Back online, finally. Interesting how important it has become. Like partial blindness when you can't see online. But the cable modem guy came today and hooked us up, then we problem solved for a bit and got wireless. And now I sit on my couch in my new living room, trees and peace all around, having eaten too much of the home-baked pumpkin cake the landlady and three of her four kids brought over this morning as a housewarming gift, and I'm content. Damian and Dan are off with our friends up the road. Life is already so very different here than there. It bemuses me. I feel bewitched, like we stepped into a dream.
Must to work. More soon.
So we're here. Damian started school today. We have enough unpacked to cook, albeit in a still-primitive fashion. No internet access yet, and no long distance service on our home phone. Feels positively archaic. We fit our stuff into the crevices of a smaller living space, but it works somehow. Dan's been unpacking like mad. I began catching up on my work, the work I thought I'd do on the road (ha). The deadline approaches fast. We're here, time to shift gears. No more vacation, this is our new life.
Cocoa is still staying with Dan's parents. He draped himself across my chest this weekend, purring and nuzzling my nose, and I wanted to take him with us, but a new environment complete with the chaos of movers? Not great for a cat's nerves. We'll bring him home Saturday, I think. The move isn't complete with no cat on the premises.
So far so good. I like Montclair. I like our charming, peaceful carriage house. I like Damian's teachers. This all feels like a dream, like we're going to wake up and find ourselves back in Los Angeles, but it's a sweetheart of a dream.
More as I can. Also, a new blog site soon, because postcardsfromla.com? Not so much any more.
Thursday night. Ten hours from now the movers come to take our stuff away.
I'm beat, bushed, wrung out, worn out, slammed, fried, and ground to a fine paste.
This is the last night I'll sleep in this room.
Wednesday evening. A day and a half till Moving Day. We live among boxes. We have new subdivisions in our house, box walls within real walls. We are, you might say, boxed in.
Damian and I drove down to LAX this morning, into the bowels of the airport under the Century Freeway overpass, and dropped Cocoa off for his 10:30 am flight. Boy, did that feel strange, walking away, back to the car, leaving him behind in a carrier on a pallet in a cavernous hangar. If it weren't for the two big dogs in similar carriers heading for the same flight, I'd almost feel like we'd left him in a warehouse by mistake.
But no, everyone there in the tiny office space was very nice, very reassuring. (And no, I didn't act freaked out. No more than my cat, at any rate. Well, not a whole lot more.) They knew who I was the moment I walked in, they talked about how cats handle travel, and said it would be just fine.
I'm not generally neurotic, but it was hard, doing this, harder than I expected. After all, the last time I brought a cat somewhere in a carrier and left him there. I never saw him again. And even though I know it's not the same, my child brain self doesn't.
So we left our black cat with the loud purr there and went back to Hollywood, the Land of Boxes. On the way home, I described as accurately as I could conjure what would happen to Cocoa every step of the way. Damian knows most of it already Ė he'd been telling Cocoa at great length over the past week or so what was going to happen to him today. But he wanted to know anyway, I think so he could picture it all more clearly, with more detail filled in. And periodically through the day today, Damian would ask, "Where is Cocoa now? Is he on the plane yet? What state is the plane flying over?"
A while after the plane landed at Newark (and no, I wasn't worried. Well, maybe a little, but fretting isn't real worry, is it? It's just stretching the muscles in case they're needed later), I got a call from Kymm the Magnificent, a/k/a The Mighty Kymm, the volunteer (well, okay, I drafted her) cat wrangler du jour. Cocoa was on the ground. Cocoa was in her possession. Cocoa was sniffing her fingers through the carrier's wire front. Cocoa was in New Jersey.
It all went smoothly, I'm relieved to say. The only odd moment was when my land line phone decided to call Kymm's cell phone. I have no idea why. I wasn't anywhere nearby. In fact, I was on my cell phone at the time in the other room. I guess my phone got worried, wanted to check in. Thought I wasn't doing my duty by my cat. But it turned out Kymm was about to call me. She'd arrived at Dan's parents' house. The moment they opened his carrier, Cocoa sauntered right out and started checking out his new locale. That cat has sangfroid.
Really, this is a remarkably tumult-free story, not much of an adventure at all except for the fact that I'm sure it's a huge big wallop of a life change for my sleek feline boy. He took an airplane trip by himself. I wouldn't feel comfortable letting Damian do that yet, and he can talk.
So Cocoa is the first one to make the move. He's now an East Coast Cat. And I can move on to worrying about something else.
Sunday night. Four and a half days till Moving Day.
I had a surreal moment this afternoon. I decided to do something with the vegetables in our fridge while I still could, so I threw onions, beans, diced tomatoes, and zucchini into a pan and made a very basic impromptu stew with the few condiments that remain accessible (ie: garlic and vinegar but no spices). As the onions were browning, I taped together a fresh box. As the beans were bubbling, I filled the box with cans and containers. Literally: stir the stew, turn around and put a can of beans into the box, season the stew, wrap paper around a glass pasta jar and fit it into the box, taste the stew, tape the box up, label it (box #136) and add it to the inventory.
After the stew cooled, I put it in a container in the fridge, washed the pan, dried it carefullyÖ. and packed it.
Finally (after how many years?) I now understand the medicinal value of alcohol.
I'm not one for drinking. I don't like the taste of most drinks and even the ones I do like, well, I guess I don't seek the buzz, in fact I often assiduously avoid that assault to the senses. Now that I think about it, it's probably related to my self-diagnosed sensory integration dysfunction. The world is uncertain enough, why destabilize it more? I hate that loss of control, that fuzzy mindedness. Always have.
However. This afternoon Toni called to check in, let me vent. Vent? About what? (And yes, I know moving is considered the number one stressor in modern life. Doesn't apply to me. We're ahead of the game here, you see. We're on top of all of it, packing and setting up utilities and planning a two week trip while Dan works long hours at his summer TV gig and I snatch time to do my freelance writing gig and Damian, well yes, he needs some attention doesn't he? No sweat. Really.)
Of course, once I started talking, I couldn't stop. I needed that outlet, needed her permission to let it all out. And yes, this feeling in my body, these twinges and twangs and tautness, of course that's what it is. Stress striating my muscles, thrumming in my bones. It feels unhealthy, uncomfortable and altogether unpleasant.
I had a glass of sherry tonight. I feel calmer than I have in days.
We now have a New Jersey phone number. I guess that means we live there, huh?
Strange, I know, but somehow these things, the mundane backdrop of daily life: electricity, internet access, magazine subscriptions and most especially the phone define where we live. They place us, more firmly than our physical presence does. How do you get a library card? Show a utility bill, proof of residence. How do you enroll your child in a highly rated public school? Show a utility bill, proof of residence. If I consume heat and light, if I talk on the phone, if I give my number to you and you and you, not to mention all of them, my once and future creditors, well, then I must live in a place. Even though I don't. Not yet. I'm here and my phone number, well, it's all the way over there. Waiting for me.
Less than eleven days left. I'm going to try to post a blog entry every day. Nuts? Probably. We'll see how it goes.
And I've booked all but one of the hotels on the two week trip. Many have broadband internet access. I'll post from the road, a travelogue of this cross country journey.
Less than eleven days left. I'm in an odd mood. When I'm not packing, I'm depressed and irritable. When I'm packing, I'm excited and happy. When I"m not packing, this move seems far off and impossible or at least improbable. Packing makes it real.
Dan feels similarly, I think.
Yesterday a woman rang the bell. She had a gift for me, of sorts. Not the sort to warm the heart, but I'm glad of it nevertheless. She handed me a small trunk-shaped box, covered in gold brocade, and a round piece of hardened clay. Dante's ashes and his death-print (pawprint taken after death).
I don't think about him as much, don't dwell as heavily on the pain of sudden loss, don't relive the last hours I had with him in the emergency vet hospital's waiting room, don't regret the cursory goodbye I gave when I thought I'd be picking him up the next day, don't look obsessively at the hundreds of photos I took over the past few years. Not so much anymore. He died a month ago today. He was a cat. A sweet, idiosyncratic beast who leaves a greater hole than I think Dan or I expected, but a cat nonetheless. A cat who grumbled and purred his way into our hearts, yes, but with everything going on right now, well, the ragged sadness does heal faster than it might. But holding that box, rubbing my thumb over the indentations Dante's paw left in the clay, grief hit me like an aftershock. Hard to stand there in the midst of a mundane day and feel that sudden spasm of heart hurt. Unsettling.
Damian felt it too. He did what he does now, he curled up in a ball and got very quiet. But soon enough he was prying open the box to look at Dante's ashes (safely enclosed in a clear plastic bag). He found them fascinating, I think. Then he set the box down onto the floor.
Right now there are two sheepskin-lined cat sleeping baskets on the floor in the dining room. Dante used to love them. When he was a kitten, nothing made him happier than a sheepskin lined anything. He'd knead and purr, purr and knead, and settle down happily to sleep. So we got two of them this past winter, one for each cat. Dante loved them, of course. Cocoa? Pretty much ignored them. Until Dante died. Since then, he settles in one to nap at least once a day. A way to remember his buddy? I can only think on some level that has to be true. The difference is striking.
After Dante died, Cocoa didn't grieve in any obvious way. He didn't get morose, didn't go off his food, didn't avoid us Ė not for more than a day, anyway. He seemed more restless than usual, didn't purr as much, but it was fairly subtle. But he gravitated toward Dante's sleeping baskets, and he took on a few other characteristics too.
Dante liked to stick his paw in his water bowl while he was drinking. I think it started because he liked to drink from moving water, so he'd swish the water around with his paw before drinking, but after a while it became habit; I'd often walk by and see him lapping away with his foot completely submerged in the bowl. Dante's the only cat I've ever seen who did this. Except Cocoa. The week Dante died. He started putting his paw in the bowl. He'd take it out quickly, it wasn't really his thing. But he was trying. Dan says he's read that this is a way of grieving, that sometimes you take on habits or quirks of the person who died. So yes, I think Cocoa has been grieving in his own cat way.
Yesterday, when Damian put the box of ashes down on the dining room floor, Cocoa was curled up in one of the cat baskets. The other lay empty beside him. So Damian put the open box into the empty basket. The two cats side by side again.
But an interesting thing happened. Cocoa got up out of his basket and went to the other one. Lay down in it. Snuggled up next to the box. Then he put his paw over the box. Possessively, companionably. Just as he often did when he and Dante curled up in the cat tree together. He stayed like that for a while. It was really striking, the way he did it. Very deliberate. I doubt the box smells like his friend, either. Fire purifies and purges. Do bones smell like a person? I can't imagine they do. But he knew anyway.
When we got back from our first reconnoiter-the-New-York-area trip in April, I remember driving down Melrose past the boutiques, Fairfax High School, the so-chic lighting and furniture stores with their colorful window displays, their plumage fluffed out and enticing against drab single story block-shaped buildings, and feeling as if I was driving through a stage set. These were all flats propped up by scaffolding, no substance, no reality, just a thin sliver of Los Angeles that I could scatter with a breath to reveal real life behind it. Real life, of course, was New York/New Jersey/home that was and will become.
That feeling faded, of course, as those feelings always do, as the minutes and days go by and you settle back into the mundane and the immediate. After our second trip, I expected to feel the same strange displacement, as if real life was elsewhere, not here. I did and I didn't. I do and I don't.
This time it feels more like I no longer live here, that I'm staying in this odd sort of bed and breakfast, only they're making me do all the housekeeping. (And packing. For some strange reason, this hotel has piles and piles of life detritus to organize and pack.) I'm here but I've already left. And yet sometimes, like last night over dinner with friends in a lovely little French bistro, I feel as if I do live here. As if I've lived here forever, as if I will grow old and die here, wither away into myself like the ninety two year old woman in her studio apartment next door, alone with her blaring Russian language TV.
We're waiting to move now. It's an active waiting, a say goodbye to all that and do a whole lot of work besides sort of waiting period, but fact is, we're neither here nor there. We're somewhere in the middle of the country, in the so-called flyover states that we will soon, and with great relish, be driving through, savoring the miles as we go.
I think it's right that we drive and don't fly. How else can we make this real? This distance between here and there, palm trees and sunset over the ocean versus sugar maples and the green copper Lady of the Harbor holding her torch aloft, welcoming us home.
I don't want to fly, I don't want to slip from one dream into another. I want to feel the miles, experience the shift in terrain from scrubby canyon land to wind-sculpted red rock hills to the buckle and twist of the Rocky Mountain range and on through gradually lusher landscapes, rambling through the countryside as we approach more familiar terrain until finally my inner landscape matches what I see out the window.
Less than three weeks now. Every day Damian asks, "How many days until we leave?" It's a countdown. In seventeen days, Cocoa boards an airplane bound for New Jersey. In nineteen days, the movers come and sweep our life onto a truck. In twenty days, we hug Tiny Coconut and her family goodbye after spending the night at their house (no beds left here!) and head out, take the 210 to the 15 to points east. We begin the adventure.
In just twenty days we begin anew.
Is it possible to mourn and be happy at the same time? Because that's how I feel right now. Packing, cheerful, purging, looking ahead. Life is thrilling.
Coming home, no red streak of fluff escaping past my legs, then plopping down on the warm cement path, waiting for me to gather him up and bring him back inside. A catch in my throat.
Kitty dinner, only one bowl, only one long-bodied creature racing to get his chow and the inevitable memories of the two boys flank to flank, tails high flags, running in tandem. A catch in my heart.
A life stops, other lives go on, the fabric is torn but holds.
I'm still waiting to see him in my dreams. My red fuzzy Dante bear-cat. Will his spirit follow us to New Jersey or will it get lost somewhere on I-70? They say animals have great homing skills. How about animal spirits?
Thank you to everyone who has extended condolences in comments and email. A pet's personality is so hard to know from the outside, it sometimes feels like a ghost that only matters to the people who lived with him. But because of my words, maybe, Dante was somewhat more known. And your words help me heal.
Some old words about Dante:
Dante and Damian in 1999, kit and caboodle.
Dante and Cocoa sitting in a tree.
And a portrait, taken two years ago:
And an ending. For now. Until I have more to say.
He was acting lethargic last night, unlike himself. I brought him to the emergency veterinary hospital. He stayed overnight. He went into arrest this morning, they couldn't resuscitate him.
Our sweet, sweet boy.
Eliza mentioned me in her journal today, mentioned becoming invested in this cross-country move of ours, called us brave. I know what she means. Well, not sure about the brave part, though sometimes, yes, I think it must be brave in the way that you are when you walk into what looks like a wall, knowing it's an optical illusion but the logical part of your brain, the empirical part, says, "No, that's a really a wall and it's gonna hurt like hell when you slam your nose into it," and so you close your eyes and hold your breath and take one step, then another, then another, all the while thinking "I can stop any time, I can decide not to go through with this, I can walk backwards if need be, right? And by the way, where's the nearest hospital? Y'know, just in case." And before you know it, you're at the wall and wow, you're through and then finally you find out what's on the other side. So yes, maybe brave is the right term for this, maybe so.
But when I said I know what she means, I meant the readerly fascination with personal stories, with life as shown on blogs and online journals. The way you become invested in someone's life, reading it like a book when the hero just stumbled into a hornet's nest and then one of the hornets pulled out a knife, and boy what's he gonna do now? And your heart beats faster as you're reading and you stay up way too late because you can't put the book down. But this is not fiction and it has no ending, it's just twists and turns and thoughts and feelings, it's like nothing else. Memoir as it's lived, unfolding in real time. I too am addicted and so I understand that right now my life is like that, this big cross country move creates that sense of wanting to turn the page to see how it turned out for us in our new home, our new life. Hell, I feel it too. I want to know how this story ends. Do we live happily ever after? Do we feel this was the right choice, to go back home to the New York area after seventeen years? Will we land on our feet? What's going to happen? Where will we live, how will we make it work? Can I take one little peek at the epilogue now? I promise not to tell!
When we started talking about this back in February, I figured we wouldn't go unless Dan had an editing job lined up, safety net and justification both. But it became clear after our visit in April that he probably can't get a gig there while he's still here. Because nobody really believes you'll pick yourself up and move from the film capitol of the world to a smaller filmmaking community unless you just go ahead and do it. Prove you mean it. But we both also realized then that we'd be heartbroken if we didn't make the move. Our hearts are there, not here. And if we didn't try it now, we would always wonder if it would have worked, how it would have been. So we have to give it a try. But for a while I was having a hard time with this idea. Cart before horse, result before cause. How does this make sense? People make these huge moves for tangible reasons, no? Solid financial or career considerations, usually. Isn't that the way it goes?
I started thinking about the people I knew who had done such things. And you know what? I mostly thought of people whose lives I've read online. John Scalzi, who sold his house and moved from the DC area to rural Ohio, largely because his wife missed her family. Yeah, that's me, only in this case it's true for both of us. Karen Meisner (now offline), who packed up her little family and moved from Berkeley, California to Madison, Wisconsin, mostly because she felt like Berkeley wasn't the life she wanted, it didn't challenge her enough. I can relate there too Ė not that LA doesn't challenge me, but it doesnít excite me, and it most certainly isn't the life we want. Sage and Todd, who have moved more than once; their last move was from the Western US to Toronto, primarily because of the worsening political climate in the US. We thought long and hard about that ourselves, but it turns out that this is not exactly us after all, except for this: we move from a city that doesn't feel in sync with us politically, emotionally or socially to a town that does. But in all three cases Ė and I didn't have to think hard to come up with these, they are (or were, in Karen's case) people whose words I read weekly if not daily Ė they moved for personal reasons. They chose to do it, no external force (ie: job offer) pushed them out the door.
I feel much better now, realizing this. Remembering what I've read. We're not alone. People have done this and not only survived but thrived. I know this because they told me. Online. It's not fiction, it's real life stories we read online, and our own lives are sometimes unexpectedly enriched because of it.
A little life lesson: Be flexible. It's pretty much the only way you can handle the rollercoaster without falling off or at least ending up with a bad case of whiplash.
Remember that timetable of our move? History. Alternate history, turns out. Our new timetable:
June 20th. Fly to New York. Leave cats behind. Find place to live. Do other stuff. Sweat (90 and humid? Ugh.)
July 3rd. Come back to LA. Greet cats.
July 5th or 6th or so: visit Legoland (we promised) and Seaworld (why not?).
July 11th or thereabouts. Dan starts work.
(What? Oh. Yeah, well. A job. Here. For the summer. With people he knows and likes. Why not?)
The rest of July. Buy boxes. Pack. Sweat. Say goodbye to people and places here. Turn the air conditioning up. Stop sweating. Throw things out. Donate other things. Buy more boxes. Pack some more.
August 2nd. Escrow ends. Get a honking big check, deposit it. Look at each other and shake our heads in wonder.
August 3rd. Become renters in this very same house. Weird.
The rest of August. See July, only now with 50% more boxes and sweat and stress.
September. This gets a little tricky, but:
Say hi to moving van and movers. Watch nearly all our worldly goods disappear into the innards of a huge, enormous and really freaking long truck. Wave goodbye to nearly all our worldly goods.
Then: Either Damian and I kiss Daddy goodbye (if the job hasn't ended yet) and get on a plane or we all three get on that plane (if the job has in fact ended). Oh, wait, five of us. We bring the cats this time. But we leave the minivan behind, either with Dan or solo. A minivan alone in the big city, up to no good.
