Everyone’s Weird and So Am I

Once right after we first moved back to the US from Hong Kong, we were sitting in a bar in Nashville on a warm Summer day with my sister who already lived there and some of her more Bohemian – yet connected – local friends when out of the blue one particular friend looked at us both and blurted out, “You’re both princesses. You’re, like, from another planet or something. Like if someday you call me and say you’re marrying an actual prince, I won’t be remotely surprised.” It was typical of her, to be sure, but not typical based on what I thought or think of myself by any means. Yet if I were capable of being removed, objective and entirely honest about myself, I would say that there probably are times people have looked at me or my sis or my son or some combination of us and thought, “I want what they have,” in the way I’ve looked at others and thought the same. Except that no. No you don’t.

I have thick, curly, shiny naturally strawberry blonde hair that makes hairdressers drool. I also have every other genetic quirk that comes from having been born a true ginger aka I can’t be outside in sunlight in any months other than December and January without turning purple. I am prone to skin cancer, my sister and I both have that scary womany cancer gene which we inherited from our mom, I was down one ovary by the age of 35 because of a predisposition for ovarian cancer based on the pumpkin patch of cysts it had grown over the years + that whole gene thing, and my IQ is so high and my memory so exact that I understand everything and forget nothing which means I torture myself 22 hours a day and sleep maybe – if I’m lucky – the other 2. No one can lie to me because of my memory – it’s impossible – and because I’m also an INTP, I trust no one and think that marriage is a legalized form of indentured slavery (it totally is). I make disgusting amounts of money and though I am exceptional with numbers, I spend massively because I’m bored and also because – I suspect – I subconsciously push the envelope of earning in order to ensure I have some sort of ever-present challenge in my life. And lastly – given the choice – I’d happily live alone in our little house in Wales, speak to no one, write, have sheep as pets and never shave any part of my body again.

But if you saw me – trust me – not one of those things would occur to you as even the most remote of possibilities.

One of my bosses was a CEO named Drew. Not really, but I think he’d either sue or kill himself if I used his real name, so we’ll stick with Drew. He’s a good-looking man, he really is, and he dresses impeccably. He’s exceptionally bright but also has one of the best personalities of anyone I have ever met in my life. And he’s neurotic. Not just sort of neurotic, but diagnosed paranoid bipolar who should be on a cocktail of drugs but does not “like the way they make [him] feel,” so he is off them far more often than on him which leads him to have worse judgement than a virginal, pubescent boy in a whore house. He is so paranoid about his various and sundry transgressions that he’s just sure it will all be taken from him at any moment. Without warning and as punishment for all that he has done. As such he does really strange things like leave airports if he “senses” something wrong and instead rents a car to drive as much as 16 hours to reach his destination. He’ll skip meetings if he thinks there’s someone in them who knows something about him no one else does because he’s convinced that they are actually only there to get even with him and that they will blurt out everything they know about him in front of a room full of C-level executives. He’s been married three times going on six because he humps everything with a vagina but plays the doting, perfect dad. Oh, sorry. Did I not mention that he is also a malignant narcissist? Yes, that, too.

But if you met him in first class on a plane, you’d be giving him a lap dance before wheels up, even if you’re a straight dude or a nun. But he, my friends, is the world’s greatest mask covering perhaps the world’s biggest natural disaster.

Then there is another boss I had who only works where he does because they did not – at the time he was hired – do background checks. If they had – or if they had taken a peek inside of his car – they would have discovered that he was convicted of felony reckless endangerment for his sixth DUI in which he did gross bodily harm to the person in the car he hit. He also has two outstanding bench warrants in two different states for reasons not entirely clear to me, and for the first three years of his employment still had a sobriety-check blow ignition on his car. But he was hired as an SVP and eventually made partner because he’s a dude, he’s non-threatening, he plays the game and – I suspect – knows that the married CEO and married Creative Director of the agency in question are actually in a long term, extra-marital gay relationship.

One of my roommates in college was a runway model. She worked in Milan, Paris and New York and was signed with the Ford Agency. She was and is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known, but also by far the most insecure. She thought she was alternately ugly, fat, had bad skin, wasn’t terribly interesting and had nothing to offer, none of which was true. Her nose, though, is the work of a good surgeon, as are her perfect boobs.

Another guy who used to work on one of my teams should be getting royalties from The 40 Year Old Virgin franchise. He comes across as macho, rugged and distant but is actually very quiet, bright and has a massive collection of action figures and lunch boxes still in their original packaging. But that would be the very last thought you’d have about him if you were to come across him in a bar.

One of my closest friends is also a former beauty queen who is now married to someone who has a Grammy casually sitting on the piano in their family home. I’ve held her hair while she puked and we have lengthy conversations about our respective relationships with our aging moms and our own issues that arrived along with our late forties, and pretty much everything else on earth.

My very best friend’s brother is now her sister and my military boarding school, VMI attending ex-husband is camp as Christmas. But really bad at it to the extent that I’m pretty sure their team would like nothing more than to trade him back, but he chose and you’re keeping him. So tough twinkies.

One of the wealthiest men I know – five homes across four countries, yacht, countless cars – hates his life, cannot stand his wife and is disappointed in his sons. He’s also increasingly vulnerable about his age, his virility, his desirability and every other personal attribute one can imagine. And he is constantly, 100% of the time, miserable.

No one is perfect. There is no such thing as “baggage;” it’s called life and the richness of it – the ups and downs – are what make us who we are. Striving to be something we are not or pretending to be someone we never could be leads only to disillusion, unhappiness and ultimately, a potentially wasted existence. Be who you are. Fly your freak flag, wear your nerd badge, flaunt your flaws. Life is short and that isn’t just something people say. It’s the truth.

