The Bishop calls

Dear Oprah,
I'm going to San Luis Obispo. Your recent piece on "The Happiest City in America" (featuring the delightful Jenny McCarthy) really put the nail in this rainy, gray coffin. This is about the time of year when the weather starts pushing me to consider living in a teepee in the Sahara just so I can feel the sun on my skin, so your timing couldn't be more perfect. I realize it's raining there right now, but, do you know what's going to happen tomorrow? It's going to be sunny. And the day after that? Sunny again. Are you starting to see how this could be a good fit for me?

I don't actually think that just traveling to a place will make me instantly happy, but it won't hurt to spend a few days trying. Anyway, thanks for tip. We should be boarding soon.

Oh, and if you need a follow up report, just let me know. There's probably a flight that connects to Chicago from San Luis Obispo, right?

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Dismantling the Empire

I'm going to keep this one short today because the middle finger of my right hand is covered in a big fat bulky Band-Aid and typing is a bit of a pain. (I cut my finger yesterday while repotting a plant. Who the hell cuts themselves while repotting a plant? I do. Of course, now that I am associating every little thing in my life with some larger spiritual message, I asked myself yesterday: what does a deep gash on your finger mean, Grasshopper? And I was like, Um... it means there's a sharp piece of unfinished clay on the bottom of the pot obscured by dirt, dumbass.)

(Inhaling.... thumb and middle fingers touching lightly, eyes soft and unfocused....)

I've begun the process of letting go of some of my clients (well, most of them, actually). I had a really life changing migraine (which I'll tell you about when the bandage comes off) a few weeks ago and I've been using that god-awful day as a launching point to change my life. I literally felt like my brains were being scrambled that day, like the Universe had lifted off the top of my skull, stuck in a whisk, and agitated the contents of my skull (and then left without so much as offering me an aspirin). When your brains get scrambled, you can't just carry on as if your brains were not just scrambled. I'm a believer in pain as a messenger and that day was my five a.m. wake up call.

In an effort to reduce stress in my life (the Great Cause of that horrid migraine), I've decided to cut my workload down by nearly seventy five percent. (I know, you're thinking: how could you cut down your workload by seventy five percent and STILL have enough work to sustain your lifestyle? Ahhhhh, now you see, Grasshopper, the Way of the DayPlanner Warrior is not a balanced one.)

I've had to let some very dear clients go, people I have enjoyed working with tremendously. These clients are brilliant, creative people, people who have taught me so very much about business, about dreaming big, and about balancing work and play. It has been a very emotional couple of weeks here deciding who gets to stay and who has to go.

I figured my clients would be upset over my announcement; I figured they would be shocked. I figured they might even be mad, maybe feel let down or abandoned. The reaction I had not counted on was sadness. People are sad to see me go. They like me, and not just my ability to make a file cabinet neat and orderly. I can't tell which is more shocking: their emotion over my leaving, or the fact that I don't consider myself lovable enough to be missed. Jesus. Talk about pain as a messenger....

I've been doing lots of thinking about this notion of my work as separate from me. Every day I have to wake up and push aside the guilt over leaving my clients and repeat to myself: it's your life or theirs, kiddo. I know that sounds extreme and dichotomous but I need to employ that bit of melodrama to get me through these next few weeks when it is inevitable that I will start reconsidering, and then berating myself for having made these decisions. I need a little mantra to keep my mind focused.

So this is it, Internets. It's my life. I just have to figure out how I want to live it.

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Arts and Crafts and Porn

Hey! Guess what? Yesterday I cleaned up the last of the tax paperwork that has been littering my living room floor for the past two months! I can see the floor again! Isn't that exciting? I mailed off the last package of receipts, wrote the final email, and then vacuumed up two months' worth of popcorn kernels, gravel, rubber nubbins from our doormat, dead leaves, tiny bits of paper, and bent staples from the carpet. You could be forgiven for thinking a wild animal good with an adding machine was living here. It feels good to see the floor again.

So. Now that tax season is somewhat behind me, I'm initiating a new era in the art world. It's called the Arts and Crafts and Porn movement.

It fits into a larger movement I am participating in called the Make Useful Stuff Out Of Garbage, or MUSOOG, for short. Go ahead. Say it. Muh-soooooog. Catchy, no?

Alright. So. Here's my latest creation: a bookshelf made out of VHS tapes.

There is, of course, a backstory, and it goes a little something like this...

