Capacity

One of my confidants once told me that I have an enormous ability to love. She also said that I had an enormous ability for rage. What I have to say about that is I’m a trumpet player and a soprano, and Sam proved it to me for three weeks straight. One of the trumpet players I followed religiously as a tween and teen was Doc Severinson in Johnny Carson’s old band. When I was 12, I thought I was destined to take over for him, but I have said many many times that there was a flaw in my plan. I didn’t practice enough.

I wanted to. I wanted to practice six hours a day like my dad did, but I started out as a euphonium player. I had braces, and the trumpet mouthpiece was too small. However, the euphonium mouthpiece was large enough to fit over them, trumpet training wheels.

Well, taking the training wheels off didn’t go very well. I had a beautiful, fat sound I was in love with and an embouchure I wasn’t. I went years without acknowledging that I was in physical and emotional pain about it. That I would never be the kind of musician I wanted to be, and I had chosen an instrument before I really gave voice a chance.

In voice, I might not have made All-State in “the system” (code for Texas Music Educator’s Association, or TMEA), but I would have had a WAY better shot. When I was untrained with raw talent, I was okay. Once I was trained I was fabulous. I can’t sing like Jennifer Hudson or Beyonce. You’re thinking of Lindsay, my younger sister. I’m the one that owns at classical music….. just everything from early English to Hebrew. I speak many, many languages through choir, even if I don’t know the direct translation. In “the system,” I made it to All Region as an alto, but marching contest was on the same day. They literally couldn’t do without me. I was screwed.

Today I found out I feel the same way about Daniel. That if he wasn’t in my life, I would never recover. There are many, many, many reasons for this, but let me tell you one fundamental.

My mother was a substitute music teacher for my elementary school when I was in third through fifth grades. When I was in third grade, my mother took over for my music teacher. Guess who was in my class?

He is the only person that has asked to date me since my mother died that knew her well, even if it was in childhood. Daniel went to school with me from second to sixth grade. I lived longer in Naples, Texas than I did anywhere else as a preacher’s kid. Daniel knows my dad in his capacity as a pastor, and legit no one remembers or talks about that except when my biological sister and I are alone, because we’re the only ones that have that context……

Or we were, anyway.

I am way less interested in the fact that I am losing my lesbian label forever and way more in the fact that of the four personality elements in Meyers-Briggs, three of ours match. He is also an Idealist and writer. He’s been to war, which means his stories are awesome and I love to listen and read.

I think I’m obsessed with him. It’s good the feeling is mutual. Just puke. I remember his little boy voice and it’s irritating because I know it will absolutely make me nauseous to other people when he moves here.

We’re playing around with titles to call each other later in life. I am tickled by “wife partner,” because I’m a writer and it’s a play on words. The most sugary way to tell someone you’re a gay couple is “she’s my life partner.” Or, because I’m old, it was the term before wife was a thing among female couples.

I have purposely started asking all people when they only say that they’re married and I don’t know their partner how they gender identify. I want to know pronouns ahead of time, especially before I meet them so I don’t have preconceived notions about their gender before their identity is presented to me and I get in the wrong habit of something. Also, visibility matters, and being in a relationship is one of those things where no one’s choice should be a pejorative. Let people do life with whoever they want. Christ, it’s so much harder than everyone thinks. Let people have their pleasures, and marriages are…. or they’re supposed to be. The thing I am least worried about in this relationship is getting along, because we were raised in the same context.

That also means more to me than Daniel being a man. Pretty much everything does.

I recently lost the person I thought of as my inner compass, the one that would be the one at the end of my letters for all time. Something that I thought was irreplaceable isn’t so much. It’s comforting, though I’m not bragging. I’m relieved. She was my true North, everything that was honorable about me when I couldn’t be that for myself. It gave me hope, strength, love, and faith until it didn’t and I realized that I was in too deep to fix whatever was wrong, because she didn’t talk. I could try to clean up the mess on my own, but as we say in Texas, “you can’t help a little old lady across the street if she doesn’t want to go…. particularly when she is banging her purse.”

Editor’s Note:

I have a ton of funny Texas sayings and I will be publishing them at some point, as well as a clip of Daniel talking eventually so that all my friends could hear what my accent sounded like before we moved to Houston….. Naples was roughly 1600 people when we lived there. Not sure what it is now. Sufficed to say that Houston was……… a change for me.

The capacity to love Daniel comes so easily to me that it’s scary, and I can tell that I am ramping up with dopamine, such a blessing because when I wake up in the morning my brain chemicals are right. I am literally going gangbusters, and feeling the connection I felt 36 years ago return full force. There are so many reasons for this.

None of them having to do with me just meeting the right man. Homophobia sucks. I know there’s going to be a lot of people reading this who are Evangelicals. I’m not. Sexuality is a spectrum. It has been proven by science…. many, many researchers, not just one study. I would say look into it, but my guess is that you won’t. So don’t judge me. You can’t know that part of me. It is not for you. Who in their right minds wants to be involved in my sex life if they’re not my partner? Please don’t think I need that kind of help. I gave you “what you want.” It looks like what you want from the outside, but it isn’t. I write and I know things. You may write, but not about me to the extent that I do.

It wasn’t easy going back to memories of my supposed elementary school friends bullying me, and this is not something I’ve addressed with Daniel yet. It’s just something he’ll have to come to me about later when he’s had some time to digest. It’s just that if and when I go to our hometown, there are people I don’t care to see (not you). It’s not because I carry any ill will or even care that I was bullied. It’s not taking the chance that they’re just bigger now. I will serve them their asses fried, and no one needs to see that. I just pictured Dana laughing at that, and it cracked me up. She would have an absolutely unprintable response, so line cook that it tickles me to death that I know it and you don’t.

Eleven Dollars

When I decided that DC was my home, I packed up my car and left Texas behind. I’d secured a room in a house in Silver Spring that was already furnished, and I just took enough clothes for a week. Anything else that I needed from my parents’ house could be mailed. That’s what we did. For months on end, I received boxes that contained things I’d forgotten about. If I asked for one thing, the box still came full, because it was a waste of space not to pack it full. It was going to be $11 either way. It became a running joke between my dad and me…. “you’re moving $11 at a time.” One box would have boots in it, and then a purse I hadn’t used since 2003 and a half-tube of Chapstick (that I still have and it is still delicious, thank you…. it’s cherry.) If I wanted something, I accepted the randomness that came with it. The $11 box never changed, but the value of the contents were never the same total.

I’m in that relationship right now, a friendship that I want to grow to be as big as anything in my life. At this point, I can’t tell you what that means. I just know that Daniel has been my friend since second grade, and some of the countries I want to visit would shit a brick at me traveling alone, or see me as traveling alone anyway if I brought the woman I was dating. You can’t just walk up to someone you haven’t known since second grade and say, “I really want to go to the Middle East, Viet Nam, and Cambodia. I am a woman first of all and a lesbian second. You don’t happen to want to travel, do you?”

My friend Gabriel already lives in Cambodia and I just dropped a truth bomb on him, too. “My work in progress is set in Viet Nam. Can I come live with you for a few months? I have some work I need to do locally.” Gabriel said that he wasn’t in Viet Nam anymore, he was in Cambodia…. but I am absolutely welcome to come and live in Cambodia. I’m thinking 90 day visa because three months seems like a reasonable amount of time to do research and come home, and that way I can probably afford to do it more than once.

Where Daniel comes into the picture is always travel companion, sometimes bodyguard. I do not mean that I am hiring him to be friggin’ Liam Neeson. His Texas accent’s too strong for that. I also don’t need him to fight anyone. I just need him to stand there and look big.

