Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pencils+Sharpeners= Weapons

I prefer good quality Number 2 hexagonal pencils, school bus yellow with pink erasers. Some people prefer mechanical pencils. Not me. I find them distracting. If I push too hard the graphite breaks. I write softly, never achieving satisfactory contact with the paper. The graphite length is either too long or too short so I'm constantly making adjustments. I repeatedly click it out too far then push it down on the page to make it shorter. It breaks. I'm not partial to the click-y noise from the mechanism as you dispense the graphite. It makes me anxious that I'm going through it too fast and should write less. Back in the 1980s there were "mechanical" pencils that contained a stack of individual leads about a quarter inch long secured into a plastic node. The nodes nested together inside the hollow plastic body of the pencil. As the node became too short you would remove it from the bottom of the pencil, push it into an opening at the top forcing a new lead out the bottom. Apparently these were called Pop-a-Point-Pencils. Logical. I didn't like these either. What kid is going to wait until the whole lead is used up? As soon as it's no longer sharp you swap it out for a fresh pointy one. You just end up with a tube of 9 or 10 dull but usable pencils tips. How is that a good thing?

Non-mechanical pencils need sharpening. This is part of their mystery and appeal. I was visiting my family in Buffalo over the weekend and we had an impromptu discussion about pencil sharpener preferences as part of a larger philosophical discussion regarding office supply lust (Swingline Staplers are especially desirable to certain folks). Some people were in favor of electric pencil sharpeners for their speed and the way you could make them eat the pencil down to a stub in no time flat. Others preferred the standard schoolhouse wall-mounted variety for it's durability and nostalgia, I presume. No one had any love for the kind that suction cups itself to the table top. Pieces of crap. The more Rambo or back country in the group reminded us that pencils can be sharpened with a knife. This always results in a tough looking pencil tip and the potential for stories to scare little kids.
"Hey lady, how'd ya lose that finger?"
"Oh, this?" Holds up stumpy index finger. "That was my pencil sharpening accident of 'aught seven."

My favorite pencil sharpener style? The portable, pocket sized, razor blade type that collects the shavings in the plastic housing. I love how it feels as you spin the pencil around making continuous contact with the razor blade. I love the predictable "schrick, schrick, schrick" sound that eventually disappears as the tip of the pencil reaches perfection and spins past the razor unscathed.

But you must exercise care and caution when utilizing tools such as these. Non-mechanical pencils make potent weapons. Where the mechanical variety is prone to surrender easily, the regular variety tends to leave behind some pain before it's will is broken. I have a tattoo of sorts just below my right knee cap from a run in with an unruly pencil pirate. I know there are other's out there with similar tattoos. I figure we must be the Choosen Ones.

People don't really think about pencils much anymore.

As my Dad says, "It'll take more than a pencil to make you right."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Annoyances Redeemed

1. Barking dogs make me nuts
2. Yelling obscenities at barking dogs never gets them to be quiet for long
3. A fat, lazy housefly that appears in the middle of the winter to buzz around the light over the sink
4. Wringing the cold stagnant water out of stinky, bacteria-infested, mangy sponges sitting in the sink (no, Chip, this is not directed at you. I swear.)
5. Cod liver oil supplements are really good for you (supposedly) but make your burps taste like, well, duh-fish. You burp and then you think, huh, I don't remember eating a tuna sandwich for breakfast.
6. Someone at work calling you, "My Little Fee-Fee" on a not infrequent basis.
7. Let's not forget the scallion issue. I think I need to check on how mine from two weeks ago are decomposing in the vegetable "crisper".
8. People who live in Vermont complaining in January about a long, hard winter because we had snow in Oh My (imaginary) God (type thingy) December.
9. People using too many words that end in -ly, too close together: Definitely, Absolutely, Certainly, Exactly, Surely, Wonderfully. This is usually accompanied by a lilting, saccharine, voice usually reserved for little children and the elderly.
10. The phrase "pet peeves".

