Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Godfather of Exile New Orleans

First and foremost, ladies and gentleman, I have finished all major edits on the book. I'm going to go through it today and make sure I didn't leave any glaring mistakes, like created a character on page 93 and then never reffered to him again. Plus I will check grammar. At any rate, the manuscript will be mailed off to The Joy Harris Agency in the next few days. They liked the first 50 pages, so fingers crossed! I hesitate to say the words, "I'm finished" because no project I'm working on is ever finished until it's published. I'm sure I'll go back and tweak it until some publishing house has nercy on me. And then they'll ask me to tweak it again. See why I love this blog? You hit one button - "publish post." Storytelling need sufficed!

Now the unpleasantness. We're evacuating because Hurricane Gustav looks like it's headed in our direction. Me and the kids are packing up our stuff and the dog, and heading out early tomorrow morning to pick up Chris where he's working in Dallas and all drive to my Uncle Chris's house in Fort Worth. I know all of these Chris's must be confusing. My godfather is Uncle Chris, the husband is Chris, and my son is Christopher. And people are already shortening it to Chris. Anyway, we'll be staying there until the storm blows over. I think the latest is that it's making landfall on Tuesday morning. We would leave later but traffic is going to be hell. No, worse than hell. Hell meets Hades meets Wal-Mart on a blue special day. And with me, three kids and the dog we might all lose our minds between here and Texas.

I'm a little worried about the house. We live in Luling, which is part of the Greater New Orleans area just outside of the city. Our levees aren't any better than the ones that broke and flooded 80% of the city for Katrina. Katrina, by the way, was three years ago today. Freaksville. My daughters still remember all the chaos that followed the storm and they're scared. They're afraid if we evacuate we might not come back because so many people didn't return from that storm.

When I was a kid evacuating was fun. There would be a hurricane scare, which none of us would take seriously because every time it looked like it was coming our way it would always end up hitting Florida or Mississippi. School would be cancelled, and me, my parents and sisters would pack up and head to Uncle Chris's place where we would then have a great time with our cousins before we drove back home. It was a vacation. Maybe that's why taking my family to my uncle's house feels so safe.

My kids are not growing up thinking that hurricanes are fun. Their first memory of a hurricane is one that drowned people, split families, and destroyed neighborhoods. The adults in their lives still talk about the effects of that storm every day. I mean, seriously, over the last three years I don't think a day goes by that I don't hear someone mention Katrina in some respect. They'll say "After the storm we..." or "Before the storm we never..." or "We're STILL not in our house yet..." It's usually called "the storm" and everybody knows what storm you're talking about.

So I'm scared and angry Fucking AGAIN! Like I haven't spent the last few months writing about how scared and angry I am about other things! Ok, now I'm just bitching. We're going to a safe place, and we've come back to a disaster before and survived so we can do it again. Now that I think about it I'm thankful that we have a place to go and the means to get there. A lot of other people aren't so lucky. My apologies to Florida and Mississippi if I sounded off hand about past hurricanes turning from New Orleans and making a beeline for you. I don't want it to hit anybody.

I'll write more once we're settled. Everybody stay safe! Watch many Mel Brooks movies to keep up good humor! I intend to.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The cone of uncertainty

Chris has been out of town for two weeks now, and I've only been able to talk to him for a few minutes a day. He won't be back for another week. That's why when I heard about Tropical Storm Fay (now a tropical depression - yipee!) coming towards us, I panicked about what to do. I've never been home for a severe storm by myself, and I was hoping that the cone of uncertainty showing up right over us on the hurricane tracking screen was indeed uncertain.

By the way, I must say that I love the term "cone of uncertainty." At a time when all the passion and the danger has been stomped out of words "cone of uncertainty" remains unchanged and effective at describing what it's talking about. On a weather forecast screen the cone of uncertainty covers the area where weather dudes predict that the eye of the storm might pass. The coolest thing about this term is that if the dudes are wrong that's ok because the "cone of uncertainty" is by nature uncertain. So if an irrate news-watching person gets hit with a storm and complains, "Hey! I wasn't in the cone of uncertainty and I was completely unprepared," the weather dude can retort, "I never said that the cone of uncertainty was certain. I promised you nothing!" The only term cooler than "cone of uncertainty" is "cone of death." Oh hell yes. I think when someone came up with that term they were with a few neighbors and said, "How can we make the cone of uncertainty sound more ballsy?" and someone else said, "cone of death." I don't know this for sure, but I think that's what happened. My theory lies within a cone of uncertainty.

