When I was a child, I thought grapefruit would taste like purple.
Perhaps I thought this for years,
or only once,
or not at all.
Memory is tenuous like that, all shifting colors and morphing shapes.
I can only truly know what I know now, and sometimes, not even that.
Perception is unreliable.
Yet, here we are, re-membering our lives, piecing back together who we were, how we felt, what someone else was at another time. Our memories like a picture of a picture of a picture. Each time we look at it, it changes ever so slightly. Each time we add to it who we are now.
Memory is not static; it is a living artwork.
And so… today I brush a layer of love on my memories of you, and me, and this life.
And tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, it becomes more true.
A few weeks ago, Maya and I took Ginger the pittie to the dog park. There were two revelations in that experience. Maybe 3.
The dog park smells like shit.
Hot feces and urine from concentrate.
In spite of the foliage and park benches and dirt-gravel pathways, the pavilions and ponds, the dog park is no more than a public restroom.
I don’t know how dogs (whose sense of smell is so much keener than ours) can stand it. Perhaps, to them, it’s like walking through the perfume department at Macy’s on Black Friday, the air thick with a heady cocktail of eau de toilette. Toilet water.
2. Michelle and her mother are not okay.
After an hour-long butt-sniffing (Ginger), watch-your-step (Maya) adventure in Danny Jackson Family Bark Park, the 3 of us make our way out the two-stop gates. With my hands tangled in leash and water bottles, I notice a young man shrug in escape of a conversation with an elderly woman leaning out of the driver’s side window of a blue sedan. This should have been my cue to keep my head down and steer us away, but I missed it.
“Excuse me. Could you help me?”
This is a weird place to panhandle, I thought. Most people only have their phones, poop bags, and dog toys on them. Reading my pause as permission to continue, the woman shifts uncomfortably, ready to engage.
“I dropped my daughter and her dog off and went to run some errands. I said I’d be back in 30 minutes and it was maybe 10 minutes longer than that…not that long, but I’ve been waiting out here and she hasn’t come out.”
This is both too much and not enough information.
“Have you seen a woman with dark hair, kinda heavyset with a black and white boxer-lab mix? I don’t know why she wouldn’t just wait for me! She’s got problems. Is she still there? Did you see her? I can’t go walking around. I had knee surgery , and I just can’t get around like that. She knows that. Can you help?”
I look back at the dog park. It’s long and narrow, stretching across 2 acres, and there are quite a few people, and a whole other section beyond the pond that I hadn’t even bothered to walk to before. Ugh.
“I can go back and ask around. See if she’s there. What’s her name?”
“Michelle and Rosie. She’s wearing a t-shirt and black shorts I think.”
I picture a dog in a t-shirt.
“Is it Michelle or Rosie?”
“The dog is Rosie.”
“Umm…okay, I’ll walk back.”
“My goodness. Thank you. I just can’t with this knee.”
Maya, Ginger, and I make our way back into the dog park. Maya, lugging her folding Buc-ee’s chair, says nothing. Ginger strains at her leash. I take Maya’s chair and stuff it under my arm.
I scan the crowd. A young couple here. Another there. A group of guys. One Black woman with a brown dog. Nobody who fits the description of a heavyset Michelle with problems, wearing (maybe) black shorts. I consider asking the folks perched on picnic tables at the pavilion if anyone is named Michelle, but realize that this would require follow-up conversation and more awkwardness with strangers and I’ve already had enough of that and it smells like shit in here.
I turn back. A lot of fruitless extra walking. I’m not a step counter.
The old lady is still leaning out her window. She is rather short, so this requires some effort on her part. I shake my head as I approach.
“I didn’t see her. Can you call her?” This, having only recently occurred to me as a step-saving solution.
“My phone is at home. It was out of power. I thought it was charging last night, but I guess it wasn’t, so I plugged it up and left it there. Why would she leave?”
“Maybe she’s not far.”
We are in a part of town that is particularly walkable. Not much of Houston is.
“This is all too much. My brother died last week. He had been sick for a while.”
