Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Journey to the Heart of Darkness (a.k.a. My Morning Commute)

I’ve always been a big fan of public transportation. Whether using the Tube to move around London, buses in Amsterdam, or water taxis in Venice, I just love being able to get to a destination relatively quickly without paying a ton of money to get there. It’s like, heck, if we’re all going to the same place, we might as well use the same vessel to get there. Subways are just like giant carpool lanes, right? This sentiment was strengthened by virtue of growing up in a place with no real transportation options to speak of. In Tucson, you drive a car, ride a bike, or take a bus. And if you are taking the bus, it usually means you cannot afford a car, your car is broken down, your bike has a flat tire, your license has been suspended, you need a cheap, air-conditioned place to hang out, or you are writing a short story and need some character inspiration. Very few people ride the bus by choice and that’s because it generally isn’t the best experience.

Tucson isn’t alone. Most American towns and cities are not big on P.T. So when I visited NYC a few times before becoming a resident, I loved using the subway system. I’d get back to Tucson and actually gush about it to my friends, saying, “I wish we had a subway here! It’s just so convenient and good for the environment. Plus, you can totally tune-out and read or do whatever you want when you don’t have to pay attention to the road. It’s kind of awesome, you guys.”

Dude. You're kidding me. Right?

Cut to my morning commute last Monday. I walked to the 86th Street Station and descended the stairs with literally hundreds of other Upper Eastsiders, being careful not to trip, walk too fast, or walk too slow lest I fall down and get trampled. I plugged my ears with my fingers as the Daily News lady yelled and screamed in an effort to get people to take the free publication from her hands. “Get your news! Good morning! Get your news! Good morning!” Honestly, she should try to switch it up a bit. I got to the turn-style and swiped my card, then grumbled under my breath when the display read, “Insufficient Fare.” I got on-line for the Metrocard machine – a line fifteen people deep – and braced myself as hundreds more people continued pouring into the station and weaved around our queue. Ten minutes later, newly refilled Metrocard in hand, I passed through the turn-styles, quietly smirked at the blonde girl who had been nabbed by the station police for not paying her fare, and descended more stairs to the 4/5 platform below.

The minute I turned the corner, I knew I was in for a ride. The platform was jam-packed, a sign that the trains were experiencing delays of some sort, and that the trip down to Grand Central was going to leave me with that not-so-fresh feeling. I took my place in “line,” letting others who had obviously been waiting longer smoosh their way on to the arriving train, and opting to hang back and wait for the next. Then I positioned myself, like a manic mother on Black Friday, near where I knew the doors on the upcoming train would stop. The platform was already refilling again, and I looked down the track, hoping to catch a glimpse of oncoming headlights to ease my anxiety a bit. A minute later, the train pulled into the station and the doors stopped right in front of me. They opened and a person or two got off, then the rush to get on surged forward. A man in a business suit who had just arrived on the platform snaked his way through those of us who had been waiting and made it on comfortably. Lots of petite twenty-something girls in business-casual work attire weaseled their way in, too. I was finally able to step into the car, but just barely. As the doors closed, they pushed me to the side and I stepped on a guy’s foot. “Sorry!” I yelped. Someone’s briefcase was sticking me in the ribs. The tall guy to my right was fiddling with his phone and his elbow was bobbing dangerously close to my face. I was nowhere near a pole or any type of hanging-on implement, so I pressed my body as firmly back against the doors as possible and did my best to remain upright as the train jostled us around. A baby somewhere started to scream. I could feel sweat begin rolling down my forehead, the result of anxiety and the residual body-heat of 100 strangers. “Fuck the environment!” I thought to myself. “I want a car!” And this was all before I’d had my morning coffee.

Moving to New York was not an easy transition for me for many reasons, but over the past (almost) three years, I’ve managed to adjust to my surroundings and feel more at home. But the subway is one element of city life that is still a huge pain in my ass. It wasn’t so bad when we lived further downtown. The trains in that area were never nearly so crowded, and if worse came to worst, I could always walk the twenty minutes to work. But now that I live a 60-minute walk from the office, I rely on the subway every day – and so do a lot of others. The 4/5/6 line is the only train that runs on the Upper Eastside (for now), so hundreds of thousands of people use it during morning and evening rush hours every Monday through Friday, not to mention the poor tourists who thought they’d get a head start on the day and leave the hotel at 8:30am. (Last November, I had an entire high school cheerleading squad pile onto my morning train. They were on their way to practice for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and with their thick Southern accents, they managed to charm a group of commuters who would otherwise have been very annoyed at their presence.) It’s a commute so infamously bad that CBS Sunday Morning did a piece about it a few weeks ago. If you head to the 5:00 mark in the video below, you'll get a glimpse at the very same commute I face every morning. While the city continues working on the 2nd Avenue Subway line – set to debut sometime around the inaugural term of Malia Obama as POTUS – I guess we all have to grin and bear it. I thank my lucky stars that we chose to live far enough away from 2nd Avenue that we aren’t woken up by large underground explosions at night. 

Even when trains are running smoothly and without issue, arriving and departing every couple of minutes, it can be a fight just getting onboard. Once you’re on the train, the real fun begins. I’ve been face-to-armpit with many residents of Gotham City. I’ve grimaced as the hair of someone standing so close behind me actually tangled with my own. I’ve dreamed about telling off those young guys with the huge backpacks who never take them off and hold them at their sides like the announcements tell them to (you know the type… just the worst). I have, on occasion, called out those with the worst subway etiquette, those who push their way onto a crowded train rather than wait for the next. (“Seriously, man?” I said aloud as I was pushed forward from behind one day. I looked back to see the biggest, tallest man I’ve ever seen staring at me with crazy eyes. Didn’t push that one any further…) I’ve watched in terror as people have behaved no better than George Costanza, pushing small children and the elderly out of their way in order to get to the last seat on the car. Tensions run high on the subway. There are no real rules, no way to enforce manners. Everyone is under Scout’s Honor to be on our best behavior, to act fairly and rationally. But that system is one that breaks down easily when you are just trying to make it to your morning meeting on time, or get to class, or make your way to your doctor’s office when you aren’t feeling well. It’s a special kind of hell and one that I’ve come to dread.

The MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) also has a big role to play in my commuter woes. Aside from constant fare hikes, conductors that relish closing the doors right in your face, and some of the least helpful employees on the planet, they just make some real weird choices. I’ve been on local trains that suddenly went express for no good reason. I’ve been stuck on an unmoving train in Manhattan for thirty minutes due to a “sick passenger” in a station somewhere in Queens. I’ve had to try to explain to tourists why they are now being charged an extra dollar just to purchase a Metrocard. And yes, I’ve had to walk 60 minutes to work when the subways stopped working, the busses were full to capacity, and there wasn’t an available cab in any of the five boroughs. (And what, pray tell, causes a “signal problem”? Why do they only seem to happen when you are in a huge hurry? That sounds like a problem that could be avoided with regular maintenance, doesn’t it? You’re not fooling me, MTA.)

Not that there’s really anyone to blame here. It can’t be easy to effectively shuttle 8 million whiny kids to school every morning. And as someone who is generally quite grumpy before 10:00am, I’m sure I’ve unknowingly been that nightmare commuter someone tells his or her co-workers about at the water cooler.  (I once accidentally slapped a guy’s glasses off his face and sent them flying across the car. Sorry, dude!) I have come to terms with the fact that this pace of life just isn’t quite for me. I hope to someday drive to work in my very own energy-efficient vehicle as I listen to NPR and sip my soy latte. I have newfound respect for that kind of leisurely commute. Until I hit my first traffic jam, that is. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Back-corn and Bob Dylan Impersonators: This is The Neverending Story!

Hello! I realize Sunday's post was bit intense, so let's change it back up and tackle something slightly less serious! (BTW I've gotten a lot of good feedback on that story from you guys, so thanks for that!) I was reminded that I wrote this synopsis of one of my favorite childhood movies, The Neverending Story, a couple years ago. I had forgotten about it completely, but upon re-reading it, I have to admit I made myself laugh. I originally posted it on Facebook, so this may be a repeat for some of you, but enough time has passed that maybe you'll consider revisiting it. It's very silly, and I apologize in advance for the offensive language. Guess I was just in the moment. :)

Also, I have an upcoming series with my sister, Bree, in the works. Hope to post the first installment of that very soon. It's going to rule!

The Neverending Story (1984) - Bastian’s life sucks. He’s an outcast who’s interested in weirdola stuff like reading books instead of cool stuff like the Garbage Pail Kids. His mother is dead, he’s being raised by “Major Dad” who is attempting to brainwash Bastian into believing he’s a 40-year-old insurance salesman and not a middle-schooler, and some ugly-ass bullies get off on tormenting the poor little dude. On the way to school one day, said bullies want to start some shit, but Bastian’s like “nope nope nope” and he ducks into a creepy bookstore run by the grumpiest man EVER.

The Nope Octopus totally gets how Bastian feels
Bastian takes an interest in a dusty old book embellished with a cool medallion called an Auryn, but the grumpy guy won’t let him have it. So Bastian does what any badass would do and stuffs the book in his knapsack and runs! He runs all the way to school, but then realizes that he’s late and doesn’t want to deal, so he breaks into the school attic, pulls up a moth-eaten old blanket and cracks open that mysterious book. Yaaaaay!  

The book is about Fantasia, a beautiful world full of bat-like Bob Dylan impersonators, a giant who eats rocks and a midget with a snail fetish (played by that guy who they replicated a billion times to play the Oompa Loompas in “Willy Wonka 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold”). Fantasia is ruled by a tiny, vaguely European chick who’s simply known as The Childlike Empress because she’s a kid and she’s an empress but she doesn't have a name. (More on that later!) Fantasia is being terrorized by a bully, too, only this is the biggest and scariest bully in the history of bullies…. THE NOTHINGNESS. The idea of THE NOTHINGNESS absolutely freaked me out as a 4-year-old and does even moreso as a 30-year-old. It’s totes existential, y’all.  

Little lady empress has called on young buck Atreyu to seek out THE NOTHINGNESS and kill it, but the odds are stacked against him. Atreyu, in his long-lashed, bare chested, teenage glory, sets off with his trusty equine companion, Artax. But like two minutes into their trek through the Swamps of Sadness, Artax starts thinking some depressing shit that only horses know and he freaking drowns! Say whaaaaa?!? Children the world over screamed and cried and abandoned their gods and I get misty thinking about it to this day. Can’t you still hear that scream? “Artax… noooooo!” Shudder. Atreyu somehow carries on in his search for an ancient, sneezy, ginormous turtle named Morla. She’s supposed to drop some wisdom on him about THE NOTHINGNESS, but she turns out to be a total basketcase in desperate need of a refill on her Prozac (“The nearest CVS is like 100,000 miles awaaaaay!”). She manages to tell Atreyu that maybe the Southern Oracle can help him. Freaking great. Now he’s gotta go back through those crappy swamps (wasn’t there any other route??) and our dreamy, feminine, totally non-threatening hero comes ::thisclose:: to drowning, too. But wait… what’s that in the sky?? A flying, pearlescent corn-on-the-cob with fur? Falkor the luckdragon is here to save the day! (C’mon, Microsoft Word, luckdragon is a totally legit word, put that red squiggle line away!)

