Satanic Cranberry Sauce

It is a truth universally acknowledged that some people cannot help getting themselves into preposterous scrapes, no matter how hard they try to stay out of them. This is a true story, and is more or less a transcript, to the best of my memory, of what happened to me, in my real life, on Thursday last, November the 24th.

Thursday, day of giving thanks for the thin veneer of comfort that comes from being raised on historical B.S., dawns chilly and fair. I’m destined for thanksgiving dinner with my boyfriend’s family and I’m reminding myself not to talk about politics in a household where I will be out-numbered, and where the stress levels of everyone involved will already be running high.

In general, it should be noted, I get along with these people. They’re conservative and they’re Christian (where I am hella liberal, and not Christian), but they’re not exclusively hard-right  leaning. We disagree on many things, but we all agree (at the very least) on the disaster that is Trump. We have that much going for us.

Believe it or not, this is not a story about how Trump ruined Thanksgiving. This is a story about how Satan (and also me, his unwitting accomplice) almost ruined Thanksgiving.

I’m helping set the table before the guests arrive. I plop cranberry sauce out of its can and into a bowl, still in can shape, still standing upright. And, since there’s not much else to do, I doodle a little star on the top with a butter knife. There was nothing special about this star, it’s the same star we were all taught to draw in kindergarten or first grade. It’s a geometric shape with no meaning beyond the memory of whacky childhood drawings of dogs that look like ponies and ponies that look like dogs.

I put the cranberry sauce on the table and I forget all about it.

Later, all the guests have arrived, and we’re at the table. I’m at one end, as the spry and helpful server I have the most mobility this way, and a family friend is at the other end. He’s seated by the cranberry sauce. His family and my boyfriend’s family are seated all around him. I am standing alone, dolling out napkins or water or maybe just holding my position there like the queer, nervous scarecrow I am.

“So this is an interesting symbol to have drawn on the cranberry sauce,” the family friend says in a voice that’s not quite casual. We’re going to call him Fred.

I look up and meet his eyes, thus admitting guilt unintentionally. He’s already looking at me, so he must have suspected I was the culprit anyway.

“It’s a star,” I say.

“It’s a five-pointed star,” says Fred.

“I…yes?” I say,  utterly perplexed.

“It’s not the star of David,” says Fred.

“No?” I say.

“Why did you draw a pentagram in the cranberry sauce?”

I look at Fred. I think Fred is probably joking.

Fred doesn’t look like he’s joking.

I look around the table. Everyone is staring at me, silent, waiting, in utter seriousness, for me to explain why I have served them Satanic cranberry sauce.

“It’s just a geometric shape,” I try, beginning to feel as though I actually need to defend myself, and beginning to feel as though a real defense does not exist.

“It’s a five-pointed star,” Fred says again. “You could have drawn any kind of star, why this one? And it’s inside in a circle.”

“I didn’t draw a circle!” I protest.

“The cranberry sauce is a circle,” Fred explains patiently.

I…Yes. It is. But I didn’t make it that way, I am not responsible for the platonic form of the cranberry sauce. I didn’t create the base nature of all cranberry sauce thus making this one circular in shape.

I can’t very well say that though, I’m in a snag already, and if they didn’t believe that I had no satanic intentions when I drew that five-pointed star, they weren’t going to believe that I honestly had not noticed the cranberry sauce was a circle.

In a desperate attempt to extricate myself, and to alleviate the discomfort of all present, I open my big, know-it-all mouth, and I say:

“Technically, if it’s in a circle it’s a pentacle, not a pentagram.”

A much more uncomfortable moment of silence follows.

“What’s the difference?” Fred demands. Everyone is still staring. No one has ever been so attentive to my boring, pedantic ramblings on any subject I’ve ever rattled on about before. And my rattling on pedantically is a common enough occurrence.

I am thus interrogated into a long, breathless lecture on my imperfect knowledge of the oft misconceived history of the pentacle, the pentagram, the Wiccan religion, and the Satanic church. (For the reader alone, I did not, in the course of my sudden, impromptu history lesson, mention that the Satanic church does also use the shape of a pentacle, merely an inverted one, since there would be no way for Fred to determine if the pentacle I had inadvertently created was inverted or not. I left the pentacle safely within the realms of Wicca.) I kept the entire lecture as brief as I could, possibly for the first time in my life. But Fred had many questions. And other people at the table had questions. And there I stood, at the head (or the bottom) of the table, sweating my bisexual, democratic, feminist sweat, scrambling to remember everything I’d ever come across in my research on these four subjects.

I explain how usually the representations of the five points on the star are based on the five Aristotelian elements. And how the Wiccan religion, though drawing from various pagan and polytheistic traditions, was a relatively young, and much varying, religion. I won’t go into everything I went into here, because it was long and boring, and neither you, dear reader, nor anyone else I’m ever likely to meet with could possibly possess the same intense, laser interest exhibited by this particular group of people, at that particular time and place.

“Why do you know so much about these things?” Fred eventually asks as we’re winding down. His worries have been mostly put to rest by my frantic assurances of earthy practices used by many Wiccan’s, but a gleam of suspicion for my own motives remains.

“I’m a writer,” I stammer out. Which is the truth. And thankfully is the kind of answer that covers all manner of sins, and was enough to satisfy Fred.

Everyone at the table partook of the Cranberry sauce. I can only assume from this that I had successfully dispelled their thoughts of Satan.

That’s all for now. Peace out, fellow heretics.

 

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Pretty Sunsets, Shady Boat Plug Deals, and a RAIN OF FIRE.

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Hello. It’s high time for another amateur photography-adventure story, yes? Yes.

Lets rewind back two months to July 3rd. A nice, balmy Sunday. It’s sunny, but not unbearably hot. My boyfriend and I get a text from our good friend Philtographer that says something to the effect of, “I have procured a boat. Let’s go boating and take pictures.”

I’m like “Hell yeah, lets,” not bothering to ask where Philtog got a boat since I’ve come to just expect these kinds of things from him. (I found out later that he’s just had a boat for years, and I simply never knew.) We meet up at a little residential lake in the northern part of the state around 5 pm. And sure enough, there’s a boat. And Philtog. And about 9,000 metric tons of camera equipment. What could possibly go wrong?

I know nothing about boats, but a general description of our vessel is that it’s your standard lake chugging boat, seats about six in a pinch, used to have a gas motor on the back which Phil replaced with electric trolling motors, and two long, wooden oars on either side.  (And for those of you who are like me and don’t know boats, trolling motors are like, not meant for speedy transportation. They mostly keep the boat from drifting away in a gentle current.)

