Summer Part 1: The Bill Always Comes

**The Summer of The Winter of Our Discontent**

There’s this key moment in Sudoku, when you find a clutch number that gives way to the others and begin to just fall into place like a waterfall. Much like the card you play in solitaire where you know you’re about to crack it. I had just written in a 6 I’d been trying to find for way too long. So began the waterfall, and I filled in the other boxes proudly– possibly smugly because this puzzle felt like it was out to trick me personally and now I had it in my hands! Until I didn’t, and in slow motion realized I had two number 7’s in the bottom row, and I just wanted to hit myself.

I tried to work backwards to fix it, but it was irreparably blown. I blew it. So, there went the last two weeks.

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Somewhat of a Doodler 

Of course, I’ve been up to other things. It’d be funny if after a month break all I had to show for it was a failed puzzle. Can’t all be winners.

For starters, summer reading. In July I was booklets after finishing Killing Commendatore, and sad I didn’t have more Murikami to lose myself in. Finally I scanned my own bookshelf for unread potential treasures and picked up Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent, which doesn’t sound like much of an apropos Summer read, but it’s just that. It’d sat idle on my shelf for years, even though that white house on the cover had caught my eye a thousand times. I had no idea the brilliance I was missing! It’s like suddenly realizing an old painting in your closet is worth some absurd amount of money. Once I dove in I didn’t want out, which surprised me when it shouldn’t have. It’s a classic, what did I expect?

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The book was written in 1961, and given the passage of time I expected a natural  disconnect. I’ve been so wrapped up in modern fiction– for too long probably. Yet somehow the America and the People and Assumed Human Decency that Steinbeck depicted 60 years ago were all completely recognizable today. You wouldn’t have to drive long before finding a sister town to “New Baytown”or look very hard before confronting modern replicas of his primary characters. Ultimately he tapped into the problems, desires, personal demons and moral choices most all of us face at some point– it’s just astounding to me that Steinbeck unearthed such deep, quiet struggles and could discern which ones were engrained in us and would stand the test of time.

Maybe that’s a litmus test for what makes a book a classic; if the suppositions and ideas can weather the decades and remain solidly true, unbothered by time, then you’ve got yourself a winner. I guess that’s pretty obvious, but it felt remarkable to come across.

The book reads a lot like a memoir of protagonist Ethan Crawley, who is so likable, in the first place, it’s hard to put down. I felt a relief knowing there was someone else who felt these ways –about money and politics and social hierarchies and expectations. He makes a joke out of probably 85% of his replies, and rarely does anyone get it, or choose to acknowledge it with a laugh anyway. That felt… familiar.

I feel similarly when I watch SNL sketches that crack me up. It’s not in the scene itself, but in the imagining of the writers who wrote the sketch, and knowing that real people out there recognized absurdity the way that I do. It’s easy not to feel seen in the world, but knowing other people see things the same way you do, even perfect strangers, feels like the twin brother to feeling understood. One scene in the book hammered this feeling in…

Crawley and his wife have been invited to another couples house to discuss “business”, i.e. money, but they have to go through the obligatory song and dance first.  That means a formal serving of tea and then petty small talk. Everyone sipped tea and each delivered some anecdote on the subject of tea. He’s bored to tears. When it became Ethan’s turn to chime in, he brought up Danny, the town drunk, and a terrible nightmare he’d had about him. I laughed as he described feeling his wife’s quiet anger that he didn’t keep up the supposedly pleasant tea talk, and now everyone had to comment about a despairing subject. I wonder how many pleasant bouts of small talk I’ve Debbie Downer’ed with an some morbid comment that I found funny? Probably too many. Anyway, it’s a perfect scene.

A few of my favorite passages:

“So many old and lovely things are stored in the worlds attic, because we don’t want them around us and we don’t dare throw them out.”

I don’t suppose there’s a man in the world who doesn’t love to give advice.”

(Ethan)”Is Marullo part of the group?”

(Wealthy friend) “Certainly not. He goes his own way with his own crowd.” (The Italians. Marullo is an immigrant)

(Ethan)“They do pretty well, don’t they?”

(Friend) “Better than I think is healthy. I don’t like to see these foreigners creeping in.”

Sounds familiar eh?

“There is no such thing as just enough money. Only two measures: No Money and Not Enough Money.”

“No one wants advice–only corroboration.”

“I always put it down to fact that a wife never likes her husband’s boss or his secretary.” “All men are moral. Only their neighbors are not.” “Not only the brave get killed, but the brave have a better chance at it.” “For the most part people are not curious, except about themselves.”

I must have underlined half the book.

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Next I read Hemingways The Sun Also Rises, another of the greats that’d been collecting dust not far from Steinbeck. When finishing it I wondered why I haven’t read more of the classics, because this was a damn great book too. There’s no good reason I don’t have more of them under my belt, except that I didn’t take enough literature classes in college I guess, and I hardly know what the real classics are. So, I’ve begun a list. Who cares. Anyway I won’t go so far into this one. As tribute to Hemingway and his distinguished, succinct style I’ll say this: The book is rather great and you should read it. You’ll have a swell time. 

 

Especially if you love Paris, Spain, the Pamplona Fiesta, fishing, Bullfighting, and forbidden love. Hemingway was clearly a romantic. Did you know he was married four times? Only a true romantic gives marriage that many goes. 

The passage that stuck:

“I had been getting something for nothing. That only delayed the presentation of the bill. The bill always came. That was one of the swell things you could count on. …You paid some way for everything that was any good.”

If that’s not the truth I don’t know what is.

I kept thinking about it’s application to health. That very often, when you have your health, it’s free. They say your health is like your breath–you don’t pay attention to it until you lose it. I think back on life before the relapse, and how I’d done nothing to earn my state of ‘decent’ state of health. I’d also done nothing to earn the relapse that eventually followed. It felt like someone at my door, come to collect a bill every day, when I hadn’t purchased anything. When well, I was getting something for nothing, without even knowing it. Once sick I had to begin paying for those somethings, and surrender what I couldn’t afford.

My hope, and I think my belief, is that it doesn’t have to mean the surrender of those things that matter most. When you’re forced to give things up, it feels just that way. But learning to live without them has been an ongoing lesson in letting go of what I thought I needed in order to live a life I liked. You end up finding a whole other you behind those old roles. It offered a strange opportunity to see my own self without these external identifiers. That allowed me to see the world differently too. I’m (still) learning it’s up to me, more often than not, how I choose to see both.

But, as the man said, you paid for anything that was any good. Many things that allow me to feel alive and good come at a cost. It’s like a tax on fun, in the currency of health. Actually I also pay the tax when I haven’t had fun. REAL COOL BODY THANKS. At any rate, I feel fortunate I still have people and places and experiences to (sometimes) overindulge in at all.

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Like him. He’s worth it.

I imagine everyone has their respective “things” or indulgences for which a bill reliably comes. And maybe depending on what point we’re asked, during the playing or the paying, would we consider whether or not the juice was worth the squeeze. For me, mostly, paying the bill feels worth it when I’ve decided to splurge. Girls gotta live sometimes.

Health, Happiness, Paying the Tab

I Have a Time Machine

Here’s a poem I really like. It’s by Brenda Shaughness.

I Have a Time Machine

But unfortunately it can only travel into the future
at a rate of one second per second,

which seems slow to the physicists and to the grant
committees and even to me.

But I manage to get there, time after time, to the next
moment and to the next.

Thing is, I can’t turn it off. I keep zipping ahead—
well, not zipping—And if I try

to get out of this time machine, open the latch,
I’ll fall into space, unconscious,

then desiccated! And I’m pretty sure I’m afraid of that.
So I stay inside.

There’s a window, though. It shows the past.
It’s like a television or fish tank

but it’s never live, it’s always over. The fish swim
in backward circles.

Sometimes it’s like a rearview mirror, another chance
to see what I’m leaving behind,

and sometimes like blackout, all that time
wasted sleeping.

Myself age eight, whole head burnt with embarrassment
at having lost a library book.

Myself lurking in a candled corner expecting
to be found charming.

Me holding a rose though I want to put it down
so I can smoke.

Me exploding at my mother who explodes at me
because the explosion

of some dark star all the way back struck hard
at mother’s mother’s mother.

I turn away from the window, anticipating a blow.
I thought I’d find myself

an old woman by now, travelling so light in time.
But I haven’t gotten far at all.

Strange not to be able to pick up the pace as I’d like;
the past is so horribly fast.

Pretty great no? It’s funny how some poems feel like they were written just for us, as if the author knew exactly where we’d find it and what it would do to us, hitting us in the gut in a coffee shop! Or heart. Our insides somewhere. I love this part of poetry. How fast it is. How in just a minute or two you can cosmically connect with a total stranger, dead or alive, and feel more seen or heard than you have by actual people. That’s powerful stuff!

I’ve recently been reading Anne Sexton–her history and her poems–and both are intense and curious and heartbreaking, but deeply resonant and I’m eager to read more. I plan to order someones cheap, used copy off of Amazon, and hopefully I’ll find parts that are underlined or circled with little notes in the margin. This is one of my favorite perks of reading (used) tangible books as opposed to electronic, kindle types; the human mark on the pages. They’re like little visceral clues of other life, but exceptionally personal. More confidential than say, finding someones grocery list, although there are treasures to find in that too. Maybe I am just an alien from another planet seeking signs of life and getting way too caught up in casual life leftovers. But somehow I feel less alone when I see a persons scribbles to the side of a page. Their unique handwriting next to that flat text against the page– It heightens the effects of the words. It brings the whole thing to life. It always makes me think that someone else sat alone somewhere, reading these same words and they were compelled enough to write themselves. Maybe it was there way of writing back, hoping someone somewhere along the way would read what they wrote and feel something. I don’t know, but there’s just something…nice, about that.  Anyway, I think I will start with The Awful Rowing Towards God. Or maybe Live or Die and go from there. Did you know that Anne Sexton had two sisters, and one was named Elizabeth Jane, and the other one was named Blanche Dingley? BLANCHE DINGLEY?! I wonder if Elizabeth Jane gave Dingley shit about that.

Health, Happiness, and Poetry. Pure Poetry. 

The Opposite of Boredom

A few noteworthy things of late.

