Tea and Sympathy

I only have Tums chewables today (usually have omeprazole), so I have forgone my midday caffeine blast in favor of a tame(r) Irish Black Tea with Splenda and soy milk.

I have gone back to my ridiculously strict vegan diet, because I am one of those people that gets involved in a project and forgets to eat. The connection is that I eat rarely enough that when I do, it needs to be superfood. I have cheated a lot in the past few months, but that didn’t bother me until I started noticing it wasn’t upping my game any.

I think a lot of ADHD people do the not eating thing- let me know if I’m wrong in the comments. It’s my opinion that truly focused “zones” only come around so often, and you have to take advantage of them when they arrive. I know that this introductory paragraph isn’t exactly spilling my guts, but we might get there. I’m in the zone. Stay tuned. We will interrupt this post as emotions develop.

I am also trying to be the type vegan that focuses on actual vegetables. I am not trying to get by on vegan protein shaped like meat…. with one exception. There would be two if I could find them. Gardein used to make incredible vegan crab cakes and fish filets, but I can’t find them anywhere. I should have known something was up besides the expiration date when they went on sale by so much that I bought four packages of each……. Now, I’ve found fish sticks that are so damn good they remind me of my childhood in northeast Texas…. the only difference being yellow cornmeal instead of white. Now that’s a debate I’m not even trying to hear. It gets vicious.

Last night I made macaroni and cheese out of a box- vegan, expensive, and worth it. The only thing I didn’t have was margarine for the roux, but I used olive oil and it turned out fine, especially after I added small dice Daiya provolone and stirred like mad until it resembled homemade. The thing that put it over the top is that I put dried porcini mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes in the pasta water while it was still cold. By the time the pasta was cooked, they were perfectly rehydrated. It was all I could do not to eat the whole box, but I decided to eat the whole box of fish sticks instead.

I hope all my readers know that I’m just talking about my life, and I have no need to convert others. In fact, I don’t even tell people I’m vegan when I eat at other people’s houses, because I hate the thought that they’d cater to me specifically and possibly hate what they were eating. Additionally, Tony Bourdain raised me right. He said that “food is hospitality, and if you reject someone’s food, you reject them.” When I go to someone else’s house, what we’re having is what we’re having. I would eat face bacon with a smile.

There’s not a one size fits all diet for everyone, vegan is just what works for me.

Being vegan is something I never would have discovered without getting divorced, because Dana worked in the meat department at a high-end grocery store in Portland for most of the years we were friends/married. She never would have agreed to an all-vegan diet, but she was okay with the occasional vegan meal, like going out for Mexican. And yes, I realize that I could have been vegan on my own, but either one of us cooking two different meals every night was not going to happen. But I did kid her about it. One time I cracked an egg into a bowl and there was blood in it. I asked Dana what it was and she said, “THAT is a chicken abortion.” I said, “if you say chicken abortion to me ever again I will make you a vegan for the rest of your life.” To her credit, she never did, except when telling this story.

Invariably, one story about Dana leads to another, because right now it has a very real hold on my life.

When Dana and I first started hanging out, I had just broken up with a woman that consumed my thoughts, the kind of woman that you can’t help but smile around and dream about. Though she was older than me by quite a bit, in that nebulous adult age where you experience transition over and over, we were in similar places emotionally.

Because of our age difference, every day I wondered if it was the day we’d confess we couldn’t do without each other, or the day we’d break up…. made more complicated by the fact that my friends thought she was really cool and her friends thought I was a girl toy/midlife crisis (in the worst of ways). Their fears were unrealized, but made for excellent gossip. In the three months that we were actually, solidly together, it was like every other relationship I’d ever had, intense and beautiful. I always like dating women who are smarter than me, and if I am the Chevy, she was the Rolls. In the traditional sense of the May-December fling, people think that the younger person is being led on. In this case, I was pretty good about standing up for myself. It was, up to that point, the relationship that, for me, had the most equality.

After over a decade to think about it, I believe that just because a relationship wasn’t meant to last doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful.

The biggest mistake I made was that when we agreed it was over, we were so drawn to each other that we dated in secret for another year. For her, I am positive that it was pure attraction, while I continued to hold out hope that she’d eventually change her mind. You could see it written all over my face.

The hammer absolutely dropped when she said something that really made me angry. I wish I could remember what it was, but I remember the way it made me feel. I said something to the effect of “you don’t get to say things like that and date me (euphemism) at the same time.”

And I left.

I was also tired of making excuses as to why I couldn’t do this or that as I craved and loathed being someone’s “dirty little secret.”

Because our down-low relationship only prolonged the inevitable, I felt as if my heart had been handed to me after being put through a blender. I should have accepted being single and moved on with my life immediately.

It was in this terrible, painful emotional place I realized that I needed a friend, and most of the ones I had currently were mutual with said ex. I had no idea how to manage something like that. Introverts make friends when extroverts adopt them and drag them out of their houses.

Enter Dana, the loud, obnoxious blonde woman that I’d met a few times at church, but didn’t feel one way or the other about until we actually got to know each other.

Our first lunch date was with her then-partner and their friends for Easter lunch. She said later that the only reason I got an invitation was that I looked so incredibly sad.

I was actually miserable about quite a few things at the time, so it was not untrue……… and over time, I told her about all of them.

