We Need to Talk

I talk to my dog a lot.

Occasionally, I’ll exchange a few lyrical syllables with my cat.

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When my teenagers are around—and if you’ve ever owned a couple, you’ll know that the frequency of those events diminish exponentially in relation to the number of Facebook friends they acquire—I remind myself to listen instead of lecture. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

But ‘talking’ is something I’m going to have to get good at—and fast. Because if you publish a book, history tells us that the success of that book reaching the hands of interested readers only happens if you actually announce it exists.

And you have to announce this A LOT.

But this is a problem. For me anyway.

Public speaking is something I used to do and got paid for it. But three things were categorically different back then. One – I was pretty young. Two – this was the music industry. And three – I knew that most of the individuals in the audience were three sheets to the wind and wouldn’t remember what I’d said in the morning if they found themselves presented with a pop quiz at breakfast.

This time, it’s a whole new kettle of fish. Or ballgame. Or can of worms if you really love clichés—which I don’t, and avoid like the plague.

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As a young mother, I got used to the idea that repetition was key to remembering. I lived by the book of layering life skills—which is just a fancy way of saying that I came to realize what all newbie parents realize: gurgling, wobbling infants have precious little recollection of you spending an inordinate about of time warning them that they should never do drugs, discover what inspires them, and always check the expiration date on a quart of milk before drinking from it.

Therefore, I got really good at repeating myself. Ad nauseum. And this is pretty much what my children have decided is my name translated into Latin.

And speaking about my upcoming book would be a helluva lot easier if that was the only book I have written and was still steeped within its plot, characters, and setting. But I’m not. I am two and a half books ahead of it, and writing a blog, and critiquing other writers’ manuscripts,

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and continually in the process of creating new untraceable identities for myself in order to keep one step ahead of the British legal system that is in pursuit of an unpaid parking ticket. Yes, the sign said ‘Diplomatic cars only.’ But after a quick conversation with my rental car, I immediately surmised it was extraordinarily tactful. It qualified.

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My point is, I can’t keep everything straight, and some things I’ve allowed to leak out of my head in order to make room for others. And not having a well-organized memory palace, I’ve forgotten in which rooms I’ve placed important people and data.

How many folks will be willing to sit in front of me at the podium and patiently wait while I attempt to recall if this was the book where I wrote about my passion for all things related to the US Postal Service, or if it was the one where I canonized the inner workings of college dormitory laundry facilities and the secrets withheld by the Dean of Sanitation? I think we can safely assume I’ll be offered a short grace period of substance summoning.

That said, my desk is becoming littered with sticky notes, wall pasted pages, and 3D models made from deli plastic spoons all meant to keep fresh in my mind the topics I will soon be rattling on about. And these desperate attempts to solidify needed data in my head are bleeding over into more areas than just my workspace.

I’ve got a chart of bullet points in the bathroom.

Opening up the fridge reveals a list of statistics that illustrates the bullet points.

Turning back the duvet on my bed uncovers the twelve most helpful and amazing memory tricks—three of which I am capable of remembering—and it also uncovers cat hair. Apparently someone else in my household is determined to ward of dementia.

Or maybe she’s got a lecture coming up and our calendars have not yet synced.

I’ve also forced myself to listen to a lot of podcasts about public speaking and body language, because apparently even if you have the most dynamic ability to recall your sparkling speech, it can be wholly disconcerting if the only things barely moving are your upper and lower lips and you’re in a death lock gripping stare with the coffee pot on the refreshment table.

I get it.

Move about. Engage in eye contact with the entire room. Make sweeping arm gestures, but not ones that will leave folks wondering if you’re signaling for help or attempting to land a Boeing 757.

And change the pitch of your voice but don’t display any vocal fry. Not too high, nor too low, don’t swallow your words, nor over pronounce them. Use the mic, try to project, speak from the diaphragm, make sure you’ve got all your teeth in—the list goes on.

Preparing to speak in front of a crowd is about as nerve-wracking as being an intern who is allowed into your first surgical experience and handed the job of holding onto the life-preserving clamped aorta just before being warned by the nurse opposite you that you should be careful because Nigel, the anesthesiologist, is quite the practical joker and loves to sneak up on first year residents and catch them off guard by tickling them under the armpits.

