Defining Albums

I’ve got this top five albums that I carry around in my heart. They aren’t necessarily my top five desert island albums or the top five albums I think are the pinnacle of what music should be. These are if, say, I needed to explain to someone how the fuck I got this way without my own words, I would just hand them these CDs. That’s a situation I’ll never be in, but guess what, Dear Reader? You’re on my blog, so technically you’re in that situation right now.

These are meaningful to me because of the times in my life when I fell in love with them, and the fact that they can so easily transport me back to how I exactly felt during a listening session. To be fair, Mandy Moore’s “Candy” can do that too, but I’m pretty sure that’s universal.

wallflowersbringingdownthehorseThe Wallflowers, Bringing Down The Horse, 1996

If there’s a theme going forward, it might be “depression.” I don’t know that I was ever clinically depressed, but sadness plays a big role in these picks, and pretty much every song on Bringing Down The Horse is, in a word, bleak. I was eight when it came out, and I think I got the CD when I was nine or ten. That may sound weird, but I grew up watching adult sitcoms and listening to both alternative/pop radio and classic 70s/80s rock, so The Wallflowers, The Verve Pipe, Matchbox Twenty, these were all sort of the backdrop to my childhood alongside Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, and Queen. I used to make up supernatural stories to the songs on Bringing Down The Horse, pretty easy when Jakob Dylan’s lyrics are already so prose-y and fantastical, and it sort of paved the way for me to really get into writing more dark and somber stuff. I mean, a pre-teen is probably already on the verge of that anyway, and the images of a boy living in a tower, a girl dying of a broken heart, and a man who can survive disconnecting the wires in his own heart just push you over the edge. Every song is magic, and if you didn’t before, you will absolutely appreciate the existence of the slide guitar after one listen, but of the non-singles, I’d suggest “Josephine” to get a feel for the album as a whole. (Please keep in mind that to a nine year old, the schoolgirl imagery was not weird. As an adult, I find this song…odd, but I don’t think that escaped the band.)

 

green_day_-_american_idiot_coverGreen Day, American Idiot, 2004

The first time I was old enough to cast a ballot for the President of the United States, I had the privilege and the honor to vote for Barack Obama. Everything I felt about this country could be summed up with the title track on this album when I was a teenager, and consequently, it’s probably more accurate now than it was 14 years ago. Beyond a punky middle finger to George W (remember the good ole days when Bush was the bad guy? Now the dude who infamously said well, I can’t pick just one, is the voice of reason!), there’s this sad, angry, trippy story about finding yourself and your place in a fucked up world on this album, and that’s what a lot of teenagers deal with. Sadly, the story itself ends with the protagonist giving up, so I was never keen on the last couple parts, but I like to think that just because he gives up on Whatshername doesn’t mean that Whatshername ever gave up fighting the good fight. The album is also incredibly theatrical (they did adapt it for the stage, after all) and loud and in your face. Basically a lot of things I wasn’t but desperately wanted to be. “St Jimmy” is one of the most fun, scream at the top of your lungs with your tongue sticking out songs:

 

the_killers_-_sam27s_townThe Killers, Sam’s Town, 2006

I used to say The Killers was my favorite band, but I realized that it’s actually just that they made one of my favorite records because they change pretty drastically from album to album. There are a lot of songs on their B-sides release, Sawdust, that I really like, but you can tell those songs were the ones that didn’t make it onto Hot Fuss because they belonged on Sam’s Town but ended up on Sam’s Town‘s cutting room floor. (A little detour here, but “All These Things That I’ve Done” is probably The Killers’ best song, but it’s weirdly on Hot Fuss despite the very clear Sam’s Town vibes it gives off, though it might be too hopeful and cymbal-crash-y for the latter. Okay, I’m done!) Again, there are a lot of story-telling songs, but the focus here is faith and in the mid 2000s that’s what I was struggling with too. Who am I, what’s my role in the world, what does God (yeah, big G) want me to do? All that bullshit. I also got interested in my mom’s life when she was growing up as I got closer to the age she was when she had me, thinking “I could never have a baby right now,” and curious about my biological father, and Brandon Flowers explores similar ideas in a lot of these tracks. “For Reasons Unknown” spoke to me on a primal level, and “Read My Mind” was basically the soundtrack to my struggle with sexuality. I don’t know if everyone has experienced this, but you know that thought when you’re driving over the speed limit toward a sharp curve on a country road and you’re like, “You know what, self? You don’t have to turn, you could just, like…keep going straight.” Well, “Why Do I Keep Counting” basically kept me wondering enough about mortality and God and the future to stay out of the ditch and keep my feet on the ground throughout 2008:

 

bat_out_of_hellMeat Loaf, Bat Out Of Hell, 1977

If there’s one album that doesn’t fit in…except it totally does! It’s a rock opera, it tells a story, it’s about finding yourself (though admittedly finding yourself half naked in the backseat, dry-humping a cheerleader), and it’s epic. I think my mom got this on CD when I was around eight, and I’ve been listening to it since. It was always fun, even when it was about heartbreak and death, and it might be what introduced me to the idea of the devil being a pretty cool guy. Like with Bringing Down The Horse, I wrote supernatural stories in my head to this one too, only these were cheesier and self-aware. There were vampires and werewolves and demons and blood pacts and necromancy and, of course, motorcycles, but with bat wings. And all before Twilight! I’m not going to offer you a non-single suggestion because “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” is literal perfection and Ellen Foley is a goddess (that’s not her in the video though):

 

blackparadecoverMy Chemical Romance, The Black Parade, 2006

The Black Parade is a desert island album for me. In fact, if I could only listen to one album for the rest of my life, just one set of songs, it would be this. Why? I wish I fucking knew, honestly. It’s super dramatic, it’s sad and self-loathing, it romanticizes war and cancer and abuse all of which are absolutely not romantic, but it’s also loud, clever, thoughtful, uses “fuck” unabashedly, it is just so much fun. Of course, My Chemical Romance’s popularity wasn’t born out of fun, they rode a wave of emo tears to the top of their genre. I wasn’t a huge fan of their first two albums (but “I’m Not Okay” always does it for me), and I never had scene hair or a lip piercing, but I felt a lot of the things expressed in these songs. Yes, they’re self indulgent, but I don’t think you can really feel an emotion without wallowing in it for at least a little bit. On top of all that, The Black Parade presents music in some of my favorite ways: broadway-esque with vocals that are full of emotion (and also ENUNCIATION), borrowing from other cultures and sounds but making those things sound borderline poppy, orchestral sounds, and lyrics that are angry but also humorous and kinda grotesque and demonic. Or maybe I’m over-analyzing it and it’s all shit, but it doesn’t matter because I love it. So on that note I’ll leave you with one of, if not the, most fucked up songs on the album.

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A Hairstory

This is roughly what I used to look like at the end of 2014:

2014.01
That bathroom’s theme was Ravenclaw except I was firmly in the “Ravenclaw is blue and silver” camp. I knew not what I did.

I had cut my own hair for the first time with Christmas-themed craft scissors that were a gift from my friend Maggie (you can see the handle under my armpit). I gave myself swoopy bangs and layers, and I was feeling VERY proud. Dangerously proud. Poseidon-threatening-you-with-10-years-at-sea proud. I wanted my hair a certain way, and I never really got what I wanted at the hairdresser, so I figured I should just do it myself.

It was at this point, on an emotional high from achieving something I thought I needed at least a year’s worth of training, a certificate, and two children out of wedlock for, that something in my mind clicked, and I realized: I could do what I wanted with my hair. And what I wanted had never been to be brunette.

I have, however, very desperately and for a very long time, wanted to be pretty. I know what you’re thinking: the girl in that picture is not necessarily ugly, and I don’t disagree. I have learned over the years and in the age of the selfie how to fake a good picture, but there is nothing about me that’s classically or even interestingly beautiful. My face is alarmingly asymmetrical (hence the desire for swoopy bangs), eyes sunken and tired with one lazy wanderer, nose broken and too big, eyebrows a fucking mess, a history of hair that would make year one Hermione thankful for what she had, hair in places that would make a lycan jealous, moles, and for about a decade I had the kind of acne that prompts older women and mall kiosk hawkers to grab you roughly about the arm and try to apply makeup to your cheeks without your consent. My eyelashes, I think, save my look, but to really see them you have to look past a whole lot of bullshit.

And I know this, it’s no secret: while most little girls get told at some point growing up that they’re some version of the word “cute” (for better or worse) I have literally never experienced that, not even from family members. I was a disfigured infant, and no amount of growing into my skull could convince anyone I could grow up to rely on my looks.

Of course, you don’t know you’re ugly just because of the absence of praise–you really find out when people tell you, mostly in the form of little boys who call you everything from Lurch to Pizza to Sloth (I’ve still never seen The Goonies and I never will, fuck you very much, but pizza is one of my favorite foods and the Adams Family is one of my favorite families, so who knows where my head is at.) I was an ugly baby, a weird looking little kid, a disgusting teenage, and I’m an occasionally okay-looking adult, but my body and my memories are the same.

This is all to say that when I realized I could do whatever I wanted with my hair I opted for distraction. The general consensus seems to be that people who dye their hair wacky colors are looking for attention because, I guess, doing something fun for yourself never crosses those uncreative minds. But the truth is, humans are all actually different people who do arbitrary things for different reasons and my reason was this: I think color is pretty and I want to be pretty and if my hair is colorful it will be pretty and also if THAT is what people look at when they look at me instead of my lazy eye or that chin hair I missed, then by the will of the gods my hair will be fucking purple. Also I wanted to take back my hair from the kids in high school who shot spitballs into it. (Yeah, I fucking remember, ex-boyfriend. Still wondering why I didn’t end up marrying you? That’s certainly part of it!)

