Call An Ambulance

Whenever I hear an ambulance go by (which is often by the way, when you live in Manhattan) I get jealous. That’s right. Jealous. There goes someone who’s obviously getting the attention and care that they need. Their problem won’t have to wait long. And then I get pissed off. Not only is this person getting help, he or she is also making it obnoxiously known by holding up traffic and assaulting my ears.

I have a thing for ambulances. I have this fantasy that one day the sirens will come to my door and take me away. Let me explain:

There were times in my life when I knew I was dying. Like that day in the summer when I forced, yes forced, my mom to take me to the hospital because I was sure I was having a heart attack. See, I had consumed close to 10 cups of coffee that morning because I didn’t realize it would do anything other than wake me up. Well, one emergency trip to the hospital and a hefty insurance bill later, I realized I wasn’t dying. Or having a heart attack. Just as my mom had assumed, I had too much caffeine. But you try telling a teenage me that I’m wrong.

Then there were the times in my life when I wanted to die. Those post-grad years when I was making $15 an hour running errands for editors. Suicidal poets and writers like Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Elizabeth Wurtzel were my heroes. I, too was a tortured soul! I actually admired the ability to stick one’s head in the oven. But I’m bad at being suicidal. If I take a bottle of pills or stick my head in the oven, I’m going to ask someone to call an ambulance.

The thing with ambulances is their immediacy. Their efficacy. There’s a problem put on rush and solved as soon as possible. No one tells a gunshot victim that time heals all wounds. That’s how I wish life would be–here’s my injury, it’s severe, fix it. NOW.

If I were to call 9-1-1 right now it would go something like this:

Operator: “Hello, 9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

Me: “Hi yes, I’m on 9th St at 5th Ave. and I’m afraid I’m never gonna get married and have children and land a high-paying job and–

Operator: “Wait, slow down. Calm down. I can’t make out what you’re saying.”

Me: “–and I’m almost 30 and I can’t breathe and I need someone here right away!  Hello?”

Operator: (click. dial tone.)

I’m not sure when this whole instant gratification thing took root in me. Maybe it’s because I was a spoiled kid, always getting what I wanted. Or maybe my impatience is genetic–one of my grandfathers actually shot someone in the ear to get him out of his restaurant. He actually had a gun chest for situations like this. And then my other grandfather pulled a gun on my grandmother in a jealous rage, the same grandmother whose attitude in life was “is this all there is?” and smoked cigarettes like other grandmas baked cookies. It could also be anxiety passed down from my mother who, in her 50s, couldn’t drive over bridges without Prozac. Or, from my father who rushes us out of the house to get somewhere early. I mean, clearly I come from a solid line of insanity. I’ve certainly sent quite a number of therapists’ and psychiatrists’ kids to college with this genetic legacy of mine.

But before you go call 9-1-1 on my behalf, rest assured that should an ambulance actually come to my door, I’d probably ask for a cab. I mean, red flashing lights and sirens? How gauche. I know very well that my emergencies aren’t anything an EMT can fix, even if he was a psychology major.

The truth is that I just don’t like to wait for anything. I rarely go with the flow. I prefer plans with backup plans. I like to feel the water before diving in. So when people or situations enter my life without answers, plans, or guarantees my brain cells go all Code Red. What is this unknown and how can it be known?

I’m never gonna stop being me. (Fortunately for the mental help profession.) And I’ll never be fixed–not in one place or time or thought. So maybe patience will come naturally the older I get. I mean, I don’t rush to the hospital anymore convinced I’m dying. And I certainly don’t want to bake my head. But until I sit lotus style and breathe like Buddha, does anyone have a good prescription?

“Because I will be your accident if you will be my ambulance
And I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast
And I will be your one more time if you will be my one last chance” – TV on the Radio

Confidence Lost

If confidence is lost, did you ever really have it?

Born to write. Born cursed.

Friday, April 23rd, 9:31 pm. I’m sitting on my couch, on the phone with my mom for the third time in one day.

