You start off smart, gathering tools and planning. You’ve waited long enough, ignoring the annoyance of the never-properly-installed under-cabinet Lazy Susan that has shifted so that it rests too far to the right thus preventing the right-angle shaped cabinet door from closing. But today you are ready. You want a remedy.

You remove all pantry items from the top shelf of Lazy Susan (you drop the article because today it has a personality and is just ‘Lazy Susan’) claiming “I’ll put everything back in a more organized fashion so that I will actually know what keen food options lurk behind closed doors instead of saying to my son, ‘We have no food in the house. Eat something from the freezer or make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.’” You reach for the Phillip’s head screwdriver and for a minute wonder who Phillip was, or is it Phillips? You loosen the screw and slide Lazy Susan’s upper shelf to the left so that its right angle lines up with the cupboard’s opening right angle. You spin it a few times because you know it has a tendency to migrate to the right.

It stays in place.

You rearrange all food items so that rice offerings – “I really bought two kinds of jasmine rice?” – and boxed Italian sauces – “If its ‘best by’ date was six months ago can I count that as a recommendation rather than a health warning?” – and all those canned things like water chestnuts and canned coconut milk that sounded good at the time but are unlikely to ever get eaten are grouped with their peers. After clearing the counter and nearly applauding the beauty you’ve created in your organization, you give Lazy Susan a spin.

It lines up exactly where it did before the process started, preventing cabinet door closure.

Hell if you’re going to remove everything again. You’ll just sit on the floor and wedge your left hand and arm under the shelf to support it while you loosen the screw with your right hand just a bit to reposition the shelf once again to the left. You face inward so that you can’t see the idiot light flashing behind your back screaming, “Bad idea!” You turn the screw one turn, and whoa, the shelf heavy as can be – you think? – slides down and crushes your left hand and arm. You try to pull it out, but you’re wedged in. You try to lift the shelf saying, “Think like a mother with her child stuck under a car!” only you can’t muster the same rescuing power for yourself as you could for your kid. Your heart starts to race and you realize you’re pinned and your hand is really starting to hurt and the pressure across your forearm is moving towards numbness and you can’t reach the phone and no one would come if you cried out because there is no one.

You close your eyes close to panic. You let out a groan and a yelp for dramatic effect. You pull again. Nothing. Panic builds. You look to your front door as if a fireman is bounding up the building’s stairs to save you, but all is quiet. You breathe fast and then go for a deliberate inhale. You tug hard and fast and glare at the shelf with all the anger and hatred you can access, and your arm comes free. You place it in your lap and see the deep line that adorns the top of the hand. You breathe relief. You’ve set yourself free, but with the freedom of your limb comes the freedom of your tears. You realize how bad it could have been, trapped with no one coming, circulation cut off. You cry with the pain, but mostly with the embarrassment of your actions and the knowledge that there was no one to rescue you from your own stupidity.

You banish the budding tears and wipe away those that escaped onto your face. You stand and yank all items off the Lazy Susan, cursing your inept and uncaring contractor. You adjust the shelf one more time compensating a little extra to the left. You don’t put any food away, thinking, “Now would be a good time to come up with an innovative menu to use all this.”

But you can’t. Not quite yet. So you leave it all strewn about the kitchen as if you’ve just done a major shopping trip to replenish the earthquake kit. You head to the bedroom where you lie down next to your Chihuahua who as much as he would have liked could not have been your Lassie.

And you wonder if you do it all yourself because you were born in the 60s and taught to be self-reliant or if it’s just your personality. You wonder why the thought of calling out for help was as painful as the compressing shelf on your arm. And you think about how there are now courses to teach women to learn to receive, to ask for assistance, to be less self-sufficient because apparently we’ve tipped the scale so far in one direction following the promise of an equal society that we didn’t know we’d passed middle and are doing too much on our own.

