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Raw.

January 18, 2014

Things have been hard lately. Nerves raw. Emotions churning right at the surface, exposed for all to see. It’s hard to trace the exact order and timing of All Of The Things. I know I was restless and antsy for change all last spring. I know I was at peace briefly this summer when I thought I knew what that change would be. I know I was cautiously happy when I met you, even as the Big Change fell through and I had to adjust to a different, less dramatic set of changes. I know I was happy while you were happy. I know I became anxious and unsure as you became those things. I know I became depressed in lock step with you, too. I know I share your insomnia. I know you’re more voodoo doll than friend. I know I cried a lot and out of nowhere. I thought that was over. I was, as it now appears, Wrong.

I was sitting in the coffee shop today, the one with the horrible coffee. It was too late for coffee anyway – I just needed to get out of the house, and it’s a nice enough place to drink tea and read. The din of so many conversations under such a high ceiling distracts me from thinking my own thoughts. To sit at the window, alone-but-not-alone, there’s always something to watch on the busy-ish street outside. Acquaintances passing in and out, sharing warm but empty greetings. A little less alone.

I read for hours while you did not call. 

When it came time to leave, I looked at my phone and found an email from a distant friend, an older friend, a friend from a bygone era who still remembers how to write letters, even if they’re now delivered electronically. I read her letter, smiling at her stories of travel and plans for more travel (our shared passion). And then I got to her last sentence, in which she inquired about you. I felt the wave coming, so I packed up quickly and hurried out before the tears could begin. I made it down the short block to the light. As I waited to cross, someone behind me asked “Hey, are you okay?” 

I turned around to see a stranger – a youngish man holding a cup from said coffee shop. He asked again, “Are you alright? I saw you leave with some… emotions.” 

I told him I was fine – that I’d just received an email from a friend that required my attention. Not more than 43% lie. I assured him again that I was fine. He apologized for bothering me.

“No,” I said, “this was really nice of you.”

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Book Report: The Casual Vacancy

January 12, 2014

I used to be a voracious reader. And by “used to,” I refer to the period from age three, when I learned all of the words in my favorite Snow White picture book by sight, until some twenty years later, when I entered grad school while still working full time in a career-track job. I spend the subsequent decade working all the time, unable to absorb anything less vapid than television. Every year I vow to read more, but lately I’ve actually been doing something about it. That something is reading.

I have a particular fondness for young adult literature, because it can be quick and engaging without the language being dumbed down. I don’t know why adult quick reads have to read like they were also written quickly. The only novels I continued to read during my personal Dark Ages were the Harry Potter series, being the only writs longer than a short story or essay that I could commit to finishing. I’ve gotten 50 pages into a shamefully tall stack of abandoned books.

So when Amazon suggested I try J.K. Rowling’s first book for adult audiences, The Casual Vacancy, I decided to give it a shot. I’m glad I did.

For a 500 page book, the plot is minimalist, detailing the quotidian microdrama of a tiny hamlet in England and the adjacent, slightly larger town.  There is no backdrop of historical significance, there is no cataclysm, there are no dragons. I normally have little patience for endless descriptions without a lot of action, but Rowling is something of a wizard in her own right when it comes to the subtle magic of arranging words on a page.

The basic premise is that a parish councilor in a small town has passed away suddenly, leaving behind his empty council seat and a town full of residents inexorably interconnected by family and school ties, as well as the sometimes very tangible impacts of local politics.

Rowling’s narrative and character development are meticulous. Much in the way we could all envision young Harry long before we laid eyes on Daniel Radcliffe, every one of the nearly two dozen pivotal characters in The Casual Vacancy is described in such detail that not only can you picture their faces, their style, their walks, but you can anticipate how they will react to the events that unfold around them. The plot is subtle, understated, but obviously well thought through, as the seemingly minor events that occur throughout the book are knit together perfectly in the end. As is often the case with her writing, I was forced to pause near the end to cry for a bit before finishing the final chapter. I only cry for the ones I feel I know.

