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Short moment, long story

15 Jan

I don’t have feet. I have chunks of frozen hamburger meat that have been molded into a vague ‘foot’ shape. The chunks were then wrapped in paper-thin skin suits and attached to my ankles. 

They are always cold. They are cold in the dead of winter and the dog days of summer. They are cold in cotton and cashmere. They are cold (and itchy) in thick wool. They can be buried in two pairs of socks, slippers, and blankets, and they will still be cold. 

Sometimes, they get tired of their constant frozen-ness. They then morph into heat seeking missiles. And, at night, they lock on to their preferred heat source: the portable furnace known as my husband. In a strange zero sum scenario, Ken’s body – especially his midsection- pumps all of the heat back into the universe that my feet lack. The skin-wrapped frozen hamburgers have interrupted many an otherwise peaceful slumber with their subconscious heat seeking behavior.Once the missiles have acquired their target, said subject inevitably responds with a high-pitched, inhuman noise. For the most part, I have done my best to avoid eliciting the noise. The heat seeking frozen hamburgers have been on their best behavior. 

And then there was Wednesday night. 

I am a big believer in the equitable distribution of chores. It’s how I was raised – my mom and my sister would cook dinner, my dad and I would do the dishes. My mom was in charge of the inside of the house, with gleaming floors and crisply ironed linens, while my dad ruled over the outside, cultivating wild raspberries, unruly Rose of Sharons*, and malevolent hostas. 

I brought these equitable principles to my marriage. Luckily, my husband is very patient, generous, and cooperative. 

Tuesday night, we had friends over for dinner. I made my fabulous meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, and veggies.  After we ate, I cleared the table, rinsed the plates and glasses and silverware, and put them in the dishwasher. I then faced the rising mound of pots, pans, and prep bowls. They seemed to have multiplied while we ate. A watched pot may not boil, but un-watched pots and pans quickly revert to wanton behavior, procreating in the sink. 

So I turned to my husband and asked him, sweetly as could be, to do the remaining dishes. “Not right now, of course,” I soothed. He quickly assented. 

Our guests stayed longer than anticipated. At 11, I went to bed. Husband is a night owl, so I assumed he did the dishes in the wee hours of the night, possibly by candlelight. 

Wednesday morning revealed more wild dish-copulation. I had to get the child to school and myself to work. “Please get to the dishes,” I gently reminded as we quickly kissed goodbye. 

Wednesday was a long day – I stayed at work til 7:30 and still encountered heavy traffic the whole way home. When I came in the door, close to 9 pm, husband and child were absent and the pots were smoking cigarettes after copulating yet again with the pans. 

There were two options at this point. 

1) He said he would do the dishes, so we will now commence with war of stalemate. The dishes will continue their unfettered amorous ways. He (or she) who cracks first and actually does the dishes loses. 

2) I do the damn dishes. I lose the battle, possibly the whole war. 

I quickly devised Option 3: do the dishes. Lose this battle. Then, revenge. 

I do the dishes. Husband and child return. Child is safely tucked into bed. I change into pajamas and quietly peruse a library book. Time passes. 

Around 11, husband comes upstairs to begin his bedtime preparations. I saunter over to him and nonchalantly say, “Guess what I have?”

He is only mildly interested. “Not pinkeye again, I hope.”

I sidle up along side him, touching his arm, deepening my voice, trying to be as seductive  as one can possibly be while wearing thermal pajamas. “Guess what I have,” I purr. 

He is intrigued. Clearly I have been inspired by the licentious dishes. He lets me take him by the arm and lead him to the bed. He lies down. I curl up alongside him and unbutton his shirt, dispensing little kisses along the way. “Guess what I have,” I whisper in his ear. He is grinning in anticipation. 

Cold feet, mothafuckaaaa!,” I jubilantly yelp as the heat-seeking missiles of frozen hamburger meat  activate and immediately hone in on their bare bellied target. They clamp on like barnacles, toes wiggling wildly to amplify the effect. 

