Music / Nostalgia / Personal History

There are a lot of absolutely bummers about having a February birthday. For one thing, February is solidly in the running for worst month of the year, despite having at least one–Groundhog Day–and occasionally two–Mardi Gras of my favorite holidays. Sometimes my birthday and Mardi Gras end up being the same day. That can be a lot of fun. On the other hand, if Mardi Gras hits before your birthday, that can also come with its own unique set of challenges. Like you end up with OMG YOUTH GROUP friends who decide to give up birthday cake for Lent, or possibly tell you they’ve given up birthday cake for Lent so they can skip your party and  go to one of those famously raucous, coed lock-ins at First Pres and try to make out with Andy M in the choir room after guitar vespers (note: I was never invited to a lock-in, this is merely conjecture based on 7th grade homeroom conversation).

The bigger issue is the weather, which, by and large, sucks in February. You have to be prepared at all times for the fact that your party may, at any times, be snowed out, sometimes after it has started, when the manager of the Pizza Hut regrets to inform you that they are sending staff home because the roads are getting so bad. And if they are not cancelled, parties are indoor affairs. This probably would have been okay if I were the kind of kid that could get figure out Galaga or manage to stop on rollerskates by any means other than slamming  myself at peak velocity into the Carolina-blue painted cinderblock wall at Skate-A-Round USA.

As it was, all I really wanted was a pool party. Being in or on or even near the water has been pretty much peak achievement for me since I was born. It was hard for me to imagine anything better than a swimming pool.  And so, when I was about to turn nine, my mother hosted my birthday party at downtown YMCA.

I still think about this as one of Mom’s great parental achievements. A pool party in February? Who has that in a temperate climate in the Northern Hemisphere? Nobody! We devised a list. Coed! We’d invite my whole class. Mom sent out invitations to everyone including the cutest boy, the girls in my class had such  a crush on we’d invented secret code, via Speak and Spell, to discuss him. I didn’t think there was any chance in the world he would come, but on the day of, he walked into the YMCA lobby bathed in what I remember as a golden light, with swagger I imagine you can’t really muster as an otherwise clueless nine year old boy unless it’s through the gaze of a dozen or so infatuated nine year old girls.

I don’t remember that much about the party itself. As a venue, the YMCA did little to impress. We had an hour to splash in the overwarm, heavily chlorinated tile and glass chamber where most of us had endured some flavor of swim lessons in years past. Then the space was surrendered back  to old ladies in rubber flower swim caps and Dads in uncomfortably short swim trunks trying to repress their emotions via aggressive freestyle laps.  We retreated to the awkward tiled “café” area outside the locker room to enjoy a Cookie Cake and presents.

I hadn’t had much opportunity to hang out with Crush, because quite frankly, I was incapable to speaking to him and making words happen. He brought me a present though, and when he slid it across the table, we all silenced.

He said, “I really hope my Mom didn’t buy you a Tina Turner Tape.”

I looked at the wrapped packed. It was manifestly a cassette tape.

He sighed. “Jeez. If that is a Tina Turner tape, I’m going to kill my Mom.”

I slid the paper off. It was “Private Dancer,” a Tina Turner Tape.

Crush groaned. “I can’t believe my Mom bought you a Tina Turner tape,” he said, and stormed off furious through the crowd.

I thanked him, confused. I didn’t understand the problem. I had been brought to believe that Tina Turner was something akin to a God.  And I thought “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” was a pretty great song. I thought the leather dress Tina Turner wore in the “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” video was kind of everything. And I’d recently taken Tina Turner’s “What Love Go To Do With It?” hair as clear evidence that my mother was on the wrong side of fashion in her insistence that I brush my own. Wouldn’t it be blasphemous to deny style inspiration from an  actual deity?

We didn’t get any clarification. We ate some cake. We went home. I listened to my new “Tina Turner” tape and thought about Crush, who, whether he realized it or not, would continue to be the first person I thought of whenever I heard “Private Dancer,” even after the crush subsided and “Beyond Thunderdome” and  years went by and we ended up friends in high school. Even after, Angela Bassett and the other “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” and watching a former best friend squirm across my living room floor in what may be one of the greatest karaoke performances of “Proud Mary” you’ve never seen and all the other records and songs and the (seemingly true) folk wisdom that “Private Dancer” is to removing a stubborn earworm what white vinegar is to obliterating kitchen smells.

It’s a bit tacky, at least, if not full-on bad manners to make a big deal out of grieving for celebrities these. I guess it’s seen as another of those social-media-enabled parasocial tics that comes off as being both embarrassingly earnest and crassly disingenuous at the same time. That’s fine. I don’t mind if you roll your eyes, but I also don’t mind telling you that Tina Turner’s death hit harder than I expected yesterday. Maybe because this has been a season of loss. The people I’ve always taken for granted as always being there are no longer there or may won’t be for much longer. I am aware that this is not an anomaly; this is my age. This is the human condition. Sometimes I think we grieve publicly for celebrities at a distance because it’s less complicated for grieving for people we know up close. It’s a lot cleaner to get all sic transit gloria whatever when you’re talking about a rock god than a family member. It’s a lot  easier to link a music video than to actually reach out and real deal tell someone how sorry you are and does it even help, at this point, to hear it from you after all this time?

I mean, who needs a heart when a heart can be broken, right?

About that link: most of my favorite Tina Turner songs date from a famously awful (for her) era in her life/career. I don’t really feel like giving any air right now, even by extension, to her monstrous ex, so I’ll leave it here with my nine year old self, still damp from her pool party, sitting on her bed,  listening to a brand new birthday present with her dorky Fisher Price headphones, trying to riddle out the mystery of why boys, especially the cute ones, were so weird.  

It’s a good memory. It’s easy and uncomplicated. Less bitter. More sweet. I’m not going to mess with it.


The Last Drop

Accidents / In Brief / Nostalgia / Personal History

Back in the old days, twenty (can it be?) twenty years ago, when I inhabited the shabby rental with illogical additions, copious ashtrays, and a rogues gallery of the then-still-stymied and misdirected we affectionately referred to as the Estes Home for Wayward Girls, there was a coffeepot—a cheapo percolater of dime store provenance- on a white painted stool in the kitchen. In that house, the floor was warped, and every time someone moved or jumped of slid a chair across the floor or opened a door or closed a drawer the stool would twitch and coffee (because we were always making coffee) would erupt, grounds and all, like some kind of caffeinated Old Faithful, leaving spots on the wall, on the stool, on the floor below. If I told you we didn’t have a better place to put the coffee pot, you probably wouldn’t believe me, though it is mostly true (we had limited counter space, and less money to supplement with additional furniture).  The coffeepot was a problem. It was also a necessary component of our lifestyle. And its constant state of disaster has become the abiding symbol of all that was so deliriously (and often hilariously) wrong with our lives at that time. Disgusting. Like, super gross.

I wasn’t as bothered by the mess as I could have been. For one thing, I’d lived in grosser places, and definitely stayed in grosser places, when I was still close enough to teenager for it to feel like a normal phase I’d come out of in a few years and not, as Estes did, like an symptom of an incipient pathology. There were five of us who paid rent there over the course of two years and another handful that maybe should have. One person had only so much control over the calamity that one too-clever-by-half party guest once described as “an indie rock explosion” whatever that meant.

More to the point, the coffeepot was not even close to the grossest thing in the house. There were situations with infestations, insect, rodent, and oblivious houseguest. There were ashtrays with monolithic contents. There were bodily fluids (both human and animal) in places they ought not have been.  And there was a futon mattress so infamously well-used by such a variety of people that it should have merited its own exclusion zone. And that’s ignoring the animal hair, the streaks of paint, the finger prints of hair dye, the closets so overfilled with various crap, merely opening a door might activate an avalanche. One of my roommate’s boyfriends used to give himself monthly buzzcuts beside the stove with his head literally upside down inside a half-full trash can, which, at the time, we considered, if not a model for tidiness, at least an improvement on leaving a whole head of hair in a bathroom sink.

But it’s the coffeepot people remember. That’s the metric. My friends and ex-roommates never fail to bring it up, even twenty years later. And it’s the coffeepot people most associate with me. Maybe because I usually made the coffee. Probably because I always bought the coffeepots. My mother, the least likely person to believe in astrology but does, discusses my uncanny ability to foil machines as “bad tech karma” or “Mercury in retrograde.” I, a seemingly more likely astrology believer who thinks it’s all bullshit, tend to chalk it up to some latent developmental issue, like remember how I could read chapter books in kindergarten but couldn’t figure out how to operate a pair of scissors until I was almost nine? Yeah, That one.  