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Hindsight (The Store Owner Man)

I was not an attractive child. A learned man in our town once told my Mother that he was certain that I would one day grow into a great beauty. The features were there, he assured her, just masked behind the muscular – if not masculine – pudge, ginger hair, and oversized freckles. Of course, the man was not from our time; he merely lived there. He was an outsider – a Yankee, to be precise – and perhaps one of the only people there who was capable of seeing beyond.

I was not an attractive child, but I was a bright child, and in a small Southern town where all of the girls seemed to have been of landed money that somehow entitled them to be born with blonde hair, skinny, never-ending limbs and privilege, I needed something to which I could cling in order to ensure my escape. Both then and later.

I was a bright child, but not as perceptive in hindsight as I would have then proclaimed myself to be. I was loud and brash and preferred the company of adults to the exclusionary treatment at the hands of my peers. My days were never good, at best being ostracized at the hands of the popular and yet shunned by the ones they considered undesirables. At worst, I suffered endless abuse from classmates and teachers alike. I was in my own class; between, wherein only I dwelled. I was brash and I was loud to make it seem okay. To make me seem okay.

My parents were loving – if not obsessed – and yet not overly affectionate or effusive. I knew we were the center of their world, but somehow for me, that was not enough. When you are young and insecure, the love shown by working two jobs to provide you with the best is not as apparent as showing up for school plays or field days. And so their overwhelming devotion having been interpreted by me as a slight, I was attention and affection-starved.

Our daily routine was the same. I went to school. I hated it. I longed for 3:15. After school, I went to the sitter’s house, a not very nice woman named Yvonne who for some unknown or perhaps uninformed reason insisted that her name was actually pronounced WHY-VON in the most heinous of Southern tones. The white trash kind, at the most opposite end of the dialectical spectrum from anything resembling genteel. Whether or not she knew that they phonetics of her name amplified the perception of her as having an inborn inhospitable nature, I did not and do not know. She was a dreadful woman who made no secret of the fact that she looked after children for only the financial benefit derived from filling a market void rather than from any form of maternal or nurturing instinct that may have existed within her. If possible, she liked me even less than I did her. I was not attractive and I did not obey. I would lie on the floor of humid green shag looking out through the screened front door from the time we arrived until the time we departed, just waiting for my mother’s Cadillac to appear in the driveway with the same anticipation and impatience I otherwise reserved for the school clock.

Mom would occasionally come on time, but never early. On Fridays, she was always late.

 

Each day after she collected us, as we made our way around the bypass toward home, we would stop by the Piggly Wiggly to pick up any groceries mom needed and to say hello to our grandmother who was a checkout lady there. I always suspected it was more the latter as mom never bought more than a two day supply of groceries in any one visit, and my dad was not enamored of my mother’s more countrified family. So the daily shop was a ruse for my mother to see her own and one which my dad tolerated knowing that doing so kept her family out of our home.

The store we went to was the new Piggly Wiggly on the north side of town where the new middle class shopped. I never saw any of the mean kids there. Their families shopped at the old one downtown if they shopped at all as most of them had their colored help do their shopping for them. The man who owned our Piggly Wiggly was nice to me. Each day as soon as he would see us enter the store he would step down from his elevated half cubby, half office to greet us – or more specifically me – with a smile and a prolonged, tight hug. I always felt as though he somehow knew that I was picked on and that my loud-mouthed bravado was merely a mask for the emotional blows that were inflicted daily, and that he was trying to tell me, in his own way, that none of it mattered. His attention was always for me rather than for my older, pretty sister and it made me feel special; relieved somehow. Each day after a friendly hello and the requisite hug, my mom would remind me not to hog his time and would drag me away and through the aisles to fulfill her list of varying lengths.

Among other regular workers in the store was a boy who then seemed very old to me, but who in hindsight must have been only about seventeen. He did not attend our school or church and so because I never saw him in any other place, I was comforted by the presumption that he was untouched by the opinion of others or knowledge of my unworthiness. His name was Joey and he was cute and friendly. Very friendly, it occurred to me, for someone much older and so much more, well, world-acceptable than I. He, too, would hug me tightly and tell me, ‘hello’ and some days would even tease me and ask me when I was going to grow up so that we could run away together and get married. And though even at my young age I sensed some desperation in his outpouring of affection, he made me feel special and not so ugly or unwanted as those kids at school. I knew little about him except that my granny said he was an orphan and that the man who owned the store had given him a job and helped him to live. This served to reinforce my belief that the store-owner-man was a compassionate and kind man; a pillar of the local church, his moral compass was sure and steady.

Our routine had been the same since I was five when we had moved into our second house in the new subdivision in the north part of town. Our schedule rarely – if ever – varied from one day to the next, the rhythm of it somehow punctuating the mundanity of it. That was until one Monday morning when I was eight.

I had been known at times, during the school year prior, to hold food in my mouth until after the lunch period was over only to then return to the classroom and spray the contents all over my desk, convulsing convincingly as I did so. I would even go so far as to save the two foods on my tray of most contrasting color until the end of lunch, just before the bell rang so that the effect would be all the more dramatic and disgusting. So convincing was that every day for three weeks mom or dad or aunt or uncle or any other available sucker would come to school to collect me shortly after my post-lunchtime display. I was amazed at how simple it had been and had enjoyed a very good run until one day at the end of week three when mom had an appointment for me to see the local internist rather than my favorite pediatrician who had historically always been on my side and would always give me the benefit of the doubt. Instead, this man was an older doctor who had known our family and most everyone in town since generation one and who had presumably also, over the years, seen and heard it all. In short order with his wisdom, down-home Southern way and one-word diagnosis of Schoolitis he burst my bubble and ruined what had otherwise been a highly effective scheme. My backside was blistered and my Holly Hobby village impounded.

