My Soul’s Voice

It’s been a long time since I’ve written, and much has happened since my last entry. I honestly haven’t been too inspired to write as nothing really felt worth writing about in my life since I moved to the Bay Area. I love it here and it feels like home, but personally, my life was just kind of meandering as I tried to figure out what my next chapter in life would look like. I can see that next chapter now, and I am bursting with inspiration and energy. My friend Kirsten once said when she picked up a flute after years of not playing, “my soul has a voice again.”  I love that she said this because I completely understand it. It’s how I feel right now.

Many moons ago, I had a very bad experience with audio engineering in college. It left me with many demons holding me in their grip. I had a “mentor” who had a bit of a sadistic glee in cutting people down. He would give me an “A” or “B” on a paper but mock my writing style on the margins like, “Gee, can you use that word one more time?” He would write after a series of put downs, “see me after class” and when I’d see him, he’d get mad that I approached him and point to the nearest exit without a word to tell me get me the fuck out of his sight. He basically told me I was an idiot who had no business doing engineering. What made everything such a mindfuck is he’d pretend to like you and believe in you one minute and then destroy you the next.  In short, he was a damaged performer and not a teacher – everyone loved him until the curtain came down. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until fairly recently, despite other students telling me as much at the time.

To be fair, I was not the best student. I was certainly not the worst and I did muddle through and get my degree, but I can see why a teacher would have been dismissive of me at that point in my life. I was fighting against severe depression and anxiety, and just getting out of bed was a challenge. I didn’t have the energy to be a Hermione or a cheerleader, and I certainly didn’t have the energy to study or practice daily for hours on end. I want to be clear that my failure is 100% MY failure; it’s not on my asshole instructor. All I can say is he gave a living, breathing voice to the doubts and fears I already had in my head. When that happens, it’s a lot easier to believe that they are true.

So that is the background. From that point until about 8 or so months ago, I absolutely believed I had no aptitude for engineering. Okay – maybe I didn’t absolutely believe it, because 8 months ago I saw that Chabot College offered an Audio Recording class and something stirred within me. I felt a need to right the wrongs of the past and truly test myself. I deserved a real shot at this thing, and bonus! unlike my original experience, you actually got to work in a studio and touch shit. It wasn’t “write on a white board and memorize these frequencies”, it was actual hands-on stuff. I promised myself that I would take everything one day and one challenge at a time. I didn’t dare to dream, I just wanted to try my best and see what happened.

As last semester went on, the voice in my head started morphing. This is basically a sampling of thoughts through the course these past two semesters:

  • “This console is huge and intimidating; if I can learn even half of it, that will be amazing.”
  • “This makes sense.”
  • “This is fun.”
  • “Maybe I don’t suck at this.”
  • “I could do this all day.”
  • “I’m like Kirsten – my soul has a voice again.”
  • “I think I’m actually pretty good at this, but the real test will be next semester.”
  • “I can’t believe how much I’ve learned”
  • “I have so much to learn, but this is amazing.”
  • “I hope I’m in charge of the console on this upcoming session.”
  • “I am in a zone.”
  • “I have to do this for a living.”
  • “I may be the best student in class.”
  • Finally, after this past Friday, “maybe I’m not the best student in class, but I have a lot going for me and I am damn close to being at the top. Time to get to work.”

Of course, I’m not perfect no matter how much I want to be. There have been a few hiccups, and sometimes it takes me a minute to latch on to a concept. But? That’s okay. Why is it okay? BECAUSE THIS IS FREAKING AMAZING AND FUN! I have not been this happy or inspired in a very long time. As you know, I love writing music, but this is even better; where songwriting is mostly subjective, engineering is objective and subjective. It’s both science and magic. One part of you is reaching up to the heavens, the other part of you is reaching into the earth and you become a conduit for something that can be exceptionally beautiful. How amazing is that? I am so grateful I am experiencing this. And I’m pretty good! Holy shit.

This is pure joy. I hope to god after this class I’m able to intern and find work so I can keep doing this and feeding my soul.

I always close out these posts with a “moral of the story” thing, don’t I? This one is pretty obvious: what have you failed at? What eats away at you a little because it feels like unfinished business? It is there waiting for you. It’s a wall that says, “I dare you to try and climb me again. Here’s a rope: you can hang yourself with it or you can use it to pull yourself up, but for god’s sake, do something. I dare you.

Screw the rope; it’s time to blow that wall the hell up.


**Note: I have no idea how often I will be posting, so I’ve simplified the format of the blog and I’m probably going to rearrange my posts so my favorites and the most popular ones in the archives are the most accessible.

I Hate You, Michael Landon

[Originally posted on November 11, 2011. Surprisingly, this is the most viewed and shared post I have ever written. The internet is mesmerized by Pa Landon's apple-cheeked death gaze.]

An essential part of growing up for any virgin to life is to have your spirits lifted, then promptly trampled on by Michael Landon.

Growing up, I was a Little House on the Prairie nut.  From episode one, I cared about the Ingalls family and their trials and tribulations.  I ignored the fact that Pa had a perm; I ignored the tire tracks appearing on prairie shots, or how the Midwest looked like a California desert.  At 5 p.m. every weekday, I turned on WPIX to become a part of the syndicated Little House world.  I cheered for the characters when they triumphed and wept when they struggled.

And Lord, how they struggled.  You see, everyone views Michael Landon as this great guy who created wonderful family shows to inspire us and give us hope.  Let’s be honest – Michael Landon used his magical powers of story-telling to rip out our hearts with his mangled claw-hand, leaving black rot to form and kill off the remaining niblets of innocence and whimsy hiding deep in the recesses of our souls.

…Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration; but the man was a grim reaper.  I present to you, my lovely reader, exhibits A-Z4 in My Childhood Innocence v. Pa Landon – a list of the actual trials and tribulations that occurred on this show:

- When the Ingalls wheat crop failed, Pa went to work in mining.  He befriended a man.  The man was funny and nice.  The man was blown up by dynamite.  The camera showed a close up of Pa doing his typical heart-wrenching, apple-cheeked quiverface, telling all actors that if you are kind enough to be a guest star on a Michael Landon show, he will reward you with death.  On the plus side?  Emmy reel!

- Ma had a baby; Laura was jealous of the baby.  The baby died, and Laura thought she caused it due to having Pa Death in her genes.  She ran away to live on a mountain that miraculously appeared in the middle of the prairie.  On Miracle Mountain, she met a Special Guest Star Angel.  Pa couldn’t kill the angel, because an angel by definition isn’t alive.  Pa was disappointed.

- Ma cut her leg on a wire.  Pa and the kids conveniently travelled somewhere without her for the only time EVER on this God-forsaken show.  She developed a staph infection and slowly rotted away in the Ingalls house.  To further tease us, people would check on her by knocking on the door.  We the viewers would think, “She’s saved!”  But no; her neighbors wondered why she wasn’t answering and they’d just take off.  As their carriage clippity-clopped off into the sunset, we’d see Ma’s ashen sweaty hand desperately reach up to the door knob to catch their attention.  Of course they acted like they didn’t see her.  But watch closely: Doc Baker totally hit the horsey gas pedal when that door opened.  He’s like, “So long, bitches!  Call me when penicillin’s invented!”  She almost died, but Pa figured she’d be more useful to him alive.

- Mary gave Laura a pet raccoon.  How could this end well?  Of course, the raccoon had rabies, bit Laura, so Pa shot and killed it.

- Laura had a horse named Bunny.  She sold it to Nellie Oleson to buy Christmas gifts for the family.  Once she won the horse back, she was showing her grandfather her riding skills, and ran Bunny into a barbed wire fence.  Grandpa shot Bunny.  She died.  Laura hated Grandpa and wished him dead.  Pa gave his apple-cheeked Quiverface, but reveled inside, for this was the Grand Slam of Anguish for Pa.

