"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What People Really Mean When They Say You Look Much Younger Than You Are

People tell me this a lot.  That I look young.  It often occurs after we have been talking for a few minutes already… in the pharmacy check-out line, at a coffee shop, on an airplane.  Then I say something about how I taught for thirteen years or graduated from UT in 1999 or saw Back to the Future in the theater, and they lean back a little, do some math in their head, and say, “Wow.  You do not look that old.”  And I say thank you.  Then there is sometimes a bit of awkwardness as the person realizes they were just treating me like a child a couple of minutes ago. 

I'm very thankful to have been born in time for Back to the Future.

The Beholder May Need Contacts

Although it is certainly nice to be told that I look young, I don’t actually believe that LOOKS have a whole lot to do with it.  People age you based on a lot of things and the way you look is just one of them.  Marital status, children, clothing, and manner of speaking have just as much impact on the number their brain generates as the smoothness of your skin.  I am married but have no children.  People assume that married people all want to have kids, so they adjust my age down, thinking I haven’t had them YET.  I have been married less than three years.  Again, people still think most couples get married in their twenties, so they adjust again.  And, lastly, I am silly.  I make jokes and say dumb things and giggle.  People adjust down a third time for my immaturity.  So, by the time I tell them that I graduated high school in 1995, they have already decided that a silly newlywed with no children like me can’t possibly be over 25 or 26, and boom-- they are shocked.  This is an entertaining moment.  Sometimes, if you look really closely, you can actually see yourself aging in their eyes.  It’s kinda like when that guy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade drank from the wrong Holy Grail, but slower and with less skull-crumbling.

"He chose... poorly."

You also have to be careful about how you react to compliments about your youthful looks because people don’t always mean what they say.  I’ve done some research and you can gauge the sincerity of a person’s comment about your age by how often they repeat it.

 “Wow, you do not look that old!”

If they say it once… They are being polite.  Say thank you.

If they say it twice… They really mean it.  This is a true compliment.  Say thank you and smile.  Blush a little if you want.

If they say it three times… 
They think your actual age is REALLY OLD and are boggled by the fact that someone of your (advanced) age could possibly still be alive.  This happens to people in their late thirties who are talking to people in their early twenties.  People in their early twenties cannot ever imagine being a person in their late thirties.  They are baffled and slightly disgusted by you. Say thank you and then make some snide remark about how you left your walker at home and should probably be getting to bed soon since it’s 6PM and all.  (Don’t expect them to laugh.  They think you are serious.)

If they say it four times… 
They are trying to tell you that you are not dressed appropriately for your age.  Say thank you.  But then go to the restroom and evaluate your outfit.  Sometimes they are right.

If they say it five times… 
They are fishing for something.  It could be your phone number.  It could be a compliment about how young THEY look.  It could be an opening to talk about the emu farm they just started that could use a little extra money to really get going.  It could be proof of your age in the form of your driver’s license or birth certificate.  It could be your pretty little nose, which would make an excellent addition to the collection they keep in the drawer of their night stand.  Say thank you, excuse yourself to the restroom, and then make a run for it.

Me, Halloween 1998, age 22, wearing a costume made for an 8-year-old

It’s Not Just About the Face Cream

In conclusion, the secret to staying young is marrying later in life, choosing not to have children, dressing inappropriately, and talking like an idiot.  Oh, and being really short helps too.  Some people look down and just think you haven’t finished “growing up” yet.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

In Honor of Uno's Birthday...

Our awesome dog Uno turns dos today, and in honor of his birthday, I am reposting a piece I wrote when he was three months old and all the world seemed dangerous.  
He's lasted this far, though, so I think he's gonna make it.

Danger, Danger, Everywhere!

A veterinarian once told my husband, after he assured her that his housecat did not need a rabies shot, that ALL pets, even those who were indoors-only needed to be vaccinated because (and I quote) “a rabid bat could fly down the chimney and bite your cat”.  Instead of being terrified by this horror-movie-like visual, my hubby simply rolled his eyes and filed the suggestion in the same category with tsunami insurance for Iowa residents and life jackets for dolphins.  He still declined the shot.  Since his cat had almost died from a seizure following her last rabies vaccination, he decided to take his chances with the bat.

