The Elephant

As a writer, there are times when there is an elephant in the room so large it occupies my entire creative space, and I am left suffocating under its weight until I tackle the pressing subject and it disappears in a puff of smelly musk. I have essays in the hopper about drinking champagne and following strange men into the wilderness (not necessarily in that order) and about teaching college students against their will and how that compares to waterboarding, but I can’t publish those right now when my daily life is spent in a state of distress watching the news and hoping nobody at the gym saw me flipping birds at the little television on my treadmill.

On December 19, our electoral college system is going to elect a man as President of the United States who is morally (and at times financially) bankrupt. He reminds me of the most insecure and thus most dangerous guy in the fraternity. He is a bully. He is technically an asshole, and I can say this because I have read Assholes: A Theory by Aaron James, and Trump clearly fits the parameters. I picked up this book while browsing a bookstore in Portland for much more personal reasons, but it has also come in handy outside my dating life.

As a democrat, I have experienced tenures with candidates whom I did not choose or support. George W. Bush was President for a large chunk of my adult life. Luckily my kids were not born yet when Hurricane Katrina happened, so I did not have to explain to them that our president doesn’t care about black people. I was against most of his policies—his slashing of funding to the sciences and his use of religious ideology to inform policy decisions. I was against going into Iraq and the fact that he went in under false pretenses. There is most likely a connection to Bush, or at least his administration, and the rampant islamophobia that Trump has ignited. The spark was there. Trump has taken an underlying irrational fear and instead of invoking diplomacy, or even logic, he has traversed the country dumping cans of lighter fluid and tossing out torches. I certainly don’t want to paint Bush as benign, and in retrospect, thinking about Katrina and the carelessness of a wanton war, I probably should have been more vocally opposed to Bush, but this just feels different.

I was not ashamed of Bush as a human being. I remember watching the documentary Journeys with George by Alexandra Pelosi about her time on the campaign trail with Bush in 2002. The take away from that film was that he is genuinely likable, kind even. I did not vote for him, but if he wants to get together to paint some portraits and do some cocaine, then I am all for it. Maybe I put too much emphasis on how candidates act on busses, but while they are campaigning or promoting a cameo on Days of Our Lives (that is what Trump was doing on the Access Hollywood bus) this is often the only way we can see them backstage, away from the podium and talking directly to people.

Hillary Clinton probably spends her time on the bus in a cryogenic pod. Or maybe reading, preparing, and doing actual work. I have supported Hillary Clinton since Bill took office in 1993, and I have immense respect for Clinton as a person and for her work and legacy, but I don’t necessarily find her warm and approachable. I recently saw an interview with daughter Chelsea and she talked about spending time with her mother as a child. It was as if she had picked up a classic childhood book, maybe Curious George, and used that as a guide to understand what human children like to do for fun. She told a story about how she has so many memories of running around in the backyard flying kites with her mom. I don’t buy it. For starters, flying one kite is really fucking hard. Flying plural kites and running at the same time is a whole new level. She wasn’t home flying kites; she was at work (if this is confusing just imagine she is a dad). At that time her work as a lawyer and advocate was focused mainly on serving children and families probably because she knew that her daughter was going to be just fine.

But Hillary Clinton did not win. She did well with educated voters, doing even better than Obama in 48 of the 50 most educated counties in the U.S. However, Donald Trump and his SparkNotes of hate were easier to digest to many (although not nearly the majority) of voters. I accept that he will be our next President, and I hope that we can curb his most terrifying and harmful plans with resistance and pressure from the people. Recently, my son and I were discussing the meaning of “dystopia” in relation to a book he was reading. I gave my explanation of the term and he said, “Well then a dystopia can’t ever actually exist because once it does then it is normal.” We were at the dinner table, and I just stared at him, the salad stabbed onto my fork suspended over my plate. Yes, my ten-year-old son is correct. And my job—as someone with a voice—is to make sure that no matter what happens during the next four years, we never allow Donald Trump to become our new normal.

I disagree with all of Trump’s political and economic plans, at least as far as what I know from his truncated explanations. I am fearful about his foreign policy, and I have fundamental concerns about the vulnerability of basic human rights under his leadership. Immediately after the election there was some hope that maybe since we know so little about his actual plans, there was the possibility of being pleasantly surprised, but his recent appointment choices have killed that dream. His cabinet is like an assembly of villains. We thought we had effectively taken care of these people and now they are crawling out from under man holes and hate-fueled websites.

My sincere hope is that we will get through this presidency by working together, speaking out, and reminding our elected officials that they serve all Americans. We will get more democrats in seats at midterm, and we will vote Trump out in 2020, but until then even if he does something that is less harmful than expected, something beneficial to this country perhaps, there must always be a footnote.

