[I] may be crazy but I'm the closest thing I have to a voice of reason.

28 February 2010

Been Crazy, Bought the T-shirt, Making Copies to Sell

Tonight I’m taking it easy. Short version: I’m doing heavy duty healing work and it takes a LOT of energy just to walk around. I can pretty much forget about getting anything done. No problem. I’ve lived here before. It passes.

So tonight I am dedicating this blog, which is a retread, to everyone out there who feels they must hide who and/or what they are. There are lots of reasons, and I won’t presume to tell anyone what they need to do to make their life work. But as for myself, I’m with Glenn Close: Certain words have power over us, until we learn to speak them without fear.

Here are some of the words I have learned to speak without fear:

Clinical depression.
Suicidal ideation.
Borderline Personality Disorder.
Hypomanic episode.
Bipolar Spectrum Disorder.

Those are some big words. And they have even bigger weights attached to them. I had to live with more than half of these words for many years before it became clear that I was misdiagnosed. Or under-diagnosed. Or just plain judged. About a year ago, an entire lifetime of seemingly insurmountable difficulties reached fever pitch and the fever broke: I got what I needed. Now I just refer to it as “Better living through chemistry,” and it is just that simple. Take the drugs away, and I stop functioning well enough to do anything in the world but simply survive.

This is my “coming out” letter to my family.

19 December 2008

Dear Nik, Pam, Auntie Jan, Jim, Hal, Cliff, and all the rest -- dear friends and family,

Well, crap. Some of you deserve apologies. Others . . . well, I can’t figure out how to say some things face to face - lots of things, actually - so I write them.

I’m not dying, I’m not hormonal (at least that wasn’t the diagnosis - ha ha), and I’m not just being dramatic; a stretch to imagine, I know, especially if you’d seen the first draft of this e-mail: long, heartfelt, and depending on the hour, weepy, witty, wounded, happy, hopeful, hilarious, helpless and very, very, VERY chatty. Pick an emotion; I’m having it. Hourly.

I’m pretty damn sure that if I were going through this AND had children to care for, I’d eat my young. Or turn to drink. Most likely both. I certainly understand my mother in whole new way. Unbelievable. Bipolar Disorder is not for wimps. And I say this knowing that I have only the wimpy variety. It’s got a scientific name, cyclothymia, but I’m calling it Bipolar Lite. I’m on new meds and should be nearing normal in a week or month or . . . Well, there’s no clear time line, but soon enough. I think. I hope.

Many of you deserve the Purple Heart for putting up with me these last weeks and months. Truly. To Nichole I also grant the Medal of Valor. Auntie Jan, I bestow upon you the Star of Patience. (Bet you never thought you’d get an award for that, huh?) Hal, Jim, Cliff, in my defense I had, until yesterday, absolutely no idea what a ranting pain in the ass I’ve been since, I dunno, spring? I’m sorry. I will say this. With that word, bipolar, all manner of difficulties in my life are made clear. And Pam, with any luck, you just thought I was having an off day.

In a way, Bipolar Lite is just my usual dramatic, erratic, emotional “artistic” temperament -- squared. Make that cubed. So, if I’m talking very fast without taking a breath or you hear me obsessing with great irritation over some slight, just smile and nod sweetly while calculating your taxes in your head. I’m not dangerous. I’m just wacked out and embarrassed -- or elated or scared or hyper -- over being here. Again. I mean same train, different trip right?

Please forgive me. It’s so much easier than trying to cure me or get rid of me. And you all know I take rejection hard. Every writer does.

By the way, I know some of you are scratching your heads: What the hell is she talking about? I hide things, but it’s tiring. Besides, it’s dark and overcrowded here in the closet, what with sixteen different emotions every hour. Consider this my coming out announcement. I know, I know, most of you already knew I was crazy. Isn’t that always the way?

Love you all,

If any of you readers feel a kinship with this state of being, let me know. I'm happy to talk about any and all of it. Being bipolar, living with chronic clinical depression, being suicidal, and more, these things are no different for me than my size 11 & 1/2, extra narrow feet, my dark green eyes, my nonstandard neurology. They’re all features of the being that I am, and I can’t change or undo any of them. Except maybe my feet. I know all the places to get beautiful shoes that fit as if they were made for me.

Sometimes, all you have to do to get what you need is to say it out loud.

27 February 2010


Is this where I say I’m tired? Or that I want to skip tonight’s blog? Should. I need sleep. Can’t. Won’t. I feel the same way about writing that parents feel about their children. There is no day off just because you’re tired.

Tomorrow is my niece’s birthday, my little Pisces girl, Kameillia Grace, and for once I have her gift wrapped and ready to go. Why? Because I’m skipping the birthday party, which is always a crush of family and friends and pink wrapping paper, yards of bright ribbon, piles of store-bought gifts..... My gifts are, by comparison, the ugly, redheaded stepchild, but that’s not why I’m skipping the party.

When Kameillia was three, four, five years old - somewhere in there - I co-parented with my sister. That’s what she called it, but I was only a pinch hitter. My sister, a single parent, worked on call around the clock, and therefore, so did I. Believe me, I didn’t want to. I am not built to be a parent. I knew this when I was fourteen and I knew this when I said yes to caring for my very young, whip-smart, head-strong niece. But I am fierce when it comes to the well being of those I love. I was needed; I went; I was humbled. Just as I knew I would be.

