I Shopped At Walmart And Now I Feel Dirty

I swore I wouldn’t do it.  I promised myself I would shop anywhere else before stooping so low.  But I couldn’t help myself.  Yesterday, I bought my groceries at Walmart and now I feel cheap and dirty.  And yet, also bizarrely satisfied with the deal I got.

I want to be a good citizen and part of that, in my opinion, is shopping local as much as possible.  Walmart is notorious for destroying local chains and I don’t like their handling of music distribution – often requiring artists censor their work in order to sell through what was the largest retailer of physical CDs in the US two years ago.  When I dropped that first tupperware of pre-cut melon into my cart I knew that I may as well have walked up to my local grocer and kicked him in the shins.  I’m not usually one for shin kicking, so this made me very uncomfortable.

At the same time, I realized, I’m broke.  I’d have to sell a kidney and possibly my first-born child in order to buy the same amount of groceries I got at my local store.  No offense to the Turnip Truck.  I love their prepared food and they have awesome healthy, organic options; but Walmart sells brand-name vegan chick’n nuggets for $2 a box!  That’s three meals, for two bucks. You know what I got for two bucks at the Turnip Truck?  An power bar.  An ORGANIC power bar, though, loaded with “super foods” that I’m sure in six months the same hippies who are now hawking them will be swearing cause cancer.  So, you know, it’s totally worth an arm and a leg.  For health.  Well, not medically supported or scientifically backed health, but health, you know?

I’m sorry.  I’m lashing out to deal with my own feelings of self-loathing.  This is just sort of a low point for me.  It’s stepping away from my own morals and high standards and feeding the giant corporate machine that I’m not so sweet on.  I’d like to think that I have some kind of honor, but I’d rather eat $0.88 egg noodles than shell out $3 more for the same brand at Whole Foods, even if that $3 is to assure that they’re not loaded with lead and made with slave labor.

Even Trader Joe’s…  For a long while, I considered them the cheapest grocery in Nashville, and they are pretty damn cheap while still providing really quality food.  But when I went the other week to buy herbs and seasoning I found they only sold like six spices.  Yet they had a whole section, floor-to-top of shelving, devoted to hawking six spices.  Pepper, cinnamon, garlic powder, thyme, oregano, basil.  Over and over again.  It felt like I had accidentally stumbled into a movie set.  This wasn’t a real grocery store, it was just supposed to look like a grocery store.  There were scenes like that all over the place, in every aisle.  The same two cases of beer alternating for four shelving units.  Maybe it was designed by aliens to study human behavior.  It was bizarre.  Not only did Walmart have more than six spices, they had brands I recognized for a ridiculously low price in comparison to Kroger or Publix.

There, I’m justifying again.  I feel dirty, though.  And yet also sort of… naughty?  It was scintillating, at that self-check out.  When I rang up that store brand pepperoni a little thrill ran down my spine.  $0.97 for all those mini pepperonis.  It almost felt like shoplifting.  I couldn’t help but feel excited at the prospect of delicious but economical pizza muffins.

As I was leaving, I tried to promise myself I wouldn’t go back.  I swore in my car it was a one-time thing.  But I know that’s a lie.  Trader Joe’s is so far!  And I eat a lot of fruit.  And it’s only just out on Gallatin Road.  It’s time to be honest with myself; I’m going dark side.  I shopped at Walmart, I felt dirty, and I liked it.

5 Things I Learned Getting Really Sick In A Place I Really Don’t Know (And A Cancer Scare)

If you read my last post, you know I was sick. Since that post, I have had an ER trip (the featured pick ain’t a stock photo), a CAT scan, and some serious thinking about my life. The short explanation is “I’m fine.” The longer version is scattered through the list below. As weird and hippy-dippy as this sounds, the last two weeks has been a major learning experience for me. Maybe y’all can gain some wisdom without the lumps, bruises, and IV.

  1. A Physician’s Assistant is NOT a Physician

The “doctor” I saw at CareSpot was friendly and concerned, and he took me immediately. Unfortunately he was also completely wrong about what was making me sick. See, what I didn’t understand was that a physician’s assistant (PA) is not an actual doctor. They have not been through the decade of medical school that someone with the initials “Dr.” in front of their name has had to endure and, as the doctor I finally saw explained, they’re not trained in the out of the box thinking that is required to get an accurate diagnosis. When my neck hurt but it wasn’t a sprained muscle his answer was “tonsillitis.” It wasn’t tonsillitis; there was nothing wrong with my tonsils. But the PA just wasn’t equipped to come up with any diagnosis other than “strep” or “tonsillitis” for a painful neck region. I don’t want to trash CareSpot; they gave the best service they could give me. But I needed a doctor.

