What's the point of having a black cat if you can't pose him for Halloween?
My little king and his daddy. Trick or treat.
I think I'm going to do what Tiny Coconut recommended in her comment: I'm going to ditch the daily nature of this site. If I need a breather, I'll give myself one. Days, weeks, whatever. If I don't need one, I'll be here daily, every-other-daily, weekly, somethingly. Sporadic, constant, in between, who knows? I know if I close up shop, I'll immediately think of three dozen posts I just HAVE TO write. So I might as well keep the store open but make the hours flexible.
Life feels a little less tangled today anyway. We'll see how it goes.
Of course, after I posted about my email unease the other night, I realized that this is far from clear cut, this issue. As Otto said in his comment, I wouldn't normally consider an email to a business to be a private matter. If I sent a complaint to an airline, of course I'd expect more than one person to read it. If I got Apple Care support via email instead of phone, I wouldn't mind at all if my baffling (former) problem was batted around by a whole floor's worth of cubicle inmates. So what's the difference here?
I'm not sure exactly. I think it's a combination of things. First: I was emailing to this woman's personal account, not a work address. Second: When the supervisor okayed our email correspondence, she apparently also said, "But you have to show me everything." Except neither Worker Woman nor Supervisor Lady said this to me. They only relayed the assent, not the caveat. This feels like cheating to me. I was hoping – via email – to develop a rapport with this woman. How can she feel at ease with me if she knows ahead of time that everything she writes will be vetted after the fact by her supervisor's sharp eyes? And what would happen if I'd actually gotten comfortable enough with her to say something ever so slightly critical of her boss? It happens in conversation and nobody reports it. This was to be like a conversation. It feels wrong that it was set up to be an overheard conversation. Even if this is in fact the overall implication of email, that anything can be lifted and quoted verbatim at any time, in practice we seldom do. I've had intimate email discussions with friends and frankly, if any of them cc'd the contents to all our mutual acquaintances, that would be the end of that friendship. Some things are implicitly private, and usually both parties understand that at the time. You just know.
But this wasn't a friendship and we weren't sharing confidences, we were talking about my son and how he was faring at school. (Yes, I'm letting the cat out of the who-dat bag here but I don’t care anymore. The agency in question is out of my life, just the paperwork remains.) Honestly, I think what bothers me most is that it's part of a larger picture. The way this supervisor works. She must Know All. She must hold the reins of power. I’m not used to that. The specialists I've dealt with before may be discreet in their way, and absolutely professional, but they have always felt free to communicate with me one-on-one, to form real relationships not just with my kid but with me. Not so here.
Last month I asked this Worker Woman's predecessor a question, wanting to know something specific about the other kids in Damian's class. She shrugged and gave me a generic (and useless) answer. A few days later, I talked to Supervisor Lady. Who told me that my question had been relayed to her, along with the real answer. Apparently the worker couldn’t respond to a simple (and easy) question from me unless she cleared it with her supervisor first. So the email creepiness is par for the course with this gang. Which is why I felt violated. Which is why I ranted. That overall attitude, that kind of distrust and secrecy, it makes my skin crawl and my temper rise.
Make sense now?
Life seems surreal right now, I don't know how to write here. I'm considering taking a break but I can't help wondering if I'd come back and I'm not ready to stop, so there you are. I don't know, I just don't.
It's hard having Damian in kindergarten. The half day is hard on me and the fact that he's out of the shelter of the therapeutic environment is tension-producing, to say the least. It's hard too that the sitter I thought I had seems incapable of nailing down a decision from her other boss about the hours (or is she giving me the run-around? I can't tell) and therefore I'm leaving another extremely nice prospective sitter hanging. Not so cool. I'm in mid-end draft of my novel but with so little time to write these past months, I tend to forget where I left off.
I feel like I’m not a committed enough anything right now: mother, writer, friend. I may need a break from the blog. But maybe not. I don't know anything, not really. And that's the hardest part. Limbo isn't fun.
I just found out today that an email I sent to one woman was read by another. Specifically: I entered into an agreement (verbal) with an agency that was providing a service for my family (hey, I'm trying to be discreet here). This service was to be performed without my direct supervision, so I wanted to make sure I could communicate with the worker. I asked if we could do this via email. Her supervisor okayed this. Good.
Nobody told me the emails were going to be read, not just by the worker, but by her supervisor. As a policy, not just a random event. Not so good.
I don't know the legalities of this, but when you call a company -- like, say, your cell phone provider -- the person on the other end always tells you if the call will be recorded or if a supervisor might be listening in. I assume this is a legal precaution, that you have the right to know who will be auditing your words. Well, doesn't that apply here? I had a personal, one-on-one type of connection with this worker. Neither she nor her supervisor told me that my words -- not a paraphrase of my words, but the actual written documents -- would be printed out and passed on.
