I’m leaving it all up to you

7 08 2011

It was so obvious I forgot to mention it: the Big Fear.

About The Unexpected Neighbor, I mean, the main reason I hesitated to tell people  I knew that the book was now available at Smashwords.

And no, not whether or not they liked it. But whether they’d think less of me for this story. I mean, they could like it, but think it a trifle, and thus consider me. . . trifling.

Y’know how I mentioned a couple of posts ago that, however foolish the attempt, I nonetheless try to control what people think about me? Wasn’t kidding. Not one bit.

So here I tell people—you, my friends in New York, a friend in Wisconsin, my mom—that I wrote this book. Because I want you to know that I wrote this book. And I might even want you to read it.


But if nobody I know reads it, I don’t know if I’ll be more disappointed or relieved. I want you to like the story, and I think the story is likable, but I’d like you to like it quite apart from me—as in, AbsurdBeats is here and the book is there and never the twain shall meet.

Silly, I know, and embarrassingly neurotic. (Okay, so the control thing may have something to do with neurosis, as well, but it sounds so much. . . flintier to state I want to control than to say I want people to think well of me. Control, yeah, I’ll go with that.)


I want to get better at this, the novel-writing, and while I think The Unexpected Neighbor is a decent first book, I don’t know that I’d have published it if I thought it were my only book. I wouldn’t want this to be too big a piece of me.

It’s not me. It’s not biography, and no one in the story is me. But it came out of me and there are bits of me (and friends of mine) scattered throughout these characters. It’s not all or nothing; the twain has met.

It’s mine, but not me.

I know that. I have to trust that if anyone I know reads this, they’ll know that, too.

How they know that, well—deep breath—that’s not up to me. That’s up to them.

Or I could just hope that only strangers read it.


(This is the real hat-tip to Susan Wise Bauer, but her site’s not loading; I’ll add a link when I can here’s the link.)

Qu’est-ce que c’est?

9 08 2009

Are kittens psychopaths?

They show up in your house—from the street, under the porch, a shelter, a feline improvement society—and proceed to make themselves at home.

Locate the litter box? Check. Stick face in water bowl? Check. Bounce around the apartment as if she built the joint herself? Check.

Oh, and purr purr purr as you sweep him into your lap. Purr purr purr as you nuzzle your face into his electrified fur. Purr purr purr as he stretches his skinny body across the chair.

Purr purr purr just before he pounces and tries to eat your face.

psycho kitty?

psycho kitty?

No, this is not another plaint about Jasper. He still likes to chew on my ankles, but he’s now disciplined enough that he can—sometimes—lounge in bed near my feet without  treating them as prey.

Still, I do wonder about a creature about whom I know nothing, and who knows nothing of me, insinuating himself into my household.

What about the whole  ‘getting to know you’ dance? If a person immediately confides something intimate about herself to me—sober—I wonder about boundaries. If what she tells me raises the hair on the back of my neck, I wonder why she’s telling me rather than, say, a therapist.

An example: When in Albuquerque, I lived for a time with an apparently sweet woman, K.,  who, it turned out, was nuts. First few clues? Within a week of my settling in, I learned about her abortion, her time as a lesbian, her suicide attempts, her alcoholism, her conversion to evangelical Christianity, and her tortured relationship to her family (also nuts).

I’m thinkin’, jeez, I’m just tryin’ to eat my breakfast, here.

She told me that she wasn’t sure if she’d be returning to her previous job, working with troubled kids at one of the nearby pueblos. Turns out she’d been accused of hitting a kid, an accusation she relayed with a kind of resigned bewilderment. He didn’t like her, she’d concluded in her soft, sing-song voice, and wanted to get her into trouble.

That sounded plausible to me. A few friends of mine had worked in group homes and juvenile mental health units, and the kids could get rough. And that a kid was mentally ill didn’t mean he wasn’t also clever enough to accuse them of battery—or worse.

So, bummer for K.

Then there was the story about the cop at the airport. He’d pulled her over for, I don’t know, idling in a no-parking zone, and asked her to roll down her window. K. didn’t see why that was necessary. He pushed the window down, she told me, I mean, he just pushed it down.

So she took off, speeding in her white minivan toward the airport’s exit, trailed by a cop, until some other car blocked her escape. I would have made it, she said in her soft, sing-song voice.

I’m not one generally to side with the police, and have my own underage-drinking-tales of dodging cops. Still, when you’re pulled over by a cop and you haven’t done much of anything wrong, doesn’t it make sense to, oh, stayed pulled over?

No, she was right and he was wrong so she took off, and ended up with a huge fine—which she proceeded to protest in court. And lost. And was given community service on top of the fine.

Huh, I thought, K. might just have some issues.