I’m not sure what to do with this, or whether the brother’s death is somehow related to Michelle’s untimely disappearance. So I nod in feigned understanding and sincere sympathy.
“Do you have a phone? Could you call her?”
I dig my phone out of my back pocket. “What’s her number?”
I don’t want to hand this woman my phone so she can drive off with it. She tells me the number. Someone picks up on the 2nd ring.
“Is this Michelle? This is… I’m at the dog park. Your mother is here looking for you.”
“What? I’m on the Metro now.”
I move my phone away from my ear.
“She says she’s on the Metro.”
I put the phone on speaker and hold it towards the window.
“Michelle, why did you do that? Where are you going? You could have just waited! You know I can’t walk around here. My phone is at the apartment.” I hand her the phone, reasonably assured that she won’t steal it.
“This nice lady was kind enough to walk back and look for you. I can’t do this. You…”
“What? I’m on the Metro! You always…”
“I’m going back to the apartment. I’ve waited out here for a half hour…an hour! This is ridiculous.”
Michelle hangs up.
“Hello? I’m going back to the apartment.”
She hands me the phone.
“She’s always doing this. Selfish girl. Thank you anyway. It was nice of you to help me. She shouldn’t be like this. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She had a drinking problem. I’m sorry.”
“No worries.” I use my cheery voice. Clearly there are some worries. “Good luck!”
I load Maya and the dog into the car.
I think I know why Michelle drinks.
3. Ginger is not interested in swimming.
Earlier, I had dragged her towards the pond where a handful of retrievers and other dogs were frolicking. I’ve never seen her swim but she does frolic, on occasion, so I thought I’d give it a try. She was having none of it. She dug her front paws in, flattened her ears, and looked up with pleading eyes. She’s just not a dog who swims.
Michelle is not a daughter who waits.
We think we know what our loved ones want, the pet kind and the human kind. That’s why we take our dogs to the dog park. Because we want them to be happy. For dogs, it’s simple: space to run, butts to smell, balls to fetch, pools to splash in. People are more complex. Perhaps what we want is simple, but not easy. I imagine that, like most mothers, the lady in the sedan wants her daughter to be safe, and happy, and free. But that requires trust. Trust in the kindness of strangers, trust that the universe will align as it should, trust in how you have raised and loved someone. That level of trust is freeing.
I hope that Michelle, and her mom, and the dogs, and you, and I find freedom and happiness in a world peppered with shit.
Somewhere in the 13th hour of the workday, I hit a wall. Words were swimming on the screen. “Why can’t I ever get done?”
Defeated, I got up from my desk and headed to the shower, armed with the new lemon-sage body wash and shower gloves that Amazon had just left at my front door, the only thing I’d had to look forward to in days. No time for anything else.
I don’t (entirely) blame my job. I’ve always struggled with boundaries. Perfectionism and anxiety and a touch of obsessive compulsion. Toss in a pandemic. Sprinkle liberally with racial unrest. Place in the pressure cooker that is public school education. Set timer to “uncertainty”, and voila!
n. the feeling that no matter what, [what] you do is always somehow wrong—as if there’s some obvious way forward that everybody else can see but you, each of them leaning back in their chair and calling out helpfully, “colder, colder, colder…”
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
Perhaps I could shower it off. Lemon-sage the negative energy away.
But it was when I emerged from the bathroom that I knew, all at once, that I already had all I needed.
My freshly-turned-6-year-old had set up a spa for me.
Classical music playing.
Pine-scented candles burning.
A glass of ice water garnished with cucumber.
She bowed at the waist, something she’d seen on tv, and directed me to the smoothed/over bed for my massage.
She clambered up behind me and proceeded to push and pat at my back. Gently, her tiny fingers tapped out a message just for me.
Since August 26, I’ve not posted on social media. I did sneak and check it a time or two (each day) until Thursday, September 3. This is my 7th day cold turkey. Coincidentally, we are also on a VERY tight budget until the 15th, so I haven’t been able to rely on my other addiction, fancy food. No Uber Eating. No foodie treats. Just regular budget-friendly food.
