Thursday, November 30, 2006

Final hours

It’s the final day of National Blog Post Month, and, looking back, it’s been a fun ride. There were days when I felt pressured to be funny or creative, but instead of surrendering to panic, I posted pictures. Keeping things simple on stressful days shored up my sanity, and having fun with long-winded ideas kept me entertained on creative days.

During NaBloPoMo, I felt accomplished and legitimized, like my hobby of writing is OK to be a hobby. Two nights ago, I said, “I write a lot,” and it was true. I didn’t feel like a faker or superficial or shallow—I felt like “I write a lot.”

Today, looking back, I hope I can sustain November’s blogging stamina. I hope I don’t lapse into weekly posts again, or, worse, ignore the blog for a few weeks at a time. I’ve been happy during blog month, and it’s been motivating for me too. NaBloPoMo pushed me to do things I wouldn’t normally do, and now I’m trying to carry that digital energy over into my actual life.

Thank you, NaBloPoMo, for giving me a new perspective. I’m a writer now.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I make it a chore to be friends with me

You're not here!!!

I need you. You must get a Blackberry so I can be in touch with you at all times. As in right now. I just went to your desk to say, "I dyed my hair last night so compliment me now," and you weren't there! And no one else has noticed! (Which is actually a good thing in my opinion.)

I told some people last night that I write. It was the first time I've ever really announced that to people, and it made me feel like "What if I fail? Then I'm lying." so I needed your brilliant input.

But, see, I'm ultra-paranoid to a degree not normally reserved for sane people. Which is further evidence that I'm not sane. And I'm going to quit talking now.

Love you.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

(Don't) Find the pickle

Don’t get me started on how I loathe false nostalgia. Really, I could write dissertations on this subject, covering every genre from indie pop music to home décor. Really. False nostalgia may be the bane of my existence.

Today I saw an ad that set off my current false nostalgia anger twinge. “It’s not Christmas until someone finds the pickle.” Hooey. Somewhere on this great earth, there was once a tradition of hiding a glass pickle ornament deep inside the branches of the Christmas tree. Children looked for the pickle inside the tree, and that special discoverer got the prize of knowing he or she found the pickle first. The pickle has jumped cultures, however, and become a sappy faux nostalgic tradition for mass American culture, not actually rooted in ancestral celebration of the pickle at Christmastide.

The pickle ornament represents longing for that bygone era when Christmas was a simpler time, shoppers were more genteel, and children were more naïve. I don’t believe in that time. I believe there was a time in the past when people had less disposable income than us chubby 21st century United Statesers, and it was that lack that led the seemingly unsophisticated folks of yore to celebrate Christmas in a less cluttered way. If there had been more money, if there had been more toy advertising aimed at children, if the culture of consumption had speedballed earlier in American history, I don’t believe there would be any difference in how Christmas is celebrated today and how it was celebrated in the past. The past didn’t have a more pure tradition, there was no conscientious choice to make Christmas more symbolic of love and family, those are values projected on the past by contemporary Americans.

Thus, the pickle. The pickle symbolizes the false notion that Christmas used to be more meaningful and forces an artificial tradition on today’s children. Do kids really care about the nubby, ugly, green pickle ornament? I don’t think so. I used to work in a store where we sold the pickle, and only adults cared about the pickle, and then only after the “tradition” of hiding and finding the pickle was enthusiastically described to them. Kids picked out smiling fat snowmen, candy canes, red-nosed reindeer—those are the children’s traditions—while adults were aggressively pushed into faux nostalgia by trained salespeople.

Christmas can survive without the pickle tradition. Children don't need to find the pickle to create Christmas nostalgia. Christmas nostalgia happens when the same ritual happens from year-to-year, when hanging Christmas lights up to down or in circles, when the tree is decorated in tinsel or garland, when the music on the stereo is “White Christmas” or “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.” No one needs to find the pickle because Christmas already has its own nostalgia, without the fake sentiment forced in stores.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


That's what I get for not proof-reading. The rest of that obviously witty story, "Widow's Walk," is locked up in my laptop. The laptop is locked up in it's holiday transportation bag from my Thanksgiving trip to Kentucky.

All will become clear.

Hope the Tryptophan was good to you!

-Christine Wy

PS 11-28-2006 It's fixed.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Widow's Walk

I just sat at the Widow’s Walk and waited for my husband to come back to me.

Think of the lonely paths worn by many footsteps that lead to the sea. Grieving widows walk to the water to look for and long for their husbands lost at sea, beating down the grass into a row of sorrow. The Widow’s Walk is a sacred place symbolic of lost love and tinged with loneliness.

Today, my husband asked that we go to the video game store. We walked up and down the mall because all the stores had moved or been replaced, and we couldn’t find the video game store. We found a mall security agent at the far end of the mall, and he informed us that we had missed the only video game store; it was all the way at the opposite end, where we had started.

Conveniently, there was a comfy bench outside the game store. I sat with the other women while our husbands and boyfriends went into the sea. We waited and we hoped and we prayed that one day they’d return.

I broke the code. Instead of grieving as sisters in our solitude, I marched into the store, stood over my husband crouching to look at the bottom row, and growled, “Hello?”

He said, “I’m looking for a third game.”

I turned to stomp away, and he said to my back, “I’m almost finished.”

