Guess what? Possum butt

This morning, we were walking and I was steadily watching the curve in the road because all walk, cars were coming around it too fast and seemed to not be seeing us. So, I registered a lump on the pavement but did not look too closely at it.

Then we were right up on it. A dead possum. And Sonnyboy stuck his tongue out and touched his tongue to the possum’s butt. “No!” I shouted and tugged him away. “Don’t eat that.”

But he didn’t seem to be eating it. He seemed just to be tasting it. Which, I admit, made me laugh, because he puts everything in his mouth to see if it might be food–Kleenex, carrots, mail–but not the possum. It he wanted to keep outside of his mouth while he decided if it was worth trying to eat.

And then, when we got back to the grass, I saw him eyeing a plastic bag in the bushes and I dropped the leash and shouted “Get it, get it!” and he ran up on it and was like “Yep, plastic bag. Knew it all the time.” And then I said, “Okay, come back, Rufus,” and he did!

My brother is officially telling people he’s married now, so, also, that’s nice. His oldest son Photoshopped Godzilla into one of the pictures and everyone agrees that it’s the best one.

I like when we can eek out a little happiness.

Exciting Things

–Both short stories I published last year (though not for lack of trying to publish more, just for the sake of honesty about how hard the grind is) appear on Tangent’s list. They gave “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” three stars! That puts me in the same company as Alyssa Wong and Kameron Hurley and a bunch of other people whose work I really admire. So, that’s amazing.

–You can vote for your favorite Apex Magazine story of last year. Cough. Cough. “The Four Gardens of Fate.” Cough. Cough. (Though you would also not be wrong to vote for any of Ursula Vernon’s stories and, my god, I still am not done thinking about “After We Walked Away” by Erica Satifka. I’m just saying, there might be more deserving stories, but this is about self-promotion!)

–I wrote this funny post for Pith, which even made me laugh as I was writing it.

–As you recall, before Christmas we had had kind of a bummer on the “How to get Future Mrs. Butcher a ring” plan. But I had advised the Butcher to talk to my mom alone about this and see what she could shake loose. He did that AND he called my aunt who called my grandma and now there is a Grandma/Aunties conspiracy to find a good ring for the Butcher. AND my dad has given a heartfelt, tearful speech about how he’d love for the Butcher to use the diamond from the ring they gave me for Christmas a few years ago once my dad learned that I had offered that ring to the Butcher. Which, yes, makes me wonder if I was too dense to get that the “women in your family are just sitting on useful rings for you that they will not share; here are all the reasons why” lecture at Christmas was directed at me, but, folks, I told you that I’m on drugs that–though the fog is lifting–massively fuck with my head so…yeah, I’m going to miss out on the lectures only obliquely aimed at me.

But maybe that’s ungenerous. Maybe the generous thing to think is that we’re all fucking broken and messes and we’re all trying and often failing to be the kinds of people we want to be and, if we can, we should give people opportunities to try again and maybe they’ll have their shit together this time.

–We got to watch the video my mom shot of our brother’s wedding and it was lovely, as weddings are, but in the background, my niece was marching…literally marching…around. Like, damn, she heard that weddings had marches and by god, she was going to make sure this wedding was not lacking in marching. Back and forth and back and forth. By the end, the Butcher and I had the giggles so bad.

–Also, we got to see video of my niece doing dangerous train stunts and it further cemented for me that she is my idol. After all, when was the last time any of us climbed out of a moving locomotive and across a coal car and into the passenger area and back? We are not Old-Timey James Bonds. But my niece is, apparently? Also, if you want to talk about how age mellows you, my dad would have thrown a shit-fit if we had climbed all over Santa’s train at the mall like the stunt crew for Captain America, but his granddaughter does it and he’s shooting video of it and showing it to anyone who will look.

–I’m genuinely not sure that “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” is a better story than “The Four Gardens of Fate.” I mean, I trust others’ judgement on these things, but I’m just saying, as the writer, it’s hard for me to say. I like them both. I kind of thought “Four Gardens” was better. But maybe funny counts for more than I thought?

Sister-in-Law, I have one again

Our brother got married yesterday. The one who got engaged last week. We’re not supposed to tell anyone. I’m not really sure on the reasons why and, frankly, I feel too old to keep dramatic secrets any more that don’t appear to have good reasons behind them.

I was thinking about making some resolutions for the year–like to try to be nicer or less painfully weird or to go do more stuff or whatever–but I kind of settled on just trying to be more like my niece who makes faces appropriate to any situation.

Here’s my favorite picture of us:

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And here’s the picture that they sent yesterday:

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So, my theme for 2017 is going to be trying to take over the world and dramatic faces if I have to wait for cake.

Beauty

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I really love how this turned out. I enjoyed working on it. I’m enjoying staring at this photo of it. I just have to wash it today to see if it is as great as it looks. I did make one mistake, but you can’t see it in this picture and I recovered from it okay, so I’m not going to point it out.

