Sunday, August 11, 2013

Crazy Train

My subconscious has the neat little trick of narrating my life with lyrics. I rarely notice when it starts, but in the middle of Something my mouth is humming or singing a song which mirrors my mood or circumstances. If my mood is good or sarcastic, I smirk appreciatively at my clever brain; if I'm pissy or sad or really upset, the perfect song in my head seems mocking or cruel.

When I get up today, the accompaniment is Ozzy's "Crazy Train." It plays at top volume as I fly around the kitchen after not finding the bag of chocolate chips in its hiding spot. I fling open cupboard after cupboard. SOMEONE WILL PAY. The guitar solo shrieks with clarity. I find the bag in a different spot, clutch it in a death grip, walk much too slowly and calmly to my chair. Crazy, but that's how it goes...

After a night of wild, vivid dreams, I expect my waking brain to need some time. My biochemistry is off. I'm used to my patterns. So the logical side of me watches and listens as the raving part of me gobbles chocolate chips and clicks on links to terrible news stories about kidnappings, brutal beatings and death. And reads the comments. And hates the people leaving the comments. And then hates the news outlets for the way they report the stories. The media sells it and you live the role...

Then I go to Facebook and read inspiring things from inspiring people who usually inspire me to inspire myself and others. And I feel like a troll. An ugly troll who has no right being friends with these people. An ugly troll who has plucked too many chin hairs and now has trouble keeping up. An ugly troll feeling her prickly chin who doesn't want to read Good Things. An ugly troll with a prickly chin and too many scars from the scabs she repeatedly rips off her skin. An ugly troll with a prickly chin who is now ripping a scab off her arm and rolling it between her fingers because that's what she does. While she stuffs her face with an entire bag of chocolate chips. I know that things are going wrong for me...

Sounds are too loud. Zippers tear my ears apart, the phone rings inside my head, doors slam against my skull. I'm going off the rails...

I check the theater listings because what I really want is to go sit in the dark and watch a chaotic movie involving lots of weapons, jump through the screen and arm myself with a sword, multiple knives and torches and fight off beasts more horrible than myself. Go nuts and be covered in dirt, blood, and sweat, and stand alone at the end of the movie on a smoky hill with battle sounds ringing in my ears. Mental wounds still screaming...

I let myself read the Sister Wives Blog and make snarky noises about how they've messed up their family, gotten caught in the fame and money trap. I let myself look in the mirror and list my faults, count my white hairs, eat half a brick of cheese, refuse to brush my teeth, and berate myself for not being a real writer, because real writers write instead of watching episodes of Hoarders, World's Dumbest Criminals and Lifetime movies. Who and what's to blame...   

The logical side of me is like a parent. A parent watching someone else's kid freak out. A parent smiling and riding out the storm, knowing the kid will be going home soon for a nap and a sippy cup full of milk and Prozac. It will turn out okay. It always does.

Maybe it's not too late to learn how to love and forget how to hate...

And a little later the crazy part of me runs out of steam, because she wasn't bottled up. She didn't try to act happy and normal. She didn't make herself feel bad for feeling bad. She also didn't leave the house during the Crazy, stuff it down and pretend she wanted to go for a walk or buy something pretty or visit one of The Happy People. Which never works. She rode it out. All aboard! Ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaa...

And I'm okay. I am breathing deeply, giving my family a genuine smile or two. Being more kind to myself. Understanding that I needed to be a little crazy, in private, in order to get here. Understanding that we are all a little crazy, but that's how it goes...

I turn up the volume on my internal song and it's different now. It's Bob Marley. "Three Little Birds."

"This is my message to you...don't worry about a thing. Every little thing is gonna be all right."

Gotta go. I'm gonna work on my novel.

You gotta listen to my words.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Not Standing Alone Anymore

Bullies suck. 

Creative people often say things like, "I was picked on as a kid, but it made me who I am! I went more inside myself, but that turned out to be a blessing, because now I'm a writer." And there's a benefit to looking on the 'bright side,' I guess...but I don't think any bully makes us who we are. Being bullied is not a blessing in disguise. It pisses me off, actually, when people say stuff like that. I know it's an attempt to find meaning in the senseless way we were treated. But we have to talk about how it SUCKED, how bad it hurt- we have to admit that we watch movies where a kid is beaten down, wrung out, shunned and made to feel like a nobody and we CRY, we ache, we go right back to that mental space where we, too, felt like a nobody. We have to sit with it. We can't just stuff it under the couch cushion and sit on it and hit the fast forward button.

