mad world

i’ve been thinking a lot about what i can do to really make a positive difference in the world. when i mentioned midlife angst as a likely genre of blog post here on full of prunes, this is mainly what i was referring to. i’ve reached that age when it becomes impossible not to question what impact you’ve made and what’s possible with the time still left.

i tend to be high on the brooding spectrum and to think about these things a lot anyway. add a cancer diagnosis, a pandemic and a never-ending parade of human rights atrocities and social justice crises to the mix, and it’s pretty much the only thing i think about lately beyond the immediate needs of my family.

truthfully, though, i can recall exactly when it became a major preoccupation for me. the summer of 2018—when we all watched in horror as immigrant children were torn from their families, placed in cages and left in legal limbo, vulnerable to sexual abuse and every imaginable kind of exploitation—was the tipping point for me.

at that time, my husband and i were barely able to manage our own lives and care for our kids. in truth, we were on the brink of divorce and had been for a while over the stress of trying to keep it all together … two demanding jobs with nightmare commutes, two young children with boundless energy just as we were hitting middle age, seemingly endless responsibilities and so little relief—emotional, physical, economic.

don’t get me wrong, we were living a life of extreme privilege. the california dream. the dream i had left my life in boston to pursue almost a decade before. but the dream was slowly robbing me of my happiness, and under trump, increasingly robbing me of my soul. before california and before kids, i did a lot of protesting and volunteering, donating and voter outreach, so i slept pretty well at night feeling i was paying my way on this cosmic marble, even if it felt futile a lot of the time. but since having kids, arm-chair activism (at best) and virtue signaling (at worst) seemed all i had the time and energy for.

that summer, it felt sickeningly insufficient.

as anyone who knows me well would tell you, i’ve never set my goals based on what seemed possible. i have always set goals based on the deepest desires of my heart and then reconfigured my reality until the goal became feasible (or every possible avenue to success had been well and truly exhausted). in other words, i’m like a dog with a bone when i get an idea in my head.

but why wasn’t i applying that same approach to the problem of not enough time? why was i so invested in the path i was on, which clearly wasn’t working or resulting in a life i felt good about?

i don’t know why it took me so long, but what i can tell you is the day in july 2018, when i sat at my kitchen table crying and telling my husband that i couldn’t be at peace with myself if my answer to kids in cages was “i’m too busy,” that was the same day we decided to move to the east coast. it was to be near family, yes, but more specifically to be near the support that would allow me to do more to make the world a just place for everyone.

i still don’t know what that looks like. certainly, life has thrown us some curveballs since we moved that have slowed my roll, and i’m not where i want to be in regards to world-changing or life-balancing. recent events have me thinking that perhaps it’s time for another one of my dramatic life resets. do we up sticks to vermont, where we could get a modest house for peanuts, drastically reducing our need to work for money and freeing our time to participate more actively in world-changing? could i be of more use as a civil rights or immigration lawyer? (in vermont, taking the bar exam without going to law school is a thing, so a not completely implausible plan.) do our kids need an expensive private education, or should we somehow prepare them for a future that involves an entirely different kind of ladder to success? 

my therapist and i talk about chosen mediocrity  a fair bit. it’s the idea of living a small life on purpose, or breaking free from the “tyranny of excellence.” the idea resonates so deeply with me, but it also scares and repulses me at the same time. even if i could once and for all expunge the ego that propels me to external signifiers of success, does it make any sense in the context of innocent people being murdered by police without repercussions or kids in cages? isn’t it proper to strive for excellence when the stakes are so insanely high? having a small life right now seems like a privilege so many people can never enjoy for reasons well beyond their immediate control.

i sometimes wish i were the writer of blog posts that neatly answered these kinds of questions, where i explained how i figured all this stuff out. maybe even offered an online seminar where i taught you to answer your deepest philosophical questions and remake your life for $349. nah, $599—i’m worth it. (see, STRIVING!)

anyway, it’s not. far from it. (in fact, this may not be the blog for you if you prefer answers over questions.) i remain stubbornly invested in society’s prescribed definitions of success in a way that i don’t fully understand myself. i struggle to balance all the slices of the pie that comprise my life in a way that feels right (ethically and logistically) and to dismantle my mental models that make balance essentially an impossible goal (the awareness of which has yet to temper my striving). 

i am the writer of blog posts where i ask you to come along with me as i messily strive and then strive to stop striving, where i wrestle with what i owe the world vs. what i owe my own family and band , where i grapple with what it means to be enough—do enough—at this moment in history. 


