Saturday, January 12, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck for January 12, 2013

1. January thaws
2. good meals with good friends
3. homemade pizza
4. minty Listerine
5. geckos

Friday, January 11, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck for January 11, 2013

1. not being buried under a mountain of debt post-Christmas
2. not being buried under a mountain of debt at any time of the year
3. not being buried under any sort of mountain
4. mountains
5. molehills

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Charlie on the MTA

Do you know about Charlie and the MTA? "MTA" is a campaign song from the '40s that became a hit when the Kingston Trio covered it in the late '50s. It doesn't really matter if you know it or not, but I'll include a link at the end of the post in case you want to hear it (and see some really stellar scrunchy-backed, guitar-pickin', almost exclusively knee-related dance moves). The basic story is that Charlie got on the subway (then known as the MTA, now just the T) in Boston but, because of a five-cent fare increase that took the form of an exit fare, he couldn't get off the train. Every day, his wife went to what is now the Government Center stop on the green line and handed him a sandwich through the train window. He became "the man who never returned."

My mom rolls her eyes when I ask this question, one I have been asking since I was a little kid: why on God's green Earth couldn't Mrs. Charlie just hand the poor guy a nickel?*

The Stones say that if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need. The too-often ignored flip side of that sentiment is that often, even if you try, you don't get anything close to what you need. That's a lot of trying for just a little need-getting, my friends, and it's difficult. It's easy to ask for things you want—dressing on the side, say, or to borrow your sister's favorite sweater. When the stakes are low, the word "no" in any of its variations doesn't matter. But asking for what you need…whoa, Nellie. Here there be dragons.

After my cousin Turquoise died, I found a blog post she'd written where she said that she didn't believe in unconditional love—a kind of love she defined by describing Aslan, the lion/Jesus figure in the Narnia books. I'm not haunted by much about her death—by her, perhaps, but not by regrets or blame or the kinds of weapons that we tend to wield so forcefully upon ourselves when someone we love dies. I was, and remain, angry that someone so young, and so very full of life is gone. I miss her and think of her every day. But we were pretty honest with each other, and very close, and when I hugged her at her bedside in California, just about two weeks before she died, knowing that I would be getting on a plane back to Massachusetts and I would never see her again, I didn't think there was anything left that I needed to say to her that I hadn't said.

And then I found the blog. What haunts me is that she was wrong, and that her error caused her pain. I didn't love everything about her—she was, after all, a human being, and from the part of my family that is fairly seriously damaged, and that kind of damage creates coping mechanisms that are not always easy to deal with. She made me laugh so hard that once, when we were kids and stuck in traffic, she literally made me pee my pants in the back of my parents' car. I didn't love that. I didn't love her relationship with alcohol, or many of her other relationships for that matter. I didn't love that she never seemed to understand how very worthy she was. But I loved her, and still do. So that's my regret—that I didn't know about the blog earlier. Because I would have told her she was being ridiculous. That woman's life was full of love. It was evident from the friends and family who rallied around her when she got sick, who sought out and found and mailed her treats to brighten her day, who wrote songs and stories for her, who came together—and continue to come together—on her Facebook page after she died. And even if all of those things had never happened, I loved her unconditionally. I fear that unconditional love, for her, meant unconditional approval. And the Stones never wrote a song about getting that, as far as I know. I also fear that despite my bluster now, I would have stayed silent out of fear that I wasn't as important to her as she was to me. There are lots of songs about that, too, although generally in other contexts. And on an intellectual level, at least, I know that's as big an error as Turquoise's. But there's a difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing it deeply enough to extinguish our fears.

I think we all probably get our share of sandwiches tossed at us when what we really need is a nickel. The kicker is that the sandwiches are so often "better"—more expensive, made with love and care, the thought that's supposed to count. But all we need is the damn nickel, and we'd settle, if we're being honest, for five pennies, even Canadian ones. Or a dime (we're happy to make change, once we get off the ever-loving train). But we—or I, anyway; I suppose I shouldn't speak for you—feel responsible for gratitude. I need to be thankful for the sandwich, and that makes it even harder to ask for the nickel, something I often don't feel deserving of in the first place. My ungratefulness becomes further evidence of my selfishness, further evidence that I don't deserve x, y, or z. It's a vicious circle, and, unlike the T, it doesn't stop running at 1AM.

I wish I had an answer for this, something convenient that you could cut and paste onto Facebook or photoshop over a picture of a sunset on the beach or something and then post on Facebook. But I don't. I don't write because I have the answers. I write because I have too many questions.

