Sometimes I start a post and then don’t finish it. A lot of these proto-posts are saved in the eternal limbo of my Drafts folder. Here, for your amusement, are the first lines of the first five of them:
January 2: There is a fine line between the carelessness of contentment…
January 2: Holidailies was kind of a bust for me this year.…
January 8: I don’t think about this story often. I remembered it…
January 23: This is going to be a short entry. You know…
February 9: There’s something romantic about driving late at night. Streets that…
I guess January (and a little of February) was a month of unfinished beginnings for me.
In other news, and entirely unrelated, I shut off social media last week. Not for everybody, I mean; just for me. And not entirely. But mostly. I deactivated my Facebook account, logged out of all my message boards and stopped visiting them (except for a new baby congratulations post, because I’m not made of stone), cancelled my Google Plus account, and limited myself to no more than 10 minutes of Twitter per day.
I did it on a whim. I know how strange that must sound, because I’ve spent so much time on social media and it’s been a fairly big part of my life for a while. I keep getting these messages from people who’ve noticed I went away, asking if I’m okay. I assume they mean from a mental health perspective. It is an interesting commentary on our society that when someone withdraws from online social media, our first reaction is to wonder if something has gone horribly, terribly wrong with them. (I am not faulting this reaction; it is the same one I have. I just think it’s interesting. If a friend of yours stopped leaving the house and returning phone calls you’d be worried about her, and from a social-interaction perspective, quitting Facebook is more or less the same thing these days.)
But I’m mentally okay, or as mentally okay as I ever am, anyway. I just thought it might be a worthwhile experiment to see what it was like to just…disconnect. Unplug. Live life in my own head for a while.
It’s been great, actually. Really, really great. I told Keith earlier that I feel like I have about a hundred less voices constantly in my head. I’ve stopped feeling the compulsion to immediately document every interesting or amusing thing that happens in my life for the benefit of the Internet. I wake up in the morning and I get out of bed, rather than reaching for my phone to check to see how many notifications rolled in on my social media accounts overnight. I go to social gatherings and I listen to people tell their stories, and I haven’t already heard all of those stories when they posted them on Facebook earlier in the day.
And they haven’t heard mine.
The amount of time this has freed up in my day is tremendous. I feel like I have twice as much time as I used to. This may actually be accurate. I’ve been logging my reading in Goodreads, and since last Thursday when I deactivated my Facebook account, I’ve read four books, totaling 2,000 pages. (Connie Willis’s Blackout/All Clear diptych is excellent, by the way, and I would highly recommend it to anyone.) I’ve done some writing. I organized my laundry room. I indexed half a book.
I have time. And there is this immense sort of quietness that I feel settled around me. I said it before, but I feel like for the first time in a while, I’m living in my own head, guided by my own motivations, and not compelled to share any of it with anyone. I am able to concentrate on one thing for longer than a few minutes without switching away to another window, or a handheld device, to see if there have been any fresh updates since the last time I checked. I am focused. I am settled. I am quiet.
I’ll be back on Facebook eventually. I don’t miss what it does to my head, but I do miss seeing people’s updates. I just want to take a long enough break so that I can approach it in a mentally healthy way when I do return. I thought initially that it would be about a week, but now I think it will be longer.
I have things to do, and things to think, and I can’t think them or do them if I’m beholden to social media and its seductive golden shackles. So I will enjoy my quiet solitude for a while longer, I think.
Except for the occasional Twitter post: Stone, absence of in bodily constitution.Share on Facebook
I’ve been reading Lord of the Rings to Zeke, which I may have mentioned before. It has some parts that lend themselves well to reading out loud (anything featuring hobbits; wizards fighting) and some that don’t (songs; most of the Council of Elrond; more songs).
Over the past week or so, we’ve slogged our way through most of the Council of Elrond. It starts out pretty slow, with Elrond reminiscing about the days of yore when a lot of elves with similar-sounding names did things in geographical areas with similar-sounding names and none of it has any relevance to the actual story at hand. But it picks up when Gandalf takes over the narration, and then it achieves serious velocity when they get to the part about figuring out what to do with the damned ring.
