The weight of V Day

I don’t really like Valentine’s Day. All those hearts and flowers and candy that everybody else gets. Gross. Even when I was married it wasn’t such a big deal. LtColEx would stop at the grocery store on his way home from work, grab a card, a dozen reds and a box of Esther Price mixed and his responsibility to his valentine was bought and done. I usually baked him a cake in a heart-shaped pan I only used on V Day. I must have thrown it out. I don’t still have it. Maybe there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about throwing away my heart …. pan after the divorce. Maybe not.

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I would be perfectly happy ignoring February 14 if everybody else would shut the hell up about it but Coraline doesn’t see it as a romantic holiday. She first became aware of it when she was about four. When I said I didn’t really celebrate it, she was heart-broken. “Does that mean you don’t really love me?” she asked with tears in her eyes. Awwww. Shame on me. Now I make an effort for her. I dug out a card and bought some dark chocolate Oreos and some mint M&M’s. We’re going to make a trip to our favorite local chocolatier later in the week, if blizzards don’t keep us home. She drew me a red circle on her Kindle with her drawing software. I guess it was supposed to be a heart. It’s the thought that counts. You can’t really buy love with cards and gifts, right?

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She’s at her dad’s for visitation today. When he picked her up, he gave her a red rose and gave me a white one. That was sweet and unexpected. I can’t even imagine my dad giving me a red rose on Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure he even gave my mom a rose, although I was probably so caught up in my own V Day kid drama, I didn’t notice if he did or didn’t.

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I was born on the cusp of the baby boom and gen X. The first few years I was in school, we decorated our shoe boxes with bits of lace and red construction paper hearts and hoped somebody would put a Valentine in it during the class party. Or better yet that it would be filled with valentines, one from everybody in the class. There was no “bringing a Valentine for everybody in the class” bullshit. You decorate your shoe box and you take what you get and if you feel like shit about your measly score, you don’t let anybody know. And you certainly don’t steal a handful from one of the popular kid’s boxes when nobody is looking.

Yep, V Day was a popularity contest. You knew exactly where you stood in the second-grade pecking order as soon as you opened that dressed-up shoe box and looked inside. I guess it was a good warm-up for adult romance: a mix of giddy hope, excruciating let-down, and gratitude for whatever love you found tucked through the slot in your box.

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The metaphor falls apart in my later years of elementary school when we were told to bring participation valentines for everybody. Didn’t matter. Still a popularity contest. In my family we got to choose one box of little sappy cards each at the store, enough to satisfy the requirement that everybody got one, including the teacher, who got the special teacher valentine. Only one problem: all of the valentines in the box weren’t created equal. Each box had one or two that were bigger than all the others. And while some said simply “Hoppy Valentine’s Day” with a picture of a frog, others said “Be mine” or “You’re special” with hearts and a kitten. I toiled for hours over which card should go to which classmate. Give the big one to my best friend? Or to the popular girl I wished were my best friend? The kids who got the most big valentines were obviously the most popular kids.  Some kids got to give valentines with a little red sucker stuck through the card or a tiny box of conversation hearts stuck to the card. I guess they didn’t have 5 kids in their family.

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Fifth grade. Sweet grilled cheesus, does anybody have any good memories of 5th grade? Is 5th grade simply to prepare us for junior high? I’ve written about 5th grade a couple of times on this old blog. About being best friends with a popular girl for a year and about two boys fighting to square dance with me. It was also the year of my first kiss, which had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day so I’m not going to share that story yet. And it was the year I had my first crush on a boy in my class.

By the time we were 10 we were expected to like like a particular boy, so I told the other girls I like liked Steve A. because we’d been friends since we were about three and had even walked to kindergarten together every day. He was safe because he was like a brother. My real crush was on Clint H. though and it was a secret I carried deep inside along with my absolute belief that Bobby Sherman was my real dad. I never told a soul, not even my best friend.

I did tell Clint on Valentine’s Day though in the most awkward, painful way possible. Not only did I sort through my little box of cards and choose the one that said “Be mine” to slip into the slot he’d cut in the top of his shoe box, I also sorted out the candies with the three most romantic, loving sayings from a box of conversation hearts and stuck them in the pocket of my coat. When we all put on our coats to go outside for recess, I made an excuse to go back to my desk and waited until all the other kids had left the room. Then I lifted the lid of Clint’s desk just a little and slipped those three hearts into the pencil tray inside his desk. Covert love attack accomplished, I ran outside to play. 

I have no idea what I expected would happen. That he would somehow intuit that he should “be mine”? That Jesus was watching and would reward me for my loving gesture by making Clint like me back? Looking back, it was pretty passive-aggressive, but those were the times. Girls weren’t supposed to make the first move … or the second or third. I grew up in a time when girls couldn’t even call a boy on the phone, not even when I was in high school, so my brazen act of slipping those three candies in his desk would be an unbearable faux pas if I were discovered.

We came back in from recess, took off our coats and settled in at our desks. I watched as Clint opened his and discovered the three little candy hearts. He looked around and said, “Where did these come from?” Everybody craned to look at the hearts in his hand. I looked too, as if seeing them for the first time, as if he weren’t holding my heart in his grubby 10-year-old hand. “I bet Reticula put those there,” one of the boys – I can’t remember which one now – shouted out. “I did not,” I denied. I’m sure my face was the color of a red construction paper heart. Clint turned and looked at me, expressionless as a 10-year-old boy, and then turned back to face the front. I don’t even know if he ate my little candy hearts. I was drowning in shame and embarrassment. I couldn’t even look at him, probably for the rest of 5th grade.

Two-and-a-half years ago, and decades after I left 5th grade, my mom was dying and Clint was her lawyer. I hadn’t seen him since shortly after we graduated. One afternoon as she lay in her hospice bed, I went uptown to his office to discuss her estate. He’d been recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, and even though he looked just like an older version of his 5th-grade self, he seemed so tired and worn out, like he just wanted to get through the day. My mom died a few days later, and a year or so after Clint also died, before her estate was even settled.

