Monday, November 29, 2010


 When I was in eighth grade we were all told to line up and march over to the nurses' office and dutifully did so. Then we were assembled for a surprise weigh-in. Each kid came and went and I sweat more profusely as I got closer to the front of the line. I was a big fat target and the teachers turned a blind eye on such a regular basis they could moonlight as football referees.

My turn came and with it was stomach churning dread. But the nurse had a special treat for me. As I left her office totally humiliated, she stepped out into the hall and announced with a triumphant smirk, my weight to all of my remaining classmates. The following day, in science class, one particular comedian christened me with a nickname that would last all through high-school,  Jupiter.  In case you don't know it, it's the largest planet in our solar system.  The teacher, a veteran of eating disorders herself (unfortunately for me at the other extreme of the scale) thought that was JUST CHARMING.

Life was hell for many years. High school was not The Best Years of My Life or my Glory Days. I can actually relate to bullied kids hanging themselves or lashing out in horrific news-worthy tragedies. I can't excuse or condone it, but I do sadly relate.

But along the way, something happened and a lot had to do with the fact that while both of my parents were insecure and communicated with each other exclusively via screaming, they were both fat and other than a few strange discussions with my dad (mostly projecting his own poor self-image), home was a very safe place. We were all fat so it was a non-issue. I didn't have to be afraid to speak up (and I did often, to their dismay) I could look in the mirror and think, 'ya know, I don't care what anyone thinks-I AM beautiful,' and picked up a 'fuck you' attitude pretty early on. I developed what my dad calls a 'hot mouth'.

Until episodes like that in school and being approached in public by strangers, I didn't even know I was fat, and if someone mentioned it, I never knew it was a VERY BAD THING. Boy was I surprised! But the tables did indeed turn when I exercised that hot mouth. I had power and woe to the fool who crossed me.

Not only that I was blossoming into a serious beauty and all those mongrels who spewed spitballs at me were suddenly secretly liking me. They began to call me 'Joops' almost as an endearment.  I had an inkling about the tide turning in school and it was later confirmed by confessions on Facebook by former classmates looking me up and apologizing. I'm mostly over all of it except when there's talk of a reunion or a past offender emails me and brings it all up again. Then I'm 15 again and being following by a clown screaming 'fat' in my ear and throwing my books to the ground. Now I'm writing books. Tables turned?  Naaah...I don't want to be angry anymore. I consciously choose not to stew and wallow in rage, but it doesn't hurt to use those memories for good (and profit).

Now that I'm older and wiser, I've long grown to love my beautiful body. It's all mine. I love my jiggles, curves and roles. My chubby cheeks (both sets) boobs and thighs. I love fat on others and will readily admit I favor the fat kid. I hang out with people who love their bodies no matter the size and respect others and not judge them based on their shape or weight.

They have their struggles like everyone else but they strive to be true to themselves, to not be so hard on themselves, to forgive themselves and forgive others and to love. I've come to believe through them that people who judge others harshly are truly judging themselves and that knowledge alone can be a big step in healing, self-acceptance and self-love. And when you can love yourself, you're capable of freely and fully loving others. Those are the people I like to associate with.

And, I've come to love that planet Jupiter too. I think it and its beautifully named moons are the most spectacular bodies in our solar system, not unlike..... mine.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Apple Pie and The Tsunami

     The other day I flipped the mattress over to keep it from being uneven and woke up sore this morning.  That it was a Saturday and being a lady of leisure, I rolled over at some point and almost fell off the bed.   This happens pretty frequently because I'm not the most graceful person.  I consider it an accomplishment if I actually find the floor.

For a year now I've had a growing pile of clothes on the chaise next to the bed. I call it affectionately, The Tsunami. As it grows larger and more imposing I regard it with more respect and a little fear. I don't know why I can't just put the damned clothes away. I mean, they're all clean and I have several closets and dressers but I watch Hoarders on TV and am beginning to wonder. Spouse makes faces at it and says nothing to me but I know it irritates him because he's the neatest person I've ever met in my life, insufferably so. In fact, I'd probably feel a lot better about things being more equitable if he left his boxers lying around once in a while, but I have better odds of being struck by lightning in my own bathroom.

I sat on the edge of the bed and studied The Tsunami. It was all clean clothes and some still with labels on or in the bags they came home in. I'll wear all of it, except for the dress I keep promising my buddy in Australia and contemplate beginning to organizing it today today TODAY. I look at the three closets around the room, originally 'his', 'hers', and 'theirs' and now 'hers', 'hers', and 'hers' simply by necessity. I'm an inveterate clothes horse and Spouse is strictly a jeans and tee-shirt man. Everything he wears fits into three dresser drawers and he's already fearfully looking at me sideways knowing the inevitable. The garage and the basement are all his so he can hardly argue with me and won't but still he growls a little when he walks past my friend Tsunami which at this point has now become my big warm dependable buddy. It's definitely a co-dependent relationship.

