Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sunday, March 2, 2014

C-Bone skis

I was at a party this winter that included both adults and kids. I don't have kids, but I like watching them do kid things and I like talking to them about inappropriate subjects so the car ride home is uncomfortable for the adults. It's a long-game prank and typically I don't get to see the parents' reactions but it still offers me some level of satisfaction to picture my friends when their little girl says, "Daddy, what's a uterus?"

At any rate, I was watching the kids sledding--it never gets old--with some new acquaintances when our conversation turned to my recent back surgery. I'd like to think one of them noticed the scar on my neck and asked me about it, but it's more likely I dragged them into a conversation about me and my life and my world.

I explained that a surgeon carved into my neck to gain access to a disc in my spine that was pressing on some nerves and making my left hand numb and tingly. The surgeon scraped out the naughty parts of my disc and replaced it with a cadaver bone and bolted it all together with a plate and some screws. It's a common procedure, but I love telling that story, because invariably I get stopped the moment I say "cadaver bone."

I know I could easily say "piece of bone," but come on. There is no fun in doing that.

Where did the cadaver bone come from?
I don't know.
Do bodies ever reject the cadaver bone?
I suppose so.
Was it from a murder victim?
I don't know.
Are you having crazy dreams?
Do you think there are parts of that person's body in other people's bodies?
I suppose so. 
Wouldn't it be cool to meet other people who have pieces from the same body?
Yes. Yes it would.

And so on. It's a show stopper, much the same way telling someone you've never had mayonnaise before is a show stopper. That's an old trick I use to get out of conversations. Three people standing together, one is a bore, one is the patsy, and me. I will jump in when the bore stops to take a breath and say to the bore about the patsy, "Did you know [patsy] has never had mayonnaise?" Everything grinds to a halt; the bore is fascinated; and I get to walk away. It also works if you say "Did you know Applebee's is [patsy's] favorite restaurant?"

Try it sometime. You can say anything you want, but it always gets you out of the rope-a-dopes. Cornered at an art opening? Go with: Did you know [patsy] grew up with John Waters? Someone talking at you at a sports bar? Go with: Did you know [patsy] has never seen a baseball game ever, even on TV? I reserve the mayonnaise comment for pass-around hors d'oeuvre cocktail parties. The Applebee's comment is best for foodie events, like if you're at a fundraiser at Hugo's. (Ugh, that sentence says more about me and my farmers market NPR I'm a vegan who lives on the coast in the summer life more than anything else. I'll throw a dollar in.) But, you have to make it up to the patsy later. Buy that person a drink or offer to be the patsy for them sometime.

Back to the cadaver bone. While talking about myself and my shiny new bleached cadaver spine and some of the restrictions I've been under, such as no skiing, no running, no sledding, no heavy lifting, somehow the ladies I was chatting with started calling me C-Bone. As in C-Bone don't sled. C-Bone don't run. C-Bone don't kick.

Well? I met with Dr. Nice (he really is such a likeable guy, not just a likeable guy for a surgeon) the other day and guess what. C-Bone runs and kicks and skis and lifts and walks and dances and sleds and has a good time. I am off restricted duty with one caveat (a cadaver caveat, if you will): No falling. Pretty sage advice for anyone, really, so I'm going to assume C-Bone can do what C-Bone wants to do.

I am currently waiting for the temperature outside to climb back into double digits at the very least before subjecting my nearly atrophied muscles to that kind of torture. And, yes, after no lifting for almost a year, my arm muscles no longer exist. It is going to be a long road back, but it will be a fun road.

Did you know I have never been on a long road trip?

Discuss amongst yourselves. I'm going for a walk.

[3/3 Edit: Scratch that. I'm going skiing right now!]

The 45

Even then, my hands were huge.
I turned 45 today. I'm not all that freaked out by that. I mean, getting out of bed is a little more difficult and I use more concealer than ever before--the bags under my eyes reach about mid-cheekbone, much the same way my butt is creeping down to rest comfortably above the backs of my knees--but I just repeat my morning mantra: Who's looking at me?

I celebrated by having dinner with a friend last night and eating a banana for breakfast this morning before buying my first-ever pair of skinny jeans. Note to self: I cannot wear skinny jeans. Those threads are fighting for their lives right now.

