Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In remembrance

Today, like most people, I think about where I was eleven years ago.  I’d had my job as a flight attendant for only a handful of months, and in a strange scheduling twist, I was home in Seattle when I had been scheduled to be out flying.  When I heard the news, I felt an immediate kinship with the crews working on the planes for obvious reasons….then I considered the passengers, the workers in the buildings, the people on the ground, and all the people connected to all of those people.  The scope of tragedy was simply too large for me to wrap my head around, the television brought unimaginable sights and sounds…..I was struck completely powerless, overwhelmed from trying to wrap my head around it all.  I found solace in concentrating my thoughts on just one man.

The first time I visited New York was in the winter of 1995.  I headed out with my girl Monica who had once lived there and would prove to be a most excellent tour guide.  She told me if I took my Fodor’s guide out in public like a dumb ass tourist that she would throw me in front of the F train, which certainly set me straight in a hurry.  I’d always heard the rumors that New Yorkers were brusk and harried….when I planned the trip some of my Seattleite friends echoed those sentiments, warning me that I would find the city unpalatable, especially in the dead of winter.  Excited to make the trip regardless, I tried to keep an open mind.

Monica and I headed to the World Trade Center on our first morning there.  Wanting to see the city from up high, we stopped an older guy working security and inquired if there was an option to look outside from the top.  He explained that going to the roof was no longer a possibility since “the devastation”, his euphemism for the truck bombing that occured two years before.  Even in discussing a fairly recent somber event, he never lost his bright smile.  He told us about all the other buildings where we could get a decent view of the city and made some other suggestions that were his personal favorite places to see.  He was patient and kind, and immediately I felt a sense of warmth on a cold winter day in New York.  We thanked him for his time and headed off to the Empire State Building.

When I heard the news about the attacks eleven years ago, I thought about that man.  I wondered if he still worked there, if he was working there that day, perhaps he had retired or had taken a Tuesday off to spend with his family.  I had no idea, obviously, but it gave me comfort to think about him and how his friendliness had colored how I felt about an entire city full of people.  I think of him every year on this day when my sadness threatens to get the best of me.

Sometimes I struggle with my identity as a flight attendant.  I’ve often said it’s just what I DO, it’s not who I AM.   I’ve resisted writing stories about the airplane for this very reason.  But after eleven plus years of flying, it’s undeniably a big part of who I am.  I’ve written about two encounters that happened at work; one was about a soldier coming home from Iraq that shared with me that he had been discharged with post traumatic stress disorder, another about a co-worker that I had written off as a brainless asshole until I found out that the load she was carrying at home was unimaginably heavy.  When I’ve shared these tales with other people, they’ve often reacted that the stories reminded them that there is a person with feelings behind the flight attendant facade, behind the wings and the uniform and the service industry smile.  The world is such that we all tune out on all the nameless, faceless people sometimes….I know I am often so far up my own ass it’s ridiculous, so focused on my own petty bullshit, riding a pendulum swinging back and forth between fearless bluster and self condemnation. But I keep myself grounded by taking in other people’s stories, sharing snapshots of our connections to one another…..in my case, I often gravitate to reflecting about people who have come in and out of my life in a flash, like that man in New York.  Taking a few minutes to recognize someone else’s humanity can change your own…..just listening is a powerful act of love.  Pondering that everyone I come in contact with, even that jerk in 14C who will not turn off his phone until he is damn good and ready, is an individual with a story, even if I never get to hear it.

Honoring those we lost eleven years ago can be as simple as a small act of compassion for another.  You never know who’ll be thinking about it every year, seventeen years later.  Also taking a moment to really consider your dreams…..if there was ever a day to let it soak in that now is all we have, let it be today.  Think about what you can do with your one wild and precious life in tribute to those who were taken from us too soon.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My Life So Far

One week from today I will be forty six years old.  I repeat, FORTY SIX FUCKING YEARS OLD.  Holy shit, shouldn’t I be in an ill fitting sweat suit watching Matlock picking out burial plots by now?  Perhaps.  

The last forty five years, the highlight reel.

Complicated mother.  Absent alcoholic father.  Autistic brother.  No room for me to have an adjective.

Spent almost three decades bumping along without much purpose, besides putting out fires caused by all of the above as being a fixer appeared to be my station in this life.

Met a safe, sane guy to spend happily ever after with.  Set me free from family worries.  Lived in the shadow of his dreams until I was terribly sick.  Got better.  Reevaluated my priorities.  Realized that our safe, sane life was not doing it for me.

Moved to Chicago.  Drank, danced, went a little crazy.  In a good way.  Started writing down the stories of my life as they were burning a hole in my head.  Found other people with heads full of story fire.  Started telling stories to anyone who listen, fanning story flames.  Felt a sense of pride, a sense of direction, an unprecedented sense of worth.  Can’t stop now, flaming story train has left the station.