  1. Dehydration Can Happen SO Much Quicker Than You Think (And Sometimes Diarrhea Is The Better Option)

The antibiotics that I so boldly declared would solve all my problems actually caused a lot of them. Ironically, what landed me in the ER were the drugs that were supposed to help me. Saturday evening I started feeling nauseous, and the wave finally broke around 12:30 at night when my stomach couldn’t handle anymore and I lost it to a bottle of Pepto (the irony of the whole situation wasn’t lost on me). I eventually got my stomach to calm down enough to sleep, but I kept waking up in the night, sweating like a pig and desperately thirsty. All told, I drank close to 32oz of water that night. In the morning I woke with a headache so bad I couldn’t keep my eyes open (turns out my gland was crushing the nerve that runs up my face). I called my mother to kvetch, took two sips of ginger ale, and then had to hang up on her to puke. All the water I had drunk the night before came back up, and I couldn’t get anymore down. In less than 12 hours from the first time I threw up – and only having thrown up twice – I decided I needed to go to a hospital. When I got there, I was so dehydrated the nurses struggled to find a vein. When they decided to put an IV in me, my veins had become so delicate, they ruptured as soon as they put the catheter in. It took two nurses three tries to get a line in me. Once they finally got the fluids running, I noticed for the first time that I had completely run out of spit. Not like “man, my throat’s kind of dry” but literally didn’t have any spit, or enough wits left to recognize this until I had already turned a corner for the better. Even after taking an entire bag of fluids, I was thirsty and asking for ice water. Since childhood, I’d had the impression that it takes days wandering in the desert to become dangerously dehydrated, but it is so much faster than that, especially if you’re sweating. When you’re sick you worry that your throat hurts or that your stomach’s upset or (if you’re me) that your face looks super puffy and everyone’s going to think you look fat. What you don’t ask is: How much did I just sweat? What color is my pee and is there enough of it? Are my lips chapped and, if so, why? Taking a second to ask yourself this next time you’re sick could save you an ER trip and whole lot of bruising (because ruptured veins are UGLY).

I don't do drugs, I just also don't do antibiotics very well either.  #penicillinallergy4lyfe

I don’t do drugs, I just also don’t do antibiotics very well either. #penicillinallergy4lyfe

As far as the diarrhea comment: yes, the runs stink (literally, HA), but at least you can still be drinking water and fluids while they’re happening. For future reference, Universe, next time I get violently ill I’d rather be sitting on the can than hunched over it.

  1. You Will Hopefully Never Feel As Alone As You Do Waiting By Yourself For A CAT Scan In A Place Where No One Has Your Accent

When I finally saw a non-ER doctor on Tuesday morning, the first thing she did – after listening carefully to my symptoms – was actually feel my lymph nodes, which shockingly freaking NOT ONE of the medical professionals I had seen had done. Maybe they felt like they could see them fine from across the room. Maybe they were worried about cooties. I don’t know. But she ran her fingers up and down my neck, throat, shoulders, and chest and found every single gland she possibly could, all of which were enlarged. She looked over the blood tests I had from the ER and asked some more questions about symptoms and explained calmly and matter-of-factly what she believed might be happening. She didn’t buy the tick-bite explanation the ER had theorized and she definitely didn’t believe it was tonsillitis. She also, she explained, didn’t think it was cancer, but she was going to call my insurance company and get a CAT scan set up for me.

“Like this week?” I asked.

“Today,” she said. “You need to call your office and tell them you’re not coming in.”

If it was an infection, she explained, even if there was an abscess, they could take their time treating it. If this was lymphoma, they needed to know yesterday. So she wrote me a little green slip, explained that I would need an IV just one more time for contrast solution, and told me I could go. I asked her what would happen if I had an abscess, because I couldn’t bring myself to ask what would happen if I had cancer.

And anyway, there was such a slim chance.

But it doesn’t matter.