I’m completely lost in Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. I began reading it Sunday and now I find myself attempting to read only small bits at a time because I’m already dreading it being over. It’s such a good read. The protagonist Jack really resonates with me but also Percy is such a creative and dead-on writer of things large and small. I admit reading his words make me feel like I could never write anything of worth if I tried for it my entire life. But on other pages his complex ideas play out so simply, his writing so accessible that it gives the assuring impression that anyone could do it. The story takes place in New Orleans mostly, among other Louisiana Parishes and the Mississippi coast. I love stories set here, not for reasons of pride but for how perfectly the landscape plays into the story, picking up where plot leaves off. Something huge would inevitably be lost were it to be told from Ohio…or Michigan. All parts of it from the dress, to the houses, to the unnerving racial tension are all intrinsically Southern, and you find yourself loving it whether you hate it or not. Also of note, Percy lived in Covington. He used to drive the bridge to New Orleans. I guess it’s encouraging to know something so inspiring came out of this little town that for so long I hated. Speaking of the bridge..

I had another moment of coherence. This time around mile marker 11. Monty and I were driving home once again, New Orleans to the Northshore, last Monday evening. It was a pretty nondescript Monday, cloudless with little traffic. But my thoughts were floating through me with the rhythm of the bumps per usual. Then I did this thing which I do a lot. A small amount of congested traffic formed from some kind of road repair, and as I slowed my car to a near-halt, I felt myself bracing for impact. Not from me but from a car behind. (No car in particular, I do this no matter who’s behind me) Then I imagined the loud crashing sound it would make and my airbags inflating. Then the last part which is usually the most unnerving for me, I saw my car crashing through the concrete barrier to my right,  and my feeble Toyota corolla with Monty and me inside it, falling slow motion into the water. Down, down we’d go.

like this. but less black and whiteness.
Like this. But less black and whiteness.

And usually the thought doesn’t end with a rescue. Usually it ends with me shuttering at the idea of the lights going out on my life so fast, and then me being jerked back to reality, convincing myself someway that death is nothing to think about. As though I’ll never die! But last Monday was different. I had the thought, I braced for impact, I saw the vision of my falling car. And then out of nowhere…tranquility. My mind felt placid. I may have even smiled. I thought how weightless that moment must be when you finally let go. The grand transition. Finally releasing something you’ve held so tightly onto, whether it was good to you or not. The surrender. The relief! It finally occurred to me that only being lost so deeply in the world garners that sort of fear about death. If we could interview those who have “passed on” (as I hear older religious folk say) I think they’d say it wasn’t that scary. Nothing compared to the rest of their life on earth scared to death imagining it! I’d love to get just one interview. It’s like I know all these dead people and none of them will give me the dirt.

Anyway, I can’t explain how reassuring that moment was on the bridge. I remember in California over a year ago, I was sicker than I’d ever been to the point I actually thought I might be dying. And I hated the idea. I was so overwhelmed by that possibility that often it brought me to tears and I’d have to excuse myself and physically catch my breath. In theory it should have been almost a relief to think about–an end to suffering. But I didn’t want to die. And I certainly didn’t want my last days on earth to be like the ones I was having there. Closed up indoors, lifeless, feeling very alone. It’s just interesting to me that now that I’ve really been living these last few months, and dare I say it, even–happy–my fear of death has lessened. I’ve enjoyed the park and the pool with Monty in the sun. I’ve gone to dinner parties. I’ve said yes to things that in my sick past were a big fat no. I’ve spent quality time with people I love, not doing a whole lot of anything at all but talking about life and people and laughing really, really hard. And there on the bridge, for maybe no more than a second, I didn’t fear death. I felt curious and interested. But I wasn’t tense bracing for impact. I was smiling at how much fun I’ve been having and how at ease with life I feel. You’d think that would make the idea of death more unnerving than ever, because it means an end to happy times. But the opposite occurred. From my perspective over the water, death was just another thing that happens. Maybe after all, it’s not that big a deal? Hah. That moment was the first I’ve had that it didn’t feel like this overwhelming weight baring that comes with the knowledge that one day we’re all going to die. And even though my normal angst about it has at least half returned, that moment has really stuck and it feels readily accessible still. There was something very casual about it, which made me trust it even more. Sometimes I find myself looking for grand answers, spectacles, formal explanations of life and existence..and this was not really that. It was a simple and tranquil instant of acceptance, and those are the moments that persist. I pet Monty’s velvet ears, turned up the music and into the distance we drove. That indistinct Monday turned out to be quite the evening as it were.

Besides my newfound excitement for death! (jk)… the Day Lily’s are back in bloom. I looked at all the colors sprouting up yesterday, noting that by nature’s calendar I’ve officially been in this house for one year. I remember writing about these flowers last year, excited for how life in the pool house might unfold. Funny I hardly remember what’s happened in the time since then. In some way the fact that nothing terrible stands out makes it safe to say it’s been a pretty decent year. I only know that being given the gift of “relative health” the last few months has truly been remarkable for me. I’ve been enjoying the hell out of so many moments– of friends and boys and late nights immensely–and I feel gratefulness overflowing in me. I don’t remember the last time I was bored. I’ve read and written and played Taylor Swift on my guitar ridiculously loud. When I’m sick I rest. When I have energy I go. But most notably is this gratitude and the awareness of this gratitude. It occurred to me recently that this is the opposite of boredom. When I feel gratitude I feel like I’m living with my eyes open. I’m often noticing things that were already there that I’d simply skipped over before. I like this feeling of being in touch with my aliveness, seeing the realm of possibility beyond personal limits, recognizing the awe-inspiring nature of everything alive. Maybe it’s why I love saving the frogs from the pool, or why I don’t get rid of the spider living in the corner of my bathroom. I don’t think you can be in tune to these truths and be also bored. Boredom uses a narrow vision, it sees life as something to happen for us and not from us. Even yesterday, which turned out to be a crash day spent in bed, I lost myself in the enjoyment of a book, completely grateful for the existence of novels and good authors. Then completely grateful for a nice house to read them in. I never got out of my pajamas or brushed my teeth. I didn’t exactly contribute to the world. And all the same, it was really a wonderful day. I know there was a recent time in my life when I wouldn’t have thought that to be so.

Health, Happiness, Opposites.

 

 

Questions Answered.

Everything is weird. I’m still healthy. And that makes things weird. And also pretty great.

I’m enjoying the three-dimensionality of things. The multitudes of personalities I’m confronting. The sounds that one simply doesn’t here in a bed in Southern Louisiana. Everything is distinctly colorful. Of course the onslaught of spring and the prolific products of hers help. It’s a been a long time since my health has maintained in this way. I’m walking a thin internal line, trying not to delve too hard into the why but not altogether ignoring the possibility of its fleeting nature, just like the season. I’m simultaneously happy at this new disposition and also keeping a dark fear at bay. It could all end quickly– a few things. And being entirely reckless hasn’t served me in the past. So I’m keeping these things in mind of course. But trying not to fall down completely into the rabbit hole where incessant introspective thoughts about it all could trap you just as easy as any sickness could.

For the most part, it’s been fucking great. Sorry. F word only every now and then. But it really is nice being able to stand and walk without the typical interruptions and be social and see comedy and do what other young people are doing. I can’t deny I am simply just enjoying the hell out of all of it. Things feel carefree and almost weightless. Life outside of a window at my house, a window on my phone, is really pretty great. When I get worried about the future or have fear of losing it, my mom tells me the same thing; detach from the outcome. And it’s so, so true.

I’m thinking of so many things these days. I’m still trying to put it together. What purpose will I serve with this newfound health? What did I fulfill in sickness? How to matter and find meaning in all of it– the big stuff and the little stuff and the small bits in-between. I’ve been thinking in questions today. I’m going to write them out with my best shot at answers because it’s just the current of my thoughts lately and I’m not going to swim upstream.

What do you contribute the newfound health to?

It could be the physical therapy for my neck which has lessened that pain load considerably. Could be the prescription switch to Trazadone that has me actually sleeping through the night–never mind the night sweats. Another prescription switch from Neurontin to Lyrica seems to help with pain management in general and maybe the increase in energy. Also it’s Spring and I swear to God I’m always at least a little improved in nice weather and my migraines are less frequent. Also divine intervention. I don’t know. Maybe a little of it all.

What happened to sewing, weren’t you into sewing for a while?

Yeah, I was. And I got really excited about some sewing projects. I sat at the Singer Simple 3116 for hours and taught myself the ins and outs of it. I got carried away and excited with ideas. Then I began, and I jammed the bobbin. THAT DAMN BOBBIN. I took the bobbin apart, unjammed it, and put it back together. And now the bobbin is failing me hardcore. I need bobbin help. Anyone? Still, I’d like to get back to some sewing projects. I find it relaxing and I like learning skills that seem to be fading from my generation.

What’s Monty up to?

You know, same ol…

This.
This.
And this.
And this.
This...
…This
Always this.
Always this.
Ending with this.
Followed by this.

Let’s talk about tea now.

Drinking this new acai/blueberry/pomegranate mix on the reg. It’s really good. Has there yet been a decision on the universal pronunciation of acai berry? I hear a mix around town. Let a sister know.

How’s the writing going?

I find a lot of reasons not to, but when I sit down and do it I like what comes out. Most of it’s been happening pen-to-page so I’ve been using up my notebooks, which is good because I have a lot. I’ve been on the lookout for a typewriter, but maybe that’s just another fantasy in the works. This thought that some instrument will encourage more writing instead of the truth which is that real writing just requires sitting down and doing that shit. I’m working on that.

Anything else while you’re out here in Neverland typing to yourself?

Yeah I’m reading like 4 books right now and 1 book of poetry. I don’t think this is how optimal reading was designed, but I find my head a little scattered lately. I’m almost finished with The Rosie Project–really funny, really good. Trying to push through Dance Dance Dance (slower than expected). One Dead in Attic is an easy quick read but dismal of course, you know, post-Katrina stuff. The Four Agreements is sometimes rudimentary in comparison to Tolle and Zukav and Nepo, but almost identical in the message. It’s got good stuff. New American Poetry which is proving what I feared–that I don’t really understand how to read poetry. Do you keep reading until you get it? I guess that’s all in the way of books.

And everything else.

For now the goal is to truly enjoy this time of health, appreciating every second where taking a deep breath is easy and sitting isn’t my only option. I’ve held the door for people these last few weeks. I held the door! These very normal things…they’re feeling very good. Clearly I’ve had a lot of doors held for me in my small life, and it feels nice to return the favor.

One last thing:

I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel. I really liked it. Monsieur Gustave..he sticks with you. I’m still stuck on Moonrise Kingdom though. See them both. Make a whole night of it.

Health, Happiness, HEALTH, HAPPINESS!

 

 

10 Books You Should Read With Me

Going to the bookstore is one of my favorite mid-day activities. I’ve been under the weather lately so it was nice to get out and see real life. I felt like Bell from Beauty and the Beast in that library singing. Sadly there’s no ladders at Barnes and Noble but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I left with my next TEN books to submerge in for however long it takes. I’m watching ice-skating and that Olympic music they play when they cut to the commercials is so inspiring it makes me feel like I could become the president. Which is even more reason to read. So here’s the list! Cue the music.

