Wednesday, April 30, 2014

the seeker

I loathe writing bios. They're such a losing proposition. If I had some kind of prestigious job or if there were parts of my identity that I were fanatical about, I could see digging it, and I feel admiration/jealousy when I see somebody who's apparently embraced the form. Mystery novelist! Dog lover! Outdoorsman and pizza aficionado! You go, you guys, with your clarity and willingness to commit. God bless. I will admit to having judgmental feelings when I see bios that mythologize their owners in rakish, flattering ways. Mad hatter. Artist. Thief of hearts. Dancer like nobody's watching. I mostly hate trying to sum something up that I don't have a handle on. I mean, I love my kids and my husband, and I love Prince and green smoothies and Wes Anderson films, and I love reading and writing, but I'm not prepared to scrawl any of that on my tombstone. It's a "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" problem. All of those things are true, along with a billion more things like them, but those things feel limiting. Ultimately, I have no idea what this Tina situation is all about. It's seemed sketchy from the get-go. Like, there might be some kind of Tina persona on the loose out there, and if people are buying it—even though I've been actively honing it and selling it, whatever it is—that makes me nervous. 

But there's one descriptor that seems apt, and if it didn't give me that self-mythologizing vibe, I'd hang it out there every time and feel like I'm telling the truth without sweating that whole-truth-and-nothing-but thing.


 Such a great song. I first heard it when I saw Stephen Soderberg's film The Limey, when an old, black-clad, just-beaten-up Terence Stamp was staggering to his feet on his way to avenge his daughter's death. Holy gods, did I develop a crush. I thrilled to the moment because you knew he was going to have satisfaction eventually. You could see it. You could beat him down but he was going to get up and get exactly the fuck where he was going. 

I want something. I don't want anybody dead, but I show up at my meditation cushion 6-7 days a week because I want something, and I talk to a spiritual teacher twice a month because I want something. And that endless whirring going on all the time under the surface of me, this part of me that can't rest, it's because I want something. 

A few months ago, I was talking to Jim, who's my teacher, and a big thing happened. I forget what we were discussing, exactly, but he said at one point, "You're okay." Plainer, more boring words were never spoken. Nobody's going to break out their embroidery thread/tattoo needles for that little number, but something rippled through me when he said it. I thought of Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, when he's caught in that water tunnel, and he puts his hands behind his head and lets himself drop off the edge to his possible death. I felt like I was the fugitive, and that I'd been running for, fuck, I don't know, a thousand years. Forever. Like that was my whole gig, my whole raison d'être since time immemorial. But in this case, I felt like somebody had caught up to me just to tell me, "Nobody's chasing you." That's what I heard in that little "You're okay." Nobody's chasing you. You can stop running. I can't tell you what a shock it was, what a newsflash, even though it only lasted a split-second. I just grasped a corner of it, and I could barely absorb it. Brain scramble. 

I had three reactions. 

1. I was running?


3. Well, shit. Now what?

If you've been doing something for a thousand metaphorical years, even something that sucks, you're going to feel weird when you get the go-ahead to stop. If I'm not running, what's my next move? Or is that a fugitive's question? I want to add that it's not like I've actually stopped running, either. I just didn't know I was doing it. Stopping is easier said than done, especially when you have all this stupid momentum.

I was talking to Jim this afternoon, and he asked me some good questions. Like, what exactly am I looking for? What do I want? What's the thing? What do I think this seeking's going to win me? 

I thought about it. I pictured whatever I thought the end was, whatever the big win was, and just got a picture of this enormous peace and quiet, and I said, "Well, I'll get to rest."

And Jim asked, "Rest how? From what?"

I thought about it a little more, and described the picture, "It's like there are no more adversaries. It's like the universe has been washed clean of my enemies, and I don't have to fight any more, or recover from a fight, or wait for the other shoe to drop." 

"What else?" asked Jim.

"My responsibilities are all met. I did it. I don't have to worry about letting people down any more. I don't have to be so vigilant. I can clock out."

And Jim said, "Okay, well, let's imagine that's true. Boom. Right now. That's already done. That's all gone. What do you get now? What's there?"

Uh. I don't know. "I don't know."