 I have been struggling to find the proper words to describe the result. It was somewhere between a squeak and a screech, with distinct tones of surprise, anguish, and betrayal. It was the sort of noise Mickey Mouse would make if he happily went to work, suddenly realized he forgot Toodles or whatever, and returned to the Clubhouse, only to find Minnie in a compromising position with Donald Duck.


I didn’t say anything, no explanation or apology. But now, as I write this, I have the perfect punchline. As he was yowling, I should have said, “you know what they say. Revenge is a dish best served…. Cold.” 

And then I would drop the mic, put on my sunglasses, and drive off on a motorcycle of flames and victory. 

So that’s our life. How’s yours?

*While writing this, I realized I had no idea how to properly pluralize more than one Rose of Sharon bush. A spirited debate ensued on Facebook. The concensus seems to be “Rose of Sharon bushes.” I think my way is better though so I’m sticking to it. 


Three Little Words

12 Sep

It’s past 2 am on a Friday night (Saturday morning?). I should be in bed, asleep. But I can’t. It’s not Kenny’s snoring (although that’s partly the reason). It’s not the caffeinated water I mistakenly drank before bedtime (although that might be a contributing factor). No, it’s something else that’s keeping me up tonight, and has been for a while. It’s endless thoughts on the power of language, of words, of three little words in particular that have ignited a firestorm here in my community and in my heart.

Three words that, on their own and without any context, should be self-explanatory and non-controversial.

Three words that have brought hate and harm to the people I love.

Three words that I completely agree with.

Black. Lives. Matter.

If you’re already firing off any angry comment or unfriending me, I’m guessing you wouldn’t listen to the rest of what I have to say anyway. But I urge you to hold off, stick around, read a bit, and just listen.

It’s been explained before, many times, and by people a lot more eloquent than I. The New York Times and, surprisingly, Cosmo, have the best, clearest articles I could find.

I thought this was a straightforward thing. It’s simple – Black Lives Matter. It’s not that white lives, or brown lives, or any other kinds of lives don’t matter. And by saying it, I’m not saying I don’t support or even love the police officers in my family or in my community. Due to my job, I work with a LOT of cops. And I love them. They have an incredibly hard, often thankless, job.

All I’m trying to say when I say Black Lives Matter is just that: Black. Lives. Matter.

So, if you pay attention to the news in Chicago, you can imagine how this week has been for me.

Small explanation: I am a resident of two worlds. I am a member of St. Linus parish and the proud parent of a fourth-grade Hawk. I try to make it to mass as often as I can, and usually every Sunday. But I also, until recently, proudly served on the Board of the Beverly Unitarian Church. I try to take Daniel to the Sunday School there as often as I can. I was raised in both worlds, and I think it’s good for him to be exposed to both, too.

Sadly, too many time commitments and my desire to commit more fully to St. Linus caused me to resign my membership on the BUC board, so I missed the discussion and the decision to place those three little words on our church’s electronic sign.

But I did get to witness the firestorm of criticism and hate that erupted online. Before they were deleted, I saw threats made against our children. That would, by definition, include my son.

Think about the insanity of that for a second. My child’s life has been threatened because of three simple words on an electronic sign. The hate, the misinformation has spread so far and runs so deep that my son, and other innocent children, are threatened because they attend Sunday School at a church that had three words on its electronic sign for less than a week. Words that were meant to be a sign of solidarity, of support, of inclusion, have instead drawn ire and threats of violence. I’ve seen people characterize participants in the black lives matter movement as ‘thugs.’ Who’s the real thug here: the suburban mom trying to raise her child with diversity and an open mind, or those who threaten to harm that child over words on a sign?

Three words: I am sad.

Three words: I am angry.

Four words: How can I help?

Four words: What can I do?

I recognize that I come from a position of privilege. That my struggle is, in the larger picture, insignificant. But I struggle for meaning, for change, for something positive to contribute.