We all have our strengths, I guess.

The coffee thing is weird though because prior to the Home for Wayward Girls, I could seemingly operate a Mr Coffee without the world falling into chaos around me. Like most members of my generation, I have not only been a barista, but listed it on my professional resume until, like, five years ago. Additionally,  I am the granddaughter of Nana, a woman who started me on my coffee journey at approximately age three (I’m pretty tall, so I assume any growth-stunting was minimal)and had me brewing up pots by the time I entered primary school. I spent much of my high school and college years subsisting on little more than black coffee and Camel Lights (give or take the occasional beer and/or cheese-forward “vegetarian” option). It is possible I had, by the Wayward Girls era, permanently altered my chemical make-up due to the amount of coffee ingested. Like, if you went into my cells, and hollered up at the ol’ double Helix, it would probably sass back about the chintzy refill policy on black coffee. So maybe that’s the culprit. Or maybe it’s just something about whatever negative energy vortex operates in and around Orange County, North Carolina. Technically I don’t believe in any of that shit either, but people I love have been trying to convince me for years that Duke University (approximately 12 miles from the Estes House) is, in fact, a hell mouth.  Which, I suppose, is as good an excuse as any

Whatever the case, no coffeepot since Estes Drive has 100% worked for me. They break too soon. They burn out. They leak. They implode. They explode. They create brackish messes that stain my counter tops and scar the linoleum with topographical ridges. There are always coffee grounds. There is are always muddy streaks spontaneously generating, even when I am careful not to spill. I have thrown time and money at this problem. I can’t possibly tell you how many coffee-setups I’ve tried in the last twenty years or so. Cheap. Expensive. Pourover. French Press. Moka Pot. Even briefly, though I am ashamed to admit it, I tried a Keurig.. Back in the early part of the 2010s, I ended up signing up for an appliance store credit card in order to purchase the  $60 coffee pot my mother had (which seemed to work for her), because at the time, I was still technically a freelancer/record store clerk and therefore semi-regularly buying dinner and/or beers with sofa cushion silver change. That pot worked okay, but periodically erupted, Vesuvius-style, for reasons inexplicable, and leaving another disaster in its wake.  And I would change my plan. I would try again. I would fail. I would fail again, if not (apologies to Beckett) better. Rinse Repeat  and a decade passes and some more. I’m scrounging less. I no longer have an appliance store credit card.  I think, maybe, maybe, a fancy espresso machine, real deal, will solve the problem. And I look into it, realizing immediately that I am, if slightly more financially secure, not financially secure enough to buy a niche kitchen appliance that cost more than my rent, especially given that it’s a kitchen appliance I’m likely too cursed to use properly

I’m told that I overthink things. This is probably valid. But what does it say about me, as a nominally responsible, adult human being that I cannot keep a simple coffee pot operational for more than a few days. That my life is forever coffee stained and gritted with grounds. That whenever I think back about that time, many years ago, when I made my best pass at a life on my own terms, somehow its inescapable takeaway is that I will be forever doomed to be the girl with coffee on her kitchen wall.

As a now-middle-aged lady burdened with all the sleeplessness and anxiety and weird digestive issues common to my age, I have been sometimes advised to cut back on coffee. That seems reasonable, if cruel. It goes . . . okay . . . so long as I’m able to replace it with rather imperial quantities of black tea (and I’m not here for a lecture about it, Dr Buzzkill). I always revert back to coffee, even if I can’t have it after 2pm anymore.

Recently, I broke down and bought myself a new coffeepot. It cost less than  a Beyonce ticket but more than I have ever spent on a coffeepot before.  It doesn’t even have any bells and whistles. Like all of the fancy things I buy for myself, it caused a brief crisis of conscience, wherein I tried to determine whether a) I deserved a nice coffeepot b) purchase of said coffeepot would be the last straw that would one day tilt me into Dickensian penury and/or c) paying full-price for a bourgie coffeepot made me a sell-out of some petty, but still pernicious variety.

I do not have an answer to any of these questions. I do, however, have a clean countertop. And it has been 4 weeks since my last coffee explosion.

Success is elusive and satisfaction fleeting, my friends.

You have to take what you can get.

Ideally caffeinated.

Mane Ingredient

Family History / Houses / Nostalgia / Personal History

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, when I was about three years old, Nana, my favorite grandmother, brought a load of furniture to Asheville in her big red Antique van (a favorite childhood conveyance of mine, what with the back stacked with furniture blankets, the promise of being able to explore a fancy house while the adults haggled, and the general Carter/Reagan era obliviousness for the need for seatbelts allowing me to roll around and practice somersaults on said blankets while Nana was speeding up and down Interstate 81). She was likely headed to an antique show downtown at the civic center, sponsored by an organization I spent my childhood mishearing as the Be Dust Club, and had the van mostly packed with high and low boys, Windsor chairs, and a lot of porcelain I was not allowed to touch yet. She’d also brought me a present. A chest of drawers, dating from an unspecified, yet breeches-forward historical era somewhere, my brain registered, between dinosaurs and airplanes.

The chest of drawers was pretty unremarkable by three-year old standards. Brown box. Three drawers. Stumpy legs. The best part were the drawer pulls, which were imprinted with lion’s heads. I took this to be a direct nod to “The Wizard of Oz,” my near-singular obsession at the time. But I was chest was very special. Very old. I would have to take very good care of. Such good care, that it the chest would not go in my bedroom, but in the dining room of the old house on Westwood, which was where all the nicest things in the house went. I found this to be a little disconcerting. I was a kid. If it’s my present, shouldn’t I be able to have it.

“You’ll have it one day,” I was promised. “When you’re old enough to appreciate it. When you’re old enough to take care of it. When you’re a grown-up.”

Mom kept linens in the chest. Sometimes old photo albums. I liked the mystery of the drawers. Lace edged napkins. Brightly colored table clothes. A box of rose shaped birthday candle holders stored on a blue velvet pillow. Napkin rings like bangle bracelets. I was gently, and sometimes more forcefully, discouraged from going through the drawers, a favorite activity.  I wasn’t to mess up the things inside. I wasn’t to pull too hard at the drawers. My drawers. The chest was fragile. So I talked to the lions. I named them. Clockwise from top: Lionel, Franklin, Roy, Dennis, Victor, and Tangerine. Tangerine was my favorite.  When I was older, I’d come in the door by the chest from elementary school, and I’d try to give Tangerine a good pet. He often seemed lonely and kind of chilly. I worried that Franklin was mean to him.

When I went got my first apartment, in college, I didn’t expect that the chest would be forthcoming. That was the kind of shithole where it became necessary to post rules about where cut hair should go, what could and not be done with common kitchen implement, and why the bathroom and the fire escape were not built for the same functions. Four or five addresses later and about sixteen years later, I started bugging my mother about the chest. I might have even bugged Nana to bug my mother about the chest. I was in reasonably stable housing situation. I didn’t have a roommate any more. My friends didn’t leave hair dye prints on the bathroom tile and would sometime even ask if I had coasters. No one had Sharpie-d a wall in at least a decade.  And besides, how was Tangerine holding up? Could I be confident he wasn’t lonely? Mom hedged. She didn’t have a new chest to put in my chest’s place. And besides, I didn’t have that much room in my house. Where would I put it?  I’d find a place, I thought.

Last week, my parents came into town in advance of my birthday, the back of my stepfather’s Jeep stuffed with furniture blankets. It wasn’t quite as much fun or space to somersault as the the Red Antique van, but they were able to squeeze in the chest, which had been languishing in a storage room since mid-pandemic. We got the chest into the dining room, where it fit neatly against the inside wall.

All six lions, still brassy and accounted for.  Tangerine, for his part, looks happy to be home.  I’ll do my best to look out for him now that I’m finally a grown-up.

Sleep, Perchance to Sleep

In Brief / Personal History / Women

I am not sleeping well.

I don’t mean for this to sound grandiose. While there are plenty of things happening in the world to keep me up at night contemplating, this is not, as my mother would put it, a wrestling with angels scenario. It is merely that I put my head on the pillow, turn out the light  and experience what I can only describe as a 5-7 hours of the least restful sleep imaginable. And I say this as a person who once literally fell asleep at a metal show.

