Tuesday, August 23, 2016

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

I was talking with my brother Sam over the weekend, just catching up and chit-chatting about this and that. I mentioned that I had been sick for two weeks and after kvetching about the various drugs I'm on and the various symptoms I'm still experiencing, I shrugged and said, "well, it'll go away eventually.  I'll live."

"Or not," he said.

"You're right!" I acknowledged. "It could go either way. I'll get better or I'll die."

"Yes," he said. "One of those two things will happen. You never know."

"But one way or the other, it'll resolve itself."

This is how we talk - you say "yes, and.." and keep it going.

We both laughed and continued talking about a book that he recommended that I'm in the middle of, about how throughout human history, mankind has made all of these changes to it's economic and cultural structure that have come under the guise of progress but that have actually altered the course of human history - and of the Earth's history - for the worse.

It's actually super-interesting and not depressing, though I know it sounds that way.

The conversation (both about potentially dying of a sinus infection, and the book) got me thinking about life in general, and how so much of what we do every day is in service to materialism, or to obligations that we are bound to because of our choices. We've created this mythology that allows us to believe that we are special and every minute is special and that life is to be cherished and every day is to be seized, and that we are not only entitled to happiness, but that if we don't feel happy we somehow aren't trying hard enough to embrace gratitude or whatever.  Then we feel inadequate and stressed out because we're not approaching things the way we're supposed to be approaching things, so we're failures at the happiness game.

But the truth is, life is often cruel and throughout human history, people have lived their entire lives in miserable conditions and without any notion of happiness as we view it today - it wouldn't occur to them that happiness was anything to be valued or sought out.  The point of living was to keep living until you died, and maybe propagate the species along the way.

Again, it wasn't a depressing chain of thought.  It was just ruminating on something that's interesting to me and that I think about sometimes -- that the way our culture approaches happiness as a goal of life is both a totally artificial construct that keeps us going, and also a source of enormous stress and dissatisfaction because it's such an elusive goal.

Anyway.

The end of summer and the focus on a new school year reinforces the speed with which time passes. I sometimes feel old and like I'm approaching the end of my shelf life and that I haven't accomplished anything of note.  Other times I feel good about where I am. But the number of my age is frequently in the back of my mind - I'm racing against a clock and it's ticking along but I don't know how much time is left on it.  And the fact that my kids are getting ready to turn 7 and 9 is weird to me - on one hand, it feels like they were just babies, but on the other, the baby and toddler years feel like eons ago.  They are such fully formed people now.  The barely human little amorphous blobs who needed to be swaddled and jiggled and shushed in order to calm down or get to sleep are, at this point, as familiar to me as aliens.

What's fascinating is that they also are so cognizant of the blazing speed at which time passes.

The night I was thinking all of these Deep Thoughts was the night before the first day of school.  The kids were excited and nervous and wired and anxious.  I was trying to put them to bed and sing to them to soothe them (badly, because my voice is still froggy and fucked up - I have no sense of my range and can't control the way it sounds), but they couldn't calm down.

Zeke said, "I'm nervous about school, and I'm also sad about it being the end of summer. It felt like it went so fast."

"It did, honey. And the truth is, you're going to realize that everything feels that way. You're going to start school tomorrow and before you know it, it'll be your birthday and then Halloween, and suddenly we'll be at Mimi and Papa's for Thanksgiving, and it's going to speed by and you're going to be amazed at how quickly it feels like summer arrived again."

He nodded and was quiet, clearly thinking about it all.

"I know you're feeling anxious, and I totally get that.  But tomorrow will be here before you know it, and once you get to school you won't even have time to be nervous because all of a sudden you'll be in the middle of greeting your friends and meeting your teacher and everything else.  So the day will quickly be over and you'll have dealt with it.  And the truth is, you do like school, so chances are it's going to be a great day."

He agreed that that was the likely outcome, but he and Josie were both restless and really wanting to talk through what they were thinking about, so I let them get in my bed so that we could talk quietly in the dark and fall asleep together.

We talked about the specific things they were worried about - would they make new friends, would their teachers like them, would they be able to learn new things and not feel stupid, would anyone be happy to see them.  Josie in particular has an ability to be anxious about something and then talk herself into a state of extreme agitation until she ends up sobbing, so I was trying to keep things light and make jokes and be silly.

But they were both wound tighter than the strings on my banjo, and I didn't realize how close to the edge they were.  And sometimes I forget how innocent and impressionable they are.

In the midst of all this, they asked me what were the things that made me nervous or anxious.

Half joking, I responded, "I worry that no one will ever love me again and that I'll die alone."

At which point, they both burst into tears and climbed onto me, smothering me with hugs and kisses and tears and drool.

"Nooo! Mama, why would you say that??  Why would you die alone?  You have us! We love you so much! Why would you think no one will love you??  Aaaaaauuuuuugggghhhhh!  We love you Mamaaaaaa!!!"  

They were seriously distraught and it took a few minutes to reassure them that I'm fine and that I know that their love for me is boundless.

I realized I need to leave those comments for conversations with my brother, who will know to respond, "yep, it's a distinct possibility!"

I also realized (for the millionth time) that these beautiful little people fill me with happiness, as elusive as that feeling can be.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Deja vu all over again

On Monday I got a wild hair that I needed to cut my hair off immediately.

I've had it long forever and while I liked the length, it was driving me crazy.  I've always had thick, shiny, healthy hair, and suddenly I was hyper aware that, whether because of age or living in a dry climate or coloring my hair or whatever, the ends were getting damaged and frizzed out and it bugged me.  So I did some internet research on the type of cut that I wanted, had an online consult with my friends, and decided to get it chopped.

I have no patience when it comes to decisions like that.  Once I've made it, I want to act right away. And in the past, I would have called my hair salon immediately and made an appointment with the next available person and cut it off as soon as possible.

But now I try to act like some semblance of a grown-up woman, so I have a dedicated stylist person (Candace) who I go to every time, who knows me and knows my hair and is familiar with its cowlicks and curls and texture and everything else.  She's the mom of one of Josie's friends from school and she's young and hip and effortlessly cool, with her gorgeous blonde hair streaked with pink and purple.  But I couldn't get an appointment with her until Thursday, so it was two days of agonizing and getting nervous and feeling impatient.

First world problems, I know.

The big day came and I headed over there during my lunch hour. Candace and I confabbed and she snipped here and there and we would make adjustments and confab some more and she would cut a little shorter here and shape the pieces around my face and I would say "maybe a little more off there" and eventually we got it to where we both said, "that's it. We're there. It's perfect."

I love it.  It's bouncy and cute and easy to take care of and frames my face nicely. My hair looks healthy and shiny again, rather than frizzed out and tired.

I've got a couple of mediocre selfies that don't really do it justice, but here's what it looks like:

Just after leaving the salon. A bit windy.
Mirror selfie. Meh.
Now I need to learn how to take care of it - how to do it in the morning, whether there are certain products to use, that kind of thing.

I got some smoothing cream that's supposed to work really well at giving it some gloss and get rid of flyaways.  I had it in my purse at work and wanted to take it to the restroom to use it.  I don't usually take my purse in with me to the bathroom.  I've actually always thought it's kind of weird when women do that, unless they're in a restaurant and are worried about their bag being swiped.  But at work, what's in there that you need?  A tampon? Just carry it in your hand, or tuck it up your sleeve or something.  Who cares?

