Resting

Resting

Well, that’s a wrap, people! I went through with the surgery and made it home safe and sound.

Funny thing was, thanks to a really good doctor and the miracle of modern medicine, the biggest post-op hurtle for me was not internal.

(Oh, trigger warning for anyone who would gladly trade a body part for a little peace and quiet and just can’t with me right now. I get it- we have that in common sometimes. Still, you may want to look away.) 

The most challenging thing about the past two weeks has been to do nothing.

Believe me, no one was more excited than I was, at the prospect of endless Netflix and guilt free napping. In fact, when I was making the decision to go forward with a hysterectomy, I had to check in with myself several times to make sure it wasn’t just because I wanted a vacation.

It took all of four days for the fun of that life to wear off, which is when boredom, and boredom’s BFF, anxiety, came a knockin’.

Doing nothing was surprisingly un-fun, and not because I have such a kick-ass work ethic or anything. (Obvs.) Actually, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that made taking a break in order to heal so hard.

I thought maybe it was Facebook.

You know, seeing all those people out in the world with all their goings on, maybe that’s what was getting me down.  So I made what was, for me, a giant leap, and took the app off my phone. At the risk of being flagged by Zuckerberg’s flying monkeys or whatever, let me just say that, while this turned out not to be the answer to my acute post-op discomfort, it did end up being the single best decision I’ve made in months. (And you know how I feel about Facebook.) It has been nothing short of life changing, but I digress.

One thing that happened was, by cutting way back on Facebook, I had one less place to hide. Same with my daily list of things to do, without it I felt exposed and just, well, uncomfortable.

No, too general. Ok, I felt anxious.

Nope, go deeper. Ok, the truth is that without the wall of distractions I have carefully built, brick by brick, I felt guilty.

It seems weird, but the feeling that I do not think I am good enough unless I am constantly doing shit (driving, teaching, cleaning, trying, working, writing, talking), was so rock solid, and I would bet my last Percocet I am not the only woman who feels this way.

I can’t just be here– Mama’s gotta earn it.

One of the perks of having a hole drilled in your belly button and an organ pulled out is that you can’t get up and run away from the realizations that find you while flat on your back in bed.

Not that I didn’t try.

First, I did some serious online shopping. Pro-tip: If you ever have surgery or an injury or anything else that requires a lengthy convalescence, do yourself a favor and disable Amazon on-click ordering. The irony that, to escape feelings of existential guilt, I would turn to plastic mason jar lids, new underwear, black toothpaste, scented candles, and a spiralizer, thereby plunging me into still more guilt of the money-blowing variety, is not lost on me.

When that got old, I resorted to my go-to remedy for guilt and self-loathing, which is, as you may know, planning!

I planned the shit out of my future life. I planned meals and trips for the family. I planned activities for the kids and wrote out an entire home yoga practice which actually makes me want to laugh, it is such a pipe dream. I signed some online petitions and planned how I might take action on causes like gun-control and immigration.

Hey, that’s a good question, isn’t it?

There I was with all that time, and a deep craving to fill it, so why didn’t I do something worthwhile? Why didn’t I research the issues I say I care about so that my knowledge goes  deeper than a BuzzFeed article?

Why didn’t I write, since I’m always wishing for more time alone to do just that?

Because that’s the joke, y’all. Being “crazy busy”makes it impossible to do deep work. And even though I’m just learning, my suspicion is that it’s no friend to deep love, either.

You know how every yoga class ends with Savasana, or corpse pose?

I always hear teachers saying this is the most important of all the asanas, and also the most challenging. “Yeah, right,” I snort, positioning my little lavender eye pillow and settling back for my version of the pose, where I ponder the perfect shag haircut and consider what I’ll have for lunch.

It turns out that the reason Savasana is easy for me is that I’ve never really done it.

For some of us, being still is hard-won.

For some of us, believing we have the right to be still, to take up space while doing absolutely nothing, is the true work of healing.

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Staring Down the Dark

Staring Down the Dark

I really did plan to write a cheerful holiday post today. I put the order in and sat poised at the keyboard, ready for inspiration. Instead, here is what came out: that time I thought I might die. Proceed with caution if this isn’t your bag 🙂

When I was a kid, I loved being afraid.