I was talking to this friend last night and she told me a story about a woman who got bonked on the head and was knocked out. When she woke up in the hospital, she told the doctors she was 16 weeks pregnant with her first child. She was a young woman: idealistic, easy going, and fresh.

She wasn't. In fact, she had three nearly grown children and was divorced from her husband. She couldn't remember the last 20 or so years of her life. In her mind, she was still in love with her husband. She didn't know age had made her driven, distant, and cruel. Sadly, she had to brace herself to look in the mirror.

I would have had the opposite reaction. If I woke up today thinking I were still 25, I would be mean-spirited, distant, and in love with nobody but myself--and that was a love/hate relationship at best.

Either way, I still have to brace myself every time I look in the mirror. Don't we all, though? Aren't we all just little tweens running around trying to make sense of it all? Granted, I don't feel justified every time I get angry or sad like a tween does because they really are just figuring it all out. But, otherwise, I feel young on the inside and all that nonsense. I suppose the difference between 25 and 45 is the difference between a boat with its sail up but no rudder and a boat with no mast but a sweet little tiller. I'm still incomplete. I'm just moving a lot slower and have a tiny bit more control when I bash up against the rocks.

With that in mind, I have come up with a list. Who doesn't love a list, right? At 45, I have learned....

1) We are all going to die. I've always known this. Heading into Boston one morning when I was a kid, my dad looked over at me in the passenger seat and asked if I understood what death meant. I suspect he was trying to figure out whether I understood how ill my mother was. I told him yes. I completely understood that we all die. At the time, I was maybe 10 years old. But, come on. One of my first memories is the day my dad couldn't find a parking space on our way to a wake and he got so frustrated he sideswiped a telephone pole in our brand new Gran Torino wood-paneled station wagon. A man on the sidewalk slowly bent over and picked up a broken piece of the faux wood paneling and handed it to us through the open car window. Then we all crawled out of the clown car and kneeled in front of a dead body in a coffin. That was the day I discovered the fine art of laughing at funerals. Death doesn't scare me. Pain, however, does.

2) You have to pick your battles. The moment I hear someone say, "I just want to remove all the drama from my life," I know to stay away from that person. A person who complains about too much drama is typically the person creating all the drama in the first place. The difference between 25-year-old me and 45-year-old me, other than the larger clothes and droopier bosom, is that when I get angry or frustrated, I try to think about what it is that frustrates me. The other day, Groom was trying to convince me to create a video for something. The details are quite inconsequential, but he kept pushing this idea for a video and I was getting so hot. Finally, I shouted, "If you say video one more time, I swear to god I am going to hit you. Why are we still talking about this stupid video? No!" I wasn't mad about the video. What a dopey argument. Now, when we're having, shall we say, a miscommunication, Groom will smile and say, "Video."

3) I will still be late for your dinner party if I catch someone having an epic meltdown on social media. I have nothing more to say about that.

4) I have no business browsing the junior section at department stores. I have come to accept that the clothes I wore ironically when I was 25 (blousy tops, sweater sets, and corduroys) are now simply my clothes. See "skinny jeans" above.

5) Reality television is vacuous and dumb but I cannot stay away from it. Though I am a veteran of the reality revolution--from The Real World, which I would watch in my college living room in '92, to the writers' strike leading to shows like Survivor, which I would watch from my tiny little house up in East Nowhere, Maine, when I was trying to have a career in the early 2000s--I can acknowledge that reality television sucks. Having said that, I am always addicted to at least one reality show. These days it's Shahs of Sunset. I know. I know!

6) Yes is the better option. When I was 25, women were learning to say no. We were slowly climbing out of the "Say No to Drugs" era and entering the "No Means No" era. It was around the time Antioch College came up with the "Ask First" rules that were so ridiculous. This business of saying no? It turned into empowerment. "I say no because I can." Stop being a dink and say yes every now and again.

7) It's easiest to be a good friend. I'm still shocked to discover which friends stuck around and which ones slipped away. I have a handful of people I can really be myself around. They are funny, interesting, smart, engaging people and I have so much fun near them, I don't even think about the fact that my stomach is totally rolling over my belt while I'm with them. But, I worked hard for these friendships. There's no secret to it. Listen, nobody wants to go to that fundraiser next week, but the friend who asked you to attend? She helped you move last year. Just be a good friend, for crying out loud, and go to the fundraiser or awkward dinner or performance art show. Trust me. You'll probably have a great story to tell. And, you will feel so lucky when you discover who is still standing behind you 20 years from now.

