Like To Get To Know You Well (once I’m done sobbing)


Despite having an entire website devoted to my 13-year-old self, I am actually more emotionally connected to 15-year-old Lisa.

15. That’s such a tender age, too. At 15, I was still figuring out where I belonged. I’d found what would turn out to be my lifelong “tribe,” as it were, but I was standing right at the edge of that circle, not quite confident enough to fully participate. I was watching, and learning, and praying I wouldn’t be rejected.

My 15-year-old heart was evenly divided among three people. One was a boy in the aforementioned “tribe,” but I couldn’t muster the bravery to approach him and tell him I liked him “that way” (as it turned out, that boy would become my bandmate some 25 years later, but this was something I couldn’t know or even dare to imagine back then). Second was Neil Finn. And the third was Howard Jones.

He was ebullient. His music was ebullient. There was an impishness beneath that outstanding hairdo. I bought the “Things Can Only Get Better” 45 and played it incessantly. The sound of the needle hitting the record, the second or two of popping and crackling, and the staggered synth opening of the song was like being embraced in a warm, friendly hug. Every time. Of course I learned to love the rest of his work, but even to this day, hearing the beginning of that song takes me back to that hug.

So when I heard several weeks ago that he’d playing at a club that I myself had played a number of times, I was thrilled. Seeing him in such an intimate setting, and knowing that we’d both been on that VERY SAME STAGE? Plus the very real possibility of actually getting to TALK TO HIM and tell him alllllll of this? My God.

It was such a good show. Just him and a piano. His voice is just as sonorous and clear and heartbreaking as it was then. And he’s so funny and charming. I sat there and beamed. And in my purse was that very same 45 of “Things Can Only Get Better.” I was so looking forward to having him sign it and getting to express to him all the things his music has meant to me. It was going to be the perfect ending to a magical night. So I got in line after the performance and waited for him to emerge from backstage.

Now, understand – I’ve been a huge fan of this guy for 30 years. I spent a not-insignificant amount of time over those years rehearsing the witty banter I’d exchange with him when we finally got to meet. I would talk to him with the respect he deserved, yet with the confidence stemming from my own experience as a musician and writer. I would be reverent, yet poised. Giddy, yet clever.

Here is the transcript of the conversation that actually transpired between myself and Howard Jones:

Me: “Oh! I, um, brought a Sharpie because I didn’t know if you’d have one.”
HJ: “No, I’ve got this one; it’s very good.”
Me: “Ehhhh heh heh heh hehhh.”

12122884_10156276851565085_8306004423572650459_nI think I stammered some kind of thank you while my husband stepped in and attempted damage control by complimenting him on the show. I just stood there looking like one of those sucker fish, or like Winona Ryder in every scene where she’s supposed to be verklempt. You know what I’m talking about.

PicMonkey CollageAnyway – then I burst into tears. I slumped into a booth behind the merch table and bawled as one of our companions went to the bar and grabbed me a bunch of napkins for me to snuffle piteously into. Meanwhile, his manager kept looking over at me as if he wasn’t sure whether to comfort me or GET ME THE HELL AWAY FROM HOWARD.

indexIt was, bar none, my worst performance since the time I was in Annie Get Your Gun when I was like 18 and suddenly forgot the entire second verse of “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun” and just kind of stomped around onstage in my fake buckskins with a rictus of startled alarm glued to my face.

So, Howard, if for some reason you find yourself reading this – I’m really not (that) insane. Thank you for coming to Johnny D’s to play, and for signing my record, and posing for a picture with me. And for everything, really.


A Requiem For “Cute”


I had a hot flash on the Green Line a couple of nights ago.

I say this because I need to own it. A hot flash. Like – sweat pouring down my back, face on fire, felt like I was gonna hurl – hot flash.

I don’t get them often. I’m not full-blown menopausal…yet. But I’m pushing it, you know? I’m 45. Things are dropping, drooping, and drying out. Also, now, evidently, heating up, although not in a way that I at all enjoy.

I’ve been joking about the chin hairs for a while now. I have a pair of tweezers in every handbag I own. But with the introduction of hot flashes into my world, it’s time to admit that I am not a young, cute thing anymore.

And when I say this, folks, it’s not to invite an outcry of “BUT YOU *ARE* CUTE OMG STOP!” Because listen – I am 45 years old and I left “cute” somewhere back in 2007, and even then it was getting a little threadbare. “Cute” is no longer in my wheelhouse.

When I say I’m not “cute,” I mean that I am making a conscious decision to leave it back in the early 2000s or whatever. Maybe even back in ’95, truth be told, around the time I was still wearing, like, mini-kilts and carrying a Hello Kitty backpack….to GRADUATE SCHOOL.

I was faced with my not-cuteness not too long ago, when I was introduced to one of my husband’s coworkers. She was cute. I was….well, I won’t go so far as to say “matronly,” but I was rocking a semi-mature look that day. Big comfy sweater, stacked heels, tasteful jewelry. And I was feeling moderately okay about myself up until that introduction. Then I immediately felt like a dowdy, dumpy she-beast. I looked at her calf-high boots and her sassy little dress (Size 4, maybe? 6, tops?) and suddenly felt as if I’d outfitted myself in a pup tent purchased for half-off because it was the display model. And I wanted to slink away muttering “Bargon wanchi kox paa, Solo! Hoo hoo hoo hoo…

I had to ask myself WHY – when I am ordinarily so pro-body-positivity and adamant that I should not be comparing myself to other women (particularly women who are a good 10 years younger than I am, because that shit is just not fair) – I immediately start in on the self-hate. Yeah – I know it’s conditioning. It’s practically hard-wired and/or arguably some kind of Paleolithic instinct to size up another woman as “competition.” Or something.

