Marriage Advice You Don’t Want, Part III

The Fightin' Roos are at it again!

Before I launch into the third rant in my ongoing series of foisting unwanted marriage advice upon my beloved readers, I want to tell you a little bit about myself.

From the first, I found dolls insulting. If you gave me a doll, I’d literally be insulted. Dolls were for girls, I’d think, blithely unaware of the implications of that thought. As a very young child, I liked to pretend I was a New York cabbie named Bill. I was obsessed with He-Man and Transformers. I dreamed of becoming a wide receiver in the NFL. In the 5th grade, I got to write my first “paper” on the subject of my choice, which meant I got to write about Muhammad Ali. I asked for, and received, a heavy bag and boxing gloves from Santa Claus. In high school, after one semester of weightlifting, I could curl 75 lbs. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that I carry more testosterone in my body than the average woman.

(Side note – God bless my parents, especially my mother, for letting me be me, without a second thought about it.)

Probably in part because of my aforementioned dude-like qualities, as well as a pretty strong will to power, I had bought in on the idea that men and women were, if not the same, than way more the same than previous generations had believed. Thanks to Marriage Destruction University I learned that men and women are different. I want to say this a few more times. Men and women are different. They are different. They are different. They are different. They are equally important, but they are not equal if by equal we mean “same.”

Head’s up about this post – this is going to be geared toward women. There’s not much in here for men, unless they want to eavesdrop. Which is fine. I’ve had a lot of comments on this series and only one of them has been from a dude. Might as well focus in on the target audience. By the way, ladies – all of the below presupposes the idea you’re married to a decent human being. If you’re not, well, that’s a whole other blog post.

A couple of stories.

After exiting Marriage Destruction University, I spent a lot of quality time with Father Pat, who is awesome. I want to share his observations on the issue. “Men are like dogs. Dogs have three modes, and you can judge which mode they’re in by their tail. They’re either wagging and happy, or they’re at rest, or their tails are tucked between their legs. So many wives think they can train their dogs by keeping their tail tucked between their legs, but it doesn’t train them. It just makes them withdraw. A woman’s job is make her husband’s tail wag, leave him alone when he’s at rest, and if something needs to be addressed, do it in a way that isn’t belittling.” He also made the comment that men compartmentalize. Everything is stored in separate boxes. Women, on the other hand, are like a clothesline. Everything is on the clothesline. When one too many things is placed on that clothesline, the whole thing sags to that lowest point. Everything goes down once the clothesline is overwhelmed. It’s the man’s job to come along and put some helium balloons along the length of the clothesline, to lift her up and keep her buoyant.

Second story.

I became obsessed with “Naked and Afraid,” a pretty rad show from The Discovery Channel. It featured professional survivalists, one man and one woman, dropped into a harsh environment to survive for 21 days. They would meet for the first time upon arrival. These people were tough. Super tough. Extremely knowledgeable, experienced survivalists. Here’s the thing – it invariably took about five minutes for their dynamic to revert to something very primal. I formed a bunch of opinions based on watching these couples interact, but here is the most important thing – one of the most crucial ingredients to success for these couples was how good the woman was at making the man’s tail wag. The women formed the emotional foundation of the enterprise and when they successfully empowered their partner, everything worked so much better. For whatever reason, ego works differently in men and women – and that’s okay. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but by and large I believe it to be true and I don’t think the answer is to try to force an artificial sameness. Basically, what I am trying to say here is – life is really hard. If your man kills a small snake for dinner, be like, “That’s the best snake ever.”

I used the snake reference because the roughest episode took place in Costa Rica. The guy killed a fer-de-lance with a stick. With a stick! Incredibly aggressive, deadly snake. Kills it with a stick. It was a big snake, too. He cuts off the head, skins it, brings it back and the woman immediately commented on how small it was. Their 21 days didn’t go very well.

All of the above resonated with me because I have been guilty of them at one time or another. In hindsight, it is easy to see how damaging it is to be oppressive instead of empowering. So, to recap. 1.) That tail tuck thing, you guys – it’s oppressive. You know what else is oppressive? 2.) Nagging. If a guy is resting, let him rest. 3.) It is good to empower a man to be just that – to be a strong, capable, confident man.

Switching gears.

