Tonight, I roasted the whole damn head in spices
like a brain, cooking something new
handpicking a funky queue
of Prince jams across the universe
he Spotified me from the basement
during Sign o’ the Times
loudly, laughingly reminded
“we’re no strangers to love“
I think our cat is trying to communicate with us, but he is a fierce lover with a filthy mouth. Our fridge is covered in magnetic poetry. Nouns, adjectives, verbs, prepositions, and articles all crammed into a word salad. Xander, our sweet, special, nervous OCD Bengal cat likes to pull down scraps of red and white words while we cook or watch tv. It’s often just the word of the day, but he does occasionally get ambitious in the middle of the night and I wake up to a confettied sentence on the floor just begging for sense to be made out of it.
He can’t help that his assistive device / sometime Ouija board is a mix of two magnetic themed sets—the Romance edition, and the Sex edition. Plus a few random cat words like MEOW. So we get oddly accurate things like “MEOW babe” “pussy voice said milk” or experimental poetics like, “please spray the bright.” Sometimes, straight up fuck poems such as, “finger her paradise world” or simple nonsense like “ready my beach.”
But the first of September arrived bringing cooler rainy weather with it, and as I packed my breakfast and lunch for work, Xander scratched off an extremely apt poem:
That night, I came home and lit candles early to fill the house with warm light and scent as I cooked and he delivered “candle dinner” in red, which was a bit eerie.
Today my mother had major abdominal surgery. We all texted and called and prayed and well-wished until later, I was relieved to hear her voice—groggy, but chuckling, telling me in small voice that she loved me. Wrung out with worry, I headed out to the garden at dusk for a late summer harvest of tomatoes. Xander meowed, fished three times, and softly commented, “empty our soul.”
::: ::: ::: ::: ::: ::: ::: :::
We are stardust, we are golden,
We are billion year old carbon,
And we’ve got to get ourselves
back to the garden.
~ Joni Mitchell
::: ::: ::: ::: ::: ::: ::: :::
I know, i’ve been remiss at posting. But it’s been for good and happy reasons. It was months packed with gardening, visiting gardens, hosting a Pagan Potluck for Easter, reading, cooking, eating, drinking, berry picking, jamming, canning, beach vacationing and when i wasn’t too busy doing all that – i took some quiet time out for the Ancient Forest at Opal Creek.
Hmmm . . . so because i’ve been immersed and seeing and doing, what’s the best way to describe the last couple months of activity?
Visually! Of course . . .
In My Garden
(see the full set on Flickr)
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
(see the full set on Flickr)
Holden Beach, NC
(see the full set on Flickr)
Opal Creek Ancient Forest
(see the full set on Flickr)
i promise ♥
::: ::: ::: ::: ::: ::: ::: :::
“There are things you do
because they feel right
& they may make no sense
& they may make no money
& it may be the real reason we are here:
to love each other
& to eat each other’s cooking
& say it was good.”
::: ::: ::: ::: ::: ::: ::: :::
“I’ve been a bad yogi this week,” I mused sadly to Joe. Even talking about yoga to Lia in lieu of actually doing it got my muscles to tingle and miss it.
“Yeah, but sometimes forging new friendships takes the same kind of commitment,” he said to me.
I am consoled to think that at least I’ve been a good friend. or have been having a good time. I can also tell it’s been a full, week of good people, food and silliness when the fridge is full of tasty leftovers, there’s a bouquet of lilies on my living room table, there are a lot of dishes to do, there’s silver spray paint and glass beads in strange places, the laundry turns up stickers, candy wrappers and tiny plastic babies, I am pleasantly tired and I am editing photos of it all.
Sufjan Steven’s “The Henney Buggy Band” lyrics and melody occur to me in snippets.
“Oh life, with your colorful surprises
Eleanor, how you put one on disguises”
“Far in the morning light
We let the movies play
A weekend from the holiday
. . . Forget about yourself and all your plans”
This past Saturday a group of friends all dressed up as Villains attended the Alter Egos Power Struggle. It was pretty much a Heroes & Villains pub crawl all brought to you by Alter Egos Society and Drunken Rampage. And Benja said it best with:
“the event included games and prizes along a route through several downtown Portland bars. The games included initiation games (such as “save the kittens” for heroes and “steal candy from the babies” for villains), “You’ve Met Your Match” finding an Arch Nemesis speed dating style), and a dance-off between good and evil. A number of local businesses (bars and comic shops, etc.) and organizations (Stumptown Comics Foundation, etc.) supported the event as part of official Portland Comics Month.”
But for me to tell you about the evening from the streetside and onlooker POV – well, is to tell the story of running through the city, engaging in an en masse, public, costumed rubber band fight, taking over bars of every variety including strip and gay (Portland famous), community pole-dancing, swinging from the ceiling (on a literal swing suspended by chains) climbing elephant statues in the park, catching free prizes in the air like porn, latex whips, silver-studded leather chastity belts, oh – and comic books too. Sure. To give you ALL the details would read a bit Gonzo-esque so . . . “No. We can’t stop here. This is bat country.”
But there are some photos where my friends are harpies, mad scientists, robots, caped, cylcloptic evil overlords with interchangeable blue & red laser monocles with minions to match, judges dressed in cinched robes & a wrestling unitard, and futuristic underwater murderers of dolphins (it’s quite a backstory). A bit of “so long and thanks for tall the fish.” Dolphins are super smart and take over the world. See: Douglas Adams.
Here’s the rest of my photos anyway . . .
The next morning, Easter Sunday we threw a Pagan Potluck to celebrate Eostre, the goddess of spring fecundity, love and carnal pleasure. How appropriate. There was so much wonderful food! A big spiral-sliced ham I cooked with an orange-maple glaze and served with a side of “last nite’s costumed bar crawl hangover,” with a friendly diner smile. Quiche, potato salad, fruit salad of blood oranges and tangerines, quinoa, spinach salad with goat cheese, potato salad, deviled eggs, chocolate angel food cake, cherry cobbler, coconut balls and more mimosas and white wine than humanly necessary were consumed. Eventually it devolved into a game of Scattergories and Celebrity. Somehow, my dumb ass did NOT take pictures. I was off duty that nite, I suppose.
Last nite we gathered for a loose dinner party at Jeremy’s apartment themed “food on a stick.” The colorful spread ended up consisting of cheese & chocolate fondue with dippers of olive bread, meat, angel food cake, strawberries, apples, pears, sushi and skewered teriyaki chicken and beef, wine (hey, stemmed glasses are on sticks!) the comedic Pabst Blue Ribbon that Cooper brought up from the depths of the ice cooler, carried in on a large branch and hoisted into the room like catch of the day, and Benja’s contribution of candy with Chick-O-Stix. Surprisingly, no popsicles, perhaps a rather obvious choice. This in no way detracted from the rainbow of bountiful foodie goodness we enjoyed. (Once again, no photographic evidence!) Later, we all lay on collective couches in a food coma watching Val Kilmer in Real Genius. A good old fashioned 80’s “nerd saves the world” movie.
Tonite while drinking cold beer on our warm sunny patio talking to Lia & Cooper who were getting ready to depart for their stay at home happy couple date nite of dinner and cuddling, I was cheered as I received, fielded and answered text messages:
Tiffany: “If I get enough work done today i was thinking of going to the tulip festival tomorrow – interested? It’s going to be a beautiful day.”
Chelsea: “Thought I’d take advantage of the sun with a book and my dog. Ran into friends on the Beach. Dungeoness crab for dinner. Call ya when I’m headed back.”
Claire: “We went to the farmers market and now we are relaxing at a park in the SE. If you were at Stumptown I’d join you. Nap in park instead! We are going out for Pho if you are interested.”
And later from Lia: “We love you guys. Seriously. Like love love. U fixed my music collection! i owe you my life.”
Jeremy asked: “What time tomorrow?” in reference to the brunch we’re having on the deck at my house since the weather promises sunny and 74 degrees. i instructed, “Let’s call it a casual noon. Brunch in single digit #’s is called breakfast & is lame.” Claire is coming over to cook some spicy eggs, i’m gonna to fry up some bacon and make a stack of fluffy pancakes. hmm, i have no champagne for mimosas . . .
i smiled to myself a lot for a lot of little reasons today. Odin was hiding in the freshly washed bed sheets in an effort to stalk me. i realized that if i want to fall madly into bed with Joe tonite, the bed must be made, cat or no. There was a time when we got so distracted and caught up in each other, too busy making love that we could rarely be bothered to comb our hair or pack properly for a trip to the woods. The apple butter in the fridge reminded me of the camping trip where, because we were too busy “packing” we had forgotten a knife to cut and spread food, so we simply tore off hunks of bread and dipped it in pumpkin butter (no more apple butter to be had at the roadside stands that late in the afternoon.) How that nite, Joe and i flipped the script on the traditional camping roles: i built a fire and secured the goods from bears and he, my would-be-husband cooked a fabulous dinner of beans and onions and summer sausage. I thought of our long looks in the fire light, and the sound of a large skunk trundling through the brush into our campsite making my eyes go from lovestruck at half-mast to wide and panicked. “Animal. Biggish.” i whispered in a fearful assessment. And he laughed.
i washed the tablecloths from the Easter Pagan Potluck we threw last week and tossed in a few old throws. One of them, a bright blue with red stripes i didn’t recognize until turned the tag to read it:
MADE IN ENGLAND.
Airline use only. Please do not remove from aircraft.
And i smiled, thinking of Joe taking me to Rome after we got engaged.
“Hey, did i ask you to steal this blanket from the plane ride?” i prodded.
“Well, one of us stole it. It’s unclear who, “Joe smiled.
it’s in my lap right now as i type this in the office.
i am about to take some fruit down to thaw for brunch: a bag full of frozen mango & berries – something called “Mangolicious” from Trader Joe’s that i put with some Vanana (vanilla & banana flavoured yogurt) and some local Hanna’s honey in a cup. i am thinking fondly of myself & two dear friends in our pajamas eating apple pie for breakfast. In bed. Laughing. i am thinking of not waking up earlier than 11 am tomorrow. i am thinking the red & yellow tulips in bloom in my garden should suffice if i don’t make it out to the Wooden Shoe Tulip festival.
Oh, life with your colorful surprises.
My favorite plum
hangs so far from me
See how it sleeps
and hear how it calls to me
See how the flesh
presses the skin,
It must be bursting
with secrets within,
I’ve seen the rest, yes
and that is the one for me
See how it shines
it will be so sweet
I’ve been so dry
it would make my heart complete
See how it lays
languid and slow
me here below
I’ve seen the best, yes
and that is the one for me
~ Suzanne Vega
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He said, “I have seen a very strange sight. As I was coming hither, I saw two girls walking. Trees grew on their heads the boughs were covered with plums and the roots which came through their hair were fastened about their necks. They were beautiful and seemed to be very happy.”
“We will go and see them!” cried the women. They had not gone far before they saw one of the girls lying on the ground while the other pulled at the tree on her head. The roots gave way and the tree came out but all the hair came with it also. Then the other lay down and her friend in turn pulled the tree from her head. They were very angry and said, “If we meet with the man who played us this trick we will punish him.”
