Friday, July 26, 2013

Soaking up bliss

Tonight I stopped for a salad on the way home from work. I had just finished a late work day at the office and knew I had to hop out of the car when I got home to mow the lawn so I decided preemptive food was the best option. Plus there is just something so satisfying about a big bowl of salad on a summer day. But I digress, as I often do.

I was roughly halfway through my meal when an older, married couple came over and sat in the reading corner in front of me. They smiled at each other, they talked about their days and compared notes on positive things like a walk, good news from a friend, and (the cutest thing ever) they shared a soup and salad meal between them. Watching them (and inadvertently catching snippets of their conversation) just made me so relaxed and happy. That, I thought wistfully, is true love.

So often lately we are presented with the very worst the world has to offer in relationships because "dysfunction sells!" But absorbing all of that negative emotion has got to be bad for us. We are either shaking our heads and berating their lack of decorum (among other things) or we are taking some sort of sadistic pleasure that our lives and our relationships are better than theirs (yes, I have been guilty of this too). Wow, what an unhealthy way to experience life.

But this ten minute interlude changed my whole day. It cheered me up and rearranged my stress levels. It put me in a positive mindset for a busy night ahead and it made me think about my past and about my future. This is the kind of relationship I want for myself in fifteen or twenty years. Heck, it is the kind of relationship I want now! The smooth comfort, the lack of drama, the ease of conversation, the non-awkward silences, and the occasional touch over a tiny table. Every situation does not have to be dire. Every moment does not have to be planned. Every faux pas and misstep does not have to be recorded and fired off like ammunition.

So this weekend when you are out, look around and see who chooses the drama and who chooses to accept the bliss. And think of which of these people you would rather spend time with. And if it is indeed true that you get back what you broadcast out, what can you do to become the person or the part of a couple you really want to be. Self-fulfilling prophecies aren't always a bad thing. Take your happiness and reflect your love.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Desert island diss

Over the weekend, I stumbled over the British TV series "Monroe" in which James Nesbitt plays a brilliant but snarky neurosurgeon with a thirst for scotch and a love for music. The camera-work in the show is lovely and similar to the style used in "Scandal" where surfaces and angled glass give you a feeling of listening in to private conversations and eavesdropping on confidential information. That aside, it was the music and the surgery that made me think of a couple of weird days back in Tidewater Virginia.

Almost one month to the day from moving in to my new apartment in the swanky district of Norfolk called The Hague (tudor mansions subdivided to death into a dozen apartments or more per building), I came down with a fever and a serious case of abdominal pain and vomiting. During my overnight sleeplessness I helped catch a fugitive criminal (another story altogether) and I realized that I had no friends to drive me to the hospital which was actually only a few blocks away. The next morning I ended up in urgent care with a surgeon who said I had an ovarian cyst that had to be removed, pronto, and how soon could I check in to the hospital in the next city over. Immediate freak-out. I called the one guy I had just met who worked for me in the camera store I managed and asked him to drop me off on the way in to work. And there I sat, alone in triage.

Hospitals have two effects on me. The first is a resignation to the antiseptic smell and the herding of the patient-cattle from station to station. The second is a budding anxiety of wondering exactly what the staff is going to do to me next. I spent a great deal of time in hospitals with my mother who suffered from heart failure. From the age of four or five, I learned how to talk to doctors, how to do CPR in case my mom was in cardiac distress, how to call for an ambulance, and when to be really concerned that her ankles were swollen to the size of basketballs. My hospital stay was sandwiched in between her bout of Bell's Palsy with stroke-like facial paralysis and her final heart surgery which led to hospice. And there I sat in the orange and tan triage of an overly air-conditioned and strange hospital, alone, in a very flappy and flimsy surgical gown.

I was staying calm and asking my questions but, holy crap, I was sitting there by myself in pre-op, in the decade before iPods were all the norm. I was resigned to listen to the staff pages and machine noises and gurgles and groans of other triaged patients. And I was starting to freak completely out. In the television show, everyone had their iPod and their family sitting on the bed laughing and joking while attractive young nurses and doctors reviewed their charts and asked what they could do to help. I had a cranky elderly nurse with a bad perm and a teenage orderly with neck tattoos slapping a dirty mop against the wheels of my bed. It was as un-sexy as any free clinic on a 100-degree day in a big city. And some music really would have helped make it more bearable or at least more ironic.