"Are we gonna get started on that today?" he sighs. He knows. I look at it. I look at him. I look at it again. The cat looks at it and resumes licking her butt. Nothing to see. Move along. Move along.

I get up to open a closet door and he says, "I'm going downstairs to make coffee. Want some?" I exhale in relief. The mostly pink elephant in the room gets a reprieve for another day and I go downstairs and eat leftover apple pie for breakfast.

Friday, November 26, 2010


     Last night, while my father was screaming at the Cowboy's game and my grandmother, bundled in a pink comforter, was napping on the couch across from me, I decided to take advantage of my brother's new wi-fi and router and logged in to check my email.

Like me, a lot of my Facebook friends were only checking in and calling out holiday greetings across the miles from their cellphones, but I did see someone online and turned on my Yahoo chat to see if he was logged in. He contacted me before I could click on his name and asked if I'd had enough turkey and stuffing. I was drowsy and felt like a turkey myself and told him. We have an easygoing friendship. His English is probably better than mine (he was once an interpreter) and I'm charmed by his effortless use of our idioms and appreciation of our culture. God only knows what he finds charming about me but we have a lot to talk about.

At some point my grandmother stirred and in the dim light of the living room I saw her eyes twinkles awake and she sat up. She was covered in my dad's three cats who naturally gravitate to her probably because of the fresh chicken breast she's always cooking up for them and she looked tiny compared to the huge felines currently snoring in her lap. She made that pink comforter herself with down from a goose farm she used to work at where she was displaced worker another lifetime ago in Germany.

She asked me what I was doing and I told her I was talking to a friend online. She asked me where 'she' lived and I said, "He lives in Holland"...she thought about it for a moment and asked me where there was a Holland near us and I said, "Not in the US, Grandma. There's a Harlem in New York, but this is Holland, The Netherlands, in Europe." She got excited and marveled how we could now talk to people anywhere in the world on a box. I told her that this box was called a laptop and she stated, "Rock, stone, same thing." She knew it wasn't but was being cute which IS cute.

  Then she asked that if my friend lived in Europe, maybe he knew my cousin Tomasz in Poland and I asked Frank to indulge her and he said he did and would tell him hello.  She knew we were teasing her gently but she liked that indirectly she too was talking to Frank in Holland.

My grandmother is 85 now and has been slowing down for the past few years. She's often wondered aloud why all of her peers have 'kicked the bucket' and she's been 'left behind'. I remind her that we love having her around and maybe right now we need her more than God does and she just looks at me sideways. She comes from a time I've only read about in books and seen in movies. Right now 'my' time overwhelms her.

Recently when I came to visit she pulled my coat off me and sat me down and over a shared glass of wine, demanded I tell her what gay sex was. She said she saw something on TV and asked about it and no one would tell her. She wondered if it was because they thought she was a stupid old lady.

She may have only had a third-grade education but she was hardly stupid. She survived child abuse, a trip in a cattle car and barely missing being left at Oswiecim (Auscwitz) and then being a war refugee until she orchestrated taking up the Red Cross' offer to emigrate to another country. She chose the United States and THEN told my grandfather. She worked hard, raised a family and saved enough money to buy several houses. Not stupid.

So I sat there in my father's kitchen and explained and answered her questions while my dad and brother looked on in horror. They interrupted with frequent, "Did she just ask you what I thought she did?" and I said simply, "Yes" and kept going until her curiosity was satisfied. She told me I was the only one she knew would tell her.  I finished the rest of the wine. It was.....interesting.

I think of the friends I talk to everyday who live in other countries. Most of them I'll never meet, although Frank is hellbent and determined to track me down on his next visit and I'll be there to meet him, but I can only dream about meeting most of them unless my book becomes a bestseller and series and I get to travel the world, which is a new dream and a worthy one.

But then I think of the little old lady sitting across from me who I've been avoiding for months because she asks me questions I can't or don't want to answer and I realize the bittersweet reality that her traveling days are behind her and there's only one trip she's really looking forward to, the one where she believes (and I do too) that she'll be reunited with all those who went on before her.  Soon, the distance between us will be greater than any country and no box or phone or laptop will be able to bridge that so, for now, I can let some things go and keep her close 'til then.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Love and Leftovers

     My dad woke me up at 6:30 this morning to discuss the final details for Thanksgiving tomorrow.  As he's getting older, we're having most holidays at his house now so he and my grandmother don't have to travel. We've been doing this holiday thing for years probably since I could pull a chair up to the stove to stand on it to stir a pot.

My husband picked up the phone and said, "He wants to know what you want to drink on Thursday." Being more than half asleep, I thought maybe he meant I should bring wine along with the things I was making but I didn't feel like wine. It has the strange effect of having me pick up the mood of the company I'm in and my dad is, frankly, really cranky.

