Muted Sadness

It is one of the darkest days we’ve had in a while. It is not currently raining, but the storm has started and stopped multiple times, and the sky still looks threatening. I have my Carrot Weather app set to “homicidal personality,” and she says I should stay home today because no one likes me and she blames me for the bad weather.

That’s my girl.

Today is both my mother’s and my ex-wife’s birthday. They’re both on my mind today, but it’s only about remembering joy where Dana is concerned and muted sadness regarding my mom.

In terms of my relationship with Dana, the reason I now choose to remember good things is that I tortured myself for a long time. Anything and everything I could possibly do to blame myself, I did in spades. It’s been six years, so about a year ago I decided to let myself off the hook… not in terms of no longer bearing responsibility, but that the time for self-recrimination had passed. It was only making me miserable to remind myself of all that went wrong. The flip side of the coin is not mistaking the part for the whole. The overwhelming majority of our story is hilarious.

The only thing that’s still hard is seeing her picture come up in my Facebook memories, because I alternate between thinking they’re adorable and feeling like I’ve been stabbed. It’s not that I haven’t moved on, it’s just a trigger, and tiny moments like that take the longest to fade.

My sister went out to the cemetery and gave me an update on Fred, the one silver lining in the absolute shitshow that is grief over the loss of a parent. Fred was the seedling that was planted next to the foot of my mother’s grave… not in memory of her, it’s just that her death and his planting happened simultaneously. It was the birth and death life cycle in front of our eyes. He gets stronger every time we visit. Whereas he used to only have “kid-sized” branches and leaves, now he spreads out over a granite bench and Lindsay got to sit in the shade. The shade. We were joking that our little boy has grown up.

I think the reason we gave him a human personality is that my thought was that I couldn’t hug my mother, but I could hug Fred so tightly that you’d think I went to Berkeley. It will be a sad and proud day when my arms no longer wrap all the way around.

There are some commonalities in both types of grief. If I mention either my mother’s death or Dana, the conversation looks like gravity’s rainbow, the image so loud I can almost hear the whistle. It is as if both of them have turned into “she who must not be named” as it makes other people feel awkward to the point of onomatopoeia. For me, it’s the old trope of losing someone and they’ve just slipped into another room. Their ends of the conversation are over, but that doesn’t mean I’ve gone all “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotted Mind.” I got divorced and my mom died in relatively quick succession. One loss compounded the other as I wasn’t really done mourning the first when the second one started.

There are good things I remember in the wake of my mother’s death, though, because I must. It doesn’t heal anything- it sort of helps. For instance, I remember being on the business side of death for the first time, and how it was comforting to pick out her casket. I know it sounds weird, but it was literally the last time we’d ever shop for her, and we wanted it to be something that if she saw it, she would have been pleased. The fact that I know her casket is her favorite color and has stenciled birds on the inside is enough for me.

The difference between losing people close to me is night and day from being a preacher’s kid and attending funerals of parishioners. This is because so much time and energy were poured into my mother and Dana that I didn’t know what to do with it afterward. I also locked down my emotions, even now but especially in the beginning. In the aftermath, I couldn’t manage to be the appropriate amount of emotional in public, so I just chose not to have them at all unless I was home alone. It was either resting bitch face silence or complete hysteria with no middle ground.

It’s just that no one knew about it unless I was willing to let them in, and at first “them” added up to exactly zero persons. I branched out to people who had also lost parents, because no matter how hard people who haven’t lost parents try, they cannot grasp the enormity of the situation.

It is because of this that I know my divorce and my mother’s death happened in the right order. The people closest to me had the ability to wound me with stunning accuracy, because if I didn’t know them that well, I could either write it off or decide to end the relationship altogether.

There’s also a special list in my head of all the people that claimed to be my close friends and didn’t come to my mother’s funeral. I don’t want to keep track, but I do it anyway. I feel that the friends who don’t show up when you are in crisis are claiming to be better friends than they actually are. I’m sorry if you feel slapped by that statement, but emotions are emotions and logic is logic. Never the twain shall meet. Even if it’s irrational, it’s my truth. My brain just isn’t capable of telling my heart what to do. However, I am not unreasonable. I did not expect my DC friends to fly to Houston with me.

I think the reason that I’ve described today as “muted sadness” is that it’s not only grief over my mother and Dana, but grief over the pieces of me that died inside at their departure. I am no longer person I was six years ago, and it doesn’t matter whether some of the pieces lost are good. Trying to get them back is futile. A dead end, as it were.

In the meantime, I have turned to books. This blog has become a bit bipolar, because I used to post quite frequently. Now, it’s hit or miss. This is because I have a binge and purge relationship with reading vs. writing. I noticed a long time ago that when I read and wrote at the same time, the tone would sound just like the last author I read. I’m not a great writer, by any means, but I do know myself well enough to know when the “voice” I’m using belongs to me. For instance, when I first started blogging in 2003, I am sure I sounded like Dooce for at least a year.

Speaking of which, I had a friend tell me that Dooce used to be good, but she’s not as good a writer as she used to be. I told her she needed to send me an e-mail when I got to that point. It was her job to tell me to retire. I haven’t gotten it yet, so unless she got bored and stopped reading altogether, I’m probably doing ok. Thanks for asking.

I have read so many books in different genres lately. Last night it was a novel in which a woman gets into a car accident, hit by a drunk driver (“A Curve in the Road”). In the emergency room, she finds out that the drunk driver is her husband. Everything unravels from that point forward, and it’s masterful.

I’m also taking my time with a non-fiction book about one of the first same-sex marriages to be recognized in the United States (“Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America”). The two women met in the late 1700s. As I quipped to a friend, “that’s impossible! Lesbians weren’t invented until 1805!” I admire the couple a great deal, because in order to stay safe, they basically gave generously to the town. It meant that the mayor and council literally couldn’t afford to piss them off. If there’s anything I adore, it’s a clever “scheme.” I’m not sure they even realized they were running that game, only that the results paid off. They managed to be together until one of them died, so I think it was 40 or 50 years…. impressive by any and all standards. The prose is a bit dry, but the subject is fascinating. I would absolutely love to teach a high school history class with it, because it’s not just focused on the couple, but the war around them. There aren’t any graphic sex scenes or violence, so it would be an important alternative perspective while also being suitable for teens.

If there’s been anything good about my silence, it has been the addition of hundreds of unique voices that let me travel all over the world. If there’s a scene from a book that transported me to the point where everything else fell away, it’s from John Brennan’s “Undaunted.” When he was in college, he went to the University of Cairo. His experiences there are humorous and convey the beauty of Egypt. Plus, it’s fun to picture a White House staffer that used to be a kind of rebel, pierced ear and all.

I’ve read those passages multiple times, because sometimes I just need to lift myself out of what I’m describing as “muted sadness.”

Dear Black People,

I hope that you are not offended by my opening salvo, but one of my favorite shows on Netflix is “Dear White People,” and it seems rude not to write back. However, I am not here to be as flip and funny as that show. For instance, there will be no take-downs of shows that made me laugh so hard there were tears and snot running down my face. I hope and pray there will be no “white people are weird” moments, because I agree with you. I’m just here to talk about yesterday, and what it means for our collective futures.

I have said many times that no minority has the capability to be racist. Prejudiced, sure, but not racist. This is because racism is clearly a top-down, systematic, institution. No minority has the kind of power to create such a thing.

Though I would never compare my own struggle to yours, I feel so much empathy and sympathy toward it. Even though I’m as white and nerdy as they come, I am a woman and a lesbian, two things that have worked against me my entire career.

The one shining moment of equality that I’ve ever experienced was in Texas, of all places. I needed two forms of ID to get my driver’s license renewed, and I realized that I only had one… my old driver’s license. And then I remembered that I had a copy of Dana’s and my domestic partnership license from Oregon in my backpack, and I asked if they would take that. There was the usual “let me ask my manager,” but then they said “yes.”

I’ve also experienced some truly cringeworthy moments, the white people are awful moments that we share- the difference being that people can immediately tell that you’re black. They can almost immediately tell that I’m female. But knowing I’m a lesbian is just conjecture until I come out to them. It is not the same, but I hope that we can share some common ground.

For instance, when I was in high school, I told one person that I was a lesbian and two hours later, the entire school knew. One of the percussionists in my orchestra used to hold up Playboy centerfolds where the conductor couldn’t see them and whisper at me to look in his direction. It was mortifying, and it went on for days.

