Death by a Thousand Papercuts

1. The freezer began to make a terrible whirring noise that would have woken the dead.

2. I attempted to fix it. The “fix” involved three hours of me standing in front of the freezer with a hair dryer, attempting to melt the ice that had built up around the fan.

3. Finally, I melted all the ice. (And threw away all the food that had been sitting there defrosting for hours.)

4. The fan was still jacked up.

5. I dismantled the back of the freezer and poked at things – tore shit straight out of the wall – for another hour or two.

6. The freezer still didn’t work.

I went to a friend’s house and drank.

7. The next morning, I shoved a screwdriver into the fan to make it STOP MAKING THAT HORRIBLE NOISE.

8. Then I went and bought a new refrigerator / freezer.

9. They said they could not deliver until the next day.

10. I’ve been sitting here for 10 hours, waiting for the delivery.

11. In the meantime, I’ve tried to vacuum my house.

12. The vacuum is broken.

13. I’ve dismantled the vacuum, gone to the vacuum store, and YouTubed “vacuum repair”.

14. I now have MORE cat hair on the floor than before I attempted to vacuum.

15. I am drinking the last of the hot beers from my broken refrigerator, surrounded in cat hair.

16. Also, today, I called the cable company to cancel the land line and cable subscription that I don’t use. I am tired of paying $182 a month so my daughter can watch Dance Moms one night a week.

17. The cable company would not let me cancel without my ex-husband’s permission.

18. I yelled at the cable company. THIS IS LIKE DEATH BY A THOUSAND PAPER CUTS!

19. My ex-husband came over and called them to tell them it’s fine for me – the person who PAYS THE DAMN BILL EVERY MONTH – to make changes to the service.

20. They told him, “Sure, fine.”

21. He put me back on the phone with them. They told me it would be fine for me to put the cable bill in my name, and cancel the service if I wanted, if I was willing to come to the cable company office TOMORROW (not today, because they’re on vacation), and bring along a copy of my divorce decree, a photo ID, and be subjected to a credit check.

22. I yelled at the cable company some more.

23. I listed my house on Craig’s List. It’s a nice house, and in about a half hour (assuming the appliance company was not lying when I called them AGAIN), it’s a house with a brand new refrigerator / freezer.

24. But it’s too big for me. I am a single mom who shares custody with her ex and avoids being at home whenever I can. I do not need four bedrooms, a dining room, library, home office and big yard. THAT IS RIDICULOUS.

25. As soon as I listed my house for rent, people began to ask if I’d lost my mind or if I was drunk.

26. I am neither drunk nor crazy. Though it is truly a wonder that I’m not.

27. However, I have eaten six cookies, two biscuits, and nothing else today.

28. Tomorrow is another day.

29. In five days I’m heading to the beach.

30. In 40 minutes I’m heading to my friend’s house, who is making me dinner.

31. Another friend has texted me – without solicitation, through what I know is sure intuition on his behalf – to ask if I’d like him to come over with provisions.

32. If life was easy, we’d take it for granted.

33. Cheers.

The Inherent Hope of Uncertainty

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Like many in the South, I grew up thinking that faith required conviction, and that uncertainty, or doubt, was what we experienced in moments of duress or weakness.

Like many here and everywhere, the older I get, the more I realize that I (and everyone else, particularly those with the most unyielding beliefs – about religion, politics, how we ought to live, whose football coach is the biggest cheater, whether Coca Cola or Miracle Whip makes a more moist chocolate cake – you name it) am utterly clueless.

I will be 37 next month. My daughter is 12, and every year she can remember, one of the teachers in her public school has asked the class to raise their hand as she reads off a list of Christian denominations. Because teachers when I was growing up did exactly the same thing during history units about “religious diversity” or the Reformation or the Puritans, I believe this is for the most part innocent if not completely ignorant, disrespectful and borderline unconstitutional.

And when she tells me she raises her hand for a different “random” denomination each year because she doesn’t want to feel left out or – worse, be called out – my heart aches because I know exactly what it was like to feel “othered” because, unlike the kids who were unquestionably BAPTIST! or CHURCH OF CHRIST! or raise-your-hand-if-you-are-CATHOLIC!, I went to a tiny Lutheran church where I constantly questioned and even fought against most everything we were taught. Continue reading

Time and the Price of Wasting It

I had a moment of freak-out earlier this week when I received an email from WordPress letting me know that the domain on this blog had expired.

I’d been so busy with my real job that I’d forgotten to do the routine maintenance on the one I do for fun. The domain name is cheap (not a lot of demand for KnightStivender.com; shocking), but my time isn’t.

Whose is?

And yet, unless we clock billable hours, we frequently fail to acknowledge the value of our time.

A colleague told a story today about how when she was a teenager she lost the gas cap on her car, and her father made her drive to the dump and rummage around for it for a few hours. A gas cap costs, what, $12? I’m sure somewhere in this story is a lesson about responsibility, but I think it’s at the expense of productivity.

I wonder what else she could have done in those hours spent searching for the gas cap, and if it could have involved something useful to earn her $12 to buy a new one.

