My Gross Angel

I have a dog named Lola. The name doesn’t suit her; she’s not coy or mysterious. She’s cute, but she’s the opposite of fancy, and I think we can all agree that Lola is a name for someone fancy. She’s scraggly, anxious, and needy. Like all dogs, she wears her heart on her…paw.

When I brought her to live with me, they’d been calling her “Bola” because of how she’d roll herself up into a little ball to rest. “Bola” can also mean “boil,” as in, on the skin, the idea of which grossed me out so much that I had to change it. “Cola” would have been cute, but in addition to soda (as in, Coca-Cola), it means “tail” or “ass,” neither of which seemed like a polite name to give a companion.

So Lola it was.

We don’t know a lot about Lola’s past, but we do know that she must have been abused by some pretty scary and mean people, and we know that they must have been men. Years later, it still takes at least three or four visits of consistently displayed calm, positivity, and earnest desire before she’ll let a man go anywhere near her. She won’t bite, she’ll just run away in panic, looking to me for protection.

Lola follows me everywhere. I am her goddess, her queen. If I leave, I’m told she spends a few minutes whining about it. She’ll settle for my partner and my daughter if I’m not around, and she seems to like our housekeeper almost as much as she does me; the days that Ana comes are the only ones that Lola’s not glued to my side. When I come home, she celebrates as if I’ve just returned from the dead, even if I’d only stepped out for five minutes.

Sometimes, this annoys me. I like being accompanied, but I’m one of those “introverted extrovert” types that enjoys a bit of space from time to time. When I try to be an absent millennial zombie, scrolling through my phone or even reading on my computer on the couch, Lola comes and pushes my hand with her little nose. “It seems you’re in the mood for petting something. I would like to remind you that unlike the phone and the computer, I love you. Your gadgets won’t snuggle you back or adore you. Choose me.”

Often this happens when I’m quite busy – I’m usually quite busy – and it exasperates me. Having dependents means that you are always needed; it means that your time is never exclusively your time. This is simultaneously exhausting and magical, a dynamic that can draw out your humanity while also making you feel resentful.

But when I feel like shoving Lola to the other side of the couch, I remember the child version of myself. My sister and I were obsessed with dogs. We’d had dogs at different points in our childhood, but neither we nor anyone in our family knew how to train them, so we never felt we had the “right” dog.

We’d often find strays on out-of-town visits somewhere that would follow us around and beg our parents to take the dog home with us. The answer was always no – they had plenty of other things to take care of – but we dreamed of a dog who would adore us, who would not only not run off as soon as the door was opened in search of adventure, but who would always come when called, who’d be by our sides constantly, who’d bow to us as royalty, gaze up at us with affection, spend every waking moment looking for a way to express to us its love.

So when Lola annoys me…when she won’t leave me alone, when I’ve discovered that in her anxiety or because it was raining in an extra terrifying and wet way outside she’s once again peed on the sofa or a pillow or the carpet – hey, I’m not perfect, either – I try to remember that she’s literally a dream come true: my very own adoring, disgusting angel who would move heaven and earth just to sit at my side.


Is THIS Manifesting?

A couple of months ago, we moved to a new house.

And not just any house; really, it’s a palace. Look!

There are few material things as important to me as the place I live. I will spend countless hours and dollars to make sure that the physical space I call my own is as beautiful, functional, and organized as it possibly can be. I simply cannot feel at peace or even focus on anything else until I do this; for me trying to do go about my business before it’s happened is like trying to go back to sleep in the wee hours of the morning when you really, really have to pee.

Part of this, I know, is because of my own background and childhood. I grew up in a house that was always messy, perhaps two levels below hoarder status. The floors were always covered with layers of read newspapers and dirty dishes that took forever to get to the sink and dishwasher, and every surface seemed to always be covered by geological layers of papers, plastic bags, clothing items, more dishes, and random items that had been brought in and not found a place to live.

I don’t blame my parents, least of all my mother. My mom, who all that constant cleaning work unofficially fell to (even now, few people say, “how can he allow his house to even get to that state?” while most would ask that exact question of a woman) was often depressed and overwhelmed after a tragically traumatic childhood. She literally did not have it in her to do more than she was doing, which was already a lot with two kids and a job.

My father seemed to simply not notice if things were clean or not; if he did, he certainly never thought that straightening up was a good use of his time. Like many men of his generation, he was simply used to his environment being taken care of by (female) others.

So for a while, I thought a messy house was normal, and that my grandmother, who we spent a lot of time with, was exceptionally, perhaps obsessively, clean.

But once I got to an age where I started spending time at friends’ houses, I realized that we were the abnormal ones. I would marvel at their neat living rooms and the way that dishes were immediately cleared off the table and washed, the couch clear of loads of laundry, the clothing neatly put away in the closets.

It still took me several years to realize that I could personally be the one to make this happen in my home – you’ve got to teach kids these things by showing them and then making them – but once I saw how a house (with kids, even!) could be, I was obsessed with making sure I’d live in such a place someday.

