Sunday, August 24, 2014

So I Guess You Call This Autumn...

Right now, it’s 66 degrees in Salem, Massachusetts.
69 in Buffalo, New York.
78 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
65 in Falls  Church, Virginia.
In all of these cities, the late days of summer are gradually lessening their grip. The heat is still perhaps punishing, the air stale, but people can breathe a sigh of relief—the end of summer is in sight. And with their backpacks and their pencil boxes and vague feelings of apprehension, children are returning to school.

Labor Day is just around the corner—and once that passes, people across the country will be making the transition to fall, with the attendant autumnal colors, cooler weather, references to Halloween, hot  beverages, ghost stories, snuggly blankets, and the like.

Here in the deserts of Southern California, it’s not fall, not even close. In fact, the monsoonal humidity makes the 105 degree temps almost—but only almost—worse than the dry 115 degree temps. And yet, summer is passing—soon we’ll be in one of the liminal seasons that I feel like are a hallmark of California. The air will be hot, the skies will be sunny and cloudless, and without a calendar handy, without the 115 degree summer temps or the flash-flooding winter storms, one would be hard-pressed to tell what season it is.

It’s not fall, not by a long shot, not like I knew it in Indiana, but it’s close enough for me to pretend. When the heat abates from 115 degrees, down to a cool 97 degrees at a quarter til 8 in the evening, that’s enough for me to sit outside and watch the last pink rays reach from the Western skies, and listen to the cicadas (an odd and familiar consolation, they are—noisy little fuckers have been everywhere I have lived) mourn the inevitable passing of the summer, and make promises to myself. I’ll start wearing makeup again. I’ll cook. I’ll move back into the craft room. I’ll organize the closet. All things that it’s simply too hot to do now. I’ll read some ghost stories. I’ll put up the fall decorations.

It’s NOT fall. But it’s enough.

At least for now.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

It's a Magical Place

Mine is not a life filled with a lot of externally-inspired magic. Certainly, there is magic in the books and words and ideas that surround me in my job, and there is magic in the laughter that I try to find in my daily life, and there is magic in the beauty that I manage to find if I look hard enough. But let’s face it—I’m a white-collar working woman living in a working class city of Southern California, in a decently-sized but modestly-furnished house filled with people and cats and a very, very pronounced slob of a husband. I’m not exactly living in beautiful surroundings, worthy of being repined a jillion times on Pinterest.

But this weekend, I am able to pretend that mine is a life filled with those kind of surroundings. This weekend, I am in Point Reyes Station, in Northern California, in a house straight out of my dreams. 

We descended on the Blackthorne on Thursday afternoon, a group of ten of us--Mr. Melissa and his mother and myself, along with seven friends. We rented this dream of a house, nestled up in the wooded hills of Point Reyes, north of San Francisco, and in this four-level structure, which is something of a treehouse, we can gaze out into the trees and hills and listen to the gulls and jays screech and cry.

It's a deceptively big house, with doors and stairs and decks and balconies leading all over the place. There are 6 bedrooms, and I had first dibs, and at first I thought I'd go for the fascinatingly octagonal room, glassed in on seven sides. I was enchanted by its view, its exotic furnishings, its appealing Romantic remoteness.

Of course this room was lovely--but a little too sunny, a little too warm. A little too far away from the nearest bathroom. A little too difficult to reach after one has indulged in a few glasses of local wine. A little too much precarious tottering about on the precarious staircase:

So, ultimately, practicality outweighed Romantic notions, and I took a more sensible, comfortable, and appealing room:

This house's charms, they seem to have no end. I'm almost loathe to go wine-tasting and exploring, because it seems a shame to not stick around the house as much as possible, enjoying the nooks and crannies. I've claimed my throne in one of the corners of the living room, settling deep into an enormous and enormously comfortable armchair that groans each time I shift in position:

And here, I sit quietly. I read from time to time, or work on my budget, or blog, or simply just gaze and think and ponder. At night, the fire crackles in the fireplace. All the new age stuff I've ever put on my iPhone plays over the speakers.Some of us play cards, others paint with the supplies I brought along, my mother-in-law does Angel Card readings, and we all talk and share our stories and engage in armchair politics and philosophies. Russia may terrorize Ukraine, ISIS may continue to be the bane of the President's existence, Missouri may be rioting, but here in our corner of Northern California, we have retreated for one long, magical weekend. 