Later in life, I had a boss who spent 30 minutes talking about her children. She said, “I know you’re not going to have any, so I guess you can talk to us about your cat like that.” She also forced me to wear make-up because she said that I always looked like “I didn’t feel good.” Believe me, I was much more comfortable in my own skin without makeup, because while I am not androgynous, I’m not a girly girl, either.

When I was a teenager, I worked at an early childhood daycare center. They didn’t know that I heard them say I shouldn’t be around children, but they didn’t know if they could fire me for that. Over the next few weeks, there was a concerted effort to make me look incompetent instead.

Another story from my junior year in high school was that I had who I thought was a fantastic English teacher, and she would ask me to do things like help her with bulletin boards. I felt safe enough to come out to her, and after that, she had me transferred into a different class.

I realize that the last few paragraphs seem like I’m trying to make this entry all about me, but that is not my intent. I am trying to say that I will always be a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, because if I have had these experiences, you have stories that are 80 times worse.

Yesterday, while the verdict was being read on Derek Chauvin’s case, police shot and killed a 15-year-old girl. She had a knife and was not only lunging at another girl, she lunged toward the police. What I will never understand is why lethal force was necessary in that instance. Perhaps the police could have used defensive moves to take away the knife. Perhaps they could have used a taser to get her to drop the knife altogether so that they could get her into custody alive. She would have stood trial and probably done some time in juvie, but at the end of it, she would have been able to come home to her parents. Shooting four bullets at her was not, and should never, be the answer.

It should be known that the police are also trigger happy with white people, but the reason the Black Lives Matter protests are so important is that the police act as judge and jury in the moment and decide the punishment is death at a rate far greater than they have ever done when white people commit a crime.

Timothy McVeigh is a prime example. He blew up an entire building in Oklahoma and was taken alive to jail. The important part here is that though he died at the hands of the state, it was a jury’s decision. No police officers decided to kill him in that moment, at the site.

We can also add Dylann Roof to the mix. He killed nine people at a Charleston AME church, and was taken alive- even given Burger King on the way to the police station after a manhunt that lasted two days. He did not receive the death penalty, but life imprisonment. So, even though he will never live with his family again, they will get to come and visit. And again, he got to stand trial. No one in that manhunt decided that they were responsible for punishing him.

Getting caught stabbing someone is the least of our worries. Let’s start with the idea that black kids and adults can apparently be killed for holding anything. A toy gun (Tamir Rice), snacks (Trayvon Martin), and it was a cigarette that provoked the white cop’s ire in the Sandra Bland case. Worse, black people don’t even have to be holding anything. Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging through a park, though not by the police- by white supremacists in Georgia.

So now we’ve arrived at the part where it’s not just the police. It is all white people, clearly some more extreme than others. Most white people would not identify themselves as racists because they aren’t physically or emotionally violent towards minorities, particularly black people.

Or are they?

I get that most people aren’t physically violent, but the emotional piece is ever-present and pervasive. Believe me when I say that most of the time, white people do not even realize what they’re doing. They have grown up in a racist system that they can’t even see because it’s always been there. White supremacy is still a problem; extremists still exist. But every white person in America has committed the sin of blindness. I am including myself in that crowd, because the color of my skin still allows me privileges it doesn’t give you.

I can buy a car or a house easier than you. If you buy a nice car or house, the police are more likely to believe it isn’t yours.

Remember when Henry Louis Gates was arrested in front of his own house because when he came back from a trip to China, he found that his front door was jammed, so he and his driver tried to pry it open? The neighbors called 911 and claimed someone was breaking into the house. Gates is one of my favorite authors and has been on TV for interviews plenty. (“Finding Your Roots” hadn’t started yet.) Yet, no one recognized him or believed him in the moment.

If it can happen to a respected scholar, it can happen to any black person in America….. like Amanda Gorman, who had literally just been on TV a few weeks before, and if I remember right, it was a national broadcast (that’s the one joke you’ll get in this piece).

I am heartened by the election of Rev. Raphael Warnock, for a very particular reason. He went to Union Theological Seminary after he graduated from Morehouse. At Union, he went all the way to a doctoral degree. He is the antithesis of everything the Religious Right (which is neither) has done to the Republican Party. Instead of living in a comfort zone thisbig by emphasizing fear of hell and damnation, he is letting his votes be inspired by what the historical Christ would have wanted. He is bringing the kindom of God through the soul of politics, which I would support even if I was an atheist…. because his theology is one of civil rights for all, feeding and caring for the least of us, and changing our racial identity as a country, which for a long time has been rightly compared to South African apartheid. He is not trying to convert people to his religious beliefs, just using them to ask himself the important questions.

In “The Black Church” on PBS, Henry Louis Gates paraphrases James Cone’s work in “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” I had heard of Cone and the title of his book, but I’d never read it in depth. It struck me where I live.

Gates said that when Africans were first brought to the United States, slave owners forced Christianity on them because there was a lot in it about how slaves should behave (that is a whole different story for another day, but sufficed to say, that interpretation is abominable…. and at the very least, the slave owners should have paid more attention to the master’s responsibilities, the bare minimum for people that misunderstood those scriptures so badly). The slave owners didn’t anticipate that the slaves wouldn’t identify with those scriptures at all, but the man who was beaten and crucified, someone they could indeed understand.

To take it a step further, there is no such thing as competitive suffering. Jesus did not suffer more than American slaves, and to say he did is to undermine you both. Howard Thurman said it best when he entitled his magnum opus “Jesus and the Disinherited.” Martin Luther King, Jr. carried a copy of that book everywhere he went, and he kept it close to his heart- literally in the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

There’s probably nothing that I, a nerdy white lady, can offer you in the way of comfort. However, I believe that these two books might become important to you, even if you are not religious. I will also add a second book by James Cone called “Black Theology and Black Power,” which argues that Jesus’ liberation of both Jews and Gentiles alike was the same message that Black Power was preaching. In fact, you’ll read that it was Malcolm X who shook Cone out of his complacency….. Malcolm said that “Christianity was a white man’s religion,” and it stuck with Cone long enough for him to realize that Malcolm was right. The church universal has a lot of work to do in terms of widening the net and dissociating itself from white supremacy…… going back to ancient missionaries trying to bring white European Christian culture to people who already had civilizations older than theirs.

White, heterosexual, cisgender supremacy has become inextricably interrelated with white church. It’s just more polite. Hidden behind smiles and “bless your hearts.” If there is anything the Trump administration showed me, it is that there are still so many people who would treat you as lesser than just because your skin looks different, and treat me as if I am sin personified. I don’t go to a church like that, but I am wary of walking into any of them with which I am not familiar…. or if I’ve heard the things that go on there.

Any church that looks at the Bible as if God literally had a pen in their hand and wrote it all down is ridiculous to me. It was written in a time and place that has no bearing on our own, in addition to being inspired by many, many people…. some of whom made it into the canon, and some who did not. I look at theology as a lens through which I see everything else, and I have to admit, I did not write that sentence. Marcus Borg did. The best analogy I can bring to the table is a scene from “Shadowlands:”

Harry: I know how hard you’ve been praying; and now God is answering your prayers.

Jack: That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.

I can only hope that the reverse is true with the Black Lives Matter movement… that through the fog, we will carry the light together, bringing along everyone else.

Love,

Leslie

White Noise

I have no idea what this entry will entail. I think I’ll just jump around with life updates until I find something worthy. I’ve found that you can start out with one thing and delve deeper as you go. Writing is a muscle, and blogging, for me, is “working out.” It’s completely stream-of-conscience and changes topics on purpose. I remember one woman thinking that my blog was tied to my mental disorder (Bipolar II) because of it. She didn’t understand, and some people don’t. Tangents upon tangents are just the way I roll (most of the time, anyway). It’s not a sickness- it’s how blogging has been for many people since they premiered on the Internet.

Speaking of mental illness, though, I will say that the pandemic has reinforced my agoraphobia. Mask or not, I’m afraid…………. but that’s not a bad thing in this type of societal climate. Too many people are eager for “normal” when in the United States, we are clearly not ready for it. No state has gotten to zero and in many, cases are on the rise. This is because we do not have a safety net. There is no socialized medicine, unemployment insurance that gives you enough money to take care of one’s basic needs (especially in big cities, where rent and mortgages are high), and no leadership from the federal government. Other countries are doing so much better.