Rowling knows people. She obviously studies them well and understands what makes them tick, and this allows her to develop her cast in a way few authors can imitate. None of her characters is purely good nor bad, protagonist nor antagonist. All are human – the good ones have failings and the bad ones, explanations. In her art, as in life, humans are messy, complicated creatures with complex motives and imperfect judgement. There is no Dumbledore, nor any Voldemort. If we could all see each other with such clarity and tenderness, this world would be a less aggressive place. 

Anxiety. Poetry. Facebook.

January 5, 2014

I’ve been sleeping poorly for weeks, plagued by waking insomnia. I’ll pretend I don’t know why, but of course I do. Or one of the reasons, at least. I know this last straw, even if I can’t for the life of me identify the others nor remember how or when they piled up on my back. Each morning, regardless of when I went to bed (be it ten or two) I wake when the clock strikes three, an hour Ayurveda and my ex-boyfriend’s mother both agree is typical for this affliction. Each morning I fall back asleep 20 minutes before the alarm will go off, a time most insomniacs will agree is the easiest in which to finally rest. 

 
But last night, last glorious night, I fell asleep complaining to a friend via text about my plight, and woke up a full doctor-recommended seven and a half hours later. And when I woke, the first thing I did find in my Facebook feed was an article from the Guardian about anxiety. So to stave off cabin fever on this chilly Sunday, all day I’ve collected snippets from my News Feed that fit the subject. Cut, pasted, collected, and curated, the past 24 hours in Facebook melotrauma comprise this:
 

It’s time to apologize in advance for my behavior

 
Last night I felt old
        There’s fog inside my room 
This can’t be healthy
Now I’m wide awake
Don’t worry. Be happy
Can’t you just feel the excitement and joy…? 
Soaking up the warm sun before the next arctic plunge
If you try to control it too much, you’ll get stuck 
Somewhere between the mope and the hope
 
I’m so sick of being sick
Most fearful emotions and behaviors are produced by, or at least processed through, the amygdala, a tiny almond-shaped organ at the base of the brain*
You’re kidding me, right? 
 I desire the things which will destroy me in the end.**
That one took years off my life
A sad day.
Losing my mind here 
I.Need.Warmth. 
 
Head’s up!
Help spread the word
Today’s world bears a number of striking similarities with the build-up to the First World War
We don’t ask enough questions… cable TV, social media and cheeseburgers, anyone?
We think we understand the rules when we become adults, but what we really experience is a narrowing of the imagination ***
I feel comfortable, it has always been that way   
               (I was a sheep)
    
F-ck. 
Here’s a little warmth 
     (not exist without you)
 
F-ck yes.  
Tomorrow 
 
YES.  
I’m back on the grid 
 

starred items are themselves quotes not posted by the original speaker/writer, so I’ll attribute, because I’m classy:
* Scott Stossel, via The Guardian
**Sylvia Plath
*** David Lynch 

Literally

January 1, 2014

There are literally no homeless people in Toronto.

I love people watching. I mean really, who doesn’t? But even more, I love people listening, collecting snippets of conversation out of context and recontextualizing them in my head. This one’s a toughy, because it’s so fucking stupid. Also, full disclosure, I heard a few more lines of explanation from this hip 20- something of unplaceably European origin babbling away on New York’s lower east side. He was standing by this assertion, even as his companions proved understandably incredulous.

But the game must go on, so I’ve tried my best to brainstorm potential explanations for his statement:

  • He’s never been to Toronto
  • He’s never seen a homeless person
  • Oh, you mean Toronto Ontario? No, that one has homeless people. I was talking about a different Toronto.
  • He thinks “literally” means the opposite of what it does
  • He mistakes all crackheads for Mayor Ford

A tiny little poem on Kindness

December 18, 2013
This is not normally my thing

This is not normally my thing

I’ve been down of late. Not for so very long, but pretty far down. Today I had an idea to do a Small Nice Thing for a person, to purchase for someone a very nice little trinket to which he’d never have treated himself. I found a Small Nice Shop specializing in this Thing, and stopped by after work. What an unexpected delight! The owner was sweet and cheerful and knowledgable and spent such a long time with each customer that it was well past closing when I departed, leaving another customer behind me. But instead of being irritated by the wait, I felt unhurried, at liberty to explore (it’s one of those shops). And when I left, I left as happy as I’ve been in many days. 

