Shared Wall

Tonight I had a flashback to apartment living: I was in the bathroom and Paul was listening to music on the other side of the wall, and MAN. I had forgotten how music at a reasonable volume sounds UNTHINKABLY RUDE on the other side of a wall. The wall was VIBRATING, and all I could hear was BOOM-bah-bah BOOM-bah-bah BOOM-bah-bah until I wanted to pound on the wall for old times’ sake.

But the music was not even loud on Paul’s side of the wall. It’s just that the music was CLOSE TO THE WALL. I wonder how many misunderstandings have arisen from similar situations? One side: “WHY do they have to BLAST their music DAY AND NIGHT?? Have they NO CONSIDERATION for others??” The other side: “WHY do they have to POUND THE WALL when I listen to ANY MUSIC AT ALL?? Have they NO CONSIDERATION for others??”

For example, in the apartment we lived in when Rob was born, our next-wall neighbors had what sounded like a full-sized piano but was probably a small electric keyboard. They unwisely put it against our shared wall. They also had two elementary-school-aged children. By the time we moved out, I could have bashed that wall down with my bare hands to get at that piano, and felt glad of the blood and shattered bones my hands would have become.

That is the rule, in apartments: if it makes sound, it does not go against a shared wall. The CD player. The TV. The mixer, if possible, though not as big a deal if it isn’t, because it’s used so briefly and occasionally. The headboard, certainly. None of those things go against a shared wall, even if the external wall is chilly or the interior wall is inconvenient.

Unfortunately, the floor is sometimes a shared wall, and there is no way to put nothing against that.



Chocolate, by The 1975. I had trouble finding it, for two reasons:

1. I couldn’t understand the lyrics.

2. The band is called “The 1975,” so when I DID figure out some lyrics and search for them online, I kept thinking, “No, that’s not it—it’s a RECENT song I’m pretty sure, not from 1975.” Derp.

The other song going through my head all the time is “Hey Brother” by Avicii and Dan Tyminski. I love unexpected combinations: bluegrass plus dance? YES PLEASE. The video is sad, and also not what I think the song ought to be about; so may I suggest instead the lyrics video, which is baffling (bluegrass plus dance plus breaking pencils plus pouring milk) but not sad?:

AND I love “Delta Rae’s “If I Loved You,” but I don’t listen to it when Paul’s home because I don’t want to make him nervous: a person should not have to wonder why his or her spouse is singing “But I don’t love you, no!” at the top of his/her lungs.

Well, What Would Make it Better?

Do you remember the Well, what CAN you do? technique I use to make myself do more than nothing when I’m overwhelmed? I have a related thing I’m also finding helpful. It’s similar in that it involves talking very nicely to yourself, ideally aloud: if there are others in the house you can say it under your breath while in another room, but I think the “aloud” part is pretty key to it working for me. And it’s similar in that it’s a way to get yourself to take action when most of yourself thinks action is useless and hopeless and pointless but there’s still a small piece of yourself that feels it would be a good idea.

While the first technique is for overwhelmed hopelessness (“There’s TOO MUCH!! I CAN’T do it!!”), this technique is for something more like when everything feels bad. And here are the questions to patiently and repeatedly ask yourself out loud, just as if you were a kind and helpful and infinitely insightful/wise psychologist in a movie or TV show: “What would help?” and “What would make it better?” The “better” here is the better of comparison (“any place upwards of where it was before”) rather than the better of “I was sick, but now I’m all better.” It is the better of drops in a bucket, not the better of filling it.

Sometimes you will get answers that don’t go anywhere. Angry retorts, for example: “OH, I don’t know, A MILLION DOLLARS??” or “If EVERYTHING ABOUT MY LIFE were different!!” Follow those paths as long as the answers continue to make practical sense (“Is there a way you could acquire more money? How would that improve things?” and “Which thing about your life would you change first? How would that improve things?”), but abandon them if they turn out to be techniques the patient is using to avoid answering the question for real.

Sometimes you won’t be speaking to yourself, so you’ll get nothing but sullen silence. Wait patiently, like the good therapist you are. If you start to cry, just wait for yourself to be ready to talk.

