hardware stores

Not Home Depot or Lowe’s. No. Hardware stores. Everything is packed in so tightly there’s no free shelf space anywhere. Lots and lots and lots of little bins of things. Price tag stickers from pricing guns from twenty years ago. Nails, screws, bolts. Hardware.

I love being in the aisles at a real hardware store. It’s like being in a library in a lot of ways for me. Walking slowly up and down the aisle, considering just how that particular thing might be used, getting ideas for things, losing myself (interesting typo, I wrote “my self”) in my thoughts.

How do they keep it so tidy? This is a train of thought I always visit and never enjoy. When I worked in retail I was horrible at keeping the store looking good. I’m not a tidy person by nature. So the idea of keeping all of those thousands of pieces in such an orderly state stresses me out. Oh, and “inventory.” Yikes. What a nightmare. I would always be the worst person to have doing the inventory jobs because I just didn’t care how many there were. “Yeah, that’s about right,” and I’d put the number on the paper.

Mostly I don’t get distracted by what it takes to get it this way. Mostly I love to linger. Today I found myself a bit flogged by anxiety feeling someone might come at me at any moment to ask if I needed help. I don’t mind that. It’s a retail establishment, after all. But I have found hardware store staff tend to be a little agressive with the “LET ME HELP YOU” stuff. Today I was all prepared to say, “I know this is weird, but I just like looking around.” I realized that was the simplest solution. The tinge of anxiety made my visit a little less meditative, but it was still good. No one bothered me anyway, after all.

Up and down the aisle, the smells of oil and metal and dust. So many tiny things forming larger shapes, so many versions of one kind of tool.

When I left my apartment I thought, “I need to get some screws that won’t fall out of the wall and a wrenchy thing.”

When I came home to my apartment I had some screws that won’t fall out of the wall. Or, rather, the next ones I put in won’t fall out of the wall when I re-do hanging the shelf. The first two will because I was super impatient and ended up practically hammering them in so they’re not at all secure. And, I got a wrenchy thing that’ll be just right for putting on the good shower head. I even stumbled on the pipe tape that I will need later tonight and regretted not getting and would have had to decide if I wait until tomorrow or just see if the remnants of old tape were enough.

Hardware stores, art supply stores, libraries, used book stores. I think of all the indoor spaces these are closest to being a form of church for me. Even thinking about it, just lingering in the spaces, going slowly, considering, letting my thoughts and feelings simmer and start to reach a slow boil… My juices flow inside me and start wanting to come out and I have to let them out somehow and here I am now, trying.

inside the dark

As someone who used to love getting stoned, visiting alternate realities, all that druggy stuff, I thought it might be fun to see if I could share a sensorial experience of what full-blown Pre-Menstrual Syndrome is like from the inside out. Tonight I realized it’s quite a bit like an acid trip. And, since not many people I know these days have tripped, I can’t just compare it and stop there. So, here we go… and, of course, this is just my own personal experience. Every woman has her own experience unique to her. Some of you don’t have the downsides and just enjoy the upsides, I know. Some of you only know your period is coming because you look at the calendar. Well, not me. I’ve found in my later years that I look at a calendar because I start feeling and behaving in particular ways. Then I say, oh, hey, there we go. That explains it!

Much of the experience mimics plain old clinical depression. There’s a darkness all around. There’s a cone or tunnel of light so I can see in front of me. All the periphery, ever crowding in, is blurry and hazy. I’m constantly feeling like I need to get my hair up in a scrunchy because it feels like my vision is being crowded out by fuzz. My hair up never solves it, but begins the process of containment. Containment is the only way I make it through these long days.

What most people don’t realize is the beast of PMS is also a gift. Like writers who drank themselves to death or the van Gogh’s of the world killing themselves after living with mental illness, my PMS brings with her gobs and gobs of creativity. Manic, maybe. Roller coaster, definitely. Productive, sometimes. Destructive, frequently.

In The Red Tent—a book I found only so-so but one that stayed with me in a deeper way than most I’ve ever read—Diamant paints a picture of women bonding together during their periods. The idea is rich and lovely. I think, however, women would do better finding space for themselves before their periods start. At least I would, and do.

