Share Your World – 2015 Week #2

Time for 2015’s second Share Your World!

Are you a hugger or a non-hugger?

I used to be a hugger, but I’ve really been leaning away from it in the past few years. Maybe because I haven’t been around many big huggers lately? Either way, I don’t mind the occasional hug, but I do like my personal space.

What’s your favorite ice-cream flavor?

I know it’s weird, but I love the strawberry soy ice cream from Trader Joe’s. Never would have thought those flavors would work together, but they do. Other than that, it’s Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy all the way.

Do you prefer exercising your mind or your body? How frequently do you do either?

Hm, now that I think of it, I guess I do both in a casual, everyday kind of way. I read all the time, and I’ve gotten through a lot of nonfiction lately. I walk all the time too, though slow-paced and not very far. I don’t have much of a preference, I enjoy both and could happily do either all day long.

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Are you more of a dog person or a cat person? Why?

Don’t laugh, but I remember my third grade friend group having a mini playground war between dog lovers and cat lovers. I was always firmly in Camp Kitty, and that stands no chance of changing now.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

So many big changes came my way last week! Not all great ones, but I’m confident that they’re going to work out for the best in the end, and I’m excited to see what the coming weeks and months will bring.

Share Your World – 2015 Week #1

I’m late for 2015’s first Share Your World, but I figured I might as well put it together anyway before Week 2 goes up tomorrow! I’m going to do my best to get as many of these as possible done this year.

How do you get rid of pesky phone calls from telemarketers?

Mostly, I just don’t answer. I started using Google Voice, though, which helps. It gives me a new phone number that redirects calls to my cell and email. It translates my voicemails to text and allows me to block numbers, which helps a lot in getting the telemarketers off my back.

What are you a “natural” at doing?

Spelling! (Watch me make a spelling error in this very post after saying that.) I read so much as a kid that I sort of absorbed the basics of the English language without trying. I’m no grammar expert, but I can usually figure out how to spell a word on my first attempt.

How often do you get a haircut?
20130603_115319 It’s been over two years now since I last went to an actual salon. Over there to the left is a picture of me in early 2013, not too long after my last haircut. At $40 a pop plus tip, the cost just got to be too much, especially considering that it’s rare for a hairstylist to understand how to work with my thick, wavy hair.

I trim it myself every three or four months now, and I think it works fine. I’m considering going short again though, which might merit another visit to the salon after all.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “fun”?

I was hoping to come up with a real insightful answer, but all I can think about is the song from Spongebob. I guess this is proof that what we learn in songs sticks with us better than anything else? I can still recite every South American capital city thanks to a song we listened to all the time in middle school, too.

Skipping the bonus question this round, will answer it tomorrow!

Share Your World, Week 40

It’s time for Cee’s Share Your World again! With luck, I’ll be able to keep up with this challenge each Monday even in the busy upcoming months.

You’re given $500,000 dollars tax free (any currency), what do you spend it on?

20131128_122449 Let’s say, just for fun, that I’m not allowed to save any of it.

I’d split the first $100k between my family and friends who need it most. Another $100k goes to home care and pet care — look at that sweetie to your left and tell me he doesn’t deserve a shiny new dog bed. For my part, I want a couple new cat trees and a ridiculous glitter floor.

The next $100k goes to my partner, partly to spend on the students at the special needs school where they work. Hopefully there’ll be enough to take a few kids (plus their parents and caretakers) on a vacation they’d otherwise never get to experience.

I’ll keep $100k for traveling, new clothes, a new computer, and a couple of tattoos. With the last $100k, I’d start a charity to support creativity in local communities. There are so many stories out there waiting to be told through art, so many voices that go unheard, and I have to admit, I constantly daydream about being able to help lift them up and show them to the world.

What’s the finest education?

I wish we were taught compassion in school. Right now, it’s something you learn only through life experience — through hurting others, or getting hurt. It wouldn’t translate perfectly to the classroom, but I can’t envision anything negative coming from education on accepting and understanding others’ perspectives and ways of life.

What kind of art is your favorite? Why?

