Blood Orange Diet Coke

…..it’s as good as it sounds.

I needed to go to the grocery store, so Sam and I headed over this afternoon. They had all the new flavors of Diet Coke on sale for 79 cents a can, so I bought one of each…. even though I have a history of ruining Diet Coke with citrus for everyone in the room by announcing “it tastes like Pledge.” That was in 2001 or 2, so I thought Coke might have figured it out by now. I’ll let you know how it goes…. probably going to save lime for last……. Nothing they make matches the magic of Cherry Coke Zero, with tasting notes of Trapper Keeper, Mall Bangs, and Tiger Beat magazine.

Sometimes, though, I like to branch out… and new flavors of Diet Coke are something my mother and I easily could have discussed for two hours on the phone. I miss that. I don’t have anyone else in my life that can go head-to-head with me on zero calorie soda obsession, because apparently it’s “bad for you” and “causes cancer.” As I was telling Sam when I was loading up my cart, I could have worse vices. While it is true that all sugar substitutes cause cancer in rats, I would have to drink approximately 40 cans an hour, every hour, for years before I’d reach carcinogenic levels in my bloodstream. Right now I’m only drinking five [That was a joke].

Treating myself to soda this afternoon was sort of a celebration. Fifty Shades of Cray has moved out, and the house is blessedly quiet. Sam and I were laughing about it all the way to the store, because in the moment, it was actually quite scary and we needed to debrief. I am no stranger to people with mental illness, and yet, I have never seen anything like it. I felt truly sane in comparison, but not in a mean way. More like eternally grateful, as well as good wishes for her safety and health going forward. The thing about mental illness, though, is that you can’t help a little old lady across the street that doesn’t want to go.

Right now, she is unwilling, undiagnosed, and therefore, untreated…. and if my own experience is any indication, will continue to slash and burn until she realizes that going untreated isn’t doing anything for her. I don’t agree with her scorched earth policy, but only because I’ve done it and it worked masterfully well in pushing everyone away until there was no one left. I know what feeling like a wet cat backed into a corner, claws extended feels like. So, seeing her exhibit that kind of behavior made me wish I could fix it, knowing I couldn’t, and if I could, shouldn’t.

True change will only come when the realization dawns on her, not me.

I make amends when and where I can, without expectation of reciprocity. It may or may not affect the person to which I’m offering them, but it affects how I feel about myself. I am proud of the way I have ruthlessly performed my own emotional surgery, because it’s not something anyone else could have done for me. If removing negative thought processes and muting memories could be taught in medical school, it would be a billion dollar industry.

Maybe even bigger than Coke.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Lately it seems as if I am regaining the life energy that has eluded me for so long. It has nothing to do with taking care of the things I must, but those that are optional. Part of it has to do with the passage of time. I believe that it is true that in some ways, time heals wounds, but not in others. This is because for every year that passes, there are still flashes of memory that take me back to that time and place in my life. Grief rushes like a river, and there is nothing, even the passage of time, that will erase it. The best example of this is when I have a momentary brain lapse and forget my mother has died and pick up the phone to call her when I have good news, or feel bad and just need her to give me some of that absolutely unconditional love that mothers feel. For my mother, and I’m sure this is universal, no matter how much I’ve done wrong in my life, it isn’t my fault, and everyone is hurting her baby. This is not true, of course, but having that one person in your life who thinks it at least boosts the ego so that it rises from toilet level. No amount of time will heal the moment when realization hits that she’s gone so permanently.

What time does heal is jealousy of people who still have their mothers and the want to isolate because you just don’t want to talk about anything with anyone, because you can’t stop yourself from any conversation coming back around to how sorry you feel for yourself. You don’t say it in words, but the axiom is always there in the spaces between them. As a musician, I feel that emotion rides on the rests. As a writer, emotion lives in the elipses………. and thus, the reason I use #prayingonthespaces so often.

As time goes by, the emotions change with it.

Life energy returning, for me, has been amplified by simple joys, like going to bed early and rising before the sun. I have always been a morning person, and life is harder for me when I ignore that fact. It’s not that I necessarily enjoy waking before dawn, it’s that my natural circadian rhythm requires it. I thought for years that I was a night owl, because I worked in restaurants and my “happy hour” was 0200. When I really examined myself, I found that the most energy for me arrived around 0500, especially when I got a full eight hours of sleep beforehand. Waking fully rested at dawn is now my favorite thing, because I still get the quiet of the night without having to stay awake for it. My eyes open and I smile, as well as laughing easier and more often.

