That was quite a week, wasn’t it? Someone’s been busy. All I did was go to work, get a haircut, and try not to lose my damned mind over every New York Times app notification. Even my trusty Lamy 2000 fell apart.
At least Zen has had a great week. In between “spa treatments” (read: subcutaneous fluids) she’s been hand-fed baby food and otherwise fussed over pretty much non-stop.
For every task I completed, I added three more to my to-do list. And next week begins with catalog upgrades, which means downtime, which means falling even further behind. January: snowed under on both metaphorical and literal levels.
I got a little more sleep last night but still not enough to fully replenish my depleted reserves of patience and compassion. I stayed late at work again, then evening traffic was stupid so I stopped off at Fred Meyer for a spot of grocery shopping and ended up wandering the aisles, looking for weirdness.
This being America, it didn’t take very long.
One year ago today, I was still in Scotland, finishing my NaNoWriMo manuscript. I had already started to wonder what living in America again would be like, if I would be able to find a library job, how I would deal with saying goodbye to my friends and home. I naively pondered how it would feel to be in the same geographical location as FunkyPlaid for the holidays, and how it would feel to vote for the first female President of the United States.
Today it’s all annoying the crap out of me. Everything. I went to sign up for Holidailies and couldn’t figure out why I was doing it anymore. Instead of pushing myself to do things I tell myself I should do, I’m going to try and listen to myself a little more.
I’m going to be clear: I don’t like the practice of saying that a year sucked. It’s reductive and disingenuous. 2016 has held some amazing things (like the aforementioned job, despite low-patience days like today). But 2016 has been a massive disappointment on significant fronts. When I was much younger I thought we were all working together toward creating an United Federation of Planets. I knew Star Trek wasn’t real but I believed in it anyway. And 2016 just seems to be another reminder that not only are we nowhere near that level of cooperation, we’re still floundering around in the dirt, throwing rocks at each other.
And I don’t have a message of hope to neatly tie this up in a bow for you tonight. But I’m working on it.
I largely avoid discussing politics here. It’s a conscious choice to keep this space clear of incontinent trolls who cannot help but spew ill-reasoned bile all over any corner of the Internet that grabs their attention.
But tonight, during the final presidential debate, the Republican nominee for President of the United States called Hillary Clinton “such a nasty woman.” This misogynist name-caller considers himself qualified to hold the highest political office in America, to confer and collaborate with other world leaders, to help decide the fate of the planet. I won’t even get into the rest of this person’s problematic behavior; you read the news, so you know already. I am aghast at the mental hoops someone must jump through to justify voting for someone who is simply unable to keep his petty little opinion to himself on national television.
I hesitate to jump on meme bandwagons, but this one spoke to me. And this nasty woman votes.
Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: nothing. Just … nothing.
First of all, had I been on the Duck Tape® board of directors (a career goal I did not know that I had until this very moment) the marketing department would not have had to sell this very hard to me. I probably would have already suggested it myself. I am a firm believer in the restorative power of comfort food, and approximately 0.5% of all of my waking thoughts involve mac & cheese in some way, especially now that I can’t eat it anymore in its true form, relegated as I am to the chalky, rubbery forms that are the provenance of gluten-free facsimiles of beloved horrible foods. So why shouldn’t a picture of this most excellent food be printed on this most excellent human invention? I find this impulse to brand even the most mundane of objects to be so American. Who except me would ever see my mac & cheese Duck Tape®?
Second, it is a relief to have visual confirmation of the Duck Tape® brand name in the wild. I was asked about this in the context of a trivia game sometime recently and I thought it was a weird detail that my brain had filed away, then I promptly forgot to research it. But here it is, in our local hardware store. It is real. And now that leftover brain process can be redirected to something useful, like wondering if I will ever be able to pronounce “Pleiades” correctly or remember the American Sign Language symbol for P without having to stare at my hand dolefully long enough to make conversation awkward.
Third, despite the obvious corny remark I could make about orange-hued things and America, I mostly don’t talk about politics here. It is a concerted effort on my part to make this place one minuscule corner of the universe that is free from such silliness by devoting it solely to whatever tickles my fancy. (Hey, the brain process just latched onto the etymology of “tickles my fancy”. Nice work!) But you know that already, or you wouldn’t be reading this. If you got lost on your search for hard-hitting journalism online and ended up here … I’m not going to judge. Your local public library will be able to help you find some sources.
Fourth, I dreamed that I got a job in a combination Italian restaurant and hair salon, but I kept sitting down to dinner with my family instead of working. When my manager finally gave up on meaningful eyebrow gestures and came right over to fire me for not serving any food, I explained to her that I already had a full-time job at a library, and burst into tears. She soothed me, and offered me a part-time job in the evenings shampooing hair and sweeping up. I happily accepted.
I thought I had prepared myself for possible points of reverse culture shock. Then I wandered into the candy aisle of our local Walgreens, pictured bottom-right in today’s photo. All I wanted was a pack of mints. There were so many different mints to choose from, and they were right next to a million candy bars, some of which I hadn’t even heard of before. We’ve only been gone for four years! How can so much candy innovation occur in such a short period of time?
