We Finish Each Other’s…

My husband JR is an excellent sleeper. He can sleep anywhere at any time, entirely unconstricted by conventional boundaries. It doesn’t matter if we’re in the middle of a dinner party; he’ll leave the table, move to the nearest flat surface, and go to sleep. While I have an extensive, regimented nighttime routine, carefully developed to combat pervasive insomniac tendencies, JR needs no preparation whatsoever. He just falls asleep. It’s astounding.

The other night, JR went to sleep a couple hours before me, which is the norm. When I found him in bed, fully dressed with his glasses still on, I debated whether or not to wake him. Sleeping JR can be a real brat. Here’s a typical example:

Me: “JR, you’re snoring.”

JR: “You’re snoring.”

Me: “No, I’m lying here listening to you snore. Could you roll onto your side?”

JR: “No.”

Me: “JR…”

JR: “Just go to sleep and you won’t hear me!”


Out of concern for the wellbeing of his glasses, I decided to wake him. After his eyes popped open, he asked, “How did I get here?” I replied, “The same way you get everywhere,” then concluded with: “Free will,” at the same time he said, “Magic?”

This exchange brought to mind another recent occasion when we offered very different simultaneous answers. Someone had asked us for the key to our relationship’s longevity, and JR replied, “A sense of humor,” at the same moment I said, “Time apart.” JR loves to tell that story. I maintain that both factors are important.

Besides his ability to sleep, JR has another magical power: an unparalleled sense of direction. This is something I lack entirely, so it makes no sense to me when I start to guide him somewhere and he says, “I know. I’ve been there before.” Seriously, what the hell does that have to do with anything? If you plunked me down in the center of my hometown right now and asked me to take you to the house where I grew up, I would not be able to do it. JR, on the other hand, has internal maps and intuition that are baffling to me. When he helped me move to Orcas Island back in 2012, we arrived after dark and drove around the island for about an hour, trying to locate the AirBNB where I’d be staying for three months. The directions I’d been given didn’t correspond with reality, and when we found ourselves in downtown Eastsound for the third time, I started to panic. JR, however, remained totally chill. He set the directions aside and said, “I think I know how to get there,” then proceeded to drive us straight to the house. Upon arrival, I felt like I’d just watched the parting of the Red Sea. That was eleven years ago, and I’m still in awe.

JR finds my lack of directional prowess equally baffling. He’s shocked every time I don’t know how to get somewhere, as well as every time I do know how to get somewhere. What can I say? I like to keep him on his toes.

While JR and I aren’t always on the same page, I think we’re at least in the same book. I’ll call it I Don’t Know, It Just Works: Life With a Couple of Goofballs. It’s not finished yet, but when it is, I guarantee it will be interesting enough to get banned in Florida.

I Can Love a Parade

Embedded in our psyches, we all have a series of scripts that guide our lives. Essentially, these are the stories we tell ourselves about our likes, dislikes, abilities, flaws, etc. Sometimes they’re helpful, as they allow for shortcuts in decision-making. Other times they get in the way, like when we hold on to scripts that are outdated or allow them to limit our opportunities.

One of my personal scripts is: “I’m an introvert. I don’t like parties or crowds.” So when I started a four-week drumming workshop and the instructors said we’d have the option of marching in the Mardi Gras parade at the end of it, I thought, Yeah, that won’t happen. I made a vague commitment to participate in the parade if the weather report for the day didn’t include cold temperatures or any sort of precipitation. Considering it was wintertime in the mountains of Western North Carolina, I felt pretty safe.

As it turned out, my confidence in the region’s crappy weather was misplaced. When the forecast indicated that Parade Day would be warm and dry, my heart sank a little. When my sister said she and her boys were coming to Asheville to watch JR and me perform, I knew my goose was cooked. It was happening. Script be damned – I was going to be in a parade.

And here is why scripts don’t always serve us: the parade was amazing. Thousands of people in colorful, alien-themed garb had come together after a long, anxiety-soaked hiatus, and for the first time in almost three years, I got to feel the buzz of energy that emanates from a joyful crowd. The smiles were huge. The costumes were jaw-dropping. Folks were dancing in the street. I was surrounded by cheers, music, and laughter, and it was awesome.

If I’d followed my script last weekend, I never would’ve seen my nephew flee from a giant CD dragon…

…or watched another nephew become a bead-bedecked Chewbacca…

…or gotten to showcase my fancy new drumming skills.

