Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why I'm Breaking Up with Elliott Smith

For one thing, he's been dead since 2003. Not that a detail like that should put too much of a strain on our relationship. Nuns are married to Jesus and He's been dead for 2,000 years. Although maybe that's not an apt comparison. Their hearts belong to a diety, and my heart belongs to a musician who stabbed himself in his.

That's one theory anyway. Another is that his girlfriend murdered him. She says they had a fight that morning, then she went to take a shower and when she got out she found him with a kitchen knife in his chest. He talked about suicide so much that on the one hand, I can see him doing it. On the other hand, they reopened the case recently. He had wounds on his hands, like the ones people have when they fight back, so they're not really sure what happened.

I've become a groupie too late. That happened. And it's at this point that I should warn you that I'm going to admit things about my Elliott obsession that will probably make you shut down your computer and back slowly out of the room, and start reading someone else's blog with lighter subject matter, like one about snow globes. But if you're a steady reader of this thing you might have noticed two things: I have recently started seeing a trauma therapist to finally deal with childhood nuttiness, and I've been on a serious Elliott Smith kick.So the signs were everywhere that a post like this was coming, and if you keep reading then you can't say I didn't warn you. Don't feel bad, though. Here is a link to a blog about kittens.

I can't go to his shows, so I watch them on YouTube. I can't tell him how much his lyrics and his music comfort me so I sing with him. I watch interviews with him so I can hear his gentle laugh, to know there were times that he smiled, and I think, to try to figure out what went wrong. I don't think that thought out loud, but it's there as I watch him, that shy guy with a Ferdinand the Bull tattoo on his arm and often unwashed hair, so clearly uncomfortable in an interview. He looked like this:

I met him on Pandora a few years ago on my Shins station. I didn't pay much attention to him at the time. It wasn't until this summer when I was listening to "Angeles" that I clicked on his description thinking, "I like this guy. I wonder what else he plays," that I read about him and saw that he'd been stabbed to death almost ten years before. Then I had to read more about him, and when I did it was like finding out that I had a brother that my parents hadn't told me about. He'd been crazy about The Beatles, even as a kid. He was a reader and sometimes his songs were inspired by stories he read, just like how my writing is inspired by music I hear. He said the words would put pictures in his mind and that's where some of his music came from. Music puts pictures in my head and that's where my stories come from. Those things practically make us the same person, right?

I don't ordinarily like to find out too much about famous people. I can't appreciate their acting, their music or their writing sometimes if I know too much. I used to like Tom Cruise movies until I found out all of that Scientology stuff and now I can't watch "Jerry Maguire" without thinking about how he if I met him in real life he might try to sell me on it like an Amway salesman and it would be all awkward. Or he'd think my occasional bouts of depression were bullshit. No, it would never work with Tom Cruise.

But Elliott would say "I know how you feel," I know he would. His music says that to me all the time, even when he's not singing. He had it rough as a kid too, and it comes out. People write about how it came out in his lyrics, but I think it came out in sound.

Sometimes, especially when my kids where little, like before the age of seven, they would make a certain sound when they cried and suddenly I could hear my own crying as a child. When this happened, I had to remind myself that they were just upset about something harmless, like I'd taken a toy away or it was time for bed, and that nothing bad was happening to them or to me in that moment. I had to remind myself how old I was and where I was. One certain sound that my son made when he cried made me taste blood in my mouth. I honestly don't know where that came from. I have no clear memory of what happened to my mouth or why a small noise from him triggered a memory that filled my mouth with blood and my head with my own cries. But that's what happened.

There are certain sounds that Elliott's guitar makes that echoes my own cries, and for some reason it doesn't disturb me. There is no other sound that brings up those old feelings in a way that I can handle them. I can't listen to Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" not so much because of the lyrics but because the gorgeous, sad sound of it makes me hear myself screaming and I swear I don't know why. But Elliot is different, and I don't know why that is either. The song "Christian Brothers" makes me want to talk to him, not so much because of the lines like "No bad dream fucker's gonna boss me around/ Christian Brothers gonna take him down" but because of the guitar. His sound, instead of making me feel more alone, reminds me that my pain isn't unique. This is good, I don't want to be unique in this way. It's not that I want other people to be in pain, I just want to know that other people who have it get the same way sometimes and maybe we can help each other feel better.