I have no idea why this bothers me.

In any event, with the hair smoothing stuff I ended up putting it in my purse and taking it with me. I was afraid if anyone saw me they would think I was taking a giant pink dildo to the bathroom.


More than a little phallic, no?

Later that night, I was getting ready to wash my face before getting into bed and needed a headband to hold my hair back so it wouldn't get wet.  Before cutting it, I used to just put it back in a ponytail, but it's too short for that now.  I looked in a bunch of different places but couldn't find any headbands.

As I rifled through one of my drawers, it occurred to me that I could do what I did when I was in the extreme throes of pregnancy brain and use a pair of thong underwear.  But the thought of having to explain to my children why I had underwear wrapped around my head was enough of a deterrent that I kept looking until I found a sash I could use.

In other words, in spite of appearances to the contrary, my standards have actually gone up a little bit.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Vacation, the all-medication diet, meth, and nose penises

I didn't even realize until a day or so ago that the last thing I'd written about was Sarah's death. Which, admittedly, threw me for far more of a loop than I thought it would.

But, as ever, life goes on and that is a good thing. Especially when it involves two weeks in Duck, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks.

Because I didn't have the kids for spring break this year, I had more annual leave time than I normally would at this point in the year.  I know people who don't use all their leave time and end up with hundreds of hours built up, but I'm all, no, I will take all of the leave, thankyouverymuch.  That's what it's for. I'm reminded of my friend Michele's strategy to always having something (like a trip) to look forward to. So use your vacation time, people.

Anyway, the beach was great, the water was great, the weather was great (if a tad hot), the Outer Banks are beautiful, the house was great.
The dunes at dusk.
Full rainbow!!
 Spending time relaxing and reading and swimming and going kayaking and hanging with the family and getting tan was rejuvenating.




I know that, like everything else these days, getting a tan means I'm going to get cancer and die tomorrow, but hell, at least I'll look good.

My children also demonstrated a knack for hard labor, so if all else fails, at least they'll have construction as a fall-back.


An added treat was that because my brothers were only coming for the second week, we had extra room in the house the first week. So Lisa came down with her kids for a few days, and our children immediately got on like gangbusters. They collected jellyfish (the non-tentacle-y sting-y kind) and swam in the pool and played in the ocean.



India developed a particular affinity for my dad, so he explained Amelia Earhardt to her. He likes explaining things.


Lisa went out and got Duck Donuts for us every morning. Notwithstanding the fact that my family has been coming to the Outer Banks forever, we had never had Duck Donuts.

I am not much of a donut person, but Duck Donuts are insanely good. The rest of the vacation, I ate many donuts. And key lime pie and ice cream and chips.

I figured I'd get back on the wagon and lose the fluff when I got home.

This turned out to be easier than I anticipated, because I hadn't been back in Denver and off the plane for 3 hours before my throat started to hurt.  The pain got worse and worse over the next couple days. I went to the doctor, who prescribed lots of medicine. Between the medicine and the pain, I couldn't eat much.

The throat pain went away, but there was lingering congestion in my nose.

"No biggie," I figured. "It'll clear up."

It didn't clear up. I couldn't breathe, I felt like shit, I was exhausted, and every time I blew my nose or coughed, the product was greener than the time before.

After 5 days, I went back to the doctor. He diagnosed a sinus infection, gave me more medicine, told me to take other medicines for the various symptoms, and sent me home to bed.

"You're going to feel horrible for another week," he prognosticated cheerfully as I left.

I am now on day 11 of this bout of plague. I take five different medications at bedtime and four when I get up.  My appetite has abandoned me entirely, so I've lost whatever pudge I gained on vacation.

On one hand, yay!  On the other, I'm not sure this is a fitness strategy I'd recommend.

The congestion is still there, so I polled my friends on ways to combat it.

Lisa suggested meth, but I ruled it out because I'd like to avoid the black teeth and the inevitable descent into prostitution to pay for the habit.

I'm not really an essential oils person, so that was out.

Everyone raved about neti pots/saline sinus flushes, so I decided to give that a go. I opted for the plastic squeezy bottle rather than the neti pot that Walgreen's was selling because it looked too much like I'd be sticking a blue penis in my nose.
Which, though I've never really given it much thought, strikes me as something else I'd like to avoid.



Thursday, July 07, 2016

If the thunder cloud passes rain, so let it rain

I didn't think this one would freak me out so much.

As I said in my prior post, it's so awful for her family. But I barely knew Sarah, so her death wasn't really a personal loss to me.

And yet.

I'm so weary of one tragic death after another.  Of people whose lives are ending way, way too early. Emma was 17.  Lori was 45. Sarah was in her late 30s or maybe 40.  I'm weary of people in my life being devastated by loss, over and over again.

I consider myself a really tough person. But right now, I am a total fucking mess. I'm not sleeping except to have brutal dreams. I'm in a constant state of anxiety and exhaustion - I'm so tired, and my chest feels constricted, like I need to keep taking really deep breaths but I can still never get enough oxygen. Everything is making me weepy.  I feel gripped by tension, and nothing seems to ease it.

Over the past couple of years, I've discovered that when I'm supremely exhausted, my sense of taste is thrown off. Things that would ordinarily be delicious to me taste wrong and unpleasant.  And last night, in an effort to try to distract myself, I cooked a complicated dish that should have been yummy. But it tasted awful to me, and I ended up throwing it away and going to bed at 7:15.

I also feel very alone right now, like I have no one to comfort me.  The friends who I would normally look to to help prop me up are far away, or out of town, or dealing with their own shit.  My family is far away. My children are on a two week vacation with their dad.  I have an overwhelming desire to be enveloped in a warm hug, to have someone say, "it's ok, everything's going to be ok." But for the next week and a half, I come home to an empty house, and it feels very lonely.

I have things to look forward to, thank goodness.  In a week and a half a bunch of my dearest friends from India will be visiting, and we will have a joyous time catching up.  Y'all know how much I love my India peeps.

And then a week after that, the kids and I are leaving for the Outer Banks for two weeks at the beach. As ever, it will be a welcome respite, a time to relax and swim and read books and eat ice cream and bask in the love of family.  Y'all know how much I love the Outer Banks.

Looking ahead is keeping me going.  I can grit my teeth and gut it out until my children come home and my friends get here.  I can exercise to the point of exhaustion and get some Ambien to help me sleep at night. I can go for long walks and look up at the sky.

It will pass.





Tuesday, July 05, 2016

What next?

Every time I get news about a death in the family (or in this case, extended family-in-law), I think, "ok, this really has to be it.  No more."  With Emma it was shock and horror and bottomless sadness.  With Lori it was shock and anger and a feeling of exhaustion, with some despair for my brother and his girls thrown in.

This time, with the news that Lori's younger sister Sarah died today, after years of ravaging her body because of personal demons, my reaction was just shock.  But not even very much - quite honestly, the shock stems not from the fact that it happened, but that it happened now, a mere 4 1/2 months after Lori died.  That within a less than two year span, her parents have lost two daughters and a granddaughter.

I don't know how a person deals with that.  I can't wrap my head around it.

To be clear, I don't consider this a personal loss. I didn't have any kind of relationship with her, nor did Josh.  I don't need any personal condolences.  Rather, my sadness stems from the fact that it's such a tragic waste of a life, and so desperately, unfathomably awful for the family she left behind - parents, brothers, and a grandmother.