Because he promotes xenophobia, islamophobia, racism, misogyny, bigotry, and greed. Because my kids have watched the way he speaks to people, and I can never glorify that behavior. Because just by listening to him on the news my kids already identify him as a bigot and a bully. Because one day they will know that this president was openly supported by organized white supremacist groups, including former grand wizard of the KKK, David Duke. Because my son can never be allowed to view that man as a role model. Because one day my daughter will grow up and hear the tapes of him talking about women. She will hear his voice—the voice that the adults elected to serve as her president—belittling women, criticizing their bodies, their intelligence, and their worth as equal human beings. She will hear him on that bus talking about going after women hard, kissing women against their will, grabbing women by the pussy, and she will know that I never allowed that behavior to be normalized for any reason whatsoever.

Because I will be here as an asterisk of alarm. Shouting. This is not normal.

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To-Do List

The best part about being a divorced mom with two kids is definitely the dating! The only downside is that I no longer get to have the list of people I would have sex with if I was granted monogamy immunity. Having a list was a great way to remind myself that I can really do much better. I could have sex with Don Draper (the fictional character) if I wasn’t already bound by the confines of this marriage. Of course the reality is that if I could get within 20 feet of Don Draper’s boner then I probably would not be married (to you). After the divorce my list lost its appeal because I could no longer use marriage as an excuse. If I could not land Paul Rudd then the only things left to blame were my looks and personality. I need to create a new list of much more accessible men, like Bill Clinton, or the even more realistic, Bill Cosby.

I was not necessarily great at dating before I had kids, if I was then I probably would not have gotten married. Now I have two kids, an ex-husband, and all the things that I can list as major failures in my life since I was last in the dating pool, like marriage for instance. Also, when I was younger, my future was full of hope and promise. Maybe I was going to have one of those careers that allowed me to afford nice things, like insurance. Maybe I was going to give birth to some of those kids who would eat kale. Maybe I was going to be one of those wives who would give blow jobs. Who knew? Now my future is much less hopeful and much more in present tense. My daughter had gummy worms for breakfast this morning. Also my abs look like the “before” pictures from tummy tuck surgery.

When I first got divorced I tried to date in the natural way, as in meeting people and forming some kind of connection in real time and then going on a date in two weeks when I have a free weekend without the kids. Then I decided to try online dating because I just don’t have that kind of time. Dating with kids on the every other weekend schedule is sort of like dating in dog years. One day for me is like 14 days to a regular person. I will be in a nursing home before we get to the travelling together for the holidays stage. My boyfriend will have to visit me for our Thanksgiving luncheon at 10:25 a.m. in the Azalea dining hall. This is why I think divorced people should get a pass on the no sex on the first date policy because who knows when our schedules will align again—when there will not be a sick kid in retrograde or a work conflict in my seventh house or a perfect ex-husband shit storm?

With online dating I am able to fast track the process through a rigorous process of texting that involves asking deep questions like, “What do you do for fun on the weekends” and “How long have you been divorced?” and “Why do you have trust issues?” Then I analyze the responses and try to determine how much I like this person and how likely it is that he might murder me. Then I consider how much I really care if I get murdered. Then I send a good friend his contact information (just in case), straighten my hair, and I am on my way. The only awkward part of the date is usually the first entire date. It is sort of like a job interview with alcohol (note to self: get drunk before next job interview).

Most dates end in the parking lot with an awkward hug or even more awkward: no hug. I only had one date that did not end there. We went to another bar and then back to my place. I will let you know how that ends. If you never hear from me again then just assume I have been murdered.

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Asshole Matrix

Because I have a voice . . .

I recently watched a video where a man, with a gun in a holster on his hip, explained his guide to women using what he likes to call the hot crazy matrix. The chart looks like the basic graph that would be shown in an economics class: there are two axes, one for a woman’s level of crazy and another for how hot she is. The crazy axis starts at a four because all women are at least somewhat crazy. The hot axis is a standard scale of zero to ten, but according to the expert, any woman who is below a five on the hot scale is a “No go.” The key is to target women at the appropriate level of hot to crazy. She should be between a five to seven crazy and above an eight hot.

After watching this informative video, I came up with my own matrix for men called the “has a pulse to asshole matrix.” My asshole axis starts at a four because there is no such thing as a man who is not an asshole unless he is dead, or a little baby, or has Downs Syndrome. The has a pulse axis is simply from 0 to 1. Either a man has one or he does not. The key then is for women to find a man who is both alive and relatively low on the asshole scale. This matrix does not have a “No go” zone, but it does have a “Regret and shame” zone that exists whenever a woman dates anyone who is above an eight for asshole. This generally includes all guys who work for Merrill Lynch, many members of the NFL, and guys who make charts generalizing women based on a hot to crazy matrix. Above a ten for asshole is the “getting the shit beat out of you in an elevator” zone and the “getting shot while you are in the bathroom” zone, which women should certainly try to avoid.

