i'm a white writer. in new york. original, no? i've been blogging since october 2002. this blog picks up in october 2008, when i moved from DC to NY...(and then I moved to Maine in 2012)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"I Just Wanna Be Honest With You."

Some conversations you remember.

We were in the van, moving the last of his stuff to my place. I'd never lived with anyone I'd dated before. It had been a whirlwind, which, in retrospect, means, well, absolutely nothing. When we met, I was dating a Republican who was perhaps the nicest guy I'd ever dated--we just about niced each other to death. Deep down, we both knew it wasn't going anywhere, and when I pointed this out, he was so relieved that I'd finally called Time of Death that we both laughed before parting ways.

On Valentine's Day, I was at the theatre with a group of friends, Adam included, and all of a sudden I just knew that I adored him. We'd been teaching Shakespeare in the public schools for about six months--I was Juliet, he was my dad. He was a natural with the kids, had a great sense of humor, and a fierce understanding of classical theatre. Before I knew it, I was giving him a ride home and he was asking me to move to Vermont, have kids, and start a theatre.

Sounded great.

I don't know why I believed it, but I needed it. And I loved loving someone. He let me love him! And he loved me back! He delighted me and I was filled with the joy of doing things for him and his exceedingly hairy back. He offered to wax, but I said I didn't care about the fur because he was All Mine, and also because I knew he didn't mean it. He had struggled with depression, too, so he wasn't overwhelmed by my struggles. When I told him about my parents, he told me, "I will always take your side."

This was a whole new game.

I met his family; he met my mother. He and my father spoke on the phone, but he was waiting to propose until they spoke face-to-face. An engagement party was in the works, and we had moved almost all of his belongings into my apartment. We were in a borrowed van, on the final trip from his place to mine.

"You know I'm a big believer in honesty. And I just wanna be honest with you, that there's someone else who I think is The One. Someone I knew in college who I felt an instant connection with. And even though I didn't feel that with you right away, my feelings have grown, and I have feelings now."

"Someone you dated?"

"No. She was a lesbian. The minute I laid eyes on her I felt this instant connection."

"Do you, I mean...what are you saying?"

"I just wanna be honest with you."

I didn't know how to respond, so we unloaded his stuff, and I went to cat-sit overnight for a friend. What he had said festered, so I called him from the air mattress where I was not sleeping at all.

"In the interest of being totally honest back, I have a problem with what you told me today. What'd you think that'd accomplish?"

"I'm sorry. I just thought it was important not to have any secrets. Tell you what. I can call her--I mean, I can't call her now because it's 2am, but I can call her in the morning--and if she's not interested, you and I can still move forward."
I had no idea that love could be killed in an instant.

All of a sudden, the fact that he couldn't pay his share of the rent, the fact that he wouldn't put his stuff away in the apartment, the fact that he snored, the fact that I was super organized and did things for him that he couldn't do for himself, all of a sudden that didn't feel okay anymore.

So I did what I did when I needed a sounding board. I turned to my trusted friends, the people who knew me better than anyone else, and who also cared enough to not pull any punches.

I blogged.

I didn't need my blog readers to tell me my feelings were right or wrong, but I did need their reactions in order to gauge my own. I had learned to question my emotional responses to big events, because they were modeled on some fairly histrionic behavior. At the same time, I had an opposing tendency to discount my feelings completely, so I really had no True North on my pocket compass of healthy responses.

I laid it out. The whole story. Folks had been so excited for us both up until now. I wondered if the marrieds would tell me I was overreacting. I wondered if the men would take his side.

Every single reader said some variation of "Evacuate."

This was hard to hear. I wasn't yet healthy enough to parse apart why what Adam had said was so incredibly messed up. And I loved him. It was hard not to defend him.

Now, I get the sense from people that I front pretty well. People who knew me while I was at the worst of my depression were surprised to later learn what I had been going through. One of the biggest contributing factors to my depression was the childhood isolation, so once I worked through some basic social anxiety, I discovered that when I was around people I generally had a good time. They had no idea that I was crying on the way there and on the way home, or that my nights were filled with a nameless terror, or that just breathing was often painful because it meant I was still alive, when I wished I weren't.

