Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cruella De Pill

I have this little voice in my head, a really awful, toxic bitchy voice who doesn’t like me at all. I like to call her Cruella. Well I don’t like to call her anything, but she’s there, so….
Let me tell you, she has taken up a lot of real estate in my head for a lotta lotta years, and she hasn’t paid a dime. She’s this miserable, gripey unwelcome houseguest who leaves towels on my floor and then tells me what a lousy housekeeper I am. Do you know her?
Yeah, I thought maybe you did.
So just the other day I’m doing this writing exercise and it tells me to, get this – let the inner critic have her rant for ten minutes. Go ahead, let Cruella scream and yell at you and write it all down. (Yikes!) Let her tell you all the ways that you are going to fail and all the ways that you should be full of fear and how much you suck, generally speaking.
So I did. I raised my hands over the keyboard, shaking with fear, and I let her rip.
This is what she said. (I’m warning you, she’s really awful)
Why the hell are you wasting your time blogging and writing a memoir? You’re not a celebrity. What gives you the right?
NO ONE will care.
It is ridiculously self-absorbed.
Your stories are too depressing.
No one will believe you.
Everyone will hate you.
Your family will disown you. Well, even more than they already have.
Oh and need I remind you that you’re a college DROPOUT?
You aren’t a writer! Ha! You don’t even have an MFA!
No one will care.
You have failed at everything; your music career, your nonprofit, oh and the clothing line you had that bankrupted your family, remember that one?
You are wasting time writing while you could be working a day job and bringing some real money into the house.
What will you do when its done?
NO ONE will publish it
NO ONE will read it.
NO ONE will care.
This is just another of your artsy-fartsy hare-brain projects that’s going to land you in the poorhouse. AGAIN. (oh, the patience of your poor long-suffering husband…)
You spend your time writing while your house is a pigsty, well, no surprise there. I always said you were a lousy housekeeper.
Thank God I only gave her ten minutes because believe me, she can really get going when she’s on a roll. I told you, she’s awful.
But there must have been a method to the madness in that writing exercise, because after I wrote it all out, Cruella actually lost a little power. The next time she started yammering away at me I just rolled my eyes and said yeah, yeah, whatever Cruella…. and you know what? Suddenly I wasn’t so afraid of her anymore. Whadda ya know. All that time I was keeping her secrets in my mind, I was actually protecting her and giving her free reign! Crazy, huh?
But now… I’ve outed her! And you are all witnesses. And I say we all go after her with pitchforks and torches….Yeah!
Or, maybe not. Cause the more I think about it I realize Cruella is just a scared, insecure girl that doesn’t want to let go of the woman I am now. So let me try it this way. Gray toxic mold can’t grow in bold sunlight, right? So I will keep this light laser-focused on her, continue to tell her secrets and expose her. Sorry Cruella, but you’ve had your day. It’s my time now.
I’m not saying she won’t keep trying to rear her ugly head, I mean, if anything that girl is persistent. But every time she starts up with me I will simply say “go into the light Cruella, go into the light…”
And if she ever comes to visit your beautiful minds, I hope you do the same.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Grrrrrrl Power

