Sunday, January 31, 2016

Io Sono Sola

When I was a freshman at UCLA, I was in a play called “Automatic Cocktail”, an original one-act about the Surrealist movement.  The play itself was surreal; choppy, non-linear, lots of bowler hats.  Right up to the final dress rehearsal, I had no idea what an audience would make of it.  I had no idea what I made of it.  

Here’s what I remember.  Recreating a painting (Magritte? Picasso?), my friend Maury’s arms around me, dipping me, his mouth at my neck.  Later, another back bend, hands wrapped in lengths of white fabric, two men holding the ends while I arched backwards slowly, rhythmically to Philip Glass, copious amounts of long hair swinging (this was 1988, after all).  All of us, onstage at once, saying in different languages “I am so lonely and alone”.

My translation (procured from my Italian professor) was “Io sono sola y mi senta sola”.  This phrase, more than anything, has stuck with me.

The play, when it did get in front of an audience, was a huge hit (for a one-act…in college).  I wasn’t sure what we were all responding to but there was something in these disjointed images, these whiffs of sex and sadness that were unbearably true.

I climbed Mt. Baldy this afternoon, the highest point near me (where, ironically, I often visit at my lowest points).  I walk for thirty minutes uphill.  At the top I’m rewarded with the entire Bay Area laid out before me; Mt. Tam, Mt. Diablo, the city shimmering in the distance.  Today I stretched my arms wide as the cold air swirled around me.

“Unsure”, I said, my voice snatched by the wind.  Big breath.  “Unsure.”

As I turned my back on the view to head down the hill home, I thought “Io sono sola y mi senta sola.”  Big breath.  I am so lonely and alone.

I walked down the path, skirting the mud, one sneakered foot in front of the other.  We are all so lonely and alone.  That was the whole point in that funny little play.  Many voices, many languages, all speaking isolation but indeed creating a chorus: We are so lonely and alone.  That’s the beauty, that’s the poetry, that’s the heartbreak.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Taking Sides

Yesterday afternoon, out of nowhere, I was overtaken by fury.  Yes, my period is due in a few days but these dark clouds of premenstrual rage always contain at least one raindrop of justified anger.

I’m mad that I’ve lost friends because of my divorce.  I’m mad that I sometimes walk down the streets of my small town and someone I once knew avoids my eyes.  

A large part of these losses, I believe, are on me.  When Ben and I split, I pulled deep into my shell as I worked to rebuild my life.  Friendships needs nurturing and I wasn’t up to the task the way I once was.

But.  And.  I also feel there are many people in our community who joined Team Ben.  Not because Ben asked them to take sides - all the same, sides were taken.  And the real losers when that happens?  Team Kids.  Mae and Lana are fully aware that Ben has maintained friendships that I have lost, that I am, to a degree, a persona non-grata.  They’re filing that away in their young psyches, internalizing, our divorce solidifying as part of what they’ll carry into adulthood.

We all deal with break-ups of friends.  It’s sticky.  But here’s what I’ll say.  You have no idea what’s going on in someone else’s relationship.  The only people that can attest to that are the two people in it - and even then there’s some mystery.  Assume nothing.  Even when affairs come into play - the last stop on the Divorce Express - it’s not your job to decide who’s right and who’s wrong.  We’re human, we’re messy, go easy.

It’s easy to believe that your marriage is solid, that it’ll last forever.  That is completely possible.  Odds are almost in your favor.  But I would argue that our relationships are more delicate than we believe.  A marriage can - easily - come crashing to the ground.  And if that happens to you, god forbid, I will be happy to make you a cup of tea, hold your hand, push the box of Kleenex to your side of the table.  And I’ll do the same with your ex.

Divorce is nobody’s fault - it’s everybody’s fault.  A failed marriage is not an indicator of compromised character - it just is.  Everything dies, some marriages die sooner and more spectacularly than others.  And those people in the midst of that grief?  They could use a friend.

Friday, January 22, 2016


It’s been feeling very January around here lately.  It’s gray, it’s wet, it’s cold, it’s quiet.  The moment the sky clears I lace up my sneakers and get out on the trails but I spend a lot of time inside watching the trees bend with the wind, the rain float by in sheets.  I’m deep in January - the month and maybe the state of being.  I’m sitting in the depth of winter in many ways.

The poet Tracy Kay Smith wrote “Perhaps the greatest error is believing we’re alone”.  I’ve been making that error a lot lately.  I’ve been living in that error.  I’m in the middle of a cloud, I see shadows as figures pass, I feel their glancing presence, but I am untouchable.

And I know that is an error.  I know, almost as much through writing this blog as anything else, that I have company.  There are loads of people who feel alone, even if they’re partnered, even if they’re surrounded by people.  I imagine we all feel that way at some point.  I’m just having a hard time getting beyond myself to connect to that commonality - to find that reflection in someone else.''

Remember back in the fall when I was trying to convince myself not to want to date?  When I was trying to be alone?  That desire to meet someone new, to hear their story, to expose my heart - that fire is out, at least for the time being.  I have no doubt this is part of the process.  I’m finally at a place where I want solitude, I can’t imagine doing anything else, and, yeah, sometimes it feels a little empty.