So here we are trying to learn how not to prove that we can do it all by ourselves. We struggle with accepting the idea that needing someone is okay because we’ve thought we should want rather than need, that our independence was seductive, that we are our own best helper. And maybe we are, but my self-reliance has turned me into an island. Sitting on the floor, trapped, I both needed and wanted.

addendum: Upon relating tale to teen son, he interrupts and asks, “So you just started taking things off the shelf to liberate yourself?” I paused. You see, when in the midst of panic, you really can get stupid.


How Did We Get Here?

Like Dorothy singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ we imagine a better place because there has to be, because this can’t be it. To solve the dilemma of not here, not now, you think to convene a town hall meeting, but you don’t want to invite all to attend because you know there’s poison out there and you always recognize it too late, once it already circulates through your blood. You cut your finger to bleed yourself, and you think of leeches doing a job of good over harm. They’re black and ugly and you prefer the poison to their cure. How many times you’ve preferred the poison.

You don’t believe this is life intended. More like a rollercoaster that’s jumped its tracks and flies out of control still diving and twisting and turning out of habit, not because its wheels are held to do so. Everyone’s going crazy. Smiles drug induced because we’ve forgotten the art of conversation. We race past those with little voices not slowing to hear as we build walls of protection to keep out what we most need. Our filters are clogged and we no longer can distinguish the good from the bad. We run when we should walk and sit when we should dance. We’ve lost the ability to navigate, so we cruise like automatons unable to feel breezes and sunrays. Our skin burns, and we don’t know. Our lips grow cracked and dry, and only after the fact do we apply balm, a mere band-aid to the dysfunctional life society breeds when progress takes us backwards.

Dreams offer visions of marshmallow clouds but awakeness burns our retina. “Glaring pain,” you said, or was it I? Did I speak of the pain the last time we lunched or did I offer encouragement and platitudes. “It will all be fine.” But is that true with no one at the helm? Can we just trust the drive without a driver?

The only thing that keeps me going beside the dictatorial rant of the ticking clock are the images of fantasy. The small lives of microscopic proportions. The couch talking to the pillow. It’s the maybe’s and the could be's that I love. They ignore the clock for it doesn’t speak to them. They reside outside in a world they’ve conjured from knowledge through resistance. “We need not follow,” they say. “Your rules aren’t ours.” And I want to echo their words. “Your rules. Your rules.” No one cares about my rules. My rules unsanctioned sit on the steps of the pool tapping toes against water wanting to play. The fight in me diminishes and I think of running, but sprinters don’t carry suitcases and I have a dog. Once you’re in you can’t easily get out. That’s the fine print on the back of the birth certificate. No one flips the document until it’s too late.

Not too late. What would not too late look like? More no’s, perhaps. Shoulder shrugs. Why explain especially to ears that don’t listen? Cashing in and cashing out. Remembering sudden death that suddenly makes the money look sufficient. Yes, plenty to live until tomorrow. But you plan beyond tomorrow and then walk around in concrete shoes, box-like and ugly. “Who designed this fashion?” you ask, but passersby whiz in their dainty collection. They don’t feel your weight, but they also can close their eyes to slaughtered animals and eat meat, to bloodied children and wave the flag. Your eyes don’t close as easily so the pain sneaks in via your pupils. Too late you shut your eyes. Too late because the images are within and no matter how tight you squeeze your eyelids, you can’t stop seeing.

When you put color upon the walls you blot out the images, lulled into rhythm by the up down up down of the saturated bristles hued in the color du jour. When all the walls are covered, you panic because how now will you escape? You skittle through your house looking for scuffmarks on baseboards saying, “Hold on. I’ll fix you,” but you know the baseboards are fine and you’re fixing yourself. They know it, too, but don’t mind a sprucing up layer of white. “Spring time,” they say.

But then the baseboards are clean and all that’s left is to wash the brushes. Paint mixes with water and goes downstream trailing color like a road map. “Follow me,” it says, and you do until your feet are muddy and your legs are tired. You sit on the banks of the jungle river and sigh, “How did I get here?” And then a chorus echoes from behind thick vines singing, “How did I get here? How did I get here?” A musical erupts around you and you’re on stage with a smiling audience filling the theatre. The crowd sways involuntarily caught up in the music and you invite all to sing along, and soon an entire auditorium is singing, “How did I get here?”

