Monday, December 23, 2013

*Job Security (Time for Cheer)

I’d never tell the other kids in the neighborhood of our favorite game—not because I was ashamed of it, but because it was sacred. Besides, if I did tell them of it, I’d undoubtedly be interrogated, then told our little game was illogical and stupid. I, for once, didn’t care how logical or practical or intelligent this was. It was love, and the best we knew how.
She’d bought all of the Alvin and the Chipmunks albums and played them while we cleaned the house. We were always cleaning the house. I never had the heart to tell her their shrieking voices made me feel like my eardrums were shattering and brain imploding. We’d sing along to their Christmas album, imitating their shrieks the best we could, “Christmas, Christmas time is here. Time for toys and time for cheer . . .”
She had a very special way of getting us to willingly engage in child labor. If it weren’t sing-alongs with the three rodent evangelists of consumerism, she would set the alarm on the microwave and say, “Ok, kids! Whoever finishes cleaning their special area of the house by the time the alarm sounds wins!” She’d make a trumpeting sound as if she were initiating a horse race, then exclaim, “And they’re off!” We would run around like mad, giggling, one with window cleaner and paper towels, one with wood polish and a dust rag, Mum with the vacuum, and we’d race to the finish.

Even though we'd caught onto her tricks, we never did complain. We wouldn’t actually win anything in particular other than a nice clean house for Mum’s friends to party in. It was job security; we took what we could get. 

Excerpt from chapter fourteen | name of the game | Everything's Hunky Dory: A Memoir

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Positive Thinking vs. Realism

(The following is based on a Facebook conversation regarding author Barbara Ehrenreich's lecture exploring the darker side of positive thinking and the RSA Animate video that supports it, posted below.)

     What I'm finally "getting" in my thirty eighth year on this planet is to see things, people, and situations exactly as they are. Nothing more, nothing less. No more adding my own made up stories (such as looking at a homeless person and creating in my mind a complete history causing an emotional reaction rather than simply connecting with that human being as an equal, or meeting a person who has a different political stance than me and making up in my mind that I "know" everything about them). 

     Looking to a person's actions rather than words is not what we are taught as students in the current education system. The teacher is always right. . . not (as shown by this brilliant and hilarious display of detention slips). 

     A favorite quote by Jiddu Krishnamurti is "Do you know that even when you look at a tree and say, 'That is an oak tree', or 'that is a banyan tree', the naming of the tree, which is botanical knowledge, has so conditioned your mind that the word comes between you and actually seeing the tree? To come in contact with the tree you have to put your hand on it and the word will not help you to touch it." Imagine what life would be like if each and every one of us decided to approach others and situations as Krishnamurti discusses approaching the oak or banyan tree. 

     My goal is to allow people to show me who they are, not tell. Like a book. If you pick up a book to read and have already made up your mind what it will be about, you'll always be disappointed. If you allow it to show you its story, you may or may not be disappointed, but at least you gave it the opportunity. I can admit much of my sadness and disappointment in life has had to do with creating a fantasy of who or what a person should be (starting with parental figures, teachers, and friends). "Positive Thinking" can get in the way of allowing people and situations to show their true colors. Once their bright and vibrant or dark and dreary colors are shown, you then have a choice. And you cannot be lazy when looking for the truth; it is a bit of work. But once you are aware of what is being shown, you can then, and only then, ask your self, "Do I care to pick up this book or will I choose to leave it on the shelf for someone else?"

Monday, October 21, 2013

Childlike Presence

Image courtesy of Sweet Crisis |
The wind passing through the eucalyptus trees temporarily distracted my senses from today's harsh reality and took my mind back to a time where I found joy in closely observing minuscule insects go about their daily business of survival. They were steadfast and perseverant, my holy teachers. I sat upon decomposed granite, feeling tiny pebbles embed into the skin of my bare legs, leaving artistic indentations of which I'd later count and discover patterns. There was no hurry, nor any need to stand and present myself in any way that simply wasn't. I'd imagine the fallen acorn caps to be tiny hats for fairies, or castles for ants, or I'd organize them into miniature villages. 

These rare and most cherished childhood memories didn't consist of loud screams in bounce-houses, nor birthday parties with slightly creepy hired entertainment, but of quiet moments alone in the backyard of my grandmother's house in Santa Barbara, with the sun warmly caressing my face ever so gently and the wind moving through the trees making everything come alive, all at once. 