It's too much death. Too many funerals. Just too much. This is Greek tragedy level shit.

Weird things pop into my head. First was that I received the call from my mother rather than my father.  Her vocal inflection for announcing death and destruction is different from his.

Second was that I felt genuine pity for someone I've been rather severe with, in terms of my assessment of her culpability in her other daughter's demise.  But whatever failings she had or has, nobody deserves this.

I was talking to Josh, and we both remarked on how yet another death reinforces, once again, the importance of finding joy and purpose and beauty in every day.

As Josh put it, it's time for full-on zero-fucks-given mode.  Not irresponsibility or foolishness, but casting aside all of the silly fears and self-doubts that so often keep us from going after what we want.  Climb mountains, seek out love and adventure, travel, get laid, bask in the joy of friendships.

Just fucking live.






Monday, June 27, 2016

I remember, I remember when I lost my mind, there was something so pleasant about that place

I seem to have a knack for bizarre encounters with folks I meet around town.

This past weekend, one of my childhood friends was in town with her husband, so I thought I'd take them to Vail on Saturday to see a little bit of the mountains, see the view from the top, and get out of the Denver heat.  There are great activities for kids, so it was sure to be fun for everyone.

Before we left, I took the car to get it washed and to fill up with gas.

After the car was cleaned, we stopped to get gas at a 7 Eleven.  I pulled up to the pumps, set the nozzle in the tank, and went inside to buy a case of water to keep in the car.

I picked up a big case of water and went to get in line.

This is where the layout of the store becomes important (see my most excellent diagram, below).

From my vantage point, I saw a guy at the checkout counter, so I stood behind him and slightly to his left. I didn't see anyone else behind him.



As he moved away after finishing his transaction, I saw an African-American woman, who I will call Crazy Lady, walk up behind him as I started to move closer as well.  (The only reason I mention her race is because of what happened next.)  She was shorter than the top of the shelves, so I hadn't seen her until she stepped out from the aisle she had been standing in.

She snapped at me, "the line is back this way."

I hadn't seen her in line behind him, so I responded, "I think I was actually next." I said this matter-of-factly - I was not spoiling for any kind of confrontation.

She said, "oh no, I've been back here.  Haven't I been back here the whole time waiting??"  She said this to the guy who had just finished paying.  He looked back, a little bit confused, and seemed to nod.

I was about to say, "ok, I'm sorry, I didn't see you there," but before I could say anything, she started yelling at me.

"Why would you automatically assume I'm lying? Where do you get off calling me a liar?  Huh, Trump?"

What the fuck?  "Trump"?  Is she suggesting that I'm a Trump supporter (and therefore a racist) because I'm white??

"What are you talking about? When did I ever call you a liar? I didn't call you anything!" I said.  I was a confused and a little flustered.

"Oh, you just assume that I'm lying, didn't you Trump?  Yeah, that's right, you heard me."

"I don't know what you're going on about.  I never said you or anyone else is a liar.  I didn't see you standing there, that's all."

"BARACK OBAMA! THAT'S ALL I'M SAYIN'!"

I actually laughed at this.  "You haven't said anything! And just to be clear, I voted for Barack Obama twice!"

Ugh, why am I engaging? I know full well that there's no point in engaging with the crazy.

"I seriously doubt that!" she yelled.

"I don't give a shit what you doubt. What the hell is wrong with you?"

As I said this, I noticed that Zeke had come in (he and Josie had been waiting in the car) and was standing next to me.

"Truth hurts, don't it, Trump?" she spat.

"Oh, Jesus Christ," I sighed.

"Don't you curse in front of your child!!"

This got my hackles up.  "You don't need to worry about my child," I said. "And I didn't curse."

Now another woman decided to butt in.

"You took the name of the lord.  Oh, so you don't believe in God??"

"Well, not really, no," I said.  "And why is any of this your business?"

Crazy Lady said, "you piece of shit parent, talking in front of your child like that, TRUMP!"

Zeke's eyes widened and he scooted a little closer to me.

I finally snapped.  "You know what? You can shut your goddamn mouth, you crazy bitch. Leave my child out of this. Stop talking and take your stupid ass out of here!"

She kept yelling at me, but made her way out the door and into the parking lot. Zeke was eating it all up.

I finished paying for the water and was signing the credit card slip when the cashier laughed and said, "what was up with her?"

"She's a fucking lunatic, that's what's up with her," I said.

The second lady (the one who asked me if I believed in God) said, "don't you say that about her! She's my cousin!"

I rolled my eyes.  "Of course she is. Whatever, that's your problem."

And I walked out, paid for my gas, buckled the kids back in the car (Josie had stayed out there, oblivious, reading a book), and left.

Zeke, to his credit, was unruffled.

Later, when we were driving, he said, "are you upset, Mama? Did that lady ruin your day?"

"No, she didn't. I don't care enough about her for her to ruin my day."

"What was she yelling about?"

"Honestly, I'm still not sure."

But at least she provided me with some ammunition for the next time I get in an argument with someone.  If I want to make a point without having to actually make a point, all I need to say is, "BARACK OBAMA! THAT'S ALL I'M SAYIN'!"

I've already used it twice.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

It's a Saturday night special, got a barrel that's blue and cold...

There's a great line in When Harry Met Sally when Jess and Marie are moving in together and trying to combine their households, deciding what to keep and what to toss.  Jess's fugly wagon wheel coffee table doesn't make the cut, and when he protests, Marie says, "everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but they couldn't possibly all have good taste."

We all think we have good taste, that we're the good guys, that we're reasonable, that it's the other guy who's the misinformed idiot.

Sometimes we're right, sometimes we're wrong.

The problem is that we all live in our own personal echo chambers. We have access to more information at our fingertips than ever before in human history, but we also can and do choose what information to receive. Everything we consume is filtered so that our own opinions and impressions are confirmed to us. My Facebook and Twitter feeds, the blogs I read, the news sources I frequent, all reinforce my impressions that Donald Trump is an ill-informed, narcissistic danger to this country, or that abortion should be legal and safe and easily accessible, or that people should be able to love and marry who they want, or that Michigan is far superior to Ohio State in every way. Someone else with different views will obviously receive different information to reinforce their own perspectives.

It takes an effort to be open to the idea that you could know more to either bolster or disprove an opinion you might have. I'm as guilty as anyone of not doing this often enough.

The issue of guns and gun control and America's so-called obsession with guns has obviously been in the news quite a bit lately.  Anyone who knows me knows that my political sensibilities fall on the liberal end of the spectrum, and I don't believe that the second amendment's language, written in 1789 to secure the right to "keep and bear arms" for purposes of allowing a "well-regulated militia" to maintain the security of a free state, should be interpreted to allow any yahoo off the street to be able to get their hands on any weapon for any purpose.  But I also believe in personal freedom and responsibility, and in limited government infringement on how we live our lives, so I don't believe in an outright ban on guns.

Of course, it's the middle ground that is so messy and confounding.  I believe people should be able to own and use guns for hunting and sport and self-defense.  I also believe that it should be very difficult - if not impossible - for civilians to buy machine guns or similar weapons that are designed for warfare and mass killing, rather than for hunting or the reasonable defense of a home.  I believe in background checks and gun registration and waiting periods.

I also want any laws or rules to make sense, have basis in reality, and be designed to actually work. And my sense of how that can be accomplished is limited by the fact that I have virtually no experience or real knowledge about guns.

So I'm trying to learn.

