Head vs. Heart

If you tell someone you have a headache, they might offer you a pain reliever, a glass of water or some quiet time.

Tell someone you have a heartache, and they want to know why.

You can’t say, “I don’t feel like going to the county fair today; I have a  heartache.” You can’t bow out of social engagements, leave work early, get a cool cloth and a dark room, or any of the other benevolence that’s bestowed on the sufferer of a headache.

If you say you have a headache, people will nod and leave you alone. Maybe offer you a decongestant if it’s allergy season.

But the heart. If you say your heart is hurting, people want to know why. They want to unearth every permutation of sadness that resides within you, pull it out like a mutated earthworm and examine it as it wriggles and writhes under the light of day. People want you to vomit out your inner turmoil so they can poke a stick in it and see what it tells them about you, like a demented shaman poking a gnarled finger into the guts of an eviscerated chicken.

There are times when your heart just aches, and there’s not a thing anyone can do about it. You just have to ride it out. The trigger isn’t a specific incident, you’re just fucking sad. Like a cold, you have to let the sadness run its course, because there’s no inoculation against it, no old-timey home remedies for it.

Believe it or not, there are some people who don’t want your sympathy, because they don’t have any idea what to do with it. Explaining the cause of their grief is a task so enormous and complex–full of short turns, sharp stops, complete reversals and apparent contradictions–that they don’t have a starting place to make it easily digestible for the people outside of their head.

Other people don’t want your sympathy because it smells and feels and sounds and tastes like condescension. They’d rather cut off their hand than be viewed as someone in need.

Or maybe they just don’t want to hear your armchair diagnosis of depression. As if being sad isn’t acceptable, isn’t serious enough to meet your standards, and their lack of response must have a clinical and treatable cause.

I am not depressed.

I do not have a headache.

I am sad.


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Jaws is 40 Years Old?

How can that be? I remember seeing it in the theater—when I was 11 years old. And I haven’t been comfortable going more than ankle-deep in the ocean since then. Give me an inflatable raft and I feel disturbingly like a canapé.

I recently saw the new Melissa McCarthy movie, Spy, with my womens. (Oh, by all means, see it. See it now. See it more than once.) While we were watching the previews, there was an announcement for a fortieth anniversary showing of Jaws on the big screen.

Things 1 and 2 and I had been planning on taking Joe to see Jurassic World for Father’s Day. (Because nothing says I love my daddy like CGI dinosaurs and Chris Pratt.) But I had to suggest we see Jaws instead. Joe and I had seen it on the big screen originally, but Thing 2 had only seen it on the small screen and Thing 1 had never seen it at all.

I didn’t insist. I made the suggestion and let them discuss. For the three seconds it took them to decide on Jaws.

A short intro from AMC preceded the film. We learned about Spielberg’s intent, the mishaps with the mechanical sharks, and the film’s place in cinematic history. Whatevs. I clutched my Coke Zero and watched wide-eyed as that first young women ran down the beach, shucked off her clothes and dove into the ocean, shortly to become the first casualty.

Holy cow, that movie really holds up.

There is no time for your attention to wander. There’s no wondering what the happy hell the film maker was thinking. The story moves quickly and never puts a foot wrong, never gives you a moment that pulls you out of that story. There’s probably a fishing metaphor lurking here, one about hooking you fast and reeling you in. If you’re inclined to fishing metaphors, which I am not.

The jump scares? I still jumped. Joe didn’t, but he’s a stoic. The Things and I were pulling our feet up in involuntary, full-body flinches, although we didn’t shriek. Keep in mind—I’ve seen this movie. More than once. I knew how everything was going to work out. And I still jumped.

We also talked a lot about the movie’s balance of humor with horror. Sometimes physical, sometimes a one-liner, the small moments of levity bleed off the tension just enough so you’re relaxed again before the next encounter with the shark. Quint’s, “Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.” Hooper’s, “I got no spit.” And Brody’s “Come on down here and chum some of this shit” immediately before the shark pops up out of the water? The best of both worlds.

Compared to today’s movies, it almost seemed like a documentary. The beach scenes? All those people looked like folks you’d really find on the beach. They were young and old, thin and fat, a great panoply of humans. The main characters? Their hair blew in the wind, they squinted, they didn’t try to hide their wrinkles, and they looked like regular people. Not coiffed and tweezed and photo-shopped into mannequins.

The major difference between seeing the movie on the big screen in 1975 and seeing it there today? When Brody fires that last shot, “Smile, you son of a bitch,” and the shark blows up, nobody in the theater today cheered and clapped.


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Shining On

My friend DeAnna exerts a strange sort of influence over what I read. In a similar manner, so does Bob Spiller.

