Monthly Archives: April 2012

What kind of awesome are you wearing today?

Allow me to introduce you to something that you’re probably long familiar with. It’s a little internet sensation/short video entitled “Caine’s Arcade.” If you’ve already seen it (which you probably have), feel free to skip ahead or enjoy the video all over again. (Or, whatever you want. I’m not the boss of you.)

If you haven’t seen it, get ready to have your mind blown. Literally.

I know, right? Seriously. I told you your mind would be blown. You were laughing, you were crying, if you were sitting next to someone you probably snuggled up closer to them on the couch. The little calculators? The way he freaking says “calculators”? Pure freakin’ gold.

It’s not just you and me, either. People all over the “world wide web” are eating this thing up like it’s a delicious cakepop. The video has, like, a gazillion hits or something. What’s more, you can now donate to a college fund for little Caine, as well as to the Caine’s Arcade Foundation, which is all about fostering kids’ creativity. Guess how much has been raised? You’ll never guess.

As of this writing: $193,319.06! That’s a big number. I tried to write it out and my brain got confused and started smelling like burnt rubber: that’s how big that number is.

I am currently (and happily) obsessed with this short film, this project, this boy. I’ve shown the video to my husband, my friends, my students, and all of them responded the same way: with pure, glittery awe. I work with middle school kids, people: getting them to glitter with awe is like pulling teeth, never mind ten minutes of sustained silence.  I showed the film to my coworker, who has a heart like a steel trap, and even he was laughing and clapping like it was opening night at the circus. You’ve seen it, so you know: there is something wholly magical about the whole thing— sweet, inventive, persistent Caine; charming and (not gonna lie) totally hot Nirvan; a wild and enthusiastic flashmob; thousands and thousands and thousands of people, just like you and me, going “Sure, I’ll give the kid a buck. Why not?” Also, a half-ton of cardboard. Who doesn’t love cardboard?

We can all agree that the whole thing makes us bubbly with joy, but I keep wondering: Why does it make us bubbly with joy?

I suspect it starts somewhere here: Remember when you were a kid and you did all kinds of crazy and wacky things? Like that time you and your friends discovered an old treasure map in the attic, and then found the treasure and rescued your town from the threat of big-housing developers? Or the time the babysitter died and you created your own fashion line and, thereby, somehow managed to save the day? Or that time you were on a hockey team named The Mighty Ducks? Granted those examples are culled from (fantastic) flicks, but still, you get the idea. Childhood is all about magic and ingenuity and wonder. It’s all about taking the bull by the horns and screaming “Tag, bull! You’re it!” It’s about tearing around and ripping through shit and reinventing the entirety of the universe so that it conforms to your imagination, your understanding of how things should work. We ate Otter Pops till our tongues corroded, filmed our own cowboy flicks, built our own backyard fort (out of cardboard, no less) and played in that sucker even after it became infested with slugs. We had our own rock band named “The Kiss Marks”, for criminy’s sake— our number one top single was a rip-off of the Duck Tales cartoon theme song. Yeah, our parents got divorced. Sure, we developed anxieties like cancer in the jaw. Sometimes it felt like the whole world was falling apart, but shoot: Alf was on TV. You get what I’m saying: childhood was awesome.

And some of that awesome just comes flooding back— you know it does— with Caine’s Arcade. I sometimes forget what that kind of awesome feels like. That kind of awesome isn’t stressed and tarnished and tethered to stupid shit like Facebook and paying the bills. That kind of awesome invents Unicorn Day and can narrate the shit out of a kitten book. You know what that kind of awesome does? That kind of awesome sees a pile of broken down boxes and thinks “Hey, I can make something out of that!” And then it does.

praying in public

My name is Angela Bartlett. I am a Cub Scout leader. And I do not believe in God.

I enrolled Ben in the Cub Scouts in August because I wanted him to have a group of friends his age, and his own thing separate from Elliott’s therapy and activities. In addition to making new friends, he was most interested in the uniform and patches.

The thing is, I’m an atheist, and I vaguely knew that the Cub Scouts would not approve. But I wasn’t planning on being a leader or anything. I thought maybe Ben could learn to fold a flag and pitch a tent (which I don’t even know how to do) and I could just opt out of the God stuff. So I showed up to a recruitment night in an upstairs classroom at a local church. When I stepped into the room, a slide show of photographs of boys engaged in fun activities was playing, set to the song “Proud to Be an American.” Alarmed, I began to slowly back up out of that room, and had to remind myself that I was there for Ben and not for myself. It isn’t that I’m not proud to be an American. I am. But I have some serious concerns about contemporary country music. I listened to the presentation and I found myself filling out a form and writing out a check and, suddenly, agreeing to become a co-den leader. Before I filled out the application, I pulled one of the veteran leaders aside, and quietly informed her that I was not religious, just to verify if this was acceptable. She assured me it was.

