Tuesday, December 30, 2003


As soon as I'm done here, I'm going to start cleaning my room. Again. I have the theory down pat, now I just need to put in the practice. And I have the time today, I don't have any other errands except my homegroup meeting tonight. I even have the energy. And it will thwart the desires of small children, which is one of my great joys in life (my little cousins, who are staying with us all week, love to play The Sims all day long, but I don't let them into my room when I'm here).

The last few days I have been recovering from Christmas. On my birthday, after writing the previous thought-provoking survey, I went out shopping with Caroline as I had planned. The Jessica McClintock outlet was rather a disappointment: they had very little in my size, and the prices were not as cut-rate as they had been in the past. Last year I bought five gowns for under two hundred dollars, the year before I bought seven for $150, but this time I only got two gowns and a blouse-and-skirt for $220. I think this might be the last time I plan Jessica McClintock on my birthday. The Great Mall was less of a bust, I bought five karaoke CDs of big band and jazz standards, and got a big bagful of bargains at the Gap Outlet (I have decided to embrace my "straight" look... it keeps people guessing). But in general I bought less stuff for more money, and was vaguely dissatisfied.

I've been doing a lot of cleaning the last few days. Saturday I put the dining table back in order and put away all the china and silver that had already been washed. On Sunday I finished cleaning up after the Christmas dinner. Grandmother has been in bed with holiday exhaustion on top of her cold, so everything was just sitting there in the kitchen, stacking up higher and higher. So I loaded the dishwasher twice and washed all the crystal and remaining china by hand, and then started on the roasting pans and whatnot. And then yesterday I got my nails done, bought a few more things at the Gap (great after-Christmas sales), picked up the party favors for the Living Sober New Year's Eve Dance, and bought a new pair of black dress shoes to wear to same (something I've been intending to do for ages, since the black dress shoes I currently own always give me blisters)... which isn't really "cleaning," but can be considered "cleanup" errands, and felt very satisfying anyway.

And I've found that, though my temper tends to be a little short after doing an hour or so of dish-washing or rug-vaccuming, I don't seethe with resentment and anger while and immediately after I'm peforming the chores (as I usually do). In fact, I'm actually giving some thought to having a weekly Chore Day here at the house. A day to mop the kitchen and bathroom, to degrease the range, to scrub out the toilet, to do some laundry, to vacuum rugs, to run a duster about the knick-knacks. Perhaps not all at once, because none of these chores really needs to be done on a weekly basis. It's only people like Grandmother who think so.

Grandmother was a career housewife, spending at least eight hours (and often twelve) every day actively engaged in cleaning, cooking, mending, child-rearing, grocery-shopping, and errand-running... but I don't think she ever really thought about housewifery in terms of a professional job, as many modern women do. Taking care of this house and its inhabitants was a full-time (and then some) job, and she performed it admirably for a very long time. The thing is, when you get old you're supposed to retire, not because you "deserve" the rest but because you are no longer capable of doing your job. The whole point of being old is to physically decay.

But Grandmother doesn't see it that way. To her, aging is an illness that should be got over. To her, housework isn't a job that you get to retire from, it's a condition of life, as common and necessary as defecating (which also becomes increasingly difficult as one ages, but still has to be done). To her, a woman's personal worth is measured by her ability to keep a dust-free, clean, and visibly tidy house and to cook three delicious and nutritious meals every day (as well as by her modest behavior and conservative appearance, and the behavior and appearance of her descendants regardless of whether or not she raised them herself).

What makes all of the above very difficult is that none of this comes naturally to her. Grandmother, if left to her own devices for the last fifty-eight years, would have developed naturally into a hardcore slob. She is a bigger and much worse packrat than I am, she is as careless of method as a ten-year-old, and she has an untidy mind where faith is the final answer to everything and the unexamined life is the only life there is. But she was raised in a large farm family where everyone was expected to do his or her share of the work, the men in the fields and the women in the house, and a falling-off of effort was noticed; and then she lived for forty-three years as the wife of a neat-freak Chinese Libra who grew up with servants and expected everything to be as smooth and clean as a new glass window. She always had someone's expectations to meet, you see; as a classic textbook codependent, that was as big a motivator as she ever needed. And she was young enough to be able to maintain the effort of subjecting her natural self to the desires of others.

Now, though, not only does she lack the physical strength to carry out her accustomed chores, but she doesn't have anybody's expectations except her own to deal with. I personally couldn't care less what the lawn looks like. The only times I notice dishes in the sink are when they smell bad or when there are so many that I can't get the coffee pot under the faucet. If guests drop by unannounced, it's their problem if the living room is untidy or the dining table piled with newspapers... if they want tidy, they should call first, a week in advance.

On top of my indifference to cleanliness (if I can't smell it, it's not dirty) is my strange psychotic rage that has been activated pretty much every time I've found myself doing household chores. I've always felt like I'm being punished when I wash dishes or mop floors. Probably because my stepmother decided one day, quite out of the blue and without any warning, that having four children in the house meant that she had a built-in workforce. Under her new "I'm watching my soaps and cooking dinner, and that's it" regime, extra chores were always assigned as punishments (as was television restriction... and such punishments were handed out liberally, like plastic beads at Mardi Gras). I hate housework, is what I'm trying to say, and then when I am reduced to performing housework I get so angry and resentful that nobody can talk to me afterward... especially the person who made me do the chore. So while Grandmother is exclaiming on how nice and clean everything looks, I just glare at her and slink off to my room to be alone, robbing her of even the vicarious joy of housework.

Between her body's increasing inability and her grandson's resentful indifference, instead of doing anything much, Grandmother makes lists of things she wants to get done. For example, "Clean and oil the kitchen cabinets," has been on the lists for a long time. This will require the purchase of Murphy's wood soap and Old English furniture polish in light oak color (not Olde English, which is a malt liquor but is the same color). We already own these items, but will not be able to find them when we actually start to do the job. It will then require that all of the cupboards be emptied, because of course the insides should be cleaned as well as the outsides (although the insides are laminated and only need dusting, but Grandmother doesn't really grasp the concept of laminated wood... all wood must be oiled and polished and never have anything wet or hot or cold touching it, So Sayeth the Lord, Amen — even when it's veneered plywood). Worn and cracked places will have to be sanded down and refinished. And then the cabinets will have to be reloaded in such a way that all of the items can be placed on the bottom shelf, which is the only one she can reach.

She does all this work in her mind, writing out her little lists, fretting about what people must think of her that she let her house get so seedy, and is so exhausted by all of it that she can't even go over the cabinet doors with a little Lemon Pledge, which is really all they need. The same goes for the rest of the wood furniture in the house. And then there are the bug-choked window-screens, the grease-filled metal filters over the range vent, the dull and damaged hardwood floors, the dark bathroom grout, cobwebs in the furthest reaches of the ceiling, the mirror tiles that are falling off the dining room wall, the chipped places in the driveway, the drawn-up place on the kitchen linoleum, the dust under the refrigerator and behind the washer, the attic, the garage, the basement, the closets, the car, the back deck... it goes on and on and on.

And while I can sit here and make fun of Grandmother's baroque mindworkings and antiquated ideas about cleaning methods and shocking codependency, those mindworkings and ideas and codependency remain exactly the same. No amount of arguing will budge the mind of a faith-based thinker (and believe you me, I have tried... I've spent the last ten years trying to argue Grandmother out of her medieval mindset). So it behooves me, the reason-based thinker and the methodologist and the organized mind of this household, to think of different solutions that do not challenge her ideas. Such as doing the work myself. And as much as it galls me to even consider taking on a weekly regimen of loathesome housecleaning, the rewards of such work are becoming more attractive as the cost in anger and resentment has apparently subsided somewhat.

For example, doing more work around the house will grant me a little more leverage whenever I want to do something that Grandmother might disapprove... it's easier to go out at night when you know you did housework earlier that day, and it's easier to keep Grandmother in check about my privacy and my social needs if I am making her happy in other ways. As I've learned working in a Union, the only truly effective form of leverage is Tit for Tat. I polish your floors, you get your nose out of my drag room.

It will also give me a greater sense of belonging in my own home, to contribute more to the common weal in exchange for my room and board than just chauffering Grandmother around and doing most of the grocery shopping and errand-running. Although I know, on a logical level, that what I do provide is a valuable service and one that would otherwise cost Grandmother a good deal more than the amount of food and electricity I consume, there is the little matter of the debt I feel I owe Grandmother for taking care of me when I couldn't take care of myself. She is the one who made my childhood bearable, she is the one who gave me a home in my upheaved teenage years, she is the one who took me in and made me go back to school when I had run to the end of my tether with my "independence," she is the one who finally gave me that little push of truth that sent me to AA and helped me change my life.