Do I honestly have to say, "I love my dad"?  The man brought me into the world and 40 something years later is still content to put up with my crap. He still calls me regularly, doggedly, loyally and asks when he's gonna see me again. Wants to know how my day is and what's new. Though I've never been Daddy's Little Girl, (that was my sister) I was his first and that's special too. Never has any man been more devoted to me. I could not NOT love my dad. But there is the cranky thing.

Here's the thing; probably because of him, I actually like grumpy guys.  Do the love and the cranky go hand in hand like a little girl and her daddy? Could be. Maybe it's a good counterbalance to my own sunshine and loopy lollipop demeanor. I feel like I can tone down the volume around a grump if that makes any sense. I even dote on my grouchy cats and zero in on the counter guy with the grimace (or gas) on his face at the butcher shop. Maybe it's like a really complicated form of peekaboo--what can I do to make you laugh?  I bet I can make you laugh!  Laugh!!  Who knows why, but the laugh has always been reward enough for me. It really doesn't take much to make me happy.

I don't follow sports, and Dad's an ex-football coach.  I like old movies and he prefers to scream at anything on SyFy channel.  I like Koontz and King and he's demanding I admit that McCammon is better. (He is. I still won't admit it)  He often says, 'You don't want that. You know what you want?" which drives me up a wall.  He doesn't know how to talk about a lot of things and like most men 'feelings' makes him sweat. The conversations always end when he says I 'shoulda been a Philadelphia lawyer' and 'Do you want some pie?"

Thankfully, there IS one thing that my dad and I can agree on enthusiastically and that's food, and particularly cooking.

Three people taught me how to cook. At the same time, they also taught me how to love.

My mother taught me participation and precision. A good cook would be ashamed of dull knives. Make sure you have plenty of cutting boards. Stir frequently. Keep a low flame. Cook your onions slowly and lovingly. Learn your cuts of meat and what cooks best on the stove or in the oven. Throw a pat of butter in with olive oil to temper it. Peel your celery, for God's sake, you aren't a heathen. Check all your expiration dates and crack eggs into a separate cup in case one is bad. Make friends with your butcher and grocer and above all, everything must be fresh and clean. Mom was tough as hell but the hardest teachers always got through my thick stubborn skull and that knowledge stuck for good. Stick with it, Honey.

My mom's mom, Granma, taught me primarily through observation.  Watch, learn, be patient and improvise. I sat on a stool or at the kitchen table, looked and listened. Measuring cups were only containers to her. She taught me how to 'eyeball' before Rachael Ray was even born. A former war refugee from Poland to Germany, she had to learn how to make filling, simple and healthy meals from the most humble ingredients. If you had a potato an onion and a strip of bacon or an egg and some black pepper, you had the makings of a delicious meal and somehow it could feed, like Jesus' loaves and fishes, a multitude. And she did it quickly, like Jesus, like magic. She took care of her children and her husband.  Responsibility? Yes.  Duty? That too.  Love? There was no doubt of it.

My dad was the artiste', the most daring.  Rules? He didn't need no stinkin' rules. Cookbooks and recipes were mere suggestions and he substituted ingredients with impunity.  He taught me the sheer joy of planing menus and cooking for fun. We would 'rehearse cook' for holidays. Even his most abject failures were delicious.  There was and is a lot of laughing in the kitchen with Dad. He taught me to approach cooking not with fear but with wild abandon. He taught me collaboration.  That same philosophy, those little lessons, can be applied to how to love as well.

They all taught me that to feed people is one of the greatest, most creative yet simplest expressions of love.  Why, the first act of love everyone on earth experiences is before they're born; being nourished from their mother's body, so is it any wonder, any mystery that both food and nourishment are associated with love, enjoyment and satisfaction?  I'll admit I'm biased because so many of my happiest experiences involved both happy feasts for twenty and simple intimate conversations for two over saltines with butter and jam. But to me, to deny oneself of food and communion of it with others is to deny oneself of love. I could never and won't separate the two and I don't want to.

That's not to deny that there are many ways to express love. Before I die, I hope to experience them all, giving and receiving but this one is the native language of my family, my people, my clan.

Every lesson learned at the elbows of my cooking teachers at home wasn't intended to impart how to love but rather how to feed.  Inadvertently, irrevocably, however, it came to mean both to me. How could it not?

Tomorrow, my father will call to remind me to bring extra foil, gallon size storage bags and plastic containers for leftovers. I'm to take some love home with me too. This is how he speaks to me. This is his language which I speak fluently and I am so very grateful for love and leftovers.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Champagne Tastes and Teabag Pockets

I wake up when my cat tells me to. This is okay because my current work schedule (meaning none) is very flexible. Wonton likes to find the squishiest parts of me (barring my elbows, scalp and collarbone this is not too difficult a task) and goes to town with the dedication of a Turkish massage therapist and the delicacy of Freddy Krueger. My husband finds it endlessly entertaining to see a loud blonde of very ample proportions in a coral babydoll being pinned down to a mattress by a six pound cat.