Grocery shopping with my mother, I would be drawn by a force I didn’t understand, to the far end of the meat section, where they stocked the chicken and pigs feet, frog legs, fish heads and tongue, all stamped with bright orange stickers, “Low low price!” I’d creep toward the display and stare at it, shivering.

It was brutal, scary, and weirdly soothing.

I learned then that if I could look long enough at the white belly, the bone, the hoof, my fear would eventually turn to curiosity. By the time I heard Mama calling me, the parts had lost their grisly pull, and although I never wished to see them on my plate, I wasn’t afraid of them anymore, at least until the next time we went shopping, when once again I would wander from the kid-friendly entertainment of the cereal aisle, into the place where nice girls didn’t go.

I remember creating haunted houses in the sweltering attic of our small house, hanging my dolls, bloodied with magic marker, from the ceiling, and arranging bowls of spaghetti brains, broken mirrors, and rubber knives in creepy tableaus.

As I got older, I added to the scene, with death threats scrawled on paper that I carefully burned around the edges, and descriptions like this, next to each installation: “This very baby carriage and it’s human contents was crushed by the axe of a madman!”

It was a little intense for the other grade schoolers in my neighborhood, so usually it was pretty much just me up there, hanging out on summer afternoons, hot as hell and perfectly at home in the dark.

My friend Risa told me that the fact that I wasn’t afraid of the dark was proof that I was The Devil. We were living in the Bible belt, so this was a pretty big deal. After I got over that first rush, similar to getting cast as the lead in the school play, I admit it gave me pause.

I had good reason to think she might be on the right track in her assessment of my character, but in the end I was way too insecure to think I could be the Anti-Christ himself. For one thing, I was having a heck of a time memorizing my multiplication tables, proof, in my own mind, that I would never be tapped for such an important gig.

By fifth grade, I was an avid reader of horror comic books. After comics came ghost stories like The Bell Witch. Later, while my friends were reading Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, I read Amityville Horror and Helter Skelter.

I was the kid who was always looking up leprosy in The World Book Encyclopedia, or holding a seance.

My idea of fun was slipping into fear like a pair of comfy slippers and walking around for a while. There were a lot of demons inhabiting my world. For some of us, feeling scared helps us, well, not be so scared.

Once I grew up, my world felt a lot safer, and I mostly seemed normal-ish, at least when it came to my idea of a good time.

Then a few months ago, I decided to address a slowly percolating health issue.

Let me preface this by saying that all the tests have come back clear and I am basically fine. No biggie, as they say. But during the whole biopsy/second opinion process, my entire being was screaming “Are you fucking kidding me? This is a biggie– this is The Biggie!”

Even though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, looking back now it’s clear that I employed the skills honed way back when, at the grocery store.

I looked.

Not at Google! I repeat: NOT AT GOOGLE. (Please don’t look at Google while waiting for test results. You’re welcome.)

I looked at what was scary.

After meeting with a surgeon who painted kind of a bleak picture, I found myself strolling the aisles of Trader Joe’s, planning my funeral, making a mental list of the friends who I could call on to help my sons and husband once I was gone.

Like a lot of women I know, one of the ways I cope with stress is to share with friends, which I did.

Some friends responded to my news with a big smile and, “Oh stop it– you’re FINE!” They meant only the best, of that I am sure and I love them for wanting to save me from my own dark side, but flipping on the lights isn’t always the compassionate move.

And plus, how could they possibly know I was fine, at that point? I couldn’t know that about them and I would never pretend to.

One friend and I talked about what we could binge watch during my chemo. We discussed the merits of something called “exposure burial” vs. cremation. I instructed her to save my journals but delete my texts, which she totally understood. We laughed about how crazy it was, but we never shut each other down.

She sat with me in the dark.

Although I had been talking funerals, and chemo, and loss, my real fear was of having to go through it alone.

By the simple act of not looking away, she told me that nothing about me was too scary. She would be there, even if/when things got that fucking bad. She would watch t.v with me, and find me banana popsicles, and help me change my bandages.

I’d do the same for her.

There’s an image in my mind that, if it had happened back in 1972, would have made all the difference: it’s of a little girl, at the far end of the meat section. She is shivering from cold coming off the refrigerated cases, and from what she sees when staring into them. She doesn’t want to look away, but feels her friend standing next to her, and knows she is not alone.