I don't intend to become a slave, mind you. I might go over the cabinets with some Lemon Pledge, but I'll be damned if I'm going to sand the corners or empty the cupboards or do anything else that is patently unnecessary. I'll be happy to put some Orange Oil Cleaner on the exposed parts of the hardwood floors and give them an occasional lick of the dustmop, but I flatly refuse to empty all of the furniture out of the rooms, roll up the rugs, and get down on my hands and knees to go over every inch of the 600 square feet with a wad of steel wool and a bottle of Old English (dark walnut color). And no matter how much she begs and pleads, I will not allow Grandmother to "help" me by explaining how to do each and every chore I already know how to do, using far more words than are necessary or even decorative to explain it. I don't do teamwork.

Before I get started on all of that, though, I am going to clean my room. I don't like too much "tidy" in my personal space, but I do want to see my rug, and I need to get things put away where I can find them easily when I want them. I also need to be able to get in and out of bed and my desk-chair without having to lift my knees above my hips, high-stepping to the alarm-clock or the door over the piles and piles of stuff. And today I have the time (though I have spent a lot of the time I had by writing the above). So off I go!

If I don't write again before Thursday, a happy New Year to you. For myself, 2003 was about experiencing and accepting the person I am and have become; 2004 is going to be about becoming the best person I am capable of becoming. And 36 is one of my "lucky" numbers, so I am looking forward to a banner year.


Saturday, December 27, 2003

Happy Whatever

It's my birthday today. Come tea-time (I put Mother into labor right before Christmas dinner and made her wait forty-eight hours), I'll be another year older. I'm not feeling particularly excited about it. I wasn't real thrilled with Christmas, either. I am really just not excited about anything right now. I'm simply tired, on some very deep level where my physical, spiritual, and emotional selves intersect.

But birthdays are a good time to look forward and look backward and sort of take stock. Since my birthday and New Years come so close together, I tend to spend the last week of the year thinking about the Year in Review. And then earlier this week I found a survey at Webguerrillas (who got it from Small Hands who got it from The Living End who got it from Traci Jean) that got me thinking, so I fill it out here for you.

2003 in 40

1. What did you do in 2003 that you’d never done before?

Sang in public. Solo, even. Onstage. It was very liberating, though I have to admit I wasn't very good.

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

No, and no.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My half-sister had a daughter, named her Payton Veigh for reasons that escape me, but then I can't claim that we're particularly close.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No, thank heavens.

5. What countries did you visit?

I haven't even been out of the state this year. In fact, I don't think I've been any more than eighty miles away from home all this year.

6. What would you like to have in 2004 that you lacked in 2003?


7. What date from 2003 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

October 31... winning the Hallowqueen Pageant. I'll not soon forget the sensation of being wildly applauded by five hundred people.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Losing twenty pounds.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not completing my four remaining formal Steps as I intended. I got stalled on eight and stalled myself on nine, and am not in the mood to make any formal tenth yet.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I've had a couple of colds and a flu, broken some nails, but nothing serious.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A new car (Miss Jane, a 2002 Ford Focus, liquid grey).

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Caroline's. She's made much progress, done a lot of growing, and achieved a great deal this year.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Da Gub'ment.

14. Where did most of your money go?

eBay vendors and Ford Credit.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

I don't think I've been really, really, really excited this year.

16. What song will always remind you of 2003?

"I Never Do Anything Twice," with which I wowed them at the Hallowqueen pageant.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

- happier or sadder? Sadder. I've been depressed a lot this year, but this holiday season has seen me pretty down, where I remember being much more imbued with Christmas Cheer last time.

- thinner or fatter? Thinner. Twenty pounds thinner. I hadn't seen my cheekbones since I quit smoking five and a half years ago.

- richer or poorer? Poorer... the same income as last year, but way more expenses.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Spending time with friends. I didn't make enough time for it, and then my friends are so busy too.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Wasting money on things bought over the internet that did not meet expectations and which I don't need and which I probably won't ever use.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?

I spent it here at home with family and tradition, being bored and tired and overworked.

21. Did you fall in love in 2003?

No. I wish I had.

22. How many one-night stands?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I haven't had sex with anybody in seven and a half years.

23. What was your favorite TV program?

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I know it's a cliche response, but that show has given me hours of enjoyment.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I don't hate people. No, wait, I hate lots of people, I HATE STUPID PEOPLE WHO GET IN MY WAY, but I have always hated them and will always hate them, and I don't hate them individually.

25. What was the best book you read?

I guess Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I read so many books, and I can't quite remember which ones I read this year or last year or some other time. And then I re-read them. I've re-read several favorite books this year, like Love in a Cold Climate (Nancy Mitford), Gaudy Night (Dorothy L. Sayers), Around the World with Auntie Mame (Patrick Dennis), and Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris).

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Ute Lemper. I just love her voice... not beautiful in the traditional sense, but weirdly satisfying. And the wonderfully obscure Noiresque by Sandra Lawrence, which I bought for the cover-art and enjoyed immensely. I even got an email from Ms. Lawrence, who found my website because I'd written a post about her album. Apparently we have identical grandmothers. I never wrote back to Ms. Lawrence, the email came at a time when I was terrifically busy. I wish I had written.

27. What did you want and get?

More stuff. I just love my stuff.

28. What did you want and not get?

A really nice black fox boa with heads and tails and feet and all. I really had my heart set on it, and I couldn't find one (though I wasted a lot of money on near-misses).

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

Have I even seen any good films this year? I think I've only seen three or four movies, it was kind of a dry year. X-Men 2 was, I guess, the best 2003 movie I saw in the theater.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I'll be thirty-six at four-fifteen this afternoon. I'm going shopping at the Jessica McClintock outlet, my traditional birthday treat. I'm also getting my nails done, and there's this pair of earrings at a local jeweler's that call out my name, and then I'm hitting the Great Mall.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

If I knew, I would have done/got/tried it already.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2003?

Wearing inch-long acrylic nails and dazzling cubic zirconium bracelets from the Suzanne Somers collection and still managing somehow to appear straight in my ├╝berbland Gapwear.

33. What kept you sane?

Sane? Am I still sane? God knows how I managed it... or rather, I know that God managed it.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I've had a total bone for Travis Fimmel all year. Honorable Mention chubbies to Orlando Bloom, Tom Welling, and Colin Farrell.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?

The whole Gay Marriage thing. It's been interesting to watch.

36. Who did you miss?

Oh, lots of people. I miss Mary Jane (I haven't seen her in so long, we haven't hung out since we saw X-Men 2), and Dalton (even though I see him often, I haven't been able to spend much quality time with him), and I missed Kevin (though I got back in touch with him), and all the other people in my life that I just didn't get to spend as much time with as I wanted to.

37. Who was the best new person you met?

Oh, it's so hard to choose... but I'll pick Eric, whom I met in the Living Sober Musical and who made me feel good about myself a lot.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2003

People are always more willing to help than I dare to hope.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Is that all there is?

Is that all there is?

If that's all there is, my friends,

Then let's keep dancing!

Let's break out the booze lube

And have a ball,

If that's all

There is.

("Is That All There Is," Peggy Lee, 1969... little known fact: the song was based on a short story by Thomas Mann)

40. What about 2003 will you never forget?

I have a feeling that someday I will forget everything I ever knew. And a lot of this year will be a blessing to lose. But I know that, no matter how riddled my brain becomes with Alzheimer's and senile dementia, I will never ever manage to forget my one little line in the musical: I know some drag queens who are into it.


So that's me. I reserve the right to re-edit the above as many times as I want in the next twenty-four hours. But now I am going to go to bed so I can get some sleep. Gotta be fresh for my Birthday Shopping Spree. Kisses!

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Crunch Time

Positive: I got all of my Christmas shopping done, most of it in one fell swoop at Costco, and stayed within budget (I even managed to prevent myself from going too zany on the autogifting); my tree is up and decorated, the decorations boxes stowed back in the attic, and the living and dining rooms reasonably tidy; we finished all the grocery-shopping and even have everything put away where it goes.