All art is beautiful, but writing is my favorite. As an anxious child, I liked that you could follow a set of rules to produce competent writing. As I grew older, it helped that I could write without any special materials — I still remember how much the supplies for my painting classes cost. Writing just meshes with me in a way other art forms don’t, even with practice.

Is there something that you memorized long ago and still remember?

In my freshman year of high school, I played a fairy in our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But I had a crush on the boy who played Lysander, and when I heard that the girl cast as Hermia was going through a family emergency, I memorized her lines overnight.

I became her understudy and stood in for her during almost every rehearsal. I’m still in awe of how quickly I managed to learn the part. Hermia’s actress showed up late to opening night. The director had a split second to decide whether she’d wait or send me in. She chose to wait.

I never did get my moment in the spotlight (or get to date Lysander), but I remember every line.

Take comfort: he no more shall see my face;
Lysander and myself will fly this place.

Share Your World

It’s been a while since I last posted, so I thought I’d do Cee’s Share Your World this week.

Did you ever get lost?

Once. I must have been seven or eight years old. When my family moved to this part of Florida, we’d go to all the holiday celebrations in the area: the Fourth of July parade, the Christmas boat parade, and of course the annual Italian-American carnival.

This particular night, we were at an outdoor Mardi Gras party. It was tame enough for kids, but I was still awed by all the bright colors, loud music, and happy, noisy adults. (It didn’t occur to me that they were drunk.) I had handfuls of shiny plastic necklaces, and I was probably counting them and toying with them like a dragon with its hoard when I got separated from my family.

I looked at all the people whirling around me. I had a butt-eye-view, and there were no familiar rear ends in sight. Someone said, “Uh oh, lost kid.” Even though it was true, I remember getting so mad that someone would dare treat me like a child! (By age seven, I was convinced that I’d done about all the growing up anyone ever did.)

It didn’t take me long to track them down. They were just a few steps ahead, waiting for me to catch up. Score one for overprotective moms!

Who was your best friend in elementary school?

I met her at the orientation for my new school, right after the big move I mentioned above. We sat at the same table with our moms. We were both shy, but they got to talking, and after that it only seemed natural that we’d talk to each other during class too. I couldn’t tell you what we had in common at that point, but she was my only friend that year.

I made a few other friends eventually, but what’s most memorable about my best friend is that when I got sick, when I had to attend school only part-time and drop out of gym classes, she stuck by me. I think I would have spent my whole childhood as a loner without her.

We’ve met twice since graduation. I tried to fall back into the patterns of our old friendship, to be honest and open with her, but I ended up just feeling confused and vulnerable. It isn’t her fault. I guess we’ve both changed.

I took this picture the last time I saw her, over sushi.

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She was the first person outside my family to read any fiction I wrote, and she loved it so much that she showed it to everyone who rode her bus. She introduced me to both people and hobbies that changed my life, for better or worse. I probably won’t see her again, but I could never forget her.

Since the news television season has started in the US, list three favorite TV shows.

I’m not much of a TV watcher these days. As a kid, come hell or high water, I’d be in front of the TV with popcorn for The X-Files and Are You Afraid of the Dark? even if a rerun was airing. Later on, I LOVED the MTV reality series Fear. My love for creepy shows backfired, though: I became convinced at one point that my TV was possessed, and I never turned it on again. (It’s still a creepy story, looking back. I’ll write about it here one day.)

After that, I only watched TV with friends. In high school we’d have overnight parties where we’d watch anime, and in college, a few of us got together for every new episode of True Blood. Other than that, I occasionally put Food Network on as background noise. My partner did finally convince me to watch Orphan Black, and we’re excited for season 3.

If you were a mouse in your house in the evening, what would you see your family doing?

This is a decent summary:

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That’s five cats, all sniffing around the living room carpet, which I sprinkle with catnip on days I plan to vacuum.

My partner comes home around five, and the cats surround us much as they’re doing in the photo while I serve dinner. After that, we have fairly simple evenings — if it was a stressful day, we’ll stay at the table and chat for a while, and maybe have a glass of wine. Eventually, we’ll go to our computers to unwind with some browsing or games.

