“You know, if there’s anything I’ve learned from serial killers…”
Apparently This Is How You Use Your Powers For Good When You’re An Engineer
Wherein the only Ph.D. I will ever hold is in The Art Of Being Lost.
Originally published 1/3/2007
If I had to identify one of the most outstanding characteristics of my personality, it would unfortunately have to be my Stunning Inability To Locate Myself In Time And Space. I get lost all the time, so often in fact that there now exists a Greatest Hits Collection of my best “getting lost” stories:
-the time I got lost leading a group of friends who were helping us move into our new house
-the time in grad school when I got lost on The Loop in Athens, GA-it was a LOOP for crying out loud, with a FIXED NUMBER of places you could go. Eventually I HAD to find something that looked familiar-and called my husband (then boyfriend) who was in grad school in Atlanta to announce that, “It’s pitch black and I have no idea where I am. Oh and by the way, I’m completely out of gas and am running on fumes. And even if you wanted to come and rescue me you couldn’t, because there’s no way to tell you how to find me. Tell my parents I love them.”
-the time I was driving down Interstate 85, headed to the same place I’d gone every single Monday night for an entire year, missed my exit, got off the highway, turned around, and headed back in the opposite direction (because, HELLO, that’s supposed to work!), somehow ended up on an entirely different Interstate and had to call my husband to guide me home so I didn’t accidentally end up in Alabama.
-the time I was in Phoenix and had to physically drive to the airport in order to change my ticket so I could fly home early. But I didn’t actually know how to get to the airport from my hotel, even though I had driven that route only 4 days earlier, so I called my husband and asked him to guide me there. (I don’t think he minded that much, because it did give him an excuse to fire up Google Earth). Then I had to drive back to my hotel, the exact same way that I had just come only minutes earlier. But I got lost again and had to have him reverse all the directions for me verbally in order to make it back safely.
I truly am one of those people who needs to wear an ID bracelet at all times. But instead of having a medical alert mine would need to say, “While extremely proficient in exploring the realms of the mind, wearer is completely incapable of navigating herself around the physical world.”
My husband, of course, does not have this problem at all. As a matter of fact, he is so good at orienting himself in the physical realm of time and space that he would routinely call me up when we were in grad school to tell me about the trips he was taking with the outdoors club where they would drop everyone off in the North Georgia wilderness armed only with a topographical map of the area, a compass, and a knife, and tell them, “OK, meet back here tomorrow at this big, completely unidentifiable pile of rocks at the time when the sun causes the shadows to kind of look like the shape of a bird, or maybe more like a boat, over here on this equally unidentifiable patch of grass.” And he would.
It’s fortunate for him that he had this early training, because he actually got to put it to use a few months ago when he was on a business trip to El Paso, attending a meeting in Mexico.
He hadn’t brought much information with him, because he just planned to buy a map of Juarez in El Paso and then find his way around from there. Unfortunately there was not a single map of Juarez to be had anywhere in El Paso.
But at the moment when many others would’ve given up (“Hi, boss. You know that business you sent me down here to conduct for you? Well, unfortunately I’m not gonna be able to do it. Yeah, um, Mexico’s closed.”) he remained undaunted.
“Yeah, I couldn’t find a map,” he said. “But I had already been tracking the location of the plant on Google Earth (Um, WHAT?!) so I knew where it was. So I just went back to my hotel, downloaded the satellite images, used them to draw myself a paper map, counted the number of streets and landmarks like large buildings, and then traced my way back from the plant to the border.”
Oh, sure. That was gonna be my next suggestion.
Hello, Middle Age
Our move to Raleigh has resulted in a ton of great things for us, like living in the same city as my brother and his family instead of being 6 hours away, getting to put our stamp on our brand new home, and new work opportunities for my husband. We are also meeting fun new people and being social, like the double date we had a few weekends ago with another couple.
As we got to know each other over Thai, our new friends asked us how long we had been together. When I replied that it will be 28 years in December one partner looked at the other one and said, “That’s as long as you’ve been alive!”
I felt a little better at my doctor’s appointment the next day. After examining me my new eye doctor announced that even though I’m 44, I have the eyes of a 41-year old.
“That’s great!” I said.
“Yes,” he replied. “But that means they’re gonna go downhill really quickly.”
Free At Last
Wherein I really wish someone had given me a map beforehand with a giant red “X” and the message, “This is a REALLY bad idea.”
