Hillary’s Gratitude Runneth Over

At this time of year, I try to be more grateful, and have even considered starting a gratitude journal that I could do before bed after I have responded to the rest of my work emails, washed my face, brushed my teeth, put out my clothes for the next day, actually remembered to lock the front door—oh shit and put the rest of the dinner leftovers away and put my son’s hoodie in the dryer. Traditionally, I do none of these things and instead Nestea plunge into bed and pass out until one of my kids comes in to ask me something like, “Where do we keep the plunger?”

I ask, “Why are you still up? It is the middle of the night.” When it is actually 9:45 p.m.

I do believe that being grateful is valuable, and as Oprah says, if you concentrate on what you have, you will always end up having more. Maybe you just don’t remember all your shit! Every time Oprah takes inventory, I am sure she feels immense gratitude. For me it is the same. For example, I am grateful that we even have a plunger, and then I remember that I have two plungers, and then I remember that I also have a toilet snake that I purchased but did not actually know how to use, and then I remember that I was able to hire a plumber to come to my home. Then since I listen to way too many true crime podcasts, I am grateful that none of the people who have done work at my house have ever come back to murder me. Suddenly, I see how much more I have. It is like winning the fucking lottery!

Oprah also says that we can focus on being grateful for our breath because maybe that is all we have, which is depressing, but also important since so many Americans are denied basic healthcare and cannot afford to struggle to breathe. I just watched a video where Oprah said that we could even be grateful for having two hands and then told a story about a woman who had her hands amputated and how Oprah thinks of her every time she uses her two hands to count her stacks of money. I am grateful that I can use my two hands to clean my toilets myself. Then I remember I am grateful I have running water. Suddenly my bounty is overflowing all over the tile floor.

I was listening to Rob Lowe’s podcast when Oprah was his guest and these two celebrities bravely talked about the importance of gratitude. Lowe shared his newest life lesson that it is impossible to be in gratitude and resentment at the same time, and I was thinking, try me. As a kid, I had a friend over to my house and we were working on some experimental baking that I am sure turned out delicious. My friend said it was impossible to crack an egg on a plastic bowl. I said I could crack this egg on this plastic bowl. She said I could not. I smashed the egg into the bowl, it cracked and went all over the kitchen. We both looked at each other at the same time and said, “See?”

If Rob Lowe holds resentment in his heart, maybe he could take the podcast grind on the road to his favorite ski chateau and then look at himself in the mirror #gratitude. I often have resentment about teaching college students against their will and feel like my job is a joke because of my resentment against an entire system that undervalues education but then I remember how grateful I am that my job pays just enough to make me eligible for Obamacare, and it is like a gratitude golden shower. Oprah added in her conversation with Lowe that gratitude is her religion. She practices it every day. The first thing she says each day is “Thank you.” Then she makes her own ginger tea. The fact that she had to add “make my own” made me feel resentment.

I am probably not ever going to start a gratitude journal. I think it is too late for me to be one of those people who journals. I am way too fun at parties, and my bedtime routine involves having one more glass of wine and then deliberating if I should drunk text people from the couch or from the bed. If I have the energy to do anything productive at the end of the day, instead of writing down all that I am grateful for, like my breath and all my limbs, my two beautiful children, and that new everything bagel hummus I just bought, I would rather try to spend more time reading the stacks of books next to my bed or doing something even more stimulating, like watching porn.

My younger self is grateful that we can now afford sunglasses.

Drifting to Sleep to the Sound of Deadly Tornado

As a grown woman who prioritizes self-care, I fall asleep with my phone inches from my head playing a soundscape from a meditation app that I may or may not be paying for because I do not understand subscriptions. I am now addicted to the app and cannot fall asleep without the calming sounds of wind in the pines or the soothe of severe thunderstorm. The men I’ve slept with this last year also seem to be addicted to falling asleep to fake nature sounds. The most popular with divorced white men over forty is heavy rain, which I find unimaginative, sometimes noting it’s actually raining outside, and I could hear that if he didn’t snore so loud. 

The number of choices on my particular app has grown exponentially during the last year. When I first started using it, there were several varieties of rain and an equal number of ocean waves sounds—they can be crashing or calm, near or distant, you could fall asleep like you are actually drowning or as if you are in a bungalow over the ocean. Lots of choices for the wind. There was one with crickets. Maybe a purring cat, a washing machine, a train. All the sounds of nature.

Now there are dozens more choices that keep appearing as additional squares on my soundscape app probably because the algorithms are noting that none of us are actually sleeping, so they just keeping adding more choices, piling up in a Seussian frenzy. Still awake? Ok what about lightning in the distance over a canyon at dawn? How about child licking an ice cream cone?

There is a new soundscape called open plan office for people who miss falling asleep at their desks. I put it on today while working at home and there is considerable white noise, like if you work in an open office laundromat. It also includes the soothing sound of a woman talking loudly on the phone in the distance. There are also now the soundscapes city park and public museum for people who go to sleep in a comfortable, climate controlled bed but still want to connect with the experience of being homeless.

