Synchronicity and Serendipity

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We all get lucky sometimes. In all the various ways.

Maybe it’s the color of your skin. Maybe it’s that your parents have money, or live in a great school district, or are still married. Maybe it’s the Big Break, the Long Shot. Maybe you’re pretty, or maybe you’re smart, or maybe you’re in the right place at the right time to meet the right person. Maybe they buy your book. Maybe you’re spotted in the crowd. Maybe the manager says the right thing in front of the CEO and you get the promotion. Maybe the car doesn’t jump the curb. Maybe someone’s watching when he puts his hand under your skirt. Maybe they believe you when you tell. Maybe your parents throw you a coming-out party.

And we all understand that for all the times we get lucky, there are other people who, in the small dark secret corners of their heart, hear “but why couldn’t it have been me, I needed that” and sometimes they really did need that and it’s not just jealousy speaking, not greed.

Maybe they could have used that money you spent on a fancy coffee to buy diapers. Maybe they could have used it for rent, or to keep their lights from getting shut off. Maybe someone should have protected them. Maybe someone should have seen. Maybe the car could have missed their kid. Maybe they’re working two or three jobs while you get your third promotion. Maybe their parents kicked them out at fifteen. Maybe they’re surviving on grit and they’re just as good as everyone else but the fifth cashier today is judging what they’re buying with their food stamps.

Your good luck is no more your fault than their bad luck is theirs. Or yours. If you have the kind of luck that spreads, spread it. Share your knowledge, be a shield, make sure your team gets credit. But not all luck can be shared.

Sometimes the best we can do is to see each other.

To say “I know I was lucky and I wish you’d been lucky too.” To say “I know you didn’t take your lucky moment with the idea that someone else wouldn’t have one.” To say luck isn’t finite or grasping, but we also shouldn’t have to depend on it for our survival.

All those things can be true at the same time.

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Cabinets

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I’m no memoirist. In fact, as I confessed to a publisher the other day over project negotiations, I don’t even like reading memoir. Obviously, that’s how I ended up teaching memoir and personal essay writing.

***

I turned right at Sandpoint, into the rising sun. Or what would have been the rising sun if the sky hadn’t been hazed with smoke drifting down from wildfires raging through the beetle-killed slopes of the British Columbia wilderness north of us.

Highway 200 under my wheels still feels in my bones like coming home.

Someday, I said, I’d like to get a little piece of land out here. You can’t get one like you used to, of course, but a little piece I might be able to do.

Sure, my dad said. Sounds good.


***

We’re a family of storytellers, living in between reality and edit. Some stories we’ve told so often I’m not sure what’s true and what’s part of the edit.

My dad had a stick, growing up, that he named Old Betsy.

***

We triple-checked our bear bells and mace. We still could barely see the Rockies for the smoke, although I’d pointed out Fat Man as we passed the turnoff to Heron. It’s still a one-lane bridge out there. They’ve paved Highway 56. Things change, things stay the same.

We’d decided to hike Swamp Creek, on the principle that the places with the worst names are always a scam to keep outsiders away. It’s seven miles in and a bit to the lake, and we didn’t know what my dad could manage at that altitude under a full pack.

The trail told its own stories, informational signs about the Fire of 1910, the squad that had taken shelter on a broad talus slope. The five men who had panicked and tried to get out; the one who had returned. With smoke still obscuring the Bob Ross peaks around us, the stories felt immediate, oppressive.

***

My mother’s grandfather was named Heber. She sends me a picture of him once a year, in case I forget that. As though I didn’t save every email, to compare to the others, hoping the real truth would redline itself out from between silences.

***

We made camp the first night on a duff slope near the creek but off the path. The ground was so thick with downed trees under decaying hemlock needles that our footsteps sounded hollow and it was hard to dig a hole for the latrine.

Dinner, when you’re backpacking, is dehydrated. As we waited for the beef stew to reconstitute itself my dad told me this story:

The first time I went backpacking with your granddad, he cooked. Now, I hardly knew him at the time, and there we were out in the wilderness. I was off doing something, I don’t remember what, and when I came back into camp he had the stove going. He’d laid our things out on this big flat rock. Dishes, cups, napkins. Flatware. I remember him fussing with it, straightening stuff out.

He gestured with his hands, drawing lines on the flat rock where our own spoons were laid out, our stove balanced by the creek. Tossed a white branch into the creek and cheered for it as it made its way over and around rocks, heading downstream.

Well, I watched him do this, and he’d go back and poke at the food, come back and straighten the fork. Move the plate around. Finally I said Glen, you don’t have to do that. He looked at me and said what else am I gonna do?

Edits. Maybe he didn’t say Glen back then. I’m pretty sure my dad was raised to say Mister. But would you say mister to a guy you were backpacking with? Maybe if you wanted to marry his daughter. Words change.

***

I take a lot of pictures, don’t do much writing about how I spent my summer vacation. When the pictures come back (or lately, when I upload them) there are no people in them. Mostly I take pictures of rocks. Rocks don’t change between words.

On top of Mt. McLoughlin (Mt. Pitt to locals) there’s a boulder six feet long and unshifted by snow. Someone painted BOOGALOO on it when I was fifteen. Someone painted their name on it, later. The words change, the rock stays.

Our entire family climbed the mountain a couple years back.

I took a picture of the rock at the summit.

