Counting Closets

As I was dog-sitting for my parents, I found myself contemplating my own mortality. Their house has four bedrooms, an office, a train room, a creepy storage area, a garage, a craft room, and eight closets for potential murderers/robbers/scoundrels of generally evil intent to lurk in…and that doesn’t even account for the four beds available to be hidden under and countless ill-lit corners where small and creative villains could take shelter behind the piles of books, unwrapped Christmas presents, and yarn that make me fear my mother’s potential future as a hoarder. And let’s not even talk about the haunted floorboard of my parents bedroom that has never failed to keep me awake when the house isn’t full of people. Or the freaking garage lights that I keep forgetting are on a timer and therefore make me certain that someone has turned them out the better to sneak up on me.

There’s a memelet circulating on Pinterest that says something to the effect of: “Those of you who check the closets for murderers, if you actually find one, what’s your plan?” My reaction to this is: wouldn’t you like to know? That’s the kind of question that only a serial killer would ask.  Sheesh. Obviously, you don’t spend hours thinking about all the places someone could hide in a house without also thinking about how you would deal with the situation if you did find someone. No, I will not tell you my plan (see above re: my paranoia and the nature of people who ask such questions), but I will tell you this: I spend a lot of time thinking about things like this, so why risk the possibility that my plans are actually practical and brilliant?

There’s a peculiar aspect to my anxiety that might possibly border on being diagnosably problematic, which is that I’m irritatingly convinced the nature of my worry (i.e., what I worry about and how I frame that worry) has an actual impact on the karmic balance of the world. I say “irritatingly” because the rational part of my brain does remind me quite often that there’s not really any conclusive evidence to suggest that that’s true…and also that my worrying logic is spiraling and absurdist.

Take death. I remember vividly a dream about being tied to a kitchen chair in my parents’ house, covered in spiders, and frantically trying to convince my parents that we needed to put out the fire that was slowly growing from a little flame into a roaring blaze while my mother made pickle cake for my Girl Scouts troop. I sometimes wonder if dreams like that are in some small way foretelling my own death…improbable as it may seem that my mother will be baking a pickle cake in a burning house while I die of spider bites, I can’t light a candle in my parents’ house without wondering if this is the flame that will make that fear of the burning house come true. (The spiders were a lot less terrifying than the fire, or more to the point, my parents’ utter lack of concern for the fire–that’s another theme with me, worrying that other people aren’t worried enough about things that worry me.)

Here’s how the death logic goes: I think it’s not very likely that I’ll die as predicted by a dream, because there are many, many ways to die. Then I start thinking about all of the ways I might die and start to get a bit loopy from the immensity of ways the universe is willing to help me shuffle off the ol’ mortal coil. It makes me feel like the reason that death is inevitable is because it’s utterly impossible to worry away each and every possible cause of death. Then I get thinking that I’ve already damned myself from ever having a pleasant, peaceful, boring death because there has to be a limit to how many ways there are to die pleasantly and I’ve probably already worried about them. And then I can’t decide whether it’s a good thing or not that my last thought will probably be, “Huh. I actually didn’t see that one coming.”

Then it occurs to me that plenty people die of boring things all the time, and the human race can’t possibly be so universally boring that all of these people failed to worry about dying of old age at some point in their lives early enough to make a difference. Death is everywhere. It’s impossible to get away with. The first day I spent really working in our house, half of what I was doing was clearly out corpses. Tiny, exoskeletal corpses, but dead bodies all the same. In New England, the roads are constantly speckled by the corpses of animals who might have spent more time worrying about death by tire tread. Even my mother has a picture on her wall of three carrion birds circling a white house. She bought it because she likes birds and rather disagrees with my morbid interpretation, but the black wings in their downward spiral are unmistakable, and I can’t look at that picture and see anything but the smallness of this pale human structure surrounded by the harbingers of death as a metaphor for how small and fragile a time we’re given to build something of worth before death snuffs out our candles whether we worried away the possibility of being stabbed while dog-sitting or not. So how could anyone possibly reach a death by old age without having worried at least once about dying in their sleep?

Then it occurs to me that it might be that the death we worry most about is the one that will claim us, and that thought is just awful because it’s like playing The Game. (I lose.) If you tell someone that they must avoid thinking about the way they would least like to die because thinking about it will ensure that as the method of their death, the only way to know what you shouldn’t think about is to think about it first, and like the only bits of Miss American Pie that everyone knows, there’s no getting rid of the thought once it crosses your mental threshold of awareness.

Just to recap the logic here: you’re damned if you try to worry and damned if you don’t. The only solution to this conundrum is to worry about worrying, to which the logical answer is, “Stop worrying, it’s useless.” My brain’s response to this is almost always, “Oh, and I suppose you don’t want me to think about elephants either now.”

