Why I Sew

A couple of things happening at my work this week have got me thinking about the creative impulse—why we do the things we do whether you consider yourself an artist or an amateur or a dabbler or a thinker. What compels us? What propels us? And where does the “thinking about why” come into the process?

It also brings to mind one of my favorite things to write about: death. The following is a re-working of a post I did on my old Mac.com website which no longer exists. I ran across it cleaning out some files and am sprucing it up for a re-post, because it’s popped into my mind several times this week.

I like to think about and write about death, but it’s not morbid, really, I promise. It’s just something I think about a lot because like most people, I’ve been affected by it and, like all people, it’s something that will happen to me someday.

I mean, let’s be blunt. We are all going to die. Some of us too soon. And many of us have already or will have to say goodbye to people in our lives far sooner than we would like.

Contrary to our vampire-obsessed popular culture would have us believe, there’s no such thing as immortality, at least, not in a literal sense.

But, maybe in a creative sense…maybe there’s a little immortality to be had here.

Every time I go home to visit my sister I have a little ritual. At some point during the visit I will find myself alone in my niece’s room (well sometimes she is there with me, but I don’t think she really knows what I am doing) and I start to dig through the oh-so-pink pile of pillows and stuffed animals that keep company on her bed.

Somewhere in there in this pile of dolls and stuffed animals is a little red-and-white patchwork pillow. My brother made it in high school Home Ec class. The batting is all lumpy from age and too many washings and it is a tiny little thing…the size of an American Girl doll’s head maybe. (It often gets used for that purpose these days.)

I like to hold that pillow and examine it…touch the fabric and the stitching and think about my brother’s hands cutting and manipulating the material. I can see the spots where he had to tie off the thread and start anew.

Sadly, the reasoning behind his choice to use black thread on a red and white pillow went to the grave with him.

I like to look at those stitches every chance I get and I revel in the memory that he was, in fact, once here among us, once with hands to make things. I picture his knobby hands drawing the needle through the fabric in those awkward, uneven loops and I feel close to him.

The night he died I lay in his closet and buried my head in a pile of his dirty clothes. I remember wanting to soak in the smell of him for as long as I could…that oddly metallic smell of blood and salt and mucous that was so earthy and unique to my fatally sick brother. I remember thinking that very soon the smell of him would be gone forever, to fade from a physical sensation into a nostalgic memory. I clung to his smell because it let me cling to him.

I feel like that’s the way grief goes. At first, it’s so painful and yet you relish the pain, because you know that once the pain fades a bit, it also means that it has been that much longer since you have drunk in the smell of your loved one. The less pain you feel, the longer it’s been since you’ve seen their face, heard their laughter, spoken to them, held them, touched them, essentially had them.

I stayed there in his closet so long that my sister and brother and brother-in-law wound up joining me there. We sorted through some of his things, cried, talked about him and discovered a journal he had been secretly keeping for the last year or so of his life.

The first pages of it were letters to each of us. I haven’t read mine in a long time…It’s too much….but I do grab onto that little pillow every chance I get.

My dear and wonderful friend Danielle, about a year and a half into intensive chemotherapy for liver cancer, decided to take up knitting.

I remember visiting her one winter day and found her in the front yard knitting. Her carefully tended garden lay mostly fallow around her and she had decided that, for the cold months,  a new hobby was in order and this one could be done during her hated chemo treatments.

Every time I visited her after that, she had some kind of a knitting project going. One visit, I brought her a big tote bag to store her growing cache of skeins of yarn and needles of all sizes. Months later, she showed me a ball of mottled purple, brown and grey and told me she had specially picked it out for me. She wanted to make me a scarf….

But first, she said, she wanted to finish the soft yellow blanket she was knitting for her sons.

She never finished that blanket.

I remember the night it did get finished though. I was laying in her bed, lying in the spot where she had died the night before, on a mild June evening shortly before her 40th birthday.

There was a confluence of women in the room….what I would call Danielle’s army. Her sister, aunts, niece, cousins and a couple of very close friends were there, gathered around the bed in which she died. I don’t remember where her three young sons were at that moment. I don’t recall where her husband was. I just remember laying in a spot that smelled of the lavender oil Dani’s sister had rubbed on her as she lay dying there the night before. I lay there and soaked it in, talking about her, about the impending funeral, about life and loss with all those women who had come together simply because we loved the same person for a time. I haven’t seen most of them in several years now.

