don't grade yourself; you're just auditing

Some weeks, do you have a resounding mantra in your head that sounds like, "I'm just not doing very well at life...I'm just not doing very well?"  And you're not sure exactly what constitutes "doing well," but you're certain "well" looks different from what you're doing?  And if someone were coming around with a clip board to observe and grade you, you know she'd come with a clucking tongue, shaking her head and frowning.

But you're not dumb, you know no one is coming to grade you, which is all the more reason not to let yourself off the hook.  You must cluck and frown at yourself and remind yourself your performance is sub par.  It feels bad.  But if you relaxed, wouldn't you just slide further and further into mediocrity and sub par and even deeper into just plain shameful?

I know that we don't get graded.
I know we shouldn't compare our parenting or personality or job performance or anything else to others' or even to some fictitious ideal.
These days, I still cluck and frown at myself and tell myself I could "do much better, young lady."
I still mentally grade myself.
HOWEVER, I'd like to point out that I know it's wrong and I remind myself that it's wrong AS I cluck and frown.
And for this...
Well, I believe I should receive partial credit towards the final grade.

the future

Because you cannot see your future,
doesn't mean it is not lovely.
It does not mean it doesn't exist.

Look into that hazy void
and dream and pray,
work and love.

Then turn and do the same
with the present.
Eventually, they will bump up against each other
and meet.

Monkey Life Part 3

Here's the problem...
There are just SO MANY damn things you have to do to stay alive.
I mean, I can eat real food OR take a multi-vitamin, but how can I remember both?
And why isn't food just a space pill yet?  I was promised in a movie once.

I can be clothed OR match, but not both.  So I'll wear all black and grey and blend.  And shut up about adding accessories; am I a wizard?  (Confession to my scarf-loving friends:  I added two scarves this year.  One's black and one's grey).

Warning:  If you find yourself in monkey phase, think carefully before buying a dog.  If you have one already, well...well you just do.  Try not to lose her.  But if you don't, wait six months.  I spend a lot of time and energy "coming to" mentally only to panic and call out, "Roxy???  Roxy where are you???"only to stand up and step on her tail. 
If you get one, get a needy codependent one who won't wander away.

Last week in the snow, I took the dog out at 10pm, dropped my keys into the snow and couldn't find them for 20 minutes.  You may be thinking that's not weird, except that I didn't know my keyring was with me until I heard a plunk that sounded keyish.  Basically, as soon as I realized I had it, it was gone.  You know, like my good firm fanny from my 20s.

If you're in monkey phase, be super friendly and kind, because you'll need a lot of grace from others.  I forgot to pay my rent one month,  TIL THE 15TH of the month.  People will forgive a lot if you're honest and kind, because remember you don't have that bottom working for you anymore.

No one gets gifts or birthday wishes from you much when you're a monkey.  Or rather, the person you barely know but happened to be born on and cross your radar on one of your lucid days gets a LOT of celebration.  You just pour all the love and guilt of forgetting your immediate family's birthdays into that one friendly maintenance guy named John or Jason or "Hey Buddy," until he's nervous about returning to your apartment for the next air filter change.

Monkey Life Part 2: Scavenging and Forgetfulness

The more I think about monkeys, the more I wonder if I should use a different animal as a comparison for my current lifestyle.  I'm a bit afraid monkeys are sharper and more organized, maybe even cleaner and more fit.  But I chose monkey, so monkey I am.

In Part One, I explained that I've always been an overly organized, routine-oriented adult...since I was born.  In this year of transition, I suppose my energy and memory power is localized somewhere away from my brain.  It's like I'm an ape trying to learn sign language, and I'm trying so hard that I forget the other things in life.  Except at the end, I don't know sign language.

And that's a rip off because now I don't know sign language, but I still forget to eat meals...and buy silverware...and turn off the sink before I go to the car to get my phone charger but see something shiny on the way and then see a neighbor kid and show him the shiny thing and then spend some time wondering why everyone else's kids seem so mysteriously sticky and eventually the sink runs over and the bathroom is like a fun splash pad.  And also I forgot my phone charger.

I put a giant bag of trash in my backseat to carry to the dumpster 50 yards away.  That was Thursday.  I found it yesterday still in the seat.  I'd rather not say what today is, but I had reached around it to get my purse more than once and not noticed it.