Negative: I haven't wrapped any of my presents, nor Grandmother's presents, which add up to about thirty objects, not counting the children's stockings; my tree is listing dangerously to the right (as things seem to do in this house), the wood of the trunk is too soft and the pins holding it in place simply dug into the trunk; though the rooms are tidy, they need to be actually clean within the next twenty-four hours, as well as the table settings and other physical arrangements that need to be performed; Grandmother hasn't made one pie-crust yet, and we have to go from zero to eight pies in the next twenty-four hours, and I suck at crust-rolling so I can't help her; Grandmother and I both have colds, not bad colds but colds nonetheless, so we're firing at fifty-percent efficiency; I am sorely lacking in Christmas Spirit and would simply rather not do any of this; and, not to put too fine a point on it, it's now Christmas Eve and I have twenty four hours before my entire family descends upon me. Actually, twenty seven, because they never show up on time. But then, I hope to subtract the hours that I will have to sleep. Basically, not enough time to do everything that needs to be done.

I am trying to stay focused on the positive and deal with the negative in a reasonable and calm manner. It's kind of like hiding an elephant under a rug. I have thought of a solution to return the tree to its necessary erect state, by reinforcing the trunk with empty tin cans (if I can find the tin snips, and if I can get my nephew to hold the tree up while I futz with the base), and I know from past experience that I can get the cleaning and setting done in rather less time than I tend to think I can, and present-wrapping isn't as big of a deal as I always make it. Everything always goes haywire at the last minute, but everything always works out in the end (see my Christmas-time entries last year and the year before). Still, I'm feeling a little trepidatious about the whole thing... how would you feel if you had an elephant hidden under your living room rug?

This is the time where I start envying my friends who don't have a massive and labor-intensive family tradition to contend with. At my home-group meeting last night, I listened with longing to people discussing what they planned to do with their Christmases, spending time with friends and going to movies and hanging out with their lovers or partners or what-have-yous. None of them had to decorate a house to someone else's specifications and produce an immense meal to a menu written in stone long before they were born and basically work their fingers to the bone for a bunch of people that they like okay but not quite that well.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like. What would I do on Christmas if I didn't have all of this? For the first couple of years I'd probably enjoy it, revel in the quiet and the ease; but then I'd probably miss it.

The thing is, I know that one day this tradition will come to an end. When Grandmother is gone, this house will most likely be sold, and though the family may very well stay together and continue to meet at holidays, it won't be like this. Pies will more likely be purchased. Trees will be at someone else's house, smaller and endowed with different ornaments. Dinner will have the same menu, maybe at the same table, but in a different room and with a different feel. And I won't be at the center of it.

So I try to keep that in mind as I labor away... I try to enjoy it while I have it, because one day it will be gone and I'm pretty sure I'll miss it then. I don't want to be one of those people who take things for granted and then misses them when they're gone. I want, instead, to be able to appreciate the luxury of choosing my own Christmas day activities, the freedom to make my own plans and to do things as I wish instead of as others wish. To be free is to be alone, in many ways; but at the same time, to be alone is to be free. I'll drink my fill of family now, and when I am free I will look back with nostalgia for times gone by but not with regret for chances missed.

But in the meantime, I have to go reinforce my right-leaning tree and vacuum my sofa. Have a very merry Christmas... and if you don't celebrate Christmas, be very merry anyway.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Kind of Like a Blog

(In which a simple web link turns into a literary disquisition over the course of several days' tweaking)

I don't often link to the places I visit during the day, as one is supposed to do in a blog... I tend to treat this page as more of a diary, only looking up links in order to further the reader's understanding of what I'm talking about. But lately I've come across something that I absolutely love, and wanted to share it with you:

The Splendidiser

Following links around on Queerday, a practice I of course heartily recommend, I found this little web-bot (I assume this is a web-bot, I am largely ignorant of such things) on the Bright Young Things film website that turns your text into something Evelyn Waugh or P.G. Wodehouse might have written. All you do is click on the Splendidiser link and put your URL into the text window, and suddenly your very own blog sounds like Bertie Wooster at his most frivolous. You can also insert non-URL'ed text into another window of the page and turn your term paper or letter to Grandma into a little bit of Jazz-Age Chelsea.

I applied it to my office's website, and all of a sudden the dry-as-dirt negotiations update I was laboring over all last week was a glittering and facile piece of fabulousness, describing our district as "perfectly horrid" and our contract as "screamingly bogus." My coworkers and I almost died laughing. Shreikworthy, indeed. Of course, I also applied it to this page, and didn't see that much of a difference, being such a modifier-addict myself. But here's a little sample of what the Splendidiser can do to the dryest of texts:


    We the ghastly People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the frightful common defence, promote the bloody general Welfare, and secure the simply splendid Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the frightfully beastly United States of America. How boring!

    Article I. Twaddle! I dare say, twaddle!

    Section 1.

    All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a spiffing Congress of the priceless United States, which shall consist of a simply dandy Senate and House of Representatives. Ugh, how morbid!

    Section, I dare say, 2.

    Clause 1: The spiffing House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the frightfully beastly People of the simply dandy several States, and the spiffing Electors in each State shall have the simply bogus Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most shriekworthy numerous Branch of the simply dashing State Legislature, and I think it's utterly splendid!

    Clause 2: No Person shall be a frightfully horrid Representative who shall not have attained to the simply dashing Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a bloody Citizen of the jolly United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which the horrid little man shall be

    chosen. Rather!

    Clause 3: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a simply dandy Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. Ugh, how morbid! The frightfully beastly actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the frightfully horrid first Meeting of the Congress of the horrid United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct . My dear child, the Number of representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three, and I think it's utterly splendid!

    Clause 4: When vacancies happen in the divine Representation from any State, the simply too divine Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies, and I think it's utterly splendid!

    Clause 5: The blasted House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the frightfully divine sole Power of Impeachment. Ugh, how uncouth!

Well, anyway, maybe that wasn't the best example, but do go give it a try on your own. Especially if you have a blog yourself, or if you have some dull-as-ditchwater piece of text you'd like to jolly up.

What drew my attention to this article was a mention of my current favorite author, Stephen Fry, whose Making History I just finished reading and enjoying immensely (it posits what might have happened to modern Europe if Hitler had never been born, and was quite interestingly thought-out). Having first encountered Fry in the fabulous BBC Jeeves and Wooster series, which I loved so much that I subsequently read the entire Wodehouse collection over the next few years, and then again in some of my favorite films (Cold Comfort Farm and Wilde are the only ones which come to mind, but I know there are more), he was a natural choice when searching for new authors to consume when he popped up as a Gay/Lesbian selection at Amazon with The Liar (which wasn't terribly gay, though it has gay-ish bits, but I later learned that Fry is gay so perhaps that was enough for the good people at Amazon).

My expectations were not high... I've read other celebrities' novels, and they tend to be amusing but not well-written (Rupert Everett's Hello Darling, Are You Working, which comes immediately to mind, was a clever-clever disaster); but Fry's precariously artful use of language, the subtle but riotous humor, and the fantastic but entirely believable characters set this work apart from the normal run of modern literature, and I was immediately hooked. I've read everything he's written so far (that I know about, anyway), and though Revenge (a modern retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo) was a bit upsetting, and therefore not precisely 'enjoyable,' it was still beautifully written and parts of it absolutely haunt me.

I think the thing I enjoy most about Fry is his use of early 20th century style (á la the Bright Young Things) alongside a late 20th century sensibility. It is the use of a completely surface-driven, wilfully artificial, and rather baroque system of word-usage and characterisations blended perfectly with the sort of honesty, realism, and diversity in subject-matter and plotlines that one expects from a contemporary story-teller. Where the brilliant and brittle authors of the 'twenties and 'thirties had both governmental and societal censors to contend with, having to pull their punches or overdecorate their meanings as regards sexuality and other "distasteful" physical realities (without which censorship, though, the style would never have been created), Fry's stories are driven by the kind of "no detail too indelicate for print" mentality that informs our current polpular literature.

Waugh would never have been allowed to so much as mention masturbation, Wodehouse would never have been able to describe any scene that took place in a toilet, and even the decadent and outrageous Ronald Firbank could never, ever, under any circumstances, have been able to allow two men or two women to fall in love anywhere between the covers of a published work. It all happened under the cover of that exquisitely constructed language that characterized the style of the time... and it was for that purpose that the style was created — to give the initiated a little wink as to what was really going on in the story without the censors having a clue.

