Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Testing

I’ve been quiet for a while. Lots of things have changed. I’m married now, I moved across the country twice and I finally got that dream job of my life where I was able to expense things and fly on the company dime.

My life was so loud I couldn’t hear myself. My inner monologue was drowned out by fear and the din of traffic, a chronic illness and the feeling that my life was passing me by and I couldn’t get ahead of it. It was very, very blurry there for a bit.

Oscar Sunday, 2012: I opened the kitchen window in our 6th floor apartment took a deep breath of the cool LA night air. Two miles away those coveted golden statues were being handed out at Hollywood and Highland. The former dream of my life. Tonight, all I wanted to do was stir the steaming pot of collard greens on the stove and conspire with my husband about the fastest was to get our sorry selves back to the bright, sunny South.

We’re coming up for air now, but sometimes it still feels blurry. Did my 20s evaporate that quickly? Am I composed of stronger stuff in this new decade? Was there a line, a moment, when I became grown? If so, I'm pretty sure I missed it because it seems like all of a sudden, here we are. 

In between making dinners and walking the dog; scrubbing the toilet and taking conference calls; scheduling bills and arguing over how much we really need to put into savings; putting gas in the car and taking on another freelance client; losing sleep over a house we may never have and fussing over how the dust bunnies are forever multiplying in the home we currently occupy, there are moments of peace. He hugs me in the kitchen. The dog falls asleep on my feet. My favorite coffee cup is clean when I need a lift. He laughs, which always makes me laugh, or tells me I’m cute with morning hair. The dog smiles—she actually smiles—when we walk in the door. These are the real things of life. These are the things that I’ll remember one day when I’m senile, driving him crazy in the nursing home or sitting on the front porch with my fly swatter and our 50 year-old hound dog sleeping on my feet.

We are building a life. It is not the tidy one I anticipated, nor have we set up shop on Easy Street. But it’s an honest life; one that I'm proud of—one in which we are slowly making deep, indelible tracks.

Being a grown up means facing your problems head on. It also means looking at your past dead in the face, holding on tight to the pieces that went right, learning from the parts that went wrong, and then getting on down the road.


I have some peace to make with the past couple of years. I'm 30 now. With that big, round number comes a sense of duty, as though it is my right—nay, my responsibility, to be a braver practitioner of my own life. Let the dissection and the healing begin.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

5 Things...I Figured Out on I-40 West

1. I'm part gypsy. And it's the larger part.
2. I like valleys.
3. I want to make a living with my voice.
4. I'm still afraid of my past. But not of the blank canvas of what's next.
5. I am strong again.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Different Baby

There was a time when I could fall asleep before my head hit the pillow. When I was working 60+ hours a week between my job-job, my theatre job, volunteering, trying to keep my apartment clean, maintaining a long-distance relationship and a vital social life. I slept so well in Savannah.

The relative lack of structure in my days has made it tough for me to sleep in Memphis. My room at my mama's house rivals my former apartment in square footage and certainly has it beat in the amenities department. I have carpet, a big comfy bed with a down comforter and electric blanket and a great work area surrounded by bookshelves. My windows overlook the pool in her backyard and a pretty tree in the front. It's quiet as a tomb at night. And yet.

Every night I assume the fetal position in the middle of the bed. The cases on my new fluffy pillows are cool and clean. I hug my arms around myself aaand...nothing. I flop onto my stomach. Nada. I turn on the TV. Even infomercials don't work. I read. At 2:30 am, I give up and decide to just lay still in the dark and see what happens. By 4am, I am asleep.

My heart sinks every night when I alight to my room because I know it's going to be a struggle.

Flash back to Little Kristen. I was the worst at going to bed as a child. I thought the house would burn down if I fell asleep. I thought boogie men lived under the bed and would "get me" as soon as I closed my eyes. I would lay awake and imagine all manner of grotesque things. One night, my mother passed my room and found me sobbing into my pillow.

"What is it?!"

"I don't know if I'm going to do drugs when I grow up!" I didn't even know what drugs were, except for their portrayal in 1980s "Just Say No" PSAs. I just knew that they were bad and that they could "get me", too.

Thank goodness for Different Baby. Voracious reader that I was, Mom and I would regularly venture to the Salvation Army Thrift Store to stock up on books. On one trip I found a dreamy little doll. She had smiling brown eyes and wore pink footy pjs with a pink bonnet. I had to have her. Mom paid a quarter for my new best friend.