Met another guy.  Tried to make it work.  Failed miserably.  Hardly wrote a word.  Broke up with him.  Held on too tightly, ripping my heart apart, not because there was a future for us but because he believed in me.  Mourned the loss of having someone to cheer me on.  Cried every night for a month.  Cried to anyone who would listen, not so much over lost love, but over lost youth.  Scary to let others know that I was in pain, that the fixer needed fixing.  Couldn’t go home, slept on friends’ couches.  Recognized finally that love was all around me.   That it wasn’t too late.  Woke up to feel the sun on my face.  Felt an unfamiliar sensation.  Joy.  Walked the beaches of Florida’s redneck Riviera while traveling for work, surrounded by low rent tourists trolling around yelling on their cell phones, eating crap food, playing volleyball, screaming at their overweight children.  Didn’t just write them off as trashy, as I usually would.  Connected only with their happiness, that they were spending their vacation days on a beautiful beach, doing exactly as they pleased.  Strangely contagious, smiled the rest of the day.

 Have been thinking differently about everything.  Not because of being sick or moving to Chicago or going a little crazy or having my heart broken or whisky tango beach epiphanies.  Because of all of it.  No longer care what others think, no longer have to pass judgement on other people to feel good about myself.  Finding bliss in everything I possibly can.  Discovering that if I pay attention to my world, I will always have something to write about.  Ecstatic at the possibility.  Spent such a great deal of my life so far telling everyone that everything was fine, that I would make it fine, which I did and I didn’t.  Glad to quit that fixer job.  Recognizing that the only life we have is right this minute and possibly the rest of today and tomorrow if we’re lucky.  Spent a long time pretending to be impenetrable, only to find out that it was the shield standing between me and happiness.  Surrounding myself with love and support from all kinds of wonderful people.  Embracing being single.  Soaking myself in lady power.  Reaching out to the straight dudes that I adore in order not to lose faith in them as a species, a few who I would drunkenly marry in Las Vegas as my next fabulous mistake.  Throwing the bird to societal expectations, shedding the apathy that was suffocating me like a dry cleaning bag.  Loving that sharing stories brings my joy together with your joy, my heartache with your heartache, thus pulling me out of lonely isolation.  

Forty six, show me what you got.  Prepared to keep fire walking, friends are always there when I get burned.   Inspired by Rumi, forgetting safety, living where I fear to live, destroying my reputation, attempting to be notorious.  Never too old to make shit happen….I invite you to join me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Everybody Got Their Something

I often feel like I’m the last person in line to get the life changing memos.  I have no doubt we all feel that way sometimes.  This blog has been rolling around in my head for a long time....it’s my most recent revelation that has been building steam for a few years now.  

In discussing this blog or any of my other writing projects with people, I often hear the same comments, mostly along the lines of I Used To Do XYZ But I Don’t Now, I Couldn’t Do XYZ If I Tried, or probably the most common response, I’m Not A Creative Person.  The last one truly speaks to me as that was my line for forty years.  When I was fourteen, I got a job flipping burgers and discovered my love of boys, music, and wine coolers all at once.  I had a boyfriend that was in a sparky Brit Pop inspired band; they played friends’ parties, small clubs, public parks and the like, until they managed to attract quite a following.  When the shows involved collecting money they would often ask me to work the door, assumedly because they trusted that I wouldn’t rip them off and they could concentrate on doing their thing.  I suppose I was a merch girl before there was such a term.  I had it in my head that being a merch girl type was most certainly my station in this life….that I was an ardent art enthusiast, at times getting lucky enough to be close and helpful to those who produced it.

When I started writing, I felt a slow but discernible shift in attitude.  I had enjoyed writing as a kid, which was my only criteria for starting there in attempts to figure out if I had any creative juju whatsoever.  Throwing myself into it, I started voraciously taking in information about how to be a better writer, storyteller, artistic type person....are you feeling my air quotes?  I wanted to be armed with information, God forbid I just do it and fall on my face.  I kept coming across the same message over and over again.  Simplified to a few concepts, it is as follows:

1) When you first start doing ANYTHING, you probably won’t be that good at it.
2)  You will get better, but only if you don’t give up.
3)  Even if you don't master it, there is much joy and satisfaction to be derived in learning.

These simple truths started coming at me from all sides. I'm sure the information was always present, but I didn't see it because I didn't think it applied to me. Ira Glass talks about the period of time it takes before your abilities catch up with your enthusiasm and your taste.  Anne Lamott celebrates shitty first drafts.  I recently discussed this with my friend Charles who directed me to his blog on the topic (http://anevalinc.blogspot.com/2012/03/metaphoric-refrigerator.html)  It’s a powerful message that applies to the bigger picture, beyond making art….that in order to learn, you must be willing to try and willing to accept the fact that you will most likely not be instantly successful in your attempts.  People aren't divided into creative and noncreative.…it’s just a matter of experimentation and patience with the results.  And being very careful about who you share your experiments with.  When I wrote my first story, I sent it to two respected writer friends who I trusted to help me.  When I read what I sent them now, I find it pretty cringeworthy, but they were supportive and encouraging and gave me tips on how to make the piece better.  I've improved my work through trial and error, heavy on the ERROR.  For every decent piece I've come up with, I have had a whole slew of ideas that went nowhere, that remain unfinished, or just plain sucked ass.  Every time I press POST on this blog, I am filled with self doubt about the worth, the message, the value, the spelling, the grammar, the punctuation. I just found out I'm the last asshole on the planet to put two spaces after the period, but so be it.  I want to give up every time things don't turn out the way I've planned (which for the record is almost EVERY TIME), but then I look at how far I've come and I realize I just wouldn't be satisfied going back to being a merch girl.

