Friday, October 19, 2018

You're beautiful. And you smell good.

I like giving people compliments. If we're being honest, it's rather self-serving - making people feel good makes me feel good. And it's all about meeeeee!

But I'm always amazed at how people respond. At yoga the other day, one of my classmates was wearing a big ol' t-shirt that had obviously been around a while ... but the color was pretty much the color she should wear all the time forever. She looked radiant.

When class was over, I said, "I've got to tell you - that color is dynamite on you!" And I smiled and didn't think too much of it.

She looked stricken. And then she said, "Oh my gosh. That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me. You made my year!"

Soooo ... yay, I made her feel good. But ... that was the nicest thing? That was the highlight of her year? Oh honey. That hurt my heart. I figured things must be pretty brutal if that's how she felt, but at least I brought some sunshine in? It must be pretty sad if a random compliment has such a big impact.

And then? Then I lost my shit over hearsay from 30 years ago.

Here's the deal. My sweet, dear friend is always telling me I should be a storyteller on The Moth. I am so fortunate to have a pal who a) has known me since seventh grade; and b) still believes in me so wholeheartedly.

She told me a story about how she'd told her mom about The Moth, and, well, you know her mom talks 24/7 and it's just part of her charm. And her mom had told our junior high school librarian about The Moth and how I should be on it.

Small towns. Amiright?

And then? Then, our junior high librarian said, "Oh, Becky Brown? Yeah, there was talk in the teachers' lounge about her. There was some question as to whether or not that writing was really hers because it was so good. But it turned out, nope, that's really her writing."

Umm?

I am 43 years old. I have, mercifully, been out of junior high for 28 years.

But the idea that educators in the holy, inner sanctum of the junior high teachers' lounge thought I might be cheating or plagiarizing because my writing was so good?

Well, it made my year. It turned me into my yoga classmate in the lovely green t-shirt. And it gave me a little perspective.

We're all desperate for affirmation, for love, for kindness. (Evidently in my case, also for 30-year-old accusations of plagiarism.) Everybody seems to be mad at everybody else and we're hurting.

It strengthened my compliment resolve.

I try to say at least one nice thing each day to someone who is not a) my dog; or b) my spouse. But what if I upped that to two people each day? What if we all upped it to two people each day?

By the way? You look really nice today.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Why I can't have fish.

Once upon a time, in a land two hours away, I was a young 23-year-old loading up a U-Haul to move to the big city. My possessions included:
  • The World's Most Uncomfortable Futon
  • A bed I'd bought for $75 (which included pillows and a set of sheets!)
  • The kitchen table my grandparents got when they were first married (My grandpa couldn't remember how much it cost in dollars, but he knew how many bushels of wheat it worked out to. #depressionmath)
My sweet friend who helped load the truck was very excited about a going-away gift she had for me. And that gift was ... a betta. A fish to keep me company as I moved to a big city where I knew no one.

A fish I had to keep alive in a plastic bag of water in a U-Haul.

But the fish survived our cross-country journey and we settled into a one-bedroom apartment wherein everything was beige. I named him Barry the Betta after The Grand Triumvirate of Barrys: Gibb, Manilow, and White. Because that's a concert I want to see.
And he was a showman. Obviously. And let's pretend this isn't a stock photo.

Barry lived in a little container on the kitchen counter, brightening up the joint with his bright blue hue. He wasn't much of a conversationalist, but the really gorgeous seldom are. They haven't been forced to develop that skill.

We lived not happily, but ok-ishly for a few months. Then, there was drama.

One Saturday morning, I realized Barry was overdue for his routine tank cleaning. So, I scooped him up and left him in a glass of water while I proceeded to clean his little plastic home. Part of the deal was you had to let the new water sit for a bit before you put the fish back in. No biggie.

Except I got hungry. So I made myself a sandwich. A tuna-salad sandwich. I went in the other room to eat.

And when I returned, Barry the Betta was not in his little glass. He had flipped out of the glass, onto the counter, off the counter into the sink, out of the sink into the sink drain. His little blue body was still.

Panic filled my body and a quick mental scan of the apartment showed me to be the only adult-like person around. I alone would have to deal with the emergency at hand.

I picked Barry up and tossed his body into his little tank. And he started swimming around! Crisis averted!

I then spent approximately four hours apologizing for making a tuna-fish sandwich in front of my fish roommate. Could I have been any more callous and cruel?

