Category Archives: Self-flagellation

Celebrating the Red, White…and Black and Blue

iPhone--so you can capture all of those precious, heart-stopping memories.
iPhone–so you can capture all of those precious, heart-stopping memories.

For those of you who enjoyed the past holiday weekend…bite me. For anyone else who spent the day at an emergency med center making sure your child hadn’t broken or permanently damaged any part of his body, join me in a moment of reflection.

Can you remember before you had the awesome responsibility of parenting? Can you think back that far? (You could be a parent for all of thirty seconds, and still the crushing realization that you are now responsible for a life beyond your own will be smacking you in the face…hard…like Mike Tyson in the final round, testosterone-flared-nostrils-in-your-face hard.) Do you remember what that life before was like? Seriously, what was it like? Oh, wait, now I remember. It was freedom. That’s what it was. Glorious freedom. Those days are gone.

I don’t mean to sound bitter, but I can tell you, after this past Fourth of July, I’d really like to go back and celebrate what freedom used to mean. B.C.—Before Children—life was a dream. I didn’t know it, of course; I thought I was living a life of drudgery and low-paying jobs. I had no idea I was reveling in the greatest wealth the world can offer: freedom. I was reminded of that this weekend when I decided to take my son to a local parade in our new home town. And what better way to get there than riding our bikes?!

I had purchased a bike this past winter and stared at the blizzards fantasizing about biking around in the summer with my son. It was going to be a glorious, technicolor dream. There would be butterflies and rainbows. Even with my bionic enhancements, my physical limitations make it hard to keep up with him on foot, so I thought, “Hey, if we are both on bikes, then I can enjoy the experience and not worry about him getting away. After all, he’s strapped into it and it weighs about ninety pounds. What could happen?” Saturday, we get on our bikes and head toward the city park where we can watch the parade. Cautiously, we cross the scary, busy road near our house to cut cross the cemetery to hit the bike trail along the river.* It all sounds bucolic and delightful doesn’t it? Wait for it…

We’re tooling along, practicing passing people on the left and not mowing down little kids or elderly people who think I’m kidding when I yell: “Watch out. He can’t brake yet.”** Then we get to the section of the path that is becoming our bone of contention—the fork in the road that is the pain in my… ANYWAY, the kid is behind me and has stopped at the fork. A woman with a stroller is passing him and I call back, “No, Booger…we aren’t taking that route today. We can take it on the way ba…” I can’t even get to the end of the sentence before the berserker rage strikes. My son is peddling for all he’s worth–near missing the baby in the stroller–zipping in a mad dash past me and heading towards trouble. All I can do is watch; it isn’t pretty.

My son rides a very sturdy Ambucs Trike.*** This was a wonderful gift from an organization that helps families to buy special trikes for special tikes. (Sounds sickeningly cute, doesn’t it?) What’s more sickening is the experience of watching your agitated child pell-mell his way into an emergency med center visit. As expected, the “Hulk Smash” rage ended in disaster. Helpless, I watched as my son exceeded safety limits, causing the trike to wobble, and then come crashing down on top of him—face first into the asphalt. The good news is, road rash on all bendy parts, a smashed nose and lacerated lip (inside and out—made me want to puke when I saw it) aside, he is going to be fine. The not-so-good news is we spent the entire holiday sitting in waiting rooms just to determine that he hadn’t broken anything. By the end, all we wanted to do was crawl home and collapse. We didn’t bother with going to any Fourth of July celebrations that evening. As my mother-in-law said after we survived the harrowing experience, “We’ve had enough fireworks for one day.” It was unanimous; we spent the holiday huddling in our house avoiding any further excitement.

So, how do I celebrate freedom now? I cherish the moments that work and recover as quickly as possible from the ones that don’t. I will count surviving the day as a win. I will try very hard not to mourn a time when freedom was as easy as leaving my house and getting to my destination unscathed. And I will be buying knee and elbow pads for any future ventures that might lead us astray along our rocky path to freedom.

*

[Of note, the Bandaids should be coming off just in time for our camping trip to the U.P. later this week. I’m not worried,  inclement weather notwithstanding, what could possibly go wrong?]