So, my response is to stay in my own home 99% of the time. I put off getting groceries and medicine, or I order them over the Internet. For instance, I need coffee creamer (my main basic food group), and I can’t even bring myself to go and get it.

I should be doing more writing than I have been, because I have more time to do it and I’m not taking advantage. I’m hoping that will change. 2020-07-17 14_37_43-WindowOne of the things that’s helping me today is a new app I found in the Windows store. It’s called “White Noise,” and it actually comes with lots of free sounds. Today I’m listening to brown noise, but the one they’re giving away for free is a thunderstorm on a loop. The app is a gift because there’s a great Linux app called “ANoise,” and before today I hadn’t found a Windows equivalent. I still have ANoise on my laptop, but for some reason, my desktop has problems with Linux, no matter what distribution I try. I can’t get the OS to boot from a USB key because it can’t find my hard drives and gets stuck. I’ve sped up my computer as far as it will go because I put in 16 GB of RAM (eight on each channel), and an SSD for Windows. I have a two TB mechanical hard drive for all my “stuff,” excluding my most frequently used applications. I have no idea why Windows will install and Linux won’t, and I have too little energy to figure it out. The thing about being good at technology and getting a job doing it is that you have very little patience for dealing with your own. The only thing I’ve done with my laptop is add an SSD to it, because even with a relatively slow processor, it screams with an SSD. If you don’t have one, they’re cheap and it’s worth it. I got a 256 GB because on my laptop, I hardly ever store things. I use Internet apps and streaming media.

I’m sorry if this is boring for non-IT people, but I’m basically putting on a commercial for SSDs. It’s the fastest and easiest way to speed up everything and took me less than a half hour to install. The longest part was unscrewing everything and putting it back together. If you’ve never done it before, there are YouTube videos for nearly every computer on the market, and so much cheaper than hiring someone else. If you do need to store a large amount of data, there are kits to take out your optical drive and put a mechanical hard drive in its place, because most people don’t need them anymore. Think about the last time you watched a physical DVD or ripped your music. It’s so 2001. If you have a lot of CDs and DVDs, there’s a lot of free software to copy them before you put them in the trash. I am all about the minimalist lifestyle. 😉

In terms of saving your data, just make sure you back it up so that you have a failsafe if and when your hard drive fails. Two copies of everything will save your ass someday. You’ll thank me when you don’t lose all your family pictures, the only thing that’s truly irreplaceable. If you want/need cloud storage for pictures, there are plenty of free services. Mega is the most generous– you get 70 GB free, and additional is cheap- about $6.00/mo.

Sometimes I think about how much I miss my family’s old pictures because our house burned down in 1990. If cloud storage had existed back then, they wouldn’t have burned. Even the ones that survived had streaks on them and smelled like a camp fire. My grandparents helped us piece them back together, but they only had so many…… and that’s why technology is so important to me. It’s not the technology itself, but the things that can be preserved. Memories are precious, and because of computers, phones, tablets, etc. none of it is clutter. If you’re anything like me, you have or have had giant stacks of pictures thrown in a box that you say you’re going to put in an album, and the day you say you’re going to scan them turns into into 25 years. I know me. We’ve met.

For instance, I am grateful for every picture I have of my mother and my grandparents, only one of which is still alive, and he turned 90 on July 13th. He loves movies, and I always ask him for recommendations when I call. The last one was “Mrs. Miniver,” and I immediately bought a copy. I enjoyed it so much, and so did other people. It was the Oscars’ Best Picture in 1942…… the entire reason I ask my grandfather for so many recommendations in the first place. I haven’t seen many of the great old movies out there, and he knows them all.

The only old movie that I haven’t finished is “Three Days of the Condor.” A bunch of innocent CIA case officers and analysts get shot in the first half. I had a visceral, nauseous reaction, and there’s a reason for it. I’ve met case officers, albeit retired, and in my mind those people were replaced by people I know and have pored over their books. It was horrifying.

In terms of horror, I am much more interested in fiction. I started “American Horror Story” two nights ago and it’s fabulous. I’m late to the party because I didn’t think I’d like it, but between the pilot and now I’ve loved several scary movies and TV shows……. most notably “It” and “Stranger Things.” Eleven completes me.

The other show I love right now is “American Soul” on BET. It’s the story of how Don Cornelius started “Soul Train,” and as you can imagine, the music is divine and lots of famous people are portrayed. My favorite has been Wayne Brady as Little Richard. The only horror in it is how blacks are treated, because we still haven’t solved the problem (I say “blacks” instead of African American because not all black people in the United States are from Africa).

I also watch a lot of YouTube, because I enjoy the hell out of seeing James Baldwin. He was so integral in my becoming a teenager. “Go Tell it on the Mountain” was assigned to me for summer reading before my sophomore year. I devoured it and went on to read all of Baldwin’s other works. Because he was black and queer, there were lots of similarities between the discrimination he faced and what was happening in my own life.

I was lucky in my freshman and sophomore years to have black English teachers, because I have found that most of my white teachers didn’t bother to include black authors (surprise). The one book by a black author I was assigned by a white English teacher was “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker. I loved it as well, but it seems to be the only book written about black people that white teachers across the country assign (i.e. the only book white English teachers will let cross over into their generally white classrooms). With my black teachers, we read Alan Paton (white author, but wrote about race relations in South Africa), Richard Wright, and Toni Morrison as well.

The black authors I read were usually better at creating a lasting impression. I still remember lines from “Beloved,” “Native Son,” and “Black Boy.” I need to get digital copies of them as well, because they’re not books I ever want to lose. There are three reasons that, at least for me, digital trumps paper books. The first is they’re in the cloud, so they keep. The second is that I don’t have any books that I’ll lend to people and I still haven’t gotten them back years later. The third is that I’m always in the middle of at least three, and I don’t like it when my backpack weights 30 lbs.

I give digital books as gifts a lot, and they’re a big hit. For instance, I gave one friend a copy of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” and she said “that’s one of my favorite books, no idea where the hardback is.” I thought that might be the case, because her life is books and dogs, so it seemed like the kind of book she would have swallowed whole the moment it came out…….. but I sent it to her anyway because I couldn’t imagine a world in which she hadn’t read it and I had to make sure. 😉

She’s also Latina, so I sent her my favorite Latinx novel, which is “Bless Me, Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya. It’s about a Catholic boy and the curandera who mentors him. The laugh lines I love the most in it is the scene when the young boy is going to his first communion, and worries that Jesus will get stuck to the roof of his mouth.

The last thing I’ll say about books is that I go through periods of reading, then writing, but not both simultaneously. It’s because I tend to pick up the style of the last author I read, and I’m not interested in filling their shoes.

I want to wear my own.

 

Allsorts and All Sorts

The Argo main theme is ringing in my ears as I start this entry, just to bring back the muscle memory of writing. However, I have created a playlist on Amazon Music called “Movie Scores” that’s on shuffle. It has all sorts of instrumentation to bring out different emotions:

  • The aforementioned Argo
  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • The Kite Runner
  • The Danish Girl
  • The Imitation Game
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • Syriana
  • The Ghost Writer

Most of the pieces have a Middle Eastern vibe to them, and that’s on purpose. I find that after I listen to them once, they fade into the background nicely, as well as challenging my brain with chords and progressions not typically used in Western music. However, listening to them once before I write to them is “key” (see what I did there?), because I will spend the time I should be writing trying to understand the the music with my one semester’s worth of theory knowledge… and besides only having one music theory class behind me, math and music are so inextricably interrelated that I’m not very good with either. I spent a lot of my trumpet playing years standing in a practice room thinking, “COUNT, dumbass!” Over the years, I’ve gotten better at it, but not by much. I get entire body blushes while sight reading with singing, because I can keep track of the rhythm OR the words. You choose.

My dad brought up something interesting, that it might actually have something to do with being oxygen-deprived in the delivery room. That my brain just works differently because of it, and it is also probably why I can’t play the piano by reading music (I do okay by ear)…. the difference with that and singing being that I can’t count two rhythms at once, either.

However, I can hear them and repeat it……. sometimes. I’ve been playing the first eight measures of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for 15 years and that’s as far as I’ve gotten. But that’s all anyone knows of it, anyway, so I’m good.