And this is when I have to remember AAALLLLLLLLL of the times I’ve looked back at pictures of myself at various ages and remember that, at every age, I thought of myself as a monster. 13. 15. 18. 25. 36. 40. And when I look at those pictures now, I don’t see what I saw then. And it’s like, I don’t want to have to be 60, looking back on myself at 45, and doing this EXACT SAME THING ALL OVER AGAIN. I’ve spent entirely too much time saying things to myself that I would never dream of saying to my closest friends. That has to stop.

But let’s get back to “cute.” I am not claiming it for myself anymore. I am not going to feel BAD because this isn’t what, or who, I am these days.

There’s a poem by Louis de Paor in which there’s a line (an cailín a bhfuil áilleacht an bhróin ina gnúis) that translates roughly to: “the girl in whose face is sorrow’s beauty.” This is something that I have claimed for myself, as DRAMATIC as I know it sounds to some people. But fuck it; this is what has replaced “cute” for me. It has rung particularly truthful in the past few years, as crisis after crisis has knocked me on my ass. For a time I was looking at myself in the mirror and thinking how HAGGARD I looked. I’m not haggard; I am goddamned beautiful from sorrow and stress and uncertainty. Radiant, even.

But cute? No. And that’s okay.

My (heretofore unlikely) friend


It started, I think, with a stupid tweet about her last name. I think I asked her why, in an environment where the men always have the upper hand, was her last name hyphenated? Shouldn’t her mother, Shirley Phelps-Roper, exhibit submission to her husband in all things?

I was tweeting to Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps and the social media “voice” of the Westboro Baptist Church (you know – the “God Hates Fags” folks).

I don’t even know what compelled me to come up with this. I’d been reading her Twitter page for some time and was simultaneously outraged and fascinated. I knew I wasn’t up to the task of arguing scripture with her; I’d watched the WBC in action enough to know that they had biblical justification for EVERYTHING they did, and having not been quite so immersed in bible study as the Phelpses, despite 12+ years of Catholic education (which they would have sneered at anyway, because – sigh – “Catholics aren’t Christians”), I couldn’t whip out chapter-and-verse from memory the way Megan could. This was a girl who had a KJV app on her phone. You simply couldn’t shout “BUT WHAT ABOUT JOHN 3:16?!” at any member of the WBC; they’d know then that you hadn’t read beyond that verse, and were therefore biblically ig’nant (“…he that believeth not is condemned already.”). And on that point, they were pretty much correct. Let me tell you all right now: most people cannot, and should not, go to the mat with the WBC in terms of the bible; it’s like walking into the annual James Joyce Conference having only glanced through the Cliff Notes of Ulysses.

Despite what people believe about the Phelpses (that they’re a group of backwater, inbred imbeciles), the fact is that they are a shrewd, very well educated lot. And despite the persistent rumors that they’re actually running some kind of elaborate scam, making all of their money by suing counter protestors, the adults in the church are gainfully employed (mostly in law or medicine), and are expected to contribute a certain percentage of their income back into the church. It should also go without saying that they’re not a decades-long performance art piece funded by the Democrats in order to make Christians look bad. None of these rumors are true.

Anyway – I’d read her tweets and sputter and fume and try to find SOME way of getting at her. I was not one for ad hominem attacks; as horrifying as I found the WBC, to call them names seemed counter-intuitive, seeing as part of what was so horrible about them was the way they flung the word “fag” around. And at any rate it didn’t seem to matter what anyone said to Megan; her responses were always measured, and bemused. Which of course was even more infuriating. And yet I began to harbor a grudging respect for her. I saw, in the midst of the gay-and-Jew-bashing lunacy she’d been brought up to believe, a lambent intelligence and wittiness in her. I began to think, “She is WAY too smart for this.”

And then I thought: “I really hope she gets out of this.”

I stopped picking fights with her. I was just one of countless people challenging her belief system, or mocking her, or just trying to figure out why her family did these batshit crazy things. And I went on posting bad 80’s videos and coming up with brittle bons mots like I do.

There came a point when I realized I hadn’t heard anything about her in months. Curious, I popped over to her Twitter account. Her profile picture had changed. Where it had been a shot of her sandaled foot coyly stepping on an American flag, now it appeared to be of a fence bedecked with little white lights. Her bio, which had been the usual Sturm und Drang of “USA IS DOOMED BECAUSE FAGS” found on other WBC Twitter pages, read: “You’re just a human being, my dear, sweet child.”


Her tweets were her typical biblically-sound wisecracking up until around November 2012, at which point they stopped altogether until February. That tweet simply said “Hi,” and included a link to a short essay on Medium explaining that, after a period of crippling doubt and tremendous self-reflection, Megan and her younger sister Grace had left Westboro.

I was floored. And almost immediately, I felt compelled to send her a little message of support. I knew that at this point, she’d had no contact with her parents, siblings, and other family members still at Westboro, as it’s understood that if you leave, you are persona non grata (“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”). I couldn’t imagine how isolated and lonely that would make me feel. And I don’t even remember what I said, but she thanked me.