I wonder, are introverts born or made?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Money Monster (When I Grow Up . . . )

At nearly forty years of age, I’m, once again, sitting on my sofa questioning what I want to be when I “grow up”.

Right now I’m dissatisfied with my life. I’m thirty-eight years old, and admit I haven’t a dime in savings that is my own. No. I spent my savings on our wedding, on moving from the East Coast back to the West Coast, on supplementing the low paying job I accepted once I returned to California in order to escape working in the cult otherwise known as the film industry (of which I am convinced gave me PTSD with it’s perpetual long hours, disregard for human life, and egos much too large to ever please).

“We” have savings. But not really. It’s his. I don’t have the option to say, “I’m going to take $300 out of savings and stay at the Four-Seasons in Santa Barbara for a treat tonight,” or “I’m going to take $10 out of savings to send a used book to my half-sister as a gift,” or even, “Enough with the worry lines, I’m getting Botox.” We’re a team. And whatever consequences I reap, we both must endure (frozen face included). It’s frustrating. Yes, I sound like a child throwing a tantrum. But please, hear me out (if you have the heart and patience for first world problems). I feel I’ve worked hard for many years and have nothing to show for it, other than the few deep horizontal lines on my forehead and the low whispers of desperation I hear in my mind when I have an inspirational thought I must instantly reject due to my current financial situation.

I am embarrassed to say (but what the hell, I’ll say it) that when I was in my early twenties, I was convinced I’d be financially successful by my current age. I’d worked hard to become a stand-up comic–surely I’d reach Ellen DeGeneres’ level of success by thirty-five—a house in Ojai and in Beverly Hills, ya, I could dig that. Surely I’d have my own television show or at least be good enough to participate in political discussions with Bill Maher. Though I wasn’t necessarily loving the idea of being known by all and having my sacred privacy ripped out from under me as others I’d known had experienced, I knew it would be a small price to pay in order to be assured I could go home to my humble yet cozy beach house where my loyal dogs and full library would be equally happy to see me. My white down comforter and candles would be calling my name by midnight, after an extra long soak in the bubble bath where I’d read a chapter of an intriguing story. All bills paid and vacation to a quaint cabin in the middle of Canada booked. I’d be safe and secure, without a worry, especially the kind surrounding the one force that I’d feared since I was a child—the almighty dollar.

Money was a monster, or so I was taught. It was frightening and all-powerful, but we couldn’t run from it because as much as we feared and hated it, we desperately needed and depended on it. And because of that dire need, we all made an unspoken agreement to be lowly slaves to it. And now, as an adult, I thought I’d long escaped its sharp talons, yet I find as I sit in my full anxiety today with the brainwashed mind of a domestic abuse victim, I am still money’s slave.

I’m not struggling to pay the bills as Mum did when I was growing up. She’d say, “Which bill should we pay this month? No lights or no heat?” Somehow a twelve pack of beer was never a concern, though. She’d say, “We don’t have money to send you to college, so drop it.” “We don’t have money to get your senior photos taken. I don’t care if it’s only $5.00.” “We don’t have $10 for that field trip, so no, you’re not goin’. End of story.”

No. Not any more. Thanks to the combined incomes of my hardworking hubby and I, the bills here are paid. I don’t have to fret returning home after a long day to find a yellow shut-off notice from the electric company posted on my front door. There’s never a time I turn on the shower shocked to find only freezing cold water. No government cheese and food stamps for us. Nope. My current complaint is about the freedom I’ve sought since I was a little girl—the freedom to look beyond paying bills and having necessities, and the ability to look forward to vacations, friendly visits, and comforting meals out. Having “the monster” makes the quiet times about the excitement of planning for fun times rather than struggling and worrying over bleak ones.

I was born into this slavery—I didn’t choose it. And though in many ways I’ve come up out of the mud and mire by learning how to manage my own finances and paying off all debt, like many of those who grew up during the great depression still can’t be convinced toilet paper is strictly a single-use item, I can’t seem to shake the hold it has over me.

