Category Archives: life

The Rapidly Ageing Young Adult Celebrates New Year’s Eve

I’m moving into a new phase in which the most mundane details of life excite me terribly. Homeowners’ insurance, self-employment taxes, upholstery, eyeglass prescriptions, fabric store coupons. The clean way you can slice the stem off Swiss chard by making a v-shape with your knife.

The author at age 32.

Computer simulation allows us to view what the author will look like at age 32.

In fact, this is the first New Year’s Eve that I plan to enjoy from the comfort of my own couch: sweatpants, electric blanket, $2.99 streamed movie from Amazon. And I’m excited about it.  This is normal for thirty, right? I mean, I was delighted to be called “mature” by my second-grade teacher over two decades ago, but that word takes on a new meaning as the years pass, and now it has vague ties to gray hair and a growling disposition.

Anyway. It’s exhausting to be so old & wise.

Minnesota is cold again, so cold that the dog sleeps for 14 hours a day, buried in her pop-up tent, and the draft our landlord promised to fix 2 years ago winds merrily around the living room, knocking Christmas cards off the refrigerator.

That’s cool, though, because we bought a freaking house and are moving soon. No big deal.

Life has been very good to us.

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Read: Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn

Reading: Alice Munro’s Dear Life

Watched: Anna Karenina

Hoping to get Lovie to agree to watch: The Hobbit

Post-election Thoughts (and Feeeeeeeelings)

Another four years of this man? Thank you, don’t mind if I do.

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But here’s the truth, the real, raw honesty of it: election night was one of the most anxious nights of my life, and I spent it huddled under a blanket on the couch, shrieking at Lovie to TURN THE CHANNEL BACK TO SCOTT PELLEY any time a commercial break came on during our recorded episode of 30 Rock (because Lovie, being the smart one in the family, thought it would be more relaxing to spend the evening with Tina Fey than Karl Rove).

After Ohio’s results began to reveal Obama’s lead, I did relax a little. I opened a beer, checked Facebook and Twitter and CNN and the Huffington Post, and suddenly I was hit with such a wave of sadness that the first beer magically disappeared and I had to open a second.

Divided Minnesota (image found on Google)

Here’s what bums me out: seeing the graphics and numbers on the screen, I realized that being divided is the only way our country knows how to exist. It’s our modus operandi: the country is neatly split in ideological halves. So is each state, and each city and county. The marriage amendment in Minnesota was knocked down only by the slimmest of margins (thanks to the tremendous efforts of a hard-working, compassionate group of people who tirelessly fought for my civil rights these past few months), which means that 48% of the voters in my own state turned up at their polling places Tuesday morning and filled in a circle indicating their preference that I never marry. Forty-eight percent!

This divide keeps going, so that if you reduce our country to its most basic form, you get this: two people who hate each other.

No, I think it goes even further than that, actually. It’s one person, having an argument in her head with another imaginary person and feeling helpless and oppressed by this fictional interaction (this just happened to me an hour ago as I was toweling off from the shower). Every problem in our country and in our world is already a problem in our own minds.

Shirley asks that you please be kind to one another.

When the post-victory buzz wore off and I was solemnly eating toast and watching my Facebook friend count drop Wednesday morning (apparently not everyone is a fan of picture of Obama without his shirt on), I realized that the only way to begin moving in the direction of unity is for every person to begin with himself. Stop that nasty chatter in your mind about the miserable day you had yesterday, and what you could have said to that Republican Evangelical from your home town who claimed that Obamacare requires all Christians to have microchips implanted in their bodies, and stop hating on Donald Trump, and Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and that other Evangelical on Facebook who said the country’s in the toilet because Obama prays to Allah every day.*

Because that half of the country is just like the restless half of your mind that refuses to stop ruminating and worrying and being anxious: it needs love, and the gentlest touch of kindness.

Sometimes I feel like getting really worked up with anger is the best thing that could happen to me, because it gives me the chance to take a good, clear look at my own reactive patterns. It gets violent up in there, in my mind, so it’s no wonder that our country, which is simply a telescoped version of our inner lives, is so messed up. Since the only thing I have control over is how I choose to react to all the crap that I encounter, I may as well spend my time practicing how to manage that control. And watching 30 Rock.

*Just kidding. It was the same Evangelical.

Thinking about thinking: also, a poodle and her tennis ball

I’m a bad blogger, it’s true. I don’t have a good excuse. I’m just busy with life being very good–a topic for another entry, another day.

So I finally listened to the Radiolab podcast episode called “Voices in Your Head.” I’ve been carrying this around on my iPod for awhile now, afraid to listen because I thought this might be the episode that confirms I’m completely nuts, but I finally got up the courage (sunny morning, hot cup of tea) to hit play on the bus ride to work yesterday.

So meta: Lev Vygotsky, thinking about thinking about thoughts.

