Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday indulgence

Hugo and I are leaving the Asian market and this guy comes up and he's all, I need money for some food. Let me write a poem about your son's name. Let me earn it. From his clothes and his smell I think maybe he is homeless.

I try not to slow down, the words no thanks forming somewhere--maybe they make it out loud, maybe not. But he walks with me.

He's all, I'm from Haiti, and ever since I was a boy I have loved writing, and writing poems. You'll see. There is energy in between the letters of our names. You'll see.

And Hugo's all, to the guy, I have an owie!

So I relent. He's all, don't give me money until you see it. What's your son's name?

And I'm all, Hugo.

And the guy is all, NO. Hugo? Like Victor Hugo? And he bows to me in respect, low like a Victorian gentleman asking me to dance. I love his work, he says.

And to Hugo, he's all, you have a big name, young man. You have a big name.

And Hugo's all, I'm TWO! I saw a dragon!

And then he writes. He draws HUGO down the side of his paper and writes a line after each letter.

And then he's done. He reads it to me.

Healing hand of a sweet relief
Under the sky of all souls, in a
Gorgeous cosmic dress of truth
On the bed of a successful journey.

I take it, compliment him. He says, I'm trying to get to Philadelphia to change my situation. I have family there.

I give him a few dollars, offer him the hot food I was going to bring home to Jeff. He takes it, seems genuinely grateful. I wish him luck. We leave.

I feel terrible, nervous and sick, stingy and duped all at the same time. I don't feel like I've done the right thing OR the wrong thing. I normally refuse direct solicitations for help, mostly for my own safety but also because--because why? I don't know. They will probably just go buy booze with it. I give to charity. She probably has to give it all to some guy anyway. If I gave to every person that asked for it... These things we tell ourselves, excuses we give ourselves to judge.

In the Cider House Rules the doctor who performs abortions is drug-addicted and miserable in his own life. But he performs this then-illegal service for women, refusing to get into the right and wrong of it. Just give them what they want, he says. Just give them what they want. I can't remember if it was the voice of a wise man or of one who has given up. But it comes to me often, that phrase.

So for today, I allowed myself that greatest indulgence of believing in a stranger, in taking him at his word. It didn't feel good. In fact, it felt terrible. Someone's son out there in the cold writing poetry for food. And me, stingy in my mistrust. Both of us undeserving.

In the car on the way home Hugo asked over and over for "the Twinkle Twinkle song." And then for it again, and again. Here is the second verse:

When the traveler in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark
He'd not know which way to go
If you did not twinkle so
Twinkle twinkle little star...

I hope that man finds his star to follow. I hope he has already.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The human Kevin

So I have this cat. Actually I have two cats. But the one, there is a story about his name. I got him when he was 8 weeks old. I had just graduated college (1995!) and I was back home for the summer, hanging out with my favorite peeps from high school, Jeremy and Michele. We were reminiscing about our friend Kevin, who (whom?) we had lost touch with after high school. We couldn't find him anywhere, that being pre-Google and all. His parents were not around either, so he really was kind of gone. We had all had some great times together. School plays, late nights in Pennsylvania Dutch diners with bad (and by bad I mean awesome) coffee, pie, that kind of thing. I had it good in high school, I did.

So we were missing our friend Kevin. And I had this gorgeous young kitten who didn't have a name. And so I just decided, right there, that I would name him Kevin, to forever commemorate our lost friend Kevin.

And no, my cat does not die in this episode.

So I have had this cat for almost fourteen years, and umpteen people have asked me the story of his name. The judging--who names a cat Kevin? To the impressed--you must be very cool if you named your cat Kevin. (I don't think anyone has ever actually said this, except me, to myself, in my head). And Kevin is a great cat. He has character. He is a PRESENCE, all seventeen delicious pounds of him. Except now he is getting old and is down to thirteen pounds which means CLEARLY that he is going to live to be 150.

Anyway, the lost HUMAN Kevin found me on Facebook recently. What a treat it was to hear from him, for real. It seems like he is doing great. So what do I do? I do that thing I do, get a little over-excited about these things, like with the barista. So before I let the poor man even breathe, I send him this big stupid message about how I named my CAT after him because we all missed him SO MUCH and I LOVE my cat and I'm SO happy to be back in touch with him and GUSH GUSH. Lots of exclamation points (!!!!!!!!!).

And human Kevin sends me a nice, kind, non-gushy message back, I'm honored that you would name your beloved pet after me. Your son is adorable. Not a single exclamation point in his whole message. A classy guy, this Kevin. He's probably just waiting a socially acceptable amount of time before he un-friends me.

