Where I’ve Been: A Tale of Two Babies

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My first grandchild came in March. His parents wanted some privacy, and I respect that, so I didn’t tell my online audience. I am now a grandmother. I posted my last blog post shortly after he was born, and since then much of my free time has been consumed with this baby; flying to see him, planning for him to come see me, talking to him on Facetime, gazing into his beautiful little face, thinking about what he looks and acts like when I’m not with him, etc. I never would have believed the depth of feeling I have for this wonderful creation. When I’m not thinking about him or how I can get to see him, I’ve been occupied with my other baby.

On October 11, 2016, I gave birth to the words, “The End.”  I was sitting in a coffee shop, and the battery on my computer was about to die. Pressing a stranger into service, I said, “I just finished a book. Would you mind taking my picture?”  I sat there looking at the last sentence with this stupid grin on my face until the machine shut itself off.  After a lifetime of desire, and two years and ten months of groping around in the dark trying to form a coherent manuscript, I had reached a milestone in the inception of this idea. I never would have believed the depth of feeling I had for this wonderful creature.

It’s miraculous, isn’t it, how humans have the capacity to change and grow even as we age? The boy baby has helped me to see myself as a mother. Being a witness to new motherhood through my child’s eyes helped me to give myself credit for all the things I did when I was a mother.  For the first time in my life, I can say, “I was a good mother,” and mean it, I can acknowledge it as a lockstone of my identity.  I wasn’t perfect, but I did some things right, and for that I can take a measure of pride.

I’ve also learned a lot from the other baby. Unlike my grandbaby, who came into this world perfectly formed, my book baby is a steaming pile of hot goo. Right now, it’s like a hormonal teenager peering into a fun house mirror. The emotions are sticking out in places where they should be muted, and muted in places where they should stick out. The main character consumes the whole stage, with barely any room for all the other characters that inhabit the world.

Sometimes I ask her, my character, “What comes next?” and she picks at her zits and shrugs her shoulders, mumbles,“IDK.” The book still needs to grow and develop, so I’m not finished. I thought that if I had some chapters, a beginning, a middle and an end, that I’d be finished,and of course that notion was fantasy. However, I have learned something very important in the last two years and ten months, as a part of this process of fulfilling a dream/learning what it takes/typing the words, “The End.”

I’m not the pauser anymore. When I started this blog, I wanted to see who I really was. I wanted to explore social media, which I’d never had time to do before, and I did that. I wanted to write, I wanted that above all. And that’s what I did,even though I was scared, even though I didn’t know if writing would fulfill me. I worried about whether or not I was a good enough writer, as if being good at something was the only qualification for devoting yourself to it.

Now, for the first time in my life, I can say the sentence, “I am a writer.”  And I can mean it. Writing is a bone-deep part of who I am.  Words are the film upon which I lay my history, the filter through which I navigate, and the starch that strengthens my resolve. The words might stink, they might be rotten, they might not make sense to anyone else, but I need them. I need the broken words most of all, the adolescent words that push me to make them rounder, more resonant versions of their former selves. That’s where the fulfillment originates, from the fragile words.

I’ll leave thepauser.wordpress.com up for now, but I probably won’t put up any more posts. A new site is on the horizon, a site that squares with my current latitude. I’ll keep you all informed about where and when to expect that move.

In the meantime, what can I say to all of you who have followed me here at thepauser? The words, “Thank you,” seem completely inadequate to describe the rich interactions, comfort, and encouragement I derived from my conversations with you.When I landed on the shores of blogdom, I was weak and used up and sugarless.You nurtured me through, and I never would have believed the depth of feeling I could develop for a bunch of strangers floating in media-space. I love you all. And I mean it, right up to the top of my hat.

But now,it’s time to press play.

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We all Fall

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As you know if you’ve been following thepauser, I’ve been on the dog’s path since the middle of October, trying to get myself to a healthy weight and level of fitness. I’ve been losing weight and getting much stronger.  My endurance is much better, but this journey has had its hiccups as well.

Two Fridays ago, I woke up feeling fantastic.  Really. I felt like those ladies in the commercial where everyone wears yellow and sings, “It’s a great big beautiful day to be alive.”

I drove to the park to take my walk, participating heavily in congratulatory self-talk. Look how far you’ve come.  You can go so much faster and so much farther now. You are one bad babe!  It was one of those days when the sun combined with the cool temperature to create fizzy atmosphere, the kind that cleanses you and leaves you feeling all Mary Poppins-ish.  I felt demonstrably happy.  I felt bulletproof.

