Thursday, December 31, 2015

Counting 'Em Up

So remember when I was all freaked out about having six days to myself?  Yeah, well.  I spent those days so contentedly, walking for miles, sleeping twelve hours at a stretch, sewing, taking ass class instead of teaching it, watching movies.  I had to consciously go and court conversation but beyond that it was pretty dreamy.

I pick up the kids this morning. I have them for the next two weeks (with one all-too-brief two-day window of solitude) - paying the piper for my week off.  Now that’s what I’m panicking about.  I love them - I LOVE THEM - but being a single parent, I’m finding, is a life of extremes.  I’m either the only adult in charge for every last need or I don’t see them at all.  At my worst moments in either scenario, I’m exhausted or I’m lonely.

I’m also carrying sole responsibility for my finances, my house, every last decision that’s made about my life.  Which is exciting at times (mine, all mine!!!) and terrifying at others (the roof is leaking, the toilet in the rental is backed-up, quarterly taxes, what?).  The craziest, loneliest part of that is not having a partner to bounce stuff off of.  Not to solve my problems, but just to hear them.  I talk to my friends, sure, but is there one person to whom I can unload at the end of day (besides my kids - whose problems I’m hopefully helping to solve instead of the other way around)?  There isn’t.  And so these worries float around in my head untethered, popping up like whack-a-moles.

I read something on Facebook (where I consume most of my scientific news - don’t look at me like that) about how the human brain likes to worry.  Worry gives the brain an activity.  But it also creates yucky chemicals (cortisol, etc) that diminish your health - mental and otherwise.  This link, this Facebook thing (what was it? who knows? who cares?) suggested that every time you start to worry you should instead think of things you’re grateful for.  Because the chemicals your brain makes when it’s grateful are good for you.  And gratitude gives your brain something to do besides worry (which, according to the Gods of Facebook, is it’s default mode).

So in these times of worry (all day, every day), when I catch myself slipping into anxiety, I count my blessings.  Children, healthy.  Me, healthy.  Work, fun.  Money, yes there’s some in the bank.  House, somehow I have one.  Airbnb apartment, paying for said house.  Friends, oh my god, friends.  Men, yes them, too (and on this topic I try to be grateful even for the torture - generally self-inflicted - in my romantic life - I am alive, I am alive).

On this last day of 2015, I am grateful.  For all the change of the last few years, for all the growth that change has insisted on. I’m grateful that I’m living my life on my terms.  It’s not easy, this path I’ve chosen.  I’ve picked every fork in the road that’s led me here, but sometimes I feel very alone.  I’m grateful I have the fortitude to sit in loneliness, to sit in the vacuum, without pulling anything and everything in to keep me company. 

I am grateful for happy accidents.  I’m grateful for new friends, for old, for every time in a day there is a genuine connection with another human being.  I’m grateful for every time something makes me laugh.  I’m even grateful when something makes me cry.

2016, I’d like to meet you without anxiety.  I’d like to meet you with bravery, maybe even with lightness.  My life has been awfully heavy of late, maybe 2016 is the year of sunshine.  Or the year that I can see the sunshine, feel the sunshine, that’s been here this whole time.  Or, I don’t know, maybe it’ll be another shit show.  That’s ok, too.  Give it to me, 2016, I can handle it.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Silent Night

The kids left yesterday for a week.  I have six solid days of freedom, both from parental duties and (largely) from work.  I feel alternately exhilarated and panicked.  The days are all my own.  And…the days are all my own.

This is the second Christmas I’ve spent alone.  This year, like last, I spent the day walking.  Ten miles; up Baldy, down to Phoenix Lake, around through Fairfax and back home.  It was beautiful out there, breath-taking, clear from yesterday’s rain, the winter sun low in the sky, hours of golden light.

As I walked, I thought.  About the last couple years - Ben and I officially separated on New Year’s Day two years ago.  About Christmases past.  About the family I was born into.  About my mom, who I still ache for.  About my dad, who I still can’t figure out.

They’ve been beautiful, these last two Christmases.  Silent.  Sometimes it’s nice not to have to talk to anyone, not to have to chat, to make conversation, to please someone.  But every person I passed on the trail said “Merry Christmas”, a greeting I always returned.  And every time it was jarring.  Oh yeah, it’s Christmas.  A day about tradition and family.  Not always a happy day but usually an important one.