The first time I stayed over night with Kameillia, I woke the next morning with her upside down in the bed and one footy-pajama’d toe up my nose. I’m skipping the stories of how I was challenged, even though they’re funny, and I’m not going to assess what I learned as a pinch-hit parent, because it was all patience, lots and lots of patience. It wasn’t my niece I had to learn to be patient with; it was myself, my desire to NOT deal with whatever was in front of me: bath, dinner, bedtime; oh yeah, and fun, children like to have fun and they want you to join them. There was not a single one of these things that I wanted to do. I wanted to write, and this child stood between me and that desire. I knew this is how it would be; I knew at fourteen. What I didn’t know was that my niece and I would develop a bond like no other.

My sister asked me to be on the lookout for something when Kameillia was in my care. What did she call it? It’s what children say when they’re still young enough to be trailing the glory of where they come from, before they fully inhabit this world. I told her I hadn’t heard Kameillia say any of those things, and I thought I hadn’t, but I was mistaken. I didn’t know that what Kameillia said was special because..... well, call it a Pisces thing. We experience no boundaries between this world and the next, and though it is often disconcerting for others, at any moment we may live and speak from the soul.

At night, once I’d gotten my niece to put on her pajamas and get into bed, after I had read her a story or two or three and fetched water and was finally leaving the room, she would say,
“Auntie, we love each other, don’t we?” And I would say, Yes.
“We will always love each other, won’t we?” And I would say, Yes.
“And we will always find each other.” I said, Yes.
“Even after we die, our souls will call out to each other.” Yes. Always.

My niece has grown up. She has forgotten our conversations. She goes by Grace now, and is very much her own person. Tomorrow afternoon, at the same time as Grace’s birthday party, I have a chance to get free training on a Mac program, training that might take me one step closer to creating a webpage. So, instead of doing what’s expected of me, I asked to see my niece before her party. That’s when I realized that’s what I really wanted. We still have our own language, Kameillia Grace and I, but we can’t speak it in a room full of people who live in this world only.

26 February 2010

Dina Bertocchini

I was born the first great grandchild of an Italian immigrant family, the Bertocchinis, and I was named for my mother’s mother, Dina, who was the first child of my great grandparents, the first generation born on American soil. I come from orphans and dirt farmers, but I had a silver spoon and fork and a silver-plated cup with my name engraved upon it: Dina Renee. My middle name, Renee, means reborn.

I was raised in my grandmother’s household, my single mother more absent than present. Growing up, I never heard my grandmother called by any name but Dee, and I was nicknamed Dee Dee. I went by that nickname until I was twelve. At fourteen, my grandfather died, my mother fell deep into the bottle, and I was adrift in a world I didn’t understand: grief and the advent of adolescence. The summer after Grandpa died, Grandma took me with her to visit her siblings in the Midwest and on the East Coast, foreign countries to a small town girl from the Northwest. Of course I was excited, but between being fourteen and having no mother stable enough to rebel against, I was looking at Grandma like she really wasn’t all that. But that was about to change. For weeks, everywhere we went I heard “Auntie Dina!” ring out like a bell, and Grandma took on a whole new shine for me.

My grandmother remarried. It took us all by surprise, and none more me, for her new husband called her by her given name. For years, I had been the only Dina in the family, and now when I heard my name, a name absolutely no one in Oregon had, it wasn’t meant for me. Not long after my friend Jose’s death, Grandma also became gravely ill and we feared she might not make it. I was jobless and grieving, but I was still married and had a credit card, so when Grandma was well enough to travel, I accompanied her on a reprise trip to the Chicago neighborhood where she grew up. Twice I was the only child of my generation to meet all the cousins - and I had bunches of them! - twice I was given the gift of connection to the full depth of my roots.

In many ways, I was the only child of my generation to grow up fully aware of the particular joys of the immigrant experience. Jose and his family fled Nicaragua, and when I met Jose’s mother I was flooded with the familiar feeling of family: the Latin culture, the smells of food lovingly prepared by hand from recipes handed down through the generations.

Tonight I’m posting one my favorite poems, a poem I wrote for my grandmother at the request of my uncle. A poem I wrote after she died to be read at her funeral.

For Grandmother; For the Living

“Everyone can get together for a funeral, but not for the living.” Dina Winger, 1990

The last family reunion embraced brothers
and sisters seated at your mother’s September grave. Your
spring wedding would join only friends
and children, surprised
grandchildren. Who is this man calls you by your name?
I turn my head in your place, frustrated by an unfamiliar
who does not see you are someone else’s
mother, grandmother; he does not know you
taught me to tie my shoelaces, to sew doll’s clothing, to wash
my hands, be polite. He calls but cannot hear
I am your echo: Dee--

Dee Dee. Seated
at the old upright, I am still a child singing
hymns about the sparrow as it flies,
falls; learning to name robin, finch, meadow
lark, chickadee, cardinal.
From the car window we’re calling out
foxglove! lupine! Indian paintbrush! flying
past the landscape of my childhood
past days you were more mother
than grandmother, past the milepost of my
fourteenth year, my
mother’s scotch whiskey drift. Now

when I sit quietly, the names of the earth still ring
in my ears and it’s your voice I hear: scotch
broom, hollyhock, bluebell, buttercup. Each

autumn your voice grows softer. At seventy, the age
of your own mother when I breached the world, my gift
when you turned that silver leaf was a poem
about her, the grandmother before you. Easy
to canonize the dead.
Far simpler to cry to heaven
than to life. Listen,
I think I hear my
name, turn, the voice is calling
you, Dina.

