Thursday, December 30, 2010

Meme for 2010.

A great meme I found a few years back. Something about stopping to reflect at the turn of a new year feels very right to me.

1. What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?
Thanks to Leni Sorensen, I learned canning, and successfully put up 4 jars of tomatoes and 8 jars of hot peppers. Could feel my grandmothers smiling down at me as I worked.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I've decided the only resolution I ever need to make is to find balance. Continually seek balance, strive for balance, and be happy when I find moments of balance. Easier said than done.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My friend Angie gave birth to Annabelle Claire. :0)

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Thankfully, no.

5. What countries did you visit?
In 2010, none. But in late 2009 I had the great good fortune to visit Mexico for a wedding. Fell in love with the coastline, the people, the cuisine, and the tequila. Came home with a promise to myself to learn Spanish, and to learn how to make tamales.

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
Friends that live in the same town. All my friends seem to live someplace else. More discipline for my writing and my meditation, and my exercise.

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
July 9th. That was the day I finally decided to dedicate all my strength and being to writing.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Finally facing the fact I'm a writer, and nothing else. I finally began the steps, the growth that I needed to become an actualized person, a dedicated writer, a contented human being. I stopped lying to myself and to others - to get them to like me. I finally started learning who I am and who I want to be. Being honest like this, after a lifetime of going along to get along is so difficult, but so necessary.

9. What was your biggest failure?
There were so many times I was angry. And even though I know anger can be a signal of growth and change, I still have a hard time not seeing it as failure. Want to learn to face difficult situations with love and acceptance and surrender and peace.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Yes, a chronic issue with my back that I'm learning to accept and love and not be angry or frustrated about. It's very challenging to accept pain and to accept growing older.

11. What was the best thing someone bought you?
My husband bought us a week in OBX. Even though it was cut short, it was the most fun, peaceful, incredible 4 days of this year. Later on at Christmas, he bought me a book of Leonard Cohen's poetry. Lovely lovely lovely.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Congress. For finally getting rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
There's so much hate and anger on the news. I wish they'd make more of an effort to share uplifting stories instead of all the scare tactics they love to use to build up ratings.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Toward bills, student loans. But I'm trying to set aside small amounts for small presents to myself that don't cost very much. Trinkets from Etsy, soaps, makeup, a pair of gloves, some watercolors. Little things to cheer me up when I'm sad or frustrated.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Seeing Leonard Cohen's last concert in Las Vegas, December 11, 2010. It was stunning. To quote another writer, "I'd like to describe the concert, but how do you describe a religious experience?"

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?
"A Thousand Kisses Deep" by Leonard Cohen. It was definitely his music that colored my entire year. And in this year of internal growth and change, this song described my state of mind the best.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
- Fatter or thinner?
Fatter. Damn desk job. Damn slow metabolism. Spanx have become my best friend, and I'm trying to be on speaking terms with "Esther Roll" (Wanda Sykes's name for her belly).

- Happier or sadder?
Happier. Infinitely happier because I'm doing what I've always wanted to do. I'm so grateful to be writing. I'm so grateful for everything that is my life.

- Richer or poorer?
Poorer. The paycheck isn't steady when you freelance, but no matter. I'm infinitely happier.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Running. Yoga. The only things that seem to calm my anxieties and fears. I seem to say this at the end of every year.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying. Being afraid. Punishing myself with unhealthy foods and drink to push down or mask the fear and worry. It's better to move through the worry, the fear, and reward yourself with foods that make your body feel good. Easier said than done when you're "in it".

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Hubby and I visited my family Christmas Eve. We sat and talked, ate ham biscuits and takeout Vietnamese food. Opened presents. There was no yelling or drama. It was wonderful.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008?
I've been in love since the day I met my husband in 1999.

22. How many one night stands?
Not since I fell in love, and not much before.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Mad Men. Nothing else comes close and here's why.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Hate is such a strong word for someone who tries to meditate and practice yoga. There are definitely people whose choices I really can't understand.

25. What was the best book you read?
Duma Key, by Stephen King. Read aloud by John Slattery (Roger Sterling on Mad Men). It took me months to get through this book. I loved it, not only for the scary escapism, but Slattery's voice is commanding and comforting at the same time. He becomes the characters. During my months of high drama, when I was quitting regularly-paid work and striking out on my own, it was comforting to know I'd hear his voice once I got in my car.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Really dove into old-school hip-hop this year. EPMD, Snoop, Wyclef Jean, Notorious BIG. Jay-Z got me up some humongous hills when I was struggling to run.

