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Just a simple threadbare gypsy soul, wandering from blessing to blessing on this earth.

August 17, 2012

Healing Water

All the world’s problems would be solved immediately if we just immersed everyone’s feet in water -- I am convinced.

Sure, this catalyst for betterment comes with a few serious ecological consequences, such as, where do we get enough plastic or pottery or glass for the requisite pedi-pots, and what to do with them when the foot soak is through? Can they be safely recycled? Where will the water come from? Does it have to be clean water?

Probably it ought, for what happens if Leader From Country A has sparkling clean purified water for her footies, whilst Leader From Country P has nasty-rotting-camel-carcass water? Methinks that Leader From Country P would instantly, upon removing and drying his feet, regret having signed all those peace treaties when luxuriating in the soothing sensations of foot bathing.

 Regardless, those peace treaties will have been signed, and I pragmatically suppose that is the desired end: sans war. Or at least, ending war.

Don’t feel too bad for Leader P, though. Remember that others, such as Leader C, probably made some decisions he wouldn’t have ordinarily made, either, like cancelling the trillions of dollars worth of Country A’s debt or recognizing Country N as a sovereign entity. (All right, I’m beginning to wax political in barely-veiled initials, now. Moving on.)

The point is, while I don’t by any means suggest compromising your beliefs, I do recommend making compromises in your actions. Even when it’s difficult.

Scratch that. Especially when it’s difficult.

An acquaintance of mine teaches her breathtakingly beautiful children: “When you’re not being kind, then you’re being selfish.” I don’t think anything has ever made me feel more selfish than the first time I heard this.

When Spouse and I fight, it is almost always because I am being selfish. Not selfish in the “buy me more stuff” sense, for most material possessions don’t matter much to me. I’m selfish in the “what I’m going through is more important than what you’re going through” kind of way. Which is certainly unkind. Also, it’s infinitely worse than wanting more stuff.

However, even my destructive life is testimony to the healing power of water. When I’m overly warm and beginning to grouchify, washing my hands with cool water usually sets me to rights.  When I start to feel self-hatred over my failures or shortcomings, and most commonly of late, the slip and slide of my visage into folds and pouches, a shower revives me.  And, when my husband brings a bowl and a towel and washes my feet to show his love and devotion for me, all my stubbornness drains away.

Just yesterday in fact, after an extremely serious argument with my spouse, I asked him to please stay with his friend for a few days so that we could decide, in one another’s absence, what best way to proceed.  I have no idea what this meant, for I can’t imagine continuing life him-free, but I was upset and unquestionably not the master of my anger. And I said this terrible thing, and it shook him to the core.

My mother, upon hearing of this independently from each of us, advised us both to practice walking in forgiveness, regardless of what had been done.   

Furious at this perceived lack of support (what did I think she’d say, ‘Good riddance’? The man in question is my soul mate for crying out loud!) I proceeded to completely ignore what she’d, said and began to run over the list of wrongs. This list acted like a speculum cranking open the hole in my heart, letting ever more garbage settle darkly inside of me, increasing my rage. I even, like a crazy person, replayed my side of the cold conversation (for which I take full responsibility) out loud, answering with snappier, more intelligent, more hurtful words.

Boy am I glad none of that trash rolled off my tongue during the real chat.

A storm picked up, the Saint Louis Special variety with sudden torrential rain and thunder so loud it rattled the windows. As I watched the fat drops splattering heavily against my kitchen window, the wound inside me just sort of closed up.  Maybe it was that old cliché that you see your emotions in the weather. Maybe I’m the one who made it rain. Or maybe God was just saying to me, “Stop being an idiot and come drink of me so you can wash your sin away.”

I spent most of the afternoon standing right there, obese, hot tears running down my swollen maggot face, slowly melting the ice cube encasing my rotten, stenchy heart.

I began to regret what I’d asked, because the knowledge of this dark chasm of complete separation between us made me feel lonelier than ever before, like half a person, like Dennis Quaid trapped inside Martin Short in Innerspace -- a very tiny, loving, and good person trapped inside a frigid beast who refused to listen to my logic.  

