26 February 2014

“…yeah, write about it. I really want to know what other people think. My kid is only 21 and he’s planning out this elaborate tattoo. A quarter sleeve? From his shoulder to not quite his elbow. I don’t have an issue with the image he wants to get; it’s beautiful art. But he’s only 21; he’s not going to be the same person in 10 years. How can he choose something so permanent with so much of his life ahead?”

I’ve gotten close to the same question about my own ink; I suspect most people who get tattoos hear the same thing: how are you going to feel about that in 20 years?

Me? In 20 years I’ll be 72 and I doubt I’ll give a damn about the sags and wrinkles in my skin and what aging has done to my art. If I’ve taken care of the tattoos they should be fine in terms of fading and the like, but aging is what it is, and what it is going to do is thin out my skin, add wrinkles, add sagging, and who knows what else.

No one can change the fact that they’re going to age; if you choose to get tattoos you have to accept that those will change along with you.

After my last tattoo I uploaded it to Imgur so that I could show it to people on Reddit’s /r/tattoos subreddit; Imgur also allows comments, and when I went back to it a few days later someone had left the comment, you know that shit’s permanent, right?

I don’t know if they were trying to be sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek, but it doesn’t matter. I took it as the latter and responded in kind.

But yeah. This shit is permanent. And I get where my friend is coming from; at 21 her son isn’t done growing up and becoming himself. What he likes at 21 might not be what he likes at 31. Think about it; the band you absolutely loved at 15 is often cringe-worthy at 25. Through your 20s you make a lot of the same leaps in maturity and personal growth that you do in your teens. What seems vitally important at 21 might be laughable at 31.

I get that.

But from where I sit—and she knows this—is that if her son has been seriously considering this piece of art for more than six months, as long as a year, and he still wants it, he should get it.

A decade from now it might not be what he would choose. Or he might wish he’d done this one part a little bit differently. Or wish he’d gone to a better artist.

That doesn’t mean he’ll wish he’d never gotten it. Or even that he would change a thing about it.

Hell, if I could go back, I would have gone to someone else for my first tattoo. I sure as hell wouldn’t have paid for my son to get a tattoo the next day from the same person. The quality of work in those tattoos is, frankly, crap.

I can see that now; I didn’t know nearly enough about how to look at a portfolio and determine good work from marginal and craptastic.

When you look at that first tattoo and compare it to the last one I got, the difference is astounding. In terms of quality, the first is a Yugo, the last is a Cadillac. During years between I learned a lot about tattoo quality and how to choose a decent artist.

In those years, I learned a lot, period.

Still, even though I have a fantastic artist now, I wouldn’t ask him to change it. I wouldn’t ask for anything beyond touching up the color. Everything else, I would leave the same.

When I got the tattoo, I knew what it meant to me, and what it means has never changed, even though I have. It’s a thousand colorful threads in the tapestry of my personal story; it’s a part of me, good or bad. I will always be able to look at it and have a feel for where I was in life when I got it.

Each tattoo, whether it had deep meaning when I got it or not, is a part of that tapestry. It’s my history, part of the evolution of becoming and being me.

My Superman shield will always be a touchstone to a man who was so well loved that the chapel in which his funeral was held was over capacity. The hummingbird beneath is will always be the light and love of his life, who carried on and thrived but still holds him close in every waking moment.

The cats in the tree, for the rest of my life are testament to commitment and family; no matter what my parents honored the promises they made to each other and I can look at it and feel them together, even now. That family tree spring from the storybook of their lives; it’s not just for me, it’s for the sisters I have because of their commitment, for the wonderful memories of all they’ve been and done for me.

Pink ribbon feet…all the miles walked, the reminder that no matter how bad I might have it at times, someone out there needs my feet on the ground doing something, not sitting here feeling sorry for myself.

Max’s face, right there where I can see it every single day; it really is more than a tattoo for a pretty freaking sweet cat. The incredible image created by Karen Nichols for Max’s Mousebreath column is there to remind me that in the vast, echoing halls of the Internet, there are people who are creative and wonderfully generous. People who will bend over backwards for total strangers, who aren’t afraid to take that leap from the shadows into some fairly absurd fun. Max starting a blog brought into my life people who will matter to me until the bitter end.