doble prima

a few posts ago, i recalled a question i once asked of my gram. could identical twins who married identical twins have identical children? if so, what are the odds? it wasn’t a throwaway line to make a point. i really asked her that once, and i genuinely wanted to know. she acted like she thought i was trying to wind her up, but it’s also possible, looking back, she didn’t quite know what to make of me or my question. 

it’s a weird thing for a kid to wonder about, i suppose, but it came from a growing fascination i had with, for lack of a better word, genetics … in the VERY lay sense. see i was, at that point, still an only child—my blended family of three brothers and a sister would come later—and i bemoaned my only-childness intensely.

i had another unusual family situation, though, that helped fill the sibling void i felt so acutely. i had what’s known as a double cousin. what is a double cousin, you ask? well, a double cousin is when a set of siblings has children with another set of siblings. the resulting children are known as double cousins.

my mom (the fourth child of five) married my biodad (also the fourth child of five). then my mom’s sister (the baby of the family) married my biodad’s brother (also the baby). both couples had a child, and presto chango … double cousins.

even when we were really little, meg* and i knew our relationship was unique, more like sisters than cousins. we shared all the same grandparents, all the same cousins and all the same aunts and uncles. the rest of our cousins had entire other families that we knew hardly anything about, while we shared every holiday, every gathering, every vacation, every everything because there was no other family to split time with.

our families dressed us alike, and we did sibling things like create a secret language and beat each other up while blaming the other one for starting it. like a sibling, she has been there from the very beginning (well, since 14 months), and she knows my story. there’s no need to explain things to her or give context. she was there for the vast majority of it. 

of course, i didn’t know anything about genetics when i was seven or that meg and i truly are more like sisters than cousins. it turns out that biologically we have twice the DNA in common than typical first cousins do—25 percent to be exact (the same as half-siblings). i’m sure that our unusual family tree was what set my mind to the idea of two sets of identical twins having children with each other. (if you’re interested, identical twins marrying identical twins is a thing, and their offspring would be biologically indistinguishable from full siblings. in other words, they would share 50 percent of their DNA.)

it’s been on my mind a lot lately because of the genetic counseling i’ve done as part of my cancer treatment. they ask you about your entire family and everyone’s health history. it’s always fun to explain double cousins to someone for the first time. most people find it somewhere between mildly and intensely confusing, but the genetic counselor was unfazed. she’s probably seen it all.

i have been completely estranged from my biodad for over ten years now (that’s another post altogether), and so to prep for my appointment with the genetic counselor, i knew i would have to be creative to get family information from him. without hesitation, i called my brother dale* and asked if he would reach out to our dad and do some fishing for me. he agreed but asked what the pretense should be. i said he could pretend to be doing some genetic testing on himself and to need information. the funny thing is, this brother is technically a step-brother, adopted by my biodad. we (and they) share no DNA. but in that moment, i completely and utterly forgot that fact. he’s just my brother, no qualifiers. he’s 40 now, but to me, he’s still knobbly knees and superhero undies … my baby brother. i turn to him in good times and bad, and i couldn’t love him more if we shared 100% of our DNA.  

that’s the thing about genetics. it’s so important, and it’s not important at all. what we enter life with and what we adopt to move through it are linked but not inextricably so. we make a lot of it up as we go along, and much of it happens to us without our bidding or control. that piece is ineffable and stubbornly resistant to tabulation. but it’s also what can make life unexpectedly rich and meaningful.

* i’ve changed names for privacy.

idle and blessed

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

i wanted to give a little update on how i’m doing, though it feels callous to write gleefully about how fantastic it is to be alive and well when george floyd (and so many other POC) are not. i know that joy and anger, sadness and helplessness, relief and fear can all coexist in a person simultaneously, but it still feels wrong to me to celebrate as our country fights for its very soul.
as i sit here, thrilled to have taken my first shower and my first walk outside my yard since surgery, i know that even in my personal misfortune, i am benefiting from white privilege. if i were a black woman who had noticed a suspicious lump in my breast, would doctors have taken it as seriously? acted as quickly? would they have proactively re-examined the other breast images in light of the new diagnosis? found the second tumor? would i have even had the excellent health insurance to make any of that possible? studies clearly tell us that the answers are often no.
so for everyone who has been supporting me and sending their prayers and positive energy, please know that i am doing very well physically. my emotional well-being, though, like many of you, is not so great. i’m heartsick that, as a group, we white people who ardently believe that #blacklivesmatter and white privilege is a thing have not done a better job at fighting/dismantling the racist structures designed to oppress our fellow human beings. i’m heartsick that a human being can be murdered in broad daylight and there’s even a single person who doesn’t feel shame and revulsion.
but as with my physical well-being and any recriminations i may feel about how i have (or have not) taken care of my body over the years, all i can do now for my emotional well-being is vow to do more when i am on my feet again. more of everything … protesting, letter-writing, volunteering, educating the girls about racism and social justice. whatever i can do to honor this one wild and precious life i’ve been granted … and the ones that were stolen. 