I’m also going to make another one of these as my next afghan, because I can’t bring any more yarn into this house until I have used up the yarn that’s here. It’s just become unwieldy.

Plus, I want to make something beautiful for my friends who’ve had an unimaginably rough year. Not that an afghan makes up for losing a child, but this is what I have to offer.

My other brother is getting married. He bought an engagement ring and gave it to his fiancee.

The Butcher would really like to marry his girl. He is slowly saving up for a ring. He asked my parents for help. No help came. My dad sat here and gave a recitation of all the good jewelry floating around my mom’s family and all the reasons the Butcher could not have a piece to use. I told the Butcher to bring it up to my mom, alone, again, and see if that pries something loose.

Then yesterday, I went into the other room and I brought out the ring I have from my great-grandma and I told the Butcher that he would need to take it to a jeweler and see what it is–maybe an aquamarine, maybe a light sapphire, maybe a costume piece of paste–but if it is something, then he’d just be saving up to have it reset, and it’s a nice size and has sentimental value.

I’m just so pissed. I can’t even deal with it. The world is so hard. Life sucks and is short and it hurts. Why can’t we watch out for each other? Why can’t we be kind when we can? Why can’t the boy get the girl with a ring his family helped him come up with? Why can’t we warn each other when there’s danger? Why can’t we just try, a little bit, to not be assholes?

Hard Times

I came home from walking the dog to find the Butcher a mess on the couch. Our old neighbor is dead. I don’t know what to say about it really. When he first told me, I had an uncontrollable urge to laugh, it just seemed so impossible that someone that alive could suddenly not be.

I still don’t know how I feel about it. How to make sense of it. I feel like I’m betraying the spirit of our relationship by not rolling my eyes and telling you all the ways the Professor and I would cackle about him. But I can’t bring myself to do so.

My goal to be open and generous with my parents kind of backfired on me, since they were feeling open in return and my dad told me something I’m having a hard time living with. I don’t want to be too specific, because it’s entirely possible that it goes along the Amelia Earhart line. But in general, the thing is that he knew a person who hurts people like me and he didn’t tell me. He let me hang out with this person. Obviously, this person didn’t hurt me or I would have known he was the type of person who hurt people like me. But my dad knew (or thought he did).

What the fuck?

They say that eventually it gets easier to deal with your parents because you know who they are and don’t expect them to be any different than they are.

I still don’t know. I am tired of finding out.

Sleep Tight

I had been super impressed with the fact that my medication wasn’t fucking with me too much during this joyful/stressful time.

Last night I went to bed at 10:30 and rolled over this morning to see if I could afford to sleep for a little while longer and it was 8:00!!! Ha ha ha. Lord.

Our other brother got engaged yesterday. I really like his fiancee. I hope she is eyes-open about what she’s getting into.

I’m just about done with this afghan. I have a couple of people waiting on specific things in line, but I think I’m going to make another one of these for a friend who’s been having a hard year first because I want to and this afghan makes me really happy and I need to get my stash way down before I bring more yarn into this house.

Amelia Earhart

Last night at dinner my dad was telling the Butcher’s girlfriend about how my dad had counseled my friend E. to either marry my friend J. or break up with her so that she could get on with her life–over ice cream. My mom kind of rolled her eyes. She did not believe my dad and E. had some secret bro-friendship where they ate ice cream and talked about marriage that my mom didn’t know about.

I was pretty sure that it wasn’t true, either, because I thought it was supposed to be a parable for my brother’s sake. My dad wants him to shit or get off the toilet.

But I suppose there’s the third option where my dad does think this happened.

Years ago, like when I was in college, my dad told me that my great-grandmother (last name Fisher) had gone to high school with Amelia Earhart, had a locker next to her, and hadn’t liked her and, in fact, one time punched her for not being “feminine.” Which I thought was a weird story because everything else about my great-grandmother that I know involves her finding ways to do her own thing, fuck the haters, so why wouldn’t she like another woman that was like “fuck the haters, I’m going to figure out how to do this thing?”

But I liked this story because it was kind of funny and reminded me that otherwise great people can have some boneheaded ideas and miss the greatness in their midst and be assholes.

The last time my parents were in town, I mentioned this story and my dad flat out denied he ever told me it. He even laughed and said what I said here–that my great-grandmother might not have been friends with Earhart, but that Earhart was the kind of person she would not have had problems with.

And it kind of shook me. Did I just make up this story and then come to believe it? Something like the Shazam/Kazaam thing?

But I feel like I kind of know me, right? And I sure as fuck did not know independently of him telling me that Amelia Earhart ever went to my great-grandma’s high school. I also rarely wear make-up and can’t get my act together very often to act “feminine” other than to the extent that I naturally seem that way, so why would I want a story in which “my side” gave comeuppance to the person not properly enacting femininity? My dad is the one with the hang-ups on people playing their proper gender roles.