For that, I will absolutely treat him like a king.

But as a single lesbian, I’m muddling through what that means. How do you treat your friends the right way so that they feel taken care of and the relationship isn’t a one-way street? I know that if I was paying Daniel for his services I couldn’t afford it. The best thing I could do is just make sure I can take care of his basic needs.

The best thing I can do is wait to start traveling until I know my situation with my inheritance. If my stepfather leaves money for me in his will, my financial situation will turn right side up in one day. There is no reason to believe that he wouldn’t. He has said as much, that I would get money that clearly only belonged to her. All I am saying is that if he is not an honest man, it is an enormous financial hit for me.

I am not worried about being rich. My mother wasn’t rich, but she invested well, and so did the insurance companies where she had policies. I do not have any pipe dreams about being rich. The only thing I have ever wanted out of money is stability. If you read the studies, there’s no percentage in acquiring more than that. I will be happy with my own house, car, and a bit of land. Nothing haughty. I’d like to build with plain 2x4s, rockwoool insulation, and triple-paned windows. I want to choose the materials I would like to use in my house, and price the house by them. I would much rather have a very small house capable of lasting a hundred years than a house where everything starts going wrong the minute the new wears off. In essence, the relationship I want to build with Daniel…. made of such strong stuff that it’s even better when the new wears off. As book lovers, we know exactly how much love it takes to keep a relationship going. We’ve read The Velveteen Rabbit. Let’s not get stupid.

For us, the process of becoming real to each other is heart-wrenching and necessary. I’m bipolar and have been hospitalized for it. He has other health issues that are different in origin and the same in behavior. We present the same, but we’re so different.

Daniel and I also have a lot in common, and have since we were children. He was my first boyfriend in elementary school because we were the nerdy English lovers. If I could give you an image from literature, he’s not a preacher’s kid, but he is very much like Norman from “A River Runs Through It.” I don’t mean that in a romantic, fly fishing sort of way. I mean that he is perfectly capable of being a novelist’s friend and told me I have free reign to say whatever I want about him here.

Whatever I want?

Daniel, it feels like after all these years, parts of me are moving back to you……….. eleven dollars at a time. If you want me, accept all the randomness that comes with it.

Forgetting an Attachment

It’s a double entendre, that title. Earlier today, I talked about fully letting go of Sam. Then, I forgot to add all the tags I normally add so that the readers that normally read me couldn’t find me….. like forgetting to attach a picture to an e-mail when basically all you’ve said in the e-mail is “here’s a picture” and still forgot to send it. Basically, I’m writing another entry to notify my readers that there’s a new entry. The writer reader relationship in the digital age. I hope we’re in love, otherwise this web site is me being Pepe Le Pew. I am not that desperate.

I was amused when I was in Facebook Jail that I watched two women fight over my picture. They weren’t fighting over the right to ask me out. They were fighting over whether kd lang was hotter than me. I didn’t pay attention to the outcome.

Fuck yes I did, are you kidding me? I flat out won. I knew I would. People have called me a better looking kd lang since I cut my hair short back in ’95. I don’t see it, but a hell of a lot of other people do. I think it’s the brown hair and brown eyes, but mostly that’s where it ends…… except that most lesbians my age have the same resting bitch face. Maybe we look like each other in that way that when you live with someone for a long time, people think your facial expressions look alike. Therefore, it’s not even that we look like each other. It’s because we’re from the same tribe.

When I was a kid it was straight person code for “I know you’re a lesbian.” That amused me to no end, and I have gotten a lot of mileage out of it. I also can’t think of a universe in which it’s a good idea to tell you which straight people have said it, but that’s the funniest part of all. God, it sucks to be you.

Now that kd isn’t popular broadly and straight people have lost interest, I don’t get it that often. But put me in a room where everyone and their pets have listened to all her music on repeat since college and I am begging to get away from the attention. A stroke to the ego never hurt anyone, but after a while it gets embarrassing. I love attention to bits, but I microdose.

I actually think that’s why I was always so bubbly whenever Sam was around, because I was alone the rest of the time. It wasn’t that I wasn’t off doing my own thing and obsessing over her. It was that by the time she worked all day and put dinner on the table for the week, enough time had gone by that my social battery was recharged. I think it would have been a big shock for her to spend a long time with me to know that I am not bubbly in the slightest. The one thing that would never have changed, and hundreds of people will attest to this because they saw it with Dana for eight years, is the energy for me when Sam walked into a room. Time would just stop.

I had been married to Dana for four years before the accompanist at our church knew we were a couple. This is because Dana wasn’t a singer, and I drove myself to church so that I could sing and she could sleep in. When she walked into the sanctuary, all the joy rushed into my face, and it got warm. The accompanist said she just assumed that Dana and I must not be that close because I was always so happy to see her.

Quite the opposite. When we’d been best friends for three and a half years, we’d learned to talk with our eyes. She was everything I’d ever wanted and more. Neither one of us could breathe and not have the other one feel it. I didn’t tell her for a long time, because I knew I would be playing with fire. That I could destroy the most stable relationship in my life by losing myself to her, even if I was supposed to because relationships are all about compromise.

Our relationship did end, and it was traumatic. But I would go back in time and do it all over, knowing it either could or would end the same way. There are lessons I learned from Dana that she was there to teach me, because she’s the one in my life I felt was capable of doing so. Cooking was an authority I let her own. If we were in a professional kitchen, it was “yes, Chef.” Of course there were a couple of exceptions. Of course there were. But by and large, we were a dynamic team who could turn on a dime because when seconds counted, we could say things with a look. We could anticipate each other’s movements, because we had done it day in and day out for years at our house without missing a beat. It didn’t matter how a pro kitchen was laid out. Improvisation was our forte….. because Dana was loud. (I can’t wait until she sees that line and I hope it lights up her face.)

I didn’t just want any woman, I wanted Dana. It was obvious to everyone from the start, and our relationship lived on hope for quite a while in each of our minds, not knowing exactly how much platonic love had made room for romance while the other one dreamt.

I could have asked her so many times when we were alone, but I did not want to set the ball rolling on an affair, because that’s something that would have changed me and taken me away from who I was. No, if I was going to risk everything, I had to be sure.

I did and I won big. Just Kings full over Aces. To be clear, we did have an affair. We admitted our feelings to each other, and eight hours later, we told the people we were in relationships that we loved them, but that we were too close to each other to make it work with them anymore. They were unsurprised by this knowledge, and yet I apologize for the enormous amount of time it took for me to make my decision, literally and metaphorically. I’d cheated on my then girlfriend for eight hours, but I’d been leaning more on Dana for emotional support than anyone I’d dated for YEARS at that point. The clue phone was stalking me obsessively and I wasn’t picking up. Thank God I eventually did.

It took me two years to get it together, and eight hours for my life to absolutely fall apart. It was traumatic and painful for a higher purpose. We were both in relationships that were just fine. We could have been happy for a lifetime with them, but it wouldn’t be the fit we had. We weren’t breaking up with our significant others because there was anything wrong with them. Tokyo and Los Angeles are both beautiful cities but you’ll be miserable if your partner never wanted to come on the trip.

It wasn’t that they were wrong. They were wrong for us. We wanted cherry blossoms and strong matcha. They wanted Milk Bar.

Dana and I wanted an attachment we’d never forget, and that has been true. It was worth it to find the love of my life for a short time than never to have experienced a love like that at all. I reached out for fantastic, and I found it.