24 February 2010

Bad Bad Bad

The Genitals of a Fat Man..... That’s what I wanted the title of tonight’s post to be, and I have a poem entitled just that, an awesome poem that totally wowed the large lesbian in the front row. Given her square proportions, I feared it might have caused offense, but it was just the opposite. She came up after the reading and said, “Righteous. That was righteous.” It’s true. That is one piece of seriously righteous laugh. The genitals of a fat man was just what I wanted tonight, too -- don’t hate me, I had to say that -- but I couldn’t find the damn poem.

I kept looking, and what I found was.... oh, who knew I had written (and kept!) so much bad poetry. There is a folder entitled Angry Woman Poems, the less said about that the better, and poems with nipples “like seeds ready for harvest.” College; I hang my head in shame. I found a piece that starts out with the poet as a “bay lady” (read: wild horse), moves through the imagery of attempts at taming, and concludes, “You’ll only ride me bareback.” That one, God help me, made it into the quarterly literary review of the community college where I studied creative writing. In my defense, I was twenty. There’s also a poem entitled Voyeur, which is about looky-lou’s watching a house go up in flames, so get your damn minds out of the porn site.

I kind of liked a poem entitled The Personals, which I wrote in response to a bit of graffiti wisdom:
"All you need is love [crossed out]
money [crossed out]
Jesus [crossed out]
a good fuck.

When you’re doing without all four, it’s a tough choice."

Here, here! (Did I say that out loud?) I’m tired, people, so you’ll have to excuse me. I’m tired and all I really want is to write and I would happily give up food, water, sleep, and more just to do that, to write the whole night away. I would, but I can’t.

Simply put, the body has limits. And though I am loathe to admit it, I know that as physical beings we are much simpler than we imagine ourselves to be, and to forget our simplicity is to cause ourselves harm. I know, for example, that there are three things that can cure nearly anything that ails us, and those are food, water, and sleep; anything worse usually responds to ice. The body needs what it needs. Or to put it in Marine language: eat, sleep, shit; repeat. All the rest is window dressing.

So tonight I’m watching a movie instead of writing, because while writing winds me up, movies wind me down. I’ll drink some water, do a little deep breathing, and if all else fails, ice cream.

23 February 2010


Tonight I aim to get myself to bed early. Working with a shaman is kicking my ass. Working at the gym with a trainer is kicking my ass. And every night I’m kickin’ ass on the keyboard, writing like a house on fire till three or four in the morning. It’s no wonder I married a Marine; I’d rather die than say I can’t do it, whatever “it” might be. In this moment, I’m listening to 3 Doors Down sing “Kryptonite” and I’m wondering what mine is, my kryptonite. I imagine it’s my do-or-die attitude. It definitely gets me places and it definitely gets things done, but there’s hell to pay. Not the next day. Not later in the week or later in the year, when I go on vacation. (Penniless writer. Vacation? what’s that?) Hell-to-pay doesn’t kick in till long after the crisis has passed.

In grad school I regularly went without sleep, often as much as two or three days at a stretch, and when I finished I joked that I needed three jobs just to keep pace with the level of work I’d grown accustomed to. My husband, the Marine, dropped out half way through. Not me, I was hardcore: four point, all the way; winner of the graduate award for top literary research. That was a lifetime ago, but today as I tell the shaman how exhausted I feel since we began working together - as bad as grad school - he tells me that my body has yet to recover from that experience.

Four years after grad school, Jose died. For months, every minute not spent at work was spent with Jose. I didn’t notice the exhaustion. I wasn’t clueless about how tired I was; I was focused. Two years later, when my grandmother died, the one who half raised me, it wasn’t her children there at the end. I could rearrange my clients, true, but more importantly, I could rearrange my headspace; the intimacy of death didn’t frighten me. Then it was my aunt, the one who half raised me: two strokes with long months of recovery work; and then my mother, circling the drain from the ravaging effects of a lifetime of alcohol and pills. She survived, of course, and like the grandmother in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story, “The incredible and sad tale of Innocent Erendire and her heartless grandmother,” my mother will no doubt live to torture me for another hundred years. I tell my sisters our mother has cockroach DNA. I’m certain of it.

In the years between caring for my grandmother and my auntie, I broke down, just like an old car in the middle of the freeway during rush hour, and was left for dead. “If I go crazy, will you still call me superman? If I’m alive and well, will you be there aholdin’ my hand?”

I don’t mean physical death. I mean social death. I mean psychological and emotional death. I could not properly care for myself and I could not get well, despite half a dozen doctors and more than a dozen prescriptions. And I could not sleep. Caring for the dying was an easier experience, by far. Death has an arc to it, an inevitability toward which everything builds: crescendo, climax; denouement.

I was always good at the first two. The denouement, however, that’s the lull that leads to sleep, but not for me. As I write this, the words soaking into me for the first time even as they stream out my fingertips, I know like I know the color of my own eyes, I haven’t slept since I was fourteen when insomnia pushed me out my bedroom window to wander the neighborhood streets till I was too tired to stand. But I have gotten better, healthy again, healthy enough to care for others. Again. But this year, I let go of caring for mothers and aunties and nieces and nephews. This year, I don’t answer my phone and I don’t answer the what-are-you-doing-this-weekend question with “nothing.”

Earlier this month, my sisters and I gathered to celebrate two of our three birthdays. Near the end of the evening, my sisters began the what I refer to as the mama talk: “You can’t know blank until you.....” This time: “You can’t know the exhaustion of motherhood until you actually have children.”

