Thursday, August 28, 2014

Books, glorious books! Hot sausage and mustard!

We recently spent a week in Maine. We rented a house through Airbnb, and everything about it was delightful, truly delightful.

On day two, however, Nick said, "Do you notice anything odd?"

No books.

I mean, there were a few coffee table books and some books of art in a basement bookcase, but otherwise, none. Not a novel, memoir, non-fiction book in sight.

The truth is that if I am at your house and given the opportunity, I will look at your bookshelves. (By "given the opportunity" I mean, I won't sneak into your bedroom so I can peer at your books. Only if they're right out there in front of God and everyone.)

Seeing what other people choose to read is one of my favorite things to do.

I love the window into your mind. When you have beloved books in common, don't you feel like it says something profound? Or anyway, something?

Apparently lots of people will peer into other people's medicine cabinets. Seriously. I'm not remotely interested in whether or not you take antacids or what kind of deodorant you like.

It's your psyche I want to rifle through. In a totally transparent, non-creepy way. I promise. So please still invite me over.

So yesterday my friend Wendy tagged me on Facebook. The instructions were as follows:

In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and don't think too hard - they don't have to be the "right" books or great works of literature, just the ones that have touched you.

Wendy is intellectual and a prolific reader, and I was interested to see what she'd said. I'm intrigued to hear which books others name.

How much do I love knowing this kind of thing? So much!

I mean, we choose books for a variety of reasons. Our beach read is not necessarily our depth-of-winter book. Sometimes a book grabs you because you read it at the perfect time in the perfect place. Or it squeezes your heart. Or feels a little too familiar.


I'm offering you 10 books, gathered quickly but thoughtfully, that have resonated with me enough to stick, in some large or small way.
  1. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller
  2. The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
  3. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls
  4. The Little Prince, Aintoine de Saint-Exupery
  5. Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
  6. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
  7. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  8. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  9. The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay
  10. Running in the Family, Michael Ondaatje
I'd love to hear some of your "stick with you" books.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More sweet than bitter, bitter than sweet

I remember when I was pregnant with Jordan and all these weird things were happening like random pains or terrible gas or exhaustion or whatever.

I would freak out and ask a mom friend, who then would nod and say, "Oh, yeah. It's awful, isn't it?"

ALL of my friends who had ever been pregnant knew! And didn't tell me before I got myself into that predicament!

And I was all, "What the fuck? How come NONE OF THE PREGNANT PEOPLE I HAVE EVER KNOWN told me about any of these things? It's not Fight Club. "

My second pregnancy was much easier because I knew all of the weird shit that was going to go down. I also knew if there was new weird shit, it was still just pregnancy and not like, rabies.

So I was lying in bed awake last night thinking about marriage, and how it's like that river that you step in and it's always different because you're evolving and the river is constantly moving.

And then I was all, who said that? Which, unless you're actually going to get up and Google it, is totally unhelpful. Because you're going to lay in bed awake and obsessing.

I remembered it from a philosophy class in Rome, and the teacher was this stout, stern Italian woman, very firm in her assertions and her hairdo...I could totally picture her, with her wool skirts and silk blouses, but who the hell was he? Roman? Greek, I'm pretty sure. Yes. Greek.

Which then led me to these adages that I always fuck up, like "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drown." Which is actually drink. You can't make him drink. Because you could probably drown a horse if you were strong enough.

With this I circled back to marriage; in fact, you cannot make anyone do anything. You can harangue and harass and nag and yell. You can do all of those things repeatedly.

These behaviors might make your partner reach for a stiff drink, but they're damned sure not going to get you what you want.

I mean, you hear all about how marriage is work, and marriage is hard. I've even said these things in toasts at weddings, all, marriage is hard and I know you've chosen the right person and you will work together to have a great marriage and blah blah blah.

But nobody tells you about the fights you are going to have. Like about where to put the washing machine. Or about your in-laws. Or that there's compromise all the time. You'll probably compromise on where to put the washing machine. There seems to be no compromising on in-laws.

People tell you to pick your battles, and sometimes you manage to and sometimes you don't. Sometimes you really really try to bite your tongue and still you cannot and then it is all hurtful and ugly.

Sometimes you think you are right and you apologize anyway because it is easier but you walk around with a giant chip on your shoulder that you cannot seem to shake.

Nobody tells you this kind of thing.