~ from The Algonquin legends of New England, or, Myths and folk lore of the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot tribes By Charles Godfrey Leland
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The soft, white gardener’s gloves are coming off. i have been tending faithfully to my recovery. But two days before the full moon on the 11th, something moved in. Something came to a head, some terrible creeping vine got snarled in the works, slid through the garden, curled up around my ankles, tripped me up, sent me inside, put me in bed with cookies and tea and a warm cat and pulled from me a sobbing, frustrating confession that i laid out, soaking the cheek of my poor husband as i looked at him for consolation and answers.
i found myself frustrated, feeling ravaged, angry and sorrowful. It was all underneath there when the moon, a monstrous lever, became a shimmering coin wedged under me, a tightly capped bottle, and opened a geyser. The far away moon, a silver spade of light shot down a deep well, struck the ground and water erupted. i cried on and off for three days, mostly to myself, to a few patient and listening on the phone, and to my Joe.
For three days, i allowed myself to unravel, and found my heart weary and wrung out, resigned to being heavy and wet as a sodden sponge. My brain, a rabbit running circles in a electrified cage looking for an inch of wire that doesn’t shock. My insides, a calliope of dark, oceanic sound, guttural bagpipes under a taut waterbed. You think a waterbed is a good idea until you try sleeping on one, or moving it. Both are disappointing and painful endeavors and Buddha help you if you spring a leak somewhere. It will take all your effort to track down and fix it, if you don’t grow wildly impatient in the process. And my bum, well, it’s an occasionally unpredictable vending machine; every food an unmarked denomination that drops a bauble, a sticker, a spider, an unrecognizable & mysterious something or other and yes, we can end the metaphor right there without getting too indelicate.
My acupuncturist has said that i am very aware of my body’s innerworkings. Mmmhmm. i probably pay more attention to what i know is “me.” In fact, the biggest obstacle is likely “me” getting out of my own damn way and up from the circular pool that is my head, swimming with worry, diagnoses, concoctions, medications, and self-perpetuated misery which i think, despite the goodness of yoga and meditation has been affecting my sense of healing.
Still, i should not have to wake already dizzy and exhausted, twinged with fear; i still feel fatigued sometimes, even after decent sleep and for no good reason. i think i am in some sort of mourning stage and trying very hard to make peace with this major change and upheaval in my body. This good little machine which i feel has betrayed me somehow, or more, been betrayed by the path of care not clearly employed by my doctors and better researched, hacked at, tried and carried out by my own overwhelming desire to heal. i turn the whole puzzle with pointed questions around and around in my head: Why did my gallbladder go bad? Have i been unnecessarily harvested and robbed of a small but important piece of the original factory model? Will the rest of my body recover and compensate? Will i lead some compromised digestive and internal version of my former life? Will i ever truly heal?
how long how long how long was my teary mantra. i’m so impatient, i just want to smack myself out of it! i keep wondering “how long until i am completely well?” “how long until i have a day where i wake and feel mostly normal?” (aside from normal wear and tear or self-deprived rest). i keep asking the outside, the place without me, how long how long how long instead of delivering the directive be well be well be well to the place within me. i am not being as kind to myself as i should, i know.
What i noticed lately is this lump in my throat that appears and dissipates some. i felt it once the first week and apparently, it’s not uncommon after surgery as i’ve read other people complain about it. It’s also associated with GI disturbances and is mostly seen in the realm of anxiety and stress. My acupuncturist said it was know as Plum Pit Qi. Here’s where the explanation gets ancient, interesting and illuminating:
“The feeling of an obstruction in the throat (when there’s not an actual physical obstruction) is called Plum Pit Qi and is associated with Qi Stagnation (Liver Qi in particular). There is actually an emotional cause to this manifestation, Chinese Medicine diagnoses it as Qi and Phlegm knotted in the throat. Emotions such as sadness or frustration can produce a lump in the throat or Plum Pit Qi. The root pattern is a binding depression of Liver Qi with a concurrent inability to deal with an overwhelming emotional situation in which symbolically the patient cannot swallow. The Liver Qi attacks the Stomach causing Qi counterflow and thus interferes with the Qi transformation producing Phlegm and Dampness. The Lung and Stomach Qi counterflow causing Phlegm to become stuck in the throat so that the patient cannot expel it. Due to the severe depression of the Liver Qi there may also be rib-side pain and stuffiness in the chest.
Plum Pit Qi is first mentioned in Chinese literature in the Jin Gui Yao Lue, a treatise composed at the end of the Han Dynasty (ca. 220 A.D.). The text addresses miscellaneous disorders, mostly those suffered by women. In Chinese medicine, Plum Pit Qi corresponds to globus hystericus or neurotic esophageal stenosis in Western medicine. Sometimes, it’s even diagnosed as cricopharyngeal spasm. It refers to a sensation as if something were stuck in the back of the throat which can neither be spit up nor swallowed down. In the Chinese medical literature, this feeling is likened to a plum pit stuck in the throat or a piece of roasted meat. As its Western names suggest, this is a psychiatric diagnosis associated with anxiety, depression, and stress.”
:: sigh:: Great. In Eastern terms, i have blocked energy, stagnant blood, dampened, gummed up insides which lead my organs to attack, invade and otherwise kung fu the hell out of each other’s energy flow. In Western terms, succinctly, i am officially, a nutter. But if nothing else, and after all that fascinating text, i can put a name to it. i can actually visualize it all in terms of energy or in somewhat physically impossible metaphors. i KNEW it’s been my angry liver kicking the ass of my spleen and stomach.
i suppose you could categorize my private, internal emotional state as mildly depressed if not weathered by the experience of going from merrily eating and drinking up food, wine and life to this cautious balancing act with my body. So, my acupuncturist and i, through open discussion, have been concentrating on those points dealing with the liver and depression or mood. i DO feel better after yoga and meditation, but it’s been rather like an episodic bandage over an unclosed gash. i realize that the change for the better is going to be incremental, but what i’m really wishing for is for that big, red panic button in my brain to become the reset button or to be shot through with sudden, glorious, radiant, healing light.
This plum pit of mine is also thought to be associated with GERD & the like, though all i can say is the Pepcid i was prescribed for nausea from suspected reflux gave me headaches on top of it all and didn’t seem to affect anything dramatically over time or from withdrawal. On it, off it, nothing really changed.
i was never instructed how long to take them, never followed up with and i NEVER had acid reflux before, so why now? If i have to campaign aggressively for my own health, i’d rather do an ERCP, a barium swallow or MRI studies to determine the actual likelihood & amount of acid reflux if any. Then, at least there would be reason to have any given medication prescribed. The whole, “I have this symptom, so give me that med” without any physical diagnostic tool can’t be very accurate. That’s how the meds pile up. It becomes a Jenga game of stacking up pills that mask the inital symptom with a new, undesired symptom that requires counter-measures by way of new drugs further inducing another crop of symptoms until it’s about livable through layered pain management. By then, you are taking the first through fourth medication, you’ve built a wall around the actual foundation, the original underlying cause which, if pulled out gently and addressed is just like pulling the crucial block from the bottom that’s fucking up the whole balance, thereby, finally – bringing the unhealthy, leaning tower down.
As you’d expect, it’s also recommended from the Western side of things to try soothing the plum pit with anti-anxiety meds & anti-depressants (globus hystericus or neurotic esophageal stenosis) and/or to see if Valium or a similar muscle relaxant stops it (cricopharyngeal spasm). Now, i’m not worried about the stigma of anti-i-can’t-deal-anymore meds. They are a familiar friend in my family and we didn’t ask to be crazy or to live in such an occasionally mucked-up world. Trust me, when things got bad, i have used them to straighten out, click the serotonin up a notch and get back in the game.
But now, i seem to want less pharmaceuticals in me, less things for my liver to clear out and cough up and more vitamins and supplements for my body to take in. i added digestive enzymes which includes acidophilus, and that seems to help with meals and the end-product of, so to speak. They are also reputed to help with the supposed reflux problem i may or may not have. So, buh-bye Pepcid. This next visit to the acupuncturist will include new liver points and a specially formulated Chinese medicine specific to my symptoms, weight and constitution. Again, i have to ask, why doesn’t Western medicine do MORE of this special, individualized care better?
The time of the liver on the Chinese circadian clock is between 1 and 3 a.m. Guess what time i wake up to write and pace the house? Yeah. Even now, it’s 1:49 am as i type this bit of the story. Go to sleep liver, you’re wearing me out.
For those three days i argued with myself, maybe i SHOULD get on some anti-something-or-anothers to straighten out a chemical imbalance and let the rest of the healthy activities take their course & full effect. It’s so strange . . . i don’t really feel depressed, i interact normally and cheerfully enough with people, i’m still productive (albeit in personal endeavors alone since i am STILL unemployed) but people close to me have noticed i am not as light and confident as i used to be, that something in me is stifled. And it’s true, in my private moments, i DO have those dark blue thoughts, feel discouraged and notice the tension and discomfort move through my body in unpredictable cycles and in new, sometimes unpleasant sensations. So, perhaps there are these organic after effects i’m not consciously aware of, clouding things up in there. i am producing plum pits that rise and fall and when it falls to the bottom, what will grow then?
i am trying to count blessings; i am not battling cancer, i am loved by family, friends and completely supported by Joe in every manner as any woman could want for. i have all that i need to survive and well beyond basic necessities. But simply stated, eating to live is necessary and enjoying eating is difficult, thus life has become more difficult. Some days i am just throwing belly timber in. Food and vitamins and supplements to keep the fire stoked and the machine working. Good days, i actually enjoy the food. Bad days, i get it past my lips and worry if the enemy has crossed over and smuggled in a tank of gasoline to set the place on fire and shut the engine room down. But it appears the engine room is missing a particularly important cog. And in keeping with my current interest of interpreting maladies through Chinese medicine . . .
The functions of the Gallbladder are:
– Store and excrete bile
– Govern decision making
– Control sinews
– Affect dreams
– Close relation with the Liver
There is a reason i cannot sleep – my liver is angry, i feel indecisive and weakened besides the actual trauma of surgery. It is explained that “the Gallbladder affects the quality and length of sleep, if it is deficient a person will wake very early and not be able to return to sleep. When the Gallbladder is deficient, one dreams of fights, trials, and suicide.” (Spiritual Axis). Further, “the Liver is considered to be responsible for the ability to plan life, the Heart oversees all mental functions, the Small Intestine gives clarity and wisdom to decision making, and the Gallbladder gives the courage and capacity to make decisions. All these functions must be harmonized to plan and lead a harmonized life. If the Gallbladder is weak a person will be timid and lack initiative and courage. The Gallbladder gives us drive and the passion to excel and the action potential necessary for these to come to fruition. Dealing with adversity also comes under the role of the Gallbladder. It is often necessary to tonify the Gallbladder to support the Heart’s function.”
I wonder what Chinese Medicine says about cholecystectomy. About carrying on with missing, integral parts. Well – let’s deal with the big part that’s left . . .
i’ve begun to imagine my Liver as a powerful, insightful, well-educated, well-informed and well-manicured woman dressed to the nines, and someone stole her favorite little purse with all her money, identity and mojo. My liver was a vibrant lady and i though i gave her plenty to do, i never taxed her too hard. But without a place to store and concentrate on who she is inside and where she’s going, she currently finds herself rather lost in cortisol-laced, moonfaced dreams.