Then came time to be wheeled, triage bed and all, down to the pre-op ward where I was given my IV and a first round of anesthesia. This is where they stole my eyeglasses. I mean, I am as blind as Velma without my glasses and they took them off my face without any explanation and popped them in to a plastic bag on the back of my bed. Super-freakout-level 2. There is a male nurse fiddling about with my IV and now I can't even see what he is doing. A total blur with a taste in my mouth like fresh copper pennies. I sit there for a half and hour or so, freezing my cookies off (what is it with those thin hospital sheets?!) and, huzzah, my operating room is ready. Off we go. Without music. Blurry. And copper-tasting. Oh, the goodness a song or two would have done me at this point. All I remember before the anesthetist made me count backwards from ten (I made it to 9 and zonked cold) was a huge bank of pinkish white light, my surgeon's face upside-down and the fact that I was in an actual refrigerator. Brrrrrrr.

On the show, this is where the awesome Mr. Monroe, Neurosurgeon, would have started my Desert Island Disks on the operating theatre speakers. I could have had some sonorous Pixies, some classic Who, some gentle Bach, some soothing Bowie, and even some '90s alt-rock du jour. I am sure I would have remembered none of it but it would have been interesting to have some music in my subconscious to stop the level 3 freakout of laying unconscious and sheet-clad in a very cold and bright room with a gaggle of strangers poking at my reproductive bits. This would have been a perfect venue for two of my favorite albums of 1993, Morphine's "Good" (and "Cure for Pain") and Thomas Dolby's "Astronauts & Heretics," so perfect, in fact, that in my mind, I have inserted them in to my get-well memories from that month. But there, in the hospital, in post-op, I was coming around from the anesthesia without a soundtrack.

If you have never been intubated, wow, I envy you. I woke up to a crazy, choking, gagging pain and I must have flailed around like a tuna for a minute or two before I got a nurse's attention to rip the contraption from my esophagus. You know that scratchy pain you get from a very sore throat? Yep, it goes all the way down as far as the tube goes and no amount of coughing will make it better. And cough?! Forget coughing. I had fresh abdominal incisions. There would be no coughing because I had aliens trying to escape from my belly. After a tiny cup of water with a hospital straw (don't you love hospital straws? I do!), my doctor came over with a big grin on his face and asked how I was feeling. And he told me what he thought was the funniest story...the fact that I had not, in fact, had an ovarian cyst. My ovaries were actually quite spiffy and healthy. Instead, I had an appendix that had come so close to rupturing so many times that it was nothing but a big inflamed bundle of scar tissue. He even kept it in a jar and was going to write a paper on it (fat chance, buddy...give me my vestigial intestine back!) as my white blood cells were never indicative of the problem. The funny thing, he said, was that they were already in my abdomen in north-south laparoscopic incisions and to get at the appendix, they had to sew me up and do east-west incisions. "You," he grinned, "got four incisions for the price of two!" And he shook my hand and walked away laughing.

The next half-day of my overnight stay was gory, painful, sadistic ("If you don't get out of that bed and urinate in the next hour, I WILL catheterize you! C'mon! It was a simple band-aid surgery!"), and embarrassing. It took me 45 minutes to swing a leg over the side of the bed, attain crab-walk and carry my IV (on a coathanger?!) to the bathroom, during which time my IV line was too low and started sucking blood out of my arm (I got yelled at for that one too). And instead of getting back into bed, I was told to get dressed as my check-out was in an hour and I needed to do four laps around the floor to get the inflation gas out of my belly. Oh, how I could have used an iPod then. Or even a little transistor radio with a single earphone. A little melody would have gone a long way as I surveyed my swollen stomach and my couple-dozen stitches, especially that pouchy incision on my left side that looked like a shirt buttoned up wrong. And then I got a ride home from the same guy (thanks, Alan! Friends for life!) and listened to the following music from 1992, where surgery (and life) was certainly not like it is on TV:

Ministry - N.W.O.
The Cure - A Letter To Elise

Suzanne Vega - Blood Makes Noise
Screaming Trees - Nearly Lost You
Peter Gabriel - Digging In The Dirt
Toad the Wet Sprocket - Walk On The Ocean
Sugarcubes - Hit
Soup Dragons - Divine Thing
Sonic Youth - 100%
Tori Amos - Crucify
James - Born of Frustration
daDA - Dizz Knee Land
Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Suck My Kiss
L7 - Pretend We're Dead
E - Hello Cruel World
Beastie Boys - So What'cha Want
Ian McCulloch - Honeydrip
Cracker - Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)
Thomas Dolby - Eastern Bloc
Concrete Blonde - Someday
The Church - Ripple
Talking Heads - Lifetime Piling Up

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The creepies and the crawlies

As if you could not tell before, I am not having the most stellar of summers. So far, I could call it the summer of 4H, with the h-words being heartbreak, heat exhaustion, hermitage, and heebie-jeebies. I do admit to not being much of a summer person. With the translucent skin of my ancestral rainy sea-coasts, I have a very difficult time regulating my body temperature and a hot day usually ends in a sunburn or a total faint. I am a severe weather wimp. The fifth H of the summer, hydrology, has left my sixth H, house, full of the stagnant rainwater of a wet Michigan basement and a plethora of the weirdest insects I have ever seen outside a tropical rainforest.

Somewhere in June, I lost my yard to weed trees. If you know mulberries, trees of heaven, and elms, you know that they have enough growth-power to eat a whole continent in a decade. They are the kudzu of the northern climates. The thing that is keeping me from donning the pith helmet and wielding a machete and weed-whacker to conquer the lost empire of my yard? Mosquitoes by the truckload. Lawn moths by the blizzard. Spiders by the gazillion. Ants by the army. I am by no means an insectophobe either. I have spent many a happy hour indoors watching the cobweb spiders bungee-jump down from a moving ceiling fan (this has serious comic value if you have never seen it happen!) and I did have (until an unfortunate package delivery) a favorite mailbox jumping spider who greeted me daily. I hang out with the bumblebees, cheer for the hummingbird moths, and delight in the fireflies. But this mess is just an insanity of bugness.

In a late-night ATM transaction, I was mugged by fishflies by the hundreds (my Southern friends know these nasty little bugs as mayflies, the stinky little dragons of freshwater lakes). They were in my car, on my windshield, in my hair! AGH! Every morning I have to brave the gauntlet of spiderwebs between my front door and the car (dozens each day) and the still-kicking catches of dawn they contain. It is way too much to deal with. Mowing the lawn kicks up so many critters that I must have eaten a mouthful of winged things the last time I cut the grass. My skin crawls to consider the things I have run across and it is only mid-July.

Yes, it could be worse. There was the memorable night a few summers ago when I arrived home to be greeted by a giant leopard slug on the side of my toilet bowl. Limax maximus (with an emphasis on the maximus) is a big honking Winnebago of spotted slime. They are the carnivorous Terminator of the slug world. I have no doubt they could choke down a field-mouse as fast as any snake. And I will not even mention how they mate. It is too weird for words and it is a photo you cannot ever scrub from your brain. But, thankfully, this slug was solo and I was still overwhelmed with sliminess until it took the inevitable waterslide into the municipal plumbing system.

So, this summer has not been quite that bad. But let me tell you about basement spiders. I have a particularly pugilistic history with the dreaded longbodied cellar spider. There is just something about their weird legginess and the crazy, jumpy dance they do in their webs when you bump into them. And you will definitely bump into the webs of these prolific weavers. They do not give me the full-on arachnophobic scream of a hairy crawling dinner-plate, but they are just so insidious. Yet, I try to leave them alone as they have a hearty appetite for the other crawlies that will actually bite me. Except for yesterday. Yesterday I arrived home to find a beauty of a specimen, sleek and black and the size of a good coffee mug, having moved in at eye level above my toilet. Peaceful spider or not, I grabbed a washcloth and (pee-pee dance and all) smacked that spider into the stratosphere. I don't go hanging about in the joists of my house, so they should not be weaving where I need to be relieving myself!