Well, I think I've prattled on about this long enough. I've had a terrible cold for the last few days, right on the heels of that terrible flu and right at the most inconvenient possible moment. But as a result, I have not been able to concentrate on anything for very long, and though I started this post on Thursday and somehow accidentally posted it on Saturday, I have been futzing around with it in fifteen-minute sessions for days. So I am going to wrap it up and move on to other topics and other pastimes.

I hope you're having a perfectly spiffing day!

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Back in the Saddle

Bon jour, my little chickadees. I'm feeling ever so much better now, for a couple of different reasons. First, because the depression I was feeling has either passed off or has responded to comfort therapy (rice pudding and hot tea is better than Prozac, in some cases); second, because I have done a lot of work over the last few days, and I feel like I'm getting out from under that dreadful pile.

Saturday I got up very late, and spent most of the early afternoon writing the postscript to the previous entry and otherwise surfing the net; Grandmother was in one of her more irritating moods, where she wanted to do things and she wanted to use "teamwork"... which means that she wanted to direct someone how to do something that requires very little skill. She got my nephew to wash the front windows, and she sat there telling him how to wash windows while he washed the windows, something that always drives me absolutely bugfucky. Sensing the mood from afar, I stayed in bed until Matthew was finished with the windows and Grandmother was worn out from the effort of telling him how to do it. Then I waited a little longer, in bed with a book (The Thorne Maze by Karen Harper, fairly enjoyable though I guessed far too early who dunnit), until she was finished exclaiming on how beautiful the windows looked (that took her about an hour) and went back to her room for a nap.

The windows did look lovely, sparkling and clear (for those just joining us, my living room features a dramatic bank of mullion windows fifteen feet wide and eleven feet tall... which inexplicably faces north); it's always amazing how I don't notice how dirty something is until I see it clean.

Underneath the windows, though, stood the stack of wooden slats that comprise the venetian blinds that are supposed to cover the bank of windows. I'd been wanting to put them up for ages (we took them down five years ago to repaint them and replace the worn-out tapes), but Grandmother was always putting side-projects in the way: "We have to paint the windows first," "We have to wash the windows first," "We have to repaint the slats first," and so on. But we've had the windows painted, and we'd just had them washed, so I figured two-out-of-three meant it was a great time to put the blinds back up. I could always touch up the paint-job (the guy who'd painted them was an idiot, left bits of newspaper stuck in the paint and then stacked the slats back together while they were still tacky) at some future time.

The project took me the greater part of the afternoon. I had to run to Ace to get a staple-gun (to attach the fabric tapes to the wooden main turning plank at the top and the main weight at the bottom... wood venetian blinds from the 1930s are rather more elaborate contraptions than the Levelor things one gets nowadays, especially when they're 12'x15'), as well as three or four other little must-haves like touch-up paint and scraping-razors; then I spent an hour or so looking for the original hardware that makes the main turning plank turn, but which had been separated from the blinds for no apparent reason; then I spent another hour looking for the necessary tools to take the hardware off of the old dining-room blinds (I replaced those with curtains three years ago, something I'd been wanting to do since I was ten years old, but of course we still have them in storage) because the living-room blind hardware was nowhere to be found; after that, it took about two hours to get the two-inch-wide and fifteen-foot-long slats slipped horizontally into the twelve-foot-long tapes spaced three feet apart, a surprisingly difficult maneuver in a furnished room.

But then it was finally done, and my sense of satisfaction was immense. This project hadn't even been on my mind, it wasn't part of the weight I've been struggling under, but it was something I've been failing to do for years and years. I was so jazzed, in fact, that I rearranged the room, put up the Christmas tree, and vacuumed and dusted everything in celebration. All while Grandmother was occupied rolling up her hair, leaving me in complete peace until I was quite done.

That night I didn't sleep much. I slept so late Saturday that my body wasn't ready to re-enter slumber, even though I felt terribly tired, so I just lay there wide-eyed while my brain went around and around and around with resentments and worries and just plain old thinking. I didn't actually drift off until nearly 5 a.m., and then had to get up at 8 to take the Grandmother and Daddy to church.

But despite being so tired, Sunday was when my mood started turning itself around. After church we went to Sunday Brunch at the Sheraton, fancy-schmancy food but rather shoddy decor, to celebrate Daddy's 60th birthday (which was Thursday). When we got home, my first thought was to take a nap, but once I got in bed I couldn't sleep... so I got up and started hauling the Christmas stuff out of the attic, then decorated the tree.

After I'd got the lights up and begun applying the ornaments, Grandmother started getting underfoot, poking and fussing and looking through the boxes and wanting to wash the mantel mirror that is a foot or more out of her reach (which means she wanted me to wash it while she watched), and I was beggining to get irritated... but then she heard about Saddam Hussein being captured, and I had another full evening of total peace while Grandmother gave over her entire consciousness to CNN. Thank you, Mister Military Intelligence (which for some reason has taken to calling itself "Intel" in defiance of all known trademark laws), for your impeccable timing.

(Side note: I am unnecessarily amused by reports of the American products found stashed away in anti-American Saddam's little hole, hiding from his enemy while eating enemy Spam and enemy Mars bars, washing them down with enemy 7-Up. It's the tiny hypocrisies that liven my day).

Later on Caroline came over and we went out for tea at L'Amyx on Piedmont Avenue, had a nice little walk and window-shop in the freezing night air (freezing by Bay Area standards, anyway), and a nice long chat about this and that. I got in bed at eleven and went right to sleep without any thoughts of any kind whatever, and slept a good solid eight hours.

Monday's workload at the office was extremely light, very few phone-calls and only minor interruptions from coworkers, so I was able to get my General Service Registrar duties taken care of, updating a database I have been neglecting for months, and started notifying people of this week's meeting (which I was supposed to do via newsletter last week, but I totally forgot... which meant that I would have to make a whole lot of outgoing phone-calls, which I hate, but would not have to print a newsletter, which I also dislike doing).

Afterward, Grandmother and I went out Christmas shopping at Southland Mall, which was not in the least crowded (and that is why I insisted we go on a Monday evening instead of a Saturday afternoon). Not only did we manage to get almost all of Grandmother's shopping done (she only has three presents left to buy), but I got a few of my presents out of the way, too... as well as buying my Christmas cards. We had dinner at Hot Dog on a Stick (my favorite mall-food) and dessert at See's Candies, and a good time was had by all.

Come Tuesday, another slow day at work, I finished my phone calls and finished my flyer-distribution and finished three or four other little chores, and then finally got my nails done. After that I met Dalton and Dean for dinner, and while we were waiting for a table I snagged another Christmas gift for my coworker JB at this cute little shop called Juniper (actually, I bought something really nice for JB on eBay last week, but the vendor didn't take credit cards or PayPal, so by the time the vendor receives the money order I sent on Friday and then mails the item, it will be after Winter break has begun and I won't see JB until next year, and so I had to get something else... though it will be nice to be one present ahead, so when Valentines or Easter rolls around I'll already have something for her); that was one of my worries, since though JB is pretty easy to shop for she also deserves special consideration when choosing a gift. Now I'll have the proper number of presents when we have our office holiday lunch and gift exchange on Thursday.

So, accomplishment was the order of the day, and those accomplishments have gone far to relieving me of the weight of responsibilities that was looming over me. There's still much to do, my room is still an utter sty and most of my wardrobe is folded up in the laundry room instead of in the drawers where it belongs, I'm putting off the bulk of my own Christmas shopping until this weekend (after I get my paycheck), and then I have to send my Christmas cards and my mail-away presents today so they get there before Christmas, and finish decorating the living room and wrap up the year-end stuff at the office and so on and so forth; but I don't feel so anxious and worried about my chores as I did when there were so many more of them to get through.

However, as I review what I've written so far (I started writing this on Monday afternoon), and compare that to other things that I have noticed or discussed with others but haven't written down here, I am beginning to believe that, as important as the accomplishments are, my mood-swing is more chemical than circumstantial. Because now I'm starting to feel a trifle manic... horny, overly energetic, and a little scatterbrained. But I do like manic better than depressed, so I'll just count my many blessings and get on with my life. It worries me a little that my mood swings are becoming more frequent, though. I suppose the day of having to take meds for the condition are not as far away as I'd like.

We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. In the meantime, there's work to do and I have the energy to do it. So up, up and away!

Friday, December 12, 2003

Dark Night of the Soul (v2)

Reading down this page, it has occurred to me that I am going through a dark time lately... my topics tend so towards the negative, my tone sounds rather unhappy, all sorts of unpleasant things seem to happen to me (illnesses, changes from without, minor catastrophes of various types, etc.) and I seem to be doing unpleasant things to myself. It makes me wonder if I am depressed, or if I am sliding backward into old negative thinking patterns, or if it's just a coincidental collection of events and influences gathering together.