Huh, I thought again, it’s just possible that K. did, in fact, hit that kid.

And, of course, after I moved out she accused me (in a not-soft, sing-song voice) of breaking into her house. Nothing was missing, but a door was left unlocked. Her conclusion: It had to be me.

I made sure never to walk, run, bike, or drive anywhere near her place.

Okay, so it’s a long stretch from psycho kitties to K., but isn’t one of the things about psychopaths that they can attach themselves to you in a very short period of time, and that they are generally untroubled by any aspects of their own behavior?

No, I don’t think K. was a psychopath. I think she needed serious, serious help, but to state that she was without conscience is, I think, unsupported by the evidence. (Tho’ there was plenty of evidence of severe passive-aggression, ADHD, and general disordered thinking. But I’m not a shrink, so I’ll just stick to the layperson’s diagnosis of ‘nuts’.) Still, in wondering about the psychopathology of kitties, I couldn’t help but think of K., as well.

But back to the question: what is it about the kitties? Puppies, as everyone knows, are dumb. Their motives are also transparent as hell: Feed me! Rub my tummy! I’ll love you forever! How could a creature without any apparent psyche have a pathology?

This is not an anti-dog slam. I love dogs, and take great joy in puppies. And I don’t think dogs are dumb: I simply think a dog has to grow into his personality—which is why training is so important with pups.

But kitties, kitties are sly. They have agendas and will deal with you only insofar as you help them advance that agenda. And, unlike the ids of puppies, which are oriented around pleasure—Feed me! Rub my tummy!—kitty ids are all about control: Entertain me—or else.

That they are canny critters makes them uncanny to us.

Thus, feline training  is also important, albeit in a different way: Whereas the puppy owner wants to encourage her dog’s personality to emerge, the kitten owner is more interested in curbing certain expressions of his psychology, such that by the time the cute wears off (and the cute is, of course, why would put with all this in the first place), we actually enjoy who these animals have become.

Is it a matter that poorly-trained (and likely poorly treated) dogs become psychopaths, while poorly-trained & -treated cats simply remain so? That the menace must be inculcated into the canine, and drawn out of the feline?

Perhaps. Perhaps it’s simply that puppies trust too much and kittens too little, and each has to be taught the hows and whos of trusting well. And as we human companions of these critters teach, so too are we taught.

Jasper and me? We’re learning. Slowly, slowly, we’re learning.


I forgot, of course, that the folks at I Can Has Cheezburger have already asked—and answered—this question.

In the affirmative, of course.

Don’t do this

2 06 2009

Or: how not to argue.

I did a little bit of drinking in high school. I mean, I didn’t drink EVERY day, and I was sober during school hours. And it wasn’t like I was hitting the bars every night—not when I didn’t have a decent fake ID. No, until I turned 18 (when I was only at the bar TWThF and Sat nights), I was forced to drink in cars and on country roads and in barns and friends’ basements and at the beach.

It was all very trying.

Anyway, one night my friends and I were at G.’s sister’s house, drinking and. . . I don’t know, playing cards or drinking games or something, when J. and I got into it.

J. was pro-life. Vehemently so. As was/am I, on the other side.

Why we thought it was a good idea to engage in this particular discussion at this particular time is beyond me. (I think I recall something about alcohol and impaired judgement.)

Anyway, I don’t (surprise!) remember exactly what was said, but I believe it ended with me pounding my fist on the table and shouting and her screaming at me and crying.

Helluva party.

A day or so later, sober, J. and I had a little sit-down and decided that, henceforth, we would not discuss abortion. Ever.

And that held, including the time our senior year when the sociology or world politics class we were taking screened an abortion (I think it was prolife) film. Other students were all ‘Ooo, J. & [yours truly] are really gonna go at it.’ Another teacher left his post to witness the fireworks.

J. looked at me and I looked at her and we both shrugged. Nope, we said. We don’t talk about this anymore.

We were such disappointments.

And that was it. We remained friends and drinking buddies throughout the rest of high school, and while we have long since lost touch with one another, I still remember what a truly good and funny friend she was.

There is an important epilogue to this story: At one point after our blow-out/armistice, I asked her if I could ask her some questions about abortion for a paper I was preparing. I don’t want to debate you, I said, or get into an argument. I just want to know.

She was wary, but she agreed. And in the library, just the two of us, I was able to ask her why she was pro-life, what she thought about the women, and what exceptions, if any, she would allow.

Her views, at least back then, were extreme: No exceptions. But she was calm in explaining her reasons why, and I was calm in my questions of her. There was no argument, and I learned something I wouldn’t have, otherwise.

We had re-established a kind of trust. Each knew where the other stood, and that was it. We could talk about it, carefully, without screaming about it.

So, J., wherever you are, thanks.