I Have Never Once in My Whole Life Understood You

What if I’m spiritual, but I don’t believe in organized religion?

What if I want justice, but I don’t believe in organized rallies?

Should we open the zoos and let out all the animals?

Should we open the libraries and let out all the verse?

Maps are old-fashioned. They’re ancient. They point to places that aren’t even there any more.

Did your book clubs last? Mine started strong. I still read though. Every night I read.

Will our schools stop learning? Will we unspool education into threads?

In college they make you say — declare—what you will learn. Your major. The college says you have to —that you have to want to — learn one thing more than any other thing.

Study until they say you’ve studied it enough. Paper in a frame. Hang it.

I never not once in my life understood college. Not one time.

The transfer of knowledge from one person to another.  I dropped the baton. Then I found stuff on the ground I liked better. Ants and acorns. Shiny objects.

I thought things would make sense when I got older.

I eat healthy but I don’t believe in organized nutrition. Avocados can pray or not pray, as far as I’m concerned.

I can’t kneel at church. I don’t kneel. Don’t you know it’s taken me this long to stand tall, shoulders back, head up? Not everything is my fault.

I don’t believe in organized exercise. Pilates killed aerobics. Aerobics killed black coffee and cigarettes. If I want to run I’ll run to the basement and scream while the washer’s on so the neighbors can’t hear.

I drive but I don’t like organized transportation. Why should the government tell me where my sedan does and does not belong. Our old gray pickup growing up had three gears on the steering column. I stayed off the roads, so the government never found me. Underage driver. Coughing and sputtering and clouds of dust. Jerk shifts. I killed it.

I grew up far away from here. You never went there.

My friend Missy got her license and ten minutes later almost murdered us. Headed home from school at 90 mph. In some places 16 is still young enough to kill your friends.

I need a heart but I don’t believe in organized transplants.

Isn’t an audience just organized listeners?

If your alphabet isn’t organized you have a learning disability.

What if I like people but not all at once? What if I like people scattered, random, a little lost.

I have never once in my whole life understood you.

I want to make a church out of something you can’t see. What’s that sound? the kids will ask, looking up into their parents’ eyes. Eyes burning with love. With fire. What’s that sound?

We are closer now than we have ever been.

I have always wanted a god that had something to do with cardboard. Flea markets. A shaggy Shepherd wet from a storm, it shakes and the water drops fly. Who knows where they’ll scatter.

I miss people I don’t even know. I want to be with you. I want to zig and zag to get you a tissue in time when you sneeze. I want to be everything our Lord and Creator meant me to be. I want to share it with you. Everything I have.

But not every time.

 

I’m a Bitch, I Looked it Up

As a middle-aged woman, I’ve ninety percent stopped smiling. It’s not that I’m not happy. I don’t even know why I should have to explain that. I just don’t see the connection between, say, living my life and walking around with a grin painted on my face.

I’ve never really worn makeup. Maybe that’s what a smile is, another decoration for your face. Which makes us Christmas trees?

I went to Paris years ago and the guidebooks said don’t walk around smiling all the time or they’ll know you’re American. It being the age of Freedom Fries I wanted to, one, reflect well on the United States and, two, pretend I wasn’t from there.

I remember how weird it felt not to smile. Like my muscles were going backwards. My face kept making the motions and I’d have to stop myself. At ease, face. Do something else. Like see Paris, Bombay, Antarctica. The moon. Even though I stopped smiling in order to conform to yet another culture, it became an open door.

In Seattle I walked with my best friend a couple weeks after she’d experienced something horrifically painful. I couldn’t even believe she’d left the house. As we made our way through the crowd a young man barked “Smile!” My friend walked on. I looked at this man and I wanted to yell that he had no idea, no idea at all. I still hate myself for doing nothing. Meanwhile, this man has no memory. To him it wasn’t an event, a moment, it wasn’t anything.

What if my friends and I shouted out helpful suggestions to the men around us? Smile! Stand up straight! Try some hair plugs! Loosen your belt and your belly won’t so dramatically cascade over your crotch region! We’d chuckle and then pound some more mini Snickers.

For my trouble, I’ll expect a smile back. Recognition, from you, that I’m charming. Acknowledgement, from you, that I’m witty.  I will need reassurance, from you, whatever it takes you to provide it, that I am allowed to lob my thoughts at you, and that you will have to drop all your parcels and grocery sacks to catch them.