Me: “Do you remember when I was little?”

Mom: “Of course I do.”

Me: “Tell me your favorite memory.”

Mom: “Oh here we go again.”

Me: (laughs) “Come on, tell me something funny I did as a kid!”

Mom: “I don’t know. I can’t think right now. You woke me up.”

Me: “Sorry. (pause) Do you remember when I used to put shit in your bed?”

Mom: (quietly exasperated) “What?!  No.”

Me: “I cannot believe you don’t remember this. Whenever I was mad at you I’d put potpourri in your pillow case and under your sheets so it would poke you and make your bed smell.”

Mom: “I probably liked it.”

Me: “You’re crazy. Go back to bed.”

End scene.

You know things are bad when you call your mom for a mood lift. There are so many things wrong with this. For starters, moms are meant to annoy. No matter how much I resent her self-help b.s., she somehow always convinces me to drink the Kool-Aid. Tell her you don’t want any and she’ll give it to you anyway.

Secondly, moms are blinded by bias. Of course she’s going to tell you you’re qualified to be an editor-in-chief at 29 even though the closest experience you have for this job comes from bossing around your stuffed animals and dolls from ages five to 11. Or 12.

Lastly, moms are bad with the tough love. When my mom tries to tell me to suck things up, I just want to put potpourri in her bed again. I demand my bottle, my bath and my bedtime story please.

So clearly my mom can never win (as her daughter, it’s my job to set her up to fail), but I still love her and this is all beside the point. The point here is that I’m so desperate for a confidence fix that I’m searching between the couch cushions for it.

How did this happen? I’m the girl who’s famous for the line “clankity clank,” which is short for “pull out your brass balls and fight for your right.” Let those mo-fos in charge know who you are.

And here I am. Stuck. In my own mud. Sure, I can blame getting laid off a year ago. I can blame my current mind-numbing job. I can blame myself and I often do. There are plenty of culprits in the lineup for confidence robbery. But at a certain point, I need to pull out of this mental quicksand and pull out my brass cojones. If there’s one thing my mom’s personal PSAs have taught me it’s think it and you’ll be it. But how can you believe in your talent without the success?

I know, pray to Buddha, right? It’s not all about the material recognition. Fuck that. Look, I’ve prayed to Buddha and Jesus, to Rolling Stone and Fleetwood Mac. I’ve paid for therapy and medication and opened myself up to love. I’ve given up security for the chance of something better. And the only thing I can tell you is that in America, success matters. It’s measurable. And I want it. But first, I need my confidence back.

Wristcutters…The Movie. And, The Meaning of Life.

I just finished watching the film Wristcutters (2006), written by Goran Dukic. The movie is about a bunch of people trapped in a dreary purgatory created specifically for those who have “offed” themselves. The people who run this purgatory are referred to as the P.I.C., for people in charge (how great is that?!). They decide who got there by accident, who gets to leave and who has to stay. In purgatory, as in life, there is an order that doesn’t make sense.

Sounds like a real upper, doesn’t it? Well, although you’d think I’d need to keep a box of Kleenex and my therapist’s phone number nearby, the film was actually funny. In a dark way, of course.

I’ve always seen the darkness and the humor in almost everything. It’s either my god-given talent or a severe mental malfunction, but that’s neither here nor there. What touched me about the film was the main characters’ desire to figure out the MEANING OF LIFE and how they fit into the whole mess.

Everyone with a brain can relate to the desire to understand LIFE. But not everyone can relate to wanting to die. Anne Sexton, who offed herself in 1974 and is one of my favorite poets, wrote:

But suicides have a special language. Like carpenters they want to know which tools. They never ask why build.” –Anne Sexton, “Wanting to Die”

I’ve been there–at that confusing point in your journey where nothing makes sense, where lines cross and goodness is blurry, and the option of jumping off the train is more appealing than staying on the ride. But luckily, unlike the characters in Wristcutters, unlike my favorite poets, I didn’t have to kill myself to realize that death isn’t THE GREAT ANSWER.