And all I have to give are words.

Three words: Black Lives Matter.

Two words: I’m listening.

One word: Love.

Forcing Friendships

26 Aug

Sorry for not updating in a while – I spent all my writing energy in those last two posts and quickly ran out of good stories to tell. I’m trying to think of more memorable moments to share, but I can’t promise that they’ll be nearly as entertaining as those two. 

In the meantime….

Today was Daniel’s first day at a new school. We transferred him mainly to have him closer to home in the hopes that he would make more friends in the neighborhood. It went well enough this morning – we actually left the house on time – and the drop off was drama free. For the rest of the day, I was on pins and needles at work, anxiously waiting for the phone call as to how it went. So when I saw my mom’s cell calling, I jumped on it like a duck on a bug.

Unfortunately, it was hard to hear what was going on over the crying.

It’s got to be the worst feeling as a parent – when there’s nothing you can do for your kid to make it better.

Granted, Daniel tends to focus on the negative, and so his report should be taken with a grain of salt. But he said none of the kids would talk to him, that they acted like he wasn’t there, and, even more upsetting, the teacher expects them to read and write cursive.

The cursive thing I can work on at home. The kids? I can’t fix that for him.

And it’s not that I haven’t tried. When we finally decided on transferring, I reached out to the local moms groups on facebook and asked if anyone would be willing to meet up. Some very nice and friendly moms responded, and one organized a meetup at a local park for fellow fourth graders.

But I can only do so much. When we got to the park, Daniel did not interact much with the other kids at all, saying he preferred to play by himself. Nerves? Shyness? Anxiety? By the end of the playdate, he was playing with some of the other kids, but I was anxious the whole time. Why doesn’t he approach the other kids? Why doesn’t he fit in?

I wish I could direct the movie of his life. I’d write a thoughtful, heartwarming, uplifting script. I’d cast kind hearted people as both supporting players and lead roles. I’d make sure it had a happy ending. But I have to accept the fact that, at best, I’m a character in his drama, not the director.

The reality is, you can’t make friends for your kid, any more than you can force people to be friends with you. It has to happen naturally, and it takes time. You can’t force connections, you can only put yourself out there and hope for the best. But what do you do if your kid doesn’t even want to put themselves out there? And what do you do when you’re worried that your kid will never fit in, thanks to his ‘issues’?

I didn’t mean for this to be so negative or depressing. I was hoping that I would have a “Daniel transferred and everything is going to be perfect!” update. But life just doesn’t work that way. I have to sit back and let the movie happen.

He’s a pretty handsome leading man, if I do say so myself. 

In other news….

We celebrated the last days of freedom by going to the beach. I insisted on slathering sunblock all over Daniel. He squirmed and fidgeted and yowled like an angry cat. Exhausted, I put the sunblock aside and watched him frolic in the waves.

Guess who’s now sunburned all over the right side of her body – and not at all on her left. 




Who the eff did I marry?

22 May

This post is because, earlier this week, I did something that caused Ken to look at me with his wonderful baffled expression and say in his most astonished voice, Who are you? Now, if only I could remember what it was that I did.

I don’t care how long you dated, or how many years you lived together before hand. It doesn’t matter if you’ve known each other for a really really long time. The amount of time you’ve spent together ahead of time makes no difference. At some point in your marriage, you will look at your spouse, and say to yourself, “Who is this?!”

It’s part of a larger question: How well can we really, truly know another person? We can spend as many hours with them as possible, we can tell them every secret about ourselves, but when will we truly know each other? Can we really predict how they will act, or react, in every possible situation and scenario? Can we really know everything that’s happened in the play of their lives before we stepped on the stage?

No, no we can’t. And both my husband and I discovered this on our honeymoon.


The best part of this photo is either my wicked sunburn or the very romantic trash can.

