Making sense

Anne Lamott, on writing ...

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

Sunday, February 24, 2013

I got out of bed

I didn't want to. It was already 10:45 a.m. A Sunday, my husband in the kitchen rattling pans. Frying up bacon. The cocker, up and down on the bed, standing on my chest, her tongue hanging: Get up, Mom. I have a ball, right here, on Dad's pillow, and if you get up, you can throw it, and I can chase it and we can start our day.
I pushed her away, rolled over. Checked my iPhone. Checked facebook. Other people, up and moving around. Already back from church, back from Costco, back from the grocery.
Me, still in bed and not wanting to get out of it.
Me, depressed. Bad breath and greasy hair and a creeping anxiety, already. Not even standing and there's the anxiety. The pain in the center of my chest that makes me think a heart attack is forthcoming.
Trying to laugh at myself, make light of the situation, think something else, anything else.
Ordering myself: Get your ass out of bed, Kathleen. Take a friggin' shower. Put on powder and deodorant. Brush your teeth. When you're done, you can get a cup of coffee.
So I did. I listened to myself and headed to the shower. Turned on NPR while the water heated. Oscar talk. Oh yeah, tonight's the Oscars. That's something to live for.
Inside the shower, I perk up: there's a bar of Zum, patchouli. The water relaxes shoulders that have already tensed. Awake twenty minutes and tight there, like I've been at the laptop for ten hours. Patchouli relaxes, a hippy scent that tells me I need to chill.
Downstairs, there's my son. It's his birthday. Oh my god, it's his birthday! There's something to live for. He's twenty-five today. Born in 1988, my post-partum depression so severe that I would call my parents, ask them to please come over, for just a bit. Me, taking long showers, driving around in my Monte Carlo, Fleetwood Mac blasting. Getting medicated, knowing that I needed it. Loving every inch of that sweet baby boy, nurturing him, nurturing myself.
My adult life, then, all of it, lived with depression lurking, anxiety hovering. It's a damn heavy cross to bear, I'll tell you that.
What helps: talking to people, eating oranges, drinking coffee, listening to music, driving aimlessly, windows down, air wooshing in, cuddling with my dogs, hugging on my husband, my children (all adults now), teaching, connecting with others, reading, writing, blogging, shopping at Walgreen's for cheesy you-can-only-get-this-as-a-special-television-offer items.
And getting out of bed. That's where it starts. Pulling back the covers and standing up.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A thousand deaths

Eff me. It just happened again. Two bites into a bowl of Velveeta Shells 'N Cheese, standing in my kitchen, stirring the pot of chili.
The sudden chest pain, sudden dizziness (slight but alarming), sense of impending doom, the lightning-fast indecision/decision: do I call 9-1-1 or do I sit down or do I take a baby aspirin first and then call 9-1-1 and then sit down?
Half a second,  here it is, the intense warming. The tingling, pins-and-needles in my arms and legs.
This is it. Today I die. A day before my son's 25th birthday.
I'm only 47 years old. Dying, a heart attack, here in my kitchen.
Oh. The recognition, putting all the pieces together. How this morning's nausea relates to this. How my extreme fatigue has forecast this. My negative thoughts. Yes, turns out stress can kill you. Annoyed with my marriage (why can't he fucking talk more?) and thinking of renting a loft downtown but with what? my charm and good looks, neither of which amount to much these days, and having no money, and feeling like a broke college student selling her cashmere sweater to the rich bitch down the hall just to have some green in the pocket and then here comes the guilt oh my god what is wrong with me I have a perfectly good husband he's just quiet. That's all.
Where the hell is my husband? He was in the garage. He was shoveling snow. Now he's AWOL.
Figures. I'm dying. Massive myocardial infarction and he's not here to help me, or to witness it (?).
And all of this, the physical and the psychological pain and the desperation and the guilt, all happening at the same time.
The flash of a gun, and how if I had one, this would be the moment it all ended.
Calming myself down. Internal dialogue. You're not dying, Kathleen. It feels like it, but you are not dying. Really. You will be fine. Think of something yes.
Yes. Go upstairs. Put on some makeup (you'll be more attractive in the ER), spray some perfume, love on the dog who's sitting on your bed waiting for your attention.
See? It's working. You're not dizzy anymore. The chest pain has gone. Love on Millie. Love on Millie. Love on Millie.
All of this, all of it. Three, four minutes?
An eternity when you're inside the panic and it's devouring you.