8) Bathroom humor will always be funny. If you want to make me laugh, tell me about the time you defecated in your trousers. I have heard stories about men who crapped when they got pulled over for speeding, men who crapped as they ran up a flight of stairs, a guy who ended up having to wear his mother's yoga pants, a woman who peed in her airplane seat, and a guy who has crapped his pants so many times, you have to be specific when you ask him to relay the story about the time he soiled his trousers. I am one slice of bread away from sneaking gluten into a friend's gluten-free diet just for the story later.

9) Kindness and forgiveness are not weaknesses. Ugh. Sorry. I had to sneak this one in here. My 25-year-old self is rolling her eyes right now. Ah. Who am I kidding? She clicked out of here after the phrase "At 45, I have learned...." I had no patience for people who smiled too much or were pleasant. I was all about truth, which for me meant anger and yelling. What a load of crap (in my trousers). Be sweet. (Yes, I linked a death scene there. I wonder what I'm revealing about myself.)

10) I still want to meet Stephen King. I think I would enjoy a dinner with him and that thought hasn't changed since I was a child. And this makes me not so unhappy about getting older. No matter how much I've changed, I'm still that me I was when I was sitting alone in my room reading Salem's Lot.

Spring is not the finest season in New England—it's too short, too uncertain, too apt to turn savage on short notice. Even so, there are April days which linger in the memory even after one has forgotten the wife's touch, or the feel of the baby's toothless mouth at the nipple...

But when fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you....

Thin clouds form, and the shadows lengthen out. They have no breadth, as summer shadows have; there are no leaves on the trees or fat clouds in the sky to make them thick. They are gaunt, mean shadows that bite the ground like teeth. As the sun nears the horizon, its benevolent yellow begins to deepen, to become infected, until it glares an angry inflamed orange. It throws a variegated glow over the horizon.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Other Door

inside the other door
If you'll indulge me, I'm going to talk about my damn dog. This post is self-indulgent and overwrought. You can't say I didn't warn you.

Groom and I took our beloved almost 12-year-old dog to that other door at the vet this week. The room with the separate entrance so nobody has to see you cry.

When Heebie, short for Herbert, was four, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and was given a life expectancy of about two years. But, the vets told us, very few young dogs are diagnosed with that type of cancer, so the prognosis was based on an older dog's life span.

We opted to treat it.

While he was getting his chemo and his radiation, a tech noticed one kidney was much larger than the other. Upon further inspection, it was noted the kidney was full of urine and could burst at any time. We would have to remove it. Neither Groom nor I felt it made sense to spend thousands of dollars on chemo treatment to then let him die from a burst kidney a month later, so we had the kidney removed.

And thus began Heebie's life as a miracle dog and nearly a decade of our keeping him happy, comfortable, and relatively healthy.

Over the years, he has fallen prey to hypothyroidism, canine papilloma virus, seizures, mange, hepatitis, food allergies, repeated sprained tail, Lyme disease, acid reflux, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (for which we were required to feed him ground up beef pancreas ordered through some special farm in California or some such place), ectopic cilia (where the eyelashes grow into the eyeball), and chronic ear infections and chronic pneumonia. He went nearly completely deaf, was totally blind, and started to lose much of his mental faculties. He had been hit by a car, eaten rat poison, and devoured a bottle of Advil. He had numerous ultrasounds, MRIs, and surgeries. He was on 17,000 different types of medication and required near constant care.

But here's the thing. He never whined or complained or even limped. He had been sick for so long, he didn't know that he was sick. He was sweet and affectionate and curious and snuggly and quirky and funny.

I don't get attached to things or beings. And, if I do, I have a tendency to remove them from my life. I had a cat when I was in my early 30s. I adored that cat. I worried he'd be hit by a car. I worried he'd be eaten by coyotes. I worried he'd get locked in someone's basement and starve to death. I couldn't even name him for fear I would grow even more attached so I called him Black Cat.

I gave that cat away to an acquaintance and never saw it again. For all I know, he's still alive and meowing at the window.

Christ, I was dating my now husband for five years before I would even admit I had a boyfriend. It took 15 years for us to finally get married.