And now it is cicada season. Fairly soon, I will be crunching their discarded carapace droppings between my toes and having that uncanny feeling of being watched by the tree bark. Life was so much simpler when it was all ladybugs and grasshoppers. The childhood of kicking over the smallest anthill and watching the ants rebuild is long over. And one day soon, yard-bugs, I will put on a full-coverage outfit and spray myself down with bug repellent and take over your ill-gotten kingdom. Your days are even more numbered, insects. Enjoy them while you can. *evil laugh*

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Post-mortem of an unpairing

Last night was another round of nightmares about the end of my most recent relationship. After months of self-recrimination, my mind started playing back the comments and situations that hurt me most. And if I need to put this whole drama behind me, I need to 'fess up about it all. This falls under the category of "TMI," so please skip this post if you prefer.

First of all, I endured many rounds of being compared to someone else. I do not care if it was a positive or a negative comparison, you simply do not voice these thoughts to another human being. Feel these opinions all you want, but do not tell your significant other that they are better at something, more beautiful than someone, or even that they show you more attention and love. To me, at least, those things do not prove anything to me but that you are constantly thinking of that other person and that I am not respected on my own merits, just being judged on benchmarks you have developed through someone more important to you than me. Every comment was one more drop of pain, even if you meant it as a compliment.

Secondly, I grew up with a parent that suffered from severe and untreated paranoid disorder. My mother would befriend me and squirrel away personal asides to use against me in arguments and when she did, she used them with skill and serious poison. If you have someone in your life that has a serious psychiatric problem, perhaps you understand the hurt that is dealt in these types of situations. If you do not, you have no idea how much a single comment can destroy. In my relationship, I voiced one moment of self-doubt and, in true form of my deceased mother, that moment came back as a death-blow to a stable relationship. A self-doubt is a SELF-doubt and, like pillow-talk, it should never, EVER be used against the person who voiced it. I doubted the worth of my creativity. Then it got thrown back at me as, "I will not love you if you don't really stick with your art." How many writers, artists, and performers have lost the most important relationship of their lives because they were doubted? Probably every single one because I truly felt as if I could not have been shredded into more pieces. And I still do not even though I have come out of my depression and slump to a period of great creativity and all I can think of is, "Yes, he gave up on me. Wish he could have been there to see this. Too bad."

So here I am having nightmares about missed trains, lost grocery lists, misplaced books, forgotten phone numbers. They are figurative representations of the deep spiral of emotional undercurrents I try to hide from my daily work life and my personal interactions. They are glaring error messages of my failure. When I pinpointed the personal communication differences, I was ignored. When I begged to work the issues out through a counselor, I was abandoned. When I expressed a true emotion of regret and a wish for his happiness, I was rudely told to go away with a righteous indignity I never would have thought possible from the love of my life.

It has taken this long to finally realize that it is done and over. It has taken this long to stop crying for hours a day from a physical loneliness and an emotional destitution I have not felt since being a teenager. I admit defeat. I own heartbreak. I see that I am broken and I am picking up my doll-parts and threading them back together as best I can. I can't say that I will ever completely get over this, but I will get through it. Ah, the roller derby bout of life. Just keep skating. I am.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Contextualism of grief

Something about the past holiday weekend made me dream grief dreams. It must have been the summer heat as I used to spend a great deal of time at my grandmother's house in suburban West Virginia, hiding from the hot sun behind double-thick curtains. And it is my grandmother I miss but also that house, the expectations and emotions wrapped up in the difficult plaster walls and the nubby square cushions of the rose-colored couch. I can vividly remember spinning around in the scoop-shaped swivel chairs and listening to the tick of the clock on the wall. Even the deep ring of that severe and solid bakelite telephone that still had the 1950s phone exchange number under the plastic of the rotary dial window. I found comfort in the heft of her pinking shears, hanging from the sewing room wall by a pegboard hook. Those shears weighed pounds and I was afraid to even touch them until well into my preteen years, and even then never to cut anything with. But as much as I miss her and I miss the solid walls and floors of that 1920s-built home, I feel no urge to have any of those items. The thought of her parakeet and green orchid painting on one of my walls is simply an anachronism. Her metal stepstool would be out of place in my own kitchen. And I still do not think I live up to those pinking shears.

