Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Great Lie

I have been pondering the seemingly genetic quirk of humanity regarding the obsession over negative details.  Being an insecurity addict, I am well aware of this unfortunate tendency to look in the mirror and see a plethora of flaws, faults and flabby failings.  What is the reason behind obviously preferring to look at life through shit-colored glasses instead of rosy ones?  I don't enjoy it; I'd prefer to look in the mirror and be perfectly content with what I see.  Despite my day-to-day struggles against my I-Hate-Me brainwashing, I have to say that I am far, far kinder to myself than I've been in the past.  I used to be so fucked up, I'd slap myself in the face and claw my arms when the self-hatred became too thick a bubblin' brew.  Now, I truly do love myself, with the occasional ugly rearing of some ugly mental trends.  But I'll keep at them, whittling them down with a steady, plodding regimen of positive reinforcements.  But why do I do it in the first place?  Why does pretty much everybody do it?  Why are we obsessed with the negatives to begin with?

Having been married to a scientist for almost a decade and a half (before the divorce), I now have a tendency to look for facts and figures in such a case.  Metaphysical and spiritual reckonings are all well and good, and they have their merit, but I want some cold hard facts to back them up.  What is it inside humanity that swings this way?  Because it seems rather universal and to me, quite stupid and without true merit.  What good does it do to be mean to yourself or others?  Seriously, who thought this negative this shit up?  Who first said, "Oh yeah, let's tell our children how awful they are.  That'll do them good.  Let's nag our spouses so they make an effort to do better; praise doesn't work so let's put 'em down."  As a waitress, I listen daily to people agonizing over calories and inches on their waist.  I hear boyfriends tease girlfriends over their weight, I hear girlfriends nag boyfriends over not being able to pay for lobster, I hear wives and husbands go for each others' throats over the wine list.  I listen with real sadness to indescribably beautiful co-workers talking about yet another new diet because they aren't...quite...small enough yet.  And I do it, too.  I look in the mirror and make jokes about my own appearance.  I used to call myself the Venus of Villendorf and Kermit with Breasts until I wised up and began to pull back the reins, saying to myself, "No.  Don't be cruel.  Don't talk about yourself that way."  Why don't we realize how important it is to protect ourselves inside, especially from our own mean ass thoughts?  I had a tough, tough childhood but nobody was meaner to me than me.  I blamed myself for everything: my own molestation, my ugliness, my stupidity, my talent gone to waste, my lousy choices in not one husband but two, my failure as a parent...I hated Rebecca O'Donnell.  I really, really hated that bitch in the mirror and I blamed her for everything wrong in the world.  Everywhere.  I even began to think that children were starving because I hadn't figured out a way to help them.  There's a weird egotistical factor in the insecure.  We think we can solve every problem, and every problem is our fault.  Then our subconscious, which isn't as dumb as our conscious mind, gets mad and kicks us too.  Something deep inside knows we're lying to ourselves, knows the abusive people we surround ourselves with are assholes, and shrieks at us for getting us in this mess in the first place.  Blame, blame, hatred and rage.  A Bubbling Brew, black and sticky.

I wonder if it has anything to do with survival instinct?  Maybe some primal area of our brain files the negatives in a more prominent area for the protection of the body.  If an animal goes up to a lion and sniffs it, the lion will most likely eat it.  The rest of the herd learns to avoid lions.  If an animal goes up to a tree and lies underneath it, chances are, the tree won't attack.  Trees aren't necessarily a fight or flight reflex memory because they're pretty benevolent.  Nothing will be filed away in the survival instinct records.  An animal won't avoid a tree but won't seek it out either, unless for shade, cover or food.  Not as a thing to be threatened by, or protect self from.  There's no puzzle to be solved regarding fauna.  Could that have something to do with it too?  Survival instinct is all about problem solving.  Avoid teeth, fire and steep drops in the landscape.  Do that and your survival chances improve drastically.  Problem solved.  Then there's the survival instinct predominant in mammals, of obeying the parents.  Don't wander away from mama rhino if you don't want the hyenas to get you.  She told you. Stay close.  So if our parents tell us we're sacks of shit, doesn't it make sense that our primal instinct is to believe, then try to obey and not be sacks of shit?  How does one solve that problem? 

No kid is a sack of shit.  But that doesn't prevent instinct from making us believe it.  We're problem-solving weenies when it comes to figuring ourselves out.  We'd rather diet, or beat ourselves and/or everybody else up, than get to the Rubik's Cube mess that's an abused person's head.  Because we're the sacks of shit here.  We're the ones who made us miserable in the first place.

Aha.  That's the root of all evil right there.  The Great Lie that is told so often, by ourselves and others, by media, peers, enemies, loved ones, advertisements and backstabbing get-ahead-of-the-other-cocksuckers business practices. So try out a new puzzle: work on not believing the bubblin' black hellhole called Insecurity.  It's born and bred of the Great Lie, and that's all it is in the end.  A lie.  You're not a sack of shit.  You never were a sack of shit.  You can be happy in kindness to yourself and others and wonder of wonders, you don't have to feel guilty about it.  You can leave self-hatred behind with a smile and a wave.  It's a laborious and slow journey of discovery, but it can be done.  God knows how, but I really like myself now.  I have my moments, as I've just written about.  I'll always have them because it's embedded in my primal brain that I'm a sack of shit.  But I don't believe it anymore.

