Anxiety with Insight

So, I went to the therapist yesterday. She seems good. I mean, we’ll see how it goes, but so far I like her. I told her that one of the things I find so frustrating about this is that I know what my problems are. I have good smarty-pants friends. We sit around and hash and rehash stuff and try to understand it.

And I have always placed my faith in the belief that knowledge is freeing. So, as you know, it’s frustrated me a great deal that I can’t just think my way out of this or understand it into stopping. And she said that there are two broad general categories of anxiety–anxiety with insight and anxiety without. And basically, I fall into the first category of someone who has given a lot of thought to this and kind of understands how I tick.

But that wasn’t the interesting part (except to reassure me that I’m right to seek help because if this is something I could fix on my own, it would be fixed, because I’ve devoted enough mental energy to it).

No, so I was talking to her about how frustrating and scary it is to be in the middle of a panic attack and to have my rational mind saying “Everything is fine. Nothing bad is happening to you.” and have my body doing what it wants anyway, as if something bad is happening. Because it seems pretty straight forward–you’ve mistakenly thought something bad was happening. You realize your mistake. You stop responding as if something bad is happening. How hard can that be? And yet, that doesn’t work.

But she was explaining what’s actually happening in the brain and it blew my mind! The thing isn’t just that there’s a mistaken bad trigger. It’s that, in avoiding the bad thing, you make a positive connotation with the thing you do to avoid it and then, in doing the thing you do to avoid the bad thing over and over again, it reinforces in your brain how great it is to do the avoidance thing. Does this make sense?

Let me try a concrete example. I have panic attacks when I go up the stairs in my building so I take the elevator instead. I have been thinking of the “taking the elevator” part as having no intrinsic value. But no, the hundreds of times I have taken the elevator without panic have developed in my brain a pathway of positive experience. So, the panic attack serves not just to keep me from the action my brain has decided is negative, but to push me toward the soothing behavior. So, it’s not simply “You can’t take the stairs.” It’s also “Man, wouldn’t this be so much easier if you took the elevator? Isn’t the elevator awesome? No troubles on the elevator, man. Just go for the elevator. DON’T TAKE THE STAIRS MY GOD DON’T TAKE THE STAIRS. But wow, the elevator is cool.”

So, when I’m freaked out about, say, standing on the edge of a drop, my brain isn’t saying “don’t get closer or you’ll fall and die.” It’s saying, “MY GOD WOMAN, STEP BACK SO YOU DON’T DIE.” And then, when I do step back, boom, pleasure and relief.

If I’m understanding what she’s saying, the panic attack isn’t just about keeping me from doing a thing my brain has decided is negative–therefore it’s just a matter of showing my brain that the negative connotation is a mistake–it’s also about pushing me into an experience that is positive–in that it relieves my anxiety.

Now, I think I see why some people believe anxiety and OCD are similar. I do have these kinds of relieving behaviors. They’re not as extreme as “I have to check the lock exactly seven times before I can leave the house or I can’t be sure it’s really locked,” because I usually just have to do one thing once. And it’s not as noticeable as “I have to touch every lamppost or my mom will die,” because the positive action is very closely linked to the negative thing I’m avoiding.

But man, understanding that the panic attacks and the anxiety are not just about avoiding negative outcomes but shifting me toward relief is kind of blowing my mind.  Like, yeah, that makes sense with my experience and it explains why it’s so fucking hard to deal with–there are two things going on, not just one.

Anyway, there is also homework! Which I find delightful, but also, man, trying to figure out what all my triggers are…I mean, just on my walk this morning, I realized I hate walking across bridges on the greenways. And I just don’t do it. Like, I’d forgotten that I just don’t do that anymore. So, I’m going to have to do some digging to see what else I’ve just cut myself off from and then, whew, problem solved, forgotten about.

Nerves

Today I see the therapist for the first time and huge scary storms are rolling through this evening. I’ve already made the executive decision that my department is going to close early so we can get home before the weather hits.

But if the behavior of the dog can be used to predict the severity of the storms, his squirrelly-assed behavior this morning makes me think it’s going to be pretty bad.

Also worrisome was how there was both a really hot breeze and a really cold breeze and I wanted both to take my jacket off and wished I’d brought a heavier one.

The Magnus Archives

I think The Magnus Archives is my favorite podcast at the moment and I think the reason why is that I’m longing for resolution. I love The Black Tapes and Tanis and even the new Rabbits, but each of them is a long, unspooling mystery that never really resolves. When I’m in the mood for that, it’s wonderful. But I don’t want to get stuck in some Lost bullshit where you slowly begin to realize that the people making the thing have no idea what the overarching plot is. You’re not lost in a well-designed maze. You’re lost in the woods with people trying to claim it’s a maze, scurrying ahead trying to hope they stumble into a maze they can lure you through.

