Saturday, December 11, 2010

the lines

Fuck it. That's my lead-in. I'm leading in with "fuck it".

So I've been laid up for a month and I've been cagey about why and now finally I'm over myself and now I'm going to tell you why and I'm going to talk about it. Because: fuck it!

It's going to be long. Get a cup of coffee or a drink.

I had plastic surgery. Yes, I did. I had two kinds at once. (Fuck it, she said so blithely up there. Like it was going to be a piece of cake. Readers, I apologize for the perpetual hemming and hawing, but I'm including it because it's part of the deal. I may be acting like I'm unashamed, and I AM unashamed, but I'm also ashamed so let's get used to holding two opposing thoughts at the same time. I know I better get used to it.) (And clearly the unashamed part is winning because here we are, you and I, and the topic is plastic surgery and we both know it.)

Abdominoplasty, or its horrible layman's term consort, "tummy tuck", and mastopexy - no problem - breast lift.

And fuck it, I say again, and please know that I'll probably say it again a few more times before we're through. The worst part's over. I said what it was. Whew. Now I can get to the good part. The defense, if I need one, and the relishing, which I'm going to relish.

Let's talk about the tummy tuck first. So I have two boys. Finn, my firstborn, screwed up the joint a little bit on his way out. Can't be helped, right? Most mothers end up with a little looser skin on their tummies, and while I wasn't excited about it, I grew not to mind it. Then I remember reading some blog post about the blessed French again, and how there's an acknowledged place for the sexily fecund look of a mother's soft tummy. And last night I watched Louis C.K's stand-up special "Chewed Up", which ends with him talking about the difference between girls and women, and how he prefers women, and he says, " me you're not a woman until you've had a couple of kids and your life is in the toilet....that's really...when you become a woman is when people come out of your vagina and step on your dreams. If you're still standing after that shit, you are a WOMAN." (If you haven't seen it, do it. Louis C.K. is a goddamn genius. Here you go: Chewed Up. You're welcome.) So, where was I? Right. Finn, and his initial loosening up of my skin. Livable. And then Fred came along, and Fred was like "How can I make my mark? What shall I do? How can I outdo my brother?" So Fred reaaaaallly fucked up the place during his exit. He passed by my left hip, for one, and apparently reached in and grabbed the labrum (ring of soft tissue in the hip joint) and just tore it with his bare hands for no reason, "You're not going to use this right? Cool, I'm just going to RRRAGGRHHHtearrrrRRrip" which has rendered the thing occasionally painful to walk on forever. Sometimes I can't feel it at all and sometimes (rarely, thankfully) I get shot in the hip randomly for no reason and can barely walk. But his real work was in utero as he grew, and it was tandem work with my skin. Because when Fred came out, what was once - optimistically - "sexily fecund" became something completely different.

Completely different. I'm going to just throw a few words and phrases out there. Skin apron. (Yes, I said it.) 85 year-old Ukrainian grandmother. You know, I think that's enough. Yes. What was left went so far past anything I'm willing to live with. For one thing, I'm not through with sex in this lifetime. No, no, I'm not. And that THING tried to say differently. That THING suggested that not only was I done, but I'd been done for years and years. Well, fuck you, thing. Let me introduce you to a man. He has a knife. Goodbye. And the thing was ruining the lines of my clothes. It wasn't a plumpness, something I could whittle away with a little activity and careful diet. No, that's what I had after Finn, and that's what I did. No, this was new territory. And it made getting dressed this exhausting exercise in trompe l'oeil. No skirts, no dresses, baroque requirements for all tops. Highlight the waist but run away from the thing! Oh, stop it. Set me free. I have enough to worry about.

I wrestled with the idea. Is this cool? Is this lame? Is this going to bespeak some insecurity that's worse than the thing itself? Am I selling my God-given body short? Am I trying to erase the passage of my children? Am I somehow going to be less authentic? I thought deeply about all these things. Answers: Yes, no, no, no, no and hell no.

Now, the breast lift. Hm. How much do I want to talk about this? Well, I'm here, we're underway, I guess I might as well. One of the things I liked about this idea was that it automatically means a little bit of reduction. Before I had kids I was already, how you say, stacked. And gravity was against me from the first, from the very beginning as a pre-teen when they first rapidly made their appearance. But post-motherhood, I'd settled into a ridiculous F cup, and the best word for that situation is "unsustainable". An F cup makes all kinds of demands, physical and aesthetic, and...yes. Unsustainable. And you know, for years as a young girl I was self-conscious about the size and shape of my breasts. I figured that all breakups were traceable to this fact, and the length of any given relationship was merely a reflection of the extent of the chivalry alive in the boyfriend in question. (And then I grew up.) So I didn't mind them any more, had plenty of evidence that they were okay, and they nursed both kids heroically, so I know that I only owe them a debt of gratitude. And I am grateful for all they've done for me. But I just, you know, fuck it. Wanted them a little smaller and a little farther north. Just fuck it. And now they're a perfectly ample and much more reasonable D. D for delightful!

So it's done. It's all done. November 8th I went in for somewhere between 6 and 7 hours of surgery. It went well, but the recovery has been insanely slow and uncomfortable and sort of awful. Lots of medications doing lots of creepy things to me. Vicodin giving me night after night of lurid, horrifying dreams. Tramadol, its replacement for one day, nearly killing me (truth. bad reaction. terrifying.). Just lots and lots of pain and stuckness. Trapped feeling. On the plus side, though, I've had lots of time for reflection. Lots of time to watch movies. (Here are some more Netflix recommendations: Ballerina, a documentary about five Russian ballerinas from the Kirov Ballet. My favorite is Diana Vishneva, who's technically imperfect and almost goofily beautiful but incredibly expressive, arguably the greatest artist among them. And I've never even particularly cared for ballet! They're incredible, these dancers, and the film is so good. And also Bright Star, Jane Campion's film about John Keats and Fanny Brawne. Totally exquisite. Visually stunning. The actors are almost frighteningly alive and intelligent, to a one, even the children. I cried myself berserk.) (I like to think I've given you a nice range to pick from now, when we drag Louis C.K. back into it.)

Now we come to the part that I'm the most excited to talk about, the note I'm going to end on: the results, which I'm happy about. Everything looks good, natural. Cute and human. Not too far, nothing artificial-looking. Very well done, Dr. Downey. And even better, there are my scars! I was so worried about them, but now I love them. They're kind of violent. There's a searing-looking scar from hip to hip, and some gentler ones up top. But they tell a story that I like even better than the story that my body told left to its own devices. Motherhood is violent in its extremes of pain and beauty. I like having a scar that speaks to that, and speaks to where I draw the line for myself.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

this must be the place (naive melody)

I just woke up from the most excellent dream. It's hanging in the air, still. As gently as possible, and while I can, I’m going to extract its essence and bottle it. A gift hanging in the air, yes, waiting for me to unwrap it. A lucky feeling. I'm staying nearly motionless, like there’s some butterfly next to me who’s going to whisper this whole thing to me if I play my cards right.

I’m with you, butterfly. You lead.

The dream (and it’s not about the specifics of the dream, that’s not the gift):

Walking up the main drag of my childhood (and current) neighborhood, with a couple of dear male friends from college. One an ex, one my old best friend. We’re walking home from a reunion. Or maybe the walking home is the reunion.

It’s odd, at first. Upsetting. My old best friend and I are chatting away, lots of jokes, it’s wonderful. My ex, on the other hand, is rudely, aggressively monosyllabic at best. It’s an active shunning, impossible to avoid noting. Eventually, I get mad and start swinging right into it. Calling him out. Mocking him for his rudeness, insulting him. It feels horribly good. What the hell, right? Might as well! Let him have it. He deserves it. It’s miles better than just taking it.

We arrive at the heart of the neighborhood, a few blocks away from my house, and it’s time for us all to part company. I’ll be walking alone back up to my house, the rest of the group (yes, a group converged, there was a group eventually) will be heading the other way.

Suddenly my ex blossoms into a completely different presence. “Hold on,” he says. “I’ll walk you home.” Warm, soft, tender, smiling.

“Oh. Okay.”

Poof. It’s the most natural thing in the world, and there’s no trace of anger in the air. The metamorphosis is instantly, cellularly thorough. You can’t even call it forgiveness, there’s no time. It’s transformation.

The atmosphere in the dream shifts, and it’s in here, in the atmosphere, that the gift of the dream resides. I’ve lived this atmosphere in real life, just so briefly, but it’s a real thing, it can cross into our waking plane. I’ll come back to that.

So we begin to walk up the hill, arm in arm or somehow touching, and what the conversation does is this: it takes the time in between college and now, and sweeps it clean of any trace of bitterness or anxiety. It says, You are well-thought-of. You're remembered with sweetness. That really happened. Something still remains, never left. You cleared the plates long ago, from shame, but you didn’t need to. The nourishment from that meal is still there for the taking, even if you’re sitting at the table by yourself. There's no need for shame.

