Panorama of San Bernardino

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The conumdrum

My conumdrum is that I am happy but not content.  I have a husband who loves me, a job I love most days and three lovely dogs (no baby, but I am hopeful).

Still, something is missing.  I wake up at four a.m. most mornings brimming over with anxiety, like a boiling teapot of a human whose mind won't turn off.  I worry about everything I said the day before and everything to come.  What am I so afraid of?  What is the worst thing that could happen?

Happiness has always been an elusive concept for me.  I have written about the sad fact that I am happiest in retrospect.  I call it the rear view mirror effect where everything seems better looking back.

Is my anxiety a sign that I should be writing full-time?

Writing keeps my monsters at bay.  On good days, writing is like channeling the spirits of the past.  On bad days, it is like trying to get the last dregs of ketchup out of a stubborn bottle.  Writing for me is always satisfying.  Like scratching an itch that needs to be scratched.  Writing keeps me sane and is much better for me than Lexapro.

The conumdrum is whether I take a risk.  Should I jump off the springboard into the swimming pool of life?  What if I drown although I know, I mean I fucking know, that I am a strong swimmer and have a great backstroke.

My life has not been easy and all the good things I have achieved have taken effort and sacrifice.  The question is how much I am willing to give up for my voice to be heard.  How much am I willing to risk of my ego, of my financial stability and of my time?

Today I make a pledge to try and think about this conumdrum at length and to challenge myself to be the best I can be.  This old girl has a lot of life left in her.  She just needs a jump.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Mulligan

I feel like I have written this story before. Maybe it's been in my head a long time.  Or maybe I have written a varient of this story before but what matters is today.

Tonight, my mother-in-law made dinner: chicken with a green bean salad. As I bit into a green bean I said, "we should start a garden."

It made me think of my dad.  When he was alive, my dad loved his garden. It was small, maybe ten by ten. My parents' senior complex in Mira Loma allowed it. My dad grew zucchini, strawberries and tomatoes. He had always grown things.  He had planted geraniums in the front yard when we were little.

The gardening was probably related to my dad's love of food in general.  As a young child he grew up poor.  So poor that his parents put him and his siblings in an orphanage for two years because they could not feed him.  To my dad, food was comfort and love.  And by gardening he cultivated that.

When my mom and dad came to visit me in Houston ten years ago I had no idea that he would die less than four years later. I was working at the largest firm in Texas as a civil litigator. My parents took a train to see me. It took them almost three days.  Three days on a train sitting in a chair.  I don't know if I would do that for anyone.  My parents obviously wanted to see me.  Badly.  I had been working so much that I rarely came home to the Inland Empire.

When they arrived I was short with them.

"I have to work all week," I told my dad.

""That's OK Jennie," my dad replied.  "We will entertain ourselves."

And my parents were troopers.  My parents would drop me off at work and take my car and show themselves the sights.  When I got home, we would go grab dinner.  I can try and sugercoat it but the reality is that I worked too much. I barely spent any time with them. To think of it makes my eyes water and gives me a rock in my chest.

What the fuck was I thinking?

My dad got to know all my neighbors.  He got to know them more in one week then I had in a year. 

"My daughter is a lawyer," he would tell them proudly.

One night I came home and saw that my dad had planted tomatoes in my back yard.  I yelled at him.  Looking back, I know he was just trying to show his love.

One night, right before my parents left, we drove out to Louisiana together to go the riverboat casino. We stayed on the boat and my dad played poker while my mom and I sat in the bar.

If I had to do it over, I would spend the week with my parents showing them Houston and I would play poker with my dad at a table like he asked.  I would give him a couple of hundred dollars to gamble no questions asked.

And I would take back the rude words I said after he planted tomatoes in my backyard.

Life gives few Mulligans and that lost week in Houston is what I would do over if I could.

But I can't.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How Soon Is Now

Morrissey and his (former) band the Smiths were my haven. It started in my teenage years and continues to now. I remember first seeing the name of the band spray painted on the side of a building. Guys with dark hair and long bangs wore The Smiths patches on the outside of their trench coats and leather jackets. Morrissey expressed the angst of being human.

Morrissey was able, is able, brilliant and erudite person that he is, to illustrate the loneliness of being human in song.

Even the name of his band was melancholy. The Smiths. Every man. Every band.

Morrissey has always been more poet to me than songwriter. His lyrics are beautiful in a non obvious way. For example, he deftly captures the despair of unrequited love in my favorite song, "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" with his words "If a double decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is a heavenly way to die."

Or look at a more recent song, "The First Of The Gang To Die" which is a eulogy of sorts and starts, "You have never been in love, until you've seen the stars reflect in the reservoir."

Or maybe, you like even more yearning which is expressed in the song, "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want." The title is enough I think for you to get my point.

Morrissey made my teenage years bearable. I would cradle the vinyls of "Meat is Murder" and "The Queen is Dead" like dear friends and play his songs over and over. He made it acceptable to be depressed and lonely.

I saw the Smiths live at the Palladium in high school and remember feeling overwhelmed. It was too much really. Like the people who saw the Beatles must have felt.

We have tickets to see Morrissey in Vegas next month and I am looking forward to recapturing the magic. I am more mature as is Morrissey.

Morrissey is magic to me. He inspires me to be the best I can be and who I want to be.

The Return of the Writer

I am watching 'Return of the Jedi' on cable. It is six p.m. on New Year's Eve and I am in bed. I have a slight cold and my shih tzu Chewbaca, who looks more Ewok than Wookie, is curled next to me snoring.

I watched 'Return of the Jedi' with my dad at the drive-in thirty years ago. The saga is about a brother and sister and their father.

