Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Happy Holidays from the Paleys: Our Year that Was

Dear Friends, Family and Randomly-Selected Recipients (aka the Control Group),

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Paley family!

It’s incredible, but another year has come to an end and it is time for our annual recap of the trials and tribulations (metaphorically speaking, of course) of the year that was 2016. We hope this letter finds you in good health and that you are surrounded (in a non-aggressive way of course) by loved ones during this festive time of year. We sincerely hope that you’ve had an amazing year full of joy, satisfaction and clear complexions.

Over at Chez Paley, as our days turned into nights and back to days again only to once more incredibly turn to nights, life has been as busy as always what with the whole family running around like chickens with their heads cut off day in and day out. After some time, we came to an agreement that we would continue to run around, just in a slightly more controlled manner what with all the panting and the collisions and the grotesque analogies involving flightless farm animals that may or may not be considered food.

But where has the year gone? Based on how mean-spirited you are, that question is rhetorical, though we do really want to know. Our older daughter exasperatedly complained that time has just gone so quickly and no matter of explaining that time doesn’t speed up or slow down per her father’s layperson understanding of quantum physics, helped her relax. What does help her relax is horse tranquilizer, but that’s a topic for a very different kind of letter, not one of celebration or at least a very different kind of celebration.

Let me tell you, these kids of ours constantly keep us on our toes, which, while exhausting, has strengthened our toes. Our free time (cue the recording “what free time?” and “nice try funny guy” and “hey, wait, are you recording me?”) was spent shuttling the kids from sports to lessons to activities and once, by accident, to the local Recycling Depot where dad tried to make it look like a planned and much-anticipated educational field trip. The weekly schedule was so regimented that one tired parent exclaimed that it was like we were in prison, and we laughed and laughed and laughed before slowly stopping and then just sitting, staring at the wall lost in our thoughts.

It feels like ages since we’ve seen any of our friends. In some sense, our only contact has been through social media, which paints an incomplete, yet highly humorous and potentially strange, picture of how we are doing. So, we thought we’d break down this wall, and if things go well, to continue breaking down walls (an excuse to buy a new sledgehammer!) and write you all this letter.
Now we could have written a very boring, predictable, generic and seen-many-times-before recap. You all know the type — full of cute anecdotes involving our children; littered with the “hey, check out how funny and cool and high-functioning our family is” photos; a few detailed and gripping real challenges we faced, overcame and grew from and then finishing with a sappy and clich├ęd inspirational conclusion. 

Sorry, we are not that family. “Just what kind of family are you?” is a great question, which we’ve decided not to answer on advice of our legal team. “Just what kind of legal team are you?” is also a great question as our legal advisor confusingly keeps telling me he is just the checkout person at the local grocery store and that he will call security if I don’t leave him alone.

So yes, we’ve decided to pull the plug (try taking a bath now, Grace!), open the curtains (take that, vampire!) and bake some cookies (take that….ummm…people who hate cookies?) and give you a rundown of all that was unique and odd and wonderful in our year. I have taken creative license to “spice things up” as well as being quite liberal with my spices while cooking. Without further ado, here was our year.

As we said goodbye to 2015, the new year started with a bang as the kids enjoyed staying up till 1am at their aunt’s party. “We want to stay up till 1am all the time!” they said quite ominously as we got into the car to drive home, before falling asleep instantly and having to be carried into the house rolled up in a rug Mafia-style. The beginning of 2016 saw the four of us huddling for warmth as we spent our free time playing hours of board and card games while enjoying the luxuries of central heating and warm woolen sweaters. As we played hundreds of hours of games, the concepts of a humble winner and a gracious loser were works in progress and more abstract constructs than reality.

February brought day after day of rain where both the winter holiday and spring break seem equally far away. To liven things up, Grace dabbled in lovingly mentally torturing her older sister as part of an ongoing experiment that the local university psychology department showed great interest in. Charlotte passed the time playing the same song on the piano again and again and again all weekend long as her own version of melodious torture to be enjoyed by for all. Valentine’s Day where dad “surprises” the females of the family with chocolates arrived once more. Just once dad wants to truly surprise the girls with actual cow’s hearts rather than the chocolate variety just to hear their sweet childlike screams more often.

