So Let’s Say – Monday April 23rd

Things aren’t going the way I want them to go.  Wait that’s not it.  Things are going the way I want them to and it’s not enough for me.  I should be more passionate.  I should be more enthusiastic.  I should be able to access joy authentically, not by gritting my teeth and forcing myself to.

Faking it until I made it worked, but it doesn’t feel real.  At least with the deep dark lows came the ridiculous highs.

I’m going to be more methodical.  I’m going to spend some time every day being active, being creative, being driven, being social.  And I’m going to god damn write it down and be accountable.

The problem is the same problem that I always have, the one everyone has, the problem that there’s always something to get in the way of doing the hard stuff.  But I’m tired of letting it get in the way.  I want to go back to my aggressive, driven self.  Not this complacent self.

So let’s say I can actually do this.  I worked out today, so I was active.  I wrote this shitty blog post, which I’m counting as creative.  I’m going to do some research for me New Big Idea, which will be driven.  And I’ll call a friend to be social.  I can do this, I can be methodical and focused.  I can be an adult.

I don’t want to wake up one morning as a 75 year old and say “well shit, I had every opportunity in the world, and all I did was watch the time go by”.

Maybe this afternoon I’ll actually write something that I’m proud of.  But for now, I’m proud that I’m pushing myself forward.

When My Creative Epiphany Turned Into My Creative Apocalypse – Wednesday October 25th

Chicago, IL

El Train: Brown Line

One impetus for my creative epiphany was a series of random and incredibly fun events I’ve been going to with a friend of mine.  She’s more accurately a Superfriend: fun, thoughtful, dear, sympathetic, supportive, and encouraging. I like to think of myself as her ringer, but she’d probably argue that I’m just so fucking fun she wants me to come along to whatever she’s going to.  In the past month we’ve gone to a famous sports guy benefit, two Cubs games, and a benefit liberal social services that make a difference in the local community.  These events involve incredibly fun pre and post parties, usually at a fabulous restaurant that I had never heard of until we walk in and are hugged by the owner.

I own my own business and go to many many industry events.  I know how to pay for your lunch at someone else’s event… I went out of my way to talk to the akward client, or give feed back if it was helpful, or buy an unreasonable amount of raffle tickets because I was drunk and couldn’t figure out how the app worked.  (By the way, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to know that they design those apps specially to trick the drunk and the elderly.)  But these small gestures paled in comparison to the opportunities she was giving me.

And then Superfriend texted me an invitation to see Katy Perry perform at the United Center in a skybox full of business people.

“That sounds like my worst nightmare” I graciously replied.

“Please” Superfriend wrote.

“Yes, of course I will” I typed quickly.  It would be powerfully shitty for me to only say yes to the stuff I wanted to go to, and say no to stuff that made me want to hide in a hole until it’s popularity faded.  So I arranged for a babysitter for Thursday night, I charged up my Hoverkicks, and started to psych myself up to see Katy Perry.  I figured I had a few days to get right in the head about it- Thursday was almost a week away.

Wednesday evening I took the EL home.  It was a nice commute, I saw a new mom-friend and we talked the whole ride back to the suburbs.  When I finally looked at my phone, I had a few missed text messages from Superfriend.

“Hey, we’re all at the bar, you on your way?”

“My phone is going to run out of batteries, if you can’t meet us call one of the other people in the group, we can meet at the United Center”

“Is everything ok?”

Huh.  How odd.  I wrote back: “Shoot, I can’t go out two nights in a row – I just got off the EL by my house”

She replied “You’re not coming?”

I called her; “Ummm are you guys pregaming for Katy Perry?”

“Hi! Yes! Are you ok?” Superfriend said with concern in her voice.  I can be a terrible flake, but not a casual canceller.

“Superfriend, I thought it was tomorrow.  My babysitter is for tomorrow…I just got home.  I screwed up.” I hung my head as I talked into my phone.  ”I’m so sorry!”

“Pfffft it’s fine!” SF said. “I don’t want you to come all the way back downtown, it’s not worth it for this.”

