The Man Who Marks The Time

June 2, 2009 § 4 Comments

There are 2.8 million people in the city of Chicago and it covers a total of 237 square miles.  Come August, Brian and I will have lived here for 14 years, lived in five different apartments and I will have worked at five different jobs not including temp work and theatre.  During that time, I have encountered the same particular man, somewhere in the city, at some point, at least once every couple of years or so.  Were I not married I would honestly believe that God was trying to tell me something, trying to shove me into the path of Pepe Le Pew with a white stripe of paint down my back.

He’s a man a bit younger than me, not ugly, not handsome, not short or tall, just a guy.  I first encountered him when I started my job as an Executive Assistant for a brilliant but scatterbrained institutional investments consultant who rented space inside the Hancock Building.  I was a temp, and The Man © was a permanent employee in the office we rented space from.  He would run into me in the lunch room and give a nod, and a hi, and that was about it. 

Five or six years later, I started doing improvisational comedy at The Playground theatre on the North side of the city, and a few months into it I arrived at a performance only to see The Man© performing in the show right before mine.  I introduced myself and he remembered me from the job that I had just quit a few months before.  We laughed at how small the world was, and as it happened, I never saw him at the theatre again.  Time went by, we moved to two different apartments, and I got a new job in a completely different part of the city.  Shortly thereafter, I saw The Man© while at lunch in a food court somewhere near my building.  It was becoming something to take note of.

Now I am a classic victim of “Van On The Corner Syndrome”.  I learned about this via The Straight Dope, a Chicago newspaper column I’ve been reading for about twenty years now.  VOTCS happens when you start spouting off that there’s ALWAYS A VAN ON THE CORNER AT THE END OF OUR STREET!  ALWAYS!  The problem is, you only think of mentioning this when you notice a van on the corner, which means that you’re blocking out all the times that there ISN’T a van on the corner, therefore making your argument invalid.  So I began to say that The Man was THE GUY I SEE EVERYWHERE, when really, I’ve only ever seen him in about seven different places.  But it seems strange to me, that I see him in each of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in, each of the areas I’ve worked and at the theatre where I expressed myself creatively.

I had nearly forgotten about The Man© when I saw him standing on the corner of Wells and Hubbard, making his way to the same train that I take home from work.  I audibly guffawed, shook my head in disbelief, and then my eyes widened in horror.  His hair was going gray.  I’ve only lived here for fourteen years, but that means I’m fourteen years older, just like him.  And just like it’s hard to notice weight loss or gain when you see someone every day, it’s hard to notice fourteen years of aging.  I remembered back to the first time I saw him, and I thought he looked like a kid fresh out of college (not unlike myself).  I thought back on all the milestones of my life over these years – birth, death, gain, loss, struggle, success, friends made and treasured, friends lost or outgrown.  And even though I’ve only said about three sentences to him in my whole life, it felt important to see this man at the corner, hair gray at the temple, but still truckin’, still strong and relatively young.  I wonder if he saw me, and if the look of my face, my skin, my hair, had marked the time.

Returning to Kindergarten

May 21, 2009 § 2 Comments

I’m still having a hard time with my creative “flow” if you will.  You’ll remember that a few months ago I sprang forth with some sort of Inspiration Fountain of Arts and Crafts that lasted for a good two months and cost me hundreds of dollars at Joann’s and Michael’s – but don’t worry.  I managed to get my hands on a 40% off coupon.  I hear they’re rare.

Anyway, that slowly trickled away, what with the preparation for moving and a two and a half year old running around at top speed, telling me “Mommy, no sit down…let’s clean!”  (I don’t know how she got this sickness, but I will work tirelessly to find a cure.) I have a lot of craft projects left undone, a lot of fabric organized and uncut, a list full of tutorials I really want to follow, and I keep planning to do it tomorrow, this weekend, when I get home from work.  But I’ve always been tangential like that.  I pick up hobbies in the blink of an eye, devote my life to them for two weeks and then pack them up for a year until the tangent grips me again because I saw a woman painting in a McDonalds commercial.