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never be offered membership to any militant uber-feminist club, because I love my Dior mascara and my high heeled shoes and my pushup bras too much, and I’d be hard-pressed to give them up. But I’ll tell you what - I am sick and tired of being told through the media that as a woman I need to alter myself to be acceptable. As if it weren’t enough that we are ridiculed for not having big enough breasts, or being too fat, we are constantly being told through print media, ads and our celebrity population that we must shoot ourselves full of botulism and chemical fillers so that we don’t offend anyone with our age. We are blasted nonstop with ads for plastic surgery, diet products, anti- aging blah blah blah….And this past week I saw not one but TWO stand up comedians making fun of women for having pubic hair. They joke about it as if it so crude and unnatural for a woman to have pubic hair. What’s unnatural is for a sexually mature female to NOT have pubic hair. (and believe me, never in my life did I think I’d ever be blogging about pubic hair)
The message being sent through the media to all women and young girls is this:
To be acceptable in our society is to be perpetually young with a thin, narrow boy-like body, the large, full firm breasts of a lactating mother, and the bare genital area of a little girl.
Did you get that? Read it again, and then think about it.
Why are women held to these sick, twisted standards? We look back in horror at how the Chinese used to cripple their girls by binding their feet to achieve their standard of beauty. But look at us, America, the land of the free. Are we really free? We mutilate our bodies through surgeries and injections, implants and extractions, always striving for that unattainable notion of perfection which doesn’t exist. We are slaves to an unreachable standard of beauty, and are subtly encouraged to feel some level of shame for not achieving it.
Even More magazine, which is a magazine for women over forty, airbrushes their cover models then tells you “This is what 45 looks like”. No! That is NOT what 45 looks like- that’s what airbrushing looks like.
And this ugly message of “you are not enough” is affecting our daughters. Last night I sat with my Japanese daughter-in-law as she cried and cried over gaining three pounds in her eighth month of pregnancy. No matter how much I told her how beautiful she looks, and how normal and healthy it is to gain weight in your pregnancy, I couldn’t erase her shame. In Japan, she told me, no one will love you if you’re fat.
This is craziness!!!
As women we have got to RAIL against this damaging message, and stop it from being passed down to the next generation. So what can we do, each of us, to stop this? I need to come up with some ideas before I start going all “Eve Ensler” on someone’s ass.
Here is MY message, as a woman, to ALL media and stand up comics, and I hope you'll say it with me:
I am a REAL woman, with real breasts and hips and smile lines.
I will NOT conform to your unhealthy standards. I will stand in my truth and learn to love myself just as I am.
Oh and by the way, Barbie can KISS MY ASS!

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Driving my son home from Pre-k today, the sky was huge and ominous - a sky big enough to swallow you like a speck of dust. Pregnant grey rain clouds overhead threatened to burst again. But in between, patches of blue, and just enough sun to cast a soft golden glow over the suburban landscape. Rays of sunlight refused to be oppressed, forcing their way through in sharp streams of silver. My god, that sky, those clouds. I thought of the times I've stood before a Vermeer painting thinking, where are those skies? Do they even exist anymore? And here it was. Today. Just for me.

I was sitting at a stoplight, listening to Regina Spektor’s gorgeous song Samson, and everywhere I looked, the world was in technicolor bloom bathed in that golden haze. Sparrows perched on telephone wires shook the rain from their feathers and swept across wet lawns, feasting on seeds and worms. Perfection in creation. Spring. My beautiful, beautiful Spring, my favorite time of year. Signs of hope, rebirth, new beginnings. Every bud, every blade of grass poking its head through the hardened ground saying look at me! I begin again, I am reborn! And how apropos, I thought, that this should happen just as I feel my own heart is beginning to thaw,  as I shed old skin and wounds mend into silvery fine-line scars.

It was this tiny ordinary moment, sitting at a red light, when all at once, a gust of wind blew through the dogwood trees and tiny white blossoms fell like snow all around me, covering my windshield and the hood of my car, my son in his car seat giggling with wonder.

Heart-stopping. Breathless. Wonder. It overtook me, and I remembered… the world is actually a perfect place, and everything is as it should be. I forgot. I forgot for so long.

That tiny moment broke my heart. Open.
And I wept.
Because I had forgotten how it felt to be wide awake in the world.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On Mother Guilt...

(is there anything sweeter than babies making snow angels?)

The other day in my writing group, a woman in her mid seventies read a story of her childhood, a vivid memory she had of being three years old, sneaking into the kitchen to steal a swig of castor oil of all things. Her father caught her and whipped her with a belt. She recalled his fury, said she had never seen him that way before as he had always been at a cool distant remove. She was still exploring that childhood experience in therapy. Still. Did I mention she was in her SEVENTIES?