I wouldn’t have felt the flush of happiness each time kids in the crowd started to dance as our crew passed, their eyes growing huge when they saw the size of our drums. I wouldn’t have felt the warmth in my chest each time we rounded a corner to find a sea of smiling faces. I would’ve denied myself the joy of making music with and for my friends, family, and community.

This experience was an excellent reminder to question the set of stories I’ve chosen to believe about myself, even tried-and-true ones like: Parties Are Kelly’s Nemesis and Parades Involve Crowds, and Crowds Are Torture. Perhaps now I’ll change the parade one to: Sometimes parades can be less than horrible.

That’s progress, right?

Late Night Revelations

I started writing songs in my late-teens. Without access to a band or any instrumental prowess, I just sang them a cappella, dreaming that one day, they’d bloom into legit songs. Somehow.

Not long after JR and I started dating, I wrote a song for him titled Mi Rata Podrida (I meant it in a loving way). I gave him the song for his birthday, along with printouts of others I’d written over the years. He was appreciative but didn’t quite know what to do with them, so he signed up for guitar lessons.

About twenty years later, we started making music with our friends Chris and Brevis.

When we first got together, the country was in lockdown. Weekly band practice was pretty much our sole in-person interaction outside of grocery stores and our homes. We’d often comment on how we lived for Tuesday nights – a bright spark in an otherwise dreary, worrisome time. Throughout quarantine (and a variety of other unpleasant life events in the coming years), I found infinite catharsis in the simple act of screaming into a mic while engulfed in a sea of pounding drums, driving bass, and power chords.

Our first practice space looked like a haunted kill room. (Note the stained plastic sheeting behind Chris in the photo below.) From my position at the mic, I’d stare across the room at creepy portraits of little girls who were definitely ghosts (you can see them two photos down). It was terrifying, but we loved it…until we got kicked out for being too loud.

I blame Chris.

Our first fan was a darling dog named Bella. While we played, she’d lie on the floor in a circle of blasting amps, perfectly content.

Bella is a badass. I mean, just look at that mohawk. She never would’ve even considered telling us to turn it down.

(Although we really should. We’re all losing our hearing.)

Our first gig was for seven people in the guitarist’s backyard. After we played, no one said a word about the music. It was very awkward. A year later, we played another backyard show, this one for about twenty people. It was way better in that folks actually acknowledged we’d just performed songs. Many of them even said nice things.

After writing and practicing together for a couple of years, we grew tired of the crappy recordings captured on our phones, which were essentially in-your-face drums with melodic mumbling in the background. We found an amazing producer – Matt Williams at The Eagle Room – and recorded nine of our songs in one day. I think Matt is used to more polished musicians, not a bunch of grungy rockers who decide after three takes that it’s time to move on. But we were stoked with the results, and a few days ago, after a healthy dose of Matt’s magical mixing and mastering, we released our little album, Dark Circles.

I’m glad the me who started writing songs 30 years ago didn’t know it would take this long to get them out in the world, because she would have drowned in a puddle of tears. But the me of today is feeling pretty snazzy about the whole thing, especially since I just learned you can ask Alexa to play our songs, and she does it. How cool is that?

I mean, you know you’ve really made it when even Alexa knows who you are. 😏 😆

Safely Frozen

At 10 p.m. on Friday, December 23rd, I texted this photo to my mom and sister with the message: This is how cold I am.

My sister wrote back: No wonder you’re cold!!! along with a screenshot of current weather conditions in my hometown, where it was 1 degree with a “real feel” of -18. Mom replied with a screenshot of her town’s current conditions (3 degrees with a real feel of -8) and the message: Come here, it’s warmer!

My sister’s text inspired me to check our thermostat to see if it was, in fact, 1 degree outside. What I found was a blank screen. The thermostat was dead. I informed my husband of this unfortunate turn of events, and he went to check the circuit breaker while I texted the update to my mom and sister, whose joint response was the equivalent of AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! accompanied by offers to help and a variety of troubleshooting suggestions.

Finding no issue with the circuit breaker, JR and I reviewed the thermostat’s user guide and searched for answers online, to no avail. Around 11:30, we decided to bury ourselves under a million blankets and try to get some sleep. The next morning, all that had changed was that it was even colder in the house. Our HVAC company’s “emergency hotline” wasn’t operational. Since we couldn’t find anyone to come out to the house, we realized that our plan to host Mom for Christmas was officially thwarted, as the ability to see one’s breath indoors is neither merry nor jolly. Bundled in several layers of clothing, we began packing up our holiday gifts and food while poor Titus provided a running soundtrack to our miserable situation, crying continuously under a mountain of blankets with only his nose sticking out.

