Life’s a Beach

I just put rice on for supper. This time it was spraying the pan with grapeseed oil, and adding brown rice, salt, all-purpose seasoning, and dried cranberries. When it’s done, I’m going to add black beans and a vegetable protein. Not sure whether it will be “chicken” or “fish.” I enjoy the taste of the “fish” better, but “chicken” would probably coordinate better. As I have said before, I occasionally eat meat, eggs, and drink milk. But what I have discovered over time is that a plant-based diet is better for my mental and physical health.

Most of the reason I still become an omnivore is that I don’t believe in making other people bend to accommodate me. When I go to other people’s houses and they offer to cook for me, what we’re having is what we’re having. It’s just how hospitality works for me. And on one occasion, I got a craving for bacon and asked for it on a veggie burger. It was at a restaurant, and Dan went to the bar and ordered for us. When she came back, she said, “the next time you’re going to do that, you have to order it.” Something about the bartender looking at her like she had three heads. However, I will tell you that bacon tastes even better with veggie protein than it does with beef, especially spicy black bean patties.

Last night I made myself a “double cheeseburger” with spicy black bean patties and vegan cheddar. It was so good I considered making myself a second one. I didn’t bother with “bacon,” because I have tried every single brand of veggie bacon available, and to me, they all taste like bacon-flavored plastic. Well, except tempeh. It’s not terrible, but that’s the best endorsement I offer.

I do love the hell out of veggie sausage, however…. especially the breakfast ones. Morningstar Farms makes maple-flavored patties, and Field Roast makes Smoked Apple Sage links. If you’ve tried veggie sausage before and didn’t like it, might I suggest cutting it longways and frying it on medium heat? Respect first contact, and don’t touch it until it’s time to flip. Let the bottom caramelize in the oil. The crispy outside is my favorite part. It makes my hot dogs look weird and kind of hard to eat, but I’ll never go back to meat dogs if I can help it. The ingredients in them scare me- always have.

And yes, I do enjoy both Beyond and Impossible burgers, but not as much as patties made out of black beans or chickpeas.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Speaking of TED talks, I am reminded of Brené Brown. I really love her, but not just because what she says makes sense. When I watched her TED talk, I thought she looked familiar. I decided that I just knew someone who looked like her, and then I remembered that she went to University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work. My aha! moment was when I realized that I was the supervisor of their computer lab in 1999, and she was probably one of “my kids.” I fact checked it with her team, and it’s true. So I met her before she was a household name. I wish I could say that I remembered more about her at that time, but being able to say that we’ve actually been in the same room is enough. Most people who’ve watched her would give a limb to be in the same room now. But it’s not like she’d remember me and we’d go shopping together or anything.

Moving on, the title of this entry also comes from hospitality. My family and I are all getting together at a beach house in Galveston starting the first week of June. I’m all set except for needing to get a bathing suit or some board shorts and a top. I love swimming in the ocean, and wish we’d lived in Galveston longer when I was a child.

As an adult, my favorite memory involves my mother. I called her up and said that I was going to the beach for the day, and did she want to come? To my surprise, she said “yes. Come get me.” When we got there, she actually got in the ocean with me, and I don’t have any memories of her doing so when I was five. She hate hate hated cold water, so getting into pools and oceans was not her vibe. My mother was also constantly obsessed with calories, and therefore every time I ordered dessert she would just sit there, looking longingly and never taking a bite.

I always ordered something sour, like key lime pie, because to eat chocolate cake in front of her seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. When I ordered dessert at our post beach dinner, I offered her half and she ate it. That day was just full of unexpected pleasures, and exactly what made it so special. She got out of her comfort zone in a way that made me incredibly happy, and the memory ranks in my Top Ten list.

The end of the trip marks my mother’s birthday, so I am sure that my sister and I will go out to the cemetery in some sort of matching outfits to honor something that she always liked. It feels better to grieve with her than alone, but during Mother’s Day, that’s how it’s going down. I have purposely made myself busy that day, because otherwise I would hide under my blankets and sleep it off. I am going on the 2:00 tour of The International Spy Museum, and then I think I’m going to the Smithsonian National Zoo, weather permitting. This is because one of my favorite things to do in DC is to sit on the bench in front of the giraffe enclosure and write. I use a Bluetooth keyboard and either my phone or my tablet. I also really, really enjoy taking photos, and over time, I’ve gotten better at it. The reason I know this is that now I rely on my natural eye rather than The GIMP to get the angle I want.

I’m also going to take pictures at the spy museum, but I’m not going to post them publicly. It’s an experience that deserves to be a surprise when you go. No spoilers, especially since I’m going on opening day.

And on that note, I think my rice is ready.

Two Words

It’s amazing how two words can make your whole day.

It’s amazing how two words can destroy it.

The two words that lit me up like a Christmas tree were “someday perhaps?”

The two words that cratered me were “Mother’s Day.”

The words that made me smile were in reference to a future hangout with the aforementioned pen pal that I’d never actually met in real life, but had been writing to for years and years. When he/she (not giving anything away) comes to DC, it will be fun to laugh together, hug, and show them my version of my city.

My mother died in October of 2016, and as you can imagine, I’m not over it. Mother’s Day happens every single year, and I am sort of used to the onslaught of ads that pointedly ask if you’ve remembered to buy presents. The thing is, though, I’d forgotten Mother’s Day was coming up, and being reminded when I wasn’t thinking about it and wasn’t prepared was, in a word, awful.

So, like you do, I immediately bought a ticket to the opening of the new International Spy Museum that day. What I mean by this is that the museum itself is not new, the-new-spy-museum-atthey’ve just moved and expanded from F Street to L’Enfant Plaza. The only thing I will miss about their old digs is the Shake Shack around the corner. Because, of course, the thing you need after looking at espionage gadgets is a black and white malt. But get it to go. Every time I’ve been to a Shake Shack, seating was a nightmare.

I’m also saving some money for the gift shop. Last time I went, I got a t-shirt on clearance that says, “Argo @$#% Yourself” with the spy museum logo on the sleeve. It is brilliant, but I don’t wear it unless I’m hanging out with friends I feel comfortable with- not always a huge fan of meeting new people in a t-shirt that says “fuck,” even bleeped for child safety. Since I am such a huge fan of “Argo,” I found an old promotional t-shirt on Amazon for $10 that says, “the movie was fake. The op was real,” and has “Argo” in large letters with the skyline of Tehran cut into the bottom, plus the release date of the film. That one I wear all the time.