I love to write. When I did stand up comedy, my favorite part of the process was writing because I’d get lost in it and everything I observed in life—whether it be the disgusting pink hue of an old woman’s strangely inappropriate attire, or the obviously confused fake Southern drawl of the cafĂ© barista, I had a purpose, and that purpose was to write down anything and everything I saw. It may or may not have become something grand, but writing it down gave me a purpose, a motivation for leaving the house, for being out in public and interacting with others (not my natural forte at all, by the way—I take introversion to an extreme).  Writing makes me feel high—really high. A really good, happy high. How quickly I forget it is the only thing to bring me up a level higher than the usual melancholic existence I’ve reluctantly held claim to since my early youth. And yet, I find I’ll go a week or more without doing it and in my seemingly hopeless stupor I’ll ignorantly ask myself once again, “What am I doing with my life?” I’ll say, “I’m not happy. I feel like my skin is crawling. I’m anxious.” I assume those who have taken a liking to working out regularly and eating well feel this way after taking a week or two (or year) off. It feels horrible. I feel trapped and stupid for not remembering to take my daily dose of writing seriously. I’ve also, in my creeping, crawling skin, been known to say something along the lines of, “I can’t accept a life that is all about working at a (dead end) job, eating, sleeping, and going back to work, then dying! There has to be more to life for people than this!”  

Not that there is anything wrong with that kind of life. Some people strive for that, and I admire them for it. Whatever floats your boat, I say.

And just before I curl up into the fetal position ready to have that spectacular pity party (aren’t you jealous?), somehow truth whispers in my ear and reminds me of the passion that lies beneath the crawling skin, beneath the anxious heart, and beneath the never-been-botoxed worry filled forehead. I pick up my computer. Or, by golly, a pen and a notebook. And it happens. Magic.

What does writing have to do with money?  Depending on whom you ask, everything and nothing. Stephen King wrote in (the most amazing, must read memoir on the craft) “On Writing”: “I’ve written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side–I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”

Time and time again I’ve been told, advised, etc. that your passion should never be about the money, but about the “buzz” and the good it brings to yourself and perhaps others in the process. And often I put my writing aside because “the monster” will poke his head out of the muck and let me know how important it is that I have him in my life. And I work hard, and come home tired, and forget to write. And feel like (excuse my honesty) shit. I forget I am working so I can write.
. . . .

 Well, my skin isn’t crawling. I feel pretty good actually. I just wrote 1,480 words in less than an hour. And I didn’t get any poorer doing it. Electricity is still on. Water is still hot. Down comforter still white. I can finish the laundry. Put together a fantastic meal. Perhaps no planning for that quiet cabin vacation among the wild moose of Canada, but I can certainly sit back down at my computer and get high . . . any time I want (and take brief breaks by viewing online photos of cabins in Canada and their accompanying neighborly moose).

Sunday, October 6, 2013

What Causes This Type of Cancer?

Better days. 1978.
(Written February 17th, 2012, edited October 6, 2013) I can't help becoming selfishly annoyed when I read posts on social networking sites by well meaning friends in regard to my relationship with my recently deceased mum.  “Your mom was such a sweet woman.” “Her love for you really showed.” “You were so close.” Ugh. Do these people remember at all the many nights I cried because I couldn’t give my mum a call to say “hello” without her screaming at me, saying, “What do you want?!” or “Goddamnit, why do you always call me when I’m eating?! Can’t you call me at a better time?!”? I couldn’t have a conversation with her for more than ten minutes, as she’d turn something I said into a “judgment” coming from me, though judging was never my intention. She’d scream, not allow me to speak, then hang up, where I wouldn’t have the opportunity to right my supposed wrong, explain my intentions, nor apologize. I was always an annoyance to her, at least 80% of the time. An inconvenience. She had me at the very young age of twenty-one – I presume that could be quite inconvenient when you want to be a famous singer, or painter, or model, or . . .

I was always the “good girl” in my eyes. No drinking, no smoking, no drugs. Read, read, read. Save money, pay bills on time, have no outstanding debt. Eat healthy. I don’t know who I was trying to prove myself to as Mum would have much rather had me as a drinking buddy that could bitch about not having money, not being able to afford the bills, how my stomach hurt all the time, then grab a burger and fries at McDonald’s—to wallow in the mud together as unfortunate swine.  

