There’s a Rock In My Belly.

December 29, 2009

In typical worst-case-scenario fashion, I have been wondering for a while when my minor or major medical catastrophe would hit.  So many friends and family members have already had theirs – Cousin Jeremy had gallstones, Uncle Marvin had a heart attack, this kid I once took care of in day care had a swollen spleen, there was that girl in college with appendicitis, and we mustn’t forget various strokes among the elderly. Relatively speaking (because we were just speaking of my relatives… bwa, ha, ha, ha), I have always been healthy as the proverbial horse. It seemed that I was health insurance’s exception. They should have been clamoring to insure this girl… nary a broken bone, nary a trip to the emergency room, nary an illness that required more than a bath, sleep, liquids, and over-the-counter medication.

It seems, however, that my day has come. As we speak, an 8mm kidney stone rests in the confines of my belly, waiting to be birthed. I am completely comfortable, but drinking lots of pure, unfiltered apple juice and water.

“If you are completely comfortable, how did you discover this kidney stone?” you may ask. That is a good question. Thank you for your inquiry. I will tell you.

I took a long vacation from work for the holidays because I’ve been working like an ant on drugs for the last three months. I came home to Minnesota to visit my family, and, while getting ready to head downstairs to help my parents clean for the impending family gathering, I noticed a pain in my right side. Being a female used to various stomach pains, due to elements that make child-bearing possible, I thought little of it. A few hours later, however, the pain had spread to my lower back on the right side, and I took some ibuprofen and laid down, hoping the feeling would pass. Mom came in to check on me, and while speaking to my mother has never made me nauseous before, this time I had to jump up and high-tail it to the bathroom, where I promptly vomited. “What did you vomit, you may ask?” I will tell you. I vomited up tomato soup and crackers, of course. Thank you for asking.

The pain in my side became increasingly worse, and even though we were experiencing the first phase of the epic blizzard that swept the nation, Mom and Dad took me to the emergency room, where a doctor rudely pounded on my lower back, which forced me to vomit once more. I got my first-ever IV, my first ever dose of amazing pain medication, and my first-ever experience having a nurse insert dye into my rectum to determine through X-Ray whether or not my pain was caused by a faulty appendix. Did I mention that the only X-Ray nurse on duty was a guy, my age, who used to think I was cute in high school? Also, the other 2 nurses on duty were present the day I was born, so my mother says. Afterward, I called this dashing young man that I’m dating (yes, I’m dating someone), told him the story, and said, “THIS IS WHAT YOU GET WHEN YOU GREW UP IN A SMALL TOWN!” It was my most embarrassing experience since the Great Speculum Incident of 2006, which shall remain off the blog.

A few urine and blood samples later, the doctor came in and announced that we would not have to depart in this crazy weather to the big hospital in the next town to remove my appendix – the X-Rays had confirmed that I had a kidney stone stuck right between my kidney and bladder.

The doc loaded me up with a few prescriptions of really strong pain medication, and I went home, but since the escapade in the ER, I have felt very little pain, even without the medication. I wondered if the stone was still there, but a trip to the clinic to get another opinion from a different doctor confirmed that the stone is still in there, just hanging out, rent-free.

The docs seemed to want me to try something invasive pretty soon if the stone hasn’t passed, but I’m not one to jump to expensive, invasive procedures right away. I’ve never been a girl who likes to take medications. I’m often skeptical about their true effects on the body, and I have this theory that doctors often prescribe things because patients want an immediate answer, an immediate practice they can do to feel like they’re working against an ailment, even if that practice isn’t really helping.  I am young and healthy, so, in most cases of sickness, I find that my body knows what it’s doing. If I have a bout with vomiting or diarrhea (I have become pretty open about these since traveling in India), it means that my body is trying to expel something that doesn’t belong there. As long as it doesn’t become chronic, I’m not going to take something to stop the process. It’s natural and important. I don’t believe in taking medication to stop a runny nose or divert a menstrual cycle. If the nose-running becomes chronic, then let’s talk about what we can do medically. If it’s just a normal runny nose, then let’s let my body use its own crowd control.

At this point, I have no signs of infections, and all bodily functions are normal. I’m not in any pain. So, I’m trying a more organic, natural approach to birthing this stone.

Many people have offered their advice on kidney stone expulsion, but my Aunt Marge sent me a very specific recipe. She says that this potion has worked every time for her, and I’m inclined to believe her. She writes, “Here is the remedy that has worked good here at our house and one I have given to many others. I passed a stone as big as a small hen’s egg one time. It looked like light green plaster of paris.” (I love the way elderly people write.)

So, I am on Day 3 of the process, and it’s pretty simple thus far. The gross stuff comes later. Here is the secret, magical concoction, for those of you who are interested:

–       For seven days, drink at least one quart daily of unfiltered, unsweetened apple juice. Continue to eat regular meals, but eat lighter, preferably mostly fruit and vegetables and no red meat.

–       On the evening of the 7th day, at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., dissolve 2 Teaspoons Epsom salts in 8 oz. of warm water and drink quickly.

–       At 10 p.m., squeeze ½ cup lemon juice and shake into ½ cup pure olive oil. Drink down quickly. (Here’s Aunt Marge’s note… it cracked me up: “Loren chugs his down like candy but I have a hard time making myself drink it. I say that you deserve to get well if you can drink that stuff.”)

–       Go immediately to bed and lie on your right side for at least 30 minutes.

–       Kidney stones should pass painlessly

Besides the small hen’s egg, she says she has painlessly passed several more that “looked like jelly beans.”

I’m hoping this works. It would be a shame to drink lemon juice mixed with olive oil for nothing.