After we load up the boat, Phil says, “Let me just check the boat plug before we shove off, so we don’t sink.” And I’m thinking that’s probably a good idea. So Phil bends over the edge of the boat and fiddles around for a while. Then I hear a snick, chink! and Phil’s muffled voice going, “Yep. That’s not good.” And since Phil has never uttered a cuss word in his life, I’m thinking “not good” basically means “*&%$*#.”

“What happened?”

“The boat plug snapped in half.”

Well poop.

I lug all our equipment back to the car because I am not a fool. I know an omen when I see one. And even if we manage to somehow, magically find another boat plug here in the middle of almost nowhere, it would still be wise for us to heed the message the universe has sent us.

Besides, what are the odds of us finding another boat plug in the next two minutes?

When I return for the rest of the bags, I find Phil and my boyfriend chatting with a family who just came in off the lake. They are buying the family’s boat plug. Right out of their boat. Like some sort of shady, back alley boat plug deal.

Apparently, I am a fool because I proceed to lug all the camera equipment back again. And then I get in the boat. And then we shove off. And row our sweet, oblivious little selves into the middle of the lake.

As we slowly drift along, actual speedboats and jet skis are zooming around us. They whizz by with incoherent shouts that amount to the aquatic equivalent of “OUT OF THE WAY, NERDS!”  Waves cause our rusty little craft to bounce up and down, making any kind of photograph with a zoom lens impossible. But the day is getting on and the sky is promising a darling sunset, so whatever. Screw you, jet-ski bros.

Phil is rowing the boat. I’m ignoring everything, taking wobbly pictures of the tree line. When behind me I hear SNAP and Phil stops rowing. I don’t even turn around.

“Was that the oar?” I ask.

“Yep,” says Phil.

Hahaha fuck.

I turn. Sure enough there goes half of one of our oars, floating away. And with only one oar left and tiny electric trolling motors, we can’t go fast enough to catch it.

So we’re stuck. But hey! The sun is setting! Lets take some pictures.

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OOooo.

 

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AAahh.

 

 

Darkness falls, and now it’s time for us to limp home with our one oar and our tiny motors.

Putt-putt. Sploosh. It takes us about 15 minutes to go 100 yards. Putt-putt. Sploosh. All the other boats are heading in to the docks of the lakefront homes. Putt-putt. Sploosh.  Someone ahead of us starts yelling from their dock to someone on another dock on the opposite side of the water. The shouting sounds suspiciously like, “SUCK IT, BOB. WATCH THIS.”

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Oh right! It’s July 3rd! Free fireworks show. That’s pretty cool. We keep paddling and drifting, because we have to get home at some point, and the public boat launch is still, at the speed we’re going, about a year away. Inch by inch. Minute by minute. Putt. Putt. Sploosh. We enjoy the fireworks in the meantime.

Except thirty five minutes later, they’re still going off. And now we’re getting closer to the dock.

Closer.

Closer.

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CLOSER.

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TOO CLOSE.

Ash and sparks are raining into the boat as we putt-putt-sploosh by at the breakneck speed of a wounded snail. Our ears are ringing. We’re brushing powder out of our hair and rubbing smoke out of our eyes. It’s been forty five minutes and the fireworks are STILL going off. Despite our little running lights, which make us visible. And our undeniably terrified shouts of “OHMYGOD. OHMYGOD.”

We finally get by.

We finally get to the boat launch.

We finally, amid a thick, teeming cloud of mosquitoes, get the boat on the trailer and get ourselves in the car. Ears still ringing. Eyes still stinging. We all go home.

The next day, as they do every year, invitations via text and facebook trickle in, offering us the opportunity to tag along to various local fireworks displays with friends or family. Boyfriend and I look at each other, shake our heads and “nope” our way through every one.

And that’s the whole tale, fellow amateurs.

May the autofocus be with you.

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Not My Autobiography: This post doesn’t get a title, just a public apology to my father for telling this story on the internet

So this is a story about my dad.

(Dad, I know you hate it when I tell people this story, and I’m sorry for putting it online, thereby ensuring its immortality, but this is one of the funniest things you’ve ever done. Please don’t ever change.)

Journey back with me now back to the bedbug panic of 2011. Bedbugs are in the news. They’re in your home (according to the news) and there are more of them arriving every day from outer space. They’re coming! For you! Bedbugs!

I am in college. So is my bestly bestest friend in the whole world, Rachel, except she’s in college in Boston and I’m in college in Dunmore, PA, and it’s a very sad state of affairs, we haven’t spoken in months. Meanwhile, I am currently living with my dad, whose house, it just so happens, is right behind (not 50 yards from) the house of my bestly bestest friend’s ex-boyfriend (whom we shall call Mob.) Who is a really good dude. We all stayed friends, and given the proximity, I occasionally still saw this gentleman, but there are rules about these kind of things.

If you don’t follow these rules, the universe will punish you.

One fine day, the aforementioned Upstanding Gentleman asks me on a date. Like any intelligent young woman, I completely panic, say “Oh shit, um..I’ll think about it,” and proceeded to throw Upstanding Gent out of the house. I then immediately pick up the phone, call my besty, and (as Gent is still walking past my living room windows) scream into the phone “OH SHIT MOB ASKED ME ON A DATE WTF DO I DO?”

Rachel proceeds to hyena-laugh in my ear. “YOU HAVE TO SAY YES,” she shouts back. “YOU HAVE TO. WE MUST KNOW HOW THIS TURNS OUT.”

“ALRIGHT.” I say, and hang up. I call Mob, who probably hasn’t even managed to reach his house yet so little time has passed, and tell him I accept. We agree to do sushi and the new Harry Potter movie in theatres. It will be great.

Or a disaster.

As *soon* as I hang up the phone it rings again and it’s Rachel.

“WHAT IF THIS DATE GOES REALLY WELL?” she banshees. “WHAT IF YOU GUYS DATE AND THEN GET MARRIED AND THEN HAVE KIDS AND THEN THOSE KIDS FIND OUT THAT I SLEPT WITH THEIR FATHER? I WILL BE TRAMPY AUNT RACHEL!”

HAHAHAHARHGHBLRGUH,” I say.

I know, I know. I said this story was about my Dad. And so it is.

Here comes Friday. And sushi. And Harry Potter. Mob and I have a lovely time. We get home around seven, which is far too early a time for a date to end, so I invite him in to watch cheesy Vincent Price movies for a bit. (Which isn’t an innuendo, that’s exactly what we planned to do, pants, and the removal of them, factored not at all into our plans.)