The music ends and you take a bow. The orchestra packs up instruments as the audience exits through doors at the back, left, and right. Streams of people forget about the chant and forget about the questioning and get back on freeways to drive the speed of the car ahead of them. We once listened to radio but now we mostly talk on cell phones, which apparently is much better than actually driving over and seeing the person whose voice comes through our earpiece. If we’re with them we can’t do anything else, and in the religion of multitasking that would be a sin.

“Sinner!” they scream as they stone me, for I held a dinner party with no purpose of moving forwards. I refused to denounce my crime during sentencing, so the judge was harsh. “You’re sentenced to forever,” he said, which I found vague. “Forever what?” I tried to ask, but my lawyer shoved an elbow into my side, which made me buckle and lose my wind.

In my cell I reflect on my choices and wonder if I’d really earned punishment or if I’d just landed in a parallel reality when I finally got to slow down. “Maybe I need to be more specific in stating my wishes,” I think, but it hardly matters now for it’s too late to undo the confusion.

I reach for a piece of black coal upon the stone floor, rub it between thumb and index finger. I then turn to the blank slate of the prison walls and start to write myself out of my reality one coal mark at a time.


All I Want for Christmas is an Industrial-Strength Paper Shredder

I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. The fear of God has been bred into me. My mail stacks up and my file cabinets are overflowing. I’m afraid to throw away even junk mail without shredding it first. Never in my early childhood dreams could I have imagined that my simple name and address would be of value, and not because I’m a celebrity and people are interested in coming to gawk, but because someone could want to become me, at least in the steal-my-identity financial sense.

I haven’t actually tracked how name and address results in five credit cards and a car lease, but I’ve heard the horror stories. Why I end up responsible baffles me. My friend could easily prove she wasn’t the woman receiving unemployment checks issued to her social security number in someone else’s name at a different address. Did that get her off the hook? No. Or the MasterCard account opened in her name by someone who wasn’t her, a suspected inside job at the issuing company. A lawyer simply told her that her best option to clear up her – uh, someone else’s – debt linked to her identity was to declare bankruptcy. She did and left the country. (For other truly romantic reasons, but still.)

So now I sit over a paper-eating machine begrudgingly shredding pieces of mail that should be of no interest to anyone. I waste time and energy – both mine and that of the electric kind – and at the end of it all, all I’ve succeeded in doing is theoretically protecting myself from some unknown thief. I willingly put locks on my door, but this other kind of protection I don’t understand. The territory I must guard is so vast and so invisible that I can’t imagine successfully defending it, at least not on my own.

I suspect someone else should be in charge of this.

Perhaps if the crime were more vigorously investigated and prosecuted the benefit of it would vanish. Perhaps if regular folks like me had a shred of protection from this practice we wouldn’t all have to buy shredders. If someone steals my car and crashes into a street-load of pedestrians, I’m not carted off to jail. If someone steals my identity and goes and buys that car, too bad. The debt is mine. Logic, please?

We now are offered identity theft insurance. Why should we pay for crimes perpetrated in our name but without our knowledge?

Recently a friend of mine was talking about cleaning out her files. With the average shredder disposing of six sheets at a time, she figured she could spend the next year shredding for protection. Her husband offered to burn the papers in their barbeque. I suggested the fireplace despite the fact that spring has arrived. Then we discussed whether she wouldn’t be adding to pollution from this mass burning. Endless shredding versus air pollution versus potential identity theft. Can we get an intervention here?

Some believe the shredding of junk mail is an exercise in over-caution, yet another friend of mine insists that is how her identity was snatched, which led her down the path of clearing her good name for months. When this happens one can only guess the origin of the thievery, so now we examine all our identifying documents and ask, “Could it be you? Could you betray me?”

