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