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My lifestyle must have seemed impossibly glamorous to the young man who ran past my kitchen window to retrieve his ball. I watched him as he paused for a moment to admire the billowing cloud of steam as I strained the spaghetti into the sink.
"It'll be years before I'm allowed to do something so grown-up and exciting," he no doubt thought.
With a heavy heart, wishing he could stay a bit longer to see how I would sauce the pasta ("
that he bought with his own money!
") he picked up his ball and returned to his shouting friends.
On Monday my boss asked me about my weekend. "Did you meet anyone fascinating?" she asked. She is smart enough to know how unsubtle this question was.
She wanted to know whether I had fallen in love and whether I would move away, leaving her a position to fill. I pretended not to understand what was behind the question, and I told her that everyone I met was very nice.
I do not bother wondering whether she asked out of interest in my happiness, because it's easier to get through my work if I don't think of her as human.
One of the pieces of furniture that came with my apartment is a large wooden table. It is very much like the table I liked to do my homework on after school as a kid. It is old, and has probably had quite a few families gathered around it for meals and board games, and plenty of little kids doing their homework, and I like to imagine that they liked the table, too. What I'm trying to say is that the table feels friendly, and I feel that it supports whatever work I do on it, both literally and metaphorically.
I live in a house that was built in the late 1800s and split up into three apartments years later. No doubt many families have lived in the space I now occupy.
I do not believe in ghosts, but I also do not want any occasion to question that lack of belief, like, for example, seeing a ghost. The house is creaky and usually silent, and sometimes when I'm brushing my teeth I can't escape the thought "I hope there isn't a ghost behind me." I check, and
there isn't, but the thought is enough to unsettle me.
A CHILD'S NIGHT-PRAYER
I am ready for bed, and I am prepared to enter the realm of dreams. Keep from me the night-mare, the bug-bear, and the hob-goblin. Keep from me the black arts of the night-witch, the devil-dog, and the were-wolfe. Spare me from these terrors, yea, and any others not listed you have created for my fright.
Let me wake again to blue morning's day-bird and sun-bob. Let me greet the next morn with oat-meal and a glad heart. Let us mutually agree this is the best outcome.
CHILD'S PRAYER (cont'd)
LORD, it is an odd sort of protection racket to visit these terrors upon thy children and then force us to pray that you defend us from them, but thy will be done, and we trust in thy divine plan.
Yea, keep these unholy terrors, who are thy children as much as we are, from our doors this night, although we wonder if they prayed to you as well, asking for the sustenance of child-meat, which one would you listen to? Just some idle bedtime curiosity which I will now strain to force from my mind.
TOP NIGHT TERRORS
* Creeping Jenny
* Plumed Wolf
* Star-Crossed Malkin
* Alabaster Maiden
* Fanged Drupelet
CHILD'S NIGHT-PRAYER (CNP) specifically defends against these terrors, collectively responsible for over 60% of child night-mortality nationwide. Use as directed. Not guaranteed if child falls asleep before finishing prayer. Supervise young children to ensure completion.
NOTE: Does not protect against [REDACTED FOR YOUR SAFETY]. If you suspect [REDACTED]
the rest of the page is blacked out.
One time a friend of mine was describing a problem he was having. I don't like to give advice because I'm afraid people will take it and then blame me when it turns out to be bad.
I did have an idea, though, so I began with a long caveat that he shouldn't actually take this advice, and he stopped me.
"Do you really think I would just do what you're going to advise without thinking about it?"
His point was what was what I was presenting as humility was really a lack of belief in his intelligence and judgment.
An item on my to-do list is "plant cave." I have no idea what this means.
It's awesome, though, I mean... yeah, of course I want a plant cave. It's like a "man cave" only it's like a jungle all filled with plants and it has that smell of green living goodness and lots of oxygen, and if you go there you will feel inspired and in touch with nature, and I will have butterflies, birds, and fountains in there too, possibly. Whatever my illegible scratching originally said looks like "plant cave" and that is what I want now.
My secret fact is that I enjoy being caught in the rain*. I like the free and easy feeling of water running down my face, and my clothes unusually heavy from being soaked.
*Terms and conditions apply. Temperature should be over 75 degrees with no wind. I should be no more than 15 minutes away from a dry safe place with a ready supply of dry clothes. Rain should be heavy and continuous, such that it continues well after I have gotten indoors so I can enjoy the cozy feeling of looking out the window at the rain after changing.