It’s not conventional insomnia. I can fall asleep. I usually do, but it’s that my new dream life is kind of like walking from train car to anxious train car  and in between I wake either sweating in some Satan’s Own yoga pose, heart racing, suddenly, irrationally convinced that the rain storm will definitely shatter the skylight in my bathroom and the house will flood and the floors will collapse and BLACK MOLD and I cannot possibly afford to refinance this bastard again with these interest rates, no way, buddy, no how. And then I manage to contort myself into another different position, go back to sleep, have an elaborate stress dream about not being able to find a bathroom at one of those multiple band reunion concerts (this one with both Styx and Pearl Jam) in a Mexican-themed casino food court because it’s the only way I can get a ride home because my car has been towed and I wake up again freezing and some upside down position concerned that the slight discomfort in my lower abdomen means I have cancer that probably came from a mole that I still haven’t made an appointment to get checked out and it’s definitely spread and hold up, my car is in the driveway because the garage door is broken and what if I left the windows open. It’s lightning out and 4am, but should I go check? Would a good person go check? Am I bad person?  I just put another pair of shiny gold sneakers on my credit card. That feels like a bad person move. Squunch up under blankets. Drift off fitfully Have a weird stress dream about actor Michael Sheen trying to train me to be alumberjack, because it’s the only job I can get, but in Welsh. Wake up sweating. Rinse. Repeat. Until I finally wake up, exhausted, but weirdly relieved that I don’t have to try and find this relaxing again for another 16-18 hours.

This has been going on for  about ten days straight now. You want to ask about my caffeine habits, go ahead. I’ve tried cutting it out. I’ve tried cutting it back. Ditto alcohol. Ditto eating after certain hours. Ditto screens. Ditto reading upsetting or uncomfortable things before bed. Ditto breathing exercises. Ditto meditation (I am really, hilariously bad at meditation). I get plenty of exercise. I eat pretty well. Melatonin seems to make it worse and anti-anxiety drugs give me enormously unpleasant hangovers. I keep thinking the problem is structural. Like maybe if I had better pillows or a new mattress. What are even good pillows? And why are they suddenly more expensive than those gold sneakers I put on my credit card? The latter anyway is a lot of money to spend on a hedge, and my current mattress is barely five years old.

I tried talking about my mother about this and her advice was extremely depressing. The truth is you’re probably not going to sleep well for the rest of your life. Really? That doesn’t seem fair. This came on so suddenly. I used to be a person that could easily drop off. I couldn’t wait to dream. Now, I dread bedtime. Dread it. Dread it even more than I did when I was a kid and worried by sleeping I might miss something cool.

““You don’t need to worry about it. It’s nothing serious” said my mother. “It’s probably just your hormones.”

I’m at the age of reverse puberty, as a biological woman. Much like actual puberty It’s an age which no one, having lived through it once, is keen to revisit.  Both are predictably unpredictable, embarrassing, unflattering, and defined by a particular kind of Trouble with a Capitol T that rhymes with E and that stands for Hormones. The first time around the hormones give you all kinds of wild, electric feelings that make you do stupid shit like write a lengthy short story about a barely fictionalized version of yourself and the  boy you have a crush on and give it to him in public because you think it will make him love you. The second time the hormones give you all kinds of wild, electric feelings that make think you’re having a nervous breakdown or dying of a terminal illness (both at the same time) or stress dream about actor Michael Sheen yelling at you in Welsh, or fake dream subconscious Welsh, because you don’t actually know any Welsh and seriously, why Michael Sheen? I haven’t seen anything with him in it recently.


I’m not tired right now, but I’m cranky. I’m cranky because I would like to sleep tonight. I would like to fall into pillows and stay put and not sweat and maybe, just for once, not remember exactly what I dreamed.


Accidents / Personal History / Uncategorized / Women

On Thursday, January 12, 2023, I’m officially going to the hospital, separating from my reproductive system,  and making the “Yeah, I don’t think I’m doing the motherhood” subtext text. If you’re the kind of person that measures a woman’s worth by the bun in the oven, or one of those dudes who loves to talk about how it’s evolutionary psychology that makes you like 22 year old girls with long shiny barrel curled hair because fertility, I’ve ceased to be relevant as a human being to you, if I ever ways (doubtful). If you’re anyone else, this probably doesn’t, or even shouldn’t, make any impression at all. Mine is a routine procedure and eventually all AFAB people must bid adieu to their reproductive function, whether by hook, crook, illness,  menopause or elective surgery. I have opted for the latter.

The cause is not cancer or gender identity or chronic, debilitating illness but something like convenience and pain management. Mine is a minimally invasive procedure ( I love that phrase–minimally invasive and how it sounds like a euphemism for US Cold War-era foreign policy). It will, with a constellation of delicate incisions remove most of my derelict babymaking gadgetry in order to dispense with the uncomfortable, unpredictable potato-sized tumors that have filled and then refilled the unused space after the last enormously painful, expensive and inconvenient procedure that promised to get rid of them came up short.

This is sort of the nuclear option as far as these things go. I didn’t want to end up here. Believe me. I hate hospitals.  Surgery is no one’s idea of a good time. I dread the rest and healing. I don’t do couch naps or daytime pajamas well. I thought about waiting it out. They tell me nature will eventually rid me of this problem. But nature is unpredictable.  No one has the slightest idea when I might hit menopause. Could be next week. Could be next year. Could be ten years from now. Seems like the kind of thing medical science might have progressed to figure out. But women’s health, in particular women’s health pertaining to Not Looking Younger and Hotter for Longer or Not Having Babies still gets short shrift when it comes to where medical science wants to exert its energy. After all, there’s nothing sexy or even useful about crones, unless you’re trying to use their dubious advice to try and murder your way to the Scottish throne. And who isn’t, honestly?

From a political perspective, my timing is on point. Why bother having reproductive machinery at a time when a whole half of the country (or at least a whole half of its representative government) believes I should be barred from making any decisions about it? My state—southern, swing, purple—is maybe one worst case election shy of being subsumed into Dixie Gilead (a hoop skirt does suit a scarlet gown). I’m old enough and single enough that I probably wouldn’t have to worry about that regardless. But, selfishly, it will be nice to know there’s one less uterus in the world  to worry about.

You know what else won’t be my problem anymore? Crimson tide. Shark week. Aunt Rosie. British army inspection. Communists in the gazebo. Painters in the stairway. The red scare. It feels a little too tidy to say that it would be nice to redirect my monthly tithe toward the women’s division of Procter & Gamble toward, like, taking down the patriarchy. Solid odds it will go toward party dresses and booze. Do I apologize for this? Do I feel guilty?

I don’t know how to feel.

Surgery’s been in the works now since roughly May of 2022. A long time. I had my first consult with my surgical team—smart, widely recommended, genuinely nice and comforting people, all the way back in August. At the time I was coming off the back side of a particularly flavor of hypochondriacal anxiety that made my chest hurt because my chest hurt and that made my chest hurt which WebMD tells you is always probably a heart attack. Always. Probably. Except when it’s not. The surgeon was the nicest, most patient doctor I’d talked to in months, probably because she wasn’t annoyed with me asking repeatedly if she was sure I wasn’t dying. Like, I mean, right now. And if so, would you judge my life as a mostly or complete failure.

We did not  talk about any of that. We talked about incisions. We talked about anesthesia and pain killers. We talked about how long I would have to wait to lift things (8 weeks) or have sex (four months). We talked about what pieces I wanted to keep and which ones I wanted gone for sure. I circled a date on a calendar and wondered, given the last few years, what the state of the my life, what the state of the world would be like when I got there. Who could say? January 12. 2023.

Then I didn’t think about it. At all.

I mean.  Why would I? People tend toward elective surgery because they want an upgrade or a restoration. They want to change something about themselves or their lives. They want to become Version 2.0, or maybe they want to try and get back to 1.0. A version of self that conforms that looks like the picture in their head. A version that feels like person they know they are. A version without the pain. A version with all the freedom pain and worry and illness has stolen. And even though it doesn’t exactly feel that way, it’s why I’m doing it doing this, right? One less thing to worry about. One less ache to feel. One less unnecessary pang. One more part I’m not using.

