Tresmatized

In 7th grade, I took a Ballroom Dance elective. I’d never been interested in Ballroom before, but it was a cool class, one “everyone” took, so there I was.

We only ever danced to two songs — an awful, breathy Britney Spears remix of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, and Sammy Davis Jr’s The Candy Man. It was a disjointed playlist, but efficient: one song for the Cha Cha, the other for Swing.

It’s Cha Cha time, and in a stroke of luck, I’ve been partnered up with an 8th grader, a really cute boy with an Italian name so perfect it could be on a pasta box.

I stand there, worrying my hands will be slippery when he goes to hold them. I am annoyed, because they were perfectly dry before I started worrying about this.

The teacher begins demonstrating the Cha Cha, which requires the girls to move their hips a little. Hip-moving comes naturally to me, I know this from my other dance classes, and I wonder if he’ll notice. He does. My hands become slippery-er.

He starts joking and flirting as we step forward, cha cha cha, backward, cha cha cha — star-crossed partners amidst a sea of peers in a brightly lit gym on a Tuesday. He comments on how well my hips move, saying I’m such a natural dancer, it’s like he is “tresmatized.”

I stop for a moment, breaking our rhythm, because tresmatized is not a word. I know which word he means, of course, and cannot tell if he is joking or not.

He’s not joking, and I wonder if I should correct him. It feels like two paths are appearing before me.

I don’t correct him. How can I? He is Marco Niccoli.

 

A Love Letter for La La

Like all fabled love stories, we hated each other in the beginning.

I was a bright-eyed baby fresh out of Dodge and you were larger than life. So complicated, so distant and, although the sun was always shining, somehow so cold.

I came to follow my dreams but instead you gave me nightmares. You acquainted me with deep disappointment and sometimes depression — things I’d known existed, but had never known.

You did your best to run me out of town but I dug in my heels and said sorry, I’m staying.

And I did. And it was awkward. But we tolerated each other, then got used to each other, then one day wondered if we might like each other, though neither of us would admit it. You showed me the secret spot at Ocean Park, the beauty of Temescal Canyon, you fed me the most delicious food. You taught me to cook Broccolini and do yoga, and gave me just enough cloud cover to accomplish my morning run without a sunburn.

You gave me friends I found family in, who filled in so many cracks.

I clumsily grew up, became more independent — stopped needing your approval so much. And then when I thought I was done with you, you gave me Scott. And I finally told you how I felt when I married him on your turf.

Because he married the me you turned me into — the one who knows bad things will happen and that she will survive them. The one who is less idyllic but a little more real.

I had no idea what you had in store for me when I came here, had I known I wouldn’t have come.

I’m so glad I didn’t know.

I love you, Los Angeles, despite the fact that STREET SWEEPING IS A LIE.

Here’s to five years.

 

HOLLYWOOD

An early and very heavily-filtered LA-gram

When Breath Becomes Air: A Book Report

[THIS IS NOT REALLY A SPOILER POST BECAUSE YOU KNOW ON PAGE ONE WHO DIES. BUT IT SORT OF IS SO IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, READ THE BOOK AND COME BACK]

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Ten pages into When Breath Becomes Air, I started texting friends, Have you read this? You have to read this! It is beautiful and thought-provoking and haunting, but one of the most powerful takeaways for me was simply how important it is to tell our stories.

Over the last year I’ve begun reading more creative non-fiction, and I’ve developed a love for the art form. Maybe partly because it feels validating to someone who writes mainly, uh, about herself.

Yes I’ve written about other things, for work I’ve had to write about many things I am not necessarily interested in, but I’ve found that my best, most motivated writing is usually about me or my life. At one point I got into my head the worry that this is narcissistic, and it’s been hard to shake.

I’ve started asking, why do I have this urge to turn my life into an essay? Or a short story or a blog post? Do you think your life is that interesting? A mean little voice asks. I don’t know that I think people need to read it so much as I need to write it. It is how I make sense of the mess, how I flame my creative spark.

