July Reading Recap

playpleasureartfriendshipcuriositylove

I read more than usual in July, thanks to a week’s vacation. I am lucky to have a fantastic used bookstore in my town so I went in to stock up for my trip. I couldn’t find anything on my reading list, so I checked for yet-unread titles by my favorite authors. That’s how I found The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I cannot deny that I am a shameless fangirl for Elizabeth Gilbert. Say what you like about Eat Pray Love; it was one of the first audiobooks I ever listened to and I loved it! Her book about creativity, Big Magic, lives on my bedside table. So I had high hopes for Signature of All Things—maybe too high, alas. On the positive side, I found the main character—a large, lonely, plant-loving woman who is preoccupied with sex but never gets any—highly relatable. I mean, we’re practically twins. Also, the book is written in Gilbert’s warm, funny style, and features one of her favorite (and my favorite) themes: the intersection of earthly and divine. On the negative side, it might be a little too long. After an exciting start, it drags a bit in the middle; it might get tedious if you do not love Elizabeth Gilbert with your whole heart. But I do. So for me, it was a satisfying read anyway. I really enjoyed the historical context, too, and I think about it often.

While I was at the used book store, carrying my big, hardcover Signature of All Things, I thought, “This doesn’t seem like poolside reading. Maybe I should look for something light.” Lo and behold, I found a book called Something Light, so I had to buy it. It’s an old book, published in 1960, and the first few lines promised interesting wit and perspective. Apparently the author, Margery Sharp, was prolific and popular throughout the mid twentieth century. She wrote The Rescuers, which was made into a Disney animated film in 1977–coincidentally, the first film I remember seeing in a movie theater. Something Light was indeed light, full of clever prose and funny observations, along with some pretty outdated views, per its publication date. It’s a predictable story about a woman determined to catch a husband, so adjust your expectations accordingly.  Still, it was a fun, if silly, read.

The cast-off book shelf at my office yielded the best read of the month: Eventide by Ken Haruf. I only picked it up because it was free and the title rang a vague bell in my memory. A peek inside revealed that Haruf writes without using quotation marks. I confess that this technique stresses me out because I need the structure of punctuation to keep my ADHD brain focused, so I almost rejected this one. I’m so glad I didn’t. This slice-of-life novel about a rural Colorado town is full of characters so dear, you’ll want to hug the book to your chest and tuck it into bed at night. It’s the second in a series so if you’re interested, start with the first book, Plainsong. I’ll read it with you.

I choose audiobooks according to their commute value: I need something that will take my mind off the L.A. traffic, but not so riveting that I plow into the car in front of me. My July audiobook, Something in the Water, fit the bill perfectly. A reviewer described the main character of this thriller as “too stupid to live,” and I’m afraid that was a spot-on description. You know in a horror movie, when you shout at the screen, “DON’T GO OUTSIDE!!” and the idiot characters still go outside? This book was full of those moments. Also, you can see the big plot twist coming a mile away. I kinda liked it anyway. I kept listening, anxious to hear how the author would tie it all up. Also, I usually hate when authors read their own audiobooks (unless it’s a memoir, like Eat Pray Love.) I didn’t realize that this author, Catherine Steadman, is a well-known British actress.  Her outstanding performance imbued the book with greater presence and drama than I would have, had I read it with my own eyeballs. She made the main character sound a lot smarter than her “too stupid to live” choices.

I also tried an audiobook called The Weight of Ink, which tells the story of modern day historians exploring a discovery of 300-year-old letters written by members of a community of Jews in London around the time of Shakespeare. I thought the premise was fascinating, but I gave the audiobook three hours of my life and still couldn’t get into it. It may have been the terribly dull performance, which featured the worst attempt at an American accent I have ever heard. I really wanted to learn about 16th century Jews in London, but I finally gave up. That book was twenty-two hours long; I couldn’t sit through 19 more hours of it.

For a much shorter glimpse of cross-cultural human interaction, try this beautiful short story about a group of tenants in a dumpy apartment building and what happens when they are given notice to vacate. I struggle with fiction writing, but this well-crafted story makes me want to try harder.