But now--wait for it--the angst! I'm all thinking, what would I do if someone emailed me after 18 years and said they were really hoping we would get back in touch because they had named their cat Nora? It struck me as very odd, my behavior for the last fourteen years. The end.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

There's never nothing, part 2

So, okay, more about my stoner therapist. He was cool.

After three years or so with Brian it was getting ridiculous. Looking back, I think I knew I had to find a way to break free and that I couldn't do it without some help and some major shaking up of things. So first--though I never articulated this at the time, it was more there's this great job etc etc-- I moved away to another state. That didn't do much for the whole breaking free thing. Meanwhile I was having such anxiety and misery that I figured maybe I would get some therapy. I figured it was a nice way to do some self-care. So I called around.

And who knows how to interview a therapist? I sure don't. I just tried to get them talking to see if I, you know, liked them. And this guy, he was all, I'm sort of a hippie. I'm from the sixties. And then he was all, and none of this fifty minutes crap. My sessions are a full hour. And it seemed like I might sort of like him, so that was pretty much that.

His office was in his house, an old Victorian with a leather couch, fireplace, and African masks on the wall from all his life's adventures. It was like stepping into my mind's eye of the perfect therapy office. For some of the darkest times that winter, that full hour was the highlight of my week.

We mostly just had conversations. There was no talking to chairs, talking about my mother, etc. Eventually we got around to Brian, and I started to see how my thinking in that relationship had gotten so distorted. He set me straight on a few things (like there is never nothing). One time he told me my thinking was just wrong, bless him. He suggested I smoke pot to relax one time. He told me some tidbits from his own shady past, his years traveling the world before settling in to graduate school. Not inappropriately like therapists I hear about who talk about themselves all the time (I had a piano teacher who did that), but enough so I came to trust his experience.

Once he was worried I wasn't taking good care of myself--he was right--so he told me to eat steel-cut oatmeal and fresh squeezed orange juice and called me on the weekend to make sure I was alright. He said he would. He put it in his calendar. He did. I think he was modeling appropriate behavior since my ideas of that were so off.

We talked about looking homeless people in the eye, how a conversation with the person who bags your groceries can make a day acceptable, how everyone has worth. I had been trying for so long to be perfect in my relationship that his words I could never love a woman without a good chunk of depression in her seemed revolutionary, a peek into a whole nother world that I vaguely knew existed (and suspected I could manage in) but had completely forgotten about.

The thing with Brian got crazier and crazier. We would split, come back together like magnets VOOM, split again. The tension, always high, was building. The one time in my life I had to call for an emergency therapy appointment, my therapist calmly made time for me. I showed up after work and flopped onto the wonderful couch, seriously so CRUSHED that I could not sit up by the realization I had just had. I had reached the tipping point. I knew--finally really KNEW--that though I had been operating under the not incorrect assumption for YEARS that leaving Brian would be the WORST THING EVER, staying with him would be even harder. I was completely paralyzed by my realization. There was no way that I was going to avoid doing something really, really hard, and I felt completely unequipped to do either thing. And my therapist was just as cool and respectful as ever. I don't remember what he said that day, but I suspect he was proud of me. I suspect he knew then that I would be just fine.

Of course it was a month or two before the break finally happened. But when it did, I made it final. I stuck to my guns, and severed all contact with Brian. After a couple months of terrible, terrible, terribleness, a big fat letter from him showed up in my mailbox. Oh no. I could feel the magnet buzzing VOOM VOOM VOOM. I gave it to my roommate, and she hid it so I wouldn't be tempted to open it. Because make no mistake, if I had opened it we would have been right back where we started, no matter what it said. It was a FORK IN THE ROAD. After a couple weeks, I took the letter to my therapy session and I burned it--UNOPENED--in the fireplace. No ceremony, no wise words. He just sort of WITNESSED it. And then, somehow, I was free.

Within a few months I moved on. We stayed in touch for awhile, had coffee once. And that was that. I still think of his relaxed wisdom, years and years later. I still remember him saying, there is so much to experience in this life, Nora. There is music, dance, art, literature, people, language. There is so much to explore.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

There's never nothing

So I'm in the ladies' today at work, this endless job that I quit and then agreed to stay for weeks and weeks longer. No, this is actually relevant now that I think of it. I agreed to stay because even though I really want to be at home with Hugo every possible minute and really put very little energy into career cultivating, I'm scared to death of DISAPPEARING from the professional world, but only during the moments that I'm IN it. So I take on all this extra crap, and have a plan B and C and Q. Just so I maybe will still be able to work with THIS person later, if I want to, if they'll have me. And cultivate this relationship, over here, so they'll remember me when they have something, etc etc. It's ridiculous, and I watch myself do it and I cringe. It's not ME. I'm so not a networker. I'm a sit-in-the-pub-and-people-watch-er, a have-you-over-for-tea-er. I am an in-tro-VERT.