So the thing about The Magnus Archives is that there is an overarching mystery, but each episode is also its own contained thing–a person comes to the archives to tell about a strange thing that happened to them. These strange things begin to tie together, but each episode there’s the satisfaction of resolution. Even if that resolution is only “This is everything I can think to tell you about this thing at this time.”

Jesse Colter’s The Psalms

I have been listening to Jesse Colter’s new album, which is her covering the Psalms. I have qualms, which I’m going to state up-front, that there is a time or two on the album when I felt like she was musically trying to suggest that this is a project God’s Big Three religions could come together and listen to and I’ve grown more and more ill at ease with the Christian belief that, if Jews would just relax and let Christians have their way on things, they could be great allies. And I think it’s inevitable that this will eventually be the attitude Christians also take toward Muslims, so, I assume I will grow more ill at ease with that as well. So, that’s my huge caveat–that the ways in which the album nods towards a universal experience, I wasn’t so sure about.

Also, I don’t think her rendition of Psalm 23 is what it could be considering how brilliant other songs on the album are and how powerfully meaningful that psalm is to, oh, just about every Christian. So, I’ve included up top a less faithful rendition lyrically, but one that I think gets at more of the tension and uncertainty and hope and desperation of the psalm. (And for the record, my favorite Psalm is 62, which, in the version I learned as a kid goes, “The Lord is my rock and my salvation. I shall not be greatly moved.” I know most newer translations change that to shaken, but that doesn’t do it for me. To me, that changes the meaning completely. “I will not be shaken” says “I will remain firm and resolute.” But “I shall not be greatly moved” says “I won’t be firm and resolute, but I’m going to try to remain faithful anyway.” I like the uncertainty and the struggle of it. The promise not that you’ll do the right thing, but that you’re trying to do the right thing and often failing.)

All that aside, I want to talk about Colter’s album and I don’t know how to talk about Colter’s album. Some things are just stray observations. I love hearing such a country voice, left to be its country self without the music having to be country. I couldn’t decide what genre this would be in. It’s hard for me to imagine it being sold in Christian outlets, just because it seems raw in a way I don’t think Christian musicians are allowed to be.

I also recognize this in my bones in ways that make me uncomfortable–not in a bad way, maybe unsettled is the right word. From the moment I learned the Psalms were songs, I used to sing them to myself. And I felt a kind of religious…not ecstasy, but maybe a kind of trance? Like that the rest of the world would go muted and that it would be just myself and the song and the words. I hadn’t thought about that in years. I mean, I did this as a very young child. I’m sure I stopped either in high school or right before.

And hearing her do the same thing…I don’t know. I just don’t know. It feels like listening to someone’s most sincere prayer, like overhearing something that’s not meant for you. And yet, she put the album out, so it must be okay to listen. But it feels like eavesdropping on a woman singing a private song to her closest companion.

Which I think is part of what’s so brilliant about it. In a way, it feels like lullabies for God. The way you make up melodies for children because the point is not to PERFORM but to reach each other and comfort each other. There’s a kind of intimacy when the song is just meant for one other person, and a level of un-mindful-ness you allow yourself when you sing to a baby or, I suppose, your God.

And yet, obviously, she didn’t write these songs. Most Christians believe, and I assume she does, too, that David wrote them. Which also adds a layer of one artist trying to show what she loves about another artist’s work. Like doing a whole album of Bob Dylan covers, because you think he’s a great lyricist, yet, in this case, your song-writer was working thousands of years ago.

That makes me wonder, too, who her imagined audience is. Is it God she’s in communion with? Or David? Or both? There’s a way in which, for me, the connection between what she’s doing and her faith is so bold and profound that I haven’t gotten past it yet. I’m still only hearing what she’s doing for and with God. But I want to hear what she’s saying about David, too. I’m just not there yet.

We All Lived! Hopefully Happily Ever After

Y’all, the wedding was so lovely. Her attendants were her sister and her daughter and the black dog’s man was the Butcher’s best man and her son walked her down the aisle. My dad did the service and I think he got choked up a little. She wore a brown spaghetti-strapped floor length dress with a white crochet overlay. The Butcher went all out with formal Converse, a nice suit, and tie and pocket square he picked out for all the dudes to coordinate. It was the perfect balance of formal and informal.

They served Moe’s for their meal afterwards and I have to say, holy shit. The dude came in, set up in no time, and if that’s what Moe’s thinks will feed 75 people, they must mean 75 linebackers because I know people went back multiple times and I would still say that half the food was left. So that was awesome. I mean, I prefer events were the food seems bountiful and people are comfortable eating as much as they want. So, it was Heaven for me.