Any innate talent I have as a writer I attribute to the fact that writing involves paying attention.  It is my personal celebration of my observations of the world.  I have always been a very nervous type, hyper analyzing everyone around me in an attempt to fit in.  Not that uncommon, I suppose.  My crippling fear of being uncool combined with my desire to belong turned me into a social chameleon, a shape shifter, someone who could figure out how to act appropriately in any number of social situations….that combined with years of waiting tables and tending bar was a master class in the human condition.  Writing is helping to smooth out the rough road that is a recent quest to just accept myself for who I am, relinquishing the exhausting struggle that is changing myself to please others and related attempts to get others to change to suit my needs.  Writing has brought my life a piece that has always been missing, a bridge between the mad swirl that goes on inside my mind and the outside world where we all collide…a glimpse at self acceptance, a window into a sense of belonging.

I know there’s always work to do and bills to pay and Bravo marathons to watch and other etcetera to consider, but I encourage you to try your hand at being creative. If it feels uncomfortable and unnecessary and flat out stupid, you’re probably on the right track.  I'm exploring the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which I just started tackling with a great group of new Chicago friends.  Every week I've committed to going on an “artist’s date”, something I do alone that’s pure play, any activity that exercises my imagination.  Even though I have plenty of time to do this and a plethora of interesting ideas, it has been surprisingly difficult to let myself just DO IT.  It feels like an indulgence and contrary to what responsible adults do with their time.  This week I’ve decided to canoodle with Garage Band on my Mac Air, even though I have never tried my hand at anything musical.  Just for fun.  Just to see.  I’m sure I will suck….but who knows, I could get better.  Even if I don’t (those of you who’ve heard me sing karaoke know this is a real possibility), if it’s fun, I might just continue to do it anyway.  Think of what you enjoyed as a kid.  Did you sing, did you dance, did you draw?  Everybody got their something....there's a time for every star to shine.  Take a moment to consider yours.  I've attached the Nikka Costa ditty that my iPod kept shuffling as a musical reminder to put this post together.

Still rebuilding from a breakup that was the emotional equivalent of playing catch with a hand grenade.  Applying the above philosophy to that as well….I tried, I loved, I lost, I learned. I arrived at the address of my first meeting of my writing group to unexpectedly find it was where I last had my heart smashed.  Actively shaking in my shoes from the visual, I had to convince myself that it was time to embrace new possibilities and focus on the doors that were opening instead of the ones that I had been slammed in my face.  Great thinkers like Nietzsche and Kelly Clarkson (!) remind me that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  I may be on the fast track to bench pressing Volkswagons.

Leaving you with a Rumi reminder.  It's almost summer in Chicago, people.  LET THE GAMES BEGIN.

The Guest House 

                             This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. 

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. 

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house  empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

 The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. 

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hey. Girlfriend.

I was on the phone yesterday with my mother, catching up on recent goings on.  She asked me how the state of affairs was with my gentleman friend, I admitted to her things appeared to be coming to an abrupt end.  Her immediate response was,

"You'll find someone else."

I asked her why that would be my consolation, why that should be my focus....it struck me as the last thing I wanted to hear at the moment.  She replied,

"Because you'll want someone to do things with and women aren't all that great to be around."

WHOA.  I could actually smell bullshit THROUGH THE GODDAMN TELEPHONE.

I said only, "I'm going to stop you right now, because I couldn't disagree with you more."

I cannot properly express how good the women in my life have been to me.  Not here to man bash, only to give praise where it's due.  My girlfriends have been there to listen, laugh, and cry with me....and have given me a ton of good advice when I needed it, which lately has been every other minute.

I was reminded of this bit of an interview with Jane Fonda on Piers Morgan......someone I truly admire.

MORGAN: How many times do you think you've properly been in love in your life?

FONDA: Oh, maybe five times. That's a lot. But I'm old, so --

MORGAN: That is quite a lot.

FONDA: It's --

MORGAN: But you've done well.

FONDA: Yes, I have.

MORGAN: And if you could take --

FONDA: I've been lucky.

MORGAN: -- if you could take one of those people to a desert island for the rest of your life who -- and it can't be your current partner, but -- so we'll have to eliminate him from this particular --

FONDA: It would be my girlfriends.

MORGAN: -- investigation.

FONDA: It would be my girlfriends.

MORGAN: Well, if I -- but if I forced you to take one of the men you've loved in your life, who would it be?

FONDA: You -- you couldn't. You couldn't.

MORGAN: Really?

FONDA: No. Been there, done that. I mean, I'm very happy right now. I have a lover and I'm real -- real happy. But I wouldn't particularly want to go to a desert island. I think the longest lived relationships are my girlfriends. Women have a whole network of -- of nurturing, emotional relationships. And in terms of longevity, put me on a desert island with a bunch of women friends.


