Wednesday, July 23, 2014

los animalitos










Confession, and one that I think makes me less of a rocking good human: I'm not an animal person. I mean, I am an animal, so in that sense I'm either in denial or I'm the most reprehensible kind of social climber, denying my own people/fellow animals like that, but it's true. Taken as a whole, animals weird me out. If they spoke, that would help. And English, while we're at it, would be good. But I'd be down with Portuguese or Arabic or Swahili or French or whatever, because it would tell me we're sort of working in the same cognitive realm, and that would be comforting. If somebody's talking, then they're probably thinking, and I like that. Also, as a habitual people-pleaser, I can't please you if I can't figure out what you want, and if you're an animal and I don't anticipate your needs, I don't know how reasonable you're going to be about that. Like, what's the penalty? A pecking? Execution? 

I'm not totally solidly in the realm of the rational here. I know. Don't come at me with your logic, either. I don't take that kind of currency on this topic. 

See, so I think I'm a little not-quite-cooked as a human being. I admire the animal lovers and cuddlers, the rescuers of strays, the horse whisperers, the cat ladies, the falconers (somebody's doing it), all you Saint-Francis-of-Assisi types. You are better people than I am. You are more evolved. I mean it. Hats off. You've got it going on. I want to be more like you, so I'm here breaking it down today. I'm snuggling up to the concept of animals in my mind, and this is a start. 

It's equal parts attraction and repulsion for me with animals. Let me say right away that I have a good partial excuse on the repulsion front, which is allergies. I'm wicked allergic to dander and fur and animal saliva. I get hives and my chest tightens and it's painful to breathe. Also, the back of my throat is a fur magnet. If a room has fur debris around, it will shoot into my mouth and I will gack and hack until my eyes water. It's pretty to look at, and it feels good.  

But also, l'm a little stressed-out by how uncool animals are. I don't mean uncool like "they're assholes". I mean that they're not known for their restraint. They go for what they want. They're impulsive. Dolphins sexually assault people. Dolphins! If you can't trust a fucking dolphin, the whole game is lost. 

I'm investigating this because we're considering getting a pet. My sons are huge animal lovers, and they're dying to get somebody furry into our family. Allergies are a concern, but I know there are dogs that are easier on allergy-havers than others, and I've successfully lived with some cats in my life. And I'm not made of stone. I'm susceptible to adorableness like normal people. Finn and Fred and I google-image Labradoodles and my heart skips a beat like a real human lady's. 

Question number one always seems to be, "Are you a cat person or a dog person?" Everybody is ostensibly one of these people, and I suppose I better work out which I am, especially if we're going to pick one. Because we're not picking both, as God is my witness.

Dog people seem like they're part of some elite, windblown, outdoorsy club. Dog people probably ski, or play tennis, or touch football, or they surf. They're leap-y and athletic and healthy and well-adjusted. I picture myself at the dog park with a dog, and other dog owners looking at me like, "Who lent you the dog? That's not your dog. Go get that poor guy back to his owner. You're traumatizing him." 

So you'd think this would indicate that I'm not a dog person, ergo I'm a cat person. You'd think too soon!

I've lived with cats, yes. I've lived with Patches, Veronica, Lela, Desperado, Toonces and Gilbert. (In case you know them.) Just because I lived with cats doesn't mean I ever instigated it, though. I never instigated it. I was just along for the ride. The first three cats on the list were our family's cats when we were growing up, one after the other. Patches was the first, when we lived in New York. Patches was whatever. Patches was fine. My brother was the cat guy, see? If you ask David about Patches, or Veronica, or Lela, you better buckle in because rhapsody is going to get waxed. There will be talk of the ancient Egyptians and cat worship. There will be ooh-ing, cooing noises—just noises, noises of love, exclamations. It's a scene, man. I did not inherit this gene. 

Cats love me, though, because I can take them or leave them. I give them space, and they're all, "Who IS she? She's fascinating! She's irresistible. I must know her better. I love her. She has a je ne sais quoi." And then they're all chasing me around the revolving chair while I spin to avoid getting jumped on, and they're bumping their heads against my leg all luxurious-like, and purring their little faces off. It's sad! Cats! Come on! Have some self-esteem! Didn't you ever read He's Just Not That Into You? You'll feel weird when you do, cats, I'm telling you. Pang of recognition. 

Veronica and Lela were also fine, whatever. Desperado and Toonces and Gilbert were cats I lived with in college with my housemates. Desperado wandered on to our porch one night and threw himself on my friend Jen's lap, and that was that. He was dark brown, fat, and he only had one gigantic ball. He could walk, but he couldn't stand still without tipping over on his side; I imagine he was thrown off-balance by his ball issue. Toonces was orange and stinky. She had one spot on her back that she could never get clean, just one little sticky bit. They were depressing, frankly.

But then there was Gilbert, who was the only pet I've really been mad for. Gilbert was a slick little black-and-white kitty, all tuxedo'd-out, and he had grace and style and what even appeared to be compassion. I remember weeping on my pillow one night about an ex-boyfriend, and Gilbert curled himself around my head and wiped my tears away as they fell. I mean, really. In retrospect, I think he was probably like "Face game! Water on face. Move slowly so as not to scare the small waters, but then get them," which I interpreted as, "There, there. He wasn't good enough for you. Forget him. You have me." 

One night in college when I was walking home from the theater, I saw Gilbert blocks and blocks away from home. I didn't pick him up because I don't pick animals up because of fur and claws and bones and oh my god. Shiver. No. I cannot. But I loved him still, in my way, and wanted him home safe, so I lured him home walking backwards/bent over, beckoning him and making seductive baby talk. Jesus God, it was a task. A walk that should have taken ten minutes took an hour. Giiiiil-berrrrrt. C'mon, baby. C'mon, kitty. Smooch smooch smooch. C'mon, kitty-baby. Come on. Come on. That's it. Over here. Hey baby. Baby. Over here. Yeah. That's it. 

I got in the door and there were all my housemates in the living room, and I was like, "You guys! I found Gilbert!" They looked at me blankly, and I looked at the couch, where Gilbert was already sitting. Oh. Well, who the fuck was this I'd just seduced home so hard? Uh-oh. And then I had to give Not-Gilbert the boot. Super. "Say, listen, thanks for walking home with me and everything. I had a nice time. Hope you did, too. Welp. Go away now. Go be outside now. Go. Bye." I shut the front door, and Not-Gilbert hung from the screen door with his claws, wailing. Oh, man, that was one for his journal, whoever that was. ONCE I MET A TROLLOP AND SHE FUCKED ME OVER AND LEFT ME FOR DEAD. NEVER TRUST A WOMAN. I'M OUT OF WHISKEY.

On the strength of Gilbert alone, I'd say I'd teeter in the direction of cats, but they have those claws, and those teeth. I know dogs do, too, but with cats they seem pierce-ier and knife-ier, and I feel like cats indulge themselves with that shit more often, and more unpredictably. I don't like that you could have a cat snuggling on your lap and you can suddenly get shanked in the leg for no reason. WTF? Don't stab me, fuckers. I don't care if it's a love stab. I don't care if you're playing. That is a fucked-up game, "Stab the Lady". If a person suddenly stabbed me—even just in fun, whee!—I would dial 911 immediately. 

Why do the most adorable pets have to be so potentially sharp? I'm against it.   

And do not speak to me about turtles or lizards or snakes or rodents, all the potential pets from the "other" category. Weasels and ferrets and whoever. (Hamsters are no go. Too vulnerable/inscrutable/high octane.) And if I can barely handle the otherness of a dog or a cat, who are respectively the vanilla and chocolate of Animal Flavor Metaphor Town, there isn't the first chance I'd be down with some wasabi motherfucker like an iguana.

But Tina, what about-

NO. You were going to say birds. Birds are the worst. I am an almost-complete ornithophobe. Once I was forced by fate to walk through a parking lot that was carpeted, carpeted in pigeons. I prayed please don't take off please don't take off please don't take off and when I was halfway to my car THEY ALL FUCKING TOOK OFF. I froze and covered my head and screamed and there was flapping flapping flapping everywhere and they touched me with their wings and it probably only went on for five or ten seconds but I died, came back to life and was re-killed again once every second. So that's long. That's five to ten lifetimes.

Our next-door neighbors have chickens, whose pen they thoughtfully keep far away from their house/snuggled right next to ours. Every morning there's a farm-fresh cacophony right beneath our bedroom window. And until the fence was reinforced, they kept muscling into our yard. You'd see a little horrible chicken head trying to work its way under the fence, all I AM COMING FOR YOU. 

When something has fur, you can maybe reason with it, mammal-to-mammal, or soothe it with a violin. If it has feathers, especially fluffy fucked-up fowl feathers, it cannot understand you. It is bent on its own aims.