He's smarter than your average human.  Courtesy of www.pacsafe.com
He’s smarter than your average human.( And yes, I realize this is a brown bear and that Michigan has black bears–deal with it.)
Courtesy of http://www.pacsafe.com

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*No, this is not foreshadowing. Foreshadowing would have involved an anger management seminar.

**Subtext: you are worth 50 points you old codger, so you’d better get out of the way.

***Sturdy and a bit clunky, these are the Cadillac of kids’ bikes. Solid steel construction—built to inflict the most damage in whatever they hit.

 

P.S. It wasn’t until after I  wrote this that I learned of the terrible bike accident at the Tour de France. I have the sincerest sympathies for the mothers of each and every one of those riders. I am very happy everyone walked away from that one.

Get Thee to a Shrubbery!

Alternate Title:

Beating Around the Bush*

Okay...you Google 'Giant Bush'!  I dare you.  I double dog dare you!
Okay…you Google ‘Giant Bush’!  See what you come up with.

I sat down this weekend to write. Or at least, I tried to. I reread chapters of my second novel making tiny, infinitesimal tweaks all the while recognizing that a major overhaul was needed. (Why the hell do I have heroes flashbacking what just happened instead of having them do it?) Once you see all the holes in your plot and need a chart to keep track of the characters, the task seems daunting. I am a huge fan of procrastination so instead of tackling my monster opus (three books and no end in sight), I decided to do some work on the garden.

“After all,” I reasoned, “I can always work on the book after dark. I can’t do yardwork after dusk or the vampire mosquitoes will get me.”**

In my glory as a new home owner, I purchased many gadgets unfamiliar to me. Going to the giant hardware stores is a lot like entering a medieval armory. There are lots of shiny metal, sharp-edged tools—in short, everything can be a weapon. Recently I snagged a pair of telescoping hedge clippers. (Scythes of Death.)

Because doing any work tends to be boring, when I go out to battle the crab grass dastardly foe, I like to pretend I am a knight entering a tourney—tilting at shrubbery at high noon. It is a harmless fantasy most of the time. I have yet to figure out an appropriately violent description for mowing the lawn though. It feels more like a Greek tragedy—entering the Minotaur’s Labyrinth never to return.

I wish my writing were nearly this tidy.   To see more hedgy perfection, go to http://www.homestratosphere.com/ for more.
I wish my writing were nearly this tidy.
To see more hedgy perfection, go to http://www.homestratosphere.com/.

This day, however, was epically appropriate. I was tackling three massive shrubs that were lush, sprawling, and took up way too much space in my small backyard. (Insert your own overblown metaphor here.) In short, they were in need of editing.

I’m hacking away at these monsters. Mercilessly chopping the unnecessary bottom half; stretching on tiptoes to lop off the heads. Then I finesse my way around the sides to trim the unnecessary foliage and attempt to bring the resultant blobs into some kind of shape. I was sweating and had two bags full of severed, oozing limbs by the time I was done. It looked like an evergreen massacre. It was an ugly job, but it had to be done. And all I could think was, “Why is it so hard to do this with my books?”

This brings up a post I read recently by reviled…I mean revered…author, Chuck Wendig who confronts wanna be writers with the awful truth about why their writing may be going nowhere in 25 Reasons You Won’t Finish That Story. Reading the bald-faced truth of it was painful.*** Especially getting to number 23 wherein he flatly points out: “Nobody wants to hear this, but maybe you’re just not a writer.” Claxon sirens go off. The noise a submarine makes before it dives rings in your brain. Red lights flash. This is the terrible, secret truth inside every single person who sits down with the pretension that they can, in fact, write. The problem with this doubt? It is self-fulfilling. You fear you don’t have what it takes to be a writer. So you don’t write. Yet you desperately want to be a writer. Angsty emotions are yo-yoing away: Will I? Could I? Should I? Stories are piling up in your brain like it’s rush hour traffic on a two-lane highway. And the only weapon you have in your arsenal is the quavering hope that refuses to die no matter how many times you read a particularly awful sentence that came out of your brain. For example:

“She could see the outraged questions forming on her mother’s beetled brow and cut her off before she could explode.”