Spring break provided a welcome chance for the family to catch up on sleep, while Charlotte also began cooking her own breakfasts, braiding her own hair and diagramming detailed gerbil habitats often killing two birds with one stone, figuratively. March was also birthday month for mom and dad. Dad and the kids planned an elaborate birthday for mom that included a special breakfast and an amazing dinner as well as a huge, ear-splitting and poorly thought out “SURPRISE!” while mom was peacefully enjoying her morning shower. Grace told dad not to worry as 45 wasn’t old yet, but that 50, which was old, was only five years away before she walked off saying “tick tock, tick tock” in as endearing a way as one could for a seven-year-old.

Spring was in the air as April announced its arrival. As the days got slightly warmer and longer, every extra minute was needed to fit in all of the ultimate games and yoga classes and piano lessons and dance classes and family air band rehearsals. We were like “ships passing in the night” as mom insisted on reminding us all on a weekly basis; even going as far as making impressively realistic and joyful “tooting” sounds and far less pleasant, yet still realistic, boat horn sounds while walking around the house. Charlotte’s birthday came and she turned 10 which, as she reminded us, meant that she was almost a teenager which we couldn’t decide was more of a threat or a promise.

In May, the girls were in their first piano recital. After hours and hours of practicing their festival songs, the girls went to perform. Not that their dad is biased or anything, but they clearly turned in two of the single best piano performances in the history of humankind which all future performances will unfortunately be negatively compared to, thus reducing their father to a puddle of tears which they confusingly splashed in afterwards. Grace enjoyed her 8th birthday at a local gymnastics facility where she literally bounced non-stop for two hours and that was before she consumed near lethal amounts of sugar.

The end of the school year approached and that meant two things, a much-needed return to sanity and year-end dance shows! As dad had more flexibility in his work schedule than mom, he took on the dance show rehearsals which involved managing complex hairdos and navigating complicated makeup directions. Where some men, when confronted with these challenges, would run away screaming or huddle in a fetal position whimpering like a baby, dad decided to confront his fears head on which meant begging and pleading for some of the infinitely more skilled mothers at the rehearsals to “help a brother out” which led to some beautifully made-up girls and $2.35 in loose change. The kids were wonderful in their time on stage, both absolutely loving the chance to perform in front of an audience that was more significantly more appreciative than a couch full of stuffed animals who are super tough to please.

Summer was here and mom went off to teach summer school to earn money so the family could keep using electricity as well as putting food on the table and then, after a short period of time, eating said food. Dad and the girls hit the beach; literally. Summers have become a never-ending cycle of swimming, drying off and repeating. Dad has also passed down the age-old family traditions of healthy eating as well as living in constant fear of sunburns, thus making summers feel like one long application of sunscreen. The best moment of the summer is when mom would join the family for an evening BBQ and we’d sit there enjoying our meal in the waning sun all the while shooing away seagulls and wasps.

Every few days, the Paleys would pick up the tennis racquets and head to the local courts. These highly enjoyable hits followed a very predictable arc for the kids — (1) complaining about everything conceivable and being lazy, (2) blaming dad for everything and arguing and fighting with each other, (3) digging in and adopting a positive attitude, (4) playing great tennis and promising next time would be different, which it never was. When not at the beach or on the court, the family spent time throwing Frisbees at or to each other, riding bikes with or away from each other, and watching movies.

Each year, September is like a smack in the face, although an actual smack in the face is infinitely more like one (thank you mom, for the help with the comparison). The change from sleeping in to alarms at 6:30 were a challenge. The change from leisurely mornings to the frantic, heart-racing panic of a school day was drastic. The change from a summer of lounging in pajamas or beachwear to actually having to look presentable was really hard. And although we all greatly missed the freedom and warmth of the summer, thankfully the kids love school and were excited to see their friends and teachers and underappreciated school custodians once more.

As the Paleys switched racquets from tennis to squash as well as roasting squash and red peppers deliciously topped with goat cheese, the cool days of October let us know that summer was long over. Both girls ran cross-country this year, though that statement is vastly misleading as far as the actual distance covered. Big strides, alternating with several small ones, were made and each kid showed huge improvements throughout the season. As for many, October is all about Halloween. This year, the girls collected a disgusting diabetes-inducing amount of candy which dad joked about unwrapping, melting and then bathing in, to absolutely zero laughter aside from his own.