There is a lighthouse cottage that has a leaky roof, clearly just managed with a bucket on the floor and either a cat or an old man snoring. This choice was likely added because so many of the app users can only find real comfort by returning to the sound of being in a tower on a jagged ocean cliff bearing the responsibility of all the souls at sea on their hopefully still awake shoulders.

I generally stick with nature sounds, although I avoid any soundscapes that include the word “forest” because they almost always have chirping birds, which is the universal language for wake the fuck up. I like to think that using nature as a way to soothe myself to sleep is healthy and shows that I am outdoorsy, but more likely it is because there is not (yet) a soundscape that represents my comfort zones from childhood. I do not connect to the pacifying sound of city fountain.

I remember when I moved home, again, at age twenty-two and slept a hard nine hours a night, drifting into easy unconsciousness to the sound of my mom and stepdad watching whatever movie had the most gunshot sounds at a volume that would shake the kitchen cabinets. If the app adds a soundscape, aging parents in next room playing Full Metal Jacket in Dolby Surround, I could easily fall asleep wrapped in the comfort of knowing that I am an adult baby again.  

I also spent time when I was an actual child sleeping at my dad’s house in the summers when he worked the night shift, and I would lay in bed all night terrified someone was going to murder me—the soothing sounds of footsteps outside bedroom at midnight. Although, the sleep sound that reminds me most of the warmth and comfort of sleeping like a baby would be the sound of parents divorcing in the kitchen. zzzzzzzzzzz 

If we are going to keep adding sounds that actually exist as new methods of relaxation, we should think about what sounds make people the drowsiest, like my son explaining a video game, the sound of all the dances at the recital your kid is not in, a recording of a PTA meeting. Maybe the sound of shaking a bottle of Ambien.

Last night, I tried to fall asleep to living among trees but had to turn it off when tropical birds started calling to each other across invisible limbs. I switched to glacier snowfield, which sounds suspiciously just like wind in the pines. When I think of my most restful moments, like at six am, minutes before my alarm goes off, when all the noises have been assuaged, probably because my phone died, and I fall into a sleep so soothing that it’s almost ecstatic, I think, why can’t we create this ambience in an app? 

Hillary’s Narcissistic Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees and Falling

I spend time in the woods each day, wandering around with my dog looking at nature and, more importantly, hitting enough steps to feel like I have earned the right to eat food. I have been walking in these same woods for many years, but after the COVID lockdown in 2020, I started walking every day and logging more miles and even more bug bites that keep me awake at night itching and frantically applying hydrocortisone. People often warn me about walking in the woods alone—worried I could get abducted or eaten by an alligator—but instead the real danger is that I am slowly being eaten alive by bugs, and I am concerned there is a metamorphosis type scenario on my horizon, and then how will I ever find love?

When a friend recommended the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, I decided to read it because I am a nature girl and an intellectual who reads nonfiction for fun. I even thought about how it will be a great book to listen to at warp speed while peacefully looking up at the leaves rustling in the breeze and then tripping over an exposed root. This book is fascinating, and I have learned that trees have friends and even mate, which made me jealous, and that some trees, like beeches, do not reach sexual maturity until they are 80 to 150 years old, just like most billionaires.

The narrator reminds me of the announcer on a ride at Epcot—the place where drunk intellectuals go on rides, pretending to our children that a ride about agriculture is awesome, but also when we get off, next stop, Mexico! The book is a well written biology text, and what I have remembered is how much I hated biology, which is why I did not become a doctor or any other job that actually pays and also why I got divorced from my ex-husband, who is a biologist. It is the reason for our dissolution: it’s not you, it’s your field. I also remembered that maybe I am not an intellectual. I am smart and somewhat well read, but I would probably trade a reasonable number of IQ points for a vanity project, like being super skinny without having to worry about what I eat.

I often come across trees that have fallen in my path, and I am amazed at how expansive they are when felled to the earth. Sometimes I see the scars where the tree’s enormous weight has cut holes into the dirt on impact, and I am thankful that I have not—yet—been murdered by a friendly, sexual tree. Trees make my walks possible by providing shade even in the summer when there is the most possibility for attracting bugs, so when I go in public in a bathing suit people probably think I have the measles. Also, the trees provide places for spider webs to connect across the trails. I take down approximately 150 spider webs per day with my face in the summer. That is how I keep my hair so thick and luxurious—it is full of spiders weaving new hair.

Besides this book about trees, I am also currently reading Falling by new author T.J. Newman. This book takes place almost entirely on an airplane and was given to me by a friend in the same manner as when somebody smells something terrible and says, oh gross here smell this. According to the back cover, this book is “a bullet train of a thriller” and “heart STOPPING!” The premise of Falling—and this is not a spoiler because it is on the jacket—is that someone has kidnapped the family of the pilot, Bill, and has threatened to kill them unless Bill crashes the plane with 144 souls on board. The kidnapper is not from America originally, but you can guess the region he comes from—it rhymes with whittle yeast.

