…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I'm afraid to check the mail. I suppose because it involves confronting the unknown, opening a portal to the outside world through which all manner of chaos and judgment can intrude my home. I feel similarly about answering the phone. I trace the origins of my mail fear to when I first moved to L.A. in 1992 and rented a room from a bondage daddy whose control issues often seeped out of his bedroom and into my life. When he wasn't busy tying up his sex partners and making them beg to lick his boots, the professional CPA was typing me business letters on personal letterhead detailing all the ways in which he found my existence disagreeable. When I finally found a place I could afford to rent on my own, thus escaping the leather-clad hegemon, I unwisely gave him my new address so that he could forward my mail and, if he were so inclined, return my security deposit. The security deposit never arrived, but for months I received all manner of correspondence berating me for having been an unacceptable boarder. I think he just missed having a reliable person to dominate, but I became increasingly fearful of what my mailbox might contain.

The stakes are higher now. I fear not only random missives from angry lunatics but official correspondence from government, lending, and business institutions. I'm haunted always by a queasy feeling of impending doom, the confirmation of which is bound to be pushed through my mail slot at any moment. My fear is legitimate, I think. Why would the dog bark so ferociously at our mail unless she, too, sensed its latent danger? Like me, she recognizes the potential menace in each day's postal delivery. On any given afternoon I could receive a letter detailing why the bank must foreclose on our mortgage and take possession of our home, how I failed to do something very important and must now suffer the consequences, that there's no longer any recourse—I had my chance, three chances in fact, and, no, it doesn't matter that I didn't receive any of the prior notices: Ignorance is no excuse. Have you not read "House of Sand and Fog"?

I had a minor mental snap last night over a piece of mail I received. The catalyst for my tailspin? A third notice from the phone company, the one that says, "Hey, you're officially superlate with this payment and you're going to lose service and owe us big-time reconnection fees and deposits if we don't have payment by February 1." I think most people would think, Oops, then pay the damn bill and be done with it. Not me. My pulse raced and my hands shook as I frantically scanned the document for instructions. I went to SBC's website to pay the bill online, but when I tried to create a user ID a text box informed me that I already had a log-in and password. But how could that be? I'd never visited the SBC site before. Desperate to remedy the issue immediately I searched the letter for alternate instructions and found their 800 number, but when I called it I learned I could only submit phone payments during business hours. I dropped the phone and began sobbing. Seriously. Sobbing, and hating myself for neglecting the bills.

I've assumed responsibility for paying our mutual bills since my partner and I bought a house together. From time to time she offers to take over and give me a break, but I feel more comfortable doing it myself, what with the fears about bank foreclosures and all. I have always considered myself the more fiscally responsible of the two of us—she might, somewhat less charitably, call me anal.

A couple of years ago I entered one of the longest depressive episodes of my life. Along with the sadness and fatigue that are the obvious hallmarks of depression, the brain has a tendency to go "pfft," just shutting off, and shutting out responsibilities and cares and anything that one may have once taken pride in. I stopped worrying about housework. The yard reverted to its wild state. And I no longer neatly organized my bills in order of due date—I got to them when I got to them, often paying them late, usually just in time to forestall third notices. Having previously paid our bills in full like clockwork, always by initial due dates, I imagine our creditors must have thought that our financial situation had changed drastically, that we were having trouble keeping up with our payments; here's where my partner would sigh and tell me that our creditors don't "think" anything, that the computer programs that manage our accounts and occasionally spit out "late payment" notices aren't privy to higher thought processes. Still, I read between the lines and feel the judgment therein.

I've felt like a new person since the turn of the New Year—thanks to a meds tweak, a sense of renewal, some dogged determination on the part of my therapist, and, undoubtedly, a few earthly machinations that are less apparent to me but inestimably important—and I hope all that sadness and paralyzing ennui is behind me. But it takes time to reboot the systems after so many months of erratic activity, so while I'm beginning to get things like dust and weeds and bills under control, well, let's just say we're getting back on track in fits and starts. And it's surprising to discover just how tenuous that feeling of wellness can be when a ripple disturbs the carefully managed calm. Maybe that's another reason I fear the mail slot: A single computer-generated late notice from the phone company can send me on a crying jag, and once arrested by anxiety I feel so disempowered by its awesome grip, so vulnerable to the spiral.