Luckdragons 4 Lyfe!
Atreyu is whisked away to the gates of the Southern Oracle where two tiny little peeps who live in a tiny little house give Atreyu some nasty soup and the 411 about the Southern Oracle. The first gate to the Oracle turns out to be two massive statues of sphinxes with naked lady boobs and laser eyes. You heard me right, naked lady boobs! The little perv in me was very interested in this. The tiny dude tells Atreyu that many have tried to cross through the gaze of the Oracle and not be distracted by the boobs, but none have succeeded. But Atreyu’s like “Pssshhh… whatevs, I got this” and he runs through the lasers without looking at the boobs even once (such discipline!) and winds up in Siberia staring into a mirror. This is the second gate and the mirror is supposed to reflect the true nature of the person looking into it. Men have gone mad when they see that they’re actually a bunch of sniveling bedwetters, but Atreyu sees something else, something strange… he sees Bastian! Ohmigod, ohmigod! The lines between fiction and reality are starting to blur! We’re confused and scared, but we like it! Bastian throws the book across the room and thinks about going home to “Major Dad”, but then he remembers how much that show will suck when it airs from 1989-1993 and decides to keep reading. (Really?? “Freaks and Geeks” gets one measly season and “Major Dad” gets four?!?)

Atreyu passes through the gate and reaches the Oracle (as I recall, a replica of the semi-nudie sphinxes from the first gate, but this time they’re glowing blue) who say that the only way to stop THE NOTHINGNESS is for a human child to give a name to The Childlike Empress. Atreyu is thoroughly confused by this and wanders around for a bit. He comes across the Rock Eater who tells him that he lost his friends because his hands weren’t strong enough (oh no, so sad!). He then encounters Gmork, a talking wolf who is stuck in a wall. Gmork is a minion of THE NOTHINGNESS and has been sent to kill Atreyu. He explains that Fantasia represents unicorns, Sour Patch Kids, Emmanuel Lewis and everything good in life, while THE NOTHINGNESS – fueled by Fox News, school loans, and lutefisk – is literally eating up all that goodness. Then Gmork springs from the wall and bites Atreyu, but Atreyu stabs him and he dies!

Falkor swoops in again and rescues Atreyu before THE NOTHINGNESS can get to him and next thing we know, Atreyu is chilling with The Childlike Empress in her penthouse suite at the Ivory Towers. Atreyu admits that his mission has not been successful and that they’ve gotta dig up a human kid somewhere. The Empress is like “Actually, you did succeed. Some kid with a bowl haircut and a half-eaten peanut butter sandwich has been reading our story this whole time. In fact, he already knows my name, he’s just gotta freaking say it!” Suddenly, the Empress is looking right at the camera (they broke the third wall! Shit is getting real!) and is begging Bastian, “SAY MY NAME!” Bastian’s like, “I can’t! I’m 40-goddamn-years-old! I have an ex-wife who’s always riding my junk to pay child support, I sell life insurance, and I am starting to think I have a drinking problem!” But upon saying this out loud, Bastian understands it isn’t true and he flings open a window and shouts the name into a rainstorm! Of course, no one understood what the funk he said for years, but we all finally came to the consensus that it was “MOOOONCHIIIIILD!” Moonchild, huh? Okay, whatever floats your boat, little guy.

Now everything’s dark and it’s just Bastian and The Artist Formerly Known as The Childlike Empress staring at a tiny, glowing grain of rice in her hand. Moonchild explains that she hates her new name, but Bastian has managed to save her, so it’s cool she guesses. Then she says that he can create an entirely new Fantasia just with his mind! And this is when Bastian understands that his imagination has always been the most powerful weapon he could wield. (Other than a crossbow or lightsaber.)
I always wanted a headpiece like Moonchild's

Bastian rides through the sky on Falkor’s back-corn and they take in the sights… Atreyu riding the newly resurrected Artax! The Bob Dylan impersonator, the Rock Eater, and the snail perv have been reunited! Bastian rides Falkor all the way to Chicago, or wherever the hell he’s from, and scares the pee outta the pimple-faced needledicks who bullied him in the beginning of the movie! And a kind voice tells us that Bastian made many more wishes and had many more adventures. This could have been enough, but no... instead the best song in movie soundtrack history plays over the closing credits. I always thought it was by Roxette for some reason, but it appears that it's actually by a French dude named Limahl and a lady named Beth Anderson. Hmmm. Limahl does have impressive hair, though. 

Two sequels followed the original Neverending Story, but they were both crap. Many bands named themselves after characters from the movie, but they're all crap, too. Wikipedia states that Leo DiCaprio’s film company is looking into making a movie based more on the original book than the first film. As long as they get the Biebs to play Atreyu, I’m all in.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

After Innocence

Just a little eye candy for your Sunday night. Taken at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Well, hello there. Hope everyone had a spectacular weekend. I wish I had another day off to accomplish all I want to, but alas, Monday will be here in the blink of an eye. So let's get to it. 

Tonight's entry is a personal essay that I've been working on for some time. As the title suggests, it deals with the loss of innocence. Losing innocence is, I feel, a process and cannot typically be pinned to one event that occurs in our lives (if innocence is something that can be had or lost at all... who really knows?). But the story revealed in this essay comes as close to one of those events as anything I've experienced. Furthermore, this is not a story I have shared with many, and even those closest to me will be hearing about it for the first time. 

Because I was an exceedingly introverted and secretive teenager, it was possible for me to have experiences like the one described below and keep them to myself. In high school, I tended to hold people at arm's length and was often defensive and ferociously private. I only told people as much as I wanted them to know, and I stockpiled the rest of my thoughts in a corner of my mind somewhere. I suppose it's because I've always been a bit weary of trusting others, but more than that, I've constantly battled an internal whisper that says, "You don't matter." I have control over all that for the most part these days, but it colored so much of my life for so long. 

In my early 20's, I finally began breaking out of my self-imposed exile and came to find that revealing my innermost thoughts to others is really the meat of life. Friendships and relationships require vulnerability from both parties if they are to stand a chance. Johnny taught me a lot about honesty. He was patient enough to forgive me when I held things back out of fear, but was insistent that I stop being secretive with people that I know I can trust. 