The agony of a video game widow, I feel so abandoned and neglected as I sit in wait for him when he goes to places I won’t follow. I moan and sigh, I check the time, I watch the sun sink lower into the mall skylights. I wait. I wait in the sacred place, hoping he’ll return.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Black Friday

It's the day after Thanksgiving, and for the first time my family participated in the great American retail experience, Black Friday. My mom, my sister, and I got up at 5:30 am and went to the electronics store. There we discovered that since the store had been open for an hour and a half already, we had already missed out on all the early bird specials we were interested in. We got in line anyway and sifted through giant bins of discounted DVDs and CDs. We waited for over an hour to check out, but who cared? Not us.

The shopping trip represented a new era in the Wy family. We've always had to work retail jobs on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and this was the first year that all our schedules coalesced into our chance to be on the shopping end of the retail specturm for the holiest of shopping days. We concluded that early bird shopping was fun, and we actually did save quite a bit of money, but we're glad we don't do it every year.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sorry, sorry

I didn't post yesterday. It's a shame. I guess I just flunked out of NaBloPoMo, but I'm sure I'll survive.

The reasons I didn't write:

1. At work all day. (And we KNOW it's not OK to blog at work.)

2. Driving to Kentucky all night. (We arrived at 1 am.)

Consequently, I missed my window to blog for 11/22/06.

More later on the siginificance of classic rock on road trips later.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

True friendship

“Hey, want a taste of my vegan sweet potato casserole?” Hands over fork and bowl.

“Thanks. Mmm, that’s really good.”

“Thank you; it’s mostly soy butter and some soy milk and a few spices.”

“It’s delicious.” Starts to put fork in dirty dish area.

“No, I’ll take the fork.”

“Are you sure?”

“I don’t care about your spit.”

Monday, November 20, 2006

Random acts of photography

My adorable Flickr randomizer just gave me this gem. I *heart* the serendipity of randomizers.

That's MY pie!

I want to be Aretha Franklin in the most macabre way possible: I want custom made gorgeous clothes for the “larger ladies.” I want to be so accomplished that no one (least of all me) cares what I eat.

I’m trapped in one of those stupid weight spirals where the more I think about healthy eating, the more I want to eat buttermilk pie. Dude. This is not easy, and let me tell ya, buttermilk pie is totally winning.

My mom tells me I’m not that big, but my grandmother calls me “chubby.” Family, mixed signals here!

I’m not really complaining about what my family says though. I’m complaining about how I see myself and how I think the world sees me, even though I’m making it all up in my head.

The silver lining is that I am actually exercising more. I let my arthritis really sideline me for a while, but I’ve found some things that work for me and my body.

Peace out, I’m off to eat something healthier than re-heated pizza.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sing your heart out, baby!

I’ve come to think that offices should have karaoke rooms.

There should be a soundproof glass booth with a high quality karaoke machine somewhere in the back or a corner. Singing out loud is such an awesome stress reliever, and having that at work would blow off steam in a controlled, safe way that doesn’t involve exploding on co-workers.

You get a bad e-mail from your boss saying you have to work late to finish the Jones project. You go into the soundproof box, and you wail Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby.” You feel better, refreshed, calmer, level-headed, and you go back to your desk and work on the proposal for the Jones project. Mission accomplished.

My problem is that I would be in there 20 minutes of every hour. “Ooh! I just thought of an awesome song to sing! I’ll be back in five minutes.” Two songs, three songs, four songs later, “Sorry, I sang all the songs by INXS In the catalog.”

I always look for good karaoke songs for my voice, even though I only actually do it about twice a year, and by the time karaoke trips come around again, I’ve forgotten what songs I picked. My stand-by is “Vacation” by the Go-Gos. I’ve sung it in two different states and one different country. Everyone sings along for the chorus, so it doesn’t matter if I’m bad. Which I’m not. I rock the karaoke. But the audience participation makes singing alone on a stage a communal experience that bonds us all closer.

Now where’s my soundproof booth? I wanna sing “Venus” by Shocking Blue.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Lowered expectations

I find it incredibly easy to say what’s expected of me when I feel an electron stream of negativity.

Example One:

College; second roommate; singer/guitar musician. She made a studio recording of her top ten songs when we were on spring break once. Afterward, she, her best friend, and I listened to the recording. The friend and I complimented her and talked about how great she was. Then, they both stopped talking and simultaneously turned to stare at me. Intensely. Faces nearly frowning. Eyes sending negative ions. A front-loaded question: “What did you think, Chris?”

I had already answered with everything nice to say, so they wanted something else. I didn’t want to oblige them, but my mouth opened and words came out: “Well, it’s a shame the microphone wasn’t positioned closer to your mouth.” More deep stares. “If you hadn’t eaten the bread you were allergic to your voice might have sounded better on that one song where it cracked.”

The singer had already stated her self-criticism, and I just parroted what she said because it was what they wanted. I thought.

“Guh,” mutual eye-rolling, “Leave it to Chris to find something wrong with it.”

Example Two:

First career; first inter-departmental friend; scooter enthusiast. “Hey, I hear you ride scooters?”

“Yeah, I do,” I said. We exchanged the usual scooterisms: what do you ride, do you ride a lot, do you hang with the local scooter clubs? You know, bike stuff. He started giving me that look, though, the “expect something negative from you inserted here,” tucked his chin down, eyes big. I didn’t even want to say it: “Safety equipment is the most important part of riding. I’ve been hit by cars a couple of times and had a couple of wrecks. I have a nice full-face helmet and an armored riding jacket. Riding is dangerous.”

