The Professor

I never had much time for drummers back when I was a regular musician. They’re so loud and irritating, always bashing sticks into things or tapping out beats on any available surface. The only time I really appreciated the drum was in jazz band, when they’d use brushes instead of sticks, making for a much more pleasant backdrop to the real instruments, like saxophone.

Then I started losing my hearing. For a musician, this is basically the universe’s way of saying, “hahaha choose another career path, asshole. We already have a Beethoven.” So, while losing my hearing wasn’t the only reason why I abandoned music, it was and is a factor in why I don’t really play anymore.

I do still listen, though. The volume in my car and in my house is usually jacked up to the sky, but my hearing is no excuse for that, really. I was raised that way and if the music is too loud, it’s your fault, not mine. Get some earmuffs.

Losing the top third (more or less) of my hearing range has given me a much better appreciation for the work that drummers do. Along with the bass, the drums are the backbone of the band; they’re the creators of the framework that allows the more melodic instruments to do their thing. And there is nobody on earth better at this than Neil Peart of Rush. We can argue about who is a better drummer alllll day long, and you can give me examples and justifications until your voice is completely gone and you start to cry and hate life and contemplate ways to kill me and make it look like an accident, and you’ll still be wrong. Nobody on earth does it like The Professor does.

Take, for example, the isolated drum track to one of Rush’s best-known songs, Tom Sawyer:

Now, I’ve spent a great deal of time and money going to concerts, but I never got to see Keith Moon or John Bonham play live. I’m not THAT old. Many people argue that either or both of them are the “greatest” drummers ever, but I disagree. Both of these guys created and honed their own style (especially in Bonham’s case, which can be summed up as “1/16th behind the beat at all times because why not, also Jack Daniels”), and Neil Peart was influenced by both of them, but he has also looked to swing and jazz drummers to create a style that’s all his own. The Tom Sawyer track owes quite a bit to Led Zeppelin and Bonham, but the timing is absolutely impeccable. Peart is not only on the beat, he IS the beat.

Peart’s drumming took Rush to a completely different level, musically. They might have stayed a reasonably-competent, hard-rockin’ bar band, playing bars and clubs in the suburbs of Toronto – if not for the wildly uncontrolled diabetes of original drummer John Rutsey (not to mention the euphemistic “musical differences” that really meant “John has a drinking problem”). All apologies to the late Mr Rutsey, but the world is a better place because of the addition of Neil Peart to Rush.

I don’t think Rutsey, on his very best day, would have been able to tackle something like “The Trees.” This track starts in 6/8 time, spends a couple of measures in 3/4, then goes to 4/4, back to 6/8 (in 2 this time), pops to 2/4 for one measure (why the hell not), back to 4/4, then to 5/4 to give the other guys something to do. One more time to 3/4 and it ends in 4/4. There aren’t many rock drummers out there messing with the time signatures so flawlessly. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. My favorite jazz track is Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” which is in 5/4 and that is a pain in the ass to pay attention to, much less play. Sometimes you see it arranged in 4/4 to make it “easier” and you can tell because it just seems wrong. Playing in an odd time signature is no joke and not always the easiest thing to do.

And then there’s this:

YYZ is an instrumental track that showcases Neil Peart’s drums. His legendary kit is put to good use here, showing not only his drum skills but also the early days of his ever-growing collection of doodads which he uses to make all sorts of fantastic noises.

I’ve seen Rush in concert quite a few times now. I’m nowhere near being a super-fan, but I have a deep love and appreciation for The Gods of The North. The three of them are all virtuoso musicians and Neil Peart is the base on which they build. I can’t imagine what Rush would be, or rock & roll would be, had he not auditioned for Geddy and Alex way back in 1974. If there is a God, then Rush is proof that she is listening.

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MidtermPodcast Disaster

This is a rather roundabout way to do things, but after much screaming, here is our midterm podcast project thing.


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Time Makes You Bolder: A Glimpse

When I started making this list, I tried limit it to songs that are really important to me for whatever reason. I wanted to tell the story of my life as soundtrack. However, I ended up with 58 tracks and hadn’t even made it halfway through my life so I had to stop and think again. I suppose the list would be shorter if I were still 21. Alas.

Music has surrounded me for my entire life. My mom had a fantastic record collection and was a big fan of turning it up loud. I have very vivid memories of stomping out of my bedroom in the wee hours of the morning to say “Mommmmmmm turn the stereo down, I’m trying to sleeeeep.” Even now, I will be flipping stations and one of the songs from my childhood will be on and I’m immediately 4 years old again, all chubby cheeks and tousled hair. One such song is Goodbye Stranger from Supertramp. It’s off the wildly successful album Breakfast In America and every time I hear it, I’m about 5 years old, in the backseat of my mom’s gigantic green Thunderbird, and we’re coming home from somewhere. It’s late and I’m trying to sleep, but the radio is turned up so I can’t. I don’t mind.

