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This journal is (mostly) friends only. If you would like to be added to my friends list, please a comment on this post. It would be nice if you'd include a little about why you think we'd get on well if I don't already know you. The content of my journal will be mostly of a personal nature, although I do sometimes make posts related to current events or random things that I find which amuse me.

If you don't comment here, then I shall assume you're just here to read my public posts.

I am currently participating in therealljidol.

Jayus

When I was a precocious teenager attending nerd camp, with other teenagers who were just as gifted and weird as me, my friends and I decided that tacking "yo mama" onto pretty much any sentence was hilarious. Mind you, we didn't actually like to insult each others' mothers. No, we did it ironically. That's right, apparently I was a 16-year-old hipster in 1996.

Two years later our sense of humor hadn't changed much.

That summer my mom drove to New Jersey to visit family. Boring! Instead of going with her, I got dropped off in Putnam County, New York so I could spend the week with my friend Rob. This lead to an impromptu reunion with some of our old camp pals. We'd been planning to see Erika, since she lived really close to him (by Maine standards, at least). Then we discovered our friend Hikory was on a cross-country Greyhound trip--and had a transfer in New York City the next day. Talk about cosmic timing. We decided that Dave should be there, too. He could catch the train from Philadelphia the next morning and we'd meet him in the city when we picked up Hikory. His presence would make things exponentially more awesome.

We called Dave.

"I can't come. That thing I thought was poison ivy is actually Lyme disease. I have to go to the doctor tomorrow."

"Pshaw. Whatever, Dave. You've already had it for weeks, what's another couple days gonna matter?"

"I could get lockjaw. If they don't treat me soon, I might miss the start of college. Sorry."

"Lame."

As luck would have it, the Lyme disease could be treated with antibiotics. Dave decided to take the train to chill with us after all. He would arrive in Irvington that evening.

The train station sat next to a little park along the Hudson River. The sun was at such an angle that we no longer had to worry about getting sunburned. A gentle breeze came in from the water. It was a perfect July evening. Rob, Erika, Hikory and I sat on a bench and watched ant-sized cars drift across the Tappan Zee Bridge. We made comments that I don't remember--but I'm sure they were deep, poetic and philosophical. We waited for Dave.

Then Hikory started talking about general relativity. It had been a year since I studied Physics, but some of the foundation knowledge had managed to lodge itself in the nooks and crannies of my gray matter. He picked up a stick from the ground and drew in the dirt. Sometimes he wrote out equations, too. Eventually, he sketched a diagram of a black hole--one of the classic examples used for explaining general relativity. Shit was getting profound. Here I was, surrounded by lush greenery and chirping crickets, learning astrophysics from a long-haired hippie boy from Vermont. This is what life is all about, man.

During the time dilation portion, my mind opened up to the cosmological possibilities. I looked back to the bridge and wondered if, to the people in the cars, it seemed that we were the ones in motion. I wondered what it would be like if a black hole and a worm hole intersected. I grooved so much on the theory that I nearly missed the conclusion of this whole impromptu, riverside physics lesson.

"When I drop yo mama into the event horizon, she gets ripped apart by the tidal forces."

The Magic of Math

I've had a mathematical brain for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of the vintage math text book my first landlord gave me as a child. He also gave me a real fur hat. The hat was alright, but the book got me giddy. There were almost no words in it, not much in the way of arithmetic drills, either. Instead, it used pictures to demonstrate key concepts. Though I didn't have the technical vocabulary yet to formally describe the mathematics contained within, I understood. Math was beautiful.

A couple of days ago, a friend linked to an article from The Atlantic titled "5-year-olds Can Learn Calculus". As a math enthusiast and parent to toddler, I clicked on the link immediately. The article was full of fascinating information that got me thinking about my own parenting. But there was one comment that resonated with me on a personal level:

“It’s not the subject of calculus as formally taught in college,” Droujkova notes. “But before we get there, we want to have hands-on, grounded, metaphoric play. At the free play level, you are learning in a very fundamental way—you really own your concept, mentally, physically, emotionally, culturally.”


