Pish Tosh

Tuesday, May 24

What the Roto-Rooter guy said upon leaving

"You might want to, like, try not to use very much paper. Obviously it's not feasible to avoid flushing ANYTHING, but you should, you know, not go crazy."

Monday, May 23

Skills I Really Need to Master Before I'm Ready for Life, Let Alone a PhD

Otherwise known as, the I hate myself and want to die post.

So. As a child certain skills were never explicitly added to my repertoire. I had to do a lot of dishes, for example, but I apparently never learned that when washing windows you had to wipe away ALL the moisture in order not to leave streaks... that is, I never learned this until my two-week stint as a waitress, when this lesson was just one small part of the humiliation inflicted on me daily. "You don't know how to do this?!" the owner spat, rubbing her towel around with formidable elbow grease and speaking aound her cigarette. (Another thing I didn't know to do was to put the coffee pot back UNDER the drip part on the coffee maker before you make the coffee. Otherwise, I soon learned, the coffee goes all over the floor. As you might imagine, this job I quit expeditiously as soon as I got another, as it happens on the maintenance crew at the state park, where I was hired so that I could clean the girl's shower rooms, which I did by spraying some pink stuff around then hosing the whole thing down with a high powered hose. Then the whole mess ran down a drain in the center. Easy.)

Another thing I should confess I don't know how to do is to plunge. A toilet. Like, I don't really understand the objective. I've surmised that the air bubble is maybe supposed to go down there and like, puff things through. I really don't know. But what I do know is I'm an idiot, a stone cold idiot.

The other thing I am, my husband could testify, is a harpy. For example: I've been on a kick lately where I entreat him earnestly and shrilly to help me enhance in our house a Culture of Fruitfulness, in which long hours of quiet fruitful academic or writing work happen gracefully and happily, yet dishes still get done so that in the afternoon, when I start to want to cook, I don't have to first do all last night's supper dishes before I start on today's supper.

I'm a little wigged out by the summer, you see. On one hand, it's so awesome: we have this great porch, and I can sit there and read all day. On the other hand, I'm a stupid nervous wreck, always aware of having to call the caterer and get the invitations and write a cover letter and spend time with my friend who invited me over and and and. I'm easily distracted. By the little stuff.

So take this morning. He gets up and goes to the computer, as he's addicted to Flickr and to his own popularity there. I get up and immediately begin expressing my frustration by banging cabinets, loudly running dishwater, frustratedly setting up the coffee pot. "See?" I explain. "Remember what I said about the Culture of Fruitfulness, where I don't feel like I have to cook all the dinners AND do all the dishes? Where you don't go first thing to Flickr but instead help me not to feel crazy?" I was on a roll. I was really high and mighty. "Should I call the rental company? To tell them about the tub and toilet not draining?"

Here I need to pause to recount another scene. Yesterday, a lovely Sunday, we were having the slow-drain problem and the not-flushing-all-the-way problem. Away my husband went to walk the dog. "If you need to," he said as he left, "you can always pee out back."

Now here he meant the shed, where there's a little drain one could pee right into if necessary. I, however, did not realize he meant this. Accordingly, I trotted out into the yard. It isn't fenced. There's an alley on one side, and no demarcation between our yard and the next door yard of the dead old lady. (This is not the yard where today's excavating is occurring.) In other words, private, it ain't. First I tried squatting by the clump of peonys, but then I realized that my across-the-alley neighbor was walking about her yard with a little spritzing device, spritzing her plants. So then I huddled by the tree, where she couldn't see me. From here, I could look directly across yards and into kitchen windows of at least two houses.

Oh well, I thought. And did what I had to.

When I told CV what I'd done, he could not stop laughing. "I meant IN THE SHED!" he gasped. And then for fifteen minutes, everytime he'd start to calm down, he'd apparently have an image of me squatting gingerly in our yard and he'd start laughing all over again.

So today, when I asked him if I should call the rental company, and he said "no I was going to wait," I got really mad. "Oh, sure!" I said. "We know there's roots in the pipes. You're going to shower, the pipes are going to back up, and I'M the one who's going to have to find someplace to pee!"

Okay, so he showers. It doesn't drain. We kiss and make up. He leaves. I call the rental company. They say, no problem, we'll put in the order.

So there I am, with a cleanish-bathroom, a non-overflowed toilet, a finally-drained tub. There I am with a righteous indignation, high hopes for the world. There I am with my confident knowledge that I understand the plumbing, that unlike my husband when the plumbing gets like this, I do not expect it to be "better tomorrow," for I have learned that roots grow in and must be removed.

And then it hits. The urge. You know. Coffee loosens the bowels.

Where can I go? I wonder. The shed is out: you don't want to do number two in the drain. I try thinking of places I can walk to. There's a bagel shop nearby, but I used to work there until I quit spectacularly and so I don't really want to go there. I imagine other nearby eateries. I imagine walking in, beelining for the bathroom, taking my daily dump, then leaving with my head high.

What do I do? Yes. I GO INTO OUR BATHROOM AND USE THE TOILET. Why? I don't know. It looked so non-overflowed, and it HAS been flushing, just slowly. SO I USED IT.