At University of Houston, the core changed while I was there, and everyone had to have one performing arts class. I chose group piano because I hadn’t done anything like it before. I found out after the first few labs about the whole “counting two rhythms” thing, so I cheated my ass off to pass. Well, maybe you won’t think of it as cheating, but I did. I got my mother to play my recital piece over and over for me until I’d memorized every note cold. At the recital, I had to have the music in front of me, so I played with my eyes closed. If I’d kept them open, I would have gotten lost and confused within about 30 seconds.

[Editor’s Note: When I was a seventh grader, I had a t-shirt with Jesus color blocked like an Andy Warhol painting on the front and said “I once was lost” on the back. One of the English teachers at Clifton told me that it should say “I’m always lost.” I’m 42 and I still remember wanting to call him a jackass and I still regret not doing so . Would have been sent to the principal’s office. Worth it.]

I was definitely lost and confused at the grocery store. The last time I went, they were completely out of a few things, but most aisles looked normal. Yesterday, it looked like a Zombieland remake (although they did have Twinkies™). Thank God I already had a ton of staples (except coffee, which I was able to procure). What I noticed right off is that people were buying the cheapest items, so there was plenty of truffle oil, saffron, etc…. They were even out of American butter. My choices were Presidenté, Kerrygold, and Finlandia. I got Finlandia as I’d tried all the others (it’s good, but it’s not French salted butter good). And as I told my friend Kristie, “they didn’t have three dollar soap, but they did have eight dollar soap……….. so guess who smells like eight dollars today?”

I also picked up my favorite writing snack, licorice allsorts. They’re not nearly as good as getting the originals (Bassett’s) imported from England, but they’ll do in a pinch. They’re much less expensive and the last time I ordered the real ones, it took them three or four weeks to arrive. The only piece in Bassett’s mix that these don’t have is lime. Despite this egregious oversight, they’re close enough for government work.

I have found that during the state lockdown, I’ve been lonely for the first time since I moved here. This is because I spend most of my time alone, but I had the ability to reach out to friends and go out when I wanted. It was enough to know that I could go out, not so much that I would. There’s no way I would take public transportation to see my friends in Alexandria, all of whom have small children (happy 2nd birthday, Peter and Benjamin!).

I have been escaping with books, movies, and TV…. mostly books. So far, I’ve loved “The Murmur of Bees” and “Little Fires Everywhere.” With “Little Fires,” I saw the first episode of the Hulu adaptation and wanted to read the book. It’s AMAZING, the only thing missing being Kerry Washington (not sure I’ve ever seen a more beautiful woman, and roles like Olivia Pope and Mia Warren speak to me).

Fiction writers just flatten me, because I don’t do what they do, and not for lack of trying. I can’t build a world like good ones can, whether it’s a universe close to our own or complete fantasy. I mean, I’ve had “dementors” my whole life, but it took J.K. Rowling to make a word for them (in the Harry Potter series, they are the guards at the prison Azkaban, but Rowling has said they’re a metaphor for depression [I agree that after you see them, you need chocolate.]). I keep hoping that writing fiction is just something that takes muscle, and I’ll get better over time, but I see no evidence.

I suppose I am better off sitting at my desk with my allsorts, writing all sorts……….. except the ones I have to make up.

ADHDDB

For years there was a running gag between Argo and me, called “The Argo Daily Briefing,” or “The ADB.” I thought it was funny, and if it’s funny once, it’s funny a thousand times. The bullet points ranged from agony to ecstasy- an entire spectrum of emotion. They jumped around so much that I finally started calling them “The ADHDADB.” The reason I thought it was hilarious is because the subject line was so #dclife. Now, you’re getting the same update, it’s just that the second A is missing (don’t you hate it when your A is missing?), and don’t think I’m not sad about it. At this point, it’s neither here nor there.

Let’s move on.

A few weeks ago, I had a “coming to Jesus” meeting with myself. I’ve been ADHD all my life, but the fight within me every day, the fight where my spirit and I wrestle without keeping score, is how to get it handled. 514r9aJ33SLIt affects everything, from my relationships to taking care of myself…………………………………… poorly.

I searched Amazon for a Kindle book that might help, and I bought “Queen of Distraction” (it was free with all my digital credits). There is a seminal work on ADHD that’s recommended by most therapists called “Driven to Distraction,” by Edward M. Hallowell & John J. Ratey. If you’re ADHD or related to someone who has it, it’s the first book you ought to buy, but it’s not the last… particularly if you are or the person you know is female.

ADHD presents differently between genders. Girls and women often go undiagnosed for years on end, simply because they’re not as prone to hyperactivity. Therefore, no one notices how differently their brain works except them. The difference is that when they notice, the internal fight is not “my brain is different and I have to develop coping mechanisms.” It’s “why am I so shit at everything? Why can’t I get it together?” This is because no one has noticed that they’re ADHD and it didn’t occur to them on their own.

I realized I needed to read some more books because I refuse to live a life on Adderall,™ even though I severely need it at times (severely). If Strattera™ worked for me, I’d be golden, but it doesn’t. I need more skills and tools, because the longer you’re on stimulants, the more disastrous the side effects become. For instance, my teeth aren’t much better than someone who’s been doing crystal for five-10 years. Actually, all of my medications cause side effects, and I have to choose between tolerating them or remaining sane. I will always choose mentally well over physically sick, but it’s annoying at best.

In fact, a lot of my therapy has been about frustration over this very thing. Until they started making several different brands of generic Lamictal,™ there was only one pill and I called it “The Blue Diamond of Death.” I think Dana might have come up with it originally, but too much time has passed for joke attribution. No matter who named it, I was still so nauseous that I felt like I’d been pregnant for over a decade.

I have done a trial run with going off meds at least twice, and it has always ended in disaster. I’ve just rendered myself useless, so down I couldn’t function. I will never be able to get off of depression medication, but ADHD is this whole other thing that requires management. I have tried to go off meds for it before, and I was unwilling to admit how bad it got, even to myself. I can’t “adult” properly when I can’t find anything. I can’t work in piles as effectively as I try to convince myself I can.

I am desperately hoping that it is because I haven’t done intensive cognitive behavioral therapy, and that I can develop habits that will help. As of right this moment, I have no habits to speak of (with the exception of habitually turning my room into total chaos), and it no longer serves me. If this doesn’t work, I will resign myself to medication. I think I’ve mentioned this before, that I like to do short courses so the side effects don’t catch up with me. But after years upon years of this, I had to admit that it doesn’t work. I am truly having a last-ditch-college-try moment.

Why hasn’t it worked in the past? Well, part of the problem is that with ADHD, you really have to develop enough drive to want to get better, because your willingness to actually sit down and read the book falters. As with all things, the first chapter gets read along with promises to read the rest later…… and later never seems to happen. We’ve started another fifty projects.

In fact, one great way to tell whether you have ADHD or not is your start to completion ratio. If your TO DO list looks anything like mine, it is chock full of things that are half or mostly done.

And one of them is getting my ADHD under control. The difference is that now I know this is a top priority so that the rest of my life can sail more smoothly. Up until now, I don’t think I had a stark clarity about how much it affects me. Trying to get by pretending to be as neurotypical as possible while also suffering alone doesn’t cut it anymore. Trying to manage myself with caffeine is far less effective than I used to think it was (it was a good start, though, and doesn’t give me appetite suppression). However, any medication I would take is much cheaper than a Starbucks habit. I tend to sip on coffee all day long rather than having a huge dose of caffeine all at once. I don’t need to get wired, I just need to keep the bus from going under 50.

I’m hoping I can eventually get my house in order- both literally and figuratively- without having to change my blood type to Folgers.

Redacted

The bassoon solo from The Bourne Identity main theme is ringing in my ears. People ask me all the time why I’m so interested in intel. Well, if you’ve been reading for a long time, you already know. For those just joining us, I had a great uncle in the DIA who died when I was very small. The mystery of how has stayed with me since I first heard the story. The public one is a helicopter crash, but I don’t know if the public and private match……… It is possible that his identity died, but he didn’t. The only reason I think that is that his personal effects weren’t sent until over a decade later. I’ve also always loved Bond (well, all intel) movies, and a huge part of it is the music.

