to-do-do in a bottle

"Stephanie, I think we have mice." My feet were up on the chair before I could compose a response. "Yeah, I really think we must have mice. There’s no other explanation for this." Phil then shows me a half-full pint of rocky road ice cream.

"THAT’S NOT FUNNY! Don’t do that! Did you see how fast my feet just went up?"
"Well, there’s no way I ate all that."
"Don’t do that! Why would you do that? If I opened the freezer and found that you’d had some ice cream do you really think I’d come to you and ask you why you’d been eating it?!"
"Yeah, but this was my ice cream, Stephanie. Yours is that one with the fruit in it." I might as well be living in office space. I want to stab him. I tell him so. "Leave me alone! I’m a total stress case and I don’t need you giving me shit about how much ice cream I’ve eaten. Do you know how surprisingly easy it is to work my way through a pint in one sitting? Now seriously, go away because you stress me out, and there’s not enough ice cream in our freezer to deal with you right now."

The fact of the matter is, I am ridiculously depressed. I am stressed out. The muscles in my neck feel like shells. I am miserable. I am stressed, so stressed, worried about so many things. Things I haven’t had the strength to write about. Things I’ve shared with only three of my friends and my father. The rest of my family, my friends, everyone… no one knows because I haven’t had the ability, the composure, the strength to speak, or write about it even. I feel like I’m failing at everything. And the last thing I need is another goddamn to-do list. Phil goes over things with me, things I cannot let slip. Have you paid this bill? Have you written this email? Have you contacted this one? Have you written that yet? I have way too much on my plate right now, and I need help. It’s not the kids, it’s all the work. It’s magazine articles, interviews, marketing, pitches, updates, and it’s all very taxing. I KNOW these are good problems to have. I definitely know. But I’m overwhelmed, and I don’t know how to get away, to take a break, to start over. I’m so frightened that my book sales won’t be what they should be, that no one will come to my readings, that I could have done more. That I won’t know what to do next. I realize this is the fear of almost all authors, even the best of them. Still, it all weighs on you. It’s self-imposed pressure, and in the meanwhile, there are more speeches to give, more interviews, more articles, more appearances, and less balance (whatever the hell that is). Ice cream isn’t the answer, but neither is hearing "ice cream isn’t the answer." I swear when someone says that, I want to pull out one of my childhood moves.

When my parents were away on vacation, and our housekeeper was staying with us, I took this clear baby bottle that belonged to one of my sister’s dolls, and I took a shit into the bottle. I crammed it in there. And to make matters all the more appalling, I then twisted the cap back on. I don’t know why I did this, other than wanting so badly to see Lea’s face when she realized her baby’s bottle was filled with human feces. It’s absolutely grotesque… and that’s how I feel right now… like I need my sister, like I need someone to help me laugh through all this and get to the other side.



  1. Oy, I could have done without the shit in the bottle anecdote . . .ANYway. Take it easy. Get a massage. Live for the moment. Everything is going to be alright.

  2. I know you are busy with the things you listed here. Would you be able to sneak off to visit Lea for even a weekend? At her place? It would be a different dynamic. Seeing Linus and just relaxing and goofing around in the way that you can only with a sister.

    Regardless you have a lot of people who read and who wish you the best. We'll all be sending the good positive intentions your way. I believe that really works! I know you might have heard this before but think of worst case scenario. For example not as many people come to one reading as you might have expected. Could be many reasons, scheduling conflicts, etc.. but the fact that you have a book reading at all – that's way ahead of the curve. And one thing life has taught me is that the worst possible scenario really never happens anyway.

    The poop in the bottle? Little monster Stephanie!
    Ha ha.

  3. I totally get the stress thing. It seems like no one gets it, no one understands how bad you feel. And that just makes everything worse. You want to physically harm those around you who seem to have everything going right, seem to have the world figured out. You feel hopeless and scared, and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

    Unfortunately, I can't give any advice or say that things will get better because I can't even wade far enough out of my own pit of despair to find hope. That being said…the shitting in a baby bottle is a little much. I'd recommend choosing a different route this go around. :)

  4. I wish all problems could be solved by taking a shit in a baby bottle.

    Hey! Maybe they are! Maybe we have been missing out on the secret to life!