I spent Christmas Eve with Megan and Evany, my best friends of over thirty years, with their husbands, their kids, mine.  They are my family.  In this long transition between my old married life and whatever’s next, they are my people, just as they’ve always been.  Their husbands are my people, their kids.  And my kids, you don’t get closer people than that.

I have six days - okay, five now - to either fill or leave empty.  Days before the new year.  Days to find my north star (again), to listen to the whispers of my heart.  To take a breath before stepping forward.  Into what, towards what, who knows.  All kinds of time, all kinds of quiet.  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Leaver and the Left

When a relationship ends, it’s rarely mutual.  Usually, no matter how miserable both parties may be, just one makes the decision to pull the plug.  And so we have the Leaver and the Left.

The Leaver, often, is further down the road in processing the break-up.  Often they’re more at peace, in part because it was their decision (however difficult) to move on.  That said, the act of leaving takes a great amount of bravery.  The moment when you say good-bye is terrifying.

The Left, on the other hand, might feel powerless, might feel taken by surprise (even if there have been months or years on the rocks).  Being left is a huge ego blow.

When a marriage ends, particularly a long-standing one, particularly one with children, it upends your entire life.  Everything is in the air, waiting to land.  It’s scary as hell.  Both the Leaver and the Left live in this space but at least for the Leaver there was a choice involved.  It’s an entirely different experience to embark on a treacherous journey on purpose than to be sent on that trip against your will.

I’ve found, in this post-divorce, middle-aged dating pool, it’s best for Leavers to date Leavers and Lefts to date Lefts.  If a break-up is recent, you tend to process with your new friend (or at least I do).  For a Leaver to go on and on about their hysterical and angry ex might be hard for a Left to listen to.  A Left venting about the selfishness, the gall, of their former partner is going to be rough for the Leaver.

Even friendships tend to run down party lines.  Leavers have lots in common; bravery, guilt, exhilaration.  Lefts might bond over grief and anger.

Lefts get more social support in a break-up, generally speaking.  Leavers can be seen as the villians, Lefts as the victims.  Leavers have upset the status quo, have turned the page; societies don’t like that so much.

Often when I meet a new divorced friend (and when I sense we land on the same side of the divide), I ask, "Are you the Leaver or the Left?"  Always there's a clear answer.  It's a world view.

I have played both roles, I’m sure we all have.  Both are wretched.  Breaking up is hard to do.

Friday, December 4, 2015


Lana, my middle child, my eleven-year-old, is very much like her mother.  She’s particular, she’s precise.  She not only makes her (full-sized, canopy-draped) bed every morning, she arranges each and every throw pillow in a prescribed order (a meld of blues and various sizes, she gets the symphony of random just right).  

She is an incredible sweetheart, my girl.  She is my most tactile child; she always holds my hand when we’re out together, she insists on a hug on the hour, she still sits on my lap whenever possible.  She tells me constantly that she loves me - she insists her love for me has such depth I can’t fathom it - I assure her that once she has a child even her great mother love for me will be dwarfed by her passion for her kid - and she tells me in no uncertain terms that I am simply wrong.

Recently she decided that she wants a nickname.  “Mom,” she said, “Call me ‘Monkey’ because I was born in the year of the monkey.  Call Mae ‘Horsey” because she was born in the year of the horse and Mihiretu “Puppy” because he was born in the year of the dog.”  I agreed, half-listening (the kid talks non-stop).

An hour later when I said, “Lana, will you put your shoes on the rack?”, she replied indignantly, “You didn’t use my nickname!”

I tried again.  “Monkey, will you put your shoes on the rack?”  She was pacified.

That was the one and only time I called her Monkey.  I tried to explain to her that you can’t give yourself a nickname - it has to be birthed organically by the namer, usually someone that loves you.

Last Sunday the girls and I were sitting around with our friend, Elizabeth, and her son, Hugo, people we’ve know long and deep.  We got on the topic of character traits - what some of our idiosyncratic ones were.  Mae, I diagnosed, was a bit of a bull in a china shop at times - something of a blunt instrument, physically - she can hug too hard, she can spaz out and throw herself full-force to the ground for no apparent reason.  Lana, we agreed, could be stubborn.  But more than that, I elaborated, she could be - and here I paused, choosing my words carefully.  She, truth be told, can be a tiny bit bitchy when she’s pissed off.  I used precisely this word in precisely this way.  Lana laughed in recognition, thank god.  Because it’s true.  When push comes to shove with that kid she can elevate to a chilly plane from which she imparts cutting, exact punishment.