Another time I was chased by turkeys. I don't want to talk about it. And once a housemate went outside and threw a rock at some loud crows early one morning, and you had best believe we were fucked from then on. I came home one afternoon and found the way to the door blocked by a squawking, menacing group of maybe a dozen crows. I sat in my car for 45 minutes and then called an ex-boyfriend, crying, to come over and help me get inside, which he very kindly did. (I bet he misses me.) 

I've done work on my crow phobia, though, with huge success. For the last sixteen years, to make up for fraternizing with the rock-thrower, I've waged an intense psychic Good Vibes Shock and Awe campaign toward crows. I know they can remember specific people for something like twenty years, and they pass the news on to all their friends and relatives and everything, so you have got to step right with them. So I'm on top of that beeswax every which way. Whenever I'm outside and I see a crow, I beam every last variation of  "I come in peace" and "Blessings upon your young" and "May your endeavors succeed" and "May your food be plentiful" and "May your people triumph" their way and a miracle has occurred, I shit you not. I like them now. I like crows. I almost love them. It's spontaneous and genuine. When I see a crow hop by, or I see one on my fence, I say "Hello, sir" like it's my beloved village elder, and I feel a little bubble of warmth around my heart. I would nearly hug a crow. (I practice this in my mind sometimes and it doesn't make me cringe.) They register to me as these sweet, smart, appealing fellows now, which gives me hope for my relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom. 

We have pets already, technically. We have eight fish: a goldfish named  Sheepie, a Black Moor named Blackie, a freakily energetic koi named Sheepiedoggiekittycat, and five cloudfish named Finn, Fred and The Three Peaches. I'm not in love, really, but I have amicable feelings for them, although I'd say Blackie has grounds for a sexual harassment suit against Sheepiedoggiekittycat. 

But something happened recently—just inside me, no incident—where a little door opened up and the idea of a furry being padding around the house all winsome started tugging at me, like a kind of baby fever. I'd look at the empty spot on the floor next to me and imagine some little pooch wandering up and making eyes at me, and I felt love already in advance for this nobody-somebody. That's faded a bit, but it's still kind of amazing to me that it opened at all. And if crows are my buddies now, all bets may be off. 

I have to say I get nervous at the idea of really opening up to an animal. I'm nervous about being needed. I'm nervous about letting somebody down. I'm even nervous about letting love flow between us—particularly being on the receiving end of that pure, crazy, innocent animal love. It's coming close to nature and god and wildness in an unnerving way. 

But I think of a moment soon after Finn was born, and it feels like it relates. We'd been home from the hospital for about a week. I'd had a c-section, and my recovery was tough. I couldn't lift Finn yet, so Dave was taking care of him in a lot of the real physical ways. I handled feedings, but Dave changed him and burped him and walked him around, comforting him. So Finn connected with Dave first, making and holding eye contact, while he still looked right past me. I was exhausted and jealous and suffering intensely about it. But one night, when he was all swaddled up like a samurai in my arms, it happened. He looked at me, and held my gaze. 

Here was this tiny being, alive, all mystery, no words, and we fell into a hole together, looking and looking. My mind stopped making words, too. There weren't any for this. We were there together, and I can't say more about what transpired, exactly, but it was fearsome and majestic and all I could ever ask for. 

I don't want to connect this in any more words. I don't want to make my point. You make it, quietly. The animals are on to something. We don't need all these words. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

popular









At the very beginning of my freshman year of high school, Joanna Christianson invited me to a weeknight pool party at her house. Everybody who was starting high school with any social credibility was going to be there. I played it cool, but I was gaga to have made the list. I'd been popular for exactly one semester and one summer so far, and the thrill hadn't even come close to wearing off. Phil Haven was going to be there, John Barcher, Linnae Dengah*, everybody. Well, not everybody—that was the point. Just the right people, of which I was now, for reasons I couldn't 100% figure out, one. 

*I've changed everyone's names up there except Linnae Dengah because I can't make up a name as good as that. I tried. So, if you're googling yourself, Linnae: surprise

Popularity was gold, it was security, it was everything good. Why had it decided to visit itself upon me? And how could I make it stay? Because I wanted to make it stay at all costs, and I do mean virtually all costs, barring obviously insane things like murder. But whoever I really was inside, if she/that was any impediment to my staying popular, fuck it. Fuck her. Who needs her? Never heard of her. And so, consciously or unconsciously, I set about a lifelong self-curating process that I've only in the last few years begun to try and put the brakes on. But that pool party invite shone in my pocket, and with it all the promise of...something. 

**********

What is it? What's the heroin, the MSG, the irresistible thing at the heart of popularity? If I've thrown my purest self away all these years chasing after it, what's its glamour?  All these unconscious things work better when they're allowed to keep sneaking around in the dark, and if I do have some kind of essential self I've smothered in its name, I want to meet as much of her as I can before I die. So I want to know what I was getting out of this pursuit. I want shine a flashlight on this god I was—had been—am still?—oh, shit—worshipping. Because let's face it, I'm probably not done unwinding this. It's too potent. 

What's the payoff? What's the high? What was worth selling myself out for? 

Looking back at the places and times where I knew I was in possession—at the parties and in the living rooms, at the kegs at the beach, getting the nod at the music shows and in the hallways, huddled by the lockers and gossiping at the sleepovers—I remember a feeling of plushness, of luxury. I felt like I was consuming luxury goods, or that I myself had become luxury goods. Pre-drinking (so before the age of thirteen) the feeling of popularity was bright and vibrating, flashing back and forth between security and fear, since this was all new and I couldn't trust it. But drinking soon became part of it, and then other substances, so it gets harder to separate what it felt like to be popular from what it felt like to be drunk or high, that lush, muffled hedonism.

I think the fundamental pleasure was a pleasure of covering up. There's a certain pleasure in being exposed, of becoming more naked, but then there's the pleasure of blankets, of armor. It's a relief and relaxation that comes from knowing you're protected. And then there's a sort of group white noise that protects you from your own quiet, your own depths. It's comforting, like going to sleep with the television on.


********** 

For my thirteenth birthday, my Great-Uncle Harry gave me a handwritten note on yellow legal paper. (I found it a few months ago, after all these years, but it's gone missing again. I'm frustrated because I wanted to quote it here. House! Stop eating my things!) 

I have to tell you a little bit about Harry. He was my grandmother Dora's younger brother, and though Granny scared me plenty, Harry scared me more. He had tan, leathery skin, a hawk nose, a wild white shock of hair that came nearly to his shoulders, the thickest and ugliest Dutch accent you could ever unscramble, and he smelled constantly of tea tree oil. I could not deal. Well, I could have dealt if he'd been a sweet old uncle, but Harry, like Dora, was gruff stuff. He was a chiropractor (name drop coming, sorry, but it's too weird and good—he was Martin Sheen's chiropractor!) and he practiced homeopathy, and most unnervingly of all, he was clairvoyant, like Granny. And he had no time for whatever he deemed bullshit. Like, for example, all of music except for Beethoven. And thirteen-year-old girls who didn't care about their inner lives at all, but only cared about being popular. Also on his bullshit list.

Harry and his wife Mari were staying with us right around my birthday. One afternoon, my brother and Uncle Harry and I were sitting around the dining room table, and the conversation turned to chakras. Harry was talking to us about the crown chakra, the one that hovers a few inches over the top of the head. He was saying that this is the chakra that connects us to the greater whole, to the universe/Divine and to the rest of humanity. If this one is open, your spiritual development is pretty well under way, and if it's not...well, it's not. And then he walked behind my chair and held his hand a few inches over my head, testing, and then grunted and walked back to his chair and sat down. He didn't look too impressed. 

I burned with the dismissal. I felt self-conscious about the sparkly pink lipstick I was wearing, and how shallow he must have thought I was to be wearing it. I was only partially human, it felt like, something for the reject pile. "This one's no good. Toss it."

When my birthday came, he gave me that note. Now we're fucked because I can't find it, but it was written out like a small poem, and the gist was that if you only pay attention to externals, and miss listening to your internal voice, your internal music, you're lost. 

I didn't like my present at all.

**********

What makes a person become popular? Good looks will take you pretty far, but they won't take you all the way if some other things aren't in place. But there's a baseline of reasonable physical attractiveness, some minimum that has to be met to get in the door. And then there seems to be something like a personal Teflon coating that's another prerequisite, a kind of shell off of which things can roll. You can't be too obviously vulnerable. And if you're the reactive type, you better default to something like belligerence. If your Teflon coating cracks, you need to be able to repel attacks/insults/tests. If you're not sufficiently invulnerable, you have to be able to intimidate. 

You also have to be able to monitor and minimize your faux-pas, which means you need to be attuned to social rules. And you may need to roll with some kind of necessary blandness, keep something like negative space available so people can project cool stories/acceptable roles on to you without the interruption of too much contradictory quirk. The presence of a few markers—good looks, a kind of toughness, maybe some humor, the right clothes—and the absence of particular problems (too much vulnerability or the wrong idiosyncrasies/physical flaws/pants) and then a shape starts to show. 

