Love to you from the parking lot

by renegademama

I’m writing today for one reason alone: To recount for you exactly how fucked up my days are, how poorly I’m functioning, in case you suspect everyone is doing better at this than you are.

I find myself secretly believing that all the other humans are quarantining better than I am, as if they all have some Secret Pandemic Insider info that was handed out—you know, at some point—and I, unfortunately, was absent. This is why they are coping like adults while I watch 15-year-olds do the same dance on Tiktok for three hours straight while telling myself I’m a loser.

I know it’s a sort of ego trip to think I am more fucked up, more disturbed, more deeply affected or deficient than others. To think, in other words, that I’m special. I know this, but knowing things is so damn useless sometimes.

And intellectually I know I am not wholly alone in my strange numb space. I’ve read a hundred accounts of people saying they feel brain dead, unable to focus, hyper-angry over nothing, in a time warp, etc.– and yet my self-repulsion is intact.

I feel like I “should” be doing better.

Who defined how we “should” be behaving?

MY BRAIN, obviously. Reliable guide that it is.

My friend Jack used to say, “We’re all in various stages of ‘my case is different.’”

As in, as you grow up, you realize you’re just like every other goddamn person on the planet. You aren’t better or worse. Being one among many is annoying as hell until you break through the immediate shock of realizing you’re quite standard. Then it’s the freest place possible.

I’m just another asshole on the planet. I’ve nothing to prove. I’m as well or poorly equipped as every other person handling or not handling life.

But sometimes, goddamn, I just feel like I’m the only one “here.”

 

Here’s my typical day: Wake up at 4am for no apparent reason. Look at my phone. Feel bad about that. Read until 5am or 6am. Listen to an audiobook until I fall asleep and sleep until 8am, or just get up at 6am and feel like shit all day. Have coffee. Have more coffee. Say good morning to George, the only kid who gets up before 9am now. Tell myself we should get Arlo into bed earlier (he’s probably sleeping until 9 because he’s up too late). Sit on the couch and/or get in my bed and listen to a book while playing stupid games on my phone. Until 11am or 1pm or 3pm.

I get up occasionally to eat or help my kids. Shower. Sometimes I tell myself, out loud, “GET UP JANELLE,” and I shake my head and ask the dog what’s wrong with me and feel like shit.

I’ll tell myself to write. DO SOMETHING! I’ll go downstairs to grab my laptop. Then I’ll come back upstairs to my room, to work, set my computer down and pick up my phone again.

At some point I try to invent one thing to do: Clean my room. Do the laundry. Vacuum downstairs. Respond to work emails. And I usually do that thing. Sort of. And then I’m so exhausted I feel I can’t do more.

What the hell.

Once a day I tell the kids we’re getting off screens and we do chores and they play or I send them outside. Sometimes this is three or four hours. Sometimes it’s one hour. Sometimes I enforce this “healthier alternative,” sometimes I hear them back on their screens and don’t care.

Every now and then I have a burst of energy for half a day where I feel almost clear-headed and okay again, and I’ll do work or write or catch up on adult shit like bills or whatever. But mostly I walk around in a state of uselessness, malaise, and soul-tired weirdness that I’ve never known before. I can’t follow a train of thought. I literally stare at walls sometimes. I particularly hate the wall-staring. Complete blank space in my brain.

WHAT IS THAT?

Mac and I were joking that they should start a new game called “Is it depression or regular quarantine life?”

My mental health has been a bit, in peril, for a few months now, and it worsened when this all started. Because my feelings of depression have been getting worse since October, and I’ve entered a state of apathy that was a bit terrifying, I called a doctor to discuss.

She said “Well, we can give you medication, but it’s hard to tell if it’s circumstantial or chemical. Everyone is so messed up right now.” I’m paraphrasing.

For now, I’m waiting it out, but it’s nice to know she’s there. And how shocking is it that we are living a reality that causes a mental state akin to those that require medication?

I just feel so cut off: from you, my brain, my loved ones, my whole life.