Because of a remark by DeAnna, I’m rereading The Shining. In fact, I’m rereading the Shining so that I may immediately reread Dr. Sleep after I finish, to see how the books hold up when read in order. (Bonus: The Shining is on the list of top 100 horror novels that DeAnna and Shannon and I are working our way through.)

First of all, King tells you in the first 20 pages or so exactly what’s going to happen in the rest of the book. I can’t figure out if I knew that the first time I read it. But this time? All I could think was, how does he get away with this? Because it works. This is a scary book. Even though I’ve read it more than once, I’m still completely gripped by the story and how it unfolds.

Of course, I’m reading it now as a parent. I’m wondering why the wife didn’t haul her happy ass out the shed herself to see if there was a snowmobile out there. I hate her back story of subordinating her life and her personality to be part of her man’s life, even though it rings so true.

King neatly sets these people up as isolated, without support beyond their little family unit. Then he builds on that from every freaking angle. The isolation of being in the mountains, amplified by the weather. The loss of contact with the outside world, and nobody out there seems to care or want to look in on them.

The demon of alcoholism–you have to wonder how much of King’s own life colored his writing here. I hope for his sake, and the sake of his family, that this is his worst nightmare, that this is his imagination taking him to the sickest, saddest, darkest place he could conjure up, poking it with his writing like your tongue pokes a sore spot on your gum, knowing you can make it worse but at the same time not really wanting to. It makes me wonder–do all alcoholics see their drinking as not their fault?

I also wonder if this novel could be written today. For a large number of people, the answer would be an automatic no, because they’d cite the use of computers and cell phones and internet. And yet, I know there are places in Estes Park, where the Stanley Hotel that inspired this novel sits, where you can’t get cell phone service. Heck, I live in the middle of a city–in a cell phone dead spot. So for me, the bones of the story stand strong.

For me, the story is working on two levels. One, the supernatural side of things, and insidious way the spirit of the hotel is seeping into Jack’s brain and taking it over like mold on a soft, ripe cheese, sending hairy, feathered veins deep into the center. Then there’s the cold and the isolation, physical and mental players that don’t need a single ghost to do their worst and creep me out. The family dynamics are also chilling as you watch these two adults fight against turning into what they hated most about their own parents. It’s never said outright, but you can feel Jack thinking about his drinking in the light of, “Hey, my dad was a drunk and I turned out okay.”

But did you, Jack? Even without the Overlook, could you have stayed the course of sobriety, conquered your temper and finished your play? Sure, the demons outside Jack’s head are worse than the personal demons he carries around with him already, but just barely.

For me, this is a proper horror novel and well deserves its spot on the top 100 list.


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Happy Mother’s Day

How to pack for a cool, rainy Mother’s Day weekend:

1 novel, 2 graphic novels, 1 cooking magazine

Flannel pajamas

Fuzzy socks

Favorite hoodie

Tea bags and honey

Sweats, top and bottom

Extra socks

Tablet, for extra reading material, just in case


Conference Recovery Kit

Snow boots

What NOT to pack:

Work phone


Anything that needs to be critiqued

High heels


Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms I know, and to all the women who make a positive impact in this world, whether they’re doing it for their children or for other people’s children. Happy Mother’s Day to the grannies, the aunties, the cousins, and the BFFs. Remember that not all moms get to sip mimosas and nosh on bacon sandwich on Mother’s Day. If you can’t hug your own mother, hug someone else’s. If you can’t pick up the phone and make that call, then send up a good though for the person who birthed you, the person who raised you, and all the women who had a hand in making you the person you are today.

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Leftover Love: Broccoli

I like broccoli.

Sometimes a hunk of teriyaki salmon, a tree of broccoli and some curried rice is just what I need at the end of the day.

Broccoli slaw, I can’t get enough of. I even like that weird salad with the broccoli, raisins and crumbled bacon.

But I’ve been cursed with a child who can’t abide the broc, at least not cooked. What’s a mom to do? When they reach a certain age, there’s no more pitting your will against theirs, because it’s a disturbingly even match.

I used to encounter the same resistance over cauliflower. But then I roasted the little white florets and doused them in buffalo wing sauce. This experiment met with great success, and I’m even asked to include it on our dinner menus. I’m also warned that sneaking pureed cauliflower into mashed potatoes isn’t fooling anyone, and can I please wait until they leave for college before trying that again?

I thought broccoli might benefit from roasting. Doused with some olive oil and minced garlic, roasted at high heat, then sprinkled liberally with lemon juice and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

The author of this particular recipe wrote that she ate it like candy, couldn’t stop eating it.

