I found myself thinking about motivation this week. I was so jazzed about weight loss this time last year. I read the Weight Watchers boards and the Bootcamp Buddies boards and billions or at least a dozen weight loss weblogs and all the links therein. I weighed and measured and experimented and walked through supermarket aisles resisting the siren call of the sweets shelves and I was so very proud of myself as the pounds dropped off. Magic, I thought. This is so easy, I thought. Why doesnít everyone do this?
Part of it then was the relief. Iíd carried around the extra poundage for years as if it were my Dantean curse. My penance, my sentence. I suffer the insecurity and low self-esteem that caused and was caused by this, my extra layer of fat. I suffer because I deserve to suffer even if I donít quite know why. I am round and sad and uncouth and this is my fate.
So of course when I started seeing the pounds drop away, I was thrilled. No necessary penance after all. Instead, a cage of my own making. The bars withering away with every bite of apple instead of cake, Wasa cracker instead of bagel. I was a convert and giddy with it.
But the points counting got tiresome and the regimen got difficult and my body felt good the way it was and life got complicated and emotionally charged and my weight stopped going down no matter how diligent I was. And it was so easy to say forget this. So easy to say Just for this one week. Just for now. Just until this crisis is over. I needed comfort and comfort was still food. I thought I had enough control, I had enough of a buffer, and I had gotten deeply enough into the routine of this weight loss that I could slow down and at least maintain.
I didnít. This may sound odd, but it was very much on purpose and with glee aforethought that I didnít. I ate too rich, too much, too often. I stopped exercising. And it felt good, nearly as good as it had felt last year exercising and being oh-so-careful. It wasnít like Iíd lost the motivation, it was like Iíd gained the anti-motivation. Motivation to lose the weight-loss mindset. To fall into indulgence, to swim in it. And when my clothes started getting uncomfortable and my reflected image started getting rounder again, I tried to imagine going back on the diet-and-exercise path. I couldnít. What had seemed so easy now seemed like some kind of fantastical, improbable dream. How do you gain the mindset? How do you lose it? Where does it go and how do you retrieve it?
I have some thoughts, not fully formed yet. But they go something like this: when I lost the weight, I was feeling good about myself. Good about what I was doing. I had a passion for it. But a passion is hard to maintain. And when I hit a months-long plateau, the passion slipped away. Triumph had sustained me. When I lost that, I lost my forward momentum. And weight loss is a lot of work. When I had to use that same mental/emotional juice for something else, I stopped the regimen. And because it hasnít really been that long, I hadnít created solid enough new habits. So when I was under tremendous stress this spring (the kindergarten tangle, among other things) it was far easier to slip back into the food-as-love mode. And until I started feeling good about myself again Ė my recent photo job helped, as did winning a victory in the school battle Ė- I couldnít turn that around.
I donít know how it works for other people. I only know that for me I have to feel upbeat and positive about myself and my life in order to lose weight. Love yourself, allow yourself to do this. More, though, I think itís crucial to not be beating yourself up about this slip and that slip. Itís crucial to think ďI can! Iím strong and mighty, I have a food scale and Iím not afraid to use it!Ē rather than ďI have so much to lose, how did I let this happen? I suck!Ē
Some people may have to hit bottom before deciding to do something about their problems: their alcohol or drug abuse, their smoking addiction, their unhealthy eating patterns. For me, I think itís the opposite. I have to feel energized and positive and only then can I get on that Nordic Track and sweat my way down the scale. Recently Iíve looked in the mirror and shrugged: ďYeah, Iíll get rid of that extra bit,Ē rather than ďUgh.Ē Makes a big psychological difference. Huge.
Weight loss stats for the week:
Ate sensibly. Well, sort of. A couple of decadent desserts but only after very light dinners. Lots of fruit. Not enough veggies.
Exercised once: Nordic Track, 30 minutes. Yes, once. Yes, I know. Not good. Yeah, well. It happens. This week, Iíll do better. I have motivation: Iíve gotten addicted to Nip/Tuck, have to work out to watch it. (Of course, I did work up a sweat rolling primer on the walls in Damian's closet one afternoon and also more sweat moving stuff out of his room another morning, so my total exercise quotient is closer to three days' worth. I think. That kind of thing is harder to measure. What if one box you move is light? What if two thirds are light but the others are really heavy? Is it still the same as a short bout of free weights?)
Scale says: Down one pound. Itís a mystery to me. Just as Alison-Jane said recently, you canít let the number on a specific hour of a specific day in a specific week rule your life. This is also one reason I left Weight Watchers; too close attention to the scale: "What was it last week? Oh, then you havenít worked hard enough this week." This week, of course, it would be smiles and congratulations and yes, I am pleased, but weíll see what it says tomorrow and next week and next month. Iím in this for the overall, not the single weigh-in.
On to next week. Damianís room wonít be assembled until Tuesday at the earliest, but I can still work out in and around the chaos. I think.
This has been a tough week.
On Monday, about five minutes after I got my brand new PowerBook (woo!), I got a phone call. From a woman representing the very old and very deaf Russian woman who lives in the single apartment right across from Damianís bedroom. The one whose airplane-takeoff-level TV listening impelled us to buy soundproof windows for the north side of the house. The one we bought a $200 wireless headset for, then got a translator and helped set it up to use while watching her TV. The one weíve told the landlord about, a landlord who said, ďYou shouldnít have to deal with that!Ē and gave us the old ladyís daughterís phone number (she speaks English) so we could complain when necessary. The one who impelled me to the library to check out noise ordinances (I discovered we can buy a meter to measure the decibel level and if it reaches the volume I expect, we can take legal action Ė and time of day of the noise is irrelevant). That one.