But it isn’t. Here is what the Boy Scouts of America say: “The BSA believes that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God, and encourages both youth and adult leaders to be faithful in their religious duties.”  According to the BSA, then, my non-belief in God makes it impossible for me to be the best kind of citizen.

I have ignored all of this for the past year. When we say the pledge at pack meetings, I simply leave out “under God” as I always do. When our den did the flag ceremony, we let one of our kids read the prayer. Most of the year has been spent hiking, tying knots, learning what to say and what not to say when a stranger calls. And Benjamin has made some incredible new friends, as have I. I will say this: the BSA has a lot of good to offer.

But then they go and do things like “fire” people–loving, dedicated parents who are working for free to help the pack–for being atheist or homosexual. Sure, they might have a legal right to do that. But it is unethical. And it is embarrassing. And it is sooooooo 1952.

I know that I am a good mother and a good person. The BSA has codified in their policies that this cannot be true. And if Ben decides that he does not believe in God, they will think that Ben, one of the finest little guys I’ve ever known, is also incapable of being the “best kind” of person.

I get asked to pray in public all of the time. At the Cub Scout meetings. But also at graduation ceremonies. At piano recitals. At weddings. Anywhere the pledge is being recited. I am respectful. I fold my hands or place my right one over my heart and remain quiet, and listen to the prayer. I do not participate, but I do not complain. It is not an act of defiance as much as it is a simple choice to opt out of something in which I do not believe.

In the past year, I have worked to be a good Cub Scout leader, despite my various additional obligations. However,  no matter what I do, I am not praying, and that means that it can never be enough. For the time being, the BSA have kindly overlooked my inherent lack of goodness, but I don’t need them to do me any favors. I can’t ignore this ridiculous policy any longer.

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the good nite inn

[This is an essay draft, and I'm still working through it. Thanks for reading.]

I hurriedly stuffed as many pairs of underwear into my small canvas backpack as I could. I would live in the communal laundry room downstairs and find dropped change and walk to McDonald’s to buy hamburgers and ice cream cones and use the bathroom. It was a solid plan. The room was small and fit only two washers and two dryers. But it was always warm and bathed in a comforting yellow light. A fan mumbled in the background, chunks of dust clinging to its cover.

I hid there regularly during games of hide and seek, checking the traps in the dryers for downy layers of lint when I got bored. No one ever found me there. Someone, a teacher probably, had once told me that you could make paper out of laundry lint, but I couldn’t remember how. I can’t remember, either, why I wanted to run away, and soon I forgot about running away at all, distracted, probably, by my brother David or my sister Sally–both younger–or a television show, or dinner time. A couple of days after formulating my runaway plans, I could not find any clean underwear. I suddenly remembered that I had packed them away in the backpack. Even a week later, I had not remembered what had triggered the desire to run away in the first place.

The Good Nite Inn is a motel off the 10 Freeway in Redlands, California. Redlands is an old citrus industry town in Southern California, about an hour east of L.A. Grocery stores sell nostalgic magnets with pictures of orange crates and smiling young girls in old-timey dresses. Home owners sell bags of oranges and grapefruits harvested from their yards; they place stands next to their mailboxes and trust their neighbors to be honest. There are Victorian and Craftsman-style homes, and mansions in the hills. This is South Redlands, the good side of the tracks, and these tracks are not metaphorical; there are actual railroad tracks separating the good side of town from the bad, the (mostly) white and rich from the poor and Hispanic, who live on the North side. Redlands can be beautiful, especially in the winter. It rains sometimes but mostly everything is green and warm but not too warm. In the summer, however, the heat is visible in waves that hover above the asphalt. You burn yourself on your seatbelt buckle, and the smog gets so thick that you cannot see the mountains that form a bowl around the city, trapping the pollution.

We arrived at the Good Nite Inn at night, finally, after several days of driving across the country from Deerfield, Ohio, all of our belongings packed into garbage bags and stuffed into the chemical tank of my dad’s landscaping truck. Our furniture was strapped to the ledges of the truck, and the legs of one of our chairs had flown off somewhere near the border of California. We had watched as my dad picked his way across the highway to retrieve them. We were all exhausted when we arrived.