The cat, when satisfied with her ministrations climbs up and chews on my earlobe purring sweet nothings with hot tuna breath. She loves me. She really really loves me and in spite (or perhaps because) of her wicked wiles, puncturing punishing inclinations and appalling fetid breath, I indulge and adore her.

I have a penchant for luxurious and often decadent things like clothing (particularly lingerie) which in my size is a challenge to find, jewelry, liquor, kitchen gadgets, household objects, gourmet delicacies and evidently, adjectives. When, not 'if', my book (and ambitiously, a series) is published, that will also extend to travel and art.

My mother used to love to tell the story of me as a toddler accompanying her window shopping at a jewelry store and upon being asked which ring I liked in a display case, chose the most expensive object in the place.  I have an uncanny and at times disturbing knack (or perhaps innate style) for picking the best of everything, but rarely possessed the means to obtain them. My mother called it 'Champagne Tastes and Teabag Pockets'

This isn't, however, limited to objects. I've always had ridiculously high expectations and standards for just about everything, especially friends and the rare lucky men whom I fall for.  Thankfully, fortuitously for me, they don't. I cherish and am devoted (often disgustingly sappily so) to everyone I love and I do love all my friends, even the ones I haven't seen for years or only see on Facebook with a passing 'like' or tagged note. Some of my friends find this characteristic of mine endearing. Some find it dismaying and aren't shy voicing their disapproval of this dogged loyalty. Maybe it's a character flaw. I don't know.

 A lot my appreciation has to do with admiration and gratitude for the beauty and art of people and things (Wonton is the former, not the latter). If I'm brutally honest, much of it has to do with qualities in those people and things I desire to see in myself.  They, all without exception, inspire me.

I am, like a crow or baby, attracted first to the shiniest brightest substances.  I can't deny it.  But it's what's beyond the gilded, whimsical and superficial that keeps me. Subtlety is often inexplicably lost on me, of this, I'm acutely aware but I do look into the depths, into the mirror too, of what lies beneath.

I can only hope that when weighed in the balance, I too am not found wanting.

Monday, November 22, 2010

She Can't Sleep

     I'm curled up under a warm heavy down throw, with a hot cup of creamy something beside me. Wearing long thick socks and my oversized Dickies hoodie, I'm surrounded by pillows for insulation as the room and I are cold.  The automatic thermostat has gone into night-mode. The residual heat from the fire has long died down and the damper and doors are closed as the wind would only swirl down the chimney and add to the chill.

Everything quiets down, even for a brief respite, the cats. TCM is on, as usual, my night companion. 'Leave Her to Heaven'. Gene Tierney and Vincent Price...both treats for me. Everything is low and quiet and resting, everything that is, except me.

Since the crib I've been a charter member of the night-owl club, a vampire of the night, or in my case, a sparkle fairy (pink of course). It started when I was six months old and my parents, desperate to get some sleep themselves, read in a trendy childcare book that they needed to let me cry myself to sleep to get into a regular routine. My father told my mom to go out with a girlfriend and he sat beside my crib for hours while I screamed and then fell asleep exhausted.

I have no desire to skewer my folks' choice of parenting styles (which was mostly 'fly by the seat of your pants' as I was their first); their motives were pure. Baby needed sleep. Mommy and Daddy needed sleep. The End. Every night they kept me to a schedule of bed by 8PM regardless of whether or not I was tired. and every night as far back as I can remember, I looked out the window or up at the ceiling or at my closet door and clutching my doll or a teddy bear for company, I thought. And thought. And thought.

For the most part, I didn't fight the bedtime routine unless I could hear the sound of Muppets singing on Carol Burnett drifting through the house to my room and I would scream and throw myself on the bed, at the door, on the hot pink shag area rug over the giant daisy linoleum on the floor, my little white ruffled granny gown flying,  my little feet running across the room like an elf on speed. Sometimes my dad would relent and let me in. Not so much my mom. She needed a break. Can't say that I blame her.

If I didn't get my way, and fell asleep crying, I would have horrible nightmares, well the same nightmare, of 'The Hands'. The Hands reached up at me through either side of my crib and squeezed me tight and tickled me until I screamed only I couldn't scream because I was being held so tight. I was terrified and shrieking inside and no sound could get out, I tried, I tried to scream, my eyes would bulge, my little body would heave and to stop it I would force myself to calm down and The Hands were finally satisfied and withdrew.

Until the next time. So I pretty much decided at the ripe old age of maybe.....two, that there would be no crying in bed for me. No way. No how. Not gonna happen. I was a very determined little girl. Even now I feel the fear and that same fear kicks in whenever my anxiety kicks in and medication is necessary.

Very early on, I figured out a a way to disassociate myself from that scenario. A way to avoid or escape the sadness, fear and loneliness. I just removed myself from it by imagining I was somewhere else, sometimes in the room floating on the ceiling or through the window, sometimes another place or time entirely. And when I
got a little older and more mobile (climb out of crib <check> 'fall' out of bed <check check>) it morphed into a healthy fantasy life including a very loyal and entertaining imaginary friend whose name will not be mentioned to protect the innocent (and nameless. I just can't remember).

