The good news is the apple kicks your ass

an apple on the grass

Pulling out of a flare is a tricky business.

You get better on a very slow upward trajectory, with occasional "two-steps-back" days from eating too volatile a mix of ordinary ingredients (oh, BOY, do canned tuna and hard-boiled eggs not mix) or too "advanced" of an item. Yesterday, after weeks of not tasting an uncooked vegetable or piece of fruit, I broke down and got jiggy with half an apple. Look out, world! I'm eating an entire HALF of a raw apple!

A half-hour later, I was soaking in a hot Epsom bath to ease the cramps shooting across my lower back.

What's really odd about this particular flare is that while I wouldn't say I'm overjoyed to be dealing with it, neither is it bothering me as much as the past few have. For whatever reasons, age? wisdom? resignation?, I've adopted an attitude that much more closely matches that of my initial recovery, back in the fall of 2002. Or maybe it's just that this time, I'm back to me being able to rest on my own in my sweet little apartment, all tidy and peaceful and filled with the comforts and treasures that soothe me. While I no longer have the huge financial cushion I did (not to mention the assumed easy earning power of a robust economy once I was well enough to rejoin the living), I have enough, thanks. (And I'm probably even more deeply grateful to have it.)

Work is another thing, and an exceedingly interesting one. I haven't not been working; I've just been working very carefully, chipping away at things here and there in the background. Pulling things off the home page of the site. Tweaking things quietly, in the background. Writing, writing, writing. There is more time for this because I am not getting out much right now, but I'm still capping things at a reasonable (for me) 7 or 8pm and climbing into my salty tub. On top of a, shall we say, leisurely-paced day. The work comes more slowly when I'm impaired, but I am able to pay closer attention to the way it comes as well as the words themselves, if that makes any sense.

For instance, I notice myself getting upset over getting stuck in certain places (a "way" thing) and I notice myself (over)using the same words or construction (a "word" thing). Slowing down to see this has created room for me to relax and let some other solution bubble up, getting up and moving to my analog desk, or grabbing a stack of index cards to do my version of my friend Daphne Gray-Grant's excellent advice to mind-map pre-writing. (If you sign up for her newsletter, you'll get a copy of her mind mapping instructions. It's plenty to get started, and the newsletter is consistently useful if you do any sort of regular writing, or just want to understand how writing works.)

Slowing down is just outstanding for noticing things, period. Those of us who operate in overdrive probably do so at least partially to blow past certain parts of the scenery we find a little unattractive. My personal adopt-a-highway program has made great progress along certain stretches of road, but when I slow down, I'm embarrassed to see the junk I've allowed to accumulate near certain scary underpasses and dark tunnels.

I feel a little guilty bringing up the feeling poorly. I find myself impelled to do so, though, because I'm not good enough at saying "no" sans explanation; I almost always feel like "no" is not enough, that "no" needs some accompanying excuse. (And I know that's not true, I'm just saying that so far, that's how I've operated.) Inevitably, it brings up expressions of sympathy, because people are kind and empathetic and such.

I am coming around to the idea, though, that illness isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is just a thing, like tallness or shortness, bigness or smallness, oldness or youngness, singleness or marriedness. There are times when it is better to be tall than short, and being very short, I can enumerate them with alacrity. On the other hand, "tall" is a distinct disadvantage in the context of "commercial aircraft." I have been single and married and everything in between and guess what: so far, I prefer single. Try traveling back in time and telling 25-year-old me that, though. You couldn't: she was too busy doing actuarial calculations to avoid ending up chairless when the music stopped. (Hint to 25-year-olds: the music always starts up again, there are all kinds of nice chairs nowhere near the ring, and you may not be the sitting type.)

Do I very much look forward to having a great deal of energy again? I do! Even more, I look forward to using it wisely, so that it comes in a steady, sustainable flow, not pedal-to-the-metal bursts followed by a blowout. I look forward to it so much so that I am moving hyper-slowly now. It is not exactly pleasant, all this noticing, but it is one of the most fascinating shows in town...


P.S. One of the crazy little things I did was to put up an FAQ, something long, long on my to-do list. More on that later, but man, do I ever see how a well-done FAQ might significantly reduce drag on the average one-woman operation. Talk about enhancing sustainability!

Image by iMaffo via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Scary monsters!


This past weekend, as I noted in my monthly roundup, I performed at the lovely Jane Edith Wilson's Lit.Up!, a monthly event where writers and actors craft short, mostly humorous pieces (if this past one was any indication) and then perform them in front of a very lovely crowd to raise money for various charities.

For this month's theme, "Scary Monsters," I decided to write a story about a very scary experience I had here at The BF's house. Careful readers (or listeners) will note that there is a marked reduction in my use of the "F" word. The theater-esque space is part of Jane's "super-crunchy" do-gooder church, so while we were not banned from using a judiciously placed curse word, we were, in the words of one of the older church ladies, asked to refrain from making it "wall-to-wall 'motherfucker'."