They discuss a concept first introduced by a psychologist named Lev Vygotsky, a man who may only be 88% consonants but is ALL Russian. Vygotky posited that perhaps the reason we “hear” voices in our surface-level, narrative thoughts is because we’ve absorbed the dialogues we had with our parents when we were just diaper-wearing kiddos, arguing with Mom about how it’s none of her business why our hand is in our pants again. In essence, then, none of our thoughts are intrinsically ours.

This episode was a nice complement to the incredible weekend I just spent at a retreat with Dr. Richard Davidson and Matthieu Ricard (Google them!–they’re the scientist and the monk behind the new neuroplasticity*/science of meditation craze), where Matthieu spoke at some length about the Buddhist concept of emptiness. (There is no nutshell, but in a nutshell, nothing exists inherently on its own; everything is dependent on the causes and conditions of other things).

Davidson & Ricard

Made me think that if he were still alive, Lev Vygotky might have been an interesting third party to the excellent team that Dr. Davidson and Matthieu comprise. I know he would have loved all the gadgets they’ve got up in the lab.

Also, I got Pema Chodron’s new book and, as usual, she’s fresh and fly and full of the choicest wisdom. If you order it from Shambhala Publications, you get a free gift with it, too–The Pocket Pema Chodron, which is good to consult when you’re having trouble practicing loving-kindness because your poodle keeps pushing the tennis ball under the couch and won’t stop crying until you get flat on your belly and stick your arm into the dust-bunny circus beneath to retrieve it. Over and over and over and over again.

*When Microsoft Word stops putting a red line under the word “neuroplasticity,” then we’ll know it’s real.

Breaking Bad(ass)

Life is so delicate in those first days and weeks of watching Breaking Bad on Netflix. You have to be careful at all times, diligent at every turn, to avoid encountering spoilers IRL. This means: slamming the laptop shut when Brian Cranston’s picture slides up in your Facebook feed; covering your eyes and singing loud, tone-deaf melodies of your own creation whenever clips of the current season are played on the Emmys; and, of course, getting into a cold shower whenever the urge to look at Aaron Paul’s Wikipedia page arises in your chest. (Of course, you simply want to know if he has a girlfriend, where he grew up, when his birthday is so you can send him a card–but you must accept the fact that while you are still living in Season 3, the rest of the world is far, far ahead of you, and Wikipedia has no doubt been infiltrated by these future-dwellers.) The internet is now my enemy.

This image brought to you by the most perilous of Google searches.

And for some reason, we’re having a hard time getting through this show quickly. Don’t get me wrong–we freaking love it, like the rest of the human race–but it’s not like Mad Men, the first five seasons of which we were able to watch, with only a modicum of shame, in less than a month.

But you can’t really do the binge-watching thing with Breaking Bad, or at least I can’t. It’s way too grim. The suspense is so masterful that I feel very near the brink of an anxiety attack when Vince Gilligan’s name come s up at the end–I have to pad the time between episodes with meditation, herbal tea, spontaneous weeping. My dear lovie was actually unable to sleep at night for awhile when we were watching the show before bedtime, so we had to shift our schedule around so that BB consumption only occurs before 4:00 p.m.

Which is hard, now that we’re both gainfully employed–the whole process of moving through the series has slowed down so considerably that I wonder if I’ll ever reach that golden Wikipedia page. Will I ever know the true Aaron Paul [as depicted by fans and internet users]? Or will he forever be shrouded in mystery, our destinies never touching because I am terrified of the spoilers that might lie in wait at every dark turn of The Google?

Yeah, this one I just had saved on my desktop.

A Sunday

1. The dog and I just played a vigorous game of reverse-fetch, in which she dropped her orange rubber ball off the third-floor deck, watched it bounce neatly off the wood slats of the second-floor deck and onto the roof of my car, and then skittered down the stairs to press her face against the staircase window just in time to watch me run through traffic and fetch the still-rolling ball from a neighbor’s yard. According to Facebook, everyone else in the world is watching football like normal human beings.

2. I recently found my way out of a Phillip Roth Time Vortex (six weeks of slogging through The Human Stain, ten pages at a time, refusing to a) abandon the book or b) stop complaining about the book) and to cleanse my reading palate I very quickly and methodically read Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending this afternoon, and now I feel like my literary karma has been righted once again. What a book!

3. I liked this quote best from Bill Clinton’s long, sweaty, and passionate DNC speech last week, especially after I found out it was off-script:

Why does cooperation work better than constant conflict? Because nobody’s right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day. And every one of us — every one of us and every one of them, we’re compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes, knowing we’re never going to be right all the time and hoping we’re right more than twice a day.

 

Autopsy of a Downloads Folder

Dumb UPS has screwed up my night, delivering a package so late that I had to postpone my trip to Iowa until tomorrow morning. Which means I have, unexpectedly, a free evening on my hands. So I decided to clean out my laptop files, and let me tell you–if you are ready to be get in touch with your true self, no holds barred, then sneak a peek at your “Downloads” folder sometime. It’s like a graveyard of random files and unflattering pictures–almost as embarrassing as mining your old Google searches, circa 2007.