The thing is, none of us are above getting lost. None of us are above needing something to believe in. Something to hang onto. All I can say is that I’m glad I’ve stuck it out so far because it feels like every five years or so I experience a rebirth (I think they call this maturity?). The longer I deal with this life thing, the more I learn to shake my head, laugh, and say to the P.I.C., ‘what have you got for me today?’

Today’s musical companion is “Home,” by The Engineers.

“Home/Is this my home/Been starting over/Bathe in the water/Time/Time after time/I’m feeling so sorry/I run out of words to say/Relieved/I’m so relieved/The tables are turning/Don’t sacrifice this feeling/Goals/There are no goals/There is no order/Paid for in laughter/Home/Is this my home/Been starting over/Bathe in the water.”

Then We Came to the End…A Question of PTSD

Then We Came to the End, written by Joshua Ferris, is a book about getting laid-off. And it’s fucking hilarious. Except getting laid-off in real life–as I was around this time last year–is not so hilarious.

Instead of being able to smugly shrug off the fact that I got canned (without warning, I may add, like a goddamn terrorist attack), I freak out on a daily basis that I’m going to lose the job I have now at any minute. It’s that survivalist mentality
(you know, of people who actually lived through terrorist attacks and war) that it’s going to happen again!

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as: “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.” OK, so maybe I don’t technically suffer from PTSD–losing my job wasn’t exactly a physical trauma (but I do have flashbacks, mmm…k?). But seriously, for someone who places so much importance and pride in the work I do, getting let-go, laid-off, fired, canned, axed, was traumatic. I became a victim of sorts. As Ferris writes in his book: “Every lovelorn jerk is the victim of bad timing, good intentions, and someone else’s poor decision making.” Yup. One day you walk into your job and walk out never to return.

The point of no return for me came right before I was supposed to have my six-month review. I was called into HR the day before my review was scheduled and was told that I just wasn’t the right fit. (I’ve since learned that this meant I didn’t fit into the budget anymore.) If you want to know the nitty-gritty details of what happened on that fateful day, just check out an “anonymous” post I wrote titled “The Editor and the Cockroach: A Tale of Karmic Retribution. Or Something” for my friend’s blog, Your Unemployed Daughter.

Now, close to a year later, I’m still freaked out about losing my job whether it’s babysitting or editing. People tell me I should be proud of myself and the fact that I never went a day without work, even after getting laid-off, and how that proves how talented I am. But in my mind, there’s a difference between surviving and excelling. I survived. It was instinctual. But I always imagined I’d be an accelerator, running fast up that ladder to the tippy top. This is my post traumatic stress disorder: I’m haunted by failure. The vision I had of my career path hasn’t quite materialized. Instead, I’ve been on this unpredictable ride where there are terrifying delays and entertaining rest stops with some lucky opportunities in between. I once knew where I wanted to land, but experience has taught me to stop looking so far ahead. In the meantime, I wish I knew how to avoid hearing the bombs of fear go off in my head.

We hated not knowing something. We hated not knowing who was next to walk Spanish down the hall. How would our bills get paid? And where would we find new work? We knew the power of the credit card companies and the collection agencies and the consequences of bankruptcy. They put your name into a system, and from that point forward vital parts of the American dream were foreclosed upon. These were not Jeffersonian ideals, perhaps, on par with life and liberty, but at this advanced stage, with the West won and the Cold War over, they too, seemed among our inalienable rights.” -J.F.

Today’s musical end note is provided by Led Zeppelin. “Ten Years Gone” is my favorite song of theirs, for good reason.

If you’re too lazy to listen to 8 minutes of brilliance, at least check out the lyrics here.

The Power of Oprah Compels You!

Oprah, the new messiah

All right, look, I’ve watched The Secret, I’ve highlighted inspirational quotes in self-help books; I’ve even enjoyed visiting quotelady.com and thinkexist.com for famous words of wisdom (and still do sometimes). And yes, there was even a time when I enjoyed watching Oprah and reading her magazine (it’s a good magazine and I’m not writing that because I’m afraid of her). But when I opened my mail yesterday and saw an issue of O magazine with my name on it, I felt a burning sensation of rage.

