Wednesday, October 26, 2016

You always remember the first time you vote

Voting. When I was growing up, it was something I was going to do when I was eighteen. That was a given. My parents always let me know how important it was to cast a vote. Society told me how special it was that we got to vote. My school taught me that it was a privilege to vote and other countries didn't have the right to vote. I grew up somewhere between cynicism and optimism about our future and our government. My father was very pessimistic and angry and always spoke very negatively about government. I often heard the sentence "Guess I'll have to hold my nose and vote for this guy." What was the point in that? Why would you vote for someone you had to hold your nose around.
I maintained my optimism in spite of this.
Growing up, I did not see a lot of women in politics right away. When I was born, it was full of white men in office and I just kind of thought-- women must not want those jobs. Not that we couldn't have those jobs but that we didn't want them. Because I was optimistic and I had a working mother who, frankly was kind of badass and I was sure that if not me, women could do whatever they wanted once they broke out of their shell.
I watched my mother push back against the patriarchy every single day. I watched it wear her down and then she would gather strength and go after it again.
Frankly, it didn't seem like politics was a job any woman would want. Talk about thankless with no reward. That was what I saw as a little girl. I wanted to do something artistic though. I did not yet understand how those women in politics were going to change what my world looked like.
As English Professors, the Liberal arts seemed about as far away from politics as it could get. And I had no concept that my mother did not have maternity leave. I had no concept that in fact, our political system was going to change every life in our country. Some for the better. Some for the worse.
No one in my house ever discussed with me WHY it was important to vote.
I wasn't interested in any of it because no one really explained to me why I should be interested in it, why it was going to make a difference in my future.
As I approached my first presidential election, I was twenty one. And suddenly when I had a voice I knew it was important. I had not wanted to vote in the smaller elections when I first turned eighteen. (I realize now I probably should have but I wanted my first ever vote to be for president) I had not even registered until the summer before the presidential election. But coming up on my first election, I did not ask the advice of either one of my parents. My mother would always say that her vote was private and she did not have to tell anyone who she was voting for. In fact, as outspoken and opinionated as both my parents were, they taught me very little about what government was. And frankly, except for some high minded and bloated ideals, school had taught me very little. I was never told- examine the issues, look for things that you care about. I was taught in a dry and boring way what government was. Look, it has three branches. The President is commander in chief. This is the song where a bill becomes a law. I was not even sure why I should care about any of that.
BUT IT IS IMPORTANT TO VOTE. (Okay, but why?) It just is!!!
Cause that is your constitutional right.
Cause...cause... no wonder people don't vote.
In history class, women getting the vote in 1920 was kind of a footnote (at an all girl school, that seems disgusting and disgraceful in retrospect, they should be ashamed of this, the section on this barely covered it)
So, who did I turn to? My friends.
I had some smart friends, some friends who did a lot of self educating and lots of reading.
I had one friend who loved to read biographies.
I was not interested in biographies. She wanted to give me the highlights of women getting the vote and I tuned her out. Because that history was dry and who cared and whatever, it didn't matter. She was going to tell me some boring shit, I thought. So, I did not learn that totally fascinating and engrossing, interesting history for several years.
In fact, I think I was frustrated that I was turned off from history by some dry ass terrible teachers. It makes a difference.
There was one friend who I was talking with a great deal during the election year. She was about five years older than me and we discussed a lot about who was running and what they stood for and it kind of opened up things for me. I listened to her, I was influenced by her, I asked her questions.
There were not a lot of people I could ask in my life.
There was no way I was talking to my dad. Politics made him angry. He was going to end up screaming about the goddamn government. Or he was going to talk until I fell asleep from boredom. The conversation would only go one way, the way he explained everything with his narcissistic one sided point of view. He was very knowledgeable but he was not going to share this wisdom in any kind of accessible way. If I asked questions I would be ridiculed or screamed at or he wouldn't be able to hear me.
Once in sixth grade, I was doing a report on the Nixon administration and he just hollered names and facts at me and I wrote things down. He ended up ripping the paper away from me and writing things down for me. God forbid I be involved in the process. Or learn anything.
I know for sure he did not treat his students like this. But he treated me like this. I never went to him for help on anything. That was the last time. But this for me was government.
I felt the pull to KNOW something, to figure it out, to understand it in some real way. I didn't want to get into the voting booth and just hit choice A or B without knowing anything about either person. I had heard some speeches, but I didn't trust that rhetoric. I was at least smart enough to know that these two candidates were presenting their best sides. I needed to know facts. I wanted to cast the most intelligent vote.

That year, I was pregnant. I was due November 2 and the following Tuesday was election day. I was late, I was overdue. I was up all night in labor. I knew I was in labor. Early labor. The kind that takes a really long time to get going. I knew I had hours to go but it was real.
So, there I was at seven am, miserable, in pain. Feeding my son breakfast and weathering through small but steady contractions.
I didn't say anything to my dad. He tends to panic and it was nowhere near time to go to the hospital. So, I kept my mouth shut. Pretty soon, my dad started pestering me, though.
"Are you going to vote?" he asked
"Yes." I responded.
"When are you going?"
"I don't know. Today." I responded, dripping with sarcasm.
"When, today? Because I would like to vote and if you're going now, I could go later. But if you're going later..."
I couldn't take it. He was going to keep talking. Meanwhile, there was another nasty contraction.
"Can I have breakfast?"
"Are you going after breakfast?"
I resisted the urge to murder him on the day I was voting for the first time. That was not the type of irony I needed in my life. I wondered briefly if I could be acquitted because I was in labor. Temporary insanity. Extreme duress. Nope. Not worth it.
"I'm going now." I announced.
I put on my comfy sweatpants and a clean sweater and maybe even some makeup. I can't remember if I put on makeup. I think I did, it seems likely. If I wasn't nine months pregnant, I might have walked up there. It was only three blocks away. But I drove. The line was not that bad. I remember expecting much worse but there were probably only about fifteen people in front of me and the whole process went pretty quickly. The entire thing took all of about twenty minutes. I punched a bunch of holes through a card and presto, I was done. I handed my card in and it was all over. Huh. That seemed like no big deal. I had hesitated over my choice in the last moment. It was so final. Was I sure I wanted to vote for this guy? Was I positive? It seemed like I didn't know enough, that I was still rather woefully ignorant of everything I needed to know. And I was right about that.
That process spurred me to know more. To understand more. To take my vote as seriously as I should.
These days I actively discuss politics and policies with my children. I don't expect my kids to vote for the same person I vote for, but I feel like they have a pretty good grasp on what is going on. They have much more information but the downside to that is that they also have much more misinformation. Satire websites that they are taken in by, opinion pieces that are slanted. Whole tv channels that only present one side of the story. And lies and more lies. It's hard to figure things out.
What means something to me now is that I finally found the story of how women got the vote. I finally became interested enough to let go of the boring history teachers and the past prejudices I had and I saw a movie called "Iron Jawed Angels". (A small reason why I know that movies are not just entertainment but they change the world) and it changed me and the way I looked at my vote.
In 1776, we declared independence and waged a war which (eventually) gave all male white citizens the right to vote. Somewhere around a hundred years later, black men got freedom and a right to vote (which people spent a lot of time surpassing and shutting down and all the rest that went with that but that is another story). And women, all women, white women and women of color had to fight and demand and be jailed, beaten, force fed, etc. Suffrage sounds like suffering to me. But if not for these women, I would have no right to vote on November 8th. And this woman running, just four years shy of one hundred years of having the right to even vote would not have the right to seek political office.

And representation in government is crucial. No matter how you feel about this election, having people from different backgrounds, people of color, different genders, different sexual orientation, these things matter. Because of the people, by the people, for the people means all of us. So the representation of all of us is important.
The hardest thing is finding people who actually care and are not just self serving fame and power whores. Because to be in government is to serve a community. To do your best for the people you represent. High minded ideals. And politics is made of lies and back room deals and unsavory things. Sometimes they mean well and the law of unintended consequences steps in and bites you hard.
But every now and then something wonderful happens. Slavery is abolished. Women get the right to vote. The Civil Rights Act. Gay people get the right to marry. Pre-existing conditions no longer matter when seeking health insurance. Every now and then some amazing piece of change happens and I marvel that it happened.
And these things happen because we voted for people who were integral to making this happen. So, yes, your vote does matter. It's a small piece of a larger world and it belongs to you and only you. Try to use it wisely with your best conscience and your highest ideal. When I walk into the voting booth, I stand on the shoulders of those women who suffered before me, who believed it would matter to me that I was represented and knew that I could change the world with one vote. I know that their battle was worthwhile, that their sacrifice for me humbles me and I honor it.
For all of you, this should be meaningful. To make your vote a part of history.