Originally published 7/31/2005
I think one of my favorite things about being in my thirties is the fact that I no longer feel like I have to pretend about who I really am (or am not) in order to get people to like me. This was not always the case.
Back during our first year of marriage my husband, who is himself an Eagle Scout, worked as a volunteer with a Boy Scout troop and I, caught up in the flush of wanting to impress my new husband, agreed to go along on one of his troop’s camping trips.
Important Side Note: If you have never been camping before, I would HIGHLY recommend that your first trip not be with a troop of scouts, because any points you feel you have gained by being “a really cool wife” will quickly fade when you realize that, compared to everyone else on the trip including elementary school students, trail dogs, etc., you feel like a giant, incompetent wuss.
I really should have known that I was in over my head when my husband and I went to the outdoor store to buy me some gear. We did not go there to buy a cool backpack, or a kicky bandanna, or a nifty trail tool. No,we went so that I could buy my very own, neon orange, plastic poo shovel.
Things kind of took a turn for the worse once we had hiked up the trail to the spot where we were going to camp that night. We had foolishly drunk all the water we’d packed, so my husband went down to the river, filled our two plastic bottles with water, ran some iodine through the bottles, and handed one to me. I looked at the bottle, looked at him, and said, “It’s brown, And. There. Are. Bugs. In. It!” He looked at me and said, (and please bear in mind that he had only been a husband for a little under a year and hadn’t yet developed the sensitivity that he has now after nine years of marriage), “Well, the bugs are dead. And we have this lemonade mix to add to it!”
Even now, eight years later, I can’t think of this story without experiencing total incredulity at his response. And even now, eight years later, my husband insists that we would not have even had this problem, if only he had packed a darker colored drink mix.
Happily I did recover enough from this trip to start going out on day hikes with my husband and our friends. As a matter of fact I was pretty impressed with myself on our last trip, because not only was I wearing my very own pair of official hiking boots, but they were so well used that we had to patch them together with duct tape.
(Yes of course we had duct tape-I was hiking with three engineers! As a matter of fact, the only reason that I didn’t have to sleep suspended in between two trees in some kind of jury-rigged duct tape shelter was the fact that the other spouse who came on this trip was five months pregnant.)
However, there are still some hurdles to overcome before I can consider going on another camping trip, as is clearly illustrated by the following conversation I had with my husband the last time he went camping.
10:00 pm. The phone rings.
My husband: “Hey, Jenny. I need your help.”
Me: (panicking at all the possible emergencies that could befall campers, and wondering just exactly where I can rent an emergency extraction helicopter at 10 pm on a Saturday night) “Oh my gosh, are you all right?!”
My husband: “What? Oh, yeah, we’re fine. I just need you to get the Almanac so you can tell us the geographical size of Liechtenstein in square miles.”
Silly me-what was I thinking?! These were highly trained, highly capable, highly intelligent men. Clearly the only emergency situation in which they could possibly have found themselves would be to be without immediate access to the geographical data of tiny, landlocked, central European countries.
So anyway, the jury is still out on the whole camping thing, but between you and me I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Wherein I am so lost that, even if I’d had a map, I’d have had no idea how to work it.
Originally published 8/11/2005
One of the things that impresses me the most about my husband is the fact that no matter where we go, even if it’s a place he’s never been to before, it takes him all of about five seconds to figure out exactly where he is, and then, exactly how to get to where he wants to go next. As a matter of fact, if you watch very carefully as we arrive in a new location, you can actually see a 3-D holographic image of the city lift up off of the ground, hover briefly in the air , and then settle right down onto his brain.
My dad and my brother are exactly the same way, so I always know that if I am ever out with any one of these three men I am always OK. (I also know that I don’t actually have to pay attention to pesky little details like street names, street signs, the name of the actual city or country in which we are currently located, etc. because they will take care of all of that for me.) Plus, if the three of them are all together then it is like their navigational powers are amplified, so not only do we get where we’re going more quickly and more efficiently, but we also always have a parking spot waiting for us right by the door.
In contrast, I myself am never entirely sure of where I am in any given moment, and if you ask me how to get from one place to another there’s a very good chance that at least part of my answer is going to involve the phrase “by magic”. My husband has learned in giving me directions to avoid such tricky technical terms as “north” or “east”, and instead to stick to simple instructions like, “turn left by the big chicken”.
