Saturday, December 20, 2008

Let Me Be Your Sushi Roll


I don't normally do restaurant reviews, but I've decided to make an exception if the experience is multiply orgasmic. I'm telling you, by the end of the meal, I was fantasizing about taking off all of my clothes and rolling around on the sushi bar for the men in white hats.

Mon Jin Lau.

It is my favorite restaurant, hands down. Tongue out. Stomach distended. And don't pronounce it Mon Jin Lau. Say it as if it were French: " Mo' Schzinn Lao." No, that isn't the way it's pronounced. But I love the restaurant almost as much as I love the French.

Mon Jin Lau is a swanky Pan-Asian restaurant and bar. It's pretty, it's sleek, it's cosmopolitan. It has its share of normal folks at tables, and the club freaks at the bar. Yes, lots of plastic surgery, slicked back hair and cologne lingering there, but get a table. You're going to need a lot of room.

Pinot Grigio to start. I love Pinot Grigio, but particularly with Asian food. Though I had an amazing cold saki (Pearl?) at the Bellagio when I was in Vegas. So good it made me want to bite something.

Enter: Scallion Pancakes.

Scallion Pancakes! They are like Chinese potato latkes. Oy! They are so good they make me verklempt-san. Moist potato pancakes with scallions, golden crispy on the outside, comfort food on the inside. Then: The sauce. Oh, it's a minxy sauce. It's soy with scallions in it, and if it were socially acceptable, I would throw that ramekin down my gullet like a red headed slut.

Yes, that good.

I smear the soy scallion mix over the scallion potato and I try not to grab it in my hands and shove it in my face. I try not to linger too long on the fantasy of grabbing the potato pancake in my fists and rubbing it all over my face, leaving a greasy, soy-covered film all over my cheekbones, nose, chin. Forehead even.

Yes, they are forehead good.

Commence ordering vast amounts of sushi.

What the hell is not to like about sushi? Have a mild case of OCD? This is your food, people! It's small, it's compact, it's neat. Need something to do with your hands when you're not shoving a cigarette or tropical orange Trident into your mouth by the packageful?

Chopsticks!

Oh, Chopstick joy! Sticky sticky chop chop! I've been a master of wielding the chopsticks since I was eight years old and my mother went on a tour of Asia. She brought me a vast chopstick collection: red lacquer chopsticks from China, sterling silver chopsticks from Korea, long white chopsticks from Japan, green chopsticks hand-painted with flowers from Hong Kong.

I did nothing but eat with chopsticks for the next three months.

I refused to do anything sans chopsticks. They became extensions of my already chopstick-like fingers. I'd move the Scrabble pieces with my chopsticks, I'd scratch my back with the chopsticks, I'd feed the dog kibble with my chopsticks. I'd jam the chopsticks in my dirty tomboy hair.

I can conduct orchestras, knit, type, tweeze, change diapers and play the violin with chopsticks. Those instruments were made for the OCD set. So with sushi, you've got the small, compact food, you've got the fancy sticks to preoccupy neurotic fingers, you've got the itsy-bitsy soy sauce dish.

I have dozens of those little dishes in my kitchen cabinets. I went to Japan and bought dozens of little dishes. Little sauce dishes. Tiny little service trays. I am obsessed with tiny, orderly things. I love the routine of pouring the soy sauce in the lilliputian dish. I like to hold my finger over one end of the soy sauce bottle, I like to tilt it tantalizingly over the dish rectangular, release my finger, and watch it pour, tiny stream, into a wee green dish.

Oh joy. Oh bliss.

Now enter the:

WASABI!

Say it fast.

WASABI!

Say it fast and do a Bruce Lee kung-fu move. Wasabi! Did you feel the joy in your heart? Yes, I suspected as much.

I like to scoop a big slab of wasabi onto my chopstick, and then drop it in the pool of soy. Begin to stir gently. Let the wasabi slowly immerse itself into the soy. Let it begin to break down. Now stir it more briskly with the chopstick. Don't leave clumps. Clumps will make your nose run at an inopportune moment. Keep stirring. Keep stirring. Add more wasabi. It's not enough until your soy is thick and light brown.

Pick up the sushi with long, slender chopsticks. Dip sushi rolls into the wasabified soy sauce, in the koi pond green dish. Watch the soy soak into the white rice.

Commence cramming perfect rolls of sushi into your sushi-hole.

That's it. You shove the whole thing in your mouth. No messy bites to take, no dribbling down your chin, no losing bits of food to the floor. You can pop those little seaweed-wrapped suckers right into your mouth and chew.

California Roll. Ooooh, the west coast meets the East. The soft suprise of avocado!

New York Roll. Smoked salmon and cream cheese! Creamy, smoky goodness.

Tuna Roll. Don't fuck with tuna. Don't make it spicy. Don't mix it with some creamy pink sauce. Take it straight! It's tuna for god's sake! Fish of the gods! Don't sully perfection!

My girlfriend ordered some surprising sushi special. I usually avoid the "specials" because they often feature little creature's legs thrusting out of the roll, looking like they might grab your face. It freaks me out. Decidedly not for the OCD set. This special had some messy looking red fish on the outside of the sushi role (mildly panic-inducing) but in the center, in the warm center, it had a heart of tempura.

Tempura!

That hint of crunch. The surprising warmth. In your mouth. Gah! *Insert food orgasm here.*

Mon Jin Lau. You are my favorite restaurant. Last night I went to sleep, and dreamt dreams of my body, encased in seaweed paper, while you grabbed me with your chopsticks, and dipped me in wasabi joy.



Mon Jin Lau is located at 1515 E. Maple Road in Troy, Michigan. 48084.

Phone: 248.689.2332.




Friday, December 19, 2008

I Want to Spray You All Over

People say our love is wrong. They tell me I'm too dependent on you, that this love is crazy. But they don't understand how I feel about you. They don't know the way you make me feel. Where are these naysayers when I've got the jitters and I'm not feeling right? They're not there to soothe me, they're not there to make it alright.

Nobody but you, lover. No one else will do.

I stare into your sapphire stillness and when the light hits you just so it's like an Adriatic dream set in azure flames oh my lovely. My lovely, lovely, liquid-blue lover. They don't know you the way I do.

If I could take you, hold you in my hands, and spray the world with you, I would dear. You know it's true. I would spread the world with your love, and you'd leave the world a better place in the way only you can do. You take the weary, the begrimed, the downtrodden and besmirched, and you dissolve all the ugliness away. What was once brutish and dumb, is born-again at your touch. You take my overcast view and rinse it anew the world is awash with light shining through my despair. You make me believe again.

I believe I can baptize all the sins of yesterday away, and even a filthy sinner like me can begin again.

You have restored my faith, aquaean lover.

Oh, I've tried others. Pretenders. Pale shadows. None are so true, none smell quite right. I'm sorry for those moments of weakness I was captivated for the moment by a cheap imitation, I admit it. Their acrid stench followed me wherever I went and I knew it was wrong. Oh it felt wrong. They left me feeling dirty, like a film of sin remained wherever they touched.

There will never be another, you know it's true. You make the anxieties and worries go away you make our home a shelter.

I love you, Mr. Cerulean, ultramarine lover. Blue like the blue of foreign seas, blue like the summer skies of childhood, blue like the blue of heaven. Blue speaks to me of truth and beauty, there is no other color for you.

If I could, I would spray the world with you.

If I could, I would spray you all over me, baptizing myself, leaving behind a squeaky clean soul, a reflective heart and a streak-free mind.

You are the Original, Windex. I want to name my babies after you. Babies with lapis lazuli eyes.

Brillo Sin Rayas! Brillo Sin Rayas!

I hear you whisper in my dreams.



Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Going Full Frontal In India

I'd only ever had one massage before in my life. A pool-side massage in Miami.

With my bathing suit on, you see.

I'd only been in India two days and already I was not feeling well at all. I either had the remnants or beginnings of a cold OR my respiratory system had been so clogged up by Delhi's pollution in 48-short hours that I couldn't breathe and all my joints ached from the carbon monoxide build up in my blood.

Besides, my half-Indian friend told me that massages were dirt cheap in India. She said she got one every day she was here. So I booked one. I tried to talk The Boyfriend into getting one too, but he hemmed and hawed and wasn't sure.

