Friday, December 06, 2013
I had this really good idea. I was going to post something every day, starting on December 1st, until we left for Christmas vacation on the 13th. It was going to be so fun! Updates from our crazy house every day! Getting ready to leave, getting ready to spend the holidays with our families... so much to talk about! I was all jazzed up after NaNoWriMo- so jazzed because the "novel" (let's not call something I squeezed out in 30 days a "novel", shall we? Let's call it a novella. A practice novella. A pranella. Ah, yes. There we are. A prenella) really got me into the habit of writing nearly every day. Well, every day starting on the 16th or so. Yes, that's right. I frittered away the first half of the month and *technically* wrote the novel in 14 days or so.
I wanted to do this because THERE IS SO MUCH GOING ON. I mean, none of it is important, of course. But seriously. It's like a motherfuckin' beehive up in here. So I'm obviously five days behind, so here is what I WOULD have published on those days had I gotten to it:
The first thing is I finished my novel. And then I shook Sherman Alexie's hand. In that order. Okay, there was a two minute shower and a fifteen minute walk to the bookstore (shortened to ten because I manically walk-jogged the whole way... which, given my velocity, my damp hair, and a recent (bad) dye job, resulted in a crested yellow wave on my forehead tenuously wobbling while I shook the hand of one of my literary heroes.
But I did it. I finished. I didn't just finish, either. I wrote some good stuff. Some good scenes. It was an ambitious undertaking. My topic wasn't light and fluffy. There were no vampires or teenagers involved. This was the real deal.
I spent the rest of the day puttering around, thumbing through cookbooks to get ideas for that elusive Seventh Cookie. Every year I bake the same six cookies and every year I add a seventh that acts as the wild card. I was arrested by the image of a flaming (shit was ON FIRE) chocolate cake in one of those vintage cookbooks and on the next page was the recipe for Springerle pronounced SPRING-ur-lee, but which I insisted on pronouncing like I was Baron von Trapp. Anywho, the directions read something like this: beat egg and sugar for ONE HOUR. No joke. An hour. I was like, lemme check the copyright date on this thing because I sure as hell hope the KitchenAid was around when then this thing was published. An HOUR? And I need to do things like wrap the dough and refrigerate it and using a special rolling pin and then let the cookies air dry before I bake them? Oh, and the better rolling pins cost upwards of eighty dollars? SIGN. ME. UP. Because I am a special kind of cray-cray and nothing less then fifteen steps to make TEN whole cookies will do. Oh, and make sure the cookies are highly breakable and that the USPS will be sure to turn them to dust on their way to their recipients.
The cookbook also spelled cookie "cooky" and it bothered me to no end.
Also, I don't understand how any man fed from these cookbooks did not grow up to be an angry, anemic, soft-toothed, sallow-skinned loner. I mean, enough with the jello molds and aspics already! Where's the fucking beef? Men of a certain age, how did you grow up with ANY meat on your bones? I'm making some grand presumptions here, but I'm pretty sure it was the woman doing the cooking and the men hanging his hat in the foyer and sitting down in a suit and tie to a dinner of fucking "salad apple ring" and deviled ham. I don't understand how you all didn't die of malnutrition. I mean, I guess ham and gelatin (and ham IN gelatin) are sources of protein... but, still. I find MYSELF getting hungry reading these things, not because I found any of it particularly appetizing, but because I'm like WHERE IS THE FUCKING FOOD? Stop doing the cutesy shit with the carrot curls and black olives and show me where the nutrition is. Burdy asked me "What the hell was wrong with American cuisine back then?" And the answer? Everything. If one were to judge from these books alone, I would say that the shelves were stocked EXCLUSIVELY with canned ham, jello, American cheese, mayonnaise, coffee, tea, canned baked beans, and canned pineapple. There wasn't mention of one fresh fruit except as decoration and the occasional toss-in for a bagged lunch. The big focus was on this big showy spread. Candelabras and soup tureens and the like. But when pressed, you couldn't find a fresh herb in the house. Or fruit. Or something NOT studded with pimentos.
So, I spent a few hours looking at recipes, and then the rest of the day haunting thrift stores for this elusive rolling pin, which I SWEAR I've seen before at garage sales and now am kicking myself for not buying. Ah, well. They're not in the stars. It's back to Plan B, which shall go unnamed until it is executed.
Today was the day I got my life back in order. I coiled up the cord from my bone-colored, non-USB ergonomic keyboard and I tucked it back into the closet where it lives for 11 months out of the year. It's my special NaNo keyboard, the one that makes the very satisfying clicking sound that makes me feel like a real writer.
I also paid my credit card bill and responded to emails that had been languishing in my inbox for months.
I started the Christmas cookies. It seems weird to STILL have Thanksgiving leftovers in the 'fridge (my god, it's not even been a week yet. Thanksgiving felt like 10 years ago) and to be baking for the NEXT holiday, but such is the Roman calendar. We have 11 days to go before we're outta here and these cookies aren't going to bake themselves. I did the peanut butter and the chocolate chip and it felt wonderful to be a machine for a while. Roll cookies, put on tray, put tray in oven. Set timer. Take cooling tray from stovetop to kitchen table and place on cork pad. Unload cookies from fully cooled sheet onto cooling racks. Take cookies on rack and place into giant cookie tin. Bring empty cookie sheet to kitchen counter. Repeat.
I love it. I really do. I prefer to bake alone. Lots of people over the years have, after they hear the tall order of 700 cookies, nearly fall down backwards with the shock of it, but honestly, I come from a long line of huge families and it's in my DNA to cook for no less than forty people at a time. I can't imagine baking ONE batch of cookies. Some might say that maybe, say, 300 might be a more reasonable number... but, I say if you're going to bake 300, just bake the whole damned 700. Why not? You got your hands all sticky anyway. What's another hour and a half in the kitchen?
See what I did there? with the math? Breaking down an additional 400 cookies to a quick hour and a half in the kitchen? That's what saves me every year. Also chilling the dough and then cutting it with a big cleaver into the dozens it's supposed to make. I take the guesswork out of the "pinching off a one inch ball and rolling it into a cookie and the placing it on the sheet' (per the recipe instructions). Math all the way, baby. Symmetry. That's what keeps you sane in the midst of 10 popcorn tins full of cookies.
Today was nuts. I thought I was being clever by waking up early and baking before I went to Zumba, but something wasn't right. That math I was bragging about up there in that previous post? Yeah, I skipped it. Why? I don't know. Not enough caffeine. Too little protein for breakfast. Something. I don't know. I DON'T KNOW. I WISH I KNEW. I turned what was supposed to be 5 dozen cookies into something like 9. I can't explain it. I divided wrong. Sometimes odd numbers get me. I feel ashamed. This is what happens when you commit your life to writing: when you screw up, the whole world gets to read about it.
There is a lady in my Zumba class who a) always comes late b) tries to talk to me while I'm WORKING OUT and b) REEKS of patchouli. I can't decide which of these things makes me the angriest. First of all, being a creature who craves consistency and order, I have stood/danced in the same damned spot on the gym floor for going on three years now. When this woman comes in, she looks all confused, like all the spots are still up for grabs even though class has been going on for five minutes and the front oft the gym is pretty packed. In my mind, I scream at her to move to the back of the gym where there are still spots, but she insists on being near me. After a few minutes, the patchouli comes wafting over to me and I have to work not to gag. I don't really have any negative associations with the scent- in fact, one of my favorite teachers in high school wore it. But, something about this particularly toxic combination of cheap patchouli and her obliviousness to the RULES makes me want to kick and punch the air in front of me. Oh, and then the talking? DURING class? CAN YOU NOT HEAR THE DEAFENING SAMBA RATTLING OUT OF THE SPEAKERS? DO YOU THINK I CAN HEAR YOU OVER THAT? You have reduced me to a shouting in all caps almost middle aged lady, patchouli woman. Your witchy powers have done something to me and I don't like it.
