Thursday, December 30, 2010

I've got nothin'

Not quite the end of 2010, and I’m empty. I’ve been empty for weeks, so I didn’t even make it close to the end of the year. Not emotionally empty, or physically empty, so that’s all good. I’m not exactly a train wreck waiting to happen.

“Not exactly?” What does that even mean?

Each year I’m given a certain amount of material to work with. It’s parceled out carefully to me throughout the year, but some months I use less, and some months I use more. But it’s still supposed to get me through the entire year. It’s still supposed to be enough. And this year, it didn’t quite make it. Two more days left and I’m panicking because there’s nothing there.

Okay, this is me panicking. You can’t really tell, but I am. Really. I only sound calm.
Stop me if I get hysterical. Throw water on me or something. “I’m wet and I’m hysterical!” Not sure what good it would do, but there ya go.

I’m not panicking because I’m empty at the moment, I’m panicking because what if it doesn’t come back? What if I stay this way? What if I can’t get interested enough in anything to rail against? What if my vitriol dries up and won’t come out no matter how much it’s prodded? What if this is IT?

I say that every time this happens, but it comes back. It does. So far. But hey, maybe along with menopause I lose the momentum to write?

You think menopause is funny?

There are things that are waiting to be said. I know, everyone has something to say. I don’t care. I’m really only concerned with me. I’m very self-centered that way.

Perhaps part of the problem is that there’s so little that makes me angry. I notice that quite a lot of material comes from people who are angry. Perhaps I should cultivate anger? Grow it carefully so that I’m compelled to spit out what it is that makes me so mad I could spit?

Why would spitting help anything anyway?

You know what makes me angry? Perpetually angry people. On the other hand, I don’t really want them ganging up on me. Who needs that kind of thing going on? They’d say I’m too “nice,” as if it’s a character flaw.

Look, I’ve got plenty of character flaws. There’s no need to introduce more to the equation.

I could rail against the opposition political party, but that would entail calling some people I’m actually quite fond of an assortment of insulting names. That’s just rude.

I could, if I were so inclined, which I’m not, tell the story of my Worst Christmas Ever, but frankly, most people could come up with a better story. I could tell you how about the annoying people who don’t like to do things the way I think they should, but I don’t really care how they like to do things, as long as it doesn’t interfere with what I’m doing. I could rail against religion, or the lack thereof, or I could complain about how no one’s paying me enough attention. I could even, if I were so inclined, tell a charming story about how I’m above all that.

I’m not , of course, but still, it would make for a great story. Don’t you agree?

I may have to turn to fiction. In fiction I can make up any sort of story I like and the fact of it will be what I decide. I like that concept. I like creating something out of nothing. I can’t do that with my paying work, which consists of taking actual numbers and doing things with them. They are what they are, and my work with them turns them into something meaningful. I can’t create something out of nothing there, or the numbers would be wrong, and the IRS hates that. Not only that, but it’s not particularly useful to my clients. I can make numbers do tricks, but they have to be substantiated and honest numbers, and there’s no embellishing to make them more interesting. They just are what they are.

I have plots in my head. Characters. Events. Thoughts. They keep me awake at night. They threaten to spill out and make my life messy, not all orderly and quiet like it is. I’m not afraid of them. I am afraid they won’t come out like they’re supposed to, that they’ll turn up ill-formed and transparent, and not what I see them as. Much of how I see them is how I feel about them, it’s not tangible, so it’s not easy to produce them.

As I’m writing this I can see, below this window, my gmail window, and my old mail is still there. All my new mail goes to Outlook, so one of the old mails that’s sitting there is an exchange between me and my Mom from April of 2009 when we were talking about her stent. She’s been gone for just over a year now, but the emails will stay right where they are. My mom liked my writing. She always did, from the time I first started putting words on paper and writing my own newspaper. Everyone else thought I was crazy, and they may have been right. But so was Mom.

Which means I’ll have to keep going, even if I’m empty.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm Thankful For The Pain

My legs are killing me today. Not literally, I hasten to add. It’s not as if they’ve approached me with a blunt object and are taking mad swipes at my head, nor are they putting poison in my water. That would just be weird. But the pain . . . OMG. (I can say OMG and you know what I mean, right?)

They’ve been like that lately, off and on, some days so annoyingly painful that I just want to smack them around and tell them to get with the program, to shape up or ship out, that we’ve no time for that sort of nonsense around here. Instead, I coddle them. Whatever legs want, legs get. “You want to be up and sit in front of the fire, painful legs?” Then we’ll do exactly that. I’m sure they’re appreciative of my efforts to make them happy, though you wouldn’t know it by the way they treat me back, which is to say, they DON’T stop being the source of pain.