Since then, the vet’s warning has become sort of a euphemism in our household for the ridiculously implausible. 

Me:  “What did you do with that scorpion I found in the bathroom?”
Hubby:  “Took it outside.”
Me:  “How FAR outside???  What if it crawls back inside during the night and climbs up into our bed and stings me???”
Hubby:  “Oh yeah, and what if a rabid bat flies down the chimney and bites you?”
Me:  “Point taken.”

And we laugh and consider ourselves clever.

Well, recently, Hubby and I got a puppy.  His name is Uno and he’s AWESOME.  (See visual proof of his awesomeness to the right.)  Even though he is only 11 weeks old, he is already, hands down, the best puppy in the world.  No hyperbole.

Anyway, ever since we brought Uno home, the warnings, cautions, suggestions, and advice have been flooding in.  Apparently danger lurks around every corner when you are a defenseless little canine. 

On the one hand, we are told to be very cautious with our puppy until he is four months old.  He hasn’t had his rabies shot yet.  He is not yet completely immune to doggy diseases.  The ground is teeming with germs.  Parvo can live in the soil for up to a year.  He could step in another dog’s poop, lick his own paw and die a terrible death.  Best to keep him away from any area any other dog has ever or might have ever set foot in.  Yes, your best friend’s dog may be healthy and have all of her shots, but what if SHE has been around dogs who HAVEN’T?  Are you willing to take that risk?!?! 

On the other hand, we are told it is SO important to properly socialize our puppy before he is five months old.  He needs to meet other dogs.  He needs to experience new places.  Fears set in at 20 weeks.  He needs to be exposed to every type of surface, temperature, noise, smell, and weather condition.  He needs to be around cats, birds, squirrels, deer, horses, rabbits, and llamas.  He needs to meet humans of every age, size, gender, and race.  He needs to interact with people wearing hats, sunglasses, masks, scarves, vests, and hoop earrings.  How will you feel if your dog gets to be six months old and he is terrified of elderly Asian men wearing bow ties?!?!

It can be a bit overwhelming. 

Still though, we try to take it all in stride and find a happy balance between disease risks and socialization phobias without becoming paranoid parents. After all, the idea of a bat flying down our chimney or a rabid dog sneezing on our front porch is preposterous. 

Or so I thought.  

Last week I stopped into a pet store which, for the purposes of this blog, we will call MegaPet, to buy some chew-deterrent spray.  (It did not work.  However, this does not denote a lack of awesomeness on the part of my puppy – See second pic for further proof of his awesomeness – it instead denotes a lack of awesomeness on the part of the product.  This face can obviously do no wrong.)

Anyway, I was standing in line behind a woman buying a medium-sized, brown, cushy dog bed.  This was the middle of the afternoon and the store was nearly empty.  The only people around were me, her, and the male teenager behind the checkout counter.  It was a slow day at MegaPet.

While Teen Boy was swiping the lady’s credit card, she was reaching down into the plush recesses of her new doggy bed, when suddenly she said, “Oh!  I don’t think the bed was supposed to come with this!” and she lifted up out of the crevasse… a dead mouse.

Teen Boy and I just stared while Clueless Lady held the thing by the tail and said stuff like, “Looks like I got an added bonus!  Almost walked out of here without paying for this!”

I ventured to ask, already knowing the answer to my question, “Is that a dead mouse?”  To which she replied, “No, it’s a toy.  Looks real, though, doesn’t it?”  And I thought… yep.

Clueless Lady set the dead rodent on the counter next to my bitter apple spray, then, seeing my look of concern, thought better of it, picked the thing up AGAIN, and set it on Teen Boy’s cash register.  Then she stood there, cluelessly waiting for her receipt.  When she noticed that Teen Boy and I could not stop staring, jaws dropped, at the thing on his cash register, Clueless Lady finally got a clue.  She gasped and said, “Is that a DEAD MOUSE!?”  We both nodded.

