After a certain number of years, you forget what “terminal” was going to mean.
- 496 AD – Valentine of Rome is martyred
- 1477 – the earliest surviving valentines written in English are composed
- 1983 – Valentines are exchanged amongst first grade classmates on a voluntary basis. A little girl gives away a box full and receives none.
- 1994 – Cookies are baked for a high school boyfriend. Later that day, a girl is dumped.
- 1996 – Flowers are delivered to a college freshman with a mysterious note. Her roommates believe this to be the act of a secret admirer. The girl knows the florist has made a mistake, her mother having already called to see if she received her flowers.
- 1997 – A college sophomore receives two gifts, both from her mother. One is a pound of chocolate. The other is a bra in the next size up from her usual, because the mother has taken note of the girl’s recent and significant weight gain.
- 1998 – A college junior refuses to leave her room while waiting for her long-distance boyfriend to call. When he finally does, he dumps her, even though she’s lost the weight.
- 2001 – A vegetarian is taken to dinner by a new boyfriend. At a steakhouse. He is dressed in black pants, a black shirt, and a red tie, the exact same uniform worn by all of the wait staff. He is given full credit for trying.
- 2005 – A lifelong dream is realized when a young bride receives flowers at the office. Upon checking the card, she sees that they are for a coworker. She re-directs them. Her new husband loses all credit bestowed in 2001.
- 2007 – A recent divorcee reads her settlement agreement over a bottle of cheap cabernet
- 2008 – A 30-year-old woman travels to Belize to prove to herself that she can do anything on her own. She contracts leishmaniasis and is picked up from the airport by the very sweet man she’s just started dating. He brings her flowers and tries to tend to her severe flu-like symptoms. She dumps him when the fever breaks.
- 2009 – A man informs his starry-eyed new girlfriend that he does not believe in Valentine’s day. Other things he will eventually not believe in include jewelry, cards, wrapping of gifts, cleaning hair out of drains, discarding of beer cans, paying bills, and brushing his teeth every day. She will date him for four years.
- 2014 – A mid-30s former vegetarian single divorcee works late, eats half a rotisserie chicken standing over the sink, pours herself a glass of wine, and writes a brief history of Valentine’s Day, as happy as she’s ever been on Valentine’s.
Happy day, lovers!
Because I am an Amazon and Boss, with whom I share an office, is a wee Sprite, the topic of size is a fog forever hanging in the air between us, grazing the top of her head and the middle of my ribs. So once, on a lark (and because I was wearing four inch heels), we marked one another’s hight on the wall near our door. Okay, technically she had to find someone tall enough to mark mine.
I told a friend today that if my day were a Dr Seuss book, that would be it’s title. He dared me to write it. Fool.
Oh, the Things That You’ll Eat!
First I ate sausage
And two clementines,
Then some mixed nuts,
And that’s all before 9!
Then came an apple
And other such fruit
And for lunch, breast of chicken
With avocado, to boot
Then afternoon came
And I sat in my chair
And filled myself up with peanuts
From my feet to my hair
And just when my stomach said “please, please, no more!”
Boss came back to the office
with bags from the store.
An though I know
That the eating should halt
I have a mouthful of almonds
Coated in chocolate and sea salt.
If you’re almost anywhere in the continental US this winter, you’re aware that it has sucked. Continues to suck. Shows no sign of stopping. I live in a city synonymous with winter, but even so, we are all fatigued. [Truth be told, we do not typically live up to our reputation, which we will in turns fight or flaunt, depending on whether we are defending our home or boasting of our mettle.] It has been years since we’ve suffered such an unrelenting tedium of bitter cold and frequent snow, house-bound and stir crazy, minds weary from the dreary skies, bodies aching from extra pounds of boot and sweater and coat; from shoulders involuntarily shrugged for months on end, heavy flesh and bone earmuffs we can’t shed.
We know from physics class and bacon grease that molecules slow down in cold temperatures, become viscous, sluggish. Apparently my mind is trying to counter that effect with cosmogyral thought patterns darting in every direction at once, criss-crossing and circling back on themselves, repeating ad nauseam until they’ve worn filthy grooves like tire tracks in the thick snow that’s built up at every intersection in my neighborhood. (In both cases, one must beware those tracks. They make the going easier until you need to move against them, when you’re quite suddenly at risk of losing control and spinning out completely. Slow down. Take care. Turn into the skid. Regain control. (If you do slip, hang on and hope for the best. It will be over soon. You will usually survive.))
I am on day … I don’t know, let’s call it 58 or so, of insomnia. Maybe it’s been longer than that. I don’t know. I swear I remember it starting in December, but my journal tells me it was last summer. Maybe I slept for a while in the fall. Maybe December is just when it really got bad. It’s waning a bit these past few weeks. I like to take personal credit for that, as if my boss had listed “Sleep” as a goal on my performance review.
Liska is a hard worker and goes to bed on time almost every night. She has given up her afternoon coffee and has been exercising every day. Despite her efforts, she has not been able to sleep effectively this year and needs to learn to work more cooperatively with her brain.
I tell myself I’m getting better, but really I’m taking a man-sized dose of Ambien like clockwork every night and sleeping for five hours (except when it’s three). If you are not familiar with the drug, it is an allegedly powerful hypnotic. I am supposed to take it for three weeks to break the cycle of broken sleep cycles I’ve been suffering, after which I’ll be cured. Until the next bout.
I had taken it once several years ago when shit had gone wrong and I was (to put it in the parlance of the day), “not dealing.” I remember taking Ambien and falling like a tranq’d rhino every night almost faster than I could get my water glass back down onto the nightstand, waking some eight hours later to find a sock missing or a shin bruised (Ambien is known to shift the walls and doorjambs in your house while you sleep). I also woke to many a “thanks for your order” email from mid-slumber’s voyages to magical lands such as gap.com.