I wish I could have made him feel better. Sometimes I listen to his live performances so I can hear him move and breathe, as if by watching him I can bring him back to life. I watch his fingers on the guitar, see what T-shirt he was wearing,and hear him make mistakes and laugh about them.

I can not believe I just admitted all of that, and more surprised still that I'm more embarrassed about admitting that I watch the way a man moves on YouTube than I am about having flashbacks where I taste blood in my mouth. I think I get embarrassed about all the wrong things.

But, I can't help it. He seemed sweet and cute. He giggled once when an interviewer used the word "kerfuffle" and repeated it to himself. It does worry me a little that I'm so drawn to a person who was a suicidal addict. I've known a slew of suicidal addicts, but I don't go around falling in love with all of them. Only, you know, a few. But this guy...

They said when he died there were no drugs in his system besides behavioral medication. No alcohol, no heroin, nothing. I understand that, I think, better than it happening with some crazy chemical in his system. There was no buffer between his mind and the overwhelming pain of himself that made him tear his body apart. Maybe he was even out of cigarettes.

I can't count the number of things of done to block out the pain of those moments when I've felt so ashamed and so stupid for no reason at all, and it's a desperate, wrecking ball of a feeling that swoops in and hollows me out, and I have to fill myself with something, anything at all. To sit with it is to starve to death, to feel so hungry, so hideous inside like the walls of my stomach are coated with an acidic tar that eats me from the inside out. I have to get up, I have to pace, I have to put something in my mouth, I have to get someone on the phone but I can't talk, it hurts to talk, and I'm so so stupid. I think to myself that I wouldn't be feeling this way if I wasn't so fucking stupid.

And it's a moment and it passes. That's what I've learned. If I sit with it I won't starve to death. Nothing is actually eating me, there is no blood in my mouth. There is nothing I've done wrong, there is nothing that's really bad that's happening to me in that moment that feels so real. And I'm not, as it turns out, stupid.

I don't know if that's exactly how Elliott felt. I'm sure it was a variation on the same theme. I also don't know why some of us live through this and some of us don't. When I think about all of the things I've done to myself, I don't understand why I'm here and other people like Elliott are not. But he reminds me what can happen to hurt children who grow up to finish the job that some sick adult started when they don't take care of themselves.

And that's why, Elliott, I can't go out with you anymore. I know what you're going to say, you're dead and you don't know me, but just hear me out. Being with you these last few months has been a really good thing. But when I listen to you for a few days in a row I've noticed that I go into a dark place. No one will probably know how or why you died. Only you know that. And also the more I get to know about you the more I realize that I don't really know you because you can't truly know someone from interviews. Although I do believe that you can determine that a person is awesome when they laugh at the word "kerfuffle."

I'm going to miss seeing flat, one-dimensional pictures of you and listening to you speak in one-sided conversations that I can't participate in because they're recordings that happened over 10 years ago. My capability for emotional intimacy must be at an all-time low if I can only romantically connect with a person on that level.

But, I don't know. Maybe this is what I need right now, with all of these repressed memories coming up and the frightening, sometimes overwhelming feelings which all led me to believe that I shouldn't be in a relationship with someone anyway. Maybe you, Elliott, who can only comfort me, who can not be hurt by me or feel rejected by me if I tell you that I need a few days off, are the perfect partner (of sorts) for me right now. You don't even know that we're together, how could you feel bummed that we're apart? You can't! It's perfect!

God, I am so fucking weird.

So maybe I won't break up with Elliott right now. I think I need him. I can't imagine going more than a few days with listening to "O So Slow"  which has no words and which is, I believe, the noise of my soul. That's what it would sound like if you put your head against my chest. And there would be a man standing in front of my heart with a guitar like a shield, making my cries with me so that I don't have to sing them alone.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Calm, Safe Room

I've never been so nervous while sitting on such a comfortable couch.

The whole room is designed to make you comfortable. The soft, beige couch, the light nut brown of the coffee table with a box of kleenex on it, dim lamp lighting, and paintings of desert mountains and cranes dipping their beaks into the marsh. If you just focus on those things you can forget where you are. But when you see the framed degrees on the wall, you know you're not just visiting. Someone has gone to school for a long time to learn how to call you out on your shit. 