On Finding a Setting

August 13, 2008

This evening D and I had a conversation on the phone that lasted more than our typical phone conversations now-a-days. Actually, we had an argument, but that’s not what this post is about. In the midst of all of it, during the resolution of the whole thing — the time when we are done with the heightened feelings and adamantly trying to prove a point, when we both re-cap what we need and try to find some sort of compromise — I closed my eyes for a moment and could picture my apartment back in Arkansas so clearly, right down to the feel of my bed and the cat’s tail ticking against my leg and the way my bed creaked when I moved. We spent a lot of time talking on the phone in those days, back when he was the California branch of our relationship.

It’s funny that the very thing the argument began with (our arguments rarely end with what they began with) was the very thing I was picturing: Setting. This post is not about the argument, so I’m not going to go into the details of what transpired. For the past few days, however, I’ve been attempting to put into words a discovery I made on the beach Saturday. But I’ve also been trying to challenge myself to improve my writing style so it’s slightly less amateur and emotive. Today I tried writing a post entirely devoid of “I” as a subject. It just doesn’t work in blogging. This is what I came up with:

“One of the major components that separates a seasoned writer from an amateur is the emphasis on setting. The category of seasoned writers is by no means this girl’s dwelling place, but freshman year fiction writing left me with a better understanding of setting in writing. Heck, this blog nearly tripled in its readership once it took on the personal of a Midwestern transplant living in Los Angeles. Or maybe it was the advertising to friends on Facebook that did that.” Can you say boring textbook? I just need to stop trying to justify blogging with failed attempts to turn this entirely narcissistic thing into something literary. It’s a blog. Of course it’s going to have a high degree of gush.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that often amateur writers neglect setting in their work, and they leave their poor characters floating around in a readers’ mind in banal, shadowy places like generic bedrooms, rather than putting them someplace specific. In real life, we live in specific places: not just any room, but my room with the pile of laundry on the bathroom floor and the broken blinds and the stale scent of herbal shampoo. Not just any old park, but the park with the statue of the man who invented the chocolate bar. J.R.R. Tolkien is so fantastic with his settings that I am having such a terrible time getting through The Lord of the Rings. Any time Frodo or the other hobbits think of the shire and how they long for their home, I start crying. Homesickness…meh.

Saturday, le roommates and I went to the beach, and the fact confronted me that I’ve only been to the beach three times in the last seven months even though is less than five miles from my apartment. And by going to the beach, I mean donning a bathing suit with at least a slight intention of getting wet. Saturday was the first day since I moved here that I actually immersed myself in the Pacific. And then I realized that part of the reason that I have been homesick to some degree since I left for college back in 2001, moving away from Minnesota for the very first time, is because I have never given myself a chance to get to know the land in any other place.

If you were to ask me about Minnesota, I wouldn’t just say that I lived in a house there or went to high school there. I would tell you about the countless snow structures we built and how we would hang our mittens and hats and scarves over the radiator in our first house to let them get warm before we put them on. I would tell you about the mulberry bushes in the backyard and how they would become so ripe and juicy that you could bump the branches and they’d fall to the ground, washing it in purple, and how the birds would poop mulberry seeds all over the patio. I would tell you how our family built that patio with bricks and sand and cement blocks, and it all went quite well until the ice that winter built up under the bricks made them explode. Every winter the fire department would flood the park for ice skating, and Jack Frost would paint our windows. I remember how it feels to lie in my bedroom, the exact way the bed fits my body, and how it is to wake up there to the sounds and smells of absolute comfort — to knowing the people you love most in the world are only a wall away. When I was a little girl, in our first house, I could always tell who was coming up stairs by the rhythm of their steps. Mom would always stop at the bottom to pick up toys and bring them up. There were twelve steps at my first house. Sixteen at my second.

I never gave myself the chance to know Arkansas that well. There was the damp and musty feeling of our house on Maple Street, where I lived with 3 other girls, and the sounds of the frogs outside my window in that studio above a professor’s garage. There was the feeling of desperation and sadness when I finished college, broke up with my boyfriend, and moved out of that apartment all in a few days. But the same elements and concretes are not there. I was so busy being productive that I didn’t take the time to memorize the number of steps from the ground to my door. These were merely places, apartments for a temporary life. It’s no wonder they never felt like home.

Sometimes I think that I will never feel at home again unless I get married, have kids, and settle down somewhere. Nothing reminds me of home more than watching my niece and nephew play and seeing again the things that are important to children. For my niece, it is wearing pink, putting on chapstick, and reading books. My nephew just wants to run everywhere with his binky in his mouth. They want other kids to play with, adults to entertain them, and lots and lots of cookies. They remind me of what it was like to grow up with an older brother and what it was like to have such a big living room… what it was like to have a house not just cover you, but protect you. There were all the alcoves and crannies to that place… the towel cupboard you could climb inside and close the door, the secret storage closet in my brother’s room, the turning cupboard in the kitchen corner where breakfast cereal was kept.

At the same time, I know that my life is here in L.A. now, at least for the next few years, and I need to be investing myself here. I need to pursue the land with the same intention that I pursue the friends I am making here. I need to count the steps from my carport to my apartment. I need to go to the beach every weekend and find a spot to memorize. I need to stop floating around in this generic place and make it specific. I need to find my setting.

Men must’ve been walking on the roof, and I said as much. “What are they doing up there?” I asked when the building moved.

The night before the earthquake D and I were driving back up to L.A. from Newport Beach after spending Sunday and Monday in the O.C. with best friend L and her boyfriend JT. Saturday night offered a birthday party at D’s house up in the Hollywood hills for a roommate; spending the night at JT’s aunt’s home — a big-whig CBS person; a Sunday brunch with JT’s sister and brother-in-law — a studying architect and a cinematographer; a Sunday afternoon lounging on JT’s grandma’s deck in the Newport Bay while watching JT windsurf; a Sunday night snuggling on the couch to the romantic-est of romantic movies, American Psycho; a Monday driving around Newport in a 1970s convertible Volkswagen, license plate similar to but not exactly THE THING, with a surf board sticking out the back; and a Sunday early evening watching JT, L, and D surf (and attempt to surf) in our very own little section of the ocean.