In November, the girls enjoyed multiple trips to local swimming pools and skating rinks, as well as getting ready for their acrobatic Christmas dance routines as evidently nothing says Christmas more than backbends and cartwheels. Afterschools were reserved for homework and piano practice and each kid worked really hard as report card time neared. Thankfully, the parents had to spend minimal time cajoling and/or barking and/or threatening to hide the remote for work to be done, as each girl cares about doing well as well as having access to the remote on a regular basis. Evenings were never complete without a painfully slow, drawn-out bathing and brushing teeth routine followed by the howling wails to “please read another chapter if you love me”. Ah, the things the parents will miss when they are 90.

And here we are at the end of yet another year in December. Time really has passed so quickly and it’s amazing that it is almost 2017. Holiday time is always a chance to take a deep breath, or multiple deep breaths depending on your level of stress, and reflect. We personally try to schedule reflecting time in front of a mirror so we don’t have to lug around our heavy portable one.

Life has been good for the Paleys this year — happy, healthy, hungry and…and…just a second while I quickly search for a fourth applicable H word…hesitant (nope), humiliated (not since dad stopped making recordings of his singing for internet distribution), hopeless (not yet), hysterical (sure, why not). 

At this most merry time of year we are wish all of our friends and family the very best for 2017. We just can’t wait for the adventures that lay ahead!

Happy Holidays from the Paleys

Monday, December 19, 2016

"So You Want to Play with my Daughter?" How to be Prepared for the First Playdate with a Boy