So on that morning when I was eight, I could have forgiven my mom for insisting on quarantining the thermometer ensure that the consistently high readings it was displaying were not being aided or contrived by a heating pad in my bed or by quick trips to the hot water tap on the bathroom sink. Only after the fourth confirmation that my temperature had exceeded 103 did mom begrudgingly call the pediatrician and quickly haul me off to see him still donning my yellow duck-clad flannel pajamas. Much to mom’s surprise, my doctor had suspected and a Xray had confirmed that I had somehow contracted severe pneumonia. I was put to bed for what he said would be a minimum of three weeks and though I felt physically unwell if not truly awful, the notion of a reprieve from abuse at the hands of my classmates – no matter how brief and regardless of the reason – was the most welcome of news. At least to me.

Mom did not return to work that day and instead spent the afternoon with me gathering prescriptions and making arrangements for my daycare, knowing that she would not be allowed to take the time off work to look after me herself, as back then, this was the norm. She and my dad, therefore, decided that in order to keep me in our home they would enlist the help of my other grandmother, my dad’s mom. Granny L-Belle worked the day shift at the cotton mill as she had for at least as long as my parents had known each other, but unlike my mom’s job, hers was protected by seniority and accrued untaken leave. She took the time off as unpaid vacation and my dad supplemented her income instead so that she could look after me as long as needed, unencumbered and without stress.

For the next few weeks during the day grandmother L-Belle would stay at our home with me, methodically addicting me to soap operas, game shows and grilled cheese sandwiches. She was a decent woman, but not a strong one and displayed tendencies which ran counter to her strongly professed faith. She had an unnatural fear of Christ that was nothing akin to a relationship with a benevolent deity. She had, for a time, all but banished my own mother from family lunches when she one Sunday discovered that mom had secretly been sneaking us into the Baptist church rather than taking us to our grandmother’s chosen Church of Christ where we were expected every Wednesday and Sunday, barring death or similar. For me, even then there was no difference between what her church preached and ours proclaimed save perhaps the volume and twang. According to both, I would perish in hell were I to drink, dance, fancy a man outside of wedlock or do anything that remotely resembled enjoyment. And so granny L-Belle’s intransigence on this point struck me as the sign of someone perhaps not burdened with the capacity for rational thought. She allowed the views of her especially conservative brand of Christianity to dictate choices even a person completely devoid of any spiritual alignment would not have made. Like staying with an abusive alcoholic husband because divorce is a sin.

Still, to us, she was superb, even with or perhaps because of her manifest contradictions. Being with her was always a treat, but being with her instead of at school made the eventual four weeks I spent at home amongst the best of my entire childhood.

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Empathy for the Devil

A 22-year-old young man arrived back home last night to his parents after more than one year of indefensible imprisonment by a megalomaniacal dictator. At least he’s home, one could think, were it not for the fact that he is in a coma and most likely has no idea that he is now back in the presence of his loving family.

In Pennsylvania, another group of young men are on trial for the fraternity hazing death of a young pledge; the accused, who had just testified, were seen laughing and smiling outside of court afterward.

Somewhere in Syria, an idiot boy nicknamed “Jihadi Jack,” who is actually a middle-class Protestant child from bucolic England has decided that playing with ISIS is no fun. He “hates them now” and “wants to come home.”


Three families have lost their sons of all approximately the same age, in various ways and to varying degrees.

The first should have never happened and our government should have intervened to ensure he was safely returned so that his homecoming could have been long ago and far more celebratory. They did nothing. Yes, I squarely blame the impotence of the Obama administration, but not just for Otto Warmbier’s situation, but for its flaccid continuation of the “well, they aren’t really hurting anyone” attitude toward North Korea and the cartoon-like, round, troll dictator Kim Jong Un. And where were we, the American public? Why weren’t we more up at arms? We all have kids; we are all someone’s kid. It’s not partisan, surely. It’s not like Democrats have daughters and Republicans have sons.

The second is a result of the illness in our society and our tendency to overlook the abject debauchery-fueled behavior of college kids, especially if they’re privileged and white. Yes, I really said that; yes, I am a Republican. And yes, I am also the mom of one very white and quite privileged fraternity member son. I would never, though, say something so stupid and invitational of cosmic retribution as, “but my son would never,” because that’s what everyone thinks. That’s what creates the bubbles of excusability that produce boys such as this; kids who would inflict heartless abuse on one of their own; one of their “brothers.” No one teaches their kids anything that remotely resembles empathy anymore. I am by no means a religious person, but that’s possibly because as a child we were in church every time the doors opened; I suffer from permanent Southern Baptist hell, fire and brimstone fatigue. But guess what? Some of it stuck. Two things of the greatest importance in my life, and one of which would have served these boys well both in this instance and were they to read and absorb the story of Otto Warmbier. Or if they are forced to face the actual reality and resultant consequences of their own despicable actions: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

The third is a manifest example of the modern day laziness that is now pervasive in parenting. Whereas the privileged white American kids may have a bubble that at least keeps them from thinking that beheading innocents in a desert halfway around the world sounds like a good Saturday night, the children of those too absent to care and too distant – and frankly stupid – to see what their kids are doing online and in their free time are enticed by precisely that. They have no grounding, no roots, no identity, no spirituality, no goals, no motivation and no capacity to even realize that the absence of even one of these – let alone multiple – is in itself a reason for concern. “Well, I just want him to be who he will be,” or, “I just don’t want to box him in. I shouldn’t really even say ‘him;’ that’s too gender-identity-definitive,” and, “I’ll just let him discover. I love him, I do, but we’ve all got to figure out things on our own.” In this case, their precious darling will, if he’s every captured, be discovering the inside of a British high-security prison cell. If he’s not intercepted, he’s likely to figure out how unforgiving his once beloved brothers-in-arms can be when one of their converts reverts.

