Monthly Archives: March 2014

Where Beauty Goes to Die




Where I grew up on the edge of Old Richmond (before the neighborhood had “Old” attached to it or fresh coats of paint slapped on the brick cottages and Italianate two-stories to make it seem like an enchanting destination), there were century-old houses in various states of disrepair depending upon the age of the residents and whether they rented or owned, and attached to these houses were long narrow-ish backyards. The yards often had some sort of fencing to delineate one from another, or, in some cases, just forsythia bushes or shrubbery. Our yard had a high wooden fence with alternating boards that made it nearly impossible to look out, though you could press your eye to one of the slats for a narrow peek at the alley that sat behind the yard.


I wasn’t allowed to run wild, so my primary exposure to the alley were these peeks, or watching Mom carry our trash out once a week as I stood on a chair and looked out the kitchen window because I wasn’t wild about her being out of my sight. On maybe two occasions I crossed the alley into the backyard belonging to some neighbor kids who had an elaborate swing set, but because I was an introverted kid, I never really understood the thrill of playing with my peers and preferred instead my books or lurking on the edges of adult conversations, taking notes for future reference of things that really mattered. Plus, Mom never seemed too happy about me taking those few steps across the alley from the safety of our yard to the unknown dangers in the yard of the Joneses. (And there were neighboring dangers.)


So the alley mostly remained a mystery.


As a kid, I didn’t quite understand that the backs of the houses were connected to the fronts of the houses on the next block, so the kids that were growing up on South 8th, to me, were from a whole different neighborhood than I was on South 7th, simply because their houses faced a different avenue. If I started thinking about how our across-the-street neighbors, who seemed much closer than our across-the-alley neighbors, had a whole different set of alley neighbors than I did—people completely unknown to me—well, it was probably as close as a six year can get to tripping on acid. I didn’t need to travel to France; the world seemed vast as it stretched past the borders of our second-story apartment.


It wasn’t until I was much older and had friends who started moving into subdivisions with gorgeously manicured lawns whose ambience was wrecked by the presence of utility boxes or garbage cans out front that I realized what purpose an alley had served and the glorious city planning of yesteryear, creating a warren of pathways in which all the ugliness of human habitation could be hidden. Why would such a wonderful plan be abandoned? Now, unless you live in one of these neighborhoods from the 19th or early 20th century, everyone knows what you got for Christmas when you haul your overflowing Rubbermaid rolling garbage down your drive on December 26th (and they are judging you for using non-recyclable gift wrap).


Then I moved to Seattle, and because our apartment building is perched on a hill, it often makes more sense to enter the building from the alley, so I’ve grown more familiar with it. Because we share it with a hotel that has a restaurant we can’t afford in it, we sometimes open the back door only to find we have to squeeze past a produce truck to get where we’re going. On cold days, one down-and-out guy might be seen warming himself by the hotel vent, his hood up and cinched tight around his face to keep out the rain. We might say hi to each other. One day, I gave him a donut. But usually the inhabitants of the alley are hotel employees, standing around on their breaks, talking animatedly, maybe smoking a cigarette or texting, looking a little sad that they have to go back in for the remainder of their shift.


Until recently, we had a building manager for whom we had some real fondness even though she was odd. She once banged on our window at one in the morning because she’d locked herself out after chasing a surly character down the street who was loitering too near the building. Her apartment in our building was at the back, overlooking the alley. I read some reviews online that talked about how insane she was, hollering out her windows at people rummaging through the dumpsters, chasing people away. While I never witnessed it first hand, it didn’t sound like behavior outside her wheelhouse.


I hadn’t connected these online rumors with the nearly pristine nature of the alley back then, but the first three and a half years I lived here, walking through our alley was little different than walking on the street in front of our building. Though I wouldn’t choose to use it at night alone—mainly because I wouldn’t want to be surprised by someone who was taking shelter from the rain in the covered space where our trash bin resides—I had no opinions about the alley. It was just the quickest route up the hill.