Zeke stopped me during one of the water breaks — reading this story means taking a lot of water breaks — and said that he gets that there are really only two choices for them now: One that is easy and expected and one that is difficult, and that they are going to have to go with the one that is difficult, because it’s the only one with a chance of success.
“Exactly,” I told him, secretly thrilled that he was actually listening to the story and not daydreaming about what to spend his birthday iTunes money on.
Then, I got to the last part of the chapter, when Frodo stands alone and is the last one (save perhaps Bilbo) to realize that the weight of this journey will rest on his shoulders, and my voice broke on what is, I think, one of the greatest lines in literature:
“I will take the Ring,” he said, “though I do not know the way.”
I held it together just enough, though, and I’m glad, because I’m not sure I can explain to an 11-year-old why my voice breaks on that line. I’m not sure he can really understand yet how sometimes in life you have to make a choice, and you don’t know what the right choice is, and instead of taking the easy and expected path you go with the other path, and it’s hard and dark and frightening. And how sometimes — sometimes — you achieve something beautiful, something important, something greater than yourself. Even though you did not know the way.
He’ll figure it out someday. Some things we have to find out on our own.Share on Facebook
I have a lot of complicated thoughts about Valentine’s Day. Mostly I think that it’s a terrible non-holiday meant to get us all to spend lots and lots of money on trinkets and candy, but that’s not the bad thing about it. The bad thing about it is that it makes people feel bad. Not everybody! Some people spend the day professing their love for their partners, and that’s nice. Nice to have a day devoted to romantic love — and let’s not kid ourselves; some people buy Valentine’s Day presents for their kids, and we all tell our friends how much we love them, but the day is about romantic love, and every last bit of imagery and signage about it is a reminder of that — nice to have a day where you publicly celebrate how much you love the person you’re with.
I mean, unless you’re not with someone. Or you’re with someone you’d rather not be with. Or they’d rather not be with you. Or you just lost someone. Then it’s kind of a shitty holiday, wouldn’t you say? While I am all for love and professions of love and I am certainly all about chocolate, I can’t really get behind a day that by nature excludes a huge number of people. Face it, Valentine’s Day makes a lot of people feel bad. Not all of the anti-V-day people out there are bitter hipsters. A lot of them are people who really wish they had someone to share the day with, but don’t. And that sucks.
On the other hand, I do like the chocolates. But that reminds me of something else that bothers me: Cut flowers. Everyone is supposed to give flowers on Valentine’s Day. It’s a classic. A dozen red roses, right? Or maybe a mixed bouquet if you’re feeling a little bit off-beat.
Now, if you like flowers, that’s cool. But when I look at a bouquet of flowers, I see living things, things of great beauty…that are now dead. Dead things. Here’s a handful of beautiful things that I killed for you and that you may mount like a trophy in a vase on the television for a few days until the rot of death overtakes them and they start to brown, at which point you will dispose of them in the garbage can.
If anyone who loves me ever buys me cut flowers as a gift, I will know that the Pod People have got them.
I said my thoughts were complicated, though, and they are. Every year I start out feeling cranky and irritable about this stupid Hallmark holiday, and every year I start posting sarcastic messages on all of my social media outlets about how much I find it annoying, and then by the end of the day I’m sending sappy love messages and feeling all starry-eyed about love and romance and all of that nonsense.
To sum up: Love is good, people feeling shitty is bad, and we can all use some more chocolates. Unless you’re allergic to them or are opposed to them for fair-trade reasons or OH JESUS WHEN DID I START HAVING TO PUT DISCLAIMERS ON EVERYTHING? I’m just going to eat some chocolate chips straight from the bag and post this. In that order.Share on Facebook
I went to the health food store a few days ago.