Useful answers vary HUGELY. Sometimes it’s “….Eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream with Hershey’s syrup and peanuts. And watching Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Other times it’s “The music to be on while I fold this stupid laundry, even though the radio is in the kitchen and that means really blaring it too loudly at that end of the house so that I can hear it at this end of the house.” Sometimes it’s “Going to Target alone, and getting a coffee from the cafe to sip while I walk around.” If the request is possible to grant, I recommend granting it with huge approval and kindness: “Of COURSE you can have that! Of COURSE you can! That’s entirely reasonable! For goodness’ sake!” Don’t forget to say it out loud. You are perhaps thinking that saying it aloud is a minor thing and you’ll just skip that, but I encourage you to try it. Whispering is fine; a regular speaking voice is better. (You don’t have to do the answers out loud. Just the psychologist.)

If the request is not possible to grant at that time, imagine how the psychologist would deal with that. He or she might add it to a list. “Hm, yes, an excellent thought, and let’s add that to your plan for the future. Now, can we think of some ideas that would be more applicable to the present? something we could implement right now to bring you some relief?” Or he/she might want to discuss compromises/variations: “It sounds like that exact situation would be difficult; could we modify that to fit your current circumstances?” Maybe you’re home with little kids so you can’t go to Target alone or manage coffee while pushing the cart, but you could go with the kids and get a coffee at a drive-through to drink on the way there, and maybe that would be better than not going at all and feeling intense despair about life, which is the other option.

As the psychologist, you might expect all the requests to be indulgences/treats, but it’s surprising how often they aren’t. I remember back in the craziest new-baby days thinking things like, “I just want TEN SECONDS to wipe that stupid DRIED JUICE SPOT off the FLOOR so I can stop STEPPING STICKILY on it.” Often you will ask the patient what will help, and the patient will reply “A spinach smoothie, a multivitamin, three fish oil capsules.” Or “Getting that errand out of the way.” Or “Making any headway at all on the laundry.” Or “Wrestling that hard-to-clean-under heavy kitchen island two feet over so I can clean the floor under it.” You are the therapist with your clipboard. Make a note on your legal pad: you’re adding the idea to the list. Nod again; say, “I don’t see any reason that can’t be arranged.”



That DOES make things feel better for some reason. So did the ice cream.


When the patient gives an answer, don’t lose the momentum: go as quickly as possible from the hearing of the answer to the granting of it. Sometimes quickness will not be possible: perhaps a movie needs to arrive from Netflix, or a trip needs to be made to the grocery store for ice cream, or someone stronger needs to come home to move the counter. In that case, it is best to see if there are any other answers that have quicker implementations: doing something RIGHT AWAY is one of the best ways to make it work. Move the counter, if it can be moved; get out the blender and start making the smoothie; swallow the fish oil capsule. Don’t wait, or the patient will sink into her chair, losing both heart and inertia. If the movie is not available and there is no ice cream in the house, use the calm and patient psychologist’s voice to ask if there is anything else that would make things better right now. A big drink of water? Sitting outside on the steps for a few minutes with a coffee/tea/wine/beer? Warming up the laundry in the dryer for 5 minutes before you have to fold it? Loud music? Funny cat video?

The goal is not to fix it. No. That is too large a goal, and we are not attempting it, any more than we’d attempt to rebuild Rome in a day. In fact, say that out loud to the patient: “We’re not looking for ways to fix it, because we can’t do that during this one session. But is there anything that could make it a little better than it is right now? Any improvements at all, no matter how small?”

Psychological stuff is like home maintenance: some of it needs a professional, and some of it you can do yourself. If you have the psychological equivalent of a roof caving in, I wouldn’t try to tinker with that on your own. And if you ask your patient what would make it better, and she suggests it would help to wash her hands a hundred times or put a line of burns up her arm or leap off a building, then you can start filling out that referral form, Dr. Phyllis. But if you just get sad/low/miserable sometimes for no particular reason and you know it’s hormones or seasons or temperament, and there is at least a small part of you that recognizes that it is likely to pass as it always has before (there has to be at least a small part of you recognizing this, or else there will be no one to play the role of the psychologist), this technique can make a huge difference for some of us.

