Category Archives: Angela Cardinale

Sally

Sally, my only full sister, and I don’t have a lot in common. We both share fairly intense blue eyes, but otherwise we barely look related. She’s fair-skinned, blonde, and short. She looks just like our mother, Kathy. I’m darker, olive-skinned and brunette. I look Sicilian, just like my father. I’ve always been a little bit of a brute, big and aggressive. Sally and I have spent a lot of time together. For our whole childhood, we shared a room and sometimes a bed—and, for a short time when we didn’t have a bed, just space on the floor under a single pink blanket. Despite all of this time together, and despite the fact that I’m only a year and a half older than her, our relationship has always been strained. She’s more sensitive, analytical, and optimistic. I’m more quick to anger, more reactionary. She’s prone to posting inspirational quote memes on Facebook and I’m prone to rolling my eyes. Once, when we were teenagers, she made me angry and I shoved her hard, sending her flying into our closet. She was nothing in my hands. Seconds later, I felt horrible. I had wanted to hurt her, badly, and it had been so easy.

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dust devils

Scientific American calls dust devils “mini-weather systems.” They arise on hot, calm, clear days. In Calimesa, where we lived, we didn’t watch the weather report for months and months. We knew exactly what were going to have. Hot. Calm. Clear. Every. Day. The air was still. Lizards shifted between baking rocks. Sometimes I’d catch the babies, let them tickle the palms of my hands before letting them go. The field in the center of my father’s property was all brown, dusty earth and tumbleweeds. The tenant kids and my sister and brother and I congregated in the field and waited. The sun washed over us, hot, and we squinted into it. We never wore the sunscreen I now slather on my kids before they go outside in the summer. We could count on part of the ground heating up, creating the necessary invisible column of hot air. We could count on the calm being broken by a gust of wind, forcing cooler air to collide with the column, forcing the dirt below to swirl up and form a dirt tornado, as we called it. We didn’t know any of the science. It was pretty and exciting and a little bit magic. It was summer and there was nothing to do on Roberts Road, a street we shared with a farm, a junk yard, and a horse ranch. Nothing much happened here. We ran towards our miracle of weather, a rough pack of kids with dirt under our nails, joyful, yelling. You have to close your eyes in the center of those storms, or dust and twigs and bits of trash get into your eyes. But it’s hard to contain your smile, so when the devil dies down as quickly as it started, when your hair is all whipped up around you and sweat is running down your face, and you can feel your heart beat and your skin is warm, you slide your tongue across your teeth to discover the layer of grit you expect. The taste is not unpleasant.

forthcoming

Hello,

I am on a ten-month sabbatical working on a book project. I always had a million jobs and a million babies, which have conveniently distracted me from doing that thing I always said I wanted to do–writing. I love teaching. But I teach writing, and I’ve never actually committed to doing it. In just these first three weeks, I have written and read more than I have in years. I don’t exactly know what I’m doing, but as a professor friend recently told me, “You can’t arrange the furniture when you don’t have any furniture.” My bluff has been called, and it’s a little scary. I don’t enjoy not having control over things, but I’m trying to let that go a little, and let this project emerge. Right now, it looks like a series of essays, about my mother and me, about what it means to be a mother, wife, parent, lover. I’m digging deep, y’all, and getting vulnerable, and hopefully writing something that isn’t just an exercise in narcissism. So each week, I’ve decided to publish just a paragraph of what I’m currently working on, to keep myself honest.

So here’s the first paragraph I’m posting. Thanks for reading. Thanks for sticking with me on this inconsistent blog.