The Good Nite Inn was right in the center of Redlands, nowhere near permanent residences. The sign for the Good Nite Inn jutted prominently into the sky, and was visible from the freeway. Lit up white, it featured the name of the motel, and, below that, an orange circle melting into three orange lines, representing the sun melting into the ocean at dusk. It was bordered by a Nissan dealer on one side and a public storage center on the other. It was the nicest motel I had ever stayed in, and I considered myself an expert. It had a pool. It was clean. The gray exterior paint and white trim seemed reassuringly fresh. It was two stories, and a one-story motel is a much sadder enterprise. Our room was on the second floor. At night, we could hear the cars rushing past on the freeway if we left the window open.

My family lived here four months, in one room with two beds and an ice chest filled mostly with melting ice, bologna, mayonnaise, and Coke. A blazing orange package of Roman Meal bread slouched on top of the chest’s white lid. My parents—my dad and my stepmom—were playing it conservative. They didn’t know how long we would be there, or whether or not their insurance company would reimburse them for our stay.

I was born in California and had lived in my dad’s home state of Ohio for a little over two years, and within that time we had moved from one suburb to another. I was getting used to being introduced to the class by the teacher, her hand resting on my shoulder as the students stared blankly at me. I moved my gaze across their faces, wondering who would be my new friends, my new torturers. I was in the 4th grade when we moved back to California—it would be my third school that year.

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On being a sick smoker

Sometimes, being a smoker sucks.

Not because of the cancer, or the inevitable decline in physical capacity. Not because of the hideous acid-burn gawking thrown my way by every middle aged white lady in every public space ever. I’ve accepted these unintended side effects of the smoker lifestyle as a badge of honor; a mark of endearment even. I’ve long since come to grips with my eventual fate as a sputtering inert mass of flesh and American Spirit smoke and I fully accept that my favorite delayed suicide method will render me subversive and frightening to little old church ladies and disgusting and smelly to everyone else. Except, of course for that 30-something hipster outside of the Starbucks on Campus who like clockwork accosts me at the table for a “stoge” at least twice a week. He sits in front of me and talks about the screenplay he’s been writing for nearly 5 years, pinching my cigarette behind his ear before he does so. The first time this happened, it nearly convinced me to give up smoking. Tobacco use is a leading cause of unwanted secondhand conversation.

I digress, yes I smoke. Yes, I am prone to colloquy with self indulgent baristas at Starbucks and hated by most polite company. This pales in comparison to the emotional anguish of being a sick smoker.

First world problems right? No No! Hear me out.

What started as a vague undefined throb in the back of my temple turned into the headache from hell plus congestion. This matured into a full throttle head cold leaving everything above my shoulders throbbing, inflamed and submerged in mucous. Fuck that, and fuck being sick.

Except no, fuck everything! Because as it turns out, having a face full of goop and a throat on fire will make the otherwise enjoyable experience of sucking down on tar and nicotine feel roughly akin to giving impassioned fellatio to a third cousin of Skeletor. I got halfway through a single cigarette and gave up, insisting on riding out the phlegm typhoon before bothering to light up again.

Within about 4 hours I found myself beholden to the sort of unfiltered rage someone might experience when they contemplate blowing up a nunnery or slapping a barking dog. I spent the remaining 17 hours of my Friday cursing violently at the television, cursing violently at my math homework, cursing violently at my bookshelf when it decided to fall over and smash my foot, cursing violently at my cat, and cursing at my Issac Asimov book when I ran out of pages to read. My neighbors likely think I’m a violent alcoholic wife beater, and my 7 year old brother has gone on record of asking me what a “fucking cocksuker” is. It’s almost as if my nicotine habit acts as a salve that keeps my lower nature from popping out of its hiding place. Like the thick frosty cloud of smoke in front of my face acts as a needle on the proverbial record player, making sense of the grooves and preventing the daily stream of events from being interpreted as perturbing twaddle that can be banished with a 4 letter word or a rolled up magazine. Take that away from me, and I’m liable to spend my time as an angry caffeinated boy-tumor who occupies his free time with writing blogs and drawing penises in old math books.

So kids, don’t smoke. You will have to talk to the 30 year old barista who opens his mouth too wide when he laughs. You will find yourself using the “c” word to refer to one or more household appliances, and your neighbors WILL assume that you’re a paranoid schizophrenic if and when you stop. Oh, and I guess you might die too.