They both look.

And they are both afraid, and less afraid, together.

What I Did For Love

What I Did For Love

This past weekend I had to deliver a testimonial at my fab UU church, to celebrate the conclusion of our pledge drive.  It went just fine, despite the fact that I clearly have shed my old actorly ways and am now TERRIFIED of speaking in public.

Good lord, the shaking.

The blushing.

Ours is not a large congregation and, for the most part, I think they harbor only good will toward me, so I kind of don’t get why the major case of nerves. Also, the thing I wrote was less than five minutes. (I know, get a grip, right?)

But how’s this for a confession:

I’m glad I was nervous because, in some private recess of my damaged heart, I believed that looking happy to be up there reading something I had worked hard to compose, would be like wearing slacks and suntan pantyhose with a reinforced toe.

Out of fashion.

Awkward.

Best to keep a low profile. Pretend I just threw something together at the last minute. “What, this old thing?”

It’s official. I may be all grown up, but a thin film of middle school still covers me like a second skin.

Maybe you can relate.

None of this is conscious, of course, and it’s really just now, as I sit typing, that it’s becoming clear. I can’t be the only one who struggles with the desire for approval and the deep flesh eating shame of wanting attention.

So wtf. Ima go there.

Yesterday I gave myself a present in the form of the audio version of Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born To Run, read by The Boss himself, and available on Audible. (By the way, my subscription to Audible is, by far, the best $15.00 I spend each month. Just sayin’.)

If you happen to see me walking the streets of the San Fernando Valley wearing a dopey smile and a gaze of distant longing, it’s because Bruce is in my ear, telling me all about his life, his hopes, his dreams. I may be holding my dog’s leash in one hand and a bag of steaming poo in the other, but in my mind he and I are reclined on a chase, before an open window, somewhere in Tuscany. “Tell me all about it,” I say, while sampling a variety of cheeses.

Wait, where was I?

Oh yeah. One of the first things Bruce offers up is an explanation of what has driven his career in rock and roll. His success, he says, was and is fueled by a list of things (and I’m working from my admittedly iffy memory here), that includes a desire for attention, approval, money, and love. 

Hold up, Bruce.

You mean you are looking for my approval? The stories you tell, the poetry you write, exists, at least in part, because you want to be… liked??

And get this, he wasn’t apologizing for it. Knowing that he cares what I think of him doesn’t diminish any of his work for me to know this. Obvs. Unknown

There’s a part of me that always assumed that artists, especially talented artists, didn’t give a shit what the rest of us thought. They worked in service of their vision and that’s what made the good ones good.

Or so I thought.

I’m no authority on showbiz in LA, since I had basically waved to that in my rearview mirror when I left Chicago, but I do remember when I first got here, sensing that, to get the job, one needed to not to need the job. Use words like “amazing”, “awesome” and “outstanding”, when asked how things are going, and as an agent once told me as she cocked her head and squinted across her desk at me, whatever you do, “Try not to care so much.”

That’s the catch.

When it comes to approval, you can want it, but you can’t ask for it.

I’ve bought into that forever. As for my own hunger, I blamed it on my mother, my school days, my gender. Anything to avoid pulling back the curtain.

But if I stop making it into a weakness, the desire to pin it on someone else disappears, and running around pinning shit on people is a total time suck. I think we can all agree on that.

The truth is, I care a whole bunch what you think.

Yep, me and Bruce Springsteen.

When I make a painting, I hang it on my wall. When I write something, I want someone to read it. To me, without sharing, the work isn’t complete.

I have a friend who told me she writes all the time and feels no need to share any of it. I haven’t decided if I believe her, but if it’s true, I envy her. If you’re an artist who doesn’t have any fucks left to give, then I guess you are lucky. It’s an advantage to feel free to take risks, to create for the sake of creating. But honestly, if I wasn’t in a lifelong search for love and approval, I probably wouldn’t do anything but down snacks and watch reruns of Sex and the City, so hey, there’s that.

At it’s worst, my desire for external validation can make me too careful, causing me to miss my mark and sometimes not even try. But at it’s best, it’s my editor, agent and cheerleader. My personal Mickey Goldmill.