Calvin and Hobbes, riding in a TARDIS; that will always spark memories of how intensely creative the Boy was a child, his wild imagination at play, couple with something wickedly fun he brought into our lives that turned into somewhat of an obsession. Calvin dressed as the 11th Doctor will always make me think of the 3 year old who charged across the floor holding his fist high, clutching an imaginary sword as he yelled out GERMONIRO!

And the latest one, purely for fun, but it’s totally the Spouse Thingy and me. The Grumpy who is rarely a grump, the laughter and the fun.

No matter where life takes me, how much I change, these images I carry with me are touchstones to who I was in the moment; they trigger cherished memories and feelings. I may not always be in love with the individual tattoos—I think anyone who has ever gotten a tattoo will ride waves of feeling about it over the years—but they will always remind me of that time in my life.

They’re always going to matter.

My friend’s 21 year old is going to change; we all do. But when he’s 40 that tattoo probably won’t be a regret, but a touchstone.

“What do you feel when you look down and see all that ink on your arms?”

In all honestly…I finally feel like me.


24 February 2014

Every morning, even if I stumbled to the kitchen earlier to feed the cats, Max comes into the bedroom between 9-9:30 and wakes me up. He tends to take this job seriously, making sure that I get out of bed, get dressed, and take my meds. I almost rely on him; he seems to understand when I'm sick and doesn't get me up then, but otherwise it's pretty rare that my furry alarm doesn't jump on the bed and meow in my ear.

I've stayed up a little later than normal the last couple of nights, which probably disturbs the cats' routine (that doesn't stop them from wanting breakfast around 7:15; they understand that if the Man was not in bed at night, he'll be coming through the door in time to feed them. If he's in bed, Max will try to get me up while Buddah works on the Spouse Thingy) and last night they stayed up with me, trying to talk me out of extra food. I think I finally went to bed at 2:30.

Then comes this morning. I rolled over and figured it had to be a little before 9, because there was no furry lump curled up by my head. I debated waiting for him--he does seem to enjoy being the one to get me up--or just going ahead, because dammit, I had to pee.

My small, often-faulty sense of logic kicked in: just check the time. If it was only 2-3 minutes before 9, I could probably wait. If it was 9:15, I'd be better off getting up.

So I rolled over again and looked at the clock.

10:45. was nearly 11 o'clock and no Max.

No, I was not worried. My first impulse was Hell yeah, I caught up on some sleep and my second was to feel a bit guilty because I was likely the reason he didn't wake me up. He was sound asleep in the living room, probably tired because I kept him up last night.

Now it's a little after midnight and I'm wide awake because...well, I got up at 10:45. Max is asleep in another room because I'm in the living room making noise. Which means tomorrow he's going to pry my ass out of bed around 8:45, just because he can.


21 February 2014

"Penultimate" does not mean "the best" nor does it mean "most ultimate." It means the one before the last. Second to last. Not the last; not the best; not the squeal-with-happiness ending.

So if someone tells you "that was the penultimate sucker punch," you might want to brace yourself, because another one is coming.

(This aside is brought to you by the letter "Y," the number 6, and a teacher for whom the discussion on the word led to GREAT BIG GIANT SHOUTING LETTERS and I'M A TEACHER AND YOU'RE NOT SO LALALALA SHUDDUP*. Don't blame me; I just witnessed it. And I weep a little for her students.)

*I paraphrase.


17 February 2014

After getting a small bite of the Spouse Thingy's dinner--a beef brat--Max wandered over to the fireplace, pulled his nip banana close, and drifted off.

This isn't unusual; he loves the fireplace and likes to plop down there, bake on one side, flip over, bake, and then go cool off in his little hutch next to the fireplace.

But after a while, I realized he hadn't flipped over.

And a bit after that, he'd been there far longer than normal.