We’re gonna get real here, kids. Much like Salt n Pepa in the 90’s, we’re going to talk about sex. I have a theory about the sex lives of over educated married people of a certain age. My theory is, thousands of years of oppression + feminism = the woman’s opinion on sex is sacrosanct. It isn’t, btw. Your body is sacrosanct. Your opinion on how your married sex life should go is decidedly not. That, my friends, should be a team decision. There is, no doubt, way too much sexual violence against women. But this isn’t what I am talking about. I am talking about a healthy married sex life. I think as a culture we’ve weirdly conflated the two, such that over educated married women of a certain age are overly empowered to call the shots on how their sex life goes – and if they don’t have a problem with only having sex however many times a month, then their spouse shouldn’t, either. And I get it – kids and work and life tires you out. But the truth is, where you put your energy is a choice. And the other truth is, your kids and work and life will be better, brighter, and more vibrant if you have a thriving marriage. The third truth is, your sex life is an important part of that thriving marriage.

I was struck by something watching a Dr. Brene Brown TED Talk. Dr. Brown studies vulnerability. While listing the things that make people feel the most vulnerable I was surprised to hear that chief among them was initiating sex with a spouse. After I thought about it for a minute, it made perfect sense to me. Keep that fact in mind. Initiating sex with their spouse brings many people to their most vulnerable place. This takes me back to Part I – Be Kind.

This has gotten crazy long. I’ll be back with the fourth and final bit of unwanted marriage advice later this week. Love you all.

Marriage Advice You Don’t Want, Part II

The Fightin' Roos of Marriage Destruction University!

Last time I posted to the Fanfreakingtastic blog, I talked about divorce, Marriage Destruction University (Home of the Fightin’ Roos!) and slicing meat. If you didn’t read it, please check the previous installation of Marriage Advice You Don’t Want, Part I before reading Part II.

If’n you don’t want to read a whole blog post, here’s a quick recap. If you’re right, than your spouse is wrong. Your spouse starts off Being Wrong about little things, but eventually, it turns into something else. Your spouse will internalize the message that He/She Is Wrong. This is bad news bears, you guys. You don’t want this. Seriously. You don’t want your spouse to feel that you think that He/She Is Wrong and certainly not because you’re super stoked about Being Right on a bunch of petty issues.

Also – if you feel like You Are Wrong, if you’ve internalized that message – watch out. Resentment is around the corner, if not already present. We know we are meant for better things than to be made to feel that we are wrong.

But here’s the deal.

Sometimes Things are Wrong.

When things are going in the wrong direction, there’s the temptation to “be kind” and not name the wrongness for what it is. I put “be kind” in quotes because it’s not kindness at all. Compassion may be a contributing motivator, but ultimately it’s fear that’s driving that bus.

Mike Birbiglia, a comic I’ve long admired, made a movie called Sleepwalk With Me. It’s well worth watching, especially if you’re a comedian. (Totally beside the point of this blog post – every time he speaks directly to camera it is a genius act of storytelling, moving the narrative forward and addressing a problematic protagonist. Super well done.) But I digress. Aside from being an inventive indie film about comedy, Sleepwalk With Me also beautifully captures the problem of “being kind” in lieu of being honest.

Another honest Mike I admire is Mike Tyson. After his recent press conference in which he confessed to falling off the wagon, Iron Mike sat down with Annoying Matt to address his sobriety and other issues. From the 2:50 to the 4:30 mark in this video Mike Tyson pretty well sums up everything I want to say in this blog post. I’ve long marveled at Mike Tyson’s amazing gift for honesty. It’s not an area I excel in, so I find it fascinating, as well as inspirational.

Anyway. Enough of honest celebrities and back to personal observation.

Here’s a thing, a general rule of thumb, if you will. The harder something is to say, the more it probably needs to be said.

Here’s another thing. You can’t reshuffle the deck until all the cards are out on the table. You can try and try and try and try to start over again, but if there are cards held back, you’re never going to play a fair game. It will be weighted to one side or the other – it will a rigged game. And that is an exhausting game to play. It’s exhausting for the person holding back the cards to keep the game straight and it’s exhausting for the person who doesn’t have all the cards and can’t figure out why the game isn’t working.

There are a lot of reasons to hold back cards. You might be afraid you’re going to hurt your spouse’s feelings. You might be afraid you’re going to make problems even worse. You might be afraid of your spouse’s anger. You might be afraid of your own anger. You might be afraid that talking about it will lead to exposure and then judgment from others. There are countless things to be afraid of – in yourself, in your spouse, in the possible future of your marriage, in how the outside world will view you.

Guess what, though? If you’re holding back cards, you’re already hurting your spouse’s feelings. You’re already making problems worse. You’re likely already being judged and you’re headed toward some pretty epic fights.