Psychologists often get to the bottom of things by asking YOU to get to the bottom of things. They ask you to tell them who you are, what the situation is, and what will help. Then they tell it back to you. This costs a lot of money, and is sometimes completely necessary and worth it, especially if you’re not currently speaking to yourself and need a go-between, or if your problem is the kind where you really don’t know and they really do, or where medication is needed. Other times, you can do it yourself. You’ve seen psychologists on TV; you know how they talk; you know how they nod; you know the tones of voice they use; you know the yellow legal pad. You can try using those on YOURSELF.

If this turns out to be your thing, with time it can get quicker, easier, and more effective. At first you might not be accustomed to the questions and might not know what to say or have any idea what might help. After awhile, this changes: you get a running list of things that often DO help, and you get used to implementing them. You might find yourself thinking in broader categories: Do I need to do something fun? something productive? something physical? something social? something that turns my attention away from myself? Do I need a change? a treat? a distraction? something funny? something heart-warming? a good cry? Do I need to get up, or do I need to sit down? Do I need something familiar/comforting or something new/fresh? Do I need time by myself or do I need time with other human beings? A dose of perspective? something that makes me stop thinking about myself and what I need for awhile? That sort of thing.

Two of the Chicken Recipes So Far

I am finding the comments on the Things to Pour Over Chicken post SO HELPFUL. The individual recipes are helpful, but even more so is the general impression I can get from reading a number of similar recipes in a row. For example, I noticed about half a dozen recipes that had a sort of shreddy-taco-chicken-in-the-crockpot theme, so I mixed and matched a little:


A Shreddy Taco Chicken Crockpot Type of Recipe

I put two pounds of raw thawed chicken into the crockpot (I didn’t cut it up, even though two pounds managed to be only three giant chicken breasts), and then I put in two cans of Rotel (which I’d never heard of before: I figured out from context that it would probably be in the same section as salsa, and it was), and a small can of chilis, and a can of drained/rinsed black beans, and a pour of medium salsa (three-fourths cup to a cup), and a packet of taco seasoning, and I cooked it on low starting about 5 and a half hours before dinner. Right before dinner, I fished (chickened) the cooked chicken breasts out of the crockpot, put them in the stand mixer and shredded them, and then mixed them back into the Rotel/bean/salsa stuff. I made soft tacos out of it, and it was very good. The leftovers were very good, too.

Next time I would put in less/no taco seasoning, because that flavor seemed too prominent. If I were making it for myself, I might also put in a second can of beans (either another can of black or a can of chickpeas); but for the kids, one can was just right.


Another nice thing about having an assortment of similar recipes is that some people are measurers and some people are not, so if I see one recipe that sounds delicious but reminds me of my late mother-in-law’s cinnamon roll recipe (“Put in butter and brown sugar”—no quantities at all), I can usually get an idea of the approximate quantities (are we talking a tablespoon or a cup?) from another recipe.

There was a batch of ones that were like “layer of rice and water, layer of chicken, layer of cream soup” types. I didn’t see any that had rice/water quantities, but a couple implied that it would be the same proportions as cooking the rice on its own, so that’s what I did with the amount of rice I would normally have made in the rice cooker:


A Rice Chicken Cream-Soup Baking-Dish Type of Recipe

I put about a cup and a half of uncooked white rice and about the same amount of water into a 9×13 glass baking dish. Then I added a layer of about a pound and a half of raw, thawed chicken breasts, cut into tenders-sized pieces. I put a pound bag of partially-thawed (“sat on the counter for half an hour”) frozen broccoli florets over that. I mixed a can of cheese soup with a can of cream of broccoli soup and about a quarter-cup of milk, and I spooned THAT over everything. I covered the dish with foil and baked it for an hour at 350F. Then I put on a couple of handfuls of shredded cheese, and then a mixture of 2 T. melted butter and 1/4 c. panko crumbs, and baked it another 15 minutes uncovered at 375F.

It was…okay. I think it’ll be a lot better the second time I attempt it. This time the rice still wasn’t cooked all the way even after an hour and a quarter, so it was kind of wet and solidly clumped, and also had parts that were like eating uncooked rice (I was going to say “crunchy,” but that sounds overcooked and a little yummy; this was starchy and like eating undercooked rice). I wonder if the rice recipe I was following (from my rice cooker) was not the same as what would be done on the stove-top, and maybe that was the problem. Or it’s possible the rice had some brown rice in it: it was Paul’s jar of rice, and he could have made a blend without me knowing it. The broccoli was a little overcooked, and looked icky wherever no sauce had covered it. The cream of broccoli soup smelled TERRIBLE; like, four times as bad as the usual post-broccoli smell in a house, as soon as I’d opened the can. This morning the house still smells bad, and so do my HANDS even though I’ve SHOWERED.