When you've presented the right dots to be connected—without showing your wrong dots—then people can take over and finish out the sketch of you so that it's a success. You're not complete, see, until you've been rubber-stamped. (God forbid you imagine you were born complete, or that you've remained somehow independently complete. Bzzt!) Some kind folks who have their self-presentation all worked out might throw you some advice so you can get ship-shape quicker. And once you've got the hang of it and the invitations start rolling in, keeping up your presentation is addictive, like messing around with Instagram filters. You don't have to accept yourself exactly as you are, or present yourself exactly as you are. Work those dials. 


**********

My friend Kris, who'd been my closest pre-popularity friend in junior high, whom I dumped for the popular kids after an arm-punching incident (I got mad about something and punched her as hard as I could in the arm, she laughed and said I punched like a kitten, and boom. Didn't talk to her for three years), was into something called Rugged Individualism. I was like, what even is that? That's not a thing you can be! That's not on the menu! But she didn't see it like that, and a Rugged Individualist she was. I remember one day during freshman year when she wore jeans and a denim shirt, both of which were embroidered all up and down with bees and ladybugs and sunflowers and god knows what, all of which was so far outside the current pale that I could barely believe my eyes. On the outside I scoffed, but I secretly admired her balls. You had to be rugged as fuck to rock ladybugs on your clothes in high school. I totally punched like a kitten in that regard.

**********

Once, in college, a friend from high school visited me for a weekend. This was during my junior year, when I'd dropped out of my sorority because I'd decided it was cooler not to be in one. I wore black all the time and had taken up smoking, and I fancied myself a cool, alternative type. I had a cool, alternative boyfriend who was in a band and everything. I had it going on, I thought. And my friend, who was going to a state school and getting a communications degree, was still wearing all pink like she did in high school, and she was bright and sunny and ditzy like she was (and was popular for) in high school, and I thought that was all wrong. I was embarrassed by her. This wasn't what to do now. You had to be darker now, and different, to be cool. I couldn't wait for her to leave. Oh, I was growing up so well. Boy, did I adapt. 

**********

Curate yourself long enough and intensely enough and you not only won't know how to stop, but you eventually won't even know you're doing it any more. When I was 31, back when I was an actor, I signed up for a nine-month-long acting intensive at a studio here in Seattle. This was a Meisner class, and any theatre folks reading this will know right away what that signifies. Sanford Meisner was a legendary acting teacher whose technique was based on wringing emotional truth out of you come hell or high water, and my teacher, Robin Lynn Smith, was Seattle's finest conduit for the technique. 

The class was grueling and golden and revelatory. I only lasted three months. 

During the first stretch of this Meisner training, we did a lot of what they call repetition exercises, where you sit across from a partner and, using only the simplest observations of each other (and the repetitions of those observations) as dialogue, you take in what you see across from you, call it out as truthfully as you can, and then react to each other from the gut. It sounds simple, and it should be, but it isn't. It's as loaded and complicated as the conditioning you walk in the door with, which in my case was way more loaded and complicated than I had any idea. 

I'd be in a repetition with my partner in front of the class, and I'd think I was just being straightforward, and Robin would yell, "Stop it! Tina, stop that!" I'd get confused and flustered, and keep going, not knowing what to stop, and Robin would yell, "Tina! Stop being nice!" And I was like STOP YELLING AT ME I'M NOT BEING NICE I CAN'T FEEL THAT I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT I'M JUST BEING ME.  

I was trapped inside something and I couldn't even see it. I'd built an expedient container for myself, one that brought me friends and didn't make trouble, and I couldn't figure out where it was, much less how to get out. The repetition exercises were fraught and usually ended up getting heated, too, like you were constantly having fights with your closest friends. The more honest I was, the scarier and more exhausting it got. 

One rainy afternoon at my house, I was doing repetition with my partner, a handsome, gentle, slightly awkward athlete named Tim, and the exercise took an unexpected turn. I can't for the life of me tell you exactly what we were observing in each other, but the risks we took in expressing what we saw landed us—just for that afternoon, and totally innocently—in love. Not lust, but love, a romantic love, something pure and courtly. Tons of clothing came off, it felt like, but no fabric. It was shocking and a little nerve-wracking to get my guarded social being out of the way and allow it to happen, but damned if it didn't show the payoff for revealing myself. I'd never passed an hour like it. 

After I dropped out of the class, I got a little homemade card in the mail from Tim, an index card that he'd collaged on one side with triangles of silver foil art paper. He said he understood why I was dropping out, even if he was disappointed, and that he wouldn't forget the hour we'd spent in my house, that he felt that what we'd shared there had been real. I loved the card, and I agreed. In a lifetime of posturing and hiding and positioning, that clear, pure hour rang out, something to keep as a talisman and a possibility. 

**********

On the way to Joanna's pool party, riding in the back of my mom's car, my friend Tanya and I gasped and giggled and talked in code about who was going to be there, and what music we were going to hear, which cool songs, and we loved that my mom wouldn't be able to figure out what we were talking about. Why should she? She was a mom, not a person. Only our people needed to know.  

When we got to Joanna's, everyone was there, as promised. The boys threw themselves sideways into the pool over and over, the girls stood around the pool and watched the boys, Joanna's parents wandered around making distracted chit-chat and keeping an eye out, and nothing interesting happened. Not one thing. No good conversation, nothing. The most super-popular people were all smiling and laughing and seemed to be having fun, but all my excitement evaporated, replaced by surprising dispassion. I was bored, which amazed me. I didn't actually like a lot of these people. I didn't resonate with them. We weren't really anything to each other. I'd had more fun at Kris's house the year before, listening to Black Sabbath and making prank phone calls. The only thing this party had going for it was brand-name personnel, the A-list, which was what I wanted, which was nothing. But the herd was here, the comfort of the herd. I didn't need to like each of them, did I? I didn't want to stop wanting what I wanted, this popularity, but it didn't have anything in it, not in and of itself. 

I enjoyed this observation about as much as I enjoyed Uncle Harry's birthday note, and ignored it just as hard. 

When I did find Harry's note a few months ago, I felt a pang—not of insult this time, but something else. I read it over, and I got it. It wasn't that he didn't like me, or that he thought I was bullshit. He was worried about me. He wanted me to participate in actual life, the real thing, as myself, and not a facsimile. I got it in an instant. I misjudged him (even that fucking tea tree oil, which stinks, but is terrifically antiseptic). He didn't want me going through life juggling two versions of myself, the ideal one for public consumption and the worst one, to be frantically hidden away. He just wanted me to know myself, and steer by something real. 

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

self-consciousness









Here's what: I'm driving down the street...let's call it yesterday. I've got the windows down, and the new mixed CD I just made for the car is playing. The sun is out, it's hot but not too hot, the fan is on, and I don't have any immediate problems. There is no crisis on deck. I'm healthy, my family's good, everybody's hanging in. I'm not in a quarrel with anybody, I don't have any major aches or pains. I'm just out to buy some shoes. I love buying shoes. 

By all rights, this should be a golden moment. But we just had a party the day before, and my brain has decided to fuck with this lovely afternoon. I try not to do it, but I keep projecting myself into my guests' brains, planting judgments I think they might have had about our house, my hostessing, the music, the food, etc. My brain throws out stupid questions every two minutes: did _______ think my house was the wrong size? Did __________ like/hate the music? Did ___________ come out of obligation? I wave the questions off like flies over and over. I don't know! Who cares? God, shut up! But the constant re-arrival of the questions and the sour feeling that comes with each one hexes the drive. 

Self-consciousness is jive and it ruins everything it touches. I'm talking about that pinching little presence that whispers to you that you're wrong somehow, fundamentally, in your very being. That if you're not currently embarrassed, you should be, and if you're not feeling insecure, you're missing something. Vigilance, dread, all related to who you are. The threat is from within. The call is coming from inside the house. 

It does, it ruins everything. Self-consciousness mars performances and auditions and interviews and dates, it sucks all the sex out of sex, and it's hell at school. I remember being the new girl at my junior high, jumping in at 8th grade when everybody already knew each other, and the miasma of self-consciousness I waded through from dawn to dusk. I wore white pants one day in September, and I remember sitting near the front of my history class in a state of terror that my period would arrive and bloom red between my legs, my ears attuned to all the small sounds of my classmates. Was that a snicker? Is it happening? Has the blood crept up to my back pockets? And then my bra suddenly unhooked itself in the back and my hand shot up so I could be excused to go to the bathroom. I ran and dove into a stall, fixed my bra and then shoved my pants down to confront my sea of blood, which of course wasn't there. Everything was pristine. I stayed in the bathroom as long as I could, putting off my return to the battlefield.  

