hodgepodge

I can’t think of anything to say today, so you’re just going to have to wander around with me for a while until I find a groove. The post for today was supposed to be a web chat between Dana and me, but that lasted about five seconds before it got really offensive. I am sure that there will be other chat conversations that can be published, but not that one. That one’s just for me. 🙂

What to talk about instead?

Let’s see. Matt is coming over tonight so we can watch Season 5 of Doctor Who. Dana and I have been re-living our whole Who experience with Matt, starting from Season 1, Episode 1. It’s so fun to watch Doctor Who in reverse, because you get to see foreshadowing across seasons that you just have to wonder, “was that intentional?” I don’t know which episode is next, but soon is Vincent Van Gogh, and we will ALL need Kleenex for that one.

I’ve filed for unemployment, created several t-shirt designs, and started my own Fiverr ad, which I hope will add an income stream to my job search. While we’re ok for this month because everything is already paid, I have four weeks to come up with some money. Whether it’s busting my ass flipping houses or sitting at an executive conference table, the deadline is still the same. Trying to think of everything I can do for money (but I won’t do that.). It’s stressful, but not nearly as stressful as it would be if this month wasn’t already paid in full. 🙂

Right now, life is just percolating. Dana is my sun, moon, and stars. As long as that doesn’t change, I can take everything else.

How I Cook

I have cooked professionally for several years now, and here, in no particular order, are the things I’ve learned:

  • Making a mayonnaise-based sauce is not about technique. It is about art. Some people have it, some people don’t. I have it. You have to treat mayonnaise the same way you would drive a stick-shift car, because the balance between the eggs and the oil is very much like finding the equilibrium point that moves the car forward. The other thing that will help is to add more egg than you think you need, and less vinegar. That is because the egg will bind extra oil and will give you a little more wiggle room before the sauce breaks altogether. If it starts to derail, add a fourth cup of water and keep stirring. It also helps to be as Zen as you can, because invariably, one of those times, a sauce will break and you’ll want to beat yourself with your own whisk. Most people don’t make mayonnaise by hand anymore. I only do it to show off.
  • I never measure anything unless I’m baking (at home, that is). Here’s how to get to a point where you can cook without instructions.
    • Get a basic cookbook that teaches fundamentals without fancy recipes. Then, read it like a book. Note recurring themes and flavor profiles. If you spend a few weeks doing this, you’ll learn which cooking methods are natural extensions of each other, such as searing a piece of meat in a skillet and then transferring it to the oven to braise. Eventually, you’ll learn the rhythm of making things taste good.
  • If you get frustrated after all of this, please just use recipes. People think it’s cool to throw things together, but if you don’t have the palate for it, use someone else’s. Taste, especially making your food appeal to more people than just you, is especially hard. I got lucky in that I’m naturally good at it, but many people aren’t and feel like failures in the kitchen. Don’t sweat it. Every time you want to make something, look it up on FoodNetwork.com. People that come to your house to eat will think you thought up an incredible meal, when in reality, all you did was execute a recipe perfectly. Executing a recipe is just as important as taste. Don’t feel bad because you need some help in the flavor department.
  • Knife skills are overrated
    • People like to watch me when I’m chopping, because I’m extraordinarily fast. However, I am not in any way accurate in the slightest. Because I have monocular vision, my knife doesn’t ever connect to the cutting board in the same way twice. It’s one of the reasons I’m a great pub cook but suck at fine dining. I know that since I can’t correct my problem, you might think that my advice is coming from that place. But no. If you’re cooking at home or in a restaurant that cares more about french fries than plating, just get the mis en place DONE. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to get the perfect julienne or batonnet. It will take you far more time than it’s worth. Believe me. In an extreme case of loss-of-confidence, I once spent 45 minutes on three carrots. Was it worth it? The salad was perfect, but it took 45 minutes!
  • Make foodie friends
    • Learn to cook well for free! Dana was trained at Cordon Bleu. I was not. I got a $20,000 education taught in my own home. Surely you have a friend that can show you a few things… like a perfect mayonnaise, julienne, or batonnet. 😛
    • Bring food into your conversations. This will often lead to your friends telling you what they made for dinner. You can always file it away for later.