Now I must admit, once Clueless Lady got a clue and realized that she had, in fact, been waving a dead mouse around for the past couple of minutes, she handled herself very well.  She demanded (and received) a new dog bed, thanked Teen Boy, and hastily escaped to her car, where I can only assume she got a huge case of the heebie jeebies and doused her hands in antibacterial gel.  Meanwhile, back in MegaPet, I watched as a very dismayed Teen Boy picked up the dead mouse with a dog food coupon, and threw it, along with the contaminated dog bed, in the trash.  I’m pretty sure MegaPet has no data on this incident whatsoever.

I left the store with my ineffectual chew deterrent and a bewildered expression on my face.  What boggled my mind more than the fact that I just saw a grown woman play with a dead mouse was the idea that maybe there was something to the whole bat theory after all.  I mean, if I had bought that bed for Uno and NOT rummaged around in it before bringing it home, he could have found the dead mouse, eaten it, contracted some horrible dead mouse disease, and gotten sick or died without me ever even knowing what had happened to him.  It was a sobering thought.

But still, you can’t live your life in fear.  Yes, there is danger everywhere.  There are diseases in the soil.  There are mean people in the world.  There are rabid animals.  There are poisonous plants.  There are fast cars. There are dead mice in dog beds.  There are germs, germs, germs on every surface everywhere.  But everything should be taken in moderation, including safety precautions. Our goal is to raise a healthy, well-adjusted puppy while avoiding becoming “the people who fear the bat in the chimney”.  And we do this by following a few simple rules.

** Keep up with regular vet appointments and vaccinations.
** Take puppy to safe, clean areas to socialize with friendly people and healthy dogs.
** Be cautious of high-traffic dog areas until puppy is older.
** Keep fireplace doors closed at all times.
** Thoroughly inspect all items purchased at MegaPet.

And I think we’re doing pretty well, because our pup is AWESOME.  Seriously.  Look at him.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

When Moonlighting as a Nanny for the Third Night in a Row

It is not uncommon
to find yourself wide awake
at 3:00AM
the only thing keeping
that toddler in her bed
is sheer will.
But then a half hour passes
without incident
and then forty-five minutes
and then an hour
of peace
and you start to close your eyes
relax your focus
loosen the hold on your mind
until suddenly you find yourself
alert once again
at 4:00AM
fingers gripping the covers
eyes piercing the darkness
that the slow
you just heard in the hallway
is a ghost.

Monday, March 18, 2013

I am not a grown-up.

March 18, 2013 - 8:00AM

I am not a grown-up.

I know this because today I have been entrusted with a very grown-up activity (a.k.a. the care and well-being of an almost-three-year-old by myself for two days while her parents are at the hospital having baby #2) and while the almost-three-year-old (referred to as 'D' from this point on) is at daycare, I am sitting on the couch having a mild panic attack over the possibility of later having to change a poopy diaper.  I know that D is in the middle of the wild world of potty training, but I also know that accidents still happen and... confession time... I have never actually changed a poopy diaper by myself.  Even that is an almost lie because the times when I WAS involved in a poopy diaper scenario, I merely stared in horror, gagged, or handed the capable grown-up in charge various tools and instruments, much like a nurse in an old movie.  A nurse who gagged at the sight of a little poo.

"How can something so small create so much of something so disgusting?"
- Steve Guttenberg in Three Men and a Baby

The fear-of-the-poopy-diaper actually started this morning at 5:00AM when I first got the call up to the big time.  So I already knew, as I was driving to my friend's house in the dark three hours ago, that I was not a grown-up.  But I was reminded yet again during the car ride to take D to daycare.  (Don't worry, her dad put the car seat in for me, so D is perfectly safe.  And it's a good thing too because it took a long time and looked really difficult and he was all huffy and puffy afterwards, so I don't think I could have done it.  More proof that I am not a grown up.)

Totally clueless.

D was talking to me from the backseat and although I can finally understand the words she uses, they still don't always make a lot of sense.  For instance, here are some snippets from our conversations.

Me-- "I've never seen your daycare, D.  You'll have to show me around!"
D-- "Starburst."
Me-- "Starburst?"
D-- (nods)
Me-- "Hmm.  Yes, starburst..."
(Later, when we arrived at daycare, I learned that D is in the “Starburst” class.  Ohhhh.  Starburst.)

