Good Night

I’ve been in need of comfort lately. The nights seem very long and are broken by hours of insomnia, during which I flop around the bed, sweating and fretting and reminding myself how shitty I’m going to feel at work the next day if I can’t get back to sleep. Last night is a case in point, because I woke at 12:30 and made an unsuccessful bid at reclaiming some of those lost hours, but had to throw in the towel at 4:00 and just get on with my day.

I’m like the rest of us, I assume, staring down the end of the world, trying to imagine how on earth these egomaniacs in charge of things are ever going to calm the fuck down and return to their corners and disentangle themselves and the rest of us from the almighty mess they have created. I worry about climate change and earthquakes, fires and tsunamis, the little dog’s spine and the husband’s job, about that asshole at work on Friday and how the gap on Tuesday’s schedule never got filled. I worry about my kids and whether they’re happy, whether they’re healthy, whether what I said to my daughter when she was nine has stuck in her mind and caused her any harm. I worry about the food in the fridge and why I always end up with extra zucchini—zucchini bread, zucchini noodles, zucchini roasted with red onion and pepper and tossed with a lemony orzo, but do I have a red pepper, do I have any orzo—about the fact that I’m out of moisturizer and will have to use body lotion on my face until I can get some more. This is the nature of worry; it’s a devolution from the profound to the ridiculous, leaving no concern unturned.

Sometimes it helps to switch on the TV at night and listen to a documentary I’ve played a hundred times before. One of my favorites is a Netflix special called A Trip to Infinity, which discusses, as you might imagine, the nature of infinity, the idea that you can always count one more. I find the scale of the universe an inexpressible comfort on nights like these. The idea of our smallness, of life’s infinite chances to flourish elsewhere, the finite lifespan even of our lonely blue planet, which will turn and turn and be warmed and cooled like the living body it is—all of this is liberating. Mind-opening. It takes the pressure off, just knowing that we can’t know, vivid though our imaginings might be. The truth is so vast and the universe so mysterious, so haunting and lovely, that even our most frightening realities here on Earth can’t dim its spectral light.

Of course our worries are still real. We aren’t operating at the scale of planks or planets, we’re people, who have zucchini in the fridge and war in the backyard. But for me it helps to place our lives in the cosmos and let some of that shit go for a while. Others would say, Give it to God. I would rephrase, though the sentiment is pretty close.

Dawn is coming. The day will bring whatever it does. And it will be okay.

Microfiction VI

Little Dog, Big Dog

The little dog barges through the door like a boss. Teasing, we leave just the crack of an opening, into which he shoves his nose and then the rest of him, a triumph of an entrance! The big dog, aching to follow, becomes trapped on the threshold, one paw inside and three paws out, suspicious of his welcome, though we are pressed to the wall and murmuring reassurance, but no, he’s back in the yard, circling the runway, as it were, to make another try, and it’s two paws in this time, it’s progress, but no, he’s back in the yard with an expression of dejected reproach, and now he won’t budge though we call and call, and the wind is sharp and we’ve become exasperated, You have lived here for three years, you silly creature, so we close the door and leave him out there, shivering, while the little dog eats the big dog’s lunch.


I spent the day with my little dog, Henry. He’d been unwell and was clearly in a lot of pain. Wouldn’t come back inside the house from the yard, refused to go for a walk. We thought he might have hurt a paw, or maybe had some kind of GI thing going on. We made an appointment for Friday, the first-available slot with his vet, but by Tuesday he wasn’t eating or drinking, so on Wednesday morning I took him to the doggy ER.

It turns out he’s got a herniated disc in his back. There’s not a lot we can do for it at this point—steroids and painkillers, with a backup supply of sedatives if he starts getting frisky. He’s supposed to lay low for a while. No jumping, no stairs. Hopefully after some rest he’ll be able to join me for some Henry-sized walks around the neighborhood, but it’s hard to say what the long-term prognosis will be. He’s about ten years old and has always been a bouncy little guy, the kind of dog you think will live for years and years. But now I’m less than sanguine about his future.

This is the hardest part of owning a pet. You have to make these awful decisions on their behalf, and the family finances have got to be factored in. I absolutely hate that. Of course the impulse is to say, yes, please, do whatever you can, whatever will keep him going, whatever it costs. But it’s not realistic. The ER visit was $1300, so I can’t imagine what a major spinal surgery would cost and entail, with no guarantee of a positive outcome.

I know it makes me a shitty person, maybe an irresponsible pet owner, to think about money in a relationship which is so purely about love. I have a friend who spends more per month on her dogs’ medications than she actually earns at her job. She’s been doing so for years. This is an admirable level of devotion, but I’m torn when I consider a situation like that for my family. Would it really be for the best? That constant drain? You’d be able to say you did everything you could, and that’s important. Yet I can’t see myself sacrificing every hour of every workday to provide meds for my dog, and retirement be damned.

God, it’s hard to know. Henry’s curled up beside me, drugged and sleepy, glancing over now and then from the corner of his eye. He trusts me to take care of him, and I’m trying.

Be okay, Hen. I hope you’ll be okay.

