Life is the Blessing: For my Father

My dad passed away last Friday, May 6. I wanted to write something for him, wanted to stand at his service and give some account of his life as I knew it from my own perspective. After almost 3 hours of calling hours, I wrote this for the service. The reinforcement from a very close friend that life is what matters helped me to find my words. My dad was sick for a long time and was the reason I moved home after college 12 years ago. Still, his death was sudden and left me hurt. It is not refined or particularly well edited. It also is not about my ego as a writer. Family and friends asked that I share it because it’s hard to hear all the words when you are mourning someone, and it’s hard to hear my words, which are spoken softly. I miss my old man. Who else is going to call me 3 consecutive times and leave a 1 minute 45 second message to tell me that, “Ice cream sure would go good on a day like this…bring the dog.”

My father was a United Methodist minister for over 30 years, father to 4, and husband to a woman who his parishioners repeatedly told him he needed to shut the mouth of. They celebrated their 45 wedding anniversary in April of 2014, and my mom died in January of 2015. To be honest, they were hot messes the scale of which few can comprehend. My dad ran over his own teeth with a mobility scooter multiple times; my mom kingpinned a black-market elastic bracelet trade in the nursing home. I really miss them. Tom and Darlene.


Life is the blessing. People say, “Live like you are dying,” but I disagree. Live like you are living, like the air is free and days are long. Live like the universe is expanding into infinity. Live like you will sweep over the event horizon like a leaf in cascades. Live like you are loved and give love. You must live.

When my mom died a year ago January, the meaning of everything clouded over. And now I miss my dad. If she had been my moon, that bright body to pull my tides, my father was the stars, the steady guide to help me chart a course. What can I do without my compass? Where do I go and what does it mean?

Months passed by after mom’s death. I found myself standing in the tiny spring beauties of a wide open field. I saw my feet at the tops of rocks and tucked myself under trees. Days when my house felt too vacant and quiet for rest, I drove. Just drove. What I realized as the days rolled past was that I am here to live and had continued to do that in spite of myself. It is what both of my parents wanted.

You may be tempted to say of my father’s life is, “Well, he struggled for a long time.” The truth of it is painful, a briar hooked into my heart. But what I want to tell you is that, for 66 years, my father lived. The unplanned 3rd child of Dorothy and Emerson burst into the world from the backseat of a Ford. Little Tommy stuffed his face with the farmhand’s chewing tobacco, and it was his secret with grandma, who rubbed his belly. Latin-flunking teenaged-Tom blazed through Carrollton, and his mother finally told the cop to mind his own business. A few years later, his fast and furious VW Beetle forced other cars off the road trying to pass them uphill. And yeah, my mom liked to point out their high school parking spot anytime we drove cross-country in Carroll County.

The man I knew was a caregiver, lover, friend, and general mischief maker. My dad slept in the car under a full moon waiting for me to be born, and his was the first face I saw as I settled into my place on Earth. When mom was too weak with arthritis to lift me from a crib, dad slapped me in the car seat for auto parts runs. Lots of days when she went to see the Dr., dad and I shared honeybuns and chocolate milk in the Parkersburg hospital cafeteria. He bounced toddler me on his knee, always yanking me back right before I fell off. Every night, he read me stories, skipped as many pages as he could before I noticed, and snapped my nose in the book as he tucked me in. He cooked and cleaned and did laundry for the household of 6 while he held multiple point charges and almost always had a side gig as an autobody man. He flipped cars before flipping was a thing. Each of his kids had some cobbled together vehicle and the only requirements were that it had the capacity for speed or he could paint it. My father’s thumb was green, tomatoes his specialty. He was as annoyed as anyone when church ran long because he had a pot roast and nap waiting at home. Don’t touch the mixer…mashed potatoes were his thing.

When I was in high school, I didn’t know that I should be sneaking away to make out with boys behind the bleachers. My parents and I, we went to matinees at least once a week. My dad and I laughed at our own inventions of silly while my mom pouted at our genius. I spent afternoons helping him sand the ’84 Cougar he bought at a rummage sale for me, and we blew out rust boogers all night from the dust. For years, I argued from under an engine that my clockwise and his clockwise were not the same thing…only one of us got angry. And I still think clockwise is stupid. When nights stayed clear, my dad and I climbed the hill to watch the stars shifting, and we both felt tiny and scared at the space over our heads and the openness of our own hearts. We ate ice cream and chocolate cake together, but in truth, he ate 75% of it. We talked about all the things. All of them. When no one else could help me, when no one else could say, “hold steady, girl,” my dad could find a way. He did that for me from beginning to end. He loved me from the start, and I loved him to the end.

You know my father in many different ways. And what I ask you to remember is who he was when he lived. And who are we? Are we yet alive and see each other’s face? Wherever you find your faith—in the ancient words, in the roots of trees, in the old hymnsong or the open seas—realize that one day you will live like you are dying but it is not this day. Find the sunset and melt to the sky. Plunge your nose into a lilac clump. Hug someone. Hug a cat or 10. Sing, not because no one is listening but because there is music everywhere. Can’t you see what is special in your heart and in each heart around you? Living is not a matter of time. Perhaps it is a matter of grace. My father would tell you to seek the divine, and I tell you also to unlock the chambers of your quick-beating heart because there is grace within you, too—the grace to extend to every life around you. Then, go and eat the M&Ms. Eat all of them. And don’t hide the evidence because you’ve found grace and life is the blessing. Go away from here and live.

Much Ado

I want to believe in a collective sense of being, yet we each dwell in a different experience and comprehend the world in unique ways. In a moment of glorious self-pity, a past boyfriend exclaimed as he was dumping me, “How can you know anyone else? I don’t even know myself.” Later, he went on to say that he thought we were the same but realized that wasn’t true. He was hoping to date a vaginalized version of himself. General life experience has led me to determine that it sucks to injure others because you can’t sort your bidness. The vein of identity buried deep within is worth mining. Taking the rickety mine cart into the depths of yourself is dark and scary, but you emerge with shiny stuff. Traysures! I’ve made a small and partial inventory of me for no reason in particular.

Cool. Less Cool.

Cool. Less Cool.

Many times a day I tell myself, “Be cool, Danara. Be cool.” Many times a day I am not cool.

Cat herding skills perhaps came at the cost of people skills.

I have been vegetarian longer than I wasn’t. A bolt of idealism prompted me to try veganism for a weekend. All I ate were Ruffles.