One of those friends sat in Danielle’s rocking chair in the corner, stroking a finished yellow blanket on her lap.

“Oh! you finished it” I said.

“Yes,” she said. “I wanted the boys to have it. I wanted them to have their mom blanket.”

A few months later, I got a package in the mail from Danielle’s aunt Melinda. She had taken the yarn Danielle had earmarked for me and made the scarf that Dani had intended to make me, but had never gotten around to.

Along with it came a note: “I know Danielle wanted to make something for you. I was with her when she bought this. I thought I would knit it up for you. It makes me feel close to her.”

I treasure that scarf like I treasure that pillow my brother made in Home Ec class so long ago.

Shortly after I got that scarf in the mail I became rather melodramatically obsessed with the idea that I also wanted to leave something like it behind for the people I love and who have loved me.

I bought a sewing machine.

I sew.

In a way, I sew for the same reason I hold that pillow and that scarf. I want the people in my life now to not only remember me when I am gone, but remember that I loved them so much that I thought of them and created things especially for them. And sewing things for people I love makes me happy, even when it makes me crazy, destroys my apartment or when a million little mishaps frustrate and confuse me. There is almost always a moment in which I want to give up on the whole thing (sometimes I do) or I just start hating everything about it (most of the time I find the love again).

And I hope that the people who have gotten my oh-so-delicately (and sometimes pointedly) flawed gifts feel the love that’s woven into them.

I want them to look at all my awkward stitching and design flaws and remember that once upon a time I had real hands and real arms and a living mind that thought of them and cared about them. I think it’s the only immortality I am likely to be allowed.

Part of that pile on my niece’s bed includes a blanket I made for her. It was an early attempt and is falling apart in places and someday she will have to put it away or it may disintegrate all together. But for now she sleeps with it every night and every time I tuck her in with it I imagine a day (hopefully) far in the future, when she’s a grown woman and I am gone from this life.

I picture her holding that blanket, examining the stitches…touching the fabric that I spent so much time handling and positioning and hopefully she’ll think about how very much I loved her. Hopefully she’ll feel very close to me. If so, I feel like a part of me might be just a little bit alive again in that moment.

At least that’s part of how I feel when I look at my brother’s pillow.

I handle that pillow and remember how much I loved him and how much he changed me. And every time I think of him, I think of my friend Dani too. Because they both changed me. And they both left too soon.

I am a different person than I might have been without either one of these people in my life.

For one thing, I sew.

It all depends…

I love my job, but it can be equal parts creatively inspiring and creatively taxing.

I spend a lot of time every day reading about, learning about, seeking to understand and appreciate art and artists so I can spend the rest of my day writing about, talking about and prosylytizing their craft and what it brings to our community.

This is a worthy endeavor, I feel and I feel lucky to be able to do it.

But, sometimes, I feel like there isn’t enough left for me at the end of the day. I feel like my yoga practice is what gets me through the day, my asana practice is what helps me wring out the day, but some days, my own artistic practice suffers, especially my personal writing.

If you’ve ever considered yourself to be a writer or aspired to be one, you probably have, like me, read all the books and blogs and advice from your betters who tell you the most important thing to do is to simply write. The most recent thing I read had some advice from someone famous, can’t remember who now, but he said it’s better to start writing, write for a while and then quit before you finish, that it’s much easier to pick up on something that’s still juicy the next day instead of plowing through the night before and exhausting your reserves.

Anyway, these well-meaning advice givers also suggest giving yourself a daily word count, one that’s not too daunting, and see what takes shape.

SO, I’ve decided that I am giving myself at least 200 words a day. And now even as I type that I have already accomplished and exceeded that by 90, now 93 words. Still, to make it even a tiny bit interesting, I’ll go on for a bit with an anecdote from my day.