I’d like to suggest that I could teach her a thing or three about eating candy. Or maybe she had those parents who made dense slabs of carob concoction and called them brownies. Maybe she’s never had real British chocolate from Cadbury, or intense dark chocolate wrapped around luscious caramel and sprinkled with sea salt.

{Momentary pause while I wipe the drool off my keyboard.}

The broccoli was fine. Good, even, although i went a little too heavy on the lemon. But Thing 2? Ate her thank you bite and then politely passed the rest of it to her father.

It did not go down like candy. Nor should it. Broccoli, left on its own, does not have confectionary aspirations.

I understand enthusiasm. I understand that the interweebs, and places like Pinterest, are all about attracting attention to your website.

But please, stop comparing innocent vegetables to candy. You’re just aggravating those of us who love both, and confusing the people who only like one or the other.

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Think Twice About the Youth Symphony

So here’s the whole story of how the Youth Symphony managed to insult both me and my children. Think of it as a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about encouraging their child to audition.

Normally, when the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony wants to disseminate information, they do it with a vengeance. You will get emails, follow-up emails, and reminder emails. You can rarely say that you weren’t warned, no matter what the subject. Tours, rehearsals, raffle tickets, auditions…you can hardly open your email program without a slew of emails from the Youth Symphony.

Except when they don’t.

In January, a youth symphony from another state visited, and there was a combined concert scheduled. We got approximately seven or eight thousand emails about hosting the visiting musicians and the potluck that would happen the night before the concert. I happily made two pans of green chile cheddar potatoes and sent them to the potluck with my daughters.

That was Friday night. On Saturday morning, we realized we didn’t have any concert details, except start time. So my daughter and I went through our emails. The inbox, the trash, the spam folder. If email could be sent there, we opened it up and scoured through it. Nothing.

So the girls packed their uniforms and drove off to the rehearsal. I told Thing 1 to call me and let me know the deal about lunch–was she coming home, going out, it was provided or whatever the case turned out to be.

Things 1 and 2 are 17 and 15, respectively. While neither one is going to perish if they miss a meal, it’s not a good idea to expect teenagers of any sort to go for several hours without eating.

The phone rang. It was Thing 1. On the verge of tears. Which is not USUAL for a dress rehearsal.

What, I inquired, was the problem?

They’d been yelled at for being late. OK, fair enough, the rehearsal was in a new space in a part of town she wasn’t familiar with. We both thought she had left in plenty of time, but apparently not.

But she’d also been reprimanded for not knowing the plan for the day and for not packing a sack lunch.

Not kidding. A supposed “adult” thought that ridicule and sarcasm was the best way to teach these girls a lesson about not reading their email. Never mind that they never got it.

So I said, “Is there someone in charge nearby that I can talk to? You’ve got my car, I can give my permission for you to run out and grab some lunch.”

Remember the reason I asked to speak to someone. To solve the very minor issue of lunch.

The person who my daughter handed the phone to is the Executive Director of the Youth Symphony.

One would suspect that title would mean someone who is accustomed to representing her organization in a professional and thoughtful manner. Perhaps someone who has been dealing with parents for a number of years, and knows how to put their mind at ease in a polite and efficient manner.

One would be wrong.

I rank that phone conversation as probably the single rudest, most insulting phone call of my adult life.

The woman proceeded to talk over me. As in, I was not allowed to finish a single sentence. I wasn’t allowed to ask any questions, either.

I got a bile-filled earful of how thoughtless the Youth Symphony parents are, not to mention lazy, and it’s not her fault that we’re too negligent to read the email we were sent. I believe that time I got out, “But we didn’t get–” before she was off and running again. She told me we DID get it. It was sent on X day by Y person and she told me what it was titled.

While she wasn’t exactly yelling, none of this was in a calm, normal speaking voice, either.

Then she started in on my children, and how irresponsible they are not to read THEIR email, and it’s not her fault that they, too, are lazy and careless.

Dude. WTF doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I’m not generally considered either timid or tongue-tied, but I am not exaggerating when I say I couldn’t get a word in. My husband was at his desk next to me and heard the whole conversation. Because I was holding the phone away from my ear and he COULD hear the conversation.

This woman had been inundated (her word) with emails and phone calls on Friday from other parents just like me, who were too lazy to read their own email and were calling her for the details about Saturday. I needed to quit bothering her and search through my email. I believe at this point she suggested that my email program or my server was at fault. It devolved into her shouting, “You want me to feed your children? Fine, I’m sure we can scrounge together something for them to eat.”

My ears rang from the verbal bitch-slap.

By the way, while the girls were in rehearsal? Two of their directors commented on the fact that so many members didn’t even appear to know there WAS a concert that day.

