Saturday, August 20, 2016

Day 65: Seriously, Don't Be Andy Kauffman

I'm a Daddy's Girl.  I admit it freely.  I happen to think my father is one of the most amazing, wonderful human beings on this planet and, unlike most children, I have empirical evidence to back this up.  Daddy has actually gotten a major award for being a stellar human being,** so I legitimately mean it when I say my father is the best.

This guy.  Right here.  Totally the best.

Sorry, all other dads out there.  I'm sure you're pretty good, too.

It will come as no surprise, then, when I say that my father and I agree on most things.  In fact, the older I get, the more we agree.  I hope this is a sign of advancing wisdom on my part, but it's possible I'm just getting crankier as I age. 

One thing we do not agree on, however, is Andy Kauffman.

See, Daddy thinks Andy Kauffman was a comic genius.  And I think he was an asshole.

 Yup.  Totally an asshole.

The two aren't actually mutually exclusive, but you might say that what we really disagree on is which is the defining characteristic of the man.  His ability to be funny?  Or his complete disregard for the feelings of others?

I think it's easy to see why my father finds Kauffman so funny.  He certainly was a visionary, and much of what he did, even when it wasn't necessarily intended to be amusing, was, in the end, completely hilarious.  And the fact that Kauffman frequently chose to do this by challenging people's perceptions, making them uncomfortable, and outright offending them probably doesn't phase Daddy all that much.  After all, he has a lifetime of social justice work under his belt, and a huge part of that work is challenging people's perceptions, making them uncomfortable, and outright offending them, if that's what it takes to get the job done.  So I can see why Kauffman's own brand of humor doesn't bother my dad.  The methodology is a lot like what he does on a daily basis, although the results are a bit different.

 aka How to Make Waves to Good Effect

For me, the difference lies in the purpose of his actions.  I fully support my father's habits, knowing that he is challenging people in order to help build a better world.  I feel like that's a worthy goal, and in the grand passage of time, no worthy goal has been accomplished without pissing off a pretty large number of people.  As far as I can glean, though, Kauffman was just needling people because he wanted to entertain himself.  In one of his most famous interviews, he admitted that he wasn't in it for any deep reason.  "I just like messing with people's heads."

Look.  We all make pacts with one another for a certain amount of discomfort, mostly implied pacts, but occasionally spelled out.  In my family we like to play rough, and you know we really like you when we make the effort to level a sick burn in your general direction.  I've got a friend who adores horror movies, for reasons I cannot fathom, but I know that she and others like her go to these movies with an inherent willingness to have the crap scared out of them.  Don't even get me started on the kink community, where their main jam is making each other uncomfortable under very controlled circumstances.

But in each of those scenarios, the participants have agreed to play along.  I don't think anyone goes to a BDSM party expecting to have a mild evening with wine and cheese.  I don't think anyone goes to a horror movie thinking it's about puppies and rainbows.  And I know for damn sure no one hangs out with my family that hasn't been appraised of the rules.  Hell, my siblings and I actively WARN people when they're entering our familial home.

 There be dragons here.

The rules are different when you're in public, or playing on an unwitting mass of people.  At least, I think they are.  In public we have different rules for how we play, because in public there are innocent bystanders who might actually get hurt, or scared.  And while I'm willing to risk that hurt or fear if there is an actual worthy good to be gained, I'm not willing to risk it just to be amused.  Which is why I'll never really change my mind about Andy Kauffman.  He didn't care about the innocent bystanders, as long as he pulled off his prank.

In case you're wondering, yeah, this is relevant to my life.  Just today on Facebook I posted the following sentence, and I think it pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter:

 Our intention should never, ever be to wound someone else purely for our own amusement.

So, seriously, don't be Andy Kauffman.  Be Mike Woodard, if you can manage it, because (just to reiterate) he is one amazing human being.  But don't be Andy Kauffman. 

Even though Daddy likes him. 

** It is worth noting that, like all other great achievers, Daddy did not do this alone.  Anyone who claims they managed something magnificent all by themselves is either a liar or very, very stupid.  My father just happened to be the most visible member of a very dedicated group of people, which is why he got his name on the check, but they are all stellar human beings.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Day 64: Dear Fellow White People

There's an article going around in certain circles on Facebook.  It's sort of dry and utilitarian, but in essence it says that white people don't talk about race on social media.  Black people do (it doesn't give information for other non-white races) but white people don't, because our social media conversations tend to reflect our real life conversations, and those of us who fall into the melanin-challenged category do not choose to discuss race.