*A related, and more recent question is why the powers that be at the T decided, when changing from a token-based fare system to one that used renewable cards, to name that card after a guy who was invented in order to protest how expensive the T was. That's right—they're called Charlie cards. "Come ride the T—you might never be allowed to leave!" But that's a question for a different day. And probably a different blog.

And here, for all you knee-dancing aficionados, is the link: MTA

Five Things that Don't Suck for January 10, 2013

Wikipedia Random Button Edition:

1. knowing the difference between stalactites and stalagmites
2. songs about dinosaurs
3. Canada's Wonderland
4. having your name become an eponymous adjective even if, I would argue, it is for some embarrassing reason
5. radio-controlled planes

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Here is your (belated) bonus TTDS for today: on Dec. 27, a poem of mine called "Medium" went up on The Whistling Fire. I was away and the email slid right by me. You can see it here:

Five Things That Don't Suck for January 9, 2013

1. sleeping in your own bed after almost two weeks away
2. Canada mints
3. Ben Folds Five
4. caramel with or without salt
5. being married to the perfect road trip companion

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why Five Things? And Why Don't They Suck? And What If They Do?

Here's the thing: a lot of stuff sucks. It does. The first time I wrote a list of five things that don't suck, it took me forever. I was lost in, well, loss. The common phrase is, I guess, that I was drowning. Except I wasn't. There was no struggle, there was just sinking, like when you open your mouth under water and let the air bubble out of your lungs while you drop to the bottom, wherever that might be—the lake, the pool, the sea. The type of water doesn't matter, and neither does the place you land. And, most times, you push off the bottom and head to the surface. You make the choice to find the air again. FTTDS was my unlikely air.

The idea is ridiculous, of course. Listing five things that don't suck…that's some sort of touchy-feely self-help bullshit. But I come from a long line of people who decide, in one way or another, not to seek the surface anymore. A very, very long line. And I could go into detail about the loss—the loss upon loss upon loss—of the year that led up to my first list, but it doesn't really matter. It'll come out eventually, probably, in time, because I'm a writer and that's what I do.

So that day, desperate to want air if not for the air itself, I went to Facebook, and typed, in part, "Five things that don't suck: 1. Kittens."

And then I stared at the screen for ten minutes, trying to think of something else, anything at all. Then I started to cry again. I'd been doing that a lot recently. But eventually I came up with a second thing that doesn't suck ("really cold ice water with a honkin' big slice of lemon"), and the rest followed. And the days followed that.

I've learned some things in the past few months, and maybe I'll put some of them here and maybe I won't. But there is, for now, this: every day at least five things in my life don't suck. And maybe it's a little easier, every day, to do the stupid things I have to do if I first take a few minutes to find those things and list them. And maybe it's a lot easier to do the important stuff. It's cumulative, or at least it seems to be. There will be days when I post little essays. There will be days when I only post the list. I'm winging it here. Deal with it.

In fact, I've set only two rules for myself: 1. make a list of FTTDS; and 2. make a list every day. It doesn't matter what's on it, or if an item has made the list before, or if it's technically five variations of a single theme. The items on my list are often related to what's going on in my world, but sometimes they're purely theoretical. Sometimes they're mixed. Sometimes they follow some sort of newly-minted tradition. I am under no obligation to explain or defend, but I'll explain if you ask nicely, maybe. Some days, I know exactly what the list will bring. Some days, I have trouble getting past the first item or two. Those are the days where I wish I had decided to write a daily list of five things that DO suck, but there you have it. No one ever said it had to be easy.

And, finally, it's my list. Your mileage may vary. I don't really give a shit if you think something on my list sucks. Start your own list if you must, but keep your paws off mine. Because odds are, if you think about it, whatever it is doesn't actually suck. Just because you don't like anchovies doesn't mean they suck. Anchovies are essential for the survival of other fish that you might find delicious. Yellowtail, for example, do not think anchovies suck. Don't like fish? What about pelicans? They're kinda cool, right, with those big scoopy beaks and their stubby little legs? Guess what the brown pelican thinks doesn't suck. You got it. Anchovies are in Worcestershire sauce, in Caesar salad dressing, in fish sauce. So give me—and the various anchovies of my lists—a break and travel with me instead of against me. Because it's not going to make a difference to me if you choose to spend your time looking for suckiness in my lists. But it could make a difference to you if you don't.

Yeah, I know. Shut up.