Anyway, here are some of the most interesting things I found from my computer tonight:

1. John Hinckley’s love letter to Jodie Foster, in PDF form. Yeah, that’s right, the one that starts out “There is definitely a possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan” and ends with “I love you forever.” According to my computer, I downloaded this important document from the internet at noon on Thanksgiving day, 2011.

2. This picture of my poodle WORRIED SICK about me during a nasty bout of stomach flu in Chicago (Not pictured: Lovie, because she is gagging and opening windows to clear our B&B of vomit smells).

 

 

 

 

 

3. A Quicktime movie of Aziz Ansari’s “Dangerously Delicious” comedy special, which you can still download for 5 bucks here. Highly recommended. Last semester I showed my students the part where he deconstructs his nephew’s college application essay, but I didn’t remember until we were watching it together in the classroom that during this particular bit, Ansari makes about 17 references to graphic oral sex. (I then went on to be a very popular teacher with stellar evaluations and a chili pepper on ratemyprofessor.com).

4. A Ryanair boarding pass from Rome to Dublin from exactly one year ago, and this culturally relevant and delicately composed picture of a McDonald’s in Vienna (watch out, National Geographic!).

 

 

 

 

4. TWO full episodes of Saved by the Bell. (The one where Zach dresses as a girl to go on a pity-date with Screech, and the one where Jessie goes nuts on caffeine pills). I believe I paid $1.99 for each of these in iTunes, and later made my students watch both of them.

5. Another flattering picture of me in Prague.

Tomato, tomato

When I went down to Illinois to see my parents last week, I was surprised to discover two things:

1. It had not rained in three months, so the grass everywhere–in my folks’ backyard, across the public park–was yellow and crispy. Crunchy brown leaves lined the streets, as if it was October and not August.

2. Despite the drought, my family’s tomato plants had managed to bear more fruit than they have in years. We ate bruschetta and homemade sloppy joes and pasta sauce. We served every meal with a side of sliced tomatoes, and when we opened the refrigerator to get another beer, tomatoes flew out like untamed birds. My grandmother begged me to take two boxes back to Minnesota, and as I packed them in my car I noticed that her backyard picnic-table was covered with the fat round fruit, a few rolling off the side and landing on the dry, brittle grass below.

Tonight when I got home from work I decided to make tomato sauce because a) it should be easy to freeze the extra, and b) did I mention I have TWO BOXES of tomatoes.

The Trusty Internet advised me that there are way too many recipes out there for a gal to choose from, so I decided to just make it up as I went along. Sometimes my improv recipes are delicious (ham & potato soup!), and other times my Lovie has to put on a brave not-nauseous face while she’s eating (Cheez Whiz casserole!).

But this one smells good. Onion, green peppers, carrots, garlic, oregano, brown sugar, and basil. And of course tomatoes. Now I guess I’ll let it simmer until I’m too hungry to wait any longer.

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I only got a little on the ceiling.

Things I Did Today

Ate a waffle with fresh maple syrup from the north shore, started The Human Stain, pruned the basil plant, called Cuisinart to ask for help using my food processor, fixed the food processor, made pesto, sent out five queries for my novel, heard back from one agent requesting the manuscript, praised the heavens!, sang “Sweet Georgia Brown” to the dog with lyrics applicable to her life (furry feet/oh so neat/sweeeeeeeeet poodle town), took a nap, started a new story, went to the dog park and wrestled a urine-soaked tennis ball from the poodle’s mouth, washed my hands, grilled pork chops & applesauce, watched a documentary called Happy, stood on the back deck for Family Hug Time, looked up at the clouds, felt very, very happy.

Summatime

Welcome to summer, you say? Welcome to June, more specifically, and it’s currently 78 degrees outside, which is still not an agreeable temperature for the sensitive cauliflower plant, who has been hunched over on the porch like an old lady with an afghan wrapped around her shoulders, begging us to please bring her inside where she can rest on a proper feather mattress, like the poodle does all day long?

Why, thank you for having me. Here is my advice for the day: quit your job (you never liked the commute anyway, or Paula in Accounting, who clicks her teeth together all day), stretch out on the couch with Elizabeth Strout’s Abide with Me, and read while you eat Pringles chips in that very efficient way where you pull a stack of seven out and then slide them off one by one on your tongue like communion hosts. And then seven more, seven more, etc., until the book is finished, and you can’t decide whether the rolling nausea you feel in your gut is due to the envy you have of Strout’s magical ability to slide between narrative points of view so effortlessly, or from the 78 chips you just ate (not counting the jagged crumbs at the bottom of the tube, which you poured into your mouth with no shame whatsoever).

Also on your to-do list for the week: read Rachel Dratch’s new memoir (even better if you buy the audiobook, so you can hear her read it herself. There are a few jokes that are way funnier when they’re hollered).