How could you refeuse an invitation to perform at such an event? (P.S. The wall-to-wall-motherfucker lady approved of my little piece, below.)

The audio should play by clicking the big arrow in the embedded Flash player. If it doesn't, click here to listen on the podcast page.

For those of you who prefer to read your scary stories, or who want to compare how something "reads" to how I read it, which might be interesting or instructive, the text is pasted below.

I'd love your feedback, whether you read or listen!




From the time I was 6 or 7, when I first learned about druuugs, I've had nightmares about being spirited away against my will.

The one I had all through childhood was set in Chicago, right across from the apartment I grew up in. Only this is a dream, so it's an abandoned, post-apocalyptic, Chicago-from-hell, with more Mies van der Rohe buildings.

In this dream I'm walking alone, trying to get somewhere safe, when out of nowhere two shadowy figures sidle up to me, one on my right and one on my left. Before I can scream, they stick me with a hypodermic needle to knock me out, but not before I realize, "Oh, my god! They're sticking me with a hypodermic needle full of druuugs and are going to kidnap me and do god knows what" (dot dot dot)...

In this other version of the dream, I'm walking in another urban landscape, some street in the San Fernando Valley, only again, with no people (just like a suburban street in the Valley).

I walk kind of fast in my dreams, just like I do in real life because I have these really, really short legs, so I'm gaining on the only other pedestrian, this 1950s-era hipster dude, plaid fedora, narrow pants, dusty green suit coat, who smells just a little like bum.

I know he's not a bum, but I also know something's off. In the dream I think, "I should cross the street," but I'm afraid that'll be too obvious because we're the only two people. Plus he's African-American, and I don't want him to think I'm crossing because he's black, because I'm not, I'm just someone who's 5'2" with really, really short legs and no ability to defend myself.

And just I'm passing him and thinking, “Oh, it's all in my head,” he swoops me up in his arms and heaves me sideways, like I'm a stack of human firewood, and starts crossing the street toward an old Impala I somehow know is right there, just out of my vision, the way you do in dreams. And as I open my mouth to scream, he wedges his arm in there to muffle me and all I can taste is wool and fear and this certainty that god-knows-what is going to happen to me (dot dot dot).

That's the thing that always scares me the most: the "god knows what" (dot dot dot). Because you never know what they want from you, these scary monsters that jump you in stairways or stalk you in parking garages or troll the streets of quiet neighborhoods at night, looking for houses with the most cash and the least security.

The BF, whom I call that both because he is my b.f. and those are his initials, lives in one of those houses. It's a beautiful, rambling old place in a quiet, undisclosed location, by day.

By night, at least when I'm alone there, it turns into a creaky, gothic house of horrors straight out of a Stephen King novel. Which I learned for myself, by myself, the first time I slept there all alone.

The BF had gone out of town, on business or to visit his kids, so I did the logical thing and offered up his place to my ladies for our semi-regular get-together. It may be a little creepy, but it has a bitchin' deck that's perfect for drinking cheap wine from Trader Joe's while solving world problems. Plus, who ever hosts doesn't have to drive, which allows for more drinking of cheap wine.
When your ladies leave though, and it occurs to you that you're going to be alone in this beautiful, rambling old house with its creaky-ass floors and overly ample egress, well, by then it's too late. You're too full of cheap Cabernet to drive yourself home to your safe, snug, 1-bedroom rental with your nosy, across-the-courtyard neighbor who has the police on speed-dial, so you lock things up and go to bed. Naked. Because you are me, and I am stupid.

I have no idea what time it was when I awoke, suddenly and with my heart pounding, both because I don't sleep with my glasses on and because the clock is on the other side of the bed, which I can't roll over to because the reason I have awoken is there is someone in the hall just outside the bedroom, standing there, staring at me quietly.

I can't make out her face exactly, except to see that it's narrow and pale, and framed by long straight hair, parted down the middle. I lift my head slowly, carefully, almost imperceptibly (I hope) to get a better look. A woman in loose-fitting clothing, one hand lightly touching the wall, is watching me, dead still, like a hippie Modigliani.

And then, though I can barely hear it over the pounding of the blood in my head, I faintly make out whispering further off down the hall. She jerks her head away as I drop mine back on the pillow.

First? This is not a dream. In a dream, when things get scary, you wake yourself up, which BELIEVE ME, I tried to do here. Repeatedly.

So…this is bad. This is really bad. I'm lying in bed, still slightly buzzed, with no phone in arms' reach. Plus I'm naked, because I'm stupid, and my robe is at the foot of the bed. If I sit up to get it, she'll see me move and call to whoever is down the hall. If I reach for anything, she'll see me and maybe call to whoever is down the hall.