27. What did you want and get?
I grew my own Swiss Chard in pots this year. And sunflowers. After years of talking about it, I finally did it.

28. What did you want and not get?
Really wanted to win that Foodbuzz blogging contest, for the exposure, and also so I could give some of the prize money back to my community. No worries though, my blog is better by leaps and bounds because of the experience.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
Two. Both DVR'd. "Elegy", starring Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz. Probably the most beautiful love story I've ever seen. So real. I cried for 20 minutes when it was over. And  "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" an historical drama based on true events. All about the British massacre of the Irish in the 1920's. Painful to watch, yet so powerful. I was thinking about this film for days afterward.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 43. But for the life of me I can't remember what we did. Probably went out for a nice meal somewhere. Sure sucks getting old...

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
To have had close friends in the same city as me. So when I was going through major periods of frustration, growth, and change, I could call on them for support. Or at least go out for drinks.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
I decided most of my clothes either didn't fit, or were too "old". I cut all my hair off and started dressing the way I WANT to dress, not the way I think people want me to dress. I also realized a uniform of jeans, a cute top, and heeled boots isn't necessarily tired if you always look good in it.

33. What kept you sane?
My husband, my dog, and music. Running. Watching the sunsets out my kitchen window. Listening to mooing cows at sunrise. Meditating to the cicadas and the crickets in the summer.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Javier Bardem in Eat, Pray, Love. And Leonard Cohen :)

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Gay marriage. People need to relax and let people, all people, find love where they can find it.

36. Who do you miss?
I missed my Nana a lot this year. Just had many experiences where I found myself thinking, "Nana would've loved this."

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Two people. Leni Sorensen, food historian and all around awesome broad. She taught me how to can tomatoes. I'm grateful to be her friend, and so glad to be called a "student" in her kitchen. Allison Tyler, on a trip I took with my friend Melissa to NYC. So damn creative. Wish I could be more like her.

38. What was the best thing you ate?
The chicken and waffles at Bouchon in Las Vegas. Thomas Keller is an effing genius.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010?
No food, drink, or pill can take away your anxiety or fear. It only blankets it.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
It was a tumultuous year for me. One of growth and change. I'd get four steps forward then drop two steps back. Just when I'd think I'd learned a lesson, something would show up to tell me that I hadn't. This song sums it up perfectly.

A Thousand Kisses Deep
by Leonard Cohen

The ponies run, the girls are young,
The odds are there to beat.
You win a while, and then it’s done –
Your little winning streak.
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat,
You live your life as if it’s real,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

I’m turning tricks, I’m getting fixed,
I’m back on Boogie Street.
You lose your grip, and then you slip
Into the Masterpiece.
And maybe I had miles to drive,
And promises to keep:
You ditch it all to stay alive,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

And sometimes when the night is slow,
The wretched and the meek,
We gather up our hearts and go,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

Confined to sex, we pressed against
The limits of the sea:
I saw there were no oceans left
For scavengers like me.
I made it to the forward deck.
I blessed our remnant fleet –
And then consented to be wrecked,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

I’m turning tricks, I’m getting fixed,
I’m back on Boogie Street.
I guess they won’t exchange the gifts
That you were meant to keep.
And quiet is the thought of you,
The file on you complete,
Except what we forgot to do,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

And sometimes when the night is slow,
The wretched and the meek,
We gather up our hearts and go,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thank You Leonard Cohen.

"I'm just another snowman, standing in the rain and sleet. Who loved you with his frozen love, his second-hand physique. With all he is, and all he was. A thousand kisses deep."

You brought peace back into my heart.

It's been empty for quite some time. I walked around the world in my false hope, in my false peace, thinking everything was just fine. It wasn't. Until you began to sing last Saturday at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas I realized what I thought was hope was pretend. You sang and the light came in. You sang and I was saved. Imagine yourself in a beautiful world, a perfect bright world. But you suddenly realize it's all a sheen, a sham, a false front. You find a door on this stage and step through it into a blindingly white light. It was kind of like that. Not to venture into hyperbole (I've been known to dabble), but I was changed.

