Admitting defeat

So I didn’t post Wednesday… or Thursday… or Friday… or yesterday.

The truth is that—well—the past while has been really tough. I’m trying to work through some things that I don’t know how to handle, and coming up with things to write every day, and trying to make at least some posts cheerful when most of my outlook is just pretty dark (remember when I used to be funny sometimes?), and knowing that what I’ve been able to force out isn’t even very good is proving to be too much.

More truth is that I’m not sure how much longer this is going to last. All of last week through earlier today, everything… just… hurt. I wrote about my emotional state last Sunday, and I felt tense and stressed and short-tempered all week, externally OK (sort of) but easily provoked to internal rage and tears. Yesterday I spent the entire day (minus a four-mile run) at home with no obligations, relaxing as best I could, and in the evening I still ended up sobbing uncontrollably into the lap of a dear friend I’d somehow managed to call even though all I wanted to do was curl into a tight, tight ball on my couch and shake.

I’ve felt this way off and on for months, and the election has made everything much, much worse. It feels silly and juvenile to blame politics and the news—really, what material effect are these things having on my day-to-day life?—but this administration has upset me more than I thought politics ever could. I can’t even see or hear p45, Paul Ryan, Kellyanne Conway, or Jason Chaffetz without literally wanting to scream. I cannot understand, I just cannot, how anyone can be OK with the policies, the ideas, the lies. That the world can be a terrible place I knew in theory; that the world can be a terrible place here and today and that these people are getting away with it is new and devastating.*

It might be different if I felt that I could do anything, but I find the whole situation upsetting to the point of incapacitating (see next-to-last paragraph)—which means I can’t even stomach tiny efforts like making calls. I donate $10 a month to 20 different organizations (including the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and NPR), but that feels like so pitifully little. What can I tell my nephews about what I did to fight for good in this wholly repugnant situation? “Well, I was too much of a fragile snowflake to do anything except curl up and melt” is not something I look forward to having to admit. Some people are able to ignore current politics; for me, that feels as reckless and irresponsible as the current inhabitants of the White House.

There are other stressors, too, of course; most are minor and first-world. I have a new boss starting tomorrow, and after a terrible situation with a co-worker a few months ago I’m irrationally afraid we’ll end up hating each other. It’s “crunch time” for a major project. I need to do my taxes and review my 401(k) even though anything involving finances makes me feel incompetent and shamefully ignorant (“you mean you STILL haven’t educated yourself about investing?!”). I need to get my hair cut and that means finding a new stylist (a total crap shoot) and I always feel cheap and un-stylish and inferior and ugly when I walk into a salon and I don’t know what can even be done with fine, thin hair like mine and I’m afraid I’ll get ripped off. These are all things that I can breathe, make plans, and handle when I’m not already stressed to distraction; right now, they feel monumental.

Which brings me back to the blog. I’ve had three goals with Lent: re-start a fitness program that did me a ton of good last year, stay off Facebook, and write every day. I really want to do them all. In a perfect world, I could. In this world, I can’t.

So perhaps the posts will come every few days, or once a week—or not at all. Hopefully at least sometimes. I guess we’ll see.

*Again, if you even THINK of comparing this to the way you or anyone else felt under Obama, I will delete your comment so fucking fast it will set your computer on fire. Which is good, because you are too stupid to be using one anyway.

(I told you the rage was there, just under the surface.)

Also, if you’re too righteous to know that using bad language doesn’t make someone a bad person, and that some situations call for profanity, you need to take your sanctimony elsewhere.

Wintertiiiiiime… and the livin’ is lazy

Big snowstorm today (which then became a wintry mix storm, then a rainstorm), so the office was closed. I had an entire day off in which I could have done multiple exercise videos; learned some more Bach; practiced singing; composed a long, thoughtful post; written in my journal; read extensively; gotten some work done; started my taxes…

I’ll let you guess exactly how many of those things I did.