So to me, it’s no wonder that I ended up being fascinated by spies, but I don’t have any interest in being one myself……… which is good, because I don’t think I’d make a great one. I’d be excellent at interrogation, especially if I had language skills equal to English in Russian and Arabic…….. crap at nearly everything else. I would probably make it a life goal to drive my IT guys crazy, but I’d have everyone’s back. Well, except for the part where I’m 5’2 and 125 and the added bonus of when in a war zone, a terrible shot. I mean, truly exceptional at being bad. I have even less desire to be a desk jockey at Langley. Oh, and even though I take medication for it so it’s not generally an issue, I’m Bipolar II and I don’t think The Agency would take kindly to it.

So here we are.

I go to The International Spy Museum and collect signed books like baseball cards….. and as I told my friend Jaime,IMG_0025 “since it’s clandestine, you never get their rookie year.” The last lecture/book signing I went to was The Unexpected Spy, by Tracy Walder. I was particularly interested for two reasons:

  • The book is about to become a TV show, called The Sorority Girl Who Saved Your Life produced by Ellen Pompeo of Grey’s Anatomy. Why they couldn’t call it “The Unexpected Spy” is beyond me, because the name is ridiculous. But still.
  • We were both born with “floppy baby syndrome,” which was the precursor to my CP diagnosis. It is fundamental to who we both are. She said in her talk that she takes spills all the time. It made me feel much better about myself, because I’ve never seen a movie spy that moved like me in any way. But a real spy does.

The reason it’s redacted on the autograph page is that I asked her to do it. The Publications Review Board at The Agency blacked out a lot of her manuscript, and the style choice to leave it all in was pretty badass.

She took it seriously and wrote the comment, then scratched out one word. Then, she decided it wasn’t black enough and went over it with a Sharpie. I was laughing so hard I was crying when she handed it to me and said, “there. Now no one knows WHAT I told you to do to the world.” And then she laughed, and at that moment, she was the most beautiful, kind person in the world to me. Literally awesome.

Which only made me more angry at her treatment by the FBI, but I won’t get into it because it’s a large part of the book.

If there are any people who hire spies reading this web site, she also said in the Q&A that she might be approachable after January (who could possibly tell why?). For now, she is doing the work of angels- teaching high school. For the record, it wasn’t me who asked the question.

She had said during the lecture that she wished she had spoken up more at the FBI, possibly taken them to court. I told her that I had a comment and a question. She nodded and I said, “I’m a writer, too, and I know that while you may regret what happened at Hoover, you are more powerful than you can possibly imagine. You’ve taken ‘I’m telling’ to an international level.'” I then asked her about hypotonia- what limitations she had, how she overcame them, etc. She said that I would be surprised, that being in the CIA wasn’t as physical as she thought. That didn’t come in until the FBI, and even then, it was at Quantico where it really mattered.

And then we shared a look between us that was so intimate I will never forget it. Just the complete understanding of someone who knows what it’s like to be the other one.

Because there are no pictures and I don’t think anyone in the room noticed (and maybe I’m projecting and wrong [I don’t think I am]), in years to come I will smile to myself and say, “that’s redacted.”

 

What’s Making Me Happy

I did not come up with this title on my own. One of my favorite podcasts is NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” Pop Culture Happy Hourand they end with the panelists saying what piece of media is speaking to them. Their recommendations are always solid, and I hope that mine can be as well. I’ve gotten several that have stuck with me, such as “Steven Universe.” It has become more important to me over time, because it takes place on a Delmarva beach (code for the coast of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia), and I have a college friend that reminds me so much of Steven that it’s hard not to believe that I am actually watching him. In the same vein, they also introduced me to “Adventure Time,” which I have found to be a complicated, winding mythology that is supposedly for children.

These panelists have encouraged me to make my own list, important especially because I often need to look back and find things that will make me feel better when I’m grieving (grief is too small a word to encompass all the emotions one experiences). Sometimes I exhibit behaviors that I don’t even realize are connected to grief, but if I dig down deep, I find they usually are. The media I have to recommend is sometimes hilarious, and sometimes heart-wrenching because I need the catharsis. One of them comes from last night.

This is Us” is not an easy show to watch, and I would never recommend a binge, even though they are on their third season. It is listed here because of the episode “A Hell of a Week: Part Two.”

***Spoiler Alert**

Kevin’s most significant love, Sophie, calls him to tell him her mother died. He decides to go to the funeral, and when she starts to break down during her eulogy, she looks out into the crowd and sees Kevin’s face, allowing her to continue. Flashbacks of Kevin’s relationship with Sophie’s mom populate the episode, but the thing that touched me the most was the reflection of my own feelings. She says her husband has been great through all of this, but she can’t believe she’s going to be married for the rest of her life to someone that never knew her mother. She also looks pained that her husband’s parents are still alive, which if my experience is any indication, it’s the reason she called Kevin in the first place.

Particularly in the beginning, I only wanted to talk to people who could understand my plight implicitly without me having to explain it in words that always failed to get the point across, anyway. People have told me I have a gift for words, but I could not find any that would explain in the moment how my world had turned completely upside down. I didn’t know the path to the new normal. I didn’t even know how to take the first step. I was in complete and total shock. Part of it was that my mother had died, and that was enough, but the insult to injury is that it happened in an instant. I wasn’t there. I heard the news over the phone… and so did Sophie. The difference between us is that her mother had multiple sclerosis, and had suffered for a long time. Her mother’s death didn’t come out of nowhere. If you are just joining the fray, my mother was perfectly healthy save a broken foot, which caused an embolism that loosened and traveled straight to her brain. She did make it to the hospital in an ambulance, but lasted less than a half hour there. My only comfort is that a couple of days before, I got to have a phone conversation with my mother that lasted two and a half hours. Though we did not talk about life and death issues, it still felt like we got to talk long enough that there was nothing left unsaid, no unfinished business. In fact, a good bit of the conversation was that she wasn’t working at all. She’d recently retired from teaching (elementary music), and the church at which she was playing the piano/organ had closed. She didn’t know what to do with herself. So, my absolutely black humor that makes me laugh to this day is, “Mom, if you’re bored with retirement, maybe signing up for yoga would have been a better choice.” I didn’t cry through the episode, I was excited to see my emotions reflected back to me. Enough time has passed that it just felt comforting in all the right ways.

I am also finding solace in books, some fiction, some nonfiction. The last novel I read that cut right through me was “Where the Crawdads Sing,” part murder mystery, part love letter to the North Carolina coast. I don’t want to give anything away about this book. I will just say that the prose is transcendent, and the ending a true “AHA! moment.” Telling you more than this is just robbing you of picking up a book you might not have read on your own and finding a rare treasure. It is one of the few that I might listen to as an audiobook later, because there are some sentences that I just want read to me, with the ability to rewind.

In terms of non-fiction, I am reading two books on very disparate subjects.

The first is “Spydust,” by the incomparable Jonna and Tony Mendez. Though it is technically about espionage, I wouldn’t classify it completely in that category. It is also a love story between two spies who have each other’s back at work…………….. and slowly realize they want to support each other in all areas of their lives. While learning about spycraft is infinitely interesting, I am really enjoying the parts of the book that explore spies’ lives beyond their operations. For instance, Jonna is on an op in which she writes a letter to her sister, “Jennifer.” It is not clear whether Jonna’s sister knows she is writing in code by saying that she’s “traveling,” and that’s why she missed her birthday, or whether her sister only knows that traveling is part of her job. My only clue that “Jennifer” actually does know is that from the letter, it seems as if the sister does know where she is, but the letter only references “this part of the world.” I would think that letters (and now e-mails) to family and friends are so hard, constantly wording them in such a way that they are not outright lies, but highly necessary sins of omission.

It is possible that is why so many spies date each other, but even that is problematic if you don’t have the same levels of clearance. You can get into just as much trouble for reading your spouse in on something that is above their pay grade as you can for talking about your work with family and friends…. which I learned from a TV show called “Covert Affairs,” which makes me ridiculously happy because it is not a dramatic procedural in which everything has to be spot on. In fact, it’s kind of ridiculous, but highly entertaining….. exciting without taking all the myelin off your nerves.

