Falling Down, Again

Hello from vacationland! As promised, I have a treat for you from my super-talented singer/songwriter cousin, Gordon McKinney who is a collaborator extraordinaire.

I have never been much for collaboration, not a group person. In fact, a group project more than once stirred up my anxiety enough that I had to drop a class. I’m a big loner in most of my endeavors.

But I’m learning thanks to a whole host of smart folks that collaboration–reaching out and receiving, holding hands and taking hands–is where it’s at; it’s our destiny, in fact, and we shun it at our peril.

A couple of weeks back, I fell down hard on an unforgiving concrete patio in my sister’s back yard. For days, my face finally matched my insides–all scarred and weepy with rough scabs and tender patches. In the ensuing days, I was so worn out that I had no choice but to accept over and over again simple kindness. It changed me.

When my cousin Gordon contacted me about collaboration, I shriveled up a bit. It’s the truth; it’s scary, all this receiving. He wanted to write music to one of my stories. (I really am lucky as hell) But even though I was scared, I said yes.

Oh, I am so glad I said yes. It’s the most beautiful song I have ever heard. Here he is, my cousin Gordon, with a gift for you and me.  Thanks so much, G.

Thankful: An Alphabet

I didn’t write last week. That’s not true. I did write and write and write last week, but even though I wrote toward many things, I never arrived. The whole point is the journey, though, right. Arriving is overrated unless you promised yourself that you would post a new essay on your blog once a week. 

Tomorrow we leave on vacation, and it’s very likely that I will not post a blog while we are gone; however, I’m not ruling it out because my cool cousin Gordon wrote a song based on one of my essays (the one where I bust my face). When the recording is finished, I am going to post it here. If that is next week then we are all in for a treat!

I’m rereading Amy Krouse Rosenthal‘s book, An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life because she has a new book for adults coming out called Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and I can’t wait. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life is one of my favorite all-time books. I’ve had numerous copies. It is a book I reread, give to friends, teach from, and then buy again. Last night, I was reading the entries from “T” and came across “Thankful.” That gave me an idea–why not write a blog post inspired by Amy’s “Thankful” entry? 

Why not indeed!

I’m thankful for…

asparagus (in spite of the pee thing) and art and artists and aardvarks–isn’t aardvark a great word, fun to say and write. There are very few words that make use of the double a. Off the top of my head I can come up with bazaar and naan and aargh. I’m lying. I did not come up with these words off the top of my head. I googled “words with a double a” and was directed to a cool Scrabble website.

breakfast and beans (because Eric is a vegetarian and the rest of us aren’t, but he’s always happy with a pot of beans) and brothers–I have two of them and they are both handsome and kind and funny, and if I’m at a party and my brothers are there, I will always end up hanging out with them.

bruises because they remind me to slow down and not bang myself into the edges of tables trying to get something done. 

books, musty or crisp-paged, palm-sized or two inches thick, a thin volume of poetry or a three volume history of something or another. I like pages and typeset and hard covers and black ink. I love the way a book left in the rain or dropped accidentally into a bathtub will swell and bow out.

birds and birdsong–waking up to birds in the morning because it’s spring and the windows are still opened.

cats–especially my cat Jozee who is a mouser extraordinaire and if she were big she would just eat us.

Call the Midwife which I have just discovered and is available on Netflix

cousins–inappropriate and witty people in your family tree who like to dance to Sister Sledge’s We Are Family and bring casseroles when you are sick and support you when you write a blog and write songs about those who have left us.

diet Coke and DirectTV because it keeps the family busy when I want to read, and dresses in the summer because it’s hot as hell (I think).

dandelions–both persistent and insistent and despite all of our attempts at eradication they persevere.

dad–dads who hold you up, pick you up, make kick-ass burgers, always bring wine, laugh at your jokes, and love you not in spite of but because of your lifelong aspiration to contrariness.

eggs (scrambled, dippy–this is what I grew up calling sunny side up eggs, hard and soft boiled, poached–my poached eggs look like egg drop soup, deviled, and in a salad), empty rooms, elevators (I still like to push the buttons), and elephants.

fries–with ketchup, with salt and vinegar, waffled, spiced, curled, made of sweet potatoes or russets or even polenta; fairy tales; and flax seed (not really, I just had a good rhythm going!).

friends who meet you for lunch or wine or ice cream, friends you’ve known your entire life or just a week, friends who call when they are hurting because they need to hear your voice or stop by for a beer because you are on the front porch, friends who laugh so hard that they snort soda through their noses.

grandmas (having them and being one); grandpas; gorillas; grapes–super cold and firm, or frozen–I swear they taste like candy.

grace–never expected; glimpsing–that moment when you think you see something but you aren’t sure; gin and tonic on the back porch in the hot sun; and grandkids–I only have two so far, but they are by far the best small people I have ever met.

hippies (born too late, but always aspired to be one); help (receiving and giving); heat; home; hostas–so big and green; hampers and hills and hollyhocks and humility.

and of course, Hillary. I love her and I’m thankful for her hoarse and shouty voice because she has been speaking into and over power for a long fucking time.