Iíd called her daughter on Sunday for the first time in several weeks. The old lady had her TV on at her usual thundering level starting early in the morning and finally at 1 pm after five plus hours of this, I made the call and blessed silence descended.
Monday, not so blessed. Monday, a woman from the adult day care center called. She told me the old lady was crying because of me. Thus this woman (who represented herself as a social worker but turned out not to be) berated me for my unkindness. At great length. I tried to stay calm. I tried to be nice. But I ended up in tears myself because she was so absolutely convinced of my evilness in wanting a modicum of peace in my own house and had no interest whatsoever in finding any kind of middle ground. She told me I should live with the noise or I should move. (I said, ďWe own our house! You try to find a place in this market!Ē and besides, weíd just be leaving a horrid legacy for the next owners.) Then she accused me of harassment because I call at all, not because I call too much ĖIíve been very polite, discreet, and patient about it and I think Iíve called no more than three times total in the past four months. Harrassment. When she said that, I screamed at her and hung up.
Iím not proud of this. I canít believe I yelled at a total stranger. I hate losing control like that. I hate letting someone get to me like that. I usually have more of a handle, more perspective, more empathy. But jesus on a pogo stick, weíve gone out of our way to be nice. And now the old ladyís surrogate is telling me I have no rights here, that she has every right to terrorize us with her noise? I finally broke.
Then, of course, I felt wretched. Because I didnít feel heard but also because I do hate this situation. Because I do feel for the old lady, all alone in her dismal room, her daughter visiting maybe once every week or two. No friends that Iíve seen. No life that Iíve seen. A sad existence. And I hate making this lady feel even worse. But hell. I have rights too. And sheís violating mine. And so I feel mad and bad and conflicted and I want to cry.
So that was my Monday. Which also involved taking apart Damianís room and putting everything into the living room in preparation for floor sanding hell on Wednesday. Dan finished the dismantling Tuesday. Not fun.
Then came Wednesday. The floor sanding guy? Didnít show up. Didnít call. Our living quarters are upside down and inside out. Damianís bed is upended next to my bed, making it almost impossible for me to get in and out. The dining table is shoved to the side of the dining room and under a tarp, to boot. Unusable. Living room? You can reach the couch through the piles of toys, but only just.
You get the picture. And then to have this guy not show up? To not know how long weíll have to live like this? And me already in a black mood?
Not a great week. I was a bit, shall we say, emotional. I may have said and done a few things I regret. Itís sort of like PMS on steroids. The kind of emotional rollercoaster that makes you bawl and want to slug someone and then bawl again.
The aftermath isnít bad, though. We got another guy in here this morning, a yoga instructor slash wood refinisher slash floor sander. More loud noise today, mostly a steady sort of hum, along with the deliciously clean smell of fresh sawdust. Heís not done with the varnishing part but heís happy to use Safecoat, a much less toxic version. The floors in Damianís room and my office look stunning already. And the guy who stood us up called apologizing profusely. He had an explanation or two, of course, neither of which preclude him making a simple phone call saying ďI canít come today, sorry,Ē which of course he hadn't done. Communication in these things Ė as in all things Ė is crucial. Prevents a ton of misunderstanding and hurt.
Best of all, though, I think the old lady finally got the message. Maybe it was okay after all that I cried and yelled. Maybe it finally told her what she had never understood: this hurts us. Her noise level is not just an annoyance, itís deeply painful. Since Monday sheís started actually using the $200 headset. I know because I was in Damianís room priming his closet yesterday and I heard the TV sound go on. Then it went off again, less than a minute later. I knew sheíd been in there for a while (I saw her toes through the open door). She was changing the battery on the headset. Thus the sudden noise and quick cessation. I donít know how long this compassion will last, when sheíll decide itís too much bother after all. But right now Iím feeling bad about being overemotional but also relieved. Sometimes you have to show someone how you feel. Sometimes itís vastly inappropriate to do so. Sometimes it doesnít matter, because you canít control your reactions and you just hope itíll all come out okay.
Maybe the lesson here Ė if there is one Ė is that you canít always control yourself perfectly. Canít always be a grownup. But sometimes, if youíre lucky enough, it ends well anyway.
Have you ever noticed how much TV old people watch? I mean, I know, a lot of kids do too. Half the time when we go to someoneís house on a play date, their TV is permanently set on PBS Kids or the Cartoon Channel. Audible wallpaper. And a lot of people come home and immediately after they put the mail down and listen to their answering machine messages, they grab the remote to turn the TV on. And it stays on. I know this. But still. They all also turn it off, go outside and play or work sometimes. They turn it off and talk to each other occasionally. Donít they?
But old people. Thereís a group, and I suspect it's a majority, octogenarians and nonogenarians who use the television set as best friend and spouse and most especially time filler. Theyíve lost their lives; maybe theyíre too achey and enfeebled to do more interesting things, and so they turn to the easy companion. The one thatís always there, the one that talks and walks and thinks for you.