Fellow white people, that's gotta change.

Yup.  If you look like me, I'm talking to you.

I get why we don't want to.  How can I not?  I am white, I know the white experience.  We're worried we'll offend someone, either by expressing what we honestly feel or by simply choosing the wrong words.  We feel awkward and out of place, like we're sticking our nose into something that doesn't concern us.  We're afraid of being called out when we're wrong, and we're also nervous that we might find out we're really, really wrong.  We are scared of the whole roiling mess that we don't know how to solve, and so we avoid it.  We don't talk about it.  We let it pass us by.

Here's the problem:

We are the makers of the mess.  

It isn't separate from us.  We created it, and now we gotta deal with it.  It's not just partially our problem, it is entirely our problem.  Non-white people are only part of the mess because we made our mess on them.  They didn't make it, and they shouldn't be tasked with cleaning it up. 

It doesn't matter that we don't know how to solve it.  Not knowing a solution immediately doesn't absolve you of the obligation to try to fix the situation.  You have to think about it, talk about it, and be willing to try.  It is one of the weirdest aspects of white superiority that we have this huge problem we don't know how to solve, so instead of admitting our own failing we just pretend that it isn't our problem in the first place.  We don't seem to realize that this doesn't make us superior, it just makes us foolish.

Dr King understood the need to talk

It doesn't matter that we're scared.  Our fear, and the ensuing discomfort from confronting that fear, are really not relevant compared to the daily impact that racism causes.  Imagine, if you will, that a woman told her partner that they needed to talk about the fact that he kept hitting her, and he, in turn, said that they couldn't, because he was too scared.  Is there a scenario in which you would accept that as a valid excuse?  No? 

Then being scared of this is not a valid excuse for any of us.


Not wanting to offend anyone is great, but it's a piss poor reason to keep silent.  Just follow the basic rules: if someone isn't white, listen to them first.  Think about what they say to you.  If there's something you don't understand, don't challenge it, just ask for clarification, or, better yet, go do some reading on the subject and THEN ask for clarification, if you still don't understand.  Remember that any anger or frustration someone has is justified, and you need to listen to and accept that anger. 

 Oh Matt Damon.  Yer doing it wrong.

Last but not least, it really doesn't matter that we don't want to find out where we're wrong.  Finding out where we're wrong is, in fact, the entire point.  (So, I guess in that regard Matt Damon is doing okay, if he's learned something.)  It's like saying you don't want medical testing, because they might find cancer.  It's stupid.  Finding the cancer is the only way to tackle getting rid of it.  Finding out the ways you hold on to subconscious racism is the only way you can start to be less racist.

I've got a newsflash for you:  You're going to find some racism.  Like any other pervasive societal system, racism is rooted in all of us.  It's hidden in expectations or reactions we never think to challenge.  And I know--I KNOW--what it's like to find yourself suddenly confronted by a bigotry you didn't even realize you were harboring.  It's terrible!  You not only feel guilty about the thing you found, it also makes it impossibl to forget that there's probably more in there somewhere, just waiting to pop out when you least expect it.

 Just cause you ignore it doesn't mean it's not there.

But, my fellow white people, we have to accept this.  We have to accept that among all our other wonderful qualities--things that make us good, honest, decent people--we have some things that make us oppressors, too. 

We have to be willing to look at them honestly.

We have to be willing to talk about them openly.

And we have to be willing to listen--always, always listen--to others who might know better than us where our hidden problems lie. 

All of which means we have to be a part of the conversation.  So come on, y'all.  Let's buckle on our big kid pants and do the hard thing because that is what's RIGHT.

