Friday, January 31, 2014

January, in a Nutshell

Month in Review: January 2014
Poor January. It must be exhausting work, being January. It is, quite literally, the firstborn child of the year, and like the stereotypical firstborn, it comes to the world with a lot of people expecting a lot of it (when really, they should be expecting it of themselves.) With all those hopes and goals and resolutions crowding in and  riding on January and demanding attention and effort, it's no wonder that this month is almost destined to disappoint us.

Oddly, though, I wasn't disappointed in this month. Not in the least. Maybe it's because so much of my life is crowded with lists of plans and goals and objectives...what's one more list of plans going to count? And if this list of goals just so happens to bear a title of "New Year's Resolutions"...well, really, it's just another to-do list, after all. All in a day's work...or, in this case, a year's work. 

Some of the highlights of January

Reading 12.5 Books ; the highlight being, without a doubt, The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about religion or even spirituality these days, but this book, in the most humble and loving way possible, actually got me pondering things again. And the final thing that stuck with me: if the outcome of the story does not change, why not render the meat of the story as tasty as possible?

Reaching out to Family:y My mother is dead. My father is not in the picture. My grandparents are very, very old. My two sisters and I have all elected not to have children. On my father's side, he only has one brother who had children, and they are not in touch with him. On my mother's side, she had two siblings--now dead. Her sister had one daughter. Getting the picture? Of immediate family, we have not much. My grandparents, however, had, like 14 brothers and sisters between them, which makes for a lot of great aunts and uncles and second cousins and oh lord, don't even get me started on the "removed" thing I will never figure it out. The point being, of course, that there is some distant family to be had, and at this point, I'll take what I can get. So I reached out to Great Aunt Wilma in January...and now am in touch with her and my second cousin Leah. So far, no icky family secrets coming out, but there's plenty of time. And plenty of relatives still to contact.

Building Up Team Mel: This wasn't the most social month I've ever had, but I've certainly done less in the past. I managed to spend some time with GI Jo before she moved away, and I did my best to hunt down an old grad school friend-- I went so far as to send her a letter to her last address I could find--and I spent an evening with Angie in downtown Palm Springs, and made a potential new geek friend, and even managed to cram in an Awful Movie Night before the end of the month. (Sharknado, anyone?)

Quote for the Ages: "Don't write what you know. Write what you wonder about." -Maggie Shipstead
We had our very first Sunnydale Writers Forum this month, and novelist Maggie Shipstead was one of the featured authors. She gave this sage advice, and I must say, it has stuck in my head. It was a little assurance that yes, maybe it is okay for me to write about the thing that I'm curious about. (And let's face it, if I stuck to writing what I know, I'd be writing a bunch of stuff about books and potato chips and vainly protesting the patriarchy). Of course, what I wonder about is something that will require extensive research, so ideally, I WILL end up knowing about it, but that's okay. It was the little nudge that I needed to re-start that Novel Idea I've been kicking around for the past ten years.

So, In summary:

 January, you sucked much less than I thought you would.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

I'll Have a Side of Heavy Thoughts With that Church Supper Recipe Book, Please

When going through the Momster's house after she died, trying to sort out paperwork and medications and throw out food and dodge felines, my sisters and I came across all manner of interesting items. I remember many rosaries and an ungodly yet entirely predictable number of books, wrapped-up gifts for someone's children (also predictably, not us), cat toys galore...I had to buy a Sherpa soft-sided pet carrier and a duffle bag to haul home my curious inheritance, which includes:

And also, this:  

Now, you might be wondering, what on earth does this calorie-laden publication have to do with the Melmeister's recovering-alcoholic and very dead mother?

The answer of course is: EVERYTHING.

And it also leads to another question: what on earth was my mother doing with this? I'm guessing it was just an impulse buy at the grocery store or Walgreens or something; goodness knows I'm susceptible to this as well. But why did she get it? For all the church socials and intimate get-togethers she didn't go to? Did she want to whip up some of the recipes? History is, and shall remain, silent about this. But tonight, as I was lazily flipping through the pages, I felt, vaguely, the presence of a ghost. Not an actual ghost, of course, but rather an insubstantial but mournful wraith of all the things that went undone in her life, all the things she didn't achieve on her "Bucket List" that she threw together after her diagnosis, and which we found the night before I flew back to California. This Taste of Home magazine, all of a sudden, represented all of her life she hadn't actually, actively lived; the deeds left undone, the words unsaid, the profundities unwritten, the roads not taken, the dinners not cooked. But, I daresay, all of it imagined. 

