Thursday, October 27, 2011
Sunday, October 09, 2011
First of all, that means I’m going to be 51 someday. It’s nine years off, but it’s more true than it ever was that this is going to happen. It's more true because I can visualize half an hour of each of these ensuing days perfectly. I’m tethered to the brick facade and royal blue railings of Sacajawea, and they’re pulling me closer and closer to my death.
I’m having a difficult time remembering that I’m not actually 51 now. GOOD CHRIST, I’M 51! Oh, wait, no.
Note to the 51-and-over crowd who may be reading this: It’s not you, it’s mortality.
That’s the thing. If our lives are a horizontal timeline that reads in classic Western style from left to right, I feel tucked over to the right a little more than before. I remember feeling myself on the left-hand side of that timeline. I had forever to figure out what I was going to do or be. I could blossom in my own sweet time. I didn’t have to nail it down. The right hand side of the timeline felt positively wide-open and breezy. Horizonless, almost. The map just faded off.
But now I can feel a wall over to my right. I’m not about to bump into it or anything, but I’m aware of its presence, kinesthetically. My body knows its there.
And that brings me to my topic. The body. My body. The ol’ vessel. I’m going to sail in this thing to the grave, and I’m realizing that I’m at some sort of turning point. Here’s a Philip Barry mash-up, from that old beauty, The Philadelphia Story:
My, she was yar...It means easy to handle, quick to the helm, fast, right. Everything a boat should be, until she develops dry rot.
I’m dedicated to the whole notion of yar, inside and out. It’s something to shoot for, that fineness and agility in all the domains that matter to you. But for most of my life, I’ve been focusing on my mental or emotional or spiritual yar. The inner yars.
A few years ago, after I had Finn, I made my first serious run at physical yar. I’d joined a nearby gym to drop the last bits of baby weight. When you joined this gym, you got two free sessions with a personal trainer to get you going. I remember looping away on an elliptical, waiting for my trainer to nab me for my first session. And then somebody tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned around and there was Niles.
(Niles, wherever you are, I salute you. Move back to Seattle so you can train me some more.)
Niles was -- as it can never hurt a trainer to be -- ridiculously handsome. His chiseled features were the stuff of Roman coins, truly. And as we embarked on what would turn out to be a year of thrice-weekly workouts, it became clear that Niles was also a deeply good, decent, searching person. We talked about all sorts of things as he made me stronger, enjoyed a shared philosophical bent. He was just a good dude.
And also, he was really, really good-looking. I got 2.5 times stronger than I would have with another trainer, because when your trainer is that attractive, you put out at least 2.5 times the effort. I should really say that I got 9 or 10 times stronger than I would have in other circumstances. It's instinctual. It's why birds have bright feathers.
It was frankly hilarious, how much I was fronting during our workouts. You see, when I was growing up, my family was engaged in a constant competition to see who could be the biggest wilting lily. Whoever was the sickest or faintest or most exhausted won the day’s sympathy prize. But we were lavish with sympathy for anybody’s pitiful old complaint. One of us would collapse in the front door after, I don’t know, going out to buy a stapler, and give the traditional extravagant Kunz family announcement/groan, “I’m HOME,” and then proceed to lay out the tiny physical indignities of the last hour and a half that had done us in. We expected -- nay, felt entitled to -- and received! -- three sets of rapt and understanding ears for our litanies.
But you’d never know it from my sessions with Niles. I gave the mythical 110% every step of the way. Niles would have me down in a plank, and he’d have his little timer out, and I’d hold that goddamn plank until my muscles were all screaming “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?!” (Shh, muscles. Zip it. We’re somebody else right now.) And Niles would exclaim with real joy, “That’s great! That’s thirty seconds longer than you could do it before!” And I’d be giving off the vibe, pshaw, well, hey. That’s just me. I’m all heart. I never say die. I just don’t know how to do it another way.
Dave, of course, if he’s reading this, is snorting into his soup. I can’t escape my childhood completely. Every day, all day, I’m like “Oh, my finger” and “Ouch, my hip” and “I feel dizzy” and “The back of my neck is killing me” and “I have a little sore throat”. And the Rowleys are a different proposition altogether. Dave’s mom, Larraine, is the quintessential Rowley tough nut. She lives out her days in bona-fide screaming back agony from a botched surgery she underwent thirty-plus years ago. But she powers through it and does whatever she sets her mind to, and will never, never let on that she’s in pain unless she really can’t move any more. When you see some slightly pursed lips and she admits out loud that there’s a little pain, you can bet that anybody else alive would be screaming for an ambulance. So it’s safe to say that Dave is not impressed with my frequent bids for physical sympathy. Let’s say that he’s visibly unimpressed.
Me: “My finger!”
Dave: Blank look.
Me: Pregnant stare.
Dave: Eventual grudging nod. Not of acknowledgement. I-have-to-do-this-or-she-won’t-go-away. That nod.
Me (a vibe): That’s it?
Dave (a vibe): Oh, that’s it, all right.
Okay. Okay, but if I die of possible minor floating arthritis in the next few minutes, you’re going to feel like a real heel. Play “Little Wing” at my funeral, by the way.
Anyway. Working with Niles for that year -- up until I got pregnant and then miscarried and then got pregnant again with Fred -- transformed my body, for certain. I was as slender as I’d ever been, but this time I had muscles, and all kinds of physical verve and confidence. And I became one of his favorite clients, one of his real success stories. But, most happily, for the first time in my life I felt that my exterior matched the best of my interior.
When I was growing up and going through my young adult life, I always had this feeling that my forties were going to be a really excellent time for me. 40 was my target age. Things were going to start to get good. The right side of the timeline may have been amorphous and foggy, but I felt something glowing waiting for me right around that age range. I pictured myself like some sort of warrior elf queen, strong and bright and agile. Maybe carrying a spear of some kind. Wearing some kind of killer boots, invariably.
After I had Fred, all my work with Niles was lost. My fraught pregnancy had me tethered to bedrest, and I kissed all of those core muscles -- as you do -- goodbye. And then last year I had surgery, and it’s been a long road to recovery from there. Eight weeks stuck in bed watching Netflix and eating vanilla wafer and Scharffen Berger sandwiches is not a recipe for vitality. It’s a recipe for a super fat ass, is what it’s a recipe for.
But forces are at work now, finally, pulling me back towards yar. One, there’s that wall over to my right that keeps whispering to me, “Now or never.” This is when I’m forging the body that’s going to contain me for the rest of the ride. I can extend the ride, I can make it more fun, I can give myself more energy, I can give myself a prettier vessel. I can make an elf queen suit.
And two, two is mysterious. Let me give a foundation for this. Eight years ago, I met Dave on a yoga retreat on Maui, and within five days we were practically engaged. One night at dinner, there under the stars with Dave and all our fellow students, I couldn’t eat a thing. I couldn’t even speak. I felt like my body was being filled with light, like my being at the deepest level was being refined by some force I felt but couldn’t comprehend. I felt something humming in me, transforming me, right there in front of my untouched plate. Like something wanted a better life for me, and was cooking me right there in order for me to receive it.
In a much quieter and less dramatic way, I feel like the same thing is happening right now. My diet has spontaneously changed. My sweet tooth, a powerful thing, has all but dissolved. My attraction to crappy food of every stripe has vamoosed. The leftover Fred/vanilla wafer weight is coming off. I’ve begun making these smoothies for myself, gulping down mountains of greens. I can’t recommend this enough, my friends. I’m even going to give you the recipe for this insanely good thing. It feels like the most magical elixir. A cup and a half of greens, packed tight. A banana. A kiwi. Some mango. 2 tablespoons of protein powder. (The hemp sort is really good, not chalky at all.) 2 tablespoons of coconut butter. 2 cups of water. Blend away. Drink it on an empty stomach, otherwise it won’t feel good. (Do believe me about that.) On the one hand, it's a smoothie. It's just a smoothie. But on the other hand, it's a message to my body, a message to my life. I don't even want to articulate it and cheapen it. It's precious, whatever it is.