I am sure that I will come back and edit this document as I think of more things to say. But here is a pretty good start.

 

 

Poets and Writers Prompt

This comes from a Poets and Writers non-fiction writing prompt:

Write a poem in the form of a letter to an imaginary friend in which you ask them for help that begins, Dear Friend. Keeping the person or creature or entity you’re writing to in mind, include details and images that reveal your imaginary friend’s characteristics as you craft your entreaty.

Dear Friend,

I have never been known for brevity. Strap in.

The bottom line is that I need help. Help in all the ways that a 35-year-old needs help. At 35, you’ve got some things about life squared away, and the rest is still a swirling mess from your childhood, those things that make you you. 35 is the time where you decide to stop putting up with your own shit and decide what kind of person you are, despite all your family and friends.

It’s not that you couldn’t earlier in your life. It’s that you don’t have enough experience to see the wisdom that comes from processing that sort of thing. By 35, you have the things that happened to you earlier in your life, and now you want to know why… possibly because it’s stopping you from growing into the next phase of your life, and possibly because you all of the sudden have a lot of free time, since there’s rarely a rave to which you’ll be interested or invited.

A lot of memoirs are written around this time, because even though your thirties aren’t the time to pack it in and call it quits, people like to kind of see where they are… especially bloggers.

Bloggers have the ability to stop using writing as an outlet and start using it as a comprehensive reflection on life. Most of the time, it leads to insight. Some of the time, it leads to hysterical laughter. But the hope of the blogger is not to change him/herself. It is to release the emotions surrounding the story in hopes of putting it in the air. People comment and connect to what they recognize, and might offer a different perspective altogether. Bloggers need that. They need a chance not to be adored, but to be heard.

Although adored is good, too.

Here’s where you come in, dear friend.

Your job is to read what I write, and respond if you feel so inclined. Just knowing that I have an audience reading and making sure I’m not completely insane is a good thing to know. I carry it with me always.

You are my thanksgiving, you are my Christmas morning.

Amen.

Singing Me Home

I am reading a novel by Jodi Picoult called “Sing You Home,” (here’s the supporting CD) about a woman who starts out in a straight relationship and has two embryos left from an earlier IVF treatment. She wants to give them to her partner to carry a child, her ex-husband wants to give the embryos to his brother and his wife so that the kid can grow up in a Christian home.

So far, it is a lovely story, and I am enjoying it quite a bit. On the flip side, though, it magnifies every insecurity I’ve ever felt in my whole life, and each chapter feels like a therapy session. It’s all in there- what it feels like to be a gay teen, how scary it is to marry your partner in front of people when you’ve been told your whole life that it’s. just. not. done.

Of course, it’s done all the time, now. It’s just that my brain hasn’t caught up. When I was 14 or 15, a friend got married and the ceremony was simple- saying a blessing over your rings and it’s over. And only in front of each other, because it has to be a secret.

I think unintentionally, that’s how I’m treating gay weddings now. My brain hasn’t flipped the switch that this is now perfectly normal and I don’t have to worry that people are going to laugh at me. The fact that they wouldn’t laugh anyway is moot. It’s not about the guests at the wedding. It’s about me and my fear that all these horrible things will rain down on me if I do.

Part of my family is very traditionally conservative, and part of it isn’t. The choice to get married in front of everyone has me thinking more about how to bring both sides of my family together without hurting any of them.

Plus, Dana’s mom and dad have made it clear that they will not come if we get married, anyway. That’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax, and not necessarily something to be talked about here except that it affects me greatly and weighs on my heart like an anvil.

I also think I want children, but I don’t know for sure. What I Know For Sure (™ Oprah Winfrey) is that I don’t want children *right now.* We would be plunging a baby into poverty which is last on my list of things to do today. So before we get our money squared away, I can’t even dream that far.

But what I do know is that if I had the chance, I’d have a nuclear family in spite of not having a dad, because there would be two primary parents to this child, and a whole host of surrogates.