In the car, on the drive home, we were tired. And satisfied. We love our friends. In the quiet satisfaction of the drive, I sang aloud the song that has been stuck in my head for days and days now, Natalie Merchant’s “San Andreas Fault,” a song I put on a mix CD for D before we started dating. It is off the album Tiger Lily, an album that has been somewhere in my head since I was 14. I know every lyric on it. When I was 14, I almost wished I had a broken heart so the song “Seven Years” could be true of me. It was that lovely and tragic, and I was that masochistic. Still, “San Andreas Fault” is my favorite on the album:

Go west
Paradise is there
You’ll have all that you can eat
Of milk and honey over there

You’ll be the brightest star
The world has ever seen
Sun-baked slender heroine
Of film and magazine

Go west
Paradise is there
You’ll have all that you can eat
Of milk and honey over there

You’ll be the brightest light
The world has ever seen
The dizzy height of a jet-set life
You could never dream

Your pale blue eyes
Strawberry hair
Lips so sweet
Skin so fair

Your future bright
Beyond compare
It’s rags to riches
Over there

San Andreas Fault
Moved its fingers
Through the ground
Earth divided
Plates collided
Such an awful sound

San Andreas Fault
Moved its fingers
Through the ground
Terra cotta shattered
And the walls came
Tumbling down

O, promised land
O, wicked ground
Build a dream
Tear it down

O, promised land
What a wicked ground
Build a dream
Watch it all fall down

For as long as we’ve known it, the West has beckoned people with dreams; first those literal gold-diggers with their shovels and pans, those unsinkable Molly Browns. Then Hollywood boasted gold, a Golden Era where riches dwelt not in rocks but in pictures. It is that gold that people come with their pick-axes to claim now-days. There are so many people here, so many, many people who are fighting for that gold, like Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester in A Star is Born. One must wonder if this role resonated a little too deeply with Frances Ethel Gumm/Judy Garland when she played it. Like me, she was born in Minnesota. She crossed the fault line into Hollywood. Perhaps she wouldn’t have died of a drug overdose or attempted all those suicides without all those insecurities about her appearance, exacerbated by studio execs pushing her to be a skinny woman. She might’ve had a long and happy life in Minnesota. Perhaps there really is no place like home.

Sad songs are always the best songs, and I never really understood “San Andreas Fault” until I moved to the wrong side of the actual one. At 14 I didn’t know much about youth even though I possessed it in abundance. Now that youth is ticking away, it has become a precious commodity, more precious than the number in any bank account — even William Randolph Hearst, circa 1928. I moved here not for a dream of wealth, but for a dream of youth. I came here to spend my years of sweet lips and fair skin in a land of water and seemingly endless sun.

You would think that a City of Dreams would offer its residents lovely neighbors, that the opportunities would abound like the pigeons, and all the people would drown in gold and get grills for their teeth. But maybe L.A. is called the City of Dreams and not the City of Successes because so may come here with a dream and leave without it. It doesn’t slip through just any old crack. It slips in the San Andreas Fault. That’s why we have earthquakes: All those orphan dreams are rolling around down there.

When the earthquake happened I stood up. Others I know dove to the floor. Apparently the plastic electrical plates burst off the walls in office buildings close to the origin of the quake. D’s sister E had an awkward moment with her boss under a desk. In my office, we stood in the hallway, each in a respective doorway, watching the juice our company manufactures slosh in the bottles to see if the building was still swaying and that it wasn’t just our scared little knees. A California-native hugged me. This was my first quake, wasn’t it? Was I scared?

Scared? No. So thrilled I felt it through my whole body? Yes.

It isn’t really the San Andreas Fault that scares me, even though my new homeland will supposedly someday fall into the ocean. My own faults scare me much more… faults like financial irresponsibility, worrying so much about my life that I fail to live it, the ways that I take my anger out on the people I love, the inability to figure out what I’m really doing with my life, my tendency toward depression. Meanwhile, youth ticks away. My birthday is next month. My twenties are more than halfway over.

The earthquake didn’t really scare me because the ground did not jump or shake here like I expected it to. I expected it to shake us like pennies in a jar. Instead it moved like the L.A. traffic does when you watch it from the Hollywood Hills at night. All those lights snake up the hills, in a choreography of curves and different sounds. Sometimes when I’m driving home I listen to the classical music station because its like we’re in an orchestra. Enter Ford F150 with your booming tympani; come gently little old Volkswagen Beetle with your flighty piccolo; El Diablo, bring your classical guitar; don’t forget your French Horn, Mercedes Benz. When you’re in it, it can feel jerky and unpracticed — some people play the wrong notes. But when you look above and see it happen with a different perspective, all of it works together. You see the beginning, and you see the end and all the lights and buildings and hills in between.

And when those faults do act up as they inevitably do — the Angelinos have been expecting The Big One for years now and are relieved this small one came to relieve some pressure — perhaps it truly is the best idea to run to the first doorway and stand in it until the swaying stops, and on scared little knees, take a new step.

Dear Los Angeles,

At first I thought I ought to write something heightened and romantic to celebrate our six-month anniversary. It would be a vulnerable comeuppance, full of all the six-month sentiments I have developed for you in our time together. I thought I should go to a place fitting for this sort of letter, taking my quill and pen to the ocean, for instance, to write to you from the very edge of the continent. Or I could bring my pencil and notebook to the gardens at the Getty and tell you about art and flowers. Yet the more that I thought about the atmosphere for this letter, the more I realized that the most appropriate setting is right here, in the bedroom of my little, messy apartment, full of the every-day noises that are slowly becoming home.

