Thursday, January 21, 2010


I took to falling down last week -- last week! it feels like years ago.

Once I stubbed my toe on an uneven sidewalk. I went down on my face, nicked my forehead, bruised both knees, grazed my hands. Two nights later I got my feet tangled in a hump of bad sidewalk and did it again, bruising my chin. The night after that, I got tangled between two cars and fell hard to my knees. There was a snap. My left ankle plumped out like a sponge. I could feel my right knee bleeding. It was a difficult walk home.

It was clear I couldn't walk Daisy let alone my usual coterie of dogs. She went off to Uncle and Auntie's house the next afternoon. Boomer's mom brought ice packs and groceries and the name of her podiatrist, then walked me over on Tuesday.

The x-rays did not show a fracture. It's worse: a very very bad sprain. I'm in a boot that I'm allowed out of to shower -- and no weight on the foot in the shower -- and I'll be in it for a month. The doctor was very stern: if I don't wear this Frankenstein foot for a month, I'll be in the hospital.

And I can't afford the hospital. That's why I waited two-and-a-half days to have it treated: I can't afford the ER either.

For a day or two I enjoyed being at loose ends. I'm making friends with television. I have a lot of sedentary work to do. Marian Keyes's new novel comes out today.

Right now, however, I would kill for a nap but am afraid I'd be too groggy for the AOL podcast I'm doing at four. I should be working on my book proposal but I'm oddly shaky. Is it restlessness channeling as nervousness? Post-morning dose of vicoden jitters? Yes, but it's more because I have a dangerous lump in my throat.

I miss my dawg! I miss her friends! I know I can't walk her yet and I know it would not be good for her to come and visit only to be towed away again. She's such a mama's girl that way. Much as she misbehaves for me, she freaks out when anyone else holds her leash, even when I'm right there. She would be depressed if she had to go away again.

My father isn't helping, either. Saturday night, when all I wanted was his take on whether my ankle was broken or not, he wandered off into an announcement that he thought he'd buy a foreclosure house in the Phoenix area and rent it to me. I'm seriously considering moving there so this was a lovely piece of news. By Tuesday he was announcing that he's selling his house in Arizona and moving permanently to back Montana. My head is still spinning.

Were my choice of geography up to me, I'd be moving to Seattle. I have a lot of friends there, and a lot of relatives. It's a real city. It's beautiful. The weather, while dim, is not often given to extremes.

Phoenix became real at Christmas. I could help my dad out. It's inexpensive. I know some people in the area. There is someone I'd like to know on a more consistent, lazy basis. As soon as I proposed this consistent lazy -ship and was not, to my dismay, discouraged, I wanted to A) vomit, and B) move to Ballyhillion on the northern most tip of Ireland. I'm frightened of being hurt. I'm frightened of myself -- of needing anyone, of my jealousies, of my insecurities, of my conviction of lesser-than. I'm afraid of being shipwrecked in the desert.

And that's just me. What's on the other side waiting to be frightened of???

Having a house seemed like a nice reason to go to Phoenix. I could board dogs and grow roses. I'd be near my father and old friends. A house seemed to equal something like a Life, making a -ship less loaded and back to lazy. I'm bereft at the loss what never was, at my father's move back to Montana, at...this thing I don't trust will leave me unscathed.

Then again, not having the obligation of being a tenant makes me free to pick up and flee to Seattle whenever I want.

Right now it's compounded by working on a new book proposal. I want to write essays about the non-weight side of my life. Funny essays. I need at least one to put it in my agent and editor's hands. I'm working on a piece about my father, who is a very funny man and a very quirky one. Unfortunately, I'm not finding him funny today. I feel betrayed both by his Saturday announcement and by the thought that he'll be in Missoula. The relationship I've had with him is about to change all over again and I'm finding that hard to cope with in the wake of losing my mother, losing my dog, losing my foot and my dread of losing a friendship to a -ship.

This blog is a procrastination, meant to keep me awake until I have to call AOL and productive while I ignore "Pa de Deux". Ironically, this is very painful to write and the essay is about how my father lives on his own planet. I'm calling this hoped-for collection Me: A User's Guide. If I do a good enough job, it should serve as a handbook for how to get money, tears and keys out of me. I hadn't intended for the piece about Dad to do more than entertain and teach a reader about what it means to be a Kuffel. I hadn't intended to work on it while feeling the earth shift under my one good foot.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Weird & Better

I've been back for eleven days after visiting my father in Arizona over Christmas. They've been jittery with publication obligations, which sometimes leave me deer-in-the-headlights about things like putting my luggage away (finished THAT this morning) or opening the Christmas cards that came while I was away (I don't even know where they are now). In the mean time, life rushes on & I've neglected Car on the Hill for other spaces & there are things I want to say about my life that belong here.