I can hear your question from here and no, I did not write anything I regret. Nothing damning or condemning or even slightly critical, though the supervisor took one thing I wrote as criticism and defended herself against it. Much to my surprise, since that was the first I knew she was reading.
But legal or no, this is very very wrong. I feel violated.
I was telling Dan today about my ending woes. Um, novel ending, that is. Since I started this book, I've worried at, chewed over, contemplated and revised my idea of how it shound end. I don't mean the last page or even the last five pages but rather the last large chunk, fifty pages or more. How the story crescendoes and concludes. How I take all the threads and weave them in just the right way so it feels like a complete tapestry, or should the metaphor be musical? It is musical, I think. You don't want to just fade out, simply stop, you want to bring all the instruments up, faster and higher, to their natural, seemingly inevitable end point. Sometimes I think about story, the mechanics of what happens in that section. Right now I'm contemplating character. How do these people deal with where this story has taken them? How do they therefore interact? How have they grown and have they grown enough yet and if so, how can I show that and if not, how can I precipitate that? Complex stuff. Chewy stuff. Head scratching stuff.
Anyway. I was talking through all of this, or at least a portion of it, and Dan said something I found interesting and I suspect very true, so I thought I'd record it here. Which is: beginnings are easy to conceive, hard to write. Endings are hard to conceive, easy to write.
I think this is dead on. Everyone seemingly (especially in LA) has a story idea, and they all go something like, "See, there's this person, and this thing happens to him and wow, right?" Voila, a beginning. But to write it? Trickier. You have to start just right. With a bang but not too much of one, don't oversell it before you've fully jumped in. And please, for the love of god, develop your character a little before the real action starts. Let me know who I'm riding along this journey with, okay? But also? Don't just regurgitate exposition on my lap, that gets so messy. And boring. And please, do have some kind of story that I care about to keep me happy until the real meat of the story begins. And so on. And so forth. And then there's the matter of finding the right tone that'll carry you through the rest of the manuscript, and learning to hear your characters' voices in your head.
The end? Well, see above. I'm worried about mine. I've been spinning this story, this web of intrigue and emotional angst, and it needs a conclusion which means I need to have gotten everyone/everything (ie: characters, plotlines) to that place all at once and with the right flourish to leave you satisfied and not throwing the book across the room. Writing an ending is a lot like cooking a fancy meal. Everything has to finish at the right time and you have an awful lot of sauces to stir and meat to turn and bread to take out of the oven all at the same time to make it come out right. And yet when you've figured out some but not all of it, you can dive in. The rest may come in inspired flashes as you write, you know these characters and this story so well by now and it pulls you along as you write, it tugs at you and demands of you and if you surrender to it, you will, yes you will finish this book, this script, this opus, this creation will be on the page and in the computer, no longer just a figment of your fevered brain but real.
Just so you know: if you've tried to comment here in the past few days (or on Toni's blog or my mom's, for that matter) and been stopped in your tracks by a stern warning that you were guilty of "questionable content," don't fear. Somehow my Blacklist install got a little feisty. Someone somehow mysteriously fed a colon into its list and it burped up accusations left and right (because, after all, every time you post a URL, ie: your website, it contains a colon therein). But I had a little chat with said Blacklist and it regurgitated the colon and promised to mind its manners in the future. So comment away.
Today driving down a pretty tree lined street in Mar Vista (a neighborhood in West LA), we were struck by the reds amongst the green foliage, the brown leaves on still-lush lawns. It was warm today, a change from the we've had. Today was a sunny California day, this week felt more like sweater weather, more like East Coast October. Drizzly gray days, turn the heat on in the morning, pile under the downy comforter at night, dig out your sweaters and your jackets and let the rain kink your hair and kiss your face. With the car windows closed today, that street in Mar Vista turning red and brown, we could have been anywhere but here. We could have been in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts. We could have been home.
Yes. Home, still, after all these years, is there rather than here. Here is where we live. Home is where we feel most comfortable, that sense of rightness, where outside matches interior landscape, where the people sound right and where we can find far more like-minded souls per square foot than we ever could in this Land of Sun. But I've talked about all this before. What I haven't talked about is this:
What would happen if we moved back tomorrow? What would it be like if we found a comfortable Colonial style house across the river from downtown Manhattan, a short train ride from Penn Station and a local phone call to so many of our friends? Part of me thinks it would be fantastic, that I'd fit right back into that world. We'd go down to my mother's family's house in Delaware each summer. Head to the Berkshires for fall foliage and stay at Dan's aunt's cabin there. Go for Thanksgiving dinner in Boston every year at my aunt's house. Drop off Damian with Dan's parents across the state line at least once a month so we could have a cozy dinner in a local restaurant. Not to mention Passover seders with close friends and undoubtedly many weekend days wandering around old haunts (and new ones) in the city, or should I say the City, as all good tri-state area residents do.