Monday, September 19, 2016

How we connect when we serve

Last night, my daughter asked me a question, kind of a simple question. She said, "Did you like being a hotel manager?" Immediately, I said "No."
Then, I gave it a little more thought.
The real answer is sometimes I liked it. Most of the time I was bored out of my skull and there were times, I outright hated it but I got to thinking about the parts I liked and the parts that made a difference and spilled over into other parts of my life.
The parts I liked were these. I like learning new things, I like feeling competent at my job. I take pride in doing things really well and the thing about being a hotel manager or a restaurant manager, a server, a bartender, all the things in the hospitality business was that I did those things really well. I excelled at those jobs and I liked doing things that I do very well. People didn't want me to quit. I was almost always offered obscene raises (relatively speaking) to stay in those jobs and keep doing them. But I couldn't stay happy. It got old, it got stale, it became the same. The challenge was mostly gone and once it wasn't a new thing I was learning, I realized I was just miserable again because I had only been distracted from the thing I was supposed to do.
But back to the parts I liked. I loved working with people. I loved meeting new people. One of my favorite things to do was to do something that made someone really, really happy. So, whether it was getting them to a hotel bed in a beautiful room where they were comfortable or serving them a warm and delicious meal or giving them a perfectly created drink that that person had been craving all day. I loved that. If someone was unhappy, I would work extra hard to find that magical thing that would create satisfaction somehow. I would move them to another room that was awesome. I would bring them a luscious piece of dessert. Sometimes, all I would do was just care enough to listen to the problem and make a safe space to communicate it.
In my job, I would create a connection and create a happiness that had not existed before. I would be a conduit to serve something greater in this world. Sure, a lot of times our interactions were brief and seemed meaningless but I knew that a smile to a weary traveler, it meant something, if even just for a moment and understanding the value of that was one of the reasons I was good at my job.
It would wear me down, though. It's really hard being that empathetic in a job like that. People will just take and take all I gave and I would be left swimming in pain sometimes.
I got the residue of their anger, their frustration, their snappish rude behavior. And often I took it home with me.
And when I would reach the point where I was numb or desensitized to everything at the job, I would often leave, both as an act of self protection or because I was no good to the public doing a half ass job.
So, why couldn't I keep it up? Well, it's exhausting and it isn't my true calling after all. I have always known this, but when my daughter asked me that question the other day, I thought about it in a way I had never really realized before.
When I make movies, direct or act in plays, write a story...I'm doing the same thing. I'm connecting to the world in a way that makes people happy. I'm using all of me and what I am good at to create good feelings in others. I am directly connecting with people in a way that makes them smile or cry or think or feel.
We used to have regulars in the restaurant and business regulars at the hotel. In the hotel, they were away from home and I was often fascinated with the way people would behave when they were far from their home life. Sometimes, the railroad guys would come and sit in the lobby and tell me their stories. I loved that.
When certain businessmen would checkout, they would ask me to take off the $50 in dirty movie charges off their bill so they could pay cash. No one needs their boss to see that on the bill, and I would do so with a poker face, all the while thinking, he didn't look the type or he looks exactly like he would be totally into that. And I would scroll past the titles, "Barely Legal" or "Hot Nurses" because you never know what someone is hiding anonymously far away from home.
And I would think to myself about how many stories there were to tell that lived inside these people, how many people were just lonely or meeting up or finally coming together after a long separation. Valentine's Day was an adventure, so many high hopes of a perfect night and there I was the quiet witness to what goes wrong and what goes right.
I realized that in many ways hospitality is another art that connects us. I still love to cook for people, to create food that makes them warm and satisfied, to serve a cold drink or a warm hot chocolate. I want to create something superior that will connect me to the world in more ways. This is how I serve humanity. I have been called to a higher calling, but in the simple ways I was taught to do this. This is why serving is worthwhile. It has taught me tolerance, patience and to manage lots of personalities. I have been taught to quietly listen to the troubles of others and try to find a way to fix a problem, and if that cannot be done, just to listen and comfort. There are times when all you have to do is just understand.
It also has shown me that people who are operating from the ego and not from the place of connection, these people are missing out on that real joy. If you're in it for the applause, the attention, the superficial- that won't last. To create and share, that is when I realized I was on track. Even the solitary writer puts pen to paper to push her thoughts out into the world. I do this to serve and to connect.
In a way, every thing I have ever done has been to serve and connect to the world, to share in a higher consciousness, to understand humanity better and when I make people happy in some way, I find extra joy. There are lots of stories out there waiting to be told, I may not have time for all of them but I am grateful to have witnessed them all.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How the Silence changed Everything

In 2002, I finally got to do my study abroad trip that I had wanted to do for a long time. I was so excited, three whole months in London, all the theater I could handle in a big city. No car. No phone. No kids. No television. I was beyond thrilled to be doing this. My mom had just the month before purchased a flat in Central London since she worked over there so much and she was letting me stay there for the duration of my time in London. This was great. I didn't have to stay in the dorms and I didn't have to have a roommate. Part of the reason I was doing this was to experience what I had missed out on.
When you get pregnant at 17, there isn't any time to transition into adulthood. You just do it fast and you get it while crying in a corner and feeling overwhelmed in between taking care of a newborn and dealing with your parents and the rest of the world telling you that you better grow up now. Which I did. Without really even thinking about it. And I started college before my son was even a year old because I knew I had to get my shit together or just be one of those single mom statistics. One day I looked up and noticed everyone else was having a very different college experience than I was. Parties. Late night conversations of the soulful figuring things out variety. Self discovery. Epic mistakes that didn't involve you messing up your kid's life while trying to figure out your own.
I had gone from a turbulent and traumatic household with my parents to a turbulent and traumatic year of living with my drug addicted, verbally and physically abusive boyfriend and several certifiably insane roommates to getting pregnant and moving back in with my parents when I was about six months along. I brought two cats and a bunch more emotional trauma than I had left with. From one loud household to another and then back again, this was my life.
I had dropped out of college twice and after a long break, a terrible job, and many painful changes, I was back. My life now included four children of my own and a loving and stable relationship. I no longer lived with my parents and suddenly I was desperate to finish my degree. This was my third and final attempt to finish college. I would successfully end up with a degree, graduating on the Dean's List with a solid GPA to be proud of. But it was a rocky road to there.
My college experience was not like the others. I could never start my homework before ten pm, after the last child had given up the last gasp of "One more drink of water." and me yelling "Get back in that bed right now!" Luckily, I was a night owl naturally and I loved being in college. I loved my teachers, I loved my classes, I loved learning and reading and writing everything. And I was old enough to appreciate my teachers as peers and not some mature people who intimidated me.
When I got on the plane to London, right after we hit cruising altitude, I started to cry. Part joy. Part terror. Part guilt. I would miss my kids, though I knew they were in very good hands. Between my long time babysitter, my parents and my boyfriend, and the rest of the village, those kids were going to be more than fine.
This is one of those things men do all the time. They go out of town for business or school or any number of reasons and no one blinks. It's different for moms. Probably always will be. I hope not but the fact is people just look down on you. It happens. I don't care. I've never been a PTA mom or a traditional mom and I wasn't about to start caring what anyone thought of me. It's too exhausting. I had already been a teen mom, a statistic, a person to be judged one way or another. I was beyond giving a damn. My life was what it was. I could only live it the way I thought was best. Trying to please anyone is beside the point.
I waited a long time to do this study abroad. Until I thought things were reasonably stable. I chose the summer program because it was the shortest and would require the least time away from the kids. But, I knew I wasn't going to get points for that! I was still leaving.
Part of the reason I did this was to do this cool theater program in London but I admit, the large part of this was to go back and find that transition path to adulthood that I had missed out on. I was going to be a grown up, with a small apartment, in college, taking care of just me. I was going to live by myself for the very first time in my entire adult life. It was always something that I had felt was missing in my life. And I had given up getting it back. I thought, maybe this is something I will experience when all my kids have moved out and I am on my own. Maybe then it will happen. But more and more desperately I wanted to stop resenting everyone and everything that interfered with my solitude. I wanted some quiet to finish a thought, to write a play, to just leave the house without a multitude of planning babysitters and feeling as if I was stealing time to myself that was limited. I wanted to be able to sleep in the next day or say I feel like going to see a movie without second guessing my ability to for sure get a babysitter or feeling closed in and frustrated because there was never enough time.
I'm sure to some of you, that sounds incredibly selfish. I chose to have kids. I chose to be a single mom. (Let us not even deal with the fact that there was no single father sharing that burden) I didn't opt out of it, I wasn't as careful as I should have been. YES, I get it. I have been suitably punished for having underage, unprotected sex. I do not need anyone to remind me of the consequences of my actions because I lived with those beautiful children every single day. I was responsible and diligent and I made the sacrifices. So- please, spare me the lecture some of you are forming in your brain.
But I am very self aware of needing what I needed no matter what anyone else thought I deserved or should have in my life. And what I needed was a stretched out length of time that was not a vacation. I needed to take care of just myself. I needed to find myself without the noise. I needed to figure out me inside of just me, with no one tugging at me or needing me get the picture.
So, I arrived in London on a Sunday. It was my birthday and for the first time in my life, I spent my birthday alone. I followed the directions my mother gave me about getting from the airport to the flat and dragged all my luggage up the the fifth floor. I put the key in the lock and opened the door to my life for the next three months. I think I did a joyful lap when I first got in the flat. Gone were the tears-- but what was there instead was silence.
The first thing I wanted to do was turn on the television. But there was no television. I was sure there must be a radio but I couldn't find it. Eventually, I did but the batteries were dead. Now I was surrounded by this eerie quiet and I had no idea what to do. London is a huge city. Busy. Populated. But the flat was silent as could be. I could hear no traffic. No chatter. No noisy neighbor. No friendly meow. No ear piercing, crawl up your spine, escalating, vibrating, pound into your brain stem screaming child. Just this dead quiet. You would think I would welcome this. Instead it was causing me stress and anxiety. I needed noise. Where were batteries? What did I have to do to make this radio work? What the hell was this??
I ran around the flat in my exhaustion for twenty minutes thinking there must be batteries. There were not. I finally fell into a fitful nap of frustration with no television to lull me to sleep. I was too exhausted to search the streets for some place that sold batteries. England is not like here. You can't just go to Target for your every need. There is no Target. It took me two solid weeks to find a can opener. I finally discovered one at a hardware store around the corner... but I digress.
This silence, this thing I hated, this thing I was afraid of, this thing I did not understand, it grew on me. Yes, I did find music and noise and a way to live. I learned to cook for one person. I took much pleasure in being able to do my homework any time I wanted but the biggest and most unexpected thing that happened was that I learned to embrace the silence. And in the silence, I found my own thoughts, my own voice, my own needs and desires and quiet yearnings of my soul. I found the answers to the interrupted questions I had been asking myself. I found twenty seven books to read. Sometimes, I just turned off the radio so I could hear the thinking going on in my busy brain. It turns out that silence does not really drown out the world as I feared, but opens your senses wide.
When I returned from London, I was a different woman. I was more confident, more physically strong from all the walking, more thoughtful and more sure. The resentments I had were gone because I had been granted enough time. I'm so glad I had no television to distract me. I'm so glad I didn't really make any friends. I went out to eat by myself. I read the Evening Standard. I went to the theater and movies by myself. Sure, I did a few things with people but mostly I just reveled in how cool it was to just be with me. I felt as if I had finally grown up. Crossed that invisible passage to adulthood. I wasn't hanging on to anything any more. I wasn't just thinking, how long will it be until I can get out by myself again (this is part of what postpartum depression does to you, something I would discover much later), I was spending time enjoying my kids in a way that was a revelation.
Sometimes, when I am on road trips, I deliberately turn off the radio to feel the silence around me. I think through plot points and engage my imagination. I plan out the next day. I access the thing that has me stuck and work it out while I chew it over. The silence changed me. The alone stitched me together. The silence seeped into the cracks in my soul and filled me up. Maybe I would have found another way without that, but I feel strongly that I knew what I was yearning for and what I needed in many ways. But I never suspected my greatest need would be silence.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Range of Normal