There’s one picture I love of Dana at my sister’s engagement celebration brunch at Brennan’s in Houston. She’s wearing a fabulous outfit, shoes, and jewelry that we spent the day shopping for, just giggling and laughing like we invented it. We’re at one end of the table smiling, and my mother is on the other….. also smiling. At the time, it was my favorite picture we took to display in our house.

Now, it is a beautiful artistic representation of what marriage looks like for me now….. my wife and I on one end of the table smiling, and my mother on the other.

It’s a shame I forgot the attachment.

Lesbian Years

OMFG. I have finally solved every issue with Sam I’m ever going to have in one joke. Thank God when closure came, it was with laughter and not tears. The funniest jokes are ones that hit hard, and this one punched me in the stomach.

I came out to myself when I was 13 years old, and Sam is a toddler in lesbian years.

I laughed so hard there were tears and snot on my face.

Now let’s talk about the serious part, and why it affected me so much. It was another huge life lesson. I don’t want to date women who have only had one relationship with a woman. This is not hard, as I do not mean people who have been married to one woman for a long time. I want to date someone who has lived in this world, been out for a long time, is absolutely clear in her communication so thinking that our relationship could end because a woman thought being married to a woman was something it isn’t is off the table. It just makes one more thing we have in common rather than one enormous red flag. I also don’t want to make other women feel bad, because I’m not counting those married to men for a long time out. I just have to get to know you well enough to see whether my judgment is accurate or I’ve been a dickhead for stereotyping you after marrying one and dating three women who were n00b.

Knowing what that means is also important. I am l33t. I want to be able to communicate in my natural language and environment quickly without having to explain beforehand. Scratch everything I just said. Knows how to communicate on the internet like it’s 1999 over brand new to the girls’ club, but high school and college girlfriends count. No one needs to have married a woman before. It’s not a society you engulf all at once. It takes years. Learning to communicate with women to the level in which you would marry one takes an eternity. Additionally, you don’t have to be Mr. Robot, but if you are, let’s buy a house…… but my housemate Sam has said that she requires a W-2 in order to date me. I’ve had all the fancy things in life, and the simplest make me happy. But it’s not like Sam’s an idiot for trying to ensure that her friends are thriving. That actually means more to me than the person I’m dating being rich.

If they were, I’d like to still live simply and enjoy the absolute hell out of spoiling everyone I know and doing amazing philanthropic work. I’d start a foundation, and the first thing I’d do is hire someone else to run it. I would trust a bag of hammers faster than I’d trust my own judgment on business and finance. The fun part would be doing it anonymously to people I perceive to have wronged me. At the moment, there are at least six houses I want to pay off in that one regard…….

This is another lesson I learned on PBS and retained it because it involved my favorite subject. The phenomenal Portland chef, James Beard, was queer as a three dollar bill. He was uninvited from Reed College for “homosexual activities,” so when he became a celebrity chef and got very, very rich, so did Reed. Having to grit their teeth and respect him was everything. Just the most enormous shade I’ve ever seen thrown down.

My work in progress really does have the potential to be big, because if I can get license to publish from a real person’s estate, I have a built-in marketing strategy. If the fictional version of the real person doesn’t work out, I will just create another fictional character of my own that drives the same plot. Therefore, it’s entirely conceivable that I will be a very hot commodity and able to start a foundation with my own money…. if that isn’t possible, I have the option of doing whatever I want with any money it does make.

If it’s my money, I have my eye on who I want to hire. My money, my organization…. that I will promptly give to more capable hands. When I told her about my work in progress, she saw its potential and agreed to be the steward of my money immediately. I will also need someone to take charge of the logistics in paying everyone who even thought about helping me get to the New York Times and everyone who’s ever even thought about telling me I was a loser. Brandon Sanderson also talks about this. The question he was asked was regarding “what do you do when you say you’re a writer and the only two answers are ‘where’s the money’ or ‘you poor fool?'” He talked very seriously, and then closed it with a joke.

Sanderson said “I waited years, but I finally got my moment. I was at a party and this guy asked me what I did. I told him I was a writer and he said ‘oh, so you’re unemployed.’ I said, ‘I hit The New York Times’ Bestsellers List last week.'”

Since the work I’m planning is so ambitious, I have other projects that I’d like to develop that may take off before it. I’m almost certain there’s a young adult fiction novel in the works, as well as an elementary age explanation of what being gay is and how to ask yourself those questions………. and how to know if the answers are right for you now, or right for all time. I even surprise myself, and I thought I was old. Because of this, my attention is entirely overloaded all of the time and I want to be conscious about choosing a partner in whom I feel there are as few communication issues as possible, like not being threatened when I say “guard my time with your life. Here’s my cell phone. Only come get me if it’s an emergency call. How will you know? Someone that is actually in my contacts list will pick up the phone rather than texting.

It’s not that I can’t protect my own boundaries. It’s that it will make my partner feel important that I trust her enough to be one of my Guard Roosters. Man, if you remember Gayle and Oprah, you are an OG. No, I will not link to that entry. If you’re an OG, you know. You are my LaFawnduhs. #peaceout I have a thing about my phone. One of my friends works in intelligence, a Navy Reservist and intelligence analyst at a smaller agency than C/DIA, but collects raw data from all of them. I have another friend that works for Defense. I have another friend that works for State. I would never care if you were going through my phone to see if I was having an affair. It’s because you’d be reading stories that aren’t mine to tell. If you can’t respect that, I won’t allow you to become close to me. I also won’t respect your right to tell your story the way you want to tell it. I mean that metaphorically, as it’s how writers support writers. We do not want story ideas. We want you to obsess over our craft. Partners don’t decide plot. They’re editors.

It’s not that I don’t want to be someone’s guide, necessarily. It’s the energy involved. I won’t discriminate until I really assess the situation. When QEII died, something occurred to me that had never occurred to me before. My mother had died, and half my life is over. What am I going to do with the next half? The two have combined to give me enormous strength. The worst thing that could ever happen to me has already happened and I am officially “I don’t give a fuck” years old. I remember exactly when it happened for someone I admire, and I was inspired with laughter at the memory…… but that’s a story you’ll have to get out of them. I will only say that it was impressive. You should have been there…………. and it involved the biggest Astros fan I have ever met in my entire life bar none. I was much younger then, and I remember dreaming of the day when I’d no longer care about someone in such a deep and meaningful way that I would hide my emotions, not set boundaries, and roll with any decision anyone ever made. And to call people out when they’re being ridiculously rude rather than bending over backwards to be lovely and kind when your conversationalist isn’t.

In short, I don’t have time to be a guide.

I want to be able to lay out my dreams and if they don’t line up, move on as quickly and quietly as possible. By quietly, I don’t mean that I was wrong to write about Sam too soon or anything like it. I mean not wrecking other people. Leaving them better than I found them rather than burning bridges.

I also don’t care if I find a partner at this point. I’ve been single for seven years. I have too much to write on this planet to worry about anything else.

My multimillion dollar franchise idea is an alternate history between two imaginary friends… fictional versions of people, one of whom moves in time to stop a world event from happening, but it’s not science fiction. I am literally moving their life backward so that the fictional version of them is even less like who they actually are/were.

I am doing what Brandon Sanderson would call “borrowing structure.” The idea came to me from Steve Martin, who wrote a novel called “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” a fictional account of a meeting between Picasso and Einstein.

It involves intelligence, because I think it’s a story that the fictional person would have written, not because I have a real life love of non-fiction spy books. It’s because I read spy non-fiction that I’m not threatened by writing about that world. Jonna Mendez even announced on Facebook that she’s publishing next year, so that’s one more book to add to the pile.