Maybe part of why I was always so good at math was because I thought it was fun.

Both of my parents dropped out of high school so that they could go to work. I've read the articles about the learning gap and its risk factors. Statistically, I was starting at a disadvantage. However, it's the details that matter in these situations. And, despite circumstances pushing my parents to terminate their formal education early, they still placed high value on education. I never went to a fancy pre-school, or even Headstart. But I did have access to books, toys that encouraged free play, an older brother who loved to show off what he had learned, and a mother who was always interested and encouraging.

I built structures with blocks, Legos, and Ringa-Majigs. I made pictures with Spirograph. I learned how to crochet. I helped measure ingredients for cooking and fabric for sewing. I counted and rolled pennies. I played card games and board games. The world was full of patterns and sequences and relationships--and it was so much fun! Once it was time to learn math as a formal discipline in school, it was just an extension of all this fun stuff I already did.

Math, I later explained to a friend in high school, was just a game. You were given a few fundamental rules and then it was just a matter of figuring out the patterns.

These days, I don't remember much in the way of trigonometry or calculus--I've been out of practice for too long. But the mathematical brain remains. It comes in handy when I'm stringing beads or folding origami. I use it to organize my living space and pack my suitcase. It makes me a darned good knitter. Still, sometimes, I wish I could stretch my proverbial math muscles a little more.

Which probably explains why I am newly obsessed with hyperbolic crochet. Advanced mathematical concepts modeled through yarn craft? Count me in! So now, when I have a little bit of down time, I find myself enthusiastically hooking pseudospheres and hyperbolic planes for my 2-year-old. Hopefully, in a few years, she can learn how to make them herself. And maybe she'll marvel at the math that surrounds us, too.

LJ Idol

I am announcing my intent to participate in Season 9 (the final season) of therealljidol. LJ Idol is a game played on the Livejournal platform. Each week participants are asked to craft an entry based on a prompt. Most people write their entries, but anything goes, so long as it can be a LJ post. Once the deadline hits there is a poll to decide who advances to the next round. In the meantime, people read and comment on each others' posts (and non-participants do, too). There are open posts during the week where people engage in both idle chit chat and deep discussion.

If you're thinking that you want to throw in yourself, since it's the final season and all, you can sign up here.

Hope to see you there.

You Deserve The World

Shared... because I needed to read it, and maybe you do, too.

Originally posted by teaberryblue at You Deserve The World
The concept has come up in a lot of discussions, in a lot of ways, for me, lately, that people are deserving or undeserving of certain things based on some kind of imaginary rubric that judges our worth as people.

I can speak about this from the perspective of being raised in a Catholic household, and I don't want to make assumptions about other people's religions, even the ones I know a lot about but haven't experienced in the same way, but it's something I understand is an active philosophy in many religions.

There's this heavenly ledger, right? If your good deeds outweigh your bad ones, you get eternal salvation. Or, you know, you might have committed a bad deed so irredeemable that you will get punished for the rest of eternity no matter what. But mostly, you have to strive to be good, and your good deeds measure the worth of your soul.

We get rewarded for how good we are. We get punished for how bad we are.

But I've got to say, outside of nursery school, that's pretty much a big bag of BS.

The good things that happen in a life are not rewards for being a good person, or a worthy person by some other measure. The bad things that happen in life are not punishments.

Good things happen. Bad things happen. There isn't even a divine balance. Good things don't happen in equal proportion to bad.

So those things you don't have in your life: success, money, love, family, a pony, a freezer full of ice cream...that's not punishment, not for anything you've failed to do in this life, not for anything you've failed to do in a past life.

Sometimes kindness pays off. Sometimes generosity pays off. Sometimes love pays off. Sometimes hard work, persistence, practice, skill, bravery, defiance-- name a quality, and sometimes it pays off. But sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it never does. And that does not mean there is something wrong with you. It just means your timing was bad, or your efforts were misdirected, or someone else got there first, or or or or.

Sometimes you fail because you've made a mistake. But not always. Sometimes you just fail. It doesn't mean you did badly, and it doesn't mean you're a bad person.

