D-I-V-O-R-C-E

This morning, three women get on the train together and they start talking about the youngest one’s impending divorce. The wounds are still fresh.

“I couldn’t believe it. He’s yelling at me because I was breaking down in front of the youngest, saying I’m trying to turn him against him. I’m like, ‘You have your new life with your bimbo, get out of my freakin’ house.’ You know?”

The other two nod assent.

“He’s telling me I’m the one who should move out, he has to start a new life. I said no, the kids go to school here, they have all their friends. I’m not putting them through that,” she says. “Jesus. What a selfish pig.”

“Excuse me, young ladies,” says a dignified older woman wearing an American flag sweater. “Absolutely not. You stand your ground, you think of those kids.” She jabs a long, painted finger into the air.

One of the other women speaks up. “I couldn’t get out of bed to leave the house for two weeks when I found out,” she says. “I felt like such a goddamned fool. I thought, am I the only one who didn’t know what was going on?”

“Me, too,” the third one says. “I lost twenty pounds, I couldn’t eat. Now I tell him, ‘So what happens when you get tired of this one? You’ll die old and alone.’”

“Yeah, well, mine told me he wanted to be friends, he said if we ran into each other at a bar, he’d send over a beer,” the second one says, shaking her head.

“You know what I’d do? I’d spit in it and send it right back, tell the bartender to make sure he gets it.”

Sunday morning coming down

Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.
–Thomas Merton

Blogging virtually demands that I appear to be a much angrier and hostile person than I am, and it depresses me when people actually believe that’s the sum total of my being. “I’m really a very nice, calm person,” I bemoaned to another blogger recently.

“I can understand why they think that but yes, I believe you’re a nice person,” he said.

“I work at trying to be compassionate,” I said with a sigh. “My friends get so mad at me that when they hate someone, I’m always the one who talks them out of it, gets them to admit that people are mostly just misguided.

“”The thing is, these people who are running the country into the ground are so… evil that in order to get people’s attention, it seems to require that I amp up the most negative parts of my personality in order to persuade readers, and it affects me.” (Like being an exorcist, I suppose.)

Compassion is not sentiment but is making justice and doing works of mercy. Compassion is not a moral commandment but a flow and overflow of the fullest human and divine energies.

–Matthew Fox

I come from a verbal, sarcastic family and although everyone’s much kinder than we were when we were young, the habits are still in there. Blogging brings all that out again and it’s something that, given my druthers, I’d rather have as a memory. Like Shane, I thought I’d hung up my guns forever.

This is especially hard on me because of a little something I like to refer to as “The Cosmic Fuck.”

A few years ago – October 3rd, 1999, to be exact, I had what they call a “religious experience.”

I’d been praying, but it was more out of utter desperation and bitterness than devotion. After a devastating breakup, I was truly at the end of my emotional rope, and I finally let go of the illusion that I could figure things out. I couldn’t, and I was drowning. Deep down, I knew it.

Writer Anne Lamott (who is what I like to call “a cursing Christian” like myself) says there are really only two appropriate prayers (because the nature of God requires Him to know better than us): “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank You, thank You, thank You.” I want to argue with that but I can’t.

My prayer that morning was somewhat closer to the former variety, something along the lines of, “Dear God, If You could see Your way clear to helping that other miserable shit of a human being to whom I am obviously far superior – because after all, here I am, praying for him when he’s such an asshole, it would probably be a good thing for the world and his future victims. Oh, and if You could make him bitterly regret losing me for the rest of his miserable life, that would be good, too.”

Here’s the thing: I actually thought that was a good prayer. After all, I wanted to help someone, right? But then something strange happened.

It’s almost impossible to describe, and for a writer, that’s an abject admission of failure. I can only nibble around the edges of it, it’s too large to digest. (Psychologist William James talked to a few people, and got a pretty good paper out of it, though.) I suppose if I’d been a different kind of person, I’d have thought maybe I was having some kind of psychotic break or otherwise losing my mind, but instead it seemed I was finding it for the first time.