Jim was happy with that answer. He said that that was kind of the thing, that you take any seeker and have them keep deconstructing what they're seeking, and they're eventually going to run into a wall. There will come a place past which you cannot get. That the seeking model is flawed, somehow, or a red herring.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I don't know what I'm trying to work out here in front of you.

In my mom's apartment is a framed, gilded skeleton of a leaf. It's just the veins, all wispy and fragile. This is one of those family treasures. It's a clipping from the tree the Buddha sat under when he reached enlightenment, or a descendent of that tree. I'm not a Buddhist, I'm not anything, but I love the story of Siddhartha. I love that he had a good thing going on—a palace, riches, a family—and he threw it all aside to go find out just what the fuck is going on here in this living. He went seeking hard, trying all sorts of things. And he didn't find it, whatever it was. And then he stopped and went and sat under that tree, or went and sat under that tree and just stopped. And then it happened, whatever it was. He found something or lost something. He made it.

I don't know what the hell I'm doing, myself. I'm just trying to figure out how to drive this thing. I want something, which right there is maybe already screwing me over—which is probably also wrong—and I don't know if I'm supposed to apply gas or put on the brakes to get it/not get it/find out I always had it or something. Or maybe hit the gas pedal on the way to the meditation cushion, and then once I'm there, coast. I don't know. 

And nobody's asking me for a bio anyway. You just kind of think everybody is all the time, and that you have to have some kind of answer. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

over the river and through the woods

So I was watching the Oprah Winfrey Network on Easter morning. Super Soul Sunday. I tuned in because one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Adyashanti, was going to be on. Oprah's a guilty pleasure for me somehow, but in a virtuous way, like a bag of baked chips. She's so uncool but I'll be damned if I miss an issue of her magazine, and while I never watched her show religiously, I always popped in for things like Tom Cruise jumping on the couch. Event Oprah. And Adyashanti is a huge box office star in my own little firmament, so the boys got sent outside to ride their scooters so Mama could concentrate on the goods. 

Oprah and Adyashanti sat outside under some trees in what looked to be some morning sunshine. I sat inside with my cup of coffee, with the sun streaming around the curtains. We had a nice vibe going, the three of us.

Adyashanti talked about how families carry a kind of signature energy down through the generations. Like there's a spice, a flavor there, a family brand. And he said that usually there's some kind of negative charge that's the most binding thing in that family recipe. I mean, no, he didn't say that, not in those words. He said something else. But that's the gist. And he described an exercise you can do where you set up two chairs across from each other, sit in one of them, and let some kind of bummer feeling arise, something associated with your family. Once you have a hold of it, you flash on the face of the family member that feels associated with the bad feeling. Whoever comes up, you just go with it. And then when you've got the feeling and the person, you get up and sit in the other chair with the intention of leaving that particular bad feeling from your family behind. You leave it in the first chair and then from the other chair, you bless it and set it free. That's apparently the key step. If you don't bless it, you're stuck with it, so you'd better bless that shit if you want it to fly away and leave you in peace. 

"Takes five minutes," said Adyashanti. 

"And it's really powerful," breathed Oprah.

Well, hell, I thought. I have five minutes. I have a family feeling or two I wouldn't mind setting free. So I jotted down the steps and planned to do it sometime. Then I sat down yesterday afternoon to start writing this post, and before I even got started I was like, fuck it. Let's set up those chairs. And I pulled the two white wing-backs in our bedroom across from each other and went for it. 

I'll tell you what happened, but first I have to tell you about Granny. Get comfy because she was a piece of work. It's going to take a minute to conjure her.

Before my family moved to Seattle in 1978, we lived in Port Chester, New York. And right next door to us lived my grandmother, Dora. Granny. My grandfather lived there, too, but he died before I turned three, and that left Granny as sole operating grandparent. I had a grandmother in Finland whom I never saw, foggily holding up the other end, but Granny was the only flesh-and-blood grandpresence.