I’m being too flippant here. I know that. I apologize. Surgery is not just a glow-up. The desire to endure less pain or worry is not a selfish one.  And then there are the altruists. My dad needs a kidney, pretty much ASAP. There are a boatload of reasons I’m not a good match, which no reserve of guilt, no matter how large, can mitigate. Someone out there may, out of the kindness of their heart, come through for him, undergo surgery, and willingly endure all the indecision, the anxiety, the fear, the ambivalence. Or maybe the importance of the mission diminishes the rest. You become bigger than yourself, or at least, big enough to ignore your own neuroses and do the thing, because at some time along the path, it stops being about you.

This, what I’m doing, is all about me. Maybe that’s why I’m so bored with it.

The week before Christmas, my best friend and I drove out to meet my surgeon in person. She answered some questions, performed a biopsy–“People have described this pain as both the worst pain they’ve ever experienced in their life or not a big deal at all. My suspicion is, for you, it will fall somewhere in between” (It did)—and told me what brand of liquid soap I needed to wash myself with before surgery (Dial).  I felt okay when I left the appointment that day, even I did feel a little like the surgery was an overreaction. Was my circumstance so grave to require this? What pain is enough pain to be unendurable? Certainly mine wasn’t. Isn’t it some flavor of stolen valor or, as my family would say, “drama” to insist on complicated, expensive, surgical treatment for something that is actually, probabaly NBD?

Can you tell I’m wavering? I’m wavering. Is it possible to feel like you don’t deserve a thing at the same time that you feel like you don’t want a thing at the same time that you feel like if you don’t take the thing on offer you’re a coward or just a lazy, hedonistic flibbertigibbet who’d rather suffer long term than sacrifice the inconvience of recuperation.  I mean, I’ll be honest with you: Relaxing makes me nervous. I do not like sitting still. When things get calm and quiet, when you are at rest, that’s when the monsters come out.  

Last week, stricken by my first cold in three years (not Covid, evidently, but still shitty and thanks for playing) that blew up my plans for my first New Year’s Eve in three years and threatened to derail this whole process, I dawdled around the internet, looking for additional information about my new, post-surgical life. The National Health Service (UK) suggested that some shocking percentage of patients feel depressed afterwards because they “no longer feel like a real woman. ” I sat on that one for a while. The most surprising part for me is not so much the “real woman” but the “no longer,” because I’m still trying to work out exactly what a real woman feels like.  Cellulite? Velvet? A late spring rain storm? A nice beach trip? That waxy, palepink tip on an OG black-labeled Chapstick? A salty dress on a ship in a storm?  A Jameson on the rocks and could you make that a double, because lord, it’s been a day?  I’m 46 years old, still pointed toward the pink side of the dial and I cannot possibly tell you what it a real woman feels like. It seems like a lot of Goddess imagery and earth toned connotations to lay on someone that’s only ever really had time for the fuschia sequined version of femininity. Which is to say, I don’t need to oven to work to have a fabulous time in the kitchen.  So why does it even matter? I should be overjoyed. I can keep all the tulle, and never have to worry about pretending to love playing house again.

It’s age though, isn’t it? Isn’t that the thing? It’s the closing doors, even the doors you were never going to go through. I’ve been watching “Fleischman is in Trouble” (it’s pretty great, peak X-ennial midlife crisis bait) while I’ve been getting over this cold and grieving my stupid, wonderful cat (my stupid, wonderful cat died on New Year’s Morning. Did I mention? Did you know? It was peaceful, and he’s one less 10+ pound thing I won’t have to worry about lifting by accident after surgery, but I miss him). There’s something weirdly cathartic about watching famous people give voice to your interior monologue, to hear Lizzy Caplan lament the lost possibilities, the possibilities she didn’t even want, the ones she wasn’t even fully aware she had.

I never wanted kids. And my two little sisters did a fine job of turning out a couple of nephews this fall, who I have every intention of spoiling shamefully. This is not about that. It’s that in my heart, I still feel like I’m seventeen, still standing out in the rain waiting to find an unlocked window, some crack in the façade that I might be able to slip through and finally enter into the world, the richness, the beauty, the opportunity, the magic, the heartbreak, the romance, the vastness of it all. In my head, though, I’m almost forty-seven, and I know that this is the life, this is my only life–this waiting, this trying, this standing at the metaphorical glass and imagining that the people on the other side are living a real, truly live adventure, free from whatever sadness, frustration, disappointment, and yeah, just flat-out effing boredom I feel at the limitations of myself and my circumstance.

When I asked the surgeon about the physical and emotional side effects of menopause, we talked about all the big stuff and all the gross stuff and all the stuff you’re embarrassed to ask your mother. But there were the questions I was too embarrassed to ask. Like, will I still get butterflies when someone with pretty eyes smiles at me and says something unexpectedly tender and clever all at once? And will I feel that flicker of promise when the sun sets and  stars start to come out? Will things continue to feel weird and sexy and funny and exciting and breathless and gorgeous and complicated and really fucking ridiculous? Is there any point in hoping for better than “not worse” when imagining my future? Am I a baby for even wanting that? (I am a giant baby).

There are things I know, rationally, will not be impacted by surgery. This is not about where or how my uterus is going. It is very definitively about where and how I think I might be.  And honestly, I don’t love the view from here.

A bit ago, the nurse called back to confirm that the surgery is taking place, that whatever rattling remnant of a cough is no reason to postpone the operation, and unless I’m actively, definitively sick, they’ll see me and I’m my Dial-ed body on Thursday.

I’m okay, by the way, ramble to the contrary. Pet dies, you get sick, people ask. I’m okay in all the ways a person can be okay. I’m comfortable enough. I know how I lucky I am. I’m sensible. Ish. The corridors just get narrow sometimes. And I’ll get through it, and I’ll be fine, and you can all remind me how silly I was being, how petty. What a flibbertigibbet, tis Alison. What a way to begin a new year.

PS: If you’re local and want to lift a bag of groceries or roll out a trashcan for me between now and the middle of March, give me a holler.

Bird is the Word


Geneva is 12 years old. At 12pm on the 12 day of the 12th month. It is approximately 12 degrees outside, and probably 62 in the house. The thermostat says otherwise, but it is an old house with stingy insulation and a whistling flue in the stone fireplace. She can’t be faulted for lingering between sofa and blanket; it’s warm there. She can’t be faulted for watching hours of a Super 70s Series Holiday Marathon. Her whole day will be a festival of feathered hair and polyester flares. Nostalgia overload. She feels the past in her bones–all burnt sienna macrame and avocado linoleum, an aproned housekeeper in a haze of indoor cigarettes smoke—even if it’s not her past. Geneva, after all, was born in 1989.

It’s the nostalgia then for the act of watching the past. After the babysitter quit, she spends  afternoons on her parent’s sofa, teal chenille, sun faded, dog-haired, her greasy fingers coating the pillows in a layer of salty-snack topsoil. She watches hours of syndicated television and dozes herself back to 1972 on another Pleasant Valley Sunday.  Her mother thinks  it was weird, funny, but weird.

“I watched this when I was your age,” she  says, home from work, blocking the Brady façade with her oversized handbag, a hand on a hip. “I thought it was pretty dumb then.”

Her father thinks it is borderline dangerous.

“Other kids don’t do this kind of thing. They don’t subsume themselves in the past. They experience new things. They push the envelope,” he says, as if he thinks she can’t hear him the kitchen. She can always hear them in the kitchen

“I don’t know, Dan. The other kids her are into Star Wars and hobbits and shit. They get pretty obsessive too.”

“But that’s space,” he says. “That’s grand mythology. Hero’s journey. Archetypal Joseph Campbell stuff. Geneva’s failing math because she’s writing love poems about Danny Bonaduce.”

It hadn’t been a love poem. Not exactly. And she hasn’t failed math. Yet.  But in April, she gets sent to a therapist after refusing to leave the house in clothing that post-dated the series finale of “The Partridge Family” (March 23, 1974), and languishing for three more days on the sofa.

Geneva doesn’t have much to say to Dr. Loftus. Only that 1973 seemed like an objectively better and less complicated time to be alive and be twelve  years old than 2001. The doctor sighs and says something about Vietnam and Watergate. How it’s always hard to be twelve years old. But honestly the doctor seems to agree. “Music has never been as good. Rolling Stones. Allmans. Midnight Train to Georgia. Kid, you have no idea how good we had it. And I don’t mind telling you, we were pretty groovy in those days. You know, I wore platform shoes and a pony tail my whole first year of graduate school? Boy howdy. The coeds loved those. 73, man. 73 was a hell of a year.”