I really do think there’s some kind of quickening going on. I feel it personally, and I’m seeing it everywhere. Something’s turning up the heat under us all, I think, cooking us a little faster. And I’m feeling those two forces so keenly. The increasing nearness of death and some insistent life force in reply. There’s a call, and I can’t resist trying to answer it, and now I’m trying to answer it with everything I have, even this old shell.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Up with bright color and flowing, feminine, ruffly shapes. Up with glossy red lipstick, up with perfume samples. Up with Drew Barrymore and her lush features, her pearlescent, peacock-toned Cover Girl eye shadow.
Down with/boo to/spit on neutrals and all black-and-white photography. Down with boring, business-y shapes. Down with severe tailoring. Down with plain handbags. Down with minimalism. Execute minimalism, gangland-style. Toss the gun and stroll out into the street, cape fluttering behind you, never looking back.
Finn is the love child of Martha Stewart and Ziggy Stardust, the love child of Lord Byron and Kramer. He's the Black Stallion, he's a hothouse orchid. Brains coming out of his ears, and an almost wasteful amount of physical beauty. And I don't want to talk about the sensitivity, lest I disturb it from all the way over here in the other room. He's a one-off, I'm trying to tell you. I rarely talk about him here because he taxes my descriptive powers too much. You can see how much I'm revving the engine already. I promise you that these are the most accurate, least over-the-top descriptions available to me.
All children are totally special. I know it. I know. I really do. No "but" here.
But* I'm just watching my now-very-heavily-described, indescribable firstborn go out and interact for the first time in a big way with a world that is not exactly tailored for his...do I call it a type?
*because it's down here
Today was day seven, and it was the first day that Finn went into class without crying and clinging to us. To Dave, I should say. After the first three days, it became abundantly clear that I shouldn't be anywhere near his classroom entry. I was already taking a quarter of a Xanax in the morning to try not to cry when he cried, and that dose was starting to look too small. (You're probably like, right, because: a quarter of a Xanax. I'm small, see? And, uh...sensitive.)
Finn would be fine first thing in the morning. No problem getting ready for school. We have a mixed CD in the car that's all Finn's favorite songs, and we'd listen to it on the way there. No problem during "Chicken Grabber". Looking good through "Staying Alive", especially while Fred bobs his head to the music. ("Staying Alive" is Fred's signature tune, has been from the first minute he heard it and began rocking out, and holy shit, does it suit him. Fred, my little man, you're a story for another day.) Not bad even through Booker T. Jones, as we're pulling up to the school. Things would start wobbling up on the playground as we waited for the school bell -- though he'd be maintaining -- and then as soon as that SUPER FUCKING LOUD STARTLING AIR RAID SIREN* of a bell rang, he'd shoot into misery.
*none of this aided by the fact that whenever the bell rings, all the children instantly scream.
When the bell blasts, all the kids line up outside their classroom and get ready for their teachers to throw open the doors for another day of totally! fun! learning! -- and for the other kids, that's exactly what it seems like. They're grinning and bobbing around and ignoring their moms and dads because they have all been to preschool. But, as I said in an earlier post, Finn only went to preschool for three days. (Topic for another day, if ever. To sum up: Hey, moms and dads! Send your kids to preschool!)
Bell rings. Finn crumples fast and hard. He's crying, grabbing on to me. I'm patting his head and rubbing his back and talking brightly to him while invisible gangs of thugs kick the shit out of my heart. I gesture for Dave to take over, since Mama is a more primal pull -- I've got that womb, see? -- than Pops. I stand a few feet away with Fred, blowing kisses and making little thumbs-up and tough-fist "You can do it!" gestures as the line moves forward -- forcibly, for Finn. Dave is moving him toward the classroom. Finn is trying everything he can. He's digging his feet into the asphalt and pulling backwards, and when that doesn't work, he's hanging off of Dad's hand with his feet off the ground, getting airlifted to his doom. It would be hilarious if it weren't so heartwrenching.
As soon as Dave has him in the classroom, I squeeze Fred in my arms and the tears come flying. Other moms hover sympathetically nearby, offering encouragement. I laugh-cry-talk with them, and pretty soon they're welling up, too.
I've never, with either of my babies, been drawn to do anything like a parent's group. That always seemed like far too broad a stroke. Parent's group? Mom's group? It felt like it was casting the net way too wide. "Hey, honey, I'm off to people group!" But in the last week and a half, I've changed. If you are the mother or father of a kindergartener, we are bosom buddies, a priori. I don't need to know one more thing. If your child has been in kindergarten for seven days like mine has, we might as well be buried together, you and I. We are that close.
And I have to say that this group of parents seems particularly delightful. I'm starting to get school spirit, frankly. Sacajawea Elementary and all associated with it kick ass as far as I'm concerned. Finn told me excitedly today that the principal, Barry Dorsey, stands on the playground and yells "Laaaaaaaaadeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez and......" and all the kids scream out "GENTLEMEN!!!!!!" And then...something? Finn didn't feel like telling me anything else, so I don't know what comes next. But just that nugget of information is perfect.
Where are we? Right, Finn's inside. And this little illustration stands for five out of the seven days he's been to school. He's in the Peace Corner. The other kids are patting his back, holding his hand. (I die at the sweetness.) A pretty little girl named Trinity who sits at his desk is telling him, "You don't have to cry EVERY day!" (Dave reported happily that yesterday Trinity began her wifely ministrations with Finn, telling him all about the good things they would get to do that day, even going so far as to reach over and adjust the zipper at the top of his jacket like she was straightening his tie. Finn, all what is this girl doing? -- and ever the smoothie -- kicked her lightly in the foot. Trinity said to Dave, "He kicked me!" but it was clear that she didn't mind and this wouldn't stop her.) (Oh, Trinity. Be safe out there.)
But let me cut to the chase. He's doing better! When I pick him up every day, he does not look remotely like a guy who's been to hell. I ask him about his day in the car on the way home.
"What stories did you read this morning?"
and he answers:
"The Napping House. It was something about a Grandma and some animals and a boy."
or he answers:
"A very important story about little kids." "What happens to the kids in the story?" "I don't know."
or he answers:
"STAR WARS. I HATE STAR WARS. I don't like all the fighting." "Who was fighting?" "Nobody. It's Star Wars Alphabet."
or he says:
"Some story about a bear whose name begins with a C."
I think he's making friends? Maybe? I'm not sure. In any case, a lovely thing happened. I was asking him about the kids in class, and it came out that there was a boy he hadn't talked to yet that appealed to him. R.J. is his name. He murmured it fervently to me, hiding his face in my arm. "R.J.!" That's who he wanted to be friends with. I didn't know who R.J. was, but then Dave told me he's a little guy with a limp and a withered hand. And then Finn told me a couple of days ago that he'd become friends with R.J. at lunchtime. R.J. sat with him and point-blank asked him if he wanted to be friends, and Finn said "sure". I yelled the story to Dave as Finn relayed it to me, and when I got to the part where Finn accepts, I fucked up the story (of course) and said that Finn had said yes. Finn set me straight. "No," came the adjustment, "I said SURE."
Now, I have no idea if Finn has spoken to or hung out with R.J. since then. I asked him who he played with at morning recess today, and the answer was "A jump rope." He just ran around the playground by himself, dragging a jump rope. And that's what he was doing when I picked him up later in the day. Just playing by himself, as he always is when I pick him up, dragging a jump rope around. He's not with the other kids, he hasn't fallen into a game with anybody, and I can't see R.J. anywhere, or Ian, who seems to have made some tighter friends. But he doesn't seem distressed about it. He's just playing. It's cool. It's at least cool enough.