"How about I go first and then report back to you?" I suggested.

"Perfect," he agreed.

We both have touch-issues and stranger-danger alerts in our brains, so it was probably best I sally forth. Besides, The Boyfriend's germ phobia was on high alert and I had no idea what an Indian massage parlor would hold in store for him.

"How much should I tip the massage lady?" I asked before I left.

"50 rupees," he replied.

"That's like 75 cents!"

"It's what I read is appropriate," he reminded me.

"Yeah, but you pissed off the airport chauffeur with that nonsense!"

"50 rupees," he repeated. I left but grabbed my wallet just in case.

The salon was appropriately swanky for a five-star hotel in a one-star country. Everyone smiled and nodded sweetly, and I was escorted to a plump, middle-aged woman with a beatific face and a bindi.

She took me to a small, dark room with a massage table and a pot of warming almond oil. 

"Yes, please," she indicated a folded towel resting on the table.

"Should I take off my clothes?"

"Yes, please."

"All of my clothes?"

"Yes, please," she nodded encouragingly. Then she quietly stepped out of the room.

I wondered if she meant my underpants too. I mean, "clothes" could mean "outerwear" in Hindi. What if I removed all of my clothes including my underpants and she thought I was some sort of Western whore?

I removed all of my clothes and quickly dove under the large towel. I laid there in the semi-darkness and stared at the ceiling. I could hear some sort of workers outside the window next to me. I wondered if Indian women shaved their pubic areas, or if they went full-bush?

After a polite knock at the door, my masseuse returned and quickly set about rubbing the warm oil on her hands. The room was suddenly filled with its sweet scent, and I relaxed. She politely folded the towel up over my calves and proceeded to rub the oil onto my feet and legs.

"Tsk tsk," she said. "Very dry."

"Yes, I know," I replied, apologetically. I closed my eyes wondered how much almond oil my skin would absorb? I was quite certain that little pot wouldn't make it past my knees.

Next she folded the towel again, this time exposing my thighs. I was surprised by how sore my legs were from being folded up like a patio chair on a plane for 16 hours. She folded the towel again, this time just barely covering my ladyparts.

I began to grow uncomfortable.

As she took huge swooping strokes on my upper thighs, my body froze in horror as her fingers grazed me ... there. Oh yes. There. I quickly began to wonder if I was in a "Happy Ending" situation, and wondered if a) would she ask me first and b) would it cost extra?

The matriarchal masseuse kept away at her business-like massaging of my thighs, with the occasional grazing of my, er, privates. (They're called "Private" for a reason, dammit!) I was actually relieved when she gently removed the entire towel from my person and moved on to my torso.

For some reason she covered my face with the towel.

So I lay there, buck naked, save for my face, while a middle-aged woman massaged my breasts. Having not had any massage experience aside from the pool-side, bathing-suit-clad massage, I did not know whether or not this was normal. In fact, I still don't. My arms and legs were stock straight, rigid as a corpse in the freshly fallen Detroit snow. As my masseuse slowly reached down my arms and took huge sweeping strokes up my arms, her breasts would lower and raise over my face, as the top of my head was cradled in her ample belly.

Despite all this, I began to relax. The warm room, the smell of almonds, the steady and consistent pressure of her rubbing all of the tensions and worries out of my body, I began to feel as though I was a naked embryo rocking in my mother's womb.

"Yes, please, mum" my masseuse whispered to me, and I opened one reptilian eye to see what she wanted. She held her hand out and indicated that I should rollover.

Great.

So I rolled over and exposed my white, pilates-free ass to the lesbian-suspect masseuse. Oh she rubbed my thighs, my upper thighs, my ass, my entire ass, yes she rubbed it all. She rubbed it all and I lay there naked as the day I was born, without even a towel to cover my shame-ridden face.

She rubbed it all and I liked it.

When it was over she invited me to enter a shower. I rose, naked and oily, and walked into the waiting shower. I allowed her to adjust the water temperature for me. Yes, I stood naked in a shower with another woman. I'd like to tell you I let her soap me down for the benefit of my story, but alas, she did not.

When I went to sign for the bill, I thrust a fistful of Indian rupees at my masseuse. She bowed and said thank you, mum. It wasn't the 50 rupees The Boyfriend had suggested, but more like the 500 rupees I felt was appropriate after such an intimate encounter.

Of course when I went back to the room and calculated how much 500 rupees was worth in American currency, I was embarrassed to see it was only ten dollars.

Then again, I never did get that Happy Ending.

I DID get to warn The Boyfriend, however. I knew there was no way he was putting his bare ass in the hands of a stranger, that's for sure. Then again, perhaps the promise of a Happy Ending would have swayed him?

Nah.

Monday, November 24, 2008

On Birth Canals and Other Bodily Holes

"Only you can call me baby, right?" my son asked me for the thirty-zillionth time.

"Right."

"Because I'm YOUR baby but I'm not A baby."

"Exactly."

"And I'm YOUR baby because you carried me in your tummy."

"Yes."

He seemed momentarily satisfied with this explanation. Again. At four-years-old (almost five!) he is deeply preoccupied with not being a "baby" but still wants to be his mama's baby. I think this constant reassurance reflects the fact that he has one little foot planted firmly in boyhood, while the other still wants to snuggle the madre.

Which is fine by me. He WILL always be my baby, as I frequently tell him. No matter how big he gets (and the genetic lottery would indicate this boy is gonna be a big'un) he will still be mama's baby. He finds this reassuring.

So do I.

"I was a baby when I was in your tummy," he said. I knew more was coming.

"Yes."

"And when I got big enough I got out of your tummy."

"Right-O."

"But not too big."

"Thank goodness," I agreed.

"How did I get out of your tummy?" he lifted his shirt and examined his stomach. "Did I come out of here?" he asked, and pointed to his belly button.

"Uh, no. You came out of the birth canal."

"Oh right. The birth canal," he nodded his head quickly as if he already knew this. He paused. "Where is the birth canal?"

*DANGER!*

"Um, it's where the baby comes out." I waited to see if the enigmatic zen-teacher of a mother technique would work this time.

"Out of the birth canal."

"Yep."

"Is it a hole?" he cocked his head and looked at me.

*WARNING!*

"Yes. Yes it is."

"It's a hole big enough to fit a baby?"

(This is where I started sweating.)

"Sure!"

"YOU HAVE A HOLE IN YOUR BODY BIG ENOUGH FOR A BABY TO COME OUT?!?" My son's eyes were about to pop out of his head. He recoiled from me in horror.

*EMERGENCY BROADCAST WARNING*

"You have holes in your body," I pointed out, casual-like.

"I do NOT have holes in my body!" he looked at me as though I'd lost my mind.

"Sure you do. Your mouth is a hole, your ears are two holes ... " I pointed accusingly at his pie-hole and his ear-holes.

"OHHHHH, those kind of holes!" he looked relieved. "So only mamas make babies, right?"

"Sort of. Only mamas carry babies."

"But daddies don't carry babies. I'm not my Dada's baby, right?"

"Well, yes, actually you are. Moms and dads make babies together, but then only the moms carry the baby."

"Why?"

"Because only the mothers have birth canals."

"Oh."

*Sweet!*

"How do dads make babies with moms?"

*Pause*

*Longer Pause*

"Well, the mother has half the genetic material that makes up a baby, and the father has half the genetic material that makes a baby, and they get together and mix it up and put the baby in the mother!"

*Phew*

Cracky was not to be distracted by my pseudo-scientific use of big words.

"HOW do they put it together?"

"The baby?"

"Yes," he was starting to look impatient.

"Well, the fathers have something called sperm, and the mothers have an egg, and they put that together and then put it in the mother to carry to term."

"HOW do they put it in the mother?" he stared at me hard, now. I had not thrown him off the scent of knowledge.

"Through the birth canal!"

"OH! I get it now!"

*SUCCESS!*

"I want you and Fred to get married and make a baby," he said, and held his arms as though rocking an invisible baby.

*ALERT!*

I should have known this was all about angling for a baby brother.

*SIGH*

Friday, October 24, 2008

Even When I'm Mad at You

Sometimes I get mad at my son. Yes, it's true. Sometimes he pushes his friends at school or tells someone he won't be their friend anymore, and I get a talk from the preschool director. Other times I catch him in a lie. Oooh, lying to Mama makes her really, really mad.

