my path (even when it’s maybe not super wise to do so), or that I sometimes repeat things over and over to myself in funny voices.

We’re not perfect. I’m still trying to learn how to not be alone inside my head all the damn time. Neither of us are A+ communicators, which is funny given that we both like to write. We’re both prone to making piles of stuff, and neither of us are super great at choosing to do chores when there’s fun stuff we could be doing instead. He takes really long baths and doesn’t like Led Zeppelin.  But at the end of the day, we don’t have to be perfect, because we have each other to lean on and that’s better anyway.

And I’m still convinced that he’ll come around on the Led Zeppelin thing some day…

i-goat-this

My first two goats are going to be named Page and Plant. Just saying.

sonic coping strategy

Music has always been important to me. Neither of my parents played instruments, at least not in my lifetime, but they both liked listening to music so it was a common feature in my early life. My mom liked contemporary rock – Bryan Adams, Tina Turner, John Cougar Mellencamp. Saturday mornings were for cleaning the house, and dancing around to ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ got us through many a post-cartoon bout of dusting and putting away laundry. My dad was into older, harder stuff – Z.Z. Top, Blue Oyster Cult, Cream, Pink Floyd, old Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin. He also liked country though, so I was just as likely to be singing along to ‘Mama, He’s Crazy’ by the Judds rather than Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ when I was with him.

When I was old enough to have my own little boombox as a kid, the first things I went for were pop – Michael Jackson (‘Bad’ was the very first tape I ever got) and Paula Abdul featured heavily – but I also started exploring a lot of my parents’ cassettes too. Albums like Aerosmith’s ‘Toys In The Attic’, The Grateful Dead’s ‘Shakedown Street’, and Billy Joel’s ‘An Innocent Man’, along with greatest hits compilations from Steppenwolf and The Beatles, all made it into my regular rotation. We didn’t have a lot of money so I couldn’t go out and buy new music very often, but it didn’t take me long to discover that time-honored 80’s tradition of taping music off the radio. I recorded the local rock station most often, as that’s what my little boom-box picked up with the best reception. This introduced me to such wonders as The Scorpions, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Guns ‘n Roses, and Metallica. By middle school I had a part-time job and a little pocket money, almost all of which was usually spent on music. Hip-hop was just starting to show up in the music stores up here around that time, and I embraced acts like MC Hammer, C+C Music Factory, and Digital Underground with the fervor only a newly minted teenager looking to set herself apart from the tastes of her parents’ generation can muster. High school ushered in my (predictable, in retrospect) transition to harder rock and goth music. I was obsessed with The Crow (again, predictable), and the soundtrack to that movie introduced me to groups like Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots and Rage Against The Machine – all groups I still adore more than two decades on. When ADHD first reared its head and I started having trouble concentrating as a teenager, music helped considerably. Counting Crows’ ‘August and Everything After’ got me through many hours of homework, and the first short story I ever wrote was to an endless loop of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rhiannon’.

Today, I’m a grumpy middle-aged woman with a very boring day job. Alas, all those fantasies of becoming a musician didn’t pan out (not that I tried to make them, admittedly), but music is still a deeply important part of my day-to-day life. It has become my main coping strategy, not just in terms of dealing with my ADHD symptoms, but also my depression and anxiety. When I’m having a particularly anxious day, I’ll listen to a lot of Bow Thayer and Patrick Ross, wonderful local bluegrass / folk artists whose shows I’ve attended many times and who serve as anchors to the here-and-now for me. When I’m angry, I go for the catharsis of Rage Against The Machine, Incubus or Audioslave (I hope you found peace,Chris. You will be missed so much more than you could ever have imagined). If I need to power through piles of particularly boring data entry, I like the flow of older hip-hop and rap like A Tribe Called Quest, WuTang Clan, and The Beastie Boys, or the driving, trance-like beats of EDM.

If you have any favorite artists or playlists that help get you through the day, I’d love to hear about them. I use Spotify at work and enjoy exploring new music. I’ll listen to anything once! My main playlist, which is a super mixed up mess of everything from funk to metal to rap to comedy tracks, can be found here if you want to do some exploring of your own, or just want to listen along with me at work.

 

supernom

I’d claim this is a self-portrait, but my nails are nowhere near that long.

how to life

Jill is 37 years old. She’s married, has two children, and works full time. She has hobbies. She likes to socialize with her friends, and she makes sure to get an hour of exercise three times a week. She feeds herself responsibly and stays informed on current affairs. And she handles all of this while still managing to get a solid eight hours of sleep a night.