A good friend of mine is big into hunting - he grew up doing it and was exposed to guns from a young age.  He knows about guns, owns many guns, and is a huge proponent of responsible gun ownership, with safety being the foremost consideration.  He is not opposed to reasonable, rational gun control measures.

He and I were spit-balling about something fun to do on the weekend and decided to go shoot guns.  I was excited because I had never really done it.  I spent an hour or so at a riflery range at summer camp when I was 12, but nothing beyond that - I'd never shot or even held a handgun, and am generally ignorant about the different types of guns, how they work, and the ways they're designed to be used.

So we drove out into the forest, up a narrow, boulder-strewn road that was so rough and close to the edge of a cliff that we needed to pull over at a little opening where the road widened so that I could calm my breathing and my heart rate and my nerves.  And then we looked around and saw that we were right by the entrance to an old silver mine, and there was a rotted out little structure that was dinged up from other people using it for target practice, so we decided to stay there.

Old mine opening.
Shoot 'em up shack
Over the course of two hours, I shot seven different kinds of guns - a bolt action rifle (my favorite), a lever action rifle, a semi-automatic .22 pistol, a .22 single action revolver (Old West type of gun), semi-automatic 9 mm pistol, a semi-automatic 45 caliber pistol, and double action 44 Magnum revolver (the Dirty Harry gun, pictured below).  Every one felt and looked different and had slightly different features and characteristics, so it was a non-stop lesson for me.  

Safety was at the forefront of everything, which was good because I was nervous and wanted to be as careful and focused as possible.  I learned to double check the chamber to make sure that it was empty, how to hold the gun, where not to point it, how to hold my finger away from the trigger until I was ready to shoot, how to use the various safety features.  I received a primer on different types of bullets, different caliber weapons, different loading and firing mechanisms, how to aim, how to use a scope, which types of guns would be used in different hunting scenarios.

All afternoon, the conversation kept coming back to gun control and the current debate.  About how every gun I handled, no matter the caliber bullet, no matter the firing mechanism, is an extremely dangerous weapon that can kill or inflict serious damage.  And that the debate as currently framed, focusing on semi-automatic, high magazine capacity assault weapons like the AR-15, which has been used in many of the recent mass shootings, ignores entire categories of guns that are equally effective in their ability to kill many people in a very short period of time, and are also smaller and more portable (begging the question of why they aren't used more in mass shootings).

We talked about background checks and some gun control ideas that I was totally unfamiliar with, like warehousing, and other efforts to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people.  We talked about the idea of requiring liability insurance for gun owners, to cover scenarios like the negligent handling or storage of guns that allows them to get into the hands of children, or be stolen and used in crimes.  It was an informative and respectful discussion.

And the afternoon was seriously fun.  Shooting targets is fun.  Trying to learn a cool new skill is fun. Doing it outside on a gorgeous day and in a gorgeous setting is fun.  And as it turns out, I'm a "crack shot," in my friend's words.

"You've gotta ask yourself one question: 'do I feel lucky?'  Well, do ya, punk?"
It was also eye-opening that we weren't the only ones out there, doing the same thing.  We drove past clearings where other people were shooting, and past trees with old targets stapled to them.  At one point, a dad with three young kids in tow stopped where we were parked.  He was wearing a holster holding a Glock.  I was taken aback at how much it didn't alarm me, in that setting and that context.

Heading back into town, I remarked that I was surprised we didn't go to a shooting range.  I didn't realize that just taking a bunch of guns into the woods to shoot was a thing.  It was my first time, and I didn't know how this stuff worked.

He said, "Nah, I don't like shooting ranges. They're full of crazy fucking gun nuts."

I laughed, realizing that neither of us ever truly left our respective echo chambers.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

"Mama?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"How tall is Mt. Everest?"

We are on the plane from Denver to Virginia.  This means I'm trapped in a middle seat between my two children, Josie asleep with her head on my lap, and Zeke looking out the window and pelting me with a three and a half hour barrage of questions.

Luckily, I'm up to speed on my random geography trivia.

"About 29,000 feet," I reply.

"How do you know that?"

"I don't know. I heard it or read it somewhere."

"Did you know that all of Mt. Everest would fit in the deepest trenches in the Pacific Ocean?"

"I did know that. I think the deepest Pacific trench is about 35,000 feet deep."

"That's really deep."

"It is."

He sits and thinks for a second, then starts studying the safety card from the seat pocket in front of him.

"Mama?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"If the plane is safely on the ground, why do the people need to exit the plane on the slides?"

He's looking at the picture of an emergency landing on the ground.


"I don't understand the question.  If the plane crash-lands on the ground, why don't people just stay on the plane?"

"Yes."

"Why would they do that?  They're not just going to sit on the plane and not go anywhere.  There could be a fire or some other danger from the crash, or people could be hurt. They need to get off the plane."

He points to the "no" symbol over the hand holding a briefcase.

"What's that?"

"It's saying that if you have to do an emergency exit off the slides, don't take your luggage with you."

"Why not?"

"Because you don't want to take any extra time getting off the plane.  They want people to get off the plane as quickly as possible so that everyone can get to safety."

"In case the plane blows up?"

"Possibly."

He looks out the window for a little while.

"Mama?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"How fast can the fastest plane go?"

"I'm not sure.  I know it's at least a couple thousand miles per hour."

"Can this plane go that fast?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because it's not that kind of plane."

"What's the name of this plane?"

"Do you mean what airline is it?"

"Yes."

"It's United."

"Is that the airline that you don't like?"

"No, that's Frontier."

"Was that the airline that we took when we missed the plane?"

"We didn't miss that plane.  We got on that plane."

"Because you pitched a fit, right?"  He smiles.

"Right."

"How long does it take for this plane to go one mile?"

I do some quick calculations in my head.  "I think about 7 or 8 seconds."

"What if the wing falls off the plane?"

"That would be bad. We would crash."

"It's a really clear day today.  Look how far we can see."

"Yep."

"Is everything that we can see right now all one whole state?"

"I don't know. I don't know exactly where we are. But probably not. States are pretty big.  What we can see is most likely much smaller than a whole state."

"What river is that?"

"I don't know.  I don't know what we're flying over right now."

He's quiet for about a minute.

"Mama?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"Did you know that when a cheetah is running and is fully stretched out with its legs off the ground, it's 20 feet long?"

"I did know that. I think you told me that."

He starts looking at his book, which is about surviving different kinds of natural disasters.  It's got a picture from the Japanese tsunami of 2011 on the cover.  It shows the water overtaking cars and trucks and everything else.

"Mama?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"Was there someone in that truck?"

"Probably."

"Is he dead?"

"I don't know. Probably."

"What about that car? Is that guy dead?"

"I don't know. Probably."

"Are those mountains we're flying over right now?"

"Yes."

"Which mountains are they?"

"Probably the Appalachians."

"How do you know?"

"I'm guessing based on how long we've been on the plane."

"How tall are they?"

"I'm not sure.  They're not as tall as the mountains in Colorado."

"You mean the Rocky Mountains?"

"Yes."

"They look different.  Not jagged-y."

"That's because they're much older mountains. As mountains age, they erode and smooth out."

"What's the shortest mountain in the world?"

This one totally stumps me.  "I don't know, honey."

"How tall is it?"

"I don't know. I don't know how tall land has to be to qualify as a mountain."

"Is it five feet?"