If there’s one person I adore, it’s George Tenet. When he declassified The Canadian Caper and allowed “Argo” to happen, it really caught my interest because my cousin James’ dad was a helicopter pilot for the CIA and DIA (D is Defense). He is no longer living, and one of the stars at Langley is mine in terms of knowing if I was allowed to visit, when I saw the wall I would take ownership and pray. It crushes me that his helicopter went down when I was a toddler, because is is a person I would have adored. I know it. He was my grandmother’s brother. Why wouldn’t I have been absolutely 100% convinced he was Jesus?

I also would have already put him on salary by now.

Since that isn’t possible, I study very hard. I need a college level course on both a European and an Asian nation. If I can swing it, I have a friend in one of the countries and I’d like to go live with him for a few months so that I can work locally. I am a Virgo, which is an earth sign. There’s a reason I love the ground and feel connected to it. I cannot do setting justice until I can be barefoot there.

I have also never been brave enough to leave the West, but now I am because I have a male chaperone. I’m a feminist, but I’m not stupid. If I’m only going to be there for a few months, I’m not going to stick my neck out by announcing I’m 32 in lesbian years.

Letting Go and Letting Leslie

I know the phrase is “let go and let God.” However, I have never put myself first, and I believe the God is implied. Prayer is nothing without shoe leather. We’re a duo, not a Trinity. Jesus is the face I use the most often, but it comes as Middle Eastern. I choose Lebanese most often because the family I rent from hails from its mountains.

My landlady still has an incredibly thick accent and talks on the phone in Arabic often. When we’re in the same room, I look at her with admiring eyes. I’ve told her that I absolutely love listening in on her end of her phone calls, because I don’t know a lick of Arabic. I’m not invading her privacy, but still enjoying the lilt of the language. I’ve thought about learning Arabic many times, but haven’t started yet because it would ruin the magic.

I felt the same with my former housemate Nasim, who used to dazzle me with Farsi. Of course when she told me she was from Iran I practically jumped over two people to tell her that my favorite movie was Argo. She looked at me like, “typical American.” I wish I could tell her what has happened since then.

I could almost cry thinking about not making it to DC before Tony Mendez (spy who created the operation behind “Argo”) stopped making public appearances. He died before his last book, The Moscow Rules, came out. Two things about that, though. The first is that Tony got CIA’s approval to publish the day before he passed away, and the book was a collaboration with his wife, Jonna. Jonna was on book tour and gave a talk at the International Spy Museum, and afterwards, I looked her up and asked her to read one of my blog posts (The Spy in the Room). We’ve stayed in touch casually, and it’s been very rewarding.

Thinking about the scenario of telling Nasim all this is a schadenfreude that makes me giggle. I’ve been laughing a lot more these days.

I came to a fork in the road, and I chose light.

For nine years, I’ve dealt with the grief of losing people I still love in my memories due to being both alive and dead. Since I went to University of Houston I’ve dealt with medication that robbed me of any desire to be in a relationship unless someone broke through with enough force that I noticed. For almost a decade, I have avoided romantic relationships, because it was being willing to take a chance on upending the life I had carved for myself…. the one where I was just happy enough not to notice I wasn’t really happy. I was having good times, but not consistently enough because my dopamine receptors weren’t accepting applications.

I know this is going to sound strange, but I am now open to the idea of dating because of Queen Elizabeth II. I can hear you from here. “Say what now?” Hear me out. I’ll make it make sense.

I was watching a few short videos of Her Majesty’s funeral and for a split second, I considered my mortality. And that was all it took.

I thought to myself “this is how I’m going to tell that story for the rest of my life.” When I thought I was done, the Queen forced me to consider.the last time I had romance, making me feel old and rusty. Was I really going to die thinking I wasn’t enough?

So here I am, chatting in this Facebook group for women of my age and persuasion. My ego started getting stroked immediately, and I was dumbstruck. I am rarely speechless, but this broke me open even more. Part of the reason I’m not a joiner is that I think no one will like me. But several people told me I was cute, and it made me feel better about myself.

A few days later, many filtered down to one.

We’re getting married next week. (KIDDING. LESBIAN JOKE. KIDDING.)

I was going to end it there because it was more dramatic that way. But then I realized it had been a while since we’ve caught up and this isn’t really big news………… except for the fact that I opened my heart to her. That I was brave and she was endearing. That I could see myself having romance in my life when I couldn’t before…….. but I can’t say that we’ve met. Officially. This is because we’ve only chatted online, not in person.

She’s coming to visit in about two weeks, and then I’ll know if I actually have anything to tell you or not. The reason she’s not local and it’s still extremely early days of dating is that she’s on vacation from work and coming to DC, anyway. We met unofficially when she commented on my reply to a question from her about The District, so I’m glad this is not all about me (because Lord knows I love a staycation).

So far she’s a writer’s dream woman- unavailable most of the time. (Now I’m dying laughing picturing her reading this). However, she can leave her house in the morning and be at my house mid-afternoon/early evening, so it’s not like it’s an impossible situation. It’s just right for people who have only known each other as long as we have. We can entirely avoid that U-Haul stereotype through the cunning use of direct chat.

Actually, I take it back. I do have big news, and I’m ashamed I didn’t think of it before. I’m very excited to have someone in my life I view as a kindred spirit, so even if “it’s not there” in person, what does it matter? We write very well together, and that relationship could easily last our whole lives. I am constantly saying that friendship is underrated and this one is truly fantastic. I should have walked the walk before. If there’s anything I miss about being married or having a girlfriend the most, it’s companionship. I’m constantly looking for new ones so I don’t have to depend on the same one all the time.

We’re talking so easily and well that I’m not worried about going on a date to see if we click. The biggest part was stepping out of my comfort zone to join that group in the first place.

I have had a lot of guilt and shame over the way I treated Dana, and hurt at the way she treated me. Then, my mother died, and because one grief hadn’t ended before the next one started, they got lumped together and compounded. I shut down all of my emotions; the brain is an organ and it was doing everything it could to help us survive. My own thoughts and feelings comforted me because I had little outside contact.

I tried so hard to keep from hurting someone else that I forgot to love them, too.

Along the way, I began to take it into account that not 100% of the blame is mine (nor is it one partner’s in any relationship). After a while, I even believed it. Now, I am only talking about the part I do own.

Innately thinking I hadn’t done bad things, but that I was a bad person, I thought I was protecting women from me. That I was really doing them a favor. When the grief cleared into a fog thin enough to see, I learned that it was a lie my brain was telling me to protect me from getting hurt again. It was protecting me from another potential loss.

I’d forgotten what it was like to have a last text of the day. If that’s all it is, then I will still be extremely happy. I’ve learned to trust again, and go with the flow. Whether this is a temporary high or a daily habit is up for debate, though, and I haven’t been able to say that in sooooooo long.

It’s delicious knowing that something could be beginning, and that there is a defined date in the future in which I get to “go see about a girl.”

Here’s what I know so far. In pictures and on video chat, she’s really pretty. She’s been a social worker, and is now a chef. When she told me she was a chef, I had two reactions: “Oh, shit” and “this is fantastic!” These thoughts presented as “not another one” and “we will never shut up.” The fact that I have been married to a chef and have cooked professionally only made me wary for a half second, just because Dana was my best friend and I miss her on that level every day.

