Cuts Heal Slow

Cuts Heal Slow

My mother’s best friend lives in Orange County, and sometimes we all meet up there. The trip I’m thinking of happened when I was maybe 20. I’d driven there from college, my parents had just arrived, and my mother and honorary aunt were puttering around putting things into the fridge, exchanging books they’d borrowed, catching each other up on this and that — the kind of things that old long-distance friends do when reunited.

Then my Aunt asked my mother, “are you afraid of dying?” Her question sounded remarkably offhanded, considering the nature of it. “Oh,” said my mother. “Just something I’ve been thinking about,” said my aunt.

This past Easter, I was around while the two of them talked about a trip my aunt is taking with her husband and two children. “How great,” said my mom, “and if anything happens you’ll all be together. I could die happy like that.”

I watched my grandmother die when I was in middle school. Slowly and at home while her family cared for her.

My parents had a baby before me that died. My mom texts me every year on the day he was born and the day he died.

Weird or not, death and the dead have become the stuff of casual conversation in my family.

Once in college I got incredibly stoned and whispered in my boyfriend’s ear “what do you think it’s like to die.” It was a creepy, then very funny, moment, but the fact is death and dying were often on my mind.

Then, I married a mortuary school drop-out whose own father died about a year before we met. Since my wife is also my writing partner, what happens to the dead and what happens after death are frequent subjects in our writing.

But am I scared of death? Not really. What truly scares me — like it’ll cross my mind and I’ll feel frozen with fear, unsure if I can move through the terror I’m feeling — is physically aging.

I wore a pair of new shoes to work a week and a half ago. They’re very cute, but they cut into my ankles and gave me matching scabs.

Looking at my wee wounds last night I thought, “I feel like my skin doesn’t heal as fast as it used to.” And it all came crashing down. It’s happening. This is just the beginning, but it’s happening. My body is getting old. It will shrivel and ache, shut down piece by piece.

I have more grey hairs than ever before. My feet hurt every day. My knees ache before it rains (truly). My face looks different to me. It’s harder to sleep well.

Sure, my knees have hurt since I was in high school and had to wear braces during dance classes and tennis practice. I walk four or five miles a day in shoes generally chosen for cuteness. Back in those days when I would fall fast asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow I barely drank alcohol, but was almost always high.

Mitigating circumstances.

But I don’t know what to do with this terror about my body aging. I remind myself I’m not frail right now. I won’t get old by tomorrow. I have time. I have agency. I probably even have good genes.

Both of my grandfathers are still alive. One in his mid-80s and the other in his early 90s. They’ve slowed down in the last few years, but are still far from decrepit. My own dad is in his early 60s and could pass for 50. In fact, a co-worker recently guessed my age as 5 years younger than I am.

And it’s not so much that I wish I was young, because who I was when I was young is so far from who I am today she’s practically a stranger. People who knew me way back when tell me about her and I can only think, “really?”.

No, I don’t long for youth, I just worry constantly about my body — how it’s treading water in the slipstream of time, where it will tired and slow, and be carried away by an unforgiving current.

 

 

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The Penny Standard

The Penny Standard

Back home in LA, I find a penny on the sidewalk every week. One week, I found $30 on the street on Thursday and another $20 on Sunday. But usually, it’s just pennies.

My wife loves coins. Why? Who knows. But I live to make her smile, so when I find change on the street when we’re together I hand it over. What I find when I’m alone, I save in a jar.

I’ve been in San Francisco for work since Sunday and it struck me as remarkable that there were like no loose coins on the sidewalks. My eyes were peeled as I walked to work and then back to my hotel,on Monday, but no dice.

On Tuesday, I walked 40 minutes to my brother’s apartment, so he could feed me and so I could see my sister-in-law and give my baby niece a smooch. I walked another 40 minutes back home listening to Vox’s The Weeds podcast, a great deep dive into current events for the future old people of America (I mean that as a genuine compliment). I became well-informed, but my pockets stayed light. No pennies anywhere.