Each of these was a headline on one news site or another yesterday and each sadly completely represents some aspect of decay in our ability to rely on the protection by our government, by our shared moral fabric or by a simple, solid upbringing.

Today we had more senseless and incomprehensible sadness. The tower fire in London in a council housing estate building that was and had been in transgression of multiple safety code violations for at least four years. A safety net of public housing where any of us could end up had our lives taken just one different turn; had we walked through the other set of sliding doors. Someone is at fault. The contractors who charged ten-million to renovate it last year or the council for allowing the multitude of warnings and complaints to fall on deaf ears.

Then only this morning some nutjob opened fire on a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, VA. Sports and music are two of the very few things that still unite us as a country, as a world. Two of the few activities we can still enjoy without being reminded of the violence, infighting, greed, selfishness, shallowness, racism, sexism and every other ism that compound to somedays make our world seem unbearable and unsavable. The congressional game between two parties is not only a poignant demonstration of the fact that our work does not need to pervade our play – that vitriol and intransigence may dominate a normal day in Congress, but that all of that is forgotten on the field – but it is also a game played for charity, for children.

I do not know what is happening in our world, but worse yet is that I do not know where or how it ends. I do know that good people still exist; that there are, in fact, still more good than bad. I know that being able to see each of these events separately for what they are and collectively for what they represent is itself a sign of sanity and an indication that I am not yet totally numb to it all and dead inside. I know that I have my son, here under my roof. Not in a coma, not on trial for manslaughter, not trying to make his way back from Syria. Not gone forever. And I know that I continue to work at being his mother every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year of this 21 year old life so far because I do not want to be any of the above and because I know I cannot trust anyone person or institution to do what I should and can. I will continue to toil, nag, love, support and instill so that I may continue to say, “and there but for the grace of God go I.”

It’s the only thing I know to do.

The Unbearable Pressure of Being

Last Saturday night, we were invited to a small party in honor of our son’s best friend who had recently graduated from college, as had mine. For us, it was a celebration for all of our sons – four in total – of a tight-knit group who actually only became friends because of our boys and the unbelievable bond of friendship they share. Over the last eight years, their relationships spread to us and we often spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and even Summer vacations abroad together, so synchronous was their friendship and our ease with one another. Last weekend would be no different, and perhaps even easier than ever before; the hard part was done, we were all relaxed, caterers and bartenders had been hired and all we had to do was sit on the expansive deck in the perfect Southern sunset and enjoy our wine and conversation.

Before the sun said its goodnights completely, at which point the boys retired to the pool below as we held our position at the candlelit tables above, I sat with the four of them and discussed their pasts, their futures and genuinely soaked in the joy of each of them and the power of that as it was multiplied exponentially by the concert of their camaraderie. I am blessed to have the son I do, and he is multiply blessed with these friends for life. Privileged? Perhaps. All of them products of a great private school in a well-known Southern enclave, each with parents whose cosmopolitan diversity and success is surpassed only by their respective love for, and devotion to their children. Indeed, it could be this above all that bonds us: to have experienced and enjoyed all that we have in our lives, we are parents first, above all else.

That night we stayed with our friends as we now always do, given the distance between the cities we currently call home. The boys, too, stayed the night, five of them in total squished together in a human puzzle on the large, field-size sectional sofa of the theater room, just as they had so many weekends when they were in high school, and so many holidays when they were in college. When my friend and I made our way downstairs around 11 the next morning, still in our PJs, coffee cups in hand, all of them were up and playing, save one who had arisen early and made his exit. He is our favorite – we all admit it – the happiest, most open, loving, free-spirited among them, and we bemoaned the fact we did not have the chance to bid him a proper farewell and enjoy our tight “other mom” hug.

My son and I drove home later that day, both of us a bit hungover, but recharged with humanity for having spent time with true friends rather than merely existing among those who think they know us but are aware of only what we are prepared to present or they willing to see. We need that, we humans, more often that it is availed and far more often than we admit, especially in the increasingly inhuman and virtual times in which we live. To be reminded that we are not alone, that even those who appear most perfect have issues and frustrations and things they would rather not drag into the light of day, but occasionally do when they are in the rare company of those of kindred spirit and unwavering trust.

The next day at home we started the ugly business of moving as we prepare to return forever to the rural shores of our beloved Wales. It has long been my dream and a promise I made to my son, so to have it come true has infused us both with a heady tonic of tolerance and determination for tasks we might otherwise find tedious and tiresome. But whereas I awoke alert, energized and ready to tackle whatever obstacle needed tearing away to reveal the view of our long-imagined future, my son was subdued, quiet and averted my gaze. I went through the day going from conference call to packing and back again, and he said that he was merely tired and would recover once he’d enjoyed his daily run. He headed out around 2 in the heat of the day and returned shortly after 3, a smelly, humidity soaked mess. He stood at the bar of our kitchen stretching and sweating as I dabbled and chatted, but rather than seeing that the veil of funk had lifted as it usually did post-cardio on days such as these, I detected a heaviness which could not be heaved loose by mere physical jostling. He looked at me directly and said without affectation, “Alex’s mom died.” I replied, stunned, “What? When? We were just with him Saturday night. He was perfect and happy and…”

“This morning, apparently. I don’t know anything more except that it was the result of some addiction,” he said.