I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and MTV is very much a part of my DNA. Before MTV, most people didn’t think music could also be visual, but in many ways it is. I’m not a synesthete, which is kind of a bummer because that sounds like a cool thing to be, but I do “see” music when I’m listening. Sometimes it’s abstract ideas of shapes and color, but other times, I get a really strong vision for a video. MTV’s influence on me cannot be overstated.

Back in 1995, the movie Batman Forever was about to be released and U2 had written a song for the Zooropa sessions a few years prior that would fit in nicely with director Joel Schumacher’s vision for the film. I was still a huge U2 superfan at the time, so I managed to get a hold of an early release and I immediately thought that the video for this track should be animated. LO AND BEHOLD, not two weeks later, the video was released and there it was, in all its comic book glory.

1995 isn’t going to go down as the greatest year of my life, and it’s one I would gladly forget if I could. But however bad things got, there was still music. As Morrissey sings in the song “Rubber Ring: “and don’t forget the songs/ that made you cry/ and the songs that saved your life…” there are more than a few songs that I credit with keeping me here on earth.

Nobody does mopey better than the Smiths and the closest Morrissey ever gets to offing himself is in the song “Asleep.” He says “sing me to sleep/ sing me to sleep/ I’m tired and I/ I want to go to bed/” and later he wails “Don’t try to wake me in the morning/ ’cause I will be gone.” He asks the listener not to feel bad for him because he’s glad to go, and knows there is another world. Well, he thinks so, anyway. The idea that it’s okay to feel like this is like catnip to a moody teenager.

Before I was a moody teenager, I was what they now call a “tween,” and the best thing to happen to tweens in my boring Ohio town was the Friday-night dance party in the Methodist Church fellowship hall. It was called The Belfry, it cost $2 to get in, and it was the literal best thing ever. From 7th through 10th grade, the place was full of sweaty tweenagers dancing and flirting and HAVING DRAMA. It was GLORIOUS. Every time I hear Salt ‘n’ Pepa singing “Push It,” I am immediately transported back to that sweaty church hall, smelling like Love’s Baby Soft and Rave hairspray, dancing with my friends and not caring about anything else in the world. It’s been over two and a half decades since my last appearance at The Belfry, but I still get my dance on when Salt ‘n’ Pepa tell me to.

Lots of teenage romance at The Belfry, but not really any of my own. I was solidly on Team Dork until well into my high school years. But every now and again, there would be a boy or two who didn’t find me scary and we’d date for awhile. I started listening to Rush because of a boy and while he didn’t last, the three dorky guys from Canada have been with me for years now. When my husband and I were first dating, Rush put out a new album and, like a good girlfriend, I went with What’s-His-Name to stand in line at the record store so we could buy it at the midnight release. Then we went to a “pre-ticket” party thing where we had to endure lip-syncing contests, air guitar, air drum, and a room full of dudes dorkier than I’d ever been in order to get tickets. 10th row center was worth it, and even moreso when I turned to What’s-His-Name and said “they’re going to open with Dreamline.” He disagreed and thought they’d open with something off this new album and we bet $50 on it. I’m still waiting to collect my $50.

You can’t really dance to Rush. I’ve tried. I don’t have any real dance moves anyway – most of the time I look like I’m about to fall down. It’s fine. Anyway, after we all outgrew The Belfry, we found another place that did “Alternative Night” on Wednesdays in the summertime. My friends and I would get all goth-ed out in our ripped tights and babydoll dresses and scary boots and we’d go pogo and mosh and stomp around to the likes of The Clash, Joy Division, Siouxie and the Banshees, and Jane’s Addiction. Our parents didn’t get it, but then again, they weren’t meant to. We were free, man.

Eventually, I grew up, What’s-His-Name and I got married, and we did all kinds of adult-type things like buy cars and a house and have a kid. I still don’t think I’m ready for parenthood, but she’s ten years old now, so by the time I’m ready for her, she’ll be in college. When she was tiny, and didn’t speak English, she would spend hours screeching at me for being an inadequate human. To calm her down, I’d sing Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 jam, “Crazy.” Whether it was the song itself or my incredibly terrible singing, she would calm down and put me lower on the priority kill list that I know she has stashed somewhere.

I’m getting older now, and my hearing is starting to go at an alarming rate. I’ve worn hearing aids for the last ten years and I HATE THEM but the alternative is almost total deafness, which is not the most super-fun thing in the world. The upside is that I appreciate bass players a lot more than I used to, and speaker technology has improved quite a bit so I can turn it up as loud as I need to. People complain, but I don’t care. If it’s too loud, you’re too old.