My son knows the look.

He knows the set jaw, the narrowed eyes and the frozen look of disapproval.

"Are you mad at me, Mama?"

"Well, I'm not exactly happy with you."

"You're not HAPPY with me?" His big, round eyes peer at me in the rearview mirror. Tears are imminent.

"I'm just disappointed."

"I'm sorry Mama! I will never, ever do that again! I promise!" His entire world is collapsing around him.

"I certainly hope so."

"Are you still mad?"

"A little bit."

"YOU ARE?" Armageddon is upon us.

"You know, even when I'm mad at you, I still love you."

"You do?"

"Yes. When you love someone, you care about them a lot. When you love someone, you get mad at them sometimes, and sometimes they make you sad, and other times they make you laugh. But you still love them no matter what."

"You do?"

"Yes."

"You promise?"

"Absolutely."

"Okay, Mama. I'm sorry. I don't want you to be mad at me anymore, even if you still love me."

"Okay, I won't be mad at you anymore if you promise to try and do better."

"I will."



Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I treated everyone as generously as I treat my son. What would that cost me? Would I lose something in being so forgiving? What would really happen if I loved like that and someone took advantage of that love.

Would it really be the end of the world?

Would I really lose anything in that?

Aren't we all just children, trying to figure it all out. Isn't the best any of us can offer is to try and do better.

Sometimes I don't think so. Sometimes I think adults are supposed to know better. But what if they don't? What then? How are any of us ever going to learn unless someone loves us like a mother? Sure, it's not my job, it's not your job. But what if we did it anyway?

What if we just went ahead and forgave everybody? And loved them. And let them fall, helped them up, brushed them off and guided them in the right direction, with only their best intentions as a guarantee?

You never know. Maybe if you loved someone like that, they'd love you back like that.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why Are They Pushing It In So Far, Mama?

Because I am a procrastinator, I waited until the last possible moment to get my vaccinations for India. I have a few, grievous phobias which cause me to pass out. I've covered this before, but just to recap: Crowds and Needles. The centipede phobia only causes me to scream bloody murder, but I have never lost consciousness at the sight of one. Yet.

So I can only get an appointment at the Passport Health Clinic at 5:30 p.m., which means I have to pick up my four-year-old son first, and take him with me. Now I've gotten much better about shots in my old age, and I'm pretty much fine if I don't see the needle and they don't take blood. I got a Tetnus shot last winter and did not pass out.

I thought everything would be fine.

I sat in the chair and decided to put on a brave face for Cracky. The first shot went in and I didn't even flinch. While the second shot was going in, my son announced:

"I SEE BLOOD!"

It was then that I started to hear the distant train whistle of unconsciousness, and then the roar of the engine took over my entire body.

"I think I'm going down," I announced to the two nurses, who immediately stretched me out on the floor. I awoke with a cold compress stuffed beneath my neck and two worried nurses peering at my face.

"Do you want us to continue, or do you want us to wait until you've fully recovered?" they asked.

"Get it over with," I groggily responded. My son got up from the chair where I think he'd been crying to come watch the proceedings again.

I felt the nurse pinch the flesh on my limp arms to inject the rest of the shots.

"Why are they pushing it in so far, Mama?" my son chimed in.

Note to self: Do not bring son to any future doctor's appointments.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Last Number

I drove my son to work with me this morning. He was quite excited about it, as he loves coming to work. There are elevators, bagels and he gets to watch DVDs on my laptop.

In fact, today I set him up in his own cube. He had a spread of Spider-Man comic books (or as he calls them, "MaZagines"), a couple of action figures, his Kitty (dressed in a bow-tie for work) and an orange juice. He was ready to go!

I've noticed lately that he's been mock-parenting Kitty. I now understand why therapists have kids play with some sort of stuffed toy or doll and watch then re-enact everything their parents say to them.

"Kitty, I need a little PRIVACY," he announced, and placed the stuffed tabby in a corner, far-far-away.

"I'm the boss of Kitty and you're the boss of me," he told me. I thought he was being rather Machiavellian about this, though his language was undeniably mine. In my defense, the only time I ever tell him I need "privacy" is when I'm sitting on the toilet. So hold the calls to Child Protective Services.

A half hour later or so, he went and gingerly picked up Kitty and hugged him. 

"Thanks for using your patience!" he said to the cat.

That one is all me too.

"When am I turning five again?" he asked me.

"In January."

"Next weekend?" he cocked his head.

"No, in three months."

"Tomorrow?"

"No, in about 90 tomorrows from now."

"Remember when I turned four and we had a Superman party in the clubhouse?"

"Yes," I said, surprised he'd retained the vocabulary word "clubhouse" all these months later.

"Remember when I turned three?"

"Yes."

"Remember when I was a baby in your tummy?"

"Yes."

"When do I turn five again?"

"In January."

"And when do I get to the last number?"

*Pause*

Did my son just ask me about Death?

"Nobody knows," I say and hold my breath.

"It's a surprise?"

"Yes. You could say that."

"Okay," he said, and went back to his mazagine, unconcerned with the concept of a surprise death.

Which seems the right way to handle it. 




Thursday, October 9, 2008

Set This on Fire

I read a book once where the characters wrote their wishes on paper and lit them on fire. They sent them up to their ancestors in the sky. Missives in the smoke.

Blogs are like that. Click delete and it disappears into the cosmos. I like that. You can write anything you want that way. Write down your wishes, dreams, secrets, rages — write anything you want, it doesn't matter. It's not real. It's not permanent.

Nothing is permanent.

Even this feeling right now. Or that feeling yesterday. Sometimes I wonder why people even bother to ask? None of it matters. Whoever has upset you today will be forgotten by Tuesday next week. The broken glass will be swept up and carried away. The ripped shirt will either be mended or tossed out.

I can write anything I want and it doesn't matter. I can write that I don't care about tomorrow. I can't care about tomorrow. I can no longer care about the economy, about my job, about the price of gas or the value of your 401K. Today I have to go home and pick up a little boy, make him dinner and sing him to sleep. All those other things make it hard for me to do that.

Today I have a job.

Today I have a home.

Today I have you.

I may lose you all tomorrow. There is joy in this. There is a sweet breath of relief. Can you feel it? Is it coming through the wires? Everything is impermanent. Nothing lasts. You and I have no control over it. We can't stop disaster.

So let it go.

Ride it out — wherever it may take you.

There's nothing else to be done. If you lose your lover tomorrow, should you spend today worrying about it? Mourn the loss in advance? My best friend is always telling me, "A fool dies a thousand deaths, the hero dies but one."

One life.

Many deaths?

One life.

One death?

I choose one. I can't fix any of you. I can't fix any of me. I can't control one damn thing in this universe. All I can do is write these words and let my heart love what it loves.

Beyond that, all is a seething cauldron of stars and shape-shifters, lies and magic. My eyes will never know the difference. So I'll write it all down. I'll settle on words to make out the murky details. I'll cry and I'll rage, I'll laugh and I'll wonder. And none of it will matter. Tomorrow we'll all forget, and play some other drama that means everything again.

Sometimes I think we should set everything on fire.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Life on Cracky


My son tells me I'm beautiful at least once a day, if not twice If I put on heels or add a necklace, I am sure to receive an emphatic, "You look so beautiful, Mama!" You grown men should take note. Cracky knows a thing or two about keeping the Mama happy.

"You're the mama and that means you're the boss," he tells me.

"That's right," I nod.

"I always do what you say."

"Yep, pretty much."

"I was just kidding earlier when I said I didn't want to wear my coat," he hastens to add, remembering the incident at daycare not five minutes previous.

"Oh, okay," I laugh. It was not a grievous error. He rectified it immediately.

"I didn't mean to whine," he adds.

"That's okay, you've got your coat on now."

"I always listen to you."

"I know."

Later, we are sitting in front of the TV, looking for a video. Our noses are not five inches from the screen.

"Is that a baby being borned?" he asks, witnessing a bloody baby on the screen.

Uh oh.

"Um, yeah. That's a brand new baby."

"Did I come out of you like that?"

Er.