The other two photos are from Whole Foods, one from the yogurt case and the other from the nuts aisle. I wasn’t able to capture the scale of either section of the store. There were more things to choose from than I was capable of comprehending of eating, and I really enjoy eating.
Many times while living abroad I pondered what it would be like to walk into a supermarket and be able to choose from different types of food that I wanted to eat as opposed to just different types of food that I could eat. (There were plenty of gluten-free crackers and biscuits in Scotland, but I’ve never enjoyed eating either very much.) Back in America, I’ve been bombarded by so many options that I’ve quickly become overwhelmed. I’m sure it will even out soon, and when it does I hope that I’m able to retain some of this awe over just how many options there are for me here.
Writing from: a room with kale chips in it. Two different flavors, even. Listening to: Zen’s chainsaw purrs. (She likes kale chips almost as much as I do.)
First things first: Zen is safely with us.
When I posted yesterday’s photo, I was pretty worked up about Zen being stranded in Newark, but I knew that I wouldn’t be of any use if I didn’t try to get some sleep until the morning. I had barely drifted off when the landline rang. FunkyPlaid jumped up to answer it. The caller was someone asking if we were going to pick up our kennel (their word) or if they should send it via the delivery service.
In my half-awake state, two things ran through my head:
Someone at the Newark airport seems to think we’re local enough to pick Zen up or to send her via ground transportation. Huh?
Something has happened to Zen and all the airlines now has is her empty travel kennel. Which they now want me to pick up. We’re not even going there.
I mumbled something about not understanding what they were talking about and asking where they were calling from. The person identified themselves as a cargo attendant for the airline at SFO and repeated the query about the kennel, adding the fact that Zen had been there since just after eleven the night before and they usually only keep kennels for four hours.
I was so confused that I asked the person if there was a cat inside the kennel.
“Yep, a big one,” the cargo attendant said. (Hey. She’s not that big.)
I said we’d be right there. The cargo attendant confirmed that they had given Zen a bit of water so she wouldn’t get dehydrated, a small detail that buoyed me. At least someone in that whole transport process was thinking of Zen as a living being and not just some stray bit of cargo.
We quickly got dressed, set up Zen’s litter box, and drove to SFO. Sure enough, Zen was there, in fine fettle and waiting for us. There was some issue with the paperwork — what a surprise — but the excellent folks at the airline cargo place got us sorted quickly and we were on our way home.
When we got here, Zen ate all of the food we gave her, drank a lot of the water, and happily received all the snuggles we could give her.
As she dozed off I wrote yet another strongly-worded letter to the pet transport company. I still have not heard back.
After a few hours of relieved sleep, our first official act was to pick up our new car. During this process I decided that taking a selfie behind the wheel was an awesome idea or maybe just an idea and in my jet-lagged state ideas are in short supply. I didn’t intend for it to be today’s photo but I failed at that so it wins by default.
My one request of the day was a smoothie from Jamba Juice, an indulgence I have dearly missed, so we went there next … via P.F. Chang’s where I ate all of their gluten-free Mongolian beef with quinoa instead of rice. There is so much right in that sentence.
On the way home, we picked up some basic supplies for Zen. And that brings me to the five-hour nap and the present moment.
After an initial bit of turbulence, today has been a soft landing.
Everything is so big and so shiny and so new that it’s no wonder when Americans go abroad the first adjective we trot out is “quaint”. America is short on “quaint”.
I was stymied by the number of choices of cat food. Grain-free cat food with salmon flakes is a thing that exists.
I almost cried when the P.F. Chang’s server had a non-food-related conversation with us. I know more about him than I did about the people in the building we lived in for the past two years.
Not sleeping before a long international flight seems like a great idea until jet-lag happens. Now I’m wide awake at midnight PST, which makes total sense in GMT where it is eight in the morning. d’oh.
Writing from: a guest bedroom in balmy Marin. Listening to: Zen’s purrs.
Earlier today, I had this half-formed thought that I shared on Twitter: “The danger of basing national pride on the vanquishing of enemies is that it requires an endless supply of enemies to maintain.”
“Enemies” is a word I used to make a point. We allow politicians and media to use this word to categorize people — individuals and whole groups — as caricatures that, once extinguished, remove some of the evil from our perilous world.
I just started this post and yet I am written out on the topic. I havesaiditallbefore. Nothing and everything has changed. We killed one man, and we gave up a hundred freedoms. And it’s not over. The war isn’t over; which war are we on now? The tiny humiliations, the groping and the radiation, the three-ounce bottles, these little things we have been told are so small and worth our safety now, but who is deciding this worth?
We are still bleeding our fear over the whole world, and I don’t want it to be over. I want it never to have happened.
Halsted M. Bernard is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Her short stories have appeared in Innsmouth Magazine, Map Literary, and Bewildering Stories, and she has performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, both as a Story Shop participant and with the literary writing and spoken-word performance group Writers' Bloc. For more about Halsted's publications and performances, please see her "Fiction" page.