MORGAN: You'd probably have a happier time.

Amen to that, Jane.  It's been said that Jane married Roger Vadim, a director, as she wanted to be an actor.  Then she married Tom Hayden as she wanted to be an activist.  Then she married Ted Turner as she wanted to be a philanthropist.  Then she realized she could just become the husband she'd always wanted to have...that her dreams weren't tied to being with a man.

I talked at length with my friend Colleen about this recently....we're pretty obsessed with female empowerment pow wows.  Colleen had just been on a motorcycle trip with some friends around the California wine country and she told me she had talked me up to the group.  How much she digs my storytelling, how she thinks it's courageous of me to get up in front of people and talk about my life.  This from someone who rode a motorcycle and camped her way across the country alone for two months...a feat I find unfathomably brave.  She posted a photo of herself online the other day that was shot of her on her bike, positivity was shooting out of every pixel.  I showed the picture to a mutual friend and said, "Wow, doesn't she look great?"  When I hung up the phone, I thought of her singing my praises to people who had never met me at the same time as I was showing her picture around and I thought, "Shit, why aren't there men who talk and feel this way about us?"  The answer was immediately clear....because that's not life's ultimate objective.   Not that romantic love isn't possible and fantastic and something to always be open to....it's just not worth more than the love that surrounds you and propels you if you cultivate meaningful friendships.

I have HUGE love in my heart for dudes...if you're a straight guy and you've gotten to the end of this, you ROCK.  And gay boys, without you, I'm nothing.....certainly taking some homos to the desert island.  Who else is going to take care of the decorating and crank the dance music?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bloodborne Benevolence

Greetings on a beautiful day here in Chicago.  I'm laid up with a bad back, but after completely resetting my brain in Mexico for a week, I'm feeling pretty solid even though I can't really stand up straight.  

I was fortunate enough to perform this last Monday with a group of ladies that had taken storytelling classes with Scott Whitehair in February and March.  Scott is a fabulous and supportive teacher and the class really helped me work out some writer's block that had been bringing me down for quite awhile.  If you're interested in a four week course in personal narrative, I would highly recommend working with Scott.....he is immensely encouraging of the value of everyone's authentic voice.  Plus, as one of the students mentioned, it's far cheaper than therapy and a lot more fun!  The show on Monday was my first attempt to tell a story without having notes and it was harder than I had imagined.  I was caught off guard by how emotional I became telling it, which made not having the written words to fall back on a challenge.  But in an effort to stay outside my comfort zone, I'm going to attempt the story again at the Moth on Monday and I plan to put together more short stories to do at the Moth in Chicago and Los Angeles soon.  Either it will get easier or I will decide it's not for me; I'll only know for sure if I keep doing it.

In brainstorming an idea for a story for class, I thought of an email exchange I had with my friend Michele about a traumatic event that happened to me in the hospital after having surgery to remove my ovaries and a cyst that was suspected to be cancerous.  Michele and I had hysterectomies at the same time the year before....hers was a proactive measure to help stop the spread of stage 4 metastatic cancer that was ravaging her body.  Michele and I have been friends since elementary school and our lives have kept crossing paths ever since.  We ended up at the same suburban high school, where she was a popular glee clubber and I was a sulky malcontent smoking cigarettes with the guys from auto shop. She claims I was "cool", while she wasn't, I recall the opposite.  We were united once more when she would come visit me at work at the Capital Club for happy hour after her work days at Harborview Hospital and I would fix her a gin and tonic or a Metaxa sidecar and listen to the tales of the neurosurgery department.  Over the last four decades there have been many new houses, new jobs, husband/boyfriends, divorce/breakups, the births of her daughters, family dysfunction, and her getting the news that she had eleven months to live.  She has far exceeded that estimate and she continues to LIVE with cancer, still maintaining a great sense of humor.  Live is a carefully chosen verb as she would frown upon me using the words "fight" or "battle" or any other words of war to describe her position.  I sent her the following story after I wrote it for class and thanked her for reminding me that it had moved her when I shared it with her at the time.

I awake in darkness to the fact that I am wet.  Even in a medicated fog, I sense right away that something has gone terribly wrong.  I flip on the reading light over my hospital bed to find that I am covered in blood.   I reach for the call button for the nurse.   DING!

The nurse working the night shift is thin and grey haired and arrives with a surprised expression, like I’ve interrupted her from watching her soap opera.  She enters the room hesitantly, with a “yeeeesss?”, until she’s close enough to the bed to see what has prompted my call.  “Oh my!” she says, snapping into a sense of urgency.  “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

The blood has come from a six inch incision in my abdomen that had been stapled shut after having my ovaries removed after they are suspected to have cancer.  An artery had ruptured just below the surface of a widening gap between the staples and began pumping blood through the opening, through the bandaging, through the hospital gown, through the sheets.  I’m not in any more pain than I had been before starring in my own personal horror movie, but I desperately wish to be sleeping instead of contemplating that attempts to put me back together have been less than wholly successful.

The nurse cleans up everything in no time and tells me that I should go back to sleep, which I do, only to wake up an hour later, again soaked in blood.  DING!

