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Rita Arens
My name is Rita Arens. I like to write. A lot. Many pages.
Recent Activity
It actually smells more like carpet now. Or feet.
1 reply
I may try that next to get rid of the vinegar, ha!
1 reply
Domestic Why Do I Bother #6,000 I have cream-colored carpet. It's really squishy and feels good under your feet. We knew we were taking a risk when we moved here in 2007 and installed light-colored carpeting with small children around, but we thought, you know, maybe it would be different for us. Kind of like how I thought we'd only have educational, wooden toys and watch less than an hour of Nickelodeon every day. And I know, you're all wondering why we didn't just put hardwood in the living room instead. We put it in the library when we pulled out that awful carpet (and the one time I begged to use the nail gun is the one obvious screw-up in the wood, another Domestic Why Do I Bother). Hardwood is all the rage, you don't have to vacuum, you don't get stains. Yeah, I know, I know. But I've lived with hardwood throughout twice and there are other issues. It gets scratched. Stuff gets embedded between the boards. It needs to be swept almost daily. It fingerprints (and toeprints). Hardwood is not magic, though after this latest cleaning fiasco, I'm ready to rip out the living room carpet and lay pebbles if need be the minute someone hands me $12,000. I digress. So our cream-colored carpet has suffered eight years of high traffic, children thundering in and out from the deck door no matter how many times I implore them to use the garage door, stay off the carpet, take off your shoes, for the love of all that is holy. Most of it looks okay after I steam it, but there are certain spots on the landing of the stairs, right next to the couch and on the threshold between the kitchen and the living room that have... Continue reading
Posted Nov 10, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
{Editor's note: Of course this is about me. This whole blog is about me.} It started with texts. She held off for a long time, preferring not to pay, preferring email and keyboards, so much easier, especially since she typed more than 80 words per minute, maybe more. (Who knows? It had been over 15 years since her last typing test.) She typed so fast she could drip clauses into sentences the way chefs drizzled cherry sauce over cheesecake. Texts were, by nature, short. Disturbingly short. Leaving off the niceties of language. She did not approve. Then came text language. Even when she had to painstakingly punch numbers on her phone's keypad three or four times each to use capital letters and punctuation when the rest of the world referred to her as "U," she still composed complete sentences on principle. And she noticed something happening. Her insistence on punctuation grew increasingly desperate, as if were she not to end a salutation in an exclamation point the recipient might not read her missive. Everything! Became! Exciting! Or enthusiastic? She didn't know. She just stopped using periods. She cried the night Facebook stickers appeared, although she embraced emojis with her sister and daughter because they became another form of family language, where chickens meant things are good and cats whistling whispered the mood in the room had turned awkward. She could only accept the substitution of pictures for words if there wasn't a word that meant quite that thing. For everything else? Enthusiastic punctuation. She didn't even notice she was doing it until she reread a work email to find only one period in a paragraph of six sentences. A paragraph about email newsletters. The email newsletters were not putting out forest fires or rescuing babies. They were just showing up... Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
Today I'm writing at! #WhatDoITellMySon is something I've never had to ask myself, and I'm sorry 4 hours ago Image: Rita Arens I have no idea what it's like to raise a black son in America — this is what I can offer Dear James, I can't and won't pretend to understand what it's like to raise a black son ever, let alone in our current 2015. I'm not sure I can tell you what to tell your son. You're a strong, capable father, and I have faith you will guide him in the best way possible. Here's what I know: I was once a white person raised almost solely among white people. This became problematic because even though my family and friends didn't talk about other races, their body language suggested that the other was different — perhaps to be feared. Since I grew up in a town of 5,000 people who were 99 percent white, I didn't have to think about race much until I went out into the world. It might be important to say that many, many white people can live their whole lives without interacting with anyone but white people. There are enough pockets of the country that are mostly white for this to be true. Read the rest at SheKnows. Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
I look forward to your post, Arnebya, and I feel the same way about the door at home. Also, my office doesn't have a door because it's really supposed to be a dining room.
