You may or may not recall that I’ve worked for the unnamed university a really long time. Tomorrow, that really long time becomes 33 years. In an intriguing coincidence, last week there was a meeting in which my department was reorganized and suddenly I didn’t work for Gianna after 21 years. I’m not a crying-in-the-meeting kind of woman, but this was fucking rough.
Welp, funny thing: for about five years, I was bored and asking to learn about particular things, and Gianna granted my requests. Oddly enough, when the department was divided in thirds, I ended up in a purchasing group because I understood how certain kinds of orders functioned. Although I’m like 900 years old, I am actually a toddler in cool shoes, and my being there is practically child labor, so it’s startling anyone lets me play with money.
Note: I do not play with money. I’m too pretty for prison.
This is all to say that though my life with Pete is reasonably stable and happy, the rest of my life is in flux. My mentally ill mother has turned into a racist granny who isn’t sure I should have access to her family’s genealogy information because her paranoia hasn’t reckoned on publicly held information being on Ancestry.com. My father-in-law hasn’t spent much time with Pete and me because his cancer treatment has made the long drives between our houses difficult. It’s just about time to harvest the last of the summer vegetables from the garden and empty most of the small planters and boxes. Even without the influence of political events, I can feel change coming.
I’m having a Be careful what you wish for moment, since I got that, but the finance people also got me. I wonder what they wished for. Was it a co-worker who shows up in pajamas and makes them go outdoors even when it’s raining? Because they are about to get that.
Summer has arrived.
A week ago and a half ago, there was a commotion in my office and a co-worker walked toward my desk with tears in her eyes. I’ve seen this before, but I mumbled, “Why are you crying?” She delivered news and I stood at my desk for a long time, until I sat down and stayed there. If you’ve worked in an office for any length of time, you’ve participated in a scene like this. In this office, some of my co-workers have worked together for thirty and forty years; I’ve been in this department for twenty-odd years. My friend Anne, with whom I’d had a rollicking lunch a week earlier, died unexpectedly. Anne, who appeared on PIC as Mary, often stopped me in my tracks with hilarious and sensible chatter, and unusual requests. I am sorry now I didn’t write down more of our wild conversations because she was truly an original.
This morning, Anne was on my mind when I was up in the attic. In the middle of cleaning cat boxes, I looked up and found the glittery hula hoop Anne gave me following my first hip surgery. I’ve always been terrible with hula hoops, so when Anne turned up with one before my stitches dissolved and said, “Practice,” I almost died laughing.
Years ago, before I really knew her, she asked if her daughter could join me to watch me jarring tomatoes or sauce, I don’t remember which. I lost track of time and forgot. When we next saw each other, she gave me a stern talking-to about agreeing to do something and not following through. After that, I was always careful with specifics. If I was buying Girl Scout cookies from Anne’s daughter, I delivered money on time. If we were having lunch, I was ready at noon. If we were walking through my garden and talking about plants with her daughter for a school project, I was prepared. Because Anne expected me to commit to whatever we were doing with thoughtfulness and equal enthusiasm.
In recent years, her intermittent health problems may have complicated her life, but Anne laughed about them. I sometimes found myself staring at a plate of food while Anne described some awful incident while Anne laughed and laughed. With an inch of distance from whatever annoyed or upset her, Anne made jokes and I howled.
I don’t know exactly what happened, but years ago, Anne decided we would be friends. As an IT professional, she frequently walked through my office, and we worked at making each other laugh, but one day, it was apparent to me she’d decided we’d be real friends. We got up from my cubicle, barged into my supervisor Gianna’s office and started riffing. Gianna was speechless for some time, then blurted, “What is this, a comedy show?” Encouraged, Anne and I fired off one-liners until Gianna threw us out, and she was laughing, too. I will never know why Anne decided we would be friends, but I’m grateful she did.
I will miss her very much.
I’ve been staring at the blank page for some time now. Here, you look at some pancakes:
On Friday morning, Anthony Bourdain died by suicide in France, devastating news in many ways. If you’ve ever suffered depression, you know someone else’s suicide can make you think itchy, uncomfortable thoughts. I won’t go into difficult detail, in case you have suffered depression, but please understand: I know. Also: other people know:
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today we explore the righteous anger of Hole’s 1994 album Live Through This.
Oh boy. Live Through This was the soundtrack for my years-long swan dive into the dark. It completely captured my rage, anguish and inability to make sense of my life.
…for Love, who watched grunge break through to the mainstream only to find that the freedom and rebellion it promised was reserved for her male counterparts. In grunge, men could be scruffy and rude and defy gender norms—they could be rawer than the men modeled in synth-pop music videos or hair metal concerts a few years prior. Women, for all the space afforded them in the subculture’s spotlight moment, might as well have been Lilith.
By then, I was already Lilith, flying off the edge of the earth (that link references Enid Dame, whom I knew and loved.)
The album’s pummeling opener “Violet” baits the ear with a jangling guitar tone cut from the same cloth as R.E.M., and then drummer Patty Schemel churns the song into a fury. “Go on, take everything/Take everything/I want you to,” howls Love, her bitterness oxidized into defiance.