From “Leaving”:

When I was four, my mother, Kathy, left my brother and sister and me out on on her front porch. Our clothes and toys were stuffed in garbage bags and slumped next to us. With the slam of a screen door, and the efficient click of a lock, we were suddenly not inside. No grown ups. A different kind of quiet. The sound of air, only, maybe bugs. This was not right. I began to cry. I jiggled the door knob. There was chipped paint, dust on the porch. A chain link fence surrounding a dried out front yard. Clusters of dead grass amid larger patches of dirt. I’ve never been the kind to quietly accept. I began to scream. Tears streamed hot down my face. I tried to look in the window, to fix this. Sally and David were there, of course, but only incidental, blurry within the fog of my rage. It’s the feeling I remember most, like an explosion inside of my skin, a feeling that has since become a close friend. Sally was a toddler, and David only a baby. I was too young to be responsible for them. I was probably scaring them. Even then, my emotions spilled everywhere, infecting everyone. Eventually, my father pulled up, tossed our garbage bags into the bed of his pick-up. This was the end of their divorce. Kathy wasn’t the kind to give up easily either, but the courts had commanded it. She was a bomb, detonated, everything in its radius collateral damage. I never saw that house again.

 

 

 

 

 

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the center of the storm

Today I ran around like a maniac grading papers and taking the kids school shopping and buying groceries, like usual. I’m always going a thousand miles per hour, and any day or moment everything could collapse. In fact, it’s guaranteed it will. Life is brutal and we walk around in denial because it would be impossible to look at it directly all of the time. That’s not bad; it’s an important social skill, and in fact it’s kind of comforting. It connects us. Here’s one message from Patton Oswalt, currently in the center of that storm we all agree to mostly ignore in order to avoid fits of rage and despair when, say, waiting in line at the bank, or standing inside of an elevator. It just makes me want to hold the people I love more closely before they are taken away:

Thanks, grief.

Thanks for making depression look like the buzzing little bully it always was. Depression is the tallest kid in the 4th grade, dinging rubber bands off the back of your head and feeling safe on the playground, knowing that no teacher is coming to help you.

But grief? Grief is Jason Statham holding that 4th grade bully’s head in a toilet and then fucking the teacher you’ve got a crush on in front of the class. Grief makes depression cower behind you and apologize for being such a dick.

If you spend 102 days completely focused on ONE thing you can achieve miracles. Make a film, write a novel, get MMA ripped, kick heroin, learn a language, travel around the world. Fall in love with someone. Get ’em to love you back. 

But 102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have shit to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel “wiser.” You will not have “closure.” You will not have “perspective” or “resilience” or “a new sense of self.” You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe. And you’ll also realize that 102 days is nothing but a warm-up for things to come.

And…

You will have been shown new levels of humanity and grace and intelligence by your family and friends. They will show up for you, physically and emotionally, in ways which make you take careful note, and say to yourself, “Make sure to try to do that for someone else someday.” Complete strangers will send you genuinely touching messages on Facebook and Twitter, or will somehow figure out your address to send you letters which you’ll keep and re-read ’cause you can’t believe how helpful they are. And, if you’re a parent? You’ll wish you were your kid’s age, because the way they embrace despair and joy are at a purer level that you’re going to have to reconnect with, to reach backwards through years of calcified cynicism and ironic detachment. 

Lose your cool, and you’re saved. 

Michelle McNamara got yanked off the planet and out of life 102 days ago. She left behind an amazing unfinished book, about a horrific series of murders that everyone — including the retired homicide detectives she worked with — was sure she’d solve. The Golden State Killer. She gave him that name, in an article for Los Angeles Magazine. She was going to figure out the real name behind it. 

She left Alice, her 7 year-old daughter. But not before putting the best parts of her into Alice, like beautiful music burned onto a CD and sent out into the void on a spaceship.

And she left me. 102 days into this. 

I was face-down and frozen for weeks. It’s 102 days later and I can confidently say I have reached a point where I’m crawling. Which, objectively, is an improvement. Maybe 102 days later I’ll be walking.

Any spare energy I’ve managed to summon since April 21st I’ve put toward finishing Michelle’s book. With a lot of help from some very amazing people. It will come out. I will let you know. It’s all her. We’re just taking what’s there and letting it tell us how to shape it. It’s amazing.

And I’m going to start telling jokes again soon. And writing. And acting in stuff and making things I like and working with friends on projects and do all the stuff I was always so privileged to get to do before the air caught fire around me and the sun died. It’s all I knew how to do before I met Michelle. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do now without her.

