Disestablishmentarianism

Three weeks or so ago, my right hip went out. It hurts to walk. It hurts to bend over. It’s not so much that the motion itself hurts, although it does. The worst part is that whatever muscle lifts the leg forward is weak. My right leg has about a quarter the range of motion as my left leg. It means that I limp even when I’m not in pain, and that my balance is shot.

But for three weeks, I’ve been putting off going to the doctor. At first, I told myself that I had pulled something running. It’s true, the problem showed itself the day after I had done my first 3-mile run in a couple of weeks. I took hot baths, put compresses on it, took ibuprofen. The hip would feel a little better, then a little worse.

Then I realized that it wasn’t just my hip. It was also my knee. This is the same knee that I had injured tripping over the mountain of crap in my daughter’s room. But did the knee problem cause the hip problem, or the other way around?

I’m telling myself these things in an effort to diagnose myself so that I don’t have to go to the doctor.

And then I realized why I don’t want to see the doctor. The last time I went to a doctor for my knee, he said that I needed an MRI.

“I can’t have an MRI.”
“Why not?”
“Because I have a magnet in my hand, and once it’s ripped out of my hand in the MRI thing, there’s no telling where it might go.”
“Why do you have a magnet in your hand?”
“Because I had someone put it there.” (I didn’t want to give this guy the entire long story of what led me to getting it, and it wasn’t relevant.)
“Can it be removed?”
“No.”

He ended up telling me that he couldn’t find anything wrong. Which was his shorthand for “since you decided you don’t want an MRI, I decided I don’t want to treat you.”

I’m not excited about going through that exercise again. I’m in pain, and I’m worried that I’m going to need something like a knee replacement or a hip replacement because the damage is getting worse and worse, but obviously I’m not so worried that I’m willing to actually go to the doctor.

A lifetime of not being taken seriously and being told that all the problems I’ve ever had have been due to my weight, is it any wonder that I’m not keen on the medical establishment?

My Dip in Bambi Lake

I haven’t posted in quite a while, partly because I’ve been superbly busy, and partly because I just haven’t been doing anything interesting to anyone but me. You all know about my software project in process, and it’s still in process. *yawn* You’ll want to hear about it when it’s closer to done, but right now? Probably not.

But tonight, I had a brush with greatness. I wonder why more people don’t go to public readings. It really is the very best entertainment one can get for free. Mostly, you get to sit in a nice bookstore that doesn’t smell weird and have someone read you a story. Sometimes there are snacks. And sometimes, things happen that rival the very best live theater in the world.

My friend S. G. Browne’s book Big Egos came out recently, and he was having a launch and signing at The Booksmith in the Haight. The Pirate and I got there a little early and had seated ourselves, when someone came in and said, in a very deep voice “You know who wrote the introduction to my book ?” And gave the name of a fairly famous music-related person whose name I have now forgotten, but at the time, I thought “I didn’t know that Scott knew anyone that connected.”

What sat down in front of me was a painfully skinny person with big, pouty lips, long brown hair and and a well-filled pink tank top. She turned to me and said “I like fat girls and blondes. What’s your favorite poem?”

This picture does not contain the lipliner, which appeared to be eyeliner around the lips, applied without benefit of a mirror.

In addition to being a fat girl and a blonde, I happen to have the penultimate two lines of my favorite poem tattooed on the inside of my right forearm: “I have promises to keep/ and miles to go before I sleep.”  She squinted at them for a few seconds.

“It’s from Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.'” I said, and she heartily approved.

She said several times that she stole (“But they know I steal,” she said, gesturing vaguely at the staff. “So I guess it serves them right,” I said.) and that she lied. She asked me to guess whether she was lying when she said that her grandmother was Betty Grable and I thought it might be possible. Then she asked me to guess whether she was lying when she said that her grandmother was Joan Crawford. I have to say, that face had some very nice bones going on, and good skin, too (“Burt’s Fucking Bees,” she said at least five times during the conversation “Get it at Walgreen’s”) but I told her that she couldn’t be the grandchild of both of them. She maintains that she’s Joan Crawford’s grandchild.

She asked me my favorite color, my favorite song, and when she asked the Pirate his favorite punk band and he said he liked X, she lit up. We talked about Exene Cervenka, and she claimed that Exene wrote the intro to her book. But she had come in claiming that someone else had written it, so I filed that in the same bin as Betty Grable and Joan Crawford grannies.