Let's talk about race.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Day 63: So Goes the Morning

6:00 am: Woken by Dogs

My dogs are assholes.  No matter how late I let them out the night before, they wake up with the sun, and they insist--INSIST--on going to pee right away.  Sometimes I ignore them.  I roll over and try to go back to sleep.  I pretend that if I just put my head under the pillow so that they can't see me they'll forget I'm there, because in my sleep fuddled state I forget that my dogs aren't actually that stupid.  They tolerate this for roughly 15 minutes, but then Chimbasa starts making the whoofing noise that is his version of "Look, lady, if you don't let me out to pee I'm just going to go on the carpet, okay?" and I remember that my cranky dog is not only incontinent, he is also, as previously stated, an ASSHOLE, and will totally do this thing he is warning me about.

So I get up and let them out. 

6:30 am: An Exercise in Futility Begins

We now come to the part of the day where I return to bed, and try in vain to go back to sleep for just a little bit.  My inability to sleep has absolutely nothing to do with my physical capability.  Oh no.  I could totally fall back asleep.  Give me 10 minutes of peace and I'll be off in the land of nod.

 Yes, I sleep with stuffed animals.

The small mammals I live with have other ideas, though.

It's always Chimbasa that starts it.  I can't really blame him, he just wants to go back to sleep, too.  But, now that he's a crotchety old guy, the process of him getting comfortable and settling down is both elaborate and long.  He has to scratch, he has to turn, he has to fluff up his little corner of blanket, tuck his nose in just right, and then give a deep, contented sigh.  By the time he's done, it's Callie's turn.  Thunderdog is awake and ready to go, and since no one else is up and ready to play, she likes to entertain herself on the stairs.  Up the stairs, down the stairs.  Up the stairs, down the stairs.  Up the stairs...

"Callie." I growl into my pillow.  "I swear by my pretty floral bonnet.  I will end you."

I would not end her.  I love her! 
But I might sedate her.

Of course, all this commotion wakes Elliot.  He's a sweet, charming child.  He loves me so much.  He adores me.  So every morning, first thing upon waking, he comes to find me (if he isn't already in my bed) and places his hand very gently on my cheek and gives me a kiss.  And this gesture of supreme love and affection is also the soul crushing vehicle of my ultimate defeat, because I have just been jostled awake too many times at this point, and I cannot go to sleep anymore.

And Charlotte?  Charlotte is a boss.  That girl can sleep through anything, and frequently sleeps later than me.  If she does happen to wake up first, she takes her adorable little self downstairs and plays quietly until someone wakes up and joins her.  Charlotte gets the morning gold star.  She is my champion.

 She wrote this for me this morning.

7:00 am: Try Not to Forget the Things

Morning things are the hardest things for me to remember.  Did Elliot get his pill?  Did Chimbasa get his?  Have I fed the dogs and the kids?  Did everyone brush everything?  Pants?  What are pants?  Do we even need pants?  Are we leaving the house today?  Yes?  Where are we going?  Okay, so, yes, we need pants.  Where are your pants?  I don't know... have you looked in your drawer?  You haven't?  Consider making a basic effort before asking me where your pants are.
Now you're asking about your shoes?
What did I literally just say?

7:45 am: I realize I forget the MOST IMPORTANT thing.


8:00 am: The Mental Train Derails, Killing Thousands.

So, there's something about being awoken by small demanding creatures that jump starts your brain at the beginning of the day.  There's this whole biological process that makes you hyper alert, and prepared to take care of whatever it was that woke you up.  But then--and for me this normally happens right about the time I've finally gotten a cup of coffee--all that extra adrenaline wears off, and I find myself staring down at the mug in my hand, wondering if they're going to legalize something stronger than coffee someday.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Day 62: Another Day, Another Heartbreak

The kids and I ran a few errands today.  As is typical, we chatted as we went about our business.  We talked about some jokes Charlotte likes, how much our friend Rose enjoys talking to Elliot, and the state of Chimbasa's health.  That last one was pretty rough, because on the way into the vet Elliot said, very earnestly, that he hoped Chimbasa would be "better soon."  This led to a conversation about how all things have a natural lifespan, how our pets don't live as long as us, what I personally think happens when we die, and the idea that it's possible we'll be reunited with everyone we've ever loved, which means maybe Chimbasa will finally get to be with Mishka again.  Elliot, with tears in his eyes, told me that he bet Chimbasa missed Mishka a lot.  That he bet our cranky little dog was, in fact, very lonely.

Dude and Dog.

All in all, it got rather weepy.