This is in no way an exhaustive musical biography. A complete list would be pages and pages long, each song with a story or a smile to go with it. Someday, I’ll write my life story and book technology will probably be advanced enough that I can attach a soundtrack to it so you can listen along with me as we go. Until then, I have over 30,000 tracks in my iTunes library. These are just a few of them.

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A Good Time Was Had By All

Grown-up Adult Me and Childish Idiot Me are frequently at odds with one another. Adult Me will say things like “you really should stay home this weekend! Look at all the laundry that has piled up over the week! You have reading to do for your classes! Be responsible!” Childish Idiot Me says things like “but the friends are coming to visit the other friends and we should all be together! I want to go see the friends!” Adult Me says “but they’re all going to see some guy (Dean Ween) who is half of a band you are barely even aware of (Ween). You’ll be bored!” Idiot Me replies, “maybe, but there will be beer there so how bad can it be?”

Last weekend, Idiot Me won the argument (with a little help from my friends), and sometime on Saturday afternoon, I found myself in Asbury Park. My friend Heater had opened her home to friends who were coming into town from near and far, and when I got there brunch was about to happen.

Luckily, there was a grapefruit IPA available! Pairing the right beer with one’s meals is very important, especially if you’re making a day of it. The plan was to hang out at the house for a bit and then head down to the beach for the Asbury Park Indian Summer festival. It was the last big beach bash of the season and the Dean Ween Band was slated to headline a day of music.

I am not terribly familiar with Dean Ween or much of his music. I have vague memories of when Ween’s “Push th’ Little Daisies” came out but that was 1993 which was a rather tumultuous time in my world so I never really noticed or bothered much with Ween. The only exception is their song “Roses Are Free” which is covered regularly by Phish.

(The early 90s were even stranger than this video would have you think)

As it turns out, Ween has been around for awhile. School friends Mickey Melchiondo (Dean Ween) and Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween) met in typing class and started playing music together in 1984. Over the past 28 years, the duo (who are sometimes as large as a sextet) have sailed the seas of sound from the Prince-inspired “LMLYP” to a rejected Pizza Hut jingle called “Where’d The Cheese Go?

Along the way, they managed to gather one of the stronger cult followings in alternative rock. Fans of Ween aren’t quite so noticeable as Juggalos, but they are similar to that group in that they wholeheartedly embrace whatever weirdness the band chooses to produce.

The Dean Ween Group, however, isn’t really quite as “out-there” as I was expecting it to be. I had this image of it being even MORE weird and strange than I already believed Ween to be, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the majority of the Dean Ween Group tunes they played on the beach were more classic rock than crazy. I say this because, in my experience, side projects of weird bands tend to be extra strange (look at what Wayne Coyne gets up to when he’s not in The Flaming Lips, for example).

Since I was so unfamiliar with their music (and maaaaaybe a little drunk), the band initially wasn’t holding my interest very well. I’m sure the few [read: many] beers consumed over the course of the day had something to do with it, even if the beers DID help my dancing skills. At one point, Idiot Me decided it might be fun to go stick my feet in the waves crashing around us but Idiot Me misjudged it a bit and ended up wet to the knees. Whoops! I found out later from the other friends that I fell down quite a bit over the course of the evening, but that’s within normal limits for Grown-up Adult Me, who is bad at gravity.

I did try, though. One tune that caught my ear is a new one, called “Mercedes Benz.” A classic rocker with some funk elements had everyone up and grooving in the sand, which is surprisingly difficult to boogie in. The band was joined by local legend Billy Hector for a fantastic rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” which made my soul happy, not least because it was a song I recognized and by that point in the evening, Idiot Me was looking for things to hold on to, literally.

I’ve been to hundreds of shows, but only rarely do I go see a band I don’t know anything about. For me, the music is always the thing. For some, it’s the atmosphere. For others, it’s the scene. Once in awhile, you go to a show because your friends are going and you have a blast regardless of what’s going on up there on the stage. It helps when the band is good, and the Dean Ween Group is definitely that. They have an album coming out on October 21, and I think I’m going to pick it up. Then, if the Dean Ween Group are playing somewhere nearby, you might just find me there.

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Radical Reinvention: U2 Gets Over Themselves

By the end of 1989, U2 was the biggest band in the world. I was a huge fan, and had been ever since I was 7 years old and heard the October album for the first time (it helps to have a cool aunt). They had just completed a world tour documented by the movie and album Rattle and Hum, which spawned from the massively successful 1987 offering, The Joshua Tree. They were everywhere, all the time, and it was starting to be exhausting for both band and fans. They felt they’d done everything they could, musically, so the band threw themselves a New Year’s Eve party during which Bono told fans “It’s no big deal, it’s just — we have to go away and…and dream it all up again.

And so they did.

