Category Archives: personal blah blah

singles (not the cameron crowe film).

My parents are divorced and estranged, so I grew up with my mom’s family. And her family tree is filled with even more divorce and hard feelings. It was hard to cultivate holiday traditions when relatives could disappear or be replaced from one year to another. My mother and I tended to change residences at least once a year, so every holiday was different from the previous. My sense of order and routine came from school. Because while I also bounced from school to school, I found that it was always the same, although sometimes the kids and teachers had different names. Even the holiday activities were always the same. Decorating shoe boxes for valentines in February. Cutting out shamrocks in March. Turkeys made of hand tracings and snowflakes cut from squares of white paper. This list always included the classic “I Am Thankful for _______” essay. It was always nice–perhaps even inspiring–to remind myself that I was thankful for my mom, grandma, various pets, and the Smurfs.

Even as an adult, I think it’s great to occasionally remind one’s self of all of one’s blessings. This exercise should extend beyond Thanksgiving. But lately, I often find myself having to remind myself of all of reasons I should be happy. Once this list was only recited at times of emergency or during particularly intense bouts of existential despair. But now I have to review it before I fall asleep. My career is on fire. On the train to work. My friends are amazing. When Facebook informs me that yet another friend has gotten married or pregnant. I live in a beautiful exciting city. When I feel lonely. Sandy is growing. Ugly. I’m healthy. Fat. My hair is great. Have you seen my wardrobe? And so on.

I SHOULD be so fucking stoked all the time. Because my life IS fabulous and productive. Moving to LA really has allowed me to make my dreams come true. I’m about to start a dream job next week. The latest issue of Sandy was off the proverbial hizzy. I have fun adventures every week. I make a decent amount of money. And I really am surrounded by talented, hardworking people.

So what’s my problem? Is it the chronic ennui of the privileged? Maybe. Yes. No. I’m not really sure.

I’m fucking lonely. And it makes me really, REALLY sad.
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too many frequent flier miles later…

home sweet home.

Eight years ago, I arrived in Portland. If I close my eyes and listen to Either/Or, I can see it all clearly: I stumbled down the jetway with a tiny Dylan slung on my left hip, my messenger bag strapped across my chest, and a car seat in my right hand. I wore what I called my “Angsty Single Mother Costume”: beat up Levi’s, a flannel shirt, and one of the few pairs of sneakers I kept after dumping most of my Chicago belongings at the Salvation Army near my mom’s house in Central PA. Dylan was gnawing on one of my pigtails as strangers cooed about her cuteness. My mouth tasted like Cheez-its. The day had consisted of three thousand miles, two airplanes, and half a dozen diaper changes. I had a headache and a baby and a couple thousand dollars in my checking account. All I could think was “should I reset my watch now, or wait until we’re all settled in M’s car?” Continue reading

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the perils of poor organization.

Because I like to work astrology into as many conversations as possible–under the guise of “I’m mostly joking, I swear”–I frequently found myself teasing a Virgo friend about his sign’s tendency toward “compartmentalizing one’s feelings.” This cued exaggerated eye-rolling and theatrical scoffing from him. I laughed–usually giving myself a case of the hiccups–as I envisioned a hidden room in his house, filled from floor to ceiling with neatly stacked boxes. Since Virgos tend to also be uptight and controlling, a complex labeling system would be involved. Alphabetical by the first letter of the cause of the inconvenient feeling? I liked this idea, because certainly all concerns relating to me would be in the front of the room. Or perhaps the boxes would be color coded by emotion? Red for anger and blue for rejections. Purple for concerns about one’s sexuality. Green for money problems.

Well, I am a Leo. This means that I tend to spend too much money on haircuts and knee high boots. More importantly, I frequently find myself in the midst of an emotional tempest, saying things I regret while inflicting punishment upon myself. I am a busy lion…single parenthood, eyeliner to apply, a career to steer, friends to make, books to write…I don’t have a moment to spare for the inconvenience of feelings.

Inspired by my Virgo friend, I decided to try a new strategy. As soon as a new problem arose, I stuffed into any available box, stacking it on top of the last packaged worry. Fears, disappointments, and minor heartbreaks received the same treatment. Even the most fiery anger–threatening to explode with even the slightest mishandling–was stuffed into the nearest vessel. I held my breath to prevent trembling. Certain situations required a fair amount of huffing and puffing. If the problem was too large–a real monster of an issue–I would sit on the box while I sealed it up. Continue reading

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pants on fire.

Have you ever heard your voice and felt your lips moving, while being completely aware that you have no control over the words slipping out of your mouth?

Okay, I’m sure this kind of thing happens easily during an extended/excessive happy hour. Or after months of keeping a dirty secret spirited away in the bottom drawer of your mind. Interpersonal battle royales. Terrifying instants. Yes, there are plenty of excuses for blurting out something you never meant to say.

My problem is of slightly different nature.

And yes, it is most definitely a problem. Continue reading

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my arms keep my warm on cold nights.