Or you’re a bitch.

You know who doesn’t smile? Babies. You smile at them for months and they don’t smile back. They don’t have resting bitch face. They have resting genuine true self human being face. The face created by their Creator.

I don’t think bitchy is a look. Bitchy is merely the absence of what you were expecting from my face. Your expectations are not my concern.

Though even in my 30s, I thought I had to answer to those expectations. I couldn’t let you down. I thought I had to respond to every inane comment that came my way. Do you know you have the complete option to look blankly at people who make inane comments? About you, your children, your choices. You can let them hang. Sure it’s awkward. But they can stew in it. You don’t have to think up a way to make them feel less awkward. You don’t have to toss them a lifeline. You don’t have to save anyone or fix anything. Walk on.

There is a school of thought about Christian kindness. I am not able to address this.

I’ve stopping using exclamation points in emails to try to seem more fun and less serious. Serious leads to cold. Cold leads to bitchy. I think this is where people can stop liking you, also a deadly fear for a woman. I’m stepping off the ledge. I will sit at home alone with no friends, not smiling at myself in the mirror.

I guess I’m taking the chance. It’s starting to feel worse not to.

I looked up bitch in the online Oxford Dictionary. I wondered if they’d actually list the word but of course they do.

Bitchy as an adjective had one meaning. Malicious or spitefully critical. Malicious means the desire to harm someone. Which is weird because the crime stats show the ones harming others tend to be the dudes. What’s the word for how a man’s face looks before he harms someone? Does the witness say, yeah I knew he was going to kill his neighbor, he had a total bitch face.

What’s the antonym of bitchy? There is none listed.

There are synonyms for bitch: vixen, she-devil, and hellcat. I was surprised when I read the synonyms because my first reaction was that those words didn’t seem negative. Maybe I’m way off but she-devil and hellcat I can almost picture on sports jerseys.

The second meaning of bitch is “a spiteful or unpleasant woman”. This is the second reference to spite. What’s all this fear of being spited? This meaning is marked informal so that you know only to call a woman a bitch in casual settings like a barbecue.

Here’s where I truly was surprised. And lost some wind in my sails. Under meaning 2 point A– marked as offensive so you know you’re about to be offended– bitch means “a woman”.

A woman. Just, a woman. Any woman. All women. Cheerful or spiteful. This takes all the impetus out of the smiling then doesn’t it? Because I lose either way. So does your mother. And your grandmother. Your favorite auntie who sent you tins of oatmeal cookies in college. Your kids’ 3rd grade teacher. The principal with the little duckie collection. The doctor who delivered your babies. The surgeon who knit your heart back together, scowling over your gaping wound. Your senator.

It’s not easy to stop smiling.

Oh wait.

It is.

 

Is Gratitude a Sham?

Lately I’ve been having trouble with gratitude. Sometimes it feels like a sham. Like another thing people do to make themselves feel better, like go to church and eat organic food.
(I go to church and eat organic food.)

How could there be anything wrong with being thankful for all you have? Keeping a gratitude journal? Posting the list on Facebook and challenging others to do the same?Who gets skeptical about “feeling blessed”?

And I do feel blessed. I have so much to be grateful for. My life has included cancer surgery, radiation, divorce. It’s not like I’m sitting here with my golden ticket saying, sucks to be you, because at many points in my life it has sucked to be me. When I wake up and I’m healthy, trust me, I’m grateful. When my kids wake up and they’re healthy, I am grateful. Like you have no idea. Thank God.

But sometimes my “gratitude” feels a little too much like “whew”.

Today, at least, we were safe.

And then I feel guilty. Grateful but guilty.

My husband is a police officer. He once made a traffic stop when he was working the night shift. It was two or three in the morning, the couple – the parents – were on their way to drop off a drug delivery. Their toddler was in the back seat buckled into a car seat. Across the tray of the car seat the parents had scattered a bag of Skittles for him to eat. At three am. On the way. To the drug drop.

What is that dear child of God grateful for today?

Sometimes gratitude seems like another way to talk about luck.

Sometimes gratitude seems like heads when you called heads. Tails when you called tails. Heads my kids get Bob’s Red Mill Organic Steel Cut Oats. Tails your kid gets red-Skittled saliva dripping down his chin.