1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? -Maria Semple

I remember picking this book up and flipping through it at my last bookstore outing and for some reason didn’t end up buying it. When I spotted those big black fly-type eyes on the cover I grabbed it immediately before I could back out. Shameful fact: I really love this books cover and that played a big part. I know the cardinal rule, but it’s also sustained positive reviews for a very long while, and Jonathan Franzen loved it and so in the pile it went. Mostly though, I loved the cover.

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Ding Ding

2. Dance Dance Dance -Haruki Murakami

So the Wind-Up Bird Chronicles was one of my favorite and most adventurous reads last year and discovering the many other “Masterpiece Novels” he’s authored I was way excited to dive into another one. I like that his books keep your imagination and consciousness running. I’ve got high hopes. I know it will be good.

3. Why Sh*t Happens (The Science of a Really Bad Day) -Peter J Bentley

I liked the title. And the subtitle. Also it was on the bargain rack. It’s probably stupid.

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Ugh, birdshit

4.Oneness With All Life -Eckhart Tolle

This is a bite-sized version of A New Earth, which I’ve read and re-read and loved. But I forget the teachings often. I go back and reread passages that I’ve felt I’ve never read before. I think it’s one of those that stay on your bed stand for life and by the time you die the entire book is highlighted. Anyway this smaller dosed version is made of “inspirational selections” to be read maybe one or two pages per day and to reflect on. Think of it more as a daily meditation. Since it’s so easy to forget the big stuff, I like to have something in the morning or before sleep that gets my head right. It’ll go on the nightstand.

 

5. The Illuminaries -Eleanor Catton

Do you ever feel like the Universe is talking to you? Well this book came up three times in three days and I took it as a sign that I gotta get in on it. It’s also a gargantuan read (over 800 pages) so it will be my friend for a long time. Or enemy.

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Also I have no idea what it’s about.

6. Proof of Heaven -Mary Curran Hackett

I’m unfamiliar with this author but crudely, I fell for the optimism implied in the title. Even though it’s a novel among hundreds of actual accounts of Heaven, the back summary drew me in as well as the first two pages and I was like “Cool, I’m IN!” and now that I’m reflecting on that I really hope I didn’t say it out loud because that happens sometimes. Anyway, this is not to be confused with Proof of Heaven the memoir by a neurologist who died, went to heaven, and returned. I’ve heard really good things and watched his account in interviews. Pretty amazing stuff. That read is next in this Heavenly genre. (Mom, you said you have it. Give it to me!) But this one was on the bargain rack. Girls gotta eat.

7. Born Under a Lucky Moon -Dana Precious

Complete blind buy. Liked the cover. Like the summary. And the price. It’s Olympic Season so I’m really going for things.

8. The Almost Moon -Alice Sebold

Moons are so #trendy! I hadn’t heard of this one either but it was a #1 National Bestseller and the author also wrote The Lovely Bones which I read long ago and really loved. And it was on the bargain rack. OK you know what? I’ll just tell you when it wasn’t. 

...

9. The Four Agreements -Don Miguel Ruiz

I have been hearing about this book for a long time now. It was published in 1997 but stayed on The New York Times Bestseller list for 7 years and sold 4 million copies. The premise of the book is simple but beautiful– in lieu of agreements and rigid beliefs we try to adhere to but often end up limiting our happiness, Ruiz suggests a personal code of conduct he calls The Four Agreements. Wanna hear em? Sure you do.

  1. Be Impeccable With Your Word.
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally.
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions.
  4. Always Do Your Best.

I don’t really love “gimmicks” for life type of books, but this one seems much deeper and substantial while sustaining its worth for years. Furthermore, it just sounds like a refreshing and happy way to live. Can you imagine never taking anything personally? Sounds awesome. I want to know more, so it’s going on the night stand. And it was FULL PRICE!

10. The Leftovers -Tom Perrotta

OK yes it was on the bargain rack again and no I’ve never heard of it or the author. But it’s a post-apocalyptic thriller type of novel which I don’t read often (like never) and I wanted to mix it up. I threw it in the bag because while the subject matter is dark, it’s also wrough with dark humor (my other best friend). It follows the survivors in the wake of the “Sudden Departure” as they try to go on with life keeping normalcy in mind but, you know, people are missing and the world is all messy. In my small confined life, it felt good to take a risk.

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artwork via NYT book review

Health, Happiness, and 10 New Friends.

Join me won’t you?

The Great Indoors

I’ve spent most of this last week in bed, or in and out of sleep on respective furniture that I turn into a bed. But mostly in bed. During crash periods I have a lot of time to sit around and think and do nothing. And while “doing nothing” sounds a little worthless and at least a little depressing, I’ve gotten pretty good at feeling bad. That is, I’ve found ways not to succumb to complete boredom while spending my days and nights in the supine position. But I have to be decisive and proactive when it comes to mental stimulation. It’s easy to do nothing and think nothing and waste away hours watching cats on the internet. I’ve done a lot of that too.

fartheraway
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Currently I’m reading “Further Away”– a book of essays by author Jonathan Franzen. It was given to me by my brother Nick, who wrote on the note inside to add it to our virtual book club. Nick and I don’t live in the same city and considering how poorly I keep in social contact even with people I care most about, we don’t talk so often. But we have similar taste in things and it’s true that I trust any literature from him will be enjoyable. Like the others this one doesn’t disappoint. I gave him the book “Why Does the Universe Exist?” and said it might be a good starter for the club. Nick is a full-time professor of architecture with multiple side projects and is a husband and father. I’ll be impressed if he has the time to finish it. I have nothing but time but in retrospect, I can think of at least three books in the last year I’ve simply left unfinished with less than 100 pages left. For whatever reason– It might be a commitment problem on my end. Because oddly enough I enjoyed the books I left undone. (Except 50 Shades of Grey. I just couldn’t do that one, even from a humorous standpoint. It was just so bad.) At any rate, I like that we’re trying. I know I need to read more and it is truly one thing, a gift even, that I can do whether or not I’m sick. I could read for hours and feel somehow refreshed at the end. TV and the internet are bottomless. I could be dead tired but watch more, click more, disengage more. It’s far too easy to fall in and at the end I never feel great. I’m like where am I? What time is it? How long have I been watching Tosh.0? I don’t know how many times I’ve watched the Kardashians and rolled my eyes thinking to myself that it’s the stupidest show on TV. And yet when it shows up on the guide, I almost unconsciously go straight to the channel. It’s like mindless auto-pilot in the way of my brain. I think it’s their hair that keeps me coming back. It’s just so pretty.

Speaking of the Kardashians, did you see the photo of baby North West? I think she’s cute. Wait, why do I know what their baby looks like? Because if you watched TV or were on the internet yesterday, it was everywhere. As well as mass hysteria about Ben Affleck becoming Batman. Maybe that says something about the places where I get information. But it also says something about the things that gain momentum and attention and a dialogue. Meanwhile, my state is sinking. I don’t totally understand the nature of a sinkhole. Except that I’m pretty sure it’s unnatural.  And it’s a problem when entire trees are being swallowed whole. Something about salt domes? But why take the more effort-requiring time to find out when I could just look at a tumblr that makes fun of what Kanye’s baby looks like? It’s so easy to just lay back and look at what’s easy to look at and make fun of what’s easy to make fun of. But it’s not very wise for someone like me to do too much of that. I constantly have to remind myself to be careful with how I spend my time. I truly have a lot of it.

Anyway, maybe by the next post I’ll be much more knowledgeable about sinkholes. Or I’ll have a lot more photos of baby Nori. Anyway, I’ll continue my quest to be at least a half-way informed citizen and spend my horizontal time wisely. I love being outside but on weeks like this one, I’ve mostly been inside which can be wearing too. But don’t get me wrong, I’ll still watch internet cat videos because come on, that stuff is funny. And laughter is important. And if we spent all our days indulging in bad news we could succumb to despondency and boredom just as much as if we watched TV and internet videos nonstop. It’s all a balance and I’m always in search of the middle. So far, 29 has been just fine.

Health, Happiness, and Wouldn’t You Think Sinkhole Would Be Two Words? Me too.

Fame or Peace

I’ve read this excerpt of Marc Nepo’s book at least a couple of times. I know this because I’ve underlined some things in blue and starred others in black–And even this morning while reading it for what is evidently the third time, I still felt inclined to mark parts of it. So I thought I’d share the whole excerpt here, because it really speaks to me, and I think it will to you too. Here it is. Have a beautiful day.

Rather the flying bird, leaving no trace,

than the going beast, marking the earth

-Fernando Pessoa

Much of our anxiety and inner turmoil comes from living in a global culture whose values drive us from the essence of what matters. At the heart of this is the conflict between the outer definition of success and the inner value of peace. 

Unfortunately, we are encouraged, even trained to get attention when the renewing secret of life is to give attention. From performing well on tests to positioning ourselves for promotions, we are schooled to believe that to succeed we must get attention and be recognized as special, when the threshold to all that is extraordinary in life opens only when we devote ourselves to giving attention, not getting it. Things come alive for us only when we dare to see and recognize everything as special. 

The longer we try to get attention instead of giving it, the deeper our unhappiness. It leads us to move through the world dreaming of greatness, needing to be verified at every turn, when feelings of oneness grace us only when we verify the life around us. It makes us desperate to be loved, when we sorely need the medicine of being loving. 

One reason so many of us are lonely in our dream of success is that instead of looking for what is clear and true, we learn to covet what is great and powerful. One reason we live so far from peace is that instead of loving our way into the nameless joy of spirit, we think fame will soothe us. And while we are busy dreaming of being a celebrity, we stifle our need to see and give and love, all of which opens us to the true health of celebration. 

It leaves us with these choices: fame or peace, be a celebrity or celebrate being, work all our days to be seen or devote ourselves to seeing, build our identity on the attention we can get or find our place in the beauty of things by the attention we can give. 

Health, Happiness,
1348638108_peace-sign-coloring-pages-31

You’ll Forget. And So Will They.

There is one component of this illness and autoimmune diseases in general which exacerbates the whole experience. The invisibility factor. You can’t see it. Many times when it shows its ugly head, no one is around to bear witness. People see us when we’re out and about and well, or faking it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I hear “But you don’t look sick!” People have a notion of what sick looks like, and this doesn’t fit the bill. One day you’re normal and the next day your plagued with something worse than a flu, or a hangover, but you didn’t do any drinking. It’s just such an enigma on so many levels, besides keeping up appearances, that it’s no surprise people just plain forget you’re sick. And it’s understandable. Because honestly, you forget too.