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I’m aware that I’m in the throws of PMS, I can ride the tough times and the people around me aren’t subjected to quite as much irrationality. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned about my own PMS, though, is that while I may act and say and do things impulsive, irrationally, violently, there is always some truth to my behavior. Everything is magnified. This brings me back to the physical experience.

Bright lights shine fiercely on single words in emails. Voices scream loudly when someone whispers. What should be simple confuses me, what should be comfortable distresses me. I feel alive and energized and heavy and immobile.

Today at lunch I was aware of how deeply into my hormonal surges I’d gone. Rather than try to continue on as normal, I said to my family, “I’m in a mood where anything you say or do will seem wrong. Let’s not subject any of us to that.” So, I didn’t say yes when Maya asked if she could feed Althea the sweet potatoes when we were out at the restaurant. I didn’t suggest Josh and I discuss anything of great substance (unlike last night when I went to him weeping about Big Things and The Future). I gave myself over to the waves.

There’s a deep feeling of wanting to hurt myself. Not in any kind of scary serious actually harmful way. Just things like the compulsion to eat junk food. There’s something gross about it that feels right. Like a big fuck you to the world, to myself, to my body. I don’t care what you say, oh knowers of healthiness, I’m going to plump up, build up my fat stores, get ready to bear these children unless I… oh, thank god. I got my period. And that urge for garbage food disappears. Actually, I stop wanting to eat as if I’ve got a tapeworm about 4-6 hours before I get my period. How’s that for a nice little “TMI” tidbit? It’s true though. Totally predictable. It’s how I know to get a tampon in. Suddenly no food or only relatively healthy food looks good.

My body feels thicker. Not in a fat kind of way, but as if all my skin has more nerve endings. As if every sensation goes deeper into my skin. Everything smells more both in my perception outside myself and what I’m emitting. This is part of why I compare it to an acid trip. It’s as if something else has taken over and everything is heightened.

I’m consumed with waves of desperation. Desperation to organize spaces tops the list. I tear apart cabinets or drawers of clutter. I move furniture. I write blog posts and meme in the extreme. Everything needs to be done now. Unfortunately, I’m still me, and I’m not very skilled in finishing projects. Our house is left with pockets of newly tidied spaces and the rest looks like a hurricane came through.

It’s a shame, really, I’m not able to take a break from the rest of the world for these days and focus on art. The things I make during this time tend to be some of my more powerful work. There is a richness to this time, as well as an insanity. Warmth and heat and excruciatingly annoying bitchiness. I laugh more, cry a lot, and find myself unable to get words out as if I haven’t slept properly. Which, let’s face it, I probably haven’t. Slept. That’s not an effect of PMS, though, that’s simply part of having a 9 month old who thinks it’s great fun to wake up at 5am.

Just like any time of stress, I’m learning more with each cycle that I need to take it easy. Expect less of myself, be more gentle with myself, and give my loved ones fair warning.

I teach Maya that the chemicals in my body are all getting excited thinking they might get to make a baby. That they go up and down and all around and that’s why I seem extra energetic or impatient or sad. I don’t want her afraid of PMS or hormones, so I don’t make a big deal of it. But I also want her to know the truth. The chemicals in our body impact how we see the world and how we behave in it. When I’m seeing things through my PMS dark foggy glasses, it’s not like other times of the month. I explain to her that she might want to go in the other room because I’m about to throw the pots and pans across the kitchen and I don’t want to get mad at her when she hasn’t done anything to deserve it. Pretty amazing how much rationality I can muster when my sweet child is involved. Bet the adults in my life which I had similar consideration for their feelings, too.

Looking at the wrappers of the 3 Musketeers and the Skor bar on the desk here, feeling the burning in my stomach from the “queso” and chips, I’m full of gas, bloating, and laughter. The ups and downs are actually kind of fun when I realize the roller coaster is temporary. I try not to make too many serious decisions, but I pay very close attention to what ever it is that bugs the crap out of me. When this all clears up, I’ll sort through it and almost without exception, I will have learned some important things. People joke about PMS all the time. I’d like to see more people recognize its value. In our culture, women’s anger is generally discouraged. I think PMS and the very real (though often exaggerated) emotions that can come with it give me an outlet to find the truth. And chocolate.

it’s not you, it’s me

“Tell me this, Heather. Do you not like being around people?” my friend asked recently. And I had to tell her, yes, it’s true. At my core, I mostly don’t like being around people. This is entirely unrelated to my opinions of or feelings for people. It’s not you, it’s me.