So, yes. I tend to keep things at an arm's length, which might be the reason, partially at least, for my ability to write such personal things in a public forum. I can't see your face. And, frankly, I don't want to. I don't require your sympathy and I don't want you to approach me after a few cocktails to talk about loss. It was a dog. Plain and simple. But he was our dog, our constant and cheerful companion, and I adored him.

As I remember our little friend, I cram my brain with other things to keep me focused on what I need to do rather than indulging in self-pity. Oddly, commercial jingles and pop music squeeze out the image of my dog on the cold, hard floor at the vet--the last thing we saw as we closed that other door and walked back into the icy parking lot.

Mourning is boring. It's boring for the person experiencing it because it is both all-consuming and painfully empty. It's boring for the person's friends because after a while, hearing about loss gets really old. How many times can you say you're sorry about a dead dog before it's okay to go back to talking about the fact that Jody in accounting is totally sleeping with Chris over in marketing?

(That isn't a real scenario, obviously. Everyone knows accounting will never be in bed with marketing. Ever.)


When you mourn, everything seems to have weight: the gray day is gloomier; the crying baby at the grocery store is louder; the salt and dirt on the cars is darker; the icy parking lot is suddenly colder, meaner, scarier; my head is heavier on the pillow.

I have chosen to be happy in my life. I realize this oversimplifies and probably trivializes the chemical happenstance that occurs in the brains of people who suffer real depression. I cringe to think people might live like this every day. Getting out of bed is nearly impossible. Cleaning the house seems pointless. Going for a walk, albeit really good for every single person in the world, feels too active.

Heebie's collar sits lifeless in the back of our truck. His leftover food and pancreas sit on the shelves and in the freezer. A chewed dog toy rests beneath the couch. Slowly, I've been packing things up. I've noticed my husband has been packing things up as well. He matches the can of food I tossed into the trash by removing the dog bed from my home office. A bag of meds hangs from a hook in the kitchen, ready to be donated for those who can't afford to treat their own dogs.

What do you say as you drive toward that other door with the dog panting in the backseat? This animal who trusted us to do what was best for him, trusting us to the end to make the right decisions. And, in the end, his body was just giving out. He was quite simply very sick and he would not be returning to his normal self. This was it.

Emotions, like smells, can trigger memories and other emotions. The smell of pencils reminds me of the days when my sisters would return from St. John the Baptist School, their plaid uniforms thick with the smell of graphite and wood shavings. Lemon Pledge reminds me of Saturday chore days when my four siblings and I had specific cleaning tasks--dust the living room, vacuum the dining room (or dying room to match the living room), clean the woodwork around the doors. Pungent cologne reminds me of those moments on Sunday mornings when I had to shake hands with the fat guy in the pew next to ours while my father hissed "peace" at the church ladies who whispered about my mother sitting in a wheelchair near the choir so as to be closer to the handicapped ramp the church invested in once her battle with MS rendered her unable to walk.

Gun oil draws me back to my then-boyfriend's now husband's farm in college where he would sit at the table and fill shot shells while his roommate cleaned the guns. I was reminded this week, through this mourning, of a time when Then-Boyfriend's sow gave birth to a litter of piglets. It was a difficult birth for this 400+ pound Mama Pig and some of her piglets were stillborn. I stood to the side in the barn, watching this unfold. I couldn't help, other than to grab towels or water if someone shouted that necessity.

Then-Boyfriend delivered some of those piglets to the kitchen to keep them warm in the oven (yes, people do that), but he cupped the runt in his hands, kneeling next to the panting Mama.

It was so clear to me that the little piglet would not make it through the day. Then-Boyfriend refused to give up, kneeling there and stroking the near-lifeless tiny critter in his gloved hands. Finally, he rested the piglet in the hay and stood up.

"It's over," he said.

I had known him for less than a year at that point and I knew I wanted him to be around me for the rest of my life. That tenacity and focus up until that acceptance of loss. It was stunning to me.

These emotions now. I mourn every loss at once, pain triggered by pain. The wind outside during today's winter blizzard reminds me of the solitary breeze that lifted my hair at my mother's graveside. My phone buzzes and I think back to the phone calls I have received over the years in regard to friends and family members who were taken either by disease or some other means.

The timing here makes me question whether someone really is in charge. My father died the first week in February. My husband shattered his leg the first week in February. My favorite dog has died the first week in February. If I were to live by the rules of three, I could feel assured my next February will remain disaster free.