**********

An acquaintance of mine wrote a piece for The Stranger recently about a brutal strain of bodily self-consciousness that strikes him every summer, which I imagine at least half of the reading public recognizes themselves in. As a woman with "imperfections"—God, so dumb. We're the only animals that do this shit to ourselves. -That doe has fat thighs. -You call that a bikini body, squirrel? -Fuck that giraffe! He thinks he's such a bigshot! -Yeah, he's successful, but he's going a little soft in the haunch, if you know what I mean—I'm familiar with this feeling to the point of boredom. I can't keep caring about my arms/ass/knees/whatever. It's too hot and summer is too long. Also I'm old and married and not trying to pick up dudes, which is freeing. Dave already signed the papers. But the essential horror at the center of his piece—we all carry it, or something like it, whether we just got a lucky kernel or we're dragging around mounds of it. And I'm tired of this shit. I'm mad at it, on all our behalves. 

**********

I used to collect books about the French. It was a favorite genre of mine, How to Understand/Be Like the French. I have historically been a little obsessed with French people—Parisians in particular—because they have a reputation for being tough to crack, which is catnip to my self-conscious, people-pleasing side. They're like a Rubik's Cube that I was dying to solve. If I can learn to work the French, was my thinking, then I can work anyone. (An old college boyfriend once said he thought I was a little Machiavellian, and I was genuinely like WHAT IS THIS DUDE TALKING ABOUT, but in retrospect I think he was probably on to something.) Anyway, I'm a very smiley, ingratiating person. Annoying or not, that's my autopilot. And in Paris they hate that. They hate it when strangers smile at them; they think it's stupid, unearned, a little crazy, even. Now, my smiling seems pretty innocent to me. I think, let's be temporary sidewalk friends! Why not?  But when I unpack it, I think there's a little bit of "If a bomb falls on us all right now, the people I've smiled at will be my allies in the rubble and will be less likely to eat me when we run out of food." The Parisians aren't buying it. So in one book they said if you're a foreigner in Paris and you get invited, by miracle, to a dinner party, and it's your first time among that group of people (and possibly second or third), expect/plan to be a chair. Nobody is going to talk to you or care about you or engage with you, so pretend to be a chair and make peace with being furniture for the night. Don't take it personally. Just be invisible and pointless and suck it up. This is a self-consciousness exercise that makes my brain explode to contemplate. The worst! But also, and because of that, so fascinating! Probably medicinal as well. And it gets me thinking, where else might this be applicable? Anywhere? Everywhere? Why do we need to be taken in in a certain way all the time? Why do we need to—or even believe we can—control it? Be a chair! Who cares? 

**********

I flew to California with my brother a couple of years ago to take a class with him and give him a hand while he traveled, as he's disabled. He's been dealt a rough one in this life, bearing up under loads of physical and psychological pain. And he's also an amazing being, unlike anybody else I've ever met. David is brilliant and always, always, uncompromisingly himself. He has never trimmed or tailored his personality to his surroundings like I have. He doesn't do the opposite thing, either, where you get aggressively individualistic in that kind of defensive way. He just does him, as they say, and he always has, ever since we were kids. Anyway, we were at the airport, and he had his big walking stick with him, with the silver cobra head and ruby eyes. It's a not-fucking-around walking stick that can conceal a sword. It's crackers. (The sword was not traveling with us, naturally.) He also had heavy crystal necklaces around his neck in bunches, along with a bag around his neck with a big, rose quartz crystal ball inside. We're going through security and he's unloading all his stuff, emptying his pockets (equally packed with talismans and dealie-bobbers of all kinds), taking his crystal ball out of the bag, explaining to the security personnel what everything was, all with this perfect, pure, absolute lack of self-consciousness. Total innocence. I watched him with a kind of cringing joy, like, hey! You can't have fifty thousand items at security—especially fifty thousand super magical items! This is adorable and a little embarrassing! But then there he went, and he was so damn pure and sweet, and turns out, why couldn't he? You can! You can. You can bring a crystal ball and a wizard walking stick and eleventy billion doodads through the airport and nobody dies. On the contrary, everyone fell in love with him, as people do wherever he goes. My admiration for him—which was already a pretty unwieldy Macy's-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-style-balloon-type-deal—soared. What I wouldn't give for that particular kind of unselfconsciousness! 

**********

When Dave and I were on our honeymoon in Hawaii nine years ago, I lay on the bed one morning and practiced disappearing. It's a fond memory. I was wearing this diaphanous white cotton nightgown that a friend of the family had given me as a shower present, which felt like nothing on my skin, it was so light. I was gazing up at the ceiling fan, feeling so good. There was a total absence of bummers. Our relationship was blissful, the temperature was perfect and balmy, there was nowhere to be. And it popped into my head to try disappearing, as an experiment. Not in a David Copperfield way, but in a Buddhist, is-the-self-illusory?-then-let's-see-it-go kind of way. Nowhere to be? How about also nobody to be? Let's try it. I didn't intend it to be any kind of meditation, either. I was just curious. I wanted to see what would happen if I let go of my affiliation with my history, my memories, my understanding of myself. What would it feel like? Would it feel as good as this nightgown? Would it feel like taking off a nightgown? It felt interesting and good for the drips and drops I could sustain it for, whatever I was doing or stopping doing. And when I look back now, I know that hell yes, that was meditation. On the money.

**********

That experiment begged the question: does a me always need to be present? Does it need to be so up-front-and center all the time, driving everything? I'm really intrigued by this concept of the self as an illusory thing. (Those Buddhists are always throwing something interesting out there.) The self is, what, a trick of the light? A giant practical joke? As a someone who's frequently experienced the self as a burden, I'm all tell me more. I'm part-horrified, part-fascinated by the idea that this me, this central locus of consciousness, is flimsy or fake, that I can participate in existence without it, even though something might die off in the process. 

Because there are two different levels of self-consciousness I'm talking about here. There's painful consciousness of the self, and then there's just plain old consciousness of the presence of the self, an "I" taking it all in. This big display all around us — how often do I take it in without folding a me into it, a me with opinions and memories and fantasies? Like, for example,  say I'm driving around again, and there's a song on. At the very least there's an "I like this," or "I don't like this." And I like or don't like the weather, I'm rating it, and if it's a song I love, then it's me singing it, I fantasize that it's me. I wrestle me in there everywhere. Can't I be a chair in my own car for a second, and let music just be music, let the weather just be the weather? Do I have to insert myself all the time? 

And so what if my party and I aren't perfect? What if the worst were true, and everybody thought every bad thought I assigned them? So what? It's still a little revolutionary to me, the idea that what other people think of me is irrelevant, that my self-consciousness isn't preempting anything, isn't saving me from anything. Maybe my house is offensive! Maybe my music is objectively, scientifically bad! Maybe who cares! I get a thrill from this, which indicates hope. 

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

cherchez la femme












Tomorrow's my birthday. I'll be turning 45, which feels surreal, but I've been tooling around my forties long enough to buy it, I guess. I think it's true. 1969. The number's right. It all adds up. I'm middle-aged, no fighting it. And that's cool. It's a little improbable-feeling, but word on the street is that these birthdays keep feeling improbable until the grave, so I'm not alone, at least. 

My genes—those bringers of mixed blessings—hooked me up with a young face, which is nice now, but might possibly have stunted my maturity a little, since it's hard to feel all grown up when the people of the world have been pinching your cheeks since time began. In my first year of college, in fact, when I joined a sorority (Kappa Alpha Theta, whose...what do we want to call it, 'motto'—?—is "Theta for a Lifetime", though I ultimately went with the lesser-traveled "Theta for Two Years"), we had an awards night for our pledge class, where every young lady was honored for some notable personal quality. I was excited as the recognition made its way around the room. What fun thing were they going to honor me for? Girls were getting props for their athleticism, their toughness, their boy-craziness. Would it be my sense of humor? My fashion sense? My indomitable spirit? I couldn't wait to find out. And then it was finally my turn, and my pledge mom, Jennifer, stood up and lifted up a big, pale yellow placard emblazoned with the word "Youthfulness" in girly script, with some stupid fucking poem about youthfulness or whatever copied by hand beneath it, and everybody beamed at me while she said stupid things about how young and fresh I was, and I forced a smile instead of jumping up and yelling, "YOUTHFULNESS?? WHAT THE FUCK??" and kicking over a table like I wanted to.

Fucking let a woman be a woman, even if she isn't one yet, was my feeling. I was seventeen and the most virginal virgin ever. At a function that year with my favorite fraternity—Delta Tau Delta—where we all wore white t-shirts and got wasted and drew on each other with Sharpies, the same basic thing happened. The hottest senior Delt, upon whom I had a huge crush, stopped and wrote on my shirt, smiling. I made my way to the bathroom and twisted the shirt around so I could see what he wrote. It was the letter "V". Just a big V. It even took me a minute. V? What do you mean, V? V? And then it dawned on me. Goddamn it. 