The second is by one of “my kids,” the term of endearment I use for all the computer users I tutored in the lab for the Graduate School of Social Work at University of Houston. Her name is Brené Brown, and even though I know there’s not a chance in hell she would remember me, I enjoy knowing that I had a tiny role in getting her papers in on time with the correct formatting. The book is called “The Gifts of Imperfection,” a book that “explores how to cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to embrace your imperfections and to recognize that you are enough.” It’s probably one of the books I’ve needed to read since the moment it came out, but I’m glad I found it recently. Brown’s work on vulnerability and shame is slowly bringing me back out into the world, because vulnerability is not one of my strong points unless I am writing. In conversation, I have trouble letting people in. I do have two friends with whom I am completely authentic because I’ve known them for a relatively long time and they were there for me when my mother died, which carries a lot of weight. With people I do not know well, they are unlikely to hear anything from me that’s deeper than a glass of orange juice.

The last thing that’s making me happy is the movie “Jojo Rabbit.” Set in WWII, it’s about a little boy who wants to be a Nazi soldier and fight for his country…. to the point that he daydreams that Adolf Hitler is his imaginary friend (brilliantly played by Taika Waititi of “What We Do in the Shadows” fame). It is a farce, with many, many laugh lines… but also packs an emotional punch as Jojo begins to realize that being a Nazi isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Oh, wait. There’s one more thing. Coffee. Coffee is making me happy. You want a cup? I’ll make it for you myself. Do you prefer Cafe Bustelo or Kenya single origin?

[_])

The Tree Hugger

One of the most significant things that has happened to me since my mother’s death was visiting “her” in the cemetery when I was home for Christmas. I got an idea, one that will stick with me every time my sister and I visit. fredOne of the reasons we chose the particular area for her plot was that there was a tree in front of it. I named the tree “Fred,” and at first, my sister wasn’t fond of it. But the name has grown on her, and we can’t change it now. After we’d talked for a while, both to my mother and each other, I reached out and put my arms around Fred, because “he’s” still so little that I can hold him. I looked at my sister and said, “I know this seems weird, but it’s the closest I’ll ever get to hugging mom again.” I leaned in, my arms as tight as an old sea salt’s rope, and closed my eyes. I visualized “Fred” disappearing and my mother standing in “his” place. Peace and comfort washed over me, the “peace that passeth all understanding (Philippians 4:7 KJV). It is with me still as I write this, listening to the Argo soundtrack for the thousandth time.

It isn’t the most relaxing music in the world, full of intrigue and danger (especially if you know what piece goes where), but it is what gets emotions out of me. It brings back the muscle memory of writing, to which I’ve paid little attention, preferring to keep my emotions bottled up for some unknown reason. I don’t have writer’s block. There are a thousand memories I could publish. It’s my disorder. Anxiety and depression make me lose all excitement for everything, and being Bipolar II, I just have to wait until I cycle back up (at least a little).

Today is not a day I thought I would write, because Tony Mendez died on January 19th of last year. When I heard the news on the 20th, I cried like I had taken a spill on the sidewalk and there was no one to give me a Band-Aid…. which is an apt analogy because my grief over my mother and my grief over Tony became inextricably interrelated.

I don’t break down easily anymore. I became so afraid of being vulnerable in public that I developed a suit of armor, and so if I had to guess, hearing that my favorite author died broke the dam. It was everything, from not getting to meet him in person to having the stark realization that death is so permanent….. again. tonyI picked up my autographed copy of Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, stared at his signature, and started the first chapter.

I couldn’t focus and put it back in my top dresser drawer. I ended up lying on my bed, staring up at the ceiling fan, hypnotized by the blades. I remember, down to the body memory, the way I felt. It was akin to needing a good cry, but you can’t get it out, so you purposefully put on sad music or a movie. I absolutely started crying at the Washington Post article, but that’s not where I finished. Sounds came out of me that I have only heard when I’ve had a true wound to the soul. It was animalistic, coming from deep within.

It is interesting to me that I thought I didn’t have a tree to hug in honor of Tony, and then it came to me.

What are books made of?

50 Things You’ve (Probably) Never Been Asked

Hat tip to Martina for the writing prompt. 🙂


1. What is the color of your toothbrush?

It’s black & red, but I need a replacement soon. Stay tuned.

2. Name one person who made you smile today:

Bryn, who said she was sending me birthday presents in the mail (my birthday was 10 September). I love mail.

3. What were you doing at 8 a.m.?

Talking to my sister on the phone. Sometimes we talk during her commute.

4. What were you doing 45 minutes ago?

Drinking coffee with cinnamon & soy milk and talking to my new housemate. I’d tell you all about the conversation, but it wasn’t that interesting. If it had been, this entire entry would be about it instead.

5. What is your favorite candy bar?

I’m not really a candy bar person, although I do like Zero. Right now I am all about licorice allsorts. I ordered the original from Geo. Bassett & Co., Ltd. for my birthday and I just sat there and ate them until I felt fat…. and then I ate some more.

6. Have you ever been to a strip club?

Several, but it’s not a turn-on. I have to love the person to be attracted to them. There was a strip club across the street from my apartment in Portland that I used to go to for a drink occasionally, because it was within walking distance of my house. But I didn’t sit where you could see the women. There was a closed off bar section that was really fancy and the bottles were back-lit with neon. I didn’t even know something that cool existed in my neighborhood, and to this day I’m not sure why I went in the first place. I’m sure it was originally someone else’s idea and I just went with it, but I went back because it was a cool place to hang and no driving afterwards.

There is also a famous vegan strip club in Portland that I went to for another lesbian’s birthday party. I ended up sitting outside for most of it, but honest to God I loved the food, particularly the sloppy joes and mac & cheese. The part of the show that I saw, I liked, though. It wasn’t just women looking bored and dancing to music, it was acrobatics that defied the laws of physics, like Cirque Du Soleil but naked. Not only that, there were no French existentialist clowns. For that reason alone, 10/10. Highly recommend.

7. What is the last thing you said aloud?

I can’t remember exactly, but I was trying to get out of the conversation with my roommate so I could go back upstairs and enjoy my coffee quietly.

8. What is your favorite ice cream?

Every flavor I try is my new favorite, but I have a special spot in my heart for the banana/vanilla swirl soft-serve at Florian Fortescue’s in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My dad, sister, and I got different flavors to try, and I think that was the winner out of all of them. Now that I’ve been eating a lot of plant-based frozen stuff, I like “ice cream” made out of almond milk that has almonds in it….. really ties the dessert together.

9. What was the last thing you had to drink?

Coffee…. are you even paying attention?

10. Do you like your wallet?

I love it, and I haven’t seen one like it, so if I find one, I need to buy it because this one will wear out. It has a clear pocket on the front that I’m sure was originally for an ID, but I put my Metro card in it so I don’t have to take it out to swipe. The only thing I don’t like about my wallet, and this is a small gripe, is that it has a money clip on the outside that makes it uncomfortable to put in my back pocket.

11. What was the last thing you ate?

Extra, extra Hot Tamales.

12. Have you bought any new clothing items this week?

Does a new clear protector for my Apple watch count?

13. The last sporting event you watched?

Franklin, one of my housemates, is a rabid soccer fan, so I watched a game for a few minutes with him, but I can’t remember who was playing.

14. What is your favorite flavor of popcorn?

If I’m buying it while I’m out, it’s hard to find but I love cinnamon-glazed. I also love caramel-glazed and cheese corn mixed together, which is much more widely available. If I’m making it at home, I pop low calorie butter-flavored and then spray Pam on it to get turmeric and All-Purpose seasoning to stick (the more garlic, the better).

15. Who is the last person you sent a text message to?

Well, I use FB Messenger a hell of a lot more than texting because I can respond on any of my devices. It was to Dan, confirming our birthday plans for Tuesday.

16. Ever go camping?

Once. For me, the line about only wearing long underwear in your sleeping bag was the worst piece of advice ever. I finally got up around 4:30 and put on every piece of clothing in my suitcase. I would probably enjoy it more at a lower elevation where it’s not so cold. I was on Mt. St. Helen’s, which to me was freezing even in the summer.

17. Do you take vitamins daily?

Not always, but I do take an iron pill daily because I donate platelets and your iron level has to be above 12.5. Multivitamins give me terrible gastrointestinal distress, so I limit my intake…. but sometimes I need them because I am not the best eater on the planet.

18. Do you have a tan?

As Jim Gaffigan said, “I am what you would call ‘indoorsy.'” I tan vicariously through my friends who do that sort of thing. I think I’ve only tanned a few times in my life, and that was from living in Houston/Galveston. The most serious tan I ever had was spending weeks outdoors. I went to Mexico on a mission trip, then spent a week at choir camp, then three weeks at marching band practice before school started. Marching band practice in Houston is akin to signing up for a three bedroom, two bathroom condo in hell, except hotter. Who was it that said given the choice, they’d live in hell and rent out Texas? Same.

