Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hating someone's guts

(CYA: there's beer drama in my corner of the Internet today. This is NOT about that. This is about me publishing my drafts folder some more because writing is important.) 

Long ago, a younger me accepted the wisdom of a younger Henry Rollins: hating someone is giving them too much of yourself.

Hating Someone's Guts (part 1) by Henry Rollins on Grooveshark

As I'm staring down the barrel of 40, it's been a long time since I hated anyone. There's people I dislike, but it's often mixed -- at times heavily -- with feeling sorry for them. If you're so unpleasant even my grouchy ass thinks you're unpleasant, that sucks, and I'm glad I'm not you.

I can be quick to anger and equally quick to feel sheepish about it. Everyone who's worked with me or lived with me knows, I can be yelling at you at 5pm, apologizing at 5:05, and joking around at 5:10. Hanging on to anger and grudges helps nothing. That's where baggage comes from and I've got enough baggage already. I think it's also why I'm well-liked at work (and home, I hope!) despite my quirks.

I know everyone's got their own fight and people in pain often lash out. If I didn't know these things, I couldn't have continued working with teenagers whose whole goal in life some days seemed to be talking about me to my face in the most humiliating way possible. Kids savvy enough to survive in South Central are savvy enough to quickly intuit the things you like the least about yourself and call them out, repeatedly and with colorful language. I didn't enjoy that but they were children and I knew they had dads in jail and moms on the corner and etc etc etc.

What's difficult is forgiveness when a grown-ass adult has treated you like garbage and hurt people you care about. It's hard to understand the people who still choose to have such a grown-ass adult in their lives. But I guess I can't get too mad about people who haven't yet figured out a shitty person is shitty when it took me a while myself.

But, forgiveness. Not giving someone too much of yourself. Feeling sorry for people lashing out because they're probably hurting too. Finding it sad, not infuriating, that some people have had such a taxing life that they no longer care about anyone but themselves. Being the better person. I'm trying, man. I'm trying. But Henry Rollins admitted a minute later that he hates Edie Brickell and built the rest of his spoken-word bit around joking about it. Nobody's perfect. I'm gonna keep trying. Maybe everyone has an Edie Brickell, so to speak. But no one person you don't love, let alone like, should be important -- at all. I'm working on it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

I got the green light, got a little fight, gonna turn this thing around

(emptying the drafts folder, this is from Tuesday or something)

I'm writing this from my new computer. It's a $250 Chromebook that I've taken to calling "my Internet typewriter." There is no social media on this computer. (C'mon, blogging doesn't count...) This doesn't ensure that I'm going to get any writing done, because even now I'm like "I should write someth- ...ooh, there's that page of 13 Brass Band Cover Songs that I didn't finish listening to!" Maybe having the Internet on this typewriter wasn't so smart.

Money can't buy happiness, but I'm pretty happy to be typing something and having the words, not the Mac pinwheel of death, appear on the screen. I bought my old computer in 2007. That's a lot of water under the bridge.

It feels good to have $250 to spare, and to have a tool that does the job it's supposed to, which I guess at this moment is "play the brass band version of Bohemian Rhapsody while Jen types into her online diary." I mean, yuck. I'm the worst.

I got the computer on Friday and on Sunday I told a friend "yeah, now all I need to do is get a bike" and she said she had a bike she's been meaning to give away.

Let that sink in for a minute. I'm going to start telling people "yeah, all I need is a million dollars and a brewery lab job for my husband" and see if that shit keeps working.

This year's been gnarly. The friend of mine who both moved out of the country and became a dad this year keeps saying *I've* had a lot on my plate lately, so that can't be good. But now I have a computer that works and someone like GAVE me a fucking bike. It's the little things. I think I'm ready to tell the rest of 2014 who's boss.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

If you have five seconds to spare, then I'll tell you the story of my life

One night in 1996, my junior year of college, Tom's black cat got out through the kitchen window. Owen and I put ourselves in charge of finding her. We searched around the parking lot between my apartment and his apartment yelling "Cleo!" as if cats ever come when you call.

We saw a cat-sized movement but it wasn't Cleo. It was a white cat we'd never seen before. "That's a guilty look," Owen quipped. That was the baby-daddy.