When we moved to Fort Worth suddenly for my mom’s job (I was 14), I made it happen for the first time, and it was like magic. What a difference having a clean, decorated space made! Everyone felt happier, especially my mom, and I was no longer embarrassed to have people over to visit; now I was proud.

I’ve been obsessed with making the various places I’ve lived in just so ever since; it is the first thing I do anywhere. A place that’s already beautiful helps, but even a windowless basement apartment can be made suitable and even charming. Because as far as I’m concerned, getting one’s physical space in an ideal state is basically witchcraft. What a difference it makes, what a cleansing of the spirit!

I have the confidence – I know – that I will always live in beautiful places the way I’m supposed to know and feel other things I want, “believing with the deepest part of my being” (a la The Secret) in things I want to bring about in my life.

I’ve talked about my worries around the concept of manifesting before, and about how I’m skeptical of the whole thing. The completely rational part of me dismisses it outright as bullshit. But the part of me (in everyone as part of the human condition, I’m convinced) that yearns to believe in magic and gods keeps popping up and saying, “Could it be? This looks like evidence, after all…”

And if it is, how can apply the kind of “knowing” I have around my living space to the kind of “knowing” I’d need for other things? I’m not good at believing things that I don’t already believe, after all, before there’s any evidence for it.

But I wonder. What if I worked on other parts of my life with the same confidence and sense of “this will get done, there is no question” that I did on this part? And how might I go about that before I really truly believe in the same way?

All questions to ponder…while I finish this rainbow mural in my kid’s room.

We’re All Mad Here

Sometimes, I feel downright crazy. I’m pretty sure we all do, right?

I’ve been thinking about our whole concept of mental health and illness lately, especially after a recent trip home where I was able to have all kinds of interesting conversations around the issue.

As I’ve written before, I truly believe that the “ill” part is mostly around us, which is what causes the problems within us, and not the other way around (exceptions, I think, might be true psychosis, a total disconnect with the reality that most of us consider to be true).

There’s a lot of human variety, but there are also a lot of fundamental similarities.

We’re all pretty interested, to varying degrees, in food. With a few exceptions, we’re pretty interested in sex. And somehow we’re pretty interested in violence, too, something that both attracts and repels us (I just watched the first episode of House of the Dragon last night…yikes).

The biological and the social swim around together, and trying to separate them can get pretty sticky. In many ways, impulses we consider to be “in our heads” are there on purpose to keep our biological selves alive.

One of my strongest beliefs is that humans were never meant to live the way we’re living; we certainly weren’t meant to raise children this way, with only 1-2 frazzled adults available to get done everything that needs to get done.

Anthropologically, humans are made to live in groups, in communities. It’s how we evolved and advanced as a species: helping each other.

So is it any wonder that living in such small households, barely getting by while taking care of an ever-increasing and increasingly complex set of needs is making us feel not okay about everything? It’s enough to drive anyone crazy.

A friend this summer was telling me that she was diagnosed with ADHD when she was in middle school. Many friends have told me that they’ve received this diagnosis, many in adulthood. I’m pretty sure if I went looking for it, I could get that diagnosis, too.

In our conversation, she talked about an article she read with an interesting thesis: ADHD is only a problem to be solved within a capitalist system where everyone needs to support themselves individually and be constantly productive; it’s also a system in which children need to behave in very specific ways in large groups. The boxes we must fit in are smallish and particularly shaped, and not fitting into them can have dire consequences for the life and prospects of us all. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Because really, this world is clearly crazy.

We have so much stimulation and so few layers of care from others beyond childhood (and some people don’t even get the childhood part). So many little evolutionary buttons to be pressed that nature never imagined we’d have access to.

We’re programmed to look for fat and sugar, which is rare in nature. So what happens when we’re able to eat exclusively what we’re programmed to seek out?

We’re programmed to notice sexual cues and become aroused. So what do we do when suddenly we have access to porn, sexual cues galore that we’re, again, programmed to seek out?

We’re programmed to seek out what ups our endorphins. Guess what? We can now ingest them! Opioids feel like love during a time when we’re so unconnected to each other – those relationships are where we’d normally get those endorphins – that many people would literally rather risk dying than not feeling them.

Our brains evolved for a simpler, more close-knit world. The world is now incredibly complex, and individuals are suddenly incredibly isolated, even when they’re physically surrounded by others.

And all the while, we’re counting ourselves as “disordered” for normal human behavior when what’s really disordered is our way of life.

No wonder we all feel so unhinged.

A person close to me is what most psychologists would classify as “on the autism spectrum.” Of an older generation, he’s never been diagnosed for (probably very justifiable) fear of job discrimination. But he’s definitely not “neurotypical” in the way we describe it now.

Someone like this person is not meant to live on his own. None of us were, but especially not him. Community would make this a non-issue, and we’d all be able to focus on his unique and myriad gifts more than his inability to perform basic tasks.

I don’t know the solution. I don’t know the path out of this. But I do want to take the pressure off of our brains a little bit; so many are being considered “faulty” because they’re not behaving in very narrow ways that support a sick society. Society will never be perfect, of course. But we could at least make a bigger effort not to let our fellow humans drift in the wind.