Toggle Commented Oct 7, 2015 on On Finding Time to Write at Surrender, Dorothy
1 reply
At the beginning of the school year, I instituted Library Tuesdays. On Library Tuesdays, I and anyone in my family who wants to (or needs to) come with me heads out to the public library with novel-in-progress or homework or book in tow. I get there, I set the timer on my phone for an hour (longer would be nice, but I have to be realistic about how late I can push dinner since this is after my full-time job), I put on my headphones and I work on whichever novel I'm focusing on at the time. This is my latest iteration of Project Find Time to Write. Last year, my husband traveled so much I tried instituting Saturday blocks of time for myself, even going so far as to put them on both my and his calendars, but life didn't cooperate. There were always family plans or birthday parties or something that cut into my writing time until I was never getting anything done and feeling more and more lethargic about fiction and guilty about not writing. The year before that, I tried to have Tuesdays after dinner be my writing time, with my husband taking over bedtime duties for our girl, but then sometimes he had a late meeting and sometimes we ate late and sometimes I couldn't bring myself to sit at the same desk where I spend ten hours a day at my day job and write more. The year before that, my daughter was still in ballet and I used the hour and a half of her classes twice a week to write, and that was kind of nirvana for writing me, but it was awful for parent me because she ended up hating ballet so much she cried every time we made her go.... Continue reading
Posted Oct 6, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
"So it's not your fault?" she asked. "No. Not really." "So it's Daddy's?" "No." "Your work?" "No. Work is work." "So whose fault is it?" "Well, sometimes it's nobody's fault. Things just don't work out." "Oh." "It's harder when there's no one to blame, isn't it?" "Yeah." "Yeah." Continue reading
Posted Sep 21, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
I finally started the newsletter I've been thinking about in my head since I sold THE OBVIOUS GAME. You can sign up for it in my left sidebar. It will only come out once a month. I do not like to sign up for anything I haven't seen already, so here is this month's issue. I don't plan to deviate wildly from this format. I hope you subscribe! (I've found I can't copy and paste because it's a table or some such nonsense, so here is the format.) Month-specific message of misguided brilliance Samples of this month's #morningstumble (links to the beautiful, the absurd or the funny) Updated Goodreads list of books I've read this month So I Read an Article Recently: I'll tell you what I saw that was interesting this month. Basically what I'd tell you if we were at a dinner party. Links to my books and anything new I've published around the Interweb, natch. That's it! Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
So tonight I was wearing a shirt like this. (I love you, Raygun. Keep it klassy.) So then we tried to explain Prince to my daughter. (Cannot be pronounced. Screw you and the contract you rode in on, Warner Bros.) Then we tried to introduce her to the greatest Prince song of all time, Seven. Then we tried to explain the '80s phenomenon of Purple Rain. Then we found THIS. (hang in until the one minute mark) And that concludes this evening's lesson on being awesome. Congratulations, Eva. Goodnight, children. Continue reading
Posted Sep 10, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
This past weekend I was grouchy. I'm at the hardest part of my half-marathon training, so I'm tired physically a lot. We just had a week solid of sultry, sweaty days and thick summer nights. Labor Day means the neighborhood pools closed, it means the end of summer, it means looking ahead and jam-packed schedules and my husband's weekday travel and early-morning choir runs. It means it will get cold again, and I hate being cold more than any other weather scenario. Freezing drizzle. I hate freezing drizzle. Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama. I know every parent has this recording running in the background of their lives, and usually my patience is good. Decent, at least. But coming off two weeks of solid husband-traveling-back-to-schooling-work-is-crazying chaos, my patience: She is so depleted. My patience packed her bags on Friday and walked out the damn door for a long Vegas weekend. So I snapped when my girl waited until I was out of earshot (not hard, my hearing is getting worse and worse) and then asked some question that I didn't answer over and over and over. I didn't want to underdog on the swing eighty times. I didn't feel like going over to look at the shiny thing she found at the street fest. I. Just. Wanted. To. Be. Alone. Then I remembered the article she just turned in for her junior reporter role at a local magazine. It was a list of guidelines for trick-or-treaters. All the things I've been drilling into her head for the past eleven years were there, and when I emailed the piece to her editor, I felt the shock of "she's so grown up" reverberate down my spine. But she does still need me. Or at least, she still wants me, and what am I doing?... Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