I made the famous Phillips church event punch–1/2 Hawaiian punch, 1/4 7up, 1/4 Vernor’s ginger ale, generous splash of pineapple juice, and rainbow sherbet to top.

For an event pulled together in three weeks, it was amazing. Hell, I’ve been to more chaotic weddings with thirty months of planning.

And they were so happy. I had a dream last night that the Butcher was missing and I was grabbing and shaking the kid who lived behind us (when we were all children) demanding to know where he’d gone. Which, even as I was dreaming it, seemed too spot on. But I don’t think it was about the Butcher not living here anymore, especially since all his stuff is still here! How gone can he be?

I think it had more to do with how, usually, when I look at the Butcher, I see all of our shared history layered there, from the baby who stood on my feet and held my hands to walk to the kid we stuffed in the toybox, to the boy I taught to drive, to the young, young man who moved to Nashville and helped me have this life. But seeing him holding hands with his wife, so at ease with her and happy, I saw him only as a man with his own life.

And it made me really happy and proud but also a little sad. Or maybe not sad, but wistful. Like, we did good for each other and now that part is over, but this other exciting part is starting.

I’m just also mostly worried that the dog is going to be bored and lonely without the Butcher. I know I’m just not that exciting.

But! And here’s another exciting thing! The dog played with my step-niece yesterday. Like, played like a dog would play. She repeatedly threw a Nerf thingy up in the air and he followed it with his eyes and seemed to be enjoying watching it and when it got close enough to him, he would try to grab it out of the air and, sometimes, he succeeded and, when he did, he let her take it back and throw it some more. A game! He played a game and he seemed to enjoy it.

There was the usual weirdness. My uncle told me about how his father-in-law lectured him about how to have sex with my aunt their first time and my uncle’s efforts to follow through on that advice, which will cause me to need therapy for the next nine thousand years.

I didn’t get nearly enough time to talk with all the family I wanted to get to talk to. People grouched about being “bored” at times over the weekend and other people were way too hung up on matching everyone at the wedding up with each other, regardless of age.

But, on the other hand, yesterday at breakfast, we sat around the community table at Ruby’s Kitchen (shout out to the guy who moved so that we could have it) and there were so many of us and so many of us were children and my dad at one point was trying to hand the biscuits down the table and he said, “Mrs. Phillips, take these!” and three women looked up and he was startled and laughed.

And I had a feeling like, okay, good. I’m glad he’s seen this.

But now I have to clean the litter boxes myself and that bums me out.

Fingers Crossed

Y’all, I’m not sure how this is going to go. If I could make a bubble and put these good-hearted people in it to protect them from family ridiculousness, I surely would.

Some people are going to get married today. Other people might get tied up and stashed in the bathroom. We shall see.

Wedding Eve

Today we’ll be decorating the church and working out last minute details and welcoming family. I guess I’ll also clean the bathroom. Maybe vacuum.

I am happy and teary at the same time. I’m going to miss the shit out of the Butcher, but he’s also just up in Gallatin. I’m assuming. I guess there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll wake up on Monday and his whole small family will be crammed into his room here.

Ha, kidding!

I hope.

Family Time

I’m not saying that I’m feeling anxious about much of my family descending on Middle Tennessee for the wedding, but I dreamed that one of my cousins was running around the reception demanding we all weigh ourselves publicly so that we would all know our “health.”

I have been trying to reassure myself with a constant mantra of how awesome I am and then a listing of my accomplishments. But it doesn’t matter. I love my family, but they don’t give a shit. So, it’s not really a good defense. Am I still fat and ugly? Well, then, there you go. No one loves you, but us. And how could they, really?

The fucked up thing is that I’m not even sure how much that narrative comes from the outside and how much of it is internal, but triggered by the presence of my family. Like, I keep thinking of Jesse Walker’s The United States of Paranoia, which I know I talk about all the time, but it really has influenced my thinking on a lot of things.

Anyway, in the book, Walker talks about how conspiracy theories are self-reinforcing no matter what. “Evidence” such as it is proves the theory. The lack of “evidence” just proves that the conspiracy is wider than you realized and that they have allies to help hide shit. And it’s apparently nearly impossible to get someone to give up a conspiracy theory (if it’s going to happen, basically, it’s because belief in the conspiracy by the conspiracist becomes untenable for some reason that’s incredibly hard to predict and not usually sparked from the outside).

And the thing I’ve slowly come to realize is that, even if it is true, my conspiracy theory that I am fat, ugly, obnoxious, kind of suck at everything, and unlovable is just that–a conspiracy theory. I find evidence of it in the words and actions of my family. My belief in it is reinforced even when they’re nice to me, as if they’re being nice to me because my situation is so unfortunate. And like any good conspiracy theory, it has a great ability to withstand logic and evidence to the contrary. Others cannot talk me out of it or provide enough outside evidence to shake my belief.

