Wednesday, April 16, 2014

high notes

It's time for something light and refreshing. And so here, without further ado, is a small highlight reel.

Age 6: My crush Timothy Horton gives me (and probably everybody else) a valentine in class that's a box of all pink crayons. On the front it says "If you'd be my valentine..." and when you open it up it says, "I'd be TICKLED PINK!" My heart does a leap.

Age 7: My dad has brought a Simon and Garfunkel record home from the library. What the holy hell? We're a classical music household. Anything remotely rock has been outlawed all my life. The occasional folk music makes its way in sometimes; Peter, Paul and Mary is as extreme as we've ever gotten. But this record has Mrs. Robinson on it! Does my father not know what he's doing? This shit swings! I drop the needle down on Mrs. Robinson over and over, dancing around the living room dressed like a fairy in a sheer white nightgown of my mom's that she's donated to me permanently. She's cut off the hem all jagged for me, fairy-style. My skirt floats around when I dance. Simon and Garfunkel are singing "woo woo woo", which is what we say at school when somebody has a crush on somebody, so this song is even a little racy. I keep thinking somebody's going to come in here and stop me, but nobody does.

Age 7: We're driving from New York to Florida, heading to Disney World. I'm a hardcore Little-House-On-The-Prairiehead. I've read all the books many times over and I've been known to rock a calico bonnet on Monday nights when the show comes on NBC. My dad suddenly hands a book back to me from the front seat, where he's driving. It's a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. There are photos of the actual family and everything. I burst into tears. It's real. They're real. I feel like I'm shaking God's hand, a real hand.

Age 7: I get to stay up and watch Three's Company for the first time. It starts at nine. I've never watched a show this late. It's hilarious! Jack and Janet are gardening and Janet smacks a mosquito that's landed on Jack's arm. He yells OW and overreacts and smacks her or shoves her, as though he were saving her from something, too. I'm dying. Life past 9pm is something else.

Age 9: We have a huge, long laurel bush that edges our backyard. But I didn't know you could climb through the middle of it! The Harris kids across the street are butch and adventurous, unlike me and my brother, and all six of them come over and show us the gold we've been sitting on all this time. You go in one end and step from branch to branch in the middle and you can make it all the way through. Get a load of me! This is a physical kid thing, and I'm doing it. 

Age 9:  I'm out on the lawn by myself at dawn in early summer, wearing a long plaid dress of my mom's, another dress-up donation. The garden is still wet with dew. There's a slight mist, but the sun has climbed above the horizon, and you can feel in the air that it'll be hot later. I'm pretending, and I don't even know what I'm pretending yet. I'm a lady. A lady on the lawn in the morning. It's enough. Everything seems 100% promising.

Age 10: It's my birthday, and we've gone on a picnic. We've driven out to the Cascade mountains and have followed a trail into the woods. It's cold and rainy, but it's still good. I've always been scared of the carbonation in soft drinks—it's too crazy on my tongue—but I'm feeling bold and so I try a can of 7-Up. Turns out I can handle it. I don't even want to tell anybody how proud I feel about that. I just walk around the woods, sipping.

Age 10: I dream that I'm walking down the street with John Ritter/Jack Tripper. We have matching navy parkas on and he has his arm around me. I guess I must be his girlfriend.

Age 10:  David and I turn off all the lights in the living room every Sunday night and listen to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on BBC Radio. The sky's deep blue out of the windows but not black yet. It looks like it could have aliens in it. It's perfect. Atmospheric. Zaphod Beeblebrox is cooler than anybody I've ever heard of, cooler than Fonzie, and the humor is so fresh that we laugh as much out of amazement as anything else. I experiment with my own radio dramas which have no script; a typical episode is just the sound of my own footsteps and me eating refried beans into the microphone.

Age 11: For my birthday, my cousin Michael takes me to see Xanadu and buys me the soundtrack, overruling my parents' objections on both counts. I've had friends slip me little bootleg cassettes of Abba and Olivia Newton John, but this is the first time I've had a record of my own like this, out in the open. The sound barrier has been broken.

Age 12: My parents are out of the house for a while so I sneak into their room and turn the TV on to the cable channel that doesn't have a picture except for being pale blue, the channel that plays the smooth rock hits of today—Air Supply, Hall and Oates, Heart, Christopher Cross. I get my dad's hidden stash of broken chocolate out of his drawer, along with one or two of his Playboys or Penthouses, and I push the envelope in all directions. I'm theoretically allergic to chocolate but I don't think so, myself—I think I've outgrown it—and anyway I don't care. It tastes better because I'm not supposed to. Everything I'm doing is better because I'm not supposed to. Someday I'm going to get to do everything I want. That time is coming. I can feel it.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


The first thing I have to do here is offer a trigger warning, which is something I've never done before. It's a little like dialing 911 for the first time. You kind of can't believe you're really using those numbers, that the emergency is yours. So, okay, to it: if you're someone who's triggered by discussion of sexual abuse, then proceed with care or skip this if you need to. There are no particulars included here, no details, in case that informs your decision. But this is my experience I'm going to talk about. This is not an abstract discussion.


When I was small, four or five, I had a recurring fantasy. It was my secret favorite, and I knew it probably meant I was bad, but I loved it anyway and played it out for myself over and over. In this fantasy, I would be with some adorable toddler, somebody two or three years younger than I was, and I would first hurt this child somehow—the how wasn't important, but the severity was; the toddler had to be in tears, serious ones—and then, the best part, I would comfort the child. That part was the payoff, silky and delicious. The first part was merely necessary. And it was no good comforting a little child that somebody else had hurt. Where was the honor? What was the worth of comforting somebody you hadn't hurt properly yourself? And when I say the first part was merely necessary, I'm underplaying it a little. The second part was better, definitely, but I'm not going to say I didn't enjoy seeing the fantasy toddler dissolve into tears. There was a sadistic pleasure to delivering these, well, whatever kinds of blows they were, which I never troubled to make clear for myself. This was power. I had it. I was the bigger one. And as soon as that fantasy toddler was good and broken, I could enjoy the wave of tenderness that swept over me for that sweet little creature, and I would cuddle it up like a bunny rabbit and whisper to it and pet it, and we'd sit there in that luscious, soft-focused cloud. I was happy, and it didn't really matter how the toddler was. I'd done my job. This was love, and I was the one who could give it.


I both can and can't tell you with 100% certainty that I was sexually abused by my dad. I can because I was. I can't because it's my dad I'm talking about, and the mind will contort itself however necessary to protect itself from something so foundationally wrong. 

This is something I've wrestled with for more than twenty years; my first bout with the sick feeling that it did happen was when I was 22. I first saw a therapist about it at 23. The sick feeling eventually submerged itself and then didn't emerge again until I was 30, and then it went under again and didn't crop back up until I was 35, this time with more evidence, and then it faded and returned when I was 39, and I learned that my brother had been molested by our dad. (Which he's given me permission to mention here.) And it faded yet again and didn't return until just last Wednesday, at which point nearly all doubt evaporated. 