Where undergarments and laundry are concerned, lined running shorts are never off the table.

I rock hard. Like Zeppelin hard, not Megadeth hard. Like Heart hard, not Iron Maiden hard. Like Abba hard…

If you never wanted to wear a top hat and play tambourine after sleeping with all your band mates then we can't be friends.

If you never wanted to wear a top hat and play tambourine after sleeping with all your band mates then we can’t be friends.

After 9 years as last-chair percussionist, the triangle and I had a date with destiny. But an addiction to Stevie Nicks brought on tambourines. That’s a grip you cannot escape.

I’m not saying all knitters are elitist assholes, but… A lady at O’Hare told me that my projects would bore her. I plan to crochet dog jackets like my mom and her mom before her.

I still have nightmares about working at Dairy Queen.

Are determination and strength the same quality? Probably not. I move large furniture, comfort dying animals. I will surprise you with my strengthination.

All roaming turtles will be helped without regard to their opinion on the matter.

Less friendly than most Midwesterners, more friendly than most New Englanders, I’ve finally succumbed to life in rural Ohio and wave to everybody all the time.

Newborns are strange and needy. Toddlers and I share a deep reverence for potty humor.

There were witnesses to the Kentucky State Trooper asking me if I thought I was better than the law. If my French had been better, I might have understood something similar from the Metro security in Paris. My defiant streak is occasionally misguided.

Like you didn't want to get in on that sweet bar scene.

Like you didn’t want to get in on that sweet bar scene.

Best show ever: Cheers or Cheers? Trick question. It was Cheers.

Do you know how there’s that awesome friend who you call when you want a wild time? I’m the friend you call when that douche bag hurts your feelings.

I make a conscious effort to touch people. I wonder if it’s as creepy as it sounds.

For a year of my childhood, I didn’t use my fingers to eat. It would be certain death to touch my food. Around the same period, it seemed likely that the moon had turned to blood and the rapture was imminent. I should have scrubbed my hamburger across the McDonald’s floor before eating it rather than trying to ride out the apocalypse.

My parents were charismatic Christians. There was much laying of hands and speaking in tongues. Revivals. In tents. They just went for it.

I was baptized in someone’s above-ground swimming pool by my father. Still not a fan of water.

My rural Kentucky college required that every student pass Contemporary Christianity and Survival Swimming. When I think I might graduate from therapy, I remember that second semester from my senior year.

You think Ken will ever leave once he experiences the luxury of that pink plastic bed? Good thing Astronaut Barbie doesn't tolerate that shit.

You think Ken will ever leave once he experiences the luxury of that pink plastic bed? Good thing Astronaut Barbie doesn’t tolerate that crap. She don’t need a man.

When I’m a millionaire, I will have a special room for my old Barbies complete with the Barbie townhouse with mini plastic elevator that my mom would not buy. There will be 2 Kens to every Barbie. I will drag myself away from my canopy bed and Casio keyboard long enough to brush Barbie hair every day.

“Hiss! You’ve hissed your last!” Disney’s Robin Hood. It’s appropriate for all occasions.

In 1990, a disastrous earthquake was predicted to impact central Ohio. I fantasized about saving everyone from the rubble of my elementary school. Even gross Carl and boogery Brian.

I carry rocks in my purse. Always one from the Cumberland River. Maybe it’s good to have more than gravity holding me to Earth.

A third wheel makes a tricycle.

A third wheel makes a tricycle.

Sometimes I am the other island in the stream with Dolly & Kenny.

The first time I really kissed a boy, Víctor, I was 20 in an underground gay bar in Mexico. He said he hoped he’d see me again. I don’t know why I never went back.

I want for things to be better than okay for others and don’t know what to expect for myself. It will take me a lifetime to understand how to reconcile.

The people who fall in love with me think no one else will love them. The people I fall in love with are cats.

An Open Letter to Jim of Dominion Gas

Dear Jim,

Truthfully, I’ve never been a champion of mankind. The furred and feathered are more my kind. I could say that a lot of disappointments and heartbreaks have tarnished my spirit and dulled my soul. But if we’re being honest, and I feel like you and I can be honest, Jim, I’ve been stuffing my pockets with catfood and waiting out the feral furries since I was a child. And I’ve spent a lifetime dodging human conversation or skillfully making others feel awkward enough that they back away slowly. Bit of a feral creature myself.

I don’t know who you thought you saw when you came to restore my new house’s gas today, but she must have been wild with desperation.

You rolled up in that house like a guy who turns on gas for a living. And you said, “Did you get the gas leaks fixed?” And my eyeballs bulged, and I said, “What gas leaks?” And you said, “The ones we came out and shut the gas off for in August of 2014.” And I said, “I just bought the house this August. No one told me about gas leaks.” And in my head I said, “Son of a bitch,” but my eyes said, “Help!” And you said, “Enh, let’s go take a look.”

“Whoa, you got some stuff going on.” I should have warned you about the bathroom vanity in the living room. “You gonna sand those wood floors?” I’m no stranger to the male-female dynamic, Jim. I am as handy as I need to be, and I need for you to know that. “Yes, sir.” I also need for you to know that I don’t know how to fix my gas leaks. “Honestly, I’ve never had gas before. What do I need to do?” You didn’t even laugh. You’re no stranger to gas jokes, but I wasn’t kidding.

I confessed to the clusterfuck of plumbing. Although fixable sometime in the future and much improved courtesy of my brother, the issues have caused me to finesse my squatting position within the confines of the bathtub as I urinate into a foam cup from my gas station Mountain Dew. I didn’t tell you about that because, frankly, it’s too soon in our relationship for bathroom habits to be aired during daylight hours. You eyeballed the moldy corner of my basement as I said that pretty much everything had burst last winter. And you nodded. I told you that the house must have been a do-it-yourselfer special, but I plan to do it better. Because I know how to look stuff up on google and I have man-hands. Two fingers already smashed. Then, I took it all back because I owe that little house love. “I’m still happy. I’m still excited.” You nodded and replied, “Good little brick house.”