Interestingly enough, my dad, a warehouseman who worked the night shift would often come home at dawn and hear me talking animatedly with my imaginary friend. He'd throw open the door in panic and looking around say, "WHO'S IN HERE WITH YOU?"  I'd look up and smile and say, "Nobody, Daddy." HE still talks about that. Bless his grumpy heart.

My imaginary friend disappeared around the time we got a dog or my sister. The timing there is a bit fuzzy.

  Sleeplessness plagued me for years and I fought it. When I slept, I did so deeply and woke remembering long vivid rich dreams that could rival any old Hollywood extravaganza. They were in technicolor and had a score and soundtrack and in them I was a major character but also an indifferent narrator and some people or voices that were in those dreams I didn't know then but would at some point come to know which disturbed me. 

In fact, when I tell that to people now I fully expect them to be skeptical and chalk it up to fancies of a precocious little girl but I still have those dreams and still are meeting those people.

Recently I saw a video clip of a man I never met but wanted to and perhaps it was that desire that influenced me but I recalled his voice from a dream, several in fact.  My heart leaped, not in surprise but in the delight of recognition. (Well, also because his voice thrilled me but that's neither here nor there.)

I don't look forward to those dreams as much as I used to. Sometimes I can't figure out if there was ever a point or lesson to be learned or if like Scrooge said, "You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato." Sometimes a potato is just a potato and not a blueprint for the future.

Sleep is for amateurs. I am at peace that it doesn't want or need to be my friend although I would like its assistance from time to time. Four or five hours a night will refresh me and seven or eight seem like a luxury I can only hope for, less realistic though than my ridiculous wish list.

The upshot is that I have plenty to do. I joined several internet forums and groups, can search YouTube and Google without interruption and will talk to anyone who won't ask for pics of my sexxxi asz on Yahoo IM.  I have quite the little world on Facebook and am truly tickled when someone 'likes' my stuff or 'pokes' me back. I'm also working on a chick-lit novel that is practically writing itself, reading every fiction writing guide I can get my hands on and have recently discovered the joys of blogging.

The communities I've joined have yielded warm friendships which I consider quite real and now some have even punched through the digital membrane of anonymity and spoken with me in person which makes me quite happy because to me, it validates, it acknowledges the friendship. It's not so easy to pull the plug and pretend another doesn't exist because you now have seen their face on cam, then in person, shared coffee at the local bookshop and laughed and snarked and heard their voices for real, for real, and not just in a dream.

I met my husband over the internet. We then began to talk on the phone in earnest and then after a week or so he wanted to meet me (and I him, of course.)  At the time, the internet was fairly new to me. I had no idea we were on the cutting edge of new ways to reach out, meet and touch someone first in pixel, then in person so it was strange but fun. I considered that budding relationship real, as all my friendships now.  I cherish them all.  

So, I no longer consider insomnia a curse or some further proof that God has passed me over once again and found me unworthy, in this case of sweet peaceful sleep. If not for my steady constant friend, I would not have this second world to dive into and the many fellow travelers on the same road, "Hey how long has it been for you? Oh...weeks on and off." "What do you think of valerian tea?" "It stinks! What about Melatonin?" "Nothing." "Yeah, well...did you try not having the TV in the bedroom thing?" "Yeah" (shaking head) "I hear ya. Well, good luck." "Yeah, you too. Sweet dreams." "Ha. Funny."

Sweet dreams.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


     When I was a little girl, I thought being a witch or genie were viable career options. I poo-poo'd my friends' dreams of becoming a ballerina or veterinarian, pony or princess and aimed higher. I wanted superpowers and since Batgirl didn't even rate second fiddle status (losing to a kid named after a dumb bird) and I couldn't reconcile myself to villainhood as a kick-ass Catwoman, I chose to go the 'magical and supernatural cleverly disguised as a domestic' route. The former had exciting careers but no one to come home to. The latter (in my opinion) had it all and I was convinced. I was sold. I practiced and perfected Samantha's snark, smirk, raised eyebrow and nose wriggle and Jeannie's wide-eyed devoted not-so-dumb blonde routine and the arms-crossed head nod-y blinky bouncy hair thing. I didn't even care much for "Master'...he was a bumbling pompous horses ass and Darren was so scared of Samantha he up and died and had to be replaced with an even prissier doppleganger midway through the series. I, like Samantha was non-plussed. Business as usual.

When you're little, you don't know the meaning of the word, 'limitation'.. That's probably why when you're told for the first few years of your life, 'No', 'Can't', 'Don't' and 'Shouldn't', you behave as though the world has ended because well, in a way, it has. Someone has placed boundaries on you to protect you from and prepare you for the realities of life when you really thought you could fly, and breathe under water, or talk with animals.