I don’t write poetry. I don’t really even like it. I mean, when it reaches me, I love it, but little of it does so. But as I left, the last two lines of the above popped into my head. By the time I got my car started, the first two joined them. I couldn’t tell you where the picture came from because I don’t draw. I don’t do any of this, but it was there, and it needed out. Be kind to it, internet.

OCD, Always an Adventure

December 12, 2013

I’m not afraid of heights because I think I might fall. I’m afraid of heights because I think I might jump.

That’s not as bad as it sounds. It is crazy, but not the kind you need to worry about. Aren’t you ever nervous that you’ll accidentally do something that is altogether unlikely, but would be altogether disastrous? Or worse, that you’ll be compelled to do something of the sort? Not that you’ll fall down the stairs, but that you’ll throw yourself down them, the Rhett to your own Scarlett? For years I lived thinking this was just me, and indeed most people I’ve asked have initially denied having similar thoughts. But if I persist – maybe throwing in a few examples – they always come around, and with fears that never even crossed my addled mind.

Once, for instance, I rode with a coworker to pick up a large lunch order placed in a rare moment of workplace camaraderie. I sat in the passenger side, window way down on a gorgeous summer day, wallet in my lap, when suddenly I was wracked with a very specific fear: What if I throw my wallet out the window? Now let’s pause here to take note of the active verb in that sentence. Throw. I might throw my wallet out a car window. So I sat, hand in lap, wallet in hand, paralyzed with fear. Paralyzed with the fear that I would stop being paralyzed and would launch my wallet out of the car window into the street. I quickly assessed my options, as one might when confronted by such immediate danger. I could move my hand, divorcing compulsion from the scenario and hence seemingly reducing the risk of any such spasm, but then I would have to trust gravity to hold my heavy, change-laden wallet to my lap while gravity is clearly busy holding everything else in the universe together. No good. I couldn’t possibly trouble gravity with my petty needs. So I moved my hand to the top of the wallet and pressed it against my leg. That would have to do. And then, in a hopeless bid to feel less hopeless, I asked Coworker The Question.

He scoffed. For about 12 seconds, as I silently begged my brain to come up with something incontrovertibly sane to say to him to change the subject. Before poor, overwhelmed Brain could oblige, however, Coworker recanted.

“Well,” he said, “do you mean like… well like at that intersection, when that guy crossed the street with the stroller. I wondered if I might move my foot from the brake to the gas pedal right when he pushed the baby in front of the car. Do you mean like that?”

Bingo.

He went on to explain that one of his friends actually fell prey to such a lapse. He was stopped peacefully at a red light, saw a cop, got flustered (for no apparent reason – he was a law-abiding chap), and went through the light. Yeah, he got pulled over.

In one of my previous jobs, the Big Boss had a boat. After successful completion of a particularly grueling project, he took our team for an afternoon cruise on said vessel. As we were preparing to launch, my immediate manager stepped over the railing to untie the boat from the dock. As he did so, I heard him mutter “I’m not going to jump. I’m not going to jump. I’m not going to jump.” My kind of guy.

 

I once drove a friend to an event in a town with which I was not familiar, and she, only somewhat so. We had written directions, complete with a highway exit number. When we approached the exit immediately before our own, she instructed me to get off the highway. I obliged, believing her to know a better route to our destination. As soon as we hit the ramp she confessed that her fear of passing her exit is so strong that she typically gets off at an earlier one knowing it’s wrong. Crazy, as it turns out, is an adventure you can share.

Many of us go through so much of life on autopilot that those rare moments when we become present, when we are suddenly and completely aware of ourselves and our surroundings, surprise the shit out of us and completely overwhelm. So when Coworker feared he would gun his Corolla into a baby, I don’t fear any infanticidal tendencies on his part. He probably just came to from a haze to find himself on an unfamiliar street corner with a blind man pushing a stroller in front of his car and was subsequently flummoxed by the suddenly very real task of Driving (so many little movements and decisions, who wouldn’t want to stamp their foot and give up?). 