Now I sit here, attempting to describe how I feel and sounding for all the world like a turn of the century hausfrau who's just returned from her first tent revival. I can't stop humming "Who By Fire?" I can't stop smiling. I feel calm. My dreams are more vivid. Not sure how long this can last. I know it can't. Change is the only constant after all.

Why am I even writing? Because I looked for a decent concert review and found none. Just a half-hearted attempt from the local paper full of song quotes. Not written by a fan or someone even remotely knowledgeable about your musical gifts. Of course you could listen for years and not begin to understand. It's a very "You had to be there..." kind of thing.

You sang for four hours. Four hours of song that's indescribable. Chelsea Hotel #2, Bird On A Wire, Anthem, they all threw my heart up to the rafters, then down to the depths until I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I felt exhilarated and exhausted. Mr. Cohen, you're a man in love. So deeply in love with women, and love, and sex, and life that every song reflects it. You're the Pablo Neruda of pop - all your songs dripping with so much innuendo I found I needed some air when intermission rolled around. When you're not singing love, you're singing justice, and spirituality, and loss, and death, and wonder, all the things philosophers have been pondering for thousands of years. In your fedora and suit, skipping around, going down on one knee to pray, then arising to sing and skip some more. You're a playful mix of Pan, Tom Jones, and Zen Buddhist priest all rolled into one. A dash of Bugs Bunny. With a little bit of superhero thrown in for good measure because you sang for FOUR HOURS.

I don't even know why I'm attempting to describe my experience. Maybe it's because 5 days later I'm still on a high, still feel saved, still feel full of pure light and love. Which is rare for me. I wanted to write about it. I needed to. I wanted a written record to say YES.

YES, I saw the flowers covering the stage.
YES, I saw your fans singing "Just Passing Through" to anyone who cared to listen during intermission. Swaying to the music. Willing you back onstage.
YES, I saw the young lady rush the stage to embrace you.
YES, I saw the blouses flying during "It's Closing Time".
YES, I saw my tattered tissue and my tears so many times during your performance.
YES, I saw my own jealousy emerge when I realized I'd never write as good as this. And yes, I saw it dissolve in surrender when I realized it didn't matter. All that mattered was the right now.
YES, I saw my heart explode in wonder when you performed "A Singer Must Die" alone, with just a guitar as accompaniment. Poetry. Conviction. Simply the best live performance of a song I've ever seen anywhere.
YES, I saw your gratitude. You wear your heart on your sleeve Mr. Cohen.
YES, I saw the faces of the people afterward as they filed out into the din and blare and ping of the casino. Their faces beamed. Their hearts were full. They'd been changed as well.

That night I had a dream. You are wearing a tracksuit. Hatless. In disguise, sweeping the casino floor while all around you people file past, leaving the concert. The noise and the blare and the ping-ping of the slot machines leave you unfazed. All of it rushes past in a flood as you quietly sweep. I step closer. I thank you for the peace you have brought. You just lean on your broom, beaming. Your face beaming beatific in its gratitude, in its grace. So pure. So simple. What is your secret Mr. Cohen? What hides behind that smile? How can I have that smile too?

After something like that you cannot help but be changed. I just wanted a written record to exist somewhere. To say with the full gratitude of my heart and soul that I was there. I experienced what might be your last show and I'll never forget it.

Thank you Leonard Cohen. You brought peace back to my heart. Got rid of the darkness, at least for a awhile. And that feels so good.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Running Realizations.

I hate running. Really hate it. It feels alien to my body and I'm always short of breath. At the same time I love it. I forget how great it makes me feel afterward. Like my husband says it feels so good when you stop. I also forget the realizations you have while running. Your body, your breath is struggling, your mind is focused on the struggle so it frees itself and all these realizations come rushing in.

I love those realizations, but fear them too, because usually they pick me up out of my complacent little slot in the world and throw me somewhere else. Inevitably after a run I'll have to actually DO some major life-altering thing because while I was chuffing along I realized no, I actually didn't want to have kids. So what now?