I won't be going into details here. They're not necessary and not the point. I don't need or want to explain how I suspected and what evidence accumulated over time and what clinched it. Some other time, maybe, maybe some other place. And I'm not going to talk about my dad now either. He died in 2005. He's gone. I loved him. Something warped him, made him—in addition to the wonderful things he was—grasping and blind. In any case, it's not about him any more. 

I'm writing about this, I'm telling you this, because I need to get it out of my way. This happened when I was extremely young, and my personality formed around that fact. I absorbed a lot of wrong information and acted accordingly for decades. I knew I was not important, I knew I existed to please and care for other people, I knew I wasn't quite real. I knew my problems were mine to solve on my own. I knew that help was not available. I knew that my speech was not for me, not for my own free expression. My speech was harnessed to other concerns. 

But I'm a writer. My speech: I'm fucking using that. I need that channel clear. I'm not going to have some hulking secret blocking my flow. I'm not going forward with some part of myself bound and gagged. I may have agreed to that before I knew what I was doing, but I'm nullifying that agreement now. 

I tried writing this post a couple of days ago and failed. I'd get a few words out, freeze, get some more words out, freeze again longer. I gave up and lay down on my bed, shaking, defeated.  I didn't think I'd be able to do it. I thought I'd have to write about something else this week, something safe and inconsequential. 

Two things made me change my mind: Xanax, which I took earlier today, and fuck you. Fuck you to this overwhelming pressure to be silent. It's different from the instinct for privacy. No, this is shame. I can feel it creeping around me, pressing me down. It comes from within, it comes from without. Our culture isn't helping. Who wants to hear this shit? What a downer! Can't you tell it to your journal? Nice people don't talk about this stuff. We live in a world where women get killed for saying they were raped. That's this earth, right now. So fuck you, shame. You're fucking bogus and I'm onto you.


Anger is pretty unfamiliar for me. I generally reroute to something safer. But it's up a lot these days. Yesterday I felt the anger in my arms, in addition to the normal emotional hangouts: chest, solar plexus, tummy. It's as if we ran out of space in the usual places and had to spill over. I'm not going to be surprised if I wake up one morning and feel angry in my hair. 

But this seems good. I'm glad I'm not just sad this time. It's good to be pissed off. It's as though I've realized I'm actually worth something. 


When the adults around fail you early and often, it makes for a Catch-22 with the idea of God. On the one hand, you could use somebody big on your side. I've dragged around that Hamlet quote all of my adult life like a blankie, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Quiet addendum: there had better be. But at the same time, when your own parents handle you poorly, why is God going to bother with you at all, much less love you with some kind of gigantic, perfect love? It's like trying to imagine a color that you've only heard of. Nonetheless, I've ended up somehow with faith. I needed some, and I got some. I don't know if I'm sold on the love bit, but a vast presence seems plausible. It's something to work with. 


Last Tuesday evening, the night before the memory came back, I came out of the grocery store and had just finished loading my bags into the hatchback of my car when there was a sudden THUMP THUMP from the car next to me. I whirled around and saw a little girl, all by herself, who'd thrown herself at the window and was pressed against it like a moth, hands splayed against the glass. She was smiling. She'd gotten my attention, which appeared to be the object of that leg of the game. She hung there for a minute while I peered into the minivan to make sure that what I was seeing was right, that a preschooler or kindergartener, tops, had been left in a car by herself. I was right. She was alone. I was livid, and started cursing under my breath. Fuck! What the fuck? Who leaves a child alone in a car in the dark in a grocery store parking lot? And this was a block off of Aurora, which is arguably the most sordid street in Seattle. Insanity.

The girl wheeled away from the window, flipped into the farthest back seats, then darted into the middle again, pressing the button on the ceiling, flashing the overhead light on and off, and then she slipped into the driver's seat and started playing with the buttons and dials and instruments there. She might as well have been setting off flares, for all the attention she was drawing to herself. Leaving was out of the question until the adult/culprit returned so I sat in my car and waited. I called Dave and told him I couldn't come home yet, explaining why, and we fumed together a while. 

Eventually her mother returned, frazzled, a smaller boy in tow. As soon as she had the kids buckled in and she was in the driver's seat, I rolled down my window and gestured for her to roll down hers. I didn't shout, but I spoke in capital letters.


She mouthed "thank you" and then frowned and mouthed "okay" and she drove away. I sat in my car for a few minutes, my heart pounding, exhilarated. 


There's some Zen story or parable about a monk who's hanging over the edge of a cliff. Above is a tiger ready to eat him. Below is a plunge onto rocks. And right by his hand a strawberry is growing, perfectly ripe, and the monk is so in the moment that he can stop thinking about his imminent death and just groove on this strawberry, have a tiny enjoyable picnic before getting crushed. My death may not be imminent, but with the situation at hand I never know when the pain is going to strike. It comes on suddenly. I'll be fine, fine, fine, and then doubled over out of nowhere. But something nice is that when this thing has come up at other points in my life, I've sunk into a wash of pure darkness for months on end. I wasn't enjoying any fucking strawberries. But now, for example, I see the young cherry trees in the morning light in the Safeway parking lot, all blinged-out like so many brides in their thick, lacy blossoms, and I can give it up for them. I can get into it. And when I was driving to pick up Fred from preschool the day after the memory returned, the noon sky was so blue, and a fierce bright line of white vapor was slowly carving down through that blue, and it looked so forceful and steady and optimistic that it brought tears to my eyes, like it was telling me something.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

the reggie chronicle

Preface: The author of this story said something to Facebook on Monday about how she's run out of everything to say as a writer, and about how she was going to move into a cave. Facebook exploded with innovative suggestions like how about write a story about a duck and you should put something in there about Perimenopausal Dry Eye and maybe it's a cool duck who wears sunglasses and really, it's not like we had a better idea. And so fuck it. Voila.

Once upon a time there was a duck, a cool one, who wore sunglasses. His name was, I don't know, Reggie. He didn't write fiction because holy crap, you gotta what, in addition to write well, you gotta figure out what everybody's gonna do and say all the time? Jesus. Who has the time for that? Who has the imagination? No, Reggie was sticking to nonfiction. 

They turned into sunglasses when it got bright enough, see? I'm talking about his glasses, his sunglasses. They had that kind of special lens. Reggie didn't need glasses all the time. Just for driving and movies. He was nearsighted, which means he could see things that were near. He could see rice, and bugs, and paper clips. But road signs, not so much, or foliage, or details on the mountains over there, like crags and things. That was blurry. But he was a fucking nonfiction writer, so he had to be able to see, so he shelled out for these glasses. But he wasn't going to buy two pairs, a sun pair and a regular pair. Fuck that. On a duck's salary? No way.

What was he going to write about? Oh, man. Reggie put his head in his, well, they'd be wings if he's a duck, but does this all have to be so real? Hands, he put his head in his hands, and rested his elbows on the...I guess he has a desk. God! Where does it end? What else does he have to have? Fucking mise-en-scène. Wait, is that a cinematic term? Well, I'm borrowing it because he needs some furniture and shit, and maybe some meaningful objects. Props or whatever. Meaningful stuff that says who he is. 

