humor writing

Negative space

I had to drink out of the side of my mouth to get the taste of glue out since half of me was still numb. I went back to the dentist, Dr. Chan, the first time in years, with lots of work to be done. After the hydro-scaling I got hand-scaled, and then it was time to move me, change sunglasses. And with my head thrown back and the two of them in my mouth, it felt pornographic: six of them pulling and pressing and rubbing, drilling and filling me at different pitches and tones, the suction, the doorknob they told me to bite down on, to keep my jaws open: the fact my tongue kept fighting them like a doped-up lizard and the doctor had to pin it down with his thumbs: me, realizing my hands were clasped and lower back arched, butt cheeks clenched, lips cracked: the torture scene from 1984, my face eaten by a rat—or worse, a metaphor, an imagined rat, the savagery of dentistry, Nazis, nerve sacs, small tools, my imagination. The look of my teeth on the flatscreen and my fillings the color of chicken fat, sickly yellow. Dr. Chan, filling me full of composite and topping it off with glue and then sanding it down and cauterizing it, reassuring me you’re doing great, Bill. Doing great.

Reminded of the fact I have geographic tongue, whatever that means. The image of continents taking shape in the form of some unexplained fungus that mutates over time. Reflecting darkly, this is what it means to be a writer: to feel the need to say something even if you can’t, geographic tongue. It gets around, but no one knows how or why, or where it comes from.

When I got home I went right for the beer and the back yard and sat with the cat and a small green bug crawling up my arm, reflecting on the cloud cover, the drooping pansies and peonies, reminded of an image on the eBook I’m writing at work by the header, a logo that forms a negative space that’s soothing, and why?: because the mind needs a place to go without walls, a free space, the place in between the forced imagery where we can let go, and just be.

I got it in my head I needed to fix things around the house and started with the deadbolt latch on the front door that fell off, requires a custom-sized screw I don’t have the patience to find, though I’ve tried. The kids had some gum, so I chewed a piece and balled it up in the slot and stuck the latch back on and then went out in the garage for the carpenter glue to fix the finial cap on the wall clock that keeps falling off from the cat chewing the tip (has bad teeth, chews on things to sooth).

I got that done and then went back to the recliner, put on John Coltrane and felt for my lip but still couldn’t feel it, though it was there.

The client for the eBook doesn’t like white space, wants us to fill it. Doesn’t care for nonsensical paragraph breaks even though they’re not nonsensical, they’re deliberate.

Because we all need a break,

some space to take a breath,

and think for ourselves.

(What’s so negative about that?)


Open your heart to the trees

The doormat can’t go askew but it does, and I have to straighten it each time I go by.

Cats act no different than people when they’re high on cat nip, on drugs: self-centered, prone to violent acts. Still I can’t get them to clean.

The dog has now developed an eyebrow thing with me, where she lets one eye hang down slack like it’s not looking (but of course it is), then raises the brow above the other and just holds it there locked, formulating commands, smiling as she does. I’m now convinced this means Touch Me which I do naturally, to break the lock.

Unfortunately the cats when high aren’t prone to compulsive sweeping or rearranging the art on the walls, as needs done.

There’s a painting in the foyer that no one likes but me, and I keep it there as a sign of dominance over the others.

The painting was done by Barry Blend, an English painter we met in France. It’s an abstract profile of a woman with a forlorn look, pale yellow discs for eyes and no iris imparting a possessed look, too many painkillers or not enough, it’s unclear. My mom had it in their house and was convinced it was an homage to John’s ex-wife Mary.

For me, I like it because it’s gloomy and reminds me there’s always someone feeling worse than you somewhere in the world, so get over it. A kind of morale-booster, that way.

But the painting is prone to hanging slack on one side because I never hung it right the first time and it requires extending the ladder out with everyone watching, saying be careful, don’t fall! So the painting needs straightened with the end of a broom from below, and then starts tilting again, Touch Me.

Now unemployed, it’s getting harder to do anything and I’ve realized that time is an abstract, hypothetical — but money is not.

Yet I can still find ways to put off taking down the exterior Christmas lights because, a.) Charlotte is sick again, up in bed, and could gag on her puke or something without me hearing, b.) I don’t feel like it, c.) no one else notices the lights but me anyway, d.) the weather is too good for taking down lights, or, e.) there are more important things I should be doing right now, but I don’t feel like doing those either.

I’m probably depressed because, a.) I’m out of a job, b.) the weather keeps changing, c.) I’m overdoing it with David Foster Wallace essays about depression that read like a kind of fortune cookie prophesy for his own life that he couldn’t crack open and interpret until he had to do himself in at last, and even though I’ve only read one, that’s overdoing it, or, d.) I have Geographic Tongue.