At first, I was skeptical about the book, partly because it got published and the author was promoting the book on the morning shows, which is the only reason I write because I hope to eventually be interviewed on television. I was also skeptical because early in the book it does seem like a flight attendant manifesto to inform the public that some heroes wear polyester. They are not there just to serve us food—as if we think that when airlines stopped serving food twenty years ago the higher ups just forgot to fix the glitch and the attendants just keep getting on board—the flight attendants are in charge of the safety of the cabin and everyone in it once that plane is in the air.

Even if some of us might prefer that perhaps, especially in a situation that presents itself like in Falling, flight attendants seek help from a superior on the ground or maybe even poll the passengers to see if there is anyone onboard who has more training to deal with trauma, like a psychiatrist or a hair dresser.

Also, reading this book one might get the mistaken idea that airline passengers are not tremendous assholes who would sacrifice anyone for their own safety. I feel confident that if a person is unwilling to wear a mask on an airplane, they are probably not going to be willing to trust a pilot with a family being held hostage. Fuck you, Bill! I just coughed on a baby, you think I give a shit about your precious family?

Despite all of this, I found Falling almost impossible to put down. I kept turning pages and that is the sign of an interesting read. Even though it should be me in that clear acrylic chair across from Jeff Glor, I still recommend this book. Reading Falling has played a role in my growth as a writer. Now I know what people want, and I am going to start writing thrillers. I don’t have all the details worked out, but I think my first one will be titled Crawling, and it will involve an imminent attack by chiggers.

My protagonist taking forest selfies.

Surfing with Team USA: Dreams of a Comparatively Rather Old Girl

I have decided to become an Olympic champion surfer. I think it might be too late for Tokyo, since the games have already started, but I am paddling towards Paris 2024. When I told my mother about this new life goal, she duly noted that the next summer games are actually only three years away, which is good news because that is less time to worry about the unexpected, like injuring my MCL or getting struck by lightning. I just need to buy a surfboard and learn how to surf from YouTube.  

My passion for surfing started after vacationing at the beach and walking by a surf shop on the way to a bar. The shop had a large sign that read, “Surf Lessons” and there were people in bathing suits crossing the street, toting boards under their arms, lining up at the shop door, probably to get their gold medals. I continued to the bar and had four Michelob Ultras to officially start my training as a professional athlete. I might be a new face to Olympic viewers, but I have been dreaming of this moment since Memorial Day weekend.

After looking at the fresh faces of the USA surfing team, it is pretty clear that what they are missing is a 46-year-old poser. There are only two men and two women per country right now, and I do not want to unseat anyone, so I am willing to go as an alternate. I could be a real asset to the team because I can probably pass a drug test, as long as Xanax is not considered a performance enhancing drug, and the Olympic committee doesn’t have to worry about me having sex with anyone in the village, at least this year because COVID made it so nobody could bring their dad.

Before I set my sights on being an Olympian, I was just planning to take some lessons, but then one morning on the beach I saw a group of small children in a camp learning to paddle and riding the boards in on their bellies, and I am pretty sure I got the gist. I have paddle boarded, and I am extremely good at standing on the board if there are no waves. Also, I have never drowned in a giant wave pool, and in addition to all that, I have seen the movie Point Break

If I am going to put all this time and money into a new hobby where I could find solace in connecting with the ocean while simultaneously working on my fitness, then I should at least make it aggressively competitive. If I quit my job and move my kids to the coast and start doing two-a-day surfing sessions for the next three years and do not get eaten by a shark in the meantime, then I will probably be able to qualify for something, like perhaps a conservatorship.

If for any reason, I am not a natural water shredder, and when I looked this term up, Google made suggestions for “water shedder”, so I learned a lot about losing water weight, but if it turns out that I am not the fifth best goal-oriented surfer in the country, then I have some back-up plans of other sports that should be deemed Olympic, so I can fulfill my dream of being part of Team USA, like maybe Pictionary, the game of quick draw or Taboo, the game of unspeakable fun. I don’t even need to hone my skills—I can get on a plane to Tokyo right now, motherfuckers.

However, I feel fully confident in my Team USA surf plan. I have also considered learning to do tandem surfing tricks with my dog, the only Labrador retriever who doesn’t know how to swim, but all that means is she is damn sure not to going to fall off, even if what she really wants is to escape to shore and find a lawyer. I have not seen any tandem teams, so obviously this will add a degree of difficulty to my maneuvers, which is what I will need if I want to medal in Paris—the surfing capital of the world.

P.S. If anyone has a surfboard I can borrow please let me know.  

