This is not a funny jokey ha-ha lol-times post, and I am not apologizing for it. It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to. Kthanksbye.
I just finished watching this week’s episode of Finding Your Roots and I have a lot of feels. I’m a genealogy nerd and a sucker for life stories so the show tends to be my jam anyway…but the episodes where he traces the family trees of African Americans always really get to me. It’s a similar story almost every time: the tree gets to a certain point and then just stops because you inevitably get to a time when this person’s ancestors were no longer recorded in census data because they were basically considered livestock.
If you’re white, REALLY think about that for a minute. Think about what it might feel like to be told that your great-great-great grandparents were owned by someone else. OWNED. Someone looked at a fellow human being, passed judgement on their worth, placed a price on them, and exchanged them for currency. Imagine looking at another living, breathing, feeling, human being…and somehow constructing the belief in your head that you are so superior to them that you could BUY and SELL them, let alone force them to do your bidding, rape them, beat them, and keep them in appalling conditions. And this was the norm for centuries.
It’s deeply uncomfortable to think about these things, and that’s why so many people just…don’t. Being uncomfortable isn’t fun. It doesn’t give you a good story to tell, a cute meme, or a nice photo for Instagram. But discomfort is an excellent teacher. Lessons learned through a filter of discomfort are often the most impactful ones.
My ancestors were very likely not slave owners. I could tell myself a nice story about how it’s because they were all good people who knew right from wrong and valued every human life…but the hard truth is that likely a lot of it was down to the fact that most of them were dirt poor their whole lives themselves and buying slaves for their farms just plain wasn’t an option available to them. Even so, I have internalized racial biases inherited simply by so many generations of my ancestors being white. Even as a dirt-farmer in rural Vermont in the 1800’s, being white was still a shit-load easier than being anything other than white, and I have directly benefited from that privilege. I continue to benefit on a daily basis from a system filled with those same internalized racial biases. Life is just plain easier in many countries in this world if your skin is white.
I’m not waxing about any of this to earn any sort of credit or prove any self-righteous point. It just struck me how uncomfortable and ashamed I felt while hearing the stories of these peoples’ enslaved ancestors, and rather than run away from the discomfort, I decided to sit with it, to turn it over and look underneath it for a bit. Acknowledging to myself that I have and will continue to benefit from white privilege isn’t that difficult for me – I’ve felt it since long before I had the catch-phrase to define it. What is more difficult for me, and what I find myself subsequently leaning into tonight as I write this; is admitting it, fully and without couching, to anyone who chooses to read it. But I refuse to keep choosing my own comfort, and the comfort of those who I know don’t understand or agree with me, over the truth. This is the VERY least I can do as a white person in this fractured, racist world…but it’s all I’ve got for tonight.
Have you ever been cleaning out your closet (or, let’s say, putting away giant piles of laundry that may have accumulated on the guest room bed ) and found a zip up hoodie that you hadn’t seen in maybe years and you can’t imagine why the hoodie got taken out of regular rotation because it’s not stained up or damaged in any way and is a totally acceptable color and seems really comfy so you run it through the wash and start wearing it again only to discover halfway through the second wearing that this is actually the zip up hoodie that refuses to stay zipped because the zipper is weirdly heavy in relation to the fabric of the hoodie and so the zipper keeps just working its way down every time you move and it all sort of starts coming back to you why you banished the zip up hoodie to the back of the closet (or the bottom of the laundry pile) to begin with?
This is not a metaphor. I am currently wearing that hoodie. This is the third time I’ve put it on since I washed it and I now know FULL WELL what it is capable of, but it has weaseled its way back into the rotation and now it will take an act of Congress (or the acquisition of more new clothing, which is similarly expensive and time consuming) for it to be banished back to the dark depths of the closet from whence it came.
That’s basically all that has happened in the two months since I last posted. That and homework for this business law class I’m taking, because what I definitely needed in my life was more reasons to sit in front of a laptop staring at a blank page and hating myself for being unable to just…start. I mean, hating is a harsh term, I guess. It’s more like a loathing. Loathing is a step down from hating, right? The internet says they’re synonyms but I’ve decided that’s fake news.