It also makes my mental health manageable, both from the correct amount of sleep and following what my body says I need. Along with medication, I avoid the ups and downs between carpet-sucking depression and hypomania. If I do feel hypomania coming on, the best treatment I’ve found is diphenhydramine (Benadrylâ„¢). I sleep deeply despite feeling “up,” and Bipolar II ceases to be as much of a thing, for which I am sure everyone around me is grateful.

For me, returning to sunshine (or at least, partly cloudy) has been a series of cognitive behavioral life hacks which allow for post-traumatic growth, instead of perpetuating rainy days. The life hack I use most often is lowering my expectations to make simplicity complex. A cup of coffee with the right amount of creamer and Splenda can light up my whole day. A one line e-mail asking how I am makes me feel like a million dollars. A friend inviting me for lunch brings excitement to my eyes and the wrinkles around them turn upward. My muscles release tension when I’m paying attention.

Life energy has returned in full force because I’ve made myself happy without waiting for it to arrive.

#prayingonthespaces

Highs and Lows

During self-imposed exile to the basement, I watched a couple of movies that I’d wanted to see for a while but just hadn’t put forth the time and expense to go to the theater. The first was Baby Driver, which is one that I will watch over and over, running the first 20 minutes on repeat. I recommend that whatever you’re watching right now, ditch it and see this movie. You’re welcome.

The second is Call Me By Your Name, and I have issues.

In Italy in 1983, the age difference of the two young men was completely legal… but it sent shockwaves of anxiety through me because it just didn’t seem ethical. It wasn’t the age difference that bothered me. Seven years isn’t noticeable at all when one partner is 30 and the other is 37. It was the timing. The younger of the two men was 17. The older, 24.

Keeping in mind that I have no leg to stand on when it comes to talking about ethics, the movie tapped into some of my deepest and most memorable scars. If you’re post-college, no matter what the age of consent may be, I’m still not sure you have the right to mess with a teenager’s feelings, much less have a short summer fling with them and leave them in tears… then call back a few years later only to say “I’m getting married… is that okay with you?”

If I had known that’s what the movie was about, I wouldn’t have watched it in the first place. I’m trying to get those pieces of scar tissue stronger than they’ve ever been. Therefore, I would never intentionally trigger myself back into that place, because it’s dark and twisty there.

The thing I’m so much better about now than I have been in previous years is snapping myself out of it. I have learned tips and tricks for changing my own mood, and I use them. The axiom is true that hurt people hurt people, so even though I am not entirely rid of pain, it’s at least manageable. What I Know for Sure™ is that I never want to be in a position where I’m speaking from a place of pain to people that don’t deserve it. I’ll never be able to get mad at the one who does, so my work to do is making a thunderstorm back off to rain, then sprinkles, then partly cloudy. I don’t think that anyone whose been hurt in a similar manner to me would say that we ever get to sunshine, because even with all the coping mechanisms in the world, there are still triggers that make moving pictures dance across our minds as if no time has passed at all. Then, the moment passes, and all is right again.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me it’s an indication that I need to change course mentally when I feel it physically. A knee-jerk reaction to a trigger is generally a headache or feeling like I’m going to vomit. It’s so attractive.

The thing that is altogether different now is that I recognize what is happening rather than wondering what it could possibly be. A major part of being angry and, in turn, stuffing it down into my socks is that I couldn’t articulate what was going on.

It was legal. But it wasn’t ethical.

I had issues.

50 Shades of Cray

There are really no words to describe what I have been through the past few days… although it has affected “our whole family.” One of my roommates has been completely inconsiderate of all who live here, stomping up and down the stairs, singing with her headphones at the top of her lungs, and breaking things only to expect our landlord to replace them. When she was called out on her behavior, she did not like what she heard, and began screaming at Sam as loud as she possibly could. She was even stupid enough to threaten to hurt her in person and through text message. We didn’t find out until she called the police because she was mad at Sam that she’d drunk almost a fifth of vodka, because the policeman took it out of her room. We didn’t even know she drank. We thought mental illness was the beginning and the end of it.

Apparently not.