 

On Saturday, April 25, Mac’s cousin Chris was killed in a car accident. He was 30 years old with a fiancée and toddler son, and we love him and his family very much. They are in Kentucky and Mac was going to try to get there to be with them, but we were told that immigration “couldn’t promise” that there wouldn’t be a problem with him returning. So he stayed, and on Wednesday, we “attended” the funeral via Facebook live video.

Within two minutes of the video starting, Mac and I were choked with tears after reading a comment, “Love to you from the parking lot.”

Love to you from the parking lot.

And the comments streamed in. “We’re right here!” “Sending you prayers from our car!” “Love you, brother, from just outside.”

Ten people allowed inside, just immediate family members, and Chris’s friends sitting in the parking lot, circling them.

“They showed up anyway,” Mac said, looking at me.

We showed up anyway too.

Ava’s school sent the email letting us know about Ava’s “virtual graduation ceremony.” About the caps and gowns we can pick up. About the senior trip to Disneyland they officially canceled. Reading about the sad replacement, the pathetic “streaming event” to “honor my child,” it felt ridiculous and enraging. Fuck your online bandaid.

My rage masked a heart breaking for my child. It all turned to outright crying. Sobs. I’m not much of a crier. Especially like that. But it all shattered for her, her disappointment, what she’s losing—the final ritual culminating twelve years. My little girl.

And I can’t do shit about it.

Love to you from the parking lot. 

 

We’re all sitting in the parking lot right now, aren’t we? Waiting outside the circle where life seems to be, held up in strange, liminal gestures that feel half-human.

I don’t want to be in the parking lot. I want to be hugging Chris’s parents and I want to feel the sun on my face at Ava’s graduation and see her between her grandparents’ beaming heartbroken pride and I don’t want to wait for a future that may also be a strange replacement.

And yet we show up anyway, don’t we? We sit in the parking lot. We send the love we’ve got. We scramble up walls we never asked for, grieve, and wait.

I suppose someday I’ll accept this isn’t a proxy life. This is real life. And we’re all here.

Maybe I’ll let go, hang out with you wherever we are, one among many again, where things feel warmer and a lot safer and I can see your eyes.

Until then, love you, brother, from just outside.

***

This is a painting by Wendy Kwasny. It’s a rendering of a photo of my son Arlo. You can find more of Wendy’s work at www.wendykwasny.com or on Instagram.

****

Bored? Join us for my memoir workshop: FROM MEMORY TO MEMOIR.

This workshop usually sells out with a waitlist in 48 hours, but we start next week and there are four spots left.

I’m also offering a $50 quarantine discount.

Just sign up and I’ll send back $50. Or email me and I’ll send an invoice with the discount.

 

“I live a hope despite my knowing better.” What else can we do?

by renegademama

I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who says something helpful in times like this. I say to myself “Janelle! You have created this channel to the world, now do something with it. Say something profound or insightful or at least funny.”

I want to be the person who rises up, scans the world, and speaks to the soul. Instead, I’m more the person who starts eating a lot of gruyere and watching YouTube videos of groundhogs eating carrots.

Like Dan Rather. Fucking Dan Rather always knows what to say. You read Dan and you think, now this guy, this guy knows how to stay chill in the apocalypse. 

All I did was start a free blog in 2011 while I was supposed to be working, and then I wrote what I wanted to read about motherhood but couldn’t find (to paraphrase Toni Morrison), and I never expected anybody other than my mom to read it. And she always has.

So, I’ve never been prepared to be the voice of anything, though clearly I have no trouble using mine. I’ve written things I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole now. I’ve regretted my flippancy. I suppose I’ve “grown,” but I’ve never known what to say when the world feels so raw, so burning, so without a place to land. When kindergarteners are shot at circle time. When a young black American holds a cardboard sign that reads “I can’t breathe” for the fourth or hundredth year in a row. When California burns.

When we’re all thrown into the cosmos, untethered, clinging to hope in the future; and in the meantime, to people singing to each other on balconies while their elders die in overcrowded hospitals.