"Sort of, except you weren't all messy like that. You came out perfect," I say, not lying. The child was born on his due date, and the nurses barely had to wipe him off. Clearly the boy was "done."

"How did I get out? Through your belly button?" he lifts his shirt to inspect his stomach.

"No," I pause. "You came out of the birth canal."

We stare at each other.

"Okay," he says. "And I drank milk out of your boobs, right?"

"Yes," I breathe a sigh of relief. He bought the "birth canal" business and didn't require any further clarification.

*High fives self for awesome parenting*

The boy straddles my lap and hugs me while I try and put in his DVD. After a moment I notice he's not just hugging me.

"What are you doing?" I pull back to see what's going on.

"I'm pretending," he says, nuzzling my breast.

"PRETENDING WHAT?" I pull him off of my boob.

"That I'm a baby!"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because you're not a baby."

"Just pretend!"

"No. My boobs are private."

"But how come babies can have your boob?"

"Because they're babies and they need milk."

"I drink milk."

We stare at each other.

"Because I'm the boss and I say no."

"Oh. Okay," he says, and sighs just a bit.

The little perv.

*Deduct one point for bad parenting.*

*Note to men: Don't try the "milk" excuse for boob nuzzling. You'll get caught every time.*

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Because I Love You

We hunkered down under his comforter, the one with the construction trucks — frontloaders and forklifts and so forth. I bent my knees and spooned him up into the C of me.

"You are such a nice boy!" I said in his ear.

"Thank you, mama."

"You make me so proud of you," I said, and squeezed him.

"Why?"

"Because you're nice to your friends at school..."

"And what else?" I could see the dimple forming on the side of his cheek.

"Because you pick up your toys..."

"What else?"

"Because you listen to your mama..."

"And?"

"Because you make people laugh, you give good hugs and you're just such a sweet boy."

"I am?"

"Yes, you are. And your mama is proud of you."

"Thanks!"

"Why are you so good, baby?"

"Because I love you."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Upside-Down Heart

Seeing as I'd avoided getting a check-up for fifteen years, I've decided to make up for it by giving my health a lot of attention. That's the way it is with me. I'm either all in or all out. You can look at the herbal supplements and prescription medications in my cupboard and see all the proof that you need.

What I forget is that I have a son who is keenly aware of my every move and word. He misses nothing, this kid. If I make a face, he's all over me:

"Mama, are you happy?"

"Yes, I'm just squinting at the sun."

Like that-kind-of attentive.

I was trying to choke down my latest supplemental beverage, gagging and grimacing as the fiber quickly thickened and congealed mid-swallow.

"MAMA! WHAT'S WRONG! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" My son parroted my disgusted face, and looked as though he was about to cry.

"Ack! Blech! Gross!" I spat the translucent gel back into the shaker cup. "I'm fine, I'm fine. I'm just trying to drink this fiber stuff and it tastes bad."

"Well WHY are you drinking it?" my son asked, looking at me as though I had lost my mind.

"It has fiber in it. It's supposed to make me feel better."

"You don't LOOK like you feel better," he said, eyeing me and the fiber gel still adhering to my lips.

"It's not supposed to taste good. It has fiber in it that will make my stomach feel better," I said, and rubbed all over my entire abdomen, including my colon area. As though that would politely explain my condition to a four-year-old.

"Oh no! You have a tummy ache?" He looked panic-stricken again.

"No, no. I'm fine. This fiber business is to help me poop." There, I laid it out for him in language he could understand.

"You don't need help going POOP, mom!" he grabbed his belly and had a good laugh over that one.

I really should stop kidding around with the boy so much.

So my son and I are hanging out at the park one Sunday and I call my sister. I call my sister a lot. Every day on the way home from work, and any time anything significant happens in my life (after doctor's appointments, if I don't feel well, if I lose weight, if I gain weight, if I buy a new bra, if I can't poop, if I have a flashback to our childhood that seems wholly unbelievable, you get the idea). My son is always a party to these frequent conversations, and to be honest, I hardly notice he's there. Unless he pops off with a "You just used a bad word, Mama." So he asks to talk to his Aunt Beth. He usually asks her how she is, inquires after his cousin and uncle, and then tells her he misses her.

"My ankle is sore," he begins. I watch him hold the Blackberry in one hand, gesturing with his other hand. He paces around the park, just as I had done. In fact, the entire act is a mini-Mandy performance.

"And yesterday my tummy was upset," he paused, to listen to his aunt. "Yeah, it's a little better today." There is more silent nodding into the phone, and he continues to pace around the playground, the picture of a little old man with a lot of ailments.

"I'm worried that my heart's not pink and it's upside down," he announced. I slapped my hand over my mouth and tried not to guffaw. I have no idea how my sister was handling her end of the conversation. He nodded his head at whatever it was she was suggesting.

"Yeah, maybe I should do some yoga," he agreed.

My god. I've turned my son into a hypochondriac-buddhist. My sister is always warning me that I have to watch what I say around four-year-olds. They repeat everything. I know he's been going around telling everyone, "My mom cried when Fred was in California" even though that happened a while ago.

I told my sister about the fiber drink and how I tried to explain to Max that it was to help me poop, not to hurt me.

"Why would you tell him THAT?" she yelled.

"What? Why? I didn't want him to worry!"

"Now he's going to tell everyone that his mom makes faces and drinks something yucky to make her poop!"

"Oh crap!"

I was sort of hoping he might forget, but then he crept into my bed that night. It was dark and silent in my room, and he stroked my hair in that sleepy way he does. Both of our pink upside down hearts were beating in uterine unison.

"Mama," he said.

"Yeah, baby," I murmured back, smelling his fruit-flavored hair.

"Remember when you drank that yucky stuff to make you poop?"




*This is a repost from my friends David and Kurt's site, The Julia Set. They let me blog there occasionally, but now the site is retired. Check out Kurt's new blog site here.*

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Resenting the Fire for Burning












I've been contemplating anger ever since I bullied a bully last week and gave in to my anger. I latched myself onto the idea that there is such a thing as "Righteous Anger" but it turns out I was deluded. Again.

According to Allan Wallace, concepts like Righteous Anger or "Righteous Hatred" make about as much as sense as "righteous cancer" or "righteous tuberculosis." They are all absurd.

He goes on to explain in "Tibetan Buddhism From the Ground Up:"

"This does not mean one should never take action against aggression or injustice. Instead, one should try and develop an inner calmness and insight to deal with these situations in an appropriate way ... One could say that there are three ways to get rid of anger: kill the opponent, kill yourself or kill the anger. Which one makes the most sense to you?"

I don't know about you, but I feel lousy when I'm angry. Sure, anger unexpressed turns into depression, but anger expressed is still ... anger. It makes me tense. Makes me clench my jaw, hunch my shoulders — makes me an uptight wreck. I don't want to live like that. I don't want to be angry any more. It doesn't solve anything and the only one who really seems to suffer from it and ponder over it for days is, uh, me.

So if I thought my anger was somehow productive in effecting my opponent, it's just not. The object of your wrath rarely loses sleep over it. Well, hell, even if they did, chances are you lose sleep too. Or if you're not losing sleep, you're gaining weight, or losing weight, or jacking up your heart rate, snapping at your friends, whatever. There is a consequence to your anger. Since I can't control the Object of My Wrath, I've got to do something about that which I can control: Me.

Me, me, me.

I know, Buddhism is such a selfish religion.

It's actually not unlike the Serenity Prayer the alcoholics are always chanting:

"God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference."

Buddhism certainly doesn't have the market cornered on letting go of the things you can't control. Of course every time I see the Serenity Prayer, I can't help but think of George Kostanza's "Serenity NOW!" campaign from "Seinfeld." I hear that little man screaming, "SERENITY NOW! SERENITY NOW!"

That's pretty much how I practice buddhism. Imperfectly.

The Dalai Lama has quite a bit to say on anger. "If we examine how anger or hateful thoughts arise in us, we will find that, generally speaking, they arise when we feel hurt, when we feel that we have been unfairly treated by someone against our expectations." In such an emotional state, it is a wonder how we can be reasonable. Our vision is too colored by the red rage of injustice glazing over our eyes. We can't hear what the other person is saying for the steam shooting out of our ears. The Dalai Lama explains: "It is almost as if [we] have become crazy. These are the negative effects of generating anger and hatred, we realize that it is necessary to distance ourselves from such emotional explosions." He goes on to say that money, power, even the law, cannot protect us from anger. Nothing can really protect us from anger, because there will still be those who treat us unfairly, who tell lies about us, who won't do what we want them to do ... such is life. "The only factor that can give refuge or protection from the destructive effects of anger is the practice of tolerance and patience."