Finding a man with a heartbeat—even if it is irregular or even if he is in some kind of chemically induced coma—who is also between a five to seven for asshole is a difficult task, but we must be diligent. Of course, this only applies to women who are above an eight for hot and between a five to seven crazy, the rest of you can just stay home with your 27 cats and your poster of Corey Haim because you are not even eligible. Men who are only assholes half the time are there ready to date us, and to under appreciate us, and to leave us with more than our fair share of the housework, and to get paid more for doing the same job. They are there to decide our value based on how we look and to label us “crazy” when we fail to be complacent to their terms. However, since all men can easily be categorized using a two-dimensional chart, we now have the knowledge we need to get up on that sweet, sweet action, and if we pay close attention and stay in the target zone, they might not even beat/rape/murder us.

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The penis represents the asshole/has a pulse line. It is your responsibility, as a woman, to keep this line in mind and to make smart choices. Men can’t be expected to do this, so you might not want to wear a low-cut tank top or a short skirt unless you want this line inside you.

Turtle Envy

I just moved into a new house in my same town. I started by moving the important things, like my ceramic zebra. Next, I moved all of my sharks’ teeth, most of the art work, and none of my clothes, dishes or beds. For a brief, beautiful time, my new house was only full of the things I really adore, like my collection of Martha Stewart Living magazines dating back to 1997 and my vintage tablecloth collection (all rectangular!) and none of the things that I actually needed like the files full of all the important documents that prove I exist or shampoo or underwear.  It was sort of like living in an Ikea showroom, but eventually I had to move all the stuff that makes an actual life, like my children.

There are things I have collected that I love for no practical reason. Moving them was fun, like being a museum curator, but then after that, moving everything else made me really question my life choices, like do I really need plates? Maybe it is just society dictating to me that I need blankets and rugs and every single thing in that damn closet in the bathroom. What if I only had one colander?

Moving has also made me realize that I have almost no skills that are helpful to the moving process. I am not especially strong. I can’t work a drill. I don’t have a truck, and asking someone to help with a move is one of the biggest favors a human can do for another. It goes like this: donating a kidney, giving someone the gift of life, and then helping someone move. If my kids ever ask me to help them move, I am going to tell them that I already did that when I single-handedly moved them from my womb into the world. I started to notice people were scared to look me in the eye, especially people with trucks. They would see me in the grocery store, waving my arms and sprinting towards them with my cart, and they would just pick up the pace and disappear down the dog food aisle. I thought about lurking around the front of Home Depot, like a hooker. Hey handsome is that your truck? You looking to have a really terrible time?

This move is also about starting over. I went through a divorce this year, and moving is really about creating a new life for me and my kids. And because of that there has been a lot more crying this time than I remember with previous moves. I had to keep reminding myself, “turn around, don’t drown” every time I went to pack another closet. It really slowed the process down. I am reading a book right now by Todd Snider about his life as a musician, and he was told to try and always be fifteen minutes away from being able to pack up and leave. I am about three weeks off that time frame.

Freedom is just another word for not having any solid white serving platters. In the transition, as items were displaced from their posts at the old house and before they were secured in permanent positions at the new house, I saw them as momentarily unnecessary. My attachment to objects (except for all my magazines and that matching set of ceramic owls and my collection of colorful aprons) was relaxed. When I loaded up most of my belongings into a friend’s truck—now I am eternally indebted to him, so I really hope he has excellent kidney health—he did some finagling with straps, said it should hold, and then looked at me with an expression of, “Right?” I said if anything falls out, like the coffee table, the mattresses, or me, then just keep driving.

Maybe I could go to Mexico and live in a dirt floor hut and spend my days doing peyote thinking about how happy I am I don’t have cabinets to fill. Then when the drug cartel raids my place, I will just spend fifteen minutes packing up my Martha Stewart Living magazines, my KitchenAid mixer (with attachments), my set of four gold-leaf champagne flutes, and my grandmother’s light-up ceramic pineapple, and I will be out the make-shift door!