So I watched. And from where I sat, I couldn't tell if he was breathing or not. I picked up my phone and turned it on--that usually gets an eye open--and then took a picture, and he still didn't budge.

"Max," I whispered.


"Max." A little louder.

"Breathe, you little shit," at full volume.


I almost got up; I knew that if he was all right, just the sound of the recliner's footrest being lowered would wake him up, because it's loud and he doesn't like it. But the goal wasn't to really bother was to just make sure he was alive.

So I whispered again.


His eyes popped open, he lifted his head, and looked at me like, "Did I hear that right? Treats?"

I sighed hard, and was =t h i s= close to getting up and getting him a couple of crunchy treats, when he pulled his banana even closer and set his head on it, closing his eyes.

He's pushing 13. So I worry. And I suspect he knows it.

Damn cat.


13 February 2014

So far, all my tattoos have had meaning, either something deeply personal or a memorial. But this time? This time I wanted something cool. Something fun. Something for the Spouse Thingy and me, but with no deep meaning behind it other than I wanted it.

The Spouse Thingy is Grumpy...or at least all his Disney t-shirts have Grumpy on them. I'm still Thumper. And that's pretty much all I told Big Greg about what I wanted. I had a picture to show him, but that was really only a reminder of what I wanted. Thumper, Grumpy, and awesome.

The original picture had Thumper curled up laughing and I really liked it, but I also told him I wasn't married to it; I can get that particular Thumper somewhere else on my body later if I want. I just wanted something unique and fun and I knew he would deliver.

I'm thrilled with it.

This one was pretty ouchy, though; somewhere around the 3 hour mark I got light headed and for about half an hour wondered if I was going to have to tap out, but a 10 minute break and some sugar got me back in the seat. And at the 5.25 hour mark I was getting a little squirrely but Big Greg keeps lidocaine spray on hand and used a little to get me to the 5.45 hour mark and done.

It really does make my first Thumper tattoo look like crap...not that I love that one any less; it was my first and exactly what I wanted at the time. It's just that at the time I had no idea how to choose the right artist and didn't listen to the "Um, wait" voice in my head.

No, I'm not done.

I have nekkid legs, after all...


8 February 2014

Random 6th grade memory:

For whatever reason—sadistics, statistics—when I was in 6th grade it was deemed necessary for the school nurse to drag a scale from classroom to classroom and get a weight for each of student. For “privacy” the scale was kept in the hallway near the door, and we were called out one by one; our teacher stayed in the hall with the nurse, dutifully recording each student’s weight as the nurse said it out loud. No whispers, no stage whispers; she said it loudly and clearly.

Their notion of privacy was about as un-private as it could be. While students were weighed in the hallway, the rest of us were in the classroom, listening.

We were all 11 and 12 years old; pre-teens are not exactly kind nor are they particularly sensitive about their classmates’ feelings. When the 6’ tall kid weighed in at 170, no one blinked, but when the 5’1” kid weighed in at 186, there was laughter and snorting. It was covered up with a lot of general chatter, but he knew. He could hear us, and could hear the precise moment when the chatter turned to laughter. I’m sure the teacher and the nurse heard, too, but pretended there was nothing going on in that classroom other than a lot of nonsense talking.

Compared to the other 6th grade girls I was fairly tall, and when it was my turn, no one laughed. There was apparently nothing noteworthy about my weight; the kids didn’t burst out in abrupt laughter and the nurse had nothing to say to me about it. She’d spoken to kids who were a little on the heavy side and she’d spoken to kids who were on the light side. Not a word to me, other than, “Thank you, you can go back to your seat.”

When my mother picked me up from school, I think I reported the Major Event of the Day as soon as I slid into the car. “We got weighed today!”

Apparently it was that exciting for me, since I couldn’t wait to tell her, but before I could add onto that the harsh judgment of the poor kid upon whom so much ill will was heaped, she rushed out with, “How much do you weigh?”

One hundred twenty pounds.

Until that moment, it was just a personal fact. I had brown hair, green eyes, I was five feet five inches tall and I weighed one hundred and twenty pounds.

