Dame Blanche

This story starts at a restaurant near the Sacré Cœur, but it won’t end there. There’s more to tell before and after. I am choosing to begin with dessert.49759214_10156642200665272_7175104310940794880_o Literally.

For all my Outlander fans, in Paris (or maybe all of France, I don’t know) a “Dame Blanche” is a vanilla ice cream dessert with hot fudge and lots of Chantilly cream. Not only is it rich and heavy, there’s a lot of it. The portion size is enormous. There is a chocolate version called Liégeois Chocolat, which is equally delicious but not necessary to my French Outlander experience. These are both presented in the same line on the menu (no space or slash), so I think it’s all one dessert, and the waiter is confused. I keep pointing, and the look on his face as he walks away clearly says “I hope she has a hollow leg,” but that is only in retrospect.

What arrives is two overflowing parfait glasses, and I proceed to take them down like I have never eaten before and am new to the concept. I think my dad might have taken a bite or two, and that’s being generous.

To be fair, I had walked with my dad for over four miles that day, so by the time we got to dinner I was famished… even after having what seemed like an entire braised and shredded duck with mashed purple potatoes (akin to Shepard’s pie) for lunch… and that was just the main course. The entrée was a cream seafood soup and bread. Dinner was a veggie burger and fries. Given the way I usually eat, this was way past “I had too much to eat” and solidly into the perfection of gluttony.

Not being hungry has never stopped me from eating ice cream before, and I have my doubts it ever will again. French vanilla tasted roughly the same as it does in the United States, but chocolate ice cream is beyond comparison… less sweet and much darker, closer to a 60-65% cacao.

Incidentally, the rich desserts sort of made up for the lack of good coffee. Perhaps I was just ordering it wrong, but I thought it was terrible. The one thing I didn’t try that they had at the Charles de Gaulle airport Starbucks was a chocolate cereal milk latte. The rest of the time, I went to independent cafes or had instant Nescafe in my hotel room, which was arguably better than purchasing coffee elsewhere. Go to France for the food, clearly.

Earlier that day, I got my Doctor Who fix. One of the most famous episodes of the show takes place in part at the Musée d’Orsay Van Gogh exhibit, and to see it in person was astounding. musee_dorsayEvery Van Gogh you’ve seen in print is there. I saw the real Starry Night. I saw The Church at Auvers. I was mere inches away from haystacks and sunflowers. If I’d had four or five weeks in Paris, at least one would be dedicated to that room alone. I am not a visual artist by any definition. I would have just stared. I would have let his crazy mix with my crazy and see what writing came out of “us.”

Since I was short on time, I fairly quickly wandered around to the other Impressionists, spending a good five minutes looking at one light green stroke of paint on a Monet up close, then backing away until it looked like a leaf. I marveled at Gougin’s use of color and how it seemed he was the only person who painted people of color in that era. I loved his use of bright, engaging colors with cartoon-like black outlines so that everything stood out, like words with every syllable accented. Gougin’s art didn’t so much speak to me as it yelled in my direction, screamed and dared at me to look. Simplicity was complex. These were island people with spartan houses and blank expressions, so the question for me was, “are they happy?” Perhaps they didn’t so much like being painted, but it was more than that. I wondered if they felt impoverished or empowered.

The next truly overwhelming installation I saw was Monet’s Water Lilies20190106_151827, in permanent residence at the Musée de l’Orangerie. It covers several rooms and defies speech. Yet another work in which you constantly get very close, then very far away, then very close, just to see how the magic is put together. Monet was in his eighties when the collection was painted, and then stitched together to be hung. If you look very, very closely, you can see the stitches, but like everything else in an Impressionist’s work, blends “seamlessly.” When people talk about Water Lilies, they generally only mean the light blues and purples, but the actual cycle is so much more. The way they are hung now is, in essence, virtual reality. You don’t so much look at the paintings as step into them…. Claude Monet in “Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.”

I am finding that talking about Paris is more suited to several entries and not one gigantic read, so you’ll see more as the days progress. My Facebook friends have seen all my pictures because I couldn’t snap a photo without posting it five seconds later. Sorry I’ve kind of left you out in the cold, Fanagans. I was too full to move, much less write.

And not nearly caffeinated enough. What is sold in the United States as “French Roast” is just a terrible, terrible lie they tell little kids at bedtime.

Chosen Family

I am so lucky. Today I made a new friend whom I hope will one day be my old friend…. and connected with an old friend who continues to surprise me all the time with notes of support that say exactly the right thing I need to hear, immediately when I need to hear it. I can’t say publicly what I’m going through due to other people’s confidentiality, but everyone needs that friend who is angrier on your behalf than you could ever be yourself. Technically, if you have that friend, you really don’t need many others…. which is good. I don’t get out much.

Even when I think I should. Really must remedy that. Although for two reasons, I find it difficult. The first is that I am getting older, and therefore enjoy spending time with me more than I did when I was younger. The second is that few outings can hold a candle to a good book, TV show, or movie…. because I also consider other media excellent writing.