I park the car. We walk up the driveway to my front door. I reach out for the handle.

Do you hear that sound? That thumping, rumbling, ground shaking gallop that’s getting closer? That’s bedbugs.

Actually, no. It’s my dad. Vaulting off the couch and running to the door so he can bar our entry like a one man Red-Rover Red-Rover.

“WHERE DID YOU GO?” Dad demands. (There is a lot of shouting in this story. Emotions were running high this week for some reason: bedbugs.)

“Uh,” say Mob and I. “We got some sushi.”

“Cool,” says Dad. “Was it good?”

“Yes?”

“WHERE ELSE DID YOU GO?” Dad asks, like a man waiting for the terrible phone call he knows is coming.

“The movies,” we say. “We saw Harry Potter.”

My dad is tense now. His knuckles are white on the molding of the door frame.

“Before you went to the movies,” he asks slowly, “did you….” a deep breath to steady himself, “did you check for the theatre on the National Bedbug Registry website?”

“Uh…” The what? “…no.”

Dad nods. He knew it was coming. Knew it was only a matter of time before the bedbugs found a way…

“STAY RIGHT THERE,” he bellows, and slams the door in our faces.

Mob and I look at each other. We are lost and confused.

The door bangs open again. Dad’s arm thrusts out, an empty garbage bag clutched in his fist.

“Both of you take this,” he says with slow determination, “and go into the back yard, and take off your pants.”

The universe itself has paused in disbelief.

“Pardon?” I say. Because apparently I’ve just had a stroke and my brain can no longer process the English language correctly.

“Your pants,” Dad repeats. “Go take off your pants. Put your pants into this bag. Then you can come in the house.”

He slams the door again and stares at us through the glass from the other side, his arms crossed, waiting.

I look at Mob, whose face has crashed and frozen like Windows 95.

Together we go into the backyard and stand looking at each other, completely silent. There is no first date etiquette for this situation. There is no ancestral wisdom passed down from our mothers’ that can help us now. There is no escape.

“We have no choice,” I say. “Take off your pants.”

And so, enclosed by the high, weather beaten wooden fence, standing amid weeds and left over firewood, we take off our pants.

Dad opens the door for our quiet, bare-thighed return. He accepts the bag with an approving nod and hands Mob a change of clothes.

“Now, go change the rest of your clothes, put them in the bag too. Then, put everything in the dryer for fifty-six minutes.”

Later I found out that what Dad actually said was “fifteen minutes”, but really I think it’s amazing I understood any of his words at all over the shrieking void of incredulity still ringing in my ears. Mob and I go down the hallway in our underwear and part ways to change in different rooms, as if the shreds of our first- date dignity aren’t already blowing like tumbleweeds through the desolate landscape of my backyard.

We watch a Vincent Price film and laugh about it, pretending that I’m not in my pajamas and Mob isn’t in my dad’s pants. We soldier on, determined to be totally chill and un-embarrassed. But the shadow remains, looming darkly over us.

We can never escape it.

Bedbugs.

EPILOGUE:

Mob and I didn’t get married (obviously). And eventually, through a convoluted series of events (most of which were Rachel’s fault) I moved to Boston and now see my bestly bestie on the reg.

My dad finally admitted, some years later, that maybe it was just a little weird of him to insist that my date and I take off our pants in the back yard. He still maintains, however, that bedbugs are the root of all evil, and likely to be the downfall of this civilization.

That’s it for now.

Sleep tight, all. Don’t let the bedbu–OHGOD THEY’VE GOT ME SAVE YOURSELAAAUUUHGHGHGGHHgggghhhhh….

 

 

 

 

Sexy Lumberjacks and a Pocket Full of Turtles

I probably should have called this blog “A Professional Amateur,” instead of “Writertude” since I spend most of my free time (bahaHAHA, I mean the time I buy with stress proportionate to the number of hours I’ve put off whatever I should be doing in order to do the thing I’m actually doing) accumulating hobbies. I knit, crochet, sometimes I paint, I’ve been a martial artist and a dancer, I can play about 2 songs on my guitar, I’ve dipped my toe into blacksmithy and recently took up running…and of course I write (although I consider that less of a hobby and more MY LIFE’S MISSION.)

About a year ago I decided to start trying my hand at photography. As luck would have it, a good friend of mine is an actual photographer (he would probably classify himself as *almost* a photographer, but I mean, he takes pictures of people and even occasionally gets paid for it: that’s a photographer to me), and was willing to apprentice me and show me the ropes. Thank you, Phil, for being such a wonderful enabler and patiently entertaining my flailing, amateur attempts as I recklessly fling myself, once again, into waters I know nothing about (Look I bought a camera! It’s a really good ca–what’s a fourth-frame what do you mean I have to “pick the right shutter speed” what the frig is an f-stop?)

Fast forward. This past Friday.

I sent Philtographer a link to a photo shoot I found online of an actual, burly Lumberjack, dressed and posed like a pinup poster. I sent him this because I found it hilarious and awesome. I’m always on board for art that undermines gender norms and makes me laugh at the same time. And I said to Philtographer: “This should be the theme for our next shoot!”

I typed this message with irony in my heart.

Two hours later I get a message that says, “I found a lumberjack. We need suspenders and an axe.”

…What?

  1. That was a joke, Philtog.
  2. WHERE did you find a lumberjack at 10 in the morning on a Friday???
  3. It’s too late. We’re committed now. Better block off some time for the Sexy Lumberjack shoot.

We put Saturday afternoon on the books, since during that time I would be joint-house sitting for my boyfriend’s mother and she lives basically in the woods near a cranberry bog, and I was forwarded a picture of said lumberjack. Who, I must note, was not an actual lumberjack, but a tall, Nordic-looking young man with flowing locks and plaid in his wardrobe. Close enough.

Saturday arrives. So does the Lumberjack. I’m already a little boggled by the rollercoaster of unexpected that is my life, but I’m rolling with it. We grab the camera equipment and begin the hike down a lonely suburb road to the Cranberry bog, Nordic giant with an axe swung over his shoulder bringing up the rear.

A few people pass us in cars. They give us a wide berth.

Halfway to the bog I look down at a rock I’m about to step on. I look because the rock is crawling, slowly, toward the edge of the road.

Turtle Portrait (1 of 1)

Holy shit it’s a turtle. A tiny, baby turtle the size of a half dollar, trying to make the long, impossible journey to the bog. Beside this turtle are one or two road smudges that had once been other turtles, along with the smashed scribble of a big snake with its mouth frozen open in an unmistakable expression of “Om nom nom.”