College students, frustrated with the rigors of what they call "adulting," have taken over, and mandatory partying is in effect. It is 2 a.m.
In the days before I would have been in bed six hours ago, but now I am drunk and kept awake by the pounding shitty music and the jostling of the rest of the exhausted over-30 crowd.
Sometimes people fall to the floor and young people in black uniforms drag them out. We never see them again.
We party on ceaselessly, waiting to escape this hell and fall into either our beds or our graves.
I take walks on warm evenings, and I have discovered an unexpected pleasure of living on the first floor.
I like to leave my curtains open and my lights on when I leave for my walk. The air is full of the smell of lilacs and the song of birds. I greet my neighbors and their dogs. Then, as dark approaches, I come upon my own apartment and look into the windows from the sidewalk.
"This is a cozy scene," I think, noting a book on the table, a teacup, a comfortable chair. "Whoever lives here is doing all right."
I have all but given up drinking. Sitting around alone and getting intoxicated does nobody any good, and it was getting boring. The problem is, I have yet to find a replacement in my life for the role it played. Where am I supposed to get my sense of well-being, for instance? Lately I have just done without.
How am I supposed to deal with the fact that I am exactly as intelligent and charming as I actually am, and no more? How am I supposed to fill the moments between getting home from work and going to bed?
Recently a friend revealed to me this fact: he has never eaten a beet in any form.
In these situations we should guard carefully against a mocking tone that may threaten to enter the interaction. Thinking back on all of the beets we have enjoyed: pickled, baked, roasted, raw, we may make note of a sense of superiority creeping into our consciousness.
Please remember that our treasured friend, in a state of vulnerability, has chosen to share this highly personal and embarrassing fact with us. For the sake of goodness and friendship, let's play "Never Have I Ever: Vegetable Edition."
Last month I started to write very political stuff, and I decided to abandon the whole month rather than carry on that way. I find myself in a constant state of disgust towards everyone on every section of the political spectrum lately, and I decided that I did not want to add another voice to the terrible din. Life is rich and full, and the people of our world will never miss another uninformed screed.
Avoiding politics has political consequences, and what you consider political and what you don't is also a political decision. Maybe a meteor will find us.
Some people my age have experienced friendship schisms along these lines: the friends who have gotten married (MFs) and reproduced view the single friends (SFs) as irresponsible and immature, and somehow discover the massive chutzpah to tell them (the SFs) they need to change their lives to match their (the MFs') own.
Meanwhile, the SFs note that the MFs have become repetitive and moralizing and bossy and perpetually exhausted and dirty, which makes the SF extremely suspicious of the MFs' motives in so zealously endorsing their lifestyle. (I wonder if the autobiographical nature of this entry is obvious at all.)
Back in the city when the weather starts getting warmer, people blink at the sun and look at the other human beings sharing the sidewalk with them.
I saw a group of three teenage boys who were across the street from a group of equally young women. "You're
!" one of the young men shouted.
"Which one?" shouted the ladies, apparently eager to know which of them was being addressed. The young man laughed nervously and looked away. I think he just noticed that young women, as a category, are sexy when they are not just lumps of winter coats.
I'm behind the cash register now. I begged them not to put me behind the cash register, but Joan is out sick and Stephen quit yesterday, which means that I am behind the cash register.
Normally I am in the back, which is where I belong. In the back it is dark and fairly quiet and interaction-free. There are nods of respectful recognition but no talking in the back.
Now I must interact and "SEE SAM," which stands for "Smile Elatedly, Engage, Smile (again), Acknowledge, and Make the sale." These are the steps from our training. My mouth hurts.
I've identified the conflict around my 20-year high school reunion: I don't want to go, but I want to be there.
That is, if you offered to let me attend anonymously as one of those teleconferencing robots, I would do it in a heartbeat, and if someone said "who's controlling that robot, there?" I would make the robot say "Beep-boop, I am just here to serve drinks," and then I would roll over to a different group of people I spent four good years growing up with.
But to actually go there, you know, as myself? No thanks.
Sometimes we would say unkind things to each other.
Unkind things can sometimes slip undetected through the filter we have, the one that allows us to ask before speaking, "Is this a good thing to say out loud?"
But more often, unkind things can seduce us into actively
to say them out loud. They tell us, "Something good will happen if you say me out loud. You will get what you want."