– They are trying to compete with my dog for the coveted title of Yappiest Yapface of 2019.
– Their apartment is filled with spiders and they react to spiders the same way I do: yelling until someone comes and rescues
me the spider.
– They believe that he who prays loudest gets the most attention from Imaginary Sky Daddy.
– They’re actually a bunch of Siamese cats inhabiting human bodies, and it’s always ten minutes past feeding time.
– They were brought up in a cave behind a giant, roaring waterfall and had to yell everything just to be heard. The habit stuck.
– They have Fatal Ear Freezing Syndrome and have to wear ear protection at all times to keep from dying of the dreaded Freeze-Ear.
– They’re professional yodelers. Really bad ones.
– Their family hobby is acting out that popular meme of the Orange County Choppers guys yelling at each other.
– They all have terrible spatial awareness and keep stubbing their toes on every corner and piece of furniture they come near.
– Their carpet is full of tacks.
– They’re from Massachusetts and they’re also drunk a lot (not that people from Massachusetts are any more predisposed to getting drunk than anyone from anywhere else in New England (there’s not much to do here). But, in my experience, many people from Massachusetts DO seem predisposed to high levels of…personal loudness. NOT ALL, but many).
(Let’s just pretend I haven’t posted in six months, mmkay? Mmkay.)
I believe in ghosts. Living things are made of energy and I believe some of that energy can cling to places, objects, and even people. As long as you invest your own energy into carrying the memory of someone, they’re living on in you, even if only a tiny bit.
We’re all haunted, for better or worse, by the people we choose to put energy into remembering, then. I am haunted by my Nana on the daily – whether by seeing a bird or flower she liked, smelling a scent that I associate with her, or thinking of a specific time I was with her. My paternal grandmother, Marion, haunts me often by way of my love for fiber arts and textiles. She was an amazing knitter and seamstress, and had aspirations in her early days of becoming a fashion designer. When I see a beautifully made piece of clothing or I sit down to knit for a while, her energy is there in my hands, if not my head, making me itch to create.
Can you be haunted by someone you’ve never met, though? Someone you have no memories of to feed your own energy into? I think in some cases, yes. Maybe you visit a place where someone’s energy is still clinging for whatever reason, like in a classic ghost story of a grisly death or unrequited love, where someone’s spirit can’t leave. Their energy might not even be trapped there due to bad circumstances – maybe it was a place that person loved so deeply or made it so much their own that they willed part of themselves to stay there long after their body had left. Perhaps there’s an item that was so important to someone that it ended up absorbing some of their energy. Whether a cherished object or a utilitarian one, the things we surround ourselves with and use on a daily basis can certainly carry echoes of us far into the future, I believe.
If you’ve gotten this far you’re probably wondering why I’m even blathering on about this woo shit. It’s not my normal LOL-fest, after all (please read that with the intended sarcasm. On no plane of existence would I have the audacity to judge my own writing an actual LOL-fest. Apparently I DO exist in a space where I refer to things as LOL-fests now, though? I’m not sure I’m ok with that, but I’m quickly sliding headlong into a black hole of parenthetical digression and I need to back away from that particular event horizon before it sucks me in and disintegrates me. I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries about space lately, can you tell?).
Where was I? Oh yes, explaining why I’m talking about ghosty woo things.
So, the reason I bring all this up is that I’m being haunted. The spirit of one of my great-great-grandfathers, Harlan Godfrey, has been all up in my grill for quite some time now.
I’ve always been really interested in old stuff. I was never really great in history class in school because that involved a lot of memorizing names and dates, which put me right to sleep. But old STUFF? Stuff you can hold in your hands, or at least see in the context of the time in which it was created / used? That’s always been my jam. I wanted to be a paleontologist, then an archaeologist, for most of my childhood. Eventually I figured out that both professions a) spend a lot of time doing very physical work in some pretty inhospitable places (or worse, are in academia), and b) are not known for making big bucks. Or any bucks, really. Being physically uncomfortable and being poor have both always been pretty high on my Do Not Want list, so I eventually moved on to other dreams (none of which I have actually achieved either, but at least I learned to be more realistic? That’s a useful skill, surely). My love of old stuff and old stories never really went away, though. Eventually I started channeling it into genealogy. This was especially satisfying to me because it combined my love of old stuff with my ridiculously strong life-long urge to know other people’s business.