I was churning along as fast as I could go, just starting to get my rhythm, when a text came

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by the reflection you shall know the shore

 

through.  I considered stopping to answer it, but I had some hubris in me that morning. I know the trail.  I’ll send the text and keep on walking. I’m one bad mamajama.

When my foot met the hole, I felt the same sort of shock and disbelief the guys who built the Titanic must have felt when they learned their unsinkable boat lay on the ocean floor in a bunch of matchstick sized pieces.

It hurt.  My ankle went out from under me and twisted at a sick angle, and the weight of my entire body landed on the opposite knee.  Sitting there, stunned and humiliated, I wondered if I’d be able to get up on my own.  I thought about how embarrassing it would be to have to call an ambulance.  I felt every one of my fifty six years.

Then, I remembered the man.  He was on the path somewhere nearby.  I’d just passed him a few minutes ago going the opposite direction.  He’ll help me, I thought.  He’ll help me get up and then I can limp to my car and die at home, in private. Saved by the stranger.

As I looked up the trail to see where he was, I saw him exiting the restroom.  When he saw I was still sitting down, he turned around and went the other way.   I managed to crawl to a nearby bench and pull myself into a standing position, where I then hobbled my way to my car.

I’m not mad at the guy who went the other way.  We’ve all witnessed the calamities of strangers and gone careening in the opposite direction.  He had his reasons, so he avoided helping me.  But here’s one thing I do know.

I am a stopper.  If he would have gone down on the trail that day, I would have gotten there as fast as I could.  I would have asked if he was okay, and I would have stayed until I was sure he was okay, even if he was embarrassed, even if he didn’t want me there, even if he said, “Go away,” in a stern, unfriendly voice.  I would have done it, because underneath our yellow clothing and bluster, people are as fragile as those paper streamers we hang on the edges of tables at a birthday party.  We tear.  We fade.  We need one another.   In exigent circumstances, territories don’t count.

People must sense I’m a stopper.  Folks I have never met before tell me the most remarkable things about themselves.  The other day I was in line at the grocery store when the woman behind me said, “He has Alzheimer’s.  Isn’t that sad?” She pointed to a picture of an actor on the Star magazine.

I agreed, because Alzheimer’s is, indeed, sad.  She continued. “My brother’s wife has Alzheimer’s, and she can’t even take care of her own restroom needs, can you imagine?”

I replied.  No, I couldn’t imagine. She went on to describe her sister-in-law’s restroom problems, and how her brother promised he would always take care of his wife, and how putting her in a nursing home would feel like a divorce.

“I told my husband that if he gets bad like that, I’m not keeping him home like my brother has,” she said. “I couldn’t do it by myself. He’s already showing some signs, you know.” When she said “some signs,” she whispered, as if the words themselves held malevolent magic and could speak themselves into existence.

“Some signs,” was the part she needed someone to hear.  Maybe she woke up that morning with the fear in her mind.  Her husband, the man she had loved and taken care of for years, may not recognize her in days to come.  Standing in line at the grocery store, she felt herself fading and she stepped into my territory uninvited.  I really don’t remember what I said to end the conversation.  It was probably something like, “I’m sorry this is happening to you.”

Stopping, in this case, cost me next to nothing. I finished my transaction and limped on home.  But whatever it costs to stop, for me, not stopping costs more.

Sometimes, compelled by forces we cannot understand, we lay ourselves bare before strangers.  And when I need to unburden myself, when the sadness, or the pain, or the joy is about to make my brain explode, someone usually appears.  Sometimes, I’m the one to appear.  Reap. Sow.

It’s been two weeks since the fall now, and every morning I wake up expecting all of the pain to be gone.  Every morning, I’m surprised when I put my foot on the ground and feel the twinge. I’m surprised when I notice the yellow and purple bruising around my knee.  Surprised, but also grateful for the lessons. Don’t walk and text at the same time. When someone needs you, just stay.

If you get an Outfit, You can Go to Zumba, too.

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I’ve had the desire to try Zumba ever since I saw the founder, Beto Perez, on television.  At two o’clock in the morning, my sleep dyslexia in high gear, Beto and the other Zumba dancers filled the screen with their optimism and can-do brand of exuberance.  Super skinny folks mingled with the real people; chunky and smooth peanut butter in one room, all of them dancing to salsa music.