Most of the time.  Don't you believe it either.

Love, R

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fat and Sassy

I am still blorked down in a lovely turkey left-over fat stupor.  It's a strange thing, the satisfaction and joy that comes from holiday feasting.  My mind turns to Dickens, and the Ghost of Christmas Present, surrounded with all the bounty and gifts of plenty.  That's what's so beautiful about it: the gift of plenty.  I sit here, typing away, with a warm cup of chamomile tea beside me, my tummy comfortably full of turkey, and I am grateful for it all.  The warm tea, the full belly, the worn out and buttery soft flannel pajamas I'm wearing.  What a lucky and beautiful thing, to have plenty.  I think I sometimes forget that, and sometimes forget to do that: be grateful.  I bitch and whine and snarl displeasure when I'm stressed, when I'm busy, when I'm pissed off.  Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday to remind us of the fact that, on the whole, we have plenty.  With the world crashing and spinning around us, this graceful and often overlooked holiday is a welcome break from the chaos, a time to sit back, let the triptophane kick in, and turn into a couch potato, if only for a little while.  A lovely time to be fat and sassy, laid back and replete, a human horn of plenty.  Thanks for reading my blog, thanks for all the well wishes, and thanks for thoughts of pumpkin pie turned reality.  I love Thanksgiving and its glorious left over weekend.  Now it's time to lie down again and watch some holiday corniness, all with a big satisfied grin on my face. 

Love, R

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Quietly Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving, all.  I had a marvelous Thanksgiving all by myself. I was invited by many to go to many places, accepted one invitation and at the last minute, discovered we were supposed to go Wednesday night, not Thursday morning.  I worked Wednesday night.  Strangely enough, I was not at all sad about being unable to go with my friend to her family's house; I'd wanted to be alone to contemplate this extraordinary year.  It has turned out to be a wonderful, gentle Thanksgiving.  I had a turkey, which I'd bought a week ago and was going to cook up for leftovers anyway, so I roasted and stuffed that, ate some pie, which I'd made for the forthcoming feast, mashed some potatoes and whipped up delicious gravy. I did some drawing, embroidered as the turkey cooked, watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Planes, Trains & Automobiles, took the turkey out, ate like a pig, then laid in a triptophanic stupor as I watched the original Miracle on 34th Street.  I lit candles to commemorate all the treasures in my life: my kids, my loved ones, this beautiful place I live in and the beloved roommate I live with, my memoir's soon-to-be-published status; all of it.  One of the great things about having experienced some truly rough shit is, it makes you more aware of the good things.  This year has been more than good.  It has been glorious.  I am the luckiest person alive right now.  To have gone from a suicidal, pissy, miserable train wreck of a human being to this: a good, kind, fulfilled person.  It's extraordinary that I can actually write such words to describe myself after so many years of self-hatred and depression.  Who would have thought it?  Who could have dreamt it?  So today was the perfect Thanksgiving for me.  I wandered about, snuggled on the couch, stitched silently, all the while my mind tripping the light fantastic inside my skull, remembering, remembering, oh, remembering all the things to be grateful for.  I have spent this time, just quietly thankful, content, and happy.  I smile as I write this.  It has been a perfect day.  Hard to believe, given how I've been for the majority of my life, that I could find such happiness with just me in the room.  As I said, who could have dreamt it?  Least of all me.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Love, R

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Phoenix

The first time I ever heard the name "Phoenix," I was in grade school.  There was a children's book out about a boy who befriends a Phoenix, the mythical bird which regenerates every five hundred years or so by torching itself on its own funeral pyre, then is reborn out of the ashes.  I adored that book.  Then, comic book fanatic that I am, I wept when the Xman Phoenix destroyed herself because her own power consumed her.  She's been reborn countless times since then but that's what Phoenixes do.  They burn up and come back strong.

I have a friend who's in jail right now.  She's the daughter of someone very close to me.  I'll call her Alice.  She's a young kid, very intelligent, who was the apple of her parents' eye back in the day.  Advanced Placement classes, cheer leading squad, prom court; the whole nine yards of the golden child.  Then, in her words, she "went to one party."  She got a little drunk, played a little hard, and tried drugs for the first time.  Peer pressure and the indestructible cockiness of youth wove their deadly web.  A year later, she was a train wreck of a human being and her parents were in danger of losing their home from all the legal costs and stolen credit cards. 