I know, that sucks, right?

But the point is, anger is useless. It only causes the sufferer pain. The plain truth is, it's usually the people you're the most mad at who couldn't give a damn that you're mad at them. They sleep the sleep of angels, I assure you. That's why they piss you off so much!

No good! No good, I say! We have got to let it go or else it's going to consume us and our rapidly passing lives. Such a waste. Michael B. Ross wrote of how to deal with anger while he was on death row. What he wrote about, was forgiveness.

I know. Try not to recoil from the screen, please.

"Forgiveness is a form of realism. It doesn't deny, minimize, or justify what others have done to us or the pain that we have suffered. It encourages us to look squarely at those old wounds and see them for what they are. And it allows us to see how much energy we have wasted and how much we have damaged ourselves by not forgiving."

I have not forgiven my mother for drinking her way through my childhood. I have not forgiven my son's father for sleeping his way through my city. Not forgiving these two acts of betrayal — and that is how I experience both of them — has not done me a whit of good. Every time I think of the injustice, of the wrong these people have done me, it makes me physically ill. I can bring tears to my eyes if I think on it too long. I am almost weak with rage at the thought of what these two people did to me, an innocent.

Yeah.

You can see my life 20/20, I bet? I'm sure you're all shaking your heads at the waste of my time and energy over these people's choices. Their lives. It's got nothing to do with me, I'm sure you all can see it. What an impotent rage mine is. I'm never going to get a satisfactory answer of "Why?" from either of these folks, and I'm certainly never going to get a satisfactory apology. Truth is, the only thing that would suffice is for them to take it back.

I just wish they hadn't a' done it.

Good lord, writing that now, I see even more clearly how pointless my anger is. Michael B. Ross agrees:

"Forgiveness is a sign of positive self-esteem. We no longer identify ourselves by our past injuries and injustices. We are no longer victims. We claim the right to stop hurting when we say, 'I'm tired of the pain, and I want to be healed.' ... Forgiveness is no longer wanting to punish those who hurt us. It is understanding that the anger and hatred we feel toward them hurts us far more than it hurts them."

Amen. If this man was a preacher, I'd convert. Then again, my Buddha said much the same thing: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” I don't know how many times I've read that quote, and despite knowing it's true, I still return to anger over and over again.

Why do I keep picking up that hot coal?

Because I am human, and as such, imperfect. I will probably pick it up again and again. In fact, buddhists are fond of anecdotes about picking things up we shouldn't. This one is from Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche:

"If someone insults us, we usually dwell on it, asking ourselves, 'Why did he say that to me?' and on and on. It's as if someone shoots an arrow at us, but it falls short. Focusing on the problem is like picking the arrow up and repeatedly stabbing ourselves with it, saying, 'He hurt me so much. I can't believe he did that.'"

Oh lordy, that sounds like me.

So how do I stop it? Apparently with patience. Yes, that's right, it's back to the Sacred Pause again. Anything I do in anger, I am bound to regret. But if I stop and consider the conflict, consider what is making me upset, and sit with it a spell ... perhaps I will see things with greater clarity. Perhaps I will not respond with the red rage of a victim?

I will practice on it, I will meditate on it. I will cultivate patience, and hopefully, in time, I will get better at it. I can count to 100 to perhaps stifle my rage. I can go outside and take a walk. I can run on the treadmill at the YMCA. I can remind myself that all beings want to be free from suffering, we all want to be happy. Even the person who is attacking me. Perhaps they are reacting in rage, in fear, with a sense of injustice at my hands? Am I all-seeing? Am I all-knowing? Can I claim to know their life experience?

No.

So when I was called a bully by a bully ... perhaps he was right.

I shouldn't have scoffed at it. Perhaps I recoiled from it because the truth hurt? If it wasn't true, I wouldn't be ruminating over it now, days later. I wouldn't still carry this unease in my shoulders. I own those things, not him. I read something by Rilke once, and it haunts me:

"...perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us."

I used to think of that more often, and I used to remind myself that any dragons attacking me may well be wearing pink pointy hats and languishing in towers. It's actually quite helpful. Try it the next time some asshole is enraging you. Put him in a pink hat, with long blonde hair flowing out of a turret. It helps. You get to be the knight in shining armor rather than the asshole who slayed a pretty princess by mistake.

Another trick I have used is imagining my attacker as my son, or any child for that matter. If my son lashes out at me, it is much easier for me to be patient. Those pink cherub cheeks and those huge Kewpie doll eyes are difficult to find threatening. I try to treat anyone in a rage as a child about to run in the street.

With care.

With concern for their well-being.

With a slap on the ass.

Okay, kidding. My point is, sometimes my son pisses me off. Particularly when he calls me fat. Yes, my four-year-old has already figured out the one thing that will piss Mama off. Usually I just say, "That hurt my feelings!" and try to ignore the gleam in his eye. Sometimes I burst into tears. (Okay, once.)

Look, nothing is perfect, and there is no quick-fix to coping with anger. I think the best advice is to be aware that your anger is hurting you, and that you're going to need to practice some patience and forgiveness in order to get over it.

And by you, I mean "me."



"It is natural for the immature to harm others. Getting angry with them is like resenting a fire for burning." -Shantideva

Monday, July 21, 2008

Enlightenment With A Pickaxe


I've been reading this Radical Acceptance book and one thing that really strikes me is that you can accept bad feelings. Whoa nelly, hold the horses, drop your chaps and call me a rodeo clown. I had no idea.

My main way of dealing with negative feelings is to talk myself out of them. I feel bad, I tell myself, "You're fine." I feel bad some more, I tell myself, "You're honestly fine." I feel worse, I tell myself, "Knock it off, you're fine." I do it over and over again and then I feel sort of numb, which is better than "bad" and I've presumed this must be the elusive "fine" everyone's always preaching about.

This Tara Brach lady who wrote Radical Acceptance suggests just recognizing you feel lousy if you feel lousy. Recognize it, accept it, sit with it. So I guess this morning I'll just sit with my lousy feeling rather than tell myself I don't feel lousy. My concern is that I know damn well I can talk myself into a pit of misery. I learned it from my mother.

My way of rebelling has been a stubborn optimism and a refusal to quit. Fuck depression, fuck anxiety, fuck every bad feeling, they're not going to get the best of me. I've gotten through life just based on pure resilience and determination to not be like my mother. But the trouble is, I still get the sneaking suspicion that something's not right.

You can only tamp it all down for so long and for so many times before you just flip the switch and say, "Fuck it, I'm not happy! God dammit! I've been doing everything right! Fuck a duck! Damn sam! Screw it all! I'm pissed!" And then you want to kick something.

I prefer puppies, but there aren't any handy.

Stupid puppies.

So maybe I'll try something different. The Brach lady suggests just naming how you are feeling. Just a list of feelings and emotions, a list of things you don't have to contradict or judge. Just spill it. I'll try, but I suspect this is going to be hard for me, because I usually like to edit things and make them just a little bit better.

Uptight.
Nervous.
Edgy.
Dissatisfied.
Trapped.
Confused.
Impatient.
Tired.
Angry.

Oh. That last word suprised me. My therapist once told me that depression is anger unexpressed. Dammit, am I pissed? Because if I'm pissed, that's going to piss me off. Dammit. Fuck a duck.

Well shoot. I feel better. Lighter. Oh my god, like a weight has been taken off my shoulders. Is this insane? Can it be this easy? Is it possible that the simple act of NOT telling myself I'm not feeling bad has made me feel better?

Sometimes I look back over the last nineteen years of my fumblings with buddhist practice and I remind myself more of a crazed girl swinging a pickaxe than the peaceful buddha sitting under the bodhi tree.

Turns out I'm not fine.

Turns out I'm mad.