As I was telling a friend, I think I found the last piece of memorabilia available except the script, which I don’t need because I have the movie memorized, anyway. To say that I’ve seen it 25 times is an understatement by a large margin…. mostly because it is jaw-droppingly scary in some places and so damned funny I start laughing and can’t stop in others… especially every time Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and/or Bryan Cranston are on screen. To wit:

The setup is that O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) is driving Mendez to an airport to get on the plane to Tehran.

O’Donnell: I’m required to remind you that if you’re detained, The Agency will
not claim you.
Mendez: Barely claim me as it is.
O’Donnell: Your ˜In Case Of’s’ good?
Mendez: Just Christine (his son’s mother, they’re separated). Guess I should have brought some books to read in prison.
O’Donnell: Nah. They’ll kill you long before prison.

For those of you who haven’t seen “Argo,” Ben Affleck both directed it and played Tony Mendez (emphatic fist shake at not casting a Hispanic actor), who rescued six diplomats who managed to escape from the embassy in Tehran and hide out in the Canadian ambassador’s house (the ambassador is brilliantly played by Victor Garber- also one of my favorite fictional spies as Jack Bristow in “Alias”).

I love how the movie is heartbreaking and hilarious in one breath. And no, I didn’t have to look up the lines, just can’t remember whether they’re at National or Dulles. And even though I’ve seen it more times than all my other favorites combined, I still cry at the end (not a spoiler, just the orchestral score).

My best wish for the new digs is that they have a huge Tony Mendez exhibit, because he died not too long ago and therefore, I would guess that even more of his ops are declassified. I am not totally clear on the rules, but I believe when you die you lose your covers, and the ops you’ve done can be made public… just not the ones that involve other people still alive and/or are still in progress. It’s possible some are still current, because I believe that after Tony left the CIA full time, he was still an occasional consultant. No one would want to lose all that experience permanently unless the person was really, really gone. I can’t imagine the grief inside The Agency, because he was a straight-up legend.

In a way, I think that subconsciously I picked going to the spy museum because Tony died to remind myself that I am not the only person in the world in grief.

I feel the same way about walking through cemeteries. To me, it is not morbid. It is an uplifting reminder that I am not alone in my sadness, situational depression, wondering what we’d be gabbing about if she were still here, etc. What I find is that as time goes on, the well of emotional injury gets more shallow, but there are triggers that pull me right back to her open casket, and how I felt completely disoriented, as if the world had started spinning the other direction and I could feel it.

One of those triggers was Tony’s death. I started crying and couldn’t stop, eventually realizing that it wasn’t all about him. Yes, it was devastating to lose a national treasure, but it was also a direct hit on how “gone” death truly means. And not to demean losing friends or extended family, but your reality doesn’t actually crack until you lose a parent. The entire universe seems different, and for a while, it loses all its color. You just wander around sort of half alive in grayscale.

I knew that I was getting better when I could make an effort to see friends, but at first, it was only other people who had also lost a parent. They were my people, the ones who I could confide in and share my rage at the dumb things people say when you lose a loved one, knowing innately that they mean no malice, so you can’t get mad at them directly. You can only get mad at the situation. Bad theology got on my nerves, didn’t measure up to one lady who compared the death of her cat to the death of my mother at church. It made my rage go to 11 and I had to excuse myself as not to emotionally rip her to shreds, because if I had waited even another three seconds, I would have taken her head off.

There’s only one other situation that makes me truly uncomfortable, and that’s the people who, upon hearing about your parent’s death, start crying because they can’t imagine what’s going to happen when their parents die, and that also happened to me in public (again, at church). The reason it’s tone deaf is because my natural reaction was “well, it’s a good thing I’m going through it and not you.” It’s just so egocentric that I cannot deal. It’s just another situation in which I just have to walk away, because I have not come up with an appropriate response, just a sarcastic one.

And that’s the thing. Because you know the people around you aren’t trying to hurt you, there’s just nothing that anyone can say that will make it better, you have no idea what to say in response to the awkward and often just stupid.

If you don’t know what to do, let me tell you. Grief is as individual as a fingerprint, and everyone processes differently, but this generally works across the board. Say “I’m sorry for your loss,” and offer to be present. And that’s it. The ones I loved the most during that time were people who showed up, but didn’t say much of anything. They just sat next to me as I stared off into space and were willing to listen if I could manage to talk. But they offered no advice on what to do, they just let me process verbally. It’s never a case of needing advice on what to do, especially if you haven’t lost a parent yourself. It’s giving the person room to breathe and never, ever comparing grief, even if you’ve been in the same situation. Because we’re not in the same boat, just the same ocean and trying to keep our heads above water. Suffering is universal, but we all have different ways of coping.

For instance, when I was actually in town for the funeral and with my sister and my dad, I hardly emoted at all because I was speaking at the funeral and I wanted to feel put together for it. I wanted to be able to be funny, because the eulogies I enjoy the most are the ones that offer real insight into the person. My mother was a church musician almost her entire life, starting at 12 or 13. So my opening line was, “this is the only funeral Carolyn Baker’s ever been to where she wasn’t working.” It had the desired effect. The entire congregation just broke up.

I am also quite socially anxious, and only three people I knew besides my family came to the funeral, so I had to put on a mask and a suit of armor to deal with being in a HUGE crowd where I knew practically no one. The mask and the armor are extroversion to an Oprah-like level, while inside I am shaking and counting the seconds until I can get home. In short, I didn’t look like someone in grief until I flew back to DC, where I only got out of bed sporadically for about three months. I allowed myself to completely fall apart, just not in front of anyone. I did once, and it was terrifying, so I never did it again. I gave lip service to letting people in, and then I completely isolated, only emoting through e-mail or crying into my pillows when no one was home. I couldn’t even bear crying that was loud enough for my housemates to come running, and they’re people I’d trust with my life.

In public, I became stoic and divorced from my emotions, because feeling even small emotions led to a flooding out I couldn’t stop. It was better not to start, because it would stop me from engaging in conversation. Even when I was with friends, there was a risk I wouldn’t take- being there, but not present….. people talking at my body while my soul was out there somewhere, unable to respond appropriately with laughter or empathy or whatever the situation needed…. as well as just nodding and smiling because I could hear people talking, but I couldn’t understand what was being said. It became background noise.