Right now there are six of us living in our three-bedroom apartment, which is quite a change for the girl who used to live alone with her cat, slowly degrading into a life of crochet and watching library movies on her laptop computer. Four of us are legally bound to our place, and the other two are here for the summer, completing internships before they return to their respective institutions of higher learning, both in the South, where it rains. I would not have mentioned the South, except that it rains. I miss rain. You would not understand, Los Angeles. It has been so long since I have smelled the earth.

Right now the closest thing to rain is the sound of E’s shower in the next room. There is also the faint movie mumblings from the living room where M and J are flattened against the couch, watching the TV, and there is the periodic clank of dish and spoon as G washes the dishes. I will never get used to the noise of our little house, nor your noise, Los Angeles. Over my bedroom balcony waft in the noises of the second largest city in the U.S. (I mean you, you fat, fat city) — the distant freeway, the chatting pedestrians on their evening walk, the passing sirens, and the nightly helicopter hover, which I like to pretend is the news instead of the LAPD spotlighting its latest criminal’s rise and fall.

For a while I would miss home at these moments, and I still do sometimes. I miss the kids playing in the lot next to my dad’s auto repair shop, above which my family lives. I miss the dank, musty basement smell of the shop, and having my dad make his living right underneath our home, just a staircase of 12 steps and three rooms away. I miss the quiet evenings and the settling of summer — the stars in the corn fields and the country drivers, my church and my cousins, and the people who have known me longer than I’ve known me, the people who know me because they knew my grandparents. I miss the hospitality, the neighborliness of it all, in the place where all the Thrift Store Owners know me by name.

Do you remember, Los Angeles, a few months back when I left you for the first time in three months? And do you remember how hard it was for me to come back to you, how I cried all five hours back on the plane, and I wondered why I was coming back — why I had to leave my parents and my niece and my nephew and all the comfort of being known? D was busy that week, and I felt so very alone, surrounded by thirteen-million people, coming home each night to this little apartment with a few roommates that I only just met. I think this is what they call culture shock, a thing I only mildly experienced when I moved from Minnesota to Arkansas for college. But after that initial breakdown, things got better. They really did. I think I came to the decision that I was here, with you, and here I would stay. Perhaps I needed that last goodbye, that last purge of what it was like to be a child.

At D’s encouragement, I have recently begun reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It has been so very long since I have read a book. I think I’ve been afraid of falling back into my girlhood, where I would hide in my room, reading stacks of books, instead of making friends. It is a lot harder to be an obsessive reader when you have a job. I’m only about 100 pages into the first book, and oh, how I’ve cried. I know, I know, it’s a little early to start crying, but Tolkien has just introduced one of the major themes of the book: Home. Frodo is speaking with Gandalf, and he is first realizing that there is a large and courageous journey he must take, and that no one else is going to do it for him.

He has never left his home, the Shire. He tells Gandalf, “I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.”

I read this after I got off the phone with my mother, after I told her I will not be able to make it home for the Clipperton Family Reunion in August. High gas prices have made it nearly impossible. This is the first Clipperton Family Reunion I have missed in my life, ever since I was 6. And I will be 26 next month. Mark my words, Los Angeles: If you do something to prevent me from going home for Christmas Eve with my family, going to Grandma’s church for the same Christmas Eve service I’ve attended since I was born, I will up and quit my job and move home.

You cannot ruin 26 years of Christmas, Los Angeles. I do not care how big you are.

All my love,

Ann

Once Upon a Dream

April 29, 2008

I left work at mid-day today, struggling with a migraine. I’m not even sure what I told my boss before I left. It probably did not make much sense. I had to stay about an hour later to process a few orders and make some phone calls. Now, after 3 hours of sleep, an overdose of ibuprofen tablets, and a hot shower, I finally feel better. I cannot tell you how much I wish my health would return to me. I’ve always been a naturally tired person (need naps!), but I haven’t felt 100% in a long, long time. I need to start exercising, but I think I might have mono, and I don’t want my spleen to erupt. How’s that for an excuse?

All that aside, I love my apartment. It was a glorious day, and now the wind is blowing through the palm leaves and into my bedroom through the balcony door. I especially love the night-time. Summer evenings are some of my favorite things. I can’t wait to return to Minnesota for a family reunion in August. We’re totally camping at this hoe-down of a fair called the Threshing Bee, which celebrates old methods of farming. My grandfather built a windmill on the grounds where the Bee is held, and one of his tractors, an old green  and yellow John Deere is one of the focal points of the train, tractor, and antique car parade. It’s a great ol’ time of threashin’, blue grassin’, and barbeque-in’. I am trying to convince D that it will change his life. We have been dating two years this July, and he has still not been to my hometown. He has still not met my dad. Send him nasty notes, please.

Speaking of D, the other day someone googled “my boyfriend is a model,” and it led them to my blog. It showed up in my stats, and I felt this amazing breadth of anxiety fall from my weary shoulders BECAUSE IT’S ABOUT TIME. IT’S ABOUT TIME SOMEONE ACKNOWLEDGED THAT MY BOYFRIEND IS A MODEL.

(thank you)

And also speaking of D, I am going to be single this weekend. D is going to a retreat for a class at school, and that means plenty of margaritas and inviting the pool boy up to my bedroom to fan me with palm leaves. It also means that I am going to spend the whole weekend sleeping, eating ice cream, and looking very, very closely at my cuticles. Oh, and I’m hoping to go to the one and only Newport Beach community garage sale to see if I can find, among other things, a bicycle built for D. That, and a Free Box full of Gucci bags. Oh wait. I am not really looking for that. That was just what I dreamt about last night. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure if I actually have a pool boy.