And I'm not exactly sure why. The funny thing is, that doesn't seem to matter so much. It just feels better to know I'm mad, and to feel the smooth wood handle of the pickaxe as it swings.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Significant Pause


I didn't publish a blog on Friday that made fun of someone's enormous face. I did it in the name of the buddhist precept, "Right Speech." I usually know when I'm not using "Right Speech" because I have a nagging sensation that I'm not being nice and whatever it is I'm about to say or write, I probably shouldn't.

Of course, impulsive youngest child that I am, I usually shrug off that feeling (dismiss it as "No Fun!") and go ahead and go for the laughs. But I tried something different on Friday, and then wound up reading about "The Sacred Pause" on Sunday.

The Sacred Pause is that moment when you choose to not react, to not be impulsive. That moment when you overcome your own pressing need to be heard, to vent, to matter. If we could only just pause and listen to what someone else has to say rather than trying to get a word in edgewise, or if we only paused long enough to consider our own misgivings for what we are about to do, we might actually save ourselves a lot of grief.  We get more perspective on the situation if we just shut our mouths.

It's hard to think and consider, to weigh the situation objectively, if you're constantly reacting. In the reaction mode we defend ourselves, we fight, we try to win regardless of the bloody aftermath. When you pause you actually gain the advantage, if you think about it.

You can watch while your opponent (whether it be friend, lover, co-worker, Self) flails, yells, prattles, cries — and in  your pause you might actually learn something. Maybe you'll notice their body language, perhaps you'll hear their words, perhaps in  your own moment of stillness during the cyclone that's hit, you'll realize what is actually going on behind the surface. You can at least figure out what your own motivations are. You'll be less likely to regret something you said, in self-defense or anger. And when you're battling with Self, if you pause, you may actually discover that there is no demon. There is no fight.

It was only a moment. A moment of fear, of rage, of insecurity — whatever — and it passed like the thousands of ceaseless waves that crash upon the shore and slide gently back to sea. Why fight the waves? Why scream at them for threatening the sand? So many useless, wearisome battles. If we keep fighting them all, we'll be used up, dried up things by the time it's time to die. I don't want to live my life fighting and regretting.

I like the idea of hitting the Pause button. Seems we're always pressing Play. Or we get hurt and insist we're pressing Stop and we're not going to listen ever again. Pause offers a Middle Way. Pause says we're just going to rest a bit while we consider. Pause implies we'll play again — but not just yet.

There's much to learn in silence.

By pausing on Friday I learned that it was my own insecurity that caused me to write that blog. I couched it in humor and it certainly would have made you laugh, but my insecurity was misplaced. To direct any unkindness towards a girl who once dated my boyfriend, or towards any of the women he may have dated, is just perpetuating the hurt in my jealous, fearful heart.

Let it go, baby.

You won. There are no more demons to battle, no girls to mock. Let them go nurse their heartaches undisturbed by you. Let them go and love others, free from your judgement and superiority. Turn your eyes to what you have, right now.

The past is nothing. The future unknown. Happiness lies here, in this moment now. Let us pause here for a spell.



(Source: I'm currently reading Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach, PhD. The "Sacred Pause" comes from her book.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

An Unexpected Guest





















Guest House

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi


Sometimes you come across just the right words at just the right time. This weekend I listened to vitriolic voicemail after vitriolic voicemail, each one nastier than the previous. Each one mocking me, making fun of me, questioning my morals, questioning my decency, lambasting my character.

I mean, it could be laughable since this diatribe was mainly based on the fact that I wear high-heeled shoes (hence, I am a whore). But even the laughable isn't so funny if you hear enough of it.

I really wish Mom wouldn't call so often.

(Kidding.)

It wasn't my mom, and it wasn't a friend or family member — or anyone that has anything to do with me. It was a very troubled person, a person who is suffering, a person who would like to see me suffer, others suffer — anything to not be alone with such intolerable pain. In such a state, we can fire off shots haphazardly, not caring who they hit, only hoping they hit someone other than ourselves. Well, in this case the person knew her desired target.

If only they knew there's no need. Everyone suffers, you don't need to supply suffering to anyone. None of us is alone in pain.

And though I was rattled by this tirade, and though I was shaken to hear such things about myself — however untrue — I dug down deep into myself and found a shelter there. I know who I am. After all these years, after all this struggle, I really do know me. It has taken so long, and there have been many curves along the path, times I got lost and more times that I fell, but they've gotten me to where I am.

And those things for which some would have me be the most ashamed, are actually the things of which I am the most proud. I am a single mother. I had a child out of wedlock. And truth be told, that has made me who I am today. I am so much stronger, so much more resilient than I ever knew I could be. Having the strength to say "No" to those who would bully me into an abortion changed something in me forever.

I never had to take a stand before that day, or I never had the will. I never thought I was strong enough, important enough — hell, never thought I was "enough."

Well I am enough. I like me as I am. I am better for the very things you would criticize. And so bring it. Bring your criticisms and your judgments, call me a whore. Hell, sew that red letter and affix it to my chest, it won't change me. I know who I am and I like who I am.

I am remarkably human. Fragile. Imperfect.

Any other names you want to toss at me may stick or they may fall. It doesn't matter. So far as I'm concerned they're just synonyms for my humanity, and yours. You lob your pain at me in hopes to rid yourself. I see it. So toss away, toss away your pain, your rage and that profound fear that threatens to tear you apart.

If it lessens your suffering, I can take it. I know your words will fall away as I continue on my path, and I'll thank you for reminding me of who I am, and of how much love I have discovered in myself.

Namaste, suffering woman. You are a guest in my house, and I will make something lovely from your pain. Let it humble me, and let it teach me to love even more. I only wish the same for you.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

How Our Kids Love Us And How To Love Them Back

My son is leaving me for a week.

I'm half-excited for the freedom, and half-sad to have him gone that long. I don't think he's ever been gone from me that long when I wasn't on vacation or on a business trip. It's going to be hard to be at home for a week without him.

Last night he snuck into my bedroom and played with my hair while we listened to the thunder.

"I'm going to miss you when you're gone," I said.

"Like you missed Fred?"

"Yep."

"I'll come back, Mama," he said, not sounding at all sad to be leaving. He's never sad to leave me.

"Who will be my teddy bear?" I asked, trying to guilt him a little.

"Fred," he said.

He wrapped his arm around me and slipped his fingers through my hair over and over again until he fell asleep. I reminded myself that the fact that he is so comfortable leaving me, and so unconcerned about me is a good thing. I've done a good job. My son does not feel responsible for my happiness. He knows I'll be here when he gets back, and I'll be just fine.

But still.

Sometimes I wish I knew he missed me. Or maybe just once he could be sad to see me go? Okay, there was a time or two that he was sad, and I didn't like that. Whenever I get to thinking that his dad is his favorite and I'm just reliable old mom, I remember that when I pick him up from daycare, he always has a picture he's drawn from that day. For me. Of me. And my yellow hair.

And when he was named Student of the Week, this is what he had to say in his interview:

"Hi my name is CRACKY.

I am 4 years old. My favorite thing to do at home is play with my toys.

When I am at school I like to make art. I have 0 brothers and sisters. My favorite thing to watch on TV is "Aladdin." My favorite color is Dark Blue. My favorite food is chicken nuggets. My favorite animal is a horse. My favorite toy is Potato Head.

If I went on vacation I would go to my Mama's work and bring my music playing thing."

I guess he does love me after all. I mean, he must, if his idea of a vacation is coming to work with me. And I guess I don't need him to carry on about how much he'll miss me in order to know that. Besides, what's important here is that he knows I love him.

That's the way parenting works.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Everyday Offerings


Every day I walk by our little corporate galley kitchen, and oftentimes my co-workers have left some communal offering. On Fridays there might be donuts or bagels. The middle of the week might bring homemade cookies. After any holiday there is sure to be leftover candy. There is never a sign, but everyone knows that anything left on the red counter is an offering to all.

An altar to we mortal gods.

Today I walked by and it was a handful of fresh strawberries. Not on a plate or a napkin. Just scattered on the counter, like a lazy gift, and I laughed.

Life is a red countertop. We are all gods, with altars full of offerings, if only we would see.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How Will I Remember This?


I often remind myself that it is the times I struggled most that I recall most fondly.

