Alas, for the past few nights sleep has eluded me, has left me pressing my forehead in the dark, a tired body with an alert mind. Last night, in frustration, I cried and whispered aloud, “Am I on speed?”

It has been such a long time since I have written anything other than journal entries and failed FAILED blog posts, and sometimes it feels like the words are angry with me. They gang up in my head and kick my brain at night.

My brain is a collector and a filer. I store all kind of information in it and then need to let it have time to file itself away. Sometimes the paperwork gets backed up. Sometimes I think I put so much stuff in my brain and don’t give it the time to file as a coping mechanism. If I am constantly filling my brain, I don’t need to file anything. I don’t need to reflect on all the things that have fallen inside it. I don’t have to confront the hard questions I think through. Last night, as I was trying to untangle the mess of words inside, I wrote, “Do I have so much useless information floating around in my head that it’s preventing me from fully engaging with my own life? Have I stopped having deep and compelling thoughts because I never let myself sit down long enough to think them? I miss those nights in college of inspiration and creativity, where I would lie awake and think about things and possibilities and what life would hold for me – all the places to go and the different opportunities and the jobs and people – sometimes creativity was my caffeine. I would think about stories I would never write, projects I would never start, men who would never love me back. It was almost like the pursuit of the possibility was more compelling than the object itself. Now it is like all those nights have piled up, demanding the sleep that I lost back then, and they have compounded so I am just that tired. I am just that old. I have forgotten how to let my mind play, or maybe it has just gotten old too.”

Over a year ago, maybe even almost two years ago, I slept on D’s couch one night. I awoke in the middle of the night with an urge to draw. So, I drew a dress design in my journal, and beside it, I wrote in my half-sleep stupor, “Maria von Trapp making clothing out of drapery (‘and having a marvelous time.’)”

I stayed up for a few hours and wrote several pages about fashion, making lists of all the things I could think of that supported its influence on my life. I wrote extensively about the film My Fair Lady, and how, when I was fourteen years old, the bit of red on Eliza Doolittle’s Ascot gown — in a forest of black and white dresses — changed my whole perspective on fashion. And really, as cheesy as this sounds, it changed my perspective on creativity. I wanted to be the bit of red in a world of black and white. And I was, while still under the safety of my family. I wore plaid pants to school and had pink Converse All-Stars laced up with blue ribbons. I acted. I sang at the piano. I wrote poems and let people read them.

Somewhere between then and now, I grew up. I don’t sing anymore unless it is with a group. I scrutinize what I wear. I rarely write anymore because my inner critic is so strong. And, perhaps the worst tragedy of all is that I don’t write poems. My beat up notebooks lie sheepishly on the shelf, slightly bent and hiding behind a jewelry stand. So, last night while I was trying to quiet my mind, I pulled one out and discovered the last poem I worked on. I was trying to re-write a poem I wrote in college, and I was filled with confusion about my relationship with D, about my purpose in moving to California. I was filled with a heavy sense of anxiety all the time. I felt alone. I was scared. So, I first debunked the meaning of the original poem I had written. I wrote it about one of those guys mentioned above, one of the ones that I laid awake thinking about, one of the ones would never love me back. And as I read it with fresh eyes, five years later, after that same guy got married and had a kid, I realized it wasn’t really about him at all. I scribbled in the margin of my notebook, “The man isn’t actually a man – he represents everything I want to be and feel and have and do but cannot. Likewise, the other woman is not a literal woman. She is the voice in me that tells me I cannot have the man. The voice of the poem comes from my vulnerability, the part of me that wants to escape the poem, so her voice, her body, her beauty, will no longer threaten me and the life I want.”

I re-wrote another draft of the poem and called it “Dichotomy,” and I would like to share it here even though it is not very good yet. In fact, it’s terrible. IT’S A HOT MESS! This is my effort to silence the inner Other Woman who likes to tell me I can’t make dresses out of drapes – that I do not have the talent it takes to create something beautiful out of nothing. She likes to make me think that I can’t be the bit of red in a room of black and white. But I want her to shove it.

“Dichotomy”

This is why men have
erected worlds on her legs:
She is the high ground
and the hot breath,
the bed of survival
the shade and the incubator
and the blood of the line.

But she is also the bikini smile
wrapped in your towel,
sleeping in your tent when it rained.

You could not see that her body
was a cliff,
a shadow from east and west,
a thirsty bed,
scurrying anemones
into sparse, wet cracks
that seal up the sun.

But I knew that she was not the
thirty feet from rock to river,
the air falling too fast to breathe.

It’s Gnarly Out There.