Cleo came back on her own. By the end of the school year, she looked like a football. Then there was the male kitten, the tiny kitten, the weird kitten who pooped in our bathroom sink senior year until we gave her away to Womanist House (can't make this shit up!), and the big bully kitten, all of them black like Cleo with white bits from the guilty-looking mystery cat. We joked that she was a teenage mother because she got knocked up at under a year old. The bully attached herself to Rick and we took her home to Boston. Her original name was T-Bone, after the white marking on her chest and belly that at the time was t-shaped, but Tom said "I'm not going to have a cat named the same thing as steak" and renamed her Tabitha.

We lived in a one-room studio apartment with that cat, in the building on Tetlow Street where Rick asked his downstairs neighbor to turn his music down and the dipshit tried to fight him. It was the summer before and the summer after my senior year of college.

We moved to a one-bedroom apartment where the next-door neighbor threw ragers on random nights of the week. One morning I had to step over someone passed out in front of my door. The complex had mice, but our apartment didn't for long and we nicknamed Tabitha "the mighty hunter." Tabitha's favorite spot was on top of the bookshelf. She was a terror. She attacked our friends who didn't listen when we said "don't pet the cat, she hates strangers." It was the dot-com era and back then I was a freelance tech writer and Rick was employee #3 at a web development company but all we got was this stupid t-shirt, coffee mug, candy dish, and lawn chair.

We moved to Hamburg, Germany and we took the cat, because if we'd left her with someone new we figured she'd wind up in a shelter due to her shitty attitude. Also because we loved the little bastard. We got her all her shots and exams and got it all translated into German and we flew that doped up kitty to Europe.

She lived in a hotel with us for a month while I wrote Media Grok from a mall cybercafe and watched South Park and PowerPuff Girls in German. Then we took her and our luggage and got in a cab with Emily and moved to our apartment, where she wouldn't come out of her bag for at least a day. Our shipment of stuff from the US was so delayed the seasons changed and I wore the same ugly gray thrift store cardigan everywhere. German for "kitty litter" is "klumpstreu." One day she peed blood and we thought that was it, but it was just a UTI.

We returned to an America we didn't recognize with no jobs and an economy in shambles and flags flags flags everywhere. We spent a week in my dead grandparents' condo no one had gotten around to selling and prayed Tabitha wouldn't hairball on the carpet. We went to Karen's wedding. We went for kosher deli food. We went to New York City for the day and while we were in a bar it got dark and when we came out they were shooting those two beams of light into the sky where the towers used to be and we sat on a park bench in Manhattan and cried.

We drove to our new place in Boston with Tabitha and our luggage. The previous tenant had left behind an assortment of sad artifacts: dishes still in the dishwasher, towel and toothbrush still in the bathroom, family photo in a drawer, some comfy but really ratty couches. The cops came looking for him a few days later. We sat on those couches using the evicted criminal's plates and copied CDs we'd borrowed from friends to replace the ones we lost when our shipping container got robbed in the port. We worked our stupid temp jobs and Rick applied to grad school and we sat on that couch with that cat keeping each other warm during the expensive Boston winter on the top floor of a drafty triple-decker.

We drove to LA from Boston. Tabitha has been to Niagara Falls. The motels with the numbers in them usually allow pets, Motel 6 and Super 8. We'd drive until we could tell her sedatives were wearing off and then we'd stop at the nearest one of those. Towards the end, the mother of a friend in Oregon said we should stay at her huge house and we prayed (again) Tabitha wouldn't hairball on the carpet and she didn't, but she did spit up her sedative while Rick caught the spit with his hand like a good guest.

She was with us in LA while grad school sucked and teaching sucked and everything sucked. She got fat and old but she still terrorized our friends.

I drove her to Berkeley behind Rick driving the U-Haul. She got slow and senile and our friends could start getting near her because she can't see that well. I could vacuum the couch with her ON the couch. She stumbled sometimes but seemed happy. We thought she might not make it to the new house, but goddamn if she didn't turn 18 here.

They say only the good die young and this cat was a bad mofo. Or at least we remembered that she used to be, as she sat on my lap then his lap then my lap. Life was one big belly-rub for this spoiled gal for the last few years.