If i could paint the image of how i feel inside it would look like this:
A red-haired girl in the lotus position sitting below a Weeping Plum Tree, reaching up with both hands at the top of squared elbows, her fingers in Gyan Mudra, her index fingers and thumbs signaling ‘ok’ with her palms upturned to catch what may fall from the tree. She looks up, her chin lifted slightly, reaching more with one hand to draw down the perfect plum, dangling just out of reach. Scattered around her in the grass below, the flesh of half-eaten plums are lit upon by ladybugs, butterflies and pushed about in the mandibles of stag beetles, glossy as patent leather, trundling in circles like dark little bulldozers. The plum tree is unusual and split in half between two seasons of growth. Half of the weeping tendrils are covered in wintry, Valentine blossoms of red, pink and white with bare, black bark twisting though in burls and spirals; witchy, clawed fingers stretching down and pointed out as if to touch. On this side, orange-amber prescription bottles hang, some without caps, raining white pills like the petals of Ume flowers. The other half is covered in Spring & Summer leaves, drooping under the weight of fat, glimmering, thick-skinned, purple plums.
The Ume flowers on plum trees are celebrated and adored in both China and Japan. In China, the blossoms symbolize struggle and endurance of winter’s hardship; they embody resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity because it is in the winter snow they bloom most vibrantly. Conversely, Japanese see the Ume blossoms as a harbinger of Spring and tradition holds they function as a protective charm against evil.
That moon pulled on me as it does the tides, drawing the water down, out and away. In all those tears, the plum-pit in my throat has softened, but there are still these knots inside. Plum pits swallowed, waiting to surface, to be spat. There is an approaching midpoint; the fear of dying off, the relinquishing of control, the surrender in letting go and the promise of rebirth. Of something allowed to die in order to come back in a new form. The last fury of Winter Solstice. The first whisper of Vernal Equinox.
i am that girl, in seated meditation, grounded and split between two seasons, with both hands reaching for protection, for nourishment, for my favorite plum and for the small things tending the garden to carry away and bury the pit.
February is and in my case WAS such a short, sometimes brutal month. Then you have March, which does the ins and outs of wild predator to tame sweater maker. But in the short month of February i packed in a lot of healing, writing & music readying myself for the tempest of March.
Qi To The Kingdom . . . Or, i Am A Tiny Pin Cushion
i began seeing an acupuncturist to well, to unfuck my qi. Being a stickler for detail, i’ve kept a calendar since my surgery detailing and tracking my symptoms, moods, foods, internal movements, etc. i’ve been drawing a gradation of faces from frowny to flat to a simple upturned bow to smilies with big dotted eyes and a row of piano key teeth. i doodle and color my calendar with markers, moods, faces, any sign of discomfort and yes, even when i poo to be consistent with patterns. i do this NOT to become the obsessive spaz, holding onto illness like a war medal, but to determine severity & frequency to see if i am improving or moving towards healing. And if not – to do something very proactive about it.
My acupuncturist is a very kind man who went over my extremely detailed laundry list of complaints and undesirable changes in my body. We talked for over an hour before he even put a needle in me. Hardly any practitioner of any healing art, takes the time and energy to do this; there simply is no time to listen or touch or get all the detailed information that forges the craft of a good diagnostician. This is especially true in Western Medicine. Which is why i chose the modern miracle of Western Medicine for surgery and the centuries old Eastern Philosophies for healing.
“Wow, this is great,” he said, scanning my list of dates and list of maladies, “No one does this. It’s really organized.Very helpful.”
He went over the whole page with me.
Once we figured on a plan of how acupuncture and Chinese medicine could help me, i felt a sense of calm purpose, and he began tapping hair-thin needles into my legs, wrists, shoulders, neck, ears, all along my abdomen near the floating ribs and liver, a few near my stomach, even some threaded underneath the scar tissue on my stomach to soften and flatten.
Then he took what looked like a big black crayon, a half-smoked cigar, or a pointed smudge stick. It was moxa, heated Mugwort which he applied near the needle tips to send heat into the acupuncture points. It felt pretty wonderful actually. My stiff, knotted trapezius muscles softened, nausea vanished, headache faded and my stomach and bowels were still and calm. This last visit, i told him i had a creaky knee, he touched around, squeezed lightly and asked if i had been using my quads to do some lifting and bending the day before. It was true as i recalled all those half squats in yoga and he stuck one in for that. i also expressed difficulty falling asleep, and damn it i LOVE me some sleep, so he tapped a little silver needle right into the top of my head to clear the airwaves. Then he put a crinkled mylar blanket over me: light as air, silver as Mercury and i lay there, a little Fembot, conserving heat and energy under my quasi-futuristic Austin Powers blankie.
i feel like things are definitely improving inside. Much calmer and less symptomatic. yoga’s been great, food is becoming my friend again, acupuncture seems to be helping and i’m taking a Chinese herb called Shu Gan Wan (liver soothe) to stop my liver from being so pissed about my gallbladder being gone. They are miniature versions of Whoppers chocolate malted milk balls, but they taste like curry. The most interesting visual diagnoses delivered upon me: liver invading spleen and liver invading stomach. Not a bad way to think about it really. The way the Chinese see it accurately describes the miniature battle that’s been raging in my guts since surgery. In the 2 days following treatment, i’ve sometimes felt an internal struggle for domination, like there are knots being untied, like i’ve been damp and bit drowned inside and then i come out the other end and it’s all Snow White & bluebirds. i have more energy, i get ravenous and my outlook improves.
i’ve added a Calcium, Magnesium & Vitamin D supplement combo (what a horse pill), A Vitamin B complex & Spirulina. Rather than those amber bottles clogging up the cabinet, i now rattle vitamin supplements onto a little red dish in and effort to boost my immune system and well-being. i would say i’m at about 75%. i guess i’m just looking for time and worry to pass and toss me the other quarter.
Usual Suspects – Netflix – Matrix – Conflicts
i’m still unemployed, but trying to occupy myself. If i didn’t have yoga or the occasional social outing with Joe and his work mates, plus Tiffany & Chelsea, i’d be a house mouse for sure. Of course, this may change when Spring comes into full bloom and i expect it to. i can see happy little yellow & purple crocus poking through in the backyard, so there’s a spot of sunshine yet . . .
i fire off about 4 resumes every other day. Then i hear stories about how an ad for a front desk position at a local yoga studio garnered, not 6, not 60, but SIX HUNDRED applicants and i get to thinking, unless my email arrives blinking or on fire, there’s no way i’m getting noticed. i applied for a local position at a Chiropractic office, found my best business casual with a little Portland funk and showed up in person to the office where i found myself on day one of two amidst a light cattle call. 5 women were already standing in a room like Star Search & American Idol contestants, beauty pageant finalists, the weakest link, a lineup.
And it was the usual suspects. The over-bleached & frosted tan woman with alligator handbag face (too may hours poolside) drinking Coors Light, guilty of wearing fluorescent cotton jumpers, coral lipstick and hair scrunchies, probably just relocated from the Carolinas or Florida. The dumpy girl in business casual, pock-marked, unremarkable, practically invisible, hunched back from self-deprecation, flinching & shying from imaginary social punches, shifty, downcast eyes and shuffling feet looking for a nice quiet office to answer phones in, listen to soft music, eat bologna and American cheese sandwiches in and hide. The Sweetie-pie mouse girl, flat brown hair, doe-eyed, squared off chiclet-smile, high-pitch, pedamorphic voice both docile and simmering. The other two women were variations on a theme. Background noise. i was just waiting for the talent portion so i could showcase my baton twirling.
The rotund, possibly former high school football coach now Chiropractor with soft, spiky, salt-and-pepper would-be-Mike-Ditka hair shuffled through our resumes like quiz sheets. Doctor Ditka then asked each of us if we had undergone any chiropractic work and for what ailment. Turns out i was the only candidate who hadn’t been cracked and i couldn’t tell if this fact was a help or hindrance to my cause. No previous body work and one couldn’t truly expect to explain the process or how it feels. Previous work and you may just be looking for some free medical care.
Then the assistant spoke up. She was Doctor Ditka’s little frau, and i caught her checking out my legs in black tights and eying my skirt up and down. She made a lot of eye contact with me but probably because i was taught it was polite to look speakers in the eye. Even when they’re addressing a group.
She went over the finer points of duties and representation at the job, stock still and legs straddled with a clip board held in one hand and wedged into her belly like she was about to call off a cheerleading squad roster, or note how slow your last lap was, or go body surfing. Except, this was winter and she wore burnt-caramel suede & beige fur boots, tight blue-black jeans belted off with a strap of leather i imagined she could unbuckle and snake through her belt loops to beat you quickly with. It was all topped with a grey angora sweater. A snuggly little snit, a real fuzzy blowhard, probably a former stoner, rock chick & bully known to sit on the smaller, smarter girl’s chest at school and bloody her nose for her.
i quickly assessed who was in charge of this operation and it wasn’t Doctor Ditka or the nice older woman smiling at the front desk. After receiving frau’s full up & down measure, i also knew that job was not going to be mine.
People aren’t going out much, home entertainment and movie watching is up, and this is true of me as well, so i applied at Netflix for shits and giggles. They called within hours and scheduled a phone interview. Apparently Netflix is a rarity in corporate customer service. They decided to employ human voices, eliminated e-mail-based customer service inquiries, chose not to outsource or go offshore, and set up their big call center in Hillsboro, Oregon “because it thought that Oregonians would present a friendlier voice to its customers.”
So, i had a nice chat with a woman who conducted a phone interview, went over some of those basic, “tell me about how cool, calm, successful and how much of a suck-up, pretty little cog, team player you are.” And then she asked two strange questions. “Would you like to be considered for a second interview?” Oh, no thanks Judy, i’d like to stay in my pajamas all day and ask my poor working husband to bring me bon-bons and tampons since i’m not a financial contribution to the household, but this has been a real hoot, thanks for asking. And,”Would you like to work in a call center?” Oh, yeah, i mean, i dream of sitting in a desk with open cubicles in a sea of heads wearing headsets jacked into the hive mind, assimilated like the fucking Borg, pausing just enough to slurp down a salty, stryofoam, pseudo nutrition container called Cup O’ Noodles and get right back to it at any time in the 24 hr span you’re open. Who needs a circadian rhythm, right?
But i answered safely, and quite honestly. “i’m highly efficient and i think i am fully capable of working in a call center.” Translation: “i am made of sturdy human material able to withstand the inquiries of irate morons and confused grandmothers and techless luddites. i am able to hack the necessary mundanity and the flexibility to talk to anyone from any walk of life even if all they want to do is talk. i am a meat popsicle. And yes, i will do it for $12 an hour.”
i wasn’t going to lie about it. What we want and what we are able to do, are often quite different. i want for things i am unable to do and i am able to do things i don’t want.
All of the above line of inquiry is mostly about touting one’s own work ethic, But i wish i had known about Chelsea’s latest answer to the interview question, “What do you consider your weakness.”
She simply rolled her eyes, tossed her head softly, sighed and helplessly replied, “Chocolate.”
