Part One: (The madness of not having a voice. The madness of looking for a voice in everything I read. The madness of the world progressing beyond where I can comprehend it. The madness of my resistance to it. The madness of not fitting in. The madness of motherhood.)

Editor's Note:  This piece was written in 2010, over a year before the author's diagnosis of a terminal case of whimsy.  

I like my coffee hot enough to burn my tongue but the coffee gets cold quickly here in November.  I can’t drink it fast enough, and already it’s cold.  I hate having to go to the basement, down those narrow stairs with the molding carpet, and all those boots and coats and mittens, just to warm my coffee.  People say why not move the microwave to the kitchen, where it belongs.  But it isn’t even worth explaining, they would never understand. 

My mother especially would not understand.  It’s her microwave, the one in the basement.  She brought it for me, all the way from Nebraska, because she got a new one, and now I see why because half the lights on the digital display are out, so it’s impossible to discern how much longer one needs to wait before a thing is done.

Today a friend came by to slip a paper bag through the crack in the door, ginger tea and banana bread, made to cure my terrible cold.  I told him, “I just discovered a new writer.”  Which isn’t exactly true.  She’s dead.

The friend asks, people ask!, how’s the writing? And I blush and stammer.  Such a child!  Because there’s nothing to say at all.  Twenty years go by and I don’t have a book, or anything, to show them.  So I say, it’s going.

If they only knew how I sit at my desk and spend the hours shaking dandruff from my hair.  What would they think then?  But I’m not suppose to think about what other people think.  I’m supposed to think about the present moment.   

But that is damn difficult.

Every night, I hunch in the basement, in my robe, waiting for the lentil bags to heat and then I carry them up the stairs where I lie in bed, the lentil bags across my jaws because my muscles are always sore from grinding my teeth all night. 

I was grinding my teeth down to little dull nubs until my husband forced me to go see a dentist and he gave me a piece of plastic to stick in my mouth at night.

People are surprised that I grind my teeth because I seem like this happy go lucky type of character and I am!  Oh I am!  But I read a lot of fiction.  And that can cause a person a great deal of worry.  And delight!  Yes.  But mostly bad things happen to people in fiction.  And then good things too, but always some bad.  In fact, that’s what Jenks says makes good fiction, that up and down, the constant movement between highs and lows.  Even within a single sentence!  That’s enough to make a person grind. 

Now I have reoccurring nightmares of chewing gum that breaks apart in my mouth and sticks to everything and no matter how much I try to dig the gum from my mouth, there is always more and I berate myself for taking the gum in the first place since I never chew gum when I’m awake.  I think that I am awake.  But I am dreaming. 

The same is true of vertigo.  In my dreams, I’m terrified of heights and always there are edges, stairs without railings, or steps missing, or I am high up in a giant tree and have to climb down, or escalators a mile long and steep as a north face.  And I always am surprised that I am scared of heights in real life too, that I thought it was confined to my dreams.  Because, you see, I don’t realize that I am dreaming.

The lentil bags help. 

Such a child. After all these years, I still haven’t found my own voice.  I have to wait and wait until some piece of fiction creeps inside me and stirs me all up.  It’s embarrassing and I would never admit it to anyone, but there it is.  I didn’t even know it myself until a year ago when I was at a party and I was getting friendly with a nice man who was a musician and I admitted I was a writer and he started asking me about it, but as you already know, I got red faced and embarrassed and stuttered and he said, with a kind smile, but how wicked no less!, he said, “so you haven’t found your voice yet.”

I was flabbergasted. Here was a thing I would never have admitted to myself and a perfect stranger slaps me in the face with it.  Let’s just say, the conversation was rocky after that.  And then I left.  I thought him a run-of-the-mill ass.

For many months, every time I read some fiction and ran to the computer, vomiting a great mess of verbiage, I remembered what he said.  Such a child!  And almost forty years old at that.  Children imitate, unabashedly.  It’s their practice.  I am nothing more than that.

Take this morning, for example.  I’ve been carrying around the house The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates.  I carry it to bed, along with my lentil bags and then I carry it downstairs for breakfast.  Throughout the day it is in the bathroom, or on the piano or the front desk or the kitchen table, or in my purse if I am going out, which I haven’t been because of this terrible congestion I’ve been suffering.  It is a heavy thick book that I read at random, like I do most books, childish I know.  I rarely finish reading a book, and only sometimes start one at the beginning, yet more things my mother does not want to know about me.

Oates writes “There are worse fates than being known for, indeed, exclusively identified with, a single title: in the case of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, and, in her time, renowned as a leading feminist-theorist, that title is of course The Yellow Wallpaper.”  Of course!  I had never heard of it.   

Only sometimes am I scared of the basement.  You see, I am a mother now and not afraid of things like that, though I am.  I am afraid of men in masks breaking into my house, worse yet, one, unbeknownst to me, living in the basement.  He hides in a dark corner and jumps out and ties me up and imprisons me for eleven years, the time it takes me to work up the wits to escape.  I become an instant celebrity.  I write my memoir which becomes a best seller.  The fame overwhelms me and I become a hermit and fall into a depression from which I never recover, my body found a full week after my death.

I took a class in college, a self-defense class where they taught us to yell in a deep and strong voice, “NO!”  we yelled and struck back.  We learned to chop an attacker’s throat and knee him in the balls.  We learned to make fierce faces, to replace our fear with anger.  On the last day of the workshop, a man dressed up in thick padding, put a mask on and straddled me, to simulate what it would be like to wake to find an intruder getting ready to strike.  It was bright and we were in a gymnasium and the class was all standing around watching and we women were fierce!  We yelled and growled and kneed and chopped and afterwards we hugged and cried and were happy and relieved and surprised and went out for coffee and scones, propelled by our adrenalin.  The idea was to practice finding a voice even at the height of fear, even when we thought we’d never have one, to pretend we were fierce, and supposedly, the more we practiced, the more we would come into our own. 

My five year old daughter won’t go downstairs at night to get her blanket.  Sometimes I'm impatient and don’t understand why she won’t go down, even when I turn on the lights for her.  I begrudgingly go downstairs, my daughter pulling my hand until she sees her blanket, a glowing mound on the couch.  Go get it, I tell her, standing in the doorway.  And she hesitates and then runs on tiptoes, not wanting to disturb what hides in the dark, what unnamed fears, she runs and grabs her blanket and returns to me, relieved. 

She has no idea that I haven’t yet found my voice. 


  1. Great Post! Funny how things have changed so much since this post, mostly for the better! For example, the Wombats, Terminal Case Of, Elaborate Bungle, & Shockrasonica. Now I think you've found your voice or VOICES. Giving voice to the freaks and geeks of the world, East Coast and West Coast, and inspiring those around you to find their own voice. For that we are thankful, and look forward to many more namaste days with you.

    1. Great Comment! If you keep this up, how will I be able to portray you as the grumbling husband so many find so entertaining?? Seriously, none of this would have happened without you! Thank you for YOUR eccentric and energetic and inspiring voice.