Obviously his turtle journey hadn’t been going very well so far. I pick up the exhausted little guy and put him in my jacket pocket (gently) and we carry on. Until, up ahead…

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Oh shit, another turtle. Struggling along. Into my pocket tiny dinosaur.

We finally arrive at the bog, lumberjack and Philtog in tow, I with a pocket full of turtles. Near the waters edge, we release the turtles, and I delay the photoshoot a further ten minutes by laying down on the ground to take the pictures you’ve already seen.

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Featuring Philtog’s fingers and his wireless mouse for scale.

 

The turtles swim away. The day is saved. Philtog and I finally take some lumberjack photos and it’s pretty awesome. Apart from being dashingly photogenic, our Nordic Hero is a very amiable, laid back guy, willing to stand still among beaming shafts of bright sun and pretend as though he isn’t being eaten alive by a teeming cloud of blood thirsty gnats.

Mmm…bogs.

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I call this the “Pantene Pro-V shot”

 

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Look at that majestic profile.

 

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“I hear the song of my people.”

 

10/10 would drag this guy on an unexpected turtle misadventure again.

Peace out fellow amateurs. May the Autofocus be with you.

Post Hoc Ergo Panic Hoc (Wherein I Intend to Write a Blog Post About Panic Disorder and Instead Write an Essay)

I’ve mentioned this on the blog in passing, but I have this little gem of an anxiety disorder called Panic Disorder.

There’s a whhoooolleee lot of misconceptions and myths about anxiety disorders embedded in media and today’s social structure, and after spending this past Christmas explaining to each side of my family, and my boyfriend’s family, why the fact that I was having so much trouble eating did not actually mean I was afraid of food itself, and what a panic attack actually *is*, I wanted to take some time to dispel some of the big ones, and go over some of what anxiety disorders and Panic Disorder actually constitute, as far as my own, meager (non-medical, non-expert) understanding of them extends.

Besides which, conventional wisdom tells me I’m supposed to shut up in polite society about things like mental health issues and therapy, which of course just makes me want to talk about it all the time. It’s about time that we shook off the stigmas clinging to these things and starting fucking conversing about them.

First, the short/medium version of my own descent into Panic Disorder goes thusly: Two years back I had a heck of a stressful year for about 10,000 reasons. During this time, in addition to other stressors, I was given to understand by doctors that I had an allergy to tree nuts which could lead to anaphylaxis (this, by itself, not a huge problem.) I was equipped with an EpiPen, told to be HELLA CAREFUL about what I ate, and then sent on my way. The year was a busy one, and fool that I am, I put off seeing an actual allergist for a year and a half, instead growing more and more hyper vigilant about what I ate. This hyper vigilance combined with several other factors (including a predisposition to anxiety) snowballed until the panic attacks appeared. And, while the attacks are the result of many, many factors, they came to focus on the one thing in my life I thought I could control: my food.

Control, by the way, is a total illusion, and panic disorder is not a beast of reason, so before I knew it, the simple act of eating was a trigger. I would sit down to a meal of peppered mashed potatoes, feel a tingle in my throat (from the dang pepper of course) and POW, panic attack.

Last spring, when I finally caved and called my doctor to scream into the phone something along the lines of “HoLy SHIt I ThINK I MigHt NeEd a THErApiST” I was having, on average, four panic attacks a day (anywhere from 2 to 10). Which is like, a lot. And which was most certainly affecting my ability to live my life and do simple things like, go to work, see my friends, and most importantly eat my lunch.

I found a therapist, saw and allergist, underwent numerous tests of the pokey, staby, variety, and came to find out that I did not, actually, have a food allergy. The EpiPen I carry everywhere is vestigial to my own needs. But by then it was too late, damage done, the list of foods I could eat without melting into a gasping, shuddering mess was about twenty items long.

So Panic Disorder itself. Tl;dr, panic disorder is officially defined as when an individual experiences at least two panic attacks within a six month period. Anyone can experience a panic attack, they’re not exclusive to a spilled-spaghetti brain like mine, but the common recurrence of them is what makes it a disorder.

Which brings me to my first myth:

 

All a person having a panic attack needs to do to feel better is just calm down.

People say this all the time on TV, in real life, in magazines, on health blogs: “Just calm down. Just take it easy. Take a deep breath.”

People who say this don’t have a clear idea of what a panic attack actually is. For starters, it is just not that easy. Why not? Well, first:

What’s a panic attack? <– There’s a link, but my personal description of a panic attack is that it’s basically a physiological response that occurs in a situation that your lizard brain interprets as life threatening (or if you have social anxiety, world crumbling). Lizard brain kicks your body into fight or flight, full speed ahead: adrenaline whams into your system, sweat prickles out of your skin, your hands shake, your legs itch, your chest tightens to the point of actual pain, and your throat physically closes in panic. You feel like you can’t breathe, (which leads to hyperventilation) and you get dizzy, your lips and fingers tingle, and your heart does it’s level best to slam its way out of your chest like a TV FBI agent kicking down a door.

Every single doctor I’ve seen on the matter has told me, in the same credulous voice, as if they were revealing to me the secrets of the universe, that’s it’s not uncommon for people having a panic attack to go to the ER or call 911 thinking they’re having a heart attack. Because it feels like a heart attack, it feels like you’re actually dying. (The irony of doctors who have clearly never had a panic attack telling me this as if I won’t be able to believe it cracks me up every time. Of course people go to the ER, THEY THINK THEY’RE DYING, isn’t that why anyone goes to the ER?)

Imagine sitting in a chair, physically feeling like you’re having a heart attack, and these are actual physiological symptoms remember, it’s not just something you’re imagining in your head, and then they guy next to you says: “Just calm down.”

Not helpful. Also usually not helpful is the advice to “take a deep breath.” Someone having a panic attack is likely already hyperventilating, which is basically the issue of taking too many deep breaths. When you hyperventilate, you blow off too much carbon dioxide and take in more and more oxygen, which causes your blood to become more alkaline and as a result, you to become dizzy and nauseated. The kicker is that hyperventilation is often interpreted by the brain as the lungs not getting enough oxygen. So, you’re over breathing, but you feel like you’re not breathing at all, so you over breath even more. It’s a vicious cycle.

Just “calming down” isn’t good enough. There is no instantaneous, magic feel better solution. And actual solutions obviously differ for different people.