Get off plane. Donít forget cats on plane. Introduce cats to Grandma and Grandpa.
A few days later: Meet honking big, freakishly long truck in New Jersey. Say hi to stuff. Also to movers. Watch stuff reappear from the depths of honking big truck. Give movers water and our undying gratitude. Unpack enough stuff to sleep that night in our new abode. And maybe eat too. Live among boxes for a week.
Damian starts school. One week. Just one. A taste of school, a sampler.
Say bye to cats. Get back on plane. Fly back west. Yes, this is strange to me too. Settle in, then leave? Why not?
Get off plane. Greet Dan if we've left him behind. Say hi to minivan. Drive for many days with many stops along the way. Arrive. Stay put. Hello New Jersey. Hello New Life.
Yes, we could ship the car. And we may well end up doing so. But we don't want to. We want to drive, to see a large swath of country, experience that visceral, tangible move. See the miles. And yes, it means pulling Damian out of school for two weeks. Listen, it's first grade. Do you think he'll remember what he learned for those two weeks of school for the rest of his life or remember a monumental cross country drive filled with life and sights and scenery and history?
Plusses to this new plan: Job. Money. Good. Plus, it looks like I may have a small writing job this summer. Freelance, from home. But far easier to do from home and not from car in the middle of the Utah desert Ė I mean the Colorado Rockies Ė I mean, where am I today? Plus, September: cooler drive than August. Also, tourist spots will be less crowded. Also, a month more time to pack. A Good Thing. But mostly, see above. Job. Money. Good.
(SP, I will write about the selling process. Next up.)
People keep asking me if we know when we're moving. Valid question. And since a bunch of my friends read this, I thought I'd post the details here. (Don't worry, this is not a laundry list.)
June 7th, a/k/a today. Hold Open House. Leave house at 11 am. Imagine hordes tramping through. Feel weird.
June 8th & 9th. Field offers. Counter offers. Hold breath. Go into escrow. Exhale. Eat sushi. (Well, why not?)
June 20th. Board plane to New York. Bring cats. Stow them in the overhead compartments. Get chewed out by flight attendant when the fuzzballs pop their heads out to ask for kitty treats before takeoff. Grudgingly agree to check them as luggage.
June 21st to July 2nd. Look for house or apartment to rent. Squeeze in a few school tours. Take breaks to go down to the Jersey shore with relatives. Pet cats a lot and scratch behind their ears.
July 3rd. Fly back to LA. Cats stay in New York with grandma and grandpa. Bye, cats. Bye, grandma and grandpa.
July 4th. Try to find some fireworks.
July 5th to July 31st. Pack and toss, pack and toss. A household to move, mountains of never-used belongings to discard. Freak out. Take break to go to Legoland and Sea World because we promised we would. Say goodbye to Shamu.
August 1st (date approximate). Climb into minivan. Drive east. Through deserts, over mountains, hello Continental Divide, hello herds of bison, hello huge president heads, hello great brown Mississippi River, hello and what a huge country. Thank the gods of travel several times for an air conditioned car and cell phones.
August 16th (date approximate). Arrive. Hello cats. Hello new life.
The cats are ready for their great adventure.
The TV networks announced their fall lineups this week. Dan's show got cancelled. Which is sad, because it was an extremely likeable show. But honestly? I'm relieved. Can you imagine walking away from a guaranteed job, a reliable gig with people you've become comfortable around, forÖ wellÖ the great unknown? No sure thing, this move. No guarantees at all. Just contacts, connections, friendship, and a sense of rightness. And so we go. I told Damian that's it's all a huge adventure. I meant the house sale, the move, the drive across country. But really, it extends way beyond that, doesnít it? New town, new school, new life, new weather pattern, new definition of self and work and everything, almost.
I think now about Toronto, about how serious we felt this past winter, how it felt like a tangible, appealing option. I feel some regret, admittedly. I still think this country's current government is freaky-scary and I worry how far things will go before the hoped-for, longed-for shift back to the middle, back to some semblance of sanity. But this move to New Jersey, which really means New York, which means a return home, even this move, which has so much comfort built into it (an immediate and rich social life! familiar places all around us!), even this feels like diving into a cloud with our eyes closed, the sensation imaginable but unknowable, nothing to grip onto, nothing to do but trust that we'll float and not fall, that the cloud, balloon-like, will buoy us up. And with this transition we're not just moving away from a city that hasn't ever jelled for us but also moving toward a place and people that do.
If we'd gone through with the Canadian immigration paperwork, how would that have felt two months before the big move? Much, much harder than this, I think. Toronto sounds like a very pleasant city and maybe we would have adapted, found a social circle, found work, found a good school for Damian. Maybe. But it would have meant starting over in the most elemental way. Ground level. Build a life. Hard in your forties. Doable but hard. And to choose it just because we want to leave a city and a country? I'm not sure that's enough, at least not for me. I want to go to, not just away from.
I think some people have a sense of adventure built into their DNA, they wake up as infants, and as their eyes learn to focus they learn to crave change and newness, and as a corollary, they seem to know how to build worlds around them wherever they go. My cousin has more friends in LA than I do, I think, and he's only been here half a dozen times. I know I'm capable of making friends; at certain points in my life it's happened easily, though maybe that was because I was in the right place for me, or maybe because I felt comfortable with myself (though perhaps these are two ways of saying the same thing). But I find that I donít want that big an unknown. I want my adventure life-sized, manageable, imaginable. This is huge enough, to uproot my family like this with no immediate jobs on the horizon, no tangible reason except that it's what we want and maybe need to do for ourselves, our careers and our son. This is huge enough, and it comes complete with a social safety net, friends to support us through our inevitable panic attacks, even family nearby. This is huge enough, and anything that makes it feel saner and more secure is a good thing.
So I'm sorry that Dan's show got cancelled, but in a way, selfishly, I'm not. I wish everyone luck finding jobs on quality shows easily and quickly. And I wish us luck in our metamorphosis intoÖ whatever happens to someone who hitches a ride on a cloud.
I have a new hat. A straw sunhat with a slightly rolled brim. I set it on the printer cart in my office and Dante immediately started stalking it. When he began licking the brim, I removed it to the bookcase. When he wedged himself onto the shelf, I squirted him and chased him off. He can't have it. It's mine.
I like this hat. You can fold it, sit on it, crush it into a suitcase, and it'll unfurl, unfold and look just as good. I got it at the travel bookstore today, along with an updated Rand McNally US Atlas, a huge fold-out road map of the same terrain, a Frommer's and also a Rough Guide to, yes, these United States of America.
We're going on a road trip, yes we are. We're going to drive across the entire country. Stem to sternum, tip to top. Well, okay, not quite top. But it's a long drive with a seven year old, no? So I can exaggerate. I'm entitled. Also giddy. Also bewildered. Is this my beautiful life? How'd this happen?
We have a few scenarios right now, timetables and scheduling issues, and this has never been that kind of personal blog so I'll gloss over that part except to say that in all likelihood, sometime before mid-September and quite possibly as early as a month from now, we'll get into our minivan and set out for a long, very long, oh so long drive. This is not to say we're moving in a month, I don't see how we could possibly be ready that soon, but if we do have the freedom to go then, it's a nice time of year to make the drive (and then fly back to LA to pack). The car has to get there somehow, right?
Whether in June, August, or September, I know certain things about this trip. It will take approximately two weeks. I will take lots of pictures. Damian will complain about being bored in the car. We will listen to a lot of music. When I'm in the passenger seat, I will sometimes take my shoes off and put my feet up on the dash. We will stop a great many times in many towns and at overlooks and trailheads. We will visit Bryce Canyon in Utah. We will drive through the Colorado Rockies and look down. We will see Mount Rushmore and look up. We will drive and walk through the Black Hills and the Badlands in South Dakota. We will visit Chicago and eat well. We will eat a lot of greasy road food and I hope some of will even taste good. We will be very tired at the end of the road. I will wear my new hat.
I thought we'd do a fact-finding mission, that it would be clear cut and logical, that we'd know whether to move to New York or to stay put in Los Angeles. Ha. Instead it's gut-level, emotional, and risky as hell.
Yes, we've decided to move. Or rather, as Dan says, the decision has somehow been made for us. We move as if compelled, as if a powerful magnet emanates from the Tristate area and we're nothing more than a handful of iron filings, a scattering of metallic bits, and so we fly, yanked back home. Someone finally turned on the magnet full force, that's all. Will it work out? Is this the right decision (non-decision), will fate or instinct, or, hell, the pseudo-mystical made-up Force be with us or will we look back and say "What were we THINKING???"
Sometimes decisions can be both wise and foolish, positive and negative, difficult and right, tangled and clear. Like buying our current house. Great investment but not the most peaceful place to live. Now we sell that investment and use the equity to cushion our journey east where we'll hope and work toward happiness. Sell a house, buy a life change.
You live your life, you make your choices. It makes logical sense to seek security, to settle down. For us, that means staying put. But if you're miserable in that relative (because nothing's certain) stability? What then?
What matters to me at this point in my life? What matters to Dan? Not one thing, obviously; you can't single out any specific element, point to it and say, "This. This is it and nothing else is important." But some things do matter more than others. And though working toward future (and present) comfort certainly is on that list, it turns out a sense of community, geographical proximity to people we love, that may matter more. The chance for Dan to become someone new, to renew and redefine his career, that too. Me too, I think Ė not so much career right now but the chance rethink myself, to re-present myself. In truth, we change gradually over time, growing into ourselves (if we're lucky). But often if we stay in the same environment, that change remains invisible to other people and therefore sometimes to ourselves. They and we still define us by who we've been. But if you shift the locale, the milieu, you can seem to become someone new in a moment. It's like when you lose weight. Someone who sees you every single day may not note the half pound there, the pound and a half there, but to someone who sees you once a month or once a year, the transformation will be startlingly obvious.
But that's not it, not the reason for the move, not to change ourselves or become ourselves, only maybe it is a bit. It's more about happiness and where and how you can find it. Can you chase happiness? Is it like the rainbow's end, always shifting away, or is it indeed tangible and concrete? Right now I think the latter. Maybe not happiness per se, because who can have a life without bumps and bruises? But an overall feeling of rightness instead of wrongness, I do think you can know that, find that.
Is this crazy? We sell our house here this summer, become renters there by fall and take a chance that we'll be able to buy again at some unknown point in the future. Dan invests in a new network of potential employers. I find my way Ė somehow, some as yet undetermined niche Ė back into the working world because it is indeed time to become a two income family again and especially if Ė no, when Ė we move and Dan's work situations become more tenuous for a short or even long while. My share of work may need to be part time or at least involve a goodly amount of telecommuting because I must still be primary caregiver to a child who still very much needs a parent's care. A child, by the way, who very much wants to make this move "So I can see Hannah and Isaiah all the time and visit my grandparents whenever I want." (Hannah and Isaiah are my college roommate's children, and they live within minutes of our town-to-be. The kids got along, you might say.) He seems completely unfazed by this enormous upheaval.
I should trust and emulate his attitude, I think. Instead I'm alternately thrilled and terrified with a goodly dose of stunned, "It's a dream, right? I'll wake up soon and be disappointed that nothing's different, right?" But no, this doesnít at all feel like a dream. It feels like a surprising left turn, taking us off the map of the known, and maybe if I squint real hard I can make out the vague outline of what lies ahead, but maybe that's just a mirage. I can't be sure, but the only way to know is to move ahead.
So we will. Back to slush in February and the miraculous spread of green in April, back to mosquito-laden summers and a beautiful, majestic, thrilling city and the towns that surround it, inevitably memorizing the commuter train schedule (Damian called it the computer train at first and then simply said it was boring and far too slow). Also inevitably discovering inconveniences and annoyances and drawbacks to our new life (no fresh Fuyu persimmons at the farmer's market in January (no farmer's market in January)) but also embarking on this astonishing adventure, returning home to an environment that feels so right and is both familiar and new. We've never been parents there, never been fully adult there, I've never lived outside the city, I've never been a writer there or driven a car there (not until this trip, that is). Add in career questions and so many other unknowns and wow. Just wow.
Sometimes maybe it's good and right to shake things up, to toss the elements of your life up in the air like so much confetti and then watch it drift back down to earth in a new, unpredictable pattern.
We're going to find out. And soon.
We got back to LA this evening. I'm exhausted. What a full trip, and utterly unlike going for a visit. This was a trip with intent, which adds a layer of stress and excitement.
We discovered the lay of the land, more or less, and it wasn't what we'd hoped but wasn't exactly what we'd feared either. We made a decision, or at least we think we did. I'll post more tomorrow when I'm less tired.
First: Been sick with the flu two whole weeks. Finally feel somewhat better yesterday and today (days 15 and 16, respectively). Going on a plane Friday. Imperative that I feel better by then, if only so the entire planeload of people don't give me dirty looks every time I have a coughing fit.
Second: Been sending Damian to school with Benedryl in his system. Result: no scratching. Instead, he's been one spaced out little dude. So yesterday on the teacher's advice we sent him to school with the Benedryl tablet in an envelope in his backpack instead of in his digestive system. He apparently started itching two hours into class, took the pill, felt better, and didn't space out till it was goodbye time. (It's a 3 1/2 hour class.) Better. Not fantastic, but better. One more day of school, then off to New York and away from whatever allergen is causing this.
Third: Did I mention? Going to New York Friday. We shall see what we shall see. Will try to post from the road. May even succeed.
Fourth: Will I ever stop writing in staccato partial sentences with no "I"? Perhaps. Will find out later.
A few days ago, Alice of Finslippy asked her readers for some advice. She and her husband and adorably funny toddler son own an apartment in Park Slope; it's small, with various other discomforts of urban life. They're considering cashing in on their equity and moving to the Jersey suburbs. Her readers have been weighing in with pros and cons and personal stories and I've been devouring the whole thread. That could be me, only with a long layover in Los Angeles.
Yes, it turns out our Toronto vs. New York dilemma was no dilemma at all. For various reasons, the answer has to be New York. If the opportunity materializes, we go. We don't know yet if it will, but we should have a better sense of that soon, thanks to the good offices of some very good people. But if they want us, we want them.
So we've been thinking/dreaming/exploring what life would be like there. We can't move back to the Slope even though we loved it there. The Slope is no longer the same, nor are we. The prettiest parts are now overrun by investment bankers, you can't get a nice brownstone in the North Slope for under two million. And we don't have a stack of gold nuggets stashed away in our sock drawer, not even under the bed, so that's not gonna work. Plus which, the public schools suck, so we'd have to throw in tens of thousands per year on private school and extra services besides. And I remember the smell of garbage on the streets and the richocheting sound of our neighbors' shouts on those crammed-together blocks. You can go home again, maybe, but home has changed. And Los Angeles has changed me. Fact is? I love living in a house. My house. With walls, floors and ceilings that abut nothing but sky and earth.
We live in an urban area here. Smack dab in the middle of city, just not the downtown core. Too urban in some ways. Noisy, obnoxious, in-your-face. On the other hand, we can walk a few blocks to two Thai restaurants, a dimly lit Mexican place, a great pizzeria, or a written-up-in-the-LA-Times American comfort food joint. We can drive a few blocks to a well-stocked Whole Foods market or one of a dozen little Russian delis selling poppyseed sweet breads, beet salad and a noxious but oddly addicting mayonnaise-laden "Russian salad." I grew up in the city, I still live in one. But this city, for all its aggressive city-ness, is not New York, not Chicago, not Boston or San Francisco. It's a car town, and as a result the suburbs have joined forces with the city, and a few blocks from here you'll see peaceful streets with gorgeous old bungalows and friendly neighbors. I've learned to yearn for that. I experience half of it, in my pretty California Craftsman with its (paved but planted) back yard. I experience the other half of suburbia, perhaps, when I get in the car to go just about anywhere. In a sense, I already know suburban life.
And yet. Do I? If we move to New York but choose a New Jersey town on the commuter rail line, what would that be like? I imagine peace, I imagine lush lawns in summer. I imagine knowing our neighbors up and down the block and becoming passionately involved in the life of this particular town's artsy, liberal community. I imagine a pretty downtown with a good independent bookstore (yes, the town we're considering has one) and sprawling parks and a row of restaurants we will enjoy but inevitably find a tad boring after a while. Then again, we have a whole city to choose from here and yet we usually go back to the same handful of places, is that so different? I imagine a twinge of discomfort when I have to get on the highway to find a great fresh fish market. But I drive to Santa Monica now for that, a good half hour or so from here. Again, is it really different?
Suburbia in the Tristate area carries a particular meaning for me, though. The bridge and tunnel crowd, we called them. The ones who come into town as semi-tourists seeking excitement. Am I to become one? I remember being twenty three years old and driving over the Manhattan Bridge with an ex-boyfriend who owned a truck, all my belongings in the back of said vehicle, thinking, "Am I really moving to Brooklyn? Leaving Manhattan behind? How can this be?" I remember that first night wandering out onto Seventh Avenue, bemused at how few stores there were, how quiet it felt, comforted by the presence of a Korean deli. (It's a New York thing, these small storefront shops open 24 hours, stocked with everything you need to survive another day in the city.) I got used to it, grew to love it, grew to prefer it to Manhattan.
Of course, the Slope has changed since then. Had changed already by the time I left, had become filled with shops and upscale restaurants. But I remember that feeling still, bemusement as my point of reference shifted so suddenly and completely. The fact is, the Jersey towns we're considering (there are two but with a strong preference for one in particular) are roughly as far by commuter train from downtown Manhattan as the Slope is on the D train, but the feeling is so very different. Towns rather than part of the city. After a decade and a half in semi-suburban Los Angeles, I suspect this will feel more natural than I think, maybe more natural than moving back to Manhattan or Brooklyn ever could now, but nevertheless it seems so odd to consider. I try it on for size, I consider the ramifications, try to imagine the flavor. I think I like it, but how can I know?
And so I read through the nearly 200 comments responding Alice's blog post, all those discussions of suburb vs. gritty urban living. I find myself amused, because some of those comments are about an entirely different kind of suburb than the kind she and I are considering, these people describe truly sterile bedroom communities that would drive me around the bend in short order while the towns I'm thinking of sound like real places unto themselves. But other times I find myself pondering. What would (will?) this life be like? It's one I haven't tried yet. It's one I can't know yet. It entices and overwhelms both at the same time.
I feel like I'm living split lives. There's our life in the present, here and now. Dan's working on a respected and respectable TV series. Damian attends a traditional public kindergarten a couple of miles away; I don't love it but I donít hate it. I'm in between writing projects and feeling disoriented as a result while not yet knowing what people will think of the book I've written. We live in a pretty house on an ugly block in a desirable neighborhood; we're largely done prettifying the place to theoretically sell. We don't have enough money coming in to put away for the future, or even a rainy day, and that scares me. I have a few good friends here but more elsewhere. Life is not great, not terrible. Life just is.
Thatís here. That's now. Everything else is theoretical. But there's an awful lot of theory going on inside my head right now. Will we move? Where will we move? Will it work out if we do? What will life be like if we do? Will Dan's show get picked up for the fall? If not, what will he/we do? Do I need to get a non-writing job? If so, what? Will this new charter school work out for Damian? Will we stay in LA long enough to find out?
The thing about living on the edge of change is that it doesnít seem much like change at all.