Who is Reggie? Who was he? He was wrestling with that. I guess that's why he became a writer. Reggie picked up the antique snow globe from the desk, in his hands, after he took his head out of them. The desk was a, what, a Chestershire. That sounds like something. Fancy. Reggie had money. (I mean, no he didn't. I just said up there about a duck's salary. Forget the fancy desk. It's not a Chestershire any more. He got it on Craigslist.) His mother gave him that snow globe. It was meaningful, and now he was looking at it, turning it over, making it snow in there, thinking. The scene in the snow globe was...ducks. Ducks by a...pond. That's why it was meaningful. When Reggie's mother gave him that snow globe, right before she died of an illness, she said, "Here. Never forget that we're ducks. Your grandmother gave this to me before she died of her illness, and I've never forgotten. You give it to your child when you die, if you ever have one, if you ever get married, if you ever settle down, which you might not do because you're so cool. Anyway, take it."  

Reggie probably wasn't going to get married, but he did like kissing everybody. This duck was one smooth kisser. That's one of the things he thought about while he was holding that snow globe. He thought about all the women he'd been with. There was Shakira, that beautiful South American preschool teacher who taught law at Harvard. She'd been special. Then there was that baroness, the blond one from Austria who'd gotten dumped by that guy who fell in love with his children's nanny. There was that aerobics instructor. Do people still do aerobics? Whatever, the point is that she was pretty. And fit, I guess. But she was also smart, everybody. And specific. There were all these details about her background. She was real. Make it yoga. A yoga instructor.

He'd kissed them all, and some others, too. But that didn't mean he knew what he was going to write about. He got up from the desk, went over to his closet and changed his jacket from one cool kind of jacket to another cool kind. That usually helped. And then he went over to the kitchenette and poured some chips into a bowl. He liked difficult, spicy potato chips with a strong flavor, just like he liked his women. He ate flavors like Wasabi n' Tabasco, or Ghost Pepper n' Molasses. This time it was Flaming Licorice. So that ought to tell you something about him. 

Action! It was time for some action. What was he gonna do, sit there all day eating these potato chips in his cool jacket? He hoped there would be a knock at the door, maybe some other duck that he could get in a fight with, or have a significant conversation with. He needed something to write about, something for his nonfiction.

Just then, some glass shattered! Somebody threw a rock through his window! Can you believe it? No, neither can I. We're at, what, 796 words. 798. 799. 

I mean, he can go over to the window and look out there and see if the person or duck or baboon or whoever threw the rock is still out there, but what's he gonna do, chase after them? I guess he could fly. Ducks fly when they're under duress or something. I should have had somebody knock. 

Reggie cleaned up the glass and, or, no, no, his butler did. His butler, Yates. I mean, Yeats. It turns out they did have money once. There was a butler left over from his childhood. A butler, sadly, with Perimenopausal Dry Eye. What a detail. That's pretty rich.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ramble on

The first sip of beer doesn't count, the one that happened at the dinner table when I was seven. That wasn't me drinking; that was my dad amusing himself, and I gagged on cue. No, the real one came right after I turned 13, in the summer of 1982*.

*1982 again. I don't know what to tell you. I guess it was a hot one.

I'm up on Orcas Island with my family, staying as we always do at Camp Indralaya, which is a Theosophical camp my grandparents founded with some other folks back in the '20s. This isn't a kid's camp. This is a grown-up camp...oh, hell, here's the link. This is Indralaya. And it's ours, it's in our blood. We've gone every summer, have since birth, just like my dad did, since his birth.

I really want to jump to that first beer. There's a magnetic pull. I don't feel like saying who I was with or how I got there yet. I want to skip the set-up and go straight to the can of beer, to the opening in the can of beer, that little rounded black hole after I'd popped it open with that exciting thock. I looked at that opening for a long while before I took a drink. Or maybe I didn't, maybe I didn't hesitate, maybe I threw it back. Maybe I'm just slowing down the clock now to see what was happening. I'm going to come back to the opening in the can a little later. It's important. It's a portal: a tiny, black, Alice-in-Wonderland swimming hole that led somewhere I couldn't really return from, and didn't really want to.

But let me pan out first. We're up on Buck Mountain on a semi-clear night, away from Indralaya. A group of more advanced teenagers and I have snuck off from camp in the back of a pickup truck, and we're parked off a little dirt road. We've climbed out of the truck and we're sitting in ones and twos and threes on various rocks on the mountain slope, our view unobstructed: lots of stars, some clouds, the dark outlines of trees, the vague, murky shapes of other islands. We've got a flat of warm Rainier beer, and no plans but to sit here and drink it. I'm on a rock by myself, Jamie McGrath has just handed me a can of beer, and I've taken it from him, all casual, like I've sat on the sides of so many mountains with so many teenagers and so many cans of beer that I've lost count.

And there it is in my hand, the can, warm and sleek and shiny. My own to do with as I please. This is momentous, more momentous than pure transgression. I have a choice in front of me. I mean, I've already made it, but this can of beer is going to cement it.

I have to give you background, but I keep rebelling. I have to tell you more about Indralaya and more about my family to get you where we're going, but I don't want to. It's not easy for me to talk about Indralaya. I loved it so much in my childhood, but something started to curdle for me there.  

Here's what you need to know for now, bare bones:

1. You need to know about these two. 

Those are my grandparents, Fritz and Dora. I didn't plan to write about them tonight—I really just wanted to write about beer—but they've inserted themselves into the narrative. What you need to know is what huge figures they were, not just in my family but in our family's larger social world. Granny was a famous clairvoyant and healer and all-around terrifying figure, for me at least, and Papa was a massive intellect and ultra-idealist (who died when I was two, and so disappeared into a cloud of legend), and both were major figures in the Theosophical Society. Niche stuff, doesn't mean anything to most people, but Fritz and Dora may as well have been planet-sized in our little domain. At Indralaya, they were pretty much gods. 

2. You need to know that at Indralaya, and in my immediate family, the overall atmosphere was serious. Theosophists were serious-minded, spiritual, refined. I'm conflating the two—Theosophists in general and my family in particular—to give you a quick flavor. Vegetarian food, PBS, classical music, dusty talk of classical Buddhist/Eastern/esoteric texts. Nothing slowed-down or simplified for kids. You get on the ship at the speed it's sailing or you don't get on at all. My older brother, David, was a genius and dialed in to everything they were talking about, so he could ride with the adults at the dinner table. I was not a) a genius or b) interested, and so I could not and did not ride. 

3. When we were kids, Granny thought David was the caterpillar's kimono, and that I was...who was I again? Two grandchildren, you say? She didn't attempt to hide her adoration of my brother and her distaste for/lack of interest in me. That's a drag with any grandparent, but with a clairvoyant one, you can develop a complex.