For instance, I just found a show on Netflix that needs promoting called “Sick Note.” Rupert Grint stars as Daniel Glass, a loser in a dead-end health insurance scam job when he finds out that he has cancer. He tells everyone and all of the sudden, people don’t think of him as a loser anymore. He gets special treatment all over the place- most importantly, not getting fired from his job, or getting kicked to the curb by his girlfriend, without whom he would be homeless.

After a few days, Dr. Iain Glennis (played by Nick Frost) calls Daniel and tells him he’s made a mistake- he does not have cancer- but he’s going to get fired if he makes one more mistake, and could he not tell anyone? It’s the best farcical comedy I’ve seen in a long time, because things go from bad to worse very quickly while keeping such a large secret.

Another comedy on Netflix that I think has superior writing is “The Kominsky Method,” a buddy comedy with Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. I originally clicked on it because my favorite movie is “Argo,” so I will watch ANYTHING with Alan Arkin. It turned out to be the best thing I’ve watched in months. I finished it in one day, if that’s any indication (my days off are packed, clearly).

Sandy Kominsky (Douglas) is a respected acting teacher, and Norman (Arkin) is his agent. Norman’s wife is critically ill, which adds gravitas to the uproarious humor, mostly consisting of two old guys busting each other’s balls. The comedy and drama both turn on a dime, which is why I think the writing is so significant.

The book I’m reading right now is called “Less,” by Andrew Sean Greer. I started reading it because the main character is a novelist. I was sold just based on that one fact.

However, I did not know until I started it that it was about an aging gay author, and his need to escape watching someone else get married, so he arranges his own book tour. It’s all done with quite a bit of humor, because he’s not exactly well known…. most of the response when he shows up is, “who the hell is Arthur Less?” You would think that the comedy comes from a writer’s God complex, expecting that he would be recognized. It doesn’t. It comes from Less knowing exactly who he is in the world and the way he deals with it….

There is so much of me that wants to write “same” on EVERY SINGLE PAGE. Even if you don’t normally read queer fiction, if you’re a writer, you’ll identify just as much as I did. Pick it up anyway. Apparently, the Pulitzer committee thought it was pretty good, too. It won.

It tapped into a lot of my own emotions, because my recognition has come in both good and bad ways. Good is people telling me they read my blog and love it. Bad is conflict in which my old words are spit at me. I have occasionally had the feeling that this is unfair, because they are speaking about the me of then instead of to the me of now. But, to be fair, no one can beat me up with my own words better than I can. I am extraordinary at it.

Alternatively, I will go back and read some entries and realize how much I’ve grown and changed over the years. That part is stellar. I’m still me, just new iterations every day, which I don’t notice that often, but do when I go back even one year. God forbid I go back three or four…. sometimes it’s scary and necessary to realize how out of touch with reality I really became, and the drastic measures it took to right my worldview.

Like Arthur Less, when I realized everything I didn’t want to see, I changed my physical surroundings and, in effect, started my whole life over as the person I wanted to become, as opposed to the person I had been. At first I thought I had destination addiction, because I have moved a lot due to things I wouldn’t be able to un-see. But then I remembered that because of my mental health, I am much better with physical boundaries enforcing emotional ones. I am much better at growth and change when I am not constantly surrounded by the past. Because of everything that has happened there, I am not sure I ever realized how much I regress age-wise when I go to Houston. Visiting friends and family is great, as well as my mother’s grave site, which I find extremely peaceful whether the weather cooperates or not. Living there reduces me to the age I was when I got there, and negative triggers are all around me. If you’ve ever experienced any kind of abuse, from emotional to physical, you know what I mean. The smell of the air on any day that is the same as that one. Passing buildings that are familiar in a frightening way.

DC doesn’t offer me any of that. I have barely any history here, and the only trigger would be pulling up in front of my old house in Alexandria, which I’ve thought about doing for closure’s sake, and then decided I didn’t need it.

I did, however, walk around Dana’s old high school, and said a blessing of peace to let her go while I was on the grounds. I have never and will never go back, because I saw everything I needed to see from a diarist’s perspective. It worked- I left the place fully ready to move on with my life, and not let the past hold me back, whether it was that feeling of “we really were perfect for each other and God, I really screwed that up,” or “I have awful patterns in relationships and I never deserve another one.” I decided to devote my life to my friends, rather than trying to find “the one.” It makes sense to me.

If I can achieve healthy relationships with close friends, I will learn the basis of healthy romance. Walking with them on their journeys, whether single or partnered, has fed me in all the right ways…. mostly because I feel like I am supported by many people, instead of only looking to that one person that’s supposed to fulfill every need.

Spoiler Alert: They can’t.

So, if I’m ever going to be in a relationship again, I don’t want to be one of those people who cocoons and doesn’t call you unless we break up. I want to live in a world where when my partner isn’t there, it doesn’t feel like a part of me is missing. One of the mistakes I made with Dana is that over time, we just became danaandleslie. Especially socially, one didn’t exist without the other…. mostly because of my complete dependence on her to be the social director because over those seven years, I became a more serious writer and introvert.