Foolish Words, Bird Song & Shiek Music
Joe, Chelsea & i went to see Christopher Moore as he stopped in on Powell’s Books in Beaverton, touring in support of his new book, Fool. He didn’t read excerpts, but DID regale us with funny stories as any good jester would.
i waited for a little over two hours to say hello and have him sign my book, while i fumbled through half stories of the times his writing kept us entertained on road trips.
“Hi, we’ve met,” he said.
“Well, i comment on your blog.”
“Right, well, good to meet you in person.”
He actually recognized me, i think, and probably through pictures but maybe he says that to all his MySpace / Facebook buddies. So i dropped him a quick public thank you:
‘thank you SO much for coming out to Portland (Beaverton) and staying so long to sign books and chat with everyone.
i was terribly flattered you remembered me from photos here and said i’d looked familiar. (probably from blog comments). i’ll be riding that cloud all week . . .
i really enjoyed your stories (“sorry”). i also really enjoyed meeting you in person since, like a good friend, you’ve made me laugh at so many times in my life.
i probably should’ve said that, but you know, the mind goes blank in the “awkward moment” that accompanies book signing as you put it.
also, i probably should’ve offered to take you out & feed you, since they had you shackled to a podium then a table so long, but didn’t want to imply an undue familiarity. just sayin’.
next time . . .thanks again!‘
He was kind enough to write me a quick personal message back, which, as i informed him, made my millennium. i wonder if he’ll read this . . .
That same Saturday, Joe & i went with friends, Janet, Adam & Hillary out for a nice little dinner at Thai Peacock at then to see Andrew Bird at the Roseland Theater. i will not bore you with my full-blown review because, as anyone who knows anything about me, i am a HUGE fangirl of Mr. Bird and can gush at great length. Suffice it to say, it was one of the warmest, most intimate, tightly performed and emotionally charged shows of his i’ve ever seen.
Five days later, i’m sitting quietly at home reading my email when a blast comes through from the Aladdin Theater for FREE tickets to see, Duncan Sheik. Do you all remember him? Sudden unexpected pop heartthrob who put out “Barely Breathing” then apparently went on to compose, quite successfully, for film & Broadway musicals. Somewhere in that road he found Buddhism, explored his pop-roots and electronica and went from blue-eyed crybaby crooner to what appeared on stage to be softshoe hobo, railroad vagabond. Complete with floppy hat. No offense, but i like my pop-candy to be a little more polished. Even so, he was soothing enough and perfectly entertaining, particularly when joined onstage and accompanied in harmony by pianist/vocalist Holly Brook, a spritely, red-headed songstress with an easy voice who perked my ears with “Mama Who Bore Me.” i thought she sounded like those pitch-perfect singers on Broadway and indeed, the song is from Sheik’s Spring Awakening and was sonically delivered as such.
He seemed humourously self-aware onstage, in that sort of clumsy, rushed and fearful of rejection way that makes you check your fly and crumple your hat or roll a piece of paper into a straw. He began every introduction with, “Ok, so . . .” then while fiddling with one of 5 guitars, explained the song’s meaning and context as it applied to storylines in one of two Broadway plays he wrote music for. Then he’d crack a small joke or two, launch in, finish and begin again, “Ok, so . . .” Here and there he sprinkled in familiar pop tracks and love songs.
It struck me while i was awash in the soft repeating flow, that certain artists have a “sound” and so, i found myself trying to figure out the landscape of his music, the places i went to, the things i imagined. That sound for any given artist can be mathematically complex, assaulting, heart-beating, ass-wiggling, spirit soaring, a warm bath or just plain vanilla. Music to vacuum by. But it occurred to me that Duncan Shiek’s music, nearly the whole of it, sounds like a day at the beach, and not all the sunny, splashy, sandcastles & coconut lotion bit. But the white noise of the ocean, the call of circling birds, the cool that moves in around 6pm after a long day of swimming and sunbathing, the blue sky gone grey and overcast, the part of the day where you are tired and melancholy and have to pack up the blankets, shake out towels, rinse your flip-flops in the surf and walk back half a mile to the car with sand on and in unpleasant crevices. And you didn’t even get to stay and watch the sunset with a good bottle of wine, because the kids were whining, because the wind kicked up, because a storm moved in, because your lover/wife/husband is not who you think they are / hope they’d be. That’s what it sounds like.
But boy, the people were into it. And probably vacuumed up sand to it regularly or settled in with a pint of Vanilla. You know, after the beach.
To his credit, Duncan Shiek is a fine & thoughtful songwriter, he’s just not as deeply provoking as some. Gold star finish though – he ended his encore set with a most righteous cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” Finally, something real.
Welcome to the world of big monsters in pants and big possibilities!
If my SPAM is any indication of my shortcomings then i definitely have a small penis and should do something about that if i ever intend to satisfy ANY woman. i should also invest in discount Viagra & Cialis to keep my new size erect and in check. And if i really want to impress, i need “a status symbol of today” because “an expensive watch makes a huge difference socially and at the office.” Because, people look upon an expensive watch with “feelings of envy, wealth, and wanting.” But why would i want to spend all that money i don’t have? i should invest in a replica watch. Big and expensive to match my new “enormous manfullness in my pants.”
Even my SPAM is trying to tell me i’m an inadequate man in the working and dating world, which i guess is fine, seeing as how i’m an unemployed, married woman. They’ve got me all wrong. But i save the real gems for a laugh:
“You’ll be able to invade so deep into woman, she’ll scream and shout like crazy.”
“She will stay by your side as you have that bulgy pride.”
“No matter how you are dressed everybody will see that you are blessed.”
From Writing Under The Influence to Creatively Sober
So here’s some fun thoughts on a rainy day . . .
Elizabeth Gilbert gave a speech at TED on genius:
i encourage anyone who fancies a good scribble, wants to write, practices writing or contemplates the writing / creative life seriously to watch it. It actually made me cry.
As a background, Joe & i listened to Eat, Love, Pray while we trekked across the country to from Springfield, VA to Portland, OR and though i found most of it moving but some of it rife with her own personal drama and insecurities, this speech of hers was much more coherent and truly inspiring. i liked the idea of something passing through you, urging to be captured and caught by the tail, then wrestled to the paper, else it chooses to move on and select someone else to come through.
And well . . . i have to agree with her and her stories of other creative types. i have muses, sure enough. Guides. Voices. Faeries. Things that keep me up at nite or prod me on in the middle of the day, with something loud and clear to say. Often in the shower, sometimes i hear it right in my head or chest, a booming, filling voice. Sometimes it is in my own voice. Sometimes, it’s not. It’s ok – i’m no stranger to odd voices and old muses. it is my Greek Chorus, my accompanying soundtrack, the movie voice over. The Blathering Other.
Then, when the voice(s) go dead on the line, i write stuff like THIS too, just to address the situation . . . So even when i’m not wrtiting, i’m writing about it. very reflexive if for nothing else but the mere exercise.
What i’ve learned is that, for me, it IS an exercise, it’s a voice (or several) that like any good relationship, need cultivation and conversation to keep them active and accessible and “flowing.” As in “real life,” there are some friends for whom, if you don’t call for awhile, get offended.
But the bigger question about torturing oneself with the expectation of follow-up, or creative force, or the fears of “can i produce if i am NOT miserable?” And “do i have anything to say if i am not suffering?” Or “do i have to descend into madness in order to arrive at genius?”
Recently i was asked this:
Is it true, that hard times make you even more creative, allowing you to produce great art?
Perhaps there was a time in my life when it was somewhat true, but now it’s more about transcendence. that’s where our ‘art’ or trade or practice of the thing we do best comes in . . . and i’ve talked about this at great length before.
In essence i have learned not to abuse my “art,” not to squander talent into personal transformation through miserable expression. Suffering is apparent, pain is necessary, yes – but it is NOT the desired or correct state, purpose or constant in this life. And if it is – you’re doing it ALL WRONG.
i think getting to the other side of bad times bravely, however you document it in your art, is the goal. But making sure you have something to say or paint or photograph or film when life is blissful, is just as important.
i can remember a time where i’d plunk down in front of the computer, get to writing or editing photos (or Christ almighty, compose email) and kill a bottle of wine by myself, no problem and with little effect. i did this mostly because it was there, partly because it was business (i sampled wine from distributors for restaurant purchase) and lastly because it was wet and slightly more interesting than water (which i kept stacked in bottles within crates. Hydrate while you drink, people.)
Now, lately when i bring a drink to my face, i can almost feel my liver raise up and bitch slap it out of my hand. The smell of beer, fresh or stale in a room, on the breath in my face, or on clothing makes me sick. Apparently, my liquor license went out the door in my bellybutton along with my gallbladder. This is coming to you from a woman who in most pictures i am smiling, with a wine glass thrust forward in the frame as if to toast to anyone looking on and willing to share. These days, i’m afraid wine will turn my guts into a pit of roiling acid and deliver a mean hangover. So i guess i just wait, until things calm down and my liver and i come to an understanding.
And when it comes to sharing & understanding, for me, it’s often those random letters and email messages from old friends, new friends and complete strangers that i find myself sitting down to flex and exercise my writing muscles. Often, i cut and paste bits from email correspondences into the blog and vice versa, so don’t be upset if something we might’ve shared in supposed privacy ends up in some public form. i hope that doesn’t cheapen the exchange. i like to remember people and things they’ve made me consider and think deeply about. Sometimes it happens when i write them.
In some ways, i suppose i repeat myself, but i do this because, i “said” it once already, just the way i wanted to, and i don’t want to repeat myself. Redundantly unclever, i know. Didn’t you get the memo? It’s the primary reason for having a blog, it’s better than having you dig into my email, my word documents, my sketch pads in my car door and desk drawer or rifle through the stacks of dream journals at my nitestand. i mean, that’s where i go to collect my thoughts and try to reassemble them later.
Stories For Boys . . .
So, on the topic of later assembly, i dug up an old document from an upper-level creative writing course i took years ago. It’s about 70 pages loosely forming some sort of memoir. It’s not strictly linear, like you’d imagine, “i was born, this stuff happened, my mama, my pop, my sister and the hamster and the dog and the cat and the cute boy and the asshole best friend.” There are some elements of that, to be sure, but mostly i seem to mention the various people, mostly men whose friendships and entanglements pushed my personality forward and helped define me and what i do or do not want out of any configuration of friendship or relationship.
Now, that said, this is not a Willie Nelson & Julio Iglesias joint, a wide-sweeping “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” type proclamation, nor is it a tell-all rockstar biography. More like, what it was to grow up and make sense of the self. i’ll admit, probably owing to the time in my education and life, it smacks a of little feminism, trying on clothes, trying on lovers, divorce, mommy & daddy issues. But i think it’s a pretty fun & revealing romp, things even i’d forgotten about, so i’ll probably just intersperse them like chapters in between actual, current blogs at random, as i re-work them and under the title “Stories for Boys: (#).” They’ll be easier to tag, bag and search for.
As you might’ve guessed, i don’t change the names to protect the innocent, either. After all, we were just children then, honey. Trying to figure it all out.
March on . . .
So let me just jump right in here and catch you up on the post-Holiday bliss . . . .
December was a CRAZY month. A car accident followed by a week-long visit from my sister & brother-in-law that involved beer tastings, strippers, lost IDs, credit cards, medication, a “Getting To Know You” session with the TSA, a flurry of found & lost employment, a crippling snow storm and a major abdominal surgery . . .