The next night Mae and Lana and I were watching old episodes of 30 Rock - we’ve been binging lately.  Lana got pissed, I can’t remember about what, and Mae said, “Lana, stop being so bitchy!”  Ironically, given my own use of the word towards that girl, I have a rule that Mae can’t call Lana a bitch - it happens with some frequency.  “Mae!” I said.  “Fine,” she said.  “Lana, stop being so beepy!”

We all laughed.  And now, when Lana gets edgy, we say, “Beepy!”  Like when she called me “Fatso” with the simple wish to hurt my feelings when I had just (inadvertently) hurt hers.  Like when she tells her brother that we went and saw a movie without him.  Like when she insinuates that Mae is a lesbian (which would be fine, if Mae were a lesbian).  “Oh, Beepy,” we might say, with a sigh.  And then we all laugh, including Lana, the beep evaporating in the warmth.

She got her nickname.  It’s not of her choosing but it fits.  And it comes directly from our hearts, because we know her so well.  We adore her.  And she is - the tiniest bit - beepy.

Friday, November 27, 2015

You Can't Buy Milk at a Hardware Store

I’ve written here before about my best friend from childhood - my first friend EVER - Casey.  Her first memory is gazing into my crib and seeing me for the first time.  My first memory is crying when she and her brother went home after “swimming” in my wading pool - I missed them.

Casey has always been a touchstone for me.  Old friends are great for that.  They know you so well, so elementally.  They’ve seen you through all the phases of you.  They know where you come from, sometimes they have an idea of where you’re going.

Casey came into the shop the other day with her girlfriend, Sarah.  Sarah is rad.  As rad as Casey.  Just as soulful and smart and peppery.  Together, like any great couple, they crackle.  They give me hope.

We sat on the old porch in the sun.  I told them about my latest and ongoing bullshit with a particular man that makes me crazy - in good ways and bad.  I asked for advice.

“You can’t buy milk at a hardware store,” said Sarah.

Right.  Yes.  It doesn’t matter how good a hardware store it is.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have.  That store just doesn’t have milk.

So that got me thinking.  Do I actually want milk?  I mean, if I’m spending all this time and energy at the hardware store then I must be after nails, right?

Sarah, wise Sarah, then said “The sky is blue.”

Right.  The sky is blue.  You can wish for it to be green, you can do everything in your power to make it green, but the sky is blue.  And it’s not your fault that it’s blue, that it won’t, no matter how hard you wish it, turn green.  It just is.

Then Casey said “You’re ready for what you’re ready for.”

Yes.  If I’m at the hardware store, I’m not yet ready for milk.  If I’m wishing the sky is green, I’m probably not ready to enjoy the blue.

So the sky is blue, you can’t buy milk at a hardware store and I’m ready for what I’m ready for.  One day, under a blue sky, I’m gonna walk into a grocery store and peacefully buy some milk.  I’m gonna drink that milk and then I’m gonna go back for more.

Today I’m trying hard not to think about nails.  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Choose Me

I think there’s been a paradigm shift over here.

As evidenced in these pages, I’ve been struggling with the idea of being alone, romantically speaking.  I’ve sworn off men like you might swear off coffee.  But like all diets, that doesn’t really work.  Living in the negative only makes you want that thing you’re craving.

Here’s what’s struck me:  What if being alone was my first choice?  Because, I’m discovering, it’s rad.  Long walks, crossword puzzles, novels, movies, sewing, the company of my kids and my little kitty, occasionally friends.  At this point all that is much preferred to man-vetting, anxious first dates, unsatisfactory rollings-around, do-I-like-him/does-he-like-me, will-he-call/I-wish-he-would-leave-me-alone.  But, again, even more than the negatives of dating, it’s the positives of my own company that are wooing me.  I’m terrific company – I really appreciate my taste in film.