If I took those frames off the wall, I thought, and stacked them like plates, I'd have a monolith of the years of training that has brought the well-dressed woman sitting across from me into this room. And if I took the years of my life, the ones that have also brought me into this room, and stacked them next to all of that training, would they be the same height? Would they be two plateaus, like the ones in the desert painting, and if I ran across the surface of one could I easily jump to the other? Or would one tower over the other? 

I felt like I was sitting in the shadow of something while I was perched on the edge of the couch the other night. It's not that I've never been to a therapist before, but I've never been to one to talk about the old, buried stuff and how it's affecting my life now. I didn't want a woman therapist at first. I thought it might be too much, that all of those memories of women would rise up in me and I'd shut down. Or worse - snap and go crazy and never come back. But her voice was soft, and she assured me that her job was to make me feel safe, and she wouldn't push me to talk about anything that might break me.

"I can't have a breakdown," I said. "I can't afford to."

I explained about having to go to work every day and the kids, how they needed me not to breakdown, and I thought about how funny it was that I'd worded it the way I had. I couldn't "afford" to have a breakdown, like it's a ski trip. A vacation where someone else could take care of me while I spent the day dealing with memories and feelings. But I've known enough people who've had breakdowns and gone into mental institutions to know that it's not a vacation, and no one enjoys it. So I'm just going to have to remember and feel things while my life goes on.

Unless, of course, I'm already crazy.

"I don't think you're crazy," the counselor told me. It was the end of our first hour and I wondered if she was just trying to get me out the door. But she was being so nice about it.

"Do you think you'd be able to tell that in just one hour of talking to me?" I asked.

"Oh yeah," she said. "I know crazy when it's sitting across from me. I don't think you're crazy."

If I didn't look crazy, I'm not sure what crazy looked like to her. I kept looking around the room, not returning her gaze, scratching my arms because the soft light and the cleanliness of everything made me itchy. I'm too old, I thought, to feel like a dirty child, but that's how I felt in that room. A dirty child that will never be clean, never be ok.

"What if I'm never ok?" I asked her.

I don't remember her answer. I don't think I was looking for one. I think I needed to scratch and twitch and go a little crazy in a calm, safe room. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

How Chuck Palahniuk Made Me a Vegetarian

Someone passed out. Swear to God. Chuck Palahniuk was reading "Guts" onstage in his pajamas, and it was around the scene where the 13 year old realizes that the pool drain has sucked his intestines out of his anus that a chick in the balcony dropped like a rock. It could have been that Tipitina's was hot last night, summer not having left New Orleans yet, or maybe she was wearing overly warm pajamas, but Chuck told us that it happens sometimes when he reads that story.

Last night I went to a reading of his called "Adult Bedtime Stories" and the invitation had said to wear pajamas. Getting dressed for this thing was different from any other event I'd gone to. Because really, what did I want to show the world that I wore to bed? I've been falling asleep in shorts and a tank top. Not bad, but did I really want people to see that much of my legs? Nnnnnno. Not even writers that I was star-struck by. So I threw on some fuzzy pajama pants, slippers, and a black t-shirt.

For those of you who don't know, Tipitina's is music venue first and then a bar. The floor is standing room only, with a balcony on the second floor. The ticket got me a signed copy of Doom, his latest book, a white inflatable ball, and two glow sticks. There were instructions on the wall to write a number, an adjective, and a place, and a noun on the ball, and there was also a pocket inside to shove a glow stick into.

There's a certain mood that's created in a dark room full of grown ups who are all wearing pajamas and writing words on inflatable balls that are glowing like Chinese lanterns. It was quite different from the feeling I had at Claire Keegan's reading at Loyola last fall, where we all sat quietly in chairs as she read, though Chuck swore that Virgina Woolf had done readings just like this.

He sat on a stool at the podium and read "Guts." "Guts"'s um....I will never eat chunks of meat, carrots, peas, or orange vitamins again. It's just something that you're going to have to read, though you run the risk of cutting meat, carrots, peas, and orange vitamins from your diet, and also masturbation might become a thing of the past. Unless the thought of shoving candle wax up your urethra does something for you. Just know that after reading it, any idea that you have of feeling pleasure will most likely result in a prolapsed rectum.