How does she do all this and still stay sane?

Fucked if I know.

For me, there aren’t actually enough hours in the day to live that life. I’m lucky if I can maintain any three of the items listed above for any given period of time. I can work, have hobbies, and feed myself. Or, I can exercise, have a social life, and sleep. If my hobbies were exercising and staying informed on current affairs, then I could probably also work and feed myself.  If socializing entailed doing hobbies with people, and my hobbies were working and feeding myself, then I could have hobbies, work, feed myself, AND socialize…?

This makes life feel like algebra to me. You know how in algebra class the teacher would solve a problem on the board step by step and it made perfect sense, but then when you went to do the homework, you’d be staring at the problems like they were some alien language and you didn’t have the first clue how to even start solving them? No, just me? Well I failed algebra twice, and now you know why. ANYWAY, my point is, lately it feels like I’m watching other adults live their lives and thinking “see? It’s not so hard. It makes sense! Just follow the steps”, but when I go to apply the steps to my own life, they’re suddenly written in alien and Mrs. Smith is writing a big red F on the report card that is my life.

Part of the problem, I know, is the mindset that life is somehow pass / fail. It’s not like if you fail at life, you have to go through a summer-school version of life…and there’s no honor roll for passing life. My particular brain chemistry and upbringing have combined to make me tend toward seeing things in very binary, black and white, either-or ways. You either pass or you fail. You’re either happy or you’re depressed. You either like lima beans or you’re sane. You get the picture. It’s something that I wrestle with regularly. When I find myself having those black-and-white thought patterns, I have to remind myself that very few things are actually that simple, that we all exist in various spectra and on various planes.

Society is also partially to blame. Society has taught a few generations of us that there are certain boxes you must check off to be considered successful in life: get married, have kids, own a home, get promoted at work, be healthy, be an engaged citizen. This road-map is so deeply ingrained in many of us that we never even stop to consider that NOT following it could actually be a viable option. It’s certainly better now than it was 50 years ago, but still. If you pay attention, you begin to notice all the subtle ways that we as a society have found to reinforce the idea of this road-map, and the ways we’ve come up with to punish those who don’t conform (either by choice or by circumstance).

All of this is to say, I’ve been down on myself about some of the ways I’ve been “failing at life” lately, but I need to remember that feeling like a failure is not requisite. Life is not black and white. I am not required to have a social life or to exercise if I don’t think I can handle that today. Not wanting children doesn’t make me a bad person, nor does eating take-out for dinner. Shutting off social media and not listening to the news for a few days will not result in my being punished. Letting one hobby languish while I pursue another one isn’t going to get me a big red F on the report card of life.

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“What? I wasn’t listening. Turns out I AM just a pretty face, Mahm. And I’m totally OK with that. Now give me a cookie.”

 

impotent rage…and holiday cards!

On Mondays we still have some of the after-glow of the weekend to get us through. Wednesday are the mid-point in the work week and we’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. Thursdays often involve starting to plan for the impending weekend. Fridays practically ARE the weekend – any time after noon on Friday is pretty much gravy.

But Tuesdays…Tuesdays are for impotent rage, I’m convinced of it.

On Tuesdays you can’t just throw your hands up and blame shit on still being hung over from the weekend, and you have way too many days left in the week to just bury your head in the sand and hope it all goes away. If Monday is a dumpster fire, Tuesday is the fully involved three-alarm structure fire that the flash-over from the dumpster has caused. It’s not just a little smoke and the lingering smell of burnt hair…it’s your propane tank blowing up in an eye-searing blaze while you stand at the end of the driveway clutching your shivering dog and wondering what the fuck went wrong.

I don’t like Tuesdays, in case that wasn’t clear. And this particular Tuesday has been especially rife with fuckery of highly non-amusing sorts (although my propane tank didn’t actually blow up or anything, thankfully). It’s mostly work stuff so I can’t really get into it, but just trust me when I tell you that if I could procure a boat right now, I’d name it the S.S. Fuck Right Off, pack it with as many boxes of Pop Tarts and bottles of Rex Goliath merlot as I could afford, and shove off from the nearest dock to start my career as a small-time pirate queen. Imagine an obese female version of Jack Sparrow. That would be me. I’ve already got the eyeliner and the struggling to remember words down pat.

ANYWAY.

I need to do something to counteract the angry. Sending people mail makes me happy, so tonight I’m going to go home and address a bunch of holiday cards.

If you’d like a holiday card from me, you can add your mailing address to my address book here and I’ll happily send you one.