19. Do you prefer Chinese food over pizza?

I can’t. I eat pizza every Friday night in memory of my mother, who started the tradition when Lindsay and I were young. Besides, Argo, Aaron, & Dana would be so metaphysically disappointed (I’ll link to the entries, but if you got those jokes without clicking on the link, you are an OG “Fanagan”).

20. Do you drink soda with a straw?

There aren’t many “always” and “never” questions in this life, but here’s one of them. I never use a straw if I’m sitting down at a table, but I will always use one on the go. I am down with both the reusable and plant-based plastic straws, and I am so proud that my McDonald’s (don’t know if it’s a national thing) has switched to the latter.

21. What did your last text message say?

“Leslie, your Rx order is ready. Get it delivered!” I get wigged because they don’t offer delivery in my area and it irritates me that I get the possibility of delivery with every message and the disappointment of reality at least three times a month.

22. What are you doing tomorrow?

Finally, I have something exciting to say on the topic!

  1. Drink coffee and be awesome.
  2. Find something cool to do until 8:00 PM. I’m thinking of going to the National Gallery of Art, because I just learned today that they have a Van Gogh room, and I didn’t get nearly enough “time with him” at the Musée D’Orsay. I’ve always said that if I ever go back to Paris, I would like to spend an entire day there, staring at Van Gogh paintings while writing so that my crazy mixes with his crazy and we’ll see what “comes out of us.” I would be lying if I said Doctor Who had nothing to do with this (truly memorable trying to not freak out with joy at seeing The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise for real). By the way, none of the sunflower paintings say “Amy.” I checked. Twice. Also, as far as I know, Bill Nighy does not actually work there. I could be wrong.
  3. Meet up with Dan for outrageous desserts at Tryst. You might have heard of it during the Gary Condit/Chandra Levy scandal. Not why we’re going there, but when Dan suggested it, I realized I’d walked past it but had never been in, so it’s not NOT why we’re going there……….
  4. Curl up with a good book. Right now I am in the middle of Three Women, Blink, and War and Peace. That last one may sound ambitious, but after reading The Moscow Rules, I decided it was appropriate (and only 99 cents for the Kindle version with amazing commentary). I wanted to go back and read Tolstoy’s take on Russian history having started it in high school and never finishing. This time around, I have learned that the Russians thought Napoleon was every bit the fool and tyrant that over half the country thinks our current president is now (for reference years in the future, I’m talking about Donald Trump).
  5. Eventually fall asleep, but there’s no telling when because it depends on how engrossed I am in reading.

23. Look to your left, what do you see?

An empty McDonald’s cup that I need to refill with green tea, all of my medications, and my iPhone.

24. What color is your watch?

It changes at least four times a week, because I have an Apple Watch that makes it way too easy to slip the bands out. Today it is hot pink with a black & white Minnie Mouse face. I have a red leather strap that I wear the most often, with the classic color Mickey Mouse face. Today, Minnie is in grayscale because she is also classic colors and I needed her to coordinate with my choice of band. The face also has lots of colors, as you can put on “complications.” I have no idea why they’re called that. They’re basically “desktop icons.”

bindi-irwin-o-bindilrwin-some-days-you-just-need-to-3323284725. What do you think of when you hear the word “Australia?”

Not a thought so much as pictures of my friend Allison and a meme of Bindi Irwin (if the text is too small for you to read, click on the image for hi-res).

26. Do you go in a fast food place or just hit the drive thru?

I don’t drive, I am rarely pressed for time, and generally there’s free wi-fi. So, inside it is.

27. What is your favorite number?

So easy I don’t even have to think about it. Eleven. Matt Smith, the baby giraffe in a bow tie (and sometimes a fez), is my Doctor. I’m in love with him a little bit because when he got the role, the Internet rebelled against him and said he was never going to be any good, but I haven’t felt more emotion in the show than watching his interactions with Amy, Rory, River Song, Vincent, and himself in a memorable soliloquy in “Nightmare in Silver.”

Also, Stranger Things. Eleven completes me.

28. Who’s the last person you talked to on the phone?

We have covered this.

29. Any plans today?

Well, my prescription is ready and they don’t deliver in my area.

30. How many states have you lived in?

Lots of geographic areas, four states:

  1. Texas
  2. Virginia
  3. Oregon
  4. Maryland

Maryland is where I have really put down roots, but I would move back to Texas to be with my family in a heartbeat if they needed me. It is the only reason I would ever move again. I’m done.

31. What most annoys you?

A little thing? When people use up all the toilet paper and don’t replace the roll.

A big thing? Injustice, anything and anywhere. I am never more angry than when I feel something is unfair, locally or globally.

33. Can you say the alphabet backwards?

I would really, really have to think about it. Not something I’ve ever really had to know…. although a funny thing about me and the alphabet is that when I was first learning my ABCs, the setup is that my mother’s name was Carolyn. I thought the song went “ABCDEFG, HIKJ Carolyn NOP.” “KJ” is not a typo.

34. Do you have a maid service clean your house?

No, but I would think I had died and gone to heaven if I did. So jealous of Disney Princesses, Mary Poppins, and Molly Weasley.

35. Favorite pair of shoes you wear all the time?

It’s a three-way tie between brown Converse All-Stars, black Converse All-Stars (black laces, rubber, AND canvas), and Keene sandals. I told this to a friend and she said, “ok, you just lost cool points for wearing Keenes.” I had an unprintable response.

36. Are you jealous of anyone?

Disney Princesses, Mary Poppins, and Molly Weasley. I would even settle for Shary Bobbins.

37. Is anyone jealous of you?

I didn’t think so until I was telling a friend that I was absolutely done moving (unless my family needed me in Texas) because I had already moved so much in my life that I was ready to settle down permanently. She told me that she was jealous of me, because she wasn’t ready to make that decision yet. Actually, I’ve had that conversation twice with the same results. One lives here in town, the other lives overseas.

38. Do you love anyone?

Not romantically, but agape and philia are the rivers that run inside me. I couldn’t do without my friends. They are my lifeline, the brothers and sisters I chose for family because my bio family is so far away.

39. Do any of your friends have children?

Yes, some of them even on purpose.

40. What do you usually do during the day?

A little of everything except laundry. It’s an issue.

41. Do you hate anyone that you know right now?

Hate is such a strong word, and changes me a lot more than it changes them…. but everyone I dislike at the moment, I’ve never actually met in person.

42. Do you use the word “hello” daily?

No. I generally say “hey” even though “hey is for horses.” There’s your “Texas-ism” for the day. The reason I don’t use “hello” daily is that I generally only answer the phone that way, and people rarely call me (not that I don’t like it).

43. What color is your natural hair?

Dark brown, but liking it better and better now that I have a few gray strands that look like highlights. I might dye it anyway, though, but only because the color isn’t quite deep enough for me. It looks a bit mousy. Probably won’t go back to auburn, though. Stay tuned.

44. Are you thinking about someone right now?

Deeply.

45. Have you ever been to Six Flags?

I have. I’ve been to three Six Flags-owned parks. Six Flags Over Texas in the Dallas suburbs, AstroWorld and WaterWorld in Houston. For those that aren’t familiar, the company is named after the governing bodies throughout Texas history:

  1. Spain
  2. France
  3. Mexico
  4. The Republic of Texas
  5. The United States
  6. The Confederate States

It seems apropos right now to also give you this fact: Texas and Hawaii are the only states in the union that can fly their flags at equal height to the US flag, because we were both once our own countries.

46. How did you get your scar?

Christ, which one? I fall and hurt myself all the time. Although here are the ones tied for first place. When I was 16, I was cutting a lime with a serrated knife and sliced into my thumb. Those nerve endings never came back, so I have a dead spot I play with all the time. When I was in my early 20s, I had choir practice on Thursday nights and my first wife was way too obsessed with ER. I forgot my house key one night and even though she wasn’t a mean person, she did a mean thing. She wouldn’t let me in until a commercial. So I’m fumbling around in the yard because it’s after 9:00 PM in the fall and I trip over a tree stump, scraping and cutting my shins so badly that the scars are still so deep it feels weird to shave those parts of my legs. Let me remind you that it’s been 20 years, and the scars are no more shallow than when they happened. Geez, and I actually spent time wondering why that relationship didn’t work out……………..