Whoah is me, woe is me, for now I am home, most of the morning is gone and I've only read two pages, and instead of a clean bathroom I have a nightmare of embarrassing errata strewn about the overflowing bowl. Only myself to blame. BECAUSE I KNEW BETTER; YES, I DID.

And a maintenance man on the way. And yes, mom, I think he'll be able to see my poop.


Our next door neighbor, who recently redid her whole front yard to replace lawn with a bunch of different kinds of plants and flowers, is having excavations performed with a little Cat (a deck? we speculate), our behind-the-backyard neighbor has a totally impressive garden, with two nice straw-covered plots and a lot of little raised beds tucked like into corners and stuff.

We have a newly roto-tilled garden plot which currently plays host to three tomato plants and three pepper plants. We also have, apparently, roots in the septic system again. This happens like once a year or so. The result is, of course, a slow drain in the tub and a toilet that will swirl and swirl, but not flush.

I've called the rental company (incidentally: we love our rental company; they always send a letter before they come to inspect our furnace or our fire extinguisher, and they don't charge us extra for our pets), and they'll come to check it out.

After I made the call, I found myself in the bathroom, tidying. I had recently swabbed up all my hair from the floor with some cleaning solvent and a paper towel, so I didn't worry about that, but I DID spray the cucumber-scented cleaner (about which: ew) around the sink to wipe down the grime that accumulates around the faucet, like, every day, like it seeps out from the faucet setting itself or something.

Then I thought it was kind of funny, this solicitude for a maintenance person when I'm not, like, going to vaccuum or finish all the dishes or anything. It's not like the maintenance people care. Probably lots of their rentals are dirty.

But it reminded me of something that happened over Christmas break. My then-boyfriend (now husband) was still in the hospital after a weird little breakdown he'd sustained, the one that culminated with him waking me up in the middle of the night and telling me he believed he was being recruited for the CIA. He was doing much better but, like I said, was still hospitalized and we didn't know for sure when he would get out. His parents, who I'd put off for better than a week, had finally insisted that yes, they really were coming to visit right now.

Someone, I don't remember who, possibly CV himself, suggested I ask them to help with a task. Mom-in-law did my dishes, wiped the grease spots off from around the dials on the stove. (I still don't know, when mothers do this, if it's meant simply as help, or partly as rebuke, like, I can't believe you don't wipe the grease that gets on the non-cooking portions.) Pop-in-law found the new toilet seat I'd bought to replace the old one, yellowing and missing its feet. "I'll put this on for you," he said. "Okay," I said.

So I'm telling my mom about the visit, how it's going. "They're helping me out with little tasks," I said. "CVs dad just put on my new toilet seat."

There was a pause on the line, the kind where the pressure drops a little and you know the other person is responding DIFFERENTLY than you expected her to. "I hope you CLEANED the toilet first!"

Yes. My boyfriend had a psychotic breakdown and is in the hospital; we cancelled all our Christmas travelling plans; we've just gotten engaged and his parents are visiting my house, driving me around in the slow blue Cadillac, taking me out for breakfast at the Denny's. What's important here to my mom? That the toilet was well-groomed. With no extant little yellow bits. Or pieces of poop.

And, of course, it WAS. Do you think I'd leave the toilet uncleaned when company was coming?

Monday, May 16

I've totally been waiting for this to happen

Someone finally got here by googling
mormons trampolines

In the town where I grew up, all the mormons I knew had six or seven (or more!) kooky, quirky kids, and they also all had trampolines. It was like a truism: mormons + trampolines, which is why the pairing showed up here in my nearly-dreaming mind.

But always I had to wonder: do mormons in other towns have trampolines, or are the mormons I know some weird aberration?

Apparently not.

An excerpt:

"Is there really some Mormon-trampoline connection or is it just some post hoc fallacy thingy?"

I don't know the answer, but at least I'm not alone in asking the question!

Sunday, May 15

Sure, we were kinda gender typed (girls get cats, boys get dogs), but remember that my brother also liked to wear my tutu.

It's true I once stuck a toothpick nearly through Tony's hand. It's also true that I would smack him, and if he retaliated I would run to mom and would superciliate "Tony's hitting me!" and mom would scream "Tony! Stop hitting your sister!"

But ever since sometime before he finished graduating from my alma matter, my older younger brother and I (you get this, right: the older of my two younger brothers) have been as close as two differently gendered, differently oriented siblings who live an average of 1000 miles from each other can be. Who had the same teachers in high school. And college. And had crushes on the same boys. (I would go first, and pick the boy, the Tony would come along, and would obsess over him when I was done. Exceptions include the tuba player.) And who wore the same ladies' gloves from an estate sale. And the same ballerina tutu.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is, we're tight. Except that there's birth order, which means that Tony is devoted and admiring, but also conniving and sneaky and wants to steal the attention for himself.

In this grand tradition of upping me one or at least of sharing in my thunder, Tony has written a companion piece (giddit?) to my kitten post, in which he elucidates his portion of our mutual childhood obsession with pets. I, the oldest, the girl, the stand-alone, cottoned to aloof and feminine cats, while Tony, who was as a child the single most outgoing, eager-to-please human I've ever met, carried in our household the mantle of The Pooch Person.