And perhaps, even feared. Who knows? Maybe it was the fear that kept her from doing all that she thought about. But I know that in more than a few ways, my life does mirror hers: I am a person who embraces an internal, solitary existence--I'm surrounded by people yet regularly retreat to an inner landscape as unpopulated as I can wish for-- I admire and acquire pretty and pleasing things and then let them go unconsumed and unenjoyed, and I imagine the life I could lead, that I want to lead, some day, but don't. Not right now. 

My mother's right nows ran out. She had no more some days left.

And some day (ha), I won't either.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

ABC (and F) Club Tonight was a bit of a wash. Either the group doesn't the book and doesn't talk about it, or--as was the case tonight--they do read the book and they still don't talk about it. Is there some immutable law of nature that dictates that when three or more strong-willed lesbian and/or bisexual women get together, they must all talk over each other, as loudly as possible?

I love my ladies, but goddamn.

On the bright side, I think I may have made a new friend tonight--a friend of the Geek Persuasion. My ears perked up right away when she mentioned going to Ren Faires. And then...she mentioned LARPing. For reals. I said, "Excellent! An honest-to-god geek!"

She simply smiled and showed me this:

I squealed. And thus, a new friend was (potentially) made.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Week Ahead...

I could say much about the goals, but I will let the picture do the talking.

(Also, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words...but what if the picture potentially CONTAINS a thousand words?)

The Week in Review

What I Read: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (short stories, of which I am not overly fond, but who can resist a title like that?), In the Company of the Courtesan, Because It Feels Good, and The Life of Pi.

What I Watched: Supernatural, The X-Files, Sleepy Hollow (oh, Ichabod! You can bear witness to me any time!)

What I Plotted: My upcoming Midwestern Adventure of 2014. (Woooo! 2 weeks in the Midwest in March! Party time!)

How I Felt: Lethargic. Sinusy. There's some nasty shit going on up there, let me tell ya.

The Good: I was on the wagon the entire week! And don't even have a tshirt to show for it. I managed to clean my desk at work, and plow through almost all of the work goals. And I blogged.

The Bad: I had one of my three allotted monthly days at work in which I felt very negative about things.

The Ugly: No exercise. None. I was a total blob.

The Pretty: On our travels through the tourist-glutted streets of downtown Palm Springs during Village Fest, Angie and I found a rather enticing little shop, Desert Artists and Imported Teas. It's a rather compelling combination of teas and tea accessories, frilly accessories, antiques, and some handcrafted items. Some items are of the Dolores Umbridge ilk, other items were downright lovely in their vintage dignity, but all of the items were total fripperies. My kind of place:

And while I won't be able to make discoveries like that every week, I purchased enough tea to tide me over for a while!

In Which I Contemplate "Poverty"

This was my Saturday to work. I usually regard these Saturdays as a mixed blessing--yes, it's never fun having to work on a weekend, but at the same time...skeleton crew! No distractions! Time to get work done, and desk cleaned, without any interference. And lo and behold, I actually got my desk clean. AND read some book reviews. How 'bout them apples? I got to be a librarian again.

After work, I hauled my ass down to La Quinta to attend a "house party" that a friend was throwing. I don't know what I was expecting...well, scratch that, I was expecting "someone's shitty garage band", but I was in for a surprise. The music was definitely like something I would hear on Echoes, mainly electronica, with maybe a little Ravi Shankar influencing it. So I laid back on the outdoor sofa and looked up at the inky black sky and listened to the crickets chirp and felt the chilly evening breeze begin to pick up and stir the palm trees, and I tried not to worry.

Himself is leaving his job at the end of the month, and will be trying to start his hiking business. At the same time, one of  our housemates is moving out. I think we already have roommates lined up to take his place, but if that falls through--we will be hurting, really quickly. It's a sobering reminder of how precarious the financial situation is.

Even if we do keep ourselves afloat with roommates, though, things will, by necessity, have to get a bit tight. I know this is a major First World Problem--oh no! You mean I actually have to stick to my budget!--but it's been a few years since I've had to worry and wonder and make conscious choices.

Character building experience, right?

I suppose the first plan of attack is to stop shopping. My home is filled with makeup that does not adorn my face, books going unread, incense and candles unburned, food gone rotten and thrown out. So how about I start by "going shopping in my closet." And embracing the phrase "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

I can switch to cheaper wines...$3 or $4 wines as opposed to $ 8 and $10 wines.

I should withdraw cash for the week's groceries and discretionary spending. Once it's gone, time to retreat to the ramen.