Toast and cheap coffee or tea for breakfast. Ramen noodles or a sandwich for lunch. Spaghetti and peas for dinner.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I usually eat my feelings.
Now that I can’t do that, I’m forced to just sit with the overwhelm. Actually, I don’t have time to sit.
My “day job” of being a high school English teacher and curriculum writer takes all day and much of the night to do “in this virtual environment”, and I’m still woefully behind. Like, I-don’t-think-I-can-ever-catch-up behind. I’m pretty much working during all my waking hours.
Then grateful to have a job.
Then miserable again.
At least I’m not dying.
Last week I had a radiating pain in my left breast. My anxiety-prone mind jumped straight to breast cancer and stayed there. A doctor’s appointment and mammogram later, those fears were laid to rest.
Better the fears than me.
I’m glad to not be prematurely dying.
Yet, this doesn’t feel very much like living.
Do I exist?
Reliant says “your account does. Pay up.”
I took on a contract job, writing curriculum. I clearly don’t have time for that, but…here I am. We need the extra money, and I need the opportunity to build up a portfolio. It’s the only way forward.
I’ve decided to get off social media for a while. I don’t know for how long. I do know that it had become a terrible time-suck and source of emotional self-flagellation. You see the posts. You read the comments. You click the links. You watch the videos. You hate everything. You “like” other things. Repeat cycle.
I want to get off this train.
I don’t trust myself anymore.
What I hope this time and this journal writing experience will be is a return to center, to full honesty. And, if I’m honest, I don’t know that I will write every day. I know that I want to write every day. That will have to be enough.
I want to keep track of how I spend my time and what thoughts I allow to linger. Keep tabs of all that I take in. It is supposed to be a more curated life, isn’t it? Not just a whirling, floor-dropping shitstorm. I want to love life again.
So, where do I begin?
I’m sitting at my desk, still in my robe and the pajamas I’ve had on the last 2 days. I did brush my teeth and wash my face, but other than that, no other physical maintenance. Instead, I have plopped myself down in front of my laptop and second monitor to try to “catch up” on work during these two days of school closure due to the threat of Hurricane Laura.
She skirted by Houston without so much as a “boo”. She focused all her considerable energy on points east and north, plowing through Lake Charles, LA and the surrounding towns. Leveling them. I assume. I haven’t actually looked at much of the post-hurricane damage footage. (No social media).
It was strange waking up this morning to a world ostensibly untouched. There had been so much news coverage, so much hurricane prep and panic buying, so much sky-watching. And…nothing. At least for us.
There was something disappointing about it. Maybe I was looking for an excuse to not do things. Another reason to interrupt regularly scheduled programming. As if the pandemic itself, and the racial tensions and protests, and politics of re-opening schools haven’t been enough. So much upheaval. Why not throw a hurricane on it? I wanted a reason to pause and try to catch my breath. It’s so hard to justify doing that without an excuse that everyone can clearly see.
“Hey, I need to take like a week – 6 months off because life has been too much, and I’m about to lose it” makes you look weak. Your job and the people counting on you just want you to keep doing the things. They say they care (solidarity and such), and yet…somebody needs to do the things. Also, bills.
So, I don’t take the time off. I feel too guilty. That’s why I needed the storm. It’s ridiculous, I know.
Yet, here we are. No excuse. No pass. Just having to face the music.
So what do I do with that?
I need to dig at this workaholic-procrastination-perfectionism thing, examine what makes me feel so damn unaccomplished all the time, so annoyed with myself, and work on that.
According to “How Stuff Works”, spacecraft re-entry is “tricky business”. I’m fairly certain that isn’t how aerospace engineers or astrophysicists would explain it. But, hey. *shrugs *
Re-entry into the work world after vacation is tricky business, too.
The object, you, launched into the freedom of space (space to breathe, to graze, to sleep, to gaze), must return to the real world.
Re-entry is sudden. Jarring even.
Gravity and drag push and pull against you, sucking you into an atmosphere charged with fabricated urgency. Your calendar is already full. Notifications pour in. Deadlines loom large and lowering. Somehow, tasks have metastasized and spawned action items in your brief absence. The cool aura of peace that momentarily surrounded you burns away. Once briefly and tenuously calibrated, your sense of equilibrium is rocked off-center.
