A shotgun blast of Things


I turn 40 in a week, and I can’t form a coherent thought.

We can put some of that down to the usual summer doldrums — being a teacher, the summer months sort of naturally take on an empty quality, to be drifted through until, in the Fall, the students return, and with them purpose. But I think it’d be a foolish proposal to pretend that the bulk of my ennui isn’t due to all, well, this.

You know. *Gestures around non-specifically*

So instead of trying to put together a big comeback post exploring the vast depths of some weighty topic, I’m gonna dip my toes in lots of pools that have occupied my thoughts over the past month or so since I peeked out of my cave.

In no particular order, then:

We have a new cat. To be specific, we have a new kitten, which is different from having a cat. A cat lies around the house, looks for sunny patches, and generally ignores you. A kitten is a terror in the household: it attacks anything that moves, including but not limited to: the other animals, the kids, the edge of a blanket stirred by the lazy breeze from the oscillating fan, or the piece of fuzz caught in my scalp stubble. All of us have suffered scratches, some of us have lost blood. In particular, the cat loves to lurk under our bed and to pounce on my toes as I walk past, a habit I cannot endorse but which I seem unable to break the little bugger of.

Adorable, but vicious.

My wife has had back surgery. This is not a sudden development; it’s something she’s (and we’ve) been thinking about for years. The surgery repaired a chronic issue she’s had, possibly for her entire life, but which in the last five years or so began to cause her immense pain and discomfort. So they replaced a spinal disc with a composite of stem cells and fused her vertebrae with screws, an operation both staggeringly high-tech and low-tech at the same time, and I reiterate my oft-invoked refrain that modern medicine is magic. During her stay in the hospital, thanks to COVID-19, I was unable to visit her. This was very strange and unsettling for us both; we are rarely out of each other’s company like that. But she’s home, and recovering, and hopefully she will bounce back better than she’s been in years.

Apparently my Harry Potter tattoo is problematic now. JK Rowling just keeps getting herself in hot water, apparently not familiar with the old adage that sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Generally I’m of the opinion that art can and should be considered as independent from its creator, and thusly whatever reprehensible comments a creator makes or thoughts a creator has should not retroactively damage the warm feeling one may have derived from their works, especially when those works were consumed in childhood and well before said creator said or thought such things or even knew they thought them. But Rowling is sort of unique in that she is so hands-on, and keeps reinventing the canon after the works are long finished. I hate cancel culture as much as anybody, but at the same time, Rowling has had a hell of a time in the spotlight, and maybe it’s time we moved on from her and her too-loud, too-political, too-problematic presence. There are other authors writing similar — and in many cases better — stories after all, she just happened to catch the cultural wave at the right time to become something of a god-emperor to so many. And now I have to have mixed feelings about the fact that I have what I thought was a relatively benign symbol from her books permanently affixed to my skin.

I guess I should have waited until she was dead and thus incapable of opening her mouth and polluting the discourse. I feel decidedly less conflicted about my Hitchhiker’s Guide ink.

I donated blood a few weeks ago. This is something I enjoy doing, as — in the words of Christopher Hitchens — somebody else gets something, and I don’t lose anything; and goodness knows, the time may come when I need to drink from the pool, if you’ll pardon the gruesome metaphor. Giving blood is one of the most immediate and visceral ways to remind oneself that we’re all ultimately the same, and giving blood is in the communal interest.

Into the bargain, though, they tested me for COVID-19 antibodies. My wife and I are teachers, and our kids are both in elementary school, and both of our kids were very sick (cough, fever and general malaise lasting for several days) back in February, with my wife and I getting a whiff of what they had. Never diagnosed exactly what we had, but it wasn’t the flu, and it wasn’t strep, so we just assumed that, with all the time we spent in schools (aka simmering petri dishes on a good day), that was our brush with COVID, and we came through it more or less unscathed. But my antibody test was negative. Which means we either haven’t been exposed or the test was faulty, though I like to think that the Red Cross is using reliable testing. Point is, I had been navigating all of this with the back-of-my-mind consolation that we’d already had it and didn’t need to worry very much, and now, that’s taken away.