In essence, compartmentalization was necessary to have a fighting chance at moving on.

I thought I knew grief from bad breakups, and it was a wake-up call to realize how differently devastating this grief continues to be.

That’s because even though you gain and lose people to circumstances throughout your life, there’s still a small chance they’ll reappear. You apologize for being shitty people to each other and as long as the apology comes with changed behavior, it will generally stick…. or as I call it from a stolen line, “resurrection happening in the middle of the mess.”

As an aside, Easter is a very important holiday for me, because I don’t generally celebrate Jesus’ resurrection literally, but the way we resurrect ourselves, both individually and in community.

When a person dies, as opposed to a relationship, you lose hope. You lose the future. And if the person dies relatively young, you get angry at having the years stolen away in which you feel entitled. My mother was 65. She died just months after her retirement from teaching- she never even got to enjoy it. What I miss the most is that I thought we could go to church together more often, because she wasn’t working. Even when she took time off to come and visit me, she’d never take time off from church as well. When she died, she was completely free, because her church had so few members that they decided to close, and she hadn’t found a new church yet. I’d already started looking through solos because I thought I had my favorite accompanist back, and I’d already talked to my choir director about it.

My choir director and my mother were cut from the same cloth, and every time Sam played solo piano, if I closed my eyes I couldn’t tell the difference. When my mother died, it made me come unglued. I went to church for about six weeks after I came back from the funeral, and it was just long enough to realize that it was the biggest trigger of them all and I still can’t go back. I know I will; eventually I will get that trigger stamped back down to manageable, but today is not that day.

I do appreciate that Mike, the husband in the family I live with, keeps inviting me to his church, even though it’s relatively conservative United Methodist. I’d still take him up on it because I know the hymnal from front to back, as well as soprano descants for nearly everything. Singing would be the most important part of church for me no matter what the congregation believes.

In true introvert form, I want to be invited even if I don’t take you up on it.

Another two words that make my day?

Please come.

Let’s Catch Up

I am so sorry to say that I’ve been cheating on you. It’s not you, it’s me. I love you, and I hope we can work it out.

Basically, I have a pen pal, and all my writing has been going privately between us rather than posting here. I think about you every day, but after baring my soul in black and white once, it’s hard to think about doing it again.

However, I do have a lot to say.

First of all, the MRI didn’t find anything and I am still in pain. I’ve been wearing a sling that you put in the freezer before you wear it, and taking Aleve every day. My next step is probably a massage therapist, but there’s a chance I could make it worse, so it’s a hard decision. Nothing is worse than pain a doctor can’t find, especially since it’s bad enough to need narcotics but I won’t deal with the side effects. I could get addicted to them, and besides that, they cause dehydration to the point of bowel impaction (gross) no matter what you do. In short, it’s just not worth it. I have better things to do besides rehab.

I have had to switch jobs because of it. I couldn’t move fast enough in the kitchen, and I couldn’t lift more than 10 lbs. without help. So, I do medical transcription from home through a company called Rev, choosing medicine/health because I worked for my stepmother (rheumatologist) for two years and have excellent recall with the spelling of drug names and being able to easily and naturally spell diseases without help- either from seeing them in print before or using my quick thinking with Latin roots.

Rev has introduced a new feature: it’s a computer-generated translation where you only have to go in and correct rather than typing the whole thing as I did originally. Notice I said “new” rather than useful. Computers are shit at spelling words that aren’t in the dictionary, and there are more of them than, say, if someone was transcribing a business meeting. It hinders more than it helps. The only thing that sometimes makes it hard is doctors with accents. I am okay with French, German, etc. Not so good with Indian and African. Nigerian is the worst. I can understand people from India, Nigeria, Eritrea, etc. just fine in person, but on a recording, I have to listen to them 10-15 times to get something like “ankylosing spondylitis.” At least the recordings are digital and much clearer than analog.

In fact, I meet tons of people from Africa almost every day, because Silver Spring has a HUGE African immigrant population and a lot of them drive for Uber. We get along famously, because especially with young men, what we have in common is soccer.

In fact, one of my roommates is a physician from Nigeria who is studying for his boards to get certified in the United States (looks 15 to me), and yesterday we hung out in his room watching Tottenham vs. Ajax. I knew from the beginning that Tottenham was going to lose, because even when Ajax has bad years, they aren’t THAT bad. My senior year of high school (1996), Ajax made it to the European cup finals, where the game ended in a 1-1 draw and Ajax lost by just two penalty kicks. It was heartbreaking even though I really didn’t have any skin in the game. I just hate it when teams come so close, and yet, so far.

I have a lot of soccer jerseys and one fabulous “dressy” shirt from Barca that I got from Dana’s parents one year for Christmas. Only one is personalized- Lionel Messi, a gift from my friend Katherine. The others are just as cool:

  • MLS Jerseys and Scarves
    • Portland Timbers (has Timber Joey and a chainsaw on the back)
    • Houston Dynamo
    • Houston Dash
    • DC United
  • National Teams
    • Mexico
    • Honduras
    • Costa Rica
    • South Africa (actually, that one is Springboks Rugby, but a sports jersey nonetheless)

Next on my list are Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and a t-shirt from the Canadian Soccer Association. One of these things is not like the others, but I can’t get over this logo. I must have it, especially since I now own red shoes. If I can’t find what I want, I will buy a really thick white or grey t-shirt and print it out on a t-shirt transfer. Canadian_Soccer_Association_logo.svgThe background on this image is transparent, so I know that one must exist that is large enough for 8.5×11 paper. If not, I’ll put it on the pocket or the sleeve. It will go nicely with the ringer T I have that says “Canadians are Eh-holes.”

Inside joke- my very first high school girlfriend was Canadian, so I cannot help but make jokes at Canada’s expense. I love her to death, but she’s still my ex. Therefore, she deserves ribbing, but not hard enough to actually be mean about it…. especially since I have been to Montreal and Ottawa, and while I was there I could imagine myself as an expat immediately. If I ever decide to drive again, I’d love to take a road trip to Ottawa for Canada Day, then turn around in enough time to be in DC for the Fourth. Road trips from here to Ottawa are really fun. You go through Philly, New York City, Boston, and Montreal….. and the Ben and Jerry’s factory isn’t too far out of the way.