So in the early months of 2015, I watched a fuck load of YouTube, bought some bleach and developer, and dyed the tips of my hair purple. It was nice, I liked it, but it was NOT ENOUGH. Because like tattoos and (I imagine) piercings, once you pop, you absolutely cannot stop.

So I bleached everything and dyed it pink into purple into blue. It was glorious and I…didn’t take a picture. BUT a month later when it faded, I did:

2015.03
March 2015. Husband and I had been married exactly two years and he was probably getting scared.

So just to be clear, this isn’t a searching for sympathy post. This is a celebration post. A post about making a choice and being much happier for it. You’re going to see a number of pictures of me that don’t prove the “I’m ugly” theory above, but trust me, they’re hand picked, and I’m not here to have you tell me otherwise. I’m here to tell you to do whatever the fuck you want with your body because you’ll never please all the people, but you certainly can kinda please yourself. At least a little.

By August of 2015 I had redyed the hairs a couple times and come out with a “bangs one color and rest of it a different color” theme:

2015.08
This would have been a great MySpace profile photo, and it was my Facebook profile photo for a loooong time.

I still had some bounce and life to my hair, but then I wanted to change, and I mean like BIG change, so I had to bleach it again because I decided I wanted to embrace my goth side and become a vampire:

2015.09
Honestly I miss this, but I will never go back.

In September I went red, and it was probably the biggest mistake I could have made. unless you want to be red forever and ever, DON’T DO IT. It’s impossible to wash or even bleach out. This was the turning point where I really started to damage the hairs. But on the other hand I had this rockin’ Ronald McDonald ‘do for like a whole month!

Then by October I couldn’t stand the way it constantly faded to orange like immediately after a single wash, so I went darker:

2015.10
Bonus pop art zombie.

I don’t actually remember making this choice, I think I actually tried to go purple and this happened. I really wanted to be purple though and I knew I had to lift to get there. So lift I did:

2015.12
I actually liked this orange it was hella unique.

You can see I have less hair here because…damage lol, but I was still having so much fun! And then I bleached it again:

2016.01
How do those layers happen? I don’t know, I’M NOT A PROFESSIONAL. Also if it looks like I have a bunch more hair here, you’re right, it sure LOOKS that way, but it’s actually just very dry and brittle here and taking up more space.

So that was January of 2016 and I don’t really have any photos of myself again til December 2016. I don’t remember what I did that year except probably played around with pink because that was my only option. Here’s the one time I dressed up in 2016:

2016.12
See I can take a good picture! Husband can too, but this was the best one of ME, so sorry, Husband.

In February of 2017 I redid my roots and fully embraced pink. The color I bought was called violet, and the color on the bottle matched the color you imagine when you buy something called violet. The company has since changed the bottle’s color (but not name) to match the actual shade:

2017.02
That’s REAL happy there, I actually loved this shade.

Then I went blue because blue is different and why the fuck not:

2017.06
Admittedly this is a bad photo for showing off hair, but look at that bird!

Then I went two-toned again:

2017.07
And I wore makeup. Why? I don’t know what this was for!

And finally transitioned all the way back to purple:

2017.08
Vacation mode activated, bring out the teeth!

So now I am letting my natural hair grow out again. I haven’t bleached it in I don’t know how long and I have a bunch of regrowth at the roots. I miss having insanely bright hair (it’s having the roots that bight color that really makes the whole thing pop), but for my hair health I need it to grow out. I still have my ends to dye when they fade, so I’m still colorful.

I was other colors over the last three years, turquoise, green, faded periwinkle, almost lavender, but I do always come back to purple because that’s where my heart is. As my brunette comes back, I actually feel unhappy. I don’t like the color of my natural hair. Where others have these warm, chestnutty, honey, oaky tones to their hair, mind is best described as “mousy” and while mice are absolutely adorable, the matte, almost grey tinge my hair has is unappealing. But I know I can change it, and I will eventually because I can and that’s a pretty great feeling.

Do the assholes who called me names still have power over me? Yep, they certainly do. Their words and actions were impactful enough to make me feel bad then and feel bad now and even take action to change myself. No, I never learned to love who I am completely. I never overcame those bad feelings and I don’t think I even will. But I did learn to love something I wanted, something that was a little out of the box and controversial, and I’m happier for that. Will I always hate my lazy eye? Yes. Will I always be happy I can cover it up with PURPLE hair?? YAAAAAAS, BITCH, YAAAAAAAAAAAAS!

2018.04
And thanks to the one dude who loves this ugly ole broad.

Searching For Home

In moments of great stress, every life form that exists gives out a tiny subliminal signal. This signal simply communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense of how far that being is from the place of his birth.