Hillary’s Narcissistic Book Review: The Queen’s Gambit and Parable of the Sower

I am in two active book clubs, and I know what you are thinking—does she live in a nursing home? No, but I do have a rich and exciting life that also includes watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy every weeknight. I joined the book clubs on accident, not even realizing I was in an actual club, just having drinks and then someone suggests a book and next thing I know I am being asked when we can schedule the next meeting. Some people get drunk and wake up the next morning pregnant or in a Vegas hotel room with a new husband they don’t recognize, but I wake up and realize I have been indoctrinated into a book club.

The last book I read for one club was The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, written in 1983 and now the basis for the popular Netflix series. I wanted to read Queen’s Gambit mostly so I could be the asshole who says, no I didn’t watch the show, but I did read the book.

I was concerned that I would not like this book because I do not know how to play chess. I can barely play checkers. Actually, I play all the games with squares at a toddler level. I have never won a game of Connect Four. My kids started beating me at tic tac toe when they were still being lovingly bottle fed. However, now that I have read Queen’s Gambit, which is drenched in detailed explanations of chess play, the vision of the board, the strategy, I think I am ready to compete in chess professionally.

At the beginning of the book, coinciding with Beth’s discovery of chess, she also becomes addicted to tranquilizers because her orphanage forces the green pills on all the kids to subdue the little bastards. I was never addicted to pills as an eight-year-old, but that does seem like the most fun time to try it. For starters, children have no responsibilities, like work, children of their own, or ageing parents to care for also at the same time. I don’t have many regrets from my childhood, but I wish I had experimented with drugs at an even earlier age. Maybe then I would be a world champion in something, like Hollywood Squares.  

For my other book club, we recently read Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, written in 1993 but set in an apocalyptic future. It is an epistolary novel told through the diary entries of the young protagonist, Lauren. The book starts in the year 2024 in California and describes an unimaginable world where the wealthiest few are hoarding the majority of resources and everyone else is left to try and not die. Many people are addicted to bizarre drugs and committing mass murder, space is being colonized by private companies, and police are more deplorable than dependable.

In 1993, the year Butler published Parable, I graduated from high school and then later that same year failed out of my first college. I was definitely not predicting 31 years into the future. I could not even predict how much money I would have tomorrow if I spent all the money in my account today. Butler depicts a close parallel to our world today, like when a Black male character seeks the police’s help after his sister and her family are murdered, and Lauren implores him not to go because she worries the police might kill him and steal his money.

Parable was written in the wake of the 1991 beating of Rodney King by police on a California highway and then the 1992 riots that erupted after the four officers were acquitted. As with all good science fiction, Parable is a caricature. It simply exaggerates what is already there, and the result is a future where all the masses are left struggling to survive because those in power have been allowed to jackknife the system. The moral might be that we should all work together, or we could end up in a dystopia with some people starving in the streets and many more struggling to get by while billionaires in cowboy hats blast into space for their vacay.

Meanwhile on the East Coast in 1993, I was way too high at a Widespread Panic concert in Boone, North Carolina listening to an endless jam that seemed, at the time, to last about 31 years. Now, I am a grown woman, but I am still waiting to reach psychological maturity. My bildungsroman has been a slow burn—a stream of consciousness life. The young women in these novels are both survivors and as someone who is also surviving, I think we have a lot in common.

My protagonist as a young woman doing the worm.

Hillary’s Narcissistic Book Review: Midnight Library, A Really Big Lunch, and Chin Music.

I’m currently reading two books at the same time because I’m a fucking intellectual. The first is Midnight Library by Matt Haig. Technically, I am listening to it as an audiobook, and I listen at 1.2x speed so the narrator sounds somewhat panicked at all times. As a self-proclaimed author, I can understand that probably someone like Haig does not want his readers to get through the book as fast as possible, like it is a chore. It probably took him at least a year of devotion to a desk, sculpting this thought-provoking book out of nothing, and I devour it in a series of fast paced walks in the woods.

Midnight Library is a novel about a woman who gets the chance to retry other versions of her life by examining her regrets and asking What if? The concept is sort of like the show Quantum Leap, which I used to watch on reruns after school. I am sure the intended audience for Quantum Leap was 13 years old girls who watch while shoving tater tots into their mouth. The main character in Midnight Library doesn’t work to set things right in history, she mostly just notices how things are often still wrong in her different lives, just in different ways.

In my own life, I have thought about what if I stayed at Appalachian State and got a degree in anthropology? In that life, maybe I would think it is acceptable to wear shirts with pockets and would be happily married to a very handsome woman. What if I had stayed in Austin? While I was there in the late 1990s, Mathew McConaughey was still single, high, and partying naked. I definitely would have played his bongos. Or anyone else’s.

Although, it is difficult to have regrets when I look at my life now. I am 46 and single with no real prospects, and I teach introductory English courses to unprepared college students who are reluctantly being fed into the capitalist machine. But in this life, I have a dog. Oh, and two children who are now teenagers and live like cave dwellers, only clawing their way out of their rooms to forage for food.