But what now? The damage was already done!  My outlook bleak, I started to think about how I hadn’t been kind because I had been selfish. I had been so selfish that I snatched up my husband’s security and faith in me and shattered it into a thousand pieces, then urinated all over it with my despicability.

My phone sounded the Foxhunt tone, interrupting my self-loathing and signaling a message from my husband.

“Knock knock,” it said.

I paused, unsure if I should respond, struggling against that last little clinging bit of stubbornness. “Who’s there?” I wrote.

“Someone who loves you,” came the instant reply.

Someone who loves me? Someone who loves me? Who could love me? After all I’d done and said I deserved to be abandoned for the pursuit of better things.

Someone who loves you. I read it again, and then again. Like the Grinch, my heart expanded to three times its original size, and then,

Knock knock.

This one was real, on my own front door, so soft and tenuous I wasn’t quite sure I had heard it. I pressed my eye to the peephole, squinting through the rain-blurred fishbowl lens, and saw my husband standing outside, shoulders drooping, staring down at his loafers. He had walked all the way home in the pouring rain, his anger and hurt washing away, walking in forgiveness, to ask me if he could please come in.

I opened the door wide and he stepped inside.

The author would like to hear about your encounters with healing and forgiveness, whether it was a struggle or fairly simple. Please tell your story below!

August 9, 2012

Things I Learned in Greece

1.     Everyone speaks English.
Coming to Greece gave entirely new meaning to that old phrase, “It’s Greek to me.” When you pick up a bottle that says “νερό” on the label, you get a little confused. Some of the letters look like they belong in your native alphabet, but those accents look French. Wait a minute... is that Korean? Hang on... how do I actually pronounce this? Is this really water? By all means, try to learn a few words in Greek. It’s polite, after all. But when in doubt, you can just ask, and that’s nice to know.

2.     The entire Greek sewer system cannot handle anything but bodily waste.
As it was explained to me, the system is archaic. It needs to be replaced, but repeated attempts have proved fruitless. Every time you dig in Greece, you unearth an ancient ruin that has to be reported to the government, turned into an archaeological site, and protected by wooden structures with sheet metal nailed over the top for a roof, but nobody will study it for months.  You can’t touch it. After all, it could be evidence proving the existence of Odysseus.

3.     Tourist maps are not to scale.
Following the map to Corycian Cave, shown in the hills a mere three inches above Delphi (a 4-inch town), took me six miles up through private farmland where the path disappeared, though a faded sign pointed up the next mountain and into the woods. I started to panic. Nobody would hear me scream (save the goats), or be able to find my discarded body. Immediately, I headed back down. Four hours of walking in the searing heat and nothing to show for it save my feet swollen like satiated leeches.

4.     Don’t expect to drive faster than 30 mph.
If you’re in the city, you’ll be stopping for lights, pedestrians, and a million stray animals. On the main roads, you’ll be stopping for buses, herds of goats, and a million stray animals. On the islands, you’ll either be crawling around other vehicles on cliff side single carriageways, making 175-degree switchbacks up and down the mountains, or trying not to hit the stray animals. If you suffer at all from motion sickness, bring your pressure point bands and medicinal capsules!

5.   Ruins are everywhere.
Literally. When you grow up hearing stories about ancient Athens and Sparta, Helen of Troy, and Odysseus, everything seems so removed from current life. When you're in Greece, however, you can't spit without hitting either an archaeological site or some uncovered ruins. In fact, about twelve of them are within a 20 minute walk from central Athens! Just remember to take your walking shoes, because as much as I love them, Crocs and Converse do NOT cut it. Yowch.

6.   Don’t drink the water on the islands.
Don’t run your toothbrush under a tap, order drinks with ice, or open your mouth in the shower. In my group of eleven people, seven of them are mass ingesting electrolyte replenishment tablets (some after bouts of liquid anal explosions). I am tender-tummied enough to have brought a 10-liter “amoeba bag” with chlorine tablets to kill the belly bugs. Not only is my bum squirt free, I have a ready supply of cold water sitting in my mini fridge. Nice.

