Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The black dog

Churchill called it the black dog, but it comes to different people in different forms. Dogs feel too friendly to me. This is how it feels: you wake up with a lead blanket on you, the kind they give you when you're getting dental x-rays. Moving in any direction is an effort. The dogs will come over to you. Bean stands over me as I lay there, her nose directly in my face, her eyes staring into mine, willing me to move. She nudges me with the wet tip of her nose, very, very gently, as if to say "just a tiny reminder that we need to go out."

I managed to get outside, as I do every morning, but once there, the air felt too hot, putting one foot in front of another a chore. I didn't even feel like taking pictures.  It's dry everywhere. It rained yesterday, a paltry few drops, a tease of water, enough to make us miss it, not enough to make any difference whatsoever. We take pictures of the rain to remind ourselves what it looks like, get out of our cars, walk around in it.

Rain. Mulholland. 06.30.15.

This is entirely my fault. I was doing so well. I was working hard and dating and walking and sleeping and riding and not drinking very much alcohol and eating properly and going to yoga and seeing friends and feeling loved. I thought I didn't need my meds. My eensy-weensy little amount of celexa in the melon-colored pills that I break in half every morning. I'd almost forgotten I was taking them, and such a tiny amount, what could they possibly be doing? A lot, apparently. They were keeping this depressive person under the illusion that she was okay and normal and happy.

Your world gets smaller. Everything shrinks. Your heart shrinks, most importantly. You don't have it in you to reach out to anyone. You have to remind yourself to love, to forgive, to go into the universe. You have to remind yourself: This is now. This is not your life. Or you would give up. You have to walk outside every morning and water the tomatoes and tend to the flowers and deadhead the gardenia you've struggled to keep alive. You have to remind yourself that people think you are a happy person, a jolly person, a person who people want to be around because of your good energy because that is what they tell you. You have to remind yourself not to bore your friends with (although I am lucky, I have friends who will talk to me when I'm like this). You have to remind yourself not to pick fights with your ex-husband, because, truly, he is the only one that really understands this. You have to remind yourself not to blame your ex-boyfriend or have revenge fantasies (like a stalker, I have been blocked from email, phone, social media and let me try to tell you how that feels; to have the man that you loved, the one you thought you were going to move in with, the one you planned to be with for a long time, the one who has left little bon mots all over your house in books, on postcards, the one that called you petnames and made love to you and told you his secrets, imagine having that person essentially pretend you are dead.)

Imagine the ignominy of online dating in this state. Of feeling not quite yourself, and progressively having it get worse, without really knowing why, and every day having to flick through pictures of smiling men hoping to find the love of their lives, and with each photo trying to ascertain within seconds, if this is a good man, a kind man, an honest man, a man of wit, a man who likes dogs... Imagine having to put up endless pictures of yourself looking fetching or sexy or cool, when all you want to do is just sleep.

And then when you do match with someone, and you think, maybe this time, maybe, this will be a connection, maybe this will be someone who will want to love and understand me, someone who will want me in their life, to talk to to, to do things with, to be more than the sum of these parts. And then the disappointment.

And I know it will pass. And I know it will be better. And I know I have friends who love me, and children who love me, and lovely dogs who love me even in this most unloveable, most hideous state. It almost makes me weep to think about their loving kindness.

And all of this time I think of my father, who stayed in bed for days and took too many sleeping pills and happy pills and drank whiskey and really only wanted to talk to dogs. And not understanding that he suffered from this. And being terrified of his anger, which was, really, only a thinly disguised depressive episode. And to think of the monstrous effort he made to smile when people came for dinner, to tell jokes, to be the life of the party, to live up to his reputation. "Oh, Denis" the women would say with delight.

"Nothing to be ashamed of. I have it too," said my lovely ex-husband, "We are super lucky to have such great meds today." I know that he is right.

I drive around LA in the heat. I take a picture of the mormon temple with its ugly, spiky fence. I fill up my car with gas and try to remember to hold my tummy in at the pump. I have a meeting and drink iced coffee and it makes me feel better, more alive, more energetic. I try to listen to music I love. I try to remember that this will pass.

I'd like a wingman. I say this to my therapist and he tells me it's a good time to get used to being alone and to realize that I can do these things for myself, that I don't need a wingman. Just because I've had a wingman since I was 20 doesn't mean that I need one now. "I am very able" I say to my brother on the phone, hoping to convince myself. "I can be on my own. I am on my own." I know that I am resourceful, that I could build shelter, or kill an animal for food if it were needed. I know I could make sorrel soup and elderberry cordial and live in the forest, and I know that I can change a lightbulb, or twist the wires on a fuse, or grow a tomato, or change a tire. I'm just not sure that there is any point in having these skills if you have no-one to share them with.