Speaking of trying harder, this essay about sabotaging your writing really hit home for me. The author is the same age as me and her description of her life—prioritizing family, making a career in marketing, trying to convince yourself that the childhood dream of writing really doesn’t matter anymore—wow, could it be any closer to home? Read it if you’ve been procrastinating on your dream of writing for publication.

Finally, this thought-provoking essay about work and how society values it really resonated with me. It also gave me this concise list of things (beyond money and status) that make life worth living: play, pleasure, art, friendship, curiosity and love.

Hope you enjoy your last month of summer, and let me know what you’re reading!

PS: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click through and buy one of these books on Amazon, I’ll get a teensy weensy commission which will not affect the price you pay for the book. 

Baby, You’ve Got Class!

  • Seventeen Magazine 1987

    Seventeen’s Back-to-School 1987 issue

The back-to-school issue of Seventeen magazine: was there anything dreamier in all of Teenagedom? I can still conjure the smell of it, that combination of glossy pages and perfume samples. Three times as thick as a regular issue, the back-to-school edition was unfailingly packed with girls in bright tartan plaids and chunky sweaters, posing in front of lockers or ivy-covered facades. I pored over it, page by glorious page, lying on the floor of my bedroom and listening to a cassette tape of Madonna. It was the Eighties.

In Southern California, back-to-school weather is crackling hot, which worked for me since I could only afford to shop the clearance rack, and any new clothes of mine would be summer remnants anyway. The one first-day-of-school outfit I can remember consisted of a black-and-white-striped, sleeveless, crew neck sweater; white, high-waisted suspender shorts either handed down or stolen from my sister; huge silver hoop earrings that were wide enough to see your reflection in, and a scrunchie. I was proud of that outfit. I planned it weeks before school started. I can’t remember the shoes, though. I may have blocked them from my memory; I could never get the shoes right. I am still shoe-challenged.

Today I saw a Target back-to-school ad and was hit with a wave of nostalgia so intense it was almost painful. My adolescent self would punch me in the face if she heard me say this, but I am jealous of the kids going back to school right now.

I miss that new-leaf feeling: the discovery of new teachers and new books, new gossip and new crushes. New music in choir—how I miss choir!—and a new round of auditions in drama. I miss the slant of the light between the buildings as the rushing current of students carried me from class to class.

For a moment, I thought I even missed the digital sound of the class bells, but no. What I miss is the schedule and the structure, decisions made for me and enforced by someone else, so I could simply do as I was told, then blame the powers that be for the stupidity of it all. If I was unsuccessful it was only because I was too good for such mundanity.

Of course many back-to-school memories are not pleasant. Every math textbook ever issued to me, without fail, had a penis drawn in it. WHY? Maybe we’d have more women in STEM careers if we weren’t haunted by crudely drawn penises whenever we opened a math book. Just saying.

No,  I haven’t forgotten how I hated school—I was miserable in junior high and high school. I remember the bitterness of it, the relentless self-loathing and shame, comparing myself to girls who were skinnier and prettier and more confident than me. Oh wait, I still do that—the difference is that then, those feelings were soothed by the conviction that someday, I would magically be better. After graduation, I would metamorphose into something spectacular, and that would show them!

I was destined for greatness. It was a vague sort of greatness, but I knew it would involve fame: an author, an actress, a singer. It had to be something very high-profile so that every boy who failed to notice my [utterly unexpressed] longing for him would wish he had.

You often hear people lamenting their lost innocence. I lament my lost ignorance. I want to un-know these things:

  • Success is built on mundanity. No one is above the grind.
  • Boys do not notice you longing for them unless you tell them that you are longing for them, which is an extremely uncomfortable conversation that rarely achieves the outcome you desire.
  • If you want to be a famous author, you must actually write things, sometimes years and years of things, before anyone will take notice.
  • You can spend all your time and money on being prettier and skinnier but that won’t make you more confident, and being confident takes a level of self-trust that money cannot buy.