I want Volfe to teach our kids how to shoot guns, how to play in the dirt, how to fix their own cars from nose to tail so I don’t have to pay for their first dents and scratches as new drivers.

I want my kids to have Karen as a teacher and for them to learn:

Oh isn’t it a bit of luck
That I was born a yellow duck
With yellow socks and yellow shoes
So I can go wherever I choose!

I want Matt to teach my kids to swim and to “do their bubbles.” I want him to show my kids his land and all the wonderful farm animals and plants and gardens where you can wade into the dirt over your toes. I want Matt to read to our kid, because few people I know read more fantastic stories than he does.

I want them to know and love Rev. Tara, who is a blessing all on her own to our family.

I want Stacy Pever Anzick to baptize them and for the story to be that my kid peed all over her, just like I did to Bishop Crutchfield when I was that age.

I want Wayne Borum and SarahAnne Hazlewood to teach my kid how to be evil in just the right ways. I want SarahAnne to make me my first baby quilt, with a note stitched inside about how we’ll always have depression and Dr. Pepper to bind us together. I want Wayne to build something for the nursery that would serve as an heirloom when they have children.

I am also in love with the idea of my sister being an aunt. She’d be the kind of aunt that bought us “my moms rock” onesies and perhaps a “That’s How I Roll” t-shirt with a stroller on the front. She’d love my kid as if it were hers, and the same goes for her kids. I will love them as my own and be the kind of person you can come to when your parents are seriously making you skirt the edge of sanity. I know, I grew up with her.

I want Dana to teach our kids how to grill when they can see over the top of the grill. I want her to give my 16-year-old his first sip of beer while he’s outside grilling with “dad.” In fact, I want her to create for my kids what her dad created for her. I can picture a toddler following her around with a bubble mower, too.

I want to teach my kids the beauty of the Gorge, the newfallen snow on top of Mount Hood. I want my kids to meet everyone who has ever influenced my life, because I think I turned out okay.

I have this life that I cannot reach because I am afraid.

And this book showed me why.

Every step of the journey that Zoe and Vanessa take together is rife with problems no heterosexual will ever have to deal with in this lifetime.

Every step is so much harder, but luckily, getting easier. I hope that gay marriage comes quickly, because I’ve thought of this often. “What if Texas never gets gay marriage and I can’t give my kids the experience of being Texans, too?” What does it mean to be a Texan and raise an Oregonian, which is a much bigger question than my sexuality. 🙂

Like Vanessa, I am 35. Time is running out for a biological child.

We did it, once, Dana and me. We went to an OB/GYN, dressing up because we thought we were going to fall in love with our doctor. My dad and stepmom are both doctors and they’re wonderful. I didn’t have any fear walking in.

That dream was dashed when the OB/GYN was cold and austere. We hated her, we hated the office, and we hated that she pigeonholed us as poor and told us that we couldn’t afford her, so we should just “find a friend and GO HOME.”

I’m going to leave you with that image. I want you to feel all my anxiety bubble up to the top. Want you to feel that my emotions are valid, even if my logic is upside down and backwards. If you have evangelical friends, please share this post. I don’t think that Evangelicals realize how much emotional harm they’re doing when they don’t mean to. They’re scared of what they don’t know.

Just. Like. Me.

Millions

On the 23rd, I met my friends Volfe and Beth for coffee at a little place called “Silk Espresso” in Gresham. The coffee was great (Stumptown always is…), but the best part was the drive out there. The sun was shining brilliantly down on my little truck, and you could see for miles from the freeway. All of the mountains were in rare form, so gorgeous you would have wished you could touch the snow.

That led me down the path of thinking about skiing. The season is almost over, but surely there are a few days left… maybe I’ll get a season pass since right now, it’s probably only good for one or two more trips… I had such fun when I went last time- a ski guide from Austin, Texas picked me up when I had a “yard sale,” which is where you fall while skiing and your gear goes every which direction. As he scrambled to get me in my skis, gather my poles, and stand me upright, he told me how he got here and what exactly a tour guide does.

It’s a volunteer position, but you get free lift tickets. Seriously. How cool is that?

