Category Archives: family

It’s Your Life, Don’t You Forget

I’ve been thinking lately, which frankly, tends to get me in trouble. From more than one area of my life, I keep hearing from and about people who are having to push against family or societal pressure to succeed or define their life success in the very narrow way of school, career, marriage, house, kids. There may be stuff to achieve after this, I’m not sure. Or maybe once you get all that stuff, society leaves you alone to your mid-life crisis. The whole thing leaves me scratching my head. Although does it? That’s where the thinking comes in.

If you are an English major or other humanities major or an artist/creative of any kind, your career path will most likely be rather interesting, not terribly lucrative, and it will follow the beat of its own drummer. Mine certainly has, and it’s only been in the last 5 years that I have landed in a comfortable spot, where I actually get paid decent money to write things that matter most of the time and have a personal life too. I fell into the trap of sitting back and thinking, how do all these people get caught up in that narrow definition of success?

And then the bad movie special effects kick in, the calendar pages flip back, and the ominous narrator intones, “It was the 1980s — the height of the Ronald Reagan years and Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street declared that ‘greed is good’ … ”

My honor student status in high school made it seem like I was just as good at math and science as I was at English. But that says more about the quality of the school than my academic achievement. I do remember an emphasis on the practical, which translated to studying science in college. And that’s when I was exposed as a science and math fraud. My ass got consistently and sequentially kicked in Bio 101, 102, Chem 101, 102, and Calc 101, 102. This honor student was suddenly looking at C’s and Ds and a GPA that hovered around 2.5.

Sure, I got an A in my writing class, but that had been fun and easy. Somewhere along the way, I had picked up the idea that fun and easy was wrong. I thought life should involve suffering and be a hardscrabble scramble in order to “count.” This may be a stab in the dark, but I wonder if being raised Catholic and seeing Jesus hanging on the cross every week, which I was made to understand I was responsible for, had anything thing to do with that?

Nahhhh.

The idea that something being easy is not always the right way to go only makes sense if you’re trying to train for a marathon by running one fast mile and stopping. That’s too easy, and you ain’t gonna cross that finish line before dark.

So there I was at the end of freshman year, with a GPA on life support, but still invested in the idea of life being practical and hard. So I did what any dumb, sensible person would do and took up accounting. This turned out to be just as bad as the science classes and I was suffering, so I knew I must be on the right track. I did enjoy the guy I sat next to who loved accounting and was making methodical plans to work for what was then the Big 8 — although I think they are down to 4 now. I could have listened to his confident plans all day long, but I should have been paying more attention to the connection of his accounting joy and his success in the subject. Instead, I wrote poetry in class while the professor droned on about first in, last out, or last in, last out. I got another D.

As a super ironic aside, a number of years later I was the sole administrative person for a tiny nonprofit and got put in charge of the books with monthly help from an accountant. It took me a year of her visits to truly understand what happened to the numbers when I put them in the accounting software columns and they popped out on the balance sheet. I always came out of those day-long sessions with a huge headache. Once when I was really discouraged, she told me I understood the process better than most of the college accounting graduates they hired. That is a rather frightening thought, but I’m guessing these were not my joyful Big 8 guy, but people who were trying to be practical and pursue the narrow definition of success.  I wish them the best and no headaches.

At the end of sophomore year, with my GPA still in the toilet, I had no practical place left to go. I threw up my hands and gave in and became an English major. I suppose if I had gone to a small school with advisors who gave a flip, I would have clued in sooner, but what fun would that be? There’s something to be said for failing rather spectacularly to teach you something. And once I switched, for the first time school wasn’t a grim struggle, it was actually pleasant and even fun sometimes. Who knew?

And then I also learned the more valuable lesson not to care what people thought, because I knew I had tried and was confident that this was the only thing I was good at. Oh to be sure, I endured a fair amount of sneering. “English major! What are you going to do with that? Teach?” Which is actually also snubbing teachers, BTW. Journalism was also not my thing, so I concentrated on my own writing and fell into nonprofit administration as a source of income. Then I had to endure the “Oh, you’re a writer? What have you published?”