“Blah, blah-blah, blah.” Snorrre.

I wanted to say, “Scooters are economical and environmentally sensitive and relieve traffic congestion! They look cool and they’re fun! Yay scooters!” But he gave me the eyes. The “aren’t you going to say something bad now?” eyes. He didn’t even know me like the roommate and her friend knew me, but they linked over all those years with their eyes and my mouth. They’ll never meet, they’ll never talk, but they expected the bad, and I obliged.

What makes our mouths say things we don’t mean? Everyone does this; I know I’m not alone.

At home, I open my mouth, and my mom and dad come flying out. I feel like miniature cartoon parents punch their way through my lips, growing as they come into the air, grimacing, fists extended in fury. They stand in the room between my husband and me waving their cartoon fists, and, instantly, I apologize, “I’m sorry Matthew, I didn’t mean to say that.” Probably the most insulting thing a person can say about someone’s speech is “You sound just like your parents.” You spent your whole life rebelling away from them, and then you open your moth, and they’re there, punching through whether you invited them or not.

Every fight I’ve ever had as an adult revolved around misunderstandings of the mouth. I couldn’t say the whole truth, I couldn’t hear talking on the other side, or I said something I didn’t even mean. It’s all communication. Helmets, guitars, parents—they all live in my mouth, trying to get out.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Why I should at least have herpes

In high school, I had two best friends. Rhonda and Donna. We were Rhonda, Donna, and Chris. But you have to find a way into your inner mind to hear how they said Chris. Like Chris was dried dog poop they accidentally tasted once and they were telling the story about it now. Like eating the tequila worm and chewing it gritty in between your teeth then remembering the next day.

“Rhonda, Donna, and Chris.” Barf. I wanted to be Lana. “Rhonda, Donna, and Lana.” Rhymey, sing-songy, pretty little birds. But no, my name was two day old dog vomit.

So “Rhonda, Donna, and Chris” liked to be scruffy independent beatniks, makin’ it on their own without the man keepin’ ‘em down. We only had one allowance between the three of us (mine), and that had to pay for gas. Everything else we scavenged.

At Denny’s, we ordered two cups of coffee and the third person shared off the others. Somehow, it was usually Rhonda and Donna who got the coffee. “No, Chris, it’s not your turn to get coffee,” they’d sneer at me.* So, I drank the leftovers, again, then drove their sorry behinds home.

Laws about cigarettes got tougher when I was in high school. When we were fourteen and fifteen, the legal age became sixteen. When we were finally sixteen and seventeen, the legal age became eighteen. We used to joke that when we turned eighteen they’d raise the law to 21. Jerks. The man out to stamp out the beatniks again.

We had to get creative about cigarettes, and being scrappy young beatniks, we came up with a tobacco reclamation program. While one person put $2 of gas in the car, the other two would go collect cigarette stubs off the ground outside the door of the filling station. It’s amazing how many people threw lit cigarettes on the ground at a gas station. We tried to go for the cigarettes with the most tobacco left, and we’d hit a particularly sweet score when we found a Camel. Camel smokers didn’t throw out many cigarettes though.

Sometimes we’d squish the tobacco out of the cigarette into a rolling paper and twist up a new cigarette from the cast-offs. If there was enough on the cigarette to be worthwhile, we’d just re-light it and smoke it whole.

Shudder. It’s hard to imagine doing that now that I’ve become a die-hard germaphobe. Life wasn’t very scary growing up in Kentucky. Little flotsam and jetsam just floated to me, like the driftwood Rhonda, Donna, and I collected on the shore of the Ohio River. We elided into life easily on the banks of Bardstown Road, finding other people’s garbage to make our own recycled creations.

I used to have the idea that there was no sense in buying pens or pencils, because during the first week of school everyone would lose brand new school supplies in the hallways, and I could just pick them up there. That “found” philosophy permeated all of my life, like the cigarette butts thrown out with tobacco still left inside.

My sensibilities all changed when I moved to Chicago. I never touch the things I find on the ground anymore. The flotsam of Chicago’s streets is really refuse, not a gem accidentally discarded. When I see a pencil lying on the ground, part of me gets a cringe from wanting to pick it up. Today I saw a cigarette butt on the sidewalk outside an office, and I looked at it to estimate how much tobacco was left. Fortunately, I don’t have to scavenge anymore. Now I choose clean shiny things still in cellophane.**

* They loved to put me down, but I’m not going to get into the psychoanalysis of our psychodynamics right now.

** But not cigarettes. I haven’t smoked in years. The last time I smoked a cigarette, I ended up at an emergency care clinic because my throat had swollen shut. I’m not real fond of the tobacco any more.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Outgoing message

In college, most of my friends experienced the shock of “new” when they discovered living outside their parents’ domain. Although a lot of college-life was new to me, I didn’t get the more banal jolts since most of my friends in high school had been older than me. The “first apartment on your own,” “first time you got to eat dessert before dinner,” “first time no one gave you a curfew,” these were some of the things my friends went wild over but that didn’t give me such a rise.

One girl I knew got drunk for the first time at the beginning of school at a frat party, and she kept tapping her front teeth with the mouth of her beer bottle. “Oh my god, I can’t feel my teeth!” Tap-tap-tap.

I kept telling her, “You really need to stop. That’s going to hurt a lot in the morning.”