I mention all this because this is the most poignant anecdote you've ever heard. It still makes me kind of cry.
The first thirteen days I called they always told me, the boy who loved him, that he was still waiting. And although they never mentioned it, I know that he also missed me as I missed him. Well, all of this was to change on the fourteenth and final day I made my call: "Oh, we only house animals here for two weeks, and then we put them to sleep if they aren't adopted." Did I mention I was six years old and loved my Muffin so much I walked around a picture of him taped to his old leash and that I was happily calling to check on the status of my beautiful friend and his happiness? Well, all of this was the case when the idiot on the phone talking to me thought it appropriate to explain that it was pound policy to murder my dog.

Yes. My little brother, who was not bitter about having been bitten by an enormous white dog, loved a stray beagle we took in for a few days so much, that after that beagle was gone, Tony cut out this beagle's picture from the paper and taped this newspaper picture to the dog collar the beagle had briefly worn, AND TOOK THIS NEWSPAPER PICTURE ON WALKS. Dragging it from a leash. No joke.

Doesn't it sort of make you cry? With kind of laughter as well?

You people are weird

Recent Searches, chilly Sunday edition:

1. wife wife's sheer bra leaked

2. actual baby eating

3. how can i get a tampon out at home if it's way up there? **

4. fishsticks, mayonnaise

7. how to pronounce bagel

8. how to pronounce carnivale (don't worry about it; hbo just cancelled it)

9. funny blogs pish tosh (i love you!)

10. sexy sites but not effect on the computer (uhm, clear history maybe? or do you mean, you don't want the computer to get too excited?)

**yikes. first off, don't fret; my gyno told me they occasionally stay in there for weeks. second, go to your gyno, or to planned parenthood, or to a normal doctor. don't worry, you won't get tss immediately and die or anything.

Saturday, May 14

When I'm not dreaming of tornadoes, I dream of kittens

I used to have this red t-shirt I loved to wear around, when I was maybe six. On the t-shirt, in black cursive, it said Little Lady, with one big loopy “L” making the first letter for both words. Around the words, in the same loopy black hand, were a hat, a hand holding a purse, and two little high heel shoes. Like I said, it was my favorite.

five years old

I mention this because when I was six, just like when I was five and four and seven, what I wanted more than anything in the world was a cat. My cousin M., six years older than I, had a cat named Honeydew we brought to our house for a couple of days, and after that I was mad for M. and also for cats. I was mad for the word honeydew, though the melon, not so much.

My parents tried. My mother drove me to the depressingly white and tiny pound to pick a cat for my very own. Am I imagining that the pound, not only was it next to the municipal dump, but also it had barred windows? There were no kittens at the pound, but there were a few cats. At this stage I was very guided by my mother, and anyway none of the these cats were my hoped-for kitten, and so I let mom steer me toward a cat she liked because it was “docile.” This was her word, “docile.”

There was no waiting period or calling-the-landlord nonsense at this pound, so after my mother gave them the ten bucks, the cat was ours. We loaded it into the cardboard box we’d brought, set the box at my feet, and headed home.

Within a couple of minutes, it became clear that what my mom had taken for an admirable calmness of personality was, in fact, the serenity of a beast about to meet its maker. Halfway down the hill, the cat had tucked its head against its tail and died right there at my feet, nested on one of our orange bath towels I’d added to the box to welcome my new pet into our household. My mom screeched the car around and headed back up the hill. Back at the pound, the attendant apologized profusely and returned our ten dollars.

On the way home for the second time, mom stopped at the dump and pitched the bath towel.

Some time later, my mom got a phone number for someone who had free kittens. There was a grey one, the woman told us, and three black ones. She would meet us in the parking lot of her church. She would bring all the kittens in a box so I could see them. Yes, if my heart was set on the grey one she would hold it for me, but she’d go ahead and bring them all.

The woman was a little late meeting us in the parking lot. When she pulled out the box, there was no grey kitten. The grey kitten, she apologized, made a suicide leap out the window somewhere around the Kroger.

That’s how I ended up with Ebony, the sweet black cat who was my very own. My mom named her.

Ebony and I and my Little Lady t-shirt (and, eventually, the Cabbage Patch Kid I finally wheedled from my parents) had many fun adventures, mostly me wandering around someplace imagining I was an orphan. Once I locked Ebony in the linen closet, where she liked to lay on the towels, and forgot about her. That night, I was convinced she’d run away, and I was a very sad girl until two days later when I finally needed a fresh towel. There was my cat. On the towels. Where I’d locked her.

Eventually, we moved to the country, where my mom decreed that now all pets were outside pets. In retrospect, I’m appalled, but at the time, what could I do? My inside-outside cat was now exclusively outside. On the upside, our place attracted a lot of strays, and I was allowed to keep them. The first one was a grey cat I named Tinkerbelle, and I was pleased to have my sweet black cat AND the grey cat I’d always wanted.

But life is not only addition. It is division, irrational numbers, foiling and subtraction. One evening my mom and I went for a walk and Tinkerbelle trotted behind. A car came zooming down our road at high speed and, as many cars would do in the years that followed, hit my cat. After the car zoomed by, my mom and I looked at each other.