(Right click and open me in a separate window for musical accompaniment) I saw the most amazing sunrise this morning. I've noticed that there's something about sky conditions in the 3rd week of January that produce the most delicious colors, upward shooting beams of sunrise light, Vermont style alpenglow, and clouds rimmed with gold. You could almost believe in Heaven and angles. You could almost feel brave enough to keep driving right past work and see where you end up instead. I can't keep my eyes on the road very long. I don't want to miss any of the subtle changes as the sun wakes up from behind the hills. A thick copse of trees and then a rocky road cut obscures my view. By the time I get to the next clearing everything has changed. The trees are bathed in a less flamboyant light, the sky is a little brighter and more typical looking, the clouds look more gray and less purple-pink. The sun cools from flaming sunrise orange to a steady pale yellow. By the time I've reached Exit 2, the sky has long since forgotten the magic that took place only 30 minutes ago. I leave the highway, turn left into town for my cup of Mocha Joe's and by 8:07 a.m. I'm at my desk, just like always.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

They Paid With Plastic

She spent all day waiting. All day, every day. Her name was Ela Ebley and she lived in the house on the corner of Park and Maple. All the kids knew her place. A path was worn through the grass on the front lawn where they cut the corner on the way home from school. When the weather made sweat drip from her iced tea glass you could hear her rocker creaking on the porch. When the weather switched the iced tea to hot her rocker went "swish-swoosh..swish swoosh" on the living room carpet while she waited. The kids started appearing every day, Mon. - Fri. that is, around 3pm. Each one had been timid at first. Once the initial deal was made though, the habit was born and shared. They all bought from her until about 5th grade when it stopped being cool. One girl kept on until the 8th grade. She didn't have any friends and never would.

Ms. Ebley baked Gooey Bars every morning. Graham cracker crust, chocolate brownie, coconut, the tops drizzled with more chocolate. She didn't give them away. Nope. She sold them. The accepted currency was easy to come by. It was literally spilling out of drawers, jammed into closets and coming out of specially made fabric tubes hanging around their very own homes. Sometimes if a kid forgot he could just find an old one blowing around the field at recess. The price for one of Ela Ebley's Gooey Bars was a single plastic grocery bag. Bring her one of those and she'd sell you a warm Gooey Bar, a deal that couldn't be beat anywhere in town.

Ms. Ebley sold her last Gooey Bar to Emily Spiel on a Friday afternoon in November. Her body wasn't discovered until Monday at 3pm when Henry Healy showed up at her door like usual. One of the kids called 911 like he'd been taught to do in case of an emergency. Before the ambulance arrived Henry, Emily, Joey, Heather and a growing crowd of regulars tip-toed through Ms. Ebley's house. They had never been further than the porch before and were seeing for the first time the accumulation of Ms. Ebley's wealth. Thousands and thousands of plastic bags bursting from any available semi-contained space. The threat of plastic bag eruption seemed imminent and likely to suffocate anyone in the path of destruction. The whole thing made the children uneasy. Ela Ebley dead in her rocker, no smell of warm Gooey Bars and nothing but the crinkly, clammy plastic bags in their hands to offer any comfort. It just didn't make any sense. None at all. They heard the sirens several blocks away. Every child dropped his bag in horror and ran.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Doing Nothing

I've done a little more than nothing, technically speaking. I've wandered from the upstairs to the downstairs multiple times. I've gone into the bathroom to brush my hair and clean my glasses. I've neurotically listened to bits and pieces of music and finally downloaded some new stuff from iTunes. I've written a few emails, checked my cell phone messages. I've eaten too many M&Ms and had a lot of tea. I've wandered from room to room hoping for some inspiration to leap out and bite. Nothing. Aimlessness is dangerous for me.

If you're prone to depressive feelings you probably understand the danger in aimlessness. For me, it's too much time to search- for meaning, for truth, for who I really am and what that question even means. The harder I search the more slippery the questions become, the more doubtful the answers. I envy those who believe in God. I've tried. I can't. Do people who have children have time for this kind of crap? Maybe not for 20 years or so. I guess I envy them too, but not as much as the God people.