This time she seems more concerned.  She repeats the clean up procedures and tells me she wants to confer with the doctor on call.

She returns to say everyone official will be in for regular rounds in a few hours and I should be all right until then.  Wanting to accept this assessment, I go back to sleep.

Morning comes with a visit from the doctor who stomps in authoritatively, explaining my case to a group of med students in the most clinical of terms.  Her expression turns less routine when she pulls back the bedsheets to find that I am again covered in blood.  I’ve become accustomed to this being the state of affairs when I wake up;  I’m now immune to the visual shock of it and am just dreading the clean up ritual.  She tells the med students that I’ll need to get prepped for surgery to fix the problems at hand.

Everything stops when she proclaims, “We don’t have time to take her to surgery.   We’re going to need to take care of this here.”  I may be high as a kite, but I can tell by everyone’s reaction that what she’s suggesting is out of the ordinary.   She explains that they are going to cauterize the offending artery and staple me back together here in my room. 

Everyone springs into action, scurrying about bringing trays full of tinctures and tools. The doctor carefully paints silver nitrate on each side of the laceration and pulls out a metal tool that looks like what it is, a staple gun.  She pulls the sides of my flesh together and activates the lever.  CHA CHUNK.  The pain from my skin being severed and clamped together with metal combined with the stapling sound is horrific.  She moves the stapler up a notch and repeats the motion.  CHA CHUNK.  I am wincing but I’m imploring myself to lay still.  By the third CHA CHUNK, I am out of my own head and imagining this is happening to someone else as I can’t really synthesize much more of what’s going on in first person.  And then it’s over.  She thanks me for hanging in there and says she’ll be back to check on me soon.

Four nurses remain with me in a constant state of motion.  One begins to clean up my bedding while another is feeding me ice chips, a third sits down and holds my hand and strokes my hair, the last puts a cold washcloth on my sweaty forehead.  They buzz around me like bees to a hive, praising me for my courage, telling me that everything will be all right.  They explain to me slowly and carefully how to read the machine next to me that provides intravenous pain relief.  I have a button that I’ve been pushing only when I’ve felt like I’ve needed it; they insist that I must get more proactive about it.  They tell me that the machine is set up to make the medicine available every eight minutes; they point out on the screen where I can tell when that time is up.  They assure me that tomorrow should be better but the near future will be excruciating if I don’t commit myself to staying sedated.

All of their attention has made me feel surprisingly uncomfortable.  I’m appreciating their concern, but I’m taken aback by how awkward it makes me feel.  I am quiet as they conclude their duties and tell me that I should ring them right away if I need anything.

When I’m again alone in my room I consider the uneasiness I felt from their attentiveness.   Their inclinations felt unfamiliar to me, as they were expressing an instinct I will never know in its truest form as I now cannot have children of my own, something I wasn’t exposed to being raised by a mother who thought tough times were best countered with a sense of detachment.   It was maternal spirit that caused the nurses to do more than just their jobs.  I pondered how mothers are driven to soothe and comfort and provide solace and educate their children to protect them from harm. They understand the power of gentle touch and soft words and they know how to be present only to another’s needs.  I felt warmth and calm wash over me as I stared at the display on the morphine machine, making sure to hit the button every eight minutes until I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

In actuality, I didn't really have the maternal realizations until I relayed the story to Michele shortly after....when I was lying in the hospital I was thinking that the only person I could recall being stapled was Mickey Rourke's character in The Wrestler and perhaps the experience would fill me with fortitude and some day a stripper would tell me that I didn't really need to call her Cassidy because her real name was Pam.  Hey, I think I mentioned morphine was involved, right?

Michele told me her takeaway from the story was that she should always try to be emotionally present for her daughters, Anya and Mila (aka Dizzy and Crash), even when it's hard.  I'm happy she has loads of friends and medical advocates and access to the latest and greatest cyberknife procedures and as she says, "the best kind of the worst cancer ever", but I know in my heart that being Anya and Mila's mom is her most effective form of medical treatment. 

After I told the story the other night, I had a lovely conversation with our young bartender, Cherish.  We talked about the play, Wit, and how you can live a seemingly important life full of John Donne sonnets, but in the end you just need a kind nurse to read you The Runaway Bunny.  Sometimes I fear this blog comes off as a nonstop unwanted advice column...but it's immensely therapeutic for me to keep celebrating the notion that our love and connection to the people in our lives are all that really matter and sharing stories has brought my life an incredible sense of meaning.  This keeps me going when my mind is filled with, to quote Anne Lamott, "such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.” 

The summer is filling up with grand plans of a road trip through the rust belt in a mini van and helping girls find their inner rock stars.  Watch this space for details.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Keith Richards Cure For Apathy

I am currently engrossed in Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, which details her fifteen plus years of research of studying the effects of technology on how we relate to one another. She interviewed a man who is both married in real life and on Second Life, an alternate virtual world he accesses on his phone.  He claims his online life is where he can truly be himself, making it possible to bear his real life with his real family.  WTF?  In my eternal struggle to pull my head out of my ass and put down my iPhone only to behold a sea of people staring at their phones, her book is setting fire to my brain, especially in regards to social media related depression and anxiety.