On the Tip of My Tongue

March 22, 2008

Tonight, while trying to write the afore-promised post about D and my experience being evacuated from the movie theater, I got to thinking about writing. Actually, the thinking came after the attempt and failure to write and during the subsequent bath-time that followed.

I have mentioned before that for a long time, blogging is the only writing I’ve really been doing. And while we all love our blogs and spewing mundane daily events in the form of quippy, cute sentences, this is not real writing. Real writing is about 80% agony from the knowledge that no matter what I write and how good I feel about it, the first draft is always going to be terrible. There’s no getting around it. Real writing requires re-writing.

For a long time, I’ve been dancing around the idea of writing a novel. I may have mentioned it before… certainly to people in person, and maybe on the blog. I don’t quite remember. This idea has begun to pressure me more and more as I’m settling into my adult life and finally coming to terms with the fact that I will never be a child again, and therefore, will always have to have an adult job. Right now I am working as an assistant. A year ago, I was working as an assistant. And though I like my job now and am thankful for the work, in five years, I do not want to be working as an assistant. There’s nothing wrong with being an assistant. It takes brains and organization and hard work and stress just like any other job. But for the rest of my life? Eh. I think not.

Tonight in that subsequent bath that followed the discouraged blog failure, I believe I may have come up with the first line to my novel. At least for now. At least a starting point. And I realized something I never realized before about writing:

Writing should be like building a friendship. I don’t mean that like it sounds. A lot of writers will gush about how their characters became their best friends in the course of the book and how it was so sad to kill so and so off or do that terrible thing to such and such because man, my characters are amazing and SO REAL that THEY COULD BE MY REAL FRIENDS. Perhaps I’m being a jerk here, but that’s a little pathetic. Characters are a means to an end, the personification of a rhetorical device. Writing should be like building a friendship because one must approach it with a story rather than an agenda. If we make friends to prove something, our friendships are insincere and vacant. A real friendship begins with a story:

Hello, my name is Ann. I grew up in a small town in Minnesota. I have two parents, an older brother, a family dog, and I used to own a cat named Francis who was the coolest cat I’ve ever met. I miss her.

I’ve had such a hard time beginning my novel because I’ve forgotten the simple, lovely value of a story. I get caught up in the outline and the ending and the big picture of it all. Sure, Al Finnigan lives in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and was raised by his grandfather and has a Great Pyrenees named Muldoon who is blind in one eye and was divorced by his ex-wife Pam five years ago, BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THIS STORY? WHAT DOES HE SYMBOLIZE? Tonight I realized that if I write the book the way I am thinking about it right now, it will be insincere and vacant. Instead, I have to begin with a story:

Pam spent most of her first marriage asking questions. Of course, the questions began even before the marriage did: What’s your name? Where are you from, Al? What brought you to Sheboygan? And are you still working in the lumber business? Do you like it?  Al was a man who needed questions. Even after they had vowed to love, honor, cherish, and share, Al needed the questions, or he would spend his evenings flattened against the couch, eating his cornflakes with crushed crackers and peanuts on top and watching the Discovery Channel, saying nothing about the day.

So, my question here for you all is, does this paragraph make you want to read more? It’s a first draft, so it’s rough and clunky and wordy, but are you intrigued? Be honest. For a while I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a novel blog. I’m still thinking about the implications of it, and I definitely need to get this one back up consistently before I take on any other web projects…. any thoughts on the idea of a novel blog?

A couple of weekends ago these hands touched a public payphone for the first time since, oh, probably the summer of ’03 when I went to London and Ireland for five weeks. Now, London and Northern Ireland, because they both belong to the UK, have cool payphones, payphones which are so asthetically pleasing that one can almost forget the germs festering on the handle and buttons and the advertising for naughty massages papering the inside.

 

payphone_1.jpg

Since the summer of ’04, I’ve been a mobile-r and have joined the throngs of distracted multi-taskers who will likely develop brain tumors in our seventies because of constantly cuddling an electronic device to the sides of our heads. Next year California is supposedly banning drivers from using cell phones without hands-free devices, and who can blame them? According to the journal Quarterly Factors, “Cell phone distraction causes 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States every year.” My cell phone has caused headaches, neck aches, facial break outs, and cost a total of approximately $2,380 since its acquisition in May of ’04. Not to mention the panic… when dropped. This past winter I dropped the beloved cell phone (let’s call her Bess, shall we?) from a high table bar stool in a restaurant. She crashed to the floor, and her battery shot out, sliding across the linoleum to land underneath some lady’s foot. Thankfully, she did not step down and crush the battery. Because of this instance, I was forced to exclaim a near explitive in front of a room full of elderly people getting their afternoon coffee at the podunk cafe; spring lithely from my seat and rush to kneel on the floor where I scooped up Bess’s parts; and crawl on my knees on a restaurant floor, underneath a table, with my rear sticking up like a stretching cat in front of all, just to retrieve a stupid battery.  

Sometimes, I admit, I’ve even had the thought, “Why doesn’t Grandma just get a cell phone? It would be so much easier to text her this question!” Grandma just turned 82 in January. Heaven forbid that I should actually have to call my grandmother on her land line and have an actual conversation with her.

No matter how much grief this small, red device has caused me, my cell-love never manifests itself until the sans-cell phone situation emerges. A few weekends ago, D treated me to some lovely date-time, in which we decided to go see a movie. We drove separately from my apartment so he could leave to go back to his place from the mall. It wasn’t until we were about to enter the parking garage for the mall that the horrific truth arose:  I had forgotten Bess at home.

Mall parking on a Sunday in LA is never easy. One will rarely find a parking spot in the garage next to one’s party. One must simply hit the gas and zoom toward the closest spot available, whether it be on the second floor or the tenth. On this particular occassion, that special spot meant for me was on the seventh floor. By the time I parked Mable the Sable and hopped the elevator, D was nowhere to be found. Well, my naive small-town self said, I’ll just wait until D rides the elevator down, and we’ll meet at the bottom.