I don’t like going to the health food store. They’re all pretty much the same. There’s the vitamin aisle, the bodybuilding aisle, and the bullshit aisle. Sometimes the bullshit aisle is actually multiple aisles. That is where they keep the homeopathy treatments, the flower ointments, the cold prevention sprays, and all the other bullshit that does not work but that they will shill to the sick and the gullible.
“Homeopathy treatments.” It’s water, people. Water. Two hydrogens; one oxygen; repeat.
But occasionally the health food store has something that the regular drugstore doesn’t have. In this case, it was a supplement that I have heard is good for fighting off depression.
Now, my natural inclination is to believe that pretty much everything in the entire health food store is bullshit, particularly the stuff that is marketed as some kind of mood-altering thing. As far as I can tell, everything in that place will cure not only depression, but also anxiety, mood swings, diabetes, indigestion, and probably gout. Also warts, when applied topically. It is a goddamned house of miracles, if you believe the labels. It is a wonder and an astonishment that the legitimate medical community isn’t beating down their doors to try to find out their secrets.
Anyway, there’s this supposed depression remedy, and I sort of think it’s probably bullshit, but my doctor couldn’t get me in for three weeks (I know we don’t have wait lists in the US health care system, but let’s just pretend I’m telling the truth) and I was feeling on the desperate side, so I thought, let’s give this a go. Worst-case scenario, I get some relief from the placebo effect. Don’t underestimate the power of the placebo effect. I’m not kidding; it can really make people better. Science agrees with me on this. And supposedly this drug increases serotonin levels, and serotonin is a real thing, so okay, who knows, right?
So I walk into the health food store, and somewhat ironically, I feel like a huge fraud and a sham for going into this place that is clearly set up to be a safe zone for people who believe in homeopathy and herbal treatments and all the kind of crap that I am pretty sure is complete and unadulterated bullshit. I am invading this zone with my skepticism and doubt. The guy behind the counter smiles and says hello, and I smile and say hello back, and I feel so false. I think that most of what’s in your store is bullshit, I do not tell him, and there should probably be a law against marketing this stuff to a gullible public.
But I really need this thing to work for three weeks until I can see my doctor. I spent several minutes wandering the aisles, hoping that maybe the thing I was looking for would be in with the regular vitamins, and I could just stay in the safe vitamin aisle and not have to wander further afield.
It wasn’t with the regular vitamins. I searched the bodybuilding aisle next. Muscle Milk, protein powders, weird concoctions of amino acids. No depression cures here.
I finally asked the guy at the front. He cheerfully pointed it out to me and then hovered nearby, telling me all about this guy Dr. Weil (I swear to you as God is my witness that if he’d said Wakefield instead of Weil, the next thing he’d have seen would have been my back, walking through his door never to return) and how Dr. Weil thinks that Americans’ drive to be happy, happy, happy is all messed up and backwards and we need to find happiness in ourselves. Then the health-food store man asked how those pills were working for me. I said I hadn’t tried them yet, and he nodded thoughtfully and said he’d been thinking about adding them to his regimen.
“Why not?” I said, and he said, “Exactly!”
He walked with me back to the counter — there were no other customers in the store — and rang me up. “I can get you a 5% discount if you put in your name and address,” he said, and then he made wiggly fingers near his head and a “woooo” sound and said, “Even though the government might getcha!”
I guess they get a lot of conspiracy theorists shopping at the health food store.
I said okay, and I gave him my address. Now, I probably shouldn’t tell you exactly what my street name is, because Internet and privacy and blah blah blah. But I will tell you that it is a literary reference that also sounds vaguely pornographic. I am sorry; I know that some of you are going to compulsively try to figure out what it could be, and that’s not much to go on. But that’s what you need to know for the next part to make sense.
I tell the guy my street name. His eyebrows shoot up and he starts chuckling like Larry the Lounge Lizard and he says, “I bet you get up to some action there, hey? Ha, don’t mind me. I don’t even know what I’m saying. Seriously though, wa-hey, good times there, right? Am I right?”