I remind myself of this so often because it seems I have struggled more than I've coasted. As a matter of fact, does any period of of our lives seem particularly easy as we experience it? Are we ever really happy in the present?

I often recall the years I was in college as the happiest years. But if I take the time to pick apart the memory, I recall that I was so broke I ate boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese because that's all I could afford. I had patio furniture in the living room. I never went out and I never went shopping. I studied a lot, even on Friday and Saturday nights. I dreamed of the day I would graduate and make more money. And have a social life.

But this crusty 37-year-old brain recalls the way the sun shone through the empty attic of my Detroit bungalow and the near-giddy feeling of, "This is mine!" I was so busy trying to get a 4.0 and keep myself fed, I really didn't have too much time to trouble with existential angst. And though I recall these years as the golden years with my ex-husband, I can't help but recall all the nights I got in my car and drove around the block because I was so angry with him I didn't want to go home, but drove home anyway because I had no place else to go.

That makes me laugh now.

I looked at seven or eight houses on Sunday, and quickly ascertained that the affordable houses weren't as nice as my apartment, and the only houses I liked were about $300 more than I pay now. Returning home to my clean, bright, sunshine-y apartment after looking at other people's rundown houses, I couldn't help but tilt my head back and laugh.

I suddenly realized that some day I will look back on the apartment days as some of the fondest memories of my life. My years of struggle as a single mother, climbing my way up the corporate ladder and eeking out a little more salary each year — oh it will be these years of which I will be most proud.

And perhaps I will remember them as the time I was the most free.

I keep getting distracted by all the things I should be dissatisfied with. I don't make enough money. My job is pretty boring and routine. I sit in a cube all day. My car is crappy. My apartment, small. I don't like my furniture. But I'm laughing as I type this.

Silly girl.

Happiness is for now, not later. Happiness won't come with a new car, a new job or even a big brand new house. When you move on, you bring your happiness with you. Or your misery.

New houses aren't furnished with emotion. In fact, nothing new includes happiness. It's sort of like batteries — happiness is sold separately. Happiness is a choice, you choose it every single moment, as it occurs. You don't get to pre-order it for the future, and you don't get to send it back in time. Happiness only exists right now, even as you read this.

Your choice.

Figure out how to be happy right now, or fire off all the reasons you can't be happy. Get angry. Tell me why I'm wrong. See how far that gets you. Go on and pack your bags with misery and expect to find something else when you unpack.

I read once that Freud said daydreams were the territory of the dissatisfied and meloncholy. Happy people don't daydream. I have a tendency to daydream away the present, wrapping the fantasies of future successes around me while I completely miss what's lovely right now.

It's cloudy out, the pavement is covered with rain. I can't comment on the sun. But the parking lot looks slick and black, and the grass is greener than it ought to be. Michigan is lush and wet, and I want to roll around in it.

I think I will.

Right now.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Everything Is Perfect, Including You


I love you a little bit more today than I did yesterday. Don't know why, I just do.

Maybe it's because you looked vulnerable. Maybe it's because I kissed you all over your face. Maybe it's because the sex was phenomenal.

Maybe there's just a whole helluva lot of good in this world, and you remind me of that.

Some days are just good. Some days are full of certainty. Some moments are full of you, and I am satiated. In these moments I am certain of everything. Worry is a thing of the past. Insecurity is cast aside, and suddenly there is room for faith. Can a wary girl have faith in anything? Yes, if she allows herself to believe.

Nirvana is living in the moment. Nirvana is not worrying about the past or the future. All concerns that have nothing to do with Right Now only destroy our happiness. But like a well conditioned lab rat, I keep pushing the lever, over and over again, waiting to get my reward or punishment. I'm a salivating dog. I anticipate everything, good and bad -- and in my anticipation, I ruin the moment. Because right now, I don't need whatever might come. I don't need anything more than this.

Sometimes I'm amazed how everything is saturated with the teachings of the Buddha. The lessons of awareness, and of letting go seep into the dry soil of my life -- work, boyfriend, family, son -- all of it filling with the same clear waters of acceptance. Everything is as it should be. Right now. Perfect.

As are you.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Warning.


The dead body is still there.

I know, I know. I should clean it up. What kind of a person leaves the remains of a giant centipede sqaushed onto the trim along the floor? Every time I walk down the hall I stare at it. Its legs are still splayed this way and that, frozen in their final caress.

Ew.

As soon as my son notices it, I'm going to have to get the Windex and scrub it off. It's just that the very thought of touching it, even through several layers of paper towel, gives me the heebiest of jeebies.

Maybe I can leave it there as a warning to other centipedes?

In the middle ages they used to flay thieves, and nail their skins to the doors as warnings.

That's right.

I said it.

I'm going medieval on those furry fuckers.

Consider yourselves warned.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Stealing a Centipede's Life and Other Buddhist Parenting Hypocrisies


I was trying to get the key in the back door when I heard my son furiously stamping on the porch. I turned around and saw him stomping on a bunch of tiny ants.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" I gasped.

"I'm killing these ants," my son said and stared at me round-eyed.

"Why?"

"'Cause they were moving around."

We stared at each other.

"Were they hurting you?" I asked.

"No," he said, his eyes getting bigger and more troubled.

"Well then why did you kill them?"

"I don't know. I just did."

We stared at each other.

"You know, once you take an ant's life, you can't give it back," I said.

"I didn't mean to!" he said, eyes getting bigger and sadder, the full impact of his actions now dawning on him.

"You need to be careful about killing things. It's stealing life, and you can't give it back. Those ants weren't bothering you, they weren't hurting you, and you killed them forever."

"I'm sorry!"

Now he looked like he was about to cry. My work was done. Time to reel him back in from the edge.

"It's okay. But just promise me you'll never kill anything that's not harming you, okay?"

"Okay, Mama! I will never steal an ant's life again!"

Buddhist lesson for the day: Check. Awesome parenting: Check.


Fast forward to yesterday morning. As I'm putting the finishing touches on my shimmery face, I hear my son begin to whimper in the hallway.

"Mama, there's something SCARY in here!"

I freeze, mid-dusting of bronzing powder and feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I walked into the hallway with my make-up brush held out before me like a switchblade.

"What is it?" I asked, nervously looking down the hall.

"THAT," my son pointed to the floor at the end of the hallway.


A.

GIGANTIC.

FURRY.

CENTI-BEAST!!!


"AHHH!" I yelled and jumped straight into the air.

"Oh no!" my son yelled and ran into his room where he started to cry.

I have an enormous and well-documented phobia of centipedes. I have even discussed it in therapy. It's that bad. I usually cry and scream and run away. I have had several shriek-y battles with them involving Edge shaving gel and other people's shoes. I once saw the granddaddy of all centipedes take a free fall from the ceiling and land on my husband's chest. I had to divorce him after that.

THAT bad.

So in this moment, my fear putting me on full-tilt irrational panic attack mode, and my weeping son beckoning me to be strong, I was caught. Fortunately my love for my son enabled me to get out of my freak-out-induced paralysis, and I went to his room and hugged him.

"It's okay, baby. It's just a centipede. It's a scary-looking bug and mama is afraid of them too, but I will get it for you."

"IT'S SCARY AND I DON'T LIKE IT!" he wailed.

"Mama is going to be a super hero and get that centipede for you," I said and marched out of his bedroom in search of a shoe I didn't care about.

I held the ratty flat sandal I use for gardening out before me. I felt like I was going to throw up, but I lunged forward and squished the huge, hairy, wriggling beast.

"GAH!" I yelled, shuddering as I heard it crunch.

"Did you get it, Mama?" my son called, still sounding weepy.

"I got it!"

He came out and stood next to me, and we examined the remains of the beast.

"What are all those things?" my son splayed his fingers out to represent the multitude of legs and grimaced. I grimaced in return.

"Those are its legs," I said.

"Yech!"

"Seriously," I agreed.

"What do you call that thing? Anemone?"

"Centipede."

"It's not going to get me any more?"

"Nope. I killed it."

We stood in silence, watching our fallen enemy. He had been a worthy opponent.

"I only kill centipedes. Nothing else," I added.

"Only centipedes. Not ants."

"Right," I said.

I'm totally certain if there had been centipedes in India, the Buddha would have put a disclaimer on that whole "Do Not Kill" thing. I'm sure of it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Make Cream, Not War


The coffee creamer war is over.