Not much of a Christmas & New Year’s, but – what can you do? Life intervenes sometimes and puts the smack down on all your sparkly plans.
So yeah, from car to job and health matters – it’s been buckets of suck lately, but thank goodness i have my Joe, for better or worse and all.
The Bunny Goes Bang . . .
Joe and i were in a car accident early in December (my poor VW Rabbit). We were simply dropping off a friend so she could avoid taking the bus. Luckily, it was a slo-mo, non-jarring crash that no one was hurt in. In short, some jackoff signaled to go right, then changed his mind and veered into us, even though his lane had ended. This sent us banging into the large SUV to our left, effectively smashing my left quarter panel, taking out the left headlight cluster and ripping my bumper off in one arc over my hood and into the street behind us.
i was all in my Zen-state, post-yoga and coolly remarked from the passenger seat, “well, there goes the bumper,” as it sailed overhead. I was not pleased to discover the no-fault law here in Oregon. The police didn’t even take a report?!?! But we did have two witnesses who volunteered information without even being asked, so it was clearly NOT our fault. i rode home with the bumper in the backseat curled up on the ends like a big, red-lipped smile while the broken eye of the headlamp cluster sat dark and blinded in the trunk.
Surprisingly, all told, it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience. Even though it was several days before my sister & brother-in-law was scheduled to visit us from Indianapolis and i thought, “great, now what?” The body shop took us VERY early the next morning and gave us a free loaner car, a pimp-ass white ’00 Ford Taurus with the body shop name emblazoned on the doors. The smell of faux strawberry walloped you in the face when you got in, which was better than say, cigarette smoke, though the history of burn marks dotted the seats exposing the fleshy, pale foam below. Then i discovered the source of the scent.
There was a Little Trees air freshener hanging from the steering wheel. This reminded me of an old friend Dave, who became a police officer and used a special sort of profiling. He noticed that a high proportion of criminals in an effort to mask the smell of open intoxicants and / or drugs have an awful lot of the Little Trees air fresheners hanging from air vents and from their rearview mirrors. He referred to these collections as a “felony forest” and a sure sign of unlawful nonsense being perpetrated. So, in all of its red and white, cloyingly fruit-scented glory, i thereby dubbed the pimp car “Strawberry Shortcake Mobile.”
We had the estimate the next day – $5,081.00 worth of damage (we merely paid the $200 deductible). All of this was completed within a week and my car looked factory show room new. Plus – anyone getting $2,000 worth of work done qualifies for their “Detail For Life” plan, which entitles me to come in four times a year and they will clean the inside and polish up the outside of the car for FREE. Even if i sell the car, for the life of the car. The body work also took care of all minor road, gravel, dings scrapes and insults on the first half of the car since i owned it, so THAT was great too!
Jobless but not Hopeless . . .
Joe is happy & successful with his job at PSU and thank goodness he has a good salary and has made good friends & contacts with his workmates. My job search, not so much. Not since October. i started one, then had my driver’s window smashed & my car broken into while working. i could see someone else nearby had the ol’ window trick pulled on them as well. It was next to a dimly lit playground, plenty of places for crazies to crouch. No way i was hanging out there. i drove home sitting on a grocery bag that nite and had the police come to my house to take the report.
To work there, i was spending more money on transportation and parking (unsafely) than i was making and was generally miserable serving happy hour food to VIPs (Visibly Intoxicated Pricks), hotel and rich asshole marina guests. Nice enough people to work for & with, but i am accustomed to a much faster pace and different atmosphere. i quit that job.
i was also interviewed by a winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle (Erath) one of the oldest in Oregon wine country, until Cigarette giant Altria Group, which owns Marlboro, announced an agreement on Sept. 8 to buy smokeless tobacco firm UST for $10.4 billion. As part of the deal, Altria acquired UST’s Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. In all that, the position fell through or more or less, evaporated when they began reorganizing.
i also interviewed with a woman who was opening a new wine shop. i suspect her bank backing bottomed out or perhaps she chose someone else, either way – i haven’t heard from her again. i worked one day at another wine shop. a week later, he reneged his offer and sent me a check for my time. no loss, i’m afraid i was a bad fit and didn’t make the cheerleading cuts anyway.
i’m sure everyone’s been saturating themselves in the depressing news about the shitty US economy, banks, mortgage crisis, unemployment rates & the systems supporting it crashing & drained. All bad news about how it affects things both locally and globally and i am here to tell you, it’s no bullshit. Being in the service industry, i am also keenly aware that dining out is one of the first things to be culled, the first belt hole to cinch up from the family budget, making my employment search options even more grim.
Then i read this article: Portland’s restaurant scene in trouble. And thought – well hell . . . no wonder i can’t find fuck-all for work! so, i may want to reconsider my line of inquiry and use some of my other “job skills.” this of course being freelance photography or administrative desk slave. i may just start writing that novel i’ve been threatening for years. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Hope & Change guy has in mind and more, what he puts into action.
Briefly, the beer & the boobs . . .
my sister’s visit was mostly, fun. and there are stories i could tell which were hinted at in the opening paragraph, but i will protect the innocent and spare my sister and her husband the embarrassment of me airing a couple kooky escapades that ended in ill consequences . . .
It was during the week of my sister’s visit that i had the surgery consult after an ultrasound revealed several 2mm stones in that useless little bile storing organ, so it slowed things down considerably for us, in a city known for, in addition to its natural beauty, quirky places and fresh local food, its prevalence of brew pubs and strip clubs.
Now – before i get into this last bit, make no mistake, we are eating, and living and loving and surviving just fine. Oregon is wonderful; Portland was not a bad move and my Joe and i are as happy & close as ever, Just little irritating life issues have been getting in the way, like, my gallbladder, for instance.
but let me back up . . .
You Don’t Have The Gall . . .
i had an episode several weeks back where i was waiting to see Quantum Of Solace on Sunday’s opening weekend when, apropos of nothing, i had extreme abdominal pain and pressure – it was so bad and intense i thought it was a heart attack. or a really bad taco. Joe refunded our tickets and drove me home immediately. I thought for sure i would have to go to the emergency room! Turns out that time and the 5 repeat performances afterward were gallbladder attacks. I had a mean, miserable headache for three days after the first one!
and let me tell you – i don’t wish that pain on anyone!
It was as if my body were hi-jacked, my heart pounded, i would sweat and waves of nausea built up into a high pressure weather system that radiated pain concentrated in the center of my chest, lateral right, and shoulder. then i’d wretch and writhe for anywhere from 30 mins to more than an hour until it passed. no position, being still, Maalox or movement eased the pain. the only thing that seemed to mitigate it somewhat was glugging down a big glass of water as the attack symptoms began and i began to ride it out.
Generally, i just felt sorta weak, dizzy & fatigued and simply tried to make myself comfortable, warm, sleep a lot and took it really easy. i’d have several hours a day where i felt good and tried to do some writing and editing photos or read or catch a flick, just to keep myself occupied.
i had another bout of a lesser attacks on and off over several nites following the first major attack, these while my sister was in town. It was all i could do to try to be remotely fun, a decent host, and not a total drag. Those tail end attacks were mostly just overwhelming nausea, pressure, heart pounding, then sudden drop in blood pressure and dizziness (like fainting), the sudden multiple bowel movements/diarrhea (sorry, TMI all indications of a sick gallbladder), but at least it didn’t include any monstrous pain or vomiting. i had some anti-nausea medication (Phenegran), and i took only 1/2 a Vicodin a few times to stave off any pain.
Eating was scary as you can imagine. everything i put into my mouth i worried about, “what will trigger an attack, this time?” i felt WAY too full after even a small meal (which was mostly, lite protein, soups, the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast), juices, mint tea, gingerale, etc.) Despite all that, i sometimes felt like there was a lump in my throat, as if it were food that hadn’t gone down. a sort of creepy indigestion. This really pissed me off, and since i love food, i grew quickly fed up with the baby diet!
i was of course, drinking lots of water & tried to avoid any fatty foods or anything that might trigger an attack & send the gallbladder into secretion or action or whatever it is that it does to try to clear out the multiple stones that are in there. Thus, the suggestion that i hydrate more than usual and at the onset of attack, drink down a big glass to try to i guess, move the bile along.
None of this is fun to read, i imagine, but i suppose it helps me to assess what i experienced and to tune in with my body, recounting what i had to do to nurse myself along until i had that evil little sack of pearls out of there! So – thank you for taking the time . . .
“Oh The Weather Outside is Frightful” – But The Fire Inside My Gut Isn’t So Great Either . . .
i was supposed to have my surgery on December 22nd, except, my surgery was canceled due to SNOWPOCALYPSE 2008. ( SEE my photographic evidence). Or as the local news kept referring to it “Arctic Blast.” It was reported as the most snow they’ve seen in Portland in 40 years, and in its soft, white fluffy beauty, it went about crippling the city, crushing public transportation, grinding everything to a halt. The more the snow fell, the more my anxiety mounted. i worried that in the case of an extreme emergency, we were clearly going to have a difficult to impossible time even getting out.
We were lucky enough to have already purchased snow chains from a quick jaunt Joe and my brother-in-law, Flounder took out to Bagby Hot Springs the week before the real snow hit. As the mayor, Sam Adams (yeah, like the beer guy with the funny bowl cut) reported on the news, snow chains were required to travel on Portland roads, but were also SOLD OUT locally. How helpful. We got to try them out a few days before and survived our maiden voyage out to get cat food and return & rent new DVDs for the Holiday pre-surgery stretch.
The only trouble we had was getting back into the garage, if you can believe it. It was messiest in our back alley, kind of a dirty slushie. One of the chains twisted up & fell off, we retrieved it, got a little mired on an ice patch, and i pushed Joe into the driveway, but then the garage door opener and track decided NOT to work. It’s probably an easy fix, but nothing wrong with using our hands to pull the door open in the meantime of investigation. Luckily, it warmed up and some of the snow turned to rain and the roads became only slightly less sloppy the following week.
While the white shit was busy falling in heaps and mounds from the sky, it was three days before someone even answered the god damned phone at the surgery center’s office! This did not contribute to my sense of well-being. When i finally did get a human, Rose, the frazzled sistah on the other end, was mumbling some nonsense about the schedule being pushed into February, to which i declared shenanigans, “i am not waiting and feeling like this with pain, nausea and strict diet management,” i calmly explained to her. i knew it was “elective” surgery, but i was voting to have it out ASAP. So she “caught up” with the doctor and i was rescheduled for the following Monday the 29th. Sad that i have to raise hell to advocate for my own health care. but it was my first major abdominal surgery and i wanted it over with!
The F criteria . . . family, flights, fairness – does FUCK this count?
It’s been a frustrating, confusing health journey, seeing as how i am otherwise, the picture of supposed health – good diet, whole, organic foods when possible, yoga & exercise, 119 lbs, low LDL, normal EKG, healthy heart & lungs, liver function healthy and all other bloodwork levels completely within normal ranges, including thyroid. Even my surgeon said i don’t really fit most of the F criteria (Female, 40, Fat, Fertile & Fair) and remarked questioningly “doesn’t seem fair does it?” In my case, estrogen in my oral contraceptives & the environment, and family history (my aunt) might be the only risk indicators.