I’ve taken on a month of self-care.  Racheted down my expectations of myself as much as possible.  My house is bought and habitable, my business is successful, my kids, for the most part, are well.  Maybe I can take a little breather.  And so I’ve been getting extra sleep.  On the mornings I don’t have kids and don’t have to teach (admittedly a rare coincidence), I lay in bed for a half an hour, kitty purring on my chest, watching the sunlight creep across the ceiling.

I’ve taken to asking myself, “Is what I’m about to consume or engage in nourishing?”  I’ve cut out the alcohol, at least for now.  I’ve edited the junk food.  I tried to kick my daily cup of coffee but after one sleepy day decided it’s feeding something in me.  Again, though, I’m trying to stay in the positive.  I’m trying to see my existence not as limited but as expansive.  I’m saying yes to a clear mind instead of no to a glass of wine.

I’ve said here before that maybe I should forget about love for awhile.  That has seemed a herculean task.  Now I’m thinking, what if I love this life of mine so much that I don’t want to invite some man into it?  What if I cruise this way for awhile until someone truly special has to talk me out of it?  What if I choose me?

Yesterday Mae and I were talking about our new kitty.  Mae had pushed for the acquisition of a cat, I had resisted.  Waking up with a rat in my hair had won me over to the idea.  Her name is Ponya, which means rat in Swahili.  She’s incredibly sweet.  I was congratulating Mae on her idea, telling her how much I adore this cat.  I said, “She keeps me from being lonely”, which, after a pause, sent us into whoops of laughter.  Such a pathetic statement (though true).  Mae predicted that once all the kids were grown and out of the house, I’d have twenty cats, happily chat to them and only them.  And I said, “You know what?  I could do worse.”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

In the Quiet

Every other Sunday is my day off; the one day twice monthly when I’m free from work and kid obligations.  I generally, truth be told, spend the day sewing – because that is what I love.  But I try not to do stuff I don’t love – pay bills, clean bathrooms, sort recycling.  I try to let the day be free.

Today was one of those Sundays.  I slept in (until 8:00!), I walked to town for coffee, I sat in the cafĂ© and worked a crossword on my phone, I made ponchos out of old cashmere sweaters, I read my tarot cards, I walked to town to pick up dinner.  I spent the majority of the day in silence.  Yes, I listened to podcasts while I sewed, but I didn’t really talk to anyone except the cat (and that consisted of “I wuv you, little kitty, do you know that?  I WUV you”).

My life is full, my life is excellent.  There’s lots of noise, which I like.  Friends, teaching, working at the shop, kids, all noisy.  Twice a month I get quiet.  Which I also like.

I’ve been doing this thing lately at the end of the barre class I teach.  It’s the moment when the students lay on the floor with their eyes closed, a mini-meditation.  I tell them to take a deep breath and release it.  Take another big breath and release it.  Take a huge breath, the biggest breath of the day.  Breathe in everything you’re carrying, everything that’s worrying you.  Hold it in.  Then release that breath, release all that worry.  Let it fall into the floor.  You can pick it up again in a minute, I promise.  And now find your heart.  Without all that other noise, those worries badgering you for attention, what does your heart say?  How are you, really?

On these rare Sundays I have a day to listen to my heart.  And often that’s not so comfortable for me.  My heart is pretty sad, much of the time.  It’s been a rough few years for this old heart, so there’s that.  But there’s all the sadness that it’s held for so long.  Loneliness, fear, grief going back decades.  That is what my heart carries.  And it can’t seem to put it down.  Listening to that sad rhythm, to that melancholy beat, touching what’s painful, that’s not easy.  But, in the end, it’s probably a good idea.  Because how else am I going to heal?  How else am I going to free myself of my circumstances up to this point?  How else am I going to walk forward, heart open and brave?

I’m a conundrum.  A social, chatty, connective person who is both terrified of being alone and craves it.  I’m excellent company, there’s no doubt.  On these quiet Sundays, that’s what I’ve got.  In the end, that’s all I can depend on.  Okay, that and the kitty.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


The kids and I spent the last week at family camp.  Emandal, farm on a river, the best week of the year hands-down.  We attend the same session every summer – Week Five – and have a wealth of camp friends who do the same.  Every August we reconvene, check in, break it down, talk about what’s next.