So I’m trying to get prepared. For all the upcoming talking.

At the rate things are going, with all the hazards, pitfalls, and potential snags, I may just talk myself right out of talking altogether.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate

When hearing the term “spring break” many of us easily conjure up the images of families taking off for that one last round of late winter skiing, or finding a child-friendly cruise, with wallet-friendly options. We see ourselves organizing the garage, and sifting through closets, a cathartic cleanse that gifts us new space. And it’s especially easy to picture a throng of college students making their way en masse toward sandy white beaches far removed from the cramped, windowless lecture halls they’ve occupied through dark winter months.

But this year spring break was anything but the above depictions. For me, that is. And I think for my daughter too.

This year I spent the time uneasy and restless, tense and observant. I spent it hoping to hear the words in someone else’s thoughts. I needed to measure the struggle, my daughter’s level of distress.

Her campus was in crisis mode, all parents on high alert. The same lamentable word refused to be muted, would not release its steadfast grip.

Suicide.

It is a word that strikes through the strength of a family and weakens the backbone of a community. It is an action that brings us to our knees with the senseless loss from an unheard cry.

Chronic stress is a familiar disease most every college student is acquainted with. Its unforgiving malady inflicts academic anxiety, depletes crucial sleep, and unleashes widespread social struggles, challenging our children to fit in somewhere new in someplace foreign.

A known and nerve-wracking fact among parents and educators, the leading cause of death among university students is suicide. The statistics are varied, and we brace ourselves to hear of the wretched news. One is horrifically tragic. A second is a spreading concern.

But five?

Five within one year? And all on one campus.

It left me desperate to talk to my child … and to hear my child talk.

I wanted her home, with me where I could see her. But I forced a stillness within myself, remembering that she was attempting to build herself a new home. To stretch and redefine who she was. To discover where she will next belong.

We’d speak on the phone. I’d offer her words. But words are paltry and may only provide an anemic effect. It’s nearly impossible to feel you are getting an accurate reading in a situation such as this. It is a terrible tug of war. The wanting. The wanting to rush someplace and fix something. But that is not always the answer.

Your answer is not always their answer.

In the last 19 ½ years I have known this child, a few things have bubbled to the surface to claim the top box if she were filling out an application profile, describing who she is. It’s likely she’d say:

A scientist

A musician

An activist

But there is a tiny little baker buried deep inside her that materializes when in desperate need to combat ironfisted stress.

When spring break arrived, I met her at the airport. Encased in a hug that I hoped echoed a million words of warmth, I breathed her in. I’d missed the spice of her hair, the honeyed notes of her perfume.

I took her home—and not to a beach, the garage or the slopes. To no great surprise her personal Pillsbury Doughboy punched in daily on his flour-dusted time clock. Within minutes of arriving, he had transformed my kitchen into a satellite city patisserie.

Dorms consider a communal kitchen to be a closet with a microwave from 1957. College cafeterias are considered fresh and contemporary if they could advertise they’ve been cooking ‘nose to tail’ recipes long before it was considered hip, and were nearly certain there was a fork somewhere in the utensil bin that was dedicated as “peanut free.”

Winters can be bleak and mournful if the closest you can come to home cooking are dorm room banned candles crafted to smell like meatloaf and chocolate chip cookies.

My kitchen became an invisible big-bosomed therapist, warm from the heat of the oven, smelling of Madagascar vanilla, and costing a considerable amount of money which insurance companies would never reimburse under the umbrella of preventative healthcare.

It didn’t matter.

I savored the fact that she was home. And day by day the smudgy, dark circles beneath her eyes—the circles I at first took for a potential dabble into a late teen Goth phase, but knew were the result of a schedule where sleep was rarely granted before 3am—slowly faded. I would not have been surprised to see her drop her bag at the end of her childhood bed, fall prone and not rise until I told her it was time to head back.

But there was that urge to bake. To turn the bitter into sweet.