You think I’m exaggerating. You think I’m making this up for comic effect. I assure you I’m not. I’m standing there in this bullshit health food store with my bottle of pills on the counter and I’m listening to Larry the Lounge Lizard make jokes about my street name, and all I can think is, Mister, you are about to fuck up my placebo effect if you don’t start acting more professional RIGHT THIS INSTANT.
Serotonin or no serotonin, I really needed some semblance of legitimacy from Larry. Larry of the pill regimen, Larry the devotee of Dr. Weil.
What in the hell am I doing here? I thought, and I smiled politely and did not explain that my street name was a literary reference, because I felt that of the many roads that conversation might travel, none were good, and most would only further damage my already-fragile placebo effect.
I need this to work, Larry, I did not say, and you are fucking this up for me. Don’t fuck this up, Larry.
He got my 5% discount entered at last, and I left with my bottle of pills, feeling vaguely dirty.
I took one that night, even though I was already feeling better. The next day, I felt…about the same. Which was good. Three days on, I’m still feeling pretty good.
Is it the pills? To be honest with you, I don’t really think so. I think my hormonal tsunami simply subsided for the month, and the other anti-depression stuff I’ve been doing (exercise, sunlight, etc.) is paying off. But I’m sticking with them until I can see my actual doctor. Which I will do, because I will not be patronizing Larry the Lounge Lizard’s House of Bullshit again.
Not even for that sweet 5% discount.Share on Facebook
I used to post a little more honestly and a little more openly back when I had an anonymous journal. It’s a little tougher to flay yourself open for public examination when everyone you know is reading your blog, so I tend to self-censor a little bit. It’s not that I’m editing out the good parts of any one particular story; I’m just maybe a little bit pickier about which stories go in.
But then I think, you know, life is short. Life is so short, and I don’t want to find myself abruptly at the end of it with untold stories, just because I was waiting until I finally felt okay enough about telling them to people who might lift an eyebrow at me the next time I see them at the grocery store.
This is all my way of saying that I’m going to flay myself open a little bit for you. Just a little bit. Just for today. For the sake of telling my crazy story.
I have suffered from depression in the past, both as a sort of mild ongoing thing (a therapist once called it “dysthymia,” and while I have somewhat of a horror of labels for myself, I guess that one will do) and also in much larger and scarier postpartum form, particularly after my third baby was born. After I beat the postpartum depression into submission with the help of pharmaceuticals and a good therapist, I was really okay for a really long time.
Except for around the time of my monthly cycle. In addition to the sometime depression I’ve dealt with, I also have what you might call severe PMS. I do not currently have the stamina to tell you my long history with this issue, but I will tell you that I have often considered that it would probably keep me from running for public office, if ever I had a mind to do such a thing. It turns me into this crazy werewolf Mr. Hyde person for a few days a month. I’ve learned to recognize the signs, and that helps a little. Just a little. It manifests in different ways at different times; sometimes I feel like I’m floating alone in a sea of morons and idiots. Sometimes I just feel empty and dead inside. And sometimes I feel a crushing worthlessness and despair. Those are really bad months.
After a few days, maybe a week, I’m okay again. But even knowing that it always goes away and has always gone away in all the times I’ve experienced it, knowing that it is transitory and not real… even that doesn’t help. When I’m in it, it feels real. It is real.
So. A little before Christmas, I could feel the storm clouds of depression rolling in. Not bad. Just…there. Darkening my horizon. I fought them off with the usual weapons. Exercise, B vitamins. Lots of water. I was doing okay with it. Not great, but okay. I was surviving. I was functioning.
I was okay.
Then this month’s cycle arrived, and when it did, the clouds that had threatened me since mid-December roiled in and broke on me with a fury I think I have rarely known. I felt like I was being attacked by my own mind.
It was bad, you guys. It was really, really bad. I don’t want to tell you all of the things that were in my head, because they were scary, and you would be scared for me. I will tell you that I felt miserable. I believed that nobody loved me or could ever love me, and I just wanted to sleep forever. I felt that I was able to finally see the world for what it really was, a dark and friendless place in which there is no joy, only despair.