He told me this morning -- before his triumphant, not-traumatized entry into the classroom on his own steam (!) -- as we were getting him ready for school, "You know, by morning recess I'm usually fine." And he asked me how long it took me to get used to kindergarten. I have no idea how long it took me to get used to kindergarten, but that's totally beside the point, which was that it was time to begin bullshitting. "Let's see. What day of kindergarten is this for you? Day seven? I think it was...yeah. Right around seven days into it." He was satisfied, and breezily continued getting ready.
Tonight we looked at Vogue briefly before bed, and as I sailed past a page, he asked me to go back. I circled back a few pages, and asked what he was looking for. He said, "I thought I saw somebody who looked like R.J." When we determined that R.J. was not featured in this month's Vogue, we turned off the lights and I sang him to sleep.
Thursday, September 08, 2011
"Dropped him off." My, that sounds breezy. Peeled him, struggling, off our legs? Wrenched ourselves from his grip and airlifted ourselves out of the classroom as soon as his teacher, Mr. Norman, swung in to relieve us? Whatever it was, it was fucking difficult.
Let me back up a little. We put in a bid last spring for Finn to go to an alternative school that we fell in love with, but came up goose eggs. On our list of preferences we'd put approximately one zillion schools ahead of the one to which he'd have naturally been assigned, because I happened to go to that particular school in 4th grade when we first moved to Seattle from New York, and it was the worst year of my schooling life. Holy smokes, it was shitty. Abysmal educationally, barely livable socially. And even if it had improved bunches in 30 years (whiiiiich...we'll find out that it hadn't), the sense memory of walking into that place every morning would have made me queasy.
But we didn't get assigned to any of those zillion schools, and Finn was headed to Olympic Hills. Aaa! We were ready to make the best of it. We were going to embrace the "local is good" paradigm, get involved, shine it up as much as we could. But aaa!
And then three weeks before school was set to start, we got a letter from the principal of Olympic Hills saying that since they didn't meet testing standards, they were legally obligated to give us the option to send our child to another school that did. We were given a list of three alternatives, and on that list was our #2 choice.
Sacajawea! Sweet little Sacajawea Elementary. Seattle public schools are going to hell in a handcart, but Sacajawea is one of the few in town that keeps getting better and better. "A gem in the rubble", said the Seattle Times. A gem! In the rubble, sure, but a gem! We'll take it.
I took Finn to check it out a few days before school began. They'd posted class lists on the door, so we'd find out which kindergarten teacher he'd be assigned. Kit Norman, Room 3. I imagined Kit Norman to be a sweet old lady, but then a fifth-grader and his mom rolled up to the door and we fell into conversation. The boy, Ari, said to Finn, "You got Mr. Norman! He's the best."
Finn got a letter in the mail that day from Mr. Norman, welcoming him to school, and telling him about all the cool stuff they were going to do that year. They'd learn to read and write, they'd learn about animals and dinosaurs and insects, they'd play math games, they'd learn about Asia, and collect pennies to help their communities, and go roller-skating and go to the theater, and on and on. I didn't even notice the letter in the pile of mail until late that evening, after everyone had gone to bed. I read it and my heart swelled. The good vibes of Mr. Norman practically flew off the page. There was also a little form for Finn to fill out - "All About Me" - which we worked on together the next day. Now Mr. Norman knows that Finn likes gardening and watering plants and he wants to learn about all sorts of different trees. Big leaf maples and Norway maples, specifically, if we could be so bold. Mr. Norman knows that Finn likes baking buttermilk biscuits and blueberry muffins, and that he likes to play both hide and seek and "running hide and seek". ("It's easy to make up a new game," explains Finn. "You just take one game, like running, and put it together with another game." Polo Monopoly! Synchronized Twister! Pin the Tail on Kevin Bacon! He's right, this is easy.)
Finn wanted to wear two different plaid shirts and a pair of plaid shorts to orientation. He wouldn't budge on the shirts, but I convinced him to go slightly subtler on the pants. A neutral windowpane plaid, at least. And he had me draw two hearts for Mr. Norman - a large one containing a smaller, smiling one. And then he drew an arm and a hand coming off the smaller heart, offering a spiky flower. Then he went into the garden and picked some clover for Mr. Norman, which we wrapped in a small jewelry box.
Finn's never been to school. No, wait, not true. He went to preschool for three days. There are a few reasons behind this, but this post is already fixing to be ten miles long. Things conspired against, let's just say. So kindergarten, which is already momentous for all parents and kids, is a little closer to jumping out of an airplane than it is to jumping off a high dive for Finn.
Orientation went okay, as well as can be expected. It's just an hour, and you're with your mom and dad, so how bad can it be? Finn was a little nervous and weirded-out, but he handled it, and eventually he befriended a little boy out on the playground, a great little guy named Ian. (Before then, he just wasn't quite connecting with any of the kids out there, and so he kept pasting a cheerful smile on his face and coming back to play with steady old Fred, who's Sancho Panza to Finn's Don Quixote. Meanwhile, I was thankful I'd brought enormous sunglasses, because seeing him out there tentatively approaching kids and then thinking better of it - and then standing there awkwardly, and then playing with forced wildness with Fred - made tears shoot to my eyes over and over.)
Mr. Norman wasn't what I expected. I'd pictured a gentle bear, some kind of cuddly nerd all grown up. Unsurprisingly, that wasn't the actuality. Mr. Norman is more the golden-boy type, like a camp counselor or tennis star or student body president. He's blond and grinning and brisk. And he's great. He announced to us all that he adores his job, he could never imagine himself doing anything else, and that he wants to give kids the best possible first impression of school, to make it as fun as possible. It's rare to get a male kindergarten teacher, and even rarer to get one like Mr. Norman, who really does give off terrific light.
When the first day came, we walked Finn into the class and saw that - miracle of miracles - his assigned seat was right next to Ian, his new friend. (I'll tell you right now that I am giving credit for this miracle to my dear departed dad and father-in-law. As soon as I saw their names next to each other at their little desk, I knew that the grandpas had a hand in this. It's just like them. And furthermore, I think there was some heavenly string-pulling for Finn to end up at Sacajawea, since when I went down to public school headquarters to enroll him there, they were puzzled in the extreme. Olympic Hills was not, in fact, on their list of schools that was required to give kids the chance to opt out. But since I'd shown up, they'd see what they could do. Strangeness.) (I love fairy tales and I'll love them until the end. I don't like to embrace a prosaic explanation if I can find one that gives me goose bumps.)
The wall was lined with smiling parents, and the kids all seemed bubbly and ready to go. As the time came for us to leave, Finn got more and more nervous and then began to cry. I signaled for Dave to take over, and then grabbed Fred (who was ready to enter kindergarten that very day, judging by his enthusiasm for the space) and ran. I made it out the door to the playground and out of view of the classroom window before I burst into tears. Holy fuck. I laughed while I cried, because there I was, the living cliche, the brand-new kindergarten mom beside herself. Dave followed in a couple of minutes, and reported that Mr. Norman had swooped in to comfort Finn and to show him to the "Peace Corner", a groovy little spot in the classroom with a tiny couch and books and a big peace sign hanging on the wall above a basket of stuffed animals. Ian had asked, "Is he crying?" and Mr. Norman responded sweetly, "Yeah, sure he is. It's his first time going to school, so it's a big thing for him."
We went upstairs to the welcome brunch for new parents, but I didn't see one single Bloody Mary available anywhere, so that was a wash.
Oh, man. This will have to be a two-parter. You might think, "Hey, Tina. We're fine with just this one part. You're really more his mom than any of us are, let's remember." But you'll have to bear with me. There's more to report. The rest of the first day, the overwhelming kindness of the other parents, and Mama Crying In the Playground, Round Two. I promise I won't go on and on about this forever. It's just that the first time you jump out of an airplane, your diary entry that night is a little longer than normal.
Okay, then. Off to pick him up from day two. Blow on the dice with me for day three, readers.