– Douglas Adams

Husband and I are on the hunt for a new place to live. Or, more specifically, on the hunt for a town to settle down into on the outskirts of the city we’re now residing in. I end up writing a lot of fiction with location at the heart of the plot (Vacancy is no exception), so I’ve definitely internalized the significance of place, and I have a soft spot for the epic quest which you could call the exact opposite of a location-based plot. As Husband and I visit suburbs and feel places out, I’m finding myself contemplate what “home” is more and more, both where you live and where you’re from. I think I so often like to write my characters as finding purpose in their place by being impacted by it or trying to find it because I don’t know that I’ve ever really felt whatever it is that people experience as Home. In that sense, my stories, like those of so many authors, are wish fulfillment.

I find “where are you from?” a difficult question to answer. “Everywhere,” though easy, is definitely not accurate–there are people who really are “from” lots of places, but for me, listing off the specifics is tedious and really only blog post worthy, and just narrowing it down to one place feels like a disingenuous answer.

I could say I’m from New England. I was born in Massachusetts so technically my origin point, beyond my mother’s womb, is there, but I left before my second birthday. On the few occasions I’ve been back to visit, I’ve gotten this feeling, the “I’m in close range of the place I was born” feeling, but I don’t think that’s the same as Home. I was also raised by people who were born and lived almost their entire lives there, so the culture of the house I grew up in had a very New English vibe.

I could say I’m from Florida. I spent my formidable years there where my standard for everything was shaped. I learned about the world through a sandy lens, truly middle class, never saw–or wanted to see–snow. The suburb I lived in was sleepy but it was certainly not small town, nor was it anything close to urban. It just was. The defining characteristic of that city was that it had none.

I could say I’m from Ohio. I became a teenager there, a college student, an adult. But instead of being molded by the midwest, I always felt like I was just observing it. Even at twelve I found a lot of things fairly odd in Ohio, the accents, the mindset, the jargon, and while I conceptually understood that people from different places were, well, different, I never had to explain to anyone when I lived in Florida that I was not born there. Ohio never extended that courtesy, and I was perpetually an outsider by my own actions and those of others.

Once I was an adult, I moved back to Florida, and there was at the very least a small chance that I was chasing Home. I remembered being happy there and idealized it, but the reality of the state was that is was not the beachy, progressive, sunny place I remembered. Well, it certainly was sunny, but long gone were the sparsely populated beaches and the memories I had of people being happy.

So here Husband and I are in Georgia which is never a state I would have pictured myself in. Maybe we’ll live here forever, maybe it will only be a year. At this point in our lives and in the current economy, we follow job opportunities so that, perhaps, many years down the line, we can follow our hearts. But to where?

There are a couple places I feel like I would probably be happy, might feel like I fit in, couple possibly call Home, but the disappointment that was returning to Florida has really changed my perspective of that. See, I thought when I went back I’d feel like I belonged, that seeing the ocean and escaping what I thought was centralized conservatism would be comforting. That didn’t happen, (to be fair seeing the ocean still makes me cry happy tears, it’s just almost impossible to actually get to), and I realized Florida never really was–or it couldn’t have been–Home.

So maybe I’ll never have that feeling, and maybe that’s okay. My brain has figured out a way to give me phantom nostalgia every time I hear a song by Billy Joel or see a cassette tape, so it’s not like I don’t have any experience with the concept of “happy longing,” and maybe it’s better this way. Home can’t let you down if it never existed, and you can’t really miss something that was never there. Keep your heroes alive by making them fictional, right?

And when the planet gets blown to bits I won’t be nearly as sad as everyone else which puts me in prime position to snatch up the new Supreme Leader title.

The Need To Be Liked

I talked about the freedom of being phone-less recently, and since I’ve replaced my sad cracked-screen with a much more expensive but narrowly different model, I’ve been trying to limit my use of it. I could do better (damn you, Hogwarts Mystery!), and admittedly it hurts to drop a few hundred dollars on something just to be like “NO, DON’T TOUCH THAT!” but when I am using it, I’m really starting to pay attention to how it affects not just my production, but my mood, specifically my self worth. And it’s…a lot.

I like to think I’m less easily swayed by what I see on social media than the average whoever, not because I’m superior–of course I feel jealousy like any other human, and when I see an ad for pizza I WANT PIZZA–but because 1) I’m actively thinking about how these things are making me feel, and 2) I’ve put in effort to work past that jealousy stage so that mostly when I see someone who is successful, attractive, and happy, I’m inspired. I’m interested in how people that I follow got their ass to look that way, produced such riveting content, managed to smile after heartbreak. It helps that I try to follow people who are very open about their flaws, but I don’t have that sort of control over everything I’m exposed to, and sometimes I’m left feeling, well, let’s say contemplative.