Facebook depression is a recent phenomenon that is mostly documented in teenagers, where the source of one's crap ass attitude is placed squarely on the fact that everyone else’s online life seems truly magical according to your news feed, whilst your life remains a steaming piece of shit.  Thank God we've found a new and effective way to make teenagers feel inadequate!  It does happen to adults as well, probably because Facebook can bring out the moody teenager in all of us.   I took a hard look at my FB presence, which has been scaled back and now consists of the occasional inspirational quotes/musical offerings/news articles, pictures from races I have run and vacations, and shameless self promotion if I am fortunate enough to be involved in some literary goings on about town.  World, check me out.  Damn, it must kick some serious ass to be me!

What Facebook doesn’t reveal is that I spend a lot of my downtime in a supine position staring at the ceiling wondering what the hell I’ve done with my life.   When that gets old, I throw in rationalizing how I cannot possibly run errands or exercise or write today because of insert rotating lame excuse here.  There are no life or death deadlines, there's enough toilet paper to make it until tomorrow, tomorrow will be better weather to do things outside, no one knows whether I do or I don’t do these things, so who gives a rip?  Great news!  I’ve decided to focus on the things I truly want to do and not cave to things I don’t want to do out of guilt.  Bad news!  I often don’t want to do a damn thing.  

I had to really check myself before I wrecked myself recently when I decided to attempt to tell a story next month at the Moth here in Chicago.  For those of you not familiar, the Moth is a storytelling organization out of New York that has a popular podcast and puts on live events all around the country….the stories are told without notes, limited to five minutes, and judged and scored. (www.themoth.org)   Upon contemplating what it would take to be ready to tell a story in front a big crowd without the written words to crutch out on and the paper to hide behind and to have strangers judge it and give it a number, I just kept asking myself why I would want to do all that work and subject myself to possible humiliation for something that was going to last FIVE minutes?

And there I was, clubbing my dreams like a baby harp seal.  

When I figured out that I was cloaking my fear with laziness to put a more comfortable spin on it,  I started to fight back.  I've been working on the story, working on producing more stories.  Still not writing as much as I’d like, but what I'm managing to put together is helping me to  keep my eyes on the future and off the ceiling.  

The point behind this overshare is that there are compelling ups and downs behind all of the online avatars where everyone controls what’s represented about their identities….we often present only our best news, our most flattering pictures, our most hilarious musings.  But perhaps our most meaningful connections happen when we are vulnerable, when we take chances and fall on our faces, when we say or do the wrong things, and the people in our lives choose to love us anyway, because we deserve to be loved for who we really are.  
Lately I've been relying on a pick me up more powerful than any drug ever invented....I crank up Keith Richards singing ONLY TO ME.  I mean, if you're not inspired by a guy who changed the face the rock and roll, who has been married almost thirty years, who has survived drug abuse and Mick's bullshit and falling out of a palm tree to write a best selling book and who still pines to be a librarian, check your pulse.  You might be dead.
Exciting things on the upcoming agenda.....storytelling class show May 14th here in Chicago, perhaps I'll be fortunate enough to get my name pulled at the Moth, where even if I completely eat shit, I will be buoyed by love and support.  Story Lab show in June will feature an overarching tale that may explain my love/hate relationship with technology.....come check it out if you feel like hearing some new voices sharing their experiences.  Ciao for now.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

W-O-M-A-N! I'll Say It Again.

Today is International Women’s Day.   I wrote about it last year, bringing up economic disparity, violence towards women, and emphasizing the importance of self esteem.  This year I could quote all kinds of similar statistics, and add to the conversation the multiple instances of politicians attempting to change the face of women’s reproductive health care by infusing it with misogynist “morality” related proposals.  Or discuss the Rush Limbaugh debacle, where he called a Georgetown law student a “slut” and a “prostitute” after she made statements to a House committee regarding birth control.  Thanks Rush, you paragon of virtue, for seizing an opportunity to enhance the situation with your misanthropic vitriol.  I could discuss how after the Grammys were broadcast, there were a shocking number of ladies tweeting about how Chris Brown was so hot, they would TOTALLY let him punch them in the face.  Way to go, sisters who suck.  Or that the US trails behind much of the world, ranking 90th, in the number of women in national legislature.  Or that the 2010 election marked the first time since 1987 that the US made no progress in electing more women to Congress.  I could go on and on with depressing numbers and disheartening news stories and we could all throw our hands in the air and say THAT SUCKS in unison…waking up to March 9th to celebrate the 53rd birthday of Barbie.  A doll that if she were real, would have a 38 inch bust, an 18 inch waist, and 33 inch hips.  

Holy crap, at 53 years old with those boobs, her back must be killing her.  Someone get Barbie some Aleve.

In deciding what to write in regards to Women’s Day, I came to the conclusion that the only information I could share with any hopes of making an impression is my own story.