I think next time I’d use cream of chicken soup instead and count on the added bag of broccoli to do the smelling-terrible part. I think I’d also add more milk to the soup—probably half a cup instead of a quarter; it seemed too thick. The chicken was good though: a child even remarked upon it (though in a not-exactly-complimentary way: “Is this DIFFERENT chicken? Usually chicken is so hard to chew, but this is easy”).

How We Feel About Girls (the Show)

One of the things I love so much about blogging is being able to check in whenever I want to know how many other people feel the same way about something. I mean, we’re no pure scientific sample here, but if I say, “Hey…when you drive a couple of hours away to an unfamiliar place, you pretty much assume you’re going to die on that trip, right?,” I can get a feeling for what the GENERAL percentages are—whether it’s one other person saying “Thank god, I thought I was the only one who makes sure her kids have fresh clothes for attending my funeral!!” while the rest say “…What are you talking about?,” or whether it’s the other way around. Plus, if nothing else, we’ve learned that any question that begins “Am I the only one who…?” can be answered “No,” so we no longer need to start questions that way.

What I’m wondering about today is what percentages of us feel what ways about Girls (Amazon link Netflix link). I have been watching the second season. I started watching the first season even though it didn’t look like my kind of thing at all, because I kept hearing about the show and seeing Lena Dunham on everything, and I wanted to know what was going on. And I just hated it right away. Which makes it hard to explain why I watched all the rest of the first season and am halfway through the second season.

Every time I watch an episode, I feel completely alienated and disconnected: I don’t understand the way the characters are behaving. I don’t understand the way they talk to each other. I don’t understand their fights or the horrible things they say. I don’t understand their romantic relationships or their sex lives. And then I panic, because I think that maybe this is the new way things are (just as my grandparents didn’t understand why people went around talking about such personal things all the time), and Elizabeth will TOTALLY relate, and SHE WILL HERSELF BE LIKE THOSE GIRLS, and then I will not be able to relate to HER. It makes me feel terrible. And the only two people I like on the whole show are Shoshanna and Ray; I find the others cringingly repellent. Plus, I hate how HBO is all, “We CAN show people naked and/or having sex, so we WILL! Just, like, ALL THE TIME!” I don’t know why I keep watching it, I really don’t.

Sometimes I watch the behind-the-episodes parts, and those just make it even more confusing. Lena Dunham will say something like, “We’ve all dated an Adam,” and meanwhile I’d been waiting to find out what serious problem Adam has because something is obviously seriously wrong and I don’t understand his personality at all. But he’s supposed to be an Obvious Type? Someone we’ve ALL dated?

And she says other things that soothe me because I think, “Oh, I see, she’s deliberately poking fun at this stage of life,” but then she says other things that make me realize she doesn’t yet understand the entire caricature: there are things she puts in there thinking they’re normal things, when actually they’re ALSO poking fun at that stage of life but she’s not old enough to notice them yet. It’s hard to poke fun at a stage you’re STILL IN. And it’s hard to know which parts are which, from a later stage.

Or she’ll say that her favorite kind of funny is when someone is coming across completely differently than the way they see themselves, and I think, “Oh, I see: it’s just that we have different senses of humor, because that makes me want to die of horrified empathy.”

So here is what I would like to know, I guess: if you’ve watched Girls (any of it), I’d want to know if you’re in the same age range as the characters, and how the show seems to you. For example, you might say, “I’m the same age range as those characters and that looks NOTHING like my life,” or you might say, “I’m in the same age range as those characters and that’s exactly how it is in my life,” or you might say, “I’m in a different age range but that’s how my life was at that age,” or you might say, “I’m in a different age range and I don’t identify with the show for this or any other stage of my life.” Or whatever your combination is. Actually I guess that’s basically all the combinations. Or, no, because you could also be, “I’m in the same age range, and that’s not like my life at all so I don’t IDENTIFY-identify, but I’m definitely familiar with that kind of life because I have friends like that.” Or of course there’s “I’ve never seen the show.” Well, and that’s not all of them; there are more.