It seemed like Barry and I made amends.

A few days later, I arrived home from work to find the apartment quieter than usual, if that was even possible. A glance in the kitchen showed that Barry was lounging in the middle of the kitchen floor. As fish do.

I walked towards him and took a deep breath to calm the adrenaline surge. Then I picked up Barry and tossed him back in his tank. It had worked before - surely it would work again, just like magic!

But Barry didn't instantly start swimming. Barry just sort of bobbed along crookedly. It was then I realized that half of Barry was dried and stuck on the linoleum floor.

Listen. Mistakes were made. I was young and not accustomed to the care of aquatic animals. But I share this tale of woe so that others may learn from my mistakes.

Do not make your roommate think that you might eat him. And dead fish stick to linoleum.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Let's vacation in the desert.

I caught the last 30 minutes of "The Poseidon Adventure" this weekend. Because I am good at life.

Now, I have written some hard-hitting commentary on this, the grand dame of all disaster flicks. And I say without shame that I love it. I love "The Poseidon Adventure." I love Gene Hackman. I love all the polyester. I love how Red Buttons puts the sweet man moves on that blonde girl and doesn't let the rest of the group know she can't swim.

But I had a few epiphanies on this, only my second viewing of this cinematic masterpiece:

1. For the love of all that is holy, I hope these people got some serious counseling after they were rescued. Since this was 1972, I'm guessing not. They were probably given a complementary cruise line t-shirt and sent on their way. But this entire experience (because I WILL NOT call anything that involves dying on vacation an "adventure") just screams PTSD.

2. When the survivors are finally rescued, it's by these dudes in a helicopter that lands on the capsized boat. Uh, wouldn't that be super-dangerous for the helicopter and possibly cause The Poseidon to sink? Also, they get the people out of the hull of the boat and are all, "How many of you are there?" And when the folks answer, "Six," the rescuers are just like, "Oh. OK." And they load up the six people in the helicopter and fly away. What if there were more people the six folks just didn't know about? I guess they're just outta luck because the helicopter dudes have other cruise ships to land on.

3. Everybody is always talking about what a lardass Shelley Winters was. Like, per the script, they're just fat shaming her left and right. And yet?

Shelley looks just fine, like an older lady. Well, she looks just fine until she dies of a heart attack after saving Gene Hackman's life. It was ... not the most realistic death scene. But she died a hero! A hero who wasn't sideshow-fat-lady fat, thankyouverymuch.
Here's not-fat Shelley doing her own stunts. Underwater.

I would also like to mention that I was at a conference this spring where Maureen McGovern sang. I did not actually meet Ms. McGovern, but I now feel like I have a special "in" with the cast of "The Poseidon Adventure." Like, I'm pretty sure Gene Hackman will be stopping by at Christmas. As long as Christmas isn't on a boat because OMG none of these people should ever get on a boat ever again.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. Or, how many moms you got?

"Life gives you lots of mothers."

It's true. I'm blessed with an amazing "real" mom. But I've been guided and comforted by many other moms, too.

There was Debby, the woman I worked with in college, who drove me home - completely out of her way - when it was really cold. And Mylene, the coworker at my first job in a big city, who took me under her wing - and then freakin' helped me move out of a very bad situation. And Lynn, who took one look at me and knew I could use a funny and kind friend. All such important mothers.

Growing up, I had Marsha. She was BFF's mom, and her house was always open. She and her husband were the kind of folks who never carpeted their family room, so the kids could hang out there and not have any worries.

Marsha had a huge laugh and was always going off on an adventure. She biked across Iowa and then around the Netherlands three times. She broke her wrist learning how to rollerblade when she was … a lot older than I am now.

Marsha passed away a few weeks ago.

It wasn't unexpected, and it was in many ways a relief. Alzheimer's is the worst, worst, worst.

I was so focused on being present and strong for BFF. We cleaned out her mom's room at the care center. We joked about all the casseroles and all the folks stopping by the house.

Our posse did shots in the bathroom of the funeral home.

We climbed to the top of the rocket slide in the city park late at night, still dressed up from the visitation.


We looked like adults even if we were scared kids.

It was OK.

And then the morning of the funeral, as a dear friend and I were walking towards the church? I saw the hearse. And I turned away and said, "Hold on - I need to stand here and lose my shit."