My Therapist Nancy

I want to tell you something up front, something I usually don’t reveal until much further into a friendship. I have four teenagers, all borne from my body during my twenties, and all living with me. No, I am not Catholic or Mormon; no, I did not always want a big family; yes, I do believe in birth control; yes, I defend a woman’s right to choose; yes, I realize more than two offspring is not environmentally sound; yes, the teen years are harder than the pregnancies, natural childbirths, breastfeeding, and mounds of cloth diapers (my granola self of the nineties insisted on) combined.  And no, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, or even if I was.

I think my compulsion to nurture may border on addiction. In addition to family members, current and former students, the kids’ friends, and my own friends, I have a slew of animals to care for.  And I can’t blame these acquisitions solely on the infantile desires of my children.  When our older dog Howard started to slow down last fall, it was me who insisted I needed an additional dog to hike and run with, so we now have a rambunctious Australian Shepherd puppy named Lola.  And because our older hens were aging and no longer laying eggs, I insisted on starting with a new batch of one-day old chicks this spring, coddled indoors for 6 weeks under a heat lamp, even though I knew puppies and birds have an instinctually predator/prey sort of relationship, and that teenagers who promise to help, don’t.

My son is getting ready to graduate from high school, and we are negotiating everything from second-semester senior-i-tis school-ditching, grades, prom, college costs, grad pictures, parties and the constant tension between his quest for independence and requests to be rescued. My middle daughter works and attends college where I teach. My youngest daughter’s boyfriend camps out in front of our gate, even though she broke up with him over three months ago. The arc of alliances, sought and unsought, amongst them is dizzying. So, it was clearly necessary to solicit Nancy’s services to help me gain a measure of control over the catastrophe I have created.

In the past month, Nancy has taught me everything I know need to know about asserting dominance over my menagerie.  She says that a loving relationship must stem from respect, so the key is to establish rules of engagement that demand that respect upfront.  Her basic philosophy is that my brood has a very simple view of the world: they want to feel safe, comfortable, entertained and well fed.  They want to be part of a social structure with a Leader who meets their basic needs, and have a role in the social structure that feels good to them.  Because they see my limitations and not their own, they often assume I am not capable of being the Leader, and often try to assert control over my authorial systems in order to navigate rank.  Nancy says not to be concerned with words; I should resolutely lead with my body language and voice tones and distribute affection on my terms.  I am supposed to be tall, still, and in control, and when the pack challenges me, I should growl BAH in a low and ominous way. When they obey me, I should praise with a light happy voice and even offer a pat, if appropriate.  And I should always end my correction sequences on a positive note, so that we can enjoy the learning process together.

Here are a few of the practical tips I acquired from Nancy:

When I get home, I don’t acknowledge their existence. I ignore all demanding behavior and initiate attention on my own terms. When they have stopped badgering and disengaged from me, losing eye contact and remaining quiet for at least 20 seconds, I begin negotiations.

I am clear in my demeanor by walking through all doorways first, growling BACK in my low ominous way if they try to push ahead of me on my way in or out of a room.

When the home environment is full of commotion and I perceive stress, I use the verbal command GO TO YOUR BED and point.  I make sure their beds are in a quiet and safe space in the home and I verbally praise compliance.

Alright, in full-disclosure, I called Nancy to keep Lola from eating the chickens. Her card was handed to me at the checkout of the local feed store, and she is listed as a “Dog Behavioral Therapist and Trainer” for a company called Barkbusters. But really, I don’t see how her credentials or priorities discredit any of what I’ve learned.

The View From Up Here: Grand Canyon

It is, as they say, indescribable. When trying to explain how the Grand Canyon is, all I can say is “it’s an experience.” When I break it down in my head I think, well it was just a bunch of rock formations that looked pretty uniform from my view. But walking up to the Grand Canyon was like Disneyland. I didn’t know which direction to go, what tram to take, and what spots to avoid. Feelings pulling me left and right and finally being at the edge of the rail staring into that gigantic crater, that my internal panoramic vision frantically failed to capture, all I felt was a flood of emotion within me that was utterly surreal. Perhaps I am one of those sensitive writer types and that’s why my eyes drowned with suppressed emotion that drained down my throat into the pit of my stomach. And if I could describe or define that feeling it would be: absolutely nothingness. I was standing in front of one of the natural wonders of the world and I felt like I was absolutely nothing. I needed to feel like nothing because it was a reaffirmation that all the bullshit that fuels my depression meant nothing when measured against the earth. And everything that had transpired the last six months, unrequited love, cheap fucks and a shitty job meant nothing on the grand scale of nature. I was less than miniscule. Thousands upon thousands of little souls have walked where I walked. They stood where I stood. They gazed at the same wonderous hole I gazed at. Usually, something like that would make me feel insignificant but instead it made me feel like I belonged to the same nothingness that everyone belongs to.