I have been doing a new thing and it has been fun, so I thought I would tell you about it in case you’re not doing it but it would be fun for you too.

It started when I read Traveling Sprinkler, and something about that book made me want to read it sitting next to my computer so I could keep looking up things like bassoons and Debussy. I found I enjoyed that experience of lightly sampling a bunch of new things, and I wondered why I hadn’t been doing that all along. So when I was reading The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey, for example, I watched part of the ballet Swan Lake on YouTube.

But I didn’t watch ALL of Swan Lake: I watched about five minutes, then skipped to another part and watched another five minutes. Just like I didn’t watch the whole intro-to-bassoons video, I just watched part of it, and then watched part of a video of four bassoonists playing Somebody That I Used to Know. Because in all those examples, that’s where my interest stopped. And this, THIS, is the key to why I’m doing this now and wasn’t doing it before: I connected the interests thing to the Drops IN the Bucket thing.

I’ve been wishing I had More Interests, but I think I was feeling like if the interest weren’t a Grand All-Consuming Passion, it wasn’t worth pursuing. I didn’t think it out like that, but it was as if I were saying to myself, “Watching ten minutes of Swan Lake on YouTube is stupid: you have to watch THE WHOLE THING and it has to be LIVE and you have to study it ahead of time so you know what’s happening.” But no! That is the same misplaced perfectionism that makes us think there’s no sense wiping the stove-top unless we’re going to get EVERY SINGLE SPECK and also clean the drip pans and the dials. Giving the stove-top a fast, half-hearted, water-only, nowhere-near-complete wipe with the other side of the same washcloth I just used to wipe a child’s face makes a significant and mood-lifting improvement in the way I feel about the whole kitchen. Watching ten minutes of Swan Lake on YouTube makes a significant and mood-lifting improvement in the way I feel about LIFE, as well as adding a new layer to the book I’m reading. If I wait to clean the stove until I’m going to do it PERFECTLY I’ll never do it; if I wait to see Swan Lake live in a theater, I’ll finish the ballet book and return it to the library and lose interest and forget all about it and never go. Whereas if I watch ten minutes of it, it might lead to an actual ballet attendance later on; and if I give the stove-top a quick wipe, I might be so encouraged by the improvement that later I’ll also give the counters a quick wipe.

Now that I’ve noticed this additional example of Unhelpful Perfectionism, I’m seeing it all over the place. I went to the library today and I saw a book I was kind of interested in, and then I thought, “Eh, I don’t think I’m interested enough to read a whole book on that.” Pardonnez-moi, but who said anything about having to read the whole book? I could understand being in a book store and saying, “Eh, I don’t think I’m interested enough to buy that book”—but when it’s at the library and I can take it home for free and read not one word more than I want to, WHAT may I ask is stopping me from doing so? Do I imagine I am…WASTING the book? Am I imagining that only people pure and strong of interest may check it out?

What IS this drive towards ALL OR NOTHING? If we’re a little bit interested in Albert Einstein, we don’t have to read his biography and also a whole book about the theory of relativity: it is perfectly acceptable to skim a Wikipedia article, if that’s as far as our interest goes. Maybe we will read in the Wikipedia article that Einstein was visiting the U.S. when Hitler took power and he just STAYED here: left everything behind. Imagine doing that! Imagine being on vacation to, say, France, and there’s a shift in political power back home so you abandon your house and all your possessions and you never go back, starting a new life in a new country with only what you packed for your trip, and everyone thinks you’ve lost your mind until it turns out actually you saved your life. Anyway, maybe that idea will stick with you and you will think about it while you’re making dinner and that’ll be a whole lot more interesting than thinking about how you don’t think you can stand to make this meal even one. more. time. Thinking about something interesting > thinking about something boring. Overall minor life improvement achieved.

