Friday, April 28, 2006

my so-called life...and eventual death

I recently had a girls’ night out with four friends, one of whom was in town from the west coast. One of the girls had brought a camera, and a few photos were taken. They looked great on the digital, but when she sent them to us, and I opened mine on the computer, there was one shot of me that…well, it kind of shocked me. Because of the flash, and the darkness of the bar, my very pale skin stood out in the photo. And I saw something I hadn’t expected – the early signs of aging skin. I hadn’t truly seen it myself when looking in the mirror at home. I suppose this was a true case of shedding some light on an issue. (Yes, that's it, but I kept the photo small so no one else would see what I saw.)

Now, it didn’t look horrible, but it was clear that the skin on my face, neck, and upper chest was rougher, not to mention more wrinkled, than the rest of my body, from years of exposure to the sun. All this time, I’ve always worn a good sunscreen when I knew I’d have to be out in the sun for any length of time (I don’t tan – I freckle, burn, or blister – there are no other choices), but not on a daily basis. And that daily basis had taken its toll. I need one of those microdermabrasion processes, to take the top layer off and start over again. They make home kits, but as sensitive as my skin is, I’d probably do permanent damage – I really should see a skin expert. Something else to save money for.

The thing is, this isn’t all about the visual, the looks. Although yes, that meant something to me. I mean, I do have a bit of a complex about my looks that tends to lead to me telling myself things like ‘who am I to set my standards so high’ in seeking a dominant – I mean, look at me. But that’s another post entirely.

This was something else – looking older reminded me that I get older every day. And aging leads to death. And that is something that I have a very hard time with. I am agnostic, really – I have no sincere belief an afterlife of any kind, and that makes death final. And the thought of ceasing to exist, in any conscious form, well…it terrifies the fucking hell out of me. Enough so that when it does come into my mind, I have myself a mini, itty bitty little panic attack. It hits me full force, the finality of it, and my breath quickens, my heart beats, the savage beast awakens…and then it ends, goes away. And I go on with life.

One might think that these thoughts come with age, that I’ve hit ‘middle age’ and my mortality has become more of a reality. But that would be an erroneous assumption.

I remember being in about the third grade or so, standing at the sink doing dishes (yes, I was my mother’s maid, even at that age…I did it all…hell, I was even required to massage her feet with lotion in the evening…which really made me her service submissive, didn’t it…probably why, to this day, I hate the scent of the lotion she used, still uses…and hate the whole foot worship part of submission…I should make that a hard limit, I think).

Digression aside, there I was doing the dishes, and this thought, unbidden, entered my head – what is it like to die? And as I stood there, I stopped washing, deep in the thought, and began to feel that feeling I still get today – a dizziness washed over me, I felt as though I were floating just above the ground – outside of myself, and looking down at the me washing dishes at the sink, my heartbeat rapid and hard in my chest. My mother entered the room then, and I began to come down, and I asked her that very question: what is it like to die? And she laughed it off, and said, of course, ‘no one knows till it’s their turn.’ Called me silly, and other things, as she tended to do. I think that making me feel stupid was her life’s goal, and she succeeded marvelously. Yes, it is perhaps not surprising that I will not allow a female dominant to top me in this thing called bdsm.

And then, I go back even further, to a much younger me. We had traveled by train to Tennessee (from the west coast) for my mother’s father’s funeral. I must have been about five, as the man I called ‘daddy’ was no longer in the picture, and the second father, the wicked, evil man who loved nothing more than to fuck people over and beat the shit out of them, had not yet entered.

My mother, grandmother, and everyone else were using the term ‘passed away’ just as liberally as the word ‘die’ during our visit, to describe what had happened to grandpa. And it wasn’t said in any particular manner, just a fact. They were deeply religious, in a southern, nondenominational, but strict kind of way. Death was considered a blessing in most cases, so I hadn’t heard anything (that I recall anyway) that would make me particularly fearful of death.