Achtung Baby is an album born of conflict and hope. U2 spent some time recording at the Hansa studios in Berlin between the fall of the Berlin wall and the official reunification of Germany in 1990. David Bowie had created some of his best work there and the band were hoping to be energized by the city that inspired both Bowie and Iggy Pop. However, while the country around them was making up, U2 were on the verge of breaking up. Despite long studio days, the band couldn’t decide on a musical direction and tensions were running high. Eventually, they found their way and the result is something that had never been heard before.

The opening track, Zoo Station, starts with a chainsaw of guitar that is answered with a crash of drums. Dark and electric, it sets the tone for the rest of the album. Bono’s vocals, usually loud and proud, were reduced to a highly-processed, breathy whisper-growl. This was not the U2 we had come to know, and they were determined to make that clear. U2, it seemed, had learned to dance.

The Fly was released as the first single in October 1991 ahead of the album proper, which arrived in stores on November 18th of that year. If ever there were a way to say “hey, things have changed around here,” this was it. With the lines “every artist is a cannibal/ every poet is a thief/ all kill their inspiration/ and sing about the grief” Bono was telling us what he and the band had done: they had killed the “old” U2. Gone were the cowboy hats and weird bolo ties and The Edge’s ponytail and heart-on-sleeve earnestness. In their place, we got shiny black leather, glitter, and the plastic fantastic feeling of having taken a sip from the wrong glass in the nightclub of your fever dreams. If the U2 of the 80s was a wholesome glass of milk, the U2 of the 90s was shaping up to be a glass of absinthe. “Forget everything you think you know about us,” it says. “This is something else entirely.”

Achtung Baby is, in many ways, an adult record. It is missing the big, youthful, in-your-face, capital letters DRAMA of their earliest work and it moves away from the “let’s all save the world” feeling of The Joshua Tree/Rattle & Hum. Achtung Baby has already seen the world and is equal parts amused by it (Even Better Than The Real Thing) and completely wearied by it (Love Is Blindness). It could be the soundtrack to a relationship breakup, even.

For example, Until The End of The World is the story of Jesus’ betrayal told from the point of view of Judas. They’re at a party, and “everybody havin’ a good time/ except you/ you were talking about the end of the world.” The song illustrates and underlines the fundamental incompatibility of two people who used to love each other. This theme is drawn out over the course of the album, and veers to a cold accusation in Acrobat (“and you must be/ an acrobat/ to talk like this/ and act like that”) from a resigned sort of acceptance in One (“we’re one/ but we’re not the same”). It’s the story of a band breaking up with itself.

25 years later, the musical landscape is very different but I think Achtung Baby has aged gracefully. U2 may not be the biggest or the best band in the world anymore, but they’re still together and still making music that is equal parts interesting and baffling. There have been a few missteps along the way (their most recent album comes to mind), and they’re not my favorite band anymore (we broke up, but that’s a post for another day), but U2, and this album in particular, are as much a part of me as my left thumb.

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The songs we sing in the shower tell us far more about ourselves than those we discuss in public. For example, the guy at the tattoo shop who is blasting Slayer? I can almost guarantee you that he knows all the words to The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.” Your next-door neighbor who will not stop with the Nine Inch Nails at all hours of the night? That guy has at least one, if not two Enya CDs. I know a guy who professes to be an opera lover and gets very snooty about other genres of music, but he knows all the words to “Miracles” from Insane Clown Posse. I have Phish stickers on my car, but am I belting out Corey Hart’s “Never Surrender” when it comes on the radio? You bet I am.

I used to believe very strongly in the idea of a “guilty pleasure.” According to Wikipedia, a guilty pleasure is “something, such as a film, a television program, or a piece of music that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard.” The important part of that definition is the word “feeling.” If you feel something isn’t worthy of your time, yet you devote time to it anyway, that’s what makes it a guilty pleasure. A guilty pleasure song is the aural equivalent of a Hot Pocket. You know it’s terrible, but you’re doing it anyway, and it is delicious.

A two-second Google search for “guilty pleasure music” turned up a slew of results, from a Spotify playlist courtesy of The Quietus to one made up of “summer songs” from Entertainment Weekly (which, one could argue, is a guilty pleasure in and of itself).

I’ve changed my mind, however, about the “guilty” part of guilty pleasures. I’m not sure when I made that shift from sheepishly mumbling along to Haddaway’s “What Is Love” into the full-tilt car-boogie dance routine I do now, but I just don’t care what people think anymore. I’m enthusiastic in my consumption of popular culture and you should be, too!

My favorite [former] “guilty pleasure” song of all time is “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. I am completely sincere about my love for this song, ask anyone. It’s a fun, dance-y pop song that is all about how ol’ Rick is going to be the Best! Boyfriend! Ever! He’s never gonna give you up, let you down, run around or desert you! Lyrics aside, the song itself is pure 80s bubblegum fluff. From the electronic drums to the smooth synth, this song tells you right up front that we are going to dance! Awkwardly!