I’ve done a lot of psychedelic drugs when I was a kid and I’d had a mere glimmer, a tiny taste of something similar but nothing like this. An overwhelming Benign Force filled the room – and me. I remember there was a powerful light that expanded into the entire room, and feeling that I was a tiny particle in some vast, shimmering sea. That all of us, and everything, was connected and that my life until then had been largely wasted on a comical, mistaken notion that itwasn’t.

I remember laughing out loud at the realization. I’d spent so much of my life wanting to be special, trying to stand out and here was a delightful gift: disappearing into something so much larger than myself wasn’t an awful thing. How silly, I thought, that I’d spent so much of my life in terror of it.

There was this overpowering feeling of love that penetrated every part of me, every molecule. I felt this Being’s complete and loving acceptance of flawed little me, the kind of fucked-up person who used a prayer to attack someone she still loved.

Damn.

I thought the whole thing lasted maybe a half-hour or so, but when I looked at the clock later, it was more than four hours that I sat there in this exalted state.

And it didn’t go away for a long time. The experience completely changed me. (For one thing, it healed my heart. I didn’t have any more scores to settle.) It made me, I dare say, a better person. For the first time in my life, compassion was real, not an intellectual construct. And it pervaded my life.

It’s one of the reasons I can’t ever stay angry at people. Because no matter what horrors they perpetuate, I know their evil is only an error, grounded in the illusion of separation from everything else. I know it, because I know it in myself.

The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, forgiveness.
–H.H. the Dalai Lama

As the years passed, though, it became much more of a challenge to sustain that pure compassion, that transcendence. Eventually, I had to come back down to earth, where I endured a dull ache they don’t address in theDSM-IV (and remind me to tell you sometime about trying to discuss this with an HMO shrink): Knowing there’s more to existence than the mundane, but losing that sense of direct connection to the Universe. I can’t un-know what I know, but I don’t feel it the same way now.

From what I read by other Cosmic Fuckees, I’m not alone in the longing and yes, even depression that follows when the intensity finally fades. Come back, I sometimes plead. Help me, help me, help me. People who know something about these things tell me most people don’t experience the Cosmic Fuck once, let alone twice. (The implication being, I guess, that I’m some kind of spiritual glutton for wanting more.)

It’s difficult to balance the lessons of the Cosmic Fuck with the so-called “reality” of hardball politics. Our nation is in a fight for its soul, and fear makes us fall back on the same tactics used by the opposition. We tell ourselves we can’t bring a knife to a gun fight.

But such is the nature of the paradox: after all, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Mahatma Gandhi moved political mountains with love. We know it can be done. Why don’t we try? Is there a way we can live with one foot in each world?

Right now, we have only this exploitive, bastardized, politicized and watered-down parody of faith in the public arena – on both sides. It’s so far removed from what I knew that October day.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…

And see, that’s the interesting thing about grace. You don’t earn it, you don’t deserve it. (Its very randomness is what makes it grace.) As I sat there, imbued with divine love, I realized oh by the way, I was a miserable shit of a human being. I was a person who couldn’t love, I was keeping people at a distance. Yet my Cosmic Lover was embracing me, reassuring me, saying, “You just didn’t know any better, that’s all. You know now, so just don’t do it again.” Go now, and sin no more.

I try not to. (Some days are harder than others, but I do try.) And no matter what I write about George Bush or Judy Miller, no matter how angry I sound, I’m still fighting to find compassion for them, too.

Think compassion, grasshopper. Compassion.

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My life and times

I was talking to a friend last night at DL who confided that she’s “not a blog reader.” I said that was okay, lots of people aren’t.

“But when I read your blog, I don’t read the politics,” she said. “I click on the part about ‘my so-called life’ and I only read those. But I do know you. It must be weird, that some people only read that stuff and think they know you from that small part of you.”

She’s right; it is weird. And it’s always interesting to find out how some people only read certain parts. I always feel like the personal stuff is a distraction – for me, mostly, because I get a little bored with 24/7 politics. (Hard to believe, I know.)