Now that I’m on the dog’s path, I know it’s necessary to change up my fitness routine if I want to be successful—boredom is my enemy.  Therefore, now is a great time to do some Zumba.  Friday before last, I went to one of two local gyms to give it a try.  I thought it would be fun, and it was.  Me and five other women all shaking our booties to the type of upbeat music I don’t have on my i-pod, sweating like field hands, and laughing together.  They all seemed friendly and welcoming, and they didn’t laugh at my lack of Zumba-bility.

I was okay at the part where you kicked one leg and then the other.  When the shimmy appeared, I kept up.  However, Beto designed the Zumba as a work out for your booty, and the genre features a lot of gyrating of said.  This Baptist girl’s hips did not know which way to turn.  By the time the instructor had done the entire rolling sequence of the hips, mine were just getting the “rotate,” message.  And forget about the footwork.

 

Whatever. I had fun, and I want to do it again.  But before I go again, I need an outfit. All the other women were in tight pants (I think you call them leggings), and they were capris, and they were tight no matter how big the gals were.  My pants went all the way to the ground, and they were loose, and my t-shirt was one of my husband’s old ones and it went almost to my knees.  The extra material flapped almost as much as I did, and it made it hard to see what my body was doing. At least that’s my excuse for not keeping up with the buttock action and the footwork.  I also did not have a headband.  I think you call those sweat bands or something.

Needing an outfit for Zumba has occupied too much of the room in my brain.  The Smothers Brothers’ rendition of The Streets of Laredo morphed into my theme song, the line “If you get an outfit, you can go to Zumba, too,” glommed onto my brain stem like glue.  I looked on line at the famous site created by Kate Hudson.  She says in the commercial, “The girls will like these cute clothes.” I think the clothes are cute. But are they really supposed to touch your skin, all of it? And if you ask the site to show you short sleeved t-shirts, you are treated to a plethora of camisoles, sleeveless with spaghetti straps in the front and with intricate banding in the back that kind of reminds me of the netting you see on a turkey breast.

netting for your athletic wear and your turkey

Wrap your turkey in it, and then use it to hold your camisole together.

In the first place, this girl isn’t walking out of the house without covering up the girls. Those camisoles would definitely show your bra straps, and that ain’t happening.  In the second place, when Kate Hudson refers to girls, I think she means actual girls, as in not women yet.  The fitness models on the site have a decidedly androgynous/adolescent look.  I talk about being a girl, but I only mean it in the figurative sense.  Where are the fitness clothes for the grown up women?

I wanted to go in the Lululemon and find some workout clothes.  My husband and I worked hard for the last thirty years and I think the budget could take whatever Lulu dishes, but I just couldn’t make myself go in there.  I had this preconceived notion that the sizes went from double zero to six. I pictured the salesmen as knowledgeable and perky. Perky people just make me nervous. Sorry if you happen to be perky.

So, I went to the mall and looked through rack after rack of athletic clothes.  Some of the pants are labeled, “Yoga.” Well, that just threw me off.  They looked just like all the other pants, but would a Zumba connoisseur be able to tell I was, in fact, donning yoga pants in a Zumba atmosphere?  I feel pretty sure they’d keep their mouths shut at my Zumba spot in the country,  but what if I went with my daughter to the gym in California and somebody made fun of her mother for wearing the wrong work out duds?  I wouldn’t want that. And nowhere, in that barren tundra that is the mall, was a friendly, emotionally accessible salesperson who would respond to my to yoga pant /or not to yoga pant query with generosity and without condescension.

After looking (and looking, and looking) I had an epiphany.  I went to Ross Dress for Less. Nobody is gonna judge me in the Ross Dress for Less.  I can walk through the check out with a pair of size 15 women’s underwear (that’s some big underwear- and no, not my size), a baseball bat, a beret, and a jock strap, and no one will bat an eye.  In the dressing room, I squeezed into a variety of athletic pants and shirts, and after I picked the outfit that squeezed my skin the least, the dressing room attendant and I engaged in a brief conversation.  She said, “Are you starting to exercise?”  And I told her about being three months into a healthier lifestyle.  She talked about how she needed to get started, too. I had no problem with this non-perky conversation.   Ross Dress for Less is not a perky type of place.  What a relief.