On February 10, 2014, to borrow from Arundhati Roy, we walked through that other door to leave a Heebie-shaped hole in the universe. As Groom stroked his head, I stood up.

"It's over," I thought.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

new device

I have never been what one might call "on the cutting edge" of technology. I did get an iPod in late 2001 and was the talk of the itty-bitty small town I was living in at the time, and I have relied on those moments since as my example of being "timely" with my gadgets.

And the iPod was a Christmas gift.

I didn't join Facebook until 2008. Twitter came to me in 2011 and I still don't Tweet with any regularity--I think I have maybe 10 followers. I am on LinkedIn, but it still lists a job I left about three years ago. I finally joined Instagram but I can't get out of the annoying habit of posting images to both Facebook and Instagram. I got my first iPhone juuuuuust before iOS 3 was released and I have been playing catch-up ever since. I'm trading in my iPhone 4s for a 5s as rumors swirl about an iPhone 6 getting released in late 2014. I still use my first iPad. I drive a 2004 VW. And as much as my fantastic hairstylist works otherwise, my hair always defaults to something akin to what Martha Plimpton wore in The Goonies. I can't even have a hip retro haircut.

This past week, I saw a device I had never seen before and I thought, HUZZAH! I'm going to be ahead of the curve. A woman I was working with was wearing it on her wrist. I thought it was a watch, but noooo. It tracked her walking movement and her sleep patterns. While we were together, she had walked nearly seven miles a day, and since we spent most of our time together, it meant I was walking nearly seven miles a day. But she had proof.

This woman, by the way, is a hummingbird of a person. She's tiny and has the most enviable arms--much like a bird might have if it were transformed into a person. They're well shaped and strong. So, of course, I noticed this little black wrist band.

As I mentioned, I was traveling last week and I was traveling without workout clothes or sneakers. (Do we call them sneakers? Running shoes? Workout shoes?) Anyway, due to circumstances beyond my control and due to a story way too long and a little too private to tell here, I was without warm-weather clothing for about a week.

I worked my way to a sports attire shop to buy some walking (?) shoes and as I was standing in line and making fun of the impulse purchase aisle--the aisle they make you stand in while you wait for a cashier, the aisle with  water bottles and workout journals--and declaring, "What kinds of things do the shop owners think people will buy and who impulse purchases things--hey, there's the wrist band Rachel was wearing!

I had an audience of cashiers as I went through my "impulse buys are stupid I think I'll buy this ridiculously stupid item on a whim" routine. And, as I put the $100 wrist band on the counter, the cashier maintained her poker face until I finally said, "Can you believe what an asshole I am?"

She laughed. Thank god.

In short (or long, really), I bought a Fitbit Flex. It's a bracelet you wear all day/all night with a small interface with little LED lights. When you get up in the morning, you tap it twice and see that you have only one light flashing. At the end of the day, the goal is to have five solid lights. 

 The Fitbit syncs with your phone (well, not my phone until I get that cutting edge iPhone 5s and upgrade to iOS 6) and tracks your walking steps (goal = 10,000), your sleeping patterns, and you can use the online tracker to record food and workouts and such. You can set it up to buzz at you as a reminder to get up from your computer and walk around the block or just stretch, which I definitely need. It's pretty cool.

Dali Museum. Very Serious.
So, I laced up my new walking/running/workout (seriously, what should I call them) shoes, donned my linen work skirt (no warm weather clothes means no shorts), and took a 40-minute walk along Bayshore Blvd. in Tampa while my sister and my brother-in-law went running (I'm still not ready to start running but good god am I ready to start skiing again). A quick trip to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, and I had accomplished all 10, 000 steps. As someone who never reaches a goal, I was mildly disappointed. If I can reach this goal, I thought, it's not much of a goal at all. It's about an hour's worth of walking. I felt cheated and more than a little smug.

I need to get more sleep. Noted.
Then I came back to Maine where it's cold and snowy and icy and I hate walking outside. Yesterday, I was thrilled to see I had achieved four lights on my little Fitbit. Today, I have achieved one single light. Smug be gone.