I used to believe that flowers, animals and toys, especially dolls and bears all talked with each other and if I could sneak up on them fast or stealthy enough, I would catch them in the hopes that they'd invite me to join them. I made sure to water and aerate my grandmother's African Violets and whisper encouragement into their petals and fluff up their dark loamy soil. I tried very very hard to not show favoritism to my cats and dogs and if I sensed any were feeling neglected, I would shower them with an extra helping of TLC and snackies, and my dolls and bears had regular union meetings where we discussed their feelings and also health care benefits. I even provided tea and pretzel rods at the end of each meeting. I was one devoted neurotic little kid.

I had a lot of friends but also enjoyed large chunks of time alone and spent it either reading, making stuff in the garage or attic (I was my own Icarus, fashioning kites out of construction paper and Tinker Toys but I wasn't allowed past the driveway, never mind reaching for the sun.). I conducted magic shows and backyard theatrical productions of my favorite episodes of Star Trek with my imaginary friend, a tall black man with a deep voice (who in hindsight could actually have been a neighbor. If he had climbed in my window and said he was a fairy I would have believed him) and I explored going on long walks or bike rides to nowhere, just looking and soaking everything in.

So it was with great delight and anticipation when my father would pack us all up in the car weekly and take us to the big park in the center of  town and drive down to the bottom level which was off Newark Bay, across from a large container facility. While my dad would set his crab traps with bait, I would watch the ships and follow their slow courses as I walked along the low pebble wall that looked awkwardly out of place, as if it belonged in a mermaid's garden rather than in a small fishing spot just off a parking lot.

One fourth of July, the area was particularly crowded in anticipation of a fireworks display to begin at dusk and after blowing and making a wish on the bait in my father's crab traps before he'd throw them over the wall, I began my usual path, running my hand along the small stones and shells set into the top railing like little jewels in an ornate box. The sun went down slowly. Its departure was lovely and many of us stood there admiring it while listening to the low murmurs and music of people around us enjoying their day off and I looked down into the darkening water and saw something large floating and bobbing along the wall.

It was ovoid, white and smooth and my little heart leaped with joy as I watched it make its way slowly down the promenade and I ran along the wall keeping up with it. At times I had to push past people leaning against the wall or talking in groups around it, while they were laughing and drinking beer and I was standing breathless pleading, 'Excuse me...Excuse me."  They would smile down at me and let me through and I followed the object down in the water which was maybe fifteen feet below with rapt attention.

When it appeared to have momentarily bumped against some kind of pylon or structure I couldn't see,  I ran screaming through the crowd to find my dad.  I was out of breath when I caught up to him and he knelt down with concern asking me what was wrong. When I'm very upset or excited I tend to become temporarily speechless and even at times unknowingly hold my breath and my father shook me a little to break me out of it. I inhaled deeply and smiled. "Daddy, I found a dinosaur egg."

He smiled and shook his head in an, "Oh you're so cute" way but still, took my hand and asked me to show him. We walked through the crowd together, me telling him about finding it in the water and wanting to climb down and rescue it and, "What kind of dinosaur do you think it is, Daddy?"

He sometimes called me Peaches. He sometimes called me Pickles. He usually called me by my given name which was the beloved name of his only beloved sister who died tragically before I was born, but he said it a certain way that no one else did and I liked it. It was like our secret little language.  Our private code.

He looked over the edge of that mermaid wall and his face changed. He scooped me up and kissed me and said, "Look closer. Do you see it? It's rolling over. Look"  I did. My heart broke. It was a watermelon, bleached from being in the water and sun for God only knows how long.

I was disappointed and unnaturally quiet on the way home and I know he felt bad for me. I felt silly and stupid. How could I be so dumb. Why couldn't it have been a REAL dinosaur egg?  I was experiencing disillusionment and discouragement for the first time and I know this must have been playing across my face as I sat in the dark car, the lights of the storefronts we were passing briefly illuminating me, and then my father took my hand.

"It's okay, you know. Why don't you write a story about it? That way it WILL be real.  I'll read it and later tonight you can stay up with me and watch a monster movie. Just me and you. You'd like that right?  I nodded and went home and started writing my story.

Thus began my habit, ritual, self-therapy, whatever you want to call it, of writing when I was down or scared or disappointed. Or delighted or in love or on the verge of something unknowing but probably powerful, great and wonderful.  I realized then and over time that there are limitations and boundaries on everything and with that comes the bad stuff like hurt and discouragement, but so does the good stuff like empathy, compassion, and feeling safe and loved within and in spite of those limits.

Like the mystical, mythical and magical, I don't believe there is any limit to what a wide open heart and imagination can accomplish.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Merry Heart

     A few years ago I was very sick and it was touch and go for over a year. My husband was falling apart with worry and was going through the motions just to survive the day-to-day and even in my drugged stupor I knew he had a breaking point.  Leaning on him any further would have broken him.  He's only human and I have to give him credit, during that time of sheer hell he endured it all and stood by me the entire time.

