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I put various flash fiction anthologies in the bathroom, to make myself read more of that sort of thing. Some of the stories strike me as having a casual, flippant cruelty. Once I'd have loved that (thinking it "so real, so honest") and loved only that - like a young man cooking on his own for the first time and putting hot peppers in every food, thinking it makes him tough, or listening only to punk rock and thinking himself open minded. As if the only landscapes worth painting are bleak ones, and the only feelings worth writing are negative ones.
Thinking about children's costumes this Halloween, it strikes me that boys have more options than girls but boys' costumes cluster around hurting someone (ninjas, knights, monsters, soldiers, etc) and girls' costumes cluster around being looked at. That's frustrating, and the narrowing of children's options, especially my daughter's, is doubly so. Some days I want to flee to some wilderness where she won't encounter any of the many things I worry about her encountering as she grows up and makes her way in society. And some of these things, as exemplified in the Halloween costumes, are not in the distant future.
I worked too late yesterday and so had to cancel the plans I'd made to take my daughter to my brother's house. She cried. I felt even more guilty. We came up with an alternative fun plan: walked and got ice cream. When we got home I left the diaper bag in the stroller. About 9:00, as my daughter was in bed, I stepped out to go see my brother. I remembered the diaper bag, and carried it back in. When I set it on the kitchen floor, a mouse jumped out. It's somewhere in my living room now.
I read recently about how the physical actions of facial expressions connect to what happens in the brain when people feel things. The act of smiling is not simply a reflection of an internal state of happiness, the action helps create the emotion. I read another article about photographs of people using computers, and reflecting on how much of so many people's lives involve electronically mediated interaction, and how often our facial expressions are blank during these interactions. It almost makes me want to devote a certain number of minutes every day to smiling, and perhaps to frowning as well.
In a few minutes I'll be meeting a friend for (veggie) hot dogs and french fries, at a spot we're both very fond of. There's a charm to dilapidated greasy spoon restaurants, the battered interior, the hey-how-ya-doing-what-can-I-get-ya atmosphere. And of course the food, rich in all the delicious things that aren't good for you. My friend and I will talk about books and the weather. I will complain about job hunting, a mouse in my living room, lack of sleep, and I'm sure will make dumb jokes. Then, rock climbing and work.
With an unusual case of morning motivation I began my day with a run. Forty minutes, 3.8 miles. I'm pretty sure this is the longest time and distance since I hurt myself in May. Not bad. Then I was nearly late to a work-related meeting where I had to present for 20 minutes. I wrote my presentation on the bus on a notepad and braced for disaster. As it turns out, it went very well. Now toward the end of the day, the combination of physical tiredness and adrenaline crash feels almost like I've had a few beers.
I trudged relatively unscathed through several days of intense deadlines then went over my upcoming tasks. I found I had several days to work on important long term projects I'd been deferring due to repeated important short term ones. I left feeling good. In the hour of walking and bus riding it took me to get home, I got sick. Aches, nausea, feeling too hot but shivering. Thermometer showed a low grade fever. I'm slightly better after around 24 hours, of which I've slept about 14. It simply must be related to the stress of balancing work with job-hunting.
I'm feeling mostly better today though my gut's still a bit tender. I'm a regular infrequent drinker of coffee. My stomach obliges but often tuts at me upon drinking the stuff, even under the best of circumstances. As we're still getting to know each other again today, I'm being solicitously polite to it. And so, the coffee I imagine drinking: hot enough to take seriously, pleasantly heavy in the mouth, bitter at the back of the tongue but slightly sweet at the tip, an aftertaste that lingers but politely, not overstaying its welcome. Likely my first cup just won't compare.
Unread Book Taxonomy.
Books Others Have Read That Make Them Better Than Me.
(Despairingly I sometimes begin and less often finish.)
Books Others Have Read That I Feel Like They Use To Feel Better Than Me.
(Angry and muttering I almost never begin, let alone finish.)
Books Read But So Much Forgotten That They Return To Unread Status.
(Wistfully I polish my hope I will someday read, or actually finish this time.)
Books Someone Is Making Me Read.
(Guiltily, fearfully, procrastinatingly, I often skim, hoping to create the impression - but never actually say - I have complied and read.)
* I swear I hear gears turning in her head as she presses the crayon tip to the paper, staring hard at the letters I wrote. She scratches out squiggled lines, spelling her name.
* I don't know what I've done wrong as I try drawing the ghost she wanted, "NOOOOOO!", it begins as bellow, ends as whine, "NO LIKE THA-AT!" I can tell by both sound and facial expression that she's near tears.