They were going to take Marsha away. I'd seen her. I knew she was gone. But a hearse? A hearse made it real. So I stood on a sidewalk and made guttural noises into a dainty handkerchief.

We all need a mom, and I have been fortunate to have many good ones.

At the funeral luncheon in the church basement, I sat with BFF's brother. We hadn't seen each other in at least 15 years. He said he was surprised to learn I didn't have kids.

"Well, things didn't turn out the way I planned," I said. And then some spirit took over my body and I continued, "But this way I get to focus on being the best aunt. And we all have many mothers, and I get to be a surrogate mom to the people around me. Like your mom was for me."

Yes. Just like that.

I promise to pay it forward, Marsha. Thank you.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Anti-depressants and Indian food.

Listen. If that title isn't an SEO gold mine, I don't know what is.

Today was my follow-up med check with my doctor. You know, the appointment in which you have to be somewhat crazy ("Please refill my prescription.") but not too crazy ("Like, I don't need to be committed or anything."). It's a fine line. It stressed me out.

My doc is so, so nice. We talked about how I'm feeling (Better but anxious like worrying is my J-O-B.). We talked about adding another med (In theory, I'm against any med that makes you need another med, but at this point? I DO NOT FUCKING CARE.). And then she gently said, "You know, some people just need to be on these medications. Their brains don't produce these substances and there's no stigma to being on medication long-term."

And then I cried just enough to get red-faced and blotchy.

And then it was OK. Except I was all blotchy and had that "Oh, she just cried" look. And we get health care through my husband's work, so the clinic is in his actual office building. And I was meeting him for lunch, in the cafeteria, amongst hundreds of his peers.

Sigh. I just decided it was fine. My handbag arsenal consisted only of lipstick, and adding more pink to the situation wasn't going to help.

I met My Guy and he showed me around the café ... which is redonkulous. He works for a tech company and the cafeteria is a lot like Google, except you still have to pay for your food. But it's basically the fanciest food court you can imagine with all sorts of options.

I'm a vegetarian, so finding non-lettuce food can be a challenge. But the Indian station had several veggie options. We ordered at the fancy kiosk. And then I waited for my food at the Indian station. It's all very high-tech - they have a video board and you can watch your name move up as they fill orders.

I waited, the only white person. And let's be honest: that is just fine, because white people need to have that experience. But also? Indian food is amazing! White people need to get with the program!

So I waited, and the guy behind the counter was yelling at people and quickly filling orders. Finally, it was my turn.

I stood at the counter. And the fast-moving yelling guy just stopped and looked at me.

He looked at the food. And he looked at the little white lady in front of him. And then he said, "This is hot."

I just looked at him. Because duh.

He tried again. "This is SPICY."

I waited a beat. "Yeah?"

Finally, he was sort of like, "Your funeral, lady" and threw some food in a container and threw it at me.

I got racially profiled at lunch!

For the record, the food was spicy but it wasn't SPICY. It was "I drank a bunch of water" spicy, not "Give me all the dairy products to put in my mouth forever" spicy. It was delicious and I ate all of it.

The lunch date with My Guy softened my heart about, you know, being on 17 antidepressants until the end of time. (OK, two. Two antidepressants.) Because he is cute and funny and was impressed that his little white lady wife ate all the spicy Indian food after the trauma of being racially profiled.

I mentioned this story to my friend who is Fake Asian. She grew up in Iowa but is Korean but ... SHE GREW UP IN IOWA. She reported that when she's out with white friends, she can order Thai food that's a seven on the one to 10 spicy scale and the waitstaff doesn't blink. But if a white friend orders a seven, the waiter is invariably all, "Oh, are you sure? That's super, super hot."

Are people with less pigment genetically incapable of eating spicy food? Did I miss something?

To be fair, I was blotchy at lunch. Maybe the fast-moving yelling guy thought I'd already ingested something too spicy. You know, something like Sprite.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Depression, my DVR, RuPaul, and learning to be real.

I went off my antidepressants last year. I just kind of wanted to see what would happen. And it was … fine. It just felt like there were more peaks and valleys.

Well, and as an unmedicated empath, it felt like I was walking around naked. And people would shave my skin off with a cheese slicer, shove their problems into my body, and then try to sort of slap my skin back over it in an “Ehh, good enough” half-assed gesture. But it was fine.

I wrote this big long blog about antidepressants and my experience going off of them and how powerwashing my MIL’s house was the key to getting over the withdrawal zaps and I how needed to be bold and talk about it and things were OK and blah blah blah. Except I never published that blog.