Countless were the nights where, after crying for hours with no end in sight, I'd finally power up the laptop--and the second I started to share what I felt on my blog, I'd calm down. I was connected. Meanwhile, I juggled multiple jobs, and I wrote and produced plays. I got up each day because the thought of not doing so was so seductive it terrified me. No one knew the extent to which I was suffering, and so no one treated me any differently, and I have to think that was actually more helpful than had people coddled me.

But I noticed that, after the break-up, everyone started treating me Very Gently. I was a shell. My mother even let me stay with her while he moved his stuff out. People called to check on me, but I had no words. What was there to say?

I was in this numb state when I went to visit my father in July. After a lifetime of estrangement, we had reconnected a few years earlier, after he became a born-again Christian. He had proposed to his third wife, but she had insisted that he make things right with me before she'd marry him. Whatever his motivation, I was happy to finally have him in my life.

But now, I felt like I was collapsing in on myself. My father didn't know what to do--we had no established language for the difficult stuff, no shared experience or common history as a touchstone to deal with something like this. So I spent the entire visit with his wife. We walked on the beach and I poured out everything to her. She'd been through her own trials--this was her third marriage as well--and while she was coming at the issue from a Christian perspective that I didn't completely share, I appreciated her frankness and patience.

The thing about being depressed is, it's like trying to live your life while a bear trap is clamped on your arm. You're bleeding and broken and can't climb a ladder, but after a while, you become somewhat inured to the pain, and can even function fairly well. How often do you climb ladders, anyway? But you can't ever really forget that you're lugging around this bear trap, and anyone who spends any amount of time with you becomes aware of it too, because every second of every day you're trying to figure out how to get rid of the damn thing. You want to fix it yourself, but you don't know how, and no one else, understandably, wants to come too close, because after all, they can't fix it either. It takes a sturdy person to befriend someone who's in constant emotional pain.

I burned through a lot of friends.

Occasionally someone would come into my life--usually a stranger--and I'd get a deeper understanding of the causes of my suffering because of something simple they'd say. Near the end of my visit, she and I were lying on the beach.

"Some people have a hard life, but I gotta say, you've really been dealt a rotten hand, Calla Lily."

"I get so confused. I don't know why it's so hard all the time when I have so much good going on."

"Yep. Both your parents were abused, neither knew their father, they had no support. You were moved around, your poor mother was struggling just to survive, she didn't have any time for you or even herself, and your father was going through his own thing far away. So where did that leave you? You didn't even have a chance."

The compassion she showed not just to me but to my parents was more than I had ever offered myself.

"I wonder...I wonder if maybe one of the reasons I keep finding myself in these relationships is partly because my father didn't have anything to do with me, and so somehow I had to make that okay in my head because I needed to believe he loved me anyway. So I learned to love without getting anything back. And that's why I'm grateful for crumbs. Over and over."

"I think you're on to something."

Back in the house, my father had decided what I needed was a little curse-breaking. The Devil had a hold of me, and he had to be banished.

Now, I had not been raised going to church. My mother's mother was a Jehovah's Witness, and that had turned her off so much that she became interested in Tarot and reincarnation. I had grown up being trotted around to psychic healers my whole life, so I had an open mind. When Dad brought out a Bible and a bottle of holy water, I thought, What harm can it do? It was clear he was trying to help me. In retrospect, I wonder if he'd known all along what I'd just figured out on the beach. Was this his way of trying to undo the damage?

As we all sat there, heads bowed, holding hands, I wished that the curse-breaking would work, that it really would be that simple to erase my depression. When it came time for me to say something, to ask for divine intervention, I muttered a few feeble words and tried to believe.

Little did I know that the worst was yet to come. That in September, I'd head to the MacDowell Colony to write, sleep, and cry for a month. That in October, I'd lose 18 pounds in 3 weeks from the depression. That finally in January I'd get help and find out that I had Major Depressive Disorder, Baseline Disthymia, Passive Suicidal Ideation, and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. That most likely I'd been suffering from these things since childhood. Since my dad left. When I was almost four.

I had done a lot of work on myself before, but this round would take two years before I was out of the woods, re-wired and armed with new skills to manage the self-destructive habits of my brain. Two years of hard work, day by day, breath by breath. No meds, because I knew in my gut that what was needed was aggressive pruning of my belief system. Things had started off wrong, and it was up to me to unplug from everything I had known. With the help of good old-fashioned talk therapy, I came to learn how normal I really was.