* We walk to the bakery. She picks a donut. "I'll hang my coat up on my chair, daddy!"
Toddlerhood is a volatile movement to maturity and back.
Books crowd my workspace. To type at the desk I must shove aside some that clutter the desktop; often I abandon the desk to them and sit in another chair. Around the room, fallen stacks form heaps atop needed notebooks and papers, and filling space reserved for items I'm actually using. Books crowd my workspace. From their packed shelves some stare without blinking, judging my writing. Others look away when I glance, rebuffing my interest. Still others call out, recounting good memories ("remember the cafe near Damen?") or lamenting missed connections ("I thought we really connected, what happened to us?").
Snow today. Later in the winter this would be a warm day. (I once shocked a southern relative by explaining that for most of the winter here it is too cold to snow.) But today felt cold.
The days I can run outside are rapidly ending for the season. I'm going to have to learn to live with the treadmill, or find a track. I think there's something about how the air doesn't move when I'm on the treadmill that makes the difference. I suppose I crave motion. Maybe by next summer I will make a metaphor out of that.
One part of the the park always reminds me.... She was running, young enough to be unsteady on her feet, new enough to running that it was exciting. We were playing with a pine cone or a rock or something, kicking it along. She ran for it, fell on her face, cried, stood up, passed out limp. I thought she had a seizure or something. The doctor said it was normal, she was fine, a white breath-holding spell - holding her breath from pain, until passing out, then breathing normally again. Every time though I remember how scary it was.
At a coffeeshop I often work at there's an old man who leers at young women. Often he talks at them a lot and interrupts their reading, working, and conversations. He talks loudly, like he doesn't hear very well. Clearly people feel uncomfortable with him. I tell myself - he's old, from his English he's not from around here so maybe this is a difference in etiquette in different places, and who am I to assume these young women can't handle the situation and that they need a man to step in? But I still want to say something. Doubts everywhere.
"Do you want to show Daddy your picture?"
"It's really lovely. She made it all on her own, she just asked for water for the paints."
"I'll show you Daddy!"
"Great, where is it?"
She points, "that's an apple tree. That's a violet. That's a rose. That's a sky and it's raining. That's some sand."
"It's beautiful, thank you for showing me."
"It's a wood."'
"It's a wood."
"It's a what?"
"It's a wood."
"It's a word?"
"It's a would."
"No, a woooorrrrrrrd!"
"Oh! It's a world!"
"Yes. It's a word."
"I love it."
I am truly flattered by her affections and I feel guilty in rejecting her but it is the wrong time in my life for this. I have typing I need to do but she keeps climbing in my lap and rubbing up against me, and threatening to knock my empty tea cups onto the floor. Or worse, she presses her face into the laptop screen and climbs onto my keyboard. I pick her up and set her on the floor; she springs right back onto the desktop without a break in her purring. This cat is wrecking my home office.
My family and I went to a small indoor waterpark. My daughter enjoyed playing in the pool and going down the children's waterslides. I went down the two grown up waterslides, the first time I've done so in about seven years. They were fun and they were surprisingly scary. One was very fast and the other was pitch black for much of the middle - it made no difference if opened or closed my eyes. It's been a long time since I've engaged in recreational fear. What a strange thing, to feel afraid on purpose, as a way to have fun.
My daughter put a stuffed toy rabbit on the bookshelf next to my wife's literary anthologies. One of the few toys I've kept from my childhood, it has held up well. For some reason this reminds me of when I was a teenager and my mother let my brothers, aged four and six, or five and seven, play in my room. Trying to help, they broke part of my guitar but didn't realize it and I was a jerk about it. I remember their faces going from pleased to have helped to sad. I wish I could take that back.
I walked in and my daughter starting speaking gibberish to me. I followed suit. She said "you sound like the farmer!" referencing a character in a cartoon we watch sometimes. We gibbered for a bit then I asked her who she was being and she said "let's not be characters, let's just be us." I said "okay, I just thought that's why you were talking that way." She said, "I just wanted to make you laugh." She is still figuring out the how of humor, but it's cool that she gets that it's fun to make people you love laugh.
Winter sunlight, thin and white, stripes the white wall through the blinds, casting bumps in the paint into relief. The clear plastic six sided handle sparkles with painfully bright shining points. The old Mac desktop' rounded top bends the light, a straight line to a semi-circle, a giant spoon or stick figure's baseball cap. It reminds of the silhouette from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. (I just looked it up - I misremembered it as picturing Hitchcock with a large belly, I think because I watched it with my grandpa, whose belly I used to lay on.) Fine light for lounging cats.