Probably because subconsciously, I knew that things weren’t OK. Shit was building up.

I’m just going to be straight with you. After about seven months, I started crying a lot. And being a royal witch to my husband. And feeling super put out anytime anyone asked me for anything – including paying clients.

And then? Then, our DVR betrayed me.

Our DVR is 97 years old because neither of us can stand the thought of calling DirectTV and haggling to get new equipment or dumping them entirely, only to sign up again next week  so we could get new equipment. DirectTV? Your customer service model leaves a lot to be desired.

So, we have this DVR that’s made out of an old gramophone and some piano wire and probably real cocaine, since it used to be in everything.

And our coked-up, elderly DVR did not record the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season Three.

My Guy immediately started looking for online alternatives – the Comedy Central app, streaming, all of it. He kept a watchful eye on me, his indignant life partner. I turned away from him. And then I buried my face in the sofa cushions and completely lost my shit.

And that? That was the moment that I knew I needed to go back on an antidepressant.

It’s been a rough few weeks. Once you hit rock bottom, then you have to sit there in the rocky bottomness while a) you procure meds; b) the meds start to kick in; and c) the meds build up enough to have a consistent effect.

I’ve been crying a lot. I’ve had pretty much zero concentration. I feel like I need to apologize to the world for my broken brain and inability to just get over it already.

But, you know, here I am. Still here. Like a motherfucking warrior. So, there’s that.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Infertility is like a gopher.

I've got a real problem with necks.

A dear friend recently asked me out of the blue, in public, "I noticed you have all those bumps on your face and neck. What are they? Are they going to go away?"

It was like a maggot-filled squirrel carcass had been dropped in my lap. What? I was shocked and didn't have time for the gracious response. Instead, my mouth opened and I said, "Yeah. That's from when I was trying to get pregnant. I didn't get a baby but I did get a horrible facial deformity. It's permanent. Not that I'm bitter."

I sounded like a hateful old hag.

For those playing along at home, I'm referring to the bumps along my jawline that are basically uterine fibroids on my face. Since they're on my jawline and mercifully not painful, I kind of forget about them. But they're obviously ... obvious.

I've been ruminating on why this exchange bothered me. Is it because we like to believe people see our fantasy selves instead of the uterine-fibroids-and-all truth? When I had a black eye, I was amazed by how many people didn't notice it or pretended not to. Are we just used to people not seeing us? Or do we depend on the dream that our faults aren't discernible to the naked eye?

In the midst of my navel gazing, I went to the grocery store. Under even the best of circumstances, this trip makes me moderately homicidal. This day was no exception.

There was a couple bickering over what type of bread to purchase. They had an infant in their cart and were sporting sweatpants that suggested sleep and laundry were not happening on the regular. They weren't adorable new parents - they were haggard and haggling and not being their Oprah best selves.

The guy also had a series of huge neck tattoos that had clearly not been considered all together. They had been plotted individually, and he'd hoped they'd make a pleasing whole.

They did not.

The tattoo closest to my critical harpy eye was some sort of green monster. It was not a known character. Maybe it was his own art. Maybe it didn't turn out the way it was supposed to. Or maybe it's exactly what he hoped for and a representation of how all his dreams were coming true. But I looked at that tattoo with disdain and thought, "Oh, fer Christ's sake. You clearly make horrible life decisions and yet even you are entrusted with a baby. Fuuuuuck riiiiight offfffff."

It was not one of my kindest, most loving moments.

I am a selfish, horrible person, which is not a surprise. But I was surprised by my vitriol towards this man. The thing about infertility is that after a while, it's fine. Fine-ish. Fine-adjacent, anyway. And then it pops up like the gopher in "Caddyshack," all "Hey! Remember me!" And you're all, "Sonofa bee sting! What the hell?"
I hope I didn't give neck tattoo guy obvious stink-eye. If I did, it wasn't about him - it was about me, which I guess is a good lesson. I'm trying to find a larger, feel-good life lesson for all of this. So far, what' I've got is "Don't look at people's necks."

I don't think that offers a lot of value. Like, it's not going to get me on Oprah's "Super Soul Sunday," unless it's a very special episode wherein everyone wears turtlenecks.

Or maybe it would be an episode that's all, "I have a black, black heart, but I'm trying. What about you?"