This morning I got on the scale and smiled. The number on the scale, determined by the powers that be, was a number telling me that I am no longer considered overweight. I am now a normal weight for my height. After struggling with my weight for the last ten years when I developed a thyroid problem, this is fantastic. Finally, real progress. From my highest weight, I have lost 41 pounds. This was not easy. It came with ups and downs, some plateaus and a bit of bouncing around but this time, all the way, it has been steady progress. No backsliding. No quitting.
As a person who has spent the majority of her life underweight, having a weight problem is weird for me.
In grade school, I was mocked and teased all the time for being too skinny. I was constantly told to eat (believe me, I ate, I was neither anorexic nor bulimic) Turn sideways and you'll be invisible. A strong wind will blow you away. Have a sandwich. You're a stick. Are you anorexic or what?
I guess I was OR WHAT.
But that was who I was. I was comfortable with her. In spite of was people said about me or how rude they were. I was totally fine with people making fun of me. I understood they were rude and stupid. And it was nothing my real friends would do, so I didn't care. I liked me and I liked who I was. Occasionally, I would kind of wish I was more of a normal weight but for the most part, it was cool, I was good with who I was and what I looked like. I accepted it.
I was the thin girl, the skinny girl. The girl who could have multiple babies and snap back into shape in no time at all. I had a terrible diet. I ate junk food and sweets and probably had an overactive thyroid. I was tired all the time. No energy. The only time I really took care of myself was when I was pregnant or nursing.
In my early thirties I finally gained some weight. Even though I was still considered a normal weight, I was unhappy to not be in the lower range. I guess years of soda drinking had finally caught up to me. Still, it wasn't that bad, I just wasn't comfortable. So I changed my diet and gave up soda and fast food and without too much difficulty I lost about twenty pounds and felt great. I had lots of energy and was eating healthy and feeling great. It changed everything. I became less depressed and was pretty comfortable with who I was. Then, I got pregnant with number five. It was different from all the rest of the pregnancies and I gained a lot of weight. My starting weight was also higher than it was with the rest. So, it was no surprise that after I had the baby, I was pretty big. I wasn't that worried at first. It's the kind of thing that nursing and time and getting more active usually takes care of. And I had already learned how to eat well and keep my body working for me. But nothing worked. So, I joined a gym. I exercised every day averaging two hours a day. I started waitressing again. I lost some weight, things looked good. But I was anxious, tired, frustrated and I couldn't keep the weight off. It kept creeping back. I had to be excessively vigilant and somehow when I had quit smoking, came a vicious sweet tooth that I couldn't keep off me. I felt out of control. I tried all the regular diets. Dr. Oz. South Beach. 17 day diet. I tried trainer and nutritionist recommended diets. I asked my doctor what to do. He tested my thyroid and put me on medication and I thought-- that will be the answer. It will be the end of it. It wasn't.
In all this time, I never overate. My portions were reasonable, though I did have a sweet tooth. That usually consisted of one dessert or one small piece of chocolate. I never binged on anything. This was the way I ate for my whole life and it was never a problem. Sometimes I would get sad and eat more. But never a whole pint of ice cream or an entire pizza or anything crazy like that. Just maybe an extra piece of pie or a second dish of ice cream.
I had no idea what happened to me.
In desperation, I gave up all sweets for two months. I had moderate weight loss. Nothing crazy or great. When my mom got sick, I just gave up trying everything. She needed me and I couldn't focus on myself and I was too sad to even deal with it. But I covered most of this in a different blog.
That is how I got to the place I was.
Here is the thing about this diet. I'm so happy with the lifestyle change that came with it. I just don't much care about being sugar free. It's actually really fine.
I'm happy for having the fat back in my diet and feeling like I am eating really great food.
The thing is, I almost gave up this diet after three weeks. I decided not to weigh myself for five days. I could feel the progress, knew my pants were looser and right out of the gate had lost weight. But after five days I had gained back two pounds. I was really upset. I hadn't done a single thing wrong. No cheating. No varying. I had done all the right things and I had gained weight, anyway. I was ready to just quit. I had been through so many disappointments that I just decided the diet wasn't working and I was failing at it. This was going to be just like all the rest of the diets. Terrible. I started to get depressed. I called my best friend who had been doing this diet for longer and was really getting thin.
She said the best thing. "Push through. It's working. You need to start drinking more water and you'll get rid of that weight. Sometimes your body just takes a minute to reorganize, then you'll start to drop again."
I added about four more glasses of water a day and she was right.
To think I almost gave up. 41 pounds lighter and I almost gave up because of a small setback.
In the last month, I plateaued a little bit. Bounced back and gained some back. I added more activity and drank more water. I pushed through. The scale isn't everything. My clothes continue to get looser. When I exercise, the day after I might weigh a bit more because of inflammation. My body reorganizes and then I have a drop. So, sometimes I go up a little. I push through. I stay the course. I stick to the plan.
I do this because this diet makes me happy and this lifestyle makes me happy. After ten years, I feel that I have a way to finally get rid of the weight that doesn't make me miserable. And I am starting to like the way I look in the mirror. I started this diet nine months ago. It was my new years resolution. The first year I have been able to really keep it when it came to weight loss.
PUSH THROUGH. Don't lose hope. Keep trying. Find your solution. I just don't know if this is right for everyone but it sure is right for me. I'm still quite a few pounds from my ultimate goal but this is my first goal today. To find normal. To know that TODAY I am a normal weight. I am no longer overweight. I am not there any more. That is behind me. Finally. And hopefully, because you never know what the future holds. I learned a lot by going through this. It is humbling. I never made assumptions about people I knew that were overweight but now I really feel that I understand in a whole different light.
I don't know that I am grateful for this experience yet. Perhaps someday I will be. Perhaps not. Life gives you experience whether you want them or not. I just push through.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Why Depression isn't really a battle