Others say that they refuse to live in fear, and I was one of you until last year. I tossed my mail into the trash figuring the likelihood of a dumpster diver barreling to the bottom of a twelve-unit condo building’s garbage heap and poking around through rotting food and dirty disposable diapers was unlikely. But then I discovered that we could put mixed paper into our recycling bins, and being the God fearing environmentalist that I am (exaggeration noted), I started depositing papers and cereal boxes inside a tidy bin that smelled just fine. Suddenly I saw my papers as actually inviting theft, as if I’d placed them in an ornate and calligraphy-addressed envelope and sent them out to Mr. & Mrs. Identity Thief.

I bought a shredder.

It was fun for about twelve minutes. Commercial shredders fill up fast and require constant bag replacement. A financial statement ready for disposal requires two to three passes to reduce it to the six-sheet maximum. Sometimes I get cocky and feed in a few extra pages. When it shreds to a halt, I get to learn how to use the ‘Reverse’ setting, pulling my half-shredded identity from its clutches as if rescuing a treasured body part from the teeth of a shark. (Less blood, of course.)

I’ve made it through my recent mail, but my file cabinets are due for a purging. I honestly can’t face the task. One acquaintance suggested watching TV as I shred claiming it could be relaxing. At that moment I decided he wasn’t very bright. “Ah, the serenade of the shredder burying the dialogue of ‘Without a Trace.’” (Guilty pleasure revealed.)

Please, oh Federal Government, come up with a system to protect your citizens. Free us from endless shredding and endless guarding of who we are and where we live and where we bank and how we paid for last summer’s vacation. Let me run free through the wind, hair flowing behind me, carefree and spewing my personal data for all to hear. Let me shift my worries to something that betters the world, or better yet, you can go ahead and wipe out world problems while you’re at it. (A girl can dream.)

In lieu of the above, please deliver an industrial-strength shredder to our multi-car communal garage and set it conveniently to dump into the recycling bin. If it weren’t springtime, I’d ask Santa.



I want to talk about the cows, but not just about the cows, but about how they reached out to save me, the cows that need saving, the cows that live impossibly crammed in pastures of dirt off Hwy 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco awaiting their slaughter.

Every time I drive past the cows that live so innocently, grazing, walking around amongst one another, it breaks my heart. They have no idea. One time I’m driving past, and a bunch of fresh young calves have joined the herd. As I look at them I think ‘pack’ instead of ‘herd’ because to me somehow ‘pack’ implies choice, an intentional coming together. I’m funny that way.

So the young calves have joined, and they’re romping around, running on super skinny legs, buoyant and playful. And they make me laugh out loud. I stop to go near them, stop in a place I never stop, and I walk towards the fence that imprisons them, look around, wonder how to liberate them. I glance down to my left and see a large stone that would require both my hands to lift it. And I do. I pick it up and start pounding the wooden stake of the fence trying to hammer it into the ground. I imagine that if I keep hitting it over and over it will vanish into the earth and the cows can run free and escape their death. But I’m not making any progress with the post. It doesn’t give at all, and the cows see my trying and we speak with our eyes. “I want to save you,” I convey, but they tell me to save myself. They tell me to take the rock and move on.

And I do because I sense the cows know something. I cradle the stone in my two hands and it becomes my heart, and I walk holding my heart out in front of me like it’s an offering. I’m not really surprised when I meet the cowboy even though I don’t really like cowboys. We face each other, and suddenly my heart/rock becomes a balloon filled with helium and it soars into the clouds.

So there I am left to decide, do I follow my heart or stay with the cowboy? In an ideal world my heart would lead me to the cowboy or to a cowboy or to someone as available as the cowboy. With my balloon heart soaring towards the clouds I can’t be certain where it is headed and where it will take me if I follow. Will it continue to climb high or will it veer off to the left, take a sudden dive and land me in a quiet field of wildflowers? It could happen just like how the innocent, penned cows told me to save myself. It’s all in the listening and the looking, the messages and signs around us daily, the ones we miss because we rush past in a predetermined hurry to stay on a schedule that we create not imagining the wise cows and soaring hearts.