I should check my bills at restaurants--usually I don't. No, wait--I simply shouldn't go to restaurants.

I should submit reimbursement requests for ALL out-of-pocket medical expenses.

I should lose weight. Seriously--if I were to do that, my wardrobe selection would triple!

It'll be okay, one way or the other. But I cannot help but to worry in the meantime...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Also, I had a dream last night in which I was having an affair with Arnold Schwarzenegger. And I had to call it off when he gave my ass a judgey, meaningful look and said, "Drop and give me one hundred and fifty-one situps."

I try not to use this phrase a lot, but here, I think it applies:

"What the hell, self?"

Enough is enough until it's never enough

In the fall of 1999, when I was just a stupid kid with all of the wisdom that comes with being 19, I slammed the car door on my thumb.

The pain was as terrible as you might imagine. I spent the night at my sister's house--please note that I didn't say slept. For me, there was no sleep that night--nor for our friend Shawn, who (probably at the behest of my sister, who didn't want to deal with an overwrought female alternately crying in pain and cursing her own clumsiness) slept on the floor of her bedroom and was continually waking up to a pair of feet coming straight at him as I restlessly paced the room. (Why, oh why, didn't anyone think to just get my liquored up? It wouldn't have lessened the pain, but at least I would have passed out eventually.)

My sister and friend gave me all of the sympathy they could muster, and that I could deserve, but in  my memory, that wasn't much. Whether or not Shawn said it, or I simply thought it myself, I slammed my thumb in the car door because I was in a rush.

I'm like that, to this very day. I tromp purposely around work, I quickly swipe my card at the ATM machine in lines at the store, I have no patience for people who linger when the light turns green (although, in my defense, I obey the speed limit), I talk fast, I get annoyed when people amble along in crowds.

And as I do in my daily tasks, so I do in my overall life. I'm rushing through life, not pausing as I dart from task to the next. It's all about plowing through the to-do list, tackling the various tasks and responsibilities, fulfilling my obligations, running the errands. Bubble baths were a nightmare for me until I realized I could even multitask in the tub, listening to Welcome to Night Vale podcasts. Even reading is something I attack as though it's something to be checked off the list--because, actually, it is. I'm supposed to read 12 books this month. Right now I just finished Book 8.

Of course I'm not getting it all done. But I can't deny, my lists have certainly kept me more disciplined and focused than I ever was without them. I usually even enjoy doing most of it, to a greater or lesser extent. But how much am I savoring? How much am I truly observing and taking in? How much am I living?

Or am I just second-guessing myself--undermining my productivity by pointing out the neuroses from which it stems, the underlying conviction that no matter what I do, it simply will never be enough? 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What I Meant Was...

Patron to SuperMom Librarian: "I'm looking for a book by Gail Tsukiyama. It's called A Hundred Flowers."

SuperMom Librarian, after a moment: "I'm having a hard time finding A Hundred Flowers...Are you sure that that's the title?"

Patron: "Yes!"

Me, unable to stop myself from jumping in: "I think you're looking for Street of a Thousand Blossoms."

A Perfect Day

Every now and then, there comes along a Perfect Day Off.

Lucky for me, today was that day.

I had a proper lie-in and awoke around 9, and lazily journaled for a bit. Arising from my bed, I made the bed and mopped the bedroom floor and handwashed my baby blanket. (Poor old Blue Blanket has really seen better days--it's rather mind-boggling that she's over 30 years old.)  I wrote letters to my grandparents and to my great-aunt, and I called my uncle. I watched Miss Representation and colored, and then showered and then colored some more and listened to Welcome to Night Vale.  I finished Colm Toibin's The Testament of Mary, which was a novella so brief I couldn't help but to tear through it too quickly to really savor it. And then I headed down to Palm Springs to pick up Angie; she and I had both decided, independently, that we are simply too antisocial for our own good. So we bopped around Village Fest and craned our necks and looked up at the muticolored lights marching their way up the mountain, and I visited my empath Patrick (he says that the Momster is very happy that she became Catholic, and that she's in Paradise now. Then Angie and I ate moussaka at the Greek Islands Restaurant and talked about everything and nothing. At one point I paused and listened to the stone fountain burbling away nearby, and then looked upward at the fairy lights, and things felt Just Right.

And now I am home, and it's back to work tomorrow--but as Patrick (rightly) said, whatever changes that will come to my work might simply be changes that I manifest within myself to put me in the proper frame of mind for my work.

So with a proper frame of mind, I retire for the evening.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Come the morning light...