Unfortunately, this lack of navigational ability only increases if my mom and I take a trip by ourselves. Last fall she and I drove together to another state to stay with a relative who was ill. Every. Single. Day. we had the exact same conversation: “Do we turn left out of the hotel parking lot, or do we turn right?” Every. Day. Not only did we not have a virtual map in our minds, nor could we remember from one day to the next in which direction we needed to turn, but it also never once occurred to us to write down the correct answer at the moment in which this decision occurred so that we would have that Critically Important Information to refer to the next time we needed it.
This Vortex of Spatial Dislocation only intensified the night that she, I, and another relative had to go to the grocery store by ourselves all by ourselves in this town which was not our own. (And I don’t mean to perpetuate unfortunate gender stereotypes here, but this particular relative was also of the female persuasion.) The three of us got in the car, set off on the very same road ON WHICH WE HAD JUST DRIVEN on our way back from the hospital mere moments earlier, and , you guessed it, turned the wrong way. And it took the three of us AT LEAST ten minutes to recognize this fact.
The good news is that we all did survive this trip and somehow managed to get back home, and I discovered that if I really, really HAVE to I can reach down and tap into hitherto undiscovered navigational abilities. But if it has to come to that, be warned: we will definitely be taking the scenic (read: WRONG) route.
When You Have No Idea What To Do Next
A couple of weeks ago my husband was out west on his annual ski trip with his dad, and one evening I received the following text:
“Dad and I are playing a game where you look at Google street pictures and guess where on earth the photo is. Don’t worry, we can play it when I get home.”
To which I replied, “Oh goodie,” which in reality of course means, “Not a bat’s chance in hell, you weirdo!” (You can see how over the past 21 years of marriage we’ve really gotten this whole communication thing down.)
I thought he was just joking, for reasons you will see below. But no-this is An Actual Thing that some people do in their free time. No, even more incredible than that: An Actual Thing that people will pay for, to do in their precious, limited, un-get-back-able free time.
And even though being forced to participate in that so-called “game” would for me pretty much be the equivalent of Adult Detention, I can kind of relate to the experience it creates.
For the past twenty years the contours and textures of our lives in Georgia were so familiar we never had to think about them. Then for eight mega-intensely-packed weeks last summer we uprooted all of that to move back to North Carolina, but we had a very clear plan of what we had to do to get from there to here. So we’re here, have been here for half a year, and now…well, now what?
We moved here for my husband’s job so he has a fairly defined structure to his days. But I’m still feeling into the new edges and grooves of mine. I love it here, AND, I’m only at the beginning of figuring here out.
(I mean, we’ve obviously addressed our most urgent priorities, like finding a dealer source store that will sell us some Diet Code Red Mountain Dew. Everyone is more than happy to sell us Regular Code Red, but the diet version is nowhere to be found. So we went directly to the source and learned, much to our dismay, that despite Pepsi being “The taste born in the Carolinas”, they do not sell this one particular product ANYWHERE IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE STATE. They sell it in South Carolina. They sell it in Georgia. They sell it in Virginia. They pretty much sell it in every single state that touches here, but they don’t sell it here. So we’ve had to set up a distribution line that involves a grocery store in South Carolina, my husband’s sister, my parents, and occasional trips back to Atlanta. We are nothing if not addicted resourceful.)
Adding to this sense of dislocation is that after dealing with all that’s involved in moving, I haven’t had much creative thought or energy left to write. And I’m not sure what I even feel like writing about these days. I can sense that the next evolution of my blog is beginning to swirl around in the ethers, but it’s not here yet.
So in honor of the fact that I’m sort of metaphorically groping my way through the dark and figuring out my next creative steps, I’ve decided to rerun some of my old posts about maps, directions, and finding my way. Starting here.
Here There Be Dragons
Originally published 9/1/09
So last week I got my new Blackberry Flip phone, and as I’ve been figuring out what all the different buttons do, my husband has been helping me find cool applications to download. I’ve pretty much been on board with things like Facebook and Google, but then one day our honeymoon period came to an abrupt end as my husband excitedly told me, “Just wait until I show you this cool program called â€˜Latitude’.” And then I began to whimper.
Now it’s not that my husband’s love of all things map-related suddenly came as a big surprise to me. I’ve known all about that since the early days of our relationship. As a matter of fact, I vividly remember one evening back when he and I had just started dating when, after a nice family dinner, he and his dad pulled out a couple of atlases and began to investigate them closely. I sat and watched for while as they carefully planned out routes from Butte, Montana to Salt Lake City, Utah, thinking that perhaps they were making plans for an upcoming trip.