Wednesday came and went. No dull glint catching my eye. No reason to swoop down, touch my fingers to dirty city cement and collect my prize for paying attention.

On Thursday, again, I walked a couple of miles. My brother was out of town for work and my sister-in-law needed another pair of hands to corral my teething niece who’d decided she needed neither sleep nor dinner. Walk, walk, walk, listening to the news. My eyes sweeping the landscape. I saw little galleries and bars. People taking out their trash and stopping their cars quickly on the curb to let someone in or out. I saw plenty of dog shit dotting the sidewalk, but no lost pennies.

After getting baby niece to bed and drinking several glasses of wine with my sister-in-law, I headed out again. As I walked and listened to Voxers explain the nuances of the French election (a president AND a prime minister… now I get it), I began to formulate a theory about San Francisco’s dearth of sidewalk change.

LA is moody and hot. We move either too slow or too fast. A penny on the sidewalk can seem like a sign, but you don’t pocket every sign. Sometimes you leave them be, to work their magic just where they are. Angelenos are united by a loose bohemian creed that we are too cool about everything to care about any one thing. Drop a penny? Leave a penny. And then I come along and scoop it up, so I can see my wife’s cute teeth as she flashes a smile.

But San Francisco is a city on a schedule. Leave nothing unaccounted for, hold it all close. Or something.

And then it happened. I spotted, I swooped, I scooped up from the sidewalk not a dirty penny, but a bright and shiny quarter. It looked fresh the mint. I popped in it my pocket.

What does this mean? Maybe that you can’t formulate a hypothesis about cities based on the penny standard. Or maybe that you get what you want (and more) only after you’ve let go of the expectation that it’s definitely coming your way.

 

 

 

A Bad Day for Snakes

A Bad Day for Snakes

“Do Not Fucking Touch Me” is one of Dave Holmes’ tips for celebrating this St. Patrick’s Day. It reminds me of a favorite picture of me and my dad. We’re both leaning back against a table in the same exact way. I’m half his size and pinching him because he’s not wearing any green and it’s St. Patrick’s Day, which means it’s also his birthday. Growing up, St. Patrick’s day meant two things: telling your friends you were wearing green underwear, and my daddy-o’s birthday.

But now I’m an adult and I have no idea what St. Patrick’s Day means to me. I’m from California and Irish-American identity isn’t as big a deal out here as it seems to be in places like Chicago or Boston. I’ve probably celebrated Dia de los Muertos more than I’ve “celebrated” St. Patrick’s Day.

I’m not usually a humorless lesbian, but I’m kind of no fun on March 17th, because the cultural stereotypes bum me out (even when they’re also pretty funny) and I always find myself reading articles about the famine or how hated Irish immigrants were in America or how history repeats itself. Plus I suspect anyone super proud of their Irish heritage of being a white supremacist and unnecessary uses of food coloring make me irrationally furious. Green beer? Red Velvet? Bite me.

Maybe one day I’ll go to Ireland and standing on her soil will complete a circuit within me. That’s how I felt in Scotland and it took me by surprise.

Mostly I pass for just your average white person. When I think about what I am and who I come from, I think of the places my family and I have lived. Of the farmhouses we left. Of the suburban homes we made. Of the cities we elbowed our way into.

March 17th is one of the few days a year I connect myself to Irish American heritage. Maybe one day I’ll know how to celebrate.

 

sometimes I live in the country, sometimes I live in town, sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown

sometimes I live in the country, sometimes I live in town, sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown

It wasn’t the welcome we expected. It did become funny, but only after nothing bad happened.

My girlfriend and I flew to New York City on August 27, 2011. We took a red eye and and sleeping pills, but I barely closed my eyes the whole flight. We stumbled out of JFK and got struck dumb by the humidity, because we are weather weak Californians. Somehow we made it to our friend’s 4th story upper west side walk up and she suggested we take a walk to beat the jetlag. That’s when we saw them.