No, I suppose you can’t.



Tonight I feel crappy. It’s not the flu. It’s not a migraine. Not just allergies, either, though that overheated fast-food fryer smell is noxious, and no, I can’t find where it’s coming from. So what I’m dealing with here, near as I can tell, is olfactory-hallucination-induced nausea. Plus a headache. And a belly ache. So, tonight I get to meander. Here ~hands over a beer~ this should make it worth your while.

Tonight it’s one week till the eve of my zero birthday. As luck would have it, just as I was feeling crappy enough to plop my ass down in front of the TV for a spell, Philadelphia started. For those who don’t know, Philadelphia is the 1993 movie in which Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his sensitive portrayal of a successful lawyer with AIDS who fights for his rights after being fired. Bruce Springsteen won an Oscar for Streets of Philadelphia, a song that still has the power to make me cry. I watched the movie - and the Oscars that year - with my best friend and movie partner, Jose Sequeira. A year later, Jose died of the same complications as Hanks’ character: CMV: it lodges in your brain and begins slowly closing things down, a kind of Alzheimer’s of the boardwalk at the end of the season.

Okay, I’m cheating here. I did a search of CMV in the text of The Movie Lovers. That’s the collection of stories I wrote after Jose died. Anyway, I just needed an easy way to explain CMV, cuz I’m going somewhere else with this. See when I sat down today, I believed Philadelphia had hit theaters the year after Jose died. I was surprised not only to see that it preceded his death but also that Tom Hanks was so young. We were all young then. We just didn’t know it, dealing with so much death. And hard on the tail of that thought: my zero birthday. Did I mention that I was already feeling crappy?

In Philadelphia, Tom Hanks’ character develops Kaposi’s carcinoma first, and dark brownish red cancer lesions begin showing on his head and neck. Staring at these in a mirror, he says, “Every problem has a solution. Every problem has a solution. Every problem has a solution.” Me, I’m looking for the solution to my life: how I ended up where I am, with my dearest circle of friends long dead (or shell-shocked) and the next circle departed with my divorce (he got custody of the friends); how my long-married self ended up single and with just a handful of true friends at this juncture.

Now don’t send tea and sympathy just yet. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m doing what I do best: taking my life off like a dress and laying it out to study until I can understand why it fits the way it does. It doesn’t. So, it’s a good thing this year that what little remains of the familiar is being torn away. I’m four-square behind it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Here’s the funny thing. Some of what I’m missing most tonight, something that’s no longer in my life, is one of the most painful periods I ever lived through.

The CMV that eventually took my best friend’s life first appeared two years beforehand, and day by day I watched Jose hunker under a blanket, ashen, sitting on my couch while life drained out of him. I lived in a quiet state of panic. He survived, though, and for the next two years Jose and I lived like kids at a carnival: riding every ride and eating every kind of food on a stick like we’d never get older, never get tired, never get sick and have to go home. Our lives weren’t perfect, nor our hearts trouble free, but when we were together ours was a brighter, prettier world than most mortals inhabit.

That last part, yeah that was from the book, too. I’m learning that some of what I’m having the hardest time saying goodbye to is also what I want most to leave behind. I’ve been carrying Jose’s story - and mine - in the form of The Movie Lovers for longer than I care to say. It’s time for that story to become a book, to fledge and fly - or land splat; not every bird makes it. Whether the result is failure or flight, all I want for this birthday is an empty nest.

22 February 2010

Love Song

Do you feel me?
...Tell me, am I getting thru to you?
I wanna know.
Are you with me? Are you listening?
Baby is my message getting through?

"Do You Feel Me?"
Anthony Hamilton

When Anthony Hamilton sings, “Do you feel me?” we hear a song to the person he loves. After all, why would a love song be directed anywhere else? True, there are songs written to “the beloved,” joyful hymns to God and to Source, songs of longing to know the Creator: “Am I in this on my own?” And this could be one those songs, certainly, but it isn’t for me. I am an artist. The art I practice is writing. This is an art I have practiced since I was ten, when numbers failed me and words took flight, and Do You Feel Me is a song to every dream ever held in my writer’s heart, a love song. If playing music is your art, then you know: You aren’t truly a musician until someone hears you play, and the words you write aren’t a song until someone sings it.

Do you feel me?

Tonight this song is playing on my station at BLIP.fm, a social media site for music lovers and DJs, and tonight this song is especially poignant. Now hang with me, cuz this is road’s gonna get a little twisty, but it’s worth the ride. I have "Do You Feel Me" because another Blip DJ sent it to me -- that’s the only reason I’ve even heard it -- and I’m on Blip because I promised myself I would learn social media, what it is, what it does, why people use it, love it, hate it, sink their time into it. I saw social media as a huge time suck. Period. But I decided to learn about it because this time last year I was ready for a website but then realized I had no earthly idea why anyone would go to a website, let alone stay at mine to read my work. Up until that moment, my Mac had been just a really cool typewriter. I had never surfed. I had no interest in the Internet except as a way to receive e-mail, and frankly, I wasn’t that keen on e-mail either.

So, I turned to my friends for direction and, much to their surprise, I took advice, tried every site they raved about, ignored anyone who didn’t understand, tore my hair out - often - blazed my own cyber trails, and persevered beyond all expectations. Fast forward to last fall when even media savvy peeps are calling me the social media maven (not true, by the way), which is also the time I began working with a shaman. I told you this would get strange. It’s too big a side-trip to tell you about the shaman or why I go to him, so just let me say that I got there the way I get everywhere that’s of any importance. I was led. I’m like Dorothy; early on, I landed somewhere totally unexpected and I’ve been on my way to the wizard ever since.