While the cowboy is cute and standing before me, I opt to follow my heart, for flying without wings is an experience not to be missed. I will myself high and extend my arm to catch the teeny string tail of the heart balloon. With two hands I cling to the string and look down at my dangling feet remembering those years on the monkey bars with too-weak arms, where kicking of legs propelled me across the overhead railroad track of hot grey metal coated with the grimy sweat of elementary school primates. I kick my legs to direct the balloon as I kicked my young legs to move me forward towards my playground destination.

The cowboy grows tiny on the ground beneath my swaying legs, and I lift my head. Before me I see forever, knowing it’s forever even though I’ve never seen forever before and couldn’t have previously described what forever looks like. But here it is: forever is limitless hope. It contains every color and every dream, every motel and every rest stop. It offers the previously seen and the yet to be imagined. It’s both bumpy and flat at the same time and yet is not contradictory. Forever is like the universe with no foreseeable end. Forever promises things it can’t prove. Forever demands faith. Forever appears like a board game of fresh rules, a descent into a land once unknown but when you finally enter makes all the sense in the world.

Gliding beneath the balloon heart I get lost in sensation as cool wind slaps my bare legs and swirls my hair into a beehive. I want to offer the view to the cows, for they live too close to the ground. “They deserve this,” I think, “because they thought to save me first.” I wish them free once again, not wanting to soar at their expense.

Now that I am out of his sight the cowboy vanishes, for he was never truly real but merely a roadside mirage. Thankfully I didn’t stay to hold his hand. As a city girl, I made the right choice. The heart balloon twirls riding the air currents like a surfer on a wave. Finally we touch down in a vast field of dry California weeds. After the brief life in the sky, solid ground feels foreign and unsteady. I shake out my legs and work through a quick jig to find balance. Tall grass tickles my legs, the kind of grass the cows like to eat. I wonder if I can fall in love while the cows stay penned. It seems unfair, even if it’s what they wanted for me.


The Weight of Words

Sipping a cup of coffee, you consider what people do and where people go and what phrases appear in the descriptions of these life events, and you remember the time you witnessed a child’s caution and you concluded, “He didn’t want to get in trouble.”

In trouble. What a phrase.

In trouble, as if it’s a dish cooking on the stove. A pot of trouble. Stovetop trouble bubbles furiously like tomato soup being cooked over too high a flame. But it’s trouble, so it’s not that it’s angry. Bubbling is just one of trouble’s characteristics, for trouble is never completely stagnant. Trouble tends to rumble like a hungry stomach wanting attention.

In trouble, as if it were a place like a small town. Kind of rural with a tiny main drag, a Western town, or maybe more desert-like. Not much water around trouble. The sign on the edge of town says ‘TROUBLE, elevation 11 ft., pop. 57.’ You cross the border the sign marks and you’re in Trouble. You spend some time there, meet the locals, and drink at the saloon because you’ve always wanted to pass through swinging doors with Saloon stenciled overhead. You shop at the Five & Dime because you haven’t been to one in a long while and it sparks a fond childhood memory. The woman at the cash register ringing you up invites you home for supper because in Trouble strangers don’t remain strangers for long.

Around the table, the food is fine and the family is simple with a working wife, two children, and the kind of husband who would find himself in this small town, a man who used to roam the highways shaking it up and lifting his fist until he found himself in Trouble. You finish your meal and play Parchisi in the living room and you thank your hosts as you leave through the front door.

After a couple days – or is it hours? – you leave Trouble just as you arrived: casually, without much thought.

When people ask where you’ve been and you answer, “In Trouble,” they scrunch up their faces with concern. ‘In trouble’ is the kind of answer kids and criminals give, and you’re neither. In the 1950s a pregnant unmarried woman might use the phrase, or at least the gossiping neighbors would. “She got herself in trouble.”

Being in trouble speaks of going against the rules and getting caught. Being in trouble links with punishment. But after your detour to the small town, those two words will forever sound sly when they crop up in conversation like they’re winking with a bigger story to tell.