You see, I hate the fucking platitudes. I just can’t do it. I can’t tell you to be strong or take care of yourself or go outside each day (I literally did that the other day on Instagram), because the fact of the matter is I’m not doing anything that’s elevated or enlightened or demonstrating some greater self.

Any talk from me about how to endure this with grace or deep knowing is just sort of funny. I suggested that people really TRY to go outside because we went to a park and I felt like a fucking warrior for putting that together (with Mac).

But it did help. And I made myself go because so many people had insisted that it helps, so I try to write if I have anything to offer.

But in general, I’m more the one looking at “helpful suggestions” and thinking “oh fuck off and let me play Two Dots” than I am the one picking myself up and Doing Better.

Although I always, eventually, pick myself up and do something, which is better I guess than doing nothing.

You’re welcome. I’m available for life coaching if anybody is interested.

Lately my mantra has been “Just don’t make anything worse.” Because sometimes I start fights with strangers in Wisconsin or lash out at people or use my tongue to slash people because I feel like shit and I’m tired and my head hurts and they crossed my path at the wrong time.

Luckily, I’ve learned how to own that shit and apologize, but I get sick of the apologizing, too.

The truth is I’ve spent most of my time staring at walls or my phone, playing games on it (the phone, not the walls) and listening to audiobooks. I’ve been preferring old, sweeping novels like Middlemarch and The Brothers Karamazov, and nonfiction that really fucks me up, like Noam Chomsky’s collected speeches or Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism.

The novels are entertainment. The nonfiction a desire to understand. Both are escape.

In my house, I’ve told myself that the ONLY thing I absolutely must do each day is keep my dishes washed. Everything else is extra. And when I wake up, I say to myself “I’m going to do the dishes,” and then I can’t seem to get off the couch or dressed or out of bed, but I tell myself “just do the dishes.” And I do. And then, once I’m up, I seem to do other shit.

I turn the television off for a few hours a day. I turn the music up loud. I send the kids outside no matter what to ride their bikes. When I run out of underwear, I do laundry. I invite the kids to cook with me. But the dishes are my only real goal now.

Ava was supposed to come next week for her Spring Break. I’ve been looking forward to it since Christmas. It is a strange, strange feeling to be separated from my daughter in a legal way. As in, the EU won’t let me. It is a strange feeling to wonder if she’d be safer here.

She’s a senior. Her prom, senior trip, and graduation ceremony may be cancelled. She is angry, heartbroken, unsure, and without her Mom, her Dad, her brothers and sister.

The other day she and I got in a big fight, and when it was done and she was chatting about her day, and the kids were yelling “goodnight, Ava!” over my shoulder, I just dropped my head and cried in a way I haven’t in a long, long time. She couldn’t see or hear me. She didn’t notice it in my voice. Mac watched me from across the kitchen table.

Here I am, away from my baby and my parents. Here I am. Why.

I wasn’t doing so hot before any of this happened. I was barely functioning after having done that slow march into apathy and gray isolation—five hours a day in bed, ten hours a day on a screen. I’m ashamed, sort of, but it is what it is.

After our neighbor and a friend independently told Mac they thought I was depressed (and I thought I was hiding it so well!), and I started wondering if maybe I should start drinking again because I’m in a new country and fuck it and the relief might be worth the destruction it would bring, I started making some changes that were helping a lot.

I got into a physical therapist for my pain. I signed up for a little Dutch class. I got a therapeutic lightbox (thanks, renegade mothering Facebook page). And I found a therapist.

She asked me what I wanted out of our work together. I said I wanted to be nudged into new perspectives just enough to survive this. I don’t want the pain gone. I don’t want to be “fixed.” This isn’t a fucking self-empowerment seminar at a Los Angeles Marriott (why am I like this).

I know these things pass. I know we get through them.

I just want slivers of light in my brain to keep me going, to keep me from blowing up my life.

