in this middle age
I find a crucible of
molten metal me

Middle age is often an inflection point where a person decides, again, what direction their life will take.  I like this image of the crucible.  The metal has the potential to become something strong and beautiful, but must be handled with care lest it reduce its surroundings to ash.  Mine has not yet been cast, but I think I see the shape of it shifting underneath the surface.

(Coincidentally, element 43 on the periodic table is technetium, a transition metal that is radioactive and mostly not found on Earth, but rather in red stars.  Transition, indeed.)

The ‘Pause That Enrages


It turns out I don’t want a purple hat,
Or a red dress that doesn’t go.
I just want to be completely done
With my monthly visit from Flo.

I am over producing progeny,
All my oats, I have sown.
Now for the special bonus round–
All systems shutting down!

I’m hot for no reason.
Today, I’m feeling stabby.
The Noxzema years are back,
And my hair is getting shabby.

Well, not all my hair,
That would be a silver lining.
The hair where I don’t want it
Is luxurious and shining.

You can tell me about dignity,
And post-40 freedom—that’s true.
But physically? This sucks a lot,
I hope it’s easier for you.

Doctors will mess with my ‘mones,
Heh… sort it out in a…flash,
But for right now I’m stuck–
Waxing my menostache.

Since poems about lady problems are super popular, I saved this one for the Sunday night dead zone.  I’m also at a point in my own lady journey where I don’t much care who likes it.  That said, here’s a *high five* for all the women.  You ladies are tough.

Shaming Our Mothers


When my son plays by himself, I shamelessly eavesdrop on the running commentary.  It’s often funny and charming, and it gives me a window into what the quirky little guy is thinking or feeling that day.  Once, with his little plastic animals, I overheard one animal tell another this:

“Now you have to go home and see what your parents think of your bad choices.”

This was said with more than a hint of satisfaction.  Naughty Critter was definitely in for it, and Sensible Critter was enjoying it.

No matter how old we get, that still resonates.  If you have (or had) any kind of relationship with your parents, you care what they think about your choices.  You want them to be proud of the work that you’re doing.  You want to take your mom to the Oscars and watch her enjoy How You Turned Out.  It’s normal and loving to want your parents marveling at your good choices.  (For ease, I’m going to shorten “parents” to “mom” here, but it could be either or both.)

But…. what if your art pulls you in a direction that you think your mom isn’t going to like?  Writing books for children is in this way an easier choice—nothing controversial, few opportunities to use f#%*, nothing to ruin Thanksgiving.1  I have several books for children in the works, and it’s nice to know that my mom will be able to read these without feeling like she needs to have a “talk” with me.  Writing for adults, about adults, gets a lot trickier.

When I’m not writing for children, I’m writing psychological horror stories.  If I’m being honest, they are better work.  The dark humor and complexity of these stories is something I’ve worked hard at, and it shows off the best of what I can presently do as a writer.  And…that’s the problem.  Aside from issues of readership, where people have trouble separating different types of work, how do I tell my mom I’m going to publish a story collection called “Bitches and Dead People”?2  Will she get the vapors or will it be Tuesday?  It’s probably somewhere in the middle, but here’s some things to think about.

Your mom is not actually a satellite of you.  We spend our whole lives thinking of our mothers in terms of how they relate to us.  The child’s narcissism in relation to his parents never really goes away.  Because of that, we forget that our moms had (and still have) lives that do not revolve around us.  She was probably reading The Clan of the Cave Bear series and enjoying those sexy, sexy Ayla/Jondalar scenes while you were at elementary school.  She might have even snuck a peek into that “50 Shades” book.  She probably enjoys other things we are completely unaware of, like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain.  Let your mom be a fully formed, three-dimensional person in your mind for a few minutes and see that you don’t necessarily know much about her.  There are big chunks that aren’t filled in.  Don’t presume that there aren’t.

Moms have a past and they have made their own bad choices that they don’t share with us.  Let’s be really clear, we do not want them to share this unless it is an extremely important teachable moment.  That is all I’m going to say about that.  Just no.

You can’t parent your characters into behaving as your parents would expect them to.  My mom has opined that curse words are the refuge of the lazy.  When I am writing humor, or an opinion piece like this, I think that’s probably mostly correct.  If I work a little harder, I can come up with something just as funny or precise or better.  When I’m writing fictional dialogue or inner monologue, though…well.  My characters did not have the benefit of this wisdom.  They are Flawed, and it shows.  If I sat with my Flawed people and fretted, “Oh, my, what will people think of the naughty language, oh dear,” my Flawed people would also be Unbelievable.  I can’t parent my characters and chronicle their true selves at the same time.  They are gloriously broken and that’s what makes them interesting.