At this point in my life, I am not currently and have not been depressed for a long time. I spent a significant and lengthy time in my twenties falling into it again and again. Much of it was undiagnosed postpartum depression that lingered far longer than it should have. Especially when I had multiple babies one after another. Depression convinced and re-confirmed for me over and over that I was a terrible and worthless mother. The cycle was evil. Unfortunately, I had friends and former boyfriends who were so abusive that they more or less confirmed these fears for me. I don't hate them. They had their own demons to deal with. It just did not help.
Eventually when I was not depressed, I found ways to be the mother I was supposed to be, that shockingly, I found that I could be, that finally I had the energy to be.
Depression was always cyclical for me. I could feel it coming on, I could feel it chasing me, I would always try to fight it off but like the coming storm, it usually came anyway.
Recently a friend posted a status that said, he never felt he had battled depression but yelled at its back after it stole his emotional lunch money. This was painfully accurate.
I live in quiet, silent terror of depression coming back all the time. I have not been functionally depressed in over ten years. But I have always felt I have no control over it. It could just ride in at any time and completely trainwreck my life. This knowledge, this fear-- It's not going to stop me from living my life. I'm just aware that demon is hanging around and to feel safe from it is crazy. She can just show up whenever she feels like it and kick my chair out from under me and sit down right in the middle of my chest.
It's kind of like how I am going to walk at night, even though sometimes it scares me. I refuse to live my life afraid of what might happen. Especially when I recognize it is irrational. Sure, I could get mugged. But is that a reason not to go somewhere? I could get mugged right at home. Nope, I'm going out.
So, yes, depression could come after me but my life is too important to me to be held hostage by that.
Oddly, one thing that worked for me was permanently changing my diet and getting rid of all fast food. Quitting smoking. Quitting soda. Adding in healthy veggies and exercise. Is this why? I don't know. Maybe it just went away. But that is when it went away and has not come back significantly since that time.
I don't think in any way this is the answer. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. But food and exercise have an effect on the chemistry in your brain. Maybe it balanced mine. Maybe something else did. I'm never going to know. Perhaps there was something in what I was eating or what I was doing that was poisoning me. No idea. I mean, depression runs in my family, so there is that. And there is not one person I'm closely related to that doesn't deal with it, some worse than others, some are more functional than others.
The other thing that helped me was following my life path and pushing everything else out of the way to pursue the creative work that feeds my soul. It keeps my healthy, happy endorphins flowing. But I don't even begin to have the answers.
Therapy also helped a lot. I had some really good cognitive therapy with a really great therapist (and I went through a few to find the right match) Do two things. Try to do the things that your therapist asks, even if it is hard and get rid of the ones that make you feel bad about yourself. Find a good match.
Honestly, I just wanted to be happy. I know that most of us just want to be happy and no one should expect to be happy all the time, but being happy is worth fighting for. And try to get out of your own way to be happy. Sabotage is a killer.
Here is the deal, though-- this is what depression was like for me.
For all the battles in my life, and there have been many, I have stored up my energy and gone in sword and shield in hand. I have stood my ground and struck blow after blow until I emerged, bloody sword in hand, standing on the dragon.
Depression isn't like that. The first thing it steals is your energy, so you try to pick up the shield and you lack the strength to hold it. The first wave of attack comes after you and you hold up your arms feebly as it pelts you, and the raindrops fall all over you. Now, you are soaking wet and vulnerable. You start to shiver. The next thing it steals is your confidence. You're never going to be dry again, you can't find the sun behind the clouds. What if it isn't there? All you can do is run around and try to find shelter but your strength is gone, and your fears are raw and in between the waves of fresh assaults, all you can do is duck and cover and beg for a break in the weather. Finally, things calm down and it's just kind of gray all around. So, you try to get up, but it has stolen your strength, your confidence and now it attacks your hope. It's pointless to get up when all you are going to find is more of the same malaise. You start to believe that it is always going to be gray. It's best to just stay still, if you try to get out, you will just end up in a storm again. Just stay here and do nothing. It's the safest thing to do and you have to survive. Just keep breathing, that is the best you can do. Yep. And sometimes it steals the will to do that.
So, for me, I always kept this tiny box of hope stored somewhere in my rational mind. Because while the assaults came for my rational mind, I was at least able to save a tiny corner. Not everyone has this luxury. But I always told myself-- this is the sickness talking, this is the disease lying to me-- and I was somehow able to just get through the physical malaise and steal tiny bits of energy enough to keep going.
I always believed the sun was behind those clouds even though I would often not see it for months and months and I always felt damp and weighed down. I had a strong box in my head that refused to give up and give in. Somehow, I was lucky enough to have built something sturdy enough to withstand the attacks. You build it when you're strong, when you feel good about the world. You build it when you don't think you'll need it. And I always needed it.
So, for those people that think depression is just being sad. It's really and truly not. The truth is, my brain has just been through a storm or the stomach flu and my reserves are depleted and it is everything my body can do to just get up and take a shower. The lie is that I had no energy. I have no reserves. I have no fight. It is just a lie that depression tells me. My hope is hiding behind that cloud, I just couldn't feel it or see it right then.
This is just what I went through. I cannot and will not speak for anyone else. If you want to argue with me about depression, I literally do not want to talk to you about it. Your struggle is your own. I'm not going to pretend to know. I know that mine is similar to some and completely different from others. I have never been medicated for depression and hopefully will not need to be. I think some people really benefit from medication. Everyone has to do what personally is needed to try to get better.
This is only my story. And it is only a little piece. I hope it helps in some way.

Friday, August 12, 2016


Being poor. I can tell when people don't get it. I didn't get it when I was a kid. I grew up with a pretty decent life. My parents both worked professionally and once we moved to U City, things were pretty good. I went from a public school to a private school and we lived in a nice house. My mom was always talking about not having money for this and that and she was frugal about everything but there was always milk in the fridge and always food on the table.
So, I guess I just took it for granted that it wasn't that hard.
I was smart and I knew how to work hard so I wouldn't be poor.
I think a lot of people think that.
My boyfriend convinced me to drop out of high school and move in with him the day I turned seventeen. Neither one of us had jobs and we moved in with another couple in this tiny three room apartment in South St. Louis. There wasn't a door to separate the rooms and we hung a curtain for privacy. We slept on half a mattress on the floor and dragged a couch out of the alley. Our dresser was made of milk crates turned sideways that we stole from the local grocery store. That was where we put our clothes. In the beginning, I loved the freedom from parents all the time. Even though we had no air conditioning in the height of summer, we turned on a box fan and sweated it out.
I did not understand what I was in for.
When we moved in, each couple had about $165 dollars of starter money that came to us unethically but not illegally and we were just going to find jobs. I remember the first day we went grocery shopping and we spent about $20. That was when I figured out milk was kind of expensive, so I got some kool aid and I thought it was no big deal. it was one of the first things I missed on a regular basis.
The thing is, when you have no skills and no value, no one really wants to hire you. Especially when you're seventeen. So, you think you will get a job and it will be no big deal until no one will hire you. I went to place after place after place and could not find anything. Finally I got an interview at Jack in the Box. This was the place I thought I would work. It was close by. They hired teenagers. It looked like something I could do. They did not hire me. After that happened I was kind of devastated and desperate.
We were out of money, we were out of cigarettes. My idiot boyfriend insisted we buy pot with some of that money. It did not make sense but he didn't care.
When we ran out of money, I stood outside the grocery store with a charity can and asked people for donations and we lived on that. Eventually, I was able to get a job working at a little diner cooking and waiting on customers at the counter. The tips were nothing. I made about five dollars a day if I was lucky and the Korean man who owned the place gave me $2.75 an hour. He was really nice but he only wanted me three days a week for about nine hours total. My boyfriend got a job running a hot dog stand downtown. At heart, my boyfriend was just a lazy, unpleasant person. He found the job hot and difficult and he just quit. Or he got fired, I was never clear on what happened.
My guess is that he had a shitty attitude and he probably stole some hot dogs, left the stand unattended and showed up baked. He told me he quit because "Fuck that job" but it is more likely he got fired.
At the end of the first month, we didn't have the $75 we needed for rent because we barely had enough for groceries.
Meanwhile I was working pretty hard at the diner. And I liked my boss and he seemed to like me pretty well. At the end of the shift, he always let me sit down and have a hamburger and fries and he used to give me a pack of cigarettes. One day his wife showed up instead of him and I could tell by the way she was eyeing me up suspiciously that she didn't like me very much. In my imagination, he had hired me without consulting her.
The way I got hired was this. I walked in to this diner and asked if they were hiring and he said to me "Come back at 6 tomorrow and I will talk to you."
So, I left and went home, figuring I had an interview. But when I got home, I thought to myself, did he mean six am or six pm? Because the diner opened at 6 am! I fretted about this for an hour and finally decided this was not something I wanted to be wrong about. So, I got up at five am and made sure I was there at six on the dot. I wanted that damn job. I needed that damn job. You don't know humiliation until you have stood outside the grocery store and begged for money.
No one was there at six am. The place was empty. Even though the sign on the diner said they opened at six, apparently those hours were just a suggestion. He finally showed up about 7:30 am. I sprang up and told him "I got here at six like you asked!" He shook his head at me and spoke gently to me in broken English.
"You come back at six tonight."
I hung my head. Sorry, I said and walked away. He smiled at me, though and when I showed up at six that evening he negotiated my hours and salary with me. He might have pity hired me. he might have hired me because I showed up at six am and he felt bad but I didn't care.
I knew his wife had just had a baby when I started working there, and I knew the way she was looking at me I had to be extra respectful and extra diligent. So, I was. There was no extra pack of cigarettes that day and she grudgingly made me lunch at the end of my shift. There are lots of things you can tell without words and I could tell she didn't want me around. Too nice was not good. Too stand offish was not good. I had no idea what would make her like me, so I just behaved as normally as possible while being respectful and working hard.
The next day it was back to normal and he came in again. I was relieved. Everything went back to normal for about a week or so. Then, one day I showed up for work and they were both there. I was confused. He took me aside and explained to me that his wife was back and he didn't need me any more. He gave me a pack of Marlboro 100s and said he was going to open up another diner next year and that I should come and work for him there but he didn't need me right now. He tried to tell me that I was a good worker and he was sorry to let me go. I didn't drag it out. I let him let me go so I could get around the corner and burst into tears.
The business of living is expensive. The business of keeping your head above water is serious. I had no car, no job, no bus pass and my parents had explained to me in no uncertain terms that if I left that house and dropped out of school, there would be no money. So, I didn't even bother asking or telling them what happened. In many ways, my parents standing their ground on that line was the biggest favor they ever did me.
I got it. I understood poverty in a way I never understood it before. In that moment, the pure and utter desperation I felt was beyond description here. I left that place and went home to gather my wits and figure out how I was going to live. I cried for about twenty seconds, wiped off those tears and stopped feeling sorry for myself. I was going to think a way out of this. I was going to survive. I was going to make things better.
I think this was largely because I knew things could be better and that I could get there. My parents had both grown up in poverty, in very austere conditions. They had tried to explain it to me, tried to explain what it means to drag yourself up and work hard and get your education, do your homework when you're hungry, but though I had lots of sensitive feeling, I didn't really get it until right there. Getting fired for no particular reason from a crappy job that meant the difference between eating and not eating. I didn't even have money to do laundry. I was washing my clothes in the bathtub with shampoo and hanging them up to try. The week before we had shoplifted tampons.
The grind of this every day is something that wears on you. And yet it pulls from you the most creative ways to get by. Because you have to. And when it does, it changes your priorities about everything in your life.
This was more than just a social experiment. You can't just hear about this and understand it, you have to allow yourself to feel it. This was an important part of my development as a human being. Whatever dreams I had went on hold because- survival. I had put myself in this situation with my arrogance and my blind faith in my own ability to work hard and get by. And I realized I couldn't count on my roommates, my boyfriend or my parents to get me out of this mess. It was going to be me. At that point in my life, I was not struggling with depression and hopelessness because I think on top of the harsh realities of what I was facing, that would have been too much. That might have dragged me down to a place I would not have been able to come back from.
There are many ways in which I literally figured it out, but those stories are for another day. For now it is enough to say that I did. I'm writing this down because it's important to put stories in writing.
When I was eleven, there is no way I could understand what it was like to be a black boy growing up during Jim Crow until I read Black Boy by Richard Wright and came out of my little white world for a minute and felt things through those aching words, that every piece of what he was going through and I never looked at the face of things the same again. No, it will never be my experience but the first time I saw Roots, my eyes were opened to slavery in a way my textbooks were never going to get. The human experience is important to share. This is why I want to write books and movies and real stories and yes, comedies.
And we need to understand one another ever if we never mirror the experience. Because I want to be inspired and touched and grateful. History is not a series of dates. It should be alive in us through story. This is a piece of my past. It is a piece of my story. It is why I understand poverty in a way that is very intimate and painful. Because I really wanted a gallon of milk but when you have to walk three blocks home from the grocery store, you make choices. When you have three dollars and you have to choose what you are going to eat for the next couple of days, those choices are going to look different.
Once I was sitting outside Cicero's, back when I was the manager there and a homeless guy came around asking for money. After he left, one of the guys I was talking to said "How does someone get like that? I mean, it's just so pathetic to let yourself get that low."
I remember looking at him and saying "you are about three steps from where that guy is."
He argued with me for a good long time about it. But I know that we are all teetering there on the edge of where things can happen. Maybe not the one percent. Maybe those guys are safer. But those who knew poverty were not the ones jumping out of windows during the stock market crash of 1929. Those who knew poverty, they didn't give up so easy. They already knew how to survive. This is why I am grateful for that time in my life and grateful that it was just a time and not my every day any more. It's beyond fucking hard to live like that. And it could happen to me in a heartbeat of bad luck.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