Which takes me back to my first point. Be kind. Not with quotes around it. Be kind for real. Part of being kind is being honest. Being vulnerable. Being like Mike Tyson. There is nothing that makes one more vulnerable than putting all your cards on the table. Because you’re holding them back to protect yourself, ultimately. You may think you’re protecting your spouse, or your marriage, but you’re not. You’re protecting you by trying to control the outcome.

Along with being right, I was a big believer in knowing the right way things should go. If they were going in the wrong direction, I was going to steer them straight. Even if it meant taking a ten pound wrench and forcing the stuck wheel in the direction I felt it should go.

Growing up, my mom used to say to me, “Let go and let God.”

Whenever she’d say that phrase, I’d feel myself exhale, letting some tension go along with it. There’s a lot of stress out there for people who are right and who are responsible for making sure things go in a righteous direction. I mean, that’s a big deal, you guys. But I did get the concept of letting go, at least on a smaller scale. It wasn’t until my third semester at Marriage Destruction U. that I got the idea that it applied to the big stuff, too. That it wasn’t my job to steer the whole wide world and everybody in it – just me. That my job was just to be kind and kindly honest. My job was to take all my cards and put them on the table, face up, knowing there would be ramifications for those face-up cards, but knowing that it was the right thing to do. Most importantly, it was my job to let go and let God and have faith in the outcome – even if it wasn’t the one I wanted.

(On another note, I confess to spending an inordinate amount of time looking at pictures of fighting kangaroos. Choosing just one to adorn this blog post was the hardest decision I made today.)

Marriage Advice You Don’t Want, Part 1

Marriage Destruction University's mascot, "The Fightin' Roo!"

Usually this blog is about song lyrics or wacky adventures or funny observations. Less often, it is about a dead cat or a dead dog or a dead horse. Today, we head off to uncharted waters to talk about a dead marriage. Sounds like fun, right? I know I’m excited about it. Chance of amazing? 100 percent.

For somebody who Facebooks the heck out of her life, sometimes Twitters and could be considered something of a social butterfly, I am a pretty private person. You can talk without saying anything, my friends. Don’t wanna brag, but I’m pretty good at it. An inconsequential chatter artiste of sorts. Anyway, point is, Evan and I aren’t together anymore. I know you’re like, “But, you’re together all the time on the Book Face…” And I’m all, “Yeah, we’re still friends. Yeah, a lot of people think it’s weird.” So anyway. There’s that.

So, you know how sometimes a kid goes off to college and they come back and they’ve obviously had a conversion experience because all this new information has been forcibly jammed into their brain and now they’re a zealot who won’t shut up about all they’ve learned?

I’m totally like that, you guys. I’ve just stayed quiet. Nobody likes zealots. Nobody likes advice. I don’t like advice. Moreover, advice doesn’t do anything. Nothing changes until it is ready to change. And maybe you don’t need to change. Maybe you’re golden. I don’t know. What I am trying to get at it is, this is about me. And catharsis. Catharsis I am foisting upon you because you’re my friend. If you’re really sweet, you can nod and smile and say, “That was really good advice. Thanks, man.”

Basically, I feel like I have four pieces of advice to give. Here is Marriage Advice You Don’t Want, Part 1.

So, during my first semester away at Marriage Destruction U. (Mascot: This Kangaroo) I learned the meaning of some advice that was given to me years prior. My Uncle Frank, who was a deacon in the Catholic Church, and a man who performed a lot of marriage ceremonies and counseled a lot of couples, sat me down after I got engaged. “Carrie,” he said, “I want to give you some advice. I want to tell you the most important piece of advice I give all the couples I counsel.”

“Okay,” I said, feeling like I really didn’t need any advice at all. (I was 26, you guys. I already knew everything. Duh.)

My Uncle Frank then said, “Be kind to one another.”

So help me God, what I thought but did not say was, “Yeah…but sometimes Evan’s wrong…” (I know, I know. Right now you’re thinking, “Hmmm…maybe this divorce isn’t as surprising as we first thought…”)

While I did not verbalize my first thought, I did offer a more diplomatic rebuttal to Uncle Frank’s advice. He, very kindly, I might add, insisted on his position, repeating, “Be kind. That’s the most important thing. Be kind.” The conversation lasted awhile and it made a big impression on me. The advice struck me as inherently radical as well as incorrect. It struck me as somehow dishonest and passive. Being brutally straightforward struck me as more important than being kind, as well as the importance of sticking to one’s guns when one is right. You can’t allow yourself to be railroaded, don’t you know. You have to be tough and strong and fight for what’s right. Also, I was right a lot. Like, all the time. It was one of my better qualities. I wanted to show it off a lot.