For the next three days, we hunkered down at Mom’s, distracting ourselves with holiday merriment and trying not to picture pipes bursting in our frozen house, turning the inside into an ice castle. On our drive home yesterday, we got a call from an HVAC repairman who was at the house. He let us know that all was well – the thermostat was working again, and the house was warm and undamaged. “We found the problem,” he said. “A pipe outside froze. That must’ve triggered your thermostat to switch off as a safety measure.” Um…huh? If that is indeed a safety measure, it must’ve been designed by a sociopath. When the outside temperature drops below zero, your thermostat will switch off automatically, allowing you to quietly freeze to death in your home.

Now that we’re on the other side of that debacle, my primary feeling is gratitude. I’m thankful we were able to spend Christmas with Mom in her nice warm home. I’m thankful our house is okay and the thermostat magically fixed itself. But I also 100% stand by the message I sent to my mom and sister before diving under a million blankets the other night:

Winter can suck it

The Other Kelly Wolves

Soon after I moved to Asheville, North Carolina and began working in social services, I learned there was another Kelly Wolf in the area. The imparting of that knowledge involved a number of conversations like this:

Person: “Oh! You’re Kelly Wolf!”

Me: “Yes, I am!”

Person: “The PhD sexologist?”

Me: “Um, no.”

Person: “Oh.” <insert look of profound disappointment>

Almost a decade later, I still have that conversation on a fairly regular basis. It always ends with me biting my tongue to prevent an explosive outcry of: “But I have strengths, too, goddammit!!”

In the virtual world, I am also periodically mistaken for another Kelly Wolf, this one an ultramarathon runner. [Side note: I am the opposite of an ultramarathon runner. I hate running. Other people who hate running tend to say, “I only run when chased,” but I wouldn’t even do that. If someone were chasing me, I would turn around and try to talk them out of it. After a couple decades of work in the mental health field, I figure my chances of verbally deescalating a person are way higher than outrunning them.]

Occasionally, an online article is posted about Kelly Wolf, the ultramarathon runner, detailing her most recent thousand-mile dash over a series of mountain ranges, and my social media persona is erroneously tagged, resulting in a flurry of undeserved praise for my inspirational endurance and exceptional physical feats. Again, I have to explain to these starstruck fans that I’m not the Wolf they’re looking for, and again, they are terribly disappointed upon learning my true identity.

I’ve decided the next time I have to explain that I am a different, far less exciting Kelly Wolf, I will add a random tidbit of self-appointed praise, like: “No, but I do take a mean mushroom photo.”

Or: “No, but I once found an egg with Australia stamped out of it.”

Or: “No, but I do have a really big dog.”

And then I will scurry away, either virtually or IRL, hoping I’ve left the person so confused, they forget to be disappointed.

Gearing Up

Well, it’s happened: a big rainstorm blew in last night, stripping most of the remaining fall foliage from the trees. We’re officially one giant leap closer to winter. Blech.

For me, what winter means is this:

(1) Cold hands and feet

(2) Endlessly runny nose

(3) Fear of the outdoors

(4) Mood in the toilet

Last week, I lamented to a colleague about the swift approach of Depression Season. While she agreed that winter is a bummer, she also listed several things that she appreciates about the season. I didn’t share her feelings about many of the examples she provided (e.g., wearing boots and sweaters – UGH), but her efforts to focus on the bright side inspired me to look back at photos from last winter to see if I could identify any personal points of gratitude.

Here’s what I found:

So I realized I do have something to look forward to in the coming months: a sweet, giant dog in sweet, giant sweaters. At least I know, as I’m gripping mugs of tea for warmth and continually blowing my nose, I’ll be able to gaze across the room at Titus and smile.

Stupid COVID

“Stupid COVID” has been my constant refrain over the past two and a half years, and at long last, it got its stupid hooks in me. Today, I’m supposed to be spending time with a friend who’s visiting from California. We haven’t seen each other in seven years. Instead of giving her a big hug, I’m texting her places to eat, shop, and hang out in my own damn town while I sit at home on the couch. ARGH. Hmph x 1,000,000.