Every day the pantry was scoured, the fridge was raided, and recipe books were consulted. Every day something fragrant appeared in finished form, its come hither whispers accompanied by an invisible finger, crooked and beckoning.

There were mounds of muffins and breads, cookies and tarts. Chocolate covered confections and lime zested pies. Graham crackers married sticks of butter and served as a crumbly hug for whatever they embraced. Coconuts and pecans toasted themselves beneath the fiery, wiry heat of a broiler set to suntan. Apples, dates, bananas and carrots had every gram of sugar coaxed out of them with the deep calm of an individual lazily spinning through the quiet hours of an unnoticed afternoon.

Day by day, ample perfumes mingled with each other to signify a steadily budding state of grace.

Taste this.

Eat that.

Try those.

Little words, big flavors, potential aid promising relief.

Every day I told myself, Okay, either she’s going to run out of steam, or I’m going to run out of ingredients. The end is near.

The “End” did not arrive until I returned her and her tiny duffle bag to the airport where she was soon whisked back to seven more weeks of muddling through those stressors she’d left; the disquieting uneasiness locked behind a dorm room door and strewn about a grief-stricken campus.

The list of things I have to offer this child may be rapidly diminishing in terms of parental care, but there is still comfort. I will hold what she cannot contain, I will hear what she cannot say, and I will eat what she cannot finish.

She may not have had a traditional respite from school this year, less spring break more spring bake. But I hope it was what she needed.

When I walk into a space that is filled with the heady aroma of caramelizing sugar, I am immediately reminded of my daughter. Transported to a nearly tangible encounter, it is at once comforting and then painful. It is something I wish I could return to those heartbroken parents—the unmistakable scent of their child.

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~Shelley

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Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Phoning It In

As a writer, it is a mortal wound to have your words identified as cliché.

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To have nothing new to say, and nothing novel to offer, is to look down and see spurting lifeblood flowing from the femoral artery of your quill. You might as well place your hands upon your chest and lie flat with the waiting of the inevitable.

As a human being, to live a clichéd life is to miss out on the depth and breadth offered when handed the menu of all that is available whilst you still draw breath.

Would Madam prefer beef or chicken tonight? Or perhaps the fish? The chef has a lovely bit of Dover sole.

“No, tonight I shall have cricket as my protein.”

As you wish.

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But sometimes, no matter how hard you try to order ‘off menu,’ you are snapped back to form as if your life were fired in the kiln of shape memory alloy.

Turning the page will reveal a predictable, cringe-worthy, mulish experience. Sometimes there is nothing left to do, but soldier on.

And then blog it.

Words are everything to me. They are the more than one million flavors of communication available at my beck and call. They reside on my shelves, bound between covers in several ‘parts of speech pantries’ I never need to restock. But I have a preference as to how I like to use them. I rarely dish them up straight from the pan, hot and bubbling, but rather allow them to cool, their flavors to meld, taste-tested a dozen times before serving.

I like to write. Not so much to speak.

Which is why I detest … THE CONFERENCE CALL.

And if you have ever spoken to an individual in business that is part of an organization consisting of more than two people, and those ‘more than two people’ must communicate a lot of information that needs addressing soon and fast, you’ll likely have heard about just how bad conference calls can be. Or annoying. Or snooze-worthy.

Or disastrous.

I’m getting used to them. But I hate them more than I hate the thought of eating a slice of stinkbug pie—

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with a side of cowpie patty ice cream.

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Really.

I like to be prepared. Over-prepared. I don’t like surprises. I like to know what’s going to be discussed, and will have given it all a great deal of thought with most of those thoughts written down for handy reference. Spontaneity is not my friend. It is as if spontaneity and I met one day at a snow cone shop and spontaneity grabbed my cone and threw it down on the side walk. And all I can do is look at my cone melting in front of me with no idea what to say or do because I didn’t rehearse this part of life.

Yeah, meta.

But if I’m going to have one of those spontaneous, disastrous moments occur, I want it to be MY moment. And not a repeat of the cosmic collection of moments everyone else has already had and tweeted about.

But I didn’t. It was so … predictably, boringly normal.