January 22, 2010

For the past several days, rain has poured from the sky in Southern California. Gutters on the side of the road have overflowed, the canal in my back yard is abnormally high, and while driving on Tuesday to get lunch, I encountered two large trees that had uprooted and fallen into the road. That same day a tornado landed in the ocean and caused some damage to trees, power lines, and one unfortunate VW Bus the flipped onto its roof and died the death much like that of a beetle. Most Southern Californians are staying in their houses as much as possible, as if a blizzard with white-out conditions had assaulted the area. Those of us who have had to go out to get to work have been warned, “Be careful. It’s gnarly out there.”

Now, before we go making fun of Southern Californians for being afraid of a little rain, let me mention that some of the fears are legitimate. When one lives in a climate where it is relatively warm and rain rarely occurs, the streets get an invisible build-up on them from tire rubber. During the first rain after a long drought, the roads do get extra slick. If a person must stop quickly or doesn’t allow enough room behind the car ahead, accidents happen pretty easily. Also, the roads are not built to drain a large capacity of water, so the gutters overflow, causing deep collections of water that extend into the lanes. Understandably, hydroplaning is also a danger.

For the most part, I am enjoying this little dose of an actual season other than the season we have around here, which I call Perpetually Beautiful — a mix of spring and summer. Finally we have winter via mid-50º temperatures, lots of water, and crazy wind when the bad storms hit. The fireplaces in our house have been howling. We’ve gotten some thunder and lightening, some dark and ominous clouds, and flash-flood warnings. The Pacific is choppy and angry and dirty. On my commute home, there is a beautiful panorama of the water from the top of a hill, which usually offers bright green palm trees and water reflecting the blue of the sky. Lately the grey sky and big, clumsy waves have kicked all the dirty and polluted water to the shore, and there is a distinct line between brown water closer to land and grey water out farther. The palm trees sway with the wind, their heads whipping to and fro. They remind me of Animal from the Muppets.

Last night CK and my roommate K were my heroes. CK came with me to the hospital, took me to get any supplies I needed, got me dinner after the procedure, and drove back up to Burbank in the treacherous weather when I was ready to go to bed. It was bad out when he left — the rain was heavy and whipping. It was dark and the freeways around here aren’t the most efficient when it comes to water. Or even driving for that matter. (Traffic joke! Traffic joke!)

It was also gnarly in here. I awoke at 3 a.m. with a fever — violent chills and much sweating. If I had been in a historical romance novel, the physician would have insisted upon bleeding me. I likely would have been written into the story with hallucinations, murmuring the name of  my lover. And then I would have died of Scarlet Fever. Thankfully, this is the future, and I just sat there and moaned like Billy Crystal in that great scene after he and Meg Ryan hang up the phone in When Harry Met Sally. The nausea medication they had given me at the hospital had worn off. It was this terrible catch-22: My body kept telling me I desperately needed to urinate to expel the kidney stone fragments. I kept vomiting up all my liquids, so I couldn’t urinate. The chills and sweating and the ache in my side made it so that I couldn’t stand or lie down or sit without feeling extremely uncomfortable. I tried laying on the floor by my bed, on the floor by the toilet, and in my bed, but nothing worked. Roommate K was my hero and went out in the rain to get me a thermometer and cold packs for the fever. Finally, I just decided to jump in the shower. Nothing makes me feel better when I’m sick than a hot bath. We don’t have a bathtub in our bathroom, but the shower helped SO much. It made my mind and body relax, so I could finally fall asleep.

I am learning a lot lately about gratitude. On Wednesday night at my church, a small group of people from all different backgrounds who meet together to learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus, we talked a lot about the tragedy in Haiti, sharing stories we had heard on the news or from friends who were there when the earthquake hit. My friend B mentioned that she had heard a story on NPR about Haitians singing in the aftermath of the earthquake. One blogger writes, “This morning we woke up to aftershocks around 5am. Again, the tremors were met with singing. The singing is almost as forceful as the quakes. They are still singing now with all of their force — Hallelujah! It is as if they are saying ‘we are not afraid!'”

I am in no way comparing my minor medical procedure and my evening of illness to the devastation in Haiti. Theirs is a suffering I will likely never be able to understand — the loss of thousands of loved ones, the obstacles to getting good medical care, the aftershocks likely throwing many individuals even deeper into PTSD. I bring up these strong and beautiful individuals because I was thinking about them last night as I was immersed in my cycle of putting on blankets while shivering, and pulling them off while sweating, then turning over to vomit in my hospital-issued, round mauve dish. When was the last time I rejoiced simply because I am alive? And I don’t mean just singing praises — I mean feeling gratitude well up inside me — an uncontrollable gratitude that forces me to sing or dance or cry or shriek because the truth that I am alive is just that good.