Look at me now! Sharing my stories with the entire world. Maybe I went a bit too far in the opposite direction? But seriously, I think I now value my voice as much as I do because I didn't allow myself to have one for so long. Anyhow, thanks for listening to my voice. I am unendingly grateful for all the encouragement I have received thus far. 
Johnny loves To Catch a Predator, but my relationship with it is more complicated...

I was born in 1980, so I still remember what life was like before technology took over. I am grateful that my generation can recall that simpler time when a phone was something on the wall in the family room, not in your back pocket. We remember answering machines and the special magic of rewinding a tape to check messages. When we wanted to record a television show, we had to program a VCR to do it for us, and even then it only worked about 50% of the time. Things were quieter, less hurried, boring even. Kids today cannot even fathom what it means to be truly bored. 

I was in high school by the time the internet was becoming ubiquitous. When my parents decided to subscribe to America On-Line, my brother and I almost passed out from the excitement. My whole family shared one desktop computer that was stationed in the living room. We all gathered around as my Dad connected the phone line to the modem and we signed on to AOL for the first time. There was a series of odd screeches and white noise that made us cover our ears. Then, a loud booming voice announced “You’ve got mail!” and we all looked at each other with eyes wide from excitement.

We didn’t have any hard and fast rules about internet usage, just a general understanding that we should keep it brief during the day so as not to tie up the phone line. I knew that my parents could come up behind me and check out what I was doing at their will, so during the day I just browsed web sites for bands and TV shows I liked.  I saved my questionable activities for late at night.  I was a good kid and my parents trusted me, so in general they took a “hands-off” approach to raising me. By this point, they allowed me to pretty much dictate my own bedtime, so from 10:00pm until sometimes 2:00 in the morning, I’d cruise the sleazy alleyways of the AOL Chat Rooms. I meticulously crafted my on-line persona via my AOL profile and crammed as much info about my likes and dislikes into those few lines as was allowed. I never lied or misled anyone, but I spotlighted the things about me that I felt were more interesting (my taste in music, books and film) and drew attention away from the parts of me that weren’t as interesting (my appearance).

I found something on-line that I was not finding in real life. High school was tough for me to negotiate, which I’m aware is not a unique experience. However, I do believe I was more insecure than most. Instead of trying to fit in, I tried to disappear. I dressed in the boxiest, baggiest clothes I could find (usually from the boys’ department). I had a plain haircut, never wore make-up, and I stayed pretty quiet in most situations. I had a nagging suspicion that people assumed I was a lesbian, but the truth was that I secretly harbored intense crushes on nearly every guy who ever spoke to me. It was very unsatisfying and I spent a lot of time alone in my bedroom, writing in diaries and listening to music. The internet came to me at a perfect time. On-line, I was more than the sum of my physical parts. I was witty, funny, and kind-hearted. All the things that boys in high school seemed to look right past were the only things that counted on-line. I would show up to school each day completely deprived of sleep and counting down the hours until I could get back home and check my e-mail. I was addicted.

I engaged in plenty of conversations with guys on-line that never went anywhere. We’d instant message each other for an hour or two and then never talk again. But one night, a guy named Grant struck up a conversation with me in a Chat Room and we continued it on IM. He also lived in Tucson and never tried to hide the fact that he was much older (in his late 30’s if I remember correctly). He said he wasn’t interested in anything more than friendship and my instincts were naively calmed by that assertion. He owned a car repair shop and loved music. He said he’d played in some local bands and sometimes dyed his hair purple for fun. He was also a recovering alcoholic and claimed he’d been sober for about a year.

Grant asked me all about myself and seemed genuinely interested in everything I had to say. Being truly listened to by an adult is something a teenager always relishes, and I enjoyed the attention. He also led me to believe that I had some impact on his life and his sobriety. He emailed me throughout the day when he was feeling low and susceptible to drinking again. In turn, I’d send him positive messages of encouragement and he praised me for helping to keep him on the wagon. He often told me how special I was and how my wisdom was greater than my years. This gave me an ego boost the likes of which it had never known.    

Grant sent me pictures of himself a few times. He was tall and skinny with shoulder-length, dirty hair. His face was a bit haggard and corroborated his stories of a life of alcohol and drug abuse. An old picture disturbed me in a way the others didn’t: it was of Grant playing the piano after he’d gotten drunk and shaved off all his hair and his eyebrows. He thought it was funny, but I remember thinking that he looked like the bad guy in a movie.

One night, Grant IM’d me to say that he wanted to share another picture with me, but he wanted my permission to send it. (In retrospect, this was a very sleazy move.) He said he was a nudist and that he hardly ever wore clothes because he thought the human form was beautiful. He wanted to send me a picture of himself naked. At this point in my life, my physical contact with the opposite sex was limited to an innocent peck on the lips from the cute deaf boy who lived across the street when I was 10. (That story to come later.) I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was a bit curious. I agreed to let him send me the picture. A few seconds later I received an email with a picture attachment. I double-clicked on the file and watched as the photo slowly loaded, line by line, through our dial-up connection. As it loaded, Grant’s face, shoulders and bare chest all came in to view. He was standing in a backyard or some outdoor area. I realized that if I continued letting this picture load, I’d be seeing a man naked for the first time and something inside me knew this was wrong. This was not the way I wanted it to happen. Before the rest of the picture loaded, I closed the file. I told him that I wasn’t ready to see that yet, that I was too young and inexperienced to deal with that kind of thing. He apologized profusely and for days afterwards sent me emails saying how bad he felt about doing that to me. I didn’t think any harm had been done, so I forgave him and continued our communication.

A week or so later, Grant IM’d me and said that he wasn’t doing well. He said he’d been drinking that night and had broken his year of sobriety. He was very depressed and he needed a friend. He asked if I would meet him and just talk to him for a bit. I said I didn’t think it was a good idea, but he persisted and said that he was so lonely and he just needed someone to talk to for awhile. If I didn’t meet him, he was afraid he would drink more and do something stupid. I felt backed into a corner. He made me feel responsible for his well-being and at the age of 15, I didn’t know any better. I agreed to see him and told him to meet me around the corner from my parents’ house in 30 minutes.