“But but but I wanted to say yes! And my blog! I was going to write about it! And I owe you this yes!”

She laughed and assured me that she’d find someone to use the ticket and would try to have fun without me.  I felt like a real shitheal.  I berated my brain: “if that had been Beck you NEVER would have fucked up the day!  You worthless turd!  You can’t even run a mile without stopping.”  That last one is a standby in my shame cycle.

Eventually I realized that my whole creative epiphany was going to be derailed.  I wouldn’t have Katy Perry to write about.  Then I’d be frustrated and I wouldn’t write about an upcoming advertising party.  Then I’d sink lower into the chasm of self loathing and ignore the whole weekend.  And I’d feel like shit.

I talked to Superfriend the next day.  The show was everything we had imagined it would be.  It was the best/worst, it was stupid/fun, it was ridiculous.  I’ve never been so mad to miss something that I had no interest in going to until I couldn’t go.

So fine, I’ll write about that.  It took me days and days and it’s not perfect and that’s barely even bothering me.  Just kidding, I care so much I just realized I could write about that someday…about how much I care about stupid shit.  And here is where I think of some inspiring thing about productivity and self loathing and choosing your own happiness or something.  And I write it in a way that won’t embarrass me when I read it six months from now.

 

Brain Goes Boom – Monday October 24th, 2017

Pabst Riverside Theater, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Alt J (with special guest  NoMBe)

I stood in front of my seat in the Pabst and couldn’t believe how much fun I was having.  The tickets were general admission, but that included the option to sit in the theater instead of standing in front of the stage.  I hesitated at first- what about the energy of the crowd, the collective joy, the slick sweat of the molly’ed out frat dudes who always wedge themselves in front of me? Then I chose a seat.  A glorious aisle seat, a protective little piece of real estate, a red velvet force field.

The theater is intimate and easy- even 2/3rds of the way back it was the best view of a band on stage I’ve had since the 8th grade, when my height was still average.  The beer lines were short and accessible, the bathrooms were not disgusting.

When the first notes of 3WW creeped out and the lights came up, we all stood in our seats and gasped.  All of us.  Every one of us.

It occurred to me that I didn’t have a concert enemy.  You know that horrible person who ruins a show for you no matter how carefully you avoid them: The Talker.  The Wasted Chick Who Swings Her Hair In Your Beer.  The Guy Who Pushes His Crotch Against You. The Space Stealer. The Falafel Burps Guy. I could see those people, standing in front of the stage, but from the safety of my seat I just enjoyed their enthusiasm.  I drank my cold beer without being jostled, I sang loudly and bobbed along happily.

All it took for me to have a creative epiphany was two years of melancholia, a road trip to Milwaukee, my (current) favorite band, and access to euphoric and mildly hallucinogenic state.  Everything suddenly fit together.  Like, this must be what it’s like to have religious faith – I could see purpose in my struggles and disappointments. All the fears and insecurities and dullness and ache fell away as I stood there. It was just me and my brain, loving each other again.

I’m back.  I’m writing again.

 

His 5th Birthday – May 10, 2015

It’s hard to have this blog still exist.  I recently became a blog-writer-denier, in front of someone I had just met.  I don’t want people to know anymore and I don’t want to write very much anymore.

When I was in the third grade Mrs. Long had us write essays about what we’d be when we grew up.  I wrote that I wanted to be a writer.  I was already a voracious and mature reader, and my parents encouraged me.  I overwrote and overwrite everything, but I can’t help it- I’m addicted.  I’m a logophile.  I write lists to start my day and I write sentences to organize my thoughts and long emails I have to cut down (but don’t).  I doodle words when I’m on the phone, admiring the shapes that represent the sounds that conjure up images.  It’s like magic.

I loved writing.  I used to write prolifically.  I would write on this blog every single day.