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Sleep Like a Baby

There is one major challenge that I face each day: putting the kids to bed. I look forward to it because sometimes that is the only chance I get to spend quality time with them just reading a book or talking, and because once they are asleep then I can relax on the couch with a bottle of champagne and binge watch episodes of Weeds on Netflix. With my daughter, I have battled the bedtime ritual since she first crawled out of her crib at fourteen months old. I remember finding her standing in the hall and then closing and frantically rubbing my eyes, hoping that when I opened them again she would be gone, but it didn’t work. She was real. She was out. She was awake. That was five years ago. She has only gotten stronger and more determined since, while I am only getting lazier and more decrepit. My daughter will use any excuse she can think of to get out of her bed. She has to go to the bathroom. She heard a noise. She had a nightmare. I walk her back to her room, tuck her into the covers, and whisper, “You can’t have a nightmare until you actually go to sleep.”

If they offered an advanced degree in effectively and easily putting children to bed, I would enroll immediately, even if working towards the degree took years of intense training and cost millions of dollars in tuition. They don’t offer this degree, though, for the same reason they don’t offer degrees in time travel or relating to your mother-in-law because these skills cannot be taught. Nobody knows how to do this—or if it is even possible—even people who have kids that go to bed easily and on command are probably just lucky enough to have kids with severe narcolepsy. I can see this as a trait we could pick from a genetic menu. I would like a male child with blue eyes, a high IQ, and a sleep disorder. If you are still trying to find the perfect mate for procreation and you find someone who falls asleep during your first dinner date and then sleeps for eight to ten hours straight, you should never let that person go. Especially if you are a woman because once you have kids many men develop sleep disorders anyway, so you might as well cash in on the congenital version and get your money’s worth. If you do not have children and you have a male partner who bolts awake ready to protect and serve when a branch falls on the soft grass three houses down, you will be constantly surprised at how he can so easily sleep through a child screaming in the room right down the hall.

Being a parent, it seems completely normal to hear footsteps running towards my room in the middle of the night. It is also normal to wake up and find someone standing next to the bed staring at me. If I woke up and there was a murderer in my room instead of one of my kids, I would probably be relieved. That would be a lot less work for me. My kids need me to be in charge, even at three a.m. They wet their bed. They are afraid of zombies. They can only go back to sleep while kicking me in the spleen. Most of my overnight parenting involves me acting really annoyed. My son will come in crying and shivering to tell me he peed in the bed, and I will just make a loud huffy sigh. Then I wander into his room, like a blind drunk person, and he follows me. I throw him some dry underwear and somehow change his sheets without really opening either of my eyes. Then I grab his shoulders, lead him back to his bed, push him towards a sleeping position, pull the sheets up, and wander back to my room. Then I suddenly feel wide awake, and I lay there for the next three hours worrying about whether or not I wrote down that we are out of soy sauce on my grocery list—all the way in the other room.

At the exact second that I drift back to sleep, my daughter dashes in and crawls over me, kneeing me in the face. Right when we both get resituated, she asks if I can get her some milk. “No,” I say with my eyes still closed. Then she starts to cry about how she is so thirsty. “Fine!” I scream. At night I am like the DMV clerk of parenting. I am not being paid enough to pretend like I want to be there. Then when I get back with her milk, she is sound asleep and has completely taken over my spot in the bed. I try to slide her over, but she is like a body of water, always taking up whatever space is presented.  The more I push her away the more she somehow spreads out so I have even less room available than I started with. I just lay down in the two inch space she left on the edge, propped up on my side like a two-by-four. I sigh loudly and then the alarm goes off.

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Portrait of the Writer as a Young Girl

I remember being in line at the school cafeteria in elementary school and reading the menu taped to the glass. Our main course for the day was “Real Pork Chops.” As I plopped my tray on the counter and reached for a white milk I made a comment to the girl in line behind me, “REAL pork chops? What kind of pork chops have we been eating?” She smiled slightly. I tried again with the boy in front of me, “REAL pork chops!” He ignored me. I have now learned that when life presents funny shit, like the sudden appearance of the word “real” in front of a meat product we have been eating all school year, I should just pocket that morsel so I can write about it later. Thirty years later.

I wasn’t a writer then. I was quiet. I started writing when I got to high school. I had an amazing eleventh-grade English teacher who stopped me in the hall one day outside of class to tell me that I was a good writer. She put something I wrote in a student publication, and I felt haughty. I am sure whatever I wrote was not funny. I was dark and stormy in my writing back then. I kept a diary in high school, and when I read it years later my eyes darted across the page with increasing panic, and then I threw it in the trash. The girl in that diary was terrifyingly pathetic and morose. I probably should have been suicidal, but I wasn’t nearly that interesting. Mainly I just wrote about how I wanted a boyfriend, or at least just for a boy—any boy—to notice that I was alive. A smoke signal sending puffs of “You probably exist or whatever” would have sufficed. I spent four pages writing about how I wanted to get with some boy at a party, but he liked someone else. That is not a four-page story. That is a sentence. That is a clause that introduces a better sentence, “I wanted to get with him, but he liked someone else, so I said ‘fuck it’ and drank six Solos of hunch punch and then passed out in a ditch.” No, wait. “I wanted to get with him, but he liked someone else, probably because I never talked to him or expressed any interest whatsoever, so I am going to just laugh with my friends and not be a sorry loser.” Better.