Learning to be single successfully has come with being my own social director. I have found that my need to be with other people has diminished greatly, but when I feel lonely, deep emotion surfaces. The difference is that now, I’m not afraid to reach out. That feeling arrived with the true acceptance that my friends loved me, and I was not being a bother to them…. that sometimes, a text or a lunch was just what they needed, too.

It’s amazing how I feel loved and included just by text and e-mail, which is mostly how people my age communicate. We don’t always have an hour in the day for coffee or lunch. But this is where Dan comes in. She’s the friend that most often says, “let’s do lunch,” and it’s always exciting. When we’re not together in the same room, I miss being able to hug her- the only drawback of text messaging. The worst part of being single is that you just don’t get touched enough in the most simple of ways- a hug, an arm around your shoulder, grabbing someone’s hand when they’re talking about something emotional…. believe me, I could go on.

So, lunch with Dan is always a huge, huge thing….. simply because it comes with hugs.

Which reminds me of my new friend- he gives great big bear hugs and I really needed one today.

It made everything look brighter… as bright as my laptop screen with all the lights off, searching for the next great thing to watch.

Ice Cream

Me: I should really write something.
Me to Me: Do it on Monday.

Then, I realized that today is Monday. Well, there goes that plan.

I really should spend some of today writing, because I have the day off. It’s a godsend since I feel so crappy. After putting in long, long hours at the pub, I am, as always, exhausted and sore. I also have shingles, which means that I itch, burn and am generally more run down than normal. Though I got a fair amount of sleep last night, even going to bed at a reasonable hour, I am still dragging ass. Coffee hasn’t even touched the amount of tired I feel. There will probably be at least one nap in my future. Then maybe some ice cream…. or perhaps some ice cream as soon as I finish this entry. Ice cream for breakfast can’t be all bad. I’ll put some cereal on it. That’s just health right there.

Of course, the cereal that I got to go with said ice cream is chocolate donut- fudge flavor with the texture of Froot Loops covered in sugar. #winning

Hey, it was on sale for half off. Don’t @ me, bro.

If I can summon the energy, I have a book review to write and two books to finish. On the book review, I’ve just been updating with extensions for at least a month, because with my busy schedule, it’s partly that I don’t have time and partly because when I get home, I can’t move, much less think.

Saturday night was absolutely insane. To put it in perspective, we did $20,000 worth of business. I don’t even know how many covers that is, but we were in the weeds most of the night. The ticket machine didn’t stop until we closed, and the noise was burned into my dreams.

One cook walked out over I don’t know what, but was there on Sunday, so it couldn’t have been that bad. But an extra set of hands the night before would have been infinitely easier than what actually happened.

Although for my own part, I think I did extraordinarily well. Because I was on pantry station, fewer dishes come from me, so I was able to shuttle back and forth between the line and the walk-in when no one else could. I also have a second set of fryers, and range with oven, so we were able to cook more, faster… and we needed it. After several hours of trying to keep up with a rail that couldn’t even hold all our orders, we gave up and just relied on the expo to get everything out. It worked much better and faster. We were trying like hell to keep to a two-beer maximum until people got their food. I can only hope it worked, because I was not in the restaurant to see what happened.

I am sure I have said this before, but there’s such a difference between working in a true restaurant and working in a brewpub. There’s no hostess/seating, so therefore, fifty people can sit down and order food all at once, rather than covers coming in waves. Also, except for me, everyone working was relatively new. There’s nothing like learning a menu on the fly. To their credit, they did incredibly well, but just by that one fact, I was much faster than them. I am not a better cook (I don’t think), but knowing the menu off the top of my head helped immensely… one of the reasons I could sling hash and support the line at the same time, because time wasn’t ever wasted on food. I also knew the timing of everything, so I could tell when I had time to run back and forth between orders and when I couldn’t.

For instance, at one point in the evening, we ran out of both corn and pita chips…. so in between orders, I was making more as fast as I could. I was able to do both fresh baskets and back stock. And if I do say so myself, I make great chips. I know the exact timing to get the perfect color, so much so that if I can help it, I won’t let anyone else do pita chips because they’re my baby.

I think all cooks have their Jack Palance one finger. Pita chips are mine, as are fried Brussels sprouts tossed in citrus soy sauce. Although I’ve learned not to actually toss them. Soy sauce goes all over the place, and it makes the dishwasher mad (because he mops). If I do accidentally get soy sauce on the floor, I try and clean it up before he sees it. 😛

It feels good to be in this place, where I am an experienced enough cook that the mistakes of my past are erased. Not that I’ve made bad dishes, but that I’m much faster and more accurate at the same time. However, I know that I’ll never do fine dining again, because making everything absolutely perfect is not my forté… and not for lack of trying consistently. It’s because I have monocular vision, so the way things look to me is different than for someone who can see in 3D. For instance, I think a cut looks exactly the way it did when I was shown, and they do not. It’s just true. I have accepted it and moved on, though it used to make me cry because I’d never be good enough…. and too proud to mention what the problem was, so I just constantly looked stupid, all brought on myself. It just brings to mind exactly why pride can be a sin. Sometimes, things come out perfectly and I think I have it. Then, for whatever reason, my field of vision changes and all of the sudden, consistency is a big damn problem.