The conversation started when my friend noted that I share intimate information with my online friends but moan and groan when talking about offline relationships. What is it that draws me into the world of online friendships? Oh, the beauty of it! Always on my timeline, at my convenience, at my whim, only when I’m in the mood. When I have the energy. That’s for starters.

No small talk. There’s no need for the lingering entry and lingering exits that are so important to most people in offline life. In the last few months I tried an experiment and stopped pretending. I pretty much stopped participating in what I consider a pointless exercise: the small talk and the lengthy greetings and farewells. In my opinion these are social conventions based on “because that’s what we do,” rather than activities that serve legitimate functions. It’s a bit like how I described to my daughter why she ought to wear something over her tights. “It’s not that tights are underwear, it’s just that people see them and think of them as something you wear under things so they’d feel like they were seeing your underwear. It’s silly, it doesn’t make sense, they’re just like leggings, but still, it’s how it is.”

Trouble is, my opinion isn’t typical. In this experiment I know I’ve been alienating people. Whether I’m puzzling them or offending them, I’m not sure. Though with one friend in particular I haven’t just tried to avoid the usual pleasantries, I’ve been downright crabby and rude because I want to be left alone. That’s a different matter.

For those people where I’ve just either launched right into “what we’re here to talk about,” or dropped off my child to the class and not hung around chatting about the…what do we chat about? the weather? yes… groaaaaan. Again, I’m not sure what they are thinking about my atypical experience. I do know I get vibes from some who clearly think I’m being rude or weird. Anti-social, perhaps. And, that’s me! I am against social!

But why, you may wonder? What is so wrong about enjoying some light banter about the weather, or about how great our children are, or what project you’ve been working on lately? There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. And, when I’m willing to play that game, I’m good at it. Sometimes a bit awkward, though those around me seem to think I’m no where near as awkward as I perceive myself. I’ve got decent social skills when I choose to use them.

Here’s the problem. It is exhausting. Talking to anyone, especially on any surface level, wipes me out. Some people go running for miles and think they feel tired. Put me in a group of people all talking about even interesting topics and it’s like I’m running a marathon but I’m already at the point where my nipples are bleeding from the friction against my shirt.

I described it as “playing that game.” I realize it’s not a game. I do understand that for what seems like most people, it’s part of the pleasure of communication. Most people, it appears, enjoy ramping up for a while before getting to the deep down and direct content. Or, they never really want to get there anyway. Being pleasant together pleases them. I like those people. I like nice people, and that behavior is nice. I get that. I see how my “I don’t like being with people” can come across as rude, insulting, perhaps even mentally unhealthy. But it’s not any of those things.

My brain works in concert with my gut/soul/spirit/heart/whateveryouwanttocallit. Everything is loosey goosey and flowing. My internal experience is like oil paints or acrylic paints or oil pastels. Mushy and smushy and blending all around. For me, the polite conversations considered normal and healthy are like a manual typewriter. Don’t get me wrong, I love those things, but I can’t use them effectively, ever. Each. Key. Must. Be. Hit. At. The. Right. Time. Or. The. Details. Will. Not. Come. Together. To. Make. The. Larger. Picture.

It’s as if there are shooting stars all around that I’m supposed to try and catch like a dog leaping for a treat, but the stars are shooting too fast and all at once like fireworks sparkles. I need something to contain them.

This quality of mine has its upsides. In a group, I’ll be the first typically to say, “Sounds like we all agree on xyz, shall we do that?” Or, “Sounds like no one’s really sure what to do, why don’t we get in touch with each other later?” Anything. Anything to end the PECK. STAB. JAB. of the group wanderings and ponderings. Problem is, lately, I don’t wait long enough for the assumed correct level of polite conversation to happen. That is, I jump into the decision before the people who process things differently have had a chance to do their thing. This comes across, I know, as abrupt, and definitely sometimes rude.