“I was so scared that car was going to hit your cat!” my mom said.

“Me too!” I said. But Tinkerbelle was just rolling around on the ground like cats do, arching her back and paddling her paws in the air. On my mom and I walked.

We kept looking back, and the cat kept paddling her paws in the air, only now it seemed like she’d been doing it a really long time.

Did that car hit your cat?” my mom asked.

I ran back, and sure enough, the paddling was getting robotic, staticky. And that’s the second time a cat died at my feet.

The next stray that showed up was Kichebo, a tiny feral calico who kept the place supplied with kittens, and the kittens of kittens, for the next several years. I was always allowed to keep two or three cats, but no more, so with each new litter that appeared, I’d decide: do I want one of these? And if so, which older cat do I give away to make room? In this way, I thought a lot about friendship.

But in some ways this was probably a good system, since cats continued to disappear and die. Ebony never adjusted to outside life and all the other cats, and presently she ran away. One kitten had a hole in its neck from a fatal worm and had to be shot by my dad in the woods with a borrowed bb gun. Another time my two favorite half-growns, the Tuesday cat and the Wednesday cat (they were from a litter of seven, obviously), were frisking about the ditch near the road when a motorcycle slammed through. Its front wheel caught the Wednesday can and tossed her through about five cartwheels before she slapped to the pavement, soft and dead.

The motorcycle stopped, came back. The young man driver shook and shook his head. “Was that your cat? I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” he said to me. I was still standing there in the front yard, where I’d been, only now I was clutching the Tuesday cat and not letting him down.

“It’s okay,” I said to him. “It happens all the time.” Then I went upstairs to my room and cried a little.

But you should not be distracted by all the death in this story. Death happens. It’s no reason not to love something, just because it might die cartwheeling. Instead, you should focus on the promise of kittens. Kittens! When the cat has them, will you be able to find them? Will they be beautiful and original, like no kittens ever before? Kittens. They’re so sweet and incipient, and like pork chops I haven’t had one in years.

I anticipated graduate school gleefully, not only because it meant I would shortly be a famous writer, but because it meant once again I could have a proper cat, the kind that lives inside with you and is fixed and has regular vet checkups and a collar with tinkley charms. Talking to the teachers at the prospective graduate schools, this is what I told them: I’m going to live alone and I’m going to have a cat.

But because I didn’t know yet how to say no, I lived instead with two people: a man allergic to women and a woman allergic to cats. My plan was derailed, my clear and simple plan to go to graduate school, to live with my cat and become a writer. We were weather moving through America, my roommates and I from a vast generation in which it seemed all men were named Matt. We were like a giant cold front, edges visible because of all those Jennifers and Matts. “Matt called for you.” “Which Matt?” Matt was also our roommate, the gay man with three biological brothers and forty-three fraternity brothers, who never had lived with women before, save good old mom. Our other roommate was a tiny storm.

My life, part II, was occasioned by my fat orange cat. When I adopted him, I got kicked out of the apartment by that year's crop of roommates. Then commenced the living alone with my cat. Some writing happened, but it was slow. I was trying to wake myself from a dream of my life cartwheeled into the ditch.


I abruptly decided Wednesday that it is time for me again to succumb to a kitten, with all the sweetness and incipience that implies. And now, I am driving my husband mad.

“We haven’t adopted any pets together; both our pets we got separately!” I explain. Sometimes I say, “See how nice I am when I am happy? Think how nice I’ll be when I get a kitten!” Sometimes I say, “I think the dog wants a kitten.” Sometimes I just whisper “Kitten!”

“Stop talking about kittens!” he says each time. “No! No kittens!”

I explain further that this isn’t nagging, what I’m doing. This is called taking steps to meet your goals. This is called persistence, and it’s the kind of thing that will help me to get ahead in life.

Saturday, May 7

Wunderkind II, for the long-post challenged

So, college. I finally get there. It's immediately clear that I am not going to "fit in" with the girls on my floor, because I do not have enough money (that's the other isolating factor: money, the kind that buys designer jeans and shoes; we lacked it), and having grown up in the country too young to drive I have never been to a party where drinking occurs so I am so not ready to participate in frat culture. The first night of college, I cried for hours, deciding since I was damn well a year younger than everyone else I was damn well going to postpone college for a year until I was "ready" for it.

I didn't, and eventually found my home among the, yes, "honors" kids in the honors program, the smart, weirdly dressed lot, most of whom also had no use for frat culture. By senior year, I'm pretty happy and adequately friended and I have a long-term, hot, popular boyfriend which makes me feel hot and, for once, like a socially admirable girl (though also jealous). I am also cutting a swath through the writing workshops. I was kind of a writing weirdo, but by senior seminar I've settled out in the handful of "serious" writers. At age 19, I write a good story, one people tell me is good enough to publish. (And I wish I'd done it then, because I sure as hell haven't had any luck with that thing since I started actually sending stuff out like three years ago.)