He looks wistful, afternoon sun milking up the lenses of his glasses. And they sit, for a long beat, as she stares at Dr Loftus’ plentiful silver ear hairs and tries to imagine what he might have looked like in velvet bellbottoms. Then a motorcycle howls down the divided highway outside. He shakes off his nostalgia and tells her he is sure that 2002 will also be a hell of a year if she’ll just give it a chance.

It sounds like bullshit.

Because it is bullshit.

She sits in the waiting room and listens to him tell her mother something about 9/11 and the challenges of being a child in this terrible and frightening time. Geneva thinks about going back in the office and reminding them that she spent sixth grade trying to figure out whether she was in love with Marcia Brady or just wanted to be her and that had been months before the Twin Towers fell and they hadn’t been able to get her mother on the phone for six hours in DC. Geneva isn’t worried about terrorists, but she sometimes thinks that she is lost in the wrong time,  that no time machine does or will ever exist to deliver her to the right one, and she could very well spend the rest of her life grieving, trying to make someone, anyone, understand how she feels and still be deemed crazy.

Or sent to a wilderness program that will force a break-up between herself and the television, separate her from the past.  The hope is that she’ll refocus, learn to live in the present, and glom back onto 2002.  The reality is  that she spends three weeks in the Pacific Northwest shivering in the rain, eating cold, wormy macaroni and trudging through mud in fabrics that had not  been invented in 1974. On the bonus, she meets Perry, whose spiky black hair and spikier black eyeliner belie a much wider cultural knowledge and musical interest. The pair become fast friends and sit beneath the trees at night, breaking curfew to describe episodes and music videos in precise detail, as if they could conjure footage against the cloudy sky. By the time Geneva returned home, she’s been primed for Bolan, for Bowie, for Iggy, for painting stars on her cheeks with body glitter, and organizing music-based field trips to see Perry, who, conveniently lives in Manassas, only three suburbs away.

She spends most of eight grade failing to figure out whether she is in love with Perry or just wants to be her. Geneva’s hair gets shorter and spikier and blacker. She steps cautiously beyond 1974, to 75, 76, to 77. Her father seems altogether less concerned.

“I figure one of these you’ll get to Springsteen,” he says. “I’d love to share that with a kid. The Boss, you know. How great is the Boss?”

Her mother figures that ship has sailed, and tries not to pay much attention to the bluster, the studded belts, the boots Geneva wears inside the house, befouling the new white Berber wall to wall. At least she is passing math. At least she has moved away from the television, even if it’s just a twelve feet and one room away to the computer.

“Newer technology,” says her father. “She’s thinking about the future.”

She isn’t, but she knows it will be impossible to explain to her father. She is lost in the wrong time. No time machine can deliver her to the right one, but at least Perry exists, and for now they are best friends and can be lost together. 

Geneva magic markers  a Punk’s Not Dead tattoo on her forearm and her mother groans about the mess.

“You’ll ruin the placemat with that ink,” she says

“The good news is nobody will give her a real one of those until she’s eighteen,” says her father.

“I wouldn’t swear on that,” says her mother. “But that good news is that she’ll hopefully grown out of wanting it.”

Geneva doesn’t think she will, but why argue. It is almost Christmas. It is cold out. She has proper excuse to keep wearing long sleeves. It will be months before her mother even notices the stick and poke partridge Perry’s friend in Manassas had already tattooed on her bicep.  

Not Even Past

Family History / Nostalgia

My paternal grandfather was what people in the South call “a character.” The man himself would have likely agreed with this appraisal, though he would have added “of great moral character, poetic disposition and indisputable noble destiny” to the end of it. He was a legend in his own mind, a bullshit artist par excellence, whose skill at wholesale fabrication suggests that some distant relation may have not only kissed the Blarney Stone but attempted to swallow it whole. From my grandfather, I believe I inherited a love of storytelling, of tales intricately rendered, with larger than life personages facing extraordinary circumstances with stunning heroism, dazzling aplomb, and (because he was from Mississippi) at least one dangerous secret in a stately home fallen into disrepair under the creeping shadows of the Delta in late summer (the man never told a story—at least to me–set in cold weather). It is from my grandfather that I learned that the wildest stories are probably the truest and that a “true” story does not have to be factual to be painfully honest on an emotional level.

My grandfather wore a bunch of hats in his life. He spent some time in the newspaper business, some in advertising and a lot chasing some big idea or another. He was an excellent writer. He wrote long letters in this elaborate 19th century script (with an accompanying 19th century vocabulary) but never spelled my first name correctly. He piloted fighter planes in World War II and chased William Faulkner around the Kentucky Derby hoping for an interview (he didn’t get it). He never became the next William Faulkner or the next F. Scott Fitzgerald or the next Thomas Wolfe. Probably because he was too busy emulating their drinking habits to match their creative output. Possibly because being a writer felt too passive for a man who always believed himself to be the hero of the piece.

Some pretty dark and ugly things can churn to the surface when people talk about my grandfather. He was born and raised an affluent white man in a context in which it would have been a nearly unimaginable triumph if he hadn’t been some flavor of bigot. And then you know, the drinking, the failures, the increasing disconnect from reality, the fact that the post-war years did a very good job indoctrinating an (in retrospect) highly traumatized generation (by the Great Depression, by War, etc) of young people that the best way to deal with all that was to bottle it up, never speak of it again, buy a house with a white picket fence and start having children and what could possibly go wrong? We’re the kind of family that can make jokes about having a DSM volume all to ourselves. And you know, narcissists gonna narcissist. My grandfather was a smart man, but rarely self-aware enough to be entirely in on the joke. He wasn’t famous for his apologies.

He did, however, have his moments. He famously crossed out his former jobs on out-of-date business cards and just wrote HIMSELF under his name. Just before he died, twenty-one odd years ago, he wrote the occasional column for a local newspaper in the Florida panhandle. He had cards printed up which listed his title as “Pope of Defuniak Springs” which is so hilariously perfect that it makes me think my grandfather knew more about himself than he let on, or that we let on that he let on, the preservation of myth being a thing that gets passed down through the generations and all.

He died twenty one years ago. His funeral was mostly a lot of letter reading, his letters being the best evidence of the man he almost was and might have been, both as a writer and as a human being. When you do words for a living, it’s pretty easy to look good on a page. The nasty bits and boils don’t show through the white spaces.  Anyone can appear confident if they just use the right verbs. I thought about this, as I sat in the pew, listening to my dad read my grandfather’s eloquent and moving description of his first moments of flight over the Mediterranean Sea. From behind me, I heard the shuffle of footsteps, the heavy carved door of the Episcopal Church scraping the stone floor. I didn’t turn to see, but someone told me later it had been my grandmother. She’d divorced my grandfather the year I was born and spent most of her life going out of her way to avoid ever seeing him again (a challenge in a small town in Virginia). I don’t think wanted anyone to know she’d shown up at his funeral—certainly not his brothers and sister—but when you’ve been married to someone for nearly three decades, you pay your respects, even if your marriage is full of disappointment, especially if your marriage is full of disappointment. The man on the page. The man in the flesh. The continent’s worth of distance separating the two, so great that even my grandfather’s most epic and godlike conception of self could not span it.

When I was a kid my grandfather used  to roll around in this enormous brown Buick, fitted with an 8-track player–even after they stopped making cars with 8—track players—so he could play his two favorite albums Nancy Wilson’s “Yesterday’s Love Songs/Today’s Blues” and the Original Broadway Soundtrack of “Camelot.” Kennedy era classics (or almost, the record store pedant in me has must confirm that the Nancy Wilson record came out just after JFK was assassinated), which also feels on point, even if I doubt very seriously my grandfather voted for Kennedy. It seems of a time, an era in which men like my grandfather could believe they were gods, even with all evidence pointing to the contrary. And decades later, as he’d slalom down curvy mountain roads, smelling of whiskey and limes, wondering what the king was doing tonight in unison with Richard Burton, between drags of cigarette, it would occur to me (as I slid helplessly around the backseat) that he maybe he was singing about himself.

My grandfather didn’t have much when he died. Big dreams are expensive, after all. You fail. You fail better. Maybe you end up Samuel Beckett. But with the right amount of bourbon and self-delusion, you’ll probably just end up broke, possibly surrounded by people joking about donating your liver to science, and maybe doomed to an afterlife of your children and children’s children, at best, equivocating your legacy.

