Dickens Was Right, Damnit

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Copyright: Paul Rushton

Dickens, be damned.

My ninth-grade English teacher was obsessed with Charles Dickens. She made all of her classes read Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. She was a member of the Dickens Society and attended Dickens-themed soireés where all the guests donned 19th-century garb and spoke in 87-word, obtusely-structured sentences. I assume.

We had to memorize the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities, which didn’t seem like a big deal until I realized it takes up the ENTIRE FIRST PAGE OF THE BOOK. I still fail to understand how it can be “good writing” when you have to go back and re-read the first part of the sentence because, by the end, you’ve forgotten what the subject and verb were.

I remember parts of that sentence. My brain cannot recall where I put my phone or what time a soccer game is, but it holds onto useless detritus like my childhood phone number, the lyrics to an old Velveeta cheese commercial and, yes, the beginnings of famous novels I don’t even like.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” is how it begins. It then trails on for another sixteen lines with a series of very similar (and unnecessary) oxymorons. “Epoch of belief, age of incredulity…blah, blah, blah, noisiest authorities…blah, blah, blah…superlative degree of comparison only.” WTF, brain?

I hate it when he’s right.

BUT. Despite his mellifluous method of stating it, I’ve grudgingly decided Dickens had a point. That sentence applies to just about every era on the timeline of significant history. The heroics of the American Revolution alongside the appropriation and slaughter of indigenous peoples. The discovery of radiation’s miraculous cancer-killing properties and the deaths of thousands of innocent people in the form of a bomb. A new awakening for feminist activism but spurred by the election of a presidential misogynist.

My own, private heaven/hell/Idaho

It even works on a personal level. My twenties were filled with fun, friends, partying and carefree selfishness without guilt. I had a job and nothing to pay for except myself. And I cried a lot, lost four pregnancies and was in an unhealthy relationship.

My 30’s were an incredible time of self-discovery. I felt confident in myself as a person. Jason’s and my relationship grew deeper and wider. I had kids and discovered a love like I’d never known. I also worried a lot about fucking up and struggled with breastfeeding to the point of tears. I mourned the loss of time to myself. It was great and terrible, just like Oz.

The best of times weren’t that good.

I read somewhere that we recreate good times as better than they actually were. We look back on an overall fun vacation and remember playing in the ocean, relaxing on the sand, snuggling in bed with a mate. We forget the one rainy day we were bored, the lost luggage or the fight we had on the plane on the way home.

It’s helpful when thinking about now. With all the challenges — worry about kids, working on relationships, concern over finances and all the stuff I am constantly forgetting (with the exception of outdated commercial jingles) —  I know I will look back on these years and smile wistfully to myself. I’ll remember the kids young and not yet jaded by adult experience. I’ll recall learning to be a writer, the freedom to work from home, and the security of the built-in social network that comes with school-age children. Overall, this is a good time.

There have been some true, worst of times, where the “best of” part was indistinguishable: the immediate aftermath of my miscarriages, the throes of divorce, intense struggles with depression and loneliness. In comparison with those, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Why didn’t you just say so?

So, what I took 618 words (Dickens would be proud) and 15 minutes of your life that you can’t get back to say is this: PERSPECTIVE.

And also…

“The evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.”

(I never get to use the partial Shakespearean quotes that float around my brain, so now I’m just showing off. This is where you nod, virtually pat me on the head and roll your eyes. Go ahead. I totally deserve it.)

New Year’s Resolution, No Thank You

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Copyright: marctran on 123rf.com (I added the “Nope.”)

Why I Don’t Like New Year’s Resolutions

So I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, and the past two Januarys, I’ve ranted here and here about why. But I have in recent years, used the beginning of the year to reflect on how I could make my life a little better and set a focus for the upcoming months. That may sound like a bullshit way of saying “New Year’s resolution,” but thinking about it as a focus has less baggage for me. The term “resolution” makes me feel like I have to come up with a socially acceptable goal related to exercise or finances and achieve it so I have thus performed the act of being a good, responsible adult for the approval of everyone else…..

…or, more realistically, failed at it and felt like I also am failing at being the right kind of person who exercises, eats right, saves her money and never says an unkind or negative word. Then, I can simultaneously feel like a bad person whilst feeling resentful about social pressure to make and keep resolutions.

Some of you relate to this. Others of you are thinking, Jeezus, why do you have to make things so complicated? Others, I don’t know; I’m just lucky, I guess.