Like most people, I carefully edit which parts I allow other people to see – and because I know so many of the people who read this blog, I can’t write as freely as I’d like. (You’d be surprised how much I leave out.)

I was telling a co-worker about this. “So that’s why I’m planning to get rich from my novel,” I said. “I get to use all those stories I can’t blog about, and if my friends all get mad at me after the book comes out, I’ll have enough money to buy some new friends.”

And people think I don’t plan ahead. Hah.

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Road music

By on October 4, 2005 in Arts & Music, My So-Called Life

I drove in to work today and it’s always a musical adventure. I keep finding my unlabled mix CDs stuck into every nook and cranny of the car, and while fumbling under the seat this morning, I found one including this lovely little Kim Richey song. I’d forgotten it.

It reminds me of the one who got away. You know, the one who could show up on your doorstep at any time and no matter what, you’d probably still let him in? That one. (The Larry David clone.) But it never did work out, thank God. Did I mention he was, um, crazy?

The Richey CD came out right before we had one of our numerous (and always unexpected) reunions and I remember listening to it then, bemused.

Hello old friend
Ah, this is so like you
To drop back in
Well you’re right on time.
How have I been?
Well, that can of worms ain’t worth
Opening
Leave it at fine
Just fine
I’m just fine
So how ‘bout you?
How ‘bout those big dreams?
Did some come true according to plan?
Are you married yet?
I thought you would be by now
I forget – what was her name
What was her name?
Good old what’s-her-name

And is it me you want or
Are you just lonely
Well aren’t we all
And I like the way you sound
Straight out of lost and found
Glad you called

Well, you made me smile
Hell, I laughed right out loud
And it’s been a while
And it feels real good
You know what I’d wish, were I the wishing kind?
That you’d take a trip down
To my neighborhood
Come on down to my neighborhood

And is it me you want, or are you just lonely
Well aren’t we all
And I like the way you sound
Straight out of lost and found
Glad you called
Hello old friend.

The commute

By on September 30, 2005 in My So-Called Life

Well, I rise up every morning at a quarter to eight
Some woman who’s my wife tells me not to be late
I kiss the kids goodbye, I can’t remember their names
And week after week, it’s always the same

And it’s ho, boys, can’t you code it
And program it right
Nothing ever happens in the life of mine
I’m hauling up the data on the Xerox line.

“White Collar Holler,” by Nigel Russell as performed by Stan Rogers

I see those guys on the train every morning – and now I’m one of them. (Sort of.) You know who I mean: the guys with the invariably-blue vendor shirts, chinos and laptop cases. The ones who fill up so many seats on the morning commuter train.

I leave the house at 7:40 and there’s always one free parking spot left near the train station; I get on the train with five or so minutes to spare. (I don’t know how it’ll be in the cold, snowy weather – the entire station shelter reeks of urine and I’d rather freeze solid than actually sit on that bench.)

I climb onto the train, my commuter pass in a plastic holder hanging from a length of plumber’s chain around my neck. I’m hauling a large canvas tote containing my purse, some yarn for crocheting, a library book and yesterday’s papers I haven’t finished reading.

The walk from the station wakes me up. I turn right past the 7-Eleven that’s next to the methadone clinic, through a horde of Baby Mommas pushing strollers and puffing cigarettes (there’s a training and counseling program for young welfare mothers in my building, as well as a treatment center for child-sex offenders). I join the group of social-work types pushing into the elevator and get off at the fourth floor, where a clinic also offers walk-in pregnancy testing. (A cautionary note to teens: I’ve only twice seen the girls accompanied by their boyfriends. Usually, they’re with their mothers – or alone. Mostly alone.)

The other morning, there was graffiti on the hallway wall outside our office.

“We need to move,” someone muttered.

“It’s the city, dude,” someone else replied.

Birthday girl

By on September 30, 2005 in My So-Called Life

Today, as of 7:28 a.m., my official birthday began. (My astrological birthday was yesterday, but whatever.)