In the midst of this emotional miasma, my partner, who had been pleading with me to come down from the ledge and let her take care of the SBC issue, at last vaguely remembered having set up a user name and password at SBC. After a few failed attempts she gained access to the website, where she not only paid the bill but set us up for automatic monthly billing. Furthermore, she clicked the "paperless" option, ensuring one less monthly bill cascading through our slot to worry me and rile the dog. In its stead will be a single e-mail, arriving all friendly-like to our in box just to let us know what's been charged to our account. I'm not afraid of e-mail at all.


Monday, January 30, 2006

hollywood disinterred

Whenever we're about to host first-time visitors from out of town, my partner and I start thinking about where to go, what to do, how to present Los Angeles to the novice user. We've long wanted to crystallize a cogent tour, with a trajectory that flows as swiftly as water whooshes through the Los Angeles Aqueduct from the Owens Valley—with nods to the graft and corruption appropriate to the metaphor. [See "Chinatown."]

It's impossible to sway L.A. virgins from seeing the old standards: Rodeo Drive, the Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame, celebs' footprints in the Grauman's forecourt. But Hollywood Boulevard, from which one can view the latter three, is certain to disappoint, and I don't just say that because I grew up in Southern California: It doesn't take repeated exposure to be turned off by the cheesy souvenir shops, tourist traps like the Guinness World of Records, and sloppy men halfheartedly trying to sell their privacy-invading tours of stars' homes. And while the Chinese Theatre is still captivating enough to compel even the most jaded among us to put our sensible lesbian shoes alongside the impressions of Joan Crawford's freakishly tiny feet and wonder how the woman ever remained upright, the forecourt is now positively overrun with freelance costumed "performers" who are at best tepid approximations of their totem characters. Nothing trashes Hollywood glamour quite like a motley troupe of fanny-packed superheroes, listless villains, and vaguely menacing Muppets. Lest you think I'm exaggerating for comic effect, a fall article in the Los Angeles Times exposed most of the lot as little more than panhandlers incognito, inviting tourists to take photos of them and then shaking them down for tips (hence the fanny packs; tights have no pockets). LAPD officers, at the behest of the Hollywood Entertainment District, staged a sting operation, resulting in one of my favorite lines of text in a newspaper article ever: "'Throw down your heads and get up against the wall!' police in Hollywood shouted at Mr. Incredible and his sidekick, Elmo the Muppet."

Do I sound sour? In reality, I love Hollywoodness. I can think of no better place to take a visitor to lunch than the Formosa Café, a dive that's been swilling cocktails and dishing greasy Chinese food since 1925 from a tiny unassuming building that happens to be next door to the Warner Hollywood Studio. Any booth you land in is guaranteed to have hosted major celebrity butts through the ages. The walls are jammed with black-and-white glossies from Hollywood's golden age—James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando—all personally signed to the Formosa owners and staff. If you like your icons on the darker side, Johnny Stompanato—Lana Turner's gangster boyfriend, who was stabbed to death by Lana's daughter—and Elizabeth Short, a.k.a. the Black Dahlia—a charismatic aspiring starlet who in 1947 was found in a vacant lot cut in half at the waist, a still unsolved murder that's one of L.A.'s most enduring and sensational mysteries—were both regulars at the Formosa bar.

Likewise, the Roosevelt Hotel is a required stop. The Spanish-style hotel, initially financed by the likes of Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Louis B. Mayer, hosted the inaugural Academy Awards in 1929 and pays tribute to its storied past on a tourist-friendly—i.e., you don't have to be a paying guest to enjoy it—mezzanine filled with photos of old Hollywood, newspaper clippings, and artifacts, including one of the cameras used to film "Gone with the Wind." The hotel is said to be haunted by not one but two ghosts: Montgomery Clift (suite 928), who lived there during the filming of "From Here to Eternity," and Marilyn Monroe, who is said to make periodic appearances in a full-length mirror that once hung in her poolside suite—it now hangs conveniently in the hotel lobby should you want to keep vigil.

One of my favorite nights ever was spent at the Cinegrill, the hotel's now-closed cabaret. In this startlingly intimate space, once a favorite hangout of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Salvador Dalí, I watched Anita O'Day take down the house at age 85. She may have had trouble remembering her bandmates' names, but the lady, whose career ranged as wide as singing big band with Gene Krupa and bebop with Thelonious Monk, could still swing, always taunting her combo to keep up with her. Sitting at a round table not four feet from the stage and sipping an extra-strong Manhattan, I felt lost in time.