One of my 2014 Not-Resolutions is to have a "Dry Month." Given the workout my liver has gotten since the Momster passed away, I figured I'd start my dry-stretch after the Writers Festival ended. Which is how, three days into this crackpot adventure, I find myself searching for alternative means of decompression after my First Official Shitty Work Day of 2014.

Fortunately, I'm a resourceful girl:

A snuggly blanket, some LED candles, a book, a jigsaw puzzle, and some chamomile tea. Also, some mopey music. And not pictured: my persistent, dogged belief that things can and will be better tomorrow.

Also, I'll be one day closer to the end of Dry Month.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014, about 1 PM. The last attendees had finally trickled out, and after they did, I trailed behind them and locked the Library doors. Turning my back to the outside, to the Star Wagons, to the parking lot, I surveyed the empty lobby--empty save for my friend and colleague, Jo. She, like me, had waited until the Library was empty before breathing a sigh of relief and accepting that this Writers Festival was, in fact, a pretty darn good success.

We shared a triumphant smile and a weak fist-bump before wearily making our way back into the bullpen. The building was, for the most part, silent--the first time I'd ever seen it so lifeless on a Saturday. While there were several staff members around, we were all of us exhausted and preoccupied on our own individual tasks--that was actually how it had been for the entire Festival, and it was because of our preoccupation to our own tasks that the whole was able to come off so well.

9 months of preparation, culminating in three days of hard work, occasional dull moments of waiting, and a feeling of satisfaction at the end--yes, our First Writers Summit felt a lot to me like labor. One of my colleagues told me that he wanted to award our new accountant the award for "acting the most like Melissa"--but seeing as how this same accountant was everywhere, doing everything, I'll take it as a compliment. At one point, our colleagues referred to Jo and I collectively as "Jolissa", and I ended up giving Jo her permanent superhero nickname: GI Jo.

In the hours after the end of the Summit, I found myself thinking, This feels like the day after Christmas. The library felt quiet and empty...and so did I. It was a bit of hell in the weeks leading up to it, but damn, now that it's all said and done, I am so ready for the next Writers Summit. With only one exception, the authors were great people--friendly and smart and funny and often humble and just about always appreciative of being there. I must always remember what a powerful bargaining chip a trip to Southern California is when convincing authors to visit in January.

Now, I can go back to being a librarian for about two weeks...and then we start planning for next year.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Week Ahead...

For almost a year, we've been gearing up for this...the Sunnydale Writers Summit. 20+  authors/special people gathering together to party with the published text. Only, this is not the actual title of the event, nor the subtitle, but you get the drift. (The drift being my that my--truly--wonderful leaders envisioned something that could be great, huge, etc. but only too late realized the amount of manpower it would take.)

A few weeks ago, I realized that it was very much like a baby--we've spent 9 months pregnant with this motherfucker, putting sweat and worry and tears and anticipation into this, culminating in 2.5 days of labor. As Frog put it, "this baby's coming, whether or not we're ready for it."

My work schedule for the week is as follows: Monday 7 AM-12 PM; Tuesday 8 AM-12 PM; Wednesday 7 AM-7 PM; Thursday  7 AM-7 PM; Friday 7 AM-7 PM; Saturday 8 AM- 5 PM. Given these shenanigans, my goals for the week are fairly modest:

Health/Beauty: Gym twice, Bike once, Walk once, Nasal flush 3X , Pills daily, Dry 3 X, NO CHIPS OR SODA, Drink more water, Drink a glass of  V-8 1X daily, wear contacts 4X; wear makeup 4X, schedule labwork  for blood

Work: Kick ass with Writers Orgy!, do two more press releases; clean desk; Schedule party @ Las Casuelas, Revamp Comment Card, register for PLA Author Lunches, Get benefits sorted; write up books

Home: Remove Christmas tree, Pull 5 items from trunk, handwash blue blanket, sort a notebook

Creative: Work on blog, work on IU memories

Social: Locate Jen Tonsing, Message JoAnn, Wilma, Nancy; Send letter to grandparents; Schedule Paint Night, Awful Movie Night, and Time with Yvonne

Entertainment: Watch Agents of Shield, Sleepy Hollow; 1 episode of XFiles, 1 episode of Supernatural, Work on jigsaw puzzle; Finish Into Thin Air, Read Testament of Mary; read The Fault in Our Stars

Miscellaneous: Drop off dress; Deposit check, Do personal budget ($25 AAA; $200 credit card; $200 savings; $25 House; $25 Christmas; $25 Indiana Trip)

Self Help Shit: Read Cheryl Richardson, attend Spiritual Living thing

The sad thing is? This is a light week.