I stopped at Whole Foods on the way to work this morning, as I was trying to fight off a certain amount of panic, given that I only realized after I woke up that I had left my computer at my boyfriend’s house, and in the computer bag (hopefully) was also the charger for my iPad. Deprived of both of these devices, I’m not able to accomplish this little side gig I have that is helping keep me financially afloat. That coupled with the day and week ahead meant it was time to replenish my portable spa, which of course consists simply of a vial of Lavender oil that I don’t like to ever be without. While standing in line, where I of course succumbed to the purchase of two new lip balms, I flashed on the fact that I had a prescription waiting for me for pick up. I had gotten the text from Rite Aid a couple of days ago and have learned from experience that they will re-file that stuff if you don’t go pick it up in a timely fashion and you’ll have to call and get on a whole new refill cycle.

Anyway, eager to get to work, I almost talked myself out of making one more stop, but a super-convenient parking spot with time left on the meter decided the moment. Doused myself in a bit of lavender oil and headed inside where I found myself third in line for the pharmacist, behind a jovial flu-shot purchaser and a teeny tiny little old lady, who turned back and smiled at me benevolently before taking her spot at the counter.

I knew the minute she did that, that she was going to take forever. And here’s where I know I have grown as a person (or maybe it’s the lavender oil), because I absolutely didn’t care.

A mountain of work and stressful meeting were awaiting me, but I was perfectly content right where I was, just happy to watch this moment unfold however it would. Work will still be there. It will ALWAYS be there, and even if I could have snatched back the extra 10 minutes this tiny little lady was surely about to cost me, it wouldn’t have a profound effect on the progress of what I knew to be ahead.

I watched her as she hauled her little personal shopping cart, which held just one item, an economy-sized package of Depends, up to the counter. It made me smile. I mean, that’s a shitload of Depends. The package was almost as tall as she was. I wondered how long that will last her.

The two pharmacists on hand, one of whom was administering the aforementioned flu shot over in the corner, were both perky and the girl at the counter was exceptionally patient and kind as the lady wheeled up her cart of Depends, propped her purse on the counter and sighed:

“Oh…well

The gal behind the counter listened to her for a bit as the woman described her ailment and prescription, politely and patiently interrupting to ask:

“What’s your last name? That’s how we file the prescription”

The woman told her and off she went to look. But of course, no prescription was to be found in the sea of dangling plastic baggies.

I amused myself by looking at the assortment of pill cases on the endcap next to me, tempted to walk over and peruse the cheap sunglass selection nearby, but reluctant to give up the precious ground I was earning with every passing second, and also painfully aware of the lack of line-purchasing willpower I had already exhibited at my first stop of the morning.

The pharmacist came back and pleasantly told the woman that her RX had been called into and filled at the Beverly Hills location. She glanced over at me with an apologetic smile.

The elderly lady barely had time to get flustered before the pharmacist offered to look and see if this location had it in stock and she could try and fill it immediately.

“Oh that would be wonderful,” the tiny elder said “Ten grams. Remember, Ten Grams”

“Yes, yes” replied the pharmacist as she walked away to look.

At this, the little old lady turned to look at me and said:

“Oh no, now I am holding up this young lady”

To which I demurred and said “Oh no, you’re just fine” (If she’d thrown in “pretty” I probably would have offered to pay for her transaction).

A few minutes later, the pharmacist returned with the small bottle, pointing out how she had replaced the child-proof cap to one more easily removed.

Our little friend tested it out and proclaimed herself delighted.

Then came time to pay and such. If I overlistened correctly, she marked her birthdate at 1931, which hell yeah little gal! You go with your Depend-gathering, independent pharmacy pickup, you almost even made it to the right location, just a few miles off!

There was some confusion. She was all excited to sign the release for the prescription, grasping the little pen. The pharmacist had to explain several times that that part came after the payment part.

She gave a delightful little laugh at herself about her confusion.

The payment part was its own little dance of the lady, who paid with cash. In exact change. But couldn’t remember the amount of the change part. That took three tries to get right.

Anyway, she finished up, walked by me with a nod and a sweetly satisfied smile, pushing her cartful of Depends. I swooped in and got my own package and was on my way.

And I chuckled all the way to work about it. Being that old kind of seems like being on drugs all the time.

Like, you have a great sense of the framework of what should be happening and when and how, but the details are blurry and out of sequence. You can’t hear that well and you might be miles from where you intended to go.

And, finalizing a simple transaction can give you an amazing sense of accomplishment for the day.

Then, you get to pee in your pants.

I can dig it.