The storm subsided eventually, like it always does, leaving me bruised and bloodied but okay. Functional. Rational. Back to normal, which for me means feeling pretty good, pretty okay, living a life full of love and friendship…and knowing that there is a dark and terrible monster sleeping inside my mind, ready to uncurl at any moment and whisper its lies, so subtle and so easy to believe.
I picked up the phone and called my doctor. I will see him later this month, and I will tell him that I cannot go through this again. I cannot. There is a world of yammering debate out there about the overmedication of our society and how the anomie of modern life makes us all more susceptible to depression and how our diets this and our lack of exercise that and it is all completely, devastatingly irrelevant to me.
I have a monster inside my brain. Either I kill it or it kills me. End of story.
This was supposed to be a funny little entry about how I wound up at the health food store being sexually harassed about my street name by a guy who shills homeopathy cures — all of which actually happened — but I think the funny leaked out of my keyboard somewhere around paragraph three. Sorry about that. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.Share on Facebook
I find myself turning lights on for my kids. They’ll sit down to read something or play with something or watch something, and the light will slowly fade outside until eventually they’re sitting in a darkened room. So I turn the lights on, and I say, “How come you didn’t turn the lights on?”
This is a version of what everyone used to say to me when I was a kid, which was, “You’re going to ruin your eyes by reading in the dark like that.” I figured that considering I’d had glasses since age 8, there wasn’t much more ruining to be done. And anyway, it wasn’t intentional. I just didn’t notice that the sun was going down and the room was getting dark.
I notice now. I don’t remember when that changed.
Different topic. I picked the kids up from the bus stop today, which is unusual, because the bus stop is 200 yards up the street and usually they just walk home on their own. I told them we were going to the video store to return some videos and check some more out. (Save your fake expressions of wonderment that people still go to the video store. I’m not in the mood. The short answer is that all of the online content delivery services are too annoying for the price they charge.)
We got there and I discovered that I’d forgotten my wallet at home, so we could return videos but we couldn’t check any more out. My kids, to a one, shrugged and didn’t mind. Even though they love the video store, and even though I told them that due to some stuff we had to be home for later on, we wouldn’t be able to come back. This gives me occasion to wonder: Are my kids just sanguine about this sort of thing, able to lose a promised outing on a moment’s notice with no complaints? Or do they just expect this kind of flakiness from me these days?
Maybe some of both. Also, when we got home, Stazi found my wallet, sitting near the Scholastic book order form in which she had circled some suggestions, and she asked me not-so-subtly, “So, were you doing something on the computer earlier?” and I said, “yes” (ordering her $45 worth of books from Scholastic is what I was doing, because I’m a soft touch when it comes to buying books, and that is indeed why I didn’t have my wallet on me at the video store) so that probably helped soothe any latent outrage as well.
I keep thinking today about this time when I was a kid and I was staying with my grandparents. My Grandma Harvey, who incidentally was a better person than anyone you know, let me stay up late watching TV in “my” room there. I saw most of the Dennis Miller/Dana Carvey/Phil Hartman era of SNL on that TV. One night I had a shower and then came back to change; she came in to check on me and said, “Ooh! I’m going to get a towel to get some of the excess water out of your hair.” I remember very specifically that she said “excess” for some reason, and for some reason it must be important to me, because otherwise I’m sure I wouldn’t remember it 25 years on. Anyway, she got a towel and she patted my hair down while I sat in my PJs on the edge of the bed, and it was just so kind and caring that she would come in and not particularly care that I was up way past what any reasonable person would consider an appropriate bedtime for an 11-year-old, but would care that my hair had excess water in it. She toweled it all off for me and announced that she was sure I felt better now. I did.
I let my kids stay up way too late too much of the time, and I let them have too much TV time. But I also turn lights on for them and I come in and I fix their blankets when they are sleeping, and I towel the excess water out of their hair. I hope it is enough to make up for how flaky and frankly sometimes not very suited to parenting I am. I hope my grandma would be proud.