I suppose my tour would continue in much the same vein, exploring the stomping grounds of stars, criminals, and ghosts—some of whom were surely prolific enough to embody all three. We could hike through Runyon Canyon to view the ruins of magnificent estates long since torn down, one of which housed Errol Flynn when he lost his own home in an alimony fight. We'll hum "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" as we walk along the dry creek of Placerita Canyon, backdrop of countless singing-cowboy movies and TV Westerns. And if your appetite for the macabre wasn't satisfied when the Formosa bartender pointed out the stool the Black Dahlia reportedly last pulled up to the rail, we can wander through the Hollywood Forever Cemetery looking for the graves of Rudolph Valentino, buried there in 1926, and Fay Wray, more recently interred in 2004. We can also check out HFC's proprietary LifeStories technology, touch screens placed throughout the park where visitors can view videographies of cemetery residents.

This all may sound a little like Hollywood archaeology, and maybe it is. I think I'm interested in times past not because they were better but because we can better appreciate any time at arm's length. A favorite recent quote comes from George Clooney—touted in today's Los Angeles Times as one of our few genuine movie stars (and even he would rather direct)—regarding the cinematography of "Good Night, and Good Luck": "The problem with doing this film in black-and-white and making it really attractive is that you look at it and go, God, I really miss the '50s. You can long for that. And it's hard to remember that…if you were a gay black woman in the '50s, life ain't so good!"

It is precisely for this reason that you should be sure not to leave the Hollywood Forever Cemetery without first contemplating the memorial to Hattie McDaniel, who, despite her stature as the first African-American woman to win an Academy Award, was refused her dying wish to be buried at HFC, a "white" cemetery, when she passed in 1952. Forty-seven years later she was offered a plot at HFC by its new owners, who had recently renovated the long-neglected property and wanted to right the wrong done to McDaniel. Her family thought it would be disrespectful to disinter her remains, so a memorial was erected instead. Not to gloss the original injustice, but isn't it nice to be able to skip ahead those 47 years and know how everything turns out in the end?

In hindsight Hollywood can be lovely. In the harsh klieg light of a 2006 afternoon, not so much.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

the passive-aggressive contractor

We have a workman at our house today performing part 2 of 2 in the rehabilitation of our office ceiling. A week and a half ago he patched a 4-foot-square hole, and today he's blending the drywall repair, which, because parts of our house, including the office, were victim to the 1950s standard of acoustic "popcorn" ceilings, involves plastering over the entire expanse.

When we finally resolved to have the 11-month-old hole fixed, I suggested that as long as men wielding plaster and trowels were going to be here maybe we could do away with the asbestos-riddled hideousness as well, at least in that room. Everybody's doing it lately! I wonder whether the whole asbestos-ceiling racket wasn't something plotted by yesterday's contractors so that their sons could one day find gainful employment removing them. But I have to keep such truths to myself, having learned a long time ago that otherwise smart people aren't ready for my kind of forward thinking. Conspiracy theories, my ass.

At the time of our estimate, however, the contractor shook his head, pronouncing it nearly impossible to properly scrape our ceiling smooth since the material used here was not the typical spray-on carcinogenic evilness but rather a concrete mix; he could, however, plaster over it, he said. OK, we decided, better to seal in the asbestos than continue to share living space with its spores, and we had no reason to doubt the word of someone who, unlike ourselves, knew something about this kind of thing…

This was before we realized we were dealing with the passive-aggressive contractor. For simplicity's sake, let's call him Derek, which is his actual name. My partner found him on Angie's List, a website where consumers rate and research home service contractors.

*A word about my partner: When seeking my approval for something, she often presents "facts" that are not so much false as they are, say, lacking necessary caveats. So when she said she had found someone on Angie's List who was very highly recommended, she left out the part about his rating resting entirely and precariously upon just one performance review.

**A word about me: I'm basically inert, so I'm delighted anytime my partner is willing to project-manage. My vetting of her proposed plan of action is a charade: She knows that I don't really want to take responsibility for it, and I know that any decision-making criteria presented to me are loaded in favor of the option she wants me to pick.