(200 words for me Day One: Tuesday Oct. 8)

Procrastination and Relations

Welp, so far so mixed. I re-launched this blog with every intention of NOT ignoring it, like I have so many other times in my personal-writing past.

I promise, I have thought about writing something pretty much every day since the last entry (I owe a couple of people some poems per my last entry in May, I will stop being lazy and actually do it), but of course, as you can see, alas, thoughts do not always result in actions (which I guess is good news for those moments of internalized road rage).

However, I am proud to report that in the intervening weeks, I have kept up admirably on my weekly work blog (which, if you are so inclined, you can read here), with the exception of last week’s entry, which is obviously late and which I am working on today (of course after I get done procrastinating over by writing this…sigh…this is what it’s like in my brain). I realized this weekend that most of my family members and probably some of my friends really have no idea what I do for a living…so if you’re ever wondering, check that out.

I’ve also had a wonderful burst of creative energy in lots of other non-writing ways. I’ll post a gallery of some stuff I’ve created over the last few quiet months.

Meanwhile, I just spent a fun weekend with my family and wanted to get a few thoughts down before they too skitter out of my flighty response time.

I flew home to Phoenix Friday morning. My sister picked me up, we made a supply run, picked up her children from their respective schools and then headed up Heber-Overgaard where my grandparents spend their summers out of the Phoenix heat.

The occasion? My grandfather’s 90th birthday. Woot. Last week, my sister and I were debating on what to get him. It’s really hard to buy for my grandparents. In general their needs are few, their lifestyle is minimalist and their living spaces are small. We figured our collective presence was probably the best gift we could offer. But my grandpa solved the problem of making a material gesture himself by enlisting my brother-in-law in finding a good price on some new tires for his quad which he still rides as often as possible.  That’s right. He rides a quad. Off road. Through the forest. At 90. Pretty much every day that’s not raining.

We all chipped in and got the tires for his birthday. What an awesome thing it is to be able to give your 90-year-old grandpa a gift like that!

He seemed delighted with the tires, once he finally noticed they were there. They were sitting in the living room of the cabin we rented, bow perched atop, but neither he nor my grandma noticed they were there, which was fine. But as we sat there chatting, talk turned to his current tire situation and how he couldn’t ride until he got new ones.

My brother in law and I exchanged bemused glances as my grandparents prattled on about grandpa’s current lack of riding ability, exhibiting an apparent complete lack of awareness that the 4-foot-high stack of solid rubber situated right next to the couch they were sitting on might provide a solution to said problem.

We laughed and called everyone in, pointed out the gift and presented him with his card.

Of course we had forgotten to buy a card, but my resourceful little niece had packed colored pencils and paper and we whipped up a homemade note that everyone could sign.

I wrote: “Thanks for the awesome genes.”

After reading it, he said to me : “You know Jess, if you play your cards right, you could have a 90th birthday too!”

To which I replied: “That’s the plan, grandpa!”

He said: “You know, the operative word there, is ‘play.’”

I couldn’t agree more. And if he’s correct, I’m right on track.

Speaking of playing, it’s always fun playing with my niece and nephew. Jayden (nearly 11) is getting older and wittier every day so playtime involves a lot of banter.

Here’s another favorite moment from the weekend.

My sister, Jayden and I hit the local bakery for fresh donuts on Saturday morning. I don’t like sugary foods much at all and especially not in the morning, but it sure smelled cheery and my niece was thrilled to help select a bounty of donuty delights to share with the family.

We had a few other stops to make before returning to the cabin, but my niece tried to divert the plan to drop off the donuts first.

Me: “No we’re gonna do everything all at once and then head back.”

Jayden (semi-snarkily): “Well I just thought we might want to get the donuts to the people while they’re hot and fresh.”

Me (very snarkily): “YOU’RE hot and fresh, little dork.”

Jayden (incredibly snarkiliy): “Yeah, well, so are my toots.”

HA!

(And yes, my family’s never been exactly shy about bodily excretions, though I don’t see how anyone’s family can be shy about it when there are tiny humans around who need butt-wiping and aren’t shy about demanding it. Oh, while we’re at it, I discovered this weekend that my crazy nephew recently got to fulfill a lifelong (he’s 5) scatological dream. TMI indeed).

Anyway, “hot and fresh” quickly became a new catchphrase.

