Category Archives: more than meets the eye

I fixed it for you.

Yesterday I got an email from a very sweet girl who wanted to tell me how happy she was to have found “this tribe of bizarre stranglings” because she finally figured out she wasn’t alone and there were others out there like her.  And it was very lovely, although I did think it was odd that she was witnessing so many stranglings here, but then I realized that she meant “strangelings” (like “changelings” but stranger, and that spellcheck had probably changed it for her because spellcheck is an asshole who doesn’t understand the fluidity of language.)  She also included this quote from the Breakfast Club because she thought it fit our odd community so well:

we're all pretty bizarre

And I agree.

And I decided to write this post in case you needed to be reminded of how important you are to me, and to all the other strangelings and misfits out there who find themselves at this blog, and realize they aren’t alone, and get the support they need to be the dazzlingly odd person they are without apology.  You have no idea how important you are.

And I love the quote, but I did feel it needed a small tweak to reflect the us that we’ve become:

fixed

Never change, sweet strangelings.

How did this happen?

Happy birthday, Hailey.  You are our sunshine.

mygirl

Now please stop growing up so quickly or I will be forced to freeze you in carbonite, like a tiny Han Solo.  And this is the first year that you will totally get that joke and you will make another, far more obscure joke about Clone Wars and I won’t get it at all, and you’ll give me that look like, “Aw.  Old people are adorable.  Bless your heart.”  And I will still love you because you’re amazing.  But I’ll also be stockpiling the carbonite.

You’ve been warned, my sweet girl.

So fragile, but so enduring.

I’ve been missing for awhile, but I’ve been trying to find my words.

Meemaw died yesterday, at the age of 80.

If you’ve read here long enough then you already know meemaw.  She’s Victor’s grandmother and she (and her late husband) helped to raise Victor, offering him a loving home and a sense of compassion and generosity that has kept him from strangling me over the years.    We were lucky enough to be able to move Meemaw down to live by us last year, so we could spend more time with her, but a lot of that time was spent in hospital rooms as she battled cancer and heart and lung problems.

Meemaw had a penchant for telling her favorite stories over and over, but she told them with such joy that we always laughed like it was the first time.  Sometimes it was the story about Victor getting his head stuck in a fence at Disneyland.   Sometimes it was about breaking her back after falling out of a moving jeep while shooting at rabbits.  Sometimes it was about picking cotton, or rolling cigarettes, or digging up a corpse, or meeting the man of her dreams as a 17-year-old waitress and marrying him 10 days later, or traveling the world as the wife of a career soldier, or making dresses from feed sacks.

A few weeks ago, family gathered around her hospital bed and she started to tell one of her favorite stories that we’d all heard so many times we could each mouth the words.

“When we were little,” she said, “mama would sometimes give all us kids a fresh-laid egg.  And we’d walk for miles down the road toward town, each cradling our egg in our hands.  There were six of us kids…”  She trailed off as she lost her breath and we waited patiently.  She looked a bit lost and after a moment her sister gently laid her hand on her arm and smiled widely as she picked up the story exactly where meemaw had left off.

“There were six of us kids and we’d walk into town because we could trade in our egg at the main store for a cold Pepsi.  We always chose Pepsi because it came in a bigger bottle and we could make it last all the way home if we sipped it slowly.  On really special days mama might give us two eggs and then we felt like we were rich because we could buy peanuts to go with our Pepsi.”

Meemaw smiled gratefully and nodded as she picked up the end.  “And in all those years, none of us ever dropped a single egg.”

It was the last time I ever heard her tell that story.

It was also the best time though, and I don’t know if I can do justice in explaining why.  Partially it was seeing the caring sparkle in both of their eyes as they recalled the story, but it was more than that.  It was seeing that even in her last days, as meemaw struggled to carry her egg, someone she loved caught it and carried it safely home.  She never dropped her egg.

It struck me that sometimes an egg is not egg.  Sometimes an egg is a story.  Sometimes it’s a shared secret, or a sweet relief, or a treasured memory or learned lesson.  Meemaw carried so many fragile eggs with her throughout her life, keeping them safe until she could hand them over to people she loved.  Sometimes the eggs contained kindness, or generosity.  Sometimes they were lessons in patience.  Sometimes they were lessons on the importance of family.  Sometimes they were late-night milkshakes, or handmade quilts, or staying up through the night to rock you to sleep when you had a fever.  Meemaw gave me two things:  (1) She taught me that you don’t always have to get even.  Sometimes you just have to get quiet.  (Because when you get really quiet that’s when people start to feel anxious and regret being jerks and then you’ve gotten even with them without actually doing anything at all.)  And more importantly (2) she gave me Victor.  Or rather, she instilled in Victor a sense of joy and love and generosity that made him able to be a wonderful husband and dedicated father.    And Victor protects those values she taught him and we carry them to pass them on to our daughter, who may one day pass them on to those she loves.