Did I always feel confident? Of course not, when you get that 5th, 10th, or 80th publication rejection, you kind of think, what the hell am I doing? But now I’m starting to understand that I had a couple of key advantages, which seemed like disadvantages at the time. One, early on in life, I learned I did not have strong enough skills in any area that would have put me on the society-endorsed path. Also I’m allergic to gray corporate cubes. So I had no other option than to figure out how to succeed with the writing skills I had. Two, I come from a working class background, which I tried to run from in college and after. It came with high expectations in the moment — do your chores, do well in school (or don’t bother me with teacher notes that you’re screwing up). And it also came with low expectations for a future life. And that turned out to be an extraordinary gift, that I am only now fully appreciating.

Benign neglect combined with being kid number 4 (which one are you?) allowed me to find my own path and define success in my own way. I do recall my father pressing some rather random career choices on my siblings, so here is a formal thank you to them for wearing him out first. By the time he got to me, benign neglect has set in.

Life isn’t easy, no matter what path you choose — even those who pick the society- and family-sanctioned path will struggle at some point, so you might as well put your effort towards the skills that are fun, easy, and worth your while.

To paraphrase a Catholic call at the end of the Mass, go in peace to love and serve the skills you have. It’s much better than a headache.

Photo credit: Still from the Talk Talk video, “It’s My Life.”

X-Files: The Bad Boyfriend I Can’t Leave

Dear Chris Carter:

When we last met I had grounded you for essentially using us fans to make 6 useless episodes in 2016 that were billed as a standalone special event, but were really just a cheap ploy to make Fox TV give you another season of X-Files. It was not a standalone event; it mocked us and took to us to the brink with Mulder, minutes from sure death by the alien plague. Then a spaceship hovered over Scully and Mulder, and boom, that was the end. With no contract in place to guarantee the story would continue. Even as badly written as that story turned out to be, that ending was unforgivable.

Now you’ve turned the tables on me. You did score the additional season, and despite my serious misgivings, I once again find myself watching Scully and Mulder race through dark parking garages and driving rental cars on empty country roads. And, after all you put me through, I still foolishly expect closure, which makes me feel not like your pissed off mother, but like you’re the bad boyfriend I just can’t quit. You used me, you told me pretty lies, you dumped me, and then went off for 2 years with no contact. After the last time, I swore I was done with you. I didn’t care if I never saw you, Scully, or Mulder ever again.

But then I started watching the old X-Files again and remembered all of the good times we had — like the time I was too afraid to put my feet down after a particularly scary episode. It made me hunger for more Scully and Mulder, so I suffered nobly through the actors’ other mediocre shows just for a glimpse of them.

So, when you showed up at my door in January, I hadn’t changed that stupid lock, and I hadn’t made you leave your key. The charm of seeing Scully and Mulder again, a few sweet promises of closure, the passage of time dulling my memory, and I welcomed you right back in. I even offered you a seat and a beverage.

And like great make-up sex, the first episode — a flashback to the time just before the brutal cliffhanger — felt amazing; I was all in. There’s Cigarette Smoking Man, Scully, and Mulder doing their immortal conspiracy dance. I was drunk with it and gulped down a few more episodes. But then I got confused. The episodes were about other things. The monster-of-the-week things, as we call it in the X-Files world. Where’s Scully’s and Mulder’s son? Are we still in a flashback? Where the hell are we in the timeline?

Then I read that there are just 10 episodes, and only 2 are mythology episodes. Damn you Chris Carter! I fell for you…again! I was ready to break up, for real this time. But then you came around with episode 5, with its theme of Scully’s unbreakable bond with her son William and the fallout from her decision to give him up for adoption to protect him from Cigarette Smoking Man. The episode captures perfectly the parental torment resulting from doing the right thing at the time, and how hard and awful that is, and then much later you find out maybe it wasn’t the right thing. The regret is unbearable, but there was no other way to know then or now.

You followed that episode up with one focused on the long-suffering, FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner. You gave us his difficult back story, brought it into a perfect X-File themed present, and delivered an ending was so poignant, I had tears in my eyes.

Damn you Chris Carter!

There are now 4 episodes left, and I can only hope Jillian Anderson has the strength that I lack. She says this is the last season she will play Scully. She will break up with you for good. And then, maybe, I can too.