7.     The food is cheap and sinfully delicious, so eat out!
Don’t waste your shekels on €3 “ham” sandwiches. They’re not what you’ve grown to expect in a sandwich, and besides, I have yet to see a pig in Greece. Go for the real Greek food: gyros, spanakopita, souvlaki, stuffed vine leaves, and seafood. It’s an island nation after all! What’s that, you say? Vegetarian? Then Greek salad is for you. Can’t stand seafood? Then order some battered zucchini chips and spaghetti. Italy is quite close and her influence is strong. Why don't I have a photo? I spent all my time eating!

8.     There are almost no dress codes or behavior rules.
If you want to walk to the beach in your bikini, go ahead. If you can hobble along the rocky coast in your platform heels, do it. Want to show up to a restaurant in your speedo? So be it. Just last night I saw a dozen people in cycling shorts and miner’s headlamps washing their picnic dishes in the sea and singing Lady Gaga songs to a guitar whilst passing bottles of Bacardi and Coca Cola Light.  Okay… that last part was us. Just don’t swim in swimming pools after sundown – there’s a national law against that. 

9.     Island time is not scheduled time, on time, or any other kind of time.
What is on your posted itinerary may or may not be the time at which people arrive for meetings, ferries dock at their final destinations, or breakfast is served. These are just guidelines for planning your day, and scheduled events will probably change times without much notice. Further, nothing will get done in the afternoon. It’s hot, and really dusty, and you just had a huge delicious meal, anyway. That’s when you get to siesta, wash the dust off your feet, go for a swim, and relax! Ahh, vacation…

10.   Get up early.
It's cool (relative to the usual daytime hours), there is generally a breeze off the ocean, the sunrises are gorgeous, and you feel like you have the entire world to yourself. Never in my life have I seen such a beautiful sun, haloed in a clearly outlined golden ring and reflecting eternally off the water. Yes, I had to get up before the cocks began to crow, and yes, I stepped into some unseen goat feces in the dark, but my solitary morning jogs were made absolutely worth it with a final stretch like this.

Thank you, new friends & fellow journeyers to into the unknown, for the wonderful time!

July 24, 2012

Marriage Atrophies

Before I get into this, let me just say that I adore my spouse. He has fabulous hair, an adorable bottom, and about seventeen bajillion wonderful qualities that make him the perfect match for me. And yes, I am including the qualities that challenge and grate me, too (as iron sharpens iron).  But let’s be honest. Marriage atrophies about 50% of one’s skill set.

When excited persons prepare to engage in their nuptials, they often think in such saccharine clichés as:

·      “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with this amazing person!”
·      “I am so excited to share my space, time, and experience with my best friend!” and,
·      “I swear, by the moon and the stars in the sky, I’ll love you with every beat of my heart.” 

However, the underlying secret, unconscious thinking is more along these lines:

·      “Yes! I will never have to do laundry again!”
·      “Now I can do whatever I want sexually without social stigmatism!”
·      “Thank God I can start eating normally again!” and, for those who previously spent evenings staring into one another’s eyes and arguing over who will hang up the phone first,
·      “Finally, nights will be spent actually sleeping!”

Eventually, even these thoughts morph over time, as slowly as a frog boiling to death in a gradually heating pot, into unmentionable atrocities that you somehow manage to mention all the time.

Once those vows and rings and kisses have been publicly exchanged, the “muscles” you once used to lure and hook your mate seem extraneous. They get filed away into unexercised corners of your being along with Grade 7 insect collections and that time you used the school dictionary to look up the definition of smegma in French.  Somehow, everything you’ve learned and practiced about being a decent individual has shriveled into a useless mass like a chewed up piece of gum with hair stuck in it. The worst part is that you don’t even know this has happened, until you make a snide remark comparing your spouse’s helpfulness for others with brown-nosing. Or when you engage in a sloshy booze fest, sans spouse, at the bumping club for which you were a decade too old, without calling to tell your partner what you’re doing, leaving fear of The Worst in the wake of your inconsiderateness.