P.S. I thought of a solution for this whole thing. I think all of us Rowleys should become huge stoners starting right now. We'll just all smoke weed right before school. Finn, too. All of us. Fred, everybody. We'll just get wicked stoned first thing in the morning. (A Great Toking Sound.) "Heeeeey, Sacajawea. What's the word?" Roll into school, drop him off, roll out of there, no problem. Learning will be fun! Shh, I think this is a no-fail plan.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Traveling with your mother at 21 feels old-fashioned. It’s awkward and sweet and a little frustrating, like you’re going to a church luncheon for six weeks straight when what you most like to do at the moment is flash your driver’s license to bouncers and act nonchalant in bars, as though you’d been going to them for years.
We’ll fly on Scandinavian Airlines to Copenhagen, and then we’ll take a smaller plane to Helsinki, and then we’ll take a couple of trains to Savonlinna, where my Aunt Aune and Uncle Jorma will meet us.
On the flight from Seattle to Copenhagen, we order the vegetarian meals. When our trays are set down in front of us, it’s clear that vegetarianism has not made it to Scandinavia. In the biggest compartment of the tray, where the main course goes, there’s a bright white oval sponge. In the smaller compartment, where the side dish lives, there’s a tiny bunch of red grapes. People who’ve ordered the standard breakfast are eating croissandwiches stuffed with eggs and cheese. We’re not vegans. We could eat that. We feel jealous and sad. We taste our sponges. They don’t taste like anything. They taste like texture.
When we get to Helsinki, everything smells like apricots and freshly cut wood. We check into the Hotel Helka and fall asleep in our tiny room. When we wake up, it’s 4 o’clock, but here’s the trick about arriving in Finland in the summertime and waking up with jet lag; you have no idea which 4 o’clock it is, because it’s always light. And it’s rainy that day, so we can’t even try to hazard a guess from the sun’s angle. My mom and I bat theories back and forth about whether it’s early morning or late afternoon. We finally shower and get dressed and go down to the restaurant and see if we can pick up any clues. There’s a buffet in the dark little restaurant with platters of cheese, cheese, cheese, and some rye bread and some more cheese. Fuck if I have any new idea what time it is, but my mom announces confidently that this is breakfast.
We take the train to Savonlinna. Aune and Jorma pick us up and take us to their house, and then the six weeks quickly compact themselves into a routine that looks like this:
1) My mom and I wake up six inches from each other. We’re sharing a fold-out couch. It’s weird, but kind of nice. We grin at each other first thing every day, always surprised by our proximity.
2) We have breakfast. Our first breakfast, I should say. My aunt stuffs us with food all day long. Breakfast is always at 7:00. Rice porridge, rye pastries, cheese, bread, fruit. We noodle around the house for a couple of hours, planning the day, taking showers. By 10 am, my aunt figures that we’re probably starving and she makes a fresh batch of rice porridge, and though we’re not even remotely hungry, we eat big bowls of it with butter and cinnamon and sugar just because she went to the trouble.
3. We drive somewhere to see something. Aune always brings a bag of Fazer candy. This is the best hard candy in the world, because it’s not really hard. It’s slightly crispy on the outside, but then it gives way to a soft, oozy chewiness. There are fruit, coffee, chocolate, and some delicious mystery flavors. I gaze out the back seat windows at the birch trees passing by, my candy supply constantly replenished. Birches look to me like people who’ve had a spell cast on them to make them trees. The black markings on their trunks look like eyes and mouths. They seem romantic and sad, exiled into treedom. They’re my favorite tree in all the world, and Finland is blanketed with them. We sightsee or visit relatives, and stop for lunch and then for cake and pastries.
4. We come home and sit in the back yard and read novels, and I smoke cigarettes. My aunt and uncle smoke, so they don’t mind if I do, too, so my mom’s disapproval is overruled. There’s a porcupine that comes and visits the back yard every day. My aunt calls out in her somewhat broken English, “Porky pie!” I’m reading The Three Musketeers, and demolishing Camel after Camel. If it’s raining, I disappear into the RV parked in front of the house and sit at the tiny table painting watercolor after watercolor of birches that look and act like people. I paint a picture of a birch playing itself like a violin, and my aunt has it framed and hangs it on their wall.
5. Dinner is enormous. Then my aunt and uncle and mom watch Matlock in Finnish, while I read some more or listen to Elvis Costello or The Pretenders on my Walkman. When it’s bedtime, we pull thick window shades down to block that crazy, endless sun.
The days run into each other, maximally boring and very cozy. My mom and aunt and I sit at her dining room table, and they gossip in Finnish while I sit there, glazed. My mom is a neglectful translator. They’ll chatter on for a while, and then my mom will remember I’m there and throw me a non-sequitur bone - “Cabbage casserole of some sort.” “The Santa Claus was drunk.” - and I’ll muse on that for a while until the next nonsense phrase floats my way.
Once we go to some sort of picnic in a gazebo in the woods with a lot of other older Finnish people. We eat stew that’s filled with tiny fish that you’re supposed to eat whole. I crunch into one and gag wildly, my eyes watering, my mouth and throat filled with what feels like thousands of tiny, sharp bones. I’m having a full-blown fish bone crisis, and all the old Finns are staring at me while I choke and make inelegant noises for what feels like forever. Another time we go to a wedding, and I find out I have two distant male cousins about my age, and they’re impossibly good-looking and friendly. Antti-Jussi and Olli-Pekka. I have a wicked temporary crush on both of them, but nothing could be more pointless than sexual feelings at an afternoon wedding in Finland with your mom and aunt and uncle. Another time, my mom and I go to a gallery in Helsinki, where a Polish painter named Jan Jagielski is having a show. He’s there that day. His paintings are beautiful, all these wistful grey-green figures. The artist is also beautiful. He’s in his early 40’s, with shaggy dark hair and baggy, elegant clothing. My mom and I simultaneously fall in love with him, and she tells him that I’m an artist, too. He responds very warmly, and the two of us wander around the empty gallery together and he tells me all about his paintings. On the train back to the hotel, my mom and I fantasize about me marrying the artist. She considers the twenty-year age difference between us and dismisses it as an obstacle. “Papa was sixteen years older than Granny. And your dad is eight years older than I am. It doesn’t matter. He seemed smitten with you.” When I come back from Finland, I will buy a textbook and try to teach myself Polish.
On midsummer night we take a boat down through several connecting lakes to a cousin’s house in the woods. We stay up all night and eat cold cucumber soup and cloudberry cake, and I wander in the forest next to the lake. Everything is golden. Three a.m. sunshine is the most golden thing you’ve ever seen, especially bouncing off a lake onto birch trees. The sun goes down for about one minute, and then bounces right back up like it was just playing peekaboo.
We’re going to travel back to Seattle the day before I turn 22. The sun has just started to give way to a couple of hours of a night/evening hybrid, which feels disappointing. The sun is capitulating and I don’t want it to. I stay up the night before we leave, sitting in the window seat of our fancy Helsinki hotel, looking at the dark creeping at the edges of the sky. I’m going to be really glad to get home to see the proper moon and stars, and to pretend to be an adult and drink in bars again, but when I look over at my mom asleep in that big white fluffy bed, I feel a kick in my chest: the preliminary pang of separation.
Monday, July 04, 2011
Happy Birthday, you old horse! 235. You don't look a day over a hundred and eleven.
When I was traveling in Europe back in 1992, Nirvana had recently burst onto the global scene. Lord, it was nice moving around in their glowing wake as a Seattleite. When you travel the world as an American, you frequently get that "Hello, NEWman" vibe from the natives. We've done plenty to bring that on, but it was a relief to be welcomed as a friend. "You're from Seattle? Fantastic! What is it like?!" Oh, it's magic. Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell and all of us young kids, we all live on the same block, and, well, we all go out onto our stoops and make meaningful, discordant noises in our flannel shirts. It's like Swinging London, or riding on Ken Kesey's bus through Haight-Ashbury. It's a constant wonder. Let us hold hands and accept this vision, for both of our sakes.