- Laura had a terrier named Jack.  The dog was annoying her and she wanted it to go away.  Pa realized this was the perfect moment to further torment Laura, so he killed Jack and claimed it was old age.

- Mary went blind.  Now, in actual history, Mary went blind when she had scarlet fever.  On the show, Mary had scarlet fever long ago, and went blind as some weird aftereffect.  I had scarlet fever twice as a child.  Thanks for keeping me up at night, Pa.

- After going blind, Mary kept her childhood reading glasses in her pocket at all times as a reminder of what Pa Ingalls does to people who have hopes and dreams.

- Mary fell in love with her dreamy blind teacher Adam Kendall, and when they got married, a surprise dust storm struck and almost took out the entire wedding party.  No one saw it coming.

- Mary got pregnant.  She miscarried.

- Mary and her dreamy blind husband had to take a stagecoach ride somewhere.  The stagecoach flipped.  The driver died.  Dreamy Adam got pinned under the stagecoach.  Mary went for help and almost burned to death in a brush fire caused by her childhood reading glasses.  Pa found her just in time to save the day.  HOW CONVENIENT, PA.

- Mary thought she was regaining her sight.  It was just Michael Landon fucking with us.  She remained blind and was devastated.

- Mary and her dreamy blind husband had a baby.  They were finally happy.  Then their school for the blind burned to the ground in the dead of night, thanks to no-good Albert smoking a pipe in the basement.  Pa’s message: Smoking kills, kids.  NO PA – YOU KILL, YOU SICK APPLE-CHEEKED BASTARD.

- In said fire, Mrs. Garvey realized Mary’s baby was still in their bedroom.  Because like, EVERYONE FORGOT ABOUT THE BABY.  Like, really.  Mary and her dreamy blind husband spent like, 20 minutes on the lawn eating cold fried chicken and playing blind man’s bluff AND HAVING A MERRY LITTLE FREAKING TIME WITH 10 RANDOM BLIND KIDS, ONLY TO REALIZE ALL TOO LATE THAT UH, YEAH, BABY IS STILL CHILLIN’ IN THAT FIREY WARM BLOB ON STAGE LEFT.  Ahem.  So anyway, Mrs. Garvey went to get the baby.  Since the baby had the Pa Death in his genes, he used his rudimentary Pa Death powers to cause Mrs. Garvey to freeze like a deer, stare at him for too damn long, and they both got trapped in the room.  As the students and staff stood outside in horror, Mrs. Garvey used the Kendall baby as a battering ram* to bust through a window to try and escape.  She didn’t.  They died.  That little baby was a Pa Death Kamikazee. (*that description is courtesy of the fine people who brought us the now-defunct

- Mary became catatonic and lost her everlovin’ mind for like, three episodes.  Seriously.  She held her dead baby and creepily hummed a lullabye.  Of course, no-good Albert wussed out while Mary lost said mind.

- Dreamy Adam Kendall regained his sight, but Michael Landon only did that to screw with Mary’s head.  After this, dreamy Adam went on to create shows like “Malcolm in the Middle,” so he did well for himself.  Poor Mary landed B-rate horror movies, like “Happy Birthday to Me,” where she would slaughter people on her birthday in a rampage.

- No-good Albert shacked up with a girl named Sylvia.  They were in love.  She was raped by a mime.  The mime got her pregnant.  Albert told her they’d get married and he’d raise the baby as his own.  When the mime attacked her again, she tried to escape from him and fell off a ladder (a real ladder, not a mimed ladder, which is kind of a letdown to be honest with you).  The mime died.  Sylvia and her fetal-mime died.

- James (played by a young Jason Bateman) and Cassandra were the children of a wonderful couple who needed help moving, so Pa “helped” them.  They came across a steep road on a mountain.  Pa went down first with the kids.  The parents then went down on their covered wagon.  Pa decided the show needed more young children so he sabotaged the brakes on the wagon.  The couple’s wagon tumbled down the mountain as James and Cassandra watched their parents die a bloody, gruesome death.  Cassandra became a mute.  Greedy Pa gobbled up the children like Saturn and they became a part of his clan.

- More kids means more trauma!  So naturally, James was shot by a bank robber.  Pa took him up to Miracle Mountain, where James got all clammy and dead-like.  Another Guest Star Angel appeared and to Pa’s dismay, saved little clammy James by feeding him something from a bowl.  I think it was Pa Death Antivenom.

- Mr. Edwards married and they adopted three kids.  Note: EVERYONE ADOPTS AN ORPHAN ON THIS DAMN SHOW.  IT’S LIKE THE JOLIE-PITT/MIA FARROW ACTION HOUR, BUT WITH MORE DAMN KIDS.  You guessed it; the oldest kid became a reporter and was murdered.

- Mr. Edwards was devastated that his oldest son died, so he went back to drinking.  His wife and two remaining kids left him, so he only had Pa to turn to.

- Mrs. Whipple had a son we’ve never seen before, and he served in the Civil War.  He had PTSD and was a drug addict.  In typical Little House fashion, the only purpose to have this person on the show was to kill him.  He died.

- No-good Albert became addicted to morphine.  He didn’t die from that. Instead, he got leukemia.  Thankfully, the show didn’t last long enough to watch him die, because you totally knew where that was going.

- Shannon Doherty was on the show and almost drowned to death.  How did she get on the show?  Oh yeah.  Her parents died.  She was an orphan.

- On the final episode, the townspeople rebelled against Pa and blew up the town [Note: Husband who never watched Pa Landon’s Little House of Horrors read this and asked me, “Really??”  My response: “Yes.  Really.”].

I could go on and on, but you get the message.  The evidence is overwhelming.  I was thoroughly traumatized by Pa Landon and his moral anvils.  I mean, sure, I could stop watching… but…but then I wouldn’t see town party vs. country party!  I wouldn’t see when Percival melts Nellie’s mean girl heart.  I wouldn’t see Laura become a woman, damn it (and a real woman, not a girl who stuffed her bra with apples), and I sure as hell wouldn’t have seen my dreamy blue-eyed Adam Kendall waving romantically (sniff!) to Mary as her carriage rode away.  Sigh…dreamy, 70s-hair, hydrophobic Adam Kendall…(swoons).  Yeah, okay, if taking away my Little House takes away all that, I suppose I’ll exchange my innocence for your paella of death, despair, and inexplicable wholesome and timeless charm.  {{shakes fist}} Curse you, Landon and your ability to reach into my soul!!

Let Go. Make Something.

The Menacing Kitten: We stand against pegacorn discrimination.

[Originally posted on July 29, 2012. This post was very popular thanks to the amazing group of creatives known collectively as OK Go. They were kind enough to tweet and Facebook this to their fans, and they completely made my day. Okay, they made my month. I  credit a lot of good in my life to the power of their music. Also? they are very, very good to their fans. BUY THEIR ALBUMS, SEE THEM ON TOUR! They are good people.]

About a year and a half ago, I went on an OK Go video-watching binge on YouTube because I really, really love them and their stuff makes me happy.  On this particular night, I watched “A Million Ways” and “Here it Goes Again.” I have watched both of these videos many times without incident, but on this particular occasion I developed an itch in my brain.  It occurred to me that wonderful things are created when you allow your mind to wander outside of the expectations and the “shoulds” that are imposed on you.  Rock bands don’t dance;  they definitely aren’t supposed to incorporate West Side Story moves or twirl each other around in their videos. OK Go made these fun videos despite all the shoulds and shouldn’ts, and you can argue their success is found in their commitment to defying convention and following crazy ideas down the rabbit hole.  After watching these videos on this night, I finally got it:  Let go.  Make something. Just start with one thing.