Then, mysteriously, our building manager got replaced by someone younger and more polished. She has a college degree and a poodle and very classic fashion sense. Suddenly, our building has lots of “welcome neighbor” signs dotted around the common areas, though if you bump into her, she either blinks at you like she isn’t even sure you are a tenant or she turns her head to avoid conversation entirely. Her first sin against us was charging us a late fee for underpaying our rent for three months even though she’d never told us our rent had gone up. (It was the holiday and our powers of intuition weren’t up to snuff.) Even so, I’ve been trying to remain neutral about her until more data can be collected. She’s young, I keep telling myself. She’s just learning the job. And then she ignores us when she passes us on the street and I purse my lips.


Other than the new hallway art and area rug and the random monthly newsletters we get with generic health and shopping tips, the only real change I’ve seen since she arrived is the quality of the alley. I can’t imagine “police alley of all misbehavior” was anywhere on her job description and she doesn’t look the sort to chase down any unseemly types wreaking havoc there (nor does her poodle, for that matter), but now at least half the time I leave the apartment I’m greeted with someone standing in the trash, hip deep, digging for treasure. At first I thought it was one of the many homeless people and I chastised myself for feeling annoyed by this. But then I noticed the shoes on one who was hanging over the edge of the bin looked a little too hip. The Levis a little too fresh. These were just dumpster divers. On the one hand, I want to applaud them for finding uses for something someone else has declared useless, but on the other, I want them not to be there, scaring the bejeezus out of me as they pop out of the dumpster like some kind of hipster jack-in-the-box. More importantly, I want them to be tidy about their diving, so plastic bags and bits of cardboard and wrappers aren’t blowing up and down the alley like tumbleweeds.


I have no idea how the old building manager did it, but before her departure, we rarely saw mattresses or old arm chairs losing their stuffing waiting for a trash pick-up that will never come. Now? Our alley has become the place where beauty goes to die. It looks like a used furniture store lining our building and the building across from ours. Often, I think up reasons not to go out the back door, not because I’m “scared” of the alley, but because it’s just too hideous to look at.


Last week, I posted the above photo on Facebook and an old co-worker of Z’s commented: “I think we share an alley, Beth!” It turns out, he’s in the apartment building twenty steps up the hill from us, next to the hotel. Three-quarters of the time I feel insular and a little isolated in this city of over 600,000, but when I saw his comment, I felt like I was back on South 7th.


Maybe we should have a block party out there this summer and get to know our neighbors. There’d be plenty of (discarded) seating.


Blind Taste Testing

Spoonbridge and Cherry, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Spoonbridge and Cherry, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden


Probably I signed something tonight before I participated in a two-hour focus group or collected the $100 gift card for my time that swore I wouldn’t divulge the nature of the product being studied. I can’t remember. Mostly, I think what I signed meant if they gave me something that made me break out in hives (or die) I wouldn’t sue them. It’s only the second time I’ve done one of these things. The last time was more fun because it was about trailers for a cable-style TV show and they were clearly trying to figure out how middle aged women felt about guns, rock music, and women in pasties and G-strings. Tonight’s study, alas, was nothing so exciting. Instead, it was all about various non-dairy milk products and what would make us buy one, and then, as the coup de grâce, a taste test so we could say definitively which one we liked most.

I’m an almond milk user and they didn’t foist any cow’s milk on us this evening, but as I write this—after having had a Coke and a delicious pasta dinner prepared by Z—I am here to report that sample A3 has left an aftertaste in my mouth that I just can’t get rid of. I wish I knew what it was so I’d be sure to never, ever buy it when I see it on sale at Bartell. It was like no substance made in nature, though I have little doubt that whatever packaging it’s in suggests that it was made in the forest by woodland creatures (wearing gloves and aprons) of all natural ingredients.

Uh. Horrible stuff.