She recoiled, literally. When that number tumbled out of my mouth she blanched, pushing herself against the driver’s side door and she blurted out, “Oh my God, you weigh more than I do!”

She wasn’t just horrified; she was pissed off. This wasn’t the first time she’d been clear about having an issue with my weight: in 4th and 5th grade I had to hear *a lot* about how I’d been skinny until third grade and how I needed to quit eating so much junk. This was the first time, however, that she’d been so unbridled with her disgust about my weight. The first time that she didn’t bite back her anger, and the first time she was basically mean about it.

To be honest, I doubt she realized she was being mean. For whatever reason, she didn’t want to have a fat kid, and those numbers told her that’s what she had. And it horrified her.

It was also a lie.

Look, I was 11 years old, very active, 5’5”, 120 pounds. I walked all over the apartment complex with my friends just about every day, I was on the soccer team, I played basketball for the fun of it, and I joined the track team. I wasn’t a little cookie-snarfing slug. I know I didn’t weigh more than she did; she was 5’8” or so and if she weighed less than 140, I’d be very, very surprised. So I don’t really know why that’s what popped out of her mouth.

At 16; I thought I was fat...
I do know it was the moment when *I* started having issues with my weight. It was declared that I needed to go on a diet; for dinner that night I had scrambled eggs, 3 scallions…and 4 Oreo cookies. I couldn’t tell you what everyone else had. I didn’t mind the eggs and the cookies, but I remember clearly that was the start of my new diet. Eggs and cookies.

Cookies, people.

There seems to be a theme to my life.

At 30; I was sure I was HUGE.
Until that day, I’d never considered myself fat. After that day, I don’t think there’s a day that’s gone by when I haven’t thought I was fat.

The truth is, I didn’t get truly overweight until I was around 35, and then it came on so fast it was kind of hard to believe. We moved from San Antonio where I was training in TKD 5 times a week to Illinois where I wasn’t. Without a change in diet, weight came on. It was still a few years before I was officially fat, and while I could blame chronic pain and hardly being able to move at times, I won’t. I like to eat; I don’t like to cook. So we eat out more than we should, and that results in some chub.

Do I have issues with it now?

Well, now I really am fat. But now I don’t really care most of the time. Somewhere along the line I figured out that the more important thing was to keep active and be healthy, and while I’ve done a less than spectacular job of living that way, at least now I know it. At least now I—for the most part; I do still have moments when I look in the mirror and am pissed off at myself—don’t give a damn what other people think.

There’s the key; I care what I think about myself. You, not so much. And I cared for far too long what my mother thought, and I know that more than once it was a reason why I didn’t work harder to save the money to go visit or why I didn’t shuffle my schedule around to make it happen. Because no matter what size I actually was, deep down I knew she thought I was fat, and the 11 year old me got a close up look at what she really thought about fat people.

I think if she had realized what that one moment had done, she’d have spent years back-pedaling hard, trying to undo it. She didn’t want to inflict the wounds and scars that she did; she just didn’t stop to think about it.

She’s not really alone in that; we all say things that cut our kids deeply without meaning to. Just take away from this one thing: your kids will see, sooner or later, how you react to and treat those who are different—fat, skinny, beautiful, ugly, nerd-geek-smart, slow or lacking obvious intelligence—and it will color how they see themselves. And you can change that color by a single sentence uttered in 4 seconds; whether that color is bright and wonderful or dark and painful is up to you.

Do I blame her? Sure. But I had some spectacular parental failures, probably worse, so there can’t be a lot of judgment with the blame.

And right now?

I have M&Ms, people, and I’m going to freaking enjoy them.


6 February 2014

A while back I bought a Fitbit Force, because I love toys and this is a practical toy. Never mind the fact that I had a perfectly functional original Fitbit...I wanted this one because it's new and spiffy, and has a watch function (which has turned out to be really nice to have when Max wakes me up in the middle of the night and I want to know what ungodly hour it happens to be.)

Then the Spouse Thingy wanted one, and they were backordered. It seems like lots of people want this thing. I finally found him one, just in time to go to Disneyland. From what I'm hearing, they're still hard to get.