At the time, I struggled with my first love, music.  Over the years, I made it mean too much to me and the piano became a stranger.  Art? I felt so out of practice, and was afraid to see what years of typing did to my ability to draw.  I decided to give writing a shot, so I tried writing a novel.  31,846 words later, I realized my story sucked.  On the positive side, the story allowed me to dive into a really weird and dark part of my personality and I got to handcuff myself to a chair in the name of research.

On the negative side, once again, Anne-Marie started a project she couldn’t finish.  It was like that Origami kit stuffed in my office closet, or paper quilling, or trying to learn the cello, or the million songs I have in Garage Band I just can’t figure out an ending to.  I wanted to actually finish something for once.  I also wanted to brush up my writing skills.  That itch still needed to be scratched.  So? I created The Menacing Kitten.

One year later, I am still here and I confirmed what I suspected about the Itch: once you let go and try, wonderful things start happening all over the place.  In the year I started this site, I:

  • Bought a guitar and wrote a couple of songs
  • Bought a graphics tablet and drew a pegacorn (as seen above, and yes, I’m re-posting it just to see the disgruntled look on my husband’s face)
  • Made an afghan

  • Made a bunch of hats and scarves that I donated to a homeless shelter (I kept a couple for myself so I could look all hipster chic on the three nights a year it isn’t sweltering hot in the desert)
  • Made an ass of myself promoting my site by singing a song on a phone line set up by OK Go for one of their band member’s birthdays. On the plus side, as a result of my mortification, I created Business Rule Number One for The Menacing Kitten: “If it feels dirty, it’s not worth it.”
  • Got something published on one of my favorite web sites (and I heard from a bunch of amazing people as a result)
  • Started to write about stuff I never had the courage to write about before
  • Started playing piano again
  • Wrote more songs
  • Wrote over 70 posts for this web site (and kept a set schedule!)
  • Began another novel and it might suck less than the other one
  • Finished my Woman Cave

This is where the magic happens. And by “magic,” I mean fumbling through “Maple Leaf Rag” whilst giving a Drunken History of Scott Joplin to guests.

  • Started an international cooking club (and discovered I make a killer ribollita and chicken mole)
  • Opened my site up to submissions
  • Joined Instagram with the goal of taking at least one photo a day with my iPhone of something I think is beautiful (@themenacingkitten, if you’re nasty)

  • Did all this while being promoted to senior management at my full-time job


So one year later, thanks to a video of four guys who aren’t afraid to do this:

I don’t think you’ll ever see Maroon 5 do the Cowboy-Horsie in a video.

I’m getting back in touch with a part of me I thought died years ago in the dusty corner of an office cubicle.  To date, I have made $0 from my site (I haven’t crossed the Amazon threshold for cutting a check yet, but I guarantee you I’ll post a picture of my first deposit), I have a modest number of people visiting my site (and I love every single one of you – even you, Person Who Found My Site by Searching “how does a virgin poussy look like” [sic and, sick]), yet because of this site, I have so many ideas swirling around in my head.  I’ve learned to let go and make things.  My hope is to one day create something so beautiful it will bring you to tears.  Maybe that’s for next year’s post.

And to the person who found my site searching for “peak elevation of the hike between monterosso and vernazza?”  I am so sorry you found a story about me taking a massive poop in a quaint Italian village.

A Few Words on Reactions to Celebrity Deaths…

[Originally posted on Feb 12, 2012. This was a somewhat viral post at the time, thanks to it being cross-posted on Jezebel. Re-reading it, I’m saddened thinking about what has since happened to her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, and I’m sad that nothing in internet posting has changed in four years. If anything, it’s gotten worse…]

When a celebrity dies, social media blows up and follows an amazingly consistent pattern.  Keep in mind, I have done some of these myself. I think most of us have at some point or another:

Round One of Posting: “What? [Insert name here] died!”

Round Two: “RIP [Insert name here]”

Round Three: Posts links to something the deceased did that the posters thought was amazing

Round Four: Other parties decide to chime in: “[Insert name here] was a [drug addict/creepy alleged pedo/tyranical CEO of a company that makes an Operating System people are brainwashed to like and I was brainwashed to hate].” I’m presuming they then find the highest mountain with wi-fi access to climb atop to then proclaim, “I’m going to save my grief for someone who deserves it!”

Round Five: “100,000 people die each year from [starvation/earthquakes/war/listening to Michael Bolton while driving on a windy cliff]. Why don’t you care about them?”

Round Six: “Check out this great video of a cat yawning!”

Here’s the deal, people: there is nothing wrong with being sad someone died, and thankfully we, being the advanced species we are, have the capacity to have sympathy for more than one person at a time.  In fact, we can have sympathy for an unlimited number of people and things.  Wow – Amazing, right?  All this time, conventional wisdom told us we had to hide away our spare grief in cigar boxes, old shoes and mattresses because we thought it might run out at a really inconvenient time.  After all, how much would it suck if the family dog or other loved one died, or we watched Titanic for the 50th time, and we had no more grief to give? “Well, shit, Jennifer; this would normally be the time I’d hug you and tell you I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m all out of grief and sympathy.  I really shouldn’t have burned the last of it on Whitney Houston.”

“I told you not to waste it; she was a crack addict, you know.”

Why are people sad when a famous imperfect person dies?  You can ask the people who are posting the RIPs, and they each may have their own unique response as to why they are sad; perhaps they have a great memory associated with one of the creations of that imperfect person.  Maybe they really are that person’s Number One Fan.  Or maybe, they’re like me.  Every time I’ve felt sadness over a famous imperfect person’s passing, it’s because I feel they’ve been robbed of the life arc I wish everyone could have but few are lucky enough to receive.  On the final curve of this life arc, we overcome our demons, find peace and joy, create more beautiful things with our inner strength and wisdom guiding us, and we die peacefully in our sleep when we are old and grey.

I think of how talented and lovely Whitney Houston was in the “How Will I Know” video.  When I watched that video today, I thought about how the young, vibrant person in that video had no idea what was coming in her life – I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have predicted her future would bring years of substance abuse and a publicly tumultuous marriage.  I’m sure she didn’t predict her final moments would involve drowning in a hotel bathtub, leaving behind a slew of rumors about her addiction and a beautiful young daughter who she didn’t say goodbye to.  I’ll admit, while I have always felt her vocals were about as close to perfection as you can see in pop music, I was never really a fan of her music.  Yet, I’m sad for her, and I am sad that yet another person didn’t have a beautiful and graceful final curve to their life arc.  I’m sad that the world still looks at addiction and other mental illnesses as stigmas.  I’m sad every time I read or hear someone state “fuck them” when they see a person falling hard.  I then get angry, because everyone who says “fuck them” is creating a barrier between those in need of help and the resources they desperately need.  “Fuck them” prevents people from admitting they can’t fix their life on their own.  “Fuck them” is what causes governments to cut funding to mental health facilities and programs.  “Fuck them” is what causes families to be afraid to seek help in the community, or to give up after the first few backs have been turned.

The person who passes may “just” be an imperfect celebrity, but to me? Their passing reminds me of all of our failures and all of the beautiful things that could have been created by those who left us far too young.

The Reach Out Project

[Originally posted on May 5, 2013]

Death does strange things to a person.

My father passed away right before the 4th of July in 2009. We were never close, but we didn’t have a strained relationship either. Years prior, I realized what our relationship was, and I was fine with that. Yet his death changed me. It came at a time when I was growing apathetic to my faith. It also came at a time when all of the walls I put up around me over the years left me with few people in my life. I had no problem moving on and not keeping in touch; it was easy.