And not because, “It’s what Michelle would have wanted me to do.” For me to even presume to know what Michelle would have wanted me to do is the height of arrogance on my part. That was one of the many reasons I so looked forward to growing old with her. Because she was always surprising me. Because I never knew what she’d think or what direction she’d go. 

Okay, I’ll start being funny again soon. What other choice do I have? Reality is in a death spiral and we seem to be living in a cackling, looming nightmare-swamp. We’re all being dragged into a shadow-realm of doom by hateful lunatics who are determined to send our planet careening into oblivion.

Hey, there’s that smile I was missing!

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Brock Turner is not a monster.

There were so many almosts.

My stepdad, Terry, used to give me a massage before bedtime every night, on the rare occasion I was visiting my mother. My face flushed warm when he peeled my pajama bottoms down a tiny bit, pretended his fingers were the legs of jungle animals, the crack of my ass the river. I never told him no. I was only five. It never went farther than that, fortunately. I believe that is simply because I didn’t seem him often enough. Terry was not a monster.

My stepmom is from Mexico. I was eight years old the first time I visited, but I was already the same height as the men and women there. I don’t know if men thought I was a woman already, or if that would have made a difference. I was an exotic creature there, the only American I saw the entire trip. Grown men touched my hair as I walked in the street. Their whistling at me was constant. I felt their eyes all over my body everywhere I went. I was eight years old. They were not monsters.

My stepmom’s brother Rogelio used to watch my sister and me sleep. He was only visiting, but visits from Mexican relatives aren’t for, like, a weekend. They extend for weeks and months. Was it a whole summer he was there? I would wake to find his face inches from mine. I’d flinch. There is a feeling we women know well, even before we are women. It makes our stomach twist, our skin strange, our jaws tense. Our bodies sound alarms before we even know what they are sounding against. I don’t know if Rogelio ever touched my sister or me. We were sleeping. Rogelio was not a monster.

In high school, I was big, strong, poorly dressed, acne-ridden. I wore huge men’s athletic sneakers, and never knew what to do with my hair. I only felt comfortable in my body playing sports, martial arts, pole vaulting, basketball. In P.E., the girls avoided sweat and gossiped in pockets of shade, and I was the only girl the boys would pick for their team. Those girls were a separate species. I, on the other hand, was red-faced, sweating profusely through my gym clothes, hair all over the place.

No boy wanted to kiss me. Until one boy did. But the first time this boy got me alone, he kissed me violently, cutting my lip, shoved his head between my legs, groped my breasts. I didn’t want him to, and I was strong enough and big enough to push him away, but I didn’t. I didn’t say or do anything, in fact. I couldn’t. I froze. I was saved by the rumble of the rising garage door at my parents’ house. He was not a monster.

When I told my stepmom about Rogelio, she grew very, very angry. Angry with me. When I went to them for help, my parents both told me boys only want one thing. What did I expect?

I have had two serious stalkers. Men have revealed their penises to me in the parking lot of Target, while driving through Los Angeles, through the window of a liquor store. Men have masturbated next to me on the Muni in San Francisco, rubbed their dicks against my body on the subway in New York. A couple of years ago, a former student came to visit me in my office, and then went in for a hug. He held me too long, sweating into my clothes. He slid his hand down my back and grabbed my ass. He then ran off and did the same to several other female professors. I have a phone filled with the unsolicited photographs of men’s penises from my brief stint of online dating. None of these men were monsters.

I’m not alone. You already know that. You also know I’ve had it so much better than most of my female family members and friends have. Almost every female friend and family member I know has been raped, assaulted, and/or physically or sexually abused in some way by a man. I’m lucky nothing worse has happened to me. I’m fortunate to be big and strong, to seem unapproachable to many men. But is “lucky” really the right word here?

What do we expect from men, to address my stepmother and my father’s question?

The answer, of course, is not very much.

Brock Turner is not a monster.

Yesterday, my friend Sarah posted on Facebook, “Let’s not pretend that the Stanford swimmer is a monster or that the attitudes in his father’s apologist letter are remarkable.”