It’s one of the reasons that even though I think they’re of the devil because of the many times I’ve cut the fuck out of myself using them, I love mandolines and meat/cheese slicers. Everything comes out even despite my malady, which took me to urgent care because I once cut off a piece of my thumb. I thought I could handle it myself, because in this particular kitchen, we had a blood-clotting spray. I used so much of it that the bottle ran out, and I was still bleeding. I was furious because leaving the kitchen before a shift is over is committing THE cardinal sin. It would have been nice getting the rest of the day off if I hadn’t had to sit there with my entire hand throbbing to the point that I was crumpled over with nausea. It also didn’t help that my ego was bruised.

But I was back at work the next day, bandaged and wearing what we call a “finger condom,” which looks exactly like it sounds, except it’s bright blue, and sometimes too small so it feels like it’s cutting off circulation… but no matter because it’s illegal not to wear one. I had to be extra careful, because the likelihood of gaining another injury while working with one is high…. kind of like breaking a second ankle because you were off-balance, even with crutches, when you broke the first one. In the kitchen, one dumbass attack often leads to several others, usually in quick succession.

It becomes completely mind over matter, because you have to let it go that you’ve royally screwed up something and not let it affect the rest of your day. One kink is enough. I understand implicitly that if I don’t compartmentalize, it can become a downward spiral…. a fairly universal feeling whether you’re in the kitchen or not.

If your attention is diverted in the kitchen, even for a few seconds, you’re going to miss something. Write it down.

The thing about working in a kitchen is that it’s all important, it’s all high priority. Between tickets and retrieving backups and prep, there’s a running to-do list and you can’t forget a thing. To do so is to let someone down, and possibly a career-limiting move. In my pub, there are no stars- we’re all line cooks. But mistakes in a Gordon Ramsey-type restaurant would get you incinerated. No one cares if you get injured- it happens too often. The chef would focus on the fact that you were dumb enough to hurt yourself, because if you’d been doing your job properly, you wouldn’t have injured yourself in the first place…. and while this is true, everyone makes mistakes. Even small ones lead to big disasters, because if you just graze a finger with a knife, fingers are notorious for bleeding all over the place no matter what you do.

Therefore, I am awfully proud that I haven’t cut myself once with a knife during the entire time I’ve been at the pub. In fact, the only time I’ve cut myself was shredding carrots on a mandoline without a finger guard (we don’t have them, and even if we did, none of us would want to look stupid enough to have to use them…. in IT parlance, imagine a coworker walking up behind you and seeing you actually reading a manual. Bitch, please.).

I have a fear of looking stupid or like I don’t know something, and I’ve made strides in getting over that, too, because then I don’t continue to look stupid. Fake it til you make it will not work in the kitchen meritocracy.

Lately, I’ve been told that I am a rock star- not only because I can cook, but because I’ve been able to drop everything when they’ve needed me on days I haven’t been scheduled. Cooking rapidly and accurately is a large part of the job, but even more important is showing up. The biggest brownie points you can make in a kitchen is showing up on time every single shift, and flexibility in your schedule so that everyone knows you can be counted upon when chips are down. Another large part is doing exactly what the kitchen manager/chef says without complaining because you hate change. Adaptation is key, and if that’s not one of your strong points, I don’t advise working in a restaurant at all.

In one of my restaurants, I actually witnessed a line cook talking back to the chef, and they were gone within two minutes. It doesn’t take more than that for the boss to decide that they’d rather have someone malleable than someone who can’t say, “yes, Chef,” and move on…. or worse yet, walk out during the middle of a shift because the chef told them to change something and they decided the entire job was bullshit and not even worth it.

Most cooks think that they can get rehired in a day. This is not untrue unless the new restaurant needs references. If you’ve walked out on your last three chefs, good luck. God bless. Most small restaurants won’t check, but I’m guessing that if you decide you’re good enough for Momofuku CCDC, that’s a whole different thing. It’s the DC restaurant in David Chang’s small empire, and they have an amazing chef named Tae Strain, hand picked by Chang to shake the menu up. When David Chang was actually the chef there, it was a sort of homecoming for him- his parents live in Vienna, VA. But every executive chef I know has decided at one time or another to let in new blood, and Strain is a rising star. There are only two people I can think of off the top of my head who would fit right in on the first day. I am not one of them.

I am just a pub kind of girl….. with ice cream.

U Street

I never want to forget this day.

My dad read my last blog post, about how I’d wanted a signed copy of Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History from the International Spy Museum, and how disappointed I was that they were sold out, and how I’d searched the Internet for a copy and couldn’t find one, etc. Maybe everything IS bigger in Texas, because when he searched for a copy, he found one. It is on its way to my house right now. Because of the cover, I think it’s an early edition, and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity. For the record, though, it was not $20, and does not come with a coffee mug. I do not need the Argo coffee mug. I know this because I saw it at the Spy Museum and it only holds eight ounces of coffee. So, while cool, utterly useless to me. The screenshot of the signed copy of the book and the words “deliver date” made me cry so hard that my dad couldn’t even understand me on the phone. Just unintelligible sobs of “it’s not even my birthday.” I was going to meet Lindsay for dinner, so I was crying as I got into my Uber and retold the story to the whole carpool, and then they were crying, too. The driver, a big teddy bear of a guy, wiped off a tear and said, “that’s just what daddies do.”