Half an hour later, I finally figured out that there are several entrances to the parking garage. I took a few loops around the area, paying specific attention to the movie theater. No D. Maybe I should go wait for him in the philosophy section of Barnes and Noble, my romantic side whispered. I made a comment to D a few weeks ago that I’d like to know how much time we’ve spent in the philsophy section of Barnes and Noble in the course of our relationship. A pay phone loomed in the corner of the courtyard where I waited, but two problems reared their ugly heads:

1.) No change. What savvy city girl goes anywhere without quarters? Give me a break. I grew up in population-4,000 town in Southern Minnesota, where paying for parking is merely a legend and you could more easily walk to someone’s house than dial their number.

2.) No phone number. Yes folks, now is the time to sheepishly admit that D and I have been dating for nearly 20 months, and neither of us know one anothers’ phone numbers.

My mission became clear in an instant. Find quarters. Call any number I have memorized that might know D’s number. Call D.

Finding quarters seemed like it would be easy in a mall. Except that California mall clerks don’t have the wholesome helpfulness that Minnesota or Arkansas clerks do. D and I went to a high-end mall called The Grove. The thing has its own trolley tinkling its little bell through the cobblestone streets. The only remotely lower-class store I could find was J. Crew. I went in to get some change and ended up having to purchase a $6 plastic barette so the cashier could open the cash drawer.  It was the cheapest thing I could find. I had previously recoiled when picking up a $26 coin purse.

The accrual of change brought me to the next step: Calling someone I knew to find D’s number. The deposit of four quarters affords a pay phone patron a mere 4 minutes of conversation. First, I called my friend A in Arkansas. She got her cell phone back when I didn’t have a cell phone and still memorized people’s phone numbers. I got her voicemail and left a frantic message. “Hi, A. I know I haven’t talked to you in a long time, but I need you to do something for me if you get this in the next few minutes. I’m going to call back in five minutes. I’m on a payphone in a mall in California, and I need D’s phone number. I thought you might have it somewhere, and you’re the only friend I have that I actually know your number. So, please pick up when I call back.” I called back three times. No avail. My parents weren’t home — they were spending the afternoon at my brother’s house, but I figured it was worth a shot. Mom is one of the most prepared people I know… the type who will carry wadded up plastic bags in her purse, just in case. I thought I might know her cell phone number. I dialed. It was dad’s.

“Hi, Dad. It’s Ann. I’m calling from a payphone in a mall in L.A., and I need your help. Does Mom have D’s phone number?’

“You don’t know his number?”

“I don’t. You’ve got to hurry. I’ve only got four minutes until I need to deposit another dollar.”

“I’ll ask her.”

Muffled voices in the background. “She’s checking,” Dad said.

“She has G’s number.” (G is D’s twin brother.)

I pause. “Why does she have G’s number?”

“I don’t know. I’ll ask her.”

“No, it’s okay. G’s number is good. Give me that for now in case we get cut off before she finds D’s number.”

We got cut off before I had a chance to say goodbye. Mom didn’t have D’s number, but for some reason she had G’s. So, I called G.

“Hi, G. It’s Ann. I’m calling from a payphone at the Grove. I need D’s phone number.”

“You don’t know his number? You’ve been dating how long?”

“I know, I know. I only have four minutes. You’ve got to give me the number. You’ve just got to!”

G hooked me up with the digits I needed, and my triumphant “Hi!” to D when I finally heard his voice on the line an hour and fifteen minutes after we parked our cars was enough to turn the heads of several by-standers. We met in front of the movie theater. “I’ve been walking around this whole area,” he said when I hugged him. “I guess we just missed each other. I thought about going into the philosophy section of Barnes and Noble.”

“Really?! Me too! This is our plan if this ever happens again. We’ll meet in the philosophy section of Barnes and Noble.”

And so, we went, hand-in-hand into the movie theater to purchase our overpriced confections and find our seats.

About seven minutes before the end of the movie, entitled Definitely Maybe, we got evacuated from the movie theater. But that, my friends, is a story for tomorrow.

Today the post was going to be about blogetiquette: my definition of what should not appear on a blog, for reasons of gentility and just plain Not Embarrassing Yourself Later. I’m sure that I have broken some of these rules, and I am probably about to break more of them. This morning I realized that I need to do a little honest writing here, a little something that shows what’s really going on.

This transition to California has been hard. I’m not going to go into all the little details of it because I don’t believe in writing things that I wouldn’t tell people to their faces. Especially on the internet. (This would be one important rule of blogetiquette that many, many people violate.) I might make exceptions in a journal, but journals are meant to be private outlets of thoughts and feelings.

But I can talk about myself and some of the things that I have been going through. Most writers tend to be inward people. We are the shy ones, the introverts, the ones who don’t really want fame but have to write anyway because it possesses us, and the fame sometimes just comes with it. It is hard to write anything worthwhile without an audience.

I made an important discovery about myself a few months ago when a Myers/Briggs expert came to my workplace and went through the Myers/Briggs test with each of us. My personality type (INFP) came up as a person who has high ideals for herself — so high that she often can’t reach them. And when she doesn’t reach them, rather than realizing that she’s putting too much pressure on herself, she gets upset at herself and begins a downward spiral. It is so easy to get sucked into that spiral and have a difficult time getting out. It’s happened before, in a life-altering way, so I feel better equipped to deal with it through talking to friends or positive self-talk or even therapy. It’s infinitely more easy to deal with something when you realize that it’s happening.

This Myers/Briggs expert warned me that when I went to California, I’d have to be careful. “I have such a soft spot in my heart for INFPs,” he said. “You need to surround yourself with people who you trust who are going to encourage you and support you when you move. Moving to a new place can be incredibly discouraging.”