4. Last thing. And then back to my beer! To be a non-genius, unserious kid at Indralaya is fine, no big problem. If you're me, and your grandparents are Fritz and Dora, you eventually become conscious of a little extra eye on you to see if you're going to develop into something noteworthy/worthwhile, but until that kicks in, you're free to race around those eighty acres without a care. But the clock is ticking. Once I hit a certain age, there's going to need to be a reason for me to be there, a reason of my own.

Okay. I think that's enough to get you through. 

So we're at Indralaya now, and it's the day leading up to the night at Buck Mountain. I'm in the meadow talking to a guy named Jonathan, who's 19 and foxy, with a burnished tan and curly dark hair of insubordinate length. He lopes around camp in a baggy t-shirt, cutoffs and flip-flops, and talks in the slow drawl of the perpetually stoned. 

He says to me, there on the grass in the sunshine, "I like you. You're not like the rest of your family. You're cool."

The glow that spreads through me is unsayable. I've suspected/feared/hoped I'm not like the rest of my family, but nobody's ever presented that to me as a good thing. David and I are the heir and the spare, respectively. But now I'm hearing that I have some currency of my own! I want what he's saying to be true, in every way. I want to be cool. I don't need to be like my family. There's a glass ceiling for me in my family anyway that I'm never going to crack. I can feel it. I don't have the talent for it. This news is astonishing. I feel like a birthday candle that just got lit. The sun is setting, too, and everything's gone gold. I have something now. 

And hurray, finally, we're back on Buck Mountain. My beer! My first can of beer, and its little opening. 

Let me first say that it feels fucking fine on this mountain, away from Indralaya, under the stars. There's so much space around us. Space in both senses: what the night sky reveals, and room to breathe. Nobody is watching me. That's different from nobody seeing me/seeing too much of me, and it's good. 

And now, my beer. If I do this, if I dive into that dark little swimming hole, with its sour, wheaty smell, that's it. I know that I'm saying hello to all kinds of things, trouble among them, scariness, but freedom. And I'm saying goodbye to something even more fundamental. I'm shifting my allegiance. I'm cutting a cord. I'm turning in my card. I'm leaving. 

There's a little fear, and a little sadness. That was my family. Those were my people. But space, stars, distance. This feels better than anything. This is how to do it. 

And so I do it. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


That's a paper towel tube with electrical tape wrapped around it, to answer your first question. Back in college, my friend Jessica would make drawings of funny little objects, labeled at the top with whatever they were—a tipped over carton of milk, a hairbrush filled with hair—and captioned underneath with, "Yes, but why?" So, a paper towel tube with electrical tape wrapped around it: Yes, but why? 

That's not just a paper towel tube, is why. That's my spine, or a model of my spine. Okay, but why? This is an exercise a teacher gave me. He asked me to get something to represent my spine, and then to get some tape, and wrap tape around the parts where I felt like I had some energetic or emotional blockages. And so I did and then we talked and I told him what I guessed each block of tape was doing there, how it might have gotten there. (This is a great exercise, by the way. You can borrow it.)

The tape in the middle, that third stripe of black, that's where the story I'm about to tell you comes from. They're all about fear, all the stripes, but I think I figured out that the one in the middle is the fear of ostracism. It's the fear of asserting myself in a way that could invite ostracism, more specifically. It's got a couple of other fears packed in there, too, but that's the relevant one. That's the ringer.  

We're going back to 1982 now. Pour yourself a Tab or a Pepsi Light or whatever and get comfortable.

Eight p.m. on a Friday night—after our softball victory, after our victory pizza—we're cruising around in Coach Karen's black Corvette. Karen is 19 and beautiful and shares an apartment with her boyfriend, Jim. We're doing a sleepover at Karen's tonight, and she and Jim have crammed our entire team into their two cars and are taking us out for the centerpiece of the evening's activities, which is just this, driving up and down Lake City Way. When we first moved here in 1978, cruising was the centerpiece of all teenage weekends, as far as I could gather. Lake City Way popped and revved all night, even though there was nowhere to be outside of a car. Now, in 1982, cruising's waning, but everything hangs on a little longer in our scruffy neighborhood, and we're just barely teenagers, so we're amped to be out on the road en masse. I get to be in Karen's car, and I feel lucky in my backseat spot. I feel lucky to be here at all. I don't quite know how I got here, on this team, in this group. For the first time, I'm popular. It never stops amazing me. Everything is shining these days. 

Our softball team, The Preps, is undefeated. Karen's dad is a bigwig at Domino's pizza, so not only do our jerseys have the Domino's logo on them (along with some cartoonish, non-Izod alligators we've sewn onto the chests) but we get free pizza after every win. We just stop at the closest Domino's to whatever field we're playing on that day, Karen goes in and says a few words, we loll on the sidewalk waiting, and soon a stack of pizzas is brought out to us. We're 6-0, despite the fact that we play in stiff, dark Levi's and Top-Siders instead of shorts and sneakers. I'm the catcher, and nearly worthless at it, but everybody else on the team is so good that we never lose. The post-game pizza has become our divine right. We're not even that excited about it any more. We're just bored and smug. I haven't contributed to our wins in any particular way—I never make any runs or get any outs—so mine is a contact smugness. 

The music in Karen's car is cranking. Asia's on the radio right now, with "Heat of the Moment". It's tough to describe one stretch of Lake City Way as more drab than another, as the whole thing is just a series of car dealerships, strip clubs, gun shops and fast food restaurants, but we're coming up on a stretch that's emptier and more dimly lit than the rest, past the Italian Spaghetti House, where nothing really is. A figure is walking by the side of the road, and in a minute he becomes recognizable. It's Charles McGovern.

I have to jump in and explain something. In the language we're using these days to describe outcasts, there's a hierarchy. The softest insult on the spectrum is dork. You can be called a dork yourself and it's not even a flesh wound. Everyone is a dork now and then, even the coolest people. Even Linnae Dengah is a dork, though probably not very often. You don't want to live at dork level, of course, but there's the sense that you could survive if it came to that. Nobody has vitriol for something as harmless and unassuming as a dork. They can be entertaining, and some dorks have gently jocular relationships with extremely popular people. There's good-natured teasing, and dorks tend to take it well, no harm done. 

A spaz is just a louder, more intense, more inveterate dork, but the spaz often has a kind of joie-de-vivre that saves him (and it's always a him). Spazzes get in trouble with their teachers, too, which creates a distant, accidental camaraderie with the toughest popular kids, and so the spaz stumbles on mostly unmolested.

The nerd does not have it so easy. A nerd is a magnitude or two more difficult a thing to be than a dork or a spaz. Nerds are overt, willing brains, quiet and serious, far less fun than dorks, no fun at all. Nerds are unpleasing to the severely popular. What gives them the nerve to be so smart? Teachers adore nerds, never hassle them. Something is unfair. The popular person feels edgy, bothered by the presence of the nerd. But if a nerd plays his or her cards right, stays quiet enough, he or she can pass mostly undetected and avoid the worst. At least that's the hope. Write small, talk small, dress small, no untoward broadcasting of your smarts, and try to smile a little. Nerds are grim, and that grimness is a rebuke to the aggressively laid-back popular person trying to have a good time. Dangerous.