The path to success is shrouded in mystery, especially when your horse is a creative endeavor and your satchel is stuffed with naught but pencils and a thesaurus. Practice, work hard, risk failure, fail harder. These are some of the trials of our hero’s journey, and don’t get me wrong, they make a great journey, but then you bump into the already popular knight brandishing his shiny teeth and stylish but hollow swordplay, and you wonder: WHAT THE FUCK? His troupe consists of a grizzled, retired mercenary who’s universally loved but misogynistic as hell and frankly devoid of any actual personal development, and a sidekick that’s just like always there, and loud, and why is he always there? But sometimes the righteous and pious and good make it to the top, and you’re so happy for them, so pleased, but it’s still so terribly confusing. Success isn’t wholly unfair, so you wonder if there’s a formula, a way to make it all worth it. I’ve only come to the conclusion that luck is playing a role, and that’s not really just to make myself feel better about failure–I just don’t have any other explanation.

I don’t want this post to come off as whiny. I do think the effort is worth it even if you never go anywhere with your work and you die alone, penniless, rotting away from the plague. It’s, you know, the journey or whatever. Plus there’s always the possibility of being posthumously discovered and your words, your art, your music, reaching someone who cares and gets joy out of it all (presumably you’re producing something in order to bring joy to others). I’m just trying to figure out the how (you can’t bring joy to people without reaching them), and trying to govern my own ego along said journey.

the journey

I don’t buy the saying “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Yes, if you’re doing what you love it’s exponentially less stressful and difficult and soul-crushing than doing something you hate, or something you tolerate, or even something you like, but no one’s creative passion isn’t actual work. If you’ve ever encountered something good, you’re experiencing the result of somebody’s labor and at least one broken mug, a handful of abandonments, and infinite swearing sessions.

It’d just be nice to know it’s all probably leading somewhere.

I see this mirrored in this one weird trick that I’ve been noticing a lot on both Twitter and Instagram. People will follow you, like a handful of your posts, then unfollow you a couple days later. I’m assuming this is done through a bot and they’re doing this to all the users posting under a specific tag and probably get enough people following back and sticking around to be worth it; it’s just so insanely shallow. These are not real views, not real fans, and when I’m trying to promote my actual work I just find it frustrating. Maybe I should be thankful? That’s a handful of likes I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise that might push my post up higher in some reverse-Robin Hood algorithm where the popular get more popular (which is its own bullshit ranty blog post), but it’s not genuine. It doesn’t let me really gauge if I’m reaching anyone, and worst of all these users clutter up the tags we might use to actually reach real readers.

And then I realize I’m guilty of this too when I use tags. Maybe not to the gross extent I’m seeing out there, but if others are playing the game that hard, don’t I need to at least engage to be seen at all? In the end, tags are words, and I love words, and I’m a little pissed at how this makes them lose their meaning.

But in the end it comes down to this, the contemplative self-worth part: maybe I’m just not that good.

That thought it scary and intrusive, but legitimate. I don’t have much else to say beyond that except that I’m actually glad I’m having the thought (not that I haven’t always had this thought, it just takes on a different shade in the world of social media). I think it’s helpful, kind of like seeing a fitspo model’s perfect ass on my Instagram feed. Yeah, I feel bad about my ass, but I might be able to have that ass if I work at it.

Might.

This Is My 99th Post

I was really productive yesterday and for the last two days I have been in what I would almost call a manic state: happy, excited, productive. And I’m scared to admit it, but I’m fairly certain this may be due to the very recent, and very tragic death of my cellular telephone.

To be clear I certainly DO NOT believe modern technology is the downfall of civilization. If you think, Dear Reader, that people have not always been completely self-centered, vapid, distracted assholes, you haven’t been paying attention, but there are things about modern technology that certainly make being some of these things easier.

So I dropped my phone. First, I just want to say that the fact that we are sold hand-held computers the likes of which could not even be imagined 30 years ago for upwards of ONE THOUSAND REAL US DOLLARS but aren’t manufactured to survive slipping out of one’s hand SHOULD BE CRIMINAL. Now, I’ve never have a phone that cost me more than $200 (until the one coming in the mail tomorrow ringing in at an incredibly upsetting $250), and I have dropped every single one I’ve ever owned hundreds of times, onto tile, in parking lots, bouncing off of granite countertops to then fall onto some other hard surface, and none have ever broken because I HAVE BEEN LUCKY. But on Sunday I carelessly bumped my thigh with the corner of my phone as I held it by its Popsocket (my grip was poor because I’d just been hiking, Popsockets are otherwise a godsend) and it fell only about two feet onto some gravel where the corner cracked and spiderwebbed out causing not only aesthetic issues (which I could definitely have lived with), but basically rendered the touch screen unusable.