I don't know if I'm well-thought-of in his mind, or remembered sweetly by him, but what's true now is that I'm remembered sweetly in my own mind. I'm thinking well of myself. An independent gift.

There’s something complex here, and this is where I have to stay very still to take the butterfly’s meaning. It’s to do with time, and the falseness inherent in time, and it has to do with that wonderful atmosphere, and so I’ll tell you about when I lived it in my real life.

When my husband proposed to me, we were on Balmoral Beach in Sydney. I’ve touched on that day here, so read that, that’s important, but I’ll tell you this here. Something ceased operating while we were there sitting in that glittering sand, and I think, I think it was time. You disagree, maybe. Maybe you think time can’t stop. But, okay, maybe you’re right. Time didn’t stop. I just stopped knowing about it. The concept fell away, and since that’s all it is, a concept, it stopped. Time does not exist in nature. Change exists in nature. Time doesn’t. No, it doesn’t. There’s no such thing as an hour in nature, or a minute. The earth moves, our cells change. Anyway, there we were, and I’d said yes, and I couldn’t feel the presence of anything bad anywhere in the world, or within me, or in my memory, or even as a possibility. What was in front of me, that was the whole world, and it was all benevolence. I didn’t have to worry about it slipping away. I didn’t have to catch it. There was nothing frantic. No memory, no planning, no hustling, no brooding. Bright stillness. I felt like I couldn’t possibly be on earth. This felt nothing like earth. It was a heaven world, with our houses and ferries and water and sand, our stage set.

Somewhere in here is the gift. There’s something we do to ourselves, something I do to myself, an application of unnecessary pain, and I think I can see that I can stop that now. The removal of pain is all we need for happiness, right? We don’t need anything added. I’m not talking about survival, I’m talking about happiness. There is nothing to add. There is nothing to get. All that’s necessary is the removal of pain, and most of that pain I give freely to my own self.

I don’t know how much farther back into the dream I need to go. It went on. Circumstances changed a little bit here and there as we made our way along, but the essential character of the dream remained the same. Warmth, love, kindness, respect. And there was a nice, hilariously neat metaphor or two: at one point, we realized we were carrying lots of bags, and we rearranged them, moved them out of the way, so we could be closer as we walked. It was raining, pouring, dumping, but it was never cold or uncomfortable, and even through the thickest, most active overlay of clouds, we could see the shape of the sun, and we noted it, how cool that was, what a neat trick.

And mind you, this closeness wasn’t FOR anything. It wasn’t building to anything. It felt possible that there would have been a kiss at the end of the journey, but all the satisfaction was right there in the present moment. The pleasure in the walking together was simple, and more than sufficient. Great fullness. No lack.

There was such a nice time, back in real life, in college, before this person and I began dating, where we were just friends. I remember so fondly the pleasure we took in each other’s company. One day we walked to a grocery store, and we each bought a few things, and we were silly in the aisles. I pretended like I was a crazy impulse shopper, and lunged at ridiculous items, while he steered or play-dragged me away. We were a little bit in love with each other already, but it would be a while before anything happened, we’d both date other people first, but right then, that day, those days, those days were perfect.

Eventually we did date, and then he broke my heart a little, and then months later we dated again, and it was more serious, and really wonderful. It was raining all the time, it felt like, a spring rain, a warm rain. We’d be up in his apartment, sitting on his bed, reading plays, and I can hear the Talking Heads singing “This Must Be The Place” overlaying this whole series of memories. We did listen to this song, and it was the right song, and everything felt just like that. I will say that was our anthem, because I’m writing this story, and I can.

And then some more time passed, or rather, things changed, and he broke my heart again, and though this was twenty years ago, I think it didn’t properly heal until I woke up this morning. Can you imagine? But it did heal, it just now has, and I didn’t even know I was still hurt. But I was, and I was carrying myself funny about it. Can you imagine? For twenty years, I’ve been holding myself funny to protect this wound, and now, as of this morning, November 18th, 2010*, I can stop.

*I can’t say it would have exactly been comforting if someone had whispered to me back in 1990 when I was so upset, “Don’t worry, Tina. It’ll all be better in November of 2010. We promise. But before then, don’t worry. You’ll get used to holding yourself in a funny protective position, you’ll get so you don’t even notice that you’re doing it, so you won’t know this was even a problem until it’s resolved.”

This is the funny position I was in, this is what I was doing, this is the pain I was adding to my own life unnecessarily. I’ll tell you. After things changed, and he appeared not to or didn’t love me any more, I took all of those nice memories and made them something shameful to enjoy. I took them away from myself. I figured it was like this: if he was going to take our future away from us, then I’d give us symmetry and remove our past. So, as beautiful as I found our time together, as sweet and important as it was to me, I decided that he didn’t matter, wasn’t that important. My mind would flash on the nice times, and I’d remember feeling humiliated later, and so I’d take what happened later and graft it onto the sweet part and ruin it, sour it, so I wouldn’t even want to look at it. I made him ridiculous, and myself ridiculous, and scattered something ugly, some kind of thought repellent/anaesthesia, over the whole span of time in between now and then and over both of us in relation to each other.

Maybe that wasn’t wrong to do, it made sense to do it at the time, like I was insulating myself from the painful idea that I was easy to discard, but now it makes me feel tenderly towards myself. I think I was operating under the assumption that there were security guards placed around those nice memories. And that was true, but I guess to make it effective, I decided that I didn’t hire them. That HE had hired them. “Keep that girl away from those memories! I don’t want to be seen with her! It’s embarrassing! Don’t you know that I dumped her? Ugh. Don’t let her into that apartment.” And I thought, my GOD. What a DICK. Who would DO that? He’s so callous!

But right, that was me. I did that. I sent that message to my very own self, all by myself. He didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t. (Well, maybe a tiny bit. When we broke up, he could have been generous enough to tell me that this had happened. But he didn’t or couldn’t and ultimately it doesn’t matter in the slightest. ) All he did, really, was change, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. What could be wrong with that? I didn’t suddenly grow fangs or warts or a hump. Something and someone else became, for him, more beautiful. I didn’t become less beautiful. Things changed in relation to each other. The sequence of events didn’t ruin anything. Things just changed position.

November 18th, 2010. In today’s news, it has been announced that when things fall away, they take only themselves with them. Anything else that is stripped, we strip, and we may stop.

And now, two versions, both important. The one we really listened to, and the live version:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

sartorialism, bespoke

If you haven’t been to the wonderland that is The Sartorialist, go there first, quickly, before you read this. Spend a few minutes. You might not have any reaction, but maybe you will. If you already know and love The Sartorialist, stay with me, because chances are you might never come back and read this essay if you don’t. You’ll fall down a rabbit hole masquerading as an alleyway in Milan, tumbling after some impossibly cool old man in oxfords and anklets, with the hem of his trousers rolled just so. (These old Italians all dare to eat a peach.) Or you’ll fall into a pretty dungeon of despair/envy/desire when you see some mile-long gazelle of a girl in modern, sky high heels, leaning against what was an ugly, nothing wall until she was juxtaposed against it. Slightly wrinkled trench coat, topknot, sleek legs, only the barest hint of elegant tension beneath her languid posture…oof. It creates this longing that makes me think of theater; what she has going on in that moment is almost completely ephemeral. Some elements may remain for a remount: shoes purchasable here, trench there, hair, well, you have some or you don’t. But the rest you can never have, and you’re just lucky or unlucky to have seen it, depending on how you carry that 10 ounce glass of water with the five ounces of water in it.

Aspirational, that’s the word for that site. I frankly love the tension The Sartorialist sets off in me, my glass blinking from half-full to half-empty by the moment. Possibility! Impossibility. Possibility! Not every last photograph is of some paragon of physical beauty – you’ve got young people, old people, thin people, fat…old men - but every single one shows us someone who has absorbed/created/lucked into a sense of style, and that is mostly, largely, maybe? almost? democratic. You can cultivate one. It’s available to you. You might be tone-deaf, but everyone who cares to do it can probably struggle out a real sense of style.

Or not. And those who can’t are left with fashion. But I don’t want to talk about fashion. Fashion, apart from style, is something tinny and temporary and quickly embarrassing. It requires no thought on the part of the wearer, only a kind of pitiful trust that he or she is being handed the right information. Fashion without innate style is that good-looking (or not) kid who heads to Hollywood and is dying to be a famous actor but doesn’t have any talent, whose only hope is a gargantuan dedication to craft. Dubious. That actor who’s not exactly bad, who’s hitting the marks and all, but you just don’t give a shit. Styleless fashion. Nothing gives a sadder, more desperate feeling, sartorially, than that. Especially with the wrong information. You know what I’m talking about.

(And you’ve got the segment of the population who don’t care about style AND don’t care about fashion. Carry on, wizards. Stay warm and dry in the winter and cool and comfortable in the summer.)

