hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
The dog and I have the house to ourselves (Andrew's at a gig), I poured myself a whiskey (shamefully I still have some of the Yamazaki 12 I got for my birthday/Christmas last year; I don't drink enough at home!) because I promised myself a drink in Chris's memory.

And I've also decided to combat loneliness by watching my family's favorite Christmas movie: as I said on Facebook earlier
Along with my wee dram of Japanese whiskey, tonight I'm watching my family's traditional Christmas movie, which I've always been pleased is not It's a Wonderful Life or anything but National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I think it says a lot about us as a family.

And as well as knowing most of the dialogue off by heart, I can't help but hear the comments my parents and brother would always make, the lines we'd anticipate, the things we laughed at most.

It's our version of the Rocky Horror Show, really, except we don't have to dress up because we already are an average Midwestern family.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)

hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Is it weird that hearing Andrew snore makes me miss my grandpa?

They sound the same, that's all. (It wouldn't surprise me if sleep apnea was another thing Andrew and Grandpa had in common.)

Neither of my parents snored so when I was a kid I only heard this when I was staying over at my grandparents'. I remember it seeming such a strange and alien sound, one I childishly attempted to replicate myself but of course I failed hideously, not just because I was awake but because I didn't really understand how the sound was produced, I didn't know what to try to make my body do.

Like everything about sleeping over at my grandparents', my memories of this are associated with entirely happy things: the novelty of different toys, a different one of the three available TV channels than would be on in my house, maybe we'd get ice cream or popcorn, already knowing what clothes I'd be wearing the next day because they were packed neatly away in my little duffle bag, the adventure of getting to sleep on the floor (at the foot of my grandparents' bed if I was there on my own, in the living room if Chris was staying too because he needed the reassurance of being able to sit up and check that people were there if he woke up in the night), waiting to fall asleep and knowing that while Grandma would offer, as always, to make us whatever we wanted for breakfast in the morning we'd ask, as always, for pancakes, which she'd make from scratch and which are still the standard by which I judge all subsequent pancakes and find them all lacking.

Oh hell

Dec. 27th, 2014 10:07 pm
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
We usually call it Heck of a Game or Hate Your Neighbor (which I think is actually a different card game?) but I still distinctly remember my grandpa telling the story of the old woman he and my grandma learned this card game from, which became a staple among my family many years ago.

"She was a very religious old woman," my grandpa always said. "I never heard her curse or use strong language in her life. She never did. Except when she was talking about this game, and she said it was called 'Oh, Hell!' " I remember seeing that title written down in my grandma's old-lady handwriting, back when we needed the rules written down, and again it struck me for being so incongruous.

My family hasn't used this title much since; like I say it's morphed into those other, watered-down ones -- my family are pretty conservative too, really, and rarely or never swear -- but I still think "Oh, Hell!" is the most indicative of what it's like to play it.

We haven't played it as much in the last few years as we used to. People got sick of it; it was a little too complicated for my grandpa once the dementia finally sunk its fangs in; we picked up a new game or two. So maybe that's another reason it particularly made me think of my grandpa, and miss him, tonight.

And if tonight I pounded the table harder than I meant to, shouted and teased people louder than I meant to, maybe it was in subconscious tribute to him, because I remember with such fondness how he used to do those things.

He loved his family fiercely and showed affection more readily than anyone else I'm related to, but none of that kept him from cursing us six ways to Sunday when we were playing cards. He was so much fun; I was always so glad he was my grandpa.

I miss him like hell.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
I couldn't think of ten books that influenced me, so I was relieved to be the only person left on the internet who hadn't been tagged by their friends to do this meme, but then I got asked on Facebook. I came up with a list but I wanted to talk about them each a little, and that's easier to do here than there.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
This book made me want to be an imaginative child. I thought myself nothing like the talkative, tangential Anne Shirley, but I aspired to be.

Then once I remember being in the car, going somewhere with my family, and seeing an old bus out the window as we passed it. "It looks like a tree," I said, pointing it out, "because it's brown on the bottom half and green on the top."

"Only you would think of these things, Holly," my mom said, and I thought my heart would burst with delight and pride. Especially because I hadn't even been trying to be particularly whimsical just then.

Of course only in retrospect do I realize I had, and have, no trouble being the imaginative chatterbox that Anne was.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Basically this one just means "I grew up on a farm." I was fascinated by a world so different, and yet recognizably similar. I mention the first book in the series here not just because it's first but because it was most like my own life, in the Upper Midwest with family all around to visit, before her life became houses built by her dad.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
I didn't realize it at the time, but this book got me started on science fiction. And of course I loved the movie. But this book I read to pieces; I remember falling asleep over it when I was babysitting, sneaking a look at it in my seventh-grade Life Science class when the boys sitting behind me where debating Star Trek vs. Star Wars (a debate which then as now held no interest for me)...it just seemed to be everywhere with me for a while.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Taught by the legendary Mr. Nordlie, the English teacher everyone either loved or hated. He read this to us, a bit each day in class. He made us put all our pencils and books and everything under the desks, so we wouldn't be distracted while we listened, and I certainly wasn't. He showed us the movie after he'd read it, saying he does a better voice for Lenny than the movie, and he was right. We read another book by Steinbeck in sophomore English, The Pearl, and the two of those left me absolutely enamored with Steinbeck. I read everything of his I could get my hands on after that.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
This is when I thought I started reading science fiction, a few years after I had, so it's important for that. Also this and To Sail Beyond the Sunset (where we find out Lazarus Long's mom is from the same town as my mom!), with a little help from LiveJournal, introduced me to the concept of polyamory, which has proven to be rather essential to my life ever since.