I changed my clothes, brushed my hair, and told my dad that I was going for a walk. My parents normally had a pretty good sense when I was up to something, but I was quite a sneaky teenager and knew how to get away with certain things. Because I often took walks around our neighborhood at night, this wasn’t an unusual activity for me, so it seemed innocuous enough and Dad didn’t ask any questions. I walked down to where Grant was supposed to meet me and a few minutes later, he pulled up in an old BMW. He got out of his car and hugged me and I immediately smelled the alcohol on his breath. He sat on the hood of his car and held my hand and thanked me for meeting him. He told me over and over how beautiful I was and how I probably had to beat the guys off with a stick. He reiterated that he wasn’t interested in anything sexual, that I was safe with him. We couldn’t have been out there for more than 20 minutes and I don’t remember most of what was said. He seemed nervous, on-edge, especially when other cars would pass by. A storm was coming and lightning intermittently illuminated our faces in the dark. He cried a little as he handed me his 1 year sobriety chip from AA. He said that I should have it since I’d helped him stay sober for as long as he did. I didn’t know what to say so I told him his drinking that night was only a setback, that he could start again the next day. The whole thing felt so surreal.

He eventually said that he should take me home and that he would drive me. I was very hesitant to get in his car and to show him where I lived, but he persisted. It started to rain and he said that if I didn’t get in his car, we’d both get soaking wet. I had the feeling that even if I insisted on walking, he’d follow me anyway, so I got in and directed him to my house. I wondered what would happen if my parents saw me getting out of a strange car, but as we pulled up there was no indication inside that anyone had noticed us. Before I got out, Grant pulled me over and kissed me on the lips. It was quick and unexpected. His stubble scratched my face and the smell of alcohol was intense. I pulled away and sat there for a minute. Then I scrambled out of the car and ran inside. The house was quiet and dark. Everyone had retired to their rooms for the night.  

I got back on the computer later that night and Grant had already emailed me. He said he could still smell my lotion on his hands, that I was so beautiful and he couldn’t stop thinking of me. He apologized for having crossed the line, but again said he didn’t mean anything sexual by it. He just cherished me and my friendship and all the help I’d given him. He called me his “angel” and said I’d saved him.

The next day, I composed a brief but strongly worded email. I said that I was a 15 year-old girl and that I was not capable of saving anyone or being their “angel.” I told him I hoped he’d continue going to AA and making the choice to be sober, but that it was something he’d have to do on his own. I asked that he stop contacting me and that I no longer felt our relationship was appropriate. Grant responded that he knew I was right. He said that he was sorry for putting me through everything and that I deserved to be a carefree and happy young girl. He would respect my wishes and not contact me anymore, but he was still grateful for the support I’d given him.

And that was it. Honestly, I was prepared for him to contact me again, but he never did. Sometimes I looked through the blinds of my bedroom window to see if his car was sitting outside, but it never was. I pictured some Hollywood plotline where he’d stalk me and try to kill my entire family, but he didn’t. He left me alone to puzzle over the bizarre situation he’d created in my life. I even found myself worrying about him and his well-being. A year or so later, I was sitting in a coffee shop downtown and Grant walked by. I nearly got up and chased after him to say hello, but thankfully my better judgment kicked in. I kept his AA chip in my wallet for a long time as a reminder. Of what, I don’t know.  

It was a strange series of events in my life that never really had any closure. I was left with more questions than answers. If Grant truly was some sort of predator, wouldn’t things have progressed beyond a naked picture and a single kiss? Maybe he was just a lost and lonely soul and I’d stopped what could have turned into a terrible situation with that email I wrote him. Maybe I’d shaken an otherwise good person back to his senses by reminding him that I was just a child. Or maybe he moved on to an easier target and some other girl suffered a fate far worse than mine. I'll likely never know.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Deconstructing the Playlist - In Defense of Liz Phair

No homework for class tonight (that's a first this semester) means more time to write, so I am posting two days in a row! This gives me high hopes for this summer when my only goals will be to read many novels and write, write, write.

I enjoyed writing that completely spontaneous piece about Cat Power so much last week that I decided to go ahead and start a series about music. Music is a great prompt and I  have always been inspired by all the arts: music, dance, painting, sculpture, etc. For a long time, I even secretly dreamed that I was born to be a singer or a prolific watercolorist. It was only recently that I figured out you need more than a passing interest in these things to be successful at them. (I’m a slow learner, what can I say?) Plus, whenever I tried my hand at these forms of expression, I never felt truly… expressed. This discovery led me to focus on one thing and one thing only, my writing, something I’ve always found easy and natural to do.

This doesn’t mean that I can't still enjoy dabbling in artwork (drawing is especially cathartic) or singing karaoke with my friends. But having something to concentrate on is freeing. However, I realized I can go one step further and bring these things together, using my words to explore other art forms that inspire me. I find music and writing to be especially symbiotic. I’ve recently become one of those people who listens to music to match the mood of whatever I’m working on. Aside from being a surprisingly effective device, it has also allowed me to rediscover all the music I love so much.

So, here is the second installment in my music series, which I have now dubbed "Deconstructing the Playlist.” If there are any artists, albums, or songs you'd like to see covered, feel free to submit a comment!