But I guess what worries me is that I’ve never been tangential about writing.  Ever since I was a child and wrote a gripping ten page novel about a bug family that lived in a bush that caught fire, I’ve been in the clutches of the gentle madness of writing.  All through highschool I filled notebooks with plays and short stories and movies and novels, wasting study hall on developing the relationship between a teenager and an evil (yet sexy) Missionary rather than, you know, study for the classes I was getting Cs in.  Writing was my companion, my therapy, my diary in a way, and even when I took classes or workshops on writing and got negative feedback, I didn’t care, because I knew that my writing was good and I loved it.

But you know what happened? I started trying to make writing my career in earnest.  I finished a manuscript, edited it until it was air tight and started sending out query letters.  Editors called back asking for more pages, only to tell me that “It’s really great but…”.  I was told that my story was too strange, unmarketable, that I’d need to change giant plot points or characters or motivations in order to sell the book, but I wouldn’t do it.  I loved that book like it was a living, breathing creature.  I wrote the book I wanted to find in the bookstore, but it was unmarketable because it wasn’t like the other books in the bookstore.  So I put that airtight book in a box on a shelf and started writing a new book.  But this time I wrote “by the book”.  “Sum up the novel completely in the first paragraph,”  “no sexual content until at least page 72,” “only two adverbs per page”.  I dreamt up the story I wanted to write and then wondered how I’d have to change it in order to sell it.

That’s when I stopped loving writing like I did in high school.  That’s why I quit acting, actually.  When I started having to network and schmooz and ‘glad hand’ people in order to get to act, I lost my passion for it.  And I’ve made that same connection with my crafting/art/collage work.  Over the past year or so, I’ve only wanted to do crafting or art in order to blog it, or see if I could sell it on etsy, or MAKE SOMETHING MORE OF IT.  Something in my brain says “if there’s not more to it, it’s a waste of your time”.  

But Art for Art’s sake is important.  Drawing and coloring and painting and sculpture and collage are important to keep our minds sharp, our hearts open, our imaginations active, especially when you’ve got a two year old wanting to “DO SOMETHING” all the time.

So I started my Art Journal.  Not for the blog, not for a homework assignment, not for an editor or a boss or anyone else’s approval, just for me.  It’s a book I can paint in and sketch and put together collages and inspiration boards.  I’ve only done two pages…but I don’t care.  I only work on it when I really feel like it, and I when I’m bored, I stop.

It’s so simple.  But I think it’s a step forward.  I hope and pray and wish that this acknowledgment of creating for my own fulfillment will help me regain my love for writing.

 

So I can make it my career. D’oh!

Charlotte’s Budding Career in Photography

May 13, 2009 § 2 Comments

Let’s bring up the mood around here a little and talk about Charlotte.  As she continues to grow and develop her own personality, Brian and I are in a constant state of laugh out loud awe.  Even at two and a half she is rife with opinions and “catchphrases” and jokes, but also compassion and empathy and determination.  How many times have I heard her say “NO mommy, gimme do it” when I try to help her with something?  And yet, after a full day of independence and self determination, she’s still small enough to crawl into my lap with a blanket at the end of the day and say “Mommy, cuddle on the couch?”

She’s at the age where learning isn’t associated with “sitting at a desk all day, listening to some crank drone on and on about the Magna Carta”.  Learning for Charlotte is non stop fun, driving her forward from morning until night, coming home from daycare and singing to me: “AY YI YI YI, CANTA Y NO LLORES!”. 

She’s fascinated by the arts.  She loves to draw and paint, and sing and dance and her new love is photography.  Brian said it’s amazing that she’ll never live in a world where she’ll have to wait to see a picture.  Every time I tell her to smile, she poses, and then says “Gimme see it?” (Gimme means many wonderful things in our house, sort of like VEGETABLE means ‘tater tots’ or ‘buttered corn’).  She also knows that photos are unlimited.  There’s no “STOP MAKING FACES, YOU’RE WASTING THE FILM”.  Any crazy picture you want to take, do it.  So we delete it later. Who cares?  You never know what sort of unique moment you’re going to capture.

So last weekend while she was playing with my aunt’s pretty amazing collection of sixties Barbies and Barbie Like Fashion Dolls and Barbie Accessories I decided to take a page from Doe-C-Doe and stage some cute shoe photos (which you can see in my FLICKR photostream, click the button in the right column –>) as well as capture some of the dolls themselves. So the first photo was just a standard, STILL LIFE WITH DOLL ON TABLE.