Contact by Carl Sagan
This book revived my childish desire to be an astronomer. It also cemented my conviction (though I'd have never articulated it this way at the time) that the gulf between science and the humanities is an illusion: here is a proper scientist talking proper science but also writing in a beautiful style that really stayed with me (and introduced me to some lovely poems he used as epigrams, particularly "Brotherhood" by Octavio Paz). This also got me thinking a lot about what it was like to be a woman with "male" interests, even though it's written by a man of course.

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
The first Pratchett book I read, on a whim, lent to my best friend by her brother. I can't remember if she read it but I did and adored it. And the idea that the stories we tell have such power would resonate for me many years into the future in ways I couldn't have expected then.

Unfortunately he lent us another Pratchett I couldn't get into at all -- it was an early Rincewind one, and I didn't get enough of the jokes to even understand that they were supposed to be jokes -- so I thought Pratchett was a dud for a few years until I met Andrew, who got me to read Thief of Time, which I loved particularly because by that time I thought it was awfully Discordian, because I'd read...

The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
Andrew introduced me to this, of course. It was via a couple of Discordian mailing-list friends of his that we found each other on LJ, perhaps a fitting start for a relationship that's infused with so much chaos and inexplicability. I liked the idea that things might matter as much as it feels like they do sometimes, that humor was a valid way to investigate and evaluate the universe (it's only been a few weeks since I told someone "it's not true unless it makes you laugh, and you don't believe it until it makes you cry", which is not as true as it is clever but it is still something I keep finding useful).

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky
I don't even remember how I ended up with the audiobook of this. I remember the book itself had been recommended to me long before by Andrew's uncle. It sounded crazy: who'd want to read a whole book about such a thing? How could there be enough to say? But it's utterly fascinating, especially because the audiobook is read by someone with a good voice for it, who I like listening to. This one book kicked off a trend of me reading non-fiction almost exclusively and of my increasing love for and dependence on audiobooks. It's one I still have on my computer, and which I'll play a bit of, especially if I'm migrainey or stressed or otherwise in need of soothing.

The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross
This too was an early audiobook I acquired (probably from eMusic? Ah, those were the days...) and which is a great marriage of book and reader. It taught me an absolute ton about twentieth-century music, and is another one that I keep going back to because I find it so comforting. I've been playing early chapters to help me sleep lately.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Man. The problem with adding Minnesota friends to my Facebook is that then it goes around suggesting that I know people like...my first boyfriend.

I was such a terrible girlfriend for this poor guy. There was nothing wrong with him, but there was so obviously no reason for us to go out except that he hadn't had a girlfriend in four years and I'd never had a boyfriend. It lasted way too long. It's one of only two relationships I've been in that I've been the one to end, and it was scary and difficult but it was one of the first grown-up things I'd done (I soon found out he'd been about to ask me to marry him but that, and the horrible and clichéd way he was thinking of asking, both just reassured me that I'd done the right thing in breaking up with him).

I learned a lot from that relationship, but unfortunately none of it very flattering to this guy I was in it with: I learned to be careful of my tendency to do things to please other people, I learned that "can't complain" isn't the same as "actually happy", I learned how bad I was at being normal and that normalcy wasn't going to be satisfying for me.

He deserves better, but I'm sure he's found that in the intervening ten years.

It's funny though. I'm so used to being around people I haven't known that long, who don't share a lot of experiences with me, and here first thing I see on my morbidly-curious glance at his Facebook page is a picture of his mom, who I still immediately recognized, who started a trend of me being confidently able to say that my boyfriends' parents always seem to really like me, a fact borne out by me going with James to stay at his parents' next weekend.

Sometimes I do miss being around people who know what I was like more than handful of years ago, but why dwell on the stings of the past when the present is so delicious?
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
A friend on Facebook is saying how stupid Fox News is for blaming someone shooting people on his liking "violent video games" and now there needs to be a video game registry.

One of the comments is about two kids who apparently on their way home from buying GTA V helped an elderly man out of his burning house, got smoke inhalation themselves, and spent a day in hospital instead of playing their game. Which I guess refutes the "video games make you an awful person" meme, but I already had all the proof I needed on that.

One of the most overwhelming wedding presents I got was a check from T, one of my brother's best friends. He grew up the closest thing we had to neighbors, and he and Chris had been friends since kindergarten. They were sharing a house at the time Chris died. And another thing they shared was, the day before, spending most of the night in sleeping bags outside Best Buy to get Xboxes on the first day the new ones were available.

T sold both of them on eBay and gave me that money as a wedding present. He explained that he didn't want video games now, or the money from them, and he knew that my parents wouldn't take the money from him (which is utterly true) so he gave it to me.