But hey, things could be worse, right? And this is why I’m thankful I’m in pain. Here’s a few reasons I’m thankful:

1.  I’m thankful the pain isn’t more widespread. I could be having pain throughout my entire body, and not just my legs.

2.  I’m thankful my fibromyalgia has mostly been absent for years now, and that it only causes me, currently, pain in my legs. Occasionally it appears to be all over, but even that can be dealt with.

3.  I’m thankful I have a giant ottoman in front of a roaring fire that never goes out to put my legs up on. (The ottoman, not the fire. It sounds as if I put my legs on the fire, but no, I do not. There are multiple reasons for that, most of which should be obvious.)

4.  I’m thankful I work at home, and that I answer to no boss but me, and while I can be a stern taskmaster (and a total beeyotch, if I don’t mind saying so about myself), at least I let myself have a break when the pain is bad.

5.  I’m thankful the pain is physical and not emotional. I’ve had both. I’ve seen both in action. I’ll take physical pain over emotional pain anytime, anyplace.

Number 5 is probably the number 1 reason I’m thankful for the pain. I should have perhaps put it at the top then, but I was working up to it. I have seen the toll mental illness and depression can take on a person, and there’s so much pain that I don’t know how some people bear it. And some of them don’t. They can’t. Whether it’s teenagers or military members or someone who lives next door, suicide is far more common than it should be. I understand the pain, the feeling that this, whatever this may be, won’t get any better, and that there’s no other way out.

I understand the pain and the depression. I am not without my own demons, though they’ve been mostly exorcised. (Imagine me taking a pack of demons for a run along the Appalachian Trail, running day after day until the demons, one by one, dropped out, falling over and out in exhaustion, until, at the end, there I was, exhausted myself, barely able to stand, but with most of the demons gone, except a couple of hardy demons who, though finishers, were forever weakened by the effort. Yes. I know I said exorcised and not exercised, but all the same, it’s a good metaphor, don’t you think?)

I understand it and I saw it in my good friend Stew, who suffered from mental illness and depression and had an entire host of demons. His were in many cases real demons, demons he could see and hear, demons who would threaten his life, and tell him to harm himself. And he did. Not fatally, it was the cancer that got him in the end, after he’d fought off the demons rather successfully and was beginning to find a life with less emotional pain.

Cancer is another sort of demon we can talk about another day.

But until you’ve had the emotional pain of depression and mental illness, you can’t know how painful it is. Take my word for it: it hurts like hell. It wants to own you, to take you away from you, and it will do anything it can to destroy you and take your life.

Please be vigilant. Please be kind to yourself, and to the people around you. You can’t always tell who’s suffering until it’s too late. “We never suspected,” people say, and that’s true, you may not ever suspect a thing. But still, watch for changes in the behavior of people you love. Notice if they say things that don’t sound like them. Pay attention to subtle clues, like suddenly being withdrawn. Pay attention to larger clues, like someone putting their affairs in order. But mostly, just listen to what those close to you say, whether it’s verbal or not.

These things build. It starts slowly, and it builds until the pain is unbearable. We have time to notice it, and to help.

And now, I’m going to talk to my legs about keeping the noise down. They’re whiny and painful but they’re mine and I love them.

Sort of.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What happens . . .

if the Zombie Apocalypse comes? Those are the sorts of questions my husband asks me during a quiet late afternoon. 

I suppose, if it comes down to it, we will suddenly regret our aversion to guns. Not that we haven't used guns. I'm a crack shot with an M16 (assuming there's a co-conspirator next to me shooting at my target), and charming husband once or twice went hunting when he was an Alaskan. Bu the closest thing to a gun in this house is a plastic replica of a musket that comes in handy for being a pirate. 

We aren't real pirates, so a fake musket works just as well as anything else.

Zombies are the new anti-heroes. I'm sorry vampires, but you've had your day. And what did you do with it? You squandered it. No one has any respect for vampires anymore. You're not even scary. Being scary stopped when you decided you sparkled in the sunlight. Really? Now you're more like love obsessed fancy boys who can't keep up your vampire ways when some human girl comes around, as if you haven't seen a million of those before. It's every girl's dream, to be so irresistible even a vampire will change his true nature for her. If we can do that to a vampire, imagine what we can do to a run-of-the-mill human drunk. 

Human girls, now that's a scary subject. But let's not go there either.

So zombies it is. I'd do a rewrite of a classic and incorporate zombies into it, but it's been done. So how else can I make money off the zombie craze? Maybe I can make zombie key chains. I hear those are big sellers.

Maybe I should just plan for the ZA. Then again, I'm not great at planning for emergencies. I'm better at just letting them happen to me. . . and then I swing into action. I am fabulous when given an emergency to work with, but it has to be real, and it has to be now. Otherwise, I got other things to do.