Sounds idyllic. I want to dive into the screen and make that my new reality. But even if we could afford it, even if Dan could find reliably steady (and satisfying) work there in film editing and I could, well, start to make money too, even then, would it work? What would it be like, really and truly, to move three thousand miles in our forties, with a child in tow? I don't know and the idea gives me pause. The climate would of course be a shock. The first winter I'm sure I'd curse my decision daily as I stamp around and try to recover from incipient frostbite and the first summer, too, drenched in sweat, wondering what on earth made me move to that hellish mosquito-infested jungle-wet-hot land. But other things too. Finding new dentists and mechanics and favorite restaurants and libraries and local produce and, yes, missing friends and colleagues and also the depth of knowledge of the place, the roads and the flow of life.
It's one thing to move when you're in your 20's and god knows, that was hard enough. Terribly hard. I was in a deep depression for over a year, lost and lonely here. It seems on the surface like it would be simple to move back but I’m not so sure it is. I'm not a California native and I may never be one but I've tentatively, gradually grown roots in this sandy soil. And it might hurt to pull me up. Would I transplant well? Who knows? Am I after all an Angelino now? Or am I this hybrid, half New Yorker and half sunbaked Californian? And will I ever have the chance to try and re-acclimate? If I had that chance, would I take it? I think I would, but in truth I don't know. I just don't know. And that thought is odd. So very odd.
In all my talk of a writing addiction, the endorphin rush of the flow of a good writing session when the words pour out from somewhere that both is and isn't from and of me, for all that – and it's all true – there's another side. Times like today. After a long lull, a couple of months with just a day here or two days there to work on the novel, I've started back in this week. Day one, Tuesday, went okay. Kind of. Feet getting wet. Damp, at least. Day two, Wednesday, was one of those dreamscape writing sessions. Lovely. Which brings us to Day Three. Today. I eagerly turned on the computer, eagerly opened my Word file, ready for my fix. Stared at the words. Stared some more. Went off to check some blogs.
What, me, write? I don't THINK so. Nuh uh. Not gonna do it. Don't wanna do it. Can't go there, can't pull it out of me. It's too HARD!
But yesterday it was fun. What happened?
I don't know. Partly, I think, I was just tired. Got up too early to take Damian to OT across town. But partly… well… it happens. Sometimes it's not about the scene I'm writing, sometimes there's nothing wrong with the structure of what I've devised. Sometimes it's just this kind of self-consciousness that takes over. I examine every word before I write it, dissect it once it's on the screen, delete it and try again. It's not that any of it's bad, exactly. (Well, not all of it, anyway.) But it feels like I'm sitting outside myself, watching every thought as it forms. Trying to mimic the flow, fake the attitude. Sometimes it works, too, sometimes I ease into the stream that way. Other times, well, not so much.
Today I stopped writing and went to the bedroom to take a nap. Maybe tomorrow I'll regain the zen of writing, that non-thinking thought process that allows me to live the world instead of writing the words one by one. Wish me luck.
Okay, I'm thoroughly hooked. Not that surprising, really. This, like JJ Abrams' Alias, has that delicious combination of interpersonal hyper-drama and B-movie intrigue. In the case of Alias, it's Bondian spy stuff, here the show is Stranded! On a Desert Island! combined with Something's Out There! Horror movie fare, but so much more interestingly wrought.
Actually, the series feels like a cross between Survivor, (only with better writers because it is, after all, written) and a pilot Dan cut a few years ago that sadly never went to series. The premise of that one was post-Apocalyptic: What if you were the only group of people left on the planet? How would you survive, how would it feel? Lost has that same spooky feeling, a group of people banding together in the face of the unknown, mixed in with the spicy flavor of a group of people forced into contact and not entirely trusting each other a la Survivor, only without the dumb competitions and weekly who-gets-voted-off-the-island tribal council.
I love this show. I love the flashbacks to everyone's lives before now, love the way they all seem to be remaking themselves in this lush but creepy new place, gradually coming to terms with their own tabula rasa existence. Past is prologue in this show and yet it isn't because you get to – no, you have to – begin again. Fascinating stuff. Fascinating show.
It sounds so simple: hire a babysitter, have more time to work. And back when Damian was a baby, it was simple. I mean, rock baby, make silly faces at baby, sing to baby, dangle funny toys in front of baby's face. Not that complex a job. It got harder as he got older and we didn't know why (hint: huge looming developmental disorder on the horizon). His part time nanny back then was – well, any words I write will sound trite and over the top, but she was and is a tremendously kind, warm, intelligent, loving person (told you, sappy -- but all true). And we were lucky. Damian was lucky, though he didn't know it then. He needed someone like her in his life. Desperately.
She left four years ago. Damian's been in preschool, in therapies, on the road. No regular babysitter needed, no room for one in his life. I missed the ability to go out to dinner occasionally without child in tow. Missed the chance to run out while someone was here or tell her he needs park time and not have to face said park myself. But I also liked having the house to myself while he was at school. Liked that nobody else riffled through our fridge, knew our daily schedule and habits. Floor time therapists may come over for two hour chunks and yes, we let them into our lives to some small extent, but it's not the same as an ongoing relationship with someone you yourself hire to companion your child.