Mother’s Day, Again

On Mother’s Day two years ago, my daughter sobbed.

We had just moved to a new house after my separation from my husband a month or so before. Lock-down had begun a mere two weeks after we moved in (remember when we thought it would last for, at most, a month?). I’d worked hard to get us settled in and ready for a housewarming party, but we were destined for isolation.

We both desperately needed the support of our village, and we’d just recently been isolated from everyone.

I tried to keep her busy and excited about our new life by painting murals outside, picking blackberries to eat outside, turning our new stove box into a little house, going on walks. But she wasn’t having it.

“I hate coronavirus!” she sobbed. “I want my daddy to be here!”

I cried with her.

This is the event that I think of when I think of Mother’s Day: my daughter’s raw pain, my guilt at not being able to give her what she wanted nor at having anything she’d consider a reasonable explanation for why we were suddenly very, very on our own. I don’t want to think about it, because it makes me sad. But if there are tricks for tuning out painful memories or reframing them, I sure haven’t figured them out yet.

Since I became a mother myself, Mother’s Day has been fraught for me. I have loved my daughter more than any other being since the day I found out she was growing inside of me, but motherhood has been anything but a smooth ride.

As a baby, she was almost never happy. We’ll never know why (doctors diagnose “colic” when babies cry all the time for not apparent reason), but it certainly felt as if it must have been all my fault. How was it possible that I couldn’t comfort her? Getting her to stop crying was a Herculean task, as was eliciting a smile. She’d try to Shamu-flip out of my arms. How could it be that my baby, who I loved more than anything, seemed to be repelled by me? And why did I seem to be the only mother around with that problem? We’re hardest on ourselves, I know, but even if I’d been on the outside, I’d have concluded that the problem had to have been the mother.

Mothers, of course, are the ones who get side-eyed when something’s not right. The buck doesn’t stop with anyone else but her.

And when you’re raising a baby in a different culture from you own and away from your own family, things get extra complicated, the explanations mostly being that a foreign mother is just not doing things the right way. It’s also possible that absolutely no one was judging my mothering skills badly, and that I was simply projecting my own insecurities about my abilities onto them.

Now, thing are better. She can talk, which was pretty much the only thing that replaced all that crying (thankfully, she began talking much earlier than I’d expected; all the books say bilingual kids stay silent for much longer, but she just had too much to say to keep observing, I guess). Once we’d finally exhausted all other possibilities and went to the dreaded sleep-training at 8 months, she finally slept through the night, which helped (it worked — within 3 days, she was sleeping 12-hour stretches). My woo-woo explanation of her unhappy infanthood is that she’s an old soul, sure that she was at the doors of Nirvana. She was born as a human again instead, and it pissed her off a lot.

Or maybe it really was just painful gas.

Having a kid, for me, has been way better than having a baby. She can talk, and argue cleverly, and show affection, and express herself in ways that are a mystery to me but that I nevertheless find fascinating. She loves little kids smaller than her. She wishes she had a twin sister. She likes to draw, and simultaneously perform her favorite musical scenes in movies, and challenge herself to do things that scare her like standing on a high ledge. I often do not understand her — she is so different than I was as a child, so much less concerned about gaining the approval of the adults around her. She likes to be in charge and feels no need to make it seem as if she doesn’t. She’s not a people-pleaser, something that makes me practically weep with gratitude since I know how much pain and wasted time it will save her.

Last Mother’s Day was better. She met my current partner for the first time and we had dinner at our house. He brought me flowers and her a chocolate egg with a toy inside, sugar being a direct line to her heart.

This Mother’s Day, we’ll have a meal together as well, out this time. I sheepishly admit that being celebrated when it’s time to be celebrated is important to me; I want attention, recognition, and maybe a present, even if it’s homemade. Really, I want to be told by the only person whose opinion on the topic matters, “Don’t worry, you are a good mom.”

So every year on this day, I’m weepy. It’s the day I most worry whether or not I’m doing it right. I still don’t always feel confident in my mothering skills, but I’m trying (both to be a good mother and be more confident). I miss my own mom, and the reassurances she would surely give me.

Star trek

Where are all the grown-ups?

On the Starship Enterprise, apparently.

I’ve recently found myself watching a bunch of random Star Trek episodes of most of the versions that exist (there are a lot) and thinking about those stories even more.

I’ve resisted Star Trek for many years. Perhaps it stemmed from feeling bored as a 4-year-old when my bestie was obsessed with Star Wars and I just sat through the movies because the alternative was not hanging out with him, which says more about me than I’d like it to.

As far back as I can remember, any story that takes place in space has been an automatic turn-off for me. I’ve resisted them even as most everyone around me raves.

In junior high and high school, my group of friends were basically made of up the smartest, geekiest kids in my grade. They were all in honors classes and band. I was not in honors classes or band, but there was no other group I loved hanging out with so much. They tolerated me despite my lack of knowledge regarding their greatest passions.

They would do things like print out 50 pages of chat room conversation to read over at the lunch table (this was the mid-90s, when AOL was king!), and write stories in which people they knew where characters in fan fiction.