But in the interest of holding grief in one hand and gratitude in the other (thank you, Francis Weller), I’m going to focus on the upsides of my current bout with the plague:

  1. I got sick now instead of next week when we’re heading to the beach.
  2. My dogs are still willing to hang out with me.
  3. For fear of catching the covids himself, JR is cleaning everything in the house. 🎉
  4. I recently started a giant, epic fantasy novel, so I have that to keep me company. And if this sickness lasts a long time, I have another one waiting in the wings.
  5. It’s warm and sunny outside.
  6. I don’t have a fever. In fact, my temperature yesterday was 96.7. What the…is there such a thing as a reverse fever? Or is that just hypothermia?
  7. We have an extra bedroom where I get to sleep without the usual addition of a 130-pound dog in the bed.
  8. The chapter I’m currently writing in the third book of Aret is deeply bleak and disturbing, which is a perfect match with my physical/emotional/mental state. So…yay for that.

All right, I seem to have hit a snarky patch in my attempt to be grateful, so it may be time for a nap. The most important thing I need to remember right now is this: I normally long for downtime to focus on things like reading and writing, so resenting it simply because it’s been forced upon me is pretty stupid.

But not as stupid as COVID. 🤬

We Miss You, Mister Buttface

Some dates have weight, and for me, September 14th is a heavy one. On 9/14/2012, I arrived on Orcas Island, where I lived alone in a magical wonderland and wrote Aret. And on 9/14/2020, Dad died in his sleep, setting my world off its axis with his sudden, permanent absence.

The juxtaposition of those two dates reminds me of Francis Weller’s guidance to hold grief in one hand and gratitude in the other, which is also how I try to balance memories of Dad. For each that brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes, I try calling to mind one that makes me laugh.

Like this:

My sister and her two boys were visiting my parents for the weekend. While the boys were goofing around during bath time, out of the clear blue sky, 4-year-old Henry called my dad “Mister Buttface.” Upon seeing the resultant, terrifying look on Dad’s face, Henry cried, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!” And that should’ve been the end of it, right? But no. On his way out of the bathroom a few minutes later, Henry called, “Oh, Graaaaaampy!” When Dad turned around, naked Henry made brazen eye contact, smacked his little butt three times, and dashed out of the room.

I arrived in the aftermath of this incident, and when I asked Dad how he felt about the unexpected, unprovoked attack from his normally sweet grandson, he gazed into the distance and replied, “I’m just trying to imagine what my grandfather would’ve done if I’d ever called him Mister Buttface.”

Dad had a framed photo of the two of us on his dresser, and now it’s on mine. Soon after he died, I had a necklace made from one of the pennies he’d kept in his penny loafers, and when it’s not in use, it hangs on a corner of the picture frame. Each morning, I lift the necklace from the frame and say, “Mornin’, Dad.” And at the end of the day, I return it and say, “Goodnight, Dad.” Sometimes I share news that would’ve been of interest to him, like, “We’re meeting up with Mom to celebrate her birthday,” or, “The boys start school today.”

This evening, to balance out the weight of September 14th, I think I’ll change things up a bit. As I place the necklace back on the frame, I’ll look down at Dad’s smile and say, “Goodnight, Mister Buttface.”

Brave Bird

I love rollercoasters. Not everyone in my family shares this passion.

See how much fun everyone’s having?

So when I decided to spend this year’s birthday at an amusement park, I left my family in peace and conscripted two friends to spend the day having their bodies thrown wildly through the air at breakneck speeds. One of the friends (Rhonda) is a fellow coaster fan, and the other (Andrea) was excited at the prospect of the day’s adventures, citing that she hadn’t visited our chosen amusement park since high school.

What I discovered on our ride to the park was that Andrea had not been to ANY amusement park since high school. While Rhonda and I were concerned we might not be as comfortable on rollercoasters after shying away from germ-ridden rides for the past couple years, Andrea was facing a thirty-year drought.

When we got our first glimpse of the park’s pièce de résistance, The Fury – a 325-foot steel coaster with an 81-degree drop and speeds up to 95 miles per hour – a nervous laugh sounded from the car’s back seat. Andrea told us she’d texted a photo of the coaster to her husband, and he’d replied: You’re a brave bird! She went on to explain that their friends own a parrot who was terrified of grocery bags until the friends taught it to say, “I’m a brave bird!” whenever it saw one. Andrea and her husband then adopted the phrase as something to bolster their spirits when they feel anxious. As we walked under The Fury on our way to the park’s entrance and a train of shrieking riders passed overhead, Andrea looked up and softly stated, “I’m a brave bird.”

Upon arrival, we marched right to The Fury, skipped to the front of the line (we had passes allowing us to do so ~ I didn’t just yell, “It’s my birthday, losers!” and charge past everyone), and got in the first car. The next thing we knew, we were hurled straight off a cliff and into oblivion.

That’s real fear, folks. Note the white knuckles.

(Andrea referred to this process as “ripping off the band-aid.”)