Derek and my partner agreed upon a day and time for the estimate, which he forgot about. Happily, my partner had some time off work in January, so while Derek's mental lapse was annoying, it wasn't costly. They rescheduled, and he showed up an hour and a half late. He glanced at the hole and said he'd fax her an estimate later that day. She told him we had no way of receiving faxes at home and asked whether he might be able to e-mail the estimate, a request that was reportedly greeted with the enthusiasm of a child told to go clean his room.

There was no word from Derek for several days. We decided that he was a giant flake and that we should probably move to the next guy on Angie's List, but then Derek's estimate arrived, and it was about half the price we expected it to be. Clearly, Derek was our man. My partner signed a contract with him and he said he would be in touch. The next morning, a Monday, Derek called at 7 and said his men would be there in an hour. "Um, that really won't be possible today. We both have to work," she told him. Derek seemed surprised that we needed more than an hour's notice to start a home-improvement project on a weekday. "Tuesday or Wednesday would be perfect, though," she said. "I'll be home from work all day." He said Wednesday would be fine.

Wednesday came and went with no sign of Derek or his crew. That evening my partner called Derek, who said he forgot but that he would have people there the next morning. We rearranged our schedules, each taking a half-day off work to accommodate him, and the next morning, as scheduled, the crew showed up—a guy, actually. He's a very nice guy, even if our pets don't like him and he has a tendency to leave the toilet seat up. He patched the hole and said he would have to come back to do the plaster overlay. We asked if Saturday was possible, because neither of us wanted to take more time off work. He said he would be back Saturday.

Friday night we got home late to find a message on our machine from Derek asking us to call and confirm that Saturday morning would be OK. We had thought this was a done deal, but we called and left a message saying that, yes, Saturday would be great. We got up at 7 that morning to be ready to receive the "crew." At noon my partner called and left a message saying that no one had shown up.

Two days later, Monday, we awoke at 7 a.m. to a call from Derek saying that no one had shown up because we hadn't confirmed. We said that we felt we had but that regardless we would like to schedule the work for the following Saturday. Derek made some noise about preferring to do it during the week. We reminded him that we were both employed, not bothering to go into detail as to why we wouldn't want to take time off work to accommodate someone who may or may not show up. Derek pouted that Saturday would be fine and arranged an 8 a.m. start time.

Thursday at 7 a.m. we awoke to a call from Derek reminding us that his guy would be at our house Saturday. "Great," my partner said, shaking cobwebs out of her head. "We'll be here."

Friday at 6:15 a.m. we awoke to a call from Derek reminding us that his guy would be at our house Saturday at 7 a.m. We knew we had agreed upon 8, but 6:15 is too early to argue about details like that.

Saturday, this morning, we awoke at 6:40 to be ready for Derek's guy, who arrived at 8:15.

Our ceiling is now as smooth as a baby's bottom, with its cancer-harboring stalactites contained beneath an inch of plaster. And I'm happy that the work is done. The house feels cozier, and we can once again spend time in the office without staring forlornly at our roof beams through the exposed attic. Still, I'm left to wonder, when we send Derek our payment in full, would it be forward of me to include a copy of the book "Overcoming Passive-Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career, and Happiness"?

Friday, January 27, 2006

dumped update

Oh, this is the limit. I'm driving into work today—all tralala—and when I turn onto the street where I park my car I hit a minor traffic jam. The reason for the backup? The street is blocked by a garbage truck, idling while workmen load into its eager maw the household refuse cited in my "dumped" entry of 1/24: you know, the peed-upon pile of crap that made me feel slightly more fortunate than the disenfranchised Hollywood apartment dwellers who lived in its fetid shadow.

"Stop!" I want to scream, running toward the truck. "You don't understand—it's an art installation!"

Our own flotsam? Oh, yeah, it's still there, now augmented by a stray shopping cart from the local Vallarta Latin supermarket.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


I'm a closet blogger, sort of. Only a handful of people know about this place, mostly folks from a message board community I frequent. It's not so much that I want to keep it a secret—though it is easier to stay true to myself when I feel protected by the anonymity of cyberspace—but that I've never been much of a "look at me!" sort. At a party, I'm not even the person sitting quietly in a corner, I'm the person who runs out for more ice—and visits a bookstore on the way, and maybe stops for a burrito.

I actually do want people to pay attention to me. I just don't want to ask them to. And I want them to pay attention only in very specific ways. Ideally, I'd like to be able to edit my social encounters, which I'm always doing in my head anyway, as if do-overs were possible in life. I perform postproduction on therapy visits as well, and while I often share with my therapist thoughts that occur to me in going over my mental transcripts of previous weeks' sessions, those aren't do-overs proper, because they invariably prompt discussions about why I feel such a strong need to edit myself.