There is a reason why this became one of the greatest memes on the internet. It’s not that it’s the best song ever written (that’s a debate for another day), it’s because this is a goofy, silly, song that sounds just as goofy and silly as the lyrics would lead you to believe. Back when RickRolling was all the rage, people would click, see the video pop up, and groan. But a sizeable number of folks would give it a listen, and maybe those folks found themselves humming it off and on throughout the rest of the day. Those people are my people.

That’s how, sometimes, a guilty pleasure becomes a genuine pleasure. Everyone has one, and the ones who say they don’t are either lying, trying to sleep with you, or both. I’ve told you mine, what’s yours?


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To The Mother of the Kids Down The Street

Yeah, I saw you this morning when you were walking your kids to school. You don’t have to pass right by my house, but you chose to. It’s unfortunate that I was walking my kid to the bus stop at the same time. Or perhaps it was deliberate, I don’t know and to be quite honest, I don’t really care.

Did I stop to speak to you? No.

Did I even look in your direction? No.



Your kids and my kid tried that whole friendship thing. Over the course of two years I watched as things would ebb and flow between them, and I stayed out of it for the most part. Kids will be kids, and a large part of growing up is learning to navigate the social flow. As an only child, my daughter struggles with it a little bit. Your kids have each other to pummel and negotiate with.

The first time, Jillian came home from the playground in tears because your son wouldn’t leave her alone. I didn’t press for details but I did gather that she’d asked him to stop and he would not, and it progressed to him hitting her. Maybe it was in jest, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I asked you to talk with your son about putting hands on my daughter and that bit of business stopped.

The second time (and a few times thereafter), she came home in tears because your daughter said she didn’t want to be friends anymore. I didn’t get involved because that is normal little-girl behavior and it tends to work itself out. A few days later, they were palling around the neighborhood as if nothing had happened.

Then we have the incident from a couple of weeks ago. Jillian comes home from the playground in tears (AGAIN), and when I asked what happened, I got a garbled mess of what sounds like an attempt at bullying and ended with “[Your kid] hit me.”

That’s when I stepped in. I told Jillian in no uncertain terms that if ANY of your children EVER hit her again, she has my permission and my blessing and my support to give it back as good as she gets. I’ve even told her where on the body she should aim.

After I calmed her down and cheered her up, I sent you a note saying that while I understand kids mess around, if yours can’t control themselves around my kid, then we’re going to have to have a talk. I know you’ve said that I think I’m better than everyone else, and that’s mostly true. I might not be better than everyone else, but I’m miles ahead of you because I’m not raising a bully. Or two, as the case may be.

And that’s why I didn’t even look in your direction this morning.

It’s not that I’m ignoring you, it’s that you simply don’t exist.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers have forced a Game 7 in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Nobody can deny that the Warriors have dominated the NBA for the past couple of years because numbers don’t lie. Last year, the Cavs faced the Warriors in the Finals and were beaten in six games. Two amazing victories and four heartbreaking losses.

And here we are again.

As it stands right now, it’s 3-3. No team has ever been up 3-1 in the Finals and lost it, so the Cavs are poised to make history in more ways than one. You see, Cleveland hasn’t won a championship in any major sport since 1964.

That’s 11 years before I was born. [this is the 3rd time I have edited this because I have forgotten simple arithmetic]

I was born and raised in Ravenna, Ohio. It’s a sleepy, small town about 45 minutes southeast of Cleveland. Most of the people there support the Cleveland sports teams, and I have never known a professional sports championship from any of “my” teams. In fact, it’s often very much the reverse.

There is “the Drive.” There is “the Fumble.” There is “the Shot.” And then there is whatever it was that fucked the Indians in their World Series bids over the years (I’m actually a Mets fan and have been since 1986, so apologies to my Cleveland peeps for not being with them 100%).

So what do we do now, being 48 minutes away from the end? Do we dare hope that maybe, just maybe LeBron James and his team will do what feels literally impossible and bring a championship home to Cleveland? What does Cleveland even DO if that happens? So much of the city’s identity is built on despair. We’re afraid to hope for the best because we know, at a cellular level, that it will never, ever happen.

But it might!

We have hope. We have faith. Cleveland sports fans are the very definition of faith. An agnostic myself, I’m skeptical of anything I can’t really find evidence for. Sure, there might be a God out there somewhere, but I’m not really buying it. Same with Cleveland sports. There might be a championship out there, but we are none of us convinced. Still, we hope. We show up. We buy tickets and t-shirts and those foam fingers and stale popcorn and we show up. We yell, we scream, we boo, we cheer, we laugh and we cry. We believe. We have faith. It’s tenuous, it’s shaky, but it’s there. We. Believe.