We were in a five and dime store, shopping – me, my mother, grandma, aunt Linda – and I began to feel a bit faint. I found my mom, whose subsequent offhand comment ‘you might just be feeling like you’re going to pass out, you haven’t had anything to eat,’ followed by a command to sit down in a corner and stay out of the way, had interesting effects. Beyond the idea that a five year old was stuck wandering around a store on an empty tummy, well…think…to a five year old…how similar the terms ‘passed away’ and ‘passed out’ are. And imagine what thoughts formed in my child’s mind. Yes, I thought I was dying, and shockingly, no one around me seemed to care. I sat, and that feeling hit me – floating, quickened heart beat, the feeling of being outside of my body and looking down upon myself – sitting there in the corner of the store, people milling about around me, ignoring me. And then I came back to myself, and I began to cry. My mother asked why, and I sobbed ‘I don’t want to die.’ The word scramble was explained to me, and there ensued a general discussion among the adults, who all managed to laugh at me for my confusion and make me feel quite small indeed. I had been fucking terrified beyond belief...and they laughed at me.

I’m not going to delve into a philosophical discussion of death, not here and now, and probably not ever, as that would keep the thought in my mind and make me crazy. And I don’t have those little panic attacks at the though of death all the time, just occasionally. I don’t share them with my friends, I deal with it internally. If I can sit and think about it for several minutes, I can actually convince myself that when I am dead, I obviously won't consciously 'know' it, and therefore shouldn't fear it. But still, I have every intention of living just as long as I can possibly eek out this existence we call life. I hope to hell that at 46, I am only at my halfway point. I have no intentions of going anytime soon.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

at the drive-in

This is the '60's, in a quiet suburban neighborhood in a small town in California. Two-parent families with stay-at-home moms, who stand behind their screen doors and tell the kids of the divorcee (who is home sleeping cause she works nights) that they should go away. And those moms keep their kids inside until the bad kids do go away. Away to the empty lot, where everyone dumps their garbage. They spend the rest of the afternoon digging through the garbage heaps looking for gold. They are 2, 4, and 6.

She remembers one morning, being hungry. Mommy was still in bed, so big brother crawled onto the counter to get the quaker oats container. He reads the directions, and makes the oatmeal. Mommy never wakes up.

She remembers one night, too, when she was thirsty and woke up. She crawled out of the bottom bunk she shared with her little brother (big brother had the top bunk) to go to the bathroom and get a drink. Weirdly, the toilet wouldn't flush. And then, the bathroom faucet didn't work. Mommy woke up that time, and she said 'mommy, I'm thirsty.' 'I know,' said mommy. 'Go back to bed now.' She went to bed without her drink. As an adult, she would discover that the landlord had turned off the water to get the divorcee and her three kids out of his respectable triplex.

And there is the afternoon that mommy takes them all to visit daddy. Daddy works at a pizza parlor, and they get to stand on a bench and look through the window and watch daddy make pizzas for a while. Then they eat, and go with daddy. Where, she doesn't remember.

And the time mommy backed up in the parking lot at the grocery store, after screaming at the kids, and backed right into a light post. She and little brother were all in the back seat, pre-seat belt. Big brother was in the back of the station wagon, and got thrown around. There was a big 'u' dent in the back of the station wagon after that. Somehow, it was the kids' fault...according to mommy.

And the time she leaves the kids in the car to go into the grocery store 'for a minute.' Big brother is in the front, the smaller two in the back. Big brother moves over into the driver seat, and pretends to drive. Somehow, the parking break gets bumped, and the car starts to roll. Big brother panics, and starts pushing and pulling buttons to stop the car, but nothing works. Now they all panic, and all three begin screaming for help. A woman comes, opens the door, pulls the parking brake, then yells at the kids for screaming. Mommy comes out, having been told about the crisis (by the guy who carries the groceries to the car and saw it all), is thoroughly embarrassed, and so...of course...yelling and face smacks all around for being such very bad kids.

And the time in the other apartment, where she slept in an alcove off the boys' bedroom. And they woke up one morning, and someone was in bed with mommy. A man who didn't have an arm, just a little stub after the shoulder. He wiggled the stub around and made them all laugh. She never saw him again, and didn't remember his name.

The progression of baby sitters. The asian couple who didn't think the soup needed to be chewed, even though there was rice in it. You should be able to swallow the rice without chewing, they said. But the kids kept chewing, so the couple said they'd have to chew their chocolate milk, too. So they chewed their chocolate milk.