When fat stopped being my enemy

It's no secret I have been struggling with my weight ever since my youngest daughter was born ten years ago. I just couldn't seem to get back to normal and people were like "oh, you're getting older." and I was like- how come so and so is the same age as me and looks amazing? So, I started the diet and exercise game.
So much fun. I think I started out with South Beach. I did that for a while, lost some weight, got to feeling better, gained it all back. I was really tired and it was clear to me that something was wrong with my body that was not normal to me. My doctor kind of made fun of me a little and also told me I was getting older but tested my thyroid at my request anyway. Guess what? I was right.
My thyroid was not functioning well. So, I went on medication and this was supposed to take care of the problem. It did not. I tried more diets. I got help from a personal trainer. I joined the gym, I worked out every single day for three months. I would work out two to three hours a day.
I lost some weight. I toned up. I looked better. But I couldn't maintain that level of anything. It was just a constant uphill battle for very little overall change. Even the trainers were pessimistic about what I could do. They kind of scoffed at the amount of weight I wanted to lose and behaved as if that was unrealistic. But I wanted my body back. I wanted to be where I was before. Is that so wrong?
So, I tried more diets. I tried the seventeen day diet and talked about it on my blog. I lost about 17 pounds with the 17 day diet and that was awesome but I just could not keep it up. Because I'm weak? Because I don't have the stamina? Not really. Because it made me miserable. And there is only so much low fat, high protein one person can eat before you just want pie. A whole pie.
I would despair because I felt like such a failure. All my grit and stubbornness and determination just did not translate into anything lasting or anything I could keep doing. A person can only eat so much boneless, plain chicken breast before you lose your mind.
Every diet I went on was low fat, low carb. And I would go back to it every time. I would cheat on my cheat day and try to go back to normal. Inevitably I would end up binging a little out of sheer hormonal frustration. I've never been an overeater but this kind of dieting was making me crazy.
When I gave up smoking, one of the ways I coped was to eat a tiny piece of chocolate every time I had a nicotine craving. This was not so bad when I was pregnant but now it morphed into a wicked sugar habit and when I went low fat, I became desperate for sugar. You have not lived until you have tasted and been thoroughly offended by reduced fat sour cream. There is no reason why that abomination should exist.
I tried the smoothie diet. Just lots of fruits and veggies- properly pulverized in kefir yogurt. And more low fat stuff that tastes like crap.
For a while I just wallowed in depression and tried mindful eating and home made pie. I just stopped and tried to just eat like a normal human. If I stopped dieting for one second, I packed on the pounds. I gave up on myself after I tried this horrific fitness class where I was humiliated and mocked on a daily basis. I left crying every day. I would sit in my car after class and weep and feel shitty. Every single day the trainers were mean to me and made fun of me if I couldn't keep up with the rest of the class, if I wasn't fast enough or if my knee pain was preventing me from doing what they wanted me to do. They told me it was normal to puke after class. Newsflash. Working out should not make you throw up.
After three months of humiliation and torture, I quit that class. I couldn't do it. Or more to the point, I just didn't want to. I didn't believe in them and they didn't give a shit about me. I had lost six pounds in three months.
I gained it back in a couple weeks.
I went to a good friend who gave me a diet and exercise routine to follow and working with him was great, and he was really kind and the routine was totally reasonable and the diet was totally reasonable and I did well with it for a couple months before I started to slip, but it boils down to this. I was unhappy. And after I fell off that diet, I never really recovered. I gained more weight than I had ever gained before. The weight that I had been the most afraid of happened. I had to buy the largest clothes I had ever bought and I hated the mirror. I hated looking at myself. I hated shopping. I hated every single thing I put in my mouth and I felt the worst I have ever felt. Much of my ugly weight gain was happening while my mother was gravely ill and I was just not coping. After she died, I thought without the stress of taking care of everything that everything would lessen but you still have to grieve.
I hate to say it but for the most part, I just gave up. I didn't want to give up. But I was sick and tired of failing all the time. That wears on you.
Last October, my best friend started talking about this awesome new diet she was on and I was just like- yay for you. But I was completely pessimistic about anything working for me. I was mildly intrigued but not even interested. But she kept after me. I said "Okay, after I get back from Germany, I will call you and you can tell me what to do."
At that point, she had lost like thirty pounds and I was like- wait a minute- maybe this is something I should pay attention to. I figured the best way to do this was to start in the new year fresh after the holidays.
So, I did.
I read up on this totally weird diet. Keto. High fat, low carb. The science goes like this. Your body can either burn fat or carbohydrates. If you starve it of carbs, it becomes highly efficient and burns fat. Hmmm. That sounded logical. First she told me what I would have to give up. No bread, no pasta, no sugar. Pretty standard for every single diet I have ever been on. Yeah, okay, I wanted to lose weight, I will give all those things up. And check this. No cheat days. No cheating at all. You have to put your body in ketosis to burn the fat and cheating is counteractive. Absolutely no cheating.
My first thought is- I'm going to fail at this because I love sugar and I need it. I mean, why can't I eat just a tiny, tiny piece of chocolate? Just one little mouthful...?
Ok fine.
But guess what? There is an up side to this diet.
There is?
Yes. There is fat.
Okay... what does that mean?
It means bacon. It means cream. It means butter. It means fried stuff. It means cheese. It means full fat sour cream.
Wait-- hold on-- explain that.
I like milk in my morning tea.
I used to put skim milk in there. But I would rather put two percent. My best friend says "Don't put milk in it. Put in heavy whipping cream."
WHAT??? But...are you serious? I thought you said this was a diet... She says to me, you need to consume 70% fat, 25% protein and 5% carbohydrates per day to start out.
So the first day I have bacon and eggs for breakfast. I have a salad with ranch dressing and cheese for lunch and for dinner I have chicken sautéed in olive oil with homemade alfredo sauce and spinach and green beans with real butter on it. I think- no way am I going to lose weight eating like this. And after the first week I lost two pounds.
That was eight months ago. That was 40 pounds ago.
This is literally the only diet I have ever been able to stick to.
I admit that I have cheated, very moderately about four times. And the next day I went right back to the diet and after about a week, I began to function at full capacity again.
Also after the first week-- all my sugar cravings completely disappeared.
After the second week I had more energy than I had in a long time.
After the third week, my skin started to glow.
After the fourth week, my pants started to get loose.
After that I could walk four to five miles at a time without breaking a sweat.
I have gone down four sizes and I'm not even sure how many inches I have lost but all my clothes are looser and everything I wore last summer is something I am swimming in.
All that is great. But the best part is how happy this diet makes me. For the first time, I don't feel deprived or ripped off or like I am suffering. I embraced everything and began to learn to cook gluten free, sugar free yummy treats like chocolate chip cake and lemon tart. I found a good sugar free ice cream and I can always have whipped cream. Butter is my friend again. I have a choice of all kinds of yummy treats that I can eat guilt free and dinners I can completely enjoy.
What's my secret? Slather it in grease and put some butter on it.
I'm not saying this is going to work for everyone. Not at all. But I am relieved to finally have something that works for me. And I am glad that I didn't have to give up. I hit my first goal and my second one is right around the corner. Yes, I had to give some stuff up. But the best part is, I don't mind that at all. The benefits are great and the inconvenience is small. So if you are struggling, hang in there. And I hope very much you find your answers.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The High Jump

When I was thirteen years old, my best friend and I loved to go to this public swimming pool in Clayton called Shaw Park. She lived nearby and we would walk over and spend the day there. There was a kiddie pool and the main swimming pool, which was huge and finally there was a separate pool, not as big but very deep and was just for diving off the platforms-- there were three platforms.