And as much as I am starting to see intellectually what’s going on here, I’m still feeling hella anxious and worried about how the weekend is going to go. Whatever it’s going to take for me to find the belief in this conspiracy theory untenable in my bones hasn’t happened yet.

I don’t know. I don’t really have a point other than that understanding is not always cathartic. I understand my situation, but it hasn’t freed me from it.

If You’re Not Salty, What Are You Worth?

My parents always call me on Tuesdays, on their way home from dinner with my grandma. Last night, they wanted to talk about their friends who they’d seen recently and my dad was on a tear about how abusive–his word–they are to their daughters-in-law. “We all know [our ex-in-law], but I don’t blame her at all for [my brother] being a jackass. That’s his choice.” Which I thought was funny, but it also makes me sad. Why do my parents hang out with these people they think are terrible?

My cousin is still made that my other cousin came to her town and didn’t see her dad. The Butcher has done the same thing and that’s all right. But that’s probably not germane to my story. I think it’s been almost two years she’s been pissed about this. And I’m not saying I can’t hold a grudge. Y’all read me. You know how I am. But she’s not walking along all okay and then something brings it up and she’s pissed again. She’s actively still trying to litigate this and get people on her side and…like…whoa. It’s tedious and disturbing and sad. And she’s wrong, which also may be beside the point. But why is she still so actively engaged with being pissed? I suspect it’s not that my other cousin didn’t stop to see her dad. But that, unlike the Butcher, he didn’t stop to see her.

Third, I know a person who is well-respected in his profession and extremely well-respected in his hobby and who has incredible opportunities based on his hobby and, I mean, really cool shit. Radio interviews, displays at local museums, etc. And he’s still really hung up on whether or not these people he wants to respect him do. And based on some imagined slights he’s decided they do not and so everything he’s accomplished seems to not feel like a sufficient enough victory.

In all three cases, it seems to me that the people involved do not see their own worth. Don’t believe that they can have happiness and good friends or that their accomplishments count without the right validation.

And maybe this is myopic on my part, but I’m trying to learn to be happy. Which means finding a way to heal–and not just top off–the gaping hole in my soul that can’t be filled. So, I observe carefully the ways that hole tricks people into continuing to feed it.

Nice

It kind of feels like a time when things are coming together. The Butcher getting married. Me doing that talk, meeting internet friends, etc. Some folks are figuring out that I don’t just write for the Scene, but have another job.

I don’t know. Maybe those things don’t all fit together or suggest a trend, but they feel like it to me.

I guess the thing I’m continually wrestling with remains the same. How do I enjoy good things without being paralyzed by the fear that good things are just the things life throws at you so you’ll let your guard down for the bad shit? How do I integrate my feelings of success and accomplishment into who I am without becoming an obnoxious egotistical jerk?

Like, I’m glad to not have these feelings all the time of “you secretly suck and no one will tell you”–and I thank the medication for that–but I don’t want to swing so far the other way into “I rule, you drool.”

But I am enjoying feeling like I’m doing okay. If this is how most people feel all the time, I see why they like it.

The Peacock Pillow

peacock pillow

Except for whatever buttons will go along the top there, the peacock pillow is done! Well, peacock pillow case. I love using teal instead of olive on the outside of the motifs. It really lets the detail of the green row come through as the kind of decorative surprise I always wanted it to be. I’m not 100% in love with that gold, though. I can’t figure out why, because on the color wheel, it looks like it should work. Green compliments red. Blue compliments orange. So a really orange-gold gold like that one should be perfect.

But, and I’m no artist, so I’m not sure if I’m using the right terms but there’s a kind of richness to the dark blue and a richness to the teal and a richness to the gold that are all at the same level, while the silvery blue and the green have a kid of bright, sharpness to them. And I kind of feel like three rich colors on something this small feels clashing, even though clashing isn’t quite the right thing. Maybe it’s too many loud things? At the least, I wanted your eye to be drawn to that dark blue in the middle of the motif and I feel like my eye is drawn equally to the blue and gold.

I wonder if I could find a more green-gold and if I would like that better? Or maybe, ha ha, no one notices but me.

Am I Cool Enough?

There’s kind of a hierarchy of cool in Nashville. At a basic level, it starts with are you cool enough to be on the list to get into places free instead of having to pay? But then, once you’re in, do people recognize you? Are they happy to see that you’re there? And maybe some folks see you and acknowledge you, but are you cool enough to get the good seats? The special treatment? Etc.

I’m not very good at figuring out where in the cool hierarchy I am and there’s nothing more embarrassing than thinking you’re at a higher level than you are and having to find out in public that you’re not. So, I usually go for the cool that is “The list? Pshaw. I paid my way in.” Like I’m too cool for cool. Though I once ended up on a list twice and, I admit, that delighted the shit out of me.