I remember an apartment in Park Slope. I remember a brick wall in the living room, a barren kitchenette, a marble fireplace in the bedroom. I remember a sense of home that seemed like forever but in fact only lasted a year and change. We lived in New York together, and that was fact. We thought about moving to LA. The thought was so strange, so foreign. Would we? Could we? Should we?
We decided: if Dan got accepted to the graduate directing program he was applying for, if the editor I worked for landed the PBS drama gig he was up for, if either of these things fell into place, we would go. Both happened. Fate giving us a westward nudge? We made our plans, packed our belongings in myriad boxes, I flew across country to start my job and find an apartment while Dan finished packing and drove our stuff through Pennsylvania and Kentucky, Kansas and Missouri, Colorado and Nevada. My books and pots and pans have seen the Grand Canyon. I haven't, merely glimpses through thick airplane window glass. Dan arrived, accompanied by brother and sister-in-law. We settled in. We explored the stucco and canyons of El Ciudad de Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles. We tried to carve a home here. Succeeded, after a fashion. Failed too, in another sense.
Now I find myself thinking back to that time in suspended animation. Would we, should we, could we? Questions dangling unanswered for months. It didn't matter then. We lived in Brooklyn and loved it there. We had a life and lived it there. The future was a question mark but I think we took that for granted. We were in our twenties, anything was possible and everything was unknown.
Somewhere along the way you're supposed to know more, though, aren't you? Somewhere along the way you're supposed to be able to make five year plans, ten year plans, map out your future, know your life. And maybe even though we haven't consciously done that, we have in fact done it too well. Maybe we've been existing for the past several years in suspended animation, treading the same path again and again, a path leading nowhere but right back to where we began, following our own muddy footprints. Maybe this state of not knowing is the real knowledge. Maybe we need this time, this new iteration of Will we? Can we? Should we? Midlife crisis, wakeup call, something. Sometimes you need to shake yourself awake.
A friend who knows what she's talking about told me there's a dearth of editors in New York right now. That if Dan could get into the independent feature world, he could work. And work. And work.
And just like that, I realized. It's not so much that I want to move to Toronto. It's that I want to leave Los Angeles. Yes, I still have deep qualms about this country, about a nation that could elect a man and a belief system for a second term who should never have been let near the Oval Office even once, about a nation that seems on the verge of banning all the things I believe in and mandating all the things I loathe. But oh. Man. I love New York. I miss it. I miss, not only the lush green of New England and upstate New York, not only the turn of the century grace of the architecture and the vigor of people constantly moving, constantly interacting, constantly and consistently alive, but I also miss the affect, the attitude, the character of those people. I'm attracted to the idea of Toronto but I worry too. Will I be looking for a similar style and be disappointed when I inevitably don't find it?
So we'll take a trip this spring. First New York and then Toronto. With luck and planning, Dan will have meetings both places, we'll explore the possibilities, testing for viability. Right now I lean heavily toward my native land. Right now I swallow tears at the thought. Can you go home again? I donÔŅĹt know. I truly and really don't know. But the thought entices. Oh, how it entices.
In more concrete terms:
Toronto plusses: Cheaper real estate. A better social safety net. A sane government and population.
Toronto minuses: Less support services for Damian should he continue to need that or perhaps need it once again down the road (middle school comes to mind, that social quagmire). No built-in community; we'd feel isolated at first and maybe for a long time thereafter.
Toronto unknowns: The character of the people. The quality of the work options for Dan. The nature of the school system: traditional or progressive?
New York/New Jersey plusses: A work niche for Dan that feels exactly right (in my opinion, anyway). A built-in network of family and friends in the greater metropolitan area, as well as relatives and available country/beach retreats all along the Eastern Seaboard. A school system in the town we'd consider that sounds fan-fucking-tastic (experiential learning, anyone?). And New Jersey is known for its great special needs support. Plus, see above. Feels like home.
New York/New Jersey minuses: Still in the USA.
New York/New Jersey unknowns: Would we find a community we fit into in that town we like? Would Dan be able to sustain a career for the long haul there? Will this country fall (further) into totalitarianism?
I believe, here and now, as I write this, that we will move. That we will leave this city of sunshine and palm trees. I believe that either option will suit us better than here. I believe that we will make a huge change in our lives, and relatively soon. I believe we'll know the right one to make. (I suspect it'll be New York.)
I guess it's inevitable, but I still don't really understand it.
I've been sick since Monday. A strange kind of sick, the kind where you lie in bed and think, "Oh, this isn't so bad, I can get up and make dinner," and then you get up and realize, no, it really is that bad and lie down again. So I only got up when I had to. Dinner was microwave-thawed chicken soup Monday, roast chicken Tuesday (recipe: throw chicken and veggies in roasting pan, close oven, go back to bed), and leftover chicken the rest of the week. On Monday or maybe Tuesday (time blurs when you're feeling icky) I went to pick Damian up, got into a tiff with the speech therapist (important lesson: don't talk to people when you're sick, you might tell them things in a less than diplomatic manner). Came home and went back to bed. Pretty much the story of my week.
That's not the inevitable part, though I suppose it is. Sick happens. Shivers and sweats and snotty noses. Our bodies are vulnerable. Our bodies tell us sometimes: lie down, turn off your brain, tune out your life. And we obey. Or we don't and we pump ourselves full of over the counter take-the-yuck-away medications and muddle through as best we can. I chose the former this week, knowing full well what a luxury it was. But by Thursday Ė and this is the inevitable part Ė when I stood outside the kindergarten yard waiting for Damian and trying not to stand too close to anyone and certainly not to sneeze on them, a fellow mom told me I should go to the doctor. The next day she told Dan, "She should really go see a doctor." She herself had been sick the week before and only gotten better after she'd gotten medicine. I should do the same. Clearly.
I don't understand this thinking. Or, rather, I do. We expect answers to all our questions these days, quick solutions for all our problems. Pills for all our woes. We're an immediate gratification, an "if it's broken or if you even suspect that it might be broken, throw it away and buy a new one" culture. Get a cold? Take an antibiotic. So what if it's not bacterial, clearly nothing deadly, so what if a week really isn't that long to let a virus run its course? It's too long, you should be up and running, getting ahead in the treadmill of life (and yes, thatís an intentionally broken metaphor). You can't wait for your body's natural defenses to kick in. Let the doctor mend you. Let the body mechanic do his magic. Because everybody knows you can't trust nature to take care of itself.
I didn't go to the doctor. Guess what? I feel better today. Not run-the-Boston-Marathon better, not even get-back-on-the-Nordic-Track better, but better enough to sit at my desk and pay bills, better enough to collect laundry for a wash, better enough to participate in dishwashing. Better. No medicine. Just the body doing its job to fight a mundane virus.
My father didn't call on my birthday. I don't feel unloved; more people called this year than I think ever have. I feel surrounded and buoyed up by them all. I feel part of a community even though I'm not always the best at maintaining those ties myself. I feel good.
My father didn't call on my birthday. I shouldn't be surprised. I'm not surprised. And yet I am.
My father didn't call on my birthday. I feel a little sad. A door closed after all. A goodbye said silently.
We'd been estranged since December 2002, a year and a half, when he called this past May. On Mother's Day because I am, after all, a mother. He said he was reaching out, said he wanted to be in touch, said he missed me and that he'd call every two or three weeks and I didn't have to do a thing. I was warm to him, I said sure. I didn't bring up anything from the past. No reason. If he followed through and did call regularly (or at all), we'd have time to heal wounds. But that wasn't likely, was it? So why bother in a single phone conversation meant to soothe his own feelings of guilt and loneliness?
I called him on his birthday this year, November 11th. My family Ė my real family Ė was surprised. Why do that? He hadn't called again, not since that single phone conversation. True, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, assume he meant what he said or at least meant the surface sweetness of it, the assumption of a relationship even where one no longer exists. So I called him. He sounded surprised, as if he'd never made that reaching-out call in May. But pleased nevertheless. We talked. Friendly. Easy. I told him of things brewing in our lives. He said to please let him know if any happen. I realize now that he meant, "Because we won't be in touch, so otherwise I'd never know."
My father didn't call on my birthday. I'm almost relieved. I don't have any obligation to see him this summer while we're in New York. I donít have to deal with him. I'm done.
Sometimes it takes many years to let go of a habit that's bad for you. Cigarette smoking is supposed to be the hardest. I think that's wrong. I think love is. The emotional bond may wither away entirely but it takes a long time for the habit to die.
It's become an honest-to-god ritual. Three years running now, we've hosted a small gathering of online journallers and personal bloggers (as well as partners, spouses and kids thereof, plus a friend who is none of the above but counts as family nevertheless).
Some are people I consider good friends, some are people I only see once a year, but it's a good group and a good tradition. Scones with clotted cream, bagels and whitefish salad, fruit and pastry. (Pastry this year was a sourcream coffeecake supplied by Zingerman's via Diane & Darin Ė and wow.) Food, I think, is an important ingredient of a good gathering. It helps if people feel like you care enough to take care of them. But I have a hunch with this group, all you really have to provide is a bunch of chairs and a warm house. Then conversation fills the room and the year is well begun. A good tradition. Think it'll migrate well to Toronto?
I can't do a Best Of roundup here; I haven't seen enough, read enough, or heard enough. Though I did love Paladin of Souls, the first half of Time Traveler's Wife and the first half of Love, Actually (saw it this year so it counts) and enjoyed Spiderman 2 and, um, a few other books and movies too, and am thoroughly addicted to Lost and Desperate Housewives and still sad that Sex and the City is no more. But I'm not going to give you my analysis of the year in pop culture and certainly not in politics (except: feh), so what's left? Me. My year.
Do you my reader care about the year's highlights as seen through one person's eyes, one person's life experience? This question, of course, comes down to a much more basic one: why read a personal blog? How universal is a person's life? The answer, I think, is that emotions are and specifics often aren't but that a tale well told can be especially satisfying if it's a true story. But a simple rundown of fact? Not so much, I think. The story there is between the lines, behind the facts.
A year is an odd construct anyway. Out with the old, in with the new, change the date marker and toot the horns. Just another second later, just a minute more, just an hour into the future and it's a new year. So what, right? But yes, we do define ourselves by the years we travel through. That was the year that was. 1973 was a mighty strange year for the child who was me. My parents split up, I was molested, my life changed. Oh, and Secretariat won the Triple Crown. 1991 was delicious but difficult for the young adult me, 1994 was dreadful. The whys are complicated and personal. (But this is a personal site, yes? Yes. But.) 2001 was pivotal, dark and terrible but also weighed down with great hope (Damian's autism diagnosis carried within it a prescription for growth, for example, and other events gave me a kick in the pants to switch from screenwriting to stories and novels).
So we do use years to define segments of time in our lives even though those swaths of months never exactly dovetail with the calendar. It nevertheless remains a useful frame. And so I'll use it today, the last day of 2004. I feel like it's a year the world has gone to shit or maybe just affirmed its general shittiness. But on the micro level, in my own life? Yes, good. Or rather, full of promise:
Damian is thriving in a regular kindergarten with the personnel there skeptical of his need for an aide (details on that soon). The fact that we FOUND a regular kindergarten that suits him and even nurtures him still amazes me. A school he likes. I mean, right there, those few sentences, they encompass and end months of sleepless nights and compulsive eating and general angst. Would he, would we, would it be okay? And it was and is and I hope will become ever more so.
Damian found drumming this autumn or maybe drumming found him; his teacher showed up on our doorstep and it's all good. And what a delight. And he learns and improves and also maybe learns how to handle discipline and how something that feels hard become easy after a while and then you move on to the next hard thing.
I finally finished my novel. Yes, oh yes, yes indeedy. And I even still like it. Honestly, I had no idea it would feel so good to write The End. Not an ounce of post-partum blues here. I just look at that pile of pages (549, to be exact) and I smile. The world is full of promise.
Then there's the promise of Toronto. Hope for the future. The election hit us like a steamroller grinding everything we care about into the muck, but maybe for us personally, it contained an answer instead of a wrenching question. We don't like LA, we didn't know how to escape. This may be our solution. A pleasant city, a livable city, an affordable city, a place we might find suitable. A potential new home. Escaping this purgatory of eternal sunshine, what a concept. Will it happen? Damned if I know. That's what promise is about, though. You don't know. Can't know. You just have to try and see.
Our house improves around us and because of us. We do it to raise the sale value, we're far more motivated as a result, but man is it nice to have a dishwasher. Man is it great to have pretty kitchen floors. Man is it a relief to sit in my tiny office with its walls striped salmon and cream rather than institutional green, and oh man was it wonderful to have central air this summer. We work for the promise of the future but in doing so we improve our lives in the present.
And that's the essence of my 2004. Few answers but some nice progress. And on we march.
Happy 2005, everyone!
I have long felt that the way my birthday unfolds is a portent for the year to come. This is not necessarily a healthy superstition; if I see a bad movie that day or have a poor meal or a fight with my spouse, it takes on more and deeper meaning. I've tried hard to talk myself out of this mindset. It is, after all, just a day like any other day only I'm officially one year older at 1:33 p.m. But the part of my brain that made me hold my breath when passing cemeteries when I was a kid persists in this one and so I try always to craft a good day.
It has been a very good one, starting this year on the afternoon of the 28th and continuing as I write these words. The specifics don't matter but include good food, good movies and good conversation with good friends, both in the flesh and on the phone. I have therefore decided that the outlook for this coming year is not only good, but extremely and unusually social.
Works for me.
I tend to think that when I travel a long distance or someone comes a long way to see me (ie: my mom coming 4000 miles from Nova Scotia), every minute has to count. Has to be full to brimming with delicious conversation and meaningful events. But tonight before dinner, I was doing some busy work, Dan was curled up on the couch nestled in a comforter being sick and also reading my newborn novel, and my mother and Damian were sitting at the dining table playing on their recorders. My mom was practicing, Damian was noodling. Not a huge, intense moment chock full of meaning, but a small one. Companionable.
And in a way this is just as important, this peaceable coexisting, people together in the same house, circling around and among each other. It doesn't always have to be verbal or even larger than life to be memorable. Sometimes daily life itself is enough. Someone comes into your house, fits into your world, fits your world into her psyche, and when she leaves, you feel the gap where she was. That, really, is why we travel so far. Not just for the conversation, which we can have by phone, but so we can fuel up on moment-by-moment proximity. Cooking, playing, listening, reading, being.
I've been waiting Ė no, hoping Ė for this for a long time. A year and a half, to be exact. We acquired Cocoa in June '03. Dante hissed at him and stalked away, shocked at this little black fuzzy thing that followed him from room to room and stole all his favorite cat toys.
Then Cocoa wanted to play. Dante hissed some more, smacked him, and ran off, growling. Then Cocoa wanted to play some more. And more. Cocoa is a very persistent fellow. After a while, Dante realized that this was actually fun, this smacking-the-kitten game. After a while, he even started instigating the fun. I knew Cocoa had won Dante over one day when I first saw Dante streak across the living room and on into the kitchen, chased by the black furball and then a few minutes later witnessed them heading back across the room, ninety miles an hour, only this time Dante was chasing Cocoa.
So Cocoa and Dante were play mates. Which was wonderful. I know cats who coexist and never get that close to pleasurable interaction. But Cocoa wanted more. And have I mentioned? Cocoa is persistent. Irresistible force wearing down immovable object. Cocoa wanted more than a boxing partner, he wanted a buddy.
First step: grooming. If he walked up to Dante and licked his fur, Dante would bolt. So he did it more casually; they'd be having a boxing match, thwap, bop, smack, and Cocoa'd have Dante pinned for a moment. What did he do? Go in for the kill? Not exactly. He'd lick Dante's fur, vigorously grooming him. And poor pinned-down irritable Dante would lie there, passive to his antagonist's ministrations. Once I saw Dante bat at Cocoa after Cocoa stopped, cat language for "Hey! Keep going!"
Next step: being groomed. And after a while, Dante did. He'd casually, as if by accident, happen to have his tongue out and happen to want to brush it against something that happened to be black fur and hey, if it cleans a fellow cat, well, why not?
Things have lasted at this plateau for several months now. They play, they groom, they drink from the same bowl at the same time. The one final boundary: they sleep near each other but never closer than that. I once had a pair of Siamese cats, sisters. They used to sleep on top of each other, piled like clean laundry in a basket, flopped over each other. So sweet. Cat love. I've wanted this for our two guys. I think Cocoa does too.
This week he succeeded.
They slept like this all afternoon. At one point, Cocoa put his arm around Dante: "You're my buddy, guy." I was ridiculously pleased. I took far too many photos and walked around grinning. Why do I care? I don't know exactly, but I do.
I think it's partly that I've come to realize since we got a second cat that cats are by nature tribal creatures. They're not the loners everyone thinks they are. They really do thrive on each other's company and form a different kind of relationship with other cats than they do with humans. Stands to reason, right? But I never considered it before. I had a single cat mindset for many years and never knew what my kitty was missing. Now I do and I want all of it for them. I want them to have each other, a community of two. I want them to roughhouse, grouch, get jealous (you petted him, now pet me!), race each other for the food bowl, learn from each other, talk to each other in yowls and chirrups, and yes, curl up and bask in the warmth and comfort of another feline body. We tend to think of cats as companions for us. I mean, isn't that the definition of pet? But they're also animals with their own complex set of needs and instincts. They like human companionship (ours do, anyway) but everyone, even cats, need someone their own size to hang out with. Like minded souls. Tribe.
In the midst of so much that feels so off balance in the world, it's easy to lose sight of the immediate, the here and now, the goodnesses in life.
So on this day after the Grand and Great Turkey Day feast Tiny Coconut described perfectly, I want to give thanks, recognize and remember.
(Warning, much sappiness ahead. No apologies for said sap. Sometimes it's good to be goopy. This here is righteous sap.)
I am thankful that I have a good marriage. That's no small thing. It is, in fact, something of a miracle to me. My parents didn't. Most of my friends' parents, likewise. I thought this didn't exist or if it did, it was something other people did. But Dan is my best friend, my partner, my lover. It works. Not perfect (what is?) but pretty damned good.
I am thankful that I have a beautiful child with big brown eyes and a captivating giggle. Sure, sometimes I get pissed at his tantrums and general stubborn irritable six-year-old boyness, but after three and a half years of infertility, I can't ever take his existence for granted. (Excuse me while I go hug my boy.)
I am thankful, oh very thankful, that as soon as we admitted Damian had a problem, we stumbled into the answer in the form of a book (The Child with Special Needs) and a nurturing developmental therapeutic preschool as well as a gifted set of therapists. I am even more thankful that all this has been successful. I'm thankful for Damian at age six, who and how he is right now.
I am thankful that we own our house and that we bought while prices were insane but not Jim-Carrey-as-Count-Olaf-laughing-maniacally-and-wreaking-havoc insane. For all its neighbor-related flaws, it's a mighty fine house. It's been good to us. It might end up being even better if the equity provides a nest egg to allow us to move elsewhere.
I am thankful that I'm on page 403 of my first novel. That it will be complete within weeks (um, I think). That I've kept at it. That it may even (too soon to tell) be good. (I hope.)
I am thankful for friends, here and elsewhere, reachable by phone, email, IM, hugs. I'm thankful for my old buddies, the self-styled Gang of Four, still close friends, for internet-kindled friends who have over the years become in-person friends like Toni, Otto, Diane, Michele, and Tiny Coconut.