Censoring yourself because of what you think someone might think is proactively timid.  I don’t know what my mom and dad are going to say to me when and if they read my work for adults.  They don’t have to read it—my mom doesn’t like horror stories anyway, so maybe she won’t read any of it, or I’ll just print out the ones that aren’t especially scary for her.  That’s her choice, though.  Maybe she’ll tell me that she thinks they’re terrible and belong in the trash can.  That wouldn’t be nice, but it would also be disrespectful for me to presume that I know what’s good for her.  This is where we have to be adults, two of them, and say, “You might not like this, but I hope you can appreciate it.”

As a last thought, I called this little thing “Shaming Our Mothers” for a reason.  Most of us would rather not, and we spend energy trying not to be an embarrassment to the people who love us.  Maybe, though, we don’t know what that means in the one place where it’s meaningful.  Let your mom be a real person for a minute, and then give her the chance to decide whether she’s shocked and disappointed in your bad choices for herself.  It might be surprising for you both.

1 Hey, I’m not saying it’s impossible.  Maybe your character has three heads and Aunt Linda is part of that “One Head” movement, and she decides to create a fuss over the turkey and the stabbings commence.  It’s just a lot less likely.

2 Hi, Mom!  Guess what?

No, Mrs. Johnson, I Never Did Improve At This


I bought one of those books–
Coloring for adults.
They evangelize them so much,
It’s like they’re forming cults.

“It’ll relax you!” they said,
So I got out my shiny pencils.
I sat and scribbled and scratched.
In five minutes, I was mental.

The stress involved in choosing
Colors for each insanely tiny space
Was “relaxing” an agonized grimace
Onto my tightly scrunched up face.

If you’re into this crazy fad,
Please don’t let me yuck your yum.
Deep inside, I must still be five,
Yelling, “Coloring is dumb!”

Note:   Mrs. Johnson was my first grade teacher.  She despaired at my terrible pencil grip for as long as I knew her.  Also, I bet you’re dying to know what I’ve saved for last. Me too. Tune in tomorrow to find out what’s running the last leg of this relay.

Scaling Mt. Clothesmore


O! Mountain of cleansed things!
How you mock me from the basket,
and the floor, and other there,
and on my bed.

You are a pestilence before whom I fold,
a scourge without scale.
I weep and bow down, helplessly watching
the Clean But Unfolded ossify
into skeletons in my laundry room.

Note: Early on, I fooled my husband into thinking I was a folder. I used to go to the laundromat, and I folded it all before I brought it home. As soon as we were able to have a washer and dryer, this never happened again. Fortunately, folded laundry was not my sole appeal.

Also Note: Ahhhh! I missed midnight! As a piece of advice, it’s a terrible idea to go to a car lot at 6:30 PM and start the car buying process. This would seem like common sense, but I am an uncommon person. *yawn*

Explain It Again, I’ll Get It Eventually


The other day, I made a joke
That nobody got but me.
Thankfully, a Samaritan man
Was right there to help me see…

That the joke to which I responded,
Had a “punchline” that I must have missed.
Thank god he added a winky face,
In case I wasn’t already pissed.

Oh, kind, KIND sir, my friend
With the very best of intentions.
I assure you the problem is not
My reading comprehension.

You are the one who missed it,
And maybe that’s not your fault.
But let me explain it at least twice
So you appreciate its heady gestalt.

Oh, and give me your business card, please.
I’ll put you on retainer.
I’ve been trolling the whole internet
For a zealously attentive mansplainer.

Note:  I have made many jokes in my life that fell flat, or were sloppy, or were too many steps away to be a good rejoinder.  I’m familiar with polite laughter and quizzical faces, and I’m cool with that.  I am apparently not good with a guy I don’t know explaining that I missed the punchline.  Weird.

Tasteless Room


There’s a new winery in Dundee,
Poised for domination.
Can’t wait to try the red–
It’s called Merlostruation.

Note: I’m all about a slightly earthy name, if it’s clever. This one–well. Let’s just say it gives me the Swiftian urge to mock it mercilessly until it goes away.

Also–I’ve made it to the Ides of August!  Sixteen postings done, and fifteen to go.  How bad can it get?  We shall see.  I think tomorrow may be a song parody.  Yes, I will even go there.

She Couldn’t Believe It When She Saw What You Believed!

There’s been a lot of back on forth lately (mostly forth) about some really outrageous things in the news.  You may have been tempted by the delicious aroma of moral superiority.  You may have even taken a bite.  I’m sure it tasted oh-so-good, but I have a question for you.

Do you even know where your outrage was manufactured?

Most people assume that because they are personally having the outrage, it’s locally sourced. But how do you know your outrage is wholesome organic outrage, not some pre-packaged, processed frankenfit?  For all you know, Big Aggro is importing your outrage from an overseas factory server farm!  They aren’t even required to label it!