I even let her into my apartment after telling her that I was tired of living like “dumped girl.” When I think about her response, I still get tears in my eyes. She said, “well, we’ll go clean it up.” That “we’ll” was everything. Everything.

I decided that the best way to say thank you was to change my behavior, so I became absolutely OCD about keeping my apartment spotless. Most days, you could eat off the floor, and every day off the counters. It was organized to a fault.

To get back to the hold that this story has on my current life is that I’ve been living like “grief girl.” When my mother died, I went into such a state of apathy that absolutely nothing mattered, along with the fact that I didn’t want to remove anything she’d touched….. which slowly became not wanting to remove anything at all.

In the immediate aftermath, life wasn’t worth living. I don’t mean that I wanted to kill myself in turn. It was never that severe. It was more a case of “why should I even take care of myself…. do more than just survive, when my mother isn’t here to see it?”

It didn’t make sense. She was never here (at my house in DC), except for one visit. Mostly our relationship consisted of marathon phone calls. But grief doesn’t make sense.

After the initial thunderstorm, all of this emotion just drops out of you. You’ve invested so much in a relationship that’s not coming back, and there’s what I call “the in-between.” As you heal, you find other relationships to fill your huge emotional needs, and you slowly find stuff to do that replaces the swaths of time you spent together- in my case, 3-6 hours a week on the phone. “The in-between” is the first few months to a year after you lose someone important- a partner, a parent, a child- where there’s just nothing. There’s no time, there’s no reason, there’s no logic, there’s no structure. You’re just completely and totally empty, a shell of yourself.

My AA friends have often told me that when they first stopped using, there was a brain haze where most things were mindless and fuzzy. It took at least a year to clear out. A similar thing happened to me when my mother died. For a while, everything I did was completely mindless and fuzzy, even when I was being productive. I’d get to the end of a day and have absolutely no idea what I’d done or what I’d said. Because of this, I secluded myself all the time, save talking to people also in deep grief.

This is because I was afraid of people who didn’t have the same frame of reference as me- didn’t want to go through the rigamarole of trying to explain my point of view.

People can nod and smile and think they’ve been through something equally life-changing, but they haven’t. Losing a partner, parent, or child is something you don’t understand until you get there. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. It literally rewires you down to the neurons. Your mind makes connections it never did before, some of them good, some of them bad. It depends on the day.

In my own life, I found that people who said truly insensitive things or made dark jokes were the only times I felt anything, because it took that level of emotion to cut through the fog. I never got mad at dark humor, because it’s also part of my basic diet. But with people who said truly insensitive things, I’d obsess over them for days. The worst, and there were many, were the ones who said “I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen when my mother dies.” I’d take it and stuff it down, but want to scream. “IT’S A GOOD THING I’M GOING THROUGH IT AND NOT YOU!” Those remarks are things you have to stuff down, because no one ever means any harm, and if you pop off at them, you’re basically just getting grief-driven crazy spatter all over someone who really has no idea what they’re saying/implying.

Now that time has passed (not enough for me to say “it was a long time ago”), I am again ready to rejoin the people who are truly living. I’ve been surviving for a long time. I now have enough people to lean on who have filled the time and emotion I used to pour into my mother, as well as a clear mind. I don’t want to be one of those people that focuses on grief forever. It would wreck my mother to know that when she died, time just stopped for me, and I stayed there, in the “in-between.”

I’ve started with superfood, and a desire to start taking care of all areas of my life. Eventually, I’d like to be in another relationship, even if it still makes me sad that my mother won’t meet her.

Whether that person comes into my life is not up to me, but if I continue surviving and not really living, there’s no hope we’ll ever meet. I won’t have allowed the chance for it to happen.

And now, the zone is coming to completion, and I need to go eat the rest of my macaroni and cheese.

Bottled

I’ve been shaken like a Diet Coke lately, for reasons that are shaking everyone else on top of everything else in my own life. Yesterday was my mother and Dana’s birthday. My mother is, well, my mother. My ex is someone I loved for about 15 years (Dana would remember down to the date and time…. I am not that good). Though we have no future, you can’t be friends with someone for that long and not have them cross your mind occasionally. So, yesterday brought up almost every feeling of grief I’ve ever had in my life.

I have one happy memory that kept me going, and that was the year the three of us went to the Governor Hotel for dinner to celebrate. I had called in advance to make a reservation, and when we got there, our menus read “Happy Birthday Dana & Carolyn.” It was wonderful, and no one sang to us in a paper hat……………………

The most painful and cathartic part was when I found a show on Apple Plus called “Dear …” Every episode is a different actor/famous person. I watched “Dear Oprah” and cried a little. Then, I watched “Dear Big Bird.” I should have known that would be a landmine. I remember so clearly when Mr. Hooper died, and public television deciding to deal with it age-appropriately on the air. I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe as a mom explained to “Big Bird” that she used that clip to explain her father’s death to her little girl. Believe me when I say I would have cried regardless- when I’m alone, I’ll cry over anything, even commercials. But this was different. This was near panic-attack territory. Most of the time, it’s just a few tears rolling down my cheeks, like remembering my mother and I watching Oprah every day at four from the time I was nine years old. Even when we were (rarely) at the gym, we didn’t miss it. We walked on treadmills and watched the show, anyway.