Plus, if I wasn’t told this story, if I somehow discovered that Amelia Earhart also went to Hyde Park High School on my own, I would have known that my grandmother graduated three or four years before Earhart went there. They weren’t the same age. Their lockers never would have been next to each other. They weren’t there at the same time.

But he flat out denied ever telling me that and I felt kind of crazy about it. And then I saw him telling this elaborate story and I checked with E. and he said it never happened and I felt a tiny bit vindicated.

Keep from Getting Hurt

My dad’s sister thinks that my dad’s brother is a pain to deal with because his overriding instinct is to keep from getting hurt, so he just lashes out and pushes away before you have a chance to get him.

I think this is a pretty good insight.

The talk of the family, apparently, is how the fat ones among us cannot lose weight and how mysterious this is. My cousin, who ever has a personal trainer (!!!), is still fat. (My uncle, who they dare not talk to about fatness has lost a lot of weight on a gluten free diet but is still fat.)

On the one hand, after years and years of hearing how no one will love me if I don’t lose weight, I am, shall we say, keenly aware of the shift in the discussion. And I’ll die happy in my dotage if I never have to hear about how my weight makes me unworthy of love again.

On the other hand, when I first got diagnosed with PCOS, I told the women in my family, “Hey, I have this endocrine disorder and it usually runs in families and you might want to get it checked out.” That was years ago. And I am not a scientist, obviously, but it’s pretty apparent to me that PCOS is called that because the most easily recognizable symptom of the endocrine disorder is cysts on your ovaries, but the cysts don’t cause the syndrome. If I had my ovaries removed, I would still have the syndrome because my endocrine system is fucked up, and the cysts are just a symptom. The syndrome should just have a name like “whew, doggie, your endocrine system is fucked the fuck up and causing some weird shit throughout your body syndrome.”

And, again, I am not a scientist, but if the more proper name for PCOS is instead WDYESIFTFUACSWSTYBS, it seems quite possible to me that men could have some iteration of WDYESIFTFUACSWSTYBS themselves.

So, I’m finding it very hard to respond to this change in direction of the discussion of our bodies with the kind of grace and generosity that I am striving to interact with my family this Christmas with (that may be too many ‘with’s but I’m not sure), because I feel like nothing that happens to me is ever real until it is replicated by other family members. So, I can say, “Hey, I have this endocrine disorder my doctor says runs in families” and la la la, whatever. Poor broken Betsy. But now that the aunt on the starvation diet and the cousin with the personal trainer are not able to lose weight and it’s just baffling them and their doctors, by god, something is wrong!

Yes, fuckers, an endocrine disorder runs in our family.

Anyway, I got to spend a fun twenty minute telling my parents that the most important thing any of us can do is to eat as well as we can, and make vegetables a big part of our meals, move around a lot, and do that because it’s good for us whether or not we lose weight from it and try to let go of the idea that our weight tells us anything about our worth or whether we’re trying hard enough to be good people.

I suspect that will remain unheard until someone else in the family also says it.

I am often very frustrated with my uncle and his approach to life, but my god, I get it. It’s just at odds with my efforts to be the kind of person I want to be in this world.

Which, ha ha, probably wouldn’t bitch about her family behind their backs on the internet, but baby steps.

Family Traditions

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My aunt sent me this picture of an afghan my great-grandma Sadie made for her. It’s a simple five-round granny square with a picot border. I wish I could better see how the squares are put together, but that’s okay. I suspect this is just a scrap afghan, with yarns left over from other projects.

It’s hard for me to put into words how this makes me feel. Sadie is my great-grandmother on my dad’s side. I learned to crochet from my mom’s mom. I know this is just because crocheting was ubiquitous. It’s not weird for people on both sides of your family to have done it. But it makes me feel something. Like here is a message that works on a level beyond words and at that level, I am reading it, and then I have to wait to see how it might translate into something I can make sense of.

Like I am doing something we do.

And you see that square that looks like a campfire? I want to make a whole afghan like that someday.

My aunt told me that my dad and his younger brother didn’t get afghans. I wonder if that’s because there was a certain age she gave them at (I know my grandma, her daughter, gave us all something she needlepointed at a certain age, though I can’t remember what age that was) and she died before my dad and uncle reached that age?

Anyway, it makes me glad I crocheted an afghan for my dad last year.