I like television. Partly because it pays the mortgage but also because, well, some of it is good. Interesting, educational, fun, satisfying. Ironically, Iíd like to watch more than I do. I miss a lot of quality shows. But when I see someone waiting to die, whiling the hours away until the final hospital visit, and all theyíve got from morning to night is a too-loud TV, thatís unutterably sad. When they fall apart because you tell them itís too loud, when they tell you that this will leave them with nothing, thatís heartbreaking.
Itís also a new phenomenon. TV became popular in the late Ď40ís and was hardly available around the clock. What did older people do back then? Did they just sit staring at the clock on the mantel, watching the minutes tick by until it was bedtime? Somehow I doubt it. Have our lives changed so much in the past sixty years that weíve lost whatever personal resources we used to have? Has TV leached it all away?
What is life like when you get up in the morning, turn on the TV, eat your breakfast, put your dishes away, and settle down to a hard dayís work of passive staring? How does that feel day after day after day? How can they stand it?
New computer! Here! Now! Typing on it! Keys feel strange! Screen looks wide! So pretty! So bright! So fast! Va va voom! Zoom zoom around the room! So new! So fast! My new computer! Yay!
What? Why are you looking at me like that?
Oh. Yeah. Exclamation points. Yeah, I know. Doesn't sound like me, does it? Blame the -- did I mention? -- new computer. It's very young. Still excitable. Because, y'know, couldn't be me. I'm jaded and old and all that too cool for my shoes shit.
(New computer! Woo!)
The specs, for the tech oriented:
G4 PowerBook. 15" screen. 1.5 gigahertz processor; for you PC types in the audience, this is not comparable to the 1.5 gig PCs. I would have said it's like comparing apples and oranges (ha ha) but Dan tells me it's equivalent to the speed of a 3 gigahertz PC machine. Also: 80 gig hard drive. 512 meg RAM, though I'll probably get more (I'm doing photo work, after all, a memory hog). Built-in CD/DVD burner (fun! easy! convenient!). Backlit keyboard (how cool is that?). Basically one hot machine. Only, actually, not hot. Not like Dan's TiBook. May get warm later but seems to run pretty cool so far. And quiet too.
Also cool: I didn't have to break a sweat to set my work up on this computer. When I booted it up for the first time this morning, it asked me if I had another Mac. When I said yes, it informed me that I could run a firewire cable between them and it would take all my stuff from the old one. I said okay, sounds good to me. It grinned and got to work. Result: my new computer now looks exactly like my old one, only of course not at all. But the same files on the desktop, the same choices -- my choices -- in the dock, the same bookmark files in the browser... everything I'd normally have to configure up the wazoo. All done for me. Now I can play.
(New computer! Woo!)
Friday in the car Damian and I were discussing where Chicago is in relation to Los Angeles. (One of his floor time therapists is moving there in a couple of weeks.) I said Iíd show him on the globe when we got home. He was quiet for a while. Then he said, ďMaybe weíre on a globe right now and the globe is in a giantís house. And the stars are really holes and if we went up to the stars we could go right through and see the giant's house.Ē Where did this come from? Did I do this at age six? I swear, heís so discombobulated sometimes and then other times Ė magic.
Another one: last night, Dan was telling him a story about a frog who goes to the future. Damian was entranced by the futuristic details Dan invented and added his own touches. Like how the buildings in the future will be on wheels so you can move them around. And how thereíll be portals to other planets so you donít have to travel in space ships. These portals will look like toilets and when you flush, thatís how you travel.
I love this kidís imagination. He takes ideas from various sources and puts them together in new and interesting ways. World building all the time. I donít know if itís innate or a result of all the floor time, but itís a lovely thing to witness.
So after I wrote about how I was going to jump back into Weight Watchers with both feet and a renewed vigor for toting up points, IÖ wellÖ I didnít. I was ready, kind of. But then I scraped acoustic popcorn off the ceiling in my office and painted stripes on the walls and it was so much work, how could I exercise on top of that? And if youíre not exercising, eating less is a pathetic half-assed dietary attempt to make you feel like youíre doing something even when youíre not. Or so I told myself. And then vacation came along and Irvine andÖ wellÖ I left my Nordic Track at home and temporarily lost my points-counting bible andÖ wellÖ
Iím back. Again.
I figure it this way: if something is hard, you often have to try a number of times, ramming your bike into the wall, falling in a tangle of spokes and legs, getting up to try again. And then it clicks in your head and youíre pedaling along and it feels right and true and you keep going, at least to the end of the block and back. And then maybe you have to take a break but when you get back on the bike, itís easier than it was last time.
Besides, whatís the point of beating myself up? It doesnít change anything. And itís much easier to do this in a good mood.
So I started again this week. Not counting calories or Weight Watcher points, though I may pick that up in a week or two if this non-food-log method doesnít work out for me. Right now my plan is:
Exercise: Do at least 20 minutes on the Nordic Track (working up to 40) three to six times a week. Do free weights every other day. Add ab crunches and push-ups in the next two weeks.
Food: Eat less. Eat healthier. Weigh and measure food when appropriate. Watch portions. Eat lots of fruit and veggies. Lots and lots and lots. And lots.
Keeping track: This blog. Iíll post here once a week, on Saturdays. Iíll tuck it behind a ďmoreĒ button so you donít have to read it if weight loss blogs bore the crap out of you, though I do hope to talk about more than the bare facts of how I did. Iíd create a new blog but thereís a limit to how many different personal sites one woman can handle, yíknow?