All I wanted was to be a woman, from as early on as I figured out that girls became women. (Not hip to transgender issues as a tot.) I was like, let's get this show on the road, then. Let's move it. Mostly I wanted breasts. I stuffed my shirt with tissues when no one was looking, until I saw Half-Pint try it with apples on an episode of Little House on the Prairie, which looked promising. (Tip: nope.) In first grade, sitting at my little table of four people, I was possessed with the idea to fold my turtleneck over in a flap at the chest area and rig a proto-rack for myself. I was pleased with the results until some slobbery, total non-player at my table ogled my flap and I shut the operation down, chagrined.

What was a woman? How did you do it, besides with boobs? The women around me made their impressions, and I took subconscious notes. 

First, always, is Mom. We like our women beautiful, culturally, and I'd heard the news. My mom was beautiful, I was happy to see. And she knew she was beautiful, and I knew she knew it, because she told me how often she'd been told it in her life, which was often enough that she said it took her a while to figure out that it wasn't enough just to look good. She thought for a long time that this was her contribution, that she could just bring her face into a room and then chill, mission accomplished. Good deed done. 

I loved watching my mom get ready to go out on the town with my dad. Sometimes they'd head into New York City to see a play, sometimes they'd go square dancing. (Square dancing! I don't know why but it kind of kills me. My mom had/has a very swish, Eva-Gabor sort of European accent—she's from Finland—pronounces "darling" as "dah-ling", that kind of thing—and so the incongruity of square dancing as a hobby with her fancy lady voice gives me Green Acres feelings.) She'd put on a pretty dress, usually in some silky brown fabric of the 70s, and some Revlon lipstick, which was the only makeup she wore or needed. High heels. Pearls. I was in love. 

But home was her real domain, and domesticity was Aino's jam. Everything in our house was clean and fresh and pressed, and she cooked squishy, yummy food: cheese soufflé, Baked Alaska, potatoes in Bechamel sauce, Finnish crepes rolled up with brown sugar, waffles on weekends. And if we were entertaining, especially if we had some kind of VIP coming over, she got a real glint in her eye, something almost cocky. This was her sport. Nobody was too posh for her to impress. She presided over her end of the table in smug calm while our guests ooh'd and ah'd over their plates. 

As much of a charge as she got from entertaining, Aino came even more alive in the garden. She kept her pearls on but she knelt in the dirt and tugged and toiled all day, beaming at us from underneath her sun hat. Hard work, sunshine, nature: this was hers, only for her. Not for guests, not for her family, just a pure date my mom went on with her own life force. I saw how she came inside different after a day in the garden, dirty and tired and happy and real. Her voice sounded right. It didn't have a spin in it, or the sound of trying. 

And there was her mothering, of course. She said over and over to me and my brother that she'd wanted kids with a blind urge, and that she recommended that nobody have kids who isn't dazzled with the need for them like she was. She loved the job. She wanted the job, she loved the job, and she was built for it, especially the early childhood part, which is so endlessly physical. Clean this, feed that, change that, boom. I don't know how she did it, but she was ten steps ahead of all of that stuff. Seamless. It's obnoxious how seamless that was, I say now from experience. WTF, Aino? Nice bar to set. I'm not clearing it, by the way. I could stroll straight under it wearing a top hat.

She loved her children, too, which doesn't go without saying in our lineage. (Granny, you're up in a moment.) She was tender and devoted and cuddly, and always talked to us in a soft, sweet voice, even if it wasn't her post-garden voice. There were hugs, there was bedtime singing, and above all there was her gaze, which told us she was always happy to see us, which was no lie, no spin. 

That gaze is the biggest thing, I can feel it. Ground Zero, the central sun of my conception of womanhood. Care and attention. I can see you. That's what a woman is, someone who can see you. Someone who stops to see you, who helps you know you exist. 

And then there was Granny—read up here if you need to—whose gender seemed somehow beside the point. It wasn't on the table. She was the most powerful person in whatever room she was in. I don't know if that was true when my grandfather was alive, since he checked out before I could check that out, but it was unswervingly true afterward. I never once saw her defer to another living person. She had none of the softness that I associate with womanhood, and she didn't seem particularly allied with her gender, though she had female friends. (There was no sisterhood thing going on for either her or my mom, for that matter. Feminism was loud and shocking to Aino, and didn't draw any particular comment I can remember from Dora, whose force of personality made feminism seem almost unnecessary for her. And there sure the hell wasn't any sisterhood going on between the two of them.) 

We weren't close, Granny and I, so while she's burned into my consciousness, she didn't become one of my chosen female icons. My mental walls are not lovingly postered with her image. But I know she's deep in my mix, such was her power and her proximity for so long. Inspiration, cautionary tale, I don't know. Something to grow into, something to avoid becoming. I'm still unwinding her influence. No verdict yet, or maybe ever. 

Then there were the female friends of the family who flew or drifted in for visits. Goddesses. They were close enough to bring love with them—that gaze—but they were distant enough and were with us in short enough bursts that there was no time or space to calculate their flaws. So they didn't have any. Case closed.

There was Renée, a philosophy professor with big, beautiful, deep brown owl eyes who sat with us in front of the fire one New Year's Eve, leading me and my brother in Socratic dialogue about Plato's allegory of the cave. I was hypnotized. She was so respectful towards us, towards the power of our minds, and her cashmere sweater was so soft, and her voice was like coffee and honey. She spoke French to us with that voice sometimes—she had a little Jeanne Moreau about her—and I died of it. She was Peak Femininity. 

And there was Emily, my mom's friend, the daughter of her Spanish professor in college, who was a world traveler and operator in high political/diplomatic circles. She had a soft, posh voice like Renee's, and sat on our couch with a ballerina's posture, legs crossed just so. Emily was fearsomely correct. But she loved us. She was crazy about my mom and so she loved the rest of us by extension, and not by default, either. Really really. So her correctness and refinement wasn't a threat; it felt more like an asset, even. She was one of ours, and she knew so much about the world, and she gave advice that felt, because of her palpable love for us, conspiratorial instead of corrective. She gave you her full attention, asked you lots of questions, and then bubbled over with ideas for how you, with your specific gifts and talents, could basically take over the world. It was hot stuff, and you felt like you could photosynthesize her charisma and savoir-faire if you sat with her long enough. She was better than a movie star. 

Then there were the walk-ons: an older Australian woman named Elizabeth, for example, whom we sometimes saw at Indralaya, with a slender figure and long white hair. She was old, chronologically, but her hair and the wrinkles on her face were the only tells. In every other respect she would have taken that Youthfulness award in a heartbeat. I remember an afternoon when she and I walked around the camp collecting pebbles, and then we retired to her A-frame to turn them into mice with black markers, which was bliss. The mice were charming but the time and attention she lavished on me were the real goods. 

And there was Hilda, an elderly Scottish lady at Indralaya who used to hold my face and exclaim, "You look just like a Victorian cameo!"—"There she is, my Victorian cameo!"—which was so unnecessary/sweet, and made me feel like ten million bucks. To this day, I do like Hilda did and don't hold back with the compliments. They cost nothing and I'm a menace with them, trying to pay it forward, assaulting mostly elderly women at the grocery store with "What a beautiful scarf!" and "The color of that sweater is so luminous!" on the off chance I can give them that same thrill of being seen and appreciated that Hilda gave me.

There were the glamour girl walk-ons, too, but I'm less inspired to talk about them now. I'll just give a quick shout-out to Charlie's Angels and my friend Amy's mom, who was an Avon lady, whippet-thin and sexy-chic, with long dark hair and long burgundy nails. She was the only real lady I knew who could have been a Charlie's Angel, though she was always harried and grumpy in a way the Angels weren't. Quick personality/schedule overhaul and she would have been there. 

It's only recently that I learned that the phrase "cherchez la femme" doesn't just mean something along the lines of "Hey, women are cool/sexy, so track 'em down!" like I thought it did. I found out that the phrase, which originated with an Alexandre Dumas novel called The Mohicans of Paris, evolved to mean something like "If a man committed a crime, find out who the broad was who drove him to it, because let me tell you, IT WAS A BROAD." This blew my mind. Also: sigh. It was better the other way. I'm reclaiming it, though, right here, right now. I'm supplying my own meaning. I'm keeping the "go to the source" part, and erasing the "of the trouble" part. We give life, after all. You come from us. You come from Dad, too, but let's be real. We're the door. You want to know who you are? You know what to do. 

P.S. I always thought I would have a daughter, but no. Two sons came. (I wouldn't, obviously, have it any other way.) I really wanted to shepherd a little girl into womanhood, and then I remembered, oh. What else have I been doing all my life? Right.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

desert song

I had some different plans for this post—I'd been thinking about friendship break-ups, and my increasing reverence for deep, active friendships, what a kind of crazy miracle they are—but the instinct to get into that evaporated and now I'm just going to talk to you about what's happening at this moment, what I'm thinking about at writing time. The friendship break-up thing, though, I'll return to that here at some point. I had a big one this last year, and that's a hot topic in my brain on the regular. But today the breeze has blown me somewhere so much nicer, and I want to go with it.