 

 

Beocat Ate Beowulf for Breakfast: Part 3

This is the 3rd and final installment of the legendary quest undertaken by Sir Mark Beocat, a fearless and valiant man on a dangerous mission to “fix” a problem of a full load of fertile feral cats. Last week, after a heady first success of reaching the daily maximum katz capacity of 6, we learned that the social club in an adjacent property dumped trays of fettuccine Alfredo out their back door offering the Katz a potential food source. Would Sir Mark get derailed by some unimaginative person’s party food waste? Would his efforts come to naught? Would the Katz learn that the fabulous smelling sardines and chicken in that cage thingy leads to a really, really bad trip, a blackout, and a hangover? And then avoid it altogether?

And now, the conclusion to Sir Mark Beocat’s Epic Quest.

Sir Mark’s log, Tuesday, December 19: “We trapped a bonus cat last night, so I had 4 cats to take to Springfield, the cat feeding villager [our dad] took 3 to the CT vet. We’re now waiting on some more.”

Sir Mark had made a rookie mistake and closed the traps the night before. Now he was worried. They had no cats for Wednesday. Still, he soldiered on and kept despair at bay. “The Katz were mucking about the deck last night, so maybe we’ll have some luck tonight.”

Wednesday, December 20: “We have 3 more going to surgery this morning! That makes 10 caught, leaving 4 more to go in the next 2 days.”

The original count had been 13 katz, but another had been identified by the villager. Keeping count was how Sir Mark knew he was making headway. His days fell into a blurring intense rhythm of trap checking, and then covering each trapped kat with a sheet or towel. Because the traps are just wire the katz don’t recognize they are in a cage and will continue to bash themselves against the wire. Once covered, they quiet down. Then there’s packing trapped katz in the truck, driving to the 8 am vet in CT. Drop off new katz, pick up post-surgery katz. Head to MA for the 9:15 time to drop off/pick up katz. He learned the hard way not to show up early at either place — they’d make you wait. The he released post-surgery katz, cleaned up the traps and resetg them, switching them to different places and putting them all over the yard.

Thursday, December 21: “It was a busy morning and a busy night last night. By morning there were 5 katz waiting for surgery. [Agent My Sharona had visited on Wednesday night, and Sir Mark declared her a katz magnet.] There were 2 bonus, heavy, tom cats in the bunch that were not planned on. They could be someone’s pet, but in the training Commander Caroline had said, if the owners didn’t want their cats nuts cut, they should have kept them indoors!” So be it.

This was the hard reality of Operation Krazy Katz. Just due to their size, you could safely assume the two toms were pets. It turned out that one of them was already neutered, so the vet just notched his ear. That’s how they mark a spayed/neutered feral cat — with a surgical notch. The other kat got free (for its owner) surgery. Commander Caroline said that if the owners were not happy about the situation, the law was on Sir Mark’s side. Of course, his quest was Just and True.

His entry continued: “The tally as of today is 15, 2 of which were kept for adoption in Springfield. We are still missing 1, possibly 2, of the little fur balls. I saw one late last night, and the villager said he saw the same one with another escapee this morning while I did the katz shuffle loop between the vets. We got the most productive mother, and what looks like the 2 of the fathers, so that’s good. Looks like male/female ratio was fairly even.”

Such an incredible success, and yet, there was no rest for our brave, diligent Sir Mark. “Today and tonight are the last shot at getting the last 2 footloose and fancy free varmints! Right now all is quiet. I’ve got 6 traps out with different menus. All we can do now is wait.”

Indeed. To be so close to the goal. But out there were 2 wiley creatures, just scared enough or smart enough to look beyond the tasty food down that long tunnel and sense all may not be as it seems…

Sir Mark’s log, Friday, December 22, 6:20 am: “Unbelievable! Caught 1 of the 2 stragglers last night, and found the last 1 in a trap this morning. Mission accomplished!”

We all rejoiced, and yet, just 1 hour later this: “Ah buggah, just saw a gray striped one that doesn’t have a notched ear. Apparently there were more katz than the villager thought. Hopefully, it’s a male. As the Grateful Dead said, ‘What a long strange trip it’s been…’ ”

Sir Mark finished the day by picking up 2 katz in MA. He hosed down and disinfected most of the traps to bring back to the rescue organization, and then picked up 2 other cats in CT.