So I'm prepared, vaguely, with my plastic musket and my ability to swing into action. That'll have to do.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Finding Our Own Way

I’m reminded today that we’re all in this alone, that our pain is our own and that no one else can help us by taking part of our pain for us.
Don’t panic. It’s not as if there’s no hope at all. And this isn’t even a “woe is me, the pain is unbearable” sort of post. Me, I’m fine. I’ve gone through the darkness and came out the other side. Then I went back in and came out the other side again. And on and on. No one said this would be a one-shot deal, did they? I’ve managed to create a pretty happy psyche, all things considered.
But it wasn’t always so. And I’m only going to tell this as a reminder that emotional pain is rarely terminal in itself, and that it can be overcome. It can be dispersed. It can be clobbered to smithereens.
I’m not sure what a smithereen is, but I’ve long thought I should use the term, and it seems fitting for this.
When I was at the impressionable age of maybe 12 I thought life was hopeless. There was no place in it for me. My existence had been an accident, and the people I now found myself surrounded with did not care for me much. It was nothing personal. I didn’t know that of course. At that age everything’s about the self. Or maybe I’m thinking of the age of five. Whatever. I was desperate for attention, any attention, even just to prove that I existed.
Oh sure, I existed. I had household chores, so I’m pretty sure everyone knew I was there. But internally, I felt unloved, unwanted, unliked, unnoticed, and I wanted people to notice me.
I was not a particularly bright child. Oh, I was, most certainly, in matters of learning and intellectualism and knowing things and the ability to impress my teachers. But I mean emotionally. Emotionally I was a bit dull. One can’t have everything, can one?
One day I took a bottle of my Dad’s Excedrin, and I downed the contents. It was at least half a bottle, maybe more, maybe three-fourths. This is, for those of you who are wondering, an exceptionally stupid thing to do at any age. Stick with the recommended dosage please.
Did I receive any attention for my stupidity? Did my attempt elicit any sort of reaction from anyone?
Well, of course not. If you take a bottle of Excedrin and don’t tell anyone, it’s not going to have the slightest affect on anyone. It will, I’ll have you know, make your stomach bleed.
And bleed.
But it’s internal, so it’s not like anyone knows. And there I was, having done something monumentally stupid, and I couldn’t tell anyone. They already thought of me as the family idiot, or so I believed, and any confession would just further reinforce that opinion.
I’m pretty sure some of them still consider me the family idiot, but the biggest believer, my stepmom, is no longer with us on earth, so yay, I win.
How pathetic was that last sentence?
Anyway, to return to my story, my stomach bled, and I was afraid to tell anyone what I’d done. For two weeks I walked around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, shielding my pained stomach from any sort of additional tragedy that might befall it, letting it do whatever one’s stomach does when it’s been assaulted with Excedrin. And no one noticed that I was in constant pain, which rather reinforced my idea that no one noticed me at all. It was a sharp pain, but it was also soothing because it reassured me that I at least had control over my own body. I could hurt it if I wanted and I could make it pay.
And it paid. And paid.
A couple of weeks after my Excedrin experiment I was in the garage, folding clothes that had just come out of the laundry. Our garage was behind the house, on a straight line from the back door, and suddenly my stepmother stormed out of the back door and stomped toward me, and the ground shook beneath her as she walked, and her anger was obvious for all to see. She stomped up to me and said, “Stop acting like you’re in pain all the time! You walk around here like there’s something wrong with you! Start acting normal!”
Then she turned and stomped back into the house.
Normal? Suddenly she wanted me to start acting normal?
I straightened up, gingerly, testing my stomach, and told my stomach, “This is what we’ve got to do. You may be in pain, but we have to start acting normal.”
(Note: If you start talking to your stomach as if it’s separate from you, you may have issues.)
I straightened up and I started acting normal. Unfortunately, normal for me was still annoying to her, but I did the best I could with what I had. She would have found fault with me no matter what, and that was just something I had to learn to live with, at least until I turned 18 and could leave home.
I had to learn that no one else could give me the sort of attention I needed, and that it was up to me to find my own way out of the emotional pain. There’s help available – therapy, meds, people who love us and support us, but in the end, it’s up to us to use those tools and find our way out. No one else can do the really hard work for us, the work of finding out who we are and how we can best take care of ourselves. That’s only inside of us, where all the best stuff is anyway.
Same thing if you know someone who’s struggling. You can empathize, and you can offer them options, but you can’t take their pain away by taking it in to yourself, and it won’t help either of you if you do. In order to help them, you have to keep their pain from infecting you. Think of it as a communicable illness, like the flu. If you both get it, who’s going to take care of the sick one? Keep yourself healthy first.
We’re all in this alone. But we’re not. Clear?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Monique and Andrew Join The Gym

We just joined a gym.