Whatever it is, I just don't feel particularly satisfied with my life. I am not happy, nor even contented. And I can't quite put my finger on the problem.

I find that I get angry very easily of late, especially with those people in my daily life, my coworkers and my Grandmother. I think of friends often, I plan phone calls and letters in my head, but don't do anything to get in touch with them. I have all these ideas for my room, a desire to have a tidier and more serene environment for myself, but just can't seem to bring myself to actually pick up anything and move it. I intend things that I never follow through on, calling my sponsor and going to the gym and vacuuming my car and getting my dry-cleaning done and so on and so forth. I seem, in short, to alternate between severe self-criticism and atrocious self-sabotage... I put immense pressure on myself to do things and then stubbornly resist actually doing them.

I'm struggling to be positive, struggling to see the opportunities instead of the discomforts, struggling to sort the causes and the effects and the reactions one from the other so I can see what I'm really working with, struggling to find the lessons in this seemingly endless barrage of little disasters, struggling to grow from the pain. And I usually succeed, too... I am learning and growing and finding the lessons. But they don't seem to be making me feel better, they don't seem to alleviate the problems. They just add to the list of things I ought to be doing but am not.

I have prayed for the strength to do what I have to do, I have meditated on the lessons I'm learning, I have done everything I know to do. But in the end I still just feel like shit.

I don't quite know what to do with myself. I don't know how to change things, or even which things ought to be changed.

I guess maybe I am depressed. But is it chemical depression or circumstantial depression? Maybe I've just taken on too much, taken on more responsibilities than I can quite handle and which cannot be laid aside. Maybe I have so many things that I have to do for my various committments that I am exercising some sort of "control" by sabotaging the things I need to do for myself. Or maybe the magnitude of what needs to be done has cowed me into a state of immobility, like a deer in the headlights, and I can only manage to achieve the things that a dread of consequences compels me to perform.

I don't know. I just don't know. I don't know what's wrong, I don't know what to do, I don't fucking know.

No, wait, I think I do know: I have to let go of everything, I have to change some more and more and more, I have to work harder at being a different person. And I just don't want to. I'm tired and I don't want to.

A big part of me is considering deleting this post. Another part is tempted to write up some bullshit positive conclusion. Yet another part wants to ask for help. And since none of us can agree, I'm just going to stop writing for now.

Thanks for listening.

PS: Saturday, 1 p.m.

After eight hours of intensive cocooning (bucket of rice pudding, heating pad on the feet, collection of new Sherlock Holmes stories by various artists interspersed with various televised Agatha Christie mysteries) followed by ten and a half hours of sleep, I am feeling much better. I'd neglected to mention in my rant that I had slept very poorly the night before, so my feeling of hopelessness was largely due to sleep-deprivation.

But despite my temptation to delete the whole faintly embarassing thing, to minimize the negative feelings, and to pretend it never happened, I am leaving it up. It's what I was feeling yesterday, and it's a valuable lesson to me about my own feelings (again with the lessons). I usually don't write when I feel like that, you see, and so I have no record of how I feel when I'm really down. I've never sat down when I was feeling okay and read my own words of nearly-hysterical ranting.

I guess the answer, if an answer I must have (and I do, I crave symmetry and resolution in all things), is Don't look behind you. Take each hurdle in the road as you encounter it, but never look over your shoulder and see the runaway freight-train or ax-weilding maniac or angry mob of villagers or herd of stampeding elephants that is bearing down on you. And when you're climbing the side of a vertiginous cliff or crossing a friable rope bridge over a bottomless chasm, you should never look down.

Like my dear Anonymous Sympathizer commented, the best perspective is to take one thing at a time. I know that, I really do. But sometimes I do that stupid thing that those irritating people in suspense/adventure/horror movies always do: I look over my shoulder, or look down, and am paralyzed. And the next thing is to just screw up your courage and take that next step, pull on that next rock, jump that next hurdle.

I find, though, that sometimes I start taking things far too seriously. I don't know what causes it, but I sometimes get very emotionally upset at myself and others over really quite trivial things. But, as my sponsor always asks me when I go off on these self-criticism/sabotage tears, "what would happen if you didn't do it?" What would happen if I didn't do these things that I resent doing, didn't do these things that seem so hard, didn't do these things that I believe (for whatever reason) I absolutely have to do? It's something to think about.

In the meantime, I have to go now and chip away at my mountain... the Christmas tree is coming today, and the living room will need to be rearranged to accomodate it. And of course the Grandmother will want to wash the windows beforehand... if you think I'm loony about the things I can't accomplish, you should listen to her for a while (and I'm beginning to suspect that her influence in these matters may be damaging me... something else to think about).

Again, thanks for listening. And have a lovely day!

Tuesday, December 9, 2003


The worst thing about being sick is that you can't enjoy lying in bed all day, there is no zest in watching idiotic daytime television for hours on end, and your brain — much less your body — won't let you do anything even remotely productive with all that time on your hands.

I've had a stomach flu for the last couple of days, which was inaugurated by the first vomiting I've done since I quit drinking eight and a half years ago (I'd quite forgotten how nasty it is) and was followed by rather extreme diarrhea. No fever, thank God, those are too debilitating to consider, and the aches and pains were fairly minimal; but my brain has been sluggish, to say the least, and it's been difficult to keep myself nourished and hydrated.

Reading has been impossible, it made my eyes hurt, so novels were out of the question, and all I could do on the computer was download my daily barrage of spam... now enlivened with ads for the Paris Hilton video containing the most amazingly inventive subject lines along with all the usual penis enlargements, mortgage reductions, online prescription drugs, and pleas from the shift-key-addicted relatives of deposed African despots to help them launder their ill-gotten money.

So for the last two days, I have been alternating between lying in bed watching videos and lying on the sofa watching television, punctuated with unpleasant episodes of running to the bathroom with my buttcheeks clenched together (an excellent exercise, but uncomfortable) so as to shit gallons of green water into the toilet instead of into my pajamas.

To make matters worse, Grandmother came down with the same flu, so I've had to take care of her instead of her taking care of me. Not that I let her take care of me, I'd never ask her to fetch and carry for me, but it's nice when someone brings you tea or broth when you're sick. But since I'm the stronger of us, it wasn't too hard to bring her some tea or broth or a boiled egg and toast or a fresh column of soda-crackers when I was getting my own. More of a detour than a separate chore.

On the plus side, it's the only time I can imagine not being bored by sitting still watching television and doing nothing useful or entertaining. I was too ill to feel guilty about missing work, to ill to care about my laundry, too ill to think about how badly I need a manicure. Laying very still, and shitting green water, were quite enough to occupy me.

Now I'm feeling ever so much better, but I don't dare go in to work. For one, I don't trust that the shitting-green-water thing is completely done with, and I don't want to have an episode while I'm driving to the office (that would certainly take care of the new car smell); and considering the speed at which Grandmother contracted my flu, later the same day (and I know she caught it from me rather than the other way 'round because she always shows symptoms faster than I do), argues that this bug is quite virulently contagious. My guilt at leaving my coworkers at the mercy of the telephones all day is relieved by not giving them this really quite unpleasant virus.

But writing just this much has given me a headache. I guess I'm not as well as I thought I was... though, oddly enough, Grandmother is up and about and feeling all better. Ah, well, maybe I just need some more rest, I was getting pretty run down before this virus hit me. The Long, Hot Summer just started on AMC, I think I might just go revel in the young Paul Newman for a while... though probably with the sound off since an hour and a half of cracker accents might just get on my nerves.

In the meantime, I hope you are having a pleasant day, either in bed or out.

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Control Queen

It was rough going there for a while. I came very, terribly, dangerously close to a nervous breakdown over this whole carpet thing.

The prepping process took way longer than I expected, in fact I was in the office Monday night until ten p.m. clearing off my desk and moving things into the storage room. I might have finished earlier if I hadn't had that enormous print job to do, or if the phone hadn't kept ringing, or if I didn't keep my desk such a sty all the time. I also might have finished earlier if my coworkers and boss had started on the cleaning process earlier in the day, if we hadn't spent over an hour idling away in a staff meeting to go over the calendar, and other little activities we didn't really need to do. As a result I was here by myself for five hours, laboring away like a stevedore, resenting myself and my coworkers and boss and everyone in a five-mile radius of me (physical labor of any kind always sparks my resentment engines).

