gillis and her big mouth

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Words Over TIme

Sometimes words perfectly capture feelings and ideas, like the German term schadenfreude. Nothing makes you feel better about the impulse to feel pleasure at someone else’s misery than knowing that others must feel it too if they have bothered to give it a name! See? Not so terrible to think this way after all, because those charming Germans have a word for this!

Sure, in a world where the word twerk exists, you could argue that we have too many words already, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but you must admit, there are plenty of things we cannot name adequately because no one has given them a word. Like the feeling you get when you are driving behind someone who is just doing the speed limit. You feel slightly annoyed, but you’re ok because hey, maybe it’s a teenager learning to drive. Or an elderly person making their way to the pharmacy. You’re ok with it really, until the driver behind you makes it clear to you that while you might be ok with this, they are important, and they, dear heart, have places to go and people to see. They pop out repeatedly on either side of you to see around you. While they continually remind you that they need to get around you, you take a deep breath and pray you don’t become the creamy filling in a little vehicle sandwich. This feeling needs a name. The idea that you’re just out there living your life, moving from point A to point B and suddenly you’re involved in some sort of pissing contest with strangers. Today it’s on the road, but tomorrow it could be at the grocery store or movie theater. It’s the kind of feeling that makes you wish you had glass shards sprouting out from your elbows and you could throw them around and inflict some minor damage to be detected later.

Or how about some words to help us through the pinteresting of life all around us?What word can name the feeling of mediocrity that settles into the bones (and dangerous layers of visceral fat!) over seeing how you could be living if only you had gotten it together already. It’s not inadequacy or jealousy exactly -because there’s a whole piece in there about missing the memo that this stuff was going to be on the test of life. It’s the dream about the exam where you didn’t study the right material and now it’s test day – only the test is your life and yours is somehow so much flatter than it should be. Where are your mason jars of artisanal things and why aren’t you listening to the right podcasts? You’re over there hanging onto the side of the pool watching the swimmers race by wondering when were you first supposed to be following podcasts anyway? And why didn’t anyone give you the study guide to these things? There should be words for all of this.

When did it all become so much? And when did your mind become inhabited by an old person? Everyone else has bullet journaled themselves into the next decade and you’re winding your analog clock and sharpening your #2 pencils. That’s really it, isn’t it? Less about the naming of things and more about the pace of things swirling around. Sometimes it makes sense to run alongside the train car and pull yourself up into it. Other times it feels better to watch and wave as the train barrels past, knowing that another one will come along eventually. And surely there will be a podcast about all of it soon enough.



Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Rathgeb

One of the architects of my early adulthood passed away today. He and his wife headed up the theater department at St. Michael’s College while I was a student there. Donald and Joanne Rathgeb not only taught classes and produced shows every semester, they took all of us under their wings in a way that I’m not sure still happens in college programs anymore. I feel a little too close to my memories right now to reflect on them, which I know sounds strange since I graduated college thirty years ago, but suffice to say that I am feeling Mr. R’s loss today and I am very grateful to him for sharing his knowledge and patience with me at a time when I needed it. Godspeed Mr. R., I hope Mrs. R is there waiting for you and I know Saint Genesius is hugging you both by the ghostlight.



Show, Don’t Tell

How do we show our thanks to others? Sometimes we tell people we appreciate the things they do and that suffices. Or we send them a card or note to say thank you. If they have done something extraordinary, or the effect of their actions has been great, we may give them a gift or publicly thank them with an award or even a parade. Today our country sets aside time to thank our military veterans. Nearly everyone online and onscreen has shared a word or photo to thank our veterans. It feels good to let veterans know that we appreciate what they have done for all of us, and that we value their work in protecting our freedoms and liberties. But it isn’t enough.

As a nation, we don’t do nearly enough to show veterans in tangible ways that we appreciate them. Agencies and organizations that help veterans find training, employment, housing, and medical care are perpetually underfunded. Veterans encounter long waits for services that should be guaranteed to them. If they are truly appreciated by the rest of us, we should work to make sure they do not have to deal with byzantine bureaucracies in order to get these benefits and services that are rightfully theirs. We should support candidates and policies that support veterans.

It may feel good to thank our veterans and tell them how much we appreciate them, but wouldn’t it be great if we showed them instead?


A Pot For Every Lid

Have you ever looked at a couple and not understood how they ended up together? Perhaps their attractiveness quotients have been way off? Or one of them is just a complete @$$hole and the other half of the equation seemed lovely? Yes. Me too. I have thought the very same thing. Only I’m the @$$hole in the equation and my relationship is the one in question. My husband is the one variable no one can understand.