Everything is connected says my brother. It's synchronicity. Once you're in the zone, everything will come to you. If you're out of the zone, you're out of sync. Or something like that. I know he's right. On days like today I am so far out of the zone I might as well be on another planet.

20mg of celexa went into my mouth this morning and yesterday morning. This is what I can do. I only wish I was able to give myself a hug with two strong arms that didn't want to let go.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Awesome Epic Chimmichurri Sauce

I made this last night to go with some grilled steak and roast potatoes. This morning I had it with eggs.  Argentine restaurants serve with with bread. As with kindness, you can spoon that sh*t on everything. It's delicious.

  • 1 cup (packed) fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup (packed) fresh cilantro
  • Handful fresh oregano leaves or dried oregano
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (a dash extra for taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Whizz it all up in the blender. That's it. Better when it sits for an hour or two.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Naturally Very Talented

There are some extraordinarily lovely people in the world, like my divine friend, CM, whose voice I heard today on the phone from Europe, and it made me swoon. All the English, chalky, green-lawned, elegant loveliness embodied. "We miss you" he says and suddenly I miss England and everything about it, especially now that it's midsummer, which is, I think, the very best, most magical time of the year.

There are also the cheesers. My father thought that people who were too smug, too pleased with themselves were cheesers, and I do think it's an awfully good word. They often wear blazers with the brass buttons just a little too shiney, and hair slicked a little too well into the most fetching style. They're the type of people who profess to love dogs but wince imperceptibly when a dog jumps up on them.

I spoke to a man this morning, Ivy-league educated, handsome (from his pictures), witty, but just edging on cheeser-dom. I can sense it at about 100 paces, even, sadly, on the phone. Underachievment is a far more fetching trait than cheeser-dom (fromagerie to my French readers, or those tuning in from jolly hols in the South of France.)

Let me paint the picture for you. I'm in the garden in my birks and cut-offs, hair in a pony tail, arms deep in pots of dirt where I'm planting tomatoes and marigolds when I get a text from a man I met on Tinder. I've never met this man, but he seemed pleasant enough in our brief electronic conversations. It's a numbers game. My ex-husband's words resonate in my tomato and geranium-filled head. There's someone for everyone; you've just got to find them. So I ring. And he's perfectly pleasant, polite and charming until these words fall out of his mouth, describing his photography skills: "I'm naturally very talented." And suddenly he didn't need to say another word. (Although he did. He said, "We're clearly intellectually compatible but we don't yet know if we want to rip each other's clothes off." I wish he hadn't.)  Because that sentence makes him whiff distinctly of cheese. And that cheesy smell won't go away. Sigh.

That's the thing. You are so excited every time you call someone. You think: maybe, just maybe, this is the one.

It's like the man who like Abyssinian cats. He was an architect, elegant, tall, erudite, had a wonderful way of looking at the world, and I was sitting opposite him at a large dinner party, and I thought, look at this, we're at the beach, and the sun is setting and here is this talented, attractive man sitting across from me, and perhaps, just perhaps...and then he went into a 45 minute diatribe on his obsessive love of the Cats of the Courts of Ancient Egypt. He was a Cat Evangelist. Which, if I were a cat evangelist, would be marvelous. I'm a dog evangelist, a dogbian, as everyone knows...

And similarly with my friend the Naturally Very Talented some people his words would just wash over, they wouldn't matter. To someone else it would be nothing. To me, however, brought up with overt cheeser-dom and the pointing out of things All Things Cheesy, it ended right there.

The tomatoes have been planted, and there are geraniums and lobelia outside the front door in turquoise pots. Things are slowly coming together. I am no longer negligent, but I was. I am supposed to be a nurturer. When I nurture, I'm happy. So I'll start with the garden.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Norwegian Summer & Optimism

Now that summer's here and I'm thinking of Norway, a fragment of a short story from February 2010:

It was early summer, when optimism floats in the air ready to be inhaled by young and old, a time when ancient bones stretch out and warm in the sun and cricked necks un-crick themselves and chins jut and eyes close into the light.  And the light carries the long day into night and night is light and pink, mostly pink, and yellow.  Boys and girls in blue and white and red walk two by two or in groups, maybe three or five, trying in vain to contain the energy stored all winter long in long nights and hours of darkness and the smell of burning logs and wet dogs and snow, brought in and out of the house, a general damp, some yeast, Christmas buns perhaps with cardamom and sultanas, the yellow kind, plumped in sweet wine.  Now doors and windows are flung open and the air is called inside. Come in, come in.  Red and white curtains flap from the inside out.  Red and white and blue flags unfurl and blow and furl again and make the noise of sails against masts, a clink echoed by the mother with the pushchair and the fat child with the rosy cheeks and the brown skin.  And there are hotdogs wrapped in lompe with sweet mustard and red ketchup, the color of strawberries. And vanilla cones with a strawberry in the middle, saved for last, like the chocolate at the bottom of the cone that stops the cream from dripping onto the fingers which go into the mouth or into mamma's hand. Sweet summer stickiness.  And the hillsides have strawberries too. Red berries, tiny, baby berries, hidden underground and then under grass and now also worshipping the sun.  And boats are out in blue and white and scrubbed. Awnings pulled back. Bikini-clad girls inside spread out like stars under the sun.  Boys with fishing rods stand on jettys and smaller brothers kneel next to them, peering through the wooden slats into the seaweed, with bits of string and plastic buckets, usually red, for crabs, usually hundreds.  Girls on bikes and grannies on bikes.  Pavements full of wheels but without urgency. Sandwiches packed in paper, wrapped in foil, buried in a backpack with a towel, a book, a radio, a resolution to be back before suppertime.  And then out again, because no-one stays in.  And the ladies on Storgata are no longer wearing gloves. A navy army of thin legs marches with arms full of packages. At Slemdal, school is out but a few boys play on the swings.  Holmenkollen has no snow, but be-camera'd visitors arrive on buses, t-shirts emblazoned with other cities from their European tour. Brussels is a surprisingly popular destination in early July.  Here they take pictures. Usually of the ski jump, the view from the ski jump, the view from the ski jump with their significant other and the stuffed reindeer who resides there from year to year, the one with the beatific look in his glassy eyes. They come for kjotkaker with onions and open sandwiches with Norwegian shrimps and majonais. Sprinkled with dill.  They come for the fjords and the mountains and the "spectacular" views but not many set foot outside of Oslo. This Oslo. This summer Oslo where the day melts into night and no-one can tell when it's gone.  This frenzy of summertime, so short-lived, so pressing.  The sun lies on the sea, a great strip of yellow rolling out like a carpet towards you.  The ghosts of Munch and Grieg and Bjornson.  The trolls that hide behind the larch trees and only come out when the visitors have gone.  And beyond the mountains, a song plays, a familiar song with strings, and the young girls with pigtails hum it and the boys on their bikes sing it as they whizz down the hills with their legs horizontal, and the ladies on Storgata hear it in their heads and turn to try to find where it comes from.  And the man at Henie Onstad, who's curating the exhibition with the textiles from Lapland, in his navy trousers and his short-sleeved shirt with the glasses case in the pocket, hears it too.  He turns to look at the woman from Tokyo who is here with her two sisters and one hell of an itinerary and he knows that she can sing it too.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


From April 7, 2010, for #tbt.

They waited for the bird to fall out of the tree.  It was the only way to go, they said.  They'd consulted parrots experts, some as far away as New Mexico and Phoenix -- the ones that really knew about the habits of scarlet macaws -- and the consensus was that the bird wouldn't come down from the tree until it was good and ready.  That's what Mike said that morning as he was pouring himself a cup of coffee from his red tartan thermos, "When Fergie's good and ready, he'll come down from that tree."

Mike had laid out three small blue bowls; one with seed, one with fruit and another with water.  An animal carrier, the plastic type you see at airports with Cavalier King Charles Spaniels inside them, was on the garden table, and another scarlet macaw was peeking out. 
"That's Raquel," he said. "She's his mate.  They mate for life, you know."
Raquel's beak was poking out of the plastic rungs and she was attempting to twist her neck upward, toward the sky, where Fergie was hollering for her from his perch in the eucalyptus tree.  His call was loud, urgent and a little pathetic.

"Oh that bird, I can't teach him a thing. Twenty-five years I've had him and all he does is bite my fingers. He thinks I'm a threat, that I've got my eyes on his lady."  He looks over toward Raquel, craning her neck.  "Good girl, Raquel," he says lovingly.