I am also reading, in actual print, A Really Big Lunch by Jim Harrison, which I am savoring in tiny bites because it makes me laugh, and I want to bask in his world of eating and travelling, just wandering around the woods and swimming out into the middle of harbors. Of course, Harrison’s main thread is about how he has all of this extra money from his writing career as an American poet, essayist, and prolific novelist—his novellas Legends of the Fall probably being the biggest meal ticket. I am still waiting for an offer for movie rights from my body of work. Maybe someone will want to make an epic from my essay about buying a dildo, and it will soon be streaming on Hulu and PornHub.

Harrison’s eponymous essay is about a 37-course lunch in Burgundy, France. Harrison notes that although the lunch was 37 courses and lasted 11 hours, they only served 13 different wines. I related to this leisurely lunch, thinking of my own life where I recently spent a Saturday dining on a two-course lunch in Jacksonville, Florida. I was also served one Bloody Mary, two White Claws, and then my check.

This past year, like many privileged white people, I have been reading a lot of theory (aka actual history) about racism in America. These books work well on fast speed in audio format because it makes sense for the narrator to seem frenzied as he or she tells about the oppression and murder of Black people in America since it is still happening, and fuck, we have got to get through narrating to this white lady who listens while working out her hamstrings, so that we can find some people who can actually make a difference. Harrison’s book is a definite departure—I don’t think there are any Black people in the book at all.

Big Lunch was recommended to me by an old friend, my former boss, and my one and only publishing client. His book, Chin Music, which is insightful and hilarious, sold almost a dozen copies, and he had to incur all the expenses, including me. I do not actually know how to market a book, and I don’t even do the formatting and design. Basically, the service I provide to my clients is I read the book and then make important suggestions, like maybe you should add a table of contents.

What I do not know how to do, which looking back is perhaps the most important part of the process, is to get people to buy the book. I do not know how people like Harrison get noticed initially. Maybe he just knew the right people and filled a void because we needed more books by white male authors in the 1970s. For the rest of us, it often feels like those moments in a dream when you are trying to scream and it seems impossible to make even the slightest noise. 

Harrison decided to write his first novel after falling off a cliff during a bird hunt, so I have considered that process. I am picturing a coyote and roadrunner type scenario—it is the only bird hunting on cliffs I am familiar with—I have several cans of paint and some sticks of TNT. We will see what happens. Also, if anyone reading this is looking for a publisher, I am totally available.

Chin Music available on Amazon. You should buy it.

Crapshoot: The Game of Parenting

Most days, I feel completely unqualified in my position as a parent. I am like a legacy student, getting this job mainly because my parents gave birth to me, and I wanted to follow in their tremendous footsteps. When I was pregnant with my first child, I read the book What to Expect When You are Expecting, or at least I definitely received it as a gift and placed it on my nightstand. However, after moving onto more complex stages of human development, like middle school, I realized there was probably nothing in that book explaining what to expect about a twelve-year-old—your baby is now 97 pounds and knows more words than you do.

When I was pregnant and sober, people told me all about what it is like to have a newborn—things like how to get them to sleep through the night and what is the best breast pump, or if I want to be a worthless piece of shit who clearly does not love her children, then let me tell you about the best baby formula. I bought a rocking chair to put in our bedroom and a bottle drying rack for next to the kitchen sink. Then after all that preparation, it turned out that my babies were only newborns for like a few months.

I do know for sure that not one single parent warned me about the importance of chargers and charger cords in parenting. There is not a chapter in What to Expect about this – once your baby can speak, he will expect you to know where all the chargers are, even if you are sleeping, and he can clearly see your eyes are closed, he will ask you anyway, “Mom do you have a charger?” As my service to new parents, I can tell you what to expect when your child unplugs your phone because, “Well, you were at 87%”. You can expect that you will never see that charger again.  

Most of my parental experience comes from the fact that I have already been every age they have been, so there are some events that I expected, like head lice. I grew up with a thick head of unbrushed hair and was sent home several times after the ladies came to my classroom and went through everyone’s hair with chopsticks. If they found lice, they asked you to get up right then in front of everyone and go to the office. This was the original walk of shame, and I am pretty sure this is why we invented HIPAA. Looking back, I am surprised my mother let me into her car when she was forced to come pick me up, and I would like to take a moment of silence to honor those women who worked at elementary schools and had to touch every child’s hair looking for bugs.

One ailment I was not expecting to expect is pinworms. My child had pinworms in fourth grade. If you do not want to have children, then after reading this you can expect that you will be too disgusted to fuck anyone as your Plan A. For those of you not familiar, pinworms are, medically speaking, tiny worms in your butthole. They are very contagious—the eggs getting on a kid’s hands and spreading through schools. The symptoms of pin worms are to expect your child to wake you up in the middle of the night to tell you his butt itches, “really, really bad.” You can also expect to get your very own set of pinworms.