Anyway, I ended up calling my sponsor (known for anonymous purposes as Meryl Streep) last night all panicked. Not only was the storm approaching, but I was afraid that I had hurt a friend without meaning to and I was beating myself up about it.

"Gen," she said. "You're being too hard on yourself again. This is a painful, confusing time, and you're taking care of three little kids by yourself."
"I want you to do a couple of things. I want you to make a gratitude list of all the things you're thankful for, and I want you to throw eggs at your back fence. Do you have a back fence?"
"Are you serious? You've done that?"
"Yeah, girl! It helps even if I'm just mad at myself. It smells like hell the next morning, but you know, so what?"

Meryl Streep is insane and I love it.

Then this morning I called my friends Ray and Christina (a sweet couple) because I didn't think I could do all of this on my own. It's crazy you know, just when I think I'm comfortable with myself I find myself in a cone of selfdoubt. Yesterday I even fixed the weed eater by myself and edged the lawn, and I've never used it before! I'm actually NOT a moron! I've been getting up, making breakfast, making sure that the kids are fed, teeth are brushed, rooms straightened, getting them off to school, helping them with their homework, writing, making sure that Christopher doesn't just play video games all day while his sisters are gone, running errands, getting exercise, seeing a therapist plus going to Al-anon meetings to unravel the mess in my head, having light three minute conversations with Chris during which we talk about nothing relevant, and so on and so forth. I've been trying hard to keep everything together and not lose it. And this morning I cracked.

Christina said that I was doing too much to throw harsh crticism on top of myself. She said I was doing good, and she and Ray said that they knew I could do it, and that the only person who doesn't see my strength is me, which is why it's important to keep focusing on myself. I'm beginning to despise the term "the cone of focusing on myself."...What? It's not a real term? Well, it should be. And Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA's) should be called Children of the Boozers (Cobzer's for short).

Anyway, Christina gave me the same assigment that my sponsor did, only she added that she wanted me to list things I'm thankful for about myself. So here are some things that I thought I would share.

non-me things that I'm grateful for: my healthy, beautiful kids, my dog, swimming underwater especially when the sunshine makes that crystal honeycomb pattern on the floor of the pool, humor, the smell of sweetolive trees, the tropical depression that is not a hurricane, chocolate chip cookies, coffee, the people who brew me coffee at Starbucks, yoga, peace with friends, five people have told me that they love me in the last 24 hours (unprompted!), my al-anon sponsor, and (corny as it sounds) prayer.

me things that I'm grateful for: my physical strength, my intelligence, my maternal side, my kick ass taste in music, my handwriting, my writer's voice, my desire to be a good, healthy, honest person, and my hope that I will become braver, more confident, and know what I want in my life.

I am now going to try to nap and watch some tv. I haven't watched tv in weeks and my brain needs to shut down for a little while.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sprinkles Cancienne

As of this morning we have a new addition to the family. Emma has adopted one of the tadpoles that hatched in our kiddie pool. The kids wanted to swim the other day but when we found the babies we didn't have the heart to dump them out. Hundreds of potential frogs slaughtered in one tipping! Emma couldn't bear the thought. So this morning we caught one to put in her frog habitat, and I looked up what they eat and how to take care of them.

Apparently they love lettuce. The instructions are to boil lettuce for 10-15 minutes, then freeze it, and break off a little and feed the critter every few days. Ten minute lettuce. My new dish. The greenery is on the boil as we speak.

Emma has named the tadpole Sprinkles. She doesn't know why. She has also determined that Sprinlkes is a girl. She has no evidence to back this up, but (if I recall freshman biology correctly) all embryos are inherently female so odds are good that sprinkles is indeed a chick. Now if I can just get Emma to change her name to something that doesn't conjure up visions of urine.

But you know what this means, don't you? Capturing and raising a baby tadpole is a sign that summer isn't over yet. Wooooooooooooooohooooooooo!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ray Bradbury quote

There were a couple of really good quotes by Ray Bradbury on The Writer's Almanac today:

-There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.
-Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.

Do you think that close friends of Ray Bradbury called him "Ray Brad" for fun? I would have. Or maybe Rad Brad. Oo! Or Radburries. The possibilities are endless with this man.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I've decided that I like Facebook better than myspace.

If someone had told me a year ago that I was going to write that sentence I think I would have hung myself with the powercord to my laptop. There was once a time when I was so smug about staying out of the whole internet profile mess, like I was too cool to blog. Now I've got a myspace and a facebook profile AND a blog? And a minivan? And 2.5 kids, a husband, a house in the suburbs, a cat and a dog? Do I even dare call myself a punk anymore? Where is the girl who once painted her nails black and pink and climbed a powerline with her seedy friends and to jump into Lake Pontchatrain? Who is the woman who sips her coffee in her pajamas and blogs in her clean kitchen?