She just laughed and kept tap-tap-tapping. I didn’t know her well enough to learn if she woke up with a headache and dental pain, which is a shame, because I’d like to be tsk-tsking her right now.

One new find for my first dorm roommate was the outgoing answering machine message. She thrilled that she would get to record her own silly message instead of her parents’ stodgy old practical one reciting name and phone number.

“Ooh! Let’s say we can’t answer the phone because we’re smoking pot!”

“I don’t know, I don’t think my parents would think that was funny,” I said.

“Come on, that’s so funny!”

“What if we say we’re out doing shots of tequila? I don’t think my parents would mind that as much.” (Lie.)

She said, “Oh no, I got caught drunk-driving in high school and my parents would kill me.”

In the end, we settled on something offensive to everyone, because I just couldn’t convince her that it didn’t have to be funny. The whole world of callers would be hearing that message: parents, deans, siblings, a professor or two—not just fellow freshmen. The answering machine shouldn’t be the battleground for our ultimate statement of frosh freedom, but she bullied me into being less uptight.

In the end, we did a two-person act:

Both together: We can’t come to the phone right now
Roommate: because we’re out smoking pot
Me: and shooting tequila,
Both together: but leave a message and we’ll call you back when we’re sober. (Roommate: giddy laughter.)
(Me: tense laughter.)

It was dreadful. Sorry mom and dad, I didn’t mean to irritate you when I was a freshman. I got all the irritants out of my system in high school, so there wasn’t much left for intentional irksomeness in college.

I actually remember one of my relatives saying, “What in the hell does that answering machine say?” and I had to placate and placate that it wasn’t my idea and that I tried to change her mind. I wish I had been bold enough to change the message while she was gone. It would have saved me a college first I didn’t relish, first impression.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Yay, number 100! See, I told you I'd rememebr this time.

Hugs babies!

Monday, November 13, 2006

An open letter to Mr. Vance, or, Gesundheit

Hey, J., remember all those years back (was it four years ago?) when you told me I’d be allergic to libraries? You were right. So totally right.

I just had an allergy test today for the first time in years. The good news is that I have outgrown all my allergies but one. Guess what that one is? Dust mites. What is dusty? Library materials. What do I touch all day? Library materials.

Who knew you were so psychic, Mr. Vance?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Rudeness comes to roost

I am a raging hypocrite. Sometimes I don’t mind very much, but tonight I am remembering a simple farm boy I knew in college whom I treated like a leper. I helped make him a pariah.

I discovered an air of superiority in college I never felt in grade school or high school. I recently told a friend that as an undergraduate, I was a big fish in a small pond, a tired metaphor, but apt. And I swam waggling my fins in my aqua world, preening on my intellectual beauty. In class, professors always asked me if I would consider changing majors to their subject area. Socially, I was invited to every party, and I even reached the pinnacle of my social life one semester when the cool kids all called me to ask where the party was. I sparkled.

In college, though, I also learned the power of meanness, the flip side of the popularity coin. I enjoyed the superior odor I gave myself when I scoffed at some poor sap’s less than stellar social record. But the second those people I honed my anger skills on started to act less than ingratiating, when they started to mirror my ugliness back at me, I relented. It was OK for me to loath someone for the most superficial of reasons, like their bad poetry or their too-good poetry, but everyone MUST like me, dammit! When a poor, spurned classmate returned my hostility, I ingratiated myself to them until I could reach a state where we mutually tolerated one another. No more animosity.

But tonight I was thinking of that pathologically lying, socially insecure farm boy and regretting the way I treated him. We liked to say that my best friend in college collected strays. Outcast lonely misfits of all stripes just found her and she kept them—for a little while at least. Somehow she found this guy, the farm-boy. He was a little tall, a little heavy, and badly googly-eyed. He was also the kind of non-stop talker who had nothing to say, which was what irked me about him. I rolled my eyes when he came around and puffed snootily on my cigarette, exhaling disdain. He never reflected my hostility though, and now I give him credit for being a much nicer person than me.

I saw him last on the eve of college graduation. My brother, my sister, and I went to Olive Garden (the third fanciest place in Bowling Green, Kentucky at the time), and he was waiting outside for someone. I don’t remember anymore how it came to be, but me and the farm-boy ended up on the Olive Garden front porch, alone. I gave him my usual cold shoulder, and the poor guy just kept talking. My brother walked up and said, “Do you know that guy?”

“Yeah, but I don’t like him.”

My brother said, “Yeah, I can tell.”

As if that farm-boy deserved to be treated rudely by an arrogant, elitist, faux urbanite. His only fault was that he badly wanted to have friends, and he tried so hard that he always said the wrong thing to me. I was the one who was wrong, though, since I didn’t reciprocate any effort, or didn’t even take the time to rebuff him politely. Instead, I was rude to him for years.

Tonight I wondered if I might be paying for my past since I thought of him and a recent incident in the same evening. I wondered if retribution were descending upon me in the present life, instead of in the afterlife.

In the evenings I ride the bus home with the same people because we all get off work at the same time. We’re all friends, and we know each other’s names, and we talk about the normal stuff like workloads and families and vacations. But the other day, a man and a woman got onto the bus that I didn’t know, but they knew my friends. The woman was saying, “Fox & Obel isn’t any more expensive than Trader Joe’s.” This pricked my ears because it’s absolutely untrue. Fox & Obel is Ligne Roset to Trader Joe’s CB2. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they aren’t the same.