So, the other day I was picking my kids up from school and my 10-year-old daughter announced that she wanted a play date with Alexander.
I froze.
A playdate with a boy?
Dazed and confused, as if hit point blank with an undercut, I teetered before supporting myself against the side of the car.
Should I have seen this coming?
Were there warning signs that I had ignored?
Up until that moment, she had only hung out with girls. Life was free of unnecessary complications. It was all going so well.
Or so we thought.
When she came home and said boys were gross, we agreed.
When she said they were disgusting, we nodded our heads.
When she informed us that they were dumb, we couldn’t have been happier.
And now this?
My mind was bombarded with questions from every angle.
What had gone wrong?
What would we do now?
Did we have to move?
Quickly I shifted from “nice and caring father” into full on undercover detective mode and after locating the correct hat and reminding myself that my suspect was innocent until proven guilty, I began the interrogation.
As we drove home, I opened with typical dad comments like “that’s nice” and “what’s he like” and “I’m so happy you have a new friend” to earn her trust. I reassured her “that people won’t make fun of you for playing with a boy”, while plotting my attack.
By the time I was finished with the two of them, I’d have nothing to worry about.
Now, before you start worrying about me and wondering if I am okay, I must explain.
See, from the moment my wife gave birth to a daughter something shifted deep within me. I now saw all boys in a new light. It was like a homing beacon or some sort of radar. Each boy who has ever been in close proximity to either of my girls whether on the playground, in the pool, at daycare or at school has been thoroughly scanned, judged, categorized and then filed away in my memory.
He has no idea what sort of can of worms he has opened.
He has no idea what is coming ‘round the mountain.
He has no idea what he is in for.
So even though I was initially surprised, I quickly settled into an eerie state of calm. Nothing can phase me, not since I have been methodically preparing for this moment for the past 10-and-a-half years. I am so ready for this cute and seemingly-innocent, just turned 9-year-old boy, and all I can say is that he better be ready me.
Here is my fool-proof approach that all fathers of daughters can use in this sort of situation.
1) After weeks of avoiding the boy’s mother’s calls and going way out of your way to not bump into her at school, finally agree to a text conversation only to reveal that your cell phone is “in the shop” so as to buy yourself more time.
2) When you are mentally, physically and emotionally prepared (and not a moment sooner), talk to his mom via text to set up the playdate for a few weeks in the future, thus giving you the option to leave town and adopt new identities. Determine what her “angle is”, where she’s “coming from” and if she “gets it”. It is highly important that you determine without a shadow of a doubt whether she can be fully trusted. If all goes well, down the road marriage may be in the cards, so make sure to ask for a signed prenup upfront during these early conversations.
3) A day, time and venue for the playdate will be suggested, and you must reject the first three suggestions outright (EVEN IF THEY WORK) so as to maintain full control over the situation at all times.
4) Finally, you graciously offer to have him over at your house so you can “boy proof” your turf ahead of time including buying low-voltage “kid friendly” tasers, setting up motion sensors as well as numerous traps and snares containing things boys like as bait (Hot Cross Cars, sloppy joes and salted pork products) in multiple areas of your house in case he needs to be contained on short notice.
5) The second after his mom leaves, make eye contact with him and, whatever you do, do not break the eye contact for a minimum of 5 minutes while also emitting a low, yet audible growl so you let him know who is boss. Also, insist on being referred to as Sir or Master at all times. Whatever you do, resist the impulse to frisk him.
6) You want to strike the delicate balance between having him relax and having him quite tense. Feel free to playfully oscillate between these two extremes for much of the playdate to keep yourself entertained and him on his toes.
7) Plan your musical accompaniment for the afternoon quite carefully and have a series of different playlists at your disposal. All types of music can aid you during this experience from loud ear-shattering metal (hard to have a conversation now!) to peaceful piano music (feeling sleepy?) to foreign (what are they saying? Let’s do some internet research!).
8) As the kids begin to play Lego or some other innocent-seeming game, find a vantage point that grants you a full, unobstructed view of the kids without seeming too obviously intrusive. Good options include the couch, sitting at the nearby kitchen table slowly and loudly drumming your fingers against the table and the comfort of your own room via hidden camera.
9) It is very important to come across as friendly and cool, so offer a never-ending stream of fist bumps, high fives and playful, yet firm, hip checks while demonstrating your near-perfect use of modern youth lingo. Pull this off and he’ll be figuratively (and potentially literally) eating out of your hands the rest of the afternoon. Bonus marks if he wants to spend the rest of the afternoon with you instead of your daughter.
10) When he asks if he can use the washroom, enthusiastically reply “I don’t know can you?” before breaking out in over-the-top laughter for exactly five seconds before abruptly stopping and looking mournfully off into the distance to give the impression that you are not all there.
11) After escorting him down the hall to the washroom, use this prime opportunity to quietly, yet thoroughly, go through his bag in search of any contraband, recording devices and high fructose snacks that he may have been thinking of sharing.
12) It’s lunch time and you are preparing the food. Resist the urge to show off your skills in the kitchen as this is not about you. Make the food good enough that he eats it and doesn’t complain, but not so good that he will be wanting any more play dates in the future.
13) If either of them suggest playing alone in her room, do whatever you can to prevent this from happening including, but not limited to: offering a bottomless bowl of ice cream, feigning a sudden onset of a contagious skin disease and purposely setting off the smoke alarm.
14) Popcorn and a movie are a great idea. Ensure you’ve properly vetted all possible selections ahead of time for any kissing, hand holding or body contact between male and female characters. Good choices include documentaries about the environment or movies about an animated singing trio of cute, yet exasperating, chipmunks.
15) Now it’s your daughters turn to use the washroom and this is your prime time for questioning. You must walk a fine line here between interrogating this 9-year-old about his true interest in your daughter while still maintaining a friendly and cool vibe. Remember, if he is non-compliant or evasive, you do have the option to treat him as a hostile witness. A swinging lightbulb is a must to complete the mood.
16) But you do want your daughter to have friends and there is nothing inherently wrong with her playing with a boy, so you don’t want to intentionally chase him away. If he just happens to find your never-ending series of strange facial expressions and yelps reason to run, that’s totally on him.
17) They are having so much fun together: laughing, playing hide and seek and make believe. It looks like a real friendship is developing. Whatever you do, don’t panic! It may be time to pull out the big guns (NOT LITERALLY!) and start uncontrollably and awkwardly sobbing until he asks to call his mom to pick him up early.
18) You must be exhausted by now what with the stress and vigilantly watching his each and every move, so give yourself a much-needed break and slip a mild, harmless sedative into his juice. For those of you conflicted by this instruction, pretend that he is a vicious lion about to attack you. I find that this mental exercise comes in handy whenever faced with a slight ethical dilemma. Note: there is no need for a tranquilizer gun unless he is unusually large for his age.
19) Play a game all together on the living room floor. This is your final prime opportunity to observe him up close to make careful and detailed observational notes and rudimentary sketches. Throughout the game expose him to a wide variety of different stimuli and stressors to accurately assess his responses and to aid you in your overall analysis of the playdate. If he asks you what you are doing, shake your head from side-to-side with a slightly disappointed look on your face, before resuming taking notes.
20) The play date is over. He has gone home. Your daughter is happy and still your little girl. You’ve done well. Grab a shower and take a nap. If you’ve played your cards right, there won’t be any more of these playdates until she’s 21.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sorry if I'm Repeating Myself