So I’m thinking about all of this and I realize that I’ve already missed my exit. It’s a long way back. Of course it is. I was driving towards the Columbia River Gorge. I was lucky I was able to turn around within three miles. 🙂

The weather has just captivated me, and rendered me completely useless. I don’t want to think about anything else but that warm Vitamin D touching my skin, especially going 55 down the freeway with the stereo cranked and the windows down.

It reminded me of being 16, and driving my dad’s convertible. The only difference is that in Sugar Land, Texas, there aren’t many distractions like snow-covered mountains and a break in the weather that reduces the blah to a manageable level. No, Sugar Land is a different pace. No mountains, but lush lawns, a baseball diamond, and a large mall that provides many poor people with free air conditioning in the summer… as all malls do, I’m sure.

But I digress.

The snow-covered mountains and the beautiful trees heading out to the Gorge made me realize that I was born at the perfect time. My actual birthday is supposed to be 8 weeks later than it is, because I was not fully cooked when I emerged victorious from 7 months in a so-small-it’s-not-even-an-efficiency apartment.

Being born early made me an earth sign, and even if it’s complete and total hooey, I choose to believe that an earth sign was meant for me. I am connected to the land in a way that seems deeper than a lot of my friends. When I’m hurt, I drive out the Gorge and find a spot to scream it out. The gorge has quite a few secrets of mine, now, and it scares me to think what would happen if it could talk.

Grass and trees and mountains and bugs make me happy (with the possible exception of spiders- I am not scared of them, per se, but I prefer to look at them under glass). The honeybee shortage affected me to the point that I would intentionally look for products in the grocery store that I could buy to give money to bees, because it was the thing that I could do to help without having money to donate on hand.

Dragonflies buzz “I am still with you even if we are miles apart.”

Ladybugs are just stylish.

I like to tend other people’s gardens, getting wet and muddy and gross, because while I am an earth sign, with gardens I just want to help a little bit and then get to go home and not do it anymore. I get my fill after a day or so, and then it’s time to move on to something else, like sitting in the sunshine with a beer or an ice coffee and writing in my journal.

Rocks. Ohhh, rocks. Whenever my friends go anywhere, I ask them to bring me back rocks from where they’ve visited. Ethan, my former boss, brought me two from a hiking trip that are still on my bookshelf at home. My friend Diane went to the Colorado River/Grand Canyon, and I asked her to bring me a rock, too. She brought me a piece of the Vishnu Schist, which is millions and millions of years old. I meditate while holding it so that I have the sense of holding onto grounding earth. The Vishnu Schist has heard it all, and somehow, I think it transfers to me, even if it is only in my mind. I keep it in its little velvet bag hung with a magnet onto the freezer. That way, I always know where it is.

That rock may be the most precious thing I own, because it is my only possession that when I hold it in my hand, I am holding the beginning of creation.

Sermon for Proper 21, Year B

Originally preached on September 29th, 2012

(sung in Gregorian-style chant)

The law of the LORD is perfect
and revives the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

In ages past, Psalms were sung rather than spoken. This is because elders in all religions discovered that if they gave their congregations melodies to put with them, it was easier to remember. The practice is not limited to the Abrahamic religions, however. Surviving from the 3rd century BC is a collection of six Hellenistic hymns written by the Alexandrian poet, Callimachus.

It is anastounding discovery in the modern era that these ideas, the ones that occurredorganically in those days, are now at the forefront in the healing arts.Doctors are unsure of the complete explanation as to why, but over the years, several theories have been examined.

Dr. Paul Broca, whose research was publicized in the 1880’s, is most famous for his discovery of the speech production center of the brain , now called “Broca’s area.” He arrived at this discovery by studying the brains of aphasic patients-persons with speech and language disorders resulting from brain injury. He was most focused on a small area in the frontal lobe, which he discovered aided in the sequencing and rhythm of words. One of the parts of the cerebral cortex, Werneke’s area, is responsible for creating pathways to understanding the meaning of words.