After he died, I went through what Chris and I jokingly called “The Existential Crisis.” It was the first time in my life I really confronted the idea that when we die, That’s It. Prior to my father’s death, the thought would briefly enter my mind in the darkest part of night and I’d quickly push it out. Ain’t nobody got time for that shit. After he died, the idea consumed every “quiet” moment of my life. I’d lie in bed at night and look outside the window, nearly panicking at the prospect of ceasing to exist. I’d think about the science of it all; how my previous view of the afterlife made no sense, but I believed it like a kid believes in Santa Claus. If there was an afterlife, what would it be like, really? Would we just be this floating soul in the breeze, unable to touch velvet, hear Schumann, or watch the sun set ever again? Unable to interact with the world we’re trapped in? It all seemed so dismal to me, and yet it consumed me for months.

I wanted to fill my mind with other things, so I began doing little 30 day experimentations to challenge myself. One of them was as simple as watching no more than five hours of TV a week (basically, watching the Daily Show and Colbert, plus an hour for Sunday news shows). Another was using no electronics (TV, laptop, phone, etc) from 7:30pm until bedtime.

As I did these experiments, my previous decisions began to look different. I began to see the walls I put up around me as a faulty time capsule. Those imaginary walls were a way for me to act like I could preserve My World, protecting myself and everyone in it. Yeah, that doesn’t work. The walls now looked like a crutch and I began to desire to step out of that time capsule and enjoy the gifts of the Present. From this desire came the most important change in my life: The Reach Out Project.

Despite my social anxiety and natural tendency towards introversion, I decided that every day for 30 days, I was going to reach out to someone in my life. Whether it was emailing or calling an old friend, sending a meaningful message on Facebook to someone I didn’t normally chat with, asking a co-worker out to lunch, or inviting people over to the house, each day I had to do one thing to reach out to someone. See, part of what made those walls was my taking a passive approach to friendship. I assumed people didn’t ask me out to lunch, or didn’t email me because they didn’t like me or just didn’t have room in their life for me. Rather than my typical wallowing in self-pity/self-loathing, believing I was completely unlikeable, I instead gave a good, hearty, “oh what the fuck?”, threw caution to the wind and started reaching out to people.

I emailed, called and invited people to things and I accepted invitations to things – even things I didn’t want to do – with my heart open. Sure, I missed a couple days here and there, and sure, initially I still felt that nervousness and discomfort that accompanies my shyness and insecurity. But I persisted, and gradually I made new close friends and reconnected. I began to see that I had an incredible group of people around me. Inspiring, funny, quirky, caring…the people I allowed into my life lifted me out of my Existential Crisis (which is now in the current and likely permanent state of Existential Conundrum). Through them I realized that a lot of adults take a passive approach to friendship – we feel uncomfortable taking that initial step or we don’t allow ourselves to take the lead in setting things up with people. But someone’s got to do it – why not me? And why not you?

Fast forward a couple of years. This past March, a few of my friends put together a “Girls’ Night Sleepover” as a sendoff to me before I left for California. Girls’ Night was one of my later Reach Out ideas: once a month, invite the ladies in my life to a restaurant for a night of drinks, food and conversation. No boyfriends or husbands allowed (with the one-time exception of my friend Steven, who is the kind of friend you can count on when you need a chaperone and let’s face it – sometimes you do). For Girls’ Night Sleepover, my friend Jennie made a killer butternut squash risotto and we all brought wine and an insane amount of booze and snacks. Before we devoured the risotto, my friends toasted me. In summary, they thanked me for organizing things that brought people together – Girls’ night, Le Nom…and said Chris and I created quite the network of friends in our time in Arizona. I looked around the table and smiled at these wonderful people I was so grateful to have in my life. We proceeded to eat, drink and laugh so hard at each other’s stories our faces hurt. That’s what I live for.

I can point to the moment my Existential Crisis lifted. It was in a dream: I looked outside my bedroom window at night, watching helicopters flying overhead, shining spotlights on the ground in search of a Dangerous Man. I looked over to my pool and my heart stopped – the Dangerous Man was lying on one of my lounge chairs. Rather than retreat, I knew I had to talk to him. I walked through the wall and approached him. As I got closer, I saw that the Dangerous Man was an old man. He looked at me as if he knew what I was going to ask.  I asked anyway.

“What happens when we die?”

“I know the answer, but I can’t tell you.”

“They’re looking for you…” I pointed to the helicopters.

“I know.”

We talked about death and the importance of living for the moment. I wasn’t afraid of the Dangerous Man. He got up and looked at the back wall of my property. “It’s time for me to go now.”  As he walked towards the wall, I remembered the most important thing I wanted to know.

“Wait! I don’t know if there is a god or not. If I live my life the way I know in my heart I should live it, and it turns out there really is a god, does it matter if I have doubt?”

The man turned around and he was a beautiful young Spanish woman with long dark hair. She laughed as if my question had an obvious answer. “He won’t care.”

She hopped the wall, and I woke up. No, I don’t think it was God speaking to me. That doesn’t matter – what matters is the common sense presented in the dream: be the person you know you should be, surround yourself with goodness, and experience love wherever you can. Nothing else matters beyond that, does it?

Image courtesy of twobee /

A Kid in a Candy Store

[Originally posted on Sept 3, 2012. Wow, I've come a long way since this...]

“Yeah, man, we’ve got the M-Audio stuff over here.”

Salesdude A walked us past rooms of instruments to an electronic area.  It had been years since I stepped in a music store – for years, my journey was too painful to even think about playing.  I felt like a fraud.  Still, I walked past the instruments with a sense of reverence – these instruments were relics of the gods to me.  In my recent adventures in novel-writing, I am exploring the idea that we are all scientists in search of magic.  To vainly quote from this potential novel: “In our heart of hearts, we know there is an explanation for every mystery in the universe, but we want to find that one thing that cannot be explained; we want to walk amongst the gods and experience a divine beauty that separates us from mushrooms and protozoa…We want to explore that final frontier that takes us beyond truth and illusions, where magic is real.”

To me, the arts are magical.  To be able to hold an instrument – to connect to that universe of theory and space and sound, to string together a series of notes and create a beautiful, tangible representation of who you are, where you’e been and what you hope for, is a divine experience.  That is something I didn’t realize until I couldn’t do it anymore.  So in that moment, walking by the glossy shapes displayed along the walls – the Warlocks, Flying Vs and Stratocasters, I thought of the homes they would find, the magic that could be created on them, and the people who made those models famous.  Not all created a divine experience, but that’s just the bitchy music critic in me talking.

“Hey, we’ve got some nice guitars, huh?”

My reverence was broken by Salesdude A.  I was staring at the guitars as he pulled the M-Audio device out of a glass case for us.  “Yeah…” I was dismissive.  Guitar Center salespeople can get really pushy if they smell a purchase.  I also didn’t want to show what a fraud I was – I didn’t want to even touch the guitars, let alone play them.

“You play?”

“I used to.” I smiled and looked away.

“Bass was her instrument,” my husband offered. No, don’t go there…

“Yeah? Cool.  Did you check out our basses? I could go over there and pull one off the -”

“No, no. I’m good, thanks. I don’t play anymore.”  Please don’t talk about this.  My mind recalled chucking my bass into a landfill.  I didn’t even open the case to take one last look at it, as if it could establish some psychic connection with me.  I always think of that case as a closed casket.

“She stopped playing a few years ago, but we just got Garage Band, so she’s looking to get back into playing and writing,” Chris again filled in the blanks.

“Okay, cool.”