Alex is the lovely kid; our favorite, the lightest of heart and most nimble of mind. The one who arose early Sunday and darted from the house before we could say goodbye. My son was mistaken as a result of the shock of the news and we later discovered that she had indeed be found on Sunday morning by Alex’s sister while he was still slumbering between his friends, safely downstairs, below and protected by others who love him as their own. That anything had been wrong at all, I would never have known. That something so dire had transpired left me and our circle in a state of uncomprehending disarray.

We never knew. It had been going on for a number of years. You never know.

These are the perfect people in the perfect houses with the perfect lives. What a load of crap. That need, that pressure, that expectation. That pursuit. That’s what leads people to seek refuge in the synthetic, to escape the reality that never was real. To numb the pain of the pressure of banality.

I do not pretend to know her specific pain as I knew her less well than any of our boys’ parents, always on the periphery she remained, waving from across the pool as we dropped our sons off for the various parties and milestone events they hosted at their enviable home. What I do know is that she was not alone; that her family loved her as much as any could, but that they had – we now know – some time ago laid down their swords in the battle against her addiction in order to save themselves. But before the addiction, when the pain was new and the need in its infancy, who was there then? I suspect no one, but more so because her battle was private, internal and invisible as it is for so many who toil in despair toward a life that brings empty solace.

I’m forty-seven and as of June 26th, I am checking out, having decided more than one month ago to make our dream a reality, and one we chose rather than one that was juxtaposed upon us by the shallow expectations of an unknowing but judging society. I will still write – in fact probably more – but will strive to live my life comfortably between the lines of contentment rather than constantly careening toward the edges of extremes in pursuit of the ever-illusive rainbow. This is for me, for my son, for my sanity and my family and my friends. Being driven is too often the result of an “all or nothing” character, someone who risks it all and accepts nothing less than complete domination in all that they do, but that is not life. Those of us who tend to exist entirely in black and white are missing out on the comfort of gray. The in-between, the middle, the comfortable space where most of life is actually lived. That I made this decision before I knew about Alex’s mom is poignant to me now and has also reinforced my decision and hardened my resolve.

I am not an addict and in fact have tendencies which lean heavily to the inverse, but I do posses a darkness borne of someone with an artistic soul and inquisitive mind. My son does as well and if I can do anything to ease this journey for him, to light the path, lighten the load and enlighten his perspective, my life will have been a success by my definition and on my terms.

It breaks my heart into pieces made up of unspeakable sadness that we could not help Alex’s mom, but what scares me more is how many others like her there might be. Out there, feeling alone, increasingly isolated, just sure that no one else is suffering their specific sort of pain or that no one could understand their particular type of mental torment. I want them to know they are wrong. Even within the vast spectrum of sadness and dispair, there is a commonality that could save so many. Simply saying, “Somedays, my life sucks, too,” isn’t asking too much as an icebreaker, is it? Or the more truthful, “My life was my kids and now that they’re both gone away, I have no identity because I spent too much time crafting one that looked like what everyone expected it to be,” which we speculate was the case with another now-deceased friend.

We’re doing this to ourselves; to each other. Surely if it’s self and peer-inflicted, it’s also in our best interest to bring it to a screeching halt against an impenetrable barrier of understanding, openness, honesty, and love.

I wrote this in fifteen minutes as an offshoot of a thought, so I hope it makes sense, but more than that I hope it resonates, I hope it penetrates. I hope it makes people talk and that in doing so, it encourages people to both give and receive help.

 

 

*Alex is a pseudonym used to protect privacy.

A Book, By Me

Maybe people thought I was making it up when I said in a couple of recent posts – the few I’ve written as of late – that I was busy finishing a book and was, for now, focussing my attention on that. Maybe I did not believe it myself. After all, I began writing A Jaded Lily more than ten years ago, but as I’ve said before, writing has always been put aside for the benefit of making a real living, so it had been long languishing when I finally decided to resurrect it and see if any part of it could be salvaged. There were only 163 completed pages, but I had more than 40 of notes of how I wanted it to play out and end, so rather than continuing with my blog or write a new book (which I actually started), I decided I may never be able to move on or stop wondering did I not first allow Lily to live, to see out her story on the page.

People who have read my blog will be surprised and may even be shocked. It’s fiction of the highest order, though under-pinned by details of a few industries and locations I know exceptionally well. Though Lily is Chinese, she could be any girl or boy, anywhere in the world, as I state in the foreword. “She is a subject of her birth, a product of her environment and a victim of her desires, both material and physical.” It may be the physical with which some readers take issue as there is a substantial amount of sex, though not for gratuitous reasons; this is about the things we trade, compromise and sacrifice in life in pursuit of that one singular shiny object we feel holds the secret to our lasting happiness, success.

For those of you who have been so wonderful and supportive in reading my blog and yes – helping support my dream with your words of encouragement – there are a few selected excerpts available on the book’s website, AJadedLily.Com. Though not yet complete, the only thing missing is the ability to buy the book, but that will appear on Thursday of this week. The snapshots of the story provided may appear shallow or glossy, self-reflecting or even navel-gazing, but I wanted to be careful not to choose passages which gave away plot twists, were sexually explicit or – very frankly – could not benefit from some of the photographs I take during my travels.

It will most assuredly not be to everyone’s taste. But it’s mine, and it’s done. And for now, that’s all that matters to me.