It could have been great, living next door to my grandmother. And considering who she was, it should have been straight-up magical. Granny was a famous clairvoyant and healer, packed with stories like a supernatural piñata. She wrote a book when she was nineteen called The Real World of Fairies (which is still in print) and another book about the chakras and another book about the aura, and a couple more as well. She could see and communicate with ghosts, angels, tree spirits, you name it. I'm not going to give you her whole history here, but it was juicy. She grew up on a sugar plantation in Indonesia and then left her family and moved to Australia when she was eleven to train her clairvoyance with a man named C.W. Leadbeater. (They're in the picture up top. Dora's on the right.) At fifteen she was relaying messages from soldiers who had died at Gallipoli to their families. At nineteen she was thrown from a horse, broke her back and moved to Hollywood (not for showbiz reasons—Hollywood was still a sleepy little community back in the early '20s, and that wasn't her thing), and there she lived next door to Dr. Seuss and down the street from Gloria Swanson. Later, with my grandfather, she bounced around with people like Henry Miller and Beatrice Wood and Salvador Dali (watch your feet: so many falling names....I think you're safe now), and traveled all over, lecturing and teaching for the Theosophical Society. Eventually she was the president of the Theosophical Society in the U.S., which in our crowd made her some kind of great Dowager Empress. 

To get to her house, you could either walk around the front and head down their long driveway, or you could go in the back yard, hop over the brook and walk through the woods. On paper, this is an amazing setup. You prance through the trees into the arms of your adoring grandmother who is also this sort of powerful sorceress, and she scoops you on to her lap and feeds you cookies and describes all the fairies sprinkled around the garden, and the tree spirits in the woods, and tells you stories about all the artists and movie stars she met, and how sad the ghosts were in Australia, and what they wanted to tell their families.

Nope. That was not the scene at all. That is not how it went down.

Granny didn't like me, right from the beginning. And I didn't like her, either. Apparently she held me for a second after I was born and passed me back with disinterest to my mom, saying, "She's going to be mama's girl." And that was probably our second-best interaction from my childhood. Once when I was five we were playing on this big flat rock between our houses which we christened The Monkey Rock. Granny and David and I were pretending to be monkeys. We were peeling sticks like they were bananas and waving them around and hooting. She was including me in the game, smiling at me and everything. I could barely believe it. Normally she didn't register my presence unless she had to. But that day she was giving it up for me. I gaped at her and waved my stick-banana, incredulous, soaking up the good vibes while they hovered in front of me. That was our best one. But our usual configuration was in opposition to each other. When my friends talked about their squishy, loving Grandmas and Nanas who snuggled them and spoiled them and made them cocoa, I seethed with envy.

She was mean, is the thing. She wasn't soft. She was scratchy and harsh and disdainful, except with my brother, whom she doted on. I didn't know why she was like she was, I never really knew why, I still don't know why. She was super-developed in some exciting ways, and completely raw and inedible in others. She's the biggest mystery I have. 

I don't know how I'm going to wrestle her to the page here for you. This is a blog post, not a book. I'm going to have to do a fly-by to get you on board a little bit, so you'll know who was with me in that chair yesterday.

Fuck it. I'm going to try and cram her into a meme. 

25 Things About Dora

1.   Granny had a laugh like a crow, harsh and barking, and though she laughed all the time, it wasn't generally because something was funny. Her laugh was a weapon, a tool to reestablish her high status, which always had to be the highest in the room.

2.   Granny could see auras, and they weren't just meaningless blobs of pretty colors. Your whole résumé was coded in there for her to check out. If you thought of somebody enough, that person's face could be hanging in there for her to see. She could see things about your character, your abilities, your fears, your health. It was unnerving. 

3.   This is a conversation I just had with my mom ten minutes ago. 

Me: I'm going to write about Granny today.
My mom: May God help you.

4.    Granny looked down on fat people, particularly fat women. 

5.    Granny loved men, and she loved doctors. If you were a male doctor: jackpot! She showered you with attention. I don't know if I'd call it flirting, because that implies a vibe that wasn't exactly in her wheelhouse, but it was as close as she came.

6.    If you were not an impressive person of education and position, she was not into you. Unless you were a sick person. Then you were relevant. 