Then, in a transition I didn't understand at the time, Elliot started talking about robots.  Specifically why people don't want to built robots that have an AI.

Now, I was confused, but I gamely tried to follow him.  Skipping over the fact that many people want very much to create an AI, I went ahead and explained that people were worried about what an independent intelligence might decide to do unencumbered by human morality.  This upset him, a lot, and he tried very honestly to assure me that it would be okay.  That it was critical.  That he really, really, really wanted to build robots with an AI, and it would be fine.

 Boy loves his computers.

"Okay."  I said.  "As toys?"  Because he has been on a toy building kick recently.

"Well, not really."  He said.  "But for kids."  Pause.  "You know, like, maybe sometimes there are kids that don't have any friends.  Or maybe they had friends, but then their friends decided they didn't like them anymore.  Maybe they're kids like me, that do stuff so that other kids don't like them, and they're really lonely..."

And that was when I felt my heart breaking.

So I knelt down on the floor and held my son, while he sobbed and told me how important it was for him to make robots that were intelligent, so that kids like him could have a friend. 

I waited until he was done, and then I pulled him back so that he could see my face.

"Bud, I want to tell you some things."

He wiped his eyes and listened carefully, and I said a brief prayer to the universe that I wasn't about to fuck this up.

"First, tell me, did you have a friend who decided they didn't like you anymore?"

"Yes."  His lower lip quivered.  "At the Hajjar.  Cameron--"  He had to stop and take a breath.  "Cameron just decided he didn't like me.  And I didn't do anything.  I was just nice to him."

"Okay."  I sighed.  "Well, if someone doesn't want to be friends with you because of who you are, then you don't need them in your life.  You only want to be friends with the people who like you.  That goes for you, too, Charlotte."  I turned to make sure she was listening, and caught her rapt stare.  "If someone doesn't like you, then they're not worth it.  You're awesome, and other awesome people are going to like you."

Both kids nodded. 

"Second, did you know that I didn't really have many friends who were kids, when I was a kid?"

Elliot started crying again, upset on my behalf.  "You didn't?"

"Nope, but it was okay, you know why?" 


"Because I was friends with adults.  I had a lot of adults who were my friends and loved me, and you know what?  So do you."  I started listing them.  By the third name Elliot was calmer, and Charlotte was grinning.  I kept going until I ran out.  "I know it's not the same as having friends your own age.  There are things adults don't want to do, or things that are more fun with kids.  But don't forget, you do have friends."

All the tension seemed to go out of him in a rush.  "Okay, Mommy."


"I still wanna make robots, though."

"That's totally fine, bud.  I bet you'll make great robots."

Later, at the library, he came up and put his hand in mine.

"Hey, Mommy?"

"What's up, dude?"

"You know how we were talking about making friends earlier?"


"Well, maybe it's easier to make friends with people you live with."

I smiled at him.  "You mean like Charlotte?  You two are pretty good friends most of the time."

"Yeah, sure, Charlotte.  But I was thinking about you."

Oh, my little dude.  I am not sure I am emotionally prepared for this new version of you.  But I do love you, so very much.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Day 61: Tooth and Claw

Sometimes I feel like I am waging a battle for the soul of my son.


It comes, I suppose, of reading too many fantasy novels as a child.  Books that took a fancy to the idea that evils are brought on by demons and curses, and that humanity--without such besetting influences--is ultimately good.  Madeleine L'Engle in particular made a big impression.  She taught me that the fight for goodness can take place on many levels, and that sometimes a simple human emotion like love is what stands between us and an all consuming evil. 

I guess that idea really took root, so that some days--days like today for instance--I feel like I'm fighting a never-ending battle to bring my son out of darkness.  In real life I'm dealing with an epic breakdown, but on some other plane of reality I'm standing on a metaphysical bridge, wiping blood from my eyes, using my bare hands to rip through a wave of dark imps that are determined to cross the bridge and hurl Elliot into the void that stretches beneath our feet. 

Yes.  I'm saying I'm Gandalf.

If you're getting the impression that today was rough, you would be right.  If you're just now learning I can be a bit melodramatic, well, then, congratulations on making it to the next level of character knowledge.  Only three more and then you get to do the ritual to summon a familiar.

Sorry, I'm a little punchy, and the D&D metaphor wouldn't stop.