I want to not make this worse. I want to maybe help somebody. I want to not miss time with my family. I want to not scream at them. I want to face the shit inside myself instead of run from it. I want to write to my friends on that blog I created.

 

“Janelle,” she told me. “Look what you’ve gotten through. There’s strength and resilience in you. You just can’t find it right now.”

And she said that when we’re all numb and down in the black and terrified, we lose access to our own inner strength. We just can’t find it. We look into ourselves and seem to find nothing but confusion, fear, that insidious flat-lined gray.

So we look outside ourselves: To screens, to booze, to fights with loved ones or strangers in Wisconsin. We look to control things. We look to understand things. We look to politics and the tribes they create. We look to Russian literature or the news. We look, really, to anything.

And none of it works.

She reminded me we already have what we need. She reminded me we always have. She reminded me that it’s not that I don’t have strength, it’s that I’m looking for it in the wrong places.

It’s good news, I think, to know that the grit and love are within us, and we just forget sometimes. We forget about the resiliency we’ve demonstrated the entirety of our lives or even the nine years we’ve been together here on this silly website, living through those babies dying in kindergarten and the crumbling of our nation and all the times we thought for sure this time there is no way out.

Yet we’ve always gotten out, or through, haven’t we? Until it passes.

“I live a hope despite my knowing better,” said James Baldwin.

I’ll meet you there.

 

Arlo living his hope by setting up a busking gig down the road.

***

Need a distraction?

I’m teaching two online writing workshops in April and

offering a $50 quarantine discount. 

30 Comments | Posted in 2020 deserves a category of its own | March 27, 2020

I’m finally “enjoying every moment,” even the time when I wasn’t.

by renegademama

I became a mother eighteen years ago and it seems like every day since then, somebody has told me to “enjoy every moment.” I’ve moved from vague pity to nonchalant disinterestedness all the way to outright disdain in response to the advice.

Early on, I thought it was just kinda sad that the women looking at me with a knowing smile were just so, you know, old. Seasoned mothers whose kids had grown, looking at me, twenty-two-years old, all fresh and shit, and there they were with their Old People Regrets.

It’s funny how in your twenties, the suggestions of “old people” are distant whispers from strange humans you’ll never become. It’s strange how we don’t yield to them, recalling how, if all goes well, we’ll be them one day, and maybe they’ve learned something.

Or maybe other people do that. Maybe other people hear these words and think “I shall listen to you because you probably know shit.” I don’t.

But my special talent is somehow always believing myself the exception to the rule. Sure, you look back and wish you’d “enjoyed every moment” because “it goes so fast.” But I won’t. Fuck off.

Why? No clue. How exactly would I be different? No clue. Please don’t bring reason into this.

But something happened to me the day the baby born on November 21, 2001, left our home to finish high school in America, and I found myself surrounded with three of my four kids, feeling always just a little off. She may come here for college. She may stay in California. The letting go snuck up on me, the massive distance. It sounds ridiculous to say.

Something changed in me the morning I saw in her brow a nervousness and sorrow that looked a little like being let down. The day I saw her steel herself and keep on going to the airport—her purse, a bag that used to be mine, crossing her body over her jean jacket, beneath two braids she’d made that morning while singing along in the bathroom to Johnny Cash, and I listened from the next room, my head in my hands, crying, enjoying every moment of her voice.

It all dissolved that morning, what my family had been for so long, and at my own hand, or the passing of time, if there’s a difference.

It was all suddenly different and I saw it. Rocket, fourteen-years-old, standing taller than me. One teenager gone, one taller than me. My nine-year-old, the way she worries what the kids at school think. The way she still has little projects: notes to her friends, drawings, shortbread cookies made all by herself.

Ava used to do that.

 

And I looked at my little one, Arlo, five-years-old. The tail end. The last whisper of little guy. The imaginative play. The curling against your body almost like they’re three. The way they fit in your arms just barely.

There’s a chance I’m a little weird around him now.

I ask him to sing me his school songs and notice the lisp he’ll lose someday. I watch him play with airplanes and knights and dragons and call Mac over to watch him in his little world. Look at him.  