On May 10th 2010 I gave birth to a baby boy.  I helped the nurse change his diaper through little openings in an incubator and read him The Hungry Little Caterpillar and got to hold him against my chest, twice.  (I’ve written these sentences over and over and over for five years now.) Then I started writing about it.  As I was going through it, from inside the hospital I started writing how I felt on this blog.  For years I wrote everything here- from the physical pain to the horrible secret thoughts.  But five years is a long time for other people.  The people who were there back then might think you can’t get over it, and the new people…well it does’t seem fair to subject everyone to all of it.  Everything in my life has changed in these five years except the sadness.

It’s impossible for me to write anything new about what happened.  One of the most consistent sufferings of a writer is the guilt of not writing enough.  There’s always more to write.  And there’s always more a person wants to write about grief.  It changes so dramatically and seeps out so unexpectedly.  A few nights ago it appeared as humiliation.  Another time it was fuel for aggression and triumph.  Usually it’s loneliness.

The loneliness is easy to redirect because my joy for life and shattering sadness are not mutually exclusive.  I never need help looking on the bright side: I live on the bright side.  I just have a summer home on the dark side.

I am self conscious about how sad I will always be sometimes.

On May 10th 2010 I gave birth to a baby boy. I helped the nurse change his diaper through little openings in an incubator and read him The Hungry Little Caterpillar and got to hold him against my chest, twice.

He was alive and he was his own self. That’s the sentence I would say if I could.  That’s what I would tell people.

Don’t Try – Friday August 1st

poem1982-06-11-the_old_big_timeIn anticipation of getting pregnant, many women take prenatal vitamins, get their body in shape, and do other shit I don’t know about.  I imagine there is a lot of sitting beside windows flooded with sunshine while holding their bellies and feeling serene.  They probably get professional photos taken of themselves and get pregnancy massages.

I act out.  If my acting out was described as a mathematical equation using literary references instead of numbers it would be something like  <<Hunter S Thompson + Oscar Acosta (Dr Gonzo) raised to the power of Bukowski divided by Tim O’Brien = One scared white lady about to jump off a really high cliff>>

Obviously Oscar Acosta’s disappearance shouldn’t be ignored.  And I use Bukowski instead of Hemingway because I think his demise was both incrementally spectacular and more subtle than Hemingway.

I am very grateful to be loved by a group of people who monitor my behavior without making me feel oppressed or weak.  I am already usually in a state of embarrassment and horror about the things I do.  The embarrassment isn’t just about the all apology notes I owe to people who were sucked into and then spat out of my acting out storm system.  It’s about the disparity between what people see in me and what is really there, underneath.  Close up – if I let them – a few people can see the sloppy stitches and the too many layers of White Out.

If something goes wrong there’s no escape hatch this time.  Hazel is here, and she and Tom need me.  I can’t disappear, or have a nervous breakdown, or.  I kept my shit together last time because I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel after one tragedy.  I’ve got too much pride in my intellect and understanding of the human condition to really consider calling it quits after I lost my son.  I might have felt differently if I knew what was in store for me and my family in the years that followed.

But this time, I do know.  I know I could lose another child, I know that if the pregnancy is successful it’ll be painful and scary and complicated, I know that Tom and I both work too much, I know that the things I do to help my children could be the things they think are the most annoying about me, I know the child could arrive in the proper time frame but still not be healthy, and worst of all slash I finally understand how little control I have over any of it.

And so I keep letting the water flow through my gills.  I tap into to a level of excitement and joy and love that a lot of people find overwhelming.  I let myself be as down and dirty depressed as I need to be, but only for a specific amount of time prearranged between me and my brain.  Unfortunately grown up life keeps happening at the same time, and sometimes it all gets a little sloppy.

Soon the scales will tip and Tom and I will want a living sibling for Hazel more than we’re afraid of what we know. And then, like all the creatures on the planet capable and desirous of procreating, we’ll figure it out.  Even if the worst happens (my personal definition of “the worst” changes by the hour) I already know I’m sticking this out.  I won’t lose my shit.  I’ve lived through pain, I know it doesn’t kill a person…but I didn’t know that until I was pretty old.  Hazel needs me around at least until she has to find that out for herself, and there’s no way that I’m going to let my absence be the thing that teaches her about pain.

