Am I Being Punk’d?

When is the last time you took a risk? How did it work out?

I take risks all day long. Up until now, I’ve been in relationships with women. I’m genderqueer on the outside, genderfluid on the inside. Stepping out my front door is an act of courage, and not cowing to the demands of what society puts on women is another. I do not owe it to the world to put on makeup.

It might not make me look like a drag queen, but I certainly feel like it sometimes. I’m just not used to it anymore. It doesn’t feel natural like it used to. It feels like paint. So, I’ll still wear some (occasionally), but only mascara, eyeliner, and a bit of lip gloss. Jeremy Renner was a makeup artist before he was on camera, and he said something that made sense to me. All you need is to frame your face.

I have cut foundation out entirely, because that’s where skin problems start. I had horrible systemic acne as a teen, and fixed it with Accutane. Since then, I’ve just taken care of my skin. I don’t really have to do much- soap and water is just fine, as long as it’s not the cheapest soap you can find. Right now, I’m using African black soap, which clears up acne naturally…. And yet, Dove works fine, too. All I’m saying is that I chose to clear up the problem with pills rather than a multitude of creams that probably wouldn’t have worked, anyway.

After a time, it became impossible to control my acne with just topical applications, and it was a risk taking Accutane at all. There were horrible side effects- bone pain in my back and legs, dry skin (which wasn’t that bad until it was my lips), and my emotions were all over the place. I wasn’t on any psych meds at the time, but it wasn’t unrelated, either. One of the primary warnings is suicidal ideation….. probably because it makes you feel so bad that if you’ve been on it, you know that some days death would have been a welcome relief rather than trying to stand up fifteen minutes in a row.

In the end, it was worth it and I would do it again. But while you’re going through it, there’s really no end in sight. It takes six months, at least, and if it’s bad enough, you have to do it twice. You’re basically trying to kill all the oil glands in your face. It works, but it is a bitch and a half.

It was most embarrassing having to say to people so often, “no, I am not pregnant. I am not planning on becoming pregnant.” No one was being mean to me, the effects on the baby would have been that severe. But of course, it tapped into my worthless feelings because I knew I’d never have a baby. That’s crazy talk. Keep in mind, I was like 19. I finally just started saying I was a lesbian, and it stopped cold…. And then lesbians just HAD to have kids and make it normal….. God, you guys. 😛

I was completely obsessed with myself, but not in terms of vanity. I hurt all over, from constant headaches to backaches to period cramps being ten times as bad. That kind of constant pain wears on you, and I was waiting tables at the time. Just pain on top of pain.

When I think of that time in my life, the pain resurfaces, but it’s filtered through the fact that I only had to endure it for a short while…. Maybe a year. But I know chemo patients who have had it less rough than that.

Now, I have really good skin, but other problems with my health that need addressing…. And that is a risk, too, just because I don’t like going to the doctor. I think I know everything. But as I’ve said before, being the best doctor you’ve got isn’t a ringing endorsement.

And the truth is that I hate going to the doctor because no one knows me in Maryland. Outside my little Texas bubble, I don’t have any connection to a medical family and doctors get pedantic with me right away…. Even when I say things like “I have Aleve at home and it’s not working. Could I try Celebrex?” Then the doctor will say something like how I don’t need anything that strong and I’ll say “I don’t need a stronger dose of anything. I need both the Cox-1 and Cox-2 inhibitors” and all of the sudden a light dawns AND I CAN SEE IT HAPPENING. “Oh, she wasn’t kidding when she said she came from a medical family. Maybe she does know something.”

I am not here to give medical advice to anyone. I know my own body… and I am perfectly fine with OTC pain meds 90% of the time. If I was asking for Tylenol #3 or Vicoprofen, I could understand a doctor’s hesitation. No one is trying to scam you for narcotics, dude. I have enough issues. I don’t want addiction to be one of them.

Plus, I’m an introvert, and I don’t like dealing with people. It is a necessary evil. So, if I am not in any danger and I already know what’s going on, I can treat myself within limits. I don’t need to go to the doctor for bad allergies or a cold. I don’t need to go to the ER because dollars to donuts my pain won’t be taken seriously and I’ll be given a prescription for 600mg ibuprofen when I CAN COUNT, thanks (regular is 200mg). The one thing I won’t do is argue, because I don’t want to be accused of drug seeking behavior. That means even when you’re *really* bad off, no one will pay attention to you. It’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf…. Even when it’s not.