Here’s what I wish had happened that day in 5th grade. I wish Clint had opened his desk and said, “Where did these come from?” and the other boy had said he thought I put them there and then, instead of hiding in my shame, I wish I’d stood up and said to the entire 5th-grade class, “I did put them there. Clint is one of the smartest kids in the school. He works hard and he never gets in trouble. He’s not mean to other kids and he’s a fast runner. Also, I think he’s cute. I put them there because I like him. There I said it. I like him.” And then I wish I’d sat down and felt not a twinge of shame. That’s what I wish had happened.

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Ah, well. I’ve given up on sneaking the sweetest conversation hearts into boys’ desks …. because that would be creepy now. I’m sorry I never got to tell Clint I was the one who put the suggestive candy in his desk in 5th grade. On the other hand, I don’t think I could have stood to see that blank expression on his face again, this time because he didn’t fucking remember anybody putting conversation hearts in his desk at recess. I haven’t really improved in the realm of romance since 5th grade. Maybe if I’d had success that day? But probably not.
I do hope you’re having a good day though. It certainly looks like everybody is happy and in love if my Facebook feed is any indication. So many flowers and chocolates and bottles of wine. If you’re sitting home alone eating chocolate chips out of the freezer like I am though, here’s a soothing video to make your day complete. Click it. It’s my valentine to you, sweet reader.

The weight of an inauguration

I was so moved by the inauguration ceremony today that I leaked tears the entire time (and the entire day after). As the ceremony came to a close, in addition to relief, pride, and hope, I felt exhausted. Utterly exhausted. I could hardly keep my eyes open, my head up. I felt drained. Not emotionless. Not empty. Just like I need to shut down for a minute or two and stay in the space between the grief of the past 4+ years and the hope for the next four.

I felt like the moon. The real, cratered moon that’s been pelted by meteors for eons. I stayed alert through the long dark night of the past 4 years, and as the sun comes up, I just need a minute of rest. Or maybe a night.

We have so much work to do. I know today was a beginning, not an end. And yet, that feeling of exhaustion is still with me tonight as I write, after the afternoon parade and the evening program and the fireworks. It was all so inspiring, so dignified and joyful. My heart is full of cautious hope and yet I feel exhausted.

Some guy I don’t know posted this comment on a friend’s post about the inauguration: “You are the only person I have seen post anything about the inauguration today…80 million people silent. Remember when Trump won FB was swamped with flags and people excited. I still find it hard to believe 80million voters showed up on election day, but not on Bidens [sic] social media, rallies or even posting support of his big day on social media…very odd indeed.”

I almost scrolled on by. I almost wrote “You’re a dumbass.” I almost wrote, “Shut the fuck up, you delusional piece of shit. Your guy lost and it’s over.” I almost wrote that my Facebook was filled with angry tears and disbelief on January 20, 2017, and I was packing to ride a bus to DC to protest in the huge, non-violent Women’s March.” Instead I told him my Facebook newsfeed was filled with happy, hopeful posts about Biden’s inauguration (true story), and that it looked like he was hanging around with the wrong crowd. I think maybe he doesn’t remember what normal looks like, what humble looks like.

Do any of us remember what normal looks like though? One of the first things we need to give up is our national addiction to drama. To always being on alert. To the constant bombardment of insults and horrible decisions; the pathological attention we’ve been paying to the horror show that’s played out in the White House over the past four years. We have to give up the adrenaline-fueled rush of horror, of dread, of rage, of disbelief … it’s addictive and venomous. We’re like rats hitting that treat button, and the treat we get is poisoned. It’s making us sick. All of us. Whether we hated Donald Trump or loved him, he is a sick man who made us sick too. And I’m afraid we’ve forgotten how to live without it. I’m afraid we’ve forgotten to expect decency, from our government and from ourselves.

Maybe the guy who wrote that comment doesn’t recognize Biden’s dignified, even-tempered, intelligent strength. Maybe he hasn’t seen how Biden’s refusal to shout and rant and seek constant attention is exactly what we need now. It’s what all of us need no matter whom we voted for. We’re exhausted and we’re sick and we still can’t let down our guard.

So today, we got what we needed: a quiet, sane, dignified, sweet transfer of … not power, but character. A transfer of character. Just like Donald Trump was the disappointing opposite of Barrack Obama, so too is Joe Biden a different opposite of Donald Trump.

And now that Trump has shown us the worst in our country, the worst in ourselves, maybe Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can help us find in our national story the heroes we’ve always wanted to be. Maybe this is what it took to burn off the lies we tell about ourselves, our country, and start with new bones. What we’ve seen destroyed, we now have to build with a new vision. Together.

Today I felt like a burden was lifted, and I’m so joyful that burden has flown off to Florida. I hope the exhaustion I feel from carrying that heavy load of lies, gaslighting, cruelty and disdain, as we all have, gives way to new strength soon. You can’t build new muscle without tearing down the old. So I’ll drink a glass of chardonnay, go to bed early and plan to wake up tomorrow feeling calmer and saner, kinder and less ready to flip the rage switch, more like Joe and Kamala.

Brave enough to be the light.

If you want to square dance with me, you have to fight

Isn’t it funny what will trigger a waterfall of memories? Yesterday Coraline and I were glued to the insurrection at the Capitol building. Of course, my wish, as it always is, was that this would be the one act of an insane wannabe king that would bring us together as a nation. It seemed like a no-brainer that those of us on both sides, regardless of how we voted in November, could agree that a line had been crossed. I just keep hoping, but again I was disappointed.

This morning a Facebook friend from high school posted that the dread Antifa had infiltrated the poor hapless Proud Boys (does anybody else see a treehouse with a sign that says “no girlz alowd”?) and broke into the Capitol building just to get the Boys in trouble. Now I have to admit my imagination is somewhat limited. I just can’t picture these so-called Antifa agitators researching and obtaining the proper pseudo-Viking pagan tattoos, ordering big-ass Confederate and Trump flags, stockpiling Kevlar vests and firearms, practicing their mean faces, traveling to DC, and standing maskless through Trump’s hour-long plea for insurrection just waiting for an opportunity to break into the Capitol building and wander around like tourists. Except for the guy who stole a podium and this guy who sat at Nancy Pelosi’s desk and wrote her a brief, but nasty, note while he scratched his balls. That ball-scratcher definitely has a beef with fascism. Or maybe it’s good taste. But all the others? Really? We’re supposed to believe they were Antifa actors?