The weekend passes. The line of "dead soldiers", as I have learned to call empty wine bottles, grows.

I sleep on the couch in the middle of the day, lulled by the breeze that borders on chilly--so strange to think that what would be Christmas weather in Florida is just another summer day here. I wake up in the late afternoon, and more than one person remarks that I look "pretty...well-rested."

I take a soft throw and retire to the deck and watch the late-afternoon sun sink behind the trees. 

I read and drink my wine and call my sisters and hear them tell how much they miss me, and I try not to wonder if I would be any happier if I left behind the desert forever--not to return east of the Mississippi, but to move to this magical place.

But maybe--in fact, I have to hope that it's likely--that this time and place are so magical because they are so rare.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Nothing That Hasn't Been Said Before

"Well I guess I could have stayed ashore, I didn't have to go
They say sometimes to find yourself, you've got to let go..."

For the most part, I’m not one to follow the shenanigans and lives of celebrities. There are lots of reasons for this, but what it boils down to is this: I’m too damned busy to think very much about these people, and these people would certainly be a lot better off if more of the public just left them alone and let their private lives be.

But it’s not as though I live under a rock. I like stories about celebrities being decent, or funny, or courageous humans, and I’m vaguely aware of the various goings-on that the media reports. And I’m certainly aware of Robin Williams and his recent suicide. Mr. Melissa awoke me from a nap yesterday to tell me this. I dimly recall mumbling, “Well, maybe this will contribute to the dialogue on depression and mental health.” And then I went back to sleep.

And of course, there has been plenty of discussion in the news and social media outlets about depression and suicide and mental health issues. There’s the usual banal statement of “Suicide is so selfish”, of course…more and more I am of the opinion that the selfish thing is to expect a suicidal person stick around and suffer so that the “survivors” feel less sad. But there’s a lot of discussion beyond that, too.

The thing is…I’ve yet to read an article in which depressed people really illustrate what depression is like. I know, because, duh, I struggle with depression, and I nod along with the descriptions of isolation and suffocation and loneliness and the analogies of battles and black holes and prisons. I’ve resorted to some of those analogies, myself. But somehow—while these words describe the state of depression, they don’t quite describe the feeling.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that the words to describe the feeling of deep depression do not exist in any human language. Mr. Williams, may you be in a place where someone understands that language—or better yet, may you be in a place where no one understands it, because it no longer exists.

And the water's cold around me now, so far below
And I hear a voice inside me now, "Just try to let go..."
-The Greencards, "Ocean Floor"

Monday, August 11, 2014

Don't Judge a Book By Its Readers...

About halfway through the day, I had to go home. It was one of those days where I just feel bleh—nauseous and shaky and pukey. It took me the better part of the day to suspect why. It’s not ebola, or needavacationitis, or pregnancy (all of which were speculated by helpful people) but rather, something much worse. Something terrible and dark and sickening.

I’m reading a Nicholas Sparks novel.

It started innocently enough—a couple of my colleagues and I challenged ourselves to read authors and genres we don’t normally go for-westerns and romances, Clive Cussler and Danielle Steel and Nelson DeMille and Janet Evanovich and so on. The idea was to get a better idea of what it is our patrons are reading, what it is that appeals to them about all of these books. Here’s my progress, so far:

Summary: Some trashy chick in Trenton, New Jersey gets her ass kicked a bunch of times when she decides to become a skip-tracer.
Verdict: The protagonist becomes likable simply for her sheer, stupid stubbornness. However, the author's up to like, 21, in the series, and since in theory, she can go on into infinity...I think one's enough for me. I get the picture--my patrons like a good quick beach read.

Summary: Hurricanes, buried treasure, and ebola-stricken animals, all off the coast of Long Island. No wonder property prices are so high. 
Verdict: The main character is a total chauvinist pig, and he's funny too. I feel like a horrible person for enjoying his company so much. Fortunately, I suspect he's commitmentphobic, so I don't feel bad walking away from the series.