Today was Elliot's first day on meds.  I was sort of curious to see if it would really make that big a difference.

It did.

For one thing, he talked from about 11 am to... well, he's still talking.  It's 10:17.  He should be asleep.  Instead he's awake reading, because he can't settle down, and can't shut off his brain, and I can't watch him lie there, hyperventilating because he's trying so hard to go to sleep, and he just can't

 Just like this, only later at night and in 95 degree weather.

For another, apparently his empathy has gone into overdrive.  He was always empathetic, if you could get him to notice how other people were feeling in the first place, but that condition was rarely met.  Now he is noticing, and, apparently, feeling incredibly guilty about it.  Earlier Charlotte stuck her hand in the way when I was opening a sliding glass door, and she got pinched.  She was fine, all was well, and Elliot spent about five minutes apologizing for not noticing that she was going to get hurt and warning us, even after I told him it was in no way his fault.  Later, after he and Charlotte yelled at each other about something, he apologized in case the yelling had hurt my ears.

He does not, however, seem to notice that people do not want to hear the four and a half hour monologue on his favorite YouTubers that he's been working on.

 All of that is odd (it's like his personality has been turned up to eleven) but that's not why I'm currently baring my teeth and screaming at the abyss to bring it--

For what it's worth, this is just a front.  You have to talk tough with the abyss.  But the truth is I am only one woman and I am tired and it would be okay with me if the abyss would take a little vacation and leave Elliot alone for a while.  But I digress--

One of the many aspects of Elliot's personality is his tendency to occasionally completely lose his shit.  I know of no other way to describe it.  He isn't violent, but he's basically everything else.  There is screaming, thrashing, stomping, throwing, threatening, and a general all around level of OHMYGODWHEREDIDTHISCOMEFROM? that's hard to imagine from him when he's not in the middle of completely losing it.  My little, rational dude turns into a ball of rage and self-destruction, hell bent on getting his way or taking the whole ship down with him.

Remember how I said it was like his personality got turned up to eleven?

Yeah.  I meant this, too.

This afternoon we descended into madness.  We've been there before.  It's familiar territory.  Each time I grab my son and haul him back towards sanity, while he kicks and screams and fights to stay in the crazy.  Once I get him in sight of the border he starts to see that I'm helping him, and then he sobs and asks what he can do to help, but its a long way to the border sometimes.  A long, long way.  And those damn imps are everywhere.

Many of them are there for Elliot, but some of them are there for me.  They bring me doubt, so that I question my own judgement about how best to help my kid.  They bring me fear, the fear that I will never be able to teach him how to handle these emotions that threaten to overwhelm him.   They bring guilt, that I am doing something wrong, maybe catastrophically so.  Worst of all, they bring my own anger and frustration.  Those are the hardest to ignore, because they're the strongest.  I am not a temperate person.  But the same willful nature that makes it hard to check my anger also means that if my son needs me to be calm, then by god I will be calm.

 So I fight the imps--the ones that come for me and the ones that come for him--and Elliot fights me, and by the time we're safely back in sanity again I feel bruised, battered, on the verge of tears and in need of a drink.

So it sucks.

But, I suppose I haven't actually lost yet.  So, WTF.

Bring it.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Day 60: Shooting Stars

I think the thing I dislike the most about living alone--

When I say alone, I mean without other adults.  There are two kids and two dogs in my house and from morning to night I am almost never ALONE.  I rarely have private conversations, and 90% of the time I get walked in on in the bathroom.  I am just talking about another living being that communicates on roughly the same level that I do.

Not these noobs, who are only halfway through the Sorcerer's Stone.

Anyway, the thing I dislike most about living alone is that there is a certain solidity to being able to check in with another person on a regular basis.  Some days you have a shit day, and just need someone to listen while you talk about it.  Some days you have a great day, with roughly similar results.  Some days you need someone to watch your favorite TV show on the couch with you, cause that's all you have the energy for but you need company.  Some days you just have a lot of feels, and you need someone to ground you, and remind you that there's more to life than whatever is poing-ing around on the inside of your head.

When you live alone, getting that sense of solidity becomes more difficult.  Don't get me wrong, I feel pretty secure within myself.  I know what I want, I know what I'm doing, and in general I am prepared to take on the world, although I'd much rather have a whiskey with the world and see if we can come to some mutually acceptable accommodations.  But I can take on the world if I have to, and that's a comforting feeling.