Communication skills you rocked in your literary, analytical, and persuasion papers get chucked out the window; the type of gentle discussion and compromise you practice regularly on your co-workers has fled the scene like a meth cooker during a DEA raid, making simple and ridiculous things, like how your spouse turns every article of clothing inside-out upon removal, into the stuff over which you behave about as well as a Reality TV personality. 

The atrophy of skills by marriage doesn’t just negatively affect appropriate styles of communication or the ability to impress your partner by being neat, tidy, responsible and sophisticated at every meeting. Parts of your brain go, too. For instance: the part that remembers how to find things in cupboards and closets; the part that closes the door when coffee and gravity do their work; and yes, even the part that remembers one should urinate in the commode, not in any other plumbing fixtures.

For example, this mini-dialogue has actually happened in my home:

“I just pooted a little bit,” I announced, almost proudly.

“Good push honey,” my husband replied.

Things one must keep on top of, like maintaining an appropriate stock of toilet tissue and eating the chicken before it grays, are not a problem. It’s the exercise in things that a spouse does for his mate that get weaker over time. I, once fiercely independent, have not simply forgotten how to wash, wax, and vacuum the vehicle (an act which I completed almost weekly during my first six years of ownership of Dante, my trusty blue Saturn). The very fact that I haven’t had to do this during the past six years has completely erased the process from my ongoing Take Care of It checklist. 

“We need to wash the car,” my husband might say, eyeballing with grievous displeasure the many coils and splashes of bird excrement that have costumed Dante as the 102nd Dalmation.

“Do what now?” I inquire, not having understood a single word of my native language.

Now, I am faced with going overseas without my spouse for the first time in a very long time. An irrational fear of The Unknown has welled up within me, because my husband, out of love for me, always takes the reins and leaves me to enjoy everything without stress. Once a fearless world traveler, conquering such places as Hanoi, Jakarta, Manila, and Phnom Penh on my own, I am now reduced to a quivering heap of uncertainty as I prepare to tackle Athens alone. Things that never bothered me before (being a white American female traveling alone, not being able to read the script or speak the language, having almost no knowledge of the cultural climate) are looming over me, making mince meat of my perceived independence.

The protection of marriage against unwanted male attention or rip-offs due to assumptions about my gender, or even of having to think about who will accompany me to the next X-Men film, have atrophied my muscles of independence, for sure. But isn’t that part of the beauty of marriage and partnership? That someone cares about you enough to take care of something for you, just to make your life a little bit easier? That you get to bond so closely with one person that you never have to be ashamed of your imperfections and failings, and no longer have to keep up certain appearances? That you always have someone to talk to and be supported by?  Even better, marriage helps you develop new muscles, which being alone often does not: serving others, even when it’s hard. Loving through the difficult times. Selflessness.  Sharing of burdens. These are pretty great muscles too, and they’re infinitely likeable.  But even without them, if marriage comes with my husband, a caliber of man rarely found in this world, I’ll take it. No matter if parts I once used to define “Me Solo” start to wither away.  The real truth of the matter is that those things have to disappear, because I am not “Me Solo” anymore.  I get to be part of the only equation I regularly use in real life: “Me + Him = Us.”

Howell Island Conservation Area
(c) 2012 by Heidi Tauschek

April 2, 2012

A Fine Collop Reduction

During my most awkward period of budding, I was the female version of a 97-pound-weakling. I had sprouted rather earlier than my male counterparts and, measuring in then at the same height as I am currently (some twenty years later), was something of a sixth-grade Amazon sans any discernable fibers of muscle tissue. I managed regardless to convince everyone that I was hard-core by launching creative scenarios in which the illusion of my strength was preserved without actually doing anything. It was easily believable, what with my unfathomable height and all. Until the President’s Challenge.

Oh, the horrors of the President’s Challenge. In 1993, while then-new President Clinton was eating his Big Macs in his baggy gray sweats, I was being forced through the rigors of a prepubescent physical fitness challenge given by The Man himself.  Or, at least, through his Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. Or, at leaster, that’s what my Physical Education instructor said was happening to me.