Even when you're married, nobody tells you this kind of thing happens to them. But I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.

So last month Nick and were talking about how much compromise marriage requires. Neither of us expected quite so much compromise.

And during our little conversation I said, in an opposite of Love Story kind of way, "Marriage means never getting to do what you really want to do."

Nick replied, "Well, you can choose to look at it in that negative way."

Dear reader, I chose to. For a while.

It was extremely helpful, in case you're wondering.

But you know, sometimes, particularly with kids, or with crises, or just Big Life Things - and we have had plenty of all in our time together - you can get so intent on dealing with what's going on around you and trying to keep it all together and moving forward that you stop focusing on who you are, and importantly, on who you are together. 

The fact is that now, coming up on six years of marriage, we are not exactly the same people as when we first dipped our toes in, and this river has changed a great deal. For a while we were just so busy we didn't notice it happening, until seemingly suddenly we were knee deep in discontent.

Are you wondering by now what my point is? I don't blame you.

I guess what I'm saying is, basically, Vanilla Ice is right. Sometimes we just need to stop, collaborate and listen.

Or in the immortal words of Ferris Bueller: Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Also, you can lead a horse to water, but don't put him in front of the cart. Wait. Do put him in front of the cart. But remember, you can't make a pig's purse out of a rat's ass.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How high's the water, mama? Five feet high and risin'...

Dear Jordan,

Today you are five. You were due on my birthday, my 40th birthday, and I wanted so badly for us to share a birthday. But you've got your very own good one.

You are so very much your own person. And yet, I see glimpses of myself in you. Sometimes I see you holding back in a new situation, on a new playground, at a party (with a clown, and face painting, and balloons!), anywhere, really. You suck your thumb and sit on the side. When you were younger, sometimes you'd hide behind my leg.

I used to want to push you forward, saying, "Go, get out there, have fun! Interact with the other kids!"

But I realized that your behavior was a mirror of my own. You sit on the side, playing with a truck, or digging, or whatever, until you are comfortable. And then you jump in.

You are intensely sparked by some people, and indifferent to the rest. I've seen this over and over; you meet some little kid and the energy between you is palpable. Immediately you are playing fire trucks or diggers or whatever.

As for the rest of the crowd, meh. You've got your own foundations to dig.

Last year your Spanish teacher was of no interest to you. She's a kind person, but she doesn't have a compelling personality. And so you paid her no heed.

It was a problem. She didn't interest you, and you weren't faking it. As you get older, you will have to learn to fake it when you need to.

During spirit week at your school last year, one day you were to dress in the garb of your future career. You said you wanted to be an artist.

"What does an artist wear?"

"A striped shirt that says ARTIST." (Duh!)

Basically, you've moved on from wanting to drive an 18-wheeler for a living. Particularly after you learned that India didn't want to drive alongside in a fast garbage truck.

You still love pink and purple and sparkles and tutus.

And you see nothing wrong with wearing them with monster truck apparel.
You love to dance, and you are the first one to jump when I suggest an underwear dance party.

Speaking of, you're also the one who fights the rule that we need to at least have on underwear when we have guests. Nanga punga is still your preferred state.


Months ago I bought you and your sister fuzzy pink Hello Kitty crocs, and you loved them so. You wore them to school a couple times and then you stopped wearing them. I know you got teased. I know because I asked your teacher, who said yes, you did, and then there was a big class discussion about how boys can wear "girl" things and how girls can wear "boy" things and really it doesn't matter. (She loved your crocs. She loved you, she really did.)

But it clearly affected you, because you stopped wearing them. And now they're too small anyway.

You did, however, go to school with some of your nana's green eyeshadow one day. Your awesome teacher loved that as well.

Now you have blue crocs, but  you also have a pink pair, because you wanted them. When I bought them for you I said, "You know, some kids might tease you about wearing pink. You know this, right?"


"You know what you can say? You can say, 'Don't be ridiculous. Boys can wear whatever they want!'"

I made you practice this a few times. You said, "Don't be widiculous!" and it was one of the cutest things I've ever heard.

Really, I wanted to tell you to tell the haters to just fuck off, but you're only five.

You're sensitive, really sensitive, and I know you get that from me, from my family. Your sister is a little bulldozer, but you feel the world quite intensely. You always have. It makes things harder sometimes, I know.

And sometimes you're so angry. So so angry. When you and I are having a bad moment, it is argh! So frustrating! For both of us!