On the other hand, it kind of sounds like fun. I mean, I’m against fascism. Have been since the 60’s. I’m as anti-fa as a Roosevelt. So sign me up for the next infiltration of the insurrection!

But I digress …

Several people tried to deny that the evil Antifa  was really to blame, to no avail. She’s certain Antifa was up to their old tricks. Backing her up though was a name from my past — way back in my past. A boy — let’s call him DG — I went to school with apparently also has inside information about Antifa. He piped right up with an opinion backed by zero evidence, and suddenly I was looking at a memory reel about this boy and we were never even friends.

First thing I did was examine the palm of my hand just under the center of my first and second fingers for a small black dot that’s been there since we were in second grade. It’s a graphic reminder (pun intended) of the day he stabbed me and broke off the point of his pencil in my hand. I pulled the lead out afterwards, but no amount of washing would remove the graphite from the wound. I remember it took a long time to heal. I don’t remember why he did it. I know I didn’t tell an adult about it. I wasn’t a tattle-tale. I do remember the day I served my cold revenge.

Some weeks later DG, who sat in front of me, turned around and asked me for an answer on the phonics worksheet I’d already finished. I’m surprised I was awake. I taught myself to read when I was four, so doing phonics worksheets when I was 7 was excruciating when I could have been reading a book. But boredom isn’t my excuse for the answer I gave him when he showed me a drawing of a boat and asked what letter completed this word: shi_. I looked at it, covered my paper and said, “T. The answer is T.” He wrote it down. I don’t know what, if anything, the teacher did about that. It didn’t matter. My revenge was complete.

My next memory of DG wasn’t until three years later, when we !were in fifth grade. Every year we did a few weeks of square dancing in gym class. Did I mention I grew up in a small rural town in Iowa? We also learned songs from Music Man every year.

Anyway, we were told to choose partners. Fucking excruciating. One of the reasons I’d never want to be 10 again. In those days girls weren’t allowed to call boys on the phone, much less choose them for partners in square dancing. And, yes, girls had to dance with boys and boys had to dance with girls. Duh.

I’m sure I suffered through the find-a-partner ritual many times but this time was different. This time DG and another boy I’ll call BR both wanted to dance with …. wait for it …. me! They both came over at the same time to stand beside me and stake their claim and then … wait for it! They started fighting over me! I am not fucking lying!

They were trying to punch each other (they weren’t the kind of boys who were good fighters), grabbing each other’s shirts and shoving and shouting, “She’s dancing with me!” “No she’s not! She’s dancing with me!” And their faces were red and angry and everything!

I know it probably seems like this is the kind of thing that would happen to someone like me all the time, but I promise you, I was not the kind of girl boys fought over. Other girls — popular girls — were that kind of girl (although I don’t remember two boys fighting over who got to square dance with any of the other girls). I was the opposite of that kind of girl, that kind of girl boys liked. Some girls even had boyfriends already, of a sort. I did not have a boyfriend and it wasn’t because of my daddy’s shotgun. I didn’t even think any boys in my school liked me, although there was one boy in my class I wished would like me.  (I will confess I had my first three-way that year, but that’s another story.)

I don’t remember whom I ended up doing the do-si-do with that day. Someone with sweaty palms, I’m sure. The only reason the incident stuck in my memory is because it was so unexpected and extraordinary. First, because I’m not that girl. And second, because boys just didn’t fight in school.

The end of the anecdote is not that I suddenly found myself with two boyfriends who hate each other to this day because neither could have all of me. I guess they used up all their courage that day. BR did ask me to homecoming our freshman year, but I was waiting for his cousin, two years older and with a driver’s license, to ask me so I told him I already had a date, and then I went with his cousin. We were close friends through high school though and he never pulled a Nice Guy on me.

DG and I were not ever friends. He was a bit of an outcast and he wasn’t even close to being in any of my circles. I doubt we ever even went to the same party. But I do remember this. One of the other boys scratched out his photo in my senior yearbook and wrote “loser” over the top of it in pen. I was pissed, but it couldn’t be fixed. DG kept asking me if he could sign my yearbook and I kept putting him off. He got more and more insistent, but I didn’t want him to see his photo and think I had done it. Even if I explained what happened, I thought it would hurt his feelings. Now I remember he probably suffered worse in high school. I’m sure he was bullied, but he was also pretty arrogant so  who knows? Maybe he had feelings of steel and I put him off for nothing.

I don’t know if he ever signed my yearbook and I don’t care enough to get it out and look now, because decades later that boy is a man and he seriously thinks some brilliant group known only as Antifa infiltrated those bad-ass Proud Boys yesterday and made it look like they broke down doors and windows and took over the Capitol building when those proud Proud Boys were actually just innocent, peaceful demonstrators who were trying to save their poor embattled leader from … well, from prison actually, but let’s not go there. He believes those meek and mild Proud Boys were the soft, squishy victims, punked at their own insurrection … yeah, I just can’t care now whether he saw his defaced photo (is that even a pun?) in my yearbook in 1976.

Thanks for reading my trip down memory lane though. I know this post is random as hell, but in case you haven’t noticed, 2021 has been showing its ass this week and this is the first fucking week of the year. Let’s hope it gets better before it gets worse, my friends, or I’ll be writing about that three-way I had with two boys when I was ten years old just to keep myself away from the news.

Note: My friend who posted the original post is my friend. We agree on many things and we don’t agree on some things. Some of those things are important to me. Not as important as my friendship with her.

I Write

I recently went to a writer’s conference in my dining room. Pretty much the only way I’m going to get to one, COVID or not. Someone asked in a break-out session why I write a blog. It’s certainly not because bloggers are well respected in the writing community. Quite the opposite. Anybody can write a blog, after all. And in case you haven’t heard — because obviously you haven’t if you’re reading this — nobody reads blogs any more. It’s a fair question, and one I need to answer for myself, since I keep coming back here and writing.*

The most compelling reason for writing here is because I need the income. I make a ton of money writing blog posts and if you’ll give me $2000, I’ll show you how I do it.