One night in May I came home from work in the middle of the night and she couldn't walk. I worried she'd had a stroke. I stayed up most of the night with her waiting for the vet's office to open at 8am. Somehow, the vet said she's fine, just old and arthritic. We got some liquid medication that supposedly tastes like chicken, then Rick held her while she spat and drooled for what seemed like days but was probably only half an hour. When we saw she needed to go somewhere -- on the couch, off the couch, to the litterbox -- we were likely to pick her up and carry her there.

September came and she stopped eating. She'd nibble on tuna out of my hand and that's it. Her once-obnoxious part-Siamese meow became a whisper. How dumb are humans to adopt things we raise from infancy and then watch die of old age?

This cat. This fucking cat. She was there for everything. She was around for me writing a computer book and teaching school in South Central and bartending in Oakland. She was around when we got married. She was there when Rick's mom died and my Nana died and Beth died and it seemed like the rest of my life was going to be one big funeral. She was there when it seemed like the rest of my life was going to be one big party. She was there.

I don't think she suffered long. A vet came to our house and her last few minutes seemed nice. She was like "hey, something poked me" and then she was sleepy and then she was unconscious. Even anorexic and riddled with tumors and 18 and helpless it took two shots to kill her, because that's my fuckin' Tabitha.

Times in my life I did not live with a cat:
fall 1993-fall 1996

I'm goddamn embarrassed how much I've been crying for the last two weeks. And here I go again. I miss that little fucker so, so much.

Monday, September 08, 2014

In another life this was my problem

Last year, This American Life did a two-part series I was skeptical about.
We spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago, where last year alone 29 current and recent students were shot. 29. We went to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances.
The high school where I taught in LA wasn't that bad -- or maybe it was if anyone was counting, all I know is it wasn't unusual for people to be taken out in ambulances and sometimes kids came back from Christmas answering "how was your break?" with "I got stabbed."

I shouldn't have been skeptical -- they got full access, people opened up, it was so familiar it was eerie. The broadcast came out in February 2013. I listened to part one and then I couldn't. I finally listened to part two last week, more than a year and a half later.

Last week I also flipped off someone in a car, yelled at a stranger, and bust out crying for a not good enough reason. (I guess now's a good time to say I did not do any of those things at work). I know myself well enough to know that's not entirely a coincidence.

If you don't understand why teaching in LA broke my heart and spirit into a million pieces, or if you'd like to get a better picture of what goes on in many American schools and the struggling neighborhoods that surround them, then take a listen. Don't read the transcript, it's not the same.
Part One
Part Two

So I swear I will get to The Wire soon. I know, I know, it's great television. But I'm sorry if it takes me a while to get through season 4 and I yell at a few deserving strangers in the process.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Post #1000

Pretty girls don't get enough time alone. They grow up with boyfriends and are never long without one. Only later do you realize this is not as fun as it looked.

Pretty girls never know if you like them or if you just like looking at them. That sounds confusing.

Pretty girls never know if they get the job because they're eye candy. You can't be both qualified and pretty. You can't be both smart and pretty. All the pretty girls are bitches. It has to be true otherwise life isn't fair.

Pretty girls are loudly mean to us in 7th grade and we are silently mean to them for the rest of our lives.

Ten or 15 years later pretty girls can't sit at the bar by themselves in peace and suddenly pretty starts to seem like a handicap.

Tell your high school self:
Someday you will buy your own clothes and they will all be baggy enough. You will be called "sir" in Connecticut and Kentucky and California. Your husband will have longer hair than you do. You're gonna drink and swear and wear men's shoes and and have a great time.

But you won't get the job because the manager looked you up and down first. You won't get the job because they stapled a Polaroid to your resume. You won't get the job because an average of once a year in Los Angeles someone asks you what happened to your nose. There are no Jewish noses left in LA.

You could play the game and get the nose job. You could play the game and get the boob job. You could dye your hair, get waxed, stop eating. Instead sorority girls call you "brave" for not wearing make-up and another near-stranger asks who broke your face.

You won't give a fuck.
You won't give a fuck.
You won't give a fuck.
Until one day you really DON'T give a fuck.

Your high school self won't believe you so don't tell her. Just tell her, girl, it's going to be okay. You and the pretty girls are all gonna have problems, big ones, and you don't believe me and it's going to be okay.