Yes, my friends, there are still heroes in this world. 17 katz fixed, dewormed, and defleaed in 5 days. It was the work of a fearless and valiant man, Sir Mark Beocat. Long may he live, and may the epic that is written about his deeds and courage be sung throughout the ages.

 

Beocat Ate Beowulf for Breakfast: Part 2

Last week, we learned of a legendary quest undertaken by Sir Mark Beocat, a fearless and valiant man who spent several months (that’s several years in Olde English, armor-laden, horse-riding time) meticulously planning and executing a dangerous mission, battling nature herself and saving a village and one particular villager who had been feeding said cats. Despite the great odds against him, Sir Mark Beocat had set his sights on, er, “fixing” the problem of a full load of fertile feral cats and would not be deterred. He lives in Maine, 300 miles from the village in Connecticut, and so planned to spend the week. His months of relentless, heroic preparations came down to this: 1 week, 13 cats, 16 humane traps, 1 cat trapping boot camp, 1 helpful pet rescue organization, 2 willing veterinary clinics in 2 states, and pounds of the stinkiest bait food you can imagine.

His first stop was Our Companions Animal Rescue, which had agreed to lend Sir Mark 16 humane traps, train him how to use them, and connected him to 2 vets who were willing to spay and neuter the cats on a walk-in basis. Here’s what happened next; quotes are from his log book.

Sir Mark’s log, December 17, Sunday: “Looks like we’re clear for liftoff on Operation Krazy Katz. Cover me troops! I’m going in! I’m heading down at O dark hundred to ground zero Sunday and will be at Our Companions Headquarters for a 10:30 am briefing on the details of the operation. Agents ‘My Sharona’ and ‘Mighty Martman’ [our sister and brother-in-law] may accompany me if they so chose for the briefing, and we have been instructed to stay focused as Commander Caroline will cram a 1-hour briefing into 20 minutes, distribute a truck load of secret conTRAPtions, and send us on our way by 11 am.”

After the briefing, Sir Mark sent an update:

“The blitzkrieg training at Our Companions went well, with all three of us graduating Katz Cum Loudly! We threw our mittens into the air and did what graduates do, go to the liquor store and head to the beach. We didn’t get far before realizing: (a) It was too dang cold for the beach; (b) The liquor store was closed; (c) We’re not that wild and crazy enough any more for that sort of thing! Instead we somewhat reluctantly did the mature, responsible thing and got ready for the Mission Inkatzable. We picked up extra supplies [sardines and other stinky foods Katz can’t resist!].”

Later Sunday: “I will stake out the territory, do some reconnaissance, ready the traps, and start Operation Krazy Ol’ Koot on Monday. Then I’ll collect fur ball specimens to be spayed or neutered Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.”

The two vets that agreed to take on whatever cats he could trap had very strict rules around when and how to bring in the cats. They were also about 50 miles apart, one in Connecticut and one in Massachusetts.

Sir Mark reported: “Chippens Hill Animal Vet Hospital has agreed to take at 8 am, 2-3 Kats on Monday, 3 on Wednesday, 3 on Thursday, and possibly 2 on Friday.  Should I trap more than that on any given day, I can run 3 more a day up to the Dakin Humane Society in Springfield, MA. They accept cats at 9:15 am. Hopefully I will get some leads on finding places to unload a few of the Katz, and we can work on thinning the herd down to a more manageable number. Probably wishful thinking! I’ll be sure to give daily updates and call for backup if I get in over my neck in flea bags!”

Sunday night, Sir Mark recorded this entry: “The Katz were getting familiar with the open unsprung traps in the afternoon. Commander Caroline suggested we put them out without food to get the Katz used to them. I was surprised at how some had enough curiosity to check them out and even go into them! This is very encouraging! The traps were set to stay open so that the they wouldn’t close on the curious felines while they explored. Today we will set them up and see how many we can get.”

The traps were in place. Everything was set. Would the Katz be too skittish? Would they find a way to steal the food and get out? All we could do was wait it out for Sir Mark’s next update.