I don’t know if that makes sense but it made me feel a thousand times better. It relieved my months worth depression over a “break up”, quotation marks done on purpose because it wasn’t a real relationship. It was a five-year friendship where the last 2 years of it involved on/off “complicated” feelings and midnight rendezvous. I’d be a liar if I said I still didn’t think about it on lonely nights. And when I stay up thinking about it, I think about how much I miss that feeling of post sex talk. Well, I miss the sex too of course. I miss that feeling after sex when the speed of our breath slowed down to normal and we analyzed the acting merits of Marlon Wayans. That’s what I miss because nothing else is as genuine and random as post sex talk with someone who shared their most guarded secrets with me and vice versa. I was his best friend, a fact that he lamented as he tearfully tried to persuade me to take back my goodbye. But to reduce this sentimental moment to typical heartbroken woman banter, men are fucking stupid. And even though I loved him, I fell for him for the wrong reasons. We bonded over violent histories and when my friends asked why I was even his friend I used one of the battered woman excuses “You don’t know him like I do” but the truth was and is that he is a simple man with simple tastes. I on the other hand come from that history of complicated aspiring women writers. I am Dorothy Parkers soul sister and simply put, men just don’t know how to fucking deal with us so they prefer to chase a pretty face with simple thoughts than an ok face with critical thoughts. That’s how it is in relatively small cities.

And I’m standing there, on the edge, holding on the rail and I’m gazing at the depth of whatever square meters my vision is able to mentally capture as memories. And one thought permeates in my throat, I am nothing; all that was nothing and it wont matter but I am wiser because of it but it doesn’t matter anymore and even though the past erodes slowly and each lonely night hurts, one day everything will stop and the craters in the abyss of my heart are signs of survival, of existence and growth. But it all boils down to one seminal sentence: Fuck that shit. I am not better than the women he will fuck or love. He is not better than the men I may fuck or love. I have come to accept that some things just aren’t meant to be. Sadly, I have come to realize that plots to Ashton Kutcher films don’t work out so well in real life. Sometimes you just don’t find your car but most importantly, friends with benefits rarely have happy endings.I guess if I could describe the Grand Canyon it would be that place where you go and decide to let go of negativity and to fuck that shit to hell.

The silence and serenity of the Grand Canyon held millions of dumped thoughts of the heartbroken, the lost and the depressed when I peered into it. That isolated breeze where I stood still rejuvenated my soul. The Colorado River in the distance, with its blue green fresh water, represented the rebirth of my creative spirit. And even though time erodes slowly and some nights hurt, and the lines on my forehead and in the corner of my eye will soon start to show, I am nothing. When I am nothing there are no limits and everything is possible.

But you know, the Grand Canyon is probably just some big hole of nature and I’m just some sensitive writer type that over thinks everything. Whatever.

Recovery

(A SERIES OF POEM’S INSPIRED BY THE RUSSIAN FILM IVAN’S CHILDHOOD)

A Letter From Tarkovsky

Massacre

is all

about

face.

-

It is

naught

without

analytical

horror

and may

only

reflect

fiction.

-

In turn,

a mock

life is

unwritten

for.

—–

Soma Sema” (“The Body is a tomb.”)

I invented

a liar–

ragged

limbed.

Little

Ivan.

-

My torso,

chine,

the

gross

of this

body.

—–

Attack

1.

The sun is

German

wood,

slivered

inflexible

in bulk

in a book.

-

Ivan is a

Russian

page who

can be

flipped

immovably.

-

His point

is made

for him

under

static

atmosphere.

-

His brain

dangles

from it

in a

dead of day

gully.

-

2.

Somewhere else,

as if

an old man,

he sits

at a

wriggly

writing desk.

-

He invents

the integrity

of the moon.

-

3.

Somewhere

the moon

makes

its own

brains

makes

its own

middle

makes

its own

sun.