And that is it, exactly. We make Brock Turner out to be a monster, and that is very convenient. But what he did is so normal and widely accepted that he and his father are bewildered by the concept that he did anything wrong. Why are we surprised? Why are we outraged? Here are statistics on sexual violence in the U.S. We all know Brock Turner. We made Brock Turner.

Let us channel this outrage. Let us expect more from our men. Let us listen to our women. Let us change.

 

 

 

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the chance to try

I think I have maybe two friends on Facebook who think their religion should be legislated and were upset today, quiet and/or cryptic on social media. The rest was all rainbows, rainbows everywhere, and love and celebration, with one important exception.

My FB friend R said, “I find myself watching the live feed of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s funeral right now and let me say there is no more poignant reminder of the resiliency and fortitude–so quintessentially American–than the hall full of people celebrating a rich and important life so cruelly taken by evil. The celebration of marriage equality and the celebration of this great man are two sides of the same coin, bitter and sweet, I think–a call to action for all of us. I will strive to be more present in my own life and act to make my country one I am prouder and prouder to live in.”

Obama’s eulogy moved me:

http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/26/politics/obama-charleston-eulogy-pastor/

R’s post moved me.

Things are fucked up. They are so fucked up. I think and hope we can celebrate and mourn at the same time. It’s never just one or the other. It was a surprise for me this morning when things were not fucked up for a second, and I think that’s the outpour of delirious joy I saw and felt today about the Supreme Court decision. It was just, yes, finally, people aren’t being assholes to each other.

But, of course, people are still being assholes to each other. That’s why I swore off the comments section of basically anything. That’s why R is right and we have to keep working and try to make this place better. Because it seems like things don’t change and then they do, like they did today, and it makes you want to keep going.

Justice Kennedy said this, which you’ve probably already read:

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And I almost cried, but I’m missing something probably so I didn’t. And I almost thought marriage was a good thing again, for a second.

My friend J said, “Yes, yes Justice Kennedy, it’s such a beautif– wait no it’s still pretty fucking hard and complicated.”

That made me laugh.

I’m obviously not successful at marriage, or relationships, having just come fresh out of two failures. But I guess what I still like about the idea of marriage is that it’s a beautiful and optimistic thing to say I love you so hard I want to live with you FOREVER and even if for some people it doesn’t work out and even if some people are secretly sad and desperate, shouldn’t everyone have the chance to try?

That’s a rhetorical question. Yes, they should have the chance to try. And now they do.

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what we want

*Spoiler alert:

This post will give away the ending to O, Pioneers!. It was originally published in 1913, so let’s be honest, you weren’t planning on reading it anyway.

I would never generally read a book with the word “pioneer” in the title. Pioneer just isn’t a sexy word to me. In any case, I took a Willa Cather class as an undergrad and read O Pioneers!. Which I dreaded. Because it was old and because of the word pioneers. I am here to tell you that I was wrong, that books with pioneer in the title may sometimes but not always be solely about wagon wheel spokes and fox fur trading, that I loved the book, and I’ve thought of it often over the years.

Alexandra, the main character, is strong and independent. I identified with her initially. When things fall apart, when the people she loves are destroyed, she forges forward, ever more capable and strong. The price she pays for this is high: her business, her land, flourishes, but she is alone at the end of the book, and lonely. She has a vivid, recurring dream “of being lifted and carried lightly by some one very strong. He was with her a long while this time, and carried her very far, and in his arms she felt free from pain…[he was] the mightiest of all lovers.”

We talked a lot in my class about what this dream meant, of course. At first the class was like, wait, Alexandra’s not a lesbian? Is she bisexual? Is Willa Cather a lesbian? (Answers, respectively: No; probably not; pretty sure.) And then we were like what the fuck, Alexandra. You’re a strong, capable woman. Now you want some man to carry you across the fucking wheat field and, like, go down on you? Come on, Alexandra. Get it together. Be a Feminist.

Alexandra writes Carl, then waits a long time for him to show up, and when he does, he says, “You’ve always been a triumphant kind of person…but you do need me now, Alexandra.” Like, he shows up because she’s finally sort of weak and needs him. And she’s like, yes, I do need you Carl. And he kisses her gently and she leans into him and she says, “I am tired…I have been very lonely, Carl.” And off they go together. And there’s no way Carl is the strong, amazing lover who can lift her across a field. He’s just Carl. Her choices are to die alone or settle for Carl, and she goes with him. Which, Carl is decent, I guess.