It’s a risk to see a doctor because you’re working off a thousand assumptions that have nothing to do with you. The doctor is running heuristics on my pain as easily as I do with emotional situations. However, I have never had a doctor be compassionate enough to see that I needed more than over the counter medications and I’m not dumb enough to insist that’s what they should do. I grit my teeth a lot.

In fact, the one doctor who did think I was in that much pain didn’t go to medical school in the United States, and therefore, could hold my hand and do little else. I had a housemate from Nigeria, Franklin, and one night I was cooking for us. I managed to slice into my finger while cutting a raw sweet potato, and the knife came down on my finger with force…. To the point I was scared to cook for a while. Franklin said later that he should have taken me to the ER because I needed stitches. I told him he was right, but that I had enough experience in a professional kitchen that it wasn’t an emergency. It was Tuesday.

It took forever for the finger to heal, but luckily, no nerve damage. The only nerve damage is from before I was a cook. I was 16 and still living in the parsonage when I sliced my thumb while cutting a lime for my Diet Coke (yes, I was 100% That Bitch). I’m 45, and there’s still a dead spot on the palm side.

Learning to cook professionally was a risk because I knew I wouldn’t be spectacular at it, I’d just have a ton of fun. And I did. Even when I was injured, it was fine…. Most of the time. I won’t lie and say I was always Mama’s brave little soldier, but in that kind of pressure cooker, losing your shit has to be in very small increments. There’s no time for anything else.

The job that came with the best perks was working in a restaurant at the Portland airport, because I had a badge that let me walk directly onto the tarmac. It was refreshing to go and take a break and watch the planes, which you can do in an airport restaurant because you can look at the loads for the day and tell when the pops are going to be.

It’s also a big risk to take a kitchen job, because there’s always a definite start time. Good luck finding the end.

I had a love-hate relationship being the last one out, because the last one out is the first to get blamed in the morning. Part of it was petty day crew/night crew bullshit. Part of it is that I’m physically weak and forget a lot. So whose fault it actually was in each instance isn’t important. What’s important is that it was relentless. I couldn’t win either way. So, whether you believe I am the best cook or the worst, it still sucked to walk in to a laundry list of my failures…. Particularly when another cook told management that I was the one who left something out, and he did. I took the fall for his raw chicken sins.

Being a writer is a risk. People think I flippantly post things, and I sweat blood. I had to get into the habit of hitting post as soon as I was done with an entry, because to wait was to let imposter syndrome set in. Nothing would ever be good enough…. And it still isn’t, but you people are too kind.

I would like to take a risk and go sit with the bees, but I can’t today. They don’t like rain, and today it is big, fat drops. I’m not sure I would love it out there, either. But Magda has grown lavender in the side yard or at least a year, and the bees love it more than life itself. I just wanted to clear it up that we do not have a hive. I have not had an audience with my queen. I just know all her loyal subjects, who listen to me as if they have nothing else to do because they’re better at multitasking than I am.

If I wear my blue hoodie, I am more attractive to them. I can’t decide whether I like that or not. They’re never aggressive, not ever. I just have to decide how comfortable I am with bees on me… because if I make a bad move and it is misinterpreted, there is no “Undo” feature.

I’m just glad that we have a safe space for bees in our yard, because I feel emotionally connected to them in more ways than one. Claire talks to her bees in “Outlander,” which makes me feel like less of a crazy person for doing the same. And I’m a cook. The plight of the bees is mine as well. Incidentally, my favorite version of “Flight of the Bumblebee” is twofold. The first was hearing Wynton Marsalis on a recording. The second was hearing Clark Terry do it live in a master class.

Speaking of which, I love meeting famous people. It’s always a risk, but it pays off. I come away with an interesting story, some of them interesting enough where the famous person will remember me, some not so much.

I could tell that I tickled the hell out of Wynton Marsalis when I told him I’d been waiting my whole life to meet him…. Just stifling his laughter at how long that must have been in all of my 15 years.