When I’m thrown into a group like this, I’m always kind of fascinated by the dynamic and shifts in perception as the study progresses. In a non-classroom setting, I invariably initially like no one. I don’t have good reasons for it. I make lots of assumptions about who the individuals are, how they spend their time, and what they might be thinking about me. (For reasons I can’t explain, a lot of my judgment of them and my perception of their judgment of me has to do with nail polish color and handbags.) I didn’t make it beyond Psych 101 in college, but I’m smart enough to know that this is just a defense mechanism. Like too many things in my life, I’m always horrified by how quickly I am reduced to my junior high self, and small group work with people I don’t know is the surest way to get me to 1981. No. I wasn’t going to be impressed with this sampling of humans at all.

But then we went into the room with the two-way mirrors and introduced ourselves and suddenly I couldn’t remember what it was I had against the woman with the odd sternum piercing or why I thought the young girl with the trendy glasses would be snobby. Instead, she had a sweet voice and was apologetic when she liked one of the samples none of the rest of us liked, and Sternum Piercing made all of us laugh with her jokes about how she’d put anything in her coffee if she had a coupon for it. As everyone spoke about what they did or why they drank almond or soy milk instead of cow’s milk, the ice started to thaw a little amongst us. Mid-study, the facilitator brought out some sample packaging and we all gave our opinions and then she unveiled  one brand that most of us had never seen. It was in a plastic bottle that looked like an old-timey milk bottle from an old-timey dairy from some place where cows roamed free and happily gave of their bounty without us having to feel guilty about the quality of their lives. We were all cooing and calling as if she had just uncovered a basket of Labrador puppies instead of almond milk. I have no idea if that particular almond milk was one of the ones we had tonight, but it was clear that ladies feel strongly about retro packaging, and from that point on, the energy in the room changed. We might not all like the same brands of almond and soy milk, but by golly, we know how we want our milk packaged. If she’d told us this brand would be dropped off at our doors by a man in a white uniform, we probably all would have lost our minds.

Finally, seven paper cups of milk were brought in for each of us, and the taste test began. We were instructed not to talk to each other during this part, but then the facilitator briefly left the room (by design, I suspect) and we were like a bunch of bad school kids. We were making audible “ick” noises and showing each other horrible faces and then laughing. Several people gagged dramatically. The woman across from me kept saying, “Uh uh. No way.” One of the ladies who had earlier impressed us with the story of the nearly 30 pounds she has lost since the beginning of the year admitted that the real reason the pounds have come off is because the nurse at the diet clinic where she is going is “fine” and she feels so embarrassed about him measuring her body that she’s been committed daily to making herself smaller and smaller by eating less and less.

When the facilitator came back in and asked what she’d missed, we all looked at each other conspiratorially, and kept mum. As soon as our last vote was cast, we were ushered into the lobby, handed our $100 Visa cards, and pointed towards the elevator. As we filed down the hall I felt genuine warmth for all of these women who had so bravely tasted A3!

The minute the elevator hit the ground floor, however, the spell was broken. We didn’t know each other. Wouldn’t ever know each other. A woman who had been telling me earlier about a previous study she did and her barriatric surgery and how she doesn’t really drink anything but coffee and wine and is unapologetic about it, looked away from me when I smiled at her and prepared to tell her goodbye like we were perfect strangers. Because we were. We were done focusing, and so we headed back out into the city with our city goggles on that blur the edges of every crowd until individuals are no longer recognizable and are therefore easier to navigate.

Flashback Friday: Help Desk


[Today’s installment from the past includes my momentary brush with NPR fame, a continued online flirtation with a visiting writer, and concern about my feet. If I had a time machine, I probably wouldn’t go back go to early 2006.]


12 April 2006

The iMac carcass is on my bedroom floor begging to be buried or turned into an aquarium, so during the computer help segment on WMUB, the local NPR station, I emailed the experts and asked if it was possible to stuff a Mac Mini into my old purple iMac case. Only the email was funny. And they laughed, which pleased me. Though perhaps my email wasn’t funny. Maybe they were laughing at me because the color of my computer matters more than Gigs or USB ports or processing speed. One of the techs said, “Why doesn’t she just buy a new iMac or Mac Mini?” and Cleve Callison, the host, said, “Well, she admits here that she is emotionally attached to her computer. And she really likes purple.” They didn’t have any answers for me and got distracted by “invisible desktops” but I got a certain amount of pleasure out of having made three guys laugh on the air.