“I’m drunk, sorry.” Visuals travel faster than either sound or smell, but all three had already told us that.

She complimented my shoes and told me that she knew a guy who did custom-made shoes and Marilyn Monroe dresses. She told me that she’s a submissive. That whenever she has trouble coming, all the man has to do is snap his fingers and she comes instantly because she’s so submissive. That Marilyn Monroe was so submissive, she’s dead. I laughed so hard that she got up and said it again into the microphone at the front of the room. And it was funny then too. She approved of my dress and my shoes and my tattoos and my hair, and told me, when I sang a bit of my current favorite song (Regina Spektor’s Samson) that Adele had nothing on me. Nothing, I pointed out, but a few Grammys.

She turned her chair to face us and kept leaning forward and taking my hands. She said that she likes women, but she loves men, and who can blame her? At one point, she said something about Bambi, then said “I’m Bambi, by the way.” But I had figured that out already.

She insisted that I closely inspect her art deco earrings, telling me to put out my hands so that she could cup them in hers and place the earrings in them. I wouldn’t have called them art deco. They looked more 50s vintage, but they were fun, no doubt. Although, I have to say, not as fun as the amazing pearl starbursts I got the little kid as part of her Audrey Hepburn costume.

Meanwhile, every time she got up to get more of the wine and cheese on offer, the Pirate and I looked at each other and started cracking up. This is not the first time that someone with an alternative take on reality has zeroed in on me as a kindred spirit, and, for the life of me, I do not understand why.

She had put her jacket on the back of the chair next to me, but was still sitting in the chair in front of me when three of my friends arrived. One took a seat behind me, but I practically had to beg the other two to sit next to me, moving Bambi’s jacket back to her chair. We made introductions all around because it would seem rude not to, and everyone’s comments were surprisingly tame. This is a pretty snarky crowd.

Bambi went back into the bookstore proper and returned with a large softcover coffee table book with the world “men” in the title. Inside were various pictures of men next to pictures of likely places of manly pursuits. There might be a closeup of a 20-year-old with a deep tan and a 3-day beard next to a picture of a pristine beach with a Jet-Ski sitting on it. That sort of thing. The Pirate looked at it and said “Oh, look. You brought us a catalogue.” We paged through it and said things like “I could use one of these in the kitchen” while Bambi cackled and promised to get a lady catalogue for me. I was fine, though. I’d like one of those for the kitchen as well.

Then Scott got up to read, and things started to go south.

The opening scene of Big Egos takes place at a party full of dead celebrities. As Scott read, Bambi stage-whispered in that way drunken people do, “Name dropper.” One of the staff came over and asked her to be quiet. Bambi got up and made her drunken way back into the bookstore, returning with some paperback and accidentally knocking some cups off the table that held the wine and cheese. By now everyone in the room was very determinedly watching Scott’s reading and Not Looking at Bambi, and something became clear to me.

Bambi knew that everyone was looking away. She counted on it.

As she came back to her seat at the front, she stood up for a few moments, blocking the audience’s view of Scott, who never stopped reading. She pouted her lips and tucked her hair behind her ears and posed, and I drew my eyebrows together and shook my head just a little, trying to communicate “I was feeling kindly disposed toward you earlier, but don’t blow it by behaving badly toward a friend that I like better than I like you.”

She sat down and, without trying to be subtle in any way, proceeded to put the book into the depths of her backpack. Scott finished his reading and asked if there were any questions. Bambi demanded to know if Scott actually knew any of the people he wrote about. Of course he doesn’t. “Well I knew all of them,” Bambi said, and then proceeded to tell Scott that his writing was shallow and affected and terrible. At this point, a male staffer came over and told her she needed to leave. “Call the cops” she growled. “Okay,” he said, and went off to make the call.

She was fidding in her backpack, getting her self together when one of Scott’s burlier friends yelled from the back “Come on, honey, it’s time to go.” At this point she was standing up, and she yelled “Who are you, fat boy?”

“Nobody, but it’s time for you to go. Let’s take it outside.”

“I have to go,” she growled at the crowd. “The cops are coming.” The she looked at the bookstore staffers, who were handling the whole thing with the aplomb that I assume comes of working at a bookstore in the Haight and said “Fine, you want me to leave, I’ll leave.” And with that, she threw some chairs around and walked out.