I love to think of the kids who bullied me as ugly, twisted, unhappy people. Their lives are a mess. They have no friends. They think about the way they treated weaker kids, and they weep in remorse- but it's too late for them. They will die alone.

Dramatic? Yes. It was also dramatic being shoved against lockers, having things thrown at me when the teacher wasn't looking, being threatened with physical harm, being told I was so ugly no one would ever want to date me. It was dramatic having my stuff snatched and passed around in a mean game of keep-away so the girls could laugh at my flailing limbs and pleas to stop. It was dramatic when one of the popular girls took a photo of small-breasted me in my bra in the locker room, and everyone laughed, and she said she couldn't wait to develop the film. It was dramatic being chosen last for teams, on purpose, while girls rolled their eyes and made disgusted noises and stepped pointedly away from me as I joined them. It was dramatic when one of the boys sat next to me behind the high-backed seat on the bus, put his arm around me and told me how beautiful I was, how he wanted to ask me out, while all his friends leaned over the seats and watched and laughed at me. It was dramatic how my face burned, how the tears streamed down no matter how hard I tried to keep them in. I was a crybaby, a loser, a nobody.

So I indulge in imagining them all as crybabies, losers, nobodies. Sometimes.

Sometimes I also imagine them reaching a state of enlightenment, feeling sorry for what they did, trying to make up for it in the way they treat others now. If only they had my contact information, they'd apologize and ask for forgiveness.

The truth of their lives is somewhere in the middle. Some of them are surely struggling- but some are great successes. Some are unhappy, some are very happy. Some of them may have moments of regret...maybe they have kids who are on the receiving end of serious unkindness. But...

Who they are is not defined by how they treated me.

Who I am is not defined by how they treated me.

What I hope for is moments in their lives and moments in mine where we come to an understanding. We all do things we're not proud of. We all look back and wish some things were different. We can't change the past- but we should not bury it, sugarcoat it, or try to make it inevitable. They did not need to bully to become powerful. We did not need to be bullied in order to become the creative people we are today.

Being bullied DID make me hyper-aware of any injustice in this world, no matter how small. Loving myself and having the support of my friends has empowered me to stand up and defend and protect those who need it. I became my powerful, creative self through the growth of my own soul, and I use my vivid memories of being bullied to fuel my compassion and action. Being bullied did make me acutely aware of what it feels like to be alone. I try to make sure that no one I know, and no one I encounter, feels alone. It's the worst feeling in the world.

In my creative writing, one of my goals- the biggest one- is to help kids feel less alone. To be a voice that joins theirs and admits the hurts, all the ugly stuff, and cries with them. And then takes them by the hand as they stand up and move forward. In truth and trust.

And never alone.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Feeding and Dreaming, Dreaming and Feeding

At the nursing home dinner table sit three senior ladies. Two of them are Darla and Louise. The third is Mary Ann, and her son and daughter-in-law are helping her eat.

"I'm confused!" yells Darla, smiling. "Do they serve meals in here?"

"Yes," says the daughter-in-law, very patient. "Every night. Your dinner's coming soon."

Darla smiles and nods. The son gives his mother a sip of gingerale from the cup adapted so she won't choke.

"I like your braid," the daughter-in-law tells Louise. "I had a braid that long when I was a girl."

Louise smiles. "Thank you."

"Hey!" calls Darla. "I'm going to SNEEZE." She smiles, but doesn't sneeze.

The daughter-in-law arranges chicken nuggets on the mother's plate so she can grab them more easily. She wipes the crumbs from lips and chin. A Bobby Darin song plays on the radio. She moves from side to side a little.

Louise stares. "You got ants in your pants?"

"Yes, lots of them," the daughter-in-law says, exchanging an amused look with the son.

The mother says something. It's too soft-spoken. They can't understand her.

"What's that, Mom?" the son asks, bending as close as he can. She tries again. Her voice is too quiet these days; it's hard to make her needs known, when she can identify them. Sometimes she sees things others can't see. Sometimes she's half-asleep and dreaming. She sleeps a lot more. She's in her wheelchair all the time, a new one with even more support, because she's having great difficulty sitting up straight.

"Do they serve meals in here EVERY night?" asks Darla. The son nods. Darla smiles.

The daughter-in-law feeds the mother some corn. Four spoonfuls. Then some sherbet. She still loves any kind of ice cream or sherbet. The daughter-in-law rubs her back to awaken her more before each spoonful.

"I'm gonna SNEEZE!"announces Darla. She burps. Several times. She laughs and everyone joins in except the mother.

The nursing assistant feeds Louise and Darla. The mother says she's done, and her hand remains on the table, fingers grasping, grasping at nothing. Her arm muscles, and many other muscles, twitch often now and contract. Her limbs are stiff.