Some conversations you remember. Others you deliberately forget.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What I'm Doing

For years, I've wanted to thread my experiences overcoming depression, disruption, and isolation into some sort of narrative. It's not that I think my story is that special, actually, I think my experiences are probably fairly common to those of us who came from divorced families.

When I started blogging 7 years ago, I was surprised that anyone understood what I was going through. Pretty soon I was posting a dozen times a day, a far cry from my current rate of about a dozen times a month. When my audience grew to over 1,000 hits a day, and a few agents came around, I wasn't clear on what the boundaries were, and so I did things like shut down my blog, delete posts, etc. Now that I've got things squared away, I'm blogging from a stronger place with a clear identity.

So I'm taking a stab at writing some things down informally here on my blog. I'm not thinking these specific posts will comprise a book--they're really just the beginning explorations of memories and events that were significant to me. Once I've gotten some out there, I'll be better able to decide on story and structure. But I know deep in my gut that my experiences are many people's experiences, and there's a wonderful power in shaping and sharing it.

I've tagged them all "This Is Not A Memoir." I appreciate feedback--it means a lot to know that what I'm doing here might resonate with someone. Email is great, but if you are so inclined to comment on the posts, that actually might help me show an agent or an editor the kind of interest that's out there for this.

Blogging helped me find my voice, and it helped me find people who were struggling with the same issues I was. The interaction with these countless people I've never even met has done more to shape who I've become as a person, and as a playwright, than anything else in my adult life.

In January 2007, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Baseline Disthymia, and Passive Suicidal Ideation, after decades of not knowing there was a name to the feelings I'd fought since I was four years old. Now that I've gotten help and am out of the woods, I can approach this project in a healthy way. I've never felt the need to hide any of this, and actually, starting next month, I'll be a regular contributor to RealMental.

There's just three posts so far, all from my childhood. Because it's time for a little absurdity, I'm next going to write about when my father and his third wife took me through a curse-breaking ritual with a bottle of holy water.

TWEETABLES: 1-Minute Play Festival This Weekend

If you're in NYC and looking for something fun to do this weekend, the 3rd Annual 1-Minute Play Festival is happening. I've got a different play going up each night.

Back in December 2007 I participated in the first 1-minute festie, and it was on that trip that I decided--and said out loud--that I wanted to move to New York within the next year.

It's at HERE Arts Center, 8:30pm both nights.

So How Many Pages of Apps Does *Your* iPhone Have?

Okay, so maybe I only have five pages of apps and you have twelve, but my apps can kick your apps' ass. Check it oh-you-tee.

I Constantly Use
  1. ExitStrategy
  2. Twitterfon Pro
  3. NPR News
  4. Yelp
  5. The Weather Channel
  6. Google Mobile App
  7. Flickr
  8. UpNext 3D NYC

I Often Use
  1. Translator
  2. OpenTable
  3. Twittelator
  4. NYTimes
  5. NYC Subway Map
  6. Wall Street Journal
  7. Facebook
  8. Thomson Reuters News Pro
  9. CrossWalk
  10. HopStop

Just Figuring Out But Really Stoked About

  1. iTalk
  2. i.TV
  3. BlogPress
  4. Skype
  5. textPlus
  6. iWant
  7. MiGhtyDocs
  8. Foursquare
Just Glad To Have
  1. Shakespeare
  2. Google Earth
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Shazam
  5. AIM
  6. Amazon
  7. Flixster
  8. iHandy Level
  9. Tumblr
  10. Lose It!
  11. wikiHow
  12. Kindle

FYI I got a lot of these from @Palafo via The Twitter. He actually links to these apps on his blog, so go there if you want info, 'cause I gots blogging to do.

Acorns Seemed Harmless at the Time

I love work. I love work so much I will make up jobs for myself if I’m not careful. When I was learning to read, I loved the flash cards that my mother had taped all over the house. I couldn't get enough. I especially loved getting the compound words right—toothbrush, bathtub. Starting early, I had an enormous ability to focus on one task and block everything out. I remember being in my high chair, making a low, steady hum while I slowly pushed peas across my plate into a pattern. I’d be terribly startled when I was interrupted.