In this very moment, I am missing her so much that I half wish I had spent some time with her in the manner, as she wished. However, I know in my heart and mind that these activities are what ultimately took her life.

As she was wheeled in to surgery on December 7th, 2011, my step-father Bill, my grandparents, younger sister Kelli, my husband Shyam and I walked her to her room. The nurses let us in to hug her and wish her the best of luck. We were told she’d be going in to have a hysterectomy as she had ovarian cancer – though they wouldn’t know until they went in at what stage her cancer was. As we were walking down the hall leaving her behind, trusting they would treat her well, she called out for my husband Shyam. She wanted to give him a hug. She always took a strong liking to him and it brought tears to my eyes that she had made that effort.

“She should be done in about four hours, so sit tight.”

Twenty minutes after she went under, Dr. Rodriguez entered the waiting room where we were anxiously awaiting the “good” news. Kelli had left for work, Shyam had left to run some errands, so it was just Bill, my grandfather, and I.

“We’ve discovered it is not ovarian cancer that Donn has, in fact her ovaries are fine. We’ve discovered stomach cancer. There is a large tumor in her abdomen and it has metastasized to other organs in her body, including her intestines. This does not look good."

After everyone began to hug, sob, and curse the heavens, I somehow gathered the brain power to ask, “What causes this type of cancer? Is it hereditary?”

“Well, there are mainly two causes. Either you’re of Asian descent, which your mom is not, as far as we know, or heavy drinking and smoking.”

All this time, I’d been the bad guy when asking my mom to please stop drinking and smoking. She hated me for that. Hated me. She wouldn’t talk to me for months on end because I even mentioned the word “drinking” over the phone. I distinctly recall standing in front of her when I was 12 years old after catching her snorting a powdery white substance, saying to her "If you don't stop, it will kill you one day." I was right, and now I was livid.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

*Disappointment, Please.

“We’ll be OK Mum, you can go, we’ll all take care of each other,” my sister and I sobbed. We repeated this nonsense to her over and over and over. Could she sense we were lying? In death, surely one gets closer to the spirit world and can finally see through bullshit lies being told, I thought. I didn’t agree with our promises at all, especially knowing the state of cold separation our family had retained for years apart from the past few months when we were forced to come together and care. My dream of being a close, caring family had finally come true, but under these set of circumstances I’d gladly take the disappointment I had come to know so well. I hoped we would take care of each other, that the family environment we’d built the past few months would remain—that I could continue hosting family nights with dinner and board games—but it wouldn’t be the same without her infectious laugh, her charismatic draw, and her special set of dysfunctions she unapologetically brought to the table.

Excerpt from chapter one | wild horses | Everything’s Hunky Dory: A Memoir

Sunday, September 8, 2013

*The Quiet | Part II

Art (love it!) found here:
I’d always hated dresses. One simply can not conduct explorations of insects nor properly study sand particles when wearing a dress and white stockings, unless one finds the occasional beating and screaming at from one’s very southern grandmother desirable. Stockings felt scratchy, like a thousand itching flea bites. Make that a million. They made me constantly aware of where my awkward, skinny legs were at any given time, made me constantly worry about whether or not my underpants were showing, and made me feel extra sensitive and irritated if the wind were blowing. And those warm, Southern California Santa Ana winds were the worst, as I’d simultaneously have to hold my dress down at my knees and pull my static electric hair down toward my face in an attempt to keep others from noticing me and laughing. I’d imagine creating contraptions to hold the dress down—a giant rubber band or possibly custom-made Bungee Cords that would connect the bottom of the dress to my shoes.
Oh, those horrid shoes. I dreaded the toe-pinching black patent leather shoes that were merely good for slipping and sliding along the blacktop and falling on one’s face to the grand amusement of those lucky enough to be donning more appropriate attire, such as sneakers or the slightly acceptable Buster Browns. Nana would shine them up, straighten my dress at the shoulders, and exclaim, “Isn’t that adorable?!” I had no idea as to what “that” she was referring to. I surely had no desire to be considered “adorable” nor a “that.” Perhaps gluing rubber erasers to the bottom of the shoes would solve the issue, making me taller in the process.
Looking back, I see I was a pretty intelligent kid with innovative ideas (at least for that age), but the concept of reading, writing, and arithmetic on these particular types of days was far from the reaches of my ability, as unbeknownst to me and surrounding adults, the sensory receptors in my brain were malfunctioning. I’d find out many years later my amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response, was defectively over-active. Selective mutism turned out to be the more appropriate term for why I was never able to get out the words “I want a carrot” to the barking Doberman across the schoolyard when Mr. Hoyt, so well intentioned, heroically attempted to cure me of what he saw as an extreme case of the quiet.