You have a chance to win one.

The Boy has a brand new, in the box, Fitbit Force, and he's going to give it to one lucky person. If you want a shot at winning it, all you have to do is donate to his Special Olympics Polar Plunge Fundraiser.

Every $5 you donate gets you a shot at winning it. He's going to draw the winner on February 20th.

And no kidding, I really love mine. I liked the original, but this one is so much more convenient. I only have to charge it every 8-10 days, and it has the bonus of being able to set an alarm that buzzes me awake instead of using a loud, jarring alarm clock or phone ring. And every time I hit my daily goal, it buzzes and lets me know, and honestly, that's kind of a spiffy deal.


5 February 2014

I sat here last night watching The Biggest Loser finale with my computer perched on my lap and my phone pretty much in my hand for most of it. I co-watched it with a friend who was watching it on a DVR across the country, and as we are wont to do, we commented. About everything.

 Yeah. We're classy like that. No, I did not also want to lick Dolvette's abs, but she was pretty sure her husband would not only be fine with it, he probably wanted to, too.

The at-home contestants looked great. The woman who won that part of the whole thing dropped 175 pounds, losing somewhere around 52% of her body weight. She looked great, but she didn't look like she'd overdone it.

But then the 3 finalists came out, and it was jaw dropping.

Seriously...the jaw dropping wasn't necessarily good. They'd all obviously busted their asses to lose more weight once they were off the show and at home, trying to juggle real life with aiming for that $250,000.

Rachel, the woman who went on to win, dropped almost 60% of her body weight. She lost 155 pounds and ended at 105.

And yeah, the look between Bob & Jillian said a lot: she went too far, she lost too much, and that loss was a train headed right for them.

But...I didn't think it was much of a problem. This is a woman who was losing weight to win a show, and she knew exactly how to do that. She knew how much weight the winners of this show typically lose, and she undoubtedly knew how far she was willing to go.

She was a competition-class swimmer before she gained weight, and it hasn't been that long since she gained it, just a few years. You know those 3 Month Progress advertisements a lot of weight loss systems used to run? The chubby guy who morphs in just 3 months into a muscle-bound stud?

They take someone who's fit, cut, and willing to chub out, don't let him work out for 5-6 months, shove 10,000 calories a day down his throat, and then take the Day 1 picture. Those few months are not enough to lose the metabolism and muscle memory, so they hit the gym and get back on their regular food plan, eating clean, and yeah, in 3 months they're cut again.

I don't think it's all too different here, other than the time between being an athlete and trying to lost the weight. It was harder at first because it had been a few years...but an athlete's body is pretty good at retaining the memory of being lean and being fit, and once the metabolism really gets back into gear, it works quiet well.

She had to work her ass off, for sure, but somewhere in her body was the memory of being that fit and that lean. She probably worked past where she would normally be for the sake of winning, and now that she's won, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if she gained back as much as ten pounds for the sake of her health.

I don't think how she looked automatically means she's gone from one extreme of having body image issues to the other.

I think it only means she really wanted to win.

No surprise there.

The Internets like to freak. A lot. And they already are. I saw a post on FB; Bob Harper is already trying to push back from it.

But my take? She was only 3-4% higher in weight loss than the guys she was competing against. Would I do the same thing?

Hell yes, if I could. You dangle that much money in front of me and if I can do it, I will.

Go ahead.

Test me.


I bet if someone offered me $250,000 I would find a way to lost 60% of my body weight. I really would like to find out...


3 February 2014

On July 3rd, 2012, sometime around 11 a.m., I was lying in bed on my right side with my knees drawn up and my arms crossed at my belly as if to hold life itself in; I had a notion run through my head like a cranky toddler trying to avoid getting a vaccination: Oh, God, this is why some people want to die.

I didn’t want to die; I was in serious pain and nauseated as hell, but in one fleeting moment I thought I understood why some people choose to end their lives rather than endure any more pain. I knew that sooner or later there would be at least a modicum of relief. Sooner or later the Spouse Thingy was going to come into the darkened bedroom armed with Percoset and Phenergan and that the edge of the knife of pain would have its blade dulled, and I would be able to get a little sleep. I was sicker than I had ever been, but eventually I would recover.