Although, caveat: if you’re international, the card may not get there by Christmas because I’m very bad at judging how long international mail takes to get from point A to point B and also sometimes I have every intention of getting my ass to the post office but then get distracted and end up carrying a bunch of cards around in my bag for an extra week. Just so we’re all on the same page.

Also, you have my solemn oath that I will not sell your address or use it for any other purposes, nefarious or otherwise.

And if you don’t want to give me your address, that’s totally cool. I still love you, and I’ll just beam you holiday cheer with my mind instead.

I should probably pick a specific day and time to do it though, otherwise you’ll spend the next few weeks wondering if every random warm tingle and whiff of gingerbread you notice is me beaming you that cheer I promised you.

Or you might maybe start to worry that you’re having a seizure or a stroke, and I don’t want to do that to you, because after all, I might be a small-time pirate queen, but I’m not a dick.

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Mmm, cheer.

We don’t need no stinkin’ Pilgrims

We don’t go around the table saying what we’re thankful for at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

We don’t say grace, we don’t make toasts. There’s no pontificating about the ‘founding fathers’ at our table because that’s not what Thanksgiving is about for us.

Our Thanksgiving is about laughing as much as it’s about eating.

It’s consistently sitting down to eat at least an hour after we said we would, no matter who is doing the cooking…and being totally fine with that because no one has anywhere else to be.

It’s dogs begging for table treats and people picking at leftovers long after they’ve proclaimed they couldn’t eat another bite.

It’s my husband and my dad watching football together – except my dad falls asleep about ten minutes after he sits down.

It’s my mom and I putting away leftovers and immediately doing all the dishes because that’s how my Nana rolled when my mom was growing up and some habits are worth keeping.

It’s three kinds of pie when we said we were only going to have two, because come on. More pie is ALWAYS better.

Pilgrims and Native Americans don’t factor into our Thanksgiving in the least. Some people might say that’s wrong – that we’re not remembering why we’re here in the first place, that we’ve lost the true meaning of the holiday. I don’t feel the least bit bad though, because I’ve got the three most important people in my life at my table eating and laughing together for another year. Life is short and often brutal, and time is our dearest commodity. Spending it with the people I love is always what I’ll be most thankful for.

Also, did I mention the third pie?

You CAN’T feel bad when there’s three pies available. Well, not mentally, anyway. Physically…maybe.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends…whatever that means to you.

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This is one of the holiday cacti I inherited when my Nana passed away in September. This one was in full bloom for Thanksgiving. She always did like to be on time.

broken bits

I started writing this as a post for World Mental Health Day, which was on Monday…but it turned out I had a lot more to say than I originally thought and thus it took me a while to finish the post. Better late than never?!
Also, a quick warning – there are mentions of self-harm (though no graphic descriptions), and allusions to suicidal thoughts below. If you find these subjects triggering, best stop here.

My ‘official’ (ie: documented by a health professional) history with mental illness goes back about 11 years, but it has been with me a lot longer than that.

As a child, I’d often get overwhelmed by emotions and I’d cry. I couldn’t adequately explain to anyone why I was crying, so I was told to toughen up. For the record, my parents were both brought up in pretty emotionally repressive families themselves and they didn’t really know any other way to be. I get that and I don’t hold it against them. They did the best they knew how.

Anyway.

Because I believed that I wasn’t supposed to cry without a ‘good reason’, I instead developed a habit of hitting, scratching or pinching myself, or sometimes biting the insides of my cheeks. when I started feeling like I was about to cry. It was a way of distracting myself and hopefully heading off the imminent crying jag. It didn’t always work, but it worked often enough that it became habit. Self-harm isn’t something I would have understood had someone explained it to me at six or seven years of age, of course. Hell, it’s something I still don’t always understand 30 years later. But that’s what I was doing. I was purposefully hurting myself in an attempt to cope with emotions.

The first time I started to realize I probably wasn’t OK in the head was around age 15. That was when I started having trouble in school (due in large part to ADHD that I didn’t know I had), and I was sad a lot. I had always been a very smart kid that could keep up despite my focus problems, but as the workload intensified in high school, that all came crashing down and my identity as a smart kid was something I began to seriously question.