A few years ago, friends of our were getting married. Mr. Burdy hosted a part of the bachelor party for the groom. This being a Northwestern bachelor party, the men gathered and beat drums and drank handcrafted beer and scaled cliffs and then probably sat around and brushed each other's beards. Or something like that. I don't know what they did exactly. They definitely didn't do anything that involved cologne or shirts that require regular ironing or strobe lights or dollar bills being waved at women with large breasts. I just know they all crashed at our house afterward in big smelly piles of sleeping bags and mud caked boots. As a gag gift, one of the attendees brought a box (a giant box that had once contained a fan) full of VHS tapes of porn from the early eighties.

The fan box of porn had come from a coworker of the attendee. The coworker's uncle had recently passed away and the family was sent to clean out the house. I don't know if the coworker knew about the box beforehand or if he just stumbled across it in the back of that closet (though I would like to believe that the dying uncle, in the moments before he passed, pulled the coworker real close to his mouth and whispered something to the effect of, "Charlie, there's something I need to tell you. There's a closet upstairs with a false wall in it. Behind that wall is my collection. You mustn't let anyone know about it. You've got to destroy it. Can you do this for me, Charlie? Char...." And then he sputters and coughs and exhales dramatically and his eyes roll up in his head and Charlie is shaking his uncle ferociously by his lapels and frantically searching his face for answers. I'm pretty sure the guy's name was not Charlie, and that his uncle did not do this to him, but it makes the story edgier, so let's just roll with it, shall we?)

Okay. So attendee shows up with his co-worker's dead uncle's box of hideous porn. All of it is from the eighties. And it's soft core porn. Now, I'm no expert in porn, but I know bad porn when I see it, and this stuff was BAD. I mean, the names of some of these videos pretty much said it all. Like "Nude Stretching". NUDE STRETCHING? Like as in, "Oh my, my neck is soooo tight from a day of stenography! Let me slooooowly take my silk scarf and cameo broach off and do some sensual neck rolls!" nude stretching? Lame.

There was the "Buttman" series... I could at least get behind that (zing!). Let's see, some other goodies included "Polelympics" (I'm got the impression this guy was a failed gymnast) and "Naked Aerobics", complete with legwarmers and headbands (and not much else! Yowza!) So, now you all know what kinds of things turned on an old man in the eighties. There were dozens of these tapes. A whole fan box full of them.

So. Back to the bachelor party at our house. The box got left. It made its way to our garage where it sat for some months. You're probably asking yourself.... umm... why didn't you just throw the thing away? Ah, you see. This gets at the very heart of who I am. You might have noticed I have a hard time throwing things away. And not because I am a hoarder. Seriously. I sleep in a bed NOT covered in tennis rackets and shoe polish kits. I don't bathe with my bank statements from 1987 and you can walk through the house without tripping over stuff. On most days.) ANYWHO. My real reason that I can't throw anything away is guilt. You see, whenever garbage is generated in my house, my brain immediately conjures up post-apocalyptic scenes of children playing atop heaps of garbage in torn clothing and pterodactyl sized seagulls circling overhead and roving gangs of gleaners pushing shopping carts of rags and clothes hangers and copper wiring. Always in this scene, one brave child, his face smeared with grease and soot, picks up a VHS tape or something else as insideously designed for obsolescence, and, with doe-like eyes, stares up at the gray sky, a single tear rolling down his filthy face. And that's how I know. It was me. I was the one who caused this. I was the one who threw the VERY LAST VHS tape EVER into the garbage, setting off an irreversible series of events that lead our planet, so delicately hanging in the balance, to descend into a thousand years of darkness. There is no sun, nothing grows, and humanity is doomed to eat rusty nails and drink putrid water collected in plastic kerosene-slicked jugs. And it's all because I couldn't get more creative with how to throw out my trash.

And, that, ladies and gentlemen, is Clinical Depression in a very colorful nutshell. Guilt and anxiety and a little bit of post apocalyptica thrown in for good measure.

Anywho, the porn. So, I couldn't just throw it in the garbage (Tiny Tim from the year 2109 would be watching). I did the next best thing I could think of: I tired to figure out ways to recycle the damn things. I found a few companies by searching online that were able to take them and re-use them by erasing the materials on the tapes. (Sure.... erasing them. ) For some reason, I was embarrassed about sending these tapes to central Illinois, or wherever this factory was. It was going to be totally anonymous, of course, but I just couldn't help feeling sheepish and mortified about sending old man porn. Plus, they were going to charge me something like $10 and I wasn't about to pay for throwing garbage away, no matter how good the cause.

So, the tapes sat for a few more months. Then Christmas rolled around and our friends hosted their White Elephant party. Never heard of a White Elephant party? Google it. I'll be here when you're done.