I worked all day today. I had great intentions for the evening: I was going to go to a friend's pop-up artisan craft fair and instead I just got on the bus. I'd had a long day, it was pitch black outside when I was done, and I just couldn't see myself walking the few blocks to the fair.
Seattle has been experiencing a wild cold snap for the last few days and today was what we used to call "bitterly cold" back east.It was literally freezing- like, the air was just about 30 degrees. I kinda loved it. People have been sort of dazed and red cheeked around here because we don't normally get a whole week of freezing temps, but this kind of extreme weather is the sort I thrive in. I put on my big puffy jacket and my insulated gloves and my fleece lined hat and I carry on like it's no biggie. Mercifully, the sun has been out in a cloudless blue sky nearly every day and that has made this weather feel incredibly beautiful.
In the end, the bus was twenty minutes late, and then, when it showed up, it was so packed the bus driver wouldn't let any of us on. I was trying REALLY hard not to shake my fist at the sky for having given me a sign that perhaps I SHOULD have gone to that fair despite the dark and the cold because I wound up having my blood start to freeze in my veins waiting for the bus ANYWAY.
All day long on Tuesday, I listened to NPR on the radio. The announcers kept refreshing the weather report which went from "possible snow" at 8 am to "no accumulation" by 3 pm. It was a little sad to hear the excitement fade from their voices as the day wore on. Everyone in Seattle, DJs included, get a little crazy for a bit of snow. We don't get much of it in the city, so when ANYthing accumulates, it's a big deal. There has been frost on my car every morning and I am tempted to take a picture and post it to Facebook with the caption "SEATTLE SNOW STORM".
This was a good day. I wrote in the morning, I Zumba'd at noon (next to, of course, patchouli lady, who was late AGAIN and who noticed, in her slow, witchy way, that the class was markedly moved back from its normal position. WHAT? Just get here on time, patchouli lady, stake your claim, and the world won't seem to you like a Picasso painting. Geez) and then I met up with two different girlfriends for some serious lady talk time. I don't mean that we talked about our lady parts (though, in a roundabout sort of way with BOTH of them, that DID come up...). I just mean that we gabbed the whole time and it was marvelous. I drank no less than three cups of (decaffeinated- still healing the guts!) tea, and it was lovely. Like, just what I needed. Later on, I told one of my girlfriends about my encounter with Sherman Alexie, and, in the way that besties do, she squealed appropriately and hugged me and even cried a little. This is what writer-friends do. They get emotional at the literary equivalent of getting a peck on the cheek from Donny Osmond. Shit. Is that too dated a reference? Um...try again? The literary equivalent of getting twerked at by Justin Bieber? Shit. I'm no good at this. Does Justin Bieber twerk? Can you direct your twerking AT someone? Is my computer's spellcheck spasming in pain right now because it recognizes NONE of those words? Anywho, best friends are fucking awesome and holy crap did I need some girl time. And some high fives and hugs. And tears. And then clothes shopping. Yes, we did that too. Because I am a lady, and genetically wired to solve the world's problems while finding a bargain-priced pair of pants.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
My little brother (though he stands easily a foot taller than me) has always been my “little” brother. But today he is something else. A homeowner. And though I try not to tell anyone else’s story but my own on this site, I thought he deserved a little shout out this morning for the journey he’s made.
He texts me a picture of him and his girlfriend standing in front of their five bedroom home. I don’t ask him why, when it’s just the two of them and a cat, they need five bedrooms because it’s beside the point. The rates were good, they got a great deal on the price, and he’s handy, so they can fix what they don’t like. It’s an old house- nearly a hundred years old, on a corner lot, built in an era when there was need for so much room because families were larger then. They own it simply because they can.
The house is white and trimmed with black shutters, pushed far back on the lot so that lots of dead grass precedes it. It’s a hulking colonial, all flat planes, with a front porch and an ancient lamppost next to it. Huge evergreens flank the sides. The house was last occupied a few years ago by an aging couple. The estate was left to the care of the couple’s children, who all live in separate states, and they have been in negotiations with my brother for months over one thing or another. First there was the issue of whether an old oil tank had or had not been removed from the property. Then there were the fireplaces- three of them, if I am remembering correctly, in the house – and the pipe for natural gas that had been inserted into one of the chimneys improperly. My brother is engineering-minded, so he understands all there is to do with the house. He can spot an improperly installed anything from a mile away. He gets things like electrical wiring and uses the word “amperage” like it’s an everyday word when talking about it. He’s comfortable with terms like “amperage”, and “wattage” and other technical language. Since he started his electrician’s apprenticeship, he has become fluent in such language. He’s also, through all these negotiations with lawyers and agents and far-flung family members, gotten to know quite a bit of legalese, too.
This was the second time in his life he’d had to learn the language of lawyers.
There’s something else you can see in that picture of the house and the pine trees and the aging lamppost. It’s a scar that cuts into his hair line, running from his ear to the top of his head. This is where the surgeons had to cut into his face and head to reconstruct the occipital bone- the socket that holds the eyeball- that was crushed during the car accident in 2007. One more quarter inch, the ER doctor had told him, and his eye would have been punctured and he would have gone blind. It’s hard to imagine my brother, a man who understands the visual world better than most people I know, the man who was able to draw me diagrams of my wedding props backwards on a dry erase board so they would appear perfect from my perspective via our Skype connection, not being able to see.
During those dark days when he was sent home from the hospital concussive with a fistful of Advil, my brother was in and out of lucid thought. He had no one at home to help him. Uneducated about the nature of concussions and head injuries in general, my family couldn’t understand why he didn’t just pick himself up and get on with it.
When I took his phone call after he’d been released from the hospital, I thought he had been crying. His voice was slowed down and weepy sounding. I finally got it out of him- he was being driven home from a party by my other brother, the roads were iced over, and the other driver, uninsured and unlicensed, t-boned the car at an intersection in the eerie aloneness of a nighttime snowfall… the frantic 911 call, the ambulance arriving, the jaws of life cutting him out, my other brother nearly collapsing at the thought that his brother, just seconds ago alive next to him in the passenger’s seat, could be dead. Then there was the hospital visit, the way the doctors took one look at them, covered in tattoos, their hair dyed and trimmed at sharp angles, their silver rings and piercings, and presumed them dopeheads, giving them minimal attention. The way they had x-rayed his neck, rather than his shoulder, where he claimed over and over again, while he was still in shock, the pain was coming from. They sent him home still concussive because he had no insurance and because, given what it looked like (two tatted-up men, dressed all in black, on their way home from a party, one hysterical, one comatose), it seemed like just a choice rather than an accident. And the doctors didn’t want any part of it.
It had taken him about half an hour to figure out how to dial the phone to call me because his brain wouldn’t quite process how to push the buttons in sequence.