As I read When Breath Becomes Air, what struck me most was the author, Paul Kalanithi’s voice. It had this rapid, breathless pace. It felt so focused, and I wondered how he’d had the restraint to only tell the most pertinent details and leave the rest behind. Because he leaves a fair amount of details out. (I think, let’s be honest I read it too quickly and too tired because I couldn’t put it down) His wife and family, while at the heart of the story, are given fairly little air time. I gobbled it up, as many have, and when I got to the “ending,” I came to understand his voice.

I say “ending” because before he can really finish writing the book, his body is consumed by cancer.

And the reason for his writing in the voice he did was because he was actually racing death.

!!!!!

In the Epilogue, his wife says how when she reads the book, she sees a part of Paul, but not all of him. She says we don’t quite get his sense of humor, or his tender disposition. Perhaps that was a choice he made — perhaps he didn’t have time to develop it.

We all inhabit different selves in space and time, she says. And that is just what makes his story so powerful. That only he, at that time, could have written this book, this raw, wondering psalm that asks more questions than it answers. It is the story he had to tell. And I am so glad he chose to tell it.

As the book is coming to a close, Paul writes:

In the end, it cannot be doubted that each of us can see only a part of the picture. The doctor sees one, the patient another, the engineer a third, the economist a fourth, the pearl diver a fifth, the alcoholic a sixth, the cable guy a seventh, the sheep farmer an eighth, the Indian beggar a ninth, the pastor a tenth. Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete. And Truth comes somewhere above all of them, where, as at the end of that day’s Sunday’s reading,

‘the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.’

We need each other’s stories to understand life, to approach truth. None of us can sow or reap everything — we have to take turns. I reaped so much from Paul’s story, but I hope to never sow it. In turn I can write what I have sown, and maybe someone else, or maybe just me, can reap a nugget of insight from it or maybe just a laugh.

This book has validated for me the special relationship between writer and reader, and the importance of telling our stories. I feel newly inspired to get over my laziness or procrastination and put words on a page. Case in point I am writing a non-sponsored book review on a blog I don’t even check the analytics on, but I needed to write it! And maybe someone needed an extra push to read this amazing book.

Like I said, not a sponsored post. But I’ll just help you out and tell you to click here.

 

Things My Mother Taught Me

It’s the title of a church activity coming up next week.

The little yellow flyer is trapped under magnets on my fridge. Please come with stories to share of things your Mother taught you!

At first I thought, ooh! Maybe I’ll write a listicle where I spell out all the great things Mother taught me and post it on my blog! I started trying to list them but found it impossible.

Because when I thought about the tangible things she tried to teach me, I felt like a failure. She taught me to sew, but it always seemed cheaper and easier to buy my clothes. She tried to teach me to cook, but so far I’ve ruined a lot of her recipes. I knew my mother taught me a lot, so why couldn’t I make a blog post out of her life lessons??

Recently, I read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (yes I know I am behind the times). If you haven’t read it, a) you must and b) as background, it is a memoir written by a girl who was raised by two perhaps well-meaning but incredibly negligent parents. After I finished, the friend who lent it to me asked which parent I thought was more hurtful to the kids and without any specific reason, my gut answered, “the mother.”

There is one gut-wrenching scene in which the four children are literally starving, it’s the dead of winter, they are living in a shack on a hill with no indoor plumbing or power. They have to scavenge for food while their dad continues to drink and mom stops going to work.

One evening when Dad was away and we had nothing to eat and we were all sitting around the living room trying not to think of food, Mom kept disappearing under the blanket on the sofa bed. At one point Brian looked over.

“Are you chewing something?” he asked.

“My teeth hurt,” Mom said, but she was getting all shifty-eyed, glancing around the room and avoiding our stares. “It’s my bad gums. I’m working my jaw to increase the circulation.”

Brian yanked the covers back. Lying on the mattress next to Mom was one of those huge family-sized Hershey chocolate bars, the shiny silver wrapper pulled back and torn away. She’d already eaten half of it.

I think I experienced the seven stages of grief after reading that scene. Because I do not know how one survives being raised by that mother. I do not know how that Mother is real. I am angry at her. I am sad for her? I can’t seem to understand her. Mostly, I feel guilty that I got to be raised by my mother when Jeannette Walls had to raise hers.