Star Trek loomed large in their lives. “It’s not about space, it’s about people; it’s about human nature” they’d tell me emphatically, and I’d roll my eyes. “Anything on TV without sunshine in it is just too depressing for me,” I’d respond, something that makes me roll my eyes now. (I’m automatically turned off by soap operas and courtroom dramas for the same reason).

Now I know that they’re right. In some ways, it’s a 101 social sciences overview course disguised as a techie action show.

So here I am at the age of 40, finally fairly familiar with and appreciative of the show in its various iterations. Finally able to feel interested in a story that’s not about a cool girl with various love interests that I can project myself onto. I’m growing up!

My friends were right. It’s about people (well, humanoids). It’s about human nature. It’s also, at least from what I can tell so far, about what our societies would look like if we always let our higher selves be in charge, or at least people whose higher selves are always surface-level present, be in charge of things.

It’s forward-thinking plausible utopia…if we humans can ever get our shit together, that is.

Recent history has shown that collectively, we seem to be okay with leaders who are positively id-led, and the consequences are taking us to hell in a handbasket. The idea that someday we’ll escape from that, that we’ll rise above (literally, in the case of Star Trek), is such a balm, especially now. It’s fairy tales for grown-ups, and we’re all the princesses. Star Trek fans: I get it now.

As you’d probably expect from an American show, the humans are always the heroes. Vulcans are cool and all, but they can’t match our feelings. Other aliens they come across have obvious flaws that prevent them from being able to take on wise and god-like peacekeeper roles.

But humans in Star Trek are Baby Bear, the perfect balance of everything. They regularly face the real possibility of death in the show, and never seem fazed. Cool, collected, and even thoughtful, as if they’d just awoken from a really, really good LSD trip and knew in their hearts that no matter what, everything would be alright.

Star Trek is potent fantasy in these troubled times. We’re going through a pandemic; they can resolve nearly any illness at Sickbay. We’re collectively prevented from doing much anything of value at all because the people in charge can’t agree on what the right direction is, some because they’re only considering the right direction for themselves and are blocking everyone else’s efforts. Up in space, only those less-evolved aliens do that kind of thing. We cry out in fear and anguish; they are 100% at peace with every choice they make, each having been arrived at through a series of always logical processes. Something bad, usually existence-threatening happens: “What are our options?” and everyone jumps into action as quick-thinking scientists rather than mortally afraid humans.

It’s fantasy, but I’m an optimist. I like people. I believe in redemption. I believe in our potential to truly be god-like beings. In Star Trek, that’s a reality…at least for the humans in charge.

P.S. I wrote my own fantasy, by the way, way shorter than Star Trek.

A Witch! A Witch!

Sometimes, I sit around worrying that I might be a witch.

Not like a “real” witch the way we conceive of them in stories, and not like an on-purpose new-age pagan witch, either. My suspicion is much more anxious; it’s not something I would think to proclaim proudly about myself, and when other people do, I have to really focus on not rolling my eyes.

What I’m worried about is that maybe I’m making things move around without realizing it…and that when I do so, it might not be in my own self-interest.

A great part of this suspicion is the fault of the “manifest your dreams” and “law of attraction” zeitgeist of the day. If things are going badly for you, the rule goes, it’s because you’re dwelling on them too much instead of focusing on things going well for you; that is, you’re not giving yourself the feeling in your bones that you already have what you want.

Oh no.

At least by my own logic, this means that worrying about things brings more of the things I’m worrying about into my life. OH NO. STOP! STOP WORRYING ABOUT THINGS SARAH, BEFORE YOU BECOME A MAGNET FOR THEM!

It sounds easy enough to fix, but have you ever tried to actively not think and worry about something…forever? If it were as easy as that, half the people I know wouldn’t currently be dependent on anti-anxiety meds just to get through the day. Talk about blaming the victim.

Here’s me forgetting my worries and focusing on my dreams

So while I outwardly roll my eyes and chuckle uncomfortably about the silliness of magically creating “the life I want” (a catch phrase these days in inspirational texts of all kinds), there’s always the nagging suspicion at the back of my mind that there’s something to it. After all, what do I know?

I can practically hear the universe calling me “Miss Smarty Pants.”

Well, one thing I know is that magical thinking is just the nature of humanity: we see patterns and messages whether they’re there or not; our creative, seeking brains are primed for reading way more deeply into things than we probably should, and for finding deeper meanings that we ourselves have created. I mean, just think about how many Santas and dragons you see in the clouds, and all the weird, angry faces in wood markings.

Sometimes we totally fall for these deeper meanings…how many conspiracies are out there regarding world domination? Even if you think evil people are running the world, it must be very comforting to believe that there is actually some master plan, and that the bad things that happen aren’t just the result of some random cruelty falling on the just and unjust alike.

So the “law of attraction” is basically a different kind of witchcraft. The logical half of me rolls my eyes when I read my horoscope, when I read the tarot on every new and full moon, and when I worry that maybe I’m casting spells here and there that aren’t actually in my best interest.