The months and then years that followed were filled with deposition after doctor’s appointment after deposition. He didn’t own a car at the time, so he was reliant on my mother and other friends and family to drive him around to the various appointments. I was sitting at a desk in a different office, working through a bank reconciliation more than a year later when he called me, furious, over his lawyer’s request to buy a suit and cut his hair for the next round of testimony. Why should I have to dress like something I not, he demanded, to prove to these people that I am permanently scarred and living with chronic pain? Being a non-conformist myself, I identified with his anarchist-lite attitude. But, I coached him, this is different. You almost DIED in that accident. Though I’d never so much as contested a parking ticket in my life, I was encouraging him to fight for whatever money damages he could collect from the uninsured motorist who’d hit him. He’d lost muscle control in parts of his face, I reminded him. His smile was forever going to be just slightly lopsided. He had a visible scar running along his head. Due to the way the insurance worked, he’d had to sue (on paper) my brother, the driver, which caused enormous amounts of stress for them both. My other brother, who'd been on antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication even before the accident, spent a month in a very dark place. My brother deserved something, I thought. And it's weird to think about "deserving" anything at all after you've been injured, but there was something so imbalanced about the whole thing- that he'd been napping when the accident happened, reclined in his chair, and not driving, recklessly or otherwise, that he'd been completely unaware of what was happening and therefore innocent; that he was my good and kind-hearted kid brother who worked tirelessly for others and was a bit of a genius for explaining how things worked- that made me feel like something out there in the Universe owed him something for this.
He’d missed work and not been paid. He’d been right in the middle of getting fitted for invisible braces at the time of the accident and would have to start the expensive process of getting fitted all over again. He’d had to get new glasses. Because he was missing work, and not getting a paycheck, his phone company was threatening to shut off his phone for non-payment. Being in a feast-or-famine type of industry, it was also his only connection to the world that would have offered him work in the first place.
In the end, the insurance company did issue him a settlement. It took years and many, many visits to doctors working for the other motorist’s insurance company trying claim his life wasn’t altered by the accident in any lasting way. It took hours and hours of speaking to a panel of lawyers seated at a bank of tables. He had to defend himself over and over again while they tried to squeeze out of him that, all in all, things weren’t so bad and that he didn’t need or deserve the money.
In the end, I think, it was what he said that sealed the deal. When I look in the mirror, and I see my scar, and I see that my face sags and that I no longer look like the rest of my family, and I can’t feel parts of me anymore... I don't feel like myself. No one, no future employer, no potential mate, no stranger on a bus, is going to look at my face, and my scar, he was saying, and not make up a story about me. THAT is life-altering. And sure, there is so much that can be said about the fleeting nature of our physical appearance and what a blessing it is to be able to reinvent ourselves in our lifetimes, but, usually those things come into our lives somewhat invited- they don't come crashing in our doors at 50 miles per hour before we've turned 23 years old.
My brother, despite all his New York City Union Guy grouchiness, and despite what’s happened to him, is a deeply optimistic kid. In a follow up text this morning, he tells me he and his girlfriend are eating crackers and cheese and champagne on the front porch to celebrate and I approve. I study the text picture again. There he is, talking about brie and champagne and smiling a little lopsided like a lunatic. If anyone deserves this house, it is him. He took that hard-fought-for settlement money and he used it to put a down payment on his first home.
The sky around the house in the text picture is bright blue and cloudless, crisp and cold. It’s the kind of day we had here in Seattle yesterday, and while everyone tucked their necks down into their collars and shivered and complained, I smiled brightly. I love cold, clear days. They remind me of my days back east. I know exactly how my brother and his girlfriend are feeling- chilled to the bone, their noses running, but hopeful and optimistic, too. Like, as long as the sun is shining, anything is possible.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
There was a really brilliant bit going around on the Huffington Post site a couple of weeks ago about the typical trip to Whole Foods. I laughed out loud at parts. I did. Girl knew how to assess a ridiculous situation. And I appreciate a good pull-back from the myopic scrutiny that we here in the Northwest apply to everything from our shoes to our tofu. Every once in a while, I actually laugh out loud (alone in my car, usually) thinking about our first world ridiculousness. I live in the city with one of the highest rates of first world ridiculousness, so I’m guaranteed to enjoy at least one derisive snort a day.
The one thing about the piece that did get at me a little was the bit about Candida. And that’s because I have it. And it is no fucking joke. And here is where, were I not so serious about this crap growing in my guts, I would full-on belly laugh at MYSELF. Because, Candida? Really? Your gut flora is a little out of whack? That’s what you’re complaining about, kid?
My internal dialogue me is SO mean to the regular me.
The gut flora, as we are all becoming familiar with, is linked to some pretty important systems in our bodies. Our brains, for instance. Seriously. Some scientists are starting to surmise that depression starts in the guts. And I, for one, am SO happy about that.
Why? Because I have been struggling to give this THING a name for some time now, and a Candida diagnosis is a step in SOME direction. This ennui, this meh feeling I drag around behind me like a suitcase on a string… it has been plaguing me for a long time, as well as this constant intestinal distress, this bloatedness, and this inability to concentrate. I’m glad this thing has a NAME. So what if it’s associated with precocious supermarket employees? I’ll take it.
I’ll also take several hundred dollars worth of supplements, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Here is what one does to destroy candida. And yes, one must KILL candida. It must be starved. I have to eat a completely sugar free diet. I cannot have ANY sugar. Sugar feeds the yeast. When the yeast is fed, symptoms proliferate. And those symptoms SUCK. First, there the ones that register as mere annoyances: You exercise your brains out and are still not able to lose the ten pounds of BREAD DOUGH boiling away in your guts. So, you have a muffin top. So what? Well, imagine waking every morning and having that muffin top AND feeling like you could just sleep the rest of the day away because you’re that tired. Or not being able to remember simple words and math equations or the WAY HOME FROM YOUR FRIEND’S HOUSE because you’re dealing with a phenomenon called “brain fog”. That’s the kind of confusing, non-cosmetic crap candida sufferers deal with. I’ve been dealing with it for more than a year now.
I bet a hundred new mothers are rolling their eyes right now and saying, I deal with that every day, ya whiner. Call me when you’re dealing with this AND poop up the wall and vomit covering the backseat of the car and THEN we’ll talk.
Listen, mothers of children with jet propulsion systems in their diapers: I feel your pain. I do. But you get a baby at the end of that poop-stained road, a little replica of yourself that loves you unconditionally and whose future you determine. Me? I get gas. I get nothing.
Here’s the thing about having this mysterious weird diagnosis sap all your energy and, on some days, your will to get out of bed: because you’re not covered in bedsores, or carrying an infant on your hip, both of which might explain your fatigue and your aches and pains, you sound like a first class whiner or, worse, this classically over-informed hypochondriac . A hypochondriac special-diet whiner who can’t indulge in simple pleasures like coffee, or a scone, or a fucking baked potato. You have to be THAT weirdo who shows up to dinner and says, “No olives or mushrooms or dairy or soy or wheat or honey or coffee or tea or beer or corn or mustard or potatoes or pickles for me, please. I’ll just have this wheat-free, sugar-free, yeast-free, lactose-free bit of rice cracker topped with shreds of raw kale. What? No, no apples for me! Not even grapes! Those are pure sugar, y’know! I’ll just have some water. With kale in it. And maybe a squeeze of organic lemon. Y’know. Because I wasn’t using my tooth enamel anyway”.