What Happened Over the Holidays

I had kind of forgotten about setting my yearly intention until I read Candid Kay’s recent blog about how she does pretty much the same thing, picking a word she can focus on for the new year. Then, I remembered this that happened over the holidays:

We were in Telluride, staying with Jason’s family, for a ski vacation. This particular day, lots was happening. Our oldest wanted to ski, the youngest didn’t, a bunch of the family was going snowmobiling, and it was approximately six degrees outside. Jason and I were trying to decide which of us would ski with the oldest and which would snowmobile with the youngest, when he asked me, “But what do YOU want to do?”

I suddenly noticed I was thinking, “Well I should probably spend time with this one, Jason probably wants to go skiing, but I should take advantage of my lift ticket I’ve already activated today…” It was all practicality and what other people might want. So when I paused and asked myself, “Yeah, April, what do YOU want to do?” I couldn’t even tell what that was. In the midst of that house full of people, noise, wants and needs, I couldn’t begin to discern what my own were. I silently excused myself to the bedroom to think, because I hate crying in public. I was distressed I could be so out of touch with my own desires.

I’ll Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really Want.

Not being able to tell what I want is a pattern born from a people-pleasing past and having small children, who until their recent maturity, haven’t known Moms even had preferences. So my focus for 2020 is to take the time and space to figure out what I want to do, whether it’s what movie to see or which direction to take my career. That doesn’t mean I never compromise (in a family of four, it’s inevitable) but I, at the very least, want to KNOW what I’d prefer. I don’t want to perform my life so that everyone can see that I am a “good person.” I want to feel it for myself.

So, do you set a New Year’s resolution, intention or focus? Do you say “screw it” to the whole idea? What’s your take on it? What are your plans, if any, for the upcoming months?

(non)Urgent Cricket Update

 

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This is technically a grasshopper, but really, who cares? Photo by Dmitry Grigoriev on Unsplash

So many people have asked me, “But what happened to the crickets?? Did they survive?!” that I decided to do an update. And I have the ulterior motive of showing off the original story at its new home, The Syndrome Mag. Thank you to the editors there for thinking it was funny and helping me make it even better.

I also have to give props to Maggie Dove, who writes RomCom Dojo. It was her piece in the same publication that gave me the idea The Syndrome Mag might like a story about dead crickets. Also, she is super sarcastic and funny, and I rub my hands together like a small child in a candy store every time one of her posts hits my inbox.

Anyway, yes, some of the crickets came back from being cryogenically frozen like Han Solo. They didn’t stumble around blind like he did, though. Or maybe they did; with crickets, it’s hard to tell. The other 950 insects stayed very much dead, and I had to extract the survivors from the piles of their compatriots’ carcasses, which they were surprisingly intent on burying themselves in.

I blame the post office. Our mail carrier is aggressively grumpy, and we all give him a wide birth. The crickets were left in a package locker overnight, and I wasn’t notified via text until the next day they were there. It got down below 30 degrees that night. Grumpy mail dude probably doesn’t give a shit about keeping crickets alive (which makes him remarkably like most people).

The company, Josh’s Frogs, from whence the crickets came, however, gave superb customer service and shipped me replacement crickets, all of which arrived alive. I think they threw in some extras for my trouble because there seem to be WAY more of them than usual.

Our beardie, Splynter, is now reveling in her abundance of deliciousness, or she would be if she were still eating crickets. Apparently, she’s fasting now. Figures.

What’s Grosser Than Ten Dead Crickets in a Box?

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1,000 stinky crickets

One thousand dead crickets in a box.

That’s what I’m looking at right now — 1,000 belly-up insects in a rectangular receptacle. I paid 30 dollars for them.

If that sounds like the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard, to be fair to me, they were supposed to be alive. I bet most of you would give 30 dollars to get rid of a thousand crickets and wouldn’t dream of paying a third party, through Amazon, to carefully pack and send you (supposed to be) live crickets, but let me back up.

We have a bearded dragon. My youngest child has been obsessed with lizards since he was a toddler, so we gave in and got him one for Christmas last year. We did all the research on lights, substrates, tank size, and food. Bearded dragons, especially growing ones, like to eat crickets. No problem. Go by the local pet store every now and then and pick some up.