Jim, when you squeezed your flashlight in the notch between neck and shoulder, when you leveraged one giant wrench and a smaller one apart to untwist the meter in a clear display of mechanical prowess, I knew that you were no stranger to toil. I am a head taller, but you’re the one with the pipes. Still leaking, so you looked over my small maze of black iron. Valves and joints and compounds and fractional sizes of stuff that I tried to log into my brain while you spoke. 3/4” valve, I repeated. I asked who to call, a plumber? But I was walking through hardware stores in my imagination, wondering where I could find the valves and how I could figure this out. Fractions and dollar signs performed a tiny jig behind my eyes. I said to you, “Okay, I’ll call a plumber. It would be good to have heat this winter. That would be ideal.” In my head I said, “Wait until this guy leaves to wallow in your bewilderment.” You were standing by the corpse of the water heater killed by old man winter, and you mumbled, “Ah, let me go check in my truck.”

I didn’t know what to do or where to go, so I followed you out. With spare parts in hand and a flashlight shining out of your pants pocket, you strutted back into the house. “You are about to make my day,” I said to your back. “I’m trying,” you replied.

I’ll be damned if you didn’t do it! Superman powers leveraged against 70-year-old furnace pipes, and it was a ridiculous thing to watch. For 15 minutes I stood swelling with the kind of thankfulness that rises when a stranger does you a solid. When you tried the lines again and proclaimed, “No leak!” I mini-clapped and gave a “yay!” You wanted more than a squeak, you said. And I asked your name and told you with the kind of earnestness that I’ve refined to cross into uncomfortable territory that I was so grateful. You mumbled, “I’d just rather see you spend your money somewhere else.”

You saw a crazy kid tumbling headlong into life, maybe misjudging just how many other tumbles she’s had, but accurately judging her direction.

This is a paper towel artist's rendering of Jim, who looked nothing like this.

This is a paper towel artist’s rendering of Jim, who looked nothing like this.

And so, Jim, hero for this day, thanks for being a kind person. Thanks for helping me to remember that people, with labyrinths of heart and nerves in their own beings, are kind. Thanks for investing your time into my vision. Thanks for giving me gas.


Little Brick House Lady

My Own ‘Merica

Shine on, you crazy diamond. From Putinspiration.

Shine on, you crazy diamond. From Putinspiration.

Yeah, the pole bearing a rebel flag and an American flag on my way to work makes me mad. No, I don’t accept Vladimir Putin as my personal lord and savior, but I don’t think of myself as a patriot, either. I’m not even sure what it means. My sense of entitlement to all good things, contempt for politicians, and dedication to Mountain Dew remind me that I’m all American all the time. As September 11 has rolled around again and the internet is ablaze with ‘merican pride, I started thinking about who I am as a part of this vast landscape and complex culture. What does make me a patriot? What does run in my veins and quickens my pulse?

Love trickled down at least. My older bro and sis.

Love trickled down at least. My older bro and sis.

–I’m a child of Reaganomics. A child of poverty, of parents with mental illness, of Jesus. A child of the hills, of love and bewilderment, of crisis and peace. A child of the 1980s. My mom said my name meant, “Child of our hearts.” I still believe in that.

–My generation went from wandering the halls at school to practicing lockdowns. In high school during a locker clean out, someone threw a piece of fruit at an English teacher’s cleavage and exclaimed, “Bank shot!” I remember that teacher saying that in 30 years she’d never been so maliciously assaulted. Columbine happened my junior year. We didn’t know what it meant at that age. I was afraid of the chaos. Adults were afraid of me as some part of a discontented and isolated youth culture. It made a person miss the simpler days of tornado and fire drills. Natural disasters instead of human disasters.

I have only just realized his eyes were blue. Mom's were brown.

I have only just realized his eyes were blue. Mom’s were brown.

–I didn’t understand why my mother walked out of the theater during Forest Gump. I didn’t understand why she hated anti-war protestors as much as she hated war. But I suppose when all that returns from Vietnam is the body of your brother, the whole world looks different. We didn’t talk about war, and we didn’t talk about Louis. My mom’s mind was bonded to the pieces of shrapnel that tore into his flesh. The memories we don’t have can take precedence over the ones we do have.

–Quiet and bashful, my paternal grandfather was rejected from the draft for being “gouty.” His brother went and returned. Stationed in North Africa. Elmer couldn’t believe in any kind of god after the things he saw, my dad said. I can only see my grandpa in his garden with a milk carton bill stapled to his hat, bending over vegetables to assess the bunny damage, inspecting tomato stalks for signs of the dreaded tomato worm, large gloves on his medium hands. He was a man who touched life gently. There are many humans who are so gentle but have not been as fortunate in the state of their gout.

–My maternal grandfather was a Marine. You’d have known it by his mouth. Filled with four-letter words, empty of teeth. He never wanted to tell me much about the Marines. My mom said the dentists there hadn’t used Novocain.

Playing balloons with my two biggest fans.

Playing balloons with my two biggest fans.

–I went on a mission trip to Russia at 17. Having never crossed a major border, I wanted to travel away from Ohio to see everything else. I had friends whose families visited Europe or the Caribbean for vacation. That wasn’t a possibility for my family. In Russia, I stayed in an orphanage with my all-adult group. To the kids there, I was like a shooting star that had landed in their palms. Nerdy, shy, uncertain me. I was fashion and opportunity and freedom and family to them. When we use the term privilege to deride others in the United States, I think we have failed to see the rest of humanity. Because everyone has a privilege of some variety. Privilege isn’t a dirty word. It’s an obligation to share your own resources as best you can with the world. It took infant-sized 8 year-olds living each day in cribs to help me see. It took tiny arms reaching up to me at a time in my life when I didn’t know how to hold anyone. It took two 13 year-old girls pressing my hands to their cheeks and petting my hair and asking if I had parents. It took the knowledge that one girl’s family likely dumped her because of a misaligned eye that could have been operated on when she was a baby. If she had been here, it could have been repaired. There are more privileges in our lives than we will ever understand. I came back from that trip a lost girl. A rich human, but a lost girl.

–Sometimes I hope the story of Tecumseh will be different. I hope that he will succeed in uniting Native Americans and holding the land. I hope he will succeed where Blue Jacket did not. Blue Jacket signed the Greenville Treaty that gave eastern Ohio to the United States. Tecumseh did not sign. Tecumseh fought on and was killed. We learned about Blue Jacket in Ohio history, and Columbus’s hockey team is the Blue Jackets. And I don’t know if Ohio remembers Blue Jacket to celebrate his effort at peace or his unwitting aide to genocide. Everyone here wants to claim their 1/8 Native American blood regardless of history. Why didn’t we learn more about Tecumseh?