Summary: The son of a dockworker (or possibly an English swell, his mom has questionable judgment sometimes) makes his way up in the world, in 1920s and 30s Bristol.
Verdict: Surprisingly entertaining, although I saw the ending coming from a mile away, and it annoys me so much I probably won't read the next in the series. Also, apropos nothing, the author is an English baron.

Summary: An adventurous widow is taken captive on a fictional island in Southeast Asia, gets rescued by a well-meaning captain, gets married, learns a lot of martial arts, and becomes a victims-rights advocate.
Verdict: SO TOTALLY BELIEVABLE for 19th century England. Right. And why is it that when I was a kid I'd ONLY read the sex scenes, and now, they are the only ones I DON'T read? What the hell.

Summary: In South Dakota and Montana, Calamity Jane and her aging pals mourn the passing of the Wild West and join Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, but cannot stave off the inevitable death and abandonment and civilization.
Verdict: SAD SAD SAD OH MY GOD ARE ALL WESTERNS THIS SAD? If so, I should read more of them.

Summary: A widow is protected, or maybe haunted, by her dead husband in the form of a Great Dane.
Verdict: Not done yet, but can be summed up thus: Nauseating. Also, "needs more zombies," as per my friend Bethany.

Once I finish this one, though, it should get better. It'll only be Robyn Carr, Clive Cussler, Sue Grafton, Debbie Macomber, and Jeffrey Deaver left. And then I will never indulge in such craziness, ever again.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Stories Seen But Not Heard

A couple of months back, my cousin sent me an email containing an amazing treasure trove—dozens of scanned pictures of our family, dating back several decades. For me—a woman living thousands of miles from her people and her past, who didn’t care about blood and family and family history until in many cases, it was too late, these images are a priceless thing. Their very existence bestows upon me a weird sense of legitimacy—reassurance that I don’t exist in a vacuum, that I came from somewhere. I knew this, of course—knew that my people came from Indiana, that they settled in the suburbs of Cincinnatti in the 1950s, that my family was tempestuous but ultimately loyal and loving. But I didn’t know this, not really, until I began looking through the images of my mother and my aunt and their parents—my grandparents, my Mawga and Boppa, now in their nineties and more than a little deaf—and my cousin and my mother’s various husbands. In those faded images, there are not just a thousand words, but a thousand stories. A thousand stories, most of them insignificant and forgotten, for the tellers of these stories are, for the most part, lost to us. They are elsewhere, dead, passed away, transitioned. We who are left behind can only look at these pictures, and wonder, and imagine.

One of the pictures, in particular, I find disquieting. It has elements—objects—that I recognize: Christmas ornaments that managed to make their way into my childhood, a half-drunk bottle of Coca-Cola, an orange-and-navy afghan made by Grandma Stella. I never knew my great-grandma, but golly, I knew her afghan. My mother is in that picture, curled up on the floor, looking over her shoulder somewhat distractedly. A long cigarette—the faithful, steady, unwavering murderer—dangles from her fingers. I can almost hear the soft, metallic clink of her lighter—a silvery, metal thing, something substantial that I suspect was of pretty decent quality. I never remember seeing my mother with a cheap lighter.

The past in those pictures is wholly unreachable, yet painfully close. So many things to wonder. So few things to know for certain. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Breakfast Burritos are Love

Last weekend, as the thunderheads piled up in the western sky and the temperature went up and up and up, and so did the humidity, I escaped the desert for a little bit. Mr. Melissa and I headed down to San Diego to spend the weekend. It's strange--I don't spend a lot of my life contemplating San Diego on a map, so it's easy to forget that this laid-back city  is only 22 miles from the Mexico-US border. (((boggles))) It's a really delightful place, and it's Ground Zero for the folks that I'm slowly coming to know as my West Coast Family.

In a one bedroom apartment, across the street from the Pacific Ocean, there lives a woman whose heart and spirit really shouldn't fit in that tiny-ass little space. That's my mother-in-law, Connie-Mom, as I call her. I'm told that we're blessed with a pretty fucking unusual relationship--we seem to adore eachother quite a bit. She thinks I'm good for her son (wow) and I think she's just the kindest and most accepting person I've ever met. She's a cat-loving liberal who loves to read. She doesn't bat an eyelash at my extensive and creative use of the fuck-word. Needless to say, we get along famously.