Then we played some games. We had to throw all of the balls into the center of the crowd. It was like watching balls tumble around in a bingo cage, only they glowed red, green, orange and yellow, and they had words like "uvula" on them. Then another writer, Monica Drake, took the podium and read a short story of hers.

They took turns like that - Monica, Chuck and another writer called Chelsea Cain - reading their work and throwing things into the crowd. They threw us sparkly retainers that lit up your upper jaw when you stuck them in your mouth, and toy spiders, and kittens. Not real kittens because Chuck said that the only kind of grotesque writing he can't take is senseless violence to animals.

He didn't mind senseless violence towards him and the others onstage when he told us to throw all of the balls at him.We pelted those guys, and they played Mad Libs with the words on the balls.

So really, it was like a big slumber party with games, drunk people, stuffed kittens, and pajamas. And also a complete loss of appetite after he read "Cannibal."

Cannibal. How do I describe it? I learned the terms "blue waffle" and "ham wallet" now I wish I could unlearn them. It was about a boy who unknowingly aborts girls' fetuses through oral sex. But it's worse than that. Not worse in a way that the writing's bad - the writing is good. But...still. Meat's off the menu for a while, as is physical contact with any other human beings.

But even with all of my new-found aversions, I had a great time. And! And! If I ever become famous and do a book tour it will only be in my pajamas, just like Chuck Palahniuk and Virginia Woolf.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Femme Failure

Last night I dreamt that someone asked me my opinion on how a pair of earrings went with her outfit and my reply was, "Do I look qualified to answer that question? I'm wearing a skirt made out of sweatpants."

I don't really own a skirt made out of sweatpants, but the essence of that scenario is true. I just wasn't born with the super power that most women seem to have where they can coordinate clothes to match each other and the tone of their skin, hair and eyes. This has always fascinated me about other women, and occasionally some men. They will spot someone wearing a green shirt and say, "That's a great color on you." Is it? How can they tell? Green's a great color in general, but how is it a great color on that person in particular? Is it because green is the color of frogs and this person resembles a frog? And both the complimentor and the person in the shirt think that frogs are awesome and that's why they're both so excited about it?

I don't know these things, so I dress myself in simple colors so that there's no confusion about whether or not they go together. Like black and black. Or blue and bluer. That's for work, that is. When I'm home, it's blue jeans and a T-shirt that I've owned for ten years.

And as I stand there in my ripped Warren Zevon T-shirt and listen to one woman say to another, "I love that top!" I look at the woman who's been flattered and I think, "Really? What makes it lovable? It doesn't even have a band on it, or say anything funny. It's gray and it's got some weird shiny things going on with it, but that just makes it look like one of those iridescent fish. And what makes it a 'top' instead of a 'shirt?'"

I don't ask these things out loud. I'm pretty sure that asking these questions will automatically disqualify me from being female, and though I don't dress the part, I like being a woman.

Those of you who've seen me are probably thinking, "But I've seen you dress up nice." Yeah. About that. Do you know how I determine if something looks nice? I determine how boring I think it is, and if an outfit really bores me I assume it looks good to everyone else. So when a woman asks me, "Does this look good?" my brain switches on a boring calculator and if what she's  wearing seems really dull I say, "Yeah, you look great."

Tonight I saw a woman wearing black jeans, bright blue and green jogging shoes, a pink fuzzy shirt and a brown Fedora. I found the combination so entertaining that I decided she must not match.

This problem stretches beyond clothes. A couple of months ago one of my guy friends called me up and asked me my opinion on couch pillow color coordination and I was absolutely no help. I tried to save him some time in the very beginning when he started the conversation by saying, "So I need your woman's opinion on something."

"Hmm," I said. "You're probably going to be disappointed."

"Do you remember the color of my couch? Do you think an orange pillow would go well with it?"

He reminded me of the red of his couch and then he described the orange of the pillows he was looking at. I thought about how  boring those two colors would look together.

"Um...sure," I said.

"You sound uncertain."