And, to add to my humility, the FitBit products have been around since 2008. The super new gadget I'm wearing? May 2013. The super newest gadget that everyone is wearing now to be au courant? That's called a Fitbit Force, but people apparently are getting burns from the new gadget. Mild consolation when I find myself, yet again, just slightly behind the curve.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

calling an ace a spade

Today, I found the answer to the question I have been asking myself for years. Who the hell is sitting at Shipyard Brewing Company outside security at the Portland Jetport and why is there even a need for such a thing?

I will offer you my response in two parts. A) Me. I am sitting at the Shipyard Brewing Company outside security at Portland Jetport. B) Because Groom doesn't get out of a meeting in Bethel until 3:30 and my two-day late flight arrived today at 2:30.

I always thought it must feel lonely to sit in this weird little spot at the airport. But, after sitting for only a few moments, I decided it was actually kind of cool, with a view of the happenings on the tarmac and such.

Then, I heard "Daddy!" from over the partition as some super sweet loving Portland family reunited at the bottom of the escalator. Did I mention the little brewpub is located at the base of an escalator where families reunite? Yeah, that doesn't sting. (To find that "Daddy!" link, by the way, I spent about 20 minutes watching footage of soldiers meeting their families in airports so now I have the added embarrassment of actually crying while sitting in this weird little brewpub at the base of the escalator on the outside of security at the Portland Jetport. Fabulous.)

I've been traveling for about two weeks and if I've been a fraud at any other time, there's no time like the past two weeks. I was staying with my sister in Florida for some of those travel days (with a bonus two extra days because of all the freshie pow pow falling in New England--and, yes, I owe a dollar). Sister--the one who runs, not the one who swims--was really careful about the kinds of food she offered me. It was so nice and so thoughtful and I felt like such a hypocrite because all I wanted was cheese and meat and more cheese and maybe some cream. Fried cream. Why doesn't that exist?

I've mentioned it before, but I have lost sight of my goal of living the vegan life. I'm starting to identify myself as an occasional vegetarian, which basically describes every single person on this planet. Did you have oatmeal and yogurt for breakfast? (Ha! You are a vegetarian.) How about a nice grilled cheese for lunch? (What, you have a problem with meat?) And, for dinner, let's just eat some pasta with cheese and broccoli. Would you like some Lindt dark chocolate for dessert? (I thought you'd never ask, you delightful non-vegan vegetarian.)

Traveling can be tough on the diet, much like it can be tough on the ears. Do I really need to hear Let Her Go or Say Something one more time? But, traveling with dietary restrictions (no, I dislike that word), traveling with specific dietary requirements (oh sure, that's better) can be tough. Between the lack of choices (it is a fact I ate a doughy piece of pepperoni pizza while driving Alligator Alley in Florida this week because there was nothing else available at the roadside rest stop) and the crazily tempting treats (I did eschew the truffled fries I saw during my travels but I still think about them which means I will likely eat some bad fries as compensation), it's really difficult to stay on track if you're pretending to be vegan(ish).

[While looking for the Say Something clip, I stumbled across this little nugget of cuteness. Skip to the one minute mark. It's like Muriel entered the X Factor.]

I ate what?
I deliberately choose to fly Jetblue through JFK out of PWM when I travel because there are so many healthy alternatives at the Jetblue terminal in New York. But that just adds to my guilt. I did eat a "chef's choice" sushi salad on my way out of town and it wasn't until my stomach gurgled on the plane that I thought, "Did I just eat sushi at an airport?"

I forgot to mention the
Maker's Mark Mint
Iced Tea. I had that too.
I did. And the wine.
By the time I was headed home through JFK this afternoon--after a week at a conference where I'm supposed to be some sort of expert, but where I felt more like the fat kid at the popular cheerleader's party swinging blindly at a pinata as a bunch of baseball recruiters looked on, and comforting myself with cheesy lasagna, homemade meatballs, bites of delicious steak, and finally a very necessary pool-side Cuban following a night that had wrapped itself into the next morning (Cuban sandwich, not Cuban man)--I had convinced myself that arugula with parmesan cheese and cheesy wild mushroom arancini would pass as healthy. Nothing about that decision was healthy. To make matters worse, I read gossip magazines. And it wasn't even People magazine, which at least highlights real people making a difference in the world.