    Realistically, call that one friend who lives locally who will pick your ass up, drive you to one of the places on that man made lake, "force feed" you chips and salsa and margaritas, and listen to you bitch it all out. That is pretty much the grown-up equivalent of the "shit in a bottle."

    P.S. "Shit in a bottle." Sounds like the crappy name for a new SNL digital short.

  5. When you can, around the kids schedule: stop. Drink a nice cup of cofee (decaf if you are jittery) think about nothing and maybe listen to some Styx (depending on your age) or Norah Jones. Just… let it all go. Go for that Calgon moment. In the bath or not, but it helps. Also, I keep lots of lists and put lines through what I've completed- it makes me feel better.

  6. Two words: Personal Assistant

    This is really a new trend for people like you (and me) who just don't have the time to do and keep up with EVERYTHING. They're really not expensive either and usually get paid by the hour, not contract.

    Think about it.

  7. OK… I get that this post is about your stress level.
    The sh*t in the bottle though. I LOL'd out of repulsion and the visual. Then I focused on my amazement that your aim was spot on. And not into a regular baby bottle, mind you, but a DOLL bottle!!! Hmmm, me thinks I am around children waaaaaayyy too much since bathroom humor slays me these days.
    BTW, what HAPPENED when your sister found that bottle??? :)

  8. Your honesty inspires me. Thank you for being so real! Sometimes I am scared to let people know how I am feeling and I read your blog and I don't judge you… I just admire you even more. It makes me want to be more honest of how I really feel some days (still single and in my 30s) sick of pretending I am ok with it and worrying what is wrong with me?! Because of you I will be more honest with myself and others. You are amazing and I understand you have expectations of yourself but you should cut yourself some slack…you are human and can only do so much.oh and I will be at your book signing in New York and believe me there will be a line! Chin up :-)

  9. I am sorry you are having a rough go at it. We have all been there. Stress is universal. One thing that strikes me as odd is that your father and not your husband is in your inner circle of confidants regarding your current feelings.

  10. Whenever I am stressed out with a thousand things to do, I always hate when people tell me I should just relax, get a manicure, give in to my whims. That's not helpful to me. Because I won't actually be less stressed until I get things off my plate and stop thinking about these things. Because, for me in the end, it's not the things that I need to do that are so stressful (there are in fact enough hours in the day), it's that I am always thinking and worrying about these things I need to do. My mind is so preoccupied with what I HAVE to do, that I waste time thinking about doing it, instead of actually getting it done.

    What has helped me the most in these situations is grabbing one of those big desktop calendars and some different colored pens and planning out my life. If I can, I write tasks into the days when I know I will have time to do things, or when they are due. If it doesn't fit into a date, then I write it on the side in the note's section. As I finish things, I scratch them off. If something doesn't get done, I figure out another place to put it. I look at it when I am ready to get going in the morning, and i look at it again when I am finished at the end of the day to rearrange as necessary.

    On the back of the month I keep an on-going list of things that are out of my control. Once I write them down, they don't clutter my mind. I also keep a list of projects I need to get done. Keep the front task oriented, so you feel accomplished at the end of the day.

    I am not really an organized person, but when things get crazy, visually seeing it all planned out works wonders to calm and focus me. I hope if this doesn't help, you will think of something that will help calm and focus you.

  11. Sorry if this double posts. I echo what bestmansgrl suggested. A PA for you or secretary for Phil. Or both!

    I was composing a tribute to the late, great Jim Croce when my fingers slipped and this screen disappeared. *Ahem*

    If I could save shit in a bottle
    the first thing that I'd like to do
    is to crap in your dolly's baby bottle
    and sit back and wonder what you will do.

    Everybody now:

    If I could save shit in a bottle…

  12. Stephanie, I feel bad that you are so stressed out at this great time in your life. To coin an over-used phrase "Things have a way of working out". But I realize hearing those words don't help you at the moment. Best of luck. I can't get the image of that baby bottle out of my mind!

  13. Two girls, one cup? One girl one baby bottle? Oh man, at least you know how to handle Phil's half empty rocky road container should he be foolish enough to ever mention it again. Oh man, is that in your new book? Oh man. Hahahahaha.

