Saturday, April 13, 2019

Kitty and Dummy

We’ve got a couple cats.  You know, because they’re so useful.

Panya is the girl cat.  Panya means “rat” in Swahili.  We got her during the Infestation.  We had hopes she’d be a deterrent.  She’s a torty, otherwise a regular American shorthair.  Her fur is a little greasy, as Lana would be quick to point out.  We don’t call her Panya.  We call her Kitty.

Dill is the boy cat.  He is good-looking; he’s got a rich grey coat, an oversized schnoz.  He’s maybe not the brightest but really what constitutes a smart cat?  Party tricks?  We mostly call him Dill.  I sometimes call him Mister.  I try not to call him Dummy.

The cats were, of course, lobbied hard for by the children of the house.  But once they each grew out of their kitten stage, kids and cats pretty much ignored each other.  That left me, the feeder, the poop collector, the nighttime snuggler.  

Dill, since he’s passed his two-year mark, has become affectionate.  He used to be too interested in what was going on outside, in terrorizing Kitty (he still does that some, jerk), in napping just out of petting distance.  But lately, when I bring my coffee back to bed in the morning, he climbs in with me.  Once I’m settled, coffee on handy self-made shelf, pillows propped behind me, covers pulled back up, he plops himself on my lap.  “Plop” is perhaps not quite the right verb.  It’s more like he’s a baseball player sliding into home.  Or a gymnast sticking a landing.  It’s pretty un-catlike - I don’t think he’s fully learned yet what it is to be a feline.

Dill is satisfying to pet, both because of his silken fur and also because of his ferocious purr.    Kitty doesn’t purr.  She’s so sweet - she spends a lot of time on my lap - but, as much as I hate to admit it, it’s less satisfying to pet a cat that doesn’t purr.  Sometimes when I’m petting a dog, I’m like, why isn’t it purring?

Kitty, poor girl, has resting bitch face.  Mae is convinced Kitty hates her.  I keep telling her no, it’s just her face.  “But look at the way she’s looking at me!” she’ll yell, pointing at the cat as Kitty’s ears go back in alarm.  This morning Mae said Kitty looked sad - like all her kittens had been killed.  She took a picture and showed me.  It was the exact same Kitty expression as always.

The downside of Dill’s new-found affection is that he’s possessive of me.  Kitty generally sleeps on my shoulder, Dill at my feet.  Usually though, lately anyway, around 3:00 am Dill will decide he needs more body heat.  He attacks Kitty (who, again, is on my shoulder).  They have a brief fight (on my shoulder) in which he bites and she hisses and I yell “god damn it” and push them both off me and Kitty runs for the couch and then finally Dill settles against my back.  Bully.  And then I, at 3:05 am, start thinking about how this dynamic is emblematic of the culture at large, men bullying women, la la la, and I’m wide awake.

Kitty likes to claw the couch.  She also an expert huntress.  She likes to bring live lizards, mice and birds into the house - gifts for me that I then have to capture and return outside or sometimes to the wildlife rescue.  It’s delightful.

Dill, when he doesn’t eat enough wet cat food, gets crystals in his urine and pees on the couch.  Or on my bed.  It hasn’t happened for awhile (he gets a lot of wet food now) but it doesn’t really recommend him.  Sinking into the couch at the end of the day and getting a sharp whiff of cat urine can make me feel desperate like almost nothing else.

He also tends to get into fights.  He’ll come in for dinner with clumps of fur missing.  Sometimes I hear him yowling and hissing with one cat or another in the canyon below our house.  Dummy.

They are a pain in the ass, really, these cats.  But when I stop to dissect it, I guess I must love them.  I mean, you know.  I spend a lot of my downtime with a cat on my lap.  Or on my shoulder.  I sort of chose them, in the way you allow a choice your children want.  I don’t adore them with the passion I had for my cat in my twenties.  But I didn’t have kids then.  Now I have so many creatures to feed and house and adore.  The cats are for sure at the bottom of the totem pole.  But on nights when the kids are with their dad, the rain pelting the skylight above my bed, I’m happy for their warmth, their purring and non-purring.  We have an understanding.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Nine O'Clock Battle

Generally, I go to sleep early.  My favorite sport in summer is to crawl into a bed bathed in the golden hues of sunset.  I like going to bed early because a) I like being in bed under any circumstances and b) I like to sleep for up to eleven hours at a stretch.  The only way to get that kind of slumber and also make a living is to go to bed early, at least in my experience.