And so began my rebooted online relationship with Megan Phelps-Roper. I didn’t want to come off as a creeper, so I kept it light at first, until I found myself leaping to her defense when others were still railing at her. I’d send them the link to the Medium piece. Some of them would then apologize to her. I reached out to Grace as well. I told them that if they ever found themselves in Boston, they had a friend here. And somehow, they believed me. Which couldn’t have been easy for them, given that they had been raised to believe that the world outside of the WBC was evil, that those not in the church were hated by God and not to be trusted. And here I was, a 40-something former Catholic who was maybe still praying the Rosary now and then (it SOOTHES me, okay?!), who had a “gay boyfriend” and enjoyed all manner of filthy entertainment, saying “Come on over! I’ll bake a pie!”

I mean…

Suddenly, it seemed that Megan and I were actually friends. Like – she has my cellphone #/knows personal bidness about me/drops me a line to check on me if I tweet something depressing. Friends.

I dug through bins in my dark, dank basement looking for a paper I’d written in graduate school about Emily Dickinson’s influence on Marilynne Robinson (a writer we both admire) so I could scan it and email it to her. As I pulled it out and stumbled around my basement yelling “Ah HA!” – triumphant – I had to pause and reflect on how I’d gone to the trouble of doing this for someone who, not just a couple of years ago, had so confounded and enraged me. It’s hilarious. It’s utterly insane. It’s amazing. Friends.

I find myself checking in on her like a meddling auntie – Are you okay? Don’t be sad. Well, BE sad, but be hopeful. When are you coming to visit? – like she doesn’t have people in her own family (those who’ve also left WBC, as well as those on her dad’s side of the family that she’s now connecting with) to do this for her. But I feel compelled nonetheless. I see the things that some people still say to her, and I cringe. She is, of course, an adult, and certainly “used to” the verbal assault by now, but it cannot be easy to see, every day, the anger that still erupts from her past actions in the WBC, almost three years after leaving.

Several weeks ago, I got a message from her saying she was going to be speaking in town, and could we meet up? After a lot of back-and-forth and juggling of calendars and such, we finally were able to meet for dinner (as an added bonus, I also got to meet the very lovely, and very ripped, Lauren Drain). We spent a good few hours laughing. Laughing about some of the more absurd signs the WBC has produced (my personal favorite is “Bitch Burger,” which Lauren and Megan found hilarious). Laughing about not knowing how to pronounce half of the stuff on the menu. Laughing like a group of people who’d found some common ground, and were just genuinely enjoying one another’s company.

But there were some tough moments, too. What strikes me now about my friendship with Megan is how we both came out of dependencies which had us painting ourselves into corners. We both had to come to terms with how something that had provided a means of coping, and a way to define ourselves, had ceased to work. For me, it was alcohol. For Megan, it was the WBC. Not knowing how else to maneuver through our lives without these things, we remained stuck, and fearful. And when something becomes too painful, you have to make a leap of faith that you can move forward, and then make the move.

Of course, my quitting drinking didn’t result in my family never speaking to me again; I don’t want to make light of the very real sacrifices Megan, and the others who have left, have had to make in order to do the right thing. But the other thing we spoke at length about was gratitude. Megan has learned that people outside of the WBC are not evil, that many in fact have been unfailingly kind and generous. And even with the daily pangs of missing her parents and siblings and friends who remain in the church, her life is largely one of enormous opportunity. She travels. She has a boyfriend whom she absolutely adores. She is incandescent with possibility. And she is grateful.

The easiest route to take sometimes is one of outright dismissal. A lesson that my father has repeatedly imparted on me and my siblings is this: “Consider the source.” And I get that the majority of people reading this don’t feel they particularly need to do this when it comes to the Phelpses, the Drains, the Hockenbargers, and the others who make up the WBC’s membership. That’s understandable. The protests, the signs, the indoctrination – these are indescribably awful to those of us who weren’t born into this and can’t for the life of us imagine how it’s in any way good or right. And it isn’t good or right, but yet that’s what they believe. What they’ve been taught from birth to believe. And that’s something I’ve frequently said about the WBC: “They’re not EVIL; they’re FRIGHTENED.” And fear can make one do some pretty – well – batshit crazy things.

Sometimes I send a tweet or two to Shirley, Megan’s mother. I’m always polite, the way one is with a friend’s mom, even though I completely disagree with her church’s doctrine. I know that someone who’s raised a person as frigging delightful as Megan simply cannot be a terrible person. I’d like to think that someday I’ll get to meet Shirley, too. In an interesting moment at dinner, Lauren looked at me, then looked at Megan, and said, “Your mom would TOTALLY get along with Lisa.” I didn’t find that insulting in the least. And if I do get to meet her, I would tell her that as far as Proverbs 22:6 goes (“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”), here – in Megan – is no failure.


Semi-manageable funk gonna give it to ya.


I’ve spent the last couple of months in what I can only call a “semi-manageable funk.” Depression and anxiety have been my lifelong companions, and yet it’s always such an unpleasant surprise when they suddenly team up and give me a beatdown behind the school. They’ve taken my lunch money AND my Game Boy, psychologically speaking.

A large part of it is situational. But the situation has unleashed the neurochemical beasties that I mostly try to keep padlocked in the cellar, kind of like Deadite Henrietta in “Evil Dead II.”

ed2-henriettamonster1I’m managing. I’m taking my medication dutifully and as prescribed. I’m seeing my therapist a bit more often, and staying away from the garbage food as best I can. But I’m living in a sort of perpetual state of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s just that at this point, so many fucking shoes have dropped I may as well be living in a DSW.

I have this recurring dream when I’m in this state. I’m in college, there’s like one day left before I go home for the summer, and I haven’t packed up my shit. My roommate has everything organized and ready to go into storage, and my stuff is EVERYWHERE. I have no boxes. I’m sitting in the middle of piles of clothes and records and I KNOW that I’ve got to deal with this, but instead I just sort of poke around, getting more and more panicked.