So. Much. Belligerence!

I'm working on better parenting techniques and on patience. And I think you might be having a giant blast of testosterone lately, because you are so physical. So much kicking, hitting, pushing! And you don't quite understand how big and strong you are.
And then on the other hand, you're so very sweet. Sometimes you're so loving with your sister. And you still want me to cuddle with you when I put you to bed.

You're an introvert. I see you in your head so much, and your imagination is fabulous. Once you learn to read, I'm quite sure you're going to spend a lot of time tucked in a corner, enjoying the magic. I've told you that one of the awesome things about being able to read for yourself is that you can choose any book you want, and read anytime.

There is huge joy in this ahead for you. I think you'll love reading as much as I do. Which is A Lot.

You still dig, and you build elaborate Lego structures, and your buildings and use of color are delightful. While your buildings/camper homes/tanks and other vehicles of destruction tend to be quite modern, I have a feeling you'd like the work of Antonio Gaudi.

You wish we could paint our car red. Or like a rainbow. White and beige clothing basically offends you. You need color. At heart, you are an artist.

You are my first-born, my boy, my heart. My belligerent heart. I love you so.

Love love love,


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Today I am 45

Today I am 45. Two score and five. Four Xs and a V.
I stuck the landing!
I am, at this age I once thought of as unimaginably old, more attractive inside and out than I was at 15, at 25, at 35.

Here's why: because I like who I am. Because now I know I'm smart. Because I am kind. Because I'm interested in other people. Have I told you lately what spectacular taste I have in people? I do. Picking awesome friends may not be a marketable skill, but it is an easy way to love and enjoy the people around you.

And also, I think, I'm more attractive because I no longer spend so much time inside my head fretting about whether or not guys think I'm pretty or women find me interesting.

I'm plenty pretty, whatever that means. I'm even more interesting.

This is not to say that I don't spend an inordinate amount of time inside my head. Nor that I can walk into a cocktail party full of strangers and be all, "Hello strangers! Let's talk!"

No, I will still more likely be standing on the side clutching a drink and muttering something weird under my breath like "Anal sphincter."

The good news is, it makes me likely to get into conversations with people I find fascinating.

But back to my outside.

I have more wrinkles and less firm skin. My butt is dying to kiss the back of my knees and I have to admonish it daily. My abs are not bad, but they're not fantastic, which I've decided they used to be. Two babies and one C-section will do you no favors in that department. Nor will breastfeeding make your breasts more attractive.

The other day my mom said, "You do too have boobs!"

And I said, "Padded bra today."

"Well, they look nice on you."

For a few months buying boobs was my topic. I still might do it. I dunno. I used to like having those little cupcakes right up where they used to be. I'm never going to roll mine up like tin cans, but still. I might buy me some.

I saw a dear old friend recently and at some point he said, "OK, this is like the fourth time you've mentioned your boobs. WHAT is going on?"

So I told him my deal. But what I forgot to tell him was that it was my current fixation. If he'd seen me in a rabies month or a sinkhole month or a raccoon month, it would've been completely different.

The boobs have gotten stuck on the back burner, however. Figuratively, I mean. Because ouchie.

Betty asked what I want for my birthday, and I said, "Botox."

"No, really."

"No. Really."

Mostly I'm just bugged by the deep furrows between my brows. I don't mind the rest of the wrinkles. But I've been thinking about Botox and being chicken about it for months. While my furrows get furrowier. But whatever.

I bet most of you don't even know that I have a giant scar on my forehead, do you? I got it when I was 25. It's faded a great deal since then. But I like scars. It's never made me feel bad about my appearance.

When I was 35 and met the Dementor, it was one of the first things he asked me about. People like that will always notice.

Anyway, 20 years later, after hitting the bottom of a pool in Peru with my forehead and being lucky I didn't break my neck, I still have the scar. I will tell you that story sometime.

The past year has been filled with intense reconnections, and with it, revisiting my past selves.

One of the things I found most striking was that even in the decades in which I didn't much like myself, other people did. It turns out I've always had spectacular taste in people. And somehow, even when I didn't think much of me, they thought I was spectacular right back.

A dear friend said, "We're all still our 14-year-old selves. Just grown up."

I believe that's true. We are who we are. And as we age, we only get more so.

