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.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Damn you, gluten

I am one of those gluten-sensitive people that you read about. One of those special needs people you probably loathe, especially if you're in the service industry and have to take my picky-ass order. "There's no gluten in this, right?" I will ask, even as I order from the gluten-free menu. "You're absolutely positive, yes?" At this, you will suppress the urge to roll your eyes. "Yep, free of gluten," you will say. "We can guarantee that if you order from this gluten-free menu that your meal will be gluten free." (Still. Although you purport your grilled chicken/rice/broccoli entrée is wheat-free, I am fairly certain that someone named LaRon back in the kitchen is going to gleefully sprinkle wheat germ on my food before you bring it out to me.)
I wasn't always a gluten-free person. For forty-seven years, I ate whatever I wanted, generally stuffing any kind of bread down the old pie hole. Croissants, bagels, dinner rolls. My favorite breakfast was biscuits and gravy. If I got to Corner Café too late for the gravy, I ordered instead an omelet with  a side of wheat toast. Wheat toast, for the uninitiated, is made of wheat. Pasta, which is also engineered from wheat, was a dinner favorite. Lasagna, spaghetti, fettuccine, I ate it all. A Hot Naked was my go-to meal whenever I needed a quick supper. (Sounds exotic, but hot naked pasta is simply cooked pasta that's been buttered, salt and peppered, and doused so heavily with processed parmesan cheese that the concoction takes on a cheesecake quality.)
For forty-seven years, I was one of those irritable-bowel people that you read about. One of those special needs people you probably loathe, especially if you're in the travel industry, or simply driving a car in which I'm a passenger. For the uninitiated, irritable-bowel people are folks who poop a lot. Alternately, there can exist profound constipation. (The expression "shit a brick" was coined by a person with an irritable bowel.) The irritable-bowel sufferer ~ and there is suffering, let me tell you ~ tries to lead a peaceful existence, even when his or her intestines are roiling or cramping or complaining or settling into a mass o' concrete. We must make necessary life accommodations: It is imperative that we know ahead of time where bathrooms are located. Specifically, it's the toilet we're after: Sometimes there's explosive diarrhea involved.
Needless to say, I was not a good travel companion. For a four-hour trip to Omaha up I-29 from Kansas City, I would ask my husband no fewer than six times to stop. I knew where all the rest stops were and which Interstate truck stop had the cleanest bathrooms. Because he loved me and because he didn't want a (profound) mess in the car, he would veer off the interstate and catch a snooze or get caught up on his email whilst I traipsed into Hilltop or the Welcome Center at Rock Port. So as not to arouse suspicion (she's just here to shit), I always bought something before I left: a Diet Coke, a bag of Funyuns, a Good Housekeeping magazine. Through the years, I became particularly good at evacuating the lower colon in a relatively quiet manner (there was coughing, sneezing, and humming involved); I always carried a sample-sized perfume spray to spritz the stall so the next woman in wouldn't suffer explosive vomiting. (I'm a considerate shitter.)
For years, I tried to figure out which foods made me cramp, which foods made me constipated, which foods caused violent diarrhea. Sometimes I kept a daily food log, but that proved exhausting: 8 a.m.- glass of orange juice/oatmeal/black coffee; 10:30 - spoon of peanut butter; 1/2 Diet Coke; 1 p.m.- large salad: romaine, spinach, cabbage, carrots, egg, mushrooms, croutons ... and so on an so forth.
I used to joke with my sister, who became increasingly annoyed with me: My God, Kathleen, wear a fucking diaper why don't you? And what the hell are you eating, anyway?  and I would tell her that it was the strangest thing, that I could snarf a No. 8 Mexican Platter (enchilada, taco, beans and rice) and be fine, yet a half-cup of Cream of Wheat gave me intestinal spasms so intense I had to use Lamaze breathing to get through the cramping.
Look. We're both intelligent women. My sis has a genius IQ. I've occasionally demonstrated superb problem-solving capabilities, but for twenty years of my adult life I couldn't fucking figure out why sometimes the food I ate made me especially ill and in immediate need of a porcelain receptacle. My sis was equally flummoxed. Her ultimate response: See a doctor.
Which I did. A lot. Upper GI scans, lower GI scans. Nothing was wrong with me. Yeah, I have a hiatal hernia, but that's probably from all the vomiting I've done through the years. Forgot to mention the shit-and-spits. Sometimes my intestines got so confused that the upper and lower units didn't communicate well, and before I knew what was happening, both ends forcefully expelled gut contents. I was a mess physically and emotionally. Not only was my bowel irritable, but so was I.
And then. And then one day my 26-year old daughter, who generally has something wrong with her, came home from her doctor and proclaimed, as I was eating a bologna sandwich (on wheat bread), that she would no longer be the consumer of Anything Gluten. No gluten products from here on out, she said, and no products that had come into contact with any gluten-containing products. That's cross-contamination, she told me. Wheat-free from now on, I am, she sang, in a joyful way that confused me. (Gluten? Is she mispronouncing glutton?) She then went to the grocery and spent $769 on multiple flours, none of which contained wheat, and then she went to another store and spent $283 on various glass containers to hold the many wheatless flours. At some point, while she was clearing out the pantry (she lives with me and her dad because she has an English degree and is therefore a barista), I worked up the nerve to ask: So what is this gluten thing you speak of?
The rest is history. I am happy to report that since I have eliminated gluten from my diet I have also eliminated the need to evacuate my intestines at inconvenient times. And I'll take this new way of eating, even though it means giving up bread and pasta, the wheat-filled kind. Our kitchen is now completely stocked with gluten-free pastas, gluten-free cookies, gluten-free breads. Our food bill is much higher, but I'll take a bigger grocery bill if it means I can get to Nebraska without stopping half a dozen times.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On government shutdowns, lack of money, bologna, and MacDowell