It turns out our beardie likes to eat LOTS of crickets — like 20 or 30 each feeding sometimes, even though she’s supposed to be about done growing. I don’t know where she puts them; she’s a very svelte-looking dragon. And she’s about the laziest being I’ve ever encountered.

The trips to the pet store and the money spent on a la carte crickets were starting to add up, so I began ordering them in bulk from (of course) Amazon. Here’s the thing: when you’re housing crickets a thousand at a time, even though they’re only going to get eaten, you have to supply accommodations of a certain quality.

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I never thought I’d say this, but that’s a really cute lizard.

Your pet is only as healthy as the crickets she eats, so you want to feed those buggers some quality food — potatoes, carrots, or the slimy, orange cubes you can also get (like everything else) on Amazon. Crickets need water, too, but you can’t give them too much at a time, or they drown in it because they have brains the size of cricket heads. So not only have you taken on the care and feeding of a reptile, but you also have to feed and care for their food. Fine. Whatever.

So this afternoon, when I opened a box of one hundred percent dead crickets, I was vexed, irritated, irate, annoyed, indignant, and I wrote a strongly-worded email to the company (through Amazon) asking for a refund. In a huff, I sent Jason a text, told him what happened, and asked him to pick up the high-priced crickets at the pet store on his way home.

I was just lying down for a nap to calm my nerves after the disconcerting experience of opening the mass grave that had arrived at my home via mail when my phone rang.

Jason: Hey, the pet store lady says they’re probably not dead. They just went dormant because of the cold weather. You didn’t throw them away, did you?

Me: No, of course not. Why would I throw away a perfectly good box of dead crickets? (In truth, I did still have them — you know, for proof so I could get my 30 dollars back.)

Jason: She says just to wait a few hours and see if they come to. Maybe put them by the space heater in your office.

So that’s what I did. Now I am sitting here typing next to a box of one thousand maybe-not-all-dead crickets incubating next to a space heater. Just call me Miracle Max. They’ve got their favorite egg carton pieces in there and a bunch of premium, orange, slimy food cubes in case they’re hungry when they wake up.

I AM NURSING A HOARD OF FUCKING CRICKETS BACK TO HEALTH.

This is one of those things no one tells you about parenting: that you will find yourself doing the most ridiculous of things in the name of your children’s interests. My office is now a cricket infirmary because my kid likes lizards. How the hell did we get here?

It’s absurd, yes, but secretly, I love it. Let me explain, lest you get the wrong idea that a box of passed-out insects would make an excellent Christmas present for me. I love that my kids take me with them into exploring things I’d never have delved into otherwise. After all, if I hadn’t been playing cricket nursemaid this afternoon, I’d probably have been working, so it’s a good tradeoff. (Sorry, I would’ve had that to you by five o’clock, but our pet’s dinner had a medical emergency.) Also, if this kind of ridiculous shit didn’t happen from time to time, what would I have so much fun complaining about? But really, please don’t send me a box of dead crickets.

Waxing Positive Poetic

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Photo by Van Williams on Unsplash

I’m not sure what this post is about. I just got tired of seeing my poem, The Doldrums, at the top of the list. It’s a good poem, but it is depressing, and I need a break from it. That poem is not how I feel about life, generally speaking, but it was how I felt that one day that I wrote it.

Over the years, I have learned to wait out my emotions. I can start the day feeling lethargic and unmotivated, move on to serene, through energetic, then punch my way through pissed off, and end up feeling grateful I have a family. Then, it’s lunchtime.

I used to try to fix my negative emotions: Why am I feeling this way? Do I need a new job, new relationship, new approach to life? No, odds are, I need a nap, a coffee, a run, or just some time, and it’ll pass. These days, I don’t spend too much time analyzing myself if I wake up feeling irritable or sad. I try to do some things to help my mood, and I know it probably won’t last too long.

There’s this fine balance between acknowledging emotions and wallowing in them, between moving on with life in the face of them and denying them. Wallowing too long can send you tumbling to the bottom of the pit from whence it feels impossible to extract yourself. Denial is like trying to cram silly putty into a too-small container — you can’t get the lid on; it’s going to pop out somewhere and make a mess.

I’ve been both places many times. I’ve been in the pit, where everything seems pointless and terrible, and there are no stairs, no handholds to climb my way out. I’ve been through denial, which is like pretending a volcano is dormant and then it blows half its top off and spews lava over all with the misfortune of being near. I don’t want to be either of those places again if I can help it.