The longer it took for him to show up with the pain meds, the more I understood the need to crawl away from pain.

I’ve been in pain of varying degrees since 1997, but this was new; this was the sort of pain that chews you up and spits you out in large, semi-chewed bites, and keeps coming at you as if you’re a never ending buffet of sadistic culinary delights. This was pain that, had I not known that there would likely be an end point, might have sent me over the edge.

It’s stuck with me. This is why some people want to die.

Over time it’s also why I’ve come to understand, just a little bit, why addiction seems so prevalent. Why anyone would choose the risk that comes with taking that drug the first time.

No one ever thinks they’ll become addicted.

Yet I’m sure that for most, it’s the gateway to taking that knife blade and dulling the edge before it reaches the point where death is the better idea.

I was curled up in bed waiting for relief, waiting for the one thing that stood between agony and rest. The one thing I knew would make a difference.

That one thing was a narcotic.

No, I didn’t become addicted to it. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t have. I was in considerable pain and it went on long enough that I can easily see how that could have happened. Another week, another month, who knows? It worked just well enough to keep me sane, and combined with the anti-nausea medication kept me asleep enough to avoid most of the emotional drainage that comes with being in that much pain.

As I felt better I was able to ease off the Percoset; I consider myself lucky for that.

Pain is pain; whether it’s physical, mental, emotional…it’s pain. It’s draining. It robs you of your ability to see past what hurts. It becomes an entity to which attention must be paid, and while you’re trying to wrestle with it, there’s not much left. You’re pretty much lost to yourself. There’s the shell of your existence, and the pain.

The agony that left me thinking I understood why some people want to die didn’t have to be physical; I don’t imagine it’s any different for someone in deep emotional pain or crushing mental disease. And the thing I knew was coming to me to help dull that agony is the same thing thousands of people in pain reach for.


I knew that drug was going to help, and all I wanted, from the moment the drugs I’d been given in the ER wore off until the Spouse Thingy came into the room, was that drug.

Yesterday as the news of the death of one hell of a talented actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, was shared in stunned Facebook status updates and urgent-sounding Tweets and news bulletins, woven into the total shock came—as it always does—the grumbling from those who felt that he’d done this to himself, so there really should be no sympathy. He made a choice; he chose to take drugs in the first place, and he chose to fall off the proverbial wagon and go back to drug use.

Maybe he did.

I doubt it, though.

No one, save for those few who were privy to the personal demons of Hoffman, will ever know what made him reach for those first drugs.

The same could be said for any addict: no one takes that first drug thinking they’ll be addicted. But there’s almost always a reason they do reach for it, and I’m betting that at the bottom of the pile of detritus of their lives is a throbbing, relentless, oh-holy-hell knife of pain, the blade of which they only wanted to dull.

I don’t know the statistics; I don’t know how many people become addicted because they were young and stupid and just wanted to try sometime fun and it kicked back on them harder than they ever could have expected. I don’t know how many people slip from the occasional recreational drink to frequent social drinking to full bore alcoholism. I don’t know anything beyond my own experience and the small window it has allowed me to peek through.

There is pain so severe that you can just want to die. And there is the hope of relief so attainable that you willingly reach for it, and you simply don’t know what the end result will be.

You may recover and be able to leave the pharmaceutical help behind, or you may not. And when you’re in that kind of pain, I don’t think it’s your fault.

You do what you have to in order to survive, and there’s the chance that you might not. You dull the edge of the blade and hope that’s good enough, and risk the odds that the knife is sharp on both sides.

Sometimes you lose.

Sometimes, you die.

And when you do…it would be nice if it didn’t come with a lot of judgment, a lot of supposition about how and why, or with character assassinations.

Miss them, mourn them…but don’t judge them. Because one day it might be you curled up in a tight ball of oh-holy-hell, and you cannot, you absolutely cannot, predict how it will end.