Was I prepared with all my notes that I’d been gathering, writing and crafting for the last three weeks? Check.

Was I sufficiently caffeinated for focus, and now holding a brimming cup of chamomile tea to counter the effects of the previous jittery drink? Check.

Had I used the bathroom? Was my phone plugged into the socket so that soon it would be fully charged? Did I have a timer set to make sure I’d not call in late? Check, check and check.

I was ready.

Did my alarm not go off, and being fully immersed in work, I would not recognize it until ten minutes passed the call time? Check.

Once integrated into the call, did the house phone on my desk begin to ring with shrill hysteria, and did I suddenly discover that this phone had no ‘off’ ringer switch? Check.

Did the answering machine on the other side of the room kick in at full volume making it sound like someone else joined the call? Check.

Did the above scenario repeat itself verbatim sixty seconds later? Check.

Did the doorbell ring and set the dog into an absolute frenzy because someone unexpectedly showed up at a place that requires a travel agent and a spirit guide to gain access to? Check.

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Did I embarrassingly have to excuse myself to answer the door and calm the dog and yank the answering machine from the drywall? Check.

Did I return to find my phone had died because it hadn’t been properly secured into the outlet and therefore I’d dropped off the call from battery failure? Check.

While plugging it back in beneath my desk, did I bump the desk so hard that it knocked over my cup of tea onto all my well-prepared notes rendering them unreadable? Check.

Did I phone back in to join a group of people who were now seriously doubting whether I was firing on all cylinders? Check.

After sixty seconds of rejoining the call did my phone alarm finally go off reminding me and everyone else that it was time to phone into the conference call? Check.

Had I mistakenly allowed one of my girlfriend’s children to play with my phone the day before only to realize that the smarty pants had changed all my sound notifications to that of Pac Man dying? Check.

Did everyone on the phone call gasp in horror and accuse me of playing video games whilst on the call? Check.

Yes. It was disastrous. I failed miserably. And I have nothing new to offer the scenario of disastrous, failed, humiliating conference calls.

I am cliché. I am watching the lifeblood bleed out of what could have been an interesting story. I am resigned.

I am silent.

I am thoughtful.

I am determined.

Tomorrow, I eat crickets.

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~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Memory Lane; How Science is Planning to Make a Few More

I love learning about the brain.

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I’m continually unearthing new research revealing fresh discoveries that must make the neuroscientists who discovered them leap up and down like seven-year-olds when you tell them you’re taking them to the local ice cream parlor for a double scoop.

Some of the studies are astonishing.

Most of the studies are encouraging.

All of the studies are in a version that is appropriate for a twelve-year-old to interpret. That’s pretty much the only way I will be able to absorb all of the astonishing and encouraging data. A neuroscientist I am not. But I do have a brain. And that’s about as much as we share in common—apart from the fact that I will leap up and down for a double scoop when offered as well.

The latest brain study I stumbled upon was all about memory creation. I can’t remember who authored the paper, or which university the research took place at—but that likely points toward exactly why I was out hunting for memory studies in the first place.

The study discussed two particular regions of the brain that need to speak with one another in order to create successful learning:

the hippocampus,

and the prefrontal cortex.

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Apparently, if we are working on a task of learning to connect two objects to one anotherlike shoe and foot, or chair and tableour brain’s neurons are busily firing off. And, as a result, generate brain waves.

And also apparently, these two chunks of gray matter—the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex—use two different frequencies to communicate whether or not we guessed correctly, in which case we’ll get a blue ribbon to sport, or whether we guessed wrongly, and are then seated in the corner of the room with a pointy shaped hat on our heads.

It all comes down to the oscillation of the waves.

Answering correctly—a thumbs up—makes the waves oscillate at a high rate referred to as the beta frequency (9-16 hertz), and a thumbs down results in a lower oscillation called theta frequency (2-6 hertz).

I’m pretty sure we should add a two thumbs down result in here for the general faction of teenage boys which typically operate at the lowest frequency setting of thunka (-3-0 hertz) just to be on the safe side of science.

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If I can remember where I placed the study, I will petition the authors to include my data into their research.