For a while I was on oxygen 24-hours a day, and because I wasn't strong enough to carry the portable machine up and down the stairs with me, I would wake up before dawn with him and without complaint he'd clean my wounds, get me dressed and ready to spend the day downstairs and even make me breakfast and gather a lunchbox, books, magazines, medicine, the phone and the remote, before he left for a two hour commute to work in Westchester.  I was an invalid. And even now see the bleak duality of the word like a double entendre gone horribly wrong.  Invalid. Invalid. InVALid. 

I was drugged, anxious, felt like a burden and so so so guilty and deeply depressed. My injuries and illness seemed to have no end and I was afraid to add one more straw to the proverbial camel's fractured back. Then, my only sister, my baby sister Lisa, died suddenly and in my grief alone in that cold quiet living room, I began, in earnest, to talk to my cat.

If you don't have a cat, you will probably not get it. If you never had a 'special' cat, you definitely won't get it.  They choose you. You can't force them to see things your way or impress them or convince them of anything. They don't pity you or offer useless platitudes or criticize.  They judge you but if you're lucky you're deemed worthy. I was lucky. I was loved and tolerated by a snotty kid in a cat suit.

Peachy slept beside me or on my lap. Occasionally he would look up and gaze at me, examining if all was well and put his head down and return to dreams of laser pointers and feeble mice. At night he slept on my left hip and even hung on when I tossed and turned in pain from my infirmities, like a rolling ship on stormy waves. Like my long-suffering husband, he hung on. Always.

After the death of my sister, I decided to detox myself of the opiates I was dependent on simply to grieve naturally. I had been hallucinating and at one point drooling and barely could remember her laugh and it shattered my heart so I went cold turkey from Fentanyl in six weeks. My visiting nurses said they knew something had changed when my TV viewing habits shifted from Spongebob to Nat Geo and TCM but that I was very stupid because I could have had a fatal seizure from doing it my way. I didn't care. I already felt like I had died.

As my head cleared, I noticed something change in Peachy and mentioned it to my husband. He was overwhelmed with the usual events and just wanted some peace and suggested I could be imagining things but after he saw me fretting for weeks agreed to take him for blood work. They came back with nothing to say really...Peachy was clearly annoyed but the lab showed there was nothing wrong. It was chalked up to us living with a moody cat and possibly me being a bit paranoid due to my meds. But he continued to decline and my heart was filling with dread. They went back for blood work. Nothing. One more time, I begged, I insisted.

It was liver cancer.

One night, after countless struggles to convince him to take his chemo peacefully, and we were at a unsteady truce, he struggled to climb onto the protective pillows around my pain-filled body. He wouldn't let me help him. He did get to the top of the mountain after a few minutes and sat and looked at me, searching my face, my eyes.  I burst into agonized sobs, then wails. He was asking me to let him go.

For the last time I sang to him-- a little church chorus I'd been singing to him for years, and lately, with prayers to God to bless his little body with health and long life and if not that at least less pain. When he'd been healthy he would roll around in the bathroom sink in delight as I began to sing and he even waited expectantly for me to repeat the simple little verse over and over again which I did, often laughing at the joy he shared with me alone. Private little moments, precious pearls.

"A merry heart
doeth good like a medicine,
like a medicine
is a merry heart.
A broken spirit,
dryeth the bones,
but a merry heart
is the joy of the Lord."

The following morning I was strong enough to take him to the waiting doctor. Moments before she walked into the room, he had a seizure and slipped away. It still hurts my heart.

R.I.P. Mr. Peaches

Friday, November 19, 2010


     Every love letter I ever wrote (I think there were five) has ended in humiliation, horror and probably hilarity.  I don't know what possessed me but I know that once the eyes for which they were intended read them, GAME OVER. It's like a jinx with a Groundhog Day twist.  I knew EXACTLY what was going to happen but I'm forced to relive it over and over again until I forgot what it tastes like and try it AGAIN, not unlike the yearly unveiling of THE NEW McRIB (IS BACK) (BUT IT'S NEW) (KINDA) (JUST BUY ONE DAMMIT YOU'LL PROBABLY LIKE IT) (OR NOT BUT AT LEAST WE'LL HAVE YOUR MONEY) I fall for it every time and walk away wondering what the hell is wrong with me. I feel the same way about corn dogs. <muses>

There's plenty wrong but I'm not unusual or unique in that respect. There's also plenty right. Be warned that with every new post I'll probably trot out my Greek chorus of friends singing my praises wondering what the hell is wrong with people when it's very simply, nothing. We're all human. I'm not being magnanimous either. It hurts like hell. I'm STILL licking my wounds but at least the pile of Raspberry Zinger wrappers on the coffee table has stopped growing and threatening to engulf my cat Wonton who likes to roll around in its crinkly creamy scented cloud.