"Of course I'm uncertain. I told you I'm no good at this stuff. I don't know if orange and red go together, but when I picture it I guess it doesn't look horrible."

"Ok. Do you think I should get more than two? Like maybe a lot of pillows?"

"I don't know, man. Do you want to sit on this couch?"

"Well, yeah."

"How are you going to sit on the couch with all of those pillows on it? Pillows are for sleeping."

"They're also for decoration."

"Ok then yeah, get a shitload of pillows."

I was now just saying anything I could to get off of the subject of pillows. It was one thing to stretch my imagination about whether red went with orange but now we were talking about the subject of pillows as decoration and I thought I might die. Because I really don't care about decorative pillows. Pillows are supposed to be fluffy and inviting and they're supposed to support my head and neck while I sleep, they're not supposed to lie around like glossy whores trying to make a couch look good. And then you don't sit on the couch because you might mess it up. So then you've got a couch you can't sit on pillows you can't sleep on and you stand there in your mismatched clothes next to furniture that thinks it's better than you.

I don't understand spending money for decorative pillows anymore than I understand spending a lot of money on a purse....and this is really where I risk having my female membership revoked. But it's worth it, because really, honestly, spending anything more than $20 for a purse makes no sense to me. Because it's a fucking purse.

"But it's a name brand bag," you're thinking.

No. No, it's a fucking purse. Why would anyone spend hundreds of dollars on a purse no matter whose name's on it? Is YOUR name on it? No? Does it have wifi? Can you play games on it? Does it fix you breakfast? No? Really? It's just a fucking purse? Oh ok. You probably have pillows that I can't sit on.

I know I must sound bitter about this, and it's because I kind of am. Because other women seem to have this insight that I don't have about what beauty is and what material things are worth. I really wanted to be able to answer my friend's question about the pillows. I really wanted to care because it seemed important to him and because I felt that my femininity was challenged.

I'm not completely ungirly. I would have been totally stoked about the pillows if they had been in the shape of little penguins. THAT would have been adorable. Then my answer would have been, "You found tiny penguin pillows? Buy twenty! And when I get off of work I'll come over and dive into a mountain of penguin pillows! This is the best shopping trip ever! Stay right there, I'm coming to the store!"

Oh yeah. I should mention something else. I hate shopping. Hate. Despise. Loathe. I remember going to the department store with my mother and her sisters, and they would stop at a clothes rack and sift through tops or whatever the hell else was on sale, and I would stand there and moan.

"Mooooooooom....when are you going to be done?"

"When I'm done," she'd say, which is bullshit because all she did was answer my question with part of my question. "Why don't you look around and see if there's anything you like?"

I looked around and saw no books for sale or small animals. "There's nothing here I like! I'm going to DIE!"

Then one of my aunts would find something and ask the others if they thought it looked good and they'd all say things like, "That's such a good color on you!" or "You look so thin!" And I'd think, "I am dying and they're flipping out over a white shirt."

That was just last week.

Now I've done it. Shop-hating was the last straw and now the Femme Police are coming to revoke my female privileges. After I hand over my maternal instinct and my uterus I'll sit on my pillowless couch in my sweatpants skirt and burn a pile of purses.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sigur Ros Live With Your Eyes Closed

Last night I heard a band that I didn't understand. This wasn't a disappointment because I'd been told going into it that I wouldn't know what they were saying until I brushed up on my Icelandic.

"Do you know Sigur Ros?" my friend Vicky had asked me last week, correcting herself a couple of times on the pronunciation. "They're from Iceland. They're a post-rock type band."

"Can you spell that?" I asked.

"S-i-g-u-r R-o-s."

"No, I mean 'post-rock.' What the hell is that?"

She explained what post-rock was, and then explained where Iceland was. And then I remembered Iceland as a place where they put the letter "j" in strange places, which is why I couldn't correctly pronounce "Bjork" until 1996.

"I got two tickets to their show. You wanna come with me?"


Vicky knew to ask me even though I didn't know the band because she knows that I like hearing new music and she knows that I need to get out of the house.