I have a rule for my phone-bearing children (Mae and Lana) that on school nights they must relinquish their devices by nine p.m.  Mae is johnny-on-the-spot, usually turning hers in early.  Lana, however, in true Lana fashion, stages a silent protest to what she sees as an idiotic practice.  Every night I have to bribe and cajole and threaten.  And every night her phone is late.  

The marriage of my early bedtime and the nine o’clock rule is not a happy one.  Sometimes I, straining to keep my eyes on my kindle, text the girls that I’m falling asleep but to please turn their phones in at nine.  This text always includes a plea specifically for Lana which comprises some reasoning, some begging and some stern talking-to.  More often than not, I might wake up an hour into my slumber at 9:30, say, probably to the sound of Lana banging the bathroom door shut or the girls yelling at each other in Mae’s room (“Lana, get out of my room!” - I should make a bumper sticker).  More than likely, Mae’s phone is carefully plugged in and stowed at my bedside.  Lana’s is elsewhere.

And so I turn my phone back on (my pleasure in turning it to airplane mode when I get into bed is almost as keen as my pleasure in sleeping).  I text Lana, perhaps in all caps.  I might also voice a bellow, depending on my mood.  The phone is promptly delivered (she can smell when I mean it).  And I return to my kindle for another twenty minutes to calm my nervous system before a return to sleep is possible.

Last night, Friday, Lana was allowed to keep her phone.  Mae is on a school trip to London (yes she’s in public school but it’s Marin County, home of fancy).  I fell asleep at 10, after having a text exchange with a friend who couldn’t believe I was “up past my bedtime”.  That is the usual response I get to texts I send after nine.  My neighbor friends also get very concerned if my car isn’t in the driveway by 10:30.  Josie, who lives directly across from me, judges her sleep health on the delta between when my bedroom light winks off and she turns off her own.

Last night, I was deeply asleep, dreaming about my friend who turns fifty today, when in my dream I heard a teenager loudly laughing.  A very familiar teenager.  Eyes now open wide, I found my phone.  12:58 a.m.  

I texted Lana to stop yelling and go to sleep.  That we would talk about this ridiculous transgression in the morning.  Fucking kid.  Then I opened my kindle, steaming.

The next morning, I woke to a text from Mae.  “Sorry, Mom, Lana was talking to me.”

Which changed everything.  The very worst thing as a parent is when your kids fight with each other.  The very best thing is when they get along.  Lana laughing at one a.m. to whatever Mae was saying from her London midmorning, that makes me the opposite of mad.  Fucking kids.  Somehow they always win.  At least Lana does.

Friday, April 5, 2019

In Defense of Teenagers

People are afraid of teenagers.  Probably because they remember cruelty they either inflicted or was inflicted upon them in adolescence.  Maybe because they remember their vast discomfort and awkwardness and don’t want to return to it, even just in proximity.  I, too, was afraid of these years back when my kids were babies.  The thought of these sweet crazy people being out of my safe grasp in a few short years was daunting.

Teenagers get a bad rap, I’m here to say.   We are ourselves at any age.  These tall people that now live in my house are the very same people I spoon-fed, carefully dressed, monitored closely as they careened down the slide.  And just as they are the same essential entities, my friends that I knew when I was in high school are still just the same people.  We are more mature, supposedly, but we still spend a remarkable amount of time discussing clothes and boys and pot (for instance).  Megan at 14 and Megan at 49 are the very same Megan; glamorous, strong-opinioned and goofy.  Evany?  As sharp-witted, as acerbic, as on the front edge of what’s cool at 14 as she is today.  I’m as romantic, as brainy, as covertly nerdy now as then.  We contemplated our lives with as much weight and wonder then as we do now.  We were trying hard to make sense of the big mysteries, then as now.  We were learning, we were growing, then as now.  And we were wise, then as now.

And so it follows that my teenage daughters (Mihiretu has one more year before he hits his teens) not only are as familiar as they were to me in infancy, they’re also who they’ll be through out their life.  The baby lives in them but so does the grown-up.

I get along suspiciously well with teenagers.   Not only my girls, but also their friends.  It’s easy for me to downshift into teenage talk, to take the formality down to quiet. Part of it is because I am aware of the adult they are almost - I respect them as much as I would a new middle-aged friend.  Part of it is because my inner teenager is alive and well.  It’s not hard to imagine we’re the same age, at least internally.  It was a minute ago I was 15.

It seems to me that I had far less grace and ease as an adolescent then my daughters do.  But maybe the worst part of being a teenager is how weird it feels to be you - bridging childhood and adulthood, unsure what to do or who to be.  Maybe that’s what we adults are so afraid of.  Because it never goes away, that wierdness, that newness, that uncertainty.  We just get better at covering it up.