“I know,” Mac says, sighing. He whacks my arm. I tell him I hate him. We both look like we’re about to cry. I think this is how mature adults handle emotion.

I could listen to Arlo’s stories for hours. It’s not hard. Keep speaking. Keep going. Tell me more of your plans.

When I’m cooking and he wants to stir, even when I’m tired and fed up and just want it to be over, I tell him to grab a stool and show him how to hold the spoon and remind him that the pot is hot and I kiss his head when he looks at me and I don’t really ever say, “No, not tonight.”

When he hears me in the bath and asks to join, just when I begin to relax, I remember the way I used keep the door locked and wonder how they always found me. I still wonder that, but it makes me smile. I keep the door cracked. “Yes,” I say. “Just give me ten minutes in here alone.” I say it because I really want him to come in with me. I don’t mind at all.

I want to watch him play Batman under the water. I want to feel his little hug against me. And when he’s there, I’ll remember how I labored with him in the bathtub, how I brought him with me in the bath as a newborn, an infant, a toddler, and how he used to nurse partially submerged, and I’d lay a warm washcloth over the part of his body exposed to the air.

I cuddle with him on the couch and put my phone away. He sleeps in our bed just about every night and I stick my face an inch from his and watch his little hands do nothing under his chin. He falls asleep on my arm and I smell his head, his neck, stare at his bare feet curled behind him.

I tell Mac to look. Look at our baby.

 

So here I am, world, finally, doing what you told me. I’m enjoying every minute! I’m all in, assholes. SOAKING THIS SHIT UP. It’s not that I’m uniformly joyful, never annoyed, never yelling. And I don’t think that’s what they meant when they told us “it goes so fast.” I think they meant, be aware always how quickly this will end. 

That’s where I am now, and thank god it wasn’t always this way. Thank god I didn’t live all these years in this condition—every minute some butterfly just touching down, some joy about to fly away.

I wouldn’t have wanted to live all those years in the full knowledge of what they would mean to me when they were gone, because there was a freedom there, an energy—we were both young.

I don’t think you can be told when your first baby is six-months-old—when you’ll never sleep again and your life has become a pattern of monotony you quite possibly hate and you’re talking too long to the checkout guy and wondering when the baby will crawl—you can’t be told “enjoy every moment; it goes so fast,” because that understanding comes when the non-crawling baby waves at you from a passenger seat on her way into her own life. It comes from the pain of the other side.

It comes when you’re snapped into the finality of it, because there really is a day, you know, when they leave. An actual day. It is very concrete. They are around every day, and then they are not.

 

I couldn’t have lived with this kind of pull on my heart. I couldn’t have taken it all this seriously. I couldn’t have endured the work of those early years if I had to stop every fifteen minutes to enjoy my five-year-old’s nose. The way his curls fall over his eye. The blocks he left in my bed.

Who can live like that? In some state of awe at the little dude jumping off a branch, watching him ride a bike like it’s a fucking symphony. Who can hold this much devotion to something so fleeting, an ache burning always somewhere, a silent grip on what isn’t yours, an hourglass on the counter mocking your old sense of permanence.

I didn’t ask for this shit. I didn’t learn it or guilt or self-talk my way into it. It came one morning when I wasn’t ready, when my first baby sucked the air out of the room and flooded her siblings in light.

I’ve never been very good at learning things without pain. Never been good at listening to others and anticipating and being smart about it. But maybe we learn what we need to learn as life presents itself. Maybe we see more when life becomes more, or less. Maybe that’s how it should be.

I won’t tell a new mother to enjoy every moment. I’ll watch her not enjoying them and remember when I had the luxury.

I’ll let him sleep on me as long as he wants, and love it all. When I knew what it was, and when I didn’t.

 

18 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | February 19, 2020

Invisible labor and the “small space” that’s ours.

by renegademama

Alright, I’ll admit it. I am having a rough time. Here’s what’s up: When I left California, I left the support network I’d built over 18 years to help me raise four kids and work as a writer. And now I’m without that network, starting over, and the domestic load is fucking killing me.

