Saturday, December 20, 2014

Let's Get Real: "Push, Chrissi, Push!"

Having a baby is the most real experience a person can have. It's impossible to not be in the real world when you have no choice but to be aware of your body as it's changing and another body is growing inside of you. Yet people seem to have trouble BEING real about this very human experience.

A few years ago, my BFF and I were reading the entire "Twilight" series by Stefanie Meyer. She finished them way before I did, of course, because she reads fast, and I'm a mind wanderer. But much to my surprise, I did get through all four of them. The last was "Breaking Dawn," and when I finished it, she asked me, "Didn't Bella's whole pregnancy and delivery freak you out? Weren't those sections really hard to read?" Truth is, those sections didn't phase me at all. The female heroine, Bella, gives birth to a half-human/half-vampire baby girl who feeds on Bella's blood during the pregnancy, leaving Bella so weak, emaciated and near death that her spine breaks during the delivery and the baby actually eats her way out while Edward, the vampire dad, bites Bella's stomach open to complete the process of getting the baby out. I guess that since my own daughter was born after 20 hours of labor ending in an emergency C-section, these chapters didn't seem odd to me at all.

Just about everything that could happen while having a baby happened to me and even one thing that doesn't usually happen: After the epidural, my hands went completely numb. I was waiting things out in a room by myself because it would be several hours before I would actually begin the process of giving birth, but when my hands went numb, I got worried. I yelled for the nurse, but no one heard me. Then, when I tried to push the call button, my hands wouldn't move. I pushed my hands up to the button, but they literally would not move to get to the button. It was one of the longest 15 minute periods of my life. When a nurse who just happened to be walking by finally came in, I gave her an angry reaming out which of course I apologized profusely for later.

When it was time to actually deliver my daughter, I had a high fever, I vomited, shivered with chills, and broke the blood vessels in my eyes from so much pushing. The morphine the anesthesiologist gave me just before the C-section was the happiest I'd been, and I thanked him a little too eagerly which I guess made up for my being nasty when he finally did see me about why my hands had gone numb. "I've never seen that happen before," he said. Of course not. Considering he was talking about me and my life, I wasn't at all surprised.

After my daughter was finally born, I had to wait things out in the recovery room. Similar to how Bella's body had been drained of blood, my body was feeling drained of water.  I was unimaginably thirsty and was told that the cup of ice chips I was just given could not be given to me again for another two hours. As I lay there, I had the sensation of being left alone again, but this time in the middle of a desert. Although I could move my hands now, I couldn't stop the intense craving for ice chips. I spotted a different nurse nearby and lied and said I was definitely overdue for ice chips, and she gave them to me. My insanity for ice chips was so strong that the the longing in my eyes probably looked no different than Bella's did when she finally recovered from her delivery as a dead, drained human and was changed into a crazed vampire.

I can see why stories of labor would bother my friend who hasn't had a baby yet, but why does the idea of labor bother women who have ALREADY GONE THROUGH labor? Some parenting blogs have criticized that great vagina cake that Reality TV star Snooki made for her co-star JWoww's baby shower. It is a rectangular pink cake with pink icing in the middle that was made into the shape of the outline of a vagina. Snooki said that the cherries resembled  the blood and placenta when the baby comes out. There is also a big Kewpie doll head in the center of the cake sticking out of the vagina. I don't find this cake gross at all, I think it's real: When you have a baby naturally, as the vast majority of women do, the baby's big head really DOES come out of your vagina!   Not to get political, but I'm reminded of how people don't REALLY want to know how the meat on their plates gets there. If they researched it, they would be uncomfortable with actual images of animals suffering and leading horrible lives only to die by getting their heads bashed in at the slaughterhouse. At least that's how I think they are killed in the slaughterhouse. I'm not about to Google that and stumble upon those images. I'll admit that any semblance of THAT sight, I can't handle, and so I stay away from eating meat because I'm real about how it gets to my plate. However, there are numbers of moms out there who will turn a blind eye to how the meat gets onto their tables yet they're very vocal about the fact that they can't bear to look at Snooki's cake with the pink icing that resembles the vagina that their babies' heads come out of. I think they should just get real.