So there it is.
Weight (yes, Iím going to admit my weight): 153 lbs. Down one pound from last Saturday, so good. Iím perfectly happy with a single pound a week, as long as the trend is in the right direction. Down fourteen pounds from my high last summer of 167. Up ten pounds from my lowest weight this past winter (143 lbs). So it goes. It was a tough spring. No regrets. Goal weight: 125 lbs. To lose: twenty eight pounds. Deadline: none. Iím just gonna do it, is all.
Exercise this week:
Nordic Track four times. First time: 18 minutes. Second time: 20 minutes. Third time: 10 minutes. (What? I was tired!) Fourth time: 23 minutes.
Weights three times. I did two sets of each one and approximately 12-15 reps each set. Well, I didnít do two sets yesterday. My knee started to hurt. Gotta watch that. And wrap it. I lifted twenty pounds for the one-handed exercises (standing row, I think itís called, and one other). Forty pounds for the squat. Twenty in each hand, you see. I like consistency, it makes things easier.
Eating habits this week: Well, I ate. Yes. And it was good. Yes. And it did include veggies for dinner every night. Also chocolate bread pudding Thursday night at our favorite seafood restaurant. Yum.
Next report: Saturday July 31st.
Funny thing, I think I started this weight loss regimen last July, right around this time. I think that bodes well, donít you?
Oh, and if you feel like it, feel free to leave your stats in the comments every Saturday, keeping me company in a kind of mini-Weight Watchers style dialogue. But Itís also okay if you donít. Iím doing this because of my own need for accountability. If one or more readers do it with me thatíd be awesome but itís not strictly necessary.
I love Fed Ex. I do. I love that you can type a tracking number into their website and see a package listed, follow it from state to state, imagine it riding the back of a truck, maybe peeking out the tailgate at rest stops curiously, wondering where it is, where it'll land. (Hey, it's my imagination, I can anthropomorphize a box if I want.)
Mostly, I love Fed Ex because right now, this very minute, there is a shiny new PowerBook in one of those millions of boxes flooding through the sorting facilities and transfer points. This one in particular, this computer in this box, it's MINE. Paid for by my photo gig last week. Due to arrive here Monday. Right now it's in Shanghai, which I'm guessing means that as of last week, it didn't exist, that it was picked up at the factory, maybe boxed while still warm from the soldering iron. Just-baked. Mine.
I like Fed Ex a whole lot right now.
I'll like it even more Monday.
Weíve been house hunting lately. As in: every Sunday making the rounds of open houses until Damian yells ďStop! No more houses!Ē and then we usually check out two more and let him stay in the car (we take turns running into the house). Also as in: we now have a line of credit to draw on if we should ever, say, need a hefty down payment on a new home. Also as in: every morning I get an automated email detailing new listings and priced reductions. If I have time, I mapquest the likeliest candidates and plug them into the LAUSD school finder and come out with ďyes, look at thisĒ or ďgod, no, itís right next to a huge boulevardĒ or ďmaybe but letís visit the school first.Ē And some we look at and some we donít. Itís like a huge game like Jeopardy or Whatís My Line or The Price is Right, only this one is called ďWhereís My Home?Ē
It feels absolutely insane. Weíre looking at seven hundred thousand dollar tear-downs and eight hundred thousand dollar ďwell, it would be nice if it had a back yard and wasnít so close to the freewayĒ places. And interest rates are rising and our property tax would double if we do this and after all, we have a perfectly nice house. A workable house. A very pretty house with enough room for us to fit nicely. And new central air, which weíve been enjoying mightily this summer. But, wellÖ
We started looking as a way to find a better school for Damian. That may no longer be necessary, but we find ourselves compelled to keep looking. We donít have to continue living here. And after we started looking because we thought we had to, we found out that there are in fact areas of town Ė areas further west, even, closer to Danís job and Damianís best friends and closer to everything else we do as well and also to cleaner, cooler air Ė there are these pockets of affordability, of maybe-we-could-trade-sideways. Our agent calls it moving laterally and sighs and says ďthatís not easy.Ē We acknowledge this. And yetÖ
This house. I love this house. I do. I do not, however, love the neighbors. I also donít love the concrete block two story apartment buildings. Nor do I love the fact that we are the rich folk on the block, simply by dint of owning our home and yet we are also the poor people in the neighborhood compared to our friends a few blocks over in the nicer part. Weíre both too rich and too poor here; stuck in imbalance either way. I do not love the wadded up fast food bags and bits of junk mail we find in our front yard. We are not a trash can. Or the way I have to chase cars out of our driveway. We are not a public parking lot. Or the ancient Russian womanís louder-every-year Russian TV that comes through even our soundproof windows on the north side even though we paid for a headset-for-the-deaf for her and have talked to her landlord about it and even have her daughterís phone number. (Last time I called, she said ďAre you sure youíre hearing my mother? That canít be my mother.Ē But it was.) Or her counterpart two apartments down; less ancient, plays TV less often, but probably cranks the volume even higher. Or the very sweet (now that theyíve stopped parking in our driveway) multigenerational African family who nevertheless have high-volume conversations from the balcony to the front gate at eleven p.m. Or the booming Ukranian music coming from the front upper apartment on the south side.