A shout out to work place break rooms.  While I used to think they were full of strange smells, as a monkey, they're my best friend.  I've lived off community snacks for months.  I wasn't excited about those bacon maple cupcakes the first day they came in, but by the second third and fourth days, I'd finished them.  Sorry coworkers; you snooze, you lose.  And thank you zookeepers for your regular holiday deliveries.  Amazingly, I'm not much heavier as a monkey, but I'm pretty sure if I cut my leg shaving, nothing but a puff of air and a Danish cookie would fall out.

Monkey Life - Part 1

If you are a very routine-oriented person, caution:  You may be two steps away from becoming a monkey.

I don't know much about monkeys.  I have a friend Heather who studied them professionally.  If I asked her, she could clear up my misconceptions in five minutes, but that would involve a text, waiting for a response, listening and learning just sounds like a whole thing.  Maybe I'd be up for it, if I weren't already living tail deep in the monkey life.

I look around my apartment, and some days, it looks like a murder scene.  Correction:  a taxidermied murder scene.  There's no blood, but I look at the ransacked empty cupboards, the piles of laundry, myself under heaps of disheveled bed covers, the dog sprawled and motionless and I think, "If this were the 20s, a detective in a snappy fedora would be here to make chalk outlines any minute." 

The thing is, we aren't depressed. 
I mean, I can't speak for the dog, and she did take last year's election hard, but we aren't unhappy.  We are just in transition, our routine has been shot all to hell, and we are tail-deep in the monkey life.

In my mind, the "monkey life" is having no meal plan, no money plan, no morning plan, no routine.  Yes, I make it to my most important places:  work, parenting gigs, and...okay, that's all the places I make it.  And yes, that's fairly impressive, because I'm alive and well, and so are the kids.  But the rest of my life feels very amorphous. 

In reality, the description of my life sounds like any 20-something.  However, I'm 46, and very much a grownup.  Also, I never lived the  20-something lifestyle, even in my 20s, so it feels even more monkeyesque.  You see, basically, I was born a 40-year-old man.  By the time I was 40, I was an 80-year-old man.  So you can see why it feels like I'm Benjamin-Buttoning here.

Growing up, I was my father's daughter and modeled whatever he did.  He didn't have a rebellious stage after 40.  Therefore, while I was observing as a much younger person, neither did I.  As soon as I was in college, I was up early, drinking coffee and reading the paper in the cafeteria (where people could see).  That's not normal.  By the time I was in my 20s and living with roommates, I was doing the same, plus adding a jog before work.  By my late 20s, I was up reading the paper  AND the bible for an hour, and writing bible studies.  Y'all, that was not the right age for that.  I should have been sleeping off hangovers and wondering where I'd left my top.  And if/when I found said top, it should've had bong burns on it.  Honestly, I don't even know if bong is spelled right or if it's something that gets hot.  In Jackie Brown, I think I saw a lighter and I think that was a bong, so hopefully I'm right.

At my rehearsal dinner, my childhood friend Amy toasted by saying to fiance, "I can't believe you get to live with Pam - you'll have so much fun," but my 20s roommate Lee said, "Every morning I'd be so inspired because I'd get up and see Pam there with her coffee reading the bible and writing and she'd been up for hours already."  [Side note:  That same night, if you'd asked my dad how his morning began, he could've told you, "I was on the curb watching for the paper at 4:30am.  That guy just gets later and later].  If you know either of us, now you understand that we do not have narcolepsy.  We just doze off every chance we get, because our days start early and fast.

All of this is fine, impressive even in a weird way.  I'm an early bird, I've got a routine.  I get that.  I've always embraced it.  But I only described a few hours of my day to you.  The other hours of my day were organized too, and I thrived on my routine.  I exhilarated in knowing my purpose, and even though I was never clear on my life's purpose, I knew my daily purpose was that routine, and by god, I embraced it heartily.  I often joke that I'd flourish in a cult, and it's true.  Part of that is because if you give me a structure, I'm just grateful and root in hard.

Skip ahead to 2017, life being in total transition, routine annihilated, morning activities no longer relevant...all hell breaks loose and I am living like a monkey. 
Sometimes a taxidermied monkey.