Crisis or no, Tootsie wrestles her bra on one arm at a time like everyone else.

Crisis or no, Tootsie wrestles her bra on one arm at a time like everyone else.

–We all have our own tale of 9/11. My favorite is my friend’s lisping film professor who said something like, “Apparently, there’s some kind of national emergency. Here’s Tootsie!” What collapsed for me that day was my sense of existing in an impregnable nation. That day did shatter the existence of so many humans, not just Americans. I can’t pretend that it was the most meaningful day of my life. The truth is that it’s only a single heartbeat that separates living from dying. But it’s an entire lifetime of forces and impacts and privileges and moments that lead to the choices that lead to the living or the dying. Compelled by occurrences on that day some went to war, some to Canada. I finished college in Kentucky as my heart kept beating. I turned to those things most precious to me and ignored the rest for about a decade. We all have our “here’s Tootsie” moments.

Life should be a frolic, damn it.

Life should be a frolic, damn it.

I am a person who doesn’t understand. But I try. Gender, sexuality, religion, race, avocados. I try to hear the voices of many and to find my own. On Facebook, that land of platitudes and messy quotes superimposed on sunrises, a friend posted this from Elie Wiezel: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” I’ve never been much inclined toward speaking, and I’ve ridden many a fence. But I think of it now, the utility of my words and the weight of them. I consider what I return to a world where I absorb so much. My American ideal is finding the balance between speaking loud enough and learning when to listen. My American ideal is a commitment to life—not pro-choice, life-at-all-costs—just quality and equality in that opportunity. Not stuff and money. Not flags and guns. Pulses and leaves and toads and thunder. Oxygen for us all. Enough security and enough love to make each of us the lord of our own heart. Enough security and love to share, to toss into the wind with the thistle down and let take root where it falls. Consider that my unfurling flag and act of patriotism for this day. For each day.

The Journey of Heroines and the Return of the Bionic Woman

Ed Asner I’d heard about. Lindsay Wagner was the real news. Lindsay “The Bionic Woman” Wagner. That’s how she signs her checks. Coming to my town to film a made-for-tv movie of fluff.

Once upon a time, I was not so bold as I am now. I was even shier, hiding under bangs, braces, and glasses. In 1994, my family moved from a rural Ohio town, where I’d lived with my siblings, rode my bike to see friends, and discovered my own “secret” spots by the creek near dumped tires and toilets, to an even more rural Ohio town. My minister father had landed his dream appointment, which landed me sans siblings or friends in a ranch house surrounded by cornfields on 3 sides. I started 7th grade with my Looney Tunes Sylvester t-shirt, Chuck Taylor All Stars, and Jansport backpack full of loneliness. Do you ask other 13 year-olds if you can sit beside them at lunch or do you sidle onto a bench unnoticed? Can you wrestle a sports bra on in the locker room without anyone seeing your boobs? How do you stay discrete with feminine hygiene? It’s hard to socialize when you work so hard to remain unseen. I was a phantom.

My mom kept this in her dresser. My sister and I 20 years ago. Phew.

My mom kept this in her dresser. My sister and I 20 years ago. Phew.

By 8th grade, I’d settled in and had the world by the tail! I cut my hair into a trapezoidal topiary and put drumsticks up my nose when the math teacher wasn’t looking. I found gal pals for sleepovers and bitchy-teen plotting. We were snarky at best. Yet, lining another girl’s locker in maximum absorbency pads didn’t create the bonding experience I desired. Friendships felt tenuous. The doctor told my mom I had an ulcer, though I now know that my stomach pain was caused by an aversion to defecating in public facilities. I missed more days than was permitted by the school district. Should have been held back. There was discussion. Administrators and my mom. But even the Man couldn’t deny my name on the honor roll. And Darlene Wallace wouldn’t hear any more about it. Straight A’s and staying home to watch my stories=winning. The school counselor asked me why I missed so much, if something was wrong. Nothing an obsession with 1970s reruns couldn’t fix.

Charlie’s Angels was the gateway drug of 1970s camp. It was on during the day, around 11am on a Turner channel. During my “sick days,” I watched it right after quality time in my precious turquoise and green lavatory. We didn’t connect though, Charlie’s Angels and me. Another challenge to my trust. There was too much flat-chested sexiness and personality conflict amongst the Angels. A man from a talking box bossed them around, and they packed the tiniest heat possible. Feminine heat. Excessive lip gloss. Guest appearance by Sammy Davis, Jr., and so many different Angels. Not my scene. No disrespect, Angel’s fans. And then, one afternoon on the Sci-Fi channel, The Bionic Woman and I found each other. Jaime Sommers wasn’t just another gangly lady with baby-sized pistols. She was the product of love, hope, and scientific badassery. Neither completely woman nor completely machine. A medical breakthrough and 5’9” of tough stuff. In her life before working for OSI, Jaime played professional tennis. She lost her parents in a tragic car crash only to survive a sky-diving accident herself years later. To survive it with the scientific improvements that enabled her to mop the floor with anti-‘mericans and meanies. She taught middle-schoolers on the side. Tall, smiley, and a little awkward. Smart, kind, and semi-reluctant to beat the spit out of baddies.

Strong and sexy. And then there's Steve, too.

Strong and sexy. And then there’s Steve, too.

Jaime Sommers is who I wanted to be. Her boss Oscar’s repeated use of the nickname, “Babe,” makes me regurgitate now. When I was 13-14? Jaime was solid enough to carry casual sexism, knowing all the while that she could crush Oscar’s manhood in her one bionic hand at any moment. Look out, Oscar! Here comes a Fembot. What is the greatest threat to the world? Strong, unthinking a-holes. What totally undermines a lady’s right to have rights? Physically strong and intellectually/emotionally weak Fembots. No one was fooled by your mechanical vaginas, Fembots. Least of all Jaime. My bionic hero fused force, strength, emotion, humanity, progression, thoughtfulness, intelligence, and audacity into one woman. This would be my evolution, I decided. A force of good and blondness flinging myself at life because I could handle any situation, save any basket of kittens, and reject any man so I might stay home and needlepoint Shakespeare quotes. Strong enough to be single while also getting nasty occasionally with Ken-doll Steve Austin; it’s my prerogative.