I don’t reach out because we have our peace and I’d like to keep it. Therefore, my knee-jerk reaction to umm… let’s call her Theresa (mostly because that’s her name) was that because we couldn’t shut up, this could be something. This could be more grief down the road. A chef? I could let a chef in. That wasn’t scary on its surface, but it was a red flag that this is someone I could let in enough for her to gut me. As a chef, she’d be quite good at it. Moreso because she writes plays and acts (shut up). This had the potential to be a major disaster, and my lemon of a brain almost made me miss it due to fear.

When we were chatting privately, I said, “I don’t know if you meant this to be a date or not, but I’d be open to it.” My stomach was in my mouth until she said “I didn’t know I wanted that until you asked.” Then we were off at the races planning a great and memorable first date. I excitedly told her that I was so glad she said yes, because “even if we don’t like each other or the restaurant catches fire, we’ll have good writing later. It’s a win-win situation.” I was and continue to be lucky that she laughs easily and often.

I think she has long auburn curls, she says that they’re only long compared to my hair. I see it all the time, especially in my dreams.

Like I said, it could be something. I just don’t really know yet. What I do know is that I have been unable to feel the possibility of dating open up until now. That is the real, and for now only story I’m telling. But that the story includes her real name because she said she wanted to be a real person here is telling.

Stay tuned.

Boobs! And Cupping!

Now that I have your attention, I must tell you in advance that this entry might be a bit boring. Or not. Looking at your own writing is a mixed bag. Unfortunately, what I’m writing about is not sex, drugs, and rock & roll. I mean, it should be. I’m not that old. Ok, I’m 44, and medical advice has changed. I didn’t think I’d be getting a mammogram for at least another year or two. Conventional wisdom has changed to over 40. I was officially NOT. IMPRESSED.

This is because I’ve heard so many horror stories about how much it hurts to have your boobs squished into a machine one at a time. Either the machinery has changed, or the women telling those stories were “jeweling the elephant.” In case you’ve never heard that term before, it comes from an Armistead Maupin novel called The Night Listener.

The main character talks about a friend who went to India for a wedding. It was small and intimate, but by the time the friend came back to the United States, the groom had ridden in on a jeweled elephant. Thus, a great phrase was born (the friend was not from Texas, but I assure you that Texans are not immune to this concept…. a three inch bass that had to be thrown back is a 12-inch keeper at the ice house). So what I’m saying is that it’s a strong possibility that the memory of the mammogram was maybe worse than the test itself. On the other hand, my previous point stands. Perhaps advances in mammography have led to the test being much less painful. I’m going to bet on that.

I felt pressure, certainly, but no actual pain (from the test itself…………………..). A few weeks ago, I fell and got a horrible muscle spasm in my back, bad enough to need muscle relaxers and a trip to an orthopedist and physical therapy twice a week. The hardest and most excruciating pain was just having to stand up for 10-15 minutes in a row.

I was also in a lot of emotional pain, because the date was my mother’s birthday. I haven’t felt the overwhelming grief of my mother dying in a long time (every day it’s a dull buzz that runs constantly in my head), but it surfaced mightily when I realized she couldn’t fly up to be with me, nor could I debrief with her over the phone. It was primal, four-year-old child “I want my Mommy.” Because here’s the thing. No matter whether you have family history of breast cancer or not (I don’t), what kind of breast tissue you have (mine is extraordinarily dense and required a couple of takes to get the test right), or whether the person doing the test has one year of experience or 20, the fact that it takes at least a week for the results to come back makes you nervous. You have thoughts that range from “I hope I’m okay” to “I’m probably dying.” I got them earlier this week and they were completely normal.

I also learned that I’m not interested in changing my pronouns or coming out again, but I had a moment of clarity in which I’d never felt more non-binary in my life. I was wearing my hair short and punk, had on both earrings and a cartilage piercing, and was dressed in men’s jeans and an old Ubuntu Studio t-shirt. I’d also brought my well-worn CIA baseball cap for after the test as my emotional support item. It makes me feel braver and stronger than I actually am.

As I was standing there naked from the waist up, I felt truly disconnected from my femininity. It was if my breasts had a life of their own, separate and of me at the same time. I was also completely focused on other things. My pain level was at a seven. I was trying to cover it up with jokes, which brought the pain down to a six and a half. I was also thinking constantly about how I had no idea what was happening most of the time (shut it).

And even though it was completely platonic and professional, I hadn’t been even partially naked in front of another woman for at least seven years, so that was uncomfortable as well… but not in terms of attraction. It was akin to changing in front of other women at a gym……. in seventh grade.

I told the technician that it was my first mammogram, and she said that I had come to the right place. She had 20 years of experience and would make everything as painless and easy as possible, plus, she REALLY loves her job. I said she’d have to, because no matter what the job is, you’d have to love it to do it that long. I made her laugh. Score. Witty rapport with her and endorphins for me.

I was drawn into her bubbly personality. I was wearing this (actually kind of cool) scrub top that tied in two places. She offered to let me drop one side of it at a time, but it unwieldy and time-consuming. I said, “would it be easier for both of us if I just took it off? If you’ve been doing this for 20 years, I’m going to bet you’ve seen a breast before.” She said that was the right answer and we’d be done much quicker.

The funniest part was that she adjusted the machine before I took my top off, and she said, “I have clearly miscalculated.” I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt, and the words of an old girlfriend floated through my head….. “awwww, you got the boobs I always wanted.” That moment of levity carried me through the rest of the test with ease in terms of erasing nervousness, and I think the laughter even brought down my pain more for a minute or so. The hardest part of the test was standing still for fifteen minutes.

A couple of days after the mammogram, physical therapy started. The first session was sublime, because all they did was have me lay on my stomach and massage me for almost an hour and a half. I thought they were all going to be like that.

Nope.

The second session started with 10 minutes on a bicycle to “warm up.” I am what you would call, as Jim Gaffigan says, “indoorsy.” I haven’t exercised in years. I learned something good about myself, which is that even though it had been a long time, it didn’t feel like my calves were going to drop off until the 10 minutes were up.

After that was when my problems really began to kick in. The whole idea is that my arthritis stems from a birth defect. It’s called retrolisthesis, and it occurs when a single vertebra slips and moves back along the intervertebral disc underneath or above it. The quickest way to fix it permanently is to surgically fuse the discs, but my doctor said to try Physical Therapy first and strengthen my core.

When I started those exercises, my other birth defects kicked in. I have a mild case of cerebral palsy, which hasn’t affected my brain or speech, but completely changes my movement and balance. I fall all the time. In fact, I fall so much that I’m bruised all over the place and can never match up which fall goes with which injury. So, of course, the first exercise was trying to balance on a board that sat atop a rubber ball. I could tell that my physical therapist thought I was exaggerating when I couldn’t do it, so I clued him in. He said, “I need you to try a little harder because this exercise is really, really important. Of course it was. And, of course, I was even more terrible at it when I felt under pressure to do well. I am a perfectionist, and any time I feel like I’ve done something less than perfectly, my anxiety kicks up and I feel like a total failure….. even in times where I get 70-80% right.

But this? Grading this would be a zero.

I also told my physical therapist that I saw a treadmill, an eliptical, and a bike, and to never, ever put me on the eliptical, even if God himself came down and told him it was okay. My balance is so off that I fell off the first time I used it. Thinking I just didn’t know how to use the machine, I tried it three more times, which led to (you guessed it) three more falls.

Two weeks ago, we also tried cupping. Apparently it’s supposed to increase the blood flow around your injury, allowing it a better chance to heal itself. I would be willing to try it again, but the first time all I felt was weirdness. Like, the strangest sensation I’ve ever felt in my life. Like other things, though, perhaps it takes more than one session to feel like it helped. But we haven’t done it again. I’ve laid on my stomach and used electrostim with either heat or ice.