Excerpt from chapter five | Dear Mr. Fantasy | Everything’s Hunky Dory: A Memoir

Saturday, September 7, 2013

*The Quiet | Part I

“Just say it, as loud as you can to that big dog over there. Go on, say it! ‘I want a carrot! I want a carrot!’”
There I sat, stiffly and nervously upon an orange plastic chair that had been placed on a table top in the front of my first grade classroom. My sweaty little hands were tightly gripping both sides of the chair bottom as if the next step were spontaneous hydraulic ejection. Regardless of having no parachute in my possession, I had climbed up onto it at the request, or rather, demand, of my teacher, Mr. Hoyt. He said I was too shy.
 Tiny bursts of hushed laughter popped up like Whac-A-Mole about the classroom. The tiny hushed bursts might as well have been nuclear explosions. Devastating.
My throat ached. It felt as if it were closing, stuffed with a big ball of uncooked dough that was rising by the second. The buzzing of the fluorescent lights was extra loud, as all of the students stared at me in attempted silence, waiting to hear my since hidden monotone voice for the first time.
Nana had made me wear a dress that day—a navy blue dress, with white lacing along the bottom and tiny navy anchor design across the waist. Those anchors were the only things mildly acceptable about this horrid nautical themed torture arrangement. “Oh, you look darling,” she’d say, with that strange, southern accent and seemingly smashed vocal cord sound that only really tiny people seem to share.
At least ship anchors had a logical purpose that I could comprehend, so I’d stare at them, giving my mind an imagination workout and my eyes a perfect excuse to avoid uncomfortable contact with others. 

Excerpt from chapter five | Dear Mr. Fantasy | Everything’s Hunky Dory: A Memoir

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mr. Braveman | A True Story

The Lovely Chestnut Hill at Holiday Time
Mr. Braveman.

He was our next door neighbor in the charming Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia in 2009-2010.

I moved to Philadelphia to work on M. Night Shyamalan’s film, The Last Airbender. Prior to arriving, I researched the neighborhoods online, seeking a quiet, beautiful, and perhaps historic place away from the city to call home. Chestnut Hill proved to be the perfect spot; a quaint village of parks, shops, and cozy cafes.  

My rental home was directly across the street from the stunning Pastorius Park where neighborhood dogs would convene and make plans to take over the world. I watched the seasons change there, for the first time. I grew up in California and had never watched the snow melt with daffodils peaking up from under it. I’d never experienced a real thunderstorm. I’d never shoveled snow. It was exciting. And I miss it now. So in my nostalgia tonight, I pulled up my old address on Google. Who lives there now? Does it look the same? Is the house for sale? How’s Mr. Braveman?

Mr. Braveman had cats. A republican, he had a large American flag displayed in his front porch window and a McCain sticker on his front door (let’s just say, I didn’t vote for McCain). He was a lawyer. He smoked sometimes, and when it was cold out, he’d smoke in his basement and the smell would seep in through my vents. I’ve always hated smoke. It was annoying, but I never said anything about it. He loved to garden. His backyard was something to envy, attracting birds of all sorts. He had his very specific routines, and was completely predictable. In fact, whenever I hear the song “Well Respected Man” by The Kinks, I giggle, as certain words in the lyrics always make me think of him.

Cause he gets up in the morning,
And he goes to work at nine,
And he comes back home at five-thirty,
Gets the same train every time.
Cause his world is built round punctuality,
It never fails.

And he's oh, so good,
And he's oh, so fine,
And he's oh, so healthy,
In his body and his mind.
He's a well respected man about town,
Doing the best things so conservatively. 

[ . . . ]

And he likes his own backyard,
And he likes his fags the best,
Cause he's better than the rest . . .