As of this moment, I am sitting in the basement with Sam to buddy system our way out of this because we don’t know how long it’s going to take to get her out of here. If anyone has sympathy for bad behavior while drunk and mentally ill, it’s me… but at the same time, I am still lost and afraid of what might transpire. This is because nothing I’ve ever said has amounted to “you’ll get what’s coming to you.” Now, I am sure that I’ve sent mean e-mails and made a general jackass of myself, but I’ve never physically threatened anyone. The one time that one of my e-mails was taken that way was not intended to be such, it was in reference to the fight I had with Dana, not an indication of future behavior. So, to put it mildly, I can sympathize without participating in my roommate’s complete self-destruction… because unlike me, this was not a case of her words being misconstrued. She said she would hurt Sam, and she meant it.

We are under strict instructions to call the police and/or a crisis help line if my roommate goes off the rails, which is entirely possible because from what we know, she’s been rifling through the landlord’s liquor cabinet and went back to the store when she didn’t find what she wanted. Let me assure you that “mean drunk” doesn’t begin to cover it. Her behavior passed 11 a long time ago.

None of us feel safe; one of my roommates is staying with a friend. I am sleeping in the basement with Sam rather than the room next to hers, because since we share a wall, I get the brunt of her noise level… although despite the quiet, neither of us slept well.

We are all hoping for a peaceful resolution to the problem, because this level of unrest is just not sustainable. I don’t think my roommate is self-aware enough to realize the magnitude of what she’s done. It’s a reminder of how grateful I am that I was, and able to get the help I needed. I hope and pray that this will occur to her as well, but as of right now, she’s claiming that she doesn’t want anyone to know her businesss. I understand; I don’t agree.

In the meantime, Sam and I have a big screen TV, cable, and each other. Not sure what else anyone needs in life.

If you have a moment, please think about all of us. God knows we could use it.

Forward (and Backward) Through the Ages

I’m starting to wonder when I decided I was old… not in words, but actions. I don’t look in the mirror very often, and my mind’s eye stopped adding years long ago. For instance, high school and early college don’t seem like they’re that far away, but 2016 was my 20 year high school reunion (I didn’t go, but I did note its passing). The past few years have slipped by quietly without fanfare, as I have become extremely introverted…. have always been, and yet compounds yearly. It takes more energy than I’ve got most days to get out and play. I prefer to read, write, and watch streaming video… in that order. No longer do I plan outings on a daily or even weekly basis. I plan outings around how lonely I feel, and solitude is addictive.

Alone, I do not wonder if I have said the wrong thing. Alone, I do not worry if I’m wearing the right outfit. Alone, I do not have to compromise. Alone, I do not have to share.

To paraphrase Hafiz, I don’t surrender my loneliness quickly, letting it cut more deeply to ferment and season me as few human or even divine ingredients can. It has been the only solution to overcoming emotional instability, and not because I don’t like people. Like most introverts, I’m hilarious at a party. I just need absolute quiet to recharge. What has been different over the last three or four years is that behaviors once acceptable to me aren’t, and I only truly enjoy being around people when I feel strong enough to uphold my own standards of excellence.

Wow. I just reread that and thought, so you’re curating your real life existence like a Facebook page? Shudder. And yet, it’s true. In no way am I ready to let anyone past the walls I’ve put up to avoid talking about all manners of grief. When I go out, I want to experience pleasure, which invariably means putting away all the things that have caused me to recede from interaction in the first place.

However, there is no barbed wire around my heart, no need to sting anyone if they try to jump the fence. If I feel like one of my boundaries is coming down, I question myself.

  • Do I want a deeper friendship with this person?
  • Does what I’m about to say improve on the silence?
  • How much do I care if this private thought becomes known to another person?
  • How much am I hurting myself if I don’t share my thoughts? No risk, no reward.
  • Is the idea I want to share appropriate for this friendship?

They are questions I can answer fairly quickly in my head before beginning to speak, and I believe that is the difference between the me of a few years ago and the me of now. I have always been intense; I have not always been the type to think deeply before I speak. The “think it, say it” plan wore itself out.

I am infinitely more measured than I used to be, because it took emotional disaster to make me realize that I could have avoided hurting friends and family alike by taking in everything they’re saying, and letting silence hang in the air until I have a chance to respond thoughtfully.

I don’t crave solitude because I’m afraid of getting hurt; I crave solitude because in it, I cannot hurt others. I feel I have done enough of that for a lifetime, and though of course conflict is unavoidable in life, there are certainly good and bad responses to it. It is my work to do to learn healthy coping mechanisms and implement them, lest I have a repeat of the end of vitally important relationships.

