That Voice

It’s been years now since I last heard your voice. It was a nice enough voice. I enjoyed hearing it say kind things, calling me by pet names, cooing while giving the cat belly rubs, stuff like that. It was a perfectly fine voice, and for some time there I believed that it would be a voice I’d wake up to for the rest of my life. But we know differently now, don’t we?

I’m not upset with the way things turned out. I do wish that I’d set you free sooner, so that we could both have moved on with our lives, but it seemed a waste to just give up, and before I knew it, a full-blown algae bloom of dissatisfaction was floating under our bridge. In the end, I called it quits. It was not pleasant for either of us, but it hurt you more, I think, the seemingly abrupt ending. I’m realizing now that we were living around each other, but our lives didn’t really touch. It’s no wonder that you didn’t see it coming. I should have cried out in the open, instead of going to bed early to shield you from what I considered signs of my weakness, my inability to try just a little bit harder.

I’ve heard that you are happy now, and that makes me happy, too. You deserve it. But I wish that your wholeness in some other town, in some other state, would take away the pieces you left with me – especially your voice.

On Saturday mornings, your voice made me feel guilty for not waking up early enough and getting to work on doing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom. On Thursday nights, your voice made me worry that I should be trying harder to force myself to go out to drinks with you and your coworkers on Friday afternoon, even though I was bored to tears when you guys talked work, and though I didn’t have anything in common with them aside from my (unused) master’s degree. Your voice belied a hidden desperation over my lack of appropriately sexy behavior, and dismay at my lack of culinary prowess and less than stellar housekeeping skills. Your voice frequently remarked on my insufficient paychecks, and need to apply myself and make more money, even when I was making more than most people in my profession in our area. It was most likely never your intention, but your voice often made me feel “lesser than.”

And it still does.

The part of me that hates myself wears your voice these days. When I feel fat, or lazy, or worthless, or am worried about paying bills, the voice that expresses disgust is yours. I know that it’s not really you, and when your voice pops up in my head, itching to make me feel lesser than once more, I calmly tell it that it has no place ordering me around.

I look forward to the day when this false guide will take its cue and leave. In the mean time, I remember pet names, and enthusiastic descriptions of food, and patient instructions for doing tasks you thought commonplace. The good voice will have to outweigh the bad for now. Maybe if I’m lucky, one day there will be no reason for any voice to stick around. We’ll see.

 

Sunday Picture Show (Keeping Afloat)

I’d typically be calling this my Photography Friday post, but since I’m two days late, we’re trying something new. This week’s Photo Challenge prompt is to share photos that exemplify what “afloat” means to us, and I’ve taken quite a few lately…

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My workouts at Iron Tribe can be a bit intense, but I love every minute of it. Even better than feeling strong and capable is the fact that a hard workout every day keeps me happy and relaxed. These are the blisters on my right hand after a kettlebell workout earlier this week.

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My Isabel. I love my cats – there’s nothing like having a good cuddle after a hard day, though Izzy isn’t prone to being that affectionate unless it’s bedtime. When I was sick and feeling miserable last week, she came and napped with me on the couch.

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One of my favorite things to do is walk around New Orleans and take photos of the things that capture my attention. Street art never fails to captivate and stir my imagination. I take a lot of photos of cool graffiti around town, but this one struck my fancy last week. Let me find out, indeed.

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Small details help keep me grounded (or afloat, whichever turn of phrase you prefer). I love that looking for little things helps keep me mindful and “in the moment”, and while I’m walking around town, I try to capture these moments in photos if possible. This is a shot I took of water droplets collecting on a newly painted front stoop the other day. I loved how the water was pooling, and was pretty satisfied with the colors of the shot in the end. The stoop was a brilliant shade of teal, but the shadows gave a purple sheen.

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The idea that I’ll be leaving for the Camino in six months is definitely keeping me sane and happy. I walk to and from work (about 2 miles) each day, and on the way to work, I cross over Spain Street. Each time that I notice the street sign, I can’t help but be reminded of how lucky I am, and how amazing it’s going to be to finally get my boots on the ground in Spain this October.