As Chris talked hardware geekstuff to Salesdude A, I looked around the store a little more.  To anyone who ever grew up wanting to be a rock star, music stores fill you with nostalgic memories.  I think everyone in that category has a memory of going to the local music store over and over and staring at that one guitar or piece of equipment you know you couldn’t afford.  You’d go in the store to buy something mundane like guitar picks or strings or something, and you’d check up to see if That One Guitar was still there.  It was, and if the guys in the store knew you well, they’d offer to take it down and let you tinker with it.  I accepted the offer only once.  The bass felt amazing in my hands – it was like putting your hands on the steering wheel of a Bentley.  I played the opening notes to “No Me Esqueca,” and my hands moved with ease over the strings.  It was a work of art, that bass;  at least is was when compared to my shitty Lyon bass at home that gave everyone else carpal tunnel when they played it.  The bass was under $1000, but there was no way I could ever afford it.  I wasn’t allowed to work, and saving my $1 a day of lunch money could only go so far.  I handed it back to them after only a few moments of playing.  Someday.

That little music store, Connecticut Music, almost felt like a home away from home to me.  It was family-owned and was in a little house across from a strip mall.  I still dream about looking in their store window to see what they had on display.  The family probably didn’t know me by name, but they knew me.  I was in there at least once a week.  Every major gift my parents got for me was purchased there – my Fostex X-26 (Christmas, 1989), my shitty Lyon bass (Christmas, 1990), a Crate amp (Birthday, 1991), the DR-550 drum machine (Birthday, 1992). I bought a few things on my own – a used cheapie Fender with one of those little beginner’s amps, and inexplicably, a florescent-colored tambourine.  The family was friendly to me and very supportive of the local artists – one time, they saw me walk in with the latest issue of Metal Edge (Don’t.Judge.), they opened it up to a picture of Steelheart, and told me to buy their album because they were from Stamford and we needed to support our local bands.  I secretly hoped one day they would do that with my picture.  Whenever my parents went in the store to buy one of those gifts, they would tell my family how much they could tell I loved music.

Looking at Guitar Center, I wanted to laugh.  I was never a fan of these places.  Sure, the selection is incredible – you could fit all of Connecticut Music in just the guitar room – but…the experience.  I watched Salesdude B do his pitch to a customer.  “Yeah, man, check this one out…” he took a guitar off its display rack, plugged it in, and did his best “I’m an awesome roadie tuning The Master’s guitar in front of the crowd at New Haven Colosseum” WHEEEEEEEE-bleezo-ble-ble-ble-ble-blittoblittoblitto-SQWEEeeeeeee-WOOOOOOWWWW thing on the guitar.  He looked at the slightly bored consumer – expecting approval, awe, and of course, sweet, sweet commission.  “Wanna try?”

I rolled my eyes a little.

We got what we needed and headed back up to the front of the store.  It was like that scene in Airplane! where all the solicitors are harassing the guy while the guy he walks through the terminal.  If Chris stopped at an instrument, someone would jump on us.  “Hey, hon check out this keybo-”

Salesdude jumps out.  “You like this keyboard? It’s really great! Check it out!” Plunk-plunk-plunk

No thank you and keep walking.

But Chris isn’t used to music stores, and there were a bunch of shiny new things for him to look at.  “That’s a big drum set…”

Salesdude.  “Yeah, great drum set! You play? You should!” Bow-rat-tatt-pow, splusshhh!

Chris, don’t feed the geese.  Keep walking.  Faster.

We bought our gear and I practically ran to the car.  I made a quiet promise to myself to avoid Guitar Center at all cost in the future.

In time, I let go a little and allowed myself to enter other music stores, attempting to leave the feeling of Fraud behind.  A couple of years later, I entered a family-owned music store to rent a cello.  I was admittedly a little terrified, but I got through it and rented my cello.  This past year, I went into a Music & Arts store to buy an acoustic guitar – I liked the environment.  The salespeople were really nice and helpful.  I told Chris that the place reminded me a little of Connecticut Music, even though I knew the store was a chain.  We returned a few months later to check out keyboards.  They knew we were just looking and wouldn’t buy on that day, and they still took time to talk to us.  No pressure.

Towards the end, we had a nice chat with the store manager.  “We can get things in, but we keep a limited stock here.  If you’re looking for a bigger selection, our parent store, Guitar Center, has a lot of options for you…”

I grimaced and heard Chris stifle a snicker.  We finished up looking at keyboards, thanked them for their time and walked out the door.  Chris smiled at me.  “You just died a little inside, didn’t you?”



Choose Your Own Adventure: The F’ed up Predestination Edition

[Originally posted on April 2, 2012]

Even though I didn’t go to church until I was in high school, I was always very spiritual and religious.  I wanted to know the right path to follow and do the right thing.  I read my bible, I read about other religions; I tried to make sense of all of it.  I figured the answer wasn’t found in any one religion, but in a commonality amongst all of them.  I searched for the commonality, and tried to live my life in the best way possible.

Around junior high, I experienced some difficulties in life – beyond social anxiety or your typical bullying.  A little voice in my head tried to reason with me – this is your lot in life, for now.  God will reward you later.  You are meant to suffer.  I developed a sort of nonsensical theory that life was a combination of both free will and fate.  Maybe reading about all of those different churches caused my brain to short out a bit, but I believed this.  I saw life as a tree with many branches, and with each choice you make, you’re following one of a few predestined paths laid out for you.

When I was in elementary school, I had a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book featuring Supergirl.  It contained four stories, each with a few different endings, depending on what decisions you made for Supergirl.  My favorite story involved her being trapped in some Wizard of Oz concoction Lex Luthor designed.  Until I had the book memorized, I kept on making choices that led Supergirl to die in the poppy fields.  Thanks to my own screwed up religious constructs, I turned my life into a freaking “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.  When you’re a kid, you know on some level you’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you can fix your mistakes fairly easily.  When you start to become an adult?  Well, it’s off to the poppies for you:

Battle social anxiety with therapy (go to page 83) or without therapy (go to page 94)?

Page 94 (of course): That’s right.  Therapy creates an excuse.  Pills mean Supergirl can’t deal with life and she’s weak.  God wants Supergirl to endure!  She needs to jump right in to social situations and use brute force to make herself less anxious.  Oh, here’s a social situation!  Two perfectly nice people are trying to talk to her.

“Hey, are you really the quietest person in the world?”

“Umm…” her throat tightens, her mind goes blank.  “…No?” (go to page 53)

Page 53: Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

Does Supergirl leave (page 30) or stay (page 32) in a semi-abusive relationship? 

Page 32:  The guy really wants to love Supergirl, she’s just being horrible.  If she wasn’t so needy and awful (and slightly overweight), he would treat her better.  And he wouldn’t leave her, either.  Because that just happened.  Supergirl? You are one unloveable, fat fuck. (go to page 53, and a gym)

Page 53:  Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

The head of Music Composition is a closed-minded dick.  Does Supergirl switch to General Music (page 112), or Jazz Studies? (go to page 24)

Page 24: Supergirl stumbles through her improv class, mentally and physically freezing up in the middle of “Watermelon Man,” her final.  She hears someone stifle a laugh in the classroom, because her improve sounds like a toddler on a toy piano.  Plus? A professor she looked up to just told her she got the worst grade in the class on her Music Engineering quiz, and looked way too pleased to inform her of that little nugget. (Go to Page 53. [Fuck! Not again! Ugh, fine…])

Page 53:  Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

Thanks to severe depression and untreated extreme anxiety, Supergirl can’t even sing in the shower without crying, because she hates the sound of her own voice and none of her melodies are good enough anymore.  Does she pursue a career in music and flog herself with self-hatred for all eternity (turn to page 53) or does she get a regular job with clear, objective accomplishments to assimilate into Normalville (turn to page 99)?