I used to have close friends within walking distance, my mom, and Mac’s mom. I used to have an office out of my house. I used to know how everything worked in my world, so I could get it done fast or easily send somebody else to do it. Now, I’m feeling quite alone with all this.

The details of my situation here are irrelevant. I could go through my day and the particulars of our marriage and house and schedules but it doesn’t matter. It’s not a fucking competition, and the more details we share, the more we’re held up for uninformed scrutiny from the masses. As soon as you say “This is hard,” half the world looks down on your sorry self and instructs how you could manage better, how they’ve learned what you haven’t, how if you’d just try harder you wouldn’t be having such a hard time. There’s so much you want to explain, so much nobody sees.

And I’m sure from the outside a person looks at me and thinks, “You live in the Netherlands surrounded by cobblestone and affordable healthcare. Shut the hell up, ya ungrateful shitbag.”

And that is true. Occasionally even the shitbag part.

But some things don’t change no matter where you live. In fact, for me, in this particular arena, life is quite a bit harder here.

The most difficult part of talking about the unequal division of domestic labor is that there’s no way to do it without making your husband sound like an asshole. There’s no way to talk about the bulk of the invisible labor on your shoulders without implicating the person you’ve partnered with, are happy with, and love, a lot.

So, we keep silent. But this isn’t about an individual man and it isn’t about my particular marriage or the idiosyncrasies therein. It is an oversimplification to say, “Your husband should do more.” It is a minimization to say, “Some men are better than yours.” This mentality is not understanding how deep this problem lives within him and within me.

We are products of the world that raised us.

For example, when I said “I do” at age 22, I didn’t come up with the idea that I would assume responsibility for damn near everything from start to finish. I didn’t go into marriage telling myself “You know what? THIS IS ALL MY JOB AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE.” I just knew it was. I didn’t even question it until I’d been married a decade and saw that my career, a career I cared about all the way to my bones, would be eradicated and impossible unless we, as a couple, changed.

If it involves the kids, finances, health, school, the house, overall social and familial relations, I tend to assume I own it. As in, it is mine. Sure, I can delegate it, but I will then manage the delegation. I will make sure it gets done. I will follow up, because it’s still mine, it’s just parsed out to somebody else temporarily. Ultimately, I feel it is on my shoulders to complete. And in fact, it is.

Who the fuck decided that?

In other words, the invisible labor of thinking, remembering, asking, tracking – the mental space required for all that – is still consumed in my brain. All the space in there feels taken up, largely by shit I never asked for and probably don’t care about.

It isn’t that I particularly enjoy or am uniquely interested in household organization and cleaning out drawers and getting new lightbulbs and making dentist appointments and planning playdates, it’s just that somewhere along the line, this became “women’s work” in addition to our regular work and I, for one, pretty much just do it. Or did it, unquestioningly. Some women find this stuff interesting, and that’s wonderful. I do not.

Here in this new country, I’ve started at zero again, and my whole brain is taken up.

Do you know what writing takes? WIDE OPEN FUCKING MENTAL FUCKING SPACE.

 

Motherhood is always more immediate. It’s always right here right now. And Mac’s work is outside the house. He has people who he’s building things for. Of course he needs to leave and do that work. But it feels sometimes a touch unreasonable that I, too, have work, hard work of a different kind, plus the burden of damn near all household management.

This arrangement feels a bit shitty for women and a bit awesome for men.

I was thinking recently about something I did a few years ago that felt like a radical act. I was trying to write my book and it wasn’t happening. I quickly realized “write book” was simply added to my to-do list, as if I could just carry on doing all the things I did before plus write an 80k word manuscript that didn’t suck.

After a small breakdown one Easter, I began leaving on occasional weekends to write for 18 hours. I knew something had to give. I just said FUCK IT and left my life, the mess, the kids, all of it. I booked myself into a motel room and worked. I got my whole book done that way. During the week, I’d barely write.