I am thankful for Tiny Coconut's presence in my life. Thankful for the impulse that led me to start a words-mainly mostly-daily blog complete with comments, the irritation that led her to write a comment in my entry about the grocery strike, the curiosity that led me to her blog, the realization that here was a very cool person, the friendship that has developed in the past year. I feel lucky. Besides which, she makes a mean turkey.
I am thankful that my mother is one of my closest friends. Thankful for her perceptive mind and big heart and great cooking and unwavering, honest support.
I am thankful for the twenty five pounds I lost last year, though not so much thankful for the thirteen I gained back. I will be very thankful for their retreat. Yup.
I am thankful that in this dark cloud of a political regime, people seem to be caring and talking about it a whole lot more than they have in years. I am thankful that I don't have to feel alone in this. I am thankful for the small seeds of hope I feel when I see that anger and that passion.
I am so thankful that the horror and sick fear I felt this spring and summer about Damian's kindergarten fate haven't materialized and instead he's in a nurturing place with a warm teacher and is HAPPY there (though we have to work on the making-friends-at-school thing a bit more).
I am thankful that Cocoa found us and demanded to be brought home a year and a half ago. Sometimes an animal is just an animal. Other times an animal changes a household in ways both mysterious and obvious. My long tailed black kitty of the shiny soft fur and the round yellow eyes and the cricket obsession is one of the latter. Oh, I'm thankful for Dante the catbear too, but he's more the "Hi, Cat" and "Please stop licking my hair now, cat" kind of guy.
I'm surprisingly thankful for Damian's drum set. For a child to have a gift, to discover that talent early, to have the injection of self-esteem, not to mention the pure pleasure of music, these are blessings. Besides, he rocks.
I'm thankful for this blog for a host of reasons. I'm thankful for my readers, the ones who write and the ones who simply read but keep coming back. I like that. I like you.
I'm thankful too for my family's continued health (not something to take for granted!). And for TiVO (also not something to take for granted). And for my sleek new aluminum PowerBook (ooh yeah) and my lovely new Digital Rebel camera and my slim white iPod. And for central air this summer and forced heat this winter, simple pleasures but not so insignificant. And for other material possessions, most especially our it-is-too-sexy! Sienna minivan. But mostly for the intangibles. Health, contentment, love and friendship and mental energy to do (some of) the things I love.
I've spent a lot of time in the past envying what other people have. But sometimes that feels, well, dumb. It's far easier on the soul to look at what you do have. The rest? It can come. Or not. I don't need a Jaguar. I don't need a mansion. I just need a little more time and a little more connectedness and maybe a few more dollars. But I really do have a lot to give thanks for.
And I do.
(Told you. Sappy. That a problem? Deal with it.)
Thanks to everyone who commented on my Toronto post. It's too soon to say if we'll actually move, if we truly do want to move, if this is the best thing for our lives. But I have to say I like the idea of migrating from a country known for its standard of living to one known for quality of life.
I realize Toronto isn't New York and if we measure it by those standards, we'll probably be disappointed. But it's not Los Angeles either. This city, as I've said before, fits me like someone else's underpants. Tight in the crotch and the wrong shape altogether. But I find myself wondering now what it would be like if we could afford to move back to New York. Can you really go home again? Can home possibly live up to your memories? I'm still a New Yorker in my world view, in my preferences and my blunt speech, but I talk slower now, walk slower now (when Iím not racing alongside a six year old boy), and I like living somewhere without the stink of garbage in huge bins along the street. I think about moving back and it feels almost as foreign as moving to a new city. I love New York, but do I belong there? I can't know without moving back but with the cost of living there, we can't afford to find out.
I'm a different person now than I was when we left Park Slope. Some is about mothering a special needs child (and LA has been a good place for him during those first crucial years, replete with cutting edge services). Some is due to the choice I made to leave film editing and pursue screenwriting and then the intensive exposure I got to the script development process, all very much entangled with the fact that I live here in Hollywood. The people I've met, the experiences I've had, they've shaped me and even though it's often been painful, I can't regret the lessons learned.
Would I be the person I am now if we'd stayed in New York? Somehow I doubt it. (Though the thought of who I might have been instead intrigues me.) Who will I become if we stay in LA another ten years? Twenty? Who will I become if we move to Toronto in two years? How would that still-unknown environment shape me? Is there a point in your life where your surroundings no longer alter you, when you become fixed, a butterfly in amber, forever mid-motion? Conversely, can you find what you need wherever you are? I know many good people in LA, many people not in the film industry, they're often refreshingly sane and non-competitive. I think we could stay here and be fine. We could find our fit, and to some extent we already have. So maybe that would be okay. But the lure of change is strong. The idea that a place could fit us better, that we don't have to struggle to find our place in that world, it's seductive. (Not to mention deciduous trees and the taste of snow and family hundreds instead of thousands of miles away.) And so I think we'll continue to contemplate and explore this surreal but surprisingly sensible move.
Oh, and I appreciate the info some of you have given me about Canadian services for autism. And yes, I now know about Friday's Supreme Court ruling against the parents who felt the government should pay for their children's intensive 40 hours a week ABA programs. Instead the court left it up to individual provinces to decide, which mostly means no. Fortunately for us, Damian is well beyond needing that level of intervention (and we were never exactly ABA aficionados anyway). Even if we stay in LA, he'll probably outgrow the need for much of anything within the next few years. He's doing fine without an aide in his regular kindergarten class (more on that in a Hidden Laughter entry soon, I promise); in fact, the inclusion specialist told me yesterday she couldn't tell him apart from his peers.
I'm still researching what it means to have a child with mild developmental issues in the Toronto school district Ė whether the district offers occupational therapy, what kinds of accommodations you can ask for in an IEP Ė but I'm optimistic that Damian can get what he needs up there. I'm more worried about the quality of the schools themselves. Mostly wondering how nurturing they are, how stimulating, and how well they keep a bright child interested in and excited by learning. I exhausted myself researching the same questions here, it's overwhelming to think about doing it all over again. But so it goes. Is it worth it? So far I think so. We'll see. Future unknown and maybe unknowable but kind of exciting, for all that.
I don't know how to say this so I'll just say it. And I don't know if it's going to come to anything or if we'll stumble and turn back before the finish line or decide we didn't really want to be in this race after all. I have no idea, none at all. It's just a concept right now, just a thought in the process of forming. But it feels real, at least at this moment in time. Feels good, even. Contains hope. And Dan and I both need that right now.
A week ago we started talking about moving. Not just out of this house. Not just out of this city. Out of this country.
O Canada, oh yes.
Toronto, to be precise.
It started with the election, of course. Probably every liberal (or should I say true-blue blue-stater? feh.) in the US said something under their breath to that effect on election night or the day after, right? "Time to move to Canada. New Zealand is awfully pretty too, have you seen Lord of the Rings?" But how many meant it? I'm guessing very few. People have lives, homes, friends, family. Roots. Emigration is a very big deal. Even to Canada. Hell, moving across town can feel like a big deal sometimes. Moving to a different country because of politics when this isn't even a dictatorship? Too big to do for real.
But it works for us. Not only did we both feel at peace for the first time since the election, but it makes a lot of sense. My mother lives in Nova Scotia, my brother is in Montreal. The rest of our family is on the east coast. We could drive to see them! Plane flights would be an hour, not six! Real family Thanksgivings and Christmas dinners and summer holidays at the beach together and Damian knowing his cousins and loving his grandparents, yes. And Toronto, from what I've heard and read, is a real city, with a real subway system and real walking streets that go on and on the way they're supposed to instead of dribbling out after three blocks, with neighborhoods chock full of character, with parks and skyscrapers and a real downtown and small pubs and cafes and all the things a city should have and this one we live in now sort of does, only you have to drive from one to another, enhancing the disconnect. Toronto would enhance the connect, and how I miss that. And we'd be back in a place with fall foliage, snowdrifts and snowball fights, the awe and power of the first spring flower. Green summers. Green, green, green. Trees and streams and waterfalls and flowers and oh, green.
We'd also be in a strong filmmaking community. We don't know yet, we won't know until we explore (and network our brains out) but there's a reasonable expectation that Dan could get enough editing work to keep us afloat. And housing is cheaper. As in: half the price. As in: we could afford to put a solid down payment on a nice house and have money left over from the sale of this place. A nest egg, finally. Money for Damian's college fund and our old age fund. A security blanket we've never had and probably won't if we stay here.
And the vaunted Canadian warmth and Toronto niceness (it's "Toronto the Good," after all) is a far better thing for Damian than the egocentric aggression that pulses just under the surface of Los Angeles society. My son will probably grow up quite capable and definitely highly skilled and sweet, to boot, but somewhat socially naÔve. He needs to be somewhere where you can trust people. This is not that place.
We've never visited Toronto. We plan to rectify that as soon as we can (though with work and school considerations, it might be some months before that happens). Maybe it wonít live up to the promise, maybe we'll get there and shrug in indifference. Just a city. No feeling of connectedness. Maybe so. It's possible.
It's also possible that Dan will find the film/TV community there insular or small. Who knows? It's also possible we'll discover the schools aren't to our liking or that we have no affinity for the people who live there or that the buildings are ugly and characterless. It's also possible that the immigration lawyer will tell us in a couple of weeks (after he researches the question) that Damian's diagnosis will bar the way to immigration. It's possible this move isn't for us after all. We have two years to explore the issue before we have to commit, before it becomes official. All I can tell you is that right now it feels like a way out of our treading-water lives to something that Ė at least on paper Ė makes a whole lot more sense. Somewhere we can find happiness. And that hope, it feels good right now. So good.
I keep starting to write here but everything I write turns into a political rant. Which I always delete. Not because there's anything wrong with a political rant, but I read enough of those these days and it makes me too upset to write one myself. I'm not saying anything new with it. Just that this sucks in a whole lot of ways. Profound suckage. So consider it written, consider it read, consider it digested and cogitated and even replied to.
Moving on. Not going to stop thinking about it but not going to write about it here. Not right now. Can't.
Moving on, yes. The babysitter situation, how did that turn out for you, Tamar? Ah, yes. The babysitter situation. Well, I decided to forget about Sitter A, the one who lives close by but has a potential job conflict (ie: her boss wasn't giving her an answer on making certain hours set in stone Ė or so she said). Called Sitter B, who doesnít live so close but seemed very sweet in the interview. First called her reference. Who said she was fine. Um. Fine? Yeah. Fine. Okay, then. Could mean anything, really, and we liked her and I trust my instincts (and Dan's, for that matter). So. Called Sitter B. Oh yes, I'd love the job! Great. Wonderful. Here are the hours, as we discussed. The EXACT hours as we discussed. Oh, that early? Really? Well, I'll have to try it, see how bad the traffic is at that hour.
Sitter B didn't work out. And I understand that Ė why drive 45 minutes in rush hour for 2 Ĺ hours of work? (The drive back would be shorter, non-prime-time, but still.) And I'm even okay with that. Because when I looked at it, looked at what it meant to hire someone to come every week for a set amount of time, looked at having that person in my house, under my authority, playing with my child but not knowing how at first Ė I don't know, it felt weird. Especially the part where I write a check every week. That part most of all. We don't have much discretionary money. We have a large mortgage, we have more to do to the house (termite damage, ugh) (kitchen floor tiling, yay), we may need a new car soon (Dan's commuting car is now sixteen years old, a grizzled old fellow by any standards). Do I want to Ė do I need to Ė pay someone a weekly salary? It feels like a luxury item. I'm not bringing in money. How can I justify shelling it out?
I can still write, it's just a matter of reorganizing my life. Exercise while Dan dresses Damian (this means Damian and I both get up earlier than we were, also a plus). Supervise Damian's drum practice after he and I have breakfast. Take him to school. Come home and write for three hours, interrupted briefly for lunch. That's plenty, really. I've written thirty five pages in the past three weeks. Not a huge output but not bad. Especially considering the near paralysis that set in November 2nd and the rest of that week. Staring at the screen, completely separate from the story. Post traumatic stress, they're calling it. All us miserable liberals. But I digress. Thirty five pages, not bad. Can do this. I have approximately fifty to seventy pages left of this first draft. I can do this without a weekly, scheduled babysitter. I can. And I will.
Sitter A called back last week. Said she's willing and able to pinch hit for us. Babysit on weekends, babysit here and there on weekday mornings when I need to go to a meeting or somesuch. I have my doubts she'll come through, but we'll see. I'm okay with it either way.
Sometimes, I think, you have to look at your life sideways. The solutions you think are the obvious ones don't always work. I find myself evaluating a lot of things this way these days. Turning my life upside down and shaking it out, seeing what's really inside. What really matters.
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.
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 Ė via email Ė 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 donít 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. Iím 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 couldnít 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 Iím 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'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.
My shiny new computer went on a trip north last weekend without me. Itís still there. I got an email from it Wednesday saying it missed me and would try to be home soon. I miss it too. Itís the first time itís been away overnight. I hope itís the last. It went away to fix a congenital defect, more than a blemish but less than cancer. Since week one, Iíve been on the phone with AppleCare techs, but theyíve been no better than your average HMO in diagnosing and solving this disease. At some point, you just have to take charge of your own Ė or your computerís Ė destiny and take it to the
emergency room computer store.
Okay, enough cuteness. Hereís the deal: my wonderful, stupendous, fast as lightening and twice as nice state of the art PowerBook had a flaw that was, if not fatal, a huge pain in the butt. At random, unexpected moments, it would suddenly emit a loud noise, not unlike the sound you hear when you pick up the phone when a fax is coming in. And it would continue to make the horrible, grating shriek from that moment on, until you shut it down or sometimes if you put it to sleep. This didnít happen every few weeks. No, it occurred daily. Practically hourly. And sometimes just for fun, instead of making its growly scream, it would simply distort the actual dings and chimes and mp3s. Sometimes from one speaker, sometimes both. Fun stuff. No amount of zapping p-ram and reinstalling the system and resetting the power manager helped, either. Weíre talking one seriously fucked up laptop. And no, it wasn't the fan or the hard drive. I know what those sound like. And yes, AppleCare dudes, I really do know what I'm talking about even though I'm a girl. At least the Genius Bar guys at the Apple Store treat me like a thinking human being who knows when her new computer is a lemon.
Bye-bye baby. Nice knowing you, however briefly. I hope when you come back home, you still remember me. Iíve tried to take good care of you, make you feel at home here. I hope when you come home from the Apple Repair Center, you havenít decided theyíre your new best friends just because they tickled your belly and fed you nice treats. I have sweet treats here too. Lots of words to crunch on, nice Photoshop files for you, too. Come back home. I miss you. But leave that nasty whine behind, okay?
I've been so caught up in Damian's kindergarten transition (that stress, while not completely over, has subsided) as well as the enormous project I alluded to a few weeks ago, I've been so engulfed with all of that, I've had little to nothing left over for myself.
I need that time now. I need to organize my small home office post painting project. I need to get back into an exercise regimen, if not for my weight loss efforts, then for my sanity (oh, the endorphin rush) and my stamina (oh, the muscle tone, oh the blood rush).
But mostly I need to write. How I need to write. Not writing fiction feels like being deprived of REM sleep. No dream time. Something's wrong in my life, in my head, in my self. I'm not wholly me if I'm not awake-dreaming words and worlds. I crave that. Need it. Now.
Dan says I should multitask more. He's right. I have three solid hours every weekday now, plus a couple of extra hours once floor time services kick back in full-bore. Surely I can write, exercise, write, organize my office, write, make phone calls (too many calls, much coordinating still on the school front), write. Live.
We shall see. Time is elastic but not always the way you expect. But this is a new life, a new set of daily rituals. A short drive instead of a long one, yes, but a short day instead of a long one too. A more grown-up child. A different life, the kindergarten year. My schedule adjusts. More than adjusts, it alters. Shifts. My life no longer stretched across town, now foreshortened into afternoons alone. We shall see. I'm ready. Tomorrow, I write.
Warning: posting may be sporadic in the coming week or two. Chance of scattered scattering of mind. Chance of boondoggled and bewildered blogger. Chance of California child on the loose. Chance of too much, too soon. Or, well, not exactly. But you get the idea. Suddenly drowning in a semi-unexpected, currently gratis load of work plus nearly wall to wall child minding (not that I mind the child, not at all). (Don't mind the work either. Just a lot of it right now.)
I'll try to keep up with this space, don't go away! But it won't be daily, not till Damian's back in school. September 9th. Well, 10th. That's his first real day of kindergarten.
(Watch me go and post long daily entries now. Just because.)
I open this without knowing what I'll write tonight. Everything is in motion, it feels like. Our house, the furniture moving through it like insubstantial chimeras, toys piled in the living room one day, reconfigured in a child's room the next. Dan is home, working so hard on making this house pleasant, an inviting environment for us and for those shadow figures who may come after, he's home and then he's not, he's back at work, back there, back in that other life we live nine months of the year, him there and me here with Damian, driving Damian across town every single weekday, the drive and the therapies grinding me down over the past three and a half years, like glass hardening in fire. But this too, over. One more week. No more therapeutic preschool. A pause and then turn the page, a new chapter. Anew. And me? Who am I? What am I? Writer? Photographer? Where does my future lie? Can it be both? Who am I when I'm not bleached, transparent from the constant wearying struggle to stay in motion?
I end this not knowing exactly what I've written and perhaps it's best that way. Not knowing is a kind of knowing, the way a blind person can sometimes sense the shape of a room she's never seen.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday I did something I thought Iíd never do. Something I probably wouldnít have done if I still lived on the east coast. Something that doesnít fit my personal philosophy, even.
It was almost an accident. Itís not like I woke up yesterday morning thinking, ďToday Iím going to do it, I am.Ē Itís more like I woke up thinking, ďOh crap, Iím going to be on TV on Tuesday and my hair is long overdue for a cutĒ and went and made a last minute appointment.
What? Oh, the television thing? Complicated, but in essence: I know someone who knows someone who works for a local news station. Theyíve gathered together a number of parents of special needs kids who have faced discrimination by the school district or rather by petty bureaucrats therein. Weíre meeting Tuesday with cameras present to tell our woes. I donít know when itís going to air, but Iíll try to let you know.
So yesterday I thought, ďIím going to look terrible on TVĒ and went off to make an appointment for a cut. Iíve been seeing this hair stylist since November. I like what she does. She just gave Dan a new cut a few weeks ago that looks better than any Iíve ever seen on him. I trust her eye. So I let her cut it a bit shorter and a bit more uneven and Iím happy with the result.
She said, as she always says, ďWhy not color it? Hide the gray? It dulls your hair.Ē I said, as I always say ďI donít know if thatís really me.Ē But I felt, as I always feel, this pull toward doing it.
It doesnít fit my self-image, someone who dyes her hair. Iím more of the be true to your body type. Embrace getting older because mimicking youth just looks tacky and false.
But. I live in Los Angeles. Everyone I know, literally every single woman I know, even the ones who donít wear bras, who walk around barefoot, who practice all kinds of interesting alternative religions, even all of those women donít let their hair go gray. Itís just Not Done. In general, Iím fine with being different, dressing differently and living differently and having different life goals. Itís hard sometimes, and sometimes I feel like an outsider here. But if you live in a world where no woman in her forties or even fifties has even a single gray strand in her honey colored tresses or her dark locks, you start to see things through their eyes. Gray becomes strange. And even if you yourself look in the mirror and think, ďWhat the hell, it looks fine to me,Ē you know other people donít see it the same way. You hear the moms of your childís friends complaining about how they canít wait till theyíre no longer pregnant so they can go get this awful gray out. You hear fellow moms commiserate with them, yeah, pregnancy is awful, god, that gray, they shudder to contemplate. And you stand there with your gray threads lacing through your dark hair and think, ďHow do they see me?Ē And you canít help it, you let it color (pun intended) the way you think of yourself, through their eyes reflected. D for dowdy.