I’ve had friends tell me: “But you’re so vibrant and energetic and you don’t SEEM sick…” and the implication there is “How bad can it really be?” This is this THING about chronic disease that we don’t really talk about in this country: because I don’t have a visible sign of distress, like an amputated leg or an IV sticking out of my arm, the assumption is that what I have is perhaps a little exaggerated. At the very least, candida is a livable condition, right? There’s no death sentence at the end of a candida diagnosis, usually. (Though, sometimes there is). So, people are entitled to their exasperation with the person who mostly looks fine but can’t eat a damned thing unless it’s made of chlorophyll and flax dust. The thinking is: this is America, pal, so unless you’re losing blood in copious amounts, get out of the Sick Person’s line and back to work.
There is a component of shame, I think, that accompanies a diagnosis like “overgrowth of Candida”. Firstly, there’s the notion, “Holy Shit. I ATE my way to this condition, so I’m totally responsible for this”, and secondly, there’s this comparing of ourselves to more visibly ill people. I still have all my hair and fingernails, so what right do I have to complain about a little bloating? Here’s the thing I am learning, and which the medical world, I predict, will be linking very soon here: chronic inflammation is the cause of ALL disease. Not just a sinus infection, but cancer, as well. I’m not a doctor (OBVIOUSLY) but everything is pointing to this prolonged state of imbalance and inflammation as the “cause” of illnesses we don’t seem to have a “cause” for: MS, cancer, eczema, etc. So I may not have been losing hair or nails or weight or much else, but I could easily have been on the fast track to doing so had my doctor not tested me. The bad chemical stew that was causing my depression was just as crippling as any other ailment. And this disruption in chemicals was due largely to my being chronically inflamed. And the Candida caused the inflammation.
In my case, I had a little bit more than just “overgrowth of candida” come back from my lab work. Apparently, my hormone levels were all out of whack, too. Guess what the normal range for a woman of my age’s DHEA is supposed to be. Go ahead. Pick a number, any number. Give up? Alright, I’ll tell you: it’s 1200-1500. Now guess what mine was. Go ahead and guess. I’ll wait. Think low. Real low.
Ready? It was 34. Not three hundred and forty. Nope. Thirty four. For those of you not getting your blood drawn every six months to test for this kind of thing: DHEA is a “master” hormone responsible for building other hormones that regulate functionality like energy levels and libido in the body. So, yeah, that tiredness? I wasn’t making that up. My lack of libido? Also explainable.
I am not advocating for everyone to run out and get a Candida test (or worse, go to Whole Foods and ask someone at the help desk for advice). But check in with yourself. Feeling run down? Might it be related to the way you eat? Or how you live? In my case, my chronic stress and anxiety was chewing through all those hormones my DHEA was trying to build. So, I was left with almost nothing. And nothing feels pretty shitty.
So how to get rid of the Candida, raise my DHEA up to a healthy level, and get proper amounts of Vitamin D (another comically low number, but not unusual up here in Cloudy for Nine Months Out Of The Year Land), and Vitamin B? Pills. And lots of them. Oh! And sprays and drops, too! I swallow, volume-wise, an amount of supplements equal to the weight of my breakfast, every morning. I also exercise more regularly, get proper sleep, and, of course, don't eat ANY sugar.
My naturopath (I’ll give you a moment to roll your eyes back into place) told me that this whole curing Candida thing would be life changing. Not just a don’t-eat-wheat-or-dairy-or-sugar-for-90-days thing. No, this would be a come-down from the party tree I’ve been hanging out in for a long time and learn to eat my veggies thing. I would have to learn something called mindfulness.
Which was a real shock because I was like, Who Me? Drink and eat too much? Not being mindful? Pshaw! Noooooo way! So what if I stuff my pockets on Doughnut Day at the office like a famine survivor? So what if three gin and tonics seems like a reasonable number on a Saturday night? Doesn’t mean anything! Means I can handle myself. Means I can do whatever I like. Means I’m “Fun Bobby”, like from that episode of Friends.
No, Lolo. It means you do everything in excess. Seem like a theme in your life? Not knowing your boundaries? Doing too much and then getting exhausted? Living on the edges of comfort because you don’t think you deserve or need self-care? And doesn’t that term, “self-care”, doesn’t it just rankle your Jersey self to the core? Who needs self care? You’re a survivor! A tough cookie! Your Polak ancestors clutched the bows of ships through stormy seas and made their way to this country with nothing but the shirts on their backs! Surely you can handle your vodka and little buttered TOAST from time to time, no?
See how mean my internal dialogue is with myself? So, so mean.
I can’t tell you enough the difference this diet and supplement regimen has made for me. I have gone from feeling bloated and fat and dispirited to feeling lighter on my feet. And most importantly, I can think clearly again. I don’t go right to dying in the street a pauper when something doesn’t go my way. I’m starting to feel like myself again, like a confident human being. Like someone who can think more than five minutes into the future.
Have I been doing other work, as well? Yes. Lots of mindfulness training going on ‘round these parts. Book reading and ohm-ing and shit. It’s not just about not eating wheat and dairy and soy and all the other delicious things in this world. It’s about changing my relationship with everything, from late night snacking, to how I deal with stress.
It’s been two months out of three on this Candida-starvation plan, and I can tell you that it’s challenging but not that difficult once you get the hang of it. In the beginning, the cravings for sugar were out of control, like nothing I have ever experienced. I thought I might be capable of killing a man for a slice of coffeecake. Eventually, they subsided. And I got REAL comfortable with kale. Eating out is still a pain, but I manage. And, I have cheated. Oh, yes, I’ve cheated. I had two miniature cookies on Day 40. I, unthinkingly, had a slice of bread (which was gluten free, but contained YEAST) on Day 59. I am learning, though, not to get mired in the guilt or the shame of having broken the rules, but just to get up, and try again to abstain.
And, aside from those damned cookies, and a few rice chips here and there, I haven’t had one ounce of sugar in about 60 days.
Now, I could get on a soapbox and tell you all sorts of things about how bad refined sugar is like the best of them. I have been reading and reading and reading and experimenting with not having sugar versus having sugar and the more I read and the less I eat it, the better I understand what it’s doing to me. More and more research is tying together sugar, chronic inflammation, and chronic disease. But you know what? I’m not going to get on that soapbox. You know why? Because, like you, I like sugar. And I like salty, terrible-for-me foods too. And because, if you were to send me to the tops of the Himalayas, or the far reaches of the solar system, or to the bottom of the ocean in a research vessel, there’d be one food item I would sure as shit pack, and that would be Cheez Doodles. Salty, neon orange, artificially flavored, covered in inflammation-producing cheese dust, puffed up genetically modified cornmeal. That’s right. Cheez Doodles. Namaste to YOU, o wise man who invented the cornmeal extrusion device.
But, see, this is what mindfulness allows for: the cravings for a completely normal and human thing like delicious, delicious fat and salt to come into our consciousness… and then pass. I have learned to embrace sardines in spring water, and stevia extract, and tea that tastes like hot tree bark. And alongside that: if I smell grilled onions, I immediately crave a cheeseburger. On a yeast-filled bun. Topped with vinegar-laden pickles. I can hold both of these things in my heart at once, this gratitude for the availability of sugar substitutes in my fair city, and the pure joy of having hamburger juice dribble down my chin on a hot summer day.
I can be this paradox. I don’t have to choose to be one way or the other.
And I don’t really know how to end this post, except to say that my life has changed since this diagnosis. I don’t want to be Fun Bobby anymore. I LIKE having a flat stomach and a clear head. Though having to prepare three meals a day from scratch cuts into my navel-gazing time, I really DO enjoy nourishing myself.
Will I preach this diet to whoever will listen? Yes, yes and yes. (Seriously, start reading about what refined sugar does to your body in the long term. And about how chronic inflammation leads to chronic disease).
