Fear. And Sue Klebold’s book.

Today I am heartsick, sad, disgusted, outraged and curious. With the violent events that happened in the past few days all I can feel around me is fear. My own, but also the amplified collective fear. It’s ratcheted up to a deafening level. I think fear is the problem and anger, rage and violence are symptoms. Who am I to say this? No one with a credential; just a feeling. If you are afraid that someone is going to shoot you, you would shoot them first. If you do not understand someone’s motives, it is easy to be afraid of them. How did we get here? It all feels broken.

While the events of the past few days have been happening I’ve simultaneously been reading a book called A Mother’s Reckoning, Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. This book was written by Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the murderers involved in the Columbine school shooting. I haven’t slept since I started this terrifying book, and finished it just a few minutes ago. While written about her specific, very isolating experience, I found so much of it to be applicable to what is happening today. Gun violence, ignorance of mental health issues, hidden agendas, gun violence, media circuses, guns. And violence.

I have vivid memory of driving on I-84 West in West Hartford, CT on April 20, 1999, and hearing that there were kids – kids! –  shooting other kids in a high school in Colorado. I ached. I cried. I was appalled and disbelieving as so many others at the time. Seventeen years from now, I’m sure that I will have no recollection of what was going on at the time I learned of Alton Sterling’s death, or the death of five Dallas Police Officers.  Why? Because now it is commonplace; expected even. Now this is part of the American experience.

While I have not yet fully processed Klebold’s book, there was something I just read that struck me as true, bold, and useful today. Close to the end of the book she writes “When tragedies like Columbine or Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook happen, the first question everyone asks is always ‘Why?’ Perhaps this is the wrong question. I have come to believe the better question is ‘How?’”  I agree. I think you could take out the school names and insert “Dallas” or “black men dying in gun violence at a tragic rate” and the passage still fits.  How did we get to a place where this is our new normal?

This book was truly heartbreaking and has given me fodder for nightmares and worry for at least the next twenty years. What saddens me most at this very moment is that she has laid her story bare, she has shared what she could, she has worked to do positive things in the areas of mental health (or “brain health” as she rightfully calls it), suicide prevention, and more.  And, yet these things persist. Events like those in the past 48 hours make me feel like Klebold and others in the world are pushing a boulder up a hill endlessly. We all need to help.

Klebold states later, “Asking ‘why’ only makes us feel hopeless. Asking ‘how’ points the way forward, and shows us what we must do.” I emailed a Board of Education member in my town today to ask about whether our school system has a curriculum of any sort regarding conflict resolution. She invited me to call her later to chat, and I will.  What do I know about curricula, or even conflict resolution? Nada. But I want to, and I want to know what steps we can take to help our children move away from this climate of fear. This is the tiniest of movements, but it is a movement.

I am making a personal promise to move only forward with love and empathy. I am still figuring out what that means, but that will not stop me. Please if you are reading this, please consider doing something today and every day– anything – to counteract the fear, violence and hate that is so palpable. And I mean anything. Choose to be kinder. Do someone a favor with your child watching. Talk to your kids about violence and racism. It is scary. It is not easy. It has to be done.

Chipmunks, flapping

Friends: don’t you just hate when you finally pour yourself a glass of wine after a long day, sit down for a nice sip and then boom – carnage? I know I do. Recently I was forced to answer some hard questions regarding the soul of a chipmunk as well as the strength of my character and I did not like it, not one bit.

My fluffernutter of a pooch had mistaken a chipmunk for her tennis ball, or perhaps a tiny remote control vehicle (I can’t be the only one that thinks they look like little RC cars racing around with their tails sticking up like they do).  I had quite the gut reaction of swear-screaming – sweaming, if you will – and banging violently on the window until fluffbutt realized her mistake and placed the chip back on the ground.

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How could she resist playing?  Also please watch this video because it’s awesome.

I knew I had to get to that very still rodent before one of my precious angels stumbled upon it and tried to skin it for its pelt.  But a terrible thought entered my mind: what if it was not all the way dead but merely very badly injured, seizing and foaming at the mouth? If so I would have to end its misery. With what? A shovel, the broken-off end of my wine glass, what?! I settled on bringing it to the driveway and running it over with the car if need be. Effective, yet indirect.  I am a lady who hasn’t intentionally killed any living being in probably 15 years and did not want to start.*

Well, let me tell you how simultaneously relieved and horrified I was to find that the little guy was all the way dead. I had almost brought shame upon my name with cowardice in the face of a mercy killing, AND realized that I have a dog that apparently kills innocent chipmunks. I put the body in the bin part of the poop scoop, took a step toward the woods and tossed.