But sometimes shit’s expensive and you just have to try to use your cool cred. So, I was kind of laughing this week because an internet friend is coming to town and she has what would be considered a cool job in nerdy circles.

So, I asked a friend who works at an expensive place people like to visit if he could comp us tickets. I told him who she was and he knew her. So, he tried to push me off on the people in his organization who would be more appropriate for dealing with her, since they would probably want to make contact with her, maybe show us around themselves.

So, the more appropriate contact got a hold of me and told me that the tickets would be there for me. Have fun. No personalized tour. They didn’t need to meet her. In other words, exactly what my friend could have done for me.

Among these young whippersnappers, we did not have the cool cred my friend assumed we had! That made me laugh. But I was also relieved, because I like being the tour guide and this way I can point and sing and tell stories myself without the facts getting in the way. Ha.

Still, I admit, sometimes it’s nice to be cool.

The Problem of Redemption

I told you all how much it shook me to learn that my dad had let me spend a lot of time with a man he knew did bad things to women, without telling me.

I left out the part that this is the second time this has happened, that I know of. One of my dad’s best friends was accused of some kind of inappropriate sexual conduct by his niece. I think, though he doesn’t want to, my dad believes her, because he’s apparently always thought this friend was squirrelly with kids. And my dad sometimes seems to carry a tremendous amount of worry/guilt that this friend may have done likewise to us. As far as I know, he never did. But my dad claims to have always had these worries AND he let us hang out alone with this friend.

And, like, I suspect there’s a lot going on here that I don’t know about. And Christ, I do not want to know about it, like I wish I didn’t know about my grandfather trying to force my dad to shoot him. Like, these are profoundly damaged people whose rage and grief is a monster loose to damage others. My dad believes he is all in, that he would do anything for his kids (and, hell, he has tried in many cases), but there’s a way in which he gets to a certain point–a point where you really need him because he has knowledge you don’t–and he just can’t do it.

I have been wondering a lot about this. And I think it’s just a perfect storm of his own shortcomings and his theology.

How can a person be redeemed if he is not allowed to prove that he is not longer the man he was? And how can he prove that he’s no longer the man he was, if he’s not allowed to show that, under the same circumstances where he used to be bad, he no longer is?

The reason I think this is a deep theological problem, as well as just my dad’s own bullshit, is that I see other ministers doing it. And I don’t see a way around it, if you’re a Christian. If you believe in the transformative power of Christ and especially if you’re Christian clergy, how do you not give God the opportunity to work on people, even very bad people?

But it means choosing to put others in harm’s way for the sake of the redemption story of the person who would harm them, believing that God is going to keep those potential victims safe.

I can’t bear it anymore, being put in harm’s way for the redemption narrative of bad men, being a hurdle or a temptation in the way of their being good men. Without my consent. Without even my knowledge.

Every once in a while I think of how easy it would be to slip back into Christianity. I live in a really Christian culture. My dad is a minister. I like the familiar rhythms of the liturgical calendar. There’s enough satisfying mystery, enough mysticism. I don’t think I could ever be a monotheist again, but I could fake it well enough.

And then there’s shit like this and I just can’t even consider it. I mean, I, too, hope people can change. But I wouldn’t offer up any kid I know to find out. And I resent, so deeply, having been offered up.

The argument I always hear, too, is that this isn’t God, this isn’t really what Christianity is about, but, you know, that shit starts to sound like people defending an abuser after a while. Oh, okay, God didn’t really mean it. He’s a nice Guy, if you get to know him. Sure, some of his friends are dicks, but He’s not like them, even though He hangs with them all the time.

I can’t do it. Maybe it’s a personal failing. Maybe it means Hell forever for me. But I can’t pretend I don’t see how this works. Redemption comes at the expense of people like me, and the choice to use us in this way is often kept from us. Christianity is supposed to be in opposition to human sacrifice, but I don’t have a good way of understanding what happened to me other than that I have been put in the labyrinth with the minotaur and not even told there was a monster in the maze and I just don’t see much of a difference between what the Church did to me and what happened to the Athenian girls.

I mean, I’m not dead yet, but then, I’m also clearly not out of the maze.

 

 

Old

I want to grow old like Robert Plant or Patrick Stewart, or like the little old ladies you sometimes find at the smaller house museums. I want to be able to still be delighted. I want to always be curious. I want to always have a dog.

We Have to Legalize Pot and Require Old People to Smoke It

Yesterday I went to the retinologist for my yearly check-up (I am stable and my retinas look slightly better even, though nothing to write home about.) which meant sitting in two waiting rooms with elderly people.