[Okay, not page 53 again. So…]Page 99:  Ha, ha! Fooled you! In Supergirl’s mind, God gave her a gift and she just pissed it away, so she’s only going to see opportunities as punishments for not following her dreams.  She only looks for low-paying work because deep down she knows she doesn’t deserve any better.  See, Supergirl always knew she was “less than” everyone else, so she had to be Supergirl and be perfect to deserve what anyone else had.  Did you really think by not turning to page 53 there would be a better ending?  There is no good ending in this book – either Supergirl dies in a poppy field, or the story simply ends, with her existence suspended on a single moment in time.  So, screw you.  THE END.

What happens after the words “The End?”  Do characters just hang in limbo, frozen in the final act?  Never dying, just existing in that single moment, knowing their only other alternative was death?  See, that’s the problem with any form of predestination.  We live from page to page, not realizing there is an existence that is beyond that stupid book with the limited endings.

A couple of years ago, it seemed no matter what path I chose, I wound up perilously close to falling in the poppies.  My dad died.  My best friend for over 30 years almost died.  My other best friend “dumped” me because she perceived my anger and misery as something against her personally.  Was my life awful because my Adventure had nothing but predetermined crappy endings?  No, my life was awful because a) I didn’t like myself and closed myself off from accepting good things or good people and b) Shit happens sometimes.

I realized that life isn’t “follow this path and you will die!” or “follow this path and you will win!”  It’s a little more like this:  hate yourself, and you can’t be happy.  Love yourself, forgive yourself, invite good people into your life (like, invite that funny chick at work to lunch, or email someone you haven’t talked to in a long time), and no matter the shitstorm, you’ll at least have good company to share it with.  As an added bonus, there’s a lot of mutual healing in said company.  And beer.

Somehow, opportunities open up, too.  When you realize you’re not destined to fail or destined to do That Thing You Were Born to Do, you start seeing all the other things you can do, and some of them are kind of fun.  Like, I don’t know, writing a blog and knowing there’s this one person in Malta that reads it on a semi-regular basis.  Or playing piano again and realizing it’s a lot more fun when you stop attaching any level of importance to every note you pound out.  You simply play because it’s beautiful and it warms your heart in a way you forgot.

So if you’re reading this and relate to any of my Supergirl Fails?  Close the book and look up.  It’s time to really choose your own adventure and be open to see the people who are ready to share it with you.

Learning How to Sleep With Someone

[Originally posted on Mar 11, 2012]

There is something we all must learn as we gingerly step into adulthood, and that is how to sleep with someone.  I’m not talking about anything sexual, I am simply talking about learning how to share a bed with another human being.  It’s a tricky thing, this sleeping together, because it begins when you are feeling happy and cuddly and the world is your snuggly little oyster.  Over time, your Snugglebunny morphs into a snoring, cover-hogging, throat-clicking, night-terrorized, farting in the spoon position, squirmy, sweaty beast who robs you of your precious minutes of sleep every night.  For the record? You are that beast, too.

Let’s take this back to the beginning:

The College Dorm Room Snugglebunny
College is that cool time where you experiment with grown up things, and one of those things is sleeping with someone.  It’s really exciting when you have your first partner-sleepover; spooning in that little twin bed is cozy, and just knowing you can do whatever you want without your parents finding out makes it even better.

My husband first told me he loved me in one of those snugglebunny moments.  We were cuddled up on my dorm room bed watching television, and I was mostly asleep.  He told me, “I think I’m falling in love with you.” I responded, “snurgggltoo” and drooled on his wrist.  Our romance was a page out of The Notebook.  He later revealed he wanted to tell me at that moment because if I freaked out, he’d just say I dreamt it.

The “Our First Apartment” Crackhouse Mattress
When I was 21, Chris and I made the decision to move in together.  I called my mom to tell her, thinking this would be old hat since one of my sisters lived with a boyfriend when she was around my age.  I don’t remember my sales pitch to her on the idea, but I remember the response:

Awkward, scary pause.  “Use a condom.”


Once the family awkwardness passed, Chris and I commenced Living in Sin stage.  Oh, we had grand plans for our apartment – our vision:  We could have dinner parties with little hors-d’oeuvres trays! We could cook! Like, rice and chicken, not ramen and Maria’s burritos! We’d have art on the walls!

Our Reality: We were slobs and our apartment looked like a tweaked-out meth lab.

Like many young couples, we relied on the kindness of family members to furnish our home.  Your “First Apartment” mattress is usually a mattress your family wants to unload, and is often a lumpy, stained heirloom.  “Oh that?  Your Uncle Rob was quite the nose-bleeder as a teen…”  “That? Remember that mean cat Gramma Edith had?  That cat would pee on everything.”  It’s the kind of mattress CSI people define as “contaminated” when they try to lift DNA off it.  At this point in your adulthood, none of that matters – you get to share a full-sized bed with your snugglebunny.  You both can lie on your backs at the same time now – yeah!

We were somewhat lucky – we were offered Chris’ full-sized waterbed from high school.  Waterbeds are the type of bed you always wanted as a kid before you realize how horrible they are for two people.  Prelude to sexytime in a waterbed essentially goes like this:

SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH “Let me just try and…”



“My foot keeps slipping…” SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH

“Damn it! The sides are caving, I…” SWOOOOSH


“My back! Oh, that’s not good…” SWOOSHSWOOSH



Then he angrily rolls over to his side of the bed, and you are catapulted across the room.

The Young Urban Professionals’ Queen-Sized Mattress
When we got to a point where we could do better than a waterbed in a meth lab, we purchased a Queen-sized mattress.  We couldn’t agree on a headboard for years, so the bed and box mattress lay in a simple frame – after lying on the floor for two years.

By this point in time, our sleeping relationship deteriorated greatly.  I for one, snore so loud I wake myself up.   My loving little Stranglebunny would asphyxiate me on a nightly basis in the hopes of shutting me up.  I would wake abruptly, wonder what caused me to jerk awake, yet see nothing but a sleeping hump next to me.

I’d lie awake listening to him.  Chris does not snore.  He makes weird noises, the most common of which can only be described as “SSNNNARRRGLE…poooh.” After studying this sound closely many times in the darkest part of the night, I believe it is achieved by Chris inhaling his own nose then gently spitting it out.  I allow a few SNNARRGLEpoohs before I nudge him.  It doesn’t work.

Gentle nudge.


Nudge nudge.


Grab his torso, shake violently.


Put hands on his side, shove as hard as possible.


Quickly flip over and pretend I’m sleeping.

I get a groggy “huhhh?” but say nothing in return.

I fall asleep.

Chris falls back asleep.




Five minutes later…


…I get night terrors.  I rarely have them at this point, but years ago, they were a weekly if not nightly occurrence.    I’d wake up screaming and flailing because I was convinced there was something evil at the foot of the bed or on my pillow.  After scaring the shit out of Chris the first ten or so times, he became accustomed to them.  He’d hold me down to keep me from flailing.  “What did you see this time?”

This is a smart question, because making me talk forces me to think, which causes me to wake up and calm down.  Sometimes I’d answer, “a bunch of spiders,” “a creepy man,” or “a lobster.”  One time I answered, “a kitten.”



“A kitten.”  The disbelief in his voice was palpable. “Not a lion or a panther, but…a kitten.”


“Why were you screaming in terror over…a kitten?”

I sighed.  “…it was menacing.”

I flipped over and fell back asleep.