But there was also a deep unease within me. I had a lot of respect and love for my Uncle Frank, a man with a lot of hard won wisdom. On a certain level, almost conscious but not quite, I intuited that if Uncle Frank’s advice was right, then I was very wrong, indeed. Hence my need to vociferously defend my position and why that conversation stayed with me. It happened ten years ago, now. My Uncle Frank is no longer with us. But I remember where I sat, where he sat, what he wore, what time it was, and all that was said.

As the years unspooled, that conversation, seemingly an independent agent within my own mind, worked it’s way through my resistance. After about eight years, it emerged victorious over my previously held opinions. But by that point, an awful lot of damage had been done.

What I eventually realized is that being kind is a deeper form of being right. Make no mistake, there are things worth standing up for in your marriage. Absolutely. But not the petty crap. Here’s the other secret. It’s almost all petty crap. Over and over again, life presents two paths – you can be right, and tell your spouse that they sliced the meat incorrectly because they should go with or against the grain or at an angle or however it is you think it should be done, or you can be kind, and tell your spouse thank you for slicing the meat.

We are hardest on the ones we love the most. It’s human nature and that’s not going to change. The people closest to us are the ones who are going to take the shrapnel. That’s what they signed up for. It’s what you signed up for. You can’t eliminate it, but you can soften it, by creating the habit of being kind, instead of being right.

Mutwale and Jeff

Jeff in his natural habitat.

This is a blog post about my friend Jeffrey Paul Martell, aka Jeff, aka JMart. For the purposes of this post, we shall call him Jeff. There are some things you need to know about Jeff. For the purposes of this post, the most important thing you need to know is that he is an independent animator creating a short called Mutwale. Here’s why you should care about that:

Jeff is awesome. For example, Jeff was going to NYU Film when 9/11 went down. A bunch of pansies attending the Tisch School of the Arts bailed on New York, transferring to schools that had, like, clean air and stuff. In other words, THEY LET THE TERRORISTS WIN. You know who didn’t let the terrorists win? JEFFREY PAUL MARTELL. You know who is still on the WTC Health Registry? JEFFREY PAUL MARTELL. (Apparently, for the purposes of this post, I’ll be using his full name a lot. Something I should have anticipated, frankly.) The point is this – Jeff is not a pansy. Seriously, I know few people who are less of a pansy than Jeffrey Paul Martell. I don’t know how much you value the pansy vs. non-pansy quality of a human being, but for me it’s pretty high on the list. If you’re like me, then you’ll like Jeff.

You remember that moment in Braveheart when the dude with leprosy was all counseling Robert the Bruce, and Robert the Bruce was all fired up, and said something like, “He fights!” And the dude with leprosy said, “Uncompromising men are easy to admire.” (I think that’s how it went, anyway. I haven’t seen Braveheart since the mid-90’s.) Well, my friend Jeffrey Paul Martell is a lot like Mel Gibson. Minus the weird wig, anti-semitism, chauvinism, etc. The point is, he’s uncompromising. Who does 2D animation by hand anymore? Jeffrey Paul Martell does. Who gets arrested protesting Chik-fil-A? Jeffrey Paul Martell does. Who gets fired from terrible production companies located in the Deep South? Jeffrey Paul Martell does. Which is a good thing, because he’s the most productive once he’s been fired. Unemployment does give one plenty of time to pursue one’s 2D animated short.

You know how the point of art is to communicate ideas and stories that explain us to ourselves, open up the world, and explore what it is to be alive? And how sometimes you come across a piece of art or a story and it kind of destroys you but at the same time you’re really glad you got the chance to be destroyed by it? Because even though the story may contain darkness, it also shines a light on how beautiful life can be? Mutwale is that kind of story. Let me give you some backstory on it. Jeff’s sister lived in Rwanda for six months in 2005. When she came back, she brought with her stories, experiences, observations. One of those stories was the tale of an elephant displaced from his herd who bonded with a fisherman during the time of the Rwandan genocide. Here’s the thing – although the tale is now legendary, it is based on fact. Jeff’s sister was even able to find documents about Mutwale’s herd, his displacement, etc. Who doesn’t think that Mutwale’s story is a story that deserves to be told? Only Nazis. And actually, probably most Nazis would be like, “No, that really sounds like it’s a story that needs to be told. We might be Nazis, but who doesn’t love elephants?”