Aaaand: In case you’re feeling as unmotivated as I was today, here’s something to spend lots of fun time on:

Scene-by-scene synopses of all 10 episodes of The Crown by the inimitable ladies of Go Fug Yourself

I DID NOT binge-read this today instead of doing Constructive Things. No, I did not. Why do you ask?

What he said

I worked from home today because I needed a nap in the morning. Because daylight saving time is stupid.

I’ll just let John Oliver sum up my feelings while I shake my ineffectual fists at the sky.


After six hours of Bach retreat-ing, a friend and I went to one of my all-time favorite places: the Finnish sauna about an hour south of Boston. I’ve been going regularly since August 2005 and I love it. Fortunately in some ways and unfortunately in others, the place now has a Facebook page and word seems to be getting out; today it was more crowded than I’ve ever seen it, which makes the whole experience less relaxing. But it was still fun.

Because my phone died I couldn’t take a video of any of my five or six dunks today, so I’m sharing this one from four years ago. What I’m saying at the end is that sometimes one sticks to the railing as one is getting out, thanks to the same principles that make tongues stick to flagpoles in the winter, or your bottom lip stick to a cold spoon when you’re five and in bed with the chicken pox and unacquainted with what to do on such occasions.

The evening this video was taken was warmer than today was; the temperature has hovered between 15° and 20° all day, and the wind has been pretty fierce.

In case you’re wondering, I’m now in bed, having ingested some hot chicken soup, donned my warmest pajamas, and turned the electric blanket to High.


My belovèd choir is singing the Bach B minor mass in May, and in preparation we’re having a retreat tomorrow. I’d always heard that this work is one of the greatest in musical history, but I had never listened to or gotten to know it (my dirty little secret is that I tend to be acquainted with only those works I’ve performed myself). The B minor mass is a workout, y’all, in all sorts of ways—but much more Zumba (fun!) than P90X (decidedly not fun). This is one of my favorite movements. It’s chock full of fun melismas and on-your-toes changes, with a few places to catch one’s breath as well. Enjoy…

Ozymandias, King of Kings

Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley has always been one of my favorite poems.* There’s so much to love about it—the explosive word “shattered”; the juxtaposition of “survive” and “lifeless”; the alliteration of “boundless and bare” and “lone and level” and “sands stretch”; most of all, the crescendo of “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” followed by the sobering subito piano of the desolate “Nothing beside remains.” I always imagine the sound of an unquiet, whirling wind when I picture the scene; the sky is cloudless, the sun scorching, the sand burning, the landscape utterly barren.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

What brings this to mind today is a story from the Guardian about last week’s discovery of a 3,000-year-old and 26-foot-tall statue, believed to be of Ramses II, in Cairo. I visited Cairo, the Pyramids, and Alexandria in 2011 and loved it (except for the part where I was ridiculously naïve and got groped by a creepy older guy). I wonder what Heliopolis looked like at the height of Ramses’s power?


* Here I’ll admit that I’m not particularly well-versed in poetry; for someone who has a degree in English literature, I find myself shamefully unfamiliar with any but the most well-known of poets, and I have no idea how to analyze a poem. I always found poetry too intimidating to take an actual class in it.

Once in a lifetime

In August 2016, my belovèd choir sang for an entire week as choir in residence at Westminster Abbey.

Yes, THAT Westminster Abbey.

No coronations or royal weddings were happening at the time—not that any self-respecting English choir would allow a gaggle of Yankee upstarts to usurp its position if such an event had occurred—so we just sang regular services. (“Just.”) We rehearsed for several hours every morning and afternoon, then sang Evensong daily; we sang three services, including an Evensong, on Sunday.

It was magical. Maybe in a later post I’ll wax even more rhapsodic about the experience—walking through doors marked “Private,” rehearsing in a tiny library with books hundreds of years old and a secret door out onto the roof, frustrating B. the Fastidious Verger with our disappointingly undulant lines and inability to bow in the correct direction during the first service, singing warm-ups below an at least 10-foot-tall painting of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. During our last service, the Sunday Evensong, one woman’s very visible joy in our singing moved me to cry my guts out (v. inconvenient as we were only halfway through the service and I had only one sad tissue [things got messy]).