After her reading, we all gave our feedback. I told her that I was pulled out of the story by the intense reaction of her father, with seemingly no reason.

“First of all,” I said, “why on Earth would you be sneaking castor oil (anemia, she imagined) and why would your father be in such a rage over it?”

She couldn’t say. Only knew that he was crazy mad.

“Well…it still doesn’t make sense. Was this the forty seventh time you snuck out of bed, waking your parents by knocking things over in the cupboards and making a mess of the kitchen, because if it was that, I can understand that kind of crazy. I have three kids, the youngest is four years old. I KNOW crazy.”

She hadn’t thought about that, she said. She simply couldn’t remember the reasons. It was only one incident, and it completely formed the way she would choose dysfunctional relationships for the rest of her life.

Oh great, I thought. That’s all she remembers in her mid seventies ….one episode of her father’s rage and she’s still in therapy over it. I’m doomed.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been crazy mad at my four-year-old son, and banished him to his room “Where the Wild Things Are”– style. It’s for his own well being, I assure you (maybe more for mine). When he’s been torturing the dog all day, chasing the cats, jumping off furniture…I count to ten and breathe, breathe….But when he puts himself or others at risk (my poor, long-suffering cat), that’s when I lose it and turn into a red-faced crazy screaming person.

I drove home from writing group and sobbed to my husband. “I’m a terrible mother! All Evan will remember when he’s seventy years old is me screaming at him yesterday and sending him to his room.” My husband laughed. “Are you kidding me? You love that kid to the moon! Every day I watch him run to your open arms. You read him stories, play games with him. That’s what he’ll remember.”

It’s true. Ninety-five percent of the time I love my kids ferociously. Five percent…well. And I’m sure the feeling is mutual.

Luckily I have two grown children that have already survived growing up with me. My perfect focus group…

I asked my nineteen-year-old son, “What are your memories of being really little – like Evan’s age?”

Nothing really, he said.

Okay, he’s a man of few words, always has been. So I pulled my twenty-four-year old daughter into the conversation. I asked them both to recount all their early childhood memories.

And do you know what they told me? They couldn’t really remember ANYTHING from being that little. Neither of them!

Ingrates! When I think of all the time I spent meticulously planning themed birthday parties and Christmas morning reveals….and they remember nothing?

“You don’t remember your birthday parties?”


“Christmas mornings…when Santa busted his ass building you…er, I mean delivering that pink and white playhouse in the backyard?”


Oh the outrage!

So I decided to get creative.

“Do you remember the pony we bought you on your third birthday?”

My daughter looked at me suspiciously.


“Yeah. Old Sarsparilla. You called him Sassy. Yeah, that’s what you... No, wait….you had that cute little speech impediment. Thathy. Yeah, that’s what you called him.”

She rolled her eyes at me and started to leave the room.

“Wait!” I called after her. “For real…Do you remember me being mad at you when you were little?”

“Well, I just remember that we hated when you were mad. You’re a scary broad when you’re mad.” she said.

I was horrified.

“Scary? Scary how? Did you think I’d ever hit you, or hurt you in any way, or take my love away from you? I mean, how was I scary?”

“No, nothing like that. We just didn’t like when you were mad, so we tried not to do things to make you mad.”

Well, duh. And hallelujah, by the way, because apparently my evil method worked. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for kids to have a small, healthy amount of fear of their parents, in my opinion. My grown kids are both responsible, honest, hard working young adults, who I am very close to, and immensely proud of. And neither of them are in therapy over me….that I know of.

So maybe I did okay, and maybe I am a good mom who gets mad sometimes when her kids are out of control. And maybe the tons of love and happy times we share outweigh the terrible, regretful moments…and maybe they’ll never remember any of it really except for the feeling they had of being loved and safe.

My daughter walks out of the room and I follow her.

“So, how about when we rented the circus for your fourth birthday, do you remember that? Oh how you loved the flying trapeze. And we brought the baby elephant home…and he was your very own pet….”