But as the plotting continued between more and more random cities, cities that they could not possibly ever need to visit, it suddenly dawned on me that THIS WAS THE EVENING’S ENTERTAINMENT. And that my husband and his dad were actually competing to see who could come up with the best theoretical route to get from theoretical city one to theoretical city two. And then I cried a little.
And of course, mere words cannot describe the love he has in his heart for Google Earth. So since I won’t even go NEAR his office if there’s any possibility that this program is in use, he’s forever calling up his dad and having conversations like this:
My Husband: “Hey. You know that house we lived in when I was five? Well I’m looking at it on satellite view right now. And you know that tree we had in the front yard? Yeah, they cut it down.”
By the same token, I should also add that the extent to which I break out in hives whenever I have to deal with maps and directions is also NOT ANYTHING NEW. So I was kind of worried that maybe my husband had suffered some sort of traumatic brain injury while I wasn’t looking, and then consequently had forgotten who I am, when he offered to install what sounded suspiciously like an application devoted to the love of maps on my phone.
I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but ever since I got sick I have completely lost all ability to pretend about my feelings. And what I was feeling now was, “Noooo0000!”
But it actually turned out to be kind of cool, something about GPS and being able to tell where the other person is at any moment. And I’m not at all thinking that the installation of this application has Anything Whatsoever to do with the spy shows we’ve been watching lately, like “Chuck” and “MI-5”.
Although, I’m always at home these days. So it’s not like it’s really difficult to find me. And if anyone ever did have to spy on me I would feel really bad for them, because this would be The Most Boring Assignment In The Entire History Of Intelligence Work:
“Subject is wearing same green pajamas for the 87th day in a row. Dear God, please KILL ME NOW!”
So the next time you and your loved ones pull out your atlases to plan your theoretical trips, be on the lookout for the symbol on the map marking our house which indicates that, “cranky, frequenly homebound, crazy-cat lady lives HERE”. For best results, and for the winning entry in The Best Theoretical Navigational Route Competition, just go ahead and plan to pass us right on by.
Bipolar Brain Part 2: Liar Liar Pants On Fire
Originally published 2/26/13
As I wrote in my previous post, when I am seriously manic it feels as though I’ve reached the absolute heights of ecstasy, at least to begin with. But mania takes an incredibly heavy toll on my system, starting with the fact that when I finally plummet back down to earth, the contrast between my non-adrenaline fueled life and my mania-driven existence seems excruciating and unbearable. It happens so abruptly that it’s like slamming on the brakes when you’re going a million miles an hour around a track; you skid, you spin out, your brakes lock up, you strip all your gears, and you smash into all the other cars around you and then explode in a giant (metaphorical) fireball.
Plus, it leaves you with a hell of an emotional hangover.
It reminds me of the scene in “Top Gun” when Tom Cruise’s and Anthony Edwards’ characters have just buzzed the control tower in their really expensive military aircraft, and while they’re getting chewed out by their commanding officer he tells Tom Cruise, “Son, your ego’s writing checks your body can’t cash.” But in this case my maverick check-writer is my mind, and when it comes time to pay up there’s nothing left in my energetic, emotional, or physical bank. So I’m hungover and overdrawn.
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The Seduction Of Mania, Or, Why Bipolar Mind Is A Big Fat Liar
Thanks to all the external triggers, like all the things happening in our country right now, and all the internal triggers, like moving to a new state/phase of life after 22 years in the old one, my bipolar and rapid cycling have been pretty amped up. So I thought I’d republish a couple of pieces I wrote a few years ago that describe, for me at least, what it’s like to live with this condition.
Originally published 2/19/2013
Yesterday I was talking to my Partner-In-Crime, Lynne, and we had what seemed like the millionth session of working on my Bipolar, rapid mood-cycling stuff. If you’ve never experienced this yourself, I’ll just give you a quick description of what it feels like for me.
If you remember those spring and bar scales you had to stand on at the doctors’ office, then imagine that they represent our emotional range. Now, on those scales you can only move the bar so far in either direction before you hit the edges; this is how I picture a healthy emotional range. It goes from unpleasant emotions up to good-feeling emotions, but it has some governors on either end.
But on my emotional scale there aren’t any edges; there’s nothing to stop me from tipping over into emotional extremes, and then just falling off the scale altogether. Over, and over, and over, and over, and OVER. I might be able to pull myself back up onto some kind of middle ground, but when this stuff is really triggered I just slip right back down the other side into what feels like a bed of emotional nails.