Manufactured outrage is full of toxins that slowly poison you from the inside out. These toxins may make your outrage look better, or feel better, but they’ve been proven to cause tight sphincters, jerking knees, and hurting butts.  Did you know that compounded outrage is addictive, just like heroin?  It’s no mistake that they call it website “hits.”

The healthiest course of action is probably to avoid outrage altogether. It’s not necessary to anyone’s well-being, and the risks of it being a processed, additive-laden nightmare are high.  If you just can’t go without a little outrage in your life, though, here’s an alternative to supporting Big Aggro:

Be outraged about things within a 25 mile radius of yourself.

Locally Sourced Outrage

Support local outrage, and know that your outrage is genuine, organic outrage grown right in your backyard.

No, I Don’t Eat Sushi

A lot of people I know eat sushi, and I can’t really capture the essence of why. They’re not all doing it to look cool, because I know some of them care about cool as much as I care about One Direction. They are not restricted to sushi because of some allergy to everything else. Many of them claim to “enjoy” it. I think they maybe just haven’t really gone to the trouble of understanding what is motivating their food. No, I didn’t leave off “choices.” What does your food want? Specifically, how does the food feel about YOU?

Deep down, on a literally visceral level, I believe all meat and seafood is trying to kill me. This is not some kind of granola theory about “toxins” or some medically based cholesterol or whatnot issue. I think meat is just waiting for its chance to get you. If you don’t handle it like a bomb counting down to zero on your countertop, BOOM! Cross-contamination!! I mean—it’s not even 100% dead until it’s cooked, people. There is still some tiny vestigial spark of life in there, and it hates you. Meat will poison you faster than a Weird Sister and to hell with iambic pentameter.

Seafood is the absolute worst. It remembers the freedom of the ocean, and it wants to get back into the sea as quickly as possible. If it hurts you a little on the way out…all the better. Given the high level of bad feeling toward you, it seems pretty irresponsible to eat it raw. One of the most common food poisoning bugs is salmonella. It’s not a mistake that it says “salmon” right in there. The salmon can hate you so much that you get sick from some lettuce.

Because I believe meat is harboring a grudge, I allegedly overcook it¹. I am not overcooking it. I am cooking the revenge out of it. A piece of meat that has been heated through to the recommended temperature is not only properly dead at that point, but it will not come back as a zombie chop or tilapia walker. It has been neutralized. There is plenty of barbeque sauce at Costco to rehydrate your meat, so I’d really rather not hear any complaints about my nice, safe chicken.

Oh, and before you accuse me of knocking something I haven’t tried, I have eaten sushi. In fact, I ate sushi in Japan. Sort of. It was on a Japanese airline, anyway, which is the same thing. No, it didn’t make me sick, but it didn’t make me happy, either. Since I can assert my womanhood with just the wasabi, thank you very much, I’ll continue putting it in my cocktail sauce and mashed potatoes. If you “like” sushi, all the more for you. Don’t ever forget, though, that your harmless indulgence is seasoned with the collective vengeance of millions of tuna. Tuna never forget.


[1] Citation: My husband, who thinks those temperature recommendations from the USDA are just suggestions, not THE ONLY WAY TO KEEP HIM SAFE.

Getting a PhD in Biochemistry Is a Lot Harder Than Running a 5K

We went to a wedding this weekend for one of my husband’s coworkers. I had met the affianced on a couple of occasions, and some people from the office were there, but otherwise I was swimming in a sea of strangers. Since I am naturally inclined to pop under the table when confronted with a Mass of Humanity[1], I had my best “executive wife” game face on. I was charming and engaged, offered a witty riposte when appropriate, listened with rapt attention when spoken to. (My rapt attention is a force of nature. Think of it like having Counselor Troi look deeply into your eyes and ask how you’re feeling. People spill.) I was using up my reserve of social interaction points, but not so quickly that I was worried about it.

Can you show me how to get...away from all these people?  Gah.  I can't breathe.

Can you show me how to get…away from all these people? Gah. I can’t breathe.

We watched the lovely couple say their vows and moved to tables to wait for the buffet line to open. After round seventy gazillion of pictures was done, the emcee introduced the wedding party with a few personal tidbits and seated them at the head table. It turns out, the sister of the groom has a PhD in biochemistry. This is a great and wonderful thing. Lady scientists are a huge intellectual turn-on for me. It’s knowing someone’s brain size before you even have to talk to her .

Now…maybe I’ve been hanging out in the running community too much lately. Certain behaviors are more accepted there than in regular society. For example, biochemists appear not to be used to getting a “high-five for science.” When I introduced myself to the lady scientist, she was quite taken aback to have someone fangirling her over her PhD. Since there was no alcohol at this wedding (gasp!), she spent a moment evaluating whether my apparent social and/or mental deficit was dangerous or just awkward. I did get my high-five, but I also got the question, “Why?”