 And if I can't take it on, I can at least piss it off.

Anyway, my point is that I'm not talking about a lack of security in myself.  I'm talking about something a bit more indicative of our status as a pack species.  About the way people need to reflect their own experiences off of others.

Or maybe that's just me.  Maybe no one else feels the need for that.  But I'm betting we do, given that most of us spend the first 20 to 30 years of our life in a mad dash to find someone who will promise to reflect us forever.  Some of the more sensible ones among us show a little more restraint.  Some of the more unlucky of us spend much longer, or go through the whole process two or three or four times.  But there are a precious few of us that actually want to spend our lives without a companion of some sort, and I think it's because in general we really need that kind of pair bonding.

We all need someone to be grumpy with.

So, the thing I dislike most about living alone is that there's no one that I can reliably count on to be around if I need someone to rehash my day with.  Now, I have some excellent friends.  I think I can legitimately claim that, if I called them and desperately needed them, they would be there for me.  And that's comforting as hell, I gotta tell you.  But it's not quite the same as having someone that you know will be sitting on your couch most nights, ready to listen to the minutia, or wanting to share their own.

Not the same, but still pretty freaking awesome.

There are lots of things I like about living alone.  I like the fact that no one gets cranky with me if I am slow to do the dishes, and that I can basically sing as loud as I want in the kitchen.  I like that literally everything in my house runs off a schedule I choose, and that I can eat broccoli with butter on it for dinner if that's what I feel like.  Those things are great.  They're magical.

But none of those things can keep me company while the stars fall.

Which, I suppose, is just something I am going to have to accept.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Day 59: Pics. It Happened.

While scrolling through all my pictures, trying to select shots for the posts I've been making, it occurred to me that maybe I ought to share some of the eighty-gazillion pictures I took on our trip.

Despite all the pictures I took, I still don't have pictures of EVERYTHING.  What can I say?  Sometimes I was too involved in having fun to remember to get out my phone.

If you hate vacation pictures, by all means, skip this post.

If I stayed with you: Maggie, Pete, Alex, Casey, Allison, Jon, Harsh, Breeden, Brown, Brooke, Nora, Becky, Donna, Mike, Annabelle, Sydney, Gina, Emmeline, Beth, Andrew, Jackson, Olivia, and Ma-maw, THANK YOU AGAIN!!!!

For everyone else... here we go!

Hadn't seen Kate since her WEDDING!


So, apparently I was fascinated by Maggie and Pete's Bathroom.  I dunno, man.  I just go with what I feel.

Didn't get a picture of Jon, but Allison posed with us while we waited to go into Philly.

 The Please Touch Museum was epic.  The children would like to live there.

Elliot finally got to see Sojourner.  

Predictably, he did not have any need to read the information cards.

Charlotte got to fly a plane.

Sort of.

Apparently she was headed to Nicaragua in it.
 Harsh got first hand experience of what it was like taking kids to a place like the Smithsonian.  
He may, or may not, have recovered yet.

Charlotte kept stealing people's dry erase boards and leaving notes no one (including herself) could entirely understand.  This one has something to do with some money she found, and her plans to keep it safe from all the potential thieves in the world.  

The Children's Museum in VA had an old carousel, that you push by hand.  

Also, the kids really liked boating on Breeden's pond, but only if they got to row, and steer me into the bushes.


I can neither confirm nor deny that Elliot got eaten by a shark in Greensboro.

I have NO PICTURES of Nora and Becky, or of my brunch with Erin!!!
Bad Jessica.  No cookie.
Saw Donna, partially drowned the kids. 

Just a grocery store.  But aren't Elliot and Charlotte cute?

Gina and Em have a gorgeous home.

Yeah.  I couldn't resist this sign.


Charlotte would leave me for Aunt Beth.

I swear I am not exaggerating.

Seriously.  In a heartbeat.


We saw Nana Been, and Ma-maw, who is doing really well.

I redyed my hair.

There are tons more.  Seriously.  If you happen to LOVE vacation pictures let me know personally, and I'll show you sometime.  Otherwise, I think I've put you all through enough.