We took her home and cleaned her up. Mom removed the dingy bonnet and we discovered two tiny rows of nappy hair which were immediately cut to the nubs for cleanliness sake. Mom washed her face and commissioned a friend from church to make the doll a new outfit. I loved her because her plastic head smelled like strawberries and lipstick. And when you squeezed her tushy, it crinkled as if she was wearing real diapers! She was different from my other babies, so that became her name.

Different (or Diffy for short) was my go-to gal. Other babies were fun for playing house, but no one took her place when I was scared or sleepy or sad. At night I would rub her cool face with my warm fingers until I fell asleep. She packed beautifully, too. By the time I was 7, we had traveled over 7,000 miles together.

On our first trip to Virginia, my cousin tripped me as we were running to catch up with the ice cream truck. Diff fell out of my arms as I stumbled and skidded along the gravel. Her pretty smooth forehead was striated with lines and the plastic just above her eyebrow was punctured. I wanted to die. But she pulled through.

As we aged, Different's head became loose on her body. I bought her some new pjs and fastened them tight around her neck. My grandmother tried reinforcing her noggin, to no avail. Diffy would have to retire from her nightly duties as my snuggle buddy.

Other stuffed animals took her place, well into my 20s. Because of my penchant for the fetal position, I found it impossible to sleep without a furry companion to hold. On nights I slept without them, I'd wake up with aching shoulders because I would hug myself so tightly through the night.

Last June, I decided it was time to break the habit. I wasn't engaged yet, but I knew it was coming. Before I know it, I reasoned, I'll be married and have a husband to hang on to. And I had a feeling that my future hubby would not take kindly to sharing our bed with a stuffed dog. Into the trunk my furry pal went, right next to Different.

The other night as I flopped restlessly from side to side, I thought of Different in the trunk at the end of the bed and figured it was worth a shot. I flipped on the lamp and rolled out of bed. I opened the trunk and clutched my old friend to me. Her body was smaller than I remembered and her jammies dingier. But her eyes were just as sweet and happy as they had been the first time we met. I kissed her bald head, delighted that she still smelled the same.

I crawled back into bed and tucked her in next to me. She was still too fragile for a proper cuddle, but I curled my body around her, my cheek on her sweet head. We slept like babies.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

No Sleep 'Til Burbank

I wonder where Joel McHale is?

I have no idea why this was my first thought when I saw the bright lights of LA. My hands were trembling as I struggled to find my chap stick in the wreckage of my formerly organized carry on. What if I hated this city?

As soon as I saw Dennis in grungy LAX, I knew I wouldn't. We stepped into the night air as busses and taxis sped by. I oggled the tremendously tall palm trees around the parking deck. My eyes were huge with fatigue.

"Welcome to California!" he laughed.

It was 28 degrees and snowing when I left Memphis earlier that day and I was dressed it. I peeled off layers of sweaters and scarves and rolled down the windows as we merged onto the freeway. I got claustrophobic as walls of cars sped around us. Even in the darkness I could tell that the landscape before us was unique from anything I had ever seen before. I still didn't know if it would feel like home, and yet I felt my shoulders fall from my ears. I felt my chest loosen up. Squeezed in as we were amid the urban sprawl, I felt light for the first time in a few months.

"I think Memphis is killing me."

I watch the news with my family every night before we sit down to dinner. In the past three weeks I've learned that the rate of teen pregnancy in Memphis and Shelby county are among the highest in the country. 90 girls in one area high school are either pregnant or have given birth this school year alone. There are statistics of young mothers ages 10 to 17. 10 to 17.

Last week, an Emmy award winning cameraman from a local news station was savagely beaten by a group of high school students in the middle of the afternoon at a gas station. The night after the attack, the reporter he was working with gave an on-air interview about the attack. The footage of the event aired, too.

The cameraman and reporter were doing a story on teen pregnancy and wanted a teen boy's perspective. They successfully interviewed one young man who was polite and gave very insightful answers to her question. The group of teenagers nearby began kicking and hitting the unarmed cameraman after their vice principal, who was standing with the mob of youngsters, told them they'd be expelled if he saw them on television.

