Evacuate the Dance Floor

A complete list of things I ate today because I was excited/nervous and later, waiting for the man I love:

Two leftover Trader Joe’s phyllo pastries eaten while dripping from morning shower

Two coffees with Trader Joe’s vanilla almond milk, one before and one after the pastries. Fast guzzles.

Bag of baked Lays crammed into my mouth while crossing the GWB

Bottle of plain seltzer on GWB

1.75 pretzel sticks (bread, not thin, tiny) w/ cheese sauce in Park Ridge, NJ

Asian chicken salad that was only Asian by dint of canned mandarin oranges and a metric ton of sesame oil. Chicken was shredded and sad.

2 glasses of prosecco

Bourbon manhattan, extra cherry, although the cherry is maraschino and therefore, inferior.

Cheesecake with raspberry sauce.

Now I’m listening to a loud Portuguese man making a loud phone call, and I’m debating whether I’ll admit that I stress ate all of that, and skip dinner. Or just eat again.

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It Gets Late Early Around Here

I’m sitting in a dark corner at a New Jersey Panera. Don’t ask me how I got here, but here I am.

I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, but I’m doing it my way. I’m writing every day and keeping a word count, but I’m not barreling towards 50,000. I don’t even think I have 50k words IN me right now. I want to sit in the quiet. I want to be left alone. I feel flinchy and exposed, but also as if the world is coming through a layer of vaseline. Muted and distant.

The sky is beautiful today; the late afternoon light is fading. It’s warm and unseasonal. The leaves are way past their peak; they’re getting in their winter look. I yearn to stay focused. Get my job done and do it well. Eat healthily. See friends. DO things.

But,today, I’m just trying to write few words and to look up, really look up, and around. The details matter, I tell my students. So I look for them.

The girl in the plaid school uniform keeps sneaking looks at the menu. She wants food, but her friend is mid soccer-boy story.  The middle-aged woman wiping tables chews gum, but her mouth is crooked, like she’s storing it in her cheek. People come in two by two.

I want to cry, but I can’t quite get there. I’m the same age she was when she died. I’m going to pass her, probably. Will she still be my older sister, when she’s always and forever 47?

I don’t want the holidays to be sad. I can’t bear to be the sad girl again. But I can’t hold the happiness. It overflows its tiny container, and I try to chase it, but I drop the rest.

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The Things She Didn’t Cook

I’ve been cleaning out my guest room/library.  Donating about 500 books. Combining my cookbooks and my sister’s. Maybe one day I won’t know which was hers and which was mine.

I also found her collection of pages torn out of magazines and recipes that she printed out. Most from Food TV. The hope chest of serious home cooks. I looked through them yesterday, scanning for her handwriting. Wanting to find the things she made. She left a binder with her “real” recipes, which might or might not be real. She had a way of keeping secrets. Ingredients that she wouldn’t share because she wanted to be the best at making the recipe.

These were different. They never made it to her stable. They were the things that caught her eye. Things she wanted to make for her friends, for my parents, for me, for Michael. Some things stood out to me. Lemon. Blueberry. Zucchini. Gnocchi. (Come on, Sis, you don’t need a recipe for GNOCCHI. We have it in our muscle memory.)

I have one of these too. Although it gets smaller each year, rather than larger, because now I have bookmarks. I’m cooking more, but I print only when it’s a keeper, usually with handwritten notes.

I should make one of her recipes. The volcano cakes from Cook’s Illustrated that she actually asked me to make for her.  I remember the recipe. It’s in my collection of strays. I didn’t get to make it for her, and for that, I’m relieved, because it’s fiddley in the way that I hate.

I should make one of these recipes, I think. Maybe a few. Not the conch fritters. Those were her special loves. Maybe the lemon blueberry muffins, except I have frozen blackberries that I’m anxious to use. Is it all right to change? Is it all right to move on?

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But in my mind I’m havin’ a pretty good time with you