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You, you amazing man. I don’t know how I made it this long without you in my life. You’re everything I’ve been looking for for all this time. Thank you for making me so much stronger, and giving me the strength to realize that I didn’t need a man in my life to be complete – but having the right one could make everything that much sweeter. You make me laugh, you make me think, and you’ve helped me make myself whole. Your encouragement and faith have pushed me to new heights as a person, and I only hope that I can return the favor. I love you.

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These Choices

Today’s Daily Post prompt asks us to consider what we would do if we knew we couldn’t fail. It’s an appropriate question for this day, and is closely aligned with something my therapist asked me a couple of days ago and that I’ve been mulling over ever since. After listening to several days of stress-filled rants regarding my career (aspirations vs. actuality), the therapist remarked that I didn’t sound like I liked what I did very much. Would I consider changing careers?

I have this little nagging suspicion that after I return from Spain in November, I might be forced into this choice. Of course, I can hope that both of my jobs decide not to can me for leaving them high and dry for 45 days, but let’s face it – America does not believe in taking a break. Vacation days are for wusses. If we’re lucky, we get two weeks of paid vacation, but even then, we’re subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) made to feel guilty for desiring to use all of them. And that’s why people like me are slowly losing their minds. We need a break, and what’s more, we need a long one.

Working in America vs. Working in Other Countries. Click the image to read more.

Working in America vs. Working in Other Countries. Click the image to read more.

So I made this decision to love myself enough to give myself the break I so desire and deserve, even if it means that my employers can’t get along without me. I’d rather have to find new jobs than continue to put off this pilgrimage for another year. When I’m old and gray and too old to travel outside of my retirement home, I don’t want to have any regrets about missed opportunities to explore the world. I’ve told my New Orleans job that I plan to leave, and to be quite fair, my officemates are really supportive of my choice, even if they’re apprehensive at where this will leave them when I’m gone. I haven’t told the Chicago job yet, because I think it will lodge in my boss’s mind like a piece of grit in an oyster, slowly turning and growing into a giant pearl of contention. It’s not worth it right now to upset her. Maybe in a few months.

The other part of the equation is this sneaking suspicion that nothing I do really matters. I look around me, at my job, at my friends’, and it seems that we waste our lives sitting in cubicles, performing mundane tasks that ultimately don’t matter. I really enjoy marketing, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not helping the world in any way. And it’s no question that the continued exposure to technology is destroying my brain. I’m frequently too sad to leave the house, and have the attention span of an ADHD goldfish. My memory is measurably worse. It’s no real stretch to imagine dementia setting in sooner rather than later, and that’s terrifying to me.

Is this who I want to be? From a physical and spiritual standpoint, how can I afford to continue this trajectory? But from a financial standpoint, how can I not? It’s a conundrum. I wish that I could tell my 18-year-old self not to lose that full scholarship, or my 23-year-old self not to go to school for historic preservation. But killing those butterflies would destroy this world as I know it, and I’ll take the crushing student loan debt in exchange for the handsome writer who makes me coffee and laughs at my stupid jokes, thanks. I still have hope that some small changes will help me keep my sanity and figure out how to live a fulfilling life within the boundaries I’ve created for myself.

Still, what would I do if I knew I couldn’t lose? If I knew I could keep him AND achieve success in a fulfilling career? I don’t even know how to turn the hopeful part of my brain back on to contemplate that question at full capacity. Maybe when my feet meet the Camino, those gears will start to turn. Maybe I’ll be able to figure it out. I guess I’d cast my net wide. I’d look to new cities for opportunities. I’d look to new countries, even. I’d try to get into the film industry. I’d take this idea of writing a book and make it central to the way I live my life. I’d fold so many origami flowers that my apartment would be the envy of gardeners everywhere. I’d find a museum that wanted a ragtag history like mine, and would take a chance on me as a curator. I’d sing, sing, sing every day.

Sometimes I hate being both a dreamer and a realist. I hate how I crush my own spirit so much more efficiently than anyone else could. These choices seem so simple when I see them in writing. Why are they monumental in my imagination? Please, Santiago, help me walk back to my life, the real one, the one without fear.