I was kind of harsh on Alexandra when I was a 19-year-old who knew everything.

In the past few months, I had a surgery that removed 30% of my reproductive organs (and some bonus cysts), I won a big award at work, I moved twice, I broke up with my long-term boyfriend, I got my tires slashed (not ex-boyfriend-related), and I broke my glasses. I’m moving to somewhere permanent this week. My son is graduating from elementary school the day after I move. In three weeks, I begin a major work project for which I’m not quite prepared.
It’s a lot. I’m not running a farm solo, but I am alone. And I am tired. I’m also much less harsh on Alexandra.

I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be strong. People always tell me I am strong. I think I am, for the most part. But two nights ago, just as I was falling asleep, I thought about the prospect of dating again, of putting my photo on an online dating site, next to some paragraphs that are supposed to be charming but not too real that they would scare someone away. Look, I’m unique and funny and cute and I like reading and hiking, I have kids I won’t mention yet but definitely no dark sad stories to tell you, let’s keep it fun! I think about a man scrolling through photos and “liking” mine, and of me scrolling through their lonely faces, “liking” theirs. And then how we will meet and click or not click and fuck or not fuck and then what. And then try a relationship and invest all of that energy and hope and hope it wasn’t a mistake when it very well might be, it probably is. It’s all so depressing. I started crying. I don’t want to wake up alone forever. I’m going to be alone, I told myself. It’s certain. I cried myself to sleep and it was incredibly lame.

I just finished this book called That Thing You Do with Your Mouth, which had some pretty moments, but feels incomplete. You can borrow it if you want. It’s a sexual memoir sort of thing. It begins with the quote “Intimacy is for strangers.” David Shields rearranges interview material from his friend, (pseudonym) Samantha Matthews. She talks about how when you’re married you stop seeing each other, you stop noticing things. She even states that infidelity can bizarrely correct this because it forces you to see the marriage with fresh eyes again. She’s not condoning infidelity, I don’t think. She’s just saying that we, sadly, stop seeing the person we committed our lives to, which I think is true. Is there a solution to this? The book doesn’t offer any. Intimacy between strangers, then, may be more rational than the alternative, but that doesn’t feel like a solution.

This is probably tangential, but she also says she is an “intimacy-junkie,” which is why she says she is sharing her highly personal story. She strives for authenticity, connection. That requires being direct and raw and real, rather than ignoring the thoughts and emotions and things around us that are disconcerting. You dive right into all of that and look at it, let it wash painfully over you, and you report back, avoiding cliches. If you lose a baby, if a friend dies, if you are desperate or lonely or sad, you confront it without the barrier of poetry or religion. I can relate to the need to do this. It is exhausting. It is a compulsion. But I also feel as though everyone would be less lonely if we owned up to these difficult feelings, the sad, hard things that happen to us. One alternative is to impose an artificial structure around it all, and convince oneself those deep dark things aren’t there. If you’re in a romantic relationship, you can collude with a partner to convince each other. Or maybe, and I think this is much more rare, you can find someone who wants to wade through this deep shit with you and then maybe drink a beer and laugh and cry at how absurd it is. I’m lucky to at least have a couple of best friends who can do that with me. And I try to do it when I write.

Everyone thought I was a lesbian in school because I am big and strong and good at sports. (Also, my haircut and clothes and being on the basketball team didn’t help.) It scares a lot of boys away to be direct, or bold, or strong. Or it attracts the boys that just want you to take care of them and give and give and give and give. I have mostly only been loved for what I can do, not for who I am. And so I will do and do and do and give and give and give and apologize when I am not everything to everyone. I always feel wrong and not enough. Then I get disappointed I can’t truly rely on anyone, when I helped construct that very building we were both living inside. See, I am to blame for this, too.

Still, I am scared to be alone forever. I don’t want Carl, and I hope I don’t settle for him. He wants Alexandra to be diminished, less triumphant than she has always been. He returns because he wants her only if she needs him. But I don’t judge you anymore, Alexandra.