And with these items in mind, I do not consider myself nostalgic. I am not a collector of things because things with an emotion attached to them but out of context seem to cause more pain than they soothe. I will never again see my grandmother sitting at her sewing table, and listen to her singing a little off-key hymn with a bit of the brogue of her immigrant father. And holding those fabrics and bobbins will not make me recall her as strongly as I can picture her in my memory. I have very few of her personal belongings but I am fine with that. I feel her spirit with me when I need strength. I know that she urges me on through situations I find larger than I can bear. She is the stubborn and forceful voice of my self-worth and my determination as well as the quiet tears of a loneliness heavier than just being alone. For these feelings, I do not need material goods.

In the dream I had last night, I was in her house after she had moved into her room at a nursing home. I was feeding items from her basement and her attic into a portable shredder and fireplace in one. I could hear her pointing at things to get rid of. Maps? I didn't need those maps. Just get in the car and go and see for yourself. And into the fire the huge maps went, state by state. Clothes from childhood? Well, why didn't I cut them up and make something useful. And if I could not make something useful or the fabric was just not right, pitch them out to the curb or down to the church basement for the rummage sale. She had her favorite books but very rarely did she keep any others on hand. While she was still of sound mind, she was strictly utilitarian. It seems entirely out of character to keep something of hers for the sake of frippery or artifice.

When I look back on my own childhood, I have very few items left. My mother swung to the opposite pole of materialism and took up hoarding. Everything she owned had to be binned and destroyed, my own keepsakes as well. Every once in a while I will wish I still had those Tinker Toys or that Sea Monkey Castle, but mostly it is the emotion I was having while playing with the items and not the items themselves. Some holidays (Christmas to be precise) were so full of preparation and hoopla that to even remember the boxes emerging from the attic, the ornaments from the linen closet, the garlands from the guest room, the silver service from the dining room cabinets, that I have moments of sheer panic when faced with winter weather. To her credit, when my mother knew she was dying, she sent me a few items I might want to keep (my sawdust-filled original Winnie the Pooh characters with the velvet worn smooth) and those are still around. But the report cards, Barbies, school clothes, and paintings from my high school art studio classes are long gone to the dump. But I do not really miss them. I remember them. I will remember their context and their situations and I am fine for now. I will start to worry when I start to lose my memories but that is another subject altogether. For now, I am living in a technicolor playback of my life, probably overdramatized and just a little short of stereo.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mind games

As far back as I can remember, I have wanted to be half of a highly creative power-couple. Linda Eastman to Paul McCartney or maybe Laurie Anderson to Lou Reed. And as much as I wanted to be Yoko Ono, it seems I always end up as May Pang, a magpie's shiny bauble kicked out of the nest or a hazy, forgotten interlude in an otherwise engaging monologue. And many times I wonder if this is the role I am set out to play in the Oscar Wilde dramedy of life.

I have certainly never expected things to be perfectly happy, soundly solid, or even remotely sane, but I do think that I am able to bring some solace to the the bargain. I always hope to inspire some insight or solve some difficult puzzle that someone in the spotlight does not have time to figure out. Over there, behind the curtains in the wings, I am happy to look on and be proud of my beacon of a man while I am scribbling away or stealthily shooting on a project of my own. I have prided myself on being that special someone's number one fan. And I have to say I have been a couple of times, some with more success than others. But in the end, I find myself as May Pang, jilted and slinking away from the peering eyes into my own comfortable shadows again.