ice cream (I’m partial to chocolate).

idiot a word that can be said a variety of ways, my favorite being idyot.

jello (watch it wiggle, see it jiggle); jelly beans; jingle bells; and juice (especially grapefruit which goes great with gin).

kleenex for crying and colds and the occasional snotty nose of a small child who is visiting  and ketchup for hamburgers and French fries even though my husband puts it on eggs and cottage cheese–yes, I said cottage cheese. Who does that? I might have to take ketchup off the list.

kids–Lefty, Isky, Peanut, and Sheldon, if my list could contain only one entry, this is the one I would keep.

lips (I am a fan of the full on-the-lip kiss, none of that sissy cheek kissing for me) and love–bigger than we know, all around us all the time even when we don’t know it or expect it or believe in it or even want it, bold enough to save us if we only let it.

my mac book–it’s shameful how much I love it.

mothers, being one, knowing many, having one who continues to teach me everything I need to know about joy and love and grief, who cooks a beef roast like nobody’s business, whose smile blings up any room she enters.

nieces and nephews and Nellie Olson who was so good at being bad that I both loved and hated her and what a great lesson that was–being able to hold two opposing feelings at the same time.

old folks–smart and resilient and crusty and sweet old folks who tell it like it is and bake cookies for their neighbors and hold the stories we need in their hearts.

ocean–the waves and the sound of the waves, the mystery and the danger, how salty it is and wild, how it is always there when I go back each year, in spite of our best efforts to destroy it.

principal–especially the one who is my sister and my best friend, who brings me cucumber salad mix from Chicago and a book with writerly quotes, who shared a bed with me until I left home and put up with any number of bad habits on my part, cover hogging, reading until morning, nervous coughing, and the cat-like way I would pad my feet against her legs until she screamed.

pistachios, salty, delicious, shelled pistachios, especially those requiring extra effort to release from their barely cracked shells. Eating them is more gratifying.

picking pimples (I know, gross); pizza without onions; pasta with cream sauce and vegetables; and pugs–snorting, reverse-sneezing, shedding, flat-faced pugs.

quiet. no radio, no TV, no CD playing, the kind of quiet that encompasses birds singing and wind blowing through the trees while water drips and drops upon and from green leaves.

some q words I like: querulous, queasy, quip, and quandary

resting in a hammock (I wish I had one)

raptors–hawks, eagles, buzzards–I love them all.

silly jokes and Silly Sally who “went to town, walking backwards upside down” and summer with its heat and humidity and swimming and sweating.

soap in the bar shape I became accustomed to as a child, soap with little scrubby nubs and expensive soap that smells like lemon and mint and rosemary and plain old Ivory Soap that leaves my skin feeling tight and somehow cleaner.

turtles, the box turtles you come across along the side of the road that you take home and try to keep in a box or in a sandbox in the back yard, but they always get away; the snapping turtle in the lake whose big head pops up ominously and makes lake swimming seem more dangerous than it is.

tans (I know this is bad, but I can’t help it, I love the way a tan looks although I do wear sunscreen which I do not love but am probably thankful for) and t-shirts with graphics that say things like feminism is the radical notion that women are people, or Hillary Clinton for President: I’m With Her!

umbrella–mostly the way I say it with the emphasis on the UM instead of on the BREL because this makes me feel unique and ukuleles because I like the music and the word. I mean is there a better, happier, more upbeat word than ukulele?

violins and violas and violets and vivid colors. words like vivisection and virulent.

vaccinations which are safer and more available than they were years ago when Edward Jenner smeared cowpox pus into lesions on a small boy’s arm.

wind and weeping willow trees; washing machines as opposed to washboards; whistling–I don’t do it very well, but I certainly appreciate a good whistler.

walking and writing–most days, a crone I know and I walk together even though we live states apart. When we are finished walking, we write to each other about our walks. This practice has saved my life many times over.

warrior women–my tribe

x-rays (so far I haven’t needed many, but I’m glad they exist)

yellow–I prefer creamy yellow to bright yellow in clothing. I have lots of t-shirts this color because they look soft even if they aren’t. Lots of things I love are  yellow–dandelions and black-eyed susans, butter and moonbeam coreopsis and goldfinches and the walls in my kitchen and those big suns that kids draw with crayons.

zzzzzz–I like zebras okay, but I normally wouldn’t put them on a “thankful for” list and I think the word zaftig is fabulous, but most z-words don’t do much for me, although maybe I’m just leaving the zone…

A Ruin

Thursday morning I wake to the sound of rain falling on the yet to bloom hydrangea bushes outside my bedroom window. Birds are singing songs I wish I knew. I lie here for a long time. Every once in a while a car swooshes down the wet street and even though I’m not looking, I can see the water spray out from turning wheels and settle back into the ruts and potholes that keep our sleepy street sleepy.

Finally, because I have been writing in my head for three days, I get up and pour a cup of the still-hot coffee my husband made early before he went to work, grab my computer off the desk in the kitchen, and return to my rumpled sheets-only bed. Two fans are churning the air–one hanging from the ceiling and one to my left so that every once in a while air catches the edge of my sheet and billows it over my legs. I set the computer in a strategic position on my lap where its open screen beckons me to write this damned blog.