I'll never forget that cold, foggy morning in Pittsburgh running around the reservoir near the zoo, listening to the lions roar their disapproval in the dawn and realizing that no, I didn't want to be a teacher anymore. That Vietnam-humid summer morning when I realized I hated my job in fundraising. I wanted to write. That other morning when the first warm breath of Spring was in the air and the first green buds appeared when I realized how very much I loved my husband, my dog, my life. Tears rolled down in gratitude when I also realized I didn't have to do anything with that realization. I just had to feel it for awhile. Then remember what it felt like when times were bad.

This afternoon as the sun set and the last of the trees hit their fire-red peak while others gently let go of their leaves without a sound, I realized much to my horror that I was living my mother's life. All my life I've fought against it. When she wanted me to be a ballerina I balked. When she wanted me to keep studying violin I yelled. I hated cooking. And I absolutly HATED..........running. She ran marathons. I cheered her on from the sidelines. She urged me to run and I complained. I would NEVER run. I'm fifteen dammit! I know everything!

Now at 43, I'm learning to love running. And I'm a freelance food writer which means I cook a great deal. I bake a great deal. And I love it. The realization, the irony of it all was not lost as I tried in vain to make it up our neighborhood's giant hill. But as I ran down the other side I also realized, if I was living Momma's life, did that also mean I had to live all of it?

While I've been struggling with my identity the past year, what it means to be a writer, to finally do what I'm supposed to do, what it means to not have kids, what it means to be this person I find myself to be, I've also been struggling with an unknown, un-named fear. It lurks off to the side and I find myself preparing for it. I don't know what it is, but I'll be ready for it when it gets here. I lift weights, I run. I meditate. I pray. I write. All in an effort to get strong for whatever this fear could be.

My mother, in her 40's, was violently attacked in her home. They never found the guy and even though we all urged her to get counseling she never did. She insisted she was strong enough. She kept running. But she also started drinking. And at 49 she crashed her car into a tree. Ten years of brain trauma followed, until at 59 she died within 3 months of being diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Now certainly there were happy memories in those years, and I don't mean to come off all Anne Sexton-confessional, but this was my realization today. I don't fear living my mother's life. But I do fear that part of it. If I'm living my mother's life, does it mean I have to live it all? Facing that kind of mountain makes me very afraid indeed.

I can hear my mother insisting that I'm silly, this is my life. Not hers. Of course I can make different choices. All I know is this running realization rushing in to my brain today stopped me cold. It made me cry. And I swear to God if I make it to 50 with all my body parts and my mental faculties intact I'll be very grateful indeed. Hell, I'm grateful right now. For a lot of things. But today mostly for running. Because with every step I'm letting shit go.

Running to me is "selah" meaning I stop. And I listen.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chelsea Hotel.

Well, never mind. We are ugly, but we have the music.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

I'm a Writer.

In high school, I was on the editorial committee that decided which poems and stories would make it into our literary magazine. Every submission was anonymous, and the committee would first have someone read the piece aloud, then the rest would comment. My junior year I submitted a poem, one I was proud of because it stated my deepest longings, my most deep-seated fears, my hopes, my wishes. It was angst-ridden. My cry for help. After it was read aloud, the committee frowned. "It's pretty obscure," someone commented - the nicest comment of the ones that followed. For what seemed like an eternity the group tore apart my poem, line by line. The criticism was not constructive, but cruel. They gorged like lions at a fresh kill while our teacher looked on, silent. I never submitted another piece again, and from that point on, I kept my writing hidden from the world.

Writing was my life, my reason for living, but I pushed it down, pushed it away, because obviously I sucked at it. It didn't help my parents never encouraged my writing, but instead pushed me into music, art, dance, anything else. After high school, I pursued a degree in illustration, which pleased my mother to no end. When that didn't work out, I tried every other job imaginable: store manager, barista, bartender, receptionist, typist, copy editor, proposal writer, newsletter editor, English teacher. You'll notice those last few jobs incorporate writing. I like to think of them as "writing adjacent". Even though I feared writing, my gut couldn't get away from it, and so I took jobs to get NEXT to writing without actually touching it.

Even if the job didn't involve actual writing, I made damn sure it involved my time. I said yes to every project, forged ahead with every new plan and proposal and development at whatever job I happened to have. I wanted my entire day (and sometimes night) FULL, so unconsciously I didn't have to think about the fact I wasn't writing. For a time, I even worked two jobs, 16-hour days, which only left me enough time to come home and drink myself into a blackout stupor before starting the whole merry-go-round of denial once again.