So, why is Jeff the guy to tell it? Well, for one thing, the story has been waiting patiently inside his head since 2005. When stories germinate for a long time, they tend to come out fully formed. That’s my personal opinion, of course. On a less ephemeral level, Jeff has been an artist for as long as he’s been alive. Up until his final year at NYU Film, he pursued painting and illustrating as well as filmmaking. Before his senior year, Jeff had a light bulb moment – if you combine his two passions, you get animation. He spent his last year taking every applicable course he could before spending four years working in the real world. Then 2008 happened. Jobs dried up, Jeff left NYC for his hometown of Greenville, SC and began work on Mutwale.

As Jeff labored during the day, working for terrible production companies, he calculated how long it would take him to create this short all by himself, working nights and weekends. The answer? 40 years. But by this point the story had taken hold. Instead of giving up on the project, Jeff took on the elephant spirit and pushed forward into brush. He spent five weeks creating a kickstarter and spent another hour after it was all finished and ready to go, staring at the submit button. He has since pushed the submit button and the results are here.

Here’s what I need you to do. I need you to click on that link – here it is again in a super long sentence that is super easy to find – watch Jeff’s kickstarter and then I need you to give him money. To recap, Jeff is not a pansy, he is uncompromising, super talented, well trained and telling a story that needs to be told. I’m giving him money. Not because he’s my friend, but because I believe in the project, and you should, too. Plus, who doesn’t want a Mutwale plush? Everybody wants a Mutwale plush and you totally get one once you donate some dolla dolla bills.

Things I’ve Done for Money

I consider myself lucky, tremendously lucky, to have lived all the different lives I’d lived. So much so I had second thoughts about this blog post. Would it seem like bragging? But then I realized most people aren’t jealous of minimum wage – or less – jobs. But for the record, I am kind of bragging.

As a teenager, I got a couple of your typical teenager jobs. One at a movie theater, one as a barista. I was fired from both. I made an honest effort. And failed. I was a square peg in a round hole. My first good job was at the racetrack. The shedrows, to this day, are my high holy of holies. The 3:30am alarm, the sacred quiet of the place, at first no sounds but the movement of the horses in their stalls. I still remember their names, their faces. Chicken, Cops, Tatiana Taj, Rattlesnake Dancer… Then the sunlight would come, making the morning mist glow, a solid haze of light except for the silhouettes of racehorses galloping down the track, Mt. Rainier standing tall behind them. To this day I count those mornings as the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

I spent my college summers working swing shifts in a Southern textile mill. Until you’ve worked twelve hour days, and the next week twelve hour nights, and the next week twelve hour days, and the next week twelve hour nights, you don’t know how destructive a schedule can be on your body. On the plus side, the culture of the plant rivalled anything on a soap opera, so at least there was the nepotism run amuck to keep me entertained. I also got to work with a lot memorable people. Sweet, sweet Opal, who collected mugs, loved Elvis, and asked me in horror if I worshipped statues when she found out I was Catholic. Mustachioed Avanelle, who literally ran out of the room when she found out my boyfriend was an athiest. Curmudgeonly old Martin Byrd,who presented me with a picture he had drawn on my last day of work. I still have that drawing.

Once you graduate from USC Film School it only makes sense that you’d take a job with horses, right? Back to the sacred quiet of the pre-dawn hours, watching Griffith Park change colors with the sunrise. The hard and filthy, honest and clean work. The big difference was that I was a part of a large workforce that was entirely Hispanic and entirely male. They made me feel like family, treated me with gracious respect. We set up a bartering system. I brought them Coca-Cola in exchange for carnitas cooked in an unused horse stall on a mini-sized grill. These were the best meals of my life. Tired, hot, sweaty, starving – huddled around the grill with my compatriots, drinking the ice cold pop, eating the perfectly seasoned pork and peppers wrapped in a tortilla. Thanking RenĂ©, my favorite co-worker and impromptu chef, after it was over. Years later, my church sent me to a conference in Charlotte. At a round table discussion about the “challenge” of the Hispanic population, I listened to a bunch of rich white people spew some of the worst racism I’ve ever heard in my life. Once they’d all shared, I had my say. I felt a lot like Steve Martin at the beginning of The Jerk. “I was born a poor black child…” Except I used the word Hispanic instead of black and I was crying.