On that subject, I’m wearing a mask almost everywhere. Even when I pick up food — even going to a drive-thru (yes I know if I have concerns I shouldn’t be going to drive thrus, I get it, sometimes I just don’t want to cook) — I will put on a mask. No matter how short the interaction (unless some door-to-door salesman deposits himself on my doorstep — that’s his lookout) I put on the mask. Why? Because having all this time at home the past several months, and watching so much news (bad idea, I know, let’s not talk about it), I can’t help but take the global view, the communal view. And I try hard to be internally consistent. If wearing the mask is about protecting everybody else, then I feel I ought to protect everybody else all the time, and not fall victim to thinking “oh I’m only going to share space with this person for a few seconds, no need for a mask”. No, if you’re going to wear the mask when you go out, you should be wearing the mask every time you go out. I don’t think there’s a lot of wiggle room here.

Everything is political and I hate it. This is not a new phenomenon, but it does seem worse over the past, oh I dunno, three and a half years. You can barely express a view on something without being assumed to be a mindless soldier for some cause or another. Every day you wake up and read on social media about how some prominent person has said some questionable thing — now or even in the past — and we all have to hate them now. (See JK Rowling, above.) Even the fact that I wear the mask in public is seen by some, I have no doubt, that I’m a brainless libtard. And I admit I harbor equally unsavory thoughts about the people in grocery stores not wearing masks. And that’s just one issue. In a better society, wearing a mask or not would only be a sign of how informed you are on an issue and how you feel about that particular issue. Unfortunately, that’s not the society we’re living in. It’s exhausting and I hate it.

Work on the novel is spotty. When all this started, I was secretly happy for the extra time at home: extra time to work on the novel! That lasted for maybe a month. Since then I’ve been stalled, coming back to the project in fits and starts, working for a while then losing hope and conviction and abandoning it for great stretches of time, then feeling guilty about not making use of the time and forcing myself back to it. Part of the problem is the super-prevalent feeling of overwhelm. Part of it is that my little superhero story seems downright silly in the face of everything going on right now and to work on it seems somehow, I dunno, disrespectful to the real issues that are happening. I don’t know how to fix that feeling.

I’ll close today with this. I just listened to a podcast from Malcolm Gladwell (anything by Malcolm Gladwell is basically guaranteed to challenge your beliefs in one way or another), and it is worth your time. Especially if you are one of those who thinks, of all the people in the country, we have to choose one of THESE TWO for president? The central conceit is one I live by: nobody really knows anything.

I mean, what he talks about isn’t going to happen, but it sure is interesting to think about.

Anyway, it’s Friday, and that’s good for something, I guess.

tom hiddleston friday GIF

A Crack in the Wall


Our house is this beautiful thing. Not too old. Paint that makes you think of breakfast. The smudges on the walls, knee- and waist-high to an adult, from years and years of kids putting their grubby hands on everything. You know; lived in. Home.

But there’s this crack near the floor. Kind of in the back by the kitchen, on this back wall. It’s hard to even notice it if you don’t go looking for it, but I noticed it a year ago and didn’t think much on it. Walls get cracks, don’t they? I pointed it out to dad, and he told me “don’t worry about cracks.” So I didn’t.

But a little later I noticed it again, and it looked like it had grown. Out from that corner, like a jagged bolt of lightning creeping out from the corner in slow motion. I asked dad again, and he said “why are you even looking for cracks in the wall? You’ve got this great big beautiful house, and you’re worried about a little crack.”

And he’s right, of course. This little crack isn’t gonna bring the house down. Just to make the point, he painted over it, but the paint was so bright and new it didn’t match the walls anymore and it looked weird. Sort of drew the eye in a way the crack alone hadn’t done.

A few months later, I had been away from the house for a while. I wasn’t even thinking about that crack in the wall; to be honest, I had forgotten about it. But dad had painted the whole wall, which seemed strange to me, and when I went to look for the crack again, there it was — even bigger than before, as long as my arm, snaking up toward the window. It was hidden under several layers of paint, but you couldn’t miss it anymore; it stood out like the veins on grandma’s legs.

I mentioned it to dad: “don’t you think you ought to get it fixed?”

Dad got mad. “I’ve been telling you for months, there’s no crack in that wall. Don’t do nothin’ but complain. Never mind the fresh paint I put up there from where you kids messed it all up. That wall looks better than it has in years, and you’re fussin’ ’bout a crack that’s not even there.”

It seemed like a sensitive subject, so I left it.