I was afraid of Mr. Braveman, at first. I had made up a story in my mind that he surely found me to be a commie or a dirty hippie as I’d play Ravi Shankar through the house and attempted to learn to play the sitar. And I’d better not mess up or he’d complain. “Keep it down!” I’d tell myself. I’d scold the dogs if they made even a tiny peep.

He never once complained.

And then, somehow, little by little, we began talking. About cats. About dogs. My dogs loved him. He loved them back. He loved that we rescued them. We spoke of gardening and how he purchased the house in 1975 for only $15,000. How he’d hiked the Appalachian trail. How he’d served our country while in the Marines. We spoke of his travels to exotic destinations. He had some amazing stories to tell. 

He took the train to work and would walk to the station both ways, every single weekday. We had a horrible winter (at least, that’s what all the east coasters were calling it. I called it ‘fun’), so the tall steps to our homes would have a few feet of snow on them at times. When we could, we’d shovel Mr. Braveman’s steps for him so he wouldn’t have to do it when he returned home from work. He became a wonderful friend.

Just before we headed back to California, Mr. Braveman had just finished a highly anticipated addition to his home. One wall was exposed brick and he asked my boyfriend (now husband) and I to come over and “autograph” it. It was a beautiful wall signed by others with loving and humorous notes. We felt honored that he’d include us in this piece of history. He’d become such a sweetheart, such a gift in our lives there. I found it hard to leave him. I cried. I hoped the new renters would befriend him as we had. 

We missed the place so much, we returned in November of 2010 to take a stroll around the park, poke about the neighborhood, and pop in to say hello to Mr. Braveman. There he was, on his front stoop, doing a bit of gardening, as usual. We didn’t have his phone number, just showed up. And we asked if we could take a photo with him. He agreed to it, thankfully. 
Nov. 7, 2010 - Future hubby and I with our dear friend and neighbor, Mr. Braveman.

So, in my sentimental Google search this evening, I pulled up the street view of our place. Yep, looks the same. Same blue door. Oh, how I loved eating spaghetti out on the porch during thunderstorms. Wow, I can’t believe that plant survived. Then I panned over to Mr. Braveman’s house. Hmmm. No flag. Where’s the McCain sticker? That’s odd. I then put his address in a Google search. Zillow. For Sale. What? Mr. Braveman would never sell that house! He’s been there since the year I was born . . . 

Obituaries. Chestnut Hill Local.

David Braveman, lawyer
David Braveman, 72, a lawyer who specialized in trusts and estates, died Jan. 5 [2011] at his home in Chestnut Hill.
Mr. Braveman had focused recently on health care litigation in his work with the law firm of Pepper Hamilton.
Raised in Corning, N.Y., he was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School.
He had served in the Marine Corps for three years.
He was an avid gardener, hiker and camper and had been an active member of the Friends of Pastorius Park.

I’m crushed. Was he alone? Was he ill? 

And at the same time, so happy to have known this incredibly kind man. 

I found another article, on, an interview with his son, William, which revealed details about Mr. Braveman I never knew.

He was a devoted Quaker; he was attracted by its philosophy of peace. He maintained a longtime correspondence with jurist and philosopher Richard Posner since their days at Harvard Law School. They spoke mainly of their love for cats. He started college at the young age of sixteen. He was a total smarty pants. 

Imagine if I’d allowed the story I’d made up in my mind to win? An entire rich piece of life would have never existed. We are often too quick to believe our own stories, even though they prove time and time again to only get us into trouble. Our own stories are what keep us from loving others, and especially loving ourselves.

I’m grateful, so grateful, to have had the wonderful Mr. Braveman as a friend. I’m grateful, so grateful, I didn’t let the story win. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Intelligent Worldy Humor

Mensa (English): The largest and oldest high IQ society in the world. 

Mensa (Spanish): Stupid.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

*A Brow, Unfurrowed

[That night . . . ] Mum’s face had drastically begun to change. This woman who started out a gorgeous model (often mistaken for actress Farrah Fawcett), a David Bowie impersonator, then famed paranormal investigator, lived her last years with a face hardened by the guilt she held within and affected by the substances she used to try and forget it. She’d gone full circle.

“Look. Her face has no wrinkles at all, it’s totally smooth,” my younger sister Kelli said. I agreed, although I didn’t particularly want to as I was reminded of the only detail Mum had revealed to me of my grandmother’s death the day she had passed many years before. I hadn’t seen that brow un-furrowed since I was five.

