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.

Baby Names

It seemed, growing up, that people didn’t have a lot of imagination when it came to baby names. For instance, in my freshman history class of 30 kids, 6 of us had the same name. That’s 20% answering in unison when our name was called. It meant that for my entire school career, my name was always followed by my last initial.

Of the 6 of us, I don’t see very many similarities. One of us was tall and fair skinned with long, curly blonde hair. Another was willowy and freckled and loved hiking. Yet another was a cheerleader with eyes so dark they appeared black. I was the chunky drama geek, and I barely remember the two others. And that’s just in one class. There were other girls with my name in other classes, as though everyone named their daughters the same thing that year.

And while I can’t find any similarities among women with my name, I have noticed similarities among people with other names. So many that I find it a bit eerie sometimes. Here is a partial list of those things that, in my opinion, people with the same name share. When I call out a particular name, I am including every spelling variant of that name. For instance, when I say “Catherine,” I also mean Catharine, Katherine, Kathryn, etc.

Theresa: This is the first name that I began encountering often as a child. What the name means to me now is someone who has in the past or will in the future, date or marry someone I have dated or married. Almost without exception, every man I have been with in any romantic capacity has also been with a woman named Theresa. I have not met most of these women, and I’m sure that most of them are perfectly nice people.

Stephanie: All the Stephanies I know are kind of self-absorbed. They don’t really do anything that isn’t in their own self-interest. Even when it looks like they’re doing something charitable, there’s always a hidden reason behind it that’s less public-spirited. And most would argue that this is not a bad thing.

Kyle: All the Kyles I have known have been solid, working-class guys who wear baseball caps and get sunburnt necks.

Keith: All the men I know named Keith are black. That wouldn’t be strange except all the black men I know are named Keith. Except one. Who should probably change his name.

These are just the ones that occur to me off the top of my head. I know where are more. I wonder if I’m the only one who notices this.

Film #10: Fruitvale

The Pirate and I had tickets to the Grand Jury Prize winner for the Dramatic competition, and the winner this year was the film Fruitvale, about the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, an African-American man who was shot by BART officers at the Fruitvale station on New Year’s Day 2008.

If we had actually gone to the film, it would just be starting now, and we’d be sitting in the dark of the balcony at the Eccles Theatre holding hands and staring ahead into the darkness. Except that, the last time I went to a film in the Eccles Theater, day before yesterday, I stared into the darkness, and the darkness entered my eyes and my heart and hurt me.

I live in the United States. I’m a graduate-school educated, above-average-earning woman born of a mixed-race family. I’ve experienced a whole lot of ugliness in my lifetime, and I’ve heard firsthand accounts of a whole lot more. I don’t need to be told again and again that people of color are wonderful, human, flawed, vital, important people at the centers of their own social circles. Nobody should need to be told that, because all human beings are those things.

I also don’t need to be told that people of color are routinely discriminated against, brutalized, stripped of their rights and their dignity, systematically excluded and otherwise made to feel less in our society. I’ve lived with that too, and understand how profoundly that affects people in every facet of their lives.

I know a few people who use social media primarily as a conduit for forwarding platitudes. Endless pictures of cute animals with endearing sayings, proverbs, and quotes from people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t discount anything that those men might have said, but I don’t have patience for people who are willing to quote their words to others, but ignore them in their own lives. They’re the same to me as all those folks who go to church on Sunday and act like assholes the rest of the time.

In the same way I don’t need to keep having Gandhi quoted at me, I don’t need to be reminded of the plight of people of color. It’s not that I stop caring – just the opposite.  Because I can’t stop caring, it rubs me emotionally raw and hurts me more than it does some other people.

The upshot is that I hope whoever got our tickets (we walked over to Eccles about an hour and a half before the film was to start and sold our tickets to one of the many guys hanging around outside the theater asking for them) enjoys and appreciates the film. I hope it makes them think about how they are in life and what they could be doing to foster more peaceful discussion and less fear and mistrust. I hope that they start looking at every person they pass in the street as a human being as worthy of love and respect as themselves.

Do I Know You?

One of the lovely things about the Internet is its ability to bring actual friends closer. Who among us has not gotten back in touch with a long-lost friend or relative through Facebook?

I kind of love Facebook, for all its faults. I know all of my Facebook friends in real life, so it allows me, a person who lives in the middle of the woods and doesn’t attend a lot of social functions, to keep up a conversation with people and think that I’m just as social as they are.