This move has been especially hard because I had such a wonderful time with my family while I was home in Minnesota for those few months. I am very homesick this week, not because I necessarily want to go back to Minnesota, but because I miss my family so much that I get tears in my eyes every time I think about them. I know that coming to California was the right decision, and I’m going to fight through this because I can’t live my whole life in the circle of their safety. I’ve got to get out and do my own thing for a while. It’s just that with them I am always home, and here I am not.

Yesterday I acknowledged for the first time that this move has turned my whole world completely upside-down. Just before this, I was in the safest place possible. Now I am living with people I barely know, far away from my closest friends, in the second largest city in the United States, without a job. D is the only person I have known long enough to trust, even though I know many people who are trustworthy, and I even feel bad about depending on him so fully — not because he has made me feel that way but because my over-idealistic personality type tells me that I should be independent all the freaking time.

Plus it’s just difficult to transition from living on your own for the past six years and never having a real curfew in your life, to living under the roof of kind and generous people who raised their children a lot differently than how you were raised.

Also, even though I am overjoyed to finally be in the same city as my boyfriend, moving from a long-distance relationship to a close-distance one is harder then you might think. Roommate J had a similar experience with a guy she used to date, and she told me that finally becoming close-distance almost broke them. I know D on a very deep, communicative level because of the long-distance part of our relationship. As far as the detailed, every-day planning, interacting side of things, I’ve never really experienced that with him except for the few times we’ve seen one another in person. And those times were always with the starry-eyed attitude of, “We’d better savor this while we can because it’s going to be over soon.”

We’ve had a lot to talk through. I’m invading his turf. I’m adopting his friends. I’m expecting him to make adjustments in his life to fit me into the every-day-ness of this. My whole life has been one giant adjustment for the past several weeks. Yesterday D and I had a very good talk about one important thing that was bothering me. It was good. Through all of this, it’s good to know that I have strong allies in Roommate J and D.

And my best friend L is coming down from San Francisco this weekend. She has a habit of swooping in and saving the day at the exact moment that I need her, and I’m getting all teary-eyed right now just thinking about her. It will be nice to have a bit of home for a few days. Also, my friend LR lives in Irvine, and I need to get together with her this week. She is another strong ally who I haven’t seen in a very long time and miss considerably.

I just pray that God leads Roommate J and I to the right jobs and the right apartment. And that whatever He’s developing in me right now will develop quickly and help me later on.

My longer-than-a-week hiatus has two real excuses.

1.) I was under a blog detox. A while back I posted a lolcats picture, and for the past few weeks, my search engine terms have been crammed with people looking for FUNNY CATS! Seriously. There has been little else. In fact, my hits have been nearly 250 hits higher than average. It was really annoying me. I was disappointed that I couldn’t check my blog stats and be proud that I had 358 hits. They really didn’t care about my writing. They just cared about the FUNNY CATS! So, I deleted the lolcats picture off my blog, and it took about a week for Google Images to figure out that the post no longer exists.

2.) Work has been nuts. Every night I’ve come home exhausted. This job has really made me appreciate assembly-line workers. I can’t imagine working on an assembly line for more than a month. I’m so thankful that it worked out for me to have this job for this short time that I’m home, but today I am even more thankful that tomorrow my paycheck will be in my hands, and I can move on to bigger and better things….

LIKE CALIFORNIA! BECAUSE I’M LEAVING IN 9 DAYS!

Also, some pretty amazing things have happened in the past few days that remind me just how great God’s faithfulness is. The money came through from the insurance company for the Great Rear-Ending of 2007, and with some generosity from my father, it covered the cost of my new car, the Sable Who Has No Name. My dad also did some work on the car for me, and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have a mechanic father. Let’s just say that after he told me everything he did on the car, all I could say, with wide eyes and an unsquelchable smile, was, “Merry Christmas to me!” I was planning on getting him honey roasted cashews for Christmas or a new set of keys he could use to clean out his ears. I guess I’ll have to re-think those options.

Also, a dear friend of mine took it upon himself to send me a little package in the mail today. It was quite lovely and touching. Thank you, friend. You know who you are. I will send you an email sometime tomorrow to thank you personally.

Speaking of Christmas, I didn’t have to work on Sunday, and I went Christmas shopping with my mom and grandma. I’m planning on making most of my Christmas gifts this year, and I had a great time in the craft stores picking out the materials to purchase. I can’t wait to post some photos of what I make, but that, of course, will have to wait until after Christmas and the gifts have been bestowed upon their recipients. And, of course, after I actually make said gifts.

One thing I did purchase for my nephew Ezra is a baby toy of the future, and I can’t wait to give it to him. It’s a new take on a typical baby toy, and I knew it was great when my mom saw it and was disappointed that she hadn’t gotten it for him.

Speaking of my niece and nephew… I love them. They will be the hardest to leave in 9 days because they will be so much bigger when I see them again. It has been truly wonderful to be around them for the past month and a half. I don’t regret the decision to come home for a little while at all.

I promise that I will start writing about homeschooling soon. Today was my last day of work until I find a job in California, and I’m looking forward to letting my body rest for a while. For the past few weeks, I’ve felt like I’m working out all day every day. Tomorrow I am sleeping in!

Yesterday my mom gave me an early Christmas gift in the form of a new cell phone. After spending the last two and a half years using a phone very similar to this one,

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the very basic phone, regarding which people have asked, “Oh, is that one of those pre-paid telephones?”, I have moved on to greener, er, redder pastures:

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I got a Razr. And it annoys the helsinki out of me that it’s called a Razr and not a Razor. Now, I am not one to be romanced by status symbols of the phone world. Little Nokia served me well with a few glitches, like never accepting my voicemail password the first time I typed it in, or shutting off randomly when I pushed the number “2.” It had no fancy ring tones, no photograph capabilities, no froo-froo, and no bling-bling. But it could text message. And I could talk on it. I had many-an important conversation on that telephone. I wonder how many hours it has experienced the suppleness of my cheek…. more than any human, that’s for certain.