Let me digress a little. I have a mild, vague obsession with French culture. (Can you have a mild, vague obsession? I think I figured out how to do it; see me for tips if you’re interested.) Parisian culture, maybe, in particular. I spent one day and one night in Paris almost a decade ago. I’d looked forward to going there all my life, nearly maniacally. I’d have dreams about it, and since I’m always fooled by my dreams, I’d invariably think, “My god! Mon dieu! The day has come! Finally, it’s not a dream! I’m really in Paris this time! All those other times – dreams! But not this time! Hurray!” and then a giant deck of cards would walk into the room and I’d think, “Paris is not quite what I expected, but it’s great to be here. Great…to be here.” And then I’d disappear up into a skylight and continue the dream in Ohio or what have you. My point is that I’d always looked forward to the challenge of Paris. I was intrigued by the idea that it didn’t come easily for visitors, that there was an intricate code to learn, some intuitive and some counterintuitive tricks for comporting yourself in such a way as to make the city fall open for you. (I hadn’t considered the option that it might also be okay if Parisians didn’t like you.) (Me.) And one of the most obvious things you had to do when you got to Paris was dress well, but that wasn’t enough, either. You had to dress with style, because the Parisians THROW DOWN.

So how did it go?

Yes, well. Since I’d been overly excited, I hadn’t slept for one minute the night before, and arrived with a huge headache. So, a good chunk of time was lost sleeping and then taking a bath with my sunglasses on. And then we went out to dinner and then I got to spend a few hours back in the hotel room throwing up some bad tuna. (“Paris! Pinch me! Am I dreaming?!”) Then the people at the front desk denied to my boyfriend’s face the very existence of mint tea in the whole world. (“Ma’am, I’m afraid that you’re wide awake.”) Montmartre was delightful, the next day. I spoke French successfully in a bookshop, to a taxi driver and in a perfume shop. OH! And on the train from London to Paris, I was in the bathroom when they were collecting tickets or checking passports or something. They knocked on the door and I said, “Un moment” and the ticket taker/passport checker said, “Elle est Français.” !!! I practically started singing the Marseillaise. Anyway, they couldn’t see me or they wouldn’t have made that much-treasured mistake. I did my best but I was not, I could tell, able to dress myself to Parisian standards. I really only took two outfits on the town:

1) 1. Dinner (and then vomiting)

A navy v-neck t-shirt, gathered in the front with a little patch of red paillettes, atop a navy pinstripe a-line skirt, with modern-looking black flats.

2) 2. Montmartre, next day (aka “The nice part”)

A risk-free ensemble of white button-up shirt, black trousers, the aforementioned black flats and the sunglasses from the bathtub.

Neither here nor there, ultimately, and no heels = not good enough. It just wasn’t good enough. I could feel it. It didn’t risk enough or express enough or…who cares, right? Who cares what I wore in this one part of the world over the course of slightly more than 24 hours almost ten years ago? I DO.

I do, I care, because it’s to do with nuance, and I love nuance, and consequently hate missing nuance. It’s so aggravating. I wanted to nail it and I didn’t nail it. So Paris is still hanging there, unconquered, and therefore it remains this vague obsession, and so we’re back to The Sartorialist. The pictures I examine most keenly from his site are the ones, obviously, from Paris, but it doesn’t matter, really. The whole question of style and nuance dangles there in every photograph, which begs the question of my own style, and just what in the hell that is, and what it’s for, and why it matters, because it does matter. It’s not enough that the clothing flatter my figure and my coloring. We all want to be found beautiful, that’s basic. And it’s nice to be accepted, to be thought cool. But the ultimate – for me, at least - is to be known, and if you really want to be known, then you leave as many breadcrumbs as possible for the people taking you in, pointing as much as you can to something ineffable. It’s art, and even if you miss the mark you’ve set out for, you will at least have hit something.


Cross-posted from Writing, Writer, Writest.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

the pink house, part omega

(-Hey, Tina. That house isn't pink.) (-Don't I know it?)

Go back here, if you haven’t caught part nothing and part two.

the pink house

the pink house, part two

It’s sold. A guy bought it a couple of months ago for a ridiculously small sum. We would have held out until the market turned around some day, in fifty years or whenever that might have been, but we owed my mom the money and she needed it now, while she’s still alive. So that’s it. Done. Gone. Closed. Sayonara. And the bottom dropped out of the market mere moments after the deal was done, so we feel like we got…lucky? We got something, anyway. A little cash that looked nice in our bank account for a minute until we funneled it over to Aino*.

*My mom. I never know who’s new here. Right, and why would I? I think it’s optimistic of me to imagine that somebody’s new and needs to know my mom’s name, like they’re ready to invest all the way in this operation. “Now who’s Aino? And what’d I miss?”

The Pink House is no longer pink, so that helps me let go a little. It was such a ridiculous color, and I didn’t choose it – just inherited it – but I loved it, the way you love some goofball quirk in one of your nearest and dearest. Like the way my mom uses the Finnish pronunciation of the letter “y” whenever she says the word “mystery”, so it comes out sounding like something not too far from “moosetery”. “That’s mooseterious!” It’s a respectable sage green now, with cream trim. All of the inside walls are white (except for the kitchen - the kitchen is pale blue), and the wood floors have been stained dark to cover all of the imperfections. (Hat tip to Lucy, the Rottweiler who lived there briefly before I moved in, who smelled my fear and decided she was against me, fucking up my home away from home. I spent the two months that comprised her reign of terror at my boyfriend’s place, wishing she would go away. And then Kristen moved to NY and Lucy found a new home and I moved in.) (In your face, Lucy.) Goodbye pea green living room, orange & white & blue kitchen, red bedroom, blue bedroom, emerald green bathroom. Goodbye, silly floors, with your tiny nails that kept popping up to stab us in the foot. It looks pretty, but I almost don’t know it any more.

And then there was the renter, and the terrible thing.

He stopped paying his rent a month before he left town without warning. I called and talked to him before he left, and tried to work out a deal. I mean, we were clearly going to get stiffed, but I thought he might make a little more good-faith effort if I was cool and understanding. (Yeah.) And after he left, a friend of his moved in and squatted there. So we evicted him. Them.

We got a call from a friend of the family, Mark*, who was going to do some work on the place before we put it on the market. They’d vandalized it. They went to town.

*If you read the story “Convoy”, Mark is Irving. Irving changed his name to Mark long ago to woo a lady. It worked. They’re still married.

Mark painted over the worst stuff before we could see it, with whatever he had at hand, but it was still shocking to see what had happened. In the kitchen, in the bedrooms, in the hallway, bathroom, basement, everywhere. Black….spray paint, I guess. I don’t know. The thin paint bandage applied on top looked as horrifying as whatever was beneath it – a bright, nauseating surgical green. So you couldn’t see what they’d painted. You could just see black masses of paint lurking beneath the green bandages, with black “blood” dripping down the wall beneath the main injuries.

It almost doesn’t matter how it looked, although it looked gruesome. It’s how it felt, that’s the unforgettable thing. Gut-twisting. Something violent hung in the air, still, a kind of psychic odor, like the intention of the vandals kept refreshing itself, was still active. And right – it WAS still happening. This, in fact, was opening night. The intent of the vandalism wouldn’t have been complete until we saw it, the people it was meant for. Well, congratulations, fellas. It did just what you wanted it to do. I wandered around from room to room, agape, tears falling. My precious house. I used to kiss the walls when I lived there, I loved it so much. I would pat the walls sometimes, idly, affectionately, like the house was some giant beloved beast, a family member of sorts. And here it was, taunted, beaten, wounded.

The house was a living thing, it did have its own consciousness. I won’t listen to anyone who tells me differently. I felt so protected in that house, and more, what’s more, I was healed by that house. My life was so chaotic before I moved in, and then something quieted in me, something stopped fighting. Before I lived in the Pink House, I didn’t think I deserved a good and happy life, so I did whatever I could to prevent that from happening. I sabotaged myself whenever I could. Practically kept a gun in my desk and pulled it out and shot myself in the foot every Tuesday, preventatively. Landed myself in jail, even. But the Pink House took me in and whispered things to me beneath my hearing, and something in me relaxed and began to nod along, concurring. (I know it wasn’t just the house. It was the people near me, loving me so well, and it was time, and it was some kind of readiness within me. But it was also the house.)

I don’t have that kind of relationship with the house I live in now. It’s pretty, my house, now. It’s too big. It’s indifferent. It’s too young – it doesn’t have presence yet. It doesn’t know what it’s doing. And we haven’t filled it and adorned it and taken care of it properly. Like I said, it’s too big, and we’ve been too busy. It’s not responsive, because it just isn’t alive yet. It isn’t anything. I feel almost nothing for this place. It’s palatial and it’s empty. There’s something false about it. The floors aren’t hardwood, they’re laminate. The fireplace, it’s gas. You can turn it on and there’s heat, but there aren’t any burning logs. That fire isn’t real. I don’t want to live here forever. I want to love a house the way I loved the Pink House. Can that happen twice in a lifetime? If it can, then I bless this whole world and kiss it the way I kissed the Pink House, because that would be more magic than my brain can currently wrap around.