This time last year, I was moving into this tiny little shoebox, deeply depressed and one step ahead of an eviction notice. I remember pushing through this state of chronic exhaustion and knowing I’d never be happy again.

Well, I am. Happy, I mean. Life isn’t perfect, but pretty good. And while my new job is hectic as hell, it’s also a lot of fun.

This year might be even better. You never know.

Little-known Suburban Guerrilla birthday trivia: I was (or so my mother once told me) conceived on New Year’s Eve after my parents polished off a bottle of cheap champagne. I believe this accounts for my bubbly personality – and my aversion to cheap champagne.

Happy Birthday, Libra! Multi-talented, versatile, and blessed with a chameleon-like ability to fit into almost any environment or circumstance, you’re a Libra with Gemini undertones. Many of you look younger than your years without a single cosmetic surgery touch-up. Your quirky humor, quick laugh, and gift for imitating others make you the guest of honor at social events. Wherever you go, fun generally tags along. No matter how experienced and astute you may be, you never appear uppity. Your lovable humble quality puts others at ease, and your unique interpretation of music, personality, and art give you depth of understanding. Never one to follow the same old theories or rules that most people do, you invent your own lifestyle and may embrace beliefs very different from those of your family and culture. Without making a fuss or calling attention to your views, you manage to be part of the crowd when necessary, and an iconoclastic maverick the rest of the time. You never seek to demand attention to your uniqueness or prove others wrong. You learned long ago that it’s much easier to grow and expand by not alarming or offending others. No matter how different your thoughts and goals are, your friends, acquaintances, and coworkers all claim you as their own.Your ability to win others’ hearts and minds makes you a skillful negotiator, politician, and leader. Many of you will develop a strong attachment to a particular cause and selflessly raise awareness in the general public. No matter what talent you’re known for, you have numerous other talents hidden up your sleeve, and understand human nature – and the human condition – far better than most. Packed with dedication and ambition to achieve lofty goals, you take risks and put in long hours, sometimes in very uncomfortable circumstances. You’re a complicated soul, willing to struggle and persist in time-honored ways, but often for a goal that others believe is beyond your reach. You encounter legions of naysayers, doing their utmost to discourage you. They tell you to ‘stop dreaming’ – but since you’re a visionary, how can you? As you get older, you learn to carefully select confidantes and parse your words. You expect more of yourself than others do. You think in different terms – more exquisite and abstract – than most of your peers. Your definition of success may be vastly different from theirs. As a result, you may leave your childhood circumstances and find new friends and an environment better suited for your expansive plans. No one can keep you down on the farm for long.

Bright, committed, and humanitarian, you’re a tough act to follow and very difficult to second guess. You often use the element of surprise to your advantage. Although you understand the value of appearance and are absolutely capable of presenting an exemplary image, your mind is always focused on the bigger issue and deeper truth. Many of you consider writing or teaching. Others are trailblazers in your chosen profession, breaking away from established patterns, and often elevating others’ consciousness. Your body requires regular hydration, lots of fresh yellow and green veggies, and little or no alcohol. Beauty, style and ambiance are primary driving forces in your life. An artist or designer at heart, you may choose a creative career or spend the bulk of your leisure time exploring your sensual, mystical side.

You are fascinated by structure – how words are strung together, how a building is constructed, the composition of a painting or piece of music, and even the complex alchemy of fragrance. You understand that layers of pure intent or substance can be subtle or striking. At times, your mood craves sublime ambiance; but other times you hunger for something earthy and unmistakable. If you have not yet explored your immense creative talent, do so now. You are a honeycomb of artistic reservoirs and can find balance and deep, lingering satisfaction through aesthetic expression. Your eyes are frequently commented on, probably because they’re devastatingly soulful. No matter how industrious and commanding you are in public, your eyes reveal a vulnerable, doe-like vulnerability.