No, most of the time when you travel as an American, you can see the eyes begin to roll back in people's heads as soon as your origins are revealed. Many times I've seen people assume that I'd have no sense of humor, and when it came out that I do, they were visibly amazed, like I'd unfurled a giant set of wings or grown a couple of extra heads. (I'll address this phenomenon later, but for now let me just say regarding America and comedy: people, please.)
It's never nice to feel embarrassed to inhabit your nationality, and while I completely get America Fatigue, it's the fucking 4th of July, motherfuckers! Yes, we're arrogant. Sure, we're dumb. Totally, we're fat. Yes, we know. But I'm here to talk about some of the things that make me feel proud and glad to be riding around in an American suit in this lifetime.
Friday, July 01, 2011
I'll explain. I'll tell you where I've been and where I'm going. (Not that I'm leaving here. I'll be posting here as consistently erratically as ever, I promise.) Maybe you'll go with me, and maybe you'll just stick around here, frowning and waiting for posts. Or maybe you're just going to go do your nails or go wash the car or have a bake sale or whatever it is you do when you run off and leave me here all by myself. (Even if I'm not posting, I just sit here quietly at my blog all day and night, watching you come and go. My family begs me to come out into the sunlight with them, but I shoo them away. NO. No, I can't. Someone I don't know know has logged on from Transylvania. I can't just leave him here by himself. He'll get lost, or break something.)
Where I've been:
*Working on Elizabeth's play, which closed last weekend and was an intensely wonderful experience. Strange to move on, after working on this piece with Elizabeth and John on and off for more than a year. It's a post in and of itself, which will have to happen later.
*Working, stop-and-start-ingly, on my book. Those things, whew. They're...mercy. Daunting. And this first draft keeps shifting on me, conceptually, and all kinds of fears muscle up to get faced, and wow. My word. I had this idea that I was going to have half of my first draft finished by August. What I'll have in August is a little more than half of twice what I have now, which is certainly not nothing, but it's not HALF of anything, see? Holy hell. But I'm dragging it along with me into the future, slowly.
*Finally, and most importantly, I've been immersing myself in a course of study. Ladies and gentlemen, after years of casual study and several months of intensive study and then one very successful, jam-packed month of on-my-feet practice with real, living people, I'm getting ready to pop out of my cocoon as a bona-fide, honest-to-goodness, plying-a-trade tarot reader.
Oh, Tarot, you glorious thing. Let me sing your praises here for everybody. I've fallen head-over-heels in love with you, and we're at the beginning of what's sure to be the proverbial beautiful friendship.
Seventy-eight cards of you, rendered a zillion different ways by all kinds of artists over the last several hundred years (at least). I love your aesthetics, I love the humming resonance of your old, old archetypes. There's the Major Arcana, or "Big Secrets", your thematic heavyweights. They're like the oceanic undertow in a reading, or the pull of the stars. Then there's the Minor Arcana, or "Little Secrets", which catalog in detail all of the streams of daily life, the practicalities and heartbreaks and thought patterns and variously shaped rushes of energy. You take concepts like sorrow or triumph or malaise, and you serve each of them up in several different nuanced preparations. Each card has a little symphony of meanings, and in one reading the clarinet rises to the top, and in another reading with the same card, the clarinet will recede to inaudibility and the strings will take over, or the bass drum, or, or, or.
So there you are, and then here I am, and to serve you up properly I have to be in the very best intuitive shape. I have to be meditating regularly, and I have to approach you with humility, and I have to have my heart organized in real service to the people who entrust me with their concerns. And then when the reading begins, I have to be bold enough to play some real jazz with you. I'm on stage, I'm listening, I'm improvising. I can't hesitate. I have to see and hear acutely and offer out loud what I'm getting as it comes in, but I have to guess its ideal form and shape it lightning-quick. Does this note come in soft or strong? Make a choice, give it up. But then I have to know when I need to be quiet for a second to understand what the shot is, when the reading is delivering something particularly subtle. A card pops up that doesn't make immediate sense. I start talking, stop talking and listen, start talking again...and there it goes. It starts taking off its clothes, reveals its purpose for being there. A moment of doubt comes in every reading, a little nervous thrill when the screen goes dark a second, a split-second or few spent sitting smack on the lap of risk, and then I jump into the blackness and freefall. And don't you know that something always catches me just in time? But who knows if it will next time! You can see why I'm in love.
So that's what I've been doing. I'm new at this, but it looks like I might have a knack. (Oh! And I can do these readings over the phone. So YOU, yes, YOU will be able to have one if you like. Details will come soon.) And it feels nice to be sort of going into the family business. (Not that tarot is precisely the family business.) I mentioned in a previous post that there's some clairvoyance that's run down through the female line on my father's side of the family. It travels as far back as our family is recorded, in fact. Grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great, great-great-great, et cetera. They all had it. And now I'm just beginning to see mine light up. Hello, family heirloom. You're getting polished up and going straight into use. I don't want any grumpy ancestors complaining about cobwebs/ungrateful descendents. No, no. No worries, ladies. I'm not a fool. You left me a pretty fine resource. I'm not going to squander this one.
As always, I have so much more I'd actually like to tell you, but there's no time. But a friend of mine is going to be building me a new website, and there will be a new blog attached that focuses entirely on the thing which lights me up more than anything else, which is the conscious cultivation of our inner lives. That's really what I'm emerging from the cocoon to do. I want to be in a lifelong conversation about the thing that matters most to me, and so...there. That. So I will. Please come with me when it's all ready.
And then, as I said, I'll always be over here posting about flotsam and jetsam and Oscar dresses and Finn and Fred and whatever takes hold of me. Same old this and that, on as loose a non-schedule as ever. Blibbity blobbity bloo.
If you've made it this far, come here and let me give you a kiss for being a big patient hero. You're all forbearance. You're like Mother Theresa. You're like Mother Theresa in the body of a movie star. I should tell you that more often.
P.S. Please meet my newest sponsor and member of my Sidebar Pantheon, the Queen of Wands. When I play spiritual dress-up, she's who I traipse around in. May her dress fit me snugly over time. (But not too snugly. You know. Gotta watch the figure.)
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Jesus is on a lot of people's minds today, and mine, too, as he has been for a while here with this book. I was remembering my childhood relationship to him, which, since I wasn't brought up as a Christian, was friendly but distant. I always thought, "That guy seems cool. They've got a cool guy over there." And at one point, when I was around ten, I figured that he's probably open to being buddies with anybody. You don't have to go to one of the churches where they've got a big picture of him. If you sidle up to shake hands, he's going to be all the way down with that, maybe spin the handshake into one of those long, complicated, reunited-with-a-great-old-friend, what-it-was numbers. (I feel like I'm supposed to be capitalizing those Hims and Hes but I tell you I just can't do it. Feels funny. I'm positive he doesn't mind.)
So I've been thinking about him of late, and sort of trying him on for size. I haven't done that since childhood. You can see all of the Hindu flags I've got flying on my blog here, so you know I have a tent informally set up east of the sun. But I'm not - and I make it a point not to be - exclusive with any one way to God. I'm curious about them all, and think that any one of them followed with a full heart will get you there, and that none of them are the point. I'm pretty sure anybody can take the elevator in and up right from where they are with no middleman.
And that brings me back to the Rapture.
I was meeting with my mentor the other day. (I have the world's most wonderful mentor. I meet with her twice a month, and I tell you it's like being launched 500 extra yards down my path every other Thursday. Magic.) And I'd been telling her that I'd been thinking about Jesus as a result of my writing, and she said that was funny, because she'd been thinking a lot about him, too, of late. And no kidding, he's certainly floating in the common consciousness with all of this Rapture talk.