The gentleman replied, “That is so not true. Fox & Obel is a lot more expensive.”

I looked him in the eye and muttered, “I agree.”

He turned to the woman and snarked, “See, she thinks you’re a crazy liar.”

The woman whined, “Why did she call me that?”

I turned around and said, “I did not say that!”

And the man sneered, “That’s what you insinuated.”

There was no winning this fight, I knew, so I leaned back into my seat with my book. But I was stung. We all know each other on the bus, and they knew the people I know, so why would my comment be treated so hostilely? What did he gain by making me out to be a monster? It was the farm-boy’s revenge, though he didn’t even know it. Living on angry judgment requires that you fall by angry judgment as well. Cruelty begets cruelty.

I applaud myself for having learned my lesson all those years ago from the farm-boy’s persistence. I no longer treat people spitefully just because I can. No matter how rude someone is to me, I try to smile and compliment them more ardently. The farm-boy was the nobler of us two because he kept trying and kept an open heart. I prefer to aspire to his nobler qualities, than to jockey for social disparraging.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Doing, thinking, thinking about doing

I have a hard time tricking my brain into autopilot. (I think that must be why it’s so hard for me to sleep: my brain never wants to let go.)

My friend and I were talking about the bearable-ness of certain tasks, like scooping dog poop or cleaning the cat litter box. She said that she felt accepting of necessity of the objective when she scoops poop. It’s not exactly what she’d like to be doing at that moment, but it is important and it requires little thought from the brain. We then compared that to cleaning the cat litter box. When cleaning the litter box, all of the brain’s neurons are firing mercilessly at warp speed, throbbing, “I so don’t want to be doing this.”

Thinking about the thought-processes of cleaning reminded me of the concept of “flow.” The brain reaches a level of engagement in the task so that it focuses on the work at hand and lets go of all of the spider-webbed corners of the neural attic: the brain exhales. But most of the time, I am thinking, or thinking about doing, or thinking while doing, but never just doing. I rarely find that flow in the process of my life.

Relaxing while doing, letting your thoughts switch “off,” some folks call that “flow.” The architect of the concept, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, described the mental state of flow as:

1. Completely involved, focused, concentrating - with this either due to innate curiosity or as the result of training
2. Sense of ecstasy - of being outside everyday reality
3. Great inner clarity - knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going
4. Knowing the activity is doable - that the skills are adequate, and neither anxious or bored
5. Sense of serenity - no worries about self, feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of ego - afterwards feeling of transcending ego in ways not thought possible
6. Timeliness - thoroughly focused on present, don't notice time passing
7. Intrinsic motivation - whatever produces "flow" becomes its own reward

What I ended up saying to my poop-scooping friend was, “most of life is like the cat box: you don’t really wanna get in there but you gotta make yourself do it.” She disagreed, saying that most of her life comes to her automatically.

Which made me wonder, who of us is the rule and who the exception? Do most people flow through their lives accepting that they don’t have to focus their thoughts on their every action? Or are most people like me, people who can’t get their brains to flow without tricking themselves into feats that require only mental motion waves that carry the process forward?

On my unhappy days, I think I’m the only person in the world who can’t flow—except for maybe a few of my fellow loonies who don’t flow either. On my happy days, I think it must be a struggle for most people to navigate the daily commute, the daily computer log-on, the daily dinner preparation, the daily poop-scooping. But I’m not so sure right now.

Another friend of mine tells me I don’t need to benchmark my flow based on other people’s brains. My brain is my brain is my brain. Sometimes, the happy days when I think we’re all screwed, that’s OK with me. Other days, I think there has to be a better way to poke holes in my brain’s rumination and get all the musty corners breathing again.

The Chicago Tribune interviewed Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about flow. The story, “Not-so-dirty secrets: Those household tasks that ensure domestic tranquility,” ran on January 2, 2005. The Tribune focused on something Csikszentmihalyi called “micro-flow,” a brain state that the newspaper thought happened particularly when cleaning. He was quoted: "The way our brain is put together … it does not like to be idle altogether. When it has nothing to do, it starts ruminating on things that go wrong. Depression leaps on the scene once the mind is unattended. Because of that, we resort to micro-flow, doodling, whistling, things that require just enough attention to keep away inactivity."

While I never used to be a fidgeter, last weekend I got into an ugly fight, and I couldn’t stop bouncing my left leg. I felt light-years better when jiggling my leg. Every time I tried to stop, I’d nearly cry, but the moment I began to bounce ol’ lefty again, I was fine. Going back to the definition of flow, I was completely engaged in bouncing my left leg; as time passed, I wasn’t anxious or worried. I felt more calm and relaxed, I felt peaceful and rested--even as I bounced away. Bouncing my leg became it’s own reward. I guess that was my own way of bouncing my brain into submission, not letting the rumination get the better of me. I was doing, not thinking, not thinking about doing, just doing. However, there must be a better way to flow.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Do I wish my wedding had looked like this?

It's Day 10 of NaBloPoMo, and I thought I'd turn to the blogosphere for some inspiration. At first I was very disappointed that "Next Blog" only gave me page after page in languages that I can't read. And then I stumbled into this:

That is amazing artwork, and it conveys the joy and glee of a happy wedding perfectly, even if it is kinda creepy. Matthew asks, "Why is there a flower on her mouth?" I don't know. "And why is he wearing sunglasses on his head?" I don't know. What I do know is that the anime wedding portrait is adorable, scary, and funny, all rolled into one.