Sometimes you succeed because you worked your butt off and pushed yourself to be the best you can be. But not always. Sometimes you just succeed. It doesn't mean you did well, and it doesn't mean you're a good person.

(Although I say this with the caveat that I strongly believe most people, the vast majority of most people, are good people. The point is that success and goodness are not connected.)

Sometimes you succeed in spite of making a big mistake. Sometimes you fail in spite of doing everything perfectly.

And that's okay. It's, well, not okay okay, because it sucks when you repeatedly stumble when trying to achieve something you sorely want, and it's not always the best lesson to succeed in spite of laziness or lack of ethics, but it's okay because there is no heavenly ledger. There's no value judgment being projected on you, no cosmic force deciding that you can't have nice things because of that one time you pulled your sister's hair as a child.

This isn't to say that nothing is your fault. Sometimes you fail because you did something terribly wrong. You lost a friend because you hurt them. You were humiliated because you did something cruel. You didn't get a job because you were a jerk in the interview. Many, many things are direct consequences of our actions. And it's important to recognize that, too, and own our faults and our mistakes.

But don't own faults that aren't real, and don't own virtues that aren't real. Don't judge yourself harshly for things that are outside of your control, or so bogged down in so many variables that you just can't exercise the kind of control you might in another circumstance.

Just be good. Be good to each other. Be good to yourself. Do the best you can. Try your best. If you try your best and you fail, it doesn't mean your best wasn't good enough, or that you are not a good enough person. It means you failed. And that's sad, and it feels terrible, but that doesn't mean you are terrible. You know you're not terrible, because you were being good.

Or at least, you should know that. That is why I am telling you that right now.

Failure doesn't mean you're bad. Failure doesn't even mean you did badly. Not getting what you want doesn't mean you're not good enough.

You are good enough. That just doesn't mean there's a cosmic ledger tallying points in your favor. So, if you can, when you can, tally your own points. Tell yourself you're good enough.

A Manifesto of Sorts

I'm tired of living a disposable life.
My life is not disposable.

The incessant crinkle of cellophane fills my ears too often. It envelopes my food, my knitting needles, my freaking underwear. I peel and shear my way through layers of plastic to access my daughter's new toys, made of the same petrochemical polymers as the packaging that protects them from warehouse dust.

I am tired of sixteen dollar food dehydrators that break inside a couple of weeks. I'm even more tired that I'm not surprised when it happens—that I've pretty much come to expect it. Then, I start scanning family photos for my genealogy research and I see kitchen wares my mother still uses in a picture dated 1963. Once upon a time, we shopped for goods that would last us a lifetime. Now we just hope it will last until next season's patterns are released.

My father's jeans used to be covered in patches. A hole in the knee or seat would be covered with iron-on denim or a scrap scavenged from another pair of jeans to be worn at the construction site another day or week or month or year more. I know how to mend clothes, but too often I view it as just another task on the pile of things that I should do which overwhelm me every day. When did spending another thirty dollars on a pair of trousers become more convenient than ten minutes with a needle and thread?

I'm tired of feeling like I live in a disposable world.
It's not the world that I want to live in. It's not the world that I want to bequeath to my offspring.
I want to reshape it into something better.

Having a child has made me think more critically about how I live my life. The old saw about living one's life as an example unto others has long been familiar to me—but I now spend every day as the primary example to a developing person. She looks to me to figure out how the world works.

Live more. Consume less.

This is my wish for my daughter.

I'm not entirely sure how to lead her there. A mantra from my childhood comes to mind, though, as a guiding principle: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Today I tried to apply those principles when I went to the market. In every aisle, before reaching for an item, I tried to ask myself: “Do we need this?” Now, every household needs a quantity of food that will leave all of its members satisfied, hopefully with qualities of tasting good and promoting healthy nutrition. Beyond that, though, there are a lot of choices.

This week I decided to forgo “snack foods” because most of them come in excessive packaging and/or packaging that can't be recycled. Instead, I decided that I would do some baking this week—because I have the resources to do so and it means engaging in a hobby that I enjoy. It also gives me a chance to share the experience of baking with my daughter. At nineteen months, she is too young to really assist with the task. Still, I can let her stand on the step stool at the counter to observe and learn.