The odd thing is that I remember being a mostly happy teenager. I smiled a lot. I loved my friends. I felt accepted. I did not date much, and at the time that circumstance apparently consumed me. The gist of my tragic diary was me trying to figure out who I was. I did not think I was unattractive. I wasn’t completely sure, but looking around it seemed there were certainly people uglier than me finding “love” (and by “love” I mean making out in the parking lot). Maybe my big hair and my quadro-boobs (in order to keep up with the growing rate of my breasts in high school I would have had to buy a new bra approximately every thirty seconds, so my bras were always too small) were confusing to teenage boys, or maybe I made too many wisecracks about meat products; there was no way to know for sure what was wrong with me. With my diary I was just trying to explore how I fit into the world around me.

I started to read humor writing when I was in high school. They used to run Dave Barry’s Miami Herald column in the Sunday edition of our Tallahassee paper. My mom would cut it out for me and leave it on the counter. I probably increased his teenage girl readership to one. When I was twenty-two I read Bridget Jones Diary, and I started to emulate her writing, usually while I was bored at work. I remember writing a few paragraphs about being home sick. I wrote that I was in bed shivering, so I kept layering on more clothes and by the morning I looked like a homeless snowman, and then I wrote “My mom came by to check on me and put the back of her palm on my forehead. It was official. I had a fever.” For some reason those sentences stayed with me. I saw that I had done something clever. My meaning was bigger than my actual words. I started to understand that writing was magic.

I went to college and studied creative writing. At first, I wrote entirely in comma splices, “I ran down the hill, the hot sand burned my feet, the sand spurs licked at my heels.” I had a few teachers that just let me write error-full prose, and I think they did me a service, but sort of like when you let your toddler explore the yard, you give him freedom, but you follow closely behind and grab him before he stumbles out into oncoming traffic. Eventually a teacher returned a decent story to me caked in red marks. I rewrote it and replaced all the comma splices with periods. I presented the edited version to a writing workshop in my senior year, and the class hated it because it was choppy and had no flow. One student demonstrated by reading the entire paper out loud in a robot voice. I credit my experience in those writing workshops with my ability to take criticism. I will stand naked before you, and we can talk about my flaws.

I started to read more, too. Nonfiction. Funny shit. When I lived in Austin I used to hang out at the Book People bookstore, next to the Whole Foods on North Lamar. I leaned up against shelves and slid to the floor, immersed in reading. They had a small, but eclectic humor section. I bought every copy of a book titled The Wild Goose Chronicles by filmmaker Trent Harris, which includes a clever mix of photos and text about his travels around the world. I used to give the book as a gift to guys I was dating-slash-just sleeping with. I am not sure what I meant by the gesture. Here is a book that is probably on your level—it has lots of pictures and is about a futile pursuit.  It was more of a parting gift, mainly because shortly after I gave them the book they would break up with me.

I stopped writing when I got married and started having kids. I was busy, sure, but I also no longer felt the need to relentlessly carve out my identity. Then I went back to grad school, but I still wasn’t writing anything fun. The writing I was doing for my classes was sometimes returned with comments like “great ideas, but your writing lacks clarity.” The fact that my writing was garbled, at times even weak, didn’t matter nearly as much as my ability to engage in thoughtful analysis. Writing was just a conduit, which to me seemed like using a framed two dollar bill to buy a pack of cigarettes. I even started to believe that maybe I wasn’t a writer; maybe I was just someone who was smart and had thought-provoking ideas about literature and the writing process. Then I got a grip. I put the gun back in the drawer and remembered who I really am. My dad was on Judge Judy. I serve beer at my kids’ birthday parties. I cannot be trusted.

Then I did a summer writing workshop with a group of teachers. We did some creative writing, and I cranked out more pages than I had written in years. I learned the most valuable writing lesson: I can write on demand. That was the missing piece. I used to think that I had to be punched by inspiration, only able to write if I was hunched over the keyboard with a fat lip. I thought I had to have something to actually write about. I don’t. I can make any moment write-worthy. I just have to put experiences into a kaleidoscope and then keep rearranging the pixels until the right pieces come into focus in a new frame. I have been wrestling with writing this piece all week, but it was not coming together—everything I came up with felt forced and fuzzy. Then I thought about the pork chop story while lying in bed at four a.m. I made a note in my phone and then got up this morning and the rest fell into place like a flight board that suddenly changes from delayed to now boarding. I just needed REAL pork chops.