I really miss her sometimes.Share on Facebook
I’ve been a parent for ten years now — eleven, almost — and I forget things. I forget what it was like at the beginning of all of this. I forget the time before I read all the books and heard all the advice and set my path, for better or for worse. Before I had to decide whether or not to circumcise. Before I knew that breastfeeding and formula feeding are not so much choices as they are factions that you side with in some kind of endless, unwinnable war.
Some of you are already nodding in recognition; I’ve hit a couple of items on the Big List. If you’re not a parent, you may not be familiar with the Big List, having only run across it when some parenting talk breaches your perimeter in an online discussion forum or a social media site. The Big List is the way you tell, as a parent, whether some other parent is like you, or not like you. Parents who are like you become instant friends. You have so much in common. It is like meeting the new girl on the first day of fourth grade and finding out that she has the exact same dolls you do, and reads the exact same books. You don’t need to know anything more. Friends for life.
It’s the same with the Big List. Do you breastfeed? Circumcise? Co-sleep? Do you carry your child in a stroller or in a sling? Do you comfort your baby immediately or let him Cry It Out? Stay-at-home mom or work in the office? You find these things out about another parent, sometimes subtly and sometimes by asking directly (if you are bold), and you take their measure. You compare. You analyze. You judge.
But I didn’t always know about the Big List. If I think back far enough, I can remember when someone first asked me if I intended to breastfeed, and I didn’t have an answer ready. Can you imagine that? I didn’t have an answer. I paused, and then said, “I guess I will.” Back then, before ten years of Internet message boards and flame wars and earnest blog posts* about Mommy Wars and forwarded warnings about co-sleeping and pediatric recommendations about vaccinations and when to start solid foods…back then, my decisions were quiet and malleable, informed only by my own feelings and vague bits of parenting lore I’d picked up from family members.
Years passed, during which the storm of endless parenting controversy entrenched me into some of my positions. I’d give some examples, but many of you reading this are in your own bunkered entrenchments — it’s nearly impossible not to be, as a parent — and even mentioning any of the items on the Big List will result in, at best, a discussion about them, and at worst a fight. This post isn’t about any of the specifics on the Big List, so I won’t mention any of my positions on it. Not in this post, anyway. It’s enough to know that I checked my boxes on the Big List and spent more time than I like to admit defending and justifying those boxes to other people. Many of whom were defending and justifying their own checkboxes. It is what parents do in this brave new Information Age.
The passage of more years blurred and softened my entrenchments, as the passage of years tends to do. I no longer need to know where a person stands on the Big List before I decide if they are My Kind of Parent or not. Some of my staunchest battlements are now nothing more but a pile of mud, a pothole in the road. But I can’t go back to the quiet, uninformed time before I built those defenses in the first place. Sometimes it is hard even remembering what that time was like. I see it through the eyes of other new parents sometimes, and it is revelatory to experience, even by proxy, that time when all my paths were open and nothing on the Big List had been checked off yet. Before I even knew about the Big List.
As my children have grown older and we’ve left the baby and toddler years behind us, I have come to realize that it takes a lot more than a shared interest in baby slings to make a lifelong friendship. None of the tenuous friendships I made with other mothers in Zeke’s infant playgroups has lasted. None of those women read the same books I do, or watch the same TV shows or movies, or have any interest in the things I’m interested in. Except for baby slings and breastmilk. That got us through a couple of years, but no more. The Big List, it turns out, is useful mostly for building entrenchments and assuaging your own parental insecurities; not much else.
Though entire industries have been built on the need to assuage parental insecurities, so I suspect the Big List will be with us for ages and eons to come.
*I am aware of the irony.Share on Facebook
When I was in school, there were some girls who used to make fun of me. Boys too, for that matter. My school bullying and humiliation experiences were not gender-limited.