To this day I find myself committing to things as though I am normal, as though I have boundless energy, as though I don’t spend days in bed sometimes for no real reason at all. My circumstances aren’t normal. And some days I have to remind myself by the hour of my limits. Many times I fail to recognize them and I pay the price. So it’s no surprise that the people we love, the people we’re closest to-friends, lovers, family- they’ll forget too. And it’s easy to see why, but it will make you defensive. You’ll tell yourself they just don’t get it and they’ll never understand! And you’re right, they don’t. It’s impossible to know unless you’ve got it yourself. But don’t let that separate and isolate you more. You’ve got enough boundaries. When someone doesn’t believe you, when someone criticizes you, judges you, or doesn’t give the sympathy you’re looking for, let it go. Meet their disbelief with love and understanding. Because the truth is, if you weren’t sick with this, would you understand it? I know it’d be hard for me. I was young when I became ill but I remember distinctly things coming easy to me. Being a good gymnast. Getting good grades. Good family and friends. A 9-year-old with everything! I had no real reason for pause. I often consider what my life would be like had I not gotten sick and in general it’s with the notion that I’d be a better person living a better life. I really wonder about that now. Being sick and at the mercy of others help and kindness, I’ve learned remarkable lessons in humility and compassion, and those are just scratching the surface. I can’t say who I’d be without illness. But like my mom said once “Who knows? Maybe we if we hadn’t gotten sick we’d just be two capable assholes.”

The point is, when I still my mind and consider all the parts of this, I can understand the doubt, the skepticism, the misunderstanding from others. This is not a well understood disease, even for us sick ones. (But I know that one day it will be. I know that.) I remember once last year, I woke up with a pounding migraine. I was in one of my awful cycles. The first dose of medicine didn’t work so I took two, among my other cocktail of meds. I got out of bed around 1:30, hazy, tired, and the hint of my migraine still masquerading around my head. My boyfriend at the time saw me and said “You’re up! Hey, do you want to go shoot guns today?” At that moment I thought of 647 other things I would rather do than shoot a gun. The mere thought of shooting a gun made my headache perk up like what? huh? guns? Here I come!!! Even the suggestion of that activity made me mad. I felt really misunderstood and alone and thinking what I so often think: if they could only feel what I am feeling, they would understand. And it’s true. I think if most people felt the symptoms of CFS even for ten minutes, they’d have such a better grasp of what we are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. But that’s not possible. So it is up to us to communicate with love to those who don’t know. What we’re dealing with is basically invisible, and getting defensive and trying to prove it will exhaust us even more.

Besides my mom, who is also sick with this, I think about the one person who has been by my side throughout all of this, and has required the least amount of explaining. The answer is Monty. I realize that sounds juvenile. Oh Mary, you crazy dog lady..maybe you should talk to some PEOPLE. And truthfully I probably should. But I think about the number of beds Monty has slept at the foot of. Patiently he waits until I get up. Some days it’s only a minute..we don’t play and he doesn’t seem to mind. He follows me into the bathroom, he follows me out. When I go back to bed, he does to. And this is a very energetic and active dog. He could go all day, literally. But it truly feels like he picks up on sick days. When I wake up in the morning, he always takes some deep breaths really close to my face. It’s like he can tell by smell whether I’m going to get up or not. Sometimes he sniffs and hops out of bed ready to go. Other times he sniffs and goes back to bed. It really is like he knows.

The thing is, Monty doesn’t understand all the weird components to the illness. He doesn’t know what chronic fatigue syndrome is. He doesn’t understand why some days we play and other days we don’t leave the bed. Sometimes for a few days at a time. But he doesn’t even require an explanation or a defense, because what he is exemplifying so beautifully is living in the present. When it’s time to play, we play hard. When it’s time to sleep, we sleep like it’s nobody’s business. Whatever he does, he does fully. He shows up wholly to every moment. And it’s a truly impressive thing to witness. One of my favorite things is to watch Monty when he gets up in the morning. I open the door for him and he walks outside, stops, and sniffs the air for about 15 seconds. It’s like he’s taking in everything from the night and everything that the day will bring. I like watching it because it’s reflective, and we live such busy, fast lives, we constantly neglect reflection. I think it’s fair to say that it’s required for a happy life. We have to stop sometimes. We have to take things in. We have to feel our feelings. (Smell the roses, if you will.)And we don’t need to say it all on Facebook. Some things we should hold inside near our heart. Or whisper it to someone we love.

I am reading a book called Everyday Grace by Marianne Williamson which is incredibly poignant and really well-written. I find myself underlining entire pages. It’s always been a goal of mine to have a book club but of course I’ve never gotten it together and am bad at keeping commitments. So for now the blog will be it. And I invite all of you to read and share your thoughts on these books. I have about twenty more pages and will have a review/summary/dialogue next time. But if you’re looking for a book as a companion..this is a good one. It’s been seeing me through sleepless nights and reading it when I wake up in the morning gives me a happy way to begin the day. One of my favorite lines near the beginning is “We don’t need to push life so much as we need to experience it more elegantly, to be motivated more by inspiration than by ambition.” I like that idea. When I’m not in bed I let my instincts and inspiration guide me…even it’s just sitting on the porch swing and looking at the flowers, which I do a lot. Monty makes me throw a ball and swims laps in the pool. See?

Please just throw the ball.
Please just throw the ball.

 

Anyway, I am working on living a reflective life. I try to take in every moment truly, and feel it genuinely. Even if the moment is sad or fearful. I know that not feeling things through leads to trouble later on. I’ve been there before. For now, I feel happy. The sun is out and the porch swing is calling.

Health, Happiness, Smelling the Roses

Life at the Window.

I spent last Spring in a playground called New York City. My brother and sister-in-law had this great apartment in TriBeCa with huge windows and a doorman. As newly jobless, apartment-less, boyfriend-less- New York City felt like the perfect place to spend some time and  get to know myself again. I had lost all of my “identifiers ” and it was time to get in touch and adapt.  It was truly a treat  staying there while I reconfigured what my life was going to look like. My brother spent most the week in Boston teaching at MIT and Estee worked full-time, so I had this great little cube in the city to myself a lot.

Our cube with the light on.
Our cube with the light on.

My only responsibility as a guest there was to walk the dog, Lilly. Lilly was cool. Sweet and low maintenance, she was happy to spend day after day sitting on top of the heater with me and looking out the window to life below. I wrote, read, and occasionally played music super loud and danced alone in the living room. (One day I danced “the Dougie” too hard and exhausted myself for a week) If anyone were watching from the building across the street, it would have been quite a show. Lilly sometimes barked at a dog below or a UPS man unloading boxes, but mostly we just watched. It was a perfect, small existence for me at that window. New York City had a way of making me feel intricately connected to the pulse of life, even though I was sick and on the outskirts, and my only participation was mostly observation from the 4th floor. I never felt isolated in New York. Sometimes I ended the day feeling like I had interacted with so many people and in fact I hadn’t actually talked to anyone. There’s something so involved there, that even as a spectator I felt implicitly a part. I would watch the people walking their dogs or babies in strollers, laughing or yelling on their cell phones, entering restaurants and hugging friends hello, and it all made me feel incredibly human again. I could watch life from that window all day and never get tired of the sights. And most days, that’s all I did.

Life at the window.
Life at the window.

I really had to get used to the “free time.” I know that sounds like an illegitimate complaint, but going from working to not was hard to navigate. To strangers it sounds fun..”You’re so lucky! You don’t have to work.!”  But that’s kind of like telling someone in a wheelchair “You’re so lucky, you don’t have to walk!” Truthfully it can be extremely lonely and isolating having absolutely nothing but time on your hands, but possessing none of the means in which to do the things you used to. It took me a long time to adjust to not having a typical day schedule to follow. Such is life. We notice things more once they go missing.

It was surprising how responsible I had to be with my free time. You can’t just do nothing. Nothing is the gift you give yourself after you’ve done something. But if you’re not actually doing anything, the nothing part becomes completely sad. You have to be responsible. It occurs to me now how much security and diligence there was in my fulltime job. A schedule is basically simple. Follow the rules 5 days a week, get paid, go home. There are things you say in an office and things you don’t say. Wear and don’t wear. I worked at that gallery because that was the progressive step after college. It was safe there. I knew exactly what was expected of me and I was good at what I did. And on the 1st and 15th of every month I was paid 1,060 dollars for following the rules and doing my work dutifully. There was a time work began and ended. And there were two entire days a week you had to yourself. It didn’t matter what you did on those days. It only mattered that you showed up on the right days and were on time if not early.  Then all that was left was following the rules. Performing tasks. I do miss the stability of that old life. The one where at least I felt  like I knew what I was doing and where I was headed and what was coming my way. Now there is none of that routine or structure. There isn’t really anything expected of me now.  No tasks to check off, no paycheck twice a month. There’s no real order, and it’s a strange thing to very quickly lose something like that. There is ease in order.

As easy as it is to complain about work, to dislike your boss or co-workers, there is something very essential in human beings that gets fulfilled in just getting dressed and going to work every day; contributing  to the “whole” some way and getting paid to do it. Even if the work is  mundane or repetitive. Even if your co-workers are punks or your boss is a turd-sandwich, there’s something gratifying about good old fashioned compensated  labor. Life becomes pretty different without it.

Part of my biggest adjustment in getting sick has been surrendering to a schedule that I can’t control. I don’t know how I’ll feel one day to the next, what I’ll be capable of. I don’t know if Ill sleep at night for 12 hours or 10 minutes. (Or if I’ll be up at 2 am writing this blog like I am now)  So in a very bizarre way, the illness has literally forced me to live one day at a time. One moment at a time. What am I capable of right now? OK, I’ll do that. It has become that specific.  And I think after nearly two years of no “real” job and crashing my siblings couches, I am finally understanding and accepting life without schedule, rules, tasks, and order. Or what I was perceiving to be order. The funny thing is  now I see that even in my highly organized, scheduled life, I still wasn’t in total control. It only felt that way. It looked that way. I still got sick. Life still “got to me.” My life is no more or less in control now than two years ago. It is truly, just perspective.

My brother Nick encouraged me to read while I had so much downtime, and that was good advice.  Here I was writing all the time, but never reading what was done before me. And you need context in everything, especially literature. I still have a ton of reading to do, but I’m really glad I discovered the real joy of it. Growing up it always felt like labor– a requirement that didn’t interest me. Now I find real freedom in it. There is nothing like getting lost in a story. I admit it’s more fun to read than to write. There is anxiety in me sitting down to write. But there is total surrender in sitting down and investing in a story.