Friday, February 22, 2013

It's the little things

On this (snowy) day, I am feeling blissful. My husband returned safely from his business trip, so avoiding widowhood is always nice. I will say, however, that I feel some joi de vivre when he's away. I don't feel the need to cook dinner, to clean up, to shower, to shave my legs. The joy comes not only in ignoring usual hygiene and household routines, but in getting to do what I want, when I want: reading, writing, reading some more, eating popcorn for dinner, surrounding myself on the couch with a cocker spaniel to one side, an enormous mutt to the other, and a Himalayan at my head, the four of us being lazy and indulgent, watching three episodes of Dr. Phil back-to-back. The remote control under my control.
Year ago, when I still had my weekly newspaper column, I wrote about ordinary days, and how it is the ordinary that makes up our lives. The big things ~ the weddings and baptisms and house fires (ohmygod) and divorces and graduations and car wrecks (ohmygod) are few and far between.
Let me share some ordinary stuff that is making me extraordinarily happy on this cold and snowy February day.
1) Daughter's gluten-free cookies baked last night have softened to an applesauce-y texture. I can eat three and not bloat up like that fish that kills people over in China.
2) I have, for the first time in months, assorted K-cups to fuel my morning coffee ritual. Dark roast? Sure. Decaf blonde roast? Uh-huh.
3) The yoga pants I got on sale (but was in a hurry so I bought them without trying them on) fit me like a comfortable glove. The Spandex contours me in all the right places. I feel young and somewhat lithe and flexible if I need to be.
4) The teal cowlneck raglan-sleeve pullover I snurched from the rack next to the checkout ($8) as I paid for my yoga pants looks better on me and is more comfortable than three-fourths of the items in my closet, shirts and tops and sweaters that I paid ten times the amount for and agonized over buying.
5) I'm having a good hair day. Excellent blow-out.
6) I have bright yellow and red flowers in a vase on my writing desk. Cheerful. (Thanks, honey.)
7) My Gold Canyon scent pods are perfuming the house.
8) My Indigo Wild frankincense and myrrh laundry soap is perfuming the house.
9) Damn, it smells good up in here.
10) I have a brand new Cover Girl powder compact. That smell. So nostalgic and eighth-grade. Love it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Gillian Flynn's got it goin' on ... if you love depraved people

Holy shitsnacks on a cracker.
Just finished Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects, and the perverse ending affected me so severely that I had to run to the bathroom to get rid of some tuna salad. Thirty minutes post-last page, I am still nauseous. Sick to my core.
Sick mostly because I know people like the (disturbed) characters in Flynn's novel, one of whom resonates so deeply that I do not think I can look her in the (pink and watery) eye anytime soon.
Ironically (?), Flynn is from the Kansas City area, which has gotten me to thinking that maybe she and I have met the same person.
Could this even be possible?
What a twisted small world we live in ... .
I thought Gone Girl was bad enough. The ending to that book, however, didn't so much incite physical illness as emotional pissiness. I HATED the ending and literally threw the book across the room. I cursed it and planned to write Flynn a vitriolic email, centering on the lack of verisimilitude,  but my ADD saved me from penning something pathetic that would only have served to make me come across as a jealous, idiotic fan. I think I baked brownies instead and swallowed my feelings.
What endears me about Flynn's writing, and what keeps me from staying up past my bedtime to read more ... more ... more, is that this chick's pen is inherently mean and taunting, and damned if her characters, as such, aren't realistic and in your face, like asshole-ish people are out in the real world.
I don't think she could write a sympathetic character if her editor demanded it ("Please, Gillian, please create a character that readers can like, for once, please try ~"). Instead, her characters are mostly repulsive in nature and occasionally, one-twentieth of the time, an eensy-beensy-bit kind, like the kid who bullies everyone in junior high and then you find out he sends all his lawnmowing money to Jerry Lewis's Muscular Dystrophy Foundation.
Furthermore, Flynn's writing, which uses fuck liberally, will offend the easily offended. In fact, even I, who's liberal and out there concerning most things, found myself squirming in my reading chair more than once while reading Sharp Objects. Flynn's writing disturbs and delights me simultaneously.