Luckily, there is an over the counter treatment that actually works, so after only a couple short days of severe itching and living with the fact that there were tiny worms in your butt, you can expect a full recovery. I am assuming that this remedy is over the counter because at one point in history an important man in the pharmaceutical industry was afflicted with pinworms and was like, let’s just make this OTC, and then he checked out with his pinworm meds and a bunch of other random shit to make it seem less noticeable. I will just take this medicine that I hope you have never heard of, this wine in a box, these 35 phone chargers, a can of Vienna sausages, and let’s add this King Size Snickers bar.

With each stage of a child’s development, from pooping in the bathtub, to learning to lock all the doors in your house, to the stage where they wear the same hoodie every day for two years, what parents can expect is that they will be tired. When they are newborns they sleep most of the day like old cats and they cannot even speak, so you can expect to look back fondly on that precious time when your daughter had never slammed a door in your face and then yelled, “Nobody even likes you!” and your son had never said, “You are dressed just like my band teacher”.

I think of my own mother sometimes and what to expect when your baby is 45—your baby now weighs in on all of your issues, is a single mother who cannot find any of her chargers or a good boyfriend, but she currently does not have lice or pinworms. You can expect 45 to be a great year for your baby and for her babies who are now in 7th and 9th grade, which is about two years past the stage of parenting when she first wished she could go back to having a newborn and a toddler because that was much easier than living with two middle schoolers.

A Newborn in its natural habitat. This one now has facial hair.

Voter Regression: The Peach State Making Elections Racist Again

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

            -The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

The new Georgia voter suppression bill claims to address voter fraud, even though according to Georgia’s Secretary of State, there were 35 cases of fraud—out of almost 5 million votes cast—from the 2020 election cycle that will be sent to prosecution. The most recent election was one of the most successful in the state’s history, an election that saw record breaking turnout, which is the measuring stick for success in a democracy—elections that are truly by the people.

Based on this success, the Republican-led Georgia Assembly decided to change the rules as quickly as possible, as in definitely before the 2022 midterms. I am pretty sure the conversation went something like this, “How do we keep all these Black people from voting again? What if we make it where only 3/5ths of the number of Black voters turned out next election?”

There is also a sense that there were meetings where state legislators made a list of all the things that Stacey Abrams accomplished to combat voter suppression and decided, let’s definitely make all of these things illegal. Then there are portions of the Bill that work to push Georgia back into the historical precedent where private citizens have the power to threaten the rights of other citizens, modern equivalents of the lynch mob.

Section 15 allows that “Any elector of a county or municipality may challenge the qualifications of any person applying to register to vote.” Section 16 sets up the same allowance for challenging anyone’s right to vote. It specifically notes that there is no limit to the amount of people that can be challenged by any single elector. Therefore, allowing the possibility that entire neighborhoods—whole districts—could be challenged by someone with the right resources.

These sections define a complicated process that is clearly more beneficial to the challenger. Once a challenge is filed, the board of registrars must set a hearing within ten days of the filing. The person being challenged must be notified of the time, date, and place of the hearing within three days of the hearing—by mail. The burden of proving that the person being challenged is not qualified to vote is on the challenger; therefore, if a challenged person does not show up to the hearing—something this system has set up as a likely possibility—then the challenger can still present their case and perhaps strip a fellow citizen of his or her right to vote.

The challenged person has the right to appeal the decision, but remains ineligible until the decision is reversed. Challenges can be made up until the day of the actual election. If a challenged voter arrives at the polls and it is “practical to conduct a hearing on the challenge prior to the close of the polls, the registrars shall conduct such hearing and determine the merits of the challenge.” Basically, if someone chooses to accuse a person, even if the accusation is not valid, then it allows for one citizen to force another citizen to leave their polling place on election day after they get to the front of the line, go to a hearing, and then in order to vote, come back to start the process again. This is, of course, if the polls are still open. If there is not time to conduct a hearing, then the challenged person must cast a contested ballot, and his or her contested ballot remains contested until a hearing can be held.

There are no provisions within Georgia Senate Bill 202 that require an elector making a challenge to have sufficient evidence before filing the challenge.

I lived in South Georgia for almost ten years and voted in two presidential elections at a white church near my house, just as our founding fathers intended. While I was a resident, our rectangular pie in the bottom corner of the United States map never turned blue. The city where I lived felt stiflingly conservative. It was a place of giant churches, sweet tea, and confederate memorabilia. While Obama was in office my neighborhood was littered with “Pray for Our Nation” signs, asking God to save us from leadership by a Black man. I still lived in Georgia for part of the 2016 election cycle, and I witnessed Trump signs popping up on lawns like pimples. There was a house on my street with a yard sign that read “Hillary for Prison”, which I found personally offensive.

However, the population in the town where I lived is made up of 52% Black residents. When I looked around, like at my kids’ school or even in the college classrooms where I taught, I saw representation that was incongruent with our elections and with our government systems. I knew the people were not being adequately represented and that people in power were working to maintain that status quo. Racism was the system, and it was guarded like a jewel.