At graduation time, I win all the writing prizes, and with them two impressive checks. I don't get into the Iowa Writer's Workshop, but I get into three decently-impressive MFA programs, including one at Sarah Lawrence which turns me on but which I don't believe I can afford. How would my life have been different had I moved to Bronxville, New York, instead of staying in the midwest? It's strange to contemplate.

That summer after college, I am 20 years old and full of belief in myself. Carson McCullers published her first story, Wunderkind, at 19 years old, and I am aware that I am right there. I read Nicholson Baker's U and I, about his crazy rivalry with John Updike. I read about how Updike published his first The New Yorker story at 25, and when Baker's first story is also taken by The New Yorker at 25, he knows he's on his way to being as famous as John Updike.

Twenty-five, hm? That's five years from now. That's two years after I'll be done with my MFA program. Surely I'll have a story in The New Yorker, or at least some impressive literary mag, by then.

Bravado and optimism, and grad school revealed that it wasn't going to be the smooth upward flight I imagined. But age still comforted me. I was by two or three years the youngest MFA student, and that lasted for two or three years. Several colleagues were 10, 15, 20 years older than me. This isn't exactly charitable, but my age was sort of one thing I had going for me. When more self-assured (and closed-minded) writers made sweeping generalizations about me and my writing (specifically, about how I didn't do it right), I narrowed my eyes and thought Oh yeah? Well you're 34 and you and I are in the same damn program. When *I'm* 34, I'm so going to already have a book and will be far beyond where you are now. So bite me. (Actually, I still might make this one. :) )

In other words, age was a sort of grounds for forgiving myself for fucking up, for being inadequate. I had a lot of time. I had a lot to learn. I wasn't perfect, but considering how much less experience I had at everything than everyone else, I was doing pretty well.

And yeah, there was some self-satisfaction in it. I took pride in it, being the youngest. It made me feel a little bit like I was going to be the one to beat the odds, to make it into the impressive career, not just burn out and sputter, overcome by the normalness and ennui of life. I hate you, public school, for being so boring that I didn't want to try, and so easy that I could be lazy and still stand out, for making me believe that mere "talent" and "intelligence" of my sort would automatically be rewarded, even with little effort on my part.

But I took five-and-a-half years to actually get my MFA, and I'm now years and years older than the other PhD kids taking their exams. People always ask me, "So, what are you up to, writing your dissertation?" No, I say. I haven't even taken my exams. For awhile, I was able to congratulate myself on my job: I was 27 when I had my first full-time professor job. That's as young as even any of the golden boys. But when the year was up, I turned back into a pumpkin, and all I've had since are a series of rejections: "When you are farther along in your career..." Take off your mother's high heels; it's time for you go put on your Mary Janes and practice rope-skipping in the backyard.

I'm too old now to publish my first book at a wildly impressive age. I'm not energetic enough any more to struggle like I used to. We're both (CV and I) too old to be taking out massive loans instead of earning money. Some days there's despair... a since of having overstayed my welcome. Yes. I've been here 8 years, and I turned in my exam proposal but it was only draft one of what needs "a lot of focus." After 8 years, I'm still only BEGINNING. And this makes me tired, and it makes feel sometimes like I didn't manage to live up to my potential, my promise.

I realize this sounds kind of ridiculous: I'm only 28. But my role is different in the world, and my self-perception has not yet caught up. I was a seven-year-old reading Animal Farm and earning the title of genius, and now I'm just a sort of normal woman who finds it difficult to keep up with laundry let alone make quick work of Anti-Oedipus and other tomes on my reading list. I know how fast semesters go, and how you hold on tight and just hope to get through, and that therefore I can't assume that five years actually is enough time to write a book, or even to write a story that will be published in the greatest magazines, or even any magazine.

And I know that, just because you were called "smart" your whole life and kept by yourself in a little pen, doesn't mean that you will always be distinct, or that it will be easy to accomplish things, or that you will be successful, in this world of institutional ridiculousness. This is a good lesson. But it's like how I keep running into door jambs instead of walking through the door. "I do that too," my husband says. "It takes awhile for body image to catch up." We're both 20 useful pounds heavier than we were a year or two ago.

So that is the adjustment I have to make. Losing my status as "youngest" has also meant losing a mode of self-forgiveness. It has meant losing also a little spark of arrogance, the spark that makes it possible to leap. I've suddenly just remembered what my writing genie said to me when I was graduating college. In grad school, they'll try to tell you you are doing it wrong. But stay arrogant. Stay arrogant. Don't listen when they tell you you can't do it that way, that your way is wrong, or that you are taking too long, or that you are not impressive now that you are old as bright young PhD students go.

I've lost it. I've lost it. Can I get it back?

Friday, May 6

On No Longer Being Mistakable for a Wunderkind

This is going to be a post about age. I am twenty-eight years old, and I've outgrown all hints of the wunderkind. This has been like a rug pulled out from underneath me.

This is going to be a long post. But it is what I need to do to clarify things for myself, this sunny Friday with PhD exams still months ahead of me and no significant publications in my past.