The past couple of weeks we've interviewed a couple of people and I've talked to a few more on the phone and I'm reminded once again of how strange a relationship it is. You're in essence asking this person to be a surrogate you, but you the way you wish you were all the time: loving, supportive, never flying off the handle, always attentive and interested in play time. A clone of the best parts of yourself. And it’s not an unreasonable expectation if you're only hiring this person for ten hours a week (or in this case, less). If you pay me to be nice to a child, trust me, I'll be nice to that child.
But that's it, isn't it? Because I know you can trust me. But how do I know I can trust some strange woman who rings my doorbell, who I spoke with for a few minutes on the phone, who Dan and I have to judge based on a half hour of slightly stilted conversation? We can't hire them all for an afternoon each, watch behind a two way mirror, make the call based on an in-the-field experience, babysitter plus kid, analyze the chemical interaction of that combination. We have to decide to trust. And when we do, we're inviting that person to become almost a part of our family albeit for just a few hours per week. Obviously she'll get to know Damian, but she'll get to know us too. It's an intimate relationship in its way. And yet we'll hand over a check every week. Paying for companionship for my child and freedom for me. Odd. But I need this. And so we meet people. We talk to others on the phone. We decide to invite someone to become part of the fabric of our lives.
My photoblog has been on hiatus since May. It's been a busy (not to mention emotional) summer edging into fall and I have too many projects. In truth I shouldn't even be writing this blog, should certainly not be starting a daily photoblog up again. It's time carved out of an already busy schedule and energy taken from my too chaotic mind.
And yet. The blog gives me a voice, a chance to explore what I think and what I experience in bite sized chunks, a record and a lovely forum for feedback from you who come to read. And I've grown accustomed to all that. I'd miss it. My world would feel smaller. Less connected.
The photoblog is different. More lonely in some ways, since I haven't become part of the photo blogger community. But it too serves as a forum, not for what I think but for what I see and so by extension, yes, for what I think. A picture portrait of the world as I live it. Without it I may take pictures that sit on my hard drive or occasionally become prints but lack that gallery-of-images feel I remember from the photoblog. And sometimes words are too much. Pictures are just right.
So I start again. Every day? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. For now, yes. A picture a day. Sometimes abstract, sometimes personal. My life, my eye, my images.
When I started reading tomorrow's New York Times Magazine profile of George W. Bush, I was fascinated. It confirmed what I've seen and suspected: this is a man who doesn't actually think, who doesn't know how to synthesize, how to analyze, and most of all, how to take in what other people say and alter his conclusions accordingly. He thinks like a child, everything oversimplified, everything black and white. Concrete thinking. He's never really gone through the school of hard knocks, he's never had to grow up. Not really. One description in particular confirms this for me. Bush in his 40's, attending board meetings for a big corporation (got on the board through a favor to his dad, of course); never anything of import to say, just a lot of dirty jokes (and this after his supposed crisis of faith). The article gives more chilling anecdotes by far, but this one reveals the emptiness of the man. The rest follows from that.
Like I said, when I started reading, I was fascinated by the glimpse behind the curtain to a man who prefers secrecy. Turns out he also prefers lockstep unthinking loyalty. Again, I'm not surprised. But somewhere in the final third of the article, I became very very depressed. People on the religious right worship this guy. They believe as he apparently does that he's God's chosen prezdint. And boy does he have plans for his second term. Oh yes. Does he ever.
God help us all. And may we wake up on the morning of November 3rd to a prezdint in past tense.
I'm pretty sure I know what book I'm going to write after I finish this novel. (Which is to say, the novel I haven't picked up in weeks, curse this no-floor time, no babysitter part-time kindergarten situation, but help is on the way – soon, even. Within a week, probably. But I digress.) This next one is loosely based on a script I wrote but never quite worked out, which in turn was based on a genre novel idea I never fully developed, so I've had it in my head for a while. I'm itching to get into it but scared, too. Aspects of it hit too close to home while other aspects are too unfamiliar and require more research than I'd prefer. (Preference: none. Rarely possible. Would get boring quickly if I only told stories about things I already knew. But I digress again.)
So yes, working to finish one novel. Thinking about the next one. So what's this third one floating around in my head? I won't get to it for a while. Years, maybe. But it came to me over a year ago, so it's had plenty of practice at waiting. It's very patient. When I first got this idea, I saw it as a script. I remember Toni laughing at me because I'd sworn up and down that I was not, no way, not ever going to write another script and yet here I was with a script idea. Well, I'm not writing it as a script. But it scares me as a novel. The main character is a cop in a small town. I don’t know from small town life and I know less about what it's like to be a police officer. And yet. That's the idea. And it wants me to tell it. What can I do?