The scientists documented brainwave frequencies while studying test subject animals. These critters were tasked to learn which two images should be connected to one another and which two images should not be coupled. This was done through trial and error. A reward was given to indicate a correct choice. It’s like when you try to teach your cat how to drive. The only way they will receive the reward of finally making it to their favorite acupuncturist on time is if they learn that they must insert a key into the car’s ignition and not a spatula.

Simple, right?

Choosing the “right” answers showed that the pathways between neurons were strengthening. And choosing the “wrong” answers weakened pathways. It was as if the brain was trying to communicate through the oscillation of waves which neural pathway should have a giant WELCOME sign at its entrance, and which should be choking with weeds, overrun with poison ivy and displaying a placard with a skull and crossbones.

And the hope is that now scientists will be able to utilize low voltage electrical stimulation to the brain to “speed up” the process of learning. And who wouldn’t go for that, right?

Soon we’ll all be able to put on a special hat, attach ourselves to the nearest electrical outlet, and begin the once arduous process of learning a language, conquering physics, or watching something like Seth MacFarlane’s film, A Million Ways to Die in the West. With a few tweaks of current control, you’ll be conversing in Chinese, building the next Mars rover, and hacking into production facilities with the intent to destroy wretched films in the nick of time just before they’re widely released for public consumption.

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If nothing more, I’m incredibly encouraged by the research taking place and wholly support any studies that will not only retain the vital neurological pathways I’ve worked so hard to establish already, but potentially make it possible for me to go on learning new information that can only enrich and deepen my intellectual experience.

As a reward to myself for having made it through reading this particularly challenging study on cognitive function and its future, I’m heading out to the nearest, local ice cream parlor for a double scoop.

Now if I could only find where I put my spatula …

~Shelley

 

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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The Road to Hell is Paved With Snowplows

I’m having one of those days.

Everybody has them. Everyone is familiar with them. Nobody likes them. And we all nearly collapse with gratitude at the end of them.

I call them: Good For Nothin’ Days.

Or: Why Me Why Now? Days.

And even: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DOES ANYONE STILL MAKE CALGON?! Days.

I am having one of the last category days today. And I would like to get off the bus at the next stop and call an end to the day in general. Go no further on this ride.

I am a big list maker.

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I believe in the effectiveness of lists like most folks believe in the effectiveness of vitamins, or prayer, or eggs. The jury is still out on whether or not many of these things actually contribute benefit to our lives, but loads of us are diehard fans who will shoot down any negative data and cling to that which we know and are comfortable with. Because it’s safe.

And … change sucks.

The problem with today, and my list, is that nothing is getting crossed off. And the anxiety of having a day without the satisfaction of putting a line through tasks is much like having a warm heart to heart with an innocent, furry little lab mouse and telling him that today he will not be receiving his ever-available, always-flowing drip tube of liquid cocaine, and that he should just try to shake off the upset he’ll likely begin to feel at some point.

LIKELY??

I am in total sync with the bewhiskered wretch. His tears are my tears. We pace the same cage. We are tormented by the same misery.

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It’s not like I am making no effort to accomplish things today, but rather I am dependent upon other people, and although I have what feels like a bottomless pit of enthusiasm to spur on the lackluster drive of others, I cannot throw two or three or a half a dozen folks onto a sled and drag them up to the top of the hill to plant our collective flags.

One reason is because a snowplow is blocking the way.

Yes, I know it’s the end of March for you, but for me it’s smack dab in the middle of February. See? Time travel does work. Or rather, that’s how an editorial calendar works.

Part of the beauty of living where I do is that it’s remote.

Part of the bane of my existence, living where I do, is that it’s remote.

I prefer NOT to have interaction with most human beings because they interfere with my ability to work. But on the flipside, when I do need assistance, I can hear folks on the other end of the line all drawing straws to see who’s the unfortunate sod who will be assigned my work request order.

Usually I hear something like, “Uhhh … yeah, you should expect to see Jimmy—”

NO!

“I mean Buck—”

NUH UH!