Ghosts

Last night I dreamed I was trying to seduce one of the Butcher’s friends at my grandma’s house by letting him sleep in her bed and play video games on my phone. Because nothing says “let’s have sex” like “here is my grandma’s bed. Lay in it and be distracted by this phone.” (Ha ha ha. This reminds me that we saw this commercial last night for some KY product. A guy and a girl are making out. A baseball team is standing in the room. He tells the baseball team to get lost because he’s got some kind of new KY spray. The commercial ends. We sit in silence. I try my damn hardest to make sense of what I’ve just seen. I turn to the Butcher and I say, “Is she supposed to squirt the spray in his eyes to keep him from being distracted by the baseball team? I don’t get what the spray does.” But it turns out that the spray is supposed to keep you from coming too soon and apparently a way dudes thought you could keep from coming too soon in the past was to imagine baseball? But how could that even work when Mark Grace played baseball?!)

Anyway, it got me thinking of how much I dream of my grandma’s house and I wonder if that’s a problem for the people who live there now. Do they have any sense that I am there some nights wandering around?

This morning, before our walk, Sonnyboy was back beyond the creek sniffing something in the trees and I could barely make him out. He was a formless shifting light spot in the treeline and I thought, this is how he will look when he’s a ghost.

And it make me wonder how much of ghostliness is just a longing for those places where we felt most at ease.

Daring

Y’all, have I been misinterpreting what the dog wants from the hill? Today it was raining, so the hill was slick and he threw himself down, as he does, and wiggled/slid his way down the hill on his back head first and then he leaped up like “Ta Da!”

Has this been it? Not rolling down the hill but sliding? Did I get to see the culmination of months of effort today? I can’t be sure.

I called my parents last night and told them about the anxiety and the drugs. Basically because I realized there’s a good chance that I’m still not going to be 100% at Christmas and obviously they would notice.

It was awkward and in the middle of it my dad switched mid-stream to talking about when they were going to come down for Christmas. And I said, “So, just to be clear, this makes me crazy.” And my dad said he already knew that about me. And we laughed. It was awkward and uncomfortable. Or, at least, I felt awkward and uncomfortable and I wasn’t sure what to make of their reactions. They didn’t really have any questions. My mom volunteered to drive me up and down windy mountain roads to see if the medication was working.

And then they wanted to eat dinner, so we got off the phone.

I don’t know. I don’t know what to make of it or how to feel about it.

The afghan I’m working on now is really beautiful, though, and it makes me happy. Also, my little cousin got her afghan in the mail yesterday, while she was home sick from school, and she loved it. So, those are the feelings I’m going to glom onto.

Consequences

You guys, lying to my parents has utterly backfired. As you recall, in order to cover up the fact that I was spending my evenings napping on the couch between crochet stitches, I told them that I was staying off electronics at night in order to sleep better and thus could not answer their every email or respond to Facebook immediately. And thus I didn’t have to tell them about the medication until I was ready.

But they’re my parents! They love to fret and worry. I had a long, weird, awkward conversation with my dad last night about things I could do to improve my sleep and whether I should see a specialist!

Clearly, the longer this goes on, the stupider it’s going to be. And yet, god, I still really don’t want to talk to them about this.

The Butcher says I should tell them I went to a doctor and, surprise, I have anxiety. Just obfuscate about when I went. The Butcher is obviously much better at this shit than I am.

In unrelated news, now the tree people are mad at me. I’m not saying 2016 has been a weird year, but I would never have predicted that it would end with tree-huggers, hot chicken people, and the feminists pissed at me.

The Hardest Afghan I’ve Ever Made

I’ve made afghans that were like endurance tests and I’ve made afghans that forced me to learn a lot of new skills. I’ve never before made an afghan were I was like, whew, I will NEVER do that again. Until this one. But it’s done and it looks great, except for the weird ripples, which I am just thinking of as ruffles. But look at that awesome border!

And I think it does look like the picture my cousin’s daughter drew.

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For Christmas for me, the Butcher had his DNA done at Ancestry.com. They advise you to have a relative of each gender do it, to try to pick up on everything from both sides of the family, so I may have mine done at some point.

But, it turns out that we’re pretty boringly white. It has us at 31% “Europe West,” which is Germany/France, northern Spain/Great Britain; 25% Scandinavia; 22% Ireland; 9% Iberian Peninsula; and 9% Great Britain.

In some ways, this differs from what I know of our family history. Hulda Anderson, my great-great grandmother, came over from Sweden. She married a guy who came over from Germany. Their daughter married a guy whose parents came over from England. The Riches were British way back, but had been in America for centuries.  Clayton Rich, my great grandfather, married an Irish woman. So, my mom should be 1/4 Great Britain, 1/4 Irish; another 1/4 Great Britain; 1/8 Swedish; 1/8 German, with some Dutch we know of thrown in there.

My dad’s family is also pretty well-known, except for the Phillipses, though I have some educated guesses about them, and I think they were originally British. So, my dad’s side of the family should be the Robinsons–came over from England–1/4 British; the Sanborns–old American family, but originally from England–1/4; the Phillipses, probably English, 1/4; and the Heistands, who were originally German–1/4.