Another of my complaints along with the fragility that seems to be purposefully built into these magic rectangles is that they are all touch based. I’m pretty impressed with how accurate they are for the most part, but I am still an awful texter due to constantly hitting the “wrong” letters and hate browsing sites as I’m always accidentally clicking links I never meant to. But when the use of your very expensive device relies on such an easily corruptible input method, it seems inevitable your phone will “go bad” or break much sooner than it really should. Even though this has, again, never been my actual experience until now.

Basically what I’m getting at is this shit is made to be disposable in every way except its price point. And except for all the materials and labor put into them. Actually, they’re only made to be disposable in that you, the consumer, are supposed to use, abuse, and dispose of them to keep feeding Apple ridiculous amounts of money.

But that’s not the point. What I’m really getting at is, without the thing that I call a phone but absolutely HATE when it actually rings (especially now that spam calls and those robo calls from “local” numbers that are untraceable exist), I’ve gotten a lot more done. Correlation =/= causation, I know, but there might be something to it. I have almost the same access to the internet without my phone except there are some apps I can’t really do anything with on a desktop (which is another really weird concept to me–the inability to post original content to Instagram without a phone or some hacky software is WILD), and yet I’m getting more done.

I think having the option of picking up a separate device while working on something else is probably the crux of this. Now, I am typing. If I had my phone, I might write out a sentence and then scroll on some social platform, then come back, but I’m less likely to navigate away to another tab on the same device, and if I do, my writing tab or document is always there, staring at me and calling me back. It’s a small, stupid brain trick, but I think for me, at least, it works.

Again, I want to reiterate, I’m not demonizing any of these things (but maybe some companies), I’m just realizing something about myself. Because regardless of what any of us have access to, we are responsible for ourselves, aren’t we?

The new phone comes tomorrow. It’s got a shit load of memory and a rockin camera. I’ve ordered a screen protector and a protective case. IT WILL NEVER BREAK AND I’LL BE DISTRACTED TIL THE END OF MY POINTLESS LIFE MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

A Conversation With Marlow

I had to go to the post office today, so I walked from home to Husband’s work to have lunch with him first. Both his work and the post office are about a mile and a half from home through the city, and it’s legitimately easier and faster to walk than drive (plus bonus steps).

So I set out this morning with plans to “mind-write” (plot out where a couple stories are going) as I went. That didn’t happen.

As I waited for the walk sign to cross the street, I saw a man coming toward me. He was walking during a green light and had traffic stopped, a dick move for sure. I guess I should describe him here: a few inches taller than my 5’4″, low to average weight, black, maybe 40s, and most likely homeless from the state of his clothes and dental hygiene, but not something you’d notice immediately. When he got to my side of the street he said “hello,” and because I am who I am, and I was feeling rather good, I greeted him back. I was, after all, about to go in the exact opposite direction of this man, and the light was just changing. Perfect: the part of me that gives way too many shits about what other people think was appeased by being nice, and the more animalistic, don’t-get-murdered side was content that this potential danger was being avoided.

But what a fool I was because this man didn’t really have anywhere to be and immediately started talking to me. He began referring to me as “mami” (which was really odd since neither of us were Hispanic–later, when I said to him “Mami? I’m no one’s mother,” he told me he was adopting me as his mom), but he wasn’t being overtly sexual or creepy, just started having this conversation.

The first thing I asked him was “Didn’t you just cross this street?” I was on high alert at this point. The direction I was headed was into a neighborhood, no longer on the main road, so there would be way fewer people and cars.

But he responded jovially, “I just need somebody to talk to.”

Here’s the thing, Dear Reader, I would never advocate for anyone to talk to strangers. It really just is not safe. If I were reading this story, I’d be screaming in my head “RUN, BITCH, RUN!” However, I know that in my heart, kindness costs nothing. Still, I laughed and said, “There’s a guy who works at the gas station. He’s probably bored behind that counter all day; you could talk to him!”

He shook that off. “No no,” he said, “That guy, well, promise you would get mad or upset by this?”

“Uh, sure?” Though my word should have meant nothing to this stranger.

“That guy in there, he’s a jerk. He doesn’t uh…well,” he stumbled over this, not because he didn’t have the words for it, but because he didn’t have the words for me to explain it, “I get the feeling he doesn’t like people of the African American persuasion.”

I had a tiny conversation in my head at that moment. Because I was already over analyzing everything anyway and planning how not to die, I really thought about what he was saying, how, and, why. Why would it offend me, a white woman, if he told me the Middle Eastern guy at the gas station was racist? Wouldn’t he know better than anyone? Did he expect me to argue with him? Was I really in the position to be argumentative?

“I can see that,” I finally told him, “A lot of people are.” I thought back to seeing This Is America for the first time this morning.