I write for over two hours. I write about laziness and artistic intention and summer’s long, loose days. I write about my lack of ambition and how I don’t have a job other than being a writer and a mother and a keeper of the house we all live in. But I’m not happy with it. Maybe this is a blog post for the future when I figure out how Keats’ idea of negative capability figures into my dueling theories that work is both bedrock and overblown.

My stomach’s in knots. I have words flying through my head, skittering across the screen as I try again and again to write my way willy nilly into this blog. When I’ve written for two hours and still have nothing, it’s time to chuck it. I push the computer from my lap as if it’s a misbehaving pug and go to the kitchen to smash an avocado and spread it on some toast.


An hour later, I’m dressed and on the front porch. The rain’s gone, and the birds continue to mock me with songs I don’t know while diving down to the wet grass for worms. A few years ago, I read somewhere that worms come to the surface to avoid drowning in the drenched soil, but that isn’t the truth. Worms surface because it’s a better way to travel. When the ground is wet, they slide along its surface instead of trudging through the thick clay.

Right now I count two robins doing their strange run a few steps and stop dance and three blackbirds walking like chickens in the front yard. So far, not one has  yanked a worm from its migration. It’s a good time to get back to the blog, before one of those birds commits worm murder.

What should I write?

I go back through my blog posts, thinking I might do an update of sorts:

√ No tassel yet. I haven’t done a thorough cleaning of the room, but I still suspect that our big pug had something to do with its disappearance.  He tilts his head in that cute and quizzical pug way when I stare him down.

√ No letter of apology from the oft-quoted and brilliant Annie Dillard who doesn’t read women authors although the legendary Gay Talese did get a thumping for his public admission that he couldn’t name a single woman author who inspired him.

√ My dad saw Peanut’s new tattoo, and he grimaced a little bit and shook his head in that sad and confused way I probably do when Peanut tells me she thinks she’d like a tragus piercing–WTF is a tragus?

My new bras are working overtime in this hot sultry weather and are standing up to the increasingly difficult challenge of keeping my breasts where they belong.

√ I continue, behind closed doors, to engage in humor that might be considered offensive. Case in point. Last night, Eric and I were joking around when he reached down beside the bed, grabbed his iPad and pulled up a picture of an old-timey baseball manager whose balls were clearly defined in his khaki pants. According to Eric this is called a moose knuckle. Who knew? I was both appalled and unable to look away. We laughed so hard I couldn’t fall asleep for another hour–or maybe I was just haunted–how could pants do that?

√ I went to hear Lee Martin (who is definitely a man, darnit) read from his new book last week in Lawrenceville, IL. He killed it, and still I can’t read Late One Night until January 1 because of the damned New Year’s Resolution I am going to keep because I haven’t kept the one about copying a poem every day although I’m trying which may or may not be the truth but is more hopeful than saying the effort is kaput.

Type 1 Diabetes still sucks. Last week, I took Peanut to the doctor in St. Louis for her three-month check-up. Her last appointment, three months ago, was one of bells and whistles and lots of cheering. Her A1C (this is a number that gives us a pretty good idea of what her blood sugar has averaged the past three months) was spectacularly good. Peanut (and I) received congratulations and huge smiles from the doctor, the dietician, the nurses, and the receptionists. The whole place was balloons and smiles and stellar numbers.

In Type 1 Diabetes, the numbers tell the story of blood sugar control; however, they do not tell the story of day to day life with the perverse permutations of this ill-willed opponent.  Blood sugar is a mighty hard thing to control, especially for teenagers whose activity, sleep patterns, and eating habits fluctuate on an hourly basis. I knew this three months ago when that A1C was good, and still I felt ridiculously proud. Proud of Peanut, and damned proud of myself too. If she was doing something right, then by God, I was doing something right too.

It’s a long way down when the numbers tell the story of blood sugar run amok.

We sat in the office, and Peanut’s doctor pored over the new numbers, trying to figure out what had happened to make a 7.1 go up to an 8.6, and the blood drained from my beautiful girl’s face. She sat beside me still and pale, her hands crossed in her lap while she watched her doctor puzzle through her records.

We expected the underwhelming report, we did. In the past three months, Peanut had changed insulin therapies three times with the requisite blood sugar highs that come along with insulin adjustment. This A1C hike wasn’t a surprise, but it feels like failure to Peanut who strives for control over numbers that are elusive and plain mean. And I can’t do shit. I am both embarrassed by my own failure and aggravated by my embarrassment. It’s a disease, for God’s sake.

√ Falling, failing, falling, failing–I fall every day. The sun has taken a liking to the faint scars from my overdone facial resurfacing. I don’t mind it too much.

And then there’s this–ruined might be a pretty good place to beginfrom that very first blog post on February 4th.

Did you know that the archaic definition of “ruin” is “a falling down?”

I have been writing about “ruin” this entire time, and I didn’t even know it.