My friends and family kept in touch all day, because I’d sent them a heads up on the 10th. I just asked them to look out for me and check in if they hadn’t in a while. So basically, I got alerts on social media almost as often as if it were my own birthday…. some from people who had also lost parents, which helps enormously. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again that losing a parent rewires you down to the neurons. New people I meet will never know the person I was before October of 2016. There’s also a slight difference between people whose parents lived to be the age they generally die naturally, and people whose parents die suddenly. In addition to grieving the past, they also grieve the years of which they’ve been robbed. In my own case, it delayed my grief for about a week and a half, because I was so physically and emotionally shocked. Nothing felt real until I got back to DC and settled into my new normal, which was not talking on the phone with my mother for several hours at a clip at least a few times a week. My mother was fairly conservative- and by that, I don’t mean politically. I mean behavior, clothing, etc. I grew up that way, but after I moved out on my own I was, shall we say, more adventurous. Therefore, I really didn’t have much to say in terms of my own life, so I know A LOT about what it takes to be an elementary school music teacher/choir director. In fact, one of the pieces of grief I continue to work through is that I “ran the game” on my mom all the time…. the one where you keep people talking about themselves so that they don’t want to/get a chance to know anything about you.

When I was literally suicidal and in the hospital, I was forced to open up. Though I couldn’t tell my mom exactly what I was going through, I could tell her enough, and she was more resilient than I ever thought. Not as breakable. I spent years covering up things I didn’t have to, mostly because I was convinced she wasn’t a safe space.

If there is any reason that if I win the lottery, I’m buying Argo and her husband (and her family, and their pets, and their grandkids’ college etc. etc. etc.) whatever they want, it’s because the conversations she and I shared effectively gave my mother back to me. If they don’t want anything because they have no idea what to think, I’ll just donate to a charity I am spot-on sure would be a big hit. Man, I’ve thought a lot about this for something that is unlikely to happen considering I don’t buy tickets……………………………..

I spent so many years frightened out of my mind that I would say something that would offend my mother, I was never truly real with her. Not once. I never lied about anything, but it took me three years to show her I had a tattoo, if that gives you any indication…… and I didn’t have a tattoo. I had five.

I wish I could have been more authentic. I’m much funnier when I am.

My mother was the type person that if she said something that everyone was thinking and didn’t say it, we would all fall out laughing much more than usual because she was the last person we’d think would spill it. I have no doubt that in some ways, she was just as bottled up as me, because underneath her exterior, it always seemed like there was way more than advertised.

It’s not surprising, though. As a preacher’s family, there is such pressure to be perfect people, and none of us ever are……………. but we all curate our personalities to some extent. It’s the level that changes (one of the many reasons I think preacher’s kids make good spies- all of us have the ability to take in shocking news while smiling and acting as if nothing has happened).

In fact, taking in the shocking news of my mother’s death, smiling and acting as if nothing had happened was how I got through my first few days. It was impossible to receive people without public armor. I knew four people at the visitation, had heard of maybe another 20, and there were more than 150-200 between it and the funeral. It was truly overwhelming to such a degree that those memories are burned in so hard that they’ve replaced my first thoughts when thinking of her. That’s what I mean by “rewired.” There is nothing in the world that compares to or prepares for losing your mother, even losing someone else, because she’s the only one who literally carried you. It’s a different feeling, like you’ve lost your first apartment, as it were. I felt all the time, and still feel a little bit unmoored. Because you’ve lost the only one who carried you into the world, it’s an awful feeling no matter what your relationship was while they were alive- and unlike other feelings of grief, it’s one of the only universal ones. Everything else is as individual as a fingerprint.

I remember having such unhinged anger in the beginning, because I was the first of my closest friends to lose a parent, and some of them are much older than me. I also had quite a bit of anxiety and closed myself off to everyone except Dan, because we didn’t know each other well, but had that one thing in common, and at the time it was consuming my entire life. The anxiety came from not wanting to lash out at my other friends, because their parents being alive didn’t mean anything was wrong with them. I didn’t want to get my crazy spatter on their clothes….. fights and gutter snipes based on something I couldn’t express in a way that would make sense to them, because there is no frame of reference. I could even say out loud that I was just railing against their parents still being alive, and that still wouldn’t make any sense because people think they know what it will be like, and they don’t. No matter what you think it’s like, that’s not it.

The reality is that everyone reacts differently, so not only do you not know what it’s going to be like objectively, you don’t know it subjectively, either. Your reaction will be based on what you know, not what I do.

That’s why there’s such a drive to keep a lid on it. I don’t want my grief to inconvenience our relationship, because one has nothing to do with the other in terms of how much I adore you. I’m just on a completely different road, traveling in a completely different direction, in a completely different outfit.

And in time, more and more of my friends will be traveling with me, and our relationship will change in an irreversible way….. just like the relationship with your mother. The permanence of the change is that when your mother dies, so does a piece of you. The individuality is that none of us have any idea what will go in its place. It’s not that you can replace your mother with something else; it’s that all of a sudden, a lot of your time and energy empties out of a relationship that can never be resurrected. The time gets filled up with other things, and you don’t know ahead of time what you’ll do with it.

It shakes you like a Diet Coke.

 

True HD

I have a netbook that is far less powerful than my desktop, but it has one thing my desktop doesn’t… a video card that supports HDMI. When I started using Zoom, I switched to the little computer. Why? So that my friends are always in true HD. I also use my most powerful headphones, so that their voices are as clear as they would be if I was in the room with them. It feels more intimate that way, and additionally presents a conundrum.