After my night terrorizing, I’d wake up a few hours later, shivering.  I’d look over to find Chris as a human flauta, blankets and comforter completely rolled around his body several times.  I’d try and pull the blankets from him, but had little success.  Ultimately, I’d manage to tug a tiny little corner out from under him, and curl up in a little ball to get as much of myself under the corner as I could.

Our cuddly little spoon days on the twin bed were long gone.  In fact, any time we had to share a full-sized bed, it was torture.  “Bahh! Your feet are freezing!”

“Your arm is digging into my back!”

If this marriage were to last in one bed, changes needed to be made.

The “Save the Marriage” King Size Tempurpedic
As the rest of our house looked like a dwelling for responsible adults, our bedroom upgraded from meth lab to halfway house.  We had a nice headboard and our bedroom furniture was a lovely old art deco set that didn’t match the bed at all.  We decided to have two separate blankets.  My night terrors receded.

Despite these improvements, our bedroom was missing something.  It wasn’t romantic or luxurious.  This was the room where we shared our most intimate space – it needed to be beautiful and reflect our love and respect for one another!

We upgraded our furniture to a Japanese-inspired bed set, and determined we deserved a good mattress. Realizing how much we annoy each other with our constant tossing and turning, we settled on a king-sized Tempurpedic mattress.  This glorious invention allowed us to move around without the other one feeling it.  The pillows we bought at the same time reduced some of our snoring (he bought a Tempurpedic, I bought one made of latex – no lie, it kicks ass).

Each night we’d lie on our respective sides of the bed, with our own blankets, calling out good night to the other, who seemed so very far away.

At last, we had our perfect bed.

Our perfect, squirm-resistant bed.

Our lonely mile-wide bed.

The snoring, squirming and snargling wasn’t so bad, really.  It was even kind of endearing.  We’ve got two blankets, so we can both be warm…and who would talk me out of my torture by menacing kittens?

Learning how to share a bed is an analogy for learning how to be married – it is not perfect all the time, sometimes your loved one can be frustrating, stubborn and do gross things, but your palette would be filled with nothing but grays without them in your life.

I rolled over to his side of the bed and nestled under his arm.  It felt comforting and reassuring.  I smiled.  “I love you.”



Makin’ it Rain Plastic

[Originally posted on Aug 5, 2012]

“Do you want to save 15% today and sign up for our JC Penney card?”

Little did I know at the time, my answer to this question would adversely change the year that lay ahead of me.


I filled out the little application and low and behold, I was now on the credit grid.  Leading up to college, my mother would often warn me about the perils of credit cards and charge cards.  I heeded her advice, until I realized everyone around campus was having a lot of fun thanks to their credit line.  Cute clothing, good food – they were living the good life! I wanted a piece of that pie.  Minimum payments were reasonably low – I could figure out a way to make a monthly payment, right?

I loved that shiny little JC Penney card; following classes, I would head up to Our Lady Queen of Shopping, buy adorable outfits, and show them off to fellow Believer Emily.  It was a ritual we relished.

Alas, my JC Penney card felt lonely in my wallet – I mean, it’s not like there was any cash in there to keep it company.  So, I did what any logical person would do – I signed up for another credit card.  Besides, it’s not like you can buy food at JC Penney.  A girl’s gotta eat!  The good times kept coming, so I kept the credit flowin’.

It occurred to me as I watched my savings disappear that this was not a wise path to be on.  After a particularly intense bender where I bought a 24-piece knife set – for my dorm room – I realized I needed help.  I took the bus to Emily’s apartment, clutching the knife set in my arms as I knocked on her door.  She opened her door, took a look at the shopping bags at my feet and shook her head.  She understood these things.  I walked inside. She may have wrapped a blanket around me.

“I need to do it, Emily.  I need to cut the card.”

We walked over to her kitchen and I took out the shears that were included in my knife set.  It was like a Greek Tragedy – I was killing my card with the very thing it gave me.  Emily stared at me as I held the scissors over the card.  “Hold on,” Emily made us pause.  “I feel like this is a moment for you…Okay.”

I cut a diagonal line through the plastic, and we both gasped.  A relic to our place of worship and I just destroyed it.  It needed to be done.

Unfortunately, credit cards have a way of haunting you long past their destruction.  My minimum payments depleted my savings and I began to miss payments on the JC Penney card.  I continued to pay my regular credit card bill, knowing that I couldn’t afford to lose that line of credit.  All semester long, I tried to find a job, but thanks to a spread out class schedule and a lack of reliable transportation, no one wanted to hire me.  I turned to the lowest job a college student could have and arguably the worst one for someone with social anxiety: telemarketing.  Oh, and not just any telemarketing – alumni fundraising for the college.

I sat on the phone reading a script to Fine Arts graduates, espousing the importance of donating $1000 to the College of Broke People Fine Arts.  Everyone I called was poor and bitter, yet I had to go down the script and ask them for $500, then $250, then $250 with a mention of a matching gift by their employer, then $125, then $125 and what about our payment plan? Then $100.  $100, to improve the value of your degree? You don’t need to laugh in my ear, sir. And I don’t appreciate being called a – hello?  When we initially called, we had to lie and say the university wanted to receive feedback from alumni on how it could improve, then we’d go in for the kill and ask for the donations.  It sucked so hard.  I became so nervous making calls, my voice cracked and my hands shook.  At one point, I spent 20 minutes talking to a nice man in Seattle and never asked for a dime because he sounded so happy just to talk to someone without being asked to give something.

While working at the telemarketing gig, my finances got worse.  JC Penney sent me to a collection agency, and my credit card company got wind of it.  I called in just to find out my PIN, and they cancelled my card on the spot.  I literally started sobbing and my sort-of boyfriend at the time tried talking to them on my behalf to get them to reconsider.  Obviously, they did not, and just like that I had no money.  All but $20 a month of my money from the telemarketing place went to paying down my cards and getting the collection agency off my back.  Since UofA didn’t do meal plans, that $20 was used for my food budget for the month.  Tired of Top Ramen, I stocked up on bulk spaghetti and a jar of Ragu.  I literally ate about 200 calories a day to ensure I had something every day until the next paycheck came in.  I actually felt like this system worked for me.

The telemarketing place had a snafu in their check-cutting one week, and told us on payday we had to wait an extra two days for our checks.  I literally ran out of food the night before and I panicked.  I was somewhat on the outs with that sort-of boyfriend and didn’t feel comfortable asking him to buy me a sandwich.  The idea of semi-prostituting myself for food felt kind of wrong.  Everyone else I knew had money problems, and I couldn’t dream of asking for their help.

I woke up the next morning starving.  I did the unthinkable – I went down to the community refrigerator, and decided I was going to steal someone else’s food.  Just as I began to reach for a freezer-burned Van de Kamp, someone walked into the kitchen, and I tried to play off my crime by doing the worst acting job ever.  “Oh, someone…um…stole my food.  Damn it!”

Suspicious glare.

“See ya!”  I ran off, never to return to the dorm kitchen ever again.

I walked down Fraternity Row to head to the Music building, wondering how I was going find food.  Before me, a familiar sight took on new meaning to me – the Holsum Bread Truck was delivering bread to one of the frat houses.  I saw it every day, with its plentiful loaves of bread, unguarded and a few mere steps away from my thieving paws.  My eyes rested on one particular loaf of bread.  I’d have to hop on the truck to reach it, but it wasn’t too far in… oh bread, I could make several meals of you…

I looked around.  There were a few people walking further down the street.  Would they notice? Would they do anything?  How long is the bread guy away from this vehicle? Why did I never make note of that before, damn it? What would my classmates think if I carried around a loaf of bread all day?  Because I am apt to spend more time ruminating than actually doing, I pictured getting caught by the bread guy.  I imagined the campus police cuffing me as I protested, “I was only trying to steal a loaf of bread! I’m trying to pay off my JC Penney card! My company didn’t pay me when they were supposed to…Noooooo!” Then I’d get reported in the campus Police Blotter, and I’d be forever known as Jean Valjean Girl or some bullshit.  As if my social anxiety didn’t make me weird enough to people, Bread Thief just seemed that much weirder.