“Hold on a sec …” (insert muffled growls) “Vernon’s comin’ by tomorrow sometime after lunch, God willin’.”

*sigh*

I’m not surprised. Or offended. I get it. It takes forever to get here, and the getting here part is usually rife with treacherous debacles waiting ‘round every bend—and by every bend I’m talking about the driveway. The first thing out of everyone’s mouth is always, “Seriously?” followed closely by a “ooohWEE!”, or a deleted expletive, depending upon what part of the county they were coming from.

My answer to the seriously? question was to have a 55 mph sign installed at the most dangerous and impossible part of the drive. I figured this was a surefire way of eliminating any person with an IQ that fell below that of leaf mulch from making it to the top and thus to my doorbell.

The ditches on either side of my driveway have housed more automobiles than many car dealerships around here. Tow trucks almost always call for backup tow trucks, which result in calls back to the shop for specialized winches, axles, and ratchet straps, and when they realize they’re both in a bind, someone usually phones David Copperfield to get a quote on levitation.

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If there’s even a whisper of frozen precipitation in the forecast for my local area, it’s generally guaranteed that all packaged mail delivery folks will leave a note on the gate at the bottom of the hill saying they dropped by, three days running, and go figure, no one was ever home. Anyone scheduled to head up here for maintenance suddenly has a “family emergency” and will have to reschedule. For some time in June.

For some time in June.

Snowplow drivers, on the other hand, are a fearless breed. Those that do not get hired by the county are the ones that generally have been weeded out because although they may lack fear, they usually also lack sound judgment. Most drivers will recognize the difference between pushing a load of snow, and say, taking down a small grove of fruit trees, or clearing the road of pesky fire hydrants and mailboxes.  The ones who feel it’s pretty much samey samey, hang up a shingle come wintertime and are up for private hire.

Lucky us.

And luckier me, I’m going to head down the mountain’s deadly driveway for the third time today to find out if this fearless fellow would finally like for me to call for backup to get him back on the road and out of the grove of solid trees he mistakenly took for the route we normally use with our cars.

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“Yeah,” he says, kicking a tire that just can’t seem to get a purchase on the air it’s spinning in. “I’ve tried and tried,” he waves his cell phone at me, “but I can’t get no service up here on this mountain.”

Tell me about it.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Living in a Crack House

“It is NOT possessed!” I shout into the phone to one of my friends, who—because she allows me to shout at her when necessary—is exceptionally dear to me.

And that is a number one rule of friendship in my book. To truly be friends, you must be able to display your well-developed lung power and not be judged as super shouty and hysterical. You are merely passionate.

And I am passionately explaining to her that my house is not ruled by demonic forces.

“My house is just making a few unusual noises,” I explain. “Popping and cracking not moaning and groaning. What you’re describing is a dwelling that gets a movie deal and starts showing two weeks before Halloween.”

I put the phone down on her. Not in a huffy, I-hate-you-and-this-girl-gang-thing-we’ve-got-going-on-is-so-over kind of a way, but rather in the I’ve-work-to-do-plus-you-make-no-sense kind of a way. There’s a difference. And we both know it.

And I also know that my house is NOT haunted.

I’m going to guess that everybody’s abode makes noise in some fashion or another, but most of us are either surrounded by so much superfluous noise we don’t hear it, or we blame it all on our teenage sons—whether we have one or not. Let’s face it. They are responsible for many of the world’s ‘unresponsive to medication’ headaches.

It all started a couple of weeks ago as I was working at my desk, in a house I believed to be devoid of noise. I nearly jumped out of my skin at the massive crack that filled the air.

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Because I was so submerged in writing, the only thing that pulled me to the surface was the loud sound. Not the direction the sound came from, nor an inkling as to what caused it. I shrugged and went back to work. But just like a toddler tugging at your shirt as you are trying to hold a conversation with the pediatrician, and the pediatrician is rattling off the ‘follow these directions for medication treatment or death is imminent’ jargon, that toddler will be heard. Two more tugs—er, cracks soon followed.