Monday, December 18: “We had a successful first day, trapping 5 Katz in the first hour, and 1 more in the afternoon.” Success! They had reached their daily limit of 6. On Tuesday morning, the katz-feeding villager took 3 cats to the CT vet and Sir Mark drove up to Springfield. “We will try more enticing bait tomorrow, sardines and chicken.”

But later that day, there was a worrisome development. Commander Caroline had told Sir Mark to limit the Katz access to other food so they would be more likely to go into the traps to eat. The neighbor agreed not to feed them, but a social club in an adjacent property dumped a load of fettuccine Alfredo out their back door. Would Sir Mark get derailed by some person’s party food waste? Would his efforts come to naught? Would the Katz learn that the fabulous smelling sardines and chicken in that cage thingy leads to a really, really bad trip and a hangover and stay away?

Find out in the thrilling conclusion next week!

 

 

Beocat Could Eat Beowulf for Breakfast: Part 1

In days of old, my brother’s successful quest a few weeks ago would have been immortalized in song. The court poet laureate would have been summoned to hear the heroic tale of the fearless and valiant man who spent several months (that’s several  years in Olde English, armor-laden, horse-riding time) meticulously planning and executing a dangerous mission, battling nature herself and saving a village.

The poet would be sent off to pen the enduring lines that would be recited for centuries in the royal court, then sung enthusiastically by drunks in taverns, and finally forced to be painfully memorized by bored high school kids in freshman English.

It started with a few of those wily creatures found around witches and James Bond villains: cats. The local villager (aka our dad) started feeding strays. And, for a few years, like a cute dragon that has hatched from an egg and isn’t very big and hasn’t yet learned to breathe fire, it was all fun and games. But then a funny thing happened on the way to mother nature. This year several batches of kittens were born, and said villager started feeding them all. Suddenly, a few cats became 13. In addition to the possible risky things that can happen when there are 13 feral cats about, even a word girl like me understands enough about math and exponents to know that next year, we’d have 50 cats and a lot of ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy.

The siblings batted it around for most of the year. It was part of a bigger discussion around caring for my aging parents. And since my dad reads this blog, I will also say they are doing amazingly well, but they are pushing 90, so no shame in getting some help. And it really was my siblings — they were great about letting me launch the kid this year, so for the cat thing, I looked up a few feral cats websites, got nowhere, and declared the problem intractable.

And this is why a legendary epic will never be written about me.

My 2 sisters also looked into the issue, but over months of research, they came to that often inevitable red tape dead-end: the feral cat organizations or city wouldn’t touch them because they had been steadily fed, and the legit pet people would charge as if it were one beloved house pet with a big pet health insurance policy. Also, my sisters were distracted by those other pesky things like our parents’ medical procedures and doctors appointments.

But Sir Mark Beocat, as he will henceforth be known, had set his sights on, er, “fixing” the problem of the fertile feral cats, and would not be deterred. His months of relentless, heroic preparations came down to this: 1 week, 13 cats, 16 humane traps, cat trapping boot camp, 1 helpful pet organization, 2 willing veterinary clinics, and pounds of the stinkiest bait food you can imagine.

What happened next? Tune in next week!

 

 

 

 

 

Top 6 Posts of 2017

Well, kids, looks like we made it through year 1 of the Cheeto flea, and that alone is worth celebrating. But even better would be to forget about him altogether. As you run the highlight reel of the past year in your mind, acknowledge the not-so-great stuff, but give priority to the good things — the people, places, and events that gave you a lift. I’m reminding myself as much as you on this one. I think of myself as a positive person, but I’ve been noticing that I can get focused on the one bad thing sitting amongst all the good stuff. So I’m going to try to keep an eye on that in 2018. I’m also feeling like my tank is empty, and, yes, I had a big year (as the posts below will attest), but most of the big things are past, so I also wonder if it’s real or a habit? I will keep an eye on that, too.

But for now, it’s time to look back a bit, take a deep breath, and head out to 2018.

6. The big news of the year was getting the kid launched, and it was official with this post. In the process, there were highs, lows, lots of wine, and a few moments of full-blown panic. But the deed got done with Mission Accomplished.