I often get this feeling these days.

Don't worry, I'm not about to break into song.

All the time I have this feeling like what I'm saying, I've already said before. Many times before, in fact, like I'm caught in a temporal loop or experiencing deja vu or the universe has finally had enough of my whining.

Not that I don't have original thoughts and ideas and takes on topics, I do, or at least I think that the words that come out of my mouth or via my fingers are original and worthy of a nod or a gasp or "damn" from the listener or reader.

But so frequently I catch myself (harder than it sounds), both in my spoken and written word, repeating words I have said before, almost like I'm quoting or plagiarizing myself. And when I do, I'm not totally sure how to react. Sad? Mad? Glad?

I mostly feel disappointed with myself for falling back on something easy rather than working hard to break new ground.

Does that make sense?

As a person, I'm driven by this desire to be unique and different and interesting. As an animal, slightly less so. Seriously though, I'm strongly motivated to avoid a cliched existence (unless purposely littering my written work with them for comedic effect).

All throughout my youth and into adulthood I've been aiming to strike a balance between nerdy and athletic as well as going out of my way not to sound like anyone else. Even as a young kid, I was obsessed with doing things my way. I was never a sheep, aside once for Halloween, and I was never a follower, except the few times when the leader was particularly good looking. And I dressed differently. Thanks a lot, mom. No seriously, I am actually thanking my mom a lot.

As a high school student I struggled with this strong pull to fit in at all costs while resisting this gravitational force with all my might. I think we all feel this struggle to varying degrees and each person feels this desire to resist the pull to fit in differently. For me, it felt like a gigantic, high stakes ,five year game of tug-o'-war as I sorted out who I was, what I was about and how much I cared what other people thought about me. When I arose from the ashes (why there were ashes is a story for another day) as school ended, I had a confidence and a style and a pair of significantly less than 20-20 eyes as well as a goatee.

And with those tools I was ready to be an adult, or at least as ready as one could be with a liberal arts education. I spoke my mind more frequently than before. I started writing, creatively. I showered daily. I was my own man.

And so it went for a number of years. I had relationships. I finished a few degrees and was rewarded with a moderately-paying job. I got two cats, developed a love for said cats that only dissipated years later when I realized that they were the sole reason I was constantly sneezing. Through it all I continued to shape myself as if I were a large piece of soap or modelling clay (I'm not. You can stop looking shocked right about now).

Something happens as we age (multiple things my biology friends tell me with an annoying smugness) and become parents and even more so for me as a teacher and counsellor. I constantly find myself in situations where I'm expected to be the adult now. "When did that happen?" I often ask, followed by "But I don't wanna grow up" followed by ordering a pizza. I find myself constantly being asked my opinion or doling out advice or giving suggestions or drawing from my past experiences to help someone younger than me navigate a challenge.

And though I pride myself on having my own way of thinking, so often I find myself giving a fairly typical speech and I hate it. I don't want to be like someone else. I definitely don't want to sound just like another person. I absolutely want to come up with my own material or unique view. And, I also don't want to have a set of memorized go-to responses that I can pull out when needed depending on the situation. I repeat things I've said before often these days.

Now you may be thinking (let's give it 2-1 odds), one can copy or repeat themselves and still be considered original, their own person. That's true, and if I had the means, I would literally copy myself an infinite number of times. But, I am concerned (consumed?) with constantly striving to come up with new ideas and to not fall into the pattern or trap or comfort zone of recycling and reusing what I've already uttered or typed before. I love being creative and when I say something again it is like my brain was unable to drum up something new and that doesn't sit well with me considering the money I shelled out for drumming lessons.