-

Somewhere

the moon

moves

the sun

like

Ouija.

-

Somewhere

the moon

moves

Ivan

like

evening.

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the status of my tooth

Trust me; this is more than you ever wanted to know.

I felt a tingling the other morning, just above my upper lip. “It’s beginning,” I told Ryan. The dentist has told me what to expect. The root of your tooth disintegrates. Then, pus accumulates and travels through your gums and into whatever throughways it can find, eventually finding its way to the skin above your lip. A pimple forms, but it is not like any other pimple. It is fueled by the dying tooth, and it doesn’t go away until the tooth is removed. What the dentist didn’t tell me is that even though there isn’t any pain, the tooth feels loose and just wrong and I am anxious to get it the hell out of there. Because I am stupid, I scheduled the appointment to replace it mere hours before I’m scheduled to teach. I hope that I can reschedule, but I won’t if I have to wait any longer. I don’t know what to expect and, though I love my job, it requires that I stand in front of a room full of people more than a decade younger than me. They watch me speak and they notice everything and who knows what the status of my mouth will be. Those damn kids and their beautiful teeth.

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finding our way

I used to say every sentence twice. I didn’t realize I was doing it until I was about 8. I had gotten into a fight with my little sister when she noticed and taunted me, as little sisters do. I’m fairly certain that I was winning the fight, and she wanted to distract me. My face went warm and red and this revelation shut me up quick. That moment opened my ears to it, and I realized I was doing it all of the time, asking for toast twice, asking permission to use the restroom twice. I got busy working to suppress it, and, for the most part, have done so successfully. Yet even now, when I am really upset, particularly during an argument, I’ll catch myself whispering a sentence a second time.

I did not realize what I have is called obsessive compulsive disorder until I was in college and had access to free therapy sessions. I knew I was a little unusual—I started projects at 2 a.m. that I absolutely had to do at that moment and couldn’t stop doing until I was finished. A Cheerio on the floor or a wayward scrap of fabric would make me unreasonably upset. The worst was the way it interfaced with my temper. If a person cut me off on the freeway, my brain could not release the memory of it, or the unreasonable anger attached to it. Days after a minor incident, the memory would cut through me.

You wouldn’t know it from visiting my home, but I have a constant desire to clean, to organize, to order. Organizing helps me feel in control and there is so much around us that we can’t control. I do not wash my hands excessively. I do not hoard. I do not count. I do not, like Howard Hughes, urinate in glass bottles that I store throughout the house. I simply have an inordinate need to control things and, when I can’t, I cannot shut my brain off. I am fortunate. In the past, I was able to manage the O.C.D. when external events were not extreme. I could be intense and I’d compulsively exercise, but I could still leave the house and function in society. When there were day-to-day disruptions, I’d clean underneath the refrigerator or do a couple of sets of push-ups. Sure, I’d do it in the middle of the night, but I wasn’t bothering anybody.

Then I had children. My boys are amazing and have opened up my heart and have made me grow more than I ever could have predicted. But children equal disorder. My floor became a graveyard of screaming toys. I’d find partially dried carrot puree on the bottom of my work bag. Both of the kids had developmental delays and there were things I could do, yes, there were therapists and doctors, but there was no guarantee that everything would be okay, and everything was decidedly not okay. I was having panic attacks several times a week, one so intense that I saw spiders crawling over my legs. I would try my old coping mechanisms. I bought a label maker and diligently organized the toys by size, category, and corresponding bin. But two kids under four will swiftly dismantle any organizational design. Elliott got diagnosed with autism. We lost our house. A former student began threatening me, and even emailed me a decapitation video. There was too much that I couldn’t control, and my old methods were failing me. I finally got some help.

The first medication made me feel electric zaps in my limbs. I switched. The next one seemingly had no effect. Then one day, a couple of weeks into taking it, a truck advertising dog grooming services spilled over into my lane on the freeway, nearly hitting my car. I swerved out of the way, had my moment of anger and outrage, and then felt the emotion just…dissipate. Like I imagine it does for a “normal” person. I was stubborn and didn’t like the idea of being medicated, but I was beginning to accept it. The psychiatrist experimented with my dosage. It was too low—panic attacks ensued. It was too high—I couldn’t cry when I felt like it. In addition to the medication, I went to cognitive behavioral therapy with a room full of people and coffee in sad little cups. Learning what I have and how to deal with it, and coupling that with medication, helped me pull through a really difficult time.