Oh, to believe in Seventeen magazine again! I want a new outfit to make everyone notice me! I want a “Can’t-Miss Haircut” and “260 New Ideas for Fall”!  I want a Trapper Keeper full of fresh paper and pens, like magic feathers to keep me organized and productive. I want to know, with the conviction of my 15-year-old self, that I am going to do something great someday.

That is nostalgia: bitter with loss, sweet with perspective. I had so much and so little then. I have so much and so little now. Things change, but they stay the same. I still want to be noticed. I still want to do great things. I just need more somedays!

My 46-year-old self clings to this wisdom:  today is someday, simple things can be great things, and I am the only one who needs to notice.

 

 

 

June Recap: Books, Podcast, & Digital Community

Backyard reading with a drink and a dog

One of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken, of so many of my favorite things: a margarita, a good book, a summer evening in my backyard, and my dog, Murphy.

I’m in a fight with my writing. We aren’t really speaking at the moment. Since I have no output, I thought I’d share my intake instead. If you’re like me, you’re shocked that we’re already halfway through July, so you won’t mind that this recap of things I read and listened to in June is a little late.

I’d been waiting for Andrew Sean Greer’s Less to come out in paperback since I heard Ann Patchett recommend it in an interview she gave last fall. At her bookstore in Nashville, Patchett is often asked for recommendations for smart fiction that isn’t sad. That is key criteria for me, too. I don’t want depressing books! Since then, I’ve heard many others rave about Less…not to mention that it won the Pulitzer for fiction.

It was worth the wait.  Less is hilarious, but also tender and insightful and so very relatable. Greer dances on the sweet side of bittersweet in this novel about a writer past his prime who travels the world to run away from a heartbreak that he’d rather not acknowledge. I was charmed by the romance, but I was floored by the writing and absolutely skewered by Greer’s observations on getting older and feeling like an outsider. It didn’t hurt too much, though, because I laughed through the whole book.

One interesting note: I’m a huge fan of audiobooks but in this case, because I anticipated that I’d want to see the writing with my own eyeballs, I chose to read the book instead of listening to it. Then, my dear friend said the audio version was fantastic, so I bought that, too. I started to listen right after I began reading. It’s the only time I’ve ever tried to consume a book both ways at once. For me, the audiobook was a no-go. As I expected, I did want to linger over certain phrases and passages at my own pace. Also, I found the performance to be a bit too sardonic. While the book certainly pokes a great deal of fun at main character Arthur Less, it’s balanced with an earnestness that makes Arthur a rich character and not a joke. I found that the performance on the audiobook did not convey that balance, and it didn’t seem quite fair to Arthur.

Speaking of audiobooks, in June I also re-listened to one of my favorite audiobooks ever: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. If you haven’t read it, get a copy ASAP. It’s a fantastic book. If you have read it, listen to it too! The performance by Cathleen McCarron is perfect. I can’t believe it didn’t win an Audie. I could listen to that book a hundred times and never get tired of McCarron’s dry, Scottish delivery of this delightful main character and her funny, sad, suspenseful, heartwarming story.

I’m too cheap to buy more than one audiobook a month so I fill in the gaps with podcasts. My current favorite is Happier with Gretchen Ruben. Like her books, the podcast is about habits, human nature and how to be happier. She and her sister, Liz Craft, share tips and hacks to make life easier and happier, along with anecdotes from their own lives and input from their audience. The episodes are about 45 minutes, the perfect length for my commute! They’re light and fun, and they’re also helpful.

I need all the help I can get. One of the best investments I ever made was to join Jennifer Louden’s online community, The Writer’s Oasis.  It’s a website full of resources for writers, both on the craft and practice of writing. Each week, Louden records a session that is something between mediation, inspiration and writing practice. I don’t know how to describe it—she softens you up, delivers something soothing and uplifting, and asks you to focus your intentions for the week ahead. There’s something very, very good about those weekly recordings. They’re worth more than therapy to me. They help me get my head on straight. If you’re a creative sort—not necessarily a writer; lots of artists and other creatives participate, too—check out The Writer’s Oasis. It’s both inspiring and grounding.