I went to Arizona not knowing what to expect of the first Christmas without Mother. Would I cry the entire time? Would I sleep & eat the entire two weeks to escape the misery? Would Dad want me to spend the time doing non-Christmas things? I had a couple of TV spots & a radio interview lined up, as well as a friend & a cousin to see, & my social life increased late in the game when another cousin, the sister of my Phoenix cousin, came to stay for a couple of days as well. Dad began to fret about her visit. Where would she sleep? What would she want to eat? Would he like her?

The approach was a little fraught, then, with questions. Little did I think I would learn more about my relationship with my mother by her absence than I had in the 53 Christmases we'd spent together.

I believe 2009 stands as the most pleasant Christmas in memory.

I couldn't put up certain ornaments: they were too laden with association, too much Mom's. But Dad wanted me to put up the tree, of which he could only see the blur of the lights, & when we sat looking at it, I described what ornaments stood out, which I think he liked. I brought out two new holiday CDs & he loved If Mozart Wrote White Christmas, playing it well beyond the 25th. I did some cookie baking and took a bag to the Christmas Eve dinner we spent with old friends, & he asked me to make extra copies of calendars as gifts, which our friends enjoyed. (I did two this year, at Shutterfly which has a sort of scrapbook/caption capacity: "2003 in Lab Years" had dog quotes; 2010 Flowers had seasonal floral quotes. One of my dog walking clients cried over the dog quotes.)

Friends were kind enough to send my gifts to Arizona so I had things to open on Christmas afternoon. Dad loved the bottle of obscure & hugely expensive rum I brought out (opened it on the spot & took two big swigs). I wasn't sure he'd want gifts but after some phlegmatic responses he gave into his greedy side & I set about finding the best I could. I made seafood casserole & a faux yule log that is delicious. It was a quiet day. He watched football & I read Laurie Notaro's An Idiot Girl's Christmas and Augusten Burroughs's You Better Not Cry, which did, in fact, produce copious crying from me.

The visit was pretty much like that. Low key. Smaller but in the spirit of our years together. Together but separate.

Therein lies the insight: that together but separate.

When my mother was alive, life was together but divisive. She hated his sports, his documentaries, his Library of Congress books for the blind, so Dad retreated to their bedroom to watch TV & listen to his tapes through his headphones. Dinner had to be early because later upset Mom's stomach & meds, & my father's historical disinterest in talking at the table is abetted by tracheal problems, leaving Mom hungry for conversation, which fell on my shoulders. In the last few years she had less to contribute but more greed of me than ever.

While Dad hung out in the bedroom, Mom napped through Oprah & her knock-off line up, then on to Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and the news. Somehow she had the idea that I loved those shows, or would if only she could get me to sit down & watch. She never did remember from visit to visit that I spend the half hour of Wheel calling out "Bankrupt! Bankrupt!" & she got furious with my father during Jeopardy because he sat there rattling off the answers.

Bookended with the Dr. Phil white trash problems, I felt like I was living in a trailer on the moon.

Dad's come out of the bedroom now. Football & boxing are such a steady roar that I can ignore them. I enjoy listening to his tapes -- we spent the days leading up to Christmas with Magellan's voyage and the smell of butter cookies.

I certainly ate too much but in the past I would wake in the middle of the night and go out to the kitchen and take a pile of crap back to bed. Every night. This time I engaged in this garbagey behavior perhaps four times. I ate less during the day, & had two day-long comas (the day after Christmas, the day I had an 8 a.m. TV gig that I got up before first light to drive the unfamiliar route to & then spent my vertical time running to the toilet).

The house felt quieter despite the roar of television or talking book or CD (Dad is quite deaf, even with hearing aids). He didn't expect me to watch football with him & I was involved in his books or enjoying his music. Our tastes are similar & we met up with each other when they coincided. Even then, however, we each live on our own planet, which we understand & wave to each other from.

This is not to say he can't be demanding & it drives both my brother & me crazy to be doing one thing for him only to find him next to us with a request to do something else, spoken in the sort of voice that we have to take a breath & ask, "Can it wait?"

But I found, in the absence of my mother, that I was more intact. I felt an expectation from her, rightly or not, to give ALL my words to her. I'm 53 & ever-single, a writer & dog-walker: I don't have that many words to say out loud. I know I was the light of her life but it evolved into a cost to my body & my self-respect & my energy, & I used food-induced comas to escape whatever it was I felt I should & probably wasn't giving her.

I love my mom...but I can live with my dad.

At least I came home with fodder for therapy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Things are going fast if not furious here. I'm trying to keep notes on what it's like to publish a book and you can find them at my website,, if you're interested.

You'll find out about getting sucked into the Fat Wars, misinterpretations, how publicizing a book has changed and how much time it now takes, how my life has turned from being a Writer to an Author.

I have tons of things to say that belong on Car on the Hill, but right now I have to walk some dogs.