The room was silent for a few more seconds before Scott said “Are there any other questions?”

After the reading, which couldn’t help but be a bit anticlimactic, my friends told me that they assumed that Bambi and I were old friends by the way we were interacting, and I admitted to only having just met her when she attached herself to me upon arriving. A man told us that he’d known Bambi since he was 18 (he looked to be in his mid-30s) and that Bambi was “a character.”

But nobody seemed to have noticed what happened. The book went into the backpack, in full view of everyone, but when she was ejected, everyone was so relieved to have her gone that I’m sure nobody bothered to remove it, which, I realized, was the entire point. What better way to create a distraction from one misdeed than with another, larger misdeed? If this had been a movie, everyone would have been cheering for Bambi.

As it was, I was the only one in that crowd, and my cheering was all internal. Go, Bambi. You’re brilliant.

And, for the record, Exene Cervenka did write the intro to Bambi’s book.

Jesus Christ, It’s 1973

Every year at Easter, I force my little family to sit through yet another screening of Jesus Christ Superstar. I don’t cook a ham, I don’t color eggs, I don’t force anyone to attend church. This is my whole observance of the holiday – contemplation of an early 1970s take on the days leading up to the crucifixion.

Every year, the movie sparks a lot of discussion – what’s up with the people dressed in rags? They’re lepers. Why doesn’t Jesus like swap meets? They’re having their swap meet at the temple, and Christ thinks its inappropriate to have people turning His church into a marketplace. In Phoenix, we had our heads on straight. Our swap meet was the the parking lot of the place that had greyhound racing during the week. Why did people live in the middle of a crappy desert? Most of Israel isn’t a crappy desert. I hear it’s really nice. Is Pontius Pilate the same guy that invented the yoga? Yes.

The thing that came up this year was the fact that Jesus Christ Superstar came out in 1973, a year marked in my mind by the kind of soul-crushing shame that makes me want to dig a pit, fall into it and collapse in on myself as my body digests itself with the acid of horror.

I was 8 years old in 1973. Aware enough to know that I was surrounded by a culture that people would look on for decades as the nadir of human civilization.

New Seekers’ song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” was not only still on the radio, it had been made into a commercial for Coke so we could hear it that much more often. The song “One Tin Soldier,” which had been used in the film Billy Jack (which I have never seen and about which I have no opinion) was still battering the airwaves with its antiwar bludgeon. The Rolling Stones’ “Angie,” while not a peacenik antiwar protest was nonetheless another giant bummer you couldn’t dance to. They get lost with other agonizing, horrible songs like “Wildfire” and “Run, Joey, Run” that came out while I was still cringing.

The clothes of 1973 were a combination of chunky, greasy, scratchy lumpy miracle fabrics and loud colors that looked good on the idealized anorexic frame of models, but looked horrible on actual parents. Kids were all stuck dressing like Holly Hobbie, a fad so popular that it spawned the “Little House on the Prairie” television series the following year.

In 1973, my mother had a lot of friends who did a lot of drugs and often had nowhere else to go but our house. I can’t count how many times someone at our house broke something, and then went limp with hysterical laughter at the mess they had caused. Or how they would, in their inebriated haze, try to have serious conversations with my siblings and me. They failed to make the slightest bit of sense, although it was apparent that in their minds, they were relating to us at some very deep and spiritual level because they grokked us as human beings. These people are why I never got involved with drugs in any significant way.

But the blind self-absorption wasn’t just my mother’s friends. All over America there was a fascination with the 1920s, especially The Great Gatsby and its cast of characters who spent all their time contemplating themselves and each other. Everyone played backgammon, spending tons of money on little suitcases full of tiny poker chips over which they could pose with drinks and pretend to be intellectual for the benefit of equally drunken pseudointellectual onlookers. And the 1970s was when the adults all decided that sex should be moved out of the dark bedroom and into the living room, dining room or front yard, where we could all see it.

How can you be 8 years old and not be scarred by the skin-peeling embarrassment of it all?

But Jesus Christ Superstar somehow escaped all of it.