The overnights with the big family, who had a girl her age. They played barbies a lot. The other girl's teenaged brother would play with them, too. He always made ken kill barbie, cut her up, and hide her. But a little piece of her would be in plain sight so the cops would catch him and put him away.

The older teenager who had the uncle Leo. And they all went to the drive in theatre one night. Drive-in movie theatres. That wonderful thing of the past. She remembers them well. She saw the original Willie Wonka at a drive in theatre when she was little. But this time, she couldn't remember the movie they went to see. There was Lenore, her boyfriend, her uncle (who drove), and the three kids. The front seat was Uncle Leo, her, and her brothers. Back seat, Lenore and her boyfriend. Who were sitting very close. Uncle Leo likes little girls. Likes to put his hand down little girls pants. Put his hand down her pants, and touched her in a place she didn't even have a name for. He kept rubbing her there, not looking at her, not talking to her, staring forward at the movie. At first, she didn't do anything. Didn't even think anything of it, really.

But he was rubbing hard, and it started hurting. So she started squirming, trying to get away from him. But he didn't stop rubbing, so she finally whined, 'Uncle Leo, it hurts.' 'It's just a little vaseline,' was his response. It went on a while longer, she whined again. He gave the same response. So she asked to sit in the back. Everyone accommodated her, albeit with grumbling, especially from Lenore and her boyfriend. But they made room for her. Problem was, at age 4, she wasn't big enough to see over the back seat, and couldn't see the movie. So the new whine: 'I can't see.' 'Then sit in the front,' is the response from the adults. But if she sits in the front, she has to sit next to Uncle Leo. He won't let the boys sit next to him. So, she can sit in the back with Lenore and her boyfriend and not see the movie, or sit next to Uncle Leo, and let him rub her down there. She sat next to Leo, and let him rub her down there. And it hurt. And everyone in the car knew exactly what he was doing.

photo, me at six

Monday, April 17, 2006

the sky

Fella suggested I take a look at the sky, which promptly reminded of a song from Desree'. It also prompted me to literally step to my windows and snag a photo of the beauty. This shot is one view from my kitchen window, and that's the Hudson River you just barely see. This is what our kitties gaze at through the window, as they lounge on the shelf I built just for them. And yes, the sky did really fade to white as it came to the horizon above the palisades across the river.

Feel So High

Show me your company
Come and tell me who you be
I'll try and take things easy

I'll be loose I'll be carefree
I'm living for tomorrow not today
Gotta make my plans so in case
I'll be prepared when I see you you smiling

(Chorus) 'Cause I feel so high, I'm reaching out for your sky
I've boudless energy too. I feel I could run a million miles
I'm riding on the wheel of fortune, taking me to places far and free
I feel so high when I approach your sky

When I touch your sky, I want my joy to be discreet
Can't seem to to hide the feeling that you knock me from my seat
When I'm talking with my friends, you're the subject every time
I know I bore them but they do it to me sometimes


I've seen you exposed your thoughts are nude
Come on take off your pride baby
You should wash your attittude
I'm sitting here watching you baby
Trying to pretend your cool and calm
Come on now you can tell me baby
Did the gypsy read your palm


I feel so high, when I'm touching your sky baby
I feel so high
I feel so high, when I'm touching your sky baby
I feel so high yeah, yeah
I feel so high, when I'm touching your sky baby
I feel so high

525,600 minutes

How do you measure a year in the life?

With exploration, brief encounters, failed relationships, new friends, old friends, a dissertation proposal, weight loss, weight gain, epiphanies, insights, failures, successes.

I ordered Rent on pay per view. With Jesse L. Martin and Taye Diggs, candy for the eyes and they can belt out a song, too. Who knew? I haven't been able to afford the broadway version yet, but it's at the top of my list.

Broadway is something that awakens the savage beast. Just being there, let alone actually experiencing the show. It always brings a tear to my eye, it's so incredibly larger than life. Beyond beautiful.

Wonderful, quotables from this play/movie:

How do you document real life, when real life's getting more like fiction each day?

One song to redeem this empty life...

There's only us, there's only this, forget regret, all life is yours to miss. No other road, no other way, no day but today.