I would never have to run out for ice if partygoers were issued writing tablets and pencils with erasers, if being social didn't involve speaking extemporaneously.

I've recently formed a friendship with a woman I met online. We have so much in common I keep asking her to reassure me that I didn't make her up—which may start to annoy her, so I should stop that. We wrote each other for weeks before we traded phone numbers, then I was terrified to actually talk to her for fear that I would be found out for the mentally defective person I am. I wasn't sure I wanted her to know anyone but the person who could speak in complete sentences and whose uncomfortable silences evaporated between lines of text—but I was sure that I wanted to know her in an unqualified way, not as an online friend but as a friend. Then a surprising thing happened. We spoke. We talked on the phone for over an hour—with no awkward silences. It was a minor miracle, one that I'm not sure would have happened had I not introduced myself to her in writing first. Had we met at a party, I'm not sure we would have met at all.

Eventually I'll share this blog with some friends I met first in the flesh, one of whom I know will be mightily pissed that I didn't tell her about it sooner. And I wonder whether they'll recognize the person I am here. I wonder whether they'll like her. They'll be far too polite to tell me so if they don't, and maybe that's for the best. Still, I can't help imagining what would happen if they met me here first, how our relationships might be different if they came to know me through my writing rather than always having to read between my lines.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


I can't get enough of "Intervention," a reality program on A&E about addiction and recovery now in its second season. Here's the setup: We're introduced to one or two individuals addicted to anything from heroin to video games (really, video games, one of the most harrowing segments I've seen on the show; the guy reminded me of Tom Hanks' character in the made-for-TV movie "Mazes and Monsters," stumbling through the hedgerows in his robe at the end of the film, his link to reality severed, perhaps irrevocably). Viewers follow the addicts' lives for a week or so, getting a voyeuristic taste of what their world has become in the service of the monkey. While the subjects have willingly signed on for a documentary about addiction, what we know and they don't is that their friends and family members are conspiring to stage an intervention. We meet these folks in parallel fashion, so as the subjects tell their tales, their loved ones muse over how they were star athletes, good students, beautiful, happy, talented girls and boys until…

In the final third of the hour-long show each subject is lured to an intervention, which they greet with emotions ranging from passive resignation to angry denial. Enter the show's unassuming and very unglamorous intervention facilitators, Jeff Van Vonderan, who calls to mind a junior high principal, and Candy Finnegan, who to me seems a bit more like a therapist than Jeff does, probably owing to her no-nonsense haircut and implacable demeanor—not that Jeff seems any more excitable than she. They've each clearly grown comfortable with the idea that their subjects may hate them, though the addicts generally reserve their most white-hot burning hate for one or both of their parents. The show becomes especially riveting here: Will the subject accept treatment—the immediate commencement of which is contingent only upon a nod or a sigh as the producers of the show have already arranged flights and airport transportation and family members have taken the liberty of prepacking the addicts' bags—or will they blow this taco stand to go score some smack from a guy named "Rat"? Most accept treatment, and most of them in turn complete their programs to become productive, happy members of society, brought back into the family fold, returned custody of their child, or dog. We see "after" video of them at the end, accompanied by upbeat music, and they talk briefly about their lives post-recovery. The ones who don't make it, who quit the program, who relapse, they get postscript text on a screen. The text is nonjudgmental, but the bleak nature of their future echoes in the void of strummy music. At them we shake our heads, thinking that of course we would have taken Jeff or Candy up on their offer of deluxe accommodations in a secular Taos retreat. We would go toward the light. Those of us who have never endured rehab may even romanticize it a bit, bypassing the horrors of withdrawal and going straight for the fellowship, imagining how nice it might be to take a few months off work to hang out with friends, enjoy trust-building activities, learn therapeutic crafts, and be regarded as a hero in the end, the prodigal son or daughter returned.