However, since I’m super sleepy tonight, I’m just going to upload some nice pictures for you to enjoy. The Quire (where the choir stalls are) is absolutely gorgeous and we weren’t supposed to take pictures there, so I didn’t… during services, anyway.

Side view of the Abbey.

Look who’s on the schedule! I have one of these framed in my room.

Cheney Gates, where we rehearsed every day.

Lining up for afternoon rehearsal in the Quire.

The decani side, taken (obviously) from the cantoris side.

A few lucky people get to sit next to the choir during services.

Here we go!

Good parenting

I’m not a parent, and at this point I’m not sure if I ever will be—which is something I had to come to grips with last year, and mostly did. It still pains me every once in a while. I’m really glad, though, that I didn’t have children when I was married. It would have made getting divorced and moving to a city that I was made for much less probable. But much more than that—much more than anything I might have felt like I was giving up for myself—I would have been a terrible parent. I would have been frequently angry and frustrated at the situation I had gotten myself into, and, instead of confronting the real issues and people I was facing, I would have taken it out on people weaker than me: my children. I would have yelled and screamed at them. I would have hit them and felt justified in doing so, because at the time I believed in spanking and forcing those with less power than I have to do what I wanted. I very well might have crossed the line into abusive. I would have been needlessly strict just because I didn’t want my children to inconvenience me or because I thought certain (harmless) behaviors were embarrassing or bad. My children would have resented me. We would never have had a good relationship.

What brings this to mind is an article that a friend shared: X-Plan: Giving Your Kids a Way Out. It’s a genius way the author helps his children out of difficult situations. If one of the children finds himself in a situation that’s over his head—with drugs or sex or alcohol or anything else—the child texts “X” to his parents. His parents then call him, tell him that something has come up and they’re coming to get him, and then come and pick him up. That way he has a way out of a potentially dangerous situation.

The genius part of the plan is this.

However, there’s one critical component to the X-plan: Once he’s been extracted from the trenches, Danny knows that he can tell us as much or as little as he wants … but it’s completely up to him. The X-plan comes with the agreement that we will pass no judgments and ask no questions (even if he is 10 miles away from where he’s supposed to be). This can be a hard thing for some parents (admit it, some of us are complete control-freaks); but I promise it might not only save them, but it will go a long way in building trust between you and your kid.

No judgment. No berating. No “I told you so.” No “I thought we taught you better than that.” No yelling. No grounding. Even if he’s 10 miles away from where he’s supposed to be; even if drinking has obviously been going on. Even if the kid himself has been drinking. No making him feel worthless or stupid or sinful or bad. No condemnation. And no telling anyone else about the kid’s mistake, either—not the parents’ friends, not the kid’s friends, not even in a rueful “You know, my children make bad choices sometimes” way.

Some commenters on the original article don’t like this part—they think the child “should face the consequences of their actions.” This makes me furious. It misses the whole point of the plan. When a child has the good judgment to enact the X-plan, she’s showing that she recognizes she’s in a bad situation, and she almost certainly feels none too great about having gotten herself into it. The fear and vulnerability the child feels are already consequences of her actions. What child, knowing that her parents are going to make her feel even worse about a mistake, is going to ask for help? And if her parents reward this kind of humility—because admitting you’ve gotten yourself into a bad situation takes a lot of that—and complete vulnerability with yelling or a lecture, that child is never going to open up to them again, and their relationship may never recover. The child knows she’s done something unwise; she doesn’t need her nose rubbed in it. And treating her like a criminal will only push her toward more unwise decisions.

I have a lot of strong feelings about this because… well, Reasons. I hope that if I ever have children, I’ll have the kind of relationship with them that makes an X-plan possible. And if I don’t ever have children, I hope I can be the kind of adult who can show unconditional love to my nephews or my friends’ children if they ever need a way out of a bad situation.