Now, my whole life looks like those barren weeks, and I don’t have the money to run off and write. I am erased again, it seems. How quickly we get eaten up if we aren’t paying attention.

Anyway, around that time, when I was fed up, I began asking every one of my kids’ teachers to add my husband’s email to their lists and always email both of us. This was a tiny, obvious step in making sure he had access to the same information I did. Despite my requests, many of the teachers still didn’t email him when problems arose.

So, I simply replied with a copy to Mac and a message that said: “My husband is handling this.” Sometimes I just emailed back “Please tell my husband.” Or I would forward it to Mac with the words: “Yours.”

It’s interesting that our default is to email only the mother. It’s interesting that even when I asked, people forgot to include him. It’s interesting that I didn’t fight this default setting for a full seventeen years of motherhood. It is all very fucking interesting.

 

Do you ever wonder how many things are simply assumed to be the woman’s job? Do you ever wonder how much more we could do if our brains weren’t consumed by so much monotonous drivel of daily life? By activities so opposite creativity and possibly individuality? By things that take and take and take and take and do you ever wonder why Sylvia Plath put her head in that oven?

Yes, depression. But could it also have been that she couldn’t bear a life of erasure? That her art, her writing, her purpose, was impossible in the context of her life and she couldn’t go on? A room of one’s own, indeed.

I don’t have answers. The truth is I move from resignation to gratitude to rage and back again. I look for words in stolen moments. I give up again. I ask somebody and nobody, “When the fuck did all of this become my job?”

I read the women who’ve gone before me, like Toni Morrison:

“I have an ideal writing routine that I’ve never experienced, which is to have, say, nine uninterrupted days when I wouldn’t have to leave the house or take phone calls. And to have the space—a space where I have huge tables. I end up with this much space [she indicates a small square spot on her desk] everywhere I am, and I can’t beat my way out of it. I am reminded of that tiny desk that Emily Dickinson wrote on and I chuckle when I think, Sweet thing, there she was. But that is all any of us have: just this small space…”

Sweet thing, there she was.

There we were.

How do you look at something and see your whole beloved life and the threat of erasure at the same time?

 

****

Speaking of carving out spaces for ourselves, there are five spots left in my Memoir writing workshop in April. We need your story.

Oh, and here’s my book. If you’ve read it, would you consider reviewing it on Goodreads or Amazon? And if you haven’t, maybe consider doing so if you like my work. I’m still over here talking about it because this book’s sales help me get the opportunity to write another.

I HATE MARKETING SO MUCH BUT I SURE LOVE YOU.

 

California human experiences first Dutch Winter. Doing great.

by renegademama

Good news. I have figured out how boilers work. Is that even what they’re called? I don’t know. Those metal flat things attached to walls that run water through them, getting warm but not hot enough to burn your house down if your kid leaves a stuffed animal on it (not that I checked this five times a day for the first month we used the fucker).

You know, the heating system everywhere in Europe built in approximately 1743? Those.

Anyway, the way they work is this: When you are cold, so cold, like ice melting across your wordless soul, you turn the thermostat up one degree Celsius.

Seventeen minutes later you are so sauna-hot you go outside, into Dutch Siberia (which is the whole country), on purpose, to cool off. Then, about two hours later, you start the process over again.

It’s a wet cold here in Holland. Humans I wanted to punch in the face used to tell me that the 110 degrees in California I experienced wasn’t really that hot because it’s a “dry heat,” and yes, I get it, humidity is a special hell, but can we all just fucking agree that 110 is like living in Satan’s ball sack no matter what the conditions? You can’t breathe in hot humid you can’t breathe in not humid hot.

Oh, hot sounds nice.

My toes will never be warm again. Jeans do not cut the wind. My socks are 12% effective. People say I should wear two pair made of merino wool. They are clearly not taking into account my laziness here. Two socks.

Fun fact, it’s not even full winter yet.

This has all been perhaps a grave mistake.