I find some of what you teach suspect, because I'm used to relying on intellect, but I try to open up to what I don't know.

Take me for what I am.

The mind churns, the heart yearns, the tears dry, without you. Life goes on, but I'm gone.

Things to make you think, you know?

I'm feeling the loss of leaving the other place, just like I did before. And people are still judging me, now adding in the judgment of leaving instead of 'sticking it out,' or 'standing up for myself.' But the problem is, I lived with the constant verbal attacks all my life -- well, growing up anyway. I've blogged some about the physical. But not the verbal.

Unwarranted, undeserved, verbal attacks. Not good enough, name calling, belittling, derision. Nothing I said or did ever passed muster. You'd think I would've developed a very thick skin as a result. But no, it just cut more deeply each time, made me more vulnerable with each word. As soon as I could get away, I did.

And as an adult, I've made the decision to walk away from any situation in which verbal abuse is an issue, no matter what. I just can't take it like others can. And that weakness brings on ever more abuse: get a life, it's just the internet, grow thicker skin, wimpy, baby. But it is who I am.

I won't be growing a thicker skin, or dealing with it, or fighting back. I'll just keep walking away. It's the only way I've managed to stay sane as an adult, and it's the action/reaction I'll continue with. And I'll walk away from those who judge me for walking away, too.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

the proposal

She watched the skaters glide across the ice on the tiny rink, the huge golden statue omnipresent in the background. Flags circled the rink, and the adjacent mall walk was filled with white and blue hyacinths, the scent wafting in the breeze of a cool, sunny spring day. The sun had made her presence known following a morning of rain, snow, and hail.

As her eyes scanned the ice, she saw the young woman in the plaid coat, with tears in her eyes. Had she hurt herself, the watcher wondered, as she observed the small sobs escaping her mouth and the tears filling her eyes. She just stood there, in the corner of the rink, looking at something - - the man at her feet, the watcher realized as her gaze opened to include more of the young woman's immediate surroundings. He appeared to be checking out her feet or ankles, kneeling on the ice in front of her as she stared at him.

Then the watcher's eyes took in more of the scene, and noticed the video camera focused on the pair on the ice. And then, the watcher saw it...he wasn't on his knees checking her ankles. No, he was on bended knee, right there on the cold, wet ice, as he looked up into the young woman's face. Oh my god, the watcher thought, as it finally dawned on her -- he's....he's proposing! Right here, in front of everyone, and not a single person notices, or appears to notice.

As the reality dawned on the watcher, she got the attention of other watchers standing beside her, pointing to the couple and saying 'Look, he's proposing to her. Look!' And just her luck, everyone standing close enough to her to hear her words were from other places far away, and none spoke English...none at all. How ironic that the watcher, who was so shy that she never engaged strangers in conversation, would find that the one time she did, no one would understand her.

But some of the people kept watching the couple anyway, wondering why the watcher was pointing so happily at the two on the ice. And as the young man fumbled in his pocket for a small jewelry box, took out a ring, and slid it on her finger, the watcher heard the 'ah' of dawning understanding from those around her. The couple embraced, and then moved away from the video camera -- held by a soon-to-be father-in-law, she supposed -- to talk privately together in another corner of the rink.

The watcher left then to meet others for dinner, but talked her small group into walking back to the rink to see the couple who had just become engaged. But a mere 10 minutes later, they had left the ice, no doubt finding somewhere to celebrate the event further. And yes, the watcher's savage beast had most definitely come wide awake as she had watched. Wide awake.

the inferiority complex

Yesterday was my day at the United Nations. The World Health Organization had scheduled an event for World Health Day that included discussions with some very credentialed individuals -- the associate director of WHO, deans of colleges, heads of UN committees, and other highly experienced professionals. I had heard about it through my doctoral program and attended as an adjunct instructor. I have two extremely opposite feelings and reactions to attending events like this.

On one hand, I love these events: being immersed in a social policy issue that is near and dear to my heart; hearing people who have been out there in the field for years; meeting people with more experience and training in their little finger than I have in my whole body. My god, what's not to like, to revel in? This is what I want in my own future, after all. In fact, it's what I want now, right this very minute. It's just too hard to keep thinking 'some day, some day.'