I had the dream again last night, only this time I was also coloring my hair and was walking around the room with a glopped-up head, wondering why I’d done this since I only just went to the salon the day before (which was true, in my waking life) and thinking that Daryl, my colorist, was going to be RIPSHIT. And then the fire alarm went off, and I started frantically searching for a shower cap amidst all of my CRAP so I wouldn’t have to face everyone in the dorm looking like I had a freshly-slaughtered bunny rabbit on my head. Then I woke up.

So, yeah, you can maybe sort of comprehend my mental state right now.

Understand – I’m posting this as a way of “checking in.” I’m not looking for pity, sympathy, or platitudes. ESPECIALLY that last one. I’m doing what I can, and what I need to do, to navigate through this, rather than around. It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before; it’s just that I’m allowing myself to NOT pretend I’m Miss Jolly Rancher, impervious to the slings and arrows my own brain is producing as some kind of back-asswards means of coping with what’s going on around me. I was the class clown long enough to know that while this is a marvelous means of getting people to want to be around you, it leaves you high and dry when the jokes can’t write themselves.

Here’s what I’d like – for the Universe or whatever to cool its jets for at least a week and stop dropping these suckass bombs in my lap so I can at least enjoy the fact that it’s almost Halloween. That’s probably a tall and unrealistic order. Things will happen as they happen, with no regard for me, my feelings, or my pesky little control issues.

But it’s almost Halloween. There’s that.

Love & Anger


In the year-plus since my mother-in-law was moved to a memory care center, we’ve been kind of…giddy…I guess you’d say. We’re certainly not happy that her Alzheimer’s has brought her, and us, to this stage. But now that we are no longer in charge of her daily care, we’re experiencing this sense of “WE MUST DO ALL OF THE THINGS!” Because we spent so much time having to turn down invitations, or scheduling any outings well in advance so as to make sure that family members could fill in for us, everything is suddenly POSSIBLE, and so we’re giddy with all of the possibility.

Just in the last couple of weeks we’ve been to King Richard’s Faire, to a family BBQ, to the theatre with friends, and to Maine. Which maybe doesn’t sound like a lot to most people, but when you’ve spent most of your evenings and weekends pretty much completely housebound, getting to do two things in the same week is an embarrassment of riches.

The problem with this is the effect it’s having on our cats (Foot Foot and Mephisto, also known as “The Assholes”). They have grown quite used to having us around all of the time. And they’re NEEDY. You would not think this, as cats have the reputation of giving no fucks about the people with whom they live. The Assholes are not like this. We rescued them as ferals, and “socialized” them to the point where they are psychotically devoted to us (well, in point of fact Foot Foot is psychotically devoted to Kevin, and Mephisto is psychotically devoted to me). They greet us at the door, they hit and headbutt us when we are not paying sufficient attention to them, and they engage in unprecedented displays of assholishness when displeased.

The Assholes

The Assholes

So we’ve been out a lot lately, and this displeases them.

We went to see The Decemberists the other night. They were playing at a venue out in the “Waterfront District” of Boston (an area which used to be pretty bleak and remote until it was determined that it was the New! Hip! place to live in recent years, and has been developed accordingly). We dickered somewhat on transportation. We both work in town, sort of in-between Back Bay and the South End, so a trip to what used to be known as just Southie (which is NOT the same as the South End, so don’t get those confused if you find yourself visiting here, folks) is something to be strategized. We reckoned that we could leave the car where we usually park (the garage under the Christian Science mother church), walk to the Back Bay Orange Line stop, take the Orange Line to the Red Line, get off at South Station, and have a pleasant stroll down to the Pavilion. A mile-and-a-half stroll, to be exact. But whatever – we’re healthy, it was a nice evening, so this is what we did, rather than drive to the lot across from the Pavilion.

Have you seen The Decemberists? They’re really good, and as my family in Montana likes to remind us, Colin Meloy is from Helena. They’re really good, and they play for a long time. Like, a good dozen songs from the outset, and two encores. Awesome!

Two things kept me from completely enjoying myself. One – I had contracted the gack which had been going around my department for days prior to the event. I had begun to expectorate like an opened fire hydrant, and was getting hoarse and chilled. Two – we had been away from the house, and The Assholes, for well over 12 hours. As the set went on, I felt myself getting more and more sick, and more and more concerned about The Assholes. And when I say “concerned about The Assholes,” I mean “concerned about what The Assholes are doing to express their displeasure at us.”

The Decemberists premiered a new song! I thought, “This is so good! I love them! I wonder what The Assholes are doing!”

Colin Meloy made a joke about Donald Trump! I thought, “He’s so funny! I bet we both shopped for Christmas presents for our grandparents at Hennessy’s! I practically KNOW HIM! The Assholes are probably SO MAD at us!”

They played The Rake’s Song! I thought, “Oh, wow! So many DRUMS! The stage lighting is all RED! That’s what The Assholes are feeling right now! RED, RED RAGE!”

By the time the show concluded, it was almost 11pm. If we’d parked right across the street, we probably could’ve been home by 11:30. But we had to walk back to South Station, wait for a train, then wait for ANOTHER train, and then walk to the garage under the Christian Science mother church. We didn’t get home until 12:30…..some 17 hours after we’d left the house, and The Assholes. As we got out of the car, I said, “They are going to be SO MAD. So, SO mad.”

“Yeah. They are.”