The picture pretty much gives you an idea of the setup. You can see the deep pool and the platforms.

So, I wanted to jump off the platform and I thought rationally I would start with the lowest platform. I climbed the ladder and walked up to edge and peeked over. Now, I had been jumping and diving off diving boards for years and I was not really afraid to do that, but as I stood looking over the edge of this platform, I realized it was higher than anything I had ever jumped off before. I looked over at the two lifeguards on the side of the pool.
One of them was a cute guy wearing a maroon bathing suit. My best friend and I had been googly eyed over this guy for weeks, part of why we wanted to go to the "big deep pool".
I stood there for a while. There were people behind me waiting. I walked back over and saw the people waiting.

"Are you going to go or not?" Someone yelled at me. I tried again, walking to the edge and looking down. At that point, the panic kicked in and my heart started really pounding.
No, no, no. This was too high.

I went back to the ladder and went back down, feeling the flush of humiliation in every step towards the ground. People were probably laughing at me. Look at the skinny, terrified girl. I ran to the safety of the large, crowded pool where I could go back to the anonymity of becoming part of the crowd. My best friend was amused but patient. I don't remember her making fun of me or making me feel bad about it. She was often there to coax me or comfort me. At that time, she was the person who would order from the waitress when we went out to eat on the days when I was too afraid to talk to people I didn't know. She quietly understood my shyness and my fears and never pushed me to do things that I didn't feel I could, but she always encouraged me to try. Sometimes, just standing by me was the most helpful thing.
That summer we climbed up that platform many more times with the same result. She used to go first and confidently jump off and then stand below waiting for me to figure out if I could go.

I chickened out an embarrassing amount of times. I don't even rightly remember how many times I went up, walked slowly to the edge, stood there for what felt like an eternity of seconds and returned to the ladder to go back down.
One day, I stood there and told myself I was going to do it. I told myself I was not allowed to fail. I steeled up, gathered my courage and put on my determined face. I was not going to run away this time. I mean, I think I told myself every time I got up there I was going to do it this time. This time I was going to succeed, this time I was going to be brave, this time was going to be different and every time it wasn't. Every time I couldn't find the courage to overcome that gripping terror that hit me when I looked down. I stood there and stood there and then, magically, I let go. I jumped. My body hung in the air for a brief moment and plunged deep in to the pool. I opened my eyes and looked at the surface far above me and swam hard to reach it. Vividly, I remember breaking through and taking a moment to look around me. The lifeguard telling me to swim to the edge so the next person could jump and me looking over.
There was no applause when I finally jumped.
There was no moment where anyone noticed except my best friend who was there, smiling.
She was the only who noticed that I had climbed Mount Everest and jumped into the pool below.
I think that is how it is for a lot of things. These personal moments that come with conquering something huge while everyone is standing around waiting in line to do something that is not that big a deal to them.
But for me, it means that I was able to fail a bunch of times and not give up on the goal. That diving platform gave me a lot of grit and courage. Sometimes, you have to fail and move on to other things. Sometimes you don't get the chance to climb up the platform again. But that platform always gave me hope that I could try again. That being afraid was not the end of the world, that time would give me courage, that determination would get me through it and that jumping into the air was magical. In life, sometime you have to jump off the mountain and turn that fear into exhilaration. Do the thing that scares you the most. Do the thing that makes your palms sweat and your heart race.
I always come back to the platform when the thing in front of me terrifies me. I will say to myself, you jumped off that platform, this is not a big deal. I will take a deep breath and dig in.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Importance of Being Tom

Today I started a fake blog for my movie, "The Importance of Doubting Tom". We need to do a screen shot of the blog that is mentioned in the movie and so I went ahead and wrote some stuff up for it. The blog is called "The Importance of Being Tom" and I think I will be adding content to it more and more as we go along. It's going to be fun. So much fun. We are getting closer to a final cut of the movie. No, it's not there yet. Please don't ask me when it will be done. It will be done when it gets done. I have no idea when that will be. Just know it's going well and I am very pleased with the progress overall. And thank you for your interest and for everyone who has supported me in all of this. It's exciting.

The dark we know well

I was just reading an article about a female's ability to de-escalate a situation. I've been doing this my whole life. Most of us females have. We were sexualized before we had the ability to fully understand sexuality. I watched my mother try to de-escalate my father's anger. My brother's anger. Cope with everyday sexism. She taught me to de-escalate. Not consciously. I learned by watching her. When I was thirteen years old, just beginning to develop breasts and having not even had my first sexual experience, a male cousin copped a feel while pretending to pet the kitten I was holding close to my chest. I knew what he was doing. Make no mistake, perverts, we are fully aware of your inappropriate contact. And I had no idea what to do about his uninvited molestation, but sit there and wait until he stopped. I remember thinking this cousin was handsome when I was five, he was a full seven years older than me, and at first I was thrilled he was actually talking to me, having a full conversation with me, interested in me. Until I realized why he was even talking to me. So, he could pretend to touch me innocently while touching me inappropriately. And then I was ashamed, embarrassed and confused. When I was fourteen, I went for an eye exam and the eye doctor started taking my pulse during the exam. He lifted my wrist and pushed it right up next to my breast so the outside of his hand was touching it and he just left it there for what seemed like forever. When I was fifteen, I walked ten blocks in New York to the theater. My first Broadway show on my own. I was all dressed up, wearing a lovely dress and heels. I was catcalled and whistled at for the entire ten blocks. Grown men said the most disgusting things to me. When I was seventeen, I was walking to the bus stop in my Steak n Shake uniform. A man screamed across the street at me, wanting to know how much I would charge for a blow job. I was mortified. When I didn't answer him, he became extremely hostile and abusive. I was terrified he would cross the street. I kept my head down until the bus got there. It took until I was about twenty four for me to tell a strange man to take his hand off me. Before that time, bosses had touched me, strangers had grabbed my ass on public transportation, drunk men in public had threatened me and boyfriends had beaten me up. Violence and sexual situations was such a regular and frequent part of my life that I had grown to accept its existence. I was only beginning to find a voice in it. Once I was waiting for a drink at a crowded bar and a man squeezed in next to me. "Give me your phone number!" he demanded. "I don't even know you. Why would I do that?" I said. "Just give it to me." "No," I said, deciding to just be direct. In the past I would have said I had a boyfriend or I was waiting for someone or whatever socially correct excuses I had cultivated to de-escalate. "Fucking stuck up bitch." I was greeted with. Because I said no. Men like this prefer the dance. They keep you talking, keep you engaged. But basically they push in on you, they touch you, they invade your space. I was trying to shut it down sooner. Engaging in this brutal honestly got me called a lesbian, a stuck up bitch, a whore, a fucking slut. It got my life threatened. A man can go from "hey baby" to "I will fucking kill you" in the time it takes for a woman to say "no, thank you." Please don't bother to tell me all men are not like this. We are aware. Very much aware that all men are not like this. I am married to a man who is not like this. Men who are not like this are not the problem. Once, a man I was dating was very, very drunk in a bar with me and I watched him looking at a girl standing next to him, the spaghetti strap of her dress had fallen down off her shoulder and was hanging mid arm. For some inexplicable reason, he took hold of the strap and raised it up on her shoulder and patted her shoulder. He kept walking. He didn't even realize what he had done and assuredly, he meant no harm by his action. But he did not see the look of pure terror in the girl's eyes when he touched her. He didn't even register this action as something that would cause terror. But it does. Because we can't tell what kind of man you are and we have learned that men can be dangerous. We have often had to try to calm someone down and make them feel better so he will not get more angry, more violent. One of my boyfriends co workers used to sexually harass me every time I walked into the restaurant where he worked. He would make lewd and disgusting comments to me every single time. Telling him to shut up did no good. Standing up to him, ignoring him, avoiding him. None of it worked. And everyone around me tolerated or laughed off his behavior. Get a thicker skin, I was told. He's harmless. I wasn't exactly afraid of this guy but it still bothers me that everyone in that situation decided that his behavior wasn't a problem. Worse even was that he was hired on later at a restaurant where I was the manager and he proceeded to attempt to sexually harass me there as well. Even though I was the boss, several male employees made sexual comments and propositioned me. Instead of feeling that I had the power to fire them, which I did, I feared they would use their sexual harassment against me to find a loophole. I enlisted my co-manager, who was male to discipline and fire them when the time was right. All I could do at the time was de-escalate the situation to protect myself. But they were fired for other reasons. What they did to me went unpunished. The worst part of all of this is that I am so desensitized to it half the time, I don't even register it happening. It takes someone else to be appalled by it a good deal of the time. It's so regular and normal to have to put up with it. To walk around it, to try to deal with it. It makes me sad. It mades me angry. It makes me wish it would change.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