Another favorite moment of wit belongs to me…mostly because it really cracked my sister-in-law up, and I love it when people laugh at my jokes. She and my brother are (admittedly lazily) trying to have a baby.

My brother-in-law had grilled up a bunch of different meat for a giant family dinner. My bro made up a plate for himself and his wife. Congratulations on the cook of the tri-tip/NY steak/chicken etc were bandied about toward my brother in law as we ate.

At one point, my sister in law asked her husband: “What’s the difference between my meat and your meat?”

I couldn’t resist a quip: “No wonder you’re not pregnant.”

What can I say? I crack my shit up.

It was a fun weekend. I am very glad I went. And yet, I am very, very happy to be home. Something about Arizona makes me a bit melancholy and fairly lethargic. Probably partially the heat and partially the amounts of food we all seem to eat when we’re together, so it’s always nice to leave, even though I miss all these crazy faces when we’re not together.

Words

I’ve been ruminating on a topic since I heard this interview between Michael Silverblatt and Aleksander Hemon last week.

The Bosnian author was talking about his book, The Book of My Lives, which contains a personal and very emotional remembering of the loss of his daughter. In the interview the author talked about how he was confronted by a friend at that time who said: “words fail in these situations.”

No, Hemon said. Being a writer, he has belief in words. Words don’t fail, he said. Platitudes do. Empty phrases that don’t instigate connection or communication fail.

I totally agree. Words are power. Words are what will help us get through any feeling state, any situation, whether they are spoken aloud to ourselves, whether they come to us from others, or whether we sit and write them down.

This hit home to me because I recently watched some of my best friends struggle with the sudden death of another beloved friend, a woman who I did not know well, but who touched many of the lives of people close to me. It’s a horrible time, burying a loved one. I wish I were more naive on the subject, but I grok the shit out of everything they were going through.

I remember those times in my own life and the words that people chose to say. I’m grateful for the good intentions of everyone who tried to say things that they thought would be comforting, but was also bemused at the multitude of platitudes that people fall back on. “Everything happens for a reason.” “She’s in a better place.” He’s at peace now.” All those words are meaningless when strung together like pearls of wisdom and offered up to a person whose heart is breaking in grief. You accept them, absorb them, because you know they come from a good place, not because they have any real value of their own.

Really I think the only thing we can say in those moments is this: “This sucks. It sucks that your mother, brother, sister, friend, lover is gone from this life right now. It sucks that you will have to wake up every day and know that they no longer see the same sky as you, breathe the same air. It’s not OK that they won’t be there for births and weddings and celebrations and drudgery. It’s not OK that you will never hear them laugh again. It’s not OK, because you love them and you will miss them. You will miss them every day. It will suck, and it’s not OK, but you, yourself, will be OK. You will.”

I know there are those who believe we will see our loved one again someday. That’s a lovely thought, but no one, no matter how righteous or how faithful, no one can prove to me that that is the case. And even if they could, it doesn’t exactly take away the pain of the now. Today I live without the loved ones I have lost. And today comes every day.  Until it doesn’t.

And that belief, that beyond death, that at the end of all my todays all will be well, to me, becomes a platitude itself. And platitudes are empty in the moment.

I think the reason platitudes fail is because what we’re really trying to say, what we really want to ask and answer is—why? And that is a fruitless question to ask because the answer is simply—because. Because, we all, some how, some way, some day will die.

There is no why about it. It just is.

But when you’re in pain, when you’re experiencing loss, when you’re trying to console a friend who is in that situation, you don’t want to think that, you don’t want to say that. And yet, you know in your heart that you cannot ask and answer the question “why” so out come the supposedly comforting phrases that are really more about numbing the pain than dealing with it, or healing it.

I really believe that the only way to heal from this kind of pain is to face it with raw honest human emotions and raw, honest words that don’t just serve to anesthetize, but that tell the truth as each one of us knows it, and rip open wide the fears we all have inside. That’s where the connection comes, that’s how the understanding comes, that’s where acceptance will start to creep in. And that’s where healing starts.

This, as in most things in life, can be illustrated by a choice moment from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (I have Buffy on the brain, well, pretty much all the time, but especially this week). A 1,000-year-old demon recently turned human had no platitudes to share as she and her friends were suffering the loss of Buffy’s mom. She only had words.