Yet, on the other hand, these events are also the quickest way to major feelings of inadequacy. Although most of these people are my age or not much older, they are so much further along in their professional journey that I can never hope to catch up in my wildest dreams. Hell, I didn't get to go to college till I was 30, and since I've had to do my Ph.D. part time, that alone has taken me six years so far.

Yes, I know, I've come so far from where I started, and all my friends hasten to point that out when I start obsessing. But lots and lots of people have overcome odds much greater than mine, and even they are far ahead of me. I took a step backward in my career to go from the Executive Director of a small nonprofit to become a lowly research associate at a large university. Yes, I know I made that change because the other job was challenging my doctoral studies in terms of time. But it was still a lousy move in terms of my future career. Not only was it a downstep, but it took me completely out of the social welfare policy arena. It just doesn't fit well on my resume.

And that's when I begin to question myself: who do I think I am to think I can teach well; what makes me think I'm any kind of writer, that I can succeed in that realm; I'll never get to where I want, need to be in my professional life. And really, it's not so farfetched to think it is beyond my grasp. I'm easily running 15 years behind most of the professionals in my field in terms of experience. And it makes me wonder what it is that separates me from them. It comes to mind that it just might be the drive. I begin to wonder if I have the drive to succeed as a writer, professor, policy analyst. Can I really do this? Hell, can I even write a bloody dissertation that will get me by? When I procrastinate so in the writing of the dissertation, it truly points heavily toward what must be a lack of drive.

And so, I ended the day with that dual struggle heavy in my mind and on my heart: wanting to be there now, and yet wondering if I ever will be.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

soothing the savage beast

This post began with a question framed by infinitesimal: What is your theme song?

I responded that my theme song, if I had one, would change daily. Music, you see, depends upon my mood from minute to minute. So on the way home from work today, I reached into my cd case, went through all the cd's a couple of times, and decided to revisit a group I haven't listened to for quite some time -- the Cranberries. I turned up the volume and allowed the music to wash over me, seep into me...make me feel. Yes, music makes many people feel -- happy, sad, angry. But music goes far beyond mere feeling for me.

I was a young adult the first time I heard the phrase 'music soothes the savage beast.' And immediately, that had a meaning for me that it likely doesn't have for everyone. Because I recognized, even as a child, that there was something about me, something that not many would understand. I couldn't have put it into words then, and may not still explain it in a way that is understandable. But when I heard that phrase, I knew -- I knew that it meant something. Because, you see, I knew that I had one of those savage beasts inside me. It mostly sleeps, dormant, but occasionally wakes and makes itself known. Those are the times when I feel the sadness, so deep down inside that it doesn't seem quite real. When it wakes even more, I feel the sadness well up and escape. It was awake today -- mildly so -- hence the choice of the Cranberries.

I think it's entirely possible that everyone has a savage beast of their own, but it never awakens in most. In some, it wakes seldom, and when it does wake, it is not for long. In others, it is awake more than it is asleep. People often call us 'tortured souls,' but I've never thought that an adequate description. Why does the savage beast awaken? I don't know. It could be a lived experience, a biological reaction, or a memory. In me, when it awakens, there is something that speaks to it, calms it, and sends it back to sleep -- music. Not all music, though. No, there are certain kinds of music that speak to my beast. Sara McLachlan speaks to it, and early Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. The Cranberries. Clannad. Celtic music. Soundtracks from movies like Legends of the Fall. The Pas de Deux from the Nutcracker. A couple of songs from the Phantom of the Opera. Loreena McKennit. And of course, Billie Holiday. My god, how Billie speaks to my beast. There are others as well, that quiet my beast.

For some, it is written words that speak to their beast, quiet their beast. Stories, or poetry. Poetry doesn't speak much to my beast. My beast is logical and concrete, while poetry tends toward the abstract. Poetry is wasted on my beast. Ahhh, but music. Sweet, sweet music. My beast lies softly, gently, quietly, when the music is right.