The point is, I got made fun of a lot for various things. Mostly for acting different from other kids, I suspect. At the time I didn’t feel like I was acting all that unusually, but in retrospect I think I was probably kind of a freaky little kid/adolescent/teen. I read constantly, I watched the news for fun, I hated sports, I wasn’t interested in fashion or makeup, and I never went to parties. Whether this was a cause or a result of my abrasive personality and antisocial nature I will leave as an exercise for the reader. (I try to be less abrasive and more social these days. Sometimes I think I even succeed.)
I don’t spend much time thinking about the people who used to make fun of me, but this morning I was daydreaming a little bit and a looping meander of thought took me down that path. I thought about how everyone always says that living well is the best revenge, and I wondered. Do the people who used to bully me and make fun of me have lives that are lived less well than my own? What exactly are they doing these days?
So of course, I went to Facebook, which is where you always go when you want to stalk people. (It’s so good for that. Almost like that was its original purpose.) I thought I’d just have a little look, maybe privately judge how attractive their spouses are, or the poor punctuation in their profile text. You know. The usual.
There, however, I hit a brick wall. Because I cannot remember their names. I cannot remember the name of one single person who made fun of me in school. I have a vague memory of a couple of faces, and I think maybe one of them had a name starting with K, but that’s it. They are gone entirely from my mind.
So I closed the browser window I’d thought I was going to search in, and sat back in my computer chair and looked out my window and thought. About the places life takes you, and the people you meet. And how attaching so very little importance to a person that they vanish entirely from your mind is probably some kind of revenge after all.Share on Facebook
Holidailies was sort of a bust for me, primarily because depression came roaring back out of whatever dark corner it hides in inside my mind, and swamped me for most of the end of December. I can feel it lifting now a little bit. I think that means this was only a temporary setback.
It is something I struggle with on and off, and I suspect I will for my entire life. I’ve gone to therapy in the past and have learned some coping techniques that sometimes help me keep a minor recurrence from turning into a major one. I don’t like talking about it much. I read a Stephen King book once, Danse Macabre, and in it he said (this was easy to Google for me because I remembered the quote almost verbatim even though I haven’t read the book for nearly 15 years):
“Recently Joan Didion wrote a book about her own odyssey through the sixties, The White Album. For rich folks, I suppose it’s a pretty interesting book: the story of a wealthy white woman who could afford to have her nervous breakdown in Hawaii–the seventies equivalent of worrying over pimples.”
I’m not rich by most people’s standards — although the fact that I now have to include that qualifier is an indication that we’re doing a lot better these days than we used to — but I am surrounded quite literally by love and affection and compassion and caring every day of my life. Every day. I live in a nice house. My children are healthy. We have nice things in that house. Nobody bullies me. People treat me well, generally speaking. So when depression arrives (always uninvited, I assure you) I ask myself what the hell my problem is. Just what the hell exactly is my problem?
It’s just brain chemistry, though. When I’m in the middle of it, there’s a quiet but persistent voice in the back of my mind answering all of those things I said before. Nice house? It’s all right, but it needs work, and the neighbors probably hate you for not mowing the lawn often enough. People who love you? They say they do, but they don’t really; who could?
It’s really hard to get that voice to shut up.
I think it’s eased off for now, though. I noticed it driving home from my eye appointment this morning. They dilated my eyes, so I had to wear those crappy disposable sunglasses to keep the entire world from looking like an overexposed photograph. My eye doctor is on the other side of the city, so I drove for about half an hour to get home, and sometime during this drive I looked up at the sky, and through my abused eyes and those shitty disposable sunglasses, it was just the purest shade of blue you have ever seen. It’s a good day, I thought. A good day to be driving in this cold Ohio winter under that big American sky.
I don’t think those kinds of things when I’m depressed. I can’t. But I thought them today, so that means I’m feeling better. In retrospect I can tell myself that all of those thoughts were irrational and that they are mostly due to my treacherous malfunctioning brain, but while I’m in it, I mostly just think I’m being a big baby and should shut up about feeling miserable because some people have real problems. It does nothing to help the misery, but it does keep me from telling anyone that I’m not feeling well until it’s started to pass.