I get songs from the “Camelot” soundtrack stuck in my head all the time, out of nowhere. I don’t know if this counts as an actual haunting, but in the middle of the night sometimes, when I can’t sleep, when I think about the person I am and the person I want to be and the gulf that separates the messiest part of myself from my best, most reliable stories, out of nowhere, with full flourish of orchestra I’ll find myself wondering what the king is doing tonight.

I’m pretty sure he’s scared.

(Photo of my grandfather, circa late 1940s, either sneezing or emoting. Both seem appropriate)

The Feels

COVID / Personal History / Women

About a million years ago, the soft-spoken brother of one of my best friends in the world was completing his training to be an acupuncturist, and asked if I would be interested in doing an intake session with him. My friend’s brother was a funny, weird, kind guy. I believe it’s important to do things for the funny, weird, kind people in your life, because we are mostly able to survive the world because of them. And we should never take them for granted.

I was acupuncture novice. Having spent much of my life hearing all kinds of dubious claims about all kinds of non-Western, non-mainstream health/medicine, my bullshit detector was fully activated. I drove up to his makeshift office—at that time in a room of his home on the Madison County side of Sam’s Gap, spitting distance from the Tennessee line. Like any reasonable person who was born in East Tennessee, I viewed this as a portentous, if not actively dangerous location (you never know what could start an actual blood feud /send a vigilante mob after a circus elephant/mistake your sullen teenaged silence at as encouragement to start playing a @#$*ing banjo).  Even more concerning, my friend’s brother, a Massachusetts native, saw nothing in his immediate surroundings to be alarmed about, which is basically horror film shorthand for I volunteer as tribute.

I tried to put my misgivings aside. I drank some tea, sat down in a chair, and answered a bunch of questions about physical and emotional maladies, while my friend’s brother nodded thoughtfully and took notes. He asked if I had any questions about acupuncture. I was still pretty deep in a period in which I thought being an asshole was more admirable that appearing credulous, so I asked about peer-reviewed journal articles and whether acupuncture was akin to voodoo. “Like, do you have to believe it for it to work?”

My friend’s brother offered up that there are a lot of things in life that you have to believe in to make work, and that acupuncture was hardly outer rim, as far as non-Western medicine was concerned. I lay down on a table. He stuck some needles in me, and asked how made me feel.

I told them I didn’t feel them.

He tried again. “This is sensitive spot.”

I felt nothing. Again. And nothing. And nothing. I made “A Chorus Line” joke. Nothing. I felt nothing. “Weird,” he said. He made a few notes. We ended the session and rejoined my friend in the kitchen, where we drank tea (gunpowder) and discussed whether “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” was as good as we thought at the time (mixed opinions).

I drove back down the mountain in a drizzly fog, listening to a particularly sad, shambling indie rock song that was for the duration of the trip up and back down the mountain a fleeting favorite. I thought about the business of not being able to feel things and whether there was something wrong with me as a person. I’d spent a solid portion of my young life trying to laugh off painful things, because blustery post-bullied teenage logic dictates that as soon as people know your vulnerability they’ll definitely try to use it against you. Then, somehow that calcified and I went through several years as an extremely depressed college student mostly unable to cry, which is an extremely unsettling, constipated feeling. I don’t recommend it. Somehow, I grew out of it, shattered the seal, and by the time I went to see my friend’s brother I could get misty at things again. I could tell people that weren’t my parents or my therapists that I felt sad as hell when I felt sad as hell.  I could acknowledge feeling a thing without immediately making fun of myself. Still, I worried. What if I was feeling wrong or not enough? What if I was just numb cold-blooded husk existing in a world full of emotional or sensory experience that would remain forever lost to me? I know this sounds hilarious in retrospect, given that the intervening years have transformed me into an the kind of person that goes full-on sobbing snot goblin at any number of things, from objectively terrible television commercials to like, a very good raw oyster.

The feels talk is relevant to me because I’ve been thinking a lot about grief lately. We’re living in a particularly grief-soaked era, for sure. I don’t think any of us have really dealt with that. Probably because there’s only so much a human person can do in a day, between jobs and exercise and families and streaming services and sleep. Asking a person to face all that has been lost over the last few years and sit with it thoughtfully? Well, that’s a lot to ask. Especially given the fact that I still need to make an appointment with the dermatologist and paint the powder room( maybe not in that order).   I mean, I haven’t even listened to that Radiohead side project situation that came out a few months back yet (solid odds I’ll think it’s overrated).

Grief isn’t a thing you can put off forever, though. And that’s a thing I’m picking up now about being in my 40s, a decade defined by grief, even if you’re lucky enough to get through it without losing people or jobs or relationships or internal organs or parts your identity that you deeply love. Because what is middle age but seeing all the things you are not and have not and probably will not and trying to make peace with all that’s left. This isn’t as dramatic as it sounds. It’s normal and human. The metaphorical plate is still full of delicious food, maybe even fancier, more satisfying food, but the portions are getting smaller. Eventually, you’re told/you hope, you’ll realize you’re not as hungry, but as a casualty of a bajillion failed diets in every possible flavor, I’m here to tell you that never happens fast enough (if at all).

In the meantime, there’s all the ghosts of your multiverse that need exorcizing. The choices made. The lives not led. The shit that just did not work out for whatever reason. Those things linger. I’m not inclined to give that stuff too much air (there are a million bad movies and worse books about it). But I do sit up at night in bed, sweating at 3am, in another exciting round of “Is this peri-menopause or am I dying?” trying to work out whether I’m actually sad that I didn’t have enough fun in my twenties or whether falling in love, if I ever do again, will feel the same flavor of heady and electric and dangerous and breathless as it did when I still thought falling in love was a thing that could happened whenever I put on lipstick and stepped out into the world. Most of the things I’m losing are things I didn’t need. The doors closing go to empty rooms and dusty hallways. But I’m a collector, by nature, and I have a hard time not noticing the space on the shelf.

(What metaphor are on now? Six? Seven?)

A few years back, I was partial to telling people that “Happiness is a things you remember.” That sounded sage at the time, and a convenient hedge to get around the fact that great experiences don’t always live up to expectation when you’re in the moment. I’m sorry if I told you that. It’s bullshit. Or at least it’s bullshit for me. Because I think happiness is the things you look forward to. It the essence of the anticipation. It is 5am on Christmas morning. It is the moment when you realize that, yes, holy shit, yes, they are going to kiss you.  It is the final question on the final exam of your final year. It is being so excited for your trip that you can’t sleep on the plane across the ocean. It is the unopened letter in the mailbox.  It is the final moments of planning and stressing and working for whatever when you realize it just might be coming together. Like, for real this time.

These things, or some probably more mature facsimile, I (know? suspect? guess?) will continue to occur. I get that. I will find happiness in the sincere hope that that they will. People keep trying to make me feel better by reminding me to feel gratitude, which I do. They tell stories of people who have suffered incalculable unimaginable loss and still find ways to keep on learning Spanish or doing macrame or planning a speaking engagement in Hungary. That is so awesome. And I get what a terrible brat I sound like when all I want to talk about is how much I miss looking forward to the idea of a thing that never ended up working out.

So I return to the feeling things. Speaking as person who never could feel when I was supposed to, I’m kind of ornery at the idea that I’m not supposed to feel this collection of griefs now. Maybe we should all just take a minute and revel in it. Just go fucking full banshee. Moan and wail. Rend your clothing. Howl at the moon. Be irresponsibly sad for all the empty spaces on the shelf in daily life, in your memory palace, in your community, in your heart. It seems counterintuitive, but if I have to endure my forties in this world at this time, the least I can do is allow myself the luxury of being a baby about it every now and then. And if you’re in similar space, you have my permission to do so too. Maybe we need the catharsis before we can have the applause. Maybe we need the catharsis before we can even hear it at all.

Not-Entirely-Post-Plague Diary: June 23, 2022

COVID / Music / Personal History / Plague Diaries / Women

Back in the very early 2000s, when I’d first moved to Chapel Hill I went to a show at an adored, now-long- gone venue.  I can’t remember what band was playing, but I know that I ran into a guy from my writing workshop Nothing Fancy State University there. This felt remarkable at the time because, save one single, solitary exception, I did not keep in touch with a soul from NFSU, probably because my connection to campus was almost non-existent (at best, a memory of the turreted administration building looking lonely and Hopper-ish at twilight as I tried to appear lonely and Hopper-ish smoking a cigarette on the to the parking lot, at worst, an endless, skittery, nicotine-stained anxiety dream). The only classes I reliably attended there were workshops, and the only people I ever really hung out with outside of class were other writers in my workshops, and that guy at the show had been a good writer and kind of cute in a soft-spoken, scruffy, thrift store golf sweater way that could have easily turned into crush territory when I was twenty-one or so.