5. I reread this one, and thought, damn, that’s good! I’ve been feeling less than inspired lately to write. In keeping with my positive theme, I’m going to recall the words of a painter friend many years ago, when I was hit with my first case of writer’s block. I had just finished a bunch of essays and thought, now I’m ready for the next thing. But I wasn’t. The faucet had nary a trickle. He told me not to worry — I was merely filling up again. So, I’m going with that. Don’t know how long the filling will take, so be prepared for reruns if you’re a long time reader and for cool old stuff if you’re new. In any event, this piece reminded me that, yeah, I still have some writing mojo. Happy Anniversary.

4. That this one is in the top 6 makes me laugh. I thought it was just me, but apparently this was something a lot of people could relate to. For the love, Leave the Curtain Rods.

3. Because I have memory issues, er, I mean, I live in the moment like Eckhart Tolle. I’m a super advanced human, I swear. Anywho, I thought this one was about Cheeto flea, but it was more subtle than that. Either way, it never hurts to remember It’s a Marathon not a Sprint.

2. I just reread this one, and it reminded me I have a blog to finish about bystander intervention. Also, it reminded me that Life moved with me to my new apartment and is still sitting in my chair, giving me the look, and motioning me to get her another drink. Happy new year, bee-atch! Dammit!

1. Oh, Celine. I hope where ever you are, you have all the happiness you deserved when you walked among us. Goodbye My Friend.

So there it is, friends. I wish you all you healthy, hopeful new year. We can totally do this. We always do.

Same as It Ever Was, Sorta

I FaceTime with my 87-year-old mom nearly every Friday night. Pretty cool, right? Lately she’s been telling more stories from the past, some she hasn’t told me before. What struck me about some recent stories is how, at the core, they are similar to what people experience today, only back then there were a lot fewer resources to help.

Take job hunting. My mother talked about how hard it was for her to find a job in her early 20s. Sound familiar? It was the early 1950’s, so the economy was fine. Yes, she was a woman, so that was a strike against her. But she wasn’t looking for a career, she was just looking for a job. She was turned down at a little general store in town because she had the same last name as a cousin who’d been fired from the store for doing something bad. My mom wasn’t sure what. There were easily 20 or more cousins in town with the same last name, so that seems somewhat short-sighted, judging a whole family based on one bad apple. The fact that there was a high probability that there was more than one bad apple in that bunch is inconvenient to my story, and therefore irrelevant.

Also, it’s ironic because if they had bothered to get past my mom’s last name, they would have learned she had recently left the convent. What more validation of an honest person can you find? And, no, she wasn’t discharged because of rosary grand larceny or embezzlement of the priests’ sundry fund.

Of course, it was the convent thing that was really messing up her search. At that time there weren’t too many career counselors and coaches to help. Heck, there weren’t even resumes. Just my mom filling out applications and trying to explain where she’d been in the past several years. You’d think that the nun gig would have been a more common thing back then, especially in a town where there was a Catholic church for each of the town’s immigrant groups — St. Stanislaus, St. Anthony, St. Anne — you get the picture. But apparently employers found it just as weird as they probably would today. But today she’d have an army of online and in-person career coaches and websites telling her to emphasize her loyalty, passion, and commitment to her work. And how about “excellent ability to take direction”? She left the convent because she got very sick from the physically demanding chores of hand-washing priest vestments, praying for hours, sleeping very little, and Oliver Twist-like food. The first time she got sick, she returned home to recover and then went back. The second time she got sick, the Mother Superior told her it was a sign she was meant to do something else. She would have stayed if they had let her, so I think you could add “ability to follow through.”

She finally landed a job in the office of a car dealership, but then there were other male shenanigans to contend with. Here’s hoping the starts to change, 60 years later.

The convent thing of course followed her into the dating scene, but the few dates she told me about seemed a lot like the letters I read in a daily relationship column. There was the guy who took her out once, but when she was kind of clueless about the goodnight kiss thing, she never heard from him again. She connected with another guy on the 1950s version of eHarmony — a Catholic pen pal club. That helped make the ex-nun thing less of an issue. They wrote a number of letters back and forth and my mom got excited and thought things were going really well — until he told her he found someone. At least he didn’t ghost her.

So all as a way of saying, sometimes I like to think I  have it harder than others. But, I really don’t. Not only can I learn from those who came before me, I can Google “ex-nun resume tips” and “how to give a kiss.” And that’s pretty cool.