It presented itself as a mystery when it first appeared. I don’t do mysteries either. Well, mostly not. My next one is only kind of a mystery and my current one is not even slightly a mystery. And yet. This is the idea and it compels me for all sorts of reasons. But a full fledged mystery with a cop protagonist? Can I hire someone to write this for me? (Um, no.) So I've been thinking about this one too. Worrying at it, wondering if I can pull this off, even a few years from now. Today I had a realization, though. And that realization is the reason I write tonight, though with the long preamble, you are no doubt already lost in the thicket of my convoluted brain processes. (I'm tired. Must sleep soon. Must turn off computer and go to bed. But I digress yet again.)
So. The realization. I started pondering what intrigued me about the idea. The center of it is this push-pull between the main character and another woman, the antagonist. They have a past together. I don't know quite what yet but confronting this person brings up all kinds of intense stuff for Ms. Main Character Cop Person. But if we don't know this other woman is the antagonist until the end (when we solve the mystery), what is the rest of the story? Hmm. Hey, what if we do know? What if she figures it out early on and the rest of the story can be a combination of cat-and-mouse flushing-bad-girl-out and painful/difficult flashback memories? Simple switch. Turns it from mystery into thriller, I guess, though not precisely. Psychological thriller, maybe, edging into drama. Or maybe the other way around, I won’t know until I write it. But this I think I can do. Especially the flashback parts. And who knows, maybe if she already knows who dunnit, she doesn't have to be a cop. Maybe she can be a lawyer or something. I can write a lawyer, I think. I've met more of them, anyway. And worked on legal TV shows. Or maybe she can be something else involved in that general world, a paralegal or a firearms expert or handwriting specialist or… oh, hell, maybe she'll just be a cop. But at least I can see it now. The shape of it. Don't know if I can pull it off. Don't know if I'll ever write it. But I can see it. And I like that. Now I can put it back into the file in the back of my overcrowded brain, the file labeled "save for later" and let go of it for a while, now that I've solved one puzzle.
His own music. Unexpected and expected both at once. And very cool.
Today when I picked Damian up from school, he greeted me eagerly with: "We did a BIG art project today!" as he unfurled said art project, a double-sized piece of construction paper with three paper images of sailing ships glued to the top and the words (in Damian's handwriting!) "Christopher Columbus October 12 1492" across the bottom. "I wrote that because that's the day Christopher Columbus discovered America," Damian informed me proudly.
I feel mixed. Oh so mixed.
Pleased. He's learning history now, not just the three Rs. This is cool.
Delighted. He wrote all that? Complete with lower case?
Tickled. He's so enthusiastic about learning, it warms my heart.
But also disconcerted and even a trifle disturbed. Because of course Christopher Columbus did NOT discover America. Eric the Red was probably the first European to set foot on this soil. Those we used to call American Indians, then Native Americans, and now call whatever the hell they want us to call them, they actually discovered this country before anyone else when they came trudging across the Bering Strait when it was still a peninsula that connected Russia with North America. To say Columbus discovered this land is to negate those who came before. It's a disturbing foreshadowing of Manifest Destiny, the rape and pillage of this continent's natural resources, boxing the Indians into tiny reservations on arid soil because they saw their relationship with nature in different, less possessive terms. It presages all that's wrong with the world, in a way. The assumption that MY needs matter and yours, well, you're not like me, are you? Your skin is a different color, your rituals are different, your language and religion are weird and uncouth and don’t count either. Not good to be teaching five and six year olds. Also, isn't it outdated? Don't we know better? My History & Literature major soul is disturbed by this simplistic distortion of the truth. Yes, I learned it this way but why does he?
I know, I know. It's Columbus Day today. This is the easy form, history in child sized doses. But does it have to be?
I didn't tell Damian today that his teacher was wrong – or, at least, only half right – because I didn't want to demolish his pleasure and his pride. But maybe next year or the year after, when he seems ready, I want to leaven the official elementary school story with something more complex and a great deal darker. I think it's important to understand that there's more than one way to see any historical event and that the way you learn it in school (at least at this level) is merely surface gloss. It's important to shaping a thinker, not just someone who trusts rote learning for all the answers. Answers are much harder to come by than that.
At Tiny Coconut's house this weekend, a group of us got into a conversation about Prop 13. This is the 1978 proposition that California voters passed into law, rolling back property taxes to 1% of a house's value with a small (2%) increase every year. This way your tax rate is more or less locked in when you buy your house and it makes no difference what the home's current market value might be. Conventional liberal wisdom on this is that it's a very bad thing because it drastically cut California's revenue and has had a ripple effect on services, education, etc. That's what I always heard, what I always believed.
But now? Well. A modest – not fancy, not huge, not anything much special – house in a decent LA neighborhood costs a million dollars, right? The little old lady who lives across the street from that not-a-mansion is probably living on a fixed ungenerous pension. If she suddenly had to fork over one percent of her house's current value, ie: $10,000 a year in property tax, she'd be royally screwed. And what if her house is worth more than that?
