I recently spent five minutes on the phone pretending to be a proper grown-up. It was exhausting.

I’ve been putting off minor oral surgery for, oh, a couple of years… and the delay in treatment means it’s become a major oral surgery. Yikes. Why did I put it off? Well, it’s a spicy melange of denial, constitutional inertia, poverty, dread of the dental chair (which inevitably sparks my vicious back spasms), and sheer bonechilling dental phobia.

This Mighty Girl post mentioning jaw grafts and cadaver bone didn’t help; the idea is simultaneously fascinating, inspiring (sign your donor cards, folks!), and immediately viscerally horrifying.

So I had to shut up the constant chattering voices in my head that loop around and around your tooth your back your bank account it’s urgent it’s an emergency maybe tomorrow cadaver bone! you have to do this now graft abscess impacted it’s going to hurt you can’t afford it it’s so awful in there OH MY GOD WHAT WILL THEY FIND IN THERE UNDER THE HALF-ROTTED TOOTH and make the necessary arrangements to get it yanked. Well, really what I’ve made are the necessary arrangements to make the arrangements to get it yanked, but anything’s better than nothing and movement is better than inertia.

Just subduing the panicky child inside me long enough to make that preliminary appointment — describing the problem, describing the situation I created all on my own, admitting to my own slack self-care and not getting bogged down in my crippling phobia— brought my heart into my throat and reminded me how often I feel like a child masquerading as an adult.

But then I remember: most people don’t feel like proper adults. (clean all the things?) Most people are making it up as they go along, subduing their fears and laziness and ignorance long enough to make progress, doing the best they can when they can do their best, and muddling along the rest of the time.

Everyone I know is just trying to work it out as best they can. And most of them are doing okay.

Me, too.

Years ago, I was working at friend’s home business during her most hectic season, which happened to coincide with a home repair project that temporarily changed the lay-out… and therefore changed many of her usual processes and procedures. One busy-busy day as we re-arranged the ad-hoc stores of goods while carefully balancing new stock on our hips, she exclaimed in frustration, “This is NOT how the real grown-ups do it!”

And I had a quiet little moment of peace as I realized: of course it is.

Of course the real grown-ups are doing exactly this. They’re frantically trying to balance what they know, what they think they know, what they don’t know — and most frighteningly, what they don’t even know they don’t know — all without dropping the stuff they’re balancing on their hips.

Because we are the real adults. We are the proper grown-ups. What we do is, by definition, the way real grown-ups do it. We set our own terms.

xkcd playpen balls

This idea really resonates for me. In our living room, you’ll find a matted print of this xkcd strip. I gave it to The Fella as a Valentine’s gift last year, because it sums up so much of what I think is successful in our marriage: we make our own life up as we go along, we never forget to play, and we believe in our own decisions more than in the conventional constraints of mainstream society.

vagina vagina vagina

As we stood in the grocery line, I had a sudden thought. “Oh!” I said to my husband, “you take these. I forgot — ” and I was off and running. Okay, off and hobbling; my back is still pretty tender, but there I was, loping my way through the aisles toward the toiletries section…

… through the two shoppers whose carts were stopped, head-to-head and crossways blocking the wide aisle while they caught up on their gossip
… stopping short to avoid the dithering little lady with the overfilled cart, who wavered first one way, then another, grazing me on each side as she adjusted
… slinking through between one fellow who was doing recon on the shortest line, and his companion, who was pushing a full cart (and that was my bad, guys — sorry!)
… and into the Feminine Care aisle, only to discover
… a suited fellow standing there, facing me but blankly staring off into space, his body completely blocking the one shelf to which I needed access.

“Excuse me.”

No response.

Ahem. A little louder. “Excuse me, sir.”

Not a blink.

A-hem. “Sir, I just need to get to that shelf.” Nothing. “I just need to get to the TAMPONS, they’re right behind you.”

It was as if somebody flipped his “on” switch: he started, he glanced at me and then away, he flushed a becoming pink, and he skittered out of the corner where he was standing as if he’d been shocked, averting his eyes from me the entire time, because I had uttered the word tampons. I might as well have hollered VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA.

And next time, I will.

RSV puh-leese

Brides and grooms routinely kvetch about delinquent RSVPs. I’m no different. We dearly hope that our friends and family will come to the celebration, but we do need to know roughly how many people we’re seating and feeding and boozing up, and how many tables and how big a dancefloor and how many of this and how many of that.

Ten days before the wedding and a good three weeks since our RSVP date passed, we still have about 15% of RSVPs outstanding. So far this week, my sweetly toned query, “Oh, we sure hope you can you make it to the wedding! Can you?” has prompted the following responses:

“Of course we’ll be there!” They didn’t need to RSVP, because I’m psychic: I knew they wouldn’t miss it.

An offhand “Nah, we can’t make it.” They didn’t need to RSVP, because I’m psychic: I knew they’d have to miss it.

“Didn’t we RSVP? Uh… we did! I wrote you an email last week! Or a letter!” Did you? Hmmm. If you did,
A) I most likely would have received an email or a letter.
B) You’d know which one you sent.
With that in mind, I have a feeling that you didn’t RVSP, and I’m trusting that feeling, because — didn’t you hear? — I’m psychic.


