the Dowels: Grown-ups Throwing Fits

Wood Dowels

“#$%^! Holy #@**! I got a– Ouch! &!(@!”

I stood there, helpless, holding my side of the large bed frame as I watched my boyfriend fall down on the jagged stone steps. His knee hit one side and it scraped, then he landed on the other. I immediately knew there would be bruises. Mike set down his side of the bed and limped off the steps and into the yard. There was at least one open cut. I stood there helplessly, supportive and in crisis mode, as I waited for his adrenaline spike to wear off.

“Babe, I’m so sorry you fell. What can I do?”

In a few minutes, he was inside rinsing out his cuts and doctoring up the wound while I finished moving the bed frames down the curvy stairs and into the backyard. Mike calmed down and bandaged up his knee, then tried helping me get the bed frames into the living room and down the hallway. The top frame was a complex piece, about 16 pieces of wood carefully assembled into frames and slats, with screws, dowels, and brackets holding it all together. A curved piece at the top of one slat made it impossible to navigate a particular corner, and a patch of paint was scraped off the wall as we tried to maneuver. I kept calm, moving the frame back into the living room and retrieving a screwdriver, allen wrench, and hammer.

For the next forty minutes, I carefully removed a dozen screws, straining my wrists as I turned the allen wrench around and around. Why were some of these wedged in so tight? I finally got all the pieces out, just to remove the one curved side, leaving the rest intact, then struggled to pull the piece off, dowels tight in the wood and not wanting to let it go free. I gave a mighty yank, a frustrated and angry “Rrrragh!” escaping my mouth, and it finally came free, with two strips of wood along the edge completely breaking off, jagged and threatening as they fell to the floor.

Now it was my turn. I let loose with a string of expletives, like the father in the Christmas Story over the broken heater.

“%&!(! It’s a %(@*ing piece of wood! Why the @+@# is this so &#)@ing hard to move around the !++( corner!”

Hot tears stung my eyes. I looked at the broken pieces on the ground and had hit my limit. Part of me wanted to start kicking the bed frame, smashing it into little pieces. Part of me wanted to grab the edges and just yank it through the wall, tearing pieces off in order to get it down the hallway and into the bedroom. Instead, I chose the less aggressive approach.

I sat down on the floor, put my head between my knees, and cried my eyes out. For about ten seconds.

Soon, the boyfriend was sitting on the floor next to me, his arm around my shoulders, muttering that it was fine, that it was just a piece of furniture. I breathed, calming myself, and snuggled in, hating that I’d lost myself for a moment over something so trivial.

Furniture assembly has never been my thing. I think it stems back to childhood. I’ve always had a more compassionate, creative brain. I liked drawing, story-telling, singing, performing, and sharing. I liked helping people feel better. But furniture assembly represents the part of me that could never measure up. I couldn’t ride a bike, climb a tree, or set up a tent. I was picked last for the kickball team, couldn’t get the basketball through the hoop, and came in last in sprint relays.

No matter how much I heal from having grown up a gay kid in a straight world, there will always be pieces of me that feel like I don’t measure up, like I’m not good enough, and that makes me furious. My rage shows up in strange moments, like this, when a piece of assembled wooden furniture can’t fit around the corner, and I’m not good at taking it apart and putting it back together.

After I calmed down, Mike grabbed the other side of the bed and, with bandaged knee, helped me maneuver it down the hall and into the bedroom. Fifteen minutes later, I had the bed reassembled, and ten minutes past that, it was all set up in the kids room, looking perfect. I couldn’t even see the small jagged pieces that had broken off.

I had a major headache after that, leftover stress from my small fit on the floor. I popped some Tylenol, took a ten minute siesta, and then felt completely better. I sat up on the couch, my head clear, and began to laugh. It was suddenly hilarious that a grown man, a father of two, a man who just published a book and who spends hours in therapy each week teaching others how to have healthy communication patterns, was ready to smash a piece of furniture apart. Where had my self-care skills gone?

I looked over at Mike, realizing we had both lost our cool that day, and yet we had both been there for each other. And suddenly it felt so safe and nice to just be human. And being human sometimes means being weak, irrational, and ugly, and it sometimes means having a tantrum.

Advertisements

Fireworks at Christmas

snowbird

The snow drizzled down in wet dollops, and I wondered if it was fake, being shot out of a machine from a hilltop nearby. But it kept falling, heavier, collecting around my feet and settling on the trees. By morning, there would be a few feet of powdery, wet snow.