During this challenge I was humiliated in front of my whole class by my radical lack of any strength whatsoever coupled with the shivering vibrations of my scrawny forearms as they tried, without success, to haul my stringy form up to the level of a chin-up bar . . . even though my instructor was holding up my legs.

But those were the days of flexible adolescence, when bending myself into a circle in any direction was no great achievement. When I wake up in the current era, it takes me a good hour to limber up. Everything snaps and crunches, and bending at a degree tighter than 90 causes me to lose my breath and go crimson. My collops rise out of my waistband like the lid of a flesh colored mushroom, and my buttocks, once so rounded and pert, press together like oversized cookies too close on the baking sheet. Revulsion.

In order to combat the slow demise of my aging body, I decided to self-flagellate myself back to a youthful pinnacle of fitness via P90X and the rigors of Tony Horton.  “C’mon boys and girls,” he calls to me from my Panasonic.  “Make the last three reps hurt!” And I try, joints squeaking and grinding, a Tin Man calling for oil. Alas, instead of death by mortification, I now have a direct view of the stippling of my thighs while downward dogging. Inverted thus, I nearly asphyxiate under the unfortunate gravitational pull dragging my flubber gut into my esophagus. My “soft landings” from plyometric leaps are thunderous, elephantine clishmaclaverings that rattle the light fixtures and cause God-only-knows what complaints from the gentleman residing beneath.

Nevertheless, I persist. I can now wrap my fingers around the bottoms of my feet in a straight leg stretch, and can, with the aid of a chair, do pseudo pull-ups that would make my 6th grade companions less likely to verbally skewer me for my pathetic weakness. Thus far, the regimen has been recipe for a fine collop reduction, though I shan’t yet chance the Princess Leia metal bikini. Till then, I shall do as Tony Horton says, and “Bring It.”
The Collop In Question

March 22, 2012

Battling the Bees

It’s Bee Season again. I am not talking about the sweet-looking, fuzzy, bumble variety drunkenly careening across the sky with oversized bodies and tiny wings that look about as useless as T-rex forearms. I’m not talking about the useful kind that make delicious golden honey and pollinate my plants. What I’m talking about are despicable atrocities of un-bee-coming size: the Carpenter Bees. 

These shiny-bottomed nightmares are, for lack of a better word, freaky! Not only do they stare at me unrepentantly from their monstrous compound eyes… Not only do they hover in mid air about a foot from my face, rubbing their hairy front legs together like a criminal eyeing easy prey… Not only do they slam full speed into whatever of my body parts happens to get in their way hard enough to bruise, they are also easily the size of my thumb from the tip to the second knuckle! Despite the fact that more than one person has told me, independently of others, that I have “carnie man hands,” this is one huge bee-yotch.

Apparently, the ones that swarm around my balcony searching for appropriate locations at which to bore new tunnels with their hideous chomp-chomp-chomping are, in fact, beeyotches, since male bees, like many male humans, just hang out at home and impregnate people. Typically I am pro-female and rail against every variety of attack on women. Not so during Bee Season.

The mysterious disappearance of the American bee notwithstanding, I find it very difficult not to wish the curse of colony collapse disorder upon these backward beasts who wear their skeletons on the outside.  I have spent many an afternoon earning tennis elbow by swatting away these colossal and colossally unnerving fiends with my tennis racket. They make a fantastic thwacking sound and fly in long, graceful arcs that would make an ancient architect scurry for his drawing pad. The connection of racket to bee is quite satisfying. It’s also quite useless, as these insects are extremely resilient and hardly ever even get wounded by my ferocious beatings!  In fact, most of the time they just sort of stall in mid air and turn right around as if nothing has happened, and come back to hover too close and stare at me, rubbing, always rubbing those forelegs, grooming before the feast I am afraid will be made of my face.

It occurs to me that these bees are a metaphor for my addictions, my personal struggles. It seems useless to bat them away, because they always come back, stare me down, and search for tender places to gnaw into, leaving deep, branching, scarring tunnels that could, if left unchecked, cause structural damage and collapse. So I’ve got to. I’ve got to get out that tennis racket, and beat those addictions over their heads, and knock them and knock them away, because if I don’t they’ll take over and breed.  And if I just keep standing out there with that racket, if I just keep taking the swings, every once in a while I’ll hit one with such power that it gets cut right in half over the strings and will fall, lifeless Goliaths, at my feet. And then, I will be free.