Oh and later? Anya said to Buffy: “I wish Joyce  didn’t die…because she was nice….and now, we all…hurt.” And it’s really kind of that simple.

We’ve all been there. We all miss someone who would probably rather be here, enjoying fruit punch, sneezing, watching her children grow up, getting excited about the new Superman movies. Or at least, WE would rather they were here doing those things with us.

And it’s not OK that they’re not.

But we can all be OK. Today. For as many todays as we get, making them as real and true as we can make them.

Moments in Santa Monica: Impromptu Shopping and Uncontrollable Rage

I’m not sure why I’ve been up since 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, but I figure why not make use of it. Been puttering around, digging through fabric and thought I’d sit for a minute and share a few random things that happened over the last couple of days.

Yesterday in yoga I realized (for the second time this week actually) that I was wearing a pair of leggings that really need to be retired from practice. They’re getting a little threadbare. I only figured this out though, whilst in the bathroom AFTER practice was over.

Usually I wouldn’t think too much of it. My normal spot in the room is right in front of a wall, in this little notch in the corner of the room ( a strategic position wherein I cannot see too many other people around me, limits the ability to compare and contrast). Yesterday, however, I was slightly to the left of said wall, my back side left open to view. I sincerely apologize to the woman whose mat was snuggled almost directly behind mine. She certainly got more of a view than she bargained for. At least I was wearing dark underwear, so she was spared too much ass-viewing induced trauma.

At any rate, there is inherent pleasure and pain in practicing yoga within shouting distance of the shops on Third Street in Santa Monica. Pleasure in that it is awesome to practice by the beach and with the beautiful people who populate that city, and pleasure in the proximity of lunch and shopping after a wonderful practice. The pain comes in with the crowds of people, especially this time of year on nice days. (Side Note: I always feel sorry for the June tourists, watching them shiver around the area in beach attire, when really the weather often calls for scarves and parkas. I guess June Gloom isn’t covered in most travel guides).

The pain also hits the pocketbook, it’s just so EASY to slip on over to the shops and buy something frivolous while in a benevolent yoga afterglow. While this is a tight month and I really didn’t need to be spending money, I trotted over to one of my favorite shops and treated myself (and my fellow yogis) with some new yoga pants. It didn’t feel that frivolous and I miraculously managed to refrain from stopping in Brandy Melville. I swear I could buy a shirt a day in there.

Friday morning I went to class at the studio, taking advantage of the current work calmness to practice in the morning. It was glorious.

I was walking to my car awash in the aforementioned afterglow and witnessed something rather disturbing. The lots in Santa Monica are those unmanned situations, you know, where you take your ticket and pay at a machine before getting back to your car? There’s no attendant at the exit, you just put your paid ticket in and the mechanical arm sets you free. (You can also pay right there instead of before you get in your car, which is convenient but also kind of holds up the cars behind you….I admit I do that sometimes).

Anyway, there’s a little call box that allows you to talk to the disembodied voice of the skeleton crew of parking lot attendants who I assume are ensconced somewhere in the structure. Unseen, but sometimes heard.

As I walked toward the staircase to head to my own car, I had to pass the exit station where a woman was literally screeching into that call box. The voice on the other end sounded far less troubled than the woman in the car. I think I heard it say something like: “M’am, I’m just trying to help you.”

I don’t know what happened to set this car woman off but she was HOLLERING at the parking lot speaker box, howling in primal rage. I’m thinking the only thing that could really have happened is the woman lost her ticket and was therefore having trouble getting out of the lot and was probably pissed at the small fortune a “lost ticket pays full price” policy was going to cost her. “Small fortune” is hyperbole, of course but it does suck to pay $20 bucks to park because of your own damn stupidity or absent-mindedness in losing a parking ticket. We’ve all done it. I once spent more to park at Trader Joe’s than I spent on groceries inside due to said stupidity.

At any rate, I wasn’t listening intently (trying not to disrupt the mellow afterglow and all), but I could hear the increasingly inflammatory back and forth between the speaker box and the raging woman locked in place by a mechanical parking arm.

At one point I saw her thrust her face toward the box and scream: “I WAS NOT PUT ON THIS EARTH TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS!!!!!”