For a long time my genealogy fixes came from my Nana. She had lots of old pictures, lists of names and birth dates, and she knew where most of the bodies were buried. Literally. Her husband, my Bampa, was long gone at that point – he died when I was 11 – but she had stayed in close touch with that side of the family and had a lot of knowledge of their ancestry as well. My mom has always been interested in family history too, and with the advent of sites like Ancestry, being able to build an actual family tree and show her all kinds of cool stuff like census records and draft cards got her sort of sucked into my project as well. We ended up going to a family reunion together a few summers ago – NOT something that either of us would normally volunteer for, as we’re both card-carrying introverts – but several very elderly family members were going to be there and we were interested in seeing if they could confirm some details of some people for us. At the reunion my mom’s aunt Jan (my grandfather’s youngest sister) mentioned that she had some books I might be interested in, and that she’d get them to me eventually.
The following summer, Jan showed up one day with a smallish clear plastic tote bag – the kind that gift sets of shampoo and body wash come in. Rather than bottles, it was filled with small books.
“Here’s something to get you started. I want these back eventually, so please be careful with them,” she said, handing them over. I pulled out the first little book, smaller than most peoples’ cell phones today, and flipped open the cover.
‘Diary of Harlan F. Godfrey, 1910’
I went home that afternoon and lost at least three hours reading. The entries are all entirely utilitarian. Harlan was a subsistence farmer in turn-of-the-century Vermont. He used his diaries to keep track of weather, which heifers were bred and which ones were sold, when he bought feed and supplies and how much he paid for them, etc. Not exactly riveting reading for most people, but for whatever reason, I was hooked. I read through all the diaries over the space of a few days, then proceeded to bend the ear of every family member who showed even the remotest inkling of interest about them.
Jan’s words kept bouncing around in my head – “I want these back eventually”. But…but what if I some day had a burning need to know how much Harlan had paid for a hogshead of cracked corn at Chase’s store in Bradford in September of 1910? She wanted the books back, but I couldn’t handle the idea of losing that resource. I needed to preserve my hoard of the most banal treasure imaginable. So I decided to do the only reasonable thing, given the situation:
I decided to transcribe it. All six books worth.
It should be noted that, like with most plans I come up with, I decided I was going to do it and then immediately started four other things, which lead to three further projects, which in turn brought on an avalanche of roughly 17.6 million additional tasks. Before I knew it, a year had gone by. And then another one. That is 100% how I’ve made to to age 39, by the way. I swear the last time I looked, I was 27. This whole ‘time compressing as you age’ thing is pretty fucked, especially if your brain was pre-wired to have no real concept of time passing like mine is.
Anyway. Jan still hadn’t asked for the books back a couple weeks ago when the second anniversary of me having them whizzed past, but I know Jan and she is as dragon-esque with her hoard of precious old things as I am, so I know she won’t forget and I won’t be able to put her off for long once she decides she wants the books back.
So, last Friday when I had something else I really needed to be doing and thus was fair gagging for a procrastinatory escape hatch, I pulled up a Google doc, cracked open the first diary, and started transcribing. It’s going faster than I originally figured it would – it takes me about 30 minutes to get through a month of entries, provided I don’t run into any super scrawly bits that I have to try to decipher. Harlan’s penmanship was pretty decent but he wrote with a pencil, the point of which wears down periodically, making things harder and harder to read…to the point where I’ll find myself muttering ‘sharpen your god damned pencil, Gramps’ like he could somehow hear me from 110 years in the past. His grammar is also pretty suspect, which can be kind of amusing at times. He wrote very much how he would have spoken (must be genetic?), so there are entries like “Done choars this F”, meaning he did the chores this forenoon, and “drawed wood all day”, meaning not that he’s drawing pictures of wood but that he’s dragging it out of the forest with his horses. My favorite is that, almost every Sunday, his entry is “here to home”. Sometimes it’s accompanied by notes of people having visited that day, but mostly it’s just that one simple statement that sounds so…content. Like he’s taking a well-earned day off after a week of hard work. I mean, for all I know he spent his Sundays beating his kids and kicking the chickens…but I’d find it quite surprising if that were the case.