This isn't the only person I know who's in jail right now on drug-related charges.  I just got a letter yesterday from another kid with a similar background, and I know dozens of others through my acquaintance with their parents at my son's old rehab center.  I myself have been the victim of coked-up drunk teenagers who thought it would be a hoot to violate a second grader while high.  Of all the things on earth, there's nothing I hate worse than drugs.  Absolutely nothing.  I watch the news and see all these drug cartel wars; kids getting shot on campus, politicians and police being beheaded, gangs and their turf wars.  I don't get irritated with the obvious villains, I get irritated with their unseen financial backers. In all the anti-drug campaigns on TV, why has it never been put out there - the real costs of a "little selfish fun," as one addict scoffed to me the other day?  The most popular excuse for drug use is "it's my life, I can do what I want with it."  But it's not just your life.  It's everybody who gives a damn about you and every stranger who gets shot, raped, beheaded or rolled up in canvas and set on fire by these horrible people who make their money, overwhelmingly, by the casual user.  Lives are destroyed, neighborhoods are ruined and whole generations are put in peril, all for a little selfish fun.

The good thing in all these maudlin musings and grisly statistics is the individual.  There's nothing I hate more than drugs and very few things I admire more than an addict who struggles to get clean.  It is a lifelong task because it's so fucking indescribably difficult.  I talked to a young addict a few months ago, back when he still insisted he wasn't an addict and could "stop any time he wanted to."  In the same breath, he admitted that the longest he'd ever gone without using was three weeks.  "But I'm not an addict," he insisted.  I looked at him and said, "If I came up to you tomorrow and had a football-sized tumor on the side of my neck, one that bent my head completely sideways, what would you think?"  He just looked at me, laughed and said, "I'd think you had a big fucking tumor on the side of your neck."  "Of course.  But I keep telling everybody it's just a zit, and nothing you can say to me will change my mind.  So, am I delusional when I tell you you're an addict, or is that just a big fucking zit on your neck?"

A using addict is the lowest of the low.  There is nothing they won't do for their drug, very little they won't do while high on their drug, and that's simply a literal and depressing fact.  When they're using, there is nothing good, or kind, or thoughtful, or even decent about them.  They are low down dirty dogs.  But my God, what an accomplishment to crawl back out of that pit.  It is a miraculous thing. One of the blessings I've gleaned from all these crappy memories of mine is the fact that I can see beauty in a pile of shit human being, just so long as he or she tries to crawl out of their own filth.  I always think about the prodigal son story in the bible, the one Jesus told when he was trying to suggest the unheard of idea that bigotry was wrong.  Youngest son, party animal, leaves home, blows his inheritance on "riotous living" then begins to starve to death.  He decides to go home, tail between his legs, Dad's happy to see him, clean living eldest son gets pissed.  Not without cause, either; the youngest son was an asshole.  But look what he accomplished just by asking for help.  He found his humanity again.  The first thing drugs do is cut off your metaphorical balls and make you a dickless wonder.  It's hard to control a person who's brave, so courage has got to go. After that, anything awful becomes acceptable.  Don't get me wrong; there's a threshold a person crosses where I think it's pretty much impossible to go back: pedophiles and brutal murderers being top of the list. I'm not talking about overcoming those kind of atrocities. I'm talking about burning off the self-inflicted decadence and filth of a negative life.  Paying for your crimes and going ahead.  Becoming a human being when before, you were a scuzzball. 

I've been many things throughout my life; loser, weeper, warrior, suicidal, brave hero and bitter hag.  One of the cool things about all of that experience is the fact that I can always change.  I can make an effort to become something else and actually accomplish it.  Only a few years ago, I was miserable and stuck in a rut of my own making.  Self-hatred and fury kept me there.  Subconsciously, I think I wanted to punish myself for being such a stinking loser.  But I gathered some wood and built a pyre, crawled on top of it and set myself ablaze.  I was consumed.  Everything in my life was burnt away in that clean, fierce, brave fire.  And I crawled up out of the ashes of my existence and began again, fresh, new and alive, with pretty, shiny new feathers.  We've all been through shit in our lives, and will doubtless sometimes be knee deep in it in the future.  I myself have been shit.  But look what we've survived.  Look what we're capable of. Phoenixes, rising from the ashes.  No matter how low, no matter how disgusting a skank we've been, we can all pay for our past and start new.  Believe in yourself and take flight.

Love, R 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My Ian

Today is my big brother Ian's birthday.  It's been forty years since he was killed but I still remember it distinctly, as if the moment was a fragrance stored in a bottle, fresh and poignant.  I don't feel much sorrow anymore; it's more like a bittersweet walk down memory lane, where I see him smiling, or pulling canned blueberry turnovers out of the oven while I beg beside him like a desperate puppy.  He always relented and gave me one, piping hot with an extra squeeze of icing.  So I'm going to share a little of my memory walk with you.  Let's saunter together down the gentle and beloved remembrance I have of my Ian.

Ian was twelve years older than me.  I was the last of four kids.  Mom worked as a waitress, so she told my two brothers that they would have to watch over me and my sister Kat when she was not there.  Frank was in charge of Kat, who was a year and a half older than me, and Ian was in charge of me.  One of my first memories was of him teaching me how to properly wash my face.  I was to splash it twice with warm water, then rub it all over with soap in a circular motion, then rinse three times.  He showed me how to squeeze toothpaste from the end of the tube instead of the middle, then told me why this was more efficient.  "If you know why, you'll remember it," he said. 