Photography Friday: Abstract Orange

I must not take a lot of photos incorporating the color orange in my day-to-day. In general I’m really not a fan of the shade, so wondering if orange things just don’t catch my eye that often (kind of the opposite of how I go gaga over purple objects). Today’s photo challenge asks us to share a photograph that features the color orange, but a brief look through my phone shows almost nothing of use. However, I love this shot that my camera took on its own one day on a trip to the mall, and it’s orange enough, right?

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Photography Friday: Rewards

Today’s photo challenge at the Daily Post is to show what “reward” means to us. It turns out that I’ve taken a few photos over the course of the last few weeks that exemplify the term in various ways. Looking back through them has made me realize how easily I forget the simple pleasures encountered every day. I tend to notice details, and love the little scenes captured on my walks through New Orleans (and elsewhere), but it would be nice to hold on to the feeling of discovering these vignettes in my heart, rather than having to be reminded by looking back over my Instagram page.

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I walk through the French Quarter every day, and often pass a little art gallery full of really cool/creepy art. Every now and then there’s a cat sitting in the window, along with the artwork. Each time I pass, I look for the cat, and when I see her I’m always happy. It feels like a privilege, somehow; she’s so regal.

The other part of the story that makes this an even better reward is that you can’t see it in this photo, but the cat’s other ear is docked at the tip. In New Orleans, when feral cats are part of the catch and release program (where they’re caught, spayed/neutered, then released), they get one ear docked. This tells me that this gorgeous girl was once living on the streets, but has since become the queen of her own art gallery. Pretty sweet rags to riches story.

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I love looking for good new graffiti, no matter what city I’m in. Thus far, my all-time favorite street art has been in Venice, but New Orleans’ scene isn’t too shabby. Our city attracts a lot of outside artists, including WRDSMTH, a Los Angeles-based writer/painter who’s been posting awesome stuff like this typewriter and message around town for awhile. This popped up in my neighborhood, and every time I look at it I end up laughing. So I guess that the reward is two-fold for this photo, as well. First finding it, then getting to laugh over and over.

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This shot was taken on Lundi Gras night (the night before Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday), down by the Mississippi River. I was with friends, just hanging out, and we didn’t know that there were going to be fireworks. This was a great reward for me because I really hadn’t felt like leaving my house that day, despite (or maybe because of) the celebration that was going on. I adore fireworks, so getting to see them was like a little “thank you” from the Universe for just pushing myself to lighten up a bit and go have fun.

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While in Chicago last week, I decided (quite stupidly) to walk from the restaurant where I’d just had dinner, all the way to the nearest movie theater. A distance of about a mile and a half isn’t bad in decent weather, but when it’s 10 degrees out and you’re not at all accustomed to that kind of cold, it’s just a crappy idea to try to do it on foot. But I did, and it all worked out just fine. Still got all of my digits. Bonus: it was beautiful and quiet out, didn’t meet very many people on the way, and every now and then a scene like this would present itself.

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This is the least exciting photo, but my favorite. I took it last night; it’s the parking garage that sits behind my gym. I had a good workout, then left the gym to see that the parking garage was looking really nice with the contrast of streetlights and night sky. Sometimes I feel like being allowed to notice and appreciate beauty in such mundane things is its own reward. The fact that it showed up after a particularly good night of working out was just that much sweeter.

Photography Friday: Rule Of Thirds

In keeping with my new goal to get back on a regular writing schedule, I’m picking back up with an old theme for Fridays, photography. I’m in Chicago on work, so not a ton of time to post new photos, but here’s a shot I took on Wednesday in New Orleans. The current Daily Post photo prompt is to show a photo that follows the rule of thirds, where the focal point is off center. I didn’t take this shot with the post in mind, but I certainly did have the rule of thirds in mind, as it’s a great guide for creating visual interest in even the simplest of scenes.