The most compelling reason I do it is because after doing it for so many years, and after writing almost 750 posts, I just need to do it. My Muse, Dolores, is not someone who likes to be put in the corner. If I go too long with her whispering ideas and words and sentences in my ear, I start to feel anxious. I feel a need to get her voice out of my head. I learn from what I write, and putting words on paper or a screen, helps me sort things out, see things more clearly. And being the extrovert I am, having an audience is the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie. Being my own audience, not so much.

Another reason I write is somewhat more altruistic. Because I can write whatever I want (1st Amendment and all that), I write whatever I feel like writing in the moment I’m in. I do not publish everything that happens in my life, but I do tackle some difficult topics when the need arises. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a post that I almost didn’t publish because it felt too raw or I felt too vulnerable or I didn’t think people would get it, and not only did a lot of you get it, some of you actually needed to read it as much as I needed to write it.

Few things are more gratifying to me than getting an email or a message that says, “Thank you for writing that. I have the same problem [went through the same thing] [have the same fears] [worry about this too], but I don’t have the words to express it myself.” Some people don’t feel safe writing it down, and I get that. Sometimes I write things that turn out to feel not so safe. Some people haven’t been able to put into words what they’re feeling. That’s my job as a writer, and it’s a privilege to do it.

I know what it’s like to have my voice silenced, whether by someone else or by my own fears. When I can put something into words that are meaningful and helpful for someone else … it’s just the best feeling. 

The third reason I write here is entirely selfish. I like the attention. I love it when I can start a conversation that continues past what I write. I love it when someone comes up to me at a party (back when such a thing existed) and tells me how much they loved a particular post, and how it made them laugh or cry or, best of all, both. More than once I’ve been at a party and someone has introduced me to a stranger as “Reticula. You should read her blog. It’s really funny and she writes a lot about vaginas.” It’s a great conversation starter, and I like being the vagina-writer.

One of the best times though was at a party where we were playing Cards Against Humanity. No other game loosens people up as much as that one. One of the players was someone I knew from the theater community, but had never met in person. He made a comment about something he’d read. It was obviously this blog he was talking about, so I responded and we talked for a minute. Finally he said, “Wait! Are you Reticulated Writer? That’s you?”

I said, “Well …. yeah. I thought you knew that. You brought it up.”

“I didn’t!” he said. “I just love your blog. I read it all the time.”

That’s a high, my friends. It’s like one millionth of a percent of being famous. It’s like being a hair on Dolly Parton’s wig. Heady stuff.

Those are my top reasons, and I guess some of my reasons are also reasons you read here too. Maybe you like what I say or the way I say it. I don’t dare think a lot about why other people read here, because even though I write for an audience in my head, I don’t want to feel censored by that imagined, yet real, audience. I censor myself, but this is my living room and nobody else should be able to silence the telling of my story.

I have written posts that pissed people off before. There was that one guy I dated who didn’t like what I wrote about him, even though every bit of it is true. One thing I don’t do is lie here. I took it down and I’ve always regretted it. It was my story and if he didn’t like the way he acted in my story, he shouldn’t have dated a writer. Especially not a red-headed writer.

I know I’m not everybody’s cup of tea. Otherwise I’d have a big book deal like some of the uber famous bloggers. It’s not like I’m turning down offers from Penguin or Random House, and The New Yorker is only offering me a free tote bag with my one-year subscription.

Some people have complained that I don’t write about vaginas enough these days. I agree! I need to get on that. Others used to complain that I wrote about vaginas too much. I said at least I wasn’t writing about my own. What’s the problem. A couple of people even unfriended me on Facebook over vagina posts. That’s OK with me. If somebody comes here and finds offense, that’s on them. I tell the truth here, and once my words are published, I have no control over how people absorb or react to what I’m saying. Here’s what I do when I’m offended by content on a blog or website. I move my little cursor arrow right to the little X on the right side of the tab for that page and I click it. Poof. It’s gone like Donald Trump’s tan when he takes a shower. 

Here’s the bottom line. I love knowing 99% of you who are reading this are here because you like what I write, you enjoy reading it, and we have some kind of connection through my words. I am grateful that I can imagine myself talking to you like this, as friends. Even as a confidant. It helps, especially now when we’re so isolated. In the lonely hours of the night when I usually write, it helps to know that some of you will read my words and get to know my heart and mind and like me anyway.

Stay safe and well, my friends. 

*I’ve already written over 2500 words today that I can use for NaNoWriMo. I’m still on track if I keep my butt in the chair.

Thanksgiving 2020: It’s going to be OK

I had to laugh when a friend posted this today.

I think I’ve written a Thanksgiving post every year for the past 10 years. I’m too lazy to check. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it falls during NaBloPoMo, when I usually post a blog post every day in November. This year I’m not doing NaBloPoMo and I’m not planning that big Thanksgiving dinner. I’m not offering invitations to friends and strangers who have no place to go or who don’t feel welcome with their family or who would just rather let someone else do all that cooking … or my kids, who don’t really have a choice on their mom’s favorite holiday. I don’t celebrate Easter and I’ll even give up Christmas Day (although it turns out they won’t. God love them) but Thanksgiving is my day.

This year — the year of 2020 — my day has been coopted by a tiny, vicious, virulent, politicized, stupid-head virus. Although I still have much to give thanks for, Thanksgiving won’t be the same. And you know what? I’ll get through it and so will you if we’re smart and lucky and we manage to stay healthy. Some of us won’t be so lucky … but this is about Thanksgiving.

Here’s how I know I can get through a Thanksgiving with just Coraline and me at the table: I’ve done it before. I was a military wife for over 20 years, and I’ve been alone on my favorite holiday more than once. 