My friend Charles has been drafted to deliver a speech at a Quaker wedding.  As a result, he has been searching for appropriate quotes and inspiration.

He sent me this today:

“There is a part of us which from childhood is absolutely alone. When we fall in love we imagine we have found an ultimate assuagement of loneliness. This is not so. In a true marriage or a near friendship what in fact is found is a companion in loneliness.”

 Damaris Parker-Rhodes, 1977

I am fairly certain this will not be part of his nuptial homily. Continue reading

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the first time.

I’m trying to map out back stories for all of the characters in my book, all part of an effort to create complex, real characters. As part of this–and I’ll admit this might only make sense to me–I’m going to work on a series of “key plot points” from my own life. These will not be–for the most part–presented in chronological order. Nor will they be ordered by level of significance. Episode 1:

From the very beginning, I trusted Ryan implicitly. If he agreed to an idea/scheme, I knew it was a good decision. I saw him as the voice of reason in the face of my frequent foolish impulsiveness. After all, I was known for drifting into boozy unconsciousness on the porches of strangers. I lost important keys and documents. I made spontaneous out-of-state trips with individuals I met just hours earlier. I wasted money and time as if there were an endless supply of both. My judgment was not to be trusted.

And so that night, in the smoky living room of a filthy apartment in Wicker Park, I had the only the highest confidence in our latest decision. I knew that heroin was a destructive force. I had read enough Burroughs and Algren to have a full idea of the potential devastation in our future. But there was the romantic lure of doing something that only the bravest would attempt. I felt unbreakable; even my best attempts at nicotine addiction had failed. I was immune to dependence.

Kneeling over the coffee table, cut up straw in my hand, I felt the nervous excitement of losing my virginity. The deepest inhale of my life blocked out the murmur of inane conversation at the other end of the room.

I settled back in the stained 80s couch, just as that feeling began to wash over me. The sensation I would come to love and need for the rest of the year. Warm and indescribably amazing, flowing from the top of my skull, closing my eyes on its way to my neck, down my spine, wrapping around my legs and ending at my toes. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I wasn’t nervous or scared or worrying about something outside my control. No guilt or sadness. My head no longer ached and my jaw unclenched.

Ryan reached over and took my hand in his. “This is the beginning of something amazing,” I thought. I squeezed his hand as I melted further into the sofa. “Partner in crime, ” I mumbled, referring to Ryan’s favorite way of introducing me.

But then, hours later, out in the blinding mid-morning sun, my head hurt and I felt sick and I was drowning in panic and I knew that something very bad had happened. “This just proves how fucked up we have become,” I thought. We made our way back to Ryan’s apartment, just in time for me to vomit in the overgrown shrubbery outside his building. I spent the rest of the day in his bed, drinking tea and feeling guilty.

Oh…but since we didn’t want to waste what we had just bought the night before–a seemingly large quantity for two beginners–we had to put it to use. We skipped dinner and the majority of the next day. Neither of us showered. The dog was crying to be walked. I forgot about doing my laundry and calling my mom.

Months passed and what became a weekends-only activity moved to “only a few times a week” to “most nights” to “maybe every day, but I’m not 100 percent sure because I’m spending my vacation days doing this.” Somehow I pulled it together to go to work and maintain an acceptable level of hygiene. My need to protect my roommate and closest friends from my new–and inarguably foolish–lifestyle forced me to stay at Ryan’s apartment most nights. When that wasn’t an option, I locked myself in my bedroom.

The girl who made elaborate birthday cakes for everyone’s birthday disappeared. The worker who was always far ahead on her projects was coming in later every morning. She didn’t call her mother or friends any more. She couldn’t remember the last time she had bought records or comics. Reading a book? Forget it.

The only thing we ever fought about was drugs. And as I could feel my own grasp on a regular, productive life slipping away, we argued more and more. Imagine absurd explosive breakups followed by tender–and opiate-hued–reconciliations days later. We were a source of constant entertainment for our friends and acquaintances.

Somewhere along the line, Ryan would admit to me in a whispering slur that he saw me as the logical, reasonable half of our relationship. This blew my mind, especially when I considered the countless times I had deferred to his theoretically sound decision-making skills. I turned around to see a trail of bad choices behind us. Wrong turns had lead us astray; I found us standing in the darkest corner with no exit in sight.

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that time i behaved very poorly.