A few things I, myself, have found helpful:

Yoga breathing. Breath in slowly, through your nose, filling up your diaphragm so your stomach expands, and just when you think you can’t take in any more air, take in a little more. Then exhale, slowly, through your mouth, lips pursed, emptying your lungs completely of air, squeezing out that little extra at the very end. Repeat for a few minutes. This is something my therapist (who is a lovely woman) taught me. Basically, the body can’t be both relaxed and panicking at the same time, and breathing like this (and focusing on relaxing the shoulders and the muscles of the face) relaxes the body.

Relaxing into the panic attack. This sounds insane, like leaning into a punch. But think of it like jumping into a wave, if you dive headfirst into the wave all of a sudden your through it on the other side, if you stand still, rigid, freaking out, that wave is gonna knock you on your ass, drag you up the sand like an impotent jellyfish, and dump you, gasping and scraped up, on the shore with a nose full of seaweed. Remind yourself it’s only a panic attack, tell your Lizard Brain to shut up about whatever it’s freaking out about, and just let it happen when you feel it coming. Just sit and relax your shoulders and say to yourself, “okay, I’m having a panic attack, so what? It’ll pass.”

Regular Exercise. Exercise causes endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t just kill their husbands. They just don’t. (Wait, no, that’s Legally Blonde.) But, exercise *does* cause endorphins, and endorphins *do* help in the management of anxiety. Believe me, the irony in the fact that the desire to feel like a normal person (rather than a rumbling, tumbling, weed of nerves and panic) may be the reason I finally get into a decent amount of shape is not lost on me.

 

A panic attack is when someone pulls a Chicken Little and assumes the sky is falling down without actual evidence of the sky falling down.

This misconception is a little harder to sum up in one sentence, but basically, people assume when I’m having a panic attack, that I am reacting to an irrational thought which I totally believe to be true. “This lentil soup might kill me!” They think that I have jumped to a ridiculous conclusion with the rational part of my brain, and that is what has spun me into a panic attack. Lentil soup doesn’t kill people. Spiders don’t kill people. I’m not going to catch Ebola and drop dead just because that guy two seats away on the bus sneezed.

A panic attack, like other symptoms of anxiety, and some symptoms of PTSD, can, and usually does, have triggers. Little day to day things that can set it off like a bad guy pushing a big red doomy button.

So, in my own example, my trigger is the act of eating (sometimes the act of smelling) combined with the little, insidious gremlin of “What if?” The trigger is two-fold.

This doesn’t answer the question of why some people having panic attacks about things which seem perfectly harmless and banal (such as individuals with phobias). Let’s turn to a probable example from your own life. Remember that thing you ate that one time years ago, and right after you ate that thing you threw up for hours, and as a result you can’t eat that thing anymore? You can barely look at that thing? The very smell of that thing wafting through the air makes you want to make like a one-woman stampede out of the room?

That’s an aversion. And it’s caused by that old, practically prehistoric part of your brain that, in times gone by, kept your ancient lineage alive. Prehistoric Peri ate some red berries one time and was violently ill afterwards, but, Prehistoric Peri, basically just a walking appetite, didn’t have the kind of cognition necessary to draw the logical conclusion that maybe those berries were BAD FREAKING NEWS. But, P. Peri did have instincts that linked those red berries to a health threatening situation and created an associated icky feeling, so that P. Peri wouldn’t eat those fucking berries anymore.

I call this part of my brain: Lizard Brain, whether or not that’s exactly scientifically accurate. You can call it something else if that’s what you’re comfortable with, but the point is that Lizard Brain is still around after all these years, trying to make sure you don’t eat little red berries.

The obvious problem, is that Lizard Brain is seriously guilty of the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy. Lizard Brain thinks that because you threw up after you drank strawberry milk that one time, all strawberry milk is no good, very bad poison (when actually you just had the flu and it chose that moment to rear its virusy-gopher flu head.) Now, you may know that it wasn’t the fault of the strawberry milk, but you still can’t drink the stuff. (Or it takes you a long time to drink the stuff again with any enjoyment.)

People with anxiety sort of have a Lizard Brain that’s in over drive. Lizard Brain has made an erroneous connection, for one or more of several reasons. Trauma being a major one. So a person goes to war where things that make loud sounds = things that will kill you, then they come home and that connection still exists. A car backfires, fireworks go off, and their automatic physiological response will be one of someone in a life-threatening situation.

Lizard Brain thinks “x” is deadly or calamitous. And thus Lizard Brain behaves as if “x” is deadly or calamitous.

Then there is the mental component, often in the form of a what if, with some panic attacks. So, for instance, I’m not actually afraid of food. I don’t see a steaming pile of creamed corn and want to run for the hills. But, a little over a year ago, I spent a good deal of time being told by doctors not to eat certain things or I could DIE. I was told, over and over, that I had a food allergic and was at risk for anaphylaxis (when in fact I wasn’t) and that I had to check labels, eat only things I knew the ingredients of, and I became so used to that kind of hyper vigilance, that now my brain connects the act of eating food with the risk a potential attack of anaphylaxis.

Even though I *know* I don’t have a food allergy. Even though I know, rationally, that creamed corn won’t kill me, my lizard brain has been trained to fear that scenario, and has learned to continually ask “What if?”

Lizard Brain doesn’t care what I know. Lizard Brain isn’t taking any chances. I take a bite of a donut and lizard brain goes “What if there’s a tree nut in there and your throat closes and then you OMG DO YOU FEEL THAT? YOUR THROAT IS CLOSING, YOUR HANDS ARE NUMB, YOU’RE DYING, OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT.”

Of course really I’m just having a panic attack. And then I have to sit there and talk myself back down, reminding Lizard Brain that we have the results of medical tests that clearly state we don’t have a food allergy.

And, for many, the worry about having another panic attack (since they are SO VERY UNGODLY UNCOMFORTABLE AND UNPLEASANT) is enough of a worry to induce another panic attack. “What if I have a panic attack right now where people can see me? That would suck. Oh jeeze, my chest hurts. Oh shit they’re gonna know and they’re gonna judge me and ohgod oh shit, I can’t breathe…” That’s a hell of a Catch 22.

“That corn isn’t going to kill you.” Yes. I know that. Logically, I have a firm grasp on reality. But my body has been trained, like Pavlov’s dogs, to respond to certain situations a certain way, and retraining my body and my lizard brain is one hell of an uphill, Sysiphus-like endeavor.

 

Panic attacks are goofy, minor things that are just quirky personality traits owned by adorable, pixie dream girls in movies, and they don’t really affect people’s lives.

Most of the time in media, panic attacks (and anxiety disorders in general) are treated like a personality quirk. Pixie Dream Girl is freaking out about that test she took. Nerdy Comic Relief Guy found a snake in his locker and he’s petrified of them.