Anyway now that I didn’t have a schedule to adhere to or  specific tasks to perform every day,  I was now up to my own devices. I realize that sounds like a really spicy thing to say. But mostly it was  me in and out of dreamworld on the couch or sitting on the heater, looking out that window, and drinking coffee with Lilly.  Every once in a while we mixed it up. Like when I dressed her up in my hat.

Lilly wearing my hat with attached scarf.
Lilly wearing my hat with attached scarf.

Or put her in my laundry basket.

Say cheese!
Why are you doing this.

Or if it was a healthy day we’d walk to the piers and watch the joggers and boats.

..
Contemplation.

As nice as our walks were, I think I was most content at that window. In general, I am happiest by windows. I gravitate in every house to the room with the most light. I like to see outside. Hopefully one day, I won’t be the girl at the window, but the participant outside. The subject of someone else’s observation. But truly, I ‘ve become happy with this spectator form of my life. I don’t think it will always be this way, but it has granted me a unique perspective. It has made me step back and examine. It’s given me stillness in a very fast world. Even sick in bed, I can still examine life, ask my questions, read and write for the answers. None of this could happen in my old busy life. There was simply no time for it. There was work during the week, and sick recovery on the weekends. Now I have a new kind of work. It doesn’t pay well (as in, it doesn’t pay) but my boss is cool (that’s me) and every day is “Bring Your Dog to Work” day. Maybe the best part is, I am never too far from a window. For me, for now, that is enough.

“Participate with joy in the sorrows of the world.” -J Campbell

Health, Happiness, Windows

My friend Gabe took this picture of me at the NY window at night. Thanks Gabe!

Night.
Night.

One Thing, Once a Day.

I love getting late birthday presents in the mail. Wait, I love getting mail period. For one thing, I think the art of letter writing is becoming extinct, so it’s always pretty special to get something written in one of a kind hand-writing, written just for you. Dear Mary… Anyway, late birthday presents are like those blooper scenes they show during the credits of a movie you liked. Just when you thought it was over–bam! My brother Nick and his wife Estee sent me two new shirts and a skirt and a necklace with a hand-written card, the best! And my sister brought me shopping at Nordstrom. Her and Keegan have kind of adopted me as their 28-year-old child. Keegan even sent me to my room yesterday. I also unpacked my suitcase at their house two weeks ago, the first time I’ve really not lived out of my suitcase since February. All my siblings are like extra parents, each pitching in to help in their own ways and I am really thankful for that. It’s easy for me to forget that my situation could be a lot worse. They have all encouraged me to visit them, and that is a real gift. Anyway, I love shopping and I love new clothes, but it has turned into such a silly thing for me to love, mostly because I never wear normal clothes anymore. I never really go anywhere and I hardly see people besides Monty and my family. My uniform has evolved into leggings and t-shirts–every guys fantasy.

Last week and all weekend was a sick week. Like a sick day, but you know, times 7. I once wrote that I was the mayor of Migraine City, but I am upgrading myself this week to Governor because my head is super angry about something and apparently wants the world to know. Here’s your shot head, let it all out! Every day I keep telling myself I will get dressed in my new clothes and I will go somewhere and I’ll do my hair and makeup and look like someone who has her shit together. But, that has yet to happen. “Tomorrow” I tell myself. Then the song from Annie starts playing in my mind and I bet my bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun, and I will go out in it! Since I’m in Cali, there is always sun, but when you have a migraine, it feels like if you were to go outside under that bright sun you’d start melting like the witch from the Wizard of Oz. Anyway, the migraine cycle continues, but why am I talking about migraine cycles? I’m even boring myself.

When I’m in the throes of a sick week, I can start to get down. And also start to go stir crazy. So there are a few things I do and a few things I don’t do. Maybe most importantly, I do not watch TV during the day. There is just something undeniably sad about daytime television, and sunlight coming in through the blinds..maybe reflecting off the TV screen? Yuck. The only time I don’t find a sunlights’ reflection on a TV screen depressing is on the weekends when we’re watching football. Exceptions to every rule.

First, I keep a book on hand and I read. I swear it’s like I’ve discovered the joy of reading only last year..at age 27. Pretty ridiculous since I discovered the joy of writing at around age 9. I feel like I’m catching up on all the years that I began books and never finished them. I always associated reading a book with homework, something I had to do. It never felt like I had a choice in the matter. As soon as book reports became part of my schooling in 6th grade, it became my goal to see how little of the book I could read and how high a grade on the report I could get. Unfortunately, I work really well under pressure–so the night before it was due I’d skim through the book, find the important parts, and write a flowery report. I almost always received A’s on them. I was actually proud of myself for being able to complete the work this way! What an idiot. Anyway, now that I have really experienced what getting lost in a book is like, I feel like I have years of catching up to do. So that’s partly what I’m doing. Especially because it’s not sad at all to read while sunlight is coming through the window. In fact it’s the most fun to go outside and read. Monty and I had been going to the park daily, but I crashed mid-week and we haven’t been back yet. Anyway, right now I’m reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. A true story about a woman who lost her way and decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself, with no experience. Truthfully, it’s a little difficult to read because she is in a lot of physical and emotional pain so far, and I like reading to carry me away from real life, so in that light it’s not been as fun to read as Gone Girl but I’m just about 1/3 in, so I’ll see how the next 50 pages go.

The second thing I do is create something. It can be anything from a four line poem to a line drawing. The goal is not to create a masterpiece work of art. The goal is to let your soul do some talking. Sometimes what you make will be crappy and sometimes you’ll surprise yourself. But the thing is, now no matter how sick or worthless I felt today or the fact that I never got dressed in real clothes, at least when someone asks me what I did today I can say “I wrote a poem,” or “I drew a picture of a stupid cat.” So now today was not a complete waste. Here are some simple rhyming poems.

*I am tired
But do not sleep
I am sad
But do not weep
I close my eyes
And count to 10
If I still feel it
I’ll do it again
Until the clouds part
And the dark clears
I’ll think of my loves
And not of my fears.

*In the corners of my mind
In the absence of a dime
I think about home
In a house that isn’t mine.

*At night I roam
through consciousness alone
Would I have chosen this
If I would have known!

*At least at the end of day
Where I never got dressed
I can say I wrote a poem
And that’s something I guess.

Normally I hate rhyming poems, and I don’t necessarily love these. But, they’re what came out. So I let them. Because that’s what my soul had to say today, and it doesn’t really matter whether it’s good or bad. It’s the fear of making something good or bad that is dangerous. Once I let that fear go, I kind of free myself. The worst that can happen is you write a shitty poem or you draw a shitty picture. Certainly there are worse things! Either way, you’ve got something to look back on or laugh at or talk about, and you weren’t completely at the mercy of illness.

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I drew the above drawing a few days ago. It turned out to be one of my favorites…drawn on a sick day where I never got dressed. It started with a very simple shape; a leaf. Then I repeated the pattern and this is what turned up. I had no idea what I was sitting down to draw that day, but it’s another example of letting your soul speak. Or stillness speak. I just know that when I designate time to letting things come through me, I am usually surprised. I end up creating something I never could have thought of myself. It’s strange, the way sometimes your dreams can be insanely more creative or smarter than you are in real life. I guess it’s the subconscious at work. This one is titled “I Don’t Normally Look Like This” and is for sale for $10.

Anyway, that’s been the last 7 days. Fingers crossed that tomorrow is migraine free and filled with more energy and I get to wear some happy clothes and run errands like humans do. If not, well then…it’s back to the drawing board.

Health, Happiness, One Thing a Day.

Book Review: Gone Girl

I’ve been on a non-fiction kick for a while now. But in Barnes and Noble the other day, I saw this black book..a simple cover with what appeared to be loose lines across the dust cover. On closer examination I saw that it was hair, wrapped around the book spine with wisps across the front. I don’t know what made me pick it up other than the fact that I am completely guilty of judging a book by its cover and  I do it all the time. (Books. I’m talking books.) Like usual, I read the back, then I read the flap, and then the first few sentences of chapter 1. It was enough. I went for it. I didn’t let my typical indecisive nature get the best of me even though I’ve never been one for murder mysteries or suspense thrillers. It also then struck me I’ve never actually read a murder mystery or suspense thriller–they’ve just never really appealed to me. But I’m trying to challenge my uniformed notions about things. Something about this one grabbed me, so I grabbed it back.

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I don’t know exactly how to do a review of literary suspense without giving things away, and there are so many things I could give away. Muah hah hah. But don’t worry I won’t. That’d be irresponsible so I won’t go far into detail. All I know is I took Monty to the park, sat on a towel in the sun and began reading. And even though I’m in sunny California, I could feel some kind of anxiousness growing in me, a glimmer of discomfort. It felt like it had gotten cloudy, like it was about to storm and I should go indoors. But reading the book indoors didn’t make me feel any more secure. It also didn’t stop me from reading every chance I had. I couldn’t put it down. Half of this book was read at 2 am with one eye open, because I was so tired that when both eyes were open I saw double. With one eye closed I could keep reading without double vision and without falling asleep. I was so exhausted night after night and I love sleep. I’m really good at it. But I needed to know what happened to Amy Dunne. She went missing on her and her husbands 5th wedding anniversary; not quite a “poof, gone” type of thing, but close. A strange trail of evidence and clues leftover, leaving me and most of the book characters scratching their heads. All but one.

The story is told through two voices; Nick Dunne, the husband, and via the missing Amy Dunne’s journal entries where we learn about their life together: how they met, their losses, and their recent move from New York City to the midwest along the Mississippi River. Both characters resonated quickly with me. I’ve had similar conversations and conflicts in my relationships, and I knew a lot of the feelings Amy Dunne was describing. But I also knew I was going to be thrown off simply because I was barely half way through the book and yet Amy had been missing 7 days, the cops had their killer, and something about Nick Dunne’s story felt wrong, and yet I wanted to believe him. Sometimes. And then I’d change my mind. It’s pretty classic in the “Crime rocks a small town” type of setup; the community gathering for support, the good cop/bad cop routine, press conferences with Amy’s parents in tears, and t-shirts and flyers with a pretty, missing wife on them. It’s all reminiscent of those stories we see on the news; Lacy Peterson, Natalie Holloway. The ones that sort of dominate our TV’s for a while, make Nancy Grace’s vains pop out, and then, kind of like Amy Dunne…leave, unresolved. Come to think of it, I need to google what happened in the cases of those women, because I only remember the sudden onslaught of news and anger and finger pointing, but I don’t actually remember hearing how it ends. America loves a pretty, missing woman. And the book touches on this phenomena too.