There’s probably a lot more to say on this topic, but I want to enjoy feeling better. I have thrown open the windows to let the sunlight in and I think on this cold Ohio winter day, I will sit in the light streaming down from that big American sky.Share on Facebook
For the benefit of posterity — says she who just uncovered a stash of journal entries going back twelve years, some of which detail events she has long since forgotten, so that reading them is like visiting someone else’s oddly-familiar life — a major national tragedy happened about two days ago, and if you’re reading this entry like five years from now and wondering why I’m not mentioning it, it’s not because I didn’t notice or I don’t care. I just can’t really write about it, because it’s too big for me. I can’t process it. I’ve been kind of half-assedly trying to process it by donating to gun-control groups and writing letters to congresspeople, but it’s not helping that much. Writing won’t help either. So that’s enough of that.
So, get this. We have a half-assed tradition (yes, everything in this household is half-assed, more or less) of making Christmas cookies sometime during the holiday season. (Do you see what I did there? I referred to the items by their actual name, which is Christmas cookies, because calling them holiday cookies would be somewhat incorrect, as they are being made to celebrate the Christmas holiday, but yet I referred to the season as the holiday season, because the season contains multiple holidays and therefore it is not solely the Christmas season, but also the Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and Hanukkah season. Among others. This is natural and also correct and I will thank everyone to stop bitching out anyone who doesn’t use your personal preferred term.)
I get the sugar cookie recipe from the 1961 Betty Crocker cookbook, because it is the One True Christmas Cookie Recipe, and I make the dough and chill it in the fridge like you’re supposed to, and then I roll it out and try not to hover too much or yell too much as we cut them into shapes and bake them and then paint them with colored frosting and sprinkles. In the past it has been a cacophony of, “Gus poured all the sprinkles on one cookie!” and “Don’t touch me with the frosting spoon!” and “GUYS NO! NO!” and “We’re not doing this again! We’re not doing this ever again! Put that down right now or the number of cookies you are getting is zero! ZERO.” And so forth.
It is a very enjoyable tradition that the children and I look forward to every year.
But this year things were totally different. I went to start cutting out a cookie as a demonstration and was told rather peremptorily by my daughter, “I can do that.” And she did. And so did my oldest son. (The younger son continued with his usual practice of dumping all the sprinkles onto one cookie, but the other two worked around this with style and grace.) I eventually just backed off and wandered away to make coffee.
They even put the cookies in the oven successfully. Do you know how many times I threatened to never do this again? No times. No times! Nobody stormed away from the table in tears! No doors were slammed! A minimum number of fingers were licked and then stuck into the dough! (If you’re one of the recipients of a cookie package in the mail, rest assured that I was totally kidding with that previous line. Totally kidding.)
I realized, as I was drinking my coffee and checking Facebook from my iPhone across the kitchen from where the action was taking place, that contrary to popular belief, your kids can have fun doing these sorts of activities on their own. Sometimes, and I know this is hard to believe, they actually seem to prefer it that way. I think most of us, and by “us” I mean “slacker Gen-Xers who still have trouble seeing themselves as parents and prefer to let Word World parent their child while they instead update their blog with cynical takes on media and culture,” feel a certain amount of guilt for not spending more of our time doing stuff with our kids. Official stuff, like playgroups or building gingerbread houses or whatever. If your kids are having fun but you didn’t really plan it, it doesn’t count. Building with Legos on their own doesn’t count. Reading a comic book doesn’t count. Watching TV definitely does not count. You have to plan activities and then execute those activities, and that’s official fun that counts in the logbook where you record such things. (We are pretty sure that someone is keeping track, even if we aren’t. We joke about our children telling all of this to their therapists someday, but secretly we’re pretty sure that’s not actually a joke.)
But sometimes you just make the dough and set them loose and they do it themselves. And surprise you with how capable they are.Share on Facebook