I have been off of my medication for seven weeks. And I have a confession: I did not consult with my psychiatrist before weaning myself from it. As I said, I am stubborn. But I meticulously planned. Running, the single greatest non-pharmaceutical therapy for me, has become an integral part of my life. I am eating well. I have taken additional steps to manage my stress and help control my reactions to it, and everything is working. Seven weeks into ending my medication, I feel relatively similar to how I felt on the medication. That is, I am still fairly annoying to myself and others, but it is manageable.

I don’t have any major conclusions. I might need to go back on medication one day, and I don’t judge anyone who uses or chooses not to use medication, unless they are harming other people. I think diet and exercise help to a degree, but I also believe in the power of pharmaceuticals coupled with therapy. My biological mother lived a short, miserable life with untreated, severe mental illness. I often wonder what would have happened if she’d gotten help. I have many family members, friends, and acquaintances who suffer from mental illness to varying degrees, and we all have to find our own way.

I am satisfied that, at least for now, I am finding my way.

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Night Running

Just before I smashed my face into the raised concrete edge of someone’s driveway last night, I was thinking about how I shouldn’t have been afraid to run at night. My legs felt warm and light. I looked up at the sky, which seemed light for this time of night, and saw Orion behind some bits of cloud. It was cool outside, but not too cold, so I unzipped my jacket and tied it haphazardly around my waist. The air felt good against my skin. I was listening to this song for the second time:

And then suddenly, my mouth smashed into an edge I couldn’t see, snapping my head back. I instantly knew I was missing a tooth, and my tongue glided through my mouth, surveying the damage. Warm, salty blood filled my mouth. I was on my ass, and I was shaking. It was really dark and I knew I needed to call someone. I usally don’t take my phone with me when I run, but this was my first night run and I decided that it would be a good idea. My fingers fumbled through my jacket, searching for my phone.

There are a lot of reasons not to run alone, at night, to not go to any dark places or any places at all alone, especially if you are a woman. But I don’t think it is fair that I have to be concerned with going places alone, and, worse, I think it’s a loss if I let fear control me. I like to go places by myself—it helps me clear my head—and I especially like to ride my bike and run by myself. I also have an upcoming half-marathon and marathon, and not a lot of time in the daylight hours to train.

Ryan had a bad feeling. He asked me not to go. I pointed to my reflective vest and blinking light and phone and told him I’d be safe. My friend Tricia had told me about a man who had jumped out of some shrubbery one time when she was running at night and, leering, told her, “Run for me.” Of course, I hadn’t told Ryan this story. I wondered what I would do if something similar happened. You would think that something like this happening would be rare, and I’m not going to cite any statistics, but in my experience, it’s not. I’ve had exactly two serious stalkers in my life, one of whom threatened my life. Nearly all of my female friends have been sexually assaulted to varying degrees at some point in their lives. I take some solace in the fact that I have had some martial arts training and am also a large woman. But what if someone had a weapon? What if they really, really wanted to hurt me? There are legitimate reasons to be fearful. I’ve entertained the idea of wearing a knife strapped to my leg, and, as I began my run, I renewed my promise to go to the military surplus store and buy one of those. Just in case.

About 3 miles into my run, those fears had become distant. I had run past several people, mostly men, but one other woman, and they had either ignored me or said hello. My blinking light had popped off and broken, but I still had my vest on, and it was beautiful outside. I felt like I was gliding, anonymous. It had been a very long day and I could feel the stress draining from my body.

Moments later, I was trembling and unable to get the touchscreen on my phone to work because my fingers were wet with blood. I staggered into someone’s driveway, thinking I would ask to use their phone, but finally got mine to work. I called Ryan and he didn’t answer his cell (lesson: we are getting a land line), so I called his dad and he came to get me. I sat under a streetlight and waited, crying fairly hysterically, as a few carloads of people paused at the stop sign, noticed me, stared, and continued on. A man from one car yelled something at me, but I can’t remember what they said. I don’t think it was kind.

I have promised my father-in-law, my mother-in-law, my husband, my dentist, and my doctor that I will not run at night again. There was indeed a reason to be afraid last night and it had nothing to do with men in bushes. It had to do with an uneven sidewalk and, probably, my inherent clumsiness. I am not sure, despite my promises, whether or not I will run at night again, and that makes me a little sad to be honest because it really was beautiful. I am very grateful that I didn’t hurt myself worse, that I can still run, that I have dental insurance:

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