There's a copy of the newspaper on the table, and an old book, bound in red, about medieval falconry.  The cover is etched in gold.  A knight and a bird in a leather hat stare back at me.  Mike has dressed in layers.  Maybe he was born back east where those things come naturally.  Apparently he's going to be here for a bit.
"You can stay as long as you like," I say. "You know, until the bird comes down."
We both stare upward, with a concerned looks on our faces during the momentary lapse in the conversation.
"I might be here for a while," he says.  "I'm prepared though."  He smiles at me with his dark brown eyes. I fancy him a Cherokee with shamanistic powers. I wonder if the bird up the tree is trying to tell us something.
"Do you think it's possible he's trying to tell us something"? I ask.
"Sure, he's saying 'I'm sick of being in my cage, and spreading my wings and flying across the canyon felt great.'"
I laugh politely.
"But you know" Mike continues, staring up at the bird, who is pulling at the eucalyptus leaves with his beak,  "When I first got him I thought he was a girl, and with that red hair and all, I called him Fergie, after the princess. I wouldn't be surprised if he's still pissed at me."

The bird sounded pissed off as hell, squawking like a pteradactyl, so loud you could hear him from the top of the street. So loud, in fact, that the neighborhood coyotes would howl as if an ambulance were passing.

Mike and John camped out in the garden for four days. It was Easter week and the geraniums had just started to blossom their impossibly neon pink.  The men came at dawn, left at dusk, took it in turns to call up to the bird, alternately coaxing and berating it.  Every morning I brought out cups of tea. I didn't ask if they wanted milk and sugar. If you're on a vigil, you need hot, sweet, milky tea.

Nights were cold in the canyon that week.  The owls knew they had a visitor, tried to engage him in conversation, but to no avail.  The dogs waited too, blinking in the sunlight at the base of the tree.  The hawks circled once or twice a day, retreated.

"In the old days, you could call the fire department. They'd come out with one of those cherry pickers. But they don't do that any more. Some bullshit about insurance."  Mike had his hands inside his big blue down parka even though it was a mild day.
"I'm not sleeping," he said. "Neither's John. We can't.  These birds are like babies to us."

Every day they fed Raquel at the the table so that Fergie could see, but he usually turned his back.

"Come on down here you old fool" called Mike.  "Fergie. I'm serious. Get your ass down here."  And finally, exasperated, he turned his back on the bird and walked towards the gate.

"I'm leaving, Fergie" he said. "Bye bye.  I'm leaving now.  Bye."  A rouse that so often works like magic with small children evidently does not work with parrots.

When I went outside on Saturday morning with two mugs of hot, sweet tea, neither Mike nor John were there.  There was no sign of Fergie either. No rustling in the eucalyptus. No thermos. No newspaper. No trail of birdseed.  The sky was a perfect optimistic blue.  This is a good sign, I thought.  It's Easter Saturday.

They didn't pick up the phone immediately when I called but finally Mike's voice said "Hello."  It sounded the opposite of what I'd expected.  Small and muffled.

"He's dead" he said, perfunctorily.  "We found him on the ground.  No animals had touched him.  He was in tact.  We brought him home and Raquel tried to groom him.  She was nuzzling him, pushing at him with her beak..." His voice trailed off and there was silence on the line.

"I'm s..." I began.
"They mate for life, you know" he said.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Three score and ten

These will be referred to as the dark ages. Not that it isn't summer in Laurel Canyon, and the songbirds and the crows are communicating nicely across Horseshoe Canyon, not that the days aren't long as we meander towards the solstice. And not that on both sides of this there will be light and frivolity and truths and happy days under big oak trees and books to read and moments of great inspiration. I'm just talking about now, at this moment, in the graph that is my life, it's the dodgy bit in the middle. It's the green shield stamps catalog without the stamps, the arid part that hasn't seen rain for a while, the bit colored in tertiary because no-one could be bothered to come up with a better color. There is a sense of getting through it, of being Churchill, of soldiering on.

"If you thought you were going to break your bones and they wouldn't mend" said my therapist, "you wouldn't be so brave and jump those big jumps on your horse. Similarly, in relationships, you won't allow yourself to be vulnerable because all that represents to you is pain, and no way of healing it." I have a pretty impressed look on my face and he looks at me quizzically. I want to say "wow, Dr. B, you're good" but I just want to cry. No-one put their finger on it before. Not like that anyway. I'm scared to ask because I'm scared of not getting so I don't ask and I don't get. And only in one aspect of my life.

"I'm really brave" I say, trying not cry. "You must apologize for crying in here," he says. "That's why people come to cry." I'm trying to find a joke but I can't.  I stare at his face and I say "but I do want to cry. I want to cry for weeks in here. Just looking at your face makes me want to cry." He smiles then, kindly.

Three score and ten. Three score and twenty if we're lucky. Why then is there even a moment of not doing everything you can, of packing it all in in like a big, fat, overstuffed Christmas stocking -- all the things that you want to do, all the people you want to love, all the adventures you've dreamed about. Like Fred did. A whole big year of it.

Isn't that so much better than just soldiering on, waiting for your real life to reveal itself?