Obviously, given all the descriptions above, I feel like I don’t need to beat this myth to death with a stick anymore, but I still think it’s worth saying that Panic Attacks can suck major ass. They can be debilitating. They can prevent people from living their lives, from leaving their homes, from calling their friends.

And this is true of many mental health disorders. They appear as the defining characteristic of a supporting character in a capacity that’s utterly misrepresented, or is treated as comic relief, when the reality of the disorder is much darker, and much more of a royal pain in the ass.

 

I am stuck, helpless as a screaming damsel tied to the railroad tracks, in the chugging, roaring path of my Anxiety.

This is probably less of a societal misconception as it is the misconception of a person actually suffering from anxiety, but that just makes it all the more important. Part and parcel with this misconception comes the secondary fear that you are the only poor S.O.B tied to these tracks. There are more than enough catalysts in the world to cause feelings of isolation, and I won’t pretend to have the wisdom to put them in a hierarchy, but feeling like you’re crazy and everyone else is fine is definitely one of them. You’re standing in line at Starbucks, internal alarms and whistles and earthquakes cracking apart your focus, and when you look around all you see is people looking relaxed and normal, people looking calm, people who don’t appear as though their worlds are coming down around them, and you think:

I’m the only one.

But you’re not. You’re totally not. Anxiety affects about 18% of adults in the US. And that percentage adds up to millions of people.

Even if you know, intellectually, that you’re not the only one, the more tangible feeling of being the lone crazy person having a wig-out in a room full of average, happy Joes, can be enough to stop a person from asking for help, or breaching the subject with a doctor. Not least because the media, that psychological slushie of stereotypes and “conventional wisdoms” which we are constantly slurping through our parched eyeballs, treats anxiety like a joke.

But there are things that can help. There’s medication. There’s therapy. There are support groups. Self-Help books on the subject. Blogs. Videos. Documentaries. I recommend whatever of these things work best on an individual basis, and I recommend taking the chance to find out. (“Recommend” I say, in that some of these things are helping me. No one can really recommend anything with certainty, although a doctor is a good place to start. Also I’m not an authority on the subject. I’m just a fellow wiggin.)

On top of that, there are actions that can help reduce anxiety. They vary, from person to person, and different types of anxiety. But there’s exercise (CURSE IT ALL, I know. This uncomfortable shit is going to turn out to be the freaking cure for death itself, it comes up everywhere). There’s a change in diet. Staying hydrated is a small but significant help for some people, since anxiety can be a symptom of dehydration (same thing with being hungry.) There’s exposure therapy, which is one of several methods I’m currently slogging through.

I will say that none of these things are necessarily easy. And changing your routine/way of living, especially when you already have anxiety, can be holy-shit levels of hard. As a general rule, people don’t like change. We like routine and comfort, dinner at the same time, watching our regular TV shows, seeing our regular friends… and stepping outside of our sphere of cozy, known-experiences, is not fun.

But, at the same time, change isn’t as hard as it seems in the beginning. Because your anxiety thinks that change is impossible. Anxiety believes that change is Not Even An Option. So once you disprove that, once you’re over that initial uncertainty and doubt, the new habits, over time, seem less and less monstrous. And so, it miraculously turns out, does your anxiety. That towering, neon green, saber-toothed, cranky fucker who keeps screwing up your day, starts to shrink, one millimeter at a time.

 

*Whew* Well, that’s all for now. I’m gonna just end this post abruptly, rather than making you all suffer through an essay-style recap.  I hope all that blathering was at least mildly informative. Time for me to sneak off and have a nice quiet cup of Jane Austen to sooth the ragged nerves. (Coping Mechanisms come in all shapes and forms, my friends.)

Wiggins, out.

(postscript: a West Wing clip, just for funzies)

WRITING ADVICE IS STUPID (but also kind of awesome)

Upfront: I hate writing advice.

Like, I hate it. It upsets me the way people that don’t use their blinkers and hang sudden lefts upset me. Whenever I run across an article that’s titled “15 Things to Avoid When Writing…” Or “How to Make Your Stories Sell” my immediate, gut reaction is:

tumblr_n9i83qwjfh1rawb5do1_500

I’m like: WHO ARE YOU TO TELL ME WHAT 15 THINGS I SHOULD BE DOING? F*CK OFF, I’M MY OWN PERSON. AND I WILL DO THINGS MY OWN WAY, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. IF I WANT ROLL UP NARNIA AND SMOKE IT, I WILL, AND THEN I WILL WRITE THE MOST GENIUS THING YOU’VE EVER SEEN AND YOU’RE GOING TO FEEL REALLY STUPID AND YOU’RE GOING TO WANT TO BE MY FRIEND BUT I’LL BE LIKE, BUZZ OFF PUNK, REMEMBER THAT TIME YOU FLICKED A BOOGER AT ME IN MATH CLASS?

Obviously, there are a couple of things not very chill about this reaction.

1) It’s way not situationally proportionate.
2) It’s sort of weirdly personal? Like, what part of my subconscious was so damaged by being uncool in high school that I assume every piece of advice written on the internet is a direct attack on me implying that I don’t know what I’m doing? Slow your roll, Lizard Brain.
3) Issues with authority? Me? Surely not.
4) It implies that I never make any of the mistakes they’re telling me to avoid.

The last one I think comes from having always been  a Smart Person. Not a prodigy or anything, but just a person who always got good grades and never had to try that hard to get them. A person who sucked up to teachers, and received the “what a good job you did” cookies, no need for a parent teacher conference, kid, you’re aces, hey want to help me grade this homework after school?

FYI, this was in no way ever a hardship. I am hella not complaining about any of that.

But I think one of the traps Smart People fall into, is that we get told for so long growing up just how freaking smart and wonderful we are, that we learn to overlook or forget how completely dumb we are too. Specifically in terms of experience. We feel like we got all these brains, so we don’t need Wisdom, because surely that came as package deal with the ability to pass tests with minimal studying. Didn’t it?

It didn’t?

Well shit.

And that aaalll that advice we barely listened too back in the day (or last week) because we thought it didn’t apply to us (“us” being too smart, after all, to fall into such plebian pitfalls) came back to smack us right in the eye like a bee flying at speed.

What’s more, since we’re so freaking smart and capable of figuring shit out, every time we fail to solve a problem on our own it feels like we’re letting ourselves and other people down. Which is ridiculous. (Here’s a tangentially related post by the wizardly Mr. Wendig on that wanky nonsense known as  talent. )

I do have a few more intellectual reasons for hating writing advice.