I remember crying when I read his note explaining the check, and I'm a little sniffly now (though that may just be my stupid sinuses), mostly because of what a good guy he is, especially at a time when he was hurting barely less than our family was. My brother had dozens of friends, all hit hard by losing him, but none like T.

Somehow it'd never occurred to me until now, coming up on eight years later, that since half that money was my brother's, T did for me something no one else could: he gave me a wedding present from my brother.


Yeah. Can't blame this on my sinuses now. I need to go find some tissues, and make some tea.

But I just had to get this out of my head first (and I also inconveniently timed this revelation for just after Andrew left the house for work).

T is getting married very soon, and I wish I could get him something as good for a wedding present.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
The first thing I remember him doing was ranting about Princess Diana.

And Mother Teresa. They'd died within a few days of each other, just before I started my sophomore year of high school and thus his English class. (He always made it very clear that he didn't want anything to do with freshmen.) He told us to think about how the news of these deaths, and the mourning that followed, were treated differently and what that said about what our culture values and holds to be important. He made us think about everything.

The second thing I remember was him reading to us. First The Iron Giant, which I guess was made into an animated movie a few years later but at the time we had never heard of it. He told us it was a book for fourth-graders but he was going to read it to us anyway. We were incredulous. I am sure I was. I hadn't even read books for fourth-graders when I was in fourth grade. I'd read those in first grade.

He was the first person to read anything to me since Mrs. Conway had in third grade. She read Where the Red Fern Grows, and cried at the end. I didn't like that much, but I loved Hatchet, which she read next, and became obsessed with all Gary Paulsen's books I could find in the school library after that. I think he was still a favorite of mine when I was in Mr. Nordlie's English class seven years later. Somewhere along the line I learned that his first name was Gary, too. It felt like a strange power to have over my teachers, to know their first names.

"Make a nest," Mr. Nordlie told us when he was going to read to us. That meant we had to put all of our stuff underneat our chairs. If there was a pencil in anybody's hand, or the smallest scrap of paper on their desk, or anything, he wouldn't begin. He said he was so strict about this because he didn't want us to be distracted.

Like most things about Mr. Nordlie, people either loved this or hated it.

He read us Bless the Beasts & the Children next, a little more complex book. And then, I think, came the centerpiece, the single thing that still calls him to mind most readily for me: Of Mice and Men.

He'd read a little bit each day, before we did the regular work of the English curriculum. He said after we'd finished it he'd show us the movie, and warned us he did a better Lenny than the actor playing him. (I thought he was right, too.) "They play him as dumb," I remember him saying. "But Lenny's not dumb."

By the end of that book we were so caught up in the story that a girl who had English in the morning got in trouble with him for telling kids in later English classes how it ended (this was before Google, and I don't think any of us were enterprising enough to check for the book in the library, though I wouldn't have been at all surprised if Mr. Nordlie had checked the book out or hidden it or colluded with the librarian to keep it from the sophomores for the duration of his reading it to us). "Nark!" he teased the girl, and laughed, and I laughed too, even though I wasn't sure yet what the word nark meant.

He also told us how best to bake hash cookies. That was when we were doing Julius Caesar.

His life shone through in everything he taught. He thought that teaching us to appreciate literature was intimately bound up in teaching us how to live life. So he talked about fishing a lot -- he loved to fish, and spent his summer vacation up north as a fishing guide on a lake he talked about so much I still remember its name, Lake Vermillion. (I didn't know the word vermillion yet then either, so it took me a while to get the name stuck in my head and I guess it's stayed.)

He talked about guitars too; he loved playing and had about a dozen (unimaginable wealth to me, madly in love with playing the guitar but still nagging my parents for an electric one). He liked me because I was the only teenage guitarist in the school who didn't want to play the dreary indie music of the time but liked blues, and liked Stevie Ray Vaughan best of all. I liked him because I don't think I knew another human being at the time who recognized Stevie Ray Vaughan's name. Mr. Nordlie brought in one of his dobros once, and let me play it at lunchtime. I'd never done anything like that before (and I haven't touched one since) and I was enchanted. The way they are tuned makes it very easy to sound good, sound like you know what you're doing, very quickly. Of course actually know what you're doing takes a lot longer, but it made for a very satisfying lunchtime. (You might have seen people playing them: the guitar sits flat on their lap and they play it by plucking the strings with their right hand and moving a piece of metal (or, y'know, a broken beer bottle for extra bluesy authenticity, but usually these days a strip of metal specially made for the purpose so it fits just right around the fingers) with their left hand.)

He made us all memorize a list of sixty prepositions -- I remember rather than taking my heavy textbook home for the weekend I just copied them out and just put the piece of paper in my backpack. But then I lost it, or my mom tidied it, or something and I found myself with only a short time after I got to school on Monday to learn them all. He wanted us to learn them because he said he didn't ever want to see us write a sentence that ended in a preposition. This is one instance in which I've parted ways with him since; I don't think it's bad to end with a preposition, or split an infinitive, because I don't speak Latin! He did such a good job of helping me learnto be conscious of the rules I'm breaking, and encouraging confidence in defiance, that I'm sure he wouldn't mind that I use those skills against him now.