That little sucker flew about three feet and then got caught up in a low, leafless branch of a bush. He was draped over the branch much like a washcloth draped over a clothesline to dry.  The chipmunk was actually flapping in the wind at me; just hanging around, blowin’ in the wind.

Because I sensibly threw him in the same direction that I throw a large amount of dog crap, I couldn’t just step into the woods in my flip flops and knock him off the branch. I was reduced to teetering on the rock wall, stretching my arm holding the scoop thingy as far as I could and trying to untangle the dangling chip from the branch while sweaming voraciously. After a full minute he fell down into a large pile of excrement, arms and legs splayed out in all directions; lifeless eyes staring directly at me.

All in all, my dog and I were both to blame. For even though she caused the death I disrespected the body and revealed one of the myriad ways my inner weakness rules me. I also blame Fisher Price for making the adorable Woodseys part of my childhood, therefore giving chipmunks a soft spot for all eternity (yes I still have the book and read it to my kids).

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Anthropomorphized for 80’s kids

 

*Ok, ok, I kill ants, flies and ticks. Ants, flies and ticks can go f*@k themselves.

Keep Reading

Last night when I put my eight year old to bed I got in and we cuddled up back-to-back with our books. This is always one of the best parts of my day. The feeling of his back against mine, hearing him laugh out loud at part of his book every few minutes – pure bliss. He is still young but already I’m worried about keeping him a reader. I’ve talked before about his checkered past in regards to reading, and the book that bridged a gap for him (check it out here).  But how to keep this momentum we’ve created; even in middle and high school?

My kids love Jon Sciesza’s books (especially The Stinky Cheese Man, check it out for creative silliness) and recently I found his Guys Read site on a Google search. In discussing why boys may not be reading as much as girls, he points out that many reading role models are female. Therefore reading can be categorized as a “feminine” activity in a little boy’s brain for all time.  In our house this is definitely true. My husband has never read books of any kind (he swears that he must have done so in school but can’t remember any of them). While I’m reading actual old-school books, he is devouring periodicals and internet articles on his devices. He probably reads as much as I do but his material choices are so vastly different, my kids’ visual is reduced to this: mom is reading; dad is playing on his phone.Collage 2016-05-24 09_15_07

I remember thumbing through a pictorial spread a few years ago in a celebrity rag, called something like “Sexy Men: They Can Read Too”. Paparazzi photos of male celebrities walking around with books peppered the pages. No matter that most of them seemed staged to me (come one, if you’re grabbing your book on the way out the door how often do you position it so the cameras can read the title?). It’s apparently odd to see a man with a book.

I also keep hearing variations on this idea: as boys get older they value reading less because they want to read for a practical reason, rather than just for the story. To me, getting involved in a story is a practical reason for reading, and why shouldn’t it be? Why does everything need to be value-added?  If this were true then surely boys/men wouldn’t want to watch Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, right? I mean, they are just stories not filled with practical information (ok, I can see that some of you are silently arguing this point on The Walking Dead).

For now I can only hope that this pure love of reading – one of the deepest I’ve felt in my life – imprints on my children. If it takes hold of them as it has me, then surely nothing will stop them from reading, right?

What is a Rural Suburb? This:

I live in a rural suburb. There are a few developments in town: those are the suburbs. I live in the rural.

I live on a street where you are as likely to find stray horses as dogs.  I’ve come face-to-knee with an ox while getting my mail.

At least one guy on the street mows his lawn by goat.

In my neighborhood I hear gun shots regularly. Not crime-y gun shots; merely my neighbors hunting their endless acreage, celebrating raucously, or helping an injured farm animal along from its misery. If someone ever really does get shot around here, no one will call the cops because we’re all used to it.

I live in a place that ministers to its own. If tragedy occurs, the whole community donates, helps, gives. Even if we don’t know each other it’s what we do. I have seen it in action and it’s beautiful.

Last year a huge tree fell from our property blocking the road and our driveway while we were on vacation. Strangers cut that bitch up so we could get drive into the driveway. An electrician from town that I’d never met was up on a ladder with a headlamp at 11:00 at night checking out the wires that had been ripped from my house. These kind of people are my people.