It's going to take a while to make the shift in lifestyle. With luck I can keep my intention in my mind as I go about life. And maybe, just maybe, it will be a shift that my daughter never has to make. Maybe for her it will just be how one lives life.

I'm tired of living a disposable life.
My life is ready to change.
Sometimes, when we're by ourselves, I'll sit my daughter down and tell her about my father—her Grumpy. At eighteen months, she doesn't understand much of it. Still, I want her to know about the man who died when she was only five months old. So, I tell her about the receipt I found while going through his belongings: $50 donation at Christmas for a family in need. I tell her about how he loved animals. And how he would share his glass of milk with the cat. He was a carpenter. He was stubborn. He loved us very much.

All of those things are true. But they're not the Truth, if you know what I mean. Some day she'll want to know the whole story—and I'll have to figure out a way to tell it to her.




Once, before he needed the wheelchair, before he needed the oxygen, before his rattling coughs and moans kept me awake all night, my father was only a moderate recluse. He had moved back to Maine full time, after emphysema had left him incapable of continuing his work with the Local 623. Most of the time he stayed at home, watching television, listening to the police scanner and chain smoking. Sometimes he would sit in the parking lot at the old shopping center and watch the traffic on routes 2 & 4 in the hopes that he might see some schmuck get pulled over by the cops when they missed the drop in the speed limit. Otherwise he sat at the bar and drank with the other lonely old souls who populated the local watering holes before 4pm on a weekday afternoon.

One thing he didn't do was attend family gatherings. So, it was surprising to see my father's pick-up pulling up to my sister's house one late June afternoon for my brother-in-law's birthday party. He hadn't been planning to attend the cook-out. He had been driving over to a buddy's place and decided to stop by. All I could figure was that he'd been drinking already. See, the one thing that he liked less than family gatherings was being around all the townies who had never really left the bubble of Temple, population 500, and spent their time getting rowdy, scamming disability and drag racing on Intervale Road.

I went from quietly relaxing with my food while feeling awkward and out-of-place to being on edge wondering how my father was going to embarrass me today. But he didn't have anything biting or sarcastic to say. Instead, he sat down on a chair next to me and asked my mom to get him a little food. Then he chatted with people. Not much and not with many, but with the few folks there he actually liked and who saw through his prickly exterior. It was going surprisingly well. He still cracked off-color jokes that made me uncomfortable and said a lot of racist shit—but he was there and he wasn't starting trouble. We were spending time together at a family gathering and I was actually enjoying it.

Then Kevin came over. Scrappy, drunk, trembling Kevin who had always been a bit of a ne'er do well. Kevin, one of the gaggle of locals who ran with my brother and had been getting crap from my dad since he was a teen. Kevin who saw an opportunity to get his comeuppance.

“Hey Dick.” (Actually my father's name and not an exceptionally ballsy greeting).

My dad might have grunted in response.

“Remember how you used to always give me crap. Bet you can't get away with that anymore.” Kevin stuttered and slurred, dredging up memories of oft well-deserved bullying.

My dad gave a half laugh. “Why don't you leave me alone?” The words like gravel rattling up from scarred lungs.

“Now you're an old man. You're not so tough anymore.” He attempted to strike a pose of strength. He actually wobbled a circle until steadying himself.

“I really don't feel like getting into this. I'm just spending some time with my family. Go away.”

“Yeah, see, who's the tough guy now? You always thought you were such a badass. You thought you were better than us. You thought it was so funny to see us scared. I ain't scared of you no more. You're all fat now with your cane. You're not so tough now, huh. Huh? I mean, it's all cool. You were a real asshole, but it's okay. I mean. Oh. Destiny, you don't remember. Your dad was in a lot of shit, too. Now he's just... now you're just....”

By this point other people were trying to intervene. Kevin's sister grabbed his arm and told him “Let it go. Leave him alone.” But he just couldn't let it go. The verbal diarrhea kept spewing forth.