He did teach me to love a subject I'd previously hated, so much that a mere two years after I reluctantly left his class to go back to that of the horrible English teacher I had in ninth grade -- the one who ruined everything (except To Kill a Mockingbird, which is so good even he couldn't wreck it), the one who told us not to read the end of Huckleberry Finn because Huck and Jim drifting away ruined the moral of the story, the one who hadn't heard of Anne of Green Gables when someone mentioned it was her favorite book... the one who was teaching because he coached wrestling and there was a rule that you couldn't coach if you weren't teaching -- I still ended up thinking that English was the best thing for me to major in when I got to college. Thanks to Mr. Nordlie.

And tonight my mom told me that he has cancer, and only 2-4 months to live; apparently it's one of the especially shitty kinds.

I'm surprising myself at how sad this makes me. I don't have any way to tell him that I still can't think of Of Mice and Men (or Steinbeck at all really, who ended up another devour-everything-in-the-school-library writer for me after this) without him -- indeed I defended the book, and praised my teacher in so doing, just the other week at Currybeer. Dobro guitars and fishing guides on the lakes of northern Minnesota will always make me think of him too.

But most of all that phrase, "make a nest," sounding so cozy and yet coming from a teacher who made fun of us, who ranted, laughed a lot, sometimes even swore...it was cozy, but not sentimental and not coddling us. He was just teaching us -- me at least -- how to show stories the respect they were due, how to get the most out of them. He was special, and he made my world feel special, and it looks like that effect will long outlast him.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
I always like it when I catch "Poetry Please" now, just because it reminds me of the Saturday night we spent in York for our anniversary. Getting back to the B&B after the "ghost walk," chilly and glad to be in the cozy warm room on a January night, I put on Radio 4, as I reflexively do, while we were settling down for bed.

It was at the time one of those things where I just thought "oh, this was quite nice," but the intervening time has put a sheen on it: how lovely it was to see the trains and the Viking museum; to eat in the restaurant so Italian even the no-smoking signs were in Italian; to sit in the pub where the ghost walk started, tweeting that it was a good Sam Smith's pub but with no dark mild, leading [personal profile] sfred to rightly ask how it can be good in that case; the gently eerie but mostly historically informative ghost stories we heard as the snow fell softly.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (life)
I don't like my birthday. I don't remember that I ever did. I liked presents and cake, sure, but there's plenty of that stuff at this time of year anyway. I never felt my birthday was anything special.

When I was young, my mom saw my birthday as too close to Christmas to be spent with friends, because Christmas Is Family Time (for all my little friends as well as me, apparently). I had chums over for parties until I was 12 or so, but a week or so before my birthday. The day itself has always been spent with family: from my parents and grandparents and brother when I was younger to my parents, Andrew, my one remaining grandma and the aunt who lives with her now.

And in college and since I moved to Manchester, I've always gone home for Christmas like the dutiful daughter I am, which means I still never see friends on my birthday, so I think a lot of them don't know exactly when it is and because of my childhood understanding that it was a nuisance to be crowbarred in around Christmas, I've never wanted to say much about it; I'm convinced no one cares or wants to acknowledge it in any way. I know that's silly -- I should give my friends the credit they deserve for being good people -- but there's nothing like doing something the same way you have for your whole life to make you feel like all the worst things you thought you'd grown out of.

It's a little thing, stupid like so many are when I try to articulate it: of course I was affection and I want to feel special, everyone does: of course I'll pretend otherwise when I fear I'll be disappointed, many people do that. But being able to acknowledge it does mean I'm all the more overjoyed at how many people are wishing me a happy birthday already, still halfway into my first cup of coffee of my thirty-first year.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
It's never been sticks or stones that've broken my bones.

I did it myself.

My childhood was before camcorders were readily available, but there is a cassette recording of me and my dad talking when I was a toddler. He played it for me once -- probably when I was a teenager, and even then it was old and brittle and required the ministrations of his tape-splicing kit, with its special tape and special knife and everything. It was a fragile treasure, and I won't be surprised if I never get to hear it again (I think of stuff like this when my friends post youtube videos of their kids; this is another kind of scarcity which my generation is the last to experience).

My memories of it are fragile and broken too, but the thing I remember best is how often I said, in this conversation with my daddy, "I do it!"

I do it myself.

It verifies all those stories I have been told about what an independent child I was.

So I broke my arm climbing out of my crib when I was put there for a nap.

I wasn't gonna have no nap!

I apparently didn't even cry much, or visibly look hurt, because my mom and dad didn't think anything was wrong with me. I went through the rest of a busy toddler day (including lifting weights with my dad) before my arm swelled up at suppertime and my parents freaked out and took me to the hospital.

I'm kind of impressed at this as I am not such a bold person these days. This happened when I was too young to have any memories of it, but I like to think this has helped make me the person I am.
hollymath: Postmark on a letter from Minnesota, like me. (postmark)
"It is a good thing to be from one's country, to be attached to the earth..."
—Claude Debussy

This has been the Christmas of photo albums. On Christmas Eve Grandpa was telling Andrew* and me about the dollhouse he made me.** He said he made a couple of others and sold them (for a lot less than they're worth; he made wooden things for love, not money). And then he asked my grandma if they had the pictures he'd taken of those other dollhouses.