  1. It is, by its nature, reductive. It’s always going to leave out nuances that are important to a really good understanding of whatever bigger point the author is trying to drive at.
  2. Sometimes it’s  all the same. If I do read advice I’m not looking for the same tips over and over again. “Write what you know!” Yes. Thank you. Clearly you took your own advice.
  3. Sometimes it’s trying too hard to be original and it just soars right over the realm of creative-thought and into surrealism. “Go plant a garden of rutabagas and spend a few hours every morning communing with the fairies. This will clear your mind and open the door for new ideas!” …What?
  4. Writing advice is subject to perspective and personal preference, just like anything, and it doesn’t matter what some big-shot author tells you to never do, you will invariably find that someone has done that exact thing, somewhere, to immense success.

So balls to writing advice, I say! I’M OFF ON MY OWN ADVENTURE AND I’M NOT BRINGING A MAP.

That said: I love writing advice. I consume it like candy (right after I’m done yelling at it.) And sometimes it’s nice to at least look at other peoples’ maps. Because like, if there’s a deep, spikey, snake-filled pit lying directly in my path, it might be nice to know about it before I stumble into it on my own and land amongst the old, sun-bleached skeletons of writers from aforetime.

On top of which, all that advice that I rail against? The advice that I bitch about because I’ve seen it a million times, or that I find to be so obvious even a drunk bear on a spinning merry-go-round with a BB gun could hit the broad side of it?–that is often also the advice that is the bee that comes careening into my eye later on.

“That thing!!!? I’m not doing that thing. I’ve never done that thing!” And then a month later, I’m going over a draft, and there is the thing, staring me in the face like:  “Hello! I am your glaring mistake! I’ve been hiding behind your ego for the last 30 days eating shame burritos and stinking up the place.”

*sigh*

So I have a hate-love relationship with writing advice. Because on the one hand, it’s banal and usually dull and often is trying to cram me into a box that was clearly not built for someone Peri-shaped. (And really is not built for anyone anybody-shaped except the author.) On the other hand, sometimes I do learn useful things that I needed to know, and as a result my craft improves. And then I get to bore other writers in turn with the writing advice that worked for me.

And finally, there’s this weird kind of switch in my brain that gets flipped when I’m reading writing advice (again, *after* I’ve finished flinging cuss words at it), and it’s sort of like by reading the advice I remember all the things I’m actually trying to do with my own writing. It’s a little bit like a pep talk, it gets me excited again, adds some spark back into my old, worn out, mantras. And it’s a little bit like when you find that piece you never finished a year or more ago, and you read it out of curiosity and think to yourself, ‘Holy shit. This is actually pretty good. Did I write this? Who wrote this? Who snuck into my house typed these words into my computer when I wasn’t looking?’

Reading other people’s advice helps me achieve a little bit of distance from whatever project I’m currently up to my ears in. This is good because with distance comes a greater ability to recognize my own errors. Also, and perhaps more importantly, it helps me gain the perspective I need to recognize the good parts in my writing that I’d been previously ignoring in favor of berating myself for (allegedly) being less smart than my (apparent) smarty-pants should have allowed me to be.

In summation:

Don’t do drugs. Do writing advice. But don’t be afraid to call that advice into question and defenestrate whatever parts of it are just not working out for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writertunes: Halsey

Music. It’s awesome.

I listen to all kinds of music across the spectrum. No genre is safe from me (with the exception of polka maybe) and in general I choose the songs I listen to based on whether or not it fits into one or more of the following four categories.

1) Can I write to it? (Caveat: do I find the theme or mood conducive to a certain story I’m writing or potential future story I might write?)

2) Can I dance to it?

3) Can I (attempt to) sing along to it?

4) Can I stare out the window of a moving vehicle and imagine myself parkouring across buildings and kung-fuing my way through hordes of bad guys to it?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then I will probably dig it. I considered mentioning a fifth category, into which I prefer my music not to fit, “Does it suck?” but the fact is that sometimes, if the song falls really well into one of the four, I might like it even if it does suck. Especially that last category.

One of my pre-writing rituals (other than banging my head against the wall and mumbling out-loud to myself in the shower) is to create a playlist of songs that fit the story I’m about to write. This serves the dual purpose of helping me access the mood/atmosphere/general emotion I’m looking to convey in my story, and drowning out distractions (the buzz of traffic, my cat’s lion-like mrowls [jk she sounds like a mouse with laryngitis], the sound of my boyfriend shrieking because he was just sitting there, minding his own business and building a tree-house-fortress-of-doom when a creeper snuck up behind him and exploded….)

And since I can’t be the only playlist ritual maniac out here (I’m not, right?) I thought it might be fun to occasionally “review” some of the music I listen to (new, old, whatever I’ve just accidentally stumbled across on youtube) from a writer’s perspective.

Disclaimer: I’m not a musician. I am in no way an expert on music. And all of this is like the exact opposite of a science, you are in no way expected to agree with me.

Just know that if you don’t, you’re probably wrong.

So Halsey

This past August (2015) Halsey’s debut album, Badlands, came out. You might not even know who she is yet, or, you might suddenly be seeing her name all over social media and wondering who the hell is this Halsey person? 

Halsey is the soundtrack to your next anti-heroine. Her sound is electric-noir (I-tunes classifies her as “alternative” but that sounds fucking boring, so I’m making her a new genre out of foggy mirrors, cigarette smoke, and femme fatales.)  She’s got a husky voice and some hella evocative lyrics (NSFW in some cases, you have been warned.) Her music is reckless and self-conscious at the same time. Her songs are standing on the edge of an overpass, looking down, ready to jump onto a moving train.

These songs are fodder for the kind of protagonist who doesn’t give a fuck what you think. Who makes big, disastrous, complicated mistakes, and then shoplifts the liquor she needs in order to deal with all the shit she just started.  She’s dark and a little cliché, and sometimes she goes out looking for a fight.

Current and past characters that come to mind are Faith, of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and the brand new iteration of the Marvel protagonist, “Jessica Jones” that hit Netflix last month. (That show is kick-ass by the way, go check it out. Like right now. Go on! I’ll wait.)

Castle”, “Hold Me Down”, and “Young Gods” are my favorites off the album so far. Although “New Americana” is doing the best on I-tunes.

Since I’m a fiction writer, one of the big things I’m guilty of with songs like this is taking the metaphors (“They want to make me their queen,” Castle) and re-interpreting them like they’re literal, (“They want to make me their literal queen and it is now my job to behead usurpers and rule over all the land.”) Halsey’s album is great for this.

Now to sum up, some pros and cons.