Now that I've described my ordeal of labor and delivery (not to mention carrying my 21-inch baby in my 5-foot frame where the pain was so bad on my tailbone during that last month that some nights, I just sat moaning on my bedroom rug in whatever position I could to make the pain bearable), you'd think that what I experienced is the reason why I decided to have only one child, but it's not. I would have gone through that again because I was able to survive it once already, so I believe I could survive it again. But the reality of actually bringing a human being into this world and being responsible for its health and happiness is some pretty heady stuff. One child was definitely the most that I could handle. I knew that and was completely real about it.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

We All Think We're Marilyn Monroe

Everyone hopes to be remembered after they die. The first famous person I was aware of who had died but was still being talked about years later is Marilyn Monroe. My dad was obsessed with her, so I knew who she was pretty much from birth. We had a large mirror of her face in my parents' bedroom, and I remember playing with a small, plastic, inflatable pillow that said "Some Like It Hot" in the backseat of my dad's car.  My parents' bedroom was strewn with books about her mysterious death (my dad believed she was murdered because she threatened to tell of her affair with Robert Kennedy which would have ruined his political career). He wore a silver Marilyn Monroe belt buckle and had a black T-shirt with a gold iron-on of her face. He said she died when she was 36, and I said that was old, but he assured me that was indeed very young.

Marilyn Monroe left a legacy of her many films, and her image is still seen on virtually everything from shower curtains to cell phone cases to clocks -- 52 years after her death! Even in her wildest dreams, I don't think Marilyn ever imagined people would still be looking at her pictures and talking about her so many years after she died. Although she was famous, she only lived to 36, and she probably was too busy living to spend much time thinking about what her legacy might someday be. But it seems like nowadays, everyone I know who is 36, and even younger, can't stop planning for the end of their lives. Some have jobs that promise a pension once they reach their retirement ages, and they spend their lives in seeming anticipation: Each day, they get up for work and count the days until Friday. Then they count the weeks until the next month because those months will lead to their two-week vacations, and from there, they count the years leading to when they know they can retire and collect their pensions.

After that, since most people aren't legendary film actresses like Marilyn Monroe, they live out their last years wondering what their legacy might be and who will remember them. This is probably why grandparents like to tell their grandchildren their millions of stories so they feel a piece of them will remain alive as each generation retells these stories.  Marilyn Monroe never had any children, but she had her films to live on after her. The rest of us live through our own children and younger family members who keep our memories alive.  High schools keep yearbooks forever, and whole towns remember who came before them: who ran the shops, who lived in which houses, and so on.  It's important to us that people still talk about us after we're gone.

But maybe it's better to stop all this planning and just enjoy today? Waiting for it, and planning for it, and expecting to be remembered, seems a bit self-important.  True, most people will be remembered. But I can't help thinking about all those news stories about earthquakes or other natural disasters hitting somewhere far away from us, wiping out entire towns and its inhabitants in a matter of minutes.  Are these people any less important than we are?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

My Love Letter To Writing

Yes, I'm in love with writing. I couldn't survive without it.  Flannery O'Connor once said: "I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say." That's exactly it. My mind is an emotional mess until I write my thoughts down. Afterwards, I feel better, less emotional, less confused, and I have an enormous sense of relief.

My mom was the first person to suggest I become a writer. I was 8 years old. It wasn't because she recognized talent in me, and it didn't stem from anything positive. It was because I was driving her insane with my phobia. There was a huge northeastern snowstorm that year, and I had read a news story about a boy who got buried in the snow in his yard and hadn't been found until a month later. The several feet tall snow drifts in our backyard hung around the entire winter, and I was terrified that the same thing would happen to me. I remembered every detail from that news story and kept on replaying it in my head: how the mailman found him because his mitten was sticking out from the snow; how the picture of the side of his house that looked like a barn had an "X" marked on it near the spot of the snow where he was found; how they used the word "vanished" in the article; and how everyone thought he was somewhere in the neighborhood, but he had been in the front yard all along. Every day I asked my mom if that was going to happen to me. She listened to me recount the details in the article for her, and one day, she finally said: "You should become a writer. There's got to be something positive you could do with all that misery stuck in your head!"