The first time I was 23 and we were stationed at Robins AFB in Georgia, living in a duplex in base housing. It was our first year there, and we’d been there less than a year. I don’t remember where LtColEx was — England, maybe Iceland or Alaska. He was a navigator on a KC-135 refueling plane, so he flew all over the world and was sometimes TDY (temporary duty) for weeks or months at a time. We couldn’t afford for me to fly to Iowa, and I didn’t want to make the long drive alone. So I stayed home alone. 

And it wasn’t so bad. My overtly Christian neighbors across the street brought over a plate from their dinner for me. Bless them. They didn’t approve of me. I blasted Led Zeppelin from the speakers in our little white Chevette when I washed it in the driveway; they blasted fiery sermons back, hoping to save unsuspecting passersby or better yet, me. I was immune, but I accepted the plate of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and dressing with gratitude, and they safely discharged their Christian duty.

Later I went next door and ate dinner with our friends Sharon and Dave, who shared bedroom walls with us. They had made turkey with all the trimmings too, and I was even invited to eat at their table. It was just the three of us, and we had a lovely low-key dinner.  I saved the other plate for the next day.

The next year LtColEx was home, only he wasn’t home. He was sitting alert at the  alert facility near the airfield on the other side of the base. Alert means just what it sounds like: Air Force fliers standing ready in case they need to take off quickly and go drop a bomb on something. Every three weeks if they weren’t TDY the flyers had to live together in a little dorm-like facility so they could stay close to the four B-52 bombers and four KC-135 refuelers that sat on a special runway inside a second security gate. There was a family visitation center nearby with a large gathering space, a kitchen with a microwave, and three small private rooms with a couch and a TV in two of them. In the evenings the flyers would meet their wives and kids, if they had them, to spend a few hours together.

That year I cooked our turkey dinner at home and transported it to the family center in our big wooden picnic basket that had been a wedding gift. We got lucky that night and arrived in time to get one of the rooms with a TV, where we ate our dinner and watched one of three fuzzy channels and were glad we were together.

The next year we were both home, and I made the turkey dinner for us and for Dave, who was TDY and staying in the officer’s quarters that year. He and Sharon had gotten orders to another base earlier in the year. We also hosted one of the first women to navigate the KC-135s. She arrived two hours late so the turkey was dry and the mashed potatoes were cold, but we still enjoyed our Thanksgiving, because we were together.

I’ve got decades of Thanksgivings under my belt now. The kids and I spent a couple of them without LtColEx, because he was in Korea or somewhere else. For years my little brother came every year and always made the gravy, which is my nemesis.  Now he lives 700 miles away, and he has his own Thanksgiving dinner with his close friends. I’ve always invited people to be with us if I could, and some came year after year, and then for various reasons were replaced by other friends. Often I’ll post an invitation on Facebook for anybody who doesn’t have a place to go just to keep the “giving” in Thanksgiving.

Also, I love feeding people, and I love feeding people a big traditional turkey dinner. I’ve done it so often the menu rarely changes: roast turkey, bread sage stuffing (I tried a delicious wild rice with dried apricots stuffing one time and my kids threatened mutiny if I did it again), mashed potatoes, gravy that doesn’t set up until after dinner because now I have to make it myself, green beans with bacon and almonds, sweet potato casserole with apples and marshmallows, homemade cranberry sauce, Grandma Bolton’s secret-recipe rolls, fresh pumpkin pie and dark chocolate bourbon pecan pie with homemade whipped cream. (Cool Whip is not allowed in my house. Don’t even try. That shit isn’t real food.)

Some of my best holiday memories come not from Christmas, but from Thanksgiving. The year I killed my own turkey and she was so long (not balled up like a store-bought turkey), she kicked the lid off the roaster and I had to put a 10-pound weight on it to hold the lid down. The year I started the oven on fire and almost burned up the bread and the pies. The year Colorado’s husband-at-the-time stood out in the kitchen after the dishes were done and the rest of us had gone to the living room and ate all the turkey leftovers. We got rid of him. Jerk. The first Thanksgiving after LtColEx moved out and my sister and  brother flew in from Iowa and Minneapolis. I upped my game and made homemade butter while they sat at  my kitchen bar and we talked and drank wine. When it was finally done we spread it on homemade bread, so eager to try it, and it tasted …. just like butter. Any butter. Fucking Kroger butter. The year one annual guest announced three times that she’d rather get Chinese food and watch a movie than do Thanksgiving dinner the next year. I had to physically restrain Colorado. We lost her in a divorce. Buh bye. The year I made the regular turkey and a Tofurkey because I was a vegetarian, and the Tofurkey was so bad even the dog wouldn’t touch it. Who knew tofu isn’t meat? Three years ago when I went home to Iowa for my mom’s big 80th birthday party, and we turned around the next day and had Thanksgiving together on Sunday, because that’s when she liked to do her dinner so everybody could make it. Except me. I hadn’t been home for Thanksgiving in decades. We didn’t know it would be her last Thanksgiving as we ate our smoked turkey and my brother’s good gravy. I could go on, but you probably have your own memories.

And what about Thanksgiving 2020? What will we say about Thanksgiving when we look back on this year? I’m not sure yet how it will go, but here’s what I expect.

Plan A. Even though I’m not inviting anybody over, I will get a turkey and  roast it in my roaster. And then after I take the meat off that bird, I’ll probably  put it back in the roaster and make some soup stock. Or maybe I won’t. I won’t feel guilty if I don’t. I’ll make the mashed potatoes and gravy, the green beans, some sour dough rolls, a fresh pumpkin pie, and maybe even a wild rice stuffing with dried apricots. I probably won’t make the sweet potatoes or the cranberry sauce, because the two of us can only eat so much. Coraline and I will enjoy our dinner, because it will be delicious. Maybe we’ll video chat with family and friends throughout the day. Maybe we’ll watch a movie that we have to pay for. We’ll still stuff ourselves like any other Thanksgiving and then we’ll take the dog for a walk so we can eat more later.

I’ll find out if the single guys who live on either side of me are home and I’ll take them a plate and tell them next year I’ll expect them at my dinner table. 

We will not go inside anybody else’s house, and we’ll feel fine, because we’re keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. And because we still have blessings to count. And we’ll have tons of left-overs!