Depression wraps around me in various ways now and then. I can throw it off eventually, but always fear it's return. The despair, the inexplicable sadness, the intractable loneliness bite at my heels. I look over my shoulder constantly to make sure they aren't gaining on me. When I get far enough ahead I actually start to believe I've won. My heart expands, breaking through the walls I build. I feel freedom. Joy. Hope. Love. I've made it to the finish line and will not have to run that race again.

I'm afraid, though, that what feels like winning is just a temporary truce. I find something to distract me from the search, from the questions for a while. Sometimes a truce lasts for months, sometimes only for a few days. When that blah feeling returns, it's so heavy. My heart is covered with one of those lead-filled x-ray blankets.

I'm not sure why I thought of all this today. I don't think I feel depressed, perhaps just dangerously aimless and aware of the barking at my heels.

I'll be on the lookout for something funny tomorrow or the next day. I'm sick of this serious crap! How 'bout you?

"Still and all, why bother? Here's my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone. "
Kurt Vonnegut

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Man's Best Friend

He wears worn out blue Dickies work pants and an equally faded work shirt topped off with a nondescript cap. The cap covers most of his greasy cigarette stained white hair and shades his rheumy eyes. Every visible piece of skin is covered in thick psoriasis scabs. Many of them weep and ooze. His hands are ancient crustaceans scuttling into his pockets or picking at bits of skin. I've seen him hunched over his knees dripping spittle onto the sidewalk. No one speaks to him, including me. I have made eye contact with him before, but it doesn't seem to mean much. I often wonder what it would be like to sit down next to him and say something. Anything. I am scared of this man and I am ashamed of my reaction to his existence.

I was at Mocha Joe's yesterday enjoying a rejuvenating chai tea and piece of carrot cake before dinner. A dog sat quietly under a table being man's best friend. This dog's black fur gleamed and beckoned to be stroked. I couldn't resist petting her silky fur and whispering lovely things to her shy, quiet face. I could have sat and petted her for hours. I commented about her beautiful coat and her human told me the dog had pretty much eaten nothing but salmon for her entire life.

Lucky dog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cranky Voodoo

Wow. Can you say, "Cranky"?
I think I used up my weekly allotment of good mood in one day- gorged myself on it like it was a giant bag of M&Ms-and now I'm having a hangover. I woke up in a foul mood, I remain in a foul mood.

If you're in a mood that's akin to slightly damp dryer lint , don't try the "picture your friends smiling" routine that I suggested so joyously yesterday. It won't work. It'll just make you annoyed that your friends are smiling away while you feel about as joyful as Eeyore. Or even worse you won't be able to make them smile in your imagination. Then you've just got a bunch of cranky friends floating around in your head, trying to be happy and failing. Hey, I wonder if this could work like voodoo dolls? Anyone out there feeling cranky today too? I must have cursed you while I was driving in to work this morning.

Some people hate Mondays. I, on the other hand, have always been skeptical about Tuesdays.

“I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.”Bill Waterson (Calvin and Hobbs)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Laughter. Smiles. Kimchi.

"Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward." Kurt Vonnegut

When I'm with my friends, I laugh. A lot. I was thinking about this yesterday on my drive home from hiking in the White Mountains. It got me wondering about the definition of the word, "laugh". The whole idea of laughing is pretty complex when you think about it for more than a few seconds. I looked it up in the dictionary.
Laugh-verb intransitive-1 a: to show emotion (as mirth, joy, or scorn) with a chuckle or explosive vocal sound
While that definition certainly isn't wrong, it sure is boring.

My favorite laughter is the unexpected kind. The off-hand comment or play on words that cracks everybody up during a conversation. Spontaneous goofiness- the kind practiced mostly by children-often sparks unexpected laughter. Some adults are able to reclaim this lost art and deploy it effectively. I love the laughter that comes from telling embarrassing personal stories with enthusiastic abandon. Shared laughter bonds people in much the same way as shared tears. Not all people will laugh at the same things. Not all people will cry for the same reasons. When you find people who join you in laughter or tears you call them friends.