 

OK, not so great.  Can’t really see her face and it’s boring to boot.  Plus, I think Charlotte just crushed a nilla wafer into the carpet. So I called her over to help.  Can you hold up the dolly?  So it looks like she’s walking?  Hold her very still and I’ll take a picture.

Notice the Lead-Singer-Of-Bow-Wow-Wow-In-The-I-Want-Candy-Video hairstyle and the REDONKULOUS blue eyeshadow.  Please disregard Charlotte’s fingernails in this picture.  We’d just finished eating lunch and her nails needed trimming….and…well, I’m a lazy parent…so they’re dirty.  Let’s all try and live with it.  She’s two.   Anyway, I realized that I didn’t like how to the light was, or how she looked on the table, or how Charlotte’s fingernails looked like she’d just hand dug a grave, so I decided to scrap the shoot until she was taking a nap or something.  But before I could get the doll from her, Charlotte said,

“Wait mommy, wait wait wait.”

She took a moment and posed the doll and said,

“OK Mommy, take picture of her BUTT!”

 So I did. She rushed around the coffee table giggling and said “GIMME SEE IT?” I showed her what she ahd wrought and she laughed hysterically, running from the room to show everyone else the dolly’s butt.

Truly…she is an artist of limitless imaginaton.

Part 2: So, How Did You Hurt Your Back?

May 12, 2009 § 6 Comments

Since 1999, I suspect I’ve had to tell my “Back History” to a minimum of 17 different doctors,nurses,therapists,pharmacists who thought I was a drug seeker,brace makers,employers and reproductive endocrinologists.  I wish I could tell you that I survived a flaming car wreck whilst chasing down the perpetrator of various crimes against dogs, dragging my singed and broken body up a ragged, unforgiving incline, surviving on 8 tic tacs and a warm Diet Coke until rescued by handsome and compassionate paramedics, but that would be an exaggeration.

In truth, I slipped on the sidewalk outside my house.  Back in ’99, Chicago had herself a mammoth snow storm.  Not really a blizzard, just a steady, never ending snow that started New Year’s Day and ended some thirty six hours later with 23 inches of snow on the ground.  I remember opening the door to let our beloved dog Marge out to pee and the snow was packed up two feet high, OVER HER HEAD.  She looked at me, looked at the snow, and peed in the back hall.  Chicago returned to work a couple days later, and while the sidewalks were somewhat cleared, they were also crusted with a densely packed snow/ice frosting that looked safer than it was.  

The spine is a 13 year old brat.  Everything that happens to it is considered a personal trauma.  Nobody treats their spine with the reverence that the spine thinks it deserves.  Everyone supposes their spine can handle more than it can, some people even speculating that the rash of back injuries and pains in the world is as a result of TOO rapid evolution, and the unnatural pose of standing upright.   And sometimes, the tiniest thing becomes the micro trauma that broke the executive assistant’s back.  My right foot slipped forward and out and I lost my balance.  Instead of letting myself fall on my butt and maybe have a butt/back ache for two days, I decided to catch myself in a dramatic, wide legged lunge and jerk myself upward, back to a standing position.  Did my discs ‘herniate’ at that moment?  Did my vertebrae pinch against my sciatic nerve right then?  I don’t know…but I know that the next day I couldn’t stand upright.  I literally felt like if I stood up, my back would snap and I would crumble to the floor.  I took a cab to the hospital that was four blocks away and was given my first MRI that gave me my first vague news: herniated discs and inflammation, and hey, did you know you have scoliosis?

So that was 1999.  I was young spring chicken back then.  I remember that I could fit into a size MEDIUM top at Rampage.  I was only 27.  They sent me home, doped to the gills, told me to rest and that was that.  I got upright in a few days and didn’t have another flare up for a month or so.  When I was once again immobile, I called my doctor who called in a prescription for a muscle relaxant and vicodin, to be  taken together, I assume as a form of COMPLETE ANESTHESIA FOR NO LESS THAN 18 HOURS.  I took the medication as directed for about three days, felt better, and went back to work.  The bottle of 90 Vicodin sat in my medicine cabinet, nearly untouched for almost a year and a half.  