It’s getting to the point where people are starting to ask me why I don’t date, that it’s certainly been long enough since my divorce, etc. I don’t want to start dating just because it’s socially acceptable for me to do so. I want to start dating when I feel I’ve learned the lessons that the universe wanted me to learn before making any committment besides friendship. I find that I am learning plenty in how to be a responsible and responsive friend, and that is enough… mostly because in my struggle with grief, responsible is easy and responsive is hard.

If being responsive to friends is hard, I do not want to even think about romantic interests feeling ignored…. because, of course, nothing says I care about you like unanswered texts and cancelled plans. It is a morass in which I’m unwilling to engage.

This has much less to do with my divorce and much more to do with my deceased mother. While Dana is the greatest love of my life up to this point, I am and have been ready to leave the past there. I just can’t see inviting someone else into the deep grey haze my life has become. My friendships are helping it lift, but not enough. Not yet. My thinking is that you have to walk before you can run, and being a good friend is several steps in the right direction. A lot of people don’t give friendship its full due. I didn’t until relatively recently, and I will never make that mistake again. That warning is etched deeply into my bones.

My friendships are what remind me that I am indeed not as old as I feel, because laughter makes me lighter.

For instance, tonight I went with Dan & Co. to see Pitch Perfect 3. Fat Amy finds out that she has money, and wants to create more shows. I lost it at Fat Amy Grant…. oh, that’d be so good for Christmas. Now, most people would laugh at this joke. I howled so loud that I think everyone in the theatre heard me. For most people, they’ve heard of Amy Grant. Preachers’ kids of my age are STEEPED in her. I laughed for me and my mother alike. We would have run that line into the ground, and it would have provided us entertainment for years.

That moment felt like metaphorical communion….. a moment just for us, without letting anyone else in. I could feel her laughing inside me….. and for a few seconds, I felt….. young.

All-Stars

I technically live in Maryland, but if anyone asks, I live in DC. Fewer people know where Silver Spring is than the nation’s capital, and my house is 11 miles from the White House. If I was very industrious, I could walk there on the Sligo Creek trail. My Metro station is the first Maryland stop outside the district, so I can pretty much get anywhere in the city in 40 minutes. It might seem like I’m bragging, and that’s because I am.

I love where I live, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world… especially since I don’t drive, and every other city where I’ve lived has lacked true mass transit infrastructure.

I don’t know if I’ll ever start driving again, but it’s nice to have the option to not. Parking is expensive because there is more demand than supply, and it will always be that way in a city that’s only 60 sq. miles. There’s barely enough room for the cars that already “live there.” If you’re not used to walking, DC will have you up and at ’em in no time, because unless you have copious amounts of disposable income, you’ll most likely be dropped off between .2 and one mile from where you want to go. It’s the easiest workout routine ever, because you’re incorporating movement into your day rather than having to make time. Carry a backpack with everything you’re going to need for the day and you’ve got weightlifting AND cardio. For maximum hard core workouts, there’s always the years we are in full Snowpocalypse mode, and you have to lift your knees up to your chest in order to get forward motion.

If you’re going to be a tourist here, it helps to learn a little about the city before you arrive. For instance, in every Metro station there are escalators. Stand on the right, climb on the left. Break this rule and not only will we know you’re a tourist, we’re going to hate you a little bit. Also, most people on the Metro will not be friendly if you make them take off their headphones… and if they are, they’re still seething on the inside because you’ve interrupted their Metro mojo. We all have it, whether it’s getting settled with games, podcasts, or music. But Metro is a time of transition between work and play, and the zoning out is the beautiful part. We don’t want to be “on.” You’re better off talking to other tourists or using Google Maps. I’ve been using the walking directions for three years now, and they’ve never let me down.

Additionally, the federal government is here, but it’s not really indicative of the feel of the city. We are liberal loudmouths (well, most of the time, anyway) who will protest almost anything. Political activism doubles as leisure, because if we get fired up about something, we’re taking a group of friends and making a day of it. At the women’s march last year, there were so many people at Braddock station that when I got on the train with my friends, I leaned over to my friend Lindsay and said, man… if they squeeze us in any tighter we’re going to have to get married. I was riffing on Dorothy Parker, who said that her first office with E.B. White was so small that if it was any smaller, they’d have to call it adultery. If you come to DC during a major march weekend, be prepared to have to wait in line to get on the train AND to stand so close to someone that all personal space becomes null & void.