Then, we switched subjects. He said, “so, you’re going to the Metro station?” I nodded and he said, “then you’re going to my day job. I sell them the rail cars.” I got really excited telling him how much I loved the new ones with the better signage and the electronic voices that are loud and clear, rather than muffled and/or give no fucks. Then he puts his Metro access pass on the dash and drives me RIGHT UP to the entrance. I think he was showing off, and it worked. I was very impressed.

Lindsay and I grabbed some ceviche for dinner and frozen yogurt for desert. Then, we went back to her hotel and watched Shark Tank. I left around 9:30 and started walking toward the Dupont Circle Metro, realized I was going  the wrong way pretty quickly, and proceeded not to care. I just walked. It was a tiny bit rainy- Portland spitting- and perfectly comfortable outside. The street lights shone and music spilled into the streets. I stopped for a drink at a bar with an AMAZING jazz band that I wanted to hear- the trumpet player being the main draw, of course, but the entire house was packed. I couldn’t find a seat anywhere, so I just left without buying anything…. although would have taken the trumpet and run if I could’ve- it was a Monette, unlacquered, with a sound as viscous as motor oil. Even on fast licks, one note oozed into the other, a brass Southern drawl. I don’t know the name of the band, or even where the club is. I was just out walking, and happened to pass it. It’s a true testament to a local band when there are no tickets being sold, it’s just a regular Wednesday, and the house is packed. I would have waited for a table if I thought there was a chance in hell that anyone was leaving.

Eventually, I made it to the U Street/African American War Memorial/Cardozo Metro on the Yellow Line, and made my way to Ft. Totten, where I transferred to Red. The train was delayed for quite a while pulling into the station, so I sat somewhere between Takoma Park and Silver Spring playing Solitaire on my phone. By the time we actually arrived, my bus had stopped for the evening, so I Ubered back home.

I walked upstairs to the sound of a movie in Arabic, obviously coming from Abdel’s room because he’s the only one on my side of the house that speaks it (the layout is that the homeowners have one side of the house and the renters have the other, with separate kitchens, bathrooms, etc.). Though Hayat speaks Arabic as well, I don’t know if Lebanon and Morocco have the same dialect. My friend Anthony says that if I’m going to learn Arabic, learn the Lebanese dialect first, not because it’s the easiest, but the most beautiful.

I believe him. Listening to Hayat on the phone is one of my favorite pastimes. She knows I’m not eavesdropping, I’m listening to the lilt of her voice. I felt the same way about Nasim, whose Persian phone calls reminded me of Tehran. Literally every time she started speaking, Cleared Iranian Airspace would start playing in my head. It was apt, as her own escape from Tehran is much worse than being rescued by Tony Mendez.

We’ve lost touch, but that is the book I was going to write before Nasim moved to New York, and unfortunately hasn’t been back since.

Tony’s book will have to do.

Dogs

I woke up at 0500, as I am wont to do. I generally fall asleep to movies or podcasts, and last night it was Battle Royale II- Requiem. I made it through Battle Royale earlier in the day, because it just cracks me up. Yes, there is so much violence and not very much humor in the movie as a whole, but the instructional video makes me laugh until my sides hurt. I’m going to have to go back and watch the ending of II, because I should know by now that I cannot start a movie between 2030-2100. It reminds me of my dad coming home from a Covey seminar on time management, where the instructor told a funny story:

Instructor: I get my kids to wake up at 4:00 AM for a planning session every morning.
Guy in Class: How do you do that?
I: I put them in bed at 8:30 PM.
GIC: How do you manage THAT?
I: I get them up at FOUR IN THE MORNING!

I’ve puttered around the house for a little bit… went through the trash looking for recycling because my roommate is not so good about it. Made myself both a Hawaiian Punch and strong black coffee. Took all my psych meds so that I can ignore the “Meeting with Bob” reminder later (I call all my medication reminders “meeting with Bob,” and it really caught on when I was in the psych ward at Methodist. By the time I left three days later, I had my entire cohort saying “I have a meeting with Bob later.”

Yes, children. I checked myself in at Methodist thanks to an ass kicking by my precious Argo, who put everything succinctly: why do you expect everyone else to fix you? Can’t you see the common denominator is you? I didn’t realize that asking my friends to safety net me was in fact keeping me from moving under my own power, failure to take responsibility for my own actions. When you’re that far down into depression, anxiety, and PTSD, it’s hard to see. The kicker was suicidal ideation that I knew would go away with a trip to a psychiatrist who could adjust my meds, but I called and I could not get a new patient appointment for another three weeks. Anyone who’s been in that situation knows three weeks is way too long- halfway to SpongeBob Squarepants headstone (don’t think I won’t do it- not the suicide part, the hilarity of an actual SpongeBob headstone for all eternity).