The new voter suppression Bill is 98 pages and is reminiscent of listening to your brattiest friend define his new rules for Monopoly, mansplaining how each rule is set up specifically to guarantee that he wins and you end up only owning Baltic Place. Then he adds, as you are rolling your third turn, “Oh and you only get the $200 for passing Go if you have a neon green retainer.”  

Section 2 of the Bill states that after the last two election cycles, there were “allegations of rampant voter suppression” and “allegations of rampant voter fraud”. As if this is a bipartisan bill that also addresses the long-standing system of voter suppression that has kept Georgia power in the hands of white conservatives even after passing of the 15th amendment. When Raphael Warnock was finally elected this January, he became the first Black senator in Georgia history, although a much needed victory for the good of the state, also signifying a long-standing trend of lack of representation for the state’s Black population.

The first almost 20 pages are used to establish a State Election Board with a chair selected by the Georgia Assembly and enabling that board with the power to oversee and even remove the county election superintendents. This ensures that the state assembly, currently Republican-led and hoping to keep it that way, can override county involvement in the election process. This is important in the mission to keep the Peach State racist because then more democratic counties are vulnerable to state manipulation. Basically, this Bill is introducing more avenues for fraud into the state’s election system.

Another concerning issue is the new rule allowing superintendents (controlled by the state) to reframe districts if a polling place had voters waiting to cast their votes for more than one hour after the polls closed. For the polls who had long lines in 2020—mostly districts with high minority populations—the superintendents can “reduce the size of the said precinct”. Thus, giving the state additional opportunities to gerrymander. Breaking up minority districts lessens their power and is an important part of systemic racism, something the Georgia Assembly seems intent on maintaining.

Now, I live in North Florida about twenty miles from Georgia’s southern border. Florida ended its tenure as a swing state at about the time I moved back here, dragging its heels in the dirt to a full red state stop. I paid close attention to the election as it played out in Georgia, feeling a sense of pride for watching a system work much more closely to how it was intended. I chatted with friends and family who voted in the state, some waiting in long lines, and thought about my sister in Atlanta who was working at the polls. She worked twelve hours—on her feet—so that her fellow citizens could exercise their right to vote. A right that is guaranteed under the United States Constitution.

The election process in Georgia still needs reform—the state still has work to do to improve the process for all its citizens, but this Bill does not offer protection for its voters. Instead, it sets up complex laws that will make it more difficult to vote. Georgia Senate Bill 202 is a deliberate attempt to deny and abridge the right to vote.  

Next up, the sunshine state.  

Dog Days

My daughter has been asking if we can get a dog since she was a toddler. I took her trick or treating when she was four—she was dressed as Tinkerbell—and she realized that even better than houses with candy, are houses with dogs, or houses that at least have a cat. We have candy at home, but what we don’t have at our boring-ass place is any pets whatsoever. After the third house, she stopped saying “trick or treat” and started asking, “Do you have any pets?”

At one house, an older woman came to the door and acted as if she has been waiting her whole life for someone to ask this question. She let my daughter come inside to find her cat, Catfish. I stood by the curb under the yellow light of the street lamp and waited, wondering, what is the correct amount of time to let your tiny daughter go into a stranger’s house at night to find a cat? Eventually, I went inside and found Tinkerbell under the kitchen table with Catfish. The next house, my daughter saw a dog toy barely appearing above the blades of grass—in the dark—and she started running to the door, “Can I pet your dog?”

Since I have understood her love of animals from this early age, when she would ask me if we can get a dog, I would tell her that she can get a dog when she moves out of my house. It was not that I did not want to fulfill her dreams, but I would look at our lives and note that neither one of my kids could even remember to flush the toilet. It did not seem like we were ready for a pet.

Then we found ourselves in the black hole of a pandemic. We went from school drop offs, appointments, meetings, lessons, and events to this odd little group of shut-ins, some of us adjusting better than others. For my daughter, we transitioned from “Let’s look at art schools!” to “Maybe if you could just walk to the mailbox and back today?”

She is in middle school, and she went from being an elementary school girl to a young woman, while trapped at home with just me and her brother. We started going to therapy and after a few meetings the therapist asked to speak to me privately. She very carefully told me that my daughter is lonely.

No shit.

She suggested that I try to do things with her. I told her that after this session, we were going to the grocery store together and that yesterday we went to get coffee. In my head, I was thinking that these choices were better than some of my childhood outings, like to pick up women at the dive bar with my dad or to sit on a curb for four to six hours braiding Bahia grass while my mother and stepfather worked on an old boat—that we never actually sailed. The therapist smiled and looked down at her hands folded simply in her lap, then back at me, “What about things she likes to do?”