By senior year, I was in real danger of failing a required English class and thus not graduating. I had gotten pretty good at playing a character – a funny, flippant music nerd who simply didn’t care about academics. But inside, I was a stew of insecurity and self-loathing. I felt like a failure and a disappointment to my family. My brain started convincing me that I wasn’t actually smart at all, that all my teachers had lied in order to spare me from realizing what a no-good loser I was. I believed that the few friends I had were hanging out with me because they felt sorry for me. Things eventually came to a head when I was no longer able to intercept the mail the school was sending home about my being in danger of flunking out. The look on my mom’s face when I had to tell her I might not graduate still makes me feel bad almost 20 years later. It was like watching something I loved being crumpled up and stomped on. This was the toughest woman I knew and I had managed to break her with my inability to be normal, to just do what needed to be done like everyone else did. That certainly didn’t improve the tenor of my already negative inner dialog any. I did end up graduating, though I was FAR from prepared for post-secondary education. Going to college that fall had mistake written all over it…but off I went, undiagnosed mental issues and all, because that was where smart kids were expected to go after high school.

College was pretty bad. I’ll spare you the gritty details but the gist is that I was there for two largely unpleasant semesters before I was told I didn’t need to bother coming back. Anxiety was my constant companion through the first semester and by halfway through the second semester I was experiencing my first full-blown depressive episode – not that I knew what it was at the time. I didn’t tell anyone what was going on and I didn’t get any help. Instead I floundered, flunked out, and went home to find a job. I didn’t know how to deal with the resultant feelings of guilt and failure, so I just…didn’t. I stuffed them down and distracted myself with experiencing the fun parts of a college experience via my best friend, whose school I visited almost every weekend.

When best friend moved away after graduating college, things started to fall apart again in a big way. The brain weasels were soon running rampant, telling me that I was the only one of my group of high school friends left in town because I was a failure, a fuck-up and a disgrace. I self-medicated with booze – a LOT of booze. The chorus of self-loathing that I’d been living with for the past ten years was now getting louder by the day. It told me that I didn’t deserve my job or the things that I had, that I wasn’t worthy of the love of my family or my long-distance boyfriend. It told me that nothing I did would ever be good enough, that I had no friends because I was terrible to be around. It told me not to bother trying to do any of the things I used to love – making music, writing stories, painting and drawing – because I was never going to be any good at any of them. It wanted me to believe that there was no point in even living anymore, and for a little while there, it had me pretty well convinced.

Shortly after my 25th birthday I experienced a bout of costochondritis, which is an inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs where they connect to the sternum. Imagine someone sliding a knife between your ribs right up near your breast bone and then slowly trying to turn the blade vertical, prying your ribs apart a millimeter at a time. Super funtimes! It also caused a lot of referred pain into my left shoulder, neck and breast. Being a life-long fatty and having a history of heart disease in my family, it really wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine that particular combination of pains being symptoms of a heart attack. The doctor in the emergency room and my primary care doctor both told me that my heart was fine, but I couldn’t stop thinking that there was something very wrong, that I was on the verge of dropping dead. I felt constantly sick to my stomach, I would have spells of not being able to breathe, of feeling cold and clammy…all secondary symptoms of a heart attack, coincidentally. It got to the point where I would end each day at work by writing a series of notes with directions for what to do in my absence because I was absolutely convinced that I wasn’t going to be there the next day. What I know now, of course, was that I was living in a constant state of panic attack…but that was never even mentioned as a possibility at the time.

After a couple months of limping along like that, I finally broke. I went to my doctor and sobbed about how I was so terrified of dropping dead that I was starting to have trouble leaving my house (because, you know, death can only get you if you leave the house? Brain weasel logic is weak at best). She told me I was depressed, wrote me a prescription for Wellbutrin and set me on the 10+ year path of exploring everything from medications (five so far) to exercise, special diets, supplements, and a variety of self-help plans.

Finally being diagnosed with ADHD and being properly medicated for that has made a huge difference in my anxiety levels, but I still struggle with depression regularly. I’ve finally started learning ways to help myself, though. Talking with people who’ve had similar experiences reminds me that I’m not alone no matter what the brain weasels want me to believe. Meditation helps me to just be where I am in this moment and not worry so much about the future or feel so bad about the past. Yoga helps me move my focus out of my head and into my body, giving my brainmeat a little much-needed rest. All of these things compound over time and help me to realize that the way my brain works is not all there is to me…but it’s part of who I am, and that’s something I’m learning to be OK with.

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“When I’m feeling down, I like to chew my foot. Sounds weird but it helps.”  – Junior


If you’re struggling, know that you’re NOT alone, and that people truly do want to help you feel better. The world needs you in it, so please stay! If you need immediate help, start here (you don’t even have to call, you can chat with them online! Isn’t that handy?!)