So, that's it. It's not mine any more. I hope you're happy there, person, but you won't be as happy as I was. If you are, I almost don't want to know about it.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

mantra virumque cano

I just found out that one Thomas Ashley-Farrand just passed away. Well, sir, here's an extended toast to what you came to teach us, and in the meantime, I've circled around a mala in your honor.

Thomas Ashley-Farrand was a well-known and widely beloved teacher of mantra. I've read a couple of his books, and I just so happen to be very deep into a practice I pulled out of one of them. And so I just want to talk about it. I want to talk about mantras, I want to sing their praises, I want to talk about this practice I'm doing.

When I was young, mantras seemed...well, this was not an attractive practice to me. I imagined the people who did mantras to be spaced-out, fern-bar-frequenting, white-tunic-wearing California hippies. And yes, I grew up around these people, near them, but my own family prided itself on being the intellectual wing of spiritual kooktown, if you will. The drone of a mantra seemed to me like it drained your intelligence and free will right out through your mouth. Like I said, I was young, and vulnerable to cliche.

I'm an unabashed fan of the mantra these days. I'm not going to work too hard to sell them to you. This is not in defense of the mantra. This is in praise of the mantra, free-style.

Magic old words, bona-fide abracadabras that chimed out of primordial not-nothingness straight into the finely-tuned ears of the ancient rishis. Psst. Hey. Psst. Would you like a magic key? Would you like another one? How about another one? How about another one? We can go all day like this. We can and we will. Why not? It's the least we can do for you. There you are, stuck. It's comical pitiful tragical. Can't stand to watch it anymore. We're throwing you a bone. We're throwing you a thousand bones. Better than bones. They're keys, like we said. But you have to turn them and turn them and turn them, and slowly something will unlock and unlock and unlock more and then more.

Perhaps you saw that lovely creature I have in a position of honor there up on the sidebar. Lakshmi. I'm following her trail right now, around and around my mala. Let me tell you a little bit about her. So, Lakshmi represents bounty in all its forms. Beauty and grace and wealth know what it is? You know the real reason I'm working with this particular mantra of hers? Oh, blush, damn it, I'm really maybe going to tell you. It's going to make me look silly. (Transparency! yells Mr. Ashley-Farrand from beyond the grave.) (Yes, sir.) (Ach.) So, he said that this one particular mantra is to...[blush]...[die]..."Invoke and Eventually Become the Abundance of the Universe Itself." Ahem. He said that the appearance of Lakshmi wiped all cares from the minds of those who first beheld her, and that this mantra...oh, hang on. I'm just going to quote it, skipping a little up top.

Vishnu [Lakshmi's sweetheart -T.R.] spoke these words in the story: "God's love, through whatever door it comes, is the end of all desire and yearning." The highest abundance is Love. If you feel that your true inner nature is one with the loving, abundant nature of Lakshmi, that you want to bring an abundantly satisfied state of mind to every person and thing you encounter, these two mantras [same mantra with a slight variation depending on whether you're above or below the age of 29 - T.R.] can begin the process of your transformation into such a bountiful and beneficent state.

Well, who wouldn't want that? And, damn it, I do feel that way. I've always been exceedingly lucky, and for whatever reason, I've always been able to make people feel better. I don't know why. It's just true. And I'm going through some kind of profound life change and I thought, well, this is something incredibly positive upon which I can hang my hat awhile.

So I'm going for something called Mantra Siddhi. After years of observation back in old India, it began to appear that 125,000 repetitions of a mantra is enough turnings of the key to make something special happen wherein the power of the particular mantra really sinks into you and becomes your own. You absorb it deeply, it becomes permanently lodged in you. And if you keep going, the effect of the mantra is magnified and spills out onto others as well. I can share the wealth, as it were. So that's just what I'm doing. I have a plan, I have a timeline, I'm underway. I'll be there within a year, maybe a little quicker. And then I'm going to absorb another one, and another one, and I think that I'll just be insatiable for these magic keys. It's the nicest path that I'm falling along. And I owe all of it to Thomas Ashley-Farrand, who sang the praises of mantra in the key that I could really hear, the key that spoke to me.

I can't imagine why everyone alive doesn't find their own key like this.

Safe and happy travels to you, Mr. Ashley-Farrand. Thank you.

I dare you to note that he's wearing a white tunic, here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Everything’s going along pretty smoothly. We live in Port Chester, NY. Third grade is drawing to a close. My pixie cut is growing out, I’m looking more and more like a girl by the minute. I made Gerald Braun laugh on the Third Grade Circle Line Cruise around the Statue of Liberty. I’m considered a damn fine speller, if I do say so myself, despite the mishap with “playground” that one time.

Then my dad goes on some kind of sudden trip to Seattle.

My mom is on the phone with him, crying and yelling, “I hate my life! I hate my life!” My brother and I are looking at her and looking at each other. What the hell is going on? She hangs up and tells us we have to go stay at our friend Elaine’s house. She has to go get on a plane to Seattle immediately, tonight. What?? We scramble some things together and my mom calls a limousine service to take her to the airport and drop us at Elaine’s on the way.

Bad vibes.

-Mom, why do you have to fly to Seattle?
-I have to go look at a house.

Holy shit.

Two weeks later, we’re ready to launch this thing. We’re moving to Seattle. Like, right now. We’ve had the garage sale. Danny Covino came with his mom, which was weird. I wondered if it meant he was in love with me. That seemed like the only reasonable explanation. What a time to find this out, right before we’re separated by a country. Ah, well. And now it’s midnight and the giant moving truck is here from King Van Lines, and we were supposed to be on the road several hours ago but something keeps holding us up and it’s making my mom angrier and angrier. It’s about the driver of our moving truck, something about him coming with no people to load the furniture, and something about a gallon of rosé that he’s carrying around and drinking out of all day. His name is Jim, and he wears a t-shirt that says “The Canadian Hippie” on the front. His daughter is about my age, and we get along great. We play in my room while it gets darker and darker and later and later, and it’s difficult to see what my parents are getting all worked up about, but there you go.

1:00 a.m. and we’re finally on the road. Can’t make it too far because, well, it’s 1:00 a.m. We sleep in the car at a rest stop in New Jersey. I’m going to begin to agree that this is weird. We’re sleeping in the car. Yes, I’m with Team Mom and Dad on this one. Sleeping in a car is lame. This is The Canadian Hippie’s fault, we all agree. And suddenly our family is united, and thus begins my two week summer adventure wherein Tina Kunz of the New York Kunzes will become Tina Kunz of the Seattle Kunzes.

Back up. Why are we moving all of a sudden? What’s that all about? Well, at the time I don’t know. But later I’ll hear something about a nervous breakdown, maybe? My dad had a nervous breakdown? Results have never been conclusive. Let’s agree that he had a nervous breakdown. There has always been a lot of mystery around this. I have no new information.

Once we’re on the road, though, he seems fine. He seems great! So, here’s the setup. We have our two cars. My dad drives one of them, and a young friend of the family, Irving, drives the other one. We’ve got CB radios, and we all have handles. (It’s 1978, right in the middle of the CB craze. Everybody’s feeling very Smokey and the Bandit.) My dad is Slowpoke, because he drives really fast. My mom is Mother Hen. My brother is Numbers Man. Irving is Cookie Monster because he eats bags and bags of Chips Ahoys. (He has an alternate handle, Life Saver, because my mom keeps telling him he’s saving our lives.) And I’m Light n’ Lively, which is a brand of milk in New York but not in Seattle.

I always ride with Mom and Dad. Numbers Man sometimes rides with the Cookie Monster, sometimes rides with us. I’ve got my firecracker flag pillow by my side, which was a gift from my third grade class. Everybody signed it. It’s shaped like a firecracker, patterned like a flag. Andy Haas informs me that the Mariners suck. Everybody else writes something sweet, even surprising people. The pillow makes me feel sad and good, and it smells fantastic, sort of warm and powdery. I smell it all the time and I’m always afraid I’m going to suck the smell out of it with my nose by smelling it too much, but that great smell really hangs on. In other flag news, I have a flag puzzle that has all the flags of all the countries in the world, with the name of the country beneath the hole where the flag piece goes, and the name of the capital city printed right on the piece. On their own, released from their countries, the capital city names sound like people’s names, and I assign genders and personalities to them all, and have them mingle with each other. Any capital city that ends with an “a” is a girl, with a few obviously feminine exceptions like Paris. All the others are boys. Ankara and Brasilia are my favorite girls. Athens and Amman are their dates. I have all the cities and their countries memorized in short order.