Sometimes an egg is not an egg.  Sometimes an egg is a life.  Sometimes an egg is a lesson.  Sometimes an egg is a gift.

Even in death, meemaw never dropped her egg.  She simply passed it on to us so that we can continue to gently carry it with us as we each walk down our own paths using the lessons she gave us.

May we all be so lucky.

PS.  This is the song meemaw chose to be played at her funeral this weekend.  I can’t listen to it and not smile.

Godspeed, Doris Jean Cantrell.

small doris cantrell

Women Who are Ambivalent about Women Against Women Against Feminism

So...yeah.  Right now there’s a lot of talk about a tumblr called WomenAgainstFeminism.  It’s just pictures of some women holding up handwritten signs entitled “I don’t need feminism because...”  Some of the reasons they give for not needing feminism almost seem like a parody (“How the fuck am I suppose to open jars and lift heavy things without my husband?”) and some (“I don’t need to grow out my body hair to prove I’m equal to men”) just make me wonder where in the world they got their definition of feminism.

At first I considered starting my own “I Don’t Need _____ Because” tumblr with people holding equally baffling signs.  Signs like:

I don’t need books because YOU KNOW WHO WROTE BOOKS?  HITLER.  HITLER WROTE A BOOK.  NO THANK YOU, NAZIS.

I don’t need money BECAUSE I HAVE A CHECKBOOK, ASSHOLE.

I don’t need air because LOTS OF IT IS FARTS.  I’M NOT BREATHING FARTS.  YOU BREATHE FARTS.

But then I remembered that I’m too lazy to make a tumblr and that this whole thing was a bit ridiculous. Here’s the thing:  Do you think men and women should have equal rights politically, socially and economically?  Then you’re probably a feminist.  There are a million tiny aspects of this to break off into and I get it.  It’s complicated.  There’s not just one type of feminist, just as there’s not just one type of Christian or Muslim, or man or woman.  Hell, there’s not even just one type of shark.  Some are non-threatening and friendly.  Some get sucked up into tornadoes and viciously chew off people’s faces until that guy from 90210 stops the weather with bombs.  (Spoiler alert.)    The point is that sharks, much like feminists, are awesome, and beneficial, and the world would be a worse place without them.  Plus, they’re incredibly entertaining and even if you sometimes think they’re dicks for eating cute seals you still yell “HOLYSHITLOOKATTHAT!” when Shark Week comes on.  I think this is a bad analogy.  Lemme try again.

Feminists are like bees.  They are adorable and fuzzy but people run away from them because they don’t understand that they just want to make things good.  We’d be fucked without bees.  Seriously.  And yes, some bees are assholes and maybe one killed your great-uncle and there are some that you give the side-eye to when they start acting crazy but eventually you realize that you have to take the good bees with the bad bees and maybe just be picky about what honey you choose to eat.  Eat the raw honey, by the way.  It’s way healthier.  That last part isn’t part of the analogy.  It’s just good advice from my great-grandfather (beekeeper).  Also, like bees, feminists secrete a non-edible wax and are easily distracted by smoke.

I’ve lost my point.

Wait, no.  I’ve got it again.

Feminism is inherently good.  It’s not even close to perfect and still needs lots of work and sometimes it gets all fucked up and backward and awful but that doesn’t mean it’s not still worth fighting for.  Now go back and replace “Feminism” with “The human race”.  It works, right?.  That’s because feminists are made of human.  Men and women.  In fact, one of my favorite feminists is Sir Patrick Stewart.

Patrick Stewart, feminist. His mother made 3 pounds 10 shillings for working a forty hour week in a weaving shed. She was also an abuse victim and he’s an anti-domestic violence advocate.

Patrick Stewart, feminist. His mother made 3 pounds 10 shillings for working a forty hour week in a weaving shed. She was also an abuse victim and he’s an anti-domestic violence advocate.  More at the bottom.

I’m not saying you can’t choose to not be a feminist but know what you’re choosing.  Don’t make a decision about a group based on the most radical beliefs of a group.  Don’t get defensive if you get deeper and are exposed to difficult ideas about intersectionality and race and gender and colonialism and patriarchy and male liberation.  Just listen.  Some of it will make sense.  Some of it won’t.  Some of it will later when you’re a different person.  Some of it you’ll change your mind about throughout your life and the world will change too.  Some of it is bullshit.  Some of it is truth.  All of it is worth listening to.

And now you get to decide.  Are you a feminist?  Yes?  No?  Well, don’t worry because tomorrow you get to choose again.  And that keeps happening every day for the rest of your life.