Anyway, the ladies'. And I have this LIGHTNING bolt of a revelation, it HITS me just like that. You know Harry Potter? And the invisibility cloak? (I know! So 2005! But I didn't like Twilight, so there. More proof that I am behind the times). And how he is always choosing his moments to put the cloak on? To slink around and defeat the forces of evil? It hit me--just like that--that I'm the OPPOSITE of that. It's like THIS--unlike Harry, *I* prefer to wear my invisibility cloak at ALL TIMES, and take it off only when I choose, to control the moments I reveal myself.

And I rushed back to my desk--it seemed HUGE. I wrote a note to myself so I wouldn't FORGET it. It was BIG. There would be a whole big POST about it later. A really good one. Thought provoking. It would help you GET me and everyone like me.

But now that I'm here, I think..umm..that's really kind of it. I have ANGST because my comfort with invisibility is playing a big old game of war with my fear of it. I want to step back but not disappear. I have a (most likely unfounded) impression that I am more VISIBLE than usual now because of my job-quitting shenanigans, and I do not like it. Because for me, being visible is like being naked. Or something. Yawn.

As my great stoner therapist (I should write about him more) once said in response to my anxious handwringing that it would all just BE BAD and there would be NOTHING if I took X, Y, or Z dumb twentysomething risk, Nora, there's never NOTHING. And then he told me to smoke pot to chill out and I did not. Of course there is never nothing! But it was quite profound for me, at the time. There's never nothing. And I should chill out. I do, most of the time.

I never know how to close these posts. I really haven't learned anything except maybe to stop trying to be all Ms. Dr. Shmoozy O'Shmoozer which I sort of knew anyway but that stupid invisibility cloak will be in my head for a while, I suspect, the end. It was quite an image.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Nora gives her power away in the *(&^ grocery store

Do you ever do this? I'm in the grocery store and up ahead of me I see someone I know from work. Not that I DISLIKE her--I dislike very few people for real life. But not someone I want to spend my precious Saturday chitchatting in the grocery store with. And she, I suspect, would tend to chitchat in the store for way longer than I would.

Maybe it was her bright green pants (color changed to protect the innocent) that made me do it. Or maybe it was the death rattle of my own almost-not-quite-yet peace with stepping away from the power career track for now. But at any rate, I saw the pants and thought, that looks like whatshername, no, it is her. It IS. And I darted down the first aisle I could. Narrowly avoiding a surprise meeting.

And don't you know, that lands me right in the beer/nut/popcorn/snack aisle. So I buy some pretzels, because I'm from Pennsylvania and that's what we do. I look in my cart--organic eggs, asparagus, fruit, oh and the PRETZELS and I figure my cart is respectable enough for her in case I did have to talk with her. Thank heavens my house is full of Girl Scout Cookies so I can look all virtuous and self-controlled. Except oh! My cat food is not organic or expensive. Crap! Oh well. I dither around for a minute in the beer and then I resume my trolling around the store--aren't we all so obedient that we all take the same route through the store? Just as I'm SURE that I'm in the clear, I see her up ahead AGAIN! Perusing the cheese.

Here a grownup person might have just said hello and got it the hell over with, but NO. I dash away AGAIN. This time to the far end of the store (toys!) and pick out a toy loader for Hugo, because there sure aren't enough damn loaders in our house. It's now the BAD FRIEND LOADER, that's what it is.

Meanwhile I have tramped all over the stupid store OUT OF ORDER, buying things I don't need, handing over the whole place to this perfectly nice person for her shopping pleasure, wasting my precious time slinking around in the back aisles.

And then the guilt starts. What if I could have made her day by just saying hello? What if she SAW me dodging her? What if--OH MY GOODNESS--she was avoiding ME? And then who else has avoided me in the grocery store? WHO? Am I a pariah? Is that why I don't see people I know in the grocery store very often? They are all fleeing?

New proof that I am a bad person, the end.