So you can see why I expected to find a lot more Great Britain in the mix. Maybe the Butcher just takes after my mom a lot? Or, my working hypothesis is that, if you look at the places you find people with our DNA and the places you find the Germanic tribes, you’d find those were the same places. We could be old Saxons or even older members of the Lower Rhine Groups and the people they fucked.

Anyway, fascinating. But as of yet, no help in contextualizing the Phillipses.

Pop

I think I burst a cyst yesterday. I felt kind of weird most of the day and then I had this pain that was like a menstrual cramp but in the wrong spot and there was blood, though, mostly just clear liquid, like runny egg yolks.

Then all evening my side was sore. Even this morning, it feels bruised, but in a smaller, tighter spot.

I tried to work on my museum piece for the Scene that’s due next week. It went like hell. Not hell. But heck. I’m glad to have something down on paper, even if it’s shit.

My parents called, too, in the middle of it and I think a thing I have failed to realize about this all until just yesterday, because my dad is always threatening to die like in the next four seconds, is that my dad is terrified of ending up like my grandmothers–wanting to die and not being able to. His threat to die immediately isn’t wishful thinking for a worst case scenario, as I thought. What my grandma now, what his mom before, went through is his worst case scenario.

I have mixed feelings about assisted suicide. I am terrified that the abuses of it would be monstrous. But with my whole heart, I wish that my grandma could just decide enough is enough and know she had a painless way to opt out when she felt the time had come.

I don’t think life has any meaning beyond what we’re able to cultivate for ourselves. You look at all this shit and you think it must happen FOR A REASON, but it just happens for reasons, many of them stupid.

A lot of the reasons being that we’re just fragile, ill-designed sacks of blood and puss and poop and eventually the garbage bag gives out. Everything you can do to transcend the stupidity of our fundamental human state, to make it more than just sacks of shit sloshing around being jerks to each other, is important, I think.

A Friend of Crows

I came home yesterday shaky and excited, the stain of a cherry lime-ade spreading across my “We Get What We Deserve” t-shirt. I took the dowsing rods and my mom out into the back yard, way back to where we’d buried the dog. I showed her how to hold them. I showed her how it worked–how they crossed when I crossed the dog’s grave. I asked her if she wanted to try and of course she did. And she stepped on the dog’s grave and they crossed for her.

My mom has her degree in biology. She’s trained to think things through. She knows about the ideomotor phenomenon. She just looked at me and I said, “I know, right. It makes no sense.” She wandered around the yard a little more. No further crossing. You know it can’t  be real, can’t really work, and yet, there you are.

And then a squabble of crows barked in a nearby tree and we looked up to see them harassing a hoot owl. A big one. A couple of mockingbirds were screaming at the owl, too, and a cardinal hopped from limb to limb nearby, as if eager to see a fight. The owl kept looking back at us as if to check to see whose side we were on.

My mom said, “Crows hate owls. Always have. I’m a friend of crows normally, but I don’t like to see them take after owls like this. In this situation, I’m always on the owl’s side.”

I felt the same, even though I knew I was just watching everyone who’d ever lost a relative to an owl letting the owl know how they felt about it.

We watched the argument for a good ten minutes and once the crows got bored, we went inside.

Well, Here’s the Problem

Last night, we were talking about old boyfriends of mine and the pranks my brothers used to play on them and my dad insisted that the guy who stalked me and tried to rape me and who threatened to kill me and who broke into our house and left “presents” to replace the “inferior” things I liked–like, I liked Grape Crush and he thought I should be drinking some other brand of grape pop and, well, problem solved, I still can’t quite bring myself to drink any kind of grape pop.–and who kidnapped the Butcher and and and and

My dad insisted that he was my boyfriend.

Last night.

My dad insisted this.

I couldn’t even be mad or upset. I’m not mad or upset now, though it’s possible that it’s still worming its way through a lot of callouses.

I was, in fact, kind of…relieved is not the right word. But it was a feeling akin to relief. The feeling that almost everything about my life made sense all of a sudden.

My dad saw this jackass hurting me and me suffering and assumed it was some kind of love. After all, look at his family. That’s what love looks like. My mom once told me that one of the things my aunt can’t forgive her mother for (my grandmother, who is long dead) is that when my uncle–my aunt’s and my father’s brother–was beating his wife at my grandmother’s house, my grandmother refused to call the police and told my aunt to butt out (my aunt was a teenager at the time, which, I assume is why she didn’t call the police. Say what you want about my aunt, she has transformed herself into the kind of woman who is not going to be told what to do ever again.).

The thing that is hard to explain about life, about traumatic life is that things happen to us that make us a certain shape and then we tend to search out other situations that will support that shape. If the shape of you is happy and fulfilled and respected, searching out situations that feel familiar and will keep you in that shape is not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all.