Then I took Ami to go see Rammstein.  The tales of my attendance to Rammstein concerts and their aftershow activities are significant enough for a post or ten of their own, but let’s just say that the music is loud and fast and grinding and the lightshow is seizure inducing and dangerous, and when you leave, you pretty much feel like you could rip a 100 year old oak tree out of the ground.  My husband was out of town for some reason, and after dropping Ami off at home, I was still bouncing off the walls, anxious to build a coliseum or perfect cold fusion or write.  I wanted to write.

But I also needed to calm down.  I needed to be able to sleep at some point, so I took two vicodin instead of my usual one, and from that point on, the chase began.  Within an hour I felt like my life was nothing short of perfect.  I was energetic, pain free, optimistic, creative, focused, clearheaded.  I took a hot bath, picked out some CDs and sat down at the computer to write.  Nearly five hours later I had written the best 23 pages of fiction I had ever created and it came to me as easily as breathing.  I had no notice of the time.  I was lost in creativity.

Talk to any addict and they’ll tell you that their story spiraled out of control from a desire to relive that first moment they experienced their own euphoria.  All they want to do is get that back.  But soon that fades, and all they want is to get back the feeling of NORMAL.  You’re no longer chasing a high, you’re chasing “getting through the work day” or “taking care of my kid on a saturday afternoon”.  Vicodin is a cruel mistress.  Your body builds a tolerance in a flash, wanting more and more and more, even manufacturing pain to get you to take more.  So, you say, “you WERE taking it to get high, right?”

But I wasn’t.  It’s a complex knot of impulses and urges and actual physiological symptoms.  As my back deteriorated, it went from being sore once or twice a week to a little bit every day, to every day all day, to the point where I could not remember NOT being in pain.  Have you ever had someone, an unruly toddler perhaps, grab a big hunk of your skin and pinch it hard, deep, between a fist of fingers?  Imagine that on the INSIDE.  Imagine nearly complete numbness and electric-like shooting pain down your left leg from the moment you wake up to the minute you go to sleep.  I took my painkillers in all of their various forms, with a hope of escaping that agony, if only for a few hours.  If only I could have a full work day of clarity and focus and laughing and motivation.  I took the pills because when I did I didn’t have to think about my back.  I could sit through a movie in the theatre, I could enjoy a day at the zoo with my daughter, I could celebrate Christmas morning.  The euphoria, so fleeting and brief, sometimes only half an hour or so…was just a bonus, but one that I cherished, and felt I deserved in a lifetime, nearly a decade of pain.

When I got out of detox, I prepared myself for back surgery, something my doctors had put off for years, hoping my back would fix itself.  I still am a bit bitter and just a touch amused at their attitude of pouring hundreds, thousands of pills down my throat for years as a way to treat the problem, but when it becomes apparent that I am dependent on said pills, they quickly snatch them away and expedite the surgery (a surgery I had asked for three times before).  I am now almost entirely pain free (physically), although I am still dealing with the aftermath of addiction.

If I could offer one bit of honest, unfortunate advice to all those folks out there who may be currently chasing some high, some buzz, some euphoria that they felt weeks, months or even years ago; it’s that you’ll never get it back.  You’ll never feel it again.  The first innocent high is a one time deal, like your free sample of crack.  And the other brutal honesty is that you will not feel it after you’re clean either.  You will not feel ‘high on life’, or at least not in the way I expected I would.  But what you will feel is like a weight has been lifted.  There’s nothing left to hide, there is no rollercoaster from day to day, no wondering where your next pill/hit/prescription/ounce/drink is coming from.  You can just live.  You can just get up in the morning with a clear, clean head.  You can enjoy what you’re meant to treasure, focus on what’s meant to be center stage, achieve what previously seemed impossible.

I’m still very much a work in progress, still struggling with depression, with a loss of creative passion.  But I’m also a better mother to my beautiful young daughter, a better wife to my incredibly dedicated husband, a better employee, a better daughter, sister and friend.  I pray that the rest will come in time.

lilacs

Part 1: Sometimes We Bring Heartache Upon Ourselves

May 7, 2009 § 10 Comments

There’s a phone message taped to my bedroom mirror.  It’s one of those pink “While You Were Out” message sheets that no one ever fills in correctly or completely.  It’s dated 5/8/09, 10:50 am.