The thing I didn't like about these internet profile thingys was that they just seemed like a means to cyberflirt and waste time. In other words, I was a snob. Most of the people I know use it as a way to keep up with people they love who live far away, or to check out things that make them laugh when they're sitting in their clean kitchen wondering how they turned into such a domesticated bohemian. But the reason I like facebook better is mostly because you get to throw sheep at and fight crime with people. You can become a vampire or a werewolf, and plant a garden. There's pretending involved, the fun kind of pretending not the 56-year-old-man-pretending-to-be-a-20-year-old-woman-for-internet-sex-purposes kind of pretending. Myspace, for me, is boring in comparison.

The only thing missing is my handwriting. With all my struggles with selfhatred and whatnot, one thing about myself that I've always liked is my handwriting. It's not because it's super neat or whatever. It's the earthly form of my writer's voice. I used to make sure I had paper and pen with me where ever I went so just in case I began to feel down I could write something and feel better. My handwriting is an old friend. I've got pictures up for my facebook and myspace profiles, but if I were to post a picture of who I really am I would take a snapshot of a sentence I'd written.

Sometimes I underline or scribble down sentences I find in books. If you take a whole book and critique it there are so many elements to be weighed to decide if you liked it, or how literary and effective the plot is. But if you just take one sentence like a single bite and roll it around your tongue for a while you can truly taste it. Yesterday I was cleaning out my car and I found a Toys-R-Us book of coupons under my seat. I had used the back of it as a grocery list, and underneath the words "toothpaste" and "buttermilk" was a sentence that I'd scribbled while I was driving. I'd been listening to David Sedaris's latest book on CD and I liked one of his sentences so much that I'd turned off the stereo so I could write it down before I forgot it. Try to forget that I just told you that sometimes I write while I'm driving for a minute so you can dig this sentence with me. It was, "Her voice was heavy and coarse like footsteps on gravel." If I did book reviews I think I would narrow my critiques down to sentences completely taken out of context. Who cares what the full picture is when one part of it feels like silk against your face?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Quote from a Beat poet

Lew Welch said, "Seeking perfect total enlightenment is like looking for a flashlight when all you need the flashlight for is to find your flashlight."

Magnificent. Today, my lovelies, I will acheive literary greatness. I will begin to send out all of my manuscripts under the name "J.K. Rowling." Kiss rejection slips goodbye!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Duh! I'm like in the 4th grade!

This morning was day two of the new school year, and with it came the usual morning madness. Here are some quotes taken out of context because they're more fun that way:

Claire: At school they want our snacks to be healthy, and I'm all like, (tsk) why?

Me: I'm not signing anything until you get dressed and brush your teeth.

Emma: Feed my bear while I'm gone, and remember that she has to wear her dinner dress, and remember she's allergic to crackers.

Me: Dog, I'm going to put you on Ritalin.

Claire: Yay! You'll be right next door to my school! But don't come to visit me because it'll be embarassing.

That last one was said right after I told Claire that I'd be in the building next to hers for Christopher's kindergarten screening. He starts in two weeks and he's not happy about it. The girls are nervous about this year too. Claire goes to a new school for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders and rides a different bus without Emma. Emma rides a different bus too. At her elementary school they give the buses animal names to make the trip to class a cuter experience, and last year she rode the Turtle bus. This year she rides the Wolf bus. Her eyes went wide at this news.

"I'm riding the wolf bus?" she asked.
"Yeah, cool huh?" I said.
"No. I don't want to ride a wolf."

I wondered why Emma, the kid who likes to tell scary stories, would be afraid. Then I remembered two things. First, Emma only likes scary stories if she's telling them. She doesn't like hearing or seeing scary things that are out of her control. Second, the bus is named after a the fairytale eater of small children and pigs. When the bus pulled up and opened its doors she stared at the entrance like it was the jaws of death itself.

I kissed the top of her head and said, "Have a good day sweetie." This was her cue for getting onto the bus and she knew it. She turned to me with a look that said, "Are you out of your fucking mind?"

"Can you take me to school?" she asked.
"No, sweetie, you need to get on the bus now. It's all right."

I don't think she believed me but she listened. I admit that my heart sank when she gave me that sweet, pleading look and asked me to take her to school, but really the kid needs to ride the bus. If I start taking her to school then Christopher and Claire will wonder why I don't escort them, and I can NOT chauffer three kids to three different schools, especially when two of them start at the same time. I'm already disorganized as it is.