Plus, I am a different person than I was last week or last year and I like to think that I am still growing and improving and progressing. So when I read a piece I wrote a few years ago and it sounds achingly similar both in word choice and in content to something current, I shiver. And when, I find myself saying to someone "sorry if I'm repeating myself", a grimace crosses my face. Then there are those times when I give a student a well-used speech that, as true and apt as it may be, it is another form of repeating myself and being unable to come up with something fresh.

In my writing, I've been told countless times that I've got a unique voice, which I take as high praise.
I purposely try not to read too many other authors who sound at all similar to me, as I don't want to consciously or subconsciously be influenced too much. I have also been told that I write how I talk, also high praise, as I have attempted to capture what is in my head and what comes out of my mouth in my writing. And yet, as I continue to write and write and write, I get the feeling more and more that I am repeating words and funny bit and themes, and I don't like how that feels.

Sure I continue to push myself to improve as a writer, and I believe that I have, but I spend a significant amount of "creating time" looking at an unfinished draft and beating my head against the wall (thank you, padding!) trying to finish something that just won't allow itself to be finished no matter how many times I write and rewrite a paragraph. "What or who is stopping me?" I wonder as I look at myself accusingly in the mirror.

Often it is lack of sleep or the fact that the topic of the piece is just very unexciting, but typically it is because what I type sounds too "been there, done that" and a new piece stalls as it lacks originality and enthusiasm. I fully understand that there are only so many adverbs and creative ways to use a semicolon, but I demand originality and refuse to continue to publish the same piece every week over and over again as some sort of psychological experiment on my readers.

I remember being a student teacher and being told by my faculty advisor that if I was bored with the lesson that the kids would pick up on that. A huge part of the success for many teachers, myself included, is in the deliverance of the material. "Guess what kids?!? Today we are learning about fractions! Booyah!" If I can summon up the necessary enthusiasm and find the best vocabulary available to me in the recesses of my brain, then I can salt and pepper my speeches and written work with the newness I'm craving and desiring.

Having said all of that, for the reader when I've published some writing or the listener when I am talking, I believe the repetition I bemoan mostly goes unnoticed. The bemoaning does not - it's super annoying. I don't believe I sound like a broken record, and believe, me I would know as quite a large amount of time in my formative years was spent listening to and befriending broken records.

But, I am sure that when I communicate an idea I'm slightly bored with, that it doesn't come across as excitedly or enthusiastically or as creatively as it would if it was new. We all know how it feels to be the recipient of a speech from an adult on a ubiquitous topic such as trust or honesty and we just want to interrupt the speaker saying "I know, I know". And now I am that adult, only I have the self-awareness (enough with the shock and awe, thank you very much) to not be that adult.

I can be unique and different and original. I've been there and I can be there again. I don't have to repeat others or myself. I can continue to reinvent the wheel! (oval anyone?) I can climb to new heights figuratively speaking of course what with my totally debilitating fear of heights. I can absolutely become a better writer and a more eloquent speaker.

Having said all that, I am my toughest critic on nights the other guy is busy. It's not like I have a huge problem - it's more of a long string of minor ones. While I don't have to repeat myself, I also don't have to berate myself for some repetitiveness. I'm not going senile (just around the corner), and some great thoughts and ideas and speeches and funny bits in writing are worth saying again almost like a Greatest Hits album.

Knowing myself as I do (it's like we're best friends), I will never settle on boring and I am just not satisfied with substandard and uncreative work. I will write and rewrite as I find that fresh material. I will revise and constantly freshen up advice I give students or stories I tell friends. Or, if I must say something again, I will present it with an excitement of a man half my age (with the full head of hair to match). So, I am sorry if I am repeating myself, but I am working on it.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Time to Make it Snow

He sat on the grass by the lake under the shade of the grand old oak tree spying on her swimming from his private vantage point, just marveling at how wet her hair was able to get and just laughing at how dry it would be later.

She took the expression “if the shoe fits, wear it” literally exactly once a month just so the huge pile of shoes in her closet didn’t feel like a complete waste of money.

He climbed a ladder to the roof of his house, hoisted himself up, and looked back down at the ground with disdain and pity. It was moments like this when he felt so proud and alone.