My husband – the same bag of corpuscles that cannot put together an Ikea chair-  signed on willingly to deal with me through thick or thin. And full confession, I’ve been mostly thick because I like to eat food.  So, today, I give thanks for my husband. My beautiful husband. He is a wonderful partner and father who grows and evolves with the times. He reminds me about what is good, real, and true. He sees past things like hairy legs and terrible meals. He knows that he is the straightman to the commedia del arte of our family. And I am beyond grateful for his grace and good humor. Thank you for putting up with me.

Book Night

Once a month, like clockwork, we gather. Clutching our paperbacks and e-readers we convene, on a rotating basis, at someone’s house on the second Thursday of the month. Usually. Unless someone can’t host. Or too many of us cannot make it at all. Although we’ve been known to meet with only four members present, it’s not ideal. This is partially because at least one of us shows up each month without having cracked the book open at all and it’s hard to sustain a discussion with only two or three readers of the book. There were times when we wouldn’t think to do that – to show up without having read the gawddamn book, but we’ve moved way beyond that now. Now we just expect that at least one of us will be there just to be with us, and we are happy for their company. Always.

Book group. The whole thing sounds and smells like a cliche. The snacks, the wine, the far ranging conversations about family, work, health, and our community – it lines up perfectly with the pop culture image of the thing. While it doesn’t look like much from the outside,  I am beyond grateful to this group, my sisters in words.

I’m not sure when I first joined this group, they had already been together for at least six months, maybe a year when I started coming. A bright woman I met at Lamaze class invited me to tag along when our babies were probably a year old. I think we read Ella Minnow Pea. Or was it Pride and Prejudice? No matter, I came, mostly listened that first night (shut up book group, I hear your snorts, but it was like a job interview or a first date, I was on my best behavior), and I realized I needed this in my life.

If I say we are friends, I’m not sure that really explains our bond. Within the group there are pockets of friendships that go well beyond the group confines, but there are others, myself included, who don’t really spend any other time with group members outside of our monthly meetings. Nevertheless, these women know me better than some of the people I call my friends, because nothing is off the table when you are connecting your life to literature. We have cheered and helped one another through many life events including childbirth, miscarriage, divorce, milestones with adult children and grandchildren, buying and selling homes, illness and death of loved ones, career changes, and retirement. The only thing we haven’t dealt with in our ranks is felony conviction, but there’s always next month.

Throughout the fifteen or so years I’ve been in this group,  members have come and gone, including the one who originally introduced me to the group. Some have left, and returned, and left again. Just recently, one left us for good and ever. Our dear Wendi died so suddenly last month that we didn’t have any time to say goodbye to her. It is still a slightly raw and cold loss for our group. Her book choices could be quite surprising because she read widely and had strong opinions, but she always expressed them quietly with an almost beatific smile on her face. I wasn’t always sure how to take her comments, she had a bit of Fred Rogers demeanor about her, but she would occasionally shock me with a string of curse words when the talk turned to politics. We will miss her terribly, and whenever we read a quirky book I can’t quite get, I may think to myself, “I bet Wendi would have loved this…” One thing is for certain, the group will go on. There are more literary mountains for us to climb, or at least take pictures of from a distance if we just need to come to a meeting but we haven’t had the time to read the book that month. For this, I give many thanks.


In Praise of Leftovers

Today I am thankful for the doggy bag and the Tupperware container. A big shout out too, to the aluminum foil pouches hidden in the crisper drawer holding tightly onto their mysterious contents, just waiting for an intrepid diner to take a chance on them. I’m grateful to extraneous foods left from meals past.

I didn’t always feel this way. I remember feeling disdain, disgust even, for leftovers in my youth. Of course I wasn’t cooking the food then so I could afford to be picky and dismissive. Back then our meals were fairly uninspired and utilitarian in order to feed nine people on a limited budget. Now that I buy and prepare most of the food, I have some ownership over meals and I feel a little more connected to my food. And I love having a breakfast or lunch made up of last night’s dinner. My lunch today came from the remains of last night’s dinner. It was lovely.

Here’s hoping tonight’s meal is worthy of repeating again tomorrow.