Though I think the PC guy was snickering if you want to know the truth.

Belle and  I had dinner tonight and she asked what I’d heard from “our boy.” I had no idea who ‘our boy’ was at first, but she meant the visiting writer with the suckable lips from last month. Mr. Top 25. My phantom baby’s daddy. I haven’t heard from him because I haven’t written him since I was in Ireland. I’m trying to think of some new clever line of conversation to zip off to him. I’m just not very good at being a girl. I email him and he emails me right back, but his emails lack “hooks” and so then I go silent. I wish they would have taught useful flirting skills even middle aged women could use back when I was in Home Ec or Girl Scouts. Because in all honesty, I’ve never had to make tea sandwiches or start a campfire. It turns out you can live a big hunk of your life without having to do either or those things. But flirting? Well, I could use those skills, even at this late date.

So far I have: “Hi! How are you?!” but beyond that, zip.

Today, a student asked me what anal beads were. It was an innocent question, though I’m unsure why anything with that adjective in front of it would seem like something within a writing instructor’s field of expertise. Of twelve students, three are writing about sex and one is writing about comic books (which is sort of the same thing). Maybe the ‘laid back & open’ tenet of my teaching philosophy needs to be revisited if they are going to mistake me for Susie Bright. I just shook my head and let one of the other students do the answering.

Beyond that, today I have been obsessed with my own feet. It was warm enough to wear sandals. (Teva flip flops–a little piece of $17 heaven.) But the thing is, my feet didn’t look like mine. All day I’d look down and feel like I’d checked my feet in for a pair of bowling shoes and then, somehow, when I went to get my feet back they had been swapped for someone else’s less attractive, more worn feet. Forget the iMac. How do you rectify THAT?

The Horse You Rode In On



Book-reading horse-rider, Vancouver, BC.

Book-reading horse-rider, Vancouver, BC.

You aren’t asking for excuses about my lack of posts recently, and I don’t have any good ones anyhow, but I still feel compelled to explain myself to you, or at least to Z, who has given me this gorgeous gift of a year of writing, and yet I spend what feels like inordinate amounts of time NOT writing.


Do I have a good reason? Absolutely not. The best I can come up with is that I’m overwhelmed by the muchness of life and my own lack of decision-making ability. This is a regular annoyance of Z’s: my inability to choose a place to eat or a show to watch, but it is just not a skill I have. I often don’t care, and even when I do care, I am certain of only two things: 1) there is a “best” decision to be made 2) I will not make it and will regret it indefinitely.


My plan this past week  or so was to get several full-days’ worth of writing done while Z was finishing up his quarter. I’d completed some editing projects, the laundry was caught up, the dishes were done, and my head felt clear and sharp and ready to get words on the page. Perfect. But then I thought about how I couldn’t decide quite what to write, and so maybe while I figured that out, I’d do just one little thing on my to-do list. It was a little thing, paying an insurance bill, but the day spiraled from there. And then other days have been lost to me because of similar non-reasons. Lather, rinse, repeat.


Here are the things I obsessed about yesterday after opening my bank’s bill-pay window, did internet research on, wrote emails to friends about, and stared out the window trying to solve:


  • What is the best budgeting app I should be using?
  • Instead of a budgeting app, should I just use the old envelope system my grandparents used?
  • If I use the envelope system, which envelopes should I use: the brightly colored ones that might take the sting out of having budgeted only $37 for eating out during the entire month of April, or the vintage charm of the special brown ones I stock up on every time I go to Ireland that might help me harken back to the simpler, belt-tightening times of yesteryear?
  • Will Z approve of the system I choose? The envelopes?
  • Since I don’t have a regular paycheck rolling in right now, what exactly am I budgeting for?
  • That mildew in the bathroom? Is that deadly?
  • What’s the best way to get rid of mildew?
  • Am I the sort of person who loves the environment so much she won’t use bleach to get rid of mildew or am I the sort of person who would use the most poisonous form of it to make sure the bathroom is 100% sanitized for our protection?
  • Once I decide, am I really going to clean the bathroom?
  • How long can I not clean the bathroom before Z will just do it? He’s so much better at it than I am.
  • Does this make me a bad wife? A bad housekeeper?
  • How much money would I need to earn in order to hire someone to take care of my finances? My mildew?
  • What job should I get that would pay me a lot of money while still allowing me plenty of time to write, so I could afford a financial manager and housekeeper?
  • What about Crimea? Should I know more about it than I do (which is about .02%)? Am I bad a person if I don’t read up on it?
  • That crunching sound my knee has been making ever since I fell three weeks ago, is that normal? Should I see someone? Buy one of those braces? Go to the gym? Take glucosamine?


Every day there’s a new spiral to lose myself down, like Alice and her rabbit hole.


I keep thinking I might like to hang out with Thoreau at Walden Pond, unplugged, uncomplicated, just being. But then I remember that I don’t really enjoy the outdoors. Plus, I was a little put off by the idea of Walden Pond when Z and I drove by it two summers ago and there was a big illuminated marquis on the road pointing towards it and flashing “WALDEN POND” as if we were being encouraged to attend a church chili supper. Maybe it was a temporary thing due to summer road construction—I like to think it was anyhow—but the bottom line is, as much as I despise it, I am more a child of electrified signage than I am a child a nature. My idea of spending an afternoon in Thoreau’s old haunt would have been a slow drive-thru with Z in our air-conditioned rental car. Maybe parking under a tree and regarding nature through the windshield, where it’s less likely to make me sneeze. I would have looked at what’s left of it and felt nostalgia for Thoreau’s past and genuine remorse that the natural places on the planet are disappearing at an alarming rate. And then I would have urged Z to drive us back to our hotel where the wi-fi was running quick and strong.


So clearly, persuading Z to live a life of simplicity with me in a tiny cabin in the Pacific Northwest outback (wherever that is—Forks, I think), is not the cure for what ails me.


When we were in Vancouver in January, I fell in love with this weather vane of a man riding a horse backward, reading a book. (I feel certain it is some literary reference I should get, but all Google searches provide me with links on how to ride a horse backward and why I should pedal backward on an elliptical trainer, neither of which seem like a skill I need to develop right now.) The man is so intent on the page, he seems not at all bothered that he is on a horse heading in the wrong direction.


At any rate, this is how I want to write: just doing it, even if I’m lumbering along backward on a half-lame horse whose mildew-encrusted saddle is all I could buy with the money in my “travel expenses” envelope. I want this kind of focus. I want the distractions to be no more bothersome than the fruit flies currently residing in our kitchen, easily swatted and cursed at before we go back to our original activity.


(I wonder if you can use bleach to get rid of fruit flies?)

Flashback Friday: Biopic


[Like all writers across America, I’ve been working on my application for an Amtrak Writing Residency, and the week before I was recovering from a writing conference. What this means for you, is back-to-back flashbacks. I’m getting back on the writing horse this coming week. Promise.]


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Last night I watched Walk the Line, and it occurred to me that the main reason Johnny & June Carter Cash had time to write songs, make up prison identities,  get high, divorce their spouses, fall in love with each other and play to an audience is because to supplement their creative inclinations they did NOT have to grade 85 papers four times a semester. They didn’t have students stopping by their offices telling them stories so sad (and unfortunately true) that they then had to shut the door and have a cry once the student left.

They didn’t have to go to faculty meetings.

I fear I’ve just opened up a portal in the universe wherein my job will be sucked because it sounds as if I’m ungrateful and I don’t like it. [Oh, 2006 Beth, you have no idea what havoc you just wreaked!] Before that happens, let me say I DO like it. I really do. I’d prefer a book on the bestseller list so successful that I could buy Neverland Ranch, but barring that, my job is the best way to supplement a creative lifestyle. Of course no one is going to make a biopic of my life. Even Joaquin and Reese are now entitled to their very own E! True Hollywood Story episodes, but the life of a writing lecturer is never going to make the big or small screen.