And the best part is, their wedding blog is written in Engrish.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Showdown at the Cookie Corral

After they fell off the tray when they were still hot, it was hard to know when to stop eating the plate full of broken cookies. It looked like one big cookie. I took this picture when Matthew and I had gotten half-way through. Don’t worry, we stopped at that point.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Opposite City

I have a silly song in my head.

See, I was one of the lucky ones—my parents got cable TV really early on in my childhood. No public television Sesame Street for me, I was straight-up Nickelodeon all the time.

And so there was this program that I can’t remember the name of that came on after Pinwheel. There was a woman who always wore a pink uniform jump suit--wait!--she was a mannequin that came to life after the department store closed. The show took place after the store closed at night and all the hidden things came out to play. And there were animals that lived in the walls of the store, and I think there was a janitor guy. I don’t know for sure, I just remember the pink jumpsuit lady most, she had curly brown hair.

The characters went into a place called “Opposite City” inside the TV show. I loved opposite games as a kid, so Opposite City was my favorite place in the world. Every time they went, they sang a song together, “Come on, come on, to opposites with me! Come on, come on, to Opposite City!” It was catchy.

I’m walkin around thinkin, “Come on, come on, to opposites with me! Come on, come on, to Opposite City!” and I just wanna do a little dance as I walk down the hallway and get into Opposite City through the snow globe that took them there.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A message of hope from Cheer Bear

A few years ago, my mom gave me a miniature Care Bear stuffed animal for my birthday. I was too much of a tom-boy to have had much interest in them as a kid, but I knew the general premise. There's some teddy bears that live in the clouds or something, and each one has a human characteristic like love or happiness. I think they tried to keep bad bears from taking over, but I could be confusing that with my favorite cartoon, Thundercats.

It's not a big deal for my mom to give a toy for a present because she is a collector herself. I even have the full line of collectible Todd MacFarlane figures from "Where the Wild Things Are." The Care Bear didn't get a whole lot of thought from me at the time, and I kind of considered donating it to a kids' shelter or something.

The miniature Care Bear has fought against all odds of cultural oblivion in my apartment, though. It clings, tenaciously, to the hope that it will one day be relevant to my life.

Care Bear, your day is today.

I sat down to blog tonight, not really sure what I was going to write, and there was the Care Bear next to me on the desk. I picked it up and read it's ear tag:

Cheer Bear
Cheer Bear is a very happy Care Bear who
helps others see the bright side of life.
She will sometimes even do a cheer
to help make someone happier."

I forgot about that part of me lately, the emotional cheerleader who thinks everyone is just one smile away from a happy day. I've hugged and smiled my way through my days lately, but not remembered to be happy myself. Thanks, Mom, for reminding me to see the bright side of life.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Typing through November

By the way, It's NaBloPoMo, an acronym for National Blog Posting Month. Bloggers sign up to post at least once daily through the month of November. There are actually raffle prizes for people who complete the task. I was too lazy to sign up for the challenge officially by the deadline (totally shocking, right?), but I am participating unofficially. I'm trying to jump-start my brain by mental stretching and doing something I already love.

NaBloPoMo, aside from being hard to type, is actually an off-shoot of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. The premise of NaNoWriMo is to encourage people to get started on that novel you've always said you were gonna write. The goal is writing 50,000 words in one month, which equals about 6 pages daily. I can't commit to that, so I'll stick with NaBloPoMo since they don't care how much you post as long as you do it. And, technically, I'm not even participating in that event, so who cares what I do, I can't fail!

I love it when failure is a viable option.

Inflating my intellect

When I was younger, the simplest things perplexed me, and I wondered about those little things whenever I saw them again. “How does that happen?” “What does that mean?” Are my two most common questions about the normal things I observe that I can’t figure out.

For example, how do graduates sneak inflatable beach balls into graduation ceremonies? Beach balls are big, and if you tried to hide one under your robe, it would be really obvious that the miracle of pregnancy wasn’t being experienced by a male college grad. Surely as you walked past the graduation ceremony organizers, one would notice and yell, “Hey, gimme that beach ball, yah lousy bum!” But still they magically appeared.

The dilemma of the beach ball became more complicated for me when I heard rumors of inflatable sex dolls showing up at graduation ceremonies to be bounced around the heads of the graduating seniors. OK, so somehow got a beach ball into the ceremony, but a blow-up doll? That seems extra impossible. Maybe the person used a graduation robe and he walked the doll along beside him, propping it up.

The tipping point in my confusion came when a blow up doll that was supposed to represent Christina Aguilera showed up at an Eminem concert and got passed around the audience. Now I was really confused. If it came in with a concertgoer, it absolutely would have been confiscated by the security team. I’ve been to wrestling matches where the security screeners were more through than the security agents at airport screening points.

So how did the beach balls and blow-up dolls get inside? The light-bulb went off in my head, my “eureka” moment. I think I was sitting on the couch with my husband, Matthew, or riding in the car with him, or maybe it was my college best friend, Geoff, but anyway, I said, “Oh! They take them into the stadium flat and blow them up once their inside.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Beach balls at graduation. How do students smuggle them in, they’re huge. They inflate them after they get inside,” I said.

“You really just figured that out?”

“Yeah, it’s always bugged me. I mean, how could someone get that past security?” I asked.