My mother’s initial flight had also been canceled, not enough snow plows in the city or de-icers for the planes. But she was able to rebook, came out Sunday and stayed for a week while i recovered at home. Sure, the main calming factor is, my mother is a nurse and she was able to help Joe administer my post-surgery care, but really, when i get down to the basic emotional component of what was happening to my body, i wanted my mommy!
Ladies & Gentlemen, Nurses, Anesthesiologists and a Surgeon! The Main Event . . .
The laparoscopic surgery (cholecystectomy) involved four small incisions for light, scope, suction and instruments, and they pulled that sucker out through an incision above my belly button. Weee! It’s same day outpatient (unless they have to convert to an open cholecystectomy), routinely safe, well-practiced and the most commonly performed surgery. So, you know, i made sure i tortured myself on the internet, reading up on all the truly rare complications incurred during or after, until i whipped myself up into hypochondriac frenzy. i don’t recommend this method of education, but i was prepared for the worst, so i came out with just about the best, of course.
i scrubbed up the nite before with special special surgery soap called CHG (Chlorhexidine Gluconate). It was all wrapped in foil and had a spongy side to wet and release soap and scrubby side to get under nailbeds. It was quite a humbling ritual to remove my wedding bands, my moonstone rings, the small drop earrings i haven’t taken out in more than 6 years, my moonstone necklace & toe rings. And then, the morning of my surgery, absent of all body decoration, i used the second CHG provided me and was instructed – “no shaving, no deodorant, no lotion, no perfume.” No germs. No scent. No signature.
i showed up in comfy clothes, at the Sunnyside Medical Center, had 2-hour prep which included consent forms, a nurse to take my information, a nurse to start my IV, plus an anesthesiologist and his nurse with another battery of questions.
“Do you have anything of value, any jewelry, electronics, medications . . .” the nurse rattled off a big list in rapid fire succession.
“No. No. No No, nope. Nothing. i come to you naked and without frills.” i answered lightheartedly.
She laughed and gave me a big plastic snap bag with the words PATIENT BELONGINGS and a name & info sticker on the front, then told me to take everything off and put on the lavender colored hospital gown that had the words “Bair Paws” and a little foot print of a bear track scrawled across my heart. Now let me “paws” a moment. Go ahead. Groan. i don’t care. This was one of the best things i’ve ever experienced in medical care. It was a soft, longer, thick gown with the usual bum-showing slit down the back, except that it had a sideways wrap around tie so you could make yourself decent. But the best feature is what the thing actually DID.
Pre-op, surgery and recovery areas are usually kept a little chilly to discourage bacteria growth, so you end up with minor hypothermia, and they merely toss an extra blanket on you to stave off the cold. Not with this thing though . . . the Bair Paws had a port in the side where a warming unit hose attached and a temperature control box with a dial was placed beside me. i suppose if you’re the hot-blooded type, you could choose cool air, but not me . . . crank that sucker up! In moments, it filled with warm air that puffed the gown up a little and filled the little channels inside, flooding warm air over my whole body as i lay there waiting for surgery. Awesome! i wanted to take it home with me when i left!
Speaking of comfort, while i lay there the nurse asked me things beyond the normal health battery that crossed over into personal wellness. “Are you employed?” “How would you say your stress levels are?” “On a scale of 0-10, how much pain are you in right now?” And one of the strangest things the nurse asked me was: “Do you feel safe where you live?” Which one could interpret as, “Is your neighborhood kinda sketchy and do you think you can be a bit incapacitated for a week without the worry of having to fend off an attacker or break-in?” Or perhaps an equally unpleasant implication “Is your spouse / partner / parent / roommate abusive or uncooperative?” But maybe this was just a general assessment of “Do you fear having no help or support during your recovery at home or are you safe in the knowledge that you have a loved one or family & friends to help you recuperate?”
The anesthesiologist asked if i’d like a mild sedative but i felt pretty calm and warm and content. Everyone was so pleasant, calm, kind and assuring. The woman who put in my IV was a pro, it didn’t hurt at all.
“Would you like to see your family now before we take you back? It’s almost time,” the nurse said, her eyes motioning to the clock that was 7 minutes from 8am.
“That would be nice,” i said softly and as she walked away i looked beyond her to see that one of the surgery swing doors had a feminine scrolled, handwritten sign taped to it that read “Door To Narnia.” And this made me laugh.
My mother & Joe came back to pat my hand, rub my feet, kiss my forehead and cheeks and assure me before my passage into the back of the wardrobe and on into snow-laden Narnia.
i was wheeled back past a few operating room doors all looking set for procedures, heads wrapped in institution green caps bobbing in and out of the square fields of glass in the doors and finally, there i was, last door on the right. They bumped my hospital bed / gurney against another set below operating lamps and a nice young man with his mask pulled up halfway told me his name, then a nice woman across the way named Tammy said hello, then from my left the surgeon and another nurse came in.
i mentioned i’d like pictures of my gallbladder, which drew a couple strange looks to which i explained, “Hey, i want to see the thing that’s been causing me so much pain. Can i have some of the stones too?”
“We don’t give them out like candy honey,” the nurse to my left quipped, “they usually get sent off to the lab.”
“Well, it’s just that i spent some time making them, so i want to see them too.”
“i hear some people make bracelets and jewelry out of them,” remarked Right Nurse.” i had already thought of this and in fact had joked about it just days before.
Then the male nurse to my right said, “Ok, scoot over to this bed,” while Left Nurse gently instructed, “Move up just a little so your head is on the pillow, your bed is a little lower.”
While i did this, Left Nurse injected something magical into the midsection of my IV and Right Male Nurse put a mask lightly to my nose and mouth with, “Some oxygen?” which seemed mostly a statement but went up a little at the end to form a question.
“Yes, please,” i half-thought and thought nothing else.
There was no counting back from 10 or 100, there was only sleep, then surgery for 45 minutes to an hour, and then i was suddenly awake. None of this drifting back or blurred cinematic visions of white coats flurrying about or a nimbus of faces hovering near me while lights flashed in my eyes checking for response. It was, “Some oxygen?” then, i was wide awake in a bed somewhere in recovery, back in my Bair Paws and feeling amazing. i don’t know what drugs they gave me, but it was more than relief, more than feeling that some offending organ making me sick had been removed. i felt at peace, warm, well-rested, comfortable, not cloudy, no pain, and an oddly light sense of elation. Truly happy.
A nurse picked up the phone at a desk directly across from me. i smiled at her over the tops of my feet. “Yes, she’s very alert,” she reported to someone on the other end.
i was wheeled back to the room in a line of beds where i was first admitted and my mom & Joe came in to see me. it was less than an hour of recovery where i chewed two cups of shaved ice, gulped down 3 apple juices, had two glasses of water and some graham crackers, proved that i could walk across the hall & urinate and i was free to go. A funny little old man cracked corny jokes and wheeled me down to the car where Joe helped me into the passenger seat, we were home before noon, and i rested for a week.
REAL food . . .
My mother & Joe ordered Hawaiian pizza and hot wings that first nite, and sure, i had my juice and water and all that nonsense, but for weeks, i had been craving fried chicken, so i am happy to report i had a slice of pizza with cheese stuffed crust and three little nubby chicken wings just hours after surgery and was SO happy. Nothing like jumpstarting your system by challenging it. Shortly after that i mostly behaved and ate more mild foods: brothy soups, applesauce, cottage cheese, peaches, saltines, tea, gingerale, and managed to destroy a box of graham crackers.
Then my mom would get to cooking and i found myself eating spaghetti and meat sauce, crock-pot slow-cooked pot roast with carrots, potatoes and buttered biscuits, happy, fluffy clouds of 2 scrambled eggs nestled into Franz white bread with a light spread of mayo and cut into little triangles. She made sure i got my protein and ate “real food” as she called it. None of this “organic” shit we usually eat which as everyone knows, is made of ground-up hippies and probably caused my gallbladder to go rogue in the first place. There may be such a thing as eating TOO healthy and not eating some evil stuff once in awhile.
But man, my mother packed this house with 12-packs of three different sodas: Vernors, a Michigan hometown gingerale favorite, Dr. Pepper and Fresca. Then there was a deluge of junk food snacks: three different types of chips, 2 dips, ranch dressing, a box of See’s chocolates, a canister of See’s nuts, a HUGE canister of three flavored popcorns (cheese, butter and caramel), a pound of Twizzler’s red licorice, Raisinettes and Resse’s peanut butter cups that were Christmas Tree shaped. That was just what i took immediate stock of, there was plenty more. i have considered hosting a movie nite or a party just to get RID of some of this!
I’d Like to Introduce You To My Girls, Vicki and Pam . . .
Diet was one concern which seemed to go fine but pain management was a deep worry. i thought for sure that i wouldn’t be able to tolerate the Vicodin, but a few experiments of breaking them in half in the weeks before the surgery proved to be promising and when i came home i simply tapered as the days went and remained a little sore sometimes, but pain free. First two days were every 4-5 hours, days three and four every 6-8, by days 5 & 6 i was taking one at noon and one at midnite, plus a little Motrin for the pain and swelling and by the end of the week and the beginning of next, i was taking ½ a Vicodin at nite to sleep through the nite peacefully.
Though infrequent, my usual fall back sleep aid is Tylenol PM, who i call “Pam,” and just one, because the suggested dosage of two guarantees i won’t be attending anything the next day until after, oh, say 3pm. i also nicknamed my Vicodin, “Vicki.” i only need ½ of her. And the girls now, well, i just keep ’em around for laughs and a good time if i need to just knock myself the fuck out of consciousness for the nite.
Here Kitty, Kitty Or, Taming The Beast . . .
i’ve been introducing food slowly and lightly as a one at a time lineup to my digestion, sort of like tossing bananas and tennis balls and roller skates and live goats into a lion’s den with “here you go – what do you think of THIS?” Experimental interaction. And because what i know of food is occupational, i think of my gallbladder in food & restaurant terms as having been “86ed” or as i said to Joe while pawing through the random generators for the words and distractedly typing on the computer the other day, “my gallbladder’s been deleted.”
To follow that theme – i’m sure it will be awhile before my digestive system reboots & comes back online. And i’m certain that i won’t be able to hork down a bacon cheeseburger and waffle fries without incident anytime soon. i don’t want to piss anything off in there . . . i know very well it’s a first class luge ticket for any food that offends my system currently rewiring itself and trying to figure out why the bile salts storage facility closed down. Sorry, love – it’s the economy. Things are tough all over. Soldier on. Now here’s some Indian Food, some wine, some corn chowder, a fried egg sandwich, some potato chips – oh, no sorry, i take that back. Baked potato chips from now on.
All told, if you find out your gallbladder is angry and you are considering just leaving it in and dealing with it, DON’T! You have to EAT to LIVE, and there was no way i was going to compromise my lifestyle & diet in fear of food and future attacks. i already had the basics and took care of my body, now i just have to bounce all the way back. The incisions are barely anything, one inside my belly-button that you can’t see, one barely the length and width of the edge of my pinkie fingernail, one smaller than the circumference of a pencil top eraser, and the largest one is about a centimeter. That one has character too . . . a little red edge, like its smirking at me which will fade and flatten over time, plus a little kitten whisker edge of a clear, dissolving suture, which i may snip if it doesn’t go away soon.