You get the picture, I think. Or rather, hear the echo. It was a good move to buy this house. I donít regret it. Itís appreciated in value quite nicely, and it enabled us to stay in a neighborhood we knew well; this stability was important when we were also still in the throes of Damianís various therapies (he was just three when we moved here, barely verbal and still very withdrawn). But this is not a forever home for us.
Our next house may not be for forever either (that whole lateral move thing) and it probably won't be as pretty but we need for it to at least be a place where we can say, ďOkay, our finances havenít gotten better so yes, we can in fact stay here, weíll just take out a line of credit and make a few adjustments to the property.Ē We canít do that here. Not without clawing our eyes Ė and ears Ė out. Because you canít take out a line of credit to buy up the neighboring buildings and bulldoze them to the ground. They donít make equity lines that big.
This is a three-to-five-years house. Weíve been here three years. Itís time to look around, see if we can find something else. Maybe a smaller house we can eventually build on to. Maybe a house in a less hot neighborhood but one thatís pleasant and quiet. Maybe a house that could use a bit of updating but that we could do over time, bit by bit, just as we have here. I donít know what weíll end up finding. I just know we have to look. So expect stories from the real estate front lines, stories of strange houses and stranger realtors and finally Ė whether in a month or a year (or more?) Ė yes, a home to love.
Itís time to go shopping.
An article in todayís LA Times: jockeys, the kind that ride thoroughbred horses in million dollar races, it seems they starve themselves. Well, not just that, because thatís hardly news. But they barf so regularly they have their own lingo for it (flipping) and thereís a special stall in the jockeyís bathroom in at least one racetrack, a stall specifically designed for, well, flipping. Then there are the hours they spend in the sauna and the diuretics they use, all to maintain an impossible-for-male-American-bodies weight. Work-induced anorexia, with the attendant physical toll years of malnutrition will inevitably cause.
The California Racing Board may be upping the weight requirements soon, trying to eliminate this insanity, but owners and trainers sound opposed to it. Itís going to be hard for their horses, bred for speed, with delicate legs and huge lungs, to go the distance with five to fifteen more pounds on their backs. The horses might be hurt. Catch twenty two, no?
Itís pretty awful, and I feel for the riders. They just want to do their jobs; they probably became jockeys because they love horses and the thrill of the race, theyíre mostly undereducated and canít exactly turn to investment banking as a second career. This is what they do and what they love. And this is the cost. It feels wrong. Especially because, as athletes, their bodies need more protein and carbs and it sounds like they often subsist on less. Much less. An apple. For the whole day. This is very screwed up, a career that requires this kind of sacrifice over the course of decades.
On the other hand, there is a simpler solution, isnít there? Hire more women jockeys. 110 lbs is still pretty small for a woman, but if youíre a short, slight woman, you donít have to be malnourished to maintain that. And yet horse racing remains predominantly a manís field. Is there a physiological reason for it, are men that much stronger and therefore more able to sustain that bruising pace on the track, or is it just a lingering pocket of old-boys-club at work, an ingrained sexism in the paddock? Itís ironic considering how many girls become infatuated with horses as they hit puberty. Youíd think some of them keep that love strong and some of those would make great jockeys. And yet it remains a male arena even though menís bodies are not meant to be 110 lbs at 3 p.m. on race day today and next week and next year and twenty years from now.
Oddly, the article never even mentions the possibility of women jockeys. I canít help wondering why.
A few weeks ago, Damian had a play date with one of his best friends. We were hanging out chatting with said friendís parents. This is the conversation that led to the photo gig, incidentally. But at one point I was describing my novel to them. The dad asked how far I was from the end. Answer: pretty close. At the time I was around 335 pages in; Iíll type The End somewhere around the 425 page mark, give or take a whole bunch of pages. So Iím in the home stretch. Act Three. Climax, denouement. End.
He asked how long it will take to get from here to there. I sighed. Life has a way of making the answer more complicated than youíd think. He rephrased: How long would it take if you had the time to devote to it? Answer: probably a month.
Since then, Iíve found myself thinking about this a lot. A month of concentrated work. A month and Iíd have completed the first full draft of my first full novel. It wonít really be a month, I know that. Dan goes back to work on August 9th, we have projects to finish up first. Damian has the end of August off from school. I wonít have unlimited, focused time for this. But this guy made me see it that way for a moment. A monthís worth of work. A pile of pages: beginning, middle and end. Tangible.
We went on vacation shortly after that afternoon and when we got back, I went down to Irvine where I worked my butt off last week. So writing time hasnít exactly been at a surplus around here. But Iím back now, caught up on my sleep (well more or less) and settled into my life (well, kind of). Back to exercising regularly as of this week. Back, too, to writing regularly.
As always, I start slowly. Two pages yesterday, three today. Sinking back into the dream in stages, like wading into a pool: first you dip your feet in, testing the temperature, then you stand at the shallow end, your legs submerged to thigh level, then finally you slide your body beneath the surface. Itís like that. Acclimating myself to the words and the story. But itís different now. I find myself thinking Ė not while Iím writing but before and also after Ė how this is the last act, this is the final stage, this should be climbing toward a crescendo, the final clash of characters and emotions in a messy mix. This is where the plot threads and personality disasters come to a head. This is it.