It was a long drive home and I had lots of time. I finished thinking about laughter and moved on to smiles. I want you to try this. Start with one person in your mind-your favorite person, let's say. (It's okay to have a favorite person and it's okay if it changes from time to time.) Now, I want you to picture that person smiling. Not just a half-assed smile, but one that lights up the eyes, makes them glow. Picture every detail you can about the person's smile-the life that springs up in the face, the crows feet, how much of the teeth you see. If there's laughter involved, how does it sound? How does the person hold her head? Savor this image in your mind. Now do the same thing for someone else. Then do it again. This is what I did yesterday on my drive home from the mountains. If I know you in person, I probably spent some time thinking about you smiling. I'm not kidding. I was astonished by how much joy this simple activity brought me, how much beauty I saw in people's faces. It was impossible for me to keep from smiling in response.

I'm going to spend time this week paying attention to strangers laughing and smiling. Maybe the world will feel a little more beautiful to me. That wouldn't be a bad thing.

On the lighter side...Oh my Imaginary God Type Thingy(credit to Adrian for that phrase) I am in love with Kimchi!

Between all your smiling faces floating around in my head and the kimchi in my belly, I'm one happy girl. As long as the two don't get mixed up together, I should be fine.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Tale of "Don't Eat Roasted Lemons"

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008 Chip went to the store to hunt and gather our first dinner of the new year. He cornered and captured Shaw's finest Cornish Game Hen, or as he described it to the check-out person, The Pigeon. I think Chip must be hiding Martha Stewart magazines between the mattresses and studying up when I'm not around. He dressed this Pigeon with alarming skill. He buttered in between the skin and the meat. He made a bed of parsnips and onions to cradle our little bird. He filled it's tiny body cavity with herbs and lemon quarters, even remembering to remove the gizzards. He expertly nestled the last section of citrus and a tuft of thyme atop 'Ol Pige before sliding her into the oven.

The Pigeon came out of the oven an hour and fifteen minutes later looking like the money shot for Bon Apetit magazine. Our first dinner of 2008 was a huge success and Chip had roasted his first fowl. We could have been the lovely couple featured in the article along with The Pigeon. That is, until I got one of my "really good ideas".

"Hey, you know how slow-roasted foods taste so much better than when you just cook them the normal way? I wonder what a roasted lemon tastes like?" I asked. There it sat on the cutting board next to the limp thyme. It's lemony edges oh-so-gently browned. It's pulp glistening and smooth. I picked it up, popped the pulpy part into my mouth and scraped some off with my teeth. I immediately gagged the pulpy mass out of my mouth. The most repulsive food ever to pass my lips blopped indelicately onto my plate. Roasting intensified the sour aspect of the lemon's character into a toxin capable of removing tooth enamel. The acidity persisted in my mouth threatening to obliterate any hope of ever tasting again.

"Not so good?" quipped Chip.

I shook my head to indicate the accuracy of his statement. I pressed my lips together tightly to keep the rest of my dinner where it belonged, in my stomach. I had to tell Chip the thought screaming around in my head, but it seemed so wrong, so coarse, so vile! I said nothing for a minute-just sat there letting my teeth and taste buds recover.

"Do you know what that tasted like?" I asked. The way back of my mouth tingled in that oh-no kind of way. I shuddered like I'd taken a slug of bad whiskey. "It tasted like that awful acid burning flavor right after you puke and the pulp felt like a blob of bile in my mouth."

Chip promptly got up from the table. He went to the memo board on our refrigerator, erased some useless 2007 kind of information and wrote, "Don't Eat Roasted Lemons".

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Jury Duty and Green Onions

I was called for Jury Duty sometime in November. Here you're required to serve for 3 months or on 3 juries, whichever comes first (sort of like 3 years or 30,000 miles for your car warranty). I've been to 3 different voir dire proceedings. Two of them were murder trials. One of them was this morning. You get forms to fill out ahead of time so the counsel on either side can weed out obviously undesirable jurors. At today's proceedings, I got called in for a "private" questioning by counsel based on my questionnaire responses. It's only private in that none of the other jurors were there. The judge, multiple lawyers, court reporters, media with video camera, the defendant, other interested parties were all watching as I stated my name and address for the record. It made me sweaty in that icky, clammy way.