Of course, books that have the power to affect me so severely are the kind of books I reach for time and time again, like some sick addict after the crack pipe, or, in my case, a foodaholic reaching for the sixth brownie.

Can't wait to get my hands on Flynn's other book ... .

Friday, February 8, 2013

On Meredith Maran, her book, and the MacDowell Colony

I just finished reading Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They do What They Do, edited by Meredith Maran, whom I met this fall at MacDowell. She was witty and charming and beautiful and tanned and thin and smart and a Democrat. Also, talented. What stood out most, though, about Maran was her choice to write inside Bond Hall, the communal meeting place for MacDowell artists-in-residence. That's where the phone was, and the pool table, and the ping-pong table. It's where artists presented their work each night after supper. Maran had a studio reserved for her, Wood, but she chose not to use it. I heard something about there not being enough sun around her studio; I heard something about needing to be where the people were.
What I remember most about Maran, however, was overhearing her talking to the chef in the kitchen one night, about how much love was obviously put into the food. It doesn't have to be this good, you know, she said, but it is. It is this good because it's made with love. Thank you, thank you.
I liked that about her, that she took the time to say that.
And it's true, about love being in that food. I have never eaten so consistently well, never been so gloriously fed. Before leaving the colony, I hitched a ride into town with a glorious soul named Risa Mickenberg. a funny writer-singer lady from Manhattan. We stopped to buy bottled soda and a pack of cigarettes, then we walked across the street to Peterborough Basket Co., a metal building that smelled of bug spray and microwave popcorn. There, I bought a facsimile of the basket my lunches came in each day around noon at the colony, thinking that its presence back in Kansas City would serve as a wonderful reminder of my twenty-four MacDowell lunches; instead, I look at it every day and feel sadness that I am eating a grilled cheese prepared with store-bought bread and processed American cheese slices. My soup here at home comes out of a can.
While at MacDowell, I read Maran's first novel, A Theory of Small Earthquakes, which I liked well enough. It is about a lesbian couple who have a baby together during the time California is being rocked with earthquakes. Although I never grew to like the main character, Maran's writing was good and had a clean, nonfiction feel to it, so I persevered and made it to the final page. Before I could talk to Maran about the ending, which bothered me only a small bit, she had left the colony.
But that's MacDowell. Artists come and go on a regular basis. You have breakfast with Playwright A and Novelist H and Composer D and Filmmaker M and before you know it, those folks are gone and Playwright B and Novelist T are sitting across from you sipping their coffee. One of my favorite people there, a writer named Steve, said at dinner one evening that it was like a series of small deaths, watching people you've become friends with all of a sudden disappear. I agreed.
Sometimes I wish, truly wish, that I could read a book like a normal person (i.e. not a writer), and not have to write notes in the margins and highlight passages and circle certain words or phrases. For this reason, I can never get library books. Maran's Why We Write came to my doorstep in an Amazon box on Wednesday (sometimes I hate myself for ordering from Amazon), and by Friday, around noon, I had finished reading it.  That's how I know I really like a book, when I read it fast, sometimes all at once, because I can't put it down. If it had not been for an intermittent raging headache and having to go to work, Why We Write would have been read in about ninety minutes.
You should see my copy. It is yellow highlighted and underlined in blue Sharpie and annotated in pink ink. There is a small hole on page 73 from where I got a bit too enthusiastic with the Sharpie. This is what I underlined: "Writing is a lonely job. You have to be willing to work for months and months without anyone saying, 'You're doing well; keep going.' You have to be willing to live in a constant state of uncertainty. Not very many personalities are well suited for it. Fortunately, mine is."
(Kathryn Harrison)
Fortunately for me, Maran's newest book, which hit bookstores last week, has enough advice and good-will commiseration to keep me at the keyboard for a while.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I have something to say