 

Hug a Writer Today

Months ago, when I first broke my foot and subsequently started my blog, my first entry was entitled “I Quit My Job,” but no on read it. Seriously – not a soul. My most read post to date was on feminism and my frustration over the spoiled, subjective American view of it versus what our female counterparts in other parts of the world suffer, followed by a few snarkier entries about liberals and left coast luvvies. Though I love to hate to write, and hate to love to write — a sentence which will possibly only be understood by those who have been told their entire lives that they are “supposed to be a writer” – I have never been able to make money writing, which I’m pretty sure has only intensified the hate portion of the overall sentiment equation. In the post that none of you read, what I actually said was this:

“You see, I was ‘supposed to be a writer.’ That’s my mother’s voice saying that. All the time, constantly, and interspersed with that of every English teacher I ever had. I won my first national writing award at 7 (poetry), wrote my first novella at 9 (I thought it was sh**ty, but in hindsight perhaps not a bad effort for a child), and my first novel — f**k – I don’t know. A while back. But I’ve never published anything and I go months at a time without writing a word. I’ve spent at least a week trying to figure out why I do that — why I just suddenly stop writing. The best I can figure, it’s because I get busy with work and travel to the extent that there is too much going on and the activity in my head becomes an indistinguishable cacophony of noise. But even as I write that, I know it’s a lie. The truth is that writing is not, as the non-writing amongst you may imagine, for the lazy. It is detailed, all-consuming, greedy, exclusionary, isolating, occasionally excruciating and in my case, poverty-inducing. So in the most simplistic of analysis, when things go badly, I write in order to save my sanity; when things go well, I neglect it in the same way one neglects the long-suffering friend or family who is always there for them when they need them most, but who are then abandoned when sunlight inevitably reappears. I abandon my words for the siren song of a fat paycheck, all the while carrying an inexplicable guilt that I am not, as the great AA Gill remonstrated, flexing my writing muscle and thereby risking the reality that I may lose it. And it was re-reading Gill’s quote on this matter that drove me back – I hope permanently — to the page.“

And actually, it did. Today I finished proofing the 371 pages I’ve written thus far of my novel and all things being equal, I hope to publish by May 5. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Except that it isn’t; not to anyone in my life other than me.

In our nation, we do not value the arts; we do not encourage writing any more than we celebrate reading the great books or teach proper grammar. If I said to someone in this country that I’m a writer, they would likely reply, “So at which Starbucks do you work? I’ll drop by.” Whereas when I say this to a friend in London, their retort is, “Can I read something you’ve done? Anything I would have seen? That’s truly amazing. You should quit and devote yourself to it full time.” Here it seems to be the refuge for the recently graduated, un- or under-employed who wish to convince themselves, their parents and the world at large that their interests are in only cerebral pursuits. And coffee beans. In other parts of the world, it is the pursuit of those who have lived life observing, silently cataloging, and secretly wishing they did not hold so much in their heads and when they can take no more, pour it all onto the page. It is, in some cases, even seen as elite. But not amongst common folk in America or — as it turns out — my family and friends.

So why is this bothering me now? If you’ve read anything else I’ve written it will be abundantly clear that I have been, since childhood, an outsider. I have also been — for twenty years — a single mom; a very blessed, devoted and overly giving single mom. My son attends undergrad at my pricey alma mater and will graduate in four weeks with my same two degrees, albeit with far more stellar grades and recommendations. As he heads into the next phase of his life, I thought now — still convalescing from having screws driven into my bones to mend my broken foot — would be a good time to finish the book, get it to market, and publicize it myself, since that’s actually the career for which I have been so well paid. And I know that I can do it, which is the major characteristic of my life to which I referred in the post that no one read (and which I am now considering re-titling as such):

“I suppose I could have summed all of this up by saying ‘life is short,’ and be done with it, but that would miss the point. I need to write, I need to travel, and I need to punctuate it all with things to which I can truly look forward. Will I make it? I have no idea, but that’s the other part of me that was crystalized today in a quote by George Michael: ‘I finally realized that one reason why my life has felt so self-destructive is that I never had any feeling that my talent would let me down.’ And nor have I.

“I love nice things, nice places, nice men — things that do not naturally occur in a poor person’s nature. But I’ve always been willing to gamble on my talent — to tell people to fuck off just when I am at my zenith because I believe that I can still yet do it better, elsewhere, or in this case, on my own and on my terms. I’ve said quite clearly that I want no more apologies, but I likewise want no more regrets. There’s only one way to find out, so let me do it for you, for us all; no need quitting your job and pursuing your dream just because I make a convincing argument for it. If I win, you can live vicariously in those victories; if I crash and burn, you can stand at a distance with a knowing ‘I told you so,’ both risk and consequence-free.”

And though other people — person, actually, that being my sister — recognize my skill and acknowledge my passion for it, she and my Southern, pragmatic family as a whole call me “the eccentric one.” Yet I know that I only acquired the benefit of “eccentric” because I make lots of money, as — make no mistake — without it, I’d simply be “the crazy one.” It is pondering this distinction which has led me to ask myself time and again as of late: are people who so singularly pursue one goal, one skill, one dream crazy, or are they the only ones who have truly achieved clarity? How many other people out there know that they are exceptional at one thing, but it is not the one thing that can earn them a living without serious sacrifice, or that makes people comfortable, or that is widely accepted or understood, so they suffer in silence, discouraged from trying, and dismayed at their existence? Being dogged and determined will get you so far, and perhaps all the way if you are — ironically — completely alone. But if you are part of social strata, a larger family or a domestic financial infrastructure, your dreams can wait, stay on hold, live in that pan on the back burner of life until they are charred permanently to the bottom.