I mean, not that I read those articles about the blind man who climbs Everest or the one-armed woman who coaches inner-city youth, but I feel better giving money to a magazine that celebrates those good people. Instead, today, I bought OK, Star, InTouch, and Vanity Fair, but only because it's the issue that was supposed to eviscerate Gwyneth Paltrow but instead sort of talks about how wonderful she is. As editor Graydon Carter wrote, "It's a story I might read. I just don't want to publish it." Bastard. That's $4.99 and an hour of my time I'll never see again.

I've even reverted back to my habit of "If there's a Mounds bar here, I will buy it. If not, it means the cosmos are telling me I shouldn't get a Mounds bar" method of avoiding bad foods.

I should have just bought a steak and been done with it.

It's time to call it. I'm an occasional vegetarian pescatarian who takes cholesterol medication. Except in the summer when I shall be a mostly vegetarian localvore pescatarian who takes cholesterol medication and has a tan.

We'll talk about sunscreen later.

[The title to this post is a deliberate nod to my friend Nate who said "let's just call an ace a spade" one night over a decade ago after a couple of beers. I have yet to stop laughing about it.]

Monday, January 27, 2014

words are important

Even though I'm definitely not recovering from surgery anymore--I mean, I have this low hum of very mild pain and I'm careful about what I lift and all, but for the most part, I'm fine--I do still spend a lot of time doing nothing, which leads to a lot of time thinking. I'm sure I do nothing mostly because it's been really cold and windy and I'm not skiing and Mr. Magoo the dog doesn't really go for walks anymore, so I don't spend all that much time outside. Instead, I sit and think and try not to become a crazy person.

This post, I'm realizing, has nothing to do with exercise or food. Unless we're talking about food for thought.

Annnnnd...I owe a dollar.

Not too long ago, I was reminded of a debate, an argument really, I had in 2006 with a good friend about a certain word and its meaning. I contended that words are words and, although some bite, every word has a reason for its existence. Recently, however, I heard that debated word tossed into a conversation and I had a very different reaction than I did seven years ago.

I still think words are words and we should celebrate both the history of language and the evolution of language, but I've changed my mind on a few things. I definitely dislike certain innocuous words and always will. For me, it's the same as liking certain colors and disliking others. I like blue. I don't like green.

I flinch when I hear the words fridge, din din, hubby, veggies, kiddo, and Taylor Swift. But, I don't get really upset when I hear them.

All right, fine. I just don't like Taylor Swift. I have a feeling if she weren't famous and she were hanging out near me when I was in my 20s, I would have tripped her in the bar. I find her behavior, her posture, her lipsticked mouth objectionable. I'm sure she's a fine woman. No. Scratch that. I'm sure she'll mature into a fine woman. Right now? Objectionable.

I have a running gag with my sister-in-law's kids that the worst sentence in the English language is Taylor Swift saying, "Eat your veggies, kiddo, or they go back in the fridge."

To be clear, I don't like that sentence but it doesn't offend me. I'm not going to be up in arms because Taylor Swift wants me to eat my veggies or has the audacity to call a 45-year-old woman "kiddo."

I used to lurk on a forum to read some comments and threads because the people on the forum were crazy--crazy, like sitting home alone because it's too cold outside and you're living in the echo of having recently recovered from surgery crazy. I won't call the forum out here, but it was a forum for people who enjoy a specialty recreational activity and hobby. A charming yet harmless hobby that would definitely draw people away from the table and into the shed or barn out back to see the fruits of the host's labor--or in one case, into the small room in the city apartment where the end-product of this hobby was hanging from the ceiling. (You're totally curious right now, aren't you?)

The people hosting the forum eventually had to create an entirely new section called "Miscellaneous--non [hobby] related" where all the crazies would gather to talk about gun control (or not), abortion rights (or not), how much we love our president (or not), religion (my way is best and you are an idiot or not), and all things not suitable for that dinner table we just left to examine the canoe hanging from the ceiling.

Heh. See what I did there?

It's where I learned the phrase ad hominem attack. It's where I learned all my LOLs and IMHOs and ROTFLMAOs. (Or as someone I used work with would write it ROTFLMBO. I think she was Mormon.)