I'm totally, utterly fucked.

I decide to at least try for my glasses so I can assess the situation. I lift my head slowly, slowly. As the hall comes into my field of vision, she's there again, staring back at me. They must have made her the lookout. She leans in a little closer, maybe seeing me move, and, omigod omigod omigod, our eyes lock. We're staring right at each other. You could hear a pin drop, only not if you're me because now the blood is pounding so hard in my head I can hear nothing but my imminent death, galloping down the road to meet me.

So I did the thing I could think of: I went to sleep.

Now, I didn't actually go to sleep; what I actually did was lie back down and play possum. Let her fucking watch me. Let them steal everything in the whole fucking house that's not nailed down. I heard something go "thud" toward the front of the house, fine. Let it. Let them set the house on fire and leave me. I would not move until they were gone.

Only I guess all the worry and stress and whatnot finally wore me out because the next thing I knew, I was waking up and it was light out. I lay there for a minute, getting my bearings. I was alive; that was good. Still naked. Okay. The house was standing. It even looked like there was still stuff in it.

I put on my glasses and sat up to reach for my robe and as I did, I saw her again, in the hall! Only it wasn't her; it was me, my own stupid reflection in my own stupid mirror that I had stupidly leaned up against a wall in the hallway the day before. I leaned in; "she" leaned in. I leaned back, she leaned back. I don't know what the hell all the creaks and the thuds were. The usual old house groans and moans, I guess.

Since then, I've done a few things. The first is a lot of thinking. I'm pretty sure the dreams represent a fear of change in general and the unknown, in particular, but it's definitely me, afraid (especially after the sun goes down) of things over which I have no control. I'm working on it with my shrink, and with luck, I might vanquish some of these fears before the lights actually do get turned out on me for good.

But the other things I did? Were moving that damned mirror and getting a dog that sleeps in the room with me. Scary monsters may be imaginary, but it doesn't mean you don't fight them with everything that's real.

Image by denise carbonell via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Farewell, Miss Anita

Anita O'Day About five or six years ago, I found myself in severely reduced circumstances. The SAG commercial strike and ensuing fallout had eviscerated my bank account; for the first time in a long time, I found myself unable to scrape up the considerable cash required to get my usual cut and color (single-process, nothing fancy) at the high-falutin' salon. (Well, it was that or booze, and you can pick the horse that's gonna win that race.)

My boyfriend at the time, The Youngster, had found an unusual hair stylist in Hollywood. Tony's initial allure was the 24-hour service he promised in his yellow pages ad, and The Youngster needed a 6am haircut or somesuch to make an 8am appointment.

It turned out that one needed to give Tony a bit of advance notice to book 16 of the 24, but not much. It also turned out that Tony, who had been Stylist to the Stars back in the day, charged a mere $20 for a ladies' cut, $40 if you threw in a color and brought your own. Which I did, happily.

One day, The Youngster came back from a cut (no color) all a-fluffle. Tony had let slip the name of one of his more famous clients, hell, maybe his sole famous client: Anita O'Day.

If you are not a jazz fan, the name might not mean anything to you. Anita O'Day never got big-big like Ella or Billie or Dinah or Sarah or any of the one-name songstresses. No matter. A complete iconoclast in her phrasing, her dress, her very life, she was she-bop itself, jazz-cool from her head to her toes. As one of the talking heads in the docu of her life points out (trailer on YouTube), she was the first vocalist on the Verve label, the first, and what she lacked in vibrato she made up for in every other way. She had a way of bending a song to her will so that it was almost unrecognizable...and yet, once you heard it, you had a hard time imagining it sung any other way.

My personal favorite was her rendition of "Johnny One-Note," an old showtune she grabbed hold of and forever blew the hokum from. The most famous example (caught on film, anyway) is probably her dazzling take on "Tea for Two." (You can catch a clip of her famous performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival here on YouTube, and how exactly did we obsess over people before YouTube, anyway?)

Of course, I wasted no time blabbing my love for "Miss Anita" (Tony's name for her), and Tony, ever cool, mentioned he might be able to arrange things so I could meet her. Sure enough, a month or so later, I got a call from him suggesting I hightail it over.

I tried to be cool when we were introduced and failed miserably; for her part, Miss Anita was as down to earth as you could want musical idol to be. Plus which she looked twenty times better than I did. Thirty. It was pouring rain, and she was getting ready to call a cab when Tony flashed me a look. I immediately offered myself up as chauffeur, and moments later, we were tooling over to her apartment in my Corolla, me and Miss Anita O'Day.

Me!!! Inches away from an 80-something star who had sung with Benny Goodman, who had beat heroin and hooch, who had gone from from the heights to the pits and back and was just as nice and normal as the day is long...except for that glow. Star wattage.