The time I went, it was Sept. 12, 2001, and Kathleen and I had tickets to Rent on Broadway. Needless to say, we didn’t make the show. We took a few days in Boston, instead.

I tend to jump around on subjects naturally because I’m either workshopping or terribly ADD, anyway, but today I have a first to report. I took my medication, then two hours later, I forgot and took them again. Lamictal causes terrible dyspraxia at high doses, and I’m at 400mg right now. Lexapro causes something I like…. euphoria. So maybe I’m incredibly joyous, but it remains to be seen whether I can hold onto it. 😛

My depression and anxiety has been so bad lately that it feels nice to let go of it all and just enjoy life for a while, even if it’s only a few hours. There’s a pointed reason my anxiety is ratcheted up, but I can’t lay that card on the table. I would if I could, but it betrays more than one person’s confidence, and that just isn’t right. This blog is my story to tell, not to tell theirs for them. So, I can talk about my reactions, but not the cause. But the long and short of it is that I am not fighting with anyone, or in conflict. Just worried because one of my friends is going through the shit right now, and it’s not anyone I’ve mentioned in the past, and not likely to appear in the future. I have to have something that’s only for me. I hope I already give you enough to really know me.

For instance, I’ll give you the tidbit of how I had a Canadian girlfriend in the first place. Her dad worked for ExxonMobil (Esso in Canada), and therefore the whole famn damily moved to Texas, save, I think, her sister, who was already at university.

It’s also the reason I am so entrenched with the soccer bug. By the time we’d broken up and made friends again, she commented that I knew more about soccer than she did, despite playing Div I ball and training for the Canadian Olympic development team by the time she quit… the combination of a toxic coach and eight surgeries on her knees from Osgood-Schlatter’s disease…. which, at the time, I made it a point not to remember the name of it and called it Oskar Schindler’s disease for years. I call it by its proper name now- it’s no fun anymore because she’s not around for me to flip her shit.

So I just keep buying and being gifted soccer jerseys and learning about national teams from countries I’ll probably never visit. The funniest thing is that I know so much about the players themselves, but am still sort of unclear on all the rules. Offsides is particularly difficult for me to “diagnose.”

And now I feel I should make a pointed difference between telling others’ stories when it’s not something that’s been asked to keep in confidence and they are 20 years old. If you say “keep it tight,” I will.

I made a huge mistake by sharing everything with Dana, when not all friendships are designed to be “couple friendships.” Friends deserve confidential spaces in my heart just as much as my partners.

Note to future partners as well…. if I keep something from you, it’s because it’s needed for the other person to feel safe with me, not because I love you any less. I’m the one they trusted, not you. I will give you that space as well.

I can’t remember how long it’s been, but someone actually asked me about my dating life and I had to admit that I don’t have one, and am not likely to have one in the future. Believe me, if I did, I’d talk about it. I don’t date for two reasons, and both are valid.

The first is that I really, really hurt Dana and she really, really hurt me. You’d think four years would be enough time to get over it, but I see no evidence of it. The way it manifests is that I know I’m capable of hurting people, so therefore, I shy away from dating as not to hurt anyone else.

There are two pathways of thought that are cognitive dissonance for me. Some experts say that you need to get your own house in order before you add anyone. Some say that new relationships teach you new ways of coping, and after an appropriate amount of grieving, it doesn’t matter if you handle everything perfectly. You’ll learn “on the job.”

I tend to agree with the former rather than the latter. If you don’t resolve old patterns, they follow you. It’s a new person, but you’re still the same, so you tend to drag them into your ways of dealing because you don’t know differently yet…. and if the way you deal is unhealthy, the new relationship will spiral out into old history.

But I can’t pin all of this on my relationship with Dana. I wasn’t even ready for Meagan (Canadian) even though I thought I was. My way of coping with emotional abuse as a teenager was to lock it away and pretend that because it wasn’t physical, it wasn’t abuse. Not really, anyway. When someone convinced me of the truth, it was as if a bomb dropped in my soul and my stomach dropped to the floor. The blast radius was enormous, mostly because I couldn’t tell which came first. Did my depression and anxiety make me an easy target, or was I depressed and anxious because I was being emotionally abused? I tend to think of that as the former as well, because medication correcting my chemical imbalance didn’t solve the problem, but it did make it a whole hell of a lot better, especially when a psychiatrist in college was astute enough to realize that I wasn’t unipolar, but low-key bipolar. I didn’t truly do much better until I was on a mood stabilizer. That’s because an SSRI was just a Band-Aid and the mood stabilizer actually treated the problem. I was helped again when my anxiety was treated as a separate issue and started taking medication for it as well. To be clear, my anxiety medication does not treat me psychologically. That, I have to do with talk therapy. What it actually does is take away the physical symptoms, like heart and brain race, and popping off with irrational rage because my emotions are going to 11 and I feel like I am literally going to die. There’s a reason people get panic attacks confused with myocardial infarction, because they can cause angina if they’re severe enough. The worst panic attack I’ve ever had was during my divorce from Dana, because something she said registered all my hot buttons at once and I went from fully-functioning adult to weeping, hyperventilating, and heart pain inside of one second. I crumpled to the floor, and Dana called my parents because my stepmom is a doctor. It was the first time they’d seen the bruise under my eye and it did not go well.

The long and short of it is that no matter how badly I behaved emotionally, I didn’t do anything for the physical barrier to be broken. Dana didn’t hit me first, but she did shove me over and that’s when my anxiety caused rational rage. The irrational part was fighting back when I should’ve run and never come back. She was over a hundred pounds heavier than me and her fist was three times as big. Why I thought standing up for myself was a good idea will always be beyond me. It was like thinking, “what would a chihuahua do in this situation if a St. Bernard was picking on them?” Ummm, get themselves into a horrible situation, that’s what.

I didn’t deserve what I got, but I could have handled it differently. I could have gotten in my car and driven to a friend’s. I could have called the police because Dana was so angry that I knew nothing would de-escalate. I could have called someone to come and get me because I was so angry I probably shouldn’t have been driving. But in that moment, the person I wanted wasn’t available… because there’s a difference between any friend showing up and knowing what would happen if the person I was thinking of did. There are few people in the world I can think of who would have caused as much intimidation to get the de-escalation I needed and couldn’t get on my own.