I've mentioned earlier that I've been working with this spiritual teacher, Jim, whom I chat with via Skype every couple of weeks. We had a session today, and I want to take you where we went. 

Where do I start? How much do I set you up with? I can't drop you in cold.

I'll just start at the beginning. That's always solid. 

I started working with Jim last November, a few months after the recovery needle started moving up after my huge mystery illness. (For those late to the game, short form is that I had a huge mystery illness in 2012/2013 that had me bedbound for a few months and then hospitalized for a couple of weeks, and then I got all the way better and I remain at 100%.) Those first few recovery months were just about gaining strength/catching my breath/enjoying life, but the illness itself was terrorizing and relentless. I want to talk about it sometime, but not today. Anyway, a few months after I came out of the hospital, I lost nearly half of my hair in a delayed stress response, which will maybe give you a sense of scale. (Hair's all back now, been back for about six months, she said, pulling the strands around front and kissing them, mwah mwah mwah.)

So my body was recovering, but my insides needed some care. The illness was so damn medically mysterious, and I'm the sort that starts to wonder what might have contributed to it energetically or emotionally, and even if nothing did, even if my body randomly flipped out and broke for a while, I wasn't taking any chances. Once I was healthy enough, I was like fu-hu-huck this, let's grab a shovel and some mining helmets. We're getting a—what's a Sherpa for going underground?—one of those—and going in. 

Because I could feel it, while I was sick, that there was some kind of energetic mass deep inside me, like a collapsed star down in my tummy. Sometimes I could feel it move around, uncoiling and releasing, like plumes of black smoke. I made an MS Paint drawing of this while I was sick, what it felt like. Here it is:


That was the illness for me on a metaphorical level, what it seemed like it was trying to do for all those months. Cleaning house. Don't ask me yet what was getting cleaned, because I don't know, and I don't know if I'll ever know, and I don't know if I'll ever need to fully understand. My own stuff. Family stuff. Ancestral stuff. Quién sabe? But holy smoke, I must have had some kind of long-term ecological disaster reverberating down there. Gulf-of-Mexico, BP-level crud accumulating in me over who-knows-what span of time. That's what it felt like, anyway.

So, yeah, there was this something to deal with. And then Jim and I started working together. I'd approached him in the summer, after I'd taken a free class of his—in which I'd been impressed because he spotted that mass-feeling-thing down in my whereabouts and described it to me without my having mentioned anything about it—and he was like, nope. Go chill for a couple more months. You're still stabilizing. And then November came, and he asked me to meditate for half and hour every day, and we'd get on the Skype every other Tuesday, and dig in. 

It's hard to describe a typical session. It's not therapy, we're not talking about very many of the specifics of my day-to-day life. There's an improvisational vibe. It's like I'm one big, shifting metaphor, and we look at whatever gets kicked up to represent my internal terrain on any given day. We started out spending a lot of time in a kind of genie-bottle-cave right in my middle—sometimes inundated with flood-waters, sometimes clear and dry. I always had a little flame in there to illuminate things. Sometimes it was birthday-candle pitiful, sometimes it was campfire-sized, but it finally got gigantic/dazzling enough to break the genie-bottle-cave frame and deposit us in some different scenes. I've found myself at Indralaya, I've found myself in creepy, flame-extinguishing blackness, I've found myself in a forest. We take a look around, I desribe what it feels like, we see what it's connected to if we can, or we just note it and move on. 

We're getting to the good part, the thing that made me write this post.  

That desert picture up top, that's as close as I could find to give you a representation of the new terrain we discovered a couple of weeks ago. Amazingly, Google-Image doesn't have any shots from my subconscious, or superconscious, or wherever this place is. I don't know how I got there, I don't remember what came before it in the session where it appeared, but it's the best place I've ever been, so I want to talk about it. I want to say what it's like. I visit it sometimes on my own, and it's better than any vacation. Potent, alive, like a great dream that's broken out of its nighttime box and become real somehow, as real as my backyard. 

It's a pale, sandy, baked-out desert landscape. The air is still and warming, and it's usually dusk. I'm sitting there at a little encampment by myself. Home base. Maybe there's a rug and maybe there's a white tent, a kind of Laurence-of-Arabia setup, but the physical details are secondary to the feeling there. The first feeling is of permanence. This place, this warmth, this perfect stillness, they will always be available to me. It's not going anywhere. I will never be denied access, I can tell. And with the permanent feeling is a sense that this place makes all things okay.  There is no bitch or worry or heartache or fear I can arrive at this spot bearing that doesn't start getting transmuted instantly. 

When my husband proposed to me ten years ago on Balmoral Beach in Sydney, it was one of those transcendent moments where all the bad feelings in the world felt like they'd drained away. I couldn't feel a drop of darkness anywhere on Earth for the life of me. I wondered a little bit if we were still on Earth. The sensation lasted, I don't know, fifteen minutes? Half an hour? I mean, the whole day was glorious, but this shot of pure sublimity dissipated relatively quickly.

And back in 2001, I traveled with my then-boyfriend and his family to England, and we made a stop in Bath. The Roman baths there in Bath, the main attraction, where people went through the centuries to heal from illness—holy gods. You can feel in ten minutes how it came to be a healing Mecca. I sat by that pool and I never wanted to get up. The air there was so tranquil and humming. It felt like it was doing something, you know? Bittersweet, because after an hour we had to go, and I wanted years.

The love and brightness on that beach, the healing vibe by the baths: mush them together and we enter the territory of this desert image/experience/thingy. But the kick is, this place is mine. I own it. I have it, I can't lose it. It may even be me, the ground of my being underneath all my history and habits and specifics. That's Jim's theory. I can't speak to that and I don't care. All I know is that every time I take myself there, it's complete, instant respite, a heaven-feeling, the spa of spas. I don't know what it is, but it makes me feel so solid to know it's there, like I've discovered an endlessly renewable ace up my sleeve.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

word processor

Writer's Block (Richard Ahnert, 2011)

My friend Paul Mullin has tagged me in a blog tour meme hashtag deal called #MyWritingProcess, which he's tackled like a champ over at his place. Paul's one of those capital W writers I talked about a couple of weeks ago, a prolific and talented playwright who's bowing out of his old form for a while to jump into memoir. Go read about his process, but after you read mine, because he's got a lot more to offer you than I do and I want to look good for a minute.

You might notice that I wrote about writing only two weeks ago, and maybe it seems soon to circle back and hit it again, but this prompt appeared now and I don't have another topic wrestling for supremacy this week. So I'm going in. I promise next week's post won't be about writing, unless it is. 

So these are the four questions on deck with this meme:

What am I working on?
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Why do I write what I do?
How does my writing process work?

Let's see how faithful I am to this little group. I can tell you right now that every single question makes me squirm. But it's good to squirm sometimes. It's tonic. I'll fight through it.

What am I working on?

Are we talking about on the page? Or in my mind? Because I've got a whole Walter-Mitty-esque panoply of things getting worked on in my imagination. If we're talking about cold, hard facts, then you see everything I'm working on every Wednesday. 

But if we tweak the phrasing of the question, I can give you a little more. If the question is "What are you working on or toward?", then the answer is threefold: I'm working toward a memoir, I'm working on an application for a writing residency, and I'm working toward getting essays published in places that are not this blog. I'm making the distinction because I'm dealing with some resistance, like I talked about a couple of weeks ago. Words—you know, words, the currency of this whole endeavor—are not piling up right now, except for here. But I've made moves toward these goals. I've pitched a few things, published a couple of teeny ones, and am waiting to see if a particular pitch I've made will fly for a piece I'm dying to do, which would happen a few months from now. 

The memoir, though. Oof. It's a slippery fucker. I have the subject but not the story, even though I've been hanging out with/working on this thing for three years. Right now I have a handful of scenes, an incomplete list of scenes I haven't written yet, and an ancient mass of vamping waste product. The lack of clear handle on the story makes me want to pull my hair out. What exactly am I tracing? Where does it land? I know the terrain, I have a sense of the transformation I'm undergoing as narrator, but I want to know where the rainbow ends, for fuck's sake, which I can't find out until I stack up the scenes and find out the actual truth.  I want to see it before I make it, but I can't, and it's turning me into a stubborn little donkey. It's dark up there on that path! I'm not going. You can't make me. What if I accidentally walk off a cliff? Fuck you. 

But this is the project, this is the thing that if I don't do it, the last word on my deathbed will be one long obscenity. I want it and resist it more than anything. I've blown it up too big in my mind, too, like writing and, god willing, publishing it it will change my life and validate my whole existence. I have to shrink it, so I can get to it. 

I'm afraid. Fear, stupid fucking fear, my archenemy. I'm afraid of that cliff, or all the cliffs. I'm afraid to tell the truth and alienate people, even dead people. I'm afraid of writing a dumb book, or a shallow one, or one that just misses the mark. 