We spent a couple days in Mazatlan, Mexico. We swam in the pool, walked along the beach, went out drinking, and I went snorkeling and busted my knee on some coral while Ken wisely stayed behind on the beach drinking rum. It turns out that, aside from drinking and swimming, there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot to do in Mazatlan. We walked around the downtown area and saw the cathedral, we signed up for a day jaunt into the mountains and countryside, and kept swimming and drinking (at the same time, thanks to the hotel’s swim-up bar).

And then came the moment. The moment of surprise, the moment of truth, the moment of brief fear as Ken worried to himself, “Who the hell did I just marry?”

The moment was the result of the culmination of several factors. 1) There’s not a lot to do in Mazatlan. 2) There’s a really sad aquarium in Mazatlan. 3) To attract visitors, the aquarium advertised “An adventure you’ll never forget!”: getting into the shark tank to feed the fish. 4) The shark tank guy spoke no English. 5) I speak no Spanish. 6) I did not understand the instructions. 7) My name [Sheilah] is not easily pronounceable in Spanish, so I told the guy my name was Cecilia. He would then say something and shout Cecilia! followed by what I assume was pay attention, for God’s sake! as I looked around for who he could possibly be addressing.

And, the culmination, the tingle of panic and fear for Ken: I got in the shark tank anyway, handing him my camera and flippantly disregarding any safety precautions and all common sense. As he watched his new wife go down into the water, Ken wondered just what, exactly, he was getting into as well.

Exhibit 1: Crazy Person.

Exhibit 1: Crazy Person.

A few days later, we were walking along the main strip in Mazatlan to try to find a restaurant, when I had my moment of “Who the hell did I just marry?” There was the requisite wonderment, surprise, and even more fear and panic. Again, the moment was brought about by several factors.

1) I do not speak Spanish and I am not half-Mexican. Ken does and is. 2) In the US, no one thinks Ken is Mexican. In Mexico, everyone thinks Ken is Mexican. 3) I decided I wanted authentic mariachi music on my honeymoon. 4) Our hotel did not offer mariachi music, but claimed a restaurant “just down the street” did. 5) We did not think it would be a long journey, so we walked instead of taking one of Mazatlan’s ubiquitous former-golf-carts-now-taxi-cabs.

As we walked northbound along the street, a paneled van heading southbound slowed as it approached us, and the sliding door on the passenger side began to open, revealing quite a few men inside. That was when Ken pushed me to the side, and angry words were exchanged in Spanish. I have no idea what was said by either party.

And when I asked my new husband “What was that all about?!” he insisted, “Oh, nothing.” Did they want to kidnap us? Did they want to give us directions? Were they a rogue mariachi band in disguise? I’ll never know. But that nonchalant “Oh, nothing” was what stood out at the time. Here I was having visions of death and despair, and was now shaking in my flip flops, while my husband was able to straighten his shoulders, move along down the road, and think nothing of it.


Exhibit 2: Crazy person.

So we both discovered a lot on that honeymoon. We explored Mazatlan and the surrounding countryside. We found out that we really like rum and Pacifico beer (separately). We learned that it takes a lot of sunscreen for me to not get sunburned, that “shark” in Spanish is “tiburon”, and that you really should take taxis everywhere.

And we found out that the person we had just married, that we had yoked ourselves to for the rest of our lives, was crazy. And no amount of dating, living together, sharing our souls with each other, had quite prepared us for that fact. I think we’re both still recovering from the shock.

So, when it happens to you, and you find yourself looking at your spouse wondering who the hell that person is, be thankful, because at least you didn’t discover it while your spouse is about to tempt death in a fiberglass cage, or defeat death at the hands of rogue mariachis.

Open Mic and Mr. Dynamite

29 Apr

I have good – no, great news. I have now rocked TWO open mic sessions of South Side Story Club []

Last week, Tues the 21st, I told my favorite personal story of all time – the Demon of Seduction. And I didn’t expect to tell another story for a while. But I got a notification that there was going to be an extra South Side Story Club this month. With little time to prepare, this is what I said. It’s all true.