Likewise, when I stand in the elevator at work, hands gripping my thighs for dear life, stricken with terror that I might be compelled to grab the ass of my neighbor, perhaps it’s because I’ve just shaken loose from a reverie to find myself in a tiny moving box filled with strangers, all of us propelled hundreds of feet into the air within a narrow shaft that plunges beneath us into oblivion. Maybe. Because that ass is almost never grab worthy. 

Or maybe that’s a crock and I just know a bunch of quants with low-grade OCD, as I myself probably have (Wait – did I unplug the coffee pot? Am I sure? Am I really sure? Did I just check, or am I remembering checking yesterday?). But see, that’s just it. I’m a Checker, and maybe a recovering Counter. But I’m not a Toucher. Those people are nuts.

Regardless of the pathology or lack thereof, here are the foremost fears that haunt and taunt me: 

  • That I’ll say something really offensive to a stranger. No, worse. Worse than that. Keep going. Keep going until you come up with something so mean that you’re sickened at what just flowed forth from the brain you thought you knew. Stop only when you get to something that cannot be said to any human in any scenario, not in jest nor in anger; not even in traffic. Stop when you are mortified that you were able to string such foul words into an even fouler sentiment. That’s the thought that’s running through my mind when I’m introduced to you. The one that stops up the very neural pathway I wanted to utilize to learn your name.
  • That I’ll put a cigarette out on another person due to an involuntary hand spasm. [edit: this is no longer a specific concern, having quit smoking several years ago, but I am still terrified that I will dump my coffee/tea/lunch/wine/giant bowl of red food coloring on you. All of you. Especially you in the white sweater.]
  • That I’ll drop or throw something really important that’s in my hand. Not for nothing, I do drop a lot of things, but I rarely throw them out windows, and I haven’t actually ever dropped my car keys down a sewer grate, nor have I thrown a newborn ever. Not even one that’s spitting up. But it doesn’t mean I’m not sure I will. That’s why it will take me four minutes and at least one accidental boob grab to transfer your pride and joy from my terrified arms to your sure ones.
  • That I’ll launch myself head first over a guard rail from a dead stop. Really. I won’t go within 10 feet of a scenic overlook if the guardrail doesn’t reach my center of gravity. 

 

Wow. My palms are actually a little clammy just thinking about that last one, and I’m safely on my backside in a chair on a floor with no where to fall.

Thinking about your own wackadoodle paranoia? Here’s a primer to get started: “The worst thing I could possibly do right now is ______.”

Club Kid

July 1, 2013

I had the loveliest Sunday. I took the drive to Toronto for a hot sweaty yoga class followed by a tasty healthy lunch in the park with a fabulous woman I met this spring while traveling. Once I’d been depleted and refreshed, I opted for a walk down Queen St for some window shopping. As inevitably happens, my shopping shifted from window to actual variety, and eventually I found myself in H&M for no reason (I swear) other than that I hadn’t any sunscreen and needed a rest from the unexpectedly clear sky.

Because there are few hells I’d rather avoid than the fitting room at a discount clothier, I don’t try things on at H&M. This is risky, because their poorly made clothes are unpredictable in fit and cut. For this reason, I’ll purchase there only if the item is of a very familiar style that I feel I can estimate well, or if it’s cheap as hell and I don’t care.

The skirt was (I thought) squarely in both camps. A simple cotton knit that looked like it would hit just at the knee and perhaps hug the figure just a bit. For $10, it was worth the gamble. I upped the ante considerably by packing it to wear to work today, having not tried it on even at home, and being that on Mondays I go to the yoga studio in the morning and go straight to work from there. Go boldly, discount fashionista!

So imagine my surprise when I went to put on this cute little skirt only to realize it had a built in shelf bra and was, in fact, a dress. A very short, very tight dress. Since it was morning and I had exercised, but had not yet eaten, I actually kind of rocked it. Except of course that I’m 36, so I looked like a 19 year old trying to sneak into a club using her mother’s… face.

Some things are just undignified.

The good news is that with my slightly longer top (fortunate pairing!), it’s an adorable skirt, and barely trashy at all.