We decided to tell her these details in case she could hear us. We spoke aloud to her the entire night. Sometimes I’d look up above me so that if her soul was hovering over us, as I’d heard from countless accounts of near death experiences, she could see my face and could know I loved her and that I really was smart and paid attention to what folks said about the afterlife (a last-ditch effort at impressing the unimpressionable).
“See Mum, see. I do love you.”

Excerpt from chapter one | wild horses |Everything’s Hunky Dory: A Memoir

Saturday, July 20, 2013

*Are You There "God"? It's Me, "Weirdo".

I had met the famed “God” once, in a roundabout sort of way, when I was about six years old. Behind our apartment complex on Juniper Street, and about fifty yards from the enclosure in which all the children in the neighborhood would study a colorful assortment of porno magazines, was a quiet medical building, which contained within it a circular courtyard with a tree in the center and wooden benches that circled the tree. It was a hidden sanctuary, one of the first to be called my secret place. Vibrant flowers surrounded the lonely, prosaic, brown and white building and I had picked the most beautiful one—its colors resembled a deep amber sunset. I set my gift on the bench and spoke to Him. 

“God, if you’we weally weal, this flowo is fo you. I pwomise I won’t tell anyone I saw you if you take this flowo fwom me. Wheweva you awe, just please appeaw. I just want to see what you look like because I need to see you in my head when I pway and wight now it’s weally hawd. I can’t see you and I don’t believe the dwawings of you; I think people awe just guessing what you look like but I weally need to know. Sometimes I see you as a big face with a white beawd and utho times you look like Jesus with long bwown haiw and it’s just too confusing. Please, please, please come and sit with me. Please.”

I waited and waited. Looked around, kicked leaves, broke up a couple of dirt clots with my hands, sat on the bench and swung my legs. 

Darn it. No God. 

Mum had a way of getting us kids in the house, and quick, with a construction worker’s type whistle, two fingers in her mouth and everyone in the neighborhood knew it was dinner time in Apartment 10. I heard the familiar call and was disappointed that despite my plea and generous gift, God never showed. 

“OK, I know you’we busy, God. I undostand. I’m gonna go eat dinno and I’ll come back and see if you’we hewe. If the flowo is gone, I’ll know you took it, but I’d weally watho see you. I pwomise I’ll nevo tell anyone, even my mum, unless, of couwse you want me to. I pwomise. I just weally need to see you. Please, please be hewe when I get back.” 

After the usual wholesome Hamburger Helper, iceberg lettuce salad, and slice of American cheese cut into four pieces and placed on the plate ever so artistically, I returned to the barren bench only to find that the beautiful flower was still there, only now limp, lifeless, and wilted. I was at first saddened by God’s apparent neglect, then was faced with the thought that I might have uncovered a paramount truth: God was, in fact, only a myth. But slightly hesitant to give up all hope entirely, I stared at it for several minutes, then suddenly recalled a conversation I had recently with Frank about what happens to people when they die. Then it came to me: God dutifully took the soul from the flower and left the body. 


I gasped, and somewhat satisfied with God’s cryptic, brilliant response, I looked up into the sky, smiled at Him, then buried the limp remains under a bit of loose dirt in a nearby flowerbed, skipping home before dark.

Excerpt from chapter twenty-one | shambala | Everything's Hunky Dory: A Memoir

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Glass Walls & Recurring Nightmares

Photo found at
Whilst innocently scrolling my Facebook newsfeed today, I came across a cute video of a tiny Pomeranian puppy howling in response to hearing a wolf. I'd seen it before but who could resist? I clicked on the link, and straight away an advertisement played featuring none other than Sir Paul McCartney. Normally, I'd hit "skip" the moment the option was available, but since a beloved Beatle was involved, I stayed glued. 

Sir Paul went on to recite one of his most famous quotes, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian." I was not appalled, as some might perhaps be, because I, in fact, ceased eating meat of all kinds in 2007. I stopped, not only for the health and well-being of the animals, but also for my own.

Dark, pixelated, undercover footage clips of slaughterhouses began to play. I'd seen some of this abhorrent behind-the-scenes footage before, so I just assumed hang on until the subject of this advertisement became clear. "Glass Walls" briefly appears on the screen. Oh, looks like this might be a documentary. I love documentaries. 