Today at 1:30 I stopped writing to take a call to discuss a job in Chicago that will pay me even more than my last. Do I want it? No. Do I recognize that’s a selfish reaction and that plenty of other people would? Yes. Will I have to take it? Probably so. Will I have any time at all to write? No. My son was accepted to one of the more prestigious programs in the world for grad school and the price tag is about $70K a year, so my dreams will again be on hold so that he can give life to his. And on it goes. But wouldn’t it be nice — for once — to hear a word of encouragement, a syllable of reinforcement, and perhaps especially from those who do not understand, but who love you enough to want you to succeed by your definition rather than by theirs.

A Tale of Two Systems

It’s been a while since I have written a post — though I have been spending a great deal of time on my book — but have been repeatedly urged by family to finish telling the story I began in “Rise of the Leftnots” back in January regarding my experience in the very contrasting health systems of the US and UK. Not feeling I could really do it justice until the process was almost complete, I write today from a lovely hotel 5* in London having had a similarly 5* healthcare experience vis a vis the surgery I had here yesterday, but thanks to the insurance-dominated healthcare system in the US could not have had there for at least two more months, if at all. That is an important distinction to bear in mind and one I wish would reach the level of public discourse: the problem is not the healthcare system in America, but the health insurance system, industry and its powerful lobby. Unless and until we have an honest dialog about those two systems and their unhealthy relationship and unholy marriage, quality healthcare in our country will never be truly accessible and affordable to all.

Anyway, my story is very much that and I am by no means going to claim that this is typical anymore than I would suggest that everyone can give their American doctor the middle finger, hop on a plane to London and have one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the world operate on them. I am blessed both to know the right people and to be able to afford to do so, though I suspect the actual cost of it — which I am going to share — will surprise you. For those of you used to my writing, do not expect the snarkiness or attempts at humor or poignancy of my usual tone as to me, the importance of this story lies in the facts and details thereof; there is nothing entertaining about the state in which we find the current healthcare system in the US. So, without further ado…

I broke my foot on December 3rd, a notoriously difficult to heal Jones Fracture. The real deal; not what some doctors erroneously call a Jones Fracture that really isn’t the true, bitch of a break that this is. The first doctor I saw at the ironically named walk-in department of our local and somewhat (allegedly) prestigious bone clinic was closer to honest with me about what that meant than was the over-hyped foot surgeon I would see four times thereafter. The initial doctor had told me I would be in a non weight-bearing cast for 8 weeks followed by probably 4 more in a boot and that these breaks are amongst the most difficult to heal in the body with an overall non-union rate near 28%, this group eventually requiring a surgical solution. That doctor was semi-retired and worked at the walk-in to keep himself engaged, but I much preferred his style. He was old-school, blunt and seemed to not have been trained in, or impeded by the insurance speak which has so rabidly infected the rest of our system. Frustrated with the news, but thankful for the blunt talk, I got the cast and corresponding instructions and upon leaving, a follow-up appointment for 2 weeks later with “our best” (certainly their words and by no means mine) foot surgeon.

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Appropriate This

As I was getting ready to go back to London for a few days, I did as I always do and started digging around for my favorite clothes, shoes, and accessories, being frustrated all the while by the fact that I mostly wear adult Garanimals (i.e., all black), which makes distinguishing one piece from another difficult without my glasses, which I also could not find. Not being able to rock any terribly original outfits at the moment thanks to the limitations created by having a cast up to one’s knee, I accessorize to emphasize and as such went in search of a very specific pair of large gold hoops I bought a few trips ago, knowing that they would add a little ‘yes, I swear this outfit was bought in this century and is not an oversized BabyGro’ legitimacy to my monochrome and monosyllabic ensembles. But as I took them out of their pouch to make sure they were intact and had not interbred with one of the long necklaces I often throw in with them, I remembered something I had recently read admonishing, “White girls, take off your hoops.” Without giving this moronic plea too much attention, I will summarize the story by saying that a Latina girl at the extremely pricey Pitzer College in Southern California decided that white women who wear hoop earrings are culturally appropriating from their Latina counterparts, and believed in her heart of hearts that this issue rose to the level of requiring an “all campus” email proclamation. We’ll just leave that there for a sec.

I lived in the UK for many years and while there became a fan of Rugby Union, and especially like national rugby competitions such as Six Nations and Rugby World Cup. The England v. Wales game is traditionally the biggest rivalry of Six Nations, and the atmosphere and camaraderie is second to none. Both nations of course have their official anthems, but the unofficial anthems of Welsh and English rugby are borne of a love of group drunk singing and were, I feel certain, chosen almost entirely on these criteria. The chosen song of Wales is Delilah, which makes more sense when you remember the god that is Tom Jones is Welsh; the anthem sung in unison by English fans is Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Less clear what the correlation is there, but it’s slow, deep, and easy to slur-sing, so I never had need to question it. Plus, I’m always enjoying myself when I’m at rugby matches, so I never have need to question anything other than calls which go against my team of choice. “Enjoying myself”: words millennials never use and do not understand. Anyway, over the last few months, feminists have petitioned Welsh Rugby to discourage or even ban (don’t know how you get 80,000 drunk Welshmen to do anything other than drink more, but okay, moonbeam) singing of Delilah because it is “a song about domestic abuse and could or may inspire acts of domestic violence as a result of its lyrics.” While you’re absorbing that, fast forward a few months to the fact that the English rugby team is being criticized for culturally appropriating Swing Low, Sweet Chariot because it is an historic slave spiritual.