I’m grateful that I don’t have the most severe form of Bipolar, but oh my gosh, what I have is so SO hard to manage, and I am one of the fortunate ones. I have good meds and incredible support, so I’m not alone; but then again, I am alone, because when it all comes down it is just me and my mind.
Generally speaking, I love my mind. I love to think. I love information. I love to take classes and learn something new. But when my Bipolar stuff is activated it’s as if my mind is betraying me, because the tricky thing about this illness is that Bipolar Mind lies. And if Bipolar Mind is the bully, then All-Or-Nothing Thinking, Grandiose Thinking, and You Are “Special” Thinking are its enforcer thugs.
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The Cat Lady And The Copperheads, Or, Six Words That Should Never Go Together
So we’ve been here in our new home, in our new city, for about four months now, and we’ve begun the process of putting together our new support network of grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors, and other service providers.
Today I met our new cat sitter; she in turn met Pip, our tiny grey cat who loves everyone, and was hidden from by Emma who, as far as we can tell, spends her nights alone in my office in the dark, writing angsty teenage poetry and trying on various shades of black lipstick. (We think she’s “going through a phase”, which so far has lasted for…let’s see…5 times 6…carry the 2…um, yeah, the entire 379 days she has lived with us so far.)
I had to fill out some paperwork, including instructions for what to do if one of the cats needs to go to the vet when we’re on a trip. Since last week was the one-year anniversary of having to send our sweet Tigger boy to heaven, and the whole saga of his illness began with our having to rush home from a vacation after an emergency phone call from our previous cat sitter, that part was a little hard. But the cat sitter assured me that she’d never personally had to do that.
Then she contradicted herself. “Oh, well, I guess I did have that one time when a cat was bitten by a snake.”
Snakes. Of course. Only the thing I fear most in the whole entire world. Well, that, and somehow ending up a disembodied consciousness trapped in endless time.
Just keep breathing, I told myself.
“So,” I asked, bracing for the answer, “what happened?”
“Oh, the cat was fine,” she said. Although the snake was a copperhead…”
“…and apparently they’re really…”
“POISONOUS?!” I confess, I was actually shrieking by this point.
“…common around here,” she finished,”so all the vets are prepared for this kind of thing.”
Dammit. I really like it here, and now we’re gonna have to move again. Or get one of those snake hunters, those mongooses. Mongooses? Mongeese? OK, FOCUS PLEASE.
She continued. “Our cats are indoor/outdoor, and for a long time they kept bringing me baby copperheads.”
Whimpering softly I asked, “So what did you do?”
“Well they were mostly dead by that time.” I honestly don’t know if that’s better, or worse. “But that all stopped once we got the chickens.”
I perked up at this news. “Chickens can kill a snake?” This sounded promising, especially since we live in the country now. Chickens would be much easier for us to acquire than a mongoose.
“Oh yeah. If anything comes into their territory they just peck and claw it to a pulp.”
Alrighty then. While I do try very hard not to actively wish harm onto another being, I confess that this tidbit did make me breathe a bit easier. Because while for now I’m sticking with my tried-and-true Snake Avoidance Plan of never leaving the house, it’s good to know I have a backup plan, should I ever need one.
New Year Poem
by May Sarton
Let us step outside for a moment
As the sun breaks through clouds
And shines on wet new fallen snow,
And breathe the new air.
So much has died that had to die this year.
We are dying away from things.
It is a necessityâ€”we have to do it
Or we shall be buried under the magazines,
The too many clothes, the too much food.
We have dragged it all around
Like dung beetles
Who drag piles of dung
Behind them on which to feed,
In which to lay their eggs.
Let us step outside for a moment
Among ocean, clouds, a white field,
Islands floating in the distance.
They have always been there.
But we have not been there.
We are going to drive slowly
And see the small poor farms,
The lovely shapes of leafless trees
Their shadows blue on the snow.
We are going to learn the sharp edge
Of perception after a day’s fast.
There is nothing to fear.
About this revolution…
Though it will change our minds.
Aggression, violence, machismo
Are fading from us
Like old photographs
(Did a man actually step like a goose
To instill fear?
Does a boy have to kill
To become a man?)
Already there are signs.
Young people plant gardens.
Fathers change their babies’ diapers
And are learning to cook.
Let us step outside for a moment.
It is all there
Only we have been slow to arrive
At a way of seeing it.
Unless the gentle inherit the earth
There will be no earth.