I got short notice that there was going to be an extra South Side Story Club this month. I wasn’t sure if I should sign up for one of the open mic slots, since I didn’t have a story ready. But the universe must have heard my deliberation and said, “Ah, I’ll fix that problem. I’ll give her a story to tell.” And so here I am [Story Club South Side, 4/28/15], ready to talk about Mr. Dynamite, Butters, and the single greatest expression of passive aggressiveness I have ever been privileged to witness.

Of course, today started out normal, as most days do, with no hints of the insanity to come. I never do get advance warnings of impending crazy times until it’s too late. I had the day off work, my friend Kristi had a washer and dryer she wanted to get rid of. She offered to sell them to me, and sweetened the deal by offering to find a mover for me. Done! Sold! The mover, Chuck, called me Monday night and we arranged to meet at Kristi’s old apartment at 9:30 the next morning. Kristi said she had agreed on a fee of $75 when she talked to Chuck. However, Chuck was now complaining that it was too low, given the mileage and gas involved. “Oh,” I said, “I was planning on giving you a tip too.” Chuck then demanded a fee of $100 in cash. I quickly texted the update to Kristi. She said it was fine, and gave me the cash and the key.

I never know how much time to allot myself for traffic, and I’m always either horrendously early or embarrassingly late. I left my home in Oak Lawn at 8:00 a.m. and was already at Belmont Harbot by 9. I parked and walked along the lakefront to kill time. As you hopefully know, it was gorgeous this morning – not a cloud in the clear blue sky. I watched the glassy green water slap up against the rocks on the shore. It was just me, and some fishermen, and some… fish. Dying. Flopping around in their death throes there on the concrete. No omen necessary – crazy times are clearly here. I fled to my car, disturbed but undaunted.

At least I got a few good photos before I left.

At least I got a few good photos before I left.

Dying fish not pictured.

Dying fish not pictured.

I arrived at Kristi’s apartment in plenty of time. One of the other residents in the building has a free-range cat named Butters, which is really the perfect name for this cat. He is fat, very orange, and both affectionate and very stubborn. Attempts to turn Butters into an indoor cat failed miserably as he chewed through the window screens. He meowed hello to me, happy for company.

No sign of Chuck, so I sat on the back deck, enjoying the sunshine. Butters approached me and started rubbing against my leg. Maybe he smelled the fish? No, hang on, no, he’s…. he’s definitely humping my leg. I thought only dogs did that, but no, Butters was actively proving me wrong. I picked him up and off my leg – no easy feat given his claws – and let him settle in my lap as I called Chuck. It was now well past 10 and I had places to be.

Butters purred loudly in my ear, now trying to hump my face as I patiently explained to Chuck that HOLLYWOOD and HOWARD are completely different streets. [This makes more sense to Chicago/Evanston residents.] As I sat in Edgewater, getting violated by Butters, Chuck was tootling around Evanston, possibly even Skokie.

The wonder that is Butters.

The wonder that is Butters.

I got Chuck turned around and on the right path. I waited a bit, then went down to the corner to flag down Chuck.

He almost drove past me, and it was with dread that I realized that no, that was his van. The green, beat up Aerostar that looked like it was being held together with duct tape, chicken wire, and prayers. The van with a large number of decals on the back, including Calvin pissing on union “scabs”, and, in huge letters, “Mr. Dynamite.”

I took Chuck to the laundry area, showed him the washer and dryer. He promptly declared that this was a 2 man job. Silently cursing, I did my best to make it a 1 man, 1 woman job, but it quickly became clear that I was going to be useless in getting the appliances into the van. Chuck then recruited a rather stunned and nervous alley picker to help. I slipped the random alley guy the $10 I had initially set aside as Chuck’s tip, and he scuttled off like a nervous crab.

I then gave Chuck explicit instructions on where to go. I found a scrap of paper and wrote down the insanely easy instructions – 55 to Cicero, to State, to Central. Super easy, right?