She is often told that she looks like a woman half her age which makes her understandably happy as well as eager to meet this youthful woman whom she will either befriend, tear to shreds or both.

He drinks water with a thirst befitting a much thirstier person or a less thirsty person who is aiming to fit in among all of the other very thirsty and cool people he is always surrounded by, which he is.

She burst through the door, ran to the bookshelf and hurriedly re-organized her books by their chronological date of publication just in time for the arrival of her mother who only asked for one thing in return for years of thankless parenting; randomly assorted books and periodicals whenever she visited. “Take that mom!” she whispered devilishly under her breath as she heard her mom knocking at the door.

He opened his closet and placed all of his shirts in a pile and then, taking exactly four large steps backward, he leapt on top of the shirts with a glee that could only come from leaping onto a large pile of shirts or finally being completely wart free.

She was heading uptown on the bus surrounded by hippos, most likely hungry hungry ones, and she was just praying that they weren’t also going to the library, no matter how real or imaginary they or her trip to the library was.

He sat in his car and observed the busy street around him – a couple walking their dog, the mail carrier distributing letters and flyers, a young woman going for a run, some kids making a lemonade stand and an older man watering flowers in his underwear. “Damn,” he thought as he looked around in wonderment “this is one amazing tuna salad sandwich.”

She was sitting at her desk in the dark, her face illuminated by the moon in the window, as she faced a giant pile of premium white paper. She methodically picked up one sheet at a time and punched hole after hole after hole in them until all that was remaining was a massive mountain of white circles. With as much restraint as she could muster, she grabbed her glue stick, rose and walked slowly and menacingly towards the freshly painted black wall. “Time to make it snow” she whispered.

He spent his days wantonly and dramatically cracking nuts and then, stopping, feeling guilty and gluing them back together.

She sat at the piano and played slow, moving and emotional songs for hours until she just couldn’t take it any longer as she dropped her head and wept. Steadying herself, she stood, took a step back and then grabbed her trusty saw. No one, not even her beloved piano, could make her feel this way.

He looked at the large, juicy apple on the counter with misplaced jealousy followed by vicious sadistic chopping with his invisible knife before turning to face himself in the mirror with the smug satisfaction of a job well done before settling down to enjoy yet another really great apple still filled with misplaced jealousy.

She sat on the beach watching the waves crash at her feet enjoying this perfect moment of relaxation. A flock of seagulls announced their presence overhead. The waves continued. Her mind drifted. She wondered how different things would be if, instead of water, the waves were in fact made up of flocks of seagulls and she, for some reason, smelled strongly of fish. Or what if she was a seagull and the rest of the flock, all of a sudden, decided they no longer wished to fly with her for reasons they couldn’t completely articulate mostly because they were seagulls. Or if this beach and the waves and the seagulls were merely figments of her imagination or she of theirs. She sat on the beach watching the waves crash at her feet only feeling significantly less relaxed.

He, after many months of menu planning and hiring staff, opened up his first restaurant to rave reviews such as “why does this place reek of fish?”, “you do know that this isn’t your restaurant, it’s my boat, right?”, “stop wildly waving that freshly caught snapper in my face while imitating my voice” and “fine, if I order the bouillabaisse, will you leave me and my boat alone?”.

She often stands outside on her deck on warm summer evenings, glass of wine in hand, just wishing she was more one dimensional in all senses of the term.

He is often referred to as a human garbage can by his friends who are, in fact, garbage cans and aren’t, in his experience, the best judgers of character. And yet, it still hurts.

She held her newborn baby on her lap the way a mother dolphin would hold a baby dolphin if it had arms and hands and a lap. Why she was always making things unnecessarily challenging and awkward and involving dolphins, she’d never know.

He spent his afternoon enjoying the groves of cool jazz, sipping deliciously fruity cocktails, preparing delicate and dainty spinach and feta pastries as well as plotting the brutal and vengeful overthrow of his strata council.

She stopped what she was doing each day exactly at four and ran home. No matter where she was, who she was with and what she was doing, she would abruptly stop, only to resume those activities at exactly 4:25. What happened in that 25 minute period each day and why it left her literally covered in glitter and soot and smelling of talcum powder and orange zest she would take to her grave. It’s how she was raised.