That's what I really romanticize: the return. To think that a coalition of the willing could love me enough to save me from myself, no matter what kind of hell I've put them through. Oh, to have run with the devil, only to return safely home where all is forgiven and the future can be nothing but brighter for the journey. I've never raced the devil. I've never put my family through hell. When her phone rings at 3 a.m., my mother never wonders whether it's the hospital or the morgue calling about her youngest child. So I suppose I identify not with the addicts of "Intervention" but with the brothers and sisters who have tried all their lives to do everything right, to see their efforts rewarded only with the passive ambivalence of parents too busy wringing hands over the wayward child. That, and a peripheral role in a television show starring same.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


We live in a crappy neighborhood. Actually, we live on the crappy fringes of an "improving" neighborhood, which is to say that we are too close to the boulevards—the streets that contain almost all the registered sex offenders who pop up when we search our zip code at California's Megan's Law website—to be properly considered within the improvement zone. When our crotchety Realtor first saw the house we proposed to buy she said, "You know you're right next door to that apartment building," as if we had somehow missed the 50-odd-unit stucco monstrosity overshadowing our single-story ranch home. "That'll bring your property values down," she said. Right! That's why we can afford it.

Corner houses in crappy neighborhoods attract trash, big trash: discarded furniture, spent tires, vats of medical waste. A sofa was dumped at our curb several weeks ago, prompting my partner to call "large dead illegal animal pickup," our nickname for the L.A. sanitation bureau service that schedules collection times for, among other things, bulky items, dead strays, and illegal dumps. We first used this service to have a dead possum removed from our property, and we've since had to call perhaps a dozen times to have as many thousands of pounds of jetsam carted off. The bureau's versatility challenges us to imagine removals that hit on all three of their major categories for pickup, such as dead Komodo dragons, which are both fairly large and very illegal. The bureau also collects quantities of horse manure, a service we've never required, and operates something they call a HazMobile, which will come in handy when those vats of medical waste appear.

Several weeks on, the sofa is still there, and it isn't getting any prettier. Trash begets trash. I think it's a law of physics. So a sofa will naturally attract a fugly lamp or two, and before you know it a broken coffee table arrives and you have a corner group. Our situation isn't as bleak as that of the Hollywood neighborhood where I park my car during work hours. For months I've walked by a growing pile that has come to include a mattress and box spring, a broken recliner, a decoupage experiment gone horribly wrong, a pressboard desk, a lamp, several bags of trash, and the de rigueur sofa that started it all. And a growing stench signals that certain passersby can't resist the urge to urinate on impromptu dumps, giving the whole enterprise some credibility as a community art installation. I'm guessing its longevity doesn't indicate any fondness on behalf of the neighborhood's residents but rather the dilemma faced by apartment dwellers: You must be a property owner to schedule a large dead illegal animal pickup, so if your landlord is off-site and unresponsive, you're SOL.

While I feel more fortunate than the Hollywood apartment dwellers, whose hands are tied when their "garden" apartments become city dumps, I am less fortunate than a certain resident of Mulholland Drive, whose snaking vista road I drive every day on my way to work. I involuntarily smirked one morning as I rounded a curve and saw an upended couch leaning against the Italianate stone wall of a Mediterranean-style villa, a property that likely last sold just north of $2 million. I thought, OK, fair's fair, no one is above the odd dump; all is right with the world. But the very next morning that couch was gone, and while it's possible the owner paid to have it carted away himself, it's likelier that his address is simply more motivating than mine to the folks at large dead illegal animal pickup.

We'll give it another week before we call in a second report, and if it comes to that, we may tell them that it's not so much the corner group we mind but the dead Komodo dragon who has come to rest there. It's worth a shot.

Monday, January 23, 2006


In a dream last night my partner's mother proclaimed at the dinner table that I didn't love her daughter enough. By way of explanation she continued that this inadequacy wasn't really my fault because she understood that my emotional compass was broken on a basic human level. That wasn't the worst part. What was truly horrifying was that I sat beside her and silently agreed, waiting for the other shoe to drop, when the family would decide as a group what, then, should be done about me.

I harbor a fair amount of anxiety regarding my partner's family's opinion of me. I worry that they don't understand how their daughter could find me even mildly interesting or amusing, let alone how she could possibly love me. It isn't a totally irrational fear. When around her parents, I'm overcome with emotional and intellectual retardation. On more than one occasion my partner's mother has taken her aside privately and asked whether I was mentally well. And I don't think I'm on the verge of a renaissance being that I've known my partner's family for 11 years and my social skills have improved at a rate measurable only in glacial terms.