In three short seasons of reruns, Jaime and I had a kinship. Maybe this part of my life was the meaningless meandering of a growing kid brain and weird hormones. Who remembers puberty being described as blossoming? Ah, the gift of menstruation! I think that it was more. Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers was the intellectual and emotional being I saw in my own mother. But my mom’s body stayed broken. By the time my mom passed away last January, she had two femurs held by metal rods, plates, pins, and screws. Her knee, hip, and elbow had been replaced. Toes fused. Fingers curled around joint deformities. She walked with a cane as long as I remember and didn’t walk at all for the last 5 years of her life. That is reality. Medicine and science don’t make ordinary people into superhumans. Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis can make a vital woman full of love, brass, and her own kind of grace feel subhuman. Instead of recognizing the grit it took for my mom to get out of bed in the morning, I looked to Jaime Sommers to teach me how to be a phenomenal woman.

Square glasses, mirthless smile, jowls. Everything about my mom said,

Square glasses, mirthless smile, jowls. Everything about my mom said, “dictator.” I miss her, you know?

No one’s mom is cool when you are 13. Maybe there’s some well-adjusted, homeschooled, breastfed, genius uncontaminated by teenagerdom who thinks her mom is the bomb. Unnatural. It’s a mom’s duty to suck sometimes, and honestly, mine seemed to relish her tyrannical rule. Yeah, she was a fucking trooper trapped in a rapidly decaying body and struggling with the complications of tragedy, a whole lotta holy rolling, and narcotics in her brain. But when I was 13, she was a dictator turned master humiliater. It was like living out Kim Jong-Il’s blooper reel. She threw all 5’ of roundness at whatever she loved. She went to college when I was in kindergarten. Took on tiny, rural, woman-hating churches as pastor. I watched her, in the last weeks of her life, extend loving kindness to more nurses, aides, and random strangers than I can count. And in the ICU, I overheard her telling more than one person that I was hiding a pregnancy when she knew this oven to be militantly patrolled against buns. When I had ovarian cysts at 18, she notified the church community that 1)I had lady issues 2)I was still a virgin. Why did I confide in this woman? Because I trusted her above all others. Her kids were her proudest achievement, and, as youngest of 4, I was unable to escape the domicile before she’d worked her mommy magic. As the bond with a fictional late-70s crime fighting cyborg cannot be broken, neither can the bonds between my mom and me.

Who didn't want to be this lady at one point in life?

Who didn’t want to be this lady at one point in life?

From this vantage point, my life is a prairie. I see so much while wondering what is yet unexplored. Past, present, and future. The Bionic Woman was not who I expected to come back into my life to seduce me with her smile and incredible listening skills. But here she is! Or rather the actual human, Lindsay Wagner. Can she get me a deal on a Sleep Number Bed? Probably. I’d be a fool not to ask. Who do I want to share it with most? My evil but completely accepting and supportive mom. I have to do this for her. I have to honor the woman who watched me run through a screen door more than once, whistled from the audience when I played last-chair-position percussion instruments at band concerts, and allowed me to explore the chasms of quirkiness that make my personality. If I can’t track down and at least stand silently and awkwardly before Lindsay Wagner (and this tv movie production company says I can’t), then I hope she frequents the Dollar General, IGA,and Marathon station while in town. I must see her from afar, at least. You can’t break a self-made bionic spirit. I’m cross-stitching a pillowcase that says so.

Dreams and Danzas

No one knows the origins of dreams.  In a 2013 study, scientists and physicians asserted that dreams are believed to be the result of microscopic, pillow-dwelling leprechauns who whisper incantations, lamentations, and ruminations into your ear.  Really.  Google it.

Maroon Cords+Care Bears Purse+Tent Revival=Sassy Jesus Dreams

Maroon Cords+Care Bears Purse+Tent Revival=Sassy Jesus Dreams

I am a dreamer.  Not in the romantic sense, nor in the gritty, determined sense.  For as far back as this brain can remember, back past the existential crises of writing touchy-feely material and enduring gross relationship stuff, past the years of devotion to the scarved-goddess-beauty of Stevie Nicks and crushes on gay boys, past the awkward bangs and braces, past those movies about a lady’s special time every month and the subsequent confusion, slightly past the years when Barbie drove the dining room in a Payless shoebox while Ken kept his junk secure in plastic-molded briefs (right where Ken junk belongs), all the way back to that time when I was miniature human with Velcro Cabbage Patch sneakers and a Pink Panther plushy dangling from the crook of my elbow, I have been cascaded by nightly piñata bursts of visions and emotions.  Once, I lived on a desert island with the least fatherly version of Cary Grant.  That was nice.  And then there are the all of the sweaty nights when my front tooth falls out and I wonder if I can play that off in public.  “It’s cool, everybody, ” I say as I try to stick the tooth back into my gums.  Tornados, pantslessness, phones that will not call 911, a voice that will not sound.  My sleepy-time norms.

My mom got sick in December, and the specter of grief found my restless brain.  Graphic images and hard circumstances rolled from the night and into my day.  She passed away, and I don’t know if it is in dreams or reality that we feel less powerful.  In my dreams, Mom was my moon, and I wondered what would happen to my oceans without her gravity.  She was a petite person, a doll who I protected, carried through biker bars in Calgary, carried to the precipice of a great canyon and back again.  She is the smiling phantom, here and gone again.  Hope and grief again.  But I keep living, which means I keep dreaming.

When friends who don’t remember the worlds within worlds within their heads hear of my evening odysseys, they say, “You should write those down.”  I wonder if it’s because they are entertained or hope to find a chronicle of my descent into madness.  I have been considering growing a beard, getting my name off the Satan-ruled interwebs, and taking to the hills to live in an old school bus…but really, I’m very stable.

On this day, this Tuesday morning after a night of early bed, there was nothing to explain renewed vigor and energy, nothing to explain why Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry suddenly felt like a sweet groove after the morning jokes on Akron’s classic rock station, nothing to explain why Lady Dog’s coat looked extra glossy and her poop breath smelled less offensive.  Nothing but the breeze of a dream that floated through my night.