We lived in a rented farmhouse when I was in first grade.  Ian and Frank babysat Kat and me one Saturday night and let me eat half a box of Chicken-in-a-Biscuit crackers and a whole bottle of Pepsi, which I quickly barfed all over my favorite t-shirt.  Frank wouldn't touch my smelly self.  It was Ian who carried me into the bathroom, pulled that puke shirt over my sobbing head, and hosed me down in the shower.  He dried me with a towel and doused me with talcum powder, telling me how sweetly I smelled after that.  He carried me to bed and tucked me in, dropping a kiss on my embarrassed little brow.  Years later, when I was a waitress, a little girl barfed her dinner all over the table at the restaurant and no one would help her.  Her dad was shouting and embarrassed, her mom useless, the siblings scared and silent.  Even the busboys refused to clean it up.  And all the while, this little girl sat there, filthy and wretched, tears running down her humiliated face.  I went over and cleaned the table, the floor, her face, all the while repeating my Chicken-in-a-Biscuit story.  We became sisters then, this tiny stranger and me, and I remember how important Ian's kindness had been.  I brought her orange sherbet to clean the nasty taste from her mouth, then kissed her  sweaty little head.  Would I have done that if Ian hadn't shown me the exact same kindness?  I don't know.  I hope so.

When I was seven, and our mama cat had her babies in the middle of his bed, he chastised our mother for not calling him home from school.  "Don't ever do that again, Mom," he said, "You make sure to call me.  I don't want her to ever go through that alone again!" 

I was in second grade when he came to the rescue one Thursday afternoon after school.  I was walking home when the local infantile hooligans surrounded me, kicking me every time I tried to get away.  They knocked me down and scraped my knees, trying to pull my tights down so they could see my underwear.  Ian rode up on his motorcycle like a knight in shining armor and chased them away, swearing like a sailor and threatening death if they ever touched me again.

He was studying chemistry as a freshman in college when Kat and I would plague him unmercifully to "spin the dial" on the Twister game so we could play.  He'd lay there on his bed, one hand holding a book, the other one spinning the dial. 

Every Sunday after church, Ian stormed into the house, threw his arms straight up over his head and bellowed, "FOOD!!" at the top of his lungs.  He ate like a horse.  He was allergic to honey but still tried to sneak a taste here and there because he loved it.  We'd know because he would instantly swell up as hives erupted all over his skin.  He mixed a concoction of pancake syrup and peanut butter together that he named "Goop" and showed me how to mix it correctly so I could make my own.  My love of cooking stemmed from those moments of wrist flapping fun, stirring peanut butter, stiff from the refrigerator, with maple syrup until it blended smoothly.  We ate it on saltines.

That's just a small snapshot of moments with Ian, ones that stand out in my brain.  I try not to think about all the blood or his shocked expression in death, the stolen money from his wallet or the gore-sticky motorcycle he died on.  I choose to concentrate on the good and dismiss the importance of the bad.  I spent more than enough time obsessing over the bad; did it for years.  Now I remember his saucy grin, his guitar playing, and that spinning Twister dial.  He was, and is, a beloved character in my life and always will be.  Happy Birthday, Ian.  Love ya.

Love, R

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Today was my best friend's birthday.  We went to BJ's and wandered around, musing over giant boxes of cereal and brick-sized chunks of cheddar cheese.  I hauled off a load of various gigantic food items while she stuck to tomato sauce and mozzarella.  A weird excursion for a birthday but one that satisfied us both. As I stood in the check out line, surrounded by bathtub-sized bags of candy on my left and flying saucer-sized apple pies on my right, I watched my friend walk to the hot dog stand to buy us some snacks.  I smiled.  Here, on her birthday, she buys me a hot dog and soda.  On her day, she still thought about me.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A friend is someone who reaches for your hand but touches your heart."  As she handed me a foil wrapped dog and a soda with extra ice, I felt that warm brush inside my ribcage, touched by her thoughtfulness as well as her friendship.  Once again, I marveled at my own luck.  I might have been raised by the tootie frootie maniacs from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but I have been very, very lucky when it comes to friends.  They have been there for me, through thick and thin.  They've seen me rant and rave, sob and tear my hair, in the depths of despair and the heights of living.  Throughout all these myriad versions of Beck, they've stayed true. 

In the hustle and bustle of modern day living, I've seen beloved friends run like hamsters in a wheel, racing, racing in a mobius strip world of unending busyness.  When I suggest meeting for lunch or letting me come over and cook dinner so they can relax, they've been surprisingly reticent, sometimes even hostile and defensive.  They misinterpret my wanting to see them as my wanting something from them.  It's as if they've forgotten what it's like to have a true friend; someone who wants to help ease their burdens, not add to them. 