All I can say is that it’s a good thing that John and I bought a house with only five closets.


The Prisons We Carry

The universe is at it again: resonating, like it does. The older I get, the more it seems like moments of resonance deserve my deliberate attention, so here we go. No real soapbox, this time…just words of solidarity and hope, I hope.

I wrote a post not very long ago that ended up veering unintentionally in the direction of the serious and personal, talking about my on-again/off-again relationship with anxiety. I managed to be brave enough to publish the post, but not brave enough to call attention to it by putting any links up on my social media profiles, as I usually do. Part of my hesitance was that my issues with anxiety fluctuate between making it hard to breathe normally and being non-existent, and the minor degree of those issues makes me feel like I don’t have a right to say to the people who suffer more often or for longer periods of time or more cripplingly that I understand. But then a friend came across the post anyway and sent me an email to let me know that the post struck a chord (dare I say “resonated”?) with some issues she struggles with. I was touched and reassured by her letter.

Last night, I was watching the rerun of “A Town Called Mercy,” since I missed it last week. I know you all probably think I’m a raving Whovian lunatic, but this season has just been stellar (though I can’t speak to the dinosaur episode, since I missed the two weeks when it was airing and only figured out just this minute that it’s available to watch through Amazon, SO DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT IT YET!). The standout moment of “A Town Called Mercy” was, for me, when the character of questionable moral character says to the Doctor, “We all carry our prisons with us.”

And then, this morning, I was catching up on my blog reading and this was on The Bloggess’s blog:

I’m not sure what the broader message is here for anyone else, but I guess I’m walking away from this resonance feeling like acknowledging our prisons (which means maybe making other people a little uncomfortable by occasionally speaking about these difficulties in public) is part of being able to poke our heads out of them. And also…our prisons are part of who we are, and everyone has them, even if no two prisons look the same. That doesn’t mean we can never find the strength to put on a Red Dress and slay a dragon.

So, yeah. That’s all. Carry on.

Moving Right Along

We’re moving! Oh, you didn’t know? You must be one of the three people who reads my non-knitting posts who I don’t know in real life. Yes, I care about you three SO much that I wrote that announcement and looked up this video just for you!

Forgive my flippancy. It’s just a “be flippant or curl up and sleep” kind of day for my mental energy. Moving is horrible. We don’t have that much stuff, as stuff goes, and I’m super-organized and therefore still half-packed from moving in two years ago. (Moving Tip #1: If it’s going to end up in a closet to be stored most of the year, pack it in a big plastic tub that it can stay in after the move! Genius, right here. ) The process of calling all the utilities and the landlords and scheduling trucks and getting boxes and changing your address and figuring out the insurance change in a new state, well, it’s all just insane. Pure and simple.

Working two jobs on top of the process has my brain split in so many directions I feel like I can’t get anything done. Plus, brilliant me, I decided to try to implement a shift in my eating/exercise habits because I’ve been feeling serious sugar drag. More energy from reduced sugar is awesome…but I forgot that when you go temporarily cold turkey on carbs to reset your brain’s sweet cravings to be fine with whole grains and fruit, there’s a withdrawal period of headache-encumbered crankiness. Yay.

As I’m packing our belongings in this mental state, I find myself throwing a lot of stuff away while hollering, “Dammit, why do we keep so much trash?!?” John, bless him, understands the source of my crankiness and recognizes that I’m yelling at myself. He spends a lot of time laughing at me, which helps me keep everything in perspective. But dammit, I do keep a lot of trash. Maybe it’s the general moving crankiness, or maybe I’m getting less sentimental at this point in my life, but I have thrown away about 75% of the tchotchkes and knick-knacks and greeting cards that I have hoarded over the years.

My rule used to be that I had to keep something for every single memory so that in the future, I would be able to pick up the item and remember the story that went with it. What my ten-year-old scrapbooking self did not understand is that your memory goes downhill pretty quickly once you hit adulthood. It’s frightening. I know for a fact that nothing goes into my Memory Box without being connected to a story I cared about, but as I sorted through it, I realized that I didn’t even have a hint of an inkling as to what half of the items meant. The physical connection just wasn’t enough to trigger the memory, possibly because as I’ve gotten older and made more memories, I’ve had less time to spend handling the objects and remembering. And while it makes me sad to throw away these items that once meant something to me, the truth is that I don’t care about the items. I care about the stories, and those are already lost, because it’s not bad enough that we can’t hang on to life forever: we can’t even hang on to our lives while we’re alive.

See what I mean? I am a royal cranky-pants right now.