My companion laughed hysterically, so I started laughing too.

“Really, you didn’t know before?”

“Nope, never knew,” I howled.

I was at least 25 years old at the time.

Another of my top ten list of obvious things that are confuse me is the song lyric, “Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend!” I always thought this was a sad song about a guy who wanted to go out and party on the weekend, but all his friends had weekend jobs and they couldn’t go with him. I guess this interpretation was best explained by realizing that I was a student forever and always had weekend jobs, so sometimes it was me who was “working for the weekend” and couldn’t party with my 9 to 5 friends.

Around the age of 27, I guess, I was riding in the car with Matthew, and I had the same light-bulb moment! “Oh my gosh! It means that everyone has jobs they toil at, and they get through the week by waiting for the weekend to have their fun. It doesn’t mean that everyone’s working that weekend, it means everyone works to live for the weekend.”

“You just got that?” asked Matthew.

“Yeah,” and I explained to him my premise that the dude’s friends were working that weekend so he had no one to party with.

More riotous laughter at how silly I am.

I’ve been waiting patiently for my next big discovery about obvious cultural phenomena, but if I’ve had any recently they weren’t big enough to register on the seismic scale.

Well, there was one, actually.

Last weekend, when I was in Kentucky to visit my family, my brother and I went to a blue-collar bar where he hangs out on the weekend with his 9 to five friends just like the song (har-har). The karaoke lady was playing songs to jazz people up and get them ready for the magical experience of karaoke entertainment (it’s either magnificent or like grating your eyeballs). She picked 2 Live Crew’s “Me so horny.” The chorus, “me so horny is pretty obvious to hear,” but there was another bit to the chorus I could never figure out. I heard it as, “We rock it on time.” At the working-man bar, through the excellent karaoke equipment and PA system, in the surprisingly acoustically clear concrete bunker, I heard and understood the chorus for the first time: “Me love you long time.” Wow. That was profound. My whole body tingled with the realization that this line fit the song so well where my interpretation stumbled and flinched.

I can only wonder what my next moment of clarity will be.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Chow wagon

If I were smart, I would start dinner right now. The Simpsons are about to come on, and it appears likely that the Wys haven't seen any of the three episodes.

However, my iPod and I had a legal separation through the family and technology relations court systems (yeah, I totally made that up, and it fails as a joke, but I don't care right now. I'm working on rapidity, not quality). Through a confluence of iTunes and iPod related events involving automatic updates and window click boxes, I erased all of the songs in my iTunes library AND on my Nano. Nothing, zip, zilch, zero was left behind, except for a series of songs I downloaded quasi-legally that wouldn't load into my library for other mysterioso reasons.

The bitterness of user error tastes like bile in my esopageal sphincter (J/K).

So instead of starting dinner before the Simpsons get moving, I'm rectifying the iPod implosion. Sustenance of the ear steals precidence over satiation of the belly.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Batten down the hatches

My esophageal sphincter keeps getting stuck open. I can tell. The way I know is that a lot of air gets into my stomach and I burp uncomfortably and I can feel stuff that should be in my stomach rising into places it shouldn’t. When the air gets into my stomach, when my stomach breathes with my lungs, I feel hungry and nothing makes me feel full. Never feeling full is an irritating feeling because I never feel satisfied.

The last time I saw my gastroenterologist, we talked about the neuroscience of the digestive system. He said the digestive tract is just a really rudimentary brain. This makes sense to me. We talked about how I’m unhappy lately and that upsets my digestion, and how my upset digestion contributes to my unhappiness. The way he said it was “No one’s happy when they can’t poop.”

He’s a funny guy. He reminds me of some kind of wacky 80’s doctor wilded out on coke. But I don’t think he actually is. I think his digestive brain is so happy that his actual brain gets happy on it too.

My rheumatologist said, “Did you get scoped?” meaning, “Did you have a colonoscopy?”

I said, “No,” and shook my head.

He said, “How did you go to a gastroenterologist and not get scoped?” with wide-eyed amazement.

“He’s a cool guy. He said: ‘I don’t wanna go in there, and you don’t want me to go in there, so let’s not do it, OK?” Fine by me.

The rheumatologist then talked to me about the neuroscience of joint pain and how an unhappy brain causes stress on the body which causes pain which causes stress on the brain which causes unhappiness.

So what’s up with this cycle? My esophageal sphincter is stuck open, so I use my fist to massage it down by rolling my knuckles down the base of my sternum. Some people suggest using mental imagery to see the door closing on your esophageal sphincter. I don’t get into that stuff. My rheumatologist hinted that I needed to relax and get stage 4 sleep to close my door on joint pain. I agree with all these things, but my brain still hurts and my body still hurts and I can’t get out of that rut. I imagine a giant silver fist punching through a circle of cartoon images of my bodily and psychic aches and shattering them into little jagged pieces.

What is my silver fist? What will punch through the circle of ouch?

Sometimes I think it’s meditation or guided imagery, but then I try to meditate and I freakin’ hate it. So I bet that’s the answer. Cough medicine is gross, but it helps; ergo, meditation is dull, but it will work.

I gotta find my “Om” face to punch my fist into a new hole where light can get in. I’ll make that my guided imagery.