Electric Shadows by Anna Harris

A Constant Reader

B-81-363-34 Sitting at Desk with hands coming towards the camera

When addressing his audience, Stephen King often writes to his “Constant Reader”. Instead of saying “Hey crowd of millions, here are a few of my thoughts” he crafts notes that appeal to each individual reader in a way that creates immediate intimacy. This suggestion of closeness is woven through the rest of his writing, as well. Sometimes, I’ll finish up a King book and feel like it’s something that was written just for me. The stories often feel like campfire tales – while I’m reading, I’m safe inside the circle of firelight, but as soon as I put the book down, I feel ill at ease. Anything could get me. Closet doors should stay shut, and under-the-bed should always have plenty of boxes to discourage monsters from camping out. It creates an urgency to read the book faster and close the circle, lest the monsters get out of the story and into my apartment. I especially love that I can feel deeply connected to his writing, like I’m the only one reading, yet have gotten into deep conversations about King’s work with perfect strangers on airplanes and in line at the grocery store. It’s rare to meet a real fan – a Constant Reader – of King who doesn’t feel in some way personally connected to the man.

I realize that there are a lot of folks out there who believe King’s work isn’t worthy of as much respect as they’d give to less prolific, more “serious” authors. Every now and then I run into a person who hates his books, not because they’re not a fan of horror, or because they don’t like his style, but simply because he’s constantly churning out new books and always at the top of the bestseller list. It comes off as pettiness, but because book snobs often regard this kind of bigotry as an attempt to somehow preserve literary culture, the viewpoint is widely accepted, and fans get relegated to the geek corner. If being a geek means I get to read great books without wondering if I’m going to lose the respect of someone I didn’t really care about anyway, that’s fine by me.

Non-King fans also tend to dismiss King’s writing style as being a factor in his fans’ enjoyment, and place a lot of the weight of his success on his subject matter. For me, this isn’t the case, and I’m relatively sure that there are a lot of folks in my camp on this one. I’m not the biggest fan of horror lit (ghost stories are my favorite, but I tend to dislike reading about aliens and monsters, which make up a sizeable chunk of King’s subject matter), but King’s approachable writing style never fails to drag me in, despite whatever topic misgivings I might have. He tells stories of real people, having real crises of faith in extraordinary circumstances. It’s supremely easy to identify with his characters, and in doing so, I’ve found I’m able to open up my imagination a bit more with each read.

My first Stephen King book was The Regulators, written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. I read it as a teenager, and haven’t stopped collecting new King tales since. Just saying “the regulators” in my mind as I type this fills me with a delicious dread. If you haven’t read it, I think it’s an excellent starting place. There’s a matching book called Desperation, involving all of the same character names, but in an alternate universe where their lives have been subtly (and not so subtly) different. That concept blew my mind back then, and it’s a testament to King’s creativity that it still kind of does. My latest King read was Doctor Sleep, the long-awaited sequel to The Shining, and as a work, it perfectly fits the point I’m trying to make here. You find out that Danny’s family history has had a profound effect on his life, and that it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses over the last few decades as he’s grappled with his psychic abilities and addiction. It’s a fantastic read. I also adore On Writing, which is half memoir, half guidebook to becoming a writer. I’m probably blowing half of the rules out of the water with this post, though. Oh, and will someone (hint, hint boyfriend) please buy me Joyland for Christmas?

There are a few other authors on my “favorites” list – folks whose books I will always pick up, even if I don’t know a thing about the story. Neil Gaiman is at the top with King, of course. Tom Holt, Bernard Cornwell, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams & Ariana Franklin/Diana Norman (RIP) are up there, as well.

Anyone sensing a pattern or two?

Besides the obvious – all but King are from the UK – they’re all also fiction novelists. Gaiman, Pratchett, Adams and Holt are all authors of fantasy fiction (and tend towards humor). Gaiman, Cornwell, King and Franklin/Norman’s works are often heavy on detail. I began reading Gaiman after seeing a review blurb by King, in fact. I trusted my favorite author, and the trust was paid back in full with an excellent recommendation that has changed my life in many ways. Gaiman helps me believe in magic the same way that King helps me believe in goodness – but aren’t they kind of the same thing?