From:  Your Husband

Message:  Everything is Fine.  I Love You.  Your mom will be in on Friday

It’s a little time capsule that I look at each morning as I prepare for work, each night as I go to bed, each time I pass by.  Just having it catch my eye reminds me of how the nurse handed me the message when I walked by the front desk.  She was an angel, that nurse, with her warm smile and her motherly hugs.  She told me that she’d seen my daughter earlier in the day when my husband had dropped off my suitcase and she thought she was beautiful.  I nodded and forced a smile, unable to talk about the daughter I was locked away from and she said, “Don’t cry.  You don’t have to cry.”

I was at a point in my detox when any kind word, gentle touch, emotional connection at all was met with a total breakdown.  Less than 24 hours in to my rehabilitation I was desperate to go home.  I’d been broken down in every way, forced to admit that I’d let myself lose control of my own life, escorted to a room with one bed, mustard colored walls, a barred window and a duffel bag full of clothes.  I had to give up my phone, my iPod, any connection to anyone outside the hospital, and the physical pain of withdrawal only made my loneliness worse.

I wanted to hold my daughter.  I wanted to pet my dog.  I wanted to fall asleep in my bed with my arms around my husband who’d been there for me through these worst of times.  I wanted to soak in my bathtub, listen to music, watch the Simpsons to help me forget.  I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t suffer through this rehabilitation in some sort of comfort.

Ironically, I’d checked myself into this particular facility voluntarily.  I had grown too tired.  I had spent too many hours on the phone waiting for refills, explaining to doctors why I’d gone through 180 percoset in 15 days, making appointments, getting referrals, waiting for nurses to return my calls.  I’d climbed far too high on the ladder of tolerance.  My back pain, which was unrelenting and vicious had become all but background noise, as I was now taking pills just to be normal.  There was no “high”, as I’m sure anyone I know can attest to.  I was in a pit of depression, exhaustion, anxiety and pain, wondering when I could take my next pill so that I could perhaps feel like I used to feel ten years ago, if only for an hour or so.  I never left the house without my pill bottle and if I forgot, I’d drop everything to go get it.  

In a short four years, I’d gone from taking 2-4 Vicodin a day (a habit that I managed pretty well, and without any craving for more) to taking 6-8 Lortab or Norco a day, and then Oxycontin, a whole different nightmare that signaled the beginning of the end.  When I no longer could manage my Oxycontin I was taking close to 400 mgs a day, as opposed to the 40 mgs I was prescribed only six months before.  Eventually I was wearing a Fentanyl patch, the grand daddy of them all.  But even this wasn’t enough, and I took Norco on TOP of it, which my doctor prescribed for breakthrough pain.

I was wearing my last pain patch on the day I called the hospital.  I remember I was sitting down by the Chicago river on Wacker drive.  It was a hideous day (May 6th), a sort of spitting rain and cold that perfectly illustrated my state of mind.  I was on my lunch hour, and when I went back to work, I simply told my boss that I was going to detox and I didn’t know when I’d be back.

The evaluation at the hospital was long and gutwrenching, a detailed history of my back pain and the prescriptions that came with it.  I was in the office for two hours before the rehab supervisor told me I could talk with Dr. B.  It was his decision as to whether or not I would be admitted.  I had finally cried myself into a sort of numbness (I thought) and all I wanted was to rest.  

Dr. B strode in wearing his crisp white doctors coat, and only asked me two or three questions before saying,

“I think we can help you.”

I started to tear up again and he said the one thing I’ll always remember no matter how many times I’ve wanted to strangle him since.

“You don’t have to cry.  You’re not a bad mother.  You’re still a good person.”

Well of course I was.  No one ever plans to become dependent on pain medication.  No one ever plans to leave their infant daughter for five days while she sorts out her life.  No one ever plans to slip on the ice outside their apartment, herniating three discs.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last ten years it’s that sometimes we bring heartache upon ourselves.