I stood facing the mountain, bundled up in a heavy coat, a snow cap pulled down over my ears. I clutched A, my 6-year old, close, to keep him both warm and safe. Next to me stood my boyfriend, Mike, his hands in his pockets. At his side was my nine-year old, J. We huddled together in front of a campfire, one built in a circular tin. There were hundreds of people on the platform, all in coats, scarves, and hats, many with young children. Some wore festive gear, like light-up Rudolph noses, Santa beards, or elf hats, and many clutched plastic cups of white wine or champagne in their gloved hands.

The night wasn’t going exactly as I’d hoped. When I booked the expensive room at Snowbird resort, I’d been planning a romantic getaway for Mike and I, one with wine, a nice suite, a hot tub, and a fancy dinner. It was Christmas Eve, after all. But the ex-wife had crossed wires a wrong way, so suddenly, there we were, my sons with us on our evening out. Santa had already visited that morning, on Christmas Eve, a regular occurrence for my sons who have two Christmases in two homes. Thus, with a mantra of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, playing in my head, I just packed the kids up to the resort with us.

When the fireworks started, a teenage girl nearby began jumping up and down in obnoxious excitement, putting on a show for her friends. “Oh my god, you guys, the fireworks are starting, yay!” Her jostling knocked me backward a bit, and I had a mental vision of knocking my son into the tin can fire. I spoke up loudly.

“Hey, please don’t jump! There’s a fire here!”, and the girl looked as if I’d punched her in the face.

“I–I wasn’t trying to–I wouldn’t have–”

“You’re fine. I’m not mad. Just please don’t jump around. There’s a lot of people here, and little kids.”

“I would never hurt a kid!” she said, defensively.

Her friend, a burly teenage boy, put a hand on her shoulder, turning her toward him. “Hey, come on, it’s not worth it. It’s Christmas.” They turned away, acting as if I had just started a fight, and I could do nothing but role my eyes, and console my son, who always grew worried when there were angry tones.

The fireworks flashed in the sky. I bent down to whisper to my son, “I bet you’ve never seen fireworks in the snow!” before realizing he was plugging his ears to avoid the sounds. I looked at the other son, whose face was bright red as he shivered.

Soon, a string of red lights began appearing at the top of the mountain, slowing winding into a long line as the fireworks blasted overhead. Skiers had headed to the mountain top and were headed down the mountain in a procession, holding red electric torches, forming a gorgeous, bold, crimson line that arced into a short zigzag toward us. The snow continued falling, and then Santa’s sleigh, bedecked in green and red lights, began flying down toward us, a modified version of the ski lift. I excitedly pointed up to the kids, showing them that if they squinted they could see his red suit and waving arm, but they were too cold to enjoy it.

The show lasted ten minutes. Santa landed and handed out candy canes. The skiers put out their torches. And the fireworks finished with a beautiful booming resonance, leaving evanescent plumes hanging in the dark, snowy air. Both kids were begging to go inside.

Thirty minutes later, the four of us squished in around a wooden table in a fancy restaurant. Old timey Christmas songs played on the loudspeaker. The kids drew Pokemon on the backs of the menus with broken crayons, soon ordering macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets, at $18 per tiny plate. Mike and I ordered delicious red wine. He got crab and steak while I ordered the only vegetarian option on the menu, some savory mushroom concoction that left me hungry. Dinner took nearly two hours, and the kids, though well-behaved, began to almost pass out in their seats.

Coats and hats back on, we trudged up the hill back to our hotel. We’d been downgraded from the fancy suite to a standard room because of the kids. We slipped and sloshed up the hill, which was covered in inches of snow, and the kids began crying with exhaustion and cold, but in no time we made it. We collapsed into the bed of our substandard rooms, and I contemplated the dual reality that I was thrilled to have my sons with me, anytime and always, yet how very different this Christmas Eve night without them might have been.

The next morning, as we waited for the plow to come and pave a way out of the parking lot for us, I contemplated the hotel’s terrible coffee and how badly I needed a nap. One kid had a small anxiety attack about never getting out of the snow while the other consoled him. I held my boyfriend’s hand, remembering fireworks, red torch lights, wet snow, tin campfires, and jumping drunk girls, then compared it to the previous Christmas, when I had slept and awakened alone.