I also go back to a few weeks before that fight, to a friend saying I needed to get away from Dana because what he saw was that she was constantly shitting all over my ideas and not treating me as an equal, which made him really, really mad because I was the one taking care of our family financially and giving her a free ride because I wanted it that way. I wanted to give her the gift of the space to think about what she really wanted to do, and at that time, it was teach. So she’d need to go back to school, whether it was to do a post-bac teaching degree or a course to get certified with the Bachelor’s she already had. She got rejected from the HISD program and instead of finding another one, crumpled into depression and couldn’t pull herself out. So, while she was dismissing me as a partner, she was also doing nothing about an easily solvable problem because she was so good at so many things. She loved cooking, she loved math and logic and could have made an excellent programmer, etc. etc. etc. With anything she chose, she eventually would have been making more than me, and perhaps I could have gone back to school. Or we could have both applied for student loans and carpooled to University of Houston.

It’s always so sad that hindsight is 20/20.

Being the “parent” in the relationship is I’m sure why it was so easy to fall into those “being in love with a stranger on a train” feelings. I wasn’t getting what I needed at home, and the dopamine of an explosive connection helped. It flooded my brain with happiness, so I was more capable of dealing with my problems, which at the time seemed hopeless because I became enmeshed in trying to “fix” Dana when she had to confront her own brokenness and there was nothing I could or should do to help her.

As Argo said to me, “why do you expect everyone else to fix you?” I wonder if I’d said that to Dana if she would have reacted as I did, which was to realize I had agency and that the only thing that would help me with my compounded PTSD (emotional abuse as a teen and the fight between Dana and me) would be getting to an emergency room and getting my shit handled on my own. I decided to be a gladiator in a suit.

Now I have two suits, and a lot of soccer jerseys.

I’m sorry I cheated on you. Are we cool?

Klosterman Conundrums

There are 23 interview questions in Chuck Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.” I decided to answer a few, and will possibly answer more later. These are the ones that jumped out at me.



Let us assume a fully grown, completely healthy Clydesdale horse has his hooves shackled to the ground while he head is held in place with thick rope. He is conscious and standing upright, but he is completely immobile. And let us assume that for some reason every political prisoner on earth (as cited by Amnesty International) will be released from captivity if you can kick this horse to death in less than twenty minutes. You are allowed to wear steel-toed boots. Would you attempt to do this?


This is not a hard one for me. I would never put an animal’s value over a human’s, no matter how much I hated people at the time. Plus, the horse is already being tortured, so who’s to say death wouldn’t be welcome? As Dr. Hunt so eloquently said in “Grey’s Anatomy,” victory is the option where the least people get killed. And of course I would feel bad that I killed an animal, but not that bad. Plus, you’d really have to see my physical stature to know how little danger the horse would be in at my hand. I’m 124 on a good day. Even with steel toed boots, I couldn’t kill that horse for love or money.

At long last, somebody invents the dream VCR. This machine allows you to tape an entire evenings worth of your own dreams, which you can then watch at your leisure. However, the inventor of the dream VCR will only allow you to use this device if you agree to a strange caveat: When you watch your dreams, you must do so with your family and your closest friends in the same room. They get to watch your dreams along with you. And if you don’t agree to this, you cant use the dream VCR. Would you still do this?

My dreams actually get quite frightening, and I care enough about my family and friends to know that the movies that run through my mind would haunt them. I’d like to see the tape, but I remember enough already to be satisfied. Dealing with the blast radius after so many emotional bombs drop would be devastating. I am sure that my answer was supposed to be funny, but I just can’t with this one. Plus, with the way I roll on the Internet, I have very little private information left. It would be worth it not to have the VCR just to have something of my own, regardless of what my friends and family think. I know if there are people’s tapes I desperately want to see, somebody would want to see mine. But I can’t live on their opinions.

You meet the perfect person. Romantically, this person is ideal; You find them physically attractive, intellectually stimulating, consistently funny, and deeply compassionate. However, they are one quirk: This individual is obsessed with Jim Henson’s Gothic puppet fantasy, “The Dark Crystal.” Beyond watching it on DVD at least once a month, he/she peppers casual conversation with “Dark Crystal” references, uses “Dark Crystal” analogies to explain everyday events, and occasionally likes to talk intensely about the films deeper philosophy. Would this be enough to stop you from marrying this individual?

My initial answer was yes. So many people have quoted that movie to me that I have lost all interest in watching it, and I think I’ve seen a scene or two walking by the television, and even the visuals were frightening. I changed my mind when I realized that this person would have to put up with every fandom I follow, too. I can put up with “The Dark Crystal” if they can put up with “Doctor Who,” “Outlander,” “Homeland,” “Whiskey Cavalier,” and every intel movie that’s come out in the last 20 years…. with a large dose of “Monty Python” thrown in for good measure. I am a fountain of media quotes that come out at both appropriate and inappropriate times.

A novel titled “Interior Mirror” is released to mammoth commercial success (despite middling reviews). However, a curious social trend emerges: Though no one can prove a direct scientific link, it appears that almost 30 percent of the people who read this book immediately become homosexual. Many of the newfound homosexuals credit the book for helping them reach this conclusion about their orientation, despite the fact that “Interior Mirror” is ostensibly a crime novel with no homoerotic content (and was written by a straight man). Would this phenomenon increase (or decrease) the likelihood of you reading this book?

Since I’m already a lesbian, I don’t think it would bother me much. But if it worked in reverse, that there was a 30 percent chance it would make me straight, I’d at least have to give it some thought. I once dated a man for about six months as an adult, and the only reason I had for hating it was heterosexual privilege, which you don’t realize is there until you have it when you didn’t before, and will most likely lose it if you’re not a three on the Kinsey scale. You notice micro and macro aggression, like people who tell awful, derogatory jokes about gay people without realizing exactly who they’re talking to……………. and that’s the least offensive example.