two weeks

today kicks off the final two weeks before i have surgery, a double mastectomy. i’m so, so ready, which feels strange to say about having major surgery. i’m sure the nerves will kick in as the day approaches, but right now, i can’t get rid of my boobs fast enough. i know some folks get emotional about losing their breasts, but i’m just not at this point. they were fine in their heyday, and they (minimally) served their purpose as milk machines. truthfully, though, they’ve seen better days, as my plastic surgeon (very tactfully) confirmed during our zoom virtual consultation. anyway, i don’t feel attached to them as a signifier of my femininity or anything else really. i guess we’ll see how i feel in two weeks.

for now, i’m taking an odd pleasure in receiving packages with all of my post-surgery supplies. (rinse-less bath wipes! dry shampoo! a bed wedge and desk!) i’m also doing my best to stick with a strengthening plan my amazing friend and personal trainer has developed to help me get my core and legs ready to do most of the work for the next few months, while my upper body heals. planning and preparing help me cope, so that’s all gone into hyperdrive, clearly.

the girls are so far unfazed by the prospect of my surgery. T’s concerns have mostly revolved around whether my new boobs would be made of metal and having a sleepover with my parents while i’m in the hospital. S is even less curious about it all (but is looking forward to the sleepover as well!).

whether all of this equanimity will last or not, i can’t say, but considering everything going on at the moment, i am grateful to have what i can get.


situation normal, all freaked up

recently, my family and i watched the animated movie spies in disguise. now, let me back up and say that i consider myself to fall, in most matters of taste, on the high side of mid-brow. nonetheless, i really enjoy me some will smith, who according to my proprietary algorithm is at the very top of low-brow entertainment. it’s ridiculous, really, both because such ranking systems are inherently subjective and meaningless and because anyone who saw him in six degrees of separation knows dude can act. still, his artistic choices are mostly normy and, so, top of low-brow or bottom of middle-brow. regardless, i can’t tell you how many times i’ve seen hitch on purpose, and when “getting jiggy with it” comes on, i go full wipipo mode, arms a-flailing, lips a-pursing.

getting back to my point, though, we watched spies in disguise with a bit of trepidation, because i have some fleeting notions now and again about raising high-brow kids. (i know, laughable.) but we all thoroughly enjoyed the film, particularly the end, when the will smith character shows he finally fully appreciates his nerdy scientist sidekick for who he is by proclaiming, “team weird!” it’s become something of an anthem around the house. 

i celebrate the weird and the freaky and the unique. andddddd i really struggle with stepping outside of societal expectations to live a fully authentic life. i resist accepting when life throws me off my carefully planned path. or to put it another way, i have a lot of what they call in mental health circles “shoulds” … i should be this. i should do that. and i’m really draconian with myself about it at times.

right now, i have (very treatable) cancer, which while not weird in the cool, let’s-move-to-portland-and-launch-a-coöp kind of way, has definitely thrown me off the path of what i sometimes think my life should look like at this point. there are things about that that are FANTASTIC. and there are things about that that i’m finding less than fantastic.

being diagnosed with cancer has, predictably, awakened me to so much beauty in life that i had been forgetting to notice or failing to fully appreciate. it also has me thinking things like, “this isn’t a good time to be out of work for who knows how many weeks!” or “are the kids going to be terrified of my franken-body after surgery?” as if the universe gives a shit about my job or my boobs.

i find i’m clinging to my shoulds more and more, as i prepare to have life-changing surgery. i should have kids who listen to yo-yo ma and always look tidy. (but i want my kids to be themselves, free from self-consciousness.) i should get botox so my face looks super smooth while i have gross drains coming from my armpits. (but i don’t want to care about my appearance.) i should be that crafty, pinteresty mom with an amazing blog, organized closets, a dining room table not covered in laundry and a solid podcast idea. (but i so want to be okay with the fact that most days now i have just enough energy to do my job and keep four people, a dog and two plants alive.) 