In this Miscellaneous thread (Discovery! I did not know how to spell "miscellaneous" until today. Thank you, auto spell check!), one man prided himself on being some sort of back-to-the-woods intellectual. He envisioned himself as a member of the E.B. White, Thoreau crowd, but he was more of the pedophiliac (not a word, I know) Ted Kacynski variety of person. And, he loved to talk about things that made people uncomfortable, like how he felt sensual with his cat (named Catawampous, can you imagine?) and how the 15-year-old checkout girl at the local grocery store was giving him the eye, because he felt it was his duty to bring these things to light and he felt he was merely commenting on society and the world he lived in. (Ugh. That sounds a little too close to what's happening with this blog. What is happening with this blog?!)

Actually, I don't really know what was driving him but I loved him. Not because I agreed with him, but because he was so delusional I couldn't stop reading his posts. He would casually toss out the words cunt, nigger, spic, paddy, pussy, faggot, retard, and whatever horrible word pops into your head right now. And, I'm sorry for that. I really am. I'm not writing this to shock.

He would then get all defensive when someone called him out for using these words. "They're just words!" he'd shriek into his keyboard. "This shows how closed minded, racist, homophobic, and misogynistic you are! You're the one thinking all those bad things, not me!"

It was brilliant. He would always win his argument. And it brings me to this debate/argument I had almost 10 years ago. Words are important, not just in the PR sense in that nothing is ever less expensive or, god forbid, cheaper. It's always affordable. Words are important because they bring a certain stereotype to mind or a certain emotion to mind. If a word is used to bring someone down, it matters.

I didn't think this in 2006. I thought words were words. I was at an art opening or something similarly uncomfortable yet smug and a man I knew casually but not closely hissed breeder at me. I was shocked and offended. I have never liked that word. One, because while I am heterosexual, I'm not a breeder and as someone without kids, that word stings. For the record, by the way, I am straight but not narrow, thank you very much. (I just made myself laugh.) And, two, all those babies people adopt? They are squeezed out of lady breeder parts. So, you can't hate breeders and yet adopt their babies. Yes, even the Asian ones.

Hey now. Sorry. That's a nasty stereotype. But I can't resist a joke, no matter how offensive. And, as my friend D says, "Stereotypes save time."

Oh, god. Sorry. No.

How I responded to this man was to say the word "breeder" is as bad a word to me as "faggot" because I weighted all words equally. I stayed away from certain words, such as the ones listed above, because I knew they hurt, but I attributed the same weight to each word. For me, personally, the word that got under my skin was "breeder," but I gave it the same weight as any other word, including the word faggot. This turned into a weeks-long debate with other friends because I would bring it up in conversation whenever I could. God, I got really boring. It had turned into a real thing for me.

And then, a few years ago, I watched Louis C.K. talk about it on his show "Louie."

So I did a little research. In some circles, the word derives from the word "fagot," which meant "contemptible woman" or "ball buster" in the early 20th century. Or it could be derived from late 18th century when "to fag" meant to do tasks for an upperclassman as an underclassman. I haven't found evidence that the word "faggot" is directly linked, when talking about a homosexual male, to the sticks thrown on a fire, but as The Straight Dope says, words happen.

With all of that behind me, faggot has become the most objectionable word to me. Call me a cunt. Call me a bitch. Call me a ball buster. Say I'm retarded. Tell me I'm emotional because I'm on the rag. Criticize me for being a bad driver. Make fun of me because I can't fix the kitchen sink or change a tire. Allude to my love for romantic comedies or my desire to drink sweet cocktails in fun little glasses while shrieking with my girlfriends. Those words and those stereotypes all carry the same weight and I will choose to fight or not to fight, depending on how Taylor Swifty you are and how much bourbon I've had to drink.

But, don't ever use a word that however remotely or inaccurately links to the days when human beings may have been used as kindling. I'm not saying what happened to people who were burned at the stake is in any way better than someone used as a faggot, but at least the heretics and witches mostly died of asphyxiation. That poor man being thrown down on the bonfire and held there with sticks and poles by a crazy mob of barbarians to make the fire grow faster and hotter? No. (Lord knows, the Irish would have been a better choice anyway, what with all that whiskey running through the veins. Did the Irish ever actually burn at the stake or did they just get burnt by the English landholders? Sorry. Off-topic.)

People are not kindling and we should all know what we're saying when we say it because words are very, very important. Dink.

[I should mention a former colleague of a colleague shared an unpublished rant directed toward an unreasonable and disgruntled customer about a year ago. When he was done with his reasonable yet flippant response, he ended the letter with "Dink." I've stolen it here because it makes me laugh.]