I shouldn’t pass too much judgment on this well-meaning father. I do this kind of thing all the time – robbing Peter to pay Paul with my time, rarely pleasing anyone but often disappointing people.

For example: At the office I tend to push time beyond the last possible second – sending just one, two, three more emails; editing one, two, just three more stories; writing one, two, just three more proposals – at a gain to no one but me in that particular moment but at a loss to the people waiting for me at home, at dinner … in worlds that don’t involve a single one of those last few whatevers I’ve felt compelled to do.

I cheat myself, too, of time. I often do this in late evening, sifting through social media feeds and clicking on news stories when I’d be much more fulfilled reading the novel on my nightstand…

And this has the effect of stirring up bad ideas and weak emotions when I ought to be settling down and drifting off.

And all of that is followed up with time I waste the next morning, after a restless night, hitting the snooze on my iPhone when I’d be much happier awake (as I am, ironically, on the weekends) enjoying a quiet moment alone before the carousel begins again.

Tonight, it cost me less than a minute to email WordPress and ask what to do, and another 30 seconds and $18 to click the link in their response and renew my domain during their – hallelujah – two-week grace period.

In return, I get to keep my name — and so much more.

Let The Bad Times Roll

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For several weeks now, I’ve been struggling with anxiety around the idea that 2014 is going to be unbearably hard, like worse than trying to hold my awful cats Livre and Lola at the same time.

There are real and real-ish reasons to think this:
- I have an incredibly challenging job leading a startup organization with a new business model, using skills I am still developing. (That is a politic way of saying that while I’m convinced we have a great idea, and I know we have great people, I AM TERRIFIED TO NO END that I’m going to screw it up before I figure it out.)

- My daughter is turning 13. I remember being her age. I was many things. Rational, consistent and even-tempered were not among them. Some closest to me might say I have been rebooting my 13-year-old self lately. Thank god my hair is not my 13-year-old hair.

- Mom and Dad are getting older. I’m not worried about their health; Dad makes more unsolicited comments about their sex life than a 15-year-old boy would about a lack thereof. But I do worry about their obligations to others. They’ve more or less moved in with Mom’s mom (my last living grandparent and anxiety soulmate; related: when I am my grandmother’s age, I expect my daughter’s daughter to soothe me with iced Bailey’s and her handsome boyfriend). Anyway, selfishly, I miss my parents and wish they still stalked me on Facebook like they did the year I was getting divorced. More on that in a bit.

And also right now, it is negative a million degrees outside. It is awfully hard to imagine, at the moment, a day in spring when the 400 bulbs I planted in October will have arrived for the kind of party with sundresses and asparagus dishes that I love.

But to my saving grace, I have been writing woe-is-me stuff since I was about eight. I can pull a random journal off my shelf from pretty much any year and read for very little time before I’m reminded of this amazing pattern: The times I thought were hard – indeed, the times that were the toughest – turned out to be the best.

Take this one, from March 2011, two months after my divorce was finalized:

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Things Thought and Mostly Unsaid at the End of the Year

A dog went for a walk before the sidewalk set, and left his impression in the wet concrete. A little boy noticed this and etched his initials nearby.
The boy enjoyed the moment, but I wonder what the dog thought.
Among the things I think about on when walking alone at the end of 2013: It would suck to step barefoot into wet cement.

Also…

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Under the same stars

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We are all living under the same stars.

We’re all living on the same ground, facing the same inevitabilities: we’re all going to experience joy, we’re all going to suffer loss, and we’re all going to die.

We’re all going to deal with people saying and doing shitty things to us and to people we love, and we are all going to say and do shitty things to others.

Every single one of us is going to wonder if there is something we are missing. And we are all going to have moments – even if but a moment – when we want for absolutely nothing more than what’s right at hand. If you pray, pray for an entire life of such – for you and everyone in the world.

We are going to be excited about holidays and presents and grandparents and parties, and we are going to feel obligated and overwhelmed by those very same privileges.

We will ache for company, and we will crave solitude.

We will debate whether it’s braver to ride out a rough spot where we are, or chart new territory on our own.

We’re all going to want to punch someone we love in the throat. We’re going to regret it when we do.

We’re going to overthink some plans, and we’re going to jump impulsively into bad decisions.

At some point, we’re going to discover sex, faith and death. At another point, we’re going to realize we were wrong about what we were sure of.

We’re going to do too much of something, not enough of something else.

Each of us is smaller than we think we are, and all of us are bigger.

We’re all the same under the stars.

Changes and constants

White shoes on Veterans Day

White shoes on Veterans Day

It was warm today when we watched the Veterans Day parade; we took our coats off and stood in the sunshine. And tomorrow it will be cold; optimistic kids are calling for a Snow Day.

The seasons change in fits and starts, and probably there will be one more day when we go without leggings before we pull out the gloves, which we will wear until one day in the middle of winter when it feels like spring but isn’t.

For several years in a row, I left work early on New Year’s Day to go hiking or for a run. That was when I always worked on New Years.

I don’t do that anymore if I can avoid it. I’d rather be with my family, or my friends who are like my family.

If we do it right, the way we live our lives evolves. Continue reading