Then there's the geek, who occupies the bottommost rung of the social ladder (though there's another category of being so low as to be off the ladder altogether). The geek is the offspring of the nerd and the spaz, inheriting neither of their saving graces. The geek lacks the academic gifts of the nerd, so teachers are no solace, but the geek also has none of the spaz's blitheness, which at least offers a kind of foggy protection among his peers. This is dire. It's social doom. There's no way out. A geek has no moves, and barring a miracle, it's akin to a life sentence. If you spend enough time as a geek, a kind of loneliness and despair will settle around you and sink into your pores, and then your bones, and you will transform into the worst thing you can possibly be: a freak. 

There are two ways to be a freak. Only one way is good—and one is good, even if nobody high on the social ladder recognizes this. The good way is to not give a fuck, to flamboyantly not give a fuck. Successful freaks wear whatever they like, hang out with whomever they choose, and they're not afraid of a fight. That's the key. Have a go at this kind of freak and they'll have a go back at you harder; they might even call on some mysterious freak army from another part of the city, who knows? This seems possible. The keyword for this freak is liberation. You may not like them—they're galling—but you grudgingly respect them. They've freed themselves from all of this bullshit. 

(And it is bullshit, of course, worse than bullshit, more poisonous; who doesn't know that now? But I knew it then, too, as much as I wanted to pretend I didn't. I was scared, so I pushed the knowledge down. But I knew it, I did, and I went along anyway.)

The other kind of freak, the worst freak, has already given up and died inside. An essential weakness has metastasized. It's no longer about geeks and dorks and nerds and what you do and don't do. The lowliest freak is a walking wound, sorrow incarnate, a reminder of what could happen to anybody if you get on a long enough losing streak. 

Charles McGovern is a freak, the second kind. There he is right now, walking down the worst part of this sad street, wearing his perpetual blue sweater with the black Charlie Brown zigzag across the chest, his army green jacket, his thick black glasses stark against his white face. He's as pale as can be—a ghost, translucent—with dark circles under his eyes. His hair is deep, bright, almost Ronald McDonald red. He's unbearable to look at. He's the most vulnerable being I've ever seen; he terrifies me, as though he's carrying a disease I could catch. The cloud of sadness he walks in is as visible as Pigpen's dust. He agitates me! Why is he so sad? Why is he so thin? Why is he so tired? Why does he only wear that one sweater every day? Doesn't he know he can get crucified for that, just for that alone? He's infuriating, he's upsetting. He won't save himself! What is his home like? Where are his parents? Why won't they make him change his sweater? Why is he walking alone at night on this horrible stretch of Lake City Way? 

"Oh my god, it's Charles McGovern!" somebody screams. Everyone exclaims and gasps, turning to look. Tanya Carson* turns, Sonia Kim* turns, Cheryl Leed* turns, Paige Anderson* turns. The front passenger window is rolled down, and a girl—one of us, I don't remember which, and anyway we were practically one organism—sticks her head out of the window and yells, "Freak! Go home! Go take a shower!"

*names changed to protect the...well, anyway. Names changed.

He sees us. He hears us. He barely turns his head to look, but he does, and he just keeps walking. It's as though there's no more damage we can do, like he's a person in a movie who's been shot ten times, and we're delivering the pointless eleventh bullet. 

The car erupts in hot exhilaration. Something has happened! Friday night has delivered! There's excited chatting and laughter and more gasping, as though we, this carful of girls, have somehow come close to being harmed in that transaction. I make all the right laughing noises, and sounds of assent. 

Blackout. Return to 2014. 

So I have this paper towel tube. This model of my energetic spine. I feel nervous saying "energetic spine" to you, but what the fuck was the moral of this story if I don't say what I mean? I'm not talking about my bones. I'm talking about some bright channel of life running up the center of my body, and everything hidden in there that got stuck one way or another. Stories, lies, patterns. And this paper towel tube, this class-project-looking thing I made, it feels alive when I hold it in my hand, like something real transferred in there, something useful. 

This is the part where I don't know what to say. Charles McGovern probably doesn't read this blog. If you do, Charles, I don't know what to say that would be good enough. The obvious word is too small, so I don't even want to say it. 

The goal over time is to somehow get all the tape off. Slow and steady. That's the plan, since I don't have a time machine. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

el bachelor

Look, fine, okay, fine, look. I watch The Bachelor. I have always watched The Bachelor*. What's more, I don't just watch The Bachelor sometimes, or a lot. What I'm saying is that I never don't watch The Bachelor.

*and, naturally, The Bachelorette

Even when I was sick in the hospital last year—too sick to watch the Oscars!—I was like Bachelor and I did, forcing my eyes up to the screen in between bouts of throwing up, which was a triumph of the spirit of fun, I think.

I read books, okay? I read big ones. I just started rereading War and Peace, which I almost finished twenty years ago, and I have every reason to believe that I can almost finish it again. I also listen to classical music on purpose, and I've seen a dance performance this very year! And it was a dance about Socrates! So when you judge me, fold that in.

What can I say? Watching ladies and gentlemen fight each other to bag a hottie relaxes and invigorates me. I'm married—I've been with Dave for ten years and some change—and so I'm out of the game. Watching The Bachelor gives me the chance to armchair quarterback a little. Also, there's a strong rubbernecking component because HOLY JESUS, who would put herself through something like this? I met Dave on a yoga retreat in Hawaii that I went on with my best friend and some other excellent folks, and I remember weeping tiny tears leaning against a van window on a trip home from the beach because my friend had fallen asleep on Dave's shoulder in the back seat. Her head was touching him! All was lost. Our love would never be. If we multiplied that by 25 but with women who were actually trying to wrestle him out of my grip, I'd have gone bald from the stress. It's awful/wonderful to witness, like watching a typhoon from inside a warm, well-stocked, indestructible house. 

My mom also watches The Bachelor, and this has brought us closer together. Every week she says, "It's a horrible show. It makes me sick. I don't think I'll watch it again," and then she watches it anyway and calls me during a commercial, all, "What do you think of the preschool teacher? I think she's nice." We've watched it together a few times, but this gets dicey as a season wears on and the making out gets more intense. She'll say things like "Do you think they're going to suck face again?" which is a troubling and totally unauthorized use of slang. A of all, nobody says that anymore—if they ever did—and b of all, she particularly times a billion does not say that. My mom saying suck face is about as credible as me attempting to work a stripper pole. I promise you that that analogy is proportional. 

The latest season just ended on Monday night, and it featured the most wack Bachelor ever, a narcissistic former professional soccer player from Venezuela named Juan Pablo whose air supply was apparently going to run out if he didn't have his hands on a woman's face at all times. Truly, he was the most face-fingering man alive, constantly stroking temples and chins and foreheads and noses, whispering "It's okay," and "Stop crying." 

The final two contestants were a pediatric nurse named Nikki from Kansas City and a hairstylist named Clare from Sacramento. Clare's speech pattern made me want to kick my television. 

Everything? She said? Was so?