I live in a place where we are still considered “the new family” after 11 years.

People around here have a lot of land, a lot of trees and a lot of privacy. I literally have no idea what my next door neighbor looks like.

I share my yard (and deck and garage) with a plethora of species. Once I saw a deer that had just given birth in my backyard nursing her newborn. We have a quail that spends a week here each spring, and resident rabbits, hawks and fisher cats.

I live in a town with a nasty heroin/opioid epidemic.

My neighbors across the street consist of at least 5 siblings, houses all in a row, living in land passed down through their family for generations. I don’t think any of them has a job. They are in a family feud and call the cops on each other regularly. Obviously, these are the same neighbors that shoot the guns.

You can find a million dollar home in my town. You can also find a one room shack made out of tin. Some people live in the woods at the end of my road – because they prefer it.

If I want to go to Target, a mall, a clothing store, Starbucks, or a fancy restaurant, I have to drive for a minimum of 30 minutes.

We live on the East side of the Connecticut River and every time I come into our valley, every single time I come to the four-corners where my town starts, I swear I can breathe a little easier. Everything looks prettier, seems slower. When I get a full-frontal amazing sunset every night from my kitchen window while cooking dinner, and while I have coffee on my deck looking out over the field of wildlife, I know that there’s nowhere else I’d rather live. People come to places like this to relax, or have a little vacation. It’s where I always live. And for that I am grateful.

When Spring is Very Cold

This is one of the true, yet magical, stories of my life: the first time I saw Adam I was sitting on the floor in his living room. I could see the staircase from where I was and he descended in slow motion. He was wearing khaki cargo shorts and a button down short sleeved plaid shirt, with Birkenstock sandals.  More likely they were imitations. Time stopped for a minute and I had this clear thought: here is my future. And I was right.

He asked my name and I told him, I guess, because he was saying “Eliza, Eliza” all slow and nice and it was the best pronunciation I ever heard.  We talked all night.

After the weekend, I went back to my own state. Laura called; she said “I think Adam likes you” and I said “too bad I live in CT and have a boyfriend” (to clarify: It was more like I had a disgusting scab that I would rip off, watch regrow, then rip off again). My friend said “dump him and move to NJ”, like no big deal.  I said ok, hung up the phone and ripped off that scab for the final time.  Then I moved to NJ, like no big deal.

The day after I moved, Adam came over and never left. The day after that, his dog and stuff appeared and we opened a joint bank account. We had gone on a total of three dates. I told Laura “this is crazy, but I’ll marry him.” And that girl believed me.

I was right. I did marry him; and it was all easy. Sixteen years and two kids later things aren’t always so easy. In fact they can be as dismal as this cold, rainy week. But this story is the hoodie I put on when the weather sucks. I cinch the hood tight so only my eyes stick out and step out into the rain. My wish for today is that you also have an old, worn garment to keep you warm. And may you never leave it in a cab or forget it in the back of the closet.

Stay Gold, Ponyboy

Most people probably look back on junior high with mixed emotions. There were a lot of ups and downs. I looked like a train wreck, scrawny and pale as a wet noodle with terrible hair, and wearing the same sweater over and over because it was the only one I owned that I liked, with high-waters and the Kmart brand of Eastlands. Despite this, I had a great group of girlfriends that were funny and smart and actually liked me (shout-out to Lee, Laura, Marty, Nik & the twins!).In particular, I remember seventh grade as a stand-out year. It was the last year that I still felt truly like a kid.  I liked boys, but in more conceptual sense than eighth grade. My friends and I had finally mastered the one-curl bang and the lunch-time Poison VS Def Leppard wars were in full effect.

One of the biggest reasons I so happily remember my seventh grade year was English class. Mrs. Paradis was fun and engaging; her classroom was like an adventure to me. I had been an avid reader since before I even got into school, but seventh grade was the year that my love affair with literature caught fire. Unlike the Babysitter’s Club series, these books were a kind of universal language. Adults in my life had read them and cared to talk with me about them.  We “knew” the same characters. “Stay gold, Ponyboy”, I would say with a somber nod to anyone who would listen.  Man, I was cool.