  14. Yes – stress happens. And you've got to get some help or you'll get sick – at least that's what I do.

    When my life was out of control when the darlings were little, my saving grace was honing all of my type a personality traits into a well-oiled machine. I broke down each day into each hour and assigned the appropriate project/projects – including rest time and play time and nothing time. By writing it down, and sticking to it, it became manageable…and others could see I was in control of it too, so they quit bugging me. It didn't last a terribly long time, but it doesn't need to. You just need a breather –

    Be SURE to put exercise, naps and play time into the schedule if you do it – all work and no play makes Stephanie a grumpy girl.

    You'll get through it…

  15. My husband makes the same joke to me when food mysteriously disappears.

    Sorry to hear you are so stressed out. Exercise, even if it's just taking walks around the neighborhood, really does help. Just remember, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Try not to put so much pressure on yourself.

  16. Girl, I don't envy your schedule right now and I know you're swamped and are well aware that they are self-imposed and the'GOOD' kind of stress, but you have to get the 'worry' out of your mind – easy for me to say, but I'm saying it; we ATTRACT WHAT WE FOCUS ON, and that's one thing I can promise you without a doubt that I have learned over the years. I may not be going through the 'same' stress, or have the 'same' set of circumstances, but I've been there – trust me. The rest, is just geography. Everyone has advice, and you know your own advice is the 'best' advice…you're not going to hear anything you don't already know. BUT, when I need to de-stress and realize that I need to take a breather, chill and re-connect with myself and my family, I need to slow down (pick your battles) to determine which direction I need to go before I lose my mind. The one way I do that, to realize that it will all be there tomorrow (hopefully), is to dig into Richard Carlson's "memorial" website (remember the "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" guy?)…and read his LAST newsletter about 'stress' before he boarded a plane and unexpectedly passed away at 45. I don't know about anyone else, but it brings me back to reality with a quickness. I'm a people-pleaser by choice, so sometimes, having that slap of reality helps me to re-focus on what's priority, what I should be worried about (although I trust all of that to my higher power) and what I should be focused on. Stay focused, clear and positive – the rest will fall into place. Remember, you're exactly where you're supposed to be at 'this' very time.

  17. I'm sorry to point this out, but really, shitting in a bottle? That's usually a sign that something is terribly wrong with a child. Playing with feces is just a big red flag. Have you spoken to a shrink about this? It's absolutely horrid.

  18. I'm excited to see you in NYC on June 4. You'll do great. Really. I know it's easy for other people to say, "Don't worry" and you think, "Yeah, right." I'm totally there with you. Just take it day by day. Or bird by bird. Whatever works for you.

  19. Maybe I'm just in a bad mood today, but for God's sake what a friggin' whiner. Would you like my life?

    I, too, am a freelance writer with deadlines, working on a book AND work full-time because we need the benefits. My husband is dead and I have two children, 3 1/2 and 2.

    Honey, you haven't a clue what real stress is.

  20. I'm with KH – when I get stressed, everything around me gets labeled and color-coded. Even though that time could be put to more productive use, nothing feels better than a good sort and file. I realize this is not terribly useful advice. All I can say is, I feel your pain. Granted, academic research is not creative writing, but we're still under a lot of pressure to come up with good ideas that nobody's thought of before and get them into publication before somebody fires us or (worse) we just become known as "that person who never did anything useful". The stress of being an "overachiever". It sucks and I totally get where you're coming from.

    What makes me feel better is knowing I always have other options. I think of my worst case scenario, about how I'd sob and want to turn into some kind of hermit and disappear from humiliation… and then realize that, even with my "fall back plan" I'd still have a better life than about 90% of the people I know. If you think about it, it's true for you as well. You are a gifted author and will certainly have a wonderful career… but even if you didn't, you have a beautiful family who loves you as well as a dozen other skills you could make careers out of. Just repeat after me "I'm going to be okay".

  21. The only thing more full of shit than that bottle is you. Get a grip. Take your self-serving whining to the poor woman slaving away in a factory or a field or somewhere with truly back-breaking, soul-sapping conditions, who won't make in a year what you'll make in a month.