"Did I used to put my head here?" she asked, even though she knew the answer, that this is a dance we do. "Yes, right here on my shoulder. And then, finally, you would sleep from 5-7 am." I remember those days, dragging myself to work to pay for diapers and formula and daycare. It was a dark time. She rests her tween head on my shoulder now. I vow to stay for five counts of one hundred. I feel her body grow heavy, begin to twitch. I remember those days when her body was only two feet long, cradled against me. The relief I felt in her sleep, which meant my sleep. I told her she used to shove her nose into my neck. A few days ago she tried, her head bigger than my neck. I'm no giraffe. "Not enough room," she said. My girl is too big to bury her face in my neck. I understand this truth more than she does. I am glad it still occurs to her to try. It will be hard to show her I'm only human. Continue reading
Posted Aug 25, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
"You are the party," she said. We were in college. I'm sure I was crying over what the kids now call FOMO. It was easy to do at a party school when I was trying so hard to balance perfectionism and grades and social acceptance and my bad habit of seeing my self-worth reflected (or not) in boys' eyes. It was a reassuring thought, then and now, when even at forty-one I occasionally feel left out of this get-together or that trip. When I think about places I can't get time away from work to visit or haven't had the money to see yet. I am the party. Repeat after me, and see if you smile. Try moving through life expecting people to embrace you with open arms, knowing you will bring interesting stories and intriguing conversation. Pretend until it is. Something about this little lie I've told myself since that night when I repeated her in Iowa City, most likely feeling rejected, then feeling better, buoys me even now. Who cares what they think? You care what you think. We all die alone. So believe, even for a minute, that you are the party. Let yourself believe. Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
(This post originally appeared on And look, I made a Pinterest-y thing!) Because I'm not like a professional blogger or anything, I forgot to take rock-solid "before" pictures, so some parts of the deck are already removed here. In recent years, we realized the deck was getting seriously squishy. As in, someone might actually fall through soon. We started scheming for affordable ways to replace the deck, because our taste is never in line with our budget reality. Then my father pointed out he had a pile of wood from what used to be a corncrib. He is unusual in that he also has a huge shed and a planer. Handy and unusual. Last fall, we traveled to Iowa and spent a day planing down the wood. It is cedar and even though the boards were over sixty years old, they planed down really nicely. After the old, gray, weather-beaten wood goes through the planer, a layer of wood is removed to reveal the beautiful wood underneath. Just like exfoliating! Magic! Around early May this year, we rented a trailer, drove back to Iowa, and picked them up. We stuck them all in our garage and started ripping off the old deck. I highly recommend investing in one of these should you try to destroy anything as large as a deck, ever. We rented a dumpster for one weekend, which meant it all had to come up, even though it was raining. Fun! Once the deck boards were up and the railings and pergola was down, we realized the joists had not been supported with joist hangers and really we could use about twice as many. The boards had been attached with nails, not screws, so all those nails had to be pulled out or cut off, as well.... Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
Well, a year and a half after I wrote Help, My Cat Can't Pee on BlogHer, my sweet little black cat, Kizzy, almost died again from a total urinary blockage. Thankfully, before he blocked completely, we'd already decided to take the rather dramatic step of perineal urethrostomy surgery. Cats become candidates for this crazy surgery after they've been blocked three or more times, according to my vet. A year ago, we thought we'd never do it. The surgery is drastic: The vet cuts off the cat's penis and tacks the sides of the urethra open wider with sutures. After those sutures dissolve, your cat has a nice wide urine highway right underneath his anus. (He's still a "he," technically, albeit a "he" with no penis.) (Genitals don't equal gender, anyway. Kizzy would like you all to know he is indeed, still a mancat.) Kizzy went in for his third catheterization several weeks ago, and I talked to my husband before I took him about the threshold for surgery. Primarily we wanted to weigh how likely Kizzy was to face problems later in life, like incontinence or pain. Secondarily, we wanted to know how much the surgery would cost. We were already shelling out hundreds of dollars every time he was hospitalized for a blockage, so our tolerance for vet bills is high, but we weren't going to bankrupt my daughter's college fund or anything. Finally, we wanted to know if it would actually work. I, of course, asked Dr. Google, and that's why I decided to write this post. I did see a lot of message boards, but I didn't find many blog posts that detailed someone's personal experience from beginning to end, and that's really what I wished for when I went looking. After we agreed to the surgery... Continue reading
Posted Aug 11, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
Kizzy has had an extremely tough week. I'm going to write about the whole thing on BlogHer and will add a link here when I do. The good news is he is recuperating and so far hasn't had complications and can take the cone off hopefully Monday. Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