Quiet Voice at the End of the Day

Today I am grateful for the daily do-over and the clean slate of each new day. When things don’t go as planned, and it all falls to shit, and you can taste the dirt in your mouth as you push yourself back up to standing – that ‘s when you need to remember that it’s not over until the coroner says it’s over. Or your boss says it’s over as they hand you the cardboard banker’s box with which to empty your desk drawers (I had to use a black trashbag once, it was awkward but it worked).

On a day when things just don’t seem to go your way, it’s good to remember the words of Mary Anne Radmacher who said, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

I’m thankful I didn’t need those words today, but I figure someone out there might need a reminder. You’re doing just fine. And remember tomorrow is a bright new day. Whisper. Roar. Keep going.

I Thank You for Getting Off the Couch and Voting

I feel disgust for those who don’t partake in the process, but could. That disgust is as strong and as real as the smell of the first dead skunk on the road in early summer. I would never tell someone directly that their inaction disgusts me, that’s why I’m putting it here, where only seven or eight people besides me will see it. I might be a loud mouth and an idiot, but I don’t have a death wish. Not that I imagine the people who stay home are also the type to go after their foes. They don’t care enough about things to acquire foes. No, the ones who couldn’t be bothered, bother me in the same way the people who can’t be bothered to change out of their pajamas to go about their business bother me. Something about it rankles me to know that they are squandering away a precious right that others have given their lives to secure for all of us. And so while I am feeling thankful for the right to vote, it’s tinged with this other, darker feeling about the people who don’t appreciate it enough to use it.

When I allow myself a little distance, I see how ironic it is that I am grateful to have a voice, however small, in our representative democracy, but I harshly judge those who choose not to use their voice. I value the choice so long as it is being used in the way I see fit. This is petty and small I know. So I’ll let it go now that I’ve gotten it out of my system.

And so I am thankful that today I can let the beautiful feeling of civic engagement wash over me and lift me up as I go to vote. No matter what the outcome, no matter who wins, this belief in a representative, collective government is part of our nation’s DNA. I can’t think of anything more beautiful than seeing a line full of  neighbors at the polls waiting to make their voices heard. And when the line moves on and it’s finally my turn,  I feel a sense of being something greater than myself when I pull those little curtains aside to face my ballot. I get a momentary rush of adrenaline from it. And then it feels solemn too. The times when I bring my children with me are even more special. I feel like I’m showing them a treasure, “See this child, this will be yours someday. You, too, will get to decide which direction this land of ours takes when you come in to the booth and make your choice.”

I am grateful that I am able to vote. I am thankful to all my fellow voters. And I remain hopeful that others who can will choose to join our ranks and learn about the beauty of voting.

Thankful for Heated Spaces

There is a delicious discomfort in being slightly cold and entering a warm place. I’m not talking about cold that stings your skin, or even makes its presence known overtly, this is the kind of cold that you don’t acknowledge while you’re experiencing it. You don’t even realize you’ve been hunching your shoulders up around your ears and scurrying just a little faster to your destination with this sort of cold. Only when you enter a warm place does the unexpected rush of relief at feeling warmth let you realize just how cold you were. It’s a bittersweet sensation. I’m grateful to take a moment to experience and reflect on it today.

Sunny Day

Today I am giving thanks that it is a sunny day. So far. We’ve had quite a run of gloomy, cloudy, and rainy days this fall so it feels particularly good to see patches of blue up in the sky today. I’m hoping the legions of mushrooms that have sprouted up all over the lawn can now stop growing, maybe they will even wither up and blow away. I’m not about to remove them myself. I know they are part of the twisted ecosystem going on in the yard and I try not to get too judgmental about what grows out there. Who am I to say that a mushroom shouldn’t be there? Or the thousands of pine needles that have gathered around the aging pines? Are they hanging out at the bottom of the tree they fell from hoping to glean a few words of wisdom from their leader? No idea. Let them stay among friends in any case. If you tell me leaf litter is important to the ecosystem, I’m happy to let the leaves litter too.

Yes, yes I love a sunny, crisp, fall day. I love the clean brisk wind and the feeling of impending change. Sweep away all that decadent heat of summer and sloshy rains of early fall and let’s get down to harvesting. So what if the only things I’ve been growing in the past few years have come from plastic containers outside of Trader Joe’s? I can still take them out of their pots and compost them. That, too, is a harvest of sorts, is it not? It’s not? Well, ok then, I can go to the farm stand and purchase the things they have harvested and share them with those I love. Except for the cider doughnuts, those I will eat in the car. Alone. And after I wipe the crumbs off I will exit the car and carry the bags of apples, squash, and greens triumphantly into the house on this sunny day.