Will I also inhale the heavenly aroma of croissants baking and coffee percolating in the early morning and turn longingly to the sweaty windows of my local bakery and smile a deep, gracious smile at the people inside who have learned to crank inky caffeine out of a bean, and a delicate, flaky pastry out of a hard kernel of wheat?
Will I also inhale the heavenly aroma of croissants baking and coffee percolating in the early morning and turn longingly to the sweaty windows of my local bakery and smile a deep, gracious smile at the people inside who have learned to crank inky caffeine out of a bean, and a delicate, flaky pastry out of a hard kernel of wheat?
You bet your kombucha-drinking ass I will.
Thursday, September 05, 2013
So we decide to take the train to Chiang Mai. Why? Because it was recommended to us. Forty dollars to sleep the night away on an air-conditioned train and awake in a whole new part of Thailand. It practically shimmered with romance and intrigue.
At 6 pm, we roll our luggage noisily up the curb and enter the station. The place is large and overlit with fluorescent lights. There is a second floor, from which you can look down at the passengers camped out down below. And camped they are. Or rather, the white people are. The Thais are sitting in neat rows of chairs, their hands in their laps, their gaze focused on the large screen TV showing a Thai sitcom. The white folks are strewn about like trash, filthy and splayed over their grungy backpacks, their eyes sleepy. There is a section at the front of the station, roped off, and populated by men in orange robes. "For Monks Only" the placard reads. A few of them cup their chins in their hands and laugh at the TV show. Burdy and I go upstairs to scope out the food situation. We have no idea if we’re going to be able to eat on the train, so we figure it’s best to eat our dinner now. Before we sit down, though, we go to see the train on the platform.
Immediately we sense that we have stepped back in time. A hundred years, at least. The train is a massive, chugging, belching thing, shrouded in dirty mist. Lights from the impossibly high, arched ceiling shine down. Conductors languidly stroll along the platform, hands clasped behind their backs. There are shouts from stevedores, parcels are moved. We walk past the restaurant car. Great big shrink wrapped piles of instant noodles and boxed juice are pressed against the dirty windows. Some passengers have already settled themselves in their seats. I can see the interior: stained pink satin, aluminum trim, painted red numbers to indicate seats. No two cars alike. The smell of diesel gives me a headache. But I cannot stop staring. The train sits on its track, its sides appearing to heave in the shadows like an exhausted animal's.
Maybe because the first time I saw a modern train up close, I was sixteen and heading into New York City by myself,
Maybe because the first time I ever felt completely exhilarated at being untethered from everything I knew, I was standing on a train platform in Europe,
But the thrill and anxiety of train travel comes flooding back. The conductors look impassive in their mint green polyester shirts and dark visors. The train is noisy and filthy and my heart speeds up a little knowing we will soon be on that thing. I check and recheck to make sure I have my ticket.
We climb to the second level to have our dinner while two stray cats rub themselves against our ankles. This is on Day 2 of our honeymoon. Thus far, I have slept on a rock-hard bed in a room that smelled of burnt garlic and stale cigarettes. I stir the chili paste into my vegetables, look down at the cats and check for fleas and think: this is not the train I had hoped it would be. It is beautiful and fierce like trains are, but it is not sleek. It is not modern. It will not be comfortable. After dinner, as we walk down the narrow corridor to our seats and duck underneath the heavy salmon-colored polyester curtain, I know something else, too: I will not be sleeping tonight.
I have motion sickness almost as soon as the train lurches off its brakes.
The woman across from me, plump and dressed in shorts and a tank top, burrows down into her blanket and pulls her curtain closed.
The air conditioning is too cold. Everything smells like diesel and rotting fish. The bed feels hard, the sheets too thin.
I am about to cry. Below me, my husband, on our honeymoon, is checking his iPhone for maps and transit time. (Burdy really likes to know his coordinates at all times. By contrast, I always want to know where the nearest bookstore is). Sitting above him like this, with our disparate needs, I feel miles away from him. Suddenly, this whole trip, this train ride, and even our marriage seems like a mismatch. How did I agree to an overnight ride on an ancient train in a smelly pink compartment above my new husband? Where is the romance? The equatorial white sands? The pictures of me in a floppy sunhat and a string bikini? Before the kids and the house and the corporate job, back when we were young and free? Were these pictures in my head of a younger, more well-off bride? Was the modern thirty-something adventure-bride’s life one of sleeping separately and breathing in coal exhaust and fish sauce, and dirty linen pants and jet lag pills and thrift store sunglasses? Had we fucked up? Had we done this ALL WRONG?
I thought I should empty my bladder, at least, before I settled in for the night. Maybe some normal nighttime routine would ease some of my discomfort. But the sight of that steel hole in the floor through which I was to do my business, and the sad trickle of water coming from the sink with its faucet held upright by a length of tattered green packing strap tied to a support rail, the dirty abandoned toothbrush on the soap-stained counter, all of it only confirmed my worst suspicions: that we were being punished for being frugal and stupid.
I crawled back up the steel ladder with rungs too close together and got back into my bed. I leaned over and poked my head into Burdy’s area. I choked back tears. “Does this mean we don’t get to snuggle?” I asked. He looked up at me, searched my face for what I was really asking and then put his phone away. He motioned with his hand for me to join him below.
“Why don’t we go get a drink in the restaurant car?”, he offered. “Just one. We don’t have to stay long. Might make you feel better.” He smiled that Don’t Worry smile.
I thought about it. Trying to sip something while the train rocked. On the verge of crying. Or maybe vomiting. I was still full from dinner. I could read quietly, I thought, maybe journal some. It was only 7:45. Maybe I could make myself sleepy with a drink and some reading. I gathered up a pen and my journal and a book like an English schoolkid and we staggered towards the dining car.
We braced ourselves against the rocking, then the rush of hot air when we opened the door between cars, and then the blast of Freon from the next air-conditioned car. Every inch hit the senses: humid air, darkness, rotting garbage, the deafening roar of the engine, our kneecaps bumping cold fiberglass.
And in a moment, in the way circumstances always do when you bring attention to them, things changed.
We could hear the dining car from two cars away.
Pop music being played at top volume. A massive flat screen TV. Tiny tables and folding seats. Beer bottles and overheated Europeans chain-smoking out the open windows. We slid into its blue interior strung with Christmas lights and took the only available seat- across from a young man sipping soup. A train attendant brought him French Fries and took our order.
French Fries. A sign that Everything Is Going To Be Alright.
We drank cold beer from green bottles in two tiny glasses. And more people came to the car. We had another round. And more people came. The music got louder. The young man left. We moved seats. Three young Polish women crammed in across from us. We shook hands and laughed at the coincidence of our shared heritage. The train rocked and rocked. There were signs: No Leaning Out The Window. No Throwing Garbage Out The Window. The windows were wide open. I closed my eyes and leaned towards the darkness and let it rush over me: Cigarette smoke. The smell of beer. Music. The train whistle. The engine. The smell of the countryside. Burning coal. Foreign accents. The torn vinyl clawed at the underside of my thighs. I braced myself against the slope of the broken seat. My joints felt loose. I staggered to the bathroom and back, holding on to the warm metal rails while I squatted. The hems of my pants were soaked six inches up in piss and beer. We drank. I spilled a bottle of beer on the table and we cheered. The waitress brought another, signaling with her fingers and a coy smile how many we’d had already had and that she was going to bring another, okay? A wink and a nod. Dry pink lipstick. The suspicion that perhaps she was not a woman after all. Maybe a ladyboy, the Polish girls shouted at us. Burdy and I looked at one another. We toasted. To the ladyboy woman, we screamed.