I know. It’s reprehensible that someone in my position (perennial refudiator of physical activity) would do such a thing. Of course, the fact that I’ve put on a few extra pounds is compelling. But it’s not all about that. Really. Well, there is that. I’d like to be able to shop for clothes without having to look in the  maternity section.

It’s the water. I wanted a pool to go to that was often uncrowded and was close to my house. This particular gym has one. I know, because I drive by and the pool is often empty, holding nothing but water. Not so sure I want to be seen from the street when I’m doing laps, but whatever. Who really cares? Swimming is the one sport I never totally sucked at, and I do like water. It’s just not as breathable as air, or I’d be a total convert.

So we sign up last week, both charming husband and I, since he has a goal also. Naturally the first thing they do is set us up for an appointment with a personal trainer because, well, they want to sell us more services. We know this, but we show up anyway, to hear what they have to say.

Before going, a friend of mine reminds me that what they tell me isn’t necessarily the truth – I’m not fantastically fat and out-of-shape, which they will no doubt tell me, but that instead I’m fabulous and beautiful. See why I love my friends? They’re so nice to me. So I write that down on my palm, just for a reference when the personal trainer starts trying me feel like bad. Not that they can, not with this knowledge.

I’m sure personal trainers are lovely people. Really. I wouldn’t know, because I have approximately thousands of friends, not one of whom is a personal trainer. But I’m sure they are.

As fits the job description, the personal trainer is perky and cheerful and built like . . . well, a personal trainer. I’d hate her, if I wasn’t too busy remembering I’m better than her. The first thing we do is fill out a questionnaire, which has amusing questions such as:

What is your weight goal? (I put down, “to weigh less.”)

Do you have any special events you want to get in shape for? (“old age,” which I think counts as a very special event.)

Do you have any medical conditions we should know about? (“I’m horribly phobic about exercise and am likely to lash out at the first person who suggests I do some.”

We finish and then she asks us more questions. She starts by asking what we do, and when I say I’m an accountant and a writer she tells me she was published when she was very young, and somehow I manage not to say, “So what? I was published BEFORE YOU WERE BORN, so it’s not like you’re BETTER THAN ME.” I’m not saying personal trainers bring out my competitive side, but you know how it is. 

Then the questions move on to our current habits: How many times do we have fast food each week? (Several.) How many times a week do we go to restaurants? (Several, depending on what week we’re talking about, but we tone it down for her so we don’t kill her with the shock.) How much do we spend on entertainment? What do we eat, when we do eat? (We like only a little about our great eating habits.)

And then we get The Speech. You know The Speech. The one where she tells us how we’re likely to die within a week or two if we don’t get some exercise. How we have to work each set of muscles on a rotating and alternating basis. How we need to lose weight and built muscle. (Well, we did walk in of our own accord, so we were pretty sure we weren’t there for an entirely good time.) Perky personal trainer drew pictures, and charts, and had arrows pointing here and there, and pyramids and Venn diagrams. It was all quite entertaining.
We professed knowledge of what she was saying, but mostly we were looking at the pretty pictures and thinking about what we were going to have for lunch.

Then she showed us a few things and made us use a couple of machines. While she wasn’t looking I mouthed to charming husband, “There’s no way in hell I’m doing all this.” He just smiled at me. I have no objection to using machines, it’s the personal oversight I’m not interested in. For that matter, I have no objections to sitting on a recumbent bike cycling away while listening to my ipod either. I think my disdain of authority precludes letting a personal trainer boss me around.

I just wanted to use the pool, for crying out loud.

That was my same problem with the military, but I was young and gullible then and they bossed me around plenty.

And then she presented us with the various price points, with more talk about how IMPORTANT it was that someone KNOWLEDGEABLE monitor us and tell us what to do. She showed us the price chart and together we withheld our collective gasp of “you’ve got to be kidding!” It was more than our grocery budget for the month – perhaps that’s the point. If one doesn’t eat, one may lose weight. We told her we’d think about it and get back to her. She wanted to know what our objections were so she could respond and overcome them. I’m familiar with this particular tactic, so we didn’t respond to that challenge at all. We smiled nicely, and told her it was nice to meet her, and thank you so much for all the information, but that we’d get back to her.

And I’m certain we will. Someday. Or not.