It's Day Two of the government shutdown and I am feeling pissy and sad and emotional. Very PMS-y, I might say. Part of me wants to log on to Facebook and rant and rave and call Republicans Retardicans or Repugnacans, because it is the GOP that I (and much of America, including our fine president) blame for the mess that is in Washington. Congress schmongress. Let's fire them all and get new idiots in there. Let's start with the Tea Partiers.
My husband, who's been with the Federal Aviation Administration for twenty-five years, went to work yesterday, and today, and he will go tomorrow and the next day, but he isn't getting paid right away. Government-issued IOUs. So of course I have a pony in this race, which makes me (somewhat) worthless because I bring in a whopping $275 weekly from my nanny jobs. (I love my morning and afternoon gigs; I am torn. Don't want to leave my families; might have to leave my families and get a 9-5 desk job, which is necessary at this stage in the race because my foot is still semi-broken and throbs ten hours a day. But then there's my adorable children, and a verbal promise that I will stay with them throughout the school year. As I said before, I am torn. Oh, and broke.)
My default plan, whenever the pissiness and sadness and OhmigodIneedtomakemoney sets in, I turn to my writing. Specifically, I am trying very, very, very hard to corral my ADD and focus on my Bologna book. I am particularly in support of this plan because it has been one year since I was at MacDowell, holed up in my cozy stone cottage in the woods of New Hampshire. It was ONE YEAR ago that I was at my laptop working on Bologna With the Red String, and now 365 days have gone by, and I am still not finished.
Not finished.
Getting closer, but ...
What to do?
Pretend I'm at MacDowell. Head to my writing room, which my dear husband helped make possible (the man I'm disappointing financially); spray Indigo Wild's Frankincense & Myrrh Zum Mist -- that's the scent I sprayed inside Mixter Studio; listen to Tony Bennett's Duets II album --that's the music I listened to on my iPod as I wrote, outlined, edited and cursed at the simple desk adjacent to the stone fireplace; set myself to a schedule: 9 a.m. to noon, write; break for lunch; write from 12:30 to 3 p.m. And yet ... I am missing (son of a bitch, oh, how I am missing) the screened-in porch and wooded surroundings of Mixter studio; I am missing the electric hotpot that I used four, five, six times a day to make decaf coffee or tea; I am missing the glorious absence of housekeeping; I am missing the wonderful Plunk! of my lunch basket hitting the porch; I am missing naptime. (At MacDowell, I napped from 3 to 5 each day, waking to shower and prepare for dinner.)

To encourage my focus and discipline, I tell myself that I will to return to MacDowell once I publish the food memoir. You will go back, Kathleen, you will get there.

It will happen for you. Now sit your ass down in that chair. Finish the fucking book.