Today's gripes are numerous and somewhat unrelated.
1) Governor Chris Christie's weight should not be a hot-button topic right now. Why is the guy being derided for his size? Criticizing fat people is sort of like hating people for their skin color. Why is it acceptable to make fun of overweight people? I want to make a voodoo doll in the image of that former surgeon general who made the recent snide and inappropriate comment about the governor: "I fear he's going to die in office." With my homemade doll, I will poke her in the crudely sewn cloth backside and hope that she wakes with a killer backache. Skinny people do have aches and pains. Skinny people get cancer. Skinny people have strokes. Skinny people die in office.
2) My back hurts right now. I am not skinny. But when I was (1983-1985; 1991-1996), I got backaches. Also, headaches. I had raging PMS most of the time because I was hangry (hungry + angry).
3) I found the movie "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" to be too depressing and not funny.
The movie was supposed to be funny! It was advertised as a romantic comedy. FUCK!
4) I am pissed at my husband because he dismissed my plea (last night, after viewing above- mentioned movie) to live a more exciting life. "We do not know how much time we have," I said. "Let's live large. Let's do something!"  Our life is like this: Work until 5:30. Eat dinner. Lounge on couch until bedtime, which is 8:15 p.m. for him and anywhere from 10:30 until 1 a.m. for me. Rinse. Repeat.
5) I can't read shit without my reading glasses.
6) I can't find my reading glasses 75 percent of the time.
7) Yes, I have multiple pairs. I am not an idiot.
8) My posterior tibialis is still hobbling me. After seven weeks of wearing a damned orthopedic boot, I go to the podiatrist yesterday for my check-up, tell him that my foot pain is worse, not better, and the pain is most severe when I walk in the boot. "Then stop wearing the boot," he tells me. It is an old joke I find not funny.
9) Tonight I have an MRI scheduled to figure out why my foot still hurts after nine weeks of pain. Should have shaved my legs this morning, but I awoke with a backache ~ and it's not because I'm fat. It's because I'm hobbling around like Quasimodo on account of this damned orthopedic boot.
10) Maybe someone has made a voodoo doll in my image.
11) My mother is dead. My aunt is dead. My father is dead. I find myself jealous of people my age who still have living parents and aunts.
12) The dogs got me up at 12:30 this morning. Bella was making her disgusting choking noises. Couldn't get back to sleep (me, not the dog), so I spent the next two hours on facebook. My left eye itched so badly that I rubbed it into a swollen mess. Finally got to sleep around 3 a.m. This morning, my eye was practically swollen shut.
13) I have $52 in my checking account.
14) My husband needs to un-ass some money.
15) A local eleven-year-old boy died two days ago from an asthma attack he'd had nine days earlier.
16) I suck at life. I have life and spend much of it complaining.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Go Daddy kissing ad shocks me for a different reason