The most frustrating part of all this is twofold. The first is that the physical therapy is helping, but I’m not getting better very fast. The second is that the longer I’m in pain, the more my mental health suffers, because nothing in my body feels good. My psych meds and the muscle relaxers help, but like my physical pain, I’m not getting better very fast. Also, don’t tell my doctor, but I’m cheating. She said that she’d like me to take the muscle relaxers instead of NSAIDS because the NSAIDS might make my acid reflux worse. After a week of that bullshit, I bought four bottles of omeprazole and a year’s worth of Aleve. Along with my back pain, I’ve had arthritis in my hands since I was 30, and my knees have been 44 since I was 19. All of it has to do with working in a kitchen. In college, I was a waitress. When I was older, I became a cook. The repetitive strain injuries have mostly gone away, except for the times when I’m typing like a madman. The arthritis is here to stay. Pretty sure it’s osteo and not rheumatoid, because my knuckles/fingers look normal.

That being said, my stepmother is a rheumatologist and a lot of her patients are women my age…. so of course I’m a tiny, tiny bit paranoid about developing an autoimmune disease.

The upside of all this is that my friends have been amazing, checking in on me a lot and offering to rub my back with Voltaren cream or Icy Hot. It lightens my mood, because since I’m perpetually single (by choice), the one bad thing about it is that I am continually touch-starved…. just not right now.

Next week I’m getting a different massage therapist while my current one goes to visit his family in Tehran. I nearly fainted when he said that because Argo is my favorite movie of all time and space. I joked with him. I said, “could you take a picture of the bazaar for me? I don’t have one without Ben Affleck in it.”

And then we laughed so hard I almost fell over……………………..

Why I Eat Mostly Plants

This morning I had a vegan breakfast burrito that seemed larger than my actual stomach. Turns out, it was. I ate half of it before I tapped out. I got it from “The Impossible Shop” in Bethesda, where their burgers and burritos were buy one, get one free. I didn’t spend much, and I got four meals out of it. As I was eating, I realized I could write about it. Here, in no particular order, are the reason plant-based eating appeals to me:

  • I get to pay the ADHD tax up front.
    • Plant-based food can sit in my refrigerator much longer than meat. I had to ask myself what was better…. protein that would spoil in my refrigerator quickly if I forgot about it, or protein I would actually get around to eating? I started stocking my freezer with veggie burgers that took a few minutes in the microwave, or 20 minutes in a saute pan if I was feeling fancy and wanted to crisp them up. I stocked my fridge with veggie hot dogs, cashew cheese, and soy-based cream cheese. I’m pretty sure that if Whole Foods stopped carrying veggie dogs, vegan cream cheese, and hot sauce I’d be dead by now (here, have the recipe for a really great hot dog). As a lifelong sufferer of ADHD, I generally don’t realize I’m hungry until I need food right the hell now. The ADHD tax is that my groceries are a little more expensive, but not horribly so.
  • It’s healthy.
    • Hear this, and hear it well. You are not going to save many, if any calories on a plant-based diet, and it’s a huge misconception. However, what you do get is less saturated fat and more vitamins if you actually eat vegetables. It’s possible to be vegan and not eat them, getting by on Impossible burgers, sausage, etc. But if you’re willing to eat the rainbow along with it, you get superfood. A lot of nights, I will make salad mixed with lentils and rice, add dried fruit like cranberries or cherries, and use a handful of walnuts or pecans for protein. I found rice and lentils that take 90 seconds in the microwave…. and by salad, I usually get mise already prepared. Chopped red onion, carrots, Brussels sprouts, etc. You might be shocked that I’ve cooked professionally, have acceptable knife skills, and still buy the mise (short for mise-en-place, French for “everything in its place,” and means preparing your ingredients to throw in a pan/rice cooker/etc. beforehand), but remember…. ADHD TAX. Do I need veggies I can use quickly or veggies that will spoil because I won’t remember I need prep time? The ADHD tax is less than the amount I would spend throwing whole veggies in the trash.
  • Plant-based is better for my mental health.
    • Between ADHD, depression, and anxiety, I will never (get to) go off meds in my life. They’re chronic conditions. However, eating superfood helps keep them at bay. My diet is the supporting actor. I also buy vegan meal replacement shakes and tiny vegan chocolate milks to drink with my meals because they’re fortified with all the vitamins I skip while cooking, particularly B and D (they help especially in the winter). When I get really, really depressed and anxious, I sometimes develop a block on eating, and both ensure I still get calories.
  • I propagate less animal cruelty.
    • Michael Pollan’s mantra is “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” I’ve taken it to heart, and only eat dairy sparingly and meat a few times a year. I have found that as I get older, I have less and less tolerance for lactose, and sometimes get mild stomach upset with meat. But I’m not going to become so fanatical about my diet that it affects other cooks. I don’t want anyone to bend to accommodate me. What we’re having is what we’re having. But eating less meat is better than having it for every meal. Pollan’s other mantra is “don’t eat anything that your great-grandparents wouldn’t recognize as food.” Though I’d have to explain cashew cheese, it wouldn’t be too foreign… you can make it as easily in your home kitchen as they did with whole milk and cheesecloth. I also don’t want to feel bad about the very occasional Nashville Hot Chicken or piece of bacon. I just don’t buy it for home use.
  • Plant-based eating made cooking exciting again.
    • I already know my way around a kitchen using traditional ingredients over and over (and over and over). Figuring out substitutions, learning to make alternative junk food, and trading recipes on the Internet sparked my creativity in the kitchen, and I wasn’t bored anymore. I can make a mean vegan macaroni and cheese or Alfredo sauce. Pastry with olive oil is delicious. I don’t bake (different skill set), so I generally buy pastry and cakes, but I know from experience in eating them that I won’t eat non-vegan desserts unless I’m at someone else’s house and that’s what’s offered. Vegan desserts are just too amazing to ignore, or to skip eating because “they’re gross” and you’ve never even tried one. Girl, please.

My diet is entirely based on Anthony Bourdain, and I’d like to believe he’d be proud of me. His disdain for vegans and vegetarians was LEGENDARY (LEGENDAIRY?), so my mantra comes from him. “When you reject other people’s food, you reject them, because their hospitality is deeply rooted in their culture and family.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist. I accept other people’s gifts as well as I do my own. However, it’s rare that other people cook for me. Most of the time, I’m on my own, and I have to cook food that aligns with my values… the biggest of which is paying the ADHD tax on the front end instead of owing more on the back end.

War Stories

Pandemic fatigue is real. I have had no motivation in terms of writing, because nothing has really sparked my imagination…. well, technically, a million things do, but they tend to come out in short Facebook bursts. You know, those things you have to say that aren’t short enough for a Tweet? Today was different. I got together with my housemate, Maria, and she’s always good for a blog entry because she’s a cook at a local hospital who has also worked in restaurants…. therefore, we always end up talking about war stories. We all have them.

However, we weren’t just sitting there talking. I told her that I got both of us a present. I bought myself a new chef’s knife because my old one was getting dull, and buying a new knife was cheaper than getting it sharpened. Her present was that there’s now a real chef’s knife in our block, and there hasn’t been for all the years I’ve lived here. That is because I’ve always been deathly afraid that someone was going to put it in the dishwasher, so I hid it among the candy and snacks in my food junk drawer.

So now I have two new war stories, one from two years ago and one from today. When I bought my old knife, it did not come with a sheath. I wrapped it in rags every day before I put it away, except one day I forgot, and now there is a sizable cut in the back of the drawer. Today, when I told Maria that my chef’s knife had dulled to nothing, she comes downstairs with a full set of stones. I have never face-palmed harder. Why did I not think to ask A COOK if they had a real knife sharpener?