If last year was about processing my divorce, this year was taking a deep look at romantic love.  Chatting with my friends, at the farmhouse, at the river, at the campfire, slowly peeling back the layers of what I want and why.

My friend, Bonnie, brought tarot cards and gave readings in the gathering dark after dinner.  Every reading felt uncanny.  It’s like visiting a psychic – hearing what you didn’t know you knew.  Same thing for tarot, it turns out.  The cards said that the world is at my feet.  There is darkness behind and light up ahead.  But to get there, to fulfill those dreams, I need to take care.  I need to take some time to retreat, to pull back into my shell, to restore.  I need to be careful of putting obstacles in my way, specifically dalliances with men who aren’t available.  And I need to relinquish control – which I took to mean both control of finding my love and manipulation of the relationship once it manifests.

I was joking at the beginning of the week about a dating site I want to start called “Vali-Dating”.  You shop for dates but are really just there to get your ego stroked.  To know that someone in the outside world finds you attractive, finds you worthy.  I’ve used dating websites before this way, mostly unconsciously.

But then later in the week, at the final campfire, during what my friend Chip calls “Campfire Stage Four”, when the kids have departed, the bourbon has been uncorked and the coals burn low, Chip said something that sunk my vali-dating joke straight down to the bottom of the river. 

I was telling him how I struggle with the idea of love.  How I want this thing, this great love, so badly, this complete union, this truly-madly-deeply.  But how, as yet, I haven’t been able to achieve it.  He said a lot in response but the sentence that made me burst into surprised tears was this:  “You need to stop looking for validation”.

Because I do.  That’s my M.O.  I believe myself to be smart, charming, sexy, fun – at least I believe that in my head.  But my heart isn’t sure.  My heart believes I’m not quite worthy.  And so I look for proof that I am, generally in the form of a male gaze.

Yesterday we all went down to the river to swim at the base of Skull Rock, a giant piece of granite thrusting towards the sky.  Mae immediately scrambled to the top, a good twenty or thirty feet up, and leapt with a joyful yelp into the water.  As the afternoon progressed, more kids and adults climbed and jumped.  Mostly kids, mostly men.  Soon my friend Elizabeth eased her way up.  Then Bonnie.  Looking at these women climb that rock face – not easy and frankly quite scary – then fly out into the abyss, I was awed.  Not only because they looked like the cover of an Athleta catalog, all tensed muscle and bikini.  But because they were risking failure, going after something they wanted, not worrying about how they appeared to others.

I didn’t climb Skull Rock.  I’m not great with taking physical risks, I have old beliefs about a lack of upper body strength (surely cured by teaching barre class), but mostly I was afraid of how awkward I would look to the crowd gathered below, this group of people who love me no matter what.

So what if I lived as if no one was watching?  What if I just didn’t give a shit?  What if I climbed the rock, followed my own compass, maybe even forgot about love for awhile?

The cards – and Chip – seem to think I should spend some time alone.  Burrow into my new house, cuddle up with my kids, make my art.  Stop looking around for who’s watching.  Maybe heal this old heart of mine, once and for all.

And who knows, maybe next year I’ll scale Skull Rock, slowly, carefully, probably awkwardly.  And take a huge leap out into the air; free.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


It’s 6:20 on a Saturday morning.  I’ve been up since five.  Not because I have to, I just couldn’t sleep.  Too much going on.

A lot has happened in the last couple months.  I opened a new store – the best Shop ever.  Hand-built with my colleagues (that’s how I’m now referring to my co-owners, Jane, Val and Michele – my colleagues.  I’m pretending we’re doctors), it is a visual feast.  Housed in an old post office circa 1859, the building buffed within an inch of its life and filled with everything we make and find.  It’s been a huge success, in every way.  I may be able to pay my rent after all.

Speaking of which, the house I’ve been renting went up for sale.  After I tried to buy it.  I didn’t have the $800,000 for my 800 square foot cottage so shit out of luck.  I was looking for another rental (so insanely expensive, so demoralizing) when I lucked into escrow on a house on the hill.  Skin of my teeth, seat of my pants, hair of my chinny chin chin, we close June 2nd.   Every star aligned and an extremely good friend stepped in to co-sign (turns out the bank doesn’t trust a stay-at-home-mom freshly turned full-time artist).  Somehow I’m managing to stay in Marin, a market I thought I might be priced out of.