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My almost not too tight gear

Now that I have my outfit, I can return to Zumba with a sense of pride in my financially responsible attire. I hope to make Beto and all the other Zumba high-ups proud with my can-do, chunky peanut butter exuberance.   Maybe I’ll even brave the Lululemon one day soon.   I still need a headband and I’m pretty sure they have one in my size.

 

Palimpsest Girl

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Palimpsest – 

noun

  1. a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.

 

Here’s the truth. When I was this girl…

tennis girl

Tennis Girl

I wanted to look like this girl…

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New Mom girl

And when I was this girl…

 

I wanted to look like this girl…

pin up girl

Pin up girl

Don’t get me wrong.  I did not want to be the earlier version of myself, I just wanted to look like her.

The girl in this picture did dumb stuff, like let the checking account get down to $ 0.23, like run out of gas and leave the useless car sitting in the middle of the road in the middle of the night (Mom, I know what you mean when you say there are some things you just don’t want to know, but I’d never do this now. Aren’t you glad you didn’t know then?), like send packages in the mail and forget to pay the postage.  This girl is not the girl I turned out to be at all.  So I never wanted to revert to her behaviors, only her appearance.

I’ve been the palimpsest girl for my whole life, scrubbing at my real self, attempting to efface reality and create a scripted version of me that the world might find acceptable.  Why?

Let’s not involve culture, okay?  I did this to myself.  Maybe culture had something to do with it, but since I’m a sentient being, I did not  have to drink the kool-aid.  No one is to blame for my own foolishness, not my mother, not my father, not my teachers, not my husband, and not my children.  Somehow I got the idea in my head that the person I saw in the mirror,  that girl, she needed a shove.

In the effort to create a better script, I  erased myself raw, but like the palimpsest writings, my real script remained, pushing, straining toward the light, and I always burgeoned into a plumper, older version of myself.

All that time, all that effort to look like something I am not, has landed me where I am today.  I have to ask myself,  what would have happened if New Mom girl could have accepted that higher BMI, those rounder curves? What if she hadn’t been so busy kicking the goads, frowning into the mirror?  Could my life have been gentler and happier?  What if, like the Archimedes Palimpsest, I’ve a layer I don’t recognize any longer? What if there’s a great treatise in there that I pushed aside in my hunger to look thinner?

Here’s my greatest regret. I did not model the graceful exchange of age and acceptance for my own children.  They’ve been on this unstable ride with me as I deflate and inflate, and deflate again.  In this I have to look them in the eye and say, “Don’t do this to yourself,” and “I am so, so sorry. Had I known better, I would have done better.”

I’m at the point now where I have no choice but to lose weight.  Health issues hover in the background, and my behavior has had an adverse effect on my husband.  But this time, I’m not erasing anything.  I move more. I eat less.  Sometimes I say no to bad food, sometimes I say yes. I accept that the only true constant is change.  Whatever happens, all of who I am stays on the page.

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Real Girl

 


					

Back on the Dog’s Path

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The Dog’s Path, worn over time, with reckless ferocity

A family of wild hogs lives in the overgrown field running along the back of our property line. Following some sort of biological imperative, the hogs leave their family home as the sun comes up every day, moving along the fence line and ambling across the road to an undetermined location.  In the evening, they reverse their direction and trudge home heavy snouted, ready for a nice wallow and glass of beer.

Our dogs, Luna and Bailey, have a biological imperative of their own which compels them to pelt down to the fence line twice a day and bark furiously at the hog family.  Luna and Bailey are surprised every time the hogs appear, so they guard the property with the same ferocious, joyous abandon every time.

Their pelting has created a path. This path serves them well when spring grasses give way to summer sticker burrs.  Back in October, the dog’s path was where I started, to keep the sticker burrs at bay.  I set my timer for 15 minutes, and I walked up and down the dog’s way.  Luna and Bailey ran trotted up beside me from time to time, peeling away when the grass became too thick.  I looked back every once in a while, and there the two would be, standing together, looking at me, then looking at each other.  That first fifteen minutes seemed to take forever, and produced a flop sweat heretofore only suffered by those kicking a lifelong heroin habit.

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Bailey, Captain of the Guard

After Super Husband came home from the doctor with the “weight,” word on his lips, I resolved to take action. I realized that my habits had a direct effect on him, and I wasn’t going to be a bad example any longer. On the morning of October 12, I got up early and put the batteries in the scale.  When I stepped up, I didn’t know what I’d find.  My weight had become, like the numbers that indicate money in the bank, like the popularity of the Kardashians, a mysterious, distant unknown.  For two years, I ignored the mirror’s message; you’re getting fat, girl.