I’d love to hear what you’re enjoying this summer—post a comment and let me know.

Underneath

The following bit of free writing, along with the little fox painting, was inspired by a Sarah Selecky writing prompt, which went something like this: Choose the book closest to you. Turn to page 22, find the last sentence of the second paragraph, and begin there. The nearest book to me: Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. The sentence: “Do you think you are really a cow, chipmunk, fox or horse underneath?”

Underneath I am human, am I not?

Overthinking, worrying, self-consciousness: purely human.

Cow: only grass and sunshine, maybe the occasional bull if she’s lucky, or unlucky, as the case may be for cows.

Chipmunk: only nuts, storing for the winter, scampering up trees in flight from cats or dogs or cruel children.

Fox: only hunting, or when hunger is satisfied, hiding, tucked up in a hollow with her tail over her nose.

Horse: only grazing, running over meadow and creek bed and dry windy earth, stopping for cool streams and green grass, tender shoots between rocks, or the comfort of fellow horses huddled together against the weather.

All these urges are mine, too: to eat, to mate, to hide, to roam, to retreat, to huddle for warmth, but they are conflicted, muddied by other drives: to belong, to amass wealth, to be heard, to feel good enough or better than or worthy of.

No chipmunk questions her ability to hoard nuts or climb trees; she has only instinct, the next nut.

No fox frets or speculates; the field mouse is hers or it isn’t. There is hunger or there is rest.

Do horses worry? About inclusion or exclusion, or even about predators? Do they know of mountain lions in the surrounding hills? Or do they live in happy oblivion until they scent danger, hear the stamping hooves and high whinnies of their companions, until flanks tense and ears twitch and the herd launches in one motion, away from the threat of fangs and claws? Does the horse know what it flees, or does it only flee? Is there a premonition? Or is it all peace until the flight?

How many hours have I wasted in pre-flight? A hundred narrow escapes a day, aching muscles tensed to fight, pulse raised—in vain, exhausting anticipation of monsters who never appear and peculiar, specific, tiny deaths of my own imagining.

Little Fox- acrylic on canvas by Meg Faulkner 2018

Are you a cow, a chipmunk, a fox or a horse underneath?

Heat Through & Serve: A Corn Chowder Meditation

Onion and celery

It’s 6 am on a vacation day and I’m in the kitchen, chopping onions. The house is silent; even the dogs are still asleep. Like I do every time I chop an onion, I’m thinking about my sister, who taught me proper onion-chopping technique. I chopped at least twenty years’ worth of onions before I learned this efficient method, freeloaded from my sister’s pricey culinary education. Come to think of it, I’m chopping with a knife that she gave me, too.

I’m pretty excited to make this corn chowder. It’s my go-to recipe when I need to bring a meal to someone, and it’s perfect for a January dinner at a beach house with girlfriends, which is where I’ll be headed as soon as the chowder is made. And after I bake the cookies, of course. It’s a five hour drive up the coast. Who goes on a road trip without oatmeal raisin cookies? Not me.

The smell of onions and celery sautéing in bacon fat makes me think of football and I realize that if I were cooking them in butter, I’d be thinking of Thanksgiving…but the bacon grease could be any old winter weekend from my childhood: the rich, cheery smells of some long-simmering meal combined with muffled cheering from televised crowds. I take a minute to appreciate the source of these sensory memories: I had a mother who cooked. I had a father who provided. I had a comfortable, stable childhood that left me with happy memories of home.

I also have this recipe binder, which is like my personal memoir in food, each recipe recalling the person who gave it to me or the time I first made it.

recipes

It’s my mother’s corn chowder recipe that I’m using now. The card is written in my handwriting but I can tell that I copied it verbatim from hers, because I can hear her cautionary tone in the instructions: “Sauté til vegetables are soft but not brown…Boil til the potatoes are soft but not mushy.” I know this recipe by heart, but I always pull the card out anyway, to read those words and imagine her saying them.