There was once one exception to poetry. In a college course on literature, we were reading Dylan Thomas. His words alone didn't speak to my beast deeply, but in a more surface way. But one day, the professor pulled out a record (yes, an actual record album) and put it on one of those older record players that used to be used in schools. And I heard a voice speak to me, a deep voice, a voice full of his beast. I don't often hear someone's beast in their voice, but think about it -- this was Dylan Thomas, one of the troubled souls. Did his savage beast ever sleep? At that moment, his beast's voice and words spoke so deeply to my own dear, sweet savage beast that I was held spellbound, breathless, entranced. My god, how my beast slept after that!

So when my savage beast awakens, I soothe its soul with the sweetest sounds. Music to my ears. And my savage beast sleeps again. My beast awakens more now than it did years ago. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it is because I have moved away from music in my daily life, relying on the telly for company. Perhaps it is time to get back to the music that keeps the beast silent inside.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

it's there

There is a sadness, deep, deep inside me.

I'm not sure where it comes from.

It's always there, but doesn't always show itself.

When it does, it might peep its head out just a bit, or rear its ugly head in great detail.

I never know.

I just do my best to go with the flow, when it happens.

And to pretend it's not there the rest of the time.

Sometimes I feel it lingering down deep, as though it wants to come out but cannot figure out how to.

Sometimes I feel it swell and rise within me, flow up and out, and I can't seem to stop it.

Right now, its lingering down deep.

But it's there.

It's there.


Monday, April 03, 2006

the love affair

I'm in love. Sweet love. With a city. And I have been for 8 years now. And having starlet visit, and getting to show her around, reminded me of just how much I have been taking my love for granted. In fact, it's usually when a friend comes to visit and I get to play tour guide that I'm reminded of just how much I love the city.

I could spend every day in the city, but unfortunately, life intervenes. In fact, I don't actually live in the city, I live about 20 minutes outside of the city limits. But I plan to move, just as soon as rugrat goes off to college. Two more years, and I'm practically counting down the days. I think about it a lot, and was just dreaming again on the way home from work today.

I may have to find a roomie, but I'd be willing to live with someone if I had to. Or I'd even be willing to do the SRO (single room only) thing if need be. I can pare down possessions, put things in storage. And I'll do it, when the time comes. It'll be pricey, but I'll be losing the car and its expenses. And I'd even lose the cable tv if I have to -- hell, I need to get back to music and books anyway, and away from reliance on the boob tube for company. I'll cut corners elsewhere too, as needed, and work two jobs. Yes, that's how much I'll want it, when the time comes. How much I want it now. In the meantime, I can dream, like I did tonight on the commute home.

So, just what is it I love about the city anyway? Just every possible thing, from museums to parks to broadway to street performers to historic buildings to street fairs to tourist attractions to central park name it, I love it all. I love the idea that I can step outside my front door, and be minutes away from anything I want to do, no matter what time of the day or night it may be. Where else, for example, could you get a glimpse of something like this: the seton shrine, an historical building, wedged between two high risers. I took this from the staten island ferry.

But I think what makes it most appealing is something deeper than that.

It's the people, actually. There are so many people that it's possible to let yourself be alone without being lonely. I can be alone, but still have the comfort of a crowd of people. It's that maintaining touch with humanity that attracts me so. When you live in a quiet, lazy village, you can go days without seeing a person. Not so in my city. You can't go ten minutes without knowing that there are people, wonderful people, all around you. Funny, of course, considering that in the midst of all those people, I don't possess the verbal abilities to connect on an intimate level. Stop it, this isn't a dump on Spring post, it's a love post.

Anyway, I love the idea of being alone in a crowd. And so, never really being lonely. I love knowing there are crowds of people wherever I go. Touching humanity. Tasting, smelling, feeling, hearing. Occasionally making eye contact. A word spoken. A smile. A touch of humanity, to know I'm still alive inside.

I'm in love. Sweet love. With a city.

sing o-bla-di-bla-da

Life goes on.

Funny, that.

When you're in the middle of something, it seems as if life stands still. Just for you.

But it goes on around you, behind you, beside you, through you, in spite of you.

And you can either let it continue on without you, or you can follow where it leads you.

And so, you force down that which holds you static...force it down into the deepest recesses of you, and it becomes a part of who you are. And you embrace life again. Grasp it, let it pull you along. And you pull it along. You move, hand in hand.

You move on.

Because life goes on.

photo obladi oblada life