They were practically right at the door when we opened it. Mephisto looked wild with righteous indignation. Foot Foot glowered. I promptly rushed into the kitchen to fill their bowls, and chattered and cooed, saying, “I KNOW we were gone a very long time, but I TOLD YOU THIS when I left this morning.” I left them eating, and went into the bedroom to change.

And that’s when I saw them. Two perfectly-formed, perfectly-placed turds on my side of the bed, just under my pillow.

It could have been either one of them. But I’m going to guess it was Mephisto.



Hey! So one of the things I did a few weeks ago was go to this software conference I go to every year. We have a band where we play covers, only we rewrite them so they’re about the software. That’s me on drums.

I didn’t suck nearly as bad as I thought, and The Assholes didn’t poop on anything when I got back, but that’s because Kevin was home with them.

On cruelty


I spent a lot of this weekend thinking about cruelty.

It started with a viral video from a YouTube “comedian” named Nicole Arbour. I’m not going to post it here; Google is your friend if you must watch it for yourself. It’s not often I’m utterly blown away by a deliberate act of meanness such as this one. The video, entitled “Dear Fat People,” is a six-minute journey into the unbelievably puerile mind of a pretty young woman seemingly hell-bent on being as vicious as possible, while calling it “satire.”

I’ll give Arbour this: she clearly knows enough about social media to grasp that being really offensive garners more hits, and therefore more followers. This breathtakingly nasty little video has had 1.2 million views in the last four days, and has naturally rallied the Twitter Justice Troops to – in the vernacular of the medium – “drag her ass,” or call her out for, well, kind of failing at that whole empathy thing.

It’s always interesting when this happens. I find myself being secretly thrilled when a dragging takes place, even as I recognize the futility in shouting into the wind, as it were. You can’t really shame someone who isn’t particularly ashamed of herself, as is the case with Arbour, who steadfastly maintains that she doesn’t give a “fuk,” and furthermore has done a unique public service in telling fat people that they’re gross, because now maybe they’ll lose weight. Or something. (This is also known as being a “concern troll.”)

An interesting, if disturbing, thing invariably happens during a dragging. People are outraged over an act of cruelty, and in their outrage tell the person who committed the act a number of rather cruel things. Arbour, for example, has already been told countless times to kill herself. She’s been told she’s a slut. Her own personal appearance has been ridiculed. In the shrieking vortex that is currently Nicole Arbour’s @ mentions, there are very, very few tweets that could be construed as constructive criticism of her “comedy.” And so the cycle of cruelty continues.

I’m not innocent of jumping into these situations, myself, although I can say with certainty that I have never told anyone to kill herself because I didn’t like something she wrote. Likewise, I don’t believe that there are very many situations in which someone deserves to lose his or her job over a lapse of judgment on social media. But I have definitely taken a seat in the Internet Kangaroo Court, and I have definitely appointed myself judge, jury, and executioner. And it’s not something I’m particularly proud of. I’ll say that it’s intoxicating to engage in it. And it’s also very easy to convince yourself that you’re doing the right thing, or at the very least you’re not doing anything particularly wrong.

So I spent the weekend following the Nicole Arbour thing, reading the thinkpieces and watching the rebuttal videos, and cautiously engaging in dialogue about it: why do people like Nicole Arbour think that cruelty is the most effective means of getting a point across? And generally what I heard back was: SHE’S TELLING IT LIKE IT IS.

In the midst of all of this, I got a notification on Facebook that someone had posted to a group I belong to. The group is named something like “You Know You Grew Up In ____ If…”. There are scores of such groups on Facebook. You know you grew up in your town if you went to such and such and bought this or that. You get the idea. And the post was this:

Does anyone remember “Crazy Mary”?

Crazy Mary used to ride her bike all over town. She usually had various bags tied to the handlebars. Her clothes were dirty, she was dirty, and there were all kinds of rumors as to how she got that way. As kids, we’d sing the little bit of Miss Gulch’s incidental music from The Wizard Of Oz whenever we’d see her go by. I also remember a junior high classmate dressing up as her, complete with broken glasses and dirty raincoat, for Halloween, to great appreciation.

My mother corrected me one afternoon when I declared to have spotted “Crazy Mary” downtown: “Her name is not ‘Crazy Mary,’ it’s Kay. And to YOU, it’s ‘Miss Kearns.’”

Kay Kearns grew up in our town, the youngest child of a prominent businessman. Graduated from the high school in 1954.




Kay went on to get degrees in Biology, and worked as a bacteriologist. Top of her field. But her fiancé was killed, her father died, and Kay simply was not able to cope. She lived in the family home, long after the utilities had been disconnected, cooking for herself on a little Hibachi grill. The house burned down, and her parish chipped in to buy a trailer to put on the property.

I began talking to Kay when I was in high school. I worked in a bakery downtown, and Kay would come in to buy a small blueberry muffin (“heated, with one pat of butter”) and a cup of coffee (“with just enough cream so that it is the precise color of that brown sign behind you”). She was quite adamant about the coffee. If it wasn’t the right color, she’d make you dump it out and start over. For some reason, I was the only one who could get it right the first time, every time, so she’d insist on my waiting on her. She was always polite and well-spoken when I’d take her order, and so long as you were pleasant and polite, she’d have no beef with you.

But she made me cry, once. I saw her coming in, and went to fetch her muffin and coffee. I pushed it across the counter to her. “Here you are, Miss Kearns,” I chirped, thinking I was being nice to have noticed her coming in, and even nicer still that I remembered what she liked.

She scowled at me. “Do I not warrant the right to order for myself? I didn’t ask you for this.”

I stammered in protest. “B-b-but I thought…”

“Pour that out and put that away. I want you to ask me what I would like.”

