The road so far…


Somebody found me interesting enough to interview for a web radio show today. Actually, that person is my friend Lawrence, who also happens to be a close personal friend of Goth Robot.

At any rate, you can listen to it here.

I found myself in the unique position of reliving the past 20 years in about 20 minutes, as I went over the various projects I’d been involved in since 1992, when I came back to Boston to go to graduate school. And I realized that as I was recounting all of these projects and all of these experiences, mine has been a pretty interesting “adulthood,” as far as those go, despite the many years I spent avoiding responsibility and being a raging alcoholic.

I didn’t go into that. It didn’t even occur to me, really. As I talked, I found myself flashing back to so many different clubs, so many different stages (physical and otherwise). At one point Lawrence asked me, “How did you find yourself involved in all of that?” And I’m paraphrasing myself here, but basically I said that I’ve encountered people along my path who I just figured I’d tag along with for a while…to see where they took me. For the most part, that’s worked out in my favor.

Since I was a kid, I have been able to recognize the other members of my “tribe,” so to speak. I’ve just known, instinctively, that certain people are going to go along with me for as long as the road stretches. Everybody has these people. If you’re lucky, you meet them really early on. They see you at your absolute worst and most awkward, and they love you, anyway.

I am where I am because I’ve made decisions and landed in the right bars and had my heart broken by exactly the people who were supposed to break it. And so I’ve played heroin-addicted housewives and played drums on songs about giant space pussies and read Ally Sheedy’s poetry aloud wearing nothing but my underthings and shared my high school diaries with total strangers all because of being in the right place at the right time. And that all led to puttin’ on a play about UFOs and boys and the Virgin Mary, and having Goth Robot turn up in the audience one night. And Goth Robot introduced me to Lawrence, who as it turns out knows my brother. Crazy. Awesome.

And then I also get to do this a lot, because of that whole “recognize your fellow wayfarers” thing:

Think I’ll keep trudging that road to happy destiny and see who else shows up along the way.

Muscle memory


Memory (or – more to the point – memories ) is a subject that’s obviously been bandied about our house quite a bit lately.

What Coombsie and I are learning about Alzheimer’s is that the things we’ve done for as long as we can remember, the things that just come naturally to us because of years of repetition, are the last things to leave the building, so to speak. My mother-in-law zips through her gardening tasks like a ruthless whippet: weeding, pulling, snipping. Watching her, you wouldn’t think that just a couple of hours before, she couldn’t explain that there was something wrong with her television set.

I’ve read about people with Alzheimer’s who don’t remember their own children, but can sit in front of a piano and play sonatas flawlessly. It’s muscle memory. My mother-in-law has always been an excellent gardener, and so this is one thing she doesn’t have to be reminded of how to do.

There are many, many things we’re going to learn as we continue to take this journey with her. And we’re going to have to learn to accept these things. Currently, it bothers her when she can’t remember something, or someone. Eventually, that’s not going to bother her. I feel, sometimes, that we’re expediting that process, whenever we try to ease her anxiety over not remembering. It’s difficult to not try and gloss over it, for the sake of keeping the peace. Taking the easy route by telling her, “Don’t worry about it; we’ll take care of it.” I have to remember to acknowledge the frustration. I have to remember to say, “I know this upsets you, but it’s not your fault.”

I cannot fathom losing my memories. I think about this frequently nowadays. So much of what I do from a creative/artistic standpoint is almost entirely reliant upon being able to call up specific memories. When I do any work with Mortified, whether it’s something of my own or something I am helping another reader with, memories are crucial in developing the direction in which the piece will go. I assign value to my closest relationships via the currency of memories. I go out of my way to keep my oldest friends a part of my life, because the memories I have of them are that important to me.