In the beginning, it’s always innocent enough.  I’m sitting in the emergency room all night and after that trauma, who’s thinking about what goes into their mouths?  Not me.  Then the next day comes, and the day after that, and before I know it, I’ve blown it. Again.

I don’t know much about other people, but I’ve been struggling to maintain a healthy weight for my entire adult life.  Having to take care of other things has always been my go-to excuse for getting fatter: the kids needed me, the school needed me, the church needed me, and so I didn’t have time to tend to myself.  The other myth: when things are settled with (insert crisis here) I will have more time to take care of my health.

This time, I pulled it all around me to get away from the hurt I felt. The fear of losing a loved one.  It swirled and coagulated and landed on my belly, my hips, my thighs, my breasts.  The hurt, it took the shape of Buddha and of the whiskey barrel that someone famously used to dive over Niagara Falls.  It took the shape of a second chin and a measuring tape stretched thin and the shape of bobbing up and down in the water like a fishing cork with all this extra blubber.  While the world moved on without me, I sat in my chair and looked out the window.  I congealed.

I hated having to start over in this quest to stay thinner.  I hated that being fat is not understood, not even by the fat.  I hated my explanations, which sounded as thin as a balding pate, as weak as a thin man’s knees, as lame as weak tea. And so I found myself, again, on the dog’s path, walking in the field on our property because I was too ashamed for people to see me out walking, because I was frightened of the road and the path at the park. And forget about the gym.  People would see me at the gym.

The first time the dogs tore down to the back fence to torment the hogs, there was no path.  They paved one over time.  And that’s what I’m doing.  I graduated from the yard to the neighborhood, and to the park.  In a very short amount of time, I’m now able to go several miles without stopping.  SH and I went to the park and hit tennis balls around for almost an hour last weekend.  I didn’t have a heart attack, and neither did he.  Sometime soon, I’m going to give Zumba a try.  In a gym.  Even if the instructor is five feet tall and does the exercises fast, fast, Chipmunk style, I’m going to lumber along in a good natured way.  I’m just going to try it and see what happens.

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Luna Lovegood, support personnel

I like the dog’s path better than the other path, the one where I sit in a chair Jabba-the-Hutting.  That’s a path, too, the one where you repeatedly do the wrong thing.  Excusing untenable behavior, also a path.  I can’t talk about tomorrow, but right now, I’m with the dogs.  Maybe someday, I’ll be fit enough to dash headlong toward the back fence with Bailey and Luna and there, salute the wild hogs with unruly abandon.

 

 

 

Hope

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Miracle the First

They let us sit here for four hours every week, not a money making proposition for them.  Some folks drink, some folks eat.  We buy an occasional petit fours and split it.  Mostly we talk.  The restaurant, a quirky, rambling spot, rides on the back of an enormous turtle, a universe of its own.  As you walk through, you can feel time in the lands and grooves of the floor.  Turn a corner and you can stumble into a new world. You can fall off this astral plane and land on the turtle’s shell, slide into a world where all thoughts are written plain on foreheads.  In this place, anything seems possible.  And they let us come here.

Miracle the Second

The three arrive first. This one with his giant binder full of humor, this one with a book he wants to show us and his portfolio full of wizard words, this one with her computer and her art and the words of love for her sons.   The three are the core.  After that, you never know who will walk through the door.  Young men with passionate anger.  Men who have been to war.  A playwright. Cooks and nurses who write about furry things and quote the masters.  Those with an intimate knowledge of peyote. Spoken word poets.  Bike riders.  Women toting their babies, teenagers who just want a taco, long haired and short, bearded and shaven, shriven, cynical. Depressed or elated, all are welcome.  All flow through the invisible membrane attached to the door and through the veil: I have something to say.   

Miracle the Third

At the table, we pull ourselves out of pockets and bags and notebooks. Marbles, tops, white seals, fox men, comedians, fat girls and lost loves.  Sometimes, when the group is small, something pricks and the sap of sacred wounds begins to flow.  What’s underneath all those words, the thousands of words that lined against one another would circle the world, your words and my words twinned like missiles, latching on to our common heat. The men that left us, the women that scorned us, the confusion, the fear, the hurt.