Wrestling with depression and PMDD does make me appreciate the good days, like today, where I can feel the warmth of the goodness of my life. And it has made me stronger, forced me to improve my emotional coping skills.

I do what I call “real self-care” — not expensive spa days or massages, but things like getting enough sleep and allowing myself alone time. I know that the doldrums are not a reality, but the filmy lens through which I see things that particular day. It is a real feeling, and it deserves acknowledgment. It craves its own poem, and I shan’t deny it. (We start talking poetry, and I start saying things like “shan’t.” I’m so pretentious sometimes.) That is what allows me to let it go, to move past it.

The thing is, when I look not just at the doldrums or the shallows but at the whole ocean, there are storms, shipwrecks, beautiful sunsets, pretty shells, calm and choppy waters. There is the rare tsunami and the occasional island paradise. But you don’t get to stay in one place, and if you try, you’ll drift anyway. Or that weather will come to you. Change is inevitable.

That ocean is not just confined to this earth. It is vast and limitless. Who knows what great and terrible things lie within its depths — structures, beings, ideas we can discover, ponder, and some beyond the limits of our human imaginations.

The only sure thing I know we have is our lives on this earth, and the time we have here is too short not to spend it appreciating the full and complex range of human emotion.

For Javier ~ Goodbye Old Friend

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Javier completing the MS150, 2005

Javier died last Sunday night. He passed from this world after a long battle with prostate cancer. We used to be close friends, and we were married once upon a time. I’d seen him only once in the past 13 years. This post is for him, to honor the part of him that I knew, best I can.

When we were in our early 20s, Javier was fond of saying cheerfully, upon introducing himself, “Most people don’t like me when they first meet me.” My late grandmother, Sue, found this delightful and hilarious. She told people about it all the time. It may have been true, but first impressions aside, he made a friend out of most people. His boisterousness and enthusiasm for spontaneous adventure was infectious.

I owe many of my wilder stories and youthful adventures to Javier. He was behind more than one last-minute midnight trip to Mardi Gras. He is the reason I took up mountain biking and scuba diving, two things I still enjoy. He talked me into quitting my job so I could backpack the western United States with him for two months. And as improbable as the stories from those adventures were in actuality, he always felt the need to embellish — to make the tale just a little funnier, a little crazier. I, the factual curmudgeon, was fond of raining on his hyperbolic parade: “That’s NOT how it happened!” It was a schtick we repeated because it got a laugh.

He could be a perfectionist. When we tiled the floor in our house, he dry-laid tiles for days in all directions to make sure the seams would hit the walls just right and was frustrated to discover that no wall is totally square to the floor or anything else. Several months (and fights) later, we finished the floor just in time for Christmas. We went to Home Depot on Christmas Eve, and everything was five dollars. We got a tree and a kick-ass stand for ten bucks and were thrilled at our fortunate procrastination.

Once, we went rock climbing with friends — the first time for us both. I was tentative, but Javier, like always, went for it with gusto. When he slipped and fell, the second before the belay rope caught him, I saw a look of terror on his face like I’d never seen before. I’ve not rock climbed since, but I’d be surprised if he hasn’t.

He was REALLY allergic to poison ivy. He once got a case so bad, I could smell the infection coming off of him. At the doctor’s office, his itchy, red skin impressed even the nurse, who said it was the worst case she’d ever seen. A cortisone shot took care of it, but he was more careful where he biked after that.

One night, when Javier had been downtown drinking with friends, one of them got arrested. He was desperate to get him out of jail, but several failed attempts to see him and a handful of phone conversations later, I drove to pick him up. It was around 3am, and I had a test the next morning. When we got home, he asked me to help him reinstall the seat in his truck so he could go pick up our friend the next day. I completely lost it and yelled at him for being inconsiderate of my need for sleep. The next day, I brought the two of them breakfast tacos after my test, tossed them onto the table and said, “Here you go, riff-raff.” Javier chuckled. In the retelling of it (embellishments included), he could laugh at himself.

He was into all sorts of things: biking (road and mountain), hiking, photography, camping, building things, softball, soccer, snowboarding, scuba diving, nursing. He’d discover a new activity, dive headlong into it, and inevitably love it, taking friends along for the ride. He was always planning the next vacation.

I know, 13 years later, he was different — changed, evolved from the person he was then. I glimpsed it in the few hours our families spent together a couple of years ago. To this day, I am sad we were unable to remain friends after I left, not that I expected to. I would like to have known more of the Javier he became.