The next morning I had to drive around the district distributing the newsletters I'd printed. I had miscalculated the weather again, I'd expected cold and rainy and it turned out temperate and humid, and distributing flyers is hot work anyway, so I had to change into my gym clothes (I loathe humidity). Making matters worse, our box-stuffer at one of the campuses was out sick, so I had to stuff the mailboxes in the most disorganized campus in the district (where there are actually four separate mailrooms).

When I got into the office, my two coworkers were huddled up in the box-crowded tiny kitchen, checking email on the laptop and taking turns answering the one remaining phone and chatting about this, that, and the other. What they were mainly chatting about was painting the walls after the carpets were installed... I think I talked about this before, but I loathe painting, I can't stand doing it or having it done near me, the smell of fresh paint makes me terribly sick, and then there's that whole change thing. And not only were JB and BB talking about painting, they wanted to paint the office turquoise. Turquoise!?!

I'm afraid I overreacted. Now, I still firmly believe that turquoise, no matter how pale, in a basement office with little light and not very large rooms would make it look like we were working at the bottom of a swimming pool. So I stated my dislike of colored walls, how they made rooms look smaller, how I've lived most of my life in houses with off-white walls and have great difficulty dealing with any color darker than blanched almond on any wall; I don't think it was overdramatic, either, to point out that, if any painting happened in this office, I would leave and not return until the smell was completely gone.

But just making my views plain wasn't enough... I also got very very angry about the whole thing. The upheaval of the carpets was bad enough without threatening me with the additional prolongation of upheaval that painting would entail. It was cruel to even suggest such a thing to me. Let's also remember that I got very little sleep on Sunday night, and then worked eleven hours on Monday, getting very little sleep that night as well; not to mention the humidity and the morning spent shoving newsletters into little mailboxes and driving all over hell and half of China... I was tired, hot, and irritated when they sprang this on me.

But then I started thinking, thinking that this ridiculous turquoise business was just another example of how my coworkers had been railroading me. I started thinking about how I hadn't been given any choice about what color of carpet we'd get, they just brought back a single sample and told me that was what we were getting. I had specifically requested that the carpet not have a pattern in it, just plain or randomly dappled, but when I thought the sample they'd brought looked a little busy, they brushed aside my objection, saying that it wouldn't show when it was all over the floor; nevertheless the carpet has a distinct zig-zagging quality that makes me dizzy when I look at it, and it's about three tones darker than I thought it would be. I thought about how they'd pushed to have the carpet installed as soon as the carpeters could arrange it, instead of arranging the installation for a time when I wasn't already terribly busy. I thought about how hard I'd had to work and how late I'd stayed the night before, five hours after they went larking off at quitting-time.

I thought about all of these things, and was very angry and very hurt and very depressed... on top of the tired, hot, and irritated... and on top of everything else I was feeling over the upheaval of my environment.

Then the boss showed up, and everything spiraled out of control. He learned from the landlord that our office's neighborhood was scheduled for Bulky Waste Pick-up next week, and was suddenly elated... he seemed to think that Oakland Scavenger Company gives out prizes for the largest and most expensive-looking Bulky Waste piles, and was intent on throwing away everything for which he personally had no use. He decided to throw away a perfectly good conference table and twelve chairs that he didn't even know existed until he started moving things out of his closet, and which took up very little space in said closet as the table was folded up and the chairs stacked in a single two-foot-square column. Then he started talking about throwing out the comfortable wicker armchairs that are dotted around the office, and then the large silk houseplants that I particularly like, and then had the temerity to start pointing out my own personal possessions as excellent candidates for Bulky Waste.

To make matters worse, with each of these decisions he asked me whether or not the thing should be thrown out, but when I told him we shouldn't throw whatever it was away, providing a long list of excellent reasons (I am genetically programmed for packratting, and simply can't bear to throw away something that is useful and isn't in the way and doesn't smell bad), he just looked at me for a moment and then said he was throwing it out anyway. I had to take the silk plants home with me to save them from the trash, and said I'd take the wicker chairs if he threw them out... and I told him that if he so much as lays a finger on my Lionel train ceramic bank that my Grandmother gave me for Christmas two years ago, or anything else of mine, I will kill him. Slowly and painfully.

Basically, I felt undervalued, unloved, disregarded, and deeply, deeply angry. I felt that people were treating my feelings as if they were of absolutely no importance to anyone besides myself. And I felt that I couldn't say anything about it, I didn't trust my own feelings; I couldn't communicate at the time what, exactly, was making me angry or how, exactly, I felt... so it all just boiled up inside of me.

One of the things that I've learned in sobriety is to not act on my anger while I'm angry. You can make huge mistakes and hurt other people's feelings... and then find out later that the anger was over a minor miscommunication, or that you were really angry at yourself but were projecting your anger onto others, or that the thing you were angry about was an utter triviality magnified into a major offense by your own neuroses and personality issues. And I've always had difficulty expressing my emotions, anyway, being naturally reticent as well as being brought up to believe I had no right to feelings of my own (it's all part of my WASP mystique).

So I bubbled and boiled and fumed, so much that I couldn't keep it all inside. My boss and coworkers noticed my upset, of course, and I'm sure they tried to be conciliatory... though since they couldn't have possibly guessed why I was so upset, they didn't know what to conciliate. When I got home, Grandmother noticed I was terribly upset and, in a rare moment of insight, avoided irritating me further by asking what was wrong. Then, when I went to my AA meeting that night, it was even more obvious that I was upset, and people did ask me what was wrong and listened patiently while I ranted and worked through my feelings (in private conversations, not at meeting-level, of course).

It felt good to lance the boil of my feelings somewhat, and good to talk about things not related to my anger or my office later on when a bunch of us went out for coffee. I was able to get a little distance from the issue, and later that night was able to pray and meditate myself into understanding my coworkers' point of view.

For example, I didn't really care about the carpet in the first place... the old carpet, that is. I didn't care that it was stained, I don't notice things like that; I observe them, of course, I could have told you exactly where there were stains and could have given a good shot at guessing what caused the stains, but the stains didn't bother me. They didn't draw my eye, they didn't disgust me. They were just there. And I said so, on a number of occasions: it would therefore be very easy for my coworkers to extrapolate from such statements that I wouldn't care what the new carpet looked like, either. How would they know that random stains fly under my radar but that tiny patterns arrest my eye and make me dizzy?

Other problems lay in personality differences. Like the fact that JB loves painting. The sound of a paint-can being opened fills her with happiness; the smell of paint drying on a wall fills her with utter blissful satisfaction; the act of applying a different color of fresh paint to a wall is better than shopping, better perhaps than sex. It is therefore natural that her desire to paint would outweigh, in her mind, my desire to avoid paint at all costs. It's hard to believe, when you love something that much, that someone else could hate it. You start telling yourself that the other guy doesn't really hate it, he must be exaggerating, how could anyone hate something so wonderful?

Basically, as I prayed and meditated on the topic, my anger and upset became right-sized. It shrank to an anger that I could express easily and without rancor, it devolved to its bases and allowed me to see my own part in it. Yes, I could be angry about the timing, and could say so; yes, I could be upset by the pattern, and could say so; yes, I am allowed to be thrown off balance by the upheaval and the throwing-away and the changes, that is my personality, and I can communicate those feelings. There was nothing I could do about those things, because they were already done and unchangeable. Furthermore, I can be absolutely adamant that my office not be painted turquoise and that if anything does get painted it will have to happen on my vacation or else I will take a vacation, and there is nothing wrong with me stating that intention fairly and reasonably and calmly.

When I arrived back in the office on Wednesday morning, things started turning around. For one, the upheaval was over with, it was all just a matter of putting things back. For another, my anger was communicable and easy, I was able to say to BB that I don't like this pattern in the carpet, I'll have to get used to it, but I don't like it; I was able to tell my boss that I can't stand throwing things away, and that I would simply bring back anything he threw out that I wanted; I was able to tell JB that all this upheaval had left me in an emotionally precarious place and that I was very uncomfortable and very unhappy. Simple, calm, smiling, "this is how I feel," no expectations and no demands.

Later on, at the end of the day, after I'd gotten my computer put back together and some other things settled down, and after JB and BB had gone for the day, I did something that I didn't expect would make me feel better but which did, in fact, make me feel much better: I went into their office and moved everything around.

