Tag Archives: books

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.

Klosterman Conundrums

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.