Block after block of boarded-up windows spray painted with warnings. Get out Irene! Stay away Irene! We don’t want you Irene! Irene is my girlfriend. Irene is also the hurricane that hit the city the next day. Huddled in our friend’s apartment, we listened to the storm. All that wind. All that rain. The next morning, the only thing in the kitchen was a bag of moldy Zabars bagels, so we went outside, not knowing what to expect. There were downed branches and gutters full of leaves, but not much else. At least not where we were. The feared destruction hadn’t come to pass. Irene had been kind.

And five years later, she married me.

In 2016, all the rightness and wrongness of the world whipped the planet in unceasing waves of tribulation. Cultural icons fell. Babies washed up on beaches. I held the hands of my love and we married each other, legally (!). My white country family and her brown city family hit the same dance floor. We ate tacos and ice cream, and, thank the lord, no one made a scene. In November, we voted as newlyweds and that night I was too distraught to drink. Which was a first. I cried and cried and cried. Irene started joking about getting deported, except I don’t think she was joking.

A few days later, I got my hair cut at the very queer salon that’s also a portal to a different reality. Once the lesbian next to me said apologetically, “don’t get me wrong, I love my parents,” and the lesbian painting my hair with dye said, “girl come on, we all love our parents, but this is a safe space, what did they do?” And all the truth came out. Jokes in rainbow shorthand cause a row of chairs to erupt in giggles in the reg. There’s always someone talking about tarot and someone talking about the Drag Race.

But when I walked in two days after the election, Folklore Salon was silent as the grave. Everyone was either puffy eyed or still crying. None of us knew what to say, so there were long hugs and brownie drop offs.

Six weeks later I was back. There was some crying, but there was a little bit of laughing too. Obama was still our President, he would be for a little longer and we were clinging to his last days. We talked about plans for the new year. I told the native Angeleno transguy shaving the back of my neck that Irene and I were thinking about maybe trying to get pregnant, but now I didn’t know. Same sex and multi-ethnic… I mean, was that wise? He laughed. “Actually I think that’s perfect. I think you two having a baby is like the most subversive thing you could do.”

In a few weeks, I’ll start peeing on sticks until one tells me I’m ovulating. And then we’ll drive to our local lesbian-owned sperm bank and try to make some magic. Before then, we need to pick a donor. Our baby will have half of my DNA, so the sunscreen industry will be safe for another several decades. But what about the other half? “It would be cool if we could find a donor that’s Mexican and native like me,” said my wife back when we thought our baby would be born under the full moon of a female president. There is a such an option at the ‘ol sperm bank, but neither of us has said out loud if that’s still what we want.

What about a last name? Do we give our little baby my good Irish name? Or my wife’s good Mexican one? How subversive do we get with this new tiny human?

Oprah says there are only two emotions: love and fear. I’m feeling both, in nearly equal measure, like a hurricane in my brain all day every day. It has made landfall. The destruction is here and this time it’s real.

My grandfather told me that my gay marriage, or “you gals’ whole situation” as he calls it, taught him that time marches forward and he can march forward with it. He’s 85 and doesn’t even walk very well, let alone march. So if he can do it, so can I. I can make brave choices. I can protect my family. I can go to the salon and talk about mercury in retrograde. I can make my own signs and softly sing Goodnight Irene

In five years, in ten, maybe all this tumult will feel pleasantly distant. Until then, I’m taking prenatal vitamins, starting secret Pinterest boards to save pictures of Danish modern cribs that my wife will never go for, and praying I’m doing the right thing for the tiny hands and tiny feet I hope will come into my life while we stand in the eye of all this wind and rain.

Forever While the World Burns

Forever While the World Burns

It’s hard to deny that 2016 was just a bitch of a year.

While we drove home from work the other day, my wife and I went back and forth naming as many of the year’s calamities as we could. It was a long and exhausting list of terrible things that will forever be synonymous with the year 2016. Which is why it feels weird, absurd, I’m not sure what, to have gotten married in 2016.

Sometimes it’s hard to hold these two things in my head: Trump will be our President and his election opened a Pandora’s box of prejudice in America, and I’m in a legal same-sex, biracial marriage. America: truly a land of contrasts.