Now, I didn't do this out of spite. I had thought, since their phones and computers and bulletin boards and other stuff hadn't been put back into place, that this would be a great time to see if we could find a better arrangement for their office. The office had sort of evolved half-assedly over the years, there was no plan or design, and it wasn't terribly convenient. I was going to just measure their furniture and the room and do a computer simulation in my 3D Home Designer, but I didn't have my tape-measure... so I just shoved the desks and tables around in various formations to see what we could do with the furniture we had. But the idea of JB and BB coming back in the morning and finding their environment all at sixes and sevens, with their things all askew and their spaces rendered inaccessible, made me feel all better. It was so delightful, so relieving, so simply deliciously fun.

Of course, I put everything back the way it had been... more or less: the place had evolved over so long a time that we couldn't actually make everything fit back the way it had been before the carpeters moved it, there were nuances and gradations of spacing that couldn't be recreated no matter what I did. But I put it back as best I could and went home feeling ever so much better.

I was in control, you see. I had power over our environment. My generic "upset" over the upheaval was really just the loss of power overy my environment. The anger and depression were based in powerlessness... and I don't do powerlessness very well. I don't feel it necessary to control other people (though I do wish they'd do what I want, or just get out of the way and do nothing at all, instead of doing what I don't want), and I don't feel it necessary to control events (which nobody can do, no matter how smart and powerful they think they are)... but I can control my physical environment, and when I lose that control I get very scared. And when I get scared, I automatically get angry.

But to return to the story, when I came in today with this new knowledge that having control over my environment was all I wanted, things went swimmingly well. I made a few suggestions to JB and BB about ways their office could be arranged, things I'd thought of the night before when I was pushing their desks hither and thither, but which would require them to rethink their spaces in a rather revolutionary manner. Like having only one desk for both computers and for sitting at, instead of a sitting-at-desk and a separate but adjacent computer-desk; and like having their desks face-to-face in the center of the room, instead of on opposite walls facing in different directions.

And much to my surprise, they embraced this revolutionary approach with enthusiasm. So I spent a good deal of today arranging the other room, coming up with solutions and ideas as we went along, as well as putting their computers and phones and things back together. The result is beautiful, it has much better flow and uses space more efficiently. I even managed to solve some old phone-line issues so that now all four workstations can be online at the same time! (which will become completely irrelevant when we switch to an intranet, but the sense of accomplishment is nevertheless huge).

I also, today, got my stuff back on my desk and arranged the way I want it, solving other longstanding problems that I never fixed before because it would take a complete upheaval of everything at my workstation (which I would not have enjoyed, and in fact did not enjoy). Also the shelves and other areas of the central office that had long been bothering me and which I can now reorganize however I like. I'll let my boss arrange his office as he thinks best when he gets back next week. But that's the best part of this new carpet: it's low-pile industrial, and the furniture slides across it like butter on a teflon griddle, where the old carpet was loose-napped and over an inch thick and heavily padded, so everything sank right into the surface and stayed there.

The upheaval is done, and we are now reaping the rewards of upheaval: the ability to put things where we want them instead of where they were, a blank slate on which to act out our most revolutionary ideas, an opportunity to make our office the best possible working-environment for us.

And now I'm as happy as a pig in shit. I'm as happy today as I was upset Tuesday. Because now I've got control. I'm don't have to be in charge, I really want to work within the confines of other people's needs; but I have a say in my environment and good ideas to share. I like that.

Best of all, I've gotten some great ideas that can be put into practice in my own room. And a feeling of accomplishment that can motivate me to actually do the things I'm thinking about in my room.

Besides, now I have to find somewhere to put a full-sized silk ficus, a huge silk Kentia palm, and the most adorable little silk tulip tree. And maybe some wicker chairs, too.

Monday, December 1, 2003

Change to Spare

As you may have noticed, I (like so many other people) cannot stand change. Actually, it's not change I dislike so much, it's upheaval. But I also dislike change: not the gaining of new things, but the loss of old things, and having to endure physical hardship in between... my dream of life is a life in which things settle down where I want them, and stay there, with an occasional pleasant new thing to liven the days.

Anyway, I was thinking last night, or rather very very early this morning as I lay awake with another bout of leg-twitching insomnia, that I am not completely happy at work. See, these bouts of leg-twitching insomnia always happen on weeknights, usually Sunday. I thought maybe it was the gym, maybe I was doing too much on the elliptical machines (Caroline's newest enthusiasm, since the readout of calories burned is much higher on those machines than on the treadmill or bicycles) and that was causing the spasms, but I don't go to the gym on Sunday so that doesn't wash; I thought maybe it was the getting up early on Sundays, as I do on the weekdays, that I'm going to bed in a too-tired-to-sleep state; maybe it's the trying to go to bed at a particular time instead of sitting up until my head starts wobbling on my neck, as I do on weekend nights. But last night as I lay wide-awake in the dark with little irritating spasms in my left thigh and a head full of worries, I realized that I didn't want to go to work in the morning.

Today is a two-piece program that promises to be a lot of hard work. First, I have to resume printing the newsletter, a task that is not in itself difficult but which is so time-consuming that it is very like hard work... the printer only makes two copies a minute on average (it's a two-sided eleven-by-seventeen sheet folded in half, a rather involved object for one tiny finishing module), so a distribution of 1500 copies takes an aggregate twelve hours to complete, and every twenty-three copies (just over ten minutes) you have to empty the product tray, so you can't just leave the machine to play with itself while you do something else, you have to listen for the stops and empty the tray over and over and over again during the aggregate twelve hours. I got started on Wednesday, and got about three hundred done, and I planned to come in during the holiday weekend and get some more out of the way; but I didn't, and the newsletter has to be in the boxes by tomorrow, so I am going to have to put in at least an eight hour day today, maybe even ten.

While that is happening, I and my coworkers will be cleaning the entire office of loose papers and important documents and electronic equipment, moving everything but the actual furniture into the storage room, so that the carpeters can come in tomorrow and install our new carpeting. Needless to say, I am not thrilled about the prospect of new carpeting... no, that's not quite right: while I look forward to having new carpet, which is going to be industrial-pile with a multi-color nap that will disguise stains, replacing a once-lovely but now terribly stained and entirely inappropriate deep-pile sandy beige residential carpeting, I do not look forward to the upheaval of the entire office that the installation of said carpet will cause. And I certainly am not happy with the speed in which this whole process has taken place, my change-resistant mind simply hasn't had time to digest it.

This upheaval will be good for one thing, it will force me to clean my desk. But it also forces me to unplug my computer, which I haven't dared to turn off since something went flooey with the power-source coupling; every time I turned it on, I had to jiggle the cord in the plug while pushing the power button, three or four times, before it would turn on and so I started simply restarting the computer in the evening instead of turning the CPU off. Then my coworker's computer, which is the same model and age, wouldn't turn back on at all, no matter how much we jiggled it (which occasioned another change, four entirely new workstations so that everyone in the office has the same kind and age of computer).

I backed up all of my documents, of course, some weeks ago; and I have a new computer, but it doesn't have anything loaded on it so it's not ready to operate. If my computer doesn't turn back on after I move it, I will lose weeks of work as well as a lot of personal information and cookies (I'll have to remember all of my passwords, dommage!) as well as being without a computer until our computer-guru-guy gets back from convalescing from gastrointestinal surgery... after Christmas. Needless to say, I'm more than a little worried.

Then there's the whole Coming In At Ten Issue: when my new boss started back in March or April (I forget, it was such a blur), he asked me to start coming in at ten sharp instead of rolling in any time between eleven and twelve-thirty, as I had been accustomed to do. My boss is generally a nice guy, but he is nevertheless a guy and feels the need to exercise authority every once in a while. I argued with him for a bit and then acceded without making any promises—I'll give it a shot, I said.

After about a month of trying and failing to arrive in the office at or before 10 a.m., I more-or-less reverted to my original schedule, though I never came in as late as I used to. I was always there by eleven-thirty, which I viewed as a one-hour improvement over my previous habits. But this is not good enough for him; about a month ago he asked me to "reload and start shooting for ten again." And so I have been.

But it's not working very well. For one thing, I have to set my alarm to eight, where I hadn't previously even had to use my alarm clock; and then I never get out of there at four or four-thirty, so I find it difficult to motivate myself to get in any earlier. I mean, why bust my hump to come in at ten if I can't leave at four? Sure, it gives me more time off to take long lunches on Friday, but that's not much of a consolation prize for working more-than-six-hour days. And then, for the first hour all I do is answer the phone and tell everyone who calls that the person he or she is calling is not in, which the answering machine could very easily do without me.

