Thursday, October 25, 2012

Stupid jokes that make no sense to anyone else are the best part of being married. Well, that and I never have to kill bugs. I just yell for Jim and he comes and does it.

One of my favorite things about being married to Jim Fortune is this thing he does with his face whenever the two of us are standing around talking to someone, and we are both thinking that what this person is saying is so ridiculous (or so wrong or so one of our pet peeves). And we both know the other person is thinking it, and then Jim’s face does this thing that says: Wife, I will be making a joke later about this conversation when you least expect it, and you might hyperventilate because you will laugh that hard.

I am the only person who can see this thing happen to Jim’s face. To other people, it looks as if he is attentively listening, with the occasional lingering glance at his wife to confirm that she is also attentively listening. And perhaps to admire her beauty.

But I know better, dear reader. I. Know. Better.

Is this nice behavior? Probably not. I mean, definitely not. But guess what? I don’t care. Because it is hilarious and, in the grand scheme of things, pretty harmless. It’s just for us. And stuff that is just for us is the best stuff there is.

Well, I guess now you know about it. So maybe that’s a technical change in the definition of “just for us.” But look, I can guarantee that even now that you know about it, you still would not know it was happening, even if it happened right in front of your very eyes. So no harm, no foul.

Lots of these dumb little inside jokes are at the expense of people we like a great deal, or at least have to talk to regularly, so I cannot share them with you here. One of those people could be you! But I will explain one of these dumb little inside jokes that is broad enough that it could be practically anyone. You may have even done this to me, and it makes Jim Fortune make that face every single time.

Hey, have you always wanted to be a writer? SURE YOU HAVE. Do you know how I know that? Because when I meet people and they ask me what I do and I tell them I’m a writer, they say this: You know, I have always wanted to be a writer. And then they tell me why they never did any actual writing: Not enough time. I don’t understand punctuation. I couldn’t find a pen.

And then OH YOU GUYS Jim’s face starts to do the thing. THE THING.

Because, y’all, let me share a little secret with you about writing: If you want to be a writer, all you have to do is write. And if you had always wanted to be a writer, you’d be one. I mean, you pretty much just write and then BAM you’re a writer. It’s like freaking magic.

Also, the subtext of that statement makes me insane. You would be a writer if only you understood punctuation? If you just had more time? If you had a really nice pen? Really?

No. Here is what you need to know: If you wanted to be a writer, you would be one because you would have no choice. You would be compelled to write all the time. You would be enslaved by the desire to write, and to incessantly read the work of other writers, and to nearly die of envy when one of them wrote something you wish you had written, and that would just make you write EVEN MORE.

It wouldn’t even matter whether anyone ever read what you wrote. You would never stop thinking about writing. Every time anything happened to you, you would be figuring out how to work it into your writing and then, while your family was watching TV or clamoring selfishly for your attention or urging you to flee the burning house, you would say, “Leave me alone can’t you see that IAMWRITING?”

You would have majored in English and minored in communication with NO PLAN for how to support yourself, and then you would have lived in your parents’ basement until you were 25 years old because you HAD to be a writer and your first job paid $15,000 a year but HOLYSHIT you were getting paid to write!

That’s what your life would be like if you wanted to be a writer. Like THAT.

So, no. I’m sorry, but you did not always want to be a writer, person-at-every-party-I’ve-ever-gone-to-who-says-Hey-I’ve-always-wanted-to-be-a-writer. You did not always want to be a writer any more than I always wanted to be a prima ballerina because one time I had a tutu and every morning of first grade I wanted to wear it to school. Not the same thing. At all.

For the record, I never say these things out loud to anyone but Jim Fortune. I am not a complete sociopath. When I get into one of these conversations, I just nod and smile and say SO POLITELY, “If you’ve always wanted to write, you really should! Everyone has a story to tell.”

But if Jim Fortune is standing there with me while this happens, his face will do that thing. And I will be trying so hard not to choke on my drink. And then later, when we’re alone, he’ll slip his arms around me and put his lips to my ear and whisper, “Honey, you know what I’ve always wanted to be? A writer.”