(My bad. I was taking too much arthritis medicine AND Tylenol. Too many NSAIDs. Causes the esophageal sphincter to relax too much. Feeling much better now that I've cut out the Tylenol.)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Nightly recitation of Shakespeare

Every night before I go to bed, I tell myself, "Tomorrow is a new day that you can get right. Tomorrow is a new start that you can do the right things." Somehow, I always stay the same. Isn't there a Bruce Springsteen song that says "One step up and two steps back"? I feel that way. My friend says "trending upward" is always the correct direction, but I feel static.

I went to Kentucky to see my family last weekend, and I can't get over what a jerk I was. I griped and whined and kvetched about every microscopic detail of my life all weekend. How dull is that? When she got tired of my groaning, my grandmother gave me some excellent advice, "Sometimes, at night, when I'm going to bed, I go over the things I need to do tomorrow. And then when I wake up, I spent so much time thinking about it, I feel like I already did it. It's already over with so I don't have to take care of it anymore." That must be exactly where I am right now.

"Tomorrow is a new day to get things right. Tomorrow I won't whine to anyone. Tomorrow I'll get on the exercise bike again for the first
time in a week. Tomorrow I'll do physical therapy exercises even though I don't feel like it. Tomorrow I won't eat half the Hershey bar waiting in my desk." And then tomorrow's newness is over, and it's bed time again, and I begin the recitation, "Tomorrow is a new day that you can get right."

In college, there was one course where I didn't excel and I wasn't teacher's pet: Voice and Diction. I know that's hard to imagine now since the only vowel I haven't midwesternized is "i." Maybe that's no coincidence, considering I can't seem to get the drawl out of the rest of my "I" too.

In Voice and Diction, we practiced Macbeth, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow." We were given an in-class assignment to stress different syllables and use voice to fade or increase intensity. No other instruction, but to try reading that quote out loud. So I said, "tomorrow, and toMORROW, AND TOMORROW!" ending on gritted teeth like an angry Hamlet. The teacher skipped my interpretation and picked the girl sitting next to me, who read it like a slowly drifting leaf, settling on the ground at the end, despairing, resigned, the opposite of gritted teeth. The soliloquy goes:

"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death."

I still grit my teeth against dusty death, grinding into "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow." I still refuse to accept creeping at a petty pace, even if trending upward takes me two steps back to get one step up. At bedtime, I still hope that tomorrow is the day I finally get enough things right.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

He makes me laugh

"So, how do I get to not shower but still feel good about myself?"


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tar paper lights

I can tell Chicago is getting ready for winter. Like a furry
caterpillar warns a farmer of a tough season, Chicago's streets are my

There's a common (lame?) joke in Chicago that there are two
seasons--winter and road work. It's kinda true. Traffic lines on
Chicago's roads are scraped away every winter by snowplows, but I know
it's summer when I see city painters out replacing law and order to the
streets' traffic flow. Once that fresh reflective white dash goes
down, I know it's about to get hot out.

The winter side of seasonal road maintenance is tar paper. Every day
that I take the train home from work, I walk south across the Michigan
Avenue drawbridge. The pedestrian walkway across the bridge is covered
in tough stuff like skate board grip tape. I don't think it's applied
like grip tape though. It's funny to imagine crews of city workers out
with strips of grip tape, the wheel trucks taken off the bridge's deck,
adhering the rough paper, and razoring away the excess edges. Those
crew workers would be sulking teenage boys sitting on natty couches in
Mayor Daley's basement, telling each other, "Man, he just doesn't
understand me. You know, the real me. He doesn't get what I'm about.
I'm takin' off next summer man and then he'll regret all those times
he tried to tell me what to do. I'll show him!"

The real Michigan Avenue bridge has some sort of industrial tar paper
that prevents walkers from slipping on the slick metal walkways.
Remember those signs that say "Bridges freeze before roadways"? I used
to think that right in front of the bridge would be a strip of ice that
I should watch out for. That's where it would freeze, on the margin,
right before the road became a bridge or went under a bridge. My
brother or my sister taught me that it refers to laws of
thermo-dynamics. It's harder to freeze asphalt on a road because it
retains heat stored and transferred by the ground. Bridges have a much
larger exposed surface area and freeze faster because they aren't
receiving radiant heat stored by their soily neighbors. So "Bridges
freeze before roadways" really means that bridges get colder faster
than roads do. Hence the need for grip tape on the Michigan Avenue bridge.

Every fall, like that furry caterpillar come to call with his fuzzy
warning, the Chicago road crews come and re-coat the Michigan Avenue
bridge with fresh, black, sparkly no-slip grip stuff. On the day that
I walk south across the bridge and the ratty, hole-ridden, worn-out tar
paper is replaced with a gleaming new roll, I know it's time.

Last week I saw the refreshed bridge walkways and wondered how I could
see this as a good sign instead of an ill omen. I came up with my
answer tonight. Every Christmas, there's a holiday show that takes
place on Michigan Avenue where children's marching bands and Disney
characters and Swiss brass bands perform in a plaza. To prepare for
the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, city workers groom the area for
days beforehand. They sweep and clean and scrub. They even bring out
power washers to blast the brass plaques that mark the location of the
original Fort Dearborn settlement on the banks of the Chicago River.
Maybe instead of a warning about the bundles of down coats I'll need to
swaddle in for the cold winter, I should think of the new bridge tar
paper as the first step toward the holiday festival. Maybe this is
just one day closer to a beautiful season of lighted trees and happy
children and hot cocoa vendors out on the streets.