“Boy, you do not want to go there.” My dad's tone made me tense. This wasn't likely to end well.

Poor Kevin was oblivious, too drunk to notice the quick and subtle changes in my dad's body language. He kept it up, insinuating that my father was old and feeble, that he couldn't do anything.

Carefully my father measured out his next words, laced with venom: “I've had about e-fucking-nough.”

My dad took off his hat and set it on top of my head. Kevin said something stupid. I wasn't sure what was going on. My dad took off his glasses and hung them on the collar of my t-shirt. Kevin kept digging his own grave. Revelation switched on in my head. My dad handed me his cane. Kevin had no idea what was coming. I did.

I had never seen my dad move that fast. I didn't know he even could move that fast. But in the blink of an eye he had covered several feet and punched scrappy, drunk Kevin hard enough to knock him on his ass in the grass about thirty feet from the deck while his bottle of beer flew through the air, leaving an arc of amber liquid glittering in the sunlight. Everyone stared for a moment. A few people laughed. Kevin's sister went over and said “You deserved it,” while helping him to his feet.

My dad sat down next to me once more, wheezing heavily. He took his glasses from my shirt and put them back on. He took his hat from my head and placed it on his own. He reached for his cane and rested it against his own knees. Between labored breaths he asked “Does your old man still got it?”

I couldn't help smiling.




So, sure, I'll tell her about the pink plastic Christmas tree ornament that he bought me one year. She'll hear all about how we would talk on the CB radio. And how we'd pop Tex Williams into the eight-track player and dance around the living room. My little girl will be regaled with all the sweetest father-daughter tales of my childhood. But she'll also learn that her Grumpy was one ornery son of a bitch, and he wouldn't want to be remembered any other way.



This was an intersection week for therealljidol. I partnered with the wonderful mezzogiorno to explore memories of our fathers. You can check out her entry, I Wake Up Strange, here. And special thanks to my volunteer beta readers banyangirl1832 and everywordiwrite.

Na Wa Ooo

I. Helping

Boots in sink,
a precipitate of dirt threading
through a river of milk and cold tea
and blueberry juice
traversing the flat gray slate
to an escape—gape hole,
unknown abyss.

II. Playing

Legs pumping, wind lifting skirt
freedom came with gravel
as safety net
now wood chips and rubber mats
and the magic an equation of
physics and biomechanics
but for a moment, eyes closed
lips meet sky
let go, spread arms
fall / fly

III. Growing

Looking back is a foreign face
freckle encroaching upon freckle
the creases trace maps of places unknown
or forgotten
or escaped
strange angles framed with fading radiance
a mirror can only reflect
one reality.

IV. Living

A mother lives in all times at once
like God or Buddha or
Doctor Who
thinking of the future
the moments shared and generations
to come when she's gone
or not
remembering the fields
in summer flowers blooming
climbing around rusting autos
older than she was
and the ever present
“Oy vey!” of now.
Dearest Marty,

I never thought I would be one of those women. Not me, girl-next-door Ramona with the ashy hair and freckles. Not the girl who begged to pull the rope on the church bell each week. Not the former student council secretary. Not the co-captain of the cross country running team. Not the eager young woman who decided to work as a C.N.A. to save up money for nursing school. Not the woman who fell in love with a decent, hard-working man who wanted to make a family with her. This wasn't supposed to be my life.

We were supposed to last forever—we said so when we took our vows before God, family and friends. Until death do us part. But we're apart now and neither of us is dead. I know things were difficult. There were water stains on the ceiling, cracking paint along the stairs, the corners of the linoleum starting to curl up. We had to work a lot, more than either of us would have liked. Sometimes it was hard to make the food stamps last for the whole month. And so often we were too tired to play with the babies when we got home. But it was our life. Ours. Living it with you by my side meant that it didn't matter that much. Because with you holding my hand, I always saw the promise of a better tomorrow just around the corner.