That being said, if I met a woman I adored at first sight who happened to be straight and loved books, I might be tempted to recommend it. I would tell her about the phenomenon up front so it didn’t come across like a shady ace up my sleeve. Worth a shot, right? I’m not going to bank on those odds, though. But, of course, the likelihood is that hearing about the phenomenon would create a subconscious affect that dissipated quickly. It’d be a great relationship for about two weeks, which is probably more than an introverted writer can handle, anyway.

You have won a prize. The prize has two options, and you can choose either (but not both). The first option is a year in Europe with a monthly stipend of $2,000. The second option is ten minutes on the moon. Which option do you select?

Again, introverted writer. Shortest trip possible. I don’t even like to go to the store. Very few people can live in Europe on $2,000/month, anyway. Wait, that’s not true. I’m sure I could find a poor village somewhere. But moving wouldn’t interest me. I’ll never leave DC if I can help it.

Your best friend is taking a nap on the floor of your living room. Suddenly, you are faced with a bizarre existential problem: This friend is going to die unless you kick them (as hard as you can) in the rib cage. If you dont kick them while they slumber, they will never wake up. However, you can never explain this to your friend; if you later inform them that you did this to save their life, they will also die from that. So you have to kick a sleeping friend in the ribs, and you cant tell them why. Since you cannot tell your friend the truth, what excuse will you fabricate to explain this (seemingly inexplicable) attack?

The answer would lie in which friend was on the floor, because I don’t have one person I consider my best friend, and the person I view as closest to me isn’t likely to want to nap on my floor as it would require quite a flight. I’m relatively quick on my feet, though, and the trick is not to give too many details because you won’t remember them. See every intel movie ever made in the last 20 years. 😉

For whatever the reason, two unauthorized movies are made about your life. The first is an independently released documentary, primarily comprised of interviews with people who know you and bootleg footage from your actual life. Critics are describing the documentary as brutally honest and relentlessly fair. Meanwhile, Columbia Tri-Star has produced a big-budget biopic about your life, casting major Hollywood stars as you and all your acquaintances; though the movie is based on actual events, screenwriters have taken some liberties with the facts. Critics are split on the artistic merits of this fictionalized account, but audiences love it. Which film would you be most interested in seeing?

I would much prefer the big budget movie because I would enjoy answering the questions re: real vs. reel. Let me tell you, either way it’s a juicy screenplay if I lay all my cards on the table. It would mostly be character study, because even though I have moved places a lot, I tend to do the same things in my daily life…… and I am definitely a character. I would also like to make a cameo as a wacky neighbor.

 

The One About the MRI

Months ago, I was in so much pain that I rushed myself to Urgent Care, crying and shaking because my shoulder hurt so bad. I was told to follow up with my doctor because I needed an MRI to see whether it was just a strain or something more serious- a tear, which requires surgical intervention. I didn’t, because I was prescribed a course of narcotics, and by the time I was finished with it and only needed Aleve sporadically, it seemed “unpossible” that it was bad enough for a follow-up. My range of motion was back to normal, and I went back to ignoring it, because I thought I could…. the pain went away on its own.

I should have been more vigilant, because I’ve dealt with this sort of pain for years, not realizing it was my rotator cuff and getting massages to “work out the knots.” Stupid, stupid, stupid. This is what happens when you’re a doctor’s kid. You make uneducated guesses because you think you’ve picked up actual medical knowledge by osmosis. I know exactly how it started. Working in a medical office is fast and furious at times, and every time I left a patient room, I was carrying the chart in my right hand and closing the door with my left. The way I exited, the door ended up being behind me, and it was an awkward reach, but faster than closing the door like a normal person. Later on, the pain came back, because I was cooking professionally all the time and reaching for heavy pots and pans that would invariably put pressure on the already sensitive areas.

Now I’m back in excruciating pain, and decided that seeing a real MD was better than my own less-than-perfect education.Ralph Wiggum I can’t just do occasional courses of narcotics forever, and it should have set off alarm bells that I needed Aleve and Tylenol so often. I have now come to believe that Ralph Wiggum would have made better decisions than me. As Ralph would say, “I’m bembarassed for you!”

Just because I worked in my stepmom’s office for a while doesn’t mean much. I learned a ton, but it’s just not the same. Duh, Leslie. The stupid, it burns…. I feel like the moral equivalent of this picture. Even Ralph went to the doctor, who told him he “wouldn’t have so many nosebleeds if he didn’t keep his finger up there.” Now that’s some sound medical advice.

I went to the doctor on Monday, and he wrote me a referral to imaging. The next available appointment wasn’t until today. Dr. Akoto said he wanted to see me back in a week, but I think I’m going to call him and reschedule for next Wednesday, because imaging told me that the radiology report probably wouldn’t be back by Monday since my appointment with them isn’t until 2:15.

If I’m honest, I’ve put this off because even though fixing a rotator cuff tear is quick and easy, the recovery is, in a word, not. I know the Nassers will be great about helping me. They’ve become my adopted family and we’d do anything for each other. But even though I know this logically, I have been at a loss emotionally. I feel alone, even though I am certainly not. I am in a very small place, whimpering for my mommy as consistently as I did when I was five.

I had to come to a place of peace regarding it, because it’s not a problem that will ever be fixed. Today has been about saying “get over it” to myself. Just because I can’t complain to my mother doesn’t mean I don’t need to put on the gangsta rap and get it handled. Longing for a dead person does me about as much good as sticking my head in the sand and hoping my problems will go away on their own.

I have, in effect, created my own multitude of problems, and am now digging myself out. There is, I suppose, something to be proud of in that. Self reliance can be a beautiful thing, although sometimes I feel like I rely on myself too much without letting other people in.

Luckily, I realized this and talked to Dan on the phone (look at me! I called someone!). She thanked me for being vulnerable and reaching out, which felt like a hug from Jesus. She’s not as physically close as the Nassers (she lives in Virginia), but her “just checking in” texts mean so much.

It also helps that I don’t drive, and that public transportation is excellent…. because nothing would be worse than being tempted to drive with one arm. Generally, one accident leads to another because even though you’re just doing normal things, you’re already off-balance.

And lastly, I can’t help but feel that my mental health has allowed my physical health to go by the wayside, because I am just not on the ball with following up. I’m not too depressed to do so, I’m so ADHD that keeping up with my to-do list is often overwhelming to an enormous degree.