(Which reminds me, on the off chance that you’re reading this, Neil, please do come and sign books at Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Bookshop in New Orleans. It’s a brand new shop that fills a long-void niche for our community, and the owners could really use the business that your appearance would bring in. Not to mention that I’m quite selfishly hoping to have you sign a poster I picked up after seeing you a few years back in Chicago.)

Click through to find out how you can help bring Neil Gaiman to New Orleans!

Click through to find out how you can help bring Neil Gaiman to New Orleans!

Cornwell is especially adept at creating realistic battle scenes – I’ve squelched through fields of blood, mud and piss with him quite a few times over my reading career, and never would have had a proper understanding of strength it takes to be a longbowman without his careful examination of the profession. Also, you’ll probably notice that Franklin, Cornwell and Pratchett all have medieval themes in their works, and while Holt and Gaiman tend to place their stories in modern settings, there are definitely elements that a medieval history enthusiast can get behind. If you count Adam’s work in Monty Python, and King’s Dark Tower series as an homage to medieval themes, we’re all in. Also, all of the writers tend to talk about spiritual matters, including religious history, reincarnation, afterlife/ghosts, gods/goddesses, universal connectedness, 42, etc.

Above all, my favorite storytellers have the gift of making me feel like the story isn’t something they’re telling me, but rather something I’m experiencing firsthand. This can either be through letting me identify with/as the protagonist, or in the case of writers like Holt and Adams, encouraging me to laugh my way through the book. The best authors craft passages that create a visceral reaction for their readers. From what I’ve experienced in talking with die-hard Chuck Palahniuk fans, his works really resonate on a gut level with readers. Unfortunately, the three books that I’ve read by him came off as highly revolting on a gut level, so it’s obvious he’s doing it right, even if it’s not my cuppa. The point being that I’ll just assume that some of you who’re reading this will consider one or many of the authors I adore to be not so great, as well. It’s all personal opinion – isn’t that the fabulous thing about being a Constant Reader, no matter whose?

The Sound Of Rebellion

People always remember Chicago as a 1980's soundtrack band, but there's more to the story.

People I meet always seem to think of Chicago as a 1980’s soundtrack band, but there’s more to the story.

Dear Chicago,

I still remember the first time I heard you guys play. I was 15, and my father and I were on a mission to avoid my grandmother for as long as possible. When I was growing up, on the day after Christmas, the whole family – Mum and Daddy and I – would drive the two and a half hours from Belhaven to Newport to visit with Mum’s parents. They didn’t like my father, and at the time they didn’t seem to be that keen on me, either, so generally Daddy and I would leave at some point in the visit to go make our rounds of the local thrift stores and pawn shops. We’ve always bonded over bargain shopping opportunities.

At the first pawn shop, I bought two CDs – two compilations of 60’s & 70’s pop hits that get light radio play. We hopped back into Daddy’s truck to drive to the next shop, and I gleefully examined the CDs, imagining what the songs would sound like. I still have both compilations today – songs include Green Tambourine (The Lemon Pipers), Laugh Laugh (The Beau Brummels), Hello Hello (Sopwith Camel), Stoned Soul Picnic (The Fifth Dimension), Do You Believe in Magic (The Lovin’ Spoonful), Brandy (Looking Glass), Mama Told Me Not to Come (Three Dog Night), and a lot more. It was a great day for me, musically.

As I gloated over my excellent purchases, my father popped a cassette into the truck’s tape deck. The first notes hit. I was confused. I’d never heard anything like it before. Rich background vocals, soulful lyrics, great horn section, and a tune that I wanted to immediately sing along to. We stopped in at a few more pawn shops that afternoon, but between each, the tape continued. By the time we got back to my grandparents’ house, I was hooked. My dad never got to keep that tape – I took it home to my stereo, and played it on repeat until I found the vinyl version.