And if that anecdote about Albert Einstein makes you want to get an Albert Einstein biography out of the library, you can skim a few pages at the beginning and then start skimming around a bit in other chapters, and then read the one chapter that tells more about the day he decided to never go back home (did he have relatives sell his house? did he try to make them come to the U.S. too? how much stuff did he have with him?), and then look at the photo section in the center, and then RETURN IT TO THE LIBRARY! There will be no quiz on the material! You can read the amount you’re interested in and then STOP.

Or let’s say you read a book in which one of the characters keeps doing Tarot cards for other characters, and you find a little sprout of interest is rising. It is not necessary to research the most legitimate type of Tarot cards and/or choose among different methods, and then seek out the set with the artwork that is most YOU, and then find someone to teach you how to do Tarot cards correctly, and then practice until you are a fluid and impressive expert at it—nor is it necessary to give up the whole interest because you don’t want to do all these things. You can buy a used pack at a yard sale for 50 cents, and you can lay out the cards with lonnnnnng pauses as you read the instructions and say “Wait, wait, that’s not right,” and you can attempt to read the cards for yourself and for a couple of other interested family members, and then you can offer the deck on Freecycle because it turns out that was the limit of your interest and you don’t want to make it your new party trick.

I have a page-a-day art calendar that fits well with this. I have a small interest in art—but just small. I don’t feel like getting a membership to an art museum or taking an art appreciation class, but a casual look at one piece of art a day is PERFECT. Some days I look at a calendar page a dozen times, and then look up the piece online to get more information, and then look at other pieces by the same artist, and then read a little more about the artist’s life and about what style of art that is, and then click through to another artist who paints in a similar style, and then look around online to see if it’s possible to order a print. Other days I glance at the picture once when I flip to that day’s page, and that’s it. Most days are somewhere in between. I don’t have to declare an interest in art or think about whether this interest level counts as “being interested,” I can just be this level of interested in art.

Or, or! Let’s say John Green mentions a list of the ten books he thinks are the best. I don’t have to be COMPLETIONIST about it: I can read the ones that interest me and skip the ones that don’t. And if I try one and get about 30 pages in and really dislike it, I can return it to the library unfinished.

Interests are not commitments, and they don’t have to be powerful driving forces, and they don’t have to turn into time-consuming hobbies. It is possible to PEEK. It is possible to DABBLE. It is possible to VISIT. It is possible to investigate something with an interest that is mild rather than avid. It is possible to start with one thing, such as a book, and turn it into many, MANY things by investigating or trying different things mentioned in the book: foods, songs, TV shows, movies, liquors, hobbies.

It didn’t work at all to think, “I should be interested in more things”; it’s working very nicely to keep an eye out for flickers of interest and then follow up on them lightly, without expecting Grand Passions. Interests are flitting butterflies: pursue those little suckers—and when one disappears from view, switch to another one. Don’t expect to actually CATCH one—but if you DO catch one, pin it cruelly to a board and enjoy it forever! …Or switch at that point to a more pleasing metaphor.

Status Update

Let’s see. The last time we talked, Henry had been sick all day Monday, and Elizabeth threw up at the bus stop on Tuesday morning. Since then we’ve added Edward starting to throw up right after school on Tuesday, and Paul coming right back home from work Wednesday morning. I just deleted a paragraph about Paul, because I’ve talked too many times already on the topic of Paul/illness/divorce. I’ve been dealing with barf since Sunday morning at 1:30, and it is now Thursday afternoon; it is not the right time to evaluate relationships and life choices.


Two people on my friends/family Facebook recently posted rather hostile lists (why do people post these lists?) from the point of view of clerks/nurses, scolding customers/patients for being awful. When I read those lists (why did I read those lists?), I ended up brooding/mulling over several things:

1. One item on the list had a clerk asking the customer to “look up” and understand that there was a REAL PERSON (i.e., the clerk) standing in front of her. Yes. Okay, that is true, and everyone should treat clerks nicely, and as a former clerk several times over I realize MANY customers are not doing so. But in such situations where one person is resenting another person, it’s a good idea to flip it around for resentment-justification verification: the clerk should think to herself, “And am _I_ seeing the customer as a Real Person, or am I seeing ‘A Long Line,’ or ‘Irritating Group of Customers Who Don’t See Me as an Individual’?” Maybe the clerk will answer, “YES, I am seeing her as a Real Person! I TRULY CARE about THIS PARTICULAR CUSTOMER’S human needs and wants, and I want HER SPECIFICALLY to see my humanness in return!” But this is a list addressed to “Customers” as a bulk unit, and the tone is unkind and triumphantly group-spanking, so it seems like the context already gives us the answer I’m expecting, which is “Er… Ahem.”