The most interesting part of the story for me is that the reader is no longer what we normally are in cases like this; the spectators. The jury. We’re used to seeing the stories on TV, seeing the pictures, hearing the accusations, and we often makes up our minds quickly about who’s at fault and who to feel sorry for. This time, we’re on the other end. We get to hear how police go about business like this. How reporters and the media can shift the people’s minds over night, if not faster. (It’s like being on the inside of a presidential campaign, I imagine.) We also get to hear the advice and rules a lawyer will give you when a country of strangers has their minds made up. The lawyer was my favorite character. I could see and hear him perfectly. I’ve seen commercials with this man, to a T. You probably have, too.

I finished the book about an hour ago. I have to say, I’m glad it’s over. I was getting tired. Not tired of the book, but tired from staying up so late every night trying to finish it. And a little tired from the unnerving nature of the story. I’d been talking about the book to my sister since I was only a few pages in. I tried to finish it before she left on a business trip this morning so she’d have something to read, and I really tried. I almost made it. But I didn’t. I told her to just buy her own copy at the airport. “It’s worth it.”  I don’t know how I feel about the ending. I just know I’m ready to go back to the park with Monty and actually enjoy the sun this time. There was something about reading that story amid green grass and perfect weather that didn’t add up. It’s like playing Radiohead at brunch. It just doesn’t match. I wouldn’t call getting lost in this book particularly pleasurable in the normal sense. It was uncomfortable at times, upsetting, unsettling. But so good, so well written, utterly surprising and disturbingly real. I don’t know how author Gillian Flynn did it, but props to her, because it rocked me, and a few million other readers. It got under my skin and stayed there, and probably will for a while. As uncomfortable as it could be, it was really fun to read, fun to think about it even when I was doing other things. It kept me coming back for more more more and I kept wondering how how HOW in the hell it would end. I’d assembled at least 10 potential conclusions; none of them were right. I admit though I rarely get these things right. I only know it made me fear women and it made me fear men. It is a work of fiction, but the parts that stick have delivered something very true, very real. I get the feeling that even when I sleep tonight, finally able to shut both of my eyes at a normal hour, this book will still be swirling around in there. (Amy Dunne is also a restless sleeper!) It’s that good. It sticks. Even after it’s…gone. Get it? Yeah, you get it.

Health, Happiness, Gone Girl.

*P.S. Rumor has it Hollywood bought the rights to this story. Read it before they kill it!

Sometimes You Gotta Say Yes.

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Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when it hurts. When it would be not just easier or more convenient to say no, but less painful, less exhausting, perhaps even, the healthier option– even then, sometimes, you gotta say yes.

As my role as the “sick girl” has slowly developed over the past few years, I’ve noticed how often and how easily I’ve begun to say no to things. And that’s mostly for the sake of my livelihood. I don’t have the endurance to do the things I once did, nor do I have the resilience to bounce back if I overstep the boundary. There’s an invisible line with illnesses like this; one that not even the sick person can see, and it doesn’t make a sound when you overstep. Not until later, when it’s too late to take anything back. So, you pay for it. And you start to feel your way through it, constantly guessing whether you’ve gone too far or done too much. It’s about as easy as pin the tail on the donkey in the dark, with booze. But this solid body of mine, as broken as it is, it always lets me know if I’ve infringed on that boundary. Always.

The last few days have been crappy. Not Colorado crash crappy, but, crappy. There have been a few 26 and 27 pills a day, days. Which I’m learning how to be OK with. Even sick days, where the most you do is brush your teeth, are OK too. They have to be. It’s interesting what this illness turns you into; a spectator where you once a participant. I often feel the quick pace of the world spinning and everyone rushing by with their busy lives, and then there’s me…just kind of, standing lying there. I miss being busy. There’s something comfortable about always having something to do, someone to see; there’s an importance about it. I notice now how different my to-do lists are verses my to-do lists a few years ago. 1. Wash clothes. 2. Pick up prescriptions. 3. Buy new notebook!

I’ve begun examining my life a little closer lately, and am putting a lot of thought into how I spend my time. It’s really crazy to think that I can sort of do what I want given that I don’t have a full-time job or any REAL responsibility besides my health and my dog Monty. (Although I don’t know, one might call my constant correspondence with the Walgreens pharmacy a full-time job in and of itself. For real though.) The thing is, since I can’t hold a full-time job right now, I don’t have any income. So that’s the first damper on “Doing what I want.” The second damper is, duh, I’m incapacitated most of the time. If I had my way, I’d be going, and doing, and meeting, luncheoning, and painting and creating and…you get it. Saying YES a lot. I’d be one of those busy people with alphabetized spice racks and really organized DVD collections. And I’d run half marathons for fun! BLECH. Scuse me, I just puked thinking about running a half marathon. Anyway, that’s not my life. Most of the time I feel too exhausted for showers and everything I buy at this point is on someone else’s dime…so it’s really teaching me a lesson in humility, appreciation, and grace. Every night I pray that I will be able to pay back everyone who has been so gracious in taking care of me. And I solemnly believe that day will come. One day.

In the meantime, I have a lot of something that many people don’t: free time. And whether I’m sick or not, it’s up to me how I spend my time. I find myself feeling bad a lot about not having a full-time job and not being able to support myself. I was used to having  a job and independence define me. But, I think that’s pride and the ego getting the best of me and I constantly have to remind myself that if I could, I would. But right now, it’s not where I am. So how about instead of feeling shitty on top of feeling shitty, I try to make better use of my time. I decided I’m going to read as much as I can, write as much as I can, and start looking at this free time as a gift instead of something that “happened to me.” A lot of people would love time off from work, to be a spectator, to read for the sake of reading. To be honest, not having something to do is harder than you’d think. We’re kind of a culture that tends to define ourselves by our work. I guess I’m redefining both my purpose and the definition of that word. Is it still considered work if you’re not getting paid?

This week has been rough health wise, but today I was sick and tired of being sick and tired more than I was actually sick and tired. SO, I said, screw it. I took a bath, got dressed, and went to the park with Monty. Not because I felt like it, not because it felt good even, but because I needed to get out. Sometimes I do the things I would do if I weren’t sick, just for a little while. I can go outside. I can throw a ball for Monty and finish reading my book. I felt shitty the whole time, but mentally I needed it. Chances are, I’ll pay for it tomorrow. But it’s one of those weeks where I felt like I would be paying for something tomorrow whether or not I did anything today, so I went for it. Every once in a while, it’s nice to feel like things are on my terms. It’s my way of giving the illness the middle finger. And you know what? It felt good! Screw you sickness. Today, Mary Gelpi SAID YES.

So confident.

OK so maybe I am really over-glorifying my little trip to the park. But, I have to keep myself in check. It would be really easy for me to say no to anything that required leaving the house or socializing with people. I can feel the crotchety 80-year-old inside of me getting way too comfortable. I remind myself that I am 28. I need to stop being so opposed to meeting new people. (Dude, I hate meeting people. Also, I’m terrible at it.) I have to be OK with going places sometimes, because I think our souls like a change of scenery. I need to not automatically say no, even though my experience gives me that tendency. Sometimes I will pay for it, yes. But there’s a price to be paid for constantly saying no, too. So I’ve got to find the middle. I’m still young, and I need to start acting my age. Before I know it I’ll be drinking Ensure and wearing Oopse I Crapped My Pants. And then meeting people will be REALLY hard!

You know what else I did today? Bought a new notebook. That’s my favorite thing to buy. I’m very particular when it comes to notebooks. It takes me a while to pick one out and I sit there in front of the shelf of books running my fingers over pages, opening and closing it, taking measurements and looking like a crazy all the while, but I like to take my time. I can’t have things like paper texture or wide rule lines interfering with my writing. Anyway, I found a good one after going back and forth between two for 10 minutes. This is typically what I do when I buy anything. I’m very indecisive. So I’ll buy one, and then go home and think about the other. It’s terrible. Anyway, I’m trying to work on that. So I’m going to do some writing. And then some reading. And then I’ll do it again tomorrow I guess, in a park, and throw the stick for Monty. Because that’s what my life is right now, and it won’t always be that way. Maybe it’s not about  being important. Maybe it’s just about being.

Health, Happiness, Yes.

*To all my family and homies in New Orleans, my thoughts are with yall. Although I’m pretty sure most of you are drunk and having an OK time. Stay safe.

Is Happiness a Choice? A Book That Challenged All My Notions, and Won.

I think my favorite present to both give and receive is a book. And not an e-book, not a kindle or a tablet thingamajiggy. A real, tangible book with pages to flip through and words that you underline and notes in the margin that you come back to later. There is something necessarily palpable about a book for me. Maybe I just really like turning pages, but I don’t think I’ll ever make the switch to electronic literature. I know it costs us trees, but I kind of feel like a tree would be happy to be a book. If only trees could talk. OK, anyway, I received a book from my mom for my birthday, and I’ve been lost in it for the last 4 days. I kept telling myself I needed to write, but my urge to read was stronger. I had to finish it before I could do anything else. I think it may be one of the most important books I’ve read as of yet.

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“The Untethered Soul” is written by Michael Singer and I’d never heard of it or him until I began reading. The book is 181 pages but is densely written and covers everything from consciousness to identity to happiness to God to death to Christianity to the Tao. I really don’t know how he combined all of these topics so succinctly and covered them with such perfect simplicity, but he did, and it all made perfect sense. Every word. Sometimes I’d read a paragraph over and over, not because I didn’t understand, but because it felt so good to read the words. It was like light would suddenly pour in the room, and with each page (each TANGIBLE page) I felt more clarity, maybe even more happiness. At least more awareness of it. There is such a wide variety of topics he covers and methods associated with them, but he ties them all together seamlessly to teach one huge and vital lesson; to know yourself, and to find bliss. It will be difficult to summarize the whole thing up on just one page..this may need to be a two parter. So I’ll just cover a few topics that really captured me.To begin with, you can’t fix the world. You can’t fix other people, and you shouldn’t try. But you can become the purist and most open version of your Self, and that is your gift to the world. You will be the most successful and biggest help to humanity by knowing yourself truly, and waking up–becoming conscious. So long as you are unconscious, reacting to external factors, hiding behind fears and anxieties, letting that voice in your head dictate important matters, you cannot be of help to the world. You are stuck in your mind, and so you can’t go any further or higher up than that. Not until you wake up.