And I’m officially divorced.  Which I think is good news?

Sprinkled in there have been some dates, some mini love affairs.  It seems the more intense the rest of my life the more release I seek romantically.  Which makes for not a lot of sleep and some emotional turmoil.

I spent last week weeping (okay, and this one).  Last Thursday I got news that a good friend, a person that has always awed me with her energy and beauty and heart, is seriously ill.  My dear friend Megan’s mom died last Saturday.  I had thought about her (Megan’s mom but Megan, too) every hour of that week that was her last.  On Sunday I went to a memorial for my high school drama teacher, a man that had a huge influence on my life.   Weep, weep, weep, weep.  And then, cherry on top, on Monday I watched the series finale of Mad Men.  In the last pivotal scene, a group therapy session at a hippie retreat, I watched my friend from college, Evan Arnold, give a heartbreaking performance.  I would have cried anyway but the fact that I knew this guy sent me over the edge.

I’m sitting in change.  I have been for two years.  I’ve been grappling with big questions.  What is romantic love?  What is self-love?  How do I squeeze every last drop of this life, find adventure (of all sorts) and live with the steadiness it takes to raise children?  What is the balance of art and commerce?  Can I love what I do and make a decent enough living to make it in one of the most expensive places in the world?  How deeply can I live?  How deeply can I feel?  How much can I grow?

I can’t believe I’m still talking about a TV show but the last scenes of Mad Men are a montage of the main characters – where they’ve landed, intimations of where they’re going.  Joan – gorgeous, voluptuous Joan – is, for once, romantically unencumbered.  We see here in her living room, post-its on the wall above the dining table, managing her nascent production company.  She has let a man walk out of her life, probably her great love, but she is smiling.  She’s making her own way, she is loving her work, she is fully alive.  I’ve carried that image with me all week, in the midst of my own personal changes, in the midst of death and illness, in the midst of romantic entanglements, in the midst of my own deeply satisfying work.  Maybe, romantic though I am, I’ll nurture myself most  by listening to my own creativity, by building this business that so excites me.  Maybe I’m Joan.  Sexy, lovable, but choosing myself first.  Living in my own house on the hill, happily constructing beautiful objects out of other people’s throw-aways, raising these children I love so passionately.  Maybe that’s where I’ve landed, where I’m going.  Alone, yes, but so so alive.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

There Are Places I Remember

I’ve known a handful of magic places in my life; pockets carved out by time and people.  They’re chapters in my life, they’re what’s made me.

The first was the Lane, a short dead-end street on the side of Mount Tam.  My childhood home was on the Lane (Friars Lane to the uninitiated) but my house was not what made the Lane magic.  My best friend, Casey, who also lived on the lane was responsible for that.  Together we created intricate stories, stories we’d draw on the pavement and step into.  We roamed from her backyard to mine, to the Lane and back, speaking the voices of the characters that inhabited our secret worlds.  This went on for a good ten years.

The second magic place was Ruby Scott Theatre at Tam High.  It was a black box, morphing with every production.  There I met Megan, I met Evany, I met many of the people that are still with me.  Under the guidance of the indomitable Dan Caldwell, our drama teacher, we wrote, we directed, we produced, we acted.  It was our shelter in the storm of adolescence.  We found a moment in a single pool of light where we could actually be ourselves.

The next was Room 1340 in McGowan Hall at UCLA.   It was a room, yes, but a big room, a theater, another black box.  There I met more drama freaks, made more drama, pulled off the layers of girlhood one by one until I found the woman underneath.  The Freud Playhouse, the mainstage next door, was much fancier, much more prestigious.  But what we created in 1340 was grittier, it was three-dimensional, it was true.

Number four, another theater.  This one was the Cast Theater in Hollywood.  When one thinks “Hollywood” one is not imagining the Cast, at least in the nineties.  It was two tiny theaters housed in one run-down building on a residential street in a mostly Latino neighborhood.  We performed original plays by Justin Tanner, our wunderkind.  For five years running I performed a play called “Pot Mom” every Saturday night.  It was everything the title implies – irreverent, pee-your-pants funny but with a huge heart.  We were a ragged band of actors, shouting our lines over the thumping Mariachi from next door, movie stars in the audience.