I want to say that in a general way, I like getting older. I have always hung out with (and dated) people older than I, so birthdays hold no terrors -- by the time I get there, it's ground well-trodden. I've decided to build my life less around perfectly kempt skin and more around dinners with family and dinners with friends, my mrowly cat and smelly dog, and mornings of coffee and writing whatever I want to, exam proposal revisions be damned. So this isn't pride in youthful appearance we're talking about. (Though in the interest of perfect disclosure I guess I should admit that I have that kind of oily skin and those doe-eyed round-cheeked features that, people constantly tell me as they card me for buying say gin, still let me impersonate a college kid.)

Some months back, a friend who'd just turned 30 talked about how she liked it more than she expected. "I feel like it gives me some kind of authority. I find myself saying, 'Now that I'm 30, I don't have to do that.' " Thirty is a resting place. This is further an idea I've imbibed from friends over 30 who say things like "I'm glad I'm not in my twenties anymore! Whew! That was crazy!" Referring, it's implied, to confusion, wearying sexual intrigue, too much liquor and too many drugs. So thirty is a nice place to arrive, since it often accompanies a bit of "settling down," less confusion, etc.

Though not QUITE 30, I've felt some of this myself. Gone are the days of having 4 boyfriends, of angry crying myself to sleep by myself. Instead I have a nice warm husband and a very heavy cat who people the bed every night. Further, I no longer feel like I have to perform spastically to demonstrate my authority and separeteness from students. They can tell: I'm older. That, and I have hips now, so there's a division: they're the cute hipless things, and I'm the teacher. Further, I no longer flounder around going, what do I do now, with my life? I'm committed to this program, at least through the exams. On the side I am mentally building up various writing ventures.

Okay, so where's the issue? It's here. For twenty years, I was the youngest in every cohort. Youngest, and yet a whiz. I didn't graduate from college at 15 or anything Doogie Howser like that, but I did skip first grade and ace every class after that, except trig, which transpired during the same months I was embroiled in a terrible gothy love affair and found my misery far more interesting to contemplate than trig. (I earned a B+ in trig, and therefore graduated as salutatorian instead of valedictorian.) From age five, I was always distinguished from my peers, not only by age, but also by the isolation techniques perpetrated on "bright" kids in the name of enrichment. And I am seeing I can't discount the influence of these mutual isolations on the formation of my personality and self-perception.

It started fairly simply. My mom enrolled me, at the proper age, in kindergarten at the private Catholic school. All of us were doing some reading in the Catholic kindergarten. I loved to read already, and so when my dad's job moves us to an even MORE economically-depressed and depressing Midwestern town, my mom was upset to discover that the public school kindergarten there lagged far behind the bright Catholic bubble we just left. For the remainder of kindergarten, while the other kids had recess, I went up to the teacher's desk and read out loud from little books. I didn't mind this arrangement -- I was shy, and the books were interesting. One of them, for example, explained how to do magic tricks; I still remember a few of the methods. And, as I mentioned, I liked to read.

I attended first grade for two days. The kids were learning the alphabet and sounding out words. My mom had gone in and talked to the principal. My kid can read, she can really READ, and is there any advanced class? There was not. But during my second day of first grade, I was summoned to the principal's office. This can't be right, but I remember the walk as being frosty, cold. The school was one of those rat mazes of portable classroom modules. I was a very little kid, and I was walking by myself. Already, my singularity had begun. I don't remember whether I was nervous.

In the principal's office were the principal (a man) and someone else, a woman. On the principal's desk were books I recognized: three or four volumes of a set of children's encyclopedias from my bedroom bookshelf. My mom had brought them in. My mom herself was not present for this interview: they must have banished her thinking she was a kooky, pushy mom who would influence me too much if she was there. (She wasn't, at the time, pushy. She may have become that later, for my brothers, but I am distinctly sure that in my case, she was just working from the simple premise that I already spent hours reading Ramona Quimby, Age 8, loving it, while the other first graders presumably sat around peeing their pants.)

The principal and the woman were nice to me, and they opened one of the encyclopedias to an article about bodies in space. I hadn't ever read these encyclopedias: I'd flipped through them, but found fiction way more interesting. But at their request I began to read, without much problem. I do remember that the article covered the distances between various solar bodies, and I didn't know how to read big numbers, so I said something like "The sun is nine three oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh miles away."

It worked for them, and the next day I went to second grade. This turned out to be mildly annoying. I was in the "dumb" second grade, which meant that the teacher of the "smart" second grade was really snobby. I had to learn cursive, which the "smart" second graders already knew. And I wasn't ready for the math: I remember, because it's the only one I ever got, an "F" on one assignment. But the teacher of my "dumb" class was nice, and she read us Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Magic, a book I'd already read but loved.

And here again was the shunting of me away from the "normal" students. Five or six of us left some afternoons to go to a different portable classroom for "enriched" lessons. Weirdly, the rest of the kids got to stay together with one teacher, while by myself I was taken to a teeny room in the back, with some weird man. I have no memory of what these lessons involved. I only remember -- this was like 1981, remember -- that the man had a computer, and that he programmed the computer to have Hi Blurt! scroll down it. I was mildly impressed, but only mildly. I thought it was weird that this man was seemingly trying to impress ME, a six-year-old who'd had her last birthday at the McDonald's.