Flash Fiction II

Only Flowers

It’s quiet today. Damp and hushed, with only a soft weeping of rain on the pavement and the distant hum of traffic, still thready at this hour of the day. I pass under a stone arch, shadowed with water and laced with budding vines that drip into my hair as I cross underneath. In the summer, the trellis and low wall will be smothered with clematis and jasmine, constantly at war with the invasive ivy that the groundskeepers seem unable to quell. For now we have the bubbled stalks of grape hyacinth, swaths of daffodil, cherry trees as pink as cotton candy. The creek at the bottom of the hill is thick with caramel-colored water as it weaves between the pines.

I wonder whether someone planned the Seussian landscape particularly for this part of the graveyard, where the children are strewn under miniature headstones and the grass-stroking leaves of a willow. I have never walked around the rest of the cemetery, so I don’t know whether the larger graves are decorated or left alone. Here we adorn them with small bouquets, and there are stuffed animals, pinwheels, and fallen balloons dotted across the grounds, as if a party has ended abruptly and the detritus left out in the rain. I used to bring that sort of thing myself, but now I make a point of bringing only flowers. The sodden toys depress me, lying corpselike on the grass, and I often wish they’d been given to living children instead. The flowers are something different, and rot more gracefully than the poor abandoned bears lying slumped against the graves.

I open my bag and use a pair of rounded scissors to strip the daisies of their grocery-store cellophane and the thick rubber bands that hold them together. I like the way they tumble loose across the grass, stems crossing, their faces turned to the sky.


I’m blocked. I know we’re not supposed to say that, lest we manifest, but I’m staring at the wall and have no idea how to get over or through. It’s difficult to explain the misery of this to someone who doesn’t write, but for me it’s akin to a protracted channel surf in which, out of hundreds of options, you can’t find anything to watch.

I’m in my own way. I can’t get a full sentence on the page before returning it to the void and wishing I could follow. Nothing’s good enough, even for a draft. Nothing feels right. I hate my voice, my ideas, my characters. I hate trying to choose a story. Because everything’s a story, or could be, right? Everything is something. The volume of ideas is paralyzing, and makes me small in comparison. I hate how sensitive I am to my own shortcomings, how prone to despair. I hate myself for rereading Lydia Davis, who wrote a mesmerizing story (is it a story?) about three cows in a field. Another story about some weirdo at a party, and one called The Piano Lesson, in which the lesson never occurs. I don’t know what her stories are about, exactly, but I never doubt that she does. She’s a wonderful writer, and I hate myself for not being her.

Look, I know. We are what we are, and gnashing one’s teeth at the work of a better writer is counterproductive. We should learn and be inspired, and I am. But part of inspiration is this influx of ideas, which can swamp the engine and undermine the whole creative process. You begin to take on the mindset of that esteemed writer, so the ideas, though legion, are not workable. They aren’t genuine. They are apparitions of the writer we would like to be, following a line of thought and a collection of interests that are not natural but are better, lovelier, so that our own ideas become exasperating and silly and no longer worth writing.

I am literally overwhelmed by admiration. I don’t know what to do with it, so I walk around in a haze of insomnia and wistfulness, writing and deleting what I’ve written, comparing my lurid interests to the delicately rendered observations of Lydia Fucking Davis.

Sis, you’re killing me.

100-Word Microfiction V


He doesn’t know, can’t know, what riddles he’s leaving in his wake. The warm Bud Lights on the counter, muddy clothes on the bedroom floor. His wallet is here, glasses are here. The car, gone. They’ll wonder when they find it, and examine all its contents, but the car is old and has little to report. These objects can’t explain as he would: This was a regular day and I never make the bed, and I meant those beers for later, but then I forgot, and hey did you happen to find my Aquaman keychain, because that’s been gone forev—


I read the news today. Thousands of people buried under crumbling piles of concrete and metal, people screaming for help as the earth continues to judder and heave. Snow is falling. Freezing rain. It becomes difficult, thinking of it, to stretch the mind toward misery as acute as this. I saw a little girl carried aloft by a sea of men whose hands are raised in thanks and prayer and I thought, oh, she’s smiling, thank god, until I rotated the photograph and realized it was a grimace of pain.

Cruel as they are, these acts of nature can’t be avoided. Our planet is alive and moving, hurtling through space, rearranging its furniture. It’s too big and too old to care about the cracking rails of a child’s crib, about walls descending over dinner tables and marriage beds, about the snow it sends to bury people who were busy and laughing yesterday. The Earth is not like Putin, doing it all on purpose.

Here in America, on another plane of existence, we’re discussing whether or not it’s okay to notice that Madonna now looks like a frog. She’s a victim of our beauty-obsessed culture, apparently, instead of one of its authors. We’re not allowed to talk about the role of vanity in this transformation, or how it might be better to evolve out of this thirsty quest for youth and try to become a human, and grow the fuck up, and accept the limitations time places on all of us. I don’t feel sorry for Madonna.

I feel sorry for that little girl and the men who saved her. For the life they were living before the quake and whatever fate befalls them now. For the people of Ukraine, trying to sleep under an explosive sky. I feel sorry for the broken backs and the buried children, for the mothers whose arms are empty tonight.

Sisters, I hope you find your babies. I hope you find some peace.