That dream is gone now. Gone like the can of government surplus peanut butter I found Emma polishing off last night. When I saw her sitting there, her chubby hand crammed into the opening, her hair covered in a thick coating, sticking up every-which-way—I should have been able to chuckle. But all I could think was “I don't know when I'm going to have a chance to stand in line again.” That stupid can of peanut butter feels like my life right now: black and white and empty. There's no color left, no joy. Poor Joshua keeps trying to cheer me up with his “Love you, Mommy”s and big hugs, and I can't even indulge his need to make things better.

Sue said she could give me some pills she has. Said her mom took them all the time and nothing got to her. She would vacuum the entire house with a stupid grin on her face. But it sounds too good to be true. Tracy keeps trying to take me out for drinks. She even tried to bring the drinks to me one night after work—but I'm good at coming up with excuses. It's not that I wouldn't welcome the escape. Lord knows I wish I could drown myself in drink every night until you could smell me coming a mile away like Old Jim Ogden. But I can't. I can't abandon Emma and Joshua—not when they still don't understand where their Daddy's gone.

Oh, but for that. Because I want to run away, too. Every time I close my eyes now, I see the face of that girl. She was already seared into my memory by the papers and television—some pretty, anonymous, young thing. One of those stories that punches you in the gut, because it seems so senseless and the victim had so much potential ahead of them. Only now I see you there, too, pulling the trigger. Then I wake up and vomit. It's been the same for the last week or so, ever since I listened to your message.

Even before your package I started to have suspicions. When you didn't come home, I went to ask Joey if he'd seen you. He gave me some shifty non-answers, like he always does—and then I started to wonder. Some girl is shot dead and your husband is on the run and his creep boss seems remarkably unconcerned about the whole situation. It's not hard to put two and two together, you know. Still, I wish you hadn't told me. Before, at least, I could tell myself that I was being absurd. Now I know what they mean when they say that ignorance is bliss.

I never thought I would be one of those women. I always felt sorry for them, astounded by their ignorance. I would see them on the television with their stories about how they would never have guessed. Not their sweet husband—he worked hard; he was a good daddy; he liked to go fishing; he went to church on Easter and gave his mama flowers on Mother's Day—no, he couldn't be a killer. And now I'm one of their rank. Maybe the cameras will never find their way to me, but it doesn't matter, because I know.

You left me. You didn't even give me a choice. Not that I know what I would have chosen. But I still should have been given that chance. If you love me as much as you say, why couldn't you have given me a choice?

Now I'm left here with Emma and Joshua and this run-down house and I don't know what I'm going to do. I am so angry with you, Marty. I am angry and hurt and disgusted—but no matter how hard I try, I can't hate you. All the girls think I'm crazy. Of course, they just know that you ran out. If they knew all of it, well then, they might try to have me committed.

I don't know, but I think I'm just as cursed as you are.

I miss you.

I don't know why I'm even writing this thing. I don't have anywhere to send it. I know it's just pretending to imagine that you might see these words. But maybe I need to hold onto that fiction.

Because I don't know how else to carry on.

Your loving wife forever,

Ramona


This was written as an intersection with xo_kizzy_xo's entry, but is also intended to work as a stand alone piece. Thanks for reading.

To fourzoas: 9th May 2013

In that space where an eleven year gap
can shrink to nothing
and the deep south and Yankee north
can be one place
we walk hand in hand in our Sunday frocks.

One hand compared to fish bellies
the other brown paper bags
soft warm fingers tightly entwined
swinging an arc
tracing the bridge that brought us here.

“If you're anything like me,” you say
“I am.” I say
ticking off all the ways it's true
(and the ways it's not)
like so many half-begun diaries tucked on shelves.

I, too, am familiar with the bitter sludge
of tarmac coffee poured from
enameled campfire percolators
a chip in the flecked blue
exposing oxidizing metal below.

Those ribbons of highway you've knit
graft onto mine, near Virginia maybe
a kitchener stitch in the middle of I-95,
and carry us to countless bridges
or roads choked with dust

Like chalkboard sills spanning the
expanse of classrooms
lecture notes on Elvis and Bowie
and card catalogs
of tattered old grocery charge slips.

In that space where time and place disappear
everything is constructed from
words and the words unsaid
you're an old friend;
you're a sister; you're part of me.