Plan B. My son Drake and my daughter-in-law Montana have a big yard — almost an acre. If the weather is nice, we might bring our dinners together and eating outside, socially distanced, masked when we need to. Plan B is looking less likely as the COVID numbers skyrocket here in Ohio though. Our governor can’t find his balls to do anything more than urge us to wear masks and weakly enforce a curfew for the fucktards who insist on partying in bars, but the board of health in my county has issued a stay-at-home advisory, which we are going to follow.

Also, Montana is an ER nurse, and as the COVID beds are now all full, the ER staff are taking care of more and more COVID patients. We’ll judge the safety of an outdoor dinner next week. We don’t want our 2020 Thanksgiving memory to be …. well, you know.

Here’s one thing I know: We can all get through a Thanksgiving, and even a Christmas, either alone or with only the people we live with. We can. I’ve done it. We may be sad, but sad is better than dead or damaged for life. Feelings are temporary. COVID too often is not.

Oh, I forgot about Plan C. Once I can safely do it, I’m going to have the biggest Thanksgiving dinner ever and I’m going to fill my house and my porches and my yard with people eating and giving thanks. I don’t care if I do it in July or September or April. I will reclaim Thanksgiving from 2020 and I will make many more Thanksgiving memories to hold in my heart.

Please stay safe and well as we roll into what will be an unusual and difficult holiday season, my friends. We can do this.

Someone to hold her hand …. always

Her 5th deviled egg

I got some rare good news today. I can’t write about that, so I want instead to share one of my favorite posts about my 9-year-old granddaughter, Coraline. One good thing that happened in 2020 is that I got official custody of her, something we both wanted a lot. When she used to ask why she lived with me, I’d tell her it was because we have a special relationship, and I think this post from 2013 shows just how special.

My daughter Elvira brought over my granddaughter Coraline, who turned 2 last week (and insists she’s 5), about noon today to spend the day and the night. We had a busy day. We started by making deviled eggs for lunch. I keep up a running commentary as I cook or make food with Coraline now. It’s like I’ve got my own Food Network show, and she’s the only one in the studio audience. “And now we finish with just a sprinkle of smoked paprika to complement the tang of the mustard and the creaminess of the eggs….”

After lunch we threw the ball for Kohl, the granddog, watered the tomatoes, read a bunch of books, sat on the potty a dozen times both with and without success, and took a nap. The nap was for my benefit.

Then we headed over to a local botanical garden that has a big, creative play area for kids with lots of water features, sand boxes, fairy houses, caves, edible plants, and bees. We spent several hours there exploring and discovering things like snails and pale blue dragonflies and sensitive plants.

Back home we got into dry clothes, grilled some chicken and corn on the cob for dinner, and then took Kohl for a long walk as dusk fell, talking about the meaning of red and yellow and green lights, and when to walk and when to wait. A big bowl of homemade yogurt with blueberries, an apple, and about 30 books later, it was 11:30 and Coraline was fighting sleep. She missed her mommy, and wasn’t ready for the day to end.

She didn’t want to be held or rocked, so she tossed and rolled on my bed trying to get comfortable as I sang to her. Finally I persuaded her to lie still, close her eyes and just hold my hand as I sang the same song over and over.

Like a ship in the harbor,

Like a mother and child,

Like a light in the darkness

I’ll hold you a while.

We’ll rock on the water,

And I’ll cradle you deep,

And hold you while fairies

Sing you to sleep.

As her muscles relaxed and her breathing slowed, I lay on my side facing her, her tiny hand curled around my fingers, and watched her give in to her dreams. And as I did, I saw superimposed over her small arm the arm of a much older woman — a woman even older than I am. The arm of the woman she will be decades from now.

I thought of the times she had trusted my hands just today — the many times when she reached out without looking as she navigated a long, man-made stream studded with rocks, knowing my hand would be there for her to grasp so she wouldn’t fall; when she rested her head in my hand as I lathered up her hair and sprayed it clean over the kitchen sink; when she touched the hot, foil-wrapped corn after I told her it was hot, and I grabbed her hand and held it to a cool dishcloth to dissipate the pain; when I lifted her over a toilet that seems big enough to swallow her up because she likes using my potty … when she fell asleep missing her mom and sleeping in my big bed instead of her own.

And I offered up a prayer to whomever may or may not be listening for that woman of the future. I prayed that she would remember the feeling of someone holding her hand and loving her as completely and fiercely as is humanly possible — because I do, just like I have loved her mother and her uncle.

I prayed that all the nights she falls asleep snuggled up to her mommy’s breast or curled up next to her daddy’s side or holding my hand while I sing to her will stay with her like a warm, soft invisible cloak that she can fold around herself whenever she needs comfort, even after her arms are mottled with age spots and her skin has grown thin and wrinkled, and my ashes have long since been spread in someone’s garden … or lost if I know my kids.

That, I think, would be more important than knowing how to make deviled eggs and studying the mating habits of dragonflies, learning to pee on a toilet and that yellow means “be careful.”

Although those things are certainly important too.

Finding my inner handypenis

I just had to check in and see how everybody’s doing. Last week was a big week. Yuge. Nobody’s ever seen one this huge. I have to admit I was feeling some PTSD on election Tuesday stemming from the 2016 election night horror show. I was irritable, unfocused, fearful even, after weeks of grinding tension. Like a lot of you, I suspect. 2020 has been unkind and I had no reason to believe it was going to change.

But as the week went by, something happened. The weather changed from chilly and rainy to dry and warm. The autumn trees cast a warm pink and yellow glow over our street. The tide started to turn blue in the days after the election. And Thursday I woke up and felt like a dark cloud had been lifted off my head. A heavy dark cloud. I felt like getting to work.

Toward the end of October I had signed up for a race called Run for Ruth–We Dissent* with my daughter-in-law Dakota. Crazy as it was this close to winter, we committed to riding (running, walking, skating) 87 miles by the end of January, 2021. Coraline and I loaded up our bikes and rode along the Stillwater River Thursday, leaves crunching under our tires, smiling and saying “hi” to the walkers. We weren’t the only ones who felt more relaxed. Two weeks ago people walked with their heads down and often didn’t make eye contact. Now they seemed eager to greet us as we blew past. We got in 8.5 miles, which isn’t far for me, but was a pretty good ride for a 9-year-old.