Monday, March 9, 2009

That time of year

It's that time of year, when the fall apples are all crappy and old, the winter oranges have gone all dry, and the spring berries aren't quite here yet, unless you count the ones from Chile or wherever, which I do, kind of, and then I go all la la la la sorry global warming but these Chilean berries are on SALE, oh warming planet of mine, SOMEONE has to buy them and I think that I read somewhere that it is actually less crappy for the environment to fly in Chilean blueberries than to try to grow them up here in our hemisphere all year round. Then I go to the farmer's market in my head and wonder if that counts, if I just go in my head. And then I realize that it probably does not count AT ALL, just like it doesn't count if someone offers me a job in their head. And then the worry, the worry, all because of the berries.

Which reminds me of how my college boyfriend went to work at JP Morgan after college and I went to the Christmas party with him and it was in some shmancy hotel in Manhattan and I was shamefully underdressed and there were fresh raspberries by the BUCKET, seriously they were everywhere, mostly at the bottom of people's champagne glasses all fancy like, and then look at Wall Street now, I sure hope they didn't have a fancy December raspberry party THIS year. And did you know that JP Morgan had something wrong, seriously wrong, with his nose? That's why there are no pictures of him. And then I also went up in the World Trade Center several times and now I'm afraid of heights and that's the end of the Wall Street chapter of my life, the end.

But I digress, because what I REALLY wanted to say was that it's the down-time of the year, produce wise. So time to break out the frozen fruit smoothies here at the Bee's, because Jeff is from California and that is what they do there, just make smoothies all the damn time. Except that I'm NOT from California, I'm from Pennsylvania where we eat cured meats and things that contain lard, so it's a culture clash.

But I digress again, because what I REALLY wanted to do was show you how sweet my boy is when he eats frozen blueberries so I am thankful for this time of year because look how cute? I love him.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Jeff is from Mars, Nora is perfect

So at 4am I wake Jeff up and I'm all, I'm NERVOUS. I'm ANXIOUS.

And he's all, can I sleep some more?

And then at 8 he is awake and he's all, now what was the problem?

And I'm all, I'm NERVOUS about quitting my JOB. What if it is the wrong thing to DO? What if I never get a job again and I disappear from the world entirely? If I become INVISIBLE?

And he's all, I think you should email your new part-time boss lady and talk about getting started.

And I'm all, noooooo! I don't want ACTION STEPS! I just want you to BE there for me while I talk about how I'm FEELING!

And he's all, but why don't you email her?

And I'm all, so you don't LOVE me?

And he's all, I don't see why you won't just email her.

And I'm all, I DID. At 5am after you wouldn't WAKE UP to TALK to me about my FEELINGS.

And he's all, umm, email her?

And I'm all, FINE! Now I have to worry about being UNEMPLOYED, being UNLOVED, and being STUPID. I'm taking a SHOWER.

And then he comes in to the bathroom and is all, you're doing a good job. It will all work out okay.

And I'm all exhaling and calming down and I'm all, thanks.

And then I drove him to work because he missed every bus there was telling me to email her, the end.

Monday, March 2, 2009

"In a relationship"

My friend Susanna has changed her Facebook profile to "In a relationship." She joked that it was the equivalent of "getting pinned." Which I don't remember and no one in my world ever did , but I do remember reading novels from the 1950s when I was young where the "pin" and the letter sweater were the keys to female acceptance.

I'm not THAT old, but I'm old enough to have finished up dating before I knew anything about Facebook. In high school, some of the girls wore their boyfriends' class rings, all wrapped up in yarn so it wouldn't fall off their finger. That wasn't really ME, not least because I would hardly have needed any yarn to keep most rings on my mannish fingers but also because I don't think any of the people I dated (and when I say dated I mean kissed) were class-ring-wearing types. I mostly passed notes in the hall, and then in college there was (wait for it) email. But those weren't for public declarations of any sort. Come to think of it, I don't think I had one of those until I got married.

Most of the guys I dated, there was a runner and a chaser. I would have either vanished into thin air if someone had Facebook-relationshipped me--like that Irish exchange student who I met in a bar and told me outside the bar that something had really happened for him that night--I bet he would have FR-ed me right as the thing was happening and I would have been out of there like a shot. Then Brian--ha! I would have obsessed about it, OBSESSED, waiting for him to publicly acknowledge our relationship of many, many years. And he never would have, that tomato seed. And I would have FR-ed him in like a minute and then kept obsessing and then the anxiety would have driven me insane. Jeff? He's still not on Facebook, that late adopter. He wouldn't have been then either and would generally have been in a cloud of glorious nerdiness all, what's the big deal?

No, it's all good and appropriate that I was in the sandwich generation, in between the letter sweaters and the Facebook heart icon. It was a crazy time full of secrets and undeclared things, but it was okay.