Someone brought out a brown paper bag of rubber masks. The waitress turned up “Gangnam Style” and half the car started galloping left then right then left. We cheered each other on. Cameras flashed. Huddles formed, heads touched, emails were exchanged. One of the Polish girls wrote her name in my journal. Underneath, she wrote in block letters FROM THE CRAZY TRAIN.
Hours later, after the ashtrays were filled, and the bottles emptied, the staff turned on the lights, pointing to the clocks above. The DVD was ejected from the player. Bottles clinked as they were gathered and hauled away, stowed godknowswhere. I leaned into the waitress on my way out and passed her twenty baht note. For the spillage, my eyes said, and for standing on the seats. She smiled that Thai smile and I smiled back.
Then it was the walk back to our bunks. Hot air. The sound of the engine. Cold air. The roar again. Colder air. Pink curtains. The slide of ball bearings on a metal rod. Cold metal rungs against my palms. Thin sheets on my bare arms.
I took off my filthy pants, balled them up, and threw them towards my luggage. I stuffed my sweatshirt under my head. I ripped the loosely woven blanket from its sterilized plastic bag and pulled it over me. Everything felt cold and luscious and perfect. I slept. Peacefully. Rest-fully.
I slept the whole night through and into the next morning.
I woke to golden sunlight.
Thursday, August 08, 2013
Upon my request, my husband has left me a thermos of coffee on the countertop. He has made it in the early morning hour between his waking and mine. He has left via the garage on his bicycle for work, having showered and dressed in silence so as not to wake me in that hour. My husband has left me a drawing next to the thermos. He has drawn me some birds surrounding a skinny, shaky heart. He is man who was not used to drawing hearts before he knew me. He has gotten so used to drawing hearts.
And what do I feel like doing with these hearts and these birds? I feel like pulling a black pen from the junk drawer and drawing big ugly crows at the corners of his note. I feel like drawing the crows screaming at the birds he has drawn. Bent at their bird waists with the effort of it. With slits for eyes. They would be twice the size of the birds my husband has drawn. They would be replicas of the crows that have built a nest on our roof and scream from the telephone wires at dawn. I won’t know why I want to draw these crows. I just know that the blank space around the birds my husband has drawn has telegraphed a message to my brain that the space should be filled with something absurd and awful, and my brain responds by filling my body with an urgency that I must force myself to walk away from.
Most men wouldn’t draw hearts and birds for their wives. And those who would… who would then come home to a nasty drawing on top of theirs, one drawn in jest, of crows, would frown and worry about their love. Maybe dig through old love letters just to make sure of things, and return with concern, worry in their eyes. They would ask why, or maybe not. Maybe they would just let the hurt fill them and they would go for a long walk and return still full of hurt.
More callous men would shrug and address me as “dude” and tell me they were going to watch the game. Those men would not brew their own coffee, let alone dig a scrap of paper out from the bin and leave me a note with the coffee brewed especially for me.
My man? He laughs along with me. He sees the absurdity behind my dark urges. He kisses my forehead and shakes his head from side to side and smiles wide and asks me, like we do of each other from time to time, “You? Really?”
Happy Anniversary to my husband, who has put up with my dark moods for more than fifteen years, and continues to be a great big light in my life, and who now has to endure this Internet display of affection, even though this sort of thing normally makes us both roll our eyes. Love you, Burds.
Thursday, August 01, 2013
Dear Holy Writing Spirit,
Please let me not trip over my words tonight. Please take the marbles from my mouth and the lead from my tongue. Grant me patience both with myself and with “The Process”. Guide my hand with the pen, and turn my ears towards your messengers. Allow me to be a conduit for your writerly grace and to know a glottal stop when I see one . Imbue me with perfect diction and let my hands lay down by my sides, lest they pinwheel about my wrists in nervousness. Forgive my overuse of elipses, cleanse me of the sin of starting sentences with “and”, and deliver me from clichés,
Now in the hour of your finest performance,
This is the prayer I recite every Tuesday night. Every night now for three weeks, I have sat around a table, along with a dozen other students, with one of my literary heroes. I have made it seem like it’s all cool to be sitting five seats from my literary hero and reading my writing out loud, but it is not cool, people. No, it is not cool at all. It is an anxious, sweaty- palmed affair in which I bend the corner of my papers back and forth in anticipation of having to speak I am so nervous. And why? Because the combination of being in the same room as one of my literary heroes AND the pressure I’ve put on myself to make this class THE CLASS to END ALL CLASSES and to make me finally write that book is making my head implode. I have to consciously remember to breathe. I have to remember to be calm and to breathe and that hey! The instructor puts his shoes on one at a time just like the rest of us!
Oh, but the agony of trying to stay present when all this STUFF is swirling around in my head. Stuff like: why does this book matter anyway? Why should anyone want to read it? Are you going to trip over your words when you read? You HERO is listening, dummy! What if his eyes glaze over and you bore him? WORSE! What if your stuff is so bad he is stunned into silence? How will you live afterward if your literary hero hears a bit of this book you’ve been writing and his reaction is that of a man watching a Great Dane take a dump in a baby stroller?
These past few weeks of writing were particularly challenging. Not only was I nervous about reading, I was nervous about WHAT I was reading. The week before last, this thing kept coming to me, both from my classmates and from my writing coach. The thing was a question. The question was: where are YOU in all of this? Somehow, I’d begun to write a memoir and I wasn’t IN IT. And everyone could see it. Either I was a master at writing a character into obsolescence, or I SUCKED at showing up in my own work. It seemed strange to me that I could achieve such invisibility, given that I come here every once in a while and tell you about my arthritic knees and my intestinal distress, but I’d heard it now from several people. I wasn’t showing up in my own work. It was like I was invisible.
So I spiraled into some real darkness and I went back to lying on the leather couch of my mind and asking: okay, LoLo. When did you first make yourself invisible? No clear answer came back. I was just aware of a vague sense of hiding behind telephone poles for most of my life. Not real ones, of course, but something figurative, something large enough to peek out from behind to observe the rest of the world, but something that would hide me entirely if I wanted to stand with my back up against it.
Eventually, I pulled out of that dark place. On the third day, I woke up and said, “Ahhhh. That’s better”. I went back to the drawing board and cranked out another chapter and this time I made sure to start most of my sentences with “I”. I was putting myself in my book. I had thoughts and feelings and not all of them were around Cheez Doodles! I was doing it! I was expressing myself!
I can’t tell you precisely when that shift from Describer to Narrator happened. It might have been the conversation I had with an old friend of mine- a musician who has made his way to Broadway. He said something to me about how ALL of us, actors, musicians, writers… all of us live with doubt. And all of us need to create and perform in the face of that doubt. In fact, you could postulate that the only thing separating an artist from a non-artist is that the artist lives in his fear and acts anyway.
I also spoke to a very good friend of mine who is a professional photographer and she echoed the sentiment of my musician friend- that all of us, ALL HUMANS, cringe in fear at the idea that we are subject to criticism at all times… especially those of us who put ourselves out there ON PURPOSE to be critiqued and loved and reviled and adored. Again the message came through: your desire to crawl under a rock when things get ugly is no excuse for not trying.