Today I heard a song (link below) I hadn’t heard in years, and it was as if the long-dormant heartbreak associated with that song roared up from a dusty corner in my head. It made the old healed scar on my heart flare up like an emotional charley horse. I audibly gasped at my desk. It was terrible, remembering that heartbreak, but could I ever afford to completely lose it? Because once I regained my footing, it made me think, Jesus God am I glad I’m not in my twenties anymore. It gave me a moment or two of tender reflection on the unholy mess I was at 23. And then I went back to my spreadsheets.

The heart, after all, is a muscle. And it remembers.

I know, it’s all terribly “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I wouldn’t want any of this wiped from my brain, and yet I may or may not have a say in the matter as I get older. Things are being erased from my mother-in-law’s mind, and she has no choice. But for now, she has the memory of weeding, of pulling out what she doesn’t want, in order to protect the things she does. Muscle memory.

Hello, it’s me.


Oh.  Oh, God.

I just finished reading Why We Broke Up.  I bought it yesterday.  Yesterday, I bought this, and I finished it about a half hour ago.  I finished it at my kitchen table, sobbing, as Min, the teenage narrator, went through a devastating litany of everything’s she’s NOT.

I’m not a goth or a cheerleader, I’m not treasurer or co-captain…I’m not anything…I have bad hair and stupid eyes.  I have a body that’s nothing.  I’m too fat and I’m idiotic ugly.  My clothes are a joke, my jokes are desperate and complicated and nobody else laughs…I just babble and sputter like a drinking fountain broken…I talk shit about everybody and then sulk when they don’t call me, my friends fall away like I’ve dropped them out of an airplane…I can’t run four blocks or fold a sweater…I lost my virginity and couldn’t even do that right, agreeing to it and getting sad and annoying afterward, clinging to a boy everyone knows is a jerk bastard asshole prick…I’m not a romantic, I’m a half-wit.  Only stupid people would think I’m smart.  I’m not something anyone should know.

I wept, sitting there at my kitchen table with the dishwasher thrumming behind me and my husband in his office mucking around on his bass and my two cats doing that passive-aggressive thing they do where one bathes the other until the one being bathed gets annoyed and skulks off the chair that the bather wanted to sit in, alone.  I am a 41-year-old with a trash compactor and bills and mighty plans involving painting the dining room this spring and this YA novel (that’s “Young Adult,” btdubs) reduced me to a blubbering mess.

I don’t think many of us are ever really that far removed from 16, even as the years, and ensuing responsibilities, pile up and we’re all of a sudden at kitchen tables that we ourselves shopped around for, picked out, purchased, and had delivered to our houses.  I know I’m not, certainly, or I wouldn’t spend so much time getting up onstage and reading my high school diaries in front of total strangers, or assisting fellow masochists in doing the same.  There is always going to be that part of me that goes to parties and sits by herself in the one empty room there is, reading another person’s books and waiting for her soulmate to find her.  Hello, it’s me.

She loves a boy that doesn’t know she loves him.  Or he does, and just doesn’t know what to do with that information.  And it’s at turns icky and frustrating and exhilarating and heartbreaking and on any given day she’s tiny and insignificant, or held aloft on a smile in the hallway.  Christ, who doesn’t remember all of that?  Why would you want to forget it, ever?  I don’t understand my friends who say to me, “God, I could never do what you do.  No, I really COULDN’T, because I threw all that stuff away.”

Me, I can’t lose sight of that tenderhearted thing inside of me, because I want to make things happen for her.  I’ve kept her diaries and her dreams and I’ve even kept most of her friends as close as I can without it being creepy and weird.

And it’s not as if I’m stuck there, really, because – as I’ve said – I own preposterous things like a trash compactor, and just today I had to be a responsible adult and call the administrators of my Flexible Spending Account to explain my late-December eyewear binge.  I don’t spend all my time with her; I just pop in now and then, like a slightly eccentric aunt, checking in on her the way you check in on your past, make sure it’s all still there.  Because without it, you don’t sit at your kitchen table weeping because you remember what it’s like.