Faith means showing up even when you are convinced the outcome is not in your favor. Faith is Charlie Brown giving Lucy the football because maybe this time, MAYBE THIS TIME, she won’t be a total cunt about it and he will finally get to kick it. Faith is hope.

I honestly don’t care that much either way about NBA basketball. But I understand symbolism and what this would mean to a place that I call home (despite having lived in the wilds of suburban New Jersey for over 17 years). Ohio is shaped like a heart, and that’s where mine is.

So we go into tomorrow, Father’s Day, with hope. It’s the kind of hope that you almost have to deny. It makes your skin hurt, with the apprehension and the heady mix of joy and anticipated pain that we’re all going to feel when Cleveland takes the court in enemy territory. Golden State might have the skill, but I guarantee you that nobody, and I mean NO GODDAMNED BODY in the history of the entire world, ever, wants a victory more than those Cleveland Cavaliers do. Sometimes, wanting it hard enough can make it happen.

I will likely spend tomorrow feeling like I want to jump out of my skin. I probably won’t watch the game, because when I do, Basketball Rachel comes out and she scares children. I’m not into praying, but I might try that. What I probably will end up doing, is the same thing I always do on Sunday nights: I’ll be sat on the sofa, reading a book and checking scores on my phone while What’s-His-Name watches something completely devoid of any cultural relevancy. Whatever happens tomorrow night is up to LeBron James and his teammates. I can’t think too hard about it.

I can only hope.

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A few weeks back, when my birthday was happening, I had a whole post started about how I hate the women’s-magazine trope of “life begins at 40” (or 50 or 60 or when you die). I still hate that.

Milestone birthdays are interesting to me – they mark an arbitrary amount of time passed, yet people ascribe huge importance to some of them (18, 21, 30, 40, 50, etc). For the most part, I have done the same.

I turned 40 last year and celebrated by spending a lovely week in the desert. I’m decidedly NOT a desert sort of person (I require trees with leaves and seasons and the occasional snow, regardless of how much I might bitch about it), but I spent my 20th birthday in the desert too, and both 20 and 40 marked huge changes in my life path.

At 20, my desert weekend helped me find the strength to leave a… let’s call it “unhealthy” relationship and put the fractured pieces of my life back together. At 40, my desert week helped me look back on the previous 20 years and see what picture those puzzle pieces turned out to be. Apparently it takes me 2 full decades to get my shit together, so my 60th birthday should be amazing. Maybe I’ll trek solo across the Sahara or something.

So while I wouldn’t say “life begins at 40,” now that I’m a year away from that I might say that my extremely prolonged adolescence ended at 40. I got rid of a lot of things and relationships and people who weren’t having a positive effect on me. I changed tracks but I wasn’t sure where this train was headed.

Now I know. About two months ago, I contacted all three universities I’ve attended and requested my transcripts. I knew that they weren’t stellar, but they weren’t as bad as I’d feared. I got all three of them and then spent a day just looking at them and making a bunch of decisions.

Before I could talk myself out of it, I re-applied to Rutgers. The application was disappointingly spare: who, where, when. That’s all. No room for me to explain why, at 41 years of age, I am trying to go back to school. No room to explain why I left in the first place and the things I’ve learned about myself and the world since then. No room, really, for bullshit.

And that’s the theme here – there is no more room for bullshit.

So I submitted this very disappointingly spare application and then I waited. AND WAITED. And… waited. I have discovered a remarkable amount of patience in my advanced age. I waited. The answer was either going to be “yes, come back” or “no, sorry, die in a fire,” and there wasn’t anything I could do about it either way, so I waited.

I was really starting to get fed up with this whole hippie notion of leaving it up to the universe when I got the email. “HEY GUESS WHAT YOU CAN COME BACK.” Oh! Okay. I was at work, and while I was processing this news, I logged in to Facebook to announce it to the world (because nothing happens in life until you tell Facebook, right?). Before I could post anything, I saw that Prince had died.

That put rather a damper on my day, to put it mildly, but it was kind of a good thing in that I could put all of my “holy shit” feelings in THAT basket and be more rational about this whole college thing.

My acceptance at Rutgers is conditional. I had to call and make an appointment with an academic advisor before I could do anything else, so the following Monday morning, I did just that. I knew if I put it off any longer I wouldn’t do it and come September I’d be all pissed off at myself for it. So I did it and got an appointment for the following morning.

[Imagine nuclear meltdown klaxons here] OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE THIS IS GOING TOO FAST.