What used to be Harlan’s farm, and then his son Floyd (my great-grandfather)’s farm, is about a ten minute ride from where I live. It’s a spot I have been inexplicably drawn to for many years – since way before I knew which property my ancestors had owned, since before I stopped to look at the gravestones in the little cemetery tucked up on the side hill and noticed many names I recognized from my family tree. All that energy, all that love of place that three or four generations of my ancestors worked into the side of that hill… it’s like someone strikes a kind of cosmic tuning fork and the bits of those people that live on in my blood start singing that haunting note and I have to go back to harmonize for a little while.
(Disclaimer: this post is mildly gross. Proceed at your own risk.)
Bodies are disgusting.
I mean, sure, they’re amazing and magical and whatever, but they also do some truly disgusting stuff…usually in the name of keeping us alive.
For instance: did you know that your tonsils can produce stones? Yep! When shit (well, presumably not actual shit, otherwise you’ve probably got bigger issues to contend with), builds up in your throat, bits of it often get stuck to / in your tonsils. The upside is that this keeps the shit (or whatever) from making it down your throat into your lungs! The downside is, your tonsils gotta do something with that stuff. Sometimes you just cough it out. Sometimes you swallow something that dislodges the junk and sends it down into your stomach to be blasted by digestion.
But, sometimes whatever is back there can’t be dislodged and it starts collecting more junk. You know, because being a gross little chunk of crap in someone’s throat is…lonely? Anyway, point being, the crap builds up in one of the little pockets or wrinkles on your tonsil, calcifies, and then you have yourself a tonsil stone. Or a tonsillolith, if you’re fancy.
Tonsilloliths are very common and lots of people have them without ever even knowing because the stones are situated back / down far enough that they’re not visible. So don’t judge. You may well have tonsil rocks you’ve never met.
I’ve always had stupidly big tonsils. Like, the kind of tonsils where every doctor who has ever looked down my throat has said something along the lines of “geez, those are monstrous, how do you even breathe?”. To which I have given up trying to reply snarkily and instead say some version of “I know. What do I have to do to get them taken out?”. The answer is usually that if I want insurance to cover it, I have to wait until it’s ‘medically necessary’ to have them removed. Which of course is doctor-ese for ‘they have to make you super sick’. And to their credit (the tonsils, not the doctors), they really haven’t done so yet….so I guess I’m stuck with them.
Anyway. Back to the stone.
I had a cold last week, which came with all the typical grossness. I also suffer from year-round allergies, so I have kind of a constant background level of cacky junk traveling between my sinuses and throat. There’s been no shortage of mank hanging around my tonsils the last week or so. So the other day when I looked down my throat with the flashlight (normal people do that on a regular basis, right? RIIIIIGHT.), I wasn’t especially shocked to see a little white spot on my left tonsil. I’ve had them before, usually right in that same spot. In the past I’ve been able to dislodge them with a little bit of semi-aggressive salt water gargling. In one VERY memorable case, I actually reached back with my toothbrush and managed to knock a stone loose with the bristles…but then my gag reflex took over and I booted up my breakfast. So nobody REALLY won that round.
I should note here: the stone in question doesn’t hurt at all. In fact, it’s still new enough that it probably hasn’t even calcified into stone form. It’s probably just a little pocket filled with grody smeg back there. A pocket of grody smeg that I happen to be able to see every single time I open my mouth in front of a mirror. It’s not like this is a matter of urgency, to get this junk off of my tonsil. It would be highly improbably that this spot morphed into something that made me ill in any way. It is literally just grossing me out every time I (far too frequently) see it and so I want it gone.
I want it gone so much, in fact, that while I was in the bathroom at work looking at it earlier, I decided to take action.
Did I go warm up some water, dump some salt in it, and have a nice soothing gargle?
Did I give myself a pep-talk about how some bodily functions really are best saved to be dealt with at home?