"They're in the album!" she said, and those are kept upstairs so my aunt offered to go get it for her, because her hips and back were bothering her something fierce that day. My grandma tried to tell her what she was looking for and where it was, calling after her as she went up to her old bedroom. Pretty soon my grandma went up the stairs anyway, and eventually my mom did too, as if they were circus clowns all getting in the same tiny car.

Eventually my grandpa handed me a photo album, open to the right page, and pointed out the pictures of two or three different dollhouses. One was a very fetching Tudor-style with more interestingly peaked roofs than mine. Mine was the first he made and dear to me for that reason even if some of the later ones were more confident or more complicated as he got more familiar with what he was doing, but of course I felt special because I got the first one. I was never a great one for dolls but I loved the intricate detail on the house: the roof tiles, the lathed poles on the porch railing, the charmingly tiny sink with shiny faucets in the bathroom (for which my grandma had also crocheted a rug for the floor)...

The pictures of dollhouses were next to pictures of two little chairs he made, rocking chairs for children. One I recognized immediately as being identical to my brother's, with the face of a puppy on the back. Seeing that got me wondering what else was in the book. Flipping through it, it seemed to be delightfully random, going from black-and-white pictures of farmhouses I never could've guessed the relevance of, to pictures of other Christmas Eves in the very room I was now spending this one, with my cousins and the terrible, eldritch dresses my mom used to be able to make me wear. Lots of grist for the mill of stories to tell Andrew.

I'm not sure if it's related but the next night, Mom brought up three huge photo albums from the basement. She'd always kept a book going for me and one for Chris; his of football games and conventionally beautiful prom dates; mine of marching band and even more dreadful coerced hair and outfits; both of us holding up fish we'd caught, standing next to snowmen that my dad had spray-painted faces and clothes on, playing with the dogs, looking uncomfortable in fancy clothes for Father's Day or Easter or whatever, eating, sleeping, and other things parents seem fit to take pictures of.***

Andrew liked the pictures of baby and little-kid me the most. He pointed out that I have a big grin in every single one of them -- except for the ones with Santa, which from the pictures seems to have been a traumatic experience for me -- which he likes, saying it shows I had a happy childhood. And I did. Looking at these pictures, I keep being struck by what's in the background: my dad's old truck, the wallpaper that used to be in our kitchen, a very ugly couch. It's strange how you can forget all about things and still find them so familiar when you catch glimpses of them again, somehow fresh but carrying a weight in memories.

These silly little things are dear to me -- I remember very clearly that one of the things I cried about, when I was about to leave for college, was that I would miss not just, say, my dad but also the pattern on my mom's dishes. Now I know that what I was anticipating missing was the routine of a meal with family, a stable life (however boring and stagnant I found it sometimes), a house that feels like home.

This nostalgia is the thanks I give for a happy childhood.

* It's nice having Andrew around as an excuse to tell stories. My family are not big on storytelling otherwise, so it helps a lot to have fresh ears to tell. Like I told him the other day about my dad telling me to come outside one cold night when I was very small. We stood behind the machinery shed and I saw the northern lights for the first and so far only time in person. You don't often get them so far south and they aren't as vivid as you see in the best pictures, but to have them connected to my home, my dad, my life is unspeakably wonderful to me.

** This is a favorite story of mine, told over and over since a high-school essay I wrote about it, of a tiny me seeing a present beneath the tree almost as big as I was, and with my name on it. Of course I was at the perfect age for this, when the size of a present directly correlated with how highly I valued it. But then I don't know if I've ever gotten a bigger Christmas present but I'm pretty sure I've not received a better one.

*** Sometimes my mom's labeling of the pictures, usually so mundane as to be useless -- "you and Christopher swimming," next to pictures of me and Chris swimming -- sometimes breaks down into "I don't know what this picture is about. I think you are going to play a tape" next to a picture of me looking over my shoulder, with a cassette in my hand. Of course being me, I relish the parts where the usual order of things breaks down.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (window)
My grandpa's always been the one most likely to tell us he loved us. The dementia helps too; he forgets how emotionally reticent and repressed everybody's brought up to be around here.

But he remembers a lot. He was telling Andrew tonight about the wood work he used to do; the doll house he made me. He sent my grandma, and then my aunt and my mom, venturing into the photo albums in the little-used upstairs bedroom, to find me pictures of the other dollhouses he made from scratch and sold for less than they were worth.

It got me looking at the rest of the album, which was delightfully random, ranging from grainy black-and-white farmhouses that I don't know the significance of, to my dad's long seventies hair, to an array of poor dress and hairstyle choices foisted upon me by my mother in my first decade of life. In many of that last group of pictures, several from previous Christmases in the very room where I then was, my brother was grinning away. Always the photogenic one. He was given some ridiculous outfits too but never suffered the hair atrocities that I had to.

"I really miss Chris," Grandpa told Andrew and I while other people were at church or busy getting dinner ready. "He used to come around and see me, help out if I needed anything." He mowed lawn and did the snowblowing for my grandpa when he was in high school. "No one else does that now," Grandpa said matter-of-factly.

I really miss Chris too. It seems like no one else talks about this, but I'm glad someone does. It's hard to listen to, but it's better than having to do all the talking myself.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (life)
I just threw stuff in plastic bags, in the end. It wasn't as bad as I'd been fearing, but that's because I knew how bad it would be from the glimpses I'd gotten.