Now I know how satan feels during an exorcism. The dude just wants to be left alone with his misery and his mischief. You can’t cancel a subscription if it’s a gift from someone!* (You know, kind of how the devil can’t fight against a crucifix.)

Who would violate me like this? My mother. She’s always trying to push self-help literature on me. Some of the reading material she’s left in my room or in my bag over the years: Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (Steve Harvey), The Essence of Attitude: Quotations for Igniting Positive Attitudes, and for my recent birthday, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be (Paul Arden). So basically my mom thinks I’m a negative, unambitious, lesbian. Does she give this crap literature to my brother, the married surgeon who gave her grandchildren? Nooooo. Just leave me alone with my misery and my mischief! I’m happy being a malcontent. Honestly. It’s a safe space. Do you get that, Jesus? Mom? (Um, Jesus, if you’re reading this, I do love you. I truly fear you just like a good Catholic girl should.)

As for you mom, I love you too. But here’s the thing: Yes, I’m jaded. I’m cynical. I can count the people I trust and truly love on one hand (fine, almost two).  And that’s OK. I have best friends, I’ve found the love of my life (it’s a man!), and, well, I kind of have a career (freelance doesn’t mean unemployed, no matter what dad thinks). And the truth is I don’t care to be the greatest or the best, I just want to keep my job. Books aren’t going to teach me how to be in a relationship, my boyfriend will. And I don’t need inspiration. I do what I gotta do and that’s great enough. So, please, cancel your 12-month subscription to Oprah in my name because I don’t want to live my best life according to Oprah, or you, or to anyone else.

And because all of my posts need to end on a musical note:

*But you can change your address and have the magazine shipped to the gift giver instead, mwah ha ha.

I Eat My Feelings, But I Should Probably Punch You Instead.

fat kid and a bully

Fat kid on the left; normal kid on the right. Normal kid beat up fat kid circa 1986.

I know, this is a loaded title. I eat because I hate and I hate because I eat. And really, I wonder if I were just able to throw my fists and walk around with a switchblade ready to attack anyone who gets in my way, would I be less, I don’t know…emotional?

One thing I’m sure of is that I’ve always been an emotional eater (is there really any other kind excluding obesity?). Moments of my life are accented by what I ate. Mom and dad are separated. I visit my dad for the day and eat a bag of Deli potato chips. Mom takes me to Denny’s for breakfast (blueberry pancakes with whipped cream) while we live in the hotel nearby. I believe I’m an emotional eater because I wasn’t fat until kindergarten (see picture at left). I wasn’t born a fat kid. At some point there was a change and I gained weight rapidly. I tried losing it all at 9, but it didn’t happen for good until I hit 12. Then I lost even more.

My parents worked things out and got back together that year. We moved into a new house. And I had had it with the years of being taunted for my looks. I hit my breaking point and decided to join Jenny Craig. There began my mental problems with weight.

Once you lose weight you gain a lot of self-confidence. Or so you think. Looking back, I realized what I gained was really more attention and acceptance from others. For years people pointed out how great I looked just as they had once pointed out how fat I was.  But inside nothing had changed. There were reasons why I overate that were never addressed. And so losing weight just gave me this beautiful exterior that covered up any ugliness inside.

I went to great lengths to keep my ugly covered. The more positive attention I got, the more I wanted. I watched my weight with the same diligence new parents watch their newborns. And a monster grew. Whenever I failed at something, whether it was sitting the bench during a basketball season or losing a high-school crush, I took it out on myself.