The words, perched in the corner above us, wry grins fixed.  The words, pushed under a hotel room door, spoken by the receiver out of the hearing of the sender, the words, slanted, rough, railed, flat, doomed, redeemed.  Words that sail, words that grate, words that nail you to your seat, words that hurt, words that heal. Some of us drink water, and some drink wine.  Our conversations are polite and conventional until someone gets down to it. Then; the words, the words, the words.

Miracle the Fourth

It has been five weeks since I last posted to my blog.  Four weeks ago, I printed the pages of the book I’m writing and placed it in a pink binder left over from my teaching days. I read the pages I’ve written so far.  I did this because I’ve taken the character where she needs to be, but I don’t know what to do with her now.  Her life could go so many directions.  At the intersection of it’s almost done (!) and how do I finish it (?), I developed a case of manual constipation.  I asked myself who are you to write a book?  I tried to get over myself.  I did.  Even my usual trick of closing my eyes and asking my fingers to type didn’t work.

I walked in to writer’s group empty handed.  When I said I was stuck, when I said I was busy, Santa Claus said, “Bull.  We’re all busy.  Just write it already.”  I told you anyone can show up.

The next morning, I sat down at the computer and wrote the word, “Hope.”  After that, I added a thousand words to my stinkin’ book.  Words that someone will want to hear in the next week.  Words that confirm I’ve taken myself where I need to be.  I don’t know what to do with myself now, but who does?  The words, they can go in one of a thousand different directions.  That’s where the hope lies.

Standing at the Kitchen Sink Washing Vases for the Rehearsal Dinner.

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This month, I’ll write about things for which I am grateful.  My first post relates to the recent celebration of my son’s wedding.

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Our first purchase- black and turquoise tumblers

September 29, 2015

It’s a good day to wash vases. My kitchen sink faces the back yard.  From this vantage point, I can see the Hawaiian Ginger plant that took off after my mother-in-law snuck it home in a paper towel on the plane from Hawaii.  Hummingbirds flit back and forth between the tree and the feeder on the back porch. I line the vases up on the kitchen counter, and one by one, I baptize them in the hot soapy water, gently scrubbing off the price tags.

The whole clan has been collecting vases for the last year and ten months.  That’s how long our son has been engaged.  The most expensive vase was twenty-five dollars, and the least was two dollars. We found them in antique stores and Goodwill’s and thrift stores all over south Texas. We needed twenty-two of them because the rehearsal dinner will be large.  We wanted it that way—people are more important than money.

I start with the five black and turquoise tumblers that inspired the rehearsal dinner design. I know they’re not vases, but they’ll hold water, and that’s all that counts.  Hot soapy water removes most of the purple price tags.  I turn one over.  It says, “Dryden, Hot Springs Arkansas.”  I’m surprised, because I hadn’t looked at the bottom.  As I wash each of the unique vases in turn, I find other surprises.  This one’s from Colorado, this one’s from Mississippi, this one’s from Germany.

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I think about my son, how he’ll be a married man in just a few more days.  I think about what they’ll collect along the way; joyful times, yes, but also real grown-up situations. Sick children when you both need to go to work, feeling grumpy just because, and taking it out on the person you love the most.  Mortgages, taxes, insurance.  Along the way, he’ll have tumblers that need to be vases. He’ll need to baptize his life regularly in the cleansing water of trust and faith in his new wife, in his own ability to be a husband, a father, a son.  When something is unnecessary and it sticks, it will need gentle scrubbing. He’ll need to notice the surprises at the bottom of his circumstances, because that’s where the joy comes from, the places you didn’t expect.

I’m grateful for all the help that rallied round when I had fifteen vases and the wedding only two weeks away.  Vases came from all over the place, from the loving hands of those who scoured their local thrift stores for their finds.  After the wedding, they will take their favorites I suppose.  But we all know where they are.  The collection can be righted again in a short time.

I know, too, that my son has this same force to rally round if his vases sprout holes.  And for that I am most grateful.  He and his brand new wife will be actively loved, not just by me, not just by my husband, but by a wide circle of family and friends who will be there if the need arises. Together, we’ll see them righted in time.

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Noticing the bottom

The day is mild and sunny.  It’s a good day to wash vases.

My Left Pit

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I have a routine now.  First, I double wash both of them in the shower.  Then, I wash them in the bathroom sink.  Then, I use witch hazel on them. Then, deodorant, and I always hit the left side twice.  If I go through all these steps in the order I just stated them, I can avoid the problem of the left pit.  If not, my left armpit is going to smell worse than my right one.