But now I feel like the control subject, dutifully swallowing my sugar pill every night, only to wake at 4:30 or 3:30 or 12:30. My brain has outrun sleep. It has outrun benzodiazepines. It occasionally outruns itself, a four-person relay team sprinting all at once, unaware that the baton is lying in the cinders at the starting line. But I’m not sleep-shopping, so there’s that.
On the up-side, which is where I try (sometimes desperately, sometimes futilely) to dwell, I am able to fall asleep. To lie awake knowing there is no point to even closing your eyes is pure torture. This, on the other hand, is just disappointing. I can even doze back off for a bit, settling into my deepest rest in the 9 minutes between when my alarm goes off and when the first snooze times out. And I don’t feel fatigued. To the contrary, I am awake and alert all day long.
Awake and alert, but not entirely myself. There’s the rub.My sleep deficit is not making me dopey, but it sure is making me mean. Or maybe I’m just suffering mid-March levels of winter rage because it honestly is miserable here. But at least I’m done crying, my vintage era teen angst stuffed back into whatever filthy jar in my brain it spilled out of last month. I’m even being productive at work (gods alive, I might being enjoying my work).
So the upshot of this long story long is that I am sick to fucking death of winter, but am otherwise cautiously optimistic about my own forecast. My script is up on Tuesday. What’s the over/under on another storm?
Things have been hard lately. Nerves raw. Emotions churning right at the surface, exposed for all to see. It’s hard to trace the exact order and timing of All Of The Things. I know I was restless and antsy for change all last spring. I know I was at peace briefly this summer when I thought I knew what that change would be. I know I was cautiously happy when I met you, even as the Big Change fell through and I had to adjust to a different, less dramatic set of changes. I know I was happy while you were happy. I know I became anxious and unsure as you became those things. I know I became depressed in lock step with you, too. I know I share your insomnia. I know you’re more voodoo doll than friend. I know I cried a lot and out of nowhere. I thought that was over. I was, as it now appears, Wrong.
I was sitting in the coffee shop today, the one with the horrible coffee. It was too late for coffee anyway – I just needed to get out of the house, and it’s a nice enough place to drink tea and read. The din of so many conversations under such a high ceiling distracts me from thinking my own thoughts. To sit at the window, alone-but-not-alone, there’s always something to watch on the busy-ish street outside. Acquaintances passing in and out, sharing warm but empty greetings. A little less alone.
I read for hours while you did not call.
When it came time to leave, I looked at my phone and found an email from a distant friend, an older friend, a friend from a bygone era who still remembers how to write letters, even if they’re now delivered electronically. I read her letter, smiling at her stories of travel and plans for more travel (our shared passion). And then I got to her last sentence, in which she inquired about you. I felt the wave coming, so I packed up quickly and hurried out before the tears could begin. I made it down the short block to the light. As I waited to cross, someone behind me asked “Hey, are you okay?”
I turned around to see a stranger – a youngish man holding a cup from said coffee shop. He asked again, “Are you alright? I saw you leave with some… emotions.”
I told him I was fine – that I’d just received an email from a friend that required my attention. Not more than 43% lie. I assured him again that I was fine. He apologized for bothering me.
“No,” I said, “this was really nice of you.”
I used to be a voracious reader. And by “used to,” I refer to the period from age three, when I learned all of the words in my favorite Snow White picture book by sight, until some twenty years later, when I entered grad school while still working full time in a career-track job. I spend the subsequent decade working all the time, unable to absorb anything less vapid than television. Every year I vow to read more, but lately I’ve actually been doing something about it. That something is reading.
I have a particular fondness for young adult literature, because it can be quick and engaging without the language being dumbed down. I don’t know why adult quick reads have to read like they were also written quickly. The only novels I continued to read during my personal Dark Ages were the Harry Potter series, being the only writs longer than a short story or essay that I could commit to finishing. I’ve gotten 50 pages into a shamefully tall stack of abandoned books.
So when Amazon suggested I try J.K. Rowling’s first book for adult audiences, The Casual Vacancy, I decided to give it a shot. I’m glad I did.
For a 500 page book, the plot is minimalist, detailing the quotidian microdrama of a tiny hamlet in England and the adjacent, slightly larger town. There is no backdrop of historical significance, there is no cataclysm, there are no dragons. I normally have little patience for endless descriptions without a lot of action, but Rowling is something of a wizard in her own right when it comes to the subtle magic of arranging words on a page.
The basic premise is that a parish councilor in a small town has passed away suddenly, leaving behind his empty council seat and a town full of residents inexorably interconnected by family and school ties, as well as the sometimes very tangible impacts of local politics.
Rowling’s narrative and character development are meticulous. Much in the way we could all envision young Harry long before we laid eyes on Daniel Radcliffe, every one of the nearly two dozen pivotal characters in The Casual Vacancy is described in such detail that not only can you picture their faces, their style, their walks, but you can anticipate how they will react to the events that unfold around them. The plot is subtle, understated, but obviously well thought through, as the seemingly minor events that occur throughout the book are knit together perfectly in the end. As is often the case with her writing, I was forced to pause near the end to cry for a bit before finishing the final chapter. I only cry for the ones I feel I know.
Rowling knows people. She obviously studies them well and understands what makes them tick, and this allows her to develop her cast in a way few authors can imitate. None of her characters is purely good nor bad, protagonist nor antagonist. All are human – the good ones have failings and the bad ones, explanations. In her art, as in life, humans are messy, complicated creatures with complex motives and imperfect judgement. There is no Dumbledore, nor any Voldemort. If we could all see each other with such clarity and tenderness, this world would be a less aggressive place.