I freaked out about it for exactly one day, then I went to my appointment. The first question out of the Dean’s mouth was “why are you here?” A HA! YES! BULLSHIT TIME. Except it wasn’t: I told her all the things. I told her about my first attempt at college and the barriers I bumped up against crashed into at warp speed. I talked about my 2nd attempt and how well that was going and how I thought it would be fine when I transferred to Rutgers but it was NOT fine and things went badly from the get-go. I talked about my ADHD and the anxiety/depression I have ALWAYS had that I now know is 100% related to it. I talked about where I personally failed and where I was failed. I talked about Jillian and how her diagnosis led to my diagnosis and how both of those things led to a radical re-shaping of our personal worlds. I talked about the programs of study I’d abandoned and what I was planning to do instead and why.

She listened. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t. But the Dean listened to my story and re-activated me as a student on the spot. I still have the conditions to fulfill, but I have so much more knowledge and so many more tools now that I didn’t have before. I also have enough credits for a minor in both Music and Linguistics.

I go back in the fall.

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My ADHD Life – The End of Year One

The cat is licking a hammer.

I was composing the opening line for this post as I walked toward the back door to let the dogs out into the backyard and I happened to glance at the cat. He’s sitting on the ledge next to our basement steps (where things that are supposed to go downstairs are put), licking a hammer that’s been sitting there for oh, a good few weeks now.

If this isn’t a perfect snapshot of what my life is like, I don’t know what is.

Roughly a year ago, we had reached our limit with Jillian and her relationship with the school. We’d been told by two doctors and three therapists that “she’s fine! She’s very smart, she’s bored in school, can you work with the teacher to get her more challenging things to do?” So we’d talked to the teacher, who agreed that Jillian is very smart, but that the challenging bit was to get her to sit down and shut up and stop singing and/or bursting into tears over every little thing.

“But it’s not ADHD, we don’t think.” Oh, okay. I do not have a medical degree, therefore I trusted the second opinion, the third opinion, all the way up to the fifth opinion I got when discussing Jillian’s struggles. Yet, nothing we did for her was effective. Not a damn thing, from rewards/sanctions to behavior mods. Nothing had any effect on her behavior whatsoever.

She was starting to suffer, and worse – she was starting to notice. She had become That Kid, and was being left out of things like playground cliques and birthday parties and other social gatherings that all of her classmates were invited to. The gossip grapevine in this town is VERY strong, and even though I’m not an active participant (I have my three friends and that’s enough for me), I could see that things were happening around her that she wasn’t being invited to.

I snapped. I finally lost it. I had A Talk with the pediatrician, who tried to assure me YET AGAIN that “she’s fine, she doesn’t have ADHD.” Screen her, I said. We have, they replied. Oh, you mean a bullshit 10-second interview about how she likes school? Isn’t there something, oh I don’t know, FORMAL we could try? “We just don’t think her behavior is severe enough to warrant something like that. And your insurance likely won’t cover it.”

Well, thanks, Doc. I appreciate you trying to save me some cash, but my child is having a really hard time and if my instincts are correct (THEY ALWAYS ARE), then perhaps we can get ahead of this thing and HELP HER.

We got a recommendation from a therapist we know and trust and took Jillian to YET ANOTHER DOCTOR to have her checked out. I cannot say enough good things about this experience. From top to bottom, working with this office and this medical team has been a parent’s dream. They were absolutely interested in hearing about our experiences and our struggles and they listened to what we had to say. Bottom line, THEY TOOK THE TIME. The regular pediatrician is more of a meat-grinder operation: get as many people through those doors as possible. This, not so much. They took the time.

A full physical checkup for Jillian was first. Then they gave her a battery of tests, from IQ to whatever else, maybe the SAT and the ASVAB, too. I don’t know, but it was a lot. The doctor observed her while she hammered out the tests, and after that they sent her to the play area to hang out (and be observed) while they scored the tests and talked with us.

I cried twice. I had been so frustrated and upset for so long, it was so amazing to hear someone say “yes, we think you’re right about that.” I’m her mother. I know her inside and out, of course I’m right. After a bit, the tests were scored and all three of us met with the doctor to discuss the results.

One feature of my own personal medical life is that any doctor who has a look at me goes “…wow.” Yes, I know. My body subscribes to the “go big or go home” philosophy (in more ways that one, hahahaha), and when something on me requires a doctor’s attention, it REALLY does. Jillian seems to follow this line as well.

The result: off the charts. IQ? Off the charts (we’re terrified of this). ADHD? OFF THE DAMN CHARTS.

I knew it. I KNEW IT! I FUCKING KNEW IT. Back when she was in kindergarten, I knew it.

And so, a diagnosis was reached. While medication was definitely offered as a solution, I wanted to hold off on that until we’d exhausted every other option available including school intervention, etc. We met with the school’s IEP team and had a nice chat with them and it was determined that she didn’t qualify for an IEP or other “offical” accommodations as defined by law but that they’d do whatever we all thought was necessary to help her out anyway.