D-- "I need to change clothes."
Me-- (picturing poo or pee in the backseat of my car) "What?!  You need to change clothes?  What happened?!"
D-- "I played in the creek."
Me-- (calming a bit) "Oh, you played in a creek and got your clothes wet and had to change?"
D-- (nods)
Me—“Ok.  Whew.  Good story, D!”

This is how things went.  So, a few minutes later when D said, "Oh!  A spider," I thought she was simply sharing another story with me, or maybe quoting a favorite book.  I said, "A spider?" and D said, "Yeah!" with a happy squeal.  I turned around, waiting for the unrelated-to-anything-happening-in-the-car comment to make sense, and there, hanging from a web attached to the ceiling of my car, was a spider the size of a dime dangling just outside of D's reach.  I know this because she was reaching for it.  And smiling.  I, on the other hand, was trying to keep myself from jumping out of the moving vehicle.  I managed to turn my scream/gasp into a laugh/cough and said things like "Oh wow" and "Look at that" while in my head I was screeching "OH MY GOD THERE IS A SPIDER IN MY CAR!!!" 

(Not a photo of the actual spider.)
Then D said, "It's on the window."  I looked and it was, it was there on the window.  I said, "Let's put down the window and set it free!" and I powered down the window halfway.  The spider retreated in the opposite direction.  D said, "He doesn't want to go out.  Put it back up."  I put it back up.  Then, noticing we were early for daycare anyway, I pulled onto a side street, stopped, and found a tissue and some bravery. 

D-- "Where's daycare?"
Me-- "We'll go to daycare in a minute.  I'm going to get the spider and set him free!"
D-- "He's gone."
Me-- "Gone???"
D-- "He crawled away.  He's FREE!" (throws up her hands in victory)

I looked and she was right.  He was gone.  But since none of the windows were open, his freedom was limited to the inside of my car.  We drove on to daycare, D smiling, me shaking slightly and looking over my shoulder a lot.

It is 8:00AM.  I have been up for three hours and desperately need a nap.  But I can't sleep.  Because while my dear friend is in a hospital room painfully bringing another human being into the world, I am sitting on her couch trying to figure out what terrifies me more-- the threat of a poopy diaper, or the spider lurking somewhere in my car.

I am not a grown-up.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What I Did on My Pretend Spring Break

One of the downsides of quitting teaching and becoming a full-time pretend-writer-person is that you no longer get a spring break.  Then again, one of the upsides of being a full-time pretend-writer-person is that you can technically take a spring break whenever you want, provided that it is spring-ish and you deserve a break.  Ish.  So, I decided to take a made-up spring break this week.

I'm sure that you are asking yourself, What does a full-time pretend-writer-person DO on a made-up spring break?!  Calm down, I'll tell you.

10 Highlights of My Not-At-All-Needed Break from My Leisurely Life of Pretending to Be a Writer:

** Impromptu visit from my friend Jessica and her baby girl.  Her baby was beautiful and awesome and not at all scared of my big bouncy dog.  Even though Jessica was REALLY just escaping from her in-laws for a half hour, I am still happy that she escaped to my house.  There were chocolate chip cookies and hugs and it was a joyous occasion.  I miss her.

** Learning that Grumpy Cat was in Austin.  I didn’t actually get to meet him, but just knowing he was nearby made me smile.  Which made him frown.

Grumpy Cat visited APA.  But he didn't enjoy it.

** My 10-year-old niece and 14-year-old nephew coming to stay with us for three days.  I gotta say, if you have to have children stay with you, 10-year-olds and 14-year-olds are the way to go.  They can't drive yet, so there is very little chance of them stealing your car, but they are old enough to clean themselves and feed themselves and dress themselves.  Plus, these particular 10-and-14-year-olds are sweet and funny and well-behaved and really cool.  I highly recommend them.  Our time together included games of dominoes and Peggle (<-- this game is SO addictive), a picnic at the Austin Zoo (where no one was attacked by a rooster, but it was close), and a walk around the UT campus (where my niece and I bought matching friendship bracelets).

They were fine, thanks for asking, frog.