And these I hunted down. Somewhere on the second floor, I surmised. There was nothing obvious to explain the sounds. No great chunk of ceiling had fallen. No wall had caved in. There was no disarray on the floor to suggest the handiwork of feline tomfoolery. It was as I’d last left it. Which, quite honestly, I could not accurately pin down on the calendar. When had I last been up here?

I returned to my usual post and passed the rest of the day enjoying the sounds of nothing but the gear shifts deeply embedded within my brain.

Hours later, while preparing a lavish meal of tinned food and kibbles for the critters, I was struck dumb at the encore of cracks identical from earlier in the day. I rushed to where I was positive the sounds had sprung from and looked up. I was standing right below my daughter’s closet. I laughed and then explained to the dog. “It makes perfect sense. Remember those two car-sized suitcases we lugged into the trunk just before taking her back to university? Yep. That’s this part of the house springing back into its original shape from no longer having to hold the weight of her clothing.”

But I remained curious. And then noticed these pops and cracks coming from other places in the house. In particular, the windows at sunset.

I decided I was in dire need of an expert so I hunted down a friend of mine who happens to be an architect.

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“So what the heck is happening? I’m beginning to feel like I’m living in a house that sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies.”

He laughed, rolled up his sleeves, and took a big breath.

“There’s an inordinate amount of chatter taking place in the average home that covers up what your non-demonic, unhaunted, not-specter-infested house is trying to say. Turn off the TV. Unplug the radio. Slap a strip of duct tape over the pie hole of anyone that steps across your threshold and listen. Really listen.”

I did.

To him—for the next thirty minutes.

“Your house is a living, breathing, organic structure. The cold, the heat, the rain, a drought—it all has an effect—and a gloriously audible one on your home.”

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I leaned back a little in my chair. He was starting to spray spit with his enthusiasm.

“Your wood expands and contracts, the nails twist and pop with the friction of those movements. Your foundation responds to the shifting ground. The glass in your windows reacts to the sudden loss of heat at sunset. It’s marvelous. The physics of it all is absolutely marvelous!” He slapped the table with a great big WHACK for emphasis.

I nodded and glanced around to see a mother gather up her toddler and his toys, and move him to a table that would clearly give her a head start if things went further south.

“And have you ever listened to your house breathe? The air ducts are like esophagi. And the pipes that run through the floors and ceilings carrying water are like blood vessels. The wiring and circuitry are equivalent to the electrical impulses of the brain. Your house is alive—”

“Oops—hold that thought.” I leaped from the table and waved my phone at him. “Gotta take this.”

There was no incoming, but I dashed off the numbers for an outgoing lickety split. I called the friend who doesn’t mind my non-hysterical shouty conversations.

“Just to let you know, I now have confirmation that the house is not possessed. Everything I’m hearing is normal. It’s all engineering and physics behind the noises.”

“Bully for you,” she said in the snarky dulcet tones I have grown to love.

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“Thanks. But do you happen to have the number of a priest who does exorcisms?”

There was a slight pause on her end of the phone. “I thought you said the house wasn’t possessed.”

“It isn’t,” I said. “But the architect I’m sitting across from is.”

~Shelley

*PHOTOS OF ROBIN GOTT IN HIS NEW PLAY!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Shedding Light on the Seat of Power

Today was an interesting day. Today I found a small section of my brain where, upon closer inspection, it was revealed that a couple synaptic plugs had come loose from their sockets and were lying about on the floor not contributing to the overall brain function capacity assigned to my person. Sparks were flying, but the juice wasn’t flowing.

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I really hate when that happens.

It’s like discovering that for the last five years, your health plan allowed for you to have a free massage every week, but only if you clicked on the web site’s tab that said Legal Jargon You’ll Never Understand and Fine Print too Tiny to Read.

Who goes there??

Well, I did. At least for a quick look-see. Not to my health care plan, but to another ordinary every month invoice. And what I unearthed was confounding and a little bit balmy. But I am attracted to the absurd. And this fit the bill.