So I got out of the house and went with her to Champion Square, which is like a large courtyard with nowhere to sit. We stood outside with the sun going down, and patchy, fast-moving rain clouds above us that sprinkled from time to time but not enough to drive us away. The crowd varied in age, and I was guessing from their blanks stares, and also from the description I'd read of the band as "ethereal" and  "ambient" that no one was going to get rowdy and throw their underwear onstage, though some of them had probably forgotten to put their underwear on that day. I'm pretty sure I got a secondhand high from the guy standing next to me who was smoking a joint like a cigarette. I'd never seen someone smoke a joint by themselves before, only in groups where it's a social thing and everyone gets a hit. So though I don't smoke it anymore, I felt I had to get high on principle. Because he was being a greedy bastard.

The opening band threw me off. I don't know their name, but they were comprised of an angelic female singer and a guy on guitar who played lovely music that you would get a massage to while film footage of a floating dead bride played on the screen above them. I think it was supposed to get me to think about the beauty of death, or the death of a bride in marriage, or that wedding veils should not be used as a flotation device, or that drowning to massage music is the way to go, or something. But whatever the message was supposed to be, all it left me thinking after a while was, "I've been watching a dead body float for a half an hour and I want a therapist." Don't get me wrong, they were good, but now I'm afraid of water. And commitment.

After they finished there was a 45 minute break where more people came, and the lone smoker's friends showed up so he was forced to share his next joint, and I thought better of him. It worries me a little about myself that I was so bothered, not that the person next to me was doing something illegal, but that he wasn't sharing.

Then Sigur Ros came on. I'll try to tell you this band, but I'm not sure if I can describe the sound without you hearing it. You might already know them and don't need me to tell you about them. But if you don't, then I want to get this right because that's the point of this post - not to tell you about my night out, but to tell you about this music.

So I'll stop trying to write something that will make me sound like a reviewer and just tell you this: I liked them a lot. I liked them infinitely better than I liked watching a dead bride float in water. They play a lot of instruments and they play them well. There was a French horn up there, and a guitar that the lead singer played with a bow, and drums, and an accordion, and chimey things, and a trombone, and a bass, and tamboriney things, and many other instruments I'm sure that I just couldn't see in the dark and the smoke coming from the stage. And the music was indeed ambient and ethereal at times but it didn't stay that way. It drifted from dreamy and soft to a driving, groaning sound, and then back again like someone singing softly while they hold you tight and just when it starts to hurt they loosen their grip. The singer's voice wasn't male or female, it was high without being feminine or a child's, and it was gentle without being innocent. It had pain and hope in it. The contrast of that voice with the driving drums lifted me up by the gut.

Vicky tugged on my sleeve in the middle of a song that I can't name because I don't know what they were saying. It was so loud that I couldn't understand what she was saying either, so I bent down so that she could say into my ear, "You should close your eyes."

So I did. And maybe it was my second hand high, but blocking out the audience and the lights from the stage really did make me feel the music more powerfully.

I've been playing them today on Youtube, not knowing what songs to look up so I've just been clicking on all of them. I'm pretty sure it was "Hoppipolla" that was playing when Vicky told me to close my eyes. And though it's good, it's nothing like it was live where I could feel the music in my chest. So you should see them live if you can, and if you can't look up "Hoppipolla" and close your eyes.

And if you haven't heard a bow guitar, play "Brennisteinn." A bow guitar to me sounds like thunder gnashing its teeth. The video will trip you out and make you afraid of video tape and the color yellow.

The one link I'll share with you is "Glosoli" because I know they played this, and I don't think I opened my eyes at all during it. This is, again, a weird video but it's got a drummer boy and post-apocalyptic Icelandic children. At exactly 3 minutes and 50 seconds I can close my eyes and feel ache of that drum in my chest.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bring on the Purple Car

I aged recently. I know that I'm doing that all the time, but the other day the universe bumped me up from 37 to 38 (I thought it would make it more glamorous if I phrased it like I was being moved up a class on a plane. It didn't work).

This is fine, I mean, I'm older, but my birthday is also the day that I get more attention on Facebook than ANY OTHER DAY OF THE YEAR. Seriously, people who I forgot I was friends with on Facebook tell me happy birthday, and I know it's silly, but it really does make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and that's good for people my age. Like the benefits of giving a senior citizen a dog. Lots of Facebook attention lengthens a life span, I'm sure of it.