My mom's advice came in handy when I was 14.  My father was very sick, and my two best friends from school had turned against me.  I hated school and hated life and couldn't wait for the year to be over.  So I created a 30 year-old woman named Nazd to hang out with. She had long brown hair, brown eyes, wore a long, beige, raincoat and had her nails painted that neutral color you never see anymore.  We went everywhere together. My novel-to-be was simply titled "Nazd." As often as I could, I'd lock my bedroom door, put on Prince music, and write about Nazd with my same red pen on sheets of loose-leaf paper. Nazd was wise and said little.  She wasn't a chatterbox with her feelings always out on display.  She had all the answers. My world was falling apart, but I had Nazd as a shoulder to lean on.

In high school, I sat in the back of class and began a screenplay on tiny scraps of paper.  The action takes place in one day where a young woman sits in a dimly-lit Brooklyn apartment as an older man tells her about a doomed couple he knew years ago named Jimmy and Diana.  Jimmy often visited Diana in her Brooklyn brownstone, but her parents were against the relationship because they were wealthy, and Jimmy was poor. He was also heavily involved with drugs and eventually hanged himself. Diana was so distraught that she left home, left life, and became a bag lady on the street.  In the last scene, the woman leaves the dark apartment into the bright broad daylight and walks onto the street, crossing paths with a woman whose purse has fallen to the ground and opened up, exposing tons of junk.  She helps her, and when the woman looks up, she gives her a wide smile. She looks world-weary, but her smile is youthful.  She picks up her purse and walks away, leaving the main character to believe she has just bumped into the real Diana.

Luckily, as I wrote on my scraps during class, I had a knack for being tuned into whatever the lesson was about and was always able to quickly replay my teacher's question in my mind and answer it. I once read that creative people are unable to shut off the sounds going on around them.  I can be engrossed in a conversation at the diner but can still hear that one ring of the little bell from clear across the room signaling our food is ready which always fascinates whoever I'm eating with. 

But that's what makes writing even more necessary for me. I've trained myself over the years to now use writing to turn off all those extra sounds going on around me and instead to escape and break free from the rest of the world for a little while.  I figure that's okay, as long as I'm always able to come back and not be found one day sitting in a chair, muttering to myself, like Nicole Kidman playing Virginia Woolf in "The Hours" movie: The kids are pointing at her and laughing, and she's oblivious:  "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself," she suddenly says out of nowhere. Mesmerized.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

"I'm Terrified."

Recently, the author/reader site Goodreads e-mailed me requesting I provide a question for author Michael Cunningham's upcoming interview in their next newsletter. I've read two of his books, "The Hours" and "Specimen Days," and they are among my favorites. "The Hours" was made into a movie with David Hare as screenwriter and Stephen O'Hare as director.

The question request from Goodreads got me thinking about "The Hours" movie which takes place in three different time periods involving three different, yet connected, women. The first plot involves real-life writer Virginia Woolfe and takes place in 1923 while she writes her novel "Mrs. Dalloway." The second plot takes place in 1951 and has Laura Brown reading the novel "Mrs. Dalloway." The third plot's lead character is Clarissa who is living a life similar to Clarissa in the "Mrs. Dalloway" book because she too is getting ready to host a party and she continuously finds herself focusing on mundane matters, like the details of her party, rather than facing her real-life problems. I've always felt that the Laura Brown character, played by Julianne Moore, got the least attention in the public's reception of the movie, yet her character is the one who moved me the most.