That cassette was Chicago 19, and it opened up a new world to me. Sure, it’s a world that no one my age seems to understand. Yes, I tend to get confused stares when I tell people I really like Chicago, and go on to explain that it’s not an ironic infatuation. I genuinely like music that features a big brass section (even though 19 is notorious for having a much lighter horn section than their other albums), and I love a lot of your lyrics. Most people only know the overplayed radio greats, but there are other great tunes that never get radio play. My favorite off of Chicago 19 is Victorious, and I’ve never heard it on FM. It’s one of my favorite romantic songs; for a long time, I had this silly thought that I’d know my future husband because he’d play me Victorious without ever knowing I liked it. I guess maybe my level of optimism is just about perfect to be a diehard Chicago fan in today’s cynical age.

Not long after discovering the band, I raided my dad’s record collection and found out that he had a few earlier records from the late 60s and early 70s. That’s how I found out that most of your albums are branded, almost like magazine covers. Not that you need to see it, but Album Cover Gallery has a great post that compares images of all of the albums. For instance, Chicago II, which is my favorite (and the first created after you changed your name from Chicago Transit Authority to Chicago), looks like brushed sheet metal, maybe meant to be the close up of a high hat cymbal, I’ve never been completely sure. Other album covers are wood grain, or an unwrapped bar of chocolate. I fell in love with the branding, and started to collect them for the covers, as well.

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Chicago II was one of my teenage rebellion albums. When I’d get supremely pissed at my parents, I’d run to my room, throw the record on, and blast it. My parents never told me to turn my music down, but it’s probably because from the other end of the house, they were probably enjoying listening to the same tunes. I wasn’t very good at being rebellious, I guess, but to this day, the album helps me blow off steam when I’m angry. I used to sing along to the horn parts, which in retrospect was probably great preparation for singing a cappella in college.

Anyway, Chicago, I know I’m probably boring you, but I just wanted to let you know that you’re important to me. I’m keeping the love alive. I’ve always wanted to see you in concert, and hopefully one day I’ll get the opportunity. Back in college, you once played in New Orleans on my birthday. It would have been the perfect time to go, but I didn’t have money for the ticket. Last year, you played Gretna Fest, a music festival just 20 minutes down the road, and I didn’t find out that you were in town until the day after the event; I was heartbroken. But one day I’ll be in the crowd, singing along (even when there aren’t lyrics). In the mean time, thanks for nurturing my inner sap, and for rocking the hell out of those horns all these years.

Yours truly,

Anna

Thank You Loopy Brain

I’m having the worst time trying to write today. There’s a lot of random crap circling around in my brain, and none of it will shut up long enough to let me concentrate on just one thing. I’m feeling like there’s so much work to get done that doing something for pleasure is out of the question. However, the part of me that’s still sane is like, “It’s Saturday! Loosen up! Enjoy yourself – it’s your day off!” Right now, both of those voices are just yelling at each other while I type away, trying to get just one small written work out before I lose my train of thought again. Too late, it’s already happening. Ugh.

Meanwhile, the toddler next door is wailing at the top of his tiny-yet-powerful lungs, which certainly isn’t helping things any. I live in a six flat of 450 sq. ft. studio apartments. Each one is good for one person – two if the couple isn’t prone to bickering. The guy next door has a live-in girlfriend, and on the weekend his two young sons come to visit. They’re cute kids, but by the time night rolls around, one or both is usually losing his shit and screaming like a banshee. Whether it’s the threat of bedtime or bathtime, or if dad’s just feeding them junk food and they end up crashing by 7pm, I’m not sure, but the walls aren’t that thin and I’m still presently hearing every guttural howl emanating from my neighbor’s apartment. Ugh.

Also, my cat’s been farting next to me for the last ten minutes, so there’s that. Little squeaky farts, a tad bit bubbly. But if he’s sleeping, it means he’s not trying to pet me, which he does the entire time he’s awake. He’s one of those cats that tell you they’re ready to receive a petting by dabbing at you with their paw. He’s constantly looking for love, typically by gently scraping his paw (claws extended, of course, because why not) across my face or arm. It was adorable for the first couple of years. Now, not so much. Most days he gets about a solid hour and a half of massage time, begs for more for another hour or so, then resorts to annoying his sister for another hour or so before passing out on or near my lap. And apparently farting. Yay.