  22. The only thing more full of shit than that bottle is you. Get a grip. Take your self-serving whining to the poor woman slaving away in a factory or a field or somewhere with truly back-breaking, soul-sapping conditions, who won't make in a year what you'll make in a month.

  23. You know, what I don't understand is why people leave bitchy comments. Why read the blog if you think the person writing it is self-serving and whiny? While readers are important, Stephanie isn't writing for all of you. She writes the blog for herself. And she would probably still write it even if no one read it; at least that's how I feel about what I write.

  24. Oh dear. Shit in a bottle. You know, there's lots good about the blogosphere, and I'm all for being outrageous, but about that shit in a bottle. I hope it's metaphorical, because it's scary that a grown woman and mother would do that. And then, while there's lots right with the blogosphere, the fact that you've blogged about it is one example of what's very wrong with the blogosphere, IMHO.

    I don't really care to read about someone's shit …or, another pet peeve of mine, their vagina, thank you very much. It's like once bloggers discovered anatomically correct names for genitals they just can't stop using them or putting them in discussions–like a little kid who's learned a bad word.

    But the shit. It's not cute. Funny. Mature. or even Normal. Man, that's a sign of something bad wrong. If it's not metaphorical.

  25. Sheesh, Jodi. Ouch…

    SK – I agree with Mari – exercise always helps. Whenever I'm over the edge, a good run (running and screaming is even better) always, always makes me simmer down.

    Oh and I'm reading Straight Up and Dirty right now. Love it. And I'm coming to your reading at Vroman's in Pasadena CA on June 10. I'm sure it'll be a packed house…

  26. Hi Regain,

    Is that true? I find that quite fascinating. I was sexually abused as a child (a one time thing, when I was 3, but still traumatic) and I engaged in some of that kind of play with feces. I've always felt rather ashamed about it, but I didn't realize that it was perhaps linked to the abuse.

    BTW, I'm glad this is an anonymous site!!

  27. I don't know if this helps at all but for what it is worth…when I get stressed out and I feel overwhelmed like there are 50 million things to do and it all seems to big and I will never get through it all, I break it down. Pick one thing and only focus on that one thing then when you get it done move on to the next thing. I find that even if I am accomplishing something small, it helps the huge pile seem more manageable.

  28. have you thought about getting a part-time assistant? possibly a student to help you through the paperwork during your crunch times? i don't know if this is possible and I am not promoting myself, i don't live in Texas, but it seems that it could be really helpful. you sound so overwhelmed…give yourself a pat on the back and be compassionate to yourself. i think your honesty is inspiring and wish I was able to do the same. ps-when others criticize you, its about them, there shit, even if its about ice cream.

  29. I very much understand where you are coming from. A couple of months ago I began posting episodes of a comedy series I created/produced for the web and since then I've been trying as best I can to get enough viewers so I can take it to the next level. I'm a single mother who was married for ten years and besides being single and a mother, I am now carrying the financial load, more or less, alone. There are nights I wake up in the middle of the night wondering if "BERNTHIS" will ever be a success, which of course leads to, "I'm going to have to sell my house," which leads to, "Oh my God, I don't think I can do this" ("this" being "life".) And then I take stock of all that I do have and I realize that I have a wonderful little girl, family that loves me, friends that care for me. I'm healthy, I have a home to call my own, etc. and I know you've got all that and more. Sometimes we just need to stop in our tracks and take stock of our lives just to remind us how much we already have. Good luck and have a great day.

  30. Many hugs and prayers to you, Stephanie. Just start doing the things! Get moving and address the issue that has the highest priority. Then move on to the next task. Do not procrastinate; tackle!

    And, I am sending more good thoughts your way. I was in a fetal position on Sunday, but life does have to be lived. Get moving!

  31. First let me say that you are a very talented writer with a huge following! So you should not even worry about your book signings. You have many fans out there (myself included) who can't wait for your book release! But I can understand your fears and stress about the book. Especially since you are putting your life out there.

    I wrote my first memoir and when it came out there were no bells and whistles, I had a hard time scheduling book signings because book stores didnt think anyone would show up. And when I finally did get a B&N to schedule a book signing for me only 1 person showed up and the bookstore staff forgot to order my books! There was not even a copy for that one person. That was pretty embarrassing and disappointing.