"See the sun rise so loud this whole town gets drowned out/
Sky writing with the sweep of a flashlight/
I'm driving over that way/
Some pot of gold, it's just a carpeting store on opening day/
See the moon rise so low and shallow it burns halos in my eyes/
It's harder to swallow/
It's harder to breathe/
So many opals, nobody here knows what to believe/
They've got me underground" - Liz Phair

I’ve been listening to the song "Alice Springs" on repeat lately. It’s by Liz Phair, a singer-songwriter from Illinois who has always fascinated me. As many of you know, she released a series of albums beginning in 1993 - Exile in Guyville, Whip-Smart, and Whitechocolatespaceegg - that were adored by the critics, many who named Exile one of the most seminal rock albums of the 90’s. Labeled an “indie darling,” she did not shy away from subversive or crude topics in her lyrics. This music is not for the faint-of-heart. The first time I heard her music was when my sister, away at college, sent me a mix tape that included her song “Chopsticks.” The song recalls an awkward sexual encounter with a male acquaintance. It made me blush and then I wanted to hear more. Phair found a welcoming fan base in feminists, riot grrrls, and disaffected young people everywhere, but her albums never sold extremely well. She was far from a household name.

Then, in the early 2000’s, Phair began releasing music that was decidedly less rock and more pop. The vocals were auto-tuned beyond recognition and the content was a glossy, vapid version of what she sang about in her earlier songs. In interviews, she stated outright that she made the decision to change her musical style solely to sell more records. It worked, and her songs suddenly began appearing on the soundtracks to romantic-comedies and in commercials. Liz Phair had sold-out in the most literal sense, and many of her fans were understandably outraged. But I found it refreshing that she wasn’t pulling any punches about her intentions. How many artists take similar paths, but refuse to acknowledge the reasons behind their actions?  

For me, Liz Phair’s early work is so good that she will never be unseated as one of my personal heroes. I happen to be a huge fan of the show Girls (I know, I know) because it often feels like a modern interpretation of the themes explored by Phair in the 90’s. That decade was the perfect time to examine female issues. The Working Girl 80’s had given way to slacker grunge. There was suddenly a place for women in the arts to be just as shocking and frank as their male counterparts. Phair’s first three albums are about trying to figure it out, making mistakes, abandoning inhibitions and feeling the shame and exuberance that comes with that. I can’t think of anything that was released from 2000-2010 that tackled those issues so wisely. But now we have Girls, and it seems the tide has turned in favor of the outsiders again.

Though Exile and Whip-Smart were released two decades ago, they hold up incredibly well. I still listen to them regularly, and I never think, “Wow, that sounds dated.” Instead, I’m floored by how current and smart they sound. I also get flooded with memories because I’ve been listening to them for so many years. These records were in heavy rotation when I was in my early-20s, so they particularly remind me of that time. Those were my wildest years, you could say, and I vividly recall getting out of class at Pima Community College’s west campus after the sun had already set, driving down Anklam in my Ford Probe with the moon roof open, smoking a Camel Light, letting the wind tangle my hair, and listening to Liz Phair as the lights of Tucson twinkled in the distance. I would be thinking about the night ahead (because I still went out on weeknights back then) and wondering if anything exciting or new would happen.

This brings me to “Alice Springs.” It is a song I’ve heard literally a hundred times before, but I only recently fell in love with it.  It is exceedingly simple, brief, and low, so it’s not a big attention grabber, but when you spend a little time with it, you become enamored. It almost sounds like it was recorded in a closet somewhere. The vocal range is just below what is comfortable for Liz and she has to strain a bit to reach the notes. The melody is stark and bare and vulnerable, supported by a lone guitar chiming in at just the right moments.

I posted a link to the song as well as the lyrics in their entirety because they are equally important in this song. The words are special: vague enough to let you project your own interpretations onto them, poetic enough to make you dream. For me, she is singing about a small town and the feelings of isolation and boredom that come with living in one. The lines about seeing searchlights in the distance and seeking them out, only to find they’ve led you to something completely mundane strike a particular chord with me.

My hometown of Tucson is not small by any means, but it often feels like it is. There is that indescribable element to it, perhaps attributable to the sprawl, that haunts me. As someone who is inclined toward solitude, I found a lot in Liz Phair's music to relate to, to cling to, when I felt just a bit too alone. I'm still clinging to it, depending on it for memories, inspiration, wisdom. That is not something that a few pop albums can undo, so I will gladly continue including her songs on mixes and encouraging others to seek out her music.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Shining, Gleaming, Streaming, Flaxen, Waxen

I'd like to take a moment, first and foremost, to acknowledge the events in Boston yesterday and voice my condolences. The mindless violence of this act has me reeling. I truly hope the victims, their families and friends find peace and healing in the months to come. 

It feels strange to post today, to say anything, really, that isn't related to what occurred yesterday. It is tempting to immerse ourselves in a tragedy like this, in the images being projected, and feel despair. But it is so important to maintain hope. I feel this is best accomplished by regaining a sense of normalcy, by continuing to laugh together, by refusing to ignore the good in this world. 

With that in mind, I wrote today's piece in an effort to make you all laugh. I guess the topic is one that some people do not find terribly funny, but it's all a matter of perspective, isn't it? I know that when I feel like a problem is overwhelming my life, I can consciously choose to change the way I look at it. When I make light of my problems, I instantly feel relief. So, I hope you enjoy this essay and find something humorous in it. 

The author contemplates her hair
I cannot begin to tell you how many I pluck off my clothes throughout the day. I constantly feel their presence, tickling my arms or the small of my back, and sure enough, there’s another one that I have to pick off and toss on the floor. Don’t even get me started with the shower. I’ll be doing my thing, shampooing and conditioning, singing a song, and – BAM! - there they are again, mocking me as they slide down my legs and disappear into the drain. “Bye, Hally!” they say as the cling to the side of the tub. “We tried to stick with you, but it’s just not working out!” I can’t deny it anymore. The facts are in and it’s time for me to accept the cold, hard truth: I’m losing my hair.