In fact, let’s go with not. Tomorrow we’re going for a swim. Without instructions. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Life Is Not Fear

A friend of mine accidentally wrote this the other day, when she meant to type, "Life is not fair." I didn't write back and say, "ha! TYPO!" because I sort of like it this way. That, and what kind of person do you think I am, anyway? The kind who points out misspellings in my friends' posts? The kind of person who looks for any little reason to one-up someone? 
So life is not fear.
My life used to be fear. When I was born I was afraid it would be too close to Christmas and everyone would hate me for ruining their Christmas with my birthday party. Not to worry -- it was usually my birthday that was overlooked in favor of Christmas.
When I was 7 and my brother 6 I was afraid that if mom came home and found out we hadn't finished putting away the dishes we'd be punished, for she was sure to be mad, so we scrambled to get things done when we heard her car pull up to the apartment complex, but I don't remember anything else. Another unnecessary fear.
When I was 10 and my father remarried I was worried that my new stepmother and stepsiblings wouldn't like me. I was right, that time, but it's not as if they waged war against me and tortured me to death or anything.
When I was in basic training I feared I wouldn't finish, or I'd be set back and have to stay longer. I'd watch others wash out, and I'd think, "I'm next," but even though I could barely walk and had to limp behind my flight like some sort of giant flightless bird, I finished with the rest of my flight.
When I was 18 I feared my stepmother was right, and no one would ever want to marry me.
When I was 19 I got married and feared I'd rushed into it. Ya think?
Life continued in this same sort of fashion for many years, fear rummaging around the corners of my psyche like some kind of rat, looking for a way in so it can gnaw on my brain and leave me, for all practical purposes, unable to act or move or think.
Have you ever been paralyzed by fear? I have. That's when the fear is a sudden dawning thought that something has gone amiss, that perhaps I forgot to do something really truly important and the world will explode in on me as punishment for my ineptitude. The core of me goes ice cold when that happens, and within the tiny little portion of the brain that I actually use while the rest of it is off gallivanting with unicorns I feel a pinprick of doubt, if one can define a pinprick as a giant sledgehammer. I hear a rushing sound, as if I'm in free fall (and yes, I know what that feels like), but unlike free fall, my chute's not going to open so I can descend gracefully, but instead I will fall to the ground just like that, smashed to smithereens.
Fortunately this condition does not last long and I usually start thawing out before I go splat and become a medical curiosity. 
And I often find out that the fear was for nothing, a pointless exercise. On those few occasions where it wasn't exactly pointless it was also not nearly as horrible as I'd imagined. It's always far less important than I'd imagined, or the thing I worried most about wasn't what I thought, or I was just being silly. It happens to the best of us.
Which isn't to say there isn't plenty to be fearful of in our world. There are more things going on that we can't control than we can even imagine, and if we're to fear them all we're going to keep ourselves very busy, far too busy to do anything really productive like tell people we love that we love them.
But there are things we can control. I am not in expert in these things. There are a few things I am an expert in, and this is not one of them. So I'm working on eliminating the fear, on a more or less daily basis. I've gotten much better, maybe because I'm older and past caring so much, or maybe because I'd like to spend my energy on other things. 
Just today I found myself in a room with ten or so other people I'd never met before, and I was fearful of looking stupid. Well, sounding stupid, anyway. I can't help the way I look. But you know what? Everyone else was busy thinking about 1) themselves, or 2) the people they knew who were there, or 3) themselves, or 4) lunch. That's how people are. 
Before you get any ideas, there'll be no stealing of the words "Life is not fear." They're my words, I stole them honestly, and you can't have them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Welcome to the Clown Farm