Clothes lovingly picked out for me by my mom, clothes I bought when I first started needing smart stuff for work.

Stuff I bought from charity shops years ago would return there. A pair of pants I bought with a voucher Andrew had gotten back when he was one of the best at a job that was killing his soul.

Some of the first clothes i bought myself, with money I earned, that hadn't belonged to anyone else before, from shops I liked.

None of it fits me now. I try not to tell myself this is proof of failure. I really believe that people can be healthy and happy at any size. Still I remember everything, I associate all these things with other things, and it's hard to get rid of those.

It's hard to not feel like the person I was when I was working and wearing smart clothes and buying good stuff.

I just threw everything in the plastic bags, three of them I ended up filling -- with some of Andrew's clothes too, old trousers he doesn't wear -- and tried not to think about it.

I went for a little walk with them and came back without them and that made me feel better. A bit.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Music was such an integral part of my life when I was a teenager. Having a favorite song meant a lot to me then, in the way having a "best friend" and a "second-best friend" and a "least-best friend" means a lot to some girls.

I remember very distinctly the time I gave that up, when I stopped carefully jumping from one "favorite song" to another like they were rocks in a stream. This song was a rock I jumped from and reached not another like it, but a whole world of music I could like, one song just as well as each other.

So in some ways this is my last favorite song, nothing special to me now, but a landmark all the same.

Even by this point, my ability to have a favorite song was breaking down. I vaguely remember (and this does sound like something I'd do) choosing it consciously, as a candidate that featured a lot of the things that mattered to me in a song then.

I adored blues guitar, which looms larger as an abstract entity than most of the real people I knew at this stage in my life, but I also appreciated the slick veneer that rock gave it, as it does in this song.

Indeed, Eric Clapton was my bridge from rock to blues, and while I haven't quite burned it since, I am a lot more sheepish about liking him than I am about many of the things I liked e because they were mentioned in liner notes of hs albums, people like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson.

The song's split personality ensures that though "Layla" is a classic-rock radio staple, it could lull anyone turning the radio on during the second half into thinking they had tuned into something very different. I could imagine this as something my mom would like, which isn't something I can say about a lot of the music I like.

It took me a long time to appreciate Duane Allman's playing on this song, but as soon as I did, it was almost all I did notice. Somewhere -- I think I saw it in the desk drawer the other day -- I have a glass slide bought when I was a teenager because I wanted to play like him.

What sounds like birdsong at the very end of the recording is in fact Duane again, a moment of music so well-loved it has its own Facebook page, calling to mind a soaring happiness that tops off a song that seems to make that arresting guitar riff at the beginning feel a world away, not a mere seven minutes ago. "Layla" is a song that traverses great distances.

It's no wonder that, after I liked this, I could like everything.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Day 01 – Introduce yourself
Day 02 – Your first love, in great detail
Day 03 – Your parents, in great detail
Day 04 – What you ate today, in great detail
Day 05 – Your definition of love, in great detail
Day 06 – Your day, in great detail

Day 07 – Your best friend, in great detail
Day 08 – A moment, in great detail
Day 09 – Your beliefs, in great detail
Day 10 – What you wore today, in great detail
Day 11 – Your siblings, in great detail
Day 12 – What’s in your bag, in great detail
Day 13 – This week, in great detail
Day 14 – What you wore today, in great detail
Day 15 – Your dreams, in great detail
Day 16 – Your first kiss, in great detail
Day 17 – Your favorite memory, in great detail
Day 18 – Your favorite birthday, in great detail
Day 19 – Something you regret, in great detail
Day 20 – This month, in great detail
Day 21 – Another moment, in great detail
Day 22 – Something that upsets you, in great detail
Day 23 – Something that makes you feel better, in great detail
Day 24 – Something that makes you cry, in great detail
Day 25 – A first, in great detail
Day 26 – Your fears, in great detail
Day 27 – Your favorite place, in great detail
Day 28 – Something that you miss, in great detail
Day 29 – Your aspirations, in great detail
Day 30 – One last moment, in great detail

My first best friend was in kindergarten. Her mom helped me find my classroom -- why mine wasn't there in a characteristic display of overprotectiveness, I do not remember. Our moms had the same first name, which fascinated me; until then my parents were, as far as I know, beings as unique as (though I wouldn't have thought of it this way then, of course) Michaelangelo's David, sculpted lovingly. Katie introduced me to the concept of a "golden birthday" when we were in first grade; hers was January 7. When she told me about this, I had the horrifying realization that I would have to wait for mine until I was 22, and I was dimly aware that it was very unlikely I would care about it as much then as I did when I was seven.* Katie was the first person to ask me whether I believed in creation or evolution. I didn't know what either word meant. She started being homeschooled after we finished third grade and I've seen her only rarely since then.