** Accidentally setting a fire in my kitchen, which was mostly my husband’s fault.  When Mark was helping me bake chocolate chip cookies (I know, what a jerk, right? No, that’s not the bad part yet) he moved the tea kettle off the stove onto the counter to make room for the sheets of hot gooey cookies.  When he was done, he put the tea kettle back where it belongs on the stove.  (The NERVE of that guy!  No, no, that’s not it either.)  In doing the moving of the tea kettle, he neglected to realize that he had set it right on top of the yellow sticky note I’d been using to bookmark the ooey-gooey cookie recipe, which then adhered itself to the bottom of the kettle.  (NOW, you chastise him.)  So yeah, the next morning when I turned on the burner for tea, a yellow sticky note-sized fire erupted underneath my tea kettle.  No one was harmed, but there was much squealing. 

** Going downtown to see a SXSW show with my friend Emily who is nine-months pregnant.  Her friend Brian is the drummer for The Lone Bellow, a very cool little band out of Brooklyn.  So we took the metro from north Austin downtown to the show at The Stage on 6th Street.  Since no one had the forethought to run extra metro cars during SXSW, the train was already absolutely full when we squeezed on it.  And by squeezed, I mean SQUEEZED.  I'm pretty sure at least three strangers could feel Emily's baby kicking on the way downtown.  All turned out ok though.  There were no births on the metro or at the club or on the crowded spring break sidewalks.  And we had fun partying… very slowly.

I would have taken a photo of our crowded car,
but I couldn't move my arms.

** Getting to educate a Los Angelino on a few of the finer points of Austin.  I shared a table at Strange Brew this week with a nice boy who is addicted to buying shoes and cell phones and who carries a Scientology pamphlet around with him just so he can get people riled up.  He's only been in Austin for a few months and hasn't completely soaked up the culture yet.  I had to explain to him what Gospel Brunch is and when I mentioned The Salt Lick, he stared at me blankly.  I said, "It's a great bar-b-que place out in Driftwood."  And he said, "Like REAL bar-b-que?"  Sigh.  More educating followed.  But then I found out his grandparents are super-famous soap opera stars and suddenly I was the one with the blank look on my face, so I guess we are even.  Ish.

** Seeing Shinyribs perform at Lucy's Fried Chicken.  "Diamond rings and petticoats, burlap bags and billy goats, creamy corn sausage and gravy..."  While I was there, the twelve year old boy next to me with long hair and goofy glasses somehow got a gig playing bass at the Continental Club and all the adults around him were congratulating him and telling him they'd never even played there.  "Time is a cigarette burning down off the paint of the jaw of a dying clown..."  At one point a sing-along of "If You Don't Know Me By Now" broke out which was pretty awesome.  "The sun is fallin' in the western sky, wrinkling the twinkle of his eye..." Then Kevin Russell jumped off stage during a keyboard solo and danced with a little boy and I got jealous. 

(All above lyrics are from the Song of Lime Juice & Despair by Shinyribs, although I am not sure if “paint” is correct.  It could be “pate” or “bane” or, with my skill at identifying song lyrics, it could also be, like, “fruit” .)

Shinyribs, in all their glory!

** Watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a beautiful and inspiring documentary which will make you crave food that only exists 6,000 miles away.  Jiro, sushi master, dreams of sushi and during the day he makes his dreams come true.  I, the pretend-writer-person, dreamed last night that my cat Toby spoke to me, but this morning he didn’t say a word and I didn’t pressure him.

** Taking my pup on a hike and watching him swim without fear for the first time.  He’s not going to break any speed records.  Or endurance records.  Or distance records.  Or style records.  Or at-least-you-didn’t-fall-down records.  But I am proud of him anyway.  My boy is growing up!

Look at him go!  I'm a proud mama.

So there you have it-- the adventures of a full-time pretend-writer-person on her made-up-not-needed-at-all spring break.  Don’t be jealous.  But tomorrow I am TOTALLY getting back to my pretend work.  I promise.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How Natalie Goldberg Turned Me Into a Thief

Books can be bad influences.
Today I bought Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.  This book became famous for its inspiration to writers back in the 80s.  After hearing it praised by several friends, I finally decided to see what the fuss was about.  Between errands, I popped into Barnes & Noble and picked it up.  Then I stopped to grab a quick lunch.  But my quick lunch quickly became a slow leisurely meal as I dived into Goldberg’s book and found no desire to resurface.