It was alarming. First, they were sitting around talking about how wonderful Trump is and how he’s not a career politician and disparaging politicians who were. Then an old guy told another old guy how he’d missed out on Vietnam due to a terrible car accident caused by his own recklessness. A woman kept interrupting the conversation because she was convinced the accident having old guy was talking to her and she would get pissed and embarrassed when he said he wasn’t. Then more talk about how glorious Trump is.

Then the old ‘I missed Vietnam due to an accident’ guy got called back and as soon as he was out of earshot, they switched to complaining about how anyone could possibly have the time to go to the Trump rally tomorrow and, if they weren’t so busy, they’d be down there handing out job applications to people. And at first I thought they meant the protesters, but no! No, the removal of the biggest Trump supporter allowed them to change their conversation from “fuck the people who don’t like Trump” to “fuck the people who like Trump enough to go see him.” But the exact same snide tone.

And then they launched into complaining about kids today which lead to a conversation about how kids are ruined by third grade. THIRD GRADE! I mean, I’m sure there are some dick third graders out there. I’m not discounting that. But they meant the whole lot. And I can’t help but guess that third grade must be about the time that kids start to get wary of this meanness in these old people.

My dad and I had a conversation recently about Fox News because my dad is really disturbed by how much his friends are affected by it. He said it’s not even that they watch it that bugs him. Like, if they were devoted fans of some show on there the way that he’s a fan of Jeopardy and tries to make time to watch it every day, that wouldn’t concern him. It’s that they leave it on all day, so even when they’re not actively watching it, it’s the noise in the background.

I thought of that yesterday because that’s what struck me listening to these old folks–not the content of what they were saying, though that was weird and alarming (I mean what kind of weird cognitive space do you have to be in to flow right from Hurray Trump! to Fuck those Trump Supporters?), but how, even if you didn’t listen specifically to what they were saying, there was that sharp, snide tone. The same one you would pick up on if you had Fox News on in the background all day.

We spend a lot of time alarmed at how much TV time kids have, but I think my dad is right. Old folks could benefit from turning off the TV and going outside or reading a book or listening to music or, hell, even turning the TV back on but watching something they enjoy instead of something that feeds their worst impulses.

Closer

We made some wedding decorations on Saturday. I got to see the dress and it is lovely.

Can I tell you something shitty, though? My parents are giving the Butcher a thousand dollars to help with the wedding. They gave a thousand dollars to my nephew to help with his wedding. The thousand dollars they gave me when my ceiling collapsed I had to pay back.

Our other brother now makes pretty much the same amount as me. I think my parents are still paying for his car insurance and I know they are paying for car repairs whenever he needs them. And I know he has the kids. But I’ve had the Butcher and crushing debt. Also, I don’t want their money, because I don’t want them in my business that much. Also, it’s their money. They can do with it what they want.

And yet, I’m still kind of pissed. It’s not that I want it or that I want my brothers not to have it. It’s just that we had really lean times where that kind of money could have helped me keep us afloat.

I guess what pisses me off is that I remember sitting in the back seat of the car on the way home from my dad’s parents listening to my dad complain about how, in his family, the person willing to cry “I’m sick” or “I’m needy” got the most attention, whether they were the sickest or neediest person.

And my parents have helped me with stuff. It’s not like the boys get everything and I get nothing.

I think what bugs me is the knowledge that seeing something and strongly disliking it is not enough to stop you from doing it.

And I also wonder why my dad tells me he does this stuff. I know my complaining about him all the time can make him sound like a constant jerk, so the answer might seem obvious–that he does it to hurt my feelings. But that’s not really how my dad works. He wants to see himself as a good person. The hurtful things he does are things he can justify as being for my own good.

So, no, more worrisome to me is that he’s trying to demonstrate the kinds of things he does for the family so that I will know, when he’s gone, that these are the kinds of things I should be doing.

In which case, he’s going to have a very unhappy afterlife.

The Dog Has a Minor Existential Crisis

My neighbor has thrown some stale bread in his back yard. Maybe English muffins, maybe hamburger buns. I haven’t gotten a close enough look to tell. But last night, Sonnyboy went over into the neighbor’s yard to eat one and I called him and he came right back, stale bread in mouth.

Y’all. I let him eat the bread because I was so happy he came when he was called. I don’t know. Maybe it was the wrong thing to do, but I want him to come when he’s called and if I call him over just to steal his bread from him, why would he come?

Anyway, so this morning, he’s out the back door like a shot and over to the neighbor’s yard and he quickly eats a little something and then comes bounding right back over to go on our walk. We get clear out to the far back yard and he starts making these big circles, like he kind of wants to go back and check the neighbor’s yard again.

I’m all “Come on buddy, let’s go for a walk!” over and over, but no, eventually he stops looping and just runs back and gets himself another stale muffin/roll. But he was so torn! He wanted to do the right thing but he also really wanted that bread.