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Back in Chicago, I remember I used to stare down the bar at the “real” actors who huddled at the other end. Usually a group of three or four guys in their 20’s and 30’s, and maybe one woman (hmm, interesting) would hang together, drinking cheap beer, dissing Los Angeles, while trading snark about their last Steppenwolf audition or the pilot they were shooting .

They were just So. Fucking. Cool.

They were talented, and their talent seemed all the more mysterious because they didn’t seem to care about it. Eventually I would make a good living on commercials, long running crowd-pleasing shows (decidedly un-cool) and voice-overs, but in my mind, those thoroughbreds at the end of the bar would always leave me in their dust.

I could never compete with them because I always, always, read my reviews.

And yet, here I am.

The same need that drove me to put myself out there in search of approval, was the same need that pounded on the floor for me to “Get up!” when I was knocked on my ass.

Now that I’ve named it, will I try to move beyond this, to a place where I float far above my blog stats, my inbox of rejections, my submissions, all my naked trying?

Will I pretend that I don’t desperately hope that you will like what I’ve made for you?

I don’t think so.

And I’m cool with that.

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Will Prozac Make Me Nicer?

Will Prozac Make Me Nicer?

Last week I had a complete physical and received the fabulous news that I am a-ok, which was a relief since lately, I haven’t been so sure.

Don’t worry, this is not another post about peri-menopause. 

But suffice it to say that, in addition to the issues hailing from my fifty year old uterus, I’ve felt tired and anxious, with a fluttering heartbeat and a semi-constant sense of dread.

That, plus pissed.

So boy was I relieved when (what’s left of) my blood checked out fine and, after reassuring me that my experience with The Change is not that uncommon, the doc sent me away with a referral for my first colonoscopy and a crisp new prescription for Prozac!
Prozac?Unknown-1

That sounds so 90’s.

If Prozac was sold in stores, it would be at Chicos.

It’s the Rachel haircut of anti-depressants.

(Here’s where I stop for just a minute and say that I am so grateful that drugs like Prozac exist. It has helped several of my dearest and best friends out of the dark hole of depression, and I am a fan of people not suffering needlessly. So I hope you won’t be offended if I’m dissing your drug of choice, because I’m not. I am just a very neurotic and small minded person and I like nice things, even if they come in capsule form. Please discontinue reading if you want to, and have a healthy snack instead.)

Anywho—

I’ll admit, I got pretty excited about my 10 mg of self improvement.

“What are some of the side affects?” I asked the doctor. I’m a smart consumer, I thought, as my hand made an almost imperceptible jerk toward the prescription my doctor was writing out.

Act casual, I thought.
She mentioned a short list of issues some people have experienced while taking Prozac, weight loss being one of them. “But you’re unlikely to experience any of those with such a low dose.”

I crossed my arms on the soft flesh of my new middle aged middle and smiled.”Oh good,” I heard myself say, pretty convincingly.

My goal was to get out of the office, get to the drugstore and right away take one of my new pills so that I could be a new person by tomorrow. Why wait? My husband and kids would thank me! No more lectures about

Exactly How I Would Like the Bread Package Sealed Please.

Twist hard,

several times

and then fold over and wrap a rubber band around it.

Don’t forget to squeeze all the air out of the bag

and the reason you can’t find a rubber band

is that no one ever saves them

and no one puts them here in this little space

in the drawer,

where I’ve told you

the rubber bands should always go.

Am I the only one who cares around here?

It’s a small thing,

to seal the bag of bread and do you just assume

I will throw that stale bread away and go buy another loaf?

Is that it?

Well is it???

bread-open

Standing under the fluorescent lights of the Rite-Aid, I had some time to think.

As much as my brain bugs me, what with all it’s shortcomings, I kind of like it.

Or, I’m used to it.

Or at least, I’ve tried to make lemonade, as they say.

I remembered a friend telling me that taking anti-depressants hadn’t changed her personality, it just made her not “stew” on things as much. But who am I, I wondered, if not someone who stews??

At that point, the lady in line behind me had a full-on passive aggressive sighing fit about the long wait. What a bitch, I thought. Geez! People need to get a grip. Talk about tightly wound! 

Wait, where was I?