Before I got on the cyber yellow brick road last year, I replaced my electronics. Why? Not because I thought it was a good idea, though it was, but because everything stopped working. All At Once. Fuck me, right? Writer; no money. (Thank you Nordstrom for the Visa card.) The salient point is that everything stopped working right at the juncture when I needed better equipment to do things like surf the net on multiple windows, play music with videos, draft and email documents all at the same time; plus texting nonstop while sending and receiving updates on my cell from Twitter and FaceBook; listening to music on USB drives and MP3s.... in other words, the whole modern world that I had barely deigned to visit. I didn’t know this is what I’d be doing. I just knew that I needed a car stereo to drive, a phone to communicate, and a computer to write.

I also knew this: my energetics effect my electronics. Just think of this as the much less flashy, more personal version of blowing out the circuits of every television, radio, or computer you pass, or turning them on, depending on your mood. This was true before I began work with a shaman. It’s even more true now. Luckily, I’m in training. If my computer acts up or my browser crashes, I know the source of the problem is me. I know what to do. I know when a form of media stops working, it’s time for me to restructure my approach or move on. Same with people. Now this all sounds really cool, doesn’t it? It’s not. I decide to go in one direction, the Wicked Witch of the West blows me in another. I get comfy with one form of social media, over night it becomes a time sucking addiction (think opium poppies). Worse: I’ve fallen asleep at the wheel when it comes to keeping the focus on writing. After all, that’s why I’m here: the website.

Come the New Year, I promised myself a blog, which is the next step toward creating a writerly presence on the web. I knew that the greater amount of my time was spent in response to Blip DJs and I was hoping for some way of reducing this to a manageable size. I began blogging and then.... I began getting glitches with Blip. Small annoyances at first, then larger problems, but I persevered because BLIP.fm is where I enjoy myself the most. Everyone speaks music there, a language almost no one speak in my RL. Friendships have blossomed on Blip and extended into my writing life. I had joked to RL friends (none of whom get beyond Pandora) that Blip was my crack. Poor choice of words. Blip works for me now just enough to let me post songs, sometimes, but rarely enough to listen to them.

My whole damn life I have sung a private song to the powers that be: Are you with me? Are you listening? Is my message getting through? I would sell my last possession if it meant my work was read and readers enjoyed it, which has taken on new meaning since my funding was cut. Among other things, I sold the bulk of my CDs, making Blip and Blip friendships more important than ever. Dear Universe, everything I do is set to music, even my writing, carrying as it does the cadence of my life.

Are you feeling me?

21 February 2010


Tonight I want to talk about birthday celebrations. It’s impossible not to notice how most adults celebrate their birthdays. They don’t. Here are but a few of the happy reasons adults decline to have fun on their own personal holiday.
• The it’s-just-another-day birthday.
• The birthdays-are-just-for-kids birthday.
• The I’m-just-getting-older-so-what’s-to-celebrate?birthday.
• The don’t-remind-me! birthday.
• And last but not least, the Put that camera away, George! Last thing anyone needs to see is a picture of my old wrinkled face birthday.
My but aren’t we a fun lot?

As people read and my family hears about my blog, I learn that folks are concerned I may not appreciate the gifts that come with time; that perhaps I have declined to recognize that with the passage of years also comes the wisdom of accrued experience. Not true. Those who know my full story, and that may be most of you by the end of the year, know that I’ve led a life that makes me appreciative of two things: the fact that I am alive and the fact that the fires I’ve walked through have left me as fine and strong as tempered steel. My balking at the starting gate of another decade has nothing to do with believing that what I’ve gained is somehow less than what I left behind. Regardless, that is too big and too heavy a subject for tonight.

Tonight I want to talk about how we celebrate our lives.

When my husband turned 40, I asked every guest to bring a pie, his favorite food. When it came time to sing, I plunged all 40 candles into the first pie of the evening, which as luck would have it was apple and a good thing, too, for by the time the song finished, the top crust was a lake of wax. Instead of a rousing round of Happy Birthday, I pulled out an old record by The Monkees and set the needle to “Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky” who loved pie. Trust me when I say that you’ll just have to listen to know why every person in the house laughed until they had tears in their eyes. There was no black crepe paper for this party, just pie and laughter till our bellies ached.

When I turned 30, it was just two weeks before finals and everyone my husband and I knew was either in grad school or teaching grad students. I didn’t care. Thirty was my I-have-arrived year. We threw a party and everyone came. And everyone brought someone else and that person brought her cousin and he brought his dog. The throng was so thick that I couldn’t get to the door to answer it. And gifts! People brought gifts. I love gifts. I don’t care what they are. I’m just thrilled that anyone wants to wrap something in pretty paper and give it to me. I had ice cream cake. It was like being a kid. Oh, yeah, when it comes to birthdays, I totally am a kid!

When I turned 21, I wasn’t with people who knew how to celebrate me, but no matter. I had my own little celebration at the Greek deli where for two years I’d been buying the city’s best pastrami sandwiches. And wine. Every time I purchased wine, it was one of the young guys who rang me up. Whenever I was at the deli counter waiting for my sandwich, the old auntie would give me the evil eye. Maybe she knew I was stealing candy bars, I dunno. The day after I turned 21, I brought my candy bars and a bottle of wine to the counter. Looking triumphant, old auntie demanded my ID. I smiled broadly and handed it over. WooHoo! That’s right, honey! Two years.