But my usual work dogma of "I'll do whatever I want so long as I get the work done" is not there for me right now... I'm not getting my work done. Now, a lot of this is because I have too much work to do, and am so been so overwhelmed that I spend whole days just sitting idle behind my desk, shell-shocked. This is hardly my fault, but my bargaining chip of "as long as I get the work done" has lost much of its impact. And so I am busting my hump trying to get to the office by ten — and failing... as I am doing right now, sitting in my bedroom at home at 10:30 writing in my diary. But then, I'm going to be at the office all blinking night moving papers and printing newsletters, so it doesn't really matter when I start, does it?

Well, anyway, that's what was squirreling around my mind last night as I clutched a heating pad between my knees and tried to drop off. That and so much more. Worries and concerns and random thoughts and ideas and fantasies and resentments and replayed conversations. Prayer and meditation didn't even work. It's a wonder I'm able to sleep at all.

I'm going to chalk it up to Seasonal Affect Disorder and weather through it, though (pardon the pun, I didn't even see it until after I published). We're having an unusually cold autumn this year, so that might actually be the reason. Either way, I'd better get to work or I'll miss my eleven-thirty personal deadline. Toodles!

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Essence of Time

I wish I had more time to write. I've just finished reading this book, a book that languished on my Amazon Wish List ever since I started the Wish List with it, which I finally bought because I was tired of looking at it on the tail-end of my Wish List, and which is entitled Someone is Killing the Gay Boys of Verona. It isn't very good, I'm afraid, though it's also not exactly bad, either.

The story involves a series of killings of gay teens in a small Indiana town, hate crimes that don’t seem to leave sufficient trace for the police to follow, and is narrated by a boy who lives in an imperfectly preserved haunted mansion, whose best friend was the first victim, and who of course was a potential victim himself. There are ghosts involved, a hateful religious sect, vague ties between the past and the present, and a surprising number of comings-out of gay male youth for such a tiny town (apparently there were no lesbians in Verona). It's sort of a gay gothic romance with a gay murder mystery entangled in it.

I found it all a little difficult to believe as a story: the bit with the coroner not noticing that a so-called "suicide" had somehow managed to shoot himself in the back of the head with a .45 Magnum (which even I know is impossible, and I'm not a county coroner) was pretty hard to get behind; the descriptions of the mansion were a little hard to swallow, too, though perhaps someone less well-versed in American architecture would have had less trouble; and the fact that the narrator/hero spent all of his time trying to contact ghosts and figure the whole thing out in his head, Nero Wolfe-like, instead of talking to the police or the victims' families, was simply ridiculous (even Wolfe had actual information and evidence gathered up for him).

The author, who I assume is a grown-up-type person, captures the narrative tone of a seventeen-year-old boy so well that I feel that I'm reading something written by a seventeen-year-old boy (I will generously assume that was done on purpose, rather than that the author himself suffers a tenth-grade reading level). That's kind of a cool trick, but then seventeen-year-old boys aren't well known for telling a good story with any amount of subtext or elegance of language. They spend so much time trying to explain themselves, as well as repeating themselves, and trying to "figure things out," that they don't get around to doing much else. This one also kept using "that" instead of "who" or "which," a grammatical tic that got on my nerves after a while.

There is also an editorial slant towards coupledom that I occasionally encounter in gay fiction, especially the gothic variety, and which always irritates me just a trifle. It took me a long time to discover that not everyone in the world needs to be part of a couple; I did think that when I was seventeen but have since grown out of it. Coupling is certainly very nice, it is the peak of some people's experience, but it's not one of life's essentials for happiness and it's not for everyone. But in this book, everybody has to couple up in order to be happy, everyone... even the dead. It sort of pissed me off, but just a little; I guess I really am turning into a confirmed bachelor, though I hope I'm not becoming a bitter old maid.

There was also, finally, a rather irritating prudishness to the language, boyfriends instead of lovers, one's heart racing with terror instead of pissing one's pants in terror, and an almost fanatical avoidance of discussing any body-part that might be located below the belt. The author seemed to feel that "dirty parts" didn't need to be discussed, that "dirty words" were inessential, and that being "good" required a certain divorce from one's physical nature. At least he didn't pretend that teenage boys are absolute angels of sexual chastity; but I also worry vaguely about authors who never send their characters to the bathroom. While I suppose that's okay in children's literature (I've noticed that the people in Harry Potter's world only shower after games and only use the toilets to plot stratagems and talk to lachrymose ghosts), it's a little odd in a murder mystery supposedly intended for an adult audience.

Anyway, I didn't start out to write a book review (though now I've started I rather enjoy it). Like I said, though, it wasn't really a bad novel, it just wasn't written for me. What it did do for me, though, was turn up the flame on that smoldering and not-very-warm fire I try to keep lit under my keister about writing my own stories. Every time I read a book that irritates me, just as every time I read a book that I enjoy, I try to dissect what it was in the book that irritated or elated me, try to see where in my own stories such elements could be found, and try to figure out how to decrease or increase the occurrences of such things. With a book I love, though, I usually feel pretty satisfied with the experience and file it away for future reference... it's the books that irritate me, on the other hand, that inspire me to write my own, something better.

But when do I have the time? (As we gracelessly return to the title topic) I know I could be writing fiction instead of reading, or I could be writing fiction instead of these journal entries, and I could certainly be writing fiction instead of downloading new furniture and building new houses for my Sims. But writing fiction has always been more time-consuming... I have to be uninterrupted for whole days just to get started on it. And I haven't really done much work on fiction since I quit smoking, or since I discovered the internet: the smoking was part of my writing pattern, I would write-write-write and then get up and smoke a cigarette while thinking about what came next, then I'd write-write-write again, and after I quit smoking I would write-write-write and then just walk around the house three or four times, which just wasn't the same; and after I found the internet, I never get quite bored enough to have to entertain myself with writing, there's always something else to do.

Writing fiction was never something I could do for a little while and then go do something else, it required hours of revving up beforehand, hours of decompression after, and uninterrupted peace without Grandmothers or telephone calls or errands however small during the process, so the busier and more full my life becomes, the less time I can devote to writing fiction. But I know perfectly well that I can't alter my life in order to give myself more time; instead, I have to alter the way I write in order to fit it in to the life I have. I need to learn how to just sit down for an hour or two in the evenings and write some fiction, even to continue writing when Grandmother comes and stands in the door and nags me.

Nevertheless, I do wish I had more time in my life. It seems that I'm always somewhere, at work or in the car or at a meeting or in a show or something. Yesterday and today, and the sick day I took a couple of weeks ago, are the first days I've spent in a really long time where I haven't had to leave the house. Add all this to my age-diminished capacity to do things without getting tired, and it looks as if I've painted myself into a life that allows far too little productive leisure time.

And I don't really know what to do about it. The things I'd like to let go of, my responsibilities and the less pleasurable tasks of my life, can't be let go of; the things I could theoretically let go of, my shows and social life and so on, I don't want to let go of.

Talk about your "luxury problems." I am grateful to have so full a life... it is not so for everyone. My Daddy, for example, has so little in his life right now that everything that comes up automatically becomes an obsession. He can't get out on his own, and he can't hear very well when he is out and so can't take as much part in conversation as he used to, and he doesn't have the vastness of inner resources to keep himself satisfactorily occupied on his own. He is pretty much occupied with The Food Network and downloading free games from the internet, and pestering me to buy things for him from the internet and then pestering my nephew to install them for him. I know he reads a good deal, and since I pretty much only see him on Sundays and holidays I don't really know what the rest of his week is like, but from my conversations with him I often get the idea that he's more than a little bored.

Then there are others for whom a day of minimal boredom is an undreamt-of luxury, people who have to work forty or more hours a week and commute two or more hours a day and have to deal with children or spouses or houses or lovers or dating, on top of all of the other things a person might do. I hear about other people's schedules and absolutely shudder at the mad scurry of it all.

Ah, well. We all have our own rows to hoe. I would like to discover some simple way of hoeing my row more efficiently, some simple way that wouldn't require a personality transplant or vitamins or a revolutionary alteration of my worldview and personal outlook or whatever. On the other hand, I find that I do always have time for the things I need to be doing, so perhaps writing fiction is not what I need to be doing right now.

Perhaps right now I need to be eating pie and watching television. So I guess I'd better get to it.