Fashion your own Julia Sugarbaker rant, courtesy of NPR. Before you read the text, make a quick list of:

an appetizer
a famous criminal*
an inexpensive retailer
a small amount of money
a metal
a breakfast cereal
an environmental problem
a popular gadget
a junk food
a reality show
a kind of candy
a sporting event
a historical figure named “John”
a celebrity named “John”
an article of clothing
a home electronics component
a chain restaurant
a city in the southern U.S.
a popular toy
a literary figure

You will insert these, Mad Libs style, into the text of the rant. My rant:

I would rather spend two hours sharing a plate of escargot with Claus von Bülow* than watch a woman who apparently purchased her intellect at Claire’s Boutique for three dollars a satchelful chase twenty-five men with biceps made of zinc and heads packed with Cap’n Crunch.

Because when future generations look upon what we have left for them, which may by then be little more than melted icecaps and millions of non-biodegradable pedicure eggs, I fear they will conclude that they would have welcomed bread and circuses if only they had realized the alternative was Funyons and MILF Island.

[sits down and crosses arms, but then immediately stands back up]

And let me tell you a little something about romance: Handing out roses like you are a mascot throwing Pixie Stix to the assembled hooligans at a cockfight is not my idea of romance. Romance is a man who knows the difference between John Adams and John Mayer and who is capable of putting on a pair of shoes without scratching his head as if he is connecting an iPod docking station without the instruction manual.

So do not ask yourself why I do not particularly enjoy a television show where the assembled male candidates represent romantic prospects inferior to the workers on the night shift at the Applebee’s in Valdosta. Ask yourself whether, after a lifetime playing with a cultural paddleball and dancing on the grave of Henry James, you will ever…recover…your dignity.

*or, in this case, a defendant in a murder trial.

with walnuts

In which she describes a love for the ages.

I had my first bridal meltdown just a few days after the engagement.

Okay, okay — it was a whole-world meltdown, and only incidentally bridal: the computer had crashed, my back was spasming, a loved one had snubbed me, the kitchen was a mess, I’d had a spat online, and life seemed out of control for just one evening. Topping it off, I’d started to check out (and to price, yikes) reception venues, and I’d contemplated the Lovecraftian heaps of chiffon and satin that any bridal boutique would try to foist upon me if I should enter looking for a lace-trimmed hanky or other modest bridal accoutrement.

And then I started crying. Not decorous, soft-focus bridal-portrait tears rolling down joy-pinked cheeks. No. Great honking sobs rippled through with snot-rattles.

And The Fella, who is the best thing in my world, handed me a roll of tissue, turned out the light, and laid down with me in the quiet dark. Quiet except for my snorting sobs, anyway. And we talked peacefully and with love, and without anybody calling me crazy, which was a nice touch and a mark of great restraint.

The conversation went on for a while, winding around too many concerns to catalogue, but it ended with this exchange:

The Fella: And everyone will be happy for us! And what will we say to anyone who isn’t?
Elsa: [sniffling] Um. “Cram it with walnuts, cranky”?
The Fella: Okay! Yes!

I suspect the simple, silently repeated phrase “Cram it with walnuts” will let me smile my way through many hours of party-planning, routine elevator chat with acquaintances puzzled by the absence of an engagement ring, and inescapable conversations about what we must have at the wedding.

If you arrive at the wedding to find a glassine bag full of candied walnuts at your place, or a bowl of gold-leafed walnuts as a centerpiece, or a maple-walnut wedding cake, you’ll know why.

Be happy for us, celebrate with us, or allow me to provide your walnuts.

Why local?

Bizarrely, I’ve been named commenter of the week for the local paper’s online youth culture section, written by Justin Ellis. (It’s about the Young Persons, with their crazy hair and their loud rock & roll combos and their persistence in walking on my lawn. Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!) The prize: a guest column. I’ve written my rant, and I’m testing it here.

Why Local?

If you hang around the Old Port, you’ve seen the BUY LOCAL stickers and signs and t-shirts, and probably heard the apparently endless ways BUY!ing LOCAL!ly bolsters the community. Yeah, keep income local and support our downtowns, stick it to the big box stores!

And it’s true. It’s all true! But let’s cut the pretense that we’re always (or, y’know, ever) so noble and community-centered. I’ll tell you a dirty little secret:

You should buy locally for your own selfish reasons.

When you buy locally, you develop a relationship with the business. (Not like that, you perv.) Respect yourself: support businesses that respect you and cater to your tastes, whether you’re shopping for shoes, movies, music, or just a cappuccino.

Mass-market retailers don’t have the luxury of tailoring themselves to a niche market. Their resources and research are too unwieldy to maneuver around local idiosyncrasies. This is bad news.

That’s a little-discussed (and deeply disgusting) effect of Big Box Business: the whittling away of individual tastes and serendipitous discoveries. Yeah, they’ll sell you the same food and pants and books and movies that you’ve already heard of, and that everyone else has already heard of — sometimes at a discount! They can afford to: they’ve got a truckload of ’em out back, loaded up to sell you and everyone else. And that’s all they’ve got; everywhere you go, it’s the same bland pap.

Locally operated businesses have personalities and quirks. They’re downright peculiar, just like you and me! (Mostly you.) The owners and staff spice the inventory with their own tastes (and, sometimes, obsessions), so they can recommend all kinds of offbeat things — bands and movies and shoes and coffees and beers and whatever — new stuff! Stuff you might like! Stuff you’ll never discover if you do all your errands at TGIBlockTopicBucks™.