Today, I’m on top of it. I will schlep myself over to imaging even though it’s snowing and I’m cold AF. I will schlep myself to the doctor next week because it’s an A-list priority. I used to be a Franklin Covey disciple, but that fell by the wayside when I stopped using pen and paper. I am sure there’s a ton of software to replace it, but I’ve settled for Google Tasks. It is very good in terms of remembering things, but there’s really no way to add priorities as well. The best I can do is add due dates, and I am way too good at the snooze button.

Speaking of the snooze button, now it’s really time to stop writing and get ready. I may be a little afraid of the results, but it’s better than not knowing. I wish I had realized this long ago, but “better nate than lever.”

Please send me as much good karma as you can muster. I could use the boost, because even if you don’t tell me you sent it, I can feel it in spades.

Public Service Announcement: Security

I am sure that Google does not want me to tell you this story, but I need to do so. It’s a public service announcement for people who keep credit card numbers in the Play store. I didn’t think anything of it because Apple requires a credit/debit card to get started with an iTunes account. When Google’s screen came up to enter the information, I did not realize it was optional. So, I entered in my credit card information, and they just use the address you have on file from when you first opened your account, which was in Portland, Oregon.

The reason that I am publicly talking about this is that you cannot imagine how difficult my Google password is. I use LastPass to create 25 characters so there’s no way to look up anything I use in the dictionary. It would take a computer days to decrypt them. I also log out of the password vault after I’m finished using it, which is also encrypted. I thought I had it wired.

Then, when I came home from Paris, I tried to Uber to the Metro, and my card was declined. I knew there was money in the account because it had just been transferred. So, I logged into my bank account only to find that two transactions from Google had zeroed me out.

My account was hacked and my debit card was used to sign up for Google Cloud, and the bandwidth chosen was $100/day. I didn’t catch it the day it happened because I was in Paris, but I caught it within three days. I got on the phone with customer service, where they canceled my card and gave me a link to the fraud forms I would need to fill out to start the investigation. I was given provisional credit pending their findings so that I had access to my funds.

Several weeks later, Google sent my bank a report that said there was no evidence of foul play, that I was the party responsible. My provisional credit was yanked back, again emptying my account. So, I started my own investigation because theirs was so shoddy.

First of all, the billing address on my card did not match the billing address Google had on file. Secondly, while I was the “owner” of the Google Cloud account, there were at least 10 projects with two people who had added themselves as editors, with e-mail addresses that clearly looked like spam, e.g. 468434471727@cloudservices.gserviceaccount.com. And no address was used twice.

I then contacted Google tech support, where a very nice man named Jeremiah was absolutely sympathetic. I was able to lay out my concerns, and use technical language that he would understand, whereas my bank totally wouldn’t.

I sent the transcript of our conversation to my bank, and my money was returned. That being said, it took a few days to resolve because Google absolutely screwed me…. it made no sense, because the original report Google sent my bank should have set off alarm bells just for the billing address alone.

The bank’s next step is to report the incident to the police, because what the hackers did was a felony. However, having been in IT myself the chance that a hacker would ever get caught is less than zero. My first instinct is that it was done through a double VPN (worth every penny for your own privacy on the Internet), which makes finding physical location damn near impossible. Plus, no identifying details in the e-mail addresses, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

When I was talking to Jeremiah about all this, I said, “I don’t even know how to program. It would never occur to me to buy virtual server space, especially not that much bandwidth.” After we talked about tracking down IP addresses and such, he joked, “are you sure you don’t know how to program?” I said, “no. I’m in tech support. I bail out programmers when their computers break. They can write, but God forbid the operating system throws an error.” He laughed his ass off and said, “welcome to my life.”

So, even though this was a very serious situation, I could still laugh about it (somewhat).

I am just angry that a company whose motto is “don’t be evil” didn’t even take the time to beat down the evil that was happening to me. I had to figure it out on my own. Thank God I had the technical smarts to do so. I was able to learn the web interface quickly, so that I could find all the information I needed to prove my case. It’s sad, because it was so easy that if I did ever want to purchase virtual server space (like to be able to use the full version of WordPress and tailor it on my own rather than the limitations of WordPress.com), it’s definitely the easiest panel I’ve ever used. But I just cannot justify giving them any money, no matter how small the amount.

After this happened, I changed my password to another 25 character random string and instituted two factor authentication. This means that whenever I log in on my desktop, I have to prove it’s me on my phone. If I’m using my phone, they send me a text verification code. I am not playing around. It occurred to me that if someone could get into my Google account, they could also get into my calendar and mail.

So, I created an account with ProtonMail, which encrypts e-mail going out. Privacy is built in, as opposed to Gmail, which needs a plugin called “Enigmail” (link is to the full version, Gmail web interface uses a Chrome plugin). But even ProtonMail has its limitations. If both people aren’t using secure e-mail, it can only encrypt the text on the way out.

I also prefer to use Signal on my phone, which handles text messages, but if the other person has Signal as well, the messages are encrypted. For those who use iOS, iPhone messages are already secure. Basic SMS is not. If you communicate with both iOS and Android users, I highly recommend downloading Signal or WhatsApp (I’ve tried both, and Signal won). That way, information is encrypted no matter who you’re texting.

There’s been some chatter about campaigns to get iMessage ported to Android, but I highly doubt it will gain traction. WhatsApp has nearly all of iMessage’s features, but Signal won for me because I don’t need fancy. It’s a simple text interface, and that’s what I like about it.

I’m just sorry that it took a financial disaster to get me on my soapbox about privacy, because if it could happen to me, it could happen to you, too. This is an entry I should have written years ago.

I apologize. Those responsible have been sacked.

Nothing Stays the Same

I wanted to wait to post my next entry until I actually had something to say. I know that not updating my blog reduces traffic, thus dampening my quest for world domination. On the other hand, I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t take time to think before writing…. anything will do, because it’s not about craft, it’s about attracting views, visits, likes, and followers. I feel like I have enough already. Not believing I have enough just leads to verbal vomit for its own sake… and to me, that just doesn’t cut it.

I mean, I’ve always been the type to just lay out everything on this web site and let people make their own decisions about what they read, and when I post often, it’s because having something to say comes along that frequently. It’s organic, never forced. Lately, I’ve realized that most of my ruminations are just continuations of things I’ve already said, probably more than three or four times. I promise that I am not regurgitating content. It’s the way my brain works.