Teenage trauma was compounded by my relationship with Dana ending in a fight to end all fights. Dana pushed me over and I just went off like a chihuahua with a God complex. All the fight was taken out of me when Dana punched me in the face so hard that for a moment, I thought my eye socket was broken. It wasn’t, but I had a pretty nice bruise under my eye that my glasses didn’t cover. I forgive, but I don’t forget. I concentrate on my hilarious memories with Dana now, because I cannot live my life in the smallest place possible. I take responsibility for not running away at the first sign that the fight was turning physical.

I, however, have stopped feeling that I deserved to be hit, because the fight absolutely made me come emotionally unglued. It took a while. The mobile assessment team that evaluated me at Methodist reassured me that I had a natural reaction to being pushed over, but that it was probably a bad idea to try and fight back with someone whose fist was three times bigger than mine. In the moment, my thought process was that it was a bad idea not to stand up to a bully. To Dana’s credit, she was immediately sorry and didn’t just give lip service to it. She really put herself through an enormous amount of self-help, which is why I can forgive her so easily. I wouldn’t be so laid back about it if I thought that there was a possibility it could happen again.

The one mistake I made was going home after hospitalization. I didn’t count on the emotional swings between us getting much worse. I made due by sleeping at friends’ houses and going to the house to pick up my stuff when I knew she wouldn’t be there. It wasn’t that I carried anger around. It was that I was trying to cut any and all fights off at the pass. It is a very, very difficult thing to go through that with someone you love so desperately, so my choice is not to be bitter and to remember all the things that happened between us that were overwhelmingly positive. It is enough that we are not in contact anymore, reducing the possibility of hurting each other again to zero, whether that means emotionally, physically, or both.

But that was a little over three years ago, and I cannot emphasize enough how much different my world has become. I’ve had an enormous swath of time to think things through and work on my own issues so that I’m less quick to anger, and trying to love my friends through their own problems, because so many people did it for me. I’ll never be able to pay it all forward, but it helps to try.

I am very open and honest about what it took to get past all this, but the stigma is there. People don’t always realize what it took to get you to the place of hospitalization, and only concentrate on how crazy you must be if you had to get that kind of help. It’s a black mark, whether it is deserved or not. I’d had severe psychological issues since I was a teenager, and I can’t help but think how much better my life would have gone had I been hospitalized in the moment rather than stuffing everything down into my socks. It made me feel like I was fine, thank you very much [Morgan Freeman: Leslie was, in fact, not fine].

I was able to lay everything out in front of Argo because she was a stranger on a train, not part of my physical life so she saw everything differently. She asked pointed questions that made vomiting up old trauma unavoidable, and I cracked into pieces. And then, with two sentences, I make no qualms about the fact that they probably saved my life…. yet another thing that I’ll probably never be able to repay.

I do, however, offer up prayers into the universe for her a lot. It gives me something to pray for her happiness, healthiness, and the joy of being alive with possibility. Her sunshine is bright, and it was a gift to stand in it. I simply would not be the person I am today had I not been able to see every place I went wrong in black and white.

It was an incredible motivator to keep going with psychiatry, talk therapy, and instituting behavioral patterns that keep me from going back to the dark emotional place that doesn’t allow for my own sunshine. I truly have a lot of it to give. It’s hard to notice when I’m spilling my guts on this web site, because most of my entries deal with problems I’m trying to process, but I am incredibly funny. My love is gigantic, from the personal to the international. I don’t just care about my friends and family, but the problems that arise with just being a human.

All of it shows more easily in person than it does while writing, something I am trying to change as both my marriage and the death of my mother fade further into the back of my mind. There are always going to be times when I’m incredibly sad over each, but especially my mother would be horrified to know that losing her caused me to lose my knack for both cracking jokes and laughing easily when others do it.

I am looking forward to a lot of laughter starting on Tuesday, when my little sister arrives for a work trip. What cracks me up the most about her is that when I say something sweet, her response is usually, “thanks, Boo.” It works on two levels; the first is that it is a loving term of endearment. The second is that my mood often bears a striking resemblance to Boo Radley.

Harper Lee is my spirit animal, and I will speak more as to why.

It is my unverified opinion that Scout and Boo are the same person, Harper Lee at different points in her life. Think about just how much she isolated after To Kill a Mockingbird was published, and I think you’ll see it, too…. keeping in mind that I’m wrong a lot. 😛 It seems to me, though, that there’s probably at least a grain of truth in my ramblings about somebody I don’t even know. The now unanswered question in my mind is whether Lee was reclusive before or after creating Boo…. did she base Boo on herself, or did writing about him put her into that place? Chicken, egg, etc. Either way, I’m not sure it renders my opinion invalid.

When I am able to support having a pet, I’d really like to get a dog. This seems unrelated, but it’s not. I often need forced interaction because it’s hard for me to do it on my own, and taking my dog for a walk provides just that. I know this because I used to live in an apartment complex, so letting my dog relieve herself in the backyard was not an option. Therefore, I met lots of other people who also had dogs, which not only gave me opportunities to socialize, but something about which to discuss that didn’t dig too deep. It was just fun. And, of course, if it’s a boy, his name will be Arthur. If it’s a girl, her name will be Louise.