To be honest, I cannot help wondering what the hell is wrong with me. Why is it that I am never the one that someone wants to raise children with, to sit and have a quiet evening at home with while music plays from another room, to grow old with? I feel it is some fatal flaw in my character, some ugly scar on my surface that makes men tire of me. And the older I get, the more it hurts. Seems like I should be growing a thicker shell and putting more weapons into the pack on my back but just the opposite happens. I am one more set of flower petals closer to falling open and giving in to going to seed.

I know I am not the prettiest crayon in the box, that I am kind of ordinary and pale and I do not shine brightly in the night sky, but I wanted to be one special someone's personal beacon without being a respite from a rocky shore or just a nice place to spend a vacation. My winters are grey but they have a kind of stillness I have grown used to. My rains are as stormy as anyone's but they are over in just a little while. And maybe some day I will stop wondering where my someone is or why my favorite someone did not love me enough to stay. And when I feel a little more ready, I will roll the dice and keep my fingers crossed for a solid Yoko.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Independence days

I have some rough memories of the Fourth of July celebrations in my life. I mean, fireworks and cookouts and picnic blankets excluded, my summers have been chock full of weird. One of my most vivid memories is of standing at the north end of Main Street in my hometown for the big bicentennial parade and watching rodeo clowns in overalls and leather-tasseled chaps rush by me. At the time, I did not know what a rodeo was. I just wondered why the clowns were cowboys. I thought you could be either a clown or a cowboy. You could pick one or the other but not both. My other memory from that day was the fact that I was wearing a tiny polyester pantsuit. But it was a shorts suit. It was double-knit in hideous shades of schoolhouse red and navy blue and had a matching vest I wore over a white t-shirt. I had on white sandals and the blacktop was scorching my feet with mirage waves of somewhere in the 90 degree range. I wanted a popsicle. Not just any popsicle, a red one. Both sticks. And I didn't care if they melted all the way down to my elbows.

That day was much better than three years before when, on my way out the door to my neighbor Elizabeth's birthday party, my mother found my father passed out up a tree in the backyard with a running chainsaw in his hand. Ah, low blood sugar and hot days. He was stubborn and wanted that oak tree down by the weekend. He had already set the foundation for his ham radio antenna and the oak was much too close. So while my mother called the fire department and the paramedics and ran around in a screaming panic, I was consigned to my room. And in my room I had a perfect view of my father dangling first left and then right in his tree-climbing harness. I could hear the growl of the chainsaw first out of one ear and then out of the other. We didn't know that the chainsaw's motor was on but that the chain's drive mechanism wasn't engaged. I was just really excited to meet all the firemen who pulled Dad out of the tree. That day's outfit was a short white sleeveless dress with red and blue stars printed on it. And I wanted to wear royal blue shorts underneath (so I could play on the see-saw next door without my underoos showing). But I never got to go to Elizabeth's party. It was all over and done by the time my father was settled on the couch with an icy lab beaker of Coca-Cola.

Then there was college. Ah, college. All of my friends that had stayed in town for summer school (the town where I lived year-round) gathered for a typical beer bash on the 4th. Just after sunset, when most of the drinkers had switched from beer to liquor, my boyfriend-at-the-time confessed something so appalling (an accidental stunt that had terrible repercussions) that I decided to walk home. A friend caught up with me three blocks away and tried to calm me down. There was absolutely no calming me down. And I started marching. Four miles in to the six mile trek, I realized that I really should not be out walking alone, drunk, down a major roadway on a holiday known for drunk drivers and the occasional rapist. Just then the fireworks started. I felt as if I was in some bad horror movie, running down the side of the road, startled by the loud gunpowder reports and cars whooshing by next to me in the dark. And when I arrived home, sweaty and sober, I got in my car and drove back to pick up my still-drunk and even more sullen boyfriend. Good times.

And lately, with the state of the fireworks being less sparkle and more loud boom, I just stay home. No snuggling up with someone special on a lawn blanket to watch the colorful show over the trees, no braving the traffic at the city center to get the best rooftop view. Just hunkering in alone and waiting for the noise to stop. In that way, I have achieved my independence. But I can't say I don't miss a little of the drama. Just give me a couple of those white blooming flower finale fireworks and a hand to hold on the top of the hill at the park, then I will be happy.