From the very first page, I could not put it down. I suddenly felt like I was having lunch with an old friend, one who is really good at writing and really into Zen and who only came to lunch so that she could sit me down and tell me she believes in me and wants to give me a magical gift that will solve all my problems.  (Don't you love friends/books like that?)  I wanted to linger in that taco shop all day and read all 200 pages, but I had more errands to run, so I ran.

My next stop was the car wash.  Not the drive-through kind, the hand-wash kind.  But not the hand-wash-it-yourself kind, the kind where you pay someone to hand-wash it for you.  Specifically, I wanted the dog hair vacuumed out of the backseat before company arrives this weekend. 

I drove to the car wash in an altered mental state.  I couldn't stop thinking about Goldberg's book.  In particular, I was contemplating her theory of writing as meditation.  I was concentrating so hard on this thought that I entered the car wash through the exit.  Whoops!  When I got myself turned around, I learned it would cost $25 to clean my car inside and out.  Somewhere in the back of my cloudy brain that sounded high to me, but... I was in a rush and decided that I certainly didn’t want to clean the car myself, so I nodded.

Besides, I still wasn't REALLY thinking about car washes at all.  I was thinking about the part of the book that said, "Too many writers have written great books and gone insane or alcoholic or killed themselves.  This process teaches us about sanity.  We are trying to become sane along with our poems and stories."  I tried to remain sane as I got out of the car and handed the keys to the attendant.  When he handed me a ticket in return, I (thinking about how nice it would be to write a book and not want to kill myself) said, "What do I do with this?  Put it on my dashboard?"  He said, "No, you keep it."  So I put the ticket in my pocket, floated through the building to the outdoor waiting area, and sat down at a picnic table.

For the next forty-five minutes, I completely lost myself in Writing Down the Bones—reading, underlining, jotting notes.  Before I knew it, a man was calling out, "Honda Civic?"  I waved.  He walked over, handed me my keys, then turned and pointed across the parking lot to my car.  I became vaguely aware that I should tip him.  In my wallet, I had only a twenty and a five, so—what the heck—I handed him the five.  Then I moved to my car, still gliding in the pleasant haze of Goldberg's words.  I got in, pulled out onto the road, and, realizing I was in heavy traffic, snapped out of my reading-induced fog. 

At the first stoplight, I thought, "Oh my gosh!  It's 4:30!?  I still have to buy groceries and make dinner!"

At the second stoplight, I looked in the backseat and thought, "Wow, there is still a LOT of dog hair back there!  That stinks!  I'll have to clean it myself after all!”

At the third stoplight, I thought, "I tipped that guy five bucks.  That means that was a $30 car wash.  And they didn't even do a good job.  I wonder if I should go back and complain."

At the fourth stoplight, I thought, "HOLY CRAP!  I DID NOT PAY FOR MY CAR WASH!!!"

Yep, it's true.  A guy handed me a ticket, I sat down at a picnic table and read a book, a guy handed me my keys, and I left.  The assumption here is that I skipped a step somewhere.  I was probably supposed to hand that ticket to someone inside the building who would then have asked me to give them money.  But I didn't.  The only money I paid was the $5 tip.

You can judge me all you want, but I didn't go back.  I was already halfway to HEB in rush hour traffic, and I didn’t feel like driving all the way back just to say, “Hi, I forgot to pay you, so here’s the money.  And by the way, you totally need to clean my car again.”  I do feel bad, but I am hoping the universe will forgive me for this one. 

My new bookmark.
Anyway, though I may be lacking in morals, this story is not.

Moral #1:  The key to stealing something and getting away with it is a complete and total cluelessness, combined with a flighty, head-in-the-clouds attitude.  In short, ignorance = confidence, and if you act confident, no one will stop you.

Moral #2:  Writing Down the Bones is such a good book it can turn you into a criminal.  Thanks, Natalie Goldberg.  You owe the nice guys at the car wash $25.