That last sentence is staring me in the face.  It’s mocking me, it’s saying -”You know trying to have another baby introduces the real risk that you will not survive the gestation or birth.  It’s not a huge risk, but it’s real.”  It probably makes sense to apply some Joseph Heller to the aforementioned mathematical equation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imaginary Time – Wednesday July 2nd

You want to know why there have been so many remakes and variations of the movie “Freaky Friday” (including “Like Father, Like Son”, “Vice Versa” “Prelude to a Kiss”)? It’s because that actually happens all the time.  People wake up one morning in the wrong body, and they have to figure it out and just act cool until they go to bed one night, or get hit by lightening, etc etc  and wake up back in their old life.  It does happen all the time, and if you really think about it you already knew that. It’s probably happened to you.

Remember the show “Quantum Leap”?  Same basic concept.  Obviously there is a lot of romanticizing and dramatizing of the phenomenon which is why you might not have noticed when it was happening to you.  Some people look back on their lives and realize all through junior high they were in the wrong person, or their entire year abroad in college, or the summer between 11th and 12th grade.  During particularly stressful times you can get flipped in and out of other people within a matter of hours.  You look at the clock, realize it’s 6 pm and the past two hours you were just somewhere else, just trying to figure it the hell out.

I watched John Oliver interview Stephen Hawking a couple weeks ago on “Last Week Tonight”.  Stephen Hawking mentioned imaginary time and I couldn’t stop rolling the words around in my mouth.  After a few days of just saying the words, picturing them in my head, writing them over and over like a love sick teenager- I needed to know if it was Freaky-Friday-style imaginary time.

Predictably, trying to understand the actual concept was impossible.  I got three sentences into the Wiki page and had to lie down with a cold cloth on my head.  I did six or seven rounds in the ring with Google before I gave up.  I can’t even remember enough words from the articles I tried to read to piece together a joke about how little I remember of what it really means.  But when I’m not really concentrating on anything specific, those words slip back into my mouth.

Imaginary time.

In physics, it means something very very complicated.  In regular life it means waking up, or coming to, and being right in the middle of a different existence.  You know when you’ve felt like you were watching yourself act impossibly bad, or brave or beautiful?  That’s the jumbled way your brain tries to sort out the memory of it.  A lot of really hard habits to break also happen to take people to a comfortable or at least recognizable spot in imaginary time and let you just hang for a little while- like smoking cigarettes, or biting your nails, or heroin.  You can drive into imaginary time and end up at home.

People don’t talk about it very much unless you bring it up in just the right way.  Then everyone falls all over themselves explaining when it happens or where they go.  There are always a few people who act like you’re crazy, but you know those are the people who go somewhere really far.

Imaginary time.  It seems to just be a part of the human experience.  It looks best written in cursive.  It inspires mostly crappy movies.

 

4 Years Since a Birthday – Saturday May 10th

photo 2

There are codes that writers use to describe the way humans experience life.

“Her face crumpled”

“Her eyes filled with tears”

“Her heart ached”

These are short cuts and sure things.  It’s not laziness, it’s like spelling Lead Zepplin “Led Zepplin” so there wouldn’t be a bunch of assholes walking around saying Leed Zepplin.  Here though, I get the luxury of not caring if any of it makes sense.

Four years ago my son was born.  All of our lives flashed before his unopened eyes in five days.

Here’s what I mean to say: When I stop myself from doing something I want to do, I feel like I’m agreeing to have a rope tied tightly around my throat.  Any moment that I let my mind wander back to that thing, the rope gets tighter.  I can submit, and relax the muscles in my neck and trust that the rope will loosen with time.  Or I can panic and clutch and pull at it and bulge my eyes as it strangles me.

May 10th came, then May 15th, then all the other days.  The rope just became a part of my new life; sometimes just dangling there but most often rubbing the skin raw without choking me.