Look, I’m a clean person.  I take a shower every single day, so it’s not like twelve-year old blow- you- over, wet dog stink.  It’s more like that slight end of the day, I’ve been working outside for a few minutes on the rosebushes kind of stink, but I still don’t like it.  Not only is it personally uncomfortable, I wonder if others can detect it.  How embarrassing to think that anyone standing on my left side could smell my true essence and not the pleasant odor of lilac scented deodorant.

I can’t tell you when this started.  It’s probably one of those things that’s been going on for a long time.  Of course I didn’t notice it until this same period of self-discovery that enlightened me about my weird habit of unconsciously touching walls.

Sometimes when out and about, I’d turn my head to the left and get a whiff of body odor.  I’d be like, Oooh, my deodorant must not be working.  But when I turned my head to the right, the right one smelled just fine.  I developed several theories about why this is happening to me.

Theory One— It’s the Glands

I must have a blockage in my left armpit glands.  Or maybe, the glands on the right side don’t work as well as the ones on the right, therefore don’t sweat as much, and therefore doesn’t stink as much.  I’m way past being a teenager, but other funky things are happening to my body at this time of my life, so maybe something is happening to my glands.  If it is my glands, how do I talk to a doctor about this?  Excuse me, but could I have a glandular problem that causes one armpit to stink more than the other?  When is a good time to bring this up?

Theory Two—It’s the Deodorant

I can’t tell you how many times I have changed my deodorant.  I’ve used super industrial strength spray on, wet roll-on (uck!), dry roll-on, and natural.  Now the natural deodorant, which I bought on my last visit to California, actually attracts stink molecules.  When I was using it, I smelled natural, like I’d been out camping for three days without bathing.  The rest of the deodorants were equally ineffective at ridding the left pit of its odor, unless I use the aforementioned ritual.  If I do the stink dance every morning, I smell good all day. So it’s not the deodorant.  That’s one thing I do know.

Theory Three— It’s my nose.

Maybe I stink on both sides, but my right nostril can’t detect it.  Maybe I’m only smelling everything with my left nostril.  Again, I ask, what would the treatment be for this?  How does one schedule a doctor’s appointment with the suspicion that one’s sense of smell is no longer able to detect body odor? How does one test this theory out?  Is it even possible to smell something with only one nostril?

Theory Four—It’s my Brain

I admit I’m not as young as I used to be.  Maybe I’m forgetting to wash my only my left armpit in the shower.  But how could I forget something so vital, and why only the left?  I am left handed, so maybe that’s it.  The right hand, in this case, doesn’t know what the left hand it doing. I’m actually leaning toward this theory.  Showers happen early in the morning when I’m not quite awake.  Anything I do pre-coffee falls under suspicion.

Everything happens for a reason, and is an opportunity to learn. So what lesson can possibly lie in the middle of my left pit?  I’ve learned that change is the only constant.  I thought acne was behind me, too, and that adolescent roller coaster of moody, uncontrollable emotion.  Turns out I was wrong about that, too.

In this stage of my life, I’ve also learned about perseverance.  I haven’t let the pit problem derail me, nor the way I constantly have my hand on a wall, or the way I feel when in a room full of people, or the break up with my long term career, or my husband’s cancer.  I keep on. I keep scrubbing. I keep walking. I keep hoping. I keep writing.

It’s also about self-acceptance. At thirty, or even forty, I would not have let my pit flag fly for all of you to read about.  But now, in my fifties, I’m cool with myself, from the top of my head down to the tip of my puffy feet.  Now, I can say it to all of you.  Hello, my name is Joni. I touch walls.  And one of my armpits smells worse than the other one.

Touchy

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hands and water- they just go together

hands and water- they just go together

Gold, black, and white subway tiles lined the hallways.  In an attempt to keep the high-school graffiti to a minimum, the tiles went right up the wall, like the tall-legged boots of the Three Musketeers.

In the 2013-14 school year, the last year I worked full time, I had a regular habit of making my way up and down the halls to see what was going on in classrooms.  I called it, “taking the temperature,” of the campus.  If I did this early in the morning, it provided insight about which students (and teachers) were out of sorts, who had a sub, which teen lovers were forming new couples, which were detaching from one another.  It gave me a chance to let folks know, “I’m here if you need me.”  It helped me have a flexible attitude about the course of my own day.