Once that C word is out there it is out and screaming at you. It sits on your shoulder like a vulture and you wonder what will happen if your life ends next week and your dreams and your music get buried with you in a little wooden box. Who will remember you tomorrow? Next month? Next decade? Will anyone remember you when the people you loved in this life are gone as well? All those songs – all those things I was going to do – would die locked inside my skull, like a child in the womb.

I went down to the Medical Imagining Department and was checked-in in a small room by a nice man who reminded me of a banker or insurance broker. He asked who to list as next-of-kin and who should be informed “in case.” In case what? I demanded. If I die? Well, yes, but also if I need someone to come get me, or something. Then he snapped a plastic hospital band to my wrist and walked me to the actual waiting room where I sat reading an ancient Good Housekeeping. It was at this moment that I started to get the sensation that I was a stranger in a strange land. I don’t belong here. What is chair etiquette in Nashville? I know what it is in Boston, but not the South. What if it’s different? What if I’m sick and I’m offending all these old Southern ladies with their favorite cardigans pulled tight around them?

When they finally called me back and started to get the IV ready, I noticed that everyone had a drawl. The same accent I had found so charming now only served to remind me that I was very ill and 1,200 miles away from home. Just before they started the scan – as the machine was starting to whir – they pulled me out, disconnected my IV and asked me to sit in the hallway for a few moments because there was a stroke patient coming in. I gathered my belongings and sat alone in a chair and listened to the accents and tried to ignore the catheter hanging out of my arm. I watched them wheel the unresponsive stroke patient down the hall, talking to him all the way. My life wasn’t so bad. I walked in. I drove myself, even though I probably shouldn’t have. I was able to stand up off the scanner and walk to a chair and sit just fine, all under my own power. My brain was healthy. I felt so bad for the man I stopped worrying about myself for a moment but then I’d look at my arm and see the IV port and remember that all was not so rosy on the home front. I don’t believe it was self-pity. I think it was the biggest dose of adult reality I have had in my life thus far. The catheter demanded I look at the reality and plan accordingly, plan realistically, and figure out a contingency other than the romantic, beautiful dreams I moved down here with.

When the scan finally happened it was easy. Painless. I wasn’t a fan of the contrast-solution. They wrapped the spring-like IV line around my thumb to keep it from pulling on the vein and I could feel it firm up when they started the solution. It has the bizarre side effect of making you feel like you’ve peed yourself, even when you haven’t. It feels so real that I actually went and checked in the lady’s room when I was done.

I went home and slept for while then tried to go out like everything was normal. But that night in the shower, I thought about my day and felt so faint I had to sit for a few moments (several times). I knew what should happen the next day, but it felt like there were no promises. The sun might rise, but it might never come up again.

When my doctor called the next morning, I missed the call and the nurse left a message asking me to call her back which scared the ever loving daylights out of me because I had agreed that they could leave detailed voicemails on my cell. Of course, everything was fine. No tumors, no cysts, no abscess. Just every single lymph node in my chest and neck was larger than it should be. But no cancer. She told me to stay on the new antibiotic and they’d see how I was feeling. If I improved, awesome; if I didn’t, we’d talk about a biopsy. So far, I’ve felt much better, but I’m also kind of high on having a full life to look forward to, as ridiculous as it was for me to freak out about the whole thing in the first place. The C-word, man…

  1. I Have Incredible People In My Life
How awesome are my friends?  Butternut-squash-bisque-awesome!

How awesome are my friends? Butternut-squash-bisque-awesome!

For the past two weeks my friends have come out of the woodwork to ask what’s wrong, check in on my health, and even bring me groceries (thanks, Julia!). My roommate even canceled a rehearsal to get me to the ER. Some of these people I have known for years, some I have known for days, but they have all shown me just how fortunate I am to be surrounded by the folks who make up my ever evolving network. I have rarely felt so alone, but I have also rarely felt so completely loved and taken care of as I have these past few weeks. This has been bad. As much as I have taken every opportunity to bitch, this has actually been worse than I’ve tried to let on. And so many friends rushed to my aid. You are the most wonderful human beings. I can never thank you or repay you, but I hope I can pay it forward in some way some day (although hopefully not because you get sick like this).

[Also, I’m fully aware I’m riding the italics like I’m breaking a horse – this is emotional, people, ok?!]