As we drove down the mountain, taking turns choosing Christmas carols to sing, I thought how maybe this wasn’t such a bad Christmas after all.

A Mermaid in the Shark Tunnel

25439017_824976787709686_1116263021302728694_o.jpg

“Chad, it’s Meg. Look, you know how I was getting married next summer? Turns out I’m getting married next Friday night. At the aquarium. And no, I’m not pregnant. It’s a small invite, family and a few friends, and I need you there. Will you be there?”

“Hell yes I’ll be there!”

And so, the following Friday, the boyfriend and I arrived at the Aquarium at closing time for a very Meg wedding. She wore a beautiful form-fitting white dress, cowboy boots, and a tiara that she made herself out of seashells. Her children, his children, their parents, and selected loved ones lined the walls of a narrow shark tunnel. Sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, and colorful fish swam on both sides and above us as Meg’s father played guitar, and Meg’s daughter sang “First Day of My Life” by Bright Eyes.

“This is the first day of my life. I’m glad I didn’t die before I met you. But now I don’t care, I could go anywhere with you, and I’d probably be happy.”

Meg’s new step-daughter officiated, using the words that Meg wrote, perfect and authentic, in the voice that only Meg has. Then she and her husband pledged their commitments to each other. The crowd took sips of sparkling cider from plastic cups. And then it was done. Five brief, life-altering minutes.

In the time leading up to the wedding, Mike and I walked through the sleepy aquarium. I’ve been there many times before, but never so late. The otters were all curled up on each others tummies and tails in a woody corner near the window, and I could see their breath in their stomachs. The penguins were all perfectly spaced across their tank, as if they each had an assigned space to stand during the evening hours, with heads tucked into wings. The light was different. It was magical.

In the shark tunnel, a giant sea turtle looked as if he’d crashed into the ground. His head was on the floor, and his giant shell rose up into the air, like he had a balloon tied to the back of his body. I asked the attendant about it, and he informed me this was a medical condition that they jokingly called the “bubble butt syndrome”; the turtle was fine, the back of his shell just floated like that. I watched the majestic sea life flowing around we mere human spectators, and thought, “This is the perfect place for a mermaid to marry.”

Meg is half-fish, half-human. She doesn’t dwell in one place, or in one form. She gracefully flows through multiple worlds, seamlessly existing in both. She is both elegant and white-trash, mother and lover, ethereal and grounded, confidence and confusion, writer and dreamer, wisher and hoper. Meg both buys and sells magic beans, both tells and receives the stories. She’s a true original. She’s the mother who volunteers to help judge the poetry slam at her kid’s school, and she’s the woman who places snarky comments on certain forums under the pseudonym Tits MacIntonsh.

She’s a mermaid.

I’ve known Meg less than a year. As part of a New Year’s resolution at the beginning of 2017, I set a goal to do more reading performances, to share my stories and hone my skills and talents as a writer. I created an event called “Voices Heard”, and established a format of me, with two other writers, sharing two stories each on a particular topic. I wanted to keep a steady influx of writers passing through, and I saw Meg’s name, at random, in an online group dedicated to local writers. I sent her a message about the program, asked if she might like to be involved, and she responded with an elegant and enthusiastic, “I would love to share! I am so on board!”

And so I drove to her home on a random evening to share stories on betrayal, a topic we would explore in readings just days later. Her home was decorated with a bizarre assortment of knickknacks, collected from thrift shop shelves and eclectic galleries. She had a food tray of fruits and meats ready when I arrived. We became acquainted, laughed a bit, and then read about raw painful stories from our pasts in a way that made us both want to laugh and shed tears at the same time. I read about being mugged, punched, and left unconscious as a closeted gay Mormon missionary; she read about losing a child to stillbirth and making the decision to end an unhealthy marriage while eating a meat sandwich. It was a match. Meg and I have been reading together ever since.

After her wedding, I gave Meg a huge hug. “You’re married!”

She gripped my shoulder, almost scandalously, and leaned in for a whisper. “Did you notice that the bubble-butt turtle got up and started swimming the second my husband and I were walking down the aisle?”

“Well that is a god-damned miracle,” I laughed.

After more hugs, greetings, and handshakes, Meg, in her dress, boots, and seashell tiara, left the sharks behind and gathered her family for a celebratory dinner. At the Old Spaghetti Factory.

And I drove home, thinking how fortunate I am to be friends with a mermaid.