When I was a kid, the food co-op movement was starting to rev up its engine, and folks were beginning to find little shops where they could scoop up bulk food from hand-labeled barrels and bins. I was never particularly interested in stepping over this threshold, as the air held the scent of patchouli, and the atmosphere reeked of good health. The only bin that roused my interest was the one containing carob coated raisins and peanuts which—for a reason that could only point toward a level of unflattering intelligence—fooled me every time into believing its flavor had changed from the week prior and now would be delicious.

It wasn’t.

Ever.

Just mutton dressed up as lamb.

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Recently, I have taken over paying some of the household accounts. One of them is the electric bill. Scrutinizing the statement top to bottom, I also examined its name. I belong to an electricity co-op. This came as a massive surprise to me, mostly because my mind had a hard time grappling with the mental image of local folks driving to the edge of town, where the rents are cheaper, walking into that ‘good commune vibe’ atmosphere, pushing a few old mason jars across the counter and pointing up at the bin lined shelves to say, “I’ll take 45 of the yellow joules, 25 green volts, and how bout …60—no 70 watts of the really bright red ones.”

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An electricity co-op? Really?

I had no idea any such thing existed. And since research is like an addictive drug that must maintain a high dosage level in my bloodstream, I reached into my jar of joules and cranked up the old computer for a little overtime.

It turns out that utility co-ops were introduced to the U.S. somewhere around the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his shiny “New Deal” plan for America. As folks were in the midst of the Great Depression, it became even more depressing to discover that Big Business owned utility companies were not interested in spending the extra bucks on investment to bring electricity, water, and communication to the outskirts of society. If your nearest neighbor was a collection of cows, you’d likely still have to rely upon your hearth, your rain barrel, and smoke signals.

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Shortly after Johnny Town Mouse left a visit to his Country Cousin, it was clear that listening to all that lofty babble about how grand things were in the city was a bitter pill no one wanted to swallow.

Cue disgruntled homesteaders, sharecroppers, and ranchers. Please enter stage left.

The utility co-op was born. Now you could tell that boasting braggart of a relative of yours that not only did you have running water and a light switch, but that you were now an owner of a business that stretched as far as the eye could see and beyond. You were a proprietor in the fast-paced industry of the Utility World. Public Power just took on a whole new meaning.

Okay, all of you in overalls and Birkenstocks, take a bow, and head back to the barn. Those cows aren’t going to milk themselves.

I liked the idea of a utility co-op. In fact, once I began to understand the structure and organization’s ideas, I called my electric company to speak with a real person to get a few more facts.

“So,” I began, “being part owner of a company, that means I have some say in how the business is run, don’t I?”

Absolutely, came the operator’s reply. The whole idea of the cooperative is that the community shares in the responsibility, management, and profits of the company.

“Profits?” I whispered excitedly. “As in revenue?”

Yes, ma’am. In this case, we call them Capital Credits. Our success is your success.

“Well, I think Capital Credits is a Capital Idea, and a Credit to whoever came up with that little gem.”

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We hung up the phone and I paced about the kitchen planning what I would do with the share of my business—my Capital Credits. I quickly phoned back.

“I forgot to ask. When do I receive my dividends? When do you cut me a check?”

Oh! the operator chuckled, You, yourself, won’t actually receive any money. But the benefactors of your estate will.

“Wait. What?”

Yes, it’s called Estate Retirement.

“You mean I have to die first to extract benefits from the co-op.”

Precisely. We simply need to see a death certificate from your estate representative, and whomever you dictate in your will to be the recipient is immediately issued a check for your years of collecting Capital Credits.

“Hold on a second. I grow my own vegetables. I DO NOT HAVE AN ESTATE.”

It’s just an expression, the operator said, snickering again.

“Well, I’d like to express my dissatisfaction with the way the profits are withheld from owners.”

Ma’am, this is a business. The profits are mostly rolled over into maintaining a working utility company.

“What happened to the whole idea of “Sharing is Caring?”

Oh, dear, the operator said. I’m just going put a mark in your file for future reference to other agents should they take a call from you. You are what we refer to as Newbie Members.

“What does that mean?”

New to the idea of business profits and margins. In your case, The lights are on, but nobody’s home.

~Shelley

*BONUS CARTOON FOR THIS WEEK’S POST!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Related articles