I burn 3-7 candles at all times in my house. George says I “have a problem.” I say, “I AM TRYING TO CREATE SOME COZY SO I DON’T DROWN MYSELF IN A MOTHERFUCKING CANAL.” I say this with my brain not my mouth because saying that word to your kid even as apt modifier is frowned upon.

The Dutch word here is “gezellig.” It means “cozy” but more than cozy. It’s like comfortable, lived in, warm, general togetherness, friendly. For example, when a Dutch neighbor came over and I did the standard apology for kid shit all over the floor, she said, “No, I like it. It’s gezellig. It means children live here and are comfortable to play here.”

And then I cried and cradled her in my arms for a good ten minutes. I didn’t. The Dutch would hate that. Niet gezellig to force affection on acquaintances.

I got a heated blanket because I’m elderly and also I take a lot of baths in our giant tub. God gave us a long, deep, massive (that’s what she said) tub because he knows I used to think closed-toed shoes meant “winter.” And this is definitely how god works, an act of divine providence as opposed to just, like, luck, since this is the only house that would rent to us.

I’m really into the really good tea from the tea shop in the center of town. I also like the way I bundle up to go outside then SWEAT CONSTANTLY once I get inside where I’m going because gezellig and boilers.

Did I mention it’s going to get colder and rain like this and be gray and get dark at noon even though the sun rises at 10am for the next four months?

No need to look at the weather app. IT’S ALL GRAY ALL DAY ASSHOLES.

It hails occasionally. That’s fun. But no snow. Snow is too pleasant. Too bright. Whoever said white is the absence of color has clearly never lived through a Dutch winter. Sea of Gray, a love song. If it snowed, maybe the moon that peaks out the clouds for 3 minutes every tenth night would reflect off it, almost giving the impression of light. And we don’t do “light” in Dutch winter.

Okay fine. I’m exaggerating. The sun comes out for at least ten minutes over the course of a week.

Meanwhile, Dutch families ride their bikes in this shit, all day, shaming with their toughness and stoic “what’s your problem” attitudes. Some of them even smile. They aren’t like positive about it, they just don’t seem to care. I feel personally attacked. They cart 2-3 kids on those bikes, in the fucking rain, with or without ponchos or gloves.

They’ve obviously given up on life.

Or embraced it. Your call.

Yes, I am aware that It is nowhere near as cold here as Chicago or Minnesota or Canada or wherever else people put kids in snowsuits and have tears freeze to their cheeks. My friend Antonia said that happened to her here, so that’s a nice thought.

But, where I lived in California we had two seasons: Hot as Fuck and Orgasm-Level Perfect.

Mixed in there between December and January would be a week or two of “Guess I shouldn’t wear Birkenstocks today” AKA “Where’s my coat?” AKA “Do I own a coat?” AKA “WHY CAN NONE OF US DRIVE IN THE FUCKING RAIN?”.

One thing I have learned about “actual winter,” though, is that one always complains about actual winter. Every year. Just like I complained about the one-hundredth 90+ degree day in a row, people with winters complain about winters. Unless you’re Dutch, in which case you get all gezellig and shit, throw some flowers in your bike basket and say things like “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”

I FUCKING DISAGREE DUDE BUT SURE LET’S DO IT YOUR WAY (sorry for yelling please don’t kick me out).

In conclusion, apparently Mac wears scarves now.

COZY.

****

Hey friends I’m running three writing workshops in the beginning of 2020.

Check them out.

FROM MEMORY TO MEMOIR, for the writer ready to write her story (January)

RENEGADE WRITERS’ GROUP, for the writer ready to get lots of actual words written (January)

WRITE ANYWAY, where we gain a new relationship to our fears of writing (March)

A FOCUS ON CRAFT, um, where we work on becoming better writers (only more fun than that I swear) (April)

I found this a year after I named my workshop “write anyway,” which basically means I am Junot Diaz.

 

31 Comments | Posted in I guess we're moving to the Netherlands | November 14, 2019