***

We saw bears on the second day, half-grown black bears that tumbled across the path fifteen feet from us and kept running. We stood still for a very long time, clutching our bear mace.

***

My mother’s mother didn’t have a name until she went to school.

My father’s mother once said “free soap, free bubbles” when surprised out of a nap.

***

When I moved here from Florida I was a backpacker, the mule packer told us. He’d come up carrying equipment for two boys taking flow studies at the lake. For a mine that might exist ten years from now, the other side of the ridge. Well, this friend of mine – special friend – she told me you know what the difference is between backpacking and horse packing? Peach pie.

We picked a quart of huckleberries, saving them in the water bottle I thought I’d left at the last stop. Huckleberries weigh more than water, but they taste better, too.

The mule packer told us there were seven kinds of huckleberries in the Bull River watershed. We counted six. He knew my ex’s mother; Heron is a small town like that. Heron is a small town like anything you could imagine a small town being.

***

The town I grew up in was so small the only cop sold Avon out of the back of the police car.

***

Maybe someday I’ll write that story about my family, if I can ever figure out whether reality changes the words, or the words change reality.

The Fallacy of Boats

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The temperature here is set to reach a hundred degrees by the end of the week, and we’re the lucky ones. In some parts of the country, it’s too hot for airplanes to fly. On days like this my dad used to throw us in the truck and head out to the lake, his scratched-up driftboat in the bed and us with our thighs stuck to the hot vinyl seats in the front. I remember being so small, kneeling in the curved belly of the boat while my father rowed, one eye on the sky for July thunderstorms. “Sit still, mae-mae,” he’d remind me. “Don’t rock the boat.” Continue reading

Schadenfriends

I’m not actually a good person.

I know this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who really knows me, but it sneaks up on me sometimes. And it’s a particular kind of bad person that I am, and it’s all at odds with my image of myself as someone who’d lay down their life for a friend, who has your back in a fight (physical, verbal, or metaphorical), who’d absolutely punch someone who called you a racial slur or said something shitty about your body, and who’d go out of their way to correct more general stuff that people say that contributes to the stuff I really hate about society. You know, like calling out misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, reminding people that humor should punch up instead of down…

But I’m not always that person. I’m also vindictive and petty AF and there are days I just have to own it and go surfing through Facebook for my schadenfriends.

Yeah, schadenfriends. People I personally know or have known whose misfortune delights me. People I know well enough to have access to entire archives of online photos, posts, old livejournals. I like to think I have good reasons for hating them.

Really, though, I’m keeping them around for the endorphin rush I get from watching them suffer.

The ex who kept a friend so stoned for six solid months that he lost his job, who undermined him at every turn and told him he wasn’t good at doing things so she’d do it for him, under the guise of martyrdom. The ex who did, in fact, end up fucking him. The ex who was a six-foot tall redhead when I dated her… and who now looks like somebody’s Nonna, grey and round with square jowls. She’s 50 years old and I think she still delivers pizza (and pot). Hi, baby, I upgraded but damn that’s a bad picture Tim tagged you in!

The ex-friend who I gently tried for years to convince that LGBTQ folks were people too, who should probably be allowed to get married, and that if she was as good a friend to them as she thought she was she’d support that too? The one who used to be a ballerina, who was lifting weights and running with me? Well, since she joined this hate enforcement group working to legislate against the rights of my family and friends God has been literally striking her down. Still single, still overweight (which, you know, my body positivity ends with the people I hate and honestly I think maybe I’m still ok with their bodies but I enjoy watching them be put down by society in all the ways you can be put down?), now wheelchair bound for no medical reason the doctors can find. God is striking you down honey. You’re that religious, learn to read a fucking sign.

Not everyone has what it takes to be a schadenfriend. Some people pretty much exist to be blocked. Nazis. Nazis are boring. MRAs are boring. There’s no real pleasure to be had listening to the tickertape of their thoughts. Even their misfortunes are boring. No, it takes a special something to elevate yourself to schadenfriend.

  1. Be terrible.
  2. Make me think you’re not terrible
  3. Suffer misfortune
  4. Repeat

OK, maybe it’s not really complicated.

I’m pretty good at real life revenge. I’ve peed on cars, I’ve written shady recommendations, and I’ve definitely gone behind a boss’ back to warn an organization that he was courting about him.

But it’s not like the satisfaction that you get when you feel like the universe is taking revenge for you. I love the smell of schadenfreude in the morning. It smells like justice and just for a moment, just for that one, shining glittering moment as I make sure I’m not clicking “like” on that shitty photo they’re tagged in… I can believe that the world has balance and that sometimes the good guys really do win.

I think we all need that.

I’m sorry you’re dying but I really need to get to Sephora before they close

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Of all the tone-policing arguments that have come out of the dozen or so groups I’ve been shunted into since the election, the one that currently impresses me the least is “you won’t win anyone to your side by breaking windows and blocking streets.” There also seems to be some sort of delusion that movements must court and win the favor of moderate white liberals in order to prevail, and that anyone who refuses to use honeyed words and pleas is “hurting the movement.”

Look, if being polite to the oppressor made them see you as human, take your side, and award you rights, Gone with the Wind would have ended with Scarlett selling all those fancy dresses so that she could make sure to have the right mule-to-acreage ratio for Mammy and Pork and Prissy and Big Sam. Continue reading