47. Do you have tattoos?

Yes, an ichthus that says “Yahweh” in Hebrew, a tribal dragonfly, a Celtic knot, a quill dripping blood, and $1.83. The last is the smallest, but it’s the most important. Here’s the story behind all of them.

48. Have you ever been out of the country?

I’m not especially well-traveled, but I’ve been to Mexico, Canada, England, France, and The Bahamas. I do have a bucket list, though, and I may never make it to some of them because in the Middle East, I am terribly afraid that everything I want to see is going to be reduced to rubble, and even if it isn’t, I don’t currently have a male chaperone. I’m a feminist and all that, but I’m not stupid.

49. Looks, brains, or personality?

I am going to go with personality, because if they have a great one, their intelligence will naturally show itself. I don’t know many dumb people I could stand for more than a few minutes. For me, personality and brains are inextricably interrelated, because brains inform humor, and if I don’t think you’re hilarious, I’m out.

50. Biggest regret?

Let’s end on something real. I used to be on the “think it, say it” plan no matter what emotions I was feeling. My biggest regret is all the misdirected rage in my life at Argo. It was over-the-top and egregiously wrong, because by then I wasn’t fighting with her. I was fighting the real enemy and Argo was a not-so-casual bystander, the receiver of all the shit rolling downhill. It was not a short amount of time until I realized that I was fighting with two people who weren’t even in the room, and only one of them deserved it.

I am so glad that part of my life is over and done, but if I could pray for a do-over and it materialized, I would go back and love her the way she loved me…. with sweetness, bright, white light, honesty (both painful and real), walking around in each other’s inner landscapes……………… truly receiving all the other had to offer- no more, no less.

Master(s) of Disguise

I am already dressed for the speaking engagement I am attending tonight. Jonna Mendez is going to present her newest (and Tony Mendez’ last) book, 51bYPeOnLvLThe Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War. The reason I am already dressed and ready to leave is that I am inexplicably anxious.

Well, maybe not inexplicably. First of all, Jonna is credited as an author on this book, but she also assisted Tony & Matt (Baglio) on Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History.

For those who are scratching their heads at why Jonna and Tony have the same last name, it’s because they were married for 28 years. Tony’s death this past January hit me extremely hard. Part of my anxiety is knowing in advance that I could be emotional, and because I’m going to be in front of his wife, I feel that they’re not really my emotions to have. I mean, I never met him (I wanted to, and I know for sure that if he was still alive and his Parkinson’s was under control, tonight would have been the night- he and Jonna were/are on the board at The International Spy Museum).

Even though he was not a personal friend and I can’t say I knew him, there are these authors that get under your skin to the point where you feel like you do. Tony is that author for me, and I am so glad that his stories did not die with him- that there are still more of his words for me to discover. After I finish The Moscow Rules, I’m going to read Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations that Helped Win the Cold War, which, according to Jonna’s web site, is often used as curriculum for new CIA recruits, and was the first book that the couple wrote together.

Attendees are encouraged to show up early, as Tony’s notes for this book will be on display. I will get to see his handwriting, his process, and hopefully some of his humor… which was always on display in real life. For instance, when Ben Affleck was cast as him in the movie adaptation of Argo, Tony said that he himself was much better looking.

It is in this portion of the evening, wandering around the glass cases, that I hope my emotions bubble up, because it will be more private. I’m not overly fond of emoting in front of a bunch of people, anyway. That being said, you cannot control feelings, and the more you try, the more they fight you to get out.

I am sure that I have mentioned this before, but one of the reasons that Tony’s books have become so precious is that my great uncle, Foster Fort, was in the military and later worked for both the C and DIA in different capacities.

He was killed in a helicopter crash when I was very, very young. I wasn’t old enough to have a real conversation with him after he retired, because he never got old enough to do so, and he couldn’t have told me anything while he was still working. In a way, he’s become a legend in our family, because when you work for either clandestine service, your family only gets to guess what you’re doing, and are often very, very wrong.

I mean, maybe he was just a helicopter pilot. I think that if you get tapped by the C and DIA, though, there’s probably more to it than that. When I think of Foster, I imagine him “putting on the last suit he’ll ever wear,” and I laugh to myself. I laugh even harder when I picture Agent O doing his funeral. But on a more serious note, it is comforting to feel as if our family has a connection to one of the stars on the wall at Langley.

I have no idea what kind of stories I would have heard, but I do know that I will hear some amazing ones tonight. You don’t get to be Chief of Disguise at CIA without living through a few. There are a TON of YouTube videos (this one’s my favorite– the Homeland gag KILLS me) of her talks and they’re all so interesting you wish they’d go on for three more hours. At the end of one video, the comment that literally sent tears and snot running down my face as I shook violently with laughter was, “who else was waiting for her to take off her disguise and find out it’s really a black dude?”

One of the best things she explains is “the quick change,” which is layering disguises so that you can take off clothing, glasses, etc. in 37 seconds, changing your appearance even while walking in the middle of a crowd. They have to be so precise that they are rehearsed beforehand, because as she says, you don’t want anyone to know you’ve escaped. You want them to think that they’ve lost you and it’s all their fault.

If Jonna doesn’t talk about it, I want to ask her if she was a consultant on Atomic Blonde, because for me, it personifies the Moscow rules. Even if she wasn’t, I still want to know if she’s seen it.

One of the Moscow rules that I learned from watching other videos (I’d give you a link, but I don’t remember which one) is that there was/is a shoelace code in the CIA. It’s to be able to pass messages to other agents without being noticeable. After I saw the video, I retied my Adidas Gazelles. I have no idea what they say, though. I hope I’m not telling other case officers that they’re being followed. Hey, in DC, you never know who’s next to you in a crowd.

Case in point: I once rode the Metro for four extra stops just because I got into a conversation with a female intelligence officer stationed in Germany during The Cold War. I don’t even remember how I got her to tell me that…. I just remember thinking in my head that she must be military or C/DIA because there aren’t that many black people in Germany.

My feet didn’t touch the ground for hours afterward, because even though I have no interest whatsoever in being a spy myself, I managed to engineer a conversation in which intimate details were spilled without her feeling as if a game was being played…. and there was. It was “how much can I get her to tell me in four extra stops?” It wasn’t like I was looking for secrets- she was retired and all her ops were UNCLASS. It felt like accidentally walking into Bletchley Circle.

Every time I think I would be a good case officer, I remember that I only speak English, I am often a little slow on the uptake, and more than likely I would trip, fall and die before I ever reached my contact…. which leads me to two scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

Elsa: It’s perfectly obvious where the pages are. He’s given them to Marcus Brody.

Professor Henry Jones: Marcus? You didn’t drag poor Marcus along did you? He’s not up to the challenge.

Walter Donovan: He sticks out like a sore thumb. We’ll find him.

Indiana Jones: The hell you will. He’s got a two day head start on you, which is more than he needs. Brody’s got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan, he speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom, he’ll blend in, disappear, you’ll never see him again. With any luck, he’s got the grail already.

[Cut to middle of fair in the Middle East, Marcus Brody wearing bright suit and white hat, sticking out like sore thumb]

Marcus Brody: Uhhh, does anyone here speak English?

Then, later…………………

[Indiana and Henry are tied up]

Indiana Jones: Come on, dad. Help me get us out of here. We have to get to Marcus before the Nazis do.

Professor Henry Jones: But you said he had a two day head start. That he would blend in, disappear.

Indiana Jones: Are you kidding? I made all that up. You know Marcus. He once got lost in his own museum.

If this isn’t an accurate depiction of me as a spy, I don’t know what would be…. and I promise, it’s not that I’m short-selling myself. I just know myself too well. One of the overhead pieces of audio at The International Spy Museum talks about people “living by their wits,” and I thought to myself that if it were my wits, we were all gonna die….. accidentally, of course, but it’s not the sort of situation where you can say, “oops. My bad. Should I leave a note?” Being a good case officer is learning to think 50 moves ahead- knowing how to checkmate the king before you’ve even opened…. like Jonna and Tony.

I am honored to be an audience member for Jonna’s current book tour, and am looking forward to more. There are a few other cities in which she’s speaking, so if you’re close to any of them, I highly suggest you go.

I am so honored, in fact, that I have changed outfits four times…. just not in 37 seconds.