On the bandwagon!

Frequently in conversation I’ll start whatever I’m saying with “I heard this podcast recently about”—and then regale the listener with three-quarters-remembered details about why the Dow Jones industrial average is completely useless or how women won the right to vote because of the mother of one Congressman from Tennessee (whose political life was subsequently ruined) or how to influence behavior through “unpleasant design”. I listen to 40+ podcasts regularly, with the one that I never miss being Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! from WBEZ in Chicago (home also of another favorite, This American Life). It seems that not everyone is the podcast aficionado I am, however; a study says that only 20% of Americans listen once a month.

So some folks are trying to change all that, including NPR and a host of other fantastic podcast companies (Gimlet Media, Stuff You Should Know, Radiotopia), and as part of this effort they’re asking listeners to spread the word about their favorite podcasts (and use the hashtag #trypod). As a more or less obedient sort of person, I’m going to share a few of the ones I love, that it may be for your profit and learning.

  • Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! – Yep, I’ve already mentioned this one, and longtime readers may remember my “Peter Sagal loves me OMGOMG thrillgaspsquee*dies*!!11!!!!1!!1!!!” story from 2012. I love it every bit as much now as I did then.
  • Crimetown – All about mob control of Providence, RI in the 1970s and 80s, featuring interviews with a plethora of former “wiseguys”. Not for those who prefer their language sanitized.
  • The Moth – Real, fascinating stories told by some of the most interesting people you can imagine.
  • Stuff You Missed in History Class – I learned NOTHING about the late Victorian manure crisis in school. NOTHING. Also, did you know that Harriet Tubman was a Union spy?
  • Freakonomics and Planet Money – The only reasons I know even a minuscule amount about economics and finance.
  • Surprisingly Awesome – How much do you know about glue? Or mold? Or postal systems in the developing world? Not as much as this show will make you want to. (How’s that for some v. good Englishing?)
  • Hidden Brain, 99% Invisible, Only Human, and Invisibilia – Why you and I (and everyone else) are so weird sometimes.
  • Reply All – All you ever wanted to know about teh interwebz and the L337 people who run it.
  • Selected Shorts – Some of the world’s greatest short stories, read by professional actors who make you realize that there’s more than one way to interpret literature.
  • Undone – Shows how what you thought was the end of the story was really the beginning.

And that’s only a handful of the ones I listen to (while I’m running, cooking, cleaning, getting dressed, etc.). I was all caught up back in September right after I ran a half marathon, but since then I’ve fallen behind in several of them. I’ve just started training for another half, though, and am looking forward to lots more quality podcast listening!

Lent FAIL the First

So I’m using Lent as an excuse to jettison some bad habits and jump-start some good ones, and thus far it’s mostly gone well: I’m off Facebook and I’m back on the fitness plan I started in October 2015 (which included going for a four-mile run yesterday when it was 21°F outside with 25 mph winds). But astute observers may have noticed… well… that I didn’t post anything yesterday.

I don’t have a good excuse. The day wasn’t particularly busy, though warming up after the run did take a good while. I didn’t really do much else, including six of the other 11 items on my “Things I Really Should Do Today (But Probably Won’t)” list. I did make soup, and I did shoot whipped cream directly out of the can into my mouth, which is objectively the best way to eat canned whipped cream. (And yes, this shooting of whipped cream did comply with my fitness plan, because dammit I ran four miles in weather so cold my phone shut itself off, which is a thing that I didn’t even know could happen before yesterday.) I guess I was feeling intimidated, reasons for some of which feelings are in the immediately preceding post.*

So… yeah. This is a make-up post. I admit my failure, and am soldiering on.

For funsies: In case you want a visual representation of the effects of yesterday’s temperatures, here’s a shot of the gorgeous ice patterns I was treated to when I turned off the kitchen light last night.

Mr. J. Frost has taken a large bite out of my kitchen window.

*One other reason: The taste/skill gap. Though one could argue that I’ve been writing for so long, the gap should be closed by now. Sigh.