    I really hope you can realize and see all of your successes through the stress cloud you seem to be in. Enjoy these moments with your upcoming book! Don't miss it! Its gonna be great! I will be one of many fans showing up to your signing in NYC…..

    I can't wait to meet you! And of course to read MOOSE! :)

  32. You need a personal assistant to help you with all of your small "to dos" and even some of the larger ones. If you still lived in NYC I'd totally volunteer! :)

  33. Blah, blah, blah….I'm a successful writer, I have a beautiful loving family… hoo Stephanie….Get a grip.

    That baby bottle issue you have…..funny.

  34. I third the personal assistant suggestions. Another option could be to "hire" an intern from a local college. Sometimes they even work for free/ class credit, if you are trying to save on expense. If I weren't 31 and lived in Texas, I would do it. Great experience for wanna be authors.

  35. I know how hard it is to be stressed out and have so much on your plate that you think shitting in a bottle is going to help. Well, OK, I’ve never shared THAT particular feeling, but I’m quite certain we can all relate to your current state of being overwhelmed. I’m sorry you’re feeling so horribly and I do hope you turn things around soon.

    I think we all deserve a short pity party at times; but then, after that, what often works for me when I feel overwhelmed – say from worrying about the myelopathy that’s happening to my lower body and is eventually going to make me unable to walk or control my bladder/bowel functions – I find that if I do something for someone else, be it donate money to a good cause, help someone pick up their dropped packages, pay the toll for the person behind me at the toll plaza, give up my subway seat to someone who needs it more than I do, or just lend an ear or shoulder, it always helps me put my own lucky and blessed life and challenges into perspective. Better than any drug, I swear.

    Another thing that may help you, since it helps me, is reading the blogs of people who really do have something to worry/stress/complain about and yet they don’t! It’s amazing the resilience of our fellow human beings!

    For example, there are many blogs of people battling deadly cancer, dealing with the death of a loved one, dire financial straits, the inability to have a child they so desperately want, etc,. etc. Reading about their lives, strength and grace in the face of all that is challenging them, watching them choose to be happy in spite of it all (and happiness IS a choice) and fully absorbing their complete lack of ‘poor me, whine, whine’, truly kicks my own ass into shape in those rare times when I am feeling sorry for myself.

    We all have our path to walk and I’m not trying to minimize your own personal suffering right now, but perhaps when you’re bored with it, you could put it all into perspective if you witness another’s suffering.

    There are so many people on this planet with far greater pain than you will ever be in, ever have been in and probably ever will be in.

    Look at the war in Iraq, look at the hunger around the world, look at that poor woman who had been kept captive and continually raped by her father for 24 years that is in the news right now. Look at our planet being destroyed, animals and humans being violated, and people with no money for medical care, let alone for a nanny or to get their hair colored.

    Look at all the writers who are as good or better than you, yet their work is not being accepted. Look at all the people out of work, burying their loved ones and those who simply have no one – not a parent, not a lover, absolutely no one who cares about them.

    I guarantee that if you choose to step outside your own astonishingly privileged life, you will see that you are incredibly blessed, fantastically lucky and miraculously spared from true suffering, and maybe knowing that will cheer you up.

    You, Stephanie, are living a phenomenally charmed life. Count your blessings, sweetie, as we all should.


  36. Geeze Jodi, that's a little harsh comparison to make. Have you ever heard of the Hierarchy of Needs chart? Once you have a need satisfied (Physiological, Safety, etc), you start to work on the next level. Since (I'm assuming) SK has all her lower needs satisfied, she works on satisfying the higher needs (esteem, self-actualization). As such, these are extremely important. Just as important as the lower needs.

    This isn't to say that the people who are trying to satisfy their basic needs are lesser people, it just shows that there are different levels of needs. People will constantly strive to reach higher levels. So telling someone to "get a grip" doesn't solve anything; it makes people feel bad for experiencing the wide breadth of human emotion.

  37. Sometimes when you are really stressed and overworked, you need to start cutting things out of your life–at least temporarily. What can give? When I am overwhelmed, I sit down with my calendar and start trimming whatever is superfluous. I know you want it all but sometimes you just need more breathing room.