For my short story this week, my “research” was to look up some witchy characteristics (it’s about a witch who can never quite get her spells right and makes a lot of funny mistakes). This led me down a rabbit hole to all kinds of listicles with titles like “Five Signs You May Really Be a Witch.”

Here are a few of the things that stood out to me, taken from various places:

1) You see patterns everywhere, all the time.

Well, duh. Everyone does, it’s the human condition. Next! BUT…I do always seem to look at the clock right at 4:20; it would be a lot cooler if I were actually a pothead. Still, seeing numbers that appear every day: not impressed.

2) You can feel people’s energy and intentions.

Also, duh. Haven’t we evolved for specifically that? Still, there are certain people who I just do not like for no particular reason, which is strange because I genuinely really love people and love spending time with them.

Of course, maybe it really does have something to do with “chemistry”…like, maybe I just don’t like their smell or something, or am invisibly repelled by them in another way. My much more far-fetched hypothesis is that we were enemies in a past life, and we just keep bumping up against each other in subsequent ones to sneer at one other.

3) You secretly believe in past lives.

Well, you’ve got me there. The logical part of me says “no way.” But the magical thinking part of me says, “well, that would explain why I am so terrified of being inside of cars even though I’ve never been in an accident,” or “maybe my kid has drowned in like 8 past lives and that’s why she’s so inexplicably terrified of large bodies of water.”

4) You don’t think in words, but in images, feelings, and impressions.

This…is 100% true for me (ironically, since I literally earn my living through creating words). But I discovered recently that most people do actually have an ongoing narrative going on in their heads, and that they essentially spend all day talking to themselves.

What?? I thought that was just for dramatic effect in The Wonder Years. Apparently not.

My thoughts, on the other hand, are, like it says, images, feelings, and impressions. It’s rare to hear any kind of voice, even my own, unless I make a conscious decision to tell myself something. Though I’m an extrovert, I’m naturally quiet, and my language is always very intentional. But the quietness isn’t timidity. It’s because the words just don’t appear for me immediately; I need to take the time to conjure and then arrange them.

5) You don’t like crowds; the energy of so many people at once is scary.

Also totally true. I love music, but I hate big concerts. I love parades, but they make me cry every time. I mean, all those people doing and feeling the same thing at the same time? That’s just too scary to be a part of, man.

One thing I am doing in my own witchy self-interest is to meditate, as it’s the one thing that all of my self-help books and half-finished courses advise. It can’t hurt, right? I think of it as kind of like a new-age version of “go ahead and get saved – what have you got to lose?” practice.

A particular method, which I found from a woman who calls herself the “Crappy Childhood Fairy” (I did not, myself, have a crappy childhood, but I do like her material), involves writing down one’s fears and resentments, whichever of them happen to be crowding your mind at the time, and then “releasing” them (also in written form).

I like this because it doesn’t feel like that torturous and possibly damaging “focusing on my fears which will just create more of them,” but rather, as she explains, writing them down to get them out of yourself, to detach from them, like peeling wet leaves off of the windshield in order to see the path before you more clearly. It’s to be followed by a 20-minute meditation, of which I usually do just 10-15 minutes, because apparently, I like to rebel against helpful suggestions.

Perhaps the best state of mind is to simply pretend that I really do have more than my obvious human powers. At the very least, it could make life more fun and sparkly, right?

For now, abracadabra, Sarah: enough navel-gazing.

Lordy Lordy, Look Who’s 40!

I once saw an adorable meme – or maybe comic? The difference between the two mediums is now blurring – of a picture of a hospital nursery filled with identical-looking swaddled newborns with one of them circled in marker. The caption read, “This is my baby. There are many similar babies. But this one is mine.”

That sentiment has stuck with me: “I am a person. There are many similar people, but this is me.”

Tomorrow is my 40th birthday. Tomorrow is also the 40th birthday of approximately 348,030 other people throughout the world, minus those who have already died. Half of them are women. I bet a good number of them are named Sarah.

We live in an individualistic society, but all I can think about is how alike we all are to each other, drops in the same ocean. I wonder how ridiculous we look to aliens or gods who might be watching us fight from afar.

We are very much alike, and also very much isolated, natural naval-gazers wrapped up in our own heads and our own phones. The moments of my life that drive me to the closest points of ecstasy are the ones that remind me that – hey! – almost all of this stuff I spend so much time worrying about and obsessing over are actually much smaller deals than they seem, and getting all worked up about them is a waste of time. Remembering that it’s a waste of time while I’m getting all worked up about them is the tricky part, of course. Oh, how I wish to live with the feeling of having just read a Mary Oliver poem!

Anyway, tomorrow’s the day: it’s when I officially step into my fourth decade, a place that, as a younger person, I was never quite able to imagine. And now I’m here. A nice day is planned: breakfast with my boyfriend, lunch with a tiny group at an outdoor place because we’re still in the midst of an unhinged pandemic, ice cream cake. My daughter.

I face my 40s with excitement…and a drop of dread. The exciting part: how many people have told me that the 40s are the best years of one’s life? A lot. “You’ve still mostly got your youth and hormones, and you’ve also got some wisdom and a generally more relaxed attitude to let yourself enjoy it.” Many authors and other famous personalities I look up to really hit their stride in their 40s. And that happens to be the source of some of that dread: what if I somehow fail to make the most of it?