Fortunately, like I said, I donít think this while Iím writing. Because thatís too much in a novel like this. Itís more organic a beast. I can shape it, sure, but after I do, I have to trust in the material itself to build appropriately. Maybe this is part of the difference between screenplay and novel or maybe itís just the difference between my screenplays and this novel, but I canít push-push-push the material. Past a certain point, past the imaginings and the figurings and the mappings out, it simply is, and my job seems to be mostly learning to be true to that. To still the chatter in my brain that wants to overlay a certain structure, a certain tension. To let it have that on its own. To trust the story, which I suppose ultimately means trusting myself.
Which is maybe what this heading-toward-the-finale is about. Because then itís done. Complete. An entity, no longer unformed. Re-shapeable, yes, of course. But existing as a whole. No longer theoretical. And I have to trust that too, that this is what it is and what, on some level, it should be. Thereís always, I think, this Platonic ideal of the novel in your head, the dream before itís been dreamt, a book that hits all the right emotional beats and feels real and sure and strong and heartfelt, that makes you cry with its beauty. Is this that book? It canít be. Itís not an ideal, itís real.
Or, rather, it will be real in a month or two. Because slowly or quickly I am surely heading toward The End. And then Iíll see what I have.
I admit, I learned to drive as a young adult so I'm not quite as fearless as some. I have certainly gotten more adept at juggling juice bottles, iPod wires, and a steering wheel at the same time, but somehow I don't think I'll ever be quite this relaxed while driving down a congested city street:
(Yes, that car was in motion. As were we. After a while she tucked her foot inside -- just barely inside -- the window frame. The foot remained elevated and she read the paper at every millisecond pause in the stop-and-go traffic. I watched for a while, fascinated.)
Instant messaging is the new cinema verite. Blog verite. Here, Allison records an IM conversation with a friend; typing between contractions.
And congratulations, Allison! Especially a baby who actually lets you sleep. What a lovely baby. With a lovely name, to boot. (Well, I'm fond of it.) (And in Israel, nobody will try to tack that extra "a" on the end.) (Though it's an uncommon name here that I'm not used to reading it in print, so I keep doing double takes reading about how I -- I mean she -- is getting bonding time with daddy.) (I'm done with parentheticals now.) (I think.)
I talk Dan through signposts on the way down the 405. Long Beach, Huntington Beach, John Wayne Airport, Irvine. Take the exit, yes, turn left, yes, turn right, yes, into the parking lot, yes, Iíll run downstairs, yes.
I check my hair in the mirror, feels almost like a first date. I skip through the hotel lobby into the warm night air. I see them. Looking around, searching for the hotel door. So strange to see them in this antiseptic, lonely place. ďMommy, I want to see if you have more than one room!Ē And so yes, up the elevator to my hotel room, after showing off my son to the front desk clerk Iíve gotten to know. Then on to dinner in a place with more tables for six and eight than Iíve ever seen in a restaurant Ė this place is designed for business meetings Ė hell, this city is designed for business meetings Ė and then itís time to pack while my guys watch crazy sports stunts on TV in the other room.
This week outside of time, this unexpected and so-intensive job, my first in years, this exile from normalcy is over. I get to go home. Iím relieved, exhausted, and oddly, unexpectedly, a little bit sad. Because it felt good, being a working woman again, this time with the dignity that comes with the mantle of a freelance professional brought in from outside. Nobody my boss, just my client.
Iíve been Mommy for so long, Mommy and not a whole lot else. Sure, I write. Sure, that work matters to me. A lot. But itís been a slow, subterranean evolution. Iím ready now to sell some of my writing, almost ready to market more. The roots are strong underground now. But still no flower, no colorful resume-building, brag-worthy fruition, not yet. And so this photo gig, this insanely intensive shoot (the shot number of my very last image? Number one thousand one hundred eleven), this job that takes me out of the flow of my underwater life-giving real work Ė itís been important emotionally. Crucial, maybe. Because itís shown me I remember how to do this. How to be in the workaday world. How to comport myself, how to organize my workload, how to be on top of my game when it matters in that particular way that it does on a paying job.
I fell back into it as if Iíd never left. No, as if Iíd left, joined a boxing gym, been battered and bruised and developed muscles where none had existed, where Iíd trained for a fucking marathon of emotional strength Ė where Iíd done all that and then come back into the arena.
Both guys I worked with Ė the industrial client and the production guy who hired me Ė said they want to work with me again. I think I might like that too. Irvine or no Irvine.
I shot three hundred forty pictures today. I'd say at least three hundred were disaparate images. Completely different shots, in other words, not duplicates. This makes a total of nine hundred and fourteen shots over two and a half days. One to two more days of this and then I get to go home. I'd say I'm earning my (quite nice) salary.
I never thought of photography as gruelling before: you look, you judge, you adjust, you shoot. But this is a whole new definition of photography. Crank it out, get the shot, keep going till you drop. Wham, bam, flash, smash. Whoosh.
Tired? Punchy? Who, me?
Still and all. It's not bad work. I kind of even sneakily enjoy it. Sometimes. When I get a good shot despite the limitations of the situation (small room crammed with boxes and equipment, none of which can be in a single shot; flourescent lights buzzing above, casting ugly shadows; sometimes shooting copier innards with a flash that wants to cast even uglier shadows though I usually smack it around till it stops that), when I do that, I feel like laughing. Like I got away with something. Because this is supposed to be fast and usable but not necessarily good. Good takes too long, you see. Good is too fussy. This is grab-and-run. Shoot and scramble. So when I get good on top of the rest of it, it's kind of like I got away with something.