Like Tolle, Singer writes pretty extensively about how to answer the question “Who am I?” …a question I constantly ponder but feel my answer always comes up short. I am Mary Gelpi. Well no, that’s a label given to me by my parents. Take it away and I’m still here. Who am I? Who is the Self? It was more poignant and enlightening to hear him explain who we are not. Some we’ve been over before. Ready? You are not your thoughts. You are not your emotions. You are not the things that happened to you. You are not a gender role. You’re not even your personality. And here’s the big one: You are not that voice in your head. In fact the journey to discovering your self (which is who you are) involves the attempt to eliminate that voice. In other words: telling it to SHUT. UP. And in the meantime if you can’t get it to, DON’T LISTEN TO IT. For the love of GOD don’t listen to it. Think how many times that voice in your head has been wrong…a lot. But we continue to reach out to it for advice and guidance as though it were an intelligent shrink. It’s not, it’s noise. Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about voices plural in your head. That’s another disorder altogether and we don’t have time for it. I’m talking about the voice in your head that is constantly chattering. If you stop reading this right now and look around the room, just wait a few seconds and listen. It will begin talking. About anything. Stupid things. Funny things. Memories. To -Do lists. It’s noise. It’s a lot of noise that isn’t really propelling you in any direction on your mission. This attempt was among the original purposes of things like meditation and yoga. It wasn’t to pray or to exercise–it was to find inner stillness, the center. The center is where “You” reside. Behind the chatter, judgments, and noise is your soul or spirit, or whatever you’re comfortable calling it. It’s quiet there. It’s the part that doesn’t die. It’s the center of your consciousness, or what Zukav called The Seat of the Soul. (Also, another awesome book) So this is how the book begins; with the search for the self and a map of where to go to find it. Once you’re able to pull back the curtains on all the things that don’t define you, you begin to feel and hear the real you. Your higher self. Perhaps he puts it most accurately with this definition: the simple awareness of being aware. Or..You are not the thinking mid; you are aware of the thinking mind. 

“When you contemplate the nature of Self, you are meditating. That is why meditation is the highest state. It is the return to the root of your being, the simple awareness of being aware. Once you become conscious of the consciousness itself, you attain a totally different state. You are now aware of who you are. You have become an awakened being. It’s really just the most natural thing in the world. Here I am. Here I always was. It’s like you have been on the couch watching TV, but you were so totally immersed in the show that you forgot where you were. Someone shook you, and now you’re back to the awareness that you’re sitting on the couch watching TV. Nothing else changed. You simply stopped projecting your sense of self onto that particular object of consciousness. You woke up. That is spirituality. That is the nature of Self. That is who you are.”

 There was one chapter that I re-read a few times, because it really challenged my notion of happiness. It asked this question, which I find myself constantly asking: Is happiness a choice? I have always believed that we are susceptible to our circumstances, therefore happiness isn’t really a choice because we aren’t in control. We can’t help it when bad things happen. But Singer absolutely disagreed with that, and I’m pretty sure he beat me. Just because we aren’t in total control doesn’t mean our happiness isn’t in our hands. If our happiness isn’t up to us, who is it up to? Other people? Circumstance? Conditions? No wonder we’re not happy! You can’t rely on anything or anyone else to cause your experience of happiness. It is entirely up to you. If you make the commitment to be happy, it is to be unconditionally happy. But, that means acceptance of the present. That means erasing your version of what you think your life needs to look like in order for you to be happy. That’s something a lot of people don’t want to give up.

I know what you’re thinking: What if my family dies in a plane crash? What if a bird shits on my head on the way to work? I can’t help that! Of course there will be challenging events in your life, you already know that or may have already experienced them. It doesn’t mean you don’t grieve appropriately and process the hard times. But it also doesn’t mean that you stop, that you can’t be happy again and continue to live a  beautiful life. (Just ask my mom, she was widowed twice, but has once again found happiness.) That’s part of the commitment. You have to accept what happens in the present, deal with it accordingly, and release. Keep going. There’s no hanging on to the past allowed. It will never change by you clinging. There’s no cringing about tomorrow allowed either. You’ll deal with tomorrow when tomorrow comes. And think about it. Does you reacting and getting upset and yelling change the fact that a bird shit on your head? No, it doesn’t. Clearly our reactions are not only silly, they’re unintelligent. They serve no purpose. They’re just noise.

Your definitions of desirable and undesirable, good and bad, all come about because you have defined how things need to be in order for you to be okay. We all know we’re doing this, but nobody questions it. We think we’re supposed to figure out how life should be, and then make it that way. Only someone who looks deeper, and questions why we need the events of life to be a particular way, will question this assumption. How did we come up with the notion that life is not okay just the way it is, or that it won’t be okay the way it will be? Who said that the way life naturally unfolds is not all right?

This is still a challenging notion for me to process, but I know it’s right. This is not to say that making unconditional happiness your mission is easy–it isn’t. It’s probably the hardest work you’ll do. But I’ve decided to take this mission on. I certainly have the time, don’t I? Maybe we all do. But we fill it up with a lot of stuff. A lot of Kardashians and O’Reilly Factor and arguments and anger and work and chaos and noise. I think it’s time to slow down. Time to go IN, not out, and find that little nook where our soul is, and try to please it. What more important work could there be? Chopra says that this is a recreational universe and that we were meant to have fun here. We weren’t meant to suffer! So I think it’s time to play. Today is August 22nd. It’s my dad’s death day. Death birthday? I wonder if they celebrate the day you die in Heaven the way we celebrate birthdays here. Anyway, my dad was one of the happiest people I knew, and that’s what everyone else had to say about him–How positive and kind he was. This book reminded me of him and his constant disposition of joy, happiness, and love. I’m going to start my work toward consciousness and inner peace with him in mind and this book as a guide, or at least a solid starting place. I highly recommend The Untethered Soul if you’ve been searching for a deeper purpose or listening for a higher calling and need a little help getting started. This is a really good road map to begin with.

My favorite line from the book: It is actually possible to never have another problem for the rest of your life. 

Health, Happiness, and Real, Tangible Books.

*My favorite underlined phrases from the book. :)

What it means to live spiritually is to not participate in this struggle. It means that the events that happen in the moment belong to the moment. They don’t belong to you.

The only way to inner freedom is through the one that watches the self. 

It’s bad enough that your happiness is conditional upon your own behavior. When you start making it conditional upon other people’s behavior, you’re in serious trouble. 

It is not life’s events that are causing problems or stress. It is your resistance to life’s events that are causing problems or stress. 

If you want to understand stress, begin by realizing that you carry around with you your own set of preconceived notions of how things should be. 

Imagine if you used relationships to get to know other people, rather than to satisfy what is blocked inside of you. 

When a person is dealing with their own fears, anxieties, and desires, how much energy is left for dealing with what’s actually happening?

The truth is, everything will be okay as soon as you are okay with everything. And that’s the only time everything will be okay. 

If I Was a Horse, They’d Shoot Me

Maybe that title is a little extreme, but sometimes when I’m counting out my pills in the morning and filling up my coffee mug for the third time, I wonder about my existence. Not in the depressing suicidal way, but more in terms of how such a weak physical specimen as myself has made it this far, it being survival of the fittest and all. I’m far from fit, but I guess I am surviving. But when I see people on facebook climbing mountains and shit I think crap, I can’t even stand the thought of standing in line without needing to faint. What am I doing here?! Then I get off facebook because I’m really starting to believe it is the demise of human beings. I think I’ll post that thought on facebook.

After visiting with the doc in Miami and changing around a few doses of things, we agreed upon my next round of treatment; which is two anti-biotics for the next two years. Woo! Yeah! Apparently, all my liminess isn’t gone, and the 6 month run on those overly priced horse pills didn’t do the trick. SO. Round two. To be honest, I’m fine with this decision. I mean, my pill bag has just enough room for two more bottles, so I’m cool with it spatially. I could look at it and be like waahhh two years of more pills. Or I could look at it as; In two years from now I presume I’ll be alive anyway, so would I like to be full or free of lyme disease? It’s my patriotic duty to choose freedom. And anti-biotics. So here’s to more pills! We’re waiting on the blood work still to finalize decisions but it’s looking like I’m in it for the long haul. Which is fine because, you know, I have the time.

So I’ve been reading A New Earth and it’s really awesome even though I’ve read it before. I think it’s one of those books you could continue to read your whole life and never fall short of gaining incredible meaning. The only other book that has done that for me is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I love that book.

Aaah Childhood.

So anyway there’s this part in A New Earth where Tolle is talking about human evolution. It reminded me of my first day of my college anthropology class. The teacher brought up evolution and began to talk about the timeline for the semester and then started to give his personal viewpoint on evolution so the class would have a clear direction. Then he asked if there were any questions and a student raised his hand and asked “But if evolution exists, then why have humans stopped evolving?” The teacher smiled big and shouted “Great Question and THANK YOU for asking!” (This was his enthusiastic response to any question a student decided to ask during class.) Then he put his hands together under his chin and answered with “That’s the good news. We haven’t!” He went on to explain that evolution are adapted changes made over a long period of time, and that if we compared modern humans with our counterparts 10,000 years ago, there would be numerous differences. I at least know that in terms of communication even in the last ten years there have been an incredible amount of changes that will forever change the ways humans interact with one another. I’d love to show a caveman Facebook.

Wait why don’t I just actually poke her?

Anyway, back to the book. Soo Tolle is talking about humans and how we’ve evolved and that one of the biggest fundamental differences between human beings and the rest of the animal world is that we are conscious of our consciousness. This kind of awareness is what drives the fundamental questions like “Who Am I?” and “What Is My Purpose Here?” Although these are the kinds of questions that can be terrifying or seemingly impossible to answer, they are what make us uniquely human and for that they should be celebrated! And pursued, too. What he also says is that “The next step in human evolution (enlightenment) is not inevitable, but for the first time in the history of our planet, it can be a conscious choice.” Cool dude!

Along those same lines, I watched a lecture that Deepak Chopra gave a few days ago, and much of what he spoke about correlated with this very concept. (Synchronicity, Yeah!) He talked about the mind, the body, and the soul, but he began by expounding on the intelligence of our human bodies independent of our human minds. For example, our bodies are made up of 100 trillion cells, which is more than all the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Each cell is performing roughly 100,000 activities every second and every cell instantly knows what the other cells are doing and correlates its activities respectively. This is how we are capable of thinking, talking, digesting food, playing piano, killing germs and removing toxins all at the same time. “This is the inner intelligence inside of you that mirrors the wisdom of the Universe,” he says. It was cool to hear him speak about this because so many times I’ve laid in bed with my hand on my heart, listening and feeling my heartbeat and thinking “Who’s making it beat?” I guess the answer wasn’t a who, but a what. Or a who-what.

Then he broke down human intelligence into four levels. He said that the highest form of human intelligence is State of Being. He describes this as the ability to observe yourself without judging yourself. The Second highest form is Feeling- our ability to feel compassion, joy, empathy. The 3rd highest form is Reflective Thinking- Who Am I? What Do I want? What will my contribution be? What inspires me? And the 4th highest form is Doing- the ability to create happiness. He also provided a pretty simple but profound definition of the soul- the space between your thoughts. Think about it.