  1. Despite Everything I’m Incredibly Lucky (But Not Everyone Is)

I drove myself home from the CAT scan (albeit, irresponsibly). Yesterday, I went back to my amazing internship and hung around amazing people all day. On my way to work today I stopped at my favorite coffee shop and grabbed a soy chai latte. I watched Netflix on my couch and ate potato-leek soup, and my biggest worry was if my internet connection was strong enough to stream a whole episode of Desperate Housewives. I am broke. I still feel like crap. But I am so, SO lucky. I am so lucky because yesterday when the doctor called it wasn’t to tell me I needed to come back in immediately. I am so lucky because up until this point no one has ever worried even the slightest bit that I may just possibly have cancer. I am so lucky that that was one of the scariest moments of my life. Because there are so many people who get the call that they need to come back in. There are so many people who are worried about how they’re going to handle the next round of chemo. There are so many people who have been given an expiration date – not just the imagined one I gave myself in the shower. I cannot fathom being told that I have a shelf life. I cannot comprehend being told that I probably won’t be here in a year. I cannot even scratch the surface of how hearing that all my plans are nothing, that I’m not at the beginning of my life but rather the end, how hearing that would make me feel. And no one should have to. I want to ask you to look up the American Cancer Society and consider participating in a Relay event, but I’m going to demand that you go to Brook Hester’s website (http://www.brookefightsback.org/index.html) and read about this incredible little girl. I’ve been lucky to meet her twice at the Ronald McDonald House in NYC, and even having only been in the same room as her for a grand total of six hours I can confidently say she is the most amazing, inspiring, stunningly beautiful human being I have ever and probably will ever meet in my life. She is seven, she has neuroblastoma – which currently has no cure – and she keeps a braver face everyday after years of treatment than I managed to keep for 24-hours of uncertainty. Even with her own struggles, she gives back to other little girls fighting the same battle she wages every day. I strongly encourage you to give to her charity or say a prayer for her or get up and make a difference in the world because if a seven-year-old with cancer can have the impact this young lady has, what kind of change can healthy adults make?

I know this has been a long one guys, but thanks for reading. And thanks for clicking on to Brooke’s site. Be happy and healthy!

My first trip to Ronald McDonald House.  Photo courtesy of Ridgefield Music and Arts Center.

My first trip to Ronald McDonald House. Photo courtesy of Ridgefield Music and Arts Center.

Maybe It’s A Tumor! (It’s Not A Tumor!)

Guys, I want to post about my new house with furniture and everything.  I have one all written up (though I haven’t taken photos yet).  But things have been a little overwhelming this past week or so.  Instead, I’d like to regale you with the story of my current health crisis.  [Commence long-form kvetching.]

I call it a crisis because it would be a crappy situation even if I wasn’t starting a new internship at an awesome company at the same time.  And it probably wouldn’t have even gotten to this point if it hadn’t been for my previous living situation.

See, I slept on an air mattress for about two weeks, and that’ll do a number on your back.  So when my neck hurt, I didn’t think twice about it.  It wasn’t until I was driving to church last Sunday, sitting in traffic and absently scratching at my neck, that I noticed two of my lymph nodes were literally bulging out under my skin.  Needless to say, I wore my hair down for the service and picnic after.

The next day, things were still pretty painful.  It hurt to wear a seatbelt, it hurt to wear a backpack, it hurt to brush my hair, it hurt to turn my damn neck.  My sass was diminished by at least a factor of 3 due to my inability to effectively bob my head.  So after the first day of my internship was finished, I headed to my nearest CareSpot urgent care clinic to get a quick diagnosis of acute tonsillitis and handy prescription for ibuprofen (the pharmacy stuff makes Motrin look like crap).

CareSpot was great; very easy, affordable, and friendly.  However, they did give me my first official heart blessing.  When the nurse asked how I hadn’t felt anything until my nodes had reached the point they were at, I told her about my air mattress adventures and explained that I had expected my neck to hurt, for which I received a chuckle, a strep test, and a “Bless your heart.”  Now, if you’re from the North East, you may not know this phrase.  It’s rarely used with genuine concern.  I’d like to believe she really meant this, but according to my roommate’s boyfriend who’s from Georgia and knows about this kind of stuff, it’s never intended sincerely.  Thus far – even including last summer – I had not done something foolish enough to earn this level of pity.  Until now.