(and just when it might get interesting, I stop writing to take the dog out).


pie nook

just one stop between book deliveries
don't dally and loiter
Miss Olive is waiting,
you must be coffee-quick!

but it hits me in the stomach
like seeing an ex,
no, like smelling an ex,
the Tide in his clothes,
you can't see it coming
so there's no time to brace

look!  it's my table,
my corner, my nook.
hello old friend,
did you miss me missing you?

my holy spot
where I spent a year of mornings,
before there was the liberry
there was you and just me

you taught me to sit still,
and how to draw for fun,
how to draw for a reason
as well as how not to.

we wrote jokes, sets, notecards
I'd practice silently in my head,
trying not to move my lips,
(i heard you look smarter if you don't).

you helped me learn to appreciate my age,
although mostly I tried to decipher it:
am I old?  am I young?
yes and also yes

i tried to gauge my age,
but it was tricky, you know.
skinny jeans were in, but the male barista's matched mine.
what were the chances that we were both right?

but in a coffee shop by late morning
when those with real jobs have cleared out,
everyone fancies himself
an artist, a needle
in the unappreciative haystack,

we fancied ourselves poets
and writers and such,
but the fancying, it mattered,
and I won't say we were wrong.

but maybe age wasn't what i thought
Olive Miyagi has taught me better.
life keeps growing
and the creating helps it along.

doesn't everyone have something
to make and to add?
has all the art already been arted?
maybe there's more if we start it

Prof. Machovec, Econ 101, always demanded
"Don't divide up the pie, waiting for the tin to run empty,
make more pie, there's always more can be made!"

word pie
music pie
picture pie
people pie
roll up your sleeves and flour your hands.

Little Corner, it's been awhile.
you seem shifty and nervous.
you rebounded, didn't you?
did she drink sissy coffees?

I bet she instagrammed her lattes
and ate her cake pops in two sittings.
she sounds just horrible, and
I hate her already.

but how can i complain when
I did the leaving?
you couldn't help but be tempted
by her mochas and sloppy seconds.

but for a minute, i'm here,
the coffee's black and strong.
i'm rolling up my sleeves
and it's time to bake or be baked.

painting by


I used to write.

I used to write so much that other people called me a writer.
I didn't believe them, but that was how much I wrote.

I wrote in all lowercase letters.
They seemed approachable, unimposing, gentle.
I overused ellipses because periods seemed harsh and bossy.

On Thursdays, I met with a woman who asked me to choose a figure from a basket and place it anywhere I wanted in a small sandbox.  I chose a baby deer.  Then she asked me to add a second.  I chose a person swinging a stick and I buried it in the corner under the sand.

In a place I couldn't get at ease,  I created the coziest, tiniest nook anyone over five feet tall ever fit, and "fit" is a loose term, because my knees were too tall for the writing desk.  But the nook had soft lighting and muted drawings. If I faced forward, nowhere else existed.

I practiced having lowercase hands that patted and opened to every person I met.
I assumed everyone may be coming out into the world from a cozy nook, braving the elements, and anything but kindness might scare them back in.
Because, you just never know.

I dreamed about a new place where I could enter each room freely.
I prayed and searched and visited and waited.  I shopped for tables, coffee, kitchen and side ones, and realized that everything I wanted was circular.  Anything with the hint of a sharp corner, turned me on my heel and sent me back towards the furry blanket displays.

I dreamed about a place, but was doubtful.  You never know if your mind just can't handle sharp corners anywhere.  Maybe it's you.  Maybe you'll be fashioning nooks or nests anywhere you light the rest of your life.

The woman asked me to choose a figure to place near the fawn.
I chose a lion wearing a crown.  Not a scary roaring one.  It sat tall and serene and I placed her just in front of the fawn protectively.  She said choose another also, so I placed a tiny soldier behind the fawn for backup.  I named him Kevin.  I said he was small and in training, but feisty and had heart.  She said I didn't need to name him, and truthfully, this activity was supposed to be less verbal than I making it.

I made it to a new place.
I stood up to my full height (minus my shepherd's crook posture) the moment I entered.
I roamed through each tiny room and exhaled.
I wasn't sure where the cozy nook should be.  For weeks, I tried different areas.  Nowhere was just right.  Finally I realized, all four rooms were my nest.
I breathed and found I didn't notice whether there were sharp corners or not.
My coffee table is round, but frankly a rectangle would hold more books.  I'm considering.

When the sandbox was full, I asked what it meant.  What happened to the figures?  Who are they?
"You," she said.
"The fawn?" I asked.
"All of them."
I was skeptical.  "The soldier...the one under the sand...the lion in the crown...."

I didn't believe her.
Until today.