I worry sometimes that the version they see is the genuine me, that I am fundamentally different than most people, that, more to the point, I ride the emotional short bus. I talk to my psychiatrist about feeling apathetic and disconnected, and he smiles and points out that since I'm crying as I say these things I can't be nearly as apathetic as I feel, that, in fact, having feelings of any sort about apathy is an oxymoron. He says all of this in his low, dulcet, hypnotic voice, a tonal magic act almost certainly originating in psych departments, and I think, Yes, he's right, having feelings about not feeling IS feeling. And I leave his office confident that some evolution has taken place, imagining that my worry over not feeling enough is perhaps indication that I feel more than most. After all, I'd guess that most people worry about disconnect at least some of the time, and I doubt that sociopaths worry about it at all, so given that I worry about it ALL the time, I must be just about the opposite of a sociopath—if you follow me—even if, or even because, I feel like one sometimes.

But all of this "logic" crashes over my head when I find myself adrift, unable to touch some far shore where convivial people are gathered and appear to be waving me to land. I try to wave back and instead begin to drown. I surface to find that the party has moved on, that no one had really noticed me at all, and that my drowning gestures amounted to nothing more than salt in my eyes.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


My partner's father came to see us last weekend. He's a lovely and generous man, so his company is always enjoyable. Still, the single greatest thing he brought us during his visit was fire.

I'm not sure why we've never used our fireplace in the three years we've lived here. Being that this is our first house, it's possible that we still regard it as little more than a very spacious apartment. Maybe we're still pinching ourselves, expecting at any moment to wake and find ourselves living in 900 square feet of taupe carpet and thin white walls, wondering when the loud, drunk upstairs neighbors are going to stop stomping around in their cement shoes.

There's also the anxiety factor. I've heard people talk about "flues" having to be open; how would I know whether mine is? If it isn't, could a backdraft send flames dancing into the living room? Might one of the pets jump the screen and immolate? And though I laugh at my mother's tendency to believe every urban legend she hears, it is difficult to shake the idea that a murder victim, properly mummified, could remain undiscovered for decades lodged halfway down a chimney.

My partner's father took a pointed interest in our unused fireplace, just as, shortly after we moved in, my own father couldn't wait to climb into our attic and have a looksee at our insulation. I hope I don't come across as antifeminist when I muse that these sorts of things seem instinctual to men in the same way that well-fed domesticated cats yearn to rat. So it was that my partner and her pop came home one day with two bundles of wood, a box of Duraflames, and a bag of kindling. Her dad, reliably overdressed in Brooks Brothers separates, lay on his back to peer up the chimney, jimmied the flue, and announced that the sky was in his sights. So, no mummies.

And just like that, fire made our house a home, because, beyond paying the mortgage, nothing says "homeowner" quite like the ability to bring flammable materials into your living space and light them. My partner builds big, tall fires, after her father, whose motto is, "When in doubt, throw on another Duraflame." She's already shopping online for local merchants who deliver firewood by the cord, which would be a fine investment if we didn't ever want to sit on the porch again. Meanwhile, my fires are small, efficient, conservative, as if I'm aiming to keep armed marauders from discovering my settlement. As firewood needs go, I'm wondering whether it wouldn't be more cost-effective to cut down one of our own trees and chop it to bits. It would give me an excuse to put on a flannel shirt and wield an ax to reclaim some of the feminist cred I've lost by letting the dads do our dirty work.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


My migraine meds are beginning to kick in. My brain is starting to feel fizzy and high rather than swollen and searching madly for the exits. The fizziness feels preorgasmic, which makes perfect sense since the meds are vascular constrictors, and the high will last for several hours. That should give you some indication why this particular pharmaceutical carries a warning that it may be habit-forming. To discourage such a habit, I am to use them no more than three times a week.

That presents a problem, not because I want to feel preorgasmic all the time—I mean, I do, but I recognize that's not a very productive way to live—but because migraines are like cluster bombs, with the arrival of one promising the presence of reinforcements. So I've taken this one down, but I'm already feeling outflanked by its brethren fighting this war of attrition. It's the fourth soldier I have to worry about, since there I'll be, my head and cervical spine throbbing, every sense bombarded with stimuli, and I'll have the weapon to fight it, but I'll have spent my ammunition on the three that came before.