How odd. How odd on so many levels. I found myself wondering, would she be THIS enraged if a real life human being was looking  back into her eyes? Would she be MORE enraged? What the hell happened in her day, her life to inspire such fury at an attempt to exit a parking lot?

And really, what, in fact, in her mind does she think she was put on this earth for? Screaming at parking lot speaker boxes seems to be part of it.

I walked to my car wishing I could go give her a hug and wondering if it would have even helped.

By the time I was at the exit, she was gone and all was quiet.

I wonder where the rest of her day took her and I hope it was less infuriating. Then again, there are few things in LA life that can set you off like parking and traffic.

Maybe she needs some new yoga pants and the stuff you do in them.

Dreams and the Mean Girl

I had a bad dream last night. This is not uncommon. My brain is a scary and brutal place sometimes. Sometimes they are truly fucking scary nightmares–death, disaster, destruction, apocalyptic scenes, family members in danger, you name it.

Other times they are more subtly brutal, like a dream last week I had in which I made a new female friend. She was cool. We were having a lovely time, chatting, laughing, drinking wine and generally enjoying ourselves until she came close to me and whispered in my ear “You know, you are really quite beautiful, you just really need to lose some weight…mostly here, and there, and maybe a bit there” while waggling her finger at places on my body.

What a bitch, right?

The thing is, that bitch is me.  But she’s only really a bitch TO me. I would NEVER say something like that to a new friend, nor to an old one, nor to a stranger, not even to an enemy.  I can’t even think of someone I would call an enemy.

That shit came from inside me, and it’s been going on longer than I care to remember.

I know I’m not alone in this. I’m aware enough of human (woman) nature to know that. And more importantly, I have so many awesome females in my life, I know firsthand that they struggle with it too and I wish they didn’t have to because they are amazing and I have complete compassion for it when they do. Because I am pretty awesome and amazing myself, and yet, I have brought my own self to tears over the years.

I have had an evolving relationship with my internal mean girl. There were many years during which she was very much in control, very much the internal power figure of my psyche. Gladly, she’s lost most of that control and power in the wake of some hard work.

It was a brawl there for a while, I admit. There was some bloodshed. Now it’s more like a chess match. One she never wins, but sometimes I don’t either. Sometimes we just sit there stalemated, waiting for the other’s move. But, most of the time, she can’t check me the way she used to.

For the record, her greedy power plays for my soul are not only about my physical attributes. She regularly heckles me about how I’m not smart enough, not talented enough, not clever enough, not financially stable enough, basically not…enough. She’s completely wrong, I know. But boy is she mouthy, and you know how it is when you hear something over and over. Even if it’s only in your head…it starts to plant roots.

The good thing is, while I’m still working out why she’s here and why she really truly doesn’t need to be, I don’t see her getting any of the power she has lost back either which is a relief, and progress. But man, does she try! Invading my subconscious…bitch.

I don’t really think she’s a bitch by the way, it just looks funny to type it that way. And I like to be funny. But she’s not really a bitch. Because she’s me and I’m certainly not a bitch. And I have compassion for her too because of all the things that made her the way she is. After all, I experienced it all alongside her.

These days it’s actually more like she’s a petulant child. I like to visualize her that way. When she’s throwing a fit, I hand her a rattle, throw her in a playpen, tell her to go ahead and scream and shake herself tired.

Meanwhile I retreat to some other part of my brain where there’s music and beauty and poetry and love….and where she is more than welcome to join me when she grows up a little bit.

Girldom

I got a call from my sister last week warning me that I might be hearing from my niece very soon about certain girlythings. Apparently 10-and-a-half is now the age wherein one is exposed to the school-board-approved approach to explaining the joys and mysteries of womanhood.

Apparently, whatever school presentation went down weirded my niece out a bit and my sister told her she was allowed to talk about it all she wants with the women she is close to like herself, me and our sister-in-law.  I don’t blame her for being weirded out. That school stuff freaked me out too. I remember getting a brochure titled “Growing Up and Liking It,” which was horrifying to me because at the time I remember I was also pretty melodramatically focused on the fact that one day I would grow old and die and I was having a rough time with the concept of mortality.

So the thought of liking growing up was difficult to wrap my head around, especially when this well-meaning material was accompanied by a video of flowers unfurling, dewy grass, girls on bikes and drawings of the uterus and fallopian tubes that looked like some weird alien creature wearing headphones. I was fairly confused and clueless until I read more Judy Blume.