But other times, those shapes hurt you, it hurts to be kept in them. But that’s what you know, so that’s what looks right to you. Even as you might recoil from pain, you subconsciously search out situations that maintain your shape, because that’s what you know.

It’s not all just a victim’s dynamic, though. Abusers groom their victims into the shapes that satisfy the abuser’s shape.

But the thing about these patterns is that they get passed down, maybe in slightly different shapes, but still there. I have, for years, been so pissed and disappointed that my dad could not stand up for me to this huge, fucked up asshole who directly ruined four years of my life and who still, even now, even when I feel like I’ve moved far beyond it, skulks at the edges, a much less frightening phantom, but still there.

But, y’all, he could not recognize what was happening to me as something negative. He saw it as love.

Holy shit.

I don’t know if I can even be mad about that. It’s so fucked up. It’s impossible to understand as anything other than just a complete failure to engage the world as anything other than a fairytale that tells him his own life was normal, okay, and survivable without lasting damage.

I hate it for me, but, I have to tell you, I kind of can’t begrudge him needing that fairytale.

Things to Read

This is a pretty beautiful meditation on story.

Here’s an excerpt of Lindy West’s new book. On Twitter, she said her harassers are now using the photos accompanying the article to argue that she wasn’t fat as a child, but had some kind of body dysmorphia, which is unfortunate, since one of the things she’s talking about is how “fat” and “thin” are moving goal posts. So, way to get/miss the point, dumbasses.

My brother posted a picture on Facebook today of us when we were little kids with my mom, for Mother’s Day. I’m wearing a shirt over my tiny round belly that has a picture of two hogs rubbing snouts and it says “Hogs are beautiful.” This was shortly after or shortly before the first time I heard my dad complain to my mom about how fat I was. The first time I knew I should be embarrassed about my body.

My dad, being fat himself, wanted me to not be fat, in part, because he knew what the world does to fat people, especially fat women. But because my dad thinks fat, even his own, is evidence of some moral failing, and because every doctor I ever met until I was 30 believed I was lying about what I ate (thus again a moral failing) or lying about how hard I was trying to lose weight (moral failing again), no one bothered to check to see if there was anything medically wrong with me. I just, somehow, at eight, became a person in a constant state of disobedience because I couldn’t lose weight and, in fact, gained much more.

But also, at the same time, my dad had a lot of compassion for me, I think, in his own fucked up way and he wanted to give me some tools for how to survive. So, one of them was that, if people were going to call me a pig, I would learn that pigs were awesome.

I don’t remember, though, if anyone but him at that point did call me a pig, though they certainly did later. I must have liked the shirt. In the picture the Butcher posted, I think that’s my birthday. You don’t wear shirts you hate on your birthday. I don’t remember feeling it as an insult anyway.

But when I look at that picture now, I, well, I can’t look at it for very long, the idea that that is a fat girl is just so…like, dang, how little it takes, how the tiniest little deviation and the full weight of so much bullshit comes down on you.

And the idea that we should learn to love the insult so that it loses its sting… god damn, what a terrible thing to teach a person. And clearly, what a terrible thing to have been taught yourself.

Doing It Again

I remember having this realization when I was a teenager that a family is like a lake and things ripple out, replay themselves in slightly different ways, generation after generation. We’re living with the things our parent did to us and they did those things in response to the things their parents did to them who, in turn, were done poorly or weirdly by their parents.

My dad had some old home movies he found digitized and I spent some time looking through them. It was something to see my Grandpa Bob again, my dead cousin, my Grandma and Grandpa Phillips, my dead uncles.

To see me, so young and vibrant. How much time do you spend as a teenager hating yourself and wishing to be pretty? And then you see yourself from half a lifetime away, and that young girl was pretty. She moved like a poem.

I was alarmed to discover that I had forgotten what my Uncle B’s voice sounded like. In many of the movies–they’re his movies–he’s talking constantly, providing a running commentary, and I didn’t recognize it. He’s been gone so long I’ve forgotten.

Here’s what I know, though, watching those movies as an adult, coming to them with four decades’ worth of experience with people, as much as I know about my dad’s family, I don’t know anything. The siblings don’t interact like people who like each other. My grandma is cautious in a way I don’t remember her being, but it’s clear in ever minute of film, no matter from what year it’s taken.

My one uncle talks incessantly, just drones on in the background telling stories about people no one knows anything about. My dad does that now, but seeing the video has given me some sympathy for it. How strange silence or normal conversation must seem if you’re used to that constant noise? I wonder what my uncle thought would happen if he stopped talking. I wonder if he didn’t exist for himself if he wasn’t speaking.

But they’re all performing. All the siblings. Except for my uncle, when he’s filming. Then, of course, he’s watching.