I dumped the coffee, put the muffin back in the case, and – shaking – I took her order. Small blueberry muffin heated with one pat of butter, and a coffee with cream, the precise color of the sign behind me. I gave it to her, then went into the back room and cried.

She was right, of course.

Kay died in 1990, when a small fire she’d lit in her trailer for warmth wound up burning it down with her still in it.

I think about Kay now, and I am filled with sorrow for the way so many of us treated her. So much of the cruelty heaped upon her was our doing. No matter that we thought it was “funny.” No matter that we were just pointing out the way it was.

Now, we think we know better. We think that we would have been able to help Kay, somehow, or at the very least not have been so ugly to her. Because it’s not okay to laugh at mental illness, right? Generally speaking. Right?

But it’s still okay to laugh at fat people, especially if we couch our derisive laughter in “concern for their health.” It’s okay to make a six-minute “satirical” video complaining about having a fat person sit next to you on an airplane, and then it’s TOTALLY okay to claim that everyone is “too sensitive” when you’re called out on it. Because you’re TELLING IT LIKE IT IS. Comedy!

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not exactly the most PC person in the world. I laugh long and uproariously at all manner of inappropriate things. But there’s comedy, and there’s just viciousness for the sake of getting attention. I’ve been on the receiving end of that. I spent a good couple of years being bullied by classmates who, on the rare occasion I’d muster the courage to defend myself, would tell me precisely what Nicole Arbour and her fans are saying now: “It’s a JOKE. You’re so SENSITIVE.” Bullied, then gaslighted. Bullied, then gaslighted. Over and over again, until I wound up transferring to a different school. I spent a long time questioning whether or not it was as bad as I’d remembered. It was only fairly recently that all of it was validated for me in a very profound way. It did happen, and it was that bad. So I no longer question myself when it comes to recognizing cruelty for what it is.

The Walk


I’m on “staycation” this week.  I started with a bang, by getting my medical stuff in order for another year.  Physical, then mammogram.  Because I know how to party.

I had a Come To Jesus moment with my primary doc.  While I’m basically healthy (perfect blood pressure, cholesterol okay, nothing terribly alarming in the blood work), a few things came back which need to be addressed.  I’ve been anemic my whole life, but am now on mega-doses of Vitamin D, since my diet has been – admittedly – pretty crappy over the last few years.  I’m also now on prescription nasal spray, because I’m a pretty princess.  I’ve got swollen lymph nodes, not a total surprise, since this is also a chronic problem I’ve been dealing with since I was a kid.  TMJ, likely caused by stress.

And I need to lose weight.  Also not a surprise.  My doc hadn’t been terribly adamant about this until this most recent appointment, knowing the pressure I was under the last few years when I was still a caregiver.  But now that my mother-in-law is in a memory care facility, it’s time to deal with it.  Doctor’s orders and all.

I put on about 35 pounds in the years since we moved in to take care of her, mostly from stress-eating and not making time for myself to properly exercise.  I became extremely depressed in the final year she was living with us.  In the year since she moved into memory care, I’ve taken off about 7 pounds.  My doc would like to see me lose another 10 – 15.  I’m older now, and also on medication which slows my metabolism.  But what I’m being asked to do is hardly impossible.

I’m not obese, but I’m not at a particularly healthy weight, either.  I managed to stay connected with my recovery community, and therefore stayed sober throughout, but I fell back on other bad habits I’d worked so hard to keep under control.  Most of what I am dealing with is reversible, or treatable.

But as it stands, I’ve got extra pounds on me, and that feeds into my body image issues.  As much as I rally for body positivity, I fall short of the glory when I look in the mirror and start in on myself, saying things I would never, EVER say to a friend or loved one.  And that sucks.  I feel like I took so many steps back, that even the smallest step forward is barely noticeable.  I have so much work to do on myself, almost more than I did when I first got sober, to be honest.

I say all of this because it’s important for people to realize that caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia rarely emerge from caregiving without health problems of their own.  Are there things I could have done differently during those years?  Of course.  Ultimately, I chose to overeat.  I chose to sit on the couch and watch movies after putting my mother-in-law to bed, instead of taking that time to take a walk, or go to the gym.  I chose “comfort.”  I chose to believe that what I was doing was “self-care.”  I chose these things because I was in an incredibly stressful situation, and my coping mechanisms were compromised.  Even if I hadn’t fallen back into my food issues, I would still be dealing with the near-crippling anxiety, the TMJ, and – arguably – the elevated blood pressure.

Certainly everyone who knows someone with Alzheimer’s is affected in some way, but it’s caregivers that really take a hit.  I am no hero for doing what I did.  If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have done it.  I’m being honest.  But it has made me more of an activist than I would have been if I hadn’t packed up the trappings of my hipster urban lifestyle to move to my husband’s childhood home and help take care of his mother.  And I see what caregiving is doing to friends of mine who don’t have the options we did.  And at least once a month, I get an email from someone whose parent has just been diagnosed.  Alzheimer’s is this vaguely awful thing that we don’t really understand until we’re in the throes of it, and see what it REALLY does.  And it’s fucking terrifying.  I cannot stress that enough.

I am doing the Walk again this year, as I have done for the past several years now.  And I intend to be even more of a voice for the people who are too exhausted to speak.  I’m lucky.  With the help of a Geriatric Care Manager, we were able to determine that we had the resources to move my mother-in-law somewhere safe.  I did not have another year of caregiving in me at the end, but I had choices.  So many caregivers don’t.  Raising funds and awareness is not simply for research towards a cure, it’s also to provide more resources for families and caregivers.  They need help, and they need to know they’re appreciated.

