To all you shaygets and shiksas out there: Merry and happy. I hope your dreams come true and your credit cards don't get overextended. And if you don't know what goyim, shaygets and shiksas are, that means that you fall into those categories. Don't worry -- it's a loving sort of thing. :)
Thanks to John Gourhan, my funny and generous colleague from St. Mary's College of California's MFA Program, for tagging me in "The Next Best Thing" blog project. The "Next Best Thing" concept lets each writer in turn answer the same list of questions for blog readers who may not know us. Readers are passed along by the person who invited us to participate.
What is the working title of your book?
Well, there's BEARDED LADY, a memoir I'm currently shopping, and THREESOME, a project I began while living in Columbia, Missouri last year. There's also an as-unnamed piece about a fat porn star that I've been playing with ... any suggestions for titles?
Where did the idea come from for this book?
BEARDED LADY sprang from my own experiences with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, a syndrome which results in (among other things) excess hair growth, obesity, infertility and male-pattern baldness. THREESOME was inspired by the Chelsea King murder case in San Diego. Chelsea King was a 17-year-old Poway High School student -- that's my alma mater -- who was murdered while going out for a run. And the porn-star thing? Well, I've done my share of ... research.
What genre does your book fall under?
Respectively, memoir, fiction and fiction. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
How long did it take to write the first draft?
BEARDED LADY is the only completed project. It got its genesis in 2006, during my final year of my MFA program, and the final draft was completed within about a year and a half. Then came revision ... and revision ...
What actors would you use for a movie rendition of your book?
I've thought about this, honestly I have, and haven't really come up with anyone or anything. What I'd really like to see is an unknown break out in any one of these parts. Reese Witherspoon doesn't exactly look like me.
What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book? BEARDED LADY is a memoir about living with
Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, an adrenal disorder whose symptoms include
excessive hair growth as well as male-pattern balding, obesity, and
infertility. THREESOME addresses the terror and tragedy of sudden loss. The fat porn star one, I don't have a clue. Will it be self-published or represented by an agency? An agency. At least I damn well hope. Who or what inspired you to write this book? Shoot, didn't I answer this one? What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? BEARDED LADY - Augusten Burroughs' RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, perhaps. THREESOME - Ann Patchett's SONGS WITHOUT WORDS. Fat porn star - You got me! (See a pattern here?) What else about your book might pique the reader's interest? I'm a pretty down-to-earth writer. I tell it like it is and while I may dice words, I won't mince them. Besides, I'll buy you a beer if you read any one of these. On draft. Bar of your choice. Honest.
Would the Connecticut school massacre have taken place? Well, not as easily. I am a proponent of gun control and that opinion is becoming ever stronger the more I see things happening in Connecticut, Colorado, Oregon ... for our own sanity, we must maintain an illusion of 100 percent safety. But that's all it is: an illusion.
So this has been going on for a while, but I'm just now getting around to blogging about it: I'm applying for a Fulbright Scholarship. I want to go to Romania to study the problem of stray dogs (it's a huge deal -- we're talking in the thousands, possibly millions for all I know), which dates back to Communist days. Right now I'm working on nailing down my affiliation, writing my statement and proposal, and learning Romanian. If I get this, we would go over there in 2014. I don't even formally apply until October, so it's a ways in the future, but this stuff takes time, yo.
In other news, Jack is smiling. And that is awesome.
In only some particular order, what I'm thankful for this year:
- A happy, healthy family. Yes, we're as whacked out as anybody else, but we're all still alive and kicking.
- My incredible husband. I love you, Adam.
- My gorgeous dogs. I love you, you batshit crazy Maizie and Jack.
- Talent and motivation.
- The dumb luck of being born in an incredible place at an incredible time.
- A sweet little roof over my head.
- The future.
Or close enough, really. Once September starts -- hell, once August hits that mid-point -- you know summer's on its way out, scooting along so the door doesn't hit it in the ass on the way.
And for once, I think I'm actually looking forward to it.
I'm slowly climbing out of the morass of little ambition and energy. Slowly, I say, because it's not a linear process. Is anything? But I wish it were. It would be so much easier. Wouldn't everything?
I'm sending applications out into the void. Putting together a Fulbright app, applying to MacDowell and Stanford and a bunch of other places. I'm trying to make tracks on the latest project and trying to market the project that's been hanging around for a while.
I'm chipping away. Chipping doesn't feel as good as smashing, but one step at a time.