You read what you’ve written and you want to pick your laptop up and hurl it into the nearest ravine and then fling yourself after it because, at least dying dramatically would feel artistic. But then your internal editor tells you this is trite and formulaic and to get back to the table and come up with a better ending. I’d like to say reading the reasons why my writing isn’t headed where I wanted or expected it to go makes facing the changes easier. It doesn’t. It is hard every single time I sit down. When I write something that makes me want to cry, and not in a good way, it is very discouraging. And yet…it is still better than the alternative.

As Lewis Carroll put it:

“If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy or both — you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*If you are expecting a sexual connotation, you are to be majorly disappointed.

**Face it, mosquitoes are vampires…let’s see Stephanie Meyer’s make a sparkling romance out of that!

***Almost as painful as reading my writing. But not quite.

You Hate Me, You Really, Really Hate Me.

Itchy Sweater
Photo Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhoto.Net by Ambro

I make a scratchy, wool sweater sort of friend. At first, I seem warm and cuddly, but then, repeat exposure to me tends to chafe. Because of my innate awkwardness with people, I tend to be loud, irritating and intrusive.  (Think ‘Brillo pad’.)  While I like people in general, the reverse isn’t always true.

In case you question my certitude, allow me to admit I recently stood up a friend (accidentally, I am sooo sorry) with whom I had made a play date because I overbooked my day and then completely forgot to call and cancel when it turned out I wouldn’t make it. I hate this when people do it to me. My paranoid brain says, “They are doing it to be hurtful, mean or vindictive, etc…” and I wallow in self-pity. (Always attractive.) I haven’t had the courage to call and apologize because I am so embarrassed by my self-directed stupidity.

True, deep-lasting bonds are very difficult for me to maintain. I would say my complicated life separates me from people, but it is also my poor choices that make close interactions nigh on impossible. I find friendship so exhausting that it almost seems like more work than it is worth. (Because that is how I value friendship—in terms of what it brings me. Nice, no?) I am not sure what kind of person this makes me. On gray, emotionally-draining days I would say I am isolated and lonely. On bright, energetic days I am capable and eager to face the world ready to make plans and get out there and commune with my fellow man. I am the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of friends.

Howling Wolves
Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net by nixxphotography

Does everybody have the capacity to make friends, or are some of us born loners?* (I keep reading that as ‘losers’, what does that say about my ego?) Do our oddities pass us beyond the standard deviation into the far end of a social bell curve? (Cue howling wolves.)

I ask the above questions because I recently learned that someone did not like me. (I know. Shocker!) I got a copy of an email by accident of someone stating, basically, that I wasn’t liked for such and such reason. (Yep, I’m going to be vague here. I have some dignity.) I try to look at the inadvertent awareness objectively, “Well, everybody is irritating sometime. Not everybody is going to like you.” But, it still stings when your suspicions are confirmed. Perhaps if people were more honest more often I’d be a better person. Or, conversely, more of a hermit than I already am.

I look back over the years and I see a trail of lost friendships—some due to separation and different choices in life, others due to changing attitudes or personalities that worked in childhood not jibing as we became adults. But, the loss of each star in the small constellation of friends I have managed to maintain is painful. Each time I am reminded that I have unlikable qualities as a human being. Each cut opens old wounds that never quite heal.

I am trying to adopt a sense of “self-differentiation”. I have always been too dependent upon the opinion of others. (Middle child syndrome. Can I get a Whoot Whoot from my over-eager, people-pleasing buddies?) Self-differentiation has become a goal whereby I am no longer chained to the desire to please others or find validation from their opinions. Sounds great, right? But, how do I balance not caring about what other people think with learning which of my behaviors cause people to hate me? (Bring on the circular reasoning.) How many friends do I have to lose in order to grow into a better me?

Magic_Mirror
Let’s see how long it takes Disney to hunt me down and slap a lawsuit on this infringement!

I have no magic mirror to reveal my flaws; and, I am too much of a coward to send out a survey polling my likability. (Please grade on a scale from ten to zero, where ten is “Box of Kittens Lovable” to zero, “Box of Butchered Kittens Horrible”, exactly how repellant am I?) How much of me do I need to change so I can pretend people like ‘me’? I have no pithy answer. No universal truth that rings a bell of closure on this article. Instead, I ask: Are some people just not built for friendship?

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