I got the Razr because it was free. My mom bought one through Alltel’s Christmas deal for $20.00 and got mine free for purchasing hers. If she hadn’t, I’d probably still be living it up with Little Nokia. When Mom gave me the phone, I was initially very excited because all of the fantastic features. I love the fact that it is a flip phone and that it slides so nicely into my purse. I can hear people better on it, and it fits against my face better. Little Nokia made me feel like I was holding a bar of soap against my ear. I was so excited about the new phone that I didn’t even think about one terribly sentimental thing… until D called last night.

And the phone just rang. Like normal. Like, without his ring tone.

The new ring tone on the Razr was a smooth, jazzy, suave ring tone, a Robert Redford kind of ring tone with a twist of the young Sean Connery, and not the tinny da dun da dundun duuuuun Little Drummer Boy tone that has made me jump up and run to the phone with bells on my toes each time it has rung for the past year and a half. D had no idea. He doesn’t have a ring tone for me on his phone, and last night was the first time I told him about it:

Ann: I’m really sad. I didn’t realize that your call yesterday would be the last time I would hear that ring tone.

D: What did it sound like?

Ann sings out a sweet little melody on a series of da’s.

D: And what does the new one sound like?

Ann: Ba DAAAAAAAA, BA DADADADA… I can’t believe you’ve never heard the ring tone I have for you. To me, it’s such an intrinsic part of who you are, ever since I started getting to know you.

D: Wow, I didn’t know that.

Ann: I don’t know if I can be in this relationship anymore.

Obviously since D and I have been dating long-distance since, well, ever, we’ve spent a lot of time talking on the phone. In fact, the first time I met D I felt really shy around him. He called me the next day after our initial meeting, and everything was normal and great on the phone, because that is how I was used to him. I wasn’t ready to handle the real-person D, in all his manly glory. And sometimes I still feel a little shy around him the first time I see him after a particularly long separation.

So, how exactly do two people sustain a relationship over the phone?

That’s a good question. Heh.

I don’t know. This is a question many people have asked when quizzing me about whether or not long-distance dating really works. And all I can really say is that, so far, it has worked for us. D and I have an advantage because we’ve never lived close to one another. The phone relationship is all we’ve ever known; therefore, we only sometimes miss the in-person relationship where we get together a few evenings a week and on weekends and see each other on a regular basis. The telephone, though frustrating at times, has always been a bridge between us. It’s true that I like him more every time I see him, and I look forward to my big move to California with rampant rejoicing, but for now, we’ve been fine on the phone. And here are a few reasons I think it’s worked out for us*:

1.) We are both articulate. We know how to explain our feelings pretty well and have extensive enough vocabularies to express what we’re thinking. Sometimes, when we’ve been fighting, I will anticipate my future feelings, and tell him that the next time I talk to him on the phone, I will probably be mad at him again. I don’t know why I do this — perhaps I want to prepare him, or perhaps it’s my apology ahead of time for anything mean I might say.

When you have to communicate predominately via telephone, it’s important to be really clear about what you’re thinking or feeling. When a boyfriend or girlfriend can’t read your body language because he or she can only hear your voice, it’s even harder to decipher what’s going on in your head. I say this especially to girls because we tend to have this ridiculous idea in our heads that if our boyfriends really cared about us, they could be thoughtful enough to read our minds and then explain our thoughts back to us in Swahili. Forget it. Give they guy a break. If you’re mad, tell him why. And just the same, if you’re really glad to be his girlfriend or really impressed, tell him why. The same goes for you, fellas. Just be clear, capiche?

2.) We make each other laugh. A lot. And often. Even when we’re mad at each other.

3.) We have similar taste in music, film, and literature. That alone gives us LOTS to talk about.

4.) We are both good listeners. My closest friends are the ones who listen as much as they talk. And when I say listen, I mean that they hear and remember and care about what I tell them. This is an important quality for my friends to have in relationship to me because I am a strong introvert, and I listen more than I speak. I feel loved when people listen to me the way that I listen to them. Listening builds trust. One of the things that first impressed me about D was his capacity for not just listening to what I was telling him, but for comprehending it and then asking me about it later. I strive to be that type of person in our relationship as well. Listening skills are vital in a long-distance relationship.

5.) We are both good talkers. It has taken me a long time to become a good talker. I’ll never forget the freedom I felt when I realized that I didn’t have to wait for people to ask me questions before telling them things. You mean I can just interject my own thoughts into a conversation without being asked for them? NO WAY!

Way.

I’m a much more confident person since I realized this. Now people actually think I’m kind of funny instead of being stuck up.

The other day I even accused a stranger of making a fat joke against me. And then we had a funny conversation about how we do the same thing to our significant others. It was great. She didn’t even have to ask me, “Do you think I am making a fat joke against you right now?” And I didn’t have to reply, “Yes, I think you are making a fat joke against me, Ha, Ha, Ha.” Instead, I just had to say, “Is that a fat joke?” And we laughed.

D is good at encouraging me to just talk. About random stuff. About nothing. I sometimes feel dumb telling people the stuff that goes on in my head (yes, even on the blog), but D is very affirming. I try to be the same for him.

Does anyone else have any ideas on how to make a telephone relationship work?

P.S. We’re supposed to get a blizzard this weekend. Six to ten inches of snow tomorrow. Sub-zero windchills. Yeah, baby.

* Note: Obviously all of these principles will benefit any relationship, whether close or far away. My point is that one reason D and I are still together is that we are very intentional about each of these five things. We can’t go out for coffee with a group of friends or go to a movie or sit and watch TV together, so we have to work hard with what we have.