The apartment is really messy. Even when it’s totally clean, it still feels messy. I just feel like there’s too much stuff in here. Ideally, I’d love to minimize my belongings to the point where there was still some character, but not as much crap laying about. I’m just not sure how to achieve it. Maybe I’ll spend some solid time tomorrow just taking more stuff out to the street corner. My street corner has magical powers. Anything at all that I take out to the street corner will be gone within an hour. Of course, I’ve left some juicy tidbits out there – books, workout equipment, random knickknacks – but some of the stuff I’ve left out there is just utter crap, one step up from the junk pile. But no matter what, it ends up disappeared within the hour. I even left the remains of my old air conditioner out there once, and by remains, I mean that the thing was in many pieces after we had to dismantle it to get it out of my window. It wasn’t working, and some of the pieces were obviously broken/missing. It was carted away within the hour. Who takes the things? It’s not the trash collector. It’s someone that also thinks I have a magic street corner. They think that they’re just in luck, that this street corner always seems to be accumulating rare goodies every time they pass.

Still haven’t painted my St. Francis statue, and I also really want to paint this little side table that I bought at a yard sale a few years ago. I think maybe tomorrow I’ll try checking out the local hardware store to see what paint colors they have in stock. It’s a small store, so I’m sure the collection won’t be as nice as it would be at a bigger place, but who knows – maybe they have the shade of magenta I’ve been dreaming of.

I paid off another credit card, but had to sign up for health insurance soon after, and of course I didn’t have that amount of money in my bank account, so it went right back on the stupid credit card again. I hate that. What I don’t hate is that starting January 1st, I’ll be able to go to the doctor again. I can’t wait to go and get my first decent checkup since college. I’m going to get a full health exam, all the trimmings. Yes, I’m excited about going to the doctor. Guess I’m getting old. Plus, I’m really ready to get this thyroid thing figured out and get on meds. Especially since I seem to be growing out of my current size jeans. Last time I checked my weight I was up by a lot. Part of me is horrified by the amount of weight I’ve been putting on, but I can’t help but also think it’s kind of funny. I guess I’m also just relieved, in a way. I’ve always hated my body. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been grossed out by how fat I was, and the way my cellulite looked, etc, etc. Now, my real self is starting to match the mirror self that I’ve always seen. It’s weirdly comforting. I’m not saying that I want to stay this way. It’s just that suddenly I’m finding it exhausting to keep hating myself. I think maybe I needed to just break myself in order to figure out what it was that needed to be done to get put back together properly once and for all.

Speaking of changes, I’ve also started to play my first real video game. I’m playing Portal. So far I’m finding myself utterly incompetent, and having trouble not getting aggressive with the computer when I screw up. I think that might be what guys like about gaming, though? I’m not entirely sure. There are other games out there that I’d probably understand a little better – story-driven games, more likely. But I really like puzzles, typically, so I’m starting with the game that everybody and their brother has assured me I’d love. I’m trying to get past years of fear and confusion, and get around to a point where I’ll be comfortable. Gaming seems uniquely masculine to me, though. I’m not sure I get it. But that’s what I thought about comic books, and I just went to a comic book convention today for the first time ever, so things change, right?

OK, I’m pulling the plug on this drivel-y post. My guilty pleasure is inane chit-chat. I like to empty out my brain a bit from time to time. It gives me enough space up in the old brainpan to do something relaxing, like watch terrible horror movies or do a little bit of origami. Or maybe just go to bed early. Mmmm, that sounds lovely.

The Oldest Cousin

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When people find out that I’m an only child, they’ll often make some kind of comment about how lucky I was to not have to share my belongings, or to have my parents “all to myself.” Logically, I can see how this might look like it’s the case, but it’s not exactly true. I grew up in a house in the middle of the woods, about a mile outside of town. Most of the time, there were no other kids around to play with. My parents didn’t have a lot of friends, so we didn’t have company often. My mom was/is a stay-at-home mom, so I had her, but my dad was always working, often not making it home until after I’d already gone to bed in the evening. I was lonely. I was also introverted, which back then just came across as shy and weird, so I didn’t make friends easily. Mostly, I just sat in my hammock out in the yard and read a lot.