If I wanted, I could turn on my own web cam… but I haven’t, and can’t decide whether I want to or not. I know that my friends would probably want to see me- it’s been years- but here’s the thing. I’m not getting together with friends for happy hour. I’m going to church… and every single week (so far), the moment the music has started, tears have rolled down my face.

The first time I went, it wasn’t just one or two. I went into the ugly cry because so many things hadn’t changed, and the deep connection I’d felt all those years ago knocked me down with force. The next two weeks, I was mostly okay…. and then there was today- Palm Sunday- and if I’d thought for even a second before the service began, I would have known it was going to be tough. But I didn’t. Think, that is.

If I had, I would have known that the service would start with my favorite people in the world singing “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” from “Godspell.” I would have known because I’d been in the choir the entire time I attended while I actually lived in Oregon. I’d have remembered who started that tradition. I would have known whose voice would begin. I would have been more prepared for the way of the Lord than I actually was.

Again, I went into the ugly cry.

Then it got worse.

I was doubled over, tears and snot running down my face. I couldn’t get air into my chest, the physical pain of heartache almost unbearable. It was the closest I’ve come to hyperventilating in recent memory, probably because I haven’t had many moments in the last three years where I’ve felt this deeply about anything. Grief has a numbing effect for a lot of people- it’s extremely effective at keeping you from emoting so much more than is acceptable in polite company. Some people are very good at expressing their emotions. I used to be one of those people.

Now, I’m not.

I make an exception for this blog. This is because it’s so much easier to hide behind my keyboard, spilling emotions and letting readers have their own reactions without hearing them myself. I made the executive decision long ago that what people thought of me was none of my business. Even in my personal life, some of the deepest relationships I’ve had consisted of letters, because again, I could look at emotions from a distance. I wasn’t capable of exploding every mine that dots my inner landscape, and letters put neither me as the writer nor them as the reader on the spot (which changed when mail became electronic- mistakes were made).

In person, I will only tell you real things about me if I feel comfortable, and it is taking me longer and longer to feel comfortable as I age. As I act and react, more emotions get stuffed into boxes and locked. There are so few times when they leak, and when they do, I don’t want to be seen, heard, or touched. I make exceptions for my family, but if you are not in that tight circle, I would rather isolate than let anyone in. I am lucky that my family is not just biological, because if it was, I would have cut myself off from any support system at all (I live in Maryland, very close to The District, and my bio family lives in Houston).

I am becoming aware that this is a problem, that the pendulum has swung too far towards being alone. The thing is, though, silence becomes addictive. I know that I don’t want to be single the rest of my life, but I am terrified of putting myself out there. Open up to a stranger in hopes that we eventually have a deep enough connection to love each other? Please. One of my friends said it best when I told her as much and she said, “well, the dating scene is scary as all holy hell.” I’m not sure I’ve ever related to anything more.

My answer to this is not to date at all, but to cultivate good friendships and to put myself out there professionally, because I think networking will probably take a lot longer, but I’ve tried a couple of dating apps and the experience was mind-numbing, mostly because the person I wrote to for a few days was never the same person I met in person. I’m also not attracted by looks, in general, so it never mattered if their bodies matched up to their pictures. But it really mattered when their personalities seemed to flip. Not once did I ever meet someone who was so genuine in their chats/e-mails that I “recognized them.” Or, at least, I never met someone in a romantic way.

There was this one woman I ran across that said she was already married and just looking for friends, so I e-mailed her and said “let’s get together for dinner. Bring your wife if you want, because I’m not contacting you for romance. I just read your profile and it seems like you’re a really cool person. I’m new to the area and need to meet cool people.” After a few days of flipping each other quotes from “The Big Lebowski,” dinner was on with both women. It has truly been a blessing that it created a lasting relationship that’s only gotten better with time.

Mostly because it’s lasted long enough for me to get comfortable. I’m not sure I’ve ever been vulnerable enough to cry in front of either one of them, but I’ve at least come far enough that talking about myself isn’t a thing anymore. I don’t “run the game” with them, the game I always play with people I don’t know well.

It’s simple, really. 99% of people have a favorite topic, and that’s them. The game is “how long can I keep you talking about yourself so that you don’t ask me anything about my life?” There’s only one person in the world that’s better at that game than me, and can read me like a manual. There was no percentage in playing, because the competition was too fierce and I knew I was losing. I talked about myself because I couldn’t not. Grasshopper will never reach satori in that relationship, and for better or for worse, I’m okay with it. I definitely wasn’t at first, but after what seems like a hundred years, I’m coming around. By now, she’s family, and I make an exception for family.

Which brings me back around to whether I should turn on my web cam for church, because I can’t put my finger on why being vulnerable in front of that congregation is a thing. They raised me. I mean, I was technically an adult when I got there, not so much with the literally. Why do I care if they see me cry? It’s not like it hasn’t happened before.

Like with everything else, I’m going to overthink about it. Explode some land mines. Feel the heartache and know that it’s breaking me open to let light in. Reconciling who I used to be with who I am now. Wrestling with whether those two people are on their way to integration. I am sure it is why I wanted my friends in true HD in the first place. My question to myself is whether I get to be in true HD, too.