It's easy to attract and be attracted. A lot less easy to feel the same way about each other and even less to put up with each other's 'stuff'.  Is love any more about embracing all the good, amazing and inspiring than putting up with all the crap that's hanging out like an overstuffed suitcase? And what if you say, "Okay, I'm game. I'll see your laziness, temper and moodiness and raise you anxiety, clinginess and rejection and they look at their hand and go, "I fold," and walk away?  You sit there with your cards (or snack-cake wrappers) in your hand wondering, "Wait....WHAT?" and realize that you have to leave cos Happy Hour is over and you don't even have a stinkin' buzz.

The funny thing is that I know I'll write another love letter. Oh right now, I swear I won't. I'm saying, 'Fuck that shit. I'm done" but I'm not wired that way. I gots feelings and when I feels them I really feel them. I wish I didn't run off my mouth or fingers or pen as much but that's part of my charm too. I guess.

I'm just too Mary Freakin' Sunshine to lay down and die.  If I'm gonna humiliate myself, it's gotta be with style and class. Okay, maybe just style. Love me or leave me, you'll never forget me because now you have written proof in the form of a letter. You're welcome.

As Bugs Bunny would say, "Exit, Stage Left."

When someone warns you about themselves, listen to them.

     I *warned* you, but did you listen to me? Oh, no, you *knew*, didn't you? Oh, it's just a harmless little *bunny*, isn't it? ~ Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I've been told on more than a few occasions that I'm larger than life. Not only in size but in personality. Ask any number of my friends and they'll use the words, 'flamboyant', 'effervescent', 'bouncy' and 'bubbly'. By many accounts, I'm fun fun fun but there's a dark side to it too. If I'm honest, I'm also overwhelming, flashy and at times, loud and irritating.

So, I've taken to warning people, particularly men who are intrigued by me, that I'm not for the faint of heart.

It's not even a matter of 'wimps need not apply'. You pretty much have to be of very sound mind and preferably sound body to keep up with me (but the catch-22 is you have to be a little crazy so it's kinda like  playing a game of duck-duck-goose by yourself) and like Monty Python's bunny, appearances can be very deceiving except for the flash of a devious twinkle or smirk which, unless you're very quick yourself, you'll likely miss while tripping over yourself to impress me. You don't need to, by the way.  If I talk to you for more than five minutes, I'm already impressed.

If you think I take pride in this, I don't. It's an albatross around my neck, yet another prick in my own crown of thorns fashioned entirely on my own (and decorated with sparkles, pink glitter, feathers and Swarovski crystals cos I'm classy like that.)  The truth is, I don't even know how bad I am until I look back on it not unlike when you have to rewind a movie you've been dying to watch because that loudmouth in the room keeps talking during the best parts. And by the way, the loudmouth is me too.

The thing is when I warn someone, especially a male someone, it's as if I issued a challenge they're compelled to accept. The more competitive the person, the more of an affront it will be. Like my girls singing Bootylicious, "I don't think you're ready for this jelli..." uh don't think they get it. They think they can but I saw them lagging behind and I saw the writing on the wall and it hurt because I was honest.  I was me. Eventually they'd call me crazy or a bitch or pretend they weren't interested when the truth was they thought they were up for the challenge and weren't. Mayne they didn't think it was worth it. I could respect that. Maybe they were cowards. I don't respect that but I accept it. What choice do I have?

Is it possible I'm all the things they say or think or convince themselves I am or am not? Oh hell yeah, but I warned them.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Let's Start At the Very Beginning. A Very Good Place to Start.

I don't know the first thing about blogs except that I read them. A lot of them, in fact. It helps that I love to read, am a hopeless insomniac so have a lot of long nights on my hands and everyone generally fascinates me.
People have been asking me to write a blog for a long time but I've really been wondering if the world needs more of me. I'm not one of those people who needs to get in touch with my feelings. To tell the truth, I should really push a lot of those feelings out the passenger door of a getaway car on a lost lonely highway and make a run for it because those feelings are shared with everyone and everything and like a wriggly puppy can be delightful at first but can quickly degenerate into people running around screaming, Okay...who fed the puppy crayons? Oh GOD! Who let the puppy get into my slippers? Aww dammit..the puppy is pissing all over my get the idea. I got feelings. Those feelings got feelings.
Add to that an anxiety issue that includes something called 'racing thoughts', narcissism and a self-awareness that can only be cultivated through years of navel gazing and having my head far up my ass but hey, at least I can feel it!
So my Fiction Writing for Dummys (not its real name but I have that too) strongly suggests that I write a journal or blog for a few minutes each day to get the creative juices flowing and after much debate and deliberation with some colleagues *cough* friends who also have blogs, I decided to take a shot.
I think I'll start with a shot of Pinnacle Whipped Cream vodka. It's smooth. It's sweet--oh back to the blog-- Here's the thing: I don't have a problem with creative juices. Of any kind. My issue is focus. I have a lot of shit to say but but have the attention span of a cat. I don't go on tangents. I go on thought-safaris.
Well. It's a start. Cheers.