I didn't finish out second grade there: my dad's job moved us back to where we came from. Back to my old school. Sadly, though, I did not get to join my old class. This is probably a defining moment. I have the idea that I was popular in kindergarten: after I left, one of the other brunette girls got a perm and when she came strolling in with her curly brown hair -- her mother later told us -- all the kids said "Blurt's back!" So I looked forward to seeing them... but the decision was made to keep me in second rather than first grade. I remember being consulted about this, but the choice was presented in a way that made clear what the "right" answer was. I had already done most of second grade, and was ahead of where my friends were. It made sense for me to join the second graders. I would be "bored" if I didn't.

On the playground, that first day back, I happily sought out my friends, only to be plucked from them by a teacher. "You are in second grade so you need to play with the second graders," she told me. The motive here was probably to help me adjust by forcing me to get to know my new classmates, and this is eventually what happened. Still, what a message for a little kid: your intellectual interests dictate you forget about your old friends. You are ahead of them now.

The rest of second, third and fourth grades are juicy and vivid in my mind. Sure enough, I got to know the kids in my new class, and I can still tell you most of their names. It was a Catholic school, so we had mass once a week, but this was a break from normal routine. To prepare for mass, we also had once a week a school-wide singing practice, all the kids from first through sixth sitting on the floor in the cafeteria singing Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow. Good times, and I don't even mean that sarcastically. I developed an interest in a particular sharp faced girl and we became best friends. We slept over all the time, had slumber parties with the other girls sometimes. In fourth grade, I was intellectual rivals with another girl, a blue eyed, white haired dreamy girl; sometimes she had the highest score on tests, sometimes it was me. We discovered boys. After we'd learned our mulitplication tables, the teacher threw a little celebration for the kids who'd ended up with the most stars earned on tests. My white-haired friend and I had the most, so we got four things from McDonalds (a burger, a coke, a fries, a candy bar). Other students got two. I remember one jokester, who wanted for his two items "a french fries and another french fries." He ate his french fries through a rubber Ronald Reagan mask, pushing the fries through the little breath hole in the middle of Reagan's mouth, until the teacher made him take the mask off.

I was still cordoned off, a bit. I had missed first communion in second grade, so I had to do it in third grade, leaving my third grade class and walking down the hall to join the second graders during the period prescribed for Religion. Until I went through communion, I had to stay sitting in the pews at mass while all my third grade classmates went up to receive their prescribed hosts. And I was one of only a handful of fourth graders invited to join the Great Books club. There I was, seven years old, reading Animal Farm, Anne of Avonlea (which I didn't like, but when I read it later, at like eleven, I adored), and The Witch of Blackbird Pond, discussing them after school with some fifth and sixth graders. I remember this as a fun few years.

The summer after fourth grade, my brain once again became occasion for leaving behind old friends. Though the Catholic elementary school was lively, by middle and high school the course offerings were slim. At the public schools, by contrast, an "Extended Learning Opportunities" program began in fourth grade and bled neatly into the "accelerated" classes in junior high and high school. I don't remember who approached whom about putting me there -- whether the city approached my parents or my parents, the city. But at some point I was driven downtown to a lovely old brick home to meet with a man who was going to give me a kind of test. I understood later, of course, that this was an I.Q. test. At the time I just knew it was a test to see whether or not I should go to the "special program" at public school.

It was a pleasant afternoon. The test took place in a home office, large and lovely, full of books and papers. The man and I sat across from each other at a table large enough that I didn't feel uncomfortably close to him. He gave me a cup of iced Sprite, and made me feel entirely comfortable. I did not feel he was talking down to me, but I also did not feel out of my league.

I was seven years old, once again alone in a room with a balding, eyeglassed man deciding my fate. Mom, is it any wonder I grew up independent and stand-offish, that I became not the kind of daughter who could never need a mother simply? The man asked questions, and I answered them. He asked me to define "orange." ("A color that's a mix of yellow and red, and also a round citrus fruit that's good to eat.") He asked me to figure out, given a pail that holds five gallons and a pail that holds three, how to get two gallons. He asked me another pail question about which I had to say, "I'm sorry, I don't know." And so on.

Afterwards, he talked to my parents while I waited on a set of stairs with a fat wooden banister. And in the fall, I went to my new class at the public school.

My dad told me years later, drunk one night after a bonfire party, that I was a "genius," that that's what they had found out that day. I'm not. At least not anymore. I've taken online I.Q. tests: I'm "above average", just like most grad students. But that's only because a lot of those test questions, if you've read the solution to that kind of problem you just know how to do it. Like the SAT, IQ tests are totally coachable.

Still, imagine this as my new burden in the eyes of the world. And public school didn't have a lot to offer. I had a lackluster best friend in fifth and sixth grades, and had a lot of the same classmates from fifth grade right up to high school graduation. But I'd already imbibed impermanence. I didn't like a lot of the kids in my class; they were from your standard small town Republican minor-mucky-muck backgrounds, the mayor's daughter and that sort of thing. Snobby, but small town. Uninteresting. Petty. Mean.