This isn’t a new struggle for me. I’ve always had a lot of hair, but it is very fine. This means that I haven’t been able to wear my hair straight back (in a pony-tail, say) without giving everyone a peek at my scalp since I was a teenager. I made do and wore my hair in a way that this wasn’t an issue. But then, about five years ago, things got worse. I began to notice that I was cleaning out my brush way more often. Stray hairs were appearing everywhere. “Maybe it’s just because I’m growing my hair out, so the strays are more noticeable,” I thought. Hahaha! Poor, na├»ve Hally. Before long, I had a bald spot the size of a silver-dollar pancake on my head. It was in an inconspicuous place, at least, and I was able to cover it up with other hair, but still, just knowing it was there gave me the creeps. I initially tried using Rogaine to correct the problem. I hated the feeling of applying the liquid with a dropper twice a day. It would drip down my scalp and forehead and I began to worry I would soon resemble Abe Vigoda – all eyebrows and no hair on top. 

Hi Abe!
After a few weeks with no visible improvement, I finally got a referral from my primary care physician to see a dermatologist named Dr. Dyson. Dr. Dyson was the most beautiful doctor I’ve ever seen. She had dark skin, black hair, and almond-shaped brown eyes. After meeting her, I no longer had to suspend my disbelief at shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy. Doctors really could be that good-looking. (I found out later that my sister had been to see her for an unrelated issue. [Bree has always had thick, beautiful hair. Jerk.] The first thing we said upon this discovery was, “Isn’t she hot?”) This made it even more difficult to pull my hair back and reveal my dirty little secret, but Dr. Dyson also happened to possess a wonderful bedside manner. She diagnosed the problem as alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system attack your body hair. “Damnit, immune system! I always knew you were up to no good,” I thought. She said the best course of treatment would be a series of injections of corticosteroids directly into the scalp. Oh joy, just what I’ve always wanted. I was willing to do almost anything to re-grow my follicles, so I bit my lip and squeezed my eyes shut as she plunged a syringe into my head a dozen times. When I got in my car to leave, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw little spots of blood on my scalp through my thinning hair. It’s a glamorous life.  

I went back to her for treatments every few weeks. After a month or so, I began to notice re-growth. The hair was thin, but it was there, and I felt so relieved. I called off my plans to visit a wig shop and carried on for several, blissful years without thinking too much about my tresses. That is until a few weeks ago when the tell-tale signs returned. Yes, my hair is abandoning ship once again, choosing instead to live in the sewers and landfills of NYC. I have resumed steroid treatments with a dermatologist here in New York, but I fear the solution will not be so simple this time.

I am almost certain my new hair loss is a side effect of the thyroid disease I’ve been struggling with for the past year. I knew early-on that hair loss was a common problem amongst thyroid patients, but I thought I was magically staying under the radar somehow as my hair seemed to be fine. (It was the only thing that was fine, really.) The ironic thing is that my thyroid levels are the best they’ve been in a year and I’ve been able to cut down my medication. I feel so much better these days, so I guess my hair took that as a cue to make its exit. This feels different than the last time around, and it’s not one particular spot that is balding, but a general thinning of my whole head of hair. This is why I am not sure steroids will help, but I haven’t given up hope yet.

Honestly, hair loss is something that the women of my family have struggled with for generations. As a kid, I looked at my Great Aunts and came to terms with the fact that I’d likely have very little hair by the time I reached my 70s. I felt okay with that, because I figured I could wear awesome turbans and have fun with wigs. You know, I’d be the wacky old broad whose hair went crooked when she had one too many whiskeys. But it’s been a little tougher to face this problem so early in life. I’ve had to step back and really think about the culture of beauty we live in. Society tells us that thick, full hair is important to the way people look (this is one issue of appearance where men seem to face just as much pressure as women). People spend so much of their hard-earned money on hair replacement surgery, shampoos that claim to re-grow hair, elixirs and potions and laser-massaging-machines that you strap to your head before going to sleep each night. As someone facing the reality of hair loss, I get it. No one wants to be the person blinding innocent bystanders as the sun bounces off their shiny, hairless skull. But I wish we could take the power back, that it wasn’t a mark of shame to have been dealt some shitty DNA. We didn’t do anything wrong! This is the way we were born!

This is the first result when you run a Google image search for "glamorous turban"
I have promised myself to do as much medically as I can to try and save my hair. But if those options do not work, and if I’m found to be otherwise healthy, then... fuck it. I'm prepared to bare my hairless soul to the world and not give a damn what anyone thinks. I may be donning a turban far in advance of my twilight years, but apparently they began making their comeback in 2010. Score!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cleaning House

Awesome street art in Dublin. It says, "Sinead you were right all along, we were wrong. So sorry."

Hello - Just a short post today as it is shaping up to be a busy weekend. Johnny and his awesome schoolmate, Alicia, have an art show opening tonight which is super exciting! We're also trying to get tax stuff done and other not-so-fun things. Hopefully I have some time tomorrow to do a bit of writing. 

Several people have told me that they've tried to comment on my posts but the comments didn't go through. Sad! I think the issue is the security step of "Enter this word so we know you're not a robot" and the word is always all garbled and blurry and no one can even figure it out. I was hesitant to get rid of this because that usually leads to a sea of spam, but it seems to be causing a lot of problems. SO, for now I have taken it off and added the step of moderating comments. Now, you should be able to leave you comment, hit submit, and I'll get an email asking me to approve it. Oh, and if you don't have a Google account or one of the others in the drop-down, just select "Anonymous" - but tell me who you are when you comment, otherwise it's a big mystery! 

Have a great Saturday!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Wishin' and Hopin'

"It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself." - Betty Friedan 

That quote doesn't necessarily relate directly to my post today, it's just something I read for my Women and Gender Studies class that stuck in my craw. That statement does speak to my decision to pursue writing, because I feel that, more than ever, I am on the path to becoming my "complete self"... whatever that means. Can anyone ever be truly complete? (Oh no, the dreaded Carrie Bradshaw rumination has already reared its head!) Life is more complex than that, right? But I guess it's a nice idea, this completion.  