You're wonderful and you are beautiful and you're loved. Maybe you don't feel it, but you are. Your friends know you are. At some point, you'll know they're right. I'm certain this is true.

Although really, what do I know? I just talked to Maude about birthday and life everything and I said, "I think it's all going to work out fine. But actually, who the fuck knows anything about anything anyway?"

And she said, "That should be a bumper sticker."

Big hugs and lots of love to all of you!


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It tolls for thee

There are quite a number of things that I know absolutely nothing about, and I can't do math, and truthfully, I have a hard time naming more than, oh, 10 presidents. Also, my geography is sketchy.

But suicide? I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I feel like I know a thing or two.

Naturally, I wish I didn't. I'd much rather know nothing about suicide and instead be able to list all the presidents and fill in the map of the U.S. accurately. And Canada. Or know nothing about suicide and still not be able to do math or geography or whatever. It's not like it's one or the other, is it?

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that I'd like to not feel it so personally when I hear about a suicide.

I'd like to not, when I hear the word "asphyxiation," run through my mental list of options.

I'm not surprised by how many people are devastated by the death of Robin Williams. He was brilliant. He was hilarious and devastating and intense. He made you feel, really feel.

And he seems to have been a truly good, kind, generous human being as well, someone who cared about other people and worked to promote good in the world.

He lived bigger and funnier and kinder and just generally more than most people.

How horrible is it to lose that combination, ever? And then how much worse when you know the person took their own life? How can you take such a big life? How can you make so many people laugh, bring so much joy to so many...and be in so much pain yourself?

Because knowing that, you know that they had reached a point of desperation, of utter despair. That they felt absolutely unable to remain with those they loved and everything they knew and loved on this earth.

Yes, for me it is so personal, even though I did not know Robin Williams, to think about this person with a brilliant spark extinguishing it himself. Walking off the stage, turning out the lights, and leaving us, the audience, sitting stunned in the dark.

It crushes me to think about. It sticks in my throat and won't go away. It seeps down my face, warm and salty and sly.

But I'm mourning not so much for us, but for him. We have lost - but he was clearly in so much pain that he felt he could not stay.

I've thought a lot about suicide over the years. I've thought about it way too much, really. And one thing I've realized is that while I've sometimes been so miserable I've wanted to not be me, I've never wanted to not BE.

You know, I was certain I could save my dad. I recently told my friend Richard that I was shocked when he died. And Richard said, "Shocked? Lisa, shocked, really?"

How could I be shocked after so many times?

But I was. Because I was always sure I could save him.

And yet I now know that even if someone had found him alive, somehow, that one last time, and we'd once again hooked him up to machines and held his hand and prayed and prayed, I now know he was already beyond us. He was done.

Although we might've physically been able to keep him a little longer, to force him to stay with us for us, he was an empty shell. Well, almost empty. There was pain. There was no joy.

So to know that someone - particularly someone with a dazzling life force - got to that place, where ceasing to live was the only option, because being was no longer something they could bear...

That place and that pain, I think, is what makes me cry and cry.

Monday, August 11, 2014

SCENE I. A cavern. In the middle, a boiling cauldron.

When we were little our dad used to make up bedtime stories with my brother and me in them.

Often, there were these two witches who would chase us, determined to eat us. They'd catch us, but we'd always get away.

Sometimes Maude was in these stories. Sometimes, when "Lisa was all alone in the middle of a field..." I would beg for Maudie to be there. "No, Daddy! Maudie was there! Lisa wasn't all by herself! Maudie was there!"

"Not this time. Lisa was"

We always escaped in the nick of time. We came up with ingenious solutions to problems in order to free ourselves. But it was rather stressful.

And now, as an adult, I realize that yes, it was perhaps a little fucked up. Who terrifies their kids right before kissing them goodnight? Of course I was scared of the dark.

But now I wonder if that was how my dad viewed life. He was fast and clever and stayed just ahead of disaster. But barely.

My youth was never dull. We lived in interesting places and traveled extensively. Daily life was fascinating, at base because it was always in another culture. I think often we were happy, but it took me a long time to realize that happiness was not a stated goal.

But at some point I realized that I wanted to be happy. And I didn't know how. I knew how to slog through. Because that's what I thought life was.

Having that epiphany, however, and making the deliberate choice to work towards something good, transformed my view on life.

Now, I try to make my kids happy. I regularly ask them if they're happy. What I've not done for a while, however, is ask myself.