The next day we went out again with Dakota, my 3-year-old grandson Danger, and Dakota’s mom, Red. This time we rode along fields and farms and through a small pretty midwestern town until we got to a park. Dakota stopped there with the kids while Redma and I rode on. About a mile and a half down the path, Redma decided to stop and call a friend. I rode on by myself past large cornfields that had been recently harvested. I passed a few people, mostly walkers. One old man was walking a bike at a jog that was slower than most people walk. I kept my eyes open for deer. The last time we rode that path a buck with an impressive rack ran across the path from out of the woods just 50 yards ahead of us. I have no desire to find out who would survive a collision between my road bike and a deer.

All in all, I got in 16 miles that day, about half of them at a good, hard pace. Not that far compared to how I used to ride, but the longest ride of this year. I’m up to 38.25 miles, and I think I can finish those last 50 miles in plenty of time.

I felt so energized our rides and the results of the election I got busy on several outside projects I’ve needed to do for months (many months). First I painted our old frame swing grape purple. I’ve had that swing for at least 15 years and I’ve moved it twice. The awning it came with rusted off long ago. Coraline uses it for gymnastics and we spend hours sitting out there reading and talking, playing music. It was getting pretty shabby though, the gray metal rusting in places. I’ve meant to paint it for …. well, longer than I care to admit. Two cans of spray paint later it’s finally done and it looks just as quirky and “old hippy lives here” as I hoped it would. 

After that I got up on my big ladder and filled in a long gap between my side porch and the brick wall where a bat likes to roost and poop. Bats have gotten into the house several times over the 7 years I’ve lived here — OK, if I’m honest it’s probably a dozen times now. The last time my fierce  white cat Gandalf brought the bat down out of the air in the middle of the night and I found myself crawling naked through bat pee in my closet trying to save it. Did I not write about that? I guess not. It’s funny now.

I asked several handypenises to help me figure out how the bats were getting in, but none of them could get the job done. What’s a vagina to do? Well, find her inner penis, that’s what. And I think I finally got that problem licked.

I bought caulk (no pun intended) and some of that ugly foam stuff that turns orange and looks like a disease, hoping to fill the gap with one or both. Turned out the gap was too wide for the caulk (nope, not going there) and the foam stuff wouldn’t come out of the can after the first brief spray (nope). Worthless shit. Now what?

I searched my garage for answers. Screen? Couldn’t find it, although I know it’s there. Chicken wire? The holes are too big and besides that I don’t want my house to look like a barn. Just as I was about to give up I noticed an old green eggshell sleeping pad someone had left in my garage. And I thought why not cut that into strips and stuff them into the gap? Sure enough. It worked and it hardly even shows. Fingers crossed the bats stay outside where they belong.

Today after Coraline and I did our writing/schoolwork sessions, I got the wooden steps scrubbed down with some kind of really strong deck cleaner so I can stain and seal them tomorrow. I’m also going to sand down some areas on the porch floors and get them repainted. After that I’ve got some dry rot to dig out and refill and paint. After that, I’m painting the cellar doors and filling in the gaps in the concrete stairs to the front porch and then …. who knows? Maybe I’ll figure out how to put some new siding on my garage. My handypenis is pumped and ready to go!

I’m not dicking around here, people! I was going to pay someone to do most of this work, but I couldn’t find anyone to do it and the custody/visitation lawsuit I’ve mentioned has cost way more than I paid for my Honda Odyssey, so I did what I had to do. I called up my own penis and I got to work.

Yes, I do still have jobs I need to pay a real handypenis to do, but I haven’t felt this energized since we shut down for COVID in March. Maybe since the election four years ago. I hope the feeling lasts, because this old house needs some lovin’ and it looks like we’re going to be sheltering in here for a while.

How about you? How are you doing? Feeling better since the erection election? Dreading winter and wondering how to manage the holiday? Enjoying the last warm days of fall?

* If you’re looking for a challenge it’s not to late to sign up for Run for Ruth — We Dissent. Just click on the link. It costs $35, but you get a t-shirt and some other swag. And some exercise. If you want to join my team, send me an email and I’ll give you the name. Wearing pearls while you ride or run is optional.

Stay safe, my friends. I don’t want to lose any of you.

Love Coraline

Hope in the time of waiting

Apparently I just can’t quit this place. I’m at my NaNoWriMo writing space with my notes and my intentions (5585 words so far!), but I have to get something off my chest before I can buckle down. The election is on-going. If we thought we’d have relief after Election Day, we were deluding ourselves.

About midnight, I posted this on my Facebook: “Tonight is one of those nights when it’s hard to be alone. So glad Dakota [my daughter-in-law] called me on her way home from work for a long talk. Would be nice to be curled up under a blanket with someone watching a movie. That’s election night during a pandemic for you. At least I get to choose the movie.” I think this was the first election I spent by myself, which wouldn’t have been so bad except the PTSD from the 2016 election was hitting me hard, as it was many of my friends who actually care about other people and the planet. I should have gone to bed early but …

… I didn’t go to bed until 3:00, not because I was watching election results. No, I turned off the movie I was watching about 2:00 because I couldn’t focus and I thought I might as well get some sleep, and then, instead of going upstairs to bed I picked up my Kindle and started reading a book started playing Subway Surfers. I fled from a fat police officer, ran over the tops of trains and dodged others, rolled and jumped over blockades, and collected coins for an hour or longer, utterly stupified and disconnected from all things political. This could become an addiction.

As I write this morning, the votes are being tallied. Trump gave what amounted to an acceptance speech in the middle of the night. I wasn’t watching him though; I was dodging trains and collecting coins and trying to figure out what it meant when my shoes got bouncy. When I finally thought I could sleep, I went to bed, read my book for a short time and actually did fall asleep to the sound of pink noise, courtesy of Alexa …

… Only to be awakened yet again by the guy who is living with my next door neighbor, mostly in his garage where he works on a loud motorcycle that he revs and revs and revs at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes he rides it down the sidewalk and leaves it running out there. Did I mention it’s loud? Really loud? Fuck that shit.