I grew up in a middle class household in a suburb outside Seattle.  My mother divorced my father when I was six and subsequently remarried another man who was my stepfather during all of my formative years.  Nothing happened that would rate the making of a movie for the Lifetime channel; we had enough money, there was no abuse or even heated arguments around the dinner table.  My mother told me not to come home pregnant or in a cop car, but other than that, I could make my own decisions.  She never gave me much advice or guidance at all, really.….I just came to conclusions based on her examples.  Conclusions like:  everyone else’s needs come before your own, never expose your imperfections to the world, and it doesn’t really matter what YOU want to do with your life, just find a man to take care of you.  So off I went sailing out into the universe with not much in the way of a tacking strategy.  I lived with a few boyfriends and moved here and there and made friends and changed jobs and generally did the best I could, mostly putting everyone else’s needs before my own, trying not show my imperfections to the world, and figuring although I didn’t need a man to take care of me, it didn’t really matter what I wanted to do with my life, I should just focus on getting by.

In the last nineteen months that I’ve been on my own, I’ve had a lot of time to cull through my core beliefs and make changes for the better.  I get now that putting yourself first is the best way to have quality relationships, that sharing your imperfections and mistakes publically is a litmus test to attract people who are secure and deflect fakers, and that following my creative bliss is more important than material wealth.  I’ve recognized that the only person standing in the way of my success is me, which is strangely liberating, as I’m the only person I have any control over.

Okay, you’re thinking, when exactly is she getting to the point about Women’s Day?  It’s my goal to use the aforementioned epiphany to help women realize their strengths and their potential to improve the world.  We can’t change the minds of the Rick Santorums, the Rush Limbaughs, the Fred Phelps, the advertising morons who bring you shit like this. 

But we can speak our minds about what’s acceptable.  Recognize that your spending decisions are important.  Women account for an estimated 85% of consumer purchases.  Support women in business in your community and research and avoid companies with tired, sexist ad campaigns.  Volunteer or donate to charities and organizations that promote and assist women.  When faced with sexist remarks, (or homophobic or racist, for that matter), voice your dissenting view point.  These things might be prove to be inconvenient, possibly unpleasant, sometimes time consuming, perhaps with no discernible change for the better immediately available for an Aha! moment so you can feel all Oprah-tastic about yourself…..but keep in mind that the next generation learns from you, from what you do and say, and from what you don’t do and don’t say.  If we start telling all the young girls in our lives that they are important and valued and should be respected and that they should study hard and use their brain power to grow up to be ANYTHING THEY WANT TO BE, that would be huge.  That their looks do not determine their potential.  That a healthy body of any size is a beautiful one.  That their sexuality is something to be celebrated, not a commodity.  Because no matter what sort of material possessions one might receive for “putting out”, you’re still selling yourself short.  Imagine a world with more Adele, less Snooki.  More Christiane Amanpour, less Kim Kardashian.  More Tavi Gevinson (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/magazine/how-sassy-is-tavi-gevinson.html), less Paris Hilton.  That we don’t want special treatment.  We want equal treatment.  We aren’t a special interest group, we’re over half the population.  That their contributions and leadership will be pivotal in shaping the world for the better.

In an effort to be the change that I want to see, I attended a screening of Miss Representation last night.  (http://www.missrepresentation.org/) The documentary explores the correlation between the media’s treatment of women and their underrepresentation in positions of influence across the board.  I was surrounded by inner city teens who were fired up to end gender stereotypes and become more media literate.  I was particularly inspired by the film’s message that women sharing their stories will be an instrumental part of changing the shift in consciousness…..you know I love to celebrate story power!

I know many enlightened men who are equally sick of sexist double standards and to them I say THANK YOU.   Have a great Women’s Day, all.  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Excessively Frugal? Excitement Impaired? This blog post might be for you.

Those that know me well know that I have strong opinions about how the world should be.  With that in mind, I try to listen as much as I talk as I’ve come to the conclusion that absorbing other people’s ideas and fusing them with your own is a great exercise in keeping your mind and heart open.  Getting set in your ways seems to be a part of getting older and I am actively fighting that shit like there’s no tomorrow.   In my worst possible future scenario nightmare, I am saying things like, “But that’s the way I’ve always done it!” and such.  This fast forwarded hellish hallucination also involves me being decked out in polyester and industrial shoes with my finger in someone’s face saying “ I KNOW you said Dr. Pepper, not Diet Coke!”  Hey, I told you it was worst case.  But back to the tried and true rules I consult when I feel the crochety confines of maturity creeping in.  I have but one mantra.

Don’t be cheap and don’t be boring.  When I make decisions based on these guidelines, I’m generally pleased with the results.

I feel the need to clarify some points with the mantra.  When I say cheap, it has nothing to do with how much  money you have at your disposal.  Being broke is not the same as being cheap.  It’s a matter of not being chintzy with what you do have.  I believe in making smart decisions with money, in having a savings/emergency account, and all those things that Suze Orman has been hitting us all over the head with.  I also believe in the Warholism that wasting money puts you in a real party mood, but I respect those that don’t get with that one.  But I checked the facts, no matter how hard you try, you can’t take it with you and dying with more of it doesn’t get you any big fucking prizes.  If you’re one of those people who tries to figure out how to make your life cheaper at other people’s expense (i.e. being a shitty tipper, complaining about things in hopes of a discount, conveniently forgetting that you owe money until you are reminded, going to the bathroom when the bill comes), I would urge you to look at your level of satisfaction with your life.  Being a active cheap ass takes energy and and often goes in tandem with being a drag to be around.   Having enough money to be comfortable is key, but more can’t get you more of what’s really important…friendship, affection, connection, self worth, on and on and on….  It can’t even buy you solid success with the financially obsessed GOP,  just ask Mittens Romney.