The State's Attorney asked me, "Ms. Audette, you wrote in your questionnaire that you do not think you'd be a good choice for this jury and that you do not want to see or hear graphic testimony. Could you expand on that by telling me what you mean by graphic testimony?"

I said, "I don't want to know or be exposed to any graphic details or pictures about the murder. I don't want to know how it happened or what injuries were caused." Admitting this out loud was uncomfortable for me. It didn't seem like the "right" answer and I like to give people the "right" answers.

"It is likely jurors will be asked to look at pictures of the victim and make judgments about the medical examiners testimony. Would you be able to do this?" he asked.

I felt the heat building up between my sweater and the wooden jury bench. It would have been easier to say, yes, I can be detached enough to do that effectively, but that's not my true feeling. The truth is that it would be too painful for me to spend a week or more trapped, listening to details of human brutality. It would be too heart wrenching to know the parents of the victim were sitting in the courtroom living through the nightmare all over again. It is too much of a burden for me to bear and although I could make myself do it, I am not willing to accept that burden. By asking me to elaborate on my position, the state's attorney gave me an opportunity to be true to my self. Honoring my inner-most feelings tends to be messy, that is, it involves tears.

"No, I would not be able to do that." I started to choke up. I was embarrassed but relieved I didn't say yes.

"And could you tell the court why you wouldn't be able to do that?" the State's Attorney asked.

"It would just be too sad." That's all I could say. It seemed too simple, too childish. Didn't I need to justify my position more thoroughly with more detail and defensiveness? I must have seemed silly to all the people in the court room. I don't even know the victim or the family. I apologized for crying.

What a silly thing to do- apologize for crying. I promise myself I will never again apologize for crying. Hell, while I'm feeling so generous, why not go ahead and let myself cry more often? It softens the heart and waters the soil so things can grow. I have a friend who's told me that's my problem, I'm always acting so tough. Maybe he's right.

One other thing for today. I really wish you could purchase green onions individually at the grocery store. When you need them for a recipe you only need like one or two at most. They're usually critical to the taste of a dish so you don't want to do without them. You use two scallions in your Chicken Peanut Soba Noodle Salad and then shove the rest into the depths of your refrigerator where they molder for 3 weeks into slime. Maybe someone should start a Scallion Sharing Cooperative or something.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Yesterday nothing seemed impossible. My dreams my only limit. Living bravely and fearlessly was within my grasp. Feel free to add your own fluffy, feel good phrases of self-improvement speak, but I have to stop because I'm getting nauseous.

I got my bank statement in the mail yesterday afternoon. It's an unfortunate coincidence when your bank statement from the month of December arrives right after you declare, "The time has come to leap into the unknown." My unknown involves leaving my "career" as an audiologist with no solid plan of what to do next. My December bank statement reminded me about the little rip I started in my safety net with donations to Brattleboro Hospice and the Green Mountain Club not to mention the cost of re-insulating the crawl space (a.k.a. Adrian's Room).

I'm not changing my mind about my plan. Not yet. But I'm having Brave Creator remorse today. Because really, who am I kidding, I have no idea how to do this.

Two weekends ago I did something really crazy(I wish there was a font for sarcasm). I bought a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle at the Hallmark Store in the Springfield Plaza. It's a picture of two cardinals sitting on a tree branch in the winter. I set up the card table and started the puzzle putting together process. I even got Chip to help me. How is that for excitement and shaking things up? Hey, I'll be a hit at the senior citizen center.

Monday, January 7, 2008

I Begin

"Leap and trust that there will be a net to catch you." So I've heard Brave Creators say. I have not practiced trusting The Universe to catch me when I jump. I believe in being my own safety net. Truth be told, I mostly believe in not jumping in the first place. My way can't continue. I'm wilting. Drowning. Dying. Worse than dying, I'm dulling.

Who are Brave Creators? Brave Creators live unafraid to make mistakes. Brave Creators observe the world, taste it, turn it over in their mouths, inhale it's smells. They embrace change, seek it out. They fight against stagnation and boredom for all they're worth. Brave Creators never cower from life. They ask themselves "What is the meaning of life?" and whoop back into the meaningless world, "To Live!" And then they really do.

I am a Brave Creator starting now. Are you?