A lot of my memory is sensory based.  I remember the smell of a nurse’s hand lotion and the feel of cold steel under my finger tips and the sound of beeping machines and slaps of doors closing.  And the words.  I remember some words as clearly as I remember the smell of bleached hospital sheets.  I won’t write the words here now.

Here’s what I’m trying to say: My face crumpled, my eyes filled with tears, my heart ached…then I jumped the fuck off the bridge.  I keep landing without shattering, and the next day I know I have to get out of bed and jump again.  I’m not very different from anyone else it turns out, which I find comforting.  Every time someone tells me about a leap they took, I want to look into their eyes and see what made them do it.

Four years ago a tiny human took five days in May to change everything I ever thought I knew to be true.  His days changed every other day.  I always want it to be a happy birthday kind of day, but I don’t this year.  I don’t care if it’s a sad day, because the culmination of those five days and the following 1461 averaged out as pretty kick ass as far as I’m concerned.

 

 

 

 

 

When I Wake Up

I woke up with a gasp- the way people do on TV when they’ve almost drowned and are getting CPR.  I gasped.  The sun was shining outside and I looked around the room.  I was sitting at my desk, which was cluttered with papers and wires and eyeglasses and pens.  Everything was arranged the same as it was before I woke up, which was surprising.

Leaning back in my chair I could see my dog napping in a sliver of sunshine in the other room.  She sighed heavily as I watched her.  My eyes trailed slowly back to the surface of my desk, passing little balls of dust and dog hair that endlessly accumulate around the baseboards.  Being so awake felt like an ache, a too bright light.  I stood up and walked to the window.

The light of the springtime sun rinsed everything on the street below me.  Sparrows and robins flitted around bare branches and cars gleamed as they wooshed by.  I noticed for the first time in four months that my head was attached to a torso with arms and legs and hands and feet.  Inside my torso my guts and blood whirred along noisily.  I gulped air into my lungs, filling them and making my heart race.

As I dug my sneakers out of the closet I admitted that I recognized this feeling.  In the past it made me turn on music when I’m home alone, and buy new packets of my mechanical pencils so I can write on yellow legal pads and drive fast.  But there’s a restlessness that comes along with it too.  I’m uncomfortable being so awake.  Everything has edges, and all the edges are sharp.

I have to start running once I wake up.  I run until my lungs burn and my bones clatter and then I run around the block twice more.  Sleeping at night seems like an interesting concept, but one I’m far from being able to incorporate into my own life.  I think about something until I’ve figured how I feel about it, then I think it the opposite way.

Here’s the thing- I can’t stay awake very long.  Everything gets in the way.  Everybody pulls and calls and coughs and sits and rides and needs and blurs those sharp edges.  After a few hours or days or weeks or months the ache goes away.  It’s hard to notice unless something out of the ordinary happens, or you go to a museum in the middle of the day for no reason.  And blurred edges have a way of keeping you out of museums in the middle of the day.  Now I know though, after living for a little while, that I’ll wake up again.  With a gasp, the way people do on TV when they’ve almost drowned and are getting CPR.

 

I Was Just Thinking- Sunday March 30th

I spend a lot of time thinking about myself.  I think a lot about how my personality- my self- feels like an animal I am constantly trying to outsmart so it doesn’t eat me.  I have almost no control or insight into what going to happen next.  It is very easy to have a lot of personal insight when you feel like an observer of your self.  I don’t tell people that I think about myself a lot because that makes me sound like I’m a certain way.  I’m not that way though, I’m a different way.

I know for sure what happens to people after they die.  Your energy leaves your body and becomes whatever you wanted it to become.  You can go to a blue heaven with pearly gates, or become a new baby or a dog or a tree.  You can split yourself up and settle back in as your grandchildren’s eyebrows.  You can just be dead in the ground too, if that’s what you want.