Dear Friends I Saw Play Last Night –


What a great show. Seriously. You all transported me for roughly an hour back to a place where music was pretty much the only friend who’d never abandon me. Sometimes you forget how important certain artists/albums/songs were in your formative years. Last night was a nice reminder.

But when I saw you after you’d finished playing, I was stiff and awkward and not as animated as I usually am.

I feel bad about this, so this morning I’m going to try and explain.

You all know I’m sober, and have been for a number of years now. Even with that amount of time under my belt, I have to make difficult decisions when it comes to being social. I have learned that if I’m feeling even a little bit like I’m going to be uncomfortable, it’s usually best for me to stay home. I ignored that niggling little feeling last night, because I really, REALLY wanted to see you play.

I won’t say I made a mistake, because I didn’t. You all delivered, and then some. But as the tiny club filled up, I felt myself shrinking up against the wall, trying to find a little elbow room for myself, trying to ignore the smell of everyone’s drinks, praying that something wouldn’t get spilled on me. I kept imagining that happening, and wondering what I’d do about it. It didn’t even happen, and yet I found myself as tense and miserable as if it HAD.

I won’t lie; I very much wanted to bolt. I was ready to tell my husband that I’d take the T home. I hadn’t felt that uncomfortable in a long time, and it scared me.

Fortunately, my husband can read me astonishingly well. He found a table for us further back, not so far away that we couldn’t see and hear you, but enough away so that I could breathe without smelling beer/whiskey/fruity alcoholic concoctions. Enough away so I could feel a little better and in less danger of being jostled. So I got to watch your show, and it made me really happy.

But I still felt bad. I felt bad that people have to make concessions for me, the non-drinker with considerable anxiety issues who doesn’t want to be a drag, truly. I feel bad that sometimes I have to ask people not to drink around me. And I get tired – really tired – of feeling like I have to explain myself.

So by the end of the night I was exhausted from – as needlessly DRAMATIC as this sounds – just trying to keep it together for the few hours we were there. Resenting every glass of beer sloshing in front of me. Not wanting to hug people because they had drinks in their hands and on their breath. Feeling stupid and infantile for feeling resentful and wary. Knowing that I can’t expect everyone around me to change the way they live to suit me, just because I can’t drink. Not understanding why, after 13 years of not drinking, this shit still sometimes GETS TO ME. Well, understanding WHY, but being mad that it has to be this way. I’ve always said that I never wanted to be a “normal drinker.” I always wanted oblivion. But last night I really wanted to be normal. I wanted to be normal so badly I could taste it. Not just so I could drink. So that I could feel like not wanting to crawl out of my skin.

And so I wasn’t particularly effusive after your set. I could tell how happy you were to see me, and I felt like I couldn’t muster half of your enthusiasm. Please know, friends: I love you. I love the work you do and the passion with which you play. For an hour or so, I was transported. But I crashed hard. And so you guys got a tepid hug and a wan smile when I should have been jumping up and down and squealing. You didn’t deserve that.

The next time I see you I will jump up and down and squeal. Because what you all did last night was incredible. I mean – spot fucking ON. I love you guys so much and am so grateful that you’re my friends.

This is me, usually. I swear:


What about Bob (or: Staying Sober In The Zombie Apocalypse)


I’ve had kind of a tumultuous past week+, so I’ll try to make as much sense as I’m able.

My mother-in-law is in the hospital with pneumonia. This is, unfortunately, very common with Alzheimer’s patients. Dysphagia, or difficulty with swallowing, happens in the later stages of the disease, causing people to aspirate and therefore develop pneumonia.

(This is yet another reason why I have little-to-no patience with Alzheimer’s “jokes” — like when people say they have Alzheimer’s because they lost their keys. Just…no. Stop. It’s not only not funny, it displays unimaginable ignorance as to how horrible this illness really is.)

She is bouncing back fine, and was cheerfully confused when we went to visit her yesterday, but will now have to be on a fairly strict puréed diet. It’s simply one of those things we now know to expect.

So while it was a mostly pleasant visit, it’s one of those things that remind me that my life is still not “normal,” in the sense that once you’ve committed to caring for someone with this disease, you can’t ever go back to where you were prior to taking on the responsibility, even when you are no longer an in-home caregiver. This is probably going to happen again. Or something else will happen. We’ve certainly learned that there are no shortage of rugs to be pulled out from under us.

I was still recovering from a conference I’d been to last week, which was book-ended by air travel snafus going to and coming back. Some air traffic control mess outside of D.C. caused my flight to the conference to be delayed several hours, and severe weather caused an even longer delay coming home. I didn’t hit my own bed until around 2:30 in the morning on Friday. The conference itself was great, but every day was scheduled such that I was up early and in bed late. I think I averaged maybe 4 hours of sleep a night. And maybe some of you can function fine on that, but this girl cannot. So I spent most of my first day home asleep either in my bed or on the couch.

I roused myself sufficiently to attend Walker Stalker Con (which my sister and I had been planning on since LAST year’s Walker Stalker Con) on Saturday. Among other cast members, I got to meet Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.

CNDFRwkUkAAHUcmHis character, Bob Stookey, an Army medic prior to the outbreak which has created the zombie pandemic in the series, is also an alcoholic. I found Gilliard’s portrayal to be spot-on and incredibly moving, and when I met him on Saturday, I got to tell him as much (I may have gotten a little weepy as well). He was really happy to hear this, and said, “You know, I figured, in this alternate universe – you know there’s gotta be people like that out there in it. I wanted to do that justice.”