The son and daughter-in-law make eye contact many times, to say these things: I love you. I'm sorry. This is hard. I love you.

The mother is able to make eye contact when they are leaving. "We love you," they say. "We'll see you soon."

"Okay," she says. "Okay." 

She has always been a deep sleeper, and they know that soon she'll be in bed, hopefully dreaming of good times, good places, good people. Night is when they feel peaceful about her, because she's tucked in with her head on a soft pillow and her mind and body are at rest.

"Goodbye!" calls Darla. "Goodbye, goodbye!"

And Darla smiles another huge smile. That's what they miss most: the mother's smile. It's tucked somewhere deep inside.

Maybe she smiles in her dreams.

Don't we all?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

My Trees

I'm looking out the window at trees. Just trees. It's perfect.

We moved up here to a house way up on a hill, in the woods, a year ago. We're not isolated; this is a neighborhood, but houses here are more spread out than in the city. Back there, I could count twenty-two houses around us from my yard. Here, I can see five through the trees from my front yard and only one, or none, from my backyard. It's perfect.

Our desire to live outside the city was not an anti-social one. For me, it was about choosing my social encounters and face-to-face interaction instead of living among so many people and so much noise all the time that "alone" felt rare.

I need a lot of alone time, because when I'm with others, I use up so much energy- physical, mental, emotional. I am fully present. My soul's tank is on empty almost every time I pull into my driveway. I need to feel a LOT of space around me for a good long time to process and re-charge. Living surrounded by nature, by more trees than people, does the trick. 

For others, "alone" might mean closing the bedroom door and reading for an hour, or staying home all day. It might mean heading out to the woods for a long solitary walk, or being alone in a crowd, enjoying the sounds of people without the pressure to have a conversation. (For parents of very young children, it's probably taking a pee BY YOURSELF. A shower is out of the question.)

I'm super sensitive to many things, and too much noise is a huge trigger for my anxiety. Especially too much people noise. I can't even hear two voices at the same time without feeling completely overwhelmed. In the city, the outside noise was becoming more and more invasive. People yelling in their yards, people screaming at their kids, kids yelling to each other, multiple dogs barking, the neighbor's cockatiels shrieking, car horns, car alarms, and more frequently, police sirens. Closed doors and windows didn't always help.

Alone- the kind that worked- seemed more and more elusive.

Driving felt even worse. In our old neighborhood, and in the city in general, there are too many stimuli. People driving carelessly or recklessly, people pulling out of driveways everywhere, people walking in groups in the street, people running into the street or crossing while texting, bikes swerving into the road, horns, tires squealing. It was a dangerous obstacle course every time. When I got where I was going, my heart was pounding, and I wondered if I could make it home.

Now, I drive most of the way to my destinations on country roads. And I feel alone in the best possible way. There's not much traffic- sometimes, none. I don't mind watching out for deer, turkeys, foxes. I drive slowly, smiling. It's a relief.

The relief comes from less stimuli, but also from knowing that any animals I see are also striving for alone time, for quiet, for uncomplicated encounters with their environment. I feel that energy. It's my energy, too.

In the city, people are everywhere with their messy minds, their flawed decision-making, their intentions and impulses flying around in their heads and hands as they operate vehicles, machinery, and equipment around other people. Often way too close to other people.

I feel so blessed, now, to mostly CHOOSE when to navigate this obstacle course.

Far from making me anti-social, though, moving to the country has enhanced my ability to focus on the social life I want. I have enough alone time to de-stress, to re-charge, to feel fully energized for meetings with friends and for work. And for those times when I have to breathe deeply and be one of the crowd.

I'm in another room now, and I'm looking out the window at trees. Just trees. It's perfect.

In a little while I'll take those back roads into the city to bring my son's friend home and go to work, and I'll be okay. Because after that, I come home to my trees again.

They're the beautiful bookends to the stories of my days.

Friday, August 12, 2011


I'm going through one of those times in life when new things hold great appeal. I'm reading new books, discovering new parks and places to eat, trying a whole plethora of new things. (Example: using the word "plethora" more often. Awesome word.)

Tonight my friend Lindsey, a fabulous 14-year-old budding music star, decided to sing in front of a local karaoke crowd. She did this sans her beloved guitar, of course, which put her out of her comfort zone a little. Which is another reason I admire her. She challenges herself. Her instincts are good, and she knocked her first song out of the park, and I got goosebumps as I often do while listening to her, and I cried. I don't cry when everyone sings, but there's something about Lindsey. The night went on and she performed three more songs, and I think I was as proud as her mom. And humbled.