The real interesting stuff comes in when we roleplay (more like this than like this). It might sound like a completely nerdy thing to do (because it is), but I bet you’d get pretty invested in the stories if you were a mouse hiding in the corner. If you can evade the cats, at least.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I met a lot of new people and made more friends last week. Having a big social circle is all very new to me, and I’m still figuring out how to keep up with all of them, but I’m having a good time learning.

As for the coming week, the countdown to NaNoWriMo is about to begin!

“Here’s to those who wish us well…”

IMAG0286 “And those who don’t can go to hell!”

That’s our family toast. I don’t know if it originated from my grandfather or if it predates him, but we never miss saying it at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner in his honor, although he’s been gone for over fifteen years now.

There are only five of us — mom, dad, two brothers, and me — but we’re an interesting mix.

Among the lot of us, we’ve got nine cats and one dog. We’ve got an extended family of high school friends, unknown birth parents, estranged parents, adoptive parents, partners, exes. Together, we’re Catholic, Lutheran, nondenominational, atheist, uncertain. We’re second-generation Italian, Czech, Floridian, New Jerseyan, one thirty-second Spanish, rural Tennesseean mutt. We’re de-facto music lovers, video game players, and Miami Dolphins fans. My parents are short, my brothers are enormous, and I’m the petite one at 5’1″. Except for my blonde mom, we’ve got curly dark hair. We tan easily, and we prefer dark clothes. In group photos, we tend to resemble a Mafia family, and I’m pretty sure none of us are especially ashamed.

We don’t drink underage, but except for my straight-edge kid brother, we are drinkers. My parents are beer drinkers, I’m a gin drinker, and we all go for the occasional glass of red wine, as per Italian heritage law. We don’t shy away from strong words, hence the toast above.

We have weird holiday celebrations that are holdovers from customs and religions no one really remembers or understands: honey crosses on the forehead, strong sauerkraut soup, chickpeas tossed on the floor for the angels to pick up. (Or for the dog to eat. He’s basically a little angel, isn’t he?)

I don’t always understand my family, and they don’t always understand me. But at the end of the day, you can’t strip me of my family identity any more than I can manage to escape it.

(And, don’t tell them I said this, but I’m the only one who’s a half-decent cook.)

 And, okay, I’ll say it: I love them.

They can be hard to talk to, and hard to handle, but when I head over for a visit, it still feels like going home. It’s a place where I know the rules. I know where to find the snacks and drinks. I know when to sit down and shut up. I know I’m likely to hear a man’s voice burst into song, and I know it’ll sound damn good, because apparently in our family, the carry-a-tune gene is sexist.

So please, remind me of all this the next time I have to go see them. I’ll need all the help I can get.

Boxes

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(Content warning: this post contains descriptions of hoarding, anxiety, self-harm, and abuse.) 

My earliest memory is from when we were rich. I’m a toddler looking up in wonder at sky-high shelves piled with plush animals, pink Barbie furniture, Disney princess faces.

I think: if all that fell down on me, I’d drown.

I remember tiptoeing barefooted through the corridor in my grandparents’ house, shoulders narrowed, shying away from spiders suspended over the unpacked boxes that line the hall. At the end, I find my grandma using her kitchen shears to clip a red cardboard heart from an empty spaghetti box. She extends the heart to me; a gift. “It made me think of you.”

One night, after I’ve learned at school about stop drop and roll, I decide that I should keep my favorite things in one basket, so I can find them all fast in case of fire. As I hold up each toy and try to judge who makes the cut, it occurs to me that I can’t sleep in bed with any of them this way. I give up and lie in bed awake, trying not to think of flames.

Before we move, my mom asks me to sort through my toys and choose some to give away. This won’t be hard, I decide. I’m growing up, and I don’t play with lots anymore. Other, littler kids can love my old friends better. I toss aside a big bristly teddy I’ve never looked at twice. My mom picks him up and tells me about the distant aunt who gave him to me, about how excited and bursting with love she was when she heard I’d soon be born. When my mom walks away, I sheepishly move the teddy into the pile of toys to keep.


In the new house, I can’t explain why I now find myself tucking trash behind my mattress, in my nightstand. At school, after lunch, I throw scraps out in pairs so they won’t get lonely. My mom packs me juice in a flavor I don’t like, and though I try to push it on my friends, no one wants it. I cry when I throw it away, because the words little hug are written on the bottle. I just don’t want to hurt anyone.