Perhaps I should get a chihuahua with a God complex. Apparently, we’d have a lot in common.

Shelanagans, etc.

As predicted, I’m going to miss Walk-Up Wednesday at the African American Museum of History and Culture. Time, again, has gotten away from me. I even set reminders and they didn’t help. I woke up later than I usually do (0700 as opposed to 0500), and for some reason have the urgency to nest rather than to people. Had I not waited until the last minute, I would have been excited to see the museum, but there was always another Wednesday until now. Perhaps I will wait until someone in my family comes to visit so that we have something touristy to do together that I haven’t done already.

I have found that I am somewhat of an anomaly in D.C., because I’ve met few people around here that are willing to brave the crowds of tourists and would rather stay in their bubbles than constantly “staycation.” In fact, I’ve had roommates in the past that have never been to The Mall for the fireworks on Fourth of July even though they’ve lived here their whole lives. My excuse is that I just haven’t been here long enough to do everything, but it will happen.

One of the reasons I love D.C. so damn much is that it is a wonderland of free stuff to do… not that I’m opposed to paying for good entertainment, but why? The government has seen to it that I get a marvelous education in all sorts of subjects for the cost of a Metro ticket. The only museum that actually cost money that I’m desperate to see is the Newseum, which I saw in 2001 but has had a complete overhaul since. My greatest memory of the old building is standing in front of Helen Thomas’ press pass with tears in my eyes.

A few years before, I’d gotten to meet my hero when she came to University of Houston for a continuing legal education course at the law school, and I went as a reporter for our Information Technology newsletter. I asked her how being a reporter had changed in the age of the Internet, and she told me it was a great question and expounded on the 24-hour news cycle. My hero, badass reporter, told me I asked a great question. Touch me.

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My favorite story that she told involved a Halloween party at The White House, where a pilot tried to crash his plane intentionally on the grounds to kill President Clinton. Luckily, his plan failed miserably, but she said she’d never forget thinking that if he’d succeeded, Vice President Gore would have had to take the Oath of Office dressed as Frankenstein.

My second favorite story involved President Reagan. He invited Helen to take part in breaking ground for the Lebanese Culture Center (or something like it- can’t remember exactly). Then, after it was over, Reagan told her that as she dug the first hole, he could hear the ghosts of all the former presidents saying PUSH HER IN!!!

The first time I came to Washington (to visit), I was in second grade and eight years old. Though I loved The White House, I am infinitely grateful that I’ve come back as an adult so that I can better appreciate everything the city has to offer. For instance, I learned recently that Gore Vidal is buried here, so that’s my next cemetery trip. Perhaps writing advice will come to me by osmosis.

At this point, I’m willing to try anything.

It’s almost time to start writing the review for The 11:05 Murders, and I still owe Finn Bell an Amazon review for Dead Lemons (Finn, if you’re reading this, I haven’t forgotten). My morning coffee has turned into my afternoon coffee for this very reason. Trying to stay sharp despite the medication I’m taking is not effortless. I read somewhere that Lexapro has an effect on cognitive function and thought, great. Something else to make me dumber. I really don’t need help in that department. I also try to stay away from Klonopin unless I’m really distressed because it makes me sleepy. Perhaps that’s the point. It doesn’t solve anxiety so much as make you tired enough you don’t care you’re anxious.

Speaking of which, I need to read Dead Lemons again, and not because of the review. There’s a great therapist character in it with solid advice that I’d like to go back over. I’d tell you what it is, but I want you to buy the book.

Technically, I want you to buy all the books I mention, because then I’ll be able to discuss them with people who already know the end and I’m not responsible for spoiling the whole thing.

A great discussion about a book might make up for not going to the museum.

Right now, though, Brian O’Hare and Finn Bell are counting on me, so perhaps waiting is for the best. My sister and Pri Diddy are both coming to town soon, and who knows what “shelanagans” we’ll create. I would stay tuned if I were you.

I know I will.

Crazy on a Cracker

Tonight I am going to meet a new friend who I hope will one day become my old friend… a great pen pal becoming real. Religion major in college, writes, and reads more in a day than I do in a week… which is very hard.

Speaking of which, I am engrossed in a new novel for review called The 11:05 Murders, by Brian O’Hare. It’s another one I thought was deserving of more than a few words written about it, and again e-mailed it to my editor… and not even selfishly because reviews might be easier when she’s also read it. Just because the book was so great I wanted to share. It is a very, very cheap way to show someone you care- and are genuinely excited to be able to provide great entertainment through e-books even when the person lives thousands of miles away.

It’s also nice to get a book that I’m genuinely jazzed to review by a polished author. That doesn’t happen very often. I’m also glad that when I’m finished with this novel, there are two others.