Laura Brown is a housewife whose son is always following her around. She finds this difficult to deal with because she is an introvert with a comprehensive interior life. She is an avid reader which makes her comparable to creative artists who usually have a constant running monologue in their minds where they build their own story plots or obsessively mull over an idea they're trying to figure out. Having a child or anyone interrupt this inner monologue can be unbearable at times. People like Laura Brown are often not interacting with the world around them which is hard for those who don't have this steady dialogue in their heads to understand. When they need to be, they are fully focused on the tasks at hand, but as soon as they are able to, they once again become completely disconnected to the world around them. They are focusing on their monologues, and it's painful for them to be pulled out when they're not yet ready to go. So between her son always watching her, and her husband always lavishing attention on her, she often feels the need to escape. Her husband seems to think she is perfect, and the problem with someone thinking everything you do is perfect is that it's unbelievable. No one is perfect.  This impossible perceived standard Laura lives under causes her to feel anxious and often like a failure.

An example of this is when she tries to bake a cake for her husband's birthday.  It comes out completely lopsided, and she is so devastated, she throws it into the garbage. Yet she knows that her husband would have loved it anyway no matter how awful it looked.  She and her son bake him another cake, but by now, she's had it.  She leaves the cake in the kitchen for him and takes her son to a neighbor's, claiming she has a hair appointment. Instead, Laura drives to a hotel planning to read more of Mrs. Dalloway and then to take pills and kill herself.  She feels she is smothering, and she needs to escape so she can just be alone, but she can't go through with it.

Later that night, Laura is in the bathroom talking through the door to her husband who is in the bed.  She mentions her friend's upcoming operation. He talks to her about it from the bed, but he has no idea she is breaking down and crying in there after he hears her say, "I'm terrified." That's the downside to having a rich interior life. You may be able to entertain yourself and be able to escape through reading books, but nobody ever has any idea of the catastrophic storm that goes on inside of you. Laura does wind up leaving her family and living on her own in Canada. I doubt Laura wanted to be this way, and she probably hated herself for it, but she couldn't fight nature.

I did come up with a couple of questions for Michael Cunningham's Goodreads interview, but neither of them had to do with Laura Brown.  If I did have a question about Laura Brown for him, it would be: "Do you think that if Laura Brown had written books instead of reading them, it would have enabled her to find that escape she so desperately yearned for?"

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Loving Dorothy Parker And Learning Not To Give A Damn

This black and white picture of Dorothy Parker with the pencil in her mouth was pasted to my computer at work for many years. Its caption read: "Dorothy Parker, Master of the Bon Mot." It's true that Dorothy Parker is best known for her witty remarks, both in her personal life and in her book and theater reviews, but she was also a poet and literary writer. Her short story, "Big Blonde," is one of the best short stories I've ever read, and I feel she has been undervalued as a fiction writer. She hung out with mostly men which included fellow writer/critic, Robert Benchley, one of Dorothy's closest friends.  They called themselves members of the "Algonquin Roundtable," a group of writers, critics and actors who got together for lunch every day at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City during the 1920's. Dorothy always held her own while she and these men tried to outdo each other by coming up with the most clever and witty wordplay.  One of Dorothy's most famous on-the-spot witticisms occurred when someone challenged her to use "horticulture" in a sentence. She immediately replied: "You can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think." It was a play on the expression: "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink." In this case, it was leading a whore to culture. Very clever! She was always up for a challenge and never let the men at the Roundtable intimidate her.

But there was one area of Dorothy's life where she didn't always show confidence and that was when dealing with the men she was in love with. A recurring theme of her poetry was her tortured feelings towards these men. Whether it is a new love or a love of many years, men always lead the women who love them into hours of agonizing reflection. Many of these heart-wrenching poems were recited by Jennifer Jason Leigh who brilliantly portrayed Dorothy Parker in the 1990's film "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle." One of the best poems recited in the movie, entitled "Two Volume Novel," was connected to an affair she had with Charles MacArthur played by Matthew Broderick. It broke my heart when he broke her heart: "The sun's gone dim/and The moon's turned black/For I loved him/and He didn't love back." Her relationships often led her into depression and desperation, but she always found a way to turn things around and laugh about them. One of my favorite poems of hers is a famous one called "Resume": "Razors pain you/Rivers are damp/Acids stain you/And drugs cause cramps/Guns aren't lawful/Nooses give/Gas smells awful/You might as well live."