If you were one of the bazillion people who tuned in yesterday to watch Super Bowl XLVII, you probably saw the Go Daddy ad featuring NASCAR darling Danica Patrick, a Victoria's Secret model named Bar Refaeli, and a character actor, Jesse Heiman, who is supposed to represent nerdy unattractiveness. Refaeli's blonde and lithe and cheekbone-sculpted;  he's overweight, ruddy-complexioned, bespectacled, and frizzy-haired. She looks like a WASP-y angel; he looks like a Jew who's eaten too many latkes.
Here's my chief gripe. We're supposed to be grossed out by a beautiful person kissing a not-so-beautiful person.
It's that idea that I find offensive, not the sucking-smooching sounds that people on talk radio are complaining about today.
What? Ugly people aren't supposed to kiss? And ~ oh my goodness! ~ call the police! Call television stations! Call Talk Radio! THERE'S AN UGLY PERSON KISSING A PRETTY PERSON!! Say it isn't so!
Is anyone else beyond tired concerning the superficiality of pretty vs. ugly?
C'mon, America. You have a lot more to be worried and upset about.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook hits close to home

Bradley Cooper is one fine-looking man, which explains my primary motivation behind going to see Silver Linings Playbook this afternoon. My husband went along, too, which was only marginally annoying. Once the movie started, I kinda forgot he was there (we had our own popcorn).
It wasn't long into the movie when Cooper's beautiful face and erratic behavior began to look eerily familiar. I grew up with a good-looking, mentally ill father (he was a dead ringer for Paul Newman). Dad's diagnosis was bi-polar disorder, although back in the 70s, the term was manic-depressive. He threw fits. He raged. He repeated himself, repeated himself, repeated himself. He used alcohol to moderate his mood swings. He was drunk a lot. When AA rolled around, a court-ordered deal, the orange vodka and cases of beer left the house, but Dad set up permanent residency. He became agoraphobic and had to physically prepare (shit, shave, and shower, as he put it) just to get the mail at the end of the driveway. He quit mowing the lawn. Was the first person to see his barber, 'cause there was no way in hell he was going to wait with other people around. He wore sun glasses most of the time. No one, under any circumstances, was to look at him as he ate his evening meal, including our dog. As a family, my parents and two sisters went nowhere together. No restaurants, no amusement parks, no vacations. Dad missed my high school graduation, my college graduation, and my wedding.
I am not bitter. I loved my father. I understood his mental illness.
Myself? I have GAD, an ugly-sounding acronym for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which means, at its rawest definition, that I worry a lot. I perceive the world to be A Very Dangerous Place. I have ADD, but I am not medicated for that. As a writer, I need my creativity. I feel that meds for attention-deficit-disorder would be too numbing.
I have Major Depressive Disorder, along with a depressive nature, definitely a half-glass-empty gal am I, but this is in stark contrast to the way I make myself live my life, which is to focus on beauty and laughter. Whenever I start to feel the black veil of don't-give-a-shit taking over, I make myself get out of the bed. I head first to the kitchen. I brew strong caffeinated coffee, a mood lifter when I cannot seem to lift myself, and then I grab an orange, cold and perfect from the fridge. I savor it ... its shape and color and juiciness. I read somewhere ~ I think it was an Elizabeth Berg novel, where the main character cannot figure out why another character killed himself. Didn't he want one more orange? she asks.
When I don't need the immediacy of a coffee or orange mood-boost, I have back-up plans: I head to the theater and watch a funny movie, or I go and rent one. I watch funny videos on youtube. I drive to the mall, the one that's really too far away, but there's a pet store there, and I love to watch the puppies fall over themselves. I read my Bible. I surround myself with children; they bring me great joy. I listen to beautiful music, which on any given day might be Lady Gaga's mellow offering, "Brown Eyes," or Anything by Edith Piaf (I love the French language), or my favorite gospel song, "Take Me to the King," by Tamela Mann ("I don't have much to bring, my heart's torn in pieces, it's my offering ... lay me at the throne, leave me there alone, to gaze upon your glory and sing to you this song ... .").
There are three of us girls, but only I have sought professional help. I take a little white pill every day that keeps the panic attacks away. Until Lexapro, I died many, many times. That's how scary panic attacks are. You truly, truly think you are dying. I have awakened many mornings, surprised, that I survived the night. Because of medication and counseling, I exist in the world and I live responsibly and gloriously. I have been blessed with a long-term marriage (28 years) and three amazing children, all of whom are adults. I have many, many friends and wonderful neighbors. I taught English at the high school and middle school level. I went to work; I earned money; I vacationed with my family.
Of my three children, two have seen psychiatrists: there's ADD, ADHD, major depressive disorder, an initial diagnosis of bipolar (turned out to be wrong), OCD, and GAD. The alphabet soup in this house requires prescription medications.
Mental illness is a biochemical issue, as I see it. I have seen meds work wonders in my dad's life, my own life, in my own house. The Bradley Cooper character in Silver Linings didn't want to take his, and when that part of the movie played I cringed. So typical, that behavior. I have thought it myself at times. Yes, that Lexapro is responsible for some of my weight gain ("bloat," as Cooper calls it in the movie), and, yes, it is responsible for some of my fatigue, but I will swallow it down. Once a day, every day, I will take that pill. I will enjoy my life.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Divorce sucks and I had to watch