But when I saw him at the show, it took me a minute to recognize him out of context. We were maybe five years and forty-five miles from our class together but to me it felt like light years and several geological eras away in the distance. By the time I summoned up his name, the only thing I could think to ask him was what he was working on. He looked at me, confused, for a minute and was like, “Oh writing? Are you asking about writing? I mean, I don’t do that anymore.”

I remember not knowing how to respond. I probably just drifted away on a speedy “Cool catching uo, dude.” Because twenty-six year old me could not imagine how a person could just quit writing. I mean, what the hell? Assuming that not writing was a thing I might be 100% set on doing, I wasn’t even sure it was physically possible to stop. Even if you’re without laptop or a typewriter or a notebook, you’d still be making stuff up in your head all the time. You’d still just be trying to remember it all so you could jot it down the next time you get close to a pen, right? Right?

A few weeks back, a friend I hadn’t seen since well before Covid approached me when I was out, exchanged pleasantries, and told me how sorry she was I’d quit writing. This was news to me. And because I’m afflicted with neurotic bees for brains, I had to go through several swarms worth of worry, trying to riddle out whether she seemed disappointed or relieved, like maybe this was a gentle way the world was letting me know I should quit. And then I realized it had been a while, I’d written dribs and drabs, nothing like normal, nothing like productive, nothing like I’d ever considered healthy, non-asshole writing behavior

“I guess I’ve been really busy with work,” I said. It sounded reasonable because it was true. And I do write for work, but it’s not the same kind of writing so it doesn’t always really feeling like writing.

What I didn’t say to her  was that I wake up every morning with the same goal—to write—the same plan, and I’ve pretty much spent most of the last ten weeks doing anything but ( I mean, yesterday I made a Tik Tok video. It took me two hours and I immediately took it down, but I mention because when I say anything I mean truly anything) because I don’t have the focus, I don’t seem to have the will. I am distracted by anything, everything all of the time. I mean, like, I’ve color-coded the dresses in my closet. I’ve staged photoshoots of the color-coded dresses in my closet. I’ve wasted hours spreadsheeting places I’ve eaten breakfast in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I’ve doom-scrolled. I’ve doom-slid. I’ve doom-shuffled. I’ve cried over Instagram videos.  I’ve spent literally weeks—weeks—shopping for a plain white linen button down shirt, and hours talking myself out of buying it.  I have used filters on Hair Styling websites to try out all the hair colors of hair dye. I’ve made an appointment to tell my hairdresser I want to go plantinum blonde. I’ve canceled the appointment (I do actually want to go platinum blonde again. I have no idea why I have such a hard time expressing this. It’s not because I have misgivings. It’s also another procrastination thing). I have read way down into the embarrassingly deep back catalog of things I have written and not finished. I’ve procrastinated hard. Like, I’ve procrastinated so hard that it’s, like, a lifestyle now, man. And given the state of the world and my life and everything it would feel totally justified, I could feel totally justified, if I would convince myself that it’s what I wanted to be doing. But I’m pretty sure if it were, I wouldn’t feel so crappy about it all the time.  


 A lot of people, maybe even most people I know are having a hard time right now, and many of them for much more immediate and profound reasons than I am. Some of this is coincidental. Some of is probably a natural part of aging (most of my “young” friends are standing at the edge of 40 Welcome you to middle age, millennials). But a lot of this is the world right now.. Even if you’re off the grid, even if you’ve been subsisting on a media diet of kittens and morning beach yoga, the background noise is always there, like that Judy Garland Christmas song on a lonely winter night waiting to obliterate you over the PA while you pump gas or wander innocently down the pasta aisle at the supermarket.

It’s hard to complain about over-procrastination and lack of focus because it feels like a thing I should be able to fix. The same as the shopping too much, eating too much, drinking too much, lounging too much, talking too much, moping too much, too much, too much that has defined too much of my last two years. For a while, it seemed prudent to give myself a pass. Global catastrophe, yadda yadda. But if global catastrophe is going to be the permastate, it might be advisable to retain a modicum of self-control. Asteroid’s probably not going to hit tomorrow and all.

But last weekend, I drove home in a spectacular sunset in my often-spectacularly beautiful hometown, unsettled by the peace that came with realizing things aren’t getting better, or at least not getting better in any meaningful way anytime soon.

“My suspicion is that we’re going to look back on this moment and realize that it was a high point, and that we’re probably not getting back to this for at least ten years,” said a friend of mine, on an otherwise beautiful Monday evening three nights later, as we sat on the deck drinking beer under limbs gently unsettled by summer breeze. “I think we have a long hard road before things really turn around, and there’s no guarantee they will.”

She sounded resigned, but not hopeless. She’s not some conspiracy theorist or a radical idealogue. She’s a smart, well-educated person who has a bad feeling about this, which is more or less the same bad feeling that I’m feeling, that everyone else I know is feeling, that is making every single teensy, weird ass bullshit thing that happens feel like just another thing we’ve lost, maybe forever, on the way down to wherever it is we’re going.

This is some bleak shit. I know that. For all my (inappropriate) morbid jokes and lazy slides into fatalism and armchair catastrophizing, I am not really a cynic or a pessimist by nature;  I just played one in the 1990s (although I still think  your favorite band is overrated). It is as hard for me—maybe even harder—to swim around in these waters than it is for, say, my mother who likes to describe herself as a “bluebird person,” which is to say, would rather not go deep when quantifying or qualifying the pain of the world. Choosing to tune that shit out most of the time–hell, all the time—doesn’t feel like a terrible survival strategy .  The long view right now feels particularly miserly on the happy endings. And that’s probably the nicest thing I can say about it. I don’t begrudge anyone who chooses to spend their days in brighter rooms. Especially now.


About a year ago, I started telling everyone I was supposed to write a story about Courtney Love. To be clear, “supposed to” is kind of misleading. The only person that assigned me the task was myself. The only person holding me accountable was me. The only person who even wanted it written was me.

I got the idea listening to a podcast about songs that hadn’t actually gotten around to podcasting about  “Violet,” a song that still feels twice as heavens-ripped-open-and-roared-through cataclysmic now to me as it did through the tinny speakers of my jury-rigged car stereo back in fall of 1994. I figured the song was a good jumping off point for talking about grief, fame, hair bleaching techniques (a motif!), whether authorship matters as much as performance, Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters, Marlon Brando, and that some people have life stories too impossible to be anything but real. And, how sometimes refusing to quit can feel like the most furious and radical act. Screw anyone that thinks you will.

The day I started writing it, I got dragged online and wasted some time (days? Weeks?) feeling indignant about it. Did I deserve it? Maybe. Then, a couple weeks later a publication I wrote for twenty years ago exhumed an old review of mine to chide me for it. Did I deserve it? Probably. I was an idiot then. And all of that scorn might have put me in a better than usual headspace for writing about Courtney Love, a woman who spent much of her career illuminated by the flames of the stake she’s regularly accused of tying herself to. Sometimes it’s so exhausting to try and change the script that you might as well just play the part. You believe in witches, kid?  But did I put any of that to good use. No, I did not.  Did I put any of that to any use? No. See above.

When people ask me about why I’m not writing anymore, they’re not asking me about the Courtney Love piece, no matter how many times I’ve mentioned it over however many gin and tonics in the last twelve months.  But it’s became a thing for I’ve lingered on whenever I opened up my documents. I want to call it a symbol, but it was honestly more of an excuse. Last week the same podcast that had inspired me to write the Courtney Love bit in the first place got around to doing an episode on Courtney Love. They managed to make most of the salient points in a breezy hour long format. I felt, and you’ll forgive the irrational grandiosity of this, like I was off the hook.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what to write about and how to write about whatever I’m writing about now, in this place. And hereI’ve given you 2500 words or so on the topic, without even addressing the whether. Like should I even? I don’t have ae satisfying answer to that one either, and neither do you. Talking about the whether of writing feels inextricably bound up in the whether of living.. That sounds melodramatic, but like I said up top, I really don’t know how to stop. I really don’t know what else to do to fill my time that will feel satisfying unless I win the lottery and have the money and leisure to spend all of my hours throwing parties and traveling and arranging for people to travel to parties that I’ve travelled to throw.