And all us kids are remarkably quiet. Maybe that’s what disconcerts me most of all. The Butcher might only be six or eight. So, at any given time, there are five kids under the age of eight at any family gathering. No one’s running around. No one’s being loud. No one’s getting up to play. Everyone is so well-behaved.

All of us.

It’s not natural.

Every once in a while, my cousin A. will call me and ask why we’re not close. I think next time I’m going to send her one of these videos and ask her to watch it like it’s a video of strangers. I wonder what she’d make of it.

Bah

I have to fight with my parents today about whether I’m going to go down to Georgia for some as-of-yet unspecified number of days over my birthday to sit in a hotel room while they attend my nephew’s graduation.

He can only have ten people come to his graduation. If there’s a choice between his siblings and me, obviously, his siblings should get the spot.

It’s been a kind of grueling spring for me, for a lot of reasons. I think I’m shook by Jim’s death more than I realize, because, man, have I been hit hard by the feeling that life is too short and I’m not going to get to do the things I want to do–both because of that shortness and my own shortcomings and bad luck and the luck of the draw, etc.

And, fuck me, man, the second “my own shortcomings” comes into play, my brain has a whole litany of those shortcomings to run through on repeat, just to see which ones will cause me the most misery.

Added to that that I feel like my parents have been spending this Spring acting like I, because I don’t have “my own” family, am just an emotional extension of them, a pawn they can move around the board in their quest to make sure that everyone they care about is getting the kind of love and support they need, and it’s a bad scene.

Bah, I wonder how much longer I’ll feel able to even write these kinds of posts. I’m already leaving so much unsaid just because I feel more public in a way I haven’t.

But I’m worn out. I’m worn out from shit in my own life and I’m worn out from doing stuff for them for their friends and the family members they think need taken care of. And the thought that I would spend my birthday watching my dad and my brother reenact their life-long drama and hurt to not even go to a graduation which is ostensibly the reason I’m needed in Georgia?

It makes me want to throw up.

This is the other thing, too. Sometimes, I think, “Oh, my god, what if I died and I’ve not sold this book and I’ve never found true love and I’ve never seen a Viking burial mound and I didn’t laugh one last time with the Professor and I didn’t tell the Butcher I loved him” and all that kind of stuff that fills me with dread and anxiety. And sometimes I think, “Well, when I’m dead, I won’t have to give a shit about any of this stuff any more, whether I’m doing right by my family, whether I’m making the right decisions and balancing them against my responsibilities. Oh, glorious death, where nothing matters.”

And that’s not a good head space to be in.

On the other hand, if there was any doubt that I had some strain of grouchy German in me, it’s that I’m now comforting myself with the thought that someday I’ll be dead and this shit won’t be my problem then.

Hidden

I hid from the world this weekend. Not in a good way. I’m pissed at my parents and the Butcher’s all “they are who they’ve always been,” and I said, “yeah, I know.” And I wonder if, then, I’ve always been pissed at them?

It’s depressing to think about.

Hospital Visit

A while back, many years before she got married, one of my dear friends was hospitalized in Illinois. I asked my dad to go see her, because I would have felt better if someone I loved put eyes on her and I, being in Tennessee, was not able to.

He refused.

It hurt and confused me.

This weekend, both he and my mom called and asked if I would go see their friend who is in the hospital and sit with his wife a while, since they’re at Vandy and know no one here.

I was pissed. Am pissed. But I went. Even though I had Saturday plans. Even though I don’t know these people. My mom says I’m a good person.

I didn’t do it because I’m a good person, though, really. I hate the idea of “good” almost as much as I hate the idea of “deserves.” They both seems like kind of bullshit mind-games we get stuck in with ourselves.

I did it because I want people to do that shit for me.

I did it because it wasn’t that hard and I could.

I did it because I heard in my mom’s voice how important it was for her.

But mostly I did it because saying “no” would have meant admitting–both to me and them–that I have a list of grievances against them I carry around in my heart, running fingers over regularly, telling myself I keep poking to see if it still hurts, but doing it to remind myself of the pain.

This weekend I had a conversation with a friend about how there are these kinds of conversations we remember our parents having from our childhoods where they complain about something their family does that really pains them. And now, here we are, thirty years later, and they’re doing the same damn thing they hated that their parents did.

The Phillipses know every slight, every wrong. We horde them in our souls and use them to justify all kinds of terrible behavior that then causes other Phillipses to compile their own “here’s how I’ve been done wrong” lists which they then also weaponize.

I hate that, mainly because when you’re devoted to “I hurt you because someone hurt me and I want you to soothe it but you won’t so fuck you,” you’re pretty miserable. And I just don’t want to be miserable.

I don’t expect to be able to get out of misery all together, but, if most of us find 60/40 misery/okayness normal, the main gift I want to give myself in this life is to have 60/40 okayness/misery. And a lot of that means not doing things I don’t have to do that would make me miserable.