As I started driving home, I called my husband Ken from the car (Bluetooth enabled car, ease off CPD). I asked Ken to meet me at home – Chuck was raising all kinds of red flags for me. Ken sighed heavily, clearly a martyr to his wife’s paranoia.

I got home in time to crate the dog, face down the glowering Kenny, and to sit on the back porch and wait. And wait. And wait some more. I called Chuck again. Despite the ridiculously easy, handwritten instructions, he was lost. Again, unaware that CENTRAL is a completely different street from CENTRAL PARK. [Side note: I can’t figure out how on earth he got on Central Park from my directions.]

Ken now understood that my concerns were legitimate. He declared that Chuck could leave the washer and dryer in our garage, but would not be setting foot in our house. Chuck finally arrived, and with Ken’s help, unloaded the appliances into our garage, where I can’t wait to do my laundry!

I got a Gatorade from our kitchen and went to pay Chuck with the cash Kristi gave me. Chuck asked how much I was giving him. I told him – $100. He got angry and asked where his promised tip was. I told him – with the rando from the alley. Chuck got really angry now and started complaining that the job was worth way more than that and should have taken two people and I should have had the money for two people and so on. I didn’t engage – especially since the ‘two people’ ended up being Ken and I wasn’t about to pay my husband. I told Chuck to talk to Ken. “I’d rather deal with your husband,” Chuck sneered as I brushed past him into the house.

A few minutes later, Ken slammed into the house. Apparently Chuck was refusing to leave without an additional 20 dollars. [I found out later that he initially refused to leave without $200 in cash but Ken shot that down pretty quick.] Ken asked if I had cash, but I had none. Chuck refused to take a check.

I was about to call the police but it was time for the greatest act of passive-aggressiveness ever. Ken went upstairs and returned grimly clutching two Tootsie Roll banks. “Do you have any cash?” he confirmed with me, and I silently handed over two singles. I then watched my husband sloooowly count out eighteen dollars. In CHANGE. He asked for a Ziploc bag and the Gatorade, steeled his shoulders, and, supplies in hand, marched out to battle Chuck.

I don’t know what was said, only that Ken returned from battle with the Gatorade and no Ziploc bag. I commented on the Gatorade’s presence. Ken sat it down and solemnly informed me, “Chuck said, ‘Fuck your Gatorade.’”

“Well that’s just…” I didn’t get to finish my sentence. Ken was already gathering up his briefcase, ready to return to work.

And suddenly, I got it. The images from the day then coalesced into a final, larger picture. The dying fish, horny Butters, the decals on the van, the Tootsie Roll banks, the rejected Gatorade – all combined to make a portrait of a noble, brave husband slaying the dragon that was Mr. Dynamite.

Edited to Add:


Failures of Various Kinds

17 Apr

Despite my courageous and noble post last month, I did not actually make it to Story Club to share my story. A last minute emergency prevented me from going. It was a bitter disappointment, especially since I had already written and rehearsed my story. The theme that month was “She Blinded Me With Science!” and so I wrote whatever came into my head about science until it coalesced into a story. Since I did not get to share it with a live audience, I thought I would share it here. It still needs a better ending (I think), but here it is.

Science was always my worst subject.

I never made it past the classroom phase of our Chicago Public School’s Science Fair in all three years of trying. The first year, sixth grade, I accidentally left my posterboard at home. I ran back for it in tears, desperately trying to reach it in time, only to discover when I got to my front door that it was my sister’s day with the latchkey. Now late and posterboard-less, I slowly walked back to school, choking back tears and my pride.

I was supposed to be at the top of everything academically. Not the best, necessarily, but definitely at the top. Unrealistic expectations and pressures suddenly materialize when you skip a grade. You are supposed to get straight A’s, win the classroom if not the school wide Geography and Spelling Bees, any and all writing contests, and you certainly should be representing your homeroom in the next level of the science fair – the gymnasium round – with the kids who studied moldy bread and made working doorbells.