In August 2010, I got a lap band and dropped 40 pounds. By Thanksgiving 2011, I was overfilled and unable to eat. I wound up in the ER and they took all the fluid out. I've gained the weight back and am disgusted with myself. I'm going back to my surgeon today to get another fill and I know I have a lot of explaining to do. I hope I can make it through.
I sleep all the time these days. It's as if I can't get enough and maybe I can't. I feel shrouded, covered in something I can't name and can barely fight. It's not depression. It's not anxiety. It's just this feeling of resignation that I don't like, and I don't accept, and I need and want to change.
The pleasure comes not in waves, but in stabs. The short,
sharp intakes of breath are punctuated by sensations of separation, of a
journey to somewhere else. It’s a patchwork of departure and return, of absence
Leigh is lying on her back, naked from the waist down. She’s
braless and wearing a t-shirt that says MIZZOU. She closes her eyes, then slits
them open, then closes them again, more tightly this time. Behind her eyelids
she can see spirals, a laser show of sorts. Her fingers find the head that is
between her legs and they squeeze, first lightly and then with increasing force,
feeling the skull that lies beneath the hair, the fragility of bone.
She thinks of demolition, the kind she saw just yesterday in
downtown. They were taking down a hotel, one that hadn’t hosted a guest in well
over a year. She’d paused on the sidewalk and watched the crane yawn and chew,
the construction workers stand idly by with their cigarettes, not even
acknowledging the destruction. Were you supposed to smoke at a demolition site?
Wasn’t there some risk involved?
By the time she was done watching, the crane was lowered as
if in embarassment. One of the smokers had put out his cigarette and was
watering the debris with a long orange hose. She felt a sick and sorry
fascination, a dull ache at the idea that at one minute something can exist and
the next moment can reduce it to nothing.
Sharp pleasure undercuts her thoughts. She bites her lower
lip, bites it hard. Brooke, she
thinks, lingering over the double o’s.
The head responds by moving faster, the tongue by making its movements even
more precise. Brooke, she thinks
again but for some reason doesn’t say. Instead she presses her fingers against
the head’s face, feeling – stubble?
Evan. It is her husband, Evan, who is going down on her. Her
husband of 13 years, her partner in life. Remember, Leigh? Remember?
The crane stood out against the bright blue winter sky. That
It's been two years since my buddy Oliver died. I miss him terribly and in a way it gets harder, not easier, every day. He was 21 and 3/4 years old when he died. He was robust as hell up until the end. Who could ask for more? But I do. I love you, Bear.
On Wednesday I'm going to see a friend. There's been a bit of a rift between us. No formal fights, just silence. Silence doesn't sit well with me when it comes to relationships. Things don't resolve themselves in a vacuum. And yes, I just relied on Blogger's spelling correct feature to figure out how to spell vacuum.
Basically, my friend can't figure out why I don't like this particular person. I don't like this particular person because I find them completely self-obsessed and self-serving. I'm not sure how much I'm going to be called upon to explain this and I'm not sure how much I'm even going to want to do that.
Fact is, who I like is who I like. I am so past the point of pretending. Why waste my time with people who I consider toxic to be around?
Then there is my friend. We have been friends for more than a decade now. This is pretty much the first point of confrontation we've ever had. I knew something was up and I was right. I barely heard from him when I was in Missouri and then when I came back it was silent, not even a welcome-back. Writing that hurts, actually. It pisses me off.
I usually try to use situations to illustrate themes, to look at a bigger picture rather than focusing on the drama. I'm sure there is a bigger picture here, but today I'm thinking a bit small.
The couch has been my friend these days. Too much, in fact, and I'm not happy about that. I'm not thrilled about the person I am these days. It's not the person I know myself to be. I'm less motivated, less passionate, less willing to jump and take risks and take action.
My fire these days is a bit dimmed.
I can't point to a singular reason for this. I can only say that it is a fact of my life for the moment, and that I'm working to change that. I'm not sure how much of it I can control and how much I can't, but I suppose I'll find out.
Why I defriended you: You haven't spoken to me in two years; you made me feel like crap when I was struggling to get into grad school; you are self-obsessed and self-important; you are still the same blowhard you were in high school. Any questions?
We were returning from St. Orres yesterday and went through Mendocino. I went into the market to buy some Dramamine because I do NOT do those curvy roads well, and there was a guy in front of me in line who seemed to have no groceries and only wanted to ask the cashier a question. She rang up my items and I said: "Excuse me" to him, trying to pay.