Wait a minute, she said. I do remember something…

Really, what is it?

I remember that you always exaggerate.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stepping into the Unknown

Don’t mind me, I’m just sitting here trying to unravel the meaning of life, wondering if there is a god, if there really is purpose in everything or if it’s all just random chaos. In other words, just a typical Tuesday morning for me.
I’m a preacher’s daughter who is struggling with her faith. I guess my heart has been tainted by the ugliness I have seen in the world. I am not unique. Like many of you, I wrestle with questions like: If god creates us all, why are there child murderers and rapists and nazi rallies and priests who abuse children and christian militias and the crusades and witch hunts and people who say they love you and then try to destroy you and on and on…Yeah, I’m jaded. And I’m still hopeful.
Because I have been delivered from life-or-death situations in ways that could be described as nothing less than miraculous. There have been moments that I knew I had an angel on my shoulder. Like the night that my husband, son and I slept in a burning house, drugged by carbon monoxide poisoning. That voice that kept on in my ear “check on the baby, check on the baby”. That voice that wouldn’t stop until I dragged myself out of bed, groggy and weak to his bedside. That voice saved all our lives.
I don’t know what was going on thousands of years ago, but these days, miracles aren’t these big Technicolor Charlton Heston-parting-the-Red-Sea kind of events. They are small and understated, but powerful no less. And they usually happen when you take one baby step over the threshold of your personal fears to venture in a new direction. They happen when you have the courage to walk toward what your heart has always wanted but you were too afraid to admit to yourself, because maybe you wouldn’t get it.
I took one of those scary steps. I dared to write and tell my truth. On my last birthday, I put a little snippet of it out into the world (and then gorged on TUMS all week and gave up sleeping), which started a chain reaction of these little miracles.
One of my writing heroes took me under her wing and championed me.
A random email arrived from a literary agent in New York.
And then there was yesterday.
All week I’ve had a nervous feeling in my stomach that some major change was about to take place. I could feel a trembling of tectonic plates shifting underneath the landscape of my daily life. As I stood washing dishes, folding laundry, driving my son to school, it was brewing just under the surface. I swear I could feel it. I told my husband about it and reminded him that the last time I felt this, I had no idea I was one week away from finding my father and the three brothers I didn’t know existed. The rumbling beneath me was happening then, too.
Yesterday. Wow. This phone call from another of my writing heroes (who I am lucky to call my friend) brought this rush of good energy that came at me like a tidal wave. She, in the role of Charlton Heston, parted the Red Sea of my fear, clearing the way for emails and phone calls from this circle of amazing people who reached out to support me on my new journey. I was…..shell-shocked. My dear friend Cindy reminded me…just last week you said you needed mentors. She’s right. I dared say it out loud even though a part of me said who are you to ask for such things. I said it. And it rushed in at light speed.
There is still that part of me that is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. The part of me that has seen the ugliness and lost faith in god and people. That part that doesn’t want to let me feel deep joy, but instead says….we’ll see.
But I remind myself…there was that voice. Check on the baby. That voice that saved us.
And there were the prayers of 47 friends on facebook last week, holding my father up as he went through this awful series of tests, and I felt it. I felt my worry and fear lift from me.
And there were the many times throughout my life that I walked through terrible danger, unscathed.
And then there was yesterday.

(and by the way, if you wanna read an AWESOME blog, and a GREAT book, check out Amy Ferris at http://marryinggeorgeclooney.com/blog/about/
you will thank me. )