Pretty frequently I get so sad that my heart actually hurts.  My stomach tightens and my heart aches.  Last week I went to the gym to try and run it out and I got chucked off the treadmill.  There were only about 72 people watching and gasping, but I keep thinking about how much worse it would have been if my pants had also fallen down.  When I do stuff like get dumped from the treadmill because I’m trying not to be so sad it makes me feel sort of proud of myself.  Because I know that not trying is easier.  Dulling the edges makes things hurt less.

Plus, the physical pain resulting from getting thrown off a treadmill really does distract from emotional pain- which I have less patience for the older I get.  I think some of my arm muscles got torn of the bone and that’s much more specific than swirling melancholia.  And two 98 year olds behind me who were power walking on the treadmill with walking poles will have that story to tell for the rest of their lives.  So all around, a productive day.

 

Just A Story – Monday February 10th

When I was 21 I took a rain from Rome to Zurich with my best (still) friend.  We had tickets in a couchette and were enthusiastically naive about the realities of sleeping on a moving train.  My traveling companion needed to be hoisted up after putting on her study abroad uniform: a three and a half foot tall backpack with more straps and clips than a bondage chamber.  We hustled to the train, fending off gypsies and oglers, skidding around the tracks in inappropriate shoes.

The train cars and sleeping compartments were marked with old stickers worn into hieroglyphics- obviously an Italian original.  Italian trains haughtily rejected the standard roman alphabet.  Even the unpretentious numerical order was snubbed.  An Italian train ticket had to be read, then interpreted by someone with native experience.  We had been in the country two weeks- exactly enough time to understand we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing.

I held my ticket in front of my face and read the markings next to the yawning train doors, hoping to find a match: “B, BB, 1D1, 2A…” Our assigned car was 56 and the crowds of people boarding had started to thin.  Uniformed attendants focused staunchly on our breasts to avoid eye contact and the potential to be asked to do something other than enjoy a cigarette.  We were determined though, having already missed a train because of a military time mix up.  ”There it is!” my friend cried.  A blue, paint flaked and rusted train car nestled between cars numbered GG and ^9.  We ran the last few steps on tiptoes in our high heels and took the stairs in bounds of two.

The interior of the train was more promising- shiny, long lines invited us down the hallway to the properly ordered sleeping compartments.  We were the first to arrive and claimed the top bunks.  It was exciting: I imagined the next eight hours would be a combination of my vague memories of  Dr. Zhivago and art directed like a Wes Anderson movie.  Crisp white sheets were folded neatly at the foot of the blue vinyl bunks.  I climbed up the gleaming ladder and heaved off my back pack.  Shoes were arranged by the ladder, then I grabbed my back pack and started to push it towards the dark space beyond the bunk meant for storage.  My friend and I continued chatting so it took me a few minutes to realize my pack had met with resistance.  I pushed again, the blockage gave slightly.  I pushed harder, thinking there was a little ledge I wasn’t clearing.

Then I heard “Oof”.

I pulled my pack towards me, scooting back on my knees down the bunk to peer into the storage area.  And from the darkness shined a pair of eyes.  As my vision got used to the darkness I saw a young man, curled up and flattened against the bulkhead of my couchette.  I screamed.  I swore and screamed and swore as he scrambled out of the tiny space, down the ladder and out the door.  Eventually someone in a uniform rushed in (Italian rushing ranges from 15 to 30 minutes) and tried to act interested in what had happened.  He nodded but left the his notebook and pencil in his pocket.  Eventually we ran out of Italian words and he left.

The rest of the journey was uneventful.  We slept in 40 minute increments, awoken when the train stopped or someone pounded on the door to check our tickets for the 15th time.  I can’t remember now if other people were in our couchette, although I do remember eating Toblerone and coffee for breakfast.  We arrived without further incident but I’ve never stopped checking the smallest spaces for stowaways.

When people think I’ve overly paranoid or neurotic (as if there’s such a thing) I tell them this story, because it’s easier to swallow than some of the other grown up shit I’ve gone through.  And it’s all the same story- Girl has high expectations; is brought down by something shocking or painful; survives.

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