Not only that, but it’s healthy for us to be grateful. To boot! Like a supplement. If you have food, water and shelter you will live longer. And if you’re grateful for those things you will live even longer. It’s an upward spiral.

Something about this seems convenient.

I drew a long straw today. Who knows about tomorrow. I better keep being grateful. It’s worked so far. Lucky socks. Rabbits feet. Thank you God. I really like the stuff you brought today. See me being grateful. Do you see me, God? Wow, what a servant. Makes you want to keep it coming, huh?

While I’m ostensibly a Christian I’m not a very good one and if I’m honest I have to admit that I would thank ANYONE if it kept my husband and children safe and healthy. False gods? Of course I worship false gods, I worship New Seasons, I worship flax seed smoothies, I worship Oprah and her columnists, I worship Hanna Andersson long johns, I worship my emergency preparedness kit in the basement, for a time I appeared to worship Thomas the Tank Engine, believing that collecting the entire line of trains would keep my three-year old encircled in an oval track of safety/happiness/contentment. A rosary of steam engines.

There are children in India who live on mountains of trash. I do not want to live on a mountain of trash. I do not want my children to live on a mountain of trash. I promise you if the Flemings end up living on a mountain of trash that I will not find one single thing to be grateful for and if you tell me to write in a daily gratitude journal I’m going to tell you to fuck off. Fuck off you happy blessed person. Fuck off and get me off this fucking mountain of trash.

Tails.

My son’s word since he started first grade has been random. A random kid at school, a random Lego guy, for a snack he asks for a “random” blueberry muffin. Random: not part of a pattern. Unpredictable. Without cause.

Babies learn cause-effect. You drop the rattle. I pick it up.  You cry. I pick you up. As grownups, we still see the effects. Do we ever stop looking for causes? Do we ever stop looking for the big cosmic mama? Do we think we keep getting the good life because we are thankful for it? Are we scared, possibly terrified of what can and does happen in this world, and have to try something?

My greatest fear is that I will get cancer again and die and leave my babies alone in this world without a mother. My son loves me “so much it makes the moon look like the tip of a marker pen.” My daughter has Down syndrome. I believe in her more than anyone in the entire world. Who will be her army general without me? What would happen to her life?

I can’t breathe.

If expressing my gratitude keeps our winning streak going, I will do it. I’m missing the whole point I’m sure, but I’ll do it. On with gratitude. On with thanks! I would thank God, goddesses, Life, Creators, or a sequined skunk on meth if it could promise me I will get to finish raising my children.

My seven-year old said something to me the other day. He said, “One thing I notice, Mom, is that you say thank you to people a lot of times they don’t say you’re welcome back.” I knew what he meant. You’re welcome gets dropped.

Maybe that’s my problem. I’m dragging on the you’re welcomes. Maybe thank you is like a hot potato. Maybe by the time you say thanks you should have passed the thing on that you’re saying thank you for.

Wake up in a warm house, say thanks, get dressed and help someone else find a house. Wake up healthy, say thanks, and drive off to help someone who’s not healthy.

Say your “thank you” but by the -ou” part you should be out the door.

Maybe thank you is too hot to hold. Maybe that’s my trouble with gratitude: my blessings are burning my hands.

Maybe, oh maybe, that’s why sometimes it hurts.

5 Things I (Still) Don’t Get About Facebook

For some people, Facebook is an escape. For me, it’s heading right into the rats-den.

Do I “Like” enough?
Can you Like too much? Do other Facebook people shake their heads and say, “Geez she Likes a lot.” If you like too many things do people think you’re easy? “Oh that Like doesn’t mean anything, she’ll Like anything.”

Why do some people never Like me? Ever? Not even once?
Am I not interesting? Do I not select visually appealing photographs? I never did learn to use that Instagram thing. You can say a lot with sepia.

I’ve posted my kids, they’re super cute. They do cute things. If you’d read you’d see what a cute thing they said. What are you, made of stone?

I should get a cat.

Or are they not even reading it? Are people just scrolling past me, looking for their real friends? Looking for athletic-shoe freebies?

I should get my Mom on Facebook.