When I turned 20, it was hard. I knew I’d never be a kid again. I certainly didn’t feel like a grown woman, but I was no longer a child either, and being in that limbo made me uneasy. When I had turned 16, my mother, much to my everlasting embarrassment, threw me a Sweet 16 party. It was supposed to be a surprise, but mom was running so late she asked me to get the cake and act surprised. That happened rather a lot during my teen years. Mom was a drunk and couldn’t always hold it together, but one thing she did right, and I mean ALWAYS did right, was celebrating my birthday. I had more surprise birthday parties than any kid I knew. Remembering them still has the power to make me smile.

Perhaps the best birthday was the year I didn’t get a party, a present, a card, nothing. I was newly out on my own, living on the coast with my boyfriend, and he went to work that day just like any other day. I was crushed. Not a single shred of happiness came from others toward me to celebrate my day. Late that afternoon, my neighbor noticed my low mood and when I told her why, she said, “Well, why didn’t you say so?” It was a light bulb moment. As human beings we are made to be joyous. People are just waiting to help us celebrate. All they need is for us to tell them what and where and when. And so I do.

On FaceBook, I’ve already posted that I’m now taking reservations for fun. My birthday is on the second of March. I start the celebration at my niece’s birthday party, on February 27th, and I celebrate for the entire month of March. Really, the whole month. I highly recommend it. Not only is it a lot of fun, but aiming for a month (as opposed to a day) is like aiming for the broad side of a barn. You can’t miss. No one is ever late for my birthday. Everyone has fun. Especially me.

I’m taking reservations for fun!!
Come help me celebrate my birthday :)

19 February 2010

Poems from ON THE BODY

Tonight I’m revisiting my first love, poetry. What follows are poems from my collection On the Body.

Poetry is written to be read aloud, of course, so go ahead and try it. No one’s listening but you. ^_~

Unnamable Things

I cannot name the poison in my mother’s veins.
I name the spirits but that’s just the pain
killer. That it is also poison is
coincidence. I cannot name the blindness
making it possible for her to *not* see herself not
see the sun the sky me the fact
that the world around her is not a stage.
She wears a face I can never again
compare myself to the scotch in her coffee
cup the vodka in her overnight bag the now
empty bottle of whatever it was you had
in your cabinet; these liquids
running down her face like boiling water
on wax dragging features of the woman
who taught me how
to use my own face. I can feel
but cannot name her
sorrow; the goal:

The ferocity of my father’s love so strong
I wrote his new wife and pleaded *mercy* this love
he had for what he thought lost forever
this love of a father for his first born this love
for the child most like him love I last
felt at age three carried in his arms
not again till twenty; the love sent nightly
from an Elvis-lipped soldier behind the lines always
behind the lines parachuting on reconnaissance or rescue or
re-enacting some other unnamed-but-clearly-ordered ritual
‘police action’ involving a rifle a bomb a fatal
accident; this force of love kept his heart whole
though body and mind split
open; this force, this father’s love made it
possible even for me
to come home.


Moving in the Dark

Suitcase in hand we steal
room to room
into mislabeled boxes full
of bedding and books and pictures
of the mover
the moved grasping
the brass ring
of each door opening
to headlights
that pace the room and perch
on the arm of the best chair before
veering onto asphalt
roads that drink the light. Tongues thick
lips pressed softly calling
at the door of life we
follow in miles
of pick-up trucks that rumble bump
and grind like a burlesque
teasing the horizon. In the morning
day rolls over turns his coldest
shoulder to the rattle of the clock that never tells
just how early how


Step Ladder

Baby blues business blue blind
blue all men have blue eyes. I
love to wear blue color of the sky
god. Self-made man my new blue-eyed father

could fly. No partners but I
could hand up the slide rule measure aluminum strap
duct tape read centimeters diameters
length circumference and proportion though I knew
not what I did I helped him. Evenings

watched him standing in the sky: creamcicle
clouds swirled city night
blue behind his eyes and me
holding the ladder. His faraway eyes
on a third wife a fourth teenage daughter

my step father fills his days and miles
with blue graph paper stock and blue wax
pencils connecting dot to dot corners
of handwriting that won’t bend.
Grid-lined and thin

the castoff shirt in which I work
and dream I see his eyes blue
and yellow-beige with a red
thread running through.


For Billy; for All the People
and Things I Cannot Have

I could have jumped into your arms
against a chest cushioned in the past. Your
face unchanged and yet grown thicker, deeper
like all our pasts. You don’t remember me
sixth grade but Mrs. Lary “She
hated me” you say. I remember I liked you liked
everyone though they never knew. After your
grown man’s hand leaves my shoulder
warm after I have hurried against
my heart to meet those eyes give
the directions you stopped me for I think
of the boy I knew only from the side:
always grinning or pink-mouthed with laughter
and the pimple on your left ear small white
against dark skin, the only thing that kept you
from being perfect. Seventh grade the year
Grandma says “I didn’t know you had
darkies in the neighborhood” and I turn
to see a man like the one I see now.