My father is the oldest of three boys, and though both of my uncles also had children, their oldest kids are seven years younger than I am. Now that I’m in my 30’s, having cousins in their mid-20’s doesn’t seem like such a huge age gap. When you’re 15 and your closest relation is 8, it’s a little difficult to relate. Also, my mother’s only sibling, a sister, decided not to have children, so I’m the only kid on that side. Summer vacations at my maternal grandmother’s house felt lonely because I was drastically younger than everyone else, while trips to my paternal grandmother’s house felt lonely because I was drastically older than everyone else. On top of all that, from kindergarten through sixth grade I was sent to a private Christian school, and I was the poorest kid in class. My bookish behavior, worn-out Kmart clothes, and complete lack of understanding of pop culture did not earn me friends, let’s just put it that way.

So childhood was uncomfortable. As I got older, I started to focus more and more on just getting the hell out of dodge, and starting over again. The focus for my family was always that I get a great education, so I excelled in high school and applied to good colleges. I was excited to get into Tulane for undergrad, and once I moved away things got a lot better. Though I didn’t become a new person, I did find different ways to express myself. I pushed myself to be more outgoing. I found friends, and eventually those friendships built a family structure. Now, my friend family feels more real to me than my actual family.

It doesn’t help my relationships with folks back home that as I grew and explored, my life experiences began to shape my understanding of the world. My life in a small town in the country paled in comparison to my new experiences in New Orleans, Chicago, and across the world as I traveled and met people from all walks of life. My education level began to set me apart from my family, as well. I have a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees, while most of my family members went to work right after high school, or else got bachelor’s degrees from smaller local colleges and then jumped into the workforce. It doesn’t matter much to me, but at home, people tend to mention my school career to me in a condescending way pretty often, like getting an education is a negative trait. I’ve given up trying to figure out what that means.

Also, I found that as I got more and more into modern tech and gadgetry, both for work and for kicks, I started finding that I had even less to talk to my mother and father about. Eventually, there couldn’t help but be this huge divide between us. All of the things that I take for granted about the way the world works are just not part of the world that they see every day. Their views are also often shuttered and prejudiced, so I find myself having to ignore a lot of things, while picking and choosing what “battles” to undertake, what ideas to gently attempt to instill to try to negate the prejudice (and sometimes, complete ignorance). It’s not easy. It’s not fun. I hate it. Luckily, both of my parents love me very much, and try their hardest to relate to me. It’s obvious when we’re talking to each other that we’re all doing our best to figure out how to talk to each other and keep the bond strong; it’s just nothing like what I know/see/experience happening with my friends and their families, so sometimes it gets me down.

The one bright spot in my family is my cousin Crystal, who’s my oldest female cousin. She’s almost eight years younger than me, but we’ve always been close-ish. When she was a tiny, chubby thing with a huge smile, she’d always follow me around everywhere, and as she got older we bonded over being the outsiders in the family. We’re the only members of the family to move away from North Carolina, and with me being pagan and her being an atheist, we’re both damned for all eternity as far as our family is concerned. So there’s that to bond over, lol! Plus, we’re both pretty geeky, which doesn’t hurt. But there’s still enough of a gap in our ages that we aren’t buddy-buddy or anything. It’s just nice to know I have one family member that gets me, and I think she feels the same way. We talk on Facebook every couple of weeks, so that’s nice.

Either way, here I am – the black sheep of the family, even though I’ve done everything “right”. An adult who hasn’t seen her parents in three years, and tries never to go home to North Carolina if she can avoid it. Someone who wants desperately to connect with her family, but mostly feels like she has nothing at all in common with them. Someone who convinces herself that feeling like an outsider is just in her imagination, only to have it proven over and over again that she has never fit in, and never will. If I felt like I didn’t belong there as a child, it’s definite that I actually don’t belong there now, as a grown woman. I don’t feel like I have an extended family, most of the time. I love my parents, but I’m often exasperated with them, and they with me. All I want is a big family that laughs together and could be counted on in a pinch. It makes me sad that I might never have that. But I guess that’s just what happens to some of us.