But as I drove away from my appointment with her, driving to see my chiropractor *, I had the most fantastic sort of weirdly holy experience. Every person I saw on the way - riding bikes, driving cars, standing around on the sidewalk - was visibly...how do I put this? They were magnificent. Every single person appeared to be the secretly radiant star of some great epic. It was like The Return of the King, only every damn person alive was the king. Everybody was Frodo, Harry Potter, Aragorn, you name it. Everybody was The Chosen One. I knew for sure that the skinny young Asian man on his bike was possessed of amazing wizardly powers that he will get to put to the test eventually. That the old, rumply, unassuming man in a windbreaker ambling down the sidewalk was as Dumbledore as Dumbledore himself. And it was pretty rapturous, let me tell you. I wanted to see as many people as I could. It was like the world was some kind of divine Hollywood, and everybody was the most famous person in it, and I was the the most avid stargazer alive. Joy.
*Oh my god, that car accident was kind of the best thing that ever happened. Now I get to have chiropractic and massage three times a week! A WEEK! A shot of both every time. I can't wait to tell you about the guy who's giving me massage, either. It's too delightful. Next time.
And this morning, I woke up to a feeling of deeper peace than I've felt in years. I had the feeling that all of my problems - even if they're not visibly solved - are solved already in some way that just hasn't had time to manifest in the physical world. I felt whole and happy, that All is Right with the World, that I lack nothing. I feel it through every inch of me this morning. It's just true.
So, here's to you, Harold Camping, you crazy diamond. And here's to you, too, Jesus, my new old distant friend. I don't know about anybody else, but I think this has been a fine Rapture so far.
Monday, May 02, 2011
The rightness of a full circle. The narrative isn't left dangling, the story feels - rationally or not - less senseless. The physics is right, too. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Yes. YES. Gratitude for when that looks or feels true.
Whatever this gives to the families who lost loved ones that day, I endorse wholeheartedly. Some kind of dark, deserved exultation.
And there's the feeling of connectedness - all of our enormous combined attention moving to the same place - that happens when something truly historic takes place. The grand feeling might have something to do with all of our consciousnesses linking up for a moment. That we're all forever located in time together in some concentrated way.
And there's the pure, mind-boggling appreciation for the execution of an incredibly difficult task. The ferocity and elegance of the maneuver. Hot damn.
I know that this feeling isn't the best we can do. I know that exulting over a death isn't what some people might call God consciousness. I grant that, I agree with that. But this is human with a capital H. It's dark, light, high, low, sorrow, glee, anger. The most eternally human mix. There's something right in not disavowing this other part of ourselves, the part that creates all the story in the world. There is no resolution without conflict.
So in a reverse "Namaste", the human in me salutes the human in us all, and I'm savoring this feeling while it lasts.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
1) I just want to say hello and welcome to the people who have come here recently and begun reading regularly. I'm looking at my stats and it's so nice to see that the place is getting bookmarked, and people are making themselves cozy in the archives. That's just so grand. I hope you'll pipe up in the comments and tell me about yourselves a little bit. So glad you're here.
2) So I'd mentioned in my last post that I've been rehearsing a play, and I said I was going to talk about it before it opened, but then I didn't. Life intervened in the form of another trip to the hospital for ol' Fred. Goddamn. This time: peanut allergy. He has a peanut allergy, it turns out. Awful. He's fine, but really? Is this necessary? I remember when I was pregnant with Fred and was stuck on bedrest, I'd log on to babycenter.com and read the message boards to kill time. There was one area called something like "Controversies". This was where all the smackdowns occurred. Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding. Attachment Parenting vs. Whatever It's Called When You're Not Doing That. Et cetera. And I remember getting sucked into a swirling....can it really have been a debate?...about peanut allergies, and what measures are appropriate and inappropriate to protect the people who have them. Now, I didn't know I had a peanut dog in this fight yet, but I remember being amazed by the contingent that was all, "Waah waah with your fatal allergies. We love peanuts and we should get to eat them everywhere and you should just never leave the house!" I'm pretty sure I piped up, which is always a dumb thing to do when you're pregnant - to enter the fray and voluntarily get all worked up over a message board. But now I do have a dog in this fight. Oh, yes. I do. And that's all I have to say about that.
I digressed again. Damn it. I was going to tell you about the play again, but I don't have time to do it justice. I'm off to go shower and get ready to perform. So here are some links which will have to do the talking for me. And then, then I'll come back and tell you about the process, which is really, really cool.
Here's a preview from The Stranger: Medicated Into Madness.
I'll come back and post reviews later. They've all been great. I'm really proud to be a part of this. Elizabeth is one of my dearest friends and I was there when all of this went down. She's turned that nightmare into artistic gold, and I think it ought to be required viewing for all humans. If you're a health care professional, or someone who ever goes to vist a health care professional, this is for you.
Okay. Off I go.
(I guess that was really three things.)
Sunday, April 03, 2011
Going old-school today.
First of all, CAR ACCIDENT. (Apologies to those who have already heard about this ad nauseum on Facebook. I can think of at least 100 people who will read this and be like OH MY GOD WE KNOW. WE KNOW.) You guys can skip this one.
For the rest of you: car accident! Oh, I'm fine. But I got rear-ended last Friday...can I just pause to say that I don't enjoy the term "rear-ended"? Whenever I say it, I imagine somebody's old drunk uncle is going to come stumbling in from outside, "D'somebody say rear end?! My wife, lemme tell you, she's got a...oh. Car accident. Well, anyway, god bless her. She's got some caboose on her." There are just too many unavoidable jokes. Rear-ended! Slammed into from behind! Shhh. SHHH.
But let's get back to the horrible thing that happened to me. Yes! Very bad! Sitting there waiting to turn onto the freeway and then an unholy BANG! A Bang/Ouch combo, in fact. The driver was cooking along pretty fucking quick, judging by her crumpled car and my jolted neck.
And it was pouring rain, too!
Let me give you a moment to locate your violin.
Tune up a little. There you go.
Pardon me if I observe that you could stand to practice a little more. You've been playing how long? Oh, that's not long. That's not long at all. Why didn't you say something?
Let's enlist a professional.
Thanks for upstaging my very minor whiplash by walking out on stage on crutches, Perlman. You're supposed to be backing me up. Everything always has to be about Itzhak Perlman all the time. Well, I'm sick of it.
Anyway, that's nice. That's a nice song.
So, yes! Bang! And then instead of getting out of my car right there, I drive around the corner to pull over, hoping the driver will follow me. See, I didn't want to block the entrance to the freeway, you know? I was being considerate! Maybe that's not protocol, but hey! Plus I was confused, nay, shocked! But then the lady who hit me thought I was driving away. Thought I was pulling one of those "Get Hit and Run" moves that people who've been hurt in a car accident and aren't at fault so love to do. When I was stopped at the nearby light waiting to turn onto a safe street to pull over, she got out of her car and started yelling at me to stop. I yelled back and pointed to where I was pulling over.
So we pull over and we get out and she's berating me for not staying where we were. And I'm yelling at her "PARDON ME FOR NOT THINKING STRAIGHT AFTER YOU'D JUST SLAMMED INTO MY CAR!" And she keeps at it, "We should have stayed there!" And I'm yelling, "WELL I CAN'T EXACTLY TURN BACK TIME, NOW, CAN I?!" And really, really, really? You're scolding me?
Did I say it was raining? It was raining. The hems of my pants, they were all soaked. Is this the saddest thing you've ever read? This is like Old Yeller.
Police came. It's so nice to be the not-at-fault one. Medics came, but that was gilding the lily. But then I did drive myself to the hospital, due to escalating ouch. I'd packed coffee and breakfast for my rehearsal (to which I'd been headed) and lounged in the E.R. watching t.v. while I waited to get x-rayed. Sent home after a couple of hours with a prescription for Vicodin. Sweet.
And then it was a total free ride from there. Home safe, sore, medicated. Husband watching kids, pampering me. Drama queen goes on Facebook and gets petted by a thousand mommies and daddies. Spacing out on pain meds, watching Downton Abbey on Netflix. Yes, there's a little back pain, and a teeny bit of whiplash, but I don't have to wear one of those collars that makes you look like the cranky landlord on the 70's sitcom who's gotten his hilariously undignified comeuppance.