My new dad comes out of my bedroom and looks at me. He says to my mom, “There’s something disgusting in the drawer. Tell her to clean it up.” I think about how he used to bring me gifts, and how maybe now he doesn’t because he knows I don’t take care of my things. I go in, heart pounding, and look in the drawer. He’s right. Why had I left it there?


I get older. I tie a too-small belt around my waist and tighten it. I tell myself I can only take it off when I’ve cleaned up my room. I buy a pack of razor blades and cut myself once for every thirty minutes I put off cleaning or homework. Carelessly, I drop a blade in my blanket and put my knee down on it. In the middle of the night, I wake my parents to tell them I think I need stitches. The next day, all the blades and scissors and safety razors are gone from my room, and mostly, I’m mad that someone went through my stuff without permission.


I am in my college apartment, where I live with my boyfriend. The sink overflows with dishes, the stove is coated in baked-on slime, and the fridge festers with mold. The carpet is gritty, and the bathroom has never been scrubbed. The closet is stacked waist-high with junk, his and mine, intertwined. He slams me against the wall in time with his words. I can hear the punctuation. “You. Lazy. Filthy. Whore.”

Outwardly, I cry and apologize. Inwardly, I agree.

After I leave him, my next partner has a calm talk with me in the car, about whether I can keep up with cleaning the cat box. I punch my thighs and slam myself into the door. I had one shot at starting over, and I fucked it up again.


I see a therapist. I tell her, “I think I’m a hoarder.”

“Hoarder?” She makes a face like she doesn’t believe me.

I recount to her the story of my grandma and the heart on the spaghetti box. I think how I might still have it somewhere. I tell her I’m not that bad anymore, but it’s still a struggle. I’ve never neglected my own pets, but before I throw out boxes from cat litter, food, flea meds, I kiss the cats printed on them goodbye.

She says my grandma may have taught me some bad habits, but she also taught me about love. I can’t bring myself to disagree.


I have my first panic attack, then my second, then third. The smoke detector goes off when the oven gets too hot, and I tremble for the rest of the day. The smoke detector runs out of batteries, and I keep snapping awake during the night, heart racing, sure I’ve heard the hiss of something, somewhere, going up in flames. I begin to wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to get the fire over with. I could start over one last time, in a new place. I know I’m just lazy. I could pull through; I could keep it clean.

I begin to drink every morning. It keeps me calm, and it helps me focus. After a few shots, I can clean a room without stopping. I don’t get distracted and end up across the house, in front of the computer, with a dirty dish still in my hand.

I see a doctor and I tell him this. I leave with a prescription, and I take my dose the next morning. I scoop the litter, do the dishes, scrub the kitchen counter. I mop the floors. I pull everything out of each closet and cabinet and rearrange it in ways that make sense. I put out the decorative baskets and pictures I bought after moving in, back when I was sure I’d finally buckle down and keep a place clean. I still have too many stuffed animals, but I put them neatly away. For the first time since childhood, I hang up my clothes.


Days later, it still works. Once I decide to get something done, I’m suddenly capable of doing it. I think, “I’m going to hang up my dress”, and I do. I see crumbs on the floor and it’s no big deal to wipe them up. I stroll through my clean house, fantasizing about telling my parents. I won’t, though. I don’t trust these pills long-term.

After a while, an uncomfortable feeling settles into my bones. I can’t find anything to put off, or to beat myself up about.

I open the linen closet. Here, I keep boxes of memories, holdovers from the early days that haven’t been lost or thrown out in fits of self-hatred or rage. There are more of these at my parents’ house. I know I have to deal with them eventually.

I choose a box and I rifle through it. I try to muster up the urge to handle it like I’ve handled every other cluttered corner of this house, and I’m surprised by how easy it’d be to sever my attachment to some of the stuff. There are little kids’ building blocks and decks of cards and sheets of yellowed stickers that I don’t even remember owning. This is how I’ve handled my hoard over the years: I get angry enough to discard it, or I put it away until I can pretend not to care.