On her shoulders

I think my biggest problem in the primaries is people who are on the same side turning against one another. I am saddened and disappointed by the shaming comments from Madeline Albright and Gloria Steinem, two women that I have immense respect for and have made tremendous change in this world that all of us women have benefited from. Many have attempted to pit us against one another. Or to shame anyone voting for our fellow democrat. It's working. Personally I love both Hillary and Bernie and we have an embarrassment of riches in terms of intelligent and caring candidates from the left. Compared to the ridiculous candidates from the right who can't fact check to save their hides. I don't understand why people are so willing to jump into camps one against the other when we are all basically fighting for the same things. We don't vote for someone just because she is a woman-- did we not make that point when Sarah Palin was running? I am so immensely thankful for the older feminists. We have the luxury of maternity leave and the right to vote in this election and actual women in office and we stand on the shoulders of these women who fought like tigers for us. This stuff from them is coming from fear. We got so close with Geraldine Ferraro only to have the rug pulled from under us in horrific style to lose that election. Gloria and Madeline were around to see that happen-- the Republicans played so dirty in that election and Hillary got so close in 2008. We want to finally see a woman sitting up there. It is our turn. I really like Bernie Sanders. If he is our next nominee, I will happily vote for him. I believe in Hillary, too. It is my great joy as a woman to vote for a woman I believe in-- and I hope all of you do that as well, whether it be a woman running for mayor or a woman running for senator, but a woman you believe in. I'm not here to change your mind -- I think if you vote of either of these candidates, we win. And I don't think you are anti feminist if you vote for Bernie. I can forgive Madeline and Gloria, they are impatient and enthusiastic and young feminists are not as educated as they should be SOMETIMES. It's the wrong tactic to try to fear or shame them. We get enough of that shit from men. But I forgive them because I feel they are afraid and that is where the stupid comes from. They should be afraid. But not of Bernie. Of division like this. I say this to young feminists. Please check out some older documentaries, some narrative movies. I recommend a couple of pieces. Look at the documentary on Geraldine Ferraro. An extraordinary woman who was responsible for Special Victims Unit in New York. Remember when marital rape wasn't a crime? You don't? Thank a feminist. Please take the time to watch Iron Jawed Angels, and the next time you vote, ladies, remember that less than one hundred years ago, we were not allowed to do so. On your way to the polls.... Thank a feminist. We stand on the shoulders of these women.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Thing you are meant for

I guess it is a lucky thing that I have always known what I wanted to do. Some people really struggle and falter and search, but for me it was always crystal clear that acting, writing and directing were what I wanted to do. What I needed to do. When you choose a thing like that, for me, it came with some huge insecurity. I didn't want to do any of it unless I was good enough. Not just good enough. Great enough. Because there was no point unless I could be great. And unfortunately, sometimes that means you wait until someone tells you that you are great. And people can be petty. My seventh grade teacher was the first person to tell me I was great. That my passion and obsession with writing was not ill thought out. I blushed radiantly with tremendous pleasure. She was not my friend or my mother and under no obligation to compliment me. She just did it anyway. I kept that for a long time. Held on to it. I still do. When just one person believes in you, that is magic. But mostly, I felt that I was a good writer. I felt amazing when I wrote. I felt amazing when I read a good book. And to understand the depth of what an author is saying. That is like something divine flowing through your very soul. A really fine piece of literature touches you everywhere and resonates through your being. I was never sure I could be that good. But I wanted to be. I wanted to tell a story in a way that people would pay attention and not be bored. An impossible task. You cannot please everyone. You never will. There are lots of people that will tell you that you are shit. This business loves rejection. I tell you what though, when you are doing what you're supposed to be doing, it will feel just right. And for me, it just fits so comfortably when I can take an actor to a deeper performance. When we can find a moment together. When I can pull out a beautiful talent and recognize it and nurture it. That's when I know that this business was meant for me. The other day I was rehearsing with the cast and I sat down with them and unpacked a scene. We talked it through and it went from kind of okay to next level amazing. There are those that say this business is frivolous and unimportant but plays and movies change the world. Our stories are important. What we do touches people and changes minds and hearts. And I fit there. When I am directing, I am home. I feel it in my bones that this is what I am on this earth for. To create this art and to connect with people and to bring out next level amazing. And when you find the thing you are meant to do, there is no other feeling in the world that's better.

Time spent in the Single Mom world

In some ways, being a single mother was a badge of honor, in other ways, it was the deepest shame I had to overcome in my life. But I made the choice to identify with it as an honorable trial that I went through. Not everyone respects me for it. Frankly, I don't give a damn. I've been through too much and come too far to allow that to hold me back. But it began with shame. The shame of getting caught having sex before marriage. Not getting caught by your parents but getting caught by the world. Like your virginity or lack of virginity is no longer private. Now everyone knows. And in some ways it's not like I cared that much but it was just one more thing I wasn't ever going to be able to lie about conveniently if I needed to, because it's nice to have the option of being innocent even if you're not. Oddly, I remember thinking, well, that's it. I will never be Miss America. The secondary shame of "getting myself pregnant" (how did I manage it?) Isn't it interesting how it always lands in the lap of the woman. She let herself get pregnant. Let's see. For the record, I begged my mother to let me stay on birth control and she told me to stop having sex. I didn't. My boyfriend refused to use any birth control and when I tried to go to planned parenthood, he told me he was most certainly sterile and made sure I didn't go. Not that I am blaming anyone but the two of us, but these are just facts. Then there is a the general naivete of being 17 when you think nothing bad can happen to you. You know, women try to get pregnant for years... it just wasn't happening and if it does, you know, I think I can handle it cause I want to be a mom anyway and he loves me and is going to stay with me. I was way too smart to be that stupid. And my boyfriend was pretty controlling. I was not who I am today and I am afraid I was raised to accept and accommodate a man controlling me. Then came the catch 22. Do I stay with the asshole who is abusing me and marry him "for the sake of the child" or do I leave him and face the shame of being a single mother? It is a relationship born in shame. I ran away from him when I was five months pregnant because I could no longer defend myself from the beatings and I feared he would kill the baby or me. I remember ridiculing myself for fearing him. I was tougher than that. But my baby wasn't, and it was time to go. I wish I had made that decision when I just had myself to save but it wasn't until I had a child to save that I felt the imperative. So, no. I did not do what my mother did. I did not marry my abuser. Aren't moms always saying don't make the same mistakes I did? No, I made different same mistakes. Being a single mother or giving my child up for adoption were my only viable options. I didn't have the emotional strength to give my baby away. I had to choose between living with my boyfriend the abuser or my father the abuser. I had run away from my father the abuser the year before and now I was running away from my boyfriend who had within months become the abuser. In spite of all the things he promised me. In spite of the way I believed he never would. He became all those things that I now see the signs that he would become. For two years, he never hit me. I was emotionally abused in many ways but he never hit me. So, I really thought I was safer with him. Until he hit me again, and again and again. And promised me he wouldn't and then did. I was recently told how I shamed and hurt my mother. It's not like I don't realize that she was ashamed but I am pretty sure that was her problem and not mine. Your kids are going to embarrass you. You get to stand up and claim them anyway. It's called being a parent. I have several friends that are adopted. I cannot imagine the shame their biological mothers went through. The religious shame. The general shame. All the shame I chose to live with that was made impossible for them. Seriously, the Catholic church needs to take down that statue of Mary if they want to shame single's ridiculous. But that was not the worst part of all that shame. The worst part was admitting that I did indeed need help. That I am not an island and that I need a support system. There was a whole lot of "you got yourself into this mess." I hated that part the most. You got yourself into this mess with your promiscuous behavior. In some ways I will always be "the single mother". It was my first experience of parenthood. My parents paid those bills for me but there was no physical help for a long time. I had to learn my lesson first. If I wanted to keep that baby, I had to do this one hundred percent by myself. No one got up all hours but me. No one changed those diapers. No one else fed him and took him to the doctor and walked him until he gently fell asleep. Because I was learning my lesson. It hurt that it was more important to teach me a lesson than to lend a hand to an exhausted eighteen year old girl who was doing her damndest to grow up as fast as she could. But I was too stubborn to beg and too proud to admit I was drowning a little. Sometimes a lot. In a funny way, I was proud to be a single mother. I was modern. It was harder than anything else I had to do at that point in my life, but I was not going to allow the judgmental assholes of the world to defeat me and I handled that shit. I was not always good at it. In fact, I was not nearly the parent that I dreamed of being and that hurt most of all. Because I felt like a failure much of the time. But I didn't walk away from my responsibilities. I found a way to handle it. I found a way to survive depression. I found a way to survive shame. I found a way to leave people I loved that hurt me. I found a way to survive abandonment. I found a way to survive self loathing and anxiety. People would say "I don't know how you do it." Like it was something you have a choice in. You just get up every day and you do it. You don't know what it is like to have someone else carry the car seat, go to the grocery store for you. Get up in the night. It gets done because it must get done. Because you have to. In the end, I found joy but it took a long time. And I even found a way to a healthy relationship and co-parenting. And when it happened, I knew how to appreciate it. And some people have it way worse, yes, of course they do. But I cannot write about their experiences, only my own. And please do not presume that I am not infinitely grateful to my mother for taking me back, taking me in and supporting me when I might well have starved. She saved my ass more than I ever deserved and she helped me more than I can ever re-pay and there is no end to my gratitude for what she did for me. I always knew I was tough but no one else did for a long time. I wish many things were different but we cannot change our past. In the end, I am grateful, even for the abuse. It made me the strong survivor I am and it gave me the depth of my stories. I am somehow uncomfortable with the identifier "Mrs." even after ten years, I still want to correct people. I still feel like a woman in a partnership I chose without the ownership. Deep in there my strongest identifier is the single woman, the single mother, the independent girl. Deep in my past is the determination to not be owned by any man. I like that every generation lifts the shame a little more. But I wish for those single girls the partnership that is supposed to come with parenting. I wish them love and help and strength. It is the hardest thing to go through by yourself. But I wear my survival with honor. And without the shame they want to heap on me. Screw your shame, you can have it back. I have no use for it.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Significant and Milestone Birthdays