It's very hard for some people, myself included, to accept help from anyone, and if it's being offered by a friend, it's doubly hard.  My first thought is, "I don't want to be a bother," which is both egotistically self-effacing and incorrect.  Friendship is a giving creature, and I tell myself to calm the hell down and let my loved ones give, even if it's to someone as worthless as me.  Those are the moments when insecurity still rears its sneaky head in my brain, whispering that they don't want to have the burden of my needing anything.  It's a two-faced way of thinking: I offer whatever I can to people I love and quite a bit to people I don't even know, so why is it so hard to let people help me?  When I lost everything after my son was in rehab, including a large chunk of my sanity, three of my closest friends stored the majority of my possessions at their houses; in the garage, basement and utility room.  I was moving back to the Midwest just to "get my shit together" before returning to New York. I vowed I would be back in less than a year.  I was gone for four.  They kept my stuff, without complaint, all that time.  I will never forget that.  I will never be able to repay such kindness.  Because of them, I had something of my old life in safe-keeping.  Those boxes with their Sharpie marker labels were priceless treasures to a woman who'd lost her marriage, her business, her son and seven family members all in one year.  When I finally came back to the East Coast, the boxes were waiting for me.  I unpacked them in my new home, smiling at old photos long forgotten and wrapped extension cords stuffed in amongst the acres of books. As I said, I am inordinately lucky when it comes to my friends.  My heart, stomped to a greasy stain by family members who were supposed to love me, has been pieced together again by a family of friends who truly do.  I have been touched by the hands of friendship and healed by them all.  Thank you, my beloved friends.  Thank you forever.

Love, R

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Treasured Souls and Crusty Crabby Curmudgeons

As a waitress, I encounter many different aspects of a person's emotional state.  There are the cheerful couples, the happy kids and parents, the stressed out business folk and the moody non-talkers.  At my restaurant, we have our regulars who encompass pretty much all of the above.  There's the Catfish Man, who comes in for lunch, mumbles his order - fried catfish and iced tea, extra lemon - eats and leaves.  He's a salt and pepper weathered dude, furtive glancing as he rapidly consumes his food.  He doesn't want to talk, he just wants to eat and get out.  There's a manic shyness about him which I find endearing and I like to bring his extra lemon arranged like a flower on a plate.  There's the old World War II vet, whom I embarrass with eager embraces and sloppy kisses on his bald head.  I came in once for lunch on my day off and sat with him for two hours, absorbing every fascinating word out of his heroic mouth.  Who would have thought, watching him meticulously cut up shrimp into doll-sized bites, that he had helped save the world; indeed, saved the lives of over a dozen wounded men in the bomber he was flying over Germany?  Their plane was stuffed to the gills with wounded soldiers on the way back to base when they came under fire.  The shit kicker lieutenant aboard opened the bomb bay doors to lighten the weight, and all the hapless men lying there fell to their deaths.  My beloved old dude pulled his sidearm and aimed it directly at the lieutenant's face, stating the fact that he would blow his fucking head off if he didn't stop kicking the man still clinging to the edge.  I bring him his cheesecake with the strawberries arranged in a graceful arc, grateful to know him at all.  There's the stressed out sweetheart of a daughter, gobbling her hasty lunch and ordering a hasty take out meal for her ancient and Alzheimer-ed mother.  I bring her her ice cream sundae with extra chocolate and a kiss to the back of her hand.  There's the dapper old story teller who comes in for late night dinners.  Everybody knows him by name and everybody loves him dearly.  He wears fedoras and antique rings, a crisp hanky tucked just so in his breast pocket.  I smile as I write this, he is such a treasure to us all. When he first found out my love of the bizarre, he brought in a tiny paper clown from the World's Fair and placed it on my open palm.  It curled into a U and he laughed with delight.  "You're in love," he said, and gave me the clown. They were favors given out at soothsayer booths long ago, when he walked with ice cream laden stride as a tiny young boy.  There's his alter ego, an old man with enormous eyes and enormous heart, who nurses his whiskey sour and grilled dinner, sitting at the bar and watching the world unfold before him.  The fedora gentleman finishes his meal and comes to sit beside him, their heads bent toward each other in the easy companionable air of long time comrades. 

All these people are beloved to me.  I don't know Catfish Man's real name; he's been coming in for years and I don't think anybody else does either. I know only the last name of the veteran and only the first names of the elderly comrades, and the twitchy loving daughter I know only by sight.  It doesn't matter.  They are familiar to us all; a family of strangers made precious by the simple fact of us feeding them.  Caring for them. 

There are so many who sneer at the fact that I'm a waitress and I, myself, once shuddered with fear at the thought of ever being forced to wait tables again.  I did it for years before and during my marriage, and it had become the thing to dread.  But this past year has been a revelation.  I even find myself enjoying this very manual job.  Not the work itself, which is dull and repetitive and often filled with crusty crabby curmudgeons, but those shining moments of treasured souls.  I find myself a magician of sorts: I wave my wand and bring their plates and watch the tension disappear.  Regardless of their often low opinion of me, the untouchable who lives only to refill their glass and clear their plates, I am still creating a positive shift in their emotional state.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said she accomplished more good over tea and crumpets than she ever did over a negotiation table.  There's an ethereal wonder in the consumption of good food and smiling faces.  I've helped the heartbroken (there's a hospital nearby), the angry, the weepy and the raging, and all by the simple act of bringing hot food and a grin to their table.  What's that, if not magical?  Merlin with chips and tartar sauce, pie and ice cream.  That's a secret I've discovered, one I wasn't even looking for: the graceful, unexpected joy of a simple full stomach.