 

morning

 

Tomorrow Part 2: So, How Did This Happen?

A Year Long Mountain Climb

May 4, 2009 § 1 Comment

Hey all.  Would you like to hear a story?  We’ll you’re gonna.  This coming Thursday, May 7th is a big anniversary for me.  It represents so many things that changed in my life, doors closing, windows opening, ears popping from the change in air pressure from closing and opening doors…and in recognition of this anniversary I’d like to tell you “My Tale” over the next couple of days. 

My family and close friends know most of the details, and when asked about my struggle with pain, depression and painkiller addiction, I’m all too happy to talk about it, but I’ve never really summed it all up in a way that may be helpful to others or at the very least an interesting time waster while you’re waiting to leave work. You know, those last twenty minutes of work when you don’t really want to start anything new, but you can’t really wrap things up because you’ll look like a clock watcher?  That sort of thing.

So, in short, stay tuned.  I’ll try to keep it funny, keep it upbeat and keep it brief.  But I mean,come on…it took almost 10 years.

now Im high on macro photography!

now I'm high on macro photography!

Clay Ashtray Chronicles: I JUST WANT TO MAKE A PAPER FLOWER

April 29, 2009 § 2 Comments

My hot/cold, love/hate, Moonlighting type relationship with paper flowers started about a year ago.  It happened quite simply when I saw a “very simple tutorial” that involved nothing more than rolling up a piece of paper!  Before I even picked up the scissors I was making plans for giant garlands of these flowers, bouquets, headbands, shadowboxes, suppositories, load bearing walls made of EASY PAPER FLOWERS.  I mean hey, she says right in the tutorial to HAVE FUN.

 

Dozi's "fun" little flower that haunts me all my days

Dozi's "fun" little flower that haunts me all my days

 

 

Guess what?  It’s not fun.  It doesn’t work.  Don’t be fooled.  Don’t leave me a comment telling me you’ve done it because I’ll simply deem you a liar.  Don’t leave a comment telling me I’ve used the wrong paper because I’ve tried this with every weight of paper from tissue paper to origami paper, cardstock, copy paper, post its, gift wrap, construction paper, a small piece of the Magna Carta.  No.  No, I’m sorry.    When I follow her very easy instructions to “just roll up the paper until there’s no more left to roll” I get:  A PIECE OF ROLLED UP PAPER NOT UNLIKE A MINIATURE TOILET PAPER ROLL.  Oh yeah! Awesome! Yes, I’ll scatter these all over the house.

So after no less than twenty or thirty efforts, I gave up on the Dozi Rose, growling in resentment every time I see it featured in someone’s blog as a super easy paper flower!

In fact, for a while I abandoned paper flowers all together, assuming that God just hadn’t blessed me with that particular talent.  Then I was punched in the face by Eloise Corr Danch and her mind boggling beautiful work.

img_9054

 I mean, yes, it’s gorgeous.  I have no illusions of creating anything as lush and wonderful as her Macy’s Windows.  But let’s get a hold of ourselves, boil it down and realize it’s paper.  Paper cut into flower shapes and glued onto a thingee somehow.  I know flower shapes.  I know petals and stamens and pistols and leaves and tendrils and thingees.  I can draw them and cut them out.  I even know how to use floral tape.

Oh but wait!  Did you know that Paper Source sells a zillion different Paper Flower Kits?  It’s like a dream come true, if you’re some sort of billionaire heiress who finds 18.00 for paper and wire to be a reasonable price.  I went to the store, picked up the kit, looked at it, LOOKED AT THE EXACT SHAPES OF THE PETALS THEY HAD PRE CUT, and went confidently in the direction of my dreams.

I didn’t take pictures of my ‘experiments’ but I think I found an adequate summation of me, plus paper, plus scissors, plus ‘some pretty good ideas’:

paperflowersdestruction

I kicked everything off the bed, ate a bowl of ice cream and watched three episodes of Family Guy, declaring crafts stupid.  

The stars have aligned, the Lord has spoken.  No matter how much I would like to, no matter how many ‘pretty good ideas I have’, I am not supposed to make paper flowers.  The future of mankind depends on it.  I think I’ll start working on paper pesticides instead.