Oh, it’s Bee Season all right. But I’m armed and ready.

Photo by Paul Choate, found here.

March 9, 2012


It’s true. I do. I really, really love tofu.  But I won’t be able to put it on my license plates!  At least, not in Colorado, according to Odd News for today.  And that’s really too bad, because I bet that would make even the grimmest prisoner-for-life smile a little  as he stamped out the letters on that license plate. “Heh heh,” he’d growl to himself, “This person loves to expletive me!” And then, after pondering which of his perky, junkie ex-girlfriends it could be (discounting, of course, the one for which he was serving time after doing in), he’d probably tell his fellow inmates all about it, unless he was trying to shank them.  I’m not even going to worry about the high volume of stereotypes worked into that paragraph. I’m just going to wail a bit.

First of all, has our society really become so perverted that the first thing popping to mind when we see a plate reading “ILVTOFU” is a sexual pronouncement? When I first read the headline, “Colo. Rejects ‘ILVTOFU’ license plate,” I didn’t get it. What was the big deal? Some Birkenstock-wearing granola out there loves her some tofu! And then I read the article.

Here’s what I think happened. This nice woman, who probably belongs to PETA and voted against the right to bear arms, filled out her application for vanity plates like a good, law-abiding citizen. Joe Blow at the DMV received this application. He summarily glanced at it to ensure its completeness, and then, just as his slender fingers were poised to drop it atop his towering stack of paper, he caught sight of the vanity proposal.

“Holy expletive!” he probably shouted, drawing the attention of his fellow cubicle dwellers, most of who’d been distracted from their fiercely competitive Bejeweled sessions by his outburst. “You won’t believe this expletive!”  He then most likely folded the application into a tidy paper airplane – not the lame kind that you or I make, with narrow nub wings and overlong bodies that almost immediately go into tailspin, but the kind that government lifers know how to make, the kind with upturned wingtips and complicated noses and that sail for office miles and never get caught in anyone’s hair or take out eyes – which he sailed across the room for all the payroll on perpetual coffee break to check out. They, in turn, probably texted their significant others and tweeted their hilarity and status updated with mobile uploaded images immediately.

Technological Ebola --> One disappointed vegan.

Sadly, most people are idiots, and no humor is so easily found as the no-no kind. But this is not the first time an organization has had to hedge its bets. This type of response is the reason why there are warning labels on baby strollers that say “Remove infant before folding,” and “This product does not enable you to fly” on Superman costumes. To be fair, I needed that last warning on my enormous umbrella after watching Mary Poppins for the umpteenth time.

The brainwashing power of Disney aside, could we just clean up our acts already? Stop with the child prostitution rings and the drug running and the theft of stuff you wish you had (like my bicycles in ’94 and ’98) and the putting of plastic bags over babies’ heads and the swallowing of iPod Shuffles! If we could just get past our incredible inanity, perhaps we could all sit back and enjoy a bit of mirth at the prominent love one has for one’s tofu.

Cited article:

Colo. rejects 'ILVTOFU' license plate” Odd News. Upi.com, 08 Mar. 2012. Web. 08 Mar. 2012. <http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2009/04/08/Colo-rejects-ILVTOFU-license-plate/UPI-46031239221493/>.

March 5, 2012

The Personal Space Infringement of Restaurant Ferns

Some days are Diner Days. Usually, Diner Days are the ones when you sleep in a little bit late, get moving a little too slowly, and make pathetically feeble efforts at doing something productive or workout-related before giving up. The purpose of a Diner Day is to reinforce the laziness with which you began it, so that for the remainder you can feel comfortably vindicated about doing not much, even if that means you sit on the couch for several hours watching movie trailers over your husband’s shoulder.