You have a powerful sense of right and wrong and strong political or religious beliefs. In your supreme effort to right wrongs and bring balance to clearly biased situations, you may overshoot your goal. Often misjudged and misunderstood, you retain a unique, memorable mystique throughout most of your life. People are taken with you, even if they don’t fully comprehend what you do or how you feel. You’re a magnet for those who come in contact your memorable energy and passion. You feel a responsibility to defend the underdog. If you become successful (and many of you do), you can be very generous to beloved charities and causes. You recognize the importance of recycling the blessings the world has offered you.

A chat with my mom

By on September 15, 2005 in My So-Called Life

We sit down to have a chat
It’s “F” word this and “F” word that
I can’t control how you young people talk to one another
But I don’t want to hear you use
The “F” word with your mother.

“A Chat With Your Mom,” Lou and Peter Berryman

I was on the phone with my 82-year-old mother when I said, “Well, I’m gonna get off to watch the Bush speech. Of course, I have to masturbate while he’s on.” We both started laughing hysterically. She told me about a commercial for someone named Nicole (I think she meant Anna Nicole Smith) who’s selling a DVD of her “playing with herself.”

“She says women should play with themselves first thing in the morning when they wake up,” she said.

“Well, it’s not a bad idea,” I said. “But not if you have to get up and go to work.”

“Too much like exercise,” my mother said, ever-practical.

“What?” I said. “Big deal, so you might sprain your arm.”

Sometimes I can’t believe the things I say to people.

4 Responses to “A Chat With My Mom”

  1. Izquierdo Says:
    So Bush’s speeches do serve a useful purpose after all.
    But they are so infrequent. I hope you have other sources of stimulation.

    Actually, on second thought, I’m having a hard time imagining this — isn’t Dubya’s droning just about the worst thing a woman would want to jill off to?

  2. JJ Says:
    Sprain your arm? Wow… That’s some woman!
  3. carsick Says:
    I had an old girlfriend who was not a morning person. to say the least. But waking up with her always made me amorous so… Eventually, one night during dinner, she said having sex first thing in the morning was better than a cup of coffee because her day started in a more relaxed and upbeat way. Created a monster.
    How’d that jingle go? “The best part of waking up…”
  4. alphabitch Says:
    I gotta say I’m as baffled as Izquierdo on this one. I can’t imagine anything worse than that voice. And if I did succeed in getting myself off in spite of it, I’d fear some kind of Pavlovian effect whereby I’d get turned on every time I heard him speak. Or — worse — hear his voice in my head whenever I had an orgasm. That’s just too much to bear.

    On the other hand, I guess I can see where it would actually help to have all that good hormonal chemistry circulating to sort of buffer oneself from the evil of it.

    In any case, thanks for reminding me of that old song — The last verse is my favorite:

    “There’s unsavory musicians
    With their filthy pinko lyrics
    Who destroy the social fabric
    And enjoy it when they do
    With their groupies and addictions
    And poor broken-hearted parents
    It’s from them I would expect to hear
    The F-word, not from you”

Already gone

By on August 22, 2005 in My So-Called Life

“You can’t take a picture of this. It’s already gone.” – Nate Fisher to his sister Claire in the final episode of “Six Feet Under”

It was a great finale, wasn’t it?

Nate’s final words really hit home; I’m always telling people not to get so caught up documenting things with a camera that you’re not experiencing the actual moment.

But I had a sudden shock of recognition tonight when I realized it’s what I always did with words. For most of my life, I kept journals and boy, despite some highlights, they were often an odyssey of pain. Every time I’d go through them again, it was like picking off scabs: Susie’s Greatest Hits of the worst moments in my life.

When I was packing to move into this tiny little apartment, I got rid of all the old ones. (Boy, there were a lot.) I ripped the pages out and shredded them; I felt lighter for it. Out of habit, I started writing in the current journal again, although nowhere near as much.

I finally realized why it made me feel so bad: Not to brag, but I was such a good writer, I could relive my most traumatic experiences with a few well-turned phrases. While many people feel better after writing about their feelings, it mostly made me feel worse. It amplified things, somehow.

I asked myself: Why was I so much better at writing about pain than living in happiness?