If I lived in a different culture, in Boston, say, where my two-years-younger cousin got married with the strands of gray plentiful in her long dark hair, if I lived in a place where it was accepted and understood and even appreciated, Iíd act differently. Iím not proud of this, not exactly. Iíd rather be strong and independent and an iconoclast. But when people judge on appearances Ė and trust me, they do Ė itís an instant judgment and not a favorable one. If I want to appear strong and self-confident, as I increasingly have become; if I want to seem Ė ironic though it may be Ė like the person I am Ė I need to at least try this on for size. To erase the gray. To see how that feels, see how people respond, see how Iím newly reflected in their eyes.
So I said, ďWhat the hell. Letís try it.Ē And today I have dark hair with no gray. It looks strange. I keep expecting the gray. At first, in fact, I was sure sheíd made the color too dark. Too strong a dye. It canít be my real color, can it? But she showed me a spot where she hadnít worked in the dye, where it was still my real hair color at the root, an area that hadnít had gray to begin with. And sure enough, it matched perfectly with the rest. Itís just that Iíd gotten enough gray that it lightened the overall sense of the hair color and now thatís gone. My eyes werenít used to it yet. This morning, though, I looked in the mirror and thought, ďYes, thatís right. Thatís how it used to be. Thatís me five years ago.Ē And it was a comforting feeling. As you grow older, particularly past forty when you can start to see the changes in your skin, your face, your hair, it starts to feel odd, like youíre stepping into a new body. To return in this one way to the person you recognize of old, thatís a unexpected good feeling. Not a pretense of youth, not that. Iím not trying to erase the still-faint lines forming between my eyebrows. Not about to dress like a twenty five year old. Not about to pretend the years donít matter. They do. I feel a whole hell of a lot savvier and more experienced and, yes, more mature, these days. Donít you dare try and take that away from me. But I changing my hair color isnít that. Rather, itís a new definition of who I am right now. And yes, it makes me feel more self-confident in this city, in the life I live here, and thatís good, not bad. It turns out, of course, the new/old color isnít about other people as much as it is about me. I want to be myself more fully, more assuredly, and this, in an odd and backward way, is part of that. At least here and now it is.
Imagine a rag doll. No bones, not a whole lot of willpower. Lies around flopped over the arms of chairs and across pillows in indolence and complete lack of musculature. Thatís a good description of me today. No willpower to do much of anything. I think I did dishes at one point but that was pretty much it. A few discussions with Damian, half a game of kid Monopoly, lots of lolling. Reading Miss Wonderful, by Loretta Chase, a fun but hardly taxing read. Would have eaten bon-bons if I knew what they were. Ordered in Chinese food for dinner. Curled up on the couch with Dan and Damian for the evening while they watched Alice in Wonderland and I mostly read more of my book.
I think thereís a point when your brain needs to shut off. Youíve been so focused, so intent, so concerned and then at a certain point, you just canít. If you were a machine, youíd ask someone to hit the off switch. If you were an electric car, youíd need to be plugged in. No juice left.
Iím sure itís caused by a release of stress. The journey isnít over, but things are looking much better. It does feel in some ways like the struggle of this school stuff is over and even if thatís illusory, I feel myself relaxing. Dan thinks itís a chemical response. If you drink coffee every morning and then stop suddenly, you have caffeine withdrawal, right? Well, my bodyís had a cocktail of stress chemicals racing around in there every day for the past few weeks. I feel better now. And Iím in withdrawal. Whereíd the adrenaline go? The cortisol? The epinephrine? What the hell are these endorphins doing here? Why do I feel so different? Time to take a napÖ
Once upon a time many thousands of years, or so the stories go, when you felt stress was a good thing. It signaled your adrenal glands, which obligingly produced adrenaline and you ran the hell away from the stressor, presumably a very large mammal with very sharp teeth. Once upon a time, it made sense to feel tension throughout your body. It kept you alert, it gave you a lifesaving boost.
Now? Well, I think there are still times itís useful, and not just when running from a mugger. When you walk into an important meeting, when you get a phone call that might make the difference between two futures depending on how you respond then and there, those times itís good to have that extra zing! in your bloodstream. But these days the stressor doesnít usually wander off back into the forest, it stays about, lurking on the edges of your life. Sometimes for months. What do you do then?
Last year at this time, Dan was between jobs. The market was extremely, absurdly competitive. Every gig had dozens of applicants, some with mind-bendingly great resumes, some who were close personal friends with the producers, still others who had no children at home, therefore could avow their willingness to work excessive overtime and love every minute of it. And the window of opportunity was narrow, just a couple of months and then every show would be staffed up for the season. And here I was, with no income and no quick scheme on the horizon, either. Dan the sole breadwinner might be out of work for a year. Stress? You might say that. It devoured much of our summer, though we worked hard to play anyway.
This year we have other, school-related reasons for ongoing, underlying stress. Where will Damian go in the fall? Will it be good? Will he be happy? Will he continue to grow into himself, become more completely who heís meant to be? Can we pull this off? What will it entail? Enough reasons for a prolonged thrumming under the skin, a constant beat of tension in my pulse.
But. This may be crucially important, but there is no bad ending. We will win, I believe that, but even if we donít, there are workarounds, there are alternatives, there are solutions both temporary and long term. The biggest risk we take is financial and weíre not about to lose our house on this gamble. And itís not like we have a choice. We have to do this, we have to pursue this for our childís sake. And so really, whatís the point in worrying? Whatís the point in letting the stress take over our lives, consume our summer? Why not live and enjoy each other and the things we can do together during Danís summer vacation, yes, even amidst the planning and strategizing and information gathering and the inevitable meetings? Why not let the stressful events be immediately stressful, let the adrenaline rush focus us when the need arises but let the rest of life be just that? Life. Normal, enjoyable life. Why not give ourselves memories and live now fully and completely? It will all be what it is and worrying wonít change that.
I feel calm tonight. Happy, even. After all, why not?
This will probably surprise you, but I believe in omens. Not that things happen for the sole purpose of sending signals to us, but that this is a side effect, as it were, a bonus.
Which is to say:
When the baby bird died last week, I felt deeply sad. I couldnít shake it and I didnít know why. It felt like more than that small vulnerable thing, that maybe it had to do with another small vulnerable being in my life. A few days later the school shit started to accumulate, hurtling toward the proverbial fan.
Which is to say:
About a month ago, my watch disappeared. It was a birthday present from Dan. Itís gold and silver and smooth and elegant and I love it. I looked through my daypack, looked through my other bag, looked through my pockets, looked through my daypack again, swept my hand under the sofa, took apart the cushions, did the same to the armchair, moved my nightstand and the dresser too, crawled under my bed. Found scraps of paper. Rubber bands. Tumbleweed-sized furballs. Some stray rubber frogs. No watch.
The past few day Iíve been dismantling my office, preparing to finally strip down the hideous disco-glitter acoustic ceiling. This morning I walked through, laying down the plastic drop cloth. Something caught my eye in the west window. There on the ledge, behind the lowest glass louver, were several Bob beginning reader books. Behind them, my watch.
Iím in a good mood tonight. I have no reason to be, but I am. Maybe itís just the endorphins from a day of hard muscle work (scraping that stuff off the ceiling, grunting and ducking falling debris). But maybe itís something else. After all, I have my watch back. Things are bound to get better now.
A baby bird died today. They die every day; they fall out of nests or get caught by predators. Itís the way things go and you have to accept that. And I do. But this one matters to me.
Two days ago, Dan found it on the cement under the leaning Star Pine in our back yard. A nestling, so naked, so scrawny, so very young. Lying very still but breathing so heavily. We investigated online. We called wildlife rescue organizations for advice. We put it in a small takeout container with holes cut in the bottom and attached it to a branch as high as Dan could reach with the ladder, just a few branches under the nest. We watched and we hoped.
Every time his makeshift nest was jiggled, that tiny bird tilted his head up and opened his beak: ďFeed me! Oh, feed me!Ē And we wished we could have. I think thatís why this one bothers me so much. Itís that nurturing instinct, wanting to protect and comfort and give aid. But this baby needed its mommyís magical regurgitation brew. So we watched and waited and thought about bringing it in but theyíd said wait a few days, watch for the mother. And indeed a sleek mourning dove seemed to be around a lot, watching from the garage roof, swooping into the tree, chasing a squirrel out of the yard.
Yesterday I saw her feeding the baby. I did. I walked out onto the back porch and spotted her leaning over that black takeout container in a posture that could only mean one thing. And I felt so glad. So relieved. Giving life, a true mitzvah. But this morning when I climbed the ladder and jiggled the container, no baby head popped up. And when I looked inside, he was lying as if asleep, head stretched out. So restful. But not breathing.
We donít know what happened: if the night was too cold and our paper towel nest lining too thin, if mom didnít come back enough with food, if the baby was in fact fatally injured from that harsh fall. Ultimately, as with all these sorts of things, we canít second guess. We can only try to accept that we tried and failed. But I mourn that tiny bird. I canít help it.
What makes a marriage last? Can you know when you're standing in front of the judge or priest or rabbi, slipping the rings onto each other's hands? Can you see into the future with surety? Are there signs? Or are those signs just measures of how things are now and might be then? When you look back on a life you can know the decisions you made, the life you led. That's the only way you can tell.
What makes a marriage? Two people in love? What's love, then? Romantic, companionable, a spark, comfortable silences, convergent views? What about when you dislike each other; when two people live together, their lives enmeshed, that can happen and then can reverse itself too. Two people. A relationship. A living organism.
I went to a wedding once. Thought the couple would stay together forever. They didn't. I went to another wedding. Thought the couple was doomed. That was over a decade ago. They're not only still together, but I believe happily so.
I went to another wedding. Actually, no. I was in another wedding. This one, it felt right from the inside out. Felt like reality. Felt like comfort and family and rightness, the way a hand fits into your hand, they clasp, they hold.
This one held. Thirteen years today. Longer than my parents' marriage. That ring still on my finger, a matching one on his. You don't always know but sometimes you do. And sometimes you're right.
Thirteen years today.
When I spoke with my former boss at the wrap party a few weeks ago, I told her things will get better with her teenage daughter. That my mother and I fought terribly when I was fifteen and sixteen (and seventeen too). That sheís now one of my best friends and we talk at least once a week. My old boss asked how long it took to get from there to here. I laughed. ďDonít ask.Ē
Itís been a gradual thing, a rapprochement in stages as we both matured and grew into ourselves. But now my mom is my confidante, a trusted critiquer, thoughtful and reflective, a terrific blogger, and we have fun, too. And as a Buddhist artist iconoclast, sheís taught me you donít have to fit into anyone elseís mold. And I love her. So does it matter how long it took for us to become close again? Not to me.
Happy Motherís Day to my favorite mom.
The odd thing about central air in a house where there was no such thing just a week ago -- no, a few days ago -- is that you lose track. You start thinking it is in fact not hot out, it's warm and comfortable with a slight breeze that's somehow mysteriously wafting in from outside through vents instead of windows. Because your house, it reflects its environment. Then you go out into the heat (a mere ninety degrees, nothing like last week) and it's a surprise. What is this thing called heat that envelops like an invisible fog, that surrounds you and holds you close in too tight an embrace? Why isn't the world air conditioned? How can this be?
Stepping back into the house. Cool again. Feels like cheating, like you just found a loophole in the summertime contract. Odd.
(If I owe you email, please forgive me. It's been an incredibly busy week. Birthdays, group excursions to Disneyland, parties to plan and cakes to bake, not to mention an unexpected photo sale to negotiate. Busyness. Exhaustion. Email meltdown. Soon to be rectified.)
Hot today. One hundred degrees in the shade. Hot yesterday too. Ninety seven degrees at four p.m. Yo, Weather God! Itís APRIL! Get your hand off that dial! Turn the heat down! Man. You must be new at the job. Read the directions! Weíre not supposed to bake till July. Sometimes even August. Septemberís bad, usually. But not April! Get a clue!
Hot today. The kind of heat that seeps into your bones and makes it impossible to move. The kind that saps the water from your body and makes it hard to swallow even though you just drank a tall glass of ice water. The kind that weighs you down, makes you old, makes you melt.
Hot today. Pulling into the driveway, shutting off the car. Car interior turns warm in seconds. Getting out of the car enveloped by heat, like stepping into mid-summer misery. On into the house, cool a few hours ago but now swirling with hot molecules, the air infested with heat like a virus. Contagious. Invasive. It attacks your body first, then your mind. Or maybe itís the other way around, Iím too hot to care.
Hot today. So hot. Our bedroom windows are wide open, sucking in whatever bits of cool night we can grab from outside. Also sucking in the sounds of neighbors hacking up phlegm, of phones ringing, of footsteps on the walkway. We live amidst apartment buildings, Iím sure Iíve said this before. On a night like this, I canít escape that. Itís like living in the apartment complex itself, but not by choice. But itís either that or bake to a crisp, or is that a crumble? Four and twenty Damians baked in a pie. We canít put in window a/c units, not in these windows. So weíre stuck with fans and noise and heat.
Hot today. And now we know with certainty that the money weíre foolishly about to spend on central air (theyíre coming Monday! Itíll be done by Wednesday!) is wise money. Is peace of mind, of heart, of soul money. Itís our way of saying yes, we live here. In this house, with all its virtues and oh yes, all its faults. We may be here for a while. Maybe a long while, given the insanity of the local housing market. We therefore need to own where we are. Just as we pay the mortgage every month and that lays claim to the property, so in this too we lay claim. We change our environment, we give ourselves peace and closed windows on hot nights and cool air that allows us to think, to act, to enjoy.
Hot today. Oh yes.
At five thirty every afternoon, the cats (known as Da Boyz around here) always begin to proclaim that they're famished, starved, withering into skeletal felines. They get fed around seven thirty, so this gives them plenty of time for histrionics, abject pleading and fainting spells. It's amazing. They'll be snoozing all afternoon but when the clock ticks over from five twenty nine to five thirty, boom, they're on me like fleas on a dog's back.
What amazed me more? Today the cats started staggering around acting like they hadn't been fed in weeks at, yes, five thirty. Even with the time change. How? How did they know? Have they learned to read clocks?
Today Cocoa, our black kitten, turned a year old. Itís hard to believe he hasnít been here forever, heís such a fixture. And in a way, maybe he has been here forever, or at least for years before he showed up.
You see, I had a dream. No, a series of dreams. It was shortly after our beloved cat Mithril died, seven years ago this May. Mith was a gray and white longhair with sleek fur, a long body, and a squirrelís bushy tail. I adored him. After he died, I had several dreams about him; lying in that half-asleep aware but drowsing state Iíd feel the imprint of his small body on my pillow or see him saunter down the hall, his tail rising straight up in that happy cat plume. Dan had similar dreams. We both felt deeply comforted, like the dreams were his way of touching base, saying hello and Iím still here, as if he was drifting away from us in stages.
Then there were the other dreams. I had two. The first started with Mithril walking past me. I followed. He disappeared in a tunnel, low to the ground, a kind of cat play structure. And when he came out Ė well, he didnít. Instead a black cat came out. Sleek long fur, a squirrelís bushy tail, an elongated body. Mithril transformed?
The other dream wasnít as distinct but Mithril either changed or ran alongside a black cat, his doppelganger.
Then a friend told me sheíd dreamed about my cat. Oh? I said, not really caring. ďYes, only he was black in the dream. It was strange.Ē
We began looking around for a cat a few months later. Dante the redheaded Turkish Angora was on his way, with periodic updates from his breeder. We wanted a rescue cat to be Danteís companion. One purebred, one mutt, that seemed about right to us. We stopped by all the cat rescue centers, scoured the cages set up in Petco on Saturdays -- every Petco in LA, I think. We even went to shelters, though we found them horribly depressing. Some cats tempted us. They were cute or sweet or so fragile you wanted to nurse them to full happiness. Some were even black longhairs. None were right. We never got that click and so we stopped looking. And then, of course, we had Damian and he was a lot of work as a baby so that was the end of that.
This past spring we started talking about a kitten. Dante's turned into a bit of a slug, tolerating Damianís ministrations but never wanting to play with him. We wanted a lively little creature who would respond to Damian and give him back affection and engagement in full measure. A kitten. It felt like the right time. We were going to start looking over the summer. We talked about it. Planned it. Never quite did it.
One sunny morning at the beginning of June, Dan and Damian came with me to the Sunday morning farmerís market. The cat rescue people were there at the eastern end of the market, just like always. And just like always we stopped by to say hi to the kitties. None of them had ever tugged at us. They mostly seemed like a morose lot. It can be a wonderful thing to rescue a sad cat but weíve spent enough time on our own rescue mission the last three years. We wanted a kitty who was emotionally healthy. So there was no chance weíd find one there.
You know how this ends, donít you? One of the cages had three kittens, siblings: a little gray girl was playing with her gray-and-white sister and pouncing on any human fingers that came her way. Their black hued brother stretched out long and lean, his belly exposed. Snoozing. He looked so relaxed. I asked to see him.
When the rescue lady handed him to me, he curved into my arm and burst into purrs.
We signed the adoption paper then and there.
He still purrs on contact. Heís friendly and funny and goofy and intelligent and completely engaged. He embarked on a win-Dante-over campaign and succeeded in creating an amusing wrestling partner. They sometimes meet in midair like the martial arts magicians in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Heís a bit of an alpha male, though, crowding Dante out of the food area or getting jealous of my attention and demanding equal (or better) space on my lap. He lies in the nest at the top of the cat tree at night and when we walk past, he hangs his head out of it with a clear ďpet me!Ē message. He speaks in chirps, trills and squeaks. He lets us pet his tender tummy and naps all stretched out, a content little hedonist. He's probably the least neurotic being I've ever encountered.
And yes, heís got luxurious long black fur and a long squirrelís tail. And heís exactly what our family needed right now. Someone happy and warm to make us laugh. Is he Mithril returned? Is he Mithís legacy to us, the inheritor of that love? I donít think Iíll ever know. But I do know with certainty that I dreamed him six years before we ever met.
Tonight I picked up a book I got from the library on a whim. Itís called something like Money Makeover (itís not in front of me and Iím too lazy to get up); itís one of those books with highlights and exhortations, the written equivalent of a rabble rousing preacher man at church services. Everything is broken down into the simplest form, predigested and formulated to burn the Program into your brain. Money for Dummies, basically. You can skim a book like this and get the gist.
Not that itís wrong, mind you. Iím fairly certain from looking at the first two chapters that the premise is that debt is evil and living within your means Ė living on cash, not credit Ė is the only way to go. Which is commonsense, really. The siren call of the credit card, why pay today what you can put off till tomorrow, letís buy everything in sight, that will just get you deeper into the hole. Everyone knows that. Sometimes we do it anyway. I was talking to a sales guy yesterday, he was here to tell us how much his central air conditioning would cost. Which in itself is financially foolhardy but oh-my-god, our quality of life this summer? Infinitely better.