Another thing I love about Dorothy Parker is that she always had dogs in her life. I have a soft spot for dogs and had my own dog, Taffy, for 17 years.  Towards the end of her life, Taffy had Alzheimer's. Yes, dogs can get that too. They run around in circles and cry out at night because they can't remember where they are. I used to sleep with earplugs to escape the howls. I kept her alive for two more years than I really should have because I couldn't bear to lose her. I don't deal with loss very well. Especially when I feel connected to something or someone. Of course you don't want to lose that. How many times in our lives do we really feel a strong connection? Still, I'm waiting to get a dog again. I know I will someday, but not now. Dorothy always had several dogs in her lives. Seems that when she lost one, she immediately replaced it with another, always moving on and looking ahead.

The first night I saw "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" on TV, I fell asleep because I was watching it in bed with my then-healthy dog. I woke up and saw Dorothy crying by herself. I didn't know what she was crying about, but I imagined she was crying about life and how sad it is. I grabbed my dog and thought about the dog I had growing up, my Cairn Terrier, and how it would be great to go back to being a child again. I always say that the best year of my life was when I was 9 years old. My dad was still alive, and he doted on me.  I got good grades in school, had a lot of friends, and was "going out" with the most popular boy in our class. Nothing compares to the innocence of that time. That was all I really knew and that was all that mattered. But Dorothy wasn't crying about life. She was crying over her best friend, Mr. Benchley's, death. Of course she wasn't crying over something abstract. She had a real reason.

Dorothy wasn't the type to just cry about life. She was tough, and she taught us to lift up our heads and get over it. Kind of like that Elizabeth Taylor quote: "Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together." That could have been said by Dorothy herself, although Dorothy would have stuck something ironic at the end of it. Trying not to become paralyzed by hypersensitivity is something I struggle with, but when I read Dorothy's poems and think about her courage, I make a conscious effort to just not give a damn:

If I don't drive around the park, I'm pretty sure to make my mark.
If I'm in bed each night by ten, I may get back my looks again.
If I abstain from fun and such,
I'll probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.

Thanks, Dorothy.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Iggy's New York (and my dream about a Middle-Eastern taxi driver)

The idea for this blog post came to me in a dream I had this morning:  I am in a taxi with a good-looking Middle-Eastern man who won't tell me which country he's from. He's been my driver for the past few days, and I sit in the front seat with him. I realize I'm wearing two different earrings today. One is a silver treble clef and the other is a triangular-shaped earring with an original drawing of Alice in Wonderland pasted onto it. They're both real earrings I have, but I never wear them mismatched. I tell him that the Alice earring is handmade and that I bought it years ago in Greenwich Village at an outdoor flea market back when New York City was cool. I tell him that the New York City he lives in is not the same one that existed when I used to shop at the outdoor flea markets. I say that my best friend, Ania, and I used to take the subway to the Village every Saturday and that New York City was gritty and dangerous back then. There were needles in the streets. That there were many places Ania and I would not go to even during the day.  I say that there are pockets of New York City that are dangerous these days, but back then, the pockets were everywhere. But I say that even with the danger, I still prefer the New York City of years ago. Everything was alive in those days. There was passion on the streets:  people break-dancing, playing music through their boom boxes, and no one was afraid to shout and speak their own minds.  I say that is the character that came out from the boroughs. I tell him that nowadays, New Yorkers are from Texas, Alabama, Europe, and the Middle East. I don't want to insult him, but I also want to be honest. He just listens and watches me without saying a word.