As for me, I am a feminist (among so, so many other things).  I believe in equality and I think we still have work to do.  I’m thankful to the men and women who worked to give me the freedom and rights I have today and I am proud to be a part of a movement that I hope will make the world better and safer for my daughter (and for the men and women she’ll share that world with).  I’m happy we’ve come so far and I’m glad that we’re becoming more aware of feminist issues that don’t just focus on straight, white women, even though confronting those issues is sometimes painful. And I’m happy that the womenagainstfeminism tumblr exists.  Because even though I disagree with most of them I’m glad that those women have a platform on which to speak, and also because if we know what the arguments or misperceptions are against feminism then we can better address them.  Or agree with them.  Or ignore them.  Or discuss them with our sons and daughters so they can make informed decisions for themselves.  It’s up to you.

We’re all equally deserving to express our opinion.  After all, that’s what feminism is all about.*

*Or maybe not.  I got kinda confused after the shark analogy went sideways.

And that’s why I’ll never leave twitter

Sometimes people ask me why I’m on twitter:

twitter

Also, notifications like this:

punted cunt tornado

I want this on a t-shirt.

Unrelated, but something I probably need to address anyway…this morning I wrote about my last book being translated into several different language and a ton of you are like, “Where is your next book?  Why are you making me wait?  Look at your life.  Look at your choices.”  And honestly the next book is coming but it’s really, really fucking hard.  Writing always is for me.  It’s something I’ve always done and will always do but I rewrite and rewrite and look at a blank page for days and feel like my head is constipated with thoughts I can’t write properly until suddenly it all comes together and I end up with one perfect page that took 2 weeks.  I want it to be perfect because a ton of it is about mental illness and that’s a subject I can’t half-ass because it’s that damn important.  Additionally I want it to be insanely funny, and surprisingly mental illness doesn’t easily lend itself to quick and dirty hilarity.  It’s coming along and some parts I’m incredibly proud of and some parts I’m struggling with because I want it to be brilliant for you.  I want people who suffer from mental illness to say “YES.  THAT’S IT.  I’M NOT ALONE.”  I want people who love people with mental illness to read it and say “Oh.  I think I understand a little better now.  I never knew how important I was to those who struggle.”  I want people who are undiagnosed to read it and think “Holy shit.  This is girl is insane but she makes sense so maybe it’s not such a big deal to get tested and treated just in case.”  I want people to say “WTF.  That couldn’t have possible be true because OHMYGODTHEREAREPICTURES” and then get kicked off planes for laughing hysterically.  And I want people who are never touched by mental illness to read it and laugh at the insane stories I’ve collected over the past couple of years and recognize all the little flaws that make us human and special and brilliant.  I could have turned something in last year that would have probably sold well and I would have liked it, but I just want this to be perfect so please know that the time spent waiting is time spent making it better and shinier and funnier and more real because once it’s out there I can’t get it back.  So many people were touched by my first book and in turn they touched me right back (not that way) and I don’t want to let you down.  I have a giant manuscript filled with post-it notes in the shape of Daleks and self-made notes in margins reading “EXTERMINATE THIS.  MAKE IT BETTER.  MAKE IT STRONGER.  MAKE ME A COCKTAIL.  WHO ATE ALL THE BANANAS?  FIND BETTER PICTURES OF ANGRY POSSUMS.”  It’s getting thicker every day and that’s a good thing.

What I can tell you is that the very few wonderful (and painfully honest) people I’ve let read my drafts think it’s some of the best work I’ve done and they keep me from throwing it all in the fire when I feel like a failure, and I hope that you’ll still be here to read it whenever I finish it.  It won’t be long in the scheme of things.

It’s coming.  I promise.  I hope I can make you proud.

And for those of you struggling with your own writing, a few bits of advice that help me to remember that good writing doesn’t always come easy:

I hate writing.  I love having written. ~ Dorothy Parker

There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ~ Hemingway

Writing is like driving at night in the fog.  You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. E. L. Doctorow

What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Hunter S. Thompson attacking writer’s block:

hst

I don’t blame him.

There’s a moment.

Several weeks ago I had surgery to stitch up a hernia in my stomach.  It was supposed to be very simple but the recovery for me was horrific.  Worse than labor, or gallbladder surgery, or stepping on a floor made of loose LEGOs.  I had complications and developed a seroma, which is a “tumor-like collection of serum from damaged blood and lymphatic vessels after significant tissue disruption or trauma.”  It sounds worse than it is but it hurts like a bastard and I’d end each day exhausted and teary and unable to take complete breaths without flinching.  I might need more work done to fix it but they often go away on their own so my doctor decided to wait.  So we’ve been waiting.  And this weekend I was able to walk around and leave the house.  And Monday I could sit up from laying down without wanting to scream.  And Tuesday I felt almost normal for several minutes at a time.  And today, if I’m not moving, I feel good.  Really good.