Anyway, he was talking about the insanity of our local housing market, guessing what our house was worth a few years ago and what itís worth now and only exaggerating a little. Heíd seen our refi paperwork, so I told him we were just refinancing to turn an adjustable rate into a fixed rate mortgage. Financially prudent, thatís us. (Well, not really, but we try.) He said he runs credit checks on people all the time for their six-months no-interest no-payment plan and often theyíve accumulated tons of equity and then refinanced and pulled all the money back out in the form of credit lines and second mortgages. But of course they now have to pay those huge monthly bills. Itís not free money. And what happens if and when the housing market crashes or even bobbles a little? These people will have debt with no collateral. If they sell their houses then, that wouldnít cover the note on it. Craziness. Living on borrowed time. Living in the now and saying to hell with the future.
This author is right, we canít live like that. Itís self-destructive. On the other hand, did you know how we got this house? The one that saved our financial asses and has given us boatloads of equity? With zero down and a horrible interest rate. We took a huge gamble, in other words. For a year we paid a vastly higher monthly note than we could afford, hoping weíd gain enough equity to refinance down to something reasonable. Guess what? It worked. If we hadnít tried, weíd still be renting. Weíd have no equity at all. And that equity helps me sleep at night. If Dan were to lose his job tomorrow and not get anything for a year or two, we could sell the house and go back to renting. Live on the profit until we get a foothold again. Thatís security. Thatís why we own.
So where do you draw the line? How do you know when itís okay to borrow and when itís not? When itís sane and when insane? Short of a crystal ball, you donít. Not really. You just have to learn as much as you can about what youíre getting into and then try to live prudently, wisely, but not necessarily risk-free. Just take careful risks.
Then there are other kinds of decisions. Quality of life ones like the central air, which combined with a new furnace may make sense because weíre buying cleaner air, no more subtle carbon monoxide poisoning, no more asbestos in the ducts, and lower heating bills. But there are also bigger kinds of quality of life ones. Like right now weíre paying more than we can afford for Damianís three-times-a-week private preschool. Idiotic if you look at it on paper. Heís in a non-public pre-K fifteen hours a week. (Non-public means it's technically private but the school district pays his tuition, not us.) Heís getting a great education there. But he needs this time with neurotypical children to learn how to interact with them and to build his confidence for kindergarten next year. As far as Iím concerned, itís money well spent. Itís a tangible intangible and weíre not willing to pare it out of our budget so we can save a few (thousand) bucks this year. Weíre investing in the future in this case too, just not the money kind.
Itís not like we can use this argument for everything that comes down the pike that sounds like fun. But sometimes when you want a thing badly enough, you can twist the logical centers in your brain into pretzels to make it sound reasonable. How can you tell when your arguments are sensible and when theyíre not? I think sometimes you do know. Your gut tells you. Other times you have to wing it.
Iím planning to read or at least skim the rest of the book. I might glean a few tips and I know itíll help me get into a saving-not-spending mindset, useful for Danís yearly work hiatus, which is coming up soon. But as with all simplistic fix-your-life concepts, there are shades of gray I know it wonít cover.
Very tired. Eyes sting. Need to sleep. Brain hurts. Bed beckons. Body aches. Oh, those soft sheets. Mmm.
Good night, all.
More substance tomorrow, I hope.
This is the car we bought when we moved to Los Angeles. We drove a rusty Rent-a-Wreck behemoth to a small Silver Lake apartment complex, went down to the garage to see this dark blue hatchback named Louie. The couple were our age, which means they were in their twenties too. They were moving from Los Angeles to New York. It was as if they were our doppelgangers, switching lives with us. We took their car, they took off into our past.
This is the car we bought because it was reminiscent of my fatherís dark blue Camry station wagon which was the car I learned to drive on and so this little Corolla was a comforting reminder of our far away home.
This is the car I learned to drive stick on, grinding the gears as I drove up a short ramp and back down again, stalling out as I wove through parked cars in a half-deserted lot, Dan mostly patient, more so than I would have been, until I finally got the hang of it.
This is the car I drove to get my first driverís license. Hands on the wheel, eyes straight ahead, pretend the official test person in the passenger seat is a nice person who wants to see me do well. Walk out of the car. Find out the tester actually is a nice person. Obtain the piece of paper that allows me to drive in this city of wheels.
This is the car I drove home the night of my first day-long assistant editing gig in this new city. Drove all the way to the apartment before I realized Iíd forgotten to turn on the headlights. Good thing it wasnít far.
This is the car I was driving when I had my first accident, when a motorcycle slammed into the passenger side door. The cyclist was high on pot, didnít account for my fearful beginner slow-as-molasses turning style. We brought him into our apartment, gave him some ice for his head and a glass of water. We had the huge dent in the door fixed a month later.
This is the car I shared with Dan for the first nine months we lived here, coordinating schedules, drop offs and pick-ups Ė just like having a kid in school, come to think of it.
This is the car we drove up the coast the first time we went to Santa Barbara, to Big Sur, to San Francisco. I have photos of this car against stunning backdrops. The small blue Toyota. The little engine that could.
This is the car I walked to every night as I left my assistant editing job on the Fox lot. I would get inside, turn on the defrost and wait for the dew and mist to dissolve. In the dark in an isolated parking area on a quiet studio lot. In this car.
This is the car Dan began driving to work every day after I finally got over my fear of driving a different car from the one I learned on (ie: our also-old burgundy Accord). This is, therefore, the car Damian always referred to as "Daddy's car." It was the subject of his first three word sentence, at eighteen months: "Dadda go car," as Daddy pulled out of the driveway heading to the cutting room.
This is the car I said goodbye to yesterday. I handed the key to a man who got inside, drove it across the street, and hooked it up to a tow truck. It will be auctioned off within the month, the proceeds to go to a womenís assistance organization. Iíve already gotten a thank-you letter from the charity. The money will mean a lot to them, more than it would to a larger organization.
This is the car that encompassed most of my Ė of our Ė adult lives, that marked the transition to life in Los Angeles. My first car. Itís no longer ours. Watching it go felt like the end of an epoch, like the marker ring on a tree. That time is over, a new time is beginning.
This is that car.
Goodbye, sweet blue Corolla.
My DSL host was down all afternoon and evening. It felt eerie, like I was oddly alone. Just me and Damian in the house, no other voices on my computer. Just as well, though. I had little time for the computer.
I went to see our second choice school again today, finally sat down with the administrator. This is such a complicated issue, kindergarten for the somewhat different child. I'll have more to say about that tomorrow.
Tired. Very tired. Busy day from top to bottom, but in a good way. Though maybe Dan doesn't think so; at eleven p.m., he just got home from work. Me, I wrote a thousand words on my novel, spent good time with my kid, even exercised (Damian tried out the Nordic Track while I did ab crunches, experimented with the ab cruncher while I lifted weights -- didn't try the weights, though). Good day. Nothing much to say here, though. No brain left. Tomorrow. Maybe I'll have something more interesting to say then.
Or maybe not. Dan says he'll be working even later tomorrow night.
Dan just walked through with what looked like a can of paint, but on closer inspection had the words "John Grisham's A Painted House" on the side, with "DVD for your consideration" in smaller letters.
Dan held the can up. "Know what's in here?"
"Uh, a DVD?"
"Wrong." He grinned.
Last spring when we were painting our kitchen (a long, complex saga equivalent to Gone With The Wind only with fewer curtains), we tried to find the right muted purple shade for the moldings. After two tries failed miserably (one was way too dark, the other too blue), I bought pint cans of two new potential choices. Sadly, neither worked. One was too lavender, the other too pink. What we wanted was something in between, but there were no in-between paint chips. So we mixed them in a flimsy paper container left over from Damian's birthday party tie-dying extravaganza. Got the perfect color. Painted. Beautiful.
Now the hard part: How to store the new shade? Answer: Dan gets inundated every spring with TV Academy For Your Consideration tapes and DVDs. Some come in clever packaging. This particular clever packaging worked quite well. If you remember to use the contents correctly, that is. It might damage your DVD player. And would be about as fun to watch as... paint drying.
Dan's off to do some touch-up work now.
I'm forty two years old and I just drove on the freeway for the very first time.
Yeah, a milestone.
I grew up in Manhattan. I knew how to change from one subway line to another through long underground paths, how to ride standing up and not holding on, swaying to the rhythm of the cars rattling through the tunnel and aboveground, I knew how to jaywalk in the space between fast-moving cars and shoulder my way through rush hour crowds on the sidewalk, but I never learned to drive. Not until we moved out to LA. At age twenty seven, I think, maybe twenty eight. I wasn't ready for the speed and the fast lane changes and the pressure of a highway, so I got by using surface streets. Then I was ready but the car was old and Dan felt insecure about my trying and I happily agreed to wait.
Today, in a two-month old car with a powerful V6 engine, I accelerated up the on-ramp and merged with the seventy-mile-an-hour freeway traffic. All the way to Pasadena, which meant getting off one freeway and getting on another (it's not an interchange, you have to actually exit the freeway, drive a few blocks, and get on the new one). And my hands gripped the steering wheel just a bit and I could only listen to melodic music, nothing too jangly, my nerves were already tight, but I did it and it felt almost normal.
It's a funny thing. It's like learning to swim instead of walk. Or dive instead of wade into the pool. The action -- driving -- is the same, but the sensations are different. Cars zooming around you and you're in the midst of the swarm, cheek by jowl with the heavy spinning wheels, the pistons firing, the drivers with their hands on the steering wheels and their minds at least half on the road. It's very much like swimming in the middle of a group of fast-swimming fish, like the great current in Finding Nemo, the ones the turtles ride. It's like surfing, I guess. The powerful swell around you and you're riding it, staying with it, responding to it. It uses a different sense than stop-and-go city traffic. No stops to catch your breath, just an endless wave.
And I did it. I'm not ready to drive from here to San Francisco on my own, not quite yet. But from Hollywood to Pasadena is a start.
I love my new birthday iPod. It's smooth and slim and sleek and it clicks when you run your finger along the touch-wheel and it holds so very much music. I rip CDs into my computer a few at a time when I can. At this rate, it may take me the rest of the year to rip our collection. But then. Oh my. I'll fit my music collection into my denim jacket pocket, carry it around like a package of cigarettes, only this addiction doesn't cause cancer. Lovely. I listen on a headset in the library as I write, I walk back to the car listening, I plug the iPod into my car stereo (via a cassette adapter) and listen while I go pick Damian up. We discuss what to hear next (he's a Springsteen fan) and we listen on our way home. It makes traffic congestion more bearable. I listen at home, too, I bought myself an Altec Lansing speaker system with some birthday money (thank you, Marilyn and Fernando!) and now I have a stereo in my office. I mean in the kitchen. Wait, I mean in the bathroom.
Sometimes I look at this little rounded rectangle of a hard drive and I'm amazed. It rides around in my daypack with my cell phone and my Palm Pilot and usually my digital camera, and if I'll be in Santa Monica for the afternoon (driving Damian both to and fro that day), I take my PowerBook too. So much equipment. So many electronics. How did this happen? They creep into my life -- our lives -- they're not indispensible, but they're oh so nice.
I think sometimes about how I had none of this -- none of this even existed -- when I was in college. A young adult, even. I know that reeks of the old fart shaking her head at the advent of television, but things move faster now, especially technology, and the changes are small (pocket-sized) but profound. I carry around a way to communicate, a way to surround myself with my own taste in music, a way to keep track of my life, a way to record it and have instant playback (and instant delete) ability. And of course the computer, which sits on my lap right now as I type on the bed, reaching out to you -- and you -- and yes, you over there who I don't know and have never met but maybe sometime we will because of this here and now, this blog I write on my lap on this keyboard, we may meet sometime and like each other and wouldn't that be cool?
Small changes that slip into my bag. A portable life. Metal and plastic and bits and bytes. Impersonal and mass produced but they become so personal, so intimate a part of us as they record and transmit our lives. Talismans and tools both.
After an enjoyable lunch today with StealthPunch, Kymm came back to my house for a few minutes (the restaurant is virtually around the corner from my place). While I was in the kitchen getting supplies for my daily trek across town, the cats found Kymm.
I think they like her.
If 2004 continues as it has begun, this year will involve tremendous amounts of socializing interspersed with home improvement projects.
The living room is now the blinding white of fresh primer. My hands are spackled with the same super-adhering paint. My nose is still filled with that particular plastic-and-kerosene scent. An old friend we haven't seen for five years is settling into the guest room with his girlfriend. We talked until way past all our bedtimes. Life is good.
Maybe I'm strange, but when brunch guests don't leave until after nine p.m., I consider that a successful party.
Okay, that's cheating a little. The last guests were Diane and Darin and their kids, and we have a tradition of letting afternoon turn into evening together. I was glad they had the time on this trip to do it again. But Mo and Kymm stayed until after seven, so that's still good, I think.
I know it's possible for people to outstay their welcome. That wasn't the case here. I would have been happy if Michele, Jill, Jay, and StealthPunch had all been able to stay as long. I like small gatherings. I like parties where people have common interests and interesting thoughts and can discuss interpersonal relationships and the way kids learn and also the merits of sports bras all in one day. I had fun.
Kymm tells me two years in a row make it a tradition. Sounds good to me.
Dan's cousin died today. She'd had a stroke about a week before Christmas and never recovered. I didn't know her well -- we lived in different states -- but I've always liked her. Diane's father died this morning. I never met him but my heart aches for her. My grandfather died eleven years ago yesterday (yes, on my birthday), he'd come to LA to celebrate the holidays with family and had a stroke Christmas Eve. His death still haunts me. I loved -- and love -- him.
My father used to say that more people die around the winter holidays than at any other time of year, except maybe their birthdays. It's as if they wait for family to come together, though of course it doesn't always work that way. But still, there's something to what he said.
My father. I had a dream about him last week. A dream that he had died. And in the dream he came to me and looked the way he did ten or fifteen years ago when we were still close. I told him I missed him. I cried. He comforted me, after a fashion, but wordlessly. As I guess befits the dead.
My father and I have been estranged for just about a year. It saddens me greatly. It's like a death. I may never talk to him again, will probably never see him again. He exists only in my memories. But still, he's alive and while he is, there is this possibility, however remote, that we will reconnect. Once he's gone that too is gone. I don't know how that will feel. I can't guess. I wonder if he too will die during the holiday season. I know I will mourn him.
Measure out half a cup of driving, stir until arrival at destination in Chinese-dense Monterey Park is complete. You will find a ticket with a number appearing from within the dark interior of the dim sum palace known as Ocean Star. Take this scrap of paper. Hold on tight to it. Allow your belly to simmer half an hour. Go people-watch. Return when that number is called in both English and Mandarin (or perhaps Szechuan, you wouldn't know the difference).
This is the first course of your birthday, a meal of shiu mai, char shu bao and other things you can't pronounce but boy do they taste good. The boy even eats a pork-filled baked bun. You eat turnip cake, pronounce it good. You ask for soda from the busboy, he shakes his head in confusion. You ask someone else and receive your soda but in truth the jasmine tea tastes just fine.
On to the second course, a fine mixture of anticipation, clear-wrapped plastic parts and electronic innards, chilled and set during the ride west on a day streaked with pink-tinted clouds like a day-long gentle sunset. The second course is less edible but no less delectable than the first. A box. Within that box, styrofoam (tsk) surrounding a slim cigarette case. Ah yes, the iPod. Tasty.
(How to solve yesterday's conundrum? Buy the 30 gig, last year's top-end model now priced just $25 more than this year's mid-range. The most I'll have spent unnecessarily is that $25. I can live with that.)
Box in hand but delights delayed, for this part of the birthday meal must wait until room temperature -- dining room, to be exact -- and must be accompanied by a fine wine -- err, computer hookup -- to be fully savored.
On to the next course. Dessert for tonight. Clementine bakery, my current favorite. The apricot buns, the Moravian sweet bread, I could go on for pages describing the mouthfeel, the buttery crispy chewy sweetness. But alas, not tonight. For as we drive up, we see. Chairs upside down on tables. Door firmly bolted shut. Empty and quiet. They're taking the holiday off.
The ability to substitute at the last minute is the hallmark of a true chef, yes? And so we drive back toward West Hollywood. Toward home. We find a bakery, new to us but not so very new to the city. Called -- well, this is a little confusing, this part. Lately called Sugar Plum, a toothy name, but post-lawsuit now known as Susina. This is part of the adventure of today, this part. A new bakery. A new restaurant. A new tech-toy. A new year.
Walk into the bakery. Try to capture the flavor of what you smell, the mingled aroma of chocolate and almond and butter and warmth. This will be the essential ingredient for tonight, that perfume on your tongue. Try also to pick out the best possible pastry for later. Ask the woman and her daughter what's good here. They tell you, in mouth-watering detail. The woman tells you, too, that she wrote a story about the first cake she ate from here, it was that inspiring.
Get a little of this, a bit of that. Some of everything, very nearly. Small, bite-sized tastes. One of the men behind the counter gives you a chocolate hazelnut cookie for free because it's your birthday. A light meringue on a chewy base. Perfection in two bites. Surprising how perfect. Things rarely are.
These, then, are the ingredients for a good birthday. The rest is a matter of timing, tone and mood and the right combination of love and empathy and some warming phone calls. Also a little alone time.
That's all for now. Dessert awaits.
Thanks to the internet in all its various guises Ė- websites, email, chat functions, even the now-quaint newsgroups Ė we know about new events, new developments practically before they even happen. But is this plethora of information an unmitigated blessing? Is it possible to know too much?
My birthday is tomorrow. Iíve been looking forward to my present for months. An iPod. I have big plans for that slim white box. I will put our entire CD collection on it. I will carry it to the car every day, where I will plug it into our stereo system and have extra long playlists for the long drives to and from Damianís school. This means never fumbling for another CD during red lights, never listening to the same CD on endless repeat because my brain and body donít process as well while also handling various driving maneuvers. This means being surrounded with de-stressing sound for the long, sometimes tense trips. This is good.
I will also save my pennies and within a month have enough personal discretionary money saved to buy myself a mini speaker system. This means I can hear music while washing dishes. While organizing my office. While having a bath. While peeing, if I want. In the back yard in the summertime. This also means Iíll have a playlist specifically designed for my fledgling Reiki practice, and I can set the iPod and speakers on a tiny table in the guest room/treatment room. Portable stereo? As portable as it gets.
I will also be able to carry my computer files in my pocket. And when I eventually acquire my major lust object, that digital Rebel camera, Iíll be able to download pictures to my iPod. Instant storage, no computer needed. Have hard drive, will travel.
Iím going to enjoy that puppy. I was planning to enjoy it as of, oh, tomorrow.
But hereís the thing. I was on iChat with my friend Otto the other night. He told me all the Mac rumor sites were buzzing with the possible, potential, maybe-itís-true news that Steve Jobs will be announcing a new iPod or iPods January 5th at MacWorld Expo. For sure (well, as sure as these non-concrete speculations can be), heíll be announcing tiny iPods, 2 and 4 gig models, selling somewhere around $100 or so. Perfect for college students or anyone else on a budget. And who knows, maybe the regular line-up, currently 10 gig/20 gig/40 gig, will get bigger, maybe becoming 15/30/60.
If I didnít know any of this, Iíd go out tomorrow and buy myself (well, Dan will buy me) a 20 gig iPod and be very happy. At least for now. And Iíd probably be philosophical about the lineup change because you never can pre-guess electronics, they update every other week.