Published

26166721_10159899496600061_8646978533611694750_n

I clicked ‘Publish’ on the final edit of my book, and then sat back, tempted to slam my laptop closed.

I expected a rush of elation. I wanted to rip my shirt open, incredible Hulk style, and smash my fist down on the ground in triumph. Instead, I felt my heart rate increase. I was nervous, and I felt an ache inside. It felt a little like exhaustion, and a little like heartbreak. Why?

I thought my book might be ready for publication about one week prior. Nervous that it would come out with typos or mistakes, I asked a few key people to give it one last look over, and I did one more myself. I quickly realized it wasn’t ready. Instead of publishing then, I gave the book a final edit. I pored over pages of vulnerable material, right from my heart space, cutting out paragraphs, deleting references, and combing over it line by line in order to make the book more effective, more readable.

I spent days, moving from one makeshift workstation to another. I would read a chapter at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee, then lay down on the floor in front of the fire place for the next chapter, then move to the hot tub for the third, propping my computer up on a towel placed on the folded back covering to keep it dry. I went through the book a full time, then again. I trimmed the book from 300 pages to 230, then had friends give it another read through. I saw the book shift from something dense and overly done to something succinct, smart, sharp, and wonderful.

Yet publishing felt so sudden, so jagged. Needing to chat with someone who understood, I messaged my writer friend, Meg.

Meg, I did it. I published.

Chad, that is huge! You did it! How do you feel?

Weird. Numb. My brain is empty. I feel purged, yet proud. I’m anxious and confused, yet accomplished and powerful. 

I’ve been there and I understand. It’s weird, right? What’s going through your mind?

Ugh. Everything. Will anyone read it? What if no one reads it? Oh my God, what if someone actually reads it! Is it as good as I think it is? Did I price it too high? I priced it too high. I’m so proud of this! Did I say too much? Did I say enough? Will it resonate with anyone? 

Chad, that’s normal. You basically just gave birth to a child. Stay calm and focused. This is all so good. And it’s going to be amazing. 

I’d been talking about writing a book for years. Something I, um, talk about in my book. I remember all the conversations I’ve had with those who read my blog about how they’d love to read a book by me. I thought of my mother saying she knew I’d write a book one day, with my best friend where he told me to make a book happen. I did it. And it felt amazing.

But there is something about a blog entry. You just type it up and click publish, and then people read it or they don’t. It feels like a journal entry, and it doesn’t even bother me if there is a typo or two. But a book, a book has promise and potential. It has permanency. It’s an entirely different caliber. It feels… amazing. Frightening.

I once published a comic book, the Mushroom Murders. It took me years to get it finished, coordinating with busy artists who also shared my passion for the book. Four years, actually. Then I had to work with a small press publishing company to help me market the book. I paid around $5000, a charge that went on my credit card, to print the book, and several boxes of product arrived at my home. I spent years selling it at conventions, in stores, to friends, and on Amazon. It got amazing reviews. And now, the final few hundred copies occupy dusty cardboard boxes in my storage room. I didn’t want that experience again.

This time, I printed my book per order, through an organization called CreateSpace. It markets the book through Amazon. No initial costs on my part. The book is printed per order. If only one copy is ordered, only one will ever be printed. Will it sell one, none, dozens, hundreds? Will anyone care? And because CreateSpace is the one to list the book, I don’t see until days or weeks later if any orders have taken place, or how many total. There are no little messages that indicate when a sale has happened. Not knowing if it is selling fills me with a different kind of confusion.

I had to shut my computer down and take the night off. I saw a movie. I grabbed a drink with friends. My boyfriend ket gripping my arm, squeezing, reminding me that things were fine, it was going to be okay. I breathed, calming myself. Writing didn’t usually feel this way. Such a weird stew of emotional ingredients behind all of this.

Well, I did it. I wrote a book. I designed a cover, edited it, and put it out there for the public. Years of life experience. Dozens of hours writing. A finely honed talent (I hoped others would agree). A stirring, powerful, and inspirational message. It could be… well, this could change my life. Or it could wind up in a box in my storage room, untouched within a few years.

Regardless, I did it. I accomplished one of my lifelong goals. I have no idea what might happen next, if anything. I’m powerful, vulnerable, and strong, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

And, in order to sort out my feelings, I decided to write a blog. About the vulnerability of writing and publishing. And maybe that tells me more than anything.