When I have three stacks of papers to grade, it seems insurmountable. It’s as if I’ve never graded before & I can’t imagine how I’ll ever slog through them. I think of all the things I need to do like organize my files or weed my books or put my photos in decorative boxes. I eat food I’m not hungry for. I get bitchy and want to smack a lot of different people who probably don’t deserve it.

Like for instance, people who aren’t concise when they speak. People who, before they will ever give you the first line of their story so you can decide how interested you are in it, will spend five minutes trying to figure out if it (whatever ‘it’ is) happened on Monday or Tuesday. People who talk slow and pause between words. People who talk about their neighbors that I’ve never met. People who think how much head lettuce costs at Kroger is a valid topic of conversation. None of these things is worthy of my wrath, but when I have stacks of papers to grade and minimal time to spend on my own thoughts, I don’t want the air crowded up with stuff that doesn’t matter. Just–please in the name of all that is holy–cut to the chase. You missed class because your tire went flat? Tell me that. One sentence. Thank you for sharing–now please step away from my office door. In the time it takes me to listen to the average why-my-paper-is-late excuse, I could have written a companion piece to “Burning Ring of Fire.”

Other reasons I’m crabby today: my dearly beloved purple iMac died. I haven’t had a technician look at it to perform last rites, but I know a death rattle when I hear it. This one, for instance, sounds like the fan purring but the hard drive not engaging. And no magical Mac chime to let me know all is well in the universe. I use it only for email and playing Snood while listening on the phone to people who commit one of the conversational sins in the above paragraph, but I love it. It’s so grapey. So roundy. Has been there with me thru the good and bad.

I’m trying not to think about all the files that are on it that aren’t backed up that I have likely lost. This is no one’s fault but my own and it disappoints me that when I learned this lesson seven years ago it didn’t stick.

When a computer dies, it’s like a place got sucked up into heaven that you can no longer visit. My mother has my old Mac Performa–it is, essentially, the one I bought in grad school in 1994 with a few minor modifications. Sometimes I turn it on and have memories wash over me of life from that time. (A much slower time.) Papers written. Emails shared with the two people I knew who actually HAD email. Wallpapers that decorated my life. Strange men talked to before a lot of women had clawed their way online, which made me a hotter commodity than I have ever been at any other time in my life. It’s like revisiting a playground from a school you used to attend. Not that I have first-hand experience with this–the playground of my youth is now a parking lot.

No movies are going to be made about this kind of loss either.

Flashback Friday: Everybody Else is Doing It So Why Don’t We


[What you might not know if you aren’t from Indiana is that Hoosiers have very strong opinions about Daylight Savings Time. Until 2006, we didn’t participate, but then we accidentally elected ourselves a governor who put that at the top of his to-do list. Some of us still haven’t adjusted.]

1 April 2006

I’m a Hoosier. A lot of us don’t really understand complex theories like fractal geometry and Daylight Savings. With the exception of a dark year in the ’70s, we’ve avoided participating in DST, but then Election 2004 happened and somehow we ended up with a governor who decided the most pressing issue for Indiana was to get us aligned with 47 of the 50 states. One argument he used was that Indiana looked ‘backwards’ not to be on DST when most of the country & a lot of the world does it. Never mind most of us learned from our mothers that just because “everybody” was doing things like jumping off bridges it didn’t mean we should too. But by all means. If Rhode Island is using DST, then sign us up, otherwise we might not get to sit at the popular kids’ table tomorrow in the cafeteria.

There are people who think it is a great idea, mainly because we live on the Ohio border and so for once in our lives, we won’t have to do math just to watch television or make a flight. But then there are people like me who just can’t see the sense of upsetting the internal clocks of humans, livestock and microwave ovens so the governor can work in an extra game of golf.