*pause forever*


But poor, starry-eyed Clare got slut-shamed and then rejected something fierce by Juan Pablo, so she had my sympathy. What was truly wonderful, however, was when the final two women met his family. They know better than anybody what a dick Juan Pablo is, and they did their best to convey this to the women without outright crucifying him on camera. Examples, only the slightest bit paraphrased from memory:

Juan Pablo's mother, Nelly: What do you like about him?
Clare: He's honest!
Nelly: He's rude. You know, he's made me cry many times.

Juan Pablo's cousin, Rodolfo: So how much fighting are you prepared for?
Nikki: Well, I think a certain amount of fighting is healthy.
Cousin Rodolfo: So if things get difficult, and he walks away—which he will—how much are you willing to sacrifice to make it work?

Juan Pablo's father, Saul: Juan Pablo is a difficult man. He's not easy. And he's always right. 
Nikki: That's great. He's honest. So...that's good. 

Nelly: What do you imagine your weekends will be like?
Nikki: We'll probably go to the beach with his daughter during the day, maybe the lake, and then we'll come home and do family things, play games maybe in the evening.
Nelly: What will happen is that you'll make him breakfast and then he'll watch TV all day. Juan Pablo is a simple man. Are you sure you want a simple man like Juan Pablo?
Nikki: .....yes. 

Nelly: Do you love him?
Clare: I do.
Nelly:  Are you sure?

It was one of the most pleasing segments I've ever seen. They didn't throw him under the bus, exactly. They just gently made sure that when the bus took off, he was under it. I was hoping for more and more obscure relatives to pop out of the woodwork and give him delicately negative Yelp reviews. 

Great-Uncle Felipe: How do you feel about always being the person to take out the garbage? Juan Pablo doesn't like to do that. 

Ancestor Dora: He's never been all that kind to animals. Do you care for animals much?

Cousin Virgilio: On a scale of one to ten, how important is fidelity to you? Is it over, say, a three? I am simply curious. 

In the end, Nikki "won", if winning is having a handsome douchebag announce to you that he has a ring in his pocket but he's not going to propose, then grab your face and whisper "Don't be cranky" to it over and over while the credits roll. Which—no lie—is how the show ended, and which is exactly why I watch it in the first place. 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

the adeledazeem awarbs

Labies and gemplemang, welcone. Welcone to The 88th Annual Barkabamy Mawars, where the one and only most famous of the talented are celimated for all of their harb worm making the thing we love most: the scoomies! I looked all of that up on Boogle so I know I've pronounced everything right.

Also, I've had a big realization. 

I don't think I'm going to win a Barkabamy Mawar in my lifetime.

Tina, whaaat? 

No, listen. I know it sounds off, but hear me out. I feel like there's something about how I'm not part of the film industry that plays into this somewhere. I call this an "instinct". And don't worry! This is relaxing. I can finally stop mentally designing my Oscar gown, which has morphed and grown statelier through the years as my fantasy road to the Oscars has grown longer and more circuitous, the sleeves in the daydream lengthening to match. The sleeves can grow no longer. I am finished.     

And now to work.                                      

"Dear Sir/Madam,

We are sending back this faulty nanny. She doesn't engage with the children. Occasionally she puts a hand on her hip and pivots, but that's all. Also, she never sings and her bag doesn't have any furniture in it. YOU, SIR/MADAMS, HAVE DEFRAUDED ME. 

I remain respectfully yours, etc,
humble servant, endebted, 
Mrs. Tina Kunz Rowley"

Giuliana Rancic's skirt is beige/tan, which is different from the top, which is white. When I saw her on Oscar day, I thought she looked like a very nice ballerina. Today I feel nothing. 


Well, well, well! Aren't you a Kelly Osbourne who ate the canary? For the first time in who knows how long, I think she looks great, lavender hair and all. She's sporting her classic "smiling is for chowderheads" expression, which is so much more successful when the wardrobe battle is won. Which makes it all the sadder that she only got to wear this outfit for about fifteen minutes or something, because something happened to the...something, blah blah blah something about a neck? Her neck wouldn't fit up the stairs? Something about stairs? Neck? There was a precipitating event. And she had to change into this:

A squiggly-wiggly see-through black dress with her mother attached to it. Sharon Osbourne looks tired here, like this happens a lot. Neck won't fit up the stairs again. Mom! Kelly looks smug, like she can yell mean things at passersby from behind her mom's shoulder, and if anyone steps to her about it Mrs. Osbourne will sue them/take a bite out of their cheek. I think Mrs. Osbourne would like to change this pattern, but kids are hard and they've been doing it this way for so long now. Sigh. 

Viola Davis! It gives me enormous pleasure to salute you now, as I didn't enjoy not enjoying your fancy, war-torn leprechaun look of a previous year, discussed in this post here. You're in green again, but this time in this sleek, leafy shape, and that perfect little fingerwave hairstyle is a joy. And those cuffs give you a drop of edge with zero try-hard vibe. Waaa! You're perfect! 

I'm in the mood to rhapsodize again! Let's not stop! Kerry Washington is always beautiful and styled out exactly so, but something about this makes it my favorite Kerry Washington moment ever. It's so relaxed and luscious. That smokey amethyst color with those deep lips, her perfectly imperfect loose, full hair, the subtlety of the jewelry, even the wrinkles on the gown. The wrinkles are so chill and humanizing, somehow. I love them. Don't everybody go be wrinkled, now, you hear? They're not adorable on everybody. Just on Kerry Washington. Well, listen. Life's not fair. 

This was my first view of Anna Kendrick, and I was all, 'eeeey, all riiiiight, Fonzie-style. I love strappy black numbers like this. (Side note: will someone please start a design line called Arthur Fonzarelli? Thank you.) And I like the heck out of Anna Kendrick, so I always want things to go well. 

But what? What? Where do I begin? I think I'll ramp up in order of severity here. 

First, I want to speak to the black trim at the crew neck and shoulders. I want to speak to this muscle shirt vibe they're making. I'll be brief: NO. 

Next I want to address those swaths of boob fabric: You are odd and ill-conceived, tarty without being sexy. Be strong, swaths. Take this in. Learn about yourselves. 

And finally, I point my finger at the gothic and yet somehow cheerful daisy disaster fabric malingering beneath the boob swaths. J'accuse! 

What happened, Anna Kendrick? Did the dress fly apart between the waist and the bust, and did your limo pass by a Pacific Fabrics, and did your plucky 12-year-old sister say "I have an idea! I can fix this!" And then, Anna Kendrick, DID YOU LET HER? Did you let her jump out of the limo and run into that Pacific Fabrics and then jump back into the limo with that depressing Bratz doll fabric and start stitching? DID YOU? 

Well. You've got nerve. I'll give you that. 

I'm going to confess something. Cate Blanchett is a brilliant actress, duh, and one of our great style icons. But after watching her interviews and acceptance speeches this weekend, I've decided that I don't love her personally a whole lot. I appreciated the content of her speeches, how it's time for Hollywood to recognize that female-driven films can make plenty of money—nothing not to love there. But there's something about her polished, shiny, hard exterior that leaves me cold. There. I said it. Cate Blanchett would make a terrible stuffed animal. 