Eating and purging and dieting and exercising were all the tools I used to cope with my teenage feelings. After so many (relatively short) years of that I damaged my body so profoundly that by the time I graduated college, bulimia was not an option. Only binging was. Once binging wasn’t an option, a slew of other unhealthy things (which my best friend asked me not to reveal about myself; I’m prone to over-sharing, can you tell?) became my new comfort foods, especially during those first few years in the job force. And the real beauty of all my drastic efforts (in my mind) came from the fact that no one knew. I kept it covered up, which had become second nature for me and a source of pride. I binged in private, I purged in private. And only my family ever witnessed my clinical nervous breakdowns. But like any dirty addiction, signs of my emotional storm weren’t so inconspicuous to others.

This is the story of self-destruction. It is born from a desire to win over the crowd and its fuel is the failure to do just that. Everyone has their breaking points and their rock bottoms–some people make it and others do not. I’ve just always been too curious to know the who, what, why, where, when, and how–what makes a person tick–to give up trying to find out some answers about myself. I need to figure out how a desire to lose weight turned into years of self-destructive behavior. I don’t remember whether it was Sylvia Plath or Elizabeth Wurtzel who wrote, “The gun that should be pointed outward to the world, I aimed at myself,” (or something like that), but it’s the perfect sentiment. (Not that I really believe shooting anyone would have been any better.) In my quest for beautiful, I lost my sight. Whatever beautiful is or whatever beautiful means, I’m just trying to figure out what I’m looking at.

Cast the First Stone

My two oldest brothers are the prodigal sons–the boys who left home too early, squandered their fortunes, and returned home after everything was lost.  And just like in the biblical story, my parents had many celebratory feasts welcoming them back, believing as they were told, that this time would be different.

The story of the prodigal son is one I learned while growing up Catholic. And although these days my religious ethnicity is somewhere around the equation of 80% atheist/15% agnostic/4% believer/1 % Satanist, I still think the Holy Bible has some good points. Hey, our influences are our influences.

Donnie and David are big influences in my life. Bigger than religion. They’re real-life examples of what not to do. What paths not to take. In them, I see two adult men with broken families of their own and a lack of personal pride and responsibility. They also both suffer from drug and alcohol addictions. And I hate them for it. They just can’t get their shit together and I resent them for it. They’re supposed to be older, wiser and supportive, but I’m the one who’s smarter, wiser, and better than. I’m the good son (technically, daughter) dammit!

My brothers and I did not exactly have the same upbringing. First of all, we’re half-siblings. They’re my father’s sons from his first marriage. And they’re more than 10 years older than me. My dad divorced their mom. My dad also suffered from addictions. Their mother also suffers from addiction. And even though my dad has done more than his best to raise the kind of men he’d be proud to call his sons, these boys are in a vacuum of pain that no one can get them out of.

Pain is the culprit, right? I just don’t know how else to rationalize my brothers’ behavior. What makes a person so unable to take care of their own life? I hate them for being the kind of siblings I don’t brag about and I also wonder how they broke beyond repair.

The problem is that every time I pass judgment on my two oldest brothers, cast those stones, I realize I am no different. I know the restorative power of drinking and doing drugs. God the escape. You just don’t know unless you’ve felt its deliverance. Deliverance. ‘I do declare that this drink has lifted my spirits’ even though I’m crying…I feel goood! And what compelled me to take more than one? Pain! That fierce enemy! So it might just be true that pain is what leads a person to drink too much, to eat too much, to do too many drugs. Because I can attest from my own minor dalliances that this shit makes you feel good. No need to be poetic about it. Even when you’re feeling bad, this shit makes you feel great. Tony the Tiger grrrreat. Invincible. Incapable of feeling pain or sadness or disappointment. You feel powerful. Strong. Mighty. No matter what will you feel like the next morning.

Some days I feel like I could do it all the time. Consume to oblivion. Drink. The. Magical. Elixir. And yet I hate my brothers for making this their habit. The basis of their lives. Of our lives. And I understand the appeal the entire time.

Although Bon Iver‘s song “Skinny Love” is more of a, well, a love song, it still reminds me of my brothers:

“I tell my love to wreck it all/Cut out all the ropes and let me fall/My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my/Right in the moment this order’s tall/Who will love you?/Who will fight?/Who will fall far behind?”