One day while my mom was here, we wandered into an open house near Damian's school. Nice house, pleasant neighborhood. Not especially large and not in Beverly Hills or Bel Air, not Brentwood nor Malibu. How much did they want for it? $1,450,000. Yeah. And you know what? I think it's already been sold. For that price, maybe higher. Who knows, maybe there was a bidding war. Property tax on that sucker comes to $15K. A year. All the people who live on that block, people who moved in ten years ago when prices were sane or thirty years ago when they were even saner and this wasn't such a hot neighborhood (though by definition any neighborhood on LA's Westside is hot), they probably pay more like $2k a year. Or 1K. Or $500. Some of them can certainly afford to fork out more. And maybe they should. Because to have that tax amount fixed, in defiance of inflation and higher costs and runaway deficits, that's not such a good idea. It affects our schools and roads and police forces and parks and intervention programs, which are all clearly suffering. But if you were to send everyone a tax bill commensurate with the current value of their homes? You'd see a solid row of foreclosure signs on that block.
It's a terrible conundrum. One that affects me personally. Because our house has more than doubled in value since we moved in. I'm sure I've mentioned this before. It took about two and a half years to double, I think. And since we didn't buy quite soon enough for our pocketbooks, our tax bill is already hefty. I have to breathe deep and bite my lip every time I write the biannual check. But we want to move, right? If we sell our place and move laterally, ie: move to a house with an equivalent value, we'll instantly be paying several thousand dollars more per year for our trouble. Even if we downsize, we're looking at a few thousand dollars more a year. And if we somehow scrape together a larger downpayment and want to move up a bracket? More tax. Big tax. Closing in on five digit numbers. For a modest house in a modest neighborhood. Are we stuck here, trapped by Prop 13? For now, yes. Until we (I) have more income or prices plummet.
I doubt anyone in the 70's imagined that million dollar houses would become the norm around here. And if they did, they might not have taken the leap and imagined that people might not want to stay put in their starter homes forever but still might not actually BE millionaires themselves. I doubt anyone's going to repeal Prop 13 tomorrow, but if they did and instead instituted a more reasonable tax, say a tenth of a percent of your house's current value, that would still line their coffers more and would eliminate that wallop of a surcharge we all face for wanting to move.
Tired. Will be back tomorow (Monday) with a real entry. In the meantime, have you read the NY Times article about how it truly really seems that chocolate has tremendous health benefits? This is maybe not such a good thing to discover as I settle back into my fruit-is-too-a-dessert dieting mindset.
Okay, so I'm still in debate detox and apparently not doing a very good job of it. I think I had more browser windows open than last time though I saw less of the debate itself. So what does that make it? A draw? Tamar 1, obsession 2? Or maybe the other way around? Pundits everywhere scratch their heads.
In the meantime, I nearly fell off the bed tonight laughing at this ebay auction. Warning: only funny if you watched or otherwise ingested tonight's debate. Also probably only funny if you're a Democrat.
Today I saw a strange car parked in my driveway. This happens occasionally in this very urban neighborhood. It seems like it's been happening more lately. I did what I always do, I went outside to ask them to move. Some people might not bother, but some people don't live around here. We have to assert our dominion over every inch of our space or our neighbors will trample over our rights. If you have, say, a floor time therapist coming by who needs a parking spot and it's filled with some strange dude's car, that's very uncool.
Besides, it's ours. Simple as that.
Anyway. I went outside this morning to chase the strange car away. One man – young, black, hooded – sat in the passenger seat. Another stood leaning against the car. Handsome. Indeterminate race, though certainly not white. Mixed race, probably. I had no opinion about either of them except they A) seemed young and B) shouldn't be cluttering up my driveway.
"Would you please get out of my driveway?" Polite tone but pitched loud enough to carry across my front yard.
The standing man let me have it. A torrent of words. An excerpt: "We're not drug dealers, I've lived on this block – just up there –" (pointing to an apartment building up the block) "for eight years. You should ask nicely, not just chase us away like that."
"I did ask nicely. I said please get out of my driveway."
"No, you should say 'Please move your car.' Don't assume anything about me like that. You should treat me better than that."
By this time he was in the car, window rolled up, pulling out of my driveway. Not interested in my response, not in the least. Satisfied with his own hissy fit and not wanting to hear anything that might contradict it.
I found myself bemused more than anything. When I chase the ubiquitous Russians out of our driveway, they nearly always respond with peevishness too, but it's more of the "I have every right to squat wherever I want" sort. "I was only here for a minute" (when I know it's been half an hour), "I was getting these things to my aging mother" (maybe so, but there's a spot on the street over there) and so on. Self-justifications, an assumption that I should let them off the hook, that rules don't matter. And the stately African woman who lives next door is always super nice when she's caught. Very apologetic, says very sweet things about Damian, understands completely. Won't stop her from doing it again, but she's a pleasure to talk to.