My superb memory proves to be a coup for us all in Pennsylvania. We stop at a Dutch restaurant for lunch, and they have a challenge going. If anyone at the table can memorize this very long poem about a bird before the check comes, lunch is on the house for your whole party. Our eyes light up. I grab that pansy-ass poem. I’m like a machine. “The Golden Finch is a lovely bird. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.” I have that shit filed away before we order dessert. The moment comes. The waitress and the manager watch as I reel it off. Lunch is free! As a reward, my mom and dad let me go into the gift shop and pick out an enormous, swirly, multi-colored lollipop to take with me in the car. This trip kicks ass. I don’t know what any of us were worried about.

Indiana is GREAT. Don’t know what my parents find so boring about it. There appears to be candy and ice cream available for sale no matter where we stop. Motels everywhere across the country are fantastic. Ice machines.

Every now and then, we'll listen to chatter over the CB, have a little back and forth with Cookie Monster and Numbers Man. I much prefer just talking with our own party. I don't like it when my dad gets into conversations with real truckers. I know they're going to be on to him. They'll know we're driving a Mercedes. They won't care that it's old. They'll know we have no business trying to mingle with real men of the road, that we're fronting like we're CB people. My dad's voice sounds too jovial, too folksy, when he's talking with truckers. My throat closes up until the conversation's over. My dad's average speed is 90 miles an hour, so once in a while we'll pick up a message about a Smokey or a Bear, and my mom'll look anxiously behind us while my dad pretends to be a guy who drives at the speed limit. Then the CB seems worthwhile.

When we're approaching Chicago, my dad gets into a conversation with a trucker. The day is extremely hot and sticky, an irritable kind of day. I don't know what's going on, but I guess this conversation isn't good. My mom looks more and more worried as it goes on, and then it ends. The atmosphere in the car is tense as we get closer to the city, but maybe this is still residue from that conversation. I don't understand. Then we're on a bridge in downtown Chicago, and an eighteen-wheeler has pulled up next to us and is apparently trying to run us off the bridge. My mom is practically screaming. She tells me and my brother to hold a pillow over our faces. We do. A few minutes pass? A few seconds? Nothing happens. We don't fall over the bridge, we're not crushed by metal, but fear and sweat and silence fill the car for many miles.

Iowa's not much to talk about. Corn, corn, corn.

The Badlands are compelling, those strangely formed green hills and cliffs. I peer at the land intently, trying to feel the badness. Something bad must have gone down around here, I think to myself. And then we get to Montana, and Montana fucking outdoes itself. We stay at a giant Holiday Inn in Helena. It has a motherfucking Polynesian-themed pool! Any hotel with a themed pool makes me want to run up and high five all the staff. AND! When we’re going into this hotel, I hold open the door for a man in a ten-gallon hat, and the motherfucking awesome old wealthy cowboy tips me a dollar! This is the first money I’ve ever earned. I stare at my dollar all night.

We’re getting closer to Seattle. Who knows what’s going on with The Canadian Hippie? We’re in worryingly less and less frequent contact with him as we drive across country. The atmosphere is increasingly chilly when we do see him. When we get to North Bend, which is about an hour outside of Seattle, some kind of confrontation happens between my dad and The Canadian Hippie. I don’t get it. I hang out with his daughter again, and we can’t figure out what all the hate is about, but it’s making things awkward for us. It’s less fun to play with her this time. We’re clearly on different teams, like it or not.

We arrive in Seattle on my birthday. July 3rd. It’s overcast. We don’t know anybody. We don’t have any furniture. (The Canadian Hippie abandoned us and our moving van after the mystery confrontation. We found it unlocked in a nearby mall parking lot a week after we got to town. ) My mom buys a Pepperidge Farm cake and puts a cutting board on a small box and throws a pillowcase over it for a tablecloth. She has silver candlesticks that were in a box in the car, and we have candles. We sit on the floor and they sing the birthday song to me. The trip is done. It’s cloudy and strange and quiet here, and I’m nine, and I live in Seattle.

(Cross-posted, as is the trend these days, from Writing, Writer, Writest. I've expanded it for The Gallivanting Monkey. I was respecting word limits over there. I don't have to respect a goddamned thing over here. Also, our moving truck looked just like the one in the picture. Atlas Van Lines ate King Van Lines. Based on performance, that can't have been too tough. I like to think that Jim is passed out just below view. Okay, then. All the good numbers* to you.)

*best wishes

Friday, September 17, 2010

i will never marry you

When my husband and I got married, a friend of ours read a poem aloud called The Very Short Sutra on the Meeting of the Buddha and the Goddess. In the poem, the Buddha’s kicking it of an afternoon, wandering around like the Buddha does, walking. Just walking. And then this naked red goddess with long blue hair pops up in front of him and blocks his path, all HWAA! Here I am! And the Buddha’s all, hey! Why you gotta pop up and get in my way? I was just going about my business, cool, Buddha-style. (Also, the Buddha clocked that she was a very foxy naked goddess, because he’s not dead, after all.) And she said, and I quote, “You can go around me, or you can come after me, but you can’t pretend I’m not here. This is my forest, too.” Then the Buddha and the Goddess get into this sort of sexy, challenging face-off. He assumes this rock-solid meditative posture, and starts telling her about how after arduous practice he’s penetrated reality, and she’s like NOT SO FAST, I AM REALITY. And then they really get into it, but never mind. We can leave them there. I’ve arrived at my point.

For years I’ve been toggling back and forth between Buddhism and Hinduism, and it’s driven me nuts that I couldn’t land on one of them. They’re each so attractive in their different ways. Buddhism is cool, impeccable, unflashy. You can’t argue with the logical empiricism of Buddhism, or you can, but Buddhism doesn’t mind. It can wait all day. Argue yourself in circles. Eventually you’ll tire, and Buddhism won’t have been even mildly scratched by your efforts. I can’t think of another religion that gives near as much attention to epistemology as Buddhism does, and then it has the grace to set it down and get to pure practice. It’s so incredibly secure. It’s the most secure, unflappable religion in the world. When did the Buddhists ever flip out and wage a holy war? Never is when. They’ve conducted themselves with great class through the centuries. Buddhism has its head down and its eyes on its own work, and it gently suggests you do the same. Am I gushing? I might be. I confess a crush. I had a crush on a fella one time purely because he was so calm and sensible -- so calm and sensible, in fact, that it struck me as terribly manly. Buddhism’s like that for me. So elegant and brave and adult. Swoon.

At the same time, though, if we’re going to run with this choosing-a-religion-as-taking-a-lover notion (and we are), hmm. Buddhism, gosh. You’re so cool, such a catch, quietly sexy in your way. But I’d sort of like to have the sense that you could flip out now and again, get mad, get ecstatic. That’s what I’m missing. That’s why I can’t commit. It’s not that you don’t have danger. You do. There are some essential safety nets you don’t provide, and that’s daring, that’s provocative. But you never seem to do anything wrong. You never mix it up.

Cue the sitar and a supersexy four-armed blue god strides on to the scene. WHAT…is that? And then the sky fills with somersaulting gods and goddesses in all flavors: ridiculous, wonderful, elephant-headed Ganesha, Hanuman the Monkey God, the triumvirate of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, with their respective girlfriends (!) Sarasvati (special power: music, knowledge and the arts – she plays the veena) (Me neither. Like a guitar?), Lakshmi (wealth, grace and beauty: who can turn the world on with her smile?) and Kali (who will fuck your shit up and add you to her necklace of skulls). There’s Durga, riding down the sky on her tiger or lion, whatever she’s in the mood for that day, swinging her ax and taking out demons. There’s Krishna, The Cosmic Player, with his long lashes and his blue skin, and his patient main squeeze, Radha, and they’re hot with love for each other. These gods and goddesses are like a divine Superfriends - and they sound like cartoons - but when you dive in to each of their lore, you see they stand for particular principles of reality, laws of physics, natural phenomena, and there’s plenty of sophistication in the layout. Hinduism is full of epic stories, battles and sex and revenge and undying love. It’s unreasonable and fiery and vast, and it sizzles with nuclear magic. The cosmos is like a giant silver screen, and the Hindu pantheon strides across it like so many movie stars. It’s the oldest religion in the world, with thousands of years of heft to it. Plus: gurus*! If you can wade through the sea of false ones and get lucky enough to find your very own real one with your name on him or her, zing! You have booked a ticket to enlightenment. May take a while, but it’s booked. Your guru is contractually obligated to make that happen.

*Buddhism quietly adds, “We have teachers. It’s in the same neighborhood. It’s worth noting.” You do, Buddhism, and I like your spin, there. Your way feels less confining, and you seem to invite more personal responsibility. No, I dig. I dig it.

Quit armwrestling, fellas**. You’re BOTH gorgeous.

**by which I mean quit trying to arm wrestle Buddhism, Hinduism. Buddhism is ignoring you, anyway.

Okay. The sex appeal of both religions has been established. Time to examine compatibility. I would so like to pair up with just one of you and make a go of it.

Buddhism, I like who I am when I’m with you. You make me get serious, you encourage me to let go of my illusions. You calm me, ultimately, even if you make me terribly tense for a while on the way there. I feel mature, womanly, ready to face facts. You cool my proverbial fevered brow. You drag me out of my head and into the stream of time and place in front of me. It’s now. It’s here. There’s nothing else. The world may be twisted and dark and relentless with suffering, but we’re not hiding, and the blessings we find along the way are as real as rocks.