I have no idea what we talked about during that ten-minute ride; I only know it ended too soon and cheered me for months afterward.

Despite Tony's assurance that we'd someday take in a show, that day never materialized. She was ill or I was ill, it was a time of illness, I guess. But it's almost better that the last real-life memory I have of Miss Anita is of her climbing out of my old car in the rain. I like my stars up close and in person, and sometimes, even a little damp...

xxx c

Anita O'Day, 1919–2006 (official website | wikipedia) Image of Anita O'Day at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival from the York University website.

How to Make a Happy Accident

screencap of the evidence room theater's webiste I remember how I learned of the word "serendipity", a very sexy upperclassman who introduced me to many carnal pleasures, including the famed NYC shop's frozen hot chocolate, but when called upon to provide a definition, I've always drawn a blank. So imagine my surprise when, as I'm looking it up for the, 20th, 30th, 100th?, time,  a mnemonic catchphrase (serendipitously) pops into my head: the happy accident.

Though I've used the phrase for years, I'm pretty sure the connection was the result of a literal (happy) accident I had last week that netted me $200. I say "netted" because the dings on my fender were so minor in comparison to the ones the bumper already sported (what can I say? people like my rear end), there's no way I'd ever pay to have them buffed out. Which I told Ari, the kindly and honest Escalade driver who hit me; he insisted I take the $200 anyway.

Now, $200 is no small potatoes for me. I could probably think of ten or fifteen ways that money could be put to excellent use off the top of my head. In fact, I did: bills; groceries; 1/4 of rent; long-overdue cut and color (my sole New Year's resolution is to find a reasonably priced, kick-ass salon on the EAST side).

The funny thing was, nothing I came up with felt right. I enjoy serendipity but I actually place a lot of stock in vibes: when I've listened to them, I've generally done right by myself; when I hear the voice and do it anyway, I generally find myself up the creek without a paddle. As chance (or serendipity) would have it, I'm reading Trust Your Vibes: Secret Tools for Six-Sensory Living, a great book by Chicago-based intuitive Sonia Choquette right now, so I not only got a little reinforcement for going with the inner flow, I actually had concrete instructions:

I believe that the more you practice getting quiet, the quicker you'll sense your vibes. It doesn't matter what approach you use as long as you get quiet. Choose what suits your temperament: My mind becomes quiet when I fold laundry, organize my office, or go to the gym; Patrick paints and gardens; my mom sews; my dad putters on gadgets; my brother Stefan washes his car; one of my neighbors loves to work in the yard, while another walks his dog. All are valid ways to connect with your spirit.

I know she's right, right? I also know that patience and trust are huge parts of the equation, and neither is my strong suit. However, 43 years of living and ten years of copywriting have taught me that the answer rarely comes when you're yelling at it to hurry the hell up, so I let it go and went about my business.

Sure enough, in pretty much the first moment I'd really forgotten about the money, the perfect solution popped into my head: give it to Jen.

You see, about a month ago, I fell in love. In my obsessive quest to find out more about my new love, I stumbled upon an intriguing tidbit that bore remarking upon, so I did. The writer was apparently intrigued enough in turn to check out my site, where she found an entry discussing a particular piece of graphic design she had also admired, along with my 757th apology for the hideous graphic state of the Evidence Room website.

And so she emailed me, offering her services. To code the whole damned thing. For free.

Understand, please, that I started the redesign on that site over two years ago. I knew how butt-ugly it was; so did the rest of the company, who were politely but insistently pushing me to fix the problem NOW, or they'd fix it for me. We'd been burned so many times on the coding end that I was hours away from giving in and letting another designer do his own redesign of the site just to get the damned thing fixed.

But then came the magical, mystical email from Jen, someone I'd never met, someone I didn't know from a hole in the ground, and I paused. "Let it go," I told myself; "Let it go for the night," and I went off to see a play. And when I came home, there was an email in my inbox with a link: Jen had built an entire test site from the Photoshop sketches I'd sent her earlier that day. I didn't just find a web person; I found the web person, someone whose generosity and work ethic were so firmly entwined with her taste and abilities that she was going to do this amazing job for free.

Only she wasn't, of course: she was now going to do it for $200.

It's funny how an amount that seemed so great all of a sudden seemed so small. It's all about a shift in focus: when I relax and let go, a half-empty glass becomes half-full; a so-called tragedy becomes a gift of epic proportions.

You can't chase the happy accident. But if you give yourself time and room and lots of love, you might just find yourself having them a lot more often.

It is my Christmas wish for everyone I meet.

After all, I already got my Christmas present.

xxx c

ADDENDUM: My new buddy and coding goddess, Jen, blogged about the incident from her perspective. Made me all hot in the face and tight in the chest, so it must be good. Thanks, Jen.