  38. I'm dying laughing about the bottle. I used to do senselesss things like when I was young, just to witness the reaction.

    Funny how no matter what you say, if it is the brutal truth, people will love you for saying it.

  39. The solution you seek seems so simple.
    Divorce the husband and take him for all he's worth for putting you through all the angst.
    With part of the alimony, buy a case of Grey Goose, a pound of weed and some cocaine. Do all three liberally.
    Then you'll have something interesting to write about.

    You're welcome.

  40. Devon – People leave bitchy comments for the same reason that people write publicly about shitting in a bottle. Because they can. Well, maybe not. I've left bitchy comments, but I've never shitted in a bottle. Doll's bottle or otherwise.

    She writes publicly, and that means you don't only get the ass-kissing comments like yours, my friend – ESPECIALLY if someone writes something as nasty as taking a dump in a bottle. From a purely analytical standpoint, personal feelings about shitting in bottles aside, I don't get how that anecdote even ties in to her little stress problem? I agree with the previous commenter who said such actions indicate a serious problem. But needing to share such things indicates an even more serious problem.

    As for feeling stressed – oh, honey, take that silver spoon in your mouth and trade it for some xanax. There is no strength in nonstop kvetching about your minor issues.

  41. I am also feelimg incredibly stressed out and overwhelmed lately. So much to do and not enough time to do even half of what needs to be accomplished. So, what did I do about it? Went on line to avoid it all (yes, keeping my head in the sand is a great idea!!), and I immediately went to your post. Perfect timing. I guess my way of dealing w/ stress is complete avoidance (at least today), but after I post this comment I'm going to start getting some of the things done on my "to do" list. Really. Possibly. Hopefully. I will be at your reading in Manhasset, for what it's worth. Can't wait!

  42. Yes, Susan, I have indeed heard of that chart. But it seems that this little bottle-shitter hasn't truly reached any level higher than the most infantile. Sorry, but this shit just doesn't cut it.

    Oh, and "N"? Bravo.

    I'm outta here. I have my own shit to take care of. Heehah.

  43. First thing's first… DEEP BREATH. (my dad used to put his index finger in the middle of my forehead when I would stress out and lightly push on it and say "Just relax the brain."

    I will be one of the many hundred fans at your NYC signing/reading, i know this because I am going with a group of 20 girls myself (and I KNOW that there are more people out there like me)

    Next… grab a pair of sneakers, be it running or walking sneakers, and a babyjogger, strap the beans in and get outside. Running & walking allow me to blow off steam, collect my thoughts, and more importantly, eat the "panic mode" ice cream that is inevitably consumed in times of crisis!

    Just remember… one foot in front of the other, keep breathing, and you will get through it!

  44. I'm a longtime reader, and I happen to be moving to Austin in May to start my Master's degree at UT. I just wanted you to know that I love your writing so much that I scheduled my move so that I could make it to your reading at BookPeople.

    I think you have enough dedicated readers that your book will absolutely soar.

  45. Shitting in a bottle and saving it for your little sister to find? I think I just threw up in my mouth.

  46. oh my god. that shit in a bottle story is amazing. What did she do when she found it? Did you get in trouble for it?

  47. Stephanie,

    You have inspired me to start my own blog and if you had a book signing close to me, I would be there with bells on. You shouldnt worry about if people will show, your a talented person…I wish I could be at all your signings.

  48. I had a teacher in high school who used to tell us, "You people have no idea what stress is."

    I always used to hate that statement, and when I grew up I found the words to put to it. And they are:

    You have no idea how people react to their surroundings and you have no idea what peoples' lives are really like. Even high schoolers' lives. Even the lives of established authors.

    Sandi – I'm not trying to be insensitive, but the fact that you're a widow with two young children means that someone in Stephanie's position is whiny for feeling the stress of HER situation? How many people have it worse than YOU do? and how many people have it worse than THEY have it?

    I'm not a Stephanie ass-kisser, nor am I sanctimonious enough to think that the depths of horrible trauma are the only stresses worth recognizing. In a perfect world, we'd all be so thankful that none of us would ever bitch – even those of us wasting precious energy bitching at someone else's "paltry" stress.

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