It’s also a nice thing that when I shop at Amazon, a small percentage of my purchase goes to Doctors Without Borders, my charity through Smile. I try to donate to them personally when I have a chance, but it’s not always possible. It makes me feel good that I can get my needs met and contribute to theirs. So much is going on in the world today that’s negative… cheering on their efforts is just one way I hope to combat it.

Not only am I thinking globally about negativity, but personally. I am still messed up over the last four years, and in some ways, I think that loss will never get better. It will become a shallower well of injury, or something that hurts more and more sporadically, but nothing will ever be the same. This is because dealing with grief over the alive and well is different than grieving the dead. Each hurts in its own special way. I am struck by the fact that other people’s lives will go on without me, and brought to my knees that I will never see my mother again.

If in saying that Barbara Bush’s death wasn’t that sad, I didn’t mean to be callous. It’s just a whole other thing when someone dies naturally after living an incredible amount of time vs. the shock of losing someone in the blink of an eye when their lives were cut short by at least 15-20 years. Some days I actually forget time has passed and am just struck dumb with the immediacy of it all. A parent dying suddenly and younger than you thought is like being in a car accident repeatedly, with the same amount of haze-inducing shock. The worst part is that I didn’t agree to this (as if one would, but stay with me, Jimbo). It just happens unexpectedly, a truly unwanted side effect. I am just blindsided all the time. I go into a space where I can’t remember anything, I can’t move, I can’t think clearly. I am just walking through life trying to nail Jell-o to a tree.

What is truly heartbreaking is knowing that my mother would never have wanted this for me. She was always so self-sacrificing that she would have done anything not to die if she could help it, and not out of self-preservation. What keeps my heart from stitching is that for most of my adult life, I lived out of state… so there are days when I regret that fact and others where I completely forget she’s dead because I’m not used to talking to her every day, anyway. I’ll reach for the phone to call her and absolutely freak. Grief then becomes extremely loud and incredibly close. What helps is not thinking about my own situation, but the thousands of other people that have also had this experience and that even when I feel like it, I am never alone. Someone on earth has felt what I’m feeling at any given moment.

There’s also the two-sided coin of losing someone suddenly. It is the combined feeling of joy that they felt no pain and the anger that comes with not being able to say goodbye. Let me be clear, though. I am not angry at her. I am angry at the situation.

It is the same with divorce… more angry at the situation and myself than I ever will be at Dana. In fact, I would go so far as to say I’m not angry with Dana at all. Everything is forgiven on that end. It’s me that needs work. I got started praying for her health and happiness early and often. It gives me something to give to her, even when it’s just sending energy into the universe. Because we’re not in contact, the chord between us (as I’ve said before) becomes a loopback, feeding me. It gives me the feeling of peace and calm that I’m somehow contributing, I guess. At this point, guessing regarding the nature of karma and the universe is about as much control as I’m allowed to have. Surprisingly, it is more than enough.

I feel like I should get into that space quickly, the one of sending good thoughts into the universe, because I am more downcast today than usual. It’s grey and awful outside, which only contributes to the storm within. Everything is making me sad, and I just feel like a disappointing excuse for a human being. Now, logically I know this is not true. I just can’t seem to make it happen emotionally. I am sure that things will look different 30 minutes after I take my anxiety medication, for which I need to make a pharmacy run. I don’t want to show up to a first impression feeling like crazy on a cracker.

Because unfortunately, that’s what grief does. It causes anxiety about just damn everything, even the things you never thought about before said loved one died. There’s so many new depths to plumb. Even the fact that people die young is something you used to know and now smacks you in the face. It’s one thing to know it, quite another to feel.

As far as I know, besides Dan, I am the first of my friends to lose their mothers. It is a comfort you would not believe that although I am incredibly sad for her, I have a person who understands implicitly the hand that I’ve been dealt. I have someone who can tell with one look that I need a hug or an arm around my shoulder. Not only am I perpetually bereft in some respects, single people do not get nearly enough contact comfort. It is such a blessing to have someone in my life who gives really great hugs without a hint of romance, because it’s not about that and never will be. I just give friendship its full due, that chosen family is everything.

The reason I believe in chosen family so wholeheartedly is that I don’t think it’s fair to the person I would date to drag them into the sideshow that is my current life. I would much rather wait until things calm down, when I am much less angry at me for the way I treated Dana and much less overwhelmed at the state of my world. The one good thing I remember about being divorced is that not only did I behave badly then and am grateful I don’t now hurt her repeatedly, I never would have wanted to subject Dana to the person I’ve become in the aftermath of grief…. and not because I think she couldn’t have handled it. I just think that it’s a pain for which she would have no frame of reference, and therefore, would not have been impressed with my need to isolate, to the point that I would have isolated myself from her, too. I can’t imagine how short I would have become with her, snippy not because she did anything wrong but because her mother is still alive. It’s a helpless place when someone is mad at you for seemingly no reason, unable to take it in that you shouldn’t take it personally- that person is mad at the whole damn world. For me, it was a lucky thing to be on my own, so that when I was literally unable to function, no one had to deal with me. I’m so much better now, but it was a long row to hoe. My entire garden just died.

And though most of the plants are still dead, at least I see shoots of green.