At the end of the ride, Andrea declared: “That. Was. Terrifying!!” – a callback to what my poor nephew had cried after we kind of accidentally (or at least thoughtlessly) took him on one of the fastest wooden rollercoasters in the world as his inaugural coaster experience. 😬 (Please refer back to that first photo.) Andrea was a bit shaken but admitted the ride was fun, while simultaneously being kind of awful.

We left The Fury and headed off to check out others coasters, informing Andrea we’d only be going on rides rated at a Thrill Level of “Aggressive” (a decision she graciously, at least by outward appearances, accepted). Eventually, we headed back to The Fury for a second go. Before riding this time, we made a couple changes. I tucked in my shirt (you can see in the first photo how the ride tried to disrobe me) and tightened the straps on Andrea’s tank top (same thing happened to her. Cheeky ride!). Rhonda and I, who’d gotten our coaster legs back by then, committed to putting our arms up for the first big drop. Hearing our plan, Andrea just gave us the side eye, as if to say, I promise nothing. And away we went!

“How about one arm? Is that good enough for you lunatics??” – Andrea

After that ride, all three of us declared The Fury as the best ride in the park. We spent the next few hours riding more Thrill Level: Aggressive coasters and trying not to pass out in the 100 degree heat. At the end of the day, on our way towards the exit, we hit The Fury one more time. By that point, Andrea had become the Coaster Queen.

All in all, we did 14 rides in 6 hours. The next day, while I attempted to facilitate a Governance Board meeting and couldn’t seem to find my words, I realized I might have a mild concussion. But whatever. Brains heal, right? And it’s not every day you get to watch a friend transform into the bravest bird ever to rock a rollercoaster.

Close Encounters of the Ursine Kind

Here in Western North Carolina, black bears abound.

They’re everywhere – clambering onto people’s decks, wandering through yards, invading dumpsters and cars…even doing our taxes (not really, but that would be nice). Compared to the danger factor of brown bears and grizzlies, black bears are more like oversized stuffed animals, but it’s still a bit alarming when they make a sudden appearance. But startling things (provided they don’t kill us) are fun, little reminders that we’re alive, right? So I’m a fan. I guess bears are my Appalachian equivalent of California’s earthquakes, because I thought those were cool, too.

The other night, our dog Titus sounded the alarm that something was amiss outside, and when we threw open the curtain that covers our glass front door, BOOM! Bear.

JR was not at all pleased. With one hand on the doorknob, he shouted, “What do we do?!”

“We don’t do anything,” I replied. “Don’t open the door.” (This seemed like a silly thing to say, but he really looked like he was about to open the door. When I asked him later if he’d planned to do so, he said yes, so I sure am glad I told him not to.)

I banged on the glass, but the bear didn’t give a shit. Giving us a sidelong glance, it stretched the bungee cord on our dumpster just enough to pull out a trash bag, then dragged it into the neighbor’s yard.

By this point, JR had broken into a sweat. “This is not okay,” he said. “He’s way too close!” I reminded him that this sort of thing is the norm when one lives in bear territory, but he wasn’t soothed in the slightest. Even the dogs, who will bark at the neighbor’s cat as if it’s plotting to unleash Armageddon, were utterly cowed by the bear. When they’d gotten a good look at the creature responsible for all the commotion outside, they looked at us like, You know what? You’ve got this. We’re gonna go lie down.

After the bear went away and relative serenity settled back into our home, I thought about JR’s and my differing reactions to the incident. I then recalled that he wasn’t with me for either of my previous close encounters with bears, neither of which involved the luxury of a door, glass or otherwise, standing between me and the big, black fur balls.

Bear encounter #1 took place during our first year in Asheville. I was out walking our dog Libby when something resembling a Newfoundland ran across the street in front of us. Libby was extremely dog-aggressive, so I was actually relieved when I realized the animal was a bear, not an off-leash dog. The relief wore off quickly, however, as it dawned on me that I was alone and unprotected in the presence of a large wild animal. The bear climbed over a fence and into someone’s yard while I left my mom a high-pitched, warbly voicemail about my very first bear sighting.

I’ve already written about my second bear encounter, so there’s no need to revisit all the details here. In a nutshell, I ran myself and my dog Jasper directly into a bear. In my defense, I was distracted by high levels of crankiness at the time.

I suppose, because I’ve had these up close and personal experiences with bears without getting mauled or killed, my panic meter is calibrated differently than JR’s. That being said, I may never throw open that curtain in the den with the naive nonchalance of the past. You just never know what might be lurking on the other side of a glass door.