Fast forward to last night.  I wasn’t feeling better, my neck still looked like ski slope from the winter X-Games, and the number of nodes that just weren’t having any of it had jumped from two to five.  Then the shivers started.  I don’t really get fevers.  In fact, I haven’t gotten one for about five years, even though I’ve had strep a couple times, but I couldn’t get warm no matter what I did.  I even made my roommate turn the heat on.  I was shaking so badly I could hardly function.  I also kept getting this weird sensation like someone was smashing my funny bone, except my funny bone was in my neck. This morning I slept through my alarm by two hours and awoke so drenched in sweat I wondered if I had taken a shower in my sleep.

So I decided it might be time to go back to the doctor and have him take another look.  They’ve given me an antibiotic, but because of my severe penicillin allergy I have to take other drugs, which are often very harsh on your stomach.  When the doctor told me they would probably make me ill I made a joke about not partying this weekend.  And he got very concerned and was like, but seriously don’t party for like the next 10 days.  And then he was like:

“I don’t want to make you nervous but-” Oh yeah, that’s really gonna relax me “-if this one gets much bigger it could start to block your airway.  So if you start to have difficulty breathing or swallowing, you should go to the emergency room.”

But he had this really nice southern drawl so it sounded super non-threatening for someone warning me that my throat might start to close.

It also turns out that my shivers and funny-bone-feeling are because my lymph node is getting all up in some big nerve’s grill.  So if you see me in the next few days and I look like a tweaker or suddenly sit down and start moaning, that’s why.  Every once in a while it’ll just go nuts and the whole left side of my body twitches like a 15-year-old who heard the name Justin Bieber come up in a nearby conversation.

When I went to CVS to pick up my prescription for the antibiotics the pharmacist immediately asked if I had ever taken this kind before and when I told him I wasn’t sure, he didn’t bother to add any relaxed Southern grace to his voice.

“You might not get sick, but you’re probably gonna be miserable.  You need to take these four times a day.  And make sure there’s something in your stomach; food and probiotics if you can manage it.”

“For how long?” I asked.

“Ten days.”

“Shit!” I exclaimed.

“You probably will,” said the pharmacist.

“Shi-” I started to say, but changed it to “Shoot” because the word “shit” suddenly held a lot of significance.

“Good luck!” he shouted as I sulked back to my car.

So far, so good.  But I’m only two doses in.  I’m still twitchy – I had a Justin-Bieber-twitch/shiver attack earlier in the evening – but I believe that if this stuff is going to make puke (or crap) my guts out, it’s gonna keep me out of the freaking emergency room or I’m gonna have something to say about it, dammit.

So let’s let this blog post be an apology for my absence from social events, my sudden development of what appears to be a nervous twitch, and my possibly vomiting on your shoes.  It’s nothing personal, it’s just the (prescription) drugs.

Trad-Holes: A Field Guide

If you are from or have spent any time in New England, you’ve probably heard the term “Mass-hole” tossed around. Those on the jazz scene (or anyone who’s wandered the halls of my alma mater) have probably heard or at least experienced the concept of “jazz-holes.” (I consider myself to be a recovered jazz-hole, for the record.) I’d like to introduce you to the concept of “trad-holes” and explain why it’s so present on my mind.

I play Irish music; I play an instrument with a Gaelic name; I am culturally – but not religiously – Catholic and the nursery rhymes I grew up with often discussed Irish independence. Trad music is as much a hobby/calling as it is a part of my cultural and personal identity, and I suspect it’s like this for a lot of traditional players. As such, we can sometimes take things personally.

If Boston gets anymore Irish, it might just break off of North America and try to become a new Aran Island.

If Boston gets anymore Irish, it might just break off of North America and try to become a new Aran Island.

Nashville is not an Irish town in the same way as Boston. There is an awesome Bluegrass and American Traditional scene down here, but the genuine Irish stuff is harder to come by. I spent the other afternoon hunching progressively closer to my keyboard as I searched with increasing desperation for a good Irish seisiun down here. There are so many in Boston, you’re practically tripping over them, but Nashville just doesn’t have as much of a scene. So when I finally found a jam that was Irish traditional music mixed with Old Time tunes, I should have been thrilled. Instead I was irrationally disappointed. I felt like it might not even be worth attending. And then I stopped and realized this was a stupid, ridiculous feeling to have, but here’s why I reacted the way I did:

You see, Irish and Old Time and Bluegrass are VERY similar styles to the uninitiated – they even share some of the same songs. Because of this, people unfamiliar with the genres often group them together. Did you ever have friends who were identical or practically identical twins (or are you an identical twin) who became really offended when people mixed up their names as kids? People usually weren’t doing it on purpose; they just weren’t familiar enough to know that Jenny has a mole an inch below her left eye while Jackie’s mole is an inch and a half below her left eye. That’s sort of what happens with Trad-holes. Crossing genres, misidentifying styles – it feels like you’re blurring the lines of their id, assaulting their cultural/personal/musical identity. It’s not a rational or even really fair response to what’s usually an honest mistake, but – remember – we’re all just big monkeys at the end of the day. When they get annoyed that you’re playing bluegrass licks over an Irish tune, it’s in part because their inner Jenny is flipping a flaming s*** that you mistook her for Jackie. Again. (You bitch.)

In their (well, let’s be honest, our) defense, it would be rude if you walked into a Baptist Sunday service and went through all the motions of a Catholic mass as though no one else was in the church. Yes, they’re both Christian and, yes, if you’re not they look awfully similar (sort of like how my Asian friends keep telling me I look like all the other white people), but to them – spending every day swimming in the idiosyncrasies of their particular sect – they’re as different as night and day. And we have to respect that.

So the next time you encounter a Trad-hole at a jam, remember that on the inside he’s just a Jenny, desperately clinging to his individual identity. Be respectful and for the love of all things holy, stop calling him Jackie.

I Am A Big Naked Monkey (And So Are You!)

This morning I was watching a D News video on Youtube where they discussed how taking photographs affect our memory (http://youtu.be/D4xU-_oHa2M) and one of presenters commented that we “aren’t just big naked monkeys” and I’m here to disagree.

I am a big naked monkey.  You are a big naked monkey.  And that is just OK.

Took a selfie guys.  Photo courtesy of eofdreams.com

Took a selfie guys. Photo courtesy of eofdreams.com

I’m terrified of monkeys (as anyone who’s ever seen me cry during “The Wizard of Oz” will know) and I’m still saying it’s ok.  Here’s why: when I was younger – which admittedly sounds ridiculous coming from me seeing as I’m twenty-two, but roll with me, people – I was obsessed with the concept that we were these grand intellectual beings.  I thought that with knowledge and understanding we could grow beyond our animal origins, mostly because all I had going for me at the time was a big brain and a bigger attitude – I was pretty much an extra from “Revenge of the Nerds.”  Our decisions could be rational.  We could rise above impulses and emotions.  I tried to meet this ideal and assumed that when other people did or said things, it was because there was some reasoning involved.  And when there wasn’t I got angry and frustrated. 

Now, dear reader, if you are also – as I suspect – human, you’ll know that I probably spent a lot of time angry and frustrated because nobody makes reasonable or rational decisions.  It took a while, but I realized that I don’t either.  And that’s alright.

I had my moment of clarity when I read this great book about traffic.  It’s called “Traffic.”  Seriously, it’s a great read and it totally changed the way I drive.  One of the ideas in the book was that we get road rage because our brains aren’t made to process interactions with machines.  We want to see body language and the normal human signals that help us understand why someone is doing something.  So when another driver cuts us off and the car doesn’t shrug its shoulders or smile apologetically (because, to the best of my knowledge, cars can’t do these things) our little monkey brains freak like it’s the Mesozoic up in this b****.  Someone has entered our personal space/territory and we don’t know why and there’s this awful, impulsive little part of our brains that, like, literally can’t even.  

But you know what?  That’s ok.  I’m not saying that the commentator I mentioned at the start of this rant is totally wrong.  We are creatures of symbolism and meaning.  But we’re like that because our brains are designed to recognize patterns to better aid in our survival.  If we couldn’t put together that all the cavemen who died frothing at the mouth also ate the weird purple berries on the other side of the hill, our species probably wouldn’t have progressed enough for me to be philosophizing at you from a MacBook.  Our actions aren’t that much more purposeful, important, or impact-ful in the grand universal scheme of things than a chimpanzee building his nest for the night, or a fox digging her den, or a bird singing in the tree.  But they are no less beautiful or moving.  And, frankly, since I started looking at the weird little things we humans do as just the rhythmic, patterned behaviors all animals display, every action holds more wonder and significance for me.  Rather than my life and actions feeling meaningless, I feel more connected to the world around me than ever before.

