Category Archives: writing

Dispatches from the other side of adulthood

This morning, I was watching a squirrel climb down my rose trellis in order to sneak away from the hawk tearing into a starling from its perch atop my bird feeder.  As I watched the squirrel flee this natural scene, I thought, hmm, that’s something.

We put up the trellis so the roses have someplace to grab, something to hold on to on its journey up— and sometimes we even tie roses there when it’s a rambler instead of a climber, but anyway, still, a trellis goes down and sideways as well as just up, it’s all just a matter of which way you want to use it, the trellis is just a tool and it doesn’t care if you’re a rose or a squirrel or a clematis, some weedy bindweed or that dumb, stupid cat who’s not as subtle as it thinks it is when it sits on top of the fence and uses the trellis to climb down the fence but still the cardinals and blue jays fly off before it finishes its “stealthy” approach, because it’s orange, and I hate to tell you, cat, but the ground is not orange.  You’re not going to blend in.

This evening, my Dad was talking to me about something while I washed the pots.  I have no idea what he said, because I couldn’t hear him over the sound of the water, and in any event, if I had turned off the taps he’d have been mad that I’d interrupted him to say anything, even though he knows perfectly well he can’t hear me when our roles are reversed.

But that’s often how it is with parents, not to mention people in general. They’re not talking to you for you to hear them or so you can respond; they’re only speaking to get the voices out of their heads.  Calling out that you can’t hear what they’re saying won’t change anything; not only cann’t they remember what they’d think if they were in your place, but your yelling gets in the way of enjoying the hot soapy water and the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing something, even if it’s only clean spoons.  Clean spoons are important.  How else are you going to eat your dulce de leche?  With your finger?  Don’t be a heathen.

(with apologies to Welcome to Night Vale)

It isn’t full circle

It isn’t full circle, I have to tell myself that, when I find myself in a chair no one held six years ago when I was falling apart and people asked, “Was I doing okay,” but took it at mostly face value when I said yes, then let me fall apart and drop off the face of the earth, only to slowly scotch tape, duct tape, Krazy glue myself back together with no one’s particular help (no matter how much I did try to ask, too little too late, but still, I did ask and they vowed, marital, Hippocratic, parental, but still, they all failed, when asked they unanswered).

It isn’t full circle, I have to tell myself that, that I now sit in the chair that no one held six years ago and tell the truth I did not want to hear.  ”You are not doing okay,” I say, and lay out the hard options, which are take the time off which is some hardship, or take the exit and the door will hit you hard in the ass on the way out, and trust me, that will take longer to recover from.  I don’t say, “I’ve been there,” but I do say that maybe the time off will give them time to straighten things out, and if not, at least give them time to make a more graceful exit.  It’s hard to be kind, but if it’s not kind, it’s true, and it’s a truth no one told me and a tough love I had to learn all by myself (a love for myself I had to learn, too, when the people who owed me nothing didn’t bother to extend me anything, either).

So, no. It isn’t full circle.  It’s miles and loops and six years ahead of myself. And fuck yes, it’s hard, because I want to cry with them, too, and cry for myself, for who I was then and still always will be, just a bit, always a little raggedy-broken unevenly stuck to myself in places it hurts to detach myself from to sit in a different chair than where I ever expected to be— but that is the joy and the pain of learning and growing and doing something for others that no one bothered to do for you.

It isn’t full circle, it’s a line, and it’s a line going forward. That’s better.

Snow more

We are at record snow levels in Boston; the last time there was this much snow in a month,  much less a winter, I was barely aged 4.  There are pictures (square, faded, and now I would have to crop and choose a phone filter to get that effect) of the snow piled roof-high against the garage.  I remember the snow slide, the kids on this block climbing up the side of the snow pile while kindergarten was cancelled to slip, down, down again.  It was two weeks of snow down snow pants and up jackets and inside mittens, and then running down the block to get sleds, the six-foot plus piles of snow on sidewalks piled like tunnels, way over our heads.

It felt cold and free then, and you could go in the house to get warm when it got (rarely) too much.  Who’d ever have known that now we’d have WiFi, and there’d be no such thing as an adult snow day anymore– just breaks to go shovel snow and uncreak your back from sitting at your laptop by wearing it out hurling snow into claustrophobic sidewalk tunnels that close in your car, cold and too much.

There’s another 15 inches predicted this weekend, and all I can think is I’m glad I already have the holiday off; I can space the shoveling out.

Feed the Flock


The squirrel isn’t baffled by the shape of the new bird feeders installed
inside the lilac; his tail flirts, second by second, a hummingbird’s cousin,
as he chases the pressure-treated T to grab millet and peanuts, then scamper away.
The doves do not mourn, they just bill and coo as they hop on the ground,
tip-head chicken-pecking at black oil sunflower seed, their preferred feed.
Their tails bob in weird counterpoint to their fat bodies and wee, tiny heads.
This year there aren’t any pigeons or seagulls, though come February or so,
I’ll resist the urge to chuck stale bread in inedible chunks from the porch so those giant pests leave some for the sparrows, the starlings, the other smaller brown birds;
that murderous want will remain despite how that late in the winter,
those unfallen sparrows are the fattest things in the county, almost too big to fly.
Their small, symmetrical shapes are a soothing roundness against the bright red fruit
they’ve disdained to eat from the ornamental crab tree,
the yellow points of rose leaves still twined against the grey-stained trellis
they perch on in hordes, their fat silhouettes clouding the top of the fence
the demented old neighbors next door are convinced is a declaration of war.
Dad hogs the pantry window, waiting for cardinals and blue jays, the woodpecker
with its red crest and habit of darting in at the suet.
He highlights those flashes of color against the now-drab of the yard,
the dormant raised beds and the mulch of spent seed hulls
and guano.  I like the blood-orange beak and dull coat of the lady cardinal myself,
the way she seeks cover, here and gone again if we have not done our job
of putting the seed far enough under a bush.  On any given day, though, I’ll feed
and be fed by whatever wings in.