It probably doesn't hurt that she's a mental health counselor.

Last December, after my mother passed away, Connie-Mom came to stay for an evening. While Mr. Melissa was out celebrating his birthday with all of his closest friends, Connie-Mom and I stayed at home and sat on the couch and drank wine and looked at the Christmas tree, and she listened as I tried as best I could to process my grief and sorrow and regret and anger and confusion. Never once did she judge me. She only listened and offered perspective and loved me.

So spending a lazy weekend in San Diego, with the rain falling gently outside, with my Connie-Mom fussing over me inside, wasn't exactly the greatest hardship of my life. Even in that little apartment. We were both pleasantly pleased, I think--I try hard to be a low-maintenance houseguest, and we just spent our days playing with the cats and reading and talking and listening to music.

On Sunday morning, as I lay in bed, reading, Connie-Mom bustled into the bedroom. "Do you want any breakfast?"

"No, I'm fine," I assured her.

"I don't mind running out to the Little Mexican Taco Shop (TM) and getting you a breakfast burrito."

"You are so good to me! But I'm okay." I returned to my book. But twenty minutes later, Connie-Mom was back in the bedroom...

"I don't usually have the chance to dote on my daughters! I want to take care of you!"

As I processed her words, I thought about the women that I've worked with--my quiet envy as they spoke of their daughters, and all the ways these women have loved, and taken care of, and sacrificed for them. The way they'd get so excited when their daughters came to town, so they could mother them, take care of them, cook for them, make sure they were set-up.

"Okay," I said, a smile growing on my face as all these remembrances passed through my head. "I'll take you up on that breakfast burrito."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"What Is Your Childhood Trauma?!"

For me, it's gym class.

Are there many people in this world who have fond memories of gym class?

(I suspect, if there are, these people are soulless other words, they are part of what made gym so goddamned awful for me.)

Anyway. My memories of gym class (P.E., actually) are not fond. They are, in fact, more on the traumatic side. During my elementary school years, I had a solid grounding in all sorts of indignities, starting with the federally-mandated physical fitness tests at the beginning of the school year (remember the excruciating humiliation of dangling on the bars, not being able to do a single chin-up, your classmates mockingly cheering you on? How about the torture of the mile run?) all the way to Field Day at the end of the year--a whole day outside, stuck in the humid heat of late spring in Florida, doing three-legged-races and tugs-of-war and sack races and water-balloon tosses. In between, there was everything from t-ball to badminton to tennis to dodgeball to duck-duck-goosee to oh my god make it stop--kickball. Anyone else remember the hollow thunk-thunk-thunk of the ball as it bumped and rolled along the sandy ground, dreading the moment when you had to haul your foot back and kick?

(There was, to the best of my knowledge, only once in elementary school that I ever got an A in gym class. I have no idea what I did differently. I just know that no matter how I tried, I only ever got Bs.)

In middle school,  however, I only ever got As, because I always, always "dressed out" into my gym uniform, and that was the surefire way to excel. But there were still so many other awful obstacles--handball and dodgeball and softball and volleyball, along with the trashiest, bitchiest bully-girls you ever did see. High school, I only had to deal with two gym classes, early on, and I got that shit done with freshman year. After that, I was home-free.



For the next 15 years of my life, I managed to skate by on youth and time being on my side. I was able to be a lump, more or less, and not feel the affects of said lumpage. But now that I'm 34, it's time to face up to some facts: I'm about 35 pounds overweight, I've got me some high cholesterol and blood sugar, I love fried food, and I'm at the point when I have to start making some lifestyle changes if I want to avoid premature dying to death.

Also, I don't want to have to buy any more newer, bigger clothes.

So, once more, it's time to try to set aside my deep, deep, deep aversion no, let's be honest, fear of exercising in front of groups of Beautiful People, and get my ass to a gym. I signed up for one today--the third one in four years. Will it work this time? Will I work this time?

I don't know. The one thing I do know--the second someone shows up with a kickball, I'm outta there.