This is all very technical information that boils down to a simple idea. Music literally makes the two areas of the brain work together, forming deeper neurological pathways. Religious leaders learned that before science. People remember music because they are, quite literally, wired that way.

Music therapists have long discovered that if either area of the brain is damaged,the other one will compensate, creating new neural pathways to restore the brain to normal… and sometimes, the easiest way to jump start that process is by singing.

Think about it. How many of you could recite the words to your favorite song,completely out of context? Yet when you’re driving in your car, listening to Journey, all of the sudden you know every word to Don’t Stop Believing?

Or when you’re walking along, and the soundtrack to your life starts playing in your brain. All of the sudden you can remember every word to Twisted Whistle’s cover of Gin & Juice. If you’re like me, you’ll forget where you are and all of the sudden, “with so much drama in the LBC, it’s kinda hard bein’ Snoop D Oh-h Double G. Somehow-w some way…” It’s the same for Snoop Dogg’s version. Rap gets under your skin not because of the melody, but because of the rhythm and sequence of words.

Bet you never thought you’d hear Snoop Dogg quoted in a sermon.

You’re welcome.

No one is a better example of the strides in this research than Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona congresswoman. After a major gunshot wound, she traveled to my hometown of Houston, where one of the most advanced clinics of neurological rehabilitation resides.

From the time she was wounded until the time she could speak full sentences was about nine months. One of the reasons she made such incredible progress was due to the use of music in her therapy. She couldn’t recite the words to songs like “Happy Birthday,” but because she was familiar with the rhythm and sequence of the music, when she started to sing, the words came to her easily.

It is at this point we are ready to study the letter of James. He writes:

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should singsongs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up.

In order to research this sermon more fully, I turned to the Biblical criticism of theologian William Barclay:

Here we have set out before us dominant characteristics of the early church.

It was a singing church; the early Christians were always ready to burst into song. Christians speak to each other in psalms and hymns and spirituals; singing with thankfulness in their hearts to God.

Another great characteristic of the early church was that it was a healing church.Here, it inherited its tradition from Judaism. When a Jew was ill, it was to the Rabbi he went, rather than the doctor; and the Rabbi anointed him with oil.

James, meet Paul Broca. Paul Broca, meet James.

SINGING ALLOWS THE BRAIN TO CREATE DEEPER NEURAL NETWORKS, WHICH LEADS TO A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE MATERIAL.

Singing to God is literally understanding God.

This higher consciousness, this reaching for the divine, is a gift that only humans have. Apes may have a special fondness for God in their hearts, but they will never sing about it. That’s because Broca’s area is nowhere to be found in their brains. This ability for sequence and rhythm supporting comprehension is only found in us. When you think about it that way, it just becomes more and more apparent how great a blessing music is to the life of a church.

And while music is gaining more and more ground in physical rehab, it has long been a voice in the emotional healing of a family, a community, a plantation:

If you get there before I do
Coming for to carry me home
Tell all my friends I’m coming too
Coming for to carry me home

Easy to remember codified instructions. If you get to the plantation before me, and can only take some of the slaves, tell everyone else that I’m coming for them.

In short, be ready. You never know when I’m going to show up, and when I do, your bags have to be packed. Your sandals have to be on your feet. And there is no turning back.

Be. Ready. At. All. Times.

Harriet Tubman led over 70 slaves to freedom with Paul Broca’s help. She may never have read a single word of his research, but she understood the content. Put a melody to the words and people are more likely to remember it, critical because nowhere was it safe to write them down.

So what’s the take-home message here? What does this have to do with modern day life in Portland, Oregon?

(singing in Gregorian-style chant)

God can break into our lives at any moment;
Always be ready for a miracle.
If you are in pain, in body or mind,
Call upon me in song.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

The Medical Side of Mental Health

People are becoming more and more aware that mental illness is not just psychological. Education is so necessary around this point, even for patients. There may be plenty going on in their lives to cause them emotional distress, but at the same time, I’ve never known anyone who could talk away a chemical imbalance.

And now, a fitting Monty Python quote:

“This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again how sheep’s bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes.”