Where every day is a circus just waiting to happen.
I’ve been away. Not altogether, but partially, though I’ve been back long enough to grace you with a post about suicide, which is my way of saying to myself, “Welcome Home!”
I’m not really morbid. I just veer off in that direction now and then. I’m also not horribly mentally ill, I just like to write about it because someone has to.
I’ve learned a few things in the past couple of weeks that I’d like to share with you, whether you care to hear it or not.
**When going on a family road trip, stock up on plenty of snacks and drinks.
**Wear comfortable shoes. This goes for days spent at Disneyland as well as days spent on the couch unless you’re like me, and abhor shoes.
**Communication skills are only helpful if the person you’re communicating with has them also.
**Holy Cross Cemetery closes at 6 pm sharp, and after that time they won’t let you in because the alarm system is being armed. Are they afraid someone’s going to try to get out?
**When going to Disneyland, do not miss a visit to the spa at the Grand Californian. DO NOT. It will save you when your last shred of sanity is hanging out, ready to be blown away by the first breeze.
**When you go to San Francisco, do not miss Brandy Ho’s. That is, if you like Hunan. And if you have to walk several blocks on legs that are barely reminiscent of the legs you started out with, ankles sprained, toes aching, pedicure blotched, it’s worth it.
**Museums are fun, but they don’t like it when you try to rearrange the pictures. You’ve been warned.
**If you’re planning on getting some work done while you’re on that family road trip, forget about it because it isn’t going to happen. You can take your laptop along if that makes you feel better, but you won’t be getting anything done, I don’t care how long you’re in the vehicle.
**Horrible things happen to people when they shouldn’t, and there’s no reason for it. It just is.
I’m sure there’s more, but at the moment I’m unsure what they are. See follow up post.
Earlier I came downstairs to work because it was hot in my office. (By coming downstairs to work, I mean “lay on the couch with the good laptop and pretend to do something useful.”) When I came down, I noticed that the fan was indeed on. Charming husband came down with me too, though he had to go back upstairs. I said, “Hey, why’s the fan turned away from me?”
“It’s cooling the xbox,” he said.
“It’s what? It’s hot, and the fan’s working on the xbox? What about me?”
“What about you?” he said.
No, he didn’t say that. Well, he sort of did. But he also said, “Turn it around then. But you’re not the one who’s going to have red lights flashing when you’re overheated.”
“Just watch me,” I said to him, then turned the fan so it was at least blowing in my general direction. I’m sorry, but the xbox can fend for itself.
When this xbox is laid to rest we’re going to keep it as a shrine. It’s Stew’s xbox, and he left it to Andrew when he died. Please note: he left it to my HUSBAND, not to me.
I got the TV.
Saw part of my wonderful charming family when I was at Disneyland. Those that could came and had dinner with us at Downtown Disney. Fabulous Italian restaurant there, or ristorante if we’re being technical. I’m the black sheep of the family, or at least lime green. They are all beautiful and smart and charming. I, on the other hand, am chunky and fat-faced, with a bad complexion and irritating hair, and I have no social graces nor wit to commend me. I envy them their closeness – I’ve been gone from there since I was 18, and my efforts to keep in contact are mostly irritants to them. (Don’t worry, I don’t think they read my blog, unless I say, “Look! You must read this!” And even then it’s doubtful.) I used to wish I had family close by, but I’ve learned to comfort myself during major holidays. And I have charming husband to keep me amused. He is quite amusing.
I used to want them to like me enough to send me the occasional email, and since that may be an unfair expectation, I can live with the reality. At dinner last week I was happy to just sit there and listen to everyone talk. We sat outside, and there was just a slight breeze, and there were two babies in attendance, my nephew, Aidan, who’s now wanting to start toddling off everywhere, and my niece’s 6 month old, Makena. (Aidan’s father is one brother, and Makena’s grandfather is another brother.) They show every sign of continuing their parents’ tradition of happy beautiful lives, and that makes me happy, even if they never really know who Aunt Monique is.
It’s all good. I’m all good.
As long as the red lights don’t start flashing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Suicidal Ramblings

In Salon today:  A predictable suicide at Camp Lejeune:
Years ago I was writing a regular (or irregular) column for a military publication. My column on suicide prevention and the desperate need for it generated much response, most especially from airmen and soldiers who were stationed overseas in Desert Storm. They sent me emails and told me how desperate they sometimes felt, and how there was so little help for them. That column was later used in a suicide prevention course. 
Fat lot of good it did. 
Years earlier, many years earlier, I was stationed at my first post, and I was despondent, off and on. Occasionally, and sometimes,  usually, I was quite happy. Someone overheard me say something that they took for a wish for suicide, which it wasn't -- believe me, I wouldn't deny it if it had been. I am no stranger to depression. But they believed it, and they called my commander, and next thing I knew I was escorted to the post clinic and then to Ft Ord for further questioning, just in case. I promised not to harm myself, I promised them that I had no intention of harming myself, and eventually they let me go. 
How embarrassing. But better alive than dead, no? On the other hand, how easy it would have been to tell them I was fine, walk away, and then off myself. How very easy. 
We can't tell what's in someone's head.
Years later I found myself encouraging my ex-husband to have faith in a life he couldn't find any joy in. His suicidal ideations were frequent and all consuming, and I paid such close attention to his every mood to ensure I could keep him going that I myself eventually needed psychiatric help. Again, in a mental health clinic, promising not to hurt myself. I had no motivation to hurt myself -- I was just tired and worn out and I was empty. If I'd had enough energy I might have considered it, I don't know. But I didn't. 
Not that I never have. There have been times when I thought the world would be better off without me in it. Those times are in the past, fortunately.
My ex fought the idea of suicide for years, along with major mental illness. Eventually cancer got him instead, which just goes to show. Something's going to get you in the end.
Still, in most cases, putting the end off until it's something physical that takes us is a better choice. The mental pain that comes with being suicidal is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. There's no room there for giving oneself a break, no space for considering alternatives, no space for anything other than the overwhelming thought that life would be better if one weren't actually living it. 
In the military especially mental illness is considered a weakness. I know, I've been there. Best to push it under the rug just a little so no one will see it. We ignore it. We push it away. We tell people to just get over it, as if they wouldn't if they could. No one wants to be in that kind of pain. I'd like to think we've made progress, but the numbers of military suicides don't indicate we have. War sucks. War sucks especially if you're in the middle of it. 
Is this the best we can do for people we send to war?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Egregious in a Sentence