But you know those little board books for babies where they learn all about texture? Pat the Bunny? That type of thing? She'd be a great one of those! Feel her chandelier earrings. Whoa. Bumpy. Feel the sequins and metallic embroidery/screws/whatever. Ohh. Pointy. Scrapy. Ow. 

I have a new Amy Adams dilemma. The question I have is this: is Amy Adams cool, or not, or what? On the one hand, you got The Fighter. She's boss as fart in that film, and that performance came out of her from somewhere. And I haven't seen it yet, but she looks pretty badass in American Hustle. And on the other hand, you got Julie & Julia, which...hoo boy. I have this fear that the Julie & Julia Amy Adams is closer to the truth, which brings me to this gown/hair/whole scene. She said with this outfit that she was just dressing to please herself this time. And amen, of course. Do your thing. But the thing is is that if this is your thing, your thing isn't my thing. All prim and buttoned-uppy. I prefer the thing you do when you're dressing for others and NOT being yourself. Welp, I better go listen to Free to Be You and Me now. 

Do we all agree that if we need a representative for the human race at some point, Lupita Nyong'o is elected? Yes? Motioned, seconded, passed. Now please excuse me for a moment. I've had a difficult week and I'm going to vacation for a second in the folds of this miraculous beach-blue dress, listening to Lupita having thoughtful conversations in that soothing, musical voice. You won't even know I'm there, Lupita. I will be small and motionless, like a pebble. 

 Last weekend, instead of giving two normal old acceptance speeches (the Independent Spirit Awards were on Saturday and he won one of those, too) Matthew McConaughey graced us with a TED talk on independent film AND a sermon/Tony-Robbins-style personal empowerment seminar. Amazing! And what's more, they were free! I kept scanning around my TV screen for a number to call to give my credit card information, but there wasn't one! These were on the house, ladies and gents. I call that largesse. 

And doesn't Camila Alves look beautiful? She really does. Her dress has the gravitas of Ancient Greece and the allure of strawberry ice cream together again for the first time like never before. I love it. 

P.S. Confidential to one M. Mc.C: The wait is over. You're your own hero now! Those bonds have matured! Cash 'em in! 

P.P.S. to M.M.: You're so right. Ron Woodruff is always whining, like, ohh, thank me! I won't even talk about AIDS victims. *cough* narcissists *cough* I love how you held your ground. You don't play that shit. That's not livin'.

P.P.P.S.: One of the pleasant things about being married to an Australian is learning all sorts of little words and phrases from another culture. Like, for example, prawn. As in, "That guy's a fucking prawn."

It is my contention that after we die, we get to go hang out on an endless, sloping lawn dotted with magnificent shade trees where floating angel things bring us gin and tonics. Here comes one now. She doesn't have to have her eyes open because we don't have bodies so if she spills our drinks on us, no big!

"Draping? Pink? We're supposed to do draping and pink? Please be clear with me, are we doing draping and pink or trying to avoid it because everyone else is doing it? Wear it? Okay, I'm doing it."

Kristin Chenoweth has it on good authority that an army of elves is coming to kill her. Ha ha, elves! Shoot your arrows through this! HAHAHA I'M STILL ALIVE!!! 

Anne Hathaway has it on even better authority that they're really only aiming right in the middle of the torso. 

Sally Hawkins makes me happy. I don't care if she looks like my tiny, twiggy, 8th grade self—who used to pray nightly to God for an ass—in this photo. I don't care if she looks like she's borrowing her grandmother's slightly-too-big dress. She's the business, and she was adorable in those red carpet interviews, all dizzy and giddy and speechless. I'm sticking her in my old Adidas bag from junior high and running. 

Charlize Theron has a real John Singer Sargent "Madame X" thing going on here. That neckline. 'Zounds. I was more excited when I didn't know there were little clear straps at work, but this is still pretty glorious.

Man, June Squibb is serving up some right on, 84-year-old Oscar goodness up in here. She's fucking delicious, like the Platonic ideal of Mrs. Claus out at a golden anniversary gala for her and Santa. All fluffy and rosy and colorful and beaming. I can't stand it.  

Naomi Watts is a sexy, severe angel of justice. If we go astray, she will punish us in an erotic and benevolent way and we will like it so much that we won't know whether to do better next time or not.

Oh, Julie! Julie Delpy evoked something so pleasing for me with this. She reminded me of being a little girl in the 70s, and watching our hippie adult friends of the family get dressed up for special occasions. Just themselves, natural but dolled up, nice and easy. She's gorgeous as bananas, and even more so for just being in her own skin so beautifully. You go get a nice glass of chablis after this, Julie, and relax to some classical guitar. You've earned it.

Look at that face. So dreamy. Keep going just like you are, wizard. 

Ice Storm! Portia de Rossi's going to a key party in a different corner of the 1970s. Whatever key she picks, she's not chickening out. It's on. 

Olivia Wilde is dressed for that same party, but I don't think she and Jason Sudeikis know it's going to be a key party. Once they find out, they'll joke about going with it even though she's ten months pregnant because they're cool like that, but then they'll make their way to the exit before the shit goes down. 

Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow, however, are totally going through with it. Also, her Dijon mustard floaty butter frock is so pretty and now I would like some egg salad. 

Kate Hudson lays it down in her 40s-meets-Halston disco goddess situation. Once again, for the record, all you lucky fuckers with no tits owe me a drink. I'm forever jealous of your bralessness. 

I feel like I'm contractually obligated to discuss Jennifer Lawrence but it's difficult because she's so boring here. I am not wowed by her hip capes or this bright color and I am actively displeased with this matronly hairdo.

But I thank her for throwing me a bone and wearing her necklace backwards. 

Similarly, the good Sandra Bullock, while she looks perfectly lovely here, makes me feel a little sleepy. Why must everybody be in such good taste all the time? Can't we gun it a little sometimes? 

A little bird tells me we can.

Yay! Oh, thank god. 

Do you all realize that what Liza has going on here is the point of getting old? This is a gigantic platter of Fuck It Supreme. She's all, "I'll go braless whenever I motherloving want and I'll wear pants-pajamas and boot-loafer-whatevers to the Academy Awards and I like the goddamn color blue and it suits me so I'm putting it everywhere. You heard me. Everywhere. My Color-Me-Beautiful season is Winter and I look divine in these jewel tones, which I know because I've been around the GODDAMN BLOCK. Now get me a glass of plain old Curaçao on the rocks because I'll look great holding that, too." 

There's aging with quiet grace, which I think is grand, and the other superb option is whatever the fuck Liza Minnelli is doing here. 

And who cares what age you are? Go nuts, motherfuckers! Here's Bette Midler back in 1982:

See, now, that's insane and I feel alive (if slightly headachy) just looking at it. In 1982 I thought bronze lamé was the bomb, myself, and here she is taking a jacuzzi in it. With a Ren Faire exploding magic scarf shoulder, no less! WTF?! Hurray! 