The rose trellis

It takes time to rebuild what one tempest brings down.  (Tempest in literal hours or metaphor as months or years, pick your perspective.)  First, you’ve got to cut back the wreckage of roses, years’ worth of beautiful growth, heirlooms and hybrids, all tangled and thorny and a veritable reminder of what you’ve left lying dormant too long, then let it lie until the blooms have died back and you’ve filled all the vases all over the house with the beauty that still (still) is there, no matter the mess of it all.

And then, when it’s all been cut back, runners and canes gone to ground and all of the pruned bits are bundled and bagged and then (inspiration!) why don’t you have stackable trashcans for this (the old dog has tricks in her yet, because you may be a bitch but that term doesn’t mean anything here in the yard) it’s all set aside and you’ve even remembered the date for yard waste pickup (it feels good to be organized, like a real adult, yes it does) you’ve got to pull down the wreck of the wood you put up with some kind of “help” decades ago.  Now, power and hand tools and pry bars and sledgehammers at hand, your shoulders and arms ache in different ways than they did when the trellis went up the first time, when much shouting and swearing about levels and measures and the “right” way occurred, when really, roses don’t care as long as there’s some kind of solid support. Eight-five degrees versus ninety won’t kill a wild thing as long as the inches and feet all add up and the ends meet, more or less.  (Now your eyes sting with sweat and sawdust and your arms shake with effort, but you shoulder the support beams yourself as you pry them away where the masonry anchors are rusted fast to the wall, and that rip-crack feels good, in a way, saying something final the tempest did not.  Destruction can be good for the soul.)

And then it’s time to rebuild.  There’s the handheld masonry bit, your grandpa’s whom you never knew except through his tools and this house with its ancient wiring that holds, that and the set of your father’s chin, just like his dad’s in the photographs on top of the silent piano.  The chink of old iron against stone is satisfaction itself, the reverberation through your body from the bit/hammer/swing of your arm placing new anchors (ones that you bought without interference from dudes who may well have wanted to help, but you’ve got Storey’s Wisdom and the internet, too, not to mention a basement full of a dead master contractor’s bits, bolts and bobs and why not put history to your own use, this time?).  There’s a feel not just of power but of placement, creation, in the whir-grind-hot burr of the old (as old as you) Skil power drill, extended from the garage thanks to the trench you dug through the yard two years ago and the line you had laid out from the house (sometimes it’s okay to accept you have your limits) as the special concrete bits dig in and bite, take anchor and pull you forward as you push, cast your anchors in stone and then set your planks, two by four by eight hardwood cut to fit the wonky dimensions of mortar and stone.

Vertical struts go on first, drilled and anchored and screwed as the sun crosses the sky and hits your neck and shoulders around the crabapple tree (and today you don’t look up for Icarus, no, today you’re not flying too close or falling, not trying and failing, glorious in momentary success, today you’re just a gardener, because catching a fish feeds you one day, but fixing your garden feeds you for months in more than just the physical way), and then once they’re done, the horizontal slatwork, easy, compared, but un-anchored and needing more verticals to hold the whole rigging in place.  It’s a sailboat of sorts, though it’s a ship that sails with the seasons and sun, and not with the wind– at least, you hope not for a while, not like the last blow that brought the last bout of hard work cracking down.

And then last but not least, the oil stain, rubbed on by hand as the ladder teeters a bit underfoot– but it’s not far to the ground, and you’re not wearing wax wings, nor will you be hurt by more than some thorns (would that thorns were all that could hurt us), because you’ve been careful in your construction to pick up the nails, screws and bolts as you go, to be tidy and not leave too much scrap because as you’ve worked, the roses have already budded green, inches and feet gained back from the retraining you gave them at the start of this all.   There’s a moment of silence for the dragonfly who flew too close and was wing-splattered with stain.  He is still, stiff by the time you see him, resting on top of a thatch of Lillian Gibson’s regrowth, a fingernail’s worth of driftwood-colored weatherproofing forever stilling his flight.  It’s an unworthy thought, to think that some flies must die so that things bigger than them can live, but still, there’s something else, if not worthy, than worthwhile of acceptance:  even when you’re rebuilding a rose trellis with as much care as you can, you can’t look everywhere all the time, and there are bound to be splits in the wood, spots that you’ve missed, and tempests that you cannot predict, somewhere, off, outside the yard.

Too, it’s a comfort to know (grounding, it is) that just you, Storey’s Wisdom, a well-planned trip to Lowe’s, and the contents of your dad’s and grandfather’s basement built you something your roses, crabapples, and other things to be fruitful and counted-upon in the future, built this all by yourself, give or take five degrees.  You’ve taken a measure, and somehow, it fits.

Late realization (the wannabe cat lady’s lament)

Sometimes I think back and wonder what the hell I was thinking,
staying so long with someone whose objection to cats was cat hair
and the commitment that might be involved in getting someone
to feed them if we ever went on the vacations we didn’t take all that much,
that and protecting all that hand-me-down furniture we never paid for.
I could have been cuddling (for decades) a wet-nosed purr-ball of love
instead of someone afraid of mess and commitment. After all,
if you can’t fix it with duct tape, a swiffer, and other friends
who have cats, you need to reexamine your choices.

I’m off to the pound.