As an opera, it’s a story told entirely in song, but no one song tries to contain the whole narrative, so we avoid the whole weepy story ballad agony. The clothes are mainly the kind of clothes that dancers still wear today – close-fitting pants and tops that allow freedom of movement. And the story itself isn’t one that will go out of fashion anytime soon.

So that’s my real celebration of Easter. That Jesus Christ was crucified and died for the sins of 1973, redeeming what would have otherwise been the worst year of all time.

The Loss of a Close Friend

On Thursday when I left the house to pick my daughter up from school, I couldn’t find my iPod. I’d had it in the car the night before, but now I couldn’t lay hands to it. I couldn’t find it again when she and I left to go to karate. I came home and looked in my briefcase, my purse, my other purse, my backpack. I looked in the foot wells of the car, in the trunk, under the seats. I looked in that place in the kitchen where all the junk seems to accumulate, on the nightstand next to my bed, in the mess of books on the floor in front of the nightstand. I cleaned the desk in my office. I cleaned the stuff off the couch. I cleaned the stuff off the other couch.

Don’t get me wrong – my house is neither so big nor so messy that a thing as big as an iPod goes missing often. Yeah, I know that an iPod is only about the size of a deck of cards, but do you think that if you left a deck of cards somewhere in your house, you might never find it?

I looked in the onion bin, the potato drawer, the fridge, the silverware drawer, and the drawer in the pantry where we keep screws, tape, hooks, hinges and bits of string. I’ve looked under things, behind things, in things, between things.

In the meantime, I’ve got two audiobooks that I have to hear to prepare for an interview. There are a few podcasts I follow that I now miss. I’ve got a half-dozen audiobooks that I’m reading for non-school purposes. And then there’s the music. If I were stranded on a desert island, I could listen to music continuously for 20.4 days without hearing a duplicate. I’ve got 4.5 days of television shows (nearly all animation), and a whopping 138 days of books. Just over FIVE MONTHS of content.

I didn’t realize how much I depended on my iPod. Because I’m always reading a paper book while reading an ebook while listening to an audio book. Because I’m hooked on Lexicon Valley and SuperEgo and Judge John Hodgman. Because I am like the rest of the world in that I like to clean while listening to music. Because when I’m on a plane and I can’t write anymore, I can always watch more Clone Wars. Or re-watch.

I know from the painful and tragic experience of a family friend that you have to wait 7 years after someone’s disappearance to have them declared dead. How long should one wait before declaring a beloved life partner lost? Would I betray my old friend if I went out and picked up someone new and shiny? How stupid will I feel if I buy a new iPod and come home and the next time I sit on the couch, there it is, under my left butt cheek? In the meantime, I’m dragging my entire laptop around with me so that I can keep up with my schoolwork.

Lord knows what I’ll do when I mislay that.

UPDATE: Not 30 minutes after posting this, I found my iPod. It’s a 160Gb iPod classic in a thick silicone skin (I drop it a lot). The silicone means that not only does it not break when I drop it, but it sticks to things (like the time it stayed on the roof of my car during 48 hours and 100+ miles of driving). It had fallen between the mattress and footboard of my bed (it’s a big sleigh bed) and stuck there. Until I pulled all the linens off the bed and jiggled the mattress around. I knew that if I just bitched loudly enough about it being lost, it would hear me and get itself found again. This iPod and I, we’re like Sauron and the One Ring.

What Is Revealed/What Is Hidden

There are facts about my life that everyone knows. My parents divorced when I was very young. My mother was a single parent for most of my life. Only one of the four of us siblings didn’t finish college. My extended family is close emotionally, although not geographically. Those facts are generic, bland, and could be said of millions of other people. They don’t challenge anyone, they don’t embarrass anyone, they wouldn’t hurt anyone if they came out in public.

I’ve been talking to a few people about parts of my life that are not so well known. The things about my life that aren’t well known aren’t historical facts (sure, our family has its share of illegitimate babies, extramarital affairs and homosexuals, but everyone knows about them and nobody cares). Mostly, they’re about my own opinions of the things that happened to me as a kid.

From the time I was very small, my family has classified me as “dramatic,” their way of saying that I’ve always blown things out of proportion. My childhood was a really awful time that I was lucky to survive. I don’t recall it as being happy, and while I have a hard time remembering things like birthday parties or family outings, I recall in stark clarity childhood slights, fights and wounds. I contrast my view of my own childhood with my younger sister’s view of hers. She once claimed that she “raised herself,” but she may have amended that view now that she’s older. She was outgoing, popular, always the center of attention. When it was just my sister and me living with my father and stepmother, it was crystal clear that they liked her and had no idea what to do with me.