 

Blogging Isn’t Writing

Especially because of the pandemic we’re experiencing, I thought it would be fun to watch movies that deal with them. The first one I watched made me laugh so hard I almost choked and died (no lie). Jude Law plays a blogger/journalist [Alan Krumwiede] who wants to break the story, and LaurenceMV5BMTY3MDk5MDc3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzAyNTg0Ng@@._V1_ Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever provided me with this gem: blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation. One of the best movie quotes about blogging of all time and space. #fightme

I tend to think of it as emotionally vomiting all over the Internet, but what do I know? 😉

The movie has an amazing cast, and held my attention. When I watch movies, they generally run in the background as I do a hundred other things, but I actually sat down for this one. I am a huge fan of both Jude Law and Matt Damon, and love it when they work together. The Talented Mr. Ripley is a masterpiece. I also love Laurence Fishburne’s voice, and I could listen to him read the phone book and be extraordinarily happy with it. The movie itself is great, but what really pushes it over the top is the actors chosen.

I am sure I will keep watching disaster movies, because they are timely and generally have great soundtracks. I am a sucker for a well-composed score….. and isn’t it interesting how life imitates art?

Speaking of which, no show in recent memory does this better than Homeland. For instance, two or three weeks ago it was about negotiating a cease fire with the Taliban. Truly, with the exception of a Bipolar I case officer, this show is the most realistic I’ve ever seen.

Why would a Bipolar I case officer be ridiculous? The CIA would never let it happen. I think it’s probably a little unfair to discriminate against mentally ill workers that don’t leave Langley- with the exception that they have to be in treatment at all times- but field work would end in disaster, and not for the reasons you think.

If a Bipolar spy was captured in a third world country, they may not even have access to your medication. If they do, how likely would it be that they would actually give it to you? It didn’t even occur to me until Carrie herself got made, and descended into madness from lack of medication after getting captured by the GRU.604px-Apple_logo_Think_Different_vectorized.svg

That being said, a Bipolar analyst might be a good thing. Mental illness isn’t fun, but you gain a tremendous amount of ability at being able to see things others don’t, because you’re always thinking outside the box. Carrie’s murder boards are absolutely insane in terms of always being spot on. She can make connections that no one else can or does. That part is amazing in terms of mental illness visibility, because she highlights all the bad and the good. The problem comes in when analysts are required to be forward-deployed. I have no idea how that would work, but it’s a balance of pros vs. cons. I don’t have an answer, I just think it’s something that might come in handy, especially when Think different. becomes a thing….. because trust me when I say no one is better at it.

There have been a lot of people saying that Homeland has gotten predicable and boring, because Carrie is brilliant and then has a breakdown every season. The producers’ response was amazingly kind (at least to those who have it). Carrie doesn’t get a break from it. Why should you?

In terms of my own mental health, Carrie and I are very different. Bipolar II does not cause such extreme variance between depression and mania. The depression is full strength, but the mania is basically the Bipolar I Diet Coke™ counterpart. There’s only one time in my life that it’s gotten out of hand, and it was so memorable that if it ever happens again, I’m locking myself in my room and air gapping my computer. I will leave you to your own devices as to what happened, but it cost me more than I’ve ever spent… in fact, it reached into my five dollar life and made change… the scary part was that I was on my medication when it happened, and I thought I was going to have to start a whole new protocol.

The reason that’s always scary is that changing your medication is often trial and error, so I could have been through the wringer several times before getting right again. But as it turned out, my doctor added Neurontin™ & Klonopin™ for anxiety and left the rest alone. It thankfully, blessedly worked miracles. That was four years ago, and I haven’t had a recurrence, mostly because I’m so afraid of it that I will go to the doctor at the drop of a hat.

Nothing has really changed in terms of always feeling better, but nothing has felt worse, either. I think my ups and downs are just life, not my brain causing them. For instance, my disorder didn’t get worse when my mother died. I just experienced grief like a normal person (or as normal as I get, anyway). I walked around dazed and confused for months, not getting out of bed unless I had to. I’m guessing that particular reaction is common for people who have lost a parent or a spouse, and not an indication of something worse. Although I knew that the grief would be bad, I truly didn’t expect a fog to settle over my brain that would make me constantly feel as if I was on a heavy sedative, forgetting what and who was around me…. such as putting ice cream in the refrigerator. I leaned heavily (and still do) on the friends who have also lost parents, because they can tell with one look how I’m doing that day.

The thing is, though, now that it’s been three years I am still grieving, but over different things… like losing the sound of my mother’s voice in my head, or forgetting things I should probably remember, like childhood memories. As I get older, my first decade fades. Grief is an interesting balance between being grateful for the years you got and being cheated out of the ones you were supposed to have. It is a totally different thing when your parents don’t die in their eighties.

And, to be frank, you get irrationally angry at people who say the wrong thing, because they don’t mean any harm. They’re trying to be supportive, they just don’t know what to say. The people that do know what to do become precious- the ones that just say “I’m sorry,” because they know there are no words in the English language that will make things better. Bonus points for hugs or an arm around your shoulder. I don’t think I got enough affection at that time, because I just didn’t have as big a support system then.

The one exception was Prianka, because it was so amazing to have my best buddy pick me up at the airport when I landed at DCA from that particular trip. It was nice to relax on the way home rather than having to struggle with my bags on the Metro as I got lost trying to find my way home because I couldn’t think properly. If I had been driving, I would have realized I was going the wrong way at about Richmond.