The cost of this whole adventure via the care of Kaiser Permanente? $14. Two office visits at $5 apiece, $4 for four presecriptions. No cost for the EKG, bloodwork or ultrasound. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Joe. Thank you PSU. Thank you State Of Oregon.
Well, that’s enough for now. i’m sure i have left anyone who made it this far with plenty to digest . . . sorry about that – you can see what occupies my mind these days.
And you’ll just have to forgive me, you see – i’m not all there . . .
things seen and done in the course of a day . . .
+ First thing, i started my day, pulled out of my garage and drove 20 feet before a doe stopped in front of my car on a quiet residential block, panicked, scrabbled on the pavement, then ran full-tilt boogie, leaping and sprinting down the street.
+ Went to a job interview in a posh place, and promptly made up my mind after meeting the head MFIC, that i would continue my search.
+ Went to a garden center, picked out two potted burgundy colored mums & vegetable seeds for Spring, then hauled two bags of soil to the trunk.
+ Ate a sub sandwich with salt and vinegar chips while sitting on the sunny deck in the backyard.
+ Completed a phone interview for a job at an established Oregon winery while pacing my garden.
+ Scheduled another interview with a wine shop for the following day.
+ Ran two loads of laundry and hand washed my “delicates.”
+ Joe and i went to Starbuck’s and got a pumpkin spice latte and a salted caramel hot chocolate. mmmm.
+ We then went to pick out carving pumpkins and Halloween candy in case we stay home, or to set out for the little monsters in a free for all grab-bowl. i’m sure we’ll have leftovers . . .
+ Had dinner with Joe at a “Carribean” place, courtesy of a 2 for 1 entrée coupon, with dishes from Ethiopia, Hawaii, Thailand, New Orleans and Jamaica. i settled on a crazy tropical drink and Kalua Pork – a Hawaiian slow-cooked, smoky shredded pork pile with grilled onions, sweet peppers, Tamarindo BBQ sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, tropical slaw and cornbread. speaking of leftovers, it’s about to become lunch.
+ Settled down in front of the computer to edit some photo projects, including a few from our recent hiking and “camping” trip out to Bend, Oregon.
+ Watched some quality Daily Show and Colbert Report with Joe & Odin.
+ Dug into the Halloween Candy and ate a Halloween orange colored Kit-Kat.
+ Settled down into bed with a good book and an even better husband.
It’s not like you haven’t heard from me . . . but i suppose you haven’t heard all the tales and tidbits. i DID just make a cross-country move with my darling husband. So let’s see what i can tell you about what it is to move from Virginia to Oregon with everything you own, a car dragging behind you, plus a landlubbing Bengal Cat to which any confinement in a moving vehicle is a personal affront to be met with vociferous fury . . .
We’ll begin with the end of days: the weekend of Saturday August 23rd was my last day of work, i waited on Joe’s family, we said goodbyes and he sold them his car. Sunday afternoon we were off to a baby shower for my dear friend Megan in Annapolis and a late-night fevered packing session on Sunday which brings us early into Monday . . .
Monday morning we were supposed to pick up our Budget Rental truck. Penske doesn’t do it that far and U-Haul was NOT an option by poor reputation and my friends’ numerous horror stories and breakdown variations on a theme so Budget had our business, begrudgingly we were to find out. Due to some unknown fuckery at the rental shop, we received a phonecall in the morning, informing us that our honkin’ monster truck (24 ft) would be available closer to noon as the current drop-off hadn’t arrived, but that they would call when it was ready. It was verging .. 2pm by the time Joe actually went there in person to experience – more fuckery. Apparently, Larry, Curly, Moe (and possibly Shemp) were not capable of doing anything by hand (filling out forms, figuring out taxes) and the whole Eastern seaboard Budget computer system was apparently mysteriously “broken.” Once it came back online, (and partway through the manual entry) they insisted Joe stay to put it all in the computer. My poor husband, fuming, but controlled did not arrive until 3:30. Luckily we had angels waiting for us.
i don’t know what we would’ve done without Jared and Patrick helping us haul things down and load the truck. i don’t know why we thought we could’ve done it by ourselves; we would’ve had to add another whole day to our trip exhausting ourselves getting everything loaded! Of course, the late truck meant later packing, meant later loading meant later cleaning of the apartment, and we really wanted to be out early evening, get somewhere outside of the DC Beltway morning rush hour, hole up in a little motel and rest, and to then start the trek first thing in the am. Well, it wasn’t until after midnight, when we finally packed the vacuum and cleaning supplies. i gave Odin some PetCalm to ease his nerves (but it didn’t, much) while we drove over an hour (an eternity with howling feline) to Hagerstown, Maryland.
A word about the Motel 6 . . . sketch. Okay, lots of snaky S words. Like, skeevy, scary, bars on the window where the night clerk sits, sketchity spookville. We were only here because they had a pet friendly policy, not to save on any moving expenses as they were covered by Joe’s university job. A quick survey of the area (and the big sign about NO TRUCKS) and it was clear we had to park the moving truck (24 ft + now the extra 10ft or more with my car in a flatbed tow) at the shopping mall lot across the way. We figured it was ok to do since other trucks were parked similarly.
But just to be sure, Joe asked the clerk, “Is it ok to park over there?” motioning to the direction of the trucks.
The clerk offered a nervous, and falsely reassuring answer, “yeah – a security guard patrols there every hour or so. Any room preference?”
“Where we can see the truck,” Joe said plainly.
So, Odin got settled quickly (he can bed down anywhere, he just hates MOVING in a vehicle), chowed down, did some encouraging kitty business in the newly re-located litterbox and perched himself at the highest point in the room, the tv, to survey his new domain. We pulled the scratchy, toilet paper thin bedsheets over us and commenced sleeping into morning one of our cross-country adventure.
The next morning, it was the breakfast buffet at Shoney’s which smelled like greasy, eggy-bacon heaven floating atop pancake clouds; evil and delicious but the type of meal one could not hork down shamelessly every morning without regret or consequence. Our waitress was pleasant, quick and dirty with the coffee cups and water and plodded through the standard “Hello, my name is ______, and i’ll be your server today.” There wasn’t any fresh fruit, unless you counted all the sugary canned ones for pancake toppings, but there were three types of gravy to include chipped beef and four types of potatoes – all fried.
And boy howdy it hurt my soul; there were some very unhealthy, ungainly, unhappy people milling around the breakfast bar. People shuffled up with oxygen tanks and walkers, sort of a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest revisited meets Dawn Of The Dead, and honestly, forgive me for this description, but between all the medical equipment, the staggering display of obesity, and the general slow-moving malaise owing to an early morning it was not an easy square to maneuver. Conversely, the buffet was patrolled and replenished by a pasty, skinny, pock-marked, shifty-eyed, surlier than Satan, quick-handed, would be mass-murderer type, luckily armed only with a few spatulas. i hesitated to ask for anything that might come off sounding like a snooty, pain in the ass dietary concern, should Jethro James Manson, Jr. decide this was his morning to “waste ’em all.”
The bill didn’t amount to much, as we had a per diem for food in our moving expenses, so Joe left the waitress a $10 tip.
“Whoa, what’s that say?” the cash register jockey drawled, incredulously.
Joe is lovely, but his hand-writing is difficult and deeply codified, plus the pen was a little dry, so i assumed the numbers were hard to make out.
“Joe went back over the numbers in pen and told him “Ten dollars.”
“Wow! That’s a great tip.” This was the lottery to this guy.
As a waitress in fine dining where the average low end tip is a straight $20, this statement made me terribly sad, but i could see the grubby, wrinkled, single bills and piles of change emptied from pockets and cup holders, piled on dirty tables under brown coffee mugs as we walked by, looking more like several police searches than gratuities. We must’ve made, “Hello, my name is ______, and i’ll be your server today”‘s day.
We wound our way through Appalachia through the first of many many miles of corn on our way to Indianapolis.
What should’ve been an 8-hour drive grew into a 12-hour nitemare of three terrible realizations. One – we had one angry, frightened, inconsolable cat (no matter how much herbal tranquilizer administered) who slept for 20 minutes and howled and climbed windows, dashboard and floorboard the other 40. Two – a mysterious idiot light came on depicting a wrench and an oilcan. This to me meant “You’re fucked, Tin Man.” After one of the first tiffs my sweet husband and i ever had about how to handle this second crap-laden fact, we decided the best course was to pull over and call the Budget help line. After being jockeyed through the phone system of choices, we finally pushed enough numbers and spoke to an informed human service agent who wasn’t reading verbatim from the “How-To Talk To The Pissed And Stranded” manual. She spoke to an actual mechanic who assured us it was simply an early warning oil change interval and that we could tell the delivery place on the other end that it came on and needs the service. They even told us how to disable it, but we never did. And finally, Three – with footnotes a) & b) were realizations we made about the truck. a) it laughed at and evaporated fuel – 5 miles to the gallon. b) uphill grades any steeper than say 4%, with the pedal to the metal resulted in the hazard lights being flicked on and a maximum speed of 35mph.
After we finally arrived in Indianapolis to my sister’s place, hair matted, mood dampened, cat howling, with furrowed brow, exhausted and hungry as hostages, we came around to the idea that we had to add a day to our ambitious arrival time. This was decided over a fabulous pork dinner and several ears of corn on the cob plus two bottles of wine. We also decided (and thankfully, my sister and her husband agreed) to leave Odin to stay with them for a week for a later flight retrieval operation that my poor Joe volunteered for. It was clear that completing the rest of the trip with kitty in the cab would make for a longer, more difficult, harrowing and stressful journey – for all of us. Let’s just say that Odin is not easily calmed or sedated, by natural, herbal, homeopathic, psychological, or pharmacological means. On the two-leg (no direct flights from Indy) trip home, he even managed to surf above the double dose of chicken flavored kitty Valium and maintained a constant meow from under the seat, save for the last hour. Joe reports that he made lots of friends on the planes. When Odin did finally arrive, he was all hyped up. Apparently, diazepam, instead of having the nice calming effect, can cause a paradoxical reaction and instead make a human (or bad kitty) wildly alert and excitable. So Odin, above the normal exploratory passes that go along with an animal in new surroundings, paced, mewed, jumped from window to window and trotted from room to room with a lack of coordination and on wobbly legs until pretty much the next morning when he was able to settle in and have a good long sleep. And he’s doing fine now . . .
But back to the adventures of the Janda’s cross-country excursion . . .
Getting fuel was always exciting. Finding diesel in Hellhole, Nebraska often required the help of my fancy new Instinct phone’s GPS Navigation, then it was determining whether we could get the moving truck under, around and out of places without jackknifing, tearing off the trailer or bringing down awnings and taking out gas pumps. EVERY stop, which was more frequent with the awesome fuel consumption, required this exercise in mathematical probability and turning radius.
The cities moved on as I downloaded the local weather. Amazing to me that i could find where we were and what was close by to eat or refuel by the help of Jenny (the name i have dubbed my cell phone’s navigational voice, as in: “Jenny Jenny, where do i turn now? 867-530 ni-eeee-ine.” and yes, Iain . . . a tip o’ the hat to you as well on the name.) Lore City, OH – Grass Lake, MI – Normal, IL – Exira, IA, Waverly, NE – Grand Island, NE. Oh, which by the way, appears to be in the center, like a bullseye dart throw at the US map. However, Grand Island is, as far as i can tell, neither “grand” nor an “island” and is not even remotely near water. Or culture. Or . . .