Our house burned down in 1989, when I was a teenager. Everyone talks about the photos you lose in a fire, but no one ever talks about recipes. My mom is a recipe follower, and she lost some fantastic recipes in that fire, including her lasagna recipe and the only chicken and dumplings recipe that worked for her. I don’t believe she ever made chicken and dumplings again after the fire. The corn chowder recipe burned, too, but she was able to write it from memory, thank goodness.  It’s one of the most well-worn recipes in my binder.

While the potatoes simmer I thumb through the binder for Phoebe’s Fabulous Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, a recipe my sister copied for me from the Friends Cookbook.  I don’t have the original card in her handwriting anymore, but I can still picture it, with her notes: “Unsalted butter–I use salted then omit the salt” and “One Large Egg–You be the judge.”

I flip past my other sister’s recipe for Finnish Ribbon Cookies. Mine never turn out as pretty as hers, but I like to make them anyway because they are my brother’s favorite. Then there’s my favorite, Molasses Crackles, in the handwriting of an old friend who has since moved across the country. And here is the deadly Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars recipe from Mrs. Schroeder, a neighbor whose kids I babysat in the 80s when I was still a kid myself. I remember sitting on the rust-colored sofa in her safari-themed living room, painfully aware of the chocolate peanut butter bars in the fridge and struggling to keep myself from eating every last one of them before she got home. I really need to add those to the Christmas cookie roster.

Here’s my first peanut butter cookie recipe, which isn’t the greatest but I keep it because it has a little note from my ex-husband scrawled on it, in which he calls me the ridiculous pet name he used before we fell apart. Despite everything that’s happened since, or maybe because of everything that’s happened since, I still find it sweet to see that note. It doesn’t make me sad, though. I have a much better peanut butter cookie recipe now.

Here’s a recipe for Jamaican Chicken Stew that I once made for a dinner date whose name I can’t even recall. I don’t think I saw the guy again after that night, but I know the stew wasn’t the problem. That stew was top notch.

Here are the vegetable enchiladas with tomatillo salsa that I made for a friend who was going through a vegetarian phase at the time. I spent an entire day preparing that meal, but when I look at the recipe now I can’t imagine why it took me more than an hour.  Then I realize that was at least twenty years ago, when I was first learning to cook.

Here’s a cheesecake recipe from my Aunt Carol, written in my sister’s handwriting. Auntie Carol is like a smaller, sassier version of my mother.  She cooks for everyone, anyone, all the time. How long has it been since I’ve seen her? Eight years? Ten?

Here are the recipes from Melissa’s cookie exchange, the last time I saw her extraordinary mother before she died. Melissa’s mom made Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies, now a staple on the Christmas cookie roster and my daughter’s all-time favorite cookie.

Now I’m whisking the roux into the boiling potatoes and wondering if I’ve taught my daughter how to make a roux yet. She’ll need to know that.

I can’t wait to share the chowder and the cookies with my friends. We’re each covering a meal this weekend and that’s one of the things I most look forward to. What a joy it is to cook for people you love, and share recipes, and taste the story of someone else’s life when they share their recipes with you.

Alone in my tiny kitchen, with a bubbling pot on the stove and a counter full of butter and sugar, I find my eyes spilling over with gratitude: for my mom, aunts, and sisters; my children and my friends; a family that loves to cook; a legacy of warmth and flavor and generosity. I’m surrounded by memories of loved ones at my table and of meals prepared for me by others. I’m realizing that kitchens are sacred, and that food is sacred indeed, and that this might be the first time in my life that I’ve truly understood the meaning of that word.

New Year Optimism: Happy 2018!

I love New Year’s Day. I wish that I could boil this feeling down into concentrated drops and place one under my tongue every morning, so that each day starts with this page-turning feeling full of possibility and hope and freshness. There’s no reason it shouldn’t. My intention for 2018 is to make that a practice.