Pros:
Catchy as fuck.
Badass as fuck.
Great lyrics.
Excellent use of swears and cusses.

Cons:
Because it’s catchy sometimes I find myself singing along instead of writing.
Because it’s badass I sometimes find myself choreographing dance-fights in my head instead of writing.

*drops youtube video embed for your listening pleasure*

 

An Open Letter to the Management Company that Oversees the Apartment Building in Which I Newly Live

Dear Management,

I congratulate you on the gross incompetence inherent in your inability to deduce what the check I sent you (which had my name, the current address I rent from you as the return address on the envelope, and the subject “RENT” written in the memo line) was supposed to be for. I congratulate you to the tune of this checkstop fee I’m about to pay, which I could have used to buy groceries.

I further congratulate you on your utter lack of communication to your tenants in the “usual practices” of your company (none of which are included in the lease), which I was somehow magically supposed to know to follow.

I hope you find spider’s eggs in your socks. I hope you find them too late, and are only enlightened to their presence when those eggs hatch, and you feel a tickle in your foot, which suddenly grows into an itch, and spreads, and spills out from your favorite shoes in a wave of tiny black arachnids, thousands of them, scattering to the floor and crawling up the legs of your pants.

And you can rush home and put everything through the wash, scrub to threadbare shabbiness every article of clothing you own, but you will never really be sure you are rid of them all.

And the ones that you missed will grow big and fat on your prickling uncertainty. Until the day comes when, moving silent and unheard through the corners of your unease, they find the darkest shadow of your home, the warmest, most comforting, lightless nook…and lay a thousand eggs of their own.

Happy Halloween, you jerks.

Sincerely,
A Discontented Tenant.

Not My Autobiography: That Time I was Almost Carried Away by a Hot Air Balloon

Hey! I’m finally doing a Chuck Wendig flash challenge! On time! While simultaneously completing a second installment of “Not my Autobiography.”

As with any NMA installment: all of the following is true. (Why me?)

behold my mad MS Paint skillz!

behold my mad MS Paint skillz

I grew up on a defunct farm in rural PA. In my great grand parents time it was a real farm, complete with cows and corn. But all that went to seed as time went by.

In my time (age nine-ish for the purposes of this story), it was fucking wonderland. The skeletal remains of old, mysterious farm equipment jutted out of overgrown bushes like rusted dinosaur bones. Untamed blackberry patches sprawled throughout un-mowed fields, and wild strawberries scattered over “The Hill.” A hundred acres of woodland, haunted by the occasional black bear, surrounded the property, bordered on one edge by a little brook.

Some miles down the road from our lost-to-the-briars farm was a state park, (which prevented us from having many real neighbors), and the balloon launch field, where in the summer and early fall, hot hair (ahaha, hot air) balloon rides were given to insane people. Or, I guess more kindly, to regular people with specific, balloon-related death wishes. (Experience informs my bias.)

The wind usually took the balloons over our house.

We would hear the roaring bursts of fire as they approached, and amble outside (there’s never any need to run to catch sight of a hot air balloon, and no one in that part of the country hurries anywhere anyway) to look skyward until one drifted into view. Then  we would watch as it traversed our private horizon and vanished over the top of The Hill.

Unfortunately, The Hill was treacherous territory for a balloon. The fields, curved and overgrown, bisected by trees, looked safe from above, but if the balloon drifted too low, there wasn’t the space for it to gain enough height to clear the next row of pine.  So sometimes, after it left our sight, we would still hear the balloon fire blowing and blowing, but getting no farther into the distance.

“Uh oh,” my mom would say, “they’re stuck again. You’d better go with your brother and drag them out of the trees.”

And that’s how it was on this particular day, whatever day it was, in whatever summer month, when I didn’t exactly “almost die”, but at the very least, if you think about it, had ample opportunity to “nearly perish.”

My brother and I ran the half mile up The Hill, following the roaring bursts and sounds of half-panicked shouts, until we found the field where the balloon was trapped, branches wrapped around it like fingers.

Cell phone reception came late to our part of the world, and no two-way radio could cover that distance through the rock littered hills. I can’t say what other balloon nuts did when we weren’t home. Maybe their bones are still up there.

We charged out of the bushes, two weedy, briar-scratched children, and waved and shouted for the balloon man (balloon tech? balloon driver?) to throw down a rope. He complied. My brother and I grabbed it, and began to haul the balloon into the middle of the field (no small task for two 80 pound kids.) As we did, the balloon lost altitude, hovering closer and closer to the ground, brushing the tops of the bushes and hay. Balloon Man touched a dial and pulled a cord and a burp of flame rushed into the balloon. It began to rise.

And rise.

And rise.

My brother, two years the younger, but somehow in this instance much wiser, sensed the obvious danger and let go of the rope. I, meanwhile, must have been in the middle of one of those mini-strokes children sometimes seem to suffer. We’re still too close to the trees! I thought. They’ll get suck again! 

So I kept my grip on the rope, and attempted to anchor the entire balloon down with the weight of my nine year old body.  

Well, that didn’t work.

And the balloon went up.

I can already hear you asking “Holy shit, how high?” and the truth is, I have no good guess. At nine, I still had an abstract relationship with all systems of measurement, but I can tell you it was pretty damn high (higher than twenty feet) but we weren’t in the stratosphere or anything.

On the ground, my little brother, who had just seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the first time, began to bawl. Above me, Balloon Man and his paying nuts were leaning out of the basket screaming.

“DON’T LET GO!”

Good advice. I didn’t.

The balloon finally reached a peak and stopped rising, then hung suspended for a few minutes. My hands burned. My arms ached. I wrapped my legs around the rope and tried to gain some purchase with my feet. Balloon man kept screaming. I fixed my eyes on the ground, prayed like no nine year old has prayed before, and waited.

Waited.

Finally, the balloon began to sink again. At eight-ish feet, I decided to take my chances with a sprained ankle rather than risk floating away again, and dropped. I hit the ground rolling (over a thorn bush), and came up to my feet, teeth still humming from the impact.

“OH MY GOD,” Balloon Man was shouting. “OH. MY. GOD.”

My brother wiped his eyes. We dragged the balloon to the middle of the field.

Balloon Man thanked us as profusely as he could while simultaneously drifting into the sky. My brother and I brushed ourselves off and walked back down the hill.

“How did it go?” my mom asked when we got home.

“Fine,” we said.

Years later I told my mom the real story over thanksgiving dinner, thinking she might find it funny. She yelled at me like I was nine again, forgotten cranberry sauce dripping off her spoon into the mashed potatoes.