I also like LinkedIn, the Facebook for people with jobs. The problem is that I don’t think people quite get the difference between the two. When originally conceived, LinkedIn was a way for people to endorse friends and co-workers they knew and trusted. The idea was that you would link up with all the people you’ve worked with that you would recommend. Friends of yours who don’t know one another could find each other, with you as intermediary, and know that you endorse them both.

Except that everyone is so brainwashed by the numbers game of Facebook, where the goal is apparently to get as many friends as the application will allow, and then force them to play Farmville with you. LinkedIn doesn’t have Farmville, but because they recognize that nobody understands how to be discriminating anymore and will “connect” with absolutely anybody, they’ve now started asking people to “endorse” their friends. Basically, you click on a person’s picture and a list of random nouns and adjectives come up. If you think they apply to your friend, you click the button and your friend gets an email saying that you’ve endorsed them. It must be new, because people I haven’t worked with in half a decade are suddenly endorsing me, as though I’ve just come to their attention again, like they were all at a party and my name came up.

But back to the numbers game, I keep getting invitations to connect from people I’ve never heard of. People who live in the same county as me. People who worked for the same company as me at some time, but not at a time when I worked there. People who know people who’ve worked with me in a similar field. I always feel a little mean about not accepting their invitations to connect, but I’m more about quality than quantity. My feeling was validated the day I got an invitation to connect with someone I’ve never heard of whose skill is tech writing but whose current job is listed as “Unempolyed at home.” sigh 

I’m never going to connect with you, endorse you, etc. if I’ve never even met you. That’s true on the Internet, but I’m realizing that real-world instances of this haven’t gone away. Today’s mail brought a hand-addressed letter from a neighbor who must live just a few houses over, but in this neighborhood that can be half a mile away. This woman writes me twice a year or so to solicit money for the March of Dimes, sending me a pre-printed card with her actual signature and a handwritten note that usually says something like “please help us out!” I kind of resent that fact that this woman lives within easy walking distance of my house, but in nearly nine years, she has never once knocked on my door to introduce herself, or invited me to her house for a cup of tea.

I’m all for connections. I love being able to remind people I know that they’re important to me and that I care about them. But I’ll be damned if I’ll let someone exploit proximity, electronic or physical, to get me to like them, connect with them, or donate to them.

What Does a Fist Know of a Hand?

It’s December. Christmas has just passed, and in a few days, it will be a new year. I started this post on December 3rd, and am only just finishing and posting it. That’s how my life has been for the past few weeks.The magazine for which I’m the editor in chief (it’s called Lunch Ticket, and we’ve got four Pushcart-nominated pieces that you should absolutely read), published on December 3rd, my first patent has been filed, and I’ve been working on the stuff I had to do for school, and three days ago, I had a whole bunch of surgery.

There have been days when I was up until three in the morning in tears, trying to do work that I was completely sure would be sent back to me, not marked with a failing grade, but packaged with a letter bomb and a note that I did not deserve to live. I am nothing if not grandiose in my neurosis. I’ve also had days where I’m in such deep denial of it all that I just play game after game of Plants vs. Zombies as though I have nothing else to do.

The upshot is that there are times when I actually get caught up on things and have some breathing  space, and the first thing that happens is that I begin to cry. For so many years, I have been so stressed every second of every day that on those few occasions when the stress lifts, I break down entirely.  How did this happen? It’s possible that I was just born this way. Being sensitive to noise, light, the emotions of other people in  way that makes daily life a challenge means that situations that are enjoyable for most people (parties, family gatherings, concerts, movies, etc.) are still enjoyable, but exhausting.

I have always wondered what it’s like to think about an upcoming social event with happy anticipation of meeting other people, of finding oneself in a crowd, of making new friends. I have always wished that I could be the sort of person who, when she relaxed, had that melty feeling where the muscles stop being tense and the mind empties itself. I’ve always been a tightly clenched fist who dreamed of being just a hand.

Mental Hell

If you’ve ever seen the internet, you know that there are a lot of people who like to talk about mental illness. I do not like to talk about mental illness. I don’t feel qualified, I don’t feel comfortable, I don’t feel it appropriate. My own experiences of mental health are just that – my own. I can’t imagine why anyone aside from my shrink would want to hear about them, and he’s being paid to listen.