But now that I know, I have to wonder if this is the best way to go. Should I wait seven days, see if the midrange iPod gets a boost, and if so, either spend less on almost the same capacity or get a bigger one for the same money? Or should I wait that week and then get a tiny iPod which wonít do everything Iíd planned but will be so very much cheaper and then we can put the rest aside in our Tamar-Wants-A-Rebel fund?
But where does that leave me tomorrow? Presentless is what. On my birthday. Sort of like nobody loves me, only this time I donít love myself or rather I want to protect myself from future disappointment and so I disappoint myself on my so-called special day and leave myself empty handed. And whoís to say announcement leads to immediate disbursement? I remember a two month wait for my G3 PowerBook from the time they were announced to when the box arrived on my doorstep. Does a birthday gift still count if you get it two months late? Should I then think of it as a Valentineís Day present? Itís one expensive box of chocolates. Not to mention, the metal might chip your teeth.
I think what Iíll do instead is call around in the morning, see if anyone in town even has the 20 gig iPod (they were all out of stock here and elsewhere in the days before Christmas). If yes, whatís the return policy? One week? Okay, great. Iíll be there in an hour, can you hold one for me?
Sometimes we do things that may defy logic. We do them for emotional reasons, which are just as legitimate. I wonít say itís bad to know what may lie ahead. Itís just bad to twist my life to fit that possible bend in the road. Better to peek ahead but live in the present. And get my present on time.
I exfoliated today. Yesterday too. Am I the last woman in the industrialized world to learn how much fun face products can be? I've always just used soap (Dove) and water (tap) and left it at that. Well, okay, I also used a towel. But recently I started realizing everyone else moisturizes and uses masks and oils and their faces smell like apricot or almonds or avocado and you could, if you were very confused and it was very dark, make a mistake and try to eat their nose with maybe some peanut butter and an apple, only probably that's in there too.
I'm old, though. Ancient crone old. Which is to say I'm over forty, something very like if not exactly like (okay, exactly like) middle age. I have wrinkles. Admittedly very small wrinkles, and only in a few places. (Unless I purse my lips and make like I'm going to give you a tiny great aunt Matilda kiss, and then I have a bunch more, but I don't count that and you shouldn't either.) But you just know the creases are lurking, biding their time, waiting for my skin to give up the pretense of youth and vitality. And this soap-and-water thing? Getting, if you'll pardon the expression, old.
Besides which, it's not very feminine, splashing water on, sudsing up with a bar of generic white glycerin. I'm all about feminine right now. Happy with my ongoing weight loss, living in my body more. Enjoying my body and my face and even my hair. Doing something most women probably experience at age twenty or even fifteen or... twelve? Seven? I don't know. I was a tomboy. Allergic to the hairdryer, unfamiliar with makeup. Then I migrated to the artsy eccentric look. Colorful clothes, dangly earrings, wildly patterned tights. It's a kind of feminine energy but it doesn't require much primping, at least not my version. After that... well, I gradually laped into schlubby writer morphing into exhausted mom. Not my best look, I'm afraid.
So this is a first. With my mother's guidance, I bought a small selection of Dr. Hauschka's products a couple of days ago. Tried them for the first time yesterday. The cleansing cream has a gentle exfoliant. Putting it on feels like giving my skin a sand bath, which is nicer than it sounds. Very nice, in fact. And the moisturizer (excuse me, clarifying toner) and oil smell so good and feel so soft on my hands. And for the rest of the day, I find myself touching my cheek, stroking it like it belongs to someone else. It feels like silk, like velvet. Why did this take me so long?
Why do people lie? How can you tell when they are? Have you ever thought someone was lying but then it turned out they were telling the truth? Or maybe theyíre really lying but theyíve convinced everyone around them with their utter sincerity?
I feel so gullible. I want to believe the best from people. I want to think if theyíre not telling the truth, they didnít mean it; they misunderstood the question or the situation, they donít know their own innermost motivations. Something to justify the fact that theyíre standing there in front of me or speaking into the phone and telling me things I know canít be true. With a voice that sounds so incredibly sincere, with nary a bobble or stumble, smooth and firm. A voice that makes me wonder: Is it me? Did I misunderstand? Did I misread, overreact, do I want to actually ascribe worse motivations and actions and really theyíre innocent of all wrongdoing and itís a colossal foul up? And maybe that voice sounds so rational, so reasonable, so honest because it is. Or maybe theyíre just damned good liars.
I caught someone in a lie a few months ago. He was supposed to attend a wedding in another city and cancelled at the last possible moment. The story he told was one for the record books, full of sturm and drang involving the intense security and long lines for said security gates at Penn Station. But New York doesnít have security at train stations. It was a beauty of a whopper, designed to make you feel sorry for him. In that case, I knew it was a lie before he opened his mouth because I knew he needed to find an excuse to get out of coming and also that heís not someone who can do anything the simple way. Truth is usually far simpler than a lie, but itís also often not easy, it means saying something that can be painful either for your audience to hear or for you to admit. And so people twist their stories into something more palatable. Iím not immune, Iíve been known to tell a little white lie now and then. Seldom, though. And it always feels strange as hell. I donít lie well. It doesnít sit right. And so I canít figure out how other people do and do it so well.
I think to lie well you do have to believe at least a little in what youíre saying. Or at least you have to believe that youíre right to say it because the truth is more complicated but also would exonerate you, if they only understood the whole situation. To lie effectively you have to feel like youíre in the right overall only people wouldnít understand so you give them this predigested pap instead so they donít have to think.
It makes me feel so helpless, thatís part of it. Because if someoneís distorting the facts, you canít have a real conversation. You canít get to the bottom of anything with them. You can try, and they can pretend to, but they donít have to change anything, they can just lie again and make it okay.
Someone who works with Damian lied to me this week. Or at least I think she did. Someone else, someone I consider intelligent and thoughtful, thinks this person didnít lie. So maybe she didnít. But when I told her what Damian said (my concern for this situation stemmed in part from his comments, including that she doesnít want to play with him), she said ďI donít want to say heís lying, butÖĒ and let her voice trail off. When a grown woman starts to accuse a five year old of lying? Somethingís wrong there.
I donít know. He is a five year old, this makes him less than ideal as a witness. There may be more truth there than I can unearth. But thereís enough history in this particular relationship, not all of it good, that Dan and I think itís time to pull the plug whether or not lies are involved. And Damian, unlike her, has no motivation to lie. He's not covering his ass, he's not setting her up. He's a young kid with no agenda here.
But it leaves me feeling horrible. What if Iím wrong about her? This isnít a court of law, though even in the courts, judges and juries canít always get to the essential truth. People lie to cover their asses, they lie all the time. Some people lie like they breathe. Some people lie to themselves and so the lies become their version of the truth of their world. And whoís to say I never lie to myself? How can I know? They say the story of a war is told through the eyes of the victor, the other side doesnít get a voice and their tale might be very different. Thereís no such thing as an objective witness, is there? Maybe thereís no such thing as objective truth, nothing rock solid and tangible, nothing you can grab onto and feel the weight of it in the palm of your hand. Which leaves me feeling lost today. Did I make the right decision?
In a way, it doesnít matter if she lied. The fact that we think she may have, the fact that she did do some things (Dan and I witnessed them ourselves) that we find questionable, even the fact that we feel we canít talk to her about this, not in any real way Ė it all means I did do the right thing when I said ďWe have to move on from this. Now.Ē But I wish it felt better. I hate not trusting. I hate assuming the worst. I hate being the one to break off a two year relationship with someone who seems to mean well. But maybe she never did, maybe she lied about that too.
Today really started last night when I stayed up far too late fretting (long story related to one of Damian's floor time therapists who almost definitely has to be replaced after two years and a complex history) and then had to rush out of the house super early to go to an elementary school open house (not to mention getting lost on the way with, of course, no map in the car, because that would just be too easy) and stay just long enough to get a flavor of the place and try to imagine Damian there before hauling my ass back to the car to fly across town to an interesting but not easy floor time clinic meeting and when that was over, fly out of there to grab some food and pretend to work on my novel while really obsessing about everything that kept me awake last night (not to mention what the fuck weíre going to do about kindergarten next year), but that was just a short pause in my day because from there I had to run back to school to pick Damian up and then off to a supermarket with him in tow (following the inevitable discussion about just which store we should go to, because there are three Whole Foods between school and home and they each have their kid-related merits, which is of course why we ended up at a Bristol Farms) and then finally back home to put groceries away but first of necessity empty out the various strange objects from the fridge that used to be delectable foodstuffs but had mysteriously congealed into fragrant, strangely textured science experiments while we were off playing in Cambria over the long weekend, but finishing that delightful project didnít mean I could rest because Iíd promised Damian weíd play a game so then it was off to Damianís bedroom to pretend the place was a toy store with two super-friendly (hungry) cats so we could purchase toys he already owns and then it was time to make dinner and sit down at the table to eat only to get up again after one bite and cuddle on the couch because Damian was having an emotional crisis about the fact that it was now night and therefore it would soon be bedtime and he would be lonely and sad lying in his bed all by himself, never mind that itís been that way (and been just fine) for most of his five and a half years and that we never kick him out of our bed if he comes padding down the hall in the middle of the night, but his feelings are closer to the surface these days and lonely is a mighty powerful emotion and then of course it was time for a bath, only not mine (can I have one now, with lots of Epsom salts and candles, please?) but his, complete with froggy game and more unexpected tears which only truly resolved when Daddy got home and we could all three talk through what to do about bedtime and how to help Damian feel better and only then, when Damian felt satisfied and tearless and Dan was ensconced bathside, could I escape to the bedroom and get on the computer and hear myself think, not that I have any thoughts left in my overcooked cream-of-wheat of a brain.
I'm off for the weekend, thus breaking my posting-every-single-day streak (Oct 4th through Nov 26th, not too bad). See you on the other side. And if you're American, have a happy Thanksgiving and try not to kill any family members, okay?
I have to admit, I've always scoffed when I saw people posting pictures of their cars. I mean, it's not like the car's going to smile at you or do something unbearably endearing. It's a car. It sits there. And if you know the make and model and the car's new enough, you can find the same photo on the manufacturer's website. If you want, you can in fact find the selfsame car at the dealer or even probably on the road during your ride home tonight.
However. We just bought a brand spanking new car. Our first such purchase in fourteen years, and this is the only one that wasn't already, um, gently worn. In our life, this purchase is a Very Big Deal. I think we're allowed to fetishize it a bit, don't you?
(Besides, you were here for the whole car buying saga. It would feel incomplete without the visual payoff, no?)
So here it is on the lot the day we bought it, all shiny and new:
And a side angle, because I know you just can't get enough:
Ain't it cute? (In its very large way, I mean.)
When we got to the dealer late Saturday morning, Eager Young Salesguy was nowhere to be found. We had him paged. Still no sign. Dan went outside. The guy was showing a car to a Korean family. Not just any car, a pale blue Sienna with a metallic sheen. The exact car weíd come to haggle over. Coincidence? They scattered quickly after we appeared. Again, coincidence?
Salesguy had told me on the phone this would be his first sale. We think that Korean family was his own family. Itís an old sales trick: make the item look more desirable by having someone else show interest. Jealousy and covetousness supposedly kick in: ďNo, get away, thatís mine!Ē Didnít work. Toyota of Hollywood had a dark gray one in stock. I like dark gray too. His attempt was oddly endearing, though.
He ushered us, not back into the sleek glass-enclosed gray-tiled showroom, but into an unimpressive two room shack in the middle of the lot. Interesting sales tactic. Underwhelm your customer?
It quickly became obvious we were dealing with something a little different from the hard-sell pitch weíd expected. We talked for a minute with Eager Guy and then he called someone else into the room, a slim Korean woman with a no-nonsense mien. Turns out Mr. Smarm from our first visit had vanished with the mist, off to another gig. Thank god. This new manager was hard to read but was clearly a sharp businesswoman and the crap factor went way down the moment she walked in the room.
She was the fleet manager. I didnít know exactly what a fleet manager was, but Iíd figured out during the course of all those phone calls that it was a good thing and meant someone who can really do business with you. (For a definition of fleet manager, go here.)
I need to back up here, fill in a missing piece. As we had walked up to the shiny new blue Sienna a few minutes earlier, weíd spotted a sticker. This Car Equipped with LoJack. LoJack Not Included in MSRP.
Apparently every single car on the lot had been equipped with LoJack, an admittedly wonderful feature but one you had to pay eight hundred dollars for the privilege of owning. Yikes. There goes our thousand dollar savings off sticker.
As we walked to the ramshackle office structure, my hopes of buying a car that afternoon started draining away. Goodbye, pretty blue car. Goodbye, drive to Cambria in that pretty blue car. Hello, more phone calls and more overly cheery salespeople. Hello, more pins-and-needles car buying angst.
But we were already here. What the hell. We stayed to see how the meeting would go down.
So when the fleet manager came in, I laid it all out. We got this quote from Valley Toyota, we donít expect you to match it but weíve also gotten a thousand below MSRP from dealers around town and we do expect you can beat that. But aside from all that, thereís this LoJack price. Thatís a big pill to swallow.
She started to sell us on LoJack. What choice did she have? We said yes, itís good, we know that. But we calculated what we can afford for this car and this is not it.
Stalemate. They canít take the LoJack out once itís in. I was sulky and unhappy and obviously ready to walk. The fleet manager suggested we pay invoice price for it: six hundred dollars. Dan said, ďReally, thatís what you pay? Because I saw it on the internet, thereís a site that advertises it for five hundred, complete with installation.Ē
She was flummoxed.
He offered to pull up the site for her, but her office isnít online. She finally said sheíd match it if her manager approved.
We continued the negotiation, but there wasnít much more to it. She wrote down a figure, excluding the LoJack. It was $1150 lower than MSRP. It was pretty much her final offer. I added the numbers. The total was a few hundred more than we had planned to spend, but hell. LoJack = peace of mind. Dan had wanted it all along. I did too, honestly, but just didnít want to pay for it.
I frowned and looked torn for a while longer, but really I was just seeing if sheíd do anything else for us. She wouldnít. So we said yes and walked away feeling good but not amazing. I felt like a non-negotiator, like the deal was pretty much done before we ever walked in the door and it was just a matter of doing our homework. And the end result was only a hundred bucks or so better than everyone else who gets online car info can get. Nice but a little anticlimactic, you know?
But hereís what I realized today: if you take the accessory package into account (floor mats and whatnot, came with the car, part of the deal but jacks up the sticker price) as well as the LoJack, we got the car for $1484 under MSRP.
Today Iím feeling pretty damned proud of us.
We saw both of them, the fleet manager and Eager Young Salesguy, again today when we took care of the final steps: fixing the purchase order (our names were misspelled), bringing the loan payment, writing a check for the last of the down payment and oh yes, picking up the car (woo!). As we were saying goodbye to her, she said she knew when we came in with all our facts that we knew too much and she wasnít going to do a song and dance, just be straight with us. So we got a good deal. For real. She told us we were good at it. She has no reason now to lie.
It also became apparent that sheís taken Eager Young Guy under her wing, she wants to teach him the trade. She told us he reminds her a lot of her younger brother. So she wanted to make this transaction happen for his sake, to give him the satisfaction of a first sale.
It makes it all more human, you know? Itís not us against them. Itís just people thinking carefully about a huge investment and other people thinking carefully about how much theyíre willing to give in to make that happen.
Iím glad to have gone through this. I like that this brand new baby car has a birth story. Born of a savvy Korean midwife and her brand new assistant, adopted by a family who embraced the new child with open arms but also open eyes. It feels good. Really good.
It felt damned good driving the car home this afternoon, too. Wow good. It glides, this big carosaurus of ours. It soars. It practically flies.
Want to know how to fix a printer, bake a cake, buy a car? Go to the web, young woman, get on the web. If youíre talking about cars, go to Edmunds.com. We learned a lot there about our particular car-to-be, how it felt in the real world and how much people were spending on it. Answer: all over the place Ė at sticker as well as thousands below (for higher end models, where the dealer markup is bigger so thereís more room to negotiate). We also learned how to play this game.
Dan sent out a query through the website, telling dealers what we wanted and asking about availability. We expected email responses. We got a few but mostly they called. Me. Well, of course. I was at home. But I wasnít really prepared for these phone conversations as I went about my morning. The thing about talking to salespeople, particularly car salespeople, is that youíre both playing a little coy game, not revealing how much you want this or how much youíre willing to give up in order to get it. Hard to do when youíre unprepared. But I took down car info and their price quotes and said weíd get back in touch.
One guy emailed with the subject line: Do you hate car salesmen? And then went on to give a pitch for himself as a non-salesman that sounded an awful lot like a sleazy sales line, ending of course with ďCall me!Ē
Car salespeople are lonely, apparently. They all wait by the phone hoping for your call like lovelorn teens. Over this past week, Iíve been inundated. You talk to one and say you might call again and he waits a day and a half and then calls you again, just in case. And, oh, yes, sends an email just in case you didnít get the phone message.
The Hollywood Toyota guy sent an email with ďI talked to your lovely wife.Ē (How can he tell how attractive I am on the phone? Does he have a video phone that records even what you donít transmit?) and went on to link to some special ďlowest price guaranteeĒ he offered so you wouldnít have to worry about buyerís remorse. Uh huh. California has a no-cooling-off-period law, where the moment you walk out of the door with your car, youíre stuck with it. No walking back in and saying ďOops, I just made the biggest mistake of my life!Ē Which also means if you go back and say ďI found it cheaper elsewhereĒ? Theyíll laugh in your face as they cash your check.
In the midst of all this, we got a quote from the Hollywood guy for five hundred under sticker price, the North Hollywood folk for a few hundred under and a guy in La Crescenta for a thousand under. When we got that one, I did a little huzzah dance, because I knew that would force the Santa Monica guy to keep to his vaguely floated offer of ďas much as a thousand off.Ē We had no real intention of going to La Crescenta, but it was nice to know it was out there, waiting for our money.
We also realized through our research that our initial plan to lease the car was, well, insane. Through Danís union, he could get a loan for a low interest rate. With the same down payment weíd planned and a slightly higher monthly payment, weíd own the car outright in five years instead of having to pay the thousands a residual would be to own after the end of the lease. I think leases are good if loan interest rates are considerably higher. Theyíre especially good if youíre the kind of person who wants a new car every three to five years. Us? Weíve had the Accord for fourteen years, the Corolla for fifteen. We raise cars like kids, not letting them go till theyíre teenagers.
We applied for the loan. The woman at the credit union suggested I call a guy at an auto club sort of place, said heís gotten great deals for other members, he does the haggling for you. So I called. I told him what we wanted. He called back later, left a message on the machine: ďItís going for at or above MSRP, but I got you a great deal!Ē (imagine the trill of excitement in his voice) ďI got you five hundred off the sticker price!Ē
Um, yeah. When I called him back a day later and told him his great deal was not so great, he told me I was a wheeler dealer and didnít need him. (Said with a laugh and meant as a compliment.) Iím no wheeler-dealer. I just use the Internet the way nature and Arpanet never intended. And you, sir, arenít nearly as good at your job as you pretend. Theyíre all salesmen, these guys, even the ones who are pretending theyíre on your side.