Note: I wrote this on the plane on the way to #BlogHer15, so this post is already ten days old. After consulting some friends, I decided to publish it anyway. I don't really care if it doesn't win me any popularity contests. This post was springing from my fingers as I was still reading Coates' book, and that hasn't happened to me in a long time. I didn't know President Obama planned to speak today. I flipped to NPR out of boredom during the hour-long ride to the airport. Obama talked about a deal America had forged with our "allies and partners" -- I assume "partner" in this sense is less romantic than what some of my friends call their lovers -- in order to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. I gripped the wheel tighter as my default inner voice asked, "Why shouldn't they have one when we do?" Because, removing all nationalism from the equation, this hardly seems fair. Stay with me a moment. The more I learn about our brains from scientists and our souls from writers and artists, the more I realize what I grew up accepting to be true is a rationalization to benefit whoever is telling the story. They weren't evil in telling it, either -- it's what they were taught or came to believe. In sitting with my own feelings, I now believe there are no universal truths or common histories, there are only the stories we tell ourselves. Which, in and of themselves, are so divergent no two people witnessing an event ever agree on all the details. All we can do is take the information, go forward, and try to be a good human. I got to the airport and started reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME. It's... Continue reading
Posted Jul 24, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
Last year, I had the honor of picking up the BlogHer Voices of the Year mantle from my predecessors late in the season. I remember standing backstage and holding my breath as each person read, feeling their excitement and nerves bubbling as they rushed breathlessly on and off, some breaking into tears as they stepped backstage into a line of hugs from a group of recently former strangers. This year, I went through the entire process soup to nuts. Voices of the Year is so multi-dimensional with so many moving pieces, but it's still magical. It's magical. This year was my tenth BlogHer conference and my sixth as a full-time BlogHer (now SheKnows Media) employee. This year we rolled out the video production talent of my colleague Melissa Haggerty and her team. This year we captured not only performance of the written word, but also the many other ways we're expressing ourselves, from Liv's dual-faced make-up GIF of the face of suicide to Samantha's shocking and heartfelt Twinsters video to Feminista's #NMOS14 social impact, as well as the show-stopping readings we expect from VOTY. The day and night went by in a blur of image checks and confirmations, and afterward I cried for a minute in the restroom because I have so much respect for, well, the office of VOTY that I'd been terrified I would somehow screw it up. One of the things we learned this year from #BlogHer15 is to own your body of work. I am adding this year's VOTY production to my body of work with a large measure of satisfaction and so much respect for Elisa, Melissa, Jamie, Joy, Lori and all of my other partners in awesome. Thanks for sharing this with me. And congratulations to our 84 2015 Voices of the Year: Continue reading
Posted Jul 23, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
I'm traveling this week to #BlogHer15 in New York City. Packing always reminds me of the combined apprehension and freedom I feel taking off on my own. Knowing there will be no one to watch your bags while you use the facilities changes your suitcase strategy. When I was a senior in high school, I'd sometimes drive the four hours from my hometown to The University of Iowa to visit friends. The closer I got to exit 242, the more nervous I'd get. I'd be lying if I didn't admit on every solo trip I've ever taken, starting then, there's a moment I consider chucking it all and turning around. After college at Iowa, I moved to Chicago to sublease a room from a friend in an apartment I'd never seen. I thought the slowdown in traffic coming into Chicago proper was caused by an accident. I'd only previously driven into the suburbs by myself when I moved there. I developed a taste for airplanes after embarking on a series of solo weeklong business trips for my Chicago PR agency job to exciting locales like Cincinnati and Duluth. I starting visiting friends everywhere I could and spent all my money on United Airlines, hoarding the ticket stubs as proof to myself of my ability to deliver on promises I made. Yes, I said. I'll come visit. The scariest of these trips took me from Omaha to Chicago to LA to Sydney in one heady, 24-hour journey. There was a monitor on the plane that showed the plane relative to land. It was comforting until we passed Hawaii and I learned how big the Pacific Ocean is. On the day after I returned from Australia, I boarded a plane alone to head to Florida to train for my new job in... Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