One thing that comes with working with a mental health professional that I can speak to, however, is medication. There is a clinical word for how I react to many psychoactive medications: paradoxical. It means that if I’m given a medication that energizes most people and makes them happy, it will put me to sleep and make me bitchy. Medications that soothe and calm make me jittery and paranoid. It makes prescribing for my particular problems fraught with peril. There’s no predicting how a given medication will work.

All this would just be an interesting thought experiment, if it weren’t for the fact that I have a life, and sometimes, I have to interact with other people who don’t like me.

No!” I hear you gasp. “How could anyone not like you?” And indeed, I share your incredulity. But most of these people are in some way involved with my children. They are teachers or child care providers who have, in my estimation, let my child down. And if there’s one thing that I cannot forgive and for which I will snap your neck like a damp pretzel, it’s letting my child down. That doesn’t mean I need people to be nice to my kid all the time. That doesn’t mean I need you to coddle and baby my girls. Some of my very favorite teachers have been the kind who pile on the homework and give horrendous tests and have improbable expectations. Those teachers have given my girls the chance to show themselves what they’re made of, and my girls know that they are extraordinary.

The ones who don’t like me are the ones who have screwed up. Who have let my children, and therefore me, down. How do you handle someone who has put your child in an emotionally traumatic situation and who refuses to take responsibility for it? Dealing with school problems is emotionally and logistically complicated because this is not just the place where you child gets an education, it’s also most parents’ primary means of daycare for most of the year. Dealing with a school issue means dealing with a whole supply chain of other issues.

Add Is this me, or is this the meds talking? to “my child is under threat, my routine has been disrupted, I’ve now got a host of problems to solve” and it makes me second-guess nearly every decision I make.  Because once I pick up the phone and chew someone out, I can’t very well call them next week and say “Remember when I said I was going to tear off your arm and beat you over the head with the wet end? I’m so sorry, I was over-medicated. Well, not really over-medicated, actually I was…are you still there?….”

My kid was assaulted in school on Monday. Her teacher told me on the phone “she brings all kinds of negative attention on herself.” I told him that violence was unacceptable, and he said he would handle it. He “handled it” by telling her “not to insert [herself] in other kids’ games.” The two boys who knocked her down have received no consequences. During all of this, I’m undergoing a med change. I swear, if I get through this without being arrested, it will be a miracle. A fucking miracle.

P.S. A lot of people are really protective of their mental illness. They get all crunchy if other people talk insensitively about mental illness or use the word “crazy” or whatever. I would like to remind others that words have whatever power you give them. If you let other people’s use of words bother you, you’re giving them amazing power over you. Don’t give away your power. (Letting them beat you up…that’s a different thing altogether…)

In Dependence

Sorry I haven’t been posting much this past few days, but I’ve been helping my mother move.

When I was a kid, she talked nonstop about her big dream, moving to San Diego and living by the beach. But we took fewer vacations to San Diego than we took to San Francisco, and that’s why, when I moved away from Phoenix, I moved to the Bay area. Now, nearly 15 years later, Mom has finally decided to move to San Francisco as well. Instead of the sunny beaches of San Diego, she’s got the shitty, cold beaches of San Francisco.

There are a few things about moving anywhere that are just crap. One of them is having to wait around to get your internet hooked up. My mother didn’t realize how much she depended on the internet just to feel connected to the world until she didn’t have it anymore. Just before she left Phoenix for the last time, she called me and told me that I didn’t need to pick her up from the airport – she could just take BART to Balboa Park and then take the 29 bus to within half a block of her house.

I didn’t even know that. She knew it because she looked it up.

I didn’t know about Shazam, the service that lets me quit asking people “What’s this song? The one that’s playing right now?” until my mother told me. Or about Pandora, Angry Birds, or a million other really convenient things. My mother, the 70-year-old connectivity whiz kid.

But now, the poor woman is sitting alone in her new house, the house where she can’t watch her Roku, or stream something on Netflix, or answer any of the emails that are piling up because all her old friends miss her, or even comment on this blog post, telling me that I’m wrong, she wouldn’t take the 29, she’d take some other bus. In the two days we were there to help her, I was annoyed at how hard it was to answer email, read people’s blog, etc., from my phone. It’s hard to remember what it’s like to live without the internet, even though I’ve had internet for less than half my life.

It does make me wonder what the future will look like for my kid. She goes to a school that doesn’t believe in computers, but that doesn’t mean we shun them at home. She has never lived without global connectivity. Will she one day be able to IM her friend on a moon station? Will she be able to have connected devices implanted into her skin?

Will she be just as dependent on it as I have become?