So we started to have a conversation. Well, he started to have a conversation at me. I’m not good with new people, even when I’m fairly certain they won’t kill me, so you can imagine my discomfort, but when he reiterated he just needed someone to talk to, I decided I could be that person. I’ve been practicing my whole life at being a listener. Even though I knew the conversation had an ulterior motive, and it was essentially a lie, though more like a mask. Heck, maybe it was true. Does anyone talk–really talk–to homeless people?

First we made small talk, and he used the time to comment on me (this is where we discussed how I wasn’t anybody’s mother), that I was talking to him and he was shocked, and then asked me what was wrong with my shoulder. I’m fairly pale and have freckles from years of sun damage, but he was actually referencing my acne. (It’s really blossomed in the last few months, but thankfully only on my back.) I explained to him what it was, and assured him that no, it was not contagious when he asked. I laughed because here was this man, pointing out something that’s pretty gross and should make me self conscious but I weirdly didn’t feel bad about it, and he wasn’t making me feel bad. It was just a thing we were discussing.

So I played therapist. “What’s going on? Why are you having a hard time? Let’s get to the crux of this.” (So you will go away was the underlying message though delivered with a smile.)

“Well, now, I don’t want to scare you,” he tells me.

Too late, I think.

“I just spent 12 years incarcerated for a crime I didn’t commit.”

I didn’t want to know the specifics, so instead we discussed the lack of a rehabilitation process in our criminal justice system and the ways the country uses mental health and psych wards as weapons instead of helpful tools. This stranger was well-spoken (despite not really knowing what acne was), clear, easy to understand, and didn’t strike me as someone who’d been to jail. Of course, the tale he told me was so he could get to the point: he was down on his luck. But we had the conversation nonetheless.

This morning when I got dressed, I grabbed a pair of shorts out of the clean clothes basket and found there was a five dollar bill in the pocket. I very rarely have cash, but on this day I actually had that five in my pocket. Of course I was going to give it to him, this was ultimately what he wanted and we both knew that. So I told him this story: I have $5 that I’m going to give you, but isn’t it strange because I only just found it this morning and this is the day we meet.

He looked close to tears, and he hugged me. This was way too much for me, and I tried explaining to him “I don’t hug strangers” because of “things that have happened to me in the past.” This, he tells me, hurts his feelings. The feminist in me wanted to have the “your feelings aren’t more important than my safety” conversation, but I hadn’t been murdered yet and I wanted to stay not dead which is an even bigger comment on feminism without anything being said, so I just moved on.

“What’s your astrological sign?” my new friend asked me.

“Guess.”

This, like many things I said to him, made him laugh uproariously. I was “a mess, girl, just a mess” but also “a firecracker” and “full of surprises.” He guessed cancer or libra, and I told him “Wow, I was born right on the cusp of cancer and leo.” He was very excited to have gotten it almost right. “Okay, you do me now, what do you think I am?”

“Well, I don’t know much about the other signs, just myself,” which is mostly true, but he insisted. “Okay, sagittarius.”

“My sister’s a sagittarius!” he throws his hands up, “But me, I’m aquarius.”

“Hm,” I smile, “Yeah, I can see that, like the water, meandering and adaptive.”

“You,” he points at me, “You know more than you let on. You’re the kind of person who won’t let other people know that you’re superior to them. You bring things down to other people’s level.” I’m just laughing at this, and he goes on to tell me how cool I am, and I say to him, “You’d be the first person to ever say that to me.”

“Listen, Ashley,” because at this point we’d traded names, “When someone tells you they think you’re cool, you’re supposed to say ‘I know.'”

And all I can do is laugh because I very frequently do just that. I’m always jokingly full of myself with people I know, but in talking to strange men I’ve learned that being humble and demure can save your life, and here this person is who, by all rights, I should be afraid of, teaching me to do a thing that really isn’t safe for women to do, and it was all so preposterous.

We parted ways soon after that after I insisted I had to go meet my husband who he definitely didn’t believe existed. Enough other things happened to write a whole series of blogs (specifically a blog called “There’s A Special Circle Of Hell For Women Who Don’t Help Other Women But I Guess That’s Pretty Sexist Too”), but I’ve expended enough energy on this encounter for one day. The point? There isn’t one. I’m in no way advocating speaking to strangers, ignoring your gut, being kind because it’s free. I’m also not advocating against those things. What happened today was rare, but probably only because we don’t let those things happen, but we certainly can’t be blamed for disallowing them.

But don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a feel good story. When I walked home I prayed not to run into him again which I admittedly feel guilty about: our conversation had the potential to be very pleasant had I not been riddled with anxiety. And I didn’t die, right? But really, how fucking stupid is it I felt guilty? No one has a right to anyone else’s time ever. All I wanted was to think about what was about to happen to Lorelei and the gang, but even on the way home I couldn’t because I was on even higher alert plus chastising myself for the whole thing which was even dumber: I had very little control over that whole situation.

So I mean, I don’t know, Dear Reader, take from this what you will. Sorry I didn’t say “fuck” very much.