Did you accept my friend request only to dump me in some “Group” abyss of people you never have to think about again?
Every now and then I think, huh, I swore so-and-so and I were friends but come to think of it I have never actually seen a single post. Maybe they are really super busy. Maybe they are “on” Facebook but “never go on it.” Or maybe they relegated me to a group. A group called “Flotsam” or “Miscellaneous Past Acquiantances” or “untitled” because it’s not even worth your time to give all us social lint-bunnies a name.

How soon until we become intimate?
We had ninth grade English together. Teamed up for a project on The Merchant of Venice. It was a really fun English class. We did real good on Shakespeare. Pound of flesh and all that. Super good.

I haven’t seen or talked to you in 29 years. Except for the A on our team project and a vague remembrance of your red and white Norsport sneakers, I don’t know anything about you. Twenty-nine years later, the first post I see of yours is that after years of infertility, you are pregnant with twins. A boy and a girl. That’s fabulous.

Do I jump out of the past with a giant banner shrieking “Congratulations!” It seems kinda personal. Like I haven’t earned that kind of closeness. When we met I didn’t even have my period. And now we’re all up in your uterus. I signed your yearbook with bubble letters. Are we frozen in time? Today we are not in each other’s lives. The only reason we are now connected is because of an experience from the past. If we leave the past, do we actually have anything? Should I comment on your post with a cascade of rainbow hearts? Is there an emoticon for Olivia Newton-John? I want this to work.

When do I Like and when do I Comment?
Did I mention I’m an introvert? Likes are better for introverts. And lazy people. Are some people just Likers and some Commenters? Dogs/cats? Boxers/briefs? Liking seems a lot easier. Like microwaving water for tea instead of waiting for the boring old kettle.

Elan Morgan (www.schmutzie.com) has a great article about how she stopped Liking for two weeks and made herself write out comments. She felt more connected, which is what this is supposed to be all about. Right? Right?!!

But to Comment, I have to think of something. I have to spell, construct parts of language. And what if I comment and someone already made that comment which is fine if it’s a no-brainer like “Happy birthday” or “Have a great time at OysterFest!” but not if it’s something more complicated like “I never knew you could drive and take movies at the same time! Eeks!” But maybe the Eeks sounds like I’m reprimanding. Maybe the whole thing sounds judgmental. I should read the other comments first. This is taking too long. Never mind, just Like it.

There is a strong suggestion from Wise People that says throw it all out there, fly your flag, open your heart… it all sounds good except: I don’t want to look stupid. I don’t want to expend more of my personal stock of warmth and caring than is ABSOLUTELY WARRANTED. This feels important.

We’re friends. Really. We are.
I sent you a friend request – thinking of that chunk of time we shared, the talks, the thoughts. You accepted my friend request. So I’m all thinking, oh you remember too.

I run into you at a wedding. It’s been years. Last time I saw you we were both young. We hug. We are glad to see each other. You wrinkle your eyebrows, “I think maybe we’re friends on Facebook or something?” The “or something” is a dagger. I feel like the over-eager little sister. “Yeah,” I say. Here I’ve been Liking, maybe even going to Facebook Second Base by leaving a Comment. Here I thought we were at least remotely connected, when actually, in Facebook world, the only world we now share, you don’t know I’m alive.

The next time I see one of her posts, I see that she has 996 friends. We are not actually friends. We are people together in the mall during a super awesome shoe sale.

How do I keep from being the 1st to Like something?
I’ve come across a post that was great, enlightening, a cool photo that reaches across boundaries to unite and inspire. And my impulse has been, “Amazing!” I get my pointer finger ready, ready to tap that Like button with enthusiasm.

Then I realize. No one has Liked it yet. And I’m not actually that close to this person. We worked together ten years ago. In different departments no less. Hmmm. When was this posted? Seven minutes ago. I could Like and hope others Like after me. SOON after. I don’t want to be the one Liker dangling out there. That would seem way too intimate. That would seem like me and the Poster were closer than we are. It would be like we were a two-some, a team, maybe even dating.

If the post has been there for hours and NO ONE has Liked or Commented, I’m sorry, I’m not touching it. You’ll have to hang out here, in your brilliance, alone.

Maybe by your next post, I will have become a stronger person.

A lot of people would like that.

 

 

From PO to LO: Is There Life After Portland?

Link

Is there life after Portland, home of the weird? This week we move to Lake Oswego, Oregon, home of the…?