Possibly the most intriguing benefit of Diner Days is the freedom to be a completely vile and judgmental human being without observation, a freedom afforded to sneaky listeners like myself by the glorious invention of plastic, fern-like restaurant foliage. These beauties line the booths and the open windowsills between “smoking” and “nonsmoking” sections, and while they offer absolutely no protection from secondhand smoke or of sound insulation, they deliver something even more magical: the illusion of privacy.

Restaurant ferns impart upon Diner Day-ers all the forbidden appeal of skulking about behind corners and listening with an ear pressed against a glass at walls without having to leave the comfort of your own sticky, pleather booth! Also, it’s impossible for someone to accuse you of eavesdropping (or fern-dropping, for that matter) in a diner, as long as you don’t stare and are wise about your uncontrollable guffawing at the speaker’s expense.

Alas, restaurant ferns bring with them a cost. Never dusted, they drop particles made of other people’s skin and ash into your food, unbeknownst to you. They allow crawly things, with too many legs for comfort, to scurry in and out carrying bits of your horridly delicious meal. Worst of all, restaurant ferns have absolutely no sense of personal space!

I was taught, by an obsessive-compulsive germaphobe at 6th grade summer camp, that one’s full wingspan in diameter around one’s entire body is one’s Psychological Circle and that no one must ever infringe upon this space without invitation.  Having slept on the bunk above this girl, and having had to climb the access ladder next to her face, I was constantly wreaking her wrath in compulsive multiples of three.

Therefore, I learned at an early age to be conscientious of people’s space.  So when a grimy, spider filled restaurant fern pokes me in the cheek with its plastic-sheathed wire skeleton, I am unhappy. I get a little uncomfortable when I witness vapors of leftover Marlboro breath floating Burton-like from between the false-spore-dotted fronds, too close to my clothing. I dislike their oily sheen and faintly eye-stinging aroma left over from too many Tabasco splashes and greasy, prodding fingers. Restaurant ferns are jostled by passers-by and shift to teetering precariousness, threatening at any moment to drop full into my omelet.

Thus, the joy of exploding into wheezing shush-laughter at a neighboring diner is cut off savagely by the hacking coughs wrought from too quickly inhaling puffs of unknown entities loosed from the pot by your last attempt to surreptitiously move the fern just half an inch that way.  (These coughs, however, can typically be quelled by great gulps of back-burner coffee, against which nothing stands a chance.)

All in all, Diner Days must be revered as the luxury of childless couples, since people blessed with children are regularly awakened by them at ungodly hours because of loud suspicious noises, long suspicious silences, or hair raising perceptions of being watched, the latter of which are generally met with the heart-stopping shock of opening eyes to a child no more than two inches away, who is grinning suspiciously. Furthermore, couples with children have to think about things like health, growing bodies, and feeding young bellies before crankiness sets in.  (Sometimes wives have to think about that last one, too.) So don’t chastise yourself the next time you struggle out of bed, creaking and groaning like an oak in high wind. Treat yourself to a Diner Day and be prepared to feel a whole lot better about yourself.

February 18, 2012

Morphology of the Jigsaw Life

Thursday is my birthday. On that day, I will be firmly embedded within my fourth decade, a thought that causes me to age with every firing synapse: old, old, old.  As I approach this birthday, I have begun to reflect upon the different periods of my history, and how they have locked together in the untidy muddle of Me that I have created.  My Etch-A-Sketch lines are messy and indistinct, and as I cogitate on the years I see just how frequently I’ve been turned over, shaken, and wiped mostly clean, the ghost of previous lines remaining, hairline fractures of the fragile eggshell in which I live: a map of the jigsaw lines of my life. 

As little as five years ago, I had different values and goals – some of which I’ve met, and some I haven’t. I had different friends. I lived in a different place, with different expectations, and struggled with different weaknesses. Few of the things I valued then do I still value now. I can’t even remember why they were important to me then, and I care little to think too hard on them, but they cling to me still, vestiges of a past almost forgotten. They are a collection of vague and colorless memories that float around like specks of dust in a ray of sunlight.