I get a kick out of it all.

Love, R

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Old Fogey Photos

About a month ago, I was digging around in some old boxes and came across a stack of weathered photos.  I grabbed them up and stuck them in the drawer on my night stand, promptly forgetting them.  This morning, while digging around through said night stand, I found them again. The top picture caught my attention; it was of Chickpea and me.  We were in the kitchen of our married student housing apartment in Madison, Wisconsin.

Chickpea was a gray squirrel.  We became acquainted on a wet Tuesday morning.  I was walking to the school to pick up my son Leland from kindergarten, when I saw a little boy swinging something.  I thought it was a toy of some sort but when I got closer, I saw that it was kicking.  It was a tiny baby squirrel, most likely blown out of its nest in the storm from the night before.  The little boy was swinging it from its tail. I cried, "Oh, it's a baby!  Give it to me!" and the kid handed it over.  Chickpea laid like a dead fish in my palm, his body no bigger than my index finger.  I looked around for a barking mama squirrel but there was nothing: no noise, no mama, nothing. I stuffed him down my bra and continued toward the school. 

Leland was enchanted when I showed him the bedraggled baby.  "That's the squirrel Daddy and I saw this morning on the way to school.  Shafagh was trying to feed it a peanut."  That ended any chance of finding the baby's nest.  Leland and Peter, my ex-husband, had seen the baby a quarter mile from where I found it.

We walked together to the grocery store where I bought an eye dropper, a carton of cream and some hamster vitamins.  We took Chickpea home, dried him off, heated the cream, added the vitamins and a splash of almond extract for taste, then tried to feed him.  At the first hint of food, that little critter went nuts.  He started squirrel snarling in his tiny walnut of a voice, throwing his head around frantically.  The cream went everywhere but in his mouth.  I wiped him off and tried again with the same results.  Finally, I cleaned him up, rolled him up in a wash cloth so he couldn't move and jammed the eye dropper down his throat.  He ate and fell asleep.

My daughter Rhianna, four years Leland's senior, came home from school and immediately knew what to do.  Rhianna has always been something of a Doctor Doolittle.  She has an affinity with animals the likes of which I've never seen.  We went to the library at her suggestion and found a book on baby squirrels.  The little things had to eat every four hours, on the dot.

When my husband came home, he pitched a fit about having a rodent in the house but I was adamant.  I'd taken charge of that hairy little life and I wasn't going to shirk the responsibility of it, no matter how much of a pain in the ass it might be.  Peter droned on and on in a rage and I finally asked, "What the hell is the matter with you?  Why are you so mad?"  He looked at me and blurted out, "Because I'm ashamed.  I walked right by that damn thing this morning and never even thought to try and help it.  You see it for two seconds and take the whole thing on. That's just how you are.  You jump in and rescue things." 

I decided to take that as a compliment.  How cool to be told, no matter how angrily, that you're the type of person to automatically help someone or something that's suffering.  That was very cool to me.

Chickpea ate and slept for four days.  On the fifth, he became a very, very active little squirrel.  Up and down, over and across, his skittery little toes were everywhere; up your pant leg and down your shirt, up the curtains and down the side of the couch.  Run run run, from sunup to sundown, that crazy animal was never quiet.  I'd take him outside for tree climbing practice.  Sitting under a crimson maple, I read a book while Chickpea did acrobatic cartwheels and scampers along branches, always looking down toward me for approval at his courage.  I clicked my tongue and cheered him on, opening my sweater so he could dive in for a snuggle when lonely. 

We weaned him off the cream and introduced him to hardier fare: almonds and pecans, acorns and apples, carrots and strangely enough, green beans, which he loved.  Peter began to rage again as Chickpea started burrowing through the bedroom curtains, so Rhianna and I began to re-introduce our squirrel to the wild.  "If he can find a mate," Rhianna said, "He'll be fine.  Squirrels mate for life."

After a failed attempt to build his own nest - waist high in a hole with no stuffing or bedding - Leland, Rhianna and I banged together a makeshift box on poles and planted it in our tiny garden.  I lined the box with Chickpea's favorite sweater of mine, then crammed him inside.  That's where he slept for about two weeks.  On the morning of the third week, I saw a beautiful sight: Chickpea and a wild female, banging away on top of his box.  They both ran away at the sight of me.  I grinned and heaved a great sigh of relief.  Chickpea would be fine.

He went totally wild but still remembered how to get in through the hole under the air conditioner in the summer.  Rhianna would come home from school to find our startled former pet with a giant cookie in his mouth, and once he and his mate crammed an entire apple pie through that minuscule hole.  We followed the crumb trail from the empty pie pan, across the table and down the kitchen floor, all the way to the air conditioner.  They had laboriously stuffed the whole thing through, and there wasn't a sliver of apple anywhere outside the window.  It was glorious. 