And then there were the dreams. Jesus, save me from the dreams on election night 2020.

I woke up feeling heavy, sluggish, like my nerves are on the outside of my body and any touch or sound sets off an alarm. I yelled at Coraline for not picking up her dirty socks off the dining room floor. The same socks I told her to pick up yesterday morning. That was well deserved, I think, but she’s not whom I really want to yell at.

I need some hope and in spite of the reassurances of the pundits both left and right (et tu, Fox News?) that the election isn’t over and Trump isn’t winning, hope is hard to find.

And so I look to the children — or child, in this case — and I share with you another blog post, one Coraline wrote on her private blog. I hope it gives you hope too. And I hope, like me, you voted for the world she wants to live in, not the one we should leave in the past.

   Dear man in the pickup truck at the food drive who said all lives matter,

So, Hello Mr. Guy at the food drive, how are you?. Never mind. Remember that time when you pulled up in your black pickup truck with fake Trump 2020 money in the front window? And we where in our car, with our masks on, I had om my BLM mask on, my grandma with her purple one on? And you did not have a mask on. You and my grandma talked for a good 5 minutes, and while you where driving away you said,

” All lives matter, honey,”

Good, because this is what I have to say about that.

   First of all, EWW. Don’t call a little girl who you know Nothing about honey. Its creepy. Second, if all lives matter, why do you have a problem with Black lives matter? Hmm? Whats’ that? You are just saying that because your racist, sexist, homophobic and trying to hide it? I thought so. Herse what your trying to say. All lives matter, but women are nasty. All lives matter, but Black people are dangerous. All lives matter but immigrants are being kept in concentration camps.  All lives matter but being LGBTQIA+ is a sin.  All lives matter but all Muslims are terrorists. All lives matter doesn’t mean you can chose when they matter! Third of all, I was sitting there in my BLM mask that my friend Layla gave me. And no, I’m not black. But the reason I’m righting this here at the dining room table, is because none of us are free, until all of us are free. When Layla gave me that mask, I felt like I could speak up for the black community. I want to use my voice. But you did not give me a chance. You said All lives matter and drove away. You are the reason that the black community has to fight for equality that we are suppose to have.  

Thank you for your time,

Coraline.  

Learn from the children.

NaBloPoMo 2020 cancelled

If you’ve been reading Reticulated Writer for a while you know I always do National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo) in November. Some of you even look forward to reading a blog post every day for that one month of the year. I had every intention of doing it this year too. It would have been my 10th year …. can you see where this is going? 

Last month I went to a virtual 5-day writing conference called Rebirth Your Writing, led by Brevity Magazine editors Allison Williams and Dinty W. Moore. It was the inspiring kick in the butt I needed to buckle down and get said butt into the chair and write. But not to write here on this old blog. I mean seriously write like a professional writer. No distractions. No excuses. That’s the first thing that happened.

Then last weekend, my little brother died in Alaska, 4000 miles away. He had been getting sicker and sicker this year, after decades of being sick and in denial. He finally succumbed to alcoholism at age 59. He followed my mom in death by only two years.

We’re also in a serious pandemic and some people think we’re headed toward a civil war, so none of us know what will happen to us in the near future. Life is precious and seems increasingly precarious.

So instead of writing here, much as I love writing here, I’m going to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which means I’ve made a commitment to write 50,000 words in November. Not 50,000 words of blog posts, but 50,000 words of what will become my book. I do love writing these blog posts, but I’m not a blogger who gets lots of comments and I don’t write posts that many people tend to share, so this is a hobby at best. I need to focus on making writing — not just teaching writing — my profession. I need to stop giving it away here, in other words.

Some of you are as much to blame as the Rebirthing conference, you know. You’ve been telling me I should write a book for years now. Decades even. And now I’m making a commitment to doing it. (So promise me you’ll buy the fucking book when it comes out, OK?)

It seems kind of crazy, given I’m barely keeping my head above the raging waters of 2020, to make a commitment that’s even bigger than publishing a blog post every day. If I don’t do it now though, I don’t know when I will do it. Life is short — sometimes shorter than you think. I need to prioritize this dream of mine to write and publish a book that I’ve had since I could pick up a pencil in my chubby little hand.

I’ll pop in here when I need to get a rant off my chest, but it’s best if you don’t see much of me this month, here or on Facebook. Wish me luck though. I need a lot of that these days.

Reticulated Radical

Facebook meme. Author unknown.

But seriously, I would like to know. What is so radical about my political beliefs? What I want from our government? The decency and civility I expect from elected and appointed leaders who are supposed to represent all of us? What part of what I believe is so revolutionary?

Yes, I do yearn for equality for all people. No exceptions. Is that radical?

I also think one billion dollars is more than enough for anybody, and any income over that should be taxed at about 90%. That leaves 100 million dollars a year for the poor billionaire, which I would gladly trade for my annual income if they have a problem with it. Or maybe that extra wealth should be distributed to workers who don’t make a billion, or even a million, dollars a year so they can spend it on …. oh, I don’t know. Food and housing and an annual vacation. I think every senator and every president should have to live for one year on my annual income before taking office. Just one year. No? Why not? If you want to represent me, get a feel for how I live. How is that radical and not just common sense?

I don’t want people to go hungry or to be without decent medical care, including dental and vision. I want good roads, well supported fire and police departments, safe schools with a low teacher/student ratio, accessible upper education (including training in so-called blue-collar trades) that doesn’t require taking out student loans that are more than a mortgage, and a bottle of wine a chicken or bowl of beans and quinoa on every table.

I want politicians and religious leaders to stay out of my vagina and my uterus. I want to lower the abortion rate by providing kids with honest, thorough sex education; supporting poor mothers with childcare and food and a decent wage; and opening more Planned Parenthood clinics.

How am I a radical? Honestly, how? I’m practically Jesus’s eccentric, lovable aunt.


Do you think I’m radical?