7.    Granny was a looker in her day, and had great legs she was vain about until she died at 95.

8.    Granny devoted years of her life to doing energy healing work, and she treated thousands of patients for free, trying to ease their suffering. Cancer patients, AIDS patients, dying children. She had them over to her apartment and they'd sit on a chair and she'd stand behind them with her hands on their shoulders, cracking jokes and gazing occasionally into the distance, checking something out clairvoyantly. Her bedside manner was brisk and cheerful and fun. Soft, no, but the act itself was the softness. 

9.   Granny loved to argue. She'd call out to my brother, laughing, "Daaaaaaavid! I want to argue with you!" And they would giggle and argue and kick each other, for fun, for sport. 

10.  There's an apocryphal story about Dora wherein she was walking down the street one day in New York City when her slip fell around her ankles. The story goes that she just stepped out of it and kept walking, which sounds pretty legit to me. For years I thought that it was her underpants that fell off, and I was disappointed when I found out it was just a slip. Underpants would have been both more embarrassing and more badass.

11.   Granny walked two miles a day until the last few months of her life.

12.  Granny hated bananas but she'd eat one every day for the potassium, grumbling, "It is my duty."

13.   My mom once asked my grandmother why she was so cruel to my father—because she was—and her response was, "Well, his father loved him." Like, hey. At least he had one of us. 

14.   Once when I was nine I saw Granny without her dentures in, and it was a revelation, like seeing a tiger that stalks you all day transformed into a rag doll. She looked weak and mushy. I wanted her to stay like that.

15.   Granny learned to meditate when she was four. If you didn't meditate, you weren't a serious person.

16.   She never had a female friend to confide in. 

17.   But people contacted her day and night to talk to her about their problems. Living people, dead people. Needy beings hounded her constantly. She was a guru to many but a regular frail person with her own problems to basically nobody. People leaned on her, and once my grandfather died, she didn't have anywhere to lean herself.

18.   Before she married my grandfather, she was in love with a handsome young man named Oskar, but it didn't pan out, and that was a big loss. She got her heart broken at the same time as her back.

19.   She ate a lot of tahini. A lot. So much fucking tahini. Tahini all the damn time. 

20.   Her full name was Theodora Sophia, which means "divine gift of wisdom".

21.   She spoke in a thick Dutch accent with heavily rolling Rs, and Ws that sounded like Vs, e.g. "I am a verrrrrry old lady" and "I am a prrrrractical girl" and "Vhere da hell is da mail?" 

22.   Her mother was clairvoyant, and so was her grandmother, and her great-grandmother, and so on.

23.   Her guilty pleasure was reading romance novels.

24.   She was a mother, but she wasn't cut out for the job. My dad was something she just had to figure out how to deal with somehow.

25.   When she was a little girl in Indonesia, she used to bury her dolls outside. They didn't have auras, so they were obviously dead.

Okay, back to those chairs. Back to Adyashanti's exercise. 

I sat down with the plan to do a Granny feeling. I thought about it, and the feeling that came up was the one where I was afraid to speak when she came into the room. It was a kind of flinchiness, an expectation of being laughed at, or snapped at, or put down if I said the wrong thing. Flinchy self-censorship. So I was ready. I had the feeling and the person. 

I got up from the chair with the intention to leave that behind me. Granny could keep it, or however it was supposed to work. I think I wasn't totally clear on the procedure. But I sat down in the second chair, facing the chair where I'd left Granny and the feeling. I went to bless the feeling, and bless her, and send them on their way. 

I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. I didn't want to. It felt jive, somehow. I had a contracted feeling in my stomach, and I imagined Granny in that other chair rolling her eyes, and I could hear that laugh and her voice saying something like "Keep your stupid blessing, sveetie, I don't need it." And I got testy, like, Well, I don't want to fucking give it to you anyway. You can't have it. 

And I got up. It was a wash. I guess I'm stuck with her for a while. 

P.S. We had some good moments, Granny and I. I want to say that for the record. We had a real winner, even, at the very end of her life. No big professions of love, but there was a show of mutual regard, even respect. Story for another day. But I don't know what it all adds up to. I don't know what I ended up with. I roll with an afterlife story, thanks to her, and I don't know what I've got out there now: friend, or foe, or neither, or what. Ambivalence, it turns out, is hard to kill.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

high notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

the reggie chronicle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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