Really, what came out of all of this was the idea that I have a VERY fixed idea that because I want this so badly, it should come gracefully and easily. I may have read ONE too many articles of the Zen of Pulling Weeds or some shit because EVERYONE I talked to has the same reaction to my insistence that this should be easy: WHAT ARE YOU? NUTS? NOTHING in life is SUPPOSED to be easy, dummy! The things hardest fought for are the things you treasure most. Sometimes that thing is a difficult childbirth. Sometimes it’s being unemployed for a long stretch only to find your dream job at the end. I know of very few parents who would trade in their kids for an easier time of things. That’s how you fall in love with your creation: you work alongside it. You fight for its survival. You change in the process.
Something, though, has kept me from embracing this struggle. Everyone who has passed on that bit of wisdom circulating around the Internet right now ,“Lean into it”, I have wanted to shove hard into row of parked motorcycles.
The Perfectionism is dying a slow death, but it still rears its mangled head from time to time. I have found myself stumbling, wanting to impress my instructor and classmates, leaving my willingness to experiment at the door in the name of making a good impression. I am actually embarrassed at how intimidated I am. I feel like everyone else is so witty and charming and funny! I can hardly string a sentence together. My words leave me regularly. I find myself in this very awkward game of Charades, where I am subbing out wholly formed thoughts for wild gesticulations. My classmates lean in and try to discern what I mean by *wave hands in circles, swivel head, make guttural noise, stare at tabletop for uncomfortable seven seconds and wave hands some more*. My classmates aren’t just good at writing, either. They’re good at talking about their writing. About their thought processes and how they go from point A to point B. They’re having meta conversations about what it’s like to think about their writing. I’m still stumbling over fucking verb tenses. For god’s sake. Their stuff is SO good. Their pieces are charcoal sketches of nudes. Mine are hairy firetrucks and my name signed in crayon trailing off the page. They are waxing philosophical about film and theater. I am laboring to push out words like a manatee with twins on the way.
I do this a LOT- get all star-struck and tongue-tied in front of other good writers and then I want to crumple up into a ball my version of “art”. I think it’s a little, um, weird, because my level of discomfort should be inversely proportional to the level of celebrity. But my celebrities aren't the normal ones so my nervousness is a little, well, extreme. To wit: one of my best friends went to a Beyonce concert a few nights ago and she sent me a text telling me she’d just about peed her pants in awe at the woman. Truthfully, if I came face to face with Beyonce’s quadriceps, I might be liable to let go a little trickle. But, really? I don’t think about Beyonce except when someone mentions her name. No offence, Mrs. Knowles-Zee (which is, I’m SURE, what you call yourself). You are amazing; you’re just not as cool to me as, say, Ira Glass or Oliver Sacks.
“Normal” celebrities don’t do it for me. One time, at bookclub, talk ran right into celeb gossip and the ladies were all Ryan Gosling this and Ryan Gosling that and I was like WHO IN THE HELL IS THIS MAN with a baby duck’s last name? Everyone in the room just then turned to me and their heads began the slow, awkward swivel of the possessed/incredulous. Someone pulled up a picture on their phone. I stared. I squinted. Nothing. I didn’t know him from Adam. Incredulous looks from the ladies circulated. Do you think she’s okay?, they whispered to one another.
The problem is that I don’t see a lot of (American-made) movies, and I don’t watch TV much. Instead, I read. A lot. Heavy stuff, too. Like right now, my favorite book is a five-hundred page treatise on the origins of cancer. I can’t put it down.
Here are some factoids about me that might clear up why my heroes run so left of center. I have never, ever in my life done two things:
Smoked a cigarette
Bought a women’s magazine
That should do some of the work in explaining why I can’t point Ryan BabyDuck out of a lineup, or why I think of rum before I think of actor when I hear the word “Gosling” and why a child’s dose of cough syrup is enough to get me high, and why I can’t identify 80% of Hollywood on name alone.
Ask me about the fascinating connection between the brain and the guts, though, and I can point to the exact PAGE the article is on in my subscription to Mother Jones. Or if you want to read that gorgeous story about the beekeeper in The Sun? Yeah, I got you covered. Oh, and if you want a short history of how autopsies have historically been performed, you just let me know. I’ll be returning “The Emperor of All Maladies” to the library in about one week.
I never think that what I’m reading is so weird until I find out that the rest of the world wants to know about the Royal Baby that was just born and I’m like “Royal baby? Is that Nigerian princess who keeps spamming me pregnant?” I’m much more interested in how my food is produced, which one of my bath products contains Methylparaben, how to excise a lung… these are the things I’m reading about.
And none of that seemed so weird or cloistered (or soooooo very indicative of the fact that I live in Seattle) until I got to this class and realized that all my reading has done me no good. I don’t have a working knowledge of Shakespeare. I haven’t seen very many movies. I’m more familiar with the fiber content of graham crackers than I am with filmmakers. It leaves me feeling like I’ve shown up to a MENSA meeting with a baloney sandwich in my hands and an Archie comic stuffed into my back pocket.
The whole reason I wanted to take this class was because I saw the instructor perform a few years ago and his monologue was what made me think I could make a go of this writing thingee. And now that I am in front of him, I’m acting like a Nervous Nellie. I took this class because I wanted to use it as a tool to flesh out this book I’m working on. Somehow, though, I’ve let my nervousness eclipse my focus and I’ve been loathe to work on the book.
The instructor is only ONE of many indie-celebrities in front of whom I’ve made myself sound like a broken Whoopie Cushion. There was this one time when I met one of my musical idols, Dan Bern. He was playing in my city, in my neighborhood even. When I walked up to him after the show to flirt/chit-chat, I made a complete and utter fool of myself. Again, a little bit of trivia to help paint a picture here: I live with a particular form of cognitive dissonance when it comes to physics. I cannot properly gauge the distance between two locations. Miles mean nothing to me. Tell me distance in minutes, and be sure to throw in landmarks or I will never understand what geography you are pointing to. Anwho, when Dan Bern, my idol, told me he had just come from SeaTac, the town that is synonymous with our airport, an airport just thirty minutes away by car, I asked if he had flown from there to here, the club we were standing in. In other words, instead of taking a moment to process the information, take in a few molecules of oxygen, synthesize it with what I already knew about time and space, and perhaps form a follow up question, or maybe just stand there and shake my head dreamily like a NORMAL star struck person, I summoned up all my bravado and asked if he had flown from the airport to the venue. In essence, I’d asked him if he had gotten into a plane and flown the approximate three minutes it would take to cover the roughly twenty mile car ride. He stared at me blankly, wondering how I didn’t know the geography of my OWN FUCKING STATE. “ No”, he said with an appropriate amount of exasperation and pity in his voice. “I drove here”. Like a normal person, was the implication at the end there.
So yeah, me and celebrity – we don’t do so well together. My brain melts around people I admire. I keep thinking I’m meant to rub elbows with big names, but when I actually do, I wind up saying THE most inane stuff. I once stood in line WITH NO BOOK TO SIGN just to shake hands with Stephen Tobolowsky at a book signing event. When I got to him, all I could say, like he was some veteran coming home from war, was: “Great job sir. You really inspire me”. You know what? I didn’t say that at all. What I said was, “You. Are. Beashhhhhh. Ohgod. I. Thank you. I’m sorry I don’t have a book. You. Should know. Aiiiiiiiiii”. Then there was the sound of hissing as my brain off-gassed from death by atrophy. So, yeah. I can wreck a two sentence sentiment in no time flat. There were probably about a dozen or so OTHER sounds I used to “talk” to Stephen Tobolowksy, but I have necessarily blocked from my memory so that I am not horribly disfigured by the weight of my own shame.