This guy, though. He has a chip on his shoulder the size of South Central LA. He immediately assumed I was reacting to his skin color and making racist generalizations from that. And didn't let me explain that I'm an equal opportunity bulldog. Just raced off down the street, I’m sure complaining to his companion about the haughty white bitch who chased them away because she thought they were dealing drugs in her driveway. (Never would have occurred to me. This is not a druggie strip. Musician central, yes. Ancient Russian Crone central, yes. Drug Capitol of Hollywood? Not even remotely.)
I find it all fascinating. The way you react when you've done something wrong says volumes about you as a person, your beliefs, your attitude about life and ultimately about yourself. Who'd've thunk?
I come before you tonight to expose and atone for my addiction. I vow to clean up my act, purge my bookmarks, do whatever it takes to get on the road to sanity -- and save myself a serious time sink, to boot. Yes, I've become obsessed with the upcoming presidential election. I read blogs and newspapers, click refresh and click through to all kinds of analysis and controversy. I believe strongly that this is an important election year, that the contrasts are stark and our votes matter more than they have in a long time. But that doesn't mean I should spend hours reading and thinking and reading some more. I have a child to play with, dinner to make, books to read and stories to write. I have a life to live and I can't live it online, nor can I change a damned thing by sitting at the computer reading about other people's struggles to make a difference.
I come by it naturally, I'm afraid. My father is a political junkie, especially when it comes to national elections. He's so biased he thought Dukakis came off well in the debates back then. But unless I'm willing to throw myself into campaigning for the Dems -- and I'm not -- or ferreting out secrets and lies and analyzing them on my own blog -- and I'm not that either -- I should back away from the computer slowly, my hands at my sides and my WiFi inactive.
I need a break. November 2nd is still weeks away. I need to think about something else for a while.
The question is, can I?
I picked Damian up from school yesterday as always, but this time I was running late so I didn't bother to grab a juice box on my way out. Besides, he usually doesn't ask for it these days. So of course he asked for said juice on the ten minute ride home and got mad at me when I said sorry, none in the car today. He claimed he was parched. He claimed he needed sustenance now, not in six blocks, else he'd wither to a desiccated husk of a boy. He claimed this was a horrific turn of events. I shrugged and told him (super calm) that we'd be home very soon and we had plenty of juice there. I could hear him scrabble around in the back seat. I knew what he was thinking. So I headed it off at the pass:
"Damian, if you throw something at me, you know what will happen, right?" (I'd take his beloved rubber frog away for five minutes. This is the consequence any time he hurts someone physically. Simple and effective albeit not entirely logically derived from the action.)
"Ohhhhhh." Pout. Pause. "But what can I do that will make you unhappy?"
How perfect an encapsulation is that of a child's desire to push a parent's buttons?
For the record, I said he couldn't make me unhappy, that I was in a good mood and that wasn't about to change. Then I turned on the music and started humming along. He became quickly involved in the song and that was the end of that hissy fit.
I've been more volatile myself lately, frustrated at how little time I have to do my work, frustrated with his flash-flood temper. Dan and I talked about this Sunday night. He reminded me to keep my cool. He was right. Clearly. Parent-goading is obviously a huge part of Damian's modus operandi right now. Nice of him to tell me that outright, don't you think?
Okay, this weight loss thing? Not happening. Needs to happen. Now. Right now this minute now, no dessert for you, young lady, you have to show some restraint.
How does it happen? How do you switch the "I mean it!" switch on and how can you be so passionate, so dedicated about it one day and so disinterested the next?
I think, as I've said before, that there are times in your life you can devote attention to the job of losing weight and getting healthy and other times you just don't have room in your brain for it. But then there are times – like the past couple of months for me -- when you do have room in your brain (albeit perhaps not so much in your schedule) but you keep climbing on that train only to climb off the moment it slows around the first curve. Why? If you know it works, if you know the only way to get to your destination is to stay on that damned train tootling along the track, if you've got proof from mere months back that this train does in fact chug along quite nicely once it gets going, why jump off and on and off and on? How can you stay on? What's this gravitational pull to the heavy ground?
My mother and I were talking about this a few days ago (sadly, she's gone now, her plane left yesterday morning, back to Nova Scotia and a real autumn). I was describing how sometimes I just have to put things in my mouth. It's not hunger, it's not even an obvious attempt to stuff down feelings, though it may be that under the surface. It feels more like a need. And I don't know how to stop it. Nor do I truly understand where it comes from. She said she thinks for me it's a combination of rebellion and a desire for comfort. That sounds exactly right.