I'm stingy with myself regarding addictive medications. On top of the pills I take every day to regulate the ol' brain chems, I have the aforementioned vascular constrictors as well as some antianxiety pills of the benzodiazepine variety. And just as my head must threaten to explode before I'll start taking the migraine meds—not only due to their habit-forming qualities but because their high is followed by a powerful fit of somnolence and a mild hangover—I'll walk myself to the end of the plank before I'll pop a benzo. I can tell myself I'm just being responsible, but even my psychiatrist thinks I underuse the benzos. I guess I'm trying to prove to myself that I'm in control, that the meds don't own me—a fear that sets in once your doctors have to spend more than a few seconds thinking about potential interactions before they prescribe a new pill.

I have a complicated relationship with pharmaceuticals. I think they've saved my life, and I'm awfully glad not to have experienced the hell of mental illness in the premodern era. On the other hand, I know what it's like to be overmedicated, and how easy it was to get there, and I don't ever again want to slip into that stream of pseudoconsciousness in which there is no pain but also no joy, no beauty, no ambition. One stops hearing music and following the narratives of books and movies, and yet it feels strangely OK…until that moment when it is unbearable to think that this is what life has become. So, here's to our unending quest for the perfect cocktail, the one that lends us confidence and quells our demons, the one that enriches our lives rather than sending us to bed for all tomorrows' hangovers.

Friday, January 20, 2006

we're different, she and i

Several weeks ago, missing our preferred brand of "invisible solid" deodorant—seriously, no powdery residue—which had disappeared from drugstore shelves without explanation, my partner and I took a chance on a competitor's version. I've been known to like said competitor's products in the past, a fact that was thrown in my face when it turned out that this particular product smelled like monkey urine.

Flash forward to our master bathroom this morning, when my partner gleefully slathered her pits with our aforementioned preferred deodorant, freshly reincarnated in zippy new packaging and commercially available once again. Resentment built in my heart as I glowered at the replacement monkey-urine product, which I knew now that she had not been using and which I reckoned I would therefore have to use twice as long, being the sole user, before I too could return to smelling unobjectionable.

Just then she offered to "do" me, which in this case meant that if I would reach for the sky, she would swab my pits as well. "Oh, yay, I'm going to stink pretty today," I said as I threw up my arms.

She gave me a confused look as she gave me two swipes of the good stuff. "Are you still using that?" she asked, indicating with disgust the monkey-urine product on the bathroom counter.



"Because it's not gone," I answered with conviction.

She picked it up off the counter and threw it into the wastebasket, where it landed with a thud. "Now it is."

It was liberating, for a minute, for a girl who grew up in a household where a new box of cereal or bag of chips must never be opened when anything more than dusty memories remained in another. I left the deodorant where it lay, refusing to even look at its dead-to-me corpse, and finished getting dressed, then blithely went to work. What a revelation!

Still, I can't vouch for what might happen when I get home.


They aren't simple things, beginnings. I suppose they can be, unless you're me, in which case they're very, very stressful. I don't take decisions lightly, nor anything else, because I'm terrified of making the wrong choice, taking a wrong turn, ending up very much where I did not mean to be.

When I'm evaluating a book I may be interested in, I read the first line. I imagine folks visiting this blog would do the same, so anyone who's not a glutton for equivocating strangers with whom they've not yet been given much reason to resonate has already moved on to the next blog. If you're still with me, here are some reasons to like, dislike, love, or hate me: I'm a woman, a feminist even. I'm a lesbian. I would say I'm a Democrat, but I should think that's implied by the whole feminist lesbian thing. I relate to cats better than dogs, though I enjoy the company of both. I have a chronic major depressive disorder with generalized anxiety and occasional pronounced highs, all of which has me teetering on the edge of a bipolar diagnosis. I *heart* pharmaceuticals, but that's prolly a gimme given the aforementioned mood swings and title of this blog. I'm a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I'm a low-level foot soldier in magazine publishing. My favorite color is brown.

I hope to accomplish a few things in writing this blog: I want to ease myself back into writing after a two-year post-breakdown dry spell. I'm hoping to show myself that I can be productive and creative, even on meds. I want to make some sense of a life that often seems senseless to me. I want to find meaning in my day-to-day. In short, I want to want to live—a pretty tall order.

So, why not do this privately? Well, I suppose I have an exhibitionist streak, a need to confess, a need to be noticed, if only anonymously. Besides, there are only so many Mead composition books one can tuck tidily between the mattress and the box spring. And I guess I'm also hoping for that one reader who'll stumble across this blog by chance and think, Yeah, I know what you mean. I know exactly what you mean. That's all any of us want, I think: connection.