The tape is beyond disturbing. It's not the visual; the cameraman kept the film rolling through the attack to try and capture the news as it was happening, but one can only see the pavement (he was covering his head throughout the attack). The angry cries of the teens is blood curdling.

"SHOW HIM WHERE YOU FROM!"

I ran down the hall to my mother's room with tears streaming down my face. Not unlike the time I was 7 and read about the death of Laura Ingalls's childhood pet, Jack, in Little House On the Prairie.

"Jack is dead!" I wailed.

"Well honey, stop reading!"

I just couldn't. And when she told me to stop watching the news after I blubbered all over her, I couldn't quite do that either. I'm a curious citizen of the world.

We were driving near the Frayser neighborhood a few days later and I recognized the names of apartment complexes from the news. A man was found dead in one last week. One apartment caught fire when a family was using their electric stove to heat the home during a cold snap after Christmas. The mother and two of her four babies did not survive the blaze.

I know this stuff happens everywhere. I guess it does, anyway. But the truth is that I have never been more keenly aware of the color of my skin than I have been here. And I'm from the South.
But in my hometown, almost everyone was white, including the poor folks. My own grandmother had limited plumbing in her home; she had an outhouse for a restroom (which I hated using) and a large galvanized tub in which to do her laundry. There were simply the haves and the have-nots. My sweet Granny was a proud have-not who had worked every day of her life. Receiving assistance of any kind was out of the question for her and many of the working rural poor in our community. The deeper I trek into urban jungles, I'm finding that there is a hatred that runs deeply along the nasty, precarious lines of poverty and race, especially in the South.

So I breathed a little deeper when I got to California. My jaw dropped at the sight of so much prosperity. I let the brightest sunshine I'd seen in months wash over me on the beach in Santa Monica. I drank in the vistas from a gorgeous spot on the top of the world in Malibu. I ate fabulous chocolate in Burbank and sang and had too much Chianti in Venice Beach.

Dennis and I were early meeting some college friends for lunch in Hollywood, so I suggested we take a stroll around the block. The more I travel the more I am certain that the only way to really get the feel for a new place is on foot. Dennis fed the meter and we started off in the sunshine.

Palm trees and the Hollywood Hills surrounded us. The Sunset Strip was close and we were just shy of Hollywood Boulevard. We ducked into a neighborhood market to grab a bottle of tea (they didn't have any sweet tea; can you imagine?!) and I couldn't shake the feeling that we were desperately out of place. It wasn't a race thing or a money thing. It was a piercing and tattoo thing.

We laughed off our preppy-ness and continued our trek. A half a block later I stopped dead. Doing so, I broke my other cardinal rule of travel, learned the hard way abroad: Never, ever stop moving. Even if you have no idea where you're going, keep going because some people are like vultures and they can smell vulnerability a mile away.

"I don't want to go this way." I said, rather loudly.

I could only see a piece of a blanket but instinctively knew what else was behind the corner of the building we were approaching. We saw it later as we drove home. It was a makeshift Hooverville of a few homeless individuals who had left their bedding, their garbage in a pile. They left their stuff there because they were coming home to it later. It looked like the living room of a frat house the morning after an all night bender.

A group of homeless people up the street cemented another disturbing image in my brain. Their skin weathered by the sun and drugs, they sat smoking cigarettes behind a bus stop bench. Their shoes were lined up neatly under the bench as if it were their closet.

I saw it even in beautiful Pasadena. Two men in sleeping bags under a doorway with a cardboard box between them and the street. And the drug addict strung out on the beach in Santa Monica, so deeply tanned and filthy, talking to himself and pacing wildly in the sand.

These things did not tighten my chest. They made a pit in my stomach that sent chills throughout my whole body.

I don't want to go this way.

I wrote a few pieces for the StepUp Savannah Annual Report last fall which gave me a new view of community development and the detrimental effects of poverty. Between that and my own observations, I've been meditating lately on a phrase so essentially woven into our American fabric I wonder why we don't hear it more:

All men are created equal...they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But it does not always seem that way to me. When children in this country are abused or promiscuous barely out of puberty, becoming parents before their own brains are fully developed; when young men and women do not have enough self respect to conduct themselves like human beings in broad daylight, even when the cameras are rolling; when our drug problem is so out of control that addicts are littering the streets of our cities and gang activity shows no signs of slowing down. This is not Liberty. And this is certainly not Happiness.