You cannot treat a chemical imbalance if your brain is not making that chemical in the first place. There are three main neurotransmitters that have to be hit to not get depression: dopamine, seratonin, and norepinephrine. If all three aren’t balanced, you will go one of two ways: down into depression or up into mania. For most people that go up into true mania, they cycle. Whether that person’s cycle takes four months or four days, there is an extreme fluctuation in those three brain chemicals that have to get evened out.

Because each person’s mental health is individual to them, I can only talk about what I’ve been through, what’s worked, and what hasn’t.

I didn’t realize that I had depression so much as I realized that I was only getting three productive days per month. I couldn’t function because I couldn’t motivate myself. I was mired in sadness, with no reason for it at all. I didn’t believe I could handle my life, so I didn’t. I was about 19, and my anxiety was trying to kill me. I don’t mean that I was suicidal. I mean that I got panic attacks and the shortness of breath was severe.

After that, I was put on an antidepressant called Celexa. It helped with the depression because it hit my serotonin, but not as much as I needed. I continued with it for years, sometimes adding Wellbutrin to hit dopamine as well.

It wasn’t until 2005 that I saw a brilliant psychiatrist at University of Houston who said, after running some tests, that I had been misdiagnosed, and that’s why I didn’t feel much better. He said that instead of monopolar depression, I was Bipolar II. This meant that I wasn’t cycling into true mania, but often staying up for days at a time. I tapered off everything I was taking and started a cocktail of Lamictal (lamotrigine) and again, Celexa.

That was eight years ago, and I have been mostly stable ever since. Occasionally, I have days where nothing feels right and everybody sucks. Other days, I can’t get enough of being with people and listening to their stories. It’s a cycle, but a small one.

I take medication every day so that the rise and fall stays true to my personality and I can be who I want to be without being too sedated or too miserable to get out of bed.

So many people do not even bother to take the tests to see if they’re depressed, most likely because their insurance is shit and they can’t afford it – or – admitting that you need professional help is hard. You have to admit that you have faults, big ones, and even though you aren’t knowingly causing unrest, you do. Both for yourself and those around you. That’s the danger of not getting mental health treated- you fall into such a hole that you cannot see the ways you are affecting the people you love. You can unintentionally put a severe burden on a relationship if they are close enough to you to see that you need help.

Plus, getting better in terms of mental health is difficult at best… not so much when you find the drugs that work for you and you can stick to them. However, when you are in the throes of finding that “right thing,” you may feel as if the world is ending and a brick keeps hitting your head repeatedly out of spite. Thrown from a third story window. If you’re lucky, you’ll have someone to lean on when all this is going on. I didn’t, because PEOPLE WILL NOT COME AND HELP YOU UNLESS YOU ASK THEM. I went to the “I can handle this” school and quickly figured out that I could not maintain. I was freaking out at everything, and once, on a memorable trip to Homo Depot, thought someone was following me with a gun. Who knows? They could have been, but I sincerely doubt it. I have never been a fan of asking for help, because I’d rather sit in a cave until my brain gets ahold of itself. The problem is that sometimes it takes more time than you can afford to recover. Let people help you, or life will not move forward.

The bitch about crazy meds is that it takes a while for them to work- up to six weeks, in fact. What you do during that time will be anything but normal, and not necessarily on the outside. For instance, you may feel as if you have the type of headache you get after wearing someone’s glasses… except that you can take glasses off.

Acknowledge that you are sick, and get in bed. People will say your pain is not real, and that’s ok. They’re just really uneducated about what it feels like to start psychiatric medication. Assure them that your head feels like it’s coming out of your skull, and that should about cover it.

My best wish is to share some common ground with this article. I think we need to start a dialogue around mental health that is more personal and less emotionally violent than what we’re hearing in the news right now. For most people, mental health is just that. Taking a pill like you would if you had high blood pressure. Believing the media when they act like all people who are diagnosed with mental health issues are thisclose to snapping and blowing up everything.

Don’t listen. Just tell your story, and hope that the people reading it will gain new insight as to what you’re going through.

Most of all, though, I am here to show you that you are not alone, and you will always receive compassion here.