Side note: you can buy an electric knife sharpener, but caveat emptor. I have heard so many horror stories of them chewing up expensive knives that I’ve never used one.

But before we get to the war stories, (mine, of course, because hers aren’t my stories to tell), I have to tell you something I learned this week, and it ties back to a conversation Dan and I had. She said, “you have such a great blog- why don’t you put recipes on it?” I said, “that would be great, but I don’t have any. I understand the principles of cooking, so I just look in the pantry and throw things together.” A good example of this is “Lanagan’s Pub Chili.” At Biddy McGraw’s, the pub where I used to work in Portland, we used to make a soup of the day. I made a variation on a Texas Red, using beans to make the ground beef stretch. It was so popular that they decided to add it to the menu permanently….. probably because I have an Irish last name. I don’t think I would have been so lucky had my last name been “Smith.”

My boss asked me to write down the recipe so that all the cooks could make it the same way, and I swear to God, it took me at least a month to do it. That’s because when I was making it, I never made it exactly the same way twice. I changed up the beer, I changed up the ratios of the spices, and most importantly, I tasted as I went, because I can tell when a dish “needs something” and what that something might be.

Trying to encapsulate that into a half cup of cumin, etc. was murder on my brain. It doesn’t work that way. But, it had to be done because I wasn’t always going to be there when we ran out.

It wasn’t until Sunday that I put words to that story that need to be said: cooking is all about trust and confidence. Trust comes in just knowing when a piece of meat or a pancake needs to be turned. Confidence comes in when you’ve made a mistake, but you’re sure you know how to fix it. I make pancakes every weekend, so that’s how the idea popped into my head.

I know how to respect first contact, only flip once, and have it turn out perfectly. I never have to make a “tester pancake” because I’ve used my stove enough to know what temperature I need every time. I trust it. For instance, I know that the pans we have are all uneven and there’s only one hot spot in each of them, so I have to make the pancakes one at a time. I know I need lower heat for thick pancakes, higher for thin, because the thick ones take longer to rise and “bake through.” I know that I need a little more soy milk than the Bisquick package says, because if I do them that way, the pancakes will be miniature biscuits. I trust that I know what I’m doing, and I’m confident about it….. but not arrogant. I’ve crashed and burned in the kitchen before, but at home it’s not a big deal. I can either fix it or start over. In a professional setting, you can fix it or start over, and people will talk shit about “that one time” every day until it gets old and someone else does something dumb, but they also won’t forget to tell new people what you did after you’ve left.

My biggest war story comes from the same pub, the aforementioned Biddy McGraw’s…. or at least, it’s the one that hurt the worst. I’ve been taken to the ER twice, once as a waiter and once as a cook.

When I was a waiter, I was working at Chili’s, who used to serve their sodas and beers in these extraordinarily heavy glass mugs. One of the other waiters somehow broke the bottom off of one of them, and instead of removing it, just stuck it back down in the rack. The manager made an announcement about the broken mug, but none of the people who were out at their tables heard it. I come around the corner and the broken mug is the first thing I touch. It sliced the inside of my pinkie so badly that I needed stitches immediately.

When I was a cook, I took meat slicer to a whole new level when I didn’t see my thumb slip into it.

The reason the one from Biddy’s is so much worse is that both of the times I had to go to the ER, I was cut by something extraordinarily sharp. Clean cuts bleed, but they don’t generally cause pain.

I think I’ve mentioned before that my ex is a cook as well, or at least she used to be. We haven’t spoken in years, but back then we were coworkers during the weekend brunch shift. You’d think having a couple working in the kitchen would be bad juju, but I’ve never had a better coworker in my life. This is because couples can communicate with one look, and in restaurants, every nanosecond matters….. another reason why this was such a bad injury.

Every weekend, I would make bearnaise from scratch and put it in a double boiler on the front burner. On the back burner was a shallow pan for poaching eggs. I noticed that there was a metal spoon with a plastic handle in the egg pan and thought, “that shouldn’t be there.” What I didn’t know was that the plastic wasn’t heat resistant. Pain radiated from my hand up to my shoulder as the plastic fused to my skin. I literally had to rip off the spoon, and my exposed burn was legendary in size. We then threw away the spoon because there was too much Leslie on it.

Being the cook that I am, I went into dry storage and found the first aid kit. I put some silver sulfadiazine on the burn, covered it up with gloves, and went back to work. It hurt so bad I thought I was going to throw up. I think the cream was the only reason I didn’t have permanent scars. I’ve never been through childbirth, so I can safely say that it is the worst pain I’ve ever been in, bar none.

Now, my ex is Cordon Bleu certified. She could have run that kitchen blind whether I was there or not, but it did make her life easier if I stayed. So I did. Luckily, I was able to keep cooking, because if there had been lots of dishes to wash I might have walked out. This is because no matter how tight your gloves are, water seeps in, washing off the only thing keeping me upright.

And honestly, all the dumbass attacks just run together. Just an endless series of “I didn’t see that.” Literally. I have a different field of vision than most people, and it alternates because my eyes don’t track together. In many, many kitchens, that was taken as bullshit and people thought my IQ was too low to be a cook.

What’s actually true, and my last chef said this to me, is that I have the heart of a chef. What I’ve added to that is “but not the body.”

Knowing that has been one of the biggest pieces of grief in my life, but…………

I trust me.

Get to Know Me: COVID-19 Edition

Why not take a break from COVID-19 and learn about each other… Hat tip to all the people who’ve filled it out on Facebook and I shamelessly stole it because I had nothin’ for today.

1. Who are you named after?

My name was originally supposed to be Amanda Jane, and my parents were going to call me “AJ.” Then, my mother was sitting in a church service and the organist was listed in the bulletin as “Leslie Diane.” The rest, as they say, is history.

2. Last time you cried?

Two weeks ago, when I attended church through Zoom at Bridgeport UCC in Portland, Oregon (link is to the service, 10:30 AM Pacific). I saw some of my oldest friends in the world, and heard their voices. It was magnificent, and I was crying because I was filled with grief at my mother dying, and how long it had taken me to get back to the place where I was comfortable going to church again. For the first time in three years, I have now gone to church two weeks in a row.

3. Do you like your handwriting?

Absolutely not- it is a carpal tunnel pile of garbage that keeps getting worse. I use Evernote/Microsoft OneNote to keep track of my thoughts because if I write them down in a notebook, I can’t read them later.

4. What is your favorite lunch meat?

It used to be the disastrously unpopular olive loaf, and now it is the plant-based version of honey-baked ham (made into sandwiches on bread infused with maple syrup with Swiss “cheez” and margarine). I’m not sure olive loaf is even made anymore, but when it was, the grocery store never ran out…………………

5. Longest relationship?

I’m sure my dad wins this one, but if you mean romantically, seven years and change.

6. Do you still have your tonsils?

Yes, but I’ve had tonsillitis enough that they probably should come out to avoid recurrence. It is so unpleasant. It’s a good thing antibiotics work fast.

7. Would you bungee jump?

It depends. I probably wouldn’t do it on my own, but I’d never turn down a dare.

8. What is your favorite kind cereal?

The brown puffed rice at Whole Foods with real chocolate.

9. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?

Mostly yes, because I wear Converse All-Stars high tops more than anything else.

10. Do you think you’re strong willed?

It depends on who you ask. I don’t think I’m particularly obstinate unless I’m standing up for someone else. My friends think I’m stronger than I do.