Today I used egregious in a sentence and scared myself half to death. It’s not as if I walk around throwing big words into the air in the hopes I’ll impress someone with my superior knowledge and command of the English language. Instead, I’m far more likely to lapse into the vernacular of the day and say things like, “What’s the haps?” which I’m not even sure means anything, but at least it’s short.
But there I was, looking over some numbers with a client, and I as I looked I said, “Well, I don’t see anything particularly egregious here,” and then realized what I’d said. I followed up with, “Wow, I actually used egregious in a sentence correctly.”
I wasn’t even sure I knew how to pronounce it up until the time I pronounced it.
My client looked a bit stunned too.
Look, here’s the thing. I’m the anti-accountant. I’m the one who uses small words and doesn’t try to overwhelm people with my vast store of knowledge, which is only vast if you compare it to the store of knowledge my dog, Ash, has. He’s smart, but his knowledge of words is restricted to the basic necessities of his life. Walk. Play. Toy. Ball. Snack. Ride. Potty. Tell him he’s egregious and he’s likely to lick you to death, thinking you said, “What a nice doggy!”
Most of my problems with words have come about because I read them somewhere, starting from when I was too young to read, and I never heard the actual words, so I never knew how to pronounce them. We didn’t believe in big words in my family. It went against our philosophy, which was something along the lines of, “we’re not smart enough to use big words, except for those of us who think we’re smarter than everyone else.”
I wasn’t allowed to be smarter than everyone else, by the way.
Later on, I heard the words I’d read and could use easily in writing, and was astounded by the pronunciation. No one had told me!
So now I’m not likely to use big words in conversation. Of course, the fact that I can barely carry on a conversation with little words may be partly to blame. But what does it mean when I start tossing in words like egregious? Am I going to turn into a smartass know-everything who goes around smacking people with big words?
Do me a favor. If I do, please tell me to knock it off. I suppose an egregious here or there won’t hurt anyone, but if I start sounding like I’ve been reading the dictionary in my spare time, which actually is not a bad hobby to have, then I’ve started down the slippery slope to becoming unbearable.
And once one has become unbearable, there is little hope left. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hell's Kitchen, Episode 1