When I wake up, I realize I miss that New York. It's the same Greenwich Village I've written about in my upcoming "Iggy Gorgess" novel.  Iggy's New York takes place in the late 1980's. He hangs out with the homeless in Washington Square Park. He works at a punk clothing store where postcards of Bauhaus and all the great 1980's punk bands are displayed. He eats hot dogs on the street and doesn't care how dirty the carts are that he gets them from. That's how Manhattan was back then. People just let loose and didn't care. There was more crime back then, sure. But most of the time, people bonded together in the struggle. You didn't get reprimanded by a bystander if your voice was too loud while walking down the street. You didn't complain when you had to walk 20 blocks before you could find a public restroom. And if you were lucky enough to find one, you didn't care that it was so filthy you couldn't graze your hand against the walls or the seat.  You were just happy enough you finally found one and didn't have to hold it in on the graffiti-filled subway on the way home. You didn't expect New York to comply with your demands and to bend for you. It was New York, and you adapted to the City's ways.

Maybe that's what my dream is trying to tell me: To go with the flow of my life and grab what I can from it rather than waiting around for life to fall into place according to my particular demands and expectations.  Or maybe it's telling me that my "Iggy" novel would best be marketed to Middle Eastern taxi drivers.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Iggy Was Lonely And He Needed Some Friends (even if they were strange and unusual)

Iggy moved to Greenwich Village, NYC, completely by himself without knowing anyone who lived there.  He had no family and no friends in his neighborhood, so he did what anybody in his situation would do:  he headed for the welcoming arch of Washington Square Park and then to the large, circular fountain. When he sat down at the edge, a voice startled him:

“Great day for a swim, wouldn’t you say?”  A middle-aged man wearing filthy, tattered clothes and ripped shoes with his toes hanging out stood before Iggy, pointing at the fountain.
Iggy looked at him, confused.  “Yeah, I guess.”

The man sat beside him.  He had a short, closely-shaved haircut and smelled just like Iggy’s jacket did when he sat on the bus too much without washing it.  Iggy slid a few inches over, keeping a tolerable distance.

“Why don’t you jump in?” The man said, still looking at the fountain.
Iggy laughed under his breath.  “I don’t think so,” he said.
“My name’s Tom, what’s yours?”

Iggy didn't know it yet, but he had officially made his first friend. 

Iggy always felt like an outsider. He was always away from the action where everything happened, always looking in. When he met Tom, he didn't care that Tom had no money or even a place to live.  He cared that Tom seemed genuine when he spoke to him.  He cared that Tom spoke to him at all. 

“Are you usually here?” Iggy asked.
“I’m always here.” 
Iggy didn’t know what to say to the strange man.  He felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave.  “Look, I’ve got to go,” he said.
The man lifted his head weakly and held out his soiled hand.  “My name’s Tom, what’s yours?”

The next morning, Iggy passed through Washington Square Park and looked for Tom again.  Tom spotted Iggy sitting on the edge of the fountain and asked Iggy to meet his 'roommate.'  Joe was more a resident of this planet than Tom was, and he told Iggy that he "used to have a joint over on 14th Street," but then one day got kicked out because he couldn't pay his rent "no more," adding that "life's a bitch."

Later in the story, Tom wound up in the "looney bin," but Joe and Iggy remained friends.  Iggy had just started his new job working at a punk clothing store called 'Caterpillar,' but he hated his job and called in sick one day just because he was tired, depressed, and didn't feel like going in.  Joe admonished Iggy as a concerned dad would and then told him the story of how he once quit his job on Wall Street and sold everything he had in order to buy a space to set up his own store where all the "rich ladies" shopped. His first year was good, but by the next year, he'd lost everything because he didn't have anyone to help him with "the books." Iggy asked him why he didn't just ask for his old job on Wall Street back:

Joe leaned back again and plucked a piece of grass from out of the ground.  He examined it. 
“I didn’t want to.  I figured, what for?  If that’s the way life wants to treat me, then why should I?  Better to be a bum on the street.  At least I’d know what’s in store for me.”  Joe looked into Iggy’s eyes.  “No expectations, no disappointments.”  
Joe's story served as a cautionary tale to Iggy.  The next day, he followed Joe's advice and went back to work with a better attitude.  Seemed as though Joe was an odd person for Iggy to take advice from since he was not a functioning member of society, much less a member of the workforce.  But Joe was something that was more important to Iggy.  Something rare and unusual.  Joe was a friend.

 "Iggy Gorgess" novel will be released in early 2014.