Isn't it fun to stumble across a drift of memory captured forever in a random snapshot forgotten in a drawer?  Ah, I hadn't thought about Chickpea for a long time.  Now I smile as I type away, imagining those nimble toes and tiny hooked claws racing across my pant leg, demanding attention and play.  What a fun little guy he was.  Hope you liked me telling the story of Chickpea the Squirrel as much as I liked remembering it.  Take care.

Love, R

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Official Website

I have a domain name!  YeeHaw!  It's http://www.rebeccaodonnell.com/.  My brilliant web designer is working on the website and so far, it looks beautiful.  Can't wait.  I wonder how the FREAK comic will look on it?  I wrote and illustrated a darkly funny piece for promotion.  Pretty black humor, to put a cartoon synopsis of the book to musical form, haha!  I'm nothing if not unusual and I grew up loving MAD magazine musicals.

Love, R

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Boneless Beck

I am having a strange day today.  Rather giddy, giggly and jelly-like with relief, with joy, with trepidatious anticipation...after such a long time, my memoir is finished and off to the printers.  I have little else to do but unwind and embroider for the rest of the year (a commissioned piece). I was at work, hauling fish on trays and shrimp on skewers, when it suddenly hit me.  I. Have. Nothing. That. Needs. Immediate. Attention.


I got home, took a shower, laid down to embroider and fell fast asleep.  I woke up with the needle and floss in my hand, embroidery hoop draped across my belly.  It was seven at night when I awoke.  Such a strange thing, after such a long haul, so much work, so much angst, making sure that everything is just so and flows exactly right. There's a beauty in being boneless with relief.  I started laughing and my roommate asked what was so funny.  "I don't know," I replied, cackling.  It was glorious. My hair looked like a Brillo pad, my eyes were ringed with smeared mascara and one foot was peeking out from beneath the comforter covering me, sock hanging half off. 

Being the marvelous creature that she is, my roomie brought out a book and read to me.  One quote in particular struck me with its truth and beauty:  In the depth of winter, I find within myself an indestructible summer. 

When you're born, you get strapped, kicking and screaming, into this roller coaster called Life, with a doctor smacking your bare butt and a sudden burst of cold as your body hits air for the first time.  Floating in warm goo, with the symphony of your mother's heartbeat always in your ear for the first nine months, does little to prepare you for the ups and downs and gut-wrenching thrills of a breathing future.  But we hold on, regardless of the rush of gravity and terror that's just around the corner.  Who would have thought, given my nutty past, that I would be in a position to give aid to others just by telling my story?  This memoir is a snapshot of Rebecca O'Donnell, straight out of my soul and graphically told.  With all these edits and rewrites and re-reads, I've visited those rough-as-hell memories over and over again.  To my surprise, I have seen a value in my experiences.  I'm not grateful that they happened, not the terrible ones, but I'm grateful that I'm not a crack whore or drunk, as so many, many others in my family are.  I'm one of the lucky ones.  So, I raise a metaphorical glass to myself, and to all my brothers and sisters of circumstance.  May you find yourself boneless with relief some day.  May you cackle like a witch and look like a hag with really bad hair, and may you do it all with a grin, just happy to be alive.  At long last, so very happy to be alive.  Hang in there.

Love, R

Monday, November 8, 2010

Almost There

Hello, blog people.  It's late, I'm fried but content and sitting here typing on my blog.  The book edit is DONE.  I can't believe it.  Tomorrow, it's off to the publishers at long last.  The covers have been approved, the manuscript is formatted, it's all done except for a bit of info I need for the front page.  What a long, tough road it's been but I'm so happy about it, I'd jump up and down if I had any energy to leap.  I'm skipping inside.  Sorry I've been so lax in my posts but it's all for the book and the sucker's done.  I think I just enjoy typing that word right now.  Done.

Ah, Beauty.

Wish me well.  After I hand it over, it's on to the next step: doing my part of getting it out into the world.  Snooze time now.  Take care.

Love, R

Friday, November 5, 2010

Everything Old is New Again

It's been four days since I wrote on my blog, which is the longest I've gone since I started.  Abject apologies to anyone keeping an eye on these things but in my defense, I have a reason.  I have finished the final edit work on my memoir FREAK and it is ready to send to print after one...last...read through!!!!  AAAA!!!

This memoir has been a massive undertaking for me. Limitless thanks go out to everybody who's come to my aid as I flounder about in literary waters. While reading through the story of  my own life, editing this, scribbling that, I realize that everything from my past has been brought up again, fresh and new in some cases, rancid and raw in others.  How did I begin the whole process of writing about my own life?  Why on earth would I think it might be interesting to anybody?

It began as simple therapy.  My psychologist suggested I keep a journal, which I found teeth-grindingly dull, so I just started rambling into my laptop. Nothing specific, just a lot of stream-of-consciousness memories tip-tapped out on a keyboard.  What happened to me, what I was feeling at the time: everything.  Before I knew it, I had one hundred and fifty pages. With some coaxing, my therapist talked me into letting her read them.  I wrote them with the intention of their never being read by anyone, so I was very reluctant.  They were raw, sometimes gross, often graphic but absolutely true renditions of events which have helped shape my life. After reading the initial batch of prose, my therapist urged me to publish it.  She thought it was important.  She thought it could help people.  I believe my first reaction was, and I quote, "Fuck, no!"