Teenagers are brave.  They don’t have a choice about it.  They have to be to pass from childhood to adulthood.  But they march forward anyway, maybe hunched, perhaps side-eyed, but undaunted.  And if they can do it?  If they can face the world and walk out into it?  Well, then, the rest of us can, too.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Road Ahead

For my birthday, my oldest friend gifted me a reading with a Vedic astrologist.  Casey, it should be said, would point out that she’s my age, give or take.  She’s not elderly, we’ve just known each other since babyhood.  Anyway, ancient Casey gave me a reading.

Vedic astrology differs from western astrology in that it operates from a different calendar.  I’m sure it differs in other ways too but I’m a layperson so bear with me.  The astrologer inputs your birth date, birth time, and birth location which results in something like a life map.  How things might be going for you in any particular time in your life, in any particular category.

The reading itself was over the phone.  My astrologer, Prasannan, had a vague mid-Atlantic accent.  His origins, really everything about him, remain a mystery to me.  He was soft-spoken, even-keeled, the perfect foil for rocket Liz.

He calmly informed me that I’m in a seven-year period in which almost every area of my life is difficult.  This was not news to me.  That period started about a year before the breakdown of my marriage.  The ensuing years have featured divorce, the sometimes harrowing building of a business, a couple of my kids hitting times of peril, medical crises (related to kid peril - and paid for out-of-pocket), two moves, an almost-impossible real estate deal, a major house fix-up comprising leaky roofs, rat and termite infestations, sewer lateral replacements, oh and, the cherry on top of the proverbial cake, an impossible love life.   I have so many gifts, so much good luck, and I’ve spent the last six and a half years pushing boulders uphill.

This period, he said, is the most challenging of my life.  I would hope so.

But, he said, so mellow, everything is about to change.  In December 2019 most if not all barriers will fall.  I will have business success, financial ease and - wait for it - love.  I might be moving.  Things would be very good for me in Florida, according to him.  I was like, “Yeah?  Anywhere else?”  The entire Eastern seaboard, Fiji, Hawaii.  But really, he said, Florida is very strong for you.

So I’m not fucking moving to Florida.  Cashmere sales alone would nix that idea.  Same, I suppose for Fiji and Hawaii, though those are more appealing.  My aversion to reptiles and Donald Trump is too strong for Florida.

Six weeks ago or so I had a major coming to Jesus.  One night at 3am, wracked with anxiety, I realized that there has been a recurring idea circling my mind for awhile now.  It’s a whisper that goes like this: I’m only going to get older and sadder and fatter and uglier.  A long winding-down until finally I die.  Ok, what a drama queen but there’s some truth in there.  I’m am for sure going to get older.  I’ll probably get uglier.  I’d be very fortunate if I didn’t get fatter once menopause hits.  But do I have to get sadder?  Is it all downhill from here?  I’m 48 years old.  This might be my midway mark through life.  That seems like a long decline.

This night, this 3am, I realized I’m not doing so well.  I have a deal with my psychiatrist.  We meet every six months for twenty minutes to check in around meds - they haven’t changed much in years.  But if I hit the skids, I’m under strict instruction to call him immediately.  There in my bed, staring into the dark, that whisper in my ear, I pledged to call him in the morning.  I also promised myself that I’d find a therapist.

I’m a great believer in therapy.  I’ve had periods of my life where I’ve been in for awhile (for three years after my dad died, another spate when my mom got sick, another when she died).  I haven’t been in therapy, however, beyond dreaded family therapy, since my mom’s death in 2011.  I’ve been riding this rough wave of the last number of years without counsel.  Well, that seems stupid, you might be saying.  Yes, stupid, but the last years have also been terrifying financially as I’ve solo-mommed it.  I’ve felt I couldn’t afford therapy,  What I came to that 3am was that I couldn’t not afford it.

I’m efficient.  I was in my psychiatrist’s office by Monday, getting a boost on my anti-depressant prescription.  By Tuesday I had a therapist in place, one that would indulge me with a sliding scale.  I’ve been feeling better.  The drugs help and the therapy is fascinating.  Already, after a few sessions, there are areas of my life that feel much clearer.  Dark corners illuminated by the light of day.

This morning, pondering my almost empty bank account, I wondered.  What if this is the bottom?  What if things got easier?  What if I found my feet financially post-medical-crisis (I’m still paying off tens of thousands in unreimbursed medical bills).  What if my house reached a stasis of repair?  What if some beautiful (available) man walked into my life to keep me company?  What if my kids continued on their current positive course towards adulthood?  What if my business grew beyond my dreams?