Hell’s Kitchen returns, promising: “This is the one you’ve been waiting for.”
Wasn’t that what they said last year? I know they need to keep outdoing themselves in order to keep our interest, because the public is fickle and easily displeased, and we want more drama, more surprises, more hysterical cooking, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Not that I’m expecting to be disappointed. I’m sure there will be yelling this season, lots of it, and bad cooking, and maybe even some good cooking from the chef wanna-be’s, all of them eager to prove that despite their limited experience, they can cut the mustard.
If only that was all there was to it, cutting mustard, but alas, risotto seems to be a major sticking point for many of them, and that's just the beginning.
We begin, as usual, with previews of fighting, screaming, temper tantrums, and one aspiring chef saying “I like winning,” as if that’s news. Really? Because I’m pretty sure that no one else there does. The contestants are often quite enlightening that way. “I love to cook,” one of them will say, because we might not have known that otherwise. Still, what else would they say? What would you say?
I would say nothing because I’m not going to be on the show, which solves that problem nicely.
“I’m here to win Hell’s Kitchen,” one says, because, y’know, a lot of people are there to lose.
One contestant, who is quite taken with herself announces “I’ll look better doing it,” (assuming she has to look good to make it) and then she falls down. How. . . cute. This is what happens when one wears heels in the kitchen, so one can look good when one falls down.
We start off with a signature dishes – I like signature dishes. There’s no telling what we’ll be subjected to here, and surprises are always fun, aren’t they? This time, the first contestant, a homemaker who’s written a cookbook and has never worked in a restaurant, goes up alone, which should have been our first clue, since they always go up in pairs, boy and girl. Chef Ramsay says the veal scallopini she presents looks bad, then tastes it, acting as if he’s going to say it’s bad, then pronounces it quite good. He then hugs the contestant and gives her a kiss on the mouth.
This is unusual. She returns to the line and he follows her, and they kiss some more. Rather unprofessional, wouldn’t you say? But surprise surprise, it’s his wife, disguised with a mousy brown wig. She’s not really going to compete, which I think would be really fun, and then she leaves.
The guy who speaks with a heavy Italian accent because he thinks women like it, despite having been in the U.S. for 20 years, does not make his own pasta. What the? Premade pasta? It is not a hit.
Benjamin comes after the Italian guy, and he makes his own pasta. Ha! Take that Italian guy!
Northern India food? Northern? A disaster!
Jamie had a toothpick in her food and Ramsay declined to try it.
The guy who has a large Hells’ Kitchen tattoo on his torso (suckup!) comes up with brie stuffed with lobster, and, surprisingly, Ramsay says it’s delicious. I don’t care who you are, but when you have to show how much you want to win by getting a tattoo, there’s a pretty good chance you’re a lousy cook.
Based on my somewhat limited experience, of course. I myself have no tattoos.
Again surprisingly, seared ahi in mint leaves works. Who would have ever guessed?
The chicken wings with a half bottle of Tabasco does not, perhaps not as surprisingly, make much of an impact, other than that made when one is desperate for a drink to wash it down with.
Sadly for the women (the red team), the men win. Could this be the start of another season of the men proclaiming their superiority? Men love to do that. So do women.
The aspiring chefs go upstairs to study their recipes. They need to know how to prepare whatever’s on the menu in Hell’s Kitchen, and they need to know by the next day.
Then the alarms start to go off. Each time, everyone must go downstairs to watch a video Ramsay has made of how to prepare (fill in the blank). Lobster risotto first, which is always the high point of the show. “You’ve burned the risotto!” “This risotto is hard!” It’s fun to see how many different ways it can be screwed up.
The video lessons continue through the night. This is new – let’s see how they do with no sleep! People with sharp knives and no sleep are bound to make an impact.
The red team (aka, women) have to serve breakfast in bed for the guys just because the red team lost the signature dish challenge. They are unhappy about this and the men are quite happy.
And then Hell’s Kitchen opens. The lights! The cameras!
Raw scallops, seasoned badly. Stacey thought it was going to be easy, as aspiring chefs so often do. I’m sure she cooks just fine at home, in her own kitchen.
Meanwhile, the Italian guy keeps burning the starters. Repeatedly.
The “perfect” potatoes are either undercooked or overcooked.
Crab in the lobster risotto!
So far, we’re having nothing but disasters in the kitchen. Is nothing coming out right?
And Ramsay does his first ejections of the new season! “You you you out!” Such authority! There was too much laughing going on, and how can someone not know the difference between crab and lobster?
Mikey serves raw halibut. Again and again. Does the halibut trick him by whispering, “I’m done, I’m done,” in the sort of hypnotic trancey voice only halibut can do? It appears so, for Mikey just can’t get the hang of actually cooking the halibut.
Does anyone really want to eat in this “restaurant?”
Two guys are thrown out of the kitchen next.
And then another from the red team is ejected.
And more raw halibut. Halibut apparently presents quite a challenge and Mikey too is sent away.
One important lesson to keep in mind should you dine at Hell’s Kitchen: Eat first, and eat well, because it may be your only chance to eat. Unless you eat afterwards – you can always stop off somewhere on your way home. McDonald’s is bound to be open.
Finally food is leaving the kitchen. Only by sending half the aspiring chefs away were they able to finish service.
The losing team is, of course the red team. Who couldn’t see that coming? They “sucked” as Ramsay says.
And now the time we all look forward to: elimination!
This is when the team members get to attack each other in order to save themselves.
Stacey was the first nominee, and then, before announcing the second one, we cut to commercial. We always cut to commercial at this time because we’re supposed to be eagerly waiting the announcement. We’re supposed to be hanging on the edge of our seats, but frankly, this is the first episode and I’m not all that invested in it yet. Maybe later. But right now, I’m not taken with any of the contestants. They’re all blank slates, and any one of them could go without affecting me at all.
Fran is the second nominee. She was kicked out of the kitchen before she had a chance to really screw up other than not knowing the difference between lobster and crab. “I was a kosher chef,” like that’s an excuse. Really? She thought she could just show up and it wouldn’t matter that she doesn’t know the difference between crab and lobster? Given how often lobster appears at Hell’s Kitchen you’d thinks he would have prepared for that eventuality. Then again, I’m a crab expert, I like to think, so the idea that someone can’t tell the difference is beyond me.
Stacey said she could care “more than you can even imagine.”
And then Ramsay makes his decision: Stacey, the private chef, is out. How humiliating, not to even make it through the first episode. We see her trudge away, defeat in every step.
Next episode: shocking events have Ramsay in a rage! Like when is he NOT in a rage? This is standard operating procedure for the Chef so it’s not as if this is anything new. Yet, I’ll tune in, because I want to see what invokes his rage this time. I want to see people, some of whom I wouldn’t trust to make me a bowl of cereal, try to cook their way to acclaim and greatness. And I want to sit at home and say, “Cripes, people, even I could cook that!”