The scene got me thinking – what is the duty of a mother? Can it be defined?

Is it reading or cooking or knowing how to do french braids?

Is it working? Is it staying home?

And the one that always lurks under the others — will I ever feel up to the task?

In this day and age it feels as impossible as it is unwise to try to define the role — and yet there is something that seems requisite for those who occupy it — something that is the reason we are so harrowed by the thought of a mother who devours a Hershey’s bar while her children are starving.

I thought again about my Mother. How she laughs, how she always runs into friends at the grocery store, how she gardens. How everything in her presence seems to flourish. She wasn’t perfect, no one is, but I always knew she loved me — wholly and selflessly.

I thought about friends’ mothers, or aunts, or women at church, who have become second mothers to me, and it fills me with hope to realize that selfless love is not limited to a biological mother. The selfless love of dear friends has gotten me through some dark times. Jeannette Walls’ siblings love saved each other from their parents. But the truth is, they shouldn’t have had to. They should have been loved by their mother.

I cannot list the things my mother taught me — they are too thoroughly blended into my DNA. I can’t remember all the facts she told me because I don’t think in the end they were the point. I don’t think it was what she taught me so much as how. 

I can’t list out the things my mother taught me. But I do know that she loved me, and that seems like more.

 

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Baby me with Mother, back when Sunday hats were still cool

I’m Gonna Be 40

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I have a birthday coming up. It’s still a few months away, but I have been stressed about it since one very ordinary day in December when I was shampooing my hair and it hit me–I’m gonna be older, again.

I thought of Sally:

“And I’m gonna be 40!” 

“When?”

“Someday!”

Why is this birthday so stressful, I wonder? It isn’t a major milestone. It’s not a number where people will supply the party with black streamers and over-the-hill paper plates. I will not feel the need to start wearing spanx more often or buy anti-aging cream. But still, I am getting older, and I am starting to not like it.

I remember when I was 15 and my ballet teacher thought I was a sophomore in college. (Was this because I was twice the size of all the other girls and had boobs? Possibly.) I remember when I was 17 working at a restaurant in a college town and a customer asked what my major was.

I remember getting my first big-girl job and having people find out I was only 23. “What are you doing here?!” They’d exclaim. “You’re a baby!”

I was so impressive then, so far above the bar my age had set for me. But now people can sort of guess my age–late 20’s.

Late. Not early. The end instead of the beginning.

Yes, I have heard that 29 was the best year of so-and-so’s life, and that another so-and-so says you don’t have to have anything figured out until 30. I am aware that my body still functions and looks all right, that I have a job and a husband who loves me and you know what? I am still just a little bit sad.

Because I am feeling very, what’s the word, average? When I wanted to be special! At 28, I am generally where I should be in my life and career. There are things I wanted to accomplish that are taking longer than I thought they would to accomplish. Maybe I don’t even know exactly what it was I wanted to accomplish, but jeez I wanted to do something! Something that I could look back and say, “I did x when I was only twenty-something.”

I’m feeling those gorgeous 20’s slip away from me. And I’m looking ahead, staring into 30’s and budgets and suburbs and child bearing and mortgages and spider veins. It feels like an abyss.

I know at some point I will talk to friends who will tell me that we are each where are supposed to be! and that age is just a number! and I will make myself feel better and come out with some insight, maybe genuine, maybe not, that will help me cope.

But lately, I feel like I’m gonna be 40, and that someday feels like it’s tomorrow.

 

Happy Birthday, Hot Stuff

It’s my first kiss’s birthday today. Skylar, with an A.

We were at his house cuddling on a lopsided LoveSac. His friends were there playing pool. The lights were mostly off except for a bright blue TV screen, remainder of a movie.

I wore faded boot cut jeans without back pockets, a suede belt with big metal grommets from The Buckle, and a soft tan shirt that hugged my padded bra perfectly and just barely covered all of my stomach. My hair was waved.

Skylar was hot. That was pretty much all I knew about him, and that he had kissed a lot of girls already.

I wanted him to kiss me. I wanted to call him Sky.

He kissed me on the bean bag and I pretended to like it, but what I was really thinking was, GROSS.