Guerilla photographer, that's me.
Irvine is like a dream. Someone elseís dream, and not an altogether pleasant one. The kind of dream where youíre driving for an eon down a wide road lined with palm trees and on every side you see big boxes of buildings and you think, ďIt canít be another industrial parkĒ and it feels, yes, it feels like youíve driven for hours and you havenít gone anywhere at all, your tires skid on the slick asphalt and spin in place for eternity.
When I checked into the hotel, the woman pulled out their pathetic version of a map of the area. She drew a star to indicate the hotel, then she highlighted the major streets and circled four other places. ďThis is where youíll go. To shop.Ē She smiled. Sheíd circled four huge malls in four surrounding towns.
Yup. Irvine, far as I can tell, has no walking streets. No city life. No heart. Lots of big wide boulevards. Lots of enormous building complexes and inside of each, acres of cubicles each with a few pictures, a calendar maybe, some attempt to personalize the space. But inside that sea of eternal slippage, how can you?
Iím more homesick than Iíve been since, oh, age twelve when I went off to camp and bawled into the phone the first night away. I donít adore Los Angeles, but at least itís a real place, for better and for worse. And thatís where my men are. And my cats. And my life.
Can I go home now? This sucks.
This will be only the second time Damian has been without me overnight. In six years. (The first time was Labor Day weekend last year; I went solo to Boston for my cousinís wedding.)
Damian is having a hard time with the idea. Heís tried to convince me that we should use my printer, take it apart and fix it, and give them those pictures. That they should find another printer in Los Angeles and I could take pictures of that one instead of the one that's far away in Irvine. And finally, that someone else should do the job.
He told me yesterday that he was ďa little worriedĒ about my going. Perhaps an understatement. Today heís been an emotional volcano, erupting at regular intervals. I sat patiently on his toy box this afternoon while he rampaged and yelled until I finally asked, ďAre you feeling anxious about my job?Ē He burst into tears. I coaxed him to sit in my lap so we could talk about it. Which we did, and it seemed to help.
Part of me thinks I should feel guilt. Mommy guilt. Mother abandons child, rushes off to Irvine. But yíknow, this childís been like glue for the past six years. Another limb, and not so phantom either. Iíve given a lot of myself to him. He needed it. But he can handle this now. Dan will be here, school is in session, Damian will be fine.
Growing up isnít simply a matter of child growing away from parent, gaining independence and confidence. Sometimes itís about the parent too. Iím not the woman I was before giving birth. Damian has changed me. And thatís a gift. Now Iím ready to leave for brief forays, see who this new person is when Iím in the working world.
Besides, thereís always the phone.
It seems I need to dress casual corporate for this upcoming job. A week of office wear. I freeze. I cringe. I shake my head, baffled. I head to the mall.
I try on clothes. So many clothes. Because: casual yet corporate? Whatthefuckdoesthatmean? Thus, many clothes. Mostly black. Mostly ill fitting. Mostly not me.
A piece of clothing, a set of layers, top and bottom, shoes and shirts and watches, itís all a costume. We all know that. And over time we pick up one piece and another in various boutiques and chain stores as we adjust our looks to fit our lives. We develop uniforms. Sandals and shorts work for the sandbox set as well as their custodial parents. Short, midriff-baring shirts and belly rings seem to fit college kids, though in another time and part of the country, maybe flannel shirts and ripped jeans are still in. Bowties and cummerbunds signify waiters and groomsmen. Part of the surprise of a wedding, I think, is when you the bride look in the mirror and see yourself in white sequins. Image matters. How we present ourselves.
Thus the corporate look. The last time I worked in An Office of that nature, I was maybe twenty two. Temping in a bank, waiting for (and working on) my big break into the film editing world. Where the uniform is blue jeans and t-shirts. Button down shirts if youíre going for formality. But never dress pants, never an A-line skirt, never pantyhose. That would be weird. Unnatural. Unseemly, even. As if you thought you were somewhere else. Someone else.
Thereís a pile of black mixed with a bit of burgundy on my bed. My new look. Is it me? Or just a persona Iím trying on? Will it all still fit right on Monday? Will I wear it or will it wear me? Will I look like an imposter? Will it crinkle and squeak and give me away or will I slip into it and thereby slip into the role, a perfect fit?
Called "audition?" Only in LA would we have this problem!
So it seems I have a gig next week. In Irvine, of all places, about an hour south of here. Known primarily for its proximity to a small airport and a lot of shopping malls and industrial parks. Iíll be shooting approximately six hundred pictures of printer innards over the course of four or maybe five days. Yeah, not that interesting, this work. But, yí know. A job. Which I havenít had inÖ well, letís just say a while. A long while.
So it seems Iím a photographer. Pro, even. Iíve sold a stock photo to an ad agency, sold another to a friend (does that count?). Iím talking with a photographer friend about shooting weddings starting in the fall. Sheís got tons of experience at it. I have some myself, come to that. Chris, for one, always showed people my photos of her wedding, often in lieu of the official photographerís. (Am I remembering that right, Chris?) And now a tech shoot for a major electronics manufacturer. A job. Theyíll put me up in a hotel for the week, complete with high speed internet, and pay for my lunches. I was nervous about the gig in theory but after talking to the guy who hired me (the father of one of Damianís friends) it feels more concrete and very doable. Exciting, even. Not for the work itself as much as the fact of it. Working again. Bringing in a pay check. Itís about fucking time.