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My Greatest Affair, Part I: Honeymoon in Paris

For anyone expecting to read salacious details of my love life, you’ll need to check back once I have finally met my eternal demise, as any such details will not be forthcoming as long as I trod this earth, and for any myriad of reasons from not wanting to embarrass my son to not wanting long-since-left men to drag themselves from the recesses of my personal history and feel compelled to get in touch. No, the past is very much that and far from living with the regret or reflection — or what I refer to as the woulda/shoulda/coulda —  which I find especially common in women of southern progeny, I move only forward.  There are no men who have earned such a lofty moniker in any event, and even the ones who could potentially compete for it would never be able to hold a candle to the place which I only realized recently is actually title holder of my longest and greatest affair. I am currently in London – as I often am — and in my happiest of places; not just the city itself, but the hotel I have been blessed to call a second home for more than twenty years. It has been there for me and my family through thick and thin, good and bad, its protective staff and gilded halls carrying me through celebrations and devastations alike. Things go well in my life, I come here; things go badly in my life, I do the same. This is no fair-weathered love we have, and nor is it one that could ever be trumped or even threatened by any other place in the world.

The first time I stayed here was July 1996. My son was just over six months old and though very young, I was on a business trip for my first employer out of school, having already made enough of a name for myself — for better or worse — to be working directly for the co-founders of the company who allowed me perhaps more latitude than they should have, and in no other area was this as true as it was with travel. They were a married couple and though their company was considerable and successful, they could still be very hands on and involved when it came to the arrangements made — especially for their younger female charges — and would often give us their personal upgrades to first for our transatlantic flights and would similarly insist that if we were alone, we should stay in only the finest hotels in order to be as safe as possible. I, being a spoiled and unapologetic daddy’s girl, also still had a secondary card on my dad’s Platinum American Express card account. My parents worked very hard for everything they ever had in life, neither of them having graduated from college and both being born into poor southern families, and perhaps as a result of their hard graft as well as the guilt that was (and likely still is) poured onto parishioners every Sunday in many southern churches, never felt comfortable indulging in or enjoying the fruits of their labors. Dad used the platinum card for all things practical, from business related expenditures to paying for my wedding, but never once — in all the years he was a member — for anything frivolous or superfluous, and similarly never opened the Departures magazines that came with it or thumbed through the Platinum Card Hotel Guide which arrived annually. No, those were reserved for me and my lofty dreams as the kid who had seen one too many repeats of the I Love Lucy European episodes and just as much of The Love Boat. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to break free and explore, Departures along with the hotel guide serving as representatives of a life others lived and in which I longed to partake. But whereas this at least partially explains my initial taste of and for all things 5 star, the ongoing and severe repellant reaction to anything ‘less than’ was likely borne of and shaped by a singular, definitive event: the trauma of the Great Honeymoon Fiasco of ’92.

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The Bullies are Back in Town

I’m on the other side of forty-five. As those who read my blog know from other posts, I’ve lived and traveled all over the world, having worked in advertising for more than twenty years. I speak three languages and have three degrees, two undergrad and one post-grad. At my last job, I was the second highest paid person the company; I’ve done quite well for myself. I was divorced twenty years ago, but refused child support or alimony because I wanted to raise my child — who is now twenty-one — in the manner I saw fit. Though I am very happily divorced, we still spend Christmas morning with my ex-husband and my ex-in laws because we have known each other our entire lives and therefore still function much like a family. I take no shit, personally or professionally, and am either famous or infamous for it, depending on whose point of view you solicit. I was not born to a wealthy family, but I was born to one rich with unconditional love, being told almost every day of my life that I could do whatever I wanted to do and be whatever I wanted to be, as much — if not more so — by my dad as by my mom, that support being no small reason for the person I am today.

Thirty-five years ago, I was a chubby, freckled red-head with a heart condition and the highest IQ in a school district replete with future Ole Miss beauty queen wannabes. If you don’t know what that means, it’s not that difficult to explain or to understand, whether it was the head cheerleader or homecoming queen at your school, or just one of the many mean girl portrayals you’ve seen in the movies. The difference is there wasn’t just one; there were loads. Such was life being raised in a small town in the South where your family was either rich or it wasn’t; they either belonged to the country club or they didn’t. You were either pretty or you weren’t, and the male counterparts – though fewer – were themselves no better, often being the ones who dug the moat and defended the walls of the stuck up clique who doled out condescension and abuse like Pez from a dispenser of hostility and pretense. I was almost mercilessly abused on a daily basis from the ages of six through sixteen. And then.

The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, something changed. The baby fat that had bade its farewell to most girls my age two years prior finally decided to take its leave from me. Realizing it was beginning to atrophy on its own, I became encouraged and began dieting, swimming more laps in our pool and hitting more balls on the court in the heat of the day. Finally down to a size six of then which is probably a four of now, 5’8” tall, with thick strawberry blonde hair, I was beginning to feel an inner confidence I had never before known. Much to my father’s dismay, I saved up my money and went to the best hairdresser in town and had my thick mop chopped to a severe, ‘80s Molly Ringwold type do. With what money was left, I bought a pair of much-coveted long clip on earrings from the fanciest store in town (I wasn’t allowed to have my ears pierced in my very strict family), and changed my style almost overnight. When we returned to register for school in August in the very casual atmosphere that day allowed, in the upstairs library still dressed in a short Esprit skirt and matching tee, one of the few football players who had — admirably — always been my friend, walked up from behind to me to introduce himself, asking me from whence I’d transferred. I turned to look at him, assuming he’d recognize me when I did, but the transformation had been so drastic and so complete that he did not. “Thomas,” I said, “it’s me, ” the pause between my last word and the final look of recognition on his face pregnant both with his confusion and my amusement. When finally the other shoe dropped, he picked me up off the floor and hugged me and said, “Girl, you look FIIINNNEE.” He was genuinely happy for me — he was one of the few good guys — but still not as pleased as I was for myself. For the first time in my school-going life, I did not dread the next day.

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