I don't feel old, but it occurred to me that I might not be young either given the tone of the birthday cards I've gotten over the last few years. Or really, since I turned 21. Birthday cards up until 21 all basically said "WOOHOO!! You're older!" in the same way that they would scream, "WOOHOO!!! Spring Break!" Cards since then have just pointed at me and laughed. They say, "Look at you! You are sooo old! And you're reading this card! Do you need glasses for this card, old person, because you are so old?" So I don't feel old, but the birthday cards have been telling me that I am since I was 22, which leads me to believe that all greeting cards are written by 21 year old men on Spring Break.

But what are your opinions on all of this? After all, you're aging too, even if it's not your birthday, you are aging RIGHT NOW! How do you feel about it and what do you want out of this next year of your life?

You can't answer me directly, so I decided to ask people on the street. And by "on the street" I mean, "people who were in my kitchen."

I asked Emma how she felt about being twelve. She was surprisingly unenthusiastic. She stuck her tongue out of the side of her mouth and said, "Ugh."

"Can you expand on that?" I asked.

She sneered. "Yaaay sometimes?" she said, meekly. "It's right before I become a teenager. That's an uck... Actually, no, that's a good thing, erase that."

Her moods on this issue are all over the place. Definitely twelve. I asked her what she wanted to do before she became a teenager. She had a list, which I will call "Emma's Super List of Self-Improvement." And it's this, "Eat less pizza."

"That's your list?" I said.

"Yeah. And keep the house clean, and shower every day, and eat pineapples, apples, and plums. And get over my fear of the dark, and my fear of cats in the dark, and my fear of dropping a cup on my toe."

See, you never really know about a person unless you ask them because I had no idea that my daughter suffered from the fear cats in the dark or of cups on the toe. And really, I'm not sure where to go with this information. It's not something with a clear solution like other childhood fears. Fear of the dark - get a nightlight. Fear of cats in the dark - get a cat with reflectors. Fear of cups falling on toes...drink with combat boots? I'll have to read a parenting blog.

Christopher was much easier, he feels "ok" about being 10 years old. Really, I thought he'd have more to say about this. Ten years old to a boy is running, climbing trees, peeing outdoors, playing with pocket knives, ignoring girls, and skateboard stunts, right? No. Apparently, it's just "ok." I don't know, I think I just have certain ideas about how he must feel based on my own experience of being ten when I lived to run, climb trees, and pee outside. But to each their own.

Claire's goal for 14 is to smooth out the wavy part of her hair and to survive 9th grade. This isn't a social-based fear, but grade-wise one which I think is funny because Claire makes better grades than most people I know. So I'm confident she'll be ok, and hopefully she'll feel the same way soon.

Though I don't remember worrying about my hair or my grades, I remember feeling a whole lot of anxiety.

"How's it feel to be 14?" my dad would ask the morning of my birthday.

"I hope I make it to 15," I'd say with a blank stare, thinking of the school day ahead and all of the people who weren't going to talk to me because I was too weird, and frankly, too tall to talk to.

Which is why I'm always mildly surprised when I age another year. "Hey," I think. "I lived through school," even though it's been twenty years since school ended and not only did my worst fears not come true (that I would drop dead from being disliked) NONE of the people who used to make fun of me have friended me on Facebook so I really can start pretending that they never existed in the first place. This is one of the gifts of age that they never tell you about.

I wondered what else I would learn with age. So I asked my friend Christy, who was not in my kitchen but has been 38 for a couple of months now, what it's like and what I can expect.

"People will treat you like you are wise and all-knowing but inside you are still a shaky 18 year-old. Also at 38 you will start to wonder if you can get away with putting the purple streaks in your hair that you were too 'mature' and 'serious' to do in college. Then you will think about the time and expense involved and wonder if it might be easier to buy a tiny purple sports car."

Noted, Christy - LET THE MID-LIFE CRISIS BEGIN! Dye my hair! Drive purple cars! Sex with everyone! Eat the high sodium bacon! Drop all of the cups on all of the toes!!!!

My goal for this year is to become a full-time writer. But you know, even if I'm not by this time next year, I'll be a whole hell of a lot closer. And even if I just spend another year being relieved that I'm not 14 anymore, it'll be time worth spent.