My next best friend, from fourth grade to about sixth, was Nara. She liked Garth Brooks; you could wind her up just by saying he was bald. She had an immense crush on him, obviously. She also had a crush on a boy in our class. As far as I could tell, this meant slagging off his girlfriend Melissa, which I was happy to go along with as I thought she was horrible anyway. I pretended to have a crush on him too, thinking this was the sort of thing one did. This is why I got all of the knowledge I have about Green Day and the Offspring. Once he made a great show of being disgusted by touching my side on the bus ride home, even though he was touching me only to mock me. When I finally realized he was a dick, I think I also realized that having crushes was overrated; I've never been good at it since. Nara got me to like Meat Loaf and Aerosmith, thus providing the first (and probably only) tapes -- yes this was in the age of CASSETTES! and dinosaurs -- I felt I had to sneak into my house (because of the piercd cow udder on Get a Grip and Jim Steinman's weird rant on Bat out of Hell II which would a couple of years later disturb me greatly because how could anyone not know the difference between a Telecaster and a Stratocaster?!)

My best friend in middle school was probably Kari. I met her when she told me we were related. Her great-grandpa is my grandpa's brother. We never did figure out what this made us; I think her best theory is that she was my third cousin and I was her second cousin, or the other way around, but I wasn't sure how that could work. When I told my parents this, they knew all about her. I was amazed. Relatives (except for grandparents; I had the full complement of those within babysitting distance), as far as I were concerned, were something that lived far away. I went to school with kids who casually talked about their cousins who lived down the road or were in the same class as they were and I found this utterly baffling. Only later did I realize that, considering what my cousins are like, it was a blessing I wasn't able to talk so casually about them. Kari knew about MTV (it was not actually physically possible to get cable at my house) and shaving legs, but this took a turn for the slightly sinister when we got to high school; she and her boyfriend were part of a group that, I was pretty sure, knew about drugs and things. I remember once seeing them across the cafeteria and feeling so lonely.

My last year of high school, my best friend was Ali. She had a running bet going where she'd give you ten dollars if you could name a movie she hadn't seen, was possibly the only person more obsessed with the school band than me, was clever and worldly and had already led an amazing life, one of those that was no fun some of the time but makes for great anecdotes and the kind of perspective that only comes from a rich tapestry of experience. She got me to like movies when I'd previously thought they were boring, got me drinking coffee, drove me around in her lovely little blue Saab, introduced me to all kinds of music and food I hadn't known about, and was generally perfect and awesome in every way.

The last time I'd really consider myself to have had a best friend is when I was in college and, neatly, this one is also called Katie. She asked me to be maid of honor in her wedding and she was the only bridesmaid in mine. We shared a room our sophomore year, a big one for me (not in a good way, mostly) and with lots to talk about I always appreciated her company. Once even when her boyfriend was visiting from thousands of miles away she crawled out of bed with him to make sure I was okay when she heard me crying. Between us we never had mor than one working computer; we both hated to do the dishes; we had an inflatable green chair and Christmas tree lights on our bunk beds. Before and after that too, we saw each other through a lot of highs and lows, and she's still someone I look forward very much to seeing when I'm back in Minnesota. I miss her terribly.

I miss a lot of things about Minnesota, but I have a lot of compensationary things here. I think I have absorbed the poly mentality to the point where I'd no longer say I had a best friend; I have a lot of good friends, and my life would be much poorer without any of them.

* I was right. My birthdays became irrelevant after about the age of twelve when I had the sleepover where we all slept in the basement next to the room with the furnace in it, and of course the weather was bad (when is the weather not bad for my birthday? maybe the times I have the really cataclysmic sinus infections, as they also seem to happen a lot) so the power kept cutting out and every time it did the furnace would go off, and then come back on when the power was restored, making a terrible sound that scared us silly.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (window)
Tonight wants to be another night.

Tonight wants, for some reason, to be sleeping upstairs at my grandparents’ house. Not where I sleep now, when I stay there, but where I slept when I was younger, in the other bedroom, the one with the big iron bed that squeaked when you moved, slowly swayed as your brother or your cousin stirred in his or her sleep next to you.

This is where we were carried when sleep finally caught up with us, despite the candy and the new toys we got as presents, on Christmas Eve as the adults stayed up to play cards.

The light in the hallway would be left on, so there would be light in strange parallelograms by the doorway, and there would be the sounds from downstairs, the adults talking and shouting at each other and laughing, staying up until the unknown (in my experience of them) hour of one or two before carrying us again, or making us walk in our slippered feet across the snow, to the chilly cars for the ride home, crackly Christmas music playing on an AM station as the car slowly, ever so slowly, warmed up.

But all that is in the future still, for now I just want to be sleeping at my grandparents’ house and wondering what joys tomorrow will bring, now that I still believe in Santa. Or indeed just know he’s there, as there has never been any reason to question my belief.
hollymath: Postmark on a letter from Minnesota, like me. (postmark)
Today some part of me is still five, straining sympathetically with my Snoopy fishing pole as if it were an extention of my own body, struggling to turn the handle on the reel.

“I can’t do it,” I told my dad between clenched teeth. “You’ll have to take it.” My dad just watched me from his seat behind me, his expression impassive (I couldn’t turn to look, my concentration all needed on getting this fish in the boat before the pole broke, but I knew the look I’d see if I could have looked at him), mildly telling me that I would be fine. I really didn’t believe him, but there was nothing I could do about it.

And then when the fish was finally pulled out of the water,flopping miserably, it was my fish.