And my story 'Movie Time', about a childhood trip to the drive-in with my father, was published today in a literary journal.

Everything seems to have come full circle. I am forty and fatherless, but my mom is still here. We have a good relationship. I have come to realize that my mom and dad did the best they could. Our childhood was far from perfect I have to admit, but my parents worked hard to provide for us. My mom waitressed and my dad worked at Mayflower Moving Company. My dad chose the back breaking work of moving furniture over long distance trucking. He didn't want to be away from us girls for long stretches. So instead he picked up dressers and sofas and used his tips to treat us to Pioneer Chicken on Friday nights. We ate the orange fried chicken with one hand while our other hand held our playing cards for our Friday night ritual of a game of rummy.

My mom and dad had uniforms. Those uniforms were as much a part of my childhood as television and fast food. My dad wore a dark green Mayflower moving shirt that was stained in sweat. My mom's uniform was a red Chinese style shirt with black pants. The shirt was stained with oil and soy sauce. My husband and I are lucky we don't wear similar uniforms day in and day out. My husband is a dentist that used to be a mechanic and I am a lawyer who used to waitress.

Our blue collar roots keep us sane and humble. We never let each other forget where we came from.

My mom never learned how to cook. My sisters and I were happy when she did a taco night which equaled ground beef in canned red sauce spooned into store bought taco shells. She was not a very authentic Mexican chef. And neither am I. My sole culinary creation is enchiladas. I tell my husband that I don't cook, I order.

My dad always did the cooking. He cooked for my sisters and I and for my mom. He showed his love through food. We may not have loved his meatloaf as kids but I sometimes crave it as an adult. My husband is similar in that he takes care of me and cooks for me. This afternoon he made pizza and wings and filet mignon is on the menu for dinner.

I have always written. As a young girl I wanted to write the sequel to Rhett and Scarlett's love story. Laura Wilder and Judy Blume were my literary idols. Now, in my forties, I define myself once again as I did as a child, as a writer.

I imagine myself as a kind of writer extraordinaire and my dreams are similar to the protagonist's delusions of grandeur in Judy Blume's novel "Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself".

I picture myself on a stage reading to a quiet audience. They give me a standing ovation.

I shake myself awake. I am dreaming. Of times long past and times to come. The writer, the dreamer, the yearner is back.

The Medium

Watching someone die changes you. When the paramedic asked me, "Should we go on?" I had to say no.

My father had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three weeks earlier. He died on January 14, 2006.

Writing gave me a place to put my grief. The grief started out as poems and then morphed into stories. Now a book. A book is harder.

I channel the memories like a medium when I write. I can sometimes hear my father's voice in my ear. I suppose it is a way of keeping him here with me.

My father was not perfect. He was just a guy born right after the Great Depression who grew up dirt poor in Great Falls, Montana. He lived in an orphanage for a couple of years when his parents couldn't feed him.

He loved fiery Mexican women and adored his children. And his beer. You can't forget the beer.

The writing started out as therapy, a catharsis. And now it's something more. It is a kind of quest to capture the characters of my childhood.

And to memorialize this funny thing we call life.

New Year

2013 is a new year and a new day. If I sometimes sound like a Weight Watchers' commercial it's because I am one. 2012 was the year I lost almost ninety pounds. I had the gastric the late summer of 2011, but 2012 was when most of the weight came off. I feel different. It wasn't just the weight although that was a big part of it. I wouldn't be able to pad down the hall in the mornings. My feet were too tender and it was like walking on needles. My knees were going out.

Our stairs were a problem. I kept on falling. The weight made my body out of balance.

The weight also made me emotionally off balance. I'm a mess I admit. But since the surgery food is no longer the panacea. Nor is alcohol. I have to deal with my emotion.

Like an adult.

When I was little, I thought adults were all powerful and all knowing. As an adult, I see it is all an act. We are all just pretending to be adults but are little children inside.

This new year my goal is to try and pretend more. A wise attorney once told me that pretending was at least half the game. He was right. I'm great at pretending in my work life. I love fighting for my clients in my role as an attorney. And it is a role I play well.

In my personal life, the same is not always true. I know I am a writer. But I have a problem visualizing it happening. The same with having a baby. Maybe I don't wanna grow up.

Yet I know I have to. We all do. Someday.

That someday for me, is less than a week away. 2013 will be the year of the book or the baby or both.

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now

There is an old Smiths song that goes "I was looking for a job and then I found a job and heaven knows I'm miserable now".

Please don't call me ungrateful. I know I have it good but life could be better.

I have a great job as a public defender. I spent years at large civil corporate law firms wanting to slit my wrists with a paper clip. It was only when I came to the Public Defender's Office that I found fulfillment representing the indigent. I love what I do. Fighting for the underdog makes me happy.

And I get six weeks of vacation and county paid holidays off.

Still I know there is more out there for me. I've been working on my memoir for six years since my father's death in 2006. His eulogy turned into one of the early stories in my book and that story is being published in a literary journal next week. I've come a long way. I've attended writing classes, week long workshops and started a blog. But still. Six years.

I wish I could spend one year writing and editing. We don't have kids so my only distraction would be my shih tzus and my mother in law (who gets up at eleven am and I get up at five am so we are set on that one).

To imagine it is to believe it can happen. I have had to convince myself that I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. I click my heels and say it over and over.

My work has value is my other mantra. My stories need to be told. The story of a little girl and her two sisters growing up in a chaotic household with an alcoholic father and crazy mother. This is the stuff from which great memoirs are made.

I am going to keep telling myself that until I believe it.