All that being said, it was really nice to know that I was having an objective experience rather than subjective, because my feelings were so universal. Deep grief is not a club you want to join, but there is an amazing community to receive you……..

Especially other people who also graffiti the Internet.

Wilted

I started my morning by making coffee and a “kitchen sink” wilted salad with over medium eggs on top (I am a vegan who cheats. A lot. #noguiltever). By “kitchen sink,” I mean I just threw in whatever fruits and veggies were available.

I started out with sesame seed oil, onions, garlic, mushrooms, diced Granny Smith apples, and ginger. To finish, I added a mixture of shaved brussel sprouts and spring mix (red romaine, baby spinach, radicchio, green romaine, arugula, red mustard, red chard, frisee), then put some rice wine vinegar in the bottom of the pan and let it reduce, helping the to greens soften and mix.

When the veggies were ready, I pushed them to the sides of the pan, making a perfect circle for two eggs, spraying the pan with sesame seed oil again so nothing would stick. I was going to do sunny side up, but I didn’t have a lid for the pan, and I grew tired of waiting for the yolks to cook, because it takes so much longer without steam.

The dish turned out perfectly, and I am my harshest critic. I was hungry in a now sort of way, otherwise I would have served everything over wild rice and lentils as well.

I have a rice cooker made by Instant Zest, and it is the best kitchen purchase I have ever made, because it was cheap and has settings for white rice, brown rice, steel cut oatmeal, quinoa, and veggie steam (which I have also used successfully for soft/hard boiled eggs).

It’s actually been a few days….. almost a week….. since I’ve cooked, because I had to gather the courage to do it again.  I was cubing raw sweet potato, and I cut myself in such a spectacular way that I don’t think I’ve ever had a worse kitchen injury. It happened so fast that I’m not even sure where I made the mistake. I don’t know if the cutting board slipped, the knife went sideways, it wasn’t sharp enough for raw potato, etc. It could also have been something I wouldn’t have caught, like my monocular vision making me think I was cutting a straight line, but I was actually cutting diagonally. This is a problem that is as equally likely as an accident I would have seen coming. All that being said, no matter what the cause, the effect was the same- absolute searing pain and bleeding so severe that I should have gone to Urgent Care/the ER to see if I needed stitches, but I didn’t.

My kitchen training was just too ingrained…. fix the problem and get back to cooking. It took forever to get it to clot, even using a styptic pencil for vasoconstriction. Once it did, I put on some Band-Aids and finished what I was doing. Two days later, I was taking off the Band-Aids to change the dressing, and it ripped open again, which led to another half hour of trying to fix profuse bleeding. Though I’d bought a first aid kit and very advanced bandages, I’d forgotten to get the one thing that would have really helped, and is a staple in a professional knife roll– Super Glue. If I’d gotten some, once the bleeding stopped, I probably could have avoided ripping it open again. You can chalk that one up to #dumbassattack, and it won’t be happening again.

Believe it or don’t, this is the first time I’ve cut myself in many years. When I was working professionally, at home I ran on sandwiches and hot dogs. The last thing I wanted to do when I got home was cook for myself…. so, the only time I used knives was at work, where everything is built for safety, even for short people like me. The counter is lower, the cutting boards are heavier and held in place by wet rags, at least one person in the kitchen has honing and sharpening tools, etc. I had plenty of injuries when it came to burning myself, but that was it.

It was funny the emotions that came up for me as soon as the knife went from sweet potato to the side of my finger and nail. I thought of all the professional chefs and cooks I’d worked with, including my ex-wife, Dana, and shame washed over me. I felt like I’d let them down. It was my own moment of feeling wilted.

For a home cook, it’s just an accident. For a professional cook, it’s “you were being a dumbass and whatever you did got you hurt. What the hell is wrong with you?” And believe me, with some chefs, that is the nice version of what they would have said. And if the chef wasn’t in the kitchen, your coworkers would do their job for them. For instance, Dana used to work in a high-end grocery store for the meat, sausage, and fish department. One of her coworkers sliced into his finger while filleting a fish, and the entire department called him Filet-O-Finger for YEARS ON END.

Speaking of which, the only time I ever got a nickname was due to no fault of my own. During junior college, I was on the waitstaff at my local Chili’s. It was a busy shift, and they hadn’t switched over to plastic mugs yet. So, this waiter broke one of the heavy glass mugs and like an idiot, just stuck it back in the rack. The manager made an announcement that the glass was broken, but I was delivering food and not there to hear it.

The way the mug was stuck down into the rack, you couldn’t see the broken part, so I came around the corner and it’s (of course) the first thing I pick up. Little shards immediately went into my pinkie at the knuckle, and it was definitely bad enough for stitches. The manager rushed me to the ER, and I didn’t go another day in that kitchen without being called “Worker’s Comp” by somebody. The reason that memory is still seared into my brain is that it’s been 20 years and the scar is still visible.

I have no reason to doubt that this cut will be the same. 20 years from now, I will still remember the day I was dicing raw sweet potatoes, because the cut is deep enough the scar will never fade.