"I'm assuming it's higher than that. Five feet is barely a hill."

"Is it ten feet?"

"More than that."

"What's the shortest mountain called?"

"Sweetie, I have no idea."

Short break in the action.

"Mama?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"Are we turning right now?"

"Yes."

"What if the plane gets sucked up into space?"

"That would be bad."

"Why?"

At this point, I start to laugh. I cover my face with my hands and I can't stop laughing. The guy in front of us, who has overheard all of this, looks back at me and smiles and starts laughing as well.

"You're doing great," he says.

I'm overwhelmed with a sense of deja vu.

Zeke reminds me so, so much of my brother Sam.  Sam is one of my favorite people in the world, partly because he is so inquisitive and thinks about things in such interesting ways.  But as a kid, when my family was travelling, we would argue over who had to sit next to Sam on long flights, because he never stopped talking and asking questions.

Later, I'm sitting with my mother at her kitchen table, telling her about the flight.  When I relay the question about the shortest mountain, she says, "why didn't you just make something up?  Just make up a name.  'The shortest mountain is Mt. Tiny' or something like that."

I can't believe that didn't occur to me.  But then again, she raised Sam.  She knows.  And it probably didn't occur to her the first time, either.

This whole process is a learning curve.  But a highly entertaining one.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Remembering the purple shadows of the lawn, the majesty of the colonnades...


What struck me about my UVA reunion this past weekend was what an intensely physical experience it was.  And it's not just the insane amounts of walking, from one get-together to the next, around Charlottesville or around the University grounds, that leaves your feet throbbing by the time you get into bed at the end of the night. Or that fact that by the time you're getting into bed, it's 2 in the morning and you've been up running around for hours and hours.  Or the alcohol that starts flowing in the middle of the afternoon and doesn't stop until 10 or 11 hours later.


It's also the ache in my head and face from talking and smiling and laughing nonstop.  It's the shower of hugs and kisses, one after the other, from sorority sisters who I don't get to see or experience often enough, and who suddenly felt like the most important people in the world, so I tried to soak up their presence with every part of myself.  The joyful whoop that escaped me upon greeting my friend Mark, who when he first saw me on Friday night, threw his arms around me and lifted me up, twirling me in a circle. The grass between my toes as my friend Laura and I cavorted in front of the Rotunda at 1 in the morning, throwing our hands in the air for a picture, as if we could take in the entire place in a huge embrace. The warmth of sitting and talking and just being with my dear friend (and former roommate) Jane, who remains one of the loveliest, sweetest people I have ever known.


The experiences of American college life have a universal quality to them.  Like college kids everywhere, my friends and I arrived at UVA not fully formed, so much younger and stupider than we realized - I was only 17 when I started, and didn't turn 18 until halfway through second semester of my first year.

We dipped our toes into the experimental waters of learning how to be adults, out on our own to decide which classes to take and which clubs to join and which interests to pursue.  Experiencing the self-consciousness of figuring out which friendships to seek out. Developing the self esteem to know whether and how peer pressure would shape our actions.  Having the discipline to drag our asses to an early class when the professor didn't take attendance, and there wasn't a parent to make sure you were up and out the door in time.  Navigating the world of living quasi-independently, dealing with roommates both of the amazing and the shitty variety. Deciding on our own how late we would stay out, whether and how much we would drink, whose beds we would slip into and what we would do when we were there. What kind of people we wanted to be.

We formed close connections and learned life lessons and received a great education.  And as an added bonus, we were able to do it in this extraordinary place that is infused with history and tradition, and which has a distinctive, stunning physical presence. Plenty of kids stumble to an 8 a.m. class, bleary eyed from a late night of studying or beer drinking or both. But we got to do it while walking past the Rotunda, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and designed by Thomas Jefferson to represent the authority of nature and power of reason.  Meandering down the brick-paved colonnades along the Lawn, where every year a select group of fourth year students are awarded the enormous honor of living in the tiny rooms along Jefferson's original "academical village," with their lack of air-conditioning or attached bathrooms, so you would see them trudging out in their bathrobes and carrying their buckets of soap and shampoo down to the showers.


I tried to never take it for granted - I walked down the Lawn and past the Rotunda thousands of times in my four years there, and every time I tried to really look at it and appreciate it.  The physical environment, both because of its beauty and its historical and architectural grandeur, was as much of a character in the drama of those four years as any other.

For the reunion, Jane won a lottery that gave her access to a Lawn room for the weekend, and it became our home base.*  It was the pre-party location before our class dinners, and the after-hours happening spot until late in the night.  It was where we hung out during the day, catching up with each other and greeting everyone who walked by, enjoying the respite from the sun on a hot Virginia day, with its soft, heavy, wet air. The entire experience was an assault on the senses - the beauty of the architecture and landscape, the heat, the physical contact with old friends, the music and laughter, the food and drink, the walking and the dancing, and the exhaustion when it was finally all over.


After 25 years, those four years feel far away.  We are more than twice as old as we were when we graduated, and memories fade. People change as they age and aren't as recognizable at first.

But then you drive down Route 29, or walk from the Corner past Brooks Hall up to the Lawn, down the colonnades, past the amphitheater, seeing the lush trees and grass, feeling the sultriness of the summer air; the environment becomes a time machine that delivers you psychologically back to that point when every emotion and interaction felt more intense, more vivid, because it was so ephemeral.


____________________________
*In an amazing coincidence, it turned out to be the same room that one of our sorority sisters lived in during her fourth year, 25 years ago.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Turns out not where but who you're with that really matters

After an utterly mediocre date, it was nice to come home to realize that I still had time to catch the end of my street's annual block party.  I reconnected with some friends who I hadn't talked to in ages, and met some new friends, and was reminded that there is nothing like the simple pleasure of just hanging out on a balmy evening on a front porch, drinking a beer and shooting the shit with cool people.

It's a feeling that always makes me intensely happy.  There are few things that fill my soul more than spending time in the physical presence of people who are warm and smart and funny and engaging. When the vibe is right and the conversation flows and we're laughing or sharing interesting stories or offering different perspectives on life, it's a wonderful thing.

It's such an essential part of how I like to interact with people, and the reason that I love reunions so much. To be with people who I love and admire, who I appreciate and accept for all that they are, just as they love and accept me for all that I am - it's the best thing.  So you have the buildup of anticipation waiting for the big event, and then the event itself is this explosion of joy and dancing and  drinking and laughing hysterically and hugging and talking and staying up until all hours, until it's over and the love hangover sets in and you realize that it'll be a long time before you'll again get to experience these people in this way.

And I'm fortunate that, between college and the various overseas schools I went to, there are enough reunions that I never have to go more than a couple or three years between big events.

But what about the time in between?

I have friends all over the country and the world, and because of the magic of social media, I am in regular - often daily - contact with my closest friends from Israel, India, McLean, UVa, law school, Atlanta, etc. My online exercise group has people posting daily from Canada, all over the U.S., the Netherlands, and Switzerland.  (There are also plenty of people who are Facebook "friends" but who I don't keep up with at all, and I don't consider lurking on someone's Facebook wall to be actual friendship, so they don't really count.)

But cultivating and maintaining real life, day-to-day friendships, especially in a place where I don't have family and where I didn't grow up, is harder.  It requires more effort because you have to step away from your phone or the computer and actually try to talk to new people and schedule a time to get off your ass and go do something.

