Friday, October 31, 2014

Hat Tip To The Dead

We're just a day away from Dia de Los Muertos and -- in the recent temperature dip and in the rustle of the leaves -- I can feel the ancestral spirits heating up for their big night out.

It's going to be a wang dang doodle. Everybody gon' meet, just like Howlin' Wolf says.

I'm looking forward to it. I'm making pan de meurtos. It's a "sweet, fragrant" challah-like brioche bread shaped into femur bones, calaveras.  Pati Jinich's adorable accent makes you forget the recipe is a pain in the culo.

I might ice store-bought challah with frosting and decorating sugar in the shape of little bones and call it a dia. Don't judge. It's not the letter of the law I'm after.

It's the spirits. My grandfathers. My grandmothers.  My mother-in-law who was from a line of curanderas, healers, but could not heal herself of breast cancer, and died too soon to know my children, and I find that haunting.

My Aunt Eliza, who was the first person I knew who was an artist. Wonderful the turpentine and pine and shellac smell of her studio. Mrs. J.O. Miller, my great-great-grandmother who was one of the first Pittsburgh suffragettes. I have her calling card (excellent heavy card stock) and her small 19th-century seed-pearl beaded reticule. Of course, I never met her, nor any of my other greats- and great-greats- all the way back to mitochondrial Eve out of Africa.

They are the many links in the chain of my Life; I must honor the dead. But not with woe, and wailing, and rended garment. With whimsy. With verve. With pluck. Because without them, I wouldn't be here in my clown shoes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Comedy In The Long-Shot

I was at a pop-up Halloween store in Annapolis this past weekend, visiting my favorite coffee shop in all of the state of Maryland -- Pronto, home of Ceremony Coffee Roasters and their award-winning espresso: "raisin aromatics...and clementine acidity"-- and I bought a pair of clown shoes, and a tutu. I already had a red clown nose. There are so many things you can do with a clown nose. Dog toy? Yes. And useful for lightening-up the stand-up meetings that, because I am freelance,  I am the only one at.  Then I dyed my hair gingerballs

It's been a long week even though it's only Wednesday. 

I redid my hair. Now it's just-hatched-chick yellow. It's an early Madonna vibe if I wear bangles and a crop top and appear fiercely Rage Against the Machine (if that link is du trop for you, here's an excellent clean-language college marching band version that rocks.)  

My daughter, 7, said of the New Look, "Mom, I still recognize you," so that's encouraging. I'm still recognizable.

I don't dislike the look. Being in my 40s with two kids, Husb., and dog and chronic pain in the suburbs, I have this sad clown thing going on, a kind of Linda Evangelista meets RuPaul "full catastrophe" as mindfulness meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn calls it. So in addition to clown shoes and tutu, I got face paint for Halloween to draw on a droopy sad mouth under which I plan to smile.  It's the water that I swim in. 

Monday, October 27, 2014


Freedom has no expiration date, and I'm here to tell you in my clown shoes that neither does stoopid

Case in point: my brown hair has reddish undertones that come up to the surface like feeding sharks when I try to go blonde. I've known this for over 40 years -- my hair has reddish undertones, my hair has reddish undertones that's why it's called chestnut. There's a mantra here. Also it's a lesson it seems I have to keep on keeping on learning because what do I do? I try to go blonde. Again. 

I try to go blonde using a Shade-Grown Free-Trade Fresh Sap Collected By Himalayan Virgins Whole Foods hair dye kit and -- insert no surprise here -- I turned myself gingerballs.

I went to bed gingerballs, hoping it would go away during the night, like magic! but I woke up looking like Strawberry Shortcake spent the summer surfing at some So. Cal. hideaway, and not like Kate Hudson. 

What to do? I have one thing to say: You better work just like RuPaul says. Sashay shante. I'm working the shade I call Pumpkin Spice Lite today and I made an appointment with my hairdresser for as soon as he can see me. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Marcel Marceau

My sister as a kid was fascinated with French mime Marcel Marceau. I was like, Speechlessness? No, thank you.  I preferred constant burbling neurosis, the early work of Woody Allen, which was my particular talent.

But my mother took both of us to see Marceau at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh sometime in the evening of the '70s when I was still young enough in-between the acts to rub the soles of my black patent leather mary-janes on the crimson carpet (it was a bordello of red an gold in there) and give my sister a big spark, and hand to mouth Milk Duds.

I still associate their caramel-flavor with stage-life grandeur. The richly draping curtains. The cut-crystal chandeliers. The bing-bong-bong descending scale that let you know intermission (otherwise known as Milk Dud eatin' time) was over.  I think I have some synethesia. I believe I can taste the sound of the smell of the brown velvet sweetheart-neckline dress I was wearing.

Of course, Marceau did his famous trapped-in-a-box-that-doesn't-exist routine. Instead of being all distracted like I usually was, like, dang the taffeta crinoline of this dress is itchy, or why did I eat those Milk Duds so fast? Or, is anyone I know here?  I was moved.  I started sniffling and wiping my nose on the sleeve of my fancy dress. My mom handed me the hanky from her pocketbook.

My sister after the show, was so ensorcerelled she mimed her way into a collision with a parking meter. I didn't laugh at her; how could I? I was still clutching the hanky.