Washington reminds me a lot of Portland, Oregon for two reasons. The first is that the emphasis on political activism as leisure is about the same. The second is that the Potomac runs through the city, making it look very much like the division the Willamette provides. It’s kind of interesting that the neighborhoods are similar as well, groupings that felt like home the moment I arrived.

For those just joining us, I am originally from Houston, but have spent a lot of time in Portland, to the point where I identify both of them as my “home towns.” That means I don’t feel particularly at home in either, because they are so night and day different that I never felt settled. To my great pleasure, here I feel no wanderlust at all. Yes, it’s cheaper to live elsewhere, but why would I want to?

And, it has to be said, DC is one of the gayest places on earth, and because of the emphasis on politics, filled with the type people that make my heart beat a little faster because they’re so incredibly intelligent. I haven’t found romantic love here, but that’s because I’ve never gone looking for it, and probably won’t for a long time. I am smart enough not to wish a relationship with me on anyone right now. It’s a rebuilding year, as they say in sportsball. But when I do feel ready, I will have no shortage of ridiculously attractive choices. The hardest part is finding women who are single, because why would they be? If I think they’re star-spangled awesome, chances are, someone else does, too.

For all you southern gays out there that are looking for a place to relocate because your red state politics make your head explode, I can’t recommend DC highly enough. I think the best thing about living here is that it successfully mixes northern and southern culture… as JFK so eloquently put it, Washington is a city with Southern efficiency and Northern charm. This comment is absolutely tongue-in-cheek, and yet, right on the money. Some of us are suit and tie, some of us are all fleece, all the time. I remember a few years ago, I got the comment, we can tell you don’t work on The Hill. You’re wearing brown pants.

What, you mean the Converse All-Stars didn’t give it away?

Caffeine and Football

This morning I’m drinking Turkish coffee, actually a product of Lebanon. It’s spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric… I think. I threw out the bag in favor of refilling a coffee can with a tight lid. I’m not drinking it the way the Lebanese do, though. I just put it in a regular cone filter so that there’s not “mud” at the end of every cup. It’s just as strong, though. Of that I made sure. I’m sure someone will either comment or @ me about it, that the “mud” is an essential part of the experience, I’m bucking a thousand years of tradition, etc. While all that may be true, I don’t need the pomp and circumstance every morning. I got it on Thanksgiving in tiny Redskins cups. I have no idea where one would purchase a Redskins Turkish coffee set, but they exist, apparently. Nothin’ says lovin’ like caffeine and football.

I’m gearing up to go out in the cold because I have a couple errands to run and I’m dragging ass this morning. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t have an answer…. oh, wait. Yes, I do. I’m 40. I think I’m officially “I’m going to drag ass every morning for the rest of my life” years old. Insert platitude about how every sunrise is a gift here.

I am sipping frequently as I write because snow is supposed to start falling during afternoon drive, and I want to get home before it starts so I can sit next to the picture window and watch. Snow in DC is magnificent, truly. I mean, not all the time. Sometimes it just looks dirty and gross like an ice rink when the Zamboni driver gets fired…. but newfallen snow on the monuments is the closest version of heaven on earth I’ll ever reach. I wait until the active snowing has stopped, then get outside as soon as I can. Then I just photograph everything…. from the houses in the neighborhood to the Supreme Court. It’s all magic to someone who’s spent most of their lives in a subtropical climate.

It just dawned on me that I am almost old enough to have spent more time out of Texas than in. Wow, that’s a sobering thought, especially since I haven’t drunk any alcohol since Christmas vacation. Is there such a thing as being more than sober? You know, like infamous? I wish I could remember what it was that I drank, because it tasted expensive.

I know it was whiskey or bourbon- I wouldn’t have thought anything else was worth it… and by “worth it,” I mean worth losing brain power. I don’t drink that much because I’m not a 100-watt bulb to begin with. Plus, if I drink more than one shot of something, if I do something stupid I won’t remember it well enough to embarrass myself properly on this web site…. because out of stupid things comes great writing. I have a good time with self-deprecating humor. It’s one of my specialties, because if I didn’t laugh at myself, I would continually cry. There’s just so much material to work with. If my medium was visual art, I’d have enough for three museums.

….with coffee shops.