And, This can’t be right.

Why have they made all this fuss?

Do I have to do it again?

Smile, look pretty, you’ve been kissed!

Sky and I ‘went out’ for a few months maybe. We kissed twice.

And the reason I remember his birthday every year is because of the gift I tried to buy him. I went to Target to get something, with my mom because I couldn’t drive.

I found this tacky bright red t-shirt with a red pepper that said, “HOT STUFF” on the front. I thought it would be a funny gift. So I bought it, along with something else I can’t remember (cologne?) but ended up getting too nervous to give it to him.

Would he think it was funny? Would he get me?

So began that years-long quest.

Can I make this joke? Can I be me? Will he get it?

I kept the shirt shoved up in the highest, unreachable shelf in my closet, in case I wanted to give it to someone else at some point. But most of the time it was best to not take the risk. Smile and look pretty.

A few months before getting married, Mother demanded I finally clean out my closet, and in the midst of stuffed animals and book reports we found the shirt. She started giggling. “Remember this?”

I did.

“Do you want to give it to Scott?” She tossed it to me.

I laughed as I looked at it again. Would Scott think it was funny? Scott gets me.

But I found myself disgusted by the thing. Perhaps because the joke is 13 years old, or maybe it wasn’t that funny in the first place?

Maybe because it is a remnant of a thankfully bygone era, one of braces and padded bras and school dances, and later make outs and break ups and witty banter over text message, of trying to find the version of me that could catch whatever Him I was currently chasing.

I gave the shirt away, but I think I may always remember March 15th.

Happy Birthday, Hot Stuff.

I Brought My Phone Into The Bathroom And Now I Don’t Know Where To Put It

Why did I do it? Such a poor decision.

I think I wanted to look at Snapchat. Yes, that was it. But then the volume was on and I frantically had to turn it off but it was too late because the person in the stall next to me definitely heard it. Then I had to wait for the person next to me to leave because who brings their phone into the bathroom?

And now I’ve reached that point where the phone needs to be put down.

But where to put it?

The floor? Gross.

The little ledge on top of the TP dispenser? But it sort of slopes and I can just imagine my precious device crashing to the floor, or worse…

What if it got flushed? What about all my friends?

Maybe I could stuff it into my back pocket while I button my pants? NO WAIT! I’VE TRIED THAT ONCE! I failed, and my poor phone spent the next two days trapped in a bag of rice.

Once I saw a girl emerge from one of these stalls carrying her laptop. How in the world did she maneuver that?

This place is a cellular mine field.

And the worst part of this whole dilemma is that I’ve had it before, so many times.

Why do I keep doing it?

Why has my phone become an appendage?

Ah, but suddenly I know what to do: I will put it in my teeth.

I turn it horizontally and bite down, hard, the muscles in my face straining under the clench, don’t drop it don’t drop it, don’t drop it, and now jeans are buttoned and zipped and my hands are free.

I take my phone, slide it lovingly under my arm, like a little chick under its mommy’s wing, and emerge from my stall, victorious.

I will forget again, I know it. Maybe next time I’ll bring my laptop.

Our Parents Play Tennis

We are on a family vacation, with just my four adult siblings and their spouses, (no grandkids!) and we are playing tennis.

Tennis has been part of my family’s vacations and holidays for as long as I can remember, and the in-laws have sort of had to accept it as part of marrying into our family.

I walk up to the courts, hearing the familiar thwacking that has come to signal leisure in my brain, and start watching my parents. Dad slams a backhand that whizzes just over the net, and Mom answers it with a ripping forehand that sends him running.

Were they this good at tennis when we were growing up? I don’t remember them being so good.

It really isn’t snobby, my parents’ affinity for tennis. It isn’t WASPy, they do not wear argyle. And yet seems to represent something I can’t quite figure out—perhaps that they have made it. After raising five kids, working forty years at the same job, the job that paid for the mortgage on the house in the suburbs, and college, and weddings, the job that has almost run its full course, tennis is what my parents have decided to do with their now-disposable income. Private lessons with friends. Trips to California to watch a tournament. A subscription to the Tennis Channel.