Most of the time, I’m a pretty good girl. I don’t steal or lie or hit on boys with girlfriends. I never litter and I feed stray animals.
But every once in a while, I do something so heinous, so terrible, that it sort of pays up my bad girl dues for the next year or two.
Probably one of the worst things I’ve done…the act requiring the highest level of duplicity and utter disregard for ethics…happened six years ago, when I cheated on my boyfriend. I mean, this was more than some “I got drunk at a party and I found myself making out with your friend when I said I was walking to the store to get cigarettes” situation. Well, that happened, too…but like, 10 years ago in Chicago. A different boyfriend, different geography, and a very different me.
This act of infidelity lasted a year. It began just days before I moved to Portland to be with my boyfriend (but more importantly, start a new new life). My mom pretended not see the bite marks on my neck (look, this guy was young and enthusiastic, so cut me some slack) when we went to drop off boxes of clothes and art supplies at UPS. In the-not-so-distant-future, when my boyfriend called to inform her that her daughter was sleeping with a 20 year-old boy, she responded, “Oh, I’ve known since day one. He’s a really nice boy!”
Portland was initially an epic disappointment.   I couldn’t find a job.  It rained constantly.  I had no friends.  My boyfriend was constantly stoned.  We never slept together, because he usually just passed out on the living room floor with his dog.
My long distance other-boyfriend was back on the east coast. There were long late night phone calls in the bathtub while my actual boyfriend worked in the dining room. A steady flurry of mixtapes, letters, and random thrift store loot passed back and forth between us. And yes, we emailed, too. I decided to go back east for two months, partially to spend quality time with my mom, but really, to spend every night with my young lad, riding bikes, listening to music, and making out. And hanging out in diners, sharing books, and drinking whiskey in the country. After 8 weeks of solid bliss and relaxation, it was really hard to return to my lonely, semi-unhappy life in Portland. The ticket was booked and there was no escaping my fate.
Back on the west coast, everything escalated to a boiling fervor. Obviously I was inexperienced at deceit, because I took no pains to disguise anything. My boyfriend saw the long phone calls on our shared phone bill. He pulled the letters out of the mailbox after walking his dog each night. He gave me stamps and envelopes. He watched me fastidiously cue  records for yet another mixtape. But he never asked me anything about it. I’m not sure when he began to suspect that something unsavory was happening…
…but somewhere along the line, he decided to catch me. He could have asked me outright. “Are you sleeping with ______?” I am terrible at lying, so I usually don’t bother trying. I would have answered “yes.” Maybe he didn’t know this, or maybe he just really wanted to torture himself…or perhaps he just wanted a challenge? I’m sure he relished the idea of tricking me. One night while I was asleep, he secretly installed a program on my computer that captured all of my passwords. And then he logged into my email. All he really found was a lot of inside jokes and stupid catch-up sessions with my Chicago friends. There was actually nothing
incriminating. Nonetheless, he printed out every bit of correspondence between me and my secret boyfriend. For good measure, he also added some emails to/from my first boyfriend Brad and my Chicago friend Alex (also a good friend of Brad). And then he faxed copies to my parents. Sweet.
My mom was annoyed. “I read half a page and then I realized that you and your friends talk about some stupid stuff.”
My father had no comment.
After utilizing his office’s fax machine, he came home to confront me. The actual conversation happened on the balcony. I knew what was coming. In fact, I had been awaiting this moment for months
“So…are you cheating on me with _____?”
“Yes.”
And then he let loose with paragraphs I can’t remember. He waved the emails in my face.
I was so relieved. Now we could break up. I could move into my own place. Freedom was imminent.
I apologized, but I know that I didn’t mean it. Sure, I was sorry for lying to him. And I was extra sorry about hurting him. But I didn’t regret anything else. 
I took Dylan out for a walk, so I could call my mom.  She answered the phone after many rings.  “So…I guess you ‘re in some trouble?  I have you boyfriend on the other line. ”  She laughed.  
“Are you mad at me?”  I asked this nervously.
She laughed even harder.  “Of course not.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Oh, yes…I forget to mention this:  my mother was a terrible wife when I was a child.  Lots of adultery.   Since I was less a daughter, and more a friend, she frequently took me along to her fellows’ houses.  This usually didn’t bother me, because generally she got involved with guys who had cable.  
For some reason, my boyfriend and I did not break up.  We struggled for six more months…maybe slightly longer.  During this time, I had to give up any sense of privacy (he even searched my bag regularly).  And any scrap of dignity was sacrificed, too.  He especially enjoyed bringing up my cheating in front of his friends at parties and dinners.   “It’s amazing to me that a single mother, with a dead junkie boyfriend no less, thinks that it’s okay for her to go around sleeping with teenagers behind my back.”    And so on.  It reached a point where even his friends thought he was being sadistic.
 
Why did I tolerate this?  It certainly wasn’t a fear of being alone.  I know that’s the common reason people stay together.  I definitely felt guilty about hurting him, even if he was a pretty awful boyfriend.  Somehow I wanted to prove that I wasn’t so bad.  
Finally I just couldn’t take it any more.  I could say that the last straw was when he sent emails from my account to every male in my address book.  Or when he wouldn’t stop calling my mom to talk about what a slut I might be.  But really…it came down to this:  I realized that I would never ever be happy again if I stayed in that relationship.  And I knew my unhappiness would trickle down to Dylan.     This was not an option.
Dylan and I moved to SE Portland…and that marked the beginning of the Portland life I came to love (and still do).