I remember when my mom turned 40. I remember the t-shirt we got her, which 10-year-old me thought was hilarious: “Lordy, lordy, look who’s 40!” It was purple, the lettering embroidered in playful hot pink cursive.

For my mom, I’m pretty sure her 40s were her best decade. Her daughters were older and liked spending time with her. She got better jobs. She got married again. It was the 90s, a decade in which we had great music, just enough technology to be convenient but not so much that it took over our lives, and where we didn’t spend too much time worrying about all the weird chemicals in our processed food that we enjoyed guilt-free.

I hope my 40s are good, too. If I can get out of my head often enough, I think they will be. Maybe I’ll actually remember to start meditating, praying, and doing other things that are good for me. Maybe I’ll learn to focus on the good things and not take the bad ones too seriously while also not letting myself go to the other extreme and becoming a psychopath who doesn’t worry about anything or anyone at all, ever.

Maybe I’ll let go of my fear toward the whole idea behind the “Secret,” terrified that I’m casting unintentional horrible spells on myself by not being “intentional in my demands of the universe” (if that’s not pressure to control one’s anxiety, then I don’t know what is).

Maybe I’ll stop living month to month wondering if I’ll be able to string together enough gigs from several different non-committed employers to meet the financial obligations that are as steady, consistent, and ever-growing as I wish a job just for me were.

Maybe I’ll stop feeling like the secrets of how the world works are just on the other side of a thin membrane that I’m so close to breaking, but never actually do, either because I realize that it’s unbreakable or because I magically get through.

Maybe I’ll finally get to become that combination of Dolly Parton, Fred Rogers, Marie Forleo, David Sedaris, Lily Tomlin, and Jen Sincero that I’ve always wanted to be.

Maybe I’ll stop disappointing myself.

Maybe I’ll finally relax enough to truly love and accept myself the way others do, and the way I should.

Happy birthday to me, and happy birthday to my 340k+ birthday twins.

Where’d the Fish Go?

Y’all know that phrase about the fish and the fishing? (In case you don’t, it’s not fish-centric or considering the fish…the fish are commodities, not living beings.)

“Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.”

I’ve been reading a lot about money lately. Mainly, how to attract and make it (preferably in a non-sleezy way), both on a spiritual/energetic level and on a very practical level. By going through the exercises in Jen Sincero’s book — I just love her writing style and want to write just like that — I’ve dug up some weird hang-ups that I have surrounding the topic. Whether this is actually a factor in less-than-impressive bank account is, to me, dubious, but hey: let’s give it a shot just in case.

I work up thinking about that today, and particularly about the “no excuses!” sub-set of self-help. In part, I get it; if people think it’s all hopeless, they’re not going to try. But all this stuff like “I did it and it was easy!” fails to recognize that it was easy in that very particular time and place with those very specific (and often quite privileged) circumstances.

Because what if someone got a giant net and scooped up almost all the fish before-hand? What if someone drained the lake? What if you don’t have a lake or river around to fish in? What if people are only teaching you outdated ways to fish that don’t work anymore?

I’ve always been resistant to the phrase “anyone can make it”.

Because while that’s technically true, it’s misleading. It makes it sound like every single person can be rich, or at least comfortable. But that’s not what it says. That one would be, “everyone can make it,” which in our economy is verifiably untrue and also very sad.

“Anyone” is singular, not plural. If everyone is living their best life, taking vacations in Tahiti…who’s going to clean the bathrooms? Who’s going to collect garbage? Who’s going to be taking care of people in nursing homes or mental hospitals? Who’s going to be in the back, cooking up delicious and reasonably-priced fare for restaurants? If we’re not willing to create extensive social safety nets like they’ve done in those Northern European countries where everything seems to be perfect, a lot of people are going to be left out of the good stuff.

I often ask myself if there’s a way around this. After all, we should be able to pay decent wages for all of those jobs. Would it cause inflation? I mean, I don’t know, man. Macro-economics eludes me. But surely we could at least have a basic standard of living. Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, and even if they did, it’s not something that would be possible on a societal scale…at least not if they did it full-time, which I think most entrepreneurs would say is necessary.

We need people to do what are now considered to be thankless jobs at least some of the time in order to keep things running around here.

So what if we really valued all the stuff that people do? How could we pull it off? Can we all take turns doing them once in a while, so we won’t forget?

I want to (continue to be) a writer, a translator, and a decorator – I want to make the world’s various physical environments that are made for humans safe, functional, and beautiful for everyone.

But if I’m off doing that, what does my kid get for lunch? Who does the laundry at my house? Who takes my dog for a walk? The need for those things to get done is not going to magically disappear, so how do we take care of people in the meantime?

So, while I’m over here feeling not successful, I’m trying to remind myself that I’m actually accomplishing a great deal…it’s just that many of those things that I’m accomplishing do not earn a wage.