Come December, if you come looking for me at the shop and the lovely person working the register tells you I’ve gone off to Florida with Tim, maybe you shouldn’t be surprised.  We don’t know what’s ahead do we?  But that doesn’t mean it’s awful.  Florida or no.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019


At some point, my sister-wife Josie and I decided the future love of my life is named Tim.  There was some miscommunication over text, some autocorrect situation, long-forgotten, that resulted in this prediction.  Tim is the best.  Tim can really do no wrong.  We love Tim.  Almost as much as he loves me.

Recently, my friend/sisters Evany and Megan and I had a long text discussion about Tim.  According to Megan, he’s uber-rich yet humble, five to ten years older than I am, and loves my kids.  And he’s bald, “like Mr. Clean bald”.  I agreed, bald as a cue ball but so sweet.  And Megan said, no no no, you don’t like sweet.  I argued for the tiniest hint of sweet - it was approved.  Tim is mostly umami.

Tim is 6’4”, he can build a house with his hands out of reclaimed wood, he has successful grown kids that adore him, or maybe teenagers since I love teenagers and I would make an excellent step-mom-friend.  He has a couple flaws (I mean we are realistic, people, WE ARE NOT LIVING IN A FANTASY) - he’s slightly hard of hearing and can’t see without his (very cute) glasses.  He’s funny.  He reads.  He has a functional penis.  He doesn’t let me pay for anything.

He has dimples, good taste and can cook.  He argues well - respectfully, open-heartedly.  He loves my friends (not difficult).  He’s athletic but not obsessive.  He surfs.  Sometimes he surfs with Marco and Tony, Evany and Megan’s husbands.  He has a wood-burning fireplace that he uses on a regular basis (but never on spare-the-air days).  He also has a beach house (what can I say, Tim is amazing).  We’ll get married (at the beach house) after ten years of dating and I’ll wear Megan’s vintage white Halston jumpsuit.

He can be named anything, we decided, but we will call him Tim.  I thought he was an architect but Megan said no.  Architects make no money, are “arrogant as fucks” AND are often alcoholics (what architect did Megan wrong?).  I added he’s also not in marketing or brand development or advertising (what marketing guy did me wrong?).  Finally we came to the conclusion that he’s semi-retired from finance and now does pro-bono work for the poor.  A foundation that educates underprivileged architects (if there is such a thing, Megan says there is).  

At first we thought that he travels a lot for work and fun and he takes me with him.  But then we realized that I travel a lot for work and fun and I take him with me.

Tim finds me utterly adorable.  Especially without make-up, in overalls, with my hair sticking up.

So then Evany said, “I wonder what Tim’s friends are saying about you right now?”

She’s 5’8” and knows how to use power tools.  They think my name is Sara but that’s fine, they can call me Sara.

Ok, maybe Tim isn’t rich, isn’t 6’4”, doesn’t support poverty-stricken architects.   But what if he does exist?  What if he’s out there right now at this minute?  Wandering around, putting one foot in front of the other, pondering the nature of romantic love, fucking discouraged.  Unaware that Sara is just around the corner.

Sara and Tim.  That’s going to be one fun wedding.  Sandy but fun.  Though somebody needs to tell those drunk underprivileged architects to stop making toasts.  Because Megan and Evany and Josie have something to say.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Family Couch

When my marriage broke up, I was the one to move out of the familial home.  Ben loved the house more than I did, I had spent years setting up functional systems there, I figured it’d be easier for me, fresh from housewifedom, to make another home elsewhere.  I left all the furniture there, much of which was my parents, because I didn’t want to leave gaping holes.  I wanted home to stay as consistent as possible for the kids.  And so, on a very limited budget, I set out to furnish my divorce pad, a sweet little (extraordinarily expensive) rental cottage down the road from Ben’s place.

My first purchase, the piece on which I built the rest of the vibe, was a buttery leather sky-blue sectional, found on a craigslist for a relative song.  It was an exceptional couch.  I knew when I bought it that it would hold me nicely while I snuggled my kids, while I mourned my marriage, and most importantly, while I watched reality TV.

It performed it’s tasks magnificently and four high-mile years later, after being brutalized by pets and kids, food and drink, after enduring more than one make-out session so gamely, my so-handsome, so-dense young male cat (his official name is Dill but we call him Dummy), started using it as a litter box.  Turns out he had a urinary tract issue which was eventually remedied.  The couch, however, finally, was toast.

And so I fell back to my forever second choice, the couches I grew up with.  They are teak-framed, purchased by my parents in Europe in the fifties, elegant, spare, and wholly uncomfortable.  They occupied our austere, high-ceilinged, freezing living room growing up.  We rarely sat on them.  And they have followed me ever since.  I don’t love them, sometimes I hate them, but they are family and I can’t get rid of them.