I’ve told people stories about my childhood, about things that I’ve been through, and they all say “You should write a book!” That’s true. I should write a book, but the book I should write is fictional and has nothing to do with the things that I’ve lived through. I can’t write those things, because I don’t have the courage to say thing things I know about my family to the rest of the world. Mostly, it’s because I know terrible things about the people I love, and yet I love them. Truly, deeply, in a give-my-life-for-them kind of way. I love my family in a way I feel as a physical sensation in my chest. It’s the stillness between heartbeats and the peak and trough of every breath. And yet, I know these awful things.

But there’s the flip side of this knowledge. A while back, I recounted something to my younger sister from our childhood, and she told me that she didn’t believe it had ever happened. I could have pulled rank on her and said “You’re three and a half years younger than me, you don’t remember,” but she’s the sort of self-confident person who wouldn’t believe me. I don’t think that the thing I recounted was anything of consequence. I could never tell her anything of consequence because of the fear that she would tell me it had never happened. I can’t stand the thought of having the defining moments of my life denied, because it would be too much like having my own pain denied.

Maybe if I put my family in a room, like they do at the end of television mysteries, and went around the room saying “YOU threw spoons at me when we were little,” and “YOU sided with your friends against me,” and “YOU told Mom and Dad that I’d done stuff that I hadn’t so I’d get into trouble,” pointing my finger in their faces as I paced around the room, the other hand held behind my back, maybe if I did that, we could all talk about it and what it meant to me. Maybe they would understand that the things they experienced as good-natured teasing hurt me deeply. That their labels for me – “lazy,” “weird” – defined in a negative way how I saw myself for most of my childhood.

So in the meantime, I write fiction. I don’t make my characters autobiographical, and I don’t base them on anyone in my family. If you want to dissect my fiction for clues into my early life, I will tell you not to bother. The truth you’re looking for is both more and less than you think it might be.

 

Taking the Stigma Out of It

I was out at a public gathering with the Pirate, and I saw a person wearing a zip-front sweatshirt with writing on it. The sweatshirt was unzipped and open so that part of the writing was obscured, and I realized that I was openly staring at this person’s chest in an effort to make sense of the writing. Upon noticing my staring, the person zipped the sweatshirt, my curiosity was satisfied and the episode ended.

Except that it didn’t. I wanted to tell the Pirate about it as an illustration of what a social dork I can be, but although I knew the person’s name, I could honestly not tell what gender the person was. The name was no help, as it was one of those slightly unusual names like “Dallas” or “Kennedy” that could go either way. The person’s physiology was no help at all, nor was anything about the person’s manner of speech, expressed interests or abilities, etc. The person’s gender had nothing whatsoever to do with the story, except that I didn’t want to have to say “I was staring at Dallas’ sweatshirt and Dallas realized it and zipped Dallas’ sweatshirt and I was all embarrassed because I realized that Dallas must have seen me staring at Dallas and thought I was some kind of idiot…” because if I told it that way, I would sound like an idiot.

I realize that in today’s society, gender has become a difficult issue. Openly transgendered people have challenged our notions about where in the body gender lies. Gender is no longer a simple shorthand for anything, and most especially not sexual identity, profession, sexual preference, mode of dress, or anything else that when I was a kid could be labeled “boy” or “girl.” But I’ve also realized that gender is only really important to me in two situations, both of which involve intercourse: when I want to sleep with someone (and as a person in a long-term monogamous relationship, that question was resolved a long time ago) and when I want to talk about them.

I talk about people all the time, and it’s difficult when everyone has a different idea about who they are and how they want to be thought about.  Some folks consciously or unconsciously stake their claim – they dress, act, talk in a way that reinforces the gender role they are playing. Some folks try to stake their claim, but meet with less success. Living in Santa Cruz, I also see no end of people who dress in ways that say that they’re just messing with society at large. But all of these people have an idea of themselves and their gender identity that may not be obvious to the casual observer.