When we moved from town to the country the summer before sixth grade, I was once again in a situation that made me feel freakish. Instead of going to the nearby elementary school, I had to ride the "special van" to town so I could go to the Enriched class in an elementary school downtown. On the van were me and the kids going to classes at the state mental hospital. Two of them were in wheelchairs, unable to have conversations with people, though one of them had an impressive number of commercials he could recite into the back of his hand, which was presumably working as a microphone. The non-wheelchair kids had Down's syndrome or other severe learning troubles. The two drivers, one of whom was extremely caring and good with the wheelchair kids, were nevertheless total hicks who made us listen to terrible country music. When the male driver came to our house to meet me and figure out how to add me to the route, he asked my mom, right in front of me as if I couldn't understand what he was saying, "So, she's slow, huh?" for which I never forgave him, though it makes a kind of sense. "Intelligence" as mental illness.

In seventh grade I got to ride a normal bus with all the other normal kids, but by this time these country kids I'd never met hated me. Since I had been "too good" to go to their elementary school, they decided I was snob. I spent the 6 years of hour-long bus rides to and from school crouching low in a bus seat, praying no one would say anything to me or would, worse, yell things about me to other kids. "Look, she's putting on makeup. What a snob." At school, I was becoming shyer and shyer, and mostly tried to stay out of people's way, except for in arenas I felt comfortable like the swim team or the band.

You have to understand that part of my shyness came from being younger -- I was continually behind in physical developments like periods, boobs, and hips, and in rites of passage like when I could take driver's ed -- and also from having that "smart" designation: as a label it said "different." We "accelerated" kids had our separate classes, and even within this little cadre I had the additional burden of being young and a quick study, straight-A sort of person. I kept my mouth shut about it, but everybody knew. And the classes were stupid and dull. We had exactly one great teacher in all of junior high and high school, and she was dangerously insane. (Seriously. She needs her own post, and will also appear in my novel.)

(Edit note. Okay, fine, I broke it up. Happy?)

Thursday, May 5

I'm a pro now

A Flickr pro. Thanks honey!

Plus we got a big ol' check in the mail, from my new dad, the nest egg in C.V.'s name long reserved for a "groom's dinner" we obviated the need for by eloping. Also included were messages about God keeping lamps full and how C.V. has been preparing himself for a profession, maybe not teaching, maybe something he doesn't know about yet, but God will help him.

While God is occupied thusly, I'm thinking: pool party at the local pool. With 60-80 of our closest friends. And a cake covered in fondant with some kind of rad design. And I bet that check will pay for at least part of a decent caterer. I'm so sick of the normal vegetarian caterer fare: I like lasagna as much as the next person, but I'm miffed that the token veggie dishes are always vegetarian lasagna and pasta primavera. Cooked with varying degrees of passion and skill, but generally less rather than more.

I'm holding out for something involving wasabi. If I'm going to disappoint my various meat-eating relatives, I'm going to do it with FLAIR.

This is good: the reception planning thing has really been dragging us down. It's just one more thing we're not doing even though we're supposed to.

Last night, we FINALLY faced facts and drew up a list of Things To Do. So the check couldn't have arrived at a better time.

Tuesday, May 3

It's not you. It's me.

Okay. You may have noticed that I don't use my name. I do this because I don't want to be found. Oh, I know when you publish something on the internets hypothetically ANYONE could eventually find it. But not using my name was a way of not making it ENTIRELY THE EASIEST THING IN THE WORLD for any old person I actually know to have immediate access.

It's a space putatively "safe," then, not just for admitting attitudes I wouldn't want a boss to know, but also for working at identities I wouldn't necessarily be able to pull off in the same room as say my mother.

Just to pick one.

Which means that when you TELL people, especially when you tell my mother, about reading things on my website, you are cavalierly just busting my tiny bubble of grace period, my sense of safety. Yes, it would be all fabulous if we all could be exactly the same "in real life" as in our writings. And if our mother and us had that kind of relationship where we'd type up all kinds of blog entries, say about sex or say about her, and e-mail them to her for approval before posting.

BUT WE DON'T. Instead we are private persons, and we don't wear our hearts on our sleeves, and we never, ever show anything we write to our mother. Or to most people we know, actually. We are pseudonymous, not so much for professional reasons, but for private ones.

Which is why when our mother calls and says, this-and-such said she read such-and-such on your website but I didn't know you have a website do you have a website? we say no. And when she says, do you have a blog? we say no. And when she says, do you? have a blog? we say no again.

We are pretty sure we all know this is a lie.

But if we wanted to acknowledge this privateish space to our mother, we would have done so. Since we haven't done so, we're not going to fess up, because this would be seen as a personal hand-lettered invitation from me to READ THE BLOG which would then lead to MORE PHONE CALLS when she reads something she doesn't like or which doesn't match her official version of who I am or how I think about things.

This is not a post about my mother, by the way. It's a post about the paradoxical privacy of a public space peopled by strangers, by no one who actually knows you or has expectations about how you're supposed to think.

And about how much less safe a blog space feels when this paradoxical-public-privacy has been punctured.

Also, if my cat could please stop walking across my pillow early in the morning stepping on my hair with those delicate little flower-paws holding up all that god damn bulk. It hurts, kitty. And it wakes me up grouchy.

Thank you.