Four Thoughts, Disconnected

  1. In my mind, I’m quiet and watchful. Shy and careful about joining a conversation. In reality, I’m a little loud, with a big personality. I laugh boisterously and use my outside voice too much. I talk out of turn and I start conversations with strangers. This last one is new, but it feels right, like the me I’ve always been. Since I’ve lost  weight (ugh, more tk) and gotten the teeth looking right, I’m more willing to smile at strangers, to make a comment about the plums, to rolls my eyes in tandem with the patient bank teller, to giggle with the toddler who’s wearing a tutu that looks like my petticoat. My posture is still horrible, the combination of texting and years of self-consciousness giving my neck a colon’s curve. And my mom has gotten at least half a foot shorter, so there’s that coming at me. But, if I’m looking down these days, it’s not because I don’t want to be seen or to see you. You, I’m always happy to see.
  2. I have so much to say, but I’ve been saying it in other ways. Not writing anything personal, not tweeting or fbing or gramming, or whatever new -ing that makes me equally curious and overwhelmed. I’ve been breathing, though, normally, in and out, like the directions say, and finding time to love widely and well. I have so much love in my life. Really. Occasionally, I sit still and feel as if I’m in the center of a deep pool of it. Floating without effort. Suspended. And that’s just friends and family. I have another kind of love too. One that I’ve hoped for and doubted would ever come. He makes me feel safe and although he is by no means a coddler, with him, I am precious and adored. My next lesson is learning how to relax. To let it be and unfurl, as life does. Ours is not a romance novel or a sit com or a horror movie. It’s just two complicated people, finding it easy to love each other. (I hope it lasts. Don’t let me jinx it. Stay away from the black cat. Magical thinking, blah, blah etc)
  3. I lost seventy pounds and then I just stopped. Settled into a size 16. Still fat. Getting fitter, not entirely motivated to lose more. Mostly because my body likes this size. A bit more and things will shift in a way that makes me profoundly sad. I don’t want to talk or think about extra skin, but I have to. How it is the badge of accomplishment as well as the scarlet F of weight loss. “I was fatter once. This is the price I paid. I’ll never look ‘normal.’ ” I think it’s half the reason that people put on weight again – the constant sad trombone of past “transgressions.” I’m happier in my skin than I’ve ever been, but I hate it too. I hate that I’ll never get a fresh start. I can’t erase any of it. Maybe I’m harming myself by not losing more. Maybe it’s just denial. Maybe I just don’t have it in me to lose those “last” fifty pounds and have to struggle to love myself again. This is the one body I get. I finally figured out how to love it (not the arms, though. I’ll always respect, not love them) and maybe loving it forever means letting it be?
  4. I took apart my kitchen the other day to inventory and organize my baking supplies. I’d noticed a creeping collection. My mother buys Wesson Oil whenever it’s on sale. She has a stash in the basement. I have chocolate. 6 POUNDS of semi-sweet chocolate, many ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate, chips, and bits. And 5 tins of cocoa. And other stuff. Cake flour and matzoh meal in the freezer. Dried cherries with a best used before date of 2010. I cleaned it  all out. Goodbye condensed milk. Adios almond meal. Ciao marzipan. If I need you, I’ll buy you and use you. I don’t need you hanging around, like the ghosts of desserts past. But the chocolate I kept. Expect to see me coming with a pan of brownies or chocolate banana bread or layer cake. I’ll be smiling.
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The Summer List, 2015

Lists are short stories when I’m hopeful and memoirs when I’m being productive. My 2014 Summer List was optimistic and brimming with desire. Mostly assuaged.

I found what I was hoping to find. There was sex, blood and tears, and weird food behaviors as I got serious about losing weight. There was love, the best kind for own own sweet self, and the awakening of romantic love. I needed to feel alive again, and I did, sometime between the World Cup in July and a highway in September.

I found my voice again. Twitter felt good to me and it was a way into a conversation but, now, it’s become more lonely. I talk into it and it streams by, but I’m not part of it, swimming along. This blog became an outlet for my stray thoughts. But nothing went further than the First Draft. First Drafts are my writing specialty. That’s part of who I am. I like the messy starts. And settling in for the work, the digging in, the everydayness of the thing, is not ever going to be me when it comes to writing. Maybe. I think.

Every year, I reach for something new. This summer, I say, is for Finishing. This is for Achievement. This summer is for Deep Thinking and Having Some Thing to Say, not just saying anything. But it’s like playing whack-a-mole. I learn how to live in my skin, but forget how to work in an office. I learn to let go the need to be a perfect daughter, but forget how to be an avid reader. Maybe I can hold only a few good things. Or maybe the process of folding in something new changes the shape of the old thing. It’s still there, it’s just part of the batter.

I’m too easy on myself and too hard. My most familiar inner voice is disgusted by my faults. I’ve learned to mostly ignore it. It has begun to whither and quiet. The parts of me that I still can’t quite love, the pettiness, the insecurity, the lack of urgency, I’m learning to manage. But, I can be loving whilst critical. Truth is, I’m not doing enough. I have more to accomplish. And I have to work harder to find what that is. None of this living is easy.

But this summer is The No List Summer. Doesn’t mean I’ll drift or wander without goals. I’m going to start scuba certification, get my bathrooms renovated, work towards publishing something, make pies, get the accounting stuff settled, read and entertain, volunteer, get a part-time something, keep on laughing and loving generously and being happy. That’s still a list, I recognize, but I’m not going to check it, not going to make it be the manual for the summer. This summer, I’m just going to do a lot. I’m going to let it be messy. And, when the time comes, and it will, I’ll get to work revising it. Because it’s not always summer. And cakes don’t bake themselves. (Or something. First drafts are messy.)

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One of these things is not

I wore a black maxi dress to a Mad Men viewing party on Sunday. It’s fitted and booby, recently tailored and last worn during the early New York City and Michigan fall.

That cool night in late September, we ate at a pubby restaurant in downtown Lansing. I don’t remember the name, but it was wood paneled and warmly loud. A place where people made good memories. I wore well-loved plum suede heels that I suddenly couldn’t walk in and thigh-high stockings that began to roll down my legs the moment the hotel room door closed behind us. I twisted my ankle in the grotty parking lot, just enough to sting a little, to remind me that I was in a strange place. He was attentive, but distant. And he was annoyed, I think, that I was unsteady. We could both tell I was wearing a costume. Trying to be the sex bomb. Feeling, at that point, a little ridiculous. Something I might have joked about, another place, another time, but too fogged by the weight of failure settling on us.