We struggled through months of cramped TV-viewing, the couches groaning and twitching beneath us, the wool cushions scratching our skin, the teak digging into our backs.   “Please, Mom,” the kids begged.  “Please get a new couch.”

We’ve had a medical crisis in our family over the last year or two.  The person in question is now doing well, great even.  But, truth be told, I’m fifty thousand dollars in debt.  Insurance should be reimbursing us for what we paid out of pocket, I should be made whole eventually.  But this is America and our healthcare system is corrupt and broken, if I may be so blunt.  We are a year into battle with our insurance company.  We’ve hired insurance consultants (to more great expense).  I’m so mad I can barely think about it, not only for me and my family but for every person in this country that has struggled with medical costs.  It’s unfair, it’s uncivilized, it’s outrageous.

And so, a new couch.  There is no money for such a luxury.  But I started trolling craigslist anyway, because, if nothing else, it’s fun.  I worked my usual craigslist recipe: figure out brands I like, plug those names into the search to winnow down the endless possibilities.  I pored over apartment therapy, read all their couch surveys (napability quotient!) and, lo and behold, I found an excellent candidate: a Joybird couch in coral, down the street from my house, bought for $1800 a year ago, now for sale for $500.  How I was going to come up with the $500, I wasn’t sure, but I went to look.

The owner, Annie, was lovely.  We have kids the same age, going to the same schools.  “Listen,” she said, as she led me through the house to the spare bedroom, “I found a stain on the couch, I feel bad charging you for it at all.  Really, you’d be doing me a favor if you just hauled it away.”

I rounded the corner and beheld my new love.  She is gorgeous, perfect, made for us, a study in proportion and grace.  I suddenly saw the next number of years, this last decade with my kids at home, unfold in splendor.

I ended up giving my new friend, Annie, a two hundred dollar gift card to my store.  My neighbors helped me retrieve and install the couch.  Then we sat on it and drank gin and tonics, a proper christening.  My new beauty sits kitty-corner to the smaller of my parent’s couches, which I am slip-covering in used denim.  They seem quite well-suited to each other, tranquil in compatibility.

I don’t have cash right now but I’m pretty sure I’m rich.  In community, in karma, in resourcefulness, in seating options.

Saturday, June 23, 2018


It was my birthday yesterday.  We probably all have baggage around birthdays.  At some point in my childhood, probably my tenth birthday, I made a decision.  After a day of being largely ignored, I went with my parents to dinner at a Chinese restaurant, where my visiting uncle (who I barely knew) proceeded to dominate the conversation and eat all the food.  My parents, Depression-era kids, didn’t order more - the very fact of dining in a restaurant felt like an absurd enough expense.  Back home, I was gifted with a brass candle-stick.  I cried myself to sleep, my belly empty.

In the scope of bad birthdays, this is nothing.  I realize that.  But something cemented in me that day.  The idea that birthdays are important.  And that it was up to me to honor my own.  The rest of my birthdays have been a parade of self-thrown parties, self-bought gifts, announcements to near-strangers that “It’s my birthday!”

I kicked off my birthday a week ago with a celebration with one group of friends, my party girls, my playmates.  We ended up at one of the bars in town and young bartenders and bouncers (secretly prompted by my very good people) dutifully sidled up and whispered birthday greetings.  Last night I went out with a different group, which included some of my very oldest pals, people who know my very essence, who have seen me in all my incarnations, who know how far I’ve come.  

In between those two evenings, on Tuesday, my friend died.  She had been sick for a few years with a rare and aggressive form of cancer.  She died on her forty-ninth birthday, leaving behind two small kids.  She was lovely, she was fierce, she lived each day deeply, even before she was fighting for her life.

When my dad was dying, of his own awful cancer, when I was barely an adult, I realized that the death process and the birth process are similar.  Death and birth are the same doorway, from where and to where we can only imagine.  These two events are similarly mysterious, similarly mystical.  I had a feeling my friend was going to die on her birthday.  She was (it’s so hard to use the past tense) connected to those invisible threads above us.  I thought she’d find the same doorway out that she came in through.

This week, like all weeks, has been full, has been beautiful.  I have celebrated myself, I have recognized again how very fortunate I am to live in this place, in this body, with these people.  I am remembering that I better live this life fiercely, freely, deeply.  I better take every ride I can, love with a wide open heart, sit deeply in the gift of the everyday.  We are lucky, so very lucky, to be alive.