I remember turning six years old and inviting the entire kindergarten class to my birthday party and almost everyone showed up. I was completely shocked that any of them came to my party. I thought only your friends who cared about you would come to your party. And I didn't have any actual friends. When my mother arranged this party, I had some major anxiety. Not realizing at the tender age of five that the parents would happily drop off their kids for an afternoon without regard to the status of actual friendship. We played pin the tale on the donkey and everyone laughed and participated and it was joyful. For the first time around my classmates, I was not afraid to speak out loud. I felt like a princess for a day. And they actually seemed to like me that afternoon. At least there was a sense of genuine kindness from all the kids there, happy to be playing games and eating cake and doing something different from their normal routine. There is a picture somewhere of me at that party with a paper hat on my head. We made those hats at the party and mine had a little construction paper red Indian feather in it. I had been in the same class with these kids for the better part of a year and could barely speak a sentence to any of them as the shyness was too deep, too terrifying, too crippling. But on that day, I discovered I could be on the stage as the birthday girl and I could act like the star I wished I was. I had just discovered my secret desire was to be an actress. I could play the part of the birthday girl. The following Monday, I went back to being the girl no one spoke to who was too afraid to speak. I felt a small pinch of sadness as things went back to as they had been before. Nothing had changed and I was just another year older. When I was eleven, I was allowed to have my first birthday slumber party. I had just discovered Billy Joel and was given the album Glass Houses as a present. At that point in my life, I had a best friend and she made everything possible. Deep dark secrets flowed out. The friendship was strong and steady and I could rely on it being there even after a silly argument about something stupid. She had her birthday slumber party two months before mine and it was pretty cool. So, naturally, I wanted to have one as well! It was a small, intimate party. Five girls. Lots of giggling, pizza and cake. We stayed up really late. Someone's bra got dunked in water and frozen, and we tried to levitate one another. We talked about ghosts and a little about boys- but mostly we were fascinated with movies, music and the supernatural. And of course, we played truth or dare! We went back to school on Monday and giggled in the hallways about the private stuff we had shared. We now had inside jokes and knowing glances. There were secrets in the air. Mostly, with a few notable exceptions, but mostly, I have chosen my friends well. These were loyal and kind girls. They are all outsiders of some sort or another so no one blabbed all the incredibly private stuff we confided with one another all over the school. Even if we were not all terribly close all the time, these girls had honor. I had waited impatiently to turn sixteen. That for me was a magical and mystical age in my imagination and all things wonderful would happen. Right? John Cougar Mellencamp said so. "Hold on to 16 as long as you can, changes come around real soon, make us women and men." Truer words were never spoken. You can only hold on to it for a year, though. That's all you get. I wanted to drive. I wanted independence. I wanted to eat the world. I was brave and bold and daring and I was going to do great things! But what I really wanted was an epic party. I had a really awesome gay bestie Jon, and his birthday was six days before my birthday, which fell on a Thursday that year. So we decided to have a double party. He was turning seventeen. I lived in two worlds back then. My friends from school and my Rocky Horror friends. Crossing the two was not really that great. The girls I went to school with did not understand my fascination with Rocky Horror. Why would I want to dress up in weird costumes and hang out with gay people? Lord were they missing out. I loved my weird life with them. I was out of my shell and I could talk to anyone while wearing my underwear. I could put on white face makeup with dark eyeliner and slap on a maid costume and be that character. Three years I spent memorizing every line in that movie and matching every action on screen for every character. It was my first "acting" experience and I was killing it. Plus no one ever recognized me outside of the theater. I handed out a few invitations at school and they were all enthusiastically accepted. I was nervous. "When worlds collide (said George Pal to his bride) I'm gonna give you some terrible thrills.." like a sixteenth birthday party! At school, I confided in one friend that my Rocky Horror friends would be attending. Slowly all those school friends that had said they would come dropped out one by one. Their lies were transparent and obvious. "I forgot my parents had something planned I can't get out of..." I was kind of relieved. I shouldn't have tried to bring those worlds together. They didn't belong together. Those conservative girls at school would never be able to deal with my gay friends, my weird friends, my older friends, my rowdy friends, the people who spoke their minds and were unafraid. No. They didn't really understand me or them. They did not and would not fit in at this place. I was always chameleon enough like to change myself to fit wherever I was. Growing up in different countries, different schools, I knew how to alter myself to slide into whatever role I was supposed to be playing to make everyone else comfortable. The good girl. The punk rock girl. The rebel. The excellent student. The whore. The virgin. The wallflower. They were all familiar roles for me to play. But Rocky Horror people were my people. They were my authentic group of authentically different people. And the girls I was friendly with at school shrank away from what they did not understand. My mother was horrified but mostly because I was more grown at sixteen than she was at twenty. There was little sweetness about my sweet sixteen because I didn't want to be that girl and when all my Rocky friends showed up, it was too much for her. In a completely tacky move someone yelled out "Blow out those candles, girl, we know you've had lots of practice blowing things." We all laughed. Because that was how we joked. It didn't mean anything in reality. But for my mother, it was the thing to send her to her room crying. It's horrible to be a mother of a sixteen year old girl that someone sexualizes. I didn't know how devastating that was until she mentioned it many years later. And I felt pretty sad she had been through that. But at the time, I just wanted the boy I was in love with to show up and kiss me. And eventually he did- with his girlfriend. Then, he asked me to have a three way with them. Ew. No thanks. My eighteenth birthday. A milestone. For years I had planned to run away from St. Louis on that very day. Here was the thing I had dreamed of to get me through the angst. I was going to pack up all my things, get in my car and move to Los Angeles, California. It was where I belonged. I was going to be a very famous writer and actress and I was going to eat the world. And the day my life was going to really begin was the day I turned 18. I sat on the porch of my apartment that day, wistfully sighing. It was a beautiful day. My birthday is in mid May. I had a lot of beautiful days but that day was particularly pretty and I remember sitting outside. Warm breeze. The smell of spring flowers in the air. I had lived with my boyfriend for exactly one year. And I already knew I was moving out. Moving away from him. He did not really know it yet but I knew we were over. Moving back in with my parents. Because I had to. Because I was five months pregnant. I was not going to California that day. I thought to myself "Well, you can vote." It was one of the most bittersweet birthdays I ever had. My life could not have been more up in the air. Twenty-one. The legal drinking birthday. My mother was very excited to take me out to lunch at the Danielle in Clayton and I ordered a mimosa. She insisted on buying me my first legal drink. She knew I was hiding a pregnancy. I was about four months pregnant and not showing at all. But I didn't really know she knew. I took about three tiny sips out of the drink and told her I didn't really like it. This was not a lie. I did not really like it. She smiled and let me order a soda. Later that night, she babysat my three year old son while I went out bar hopping. Everyone offered me free drinks. I said no, of course. I just wanted to go in to the bars. I was never much of a drinker any way! No one could understand why I did it. I just wanted to go in where I was now allowed inside. I went in to Blueberry Hill. It was stupidly exciting. I went over to Illinois to this bar where I met my ex boyfriend and hoped I would run into him. He was the guy I loved who dumped me the day I told him I was pregnant. He wasn't there, he didn't show up. I was wistful and sad but I had not lost hope for my life. It was going to be okay. Things change. You roll with it. My 22nd birthday. I had a friend who wanted me to help her drive out to Los Angeles to move there. We planned a road trip and I was going to fly back. We were out in LA (where I was born) for my 22nd birthday. They asked me where I wanted to go. Disneyland! So we went. It was pretty damn awesome. I was very sad I wasn't moving there myself but so happy I got to go. It touched off a whole new chapter in my life. My 30th birthday. I was pretty miserable. It was a Monday night and nobody wanted to do anything. My mom made me roast beef for dinner and a chocolate cake with the frosting I liked. How I miss my mother making me a cake. It was the care and love that went into it. I waited around until very late because my boyfriend was closing at Blueberry Hill. Honestly, you would think he would have taken my birthday off but no, he did not. I lumbered up to Blueberry Hill with my huge pregnant belly. I was three days away from giving birth to my daughter. I remember that it was graduation weekend for Washington University and all the students were up there partying. On a Monday night. Seriously! It was very crowded with all the most annoying students ever. And the vomit was everywhere. Drunk graduate vomit. Yay. It was so anti climactic. Turning 30. I thought it was going to be this big event. It was not. But these are all the birthdays I remember the most.