The end.

Maybe this is right the place for a fucking poem? I wrote this on my phone in a gas station parking lot.

I am a dress code violator.
A head held high while the world is hunched in prayer.
A kick to your neat pile of leaves.
A laugh that echoes off solemn mountains.
You think this is funny?

The rules don’t apply to me.
Ask for permission later
or never.
Say Bullshit loud in quiet rooms.
Jump. Say “I will.”

Suffocate fear with words. Write.
Then write more. Be a rebel.
Make the world my metaphoric bitch.
Take what I need.
Tell no lies.

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Gratitude

At the beginning of November, I planned to take part in the trend of writing what I was thankful for each day for the entire month. I knew I would have to write my own version of that ritual. I only made it six days:

Friday November 1:  I am thankful that I did not run over the lady wearing all black walking on the side of the road as I was trying to get my kids to school. That would have made me feel like a real asshole.

Saturday November 2:  I am thankful that I did not end up cleaning out my daughter’s closet, even though it was the first thing on my to-do list. When I pulled back the sliding doors, I burst into tears and chose to go lie down in my bed and sob. That was a much better way to spend the afternoon.

Sunday November 3:  I am thankful that 6:30 is the new 7:30.

Monday November 4: I am thankful that my doctor’s office did not call today to say that my results are in and I have diabetes.  That would suck.

Tuesday November 5: I am thankful that I drove the entire way to work today without crying.

Wednesday November 6:  I am thankful that I made the decision a decade ago to never wear panty hose again.

By Thursday I decided to reevaluate my writing plan  . . . and my life.

Then before the Thanksgiving break, I gave my students a writing assignment asking them to make a list of the little things in their lives that make them thankful. They add up. I wrote with them:

A real attitude of gratitude  . . .

I am thankful for doughnuts. They always show up when you need them most.

I am thankful for peaceful lunches at my desk. Eating alone does not usually make the list of great life events, but I relish those moments sitting at my computer, searching the internet, writing, and devouring a giant salad.

I am thankful for sleep. My son calls bedtime his worst enemy. I battle staying awake.

I am thankful for long walks. Sometimes I don’t want to stop walking. I will walk past my house in circles, dreading going back to reality.

I am thankful for happy hour. The only solution for anything that can’t be solved on a walk.

I am thankful for my sisters. It is helpful during a crisis to get 48 new text messages while I am at the gym. Maybe I do matter.

I am thankful for coffee. It is why I get up in the morning.  Some days I wake up and question why I should even bother and then I remember coffee.

I am thankful for time spent driving in my car. I get to sit down and listen to music. My kids, by law, must be strapped into their seats.

I am thankful for the delete key. Sometimes the only solution is to keep moving the cursor backwards until I am at the top of an empty page.

I am thankful for my students. Without them I wouldn’t have a job. They keep me grounded and remind me about what is important (usually not great literature, in case anyone is wondering).

I am thankful for Louis CK. Maybe divorce is hilarious. And hard as hell. At the same time.

I am thankful for a long rainy drive in Thanksgiving traffic. I survived. Now, I can appreciate the ease of navigating through the sunshine.

I am thankful for the time I get to spend reading to my kids before bed. I am also thankful for the time after my kids have been put to bed.

I am thankful for phone calls. Talking, listening, connecting.

I am thankful for writing. When I write, I am in control. I make the rules. I create myself. I cannot be erased.

Don’t Mind Me (as I write down everything you say)

I have been into lists lately. Sometimes I take notes when my kids say funny shit. I like to think this will not be damaging to them, but who am I kidding? My seven-year-old boy is a serious mix of ambition, angst, and affection. He will definitely have road rage as an adult, but he will also be the first person to reach out for a hug. In the meantime, he makes me laugh. Here are some things I have heard him say recently:

I like Hailey. I would never fart in front of her.

It is a good thing there are squid or else I wouldn’t have anything to hate.

Do we have any Kaboom with Oxi Clean?

If we ever go to war and have to use fruit, we are going with pineapple because if someone threw a grape at me, it wouldn’t really hurt.

Going to bed is my worst enemy.

When we don’t have any Gatorade, which is pretty much every day, then I like to drink water.

But seriously what would happen if there was no sun?

The baby was pooped out, just like mom did to us when we were born.

I also have notes from my five-year-old daughter, and I have thought about writing a list with her comments and asking people to guess who said it, either some old man pervert or my adorable girl. I am pretty sure most people would guess wrong. Here are some of the memorable things she has said to me recently:

Can I touch your boobs?