This may sound like I’m advocating all of us holding hands and reaching out and seeing each other as Real People, but actually I think that’s too much intensity for the customer/clerk relationship. I’m only advocating the general practice of double-checking both sides of the equation before getting indignant—particularly if the indignation involves self-pity. See also: “No one noticed I disappeared from Twitter” and “No one remembered my birthday” and “No one ever invites me to things” (equation check: “Do _I_ notice when other people take Twitter breaks? and if so, do I tell them so, so they’d know I noticed, or do I worry I’d sound naggy/stalkery?” “Do _I_ remember their birthdays?” “Do _I_ invite other people to things?”). Sometimes the answer will be yes (in which case perhaps the individual might want to consider changing his or her own behavior/expectations in order to stop banging his or her head against this same wall), and sometimes it will be “Er… Ahem.”


2. There is an extremely valuable and admirable trait that some people have and some people don’t, and it makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE in performance/happiness in certain careers. I don’t know what to call the trait, but it’s when someone can hear the same exact question a thousand times from a thousand different people and see it as one thousand people each asking it for the first time, rather than seeing it as one person asking the question a thousand times. If you’re asking someone a question, and that person sighs and acts like they have told you a THOUSAND times, you are encountering a person who lacks this trait and/or has finally hit the limit of that trait for this particular job/question.


3. It’s a group-bonding thing to group-mock the group of people a particular group has to deal with. So for example, it makes perfect sense to me for clerks to gripe about Customers, and for nurses to gripe about Patients: it’s a tension-reliever and also a bonding experience, and de-humanizing others with mockery can take some of the sting out of the hurt feelings they cause. The problem is that it gets out of hand extremely quickly, and soon one group is seeing the other group as an amorphous blob of irritating traits. The resentment builds, and soon a polite and reasonable customer gets treated the same as a rude customer, and a polite and reasonable patient gets treated the same as a jerky one. This sucks, and I wonder if there is a way to avoid it while still getting the benefits of group-bonding and tension relief. Perhaps by also talking about the good customers/patients, and aiming for approximately the same amount of time on that topic. It seems like that would have good tension-relieving properties as well, while also giving an increase in job satisfaction. Griping, yes—but BALANCED griping, to keep from turning into a churning perspectiveless cloud of surly resentment that has to deal with THESE ANIMALS all day long.


4. It seems as if the venting/bonding griping should be shared only with other members of the group. When shared in a general way on Facebook, here is how it hits: other members of the group will like/share/enjoy/bond; people who should be taking justified scolding from the attack won’t read it and/or won’t recognize themselves and/or won’t agree and/or won’t care; people who are already being good customers/patients will feel attacked, hurt, and unjustly accused, and will end up feeling hostile toward the attacking group (in this example, the clerks/nurses) for being so MEAN and UNFAIR, and will take that feeling into future clerk/nurse situations.

Sick Days

On Sunday I thought, “You know, maybe what I should do is work on a Certified Nursing Assistant degree. Maybe it’s something I can do one course at a time, and then I’d be all set once I was ready to go back to work. And maybe I’d be ready now, or soon.” I emailed a friend who’s a nurse, to ask if she knew if there was any difference between one CNA program and another.

Sunday night at 1:30, Henry came upstairs saying he’d thrown up. For the next 19 hours, until he fell asleep Monday night, I was reminded of the years with small babies in the house. That feeling of not knowing how to find a gap in reality for eating lunch. Needing to remind myself to use the bathroom. Making sure I have everything I need within reach before I sit down, because once I sit down I’m stuck down for awhile. Lots of pre-rinse laundry.

Some parts were enjoyable. Henry is a very active, loud child, so having him snuggly and quiet was a treat. Having time with just one child was nice. Feeling essential was nice. A sick day can be nice, too, the way it breaks up routine. Having him fall asleep clutching my finger just like a baby does was nice. That “time has no bearing on reality” feeling was interesting to revisit for a day.