The only time I did karaoke- 20 years ago- I was with a big group of women from work and there was alcohol involved. I sang "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" with my friend Chris, and it went well because almost everyone in the room was buzzed, drunk, or busy shoveling nachos into their mouths.

I planned to stay part of the crowd tonight, to enjoy Lindsey. But there was something infectious in the air, a lighthearted momentum, and I knew I could actively participate. Even though I was drinking lemonade!

Did I mention that I'm also into active participation lately? I'm not the same girl who hid behind all the other girls and was picked last for softball in middle school. And basketball. And kickball. Okay, I was also picked last because I sucked at those sports. (Not floor hockey, though- I was freakishly good at floor hockey. Take that, bitches!)

I grabbed one of the song binders and started cheerfully flipping through titles and artists. So many choices. What fun! I could join the legions of people who love karaoke, who stride to the microphone and belt out their favorite tunes as loudly as they do in the shower.

And this particular night, I mean "legions" in the literal sense. As in American Legions. And the particular Legion where we sat surrounded by older folks who shared rousing renditions of "Paper Roses" and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Including the dreamy white-haired guy with the Barry White voice. But I digress.

I searched for the perfect song, buoyed by the friendly crowd. I used to work as an Activities Leader in nursing facilities and knew many of the old songs. Sing-alongs were a highlight of my week. So I'd pick one of the golden oldies and everyone would be tickled that I- still surely a "spring chicken"- knew how to tug at their heartstrings. Never mind that Lindsey was performing current songs, beautifully and to great applause. I wasn't taking chances- I'd stick with a known crowd-pleaser.

Minutes turned into an hour and then two, and for some reason, hundreds of titles and artists weren't enough. The perfect song had to be there. If only I could find it.

My best friend Michaele, Lindsey's mom, noticed the flipping, flipping, flipping of pages. And maybe the biting of my nails. And maybe the jiggling of my knees.

"You don't have to do this," she said kindly. Which was especially generous since we spend a lot of time embarrassing each other in public.

"I really think I can, though," I answered. And meant it. As soon as I found The Song, I'd hand the music host my selection and eagerly await my turn.

I excused myself to use the restroom. This was really a secret mission to rehearse a song, quietly, in the stall. Twice. It went well. The toilet clapped.

Back at the table, I told Michaele and Lindsey my choice. Not an oldie after all. Lindsey inspired me, and I was going to sing something current. I wrote the title and my first name on the little slip of paper, tiptoed to the front table and handed it to the host. Now all I had to do was wait for my magical moment.

And make Michaele locate the lyrics on her IPhone. And sing them in my head. And hand her the phone. And ask for it again. And again. And again.

Because every time a performance ended, my song fresh in my head, I expected the host to call my name. But he called Arthur! And Lena! And Margaret! And Harry! And Edna! And Phil! And I started to lose my nerve, and then to silently freak out, while clapping overly hard for Arthur! And Lena! And Margaret! And Harry! And Edna! And Phil! Because then maybe they'd clap for me!

In case you're among those who wonders what could possibly be so intimidating about the American Legion crowd, they're a tight-knit bunch. Friendly and supportive, sure, but they have all these in-jokes and established routines, and you get an urge to fit in, to be welcomed into the fold. At least I do.

So strong was my desire to feel their support that I approached the female bartender (who loved Lindsey) and told her I'd finally be singing but might throw up before it happened.

"Oh, honey," she said. "Have you heard some of these folks?" She leaned close. "Some of them are just BAD. You'll do fine! I can't wait to hear you!"

I went to the restroom again, followed by a woman in a purple floral shirt (who also loved Lindsey).

"Oh my god," I said from my confessional. "I'm actually going to sing soon. I'm so nervous. I might change my mind."

"Don't," she advised. "You can do it. It'll be wonderful."

"Promise me you'll smile even if I sound bad."

"I promise! But you'll do fine!"

Secretly, despite my nerves, I knew I'd do fine. I knew I'd make them all smile. And applaud. And mean it!

Did I mention that I live for magical moments? Moments you always remember? The ones that make you teary-eyed as you recount them for friends? This was going to make the list.

A hundred hours later, as my mental pom-poms were fraying, I heard my name. I looked demurely at the floor and made my way to the front of the room. Microphone in hand, I listened to the opening notes of the song and prepared to blow everyone away.

"It's that other girl," I heard someone whisper. (Old people whisper quite loudly.) I was thrilled that they placed me alongside Lindsey in estimation, and felt anticipation in the air. It was time.

To suck.

To really, truly suck.