It's nuts that they're all officially in school, not pre-school or anything. There are no diapers to change, no shots to take them in for, no food to cut up into bite-sized pieces. And I don't know how they think their summer went but I think they had a good time. We caught lizards and frogs and studied them, we swam a lot, we took the dog for long walks, and we all learned really important life things.

I say we because I had to learn a couple of things too. First there was the Chirpy lesson. I don't think I've given an update on that. Chris and I hand-fed Chirpy for almost two weeks and then I heard about a bird sanctuary on the Northshore that took in orphaned baby birds. The kids wanted to keep him, not give him to strangers, and in truth so did I. Chris and I had become attached to the cute little critter. One day while Chris was feeding him he said, "I wish we didn't have to give him away. He's so darn cute." But as my Aunt Anne (a nature guru) explained to me, birds aren't meant to be kept as pets. She said if we kept him he would survive but he wouldn't thrive.

"I thought that birds could become domesticated," I said. "Like parrots."
"No, no, no. They escape the first chance they get. There's a reason why people have to clip their wings," she said.

It was hard, but we brought Chirpy to the sanctuary. Then a couple of weeks later we found another baby bird. This one was a morning dove in our front yard, chirping its head off.

"The parents are around here somewhere," my neighbor told me. "It's been a few hours, and they're completely ignoring him. Poor little guy."

I called the vet and she said that it would be best to take him and feed him too. He hopped up to me, Emma and Claire with his beak wide open, screaming to be fed.

While I fed him the cat food that Chirpy had survived on for a week, the kids made their case about why we should keep this one.

"He likes you, Mommy," Emma observed.
"And we'll help you take care of him," Claire said.
"Mommy, don't take him to the wild," Christopher begged. "Pleeeeeaaase."

Oh...dear...God. There are few things that are more painful than having to explain to your kids why they can't keep something that they love. Emma had already named him "Bubbles." It had a name and we were feeding it, so certainly I wasn't going to insist that we let it go, right?

The one lesson that keeps getting shoved down my throat lately is learning to let go of people I love who thrive better without me. Or without my meddling at the very least. But I'm 32 and I've developed skills to help me accept that painful fact and my kids are, well, kids. Now matter how many times I tried to explain to them that if we really loved Chirpy and Bubbles we needed to do what was best for them, they kept coming back to the belief that releasing them was the cruelest thing we could do.

"You're just going to have to trust me, Emma," I told her as she cried on the way back from the sanctuary.

Just like I wanted her to trust me when she stepped onto the wolf bus. Hopefully I won't let the kids down with all this promise of trust and faith in my resolve. Eek. The funny thing is that as I develop better self esteem, my kid's esteem in my judgement will go down. It's already starting to happen.

"Mom, I'm like nine," Claire said when I asked her what she wanted for breakfast. "I can make it."

Does anybody know of a sanctuary for teenagers? I might have to look into that in a couple of years.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tonight's meeting

I almost plowed my car into the John Calvin Presbyterian Church tonight. It was then, as I swerved left to avoid the building, that I realized how badly I did not want to go to the Al-anon meeting inside. I didn't do it on purpose. I'd never been to that church before and the street was dark so I didn't see the place until the driveway came into view. I checked my rearview mirror, saw that no one was behind me, stopped short, and swerved into what I thought was the parking lot on the side of the building. It was, in fact, the entrance to a circular drive in front of the building. How the hell did I not notice that? Anyway, I stopped short and swerved again to avoid the building and follow the curve of the driveway. And now those of my friends who are reading this will never drive with me again. Look, I was nervous, all right! I didn't want to be there.

When it got to my turn I told them how much I didn't want to be there. But the discussion topic was faith and I told them that it was faith alone that brought me to the meeting because if I had stopped to think it through I would have rationalized reasons for not going. But functional people keep telling me that all this 12 stepping and introspection really works so I have faith in them. I also, believe it or not, have redeveloped faith in God. This last week has been so bad that I've been praying all throughout the day. "Dear God, please take over. I don't know what to do or what to think. Please help me."