In a second profile of Love, published in 1995, Vanity Fair conducted the first-ever interview with the singer’s mother, the therapist Linda Carroll. “Her fame is not about being beautiful and brilliant, which she is,” Carroll said. “It’s about speaking in the voice of the anguish of the world.” That the anguish of the world would have a female voice was an idea new to the music industry. It’s still new. Love makes a bid for universality on Live Through This in that it’s hard not to get swept up in her energy, but she also acknowledges that female pain is marked, that it is compartmentalized and dismissed because it is felt by women, not people.
Siobhan, between jobs briefly and camping on my couch, saw me come home from a terrible job to a failed relationship in a disastrous living situation, howling this song and remarked, “Oh good, you have an anthem.” Violet was my anthem, but when I lost my home, my memory, my artwork and my man, it didn’t seem incidental that I also lost my singing voice and my ability to write by hand after decades as a prolific journal writer. I lost everything I recognized about me. Essentially, I spent four years in absolute darkness, six years building a new self and a new life, and the last eleven years teaching myself how to learn again, and a new way of living without much of a past.
This morning, I listened to Live Through This to find out how I felt, more than twenty years later. Busy at work, I found there were songs I didn’t remember and songs I wished I’d heard recently. Credit In the Straight World is a fantastic song. I have little idea what the lyrics are about, but I love the jangly, swooping guitar sounds and Love’s voice skimming their surface like a skipping stone. “I don’t really miss God, but I still miss Santa Claus,” from Gutless, for my money, sums up Love’s ambivalence about men and authority figures. God punishes the people He supposedly loves, and giver-of-gifts Santa has no respect for personal boundaries. Either one could have behaved a little better if he tried, but at least Santa leaves presents.
Live Through This was released four days after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. On She Walks On Me, Love sings:
Hold you close like we both died
My ever present suicideMy stupid fuck, my blushing bride
Oh tear my heart out, tear my heart out
She walks over me
Lately, I feel like I get to the end of the day and wonder where the freaking time went. Did I blog? Did I make cat blankets? Did I finally make an appointment with a dentist? Maybe, maybe not. Did I place a grocery order or call my congresscritters? Did I spend enough time with each cat and all the chickens? Did I turn the composter or read a book? Take pictures for the blog or make my breakfast for tomorrow morning? I have so many questions. As I write, Wednesday snores at my right and Drusy is trying to crawl under my laptop. My left ankle is mildly sprained for the hundredth time and it’s no big deal. My job is full of weird palace intrigue, uncertainty and people I love. Two of my closest friends are ill and if my wits had an end, I’d be a mile past that with my thumb out, hoping to hitch a ride home.
It’s time for something different. A change of seasons, a change in the garden, in the animals, in me. I don’t know what will happen. For once, that’s kind of cool.
Today, lots of people are making Seven Layer Dip for a party celebrating a televised spectacle in which enormous grown men beat the crap out of each other and smaller white guys make a mint. Between the misogyny and the dripping testosterone, it’s bad news for women all around, but that’s nothing new. You know what is new? I’m physically able to do stuff all day again.
Perhaps you remember that five years ago, I had hip replacement surgery and made recovering from it my job. I ate with healing in mind. I exercised and did physical therapy with great seriousness while telling jokes for months on end. And then, two years later, I did it again. The physical therapy place should have a wing with my name on it. I felt a million percent better and have gone on with life as if none of that ever happened. Sometimes I forget how limited my life had become, how dealing with pain sapped my energy and strength, how few things I could do in a day because arthritis in my hips made sitting, standing, lying down or anything in between exhausting.
Perhaps you remember my grandson Panky is whip-smart. He has not had it easy with school systems designed to push ordinary kids to graduation day and administrators who are scared of smart kids. One day it dawned on me he should spend time with the smartest kids and adults used to the quirkiness of smart kids. He should go to space camp. Once I thought of it, I began scheming about how I could make that happen.
I would need a part-time job. Then one came to me: the bagel place in which Pete works three days a week needed someone to bake cookies and cakes, mix compound cream cheeses and generally clean for 4.5 hours on Saturdays. I started work five weeks ago. At first, I moved through what I had to do, didn’t think much about it and suddenly, I’d been on my feet for five hours. Five hours! I didn’t know I could do that. And then I did it again the next weekend and the next.
Apparently, I can do that now! But this weekend, I did a few different things. On Friday, I set up croissant dough, because I can! Yesterday, I did the complicated rolling and folding after working at the bagel place. I smoked eggplants in the backyard smoker. Today, Pete and I rolled out and folded pain au chocolat. I whipped up baba ghanouj. We baked off the best pain au chocolat of our illustrious careers, which is to say the last year. This afternoon, Pete and I made breakfast sausage from scratch and stuffed it into natural casings. You should see me standing atop a kitchen ladder, stuffing raw pork into a hopper. Ridiculous! But, even a year ago, I couldn’t have done all this in one day, even with good planning.
Progress in life takes different forms. In my case, progress takes the form of cookies and sausage and space camp. Five years ago, I could not have imagined it.