Because of the nature of my work, which largely consists of constructing garments out of second-hand cashmere in my under-the-carport studio, I can spend long periods without talking to anyone in a real way, with the exception of my children.  And my kids are terrific company but peer contact is vital and often missing in these short, dark days.  I have long conversations with myself, in my head, but it’s not the same as getting those thoughts out in the air, letting them touch oxygen to see if they’ll live or die.

It’s naturally a fallow season, a time to turn inwards.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Just sometimes it feels like this winter is going to last forever.  Summer seems impossible.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


David’s Bowie death really got me.  In a way that a celebrity death (beyond Princess Diana) hasn’t gotten me.  And here’s why.

David Bowie is, arguably, the first contemporary rock star of my generation to die a natural(ish) death at an old(ish) age.  Yes, he’s twenty-five years older than I am but to me and mine, he was who we wanted to be at a formative age.  He was the pinnacle of cool, but more than that, he spoke of isolation, of feeling so very out of place, of being yourself anyway, damn it.  He helped us turn and face the change, we sweet pimply adolescents.  We marched to his Fashion, we felt a million miles from Earth - alone - like Major Tom.

When I heard he had died, I was swamped with sadness.  It took me awhile to dissect but at heart I felt like a part of my youth had died.  That all those moments that I spent listening or dancing to David Bowie with all those people that I loved, that they were gone.  Not just the moments but the people.

Of course, the moments live in my heart and the people are still very much here.  But Megan and Evany and I at fifteen spazzing out and swinging our hair to Let’s Dance at a school dance-a-thon, Gib plucking phrases of Heroes on his acoustic guitar when we were nineteen and camp counselors in Upstate New York, even just the twenty-five-year-old me belting out Modern Love at the top of my lungs in my beater Mazda 323, windows down to catch the breeze on a hot LA afternoon; all of that feels lost, feels gone.

It is gone, I suppose.  And this is the first good-bye of many as those of us born in the sixties and seventies age.  We’re mortal, too, it turns out.  But somewhere within us we’re still these children that you spit on as we try to change our world.  And we’re quite aware of what we’re going through, thank you very much.  Turn and face the strange.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Walk Like a Man

Before I got married, I was pretty handy.  For a girl.  I lived alone; I built my own shelves, I changed my own headlights, I wasn’t afraid of power tools.  After I started living with Ben, those skills atrophied - he was just so much better at that stuff than I was.  We specialized; he did the tinkering and the building, I did the cooking and the cleaning.

I’ve been on my own for a couple years now and I’ve been dusting off my manly skills and even learning new ones.  I’ve fixed a clogged sink (by dismantling the plumbing underneath and removing the clog, thank you very much).  I’ve refinished the hardwood floor in the kitchen (with a palm sander, omigod, took forever).  I’ve done some roofing (building out Mae’s sleeping porch in the rental house).  I’ve attempted to trim trees (alas, not enough upper body strength to get that saw moving).  I’ve analyzed the drainage and erosion issues on my property and solved for them.  I've overseen the replacement of a sewer lateral (a sewer what?).  I’ve pondered the leaky roof (Roofer: What kind of roof do you have?  Me:  Um…flat?) I’ve tried to fix my gas oven by dismantling the thermostat.  Turns out if you pull out the thermostat on a commercial Wolf range, the gas shoots straight into your inquiring face (panicked replacement of thermostat, ensuing headache).  Every time there’s a big scary spider or, say, a giant scorpion, it’s me that vanquishes it.  I’ve awoken with a rat in my hair - IN MY HAIR - then subsequently set a trap (with Snickers - that’s the key, Snickers), listened the next night from Mihiretu’s bed as the trap sprung in my bedroom above, then heard the dragging of said trap by said rat.  Walked up the spiral staircase at six the next morning like the maid in Lizzie Borden’s house, terrified of the bloody mess I was stepping into.  Empty trap, a trail of rat blood and, bingo, in the kitchen a still-breathing but unmoving (giant) rat.  Instructed by Lana, I picked the rat up with the kitchen tongs and tossed him over the deck, hoping the three-story drop would make a quick end to his misery.  Moral: Don’t mess with my hair.

And before tackling all that, I found a house (this wasn’t solely Ben’s arena but he definitely played his part), figured out the finances and got a loan (that was all Ben), remodeled the house (again, we did this part of our lives 50/50 but I had never done it alone) and moved twice in the course of a year (lots of lifting, so much lifting).

I’ve carried kids from car to bed, from bed to car (almost always Ben’s job), I’ve taken the kids on vacation alone (again, so much carrying).

A couple days ago I realized that my tires were bald.  Like Kojak bald.  I got online, I ordered new tires (what kind of car do I have, that’s where the research started).  But in the last couple days as I’ve taken my daily walks, I’ve gazed enviously at the tread on everyone’s - EVERYONE’S - tires.  1985 Honda Civic?  Great tread.  Me, in my two-year-old mini-minivan that I use to transport three precious children?  No tread whatsoever.  It’s not so much the solving of the problem that was the issue, it was knowing there was a problem at all.

I’m learning, I’m growing, I’m enlarging my collection of power tools.  But, wow, there’s a lot I don’t know.  Man up, girl, man up.