But I didn’t enjoy the part where I couldn’t turn my attention to dinner, or even to re-braiding my coming-unbraided hair. I didn’t enjoy trying to do all these things on half a night’s sleep. It wasn’t particularly fun to spend so much time with another person’s bodily fluids. I was getting oppressed by having someone else ON me all the time. I started FEELING the circles under my eyes. I was reminded of how impossible it is to fully enjoy the baby stage, because it’s so EXHAUSTING and DRAINING and CONSUMING.

This morning Henry is better. He still looks ill, but he’s not throwing up anymore, and he’s eaten half a slice of peanut butter toast and a big glass of water. He and I were both looking forward to the day ahead: still a sick day, but with more TV and video games and less washing out barf buckets, and less of him crying because he’s so thirsty but will throw it right back up if he drinks anything.

And then at the bus stop, Elizabeth threw up. It was very good timing: she narrowly avoided a bus/classroom catastrophe, and it would have been difficult to go pick her up at school with another sick child along. This changes our day, however. And it means the end to my hope that Henry just had food poisoning and that none of the rest of us were going to get it. And it means the end to looking into the CNA for now: I’m not yet available to be a reliable employee. (Though still interested in CNA-related talk.)

Yellow Green Blue Yellow

Last night I dreamed I asked Paul if anything was wrong, and it turned into a dream conversation about our obvious impending divorce. To my appalled and heartbroken reaction, Dream Paul said, “Don’t worry, it’s not like we have to do it right this second. Think of us as being engaged to divorce.”

In what I’m sure is completely unrelated news, the discussion about paint color continues. All the cheery bright/kindergarten/bus yellows and moderate sunshiney/nursery yellows made me feel nothing but despair, so I suggested green:

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“Ugh, that’s terrible,” Paul said. “That is the same color as my coat,” I said. “All these years you have hated my coat, and you NEVER SAID.” “I don’t hate your coat,” said Paul. “But the fact that you would suggest that color for the bathroom makes me reconsider everything you have ever said to me.” “Maybe back to the vintage aqua concept?,” I suggested.

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“Yes,” said Paul. So…yay! We agree again! But then, all the vintage-aqua-type colors I tried seemed vaguely FAMILIAR somehow. And I realized all of them were shades of the blue I use on this blog. And I don’t think I want the blog in my bathroom, not that I don’t think of you all as sisters. I wouldn’t want my sister in the bathroom with me, either. Unless we were just doing our hair/make-up, that would be okay.

Now we are looking at shades of gold, which is the kind of yellow I wanted to begin with but Paul said it looked like we wanted yellow but chickened out. To which I say: “How long do you want this project to take?”

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Book: Traveling Sprinkler


Traveling Sprinkler, by Nicholson Baker. I just finished this book, and I don’t know how to tell you about it. No, I do: it was like having a male relative, age 55, chat to you about everything he’s interested in, sometimes in such detail you wonder where he gets the self-assurance. But even though you are not particularly interested in those things (bassoons, Debussy, cigars, dance music, Quakers, drones), you find you need to sit by your computer while reading the book because you keep wanting to look things up. I listened to Debussy’s “The Sunken Cathedral.” I looked up bassoons and listened to them being played. I investigated what kind of liquor Tyrconnell is, and the next time I go to the liquor store I’m going to see how much it costs.

I would say I was kind of bored, reading it, and yet it made me interested in things—not just the things he describes, but things in general. It was pleasing to observe someone else being interested in things, even if I wasn’t interested in them myself. It made me want to be interested in things, too. And I really hoped his girlfriend would take him back.

I realized after reading the book that I’d read another by the author: The Fermata. It’s about a man who can stop time whenever he wants to. So what he does is, he uses this power to sneak into women’s houses, take their clothes off, and position their bodies and/or molest them. He considers this a loving, worshipful thing to do. I don’t remember much else about the book except that I was extremely annoyed and creeped out by it: I’d asked a male friend about his favorite books and he’d recommended this one, and I have written the end of this sentence half a dozen ways and how about if instead we just sit here for a minute and feel the hostile feelings welling up in our throats.

Anyway, that book was written twenty years before this one, when the author was more 35 than 55. I think 55 is working better for him, I’ll say THAT. Well, or working better for ME.