11. Favorite ice cream?

Every flavor of ice cream I’ve had with plant-based milk is my new favorite. Almond milk with almonds and chocolate is probably at the top of the list right now.

12. What is the first thing you notice about a person?

Whether they like small talk or not. I’m not attracted to the small questions.

13. Football or baseball?

If these are my only choices, it’s Baltimore Orioles baseball. My real favorite is soccer of any kind. Doesn’t matter the gender or the league. I collect national team jerseys, and interestingly enough, I don’t have the United States. Oh, and I have one MLS jersey… DC United, of course. 🙂

14. What color pants are you wearing?

Uniqlo Extra Warm leggings and lounge pants made of grey t-shirt material.

15. Last thing you ate?

A Nutella and strawberry jelly sandwich.

16. What are you listening to?

  • Miles Davis
  • Lots of podcasts- too many to list, but if you want recommendations, leave a comment.

17. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?

Dark grey or Cornflower, the colors I use the most often in HTML. The grey is #333333, and the blue is #336699.

18. What is your favorite smell?

I have two- tea tree oil and lavender anything…. although I had to take a break from lavender while reading the Outlander series. It turned my stomach for a while.

19. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?

My sister, Lindsay. She’s cooler than you are.

20. Married?

I used to be, and it would take an act of God for me to do it again.

21. Hair color?

Brown, with a little grey and white mixed in…. which is such a blessing because it stops me from looking like a ten-year-old.

22. Eye Color?

Espresso… well, brown, but I’m being, ummm….. creative.

23. Favorite food to eat?

Anything I’ve cooked myself. I’m good at it, and I get immense satisfaction with that kind of accomplishment.

24. Scary movies or happy ending?

Why choose? My favorite scary movie is “Get Out.”

25. Last movie you watched in a theater?

This is one of the funniest things that has happened to me in a while. I went with my friend Jaime to see “Jojo Rabbit,” and since I’d already seen it, I went about halfway through the movie before I got ridiculously thirsty. I leaned over to Jaime and said, “I’m getting a Coke. Do you want one?” She nodded and I left. So I come back and it is the most heart-wrenching part of the film and here I am stumbling in the dark to my seat while the rest of the row would have murdered me if it wasn’t illegal.

26. What color shirt are you wearing?

White. It’s not my color, but it’s warm.

27. Favorite holiday?

Any that involve a three-day weekend.

28. Beer or Wine?

Not much of a drinker, but I love anything Belgian.

29. Night owl or morning person?

It depends. I have a lot of energy at both ends of the spectrum. I also enjoy when I can’t sleep, watching the sun come up when I’m normally “not there” to see it.

30. Favorite day of the week?

None right now- they all blend together.

31. Favorite animal?

I am absolutely over the top crazy about Fiona the hippo. When it’s nice outside, I like taking my tablet and Bluetooth keyboard to the zoo and sitting in front of the giraffe enclosure.

32. Do you have any pets?

None of my own, but there are several dogs that live in my house. It’s the best of both worlds- puppy love and no responsibility.

33. Where would you like to travel?

I am consumed by the Middle East, both in terms of “walking the Bible,” and seeing things in movies I’d like to experience for real, like the Blue Mosque in Iran, the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, and the mountains of Afghanistan. My mom and dad went when I was very small, because it was safe to travel there for tourists (at least to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt). I’m not holding my breath in terms of my lifetime.

 

Dish

This was originally posted in response to a first time dishwasher in the dishwashing subreddit, and got a lot of karma. Reposting it here:

If you are offended by anything, don’t work in a kitchen. No joke is off limits. Being in a high pressure situation leads to dark humor. There has to be a release valve somewhere……

As for the work itself, you will come home some nights feeling like you aced it, and some nights feeling like you are one step away from being fired. Because your schedule is going to be different than 99% of your friends, the kitchen will take over your whole life. Anthony Bourdain said it best…. “a tribe that would have me.”

You will never be more tired in your life, but you will often feel a sense of satisfaction that can’t be found anywhere else. And lots of cooks, perhaps even the chef, will let you work on other projects when it’s slow and you can up your cooking game as well. Dishwasher is basically the only position in which there is forward motion. You might want to be promoted someday to a prep or line cook. I loved both jobs equally- working on the brigade was just as enjoyable as being queen of my own domain.

Before you start, know that you have to have a strong backbone and be able to take a lot of criticism… but it’s not just that. You cannot be afraid of yelling at a line cook if he/she puts knives in a full sink, etc. Sharps under the water is probably the most hazardous part of the job. Don’t ever do it, don’t ever let anyone else get away with it, even the chef (in my restaurant, dishwashers didn’t even touch sharps- we made the line cooks wash and put away their own).

If you get fired for standing your ground, dishwasher jobs are a dime a dozen and none of them are worth deep, permanent scars on your hands…. and before the scars, possibly great big infections because you’ve been cut in water containing “used food.”

Being a dishwasher is not for the faint of heart. You will have to show up on time, every single day, and absolutely bust your fucking ass. I promise that the simple act of showing up on time, every single day, will win you more brownie points than you can possibly imagine. Kitchen folk are not necessarily the most dependable, reliable people on earth……………

Your work ethic also means a lot, because anyone else in the kitchen could walk out at a moment’s notice and the kitchen would still function, except you. You are the key to the whole operation. Take pride in that fact. The motherfucking chef doesn’t mean as much as you do, and most chefs, if not all, know it even if they don’t say it. I’ve been lucky enough to have chefs say that out loud.

In some restaurants, you’ll get tipped out at the end of the night. In some restaurants, you won’t. You’ll make a fourth of what the servers make, but it’s worth it not to have to deal with customers. Bet on it.

You’ll know within one shift whether the job is right for you. Don’t stick around if you can’t hack it. Not everyone can. But you’ll gain an immense respect for everyone able to take the heat, as it were. Don’t walk off- finish out your shift and tell the chef you just can’t do it. There’s a 19 year old Salvadoran who is 80 times better than you waiting in the wings if you’re not capable.

And if you have any negative thoughts about illegal immigration, cut that shit out before you even apply. Illegal immigrants have been the backbone of every restaurant in which I’ve worked. Literally the people keeping it running. I find that most immigrants in kitchens speak Spanish (although where I live we also have a huge African immigrant community as well, so no promises). It won’t hurt to learn a little, and you’ll pick it up on the job.

Also, I love working in kitchens because in my former life, I was the IT person connected by the umbilical cord to my work phone and laptop. In kitchens, there’s none of that crap. When you’re off, you’re really off. People ask me why I’d rather work in kitchens than make more money in IT. That’s easy. Being in a kitchen gives me energy, being in IT sucks my soul every damn day and I am too exhausted to take on anything else. I’m not cut out for it- I’m a writer, and I need the calm after finishing a shift to write late into the night. I joke that Anthony Bourdain stole my career- or at least I did until he died. After that, it just wasn’t as funny.

If you have never, ever worked in a kitchen before, do yourself a favor and watch the episode of No Reservations at the Texas border. Read Kitchen Confidential- it will tell you everything you need to know about whether you are capable of taking on this lifestyle. You’ll become a night owl if you aren’t already, you’ll sleep during the day, and you will develop a sense of humor that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush. Over time, you’ll realize that you don’t quite fit in with your friends who have “normal jobs” (I have often forgotten where I was and who I was talking to and jokes landed with a thud and “what’s WRONG with you?” :P)

Once you leave the kitchen, you may not want to go back, but you’ll most likely remember it as one of the best times of your life, because there really is nothing like it on earth. Good luck.