We ordered wine but I didn’t have much, because I wanted a Manhattan, which I had with my steak. I was eating a lot of rich, carby food and my mouth was salty and slick. I don’t remember what we talked about. I don’t remember a lot. Just that he seemed really sad and not at all present.

He’d been reading most of the day, a book he was supposed to be reviewing. But, mostly, he’d been lounging and chatting with his friends. Maybe about me, about the disappointment of my trip. How we were going through the motions, but nothing was right. We couldn’t kiss, we couldn’t walk together, our conversations slacked off into silence, I fell asleep when he was awake, he slept too much. We hadn’t had standard sex because I managed to have the most ill-timed period of my life. But he was grateful that I came. Indulging in a break from his life. A break I thought I was happy to give him.

But that dinner, and part of the drive back to the hotel, until I broke and gave us both permission to admit the truth, was a study in awkward subtext. Me in my favorite dress, in a body that still felt unwanted and unfuckable. Him in a t-shirt and jeans, lonely and wanting an escape. Eating and drinking our way to numb.

When we got back to the hotel, I didn’t have to pretend anymore. He was a guy, never The Guy. And I loved him but I would never Love Him. So, I kicked the shoes off. By then, the stockings were pooled around my ankles, and I stooped and wrestled them off too. One I stuffed into a bag. One I never found again. Pretty sure I left it draped over the hedges at the Holiday Inn, like a Halloween spider web.

I keep on going back to this dinner, this night, this trip. I want to give it justice. Tell a story that is as funny and painful as reality. But I can’t, yet. It still comes out hurt and angry. Even though I’m not anymore.

The dress feels different on my body. I’m with someone now. With him, I’d joke about the stockings. “I’m 40% sex bomb, 60% clumsy goofball.” I’d take them off in the rest room and slip one in his pocket when I got back to the table. Or I’d just wear jeans and a sweater because it was a casual night. The dress is the same dress. But this thing is not like the other thing.

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Our hearts are strong and our, our hearts are kind

Four Thoughts, Disconnected

1.) In case you’re worried, I did finish the 10 days of dresses, although imperfectly, as I do most things. I had to skip one day because I needed to climb in and out of ambulances with my Dad. And I repeated a dress, although I did not intend to do so. I just adore how this outfit makes me twirly and playful. Skater dress from ReDressNYC, petticoat from Domino Dollhouse and sweater from Heart of Haute. Duck face from 50’s Bad Girl Realness.

Day6Day7And this one, which is Grown Up GothLite. I had trouble with the bodice of the dress, which gaped open. But after a few hours, I surrendered and enjoyed the view. At least I wore a cute purple bra. The petticoat is my one true love. Except for the sweaters, which are my Sister Wives.

All in all, it was a fun little experiment. I wore clothes I loved. I felt feminine and sexy, and people smiled at me all the time. But that’s maybe because I was happy. The clothes made me happy, but so did life, mostly. Dresses help me feel in love with the world, and the world responds. Not so much of a surprise. But good to know for the dark days.

2.)  I’m obsessed with the 50’s silhouette of fitted bust, narrow waist, full skirt. It suits me. In my head, I am Sophia Loren. Warmth, sensuality, confidence, womanliness. In my head, that is all I want to be. Even as I stumble around, in my slightly goofy way, awkward and sarcastic. Loud and shy in the same amounts. Maybe Sophia isn’t always Sophia either, but that’s not true and you know it. I’m experimenting, I think. But, truth is, I’m a woman in her forties. This is how I dress; this is who I am. Part Sophia, part Emily Dickinson, part unnamed Italian peasant. My Mom has never had long hair. She has no interest in fashion. She never buys herself anything. Most of what she wears are hand me downs from Yolanda (super weird) and me (weird.) She’s 75, but she was a dish when she was younger. I hope I never get that practical. That I’m the old lady in the fun clothes, hoisting up my boobs, checking my ass in the mirror. And thinking like Sophia.

3.) Home Depot is designed by a near-sighted monkey on a mescaline high. I hate it. The displays stink. Nothing is ever where you want it to me, and you end up with a smoking Fitbit by the time you leave. The bathroom vanities were on a high shelf, where I couldn’t touch or feel. And would never buy. Men blocked the aisles with their big pieces of wood. I almost got into a fight, and ended up with my most sarcastic, “Thanks for your thoughtfulness. Have a good fucking day.” Or, maybe that was my fantasy version. How does this store do well? It makes me depressed. Feels like a place couples visit before they give up and get that divorce they’ve been fantasizing about. Also, why do we need 20 different toilets? We’re too damned spoiled.

4.) In the great wide world of petty issues, why don’t nail polish brushes reach the bottom of the bottle? And why don’t pump bottles get every drop of expensive creams and elixirs? Why do we pretend that we’re paying for more than we’re getting?

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