It was with this singularity of focus that I attacked the acorns the year my father drove off in our car. I waddled around the backyard, squatting and gathering until my pink plastic wheelbarrow with the yellow handles could hold no more. I understood that the seed for a tree lived in each acorn, and also that the squirrels ate them.

I gathered them for the squirrels.

They thought I had stomach ulcers when I was four years old. I’m not sure who “they” were, or what my symptoms were, but I do remember visiting a lady once. My mother and I climbed a long, narrow flight of white stairs, past a window on the right. Once at the top, I was offered a tiny chair at a tiny table. The table had a clear plastic bear with a yellow cap on it, and I was told the bear was filled with honey. I didn’t know what honey was, but I was fascinated by the bear. My not touching it only increased my longing.

I had no idea why we were there, but my mother seemed relaxed. She sat just out of reach to my left, while the woman sat on the other side of the table and tried to start a conversation with me. I decided we must be on a visit, except…this woman was focused on me, which was unlike most visits my mother and I made. She kept trying to pull my attention from the bear. Suddenly, I understood that she and my mother wanted to know something, something only I would know. Only I didn’t know, I didn’t even understand the question. My ribcage tightened, my breath went shallow, and the place where the back of my neck joined the back of my head grew still. I didn’t know what to do, so I began nodding helpfully in response to her questions.

We didn’t stay long. No one was angry, but I sensed that I’d not been as helpful as they had hoped I’d be.

Around this time, water blisters started springing up on the soles of my feet and the palms of my hands. At night I’d scratch until I bled. The gloves and Neosporin wouldn't stay on. I treated my fingernails like the betrayals they were, tearing at their soft moons until I reached the nailbed, in the hopes that, since I couldn’t control the scratching, I could minimize their damage. Besides the water blisters, and the fingernails, there were bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia that made me cough ‘til my breath ran out; I’d sweat Vicks and Dimetapp in my great-grandmother’s quilt while my mother sweetly sang, “Rock-ity-ock-ity-ock-ity-ock.” When I grew too large to rock, and the hospital bills grew too large to pay, my mother grew impatient, and would snap at me if I sneezed.

My body was an enemy I failed to control. I lumbered around in white orthopedic boots for years to no avail. At some point it was discovered that I badly needed glasses. I couldn't swallow my green Drixoral pills, so my mother would crush them between two spoons and pour a little milk in, but still I'd sputter. When my mother started working, she began taking naps. She’d pin me with her leg to keep me safe while she slept, and I learned to smooth my breathing so I wouldn’t accidentally wake her. She’d hold me down on the floor and pinch my face with her long fingernails, telling me to stop crying, that she was cleaning my skin. Because of these lessons in not struggling, I didn’t protest when an allergist covered my back with pinpricks, only to find out I was a little bit allergic to a lot of things.

By far, my biggest failure was my inability to fall asleep. If I were happy, I’d softly sing to myself. Some nights, my mother would tiptoe in, stand over me, and then say, “I know you’re awake. Your breathing’s uneven and I can see your eyes moving around,” the flashlight making bright patterns through my eyelids. Left alone, I’d lie on my side at night and stare through the safety bars at the blurry nightlight that I knew was a witch, while Doggie protected me from whatever might sneak up on the other side. Doggie loved me, but he had no language, seeing as he was a stuffed dog, so I began to have imaginary conversations with a man I called Freud. I had no idea who Sigmund Freud was, but I’d watched cartoon characters lie on sofas and share their sorrows with a gray-bearded man named Freud who had all the answers but refused to share them. He’d listen long after my mother’s light clicked off.

Over my bed was a poster of a little girl in a field of daisies that said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” I took the poster seriously, wanting to wake up perfect each morning. I even tried to fall asleep with my hands folded in prayer under my chin, like in my picture books. I wanted to be a nun, though we weren’t Catholic, and I didn’t really know what a nun was. I only knew that I wanted to devote myself to perfection. Unfortunately, each day only brought more and more evidence that I was far from perfect. I couldn’t ever be small enough, and I fervently wished that I’d stop growing. I wanted, needed, to be invisible, and I never stopped trying.

So I began a series of negotiations and agreements with myself that lasted for over three decades. It was a methodical approach involving a series of If-Then statements, designed to improve my behavior through a logical process of elimination.

I was determined to succeed.