For a long time, during the dark ages here at the agency, we had to buy our own coffee. Many a gray employee tromped down flights of stairs to the belly of the building, to a windowless "cafe" of sorts, next to shipping and receiving, and a lone ATM. There you could buy a cup of coffee for a dollar, and if you filled up five punches on your coffee card, you could get a free one.

Oh man, that got me. Kremlin-Gulag Agency was so stingy, whereas my former employer (YES-IT'S FREE, Inc.) brewed vast vats of Starbucks brand coffee and plied us with free Twix and Kit Kat bars. But the sun shone down on we weary advertising hacks, and a golden coffee maker was bestowed upon us from our now-benevolent ruler.

*Cue angels choir*

No sooner had the serfs sated themselves on free coffee, they began to fight amongst themselves. Some of us brought our own creamers, of varying flavors and fat contents. We brutally scrawled our names on the containers, in large angry-Sharpie-medium-point print.

"MANDY"

"SALACIOUS BEE"

"EPIC"

"THAT ANNOYING GUY IN THE WINDOWLESS CUBE"

Etc.

Despite the clear demarkations of our cream, there were thieves amongst us. Soon notes were taped to the cabinets in the employee kitchen, and ominous floor-wide emails were sent, admonishing the greedy peasants for stealing from their neighbors.

"IF IT DOESN'T HAVE YOUR NAME ON IT, IT'S NOT YOUR CREAM!!!!" the messages hollered at us.

It sort of made me want to steal other people's cream, despite having my own clearly-marked cream. Maybe other people had better cream if theirs was being stolen? I mean, sure I bought the fat-free, but everyone knows the full-fat tastes better. Maybe if I stole it the fat grams wouldn't count? Plus the idea of stealing cream, right there in the middle of our corporate town square -- anyone could catch me! What if they saw me adding a huge dollop of "SALACIOUS BEE" cream to my non-salacious cup?

Oh, the very thought of it gave me the tingles.

But I didn't do it. Because of the Buddha. He's always telling me not to do bad things. But my co-workers, non-believers that they are, went on stealing from one another, and the hatred grew. We now passed one another in the cube-corridors, slit-eyed and suspicious.

"Good morning!" Salacious Bee would chirp.

"FUCK YOU!" I would scream back at her, my guilt from coveting her cream as clear as the florescent lights above.

Kremlin-Gulag Agency was in a bad state of affairs. Rather than bringing joy and peace to the agency, the free coffee had brought hatred and in-fighting amongst the formerly peaceable copy writing and art directing plebes. I trembled in my cube, afraid to venture out into the now-lawless second floor. Though I hadn't noticed anyone stealing my cream, I lifted it carefully each morning -- shaking it, listening to it, trying to determine if any of those bitches had sipped at it.

I'd become someone I no longer knew. It was with a heavy heart that I walked to the coffee maker yesterday morning. Resigned, I opened the refrigerator and braced myself for the hate-speech scrawled across cartons of half-and-half.

But wait.

What's this?

"FREE CREAM FOR EVERYONE! THE INTERNATIONAL COFFEE CREAMERS OF PEACE ARE HERE! HELP YOURSELF! THERE'S MORE CREAM WHERE THAT CAME FROM!"

A message like a sweet call from an angel on high! I looked past the note, to rows and rows of assorted International Coffee Creamer bottles. There was Southern Butter Pecan, Irish Cream, Vanilla, Hazelnut, so many flavors, both fat-free and full -- I stood in the open door of the refrigerator and wept.

Oh, I wept like a new-born babe.

For it was as the Buddha always said: "Hatred does not cease through hatred at any time. Hatred ceases through love. This is an unalterable law."

Salacious Bee came around the corner and our eyes met, mine moist with tears.

She opened her arms to me, wide-open in her forgiveness. I walked to her and stopped a few feet short.

"Don't fuckin' touch me," she said with a grin.

"As if! You freak!" I said, and nodded my head.

Peace had returned to the agency. Through love, not hate.






Namaste, my bitches.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

If You Can't Make Yourself Happy, Make Someone Else Happy

Such a non-Western concept:

If you are in pain, despair, sad or drenched in suburban ennui and you can't see your way clear of it, make someone else feel good. Oh how we bristle against it! "What? What about ME! I'm the one who's not happy! I need attention! I need love! Me! Me! Me! Screw you! You should be making ME happy, dammit!"

Yeah. See how far that gets you.

Years ago, hell, possibly ten years ago, my therapist gave me this self-same advice. I was in a pit of misery so deep, I could hardly breathe. I spent nights battling demons, battles I mostly lost. Battles that left me in a dark bathroom, my head resting on the cold porcelain of the toilet, weeping. I wept until I was weak, and then I wept some more. I stretched myself out across the tile floor and fell asleep there, more nights than not.

No one ever came to save me from myself. And clearly, I was in the grips of a beast that would not let me go. Make all the jokes you want about eating disorders, I know it's the hip thing to do, what, with all these celebrity anorexics to choose from -- but quitting an addiction is brutal. It doesn't matter if your addiction is a drug, alcohol, food, pain or righteous denial -- you need it to get you through the night.

It took me ten years of therapy to quit over 18 years of being bulimic.

I waged a private war against it, and it was a bloody war that took no prisoners. I lost more battles than I won. I reached out for help and was shoved away. I had nothing but shame and despair to comfort me, and an impassive husband who just didn't want to hear about it.

Had I known my husband was battling his own war -- a war he would lose -- perhaps things would have been different. Or perhaps not. Who am I kidding? Nobody expects the Alamo, or schizophrenia, for that matter.

I was sitting in my therapist's office one day, one of four visits each week, grabbing my head, rocking back and forth.

"I just can't make it stop. I just can't make it stop."

I was losing it.

I couldn't stop the pain. Chronic, excruciating mental pain. It never fucking let up. I walked around in the real world like a puppet, I moved my arms and legs and performed for the people throughout the day. But all the while, a constant torrent of invectives, slurs, hate-speech played in my brain.

"Sometimes, if you can't do anything to make yourself feel good, it helps to make someone else feel good," my therapist stated.

In that moment, I hated him.

"What about me! Who's going to make ME feel better!" I wailed, and then laughed at my own ridiculousness.

He laughed too.

"Maybe you can make you feel better."

Well that pissed me off.

"Achhhhhhhhhh," I said, making the sound of disgust in the back of my throat like we do in my family.

But I tried. Tentatively that night, as my husband and I lay in bed, I reached out and rubbed his back. I rubbed and rubbed, touching him for the first time in months. I stroked his back until he fell asleep, softly snoring.

I did this for a week. Seven nights of selfless love and kindness.

He never once touched me. He never once acknowledged it.

I felt lonelier and sadder than ever.

"It doesn't work!" I yelled at my therapist.

"Maybe you need to try it on someone else. How about your students?" he suggested.

So I did. Gave up on the husband, and began spending late hours at school. I let my students hang out in my classroom, laying on my carpet, staring at the ceiling. We dubbed it "Carpet Time" and I listened to them bemoan their various outcast states.

And we laughed.

And I felt better.

Last night I took my son to Toys R Us and bought him a cartload of toys for no damn reason other than the fact that I was depressed and lonely and couldn't make myself feel better.

"Can I have that golf set?" he asked.

"Yes."

"A T-ball set?" he asked again, giving me an incredulous, sidelong glance.

"You got it."

"Can I be a policeman?" his jaw was now hanging open in disbelief.

"Of course you can."

Oh, we loaded up that cart. All those toys, all that happiness, cost less than $50.

"You want to go to McDonald's and eat dinner?" I asked.

"What's Old McDonalds?" he asked.

So I took him and bought him a we ate fast food. Then he played on the giant PlayPlace, with the florescent lighting humming above us and the faint whiff of children's sweat and urine.

He was ecstatic.

Though I counted down the minutes before I could take him home and douse him in a hot shower, I couldn't help but laugh with him in his joy.

I did that. I made that happiness happen out of thin air.

When they named it a "Happy Meal," they weren't kidding. I just didn't realize that the happiness of the meal wasn't limited to the consumer of the meal. Turns out the buyer gets some of it too.

Just like my therapist said. All those years ago.