What I did was grab a handful of paper towels from the dispenser, twist them around my index finger, and reach back to try and manually scrape my tonsil with them.
As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, this move was unwise in several ways.
The first was that I made a total rookie mistake and didn’t wet the paper towel first, so it kind of stuck a bit when it made contact with my tonsil. The second was that, in my fervor, I forgot how strong my gag reflex is (it’s dry-heave-when-I-try-to-brush-my-tongue strong, for the record). The combination of these two very stupid things did NOT result in vomit, thankfully…but what it DID result in was a loud and somewhat confused choking, squawking animal noise issuing forth from my rightfully angry throat as I tried to fight said gag reflex long enough to knock the stone loose.
Several seconds later, when the stars in my vision had finally cleared and my tongue had returned to its normal position rather than trying to forcibly remove itself from my body, I shone my cell phone flashlight into my mouth to survey my work.
The stone hadn’t even budged.
I’ve learned my lesson at this point, I swear. I’m not going to try to mess with it any more until I get home and can have a good long gargle.
But I’ll be perfectly honest with you here, friends. There’s a drawer full of leftover take-out chopsticks in the break room that are going to be calling my name all afternoon.
Saturday while I was grocery shopping, I dropped a squash. And that’s not even a euphemism for anything crude, I promise. I literally dropped a squash. It was a small delicata squash, almost round whereas normally they’re elongated. The little bastard rolled like three feet and ended up under the floral display just at the end of the produce cooler.
Or so I thought.
I definitely SAW it roll under there. Not wanting to be the asshole who just drops / knocks over / fucks up things at the grocery store and then doesn’t at least attempt to right the situation (which, if my local small-town grocery store is any barometer, there are a LOT of those assholes around. Would it kill you to bend over and pick up the box of cereal your obnoxious child just knocked off the shelf in the midst of his tantrum about how he can’t have Rainbow Sucrose Nuggets for breakfast, Janet?), I went over to where the squash had last been spotted and bent down.
I looked back toward my cart and all along the bottom skirting of the produce cooler for three feet in either direction.
I bent way down and peered under the edge of the floral display to see if it had rolled under some flange or something down there.
Inky blackness. No squash.
At that point I started to feel like people were looking at me funny due to my muttering about the squash having disappeared. I told myself I’d done my best to retrieve it and there was nothing more I could do without creating an actual scene, and I moved on.
Over at Potato Onion Island (I call it that because it’s an island in the middle of the produce area where all the potatoes live in peace and harmony with their onion compatriots), I grabbed the two white onions I needed. Into the cart they went with no drama. Onions save all their drama for when you get them home and cut them, after all. I started inspecting the red skinned potatoes because I needed some of those as well. Normally I eschew the plastic bags available in the produce department because the idea of sea turtles inhaling plastic bags in the ocean and turtle-moaning things like ‘was this bag to segregate your three potatoes from the other items in your shopping bag really fucking necessary, two-legger?’ tends to keep me up at night…but for whatever reason, I hadn’t had a suffering sea turtle nightmare lately and ended up grabbing a produce bag for my potatoes. Sorry, sea turtles. I suck.
So, I grabbed a plastic bag and started putting potatoes in it. One potato, two potato, three potato, THUNK. A potato bounced off my sneaker. I looked down at the bag just as the side of it let go completely, spilling the other potatoes down onto my foot as well. Somewhere a sea turtle turtle-moaned in victory at that, I’m sure. Also, I don’t know why sea turtles do nothing but moan in my head. Maybe it’s because they always look vaguely upset. Plus, if you think about it, they’ve got plenty to moan about.
I grabbed a new bag, checked it for holes, then stooped down to pick up the run-away potatoes. One potato, two potato, three potato…
Where was the fourth potato? I definitely had put four in the original bag. I looked around my cart, my feet.
I bent way down and inspected the very roots of Potato Onion Island.
I was starting to worry that perhaps I had actually died and this supermarket was my personal version of hell, an eternity of caving to the weight of society’s opinion of me while I crawled under various shelving units and displays, searching for dropped produce that never showed up. I looked around to make sure no one was watching, then I used my toe to flip up the edge of the rug in front of Potato Onion Island, just in case.