The waitstaff at the local Perkins gave me very confused looks when, upon having my own oolong tea, i simply requested a pot of hot water, a pitcher of milk and a cup.
“So, you want a glass of milk, like orange juice?” Lloyd asked.
“No, i want a small container, for milk instead of cream, like for coffee,” i tried to explain. He brought me a pitcher of milk normally reserved for syrup and a plastic carafe big enough for 8 cups of coffee but filled with hot water and still, sadly, no vessel to put any of my tea in. 2 out of 3 wasn’t bad i supposed. i was finally able to flag down another waitress to ask for a coffee mug since i was certain tea cups were not to be had. forget about latte mugs too in case i wanted to make a BIG cup of tea . . .
In Rock Springs, Wyoming we stayed on Elk Street at the “Outlaw Inn” Best Western, ordered my first breakfast in bed and watched my first episode of “It’s Me Or The Dog.” We had traveled all nite through so much flatland (called the Great Plains for a reason, clearly – they go on plainly forever) and when we woke up, we were surprised that we found ourselves in the desert. Rocky, golden stoned climbs and scrubby green & brown foliage dotted the hillsides and ground like so many funny little clown wigs left out in the sun after the carnival left town and never came back. But here’s what surprised me. Sure, we laughed at first, because the winds picked up and there were some honest to goodness TUMBLEWEEDS moving across the road which to me, signals true desolation and nowhereness. Then the sky grew ominous, black and bruised and instead of being hot and blazing, it rained through most of our trip through the desert and on our way as we dipped barely into Utah north of Salt Lake and on into Idaho.
And can i just say here, forgive me if you grew up in, lived or currently live in Idaho, because, i know the northern part is beautiful, but damn. Boise proper, from the road and some of the rare farms and outlying suburbs hurt a little to look at. It was hard for me to imagine where you would live, where you would work, how far you had to drive, the manner and means by which you’d survive. Strange domiciles huddled like hungry masses, bumped up against and thrown together in a manner almost suburban, but more like third world dilapidated houses of clap-trap metal sheds and sheets, some barely wooden, functional farmlike lean-tos. Meant for animals. Weathervanes on top seemed an unnecessary after thought. A spritely windchime tinkling and floating off a broken fence made me sad. i hesitate to say soul-crushing, but it did approach that. Once, after a batch of mean road food, we rolled down the windows to umm . . . get some fresh air, and were assaulted by an even worse smell. and here’s where tasting food and wine and trying to disseminate spices, essences, flavors and smells comes in, though i hope to never come across any food or beverage of the sort. i can only describe the smell in Idaho as a dead squirrel/rodent rolled in mocha and put on a pyre of leaves. It had a pungent, smoky, mocha, sweet, rotting meat, dead, acrid, burnt, dry smell that was enough to make us prefer our own flatulence. damn.
Crossing over into Oregon, we stayed in Baker City at the Oregon Trail Motel & Restaurant to prepare for the last leg of our journey into Portland. What a funny, little old, almost stagecoach town. The room was cheap, and included free breakfast the next morning, which was delightful and a good thing, because our first dinner in Oregon, was when we arrived there near closing time to have a most disappointing steak dinner. flavorless, tough, square shaped strip steak (definitely frozen and hauled in), grey-tinged green beans, sad and soggy (definitely canned and not sautéed), and a dusty baked potato (the best part, sadly) which could’ve benefitted from a good wash and less time in foil, so it was easier to strip it out to eat. we probably should’ve had to the fried chicken dinner special that the kooky local ordered when he bellied up to the counter, because he ordered a second plate. but then again, “special” to me in the far restaurant outreaches does not mean “fresh today, on the mind of the chef,” it means, “get this scary shit out of the kitchen before it violates health code.”
Speaking of health code . . . the not so sanitary, no sneeze-guard, precursory salad bar on a small wheeled cart had a threatening sign tacked to it about allowing only one visit with no sharing and one plate per person limit. This plate, by the way, had a 4in diameter, enough to hold a slice of bread with some overhang. and the usual sad green fare of anemic looking iceberg lettuce, limp, shredded carrots, sulfurous purple cabbage, some unidentifiable, unnaturally colored, jiggling gelatinous something, creamy thick dressings, crushed into sawdust croutons, and luckily for me, some watermelon. a rare one-off fruit treat with more crunch, water, and possibly more nutrients than the iceberg lettuce.
i know – i am spoiled. of course, i did not expect to pass through the middle of the heartland, the dairyland, the plains, the land of plenty and to have a diverse and delicate gourmet experience, but being that close to corn, vegetables, grains and cows, i had my standards set high enough that i might actually receive something on a plate that tasted farm raised and had enough color to shine through the blue pallored spectrum of fluorescent lighting that haunts every diner. i realize, i may come off as a food snob, but more i find myself grateful. it occurs to me how fortunate i am to work in an industry and now live in a city and state where culinary excellence, even in the simplest of places, hinges on fresh, whole, organic, local, seasonal, and sustainable food sources. you can taste the difference, people. tomatoes that aren’t pale pink, mealy and flavorless. Strawberries that although smaller than the grocery bought flats, stain the fingers and taste sweet and heavenly. i made a soup last week with these huge gnarly carrots, just pulled from the ground, bundled with the tops on and even after boiling were the most amazing flavorful carrots i’ve ever eaten.
So on the tip of food et al, we’ve been hitting the wine bars, the sake bars, the breweries, the Saturday Farmer’s Market, dinner here and there and lots cooking at home. a few weeks back, my friend Tiffany and i went to the Portland Classical Chinese Garden where we had a traditional tea and ate a red bean mooncake to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Joe and i have already met new people and are definitely getting some socializing done. on one such event, i even canned peaches and tomatoes w/ garlic and green peppers for sauces. first months out here out here and were discovering how to compost, rethinking everything i throw away, recycling the hell out of EVERYTHING i touch, and putting food into Ball jars for the winter! holy granola! stop me if i cease wearing deodorant, let my hair dread, get a nose or lip piercing, go on road trips to support jam bands and start practicing hacky sack in my backyard, k?
One of the prettiest parts of the trip – The Columbia Gorge . . .
i’m the impatient type. i’m the girl who wants to feel established and settled the minute i set foot in a new situation. i crave quick learning and acclimation and seem to give myself a bit of hell if i don’t have all my systems, rituals and routines in place. Joe’s sister, Laura reminded us (me, really, who needs the patience and the temperance) that we are setting up a HOME, not just a house or living space, so i should just ease into it without spazzing out too much. but yes, the “house” is mostly setup and the “home” bit is starting to warm in me. we have been sleeping fitfully in a new king-sized bed, (Odin’s all about it too!) the weather has been stellar to mild, with yes, some rain here and there though we’ve apparently entered the rainy season. But Indian Summer came and went in full-swing (it was in the 90’s a few days in the first weeks of arrival and not a drop of rain) and i am certainly enjoying my little garden, deck space, cool mornings, quiet breakfasts and tea in a sunny kitchen, dinners & wine with my Joe and friends. it’s all been quite good. And i know it’s going to be at least a year until all things truly settle, i have a solid base of friends, a job i enjoy and can get all the way around socially and physically without getting lost.
As for our immediate locale – there’s a little coffee house nearby and as we walk down to it, we get a clear view of Mt. Hood, and off to the left, Mt. St. Helens (which i read are two “active” stratovolcanos, kind of “exciting”). there are pear trees along the walk, overflowing and dropping in the grass – ah, the spoils. In our yard, we have roses lining the wooden fence, blueberries, raspberries, tomatoes, fennel, ferns, lavender, rosemary, sage, hydrangea and little bursts of wild flowers. In fact, this year i am putting in Spring bulbs and next year, i think i will revive the tomatoes, put in cucumbers and plant squash.
i put out hummingbird feeders and they’ve come and i put out a regular seed feeder and the loudass squawking Scrub and Stellar Jays (plus some sweet Chickadees) have depleted it twice. the squirrels are plentiful – one (or a party of several) gnawed through our Comcast dropline to the house, so we had to have our internets fixed the first few days here. they also chase and skitter across the length of our roof top and you can hear the entire scrabbling pursuit from room to room. This drives Odin wild! Bad little tree rats!
Joe got his haircut at this little local barbershop on the corner by this big brawny tough dude named Justice who had two teensy-weensy grey kittens scurrying about that his friend dumped on him and now he has seemingly been forced to adopt. Their names are Guns & Roses. seriously. And, as recent pictures depict, i also whacked my hair off. it’s a bit curly and untame unless i brush it down some and straighten it, but i like the shortness. Hair clips are my friends.
The fine people i worked with in Virginia bought Joe and i a most original going away gift. A hot air balloon ride over Yamhill wine country which ends in a catered hot, champagne/mimosa brunch! We’re going to try to fit that in while the weather holds . . . but, there is always Spring and Summer next year.
Joe started work on September 15th, and me, after hitting craigslist like a whore, i’ve had a few bites and started a job that’s going to require endurance of some growing pains, but i won’t bore you with those details here. i’m not one to talk shop and air dirty laundry of how i trade time for money; it’s one of those questions i’ve always hated and dislike answering. “So – what do you do?” Of course, i grew a bit bored being a lady of leisure but there are some things i loved about it, like seeing my husband during normal evening hours for dinner in or out and watching or reading things together. Life moves slower here, hours go slower. Life is more leisurely it seems, and it’s not just lack of full-on social or work obligations either, it seems to be an engrained mindset.
On September 23rd, Joe and i celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary. We had a low key day of salad, pizza and beer, some board games with some rosé champagne, some tv time, some private time, and some blissful sleep. The beer and first bottle of bubbly did us in, so we didn’t get to some really nice champagne gifted to us last year, but there was always lunch the next day . . . and me, i never need a celebratory excuse to crack the bubbly.
Well, two things i am looking forward to out here – Halloween and voting. Both bring a certain level of ghoulish fright and giddy excitement. It’s safe to say that by lawn and houses alone, it appears that Oregon is largely an Obamanation. (heh!) Voter registration was made pretty easy for us: they got me in front of an organic market out here, and Joe at the Saturday Farmer’s market. It was convenient and fast, done by the last four of my SS (since i don’t have an OR license yet) and the voter’s card arrived days later. Apparently, we send all of our ballots in by mail here, which surprised me. i was really hoping to go into a secret squirrel booth for my first voting experience. But hey – no nervousness about machines to manipulate and no hanging chads. i wonder if it’s a scantron?
And if you need to go back a few lines, yes . . . that’s right. MY FIRST. in all my 36 years i have never been registered to vote. Never cared for the process, and living near DC never endeared me to the constant conversation, the dogged preoccupation nor the convocation. (Apologies to my friends for whom it is an occupation.) But i am doing it this year. i am fortunate to survive and do well in as they say, “times like these,” and it occurs to me that being politically active when it counts is by extension, a survival tactic to hold onto all the ideals in life that brought Joe and i out here in the first place.
Oregon is already proving itself as some manner of heaven and a lifestyle i can love.
So come visit us! We have a nice guest room in the basement, right next to the wine cellar.