This pressure did not come from any teacher, school administrator, fellow student, or even my parents. It all came from inside myself, and I was my harshest critic. I had to be more than smart – I had to justify skipping a grade. I had to silence the doubts of my peers and the even louder internal voice that constantly questioned the decision I had not made, saying “Are you sure you’re that smart?”

That first year of the Science Fair, I thought the answer was yes. With my teacher’s approval, I selected an experiment on genetics out of the textbook. I actually enjoyed the research for my paper, discussing Mendel with his peas and the elegant logic of Punnett squares. My actual experiment consisted of comparing my traits with my parents. I’m not sure how that proved anything, except that none of us could curl our tongues. As I started constructing my poster, doubt started to creep in. What if my experiment wasn’t good enough? What if I wasn’t as smart as everyone thought I was?

And so it was with a very heavy heart that I returned to school without my posterboard, knowing that I was immediately eliminated from competition. I dried my eyes and gave the best presentation I could without my painstakingly crafted tri-fold posterboard. I saw the pity in the judges’ eyes as they took in the pale face with every freckle standing out, the red and swollen eyes, and the glaringly empty desk. They sympathetically gave the best marks they could, but with no posterboard, I had no shot at a spot in the gym.

As miserable as I was – all that research for nothing – I quickly managed to find the bright side. I had missed the gym, but not through a lack of hard work or a lack of smarts. It’s not that my project wasn’t good enough – rather, it was cruel fate that put the latchkey in my sister’s backpack, separating me from my beautiful poster and keeping me from truly competing. The fact that I forgot the poster in the first place was quickly ignored. Instead, I absolved myself of all guilt and sorrowfully told my parents and myself that I would have made it further if only it had been my day to carry the key.

I was good at feigning disappointment, and my parents were impressed with how stoically I accepted defeat, and presumably learned the lesson about responsibility. But inside, I was rejoicing. I had found a loophole. If I had made it out of the classroom round and into the gym, I might have suffered humiliation and defeat, my project might not have been good enough. But by leaving behind a vital part of the project – through no fault of my own – I had placed the matter out of my hands. If I didn’t make it to the next round, it wasn’t because I wasn’t smart. It was just fate. The day after the science fair, I already knew my plan for the next year.

In seventh grade, I dutifully selected a worthy topic- how earthworms respond to stimuli. I researched the anatomy and behavior of earthworms. I kept my live bait in the fridge in a Chinese take-out container. My worms submitted themselves to my poking and prodding them in an old Baker’s Square pie tin. Again, the experiment didn’t prove anything – unless you count the discovery that, when sufficiently provoked, an earthworm can actually jump out of a pie tin.

As I tortured my worms, I also planned my sabotage. My first plan was to kill the earthworms by accidentally placing them in the freezer half of our fridge. But my casual question to my teacher as to what would kill earthworms aroused her suspicion, and she told me live earthworms were not necessary for the remainder of the project. I knew it would raise even more suspicion to forget my poster again and so I searched for another plan.

Once again, I constructed the requisite tri-fold posterboard, composed a research paper, drew up a speech – and left the materials at home. The pie tin, the instruments of worm torture – mysteriously, none of them made it to school with me the day of the Fair. Again, they were a vital part of the scoring system and I did not advance.

I cheerfully explained to my teacher and classmates and parents that no, I was not disappointed. It wasn’t my fault you see – alas! I had forgotten my materials at home! The melodramatic forehead clasping definitely raised more eyebrows and suspicions, and I knew that the ruse was up.

And so, in 8th grade, I did not plan any sabotage. I rejected the doorbell making project suggested by my teacher as far too difficult and decided to formulate my own experiment. It was based on one I had read in a book – a Babysitter’s Club Book, to be precise. The fact that an 8 year old character was performing the experiment should have been a sign, but I liked the project because I thought it was original and I knew it would be easy to carry out. And so I bought plants and studied how music affected their growth rates. One got classical music, one got the oldies station, and one got silence. None grew appreciably more than the others, though I think the classical plant had an eighth of an inch on the other two.