He freaked out. He was there FIRST, he was trying to buy some COFFEE. "What else do you need to know?" he snapped in my face. My eyes met his and I was scared. The experience really threw me (particularly when the cashier started talking about how this is how "city people" act) and stayed with me for a while. I mean, Mendocino, man. Aren't you supposed to be high and happy?
Claire Bokor over at Shelter Exchange explains it better than I can. Basically, today's the day where over 700 shelters have committed to not euthanize animals, but instead work to get them adopted. Let's work together to make Just One Day every day.
This was taken by Courtney, my brother's girlfriend. She really does know how to capture two people beautifully. I think we look very relaxed with each other, like we've been married for a little over four years. Go figure.
Love changes over time. It both sharpens and relaxes. The rules get tighter and looser. The changes are constant. I hope they never end, and that they are (at least mostly) positive.
I used to be such a ranter. I would go off with ferocity, firing away at just about anything and just about anyone. When I stopped doing that as much, this place got a little quieter.
Rants can still make me happy, especially when I go off to Adam and he just gives me a big ol' grin. But a lot of the time they just make me feel crappy, like some crank. And I'm not a crank.
I'm not, right?
So we're back from Columbia. I am so glad to be back. I keep telling people I'm "still processing the experience" (how Berkeley can you get?) but really, I'm not sure what to say about it. It was five months. There you have it.
On Friday, we walked back into our house in Berkeley. My head is still spinning, but with happiness.
I haven't yet found the words to describe the experience in Columbia. It feels like I can't easily sum it up and that's probably a good thing. I do know that I feel like I'm back where I belong and that my adventure itch has been scratched -- for now.
Mike Daisey has long been an influence for me. I've seen several of his shows and have even flown cross-country to participate in one of his solo-performance workshops.
So it was a hell of a letdown when it came out that he lied. Mike Daisey is a liar. He fabricated major elements of "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" -- and less than two weeks ago that came down to bear on him when This American Life had to retract the story they did on the performance.
How humiliating must it be to admit that you lied? That you didn't consider yourself a good enough storyteller to have veracity in the tale you told? He could've said from the start that certain elements were fabricated -- or say it in whatever language he chose -- and we would've bought it.
As it is, he has lost our collective trust. Time will only tell if he can regain it.
I've realized a lot of the reason for my anxiety is a need for control. I don't just want to control the circumstances around me. I want to control the circumstances of the world. I don't want people or animals or anything to hurt. I seem to think I can make this happen. I don't seem to get that I am only one person and while I can have an impact, that impact is by its nature limited.
Oh yeah, and I'd like my sushi to be fresher. I've got to take control.
What I am aiming at here is this: There is some connection between the contusions on our skin and the various contusions that bloom in our brains. As the violet bruise blossoms -- as, weeks later, the flared scar finally diminishes - the neurons themselves lurch and wobble, link and relink. It makes sense but is still somehow shocking. Each wound changes how we see ourselves, how we understand the world around us. This bat's wing will color more than the tissues around my eye, will stay with me longer than the few weeks it will take for the skeletal muscles to repair themselves and the extracellular serums to drain.
"The Buddha compared the tendency of the mind to repeatedly organize and mistakenly become identified with the ego to a house builder. Your ego constructs a self in order to shelter itself from the anxiety and stress of the truth of suffering. You then spend your time and effort on furnishing the house and repairing damage to you. Thus you seek status, material goods, a guarantee of physical and emotional safety, and insurance against all the uncertainties of life. But through the realization of cessation, you cease to believe the delusion of your separateness and your permanence and cease to compulsively hold a shelter for your ego."
"Neither the dramatic altered states nor the subtle shift in consciousness is superior to the other. It isn't the amount of fireworks you feel, but rather how much actual lessening of grasping and arising of insight you experience and the amount of time that the mind is at ease even in difficult situations that indicates your progress toward liberation."
Phillip Moffitt describes going from a “tasting” of the mind being free from clinging (see pages 80-90) to a “direct knowing of pure awareness”, in which there is
No object of awareness
No awareness of awareness (page 153)
Why is there no suffering when this occurs? What barriers (concerns, fears) come up when you read this? Look deeply.
I think it may be fairly simplistic to say there is no suffering when this occurs. That said, there is far less suffering – and perhaps my barrier is my belief that suffering is inevitable. Then again, is that a barrier or an acceptance of reality?