I am troubled because I do not think that these horrific things are real Life. Have we gotten so far away from love that we are reduced to this? Dr. King once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Certainly the injustices of poverty and ignorance continue to run rampant. And it's slowly killing us.

Insomniac that I've become, I stayed up late the other night watching a documentary on the Kennedys that featured archival footage of the train that took RFK's remains from Boston to Washington, DC. Americans lined the rails from Massachusetts to the District, holding vigil for the fallen visionary. A tremendously powerful statement. I think of him, his belated education in poverty, and Dr. King, and wonder what they'd think of how far we've come. I think they could travel into the poorest regions of the deep South and Appalachia and see much of it unchanged...there is still the "other". I wonder if our American world would be a different place if their lives had not been ended in the same year.

I usually, albeit unintentionally, come to some sort of denouement in my writing. But this time I'm at a loss. I feel as though my blinders are being taken off and I just can't shake these images, these words, my own indignation that so much just isn't right.

I'm a disillusioned Pollyanna.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Resolve

Say what you will about Oprah, the woman is a force of nature. Growing up as a black child on welfare in the deep South, she was sexually abused throughout her youth, yet managed to turn her life into a tremendous success story. I was watching Barbara Walters interview her the other night as the journalist pointed out that the little girl who did not have a television growing up now has her own network.

When asked what her goal is for the next year, Oprah replied: "I want to experience all of it. I don't want to be the bride at the big wedding."

My wedding is in 6 months. It's not going to be big, but I don't want to wake up on June 19th and wonder what the heck happened the day before.

About 15 minutes after Dennis proposed, we got into planning. I had a color scheme picked out four days in and our venues secured within 3 weeks. But all the planning in the world could not have prepared either of us for the changes that were in store for us in the fall. [To recap: I lost my job, gave up my apartment and sweet Savannah existence, moved to Memphis to weather the storm with family.]

The day I was leaving Savannah, Dennis called the animation firm he had recently interviewed with in Los Angeles. We were sitting in his car after a goodbye lunch with a friend when he got the manager on the phone. He offered Dennis the job. I started sobbing. I cried because it was the first time I had seen him really smile in months. I cried because we were looking at my favorite square (Monterey) and I did not know when I'd get to see it again. I cried because this meant that we were moving to Los Angeles and I was 99% sure they did not have grits on the menu there.

He drove to LA in 4 days and I stayed in Tennessee. As the smoke cleared, I hit the floor. More than anything, getting canned really threw me for a loop. Humiliation and Doubt became my best friends. I spent the months of November and December feeling like a complete failure. I was not the bride at the big wedding; oh no, I got deep down in my funk. I was throwing my sadness around me like an Old Testament mourner with his ashes, wallowing like a champ. I could not recognize any area of my life. Good news: I lost weight. Bad news: I stopped sleeping. And laughing. And shaving my legs.

One day I got so tired of my stupid sad face that I dropped a nice chunk of my weekly unemployment check at Sephora on such treats as buttery soft eye shadow and all the necessary accoutrements for red lips. In the car I couldn't stand the wait. I ripped open the red lip liner and applied it at a stoplight with my mittens on. I still don't know if it looks good on me, but the pop of color gave me a little thrill. So did the fact that I probably looked like a maniac to the driver of the car stopped next to me.

The next week I bought some skinny jeans and got a great haircut. I justified this shallow behavior by reciting my December mantra: "Just because I feel like hell doesn't mean I have to look like it."

Maybe it was the lip stain. Or the creamy eyeliner. Maybe my heart got so tired of hurting that it just stopped. All I know is that you can't conquer what you don't confront. And I don't want to be the bride at the big wedding.

Dennis is thriving in his new position. His professional happiness, so patiently waited for and so hard won, gives me hope. So does the fact that he calls me every night to tell me how fabulous California is and that we really, finally get to have a life together somewhere. And soon.

I'm not afraid of being afraid. I'm not afraid of failing or being sad because, hello, welcome to my world. But a bumper crop of suckiness doesn't make it ok to withhold happiness from myself. I am allowed to move on. I am allowed to get up, apply my mascara and take back my life.

I land in LA for my first-ever visit next Thursday night. (Bet I'll be the only chick in LAX reading Gone With the Wind...) With a little luck, I'll be a California resident in a few weeks.