I think about a problem right up until I don’t. The interesting part (or, at least, it’s interesting to me) is that I tend to start a couple of steps back and rehash, but when I’m thinking about something a second (third, fourth, fifth, 17th……) time, the overall arc is the same and different small details jump out, often changing the course of the dialogue… conversations that happen between me and me. Though Shakespeare was not talking about discourse with oneself, he might as well have been. The play’s the thing… especially in moments where I’ve caught myself red-handed…. infinitely more scary than feeling caught by anyone else. I’m better at kicking my ass than you are. Write it down.

I’ve scared myself for the past couple of weeks because I make it a point to look at my Facebook memories, and along with all of my funny memes is this mountain range of emotions. Note to self: more peaks, less valleys.

WordPress propagates to my author page, which means that I am equally stupid and brave enough to post things to my own profile. If I skipped doing so, old entries wouldn’t appear at all. It isn’t about torturing myself- many, many more readers click through from my profile because I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years. The “Stories” page has only existed since 2015, and as of right this moment, only has about 100 followers. After a decade, I have 745 friends and 38 followers. The platform is exponentially larger. My Facebook profile propagates to @ldlanagan on Twitter, and my author page to @lesliecology. Again, I have more followers on my own Twitter feed than the feed for my web site… the difference is that @lesliecology is nothing but a WordPress feed, and @ldlanagan is everything I post on Facebook, period. My profile is public, and my Facebook statuses are generally longer than Tweets, so anyone can click through to the original post.

So there’s the setup as to why I wanted to separate out my blog entries from my Facebook profile/Twitter feed, and why it hasn’t worked out.

Scaring myself the last couple of weeks has been about entries from four years ago, starting with PTSD as a teenager and it unraveling my thirties into divorce, losing a good friend, and so much compounded mental instability that I needed more help than my friends and family could give. Poet Mary Karr gave me the phrase “checking into the Mental Mariott,” and I’ve used it relentlessly since.

Joking about it covers up deep wounds, and that’s why I write about them instead of speaking. When I am writing, I have a bit of clinical separation. I can look at the land mines without detonation. I cannot say the same is always true for reading. Occasionally, I feel the distance of having grown as a person, so that the entry feels like it was written by someone else. More often, I am remembering every tiny detail about the setting and the arc of the story. Then body memory kicks in, and if my heart and brain were racing in the moment, I feel it again; it doesn’t matter how much time has passed.

It isn’t all bad, though, because I write in equal measure about how good I’m feeling, and those excited butterflies also return…. sometimes, but not often, in the same entry. The other plus is getting to decide if what was true at that time is still true today, and as a rule with some exceptions, it’s not. There are truth bombs that hit me just as hard now as the day I wrote them, but for the most part, this blog has been dynamic, and has changed just as often as I have (which is, like, the point).

Whether I’m reading an up day or a down, it is exhilarating to see that few things stay the same.

I will always have the regular, boring adult problems… and at the same time, my life is bigger than that. Managing Bipolar II, remnants of PTSD (anxiety, mostly) and ADHD so that I am not a ball of negative crazy keeps it interesting. I emphasize “negative crazy” because I don’t know anyone who isn’t crazy in a positive way. I am not attracted on any level to the mundane. Regular people with big dreams are often lumped in with “crazy,” because most people don’t dream big.

Even my dreams have been adjusted. I am still dreaming big, but the focus is not on starting my own church anymore. Perhaps in the distant future, I’ll think about it again. But right now, when I enter into any church building, consecrated or not, “my mother is dead” becomes an ostinato.

From Google Dictionary:

Ostinato

os·ti·na·to
/ästəˈnädō/

noun: ostinato; plural noun: ostinati; plural noun: ostinatos

a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.

“The cellos have the tune, above an ostinato bass figure.”

Even the sentence used to illustrate the word is appropriate, because you don’t just hear bass. You feel it.

I have written before that she’s everywhere I look, because over our lives together, I cannot think of an element within church life where she was absent. I cannot think of a single thing that was all mine until I moved to Portland and began preaching at Bridgeport UCC.

I have always been the Mary. She was the Martha.

There was no judgment on her part. I just mean that I have always been the thinker and she has always been the actor…. Actually, I take that back. My mother was one of the few people I’ve met in this life that had extraordinarily creative ideas and the ability to execute them, which is rare.

Few people manage to live on the ground and in the air at the same time (it’s a miracle I can tie my own shoes).

In Luke 10:41-42, Jesus is speaking to Martha, who has complained to him that (I’m paraphrasing) “Mary’s just sitting on her ass while I’m doing all the work. Can’t you go rattle her cage?” And Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” He actually says this to the woman that invited him and his entire crew into her house and wants to feed everyone. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve ever cooked and served for 16 (fairly certain Lazarus was there- unclear), but I can see Martha’s point and I get a little bit irritated with Jesus. It’s not that one part is better than the other. Thinking is not better than doing. Doing is not better than thinking. They’re just different mindsets, and the evening wouldn’t have been possible without both.

I am certain that Mary and Martha need each other. Martha is grounded, and keeps Mary from floating away. Mary reminds Martha to look at the stars once in a while.

So when I think about the work I did to investigate starting a homeless ministry in Silver Spring, what comes up for me is that my Martha is no longer with us. It rends the mental tapestry I created, and I descend into darkness.

I am still excited by theology of all types- Abrahamic, Eastern, you name it. But right at this very minute, I’d rather spend my time thinking and writing, sometimes posting sermons on this web site rather than waxing philosophic in front of a physical crowd.

What I do not know is whether I will always feel the same, or whether my time is not yet here.

What I do know is that the fight has left me. I am too mired in grief to get passionate enough to affect change. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’m extraordinarily passionate about anything at all. When my mother died, so did several pieces of me. I know for certain that it would have been easier had I gotten to see my mother live a long life and there was no aspect of “dear God, they took her too soon.” I knew I would be sad when she died, but I was completely caught off guard by the rage at getting robbed.

Embolisms make great thieves who never need getaway cars.

I am still grieving the future that I thought I would get, and piecing together a new normal. It’s a good thing that on this day next year, I’ll read this again, and perhaps that new normal will have some structure. The concrete has been mixed, but I think I added a little too much water, because it just. Won’t. Set.