by Carolyn

the eyelid

June 14, 2013 in essays, nonsense by Carolyn

Two weeks ago I developed a twitch in my upper left eyelid. When I mention this to people, they raise their eyebrows and look
at me like I’ve just told them I’m planning to adopt a seventh cat, or that I am psychic. I’ve clearly crossed a line.

“That’s stress,” they say, their brows floating upward and jaws dropping to emphasize the seriousness of the diagnosis. “I know,” I reply. My eyelid spasms.

I am a complainer. My ideal conversation is one in which I detail the ways people have inconvenienced me through ignorance or spite, describe how I am struggling to function under the burdens I carry, and rant about how expensive it all is. The other person may nod or make sympathetic noises during the most moving passages. But no matter how Job-esque I appear, my tales of woe never elicit the kind of response I get when I tell someone my eyelid is twitching. The physical manifestation of the pressure I’m under is more impressive than anything I might say about my life, probably because instead of listening sympathetically, they’re waiting for their turn to complain. (I can’t blame them. If you want to watch me collapse in on myself or possibly time-travel, get me complaining about listening to people complain.) The twitching eyelid is a real-life example of the old writing advice, “Show, don’t tell.” It conveys the essence of my situation to someone without all the tiresome prose. (Bless you if you are still reading.)

The day it started, I asked James if he could see my eyelid moving. He gave me an appraising look, and the lid instantly fell still. “Nope,” he said, and looked away. It resumed its flopping.

“How about now? Look now!” I said. He looked. It played dead.

It was taunting me. Not only was the twitch a symptom of stress, it was itself an antagonist bent on steadily eroding my patience and sanity, like Chinese water torture. To the casual observer I would appear normal, but gradually I would become trapped in the prison of my mind. My cell would have two windows; the blinds on the left would be constantly fluttering.

Turning, of course, to Google, I discovered that the top five causes of twitchy lid syndrome* are stress, tiredness, eye strain, caffeine and alcohol. Well, there you have it. It’s a wonder I’ve never encountered TLS** before. I like to think of myself as a complex person, nuanced as a fine wine, but this list comes pretty close to capturing me. I was a little confused about the caffeine and alcohol, since I had recently cut way back on coffee in order to save money, and my alcohol consumption has been practically nonexistent since I became a parent. Maybe the eyelid demons keep track of past use and hold it against you?

To cure a twitchy lid, one needs rest, relaxation, time away from the computer, and a reduction of caffeine and alcohol intake. I also read that drinking tonic water can help. Since I was feverishly working to submit my last packet of schoolwork for the semester, there was no chance I could rest, relax, or look away from the computer. (I do mean feverishly, because I had managed to get sick, too. As I said: Job-esque.) Because I had already all but stopped drinking coffee I was pretty sure that couldn’t be what was causing it, so I started drinking it again. I figured that no matter how much I drank it would be moderate compared to my previous levels of consumption. Also, I needed it. I wasn’t drinking any alcohol either, but I couldn’t think of a way to justify upping my intake, so I left it alone.

On Monday, my body failed me. I woke up with a terrible headache and decided to stay home. I tried to revise a paper for school, but every time I looked at the computer my eyelid went into a frenzy. I spent the day lying on the couch, reading a book. On Wednesday, I finished my packet and sent an email to my advisor. Immediately I felt the stress melting off me. At last, I could go to bed at a reasonable hour and get some rest. Instead, I celebrated by going out with some friends. That’s relaxing, right? I also drank two rather strong gin & tonics. If they weren’t exactly eyelid-healing, at least the beneficial tonic water canceled out the negative effects of the alcohol.

I haven’t gotten rid of my twitchy eyelid yet. I think it’s getting better, but I can’t be sure. It was bad while I was writing this, but then again I’m staring at a computer screen at 12:15 AM, beer in hand, stressing out over how to end this piece, so I’m not sure I should have expected anything else. Maybe I should see a doctor about it, but it’s so damned expensive.

*Not a real syndrome.
**Again, not a real syndrome.

If you want to see a fantastic animation of a twitchy eyelid, click here. Scroll down a bit. You’re welcome.

by Carolyn

let’s have a song

June 8, 2013 in music by Carolyn

In an effort to revive my dormant music obsession, I’m going to post songs that are doing it for me at the moment.

Songs with French titles and/or lyrics get an automatic leg up. Because I said so.

by Carolyn


April 27, 2013 in parenting, the Grey by Carolyn

Adults over-think pretend. Or, at least, I do. I think of it like this: The pretender selects a person, animal, mythical beast, machine or inanimate object to embody. He or she will move (or not move) as his or her fantasy subject moves (or doesn’t move). The pretender will make the sounds their subject makes (or doesn’t make). Using the subject’s primary occupation – a profession, perhaps, or magical activity, or pursuit of smaller prey animals – a narrative is constructed, which the pretender acts out using any necessary props. Additional characters may be added and can be played by peers or nearby parents, or by the sole pretender him or herself. The length and structure of the narrative depend on the fruitfulness of the material and on the stamina of the pretender. The story is limited only by the pretender’s imagination, so the more far-fetched, the better.