But recently, I endured what I like to think of as an existential crisis of conscience. My last job involved some writing, so it was "writing adjacent" but it took up so much of my time. Not only that, the circumstances of the job were so stress-inducing I often found myself lying awake at night - ALL NIGHT - trying to think of ways to make the job better. How could I get up in the morning, go to this job, and not go into the bathroom stall and cry every day? How could I make it more endurable? When you're describing your job as "endurable" it's probably not a good thing. Not at all. I had buried my fear, my desire to write so deeply that here I was trying to figure out how to turn a job I hated into one I could at least endure another day. It was a breaking point for me.

I quit. I had to. I was so deep within it, I couldn't see I was pushing my desire to write away, allowing my fear to act as a wall against it. I would rather die of stress at this job, constantly fighting to make it better, constantly denying my love of writing to sneak into my psyche, rather than just letting it all go. It took a good friend to show me what was going on - to take me by the hand, pull me outside of myself, and show me the scene as it was playing out. She was like the Ghost of Christmas Present in that Dickens tale, her hand around my shoulder, showing me the scene. "Do you see what you're doing to yourself? Why are you fighting so hard?" Isn't it funny how someone outside can see the solution so easily when you've been banging your head against the wall for years? I remain grateful for her insight, and her swift kick in my ass.

So I cut all ties to that job. Now I was unemployed, untethered, like a balloon set aloft except there's no wind to carry it anywhere. It's just there, floating, waiting for someone to blow on it. Waiting for direction. It's incredibly frightening to feel like that, but exciting-frightening. The anticipation, the faith you have in yourself while you're untethered is what keeps you aloft.

Elizabeth Gilbert said when you begin a major life journey, when you finally let go and do things differently for the first time, heading into a direction you've never been in, you have to have faith the truth will be revealed. And everyone you meet on your journey is a possible teacher.*

This is the truth I keep coming back to. My truth. I have no idea where to go or what to do next. But I keep reminding myself the truth will be revealed. I have been listening to "Eat, Pray, Love" again on audio. It's amazing how her journey for balance parallels mine for purpose. Because that's what I'm looking for - purpose. What am I supposed to do? Who am I supposed to be? In Chapter 30, when Liz finally decides not to become a mother she asks herself, "Okay, so who am I now?" It was like an arrow of light went right into my heart. Because that is me. That is so me it hurts. I say "arrow of light" because it was so validating to HEAR another woman state what I was feeling. I had read these words two years ago, but hearing them now, it really sunk in. I heard it with my heart, not my head.

My husband and I tried to have children, and then when it didn't work out easily, we decided not to pursue it. We are happy as we are. And even though we didn't really talk about why, now I know. Both of us, having had happy childhoods, also still possess a huge amount of painful memories and demons we're still working through. It would be so unfair to bring up a child, the hardest job of all, without having worked through this. Without letting this go. While I might not know my purpose, I do know we were brought together to take care of each other in this life. And that's more than enough purpose. Except it isn't, is it? Taking care of my husband is so easy, and my greatest joy. I'm still left with the question, "What now?"

Recently, someone asked me what I did for a living. "I'm a writer," I replied. The words felt awful in my mouth, like I had just decided to find out what rocks taste like. They rolled around on my tongue like maggots and it took all my force of will to get the words out. I wear a bite guard at night, and frequently I have dreams where I'm trying to speak, but because the guard is blocking my talk the only thing that comes out are squeaks and inhuman noises. This felt just like that. I was like Helen Keller discovering water, except I heard the words and I didn't believe them.

For the longest time I was a quiet mousy girl, but because of all the shit I've gone through in my life I blossomed into a mouthy broad. You can't shut me up now, and you better not even try unless you want your ass kicked. Now I just need to learn to open my mouth on the page. To get to the point where writing is as easy as talking. So for the time being I'm an untethered balloon. Floating and silent, but emitting a squeak here and there. And that's fine for now. I have faith.

*I'm paraphrasing, can anyone find this quote for me? I gave my copy of the book to a friend who really needed it.

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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Chinese Translation.

I haven't been able to get this out of my head all does a (wo)man like me remain in the light? :0)

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Greatest Mashup Ever.

Today, a musical epizoodik. The greatest mashup ever. Jay-Z and Jimi Hendrix. Crank it.

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