What I find myself clinging to is the hope that those stories have been pushed out by memories of better stories I’ve lived. If my brain has a finite capacity for personal memoir, I guess I want to hold on to the best of the best. And with most of my life hopefully still ahead of me (assuming the zombies and robots don’t get us first), I’d like to think that I have yet to live the best years of that life. Always onward, always upward, right? This makes it okay for me to let go of the junk that used to hold a memory. The same thought plays counterbalancing to the anxiety of a major move as well–things have  been nice where we are, really, but they’re going to be even better in our new location, closer to the people we love.

One hopes.

This Boiled Frog

I went to a dentist in February for the first time in I don’t even know how many years. It’s ridiculous, really. I’ve had dental insurance for over a year and a half, but I was scared of what they would say to me, so I kept putting it off. When I finally went, the news wasn’t as bad as I expected: only three cavities, and those pretty minor. My wisdom teeth will be coming out next week, but at least they didn’t take one look and say, “Call the surgeon, stat! We’ve got a rotten tooth about to turn into a brain infection here.” The wisdom teeth thing is an unfinished saga, so I’ll save that for another day, but the cavities I had done in short order after my exam and there’s an amusing story in there.

Maybe three or four days after having my cavities drilled and filled, I woke up to discover that the tip of my tongue had gone numb, almost as if I had burned it. It wasn’t painful, exactly but certainly disconcerting.

I think I’ve been a bit stressed of late. I mean, I know I’ve been stressed. I more or less abandoned a blog that I’ve been intrepidly plugging away at in spite of a low readership for more than two years, and believe it or not, I love obsessing about my life and attempting to spin the details into stories that will garner a chuckle or two from my grandmother and mother-in-law. I’ve hardly touched my guitar in three months, and I haven’t even pulled my ukulele out of the case in six. My sourdough is more sour than usual because I haven’t been working with it on a regular basis. All of these things I love, I’ve put aside because one person can only do so much, and I just haven’t had the will or the energy.

I had forgotten, however, just how different stress feels from not-stress. Stress is one of those things that changes your quality of life in slow, subtle ways, like putting a frog in a pot of comfortable water and putting it on to boil at a low heat. You don’t notice the incremental changes in your well-being until they’ve transformed you from a banjo-strumming green nudist into Doc Hopper’s French-fried dinner.

Last week I had the first real vacation I’ve had in a long time. My program schedule is tied to the school schedule, so of  course I get Monday holidays and in-service days off, and I have more vacations in a year than most  people would know what to do with, but in all that alleged time off, I have had Stuff To do for Other People (questionably  by appropriately acronymized, STOP). Not unpleasant stuff, really, and not so much from anyone person that their desire to borrow my time could be questioned, but enough from enough people that my vacations have felt claustrophobic. When I have had time, it’s been so cold and dreary that I didn’t want to go anywhere, which led to a claustrophobic vacation of my own making that did not do its job. If you never vacate your apartment, it’s not really a vacation, is it?

But last week, the weather was warm and inviting. The grass was green. My obligations to others were so minimal as to be all but nonexistent. I didn’t even have the pressures of my book hanging over my head because I just finished a major rewrite and the book is now locked away until July so I can get some distance and perspective on it. I literally had nothing to do except walk in the park, read, pick away at some short stories I had relegated to the back burner, and generally relish the sense of being unfettered for a week. I didn’t even make myself exercise, beyond those gorgeous park walks, or do housework. I just plain chilled until I was on that pleasant edge of boredom where you haven’t yet crossed into despair at your own uselessness. It was marvelous. Monday morning came, and for the first time since September, I woke up before my alarm feeling rested and not miserable at getting up at such an unholy hour.

Driving home on Monday, I noticed something. My left eye was twitching. I frowned and considered the past week. The eye twitching thing has been intermittent most of my life, and in the last year or so it’s become much more regular. During my vacation, however, the eye twitching hadn’t made a single appearance. Yesterday, as I was driving to a meeting, I noticed that the tip of my tongue was feeling a bit numb and sore. This too, has become a regular occurrence over the past three months, but I had chalked it up to some weird reaction my mouth was having to the new topography of my teeth-after-three-fillings. Again, however, during my vacation my tongue felt good and normal and whole.

Apparently, stress is also a wolf lurking at the edge’s of the campfire’s light, ready to pounce on that pot of boiling frog the second the illumination of rest starts to fade. One day back at work, and my nervous ticks that I hadn’t even registered as nervous ticks before were back in full force.

All I can say to this is (1) it’s a shame I’m not really able to tell the short and squeaky sources of my stress what they’re doing to me, for fear of giving them long-term anxiety issues and (2) I am really looking forward to June 21st. Part-time employment may not be a permanently sustainable situation, but I am going to rock it while I can.