Hinduism, I like the world best when I’m with you. The world seems like a miraculous, benevolent circus with glowing peel-away layers through which more light shines, more dazzle manifests. I feel like a child, incredibly well-loved, with my hands held by enormous cosmic Mommies and Daddies who leap me over the puddles and whisk me out of harm’s way. I work my way around my beaded mala, chanting the mantras you gave me, and I feel something sparkling through my body, wafting around my head. You let me be so human, you meet me where I am, you never make me feel ashamed.

I can’t do it. I can never choose. I will never choose. I want both, and I’ll have you both, but never fully. And it’s all right, almost. Well, it’s wonderful. I’m very happy. I have, of course, just one relationship with one Divine, who switches shirts according to my mood. I can swing from one vine to the other and get across the abyss just fine the way I’m doing it. When I meditate, I can touch you both. And if I’m honest, I’ll confess this: Hinduism, you’re probably my true love. I’m fairly sure that you are. But as long as Buddhism walks the earth, I won’t marry you.

(Cross-posted from Writing, Writer, Writest. But I'm gonna give you some extras, because I can do that over here.)


1) One of Finn's favorite Hindu YouTube treats. (He could watch these all day.) This is a slightly pared-down version of the go-to Gayatri mantra, which my brother taught me when I was small.

2) Sita Sings the Blues. By rights, you should have seen this in an art-house movie theater somewhere. Second choice is watching the DVD. It's my pleasure to bring you the lamest option of all, knowing that it's still so much better than nothing. Don't even think about not watching this in some form. You'll rue the day.

Monday, September 13, 2010


It’s the hot water you were born into. You were in it before that, even, steeped in your mama’s body. But you come out and go right into the family pot, and the flavor is simmered right into you, for good or for ill. It smells like your family, it tastes like your family. You can’t get away from it, no matter how far you go, but you won’t really know which part is you and which part isn’t. Is some part of your bones your own? How far down into my body do I have to go to find some purity*? Is all I am apart from my family some faint dot of light, a web of thoughts? Whose brain is this?

*I almost exclusively see this purity in my own children, though. They may have steeped in me but I feel more like a door they walked through, completely independent except for the shape of an eye, the angle of an eyebrow. They had to get here somehow. It had very little to do with us. To me, they came as the adults they’re going to be, wrapped in the temporary, frustrating chrysalis of their own baby suits. But that’s them.

On the one hand, I don’t want to be a part of a family, a member of an inescapable group where fifteen of us are walking around with the same mouth. A family is like a cult, and the curl at the side of your lip that you share with Cousin Sue is the telltale marker. We’ve both been there. We know.

Bound by a secret, bound by something that only your family understands, bound by a sadness, your family’s sadness. Your own family’s shame: no one else’s is like it. Good to have a place to go where people also know the secret, the secret thing that renders you a family. Not everyone likes this soup. It’s a family recipe. It tastes familiar, we all love it. We’re used to it.

Two blood lines. One side of the family dominates. The other I can’t see. It’s like the portrait you can stare at that’s a woman from one angle, a vase from the other – only here all I can see is the vase, no matter how plainly visible the woman is. One side bullies the other side out of existence. Van Gelders* trump Valtanens. My father’s side wins.

*My father’s mother’s maiden name was Van Gelder. My maiden name is Kunz, so wherever you see the word Van Gelder, you can substitute Kunz. However, it was the Van Gelder wing that was the loudest and the closest, so it’s Van Gelder from here on out.

In the Van Gelder family trunk: 1) Clairvoyance, passed like a beam from generation to generation, a light right between the eyebrows. No, a window, and through that window the light passes. 2) Volume, vehemence, fight. 3) Something bent, something twisted. Secrets. Pockets of ill mental health. 4) Treasures from the Far East. Chinese and Indonesian blood, years logged in India and on Java. Philosophy. Spices. A framed, gilded leaf from the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat when he reached enlightenment, the leaf an offshoot from the original plant, like all of us descendants that have come down the line. 5) Vintage stories with famous faces passing through. Henry Miller, Gloria Swanson, Salvador Dali, George Bernard Shaw, E.E. Cummings. The effect altogether is shabby, tweedy, glamorous.

And then, shoved into a corner, is my mother’s side: so vivid for her, so inaccessible for the rest of us. She grew up on a farm in Northern Finland. The farm was called Siertola, and for her it was like Tara. Her memories are of cows, and skating on frozen lakes, and yellow leaves, and the texture of her wool coat. They’re beautiful to her, they’re moving, and they can barely be heard over the Van Gelder din. The Valtanen music is too quiet, it’s too spare. Long, slow, single cello notes against a wintry background. So much is marked by absence. I met my grandmother before she died – she was just like a stick figure. Skinny, with straight hair that stuck out, and no English. I couldn’t tell what she was like. And then she was gone. My grandfather left her when my mother was one, so he wasn’t there. He was a streak of dark hair, a cloud of alcohol, one meeting with my mom when she was 15. “I hear you’re my daughter.” “That’s what they tell me.” And then he was gone, too. Valtanen faces are broad, their limbs are sturdy. I only know what we look like. I don’t know who we are.

Finland was too far, and we only had the one representative, so we defaulted to Van Gelder. We were swarmed by cousins on Sunday nights, talking about Theosophy and arguing over curry at the dinner table. Voices rising, arms waving. Privately, I loved it. It was warm and wild and loud and familiar and it felt almost like mine. Publicly, Van Gelder blood was freak blood and I wasn’t happy about it. We were vegetarians before anyone knew what the hell that was. We were Theosophists. “What the fuck is that?” asked everybody. (Can’t do it for you. Not now. God bless Google.) My grandmother was a famous clairvoyant who as a young girl transmitted messages from soldiers who died in Gallipoli to their families, healed people with her hands. It felt like we were the goddamn Munsters. I felt like Marilyn, looked like Eddie, worked on being the Munster who could blend in, pass for Grade B if not Grade A American. I dumbed it down, blanded it up, played to the crowd. “What religion are you?” (Oh, shit.) “We’re…Christians.” I learned to tell jokes, be cool, shake off the familial stuffiness. I loved being free of it. I loved making my own persona.

Oh, man.

Here comes the regret. There’s something too poignant here that I don’t want to look at. Distancing myself from my family, rejecting them. Subtly. There’s betrayal in here somewhere, and I don’t know who did it first. I don’t want to look. And there’s a love that I don’t want to talk about either.

What can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.
Nothing, my lord.
Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.
Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth.

There’s something at the core that I didn’t show you, that I can’t show you, that you’d never be able to see anyway, because you’re not my family.

This is hard. Family. Jesus. I’m losing my way, here, maybe on purpose.

I buck at being part of a family. I would sort of rather be alone. It can’t be helped, though. Also, that’s not true, and I love them. Oh, who knows? The topic makes me want to stick my head out of the window. It makes me need air. And we don’t have time to properly address this. The hot water we’re born into, the haunted houses we grew up in. The drama soaked into the walls. Aeschylus, Tolstoy, Ibsen, O’Neill. Everybody knows the family is a killer. The safest place on earth, right? Your home. Wonderful. The back of your hand. Yes! True! And you spend your whole life dismantling the little bombs they accidentally planted inside you. (That’s too dramatic and also not dramatic enough.) Whatever note I leave this on, it’s the wrong note. What did you do to me? Thank you for everything, sincerely. The other one. Both.

This did nothing any justice. Sorry, family.

P.S. This is cross-posted from my dear friend Josh Grimmer's new concern,Writing, Writer, Writest, which he's set up in order that not-writing-enough writers could begin to write more. So I'll be writing there each week on their given theme, and occasionally cross-posting over here. Do go and look. There are some real gems.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

violence redux

Oh, Christ, people. I've put this post up without a disclaimer, and then removed it. I've put it up now with an enormous disclaimer, and then removed it. I guess I only need one disclaimer, and it's this:

I don't hit my children.

Don't anybody let me change my mind again on this post. Jesus.

P.S. What Ingrid wrote was beautiful, and I'll put most of it in the comments section.


I don't want to write this post. I mean, I guess I want to. I'm here, the engine's running. But I think I had to hijack/kidnap myself to get myself here to do this. I'm pulling myself out of the trunk at gunpoint. Write it, bitch.

Ok, ok.


Can I do a little more preamble?

No, fuck you. Get to it.


I don't even know how to let myself start talking about this. I've had that ball in my stomach that's made me want to come here and write, but every time I've felt it, I thought, "No. I can't talk about that. I'm not even taking that to my journal. Find something else to do with yourself, ball. Go assimilate yourself into my organs. Cancer's treatable."


It's about parenting. It's about violence. It's about avoiding child abuse. Narrowly.