A Nice Story About Death

I used to work for a company that did maintenance work on properties that were foreclosed upon and had become bank-owned. Our company contracted with vendors who would do lawn work and maintain the interior of these non-lived-in homes all over the country. Among other things, we also did clean outs of homes that the previous tenants or owners had left their stuff in for one reason or another, typically for the most depressing reasons. I didn’t feel particularly good about that work, but this post isn’t about that.

This post is about one particular clean out a few years ago. Crews would send photos of the interiors and the debris within before removing it so we could determine if there was anything of value–specifically something we called “personal belongings”–left behind. Of course, “of value” has a different definition in that world, and very few things (among them mostly irreplaceables like family photos or obviously expensive jewelry) constituted stopping a trash out and holding up the bank from getting their hands on an empty and marketable house. But one day a crew called me with one of those very few things.

Typically we identify this kind of stuff prior to beginning the trash out, and then put the whole thing on hold as when one thing is identified as a “personal belonging” then everything in the home falls under that jurisdiction, but in this case, the crew was halfway through when they called me. Dear Reader, you don’t want to get a call from your crew saying they’ve already brought a load to the dump and then found “personal belongings.” And you definitely don’t want them to tell you that what they found was a fucking urn.

To make this news doubly stressful, my manager was out of the office that day, so I had to go to another manager who I did not know that well for help. (This other manager had, in fact, trained me when I first started at this company, but I have always been incredibly forgettable most of my life, and she didn’t remember me though she seemed to remember literally everyone else. So I guess it wasn’t that I didn’t know her that well, but more that I felt very small and embarrassed that she didn’t know who I was and I had to do that whole introduce myself to her even though we’d met and worked together a lot already thing that only you other poor, forgettable fuckos understand.)

So I went to this manager, reintroduced myself, and explained my predicament. Her eyes went wide. “An urn?” she asked with both the horror and excitement of the realization we almost threw away human remains and now we’d have to deal with this. “An urn,” I told her with a solemn nod, holding back laughter because humor is how I deal with everything and this was, at its core, kind of ridiculous.

We shut the trash out down, obviously, and the manager set to contacting everyone she could in regard to the house in question. Somehow, through the long line of everyone who had handled the house thus far, she had gotten in contact with the former owner of the house. This was unprecedented as, in my particular position and department, we were typically very far removed from the former occupant of the houses. Talking with people who think you personally are taking their home from them is particularly terrible–I would learn this a year later when I picked up overtime by answering our emergency phones after hours and got yelled at and threatened by all sorts of people who didn’t pay their mortgages–but speaking with someone who has lost their house AND the remains of their family member? Horrifying.

So the manager called the woman (thank the gods) who was now residing on the other side of the country, and when informed we had found an urn amongst her abandoned belongings, do you know what she said, Dear Reader?

“Well, I thought we left someone behind!”

As it turned out, the remains were not human, but of the family dog, and we were all a little relieved this wasn’t someone’s grandma, but still, right? You see, a lot of people, when they’re foreclosed upon, leave behind a bunch of stuff sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of spite. I don’t blame these people, I basically had a job because of this, but very rarely was something of this caliber discarded so thoughtlessly.

So the manager asked the lady what she’d like to do. This was, after all, all that was left of a beloved pet, and the family had already been through enough losing their home and packing up with little they could take and relocating, so we were willing to send the ashes to her–something we wouldn’t have done for any other belonging–and the manager was going to pay for it out of her on pocket.

But to our surprise she said no, and for a moment I was particularly upset and not just because I like animals more than people. First she forgets Fido, and then when given a second chance through an incredibly kind gesture, she blows it off! But her reasoning was thus: that house we found the ashes in had been the dog’s home its whole life, and that was where she belonged. Not tinned up on someone’s shelf or, worse, in the back of a closet, but there, at home. So she asked us if we could bury the ashes on the property so the dog could “watch over the house forever.” Those words will stick with me my whole life, Dear Reader, and I don’t think I will ever be able to tell this story without crying.

The crew completed the request and sent me pictures, digging the hole, putting in the ashes, filling it in, and even placing a handful of wildflowers on top of the spot. We sent the photos to the woman and received a heartfelt thank you. People who clean out houses for a living are incredibly tough, foul-mouthed, strong people. Often they lied to me because the system was a game and they needed to win so they played dirty, and to be honest I respected that, but I think in just about everyone’s heart there’s enough room to get it together to bury someone’s pet with the love and honor it deserves.

I like to think that even though she was abandoned for a bit and never reunited with her family, that dog is very happily haunting that yard to this day, raising the hair on the back of the mailman’s neck and chasing off the errant squirrel, and, pleased with a good day’s work, she curls up on the back porch every night to sleep. So yeah, I helped trash out foreclosed houses–I don’t feel great about that–but I know I did right by that ghost doggo.