And in the meantime, I’m exploring the ways that the economy is starting to work now for people who need to earn a living now that the social contract of “go to school, get a job, do a job, get paid and compensated for job with enough money to live on plus benefits and retirement” seems to be fading fast.

Entrepreneurship it is! The good thing is that I have a lot of good ideas. The bad thing is that I need to keep paying my bills as I try to be a good mom, keep the house in order, me and my kid healthy, fed, schooled, and entertained while I explore and try out those ideas.

I’ve just started a Patreon site (like a subscription site) to try my hand at crowd-funding…my salary, I suppose? I’m writing special, more exclusive, and more frequent content there, with a new post each Saturday evening. It seems like a fun enough method, though I won’t lie: I sure would love a “base” job with a predictable monthly income.


One of the things that studying Sociology helps you to do is to see yourself in the context of the greater society rather than as an individual simply acting in a vacuum.

We humans move together, much more affected by our times and places in history than we’d like to imagine, a school of fish in the ocean. This is a strange time and place in history, as all times and places are. I don’t know about you all, but I’m trying my best to ride the wave and not get too separated from everyone else.

Opus, John Cusack, and Me

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the idea of flying.

Not like being a pilot — directing a metal tube through the air has never been of interest to me — rather, of actually floating around like a bird, but with less effort; or like swimming maybe, but with breathing and no need to pause the fun for annoying oxygen fill-ups. Sometimes I dreamed about flying and would feel positively euphoric. The feeling would last for a few minutes upon waking, then dissipate when I realized that I hadn’t actually figured it out.

During this time I was also obsessed with proving my physical strength, and would go around constantly lifting heavy things for the sole purpose of showing off to myself and others how impressively strong my muscles were (I might have been shy and serious, but I was not a kid with low self-esteem).

At one point, after having proved myself with the gigantic sofa and perhaps a push of the piano, I became absolutely certain that I could lift my own body weight. And if I could lift my own body weight, then — logically — I’d be able to lift myself. I grabbed my jump rope, stood on top of it, and pulled as hard as I could, totally sure that I’d be able to make myself levitate.

The laws of physics, of course, were indifferent to both my logic and my desires. Physics didn’t care that I was 100% sure I was right.

I’m a little embarrassed to say that it took me a while before I gave up. Further experiments included sitting down and just lifting my legs with the jump rope (check, and it was easy so I should for sure be able to lift the rest of my weight, right?) and jumping off of the couch, hoping to catch myself with said jump rope before I landed (no check).

Attempts at slowing down my fall, at the very least, were next. Watching Mary Poppins inspired me to jump out of my favorite climbing tree at my grandmother’s house holding an umbrella, which might have slowed the fall by a couple of milliseconds but did not have the impressive effect I was hoping for. It very likely did have the effect of making my grandmother’s heart jump into her throat, though, and when I think of all the tiny heart attacks I must have given that woman, one of my favorite women of all time, as she watched me experiment and fail at things she knew that I would fail at, I am filled with love and appreciation for her patience and willingness to humor my 100% erroneous certainty. Physics, shmysics. I. was. going. to. fly.

Of course, I did not fly. But I did become a great swimmer (through swimming lessons paid for by said grandmother, in fact), and besides the afore-mentioned annoyance of having to go up for air, I’d say it’s a pretty close second when it comes to activities that are both super fun and have the potential for getting you to a euphoric and at times even trance-like state.

Sometimes, we really want things to work. We think we’ve got something all figured out, and that because it’s all figured out (according to our logic), then it simply must work, period. If it doesn’t, we make adjustments before we give up. Sometimes those adjustments work, and sometimes they let us land definitively on our faces. And sometimes that face plant is exactly what we need to change course the way we’re supposed to.


A few years after I’d finally conceded that I wouldn’t be able to fly or even make myself levitate (which in my opinion is very little to ask, but whatever), a book appeared in our house. It was from the author of that Bloom County comic strip that was popular in the 80s and 90s, a book for kids called A Wish for Wings that Work.

It’s a Christmas book. I still have it actually, and read it to my daughter on Christmas Day. Opus, like kid-me, is obsessed with the idea of flying. (For the uninitiated, Opus is a penguin.) He stares longingly at the ducks, who very meanly make fun of him, by the way, as they fly by while he tries out all manner of silly contraption to help his biggest desire become reality. He finally lands on a solution: he’ll ask Santa Claus for — you guessed it — wings that work. He goes to bed that night euphoric, his note for Santa sitting by the chimney.

But wouldn’t you know it: Santa’s sleigh breaks down and falls right into the ice-cold lake near his house. The mean ducks frantically knock on Opus’ door to alert him to the tragedy and beg for help. He springs out of bed, and, being a penguin, races through the water like a rocket to pull Santa and his sleigh out. Christmas is saved.

The next morning, Opus opens his front door to find an army of those mean ducks, who are now appreciative and admiring ducks. They grab onto him and pull him into the air so that he can fly with them. The end.