(This is so halting! And I can't make it be any other way. Sorry for my halting prose.) (Like I'm going to come here and be fluid about this. That would be terrifying.)

Finn. He, himself, is not my bête noire, but he fucking summons it. He's the dangerous little angel that leads my bête noire in on a leash, dancing around me and laughing. Wait, who's doing the dancing and laughing? Both of them. Both of them fucking are! and it's too much to take! Many times a day it's too much to take.

Obviously, our children test us. But the older Finn gets, the deeper the testing is getting and it's accessing something ferocious in me, something uncontrolled. Something that matches Finn's uncontrolled energy. Or maybe it's not his energy at all. Maybe it's mine. Maybe Finn goes wild and tears the day apart because I can't or won't or don't know how to do it. Maybe this energy is leaking out of me like some kind of toxic factory runoff and polluting my child, and he's just trying to get it off of him. That could be what he's doing. He's not fighting us. He's fighting IT.

When he's in the throes of this energy, whatever it is, he's not angry. It's not anger. It's just muchness. It's like he's plugged into some frighteningly outsized power source, and he doesn't know how to let it run through his body. Trust me, this is not simple childhood, uh, vivaciousness. When this energy starts running, I start to tremble a little. I have to plant myself a little more firmly wherever I'm standing, dig in, grab hold of something internal. I know it's coming. The energy starts running and vibrating off of him and he gets so wild, and he becomes this creature that you can't reach or reason with. The energy won't back off until it peaks.

Is this true? No. Fuck, no, no, it isn't true. That's how I LET it happen.

(This might make no sense to any of you, yet. Please forgive me. I'm working this out in public, in real time, here. If I take this public, then I can't pretend it isn't happening. Accountability. Possibly safety in numbers. Take it to the fire where all the other cavemen are gathered. Look, look, others. This.)

So there's a moment that comes when the energy is running. The moment is subtle, small and decisive, and if I gloss over it, I will lose. Either the bête noire is going to take over or I'm going to use my core strength to calm down and stop and breathe and allow love to permeate the situation. It's not like I can't do it. I just can't or don't or won't do it nearly as much as I should...which I guess should be EVERY FUCKING TIME. Because this is my child I'm dealing with. This is a small, fragile, tender being who's counting on me, my beloved little creature, my son.

Oh, breakdown. Breakdown.

(Finn, I'll come back to you. I will come back to you, baby. Wait here.)

BEAST! It's you I'm coming for now. You THING, you CLOUD. What are you?! Where did you come from and why are you inside of me and who put you there and what do you want? You're this dark genie, this black smoke. Anger, flailing. Coldness, too, an utter lack of concern for whomever and whatever is around you. You will do your own thing. You're supreme. Once you get going, you like it. You flex your muscles. You knock things over. It's satisfying to you, this display. You like to frighten people, it makes you glow. It makes you feel large. Makes you feel godlike. It's nothing to you. A flick of the hand and something dies and let that be a lesson to everyone.

For a split-second it's like that. A blazing dot of satisfaction and joy, like an atomic pinprick.

For me, I mean. It's like that for me when I let the beast win - and fuck love! who ever heard of love? who has time for it? - and I use my relative size and force to try and intimidate Finn (who, by the way and to his credit, gets less and less easy to intimidate) (although this results in a spiraling situation wherein I'm faced with the dilemma of pulling out bigger and bigger weapons). HA! FUCK YOU! LOOK WHAT I CAN DO! I'M ENORMOUS!

A negative re-creation of the big bang, an orgasmically destructive conflagration. I think this is why people imagine hell to be hot.

I yell, of course. Right. No shock. Kudos to the flower-like Thich-Nhat-Hanh of a parent who doesn't do this. He or she may be out there. But my yelling, for the moment, is what keeps my child physically safe.

Because the moment fucking comes. The impulse and decision. Fuck you. My body against yours. Mine will win. You'll go out the window or against the wall.

There it is. There's the horror and shame. The discovery of an anger and violence in me so profound that it could turn against my own child. I pray that this is universally true and I pray that it is unequivocally not universally true, but I suspect that it is.

When it kicks in, I feel unrecognizable to myself. I don't know what this thing is that's running me. I'm being run by something. I've allowed something that isn't me to come in. Is it me? It's not any me I know. Is it truly a part of me? Because something is in you, does it make it of you? I'm not trying to escape responsibility. I'm not. I'm ultimately - I hope - in charge of whether this energy moves my body and uses my voice and to what degree. I'm just trying to look at it. I'm not trying to run.

I will say that this degree of violent impulse only happens when Finn is doing something aggressive to me physically and won't stop no matter how often or loudly I tell him to. That's when I feel like a caged animal and the situation becomes potentially unsafe. Because that is violent, even if it's violence delivered by a four-year-old. There's a shock in being disregarded like that, a hot sense of violation. If he's hitting or kicking or pushing or squeezing or hanging on me or touching me in some relentless way, licking or poking or flicking or tapping like Chinese water torture, and he won't stop despite my hectoring or pleas, then I'm transported to the primal middle of whatever cumulative anger I've buried in this life. Dropped right inside it. And I will make it stop by nearly any means necessary.

Nearly. Nearly. Nearly.

Once, I had Fred in my arms, who was crying and needed tending to. Finn threw himself at my legs, and then threw his arms around my waist and began pulling. I told him to stop, and then yelled for him to stop, it wasn't safe, I have Fred, we could fall, I have to take care of Fred, let go, let go of me, and he wouldn't and I pushed him over. I threw him off of me and he fell on to the floor. In my defense, there was an element of the dramatic soccer player going on for Finn. He milked the fall, spun it a little, helped it along. Seemed almost glad it happened, as well as frightened and sad. Like he had his own strange pinprick of joy. But there he was on the floor, and I had put him there.

This isn't the worst thing that ever happened. Neither, though, is it small. It still lives on in Finn, who brought it up tonight when I was putting him to bed. My bête noire was activated after a jagged evening, and my patience was gone. My voice was loud and flat and I was ordering him this way and that. We had gotten into his bed to read stories, and I was doing battle with myself. I was trying to do the good thing. I was trying to breathe and be still. I summoned a softish voice, if one with a flat affect, and asked him to please pretend to be a rock for a minute (long enough for me to allow love to get a foothold, which I didn't say). I could feel the energy wanting to run in Finn still, and I could feel my own tears fighting their way up. (They won.) Finn draped a leg over me and began kicking me sideways with it. My voice got louder, a warning, and I told him that I would eventually do whatever it took to make that stop.

He said, "Would you hit me?!"

I said, "No, I would never hit you. I would never hit you. No."

He said, "Would you push me over?"

I knew he remembered. I considered pretending that I didn't know what he was talking about.

I said, "Would I push you off of me? Would I push you over?" and paused.

I answered, "Yes. Yes, I would. If you're doing something to me like this, if you're kicking me or pulling me or doing something to my body that I don't want you to do, then yes. I would. I would do it. I would push you over."

We sat there in the strange peace of this knowledge.

Monday, July 26, 2010

please hold

RSS Feeds. I always forget about the RSS feeds.

Yes, there was a post here earlier. Yes, it's gone. Yes, it will be back.

The subject matter of this post, for those who didn't have it spooned into an RSS feed before I could whisk it away, is very sensitive. I posted something and I felt ashamed about it and wanted to hide it.

My dear friend, Ingrid, she's one of the people who saw the post in her RSS feed. She called me this morning, and we hung out and talked. She's going to have my back and write a preamble for me so I can put it back up. I can't go it alone on this one. I'm afraid I'll get speared.

I forgot that long ago, when I was pregnant with Fred and spending lots of time on, I set things up so my blog would post over there. When I was scrambling to take down the post, checking Statcounter to see whether anyone had read it, I saw that it had posted to Babycenter, and someone had indeed read it. I went and looked.

One comment: a crying emoticon.

You can interpret a crying emoticon a lot of different ways when you have no other information to go on. I decided that this emoticon was crying in horror.

Ingrid is going to help me and I'll have it back up at some point soon.

So, you weren't imagining things. And if you read it and got worried, please don't. What I wrote was true but it's not anywhere close to the only truth, or the most pervasive truth. I stand by it. But it needs more around it. It's not enough by itself.

Okay. Please stand by.

Monday, June 21, 2010

a man, no plan, a canal.

A year ago tonight I went into labor with my youngest and final child, Mr. Fred Rowley.

If you follow this blog, you'll, uh, notice that my posting frequency has plummeted during this last year. Call me a conspiracy theorist but I think there's a correlation between the two.

No, YOU'RE crazy.

This post wants to go in more than one direction and I'm going to let it.

First, I have this guilt that I haven't been out here chronicling the beauty of my children in the way I did after Finn was born. So, I'm going to paint some pictures for you. I'm going to let you see them a little.

Second, this past year has been the most difficult of my life. I took a Persephone-like trip to the underworld and I'm only just climbing out into open air again. I don't fully understand what happened. I know this: I turned 40 last July. I'd been looking forward to this all my life. 40 always had this corona of light around it, a gravity and thrill to it. I felt in my bones that I was going to come into my own in some critical way. Like I would be born this year, somehow.