When I was a kid, my dad and his wife lived across the state line in the land of DST. Because he had me every other weekend, I was at their house when the ritual of pushing the clock hands forward on a Saturday night took place. Because they lived in a city instead of a town, a house instead of an apartment, and were Catholic instead of Protestant, I tended to see DST as yet another difference between us. At the time I somehow thought they were more progressive than we were, pushing that little wrought iron clock hand forward once a year. Maybe the governor is a child of divorce too. Maybe he was just trying to prove something to a Buckeye father. Who knows.

Tonight while re-setting my clocks, I was talking on the phone to my cousin G. She also lives in Indiana and so changed her clocks with me, while we groused about how dumb we think it is and how we can’t believe next year DST will start even earlier at the President’s direction (why not just set the clocks ahead an hour and leave ’em that way permanently with no switch back? If 8 months of DST is a good idea, why not go for 12!). Anyhow, five minutes after we got all of our clocks reset, G. says in a shocked voice, “My God! We’ve been talking for almost 2 hours!” She’d already completely forgotten she’d lost an hour. So obviously it really isn’t that big of a deal. What IS a big deal is this: i cannot figure out how to spend my extra hour of daylight tomorrow. I’m considering lawn tennis.


A Little Lenten Temptation


Thin Mints

Tuesday night Z came home from the store with a bag full of ice cream, chocolate, and potato chips to celebrate Fat Tuesday. We weren’t exactly throwing Mardi Gras beads at each other so it wasn’t really a celebration, but Z is a Lent observer, and the idea of giving up his beloved ice cream for the next six weeks made the junk food buffet a necessity.


Z is good this way: making a promise and keeping it. He’ll only eat ice cream for the next six weeks if he forgets about his vow, and then he won’t let himself off the hook with a shrug. Instead, he’ll extend his frozen dairy fast by one day. Mostly though, he won’t forget.


I, on the other hand, don’t participate. Last night when Z and I were at iHop, the table of people next to us were sporting big black ash crosses on their foreheads as they devoured pancakes and talked about what they’d given up for Lent, and I admit, there is part of me that is envious of that devotion and that adherence to tradition. But I kind of stink at those sorts of things, and it seems better not to set myself up for failure.


When I was growing up,  Mom and I would give our favorite treats up for Lent, but it inevitably felt more like a diet than a religious observance, and mostly I was crabby about it. My last Lenten observance was when I was nine or ten. I’d given up all manner of sweet treats and walked around for a couple of days with a penitent, mournful look on my face that had nothing to do with God and everything to do with how much I wanted a Pop-tart.


That year, my former second-grade teacher had decided that she and Mom were friends and also that we would drive to a neighboring city to meet her twin sister. I remember virtually nothing about the day except I was bored and ready to go home almost as soon as we got there. The twin’s apartment was beige and under-stimulating, as was the adult conversation, and the novelty of seeing my former teacher’s look-alike quickly wore off. But then the twin brought out a plate with Girl Scout cookies on it. In my memory, the room was like a blank canvas with no art, no knickknacks on the coffee table, nothing on which to focus my attention other than the chocolaty, biscuity goodness that sat before me on a white plate.


It is no accident that Girl Scout cookies are delivered roughly around the time that Lent begins. Satan is clearly a consultant for the Girl Scouts of America and has a hand in the cookie delivery schedule.


I lasted about five minutes. Once I caved to temptation, my next battle was eating like a lady and not inhaling all the cookies on the white plate. It was one thing to disappoint Jesus, but I really didn’t want my former second grade teacher to think I was a graceless pig.  Jesus would forgive, but Miss B might gossip about me in the teacher’s lounge and I had this good girl image to uphold. It and good penmanship were the main things I had going for me.


I felt bad about this failure. Not because I’d let God down. I was pretty sure God had other things to worry about, what with the Energy Crisis and the killer bees and various other world events that haunted the edges of my childhood and that I hoped He was working on. No, I felt bad because I realized as I bit into that first Thin Mint, that I would probably always be a person who couldn’t keep promises to herself, particularly where sugary goodness was involved. It seemed better not to set myself up for failure in the future, so I resolved not to observe Lent ever again.


Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, because that vow I’ve actually stuck with.