Well...I think I overprayed. In the last 48 hours, several realizations have hit me and every time one came to me I wrote it down in a notebook. I figured I'd read those things when it came my turn to speak at the meeting, but when the time came and I looked in my backpack I saw that the notebook was missing. I had just told everyone that I felt it was prayer that made my head clear enough to receive these answers and now I couldn't find them. Everybody laughed when I looked up at the ceiling and cried, "Why???" Then some of them said that maybe God wanted me to think them over again, not just read them. He wanted me to remember. And I did. Here's the list of things that I'm not happy about realizing:

1) I'm addicted to people, especially unattainable, mean or manipulative ones. I get lonely, call a friend and I either have a fantastic time with them or they make me upset, but either way I'm satisfied for a while until I'm lonely for them and I need a fix again.
2) Most of the time when I get mad I immediately numb it. I don't want the person (most likely someone I love) to feel the pain of me being mad at them so I make the feeling go away. But the problem stays.
3) For a long time now I have avoided looking at myself in the mirror. Even when I'm in a movie theater bathroom, if I see myself gliding past the mirror in the corner of my eye I won't look at myself because I'm afraid I'll see the ugliness that everyone else sees.
4) There are functional people in my life and I'm always terrified that they'll leave because they don't need me. They just like me for who I am. This shouldn't be unsettling but it is.
5)I don't have a sense of humor about myself. I thought I had one but I don't. All I do is tear myself down before someone else has a chance to, so I can beat them to the punch. The problem is that I beat myself up so bad that by the time someone else makes the slightest criticism or playful smartass remark, it's a death blow. It's like giving a burn victim a hardy slap on the back. Then the other person is confused about why such a small comment hurt so bad. But I have heard that there's a genuine, affectionate sense of humor that I can develop about myself and I must know how it's done.
6) Of all the 12 steps I'm going to struggle with, step 9 - making direct amends to people "except when to do so would injure them or others" - is going to be hell.
7) I'm terrified of letting people down, and I rarely make my own decisions. I either go with whatever they want to avoid tension, or I let things happen to avoid making a decision. Because of this I have hurt people I love, and sometimes have put them and myself in bad situations.
8) There are two sayings that I've heard in the program that should make sense to me, but they don't. Or I should say, they make logical sense but I don't feel them make a change inside of me yet. The first is the one I've talked about before, the "Expecting someone to give you something that they're not capable of giving you is as insane as going to the hardware store for a loaf of bread." This doesn't work because the truth is when you're hungry enough you can smell it. You'll walk down every aisle of the store thinking that bread is just around the corner, getting hungrier and hungrier for it until you'll swear you can taste it and you'll tell yourself that you do.
The other saying I've heard is "Dwelling on the past is like breathing air that's ten minutes old. It used up and stale. Breathe fresh air." But what if you're convinced that the old stuff is the only air in the room? You can hold your breath and try to fight it, but after a couple of minutes you'll gasp for it because you believe it's the only way you'll survive. You've been surviving on it all your life.
9) Realization 8 leads me to 9 which is this: I'm delusional when it comes to people. I don't know what I want out of any of my relationships, who I really am, or who I can trust. I can't even trust myself to make decisions.
10) I can't ignore 9 anymore even though I really want to, and I'm really fucking terrified to find out the extent that I've gone to placate people so I can avoid confrontation or stirring anything up.

So...tonight was fun. My brain is exhausted and I need to go to bed. I debated about posting this, but as I was telling a friend earlier, I get the feeling that writing all of this down will help someone else who might be going through the same thing. I hope so. The miraculous thing is that I'm not beating myself up about any of this, though. I'm not sitting around thinking about how pathetic I am. I'm taking inventory and seeing what I've got to work with.

Oh, and besides getting a sponsor, my other success this week was when one of the group members told me that I've improved since the last time she saw me.

"I've improved?" I asked her. "I was a mess in there."
"Yeah, but when I saw you before you weren't focusing on yourself. Now you are. That's a step."
"It is? Like an actual step?"
"An unofficial one, yeah."

I've unofficially grown a little! That's got to count for something. And since this was a rather heavy blog, I will make an offering to those of you who stuck it out and read all of the drama to the end. "Goody Two Shoes" by Adam Ant.

Put on a little makeup, makeup
Make sure they get your good side, good side

a quote, my darlings

In my morning meditation readings I found this quote by Julia Cameron, "Leap, and the net will appear." It made me smile, but then, the word "leap" always makes me smile. Whenever I hear it I think of "ten lords a'leaping," which is just ridiculous.

More ponderings to discuss and will write more later, but first I must leap into novel edits before I blog my youth away.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Blessed llama kisses

I'm working on my edits for the book and I'm stuck. So here I am doing some stretches, and scribbling a bit on the blank canvas. Yay!

Friday night I went to the yoga studio to help set up for a screening of a documentary on the Dalai Lama. What do you think came first, the word "Lama" or the Spainsh word "llama" refering to the South American version of a camel? Do you think Tibetans knew that there was an animal with that name somewhere in the world? Of course (I think) they pronounce it "yama" and it's my ignorant butchering of the word that enables me to connect a religious leader with a cute, fuzzy beast. And is it blasphemous for me to make that sort of comparison? I don't know. The impression I got from the documentary was that the Lama is a sweet man with a wonderful snese of humor. He made jokes and giggled constantly.