I have also been a professional party favor. My party trick? Reading tarot cards. But being a gypsy woman has its perils. And I’m not talking about the time I wound up in a black Cher wig while wearing a coin belt (and all the other accoutrement). I’m talking about the counseling services you find yourself providing when the person across the table from you bursts into tears. It happens all. the. time. I tell the people that it’s nothing but a parlor game, a useful meditative tool to get them to think about an old problem in a new way. In truth, I’m not at all sure what I believe about the tarot, or even what I believe to be true about me as a tarot card reader. I honestly don’t know if I’m picking up on body language and clues in their speech, or how it is that I know what I know. What I do know is that a lot of people are deeply impacted by their readings, so, despite my spiel about parlor games, I treat the process with respect. (As you can tell by my use of the present tense, I still do this. I just don’t get money for it anymore.)

For awhile I worked retail in Beverly Hills. That job was the best. I had fabulous coworkers and some genuinely wonderful moments with actors like Kenneth Mars, who I worshipped and adored long before I discovered what an awesomely fun human being he was. Ellen and Jane Lynch were both incredibly generous comedians, more than happy to let me play along with them. And Aaron Eckhart is a really nice guy. Perhaps most deeply burned into my memory, however, was Priscilla Presley’s scary, scary, scary face, her eyes angrily staring into mine, while she was asking me questions I didn’t know the answer to, and half my brain just kept screaming THERE’S NO DEFINITION TO HER LIPS! THERE’S NO DEFINITION TO HER LIPS! DEAR LORD, WHAT’S WRONG WITH HER MOUTH? And the other half of my brain screamed, DON’T SAY THOSE THOUGHTS OUT LOUD, WHATEVER YOU DO! So that accounted for 100% of my brain, leaving 0% to deal with the issue of Priscilla Presley’s mountain cabin decor.

There were other jobs in LA, too. Almost all of them procured for me by Peter X____. (Thank you, Peter.) Of those, the most fun was the film camp at Pepperdine. It was Peter’s camp, I just was there to do things like a.) forget a camper at LAX (hahahahaha….whoops) and b.) miscount the cameras so I could then tell Peter that several hundred dollars worth of equipment was missing when it wasn’t (hahahahaha….whoops). When I wasn’t screwing up, I was helping kids shape the stories they wanted to tell and watching those stories come to life on the big screen. It is amazing what they can make in a week’s time, starting from absolutely nothing. It is even more amazing to see the sense of empowerment they leave with, having successfully told their story.

In South Carolina, I got a job that gave me a wide range of tasks, the most satisfying of which was exploring a fairly vast tract of Blue Ridge wilderness, plotting new trails, cutting those trails, and then acting as a trail guide. I got to know those woods like the back of my hand. There was one section of forest frequented by a very large black bear. I never saw him, but came to understand his routine so well I felt like I knew him. One day, during a ride, I smelled something dead. Somehow, I knew it was him and searched the forest until I found his body. He’d been shot, his paws taken. It wasn’t even bear hunting season. It felt like I’d lost a friend. There was also a tiny sow bear who had triplets every year. I never saw her, either, but I’d see her little tracks, and the multitude of cub prints following her along. While I was there I made deep and lasting friendships. There was a lot of evil at that job, too much to get into here, and it made it us all into blood brothers. Like ‘Nam. Except not as bad. But close. Real, real close.

At the same job, rather bizarrely, I sometimes put on high end events with my blood brothers. We had a lot of latitude and huge imaginations. For one Halloween party, we literally brought a forest inside. There is something deliriously fun about cleaning up in the middle of the night after a sixteen hour workday. One time we loaded up an ice sculpture onto a rolling cart and went racing down the dock. Cart hit the rail and the ice sculpture went sailing gloriously into space, almost made it to the lake, but instead smashed spectacularly on the rocks below. After that we had a tumbling competition, still drunk on fatigue.

For three and a half years, I took care of Ursula. I didn’t do that for money, but it was like a job in a lot of ways. Especially in the number-of-hours-per-week department and sometimes she’d foist money on me, far more entertainingly she’d sometimes buy me “a liquor.” I learned a lot. Not just about the absolute cluster that is American medicine or the various ailments she suffered from (although I did learn a lot about what can go wrong with a 90 year old), but far more importantly I learned patience. I learned how to make a six hour wait-fest at a doctor’s office into a party. I learned how to act as an advocate for someone else. I learned a lot about love, both how to give and how to receive. She became my very own old lady and I became her granddaughter, even if I didn’t carry her genes.

There have been other things, too. Lots and lots of other things. Even stuff that might actually go on a resume. But the things above remain the most alive.