I got kicked out of college once. I got kicked out, and then they let me back in, and then I freaked out, got paralyzed and flunked out in the end, anyway. I had trouble writing my papers, because I didn't want anyone to see my opinions, because they were probably stupid. My professors were like what the fuck is wrong with you, girl and I couldn't tell them. When I was lobbying to be let back in after they kicked me out, I had to go in and face this gigantic room of faculty and plead my case. Someone asked me the "What the fuck is wrong with you, girl?" question, and I tried my best to articulate it. "I think it's perfectionism," I ventured. My Abnormal Psych professor was particularly scornful about this theory, saying, "I would hardly call your lack of work the result of perfectionism!" and I wanted to throw my purse at his head. Fuck him. It was and is. 

Anyway. That's what I'm working on. Things, and perfectionism. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I so badly want to tell this question to go scratch, because I hear a touch of what makes my work unique/better than others of its genre, the answer to which is I don't know/nothin'. But the part of me that understands that marketing is a thing thinks I ought to take a stab at it. 

My genre is memoir/personal essay and...blog? Is that a genre? Shit, man. Am I doing something different? I guess this blog is really all we can go on, since it, you know, exists. I think a strength and a weakness in this blog is that I don't stick to one tone. I write humorous things when the spirit moves me, but as often as not I go the other way. It's nice that I can swing both ways but it makes it tough to pinpoint what I'm doing all up in here. Maybe that's the difference. A wide straddle? This fucking question. You tell me, folks! 

I swear a lot. That's something. I swear because that's how I talk and think. I can clean up when I need to, but I like to be free and tell the truth, and swearing is shorthand for the truth/occasionally necessary to convey the truth. 

This is the worst question. I don't know, man! I will inevitably have to do better with this, but not tonight.

Why do I write what I do?

Why do I write about myself? Oh, this one's easy. Because of my childhood! 

That's flip but it's true. The drive to grab hold of the mic rose from a way-back feeling of invisibility (inaudibility?), and I think I'm perpetually trying to establish that I exist. 

How does my writing process work?

For starters, Tuesdays. Tuesday's my day. I have one inviolable writing day a week, thanks to the good loving/blockade running of my husband. He covers my ass as long as I want on Tuesdays, since I publish this blog just after midnight at the top of Wednesday. Time is the sine qua non for a writer, and so far I own one day. I need another one, or some more pieces. I occasionally pounce on a not-Tuesday, but a real standing date with my brain would help. We've got two little kids, so we're both struggling for time. 

But, okay, so it's Tuesday. We have the when. Where is either sitting on my bed or at my favorite café. I'm there right now. Check it out:






















This is my office away from home. When I did intuitive readings for a living, I either did them on the phone at home or here. I love this joint. The coffee is great, the walls are red, I like the music, the crowd is sort of nicely varied and schlumpy-ish. What more could I ask?

And this is what I write on:




















An iPad mini, seen here on my other office. I love the portability, and I've grown to love autocorrect. And it seems casual. What, I'm just throwing down a few words! Nothing to stress over. I used to occasionally write longhand, but my handwriting is horrible when I'm thinking and writing fast. If I want to know what I said, I better type—that is, unless I go calligraphy-slow, which nope. 

I will pull out pen and paper, though, if I'm brainstorming, which has become a go-to part of my process. I took a brainstorming class at the Hugo House taught by the smart and delightful David Schmader, and I'm so glad I did. It's the one part of my process that has specific, formal steps—even if they're very simple ones—which are a comfort when I'm flailing. 

That's the concrete stuff. I can't speak to anything else, I think. It feels premature to discuss anything more esoteric. I'll do that when I'm a Writer. I'm conscious that I'm developing as a writer, and part of that development has to do with ownership. I don't fully own it yet. For the w in my writer to go capital, I need to fight for it harder: fight for the time, fight to push my voice out there in the work itself, fight to be read by a wider audience, and remunerated for my work whenever possible, and most of all to value my own work enough to do all of that. I'm working on it. 

And now it's time to pass the tag baton. I'm going to toss this in the direction of a couple of women whose work I love, in different genres. My pals Suzanne Morrison and Keri Healey are capital Ws. Suzanne has written a memoir called Yoga Bitch (get it, read it—so smart, so charming) and is at work on a new one and also, I believe, on some short stories, one of which I've heard her read aloud, and it was the bomb. I wanted fifty more. Her voice is urbane and sharp and open and tender all at once, which is my favorite thing. And Keri Healey is a playwright. Her most recent production was a dark and brilliant piece called Torso, which rocked this town. Keri wades balls-out into tough subject matter, but her writing is also incredibly funny and personable. Seattle is lucky to have her, and I had the pleasure/challenge of performing in one of her plays while I was pregnant with my oldest son. I hope they take me up on it and spill. Keri doesn't have a blog, but hey, technicalities. She can borrow mine. 

There. I gave you all I could give you. Thanks to Paul Mullin for being curious and giving me something to write about this week, and for constantly encouraging me, which means a ton. Now you can go read his post, and the rest of his blog, and his plays while you're at it, and hold tight for his memoir. He's one of my favorite thinkers and he's got a pugilistic streak that I love. Or maybe the pugilistic part is the main part, and he's got a streak of tranquility. Whatever it is, I dig it. Go look. 


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

tony tonē tonë

On Monday night, a friend of mine posted a link to a Tony Awards red carpet round-up on my Facebook wall, with the following note:

Just in case you don't have plans for Wednesday's post. I know you're not a deejay. I know you don't take requests. You're an artist. 100%. But if you happen to be inspired ...
First of all, MY GOD, YES. Yes, I am an artist. An artist, do you understand? The muse has to speak to me organically, or I cannot and will not work. I'm a thoroughbred! I'm an artist and a horse now, which is even more special. How many horses do you know who are artists? None. None of them. I'm the only one. And I've never done a red carpet post about the Tonys before, because of formless reasons pertaining to art, the art in my brain. But because I'm an artist, I'm going to adjust my beret and turn those formless art reasons into words you can read with your eyes, because I'm also a craftsman. Craftshorse. 

Why I Don't Post About the Tonys: Une Histoire

Long ago, in the year 1975, a child in Port Chester, New York was cast in a play. The play was The King and Queen Can't Speak and the child was given the role of the Queen Mother. The child was only six, and yet already her teacher appreciated her range and gravitas, casting her not in one of the two leads, but in the much more difficult, complex, interesting and sure, okay, smaller dowager role. The child—all right, I admit it, I was the child. I was that child! {{{flourish/bow}}}—had one line.

Queen Mother:  Somebody! Quick! Fetch a doctor! The King and Queen can't speak! 

Pivotal. 

If the Queen Mother didn't alert the...servants...people...other people, whoever they were...the king and queen might have never spoken again, and the country would have fallen into confusion and disarray. People would have probably died from the disarray, if you think about it, but not too hard. So the line, of course, had to be imbued with the urgency of this knowledge. But then layer this in; this was the Queen Mother talking, so the king or queen was the Queen Mother's child, one of them, whichever one! Can you imagine how worried she must have been? Why couldn't they speak? Was it a pair of tumors? Were they even alive, her child and the...other spousal monarch? Could it not be argued that one is not truly alive without the power of speech? I'm giving you a lot to think about. Yes. Yes. Art. Anyway, the Queen Mother had to battle back her fierce maternal emotions and take charge and save the country. And so I did. I did that. Because of me, the king and queen received the necessary medical treatment and order was restored throughout the land.

I did it for love, by the way. I received no awards for my work in that play, but years later in college, I returned to acting and majored in theatre. My college debut was in Cyrano de Bergerac, where I did a memorable, chameleonic turn as both the "orange girl" and the "third nun". Eventually I clawed my way up to leading roles, where yes, yes, I was finally rewarded for my work. Spring Drama Banquet, 1991. Best Actress. Best. Actress. My name was engraved on a silver bracelet which I kept like my very own Oscar/Tony for years. 

I went on. For a good fifteen years after college, theatre was my thing. I poured my heart into it, truly, and had a great old time doing plays with my extended theatre family here in Seattle. I loved that time of my life, and even though I rarely act any more, I'm forever bonded to the community. The tone has switched here, as you can tell. I've gone sincere and sentimental. Theatre's like that. Spend any length of time doing it and you will get all I trod the boards once upon a time, you know. But that's not my main gig any more. I perform my own writing here and there now, but I don't do plays. It's been years since I did a straight-up play. And so there's a tender, slightly bittersweet, old-boyfriend vibe for me with the theater. I didn't break up with it because I hated it. I just fell in love and got married and had kids and it got hard to keep going, so I eased into writing because I could do it right in my house in my off-hours. And then I fell in love with writing, and we're together now, it's my main squeeze and I'm happy.

The problem is, THEATRE HAS JUST KEPT GOING WITHOUT ME. It's fine, you guys. It doesn't miss me. Some nerve. And the Tonys, which, right, what were we talking about? Am I supposed to swing it back to that? Fine, fine. I'll just show you a couple more adorable and fascinating birth marks and then I'll...okay, NOW, fine. 