For the Grey, pretend is this: stirring the air in an empty pot with a yellow plastic spoon. Or shining a flashlight on the ceiling and calling its circle of light the moon. Or lying on the couch with his eyes open, snoring. Or waving a sock at me and saying, “It’s a spider! It’s a spider!”

One of his favorite pretend scenarios is “going to Alice’s.” For you non-Homer folk, that’s a local bar and restaurant. He pronounces Alice’s “Assa-whiz,” which is an improvement over what it used to be, which was “Auschwitz.” I’m not sure why he latched onto Alice’s as the place to be – maybe because every time we drive by we say, “There’s Alice’s, where Uncle Dan works!”, or maybe because his grandparents have dinner there a lot – but it is tied for number one as his preferred location. (His other favorite is the store.) “Bye! I’m going to Assa-whiz!” he announces, and then he pushes his yellow plastic grocery cart into the bedroom and parks it between my side of the bed and the window. This is Assa-whiz. Once he has arrived he stands next to his cart for a moment, looking thrilled to be there, and then the game is over. He can repeat it several times before he moves on to the next amusement.

Much of the Grey’s pretend consists of pushing his toy cars and trucks while he talks to them about what’s going on. “Hey look, a car! Down the hill, up the hill, down the hill… oh no, what happened? There’s a rock! Want to go in the cart? Okay! Where did it go? Oh where, oh where?” Sometimes his patter includes things I have said to him. He enjoys the power of scolding his toys and telling them what to do. It’s not exactly flattering to hear instructions you gave without thinking two days ago repeated verbatim by a scornful two-year-old. Am I really that micro-managing? But I don’t mind too much. It can be the only indication I get that he was listening to me at all. So when he tells his stuffed monkey dressed in floral pajamas, “No! Don’t go in the street! Or cars will bump you!” I consider it a small victory.

Perhaps his sweetest pretend scenario is “putting Mama to bed.” He gets me to lie down, then drags a blanket over me and brings me stuffed animals to snuggle. He asks if I’d like to sing a song, so I do. Sometimes he sings along. Then he creeps out of the room and closes the door behind him. He still sleeps with his pacifier, which he insists must be blue, so after a pause he shouts from outside the bedroom, “Want a blue ‘fier?”

The Grey’s version of pretend turns out to be more mundane than mine, and yet it is somehow infinitely more magical. His ambitions are easily achieved. The limitations of his size, age, and experience disappear. Watching him when he is absorbed in his play, I can see his brain and imagination working so clearly, there may as well be light shining out of his ears. He just gives his thoughts a little push and they are off, spinning and twirling and whirring, cranking out achingly human enchantment.

by Carolyn

dust to dust

April 19, 2013 in Homer, the Grey by Carolyn

It is finally spring. I know this because when I sent my son outside to play with his Llauma* he came back covered in dust. Covered like he was a caramel apple dipped in crushed almonds, but instead of something delicious and sweet, his face and hands were crusted over with grey dirt and tiny pieces of gravel. We stripped his clothes off, including his socks, which left grey dust circles around his ankles. “I was going to say that his pants don’t look that dirty,” James said, “but then I realized he’s not wearing his grey pants, he’s wearing blue jeans.”

I know that when most people think of spring, they don’t think of dust. They might think of mud, or tiny shoots of green, or flowering trees. But in Alaska spring isn’t a smooth and lovely transition from winter to summer. Instead of a beautiful burst of life, spring is winter’s messy, protracted death. Everything that has been frozen in snow and ice for six months – grass, leaves, old receipts, animal excrement – is uncovered and begins to rot in the above-freezing temperatures. There is a pervasive smell of dog shit and decay. And in ditches, parking lots, driveways and cul-de-sacs, piles of snow dwindle, exposing half-a-year’s worth of sludge. It’s left over from sander trucks that toss dirt onto icy roads. The layers build up during the countless cycles of snow-melt-freeze, sprayed up from our studded tires to coat the berms. It’s one of my least favorite sights of winter: old, filthy snow. Used snow. Garbage snow. But there always seems to be a fresh layer to cover it up.

At least until April. Then there is only dust, the dried-out and crumbling husk of another dead winter. I won’t mourn its passing. I’m ready for the big, green leaf-and-life-explosion of summer to come.

*Llauma is what we call his grandma Laura.

by Carolyn

Weekend escapism

January 19, 2013 in Francophilia, lovely, Paris by Carolyn

I tried posting this earlier in the week, but had technical difficulties. I’m giving it another shot.

Betty in Paris 1

There comes a point after Christmas and after New Year’s when I’m picking spruce needles out of my socks. It’s 37 degrees and the streets are melting glaciers except where they are potholes. I wake up in the dark and I wish to be in Paris. Read the rest of this entry →