As difficult as that year was, Super Husband’s illness combining with the stresses of a brand new job, I still made the rounds as often as I could.  Although walking up and down the halls took on the proportions of pilgrim’s progress sometimes, I believed in what I was doing.  So up and down I’d go, peeking in doors, shaking hands, asking how everyone was.

I noticed one day that as I walked, my hand trailed behind, across the slick subway tile.  As I became aware of it, I stopped.  But next day, I noticed it again.  As though the wall transmitted goodwill, I’d sought it with my fingertips. The tiles felt cool and secure, and I liked the shushing sound my hand made as it glided across the surface. It must be something about the tile, I told myself. I was a one-off toucher, nothing wrong with that.  I resolved to wash my hands more.

However, new awareness, when it arrives, is often exponential.  Soon, I realized that I wasn’t just touching the tile walls, but every surface I could get my hands on at work. The art installment at the building’s entrance, its tall metal rectangles meeting my right hand each morning as I entered the building, the pull of the seams between panels creating a predictable rhythm.  The bricks lining the entrance to the library, the coarse texture that slowed my pace as I made my way through the building, the uneven bump of them, and how my subconscious steered me to make the pressure light enough to keep from scratching my hands as I moved.  I explained it to myself this way: this is some sort of self-soothing, because you’ve been stressed.  It will pass. 

Love touching brick.

Love touching brick.

Wrong.  We’re walking down Alamo Street in San Antonio with a big group of family, headed for the Blue Star area.  As we pass a bunch of bushes that crowd the sidewalk, I look down.  Guess where my hand is?  Touching!  Yes, there’s that right hand again, flowing in and out of the leaves.  Could have been poison ivy for all I knew. I soon discovered that I was touchy all the time. Everywhere I went.  Everywhere.

When one stops lying to oneself, disappointment often surfaces.  I looked at my right hand, the rogue, and asked, how long has this been going on? It didn’t take long to realize—I’ve been touching walls (and their approximations) for my entire life.  One memory surfaces.

The extended family trooped to Austin’s Palmer Auditorium (I think this is where it happened, but I was only 8 or 9) for an all- night gospel sing.  As we approached the round building, I remember having a sense of wonder at its size. Other buildings were taller, of course, but it had this overhang, and broad, shaded sidewalks.  We arrived before the sun went down, and the place wasn’t open yet.  My brother and my cousins and I started playing on the sidewalk, and quickly discovered we could go all the way around the building and return to the adults in short order. The facade was covered with smooth river rocks and some flat mosaic tiles. There was some kind of swirly pattern of the rocks, like waves in beachy colors. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I vividly remember my hand dipping up and down with the swirls as the adults slowly disappeared, then reappeared as I made the circuit. Other children moved around the structure with me, but in this braille merry-go-round, I was deliciously, wonderfully alone. It was one of those moments in time when every aspect of the world seemed calmly, perfectly, right.

Self-reflection often creates confliction. If I had discovered this benign, but admittedly weird habit in my twenties, I would have worked hard to scrub it out. I probably would have lain awake at night worrying about my mental health the way I did during the elbow kissing scare of 1970. One of the adults said, “If you kiss your elbow, you’ll turn into a boy.” For at least two weeks I lost sleep, lying in bed thinking, could I have accidentally kissed my elbow today? Will I still be a girl when I wake up?

It’s a good thing, then, that I didn’t discover my wall-touching until I was a middle aged lady. Now, I know too many terrible things about myself, and about the world, to let a little quirk interfere with sleep. Maybe I have a touch of OCD, maybe I’m the eccentric, surface- touching lady your grandma warned you about. I can live with that.

Now, when I witness my hands as they pull along the spines of books in the used bookstore like they’re meandering down a lazy river, I just go with it. Sometimes I think of that incandescent moment, the sun setting over Town Lake, my small hand resting on a building made of smooth round stones. Even if I’m not consciously chasing the syncopation of peace, my hands know better.

Books! The older, the better.

Books! The older, the better.

Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going

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Where I’ve Been

  • Celebrating the wedding of my son.  It was a week of preparation, followed by three days of hooping and la-ing, followed by two days of sleeping it off.
  • Sitting on the couch blowing my nose.  Hacking up stuff you don’t want to know about.

Where I’m Going

The theme for this month is Quirks.  I’ll write about mine, cause I don’t know anything about yours.  It’s all about self-discovery.  Maybe you all can help my self discover why people are so weird.