Maybe I was in the birth canal.

Wait, I think that's right.

Oh, argh. This is two posts and I'm trying to squash them together. Well, screw it. The birth analogy for this post is a Siamese twin. A Siamese triplet. I'm one of them, and Finn and Fred are the other two. We're definitely fused together. If I birth this post at ALL it'll be a miracle, so I'm not going to require that the process be pretty.

1. Fred! Let's begin with Fred. He's the little trumpet call, the sunrise, here. Fred had a hell of a time getting here. His ride through my body into the world was fraught. So many times we thought we were going to lose him. The problem was never with Fred. Fred is the farthest thing from frail. Fred arrived in style, all in one piece, better than solid.

How do I describe Fred to you?

This is why I don't post! I'm humbled by my subjects. I'm just going to dumbly hand you images and try to begin to describe Fred that way.


* deep in the earth-->ready to be excavated --> but not excavated yet --> still all Nature, all potential --> a massive cache of ore --> gold, what else? How does it glow without being up in the sunlight yet? Trust me, it just does --> the future of this gold can only be something large and magical. A grail, a sword. Something bright and noble.

*Daffodils (yellow) (gold again) -->simultaneous flower and trumpet

*Golden retriever (right) --> your best friend, so lucky and happy and good


That's the light of Fred, the glow of him. We know he's on the side of good. We know he's on the side of joy. We know he's tough, and we know he's not mean. He's all benevolence, but don't bother fucking with him. He'll barrel right past you.

It's the summer solstice. In Finland, the midsummer holiday is called Juhannus. I was there once for Juhannus, with my mom. We went to a cabin on a lake with some cousins, ate cold cucumber soup, watched the sunlight streaming through the birch forest. The sun went down for five minutes around 3 in the morning and then popped right back up.

Fred timed his entrance here just right. Here, everyone. My signature. Sunlight.

I'm not going to try and describe the day-to-day of Fred to you. He'll just sound, you know, like a baby. I'm no fool. I'm not going to try and get across the light in his eyes. Maybe you'll get to see it for yourself someday.

2. Finn.

If I'm daunted talking about Fred, I'm doubly daunted talking about Finn. My complicated moonbeam. That metaphor isn't just me trying to be neat and easy, cheap and symmetrical. I may have made him, but I didn't MAKE him. I'm just reporting, and that bit of reportage is accurate. I'm going to let myself be primitive, again, and just hand you what I can hand you about him.

*Long, pale, willowy. Wild, sensitive. Where Fred is of the earth and sun, Finn is netherworld, elf (not quite right, elf, but it gets there), moon. He's a creature. There's danger to him. He's carrying something wild, and he doesn't know how to work with it, yet. There's a split. On the one hand, this intelligence and refinement. His vocabulary boggles. He doesn't want the music too loud. The sheets are too scratchy. And then these bursts of energy come through him, and he hides his face. Can't use words. Neighs like a horse. Plunges toward you. Plunges away from you. Careens. There's no such thing as a wild thoroughbred, is there? There is now.

He's wild as Pan, soft and bruisable as the bluest blueblood.

We watch Blue Planet together. Orcas converge on a mother and baby gray whale, separate them, take the calf down, kill it. He likes this part, defiantly. It matches something in him. He mimes shooting a thousand arrows at the Orcas. He's with them and against them, both.

Why would I be able to describe this?

Look, I said it wouldn't be pretty. I said it would be a miracle for me to get anything out at all. I can't describe my children. It's useless.

And now I'm too spent to try and talk about myself, and that's really all the metaphor you need for me for now. I'm spent. Forty, you took it another direction. Nice work. You mixed it up. You zagged where I thought you would zig. I don't think 41 is going to be a piece of cake, necessarily, but at least I think it's going to take place above ground.

I'll come back to me later. And the Pink House, don't worry. I'll come back to that, too.

Friday, May 07, 2010

the pink house, part two

"This is the tribute I get? The same picture over and over?" Oh, Pink House, you know how it is. I'd have to go through old pictures and then, I don't know, SCAN them or something, and who has the time? Pretend it's a different day. Different snow*. Different things happening inside. You choose. (*Maybe it's foam!)

So where was I? The good news. The love story. Elizabeth. Comedy in the hallway. (How am I going to cram it all in? I'm not, I'm not going to. Make peace right now, Tina.) Okay, I know. The old failsafe. Snapshots. ("Irony," declares the Pink House above.)

Pulled at random:

1. Christmas Party, 200...2. I think. It's not that kind of Christmas party. It's the other kind. "Dress outrageously" is the edict, and everyone complies. I've chosen some kind of Hindu tenement angel look, with fluffy white wings, a kimono and a bindi. Brian is sporting an enormous David Byrne-ish suit and tie. It's 3 in the morning. The music is loud. The people are dancing. The floor is bending beneath us a little. The thought crosses my mind, "I wonder...if the living going to fall into the basement." And then it crosses back the other way, and forgets something and crosses back, and keeps doing that. Nice work, floor, keeping us alive. (Lots of spontaneous dancing when people come to the Pink House, due to a music collection heavily weighted to guilty pleasures but anchored - entirely not due to me - with enough credible stuff so that the self esteem of our guests doesn't totally plummet.)

2. September 11th, 2001, before 7 am. The phone rings. Who calls this early? Something is serious. A message from our friend, Jenn, "I'm all right." What? Why wouldn't you be? I turn on the TV. I wake Brian. We stare at it. We go wake Elizabeth and Erik. There we are, in the living room, for most of the day.

3a. April 19th, 2006, around 8pm. I'm in an enormous birth tub in our living room. Elizabeth is squeezing my back during contractions, and Morgan is, and our midwife is, Dave? He may be. He may also be freaking out a little in the kitchen. Larraine, my mother-in-law, she's in the room, too. I say out loud, just to get it out of my system, "We can always put him up for adoption, right?" I'm joking, sort of, but I'm also not. I think I need to have this deal on the table in order to keep dilating. I'm not ready to be a parent but within 15 or so hours I will be anyway. I imagine Finn also needed that deal on the table to keep doing whatever he was doing. Um...she's not ready! I can hear her thinking it!

3b. April 22nd, 2006. Home again, home again, jiggety jig. Baby in a teal velour suit and hat, this is your house. You live here. (He lives here? Really? With us? I need to lie down.)

4. December 31st, 1999. Elizabeth and I are getting ready to go out to our different New Year's Eves. We have purchased and are wearing the same high-heeled pony skin boots, in different colors. Mine are red, hers are olive green. We have that song on. It's still light out. We're dancing. We can't believe it's here.

5. Summer, 1999, a random night. Our friend Forest is living in our basement. He has a bad dream and yells out. I think he's being attacked and launch my knee jerk "we have an intruder" move, which is to yell out in what I think sounds like a man's voice, "WHAT?!" Like, I'm a big football player and why are you bothering me with all these questions? That's what it sounds like. That's my move. Forest comes upstairs and he and Elizabeth join me and Brian in our room. Elizabeth pretends to be on the phone placing an order, "Hello? Yeah, we need some mommies."

6. Christmas morning, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, done to excess. I have stayed up until 5am wrapping all the stocking stuffers. The presents snake out across the floor. The stockings overflow into large grocery bags. Elizabeth is there. Brian is there. Jenn is there. Stephen may be there. Morgan will come later.

7. Summer 2003. It's just me. Brian and I have split up. I watch the movie "Laurel Canyon" and decide to take up pot smoking more seriously. I buy a pretty little pipe. It's odd to be drinking wine and smoking pot by myself in my little house. Anesthetized, lost and hopeful.

8. Various times. What's on television? We watch "The Practice." Ba-nuh-nuh-nuh! Always dance to the theme song. We watch "The West Wing" and "The Daily Show" to help us cope with the Bush years. "Survivor"? This kind of thing can't last.

9. Election night, 2000. I've thrown out a rib and am pasted to Uncle Bill, who is a deluxe old leather recliner that Brian has imported into the house. Am likely wrapped up in Mr. Softee, who is a taupe blanket given to me by my friend, Cara, for my birthday one year. It hurts to breathe. The election is finally called for George Bush. At that precise moment, the TV smokes, sparks and goes black. It has flatlined.

7. October/November 2003. I'm on the phone. Long distance. Australia. A short conversation, just to touch base = an hour and a half. A regular conversation = 3-5 hours. The longest conversation = 10.5 hours. I can see the moon out of the living room window. He can see that same moon. My ear cartilage is nearly destroyed, but this doesn't matter.

Well, this is clearly going to be a three-parter.

Next time, the bad news. No, we haven't sold it - that will be good news. No, we had some renters. And it went bad. And they assaulted the house. Nothing too serious, all cosmetic wounds are healed. But just picture your most sacred, beloved place, and picture it desecrated. Feel that.

Those fuckers.