And as far as being boring, I’m not implying you must be hang gliding on acid or partying with celebrities or any other Hunter S. Thompson-esque pursuits.  I’m perfectly happy hearing about your adventures in making macrame potholders with kitty faces on them if you’re passionate about them.  Everyone has different activities that make them tick, find yours, and respect and appreciate what works for others.  Being boring in my definition involves endless bitching, living your life through other people, focusing on how everyone else has it better than you, what other people have that you don't or what they can do that you cannot.  A lot of folks feel comfortable in this cocoon, and nothing dies harder than a bad idea.  We all have our whiny moments, but if your identity is defined by them, it is never too late to make a change.   When I feel like life's buffet is serving all poop sandwiches, I recognize that lots of other people are struggling along in this life…that I am unique and special, JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE.  Also boring, people who talk too much, regardless of the content and quality of their output.  Are you often met with a blank stare from those on the receiving end of your word bubble?  Do you interrupt people?  Are you always thinking of what you’re going to say next as opposed to really hearing what the other person is saying?  Check yourself, you may be on the nonstop to Blowhardville, population YOU. 

I am guilty of committing all of the above sins as I am human.  But being aware is helpful.  If you feel you may be in danger of being a tight ass and/or dull specimen, or are generally soaking in the agony of defeat, do yourself a favor.  Call someone RIGHT NOW and invite them to do something.  Take them out, have them over, doesn't have to be fancy.  Ask them what’s up with them, and really listen.  Pick up the check.  You might be surprised at how good it makes you feel.

Enough of my advice.  Things are turning around in the land of nonsense….I’m reading the Artist’s Way and taking steps to push my creativity into overdrive.  More soon.....

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Venus and Mars Meet the Overhead Bin

In the my last stretch of eight days of work, I came into contact with 1,925 people on the plane.  Yes, I actually added it up.  Ostensibly the airplane’s job is to get people from point A to point B, however, I prefer to consider it a giant social experiment put together for my amusement.  As I am obsessed with all things gender related, I focused on the difference between men and women when the quandry of the overhead bin rears its ugly head.

If you've been on a plane (or better yet, IN one, RIP George Carlin), you probably already get a notion of where I'm going with this.  Passenger brings bag, bag goes in bin.  Simple enough?  Not really.  Making a bunch of people's shit fit nicely in a confined storage space is sometimes akin to a cruel puzzle with too many pieces.  Every plane is different, every bin is different, you bought a new bag, you stuffed it full of crap on your journey, there are no rules that universally apply to this mess.  People are stacking up behind you, fool, put your bag away and get out of the aisle!  And here's what I've witnessed....

A good number of people when faced with overhead bin drama stop and look at the problem, they rearrange things, they look for other spaces, they solicit help from their fellow passengers or from me or one of my other bag wrangling pro co-workers. These folks give me faith in human kind.  But some people are not so logical or resourceful.  When one of our less evolved friends comes across this dilemma (note I refrained from using the term idiot, because I am CLASSY), I see a discernable difference in reaction between the genders.  

When He Man Master of the Universe cannot make it work, he often resorts to feats of strength to man handle that bin to bend to his will.  Clearly these dudes have not heard the funk anthem “If It Don’t Fit, Don’t Force It”.  There is slamming and cracking and damage to structural integrity and my central nervous system.  They will not stop when asked, they just have to prove to that bin WHO’S THE BOSS.

When Our Lady of Perpetual Confusion cannot make it work, she resorts to leaving the bag sticking out five inches over the edge, often verifying that it won’t close, and proceeds to sit down and read a magazine.  Basically, her mindset is, I don’t know what to do, therefore IT’S SOMEONE ELSE’S PROBLEM.

I’ve certainly seen guys walk away from the above scenario, but not with such shocking regularity.  And I honestly can’t remember any women trying to physically assault the overhead bin in my eleven year career.

So, I guess I’m asking….is the message we’re telling men is MIGHT MAKES RIGHT?  And are we telling women DON’T WORRY YOUR PRETTY HEAD, SOMEONE ELSE WILL DEAL WITH IT?  I have no answers, just more questions.  But I’ll retire the Caps Lock for now.

My writing is currently flatter than a coke addicted super model’s chest, but I refuse to be discouraged.  I’ve started to train for some upcoming runs in Chicago as the weather is improving….and running is where I have most of my writing inspirations.  If there was only an app that could transcribe what happens in my mind when I’m truly inspired that seems to fizzle when I stare at the blinking cursor…..

Ending on a high note, I'm very excited to start a new storytelling class in March. Spring is coming, people.  Can you feel it?