Girl, get in here and let me see your style!

Those pants make me like you more.

I farted.

When can we have some drinks?

I am pretty sure that when she is older we are going to be great friends.

Wanted

In high school I participated in a work study program where I could earn high school credit for getting out of school early and going to work. Some of my fellow students were already employed, but the rest of us had to fill out surveys about our interests so the teacher could place us in jobs that best matched our personalities. For one student the best fit was working the drive-thru at McDonalds and for another it was working the night shift at a gas station. For me, with my mix of intelligence, rebelliousness, and eye-rolling, I was best suited for unemployment. I remained jobless until after the Christmas break—a program record! Eventually, I was hired as a part-time kennel tech at a local veterinarian’s office.

My first job was cleaning up dog shit. That should have been a sign for me to just surrender and go ahead and get myself a homeless lady’s shopping cart. However, I remained inappropriately optimistic. In my twenties I worked many unfulfilling, low-paying, part-time jobs. Instead of putting my effort into graduating from college, I continually drifted away from campus and applied myself to jobs that could easily be handled by a well-trained housecat.

I once answered a classified advertisement to work for a man who published an addiction recovery newsletter from his converted garage. The position was part-time, which really resonated with me, and the main task was typing testimonial emails from recovering addicts into the body of the newsletter. He set me up at a spare computer nestled between stacks of papers and a shelf of paint cans. He showed me the emails and then waddled to his desk on the other side of a work bench stacked with more piles of papers.

“I’m finished.” I said.
“What?”
“I’m finished. I copied all the emails. Now what do you need me to do?”

He did not know about cut and paste. Maybe he got really drunk in 1981 and by the time he sobered up in 1998 he had missed out on many important technological developments, but it seems like he would have learned about cut and paste, especially since his job-slash-cover story was being a publisher. I showed him how I highlighted the text and then copied it into his fucked up newsletter. He could not believe his eyes. I was like the David Blaine of word processing.

He found other tasks for me to do. I organized the piles of papers and changed the printer cartridge. I took out the recycling bins. Each morning he would walk to the convenience store on the corner and get himself breakfast, and sometimes he would bring me a carrot cake muffin. We talked about how I was new in town, and I didn’t really know anyone (and nobody knew where I was). He said that if he wasn’t divorced with two kids (and probably under house arrest) he would take me out to dinner. That seemed somewhat creepy, but the muffins were delicious (how did they make them so moist!), the job was easy, and I was usually home by lunch, so I kept showing up.

Then one day I got in my car to go home and there was a single long stem rose on my dashboard. I looked up, and he was standing in the driveway. It was one of those moments when lightning flashes and in the micro-second of illumination a creepy guy with a bloody chainsaw, or a carrot cake muffin, suddenly appears, grinning maniacally. I screamed and then quickly locked my car door and put it in reverse. I never went back. I don’t usually mention this particular job on my resume, and I probably won’t unless I am applying for a position where the main qualification is “not getting murdered,” then it seems relevant because obviously I nailed it.

I would like to say that after I left this job I went back to school, and I gave up on the allure of only working until noon and living on a wage that made me envious of third world children. I would also like to say that this was the last time I worked for a man in his converted garage, but it wasn’t.

Nonfiction in Sheep’s Clothing

I consider myself unqualified for everything. Even as a parent I usually feel like I am just pretending to be in charge. All the other kids have real mothers, and I am just a babysitter—the kind that you might not call back unless you were desperate. The kind that will definitely eat all your food, and if you stay out late enough, she might drink that bottle of wine you bought on your last romantic getaway to Napa. I don’t have a good excuse for floundering; it isn’t like I got pregnant as a teenager or after sex-change surgery. I was 30 years old when I had my first kid. I was married, owned a home, and had good insurance. Feeling inadequate just comes more natural.

When I was single, I would think, I am probably not good enough to be your girlfriend, even if you did call back. Now that I am married, I am positive that I am unqualified to be a wife. I see all these other women with their mother-in-laws on speed dial and their genuine supportiveness, and I know they are good wives. Even the GPS lady is a better wife than I am. When my husband makes a wrong turn, she doesn’t say, “I TOLD you to go 800 more feet, jack nuts.” No. She just calmly asks him to make a series of left turns until he is right back where he started. I imagine her winking at me through the dash, “See, he doesn’t even have to know he was wrong.”

As I was reading David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls and I noticed a trend about his fictional work, which he includes as intercalary chapters to his nonfiction essays, I thought I should write about it. Then I reminded myself that I am unqualified for such a task, but then, THEN I said, “Listen, jack nuts, if there is anything you are qualified to do, it is to write a fake review of Sedaris’s new book.” It was a good feeling—a warm blanket of useless qualification.