I'm intrigued.

He then began talking about chickens and turkeys. Mind you, I'd just come in from cleaning up after and feeding my own pet hens, Lucy and Ethel. Lucy and Ethel have incredible personalities, following me around like puppies, playing with my feet, and getting so excited when I give them special treats they make little happy sounds (I have no other words to describe the sounds other than 'happy'). They bring me joy. As I'm thinking about how much I love my little feathered girls, I see a man in a sweatshirt saying, "They're hard to kill sometimes" and he stomps on a turkey's head twice with his boot, then, when he see's it's still alive, violently grabs its head and begins to twist it around until it eventually snaps. I closed the tab immediately and began to sob for at least twenty minutes. 

At least for the turkey it was over.

My three dogs instantly surrounded me, my Great Dane Audrey lay her head in my lap and I held her head in my arms, tears dripping down onto her long neck. She was also once severely abused, but lived, and I rescued her. She's since rescued me, countless times.

Absolute devastation. It was just too, too much. 

And no, no. I'm not that girl that goes around sobbing when the sun comes up, when the moon is full, when my dog eats chicken poop. Again. (Well, maybe that last bit.) Hey Paul, I love you dearly (mean it!), but this image was frankly too much for me to handle physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  

And just a few hours earlier, also whilst innocently scrolling my Facebook Newsfeed, a graphic image appeared showing a German Shepherd Dog that had been tied to a motorcycle and dragged. Its bones were exposed. This was also far too much. I didn't ask for it, nor did I click on it—it was just there, at the top of my Newsfeed. That, and Sir Paul's message, though incredibly truthful and real, took me straight into sensitive meltdown mode, into the tunnel of darkness. 

Visual Thinking: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Visual thinking certainly isn't isolated to those on the autism spectrum, but I do attribute mine to my own AS diagnosis. Thinking in pictures can come in quite handy as I'm able to build and draw and visualize things clearly, as a gallery in my mind. I'm able to see the most minute of details, and see color quite vividly. How it works for me is this: in a conversation, you may reference a giraffe; I instantly see every giraffe I've ever encountered, similar to google images, until I 'land' on the one that matches the discussion (which is where my eyes are going when not briefly meeting yours). Every experience, photo, video, and film I've ever seen has been memorized and saved, forever, in my ever-loving cerebral hard drive. Forever. Startling images like that of the dog being dragged by the motorcycle or the turkey being brutally murdered become perseverant thought movies of sorts, playing on a loop. They never go away. It takes time and hard work to simply put them away in a folder on my brain's desktop. 

It can take weeks, or even months (honestly, in some cases, years) of filling my hard drive with new things by reading new books, seeing new images, having new experiences, just to have them put away for the moment . . . at least until another of these frightening, gut wrenching images comes along. Then the folder is once again opened and there they are, all on exhibit. Unfortunately, these "protected" files can never be deleted. If only Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were a viable scenario . . .

Now, please don't get me wrong. I'm not one to hide from the truth. I want the truth out there. I'm, actually, rather obsessed with the truth. I passionately want people to know what goes on behind closed doors, in the dark, hidden behind pretty colors, cartoons, and false advertisements. Knowing creates freedom. Hello—I just confessed to sobbing for nearly twenty minutes over a video image. That's why I wrote my memoir. I don't hide the sexual abuse or the drug abuse or the humiliating personal moments. However, I realized today that sometimes the truth can be too much—for me. 

Am I just too sensitive?

As much as I'd like to be able to 'ban' those types of images and videos, Sir Paul is 100% right. He's right to expose the truth. We need to see it. He's narrated a documentary, titled Glass Walls (warning: this link takes you to the full 13 minute video), and I'm glad he did. We should know what we're voting for with our dollars, what we are putting in our bodies, what we are supporting by our actions or inaction. I applaud his efforts.

Now what?

I think, personally, I should stay away from Facebook for a bit. Maybe I'll just remove serial posters of the sort from my feed altogether. I'm curious to hear what others think about these types of images. Yay or nay? Perhaps there are solutions, suggestions, or supportive camaraderie out in the world for sensitive truth lovers, such as myself (and you?).