2017 was a very difficult year for me, as it was for many people. Beyond the state of the nation and the daily onslaught of horrible news, I went through some personal crap that really hurt me. I became obsessed with those events and the feelings they triggered, my brain repeating and magnifying the pain on a non-stop loop that would literally wake me up at night. That negativity became a sort of involuntary, wordless mantra that crept into all aspects of my life.

The good news is that I’m old enough and self-aware enough to realize that this is not okay and furthermore, this is not ME. I have learned, after years of managing depression, to separate the part of my brain that beats me up from the part that is worth protecting, and I can intervene. (Worth noting: if you cannot see that separation or you can’t muster the will to intervene, that’s when you need professional help.) So I fought it, but it’s been a tough battle that I’ve been fighting for the better part of a year.

Apparently, as every podcast, self-help book and spiritual tradition in the world will tell you, the solution to this swamp of negativity is gratitude. Over the last month, I’ve received that message in a hundred different ways: notice the good. Be grateful. Celebrate what’s right, what’s working, what you have. Direct your focus to the positive things.

So, that’s the plan for 2018: to be more deliberate about noticing the good, being grateful and celebrating. This applies to everything: my job, my home, and especially myself. I want to keep a gratitude journal but I also want to pause several times a day to quickly inventory what’s good in the moment. I want to develop a new pattern in my brain.

In that spirit, I sat down this morning and made a list of good things that happened in the generally craptastic year of 2017.

GOOD THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN 2017

The Women’s March: I walked in the Women’s March in Orange County last January and it was incredibly uplifting. Throughout all the ugly political news of the year, I could close my eyes and remember what 20,000 people marching in solidarity looks like, and know they are just tiny sliver of people in this world who will stand up for good.

Murphy’s Surgery:  In 2016 I found and fell in love with an injured stray dog who needed an expensive knee surgery. In February 2017 I was able to get him that surgery, thanks to donations from friends and a charitable grant. A couple weeks ago, we watched this little guy running on the beach in blissful abandon: four solid knees and one huge pit bull smile.

Our garden:  My daughter and I removed some ugly old shrubs in our tiny back yard and replaced them with a bed of interesting plants and a raised vegetable garden. Some of our plants were more successful than others, but the process was a pleasure, and we ate food that we grew ourselves, so we’ll call that a win.

Reconnecting with an old friend: This was a twofer. My dear friend from high school, Christina, is also a writing coach and all-around wise woman. We went for years without talking, then years when we’d talk once or twice. In 2017 we began regularly scheduled calls where we’d have a long talk, then do a writing prompt together. From those calls, I got writing practice, some desperately needed human connection and a reminder of who I am from someone who knows me better than almost anyone. (A threefer, I guess.)

New Job: I started a new job in 2017 that pays much better than my old one and offers better opportunity for professional growth. It also brought new friends, a new area of SoCal to explore and an hour-long commute, which seemed like a minus until I started thinking of it like this: each day, my commute affords me a couple hours of solitude in which to listen to audiobooks, music and podcasts…which brings me to…

Podcasts: I found some podcasts that I love. Thank Oprah for Super Soul Conversations which has featured some of my heroes including Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, and my new guy, Shawn Achor, whose book The Happiness Advantage is first on my reading list for 2018.

The Story Intensive: Christina recommended an online writing course called The Story Intensive that I completed in the fall. It was difficult and uncomfortable, and I learned a lot about my writing and myself. I also wound up with new writing friends around the world, a draft of a short story of which I’m fairly proud, and a renewed relationship with writing.

Morro Bay Girls: Out of the blue, I got an invitation to spend the weekend at a beach house in Morro Bay (on the Central California coast) with three cool women, none of whom I knew well (outside of Facebook) before that weekend. Just hanging around those girls in that sleepy, beautiful place was a balm to my heart. We’re having a replay this weekend and I can’t wait.

Last night, I was ranting about what a terrible year it was; how glad I was to see it go…and this morning, after making this list, I realized that there was a lot to be grateful for. I want to notice the good things in real time and not let the pain of life cancel out all the joy. So, more lists, I say! Lists every day! Notice the good things, document them, celebrate them. Train my brain to be constantly on the lookout for what’s positive.