A couple of months of that, and things improved a little, but she was still struggling and every day was a battle for her. That’s when we decided to look at medication. There is A LOT of bullshit out there about how kids are “overmedicated” and there is a lot of vitriol directed at parents who apparently jump to give their kids meds because that’s the “easy way” of controlling this kind of behavior. While I don’t doubt that there are parents out there who do this, my guess is that the overwhelming majority of people who decide to medicate their kids do so with a lot of fear and trepidation and regret. It’s not an easy decision to make and it’s definitely not something I talk a lot about because the first person who gets in my face and tells me I’m a bad mother for giving my kid meds, well, I’m going to eviscerate that person and then set them on fire and then drive my car over their ashes before I let my dogs poop on them.

The medication has made all the difference. I used to flinch when an email from Jillian’s teacher would pop up in my inbox because it was NEVER good news. NEVER. Not once. They’d been coming weekly, and it was never good. Now? I haven’t heard from Jillian’s teacher unless I contact her first and the news is almost always overwhelmingly positive. She’s a good student and a good kid and is able to control herself so much more now. You can’t argue with results.

Sure, she’s still a little bit loud and kind of a maniac and she’s got an uphill battle, socially. I know she will eventually find her tribe, but I hope she’s not scarred for life before that happens. But the difference between this 4th grade year and the years before it are like night and day. Whenever I doubt my decision to put her on medication, I remember that.

So here we are, a year later. Some days are better than others – mornings will never not be a struggle because that pill doesn’t kick in for about a half-hour. So every day is still exactly the same. “Get up. No, get up NOW. GET UP. Eat. Please eat. Please stop talking and eat. Are you supposed to be doing that while you eat? GO EAT. Where are you going? Why didn’t you pee when you got up? Get dressed. NOW. It will be cold in the morning and warm in the afternoon. GET. DRESSED. It’s PE today, so where are your sneakers? Why aren’t you wearing pants? Where is your backpack? Are you making your lunch or buying it? Do you have your snack? You have to leave in 10 minutes, GO GET DRESSED. Brush your hair. Fine, I’ll do it, come here. GET DRESSED. No, you don’t need an umbrella. Do you have your house key? Fine, see you later.”

Every. Day. Every day is brand new for her, and it will likely never be an automatic process. She’ll never just… get up and go to school, fully dressed, with everything she needs tucked safely in her backpack. If I don’t steer her, she’ll get up and eat breakfast (maybe) then have a dance party in her room for 45 minutes. She’ll watch the cat watching birds out the window. She’ll get lost in a book and forget what time it is.

All of these are lovely things, but not on school days. Weekends are better, usually.

What I found interesting was that her ADHD diagnosis led to my own ADHD diagnosis. After reading through her test results and having all the bells in my head ringing like a royal wedding, I went to my own therapist and said “let’s see where I land.” Well, well, well. WELLITY WELLITY WELLITY. ADHD all up and down the joint. My therapist said it’s very likely that I’ve always had it and that is probably the culprit for a lot (a very lot) of the various issues I faced in my late teens/early 20’s (also known as The Disaster Years). ADHD is probably the reason for all of it.

WHAT A BREAKTHROUGH. There’s a good reason why I haven’t been writing much on thishere blog, you know. I tend to write when I’m upset or anxious or frustrated or angry, and I haven’t been those things very often since I figured it out. I stopped a lot of self-blame and let go of a LOT of guilt and shame about the fact that I’m almost 41 and I’d be the World’s Greatest Slacker if I could just get around to submitting the forms.

It’s not that I don’t want to or that I forgot to do things – it’s that I just literally CANNOT. It’s not a personality flaw, after all! Oh, trust me – I still have myriad personality flaws, but my historical flakiness isn’t actually one of them. WOO HOO! Or something. It was amazing to me to realize that my inability to follow through on so many things isn’t because I personally suck at life – I have/had this invisible barrier in front of me all this time!

That knowledge has transformed my life over this past year. The anxiety/depression cycle I used to churn around in has abated somewhat. I am almost completely off the anxiety/depression meds I’d been on for years and years, and I feel amazing. I feel things, period. That’s new.

Now that I know the WHY of things, I am better at getting around it. I know that I have a limited amount of fucks to give every day. And once those are given out, there are no more, so I have to apportion them appropriately. It’s getting better. I’m considering medication, but as an adult with ADHD, getting meds is really fucking hard because most of the ones used to treat ADHD are also taken recreationally. That’s a problem, but not one I need to solve at the moment.

As for Jillian, she is improving as well. If you consider every day a race, most people line up at the starting line and go when the gun goes off. Jillian’s normal starting point is about 200 yards back, which means she has to go that much farther every day just to get started. Having the medication available to her put her maybe not ON the starting line, but a hell of a lot closer than 200 yards. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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