To set up for this viewing, me and some other work study girls set up folding chairs, covered part of the floor with blankets and pillows, and set up a table with water, assorted teas, and unidentifiable snacks.

"Are those ears?" I asked another girl, pointing to a basket of pale, curled wedges.
"I think they're dried apple slices," she said.
"Ah. That was my next guess."

Sometimes I feel selfconscious around other yogis because I'm still getting to know everyody there, and they're all so familiar with each other. I find myself stumbling over my words when I talk to them, like the other night when I was leaving the studio and a girl named Jenny said, "Bye, have a good weekend," and instead of saying "You too," I repeated exactly what she said to me like a socially retarded parrot.

"Bye, have a good weekend," she said.
"Bye, have a good weekend," I replied.

I'll be 33 next month and I'm still tripping over my words with new people. Whenever I have these awkward moments, though, it always helps to remind myself that, although I'm a little strange, these people sometimes weird me out just as much. For instance, last Sunday when I went to class we had to kiss our hands. Allow me to explain.

We were all lying on our backs, relaxing from some strenuous pose. I don't remember which one, or what bit of flexability and endurance it called for, but I remember that by the time we got to rest my arms felt like they were going to fall off. I did NOT want to lift them, so I groaned a little when our instructor told us to bring our hands to our foreheads and begin to massage our scalps.

She said something like, "Send some love to all the tension in your face and your temples. We're so seldom affectionate to ourselves."

And I must admit that rubbing my forehead and scalp was rather nice. But then she said, "Now lower your hands by your sides. And what I want you to do is take your right palm, bring it over to your mouth and give it a kiss, right in the center. Then bring it back down and do the same with your left."

I think I said, "What?" out loud. I sat up a little and saw the other students beginning to kiss their hands.

"No," I thought. "Absolutely not."

There are some things they do in class that are a little weird to me, but I always make myself do them anyway because I figure that if people have thrived by practicing this stuff for thousands of years then they must know something I don't. But this was registering too high on my weird-shit-o-meter. I mean, really, first we massage and then kiss ourselves? As a group? What exactly would be next? I imagined myself pretending to yawn, stretch and put my arm around myself. "Say baby," I would tell me. "You've got a mighty nice hand. What do you say I smooch one and then the other?"

So I laid there, not doing anything at first, but then I realized something. I know this is going to sound weird but one of my latest anxieties is that I'm a bad kisser. This has been espsecially bothering me in the last couple of months, despite the fact that I've been kissing Chris for the last eleven years and he still decided to marry me and everything. I have all sorts of phsyical fears and inhibitions that occasionally manifest themselves in different ways, and kissing has been my brain's latest craze. What I remembered while I laid there not kissing myself was something my Aunt Anne had recently told me.

"When you're on a spiritual journey," she said. "and you're on the right path, you'll find that all the differnet parts of your life connect together and you get answers in unexpected places."

So I raised the palm of my hand to my lips and gave it a kiss. Then I did the same with the other. And neither of my palms were repelled by their touch. I wasn't slobbery or anything like that. My kisses were small and delicate, and made a little snapping sound like when you blow bubbles out of chewing gum. Or when you pour milk in your Rice Crispies.

"Now when I was first told to do this in yoga class years ago," my instructor told us, "I thought it is weird. But it made me realize that I needed to be nicer to myself. We put our bodies through a lot and we rarely show them kindness. I'm not saying you should kiss your hands every day. I'm just suggesting that you take time to baby your body. Be kind to it."

I have not, in fact, kissed my hands since that class. But I haven't worried about the way I kiss either. Plus, whenever I say something awkward to someone in class and I feel like a wierd dork I think, "Gen...they kiss their hands." And suddenly we're on the same footing.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Get out your monocles it's poetry discussion time

I found this poem today and thought I would share:

Suck It Up
by Paul Zimmer
Two pugs on the undercard step through
The ropes in satin robes,
Pink Adidas with tassels,
Winking at the women in the crowd.
At instructions they stare down hard
And refuse to touch their gloves,
Trying to make everyone believe
That this will be a serious dust-up.
But when the bell rings they start
Slapping like a couple of Barbie Dolls.
One throws a half-hearted hook,
The other flicks out his jab,
They bounce around for a while
Then grab each other for a tango.
The crowd gets tired of booing
and half of them go out for a beer,
But I've got no place to hide.
A week after a cancer scare,
A year from a detached retina,
Asthmatic, overweight, trickling,
Drooling, bent like a blighted elm
In my pajamas and slippers,
I have tuned up my hearing aids to sit in
Numbness without expectation before
These televised Tuesday Night Fights.
With a minute left in the fourth,
Scuffling, they butt their heads
By accident. In midst of all the catcalls
And hubbub suddenly they realize
How much they hate each other.
They start hammering and growling,
Really dealing, whistling combinations,
Hitting on the breaks and thumbing.
At least one guy crosses a stiff jab
With a roundhouse right and the other
Loses his starch. The guy wades into
The wounded one, pounding him
Back and forth until he goes down,
Bouncing his head hard on the canvas.
The count begins but he is saved
By the bell and his trainers haul
Him to his stool as the lens zooms in.
I come to the edge of my La-Z-Boy,
Blinking and groaning from my incision,
Eager for wise, insightful instruction.
He gets a bucket of water in his face,
A sniff on the salts while the cutman
Tries to close his wounds with glue.
His nose is broken, eyes are crossed,
His lips bleed like two rare steaks.
His cornermen take turns slapping his cheeks.
"Suck it up!" they shout. "Suck it up!"

What I like about this poem is that it literally kicks ass (sips tea, adjusts monocle). The pain that the narrator has been through is expressed in a true blood and guts way, I mean, you really feel the emotional and physical struggle. Plus, I guess it might make him feel more manly to watch two young, muscular guys take a whipping that is similar in nature to his plight.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Self help is so cliche

When I walked into the Al-anon meeting a couple of weeks ago I felt like I was going to throw up. The same handful of people were there that I remember from the last time I went to the meeting in January, and they remembered me. The weird thing about first going to these meetings is that people you don't know, who don't know you, are happy to see you and they'll tell you so.

"It's good to see you again," the moderator told me, and she looked genuinely happy.
"Yeah, it's good to be back here," I lied.

Later when it was my time to speak, I took back what I said. I'd been listening to other people talk about what was going on with them and the addicts in their lives and almost all of them had said that they were glad to be there that night, and glad to be talking.

"I don't want to be here," I said. I'd been getting angrier and angrier the longer I listened to them talk and I don't handle anger well at all. My voice was starting to shake. "I don't want to talk about these things because I'm not supposed to talk about them. I can joke about them but not really talk about them. I don't even feel right getting a babysitter to watch my kids so I can be here when I could be writing or going to see a movie."

After the meeting a woman who I didn't know came up and gave me a hug.

"I know just what you're talking about," she said.

I don't think I can name her because of the anonymousness of the group, so I'll just give her a fake name. Her name was Meryl Streep. Meryl was an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (which I will hereby refer to as ACOA because it's hip) and has been in the program since she was a teeanger. She was a little older than me, and she was cool to talk to.

"Just keep coming back," she told me. "Believe me it will get better."

I didn't come back right away. Partly it's fear. I know that the heart of the Al-anon program isn't venting about the addicts you love, but getting to the truth of who you are, letting go of the need to control your addicts, and getting on a spiritual path. Sounds great, right?

This question is going to seem off topic but how many of you have seen the movie "The Never Ending Story?" Do you remember the scene where Atreyu has to look in the mirror and see his true self? Remember when he said something like "Well, that shouldn't be too hard," and an old man says, "It's the most difficult test. Brave men look at themselves and see that they're truly cowards. When forced to face their true selves some men run away screaming!" Then there's that trippy moment when Atreyu looks in the mirror and sees Bastian staring back at him. But I digress, you see my point don't you?

Besides the fear of faces all of my pitchfork-toting demons, I do not come from a place where talking about my problems with my addicts, or any problems that I might have developed as a result of them is acceptable.

"When you talked tonight you said three things that I don't know if you noticed," Meryl said. "Don't talk, don't trust, don't feel. Those are the three rules in a alcoholic household."

I thought back on what I'd said. She must have been paraphrasing. I don't remember saying anything like that, but the other guy who was talking with us agreed with her.

"Meryl's right," said Ted Koppel. "That's the message I got."

One of the things I'm hoping to accomplish is to listen to myself when I talk and hear what I'm really saying to people. That was not the first time someone pointed out a message that I didn't realize I was trying to convey. I think there's a kid trapped in me that's sending out messages in a bottle. I'm serious.

I remember this kid. She's too tall, too emotional, too stupid, too tomboyish, too ugly, and she cries too much, and I don't like her. I'm glad that I grew up and that I don't look like her anymore. But over the last year I've realized that she's still there, and of all the people who have hurt her I am the only one left who's still kicking her in the face.