I mean, she looks great here, and if I were still in the race for an Academy Award, this is exactly the kind of thing I'd wear. But I'm not. I think I'm not. I'm probably not. I kind of frankly honestly don't know at this point. Things have shifted since the beginning of this post. 

I don't have a lot to say about Idina Menzel, except that she looks in a successful way like Kyle Richards wrestled Demi Moore back to the late '80s. (Not the hair metal '80s. The Reagan WASP '80s.) But my larger point in including her here is to thank John Travolta for the wonderful gift to humankind. His boofed intro with that amazing delivery is the greatest comic gem to happen in a long time. He pronounced every syllable like he was tasting miniature hors d'oeuvres in a library to the beat of a tiny metronome. And-now-in-tro-du-cing-the-one-and-on-ly-wick-ed-ly-tal-en-ted Ach! The delicacy! The lead up is almost funnier than the botched name. Oh, baby. I can't even meditate quietly any more. After about fifteen minutes of silence, the words (((Adele Dazeem))) float through my mind and I burst out laughing like a seal. 

Ah, me. *wipes tear* And-now-in-tro-du-cing-the-one-and-on-ly-wick-ed-ly-tal-en-ted Ah, la, la. It never stops. This is my new brain. By the way, that up there is Pharrell in shorts with his tall wife, Mark Twain, who has had a little bit of work done. 

And now we come to the end of the post. Jared Leto, who is a very nice boy, has been supporting us all the way through. 

Whereas Angelina Jolie is very subtly flipping us off with her bosom. Fine. We'll see ourselves out.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

i be blowin'

Last week, on Valentine's Day, De La Soul gave away all their music for free on their website to anybody who wanted it. I first listened to them back in college, when Three Feet High and Rising burst into the world and blew everyone's minds, and for the next few years I jumped on every new recording. And so this Valentine's gift was a wonder. I'd lost most of their CDs, and I missed them, so I downloaded every last album greedily and went on a bender.  

It's like clockwork. You take a band that you soaked in for years, you leave them alone for a few more, you come back to them and press play, and whoosh, your memory net comes up so full. The music sticks to everything, pulls it all back up.

It's 1993. I'm in my apartment up on Capitol Hill, hanging with my friend Nellis. We've made some spaghetti and done some mushrooms, and now we're lounging on the oriental rug in the living room as the high kicks in. This song is wafting out of the CD player while everything slows down and softens up. 

Nellis is one of the safest people I know. Was. Maybe he still is, I don't know. I don't know how the afterlife works. He drank himself to death five years ago. Not all at once, but cumulatively. But when we were close, way back when, there was nobody so accepting, so safe, so relaxing as Nellis. 

For a lot of my life, I've been a nervous person. I got good at covering it up, but I almost always had something whirring in my chest that kept me vigilant. I had to read the room, scan the inhabitants, guess what bothered them and be sure not to do whatever I guessed it was. Nobody made me do this. I knew this was my job all by myself, because I was innately annoying and bad. I don't know how I knew that about myself, but that felt like a sure thing. I was a great mimic, though, and very pliable, so I could trick people into digging me by giving them what I guessed they wanted. I had it worked out. It was exhausting but it was a system, even if it felt like it was forever in danger of going to pieces.

I met Nellis in 1992. We were in a ragtag sketch comedy group that only lasted a couple of months, but Nellis was its heart. He was the best writer, and he just had something, he was something. I don't know how to get at him. Just think about your grandpa's shirt or something, how it might carry a little tobacco smell, something nice like pipe smoke. Comforting. Nellis was like that. Smoky, funny, bittersweet. A cloud of benevolence with a bright streak of acidity. He wore baggy shorts and old bowling shirts and fishing hats. He was an old guy without being old. Not a hipster old guy, not a phony, but a real old guy in a young man's body. He loved Dean Martin, he loved to smoke, he loved to drink and he loved his friends. 

Nellis lived in an old run-down house in Wallingford with a rotating bunch of dudes, and his door was always open. And so there was always something going on over there. Nothing splashy, but there was always a hospitable group of guys drinking beer, or one or two guys at least. I never called first. I knew I didn't have to. I could come over whenever I wanted and stay as long as I wanted. 

I remember one night sitting down in Nellis's room with him, drinking beer and hanging out and listening to Annie Lennox. We were singing along together to "Walking on Broken Glass", when Nellis suddenly stopped. I was still singing, and I looked at him to see what was going on, why he stopped. He was beaming at me. I stopped singing, and he urged me to go on, said I had a beautiful voice. He looked positively misty about it. He started the song again and ordered me to sing by myself so he could listen. And so I did. When I finished that song, he had me sing another, and another. I couldn't believe that he could be enjoying this as much as I was, because I was floating on a little cloud, let me tell you. To sing out, to be listened to, to be loved like I knew my friend loved me in this moment—we were sitting in a dim little nighttime room, but the place may as well have been fully sunlit. 

Bear with me while we detour back a little farther, and then we'll fast forward again to my living room rug and Nellis and the mushrooms. But we have to go back a second to 1988. Pre-Nellis. I'm in college, a theater major, doing a casual lunchtime production of Cowboy Mouth, a two-person play that was originally written and performed by Sam Shepard and Patti Smith. I'm in the Patti Smith role, and there's some singing to do. I know I can sing. I know I can do it. But I won't let myself do it right, not when other people are listening. I won't let myself sing full out. It would be wrong. It would be conceited. If I let a beautiful sound come out of my mouth, it's going to make me ugly—spiritually ugly somehow—and so it's not worth the trade. And so I either set or discover a limit for myself; I can sing at 50% skill and 50% volume, and no more. That's my ceiling. My boyfriend comes to see our one performance. He's a musician, and I like him so much, and I'd love for him to hear what I can really do, but that half-assed, broken sound coming out of my mouth is all I'll allow myself. He's standing in the back, watching from the doorway. I sing badly, watching his silhouette. I wish I could be different. 

And now it's 1993 and Nellis and I are on my rug with our bowls of spaghetti next to us, and De La Soul is on the stereo, and the sound is so sweet and slow. We're not talking. We won't really be talking tonight. We're in our own worlds, companionably. This is the first time either of us has heard this song. We look at each other sometimes, as if to say, "Can you believe it?" It's just so beautiful. Maceo is truly blowing the soul out of that horn. And something wonderful is happening to my insides. I wonder what it is. I seem to be unraveling. Something I don't need is unraveling. I'm playing with a little purple Koosh ball, letting the music wash over me, and suddenly I have the most revolutionary thought I've ever had. This idea just blooms, and I can't believe it. Here it is, get ready:

I'm perfectly fine. 

That's it. 

I'm fine as I am, I'm perfectly good. 

I, me, Tina, am not some dumb, busted-up disappointment. Nope. I'm good. I can dare to be myself. I'm clean. For real. I'm good. 

The song is going and going, and I'm taking a bath in this new information. It's so warm.  I feel like I just got born. I look over at Nellis. He smiles at me, and I don't tell him what happened, what I just found out. But I know—I make the connection—that it wouldn't have happened if he wasn't in the room. I would never have known it.