I confess, I didn’t have a very good explanation. I hadn’t exactly thought out what I was going to say, well, because of running. If you slap palms with someone who just finished a race, they don’t stop and say, “Why did you do that?” They say, “Woooooo!!! Damn right I’m awesome!!! Wooooo!!!” So… I probably sounded sort of stupid, which was embarrassing and confusing. “Because SCIENCE!” wasn’t an adequate answer for an actual scientist. I have a college degree and a lettery credential of my own, but I couldn’t come up with anything convincing enough to stop her from asking who had invited me and how I was related to the wedding and did I really know her brother all that well?

She was quiet and sort of kept to herself.  - All the Neighbors After They Found the Bodies

She was quiet and sort of kept to herself.  She didn’t look crazy.          – All the Neighbors After They Found the Bodies

I’ve had time to think about it a little more. Here’s what I wanted the science lady to know: Science is something that I am personally very grateful for. Science has not only saved my life, but improved the quality of my life in ways that I don’t explain to most people, because science made it so I don’t have to. I was born with a cleft lip/cleft palate. I have had five reconstructive surgeries. In the 1800’s, my chances of surviving infancy would have been very bad. Instead, I had two surgeries, and my mom fed me using specialized equipment made of those space-age plastics that were so popular in the mid-twentieth century. Then, like all cleft palate kids, I had about 471 ear infections, several of which were bad enough to have cooked my brain without antibiotics. At the very least, I would be deaf for all intents and purposes. Then, in high school, I had three reconstructive surgeries to make my appearance more symmetrical and close my palate. Oh, and ten years of orthodontia, because I had a seriously messed up snaggletooth thing going on.

There are countless ways that science touches everything we do—but science touches a lot of what I am. I do not have to explain to people what is “wrong” with my face. Sometimes people see it (generally they have a close relative with a cleft lip), but mostly they see a little scar. My speech doesn’t have the nasal echo that a cleft palate often causes. I have never thought of it as a handicap. I have, however, said many grateful prayers that I was born when and where I was (and for parents who sought out the best doctors with the best possible approach). The medical skill and technique was available. I not only survived, but thrived. I feel grateful to those scientists—the doctors, the researchers, the chemical engineers—because without their discoveries and techniques, I would be a completely different person. Science saved my life, and gave me more of a life than I could have ever hoped for 100 years before.

On top of that, when a woman goes into a field that is traditionally dominated by men, as most of STEM is—she deserves a little extra support from the rest of us. I worked at a large semiconductor company, and I’ve seen what it’s like to be the only technical woman in the room. I have an Up With Women campaign going, where I support women I know individually. It’s my own brand of microfeminism[2]. See a woman doing something cool? Run over and tell her you think it’s cool. Here’s the template: “Hey, insert name, I just wanted to tell you that I really admire how you _______________. It’s something that makes the world a better place.” End of story. Don’t add “because I can’t do that” or “I wish I could do that” or “but your shoes are atrocious.” Don’t make it about you. If women could be supportive of women in an unqualified way…maybe the opinions of all those men in those male-dominated STEM fields would be easier to navigate. Be in someone’s corner. Tell her that bread is delicious. Tell her that PhD looks really fine on her. Tell her that the screaming tantrum her toddler threw is not a sign of failure, it’s normal, and you appreciate how she handled it. Be her fan, even when it’s awkward and makes you feel slightly silly.

You may want to put more thought and effort into your supportive actions.

You may want to put more thought and effort into your supportive actions.

I’m not sorry I went over and did my fangirl routine at the smart lady scientist. Sure, it was sort of awkward at first, but by the time I got to my little “Yeah, Science!” hoppy cheer[3], she had pretty much decided I was just a harmless nutter. I’m going to work on my technique and do it again the next chance I get. Maybe I will start carrying an autograph book with me and collect signatures–because getting a doctorate full of sciency goodness is a hell of a lot harder than running a 5K. Women of STEM, I am unabashedly a fan. Give me an S! Give me a C! Give me an I….

[1] A Mass of Humanity is any group of people over six, whether I know them all or not.

[2] I made up this word, as far as I know. It’s far more than just being nice and giving an occasional compliment. I probably should write a whole “thing” about it. It means ditching your own insecurities and competitive judginess, and just helping another woman see something about herself that she desperately needs to. For example—fighting for your employee to get the raise she deserves, so you can tell her that she kicks ass tangibly. Or telling a woman who is habitually thoughtful that you admire that, and want to be her when you grow up. TELL them. It’s a personal touch. It’s someone you know, or someone you would like to know.  I have mixed feelings about “FEMINISM,” but that doesn’t mean I’m not into women.  Wait… um.  …  I have no graceful exit from that.

[3] Yes, I really did a little cheer and hopped up and down. This is the part of the routine that needs the most work. The French judge didn’t deign to score it, and the Russian….yeesh. Ouch.