This is My Brain Not on Drugs

I’m writing this in a coffee shop. It might not have been the best day to attempt writing in a public space. I knew that my senses were on an acute bender when I went to the Y to get a workout this morning.

I was overwhelmed by the musty smell that concrete buildings sometimes have on a rainy day. Then I had to switch treadmills because the manual button to change speeds (for interval running) wasn’t responsive enough. Then I noticed the seam of my sock was off and I could feel it with every foot strike. In front of me was the flapping, fleshy face of the president popping up on the nonstop TV screens. My treadmill started making a clickclickclick sound as I increased speed. The woman next to me was wearing some sort of musky perfume that made my stomach uneasy. Sensory overload.

There is, I suppose, a diagnosis that would roll up all my sensitivities into a nice neat package that could be ameloriated/dulled/cured by drugs/meditation/emotional eating. That I’m oversensitive to most drugs is not ironic – just a fact. When I got put under for an endoscopic invasion a few weeks ago, I awoke irritably to two women hollering in my face and shaking me to wake up. I did not want my nap, which was acanstockphoto2383460bout seven years overdue, interrupted. This caused some concern on their part. I want to yell “See, I told you!” in response to people who have suggested medication might not be a bad thing for me. They’ve also apparently never heard me wax on about how much I enjoyed Percocet – a brief time in my medical history when I loved everyone and everything right up to the moment the prescription ran out.

Acute senses are sometimes a curse. My family thinks so. Life would be slightly better for them if I didn’t enter every room with “What’s that smell?” People would appreciate it, too, if I remembered them by their names instead of their quirks, smells, lisps, twitches. I do my best not to call them by their idiosyncrasies. Because calling someone one-who-picks-at-their-teeth or the-guy-who-smells-of-mothballs is apparently bad form. This heightened awareness and observation isn’t just irritants. It’s lovely eye crinkles that deepen a laugh or smile. It’s the smell of lilacs floating across a yard. It’s the house not blowing up next to us, because I alert the gas company (true story). It’s also likely what makes me a better writer than I would otherwise be.

canstockphoto60321094Perhaps I’m at the point in life where rationalization seems a whole lot easier than making a change. I can smell leaves burning a mile away, while simultaneously noticing there are two different species of birds calling back and forth, and that the man going by on his bike, playing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” out of little speaker, is on his third pass (I ain’t converting, old man). I’ve finally rationalized that it is a gift, although there are days when I wonder how I function. But I do and I live on to write about the things that flood my brain.


canstockphoto33544039The media is framing the 2020 election already. Dinosaurs duking it out (and yes, the President is a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Come on, with those hands, it’s too easy). Biden is a Gallimimus (a dinosaur generically known as a “chicken mimic”). Initially I thought that the only thing that would make the race more exciting would be betting pools on who croaked first. But that wouldn’t be exciting. The runner-ups to the Shitty American contest would be Pence and Sanders. You’d have to go two teams deep to find an unfossilized politician with a slightly original idea who wasn’t handsy or repressed or spitting on himself when he spoke. This is going to be another long year/decade.


I’m all for authenticity and honesty. To a point. Lately I’ve seen conversations floating about the internet regarding how people wash in the shower. This is where I slam my laptop shut in disgust. For two reasons: 1) How you wash in the shower is not any of my damned business. 2) See number one. Most of the time people start these public conversations so they can feel some sense of superiority, goad others into defending themselves, or gain views for exaggerating minutiae into contagious attention. There are things worth talking about because they cause people shame or pain and being brought into the light of day serves to free them. Whether you wash your bits and pieces in a certain order or with a washcloth or loofah is not interesting or elucidating. It does say something about the person who starts that public conversation. I don’t know what, but I’m sure they’ll tell us.

It’s Not Joyce or David Foster Wallace, But Close

44161076I’ll fess up. I’m reading that damned Mueller Report. There are several factors complicating my reading sessions. It’s boring, I’m not a lawyer, and it is not going to change my mind about the current occupant in the White House. Still, I trudge on because neither a sycophantic Attorney General nor a befuddled media are going to “spin” it for me. I’ll see for myself what’s what – and still not know much more than I did before reading this Asshole Odyssey.

P.S. – Remember a while back when I wrote that post about not swearing? Yeah, it didn’t quite take.


I am persistent, but not great at most things in my life. This applies to writing, gardening, running, sleeping (not the no-brainer it used to be). I resist giving up in the face of imperfection. My garden is a rambling, disorganized experiment. I spend hours there, filthy from head to toe, and it still looks like the owners have been on vacation. For months. It’s right in our front yard, where everyone can see, including the man who keeps biking by and yelling at me that I need to mulch. Surprisingly, this is not the same man who bikes by playing hymns down our street. I do live in an interesting neighborhood.

canstockphoto3556994It occurred to me how important it is to love something you’re bad at. I love to run, but I’m not good at it. My face stays red for hours after. I look as graceful as a gazelle if a gazelle were 30 pounds overweight, had knock knees, and clutched its chest every half mile or so. Still, I do it, because it gives me a bizarre kind of joy. And bizarre joy is so much better than regular joy, because it’s all yours and completely inexplicable to others.