Javier was smart and passionate, and he treated friends like family. He was honest, sometimes to a fault. He had a wonderful, belly-deep laugh. As I’ve been reminiscing, I realize there is much I have forgotten about life back then. I wish I could remember more.

Despite not having spent time with him for many years, I am going to miss him. His absence from this earth is palpable. I am so sad for the family he leaves behind; it seems really fucking unfair his kiddos should have to grow up without him, and it feels impossible that someone so enthusiastic about life should leave it so soon. But life is not about “fair.”

If I could tell Javier one last thing, it would be this: “Thanks for being in my life. We weren’t good at being married to each other, but I am better for having known you. I’m glad you found happiness.”

I only wish for him, his family, the people who know him now, that the universe had let him hold onto that happiness for longer.

Throw Me a Rope ~ Climbing Out of the Depression Hole

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Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Imagine you are running a track.

You know it well because you jog it daily. You see where the cracks and potholes have grown. There’s grass creeping into its edges here and there. It’s weathered, but you still like it. For years it was smooth, but as the imperfections appeared, you learned to navigate them after turning your ankle once or twice. You’ve even gotten good at jumping the large ditch that’s appeared lately, in one particular spot, though you fell in a few times before you got the hang of leaping over it.

You’re running one day, congratulating yourself on avoiding all the small cracks and holes. You leap over the big pit, sail through the air, land on the other side, take a few steps and WHAM!

You’re in a hole.

There’s a brand new one just a few strides from the old one. How did this get here, you wonder? You haven’t actually fallen to the bottom of it but are clinging to a ledge on the far side. You begin to try to climb out, grasping at roots and rocks embedded in the earthen wall, but they all dislodge in your hands and tumble to the bottom, which you’re beginning to realize is very far down indeed.

Fuck. You sit on the ledge, knees to your chest and think. It disturbs you these holes keep appearing. You’re afraid your beloved track is going to completely fall out from under you one day, and there will be nothing left but dark holes.  A few joggers run by, but they don’t notice you down there, and you are too busy worrying to think to call out to them. You stand on your ledge. You look up. You know the sun’s still there, you can see the light, but you can’t feel it’s warmth. It’s cold down here.

This is what PMDD is like.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is menstrual-cycle-related depression. It also comes with fun physical symptoms like sore joints, bloating and fatigue, just to name a few amongst many. PMDD is relatively predictable, usually beginning a week to ten days before a period starts, but like all things hormonal, it’s hard to pin down, especially if your cycle’s not regular because you’re young and not ovulating yet, older and not ovulating regularly, or just because it’s not.

Looking back, I’ve likely had PMDD for most of my adult life. It only got to a point where it couldn’t be ignored seven or eight years ago when being depressed while caring for a toddler and a four-year-old became untenable. I took antidepressants, I learned things about cognitive behavioral therapy, I did a lot of reading and introspection and visiting with other sufferers online. Over the years, I have become intimately knowledgeable about the nuances of my hormonal and emotional cycles, just like you know every bump and cranny of that track you run every day.

A brand new pit of despair

This month, as a gift from perimenopause, the new hole appeared after my period started. I sat crying in my office yesterday, sad and pissed. Sad because no reason, sad because depression. Pissed because it tricked me. Jason said, kindly, “I thought you usually got better now,” mirroring my more caustic mental response, What the fuck? I just shrugged, threw my hands in the air, and continued leaking out of my eyes and nose.

The new hole shows up unannounced. There is no earthquake rumble to warn you it’s developing. You didn’t trip, you didn’t lose your job or your family or your house. It’s a hole with no rhyme, no reason. You know the great job/family/house/life is still there, but it is unreachable from the hole.

Throw me a rope.

Jason doesn’t have a ladder, but luckily he’s got a rope — one woven with hugs, errands, gentle offerings and patience. He secures it, throws it down, and encourages me as I struggle to pull myself up — using arms, legs, the scratchy rope, the crumbling dirt walls — everything at my disposal to get out. And I will get out. I always do. New hole or old one.

If you suffer from depression of any sort, I hope you have someone. Know that sometimes you have to find that person and tell them what you need. And if you have someone in your life who sometimes falls in that hole, know this: you can’t make them feel better any more than you can climb out of the hole for them. But you can throw them a rope.