I liked this quote: "What seems to me to be the actual cause of suffering is the tendency to idealize and identify with your desires so much that you becomeattached to having them fulfilled. You start to cling to the idea of getting what you want either now or in the future as being all-important. You become irritated, disappointed, or frustrated when you don't get what you want. You are not able to simply be mindful of the desire as it arises and passes."
Thinking about it, there’s a lot of cynicism that comes up when I contemplate this. In a way it seems like it makes a lot of sense, and on the other hand it just seems like a bunch of idealistic flim-flam. I actually like the part of myself that craves. It pushes me forward, even if it does so in what seems like a difficult way. I’m not so sure that I want total equanimity in my life. It seems a little – I don’t know, boring? Yes. I’m not sure if this is a barrier or this is simply the way that I am.
I’m trying to look more deeply beyond this, though. Does simply the way I am mean that I am unable to change? Is it a justification for stagnation? Or for poor internal rhyme?
So okay. What is a “direct knowing of pure awareness” anyway? To me in its purest form it means clarity. It’s an understanding of sorts, a focus of the same kind I get when I drink really good Kaldi’s coffee, without the jitteriness or resultant anxiety. It’s a lift without the fall. Or perhaps it’s just an element of balance.
But this brings me to wondering – is balance, well, boring? Perhaps I’m just drawn to – some might say addicted to – the highs and the lows. Balance doesn’t have to be boring, does it? Perhaps I’m just dismissing it out of hand.
"What seems to me to be the actual cause of suffering is the tendency to idealize and identify with your desires so much that you become attached to having them fulfilled. You start to cling to the idea of getting what you want either now or in the future as being all-important. You become irritated, disappointed, or frustrated when you don't get what you want. You are not able to simply be mindful of the desire as it arises and passes."
It's worst in the morning, when I feel alone and adrift. It gets better as the day goes on and by the afternoon I'm doing okay. What's weird is that I'm great if I wake up really early, but around this time (10 am) I start to lose it. There is no escaping your own mind, is there?
That's the next question in my Committed Practice Group homework.
I'm tempted to very flippantly say: "I'm suffering answering this question", but I'll bite. I suffer by living almost completely in my head, worrying and obsessing, succumbing to anxiety, clinging. I suffer by forgetting and I suffer by remembering. I suffer when I hurt myself, and I suffer when I try to heal the wounds.
Does this mean life is suffering?
In a way, yes. As I was saying yesterday, the two are inextricable. (Which means I guess I do realize it!) But is suffering inevitable? Probably to some degree, but not necessarily to the degree that I or so many others experience it.
To me action is the anti-suffering. My mother once told me that action is the antidote to anxiety (how's that for alliteration?) and in my experience that's totally true. When I'm in motion, moving forward, working to make my life better, I'm too busy to suffer.
But is that what I'm looking for? Does that mean I suffer in stillness?
Not necessarily. Take right now, as I'm sitting in my living room, one dog beside me and the other close by, listening to Gen X Radio St. Louis (give it a try) and waiting for Adam to come home and contemplating, just contemplating stillness and suffering, and how lucky I am to have the time and leisure to do all this.
So I've joined a Committed Practice Group at Show Me Dharma, the meditation center here in Columbia. We have homework, which I think is a good idea, and I also think it's a good idea to do it, which can be a little tricky given that I am lazy. So I'm trying to keep myself honest by putting it on the blog.
Let's start with the first question ...
Do you truly realize that your life is inseparable from suffering?
No. I don't realize it at the emotional level, the gut. Or perhaps I realize it but don't accept it. I'm not sure if realization and acceptance happen simultaneously. I could spin into some rant about what realization is and when it happens, but is that relevant to this question? I'm not sure.
The question is do I realize that my life is inseparable from suffering. I don't accept it. I do know it. Does that mean I realize it? I'm not sure. I keep pushing against it. I claim to be open to the possibilities of life, both pleasant and difficult, but in reality, am I?
Then again, the question wasn't whether I accept it. It's do I realize it? And actually, I have to say, yes, I do. I realize it and I understand it. I don't like it ... but that's another question entirely.
I'm a writer and performer in Berkeley, Calif. I'm married to a big Jew nose and together we have a fantastic little boy, two gorgeous dogs and the afterlife of a beautiful cat. I am represented by Miriam Altshuler of Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency. Life is good!