Honestly, even writing about being with people makes me tired. The juggling. The consideration of my body language, their body language, their facial expressions in relation to their words, all of it. Everything is like a bad acid trip (I’ve never had a bad one, but the good ones were seriously freaky and I’m sure a bad one would be quite a bit like my experience of being sociable.) With too much stimulation and too many senses working at once and the whole sensorial experience causes me to wish the earth would open in a great chasm and just suck us all down and put us out of our misery. But, really, it’s only my misery. Most people, it seems, are either unaffected or positively affected by communicating with others.

Unfortunately, this exhaustion-from-people even holds true for having one-on-one conversations with good and close friends. I love one-on-one conversations. Those times I get myself to actually keep a coffee date with a friend, I’m always glad I did. Talking with my offline friends is an enriching experience. Connecting with these people enhances my life. Knowing what’s going on with them, how they are, how what we are going through is interconnected. All those things are good. I need those things.

But, please, not very often. Because, you see, even spending time with my friends who I love, I get wiped out. Tired. Overstimulated. I want to hole up in a quiet room, alone, with my computer to write or with a book if I’ve got time to fall asleep.

Getting along in this world I realized just this week will require my reaching out to people a bit more than I have been. I’m going to have to suck it up and put on my game face for pickups and drop offs as our children have their school and other activities. Making myself available for pleasant conversations is a requirement if I want to help my daughters learn to have healthy and happy social lives. So be it. As I mentioned, it’s not that I don’t like these folks. It’s just that I’ve got the unpopular quality of simply not liking to be around other people. I’ll go back to hiding that fact a bit better than I have been for the sake of the family. But as soon as the social hours are over, as soon as I’ll hurt no one’s feelings and can get away, you’ll find me alone. Writing, futzing around online, making art, cooking, reading, and resting. Breathing freely again. Alone.

writing freedom

As the train pulled away from the Saco station I saw the shape of her little blond head in the window but I couldn’t see her face. I kept blowing kisses, blowing kisses, blowing kisses, trying so hard to look excited and happy for her and her adventure.

You see, I’m not worried about her. She’s with her Daddy and she’s a strong girl. But, she’s growing up. As it has meant from the day she was born, growing up means growing away. One of the most important parts of my job as a parent is to make myself dispensable.

Notable this afternoon for me was how completely present I was with my feelings. As I lay nursing the baby hoping she’d nap long enough that I could take a proper bubble bath, the tears just started falling. Not entirely sad tears. Very mixed. So happy and proud of all the growing our little six year old has done. Wretchedly sad to have her not with me — there have only been a handful of nights we have ever been apart. Free to release the tension I’ve been carrying but not tending to because I’ve needed to be present for the girls. And moved at how stunning the baby’s smile is when she so fully greets me with love.

It took a couple hours after my older left before I could start enjoying the freedom of having the house almost entirely to myself. Truly, I had forgotten what it was like to be able to do almost anything I wanted without consulting someone else. The baby has to come along for the ride. And, sure, she made a few reasonable demands (nursing, diaper changing, talking — she’s like her sister… sometimes she’ll start getting whiny and whimpery but will cheer right up if I get next to her and start talking). But generally I was free.

As I enjoyed, sort of, the bubble bath (the tub is just too small) I realized that writing has become my getaway. No more numbing with substances or psychological games. I getaway and also find myself in writing. I wonder if that’s what a writer is. Someone who needs to write.

My quality of life and the amount I write are directly related. The more writing, the better my life. Even if the writing is mindless, or pointless (see: Facebook and memes). If I have words coming out of my head through my fingers onto the keyboard, my world stays clearer. Brighter. Better.

Instead of crawling frantically to the sensation of numbness I had a few treats (smoked salmon, chocolate square with caramel), did a lot of writing, cleaned the bathroom (to take that bath), cleaned the kitchen (getting ready for vacation), and pretty much packed up to leave for two weeks starting tomorrow. I listened to Democracy Now without having to explain all the death and destruction in the world to a six year old. It was productive. It was leisurely. It was everything I wanted it to be, and more.