So, how do I talk about Dallas and Dallas’ sweatshirt? Let me make this much clear: I like Dallas. Dallas seems like a smart, interesting person with cool hobbies and a lot of things in common with me. Dallas probably knows a lot of good jokes and fun places to hang out and interesting, artistic people. None of those things have anything to do with Dallas’ gender, and chances are that it would take me months, if not years, to get to know Dallas well enough to broach the subject of gender identity. But in the meantime, how do I talk about Dallas?

Which brings me to the subject of “it.” People have tried to solve the issue of gender pronouns in various ways. I understand trying to be inclusve: “Everyone should have brought his or her ticket.” But when you’re only talking about one person, that makes you sound weird. When talking about a single, definite person of indeterminate gender, you can use the kind of tortured constructions that avoid pronouns: “We gave each person a ticket and each person should have it,” but they are just that. Torture for both the speaker and the listener. The worst are the made up pronouns – ze, mir, hum. Those are just silly. And even if they weren’t silly, they’re hard to remember and most people won’t understand what you’re saying anyway. You can use the plural, “Everyone should have brought their ticket,” but it’s grammatically incorrect, and sounds strange when you’re talking about a single person and their actions or possessions.

But what about “it”? People object to using “it” to refer to human beings because we use “it” to refer to things that are not human beings and humans are egotistical and like to be assured of their special, privileged place in the world as the only ones with a language that enshrines their self-awareness. Referring to other human beings whose gender is unclear as “it” seems insensitive and dismissive. Using “it” to refer to someone whose gender is completely beside the point (as in the story of Dallas’ sweatshirt) seems lazy. But how can you be respectful, inclusive, not lazy, etc., when talking about someone that you don’t know? For times like that, I’d like to de-criminalize, as it were, the use of “it” to refer to people whose gender is unknown, unclear or irrelevant. If you want, you can use it to talk about me.

I know Dallas is.

“You should have seen it! Staring at my chest with its big, stupid mouth gawping open! Some people!”

Days 10 & 11: The Home Stretch

Friday was our last session with our writing groups, and to celebrate, our writing mentor brought us sparkling wine (we are, after all, adults). We sipped sparkling wine while giving our critiques, and I was surprised at how amazing the critiques I got were. This particular piece of writing was a comedic piece that I’d read on the radio two years ago, and at the time I thought it was pretty good. I was amazed at the great comments I got, things that really got to the heart of what was missing. Now I’m really torn between spending the next five months working on the piece I had originally started for Nanowrimo and spending that time on this thing.The even better part was that one woman ended up a bit better for the drink and ended up doing that thing where every sentence tailed off in quiet giggles and she kept having to put her arm around the woman next to her and sort of lean on her. We decided that letting this particular woman drink anything is probably not a great idea.

My mentee group met with our mentor to get our contracts signed, and I really thought there would be more of a process to it. More of a discussion, if you will. But deep down, I also knew that it was really going to be up to me, and I was pretty happy with what I’d put together.

Saturday, our very last day, was a guest lecture by Fr. Gregory Boyle. His book had been required reading in preparation for the lecture, and while I had tried to read it, I found the stories so touching that I was never able to read more than two pages before I would break down crying. The lecture was called “The Literature of Witness,” but Boyle talked far less about writing and far more about his own experiences. And, of course, I started to cry. Worse, I was sitting in the front row, so whenever Fr. Boyle glanced at the front row, there’s me and my streaming nose and sopping hanky. By the end of the lecture, I noticed that he was tearing up whenever he looked at me. Whoops.

I drove home, and I wasn’t able to leave until after another meeting that got out 4-ish. Crying always exhausts me, so between getting to bed late (I was up packing), getting up early (to put stuff into my car) and weeping for two solid hours, I was exhausted. The Pirate, being the sweetest man possible, encouraged me to stay for another day so that I could leave early in the morning, but I wanted my own bed, my own husband, my kids, my own dogs. I didn’t miss the cats.

Here’s how amazing my best friend is: when he heard that I was going to have to leave late and make a 6-hour drive alone, he offered to drive up with me and fly home today. Could anyone possibly ask for a better friend than that? This is a guy who’s been my best friend for 25 years, but we had enough to talk about that the time in the car seemed like nothing. By the time we got to my house, I was more awake and feeling better than I had all during my residency.

I’m home. I’m tired. My first residency is behind me. Only four more of these to go.