Today's piece deals with the topic of children, which I suppose is inextricable from the issue of Women's Studies. I grew up in a time where I truly never felt pressure to become a wife and mother. I know this makes me one of the lucky ones. For as long as I can remember, I knew I had options, and frankly there was a time when I was quite certain I'd remain childless and single for all my days. That idea never scared me in the least. I've always known that I can survive and thrive on my own. But then along came Johnny, a person too good to let pass by, and it felt nice to choose to be with someone, not because I couldn't go it alone, but because I knew he would enhance the journey.

Johnny and I discussed and decided early in our relationship that children were in our future. I was 25 when we first got together, so there was no rush. But now... now there is this maternal instinct that has not only emerged within the last few years, but which is RAGING at this point. Johnny is experiencing the same thing. So we face the dilemma: dive-in right now, go for it, throw caution to the wind and have some little ones? Or wait, plan, save, calculate. We've begrudgingly chosen the latter for now, but it's tough.

I know we are not alone in this. So many people are waiting until later in life to have children. It is a privilege, in many ways, to be able to make this choice - a privilege aided by advances in medicine and technology, as well as shifting views on parenthood. Rather than explore this topic with a well-researched article, I decided to get a bit creative and establish a direct line to our hypothetical heirs. Here is the letter I wrote them. Who knows, maybe I'll read it to them one day?

Baby Johnny

Baby Hally

Dear Future Children –

Hi there! How are… things... going? I mean, you’re future children, so I guess not too much has happened for you yet. I imagine that right now, you’re just little wisps of vapor floating in the ether, looking around curiously with your ghostly eyes and getting anxious to join us down here on Earth. Or, maybe you’ve already been born and you’re in foster care now? Oh, I hope you get placed with some good people who pay attention to you and keep you warm and full and dry. I worry about you, you know. I wish SO MUCH that we could be together now, or in nine months, whatever the case may be. But Dad and I are just not ready for you yet. I hope you understand. I’m 32 now, and Dad is 33, and I’m sure to your baby ears, that sounds ancient. But there are so many things we still need to accomplish before we shift our attention to you.

For example, we need to decide what city we want to settle in. I’m not as keen on New York as your Dad is, you see, and we’ve agreed that we will likely move within the next year or so. It’s our goal to find our city by then, the place that is as close to meeting all our must-haves as possible. It’s important that this city meets both our needs because once we move there? We’ll buy a house! It will have extra bedrooms for you babies, and a backyard where you can run and stretch your little limbs. It will have a nice, big kitchen (no more Manhattan “kitchenettes”!) where we can cook healthy meals and eat family dinners together. It may even need to have a home office, because I want to finish school before you get here so that I can try to transition to a career in writing. I want to feel fulfilled creatively and professionally to set a good example for you. And if I work from home we can spend a lot of time together and won’t have to pay for childcare. Childcare is expensive, you know. Really, really expensive. As far as your Dad’s career needs go, we’ll need to be in a city with some sort of art scene, a community that he can join, and space for him to have a studio and maybe even open a gallery. Oh, and we’ll also need to buy a car, since we don’t have one of those now, and our future city will likely not have the same public transportation options as New York. Plus, it seems really hard to transport kids around on buses and things. I see people carrying strollers down the subway stairs sometimes and it’s just like oof, no thanks.

So: city, house, careers, car. Wait! I almost forgot about money. Yeah, we want to have a lot of money saved up before you get here. College funds established, emergency savings, stuff like that. Our friends all tell us how much babies cost these days, so we want to be ready for that, guys! Planning ahead is so important. We’re planning for retirement and all that good stuff, too, so it can be tough to save up. It might take awhile. And your Dad’s health is a consideration. He may have to get a kidney transplant before you get here, and if that’s the case, we’ll want to leave some time for him to recover and get healthy and strong again. I know it sounds scary, but don’t worry, we can deal with it, kiddos. He’s the most solid individual I've ever met and he's never let his health hold him back before, so we’re just going to roll with the punches on that one.  

Honestly, we still have to make some tough decisions about how we will all come to be together anyway. We’ll be adopting some of you for sure, but Johnny keeps thinking that maybe we should go the old-fashioned route and get pregnant at least once, too. I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that yes, sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be pregnant and give birth. But there are so many kids already! And so many of you need homes and people to love you, because you weren’t automatically granted that when you came into the world, and that’s just not fair, right? So, we have to decide about all that.

But, man, it gets so tough some times, all this waiting. We went and visited your cousin, William, all the way in Dublin, Ireland two weeks ago! He’s only three months old, which I know is hard for you to imagine because he’ll be so much older when you meet him. But he’s so tiny and sweet. He’s at the age now where he’s beginning to smile and he’s so observant and wide-eyed. Dad and I kept fighting over who got to hold him, because it seemed like there was never enough time. I can just tell that he’s going to be a great cousin, and he’ll play fairly with you even though you’re younger and he won’t make fun of you too much. But after meeting him, Dad and I came home and were like, “We really want to have babies right now!” It made me wonder if we’re doing you a disservice by waiting to have you. For example, I want so badly for you to have long and meaningful relationships with all your grandparents, because holy crap guys, you have really lucked out as far as grandparents go. You’ll have two grandmas and two grandpas that are just all-around the best people. Like gold medal, first place best people. You’ll see for yourselves. And I hope Dad and I can stay active and keep up with you guys long into your adult years. I want us to be around to meet our grandchildren, because I have this feeling that we’d make pretty great grandparents, too. And I know my chances of even getting pregnant, if we decide to go that route, get slimmer with each passing year. It’s so much pressure, little dudes! It doesn’t seem like it should be so complicated, but it is.

I guess we just all have to be patient. I have faith that this will happen for us someday soon. Until then, Dad and I will continue falling all over ourselves every time we see a cute kid walking down the sidewalk. Just know that you each already have special little spaces in our hearts reserved only for you.