In Orange County, it’s easy to forget the beauty and excitement of just being alive. We are all too cool for that. We have the internet on our phones. Our houses are built to withstand natural disasters. We have power companies who come to repair downed power lines. We have a police force that is efficient enough to pull people over for minor traffic violations. We whine if our text messages take more than ten seconds to send. I have one of the best hospitals in the nation just a mile from my house. It is big and cozy, and they give you free crackers. We fear going out in the rain because the rest of the time, our season is Perpetually Beautiful, and we don’t want to live in anything less than that. We have places to find safety and comfort when it gets gnarly out there.

All I’m saying is that I’ve had a couple of heroes who came to my rescue in the past couple of days — CK and K and their care and willingness to go out in the rain. Friends and family are praying for me. Also, the people of Haiti have wrapped me up in their songs. Gnarly or not, it’s good to be alive.

On Unexpected Common Graces

January 21, 2010

Almost exactly a month ago, I was diagnosed with a large, nasty kidney stone after a trip to the ER while I was in Minnesota for the holidays with my family. Today I have that stone blasted apart with a procedure called a lithotripsy. Basically, the doc is going to put me under, then blast some sound waves at my kidney. The sound waves break the stone, my body gets bruised but not cut open, and then a predestined individual drives barely-conscious me home to bed and forces me to down gallons upon gallons of fluids, while laughing at what I say. Who knows what might come out of my mouth while under the influence of anesthesia. When my brother had his wisdom teeth removed long, long ago, he talked on and on about going biking with the dental assistant.

I think I am more nervous about what I will say after the procedure than about the procedure itself.

For the past several months, anxiety has been less of a struggle for me. I remember two-years-ago-Ann and how she likely would have dreaded this day, being convinced that the worst case scenario would undoubtedly happen: Halfway into the procedure, the doctor discovers an immaculate conception in my womb. He says something like, “This is remarkable… REMARKABLE,” and that is the moment that an earthquake collapses the hospital and the nurse rips open his scrubs to reveal lots of chest hair and several pounds of live explosives taped to his body and then we are buried alive in the rubble, just me, the doctor, a suicide bomber, expensive sound-wave equipment, and the unborn god in my belly, and then, after waking, disoriented and a prisoner in my own wasteland, I HAVE TO PAY THE BILL. Under the influence of the anesthesia, I pull up a cinderblock and tell my predestined ride, who is now pinned under a large support beam screaming, “I can’t feel my legs! I can’t feel my legs!” about that novel I wrote in 5th grade, at the threshold of puberty.

I am not afraid anymore that all those things would happen (much), except for the novel part. In fact, I’ve been really, really logical for the last few months, which is a first for me and a miracle for women worldwide. I’ve been so logical that I did not cry at all through the first half of the Great Kidney Stone Incident of Holiday ’09. I bravely walked into meeting up with D last weekend to discuss aspects of our relationship and breakup that had heretofor remained dormant. Reliving several of the complications to that relationship has been heavy on me these past few days. I’ve balanced many issues at work, solved a lot of problems while juggling customer service and new potential accounts. My car has broken down several times due to battery issues. I’ve received surprising news from a few people but taken a deep breath, a step back, and a resolve to view my life through faith instead of anxiety. I’ve been a machine, running efficiently through obstacles and set-backs.

Then two days ago I slammed my thumb in a door. While my cuticle and the skin at the base of my nail flapped open and blood rushed out, I shook my hand in that girly, rubbery way away from my body, like somehow the sensation of flapping it would take my mind away from the pain in my appendage. And then I cried, because it is not okay to cry when you feel like your life is super disorganized and spinning out of control, but you’re trying to convince yourself that it’s all going to work out, and you haven’t been able to balance your life enough to even talk to your best friend in a few months. But it is finally okay to cry when your cuticle is no longer attached to your nail.

Then the doc’s assistant called yesterday morning and said we may have to reschedule the procedure because of an infection I didn’t know I had, even though I’ve had about seven urine tests in the past month. And I was upset because I’ve been so good about this whole medical hiccup… SO ADULT about it instead of jumping to my worst case scenario. And CK is working away from his office to come take care of me, and I’m taking a few days off of work to recover, and it was all scheduled so perfectly. Then I locked my keys and my cell phone inside my car. And the hospital called my workplace to tell me I would have to pay another $500 when I came in for the procedure. And because of the car issues I’d experienced in the past few months, I’d used up my allotted free services with AAA, and that is what tipped me over the edge. I was in trouble, and not even AAA could help me.

So, I cried again. Somewhere in the midst of my misery, I remembered that I have a spare key for the car. I think God may have purposefully removed that logical solution from my brain for a moment for the sake of my emotional health.

The doctor called me later to tell me that he still felt comfortable doing the procedure. I felt much better, having cried the day before about my thumb, and also that day about losing my keys and cell phone. I think they were common graces in a way. I just needed a few things to convince me that even though some people’s lives are way more complicated than mine and full of much more suffering, it is okay and good and healthy to cry sometimes.