And I have to say, it made me really happy, the way he hesitated and kind of couldn’t decide whether to behave or go back for more. Not because I’m thrilled he disobeyed me, but because, come on! When in the past wouldn’t that dog have disobeyed me for food? And, in the past he would have done it without hesitation.

But here! Now! Today! He had an internal conflict between doing what’s right and doing what he wanted. And, yes, he picked “doing what he wanted,” but what’s right got in there to make an argument! He had an internal conflict! He made a choice!

Sometimes I wonder if I’m reading too much into it, but I don’t think I am. This dog was dumb as rocks when we got him. And as much as I believe he’s benefiting from being loved and cared for, he could have lived out his days being dumb and sweet. I genuinely think this is about the thyroid medication. In humans, brain fog is a symptom of a thyroid problem, and my god, I think this dog had that symptom. And how would you diagnose brain fog in a dog? It’s only by watching him slowly transform into a dog who has thoughts once the fog has cleared.

Filling Out Forms

I had to fill out a bunch of forms for the therapist and I found it really interesting. Like, on the one hand, I’m all “Oh, man, my problems could be so much worse.”

On the other hand, there were some questions where I was like “Oh, yeah, this is me. Is this really a problem? Does everyone not do this to some extent?” It made me feel like I might have benefited from some screening decades ago.

Which, also, is slightly embarrassing.

I just hope this helps.

Last night I dreamed that the contacts I’d crocheted myself were scratchy and dried my eyes out and I didn’t like them. And when I took them out, they were huge! Like, no wonder they didn’t work.

But I do like that, in my dreams, I am fairly competent and can just make things I need.

Writing

I have informally given myself a goal of writing one short story a month. It’s not going that great. Ha. It’s also not going that bad. I mean, I should have two stories and the start of another and that is, indeed, what I have.

But the one that is just started was my February story.

I don’t know what will come of these, if anything. They’re very personal in a way that makes me uncomfortable but also, I think, compelling. So, I don’t know. I have stories I’m already shopping around and I never know if it makes sense to put new ones in the pipeline or wait and see if the old ones are going to clear out.

I’m also annoyed and confused about what to do about a piece that I sent to a market I was not familiar with–I mean, I’ve read it, but I don’t know anything about the folks on the back end–and I haven’t heard back from them, yeah or naw, way, way over the amount of time Duotrope says people usually hear from them.

So, I sent them an email just to ask if they were still considering it or if I’d missed the rejection. That was three weeks ago. I’ve heard nothing.

I’m not sure what to do next. Let it play out a little longer? Withdraw the piece? I just want to know if I should be doing something else with the story or if I should just keep waiting.

The Presentation

I think the presentation went well. I had too many census records that were too hard to see, but people gasped where I was hoping they’d gasp and they asked such good questions. I think it worked out that I didn’t come up with an answer for where Bud Rogan was buried, because I at least was able to share why and how I failed to come up with an answer and how I’d go about finding an answer, if I were going to.

And then I said that I wasn’t going to because, without the permission of the Rogan family to dig further (hee) into Bud’s burial place, I’d just be what they feared from the time he died–a white person more concerned about finding the body than letting him rest in peace.

There were a handful of TSU faculty there and I said what I normally say, that I consider myself a history buff as opposed to a historian, because historians do stuff that regular people can’t do, but my goal is to do history, publicly, in a way that shows other non-historians that they, too, can do this. That’s why it’s important for me to be wrong sometimes and follow-up sometimes and change my mind about things.

But then afterwards one of the TSU people came up to me and said that I was a historian, not a history buff, because I corroborate my theories and try to be clear when something is just a guess and when I know it. And I have to admit, that felt really nice.

I also had a nice lunch with a historian I admire and she told me that she’s notice that the tour at Belmont has changed since my Isaac Franklin piece and she thought that was directly attributable to my piece.

And I have to tell you, this is a nice but weird turn of events. I’m used to the reactions I learn about to my pieces being negative. It’s weird and nice to think I might be doing something that matters.

 

Nerves

–I made my therapist’s appointment. I even set up my portal. I have not called back to say I’ve set up my portal. I swear, every minute of dealing with this is just me having to make myself do things. I will just turn right away from things I find unpleasant or stressful.

And am I stressed? I had a dream last night that, when I got to the therapist’s office, I discovered that they needed $9,100 up front because they were tired of dicking around with Aetna and then I lost my credit card. And also had to go to work for the therapist.

–I’m nervous about my presentation tomorrow. I’m going in talking about something I haven’t solved yet. I think that’s the right approach. They want to hear about my process of discovering things and here I am in mid-process on this Rogan stuff, so it seems like talking about the Rogans is the thing to do. But it feels weird to not be able to say “Ta-da! Here’s the answer.”