I’ve thought a lot about that since Saturday. It’s sort of comical. Like, where are you going to find a MEETING in the zombie apocalypse? And if you did find a group of recovering addicts out there, what are you going to talk about?

“I took this walker’s head off with a mop handle, and while I KNOW I did the right thing, I just keep thinking about how GREAT a glass of Scotch would be.”

“Wow. I so relate. I had to shove a crowbar through my coworker’s skull, and I have SUCH a resentment about it.”

I kid, but I’m also kind of serious. I THINK ABOUT STUFF LIKE THIS. Especially now that the companion series has started and one of its principal characters is a drug addict. We’re not exactly equipped to deal with even mundane things like paying bills without wanting to anesthetize ourselves, and here are these characters trudging a Road of Happy Destiny that’s strewn with big globs of gore and severed body parts. It gives one pause, it really does.

And it comes down to survival, doesn’t it? We’re faced with a decision. We have to make that decision every day. Drink or don’t drink. Use or don’t use. Live, or die. Maybe it’s not quite on the level of…magnitude…as a zombie apocalypse, but…you know, actually, it really kind of IS. Let’s not even get into the parallels of substance abuse (and the way it can render someone who previously had been vibrant) and being a shuffling, unfeeling walking corpse. Let’s not talk about insatiable need. Let’s just talk about getting through a day without being destroyed by something inside of you. About finding the people who’ll survive alongside you. About the importance of connections, even when shit is falling down around you.

It’s not that much of a stretch. Not to me, anyway.

In recovery, I’ve absolutely learned that I can survive just about anything without drinking. I can sit with discomfort. I can handle 4 hour delays in the middle of a lightning storm at the Orlando airport. I can be present just sitting with my severely-addled mother-in-law in an unfamiliar hospital. So, you know, I could probably deal with zombies.

It’s just too bad that Bob had to die on the show.  We would have stuff to talk about.

Today’s Rant


Most of the time, I feel supported, if not entirely understood, in terms of my being open about addiction and recovery. Friends and loved ones take the time to read what I write, and engage in respectful, supportive discussion.

It’s enough to make me feel pretty good about what I’m doing. That’s why it’s always a punch to the gut to hear someone describe people like me in some really unflattering terms.

I’m still reeling a bit from seeing a thread on a friend’s Facebook wall last week. My friend was wondering why some people “look down” on those in recovery, and those who are still struggling. And a friend of hers went on a rant about how addicts will ALWAYS fail, we will NEVER recover, and we’re basically doomed to die terrible, scumbag deaths.

And it’s just…sigh. You know, I get that the majority of non-addicts out there still believe that this is a moral shortcoming, that we’re a bunch of pleasure-seeking selfish idiots who could just, like, stop if we really wanted to. I also know what it’s like to have lived with an addict, and been the recipient of the pain and humiliation that comes from that.  I get that.  But then I see the judgment bubbling out of people every time a celebrity addict dies from their condition: Why are we caring about Whitney Houston/Amy Winehouse/Philip Seymour Hoffman when good people are dying of X/Y/Z?

Because there are limitations on compassion, right?

I write and post about people who die from the same thing I battle every fucking day because it’s what I know, and it’s but one of the things I care about. And when I call people out for denigrating addicts, I invariably get: “But I’m not talking about YOU!”

Except that they are. Because I’m only one drink away from being that scumbag alcoholic. I’m one drink away from being the obnoxious drunk on the train. One drink away from being the selfish asshole with no self-control. They are talking about me, because of this refusal to see people like me as ill. Gravely ill.

I tend to keep it light on Facebook. I’m not the kind of person who goes online and says, “UNFRIEND ME NOW if you think _____.” But I have been sorely tempted to do just that every time an addict of note dies, because the willfully ignorant bile coming out of folks – who are purportedly on board with me as my “friend” – is enough to make me doubt just how valid some of these “friendships” are.

It doesn’t matter that you’re not talking about me specifically when you’re bashing addicts. See above.

It doesn’t matter that you’re “just joking.” It’s not funny.

It doesn’t matter that you’re just trying to point out that there are “more important” things to talk about. “Important” is relative. Would you be giving me as much crap if I were posting about someone with cancer? Don’t tell me that’s “different.” It isn’t.

I have a condition that will absolutely kill me if I don’t remain vigilant about my specific route to recovery. I don’t think it’s out of line for me to ask that folks take a second to muster a soupçon of empathy before unloading their judgmental ish on me and my kind. Because the junkie you saw that you have so much disdain for? That’s me. The guy reeking of beer sweat in the subway station? That’s me, too.

And I can pretty much PROMISE you that not a one of us sets out to become an addict. I don’t ever – EVER – hear anyone in recovery say, “When I was a kid, I COULDN’T WAIT to become physically and emotionally dependent on substances. Like – woo! – SIGN ME UP.”

When I was seven, I wanted to be a writer. At 16, I thought maybe I wanted to be an actor. Sobbing and retching over the toilet every morning, alienating everyone I cared about, covered in bruises because my liver couldn’t keep up with the steady flow of poison I was drowning my organs in? Not at all in the game plan. But that’s what happened to me. Because I am sick. My condition is in regression, and it’s certainly my hope that it won’t rear its head again, but this is what I’ve got. What I’m dealing with. And it’s no joke. And when you say ugly things about people who die from this, or people you pass on the street who can’t get well, you are talking about me.  And it hurts.

So if that’s the way you really feel, then perhaps you aren’t my friend after all.

Do with that what you will.