i should be perfectly adaptive and productive in every possible way. (but i’m just a freak who plays for team weird.)

the more literal update on my health is that i have been confirmed for a double mastectomy on may 26. my oncatype test came back with a score of 17, which means that i’m not a good candidate for chemotherapy and likely will not have to have it after surgery. (this is a very positive thing, not only because chemo sucks, but because it also means that my tumors are not highly aggressive.) radiation is still up in the air, depending on the pathology results after surgery. the surgery is scheduled to take about four hours, and i am only expected to be in the hospital one night before coming home. i’m so grateful that surgery was not delayed again, and that this step will soon be behind me. thank you, again, to everyone who is praying for me and sending positive vibes. like it or not, you are now a permanent part of my extended family. x kirsten




topics under consideration

i suppose it’s only natural that when you are going through Some Shit™ you become more introspective, which is why so many blogs (and books, for that matter) are about Life Events. mommy blogs. cancer blogs. wedding-planning blogs. quarter-life-crisis blogs? is that a thing? 

i’m far too fickled and distractable for that. it’s why i tell myself i don’t have a graduate degree. the idea of doing a thesis or dissertation on some ultra-narrow topic, makes me twitchy. i joke that i’m a jill of all trades and a master of none, and it’s true. i like to think deeply about things, just … not for too long. i’m not bragging. my life would be very different (better?) if i had a bit more stick-to-it-ness. but i explain all this to set up the revelation that this blog won’t be about anything in particular.

thus, full of prunes. it’s an old-timey saying that my gram used to use about me sometimes. it means silly, nonsensical. whenever i asked her something i thought was profound, she said i was being silly … or full of prunes. i swear, i think she believed i was trying to wind her up, but i really wanted to know if it was biologically possible for identical twins married to identical twins to have identical children. (i still don’t know the answer.)

anyway, i have kids, but i am no mommy blogger. i’ve struggled with mental illness, but it’s not a mental health blog. i have cancer … well, you get the idea. so to help you, the nascent reader of my blog, determine if this is the place for you, i’m compiling some things i may write about (in no particular order):

midlife angst/gen X stuff, ’80s pop hits, mental health/psychology, design/photography, traveling, leadership, parenting, british mystery shows, DIY, navel-gazing, cancer, grammar, idiosyncrasies, reading, education, philosophy, personality tests, iced tea, poetry, general angst/ennui, cooking/baking, hiking, crafts, writing, true crime, unsolicited (or solicited) advice

things i probably won’t write about (but who knows?):

the kardashians/reality tv, gardening, sports, investing, podcasts, muscle cars, science (real or fiction), video games, crossfit, technology, puppers/woofers, wedding planning, mushroom foraging, cryptocurrency, geocaching, ham radios, wine or fancy cheese

if you have strong feelings about topics you would like me to write about (or not write about), by all means, throw them in the comments. nothing inspires me like a random request.


hello, world

i’ve been thinking about starting a new blog for a while now. this is my third blog, and it seems a strange endeavor. right now. ever, really. writing for free, out into a void. for what?

i started my first blog in … 2003. at the tender age of 30. a lifetime ago. i started it because: (1) i was going through Some Shit™, (2) i was basically a frustrated artist/writer person and (3) i thought it would help me grow my writing muscle (muscles?) to the point where i could become A Real Writer.

okay, okay. before we go too far, i want to get this out of the way. i am not some e e cummings poseur with the lack of caps (though i love me some e e). what i am is lazy, and so are my thumbs. i do socially mandated caps all day in my real job, but i give them a rest on social media and in texts (what even are personal emails?). so i’ll only be using caps for Dramatic Effect. i think it’s only a matter of time until the world follows suit. capital letters are the new two spaces after a period, IMO, so i’m going for it. YOLO. (my grammarly is going to lose its mind!)

anyway, this is my third blog. i’m no more a writer, in the conventional sense, than i was 17 years ago. but i write a lot (for work as well) and i’m pretty good at it, so in the literal sense of the word, i am a writer. now at 47, that’s enough for me.

it’s 2020, and once again, i am going through Some Shit™. i’m not sure the kind of shit really matters. well, i don’t know … maybe. but i find myself thinking about things that i want to get down, which i think some people might find interesting. and when better to cultivate an audience than in quarantine, when the other options are like watching paint dry, rewatching season 3 of NCIS, eating another box of cookies or reading a blog post by this person you knew from elementary school/that one job once/the east bay hiking meetup trip to point reyes? frankly, i like those odds.