Number five was the first house I ever owned.  It was 750 square feet, on a hill in Fairfax.  Ben and I bought it as newlyweds, a fixer-upper we quickly shone into submission.  There we conceived both girls, the most magic you can make.  I gave birth to Lana in that house.   We had first steps, first words.

Number six, the very last magic place on my list, is The Garage.  This is the design collective I’m a part of in my little town.  We’re a retail shop housed in an old fix-it garage, largely unimproved.  We are all makers.  Everything you find here is unique and beautiful.

If all the places on my lists are scenes of creativity, The Garage fits right in.  Here I discovered that people might actually want to buy the stuff I make, the stuff I’ve been making for years just to feed my soul; the ponchos out of old cashmere sweaters, the dog-bowl stands out of vintage fruit crates, the brown sugar fudge that was my father’s favorite.  I’ve discovered a group of artists unlike my former actor tribes; they are visual, often internal, but no less magic, no less true.

This coming Sunday we close our doors.  Our building has sold, we have to move out.  A few of us are opening a new store in nearby Olema, a place that will undoubtedly be my next magic spot, an exciting prospect.  But on Sunday we will say goodbye to this place, this entity that for me, at least, has been a life-changer.  I’ve spent two years here, blossoming from a stay-at-home mom to a business owner.  I have been inspired and supported by these gorgeous people around me.  I’ve said before that the Garage has become the beating heart of Fairfax.  On Sunday will be a little death.  And all I can say is thank you.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


When I was pregnant with Mae, my first kid, I was pretty sure that being a mother was going to be like babysitting – kinda fun, kinda boring.  Then, (thirteen years ago yesterday, to be exact) she was born.  In that first moment I saw her squalling Mae-Mae face, I discovered that, actually, being a parent, particularly of a baby, is like being in the presence of a movie star.  Every move, every sound, every glance, magic.  Being a mother, it turns out, is falling in love.

Mihiretu and I have been working on our attachment.  I consult with Aaron, our therapist, and he tells me how to alter my behavior around Mihiretu.  Walk out of the room when he’s misbehaving, check in with him every half hour or so he knows I’m there.  Starve the negative attachment, build the positive attachment.

We talk every week, Aaron and I.  He’s on the East Coast, I’ve never met him.  Mihiretu doesn’t even know he’s in therapy.  This last Monday, I took a break from painting our new store out in West Marin and dialed the New Jersey number at the appointed time.  I sat outside on an old metal chair in the alley behind the store, plugging my non-phone ear to drown the sound of the occasional car, early spring sun warming my shoulders.

Aaron said something that quietly blew my mind, continues to reverberate in me.  He said that I need to open my heart to Mihiretu.  When he enters a room, I need to whole-heartedly greet him, turn my body toward him, smile.  This is a kid, he said, who’s lived his life on a starvation diet of love.  Since his adoption, he’s been pushing away everyone he cares about – testing them to make sure they’ll stay.  And so we, his family, have hardened under this constant barrage of little boy abuse.  Historically, he’s thrown rocks, he’s hit, he’s kicked, he’s sworn, he’s shrieked, he’s stolen, he’s destroyed.  When he walks into a room, we’ve been trained to cower.

For whatever reason, this depiction of Mihiretu, of a boy who’s starving, got me.  Because I’m the one that can feed him.  I’ve been following all the recommended behavioral modifications for the month that I’ve been working with Aaron, but this week, the therapy entered my heart.  It was the key that unlocked me.

And so, when Mihiretu enters a room, I stop what I’m doing, I look him in the eye, I smile and I say, “Hi, Buddy”.  Every ten minutes or so I rub his knee or shoulder, tell him I love him.  He seems a little bewildered by it, but certainly not unreceptive.

Two nights ago we were lying in his bed.  He was telling me about his day, about his friends at school, about his friends in general.  He said, “You know who my favorite girl?”

And I said, “Um, no.  Let me think.  Alana?  From school?”

“Nah,” he said shyly, gazing at me from under his eyelashes.  “I lookin’ at her.”