Today I am taking a moment to collect my breath and my thoughts and to remember that we are all human, all of us. And that unless I am told otherwise, I should just presume that everyone else is just as nervous and tongue-tied as I am, in front of celebrities or not. Everyone is finding their way. Everyone is making hairy fire trucks in the privacy of their own home and maybe they are much more practiced at shining them up before they bring them to class.
Sometimes, The Holy Writing Spirit answers my prayers, and it sounds like this:
Dear Little Child, Wandering in the Desert of Your Own Mind,
How DO you read your work in front of your writing heroes? Ah, if only I could reveal the answer to you! I acknowledge your difficulty, though. You probably haven’t yet learned the art of dismantling your gods. That’s all. You're just now starting to see how absent you’ve been from your reading and isn't that helpful? After you go home and the adrenaline ebbs from the shores of your self-awareness and your breathing goes back to normal? See? You're doing alright. Listen. First of all, do you not remember the first of my laws? There is no God of Writing but the One God of Writing. Thou shalt not worship false idols. I’m sure this guy is great and all, but, seriously. Do I need to inscribe it on stone tablets or something? Buy their books and go to their shows, but remember who fills you with wordy life day after day after day. Not those yahoos. Me. ME! TREMBLE BEFORE ME, THE LORD, YOUR WRITING GOD! Lol! Just kidding! I love throwing that shit in from time to time. Hey. Listen: you must learn to calm down. You will never glean all there is to glean from those you adore (and there is stuff to be gleaned, for sure) in that state of starry-eyed palsy . You must gracefully take your heroes off their pedestals and you must raise yourself up tall. Only then, with the pedestal out of the way, will you be able to see what there is to see: you are all human. And you are all trying to tell a story.
Now go tell yours.
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
I had an unexpected visitor this week. The little girl I used to babysit- on the east coast, in Irvington, NJ- was here, in Seattle, and sleeping on my office floor. She was on a road trip- a soul journey- the kind we all should take from time to time to sort out what’s next for us and what’s important to us. I’ve taken my share of those, so I was SO excited to finally play the role of hostess to someone on a journey like that.
Not that Eliana really needed any sort of sagely advice from me, or a soft place to land, exactly. You know you’ve both grown up in a hard place when you offer your guest an air mattress and she insists on sleeping on the hard ground because, y’know. We grew up in Irvington. What’s a little hard ground? In addition to being a damned good roadtripper, this young woman is also an accomplished musician, a fabulous cook (she makes a mean veggie scramble), and downright delightful company. We talked long into the night and laughed about all sorts of things (not the least of which was the most monotone, eyes-glazed-over, culty happy birthday song either of us had ever heard at one of the Sri Chinmoy eateries here in town).
We went out for food and drinks the night she rolled into town and we reminisced a little bit about our times growing up. Each of us dug way back in the memory banks for funny stories to tell Mr. Burdy- like the time we tried to bake a matzoh from scratch in the microwave using borrowed flour during Passover (Whoops. There’s a joke in there somewhere that starts “A Catholic girl walks into a Jewish home…”). Or the time I had to boost her through the window on the front porch because we’d locked ourselves out of the house. Or the time my brother told her he painted his nails black because it would hide the blood when he committed murders. Ah, childhood.
I would like to claim responsibility for this young lady’s remarkable outcome, but let’s be honest. I really didn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t mean that in any over-self-deprecating way, either. We were next door neighbors for eight years or so, sure. And we’d lobbed our share of water balloons and childhood taunts over the chain link fence separating our yards, but, it’s not like I taught her much in the way of life skills. And also, I once dislocated her shoulder. RELAX! I did it while we were dancing! FIERCELY! “Shiny Happy People” will inspire that kind of energy in young people.
It was her amazing parents that are really responsible for her outcome. And her community. And the fact that she’s always been a bright shiny star, a smart and charming and lovable human being- a personality that was formed way before I arrived on the scene.
Her visit reminded me once again of the inherent messiness of our memories. While we reminisced about all the minor damage we’d caused ourselves and others in our childhoods (there was the requisite Showing Of the Scars with Accompanying Backstories over gin and tonics one night), it became obvious that we each remembered such different things. She remembered the tile in her bathroom. I remembered that her brother was obsessed with He-Man. It always blows my mind a little how two people existing in the exact same space and time can produce such different memories of those times. I would think that I WOULDN’T be surprised at this point in my life. But, having three siblings, all of whom I feel very close to, has sort of skewed my sense of individuation when it comes to memory. We spent SO much time together growing up; it’s hard to remember a story without them in it. We four keep a memory alive in a way, I suspect, that a family of two or three can’t. There is often so much material between the four of us, so much adding and re-calling, that the idea that different people can remember different things occurs as downright bizarre to me, still. (I often dream of writing a book with the three of them, telling the same stories from four different angles. I’ve even figured out the cover: four line-drawn head shots, done up in primary colors like a Warhol painting.)
Recreating in a vacuum, which is how I’ve gone about writing the memoir I’m working on… that is challenging stuff. The theme of my life for the last month has been how shaky, at best, my memory is when I have to remember alone. It’s hard to recreate the past without the input of those other three lunatics who share my last name, or my former next door neighbor, or my former clients and coworkers. I’ve been working on the memoir almost daily, and aside from the challenge of just committing to a time every day to sit here and write, there is this: what I thought was there, just at the edge of my memory, ready to spill over onto the page, is in fact a tangled mess of chronology. I find myself stymied by questions of time and order. Did Mr. X do this funny thing in 2003 or 2004? Was I promoted before or after I almost set fire to the wall of my office? Did I work for that nutbag the same year I was almost hospitalized for exhaustion, or the one before?
It’s funny how much pride we attach to being to being able to tell a story and recall every single detail- or, how much we want to punish those who embellish (ahemJamesFreyahem) in the void. I’ve always prided myself on being able to reconstruct the past from just a few Polaroid snapshots. What this memoir is shoving right in my face is how, with the passage of time, those snapshots fade, and get replaced by new snapshots. What shelf the chocolate covered pomegranate seeds are on, what corner of the garage we crammed the tripod into, where I put those Christmas cards I bought on clearance at the end of the season last year… This is the banality of living that crowds out all that drama from so long ago. And thank goodness, really. My brain is overactive enough. The last thing I need to do is find the Christmas cards and then feel the urge to call 911 because I’m remembering an electrical fire from 2003.
It was great to rehash the past during Eliana’s visit. It was even greater to create new memories with her. It’s comforting in a way I can’t really explain to know my childhood is safeguarded in the memories of more than just a handful of people. It’s a blessing and a miracle to see that, despite our concrete jungle beginnings, some of us have been able to fold ourselves into the organic nectarine, fleece camping vest, sensible shoe wearing embrace of the soft west coast. We made it out alive. We’re taking roadtrips and seeing the world and asking big questions of ourselves. That, too, is comforting. Maybe somewhere in between the cuts and bruises and the shoving through windows, our two free spirited souls, unbeknownst to our conscious selves, were signaling to each other to meet on the West Coast in twenty years.
Oh, and Mrs. Kissner? That was three days for 8 hours a day at a rate of $3.00 per hour, so I will be sending you a bill for seventy-two bucks for the services of babysitting your daughter. She ate all her lunch and then some, I only ordered her to drink alcohol twice, and she doesn’t one have ONE new scar to show for her time here. Unlike my memory, I’d say my babysitting skills have greatly improved.