But I kept writing.  It seemed necessary.  I felt better afterward, even though I was often shaky as hell when I finally metaphorically put down my pen, only to pick it up again the next day.  Even when I lost my apartment and had to move out of state, thus losing my therapist, I kept writing.  It no longer mattered if it was so-called therapy or not.  Somewhere inside me, a door had opened and the flood waters just poured out.  Endlessly. 

I began to weave events together in a way I never had before.  I began to see patterns in my screwed up behaviors that I'd been blind to, decisions based on past trauma instead of present reasoning.  I knew I tried to kill myself in my mid-twenties but I hadn't really thought about the actual horrific events that led up to it.  In the moment, with the razor blade at my wrist, all I could think about was I was so tired of breathing.  Living had simply become an unbearable burden.  There was no specific tragedy in my head at the time.  Just a bone deep weariness.

As the manuscript began to take shape, so did the mystery of all that self-hatred and sorrow.  I found answers as to why I allowed myself to be brutalized as an adult. I thought I was strong and tough because I'd never had an adult relationship with anybody stupid enough to hit me.  I'd had enough of that as a kid and I sure as hell wouldn't accept it as an adult.  What I didn't recognize is the fact that I was verbally and emotionally bludgeoned almost every day.  I was black and blue inside with internal hemorrhaging and all I could think was, "Why are you crying all the time, you big baby? Why aren't you happy?  Get joyful, for shit's sake!"  Viciously self-loathing, I was a bully to me, every bit as cruel as anyone in my life.

Shyly, I started handing out sections of the memoir to friends.  They began telling their friends.  I started getting phone calls; strange requests to "just talk to my niece, she was molested" or "how did you stand fast when your son was doing drugs?  How did you cope?  Why is he alive?"  To my astonishment, my story became a comfort.  This weird, creepy, cannibal inbred redneck horror show of a childhood had become something to help others.  That's why I decided to publish it.  That's why it's about to become a book.  They say everything old is new again.  All this old shit, dragged out of the closet called my brain, has miraculously become something new.  Like a gross squashy caterpillar inside a chrysalis, this goofy past of mine may turn into something beautiful.  So for all my brothers and sisters of circumstance, FREAK: The True Story of an Insecurity Addict is about to become a book.  Maybe reading about all my dumb ass mistakes will convince others to not repeat them.  I hope, with all my heart, that it helps whoever reads it.  I hope they stay their hand if they're in despair.  I hope they find solace, as I did, in putting the puzzle pieces of their own shattered psyches together again.  Thanks to all of you out there for caring about my words.  Take care of yourselves.

Love, R

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Monumental Day

Hello, All.  Hope you had a great Halloween.  Today, November 1st, 2010, is a monumental day for me.  It is the one year anniversary since I moved in with my glorious roommate, a woman I now consider the sister I always wished I had.  She's wonderful.  It is also the 67th anniversary of my beloved Charles the Man's landing on the island of Bougainville in the Pacific in World War II. 

Charlie was a Marine in the Third Marine Division.  He was twenty years old when he landed on Bougainville.  Raised a poor tenant farm boy during the Depression, Charlie "Bud" Dodd enlisted in the summer after Pearl Harbor. He was wounded by a grenade on Bougainville but stayed on the island to fight.  He suffered through dysentery, dengue "bone breaker" fever and intestinal malaria for the fifty-five days he was on the island, every one of which was almost constant fighting.  He went on to fight on Guam and Iwo Jima.

I first met Charlie when he began dating my mother after her divorce from Dad.  He was kind, funny, clever and a voracious reader.  They were together for twenty-six years, he in his house, her in hers, and it worked.  He went to sleep one night in 2006 and simply never woke up.  When I called one of his old war buddies to tell him, a man who'd been ill and frail for years, his reaction was, "That goddamn Dodd!  I wanna go that way!" And he did, less than a week later. 

I have been researching the Pacific theater of World War II for over a decade.  I interviewed Charlie every time I went home, which was only once or twice a year, and I have hundreds of hours of transcribed tapes detailing his experiences in the war.  Two weeks after we finished our last Iwo Jima interview, he died.  We began the whole project as a possible future book but so much information has been amassed, I am splitting it into a trilogy: one book for every island he was on. 

With all the different talents I have, writing is my favorite.  It touches something in me on a different level than any other medium I work with, although I love them all.  FREAK is coming out soon and reminiscing about my crazy life has made me nostalgic for certain dates.  Today is one of them.  So I write this as a tribute to the greatest man I've ever known and will probably ever know.  Charles the Man.  May I do his story justice when I put it down on paper.  He is an important part of my memoir and an enormously important person in my life.  I am very lucky to have known him at all.  Thank you, Charlie, for all that shit you went through back then.  Miss you.

Love, R