The standouts that year were The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, and Animal Farm by George Orwell. I know there were many more, but 25 (ish) years later these are the three that I remember igniting in me a particular passion. I wanted to put away the safe “kiddie” novels I was reading and start asking larger questions. I realized that writing doesn’t have to be taken at face value; story can be a shell for something deeper. I loved this idea, it was like finding a treasure that was really a puzzle that you didn’t even know existed. I enjoyed thinking in layers. In retrospect, the books in the seventh grade curriculum at CMS (go maroon & gold!) were probably chosen for this very reason.  I now raise my wine glass to the powers that be that chose those books for my class to read.  Your curriculum worked for this book nerd.

This was my first introduction into “adult” reading. While my religious friends were taking their Confirmations and Bar Mitzvahs, I had my own little threshold-crossing from kid books to literature. Now reading was for more than fun, yet I still reading because it was fun.  This was as close as I ever would get to any ceremony to mark my growing up in the eyes of society. And no one but me knew about it! But things were different from then on. Side note: I went crazy that summer reading Stephen King novels – only outside lying on the hammock, in broad daylight for safety. I devoured The Stand, The Shining, Thinner and anything else my stepfather had on the shelf.

Now as an adult I revisit childhood books, having recently read The Little Prince and Lord of the Flies I can highly recommend going backward and doing this at some point in your life.

Possible 7th grade reading list patched together from a shady memory and the internet:

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

Animal Farm, George Orwell

A Midsummer Nights Dream, William Shakespeare

Lord of the Flies (I feel like this was more likely 5th grade for us), William Golding

Of Mice and Men, George Steinbeck

The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells

Where the Red Fern Grows (again, I feel like this was read earlier), Wilson Rawls

staygold

 

Mice Rise Against

There is a Norwegian proverb that says It is better to feed one cat than many mice. I know this because I am of Norwegian blood. Their proverbs run through my veins like an icy fjord. I’ve been feeding one cat for ten years now, along with hundreds of mice. There was a point in time that I actually fed two cats, but the slow one was murdered by a mouse gang.

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Hi, I’m useless

Oh Sarsgaard, the mice. They live under the hoods of our cars, in the walls between the garage and house, in my compost bin, and today I discovered they’ve co-opted the teak bar on my deck.  There is a raging wind-storm going on (fun fact: wind is my most-despised weather occurrence) which caused the fold-down door on the front of the bar to open. I peered inside the bar to discover total destruction.

I store things in the shelves and cabinets during winter, things that I’ve successfully stored in there for 12 years. Those things are destroyed. Bag of wooden clothes pins: resembles Swiss cheese, clothes pins gnawed & soaked with pee.  Votive candles: wicks buried under turds. Gardening gloves: chewed, pooped on and filled with acorn shells. The whole inside was filled with miniscule Styrofoam balls, which I later realized were from the bottom of the cooler/sink combo that you can open from the top of the bar.

I used to have a Volkswagen that the mice loved. There was a fiber lining under the hood that was just perfect for them to fuck up. Once I pulled up to a gas pump and noticed that I had just run over a mouse on the concrete. It was still twitching. I’m pretty sure that sucker fell out of the front of my car when I pulled in and then I ran it over when I slow-rolled forward to the pump.  Another time I took the car to the dealer because it was having issues, caused by my air filter being crammed with acorn shells and pieces of the fiber hood lining. A mechanic looked at my car and jiggled some things. Then he drove the car into the bay and there was a 25-foot trail of acorns, which the service manager Instagrammed as a joke.

Earlier this year my husband obtained some sort of “natural” mouse repellant – because we are both suckers and hate to kill any animals, no matter how obnoxious. He, of course, overused the product (“if the can says to use 3-4 sprays, then 8-9 sprays will obviously do a better job! “) in the attached garage. I came out of the shower to the very pervasive smell of animal piss mixed with vomit wafting through my house.  As he laughed and left for the day he mentioned that the product is advertised as a beaver repellant. Well, the mice were not repelled. But I am happy to say that we have had zero beavers in our garage.

Back at the bar, I was gloved in pink rubbers that went almost to my elbow. I shoved what I could into a flapping plastic bag that was headed for the garbage. The wind whipped my hair and clothes mercilessly while Styrofoam balls rode the gusts through my nose, eyes and yard. I imagined finding a mouse somewhere in the bar and tossing it high in the air, like a kite with no string.

There is another proverb attributed to the great people of Norway: either conform to the customs or flee the country. I had this in mind many times while attempting to make the mice flee. But now I feel defeated. Maybe the message is reversed and meant for me, from the mice. The mice rise against.