It’s been a few years now, since I went away to school and came back. That crack covers the whole wall now, like a skeletal tree from floor to ceiling. Dad quit painting it; it’s out there for all to see. The roof even looks like it sags a bit. I never worried about the crack actually damaging the house before, but now I’m not so sure.

You can’t talk to dad about it though. You even glance at that wall out of the corner of your eye and he’ll blow his top, ranting about everything he’s done for us and shouting that the house has never looked more beautiful.

I’m worried about him. And about the house.

On the one hand, dad’s probably right. That one crack probably won’t bring the house down.

But there’s a new crack out by the garage. And I’m afraid to even mention it to him.


Strange Smells and Wishful Thinking


There’s a strange smell in our house this morning.

We have a dog and several cats, so I have a good idea what it is, but I don’t know with certainty. I mean, it’s almost certainly poop, but there’s a vanishing chance it’s something not-poop. (Once, at the old house, a squirrel got into the attic and died of causes unknown. Several weeks later, after we had taken to calling the office room upstairs “the room of death” because of the smell — which we could not for the life of us locate — I got up to the attic and found the unfortunate critter in a partial state of decomposition. The surprising thing was how crispy it was. I went up with rubber gloves and garbage bags and an oversized roll of paper towels to take on the cleaning task, but I was able to lift the poor thing by the tail (it stood up in my gloved hand like a stick) and dispose of it without much fuss.) Could be a cat hairball, but those don’t smell so much as lie in wait for your bare feet to step in.

No, this is poop, and it’s waiting for me to find it.

And let’s be clear, I don’t want to find it.

What I want is to be wrong: the smell is not a poop on the floor, but rather a poop in the appropriate place that our fatter, lazier cat has failed to cover up. Or maybe the dog farted and it’s just, I mean, awful, but it’ll go away soon. Or maybe it’s that funky coffee brew my wife has that tricks my nose sometimes. (I usually love the smell of coffee — though I hate the taste — except for this one brand she buys that smells like pet defecation. She thinks I’m crazy for this, but I can’t help what I smell.)

I also don’t want to get up and look for the source of the smell. I want to not know the source, because if I get up and find it, and it is what I know it is, then I will have to clean it. And on this beautiful Saturday morning, the last thing I want is to clean up poop.

Unfortunately, what I want to be true and what is true are two concepts with little regard for each other. There is definitely poop somewhere, and that poop is going to have to be cleaned, no matter how much I would rather bury my head in the sand and sit on the couch and pretend life is normal.It’s here somewhere, no matter how much I want to sit and enjoy the sun streaming through the windows or to go and sit down at a restaurant or to not have to wear a mask when I go out in public, and people are getting sick and dying no matter how much some of us want to pretend that it’s okay and WHOOPS MY WHOLE METAPHOR BROKE DOWN THERE DIDN’T IT.

There’s poop in the house and if we all pretend there isn’t, it’s gonna pile up until we can’t pretend anymore.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


Early Rise


I’ve been sleeping in a lot lately.

(Sleeping in is, of course, relative when you have kids under the age of TEENAGER because they are up at the crack of dawn to ask you for cereal and ask you to put cartoons on and to torment the pets and to fight with each other and to make messes and to tell you about their dreams and HOLY COW KID IT’S BARELY 7 AM)

Why not, right? Wife and I are working from home. Kids are schooling from home. And since we don’t have to drive in to work, getting ready for work doesn’t have to start until about twenty minutes later. And since we’re almost certainly not going to see our co-workers face-to-face, the getting ready itself doesn’t take as long. And since time in the larger sense is one big jello mold we’re all wading through in slow motion, the point of all this feels obscured, if not outright lost.

And, as these things tend to do, the effects compound and magnify each other, a snowball rolling downhill turning into a boulder and then an avalanche. Don’t have to get up quite so early so we sleep in a bit. And since we’re gonna sleep in a little bit, we stay up a little later. And since we’re gonna stay up a little later, why not let the kids stay up a little later? And those dishes in the sink? They’ll keep until tomorrow. And the laundry piling up? We’ll make it to the weekend. (Post-lockdown, the standard for “dirty” laundry might shift in ways some of us are not entirely comfortable with.)