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Oh yeah, do I or don’t I need some Prozac…

I peered into my phone, reading about other possible side affects, the ones my doctor had failed to mention. Side affects like clenched jaw, sleeplessness, anxiety (what the actual fuck???), cold symptoms, mild nausea, decreased appetite, increased appetite, loss of sex drive, constipation, dry mouth…

Later, I sat in my car, my little bottle of hope tucked in my purse,

and called Jo Dee.

“I can’t decide if I want to take them,” I said, enjoying the anti-depressant effect of  a bag of peanut M&Ms. “I just don’t know if I’m that bad off. When you look online, most people  say the side affects were nothing compared to how bad they felt before.”
“That’s how it was for me,” Jo Dee answered, referring to her own experience of depression years ago. “I just felt so fragile. Any little thing would happen and I would just start crying and go back to bed.”

“Yeah, I don’t have that. I do think I’m pretty irritable,” I say, stating the most obvious thing ever stated in the history of the universe. “I wish there was just something that would take the edge off when I need it. I should have asked her for Xanax.”

“Is that what Xanax does?” asks Jo Dee.

“That’s what a friend told me. She described it like, ‘Oh, it just takes the edge off.”

“But isn’t that what they say about every anti-depressant? That it takes the edge off?”

“Yeah,” I answer. “Tastes just like chicken.”

I go home, throw the bottle in the top drawer of my dresser, the one with my jewelry and all my boys’ baby teeth, and that is where they sit.

 

My guess is that you haven’t heard the last from me on this topic, because I’m just so full of questions.

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Does my tendency to snap when my estrogen ebbs warrant a daily dose of medication?

Will taking a little bump of Prozac each morning mean I won’t get quite so worked up when caught in the incessant dinging of a group text from the parents in my son’s basketball league. DING!- “who’s snack mom this week?” Ding!- “I’ll do it!” DING!- “You’re the best!” DING!-“Thanks!” DING!-“Thanks so much!”

DING!-

DING!-

DING!

I don’t know. It could be that the bar for emotional health and a sunny disposition is just a little bit high sometimes.

Because group texts are annoying,

and don’t get me started on stale bread.

 

When I’m Scared, I Do This One Thing

When I’m Scared, I Do This One Thing

To state the obvious, it’s a scary time for a lot of people.

I won’t pretend to have new insight or valuable commentary on the political climate that is fueling many of our fears, because I’m not nearly smart enough to do that. But I do know a few things about fear, seeing as how I’m a scaredy cat from way back.

Just for fun (yours, not mine) let’s just list a few of the fears that haunt my mind on a regular basis. I think it will give me some credibility on the topic.

A short list of things that freak me the hell out:

    1. botulism

    2. port-o-potties

    3. heights

    4. head lice

    5. speaking in public

    6. losing my teeth

    7. water moccasins 

    8. sleeping with anything sharp near my bed

    9. marionettes

Conspicuously absent is any mention of harm coming to my husband or children because I am too afraid to even put it on the list. (Dang. See how it weaseled it’s way in here? Crafty little bugger.) But, to make it an even 10, I’ll add this:

    10. writing about things that really scare me and, as a result, making those things happen 

Ok, so we’ve established I’m scared of a lot of weird shit, in addition to the stuff that  scares most normal people. Which brings me to The One Thing I do that helps me when I’m, say, watching my sons try on all the costume pieces at the renaissance fair— including those hats that everyone and their preschooler has put on. (WTF???)

I do this:

I stop my anxious fiddling and just get quiet for a second. Then I put my right hand (it can be either hand, but using my right hand tends to relax me while using my left feels like I’m checking for a heartbeat) gently onto the middle of my chest. I name what I am feeling, in this case, Fear. I just say that silently to myself, and allow it to be there. The result is that the fear that had felt like part of me is now just a thing with a name. I’m not chasing it away, or trying to outrun it. I’m not justifying it or minimizing it.

It’s such a relief.

So, there you go. One thing.

It may seem overly simple, but it has saved me on many a bumpy take-off and landing (which would be #11 and #12). I do this when I’m a little scared, like when I have to ride a glass elevator, and when I’m fucking terrified, like when I read the Sunday Times.

It helps with both.

Oh, and by the way, I didn’t make it up. At least I don’t think I did. I probably heard about it, or a version of it, from this guy, or this gal, both of whom have lots of helpful tricks for living in a world where people are always blowing up.

 

love-826936__180And let’s be very kind to ourselves. This isn’t easy.

xo