Anyway seeing as how sometimes I’m a worthless physical specimen that doesn’t “do” a whole lot, I liked how doing was last on the list. :) But it was his last thought that was most reassuring to me, since it had been a very sick week and I was feeling a lot like a horse needing to be shot. “The next state of evolution is consciousness. It will be survival of the wisest, not the fittest.”

Health, Happiness, Horses.

Hard Knocks Island

If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of a place called Fisher Island. That was true until last January, when my mom found a CFIDS specialist with a clinic in Miami, and my brother happened to be engaged to someone who was from there. Without ever having met my mom or me, the soon-to-be in-laws invited us to stay with them when we came to the clinic for the first time. We would soon learn that they didn’t live in Miami exactly, they lived on Fisher Island; a private, man-made island only accessible by ferry or boat once your name has been added to a list and cleared by the guard. It’s like an exclusive night club but bigger and islandier and your money’s no good here. You buy everything through an account number. Your cash might as well be monopoly money.

It’s a real testament to my brother’s future in-laws that we were welcomed with such open arms. We could have been a bunch of crazies for all they knew. Hadn’t they met my brother? It was pretty immediately a Mi Casa Su Casa situation, accept it was more like My Island Your Island. It is exquisitely clean, beautiful and pristine here. There are pools galore though I never see anybody swimming in them. There is a private beach with a restaurant a few feet away. Theoretically you could effectively choose your own sushi menu right out of the ocean. That tuna there! I want that one! It’s something like Disney World meets the South of France. I’ve never seen or experienced anything like it. Whatever it is, of all the places to be sick, this one ranks in my top 3.

Before my first trip out here in 2011, I had spent most of the month of January in a horizontal position at my mom’s house. I was horribly depressed. I was watching everything familiar to me, all the things I defined myself by, slip slowly away with my health. It wasn’t easy watching or letting any of those things go. But I remember feeling the tiniest bit hopeful when my brother Nick called me the night before I was due to depart. “Dude are you ready for Miami?!” Sometimes even hearing the energy in someone elses voice could exhaust me in its own way. I groaned and said something about needing to pack but not having the energy to do the laundry. I remember he was so cheerful and said “All you need is a bathing suit. There’s a lot of sitting around and doing nothing on Fisher Island.”  I closed my eyes and let those words hang in the air. “Sounds perfect.”

As promised, we were welcomed with enthusiasm as soon as the ferry docked. I remember entering their home and feeling like Little Orphan Annie entering Daddy Warbucks house–which is funny because Estee’s dad slightly resembles Daddy Warbucks.  Every room was beautiful and had what I consider to be the most important detail in any room; large and bright windows–most with a view of the ocean. I suddenly felt really lucky to exist, and that glimmer of hope I had on the phone with Nick came back as I hugged the new members of our family and they insisted we eat dinner even though it was past 10. I remember my doctor’s appointment wasn’t until two days after we arrived, and thank God it wasn’t because most of the next day was spent in bed with a killer migraine and that ever so seductive hit-by-a-truck feeling. The only difference was, this time I woke up in a beautiful room with a breathtaking view. And to some extent, that did make a difference. It at least softened the blow of it all. I remember taking migraine medicine and going back to sleep. And when I did, something happened something that continues to happen. I fell asleep but could hear real life happening outside the door. I would try to yell or move to wake up but felt paralyzed and voiceless. This happens to me often when I take naps and I don’t know if it’s a part of the illness or something separate entirely, but it is unsettling. I finally escaped dream world to find that Nick and Estee brought lunch into my room on a tray and sat with me while I ate. Looking back on that time now, I can’t believe what a fog it was and how bad I felt. I remember Nick trying to convince me to read the book “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen but any time I would try to begin reading, the words would fall out of chronological order and I’d have to keep re-reading them, or I’d start to feel car sick and put it down after just a few sentences. (Luckily that symptom has mostly passed and 2012 has been filled with books!) I went to bed that night wondering what Dr. Klimas would be like. I prayed hard for two things. I prayed that we would get answers, (real answers) and I prayed that I wouldn’t find out I was crazy. By that time, I really started to question my sanity. If enough people look at you sceptically, express disbelief, or tell you you’re experiencing something psychosomatic and not actual illness, you’re going to start to question yourself, no matter how bad you feel.

To make a long story short, my prayers seemed to have been heard. For one thing, only after Dr. Klimas ran extensive tests and blood work (my initial visit at the clinic lasted seven hours) did we finally get some answers that made sense. Finally, it was explained why I always felt like I was about to faint any time I stood up or any time I had to stay standing. I had Postural Orthostatic Hypotension due to low blood volume. This diagnosis was made in under 30 minutes using a tilt-table test. (You can request this from your doctor.) The best part is, it’s totally fixable. There’s a word we love. I take atenolol in the morning and try to consume 12 ounces of fluid containing electrolytes. Atenolol prevents your heart from jumping up to 140 bpm when standing upright and controls the severe fluctuation of blood pressure. This is what I mean about answers. When these symptoms were told to one of my other doctors he told me to drink more water. She also explained how the chronic migraines are typically a result of brain inflammation (a primary condition of CFS) and how dehydration is one of the biggest triggers for migraines. (And also that prescription migraine medicine tends to dehydrate you) So especially on travel days, you should double your liquids. And you can’t just drink water. You need electrolytes. Probably the biggest diagnosis that came from that first round of tests was news that I had Lyme Disease and we would start aggressive antibiotics to get it under control. But beyond the interview, the tests, the drawing of blood, the explanations in scientific and layman’s terms, stands out one particular moment between Dr. Klimas and me. She had just finished drawing blood when I admitted to her that I had been really worried that I was going to come to the clinic and be told that I was crazy. Then we both kind of laughed and she told me that in all her time working with this illness, there has been one patient who was certifiably crazy, and that was an extreme case. “People who come here aren’t crazy, they mostly just want their lives back.” I exhaled. Finally. Validation. I had never wanted to hug a doctor so much in my life.

I’m going back to Dr. Klimas on Friday, and in the meantime am enjoying Fisher Island with family and as always, working on staying present. You know what helps me stay present? Views like this:

And golf carts like this…

And this…

And babies that pose like this…

And smile like this…

All of those things help, at least a little. I’ll report on the doctors visit next. Until then…

Health, Happiness, and Cadillac Golf Carts.

I Know I Know. Don’t Freak Out.

You’re in the right place. This is still the blog about fibro, pills, humor and attempted awesomeness. I gave the blog a little makeover and I’ve been putting it off  for a while now, but the time has come my people. First, I shortened the address from 25pillsday.wordpress.com to just 25pillsaday.com so we can all breathe easier knowing we have 9 less characters to type. Also as someone who’s 5.3 feet proud, I always argue that shorter is better. Secondly, all the crap that used to be at the bottom of the page is now easily accessible at the top. See?  Right over there. >>>>>>>>>  And that old picture of all those drugs that were the colors of library furniture have been replaced by bright neon cascading pills in the background. It’s all so magical. It’s funny that I would even consider so heavily the design or lack thereof of something that makes me no money  and is in most people’s eyes just a hobby. But truthfully, it’s my baby. I care a lot about it. And in recent nights I’ve woken up like Wait, should I put the links on THE LEFT SIDE?? Then I’m like OK there are wars going on and the location of links and font color is not so big a deal. I just needed to pull the trigger. So bang. I’m also reminded of the time I spent an hour picking out a dog collar for Monty and I guess it makes sense I’d take so much time with this. If you don’t like it, just give it a few days. If you still don’t like it, feel free to email me with only these words: YOU BLEW IT! I’ll know then what I’ve done. There will be some new additions to the blog but I thought I’d ease into those slowly. We’ll start just with cosmetics.

What else? I’ve spent the last two weeks in California at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Orange County, California. (Side note: I recently realized my life is whole lot like Rob Kardashians, and that makes me have quiet moments of extreme discomfort.) It’s funny, because both my sister Amelie and my brother-in-law Keegan work full-time jobs, like most normal people. So in the morning they’re getting ready for work and I’m laying on the couch lifeless, half conscious. Sometimes I don’t even wake up to them scrambling around because I think my sleep schedule is so incredibly screwy that I’m in my REM cycle at 8:30 a.m., but that’s something different altogether. Last week Amelie was putting the final touches to her work attire in the bedroom and Keegan was getting ready to walk out the door. I was fumbling through pills on the couch. Before he walked out Keegan asked “Are you sure you don’t want me to leave the car here for you? Like are you going to get restless?” Amelie and I answered in a monotone voice in unison: “No.”  “You’re not going to get bored?” Again, from both of us. “No.” Then we kind of all laughed, maybe for different reasons, and the functioning people went to work and I opened my book.

I am reading two books. I must admit, after I finished reading Freedom I felt like there was this new hole where something solid used to be. The way it feels after you lose a tooth. Then when I was in New York, my brother told me Strong Motion written also by Franzen competed heavily with Freedom so I brought it with me and have been enjoying that one too. It’s written in true Franzenian form and I once again feel like I’m getting a literary/science education just by reading the work, so it’s fun. But I don’t know that anything can top Freedom. OK I’ll stop talking about that now. Except wait I have one more thing. On NPR people with cool voices were all telling Jonathan Franzen he needs to keep an eye on Nell Freudenberger and there was all this jabber about the book The Newlyweds and so I decided to give it a try. So far it’s really good. She isn’t as inventive with the prose as he is but her writing is clean and the storyline has me going; a mail order bride from Bangladesh marries a 30 something engineer dude in upstate New York and there are hints of secrets and controversy and all the good stuff that makes good books good.

The other book that I just finished is The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav and it was really, really incredible. Not as dense as A New Earth but just as enlightening and really reassuring, especially if you fear death. And for a while I think I became a little too obsessed with this idea that I was going to die. In the sense that I would actually start to wonder, maybe I just won’t die. Like maybe I’m exempt? But duh, I’m not. And it’s cool, because he says all this stuff that makes so much sense and I basically underlined the entire book. I feel like I’ll just keep it at my bedside forever now. Until I..you know, die.

OK, that’s all the housekeeping for today. Or should I say book-keeping. Get it? Health-wise I’ve been managing pretty well. This morning was my first migraine I’ve had since leaving NYC two weeks ago. That’s a long time for me! Good stuff. Maybe I just need to be by the ocean for the rest of my life. California is awesome, but weird. I’ll talk about that next time. Cliffhanger!!

Health, Happiness, and Give It a Few Days.