Unlike the Oscars and the Golden Globes, I don't always watch the Tonys, and that's because they're giving out awards for a bunch of things I have not seen, seeing as how I don't live in NYC and have a squillion dollars to spare. I'd love to fly to New York and see every old thing, but I can't, and the Tonys remind me I can't, so I feel poor and far away and grumpy. And awards shows—as much as I love them—are famous for being boring as fuck, and that's doubly the case if you don't know who half the people are and triply the case if you're not a musical theatre nut and it's the Tonys on deck. 

And clothing-wise, I feel like it's not quite as sporting to dish about the Tonys. The people coming down the carpet, as famous as some of them may be, are not generally movie stars. They're theatre actors, so being red-carpet-ready is not the same kind of job it is for the movie crowd. Theatre in general, god bless it, is not as lookscentric as film, and I like to protect the semi-sanctity of that. 

But, hey, what the heck. I watched most of the Tonys this year and I wasn't bored at all, even if that's because I was playing Bubble Shooter on my iPad the bulk of the time. I saw Alan Cummings get all raunchy and charming in his Cabaret bit, and Neil Patrick Harris kick out the jams in his Hedwig number, and I saw Audra McDonald cry a bunch when she won her sixth Tony or something, by which point you'd think you'd be taking a win a little bit in stride, but hey. My point is that I feel qualified to make a few remarks, as my TV was legit turned to CBS while this was all going down. 

So: five minutes to places, people. (Thank you, five*!) 

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

PLACES. OH MY GOD. PLACES. THIS IS IT. THANK YOU, PLACES*. 

*those are theatre references, for  a t m o s p h e r e

:) :(  d r a m a  m a s k s 

Idina Menzel is one of the most Tony-awards-est people I can think of, so we'll start with her. And listen, let me tell you right now, some of these people I won't know on account of the aforementioned not-NY-living, no-$1,000,000-for-traveling-n-theatre-seeing. And so I'm not going to be Googling all of the ones I don't know and finding out names. Maybe that's wrong, but it's real, you know? As in "keepin' it". 

Look, it's not Idina Menzel's fault that my cousin gave us her leftover curtains that look exactly like the fabric of this dress, but it happened and I can't make it not have happened and I also can't see anything else when I look at this dress.  But I went this whole two paragraphs and didn't call her A**** D*****, so that has to be worth somethiOH SHIT I CAN'T DO IT ADELE DAZEEM ADELE DAZEEM ADELE DAZEEM 

Idina MenCAN'T SHE JUST CHANGE HER NAME NOW ADELE DAZEEM IS SO MUCH MORE FUNzel is what they call a "triple threat" in the theatre; she acts, she dances, she sings. What you never hear about is a "double threat" or just a "threat", and I think that's too bad. I just think if even one of those things is a threat, then we should be giving props/cowering more widely. Although, I guess if somebody sings really well but can't act or dance, that's not—you know what? I'll continue this line of thought in my diary.

If The Coneheads were The Munsters, Rupaul would be the Marilyn Munster of the family. He's a Conehead, sure, but just a little one, and he's so pretty. 

Vera Farmiga is killing it, as I would somehow expect. It's so pleasing when an actor dresses like the thing you appreciate most about them. She's so intelligent and such a cool customer, and this dress agrees/puts an exclamation point on it. 

You don't need to see the rest of Kate Mara's deal here. Spoiler: it's a minidress. Obviously that's unimportant. What is important is that she and her shoulders just signed with the Seahawks in a hush-hush deal. Every now and then, Kate Mara will show up on the field (((poof))) just like this, standing there in front of an offensive player from the other team. She'll look at him with this exact face, in this dress, all "What?", all "Try it!", all "You're stymied, aren't you? I'm a girl," and then "Go Hawks!" and (((poof))) she'll disappear. See you at the Super Bowl again, suckers! 

I'm so happy for Emmy Rossum, if this is Emmy Rossum. Silky-milky-silver...what's the liquid that the elves gave Frodo in that little stay-well kit? It's that. What Frodo didn't know is that if he needed to go to an awards ceremony on the way to Mordor, he could have turned the bottle upside down and this would have slipped out. You elves think of everything! I wish I could buy elf energy bars, real ones, at the store. I bet they'd be so good.

The reason I've popped Tyne Daly on here is to illustrate why it never seemed right to do a red carpet post about the Tonys. Not that she looks any way but exactly how she should—she looks perfectly delightful—but this is a human mortal woman having a deluxe evening, and I don't think I oughta crouch in the bushes and examine her threads. (I'd just like to say that I recognize that everybody at the Oscars and Golden Globes will die one day.)

On the other hand, Ben Vereen! Ben Vereen will illustrate for the defense! Ben Vereen demands to be seen and spoken of. He might as well have come over to my house and lifted me out of my bed and handed me my laptop himself. Ben! God bless the new President of the Federation of the United Battlestars of Galactica. We're looking at interplanetary space dignitary wear at its finest, but for the orange-soled...I'm gonna say sneaks. What can we glean about Ben Vereen from this outfit? We glean that Vereen doesn't ask himself a whole lot of questions on his way out the door. He's gonna be a real shoot-from-the-hip-type space prez.

I do believe this lady's name is simply Orfeh. She's ready for us, ready for all our questions, as you can see. She's getting on the good foot, out in front of this Orfeh thing. What of it? Yes. I am Orfeh. I am Orfeh! I have no idea what she does, but I'm sure she smacks the shit out of it, whatever it is. 


We had to look at Krystal Joy Brown from two angles to catch all the goodness. If somebody else hadn't run up to her dress and put little kisses on it, I would have. The lip prints scattered on the fabric charm the sunglasses off me. They're so wrong and right. And that long side braid is the dreamiest. All you have to do to hypnotize me is to give yourself a braid like that. It's just that easy. You could be coming at me with some shitty old subpoena and if you had a braid like that I'd feel like you were handing me an ice cream cone. Fank you! 

I say yes to Audra McDonald's giant, stylized floral print. She really did blub away up there when she won, though. She and I have the same birthday. We're Cancers. That is the shittiest name in the Zodiac. Thanks, Zeus. Back in the day, my friends and I used to buy those little rolled-up horoscopes in plastic tubes they used to sell next to cash registers everywhere, and once the little tube called us Cancer women "wobbly moon-maidens". Shut up, tube. But she's seriously won this shit six times or something. They said that while I was playing Bubble Shooter. So, I don't know. That's pretty wobbly. I myself haven't cried in, like, four hours.

Thank you sincerely for the exciting tie-scarf-anemone, man I do not know and can't get off my bum to Google, even though I could stay on my bum to do that since we don't keep our Google over by the fridge or anything.

I just signed over all my belongings to Gladys Goddamn Knight and this gold leather jacket. Ugh, I love it and her so much I'm kicking everything in sight! Ugh! Tip over, table! You're next, wall! Unnh! 

Anna Gunn does look pretty fantastic in an Aphrodite-meets-Lady-Bird-Johnson kind of way, but after Gladys Knight, this is just Lesser Gold. 

Ethan Hawke, what in the world are you Zoolandering about?  Are you doing a catalog shoot right there?  

Maggie Gyllenhaal's the sexiest little goose ever, but this hem. As my friend Beth used to say in college when she held up/pointed to an oddity in somebody's room, "Explanation, possibly an apology?" 

Judith Light has for 100% certain taken advantage of the wonders of modern surgery, but her doctor's good and this Blondie vibe is pretty foxotronic. The angle of her foot is giving me pain in my phantom leg, however.


Fantasia Barrino, forgive me, but that ass is heaven. I can't take it. I would never stop spanking myself if I had that ass. I would make strangers spank it and bounce quarters off it all day wherever I went. And this sea-turquoise-aqua-mint-teal what the hell do you call this color is taking me on my honeymoon. 


This cool-looking lady in an oddly-shaped dress continues on beneath the red carpet, I assume.


If you ran into the room I was in and suddenly held up this dress with no context, not mentioning theater or the Tonys or anything—and I'd never seen it before—I'd yell "Fran Drescher!" before you could even think to yourself, "I hope she guesses Fran Drescher." If we were playing Pictonary with an orange crayon, and you drew anything at all, I'd yell "Fran Drescher". Basically, if we ever play Pictonary, or any other game ever, I will always guess Fran Drescher first because of this picture and we will dominate. Don't stop to think about that too much. Just be excited.


When people ask how I died, and someday they will, you can tell them I slowly died of Cicely Tyson. Tell them it was a good death. Tell them Vishnu incarnated as Carl Sagan, squashed up Maleficent and Glinda the Good Witch, folded them up in an origami star truffle, held my nose shut, popped it all into my mouth when I opened it to breathe, and shot me far into the Cosmos when I inhaled. And that's where I am now, traveling through space, Cicely-Tysoning to death. It's beautiful out here. Write me.