Many years ago, the great food writer Jonathan Gold wrote an article about how he’d spend the day before the apocalypse. I think it was in the LA Weekly. I can’t find it online, so maybe it was just a fever dream, but even if it never existed, it’s something I think about often.

He’d have a croissant at Europane (where the staff know my wife by name), and some potato tacos downtown. And then, when his wife got home from work, they would sit outside and hold hands, watching the world burn.

Sometimes it feels like that’s what we’re doing. And sometimes it feels like my wife and I share this crazy secret, or like we just barely got away with something.

D.E.A.R. Time

D.E.A.R. Time

My favorite part of third grade was D.E.A.R. time. Drop Everything And Read. For 10 or 15 minutes after recess, we all grabbed a book and read quietly to ourselves. It was heaven for bookish little me. “Bullied” isn’t the word I would use for what I experienced in third grade, but it was something close. I didn’t fit it and my peers made sure I knew it. I wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as my classmates who were were having crushes and layering their neon socks. They wanted to gossip and dare people to break rules. I just wanted to drop everything and read. But the girls I was reading about were like me. They often had the same thoughts and feelings, and they seemed to be doing ok out there in their boxcars or dug-outs on the prairie. Reading was a coping mechanism then–a way for me to make sense of the world and my place in it–and it still is for me today.

This week it’s been comforting to read how other people more erudite than myself are expressing the same things I’ve been feeling. Here are some of the passages that have most struck a chord with me.

From Leah Letter

“What happened in this election?” People are asking. Well, let me tell you a little story. In 1943, a Polish resistance fighter named Jan Karski traveled to America to meet with President Roosevelt and the revered Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. Karski had infiltrated the Warsaw Ghetto and the Belzec camp and collected his findings — that Jews were being tortured and killed en masse — in a report to present to the Americans and the U.N., who had minimal information about the rumored genocide happening in Europe. Mind you, this meeting occurred in 1943, and 80 percent of the Jews killed in the Holocaust were already dead. After Karski presented his findings to Frankfurter, the justice replied: “Mr. Karski, a man like me talking to a man like you, I want to be totally frank — I am unable to believe you.” Roosevelt, for his part, asked Karski how Poland’s horses were doing.

This true parable is not exactly analogous to the media’s failure in this election, but you see my point: The inconceivable can, and does, happen, most would rather just not believe it to be possible. During the Holocaust, there was a bewildering lack of information — anything coming out of Germany was propaganda tightly controlled by the Third Reich; the world had no idea what was happening, save for seemingly left-field reports like Karski’s that went ignored. What’s terrifying is that today, we have more information than ever, being shot up into our systems like government-prescribed heroin, and we apparently still have no idea what is going on.

From Capital Public Radio

Californians legalized recreational marijuana, raised the tobacco tax and implemented tighter gun and ammunition control measures, while rejecting a bid to abolish capital punishment.

Californians also approved a $2 tax hike on packs of cigarettes; Proposition 56 also extends the state’s tobacco excise tax to e-cigarettes. And by passing Proposition 55, voters extended the income tax increase on wealthy individuals that they approved four years ago.

From The Washington Post

“California is America before America is itself,” de Leon said in an interview. “That means the good, the bad and the ugly, not just the good things that happen in California.”

In 1994, California voters passed an initiative designed to set up a state-run immigration system and deny most benefits, including education, to undocumented immigrants. Backlash to the proposition, which was strongly backed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, is widely considered a watershed moment that eventually led to the decimation of the Republican Party in the state.

Today, California allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and access in-state tuition at public universities. The state is also one of the most diverse in the nation. According to the census, 38.8 percent of Californians identify as Latino, 14.7 percent as Asian and 6.5 percent as black.

Those demographic changes are spurring political ones here in Orange County, once a mostly white bastion of Republicanism that has become increasingly Latino and Asian. While blue-collar Democrats who switched parties to vote for Trump in the Rust Belt helped propel him to the presidency, voters in Orange County chose a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since the 1930s.