In that moment, I decided two things:
1. If I couldn’t see the dropped produce, nobody else could either, so I probably looked weirder flailing around looking for it than just walking away like nothing had happened, and
2. This couldn’t actually be Grocery Store Hell because there were no screaming babies within earshot, and no old ladies that smelled strongly of lilac (and vaguely of poop) getting in my way every time I tried to move my cart.
And with that, I wheeled off to the deli with nary another backward glance.
I do still feel pretty bad about the sea turtles though.
This one time, I got up from my desk to take a bathroom break after many (ok, one-ish) hours of soul-crushing data entry and left my headphones in because a good song was playing. I wandered down the hall and ducked into the bathroom. Turned around, unzipped my jeans, dropped trou for to get on with the peeing…and gasped in sudden shock as gravity, cruel mistress that she is, not only yanked the headphones right out of my ears, but also disconnected said headphones as my phone clattered from my pocket to the floor between my feet. There I was, hovering over the toilet with pants half down, panicking that everyone in the office next door would hear as Lorde’s ‘Royals’ blared its stirring crescendo in the echo-chamber that is the restroom. Instead of just turning the phone screen on and hitting pause to make the music stop, my brain decided the best course of action was to fumble around trying to reconnect the headphones that were now in a spaghetti pile of wires around one pant leg as my ass hung in the proverbial breeze. With a full bladder. Halfway sitting down onto the toilet.
That time was today, by the way. Like ten minutes ago.
No one ended up with pee on them and no one has yet come into my office asking why I was blaring Lorde in the bathroom, so I’m going to chalk that up as a victory. Gotta take ’em where we can get ’em.
…and you’re Mary Tyler Moore.
When I was a kid, personal computers weren’t a thing. Well, I guess they were for some people, but not really out in the sticks where I lived. We got three Macs at school when I was in 4th grade (circa 1990). By the time I got to 6th grade, the school had built a little computer lap with half a dozen PCs and we had “computer class” regularly, but almost nobody in my school had their own computers at home. I remember our high school computer teacher, Mr. Waste (that was seriously his name, I’m not making that up), showing us all how to use Netscape Navigator to access something called The Internet, and all of us scoffing about how it was interesting enough but we’d probably never USE it for anything. We then all went back to competing for who could program their computer to play the most annoying sequence of MIDI tones and make Mr. Waste yell at us the fastest. We called that (highly unsanctioned) activity the Waste Race. I’m sure it will shock you to learn that none of us ended up at MIT.
We got a PC at our house around 1996. I’m pretty sure my mom got it from Sears. We didn’t have Internet at first, just the computer. It was meant for school work you see. None of that electronic mail or chat room nonsense. Even back then companies had started putting junk on computers that nobody really needed, though. On my model there was a folder called ‘Fun Stuff’ that had a bunch of sample photos, music clips, and much to my interest, several full-length music videos.
One of the videos that came pre-loaded was Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’.
I swear, I must have watched that video about a thousand times…not necessarily out of any deep love of the song or band, but more just out of desire to somehow be connected to what was going on in the world outside of back-woods Vermont, maybe? Plus, in retrospect, at 16 years old I was really starting to hit my stride when it came to my talent for procrastination. Having a computer, even one without the Internet, offered a whole new universe of opportunities to fuck off and not get my algebra homework done. When I got sick of Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’, I could always drill down level after level of folders and files in the guts of Windows 95, building a mental map of where things went and why. I also got really good at Minesweeper and Solitaire. Best of all was the Encarta encyclopedia CD that came with the computer. I could load that up and read all about…well, everything. And I did. Often. That CD taught me how to say “my name is Michael” in Greek for instance. You wouldn’t think that a teenage girl in rural Vermont with no Greek family would need to know that for any reason, but you’d be WRONG because my dad’s name is Michael and he actually did some work for a guy who was married to a Greek lady back in ’97 and I TOTALLY came through in the clutch when my dad came home one day talking about how he wished he knew something in Greek that he could say to the lady.
(This post brought to you by a) knowing I haven’t written in a while and feeling like I really should but not knowing what to write about and b) Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’ popping up on the playlist I was listening to an hour ago.)