To suck so bad that you know you suck ten seconds into the song, and your stomach turns to lead, and no desperate efforts to distance yourself from the Microphone of Shame or to channel Lindsey can save you.

My only goal, then, was to finish the song. No, I was not a triathlete with a freshly broken leg who nevertheless hopped toward the finish line. But I was going to stick it out, and leave with my head held high for that reason alone. I would not crumble.

The song became The Song That Never Ends.

And I became the girl in the middle school gym who burned with shame, head down, acutely aware of her unworthiness.

But I did not crumble.

Until the song ended. And the Pity Applause filled my ears.

And I rushed back to the table in the corner, and crushed my plastic lemonade bottle between my hands, and tried not to cry. And willed everyone to stop. looking. at. me. Me, the other girl, who did not amaze and delight. Who did not even earn membership in the Paper Roses Club of Velvety Pipes.

I stood and snaked my way along the wall to the exit, bursting through the doors to freedom.

And there was the woman in the purple floral shirt. My bathroom buddy.

She smiled. "You did great!" she said.

And I regained my composure, and sense of humor. Except that was later, in my car. Right then I ran. I ran away from the woman in the purple floral shirt. I sprinted through the parking lot and jammed my key into the car door lock and turned it and yanked the door open and averted my eyes from the American Legion and got the hell out of there.

And I can see the humor in all this, of course I can.

And I intend to actively participate in life despite this little setback. To keep trying new things. A plethora of new things, just less scary things, like juggling fire torches or tightrope-walking across Niagara Falls.

And when I stop cringing, maybe I'll feel good about finishing my song, even though I sucked. Because there is value in sticking things out. In holding the hand of your inner middle school loser and telling her that you're proud of her for doing her best. And telling her that you love her.

And that she never, ever has to do that again.




Friday, August 13, 2010


I'm sitting here laughing with Dave and pondering this next blog entry. I lift my fingers to type and then pause as we laugh again. So I shall write about laughter! A good, hearty laugh is medicine for much of the stuff we deal with in life. I'm not talking about a snicker, chuckle, or giggle. I'm talking belly laugh here, the kind that hurts afterward. The kind that takes you by surprise and makes you double over, gasping for breath. What makes you laugh like that? (Aside from those sudden hilarious moments we can't plan, like the time I was young and dropped my dad's Polaroid camera in the parking lot and it started taking photos of the car trunk and wheels and parking lot, upside down, and spitting them out one after another. Remember that, Dad?)

My family gets a big kick out of funny animal videos, the strange things our cats do, sticking weird things into the shopping cart that none of us would ever buy and watching each other find them (pickled pigs' feet! dog food! a skimming net for our pool! it would be great if we had a pool!). Dave and I love sending each other amusing texts. THE CAT PEED ON ALL YOUR GUITARS, EXCEPT THE STRAT. HE NEEDS IT FOR HIS GIG TONIGHT.

Write down the things that crack you up every single time, because you may not be able to remember them in the middle of a bad afternoon. If you're feeling stuck, discouraged with yourself or just plain sick of what you're doing, it's time to pull out the list and make yourself laugh. Take a break and let loose. Yuck it up. Whatever was bothering you...what was bothering you? Can't remember? Exactly. Take a tip from our cat Ellie, who finds GET FUZZY comics hysterical. Forget everything else and LAUGH.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sleeping in Boxes

My little cat Zinnia is currently asleep in her sideways box under the kitchen table. It fits her perfectly. She doesn't need a cushy cat bed (though there is one), a soft blanket (though there are several), or a human pillow (again, several). She just needs her box. It feels right.

Remember being a kid and playing in boxes? Especially the huge ones from refrigerators? The best! Those boxes were rockets, time machines, caves, offices, everything. And they made for perfect sleeping if we were allowed to sleep in them.

At the age of 25, I slept in a box. Fortunately not on the street- and I don't say that lightly. I got a refrigerator box up to my rented room and went nuts with it. I colored flowers along the outside, made a window, added some whimsical touches. In went my pillow and blanket. I slept in the box for a week. It was awesome, and even more awesome to tell people what I was doing. They thought I was crazy, or silly, but some of them got a faraway look in their eyes. They remembered boxes.

I did it to remember, and I did it to access my inner child. It did help my writing. I did it mostly, though, because IT WAS FUN. It made me feel giggly and artistic and yes, different from all those boring people who would never decorate a box, let alone sleep in one.

And if you are reading this and thinking it's amusing or inspiring but your back would never recover from sleeping in a box: a single air mattress can fit in there. Foam toppers can fit in there. Several layers if necessary. And- if you are feeling so bold- a box can fit ON YOUR BED.

Boxes rock.