This, of course, was the perfect opportunity to unload these things on some unsuspecting friend. So we did. I think. The details are fuzzy now. But then, I can't remember how, we wound up with the box. Again.

Here's the dumbest part of this whole saga: we moved with the damned things. We packed up our house, not once, but TWICE with these tapes. And each time, I had to blush fiercely and defend myself when one of our helpful moving buddies picked up the box and the layer of dinner napkins fluttered to the ground (What?! The box didn't have a lid. Dinner napkins seemed like a good alternative). NO, I would tell them. OF COURSE that's not my porn! Sillies! I don't even like that stuff! (waving dismissively at the box) That's just my...uh... friend's friend's porn. We're keeping it for him....


So, fast forward to this Fall. I decided it was time to REALLY do something about these things. Around this time, Mr. Burdy and I were also struggling with how to store stuff in our house. The house was in pretty much the same state it was in when we moved it... things just sort of thrown haphazardly onto bookshelves. There were still boxes of books in the garage that I hadn't unpacked. I needed a bookcase. And the porn needed to go. I hatched an idea that day, standing in our cold garage. I pulled out the old sketchbook, went down to my local craft store and picked up some heavy duty glue, and I got to buildin'.

And this is what I made.

Before The Frame

I cleverly hid all the ridiculous titles like "Girl on Girl Elbow Touching" and stuck my favorite books on the shelves and topped it off with a few houseplants. Done. Problem solved. But part of me was just a little bit sad. It had been nearly five years since the box of porn had come into our lives, and here, at long last, I had permanently altered it into something, karmically, a notch above a doorstop. Plus, I was still stuck with all the paper inserts AND the plastic cases they all came in. The paper was easy enough to recycle. The sorters down at the transfer station would get in their daily dose of WTF and I would be making the world a greener place. But the plastic cases? That type of plastic wasn't intended to be recycled. They would be headed for the post-apocalyptic junk heap.

And then, when the last of the glue dried, I panicked for a minute. Was our friend expecting the box of porn to be cycled through our community of friends forever via the White Elephant parties? It was a pretty great gag gift. Worse, was the coworker expecting his inheritance back?

But then it came to me: a way to contribute to the white elephant, a way to solve my non-recyclable plastic dilemma, and a way to finally be rid, once and for all, of the box of porn.

First, I took a picture of the newly constructed bookshelf. Then I printed it and framed it in an old frame I had lying around.

Thanks For The Memories

Then I went about constructing a box out of packing tape and the plastic cases. Not a word about how the tape is toxic and non-recyclable. Remember my adrenal glands?

The Box

Then I shredded each of the lovely paper inserts. Remarkably, the shredder didn't choke once on the thick paper... not, that is, until the very end. Which was fine because then I got to snap this lovely shot.

Shredding The Paper Inserts

I stuffed the box (complete with hinged lid) with the shredded inserts, stuck the framed photo inside, piled more shredded paper on top, and then sealed the box. Viola. Problem solved, gift made, apocalyptic heap a distant memory.

Open Here

Finished box

I have to say, though, watching our friends' faces as they opened the box at the party, I felt a mixture of nostalgia and just a little bit of regret. The friend who had brought the box to our house in the first place looked like he might shed a tear or something. I waited for a response. And then everyone laughed and their eyes got big and they asked me, "You MADE that?" like they might ask a potted plant if it had once been the Secretary of the Interior. I could understand their bewilderment.

Anywho, the lesson here is this (because there is a lesson n everything, is there not?): don't leave your crap at my house. It might get turned into furniture.

Thanks for the memories, Box Of Porn.

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I heard the first notes of the banjo come over the car stereo speakers, and my first thought was: Just because I shaved off all my hair when I was nineteen and listened to Ani DiFranco and went to that hippie school, they all still think I like patchouli and Bluegrass. Dammnit.

It was my sister who first recommended them to me. Have you heard of Mumford and Sons? You might like them... My sister doesn't usually recommend music to me. Our tastes aren't all that dissimilar anyway. Usually, if I mention so-and-so, she's already listening to them. But this was odd- a band I'd never heard of. Then again, I'd become wholly disenchanted with our local indie radio station these last few years and was listening to NPR exclusively...

And then, the next day, my future brother in law, while we were listening to music and playing dominoes at the kitchen table, switches up the tempo and says, while swishing his finger around on the mousepad, Here- you might like this. And he played a song of theirs.