At the bottom, I find something. It’s a yellow plush star with a smile face and ragged blue fabric stuck to the back. I remember clipping it off a pair of slippers I’d gotten for my birthday when I was nine, the same year I got caught with something disgusting in my drawer. I remember how I had begged not to be given toys anymore, so I wouldn’t feel obligated to hold onto them for my whole life. I remember trudging around in the slippers, loving them, fearing the day I’d wear them to tatters and have to throw them away.

I remember how a smiling moon once shone up from the toe of the other foot, opposite the star. I look through the box, and I can’t find it. I picture it buried in the dump, with insects nesting on its happy cloth face. I picture it falling into an incinerator.

I put the box away, but I keep the star out. I hold the stupid dirty thing to my chest, and I cry.


Hoarding disorder is a serious condition marked by excessive attachment to objects and/or animals. In my experience, it can be exacerbated by additional illnesses such as depression or ADHD. If you or someone you love may have a hoarding problem but can’t access medical or mental health services, you can start where I did and find support at Squalor Survivors and Stepping Out of Squalor.

Cee’s Share Your World

I always have trouble figuring out what’s important enough to include on an “about me” page, so instead, I’m going to try participating in Cee’s Share Your World challenge, where every Monday the excellent photography blogger Cee Neuner asks four different personal questions.

What is your favorite smell? What memory does it remind you of?

I can’t pick between two different smells, but they both evoke the same set of memories. Gasoline makes me think of the parking lot tram at Disney, and the smell of water indoors (it’s probably mildew, to tell you the truth) always reminds me of the rides. Weirdly, I’m not the only one who adores mildewy-water-ride-smell.

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Funny, relevant story: When you walk through the Disney parks, if you keep your eyes on the ground, you’ll see manhole covers marked “gasoline” now and then. I’m assuming they lead to tanks that power the rides, but as a tiny kid, I used to assume there was a big lake of gas running beneath the whole place. Back then, you could smoke anywhere in the parks, and I was horrified at the idea that someone could drop their cigarette in the wrong place and blow us all to pieces!

Name a song or two which are included on the soundtrack to your life?

Ever since I swiped my parents’ copy of Aerosmith’s second album, the song “Seasons of Wither” has been my all-time favorite. It may not be about me, but I couldn’t leave it off my soundtrack.

Picking a second one is harder, but it’s probably one of my loved tracks on last.fm. Or maybe I should pay some homage to who I was around age fourteen and count what I considered to be my theme song around then. Such cheery lyrics, right?

Do you play video/computer game?  Which one(s) or most recent? 

I’ve been a casual gamer since the day my dad brought out his old NES to show the family. (Honestly, though, I was too nervous to pick up the controller for a couple weeks.) You had to stick a rag into the console along with the game cartridge to get it to work, but I think that thing even outlasted our first PlayStation.

In the future, on Tuesdays, I’m toying with the idea of posting about the games I play and the fandoms surrounding them. I love the Silent Hill series with all my heart, and I couldn’t be more excited for the sequel everyone’s talking about. I also play World of Warcraft nearly every day, and there’s a lot to say about the community surrounding any MMO, let alone one that has gone a long way to help me figure out who I am.

Which of Snow White’s 7 dwarfs describes you best?  Plus what would the 8th dwarf’s name be?

The more I draw on memories to come up with blog posts, the more I realize I’m an absolute Disney nerd at heart. Maybe it was inevitable after growing up in Florida. (And on that note, if the characters lived anywhere around here, the eighth would be Sweaty). Anyway, I’d have to be Sleepy. I don’t know anyone else who can literally sleep for twelve hours straight if no one interrupts.

Fond as I am of Disney, sometimes I do look back at the older films and wonder what they were thinking!? Dwarves are a fantasy staple, and they turn up in plenty of media I love (see above), but I do get tired of seeing them portrayed as a separate race from humans, or as comic relief. Even some of the actors who play them feel the same.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I picked up my blogging pace last week and I’m grateful that it helped me get to know some wonderful new people, most notably Kiran and others who I met through them. This week, my partner’s birthday is coming up! We’re not big on celebrating, but I’m looking forward to a peaceful evening together at home.