I have definitely done that to a certain extent.  I have my crew of UVA sorority sisters who live here, and we do make an effort to get together, though it's never as often as we'd like.  Same with the small India crew that's here.

I also live in an incredible neighborhood with tree-lined streets and sidewalks and parks and neighbors who hang out and visit on the porch.  The elementary school is down the street, and the kids there are neighborhood kids.  We go to the pool that's 3 blocks from my house and as soon as we walk in my children are in the pool playing with 10 friends that they know from school and I can hang out with the parents.  There's a wonderful sense of community, and among the many great things about having children is the opportunity to meet the parents of their friends. It's a natural ice-breaker.

But there's a difference between knowing someone to say hi to them at drop-off before school starts, or chatting with them when we're both at the pool at the same time, and picking up the phone to call them and say, "hey, I'm kid-less this weekend, do you want to go to dinner?"

That kind of friendship takes work.  You have to actually and deliberately seek someone out and say, "hey, I'd like to hang out with you and be your friend."  Plus it can make you feel vulnerable, because what if they don't really want to hang out with you?  Then you'd feel like an idiot. Nobody wants to be rejected.

So even though whenever I run into parents or neighbors we always say, "we should really get together," it doesn't happen very often because ... well, because it takes effort and time and daily life gets in the way.

The effort is worth it, though.  This past weekend, after running into Kim, the mom of one of Josie's friends, we were talking about getting the girls together during the summer and I said, "and you know, it would be fun to get together to go have a drink or go to a movie."  So we did. We went to dinner the next night and that turned into hanging out on a restaurant patio gabbing until late, talking about life and marriage and raising kids and politics.  It was great.

Later in the weekend, after the aforementioned mediocre date with a guy who didn't pass what Kim termed the "can you imagine this guy naked on top of you" test, she was the one I debriefed with afterwards. And then I went home and went to the block party, where some of the neighbors who like to get together to play music invited me to bring my banjo to join them at some of their regular jam sessions.  A couple of the women and I even jumped in the bouncy castle, after laughing about the fact that the only reason it was safe was because none of us had to pee (you women with children know what I'm talking about).

In a few days I'm heading to Virginia for another college reunion. I have plans to meet up with so many friends, and I know it's going to be a weekend of sensory overload - joy and dancing and drinking and laughing hysterically and hugging and talking and staying up until all hours. I am beyond excited.

But I am also excited about the upcoming summer, forging new friendships and strengthening old ones with the people around me.




Thursday, May 26, 2016

#neverChesterCheetahImpersonator**

I've rarely weighed in on politics here - other people write about it far better than I could, plus arguing about politics on the internet strikes me as the ultimate exercise in futility.  But the fact that Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee is horrifying to me.  He has to be the most spectacularly unqualified presidential candidate ever - makes me long for the good ol' days of George W. fucking Bush.

The kids are scared as well.

Zeke asked me yesterday, "Mama, is Donald Trump going to be president after Obama?"

He has a particular affinity for Obama, who has been president for pretty much his entire life. They were both born in the same hospital in Hawaii, a fun fact that Zeke is super proud of and that he likes to share whenever it comes up.

"No," I responded.

"How do you know?"

"Because he's awful and enough people know that he's awful that they won't vote for him.  He's getting a lot of attention right now, but he's not going to win."

"Why is he awful?"

"He's a racist, for one thing. And a bully. And stupid."

"What's a racist?"

"It's someone who thinks that people should be treated differently because of their skin color, like for example thinking that people who have light skin are better than people with dark skin."

His eyes got really wide.  "Oh, no! We can't let that happen, not again!"

I'm assuming he was referring to slavery - I didn't want to burst his bubble by pointing out that racism remains alive and well.  But still, I was gratified by his reaction.

"If he did get elected president, would you still be my mom?"

"Of course. What do you mean by that?"

"Jerry [his friend from school] said that if Trump gets to be president, our moms won't be our moms anymore."

"No, that's not true. I'll always be your mom."

"I also heard that he doesn't like girls."

"Trump? No, he doesn't.  He treats girls - women - horribly.  He's a terrible person."

"If he got elected, would kids have to sit in the front seat of a car?"

Where are they getting this stuff??

"No, that's not something presidents do."

"If he became the president, would we leave and move somewhere else?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"Because this is where we live. This is our home. I would hate it if he were president, but it wouldn't make me leave."

"Well, I hope he doesn't win."

"Me too, baby.  And I truly don't believe he will.  It would be a disaster if he did.  But he won't."

From my lips to God's ears.

________________________________________

**For a comprehensive list of the different monikers Jezebel has bestowed on Trump, click here.  there are some wonderful doozies.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The case for anonymity

I started writing this blog ten years ago as a way to keep family and friends apprised of my impending move to Hawaii.  It was originally conceived as a chronicle - a record of what was going on - because I was getting ready to be on the other side of the world (almost) from the people I loved, and it seemed like a good way to maintain some contact on a bigger scale than email or the telephone could provide. Remember, this was before the days of social media.

Over the years, the blog has taken more of an intensely personal tone.  I feel like I developed a voice as a writer, and became a better writer, by making the essays more thematic - even when they were expository in nature - and by tackling subjects that were harder and more emotionally based than simply "here's a funny story" or "here's something crazy or sad or awful that happened."  In the process, I've developed a (modest) readership and have had people tell me that they were touched or moved or amused by something I had written, or that I had given a voice to something that they were feeling, particularly when it dealt with depression or grief.  And I am so, so humbled and gratified that anything I have written is valued - the internet is a huge place, and there are millions of reading options to choose from.  Particularly for readers who have stumbled on the blog and don't know me personally, the notion that anyone other than my mother would be take time out of their day to read and be interested in my ramblings is amazing to me.

But many readers do know me personally, and therein lies the rub.  As the blog has become more personal, my relationship with it has changed.  It's not just a place to record my life - although I love being able to go back and remember and relive things that I would have otherwise lost.  It's become a place to bare my soul, or to vent - it's become a form of therapy.  I write to work out feelings, to force myself to articulate what's in my head and my heart, and in doing so, to deal with it more effectively. Often I'll be thinking about something, and the urge to write about it in order to clarify how I feel about it or how I need to handle it is overwhelming.  And when the essay is written, it's cathartic.  I feel better - lighter and unburdened.

Much of that personal stuff I obviously don't mind sharing. But sometimes what I want to write about implicates someone else in a way that doesn't need to be made public, even if I make an effort to be as opaque as possible (which itself makes the writing feel contrived and fussy to me).  Sometimes I need to be careful not to betray someone else's confidence. Sometimes I can't say something because I'm legally bound not to. Or sometimes I just want to write about shit that my friends and family don't need to know about.

And when I'm not able to write because I feel obligated to self-censor, I've lost an important outlet for my own self-expression.

That is the case lately. I've got stuff swirling around in my head, and I can't write about it here, and not writing about it is giving me agita. I feel stifled.

So I've set up a separate, completely anonymous blog.**  It has no reference to who I am or where I live or what I do - just a place to be completely open and honest and raw as I want to be.  I'll still blog here sometimes, but many times I won't.


**I could keep a written journal, but I don't write as well that way, plus what if I die in a car crash and someone finds it in my house?  No fucking way.