I am veiled by these scraps of my past. I am too close to them to see clearly how they’ve affected me, but I know I’ve changed by my measurement of the changes in others. It’s extraordinary to observe people I knew as teenage potheads transform into lawyers and mothers and NGO volunteers. It’s almost incomprehensible to witness valedictorians and full-ride scholars dropping out of school and leaving jobs with drinking problems, drug addictions, and complete expiry of all motivation.  I rejoice with those who have made leaps and bounds into their better futures, shrug my shoulders when those people who have always been superstars accomplish yet another amazing feat, but I cannot wrap my mind around the people who have fallen so far. How can they have changed so much? Do they not feel the loss of their ideals and dreams? And then, I think back over the changes I’ve undergone, and I wonder:  am I the kind of person at whom you shrug your shoulders, because you have always expected me to achieve what I have, or am I the kind at which people gape, rubber-necking at the train-wreck I’ve made of my life?

Life isn’t, as so many believe, abstract, pointless, or purposeless. There is an image in there somewhere, probably obscured by multiple erasures and heavy lines and scribbles of confusion and circles back and away from the same temptations that kept us from adding depth to the true picture, leaving us flat and feeling incomplete.
In the jigsaw life, all the pieces have a place, though different in shape and size and color. You may struggle with a piece, wondering where it belongs and how much attention you should pay to it before realizing it has a flat edge and belongs on the outer periphery. Some pieces you try to force in, but in the end you become aware that they belong to someone else’s puzzle and not to your own at all. And so often we think we are working on the whole picture, but we’ve become narrow and focused on making a single piece perfect, not realizing that while our backs are turned, all the other pieces are loosening and falling out.  We forget that there is no such thing as done, that we have to keep working on all the same pieces we’ve been working on for the entirety of our lives so that the lines match up when the pieces abut. We might not be aware that we’re screwing up while we’re doing it, that our flailing hands and arms are smashing to bits pieces that were perfectly positioned. Worse, sometimes we do know we’re spoiling it, but we don’t pay attention because it seems like such a small piece that’s being sullied, an outside piece, an unimportant piece. Come to discover later, that was a cornerstone piece, which had been keeping the chaos under control. 

And then there are the ugly pieces. Weird shapes and bilious colors and aggressively frightening outlines that darken the picture and distort it until it is almost unrecognizable. Pieces that are so worn thin that they are frail and weak and threatening to collapse, compromising the existence and stability of sound pieces, endangering them with the menace of falling into the dark abyss of absence and loss. We try to get rid of these pieces only to find that we cannot separate ourselves from them. They are inextricably intertwined into the fabric of our self hood, their rooty tendrils latched onto so many other bits so that if we force one out, they will all go down together. And so we try to camouflage them, to cover them with other pieces, to paint over them with better colors. The more we do this, the more slipshod and bungled our puzzle becomes. 

In the blessing of hindsight, we see that nobody’s puzzle is a perfect square. Our puzzles are better than some, and some are three-dimensional morsels of magic and luck that we covet from afar. In hindsight we can see clearly the mess we made on our life’s canvas, as if we were painting in the dark. The colors are wrong, the lines are a mess, and in some places you can’t even see a picture at all. But the beauty of the jigsaw life is its morphology. You can never be finished while you are alive, and so you can never be a failure. Sometimes you can’t choose which pieces come into your life or the effect these new pieces have on the overall image. The morphology may be out of your control but you can always choose how to fit the pieces in. You can keep searching for new things to put into the puzzle to make it richer. You can keep throwing things out to make it simpler.  You can borrow pieces from others until you find your own; you can pick and choose shapes to fit in. Spouse shapes, art shapes, starlight walk shapes, flying-kites-at-the-beach-instead-of-going-to-work shapes. They grow and shift and nothing stays in the same place; pieces that used to be front and center get moved to the side, their absences refilled with baby-shaped pieces, job-shaped pieces, and short-term marathon training-shaped pieces. The outer edges aren’t as clear cut as we think they should be, and though we often kick pieces out and attribute them to other, less important side puzzles, there is always one more, just one more piece missing. Just one thing that will make us better, just one more thing we need to be our best.  And this is as it should be. 

The Spouse-shaped piece.
© Heidi Tauschek 2012