Everything is ready to go for the Amish furniture show that my boss organizes annually.  The Amish guys have all moved their best, handcrafted furniture into the expo center, and it is almost time to welcome the public.  My coworkers and I have stuffed the books with glossy exhibitor photos into complimentary tote bags, and we have had our morning donuts.  I am ready for this day.  My coworkers leave me as they attend their tasks, so I settle at the information desk.  A shortish guy with graying hair comes through the front doors and asks me, “Can I still place an ad in the exhibitor’s show book if I don’t have booth space.”  I’m such a sucker.  I hate to say no, hate to hurt feelings.  But no, I tell him, the show book is for exhibitors only.  He lowers his head and tells me how far he has come, how much it means to him.

Tony's the boss, except if Springsteen is around.

Tony’s the boss, except if Springsteen is around.

I can’t stand to hold all of this man’s disappointment, so I ask him to wait, to let me radio my boss.  I squeeze the walkie-talkie button down, knowing what the answer will be.  “Tony Danza wants to know if he can place an ad in the Amish furniture exhibitor guide.”  My boss replies with a firm no.  Furniture exhibitors only!  I see Tony.  He has his hands in his pockets, shoulders slumped.  This is just what he needs, he tells me.  This exposure to a totally new audience will turn his career around.  I thunk down that walkie-talkie and stride out of the coziness of my information booth.  Full of righteous conviction I shout at him, “You are Tony Fucking Danza!  People love you!”  I poke his chest with my finger and force him to acknowledge all of the awesome things about himself that I see.  Tony Danza doesn’t need to advertise.  Tony Danza doesn’t need to infiltrate the hordes of Ohio Amish who didn’t fall in love with him in the 1980s because they were quilting and racing buggies.  Tony Danza doesn’t need anything but faith in Tony Danza.  And then I throw in a, “Hey, Angela,” that sounds so authentic I almost think I am Tony Danza.  If a super-potent pep talk doesn’t jar this small man back to himself, memories of Judith Light’s shoulder pads definitely will.

I wait to see the impact, if my words carry any weight, and I think they do.  I felt my words came from a deep and powerful place.  Tony sways a little side to side, rubs his hands together and claps.  He says that I am right, he knows it.  This is what he needs, this renewed belief in the magic of Tony Danza.  Not some stupid ad in a furniture book.  He starts toward the doors.  I want to say that Tony turns back to me, bites his lip, and punches the air, but he doesn’t.  He struts out of that expo center to reconquer the world, and I feel solid, hopeful, excited for a world in which Tony Danza can show us who’s the boss a second time around.

The magic of dreams doesn’t cease when our eyes open.  Those emotions spill into our conscious lives whether we want them too or not.  Maybe you wake up angry with your partner or clinging to a special kitty.  Only in your dreams are you tight-cheeked enough to manage the Freddie Mercury ‘stache and leather pants simultaneously.  And you can’t really fly.

Let your soul go belly-up like a stoned kitty.

Let your soul go belly-up like a stoned kitty.

When I look at the stars dappling the evening sky, I sometimes feel like a cord pulsing in harmony with a stretching universe.  Other times, I am this pale bit of a girl looking out from a field into an openness she cannot comprehend.  What am I, and what the hell is that?  And what am I again?  There is this same bewildering expanse within me where some mix of my elements bears dreams.  Mad, rampant, crazy dreams.  Constellations of sweetness and sadness.  When my conscious mind tallies the struggles, my subconscious manages to reveal that there are still bits of my soul wallowing in an internal sun like obese cats after a nip orgy.  My subconscious binds me to my backbone again.  I am Tony Fucking Danza.  I remember that now.

Another Tale of Online Dating

If you’re single in the 21st century, you probably have an online dating story.  Online dating sites use these special algorithms heartthat combine hope with perversion divided by despair multiplied by attractiveness and subtracted from the square root of Jesus freaks, general freaks, and ordinary people who don’t understand punctuation.  From this, you may conclude that I don’t know what an algorithm is and that I have a few online dating experiences of my own.  Here are my tips to an only slightly disheartening experience that will surely entertain your friends.

1)  Creepy begets creepy.

I rejoined the ranks of online dating because I believe there are kind-hearted, intelligent men out there who are over 5’7”, have no children, and live within 100 miles of me.  Initially, I thought I would treat all other site participants who sent me messages with respect and general well-wishes.

Hose1234: “Hey u like hose n heels?”

Hmmm.  Yes, the garden hose is useful.  Hey!  Wait!  Nobody sends messages about gardening at 6:32 am.  Perv alert.

Me:  “I don’t know.  Does your grandma like hose?  Get counseling.”

You have to go for it.  Clearly, this Columbus, Ohio, man has never actually watched a female wrastle her lower extremities into a pair of control tops.  And if he has, then he is a fan of cellulite whiplash, not pantyhose.  We all have elderly family matriarchs for a reason.  Never be too proud to mention grandma to creeps.

2)  Don’t give the guy who paints miniature unicorns and ogres a chance to reject you.

The world is filled with unique individuals who enjoy all variety of activities.  Who can say what is “normal?”  The challenge with online dating is to accept what someone has chosen to share with the public and still try to get to know this person when his hobbies aren’t your hobbies.However, giving someone the benefit of the doubt, entering into a deep email exchange that starts to make you feel like you should have gotten that degree in counseling after all, hoping that maybe the opportunity will arise to share your own personal stories and then being rejected as this man takes your “counsel” and asks out a lady from his daily life instead of you…that sucks.  Beware the deep emails.  Therapy sessions should at least result in my choice of free beverage.

3)  Trust your spidey senses.

If he seems oddly intense, it’s because he has murdered people and buried them in the park.  No amount of Shakespeare quotation absolves that.When a guy in North Carolina, who doesn’t know your name, offers to bring up pizza and watch the Hallmark Channel with you, it’s not okay.  Not okay when he writes about hugging you when your participation in the conversation has not meandered past, “You have a lot of pictures of yourself in the library.  Do you live there?  Ha!”  He tells you he’s a nurse and will take care of you and your family…um, not okay.  You ask the names of his dogs in his profile pic, and he replies, “Those aren’t my dogs.  That’s when I was homeless.”  NOT OKAY.  Too much to share too soon, sir.  Maybe this guy is in the process of getting his life together, but I have my own set of issues to manage.

I stopped replying to North Carolina man, and maybe that was the wrong way to handle it.  A week later, he messaged me to ask if he had said something wrong.  Yes!  But I replied no because this guy isn’t Dr. Frank-N-Furter-Sweet-Transvestite creepy, he’s liver-eating, fava beans-with-a-nice-bottle-of-chianti creepy.  I told him that sometimes conversations run out of momentum.  He replied, “Is visiting you in Wooster someday too much to dream of?”  Yes.  And joke’s on you–I don’t really live in Wooster.