Time leaks
like heat from an old house slipping
through all the cracks and I pay
for each minute but it is not mine cannot be
mine cannot be
kept in a rag bag for some rainy afternoon
quilting together the chased moments of a woman’s life, ten
minutes for a cup of coffee twenty with a friend
in need an hour away from the kids the clamor
of life that I've been sold. Dirty pennies of time let them lie
too small too frantic for a pattern I will not live:
hunting happily for pockets of pleasure tidbits
of entertainment chasing the boredom of contentment
with games
making more
money or stitching
a reality stretched unraveled rewoven arranged and re-
arranged draped like so much rayon on a nervous bride
at a pauper’s wedding. Daily that girl will exchange
needs desires the longing for love for
a few coins a cookie a “me too”
from her husband’s mouth the dreams of her perfect
twenty-year-old body slipping into a past that has already eaten
the banquet of her future.

I am my own woman. Alone
at twelve I crawled out into the night up
the hill drawn past street lights and construction
to places unknown drawn
as I am now to my lover’s chest. I said
nothing then I say nothing now releasing
screams that family could never hear, screams my
lover hunts the way I hunt his night skin his lips
curled like a twelve-year-old on the floor
of an unfinished house
the one with the open door
the pink shag carpet.

Waiting on the World to Change

Tonight it’s John Mayer that I’m listening to. Tonight it’s five after midnight, rather than five minutes till, as I sit down to write. Tonight I continue to make good on a promise to return here each day. I love that I promised to write every day for a year. I also love that I said I would not promise to write for 365 days. Most of all, I love that my math - my rules - make sense to no one but me. Like John Mayer, I’m waiting on the world to change.

There was a time when I measured my life by the landmark of numbers. That’s the way the world does it. The year I started college. The year I met my then boyfriend before we did the legal knot tying. Years married. Years divorced. The year I finished grad school. The year the grandmother for whom I am named died in my arms. Without (happily without) children to measure the passage of years, I marked time with what I had, my own age at each turning point. I always loved being my age, whatever that age was. I loved my birthdays. I loved mapping time by them. But then I got divorced and suddenly there was only one number that mattered: age. Right up there with “What do you do?” is “How old are you?” Were there ever two more boring questions in the English language?

So scared of getting older
I’m only good at being young
So I play the numbers game
To find a way to say that life has just begun.
It was summer when Z and I met at an art exhibit on the third floor of the downtown library. We were the only two there, and we were struck by each other. I was still wearing my wedding ring. He politely inquired. I was charmed by his good manners, he was charmed by my height and my smile, and for half an hour we starred in a Doris Day, Rock Hudson picture show. When he left, he didn’t ask for my number but rather offered his email. I remember telling friends he was 30... ish. He thought the same. On our first date my second thought was holy crap. Neither one of us was near thirty.

I had always gone with older men. At twenty, I went from my high school boyfriend to a man a dozen years older, 32; from boys to men in a single bound. In college, I went with a man just out of the Marines. Twice married. Two kids. I'd never been with a man in his twenties. Ever.

“Does it bother you?” he said. “Your friends? Your family?” His question took me by surprise. I’d been so consumed with all the rules this broke that I hadn’t stopped to see how I felt. So I stopped. I considered. I imagined. I was surprised! “No, it doesn’t.” In retrospect, how could I have felt anything else? Yes, Z was beautiful. Yes, we were crazy about each other. And yes, it had its challenges, what relationship doesn’t? But here’s the thing. I have always enjoyed saying fuck you to ridiculous rules. My life long, I have been on a one-woman mission to do whatever is required to avoid being stuffed into a pigeonhole. In college, for example, I made it a habit to refer to my “partner” and not my “boyfriend” because I believed it was good for people to wonder: straight or lesbian?

It didn't work out with Z and me, but it took several years for it to not work out, and what's more important is what happened to me during those years. I went from being a woman who quite accidentally attracted a much younger man to one who no longer felt at ease in the company of men her own age. They had all gotten so old. Our years matched, but nothing else did. Nothing. Then (and I have yet to live this part down) I was at a college friend's combination house warming / college graduation party. My friend had just gotten remarried and finished his dream house, and his son had just finished college. You've already guessed the rest. None of the men my age were remotely as interested in me as they were in their drinks, while every man under 23 vied for my attention. So I let one of them take me home.

After this man (imagine me looking smugly happy here), I redoubled my efforts to date in my “age range” as they call it (imagine me groaning here). Now I just leave well enough alone, declining to date and declining to name my age except to say I’m old enough to drink. I have a zero birthday coming up. It doesn’t feel right to celebrate it unnamed, and it certainly doesn’t feel right to join the “I’m-getting-too-old” chorus. I’m not. At least not in my life.

So I rebel in my own little ways, like writing at midnight so I can claim credit for the day before that one-second click of the clock or the day after. My call. Always.

18 February 2010

End Times

It’s five minutes of midnight. The Eels are singing, “End times are here,” in the minor key of missing someone; a quiet guitar, a lulling rolling repetition of five notes. “End times are here.” I unlock and open my door, letting in the cat, and before I turn to go in myself, I stand a moment under the stars, bright and crisp in a rare cloudless sky. “End times are here.” The minor key and the rolling guitar sound notes in my heart that a favorite Chris Isaak song once did, one of so many I once narrated my life by. Now I wonder as I look at the stars, will these songs ever speak to me the same? “She’s gone,” they sing. “End times are here.”

I’m not missing anyone tonight. What I am missing is the comfort of the ways I once used to measure out and narrate my life. “She’s gone; end times are here.” I had landmarks, places and times familiar to all who knew me, events I would narrate for new comers to my life, complete with markers for the passage of time and experience. “She is gone now and nowhere near. Seems like end times are near.”