Scrutinizing the “you done me wrong” list, as soothing as it can be, serves to reinforce the idea that I should be miserable, that this is the normal state. And so, most of the time, I try to not even look at the list, to forget that it’s there.

But whoa doggie, was it temping to bring it out and start reading from it on Saturday.

But I did not, because I don’t want to keep all my hurts fresh, even if I’m not as good as I would like to be about letting them all fade.

A Couple of Ancestors

My parents found this when they were digging around in my grandma’s stuff. This is Clayton and Marie Rich, my great-grandparents. She was Irish. His family made her life miserable. They eventually divorced. It’s hard for me not to see a little uncertainty in this picture, but I’m sure I’m reading a lot into it.

clayton and marie.jpg

Family

My nephew didn’t sign his enlistment papers. And we all quietly cheered behind his back while pretending to be drinking our Diet Cokes and being distracted by some song on the radio.

And he has a girlfriend! And she is cu-ute.

I talked to my cousin and his wife last night and it was nice to hear them sounding so happy.

My New Year’s resolution is to not age into some anxious grouch. At least, not all the time. Ha.

I’m completely in love with this afghan I’m finishing up for Sam, the giant granny square one.

Um, the afghan being the giant granny squares. Sam is not, as far as I can tell, a giant granny square.

It just makes me laugh. It has all the charm of a regular granny square while also a certain preposterousness that makes me happy.

granny

We Are Who We Are

I’m feeling less grouchy this morning, but man, that’s a rough day. Too much sugar, too much stress, too much of people’s expectations that I’m going to cheerfully make a bunch of food and stand around in the kitchen and wait to meet their demands.

But mostly, in my family, it’s about working so hard to find presents for people only to get to hear all the ways the presents have slightly disappointed them.

Or to hear how they will have to hide the presents, because, if someone were to ask them for said present, of course they would give it to them.

Yeah, no shit.

My parents even told one of their friends, who I don’t know, and who I’ve never met, that they would get her one of my afghans. Their plan is to just root through my closet and give her one of my “extra” ones.

The only two afghans I can think of in my closet right now (and I have zero desire to go look) are the afghan I made my grandma that she died in and a wool afghan that the Butcher stuck in the dryer and I can’t figure out if there’s a way to salvage it, but, since I hand-dyed it, I hate to throw it out. Neither of which I will give away.

If there’s some other afghan in there, at one level, fine. I might even be a tiny bit impressed and flattered that they think something I do might be a treat for someone else.

But holy shit.

Who does this? I genuinely don’t think that my parents know how to understand me as a person in my own right. Because I’m a woman and because I’m not married, I’m this defective support system that might be put to use whenever they want.

Anyway, my dad liked his afghan. Both because he genuinely liked it and because I think he knew if he hadn’t, I would have motherfucking quit this family.

But he never tells you what he wants for any holiday and then he loves to sulk when you don’t end up getting him something he likes and he always makes this big production out of how your failure to get him something he likes proves that you don’t really care about him, because you’re not paying attention to him.

So, as you can imagine, it makes buying presents for him suck. It becomes this terrible, fraught thing where your goal is to get him something he likes and his goal is to prove to himself and you that you don’t really love him.

He’s been halfway talking about getting a ukulele for a couple of years. Mom and I found a cheap, but okay, one for him, figuring that, when he hated it, it wouldn’t sting that bad because it was just $30.

But Jesus Christ! He liked it at first! But then, after he got it tuned and strummed it a little, he announced that he refused to play it because he couldn’t get a clear sound on it because the neck was so small and we should have known to get him a bigger one. And he had this look on his face… like I can’t even explain it. Like he was pleased and relieved to find that the present he, for a second, enjoyed, really sucked. And I wanted to beat him to death with the turkey.

It took every ounce of myself to just tell him he could exchange it then for one he liked.

But, you know, it made his day. He got exactly what he wanted.

So, I guess that’s good.

 

I Will Make this Gumbo for My Parents

My whole goal for Christmas week is to get my presents wrapped and to make this new gumbo for my parents. It’s pretty much like regular gumbo except that you don’t do a roux and, instead, use potatoes as a thickener and substitute for rice.

Well, my god, I figured, once you’ve done away with the most nerve-wracking part of gumbo…once you’ve exposed yourself as willing to call something without that roux gumbo… why limit yourself to potatoes?

I swapped in sweet potatoes, which, dear readers were FANTASTIC. Especially if you can’t do shrimp for whatever reason, the sweet potatoes add that delicious sweetness that balances all the spiciness.

Also, rather than dicing the chicken, this recipe just has you lay the chicken over top, simmer the whole thing for an hour, and then fish out the chicken and shred it. It’s so much easier to shred cooked chicken than to cut raw chicken that I about jumped for joy.

My only trick will be making the gumbo bland enough for my Midwestern parents.