Once I had that epiphany, I pretty much stopped using the journal. (The last time I wrote anything of any real significance was when I found out my father had cancer.) Now I make occasional cryptic notes: “So damned hot, can’t wait until it rains. Dinner with X tonight.” Or: “Had to get battery jumped. $10.” Nothing, really. I go weeks at a time without writing a thing.

I love it that there’s nothing intense in that journal these days. Because when I have a bad moment now, I simply feel it and let go – instead of carving it into a stone monument. I’m trying to have a life, as opposed to writing one. I breathe now.

I think that’s why I’m in such a good mood these days; I’ve forgotten all the reasons I should be unhappy.

Beach day

By on August 13, 2005 in My So-Called Life

After our lovely day at the beach (the water was very warm and there were no sand fleas, flies, jellyfish or sharks to ruin things), we decided (okay, Partner in Crime insisted and as you already know, I’m a complete doormat) that we stop by Atlantic City and have drinks at one of the beach bars.

The first place we stopped had a live broadcast from one of the Philadelphia classic-rock stations and the DJs were holding a trivia contest (“What’s the name of Rocky Balboa’s dog?”) with various categories. They mentioned something about military trivia, and Partner In Crime turned on the barstool, brandishing a marguerita and intoning in a deep announcer voice:

“For a free weekend at this fabulous hotel, tell me this: How many U.S. troops killed in Iraq?”

“Why, that would be 1,846!” I said.

“And for the bonus round: How many troops killed since George Bush went on vacation?”

“”Forty-seven troops!” I shouted.

It was funnier than it sounds. Hey, sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying…

Small world

By on August 10, 2005 in My So-Called Life

So I’m sitting outside at Drinking Liberally with Brendan’s foot in my lap, trying to work out the tightness in the back of his knees. Somehow, we fall into a discussion about local music, and thus, local musicians.

A friend of his wrote a song for the local minor-league ice hockey team, and he says it’s getting played on WIP sports radio. This reminds me of former Flyer Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, who had a hit single with “The Penalty Box”, and then of Kenn Kweder, who wrote and performed the classic “Ballad of Manute Bol.”

“Do you know Kenny?” I say. “We used to play the same coffeehouses when we were kids.”

Brendan does. In fact, he says, he knows him well. I grin and tell him to tell Kenn he knows me, too. This is one of those things that, even though we don’t see each other often, and haven’t seen each other in a few years (the last time, he was opening for Jim Boggia at the North Star), it will be as if we saw each other yesterday.

Brendan gets very excited and says Kweder is a genius. I do not disagree. By now, I’m done working on his legs and we are pounding on the table to emphasize our strong approval of various Kweder tunes.

We finally agree on a favorite song, “Heroin”. We are singing enthusiastically:

But then I met you
I met you
I met you
I met you at the meeting
I met you at the meeting
And I thought that you
Were at the meeting
For the same reason
That I was at the meeting too

But then I lost you
I lost you
I lost you,
Lost you at the meeting
And it left me feeling totally
Black and blue

I said doctor,
Doctor
Doctor
What can I take?
What can I take?
He said hey, Kenn
Why not take some heroin?
And I said heroin!
Heroin
Heroin
It is the only way
It is the only way to get back
To you!

We’re pounding so hard on the metal table, Somegirl’s beer glass vibrates across it and crashes to the sidewalk. Oops. (It reminds me of the electricNFL football game my brothers had when we were kids.)

Just then (no, really – just then), Brendan’s cell phone rings. It is his mother, telling him he left his Kweder CD in their car when he visited, and that she and her husband loved it, “especially that ‘Heroin’ song.”

Talk about synchronicity. When Brendan gets off the phone, he insists on calling Kweder to tell him this tale. Kenny doesn’t pick up, so he leaves a message.

Kweder calls back, Brendan tells him the story of his parents becoming Kweder fans and then tells him he’s “sitting here drinking with Susie Madrak.”

“He says he loves you,” Brendan reports.

“Tell him I love him, too,” I say. He hands me the phone and we talk briefly. He promises to come down some night soon.

Philadelphia – a small town in a big city.

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