And I will die from laughing, you guys. DIE FROM IT.

It honestly almost makes me HOPE someone will say this dumb thing to me – this dumb thing that makes me crazy and irrational – just because Jim and I have turned it into this funny thing that only we know about.

Well, now you know about it, too. Which is OK, because we also have about 2,487,507 other dumb inside jokes I am not going to tell you about. So you can have that one. You’re welcome.

A couple of years ago, there was this time when Jim and I almost killed our marriage. Just beat it nearly to death. So that was a terrible year, and I’m glad it’s over, but here is the way I really knew we were in trouble: He never made that face at me anymore. Ever.

And the way I knew we were going to be OK, that we were us again, was that he started making that face at me again.

So, apparently, our shared delight in privately making fun of other people is one of the ways I can reliably gauge the health of our marriage at any given time. That may mean we are terrible people. But I’m not too worried about it because if we are terrible, at least we are terrible together, and in very similar ways.

Besides, I know other people make fun of us, too. How could they not? We are ridiculous. Jim, for example, is so obsessed with recycling that he takes trash home from parties. I swear to god, he honestly goes home with bags of empty cans and bottles. Like a goddamned hobo.

But do you know, he has never, ever wanted to be a writer, not even a little? I really love that about him.

This Jim Fortune face is somewhat like the face, but it's not
exactly the face. I can't show you the face exactly because
it's kind of a secret. Trust me, you would laugh.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Do it: Just don’t look down

Fear has been on my mind lately.

Of course, Halloween is coming, so there’s the spooky seasonal atmosphere. And this is the time of year when I have to start figuring out where the money for the Christmas presents will come from, and that’s always frightening.

But it’s more than that. It’s bigger.

Did you watch last weekend as that extreme athlete shattered a whole host of aerospace records? Did you watch as he stepped from a capsule 24 miles above the Earth and then fell for endless, astounding minutes while his body reached speeds of more than 800 miles an hour? Did you see him finish that extraordinary feat by parachuting serenely into the New Mexico desert and touching down with surreal, sure-footed calm?

Yeah, the Fortunes all watched that. We watched every second of it, huddled around the computer in a scene reminiscent of the days when families crowded in front of their black-and-white televisions to marvel at the moon landing.

“Do you think he’s scared?” one of my sons said as the man popped open the door of the capsule, inched forward and contemplated the view from 128,000 feet.

“I’m sure he’s scared,” I said quietly. “But he’s going to do it anyway.” And then I held my breath as that man dropped silently from the narrow step that separated him from 24 miles of nothing.

Three weeks ago, I flew to California. While I was there, my friends and I spent a day traversing a 12-mile Tough Mudder obstacle course featuring, among other daunting things, electric shocks, a jump into water from 15 feet up, sheer walls of timber, submersion in icy water and miles of towering hills so steep they felt nearly vertical.

In the weeks before that day, I made a prediction to the friend who had suggested this adventure: “I bet everyone else there will be dudes half my age and twice my weight.”

“It will be awesome,” she said. “You’ll love it.”

So I added some strength and plyometric training to my running routine, tried not to think too much about how much the course map terrified me and decided I could do it.

And it was fantastic. At the end of that day, I was battered and filthy, exhausted and sore – and utterly giddy. There is nothing like the elation that follows fear overcome. Nothing.

But the truth is, I don’t have to attack physical challenges to meet fear. My everyday life is full of things that scare me. I’m raising sons and juggling jobs and supporting a family that relies on me for everything from income and health care benefits to bedtime stories and homemade soup.

On any given day, I’m not sure I can actually do it all. And, in my more vulnerable moments, I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it up.

I’m finding, though, as I consider the outlines of life in my 40s, that making friends with fear is the key to finding the strength to push always forward. It’s the key to making these words true: I can do this.

So when I watch people do things I am certain they find terrifying, I don’t dismiss them as crazy or reckless. I don’t even wonder why they’re doing it; I know exactly why they’re doing it.

They want to. They have to. They know they can.

Because we can.