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Prayer for my Father

As I read the message from my youngest brother, my stomach lurched. “Dad’s in the hospital”. That feeling of dread set in fast, and just as quickly I remind myself -don’t go there till you get there. It could be anything, it could be nothing. They suspect he's had a series of small strokes. He couldn’t remember how to punch his time card at work after 14 years of doing it every day. He also couldn’t perform simple feats that the doctors asked of him, like walking heel to toe. They admitted him to run further tests, cat scans, bloodwork. It will be hours, maybe days before we know anything. So I sit here by the phone in California, my father in a hospital in Texas.
I don’t want to invest in worry, but it feels like I just got punched in the chest. I’ve only had my dad in my life for six and a half years. Is this it? There is so much still unresolved between us, so much I still don’t know about his life, his past. Will I ever have the chance to build the kind of relationship with him that I always hoped for? I think of the thirty-nine years I lived never knowing if he was even alive. I think of the time that slipped by, the many opportunities missed. I think of all the things I still want to say. The conversations we still haven’t had.
But none of this thinking does me any good. What I really want is to pray, and to believe that prayer is real, and maybe it lands upon some sympathetic ear somewhere in the Universe. But I simply don’t know how. I know this sounds terrible coming from a preacher’s daughter. What can I say? I have doubts. I can recite words I was taught as a child, but it never feels right to me. So I write and I hope that this suffices, that my words rise above the ether somehow, or maybe settle in the hearts and minds of those who read it, creating a collective network of good will. I don’t know. All I can do is put it out there and hope.
So this is my prayer for my father. May he be well and whole. May his good heart win out over the abuse he has inflicted upon himself in the past. May his tears and his struggles be behind him. May his golden years be peaceful, surrounding him with family and love. May he even be strong enough to return to preaching at his beloved church, in spite of his self-doubts. May he be well enough to pick up his brushes and once again paint those dramatic passionate scenes of stormy seas and blazing sunsets that are his trademark. May he stick around long enough for us all to have the chance to get it right.
God, if you’re out there and you just happen to stumble upon my blog, I ask you this. If Dad comes knocking on your door anytime soon, can you just toss him back to us like a small fish not ready to be caught yet? Can you let him fatten up on the richness of life that still awaits him here, before you reel him back in?
I would be forever grateful.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Words Have Power. Wield Them Wisely.

Words are everything to me. I love to read them, devour them, absorb them. I love to write them, sing them, type them. They are how I spill out the content of my head and heart. They are how I express my love to my husband and children.
And at times, words mean nothing to me. Words are inadequate to express what I feel for my husband and children. Words are hypocrisy, justification for bad behavior, excuses…. An empty apology is about the worst violation of words I can think of. An empty I love you runs a close second.
I guess it’s not really words that I love so much as the intent behind them. I love authenticity in words. When a writer is coming from a place of truth, the words brand themselves into my soul. And when the writer is holding back, I sense it. I lose interest. I close the book.
Words. Most of the time we complicate situations with words. We say things we don’t really mean. We talk, talk, talk but rarely do we really listen. We are uncomfortable with silence, as if something might slip in through the cracks if we are still too long. Maybe we fear the voice of God. They say that prayer is talking to God, but meditation is listening. Most of us are not very good listeners.
I remember a scene from years ago as I sat in my car waiting to pick my son Taylor up from the movies. I was observing a group of preteen girls standing outside. They all chattered incessantly over one another like a symphony of sparrows. None could really hear what the other was saying but it didn’t matter. The chatter was just comfort, release, a symbol of their togetherness. The words were unimportant. They were unified, a flock of geese honking incessantly as they flew in wing formation, each letting the other know I am still here.
Words are powerful.
Words can manifest realities.
Words are the vehicle for truth.
Words are the vehicle for malice.
Words are the instrument for inflicting pain
and the key to healing.
Words can change your life.
Words can change your perspective.
Words can imprison you.
Words can free you.
And so as I attempt to write this morning and find myself stuck in self-doubt, I feel like an imposter who happened upon Merlin’s magic powers. Some days I know exactly what to do with these powerful words, other days I fear I could do damage. My hands hover above the keyboard, frozen.
I can almost hear Merlin whispering to me...Words have power. Wield them wisely.
I step out into the world today with trepidation. I will be awake, aware of the words I use. Carefully. Thoughtfully. My powers will only be used for good.