Also I’ve chilled out.  A lot.  Instead of becoming stressed and confrontational when a situation arises with another person, I try to look at why both of us are behaving and feeling the way we do.  This doesn’t mean i don’t get pissed for no reason or lash out when I’m stressed, but I can recognize when it’s happening, I can recognize when other people are doing it, and I can let it go rather than beating myself up about it or holding a grudge.

One of my theories on why I’m so terrified of monkeys is that I didn’t want to acknowledge that I am one.  This truth was a little too big and overwhelming.  The other theory is that it’s a repressed memory of howler monkeys smashing through the glass doors of the hotel my family was at when I was a toddler.  But who can tell.

Listen, I know I’m 22 and not exactly brimming with life experience, but adding this understanding to my list of mottos to live by (including such time honored standards as “never be the weirdest person in a public park,” “you can’t fix stupid,” and “don’t spit into the wind”) has really revolutionized the way I interact with the world.  I am monkey and so can you!

A Ballad For The Dog Next Door

Dear Neighbor’s Dog. Kindly shut it. You bark constantly. Yesterday morning you woke me up by barking for ten minutes continuously and only stopped in time for my alarm to go off. You went on a barking spree at 2 AM the other night. Look at your life choices. LOOK AT THEM.

I can’t decide whether I should bribe you or punish you. I’ve considered giving you peanut butter, hoping you will take it as a peace offering. But the stronger impulse is to crack my window and blow the highest, sharpest note on my penny whistle as loud as I can in your direction. I am so tempted.

Then I remember I’m seeking retribution against a dog and I stop and feel ridiculous. You’re not conscious of what you’re doing. Yesterday the sermon was about not blaming ourselves or others, but instead seeking to approach conflict with love and understanding. I understand you. You are old and cantankerous and lumpy and probably smell funny, and I would bark a lot too if that was my life. I understand you, but I do not approve.

Plus sometimes you have that little enforcer Chihuahua growl at me through the fence with all his tiny, impotent rage. Fight your own battles, Dog.

Still, I’m torn. When you don’t bark I wake up and peer out between my blinds and wonder if you’re dead or something. I worry about you. You are pretty old and pretty lumpy. The neighbors seem to just leave you in the yard all the time. I’m not sure you have a doghouse because I don’t want to spend any more time staring into my neighbor’s yard than I already do. (I know it’s creepy, but I haven’t had Internet so I need to satisfy my voyeuristic urges somehow.)

All of this mental anguish over you and we’ve never even really met. I would greet you at the fence, but there’s the whole funny smell issue and it might mean I have to talk to my neighbors. I’m not sure how to navigate a conversation with people from the South. They talk to you even though they don’t know you, but do they really want to talk to you or is it just social obligation? Are they just hoping you’ll offer a quick reply and kill the whole exchange before it can metastasize into a full blown discussion? I worry I’m missing certain inflectional cues because I’m not used to the accent yet. Everyone sounds like they come from “True Blood” to me.

And you look like a licker. Not into that.

Listen, Neighbor’s Dog. Once you were young, and less lumpy and smelly. Once you were probably less cantankerous (or maybe you were meaner and now you just move too slow for it to really be effective – but let’s go with the first option). Remember that time and have sympathy. Bark in joy. Bark at the thrill of a fresh breeze or a fat squirrel or a loud truck or a biscuit. Do not bark in rage or frustration.

Remember, I’ve got the penny whistle next to my bed.

 

P.S.: Hey world, I’m posting this from my OWN Wifi for the first time ever!

Good News; You’re Not Depressed, It’s Just Food Poisoning!

A throwback to my last summer in Nashville.

A throwback to my last summer in Nashville.

It’s officially been 7 [seven] days since since I arrived in Nashville!  After a very productive phone call with a much beloved Berklee teacher (the summary of which was “Calm down, you’ve only been there for a week and you don’t even have furniture yet”) I’m feeling more composed.  I have less to kvetch about.  I’ve come to grips with the death of my chair, I went to a great service at the Unitarian church, and had an awesome lunch with a friend at coffee shop that I haven’t been essentially squatting in for the past week (I love you Ugly Mugs, please don’t kick me off your wifi).  As such, I figured this would be a good time to reflect on my last first week in Nashville.  What follows is an entirely true story.