Sometimes I am tired. Sometimes I am lonely. I want connection, real connection. Mostly I’m strong enough to lift myself. But when I’m broken down, I admit I want a strong, capable man to lift me across that wheat field, too. And that’s not about being heterosexual or being feminist or being a woman. It’s about being human. We all want someone to carry us sometimes. Don’t we?

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becoming a young man

The same year Ben found out about Santa not being real was the same year he found out that his parents would be separating. It will be one of those years of his life, I imagine, that he will run through the sieve of therapists and romantic partners and his own mind again and again to see what kind of insight catches. I was 10 when my mom died. It’s a year I return to often. A month after Benjamin turned 10, our divorce was finalized.

Ben did not take the Santa thing well. Here was a boy who did not believe in God but clung fiercely to all things magical, like Muppets and the Easter Bunny. I promised myself when he asked me if Santa was real, I would tell him the truth. One night, he asked. “Do you want the truth?” I responded. Yes, he told me. He looked sure. I looked straight into those sweet blue eyes and told him. And he shot betrayal back at me, howled from somewhere deep inside, ran down the hall and into his room, and slammed the door shut. He cried in ugly heaves, his face smeared with tears and snot, and Ryan and I sat next to him and tried to calm him. He reminded us about this dream he had in which Santa broke into his room and “rifled” (he said rifled) through his things and determined that he was good. In his dream, he had seen Santa’s boots at the end of his bed and looked up to see Santa staring down at him. This sounded pretty terrifying to me, but he was certain it was real and good. We had to assure him it had all been just a dream. We petted his hair and gently scratched his back and gave him all of the best lines about Christmas being in your heart etc. etc. but nothing made it better. The magic was gone. The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny fell in quick succession. He gradually came to accept it, but I felt horrible for lying to him in the first place.

Then, later that year, we had to sit Ben down and tell him we were separating. It went much the same way. He made a terrible noise from somewhere deep within. It cracked my heart. He ran away from us and slammed his bedroom door again, but this time he locked it against us. You promised me, he said. You promised. He was right. I had promised. Years before, he had asked my why my dad and stepmom lived in separate houses, and I told him about divorce. I told him not to worry because it would never happen to us. I believed that then. That was back during the time when I believed that I could simply bend everything to my will and make it the way I wanted it, that I could give the kids a childhood completely free of some of the struggles I faced as a kid. But we were not doing well, and hadn’t been doing well for a long time. We sat together, all three of us on the bed, and Ryan and I petted and tried to soothe him again. We listened to all of his worries. We told him we would always be friends, would always love each other, just in a different way, and, most importantly, would always love him and his brother. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know how much of it Ben believed. I can’t blame him.

Ben is growing up. In the past few months, he started asking about puberty. So I got out my trusty It’s Perfectly NormalHe knows all about male and female bodies, sex, the changes he will go through. Given his age, he still seems to see sex as primarily a way to make babies. He’s into science. That aspect isn’t yet upsetting. But the body thing, he isn’t happy about. He does not want acne and sweat or hair sprouting out everywhere. He told me he is going to make an invention to stop all of it. I try to make it sillier. I make up a song about puberty. I ask him to imagine what his dad would sound like with a young boy’s voice. He laughs and then his little forehead wrinkles again with worry. He thinks so much, all of the time, in all directions. I’m sure he tells me just a fraction of it. He does not want to grow up.

I remember when I was a little older than Ben, and I looked around, and everything seemed less magical. I had seen divorce and my mother had died and my family was weird and I didn’t have any friends at school. I went to Disneyland for a school field trip and found myself calculating ride line times and performing price comparisons with increased efficiency and reduced joy. I could see, plainly, how crowded and expensive it was. It seemed small and hot and not worth it. I didn’t enjoy it again until I got to take my own children there and see it again through them.

Ben is growing up and seeing that life can be difficult. Magical things are tarnished, or gone altogether. I hope he will forgive me for my role in helping him to realize that. I want to smooth everything in his life that is rough, but I can’t. I am just trying to love him through it, even the wounds that I inflict. I want him to avoid growing as cynical as I can be, but I don’t know how to stop it.