So, today was about ignoring the fear I felt about cutting myself again so I could move past it for real. “Act as if,” you know? In fact, as everything was cooking, I kept cutting. I didn’t need but about a half of diced apple, so I cut the rest into very large dice, and did the same with another whole apple. It was enough to fill two Zip-Loc bags. With the first, I shook in a small box of sugar free cherry Jell-O powder, an idea my mom got from a magazine and is delicious with any flavor. A moment of grief washed over me, because I couldn’t remember the proportions and she wasn’t there to call and ask. She used to put Jell-O apples in my lunch box as a kid almost every day, so I knew she would know off the top of her head…… and Google is just no substitute.

It was yet another moment of feeling wilted, but due to the hopelessness of the situation, I just had to move on.

I figured I would learn on my own when I tasted them if I’d gotten it right or not, and moved on to the second bag, to which I added some rice wine vinegar to keep the apples fresh for cooking savory dishes or adding to a salad (Hmmmm…. there’s goat cheese in the fridge……).

The last thing I was thinking today is that my knife is so sharp that there’s no way it’s time to sharpen again, but it probably needs honing. I’ll call around and ask how much it would be, because I’ve never learned how to sharpen and hone a knife properly….. and no matter how much I spend on an electric honer/sharpener, it will not meet my expectations. I have seen the most expensive ones chew up a knife and spit it out, even if it worked perfectly before.

If it is more expensive than another chef’s knife from Chicago Cutlery, I’ll just get a new one and leave this one in the community block…. but I’m really hoping that it’s not, because this knife, since I hide it from my housemates, has become mine. I never got first blood on Rachel (so named since she was as sharp as a Maddow takedown), or the three knives before her. I haven’t named this one……..

It’s probably going to be “Worker’s Comp.”

Talking Like You’re Writing

A few years ago, I was asked why I wrote about Argo so much more than I wrote about Dana, considering that I had known Dana so much longer. My answer was this:

To me, that question answers itself. I don’t write about Dana as much because I’ve known her so much longer. Argo is “write” under my skin, emotions so close I can touch them. Dana is a river that runs down deep inside me, and it’s going to take me a long time to carry those memories upward so that I can process them clearly.

Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing.

Now that I’ve had about five years’ worth of perspective, I’ve been thinking a lot about both the good and the bad. It’s not a situation I’d be willing to go “back to the future,” because the way it began was so different than the way it ended, something I never expected that didn’t come out of nowhere… and yet it did. Now, I have the ability to see all the things we weren’t talking about that led to our demise, but at the time, it felt like everything came together slowly and ripped apart in an instant. That being said, I never mistake the part for the whole and I was damn lucky to have been married to her for as long as I was, and those memories are precious to me, save a few I desperately wish I could forgive and forget. It is not about blame. She is forgiven. I have a harder time forgiving myself, and there are some things that will take a few more years as time does its healing magic, often without me realizing it is happening. I am ready to meet someone else, to practice all that I’ve learned in the meantime. I am ready to be a better person/partner than I ever have been before, mostly because I’ve truly taken the time out to feel my grief, talk/write it out, and get over what I believe are some of the biggest glories and mistakes of my life so far.

The things that come back to me now are mostly hilarious….. like before we were even together. I went on two dates with Allison Frost, senior producer and occasional host of the Oregon Public Broadcasting show “Think Out Loud.” We were not in the same place in our lives (something came up in hers), and we never went out again. But basically from that moment forward, the inside joke that Dana and I came up with was that she was my “celebrity girlfriend on the radio.” This morphed into my “corporeally-challenged celebrity girlfriend on the radio.” And, in true “Bambelanager” fashion, “if it’s funny once, run it into the ground.”

But there are two direct Dana quotes that just slay me…. one is funny, and one is tragic.

  1. I know you are not grumpy with me, because I have been cute ALL DAY.
  2. Go write something. You’re talking like you’re blogging. You’ve been talking for two hours straight.giphy-facebook_s

I feel that it is tragic because I thought to myself, “if I’ve really been talking for two hours straight, why didn’t you stop me?” It just sounded like she was exhausted by me, and just go away.  I felt wounded, because one of our strong points in relationship to each other was long conversations that meandered from topic to topic in a very ADHD way. Story, tangent, story, tangent, story, tangent, story which circles back to the first tangent, etc. I thought that’s what was going on, and maybe it was given Dana’s love of hyperbole. But maybe it wasn’t, and I was just in this hypomanic state, and the thought horrified me because it isolated her. Inside, I was bursting with the idea that I’d read a situation so wrong.

It was at that point that I began isolating, shutting myself up in my office and either blogging or e-mailing Argo, because she was my sounding board at a time when I could really use one. I will never forget explaining a situation to her and her exact words were that I was acting like a “judgmental dickhead.” I laughed so hard my desk chair sagged, because as an INFJ, I have a real talent for letting the J stick out. Also, it was nice to have a new pet name.

(Also, in order not to get the person Argo confused with the book & movie, I will share a line I wrote to her in a “galaxy long ago and far, far away……” I sleep deeply in the belly of the ship, in whom I know my passage is safe. I tried to find a link to the post where I originally wrote it, but when I couldn’t, I realized it was in an e-mail. Sorry.)

I feel that the second quote from Dana fundamentally challenged who I was. I became worried most of the time that I was talking too much, and retreated into myself. Because I had a pen pal with whom I could be completely myself, and write for as long as I wanted, I did. I never cared whether I got a response or not; the important part was feeling heard.