Because of this foundational memory, I recently bought myself a clown nose. It's a red foam job. It smells like Halloween pop-up mall store floor, of our current global commerce in trivialities, but wearing it is my extrêmement petit homage to Marcel Marceau who said, "It's good to shut up sometimes."

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pema Chodron

I've been ambivalent about finding a Teacher. Possibly this is because my experience of being a student has sucked.  I was a real dum-dum.  I had potential they said, but I didn't get the memo, I stared out of windows at the birds wondering what it would be like to saddle one up with an acorn cap and fly to a land where there were dragons.

I was halfway into my usual sustained and plodding mediocrity in my sophomore year of college when I took a marine bio class and, as Gru says in Despicable Me,  LIGHTBULB.   This school thing involved hip waders and algae samples!?! And microscopes? Lord!

I knocked myself out to collect and correctly identify intertidal snails like a person who has just learned learning is exhilarating. I was outlandishly good.

I rode that high into my 30s; I had plans in my imagination to do something big-time at oh, say, maybe, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution or -- why not  -- Scripps.  I had t-shirts from every major marine biological lab. And then...

Nosedive. Crash landing. Chronic illness. All the plans poof.

For the last few years, I have been sitting like a castaway in the salty remnants of my clothes on this crusty island called What The Fuck? Like Job, picking my scabs, in complete bewilderment, mirror-signaling to the rescue planes to no avail and nightly leaping in a dance of frustration around a giant bonfire on the beach.

So yesterday I figured -- screw you rescue planes -- I'll listen to a podcast of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron's. This little wizened white woman, telling me there is nothing to rely on, to "abandon hope." She was funny about it, too. LIGHTBULB.

For the first time in 20 years I have a teacher. I'm putting myself under the microscope. My thinking that is; my body has already been under X-rays and in MRI tubes enough for a lifetime. What I'm in the process of examining is my thinking that everything must be a certain way, that I must be healthy and my vertebrae undeformed, and my face unlined, and my house uncluttered, and my pain completely dissolved for me to be happy and to learn anything new.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Soften The Edges

Green Tara is a goddess of compassion. Rock on, green Tara, even though you are the color of an artichoke. Same thing for you blue Krishna. It is so bananas that you're blue.

Green. Blue. It's like damn, how come none of my gods had twelve hands? Kali, with a necklace of skulls.  Jesus, Mary, God the father, the dove for the Holy Spirit, it's such a small nuclear family. Anemic. Plus they're all one. Or something. I was that kid at church camp who was like, "Is any of this making any sense to anyone?"

It was like this: Two and a half hours on a Sunday. Blah blah blah. Some guy died for you. Oh, yeah, and here's this tiny, sidekick altar for his mother who was super important. And there's this mean greybeard in the sky, saying Be Good, You Awful People. Wait. Nevermind. Y'All Are Okay. Have A Rainbow.

I know its way more than that. More metaphorical. But the images: the human features, the desert, the flowing robes. The scenes took me to that higher place. I like looking at Green Tara in the same way way I was drawn to the stained glass medieval, metrosexual-looking, ruby-winged angels whose expressions were so hard to determine.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What It Feels Like

I've been reading "illness narratives." I love a good illness narrative. It makes me feel less alone.  Less girl-in-bubble.

This piece in The New Yorker by Meghan O'Rourke sums up the experience of having a "but you don't look sick," "invisible" illness. It bites. It bites like Cleopatras's asp, but it doesn't kill you. All I have to say to that old saw, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" is I will kick you in the pants.

If you have a chronic illness, you're fatiguing to those around you. They just want you to Get Well Soon. If you don't, you're being problematic; you're breaking the rules of greeting card etiquette.

There are no cards that say, "It's So Totally Not All In Your Head And There Are New fMRIs That Prove It." Or, "Love The Moonscape Of Your Gnarled Vertebrae, Hon." Or, "You're Managing The Symptoms of Your Body Gone Kaplooey, Keep It Up." Or, "Have You Laughed At Yourself Today? Look In The Mirror, The Muscle Spasms Have Caused You To Grimace." Perhaps I should design a letterpress line of them? Please tell me I should. In my family we call my disease, "The Overlord."

On my Best Days I am 80% a Real Girl. I walk the dog.  I don't want to gouge out my eyes. I don't want to wander like a Desert Father, or sit like a Yogi on a pole in the Ganges, I want to volunteer at my kids' school library.  I want to make mini-muffins.

I know that it won't be for long. Autoimmune illness is --  as they say of biological systems --  punctuated equilibrium. There is always another flare. Always. Like Persephone, I guess, I have the ill luck of having to spend some time in the underworld.

So that's why I am working on not just a letterpress line of chronic illness cards (thank you for convincing me to do it) but also -- Willy Wonka-esque -- on developing a snack food called Chronic Illness Bites.

I'm thinking chocolatey, I'm thinking salty. I'm thinking the kind of bon bons that won't make too much of a mess if you eat them in bed under the covers while weeping and trying to keep it together by watching funny things on your iPad, like Charlie Chaplin do his dance with the dinner rolls, or Gene Kelly Singin' In The Rain.