4)  Honesty is the best policy, except when it isn’t.

Some folks put it all out there.  They use their real names for profile names, list their employer, actually fill in that space for income, and list the dates of venereal disease screenings.  Hey, we’re all here to meet and mingle.  Why not share those personal details?  Please refer to 1, 2, and 3.

No one needs to know your name or where you live.  In fact, I rarely share my name because it is unusual and easily traced back to me.  You might say I’m too suspicious, that I have trust issues.  Precisely!  It’s bad enough to have learned the hard way that hearts get trampled all the time.  I don’t need a homeless man from North Carolina catching the Greyhound to Ohio and reading liver preparation tips on his ipad while he travels.  All internal organs must stay intact, and unfortunately, my history with the one semi-successful online dating experience I’ve had dictates that this heart must stay guarded.  I alone possess the access to name, address, income, STDs, and heart.  It’s all on a need-to-know-basis, and most people don’t need to know.

5)  People will tell you there’s someone out there for you;  It’s probably a cat.2013-10-23 19.09.54

6)  Don’t play into gender stereotypes.

I had to say that before I assert that I don’t think most men are looking for a real partnership.  I don’t think most men are prepared for it, particularly men of my generation, in their early-30s.  Men are intimidated by humor, intelligence, assertiveness, independence, and vaginas.  I have my own socket set and know how to use it.  I have a job and aspirations.  Men are great thinkers, lovers, friends, caregivers, creators, workers–all the same things that women are.  Yet, there’s some disconnect with the men I’ve met and their expectation of relationships.  Loving someone is compromise not sacrifice, and guys have one mother, who is not the girl they are dating.  Also, my unsuccessful dating exploits beg that I point the finger somewhere.

7)  If he seems too hip or attractive for you, he most likely thinks he is.

Don’t ever think someone is too good for you.  It isn’t true.  Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, races, genders, sexualities, intelligences, experiences, etc.  If you don’t believe me, go watch a Dove ad.  They market the hell out of soap based on that.  Dating is hard enough without allowing that internal voice to tell you that you aren’t as hip as some skinny jean-wearing, bald photographer who looks like he hasn’t seen the sun in 3 years and lives the in Short North of Columbus.  Don’t go there.  If people don’t want to know you, they are too shallow to be worth your time.  If you find yourself treating other people this way when they message you, well, you do have to maintain some guidelines.  Cape wearing is always going to be a deal breaker.

8)  What do you have to lose in trying?

This is what married people say to single people.  Married people who have always been happily married and have not spentsmiling sloths Friday nights scrolling through online profiles while drinking wine and watching Murder She Wrote.  Married people who want you to be happy but mostly want you to stop complaining about being lonely.  Married people who don’t ask their dog for financial advice or opinions on outfits.  Married people.

There are a lot of experiences to enjoy in life.  Online dating is not really one of them.  It is, however, a tiny ray of hope to a 30-something, liberal, creative-type living in rural Ohio.  Since no one knows my name or where I live, what do I have to lose?  I don’t know.  I’m going to ask the dog what she thinks.

What I see on the rails to trails.

What I see on the rails to trails. But this story isn’t about deer.

The old lady’s neck is as big as her head, and her husband has my morning routine memorized.  They had joined the gym in summer when I was jogging the local rails to trails.

“Cutting your run short today, eh?  I can tell ‘cause your face isn’t red.”  Okay, old man.  I don’t need you calling me out on my general sloth-like nature or my face.

“Finally wore pants today!  It is just a little cold out there.”  Nosey old woman!  Maybe she, in the process of building that block head/neck over the last 70 years had already learned that running shorts and -2° are bad for business, for lady business.

Yes, they weirded me out.  At first.  But these old people have been looking out for me, so woefully young and naïve at 33.  Gradually, I have opened up with them about the weekend forecast, and they have confided in me about poor gym etiquette.

“He was hopping around here like a flea!  I told him you gotta wipe stuff down.  He said he don’t sweat.”  She rolled her eyes as she said it.  I tried to be outraged, but it was hard to hear over my own blood pressure.

“Who doesn’t sweat in here?  I sure do!”  That was my reply.  She was working her deltoids while her hubs was on the incline press machine.  I noticed their jeans and knew I was the only one with blurred vision and streams running toward my crack.  We all mutually dropped the conversation in favor of annoyance at the discourteous, new “flea.”

This has become my routine.  I go to the gym, where their 1994 Chrysler minivan is parked next to the door.  She greets me with some degree of sarcasm regarding my attire and the cold.  He says hello while giving me side-eye so he knows how hard I’m working.  We watch Kickin’ It with Kenny on Cleveland Fox 8’s morning show (today, Kenny was at a pottery/design studio in Lakewood (Kenny has to work extra hard to make up for the morning show lady who used a racial slur earlier in the week (Yeah, I know))).  The old folks and me, we have this chemistry like old, wet dynamite!  There are 2-5 other gym-goers who make up the 7am regulars.

Change is good, they say.  If your sideburns take up half of your face or your socks maintain the shape of your foot without an appendage in them, change is very

good.  When your fitness gym merges with the medical rehab gym?

I heard a clatter in the stall while changing my pants and thawing my water bottle in the sink.  I knew it was the old lady because that’s the kind of bond we have now.

“Full house,” she said as she shimmied out of a stall.  The parking lot had been unusually full.  I agreed and asked what was going on.  “People down from the rehab place, I guess.  They get a cheap membership. Froze your water again?”

My shoes because they take me places.

My shoes because they take me places.

None of this was news because it had already been news.  I work in a town of 4,000, and it’s the biggest town in the county.  What doesn’t make the paper, makes the local gossip.  But this transition had made the paper.  Farmers losing the odd body part to a greedy piece of farm machinery or strange haircuts are fodder for gossip.  Redefined gym/rehab?  No problem.  I spent all of my life with a mobility impaired parent and half of my life pushing 350lbs worth of the other parent through public places in a wheelchair.  I respect the tenacity and courage it takes to keep moving when moving becomes hard for whatever reason.  That is my philosophy.