Against my better judgment, on Wednesday morning I went to court with my sister. I was there to provide emotional support, as she was there to argue a divorce decree modification filed by her former husband of twenty-three years.
So we got there at 8:30, even though we couldn't get into the courtroom until 8:50, AND we had to travel on slick roads to get there, AND I had to hobble on icy sidewalks in this damned orthopedic boot, but suffice to say that once I was frisked by cold geriatric hands (and proven to be no risk to humanity), the day only got suckier once we were on our way to spend the next two hours watching one marriage after another go down the toilet.
Basically, either the wife or the husband took the witness stand, and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and swear to God to be honest, and then was asked to state a full name and full address (which seemed creepster to me, given that the courtroom was filled with people from all walks of life ~), and was then asked questions pertaining to when the marriage occurred, how many children were born into the marriage, if the woman was currently pregnant (inane to ask one of the women present, who had been married in 1966 ~ you do the math), if the marriage was irretrievably broken, if maintenance would be provided, and the amount thereof (none of my fucking business, but there I was, witness to it all ~), AND how much child support would be paid, and if there was a parenting plan on the line.
Couple after couple after couple after couple after couple. Young, old, blue-jeaned and suited.
"Is there any reason you believe the marriage should be preserved?"
"Do you believe the marriage is irretrievably broken?"
There's a settlement agreement, a Form 14 for child support, presented to a woman, mid-thirties, with dark hair and a model's face and figure. She could be Eva Longoria's twin.
"Does this acurately reflect your spouse's income and your income?"
"Child support is in the amount of $1,200 a month. Was this true and accurate on the date that you signed it?"
And so on and so on and so on.
"State versus Michael McAdams."
Up stepped a man, middle-aged, balding, looking spiffy in a purple shirt with a patterned tie. He is supposed to pay $1,300 a month for two years in maintenance (which used to be called alimony), and child support in the amount of $600 a month.
The man's face was fire-engine red, his ears purpled. His voice was unsteady and he looked like he might cry. I worried that he was going to keel over. Again I thought how sucky it is that this man's private life was held open for me, for my sister, for my former BIL, for the handcuffed crowd in the peanut gallery.
Divorce sickens me. I felt like I could throw up. I had a quick desire to run out of the courtroom, only I was blocked in by my sis and three other people, who came in smelling like a combination of marijuana, B.O. and Vicks Vapo-Rub.
That courtroom was one of the saddest places I've ever walked into, been part of, felt. The juju was negative and depressing, and I kept thinking, Well, the devil is dancing today, and that made me feel even sicker inside because I first heard that statement from Nancy Grace, after Tot Mom was acquitted in the death of her three-year-old a year or so again.
The morning was about divorce and protection orders and stolen air conditioners and drug charges and child custody debacles.
It was a crappy start to a day that just got tougher and more personal once my BIL took the stand. Only I'm not going to write about this particular marital ending, as it's too close to home. Too close to my heart. And just too fucking sad.