For a crappy car accident, it's all pretty first-class. I'd say I'm not complaining, but that's because I've already complained at exhaustive length, as Facebook can testify.
Let's see, what else? I want there to be something else. I don't want this to just be about that. I set up the expectation that there would be more.
Well, let's see. I'm writing a book. Good, that's good, I like this buried down here after everything else. Not too much with the fanfare. I thought about not saying anything, but I imagine this might take me a very long time, and maybe sometimes I want to talk about it.
The book's a memoir, with a family/philosophical angle. My dad's side of the family, particularly my grandmother's clan and ancestors, were some awfully unusual cats. There's some clairvoyance that runs through the female line, ostensibly down to me. I'm looking into this, as it were. And my parents/grandparents/great-grandparents were Theosophists, which is a very particular and peculiar thing to be. And so I'm reacting to that, as well. My granny, in particular, was a looming figure. Well-known clairvoyant. Difficult person. Super intimidating. And I'm learning about my great-grandmother, who was also clairvoyant, but went about things in a very different way from her daughter.
Anyway. Yes. It's nice to say this out loud, even if I'm very early on in the process. I think I need to invent some reason that I have to finish it in a timely manner. I think my own steam might not be steamy enough. I think I need an artificial deadline. Somebody give me one.
Is there anything else? Of course there is. My god. I'm alive, after all. That wasn't my whole autobiography. But is there anything else I feel like talking about today? No. This post was to be entitled "hodgepodge". However, two topics do not a hodgepodge make. Ergo, hodgepod. But I'll come back very soon and tell you about the play I'm rehearsing, which opens next Friday. How about I do that before next Friday? Yes. Good.
See you then. DRIVE SAFELY. (tiny violin)
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Thursday, February 03, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
To bastardize Tolstoy, sunny families are all alike; every rainy family is rainy in its own way. In 1978, my family made a sudden, unexpected move from Westchester County, New York, here to Seattle. My dad may or may not have had a nervous breakdown; results are inconclusive, and now that he’s been dead for six years, there’s really no dragging it out of him any more. But we piled into a couple of cars that June and convoyed across America with a wayward alcoholic moving man, ending up in the remote, wet hideaway that was Seattle. My father was born in Seattle - on a fluke, while his parents were traveling, and my mom lived in Seattle for ten years after she moved here from Finland in 1952. I really don’t know why we moved here so fast, though I have some ideas. There was some yelling and there were some hushed conversations, and I think a good way to describe my dad in general, but particularly then, would be emotionally sunburned. So Seattle was going to be a balm for whatever it was. That there’s so much mystery around the nature and circumstance of his maybe-breakdown seems fitting for our conversation tonight about the rain. Rain is nothing if not discreet. It pulls a veil down from the sky, affords some kind of essential privacy, takes the show inside. Seattle was a balm for my dad, he embraced its muddy weirdness, and the place suited us in some fundamental way.
I want to go back to my opening statement about sunny families and rainy families. There are more than two kinds of families, of course, but let’s embrace some easy duality for a minute and say there aren’t. There are two kinds of families. Sunny families and rainy families. Sunny families write annual Christmas letters. Scratch a jock and find a sunny family. All Christian families are certainly not sunny, but all sunny families are, in my world, Christian. I’m not saying that sunny families are happy families, either. And I’m not saying that rainy families are sad. I’m saying that sunny families are yang families and rainy families are yin. Yang is active, positive, masculine, it’s hot, dry, Western, sun. It’s a Mountain Dew commercial. Yin is passive or receptive, negative, feminine, cold, wet, Eastern, moon. A Midol commercial, if you will. Sunny families are high-achieving. Rainy families embrace process, or failure. Sunny families conduct business. Rainy families go into art or academia. Sunny families are tan. Rainy families are wan. Sunny families are normal. Rainy families are weird.
A year after we moved here from New York, I enrolled in a weird little private school, and one thickly overcast day we took a field trip to Ivar’s Salmon House. We sat at a long table underneath a canoe, and ate cornbread in the low, warm, light, and listened to stories about the Native American tribes that lived here before us: the Nooksack, the Makah, the Elwah, the Chinook. It was great. Contrast that with the field trip our school in Port Chester made to a hamburger bun factory, where we watched white dough being poured into machines and turned into hamburger buns and that was that and only right this moment am I like what the hell? A hamburger bun factory? Whose idea was that? There’s a metaphor sitting right there but I don’t feel like I need to go and get it. We were all given a bag of hamburger buns. My family was vegetarian, and my parents never bought white bread, so we had some thrillingly decadent PB and J’s for a few days, and that was the upshot of that field trip. Anyway, sitting at that table at Ivar’s eating cornbread while the rain came down outside and we could see Queen Anne hill tucked in so closely near us, I pictured the hillsides stripped of houses and imagined the Native Americans moving around in their black and red and white wool cloaks, and the whole thing was so cozy and weird and indulgent for a school day. The kind of thing that the rain allows.
My dad was in no way an outdoorsy guy. He was a Harvard guy, a science-fiction books and suspenders guy. He was also a cross-dressing guy but I didn’t know that when I was growing up. There’s the rain again, with its discretion, and what it allows. So yes, he wasn’t outdoorsy, but when we moved here, he became an avid mushroom hunter. Not those kinds of mushrooms, no. He wasn’t a hippie. My family was weird, but we were also straightlaced. No, he joined the Puget Sound Mycological Society and became this crazily enthusiastic mushroom hunter, taking day trips to the Cascades to tromp in the wet woods looking for chanterelles and morels and matsutakes. He came home happy and exhausted, and filled hot frying pans with butter, and the horrible-to-me-then smell of sizzling, buttery mushroom would infiltrate the house and I would go and hide gasping in the back of my closet holding a shirt over my face. My closet was lined with bare wood and had a little light bulb, and I could fit all the way into the corner, which had a low ledge meant for shoes which was great for sitting, privately. The indoors of the indoors. Nooks and crannies, best explored while it rains.
We also had a huge basement in our house, which was decorated hilariously like a brothel when we moved in. It had red flocked satiny wallpaper and red carpeting and a red leather bar with old-timey newspaper underneath the glass. The ceiling was rimmed with bare-bulbed theater-lights, like you see in dressing rooms, but on a dimmer switch. The basement was lined with books, hundreds and hundreds, possibly thousands of books. My favorites were the sexy ones scattered here and there. They varied in tone. You had your sort of Victorian, Lady's Chatterley's Lover kinds of things, and then you had - and I went back and back to this one - your little paperbacks of goofy, naughty cartoons. The one I’m thinking of was called The Infernal Revenue Service, and it was cartoon after cartoon of housewives ripping off their blouses to reveal their bouncy, comic-strippy boobs in the hopes of having their taxes forgiven by nerdy, corrupt IRS agents. That was in the basement, and my dad’s office was in the basement, and his desk was in his office, and in his desk drawer one afternoon I found a half-slip and two little rubbery cup things that looked like peachy fake caps of mushrooms that in retrospect I realize could fit into a bra to create breasts of ones own. But I had no context for these items when I saw them there, at age 9 or 10, and so I just blankly accepted them. Dads and their desk drawers. Grownups and their widgets and wodgets.
There were so many places to hide in our basement, and so many things to hide. I had no little boy friends to play doctor with me so the neighbor girls were recruited to take the part of Hawkeye Pierce or Rhett Butler or Basil Fawlty - yeah, there was an episode of Fawlty Towers that I found so unbearably sexy, where Basil Fawlty is getting a room ready for this beautiful buxom blonde woman in a turquoise shirt, and the power was out, somehow, maybe, and Basil Fawlty went around a corner to, I don’t know, check a fuse or something, and the blonde woman was leaning up against the light switch, and Basil Fawlty reached around to check the switch and ended up accidentally feeling her breast. I feel like he’d also somehow dipped his hand in black paint, so he left his shameful, indelible handprint on the lady’s bosom. Anyway, I thought it was hot. I could have watched that moment a million zillion times. So I recruited the neighbor girls to make out with me and threaten me with IRS penalties and make me stand buxomly and vulnerably in front of the lightswitch. We took turns being the boy, which was a necessary penance for the titillating reward of being the girl. These were rainy games, yin games, private games, games you didn’t play out on the lawn. Nothing we did in our household was fodder for any kind of Christmas letter.