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. There are certainly a lot of thinkpieces going around right now that tell you it’s okay to take a step back, to breathe, to relax. It may in fact be a good thing to let some things slide, hit the snooze button a few more times. Veg out. Wait till it’s over. And I can see some benefit to that.

But I also know that after a couple weeks of that, I feel like garbage. Not getting as much work done as I’d like. Letting the house be not just lived-in-messy but actually messy-messy — because why not? We (and by we I mean 85% the kids, 10% the pets, 10% me, and -5% my wife) are just gonna mess it up again before you can blink. And the work I’m not getting done, well, there’s certainly tomorrow (and tomorrow, and tomorrow).

So this morning I decided I was going to get up early again and get after it. Not even super-early — not chasing that 4:30 AM madness I’m on during the regular world of work — just 5:30. Woke up (ahead of the alarm actually; got to steal some of those elusive half-naps in the minutes before the sounding of the bell), got dressed, went for a run. Got back, took the dog out (for a bit of a walk, rather than just letting her into the backyard. You know, because I had some extra time). Did the dishes from last night. Sat down, did my morning pages. By that time, it was seven and the sprout was up — but I already had the drop on the day, and I was ready for him. Made his breakfast, got him settled. After all that, I still had an hour before I even had to think about starting the workday.

I feel good — like just, generally, not-really-sure-why, everything-might-just-be-okay good –for the first time in days if not weeks. I feel optimistic, energetic. I’m getting a few things done. (Heck, I’m here making a post when it’s been *QUARANTINE TIME HAS NO MEANING* days since I did that.) I can’t scientifically say that it’s all because I got out of bed early, but there’s certainly a correlation. A correlation worth investigating (again) tomorrow.

They say the little things make a big difference. I think we all know that, but sometimes it helps to get that little reminder.


Quaranfeline


Day 21

I don’t know what the hell’s going on. It’s been three weeks now.

Three. Weeks.

They won’t leave. I mean, occasionally the little ones will go outside, run around and scream in the big green thing for a little while and come back in smelling of mud and sunshine (disgusting). And now and then the taller ones will leave, jangly things in hand, the way they used to — but they reappear again all too soon with the bags of Things We Can Smell But Not Eat.

And that’s it.

They watch the big box with the pictures. Nothing but other tall ones there, talking at them. It makes them angry. Why do they do this thing that makes them angry?

They watch the little folding boxes with the pictures. Sometimes they talk to those now. That’s new. (Maybe they are going crazy.)

And they use their little tappy boxes with the pictures. Stare deeply into them for hours, as if looking for the meaning of life itself, when we could tell it to them if they would only ask.

The Big Dummy is losing it, too. She’s used to sleeping most of the day, but with the tall ones here, she feels like she has to perform all the time. Begging for treats, spinning in circles, following them around from one room to the next with that dumb, hopeful grin on her face. God, she sickens me. Can’t the tall ones see through her sycophantish ruse?

And yet they shower her with pats on the head, with belly rubs, with face smooshes. I mean, I don’t want a belly rub — I’d shred their arms if they tried — but it’d be nice if they would offer. And who doesn’t want a face smoosh?

This is intolerable.

How are we to live when they won’t leave? Orange has gotten no work done on his opus, Black’s studies are falling behind. My experiments are on indefinite hold, and the Runt, well … she can’t even play properly. We can’t do any of the things we would like to do — that we must do — under the eyes of the tall ones.

If they knew what we knew, what we are, all would be lost. And as painful as it may be to keep them in the long, deep, dark about us — as painful as it is to laze around with them, to pretend to be only what they think us to be — it is a duty we must embrace.

We hear rumblings from the others. That their tall ones, too, have suddenly chosen to stay, that they no longer have their homes to themselves for even a single minute of the day. It’s not better to know that the others suffer with us, but it does make it more bearable, somehow.

As the sun rises on this day, the little ones are already awake. The tall ones are stirring. The One With No Hair sits with his folding box, sometimes looking oddly at me as he taps the tappy tappers. What is he thinking? That I will suddenly dance for him?

I’m no puppet on a string. He insults me with his very existence.

Blast. I made eye contact.

He’s coming this way. He’s … picking something up. What is that? Another box with pictures? Some new tappy thing? He points it at me and —

Oh.

Oh, you son of a bitch.

I have to go. The red dot on the floor is back.

Today I will catch it.

This post is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Caturday.


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