Both of my little sisters are having their first children in a few months. It’s weird and sweet all at the same time. And on some level, I recognize that it’s on me to get out of my wallow and on with the program. It’s a shitty thing to hoist your bleak on people whose timeline still only moves in one direction. So I’m going to have to adjust or re-strategize. I’m going to have to find something to hold on to, even if it’s just the idea of my nephews hands when they cross the street whenever they get around to start walking. You tell yourself whatever story your need to keep from getting lost in the abyss, and maybe you end up writing it down because it feels like purpose and idle hands just order more dresses you don’t need off Instagram.

At least, no one will have to ask why you quit.

Deals With God

Music / Nostalgia / Personal History / Women

Some of my favorite songs ever I heard for the first time in my high school music room. This was pretty common at time. This was the early 90s. I lived in a town without a college radio station (even the pop/rock station had gone Full Country at the end of the 80s). Most of what I got, I got from magazines and MTV. Sometimes I’d overhear cool things at the coffee shop or over the PA at the store where they sold zebra print creepers, Manic Panic and incense , but in the pre-smart phone days finding out what was playing required talking to the older and infinitely cooler person behind the counter (it was usually The Cramps, by the way), a paralyzing prospect.  

In the  clamorous half hour or so between the dribbled-out end of lunch and the actual music-teacher-banging-a-chord- let’s get to this, folks beginning of chorus practice, nobody was minding the stereo system behind the piano. So if you got there early you could host a breathless Debaser dance party, teach exchange students the correct US pronunciation of Scenario, or watch a lot of people fail to act like they hated Tears for Fears.

Things were not always so upbeat, of course. Our high school chorus was stupid big (at peak there were about 100 of us, in a total student body of just under 200). And because we contained multitudes, the various tastes jockeying for a track on the stereo also included popular hits like Went to the Horde Tour And It Changed My Life, “I don’t feel comfortable with the way that couple is dancing to the Black Crowes in daylight,” and, my personal bete-noire Dude Who Always Plays Dan Fogelberg and Tries To Shush Everyone For The Whole Song.

My friend the Dryad was a semi-regular stereo wrangler. Her taste ran toward the kind of things you’d want to hex someone to in a peaceful forest glade at midnight, so it should surprise no one that she skedaddled out of lunch early in our Junior Year to cue up Running Up That Hill  and by the time I got there, she’d already ascended that road, that hill, and had at least partway scaled that building.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard Kate Bush. I’d heard that song of hers during the saddest scene in the weirdest John Hughes movie. I’m pretty sure I saw the Running Up That Hill video on MTV and probably, at ten-ish registered it as part of trend of hilariously inscrutable interpretive modern dance videos that I was simply too young to understand. But that day in the music room was the first time I heard Kate Bush. I was the perfect age. It was the perfect moment. I was exactly the right flavor of over-dramatic, drug store red hair dye-addicted sixteen-year-old, who was dedicated to a personal style that matched puffy shirts with velvet blazers and purple high top Chucks, and still secretly imagined she might grow up to have a torrid love affair with a dangerous man in a stately home with dark secrets on a wild and unforgiving moor. And, as the Tik Tok generation discovered last week, hearing that song at the right moment can feel epic.

I couldn’t even wait for a dubbed copy. When I left school that afternoon, I drove to the bookshop downtown, on the hunch that “Hounds of Love” would bfit right in with their highly idiosyncratic inventory (mostly weird records by women, traditional Irish music, and albums by or featuring Bela Fleck). I was right. I shelled out the 12.99 or whatever for the cassette, and let it blare it from my passenger seat stereo. By the time I got home, I was a true believer.

We lived a little ways up a mountain around the corner from a giant resort hotel. First semester junior year, I’d still come home from school in the evenings and try to force myself into a run in the damp orange October twilight. I’d slide Kate into the Walkman and jog the hill, wishing I could will my fat legs into the sprint necessary to take flight in the way the music demanded. I imagined myself soaring out over the foggy golf course and over the city. I imagined myself becoming so fast and graceful that I could shed my unfortunate teenage skin and become some perfect fusion of the Waterhouse Lady of Shalott and, like, Heathers-era Winona Ryder floating around in the moonlight. So I could become something that looked not unlike Kate Bush herself.

One of those nights, just prior to Halloween, I’d made all the way through to Side B, alternating walking and running, and was up the hill from the house, maybe an hour past actual sunset, not far from the hotel, when Jig of Life fiddled into action in my left headphone. In case, you haven’t listened recently: If I were to say the phrase “Deranged Celtic Witch Party” and ask you to describe what that sounds like, my guess is you’d land somewhere near the Jig of Life cauldron  I wasn’t really a witch person at sixteen. Too much time spent around chipper Fleetwood Mac Wicca moms trying to push carob desserts on me had almost entirely negated the seductive appeal of the dark arts. But I liked the witchy vibe of that song in that moment.  And the wind was brisk and the sky was overcast and  bleeding purple at the margins, and I could swear I felt my thin, straight chin-length hair flow out behind me in some luscious pre-Raphaelite situation. I felt myself become silvery and Goddess-like, elusive and infinite

And then, I heard the dude’s voice. 

So there’s this part of Jig of Life where it goes from creepy jig-inspired pop song to actual creepy jig, kind of an Irish Suspiria territory, then the jig ends, repeats a line –“I put this moment here”–twice against silence and on the third iteration, she is answered by a dude  (her brother, Paddy, as it turns out), who then goes on to recite a poem against the backdrop of the fiddles backup singers doing an appropriately occult “Sha-na-na.”

But I wasn’t expecting the dude, or rather, I wasn’t expecting the way the dude’s voice would sound through my headphones. Because it sounded like it was coming from a place other than the music, from a place maybe deep inside of me, or perhaps direct from Hell, and in the moment, in the woodsy darkness down the hill from the hotel, my heart stopped and all I, a child raised in a liberal, secular household but nonetheless during the Satanic Panic years, could think was Oh holy shit, demons are talking to me.  And so distraught was I that I stumbled as I tried to remove the headphones to arrive at some conclusion about whether my entire understanding of the whole metaphysical fucking plane of existence had just been inalterably shattered.  I hit eject, I stumbled, then launched and landed almost face-first on the asphalt. As I was going down, I realized  too late that 1) the voice was part of the song and 2) solid odds I was about to break the Walkman.

This latter bit was truly devastating. More devastating than the scrapes on my palms and knees, deployed just in time to spare my pimply face. My fateful choice to the hit the eject button just prior to falling also meant that I’d lost sight of the cassette, so I was fumbling around on the side of the road, when I realized there was a light on me, and an actual, probably non-demonic human dude in a hotel branded van was asking me if I was okay.

“You were weaving all over the place jogging down that hill, and then you fell, “ he said. “I thought maybe you were drunk or sick.”

I was quite sober, crushingly sober, and so very abashed, that my graceful, bewitched flight down the hill had just looked like I was weaving around like a drunken idiot. I stood up and tried to pretend like nothing hurt and I was absolutely fine.

He asked if I was a guest and offered to give me a ride back to the Inn. I had a solid policy of not accepting rides from strange men in vans, even if they were hotel vans, so I said no. He puttered away. I found the tape in a puddle, so wet that I was afraid to play it, but seemingly otherwise unharmed.

The  Walkman survived the fall, even if it ended up being a little wonky on the Fast Forward. I still listened to Kate Bush, but I didn’t listen to Kate Bush while running as much and I certainly listened less to Side B of Hounds of Love. Not because I worried it would unsettle me again, but because it made me embarrassed to think about how easily I’d been unsettled.

Kate Bush, still one of my favorites, even now, is a solid gateway drug to next level weird, like, weirder than the Upside Down, weird, kids. From Kate Bush, my immediate path went something like Angela Carter to Patti Smith to PJ Harvey to Kathy Acker to being uncomfortably over-aware of  Cloudbusting samples in songs that got played at college parties. But I could have, just as easily, ended up way into astral projection, snake-centered burlesque performance art, or deep into a conspiracy theory about King Arthur being an alien prophet who will one day float out of the earth in Glastonbury and teleport all gingers to Vampire Merman Atlantis (seems reasonable).

As a point of interest, the same day I bought Hounds of Love, I also picked up a copy of the Cocteau Twins Blue Bell Knoll, which would also prove to be a pretty important record for me at the time, and, for better or worse, has not led to  injury.




f you’re interested, an accompanying playlist of everything referenced and alluded to (for better or worse), is here