Philosophies are so beautiful in the head but evaporate when a half-crippled elderly man almost rolls the stationary bike on top of himself.  Twice.  I mean, absolutely the 40-something, Selleck-stache-donning regular who climbed on a treadmill was flashy.  But did the old dude next to him have something to prove?  The old man stopped his treadmill, stuck his arm through his man purse, and stood watching the ‘stache for long enough to make me uncomfortable.  Was my turn coming?  Yes.  Why did a crusty fellow stand at the back corner of my treadmill for a full minute?  I don’t know.  I told myself not to worry.  Geriatrics know how to manage themselves as evidenced by my other two senior gym friends.  The side-eyeing, routine-memorizing, whip-cracking old man friend of mine manages even if modern social cues are a mystery to him.

I tried to block it all out.  I tried to watch Kenny and listen to my run mix.  I tried to believe the best about people and their capabilities.  I worried about how long it would be before a hip broke.  Shouldn’t they have had spotters working the recumbent bikes?  Where were the seatbelts and helmets?  Ellipticals should have been rolled out to the curb.  The older folks were hobbling around down there with their jeans and adaptive devices as Contemporary Christian blared, and the triumph of humankind reduced to shriveled limbs being flung over gym equipment with hopes for the best.  I let my stress pound out of my feet while keeping fingers poised over 911.

Change happens.  My original old people are still there setting the standard.  He has started wearing those pants that unzip around the knee, but he keeps it classy.  She’s wearing old-school Reeboks with her American flag tee.  I look young and supple.  And if I have to sit in my car after my morning run to make sure the bow-legged octogenarian limping along while carrying his cane makes it to his vehicle without serious catastrophe, then that’s my new routine.  Even though donuts go straight to the thighs, time and gravity are the real villains.  But this is a feel good story.  Go help an elderly person onto a stationary bike, and be fulfilled.

The Day My Gym Went Denim

Of Age and Indigestion

At 33, lines, gray hairs, and saggy skin are creeping into my mirror.  It’s crap really.  In some kind of ultra-mature (totally naïve) decision-making scheme, I never exploited this body when it should have been exploited.  No booty shorts, no grinding, no alcoholic binges followed by haphazard pees in bushes.  And my lack of embarrassing, drunken, hormonal, stupid, peer-pressure-driven regrets is one of my biggest regrets.  When the dude finished my ear piercing after my last birthday and declared, “Whoa, you clot crazy fast,” I realized that I’ve been missing out.  In what shenanigans could I have engaged and never would have had to consider bleeding to death as a possible outcome?

While I was working an event today, an older woman stopped mid-sentence and said to me, “You’re so pretty.  I’m sorry if I’ve embarrassed you, but I try to say kind things when I think of them.”  I’m sure I had blushed, which in itself demonstrates that I have not had enough mornings waking up naked and drooling beside a hairy stranger.  Those compliments will be fewer as I shift into a more mature woman—-if a more mature me is possible.  More than that, her compliment reminded me that after spending the last 10 years of my life caring for my chronically ill parents, my focus has moved beyond the gray hair I see in the mirror and body shot fantasies and into the realm of self-improvement, that kind in which I too try to share kindness with others and even share my chocolate chips.  Words like intentional and gratitude have entered my vocabulary alongside skank and curses.  Beer is no longer worth the bloat.  Naked strangers are not worth the risk.  Orange juice and ibuprofen work up an ulcer, but I take them together regardless.  I run not for fun or for exercise but for sanity.  This is full-blown middle-age.

What do I really regret?  Instead of telling me I’m pretty, I wish someone had said, “Why so serious?”  Couldn’t someone have told me that you can choose not to take risks, but hard things will still happen?  People you love will pass away, whether from your immediate, ever-changing life or from their own stilling hearts.  Individuals you love with your whole self will let you down.  Beloved cats and dreams will get squashed.  Cancer might grow.  Gray hair sure as hell will.  Babies may or may not come into being.  Muffin-tops will triumph.  Weird hair that disgusts you will grow on your body in places you’d rather not inspect.  Your mother’s sayings will make sense, and you will find yourself telling people, “Fish and friends stink after three days.”  You’ll drive the speed limit because tickets and gas both cost too much.  Sharing tales of indigestion will become a bonding experience among peers.  Dancing in costume with a period English country dance group will seem like a decent way to spend the weekend.  And even with your incredible clotting speeds, you will still wonder which activities may result in bleeding to death.

500 words later, what I really want to say is, why so serious, people?  We’re all somewhere on the spectrum of age, responsibility, and maturity.  Until we gasp out that final fog of carbon dioxide, there’s time to craft a life we love with people we love.  Priorities and perspectives shift to bring new ways of existing into focus.  There is time to wear halter tops and highlight your hair along with expressing care and achieving goals.  And if you don’t believe me, if you don’t think it’s true, if you don’t see that life instead of death should be our motivator despite droopy appendages reminding us of mortality, we can talk about what Doritos do to my digestion.  You’d have to be a deity not to have a wrecked colon after eating those.

What’s in a blog?

What do people blog about?  I don’t know, as it happens.  It is a cold, rainy day in rural Ohio, and immediately after driving in to my office to think over the merits of chocolate, peanut butter, and blogging, the pervy music store owner across the street decided to broadcast Christmas saxophone slow jams through this tiny town. There are very few things that will disrupt my concentration more quickly than “O Holy Night” being soulfully rendered on a woodwind.  So until I am capable of organzizing real words in a worthy bloggity blog, I will drop a couple of thoughts here like dropping a couple of kids off at the pool.

Things that I believe are worth considering:

Cats wearing tiny pants.

Alligators with dentures.

Balding alpacas experiencing hair-loss only on their heads.

Do we wash pants because they are dirty from the inside out or outside in? And why don’t some people understand that if pants experience dirt from either internal or external sources, they should be washed?

If contemporary Christian music is playing in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it sound just as terrible?

In describing someone about to open a business, I used the phrase “pregnant with capitalism.” Using medium to large-sized words in a sentence will always make you feel smart.

In America, we often talk about following our dreams and hanging on to our dreams.  Last night, some very tiny chickens laid eggs the size of their own bodies, and I felt really disturbed.  That’s a dream that I’d like to let go of.

Speaking of eggs.  Women think they have it tough.  What if we laid eggs?  Add that to the list of socially awkward bodily functions, and suddenly all other lady business looks like a stroll in the park—albeit a cramp-crippled stroll of rage through a park with a chipping, lead-painted merry-go-round.

Is anything offensive to a dog?