I, too, have grown up and seen that life can be difficult. I had a bunch of illusions about myself that have just imploded. But it’s not necessarily bad. Being more uncertain has opened me up, too. There is so much to still learn about and see in a new way. There are so many small things to marvel at, like that spot of moonlight I notice on the floor of my bedroom at 3 a.m. when I am awake, worrying.

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self-promotion, yo

I have an essay in my brain about hard work and taking myself seriously as a writer and taking risks and being scared and excited all at the same time. It’s there; I just need to grade about 1,132 things before I write it. And help my kids with their homework. And help my friend with his cover letter. And prepare for a talk I’m giving in less than 48 hours.I love all of the millions of things I’m involved in, but I’m also sometimes worn down and stretched thin. My life is living me right now. Basically, I’m trying to work at and take seriously something I care about, writing. For now, I’m posting an essay I wrote called “An Open Letter to the Adorable Young Couple Leisurely Strolling by As I Frantically Usher My Children into My Rav4” that got published in McSweeney’s. I’m very excited about it. Please read. It’s short; I promise.

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moving forward

The hard plastic chairs are the same blue as the tile. They are all in neat rows–the chairs were made to interlock, to force themselves straight, despite the various asses that plant themselves on them throughout the day. I am at the DMV, step number 2 in the process of changing my name.

Last week, I sat in the uncomfortable interlocking chairs of the Social Security Administration office in San Bernardino. It was significantly less pleasant. Here there is no screaming baby whose mother threatens to kick her ass if she throws that bottle filled with juice on the floor one more time. No chest tattoos that read “R.I.P. Lil’ Goofy-something-or-other” who was born in 1982, but whose year of death I cannot determine. There was a 30-second period in which I sincerely believed violence would break out. There were armed officers who locked the door at 3 and yelled if we stepped outside, there was no coming back. I avoided eye contact and sweated quietly in my seat until my number was called.

I always regretted changing my name. When we lived in New York, I even went downtown to get the forms and instructions to change it back, but I was always so busy and it never seemed urgent. But now I am getting divorced. It feels urgent now. I want my beautiful last name back, even if it comes with the part of it I always hated, my middle name Pearl. It doesn’t get much more old lady than Pearl. It was my grandmother’s name, my mother’s mother, whom I hardly knew. My father says she was crazy, which may or may not be true. She’s dead now. I do remember thin, penciled eyebrows, a dyed red perm, wild eyes. But I don’t even trust that memory. In any case, I don’t mind the attachment to my mother’s mother much anymore, even if she was crazy. Even if I barely knew either one of them.

There is always one fly in these places. It is heavy, dull, on the brink of death, and it keeps landing on my arm. Before taking my seat, I argued lightly with the stereotypically disgruntled employee. She told me to leave and come back after the divorce went through. I told her I didn’t want to wait, and that I didn’t need to. I showed her their website, the page with the name change instructions. I told her I had my birth certificate, my new Social Security card. I had the forms. I had a plan. The Social Security Office first, then the DMV, then work, then bank, then student loans, then credit cards, then utility, cable, and phone bills. Then online stores. My friend at work told me it has been 9 years and people still get it wrong, but I am optimistic.

I asked to speak to a supervisor. I was given my number.

The name change feels important and exciting, even if the process is tedious. I move from one state or federal office to the next. I complete the forms. I read the instructions. I don’t like crowds of strangers, but I sit shoulder to shoulder with them, all of us facing forward, all of us finding it impossible to get comfortable in these chairs. There are signs posted that instruct us in all caps but no punctuation not to seat our children on the counter, not to use our cell phones, to get in this line, not that one. Everything is a different shade of industrial gray or blue, and all of the employees appear to be barely capable of tolerating us. We wait because we have business to do and there is no other way.

I wait because it is worth it. The divorce is in progress. My name is coming back to me. I am moving forward even though it looks like I’m just sitting here, waiting.

We Will Begin Again

"To hold a pen is to be at war." -Voltaire

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