We both knew what was going on, and I ignored her unkind things and she ignored mine; we had this unspoken accord, and those were good days.
I got the announcement that a fill-in-the-blank was coming, and that I was not to think about it, but just react immediately and honestly with no filter whatsoever.
"OK, I'm ready," I said.
"If I were rich, I would..."
"Sleep," I said. The answer came out with an immediacy that surprised us both.
"You don't need money to sleep!"
"If I were rich, I would never have to wake up before I was ready again. I want to be able to afford that. I want to remember what it feels like to be well-rested and alert."
I am amidst a swirl of flying insects. They're everywhere, and they're all different kinds. Here's a housefly, here's a bee, here's some sort of beetle, here's a tiny unknown rainbow-bug.
These crazy little creatures, each one as alive as I am, animated by the same principles that animate me, is swirling around and sometimes crawling on me. They are looking for a meal. Am I a meal? To some of them, I am. What am I? I am so much larger than they are that I doubt they really recognize me as a fellow creature, although I am.
Were you born in a car wash? Because I was.
Think about that one for a moment. It's bad enough coming out into the noisy world in a hospital, with its bright lights and beeping machines, but imagine coming out and feeling the cold and bitter air and then seeing suds and swirling brushes and jets of water that are somehow not touching you, because you don't understand how glass works yet, and it's dark and everyone in the car is half paying attention to the fact that a baby has come out and half enjoying the car wash experience.
Every few years the newspaper calls up and wants to know how I'm doing. It's a slow news day and they run a "boy born in car wash: what's he doing now?" segment.
I tell them that despite the obvious disadvantages with which I entered this world, I am doing as well as can be expected, although not (of course) exactly thriving, not ever having reached (nor do I expect to reach) a stage of self-actualization, being, as I am, a victim of my parents' poor planning in the minutes before my birth. I try to keep it positive.
I'm up before everyone else and I can't go back to sleep, so for some reason I'm sitting in the dark watching TV with the sound off, trying to read lips. Here's a girl standing next to a field of corn. She is talking to herself, or maybe talking to the corn. She is clearly having a bad day.
It turns out I can't read lips at all. I can't tell if she wants to get away from this place where corn is grown, or if she wants the corn to grow faster, or maybe both. May she be successful.
Entertainment Gossip and News!
has turned fifty years old. How did she celebrate the occasion? This columnist was not privy to the details.
A Spider-Man-Weary world has greeted the revelation that another
movie is released. "Ignoring Spider-Man movies has become a yearly tradition," said one anonymous source.
A movie about ghosts
is out, and I don't know what it's called or whether or not it's good. Or maybe there are no ghosts, but the title makes it sound ghostly.
(I skimmed an Entertainment magazine and this has been your Entertainment review.)
When I met Jodi last year I asked her about her "secret," as in, how you consistently write here every single month, and with such consistent quality?
She said she didn't have a secret, but then later in our conversation she used a word I don't hear people use much when she talked about her
I don't believe anyone is born with discipline; rather, people who want something enough teach themselves to become disciplined when they realize that relying on its fickle cousin, motivation, won't cut it.
It isn't easy, though. Discipline is the new quality that I admire.
I have become much more careful about the excuses I accept from myself. In the past I wasn't even aware of how many excuses I made: I excused myself from going to the gym, calling someone, cleaning something, writing my entry. I was able to tell myself "I usually do this thing, but this time is different, I have a legitimate excuse..." and it took some time to realize that in some areas, I spent more time making excuses for not doing a thing than I actually spent doing that thing.
Is this how you build discipline? I hope so.
Have you ever done yardwork?
The idea of it is that you haul a rock from here to there, you plant grass and then cut it to the regulation length, you select a plot of earth and decide which plants you want to grow and which ones you don't, and you pick up leaves. You devote all of your free time to these activities, attacked by biting insects all the while.
It has always struck me as the most pointless and meaningless busywork that takes time away from more constructive things, but it remains a popular hobby across this land.
I am back in Hamburg on a short vacation with my family, and benefiting greatly from that feeling you can get from even a marginally stable family that actually,
are sane and it's the world that is crazy.
This feeling comes from the fact that there are several of you, and you've lived together long enough that you don't even have to say things out loud to be understood. It is a privilege, I know, to be a member of such a family; one that everyone does not enjoy. I'm going to stop writing and hang out with them.
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