The guy who ran the resort we were at then used to tack polaroids of lots of people holding up their catch, mostly middle-aged guys in life jackets they never zipped up, stoically holding a stringer of northern pike. The picture of me, I well remember, is of a little girl in a zipup hoodie from Fleet Farm, arm tense with the effort of holding up a fish almost as long as she is tall.

That year, and so many years since (and probably even before, but that’s the first one I remember), my family has gone Up North for our summer vacations.

Minnesotans all talk about The Cabin, on The Lake, as if northern Minnesota’s all one big lake. Ours is at one of a couple resorts about six hours’ drive from our outpost at the southern edge of the state, near Bemidji for a few years but mostly on a much more remote lake with the imaginative name of Big Sand Lake, distinguishing it from the hundreds of regular Sand Lakes among the way-more-than-10,000 in Minnesota), which is an hours’ drive from the nearest town of any size and several miles from anywhere you can even get a pint of milk or fill up your gas tank, though you can buy live bait much closer. Priorities, eh?

Today I woke up at six o’clock, thinking that if I was with my parents I’d be up about that time. We start early.

I know just how it would go. We always drive to the other side of the Cities before we stop for breakfast, always the same truckstop with its giant attached shop full of Hank Williams cassettes and souvenir t-shirts with big cartoony pictures of mosquitos declaring them to be MINNESOTA’S STATE BIRD and bumper stickers that say “I’d rather be fishin’!”

Full of maple syrup and biter coffee, we set off again, slowly drifting away from the unbearably tedious AM sports talk radio station my dad likes so he starts trawling for a good oldies station which always ends up having a name like “96.9... The Loon!” We stop somewhere for gas and are allowed the luxury of pop in the car, my dad getting grape or orange soda, my mom getting a 7Up she’ll only drink half of and that only after it’s gone warm and flat, my brother and I guzzling ours down. Then we go back to the MagnaDoodles or Walkmans, depending on how old we are.

That’s where I want to be today. Even if I don’t have a Snoopy fishing pole to pack, this time.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (manchester weather)
Last night at work I had to suffer through the hideous X Factor finale, and talked with (or was talked at by) a very excited colleague about this.   Despite her boundless enthusiasm for the show, which mostly seemed to murder perfectly good Christmas songs that hadn't done anything to anybody that warranted such maltreatment, she was also trying to start a campaign to get Status Quo's single to be the Christmas number one, rather than the now-expected phenomenon of the X Factor winner receiving that particular honor unquestioned.

(Today Andrew's sister told me the winner's recorded a cover version of "Hallelujah," of all things, and that's sure to be the Christmas number one.  As Andrew said, shrugging, "I won't have to listen to it, and it'll help pay for Leonard Cohen's retirement"... yeah, but... can you think of a less Christmasy song?)

Last year I desperately wanted Malcolm Middleton's "We're All Going to Die" to make it, but this year I haven't paid any attention at all to the possible contenders -- clearly I'm not listening to enough Radio 2.  So I asked my colleague what the Status Quo one was like, and she said it was "a proper Christmas single."  Pressed for what that meant, by me the weirdo freak from a country that doesn't even have proper singles any  more and never had Christmas ones, she elaborated that it was "cheesy and full of goodwill, like the old Wizzard and Slade ones."    Well, I had to admit that sounded good.  Having just heard the Wizzard one butchered by one of these X Factor people on the telly, I came to appreciate that as much as I might dislike the band normally, they were better at singing that song than other slicker, flashier acts.  Christmas songs should be a bit more scruffy I think, which is one of the reasons "Fairy Tale of New York" is probably my favorite.  Not quite full of goodwill, but then who is at Christmas, really?  Think about what it'd mean if they got their wish for it to be Christmas every day.

Anyway, it got me thinking about Christmas singles, and how they're really a strange new thing to me still.  I don't even think I was properly aware of them until last year (though I suppose I must have gotten some idea of them from being subjected to Love Actually), and while I did think a couple of weeks ago that it was good to hear John Lennon's Christmas song blaring out of a shop's speakers, I realize they're just not going to have the same resonance for me because I didn't' grow up with them.  Though I'm rather fond of them now and would miss them if they were gone.

And then, because I had to sit still and watch the door for a while, I picked up a scrap of paper and wrote "Christmas singles" on it.  I looked at it for a while and then wondered what else I might now miss if it were gone.  I suppose it's going back to America that made me think of it.  I spend a lot of time wittering on about everything I miss there, and figure it's only fair I give equal time to their opposite numbers, the shadow cabinet of nostalgia, if you will.

  • Christmas singles
  • David Attenborough
  • pints
  • Oyster cards
  • Radio 4
  • atheist politicians
  • Stephen Fry
  • pasties
  • a cynical media
  • the Angel of the North
  • blue plaques
  • being able to say "toilet"
  • cricket on the radio
  • the NHS
  • curry
  • ridiculously vague weather forecasts
  • relegation
  • passenger trains
  • geographical specificity
  • policemen without guns
  • the BBC
  • the seaside
  • competing daily newspapers
  • Lush
  • football songs
  • no death penalty
  • multicultural holidays: Eid, Diwali, Chinese New Year, etc.
  • civil unions
  • ubiquitous tea
  • posh people
  • bonfire night
  • eccentricity
What would you miss about where you are, if you left?


hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)

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