Happy New Year—regardless of what kind of year it turns out to be—let’s be happy in 2018.

The Shower Spider

I would like to begin this post by saying that I am, for the most part, a normal, grownup lady, and as such, I keep a reasonably clean house and have fairly respectable standards of housekeeping. If you were to show up at my house right now, it’d be a little messy, but for the most part there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Except for one spot. There’s one shameful spot that I cannot bring myself to clean: the window ledge above my shower. I never look directly at it, because it’s creepy as hell, but out of the corner of my eye I see enough: stringy clouds of webs, dried-up bug carcasses, and one enormous, jet black spider. The muscly kind. There’s probably an hourglass involved but like I said, I can’t look directly at it.

If I stand on my tiptoes outside the shower, I can see her suspended in her web, a couple inches above the sill. I check to make sure she’s there every day, because if there is a big black spider in the vicinity, I prefer to be aware of its location. Once I’m in the shower, I can’t see her at all. She’s smart enough not to move while I’m in there.

I have zero tolerance for gross bugs like roaches or ants. Spiders are a little different. I have no love for spiders but I am not phobic. I can usually kill them by myself, so long as they are not particularly jumpy or menacing. Usually I don’t kill them, unless they break the rules* or scare my daughter, but in general, if they stay out of my way, I allow them to live.

*The rules for spiders sharing my home is that they are not permitted to exceed the diameter of a quarter with all their legs extended, and they are not to present at eye level, occupy my bed, traverse the ceiling above my bed, or ever touch me for any reason. Because the spider who lives in my shower honors these conditions (except for the size limit, maybe, but she has the sense to keep her legs tucked up so I can’t be sure), she has lived there for several years.

I realize that it is probably not the exact same spider that I first became aware of sometime in 2015, but likely her descendant. I read Charlotte’s Web so I know a fair amount about the spider life cycle and I know they don’t live that long. I think they can only live long enough to save one pig, go to the county fair and make an egg sac, then they die.  Maybe this one has lived a little longer because there aren’t any pigs in our neighborhood, but still—there have been at least three county fairs since she moved into my window sill, and I found an egg sac on my shower pouf once, so she should have been long gone by now. We are probably on Shower Spider III or IV, I’m guessing.

Further evidence of multiple spider iterations: once, a big, black spider did crawl down the wall of the shower and when I opened the door to get in, it was at eye level. Since it broke the rules, I grabbed a flip flop and smashed it.  (Rules are rules.) Surprisingly, killing it made me sad. I came out of the bathroom in my towel and announced to my daughter, “After all these years, I just killed the spider that lives in my shower.” And she expressed sadness, too, despite her very real fear of spiders. I was a little blue as I showered that day, thinking that my old friend was gone, but the next day, there she was, in her web above the window sill! So I must have killed an imposter spider! My shower spider was either very happy that I wiped out the competition, or sad that I took out one of her kids. I’ll never know.

Once I had a boyfriend who hung around long enough to hear about the shower spider, and he offered to kill her for me. But I knew that boyfriend was terrified of spiders and he was just trying to be manly. I didn’t have the heart to ask him to overcome that fear for me, so I told him not to bother killing her. The truth is that I have mixed feelings about killing the spider because we almost have a relationship now. (The spider and I have the relationship, that is. That boyfriend is long gone.) It’s not exactly fondness, just sort of a mutual respect. She’s probably more afraid of me than I am of her. I mean, she has seen me naked every day for the last several years. She probably doesn’t like to look over the edge of the window sill during that seven-minute period of the day, either.

Sometimes I think about what would happen if I die, and people were cleaning out my house. “That Meg had a pretty nice house,” they’d say, “but what’s up with that disgusting window ledge above the shower?” And that’s fine…judge all you want, post-mortem house cleaners. Just don’t kill my spider.

Unless I died by spider bite, of course. In that case, the flip flops are right outside the shower door.