I spent tonight with a new friend. As we spoke of our lives, hers with two divorces and one child, mine with one marriage and two step-kids, I could map out in the sound of our voices the landmarks we both worked to avoid. The pauses, the stops to look back over one shoulder and then forward again, the reversals followed by another approach; our conversation careened and lurched like a new driver learning how to parallel park. It wasn’t that we were uncomfortable with each other, just the opposite. Twin spirits, we connected immediately. But we are also women redefining our relationship with the past. “It could all be over at any old time. And I can hear it loud and clear. The world is ending and what do I care?”

I’m not navigating the first year after divorce nor the second and neither is my friend, and I don’t know her past, what topography she left behind with the old life, but I know mine. Mine is about time. “The world is ending and what do I care?” Each time I use the word “years,” I run smack into the curb: a demarcation line. How many years I was married. How old I was when we met. How many years since we split. How many years since my dearest friend’s death, which was probably the true end of my marriage, as opposed to the day we divided our worldly goods. How many years I was too ill to have anything resembling a life; how aged I became; how years later my therapist said, “You got sick to save your marriage.” How many years between my age and my husband’s; more now than when we met. How many years between me and my much younger (now ex)boyfriend. How old my step-kids are. And their kids. “I don’t feel nothing now, not even fear, now that end times are here.”

The minor key, the rolling guitar that rocks me gently, the sound of my heart, these are all I have in this moment. And these are all I want. “Seems like end times are here.”

What marks the end is this: I sold my wedding ring, which I created, but I needed the money. I sold my blues collection, the music of my heart, but all the songs belong to what I was. I gave away my collection of martini glasses. I still can’t believe I did that. I love the way glass reflects the light. I love the shape of the shallow chalice, the chill of the gin. I love the thrill of the thrift store hunt, finding the rare, the beautiful, the campy, the next pretty version of that shape that held my life. It hurts to no longer love the things I have always loved. The man is gone; he was gone long before I left, and I do not regret nor look back. But these things I thought were mine.

“It could all be over at any old time.

And I can hear it loud and clear.

The world is ending and what do I care?

She’s gone; end times are here.”

16 February 2010

My Zero Birthday

Dear Readers,

It is two weeks, exactly, until my next birthday, a zero birthday, and this birthday has me by the balls. Fine, maybe what it has me by is the mammaries, but fact is that while I love my birthday, and I mean LOVE it, this year I’m also afraid of it. I’ve never been afraid of a birthday before. I don’t see why people insist on feeling this way about their birthdays. It’s an awful, awful way to feel. But I have a plan.

I just finished watching Julie/Julia. I enjoyed the movie so much that it made me want to learn how to cook, and I hate cooking, but I understand the need to live life in the midst of doing what you love. Julie, the main character, is facing her 30th birthday and she’s scared. It’s a zero birthday. Now thirty is not the end of the world (I’ve seen it), but Julie is an unpublished writer who lives in a crappy neighborhood with her cat and commutes each day to a cubicle job as a government secretary. Already Julie is two up on me: she has a job, unhappy or otherwise, and she’s married to a great guy. My great guy and I are divorced, my cat is feral, and my neighborhood is filled with discount grocery outlets and thrift stores. I’m a writer; I don’t actually MAKE any money. Oh yeah, and I’m unpublished.

Julie decides to deal with the approach of her zero birthday by cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s culinary classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. For one year, Julie blogs about her experience of cooking 524 recipes in 365 days. I can’t cook, but due to my eating habits this past year, I have gained the requisite ten pounds that comes with the first year of cooking. Score one for me. Here’s my plan. No, I’m not planning to learn how to cook. I come from an Italian American family and it is a point of pride with me that I’m the only woman in the family who doesn’t slave away in the kitchen. I don’t cook; I chop. At my house, dinner for two is always wine and cheese. Now I don’t have a year to contemplate the approach of my birthday, the way Julie did, but I do have a year in which I can learn to be comfortable in my skin while living in a brave new decade.

If I am to settle into this next decade of my life, then I need to feel that the decade is worth settling into. Otherwise, I’m planning on having the second anniversary of my thirtieth birthday next year. Just saying.

According to the horoscopes, all signs point to a banner year for me in 2010.

In love: “You're about to get some fabulous cosmic rewards for all the hard yards you put in, in 2009. It’s your lucky year!” About damn time, I say.

In work: “Want to get published? [Seriously. It said this.] Go for it. If you've been scratching around with barely a bean to your name, you’ll be happy to know that 2010 sees you able to generate a lot more income. Increase your faith in the Universe and trust that all will be well.” Awesome. Where do I sign up? You know, for the money back guarantee.

Oh, yeah, the stars also say this: “To ensure you get the job you want (or the qualifications you need), get into a stable routine. Draw up schedules and timetables and stick to them. You could meet some amazing new people in 2010.” ....There is no emoticon for the sound I make when I read that last little tid bit. Schedules? Timetable? You must be joking. I’m pretty sure such things include the use of numbers and graph paper. Numbers are not my friend. Just ask my checkbook. Or my bank. But I do know how to write. And I can do it everyday, at least I think I still can. This past twelve months has been spent learning to navigate my way through social media, which hasn’t left me a lot of time for the real task of writing. So I’m committing to write my way through the next year. I am not committing to the full 365 days because THAT is a number, but I can commit to writing again tomorrow. See you then.

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