Monday, May 16, 2016

It's all about the benjamins, baby

Having visited and lived in Third World countries growing up - particularly India - I'm well cognizant of how extravagantly I hit the jackpot in being born who I am.  American, solidly middle- to upper-middle class, with parents who were loving and supportive, who provided me with an amazing education, and who lived a life that allowed me to travel and experience the world in a way most people never get to. I was always well-housed, well-clothed, well-fed.  I've never had to worry about poverty or homelessness or deprivation.  I was praised for being smart and pretty and athletic, and made to feel like I could do anything I set my mind to.  I had every advantage.

I try to impart to my children how fortunate they are, but it's hard. When we lived in Venezuela, our house was down the street from a barrio.  Everywhere I went in India I encountered wretched slums, extreme poverty, and children begging in the streets.  But my children are rarely, if ever, face-to-face with children (or anyone, really) whose socio-economic status varies from theirs in any significant way.  Their biggest source of frustration is when I set the parental controls on their Kindles to only allow them an hour of screen time a day.

So even though yesterday's events were a little jarring, they also provided a valuable lesson.

I bought Josie a new bike on Saturday, so we spent the weekend riding around.  Yesterday we decided to ride along the South Platte River trail, which starts at the REI in part of downtown Denver.  It's a wide, smoothly paved path, perfect for tooling around with kids, and perfect for Josie to get the hang of her new wheels.  The trail takes you past Elitch Gardens, where we marveled at the scary looking rollercoasters, and past Mile High Stadium, where we marveled at the statue of the horse and talked about how great it was that the Broncos won the Superbowl.

After that, the scenery gets a little rougher.  Factories.  Power plants.  Industrial areas.

Then suddenly, about 2 miles down, we rounded a curve and saw an amazing playground.  The kids asked if we could stop and play, so we did.

When we took our bikes up, I realized we were smack in the middle of the housing projects (in fact, the headquarters for the Denver Housing Authority was right next to the playground).  But whatever - the playground was nice and it seemed safe enough, so I sat at one of the picnic tables while the kids climbed and jumped and had fun.

After a couple of minutes, a group of four kids came over and started playing as well.  They ranged in age from 2 to about 9.  There was no adult with them. The toddler had a full diaper.  The older kids were eating burritos out of tupperware containers.  They were all very sweet, and fell in comfortably with my kids.

Then a little girl came over and started causing trouble.  One of the other kids said she was 7, but she looked older.  Josie will be 7 in a few months and this girl outweighed her by at least 10 pounds.  She was at least as tall as Zeke, and looked strong and muscle-y.  I looked at her and thought, "in 15 years, she will look exactly the same, only taller and with worse skin." Dirty, stringy blonde hair, wearing fuzzy pajama pants out in public, with a shitty, mean look on her face.

She went over to one of the girls who looked to be about 7 or 8, and tried to snatch her food from her.  The girl backed off, but the mean girl followed and started throwing wood chips (from the playground), and then started hitting and kicking.

I ran over to break up the fight.  Mean Girl wouldn't stop trying to attack, so I stepped between her and the other girl and said, "you need to stop that nasty behavior right now.  Leave these kids alone and get away from here!"  She gave me a look that reminded me of a snake about to strike - cold, emotionless, and menacing.  But she backed off.

I went to comfort the little girl who had been attacked - she was crying and upset.  I put my arm around her and was trying to soothe her when Mean Girl returned, this time threatening one of the other kids.  I approached her again and told her to leave, and she backed off.

After that, she circled around the edges of the playground area like a shark, looking for any opening, any opportunity.  So I kept myself between her and the kids, and would step towards her and send her away when she started to approach one of the children.  Zeke and Josie were simultaneously freaked and in protective mode - they would put their arms around the other kids and yell at the girl to leave them alone.  But at no point did they say, "Mama, we're scared, let's get out of here."  I was kind of proud.

The kids were mesmerized by Zeke's and Josie's bikes, so we let them ride around the playground.  Mean Girl was continuing to roam in the background, but for the most part she kept her distance.  When she didn't, I would direct the kids to get behind me and order her to leave them alone.

I thought about taking my kids and riding off, but I also didn't want to leave the other children there unprotected.  Apparently their mom was off doing laundry, so I thought I'd wait a little while in the hopes that she came back.

Things came to a head when Zeke was letting the toddler sit on the seat of his bike while he pushed it around, giving the baby a little ride.  He was being incredibly sweet.  But he got about 15 feet away from me, and when he did, Mean Girl walked over to him and started kicking at him.  Because he was holding up the bike with the baby on it, he was powerless to respond.

I lost my shit.  I broke into a full sprint and screamed at her, "GET AWAY FROM MY SON!!" She started to run and I chased her until she had run behind one of the buildings about 200 feet away.

She never came back.  The other kids went home when they saw their mom coming back from the laundry.  And we climbed on our bikes and rode back to REI to get some lemonade at the Starbucks there, dragging our privileged white asses back to the safe, easy world we live in.

Later in the car, Josie said, "that girl was really mean.  She shouldn't act like that."

"I know, honey, you're right.  But the truth is, she's probably just behaving the way people in her home behave.  I bet she sees a lot of fighting and anger.  Her life is hard."

We talked about how lucky they are.  I explained that even though I knew it wasn't easy for them to deal with the fact that Daddy and I had split up, they now have two nice homes to live in, lots of people who love them and take care of them, nice friends, and plenty of food and toys and clothes and new bikes and books.

"You both live very fortunate lives compared to lots of other kids.  So you should try to be understanding.  Even though what that girl did wasn't OK, we should try to remember that her life isn't nearly as nice and easy as yours is."

After a minute, Zeke asked, "what if you or Daddy died?  Where would we go?"

"If Daddy died, you would live with me.  If I died, you would live with Daddy."

"What if you died and Daddy was already dead?  Could I go live with Jackson [his friend from across the street]?"

"No, in that case, you would probably go live with Josh or Sam, or Mimi and Papa.  I don't really know - I should really talk to them about it - but you would be with family and they would take care of you."

Josie said, "living with Josh would be fun.  He has a pool!"

Zeke was quiet for a while, deep in thought.

Then he piped up, "if we live with Sam, could I bring my Xbox?"

It's the important things we need to worry about, right?

Monday, May 09, 2016

Hey Nineteen

Dear Emma,

Today is your nineteenth birthday.  It's been over a year and a half since you left us, though it feels like a million years.  We are through the Year of Firsts, so this birthday doesn't feel quite as agonizingly raw as last year's.  It's more of a settled-in sadness.  Grief that sits in your bones, emerging like the pain of arthritis on a gloomy, rainy day.  Making you say, "oh, right.  There it is again."

I was thinking about what I was doing when I turned 19. My parents were stationed in El Salvador at the time.  Sam was there with them while your dad finished high school at a boarding school in New England, because the high school in Salvador wasn't any good.

I was in my second year at Virginia.  I had just pledged a sorority, was trying to figure out whether I wanted to major in something, and if so, what.  Exploring romances and adventures, going on road trips, staying out too late, having crushes, acting like a stupid teenager.

Where would you be now?  What would you be doing?  At the Naval Academy?  Studying engineering?  Having silly teenage adventures of your own, figuring out who you are in the world?

Thinking about that is the hardest part for me.  Of course I miss you - I miss talking to you and hearing about what you're up to.  I miss seeing you at Thanksgiving and at the beach.  But I didn't live with you or see you every day, so your absence feels different to me than it must for your dad and your sisters and your friends.  As much as anything else, I mourn the loss of the life you didn't get to live - the lessons and the heartbreaks and the adventures and triumphs that you would have experienced.  I mourn that loss for my brother and my nieces and my parents as well - knowing how hard it must be for them to not be with you.