The doormat curls up on itself in the corner, and it’s unlikely anyone notices that or if they do, they feel compelled to address it. I can’t tell if it’s the unease or the satisfaction of fixing it I need to resolve.

We are learning German though, and Deutsch Ist Einfach (trust me). And just like childhood learners, adult learners put things off to the last moment, when it comes to homework or software updates.

The class is at a local community college in Building C, one of many small meeting rooms with placards outside telling you what’s going on inside.

On my way to German 1, I passed a class of people undergoing Project Management Practicum, and with a snapshot of their faces and guises, imagined who they were, what kind of project managers they were pretending to be, how it felt like pricking an exposed nerve sac in my tooth and made me shake at the thought of it, Project Management.

Sometimes the dog half-barks in her sleep, jerking and twitching, chasing something or being chased in some primordial dog dream, Squirrel-Chasing Up Forest Tree Dream Sequence #5.

And as we settle into the sounds of the house and the dream trees, the small tics and shifts and hums from the appliances run their timed loops and cycles, and day turns to night.

Familiarizing myself with the angle of the sun and which trees get touched in what sequence, trying to ascribe some unique quality to each tree I can use to differentiate them, to really appreciate them for the trees they are, that I never have time for and likely won’t again when I’m working. That perhaps there is some truth to the thought you can feel a tree if you open your heart and your palm and place it on its side, then sit there waiting to feel it. It will come, it always does.

Written as an homage to David Foster Wallace, trying to get some of his style out of my psyche like using a Neti bottle on the Internet, a good flush.


Geographic Tongue

I’m told it’s common, affecting 2-3% of the population, which doesn’t sound common, but intriguing still: Geographic Tongue.

I picked my hygienist because she seems genuinely passionate about oral health. When I ask for more information she gets excited talking about it, like there’s whole new galaxies of possibilities and stories to be told, right here in my mouth.

They’ve made it so comfortable in the dentist’s office now it’s a kind of meditation as I sit here with my mouth out and my hands folded on my lap. The radio is a bit staticky but it kind of suits the sound of the instruments hissing and buzzing in and out, pretty soon you can just disappear.

I used to have the other hygienist Randy, who handled me with a kind of gruff Let’s Get Through This Together machismo, like neither you nor I really want to be here buddy but it’s going to be OK, we’ll get you out of here.

I didn’t pay attention to which hygienist I had or which worked on what days, until I got the girl who gets excited talking about dentistry, the pockets between your gums and tissue line, subtleties of flossing, myth-busting.

She said the Geographic Tongue is not unusual, just a pattern of spots that appear inexplicably and migrate around, then disappear and come back again at random.

So naturally I looked it up online and you guessed it: Wikipedia has a full spread on people with Geographic Tongue, representing all kinds of cases with mouths and tongues hanging out like tattooed, uncooked meat. It gets its name from the shapes of the spots that resemble islands or land masses, may look like a map if you use your imagination.

The thing is, once you start looking too closely at your tongue (or any part of your body), it’s easy to start thinking it doesn’t look right, you could have anything.

Now unemployed, I can make a routine cleaning to the dentist office the centerpiece of my day and feel like I’ve still done something at the end of it, especially after blogging about it.

I got there early enough to thumb through a magazine with stories about traveling in 2015: Where Will You Go?

I flipped to the writer’s bio, wondering how much she made for the article and if I could see myself doing that, most interested in how far out she ran with the language, how far she could go on her own vs. how far they’d let her.

And when I got the referral for the oral surgeon to confirm if it really was Geographic Tongue or something else, surely more ominous, I critiqued the copy on the referral flyer that does its best to quickly assure you, your mouth is in good hands with us, nothing to worry about.

So perhaps the hardest thing about being unemployed is also the pitfall of being unemployed: learning how to enjoy it. And what a pity, to leave my job because I wasn’t enjoying it only to not enjoy unemployment either, thereby proving I haven’t learned a thing.

Hell-bent on savoring it, I took the dog back to the foothills, still convinced we’re starting to understand each other more through non-verbal cues, that she’s sending me signals by the way she looks at me, the possibility either I’m starting to read her mind or vice versa.

The days take on a flowy quality, where I can take my time deciding what to wear and it still doesn’t matter. And yet I want the satisfaction of figuring it all out, this life junction, to know what’s next and still have the patience and confidence to dangle myself in the wind, waiting. That there is something now to treasure, which is always true if we just saw it that way.

I thought it funny I’ve got the map in my mouth, it might know where to go, but when I checked it just now, it’s gone. The spots move like herds with some vague sense of where they’re going, unaware they’re making patterns other people are putting names to.