Hours later, I had a burned copy in my hand. I'd been waiting for just the right moment to listen to it. But then I realized it wasn't going to come, perfection. This was to be a trip of so much imperfection sitting right there on top of perfection's pretty party dress. So, I slipped it into the CD player in the rental car and waited.

I turned it down low and waited for it to blow me away. I listened and waited some more. Nothing.

Then I got to song number seven, Little Lion Man. And something snapped inside me. Something about the way the singer ripped into the words "I really fucked it up this time" just got to me. I listened to it over and over again, in that compulsive way I do when I like a song. I got home and slipped it into the CD player in my own car. I drove from appointment to appointment today and listened. I listened to it turned all the way up. I had it turned up so loud my side view mirrors vibrated in time with the bass notes. I sang at the top of my lungs and beat the steering wheel with my palms. Magically, effortlessly, my voice found the harmony. Maybe this is what my sister was thinking when she heard them for the first time. She'll love them because it is effortless. There is something so anguished and breaking in the singer's tone. Maybe this is what my future brother in law was thinking when he burned the CD for me. She'll love them because she will be able to hear herself in there.

For the record, I don't care for Bluegrass, I HATE the smell of patchouli, and I didn't graduate from that hippie school. But I love this song.


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I don't know how it is we got here- owning twos and threes of things... letting things pile up... having to rearrange endlessly... I just know it has to stop. The four half-empty bottles of dishwashing detergent under the sink, the natural remedies and prescription drugs with 2009 expiration dates on them in a basket in the linen closet, socks with no mates that keep making it into the laundry rotation somehow... It all needs to end. 2011 is it.

The first thing I thought when I stepped into my apartment after being on the East Coast for nearly two weeks was "Good lord, is it cluttered in here". I had not considered myself a cluttered person before, but my life and all its distractions suddenly came into sharp relief in the few moments it took my eyes to scan the room. Granted, we did leave the house a holy mess before we left, and granted, we really hadn't had any time in the month of December to do any deep cleaning, but.... But. It's all about the buts, isn't it? There was always something keeping me from my real life.

Suddenly all my kitsch, my thrift/antique store aesthetic, it all became so garbage-like to me. Every surface was covered with something... something I had thought cute or necessary in the moment but which later just became one more thing to dust, to file away.

I'm not a decorate-it-once-and-walk-away kind of gal. I like my home to be a work in progress. I like it cozy, and I like it to tell a story, and I like that story to change as my life changes. But, I also like peace and quiet. And somehow this house has become a cacophony of to-do lists. And that doesn't feel good at all. While I don't particularly fancy the classic stylings of our East Coast families, I can see the merit now in just setting it up and letting it be. There is simplicity in having just one serving bowl, just eight mugs, and just two sets of sheets, however color coordinated it all is.

It all started with Burdy cleaning out the fridge on Sunday morning. He threw away the leftovers and tore everything out and scrubbed the inside of that thing for an hour. And oh my god what a difference a sponge makes. Opening that door first thing on Monday morning made my heart sing. And then it made me wonder: how long was that fridge THAT dirty? How long has it been since I've really lifted up the carpet of my life and taken a good hard look at all things I've hurriedly shoved underneath?

How many times have I moved the shaker top from that spice jar from the windowsill to the countertop and back again? How long has that bottle of blue chamomile been sitting in that tiny box in my nightstand? How long was it going to be before I finally got rid of those slippers with the hole in them? I've been living with this DustBowl survivor's mentality for so long, this mindset that demands I scrimp and save and never throw anything away until I've used the holy hell out of it. I forgot to take notice of my actual surroundings. I do not want for anything. I have plenty of food. My house is warm. I have clothing, and shoes, and a computer that doubles as a TV. Right now, as I type this, I am staring at my fruit bowl, which contains a pomegranate. A pomegranate! In the middle of winter! Whatever storm caused me to lower my head and pull the collar of my coat tight against my chest has passed. Funny how, though my life has dramatically improved since then, I've stayed stuck in this position all these years.

So, I'm not starting out 2011 with any grandiose resolutions. I'm starting it with mini-cleaning binges. I'm shooing the bats from the belfry, as it were, clearing out the cobwebs, making the place feel fresh again. I want to go through all those corners in the house I haven't visited in a while and pack up and donate everything that keeps me from writing more and worrying less. I'm not into wastefulness; this won't be frenzied. This is an opportunity to share, to give away. This is a great gift, this ability to see again. I have a feeling I am going to find dusty pieces of myself amidst all this clutter, and, at the end, I might just feel whole again.

Happy 2011.

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