I brought everything to the classroom fair – posterboard, plants, research paper. I was ready to finally join my peers in the gym. And yet, I didn’t make it past the classroom round. My project was deemed “too easy for an 8th grader.” I had cheated myself without even knowing it. Apparently, there’s more to Science Fair success than bringing your materials and your posterboard. Apparently, you’re supposed to challenge yourself, to actually learn something, and you probably should not take your experiment from a children’s book, and a poorly written one at that.

It was a bitter pill to swallow. I couldn’t blame my failure on conscious sabotage. And I couldn’t even comfort myself with “Oh well, I tried my hardest.” I knew damn well where that experiment came from. And yet, I still found my loophole. I told myself, “Well, everyone knows – science is my worst subject.”

The next Story Club is this Tuesday. I’m going to try again, and bring all my materials this time.


Stepping Up

18 Mar

Once again it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Not only has life been really busy, but I haven’t had anything interesting to report. I haven’t stopped writing though: I joined a small group through my church dedicated to sharing our stories.

Our first assignment was to write about a time we felt powerless. I wrote a short piece about the first few days after Daniel was born. (I’m happy to share it in a separate post if anyone is interested.) The piece was [is?] very short, coming in at about 4 and a half pages, double spaced.

Our second assignment was to take our first story and relate it to one of a few larger themes. I chose: how does our powerlessness relate to and interact with our spirituality? We were to write longer, more in depth pieces, and two people would share each week. I was the last to get the sign up sheet and so I ended up being the first to share.

It was a complicated and difficult question to answer. The story started from before I was born, worked through my childhood and religious upbringing, then tackled the major crises in my life.

I started pouring them out in my journal and couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to miss an important one. I ended up scribbling until one in the morning. And yet I still never even touched on my depression and I didn’t cover all the issues. Exhausted, I put it aside anyway.

I waited a week to go back to it and start typing it up. To my shock and, frankly, horror, it was 8 pages. Single spaced. I sent a frantic and apologetic email. I didn’t know where to begin cutting it down but it seemed unwieldy now, my raw emotions and experiences spilling out over that many pages.

The minister kindly replied, “Wow! That was a story that needed to be told!” She said to maybe pare it down some, but not to worry too much about it.

And so I tinkered – and deleted – and edited – and edited – and edited some more. Still not satisfied but out of time, I printed it out and I shared it.

No one complained about the length. No one criticized the content. I laid my unweildy creation -and myself – out on the table (not literally!), and I was rewarded with acceptance and praise.

So now comes the stepping up. I love to write but I am paradoxically afraid of sharing. Every time I write a blog post, I quell the accompanying anxiety by assuring myself that the posts only go out to a small audience, and certainly not face to face.

Every month, I get an invite on Facebook to participate in South Side Story Club – a live performance of written pieces by accomplished authors, with open mic slots afterward.

Every month, I think to myself, “Wow, I’d love to do that. But I’m not good enough. I don’t have anything good to say.”

This month was different. This month I rsvp’d yes. This month (next Tuesday!), I will try to sign up for one of the open mic slots. And I will try to read without blushing, crying, or running away in sheer terror. I’m not afraid of the crowd – I’m afraid of not being good enough. Of not being as good as I like to think I am sometimes. Of not being funny enough, or interesting enough, or talented enough.

Further complicating things is I don’t know what to read. Not the spiritual piece – too personal and too long. Do I pick something I’ve written before? This months topic is Science – do I write something new in that vein? Or do I write a brand new piece entirely in the hope that it’s not perfect for a later months topic?

Time will probably end up making the decision for me. And I may not even get an open mic slot – I’ve never gone before so I don’t know how hard it is to get one. But no matter what, I will keep writing, keep sharing, and hope for the courage to be as good as I think I am.

I like to end with a picture or two so here you go:

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