It’s kind of fun being able to say that I met so many people at HSPVA before they were famous, because the part of them that’s not famous is what I like best.

One of my favorite random conversations happened at the pub where I worked before the pandemic. I sat down at the bar for an ice water and a shift drink, and asked the guy next to me what he did. He said, “I’m a sound engineer for NPR.” He said, “what do you do?” I said, “I sling hash for a living.” The fucking bartender said, “I thought you worked here. You didn’t tell me you were a drug dealer.” The NPR sound engineer laughed until he cried.

I couldn’t even breathe I was laughing so hard, because this bartender was young enough to be my son. “Slinging hash” had a different meaning in his world.

Moving to DC was a big risk, but it paid off because I get to have these conversations all the time. I am permanently stuck at the smart kids’ table, right where I need to be just to soak up information…. And not filling my ears with hot air. So much more interesting to talk to people who make the news than watching it at night or listening on the radio.

Also, not going to lie…. Pretty great standing in front of a gaggle of groupies and talking to Robert Glasper when he says, “SHIT! You from the crib…” Grabbed me and hugged me like Mr. Hattox’s history class was yesterday and not 30 years ago. We didn’t take a selfie that time, but I think I got one on the next tour. By the time I got to talk to Robert after the first time I saw him, we were both exhausted and I didn’t think either of us would look good, anyway.… nothing to put on the refrigerator, anyway. I prefer it. I didn’t capture the look on Robert’s face when he saw a high school friend. That look was just for me.

I think I’ve said this before, but I knew Jason Moran back in the day better than I knew Robert Glasper, but yet still a risk to go and talk to him because I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me or not. He absolutely did, and I felt silly for wondering. I told him that I’d written to one of his albums, Ten, for a year. He turned around to the whole band and said, “hey guys… she wrote to Ten for a year.” I was so honored, because it meant something to him that his music fueled me, and meant something to me that he thought it was important enough to tell the band.

One of the big risks I took in high school was attending Summer Jazz Workshop, where I got integrated into the Houston jazz scene. My one claim to fame is that I was the trumpet soloist when my band was on a local television show called “Black Voices.” It was hilarious because the “Black Voices” logo appeared, and then my big white face with even bigger glasses.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t a prodigy at trumpet or anything else. I just decided to take a risk, because getting to be in the band at all was the point. I remember Doc Morgan, my jazz director at HSPVA, saying that he was going to miss me getting to do the traditional “senior tune,” where every graduating member of the band gets their own solo. I told him not to worry, that he’d featured me so much as a ninth grader that I felt like I already had mine… and it was true. I remember one solo that went extraordinarily well, and he said, “Leslie Lanagan… Ninth grade, ladies and gentlemen… NINTH GRADE.”

I peaked too soon, but it was worth it. I got the experience of a lifetime before being thrown to the wolves in marching band. That was its own special kind of risk…. But at least I only fell in rehearsal once. That is because I was marching backwards and either I ran into a bass drummer or he ran into me…. Unclear.

It was physical and alien, made torturous by the Texas heat. I do not regret the risk of staying in, of feeling embarrassed until I didn’t, allowing myself to suck at something until I didn’t. Being in the marching band was required to stay in the symphonic band, and came with a free trip to San Antonio, where we were presented The Sudler Flag, honoring the best of Texas music education…. And since my mom was a music teacher, she was already at the (Texas Music Educators Association, or TMEA) convention and got to hear me.

The last huge risk (huge) was preaching at Bridgeport, and I didn’t even do that until I was asked. No one really knew me, didn’t know where I’d come from, and didn’t expect anything. Sometimes, I was on fire (according to me) and sometimes I sucked (also according to me). But the thrill was becoming experienced at something I’d only watched from a distance…. And as it turns out, I’m like every preacher in the world. The sermon you think sucks is what everyone remembers, and the sermon you thought was gold is straight trash.

So that’s how I view this web site, too. It’s a risk, but I know that the very worst entry I write, someone will absolutely adore. Something I like will languish, because people don’t think the way I do, and thank God for that. Otherwise, I would be preaching to an echo chamber.

A risk all its own, and one that never pays off.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s