So after pulling myself together yesterday I dragged myself to a different meeting. This is a good meeting to be in for a couple of reasons. 1) It meets during the week day and with the kids going back to school I won't have to find a babysitter (or avoid finding a sitter), 2) the property is beautiful and if I get there early I can walk around the garden, and 3) it's a step meeting which means they spend each week studying a different step so they're very focused on getting to the heart of their own shit and not just there to bash their addict(s). There are people in there who've been in the program for twenty years. These are good people to study with, I think.

But one of the problems I have with the program is the selfhelp cheesiness. To tie in another movie, remember at the end of Austin Powers 2 when Fat Bastard has his epiphany? "Now it's time for me to face someone [pause to look vaclempt] myself!" Selfhelp seems like such a joke. I think the real joke in the movie was that Fat Bastard was suddenly becoming deep, but still, think about it. It's easy to joke about when you're afraid of taking it seriously. And nothing is more of a target for jokes then the often-repeated cliche lines that 12 step program people toss at you.

"Keep coming back!" "It works if you work it!" "You're in the right place!" "Let go and let God!" "Don't forgot to breathe!" "Hang in there, baby!" "Feel the burn!" Sorry, I got my cliches mixed up. What's another one? Oh, there's the one they hand you when you're trying to get a response from an addict that they're not capable of giving you, or when you expect behavior from them that they're not capable of acting on. "It's like going to the hardware store for groceries." That was a useful line the first couple of times I heard it, but somewhere after 15,000 its effect softens. So I've come up with different ones that communicate the same thing. You're shopping for trail mix at a brothel. You're going to the water fountain for a latte. You're looking for a leprechaun at a Unicorn High Society Club. I might only think these things and not share them, but they ease the blow when I hear lines like, "Easy does it! One day at a time!"

"I don't want to be here," I said at yesterday's meeting. I've decided to say that when I feel it at every meeting. "I hate talking about this stuff. I'm not supposed to talk about this stuff. I'm scared. I'm scared of everything. I'm scared of getting mad, and I'm scared of people being mad at me. I don't want to learn how to take care of myself. It sounded good at first but it doesn't feel right, and I hate this phase of my life more than I think I hated puberty. I'm just going by what functional people keep telling me, that everything will get better when I get more comfident and used to taking care of myself. But I don't feel that way. I feel like I'm stumbling through the dark."

When the meeting ended an old woman who was about two feet shorter than me handed me a cliche.

"Honey, you're in the right place."
"Thanks," I said. "I hope so."
Then she took my face in her hands and said, "You're very pretty."
"Um...thank you."
"You're going to be ok."
I started crying again, and tried to get myself to stop because it was embarassing.
"Smile," she told me, and instictively I did.
"See," she said, as if smiling were proof that I would be fine.

But there is something about a sweet old lady telling you that you'll be all right that's comforting. Perhaps it's a grandmother quality.

Last night, hours after the meeting I called Meryl. I hadn't spoken to her since I'd been to the meeting a couple off weeks ago and her phone number had been floating around my purse. I wans't even sure she'd remember that she gave it to me.

"It's good to hear your voice," she said.
"...It is?" I asked.
"Well, yeah. How are you?"

I told her about the step meeting, and how hard the last couple of weeks have been. Then I asked her if she would be my sponsor, and she said she would. So I've got a sponsor now. This has seriously become serious shit, people. And after talking to Meryl for a while and realizing all that we have in common I started thinking about all the other ACOA's I've met who all share the same problems of crippling guilt and selfhatred. Maybe that's why they all seem to know me when I walk in. Maybe they're looking at me and seeing themselves.

"When confronted with their true selves most men run away screaming," is what the guy in the movie said. But none of those people are looking at me and running away screaming ( many self-deprecating jokes). So hopefully I'll get there soon. Maybe I'll be able to look at myself and see that ugly kid, and become nicer to her. Ugly kids need love too.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

5 in the morning

It's...5 in the morning. Need coffee. Need shower. Hungry, but too tired to eat. I got up an hour ago to work on the book and so far I've managed to check my e-mail. This is where the disiplinarian in my head kicks in.

"Do you want to be a novelist or not?" she says.

"I want to be caffeinated," I say.

"Is that all you think about is coffee?"

"What? I can't hear you, I haven't had any coffee yet."

Two weeks ago I thought I'd kicked the addiction. It turns out that I just took a vacation. Most people go to the beach. I switch to decaf and despair.

Ok, now I'm really going to work on the goddamn book. After coffee.