My mother was little or no help as she seemed to approach the existence of my girl organs and what they naturally do as alien invaders who must be hidden from view and discussion and protected from other creatures that would seek to invade my alien parts. (She debated about whether or not to “let” me use tampons because that might make me want to have sex. True story.)

I know my sister’s already doing a WAY better job of it than our mom did. She’s just better equipped in general and we had each other to talk about all this girly stuff when it came time, which helped. And we’ve been talking about it for a couple of decades now.

If and when I do get a call or a text or an email from Jayden saying “just how bad is this menstruation thing I’ve been hearing so much about lately?” I figure I will refrain from telling her about the massive hormonal shitstorm I was ironically embroiled in even as my sister was calling to tell me about my niece’s nascent entré into the dirty details of just what being a woman entails.

And I do mean hormonal shitstorm. For two days my body does its level best to help me lose my mind… I get the cramps, the bloating, nausea that my doctor says is probably the equivalent of morning sickness, the headache, the sometimes migraine and I destroy some article of clothing pretty much every month.

The joys of womanhood indeed. I’ll save the gory details for later. Because really, overall, in the grand scheme of things it ain’t that big of a deal, just something to deal with. I think that’s what I’ll tell my niece.

None of this body stuff is that big of a deal. I think when you MAKE it a big deal early in pubescence is when girls get uncomfortable in their own skin. There is nothing wrong with having your period. In fact, having your period kind of means that everything is working just as it should be. Girls aren’t oddities because of their cycle. They are NORMAL because of it. There’s nothing to be embarrassed by or to hide from. It can be annoying and gross, but so can boys and we put up with them all the time.

Along those lines, I don’t know how my sister will handle the sex stuff, but I also think it’s wrong to make a big deal out of it too. I say this having been raised by a sexually repressed woman who made feel like she believed there was something wrong with these parts, even as her religion purported to tell me that all of me was carefully created by an all-knowing and all-powerful God. If God as creator is the be-all if intelligence, then don’t you think maybe he designed sexual parts with an inherent pleasure principle for a reason?

If I had a daughter I would tell her there’s nothing wrong with sexual pleasure or the parts that produce it. However, I would also tell her there’s nothing wrong with being smart, being safe, being patient and logically explaining how making good sexual decisions will allow her to stay healthy in a way that will allow her to enjoy sexual pleasure without physical problems or mental self-recrimination for the rest of her life.

I don’t believe that having a moral code/being a moral person and experiencing sexual pleasure (even outside of marriage) are mutually exclusive.

Mothers really have the power to either fuck up their daughters on this issue, or empower them to be smart, to be unafraid, to listen and to talk.

If we come across as though we are uncomfortable about the realities of sex and womanhood,  or take an accusatory stance on those body parts and what they do (like my mom did for whatever reason…maybe she didn’t even know that’s how she was coming across?), a little one on the cusp of these things might rightly equate that uncomfortable-ness with her own beautiful little self, and that sucks. Because nothing is wrong. All is right in the world if you are growing up healthy and changing hormonally and experiencing weird mood swings and desires. That’s what’s supposed to happen.

Let’s just be honest with the little women in our lives. Yes, you’re going to get your period. Every month. For most of the rest of your life. Tell them why. Tell them what it means. Tell them it’s all OK. It’s not a big deal and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Yes, pretty soon, you are going to WANT to have sex with your boyfriend. It’s also nothing to be ashamed of. Tell her how those feelings are normal and natural, but that doesn’t mean she has to act upon them every time they are there. Tell her how we have the power to make choices that will make us feel good, and that sometimes the choice NOT to have sex with a boy is the one that will actually feel better for longer (MUCH longer, remind her of THAT too).

I think we should just tell them true stuff. Not project what our own mothers might have felt or done or said. Hopefully most of us have gotten past all that. (I have). Let’s stay there. Let’s try and leave our own baggage out of it and just be factual and logical and supportive.

Let’s just tell them the true stuff, because when looked at logically, it all makes sense. And we can remind them that they are great and perfect just by virtue of experiencing it all.

And then we teach them the joys of warm baths, naps and Midol. (My niece has already figured out chocolate). And it’s all gonna be OK.