My daughter is in between needing daycare and being able to get a job during the summer, and we are sort of flummoxed about it. She has alternated between staying with me as I work and attending a parks & rec summer camp that is unfulfilling but what we can afford. We can't afford a nanny. She doesn't need a babysitter. She's at the age that I remember loving summer the most, when the little kid stuff -- like swingsets and trampolines and splash parks -- is still fun and nostalgic but she doesn't need me hovering around her to enjoy it. She's at the age of flashlight tag and being able to light fireworks and riding your bike to the pool and walking down to the creek to look for frogs alone. This summer we've patched together help from my parents (bless them), the parks & rec camp, a week of horse camp and a parent or two working from home, but I need a real solution for next summer, the summer of twelve, and the summers afterward until she can get a job. I don't even know how old you have to be to get a job here. I think I had to be sixteen in Iowa, though there was that one sketchy restaurant in town that hired fourteen-year-olds. What do you do with a summertime middle-schooler? Is camp really the only answer? She's not interested in the parks & rec, she doesn't play sports, and the really cool camps are either too far away to commute to and still get to work on time or cost way more than we can afford to pay. I'm frustrated. Finding childcare has been really the only part of parenting that I loathe. My daughter is wonderful. I don't want her... Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
thank you, Kirsten. :)
Toggle Commented Jun 29, 2015 on The Sky at Surrender, Dorothy
1 reply
Today my daughter looked up and said, "Mama, no matter how fast we drive, we never reach that cloud. Do we all see the same sky?" And I said, "Yes. There's only one sun. One moon. We all see it." This month, I am happy and sad for us. I am happy that same-sex couples can now be recognized as spouses anywhere in the U. S. I am sad that we laid to rest yet more black humans who did no harm. All they did was be black. Again. And I think, we all see the same moon. We all see the same sun. We all have bones beneath our different-colored skin. We all love and seek love in return. We all live under the same sky. I am happy and sad for us. Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
A month and a half ago, Beloved and I began merrily ripping apart the deck on the back of Chateau Travolta. It's a big deck, around the size of my first Kansas City apartment, and it had railings and a rickety pergola, as well. Since then, we've braved torrential rains and searing heat to tear the deck down to the joists and begin building it back. (If you like home improvement posts, I'll be blogging this when it's done.) Nothing has been as entertaining as the search for the elusive Cabot Australian Timber Oil in Honey Teak. The elusive Cabot. Goddamn it, you will not break me. There is no evidence I can find that this color is discontinued. However, I have only been able to track its movements one gallon at a time across Ace Hardware store websites that claim a gallon is at this store or that store, but when you buy it online and then drive to said store, the Cabot has already moved on. I'm so sorry, Mrs. Arens, we don't have two gallons. We only have one. Our inventory system was just joking. Sometimes, I'll drive to a store and it will be there. Sometimes the cashier will stare dumbly at me while waving for another employee to hurry up and come deal with this woman who has a coupon that I have never seen before did she print it at home is she a felon I don't know so I'll just stare. Why don't I buy more than one gallon at a time? See above. And the price! It varies wildly. I have paid $59, $44 and $10.95 for identical gallons of the elusive Cabot, the latter after a request for a twenty-mile, across-metro, in-store transfer that ended with, "Bobby says why don't you... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy
When I lived in Chicago, my grandparents died in very close proximity. Collapsed by grief on the airplane home for their funerals, I remember feeling, really feeling, the texture of the seat and being surprised by it. Being comforted by it, by doing just this one thing, feeling the material. Only in times of extreme grief did I give myself permission to live in the moment, back then. I have a bad habit of cataloging all the tasks in every area of my life when my body is engaged in manual activities and my mind starts to wander. I've done it since the idea of homework was introduced in elementary school and I was shocked to learn I'd be responsible for something that needed to be done in the future of my own volition. I find it difficult to put off tasks that I know need to be done. This summer, I'm focusing on feeling the texture of every piece of material. The sound of the wind rattling the leaves and the 17-year cicadas hissing in the treetops. Sunshine on my shoulders and the instant sweat evaporates when the wind picks up on my runs. When I wake up in the morning (sometimes now drenched in sweat, thanks, perimenopause), I'm taking a least five minutes by my alarm clock to listen to the sounds of the house and find that floating place between sleep and wakefulness one last time. Instead of listing in my head the tasks I need to accomplish each day, I'm trying to float, to prepare myself to be resilient to whatever might come my way instead of trying to head it off before it even happens. I've always wanted to be that one zen guy in every trapped-on-a-desert-island movie who lies on the beach while everyone... Continue reading
Posted Jun 9, 2015 at Surrender, Dorothy