If being a mother is falling in love, maybe six years into being Mihiretu’s mother, the love affair is finally beginning.  I’m finally feeding my starving child.  And this whole time I didn’t even know he was hungry. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Selfish Shellfish

I’m employing a new therapy with Mihiretu.  Like most adopted kids, particularly those who found their new families after infancy, Mihiretu has attachment issues.  It plays out in all kinds of ways, most of all behaviorally.  He is an incredible person, but often it feels like we’re living with a gleeful poltergeist.  He destroys homework, he hides favorite stuffed animals, he throws his dirty underwear up onto the ceiling fan.

We’ve addressed this with many different therapies; psychotherapy, medication, OT.  This new approach is all about attachment, only about attachment.  The hope is once he feels securely attached the negative attention-seeking behaviors will evaporate.

In the meantime, by the request of our therapist, Mihiretu is living full-time with me.  This therapist believes that a secure attachment begins with the mother.

I’m not a selfless person.  Really at all.  I’m pretty selfish, actually.  Vain, opinionated, pleasure-seeking.  Maybe to compensate for this basic nature, I’ve put myself into a position where I must be selfless.  Three kids, the youngest of which demands PhD-level parenting.  Really, now that I’m here, now that I’m in the situation that I set up for myself, the most selfish thing I can do is turn this kid around.  Otherwise he’ll torture me for the rest of my life in bigger and bigger ways.  And yes, of course, I adore him.  I want him to have a happy and healthy life.  I want that for all my kids and this current path seems the only way to that end.

The therapy is intense.  I’m changing my behavior with Mihiretu, neutralizing the negative attachment so we can form a positive one.  I’m working on it every moment I’m with him.  He doesn’t like it, no surprise.  It’s completely exhausting and unnerving.  And it’s my work for the next six months to a year.

So all my fun will come down a notch.  Dating will be on a low simmer, if the stove is on at all.  Not a lot of nights out with friends.  Selfish shellfish won’t get much playtime.  I’m trying to be okay with this.  Most moments I am.  Though when he’s screaming at me I can feel a little cornered, a little alone. When his behavior is bad, all I want to do is run away.  Now I must turn around and face it.  There’s no way out but through.

Wish me luck.  I’m going to need it.  Though if there’s one thing I can do in this lifetime, putting my three kids out in the world as whole people is it.   Maybe once that’s done I can go back to being selfish.  Selfish, selfish old lady.

Monday, January 19, 2015


I was walking through Fairfax yesterday afternoon, Sunny pulling the leash ahead of me, on the way back from a short stint working the counter at The Garage, idly checking what was playing at the movie theater, when it struck me how very lucky I am.

I live in my favorite town in the world, a quirky Mayberry, chock full of Nuevo-hippies, transsexuals, artists of every stripe, live music always within a stone’s throw.  I can’t walk twenty feet without seeing someone I know and likely love.  I step from my door into the woods, onto the mountain, one vista opening onto another.  A thirty-minute drive takes me to a world-class city, a metropolis unique in its love of human rights, of art, of food; a jewel in the fog.

My work is my passion.  I’d be doing it even if I weren’t being paid.  I’m never happier than with my hands full of old cashmere sweaters, cutting, shaping, sewing; crafting a treasure from trash.  I'm an essential part of the coolest store in town, nestled in a community of makers.  And, in yet another cool store just around the corner, I get to teach the women of this town how to move their bodies, how to find fitness and strength at any age.

My fabric of friends is a tapestry.  They make my life infinitely richer, they keep me alive in all kinds of ways.

My children are my beating heart.  From cuddling with Mihiretu on the couch, to listening to Lana narrate the intricacies of her outfit, to laying with Mae in my bed, quizzing her on Spanish vocabulary, both of us snorting with laughter (I like to roll my r’s).

My house is tiny and gorgeous, every corner has a purpose and a beauty.  I can vacuum the whole thing from one electrical outlet in five minutes flat.  It holds us, it cradles us.

And then there’s love.  This whole new world.  I no longer have partnership, true.  One day I’ll find that again.  But in the meantime, there’s so much that’s new.  New people, new ways of being.  I’m in my body, really in my body, in a way I haven’t been for a very long time.  I feel awake.  In the midst of my daily life of work and friends and kids, I have episodes of romance.  Episodes that I can get lost in like a dream.  Completely delicious.

I am a lucky girl.  A very lucky, almost-divorced, less-than-financially-sound, often-sobbing-on-the-couch, forty-four-year-old girl.  Can I get a hallelujah?