I looked again at that bread.  My stomach growled.  The loaves looked so fluffy and soft; I wanted to dive into the lot of them and roll around, loaves squishing underneath me as I double fisted hot dog buns. Ahh, the life. But? Jean Valjean Girl.  I just couldn’t do it.  I continued on to class, watching people snack on candy bars and eegee’s, taking every bite for granted.  This must be how my labrador retriever felt when we made him “stay” until he drooled.  Sorry, Dunder; that was a shitty thing to do.

I returned to my dorm room, knowing I had one final option to hold me over. I opened my little fridge and looked at the only item holding residence: a half-empty bottle of blue cheese dressing.  Well, there are chunks in it; that’s kind of like food…

I held the bottle up to my lips, toasting to no one: I am never fucking owning a credit card ever again…

It would have gone great with bread.


Hope for a Beautiful America: A Road Trip for Independence Day

[Originally posted on Jul 1, 2012]

On this fourth of July week, I look out at a blue sky with cotton-like cumulus clouds floating over the Rockies – the majestic range of purple mountains we sing about this time of year in praise of the beautiful country we live in.  We arrived here after taking a road trip up from Phoenix to the Vail Valley.  I can’t think of a better way to spend this holiday than by experiencing 800 miles of the American Southwest by car.

We left the sweltering heat of Phoenix and headed up the I-17, a route familiar to many Phoenicians who escape the heat by traveling to to the cooler, smaller town of Flagstaff, Arizona.  As anyone in the southwest will tell you, the government’s definition of “forest” is a loose one when you see the national forest signs and nothing but two foot tall brush as far as the eye can see.  On this trip between the two cities, you experience the change of climates and see the forests truly develop – the brush become bushes, the bushes become six foot tall trees, and the trees become enormous pine trees, greeting you as you enter Flagstaff.

We headed east on the I-40 to pick up the US-89, driving past dormant and extinct volcanos that make up much of northern Arizona.  One of the areas we drove past is a favorite destination of ours – Sunset Crater National Park.  At Sunset Crater, you still see the black lava from an eruption that took place less than 1000 years ago, along with the forest life that found a way to grow beyond its ashes.  Next to Sunset Crater, you also have Wupatki National Monument – ruins of a civilization who thrived after the eruption, thanks to fertile soil created from volcanic ash.  When my parents saw this area a few years ago, my father commented that it goes to show that specific things die and species become extinct, but Mother Nature always has a greater plan, and there’s nothing we can do that will get in her way.

Past Flagstaff and just past the easternmost part of Grand Canyon National Park, we hopped onto the US-160, which takes you into deep into the Navajo Nation.  In a few days we will celebrate our freedom and independence, yet the history of this land serves as a reminder of how easily it can be to move from the oppressed to the oppressor.  By the mid-to-late 1800s, the U.S. Government and the Navajos had ongoing problems with raids, violence and violated treaties.  The U.S. rounded up the Navajos and placed them in an internment camp with other tribes – 10,000 people living in an inhospitable area that was only 10 square miles.  Food was in short supply, the water wasn’t clean, and disease ravaged the camp.  Eventually, the U.S. established a larger boundary for reservation land, giving the Navajos back a lot of the land they were taken from, and those who survived were allowed to return home.

I know this time of year we don’t want to talk about our country’s historic failures such as this, but I think we need to – what makes America great is that it is in the hands of the people.  No matter how badly Texas lawmakers don’t want you to think critically, it is human nature to do so, and the success of this country lies in our ability to think for ourselves and to take a stand when we see oppression.  If you are on the left or the right, that previous sentence has got you thinking of two completely different things.  That’s fine, I suppose, but as we watch the fireworks, as we sing “Yankee Doodle,” let us remind ourselves of the founding fathers and the revolutionaries who died not for our complacency, but for our activism.  They fought for the belief in a government for the people and by the people.  Not for and by the 1%, corporations or lobbyists, and not so we can passively elect political party caricatures to represent the signer of their largest campaign check.  As I drove through land that tells a tale of a darker American history, I’m reminded we cannot afford to sit idly by when a government supports fear mongering and inhumanity.  As all of history has shown, one thing always leads to another, and complacency will ultimately lead to an inhumanity comparable to the Long Walk of the Navajo.

History is a combination of triumph and loss, hope and despair.  This road trip through history is no exception, as evidenced by the wonderful national parks we encounter.

Author Wallace Stegner once wrote, “National parks are the best idea we ever had.  Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”  Following this road trip from Phoenix to Colorado, you encounter some of the most exceptional national parks in the country.  In addition to Sunset Crater and Wapatki, you’re reasonably close to the eastern end of the Grand Canyon, and aren’t too far of a drive from the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.  After driving through Navajo Nation and onto the 191, you end up in Moab – a quintessentially charming Utah town once famous for its uranium mining back in the Cold War days.  Moab serves as a gateway to two other great national parks, Canyonlands and Arches.  These parks represent the love and respect we have for our land.  As we drove past deep red rock formations and copper-rich green mountains, I felt grateful for living in a country with such a variety of beauty within its borders.  Our geology is as diverse as our people, and we are inherently lucky for both.

The Colorado wildfires remained on our minds through the trip.  We took a brief detour around the Four Corners to go into southern Colorado, and the hazy air and smoke plumes were heartbreaking to see – it really seemed as if the entire state was on fire.  As Arizonans, we are all too familiar with the danger and devastation of wildfires – to date, Arizona has lost land greater than the size of Connecticut to wildfires.  Even considering that, what is happening in Colorado is like nothing we have ever seen.  Our hearts go out to the communities affected by these fires, and we hope for fast containment as well as the safety of the firefighters.

Driving past Grand Junction on the I-70 gave us a remarkable view of the Pine Ridge Fire, a fire believed to be caused by a discarded cigarette.  As we drove east on the 70, we saw white and black plumes fill the sky.  Freeway signs warned that the fire was nearby, but we were not in danger by any means.  As we headed into De Beque Canyon, we were surprised to see exactly how close we were to the outer edge of the fire – you could clearly see the flames from the freeway, small pockets of them, gradually cascading down the steep slopes of the mountain.  We spotted two helicopters doing remarkable work to fight this fire.  The pilots would lower the chopper down to the Colorado River, which separates the mountain from the freeway, to the point the chopper would be level with the cars on the freeway.  They would scoop up water from the river, then carry it over to the fire line, piloting perilously close to the edge of the mountain to attempt to aim the giant bucket of water to fight the flames.  These choppers were doing this over and over, for who knows how long.  Just imagine – these pilots are putting their lives at risk because someone mindlessly threw a cigarette out of a car.  This is a typical story for wildfires – it seems when they are not caused by arson, they are caused by self-centeredness; a discarded cigarette, a campfire improperly extinguished… the beautiful America we sing about is taken for granted far too often.

Now that we are at our destination for our fourth of July, I am glad we decided to trek through the hauntings of our history and our present to get here.  Like all history, the history in this region is one of beauty and ugliness, greatness and shame. We must accept it all and embrace the spirit of those before us who took a stand for better life and better government.  We must continue to show commitment to preserve the beauty of our land, live consciously rather than mindlessly, and speak loudly when the voices of others have been muted.

In other words, as we celebrate this fourth of July, let’s all be great Americans.

Photos copyright 2004-2012 Anne-Marie Pleau and Chris Giard.