I think about both that story and my futile attempts to defy what I now understand to be the laws of physics, and I wonder:

Am I doing the equivalent of trying to force things to happen a certain way even now, as an adult? If I am, at what point, and how painfully, will that be revealed to me? And if the things I want aren’t going to work out because my method of trying to make them do so just isn’t possible, will the universe generously give me a second-best option, like swimming or catching a flight with some repentant ducks?

When it comes to knowledge, of course, there are the things you know, the things you don’t know, and the things you don’t know you don’t know. That last category drives me nuts, and I have to actively work to not be anxious about it.

Will at least a few of those secrets ever be revealed to me? (Please?)

It’s frustrating because I so often have the feeling that I’m on the verge of a major breakthrough; it’s a feeling that’s been with me for years. I can see through, vaguely, to the other side of a bubble gum-like membrane that I’ve yet to find a way to slice open. I know good stuff is over there, and I want it.

Once in a while I think I’ve broken through, that I’ve cracked the code, only to find myself newly stuck on the wrong side of it like that scene in the equally terrific and terrifying Stephen King movie, 1408: you think John Cusack’s been out of the haunted hotel room happily living his life for months, and then the walls of his local post office crumble and he’s right back inside, creepy Carpenter’s song on the radio and all.

Thankfully my own life is not anywhere near a horror movie, but I’ve always identified with the terror of that particular part, the way we cycle back to our old patterns over and over again, surprised to find ourselves right back in a different part of a maze we were sure we’d found our way out of years ago.

What pivot, what adjustment do I need to make? It’s like the metaphysical version of always having something right on the tip of your tongue. I’ve almost got it, you guys. It’s right there.


My subconscious no longer gives me the gift of those euphoric flying dreams, perhaps because every part of me has realized by now that it’s not a possibility. I’ve permanently given up on flying.

My main recurring dream as an adult is of a house. It’s always a different house and sometimes a version of a house I’ve seen or lived in, but it’s always mine, and I’ve always somehow forgotten until arriving in the dream that it belongs to me and that I can do whatever I want with it. The rooms are endless; I never discover the totality of the property. And though the houses in my dreams are places that my awake self would probably find creepy, I’m always not at all creeped out, instead very excited about decorating all of them. In these dreams, I often have the thought, “Of course! How could I have forgotten that this room was here? We can do so much with it!”

It’s not the euphoria of flying, but it’s still pretty exciting.

My Little Cage

I’ve spent the day today reading The New York Times’ series on mothers during the pandemic.

The outlook is bleak. I thought reading them would make me feel less alone, but I think I feel worse: sadder, more defeated, more hopeless. I’ve been feeling like this for several days already. Is it hormones? Several people now have told me that they notice in me a tendency to want to “blame” hormones instead of just admitting that I’m a complex human being going through difficult circumstances. Still, though. The hopeless feelings do seem to reach an extra high pitch at predictable intervals.

I also felt, when reading, like a princess crying over a lost golden ball. I make enough money to live (now I make money, anyway…I survived most of the previous year by taking advantage of my previously fantastic, now average credit), my daughter is with her father about half the time, which leaves me with precious free time that I know others would love to have even a taste of, and I live in a place where I can afford for someone to come to my house twice a week to cook and do housework. I’m relatively well-known for what I do. I have a nice boyfriend. I even finally bought health insurance and life insurance, something I’ve been meaning to do for years. Compared to so many, I’m really not doing badly at all.

You’d think I’d be more relaxed about things. Instead, I’m like an anxious lion in a zoo, pacing back and forth endlessly, exhausted, but unable to stop. I spent most of my life believing I was an introvert. It turns out I was just shy, which, I’ve now learned, is not the same thing. I’m an extrovert, and I have just had it with all this isolation. I can’t spend one more day stuck in this pandemic, and yet, I have to. And so does everyone else.

This week especially, I’ve felt so tired that it feels as if I’ve been drugged. I drop things, I run into other things. In order to write, I wake up several hours before my daughter has to get up for her virtual classes. Like every mom all over the world right now, it’s a guilt-ridden juggling act: get my paid work done before the sun comes up, breakfast, dishes, help with class while I edit what I’ve written, too much TV time, a long walk, lunch, more dishes, even more TV time, dinner, dishes, tooth-brushing, story, song, and then fall asleep much too late every night, no matter how hard I try to plan it.

The background noise of this for me, as for everyone, is the pandemic. I separated and moved to a new place just weeks before it began. By the time I’d gotten completely moved into the new place and would have been able to receive guests, schools closed and we were discouraged from going out at all. The pandemic hitting just as I acted on it sure has complicated things.

Sometimes, my brain simply protests. My daughter goes with her father, and the take-charge version of me says, “Okay, time to get to work!” This is typically the point in which my brain simply turns off and refuses to budge. (If anyone figures out how to override this, please do tell).

All this said, things have to get better. Right? My relationship with my kid’s dad will improve at some point (I hope). She’s going to go back to real school at some point. We’re going to get vaccinated at some point. I’m going to have a car again instead of relying on taxi drivers who drive much less safe than I’d like.

But it’s all in the future. For now, I pace back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Consider this a sad wave from my cage to yours. I miss you: you, collectively. Here’s to loneliness and overwhelm not lasting forever.