In short: I am resolved to let myself be happy in 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

5 Things...I Swore I'd Never Do

1. Move to California*
2. Be a June Bride**
3. Miss Winchester, VA***
4. Be unsure of my career path****
5. Settle
____

[*LA bound in January]
[**Will go from Miss to Mrs. on June 18th]
[***My kingdom for my childhood friends and some apple butter!]
[****...]

Thursday, November 18, 2010

1916 (I Want To Like This Song)

I was surprised that her child was not a daughter. The woman with three small leashed dogs waiting at the school bus stop on the side of Dean Forest Road.

I saw her there, just outside the trailer park directly behind her on a September Monday, the first day of school. Her body was shapeless, probably the result of pregnancies and inactivity. Maybe an illness. She wore an old t-shirt and shorts. Her dyed blonde hair showed signs of a grown out perm or dry waves (I can relate) that would have benefited greatly from a deep conditioning mask. She held three small dogs on leashes, and stood there staring at nothing having just said goodbye.

I saw her on Friday with her boy. He was bigger than I thought her child would be. Still in elementary school, but taller and heavier. A towhead. I wonder what she'll do all day while he's gone. Watch "The People's Court"? Smoke a cigarette? Clean?

As much as I thought I needed a day off, the thought of endless days of nothingness gave me heart palpitations. And if I were to have them, what in the world would I do with myself? Would I even go back inside after my children got on the school bus?

There's a building down the street from them. A squat structure, painted in an open lot, surrounded by a high chain link fence. "1916" in black above the door. I wonder if this is the address or the year it was built.

I drove still, almost to work, the dappled sun kissing my face and I thought of Viareggio, Italy. The yellow of the sunshine the same color of the yellow and white striped tents on the beach. I cannot feel my life within my body-- that is, I do not feel as though I exist. I feel like I'm falling off the edge of the earth on Dean Forest Road in Garden City, GA in September 2010.

A month later, we're driving downtown after eating hamburgers and buying mums for my front porch. The dappled sunlight flirts with my eyelids through the canopy of trees on Abercorn street and something new comes on the radio. It begins with a truly lovely cacophony of piano and bass. I want to like this song, to get excited the way I used to when I was a teenager, staying up all night with a new CD in my Discman, writing movies in my head to fit the newness I hear lifting me from my bed in White Post, VA to somewhere I felt free.

But we've been so disappointed lately. Every time we get our hopes up, they fall again and each fall is a little worse than the last because it starts to affect our hope.

I feel like we're swinging around poles, running hard and fast, but stuck to something that won't let us stop spinning, spinning, spinning. Sometimes it makes me dizzy and sick. But I am sure the velocity won't last. We'll slide down and hit the ground running, hands free, and get to wherever it is we're going.

If it's not us, it's the rest of the world spinning while we're holding still. Sitting in Pulaski Square, staring at the canopy of live oaks, daydreaming about someday living in a home like the one across the street. The holidays we'd have there! The 4th of July barbeques on the porch, the Christmases with our babies running down the stairs to open their gifts.

But if we stayed-- if we'd settled, if I hadn't been fired or if he'd stayed at Apple; if we pretended to be something we're not or if we shut ourselves away or decided to throw in the towel-- we would be spinning forever.

The bus stop mother's story is not mine. And I'm starting to see that there's a good chance she's happy with her own story. We are not all made with the same plans inside of us. There is no need to be afraid of the time between 2:45 and 5:00 each afternoon when my melancholy inevitably sets in.

Skeptical, waiting for a cheezy hook or a cringeworthy use of autotune, I listen to the song all the way through. And it is delicious. I spend $1.29 on it later that night. I toy with the idea of buying the whole album. (The regular version, not the deluxe, penny pincher that I am, income or no.) And I rationalize that this is a want and not a need.

I told my mother the other day that I might be unemployed, but I refuse to get frumpy or fat. I get up early every day, put on my makeup and dress to kill even if I'm just going to the post office.

"Good for you, honey."

I'm unemployed. But I need a little beauty in my life. I need a reminder that creating things means something-- that even though I was dismissed from a left brained position, my right brained-ness matters and that I am still a valid member of society.

Take that, Suze Ormond. Maybe it's a "need" after all.