This isn’t my first brush with the Music City; last summer I had an internship at an awesome publishing company on the Row.  I sublet a room near Centennial Park, which – for those of you not familiar with Nashville – is sort of like the Boston Public Gardens but slightly more sketchy (and for those of you not familiar with the Boston Public Gardens, I once watched a lady buy an unmarked duffle bag from a guy in a hoodie under a bridge in broad daylight while three separate wedding parties competed for prime photo shoot locations above them).  I didn’t understand until well into the summer that I was one of the few people using the park on a regular basis who didn’t also live in it.  

Centennial Park also features a life-size replica of the Parthenon - don't ask why.

Centennial Park also features a life-size replica of the Parthenon – don’t ask why.

This is how I developed one of the litmus tests I use to make sure my life is still on the right track: Never be the weirdest person in a public park.

While walking around the ornamental pond one afternoon, pretending I wasn’t calling my mom for the second time that day, I passed a woman with four young kids.  I didn’t see what she was holding but when it made a quacking noise I figured it was kid’s toy.  But then, she started to complain loudly, “This thing is gonna shit all over my car before I get home.”  I turned to stare with fresh eyes.  This woman was carrying a live duck that she had plucked from the pond back to her rusted-out white pick-up truck. 

I struggled to come up with a theory to explain what was happening as I watched, slack-jawed.  Maybe it was a pet duck and she had brought it to the park with her for fun, like for a play-date with the ducks that live on the pond.  Maybe she’s with the park service.  Maybe the ducks are free if you can catch them.  But I’m a realist at heart.  She had caught that duck bare-handed and was probably going to eat it later.  Now, I’ve seen people fish in public ponds, and I get it.  I’ve seen people hunt in state parks, and I get that.  I feel like these are socially acceptable ways to hunt for your dinner in public.  Grabbing the ornamental ducks out of a city park, not so much.  Or maybe I’m wrong, but it struck me as weird.

At this point, I realized I was gaping at her and that if she could snatch a duck out of the water without getting wet she could probably snap my neck without flinching.  “This is how bony, smart-assed Yankee girls like me go missing,” I thought and quickly moved along.  But there was a lot to think about.  How easy is it to catch a duck?  Did I just find a real-life ninja?  What if the duck had a family?  Was there a lady duck panicking somewhere out on the pond, searching for her missing ducky soulmate?  What if they had children?!

Existential, duck-related musings aside, the rest of my first week was pretty weird.  I received a drunken marriage proposal (he said he liked that I talked funny; I told him he had a very nice shirt but I normally need to see at least two outfits before I make decision like that, and that I had to decline); got flashed by a very disappointing flasher (who didn’t appreciate when I asked if he was serious); and learned that most people outside of the North East don’t rely on sarcasm as their sole form of communication.  My internship was awesome and I tried to pretend to be an exciting 21-year-old who was going to do something hip later and not just curl up in bed and cry while re-watching “Wildfire” on Hulu by myself.

The next weekend I didn’t want to go out.  I felt lethargic.  I had no appetite.  Food looked repulsive. I had been trying to go to a different restaurant every day but now none of my options looked appealing.  I became concerned that I was seriously depressed.  I lay in my bedroom with the blinds closed so that the atmosphere could more closely reflect the darkness of my soul.  I considered investing in a Silver Sun Pickups album.

After a day of moping I figured I should eat something, whether the blackness in my heart craved sustenance or not.  And as soon as I ate it I got sick.  I’ve never been so relieved to spend a weekend in a bathroom before.  It wasn’t depression, it was food poisoning (which is… better, I guess?).  I called my bosses – the only people I knew in the city – and explained that I was very excited to have severe food poisoning and not be depressed but it was getting old and I was starting to feel dehydrated, and did they know a doctor I could go see.

I then wrote a mildly incoherent yet defiantly cheerful reflection to email to my internship coordinator back in Boston (which received a slightly panicked response – I don’t know if they’d ever had a student file a police report and become extremely ill all in one week before).  Thus began my previous Nashville experience.  [Cue “Mary Tyler Moore Theme Song”]

I think, that may be part of what’s stressing me out now; my last visit was so action packed.  The slow pace and lack of furniture makes me nervous I’m doing something wrong.  No one’s asked me to marry them.  I haven’t even had to use my pepper spray once.  And I have yet to contract a norovirus.  

But as long as I’m not the weirdest person in the public park, I’m still doing ok.