It was not long after this session that I decided we should consider getting a dog. Within about a month—after corresponding with some area shelters—we met a yellow lab mix named Bella. She dashed to greet each of the kids and then me, the room overflowing with awes and squeals of laughter, and then she promptly crawled up on the bench between my two kids and turned around as if to say, look at your three beautiful children. We took her home that same day.

Within the first few hours, Bella did a quick scan of our household members and realized that I am the only one who knows how to drive a car and to flush the toilets. She was attached to me right away, even though I am not the kindest or the most playful option, and even though I am not the one who leaves my dishes on the coffee table or drops ice cubes from the freezer and just walks away.

My daughter started taking her on walks, even out past the mailbox, and my son formed a connection with her that is endearing. He has never asked me for a dog, maybe because he was born with wisdom beyond his years and must have known that it would take an apocalypse for me to agree to this.  Bella is one thing that brings us all together. We all love her and take care of her, and after being asked multiple times, the kids pitch in to do their share, just as long as after I go in and have a talk with them I shut their door, and “Can you get Bella out of here?”

Bella sleeps in the bed with me, with her head on the other pillow. I hope that when I find my next boyfriend he likes to sleep curled up at the foot of the bed. Bella also goes with me to the bathroom and stares at me the entire time, which seemed odd until I realized I do the same to her. She must have learned this by watching me. She also watches me exercise, occasionally trotting over to stick her nose in my face, are you dying? We go for long walks on the beach and enjoy fine dining.

Bella thinks I am smart, capable, and has the mistaken impression that I am in charge, something my kids have never been naïve enough to believe.

Yoga buddy.

I Am Not a Robot.

I spend time each day proving that I am not a robot. Often, I am asked to verify this by clicking a square next to the line “I’m not a robot”, which seems exactly like what a robot would do. Sometimes I have to click on all the squares that have a bus in them or a traffic light, things that any decent robot should be able to recognize. Instead they should use emotional tests, like show the first ten minutes of the movie UP and then ask me to click “Yes” if I am currently crying. Or they could show me a video of a car driving 60 mph in the left lane on the interstate and if I scream, “Move over asshole!” the very important website unlocks, and I am promoted forward to vote for my favorite dog photo.

Often as I am proving that I am anything besides a robot, I question why we are prohibiting robots from this process—why can’t a robot buy clothes online from Loft outlet? And is this my problem? If your website is being bombarded by robots then your company should be tackling this issue more directly, instead of the current solution of “How about we just ask everyone if they are a robot or not?” Genius. We did it, gang. Let’s go to Dave and Buster’s.  

For work, I have to do two-factor authentication, where they (robots, most likely) send a text to my phone, and I enter the code to complete the process to access my work account. Basically, the point is that if someone steals my computer, they should make sure they also grab my cell phone, then the thieves can get into all my work files and spend the day grading papers and responding to student questions like, “I have missed a few weeks of assignments because my cat was trapped in a well, can I still go back and make them up?”

The two-factor authentication reminds me of the movies when two people are required to enter their key for an important space launch or to open a safety deposit box full of diamonds. However, in this case, it is just me sitting alone at my desk, being my own sidekick. And then after I perform the tasks as directed, instead of launching into space or pouring out a velvet bag of diamonds and letting them sift slowly through my hand, I get to log into work.

I am also required each year to do online security training in order to keep our institution safe from online hackers. Basically, I am not supposed to open any emails. Done! If I do want to open an attachment—I don’t—I am supposed to call the sender and ask if they actually sent this attachment to make sure it is not from a cybercriminal. “Did you send this email that you just sent to me?” One of the examples they give is if I receive an email that says, “Hey, don’t forget to get me that list of all employee social security numbers,” I am definitely not supposed to respond.

Like the robot check, I feel that these security threats should be handled before they get to me. I should not be the gatekeeper of all of our data. “How about to avoid data breaches, we train our employees with a series of videos and multiple-choice quizzes so they can detect the threats at the last possible second before it becomes a real problem?” High fives! Meet you all at Applebee’s!

Nobody who knows me in real life would ever put me in charge of any type of security. My car was stolen from my driveway because it was unlocked and the keys were in it, right next to my purse on the driver seat.  My best idea for when someone needs access to my house is to just leave the front door unlocked. “It’s open!” I leave my purse in the top of the shopping cart and then turn around and spend 15 minutes touching all the avocados.

My son fired me from family security when he was seven because of my aversion to guns and any kind of violence and because I noted that I would, in fact, pay the ransom if he or his sister were kidnapped, and I expect they do the same for me. He said that we do not negotiate with terrorists because if we pay the ransom then they will kidnap more people, and is that what I want?

I wish I was a robot. Then I would not have to be so introspective or responsible for my actions. I could buy all the concert tickets before they shot up to $300 a piece. I could vote for the next American Idol as many times as I want. The fact that companies don’t trust robots, but they trust me, only demonstrates how insignificant I am. Each time I click that box I know that what I am really declaring is that I am not even a robot. Not yet.