Immediately after it happened, I contacted the Music Director and told him my husband would like to speak to him.

Because this wasn’t the first time the Youth Symphony had gone out of their way to make me feel like a second class citizen who couldn’t possibly understand the very, very important work they do that ignorant me just writes the very large checks for. When I hung up the phone, I was finished. I’m not washing uniforms, I’m not reminding anyone about important dates, I’m not baking cookies, I’m not writing checks. I’m done. Anything they want from my family, they can now go through my husband.

To his credit, the Music Director called my husband to inquire about what happened.

In response to his request, I wrote him a very polite letter detailing what happened, how I felt, and how it changed the way I see the entire Youth Symphony organization. Because “inspiring leadership” and a “professional environment” are supposed to be major components of the CSYSA’s mission. When a key volunteer’s first response to a question from a musician is to respond sarcastically in a loud and angry tone, they have larger problems than losing one parent supporter. But when shrieking at a parent is an acceptable response? Whoa.

The incident I described here took place two weeks ago. The response I’ve gotten to my letter? I was told I was very clear about expressing how I felt.

And that’s it.

No apology. Not even “We’re sorry there’s been a misunderstanding.” Absolute zero. They know they pissed me off and insulted me. It appears the organization is too large and too important to care about something as insignificant as a member of their board insulting the parent of one of their musicians.

Coincidentally, I sit on the board of another local nonprofit, although not nearly so large as the Youth Symphony. I would be mortified if another board member, or any member representing our organization, thought so little of our supporters or was so incredibly rude.

I understand how hard it is to run a volunteer organization. I understand the frustration of trying to provide information to a lot of different people in as many ways as possible. I’ve made mistakes, others in my organization have made mistakes, but we acknowledge them, we apologize for them, we learn from them and we try to make things right.

I hope I’m never involved with any organization which is too large and too self-important to offer an individual a simple apology.

After all, if you stepped on someone’s toes in a crowded room, would you apologize or would you yell at them for getting in your way? Because it’s pretty clear that the Youth Symphony believes we’re all in their way.

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Are You Fit Enough to Get Fit?

You’ve all seen them. The rubber bracelets are everywhere, tracking our steps, our activity level, our sleep patterns, whether our shoes match our outfits and the weather.

Someone, somewhere, decided that since we’re no longer wearing multiple rubber bracelets exhorting people to Live Strong! or Beat Diabetes or End Zombification, we needed a new reason to wear rubber bracelets.

Personally, I think old Crocs are being recycled to make these fitness trackers. Because do you see anyone wearing Crocs any more? Not so much, right? Where did they all go? Think about it.

So I gave in to the New Year lure of getting more fit, being more active. Optimistic enough to be lauded, vague enough to be virtually unquantifiable. Until you slap that little tattletale on your wrist and start tracking your steps. The one I bought is a Fit Bit, in a lovely shade of pink which could appropriately be called raspberry.

My Fit Bit thinks I’m in a coma. I’m fairly certain it would dial 9-1-1 if it could, and tell them to come resuscitate me.

Between working on the upcoming writers conference (#PPWC2015), writing, email feuds, Pinterest and Facebook, I can spend a lot of time in my uber-comfy, absurdly ergonomic office chair.

But I can always see the pink bracelet, quietly shaming me, ready at a moment’s notice to tell me that geriatric hip replacement patients get more daily exercise than I do.

Because I’m not a total nincompoop, and because I hate wasting money, I decided to allow the device to motivate me. I’ve upped my water intake, because I’m not going to slip into astronaut diapers every morning. More water in means more water out, so I at least have to get up and walk to the bathroom more often.

The other things I’ve started doing is keeping an eye on the clock. If a half-hour passes without me getting up, I lunge to my feet and run up and down the stairs a few times. For a given value of both “lunge” and “run.”

(WARNING: If you have hardwood floor and/or wooden stairs, do not attempt to copy my efforts in your stocking feet. Unless you enjoy full-body contact with a wall, twisting your ankle, or catapulting down the stairs ass over teakettle while your cats mock you.)

(ANOTHER WARNING: If you have cats, you already know they’re going to mock you no matter what. But it’s easier to tolerate if you aren’t bleeding from the ears or weaving in and out of consciousness.)

My goal is to increase my daily steps by a thousand on a weekly basis, until I reach the magic goal of 10,000 a day.

Before you start snickering about how out of shape I am, let me tell you about the second thing my little Fit Bit pal does. It tracks my sleeping patterns.

I am currently ranked at 99% sleep efficiency.

I challenge anyone out there not in a coma to beat that.


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