The point is…today I feel okay for the first time in what feels like ages, because time – when coupled with pain – drags by so slowly.  I still hurt, but more like someone punched me, or like other people probably feel when they do too many sit-ups.  I can finally sleep without waking myself up thinking I’m being stabbed, and I can completely forget the pain for several minutes at a time.  That sounds small, but if you’ve ever pushed through pain that doesn’t stop for weeks at a time then you know the blinding relief that comes with a few minutes of peace that doesn’t accompany the nauseous dizziness of narcotics.  There’s a moment when you feel aware of the absence of pain, and that simple moment is such a wonder that it’s practically euphoric.  And you remember what it’s like to not hurt.  What it’s like to live.  And it is so beautiful there aren’t words for it.  It’s so incredibly easy to forget what it’s like to breathe when you’ve been holding your breath for so long.

It’s the same thing that happens when I come out of a rheumatoid arthritis flair-up that puts me in the hospital.  It’s the same relief I feel when I pull myself out of a depression that lasts longer than a week.  After a while you forget exactly what it’s like to feel good again, but then when you come out the other side, it’s dazzling.

I’m writing this to remind myself of the light.  Of the dazzle.  Of the fact that it’s worth trudging through the muck because the way out is so much better than you can remember.  It’s like the first shower after a week in the woods, or the sun on your skin after a month of night.  I’m writing this because I know I’ll be in dark places again and I’ll forget how wonderful it is to emerge.  I’m writing to remind you that if you’re struggling now, it will be good again.  It will be so much better than your lying, forgetful brain remembers.  And I’m writing to tell you that if – right this moment – you are healthy and well then you should stand up and do something wonderful to celebrate it.  Go walk barefoot on the grass.  Treat yourself to a good book.  Call or visit someone you love.  Make plans for a trip.  Eat a chocolate ice cream bar.  Enjoy the sun.

And if you don’t see the sun right now, keep trudging.  It’s there.  It’s blindingly magnificent.  And we’re waiting for you.  Promise.

Just remind me of this the next time pain or depression lies to me.

Deal?

The (Oxymoronic) Blue Bird of Happiness

A few months ago I mentioned that my friend, Brooke Shaden, came to my house to shoot my portrait.  We climbed down into the nearby swamp and I dressed up in a bunch of thrift store clothes that wouldn’t even zip up over my chest and I only fell into the swamp twice.  And we climbed trees and baffled hikers and laughed, and Victor and Hailey and Maile were there to help and it was amazing.

brooke

It was especially wonderful because I’ve been putting this photo session off for over a year because my anxiety disorder makes me continually postpone trips since I hate to travel and finally Brooke just said, “You’re weird.  I’m coming to you.”  I’m paraphrasing.  She said it much nicer.  But she understood.

She wandered through my house before the shoot and I had to explain my propensity for collecting the empty bird cages that hang all over my house.  They’re old and battered, but beautiful and unique, and I explained that whenever I get too overwhelmed I picture myself tucked behind those same bars…safe from worry and people and the terror of real life.  In some ways my house has become my own little cage…one that I love, but one that I retreat to perhaps more than a “normal” person might say is healthy.  I told Brooke that I feel bad about turning down so many meetings and trips and opportunities that some people would kill for but that I know that sometimes saying “no” is the only way to protect myself from the exhaustion that comes afterward.  But I still push myself out of my cage when I can.  Sometimes it’s just a few steps.  Sometimes I fly.  Sometimes I fall.  Mostly I sit inside and quietly watch, but that gives me the opportunity to view and study human nature in a way few get to observe.  It gives me insight and it helps me be a better writer and (I hope) a better person.

And then Brooke looked at my favorite birdcage thoughtfully and nodded to herself and began taking it apart to drag it into the swamp with us because she had a vision.  I didn’t entirely know what she was doing, but I went with it.

(by Maile Wilson)

(Behind the scenes, by Maile Wilson)

And today Brooke sent me my portrait.

It’s me, as the Blue (in every sense of the word) Bird of Happiness.

thebloggessandbrookeshaden

I love it.

Sometimes cages can be surprisingly freeing.


 

PS. I just looked up “bluebird behavior” and turns out that they’re usually timid, gentle and unaggressive, unless you cross them and then they will cut you.  It’s sort of scary just how accurate that is.

PPS.  In the morning I’m going to see the surgeon about removing that Who in my stomach.  Wish me luck.

UPDATED:  Surgery will be Friday.  Robots will be involved.  More later…