Now, I use Evernote. Some notes are private letters never meant to be read. Some of them are writing ideas. Some are funny, some make me cry because they explore such deep emotional cuts. But, it’s my own space to talk for two hours when I need it…. like when I found out through the grapevine that Argo had gotten married.

I folded like a house of cards, and not because of the crush I once harbored (you can look it up in the dictionary as Worst. Thing. Ever. I would call it a decision, but it wasn’t. My brain just turned to mush and there was no consciousness about it. It was there before I realized what was happening. My heart dropped into my stomach when it hit me.).

My tears centered around me no longer being a friend who was worthy of being told those things… I would have been excited to hear about the proposal, the preparations… everything that comes with the thought of a close friend meeting their life partner. I didn’t even know it was headed in that direction, because the last time we talked about marriage, she said she hated it. In fact, I don’t even know his name. She was dating him when we met, so I jokingly called him her “boy toy.” When I said, “what’s his name so I don’t have to call him ‘boy toy’ for the rest of his life?,” she said that “boy toy” would do nicely. It was a predictable response. I should have seen that one coming from a mile away.

In fact, I thought I saw someone at a Nats game that looked like her, but decided it wasn’t because she was wearing a wedding ring. But just on the off chance that it was, I walked the other way. I got nauseated thinking about what that conversation might be like, and luckily I wasn’t close enough that she would have spotted me. Perhaps she would have walked the other way as well. I didn’t want to make either of us extremely uncomfortable and awkward to the point of onomatopoeia.

As an aside, the other thing that ran through my mind was “what if I make an idiot of myself and it isn’t her, anyway?” Through pictures, I have an idea of her in my mind, but I don’t know many of her facial expressions, the three-dimensional version of herself. In hindsight, that’s probably a good thing…. not that I wouldn’t be open to it now, but not by randomly running across each other without time to prepare for what would have been a momentous occasion for me…. a precious fixed point in time where I hoped it stood still long enough for me to take it in.

There are things for which I’d like to apologize in person, and it would feel so good to see her laugh. To be able to read her eyes and emotions as the conversation went on. To see if she judges for herself that I’m not nearly as weird as advertised. She has said that I am forgiven and she has moved on, but it would be different to feel it. To know deep within, to Robert Heinlein “grok.” But at this point, it’s just a pipe dream, and I will always walk the other way without an invitation.

After writing it all down, though, I realized that I was being ridiculous about it all. We aren’t close friends anymore, and she owes me nothing, ever. If anything, it’s me that owes her. Big time. Like, “if I win the lottery, then you’re getting half” big time.

It would help if I played, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Right? #crickets

Argo is included in this entry because invariably, if you think about a marriage’s beginning, you also think about its end, and this was a big piece. When I retreated into myself because I thought Dana didn’t want to be the person that made me feel heard, it was a small fissure that led to a big one.

But do I regret the seven years and change Dana and I were married? Not in the slightest. I learned lessons that could not have been learned in any other way. We had more fun than the law should have allowed. We thought so much alike that we joked that we shared a brain. But as time went on, we stopped sharing the deepest parts of our hearts, afraid to let the other one in for fear of rejection. And actually, I shouldn’t speak for her. I can only speak to what I felt at that time in my life.

I have come to feel that the relationship ran its course at just the right time, because both of Dana’s parents are still alive (as far as I know- we haven’t spoken in three years or so), and having a partner with no frame of reference as to what I was going through, especially in the acute moments after my mother’s death, have only made me feel relief at the fact I was single when it happened.

I know for a fact that I would have been irrationally angry that her mother was still alive and mine wasn’t, because I was irrationally angry at a lot of people back then who still had their parents, especially when they were much older than me.

If we had been living together, I would have made the huge mistake of taking that anger out on her, something she never would have deserved. She also would not have enjoyed being married to someone who became the equivalent of a shut-in. I am glad that I did not have the chance to dampen her spirit the way mine burned out until I could rebuild…. and I will never be finished. A parent’s death fundamentally rewires you down to the neurons about which you think don’t do anything. I act and react differently, my breath has changed, my outlook varies from nothing matters to everything does…. and when I say “nothing matters,” I mean the part where my mother won’t be there to see it.

She won’t be there to meet my as of now imaginary someone new, and the possibility of additional grandchildren (I don’t want to have kids at this age, but if I limit myself to dating only women without them, I will be lonely a very long time). Won’t be there to accept an autographed copy if I somehow miraculously get published…..etc., etc., etc. In the present, she’s not here to tell all my funny stories, or to read my blog and tell me everything that’s wrong with it. 😛

The thing I did miss then was having a companion, someone who would just lie next to me as I cried, and I mean that universally and not limited to Dana. I was ready to start dating again by October 1st, 2016, and on October 2nd, that thought vanished. I couldn’t bear the thought of dragging another person (especially someone I did not know well) into the freak show that was my life. I’m still not convinced my life is not a freak show at times, but at least there’s no opening song and dance act plus encores.

And even if my stories now are full of tangents that meander into other ideas and people, it is comforting to think that the river is rising, which lifts all boats.

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?

Life’s a Beach

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Words

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

It’s amazing how two words can destroy it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another two words that make my day?

Please come.

Nothing Stays the Same

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Google Dictionary:

Ostinato

os·ti·na·to
/ästəˈnädō/

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

a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embolisms make great thieves who never need getaway cars.

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