A couple of days ago I took my son, Finn, who’s almost five, to a birthday party with a Pirates and Mermaids theme. Finn was worried about going to the party but didn’t really want to say why at first, until it finally came out that the problem was that he didn’t want to be forced to be a pirate. If he was going to be anything, he wanted to be a mermaid. Finn is an exquisitely beautiful little fella who likes to dress up in saris and pretend to be Shiva, the Hindu God of Destruction, who he insists is a girl. When he told me that he felt good about going to the party if he got to be a mermaid, I felt a storm of pride and fear and fierce protectiveness gather in my gut. Hell yes, you can be a mermaid, angel, and woe betide anyone who looks at you askance through sunny glasses. Shiva’s a baby kitten who rains down fucking Hershey kisses compared to what they’d see coming out of your mama. At the same time, I knew it would be all right, because this is Seattle.
And that’s what I love about my town, though I got here nine - or a hundred - years too late to be a native. The rain says, do what you want. Stay inside today. No one is watching. Or screw it. Come outside. By now it’s been raining here so long that no one cares. There are no competitions. There are no awards. There are no penalties. We’re not living to pad a Christmas letter. Do your thing. Indulge it. Fly your rainbow Shiva freak flag. Grow into the little wild mushroom that you are.
Sunday, January 09, 2011
The title of this post comes from an ultra-delightful website that was just pointed out to me called The Monkeys You Ordered, where they assign literal captions to New Yorker cartoons. There aren't a ton, but they're so good. And they've gotten better at it as they went along. A few of the early ones don't have that ultra-plain literal voice which is so perfect, but then they kick IN.
I remember many years ago when lots of my friends were beginning to get serious jobs, and I was not getting a serious job, and we would go out to lunch to catch up and they'd ask me what I'm up to, and I always felt like saying something like, "I'm thinking about going back to school to study to become a unicorn." Because that's what a baby I felt like next to all of these impressive people with their impressive jobs. And then I was telling this to a friend once, and one of us mispronounced "unicorn" as "unihorn", and then we came up with the idea that the real, technical name for a unicorn is "unihorn", and only those really deep in the know about unicorns and unicorn lore know this. So whenever somebody says "unicorn" in conversation, a great thing to do is mutter "unihorn" under your breath, and when they say, "What?" you say, "Nothing. Go on." As if you just know it's not going to be worth it to explain about unihorns if they don't already know enough to care that they're using the wrong word. Like you're not going to cast pearls before swine, but you just can't bear to let that incorrect usage slide by without marking it a little.
P.S. Since so many of you are suddenly here, I redecorated a little, quickly. Added an area for recent posts. Put up a picture of Yoda. Added a Twitter thing. It's like putting fresh guest soaps in the bathroom, really.
Saturday, January 08, 2011
THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF YOU.
Hello. Hello! I was just getting the newspaper. So, uh...my hair is a little bit funny. And, uh....these aren't the pants I plan on wearing all day. These are just my starting clothes*.
*a term coined by my friend John Moe. These are the clothes you wear immediately in the morning so as not to be naked or in pajamas. Awake and In Day Clothes: A First Draft
And thank you, Alice. The magic of the internet, people. If you're not on the internet, I'm telling you you're missing out. You can just talk to people on this thing. You can talk to anybody you like! It's wondrous.
And here you all are. Well. Hundreds of you. No, my god, do come in. Really. I'm surprised but I'm delighted and you just come on in.
So a lot of you will have read my entry about plastic surgery (and if you haven't, it's here) and The Empress asked how I'm doing now, so let's start there. Two months later, how am I doing?
Well, let's not pretend like that's a small thing, what I did. I don't know how my recovery time compares to other people's recovery times, but I'm going to say it's been on the long and difficult end of the spectrum. Only just within the last week or so have I been able to drive a car and do errands and spend the day on my feet doing things without being knocked out of commission by pain for the next couple of days. And I've only been sleeping lying down for two full nights now. Two nights! My surgery was November 8th, and I had to sleep fucking* practically sitting up since then. Really. I was mildly reclining as though I were on a goddamn* airplane for the better part of two months. Towards the end the recline may have gotten a little deeper. I may have upgraded to business class. But still, just try and imagine that.
*Note to newcomers: I swear here. A lot of people don't like it, but you know, I'm afraid that I do like it. I do. Sometimes it has to be done. I don't make it a point to swear, but I don't make it a point not to. I don't want to start the New Year off by faking it here for you. There be dragons, okay? You've been warned.
So, yes. As of two nights ago, I'm sleeping lying down on my precious, thrilled, grateful, sore side. I have a little pillow system going that makes this possible. And other than that, I'm on the up and up. I have some pain still, sometimes. My muscles are back at ground zero, so a lot of my discomfort is from plain old weakness. All my core muscles took a long, long vacation. I have a little stretchy white velcro'd binder thingy, like a big belt that I stick under my shirt, and that holds everything in and makes me feel safe while I'm going about my business and building up my strength again. Vulnerable, that's the main feeling. The whole midsection feels a little wobbly and weird and vulnerable. My rack, on the other hand, feels just about fit as a fiddle. Little tender around the scars, but that's it.
edited to add: Oh. And sneezing. Sneezing is still immeasurably fucked-up. Sneezing feels like my innards are being briefly torn to shreds and barbecued. Coughing is slightly better than that. Laughter is a little bit ouch still.
Would I do it again? I mean, what I already did? If I had it to do all over again, would I? Yes....yes. Yes. Now that I've arrived at this point, I say yes. Would I ever do anything else? NO. No, no, hell no. No, dear God, no. No. Nothing, no, no. No. And obviously you're talking to someone who has no judgment about whatever people feel like doing to feel better about themselves. But I'm not down for any other procedures. No, my shit got addressed. My face is taking the trip to the grave that nature intended for it to take. And that's largely because I just love the look of natural age on other women's faces. I'm also an actor, so I want to guard that whole expressiveness thing. I just think, who has the cooler face? Frances McDormand or Nicole Kidman? Frances McDormand. Way cooler and way sexier, in my opinion. And I'm not doing anything else with my body. No, all improvements to my body from here on out are going to be sponsored by my own work. And whatever else changes that I can't control, and whatever else is imperfect, well, okay. Life, time, nature: you have the floor.
I was looking in the mirror the other day, and I was looking at my naso-labial folds. Hush, now. That's not dirty. You know, they're the lines/folds between the corners of your mouth and your nose. If you're in your 20's or early 30's you might be like, my what? Because you don't even think about them. They're not pronounced. You prance through your days completely unaware of their existence. I was like you once. And then one day you're like...what the hell? What's going on? What's that...why is that getting all...why do I SEE that? I've been gradually becoming more aware of these bastards for a couple of years. And I haven't liked it. I didn't like them becoming noticeable like that. But just yesterday as I was getting out of the shower and standing in front of the mirror drying my hair, tipping my head sideways, I saw them there. My cheeks, doing their little sagging thing. My naso-labial folds, getting a touch fold-y. And I swear to god it looked good. I have a bit of a baby face, in general. I've got a little bit of a weird Sally Field/Ralph Macchio/Michael J. Fox thing where I've always looked way younger than I am. And I still don't look 41, really. But there are just a few gray strands, and this thing happening to my face, these smile lines and this cheek thing, and it kind of makes me look like I've been around. Like I know something. Which I do. You know? And I like it.
Well, thank you for coming by. Really. I hope that you come back. I promise to say some things on a regular basis.