Back online. Dan found a useful website full of nothing but Sienna owners. Itís comforting to be contemplating a car that has such loyal owners they want to obsess about it in their very own online club. The site has an owner photo gallery; I expected minivans against gorgeous sunsets, minivans clad in nothing but their sexy car bras, minivans driving straight up the sides of huge, vertical mountains. The truth is more mundane. People want to show what their color car looks like, or they want to show the non í04 owners what theyíre missing. Oh, and apparently there are now í04 Sienna taxicabs in New York. Cushy. Also funny to see my new ride in bright yellow.
What the site had, more importantly, was a discussion about what people got their cars for. Most do get it for lower than MSRP these days. A thousand off for an LE is doable if you haggle. More would be a miracle. I think itís good to have a semi-objective way to measure your own ability to negotiate. If youíre asking for invoice price on a hot car, youíre either a magician or youíre in for a rude shock. But if youíre willing to spend MSRP on a yawner with incentives and rebates out the wazoo, youíre being taken. Itís important to have a sense of the market. (She says, with her two weeks of experience at this.)
Thereís one Toyota place in Central California, about four hours northeast of here, that sells cars at $750 above invoice. This is obviously a fantastic deal. However, thereís a little matter of getting the car. I talked to one of the guys on the phone and it sounded like theyíre so busy they canít keep up with the demand. Thereís a wait for cars. Hell, thereís a wait for their return phone calls/emails. And then thereís the small matter of potential shipping costs and the fact that the Toyota advertising charge varies from region to region and itís higher in that area than here (itís considered part of the invoice price) and itís not quite as attractive a deal as it looks to begin with. Iím sure if weíd waited and been persistent, we could have saved hundreds of dollars. But not thousands. And weíd probably be waiting till January (they don't currently have our model/option package in stock). And we have this trip to Cambria on the horizon. And my momís visit in December. And we want the car, damnit.
So okay, maybe Iím not as cool a customer as I should be. Iíd be happy to get a Prius there when weíre ready to replace our Accord and already have one newish, comfy car, but right now local and convenient is worth a few hundred bucks, rightly or wrongly.
I sat down late in the week to make follow-up phone calls. When I broached the idea of $750 over invoice, every single dealer choked on his coffee. (And then went on to tell me thereís got to be a catch. I said no, itís just a different business model. Less profit per car, more cars sold.) But when I talked about a thousand below MSRP, nearly every dealer was willing to meet that price. Even Eager Young Salesguy from our first, tentative foray into the world of car sales. He promised, in fact, that if we came into his store, heíd not only meet but beat the price. ďBut not by a thousand!Ē (The spread between MSRP and invoice for our car is somewhere between $2000 and $2500, depending on what source you use for the invoice info.)
What the hell. I made an appointment for Saturday.
We just bought a car. In theory, anyway. Itís still sitting on the lot awaiting the money transfer from the credit union to the dealer, but that should happen Monday and then, voila, new car. After fourteen years, we have a brand new car. Itís so easy to spend money when you make up your mind to do it, isnít it?
Two weeks ago (is that all? It feels like months) we test drove two cars. We could have driven more, but we Ė and Damian Ė donít have much more patience than that and the choice really was between minivan (So big! We only have one kid! So big! And did I say big? Long too.) and smallish SUV-type vehicle (SUV! I hate SUVs, at least I think I do! Are we really considering an SUV? And itís so tall, and itís got a tire on the back, and itís tall and did I mention? SUV?), with perhaps a station wagon thrown in there somewhere (because theyíre no longer the station wagons of our youth, these wagons are almost sexy. Well, okay, not sexy. But theyíre more like real cars than the other two, and they do have all that room in back. I remember crouching in the long back part of a station wagon when I was a smallish person. Fond memories of creamsicles dripping all over the beige carpeting, the smell of suntan lotion and the sound of other children bickering.). A sedan would be fine for our second car, but we needed something bigger for the main child-transport device.
So we narrowed it down to the Toyota Sienna in the minivan class and the Honda CRV standing in for the SUVs. Both have better-than-average emissions, which is important to us. Both have tolerable mileage; theyíre not Priuses (Priuii?) but theyíre no gas guzzlers either. Both got solid reviews. We figured weíd look at a Volvo station wagon if we had time, but the moment I slid into the driverís seat of the Sienna, I realized the truth of what Danís been saying for a long time: itís nice to be tall on the road. You can see over the heads of the squat sedans and youíre big enough to feel on par with the SUVs. With all those SUVs on the city streets, I often feel like an ant about to be stepped on. A minivan? Not an ant.
When we walked onto the Toyota lot, a young Korean salesman wandered over. He gave us a tour of the cool fold-down seats, the power side door, the second row windows that actually slide open. He was so young, with a round face and a slightly worried smile. He didnít give us the hard sell, but he was alert and obviously hungry.
We test drove the car. Dan drove it to a parking lot a few blocks away. I sat in the passenger seat and gripped my knees hard with my fingernails. Iím going to drive this thing? I canít drive this elephantine monster! Iíll back it into a hydrant, roll over the curb, run over an old lady crossing the street with her seeing eye dog. Iíve only ever driven sedans before, little things. How can I, a short person who only learned to drive as an adult and still doesnít really believe she knows how, how can I do this?
Turns out? Itís easy. Turns out? Feels like a car, just roomier. You learn to adjust. Itís like a car is your body and when you suddenly gain weight, you can still maneuver in space, you just allow for more heft. Or maybe a better metaphor: You put on a huge old-fashioned dress for a costume party. Maybe it has a big bustle in back. At first youíre afraid youíll hit the caterer in the face, cause a champagne glass disaster, but after a surprisingly short time you get used to your new shape in the dress and can glide around the dance floor without smacking into a single musician.
When we got back to the lot, Eager Young Salesguy went inside to get keys for the Highlander, Toyotaís midsized SUV. But while he was in there, we caught sight of the emission info on the window. Um, no. Not gonna go there.
Eager Salesguy ushered us inside to ďlook at some numbersĒ on the Sienna. Close the deal, he meant. Which was ludicrous. But we went. He sat us down in chairs and split for a good fifteen minutes. Damian checked out the SUV parked in the middle of the showroom floor. Salesguy came back, accompanied by Slick Older Salesman. Who sat down and oozed smarm Ė um, I mean charm. He talked to us about monthly lease costs, about down payments and residual values, but somehow never about total price. Though he did say he could come down as much as a thousand if we got something on the lot as opposed to something heíd have to order for us, it felt like a bait and switch in the making, that there was a hidden cost, we just had to figure out what.
We smiled, thanked him, left.
Car Lot Number Two. Where the bathroom was a tiny closet in the back, where there were more cars than desks in the showroom, where everything seemed a little scuffed at the edges. Which shouldnít and doesnít matter. But the salesguy? When we asked him to compare two cars that were side by side (we meant option packages), he said ďThis oneís six thousand more. Six thousand dollars!Ē And never did tell us what options it had. I found myself wondering how much inventory this guy sells and if this was some kind of reverse sales tactic. If you look like youíre not eager to sell, maybe people are more eager to buy? Or rather, to buy elsewhere. We decided if we liked the car, weíd find ourselves a different Honda dealership.
The CRV itself was nice but it felt small after the minivan. It was clear within minutes that we both preferred the Sienna. Itís cushy, a car you can move into and take a nap, all stretched out and comfy. Oh, and drive too, of course. But Damian liked the CRV better. It had cup holders in the second row, you see. He wanted a place to set down his juice. He got outvoted. The Sienna is not without cupholders, after all. And Iím not entirely convinced this should be the primary consideration when purchasing a vehicle for several thousand dollars. He came around when he realized heíd be just like his buddy Corey now, theyíd both have minivans. Amazing what peer pressure will do.
Next step: research.
My head is buzzing with dealer holdbacks, license fees, invoice vs. MSRP and the lovely ad cost the manufacturer often folds into the deal.
Yep, we're going car shopping this weekend. Nervous much?
I had a dream last night; I was in a pharmacy with Damian but had to leave and go to a bank-like place. I ended up leaving him there, supposedly under some bank clerk's watchful eye, because I had to go back to the pharmacy and haggle -- I clearly remember haggling taking place -- over my purchase. All the while standing there and thinking "I have to go, I left Damian in that strange place, what if something happens to him? I have to get back to him, this can't take as long as it's taking, I have to get out of here."
Funny, I thought I'd be nervous about the transaction, the potential for dealer sleaze and smiles, the very real possibility we'll be scammed or that the attempt will be made, at any rate. But really? I think I'm most nervous about being trapped in a car dealership for hours on end with a restless, bored five year old. The rest I can handle.
After our excursion to the car lots last weekend, we've been doing a lot of research. Buying a car from a dealer, particularly a new car, is one of those known quicksand patches -- they'll grab your leg and then you're stuck in the muck, sucked down into the dread depths of financial doom. Thank god for the web. Edmonds.com is teaching us what the cars are going for, what to look for, how to negotiate. Kelly Blue Book shows us the invoice price (the price the dealers pay the manufacturer -- everything above that is their profit), a true starting point for negotiations (click on "new car pricing" at the top left). And this article on the Edmonds site was the biggest treat. A reporter went undercover as a car salesman at two car lots: first a high pressure place selling hot Japanese cars, then a no-hassle lot selling American cars. Reading about his experiences, I finally got what goes on behind the scenes. For instance:
At times Michael became very excited as he thought of new things to teach me. At one point he said, "Oh! This is a good one! This is how you steal the trade-in." He looked around quickly to make sure no one overheard him. "When you're getting the numbers from the desk, they'll ask if the customer has a trade-in. Say it's a '95 Ford Taurus. And say you took it to the used car manager and he evaluated it and said he would pay four grand for it. If you can get the trade for only three, that's a grand extra in profit.
"So what you do is this," Michael pretended
to pick up the phone again, "you ask the desk,
'What did we get for the last three Tauruses
at auction?' Then they'll give you some figures
ó they'll say, $1,923, $2,197 and $1,309.
You don't have to say anything to the customer.
But he sees you writing this down! And he's
going, 'Holy crap! I thought my trade was worth
$6,000.' Now it's easy to get it for $3,000.
That's a grand extra in profit. And it's front-end
The writer's conclusions are as sobering as you'd expect:
While working as a car salesman I became impressed with the damage a bad car deal can do to the budget of an ordinary person. In one case, I participated in leasing a car to a couple at well over its value. I was haunted by the thought that this nice ordinary couple had trusted me, and I had let them sign a contract that would bind them for five years to a high-interest lease. I consoled myself thinking perhaps another dealer would have inflicted greater damage. How did the car business get so screwed up? There's nothing else in our society that is sold with the consumer so conspicuously unprepared.
Dan and I keep thinking: thank god we didn't rush into buying a car last weekend. We'd have been just as unprepared.
I had an epiphany today in the parking lot of an upscale grocery store. Itís not that unique of a thought, but itís important to me nevertheless.
It started with a face. Someone I knew in college. Not well, just to say hello to. He always carried a kind of quiet confidence with him wherever he went, abetted by the Hollywood version of a blueblood background. He came from money, in other words. Money and worldly success. Youíve heard of his uncle, probably his father too. But for all that, he always seemed unassuming to me, just a normal guy. He was involved with someone else I knew, a woman with a brash confidence. She was in a rock band and she acted, too. Talented.
They got married after college. Thatís all I really know. We donít run in the same social circles. I saw her at the tenth reunion (now ten years ago!) and again a few months ago. She never made it as an actor. So what? I donít have a whole lot to brag about myself.
Today I said to my college classmate, ďI know you. Youíre married to MÖĒ His mouth turned wry. ďNot anymore.Ē And he held his sonís hand as they walked across the parking lot to a red Toyota pickup truck. A single dad. Life not so perfect.
Money doesnít buy happiness. The people you put up on a pedestal as having a charmed life, better than yours, forever out of reach? Their lives are just as fucked up as your own, albeit in different ways because there are as many paths to sorrow as there are people in the world.
But if thereís no out-of-reach purity of life in the rich enclaves, that means thereís also no reason to yearn for that which we donít have, something I've wasted a lot of time doing in the past.
Fact is, my life is pretty good. Perfect? Hell no. But nobodyís is. I might as well be happy anyway. I have a good marriage, an adorable child, a novel Iím half in love with, a house we own (no mean feat in this city's insane real estate market), other people I love. I have it pretty good. I have some things my classmate doesnít. And he has some I donít. It all comes out in the wash.
Thereís a reason we havenít gotten a new car in fourteen years. Itís hard to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an object that will depreciate by a thousand or so as soon as you drive it off the lot, will lose value like a leaky valve in the months and years after that, and is made to fall apart within a decade or two. Itís the apex of free market economics, the car racket. The earliest cars were made to last forever. It only makes sense. They are, after all, made of metal. Durable, right? And yet somehow not. Now cars (except perhaps the Volvo) are built for obsolescence and consumers are programmed to want the latest, greatest, sleekest (or boxiest) new lines within a couple of years, thus thickening Detroit's Ė and Tokyo's Ė executive's Golden Parachute lining by the minute.
So we drive our two-door 1987 Corolla and our (also two-door) 1988 Accord year after year after year while the car shapes have changed around us, from the low-slung lines of our cars to the bubble cars you saw everywhere in the Ď90s to the current big-boned SUVs and the latest trend, boxes-on-wheels like the Honda Element and the new Mercedes G500 SUV. Ours are good little cars, not so sexy perhaps, but pretty damned reliable. Yes, maybe I feel a little embarrassed pulling up outside someoneís house for a party in my car with its chipped paint and its accumulated dents and dings, as if Iím announcing to the world, ďempty pockets here,Ē even when weíre not as poor as all that, but it just hasnít been a priority. Weíd rather have decent computers and weekly dinners out and a mortgage and even, yes, a small nest egg for lean times and potential show cancellations. But you canít exactly set your PowerBook on the dashboard of your now-ancient vehicle, the new(ish) with the old. And thereís this other part of me thatís proud in a perverse, reverse sort of way. Look at us, weíre not into conspicuous consumption, weíd rather get full value, run our cars throughout their full useful life and not litter the environment with more hunks of metal junked before their time. Arenít we cool in our non-cool sort of way?
But the cycle of life demands change sooner or later. And the fact is, our creaky two-door low-slung cars donít serve our needs too well anymore. As Dan said to me yesterday, he and I donít just get into a car and drive off these days. We move in. Sometimes when I drive Damian to school, Iím carrying his lunch bag, my lunch bag, my bag of healthy snacks, my huge water bottle and his bag of sippy cups and milk boxes for the rides to and from school. Also my computer bag, my daypack (inevitably stuffed to the gills), my camera, a change of clothes for each of us or at least an extra sweatshirt or two, and maybe a bag of books to return to the library on the way home after school. And most of this has to go on the passenger seat. Because I may need access, you see. Sometimes I add Damianís friend Cís lunch bag and jacket to the now-huge pile because weíre carpooling these days. Then after I drop Damian (and C) off, I pull into a parking spot near the library (where I'll go after lunch) and eat my turkey-tomato-balsamic onion tortilla wrap in the car while reading a book. Relaxing? Sure, if you have room. In a two door hatchback, not so much. More than a car, we need a house on wheels. A comfortable house.
I think itís time to go for it. We got the word last week: the show Dan edits has been picked up for the rest of the season and itís doing well enough we expect a second season. In this kind of freelance career, you donít get much more security than that. Weíre not rich or even well off, but I think we can afford monthly payments on a reasonably priced new car.
We went car shopping yesterday, test drove two models (a Sienna and a CRV, if you must know, both with nicely low emissions). We almost bought a car but stopped ourselves. It feels like too much somehow. I know itís perfectly logical and even okay and people do it all the time, sometimes yearly. Then why am I feeling panicked? But I am, as if itís wrong to spend that money, wrong to have something new and comparatively luxurious when our old cars still run. But weíll only be giving away one car (we plan to donate it Ė anyone have a good place to donate old cars?) and keeping the other, so this isnít all that drastic. And weíre three now instead of two and we have carpool needs and bicycle transport needs and damnit all, we want something with a smoother ride and more breathing room. But the part of me thatís held out all these years wants to hold out a bit longer still.
Like till next weekend.
(to be continued)
I spilled water on my PowerBook this morning. This is not the first time this has happened: a year or so ago, Damian accidentally sprayed a water/pear juice mixture on my keyboard (the straw slipped out of his mouth). A combination of spew and a repair shop's unbelievable ineptitude killed that computer. I wasn't too concerned this time. That experience taught me that the most important thing you can do in this situation is absolutely nothing. Turn the machine off and wait for it to dry. Which is exactly what that inept tech did NOT do: he opened the computer up, saw the liquid inside, dried some of it out, then closed it up and turned it on. The live current ran through water and wham. Dead computer.
So today I shut the computer down, unplugged it and took out the battery, then set it upside down for the next several hours, like a piece of clothing on a drying rack.
The end result, and the reason I'm telling this story: I was without computer access all day today. I was momentarily stricken. No computer? No email? No web? No writing? No solitaire? No iPhoto? What am I going to DO???
I exercised. I transported Damian and his buddy (Carpool Moms R Us) from school (Damian's) to school (his friend's) to school (their shared afternoon program). I ate lunch. I shopped. I transported Damian home. I said hi to Damain's floor time therapist. I organized and cleaned and cooked. I read a little. I talked to Damian a lot.
Periodically, I'd think, "I want to go check my email" and realize I couldn't. Sort of like starting to twist a ring on your finger and realizing it's gone, an unconscious reflex. And occasionally I'd think, "I need to look that up" and realize the information was on my dormant machine. But mostly it was amazingly freeing. I got a lot done. I also realized how much more relaxing it is to be just a mom and not also a writer (computer's down, novel's on the computer, no writing today). I wasn't trying to juggle. I just was.
I don't think the answer is to lose the computer, and certainly not to lose the writing that's so important for my sanity and pleasure and self. But I do think it's good to wean myself from an overdependence on the machine. So I'm thinking of going on a computer diet. Checking less often. Cutting down on the fatty web surfing, the starchy computer games, the unneeded and unhealthy (for me, right now) excess.
Oh yes, and I turned the computer on tonight. Works just fine.
I hereby introduce you to one of my vices. When I was ten-eleven-twelve years old, I used to spread pieces of a puzzle across my bedroom floor for days on end. Something about the slide-connect feel of the pieces fitting together was oh so satisfying. I think I also liked having something to do with my hands and part of my brain while leaving the other part free to listen to the radio and daydream. But that passed and I moved on, shuffling tiny colorful cardboard pieces under the bed and desk and rug. The jigsaw phase was past.
Until one weekend ten or eleven years ago. Dan and I went down to stay at a bed and breakfast inn on a working farm outside San Diego, an incredibly peaceful spot, perfect for afternoon siestas in the hammock by the brook, a bungled morning attempt at badminton, and yes, evenings by the fire putting jigsaw puzzles together along with other inn denizens.
Maybe I was trying to carry a little of that lazy weekend into my daily life, maybe I just had remembered that satisfying slide-connect of the pieces, but I found Puzzle Zoo on the Third Street Promenade and started bringing home jigsaw puzzles which took over the dining room table for days and weeks at a time.
That was fun. But it did make it kind of hard to eat dinner, have company over, and, well, get stuff done. Not to mention the cat's glee at jumping up onto the table, scattering pieces which he'd then bat around the apartment until he lost them under the couch. So, more sadly this time, I boxed up the puzzles and stacked them in a closet.
Here's the thing, though: does this jigsaw lust make me a little old lady at heart?