When someone – or some group – says "Do this, do it this way, conform to my plan for you, be who I want you to be," I say "Fuck you." I'm not so good with authority. This got me into trouble in the editing room early in that career; I didn't have the proper subservience. I don't cotton to control from outside. So when I have to follow a diet plan, to account for everything I eat and don't eat, have to do this but not that, fall into line with the groupthink, I don't. Weight Watchers worked for me for a while because the flexpoints system allowed me to choose my own food, it simply gave me a way to measure when I was overdoing it and stop myself. But I'm reluctant to go back even though the Core Plan intrigues me. Because it's ultimately a corporate entity keeping an eye on me, tsking when the scale goes up or even doesn’t go down, monitoring me and judging me. Not so good. My attitude isn't "Better do better next week!" or even the unhealthy but natural "Oh, I’m a desperate failure," it's "Fuck off, I'm going to go stuff myself, take that, scale bitch!" Rebellion. Teenage, unbecoming and self-destructive, yes, but there it is. I have to do this for myself or I'm not going to do it at all.
The other aspect, the desire for comfort, that may be easier to understand. More universal, anyway. When I get stressed, food serves to fill me up emotionally. For a few minutes, anyway. Then I want more. Because the good feeling, the buttery mouthfeel of pudding, the sweet tang of chocolate or the crisp edge/soft interior of a good French fry, that lasts for the moment you chew, the moment you swallow, the fleeting aftertaste, and then it leaves you with a longing for more and more and more because that moment, it felt good. Vestigial memory of nursing, that warm milky feeling that you were wholly enclosed, safe and protected in a nest of arms and everything was right with the world? Who knows. But it's there, and it goes deep. And when I'm not thinking or even when I am but I lack a solid alternative or an emotionally powerful reason to stop myself, I go for the cupboard to find something soothing to eat. In the moment it feels good but of course it's not a solution, not long term.
So what's the answer? My rebellious streak, I think, can be answered simply. I am no longer that teenager, nor that young adult. I don't have to prove I'm anyone's equal. I know I am. And I can choose my health-and-diet plan. I may go back on Weight Watchers, though this time online. I may do it on my own. I don't know yet. I'll experiment. But this is in my control and I do this for myself. I do it because I want my clothes to fit better, I want to look better in photographs and in the mirror and I want to feel healthier, the way I do when I'm eating better and working my muscles. The way I did last fall. If it's about me, there's a much bigger chance I'll stick to it.
The turning-to-food-for-comfort dilemma is harder. I don't have room in my life for a satisfying substitute. I can't go for long walks or take long baths or work my body hard every time I feel the urge to stuff my face. There's a small person's dictatorial ways and scheduling needs to consider. I have little enough time as it is. I want to write – no, I need to write, I have a novel to finish, after all – but today when Damian was at school, I did 25 minutes on the Nordic track, ate lunch, and paid bills. Then it was time to pick him up. No writing time for me. Long walk, long talk, long bath? A long time from now.
So what then? I'm still not sure. Exercise is key, though. This I know. The endorphin rush helps my metabolism which means I crash less. It gives me a kind of emotional equilibrium, too, therefore I need less of a snack boost. The rest I'll figure out as I go.
That ground rushing by under the train tracks may become appealing in a week or a month, I know that. I might want to jump off and eat a few dozen acres of bucolic landscape. So I make no promises, not even to myself. It feels shitty to break a promise and I have no plans to feel shitty. But I do plan to work on this. Because it feels good to do it. This initial switch from inertia to momentum is hardest. Well, and later on when it stalls out, the train slows around a dangerous curve. That too. But right now I’m in the first flush of "I'm eating right, I’m so hungry but I feel so good!" and I plan to savor it. Grumpy comes later. I'll deal.
I'm burned out. I need a babysitter. Half day kindergarten and virtually no floor time services combined are kicking my butt. That is all.
Well, also: if you wrote me and I haven't written back, it's not that I hate you and can't stand what you wrote. I probably liked it a lot. But... well... see above. I'll write back. When I have a sliver more brain power and equilibrium and rest and self-regulation and time.
Calling my regional center caseworker tomorrow, going to find out when their funding will kick in for floor time (we no longer will receive it from the school district and the changeover is taking forEVER). Also interviewing a potential babysitter in a week. She sounds very good. Keep your fingers crossed for me. I need some sanity time.
Tonight we were listening to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in the car and talking about the Beatles. My mom said that when I was about two years old, I said, "Me bangs. Me Beatle." I wanted a haircut just like my heroes. I had no idea. I've seen plenty of pictures of me as a toddler with a cute bowl cut, but I always thought my mom decided. I never knew I did.
In that moment in the car tonight, I suddenly saw something more than the still images photographs capture, and something different from the way I remember events. I saw a two year old child, just the way I see a friend's two year old, the original thoughts and emerging personality in this tiny body bristling with ideas. I saw that child, the one who loved the Beatles so much she got her parents to take her to see them in concert, so much she wanted to look like them. I saw a little girl, complete. And the fact that she was me was only part of that picture.