Will this go anywhere from here, sprout other gigs? Will the wedding team-up become reality? Will I become a regular freelancer? Who knows? But I find I like the idea, very much. Writer and photographer both. Why not? Both use eyes and hands and mind. Both allow me independence and freedom. Both fit both my life and my self.
How is it that the mere act -- or rather, non-act -- of sitting in a car for several hours at a stretch can make you so exhausted you want to collapse on your bed and never move again? How is that?
Yep. We're home.
We stayed with Diane, Darin, Sophia & Simon in the surprisingly lush Silicon Valley town where they now reside, we watched the kids play, we visited San Francisco, also Monterey and Carmel, we saw far fewer friends than I would have liked but were very happy to have the time we did with the ones we saw (and I now have pictures of Selila's bumblebee tattoo), we spent a few hours wandering through one of the most beautiful spots on earth (Point Lobos), we drove down a fog-enshrouded Big Sur coastline -- truly the edge of the world -- we said hello to Cambria again after a mere seven months, and we spent a whole hell of a lot of time in the car, especially the past few days. My buttocks still feel the curve of the seat, my ears the rush of wind and driving music, I see a blur of dark, twisted cypress trees, blue-green/blue-gray ocean, and golden hillocks when I close my eyes.
I may have more profound or at least interesting things to say tomorrow. Or I might just post a few pictures. But I will certainly be back to my daily posting schedule. Until I leave town for a short term job. (Stay tuned.)
We interrupt this vacation to celebrate an important Ė nay, astounding Ė anniversary. What? Birth of country, signing of some piece of paper, fireworks and rockets redglare? No, no. Far more navel-gazing, this.
Today is the fifth anniversary of my first online post in the web journal / web log / online diary format. The nature of my writing here has changed since then, the nature of here has even changed, but it remains public personal writing. Five years with no real break. Visions and Revisions slid into Hidden Laughter, which I then supplemented with pictures on Postcards from LA, which allowed me to circle back to near-daily words on this blog. Iím amazed. Shocked. Amused, even.
I almost didnít do it. I spent a week or two that June learning GoLive, drew a picture of the stained glass lamp in our living room and made it background to a splash page, set up an archive format, all ready to go live indeed and then stopped. ďWhy the hell am I doing this? Online? Personal? Exposed? Me? My life? What the fuck?Ē And that was nearly that. But Dan said ďJust try it outĒ and ďit seems like it might be a good thing.Ē I trust him. So I held my breath and uploaded an entry.
The world didnít end.
People didnít laugh at me.
People read my words. A few at first, then a surge when Diane mentioned her friendís brand new journal and some readers stuck around. Others came. Never huge numbers, three digit and never four, but hey, thatís something, isnít it? Thatís real. Tangible. People I didnít know beforehand. People who came back for my words. And that felt Ė and feels Ė good.
Even now, after five years, Iíd prefer if you donít ask why Iím doing this. I have answers, both pat and complex, but I canít articulate the true, underlying answer. I fumble at answers. Iím not sure anyone ultimately knows why he or she does it. But more and more people are doing it. The explosion of blog software choices and journalscape-diaryland-blogspot-dreamhost hosting sites makes that clear. It satisfies a need. A need to connect? A need to write your life? A need to write your thoughts, dreams, share stories and snippets of information. A need to reach out and be perceived by others. A need to have a record of yourself. An online reflection of a part of you, albeit never all of you. Itís all/some/part of that and sometimes, somehow something different too. And five years later, Iím still and again doing it.
Back then, I was on an email list for journallers. Bloggers and journallers were different beasts, never the twain shall meet, and so we had our disparate worlds. Things change. And I digress. So yes, back then I was on an email list. Intensely curious about this new world and the people in it, and so I read and listened and clicked on links. That email list had a question of the day. One day the question arose: how long do you think youíll be doing this? I was shocked at how many people said ďUntil you pry the keyboard from my cold, dead hands.Ē Because for me, it was an experiment. I fully expected to stop within six months. And I couldnít conceive of why someone would think of this as an integral part of the fabric of their life. Because, after all, this is strange. To write about yourself, to have other people Ė friends and strangers and old friends who return when they google you and then get to read about your new life Ė to have all these people reading your words. It is strange. Very. And so of course it couldnít last. Just a blip. A passing fancy.
That, of course, was five years ago. Obviously the fancy hasn't yet passed me by. My blog/journal/site serves functions I know and ones I donít. It feels right and sometimes it feels wrong and when it does, I either write through it, take a break or redefine my online presence and continue on. Iíll write until it feels wrong and doesnít go back to feeling right. But in the meantime, Iím here. Iím glad I am. Being here, writing here, has enriched my life more than I ever could have imagined back when I uploaded that very first entry about the Fourth of July past and present. It has altered my life in tangible ways. And that fact astounds me.
Yes indeed, we're on vacation. I've vacated the premises. Also normal thought. My brain is pretty much vacant.
It's a lovely feeling.
Travelogue tomorrow. Maybe. I think. Unless I don't feel like it. Because, y'know, I'm on vacation.