All Moms Go to Heaven...?

Sometimes--usually when I am listening to Middle or reading something that Eldest wrote--I stop for a moment and think that I'm simply not mourning my mother enough. I didn't shed that many tears to begin with, and since I've been back home in California I've shed basically none. And not only that, but I find  myself thinking of her very little. It's like, "Hmmm, my mother has died...oh dear, I forgot to get such-and-such done at work the other day, and I need to call so-and-so, and what part of my monthly goal list do I want to try to tackle today? And hmmm...that's right, how about that, it's almost been a month since Mom passed away."

I assure myself that I'm not a sociopath, because I feel bad, I feel ashamed for not feeling more than I do.

But this is what does happen. Some evenings--usually right around twilight--I start to feel a little blue. A little unmotivated, a little nostalgic, a little lost. I feel compelled to listen to sad music that reminds me of my mother. I start thinking about my sisters, my grandparents, my past. I begin to think of random things that I never cared about before, but now will never be able to ask--Did you catch fireflies? Tell me what Ohio was like when we were little. What was it like growing up in the 50s and 60s? The mopey-blues pass quietly (their passage smoothed by a half-bottle of wine, some unabashed moping, and a night of sleep), but they're still lingering.

Yesterday, I was getting my nails done and making idle chit-chat with the technician, a friendly-faced Vietnamese woman named Yvonne. I happened to mention that my mother had passed away over Christmas, and Yvonne kindly and earnestly said, "I will pray that she go to heaven."

I thanked her. And then, fleetingly (but not for the first time) I wondered if she had.

And then tonight, I found myself thinking, I don't know that she went to heaven, but I hope wherever she is, she's surrounded by cats and books and garlic cheddar biscuits and music she loves.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Whose woods these are...

"The country lay bare and entirely leafless around him, and he thought he had never seen so far and so intimately into the insides of things as on that winter day when Nature was deep in her annual slumber and seemed to have kicked the clothes off. Copses, dells, quarries, and all hidden places, which had been mysterious mines for exploration in leafy summer, now exposed themselves and their secrets pathetically...he was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple."
-Excerpt from The Wind and the Willows

When Mole ventures out into the Wild Woods on a winter's day, the woods is presumably set in England. Yet today, when I read the description of the winter-blighted forest, I thought, that could be Indiana. 

The southern part of the state especially is a very wooded place--not the vast, flat fields one might imagine, but rather densely forested hills occasionally broken up by an obliging field or encroaching farm. In spring and even more in summer, these forests seem impenetrable--but when I drove along the highways and backroads in the late fall and in the depths of winter, I was always captivated by how starkly different these scenes were. Previously imposing clusters of trees and bushes now seemed so much more sparse; forests seemed to reveal themselves for miles--stretches of snow with patches of brown, soggy earth poking through; feeble shrubs picked bare; grey and greatly diminished trees, all of it stretching on and on and on for miles and seeming to be so open and honest about its contents and life.

Sometimes I feel like my spirit is like an Indiana forest in midwinter.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Breaking the Circle

"And the seasons they go 'round and 'round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game..."

My sister introduced me to this song last week, while we were going through the initial days after our mother passed away. This song, by Joni Mitchell, is one that reminds my sister of the Momster. I guess she remembers it as one of the songs that the Momster played on the record player during our childhood. But I don't remember it.

I guess it's one of the many memories I don't have of our mother.

Shortly after I came home to Florida, I was lamenting to Eldest about how I couldn't seem to mourn properly. How I didn't have the same memories that she and Middle did, how I didn't remember the same mother.

"Well,"  Eldest said sagely, "Maybe we had different mothers."

And goddamned if that wasn't what made the most sense during this whole pitiful experience. Not that her mother was the mail lady and my mother was the milkmaid, but that the one mother that we both had was two (three, actually) different people. Factor in the addiction issues and the mental health problems, and there's really no more to say. The mother I knew was not the one my sisters knew--our experiences were vastly different. And so are our memories. 

The one same thing that resonates with all three of her daughters--the one common denominator--the one experience that we share in common, was and is something evident not in specific memories, but rather overall and long-lasting impressions. All three of us--Eldest, Middle, and myself--have all made the conscious decision to not have children. We have our reasons, and while I am quite pleased with my decision, I cannot help but to wonder--was it because, in part, that we can't be good mothers because we never had the example of what a good mother could be? 

"We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came,
And go round and round and round
In the circle game..."

Looks like the circle is broken with us.