We all loved you so much.  We still love you.

I was looking through old pictures and found this series of shots that I took when I was up visiting you when you were about four.  You had a little guitar and some sunglasses that Melba gave you and you were rocking out, singing and playing.  All sass and sunshine.






It was a joy to know you.  I will never stop loving you or thinking about you.

All my love,

Wendy

Friday, May 06, 2016

Yes, and...

I read Tina Fey's book Bossypants a few years ago, and one of the things that really struck me about it was how she bases her philosophy on life in general on the rules of improv.  And if you've ever taken a class in improv, you know that the very first rule is that you always have to say, "yes, and..."  In other words, accept what your scene partner has presented, and add to it.  Saying "no" kills the scene.

So if your partner starts with, "hands in the air, I have a gun, this is a stick-up," you wouldn't say something like, "that's not a gun," you would "yes-and" it by saying something like, "don't shoot! And hey, that's my mother's gun, how did you get it?"

Applying this to life in general, the goal is to say yes to opportunities.  Take risks.  Have adventures. Seek out the new and the interesting.  Don't make decisions based on fear of bad things that might happen, but rather on hope for the good things that might happen.

I've applied this philosophy to my own life, with mixed results.  I yes-and-ed a marriage to someone entirely different from and not well suited to me, and we all know how that went.  I yes-and-ed a move to Hawaii, which I mostly hated.  But all of those choices led me to where I am now, in a place I love with a job I really enjoy and beautiful children whom I adore.  That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger, right?

A couple of weeks ago my friend (and coworker) Lisa and I went to New Orleans for a legal conference.  The conference itself I found to be of limited utility - the statute that I work with hasn't been reauthorized in so long that at this point, there really isn't anything new under the sun and I feel like I could have given most of the presentations in my sleep.

But man, did I fall in love with New Orleans.  The music, the voodoo, murder, vampires and ghosts, hauntings, disaster, disease, heat, food - it's a place that feels viscerally full of all that life can offer.  We "yes-and-ed" the shit out of that place.

Jazz trio in the French Quarter.  Amazing musicians were playing all over the place.
We said yes to having our tarot cards and palms read, even though that stuff kind of scares me.  The tarot reading was at once crazily specific at points and meaninglessly generic at others:
  • The cards show that I have been through an extremely emotionally turbulent year and a half, which, duh.  I will continue to feel emotionally pushed and pulled all over the place for another 6 to 8 months, at which point things will settle down for me.  
  • A young man between the ages of 22 and 35, tall, with dark hair and dark eyes, is in my life, seeking money or some kind of financial assistance or guidance from me.  I found this bewildering, until after we came back to Denver, I interviewed a bunch of candidates for a position on my team.  The one I want to hire is a young man of 23, tall, with dark hair and dark eyes.  Does that fit?
  • In a few months, I will meet an older woman (described by the tarot reader as "over 35" - pffft) who will become important to me, and I will remain close to her for the rest of my life.  Ok. We'll see where this one goes.
  • I will continue to have turbulent dreams and difficulty sleeping.  No surprise there.
  • The answer to my secret question is "yes."
We said yes to having our palms read.  My palm shows that I am intelligent and stubborn, have no tolerance for being lied to or feeling like someone is bullshitting me, that I am very much rooted in "this world" - I don't have my head in the clouds.  My palm shows 2 healthy pregnancies (yep), a long lifeline (she said I'd live to be 102, which is the age my great-grandfather lived to), and no sign of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's or strokes.  Cool.  She also said my palm shows a strong, 50-60 year marriage or love relationship.  If I were to have a 60 year marriage, I'd pretty much need to get married 6 years ago, but I'll take a prediction of a long, strong love that fits within the timeline I've got left.

We said yes to a ghost and vampire tour.  I now want to go back to New Orleans and stay in the Andrew Jackson Hotel in the French Quarter (I joked that it would be changing its name to the Harriet Tubman Hotel - that got a few chuckles), so that I can experience a hotel haunted by the ghosts of mischievous little boys who run around the halls making noise and use guests' cameras to take photos of them while they're sleeping.  

We also saw the LaLaurie Mansion, which has a particularly gruesome, terrifying past. It was owned by a socialite couple who used part of the house to torture and conduct medical experiments on slaves.  The house continues to be haunted by the screams and apparitions of the tortured slaves.  Our tour guide is so creeped out by the house that she won't stand next to it - we viewed it from across the street.  The following evening, Lisa and I were wandering around the French Quarter when all of a sudden we realized where we were - walking right by the LaLaurie house under the balconies.  It freaked us out.  We apologized to the ghosts and scurried away.

Ursuline Street.  Home to three residences, all in a row, where over the course of a century women were murdered and dismembered by their husbands or lovers.
After wandering around, we said yes to foot massages at a random reflexology place we passed on the street.  Why not, right?  Who knows if the people had any actual training in reflexology, but it felt great.

Hurricanes and planter's punch was consumed.  Lisa won a bunch of money playing blackjack at a casino.  

Late that night, my friend sent me a text, asking about the trip.  I told him that I needed to come back to New Orleans, not on business, and walk through one of the the above-ground cemeteries and listen to music and learn about voodoo and eat spicy food and just generally cavort.  He responded, "yes, we do."





Thursday, April 07, 2016

Get with the gravy, Davy, everybody eats when they come to my house

Since getting home from work yesterday, and with slight detours to make the kids dinner, put them to bed, and then get them up and off to school this morning, I have spent approximately eleventy billion hours organizing and cleaning and putting things away in the new kitchen, and also reassembling the dining room.  And sweeping and vacuuming and dusting and sweeping some more and vacuuming again and wiping away dust and dust and more dust.

Good lord, the dust.  That fine, silky grey construction dust that feels like it regenerates itself the minute you pass a cloth over a surface.

A part of me wouldn't have been at all surprised if Dorothea Lange had shown up with her camera to capture it all for posterity.

But it's mostly put together.  I'm still thinking about where I might move this thing or that category of stuff to make everything more functional, but for the most part, it's done.

And even though living through the construction was kind of a drag, I have absolutely no complaints about my contractor or the guys who did the installation.  Every morning they showed up at 8 and worked all day and every evening I came home from work and progress had been made.  They said it would take three weeks, and it took three weeks. It cost what they quoted me.  They were meticulous about making sure everything was the way I wanted it and they cleaned up their messes and they were polite and friendly.

I love it so much.  The old kitchen was dingy and felt dark and cramped and cluttered and ugly.  The new kitchen is so bright and spacious and functional.

Out with the old and fug:

Northwest corner/north wall

West wall

Southwest corner

South wall
East wall
In with the new and beautiful:

Northwest corner/north wall
West wall
Southwest corner/south wall

Southeast corner/ East wall

North wall, view into the living room

View of the breakfast bar from the living room (I'm getting bar stools this weekend)
Those of you who spent time in my house in Atlanta will recognize the orange on the walls.  The color is called Colorado Dawn - I couldn't resist using it again.

The new space makes me want to read through cookbooks and come up with interesting menus and plan parties. I have visions of bustling around, drinking wine and chatting with friends while I make saffron chicken & rice or a Passover brisket or cherry-apple pie.  Or of making pancakes for the kids' breakfast while dancing around listening to music.

So when's everyone coming to dinner?