My friends from work and I went bouldering together yesterday. I've climbed on my own but this was the first time we've climbed as a group since I sprained my ankle while climbing back in May. I'd forgotten how much fun it is. I'm sore today. Climbing is somewhat like yoga, at least with our small group, in that there's usually something that someone gets to be good at, and something they struggle with. That's much more enjoyable than a simple win/lose, it helps create a nice collaborative and mutual coaching relationship. I can't wait until the next time.
My starting bumped John one step up. I became the new guy, the young guy. He liked having someone newer and younger, someone to take under his wing. Had I not quit after breaking my hand, we might have become actual friends. He would tell me where tools were, tell gossip about other guys who worked there. We often worked in the yard about fifty feet from the main shop, shooting nails to attach drywall to trusses. Out there in the sun, just us and the sawhorses, a torrent of smalltalk. I don't remember a single one of those conversations.
The supervisor was a short Mexican man named Perfecto. His mother probably called him something different but that's all I ever heard him called. He who shouted a lot. One of his favorite phrases was "fucking the dog," meaning a cross between "doing things wrong" and "being lazy." He's casually walk by John and me and holler - "boys, are you fucking the dog?!" If someone made a mistake he'd shake his head and bellow "you fucked the dog!" When he wasn't shouting, he was mumbling. Often, he'd mumble, I wouldn't hear him clearly, say "what?" and he'd erupt into shouts.
My daughter carries her stuffed rabbit into the bathroom and closed the door. I imagine her falling from the toilet or bathtub's edge. I open the door.
"Honey don't close this."
"This isn't a safe room to play in with the door closed."
"I promise to be very careful."
"But I want privacy."
She relents. I thank her. I go back to the office, wondering what's my problem. An open door might stop her digging in the medicine cabinet, but wouldn't prevent a fall.
A minute later she walks to the bedroom, closing the door behind her.
Library trip sucked.
My daughter walked to the crowded childrens' area. Another kid hollered, almost crying, "NO SHE CAN'T PLAY!"
We played with some toy food, some kid wanted to join us. I said "Honey you have to share." My daughter screamed, slapped me hard on the cheek. That required me to exercise some self-control. I told her she got one more chance.
We played more. A smaller kid came up, put his hand on the toy she had. She shoved him, he fell, crying. I picked her up, "We're going home, not getting books." Shouts. Tears.
"Right after I got out of prison," Todd slapped a bar code sticker on the box, "I got this factory job. Paid great, twelve bucks an hour." "But the supervisor didn't like me, he lied and said I was drinking in the parking lot on lunch break." Todd slapped another sticker on another box. "The boss called me up to his office, told me I was fired. I kicked his computer off his desk. The guard reached for me, I said 'I have a .38 in my glovebox you lay a hand on me I'll be back here with it.'"
I strained an abdominal muscle while coughing. The doctor says it's possible to tear ligaments or break ribs coughing. I never knew it was such a dangerous thing, to cough. I can't rock climb for at least two weeks, maybe four. I can still run, which I will need to do more now, to work off tension and stress. Exercise has become a requirement for my emotional well-being at this point, given how out of control larger factors in my life are. In a way the injury is a metaphor. One small cough and things go off the rails.
Matt had a long goatee and always wore a baseball hat and shorts. On each calf he had a large colorful tattoo, some kind of abstract monster or god. He laughed a lot at Todd's crack stories. I remember him as being funny but the only thing I can remember him actually saying was "he won't be able to get in to the bar" when Todd said he'd buy me a beer. He had three fingers on each hand. It made no difference in doing the work, he could do whatever I could do and just as fast, often faster.
"I'll take the ibupofen wif ice keam tomoro." I smile, remembering last time she said she'd take medicine willingly. A few minutes later I overhear "I just want to take your temperature so I know if you're getting hotter or not." A moment later, "sweetie, I'm just going to go talk to Daddy." My wife walks into the living room. "102.5. We need to make her take ibuprofen." We offer chewable or liquid. Crying, she begs, "please, please no," shouts "sorry!" as if this is punishment. She kisses my cheek, then finally takes the pill with vanilla ice cream.
Todd joked almost constantly. I tried to keep up. It made work more bearable and go by more quickly. I can't remember Todd's particular joke but I replied, "whatever man, you're a crackhead." The smile fell off his face, "actually I just got out of rehab and my wife is probably divorcing me over it. I don't want to talk about it again." My eyes widened. "I - I - uh, Todd, I'm - uh, I'm sorry, I didn't know." "I said I don't want to talk about it." I swallowed, picked up a box, passed it to Matt. Matt didn't say anything.
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