Now, there are times when life is going to suck a bit, like when you have a newborn, whether or not you've had a C-section (but preferably not). You aren't getting enough sleep for waaaay too many months in a row and you're kind of frenzied, and life is hard. You might or might not be desperate or miserable, but you are definitely not at your most joyful.

I'm not saying that every day needs to be rainbows and unicorn kisses and puppy breath and M&Ms. Or even one of those at a time. Sometimes things aren't great, but you don't walk away because you see the larger picture and you believe you can get back to the good.

But sometimes you back up and and you still feel like you're all alone. In the middle of a field.

And if that feeling persists, then you might start to feel like those witches, they're not all that far behind you.

Friday, August 01, 2014

If there's something you'd like to try, ask me - I won't say "no" - how could I?

What do you see when you look at this picture? When you look at this woman, what is your first thought?

Here's why I ask. I came across this picture - taken ages and eons ago at my brother's wedding reception. It was taken by their photographer, and when they got the pictures back they liked it so much they framed it.

It's one of my favorite pictures of myself. (Me? Myself? How do I not know this? Gah!)

In any case, I stumbled across it and put it up on Facebook as my profile pic. I like it, why not? I'd bought a special dress for their wedding party (they'd eloped months prior). Plus, it was my brother and sister-in-law we were celebrating!

Now, my friends have said some tremendously flattering things about this photo. Only one of them - Wendy - said I looked uncomfortable. And she was right.

Because let me tell you the real story. I am shy.

When my brother and I were kids, my dad was constantly trying to force me to talk to strangers. I know, I know. But he'd come up with things for me to ask the hotel desk or whoever, because I know my shyness annoyed him. And my brother, three-and-a-half years younger, would do it for me. Because he liked talking to strangers. He still does.

Now, I am not as shy as I used to be, not as shy as I was back when this picture was taken. But, though we grown and change, it is still there.

Did you know this? Sometimes people do not believe me. Sometimes people tell me I'm not shy, which is kind of annoying, because it's not like it's I'm asserting that I'm royalty or a member of Mensa, in which case you would be totally free to be all, "Prove it, lady!"

I am neither, FYI.

But I am shy. And an introvert. They are not the same, although people sometimes conflate them.

When I look at this picture, I recall how I felt. So nervous. So awkward. Standing on the edge, afraid nobody would talk to me.

I mean, the grown-ups talked to me. Old family friends.

But my brother and his wife's friends were very tight. And mostly coupled. The people around our age all knew each other, and most of them did not know me. Not that they weren't friendly. They were more just having an awesome time hanging out with their friends.

Now, as the night went on I felt more and more at ease and wound up having a tremendous time. Ultimately, the guys talked to me, my brother's high school buddies, some of whom I'd known since they were 14, but didn't really know.

The night wound up being so much fun. But not for me during the time of this photo.

Shy is hard. Not just because, duh. But shy is mistaken for so many things. Bitchy. Haughty. Arrogant. Uninterested. Snobbish.

For a long time I envied my friends who smoked, because you could stand alone and still have something to do. Or you could bum a light from someone, start a conversation. They never seemed ill at ease.

And yet, I never wanted to smoke. I just wanted something to do with my hands that wasn't like crocheting or nose-picking or something.

I spent years on the edge of social situations, peering in, yet feeling like I was outside, terrified that nobody would talk to me. That I looked ridiculous, just standing there.

And yet in all that, I gallivanted off to foreign countries, sometimes without actually having a handle on where I was staying or the currency. I've traveled alone a good deal, and was almost never alone because I met so many people.

And I loved dating. Loved loved loved. I mean, except for the terrible dates and then when I'd been doing it for so long that the hopefulness had gotten squashed out of me. But for the most part, I loved the rush of the possibility, the excitement of uncertainty.

That is, in fact, the only thing I miss about dating. I like the stability of marriage, but I miss the sparkle and mystery of newness. But this is a tangent.

And it is true that sometimes I just blurt weird shit out in public. It's also true that when I'm comfortable in a group, I'm the one most likely naked or hanging from the chandelier. With or without alcohol.

This is figurative, of course. I've never actually swung from a chandelier.

Now, as an adult in my 40s and as a mama, I am: 1. almost never alone, and 2. fully aware that other people are not wasting their time looking over at me thinking I look dumb not talking to anyone.
But in this photo, oh, I am afraid; I am shy.