His fiction seems worth writing about because it is often snubbed. New York Times reviewer David Carr stated in his review of Sedaris’s new book, “His attempts to write complete essays in another voice do nothing for me,” and then he calls two of the fictional snippets, “both affected and unaffecting.” Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls is the first book to include fictional essays since Barrel Fever, published in 1994. Barrel Fever includes twelve “stories” and only four nonfiction essays, but is most known as the book that includes the elf essay. “Santaland Diaries” is funny, yes. Sedaris’s perspective of his time spent working as a Macy’s elf is hysterical even. However, the fictional essays in Barrel Fever are far more provocative. (I prefer the term fictional essays because Sedaris’s fiction resembles the format of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” more so than the traditional short story). Sedaris is much darker in fiction, and often his fiction writing is just his nonfiction cloaked in a dark veil or maybe a bloody ski mask.

One of my favorite essays by Sedaris is the fictional, “Season’s Greetings to our Friends and Family!!!” in Barrel Fever. The Christmas letter is narrated by a suburban housewife named Jocelyn and sums up a year that includes the arrival of her husband’s twenty-two-year-old Vietnamese daughter, the teenage pregnancy of her own daughter, and the subsequent tragedy that follows, including the death of the new grandbaby. It parodies the family Christmas letter and contains many exclamation points!!!!!!! By the end it seems that Jocelyn is not only narrow-minded but a maniacal killer. It is ridiculous, tragic, hilarious, and much more political than Sedaris’s nonfiction. Jocelyn is fucking crazy, but she is also a caricature of a real type of person, which makes her profoundly troubling. Jocelyn wishes her readers,

The Merriest of Christmas Seasons from the entire Dunbar family: Clifford, Jocelyn, Kevin, Jacki, Kyle, and Khe Sahn!!!!!
Some of you are probably reading this and scratching your heads over the name “Khe Sahn.” “That certainly doesn’t fit with the rest of the family names,” you’re saying to yourself. “What did those crazy Dunbars get themselves a Siamese cat?”
You’re close.

Jocelyn continues, describing Khe Sahn’s skimpy wardrobe and her failure to speak English, “She arrived in this house six weeks ago speaking only the words ‘Daddy,’ ‘Shiny,’ and ‘Five dollar now.’”

(Please read this essay immediately)

In Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, the fictional narrators (also a bunch of crazies) collectively reflect the opposition. Read as a complete book with chapters, not as a collection of individual essays (some fiction, some non), the fictional voices serve as a friendly reminder of what else is out there. A reminder that the world-at-large is not a Sedaris essay.

I like to read about the life of a middle-aged homosexual man, even the romantic parts and the parts that speak warmly of Europe. However, not everyone shares my views, maybe even readers that are fond of Sedaris’s big ticket essays like “Santaland Diaries” or “Six to Eight Black Men.” The new book has a compelling vulnerability to it. In “A Guy Walks into a Bar Car” Sedaris tinkers with romance—in his own way—by recalling a romantic encounter on a train in Italy, emotionally describing his one who got away, “Bashir got off with his three big suitcases and became a perennial lump in my throat.” The train ride with Bashir is starkly paralleled with another encounter on a train that was messy, awkward, and involved a hefty mix of vodka and pot.

In contrast, the fictional “I Break for Traditional Marriage” is narrated by a man who shoots his wife and daughter because “if homosexuality is no longer a sin, then who is to say that murder is?” And it is miraculously funny. A tender story about love on a train is the type of writing that can be taught, but a hilarious mock essay about murder and bigotry—that is just natural born talent. At one point, the narrator listens to a right-wing call-in show where the host and a caller debate whether one could now marry a pizza, “‘There’s no reason I can think of why you couldn’t marry a pizza,’ he said. ‘Hell, you could probably even marry a mini-pizza, one of those ones made from an English muffin, if you felt like it.’”

The fictional essays in Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls fill in the blanks that the nonfiction, which depicts an idyllic world of success, life partners, and world travel, leaves untold. The intermingling of nonfiction and nonfiction-in-disguise gives the new book more depth than his old stuff. But who am I to say? He is David Sedaris. He can write whatever the fuck he wants. (And I can continue to like it.)

David Carr’s review is from The New York Times Sunday Book Review, online edition, published on May 17, 2003.

Sedaris’s Barrel Fever was originally published in 1994 by Little, Brown. The excerpts here are from the 2009 ebook edition.

The excerpts from Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls are from the 2013 first edition published by Little, Brown.