A Pleasant Surprise

January 13, 2010

Yesterday I wore a sweater that I hadn’t worn in about a week. It is a long, fitted cardigan that I bought on sale at Anthropologie, with two large, drooping pockets on the front, right over each thigh. The pockets gape a little when I’m wearing it.

Being a fan of pockets and an even bigger fan of sticking my hands in the pockets, I sat down at my desk to read my email after arriving at work and stuck my hands in my pockets.

And lo, I discovered an Oreo cookie in the right pocket.

How the Oreo cookie got there, I have no idea. It must have fallen into my pocket by some random occurrence. OR, miraculously enough, I have a sweater that produces Oreo cookies asexually.

The cookie was only slightly askew, but rather linty, so I threw it away. Still, it made my day.

2009, Reprise

January 1, 2010

Comparatively, I didn’t post much in 2009. Factors including busy-ness, tiredness, and laziness contributed to the lack of writing, but I also just needed a break from posting aspects of my life online. I needed to live them instead of feeling like I was looking through a camera’s eye — a photographer snapping away at life instead of living it.

It has been the best and the hardest year of my life. In cliche blogger fashion, here’s a list of accomplishments and set-backs:

– I lost a very dear friend to the epidemic called breaking up

– After several rigorous interviews, I got my amazing job working with women rescued from prostitution in India. Also, my supervisor and only co-worker at said job is pretty freaking awesome.

– At that job, I have spent the past year learning, learning, learning. I have been humbled and honored to have the position, but it is a lot less glamorous than it sounds. Like any job, there are good days and bad days.

– I left my life in Los Angeles and moved to Orange County — a bittersweet deal.

– For the first nine months in Orange County, I suffered from the strongest sense of culture shock that I’ve ever known.

– I gained an amazing house three blocks from the beach, with the most fantastic roommates I could’ve dreamt of having.

– I traveled to India in April and October.

– I was a bridesmaid in an Indian wedding.

– I visited the Red Light Districts in Mumbai, Kolkata, and Tenali.

– I rode in a rickshaw, ate food so spicy it made my mouth bleed, felt heat so hot I think I melted a little, became part of a family across the world, and saw and understood love in a way I had never experienced it before.

– I witnessed an argument in Telagu between a pimp, a madam, and the leader of one of the social organizations we work with.

– I saw my family in May, August, and December.

– My brother came to visit in May, and we went to an Angels’ game, saw the new Star Trek movie, ate Indian food, went to the beach, and had an all-around good time in between my work and the conference he came to LA to attend.

– Friend K moved away in May. It was very, very sad.

– I went on vacation with L to San Francisco, Jackson Hole, and the middle-of-nowhere Wyoming.

– I started attending a Wednesday-night church and a Monday-night support group with people who are quickly becoming my Orange County family. After meeting weekly with them for three months, I realized I hadn’t felt a grain of anxiety for about that long. I attribute this to their prayers, support, love, and honesty.

– I lived through three of the most busy months of my life and am thankful my friends have been incredibly understanding about how I’ve neglected them.

– I turned 27.

– My car was towed, and I had to spend a lot of time at the DMV. Thankfully, a good friend came with me and read to me out of the book, How to Make Anyone Fall In Love With You.

– I got an amazing tan.

– My very, very dear friend A.S. and her husband and daughter moved to Southern California in November. I can’t tell you what an incredible blessing it is to have their lovely selves close by.

– I went on several very bad dates, some of them hilariously bad. I desperately wish I could blog about them.

– I started dating a lawyer. A lawyer? A LAWYER. I’m so professional, even in my romantic pursuits. His name is C.K., and, no, he is not a fragrance from the ’90s. He took me out for southern food and mini golf on our first date. Just give me sweet potato fries and a giant wooden windmill, and I’m happy as a pup. Oh, yes, and he is a pretty stellar person as well.

– I went to the ER for the first time in my life with a kidney stone. Said kidney stone is still just hanging out in my vital organs.

The year was a blur of change, grief, and beautiful moments of losing who I thought I was and accepting who I really am — the good and the bad, the strong and the weak, the anxious and the hopeful. Though the difficulties were few, their magnitude was overwhelming. I had to re-learn many things and had to reintroduce myself to myself. I think that’s kind of what happens when you break up with someone you’ve been with for a long, long time. You forget who you were when you were alone, and once you’re alone again, you find yourself with a stranger.

But I have learned who that stranger is again, and I’m a better person because of it. At least I think so.

It’s been an incredible year. And an incredible decade, which included the end of high school, college, various jobs, various living situations, various states, deaths, births, and so many incredible people God brought into my life to carry me through the past 10 new years. It has been a joy to know you all and to experience your grace and love.