–We watched Shoot Em Up the other night and I can’t stop thinking about it. I somehow feel better and worse for having watched it. I was trying to explain it to my coworkers–so there’s this dude and he ends up with a baby and he runs around shooting things with the baby and somehow he can’t afford ammunition but he can afford a robot baby and then the baby’s in a tank and he shoots a guy with his bare hands–because I want everyone in the world to watch this movie and then tell me how it exists.

Like, I get that it’s a send-up of action movies, but I am confused about how a thing can feel both so much like a parody and completely unpredictable. Like you both know and don’t know what’s going to happen in every single minute.

Plus, the main character and his prostitute girlfriend have sex throughout at gun battle. And I have to tell you, I kind of assumed that being shot at would end a sexual encounter. It made me feel like I’ve been asking the wrong questions of penises all these years because I kind of thought that when in mortal terror a penis was either in retreat or, if still hard, hard because of terror. It just never occurred to me that it might still be “Hey, dude, you worry about escaping. I’m going to keep going in here.”

Now I wish there were some way to rope in cocktapusses, to bring this discussion back to important matters. Okay, then, tell me in the comments below–if a cocktapus were caught mid-coitus in a gun battle, how many cocks would shrivel, how many would stay erect but only in terror, and how many wouldn’t let a little thing like getting shot at by a room full of bad guys ruin the vibe?

New Things

The Butcher’s wedding looms. They’re trying to do a low-key thing, like afternoon wedding with cake and punch afterwards. It’s like they’ve never met our family, which should make the wedding super awkward, with all these opinionated strangers standing around.

I told the kids this weekend that I was going to be their step-aunt. They were more excited about having step-cats. Which, you know, fair enough.

I’m really happy for the Butcher and kind of excited to have the house to myself. And I’m sure it will also be lonely, but man, the dryer will be empty whenever I go to use it.

I think I’m going to win the cat argument, but it’s kind of a bummer because I think the reason I’m going to win it is that it’s sinking in to the Butcher how old the cat is. He didn’t get up to walk with us this morning and didn’t get up to get breakfast. He’s still asleep in the Butcher’s room as we speak.

Oh, god, I hope he’s not dead. Ha ha. I mean, I’m sure the Butcher checked before he left.

Leap

Today the dog leaped over the creek after treeing a cat. I was struck by his graceful confidence, which, though I love this dog, seems a confidence wholly unearned. He made it fine, though.

On Twitter, I saw a person recounting a story of her elderly grandmother’s surprisingly progressive response to a relative’s life situation, the whole family, really, way back in the early 1900s.

I didn’t quite believe the story. It seems a little too perfectly aligned with our politics today and less so with what I know of the politics of the time. On the other hand, who knows? The world is a big place and people have been surprising in it a long time.

But then someone jumped down the storyteller’s throat about how the terminology the grandmother had used in the story–remember, a story recounted as having happened in the early 1900s–was hurtful.

Which, I have to say, is pretty damn likely, being as it was the early 1900s.

And then the storyteller apologized and said she had made a mistake trying to cram the whole story into 140 characters and the grandmother had actually said the thing we would say now.

And then I knew the story was bullshit. But no one else seems to. They’re all just pleased about the apology.

Or maybe it doesn’t matter that the story is bullshit?

I don’t know. I have a hard time knowing if things I remember are real–partially because I think I do genuinely have a shitty memory and partially because I have been trained since childhood to believe that there is always some generous way to interpret a situation that will explain the behavior of assholes, so I have always found my own memories and feelings about things suspect. But that’s why I want to know things, true things. I want to see for myself things I can count on. Even if they’re painful or imperfect.

So, I can’t understand this other impulse to have a story–passed off as true–that probably isn’t true, but tells us that how things are now is how they always have been, we’ve just been denying it.

Senor Don Gato

This cat, the one who fashions himself as a four-legged Clint Eastwood, is driving me crazy. For some reason, he’s put himself in competition with the dog. If the dog gets head scratches, he needs head scratches. If you’re eating something and he thinks you might let the dog lick your plate, he’s going to need to lick your plate first. Are you trying to do anything the dog can see? The orange cat will need to sit in your lap then. Last weekend I sang a song to the dog and the cat harassed me for like twenty minutes before I figured out that he expected a song, too.

I don’t even think he likes this shit. It doesn’t seem to improve his mood. I think he just wants what the dog gets and so, if he gets it, that’s good enough for him.

But the worst part is that, at breakfast, he really wants to lick the last of the milk out of your cereal bowl and so he sits right up next to you, not quite touching, but close enough that no dog can butt in, and rests the very tips of his whiskers on your arm, as if to monitor the situation for any changes in arm motion that might indicate you are done with your cereal.

It feels like a army of Daddy-long-legs standing on my arm. It’s so weird.