From Cup of Jo

Tomorrow I’m going to dust myself off. Because I also feel love. And fervor. And a commitment to my children, friends, neighbors and people in our country, especially marginalized people who may fear for their future.

“The worst thing that can happen in a democracy — as well as in an individual’s life,” says Hillary Clinton, “is to become cynical about the future and lose hope.”

We’ll make big changes on a larger scale, but also here are ways to help on an individual level, as Rachel Howe pointed out: Ask everyone if they are okay and if they’re not see what you can do. Say hi to strangers. Volunteer, anywhere. Shop locally. Host people in your home. Cook for yourself and others. Speak up when you see racism and sexism in action. Protest. Donate time and money. Talk to older people more. Talk to kids more. Teach empathy. If you feel your future is in danger, start now to build a secure foundation for yourself. If you’re in less danger, reach out to those who are and offer your time and money and care to them.

From The Huffington Post

“During the campaign, I found so many of President-elect Trump’s comments to be deeply abhorrent, and I never want to be — I am not ever prepared to be — a politician who maintains a diplomatic silence in the face of attitudes of racism, sexism, misogyny or intolerance of any kind,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament on Thursday. “We hope that President-elect Trump turns out to be a president who is very different from the kind of candidate that he was and that he reaches out to those who felt vilified by his campaign.”

As leader of the Scottish National Party, Sturgeon broke a diplomatic taboo before the election by publicly saying she supported Trump’s rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her condemnation of “diplomatic silence” is in keeping with this unconventional approach.

It also echoes German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who pointedly noted in a Wednesday congratulatory message to Trump that U.S.-German ties rest on a shared concern for human rights and the rule of law.

From the LA Times

I’ve looked at libraries from at least four sides now, as a full-time book critic, a federal grantmaker (in a red administration!), a nonprofit lending librarian in an immigrant, working-class neighborhood, and on the faculty at UCLA. While midwifing the nonpartisan NEA’s one-city-one-book program, The Big Read, I visited more than 100 public libraries in 40-some states, with a fat deck of library cards in my desk now to prove it.

If all these experiences have taught me anything, it’s that librarians may be the only first responders holding the line between America and a raging national pandemic of absolutism. More desperately than ever, we need our libraries now, and all three of their traditional pillars: 1) education, 2) good reading and 3) the convivial refuge of a place apart. In other words, libraries may be the last coal we have left to blow on.

All the research out there — Census data, NEA reports, the Pew Research Center’s work on libraries and reading in low-income neighborhoods — all of it points toward reading enjoyment as the surest predictor of health, wealth and good citizenship. Readers volunteer more, vote more, even exercise more. And a recent Yale study categorically shows what most of us have long suspected: Readers live longer than nonreaders.

From Bust

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Wellne$$

Wellne$$

I read an article about how “wellness” is the lucrative new thing to sell to women, but you’ll have to take my word for it, because I suddenly have no memory of where I read this article.

The gist of it (I think…?) was that lifestyle companies like magazines, retail, etc are always trying to find trendy new ways to convince women to shell out cash in order to level up their lives. And right now “wellness” is that trendy new way. Athleisure clothing. Juice cleanses. Fitness classes. Specialty foods. Yoga retreats. All of these are sold as solutions to problems women are told they have, and they can be pretty expensive solutions.

The article struck a chord with me, because I think a lot about self-care these days. Getting better at self-care is a stop on my personal route to wellness, but I can’t seem to extricate self-care from spending money. Like last week, after I unpacked from a generally tense family vacation and re-packed for a conference that would take me out of town and away from my wife for five days, I treated myself to a manicure and pedicure. It was a way to relax after surviving my family vacation, and prepare me to confidently (ha) network with other strangers in my field for many days in a row. And it cost $50.

I went for a hike over the weekend and thought, “free wellness!” And then I started adding the cost of my shoes, my workout clothes, my very stylish fannypack, the gas it took to get me to the trailhead–nothing sabotages that feeling of wellness like realizing everything costs something.