Have a Joyful Week!

Notes from Distracted Ground

I’m currently slogging my way through Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. I could tell immediately that I picked this up too quickly after reading Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Reading classics where most of the action occurs in the narrator’s head can be exhausting. I took a break and started reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. The writing is breathtaking, enviable in its sparse economy of words, while rich in detail. I’ve been thinking a lot about details.

canstockphoto13168215There are writers I know who are working on memoirs. They dig out boxes of old letters and journals, bits and pieces of their pasts, collected, magpie-like or haphazardly jumbled in boxes. I was listening to a David Sedaris audiobook, a collection of live readings. His storytelling is quick-witted and contains a wealth of detail – place names, offbeat brief exchanges, observations from years ago. He talked about taking notes, a habit of a lifetime.

I’ve read how other writers have reams of notes, little notebooks they’ve ferried everywhere – dreams recorded in the immediate aftermath, interesting snippets of dialogue captured for future use. I wrote journals up until my mid-twenties. They were solipsistic rambles. Shortly after moving to Minnesota, I shredded every last one of them. Here’s another one of those I-might-not-be-a-writer confessions. I don’t like keeping a journal anymore and a recent attempt at taking notes only revealed that I have misanthropic leanings fed by sensory irritation.

But I’m trying anything to up my writer quotient, so I started carrying a little notebook and pen with me yesterday. I took my mother-in-law to the dentist, and while waiting for her appointment to finish, I pulled the notebook out and prepared to write. I’ve sat in this waiting area many times, talking to the receptionists or silently lost in my own thoughts. What wasted time! I’m a writer, dammit. What follows is the great use I made of that time, furiously jotting notes:

Hygienist in conversation with receptionist, while flipping through glossy magazine.

“That movie Black or White is SO good. I just had to watch it again.”

Why the emphasis on SO? Why do people seem desperate to convert others to liking movies and books? Don’t they know how subjective art is?

“I would never be on The Bachelor. I just wouldn’t put myself out there like that.”

Was this ever a serious issue in your life? Have you been contacted by the producers? Why does anyone need to know that about you?

Oh for god’s sake, stop clicking your fingernails. Why does a dental hygienist have long fingernails? Do you know how many germs collect under fingernails?

Health magazine on the counter has a huge headline “Lose Every Bulge”. That’s weird. And not particularly healthy. Except if the bulge is like a tumor, some cancerous growth. Sure. Lose that.

Ah, hell, now she’s talking about the Kardashians. What is that smell? When did vanilla become the catchall fragrance for everything?

“I don’t do raisins.”


Now they’re discussing about how she and the dentist split a muffin because the dentist thought it was raisin, but it was chocolate chip.

Just kill me now. I think I hate lady talk.

To clarify, I really am not fond of small talk, lady or otherwise. I would prefer the world be stoned, so we could go around having deep, philosophical conversations just in passing.

canstockphoto13853007What I imagine that could be like:

Man waiting to cross at corner light: If Rousseau is right and man’s natural state of goodness is the same as the natural goodness of animals, which is considered neither good nor bad, what animal would you be?

Me: Does it matter? If animals are neither good nor bad, than I would be picking an animal based on personal preference and not any question of philosophy. But I’d be a koala – they’re cute and vicious.canstockphoto18295591

What would really happen:

Man waiting to cross at corner light: Did it turn green yet? Did it turn green yet?

Me: Yes…uh, no. YES! Er…no. Do you hate me?


I joke about being misanthropic, but really it’s a combination of introversion and sensory overload. Sitting in that small waiting room, I could hear two conversations in the background, four smells – a combination of toothpaste, vanilla alcohol-based perfume, a carpet recently shampooed and a petroleum smell likely coming off two newly added chairs. I hear music being played in the chiropractic office next door. I hear the drip of the water cooler, its thermostat clicking on and off. I smell the dental polish and hear the whirring of the polisher. I notice that a potted plant is still languishing from the last time I was there. To add inane human conversation on top of all those layers, seems willful and my irritation rises to the surface quickly.

Living with me is occasionally difficult, as I often enter a room with “What’s that smell?” I’ve smelled electrical shorts and once, a natural gas leak out on the street (they came and replaced the line). I sometimes leave the house, just so the two other people I live with can make noise without me yelling “Can you knock that off?” I don’t think I have super spidey senses, but my brain has just decided to notice everything all at once. And I can thrill people by being able to identify every bird sound I hear. I don’t get invited to many outdoor barbeques.

I know that any skill can be learned and that it takes time to hit one’s stride, so I will continue to carry that little notebook until it becomes clear this is an entirely useless thing for me to do, or I learn to write more interesting things down.

 Do you keep journals or take notes? And what’s that smell?