Stereotypes work both ways. In many ways, Portland’s hip weird alternative reputation is just another stereotype. I mean, I live here, I seemingly fit in. And I can attest on a stack of compost that I am nowhere close to hip.

I know this, I always felt at home in Portland. Over the years I wandered, searching for home in New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. Waiting for home to hit me in the face. When I moved back from the East Coast for the third and final time, and I came up over the Marquam Bridge from the airport, where Tom McCall Park and the waterfront first rise into view, it was like the hole inside me was healed. And I thought, maybe home doesn’t hit you in the face. Maybe home hugs you in the gut.

The forests, the Willamette, the bridges, Mount Hood. The glowing articles in the New York Times talk about Portland’s cupcakes and whiskey bars. It’s true, there are a lot of nice blocks with a lot of nice places. But when you live your life here, you know where Portland is. To see Portland, you look up and around. To see Portland, you see the clouds, ten feet over your head. And they remind you that here, things are close to you.

So now the moving truck heads ten miles south. When we tell our Portland friends we found a house they are excited! “Where is it?” Expecting the old Portland neighborhoods – Laurelhurst, Sellwood, Eastmoreland. We say Lake Oswego and they say:

“Oh.”

This past year alone we have met families from Chicago, New York, Ohio, Michigan, another from New York, another from Michigan, southern California, Arizona, central California, another from central California, and more I’m forgetting. Portland has become a meet-up spot. These people didn’t pack up their lives and move two thousand miles to come to an off-shoot, a shadow, a little sister of Portland. They came for what was promised in the ad.

To Portlanders, I believe, Lake Oswego is:

a bunch of rich white people

conformist

homogenous

without culture

without sidewalks

a foodie wasteland

Or maybe these are my own fears.

I know this, crime is lower, schools are smaller, and you can hear birds. It is my feeling that I will be able to let my children play in our front yard. I also know this: in Portland I almost never ride my bike, I repeatedly drive the car when I could have walked, and I’ve never been to organic ocean-sustainable Bamboo Sushi but buy the eight pack in the plastic tray from Trader Joe’s. (Which I drive to.)

Maybe Portland was the possibility. That I might one day put on an ironic cowboy hat and direct an art film in my driveway.  That I might tear up the front lawn and grow a one-loaf-a-summer patch of wheat. That I one day might loosen the shackles that weld me to safety and conformity. That I might be everything I am free to be. Marlo Thomas. There is a land that I see, take my hand and we’ll run, it’s right out the window. In Portland the best was yet to come.

In Portland you never grow old.

In ways then, our move to the suburbs feels like a door closing. That we are going there to build the final nest, our children’s base camp as they age and launch into adulthood. This move is for them, not us.

Moving to Lake Oswego feels like getting married. Not that I was a crazy single person -but the options were there. In the suburbs it seems there is an expectation, a commitment to the stable. There may be nights spent downtown in a hotel after a night of turtle soup and Afghani film, but I will never again live here. I will never be: from Portland, for seventeen years the coolest thing, by far, that could be said about me. I have no idea why at this age I still give any credence to anything as shallow and immature as the word “cool”.

I tried to make it work. Raising kids in the city. The diversity, as we say. Sure everyone was actually white like us, but there were different KINDS of white people. There were white people on homemade unicycles, white people with beards down to their high tops, there were white people dressed up as kitty cats. What better place to teach the children that there is a place for you here in this world, whatever you are.

It got harder to explain the man who stormed down our sidewalk as we unlocked our front door. “DON’T GO IN THERE! DON’T YOU DARE GO IN THERE!!!” he shouted at us, high on meth.

And now that my son can read, free-speech redolent Portland offers a highway lined with darkened parlors full of naked dancers. There’s not a route to the dentist that doesn’t pass a strip joint. I did okay explaining “Lucky Devil”. It got harder to explain Hot Hot Hot Girls. And why they were so sweaty.

I’m scared to move to Lake Oswego. I’m excited to move to Lake Oswego. The truck comes Saturday. Have we hidden our treasures in faceless cardboard? How will we arrange this new life? Will there be a place for everything we’re bringing? What will be missing?

The road goes south. In geologic time, it’s a blip. In the context of the globe and the millions of people and what people struggle through, this is nothing. We’re heading down the road, to see what we find there.