The ground rushes up to meet you as you hurtle, limbs flailing, earthwards. Red warning lights flashing. Alarms blaring.
You slam into terra firma.
Bounce once. Twice. Skid to a stop.
Everything goes black.
A train stalls on the tracks. The network is down. You didn’t bring lunch. The copier is jammed. But the show must go on.
It has been 7 days since I logged off Facebook and Instagram for a while. I’ve had lots of thoughts in that time (like “how can I get someone to find the boy Leila likes on Instagram and see if he has ever posted any shirtless pics without sounding like a sociopath?”). But here are 7 less crazy thoughts about being off social media that are probably worth sharing.
1) Ignorance may not be bliss, but it’s a ceasefire.
I may not know which celebrity did what or died, or what the latest outrage perpetrated by [insert entity here] is, or where you got to go/do that I didn’t, but in the quiet space left by the absence of media chatter and the resulting cognitive dissonance, there is some peace. I like it. It gives me time to regroup and ration my ****s. I can’t be just giving them out all willy-nilly. Because, inflation.
2) One-eyed morning-scrolling keeps you from waking up. #staywoke
For the last 7 days, I’ve gotten up within 10 minutes of waking up. I reach for the phone, check the weather, do a quick check of work email, and get up. There’s nothing else to “check” except myself, and I can do that in the bathroom. Not that I physically check myself. I just check in to the day. Wake up to my life. There will be enough crazy populating it soon enough without me clicking and scrolling and bookmarking any extra. Bandwidth matters.
3) It’s okay to be bored sometimes.
There was an article posted recently in Atlantic Monthly about the benefits of boredom. According to fancy scientific studies, it sparks creativity. I’d like to think that the few moments of boredom I’ve experienced in the last few days spurred some ingenuity, but I can’t be sure. There’s this (and another post I’m working on about a word I made up), so that’s something.
4) If you take a picture of a tree falling in the forest, and you don’t post it, is your reality sound?
It still happened. And if I’m honest, I took the picture so that I can look at it, which I can still do. I don’t need anybody to “like” it, because I do. We like “likes” though, don’t we? It’s validating. “Yes, you/your food/your kid/your dog/that thing you’re doing/your Pinterest projects are interesting.” You exist. There. Done.
Just to clarify…I did not take a picture of a tree falling in a forest. But here’s one in case nobody has posted it recently. (picture courtesy of usda.gov)
5) You’ll have more to say if you say less.
Need I say more?
6) There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but that’s dumb.
Idiomatically speaking, to skin a cat = achieve your goals. I’d like to think my goals in using social media were to stay connected to people, stay abreast of what’s going on in the world, to be entertained and to entertain. But, if I’m being real with myself, a lot of it was about passing the time or procrastinating. But there are other ways to do those things. It’s possible to connect through good old-fashioned conversation, an activity I engaged in during a mandated team-building time mid-week. In spite of my social awkwardness, it was refreshing. Staying informed isn’t hard to do either, and it’s easier to manage if updates aren’t speeding past you like ticker tape. I still get news notifications, but I feel less compelled to click on all of them. (See thought #1). As for passing the time and procrastination, *shrugs*, I’m trying to quit.
Strictly speaking, skinning cats is not a good use of time. It’s also gross.
7) You have more time than you think, and it’s better than it seems.
There never seems to be enough time. Just 24 hours. But when I add back the time spent posting pictures of falling trees, one-eyed morning scrolling and skinning cats, there’s more of it. I’m estimating about 1-3 hours a day. I can fill those hours with reading or writing or playing check-up with Maya. Or with nothing. It makes me appreciate the other hours, too. Gratitude is never a waste of time. It draws out the moments around it. It creates time. Try it. Take a few moments to list the problems you DON’T have, the people you do have, and the good in you.
Since I’m not on social media right now, I’m relying on readers to post this on theirs. Otherwise, this is a metaphorical tree falling in a digital forest. Alternatively (or additionally), you could comment here. Mama needs a fix.