And now, they are delighted to have all of their grown children here playing tennis all together! They quickly offer up their court so we can play, Mom handing out extra visors to anyone who dares wear one. But it is ugly, the way we play this game. I shank an unintentional lob off the frame of my racket. My brother slams an overhead into the net. We all lose our serves. It is hilarious fun, but as we play I wonder if there is not some correlation between the life my parents have had and their love for this most privileged of sports.

They belong to the generation where people picked a real job in college and stuck with it. They were doctors or lawyers or business people. No one was writing tweets for a living. My older siblings are all smart and hard working, with good jobs that show potential for a tennis-playing future, but I don’t really know about myself.

I belong to the millennial generation, the one that suffers from the dreaded “E” word. At age 27 I have already jumped to a second career path, hoping that my real love of writing will someday turn itself into a way to pay rent. But currently I am sort of floundering through my working life, wondering how we could possibly afford to have children in this city, let alone buy a house or pay for college.

I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t learn to play tennis until their adult years, so as I watch my nearly-retired father place an effortless volley right down the line, I wonder, will I get there? Is it in my generation to have the career that can support the five kids and the house and the college and the weddings?

Maybe we will get to be where they are someday. Or maybe they just don’t make ’em like they used to.

Our parents play tennis, and they are so much better than any of their kids.

 

I Miss Dancing

My job requires that I spend my days watching commercials. At worst they are un funny, at best they are still selling something.

But then I came cross this lovely piece.

It caught me unaware, so sublime amidst the sea of products and taglines and capitalism. It stirred up all the feelings I had when I could still call myself a dancer. Even though I am much older and less flexible now, even though it has been years since I’ve set foot in a dance studio, I feel no less longing for it now than I did then.

I was struck with the realization that I have now totally lost something I used to love so much.

I thought how maybe the most unfortunate part of being an adult is having to give up your hobbies, or having to pick the ones that make you money over the ones that just make you happy.

I miss dancing. Even though it’s been so long that I now get dizzy after a single pirouette and it hurts to point my toes– I still miss it. I miss moving my body to a beautiful piece of music. There is nothing like it, and I will never do it again. Yes, I could take a class here or there, but I will never again enjoy those after school hours hanging around the studio, changing from one sweaty outfit to the next, going from ballet to jazz to hip hop. I miss the simplicity of it. The cluelessness of how lucky I was.

The piece in this video is about loss and rebuilding. Since adulthood I have tried to rebuild parts of that love, with things like group exercise classes at the gym or now yoga. There is a teacher and music there, bodies exchanging energy, there is even an emotional element. But there is no story.

I miss the story. I miss dancing.

Here is the link to the creative behind the idea. I believe in giving credit.

9 Cliches I Have Had To Accept As True Since Being Married

Aren’t cliches about love gross? They make me want to barf. Here are a couple of gross cliches that are super disgusting.

1. When you know you know

It is strange and just a little unnerving to realize that we didn’t totally know each other when we got engaged. I have learned a lot of things about Scott since being married, for example that he is planning on giving his son his middle name, which is Eugene. This was not exactly in my plan, but strangely the more time goes I think it is the name all cute boys should have.

2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Sometimes I miss him while I’m at work. Yuck.

3. Marriage is waking up next to your best friend

We never really want to hang out with people. Partly because we are curmudgeons, partly because we’re jerks, but maybe also because we just like each other?

4. Love is blind

Once he told me it was “a beauty zit.”

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Also supports my scrunchie habit

5. Laughter is the best medicine

Sometimes I get mad and then he makes me laugh, which makes me more mad because I wanted to be mad. He is super manipulative like that.

6. I thought I loved you then

I like him so much more now.

7. Timing is everything

Scott and I both agree it would not have worked out for us had we met nine years ago while living in neighboring dorms. I had dark brown hair as the result of a very poor decision and am also sure I could not have fit into his pants.

8. Nice guys finish last

JUST KIDDING, THIS ONE IS FALSE. I MARRIED A NICE GUY AND IT’S THE BEST!

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9. We were meant for each other

It’s as gross as it is true. Here’s to another year of eating my words.

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