Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Drug Wars

Is unhappiness a disease that can be medicated? I never thought so. But then, I’ve always had a bit of a problem being happy.

Through the past 16 years of struggling with episodes of Major Depression, I always felt that going on a drug would erase my identity and mean I was weak. And I didn’t want to gain a bunch of weight and have deadened sex organs. These seemed like valid concerns…but people in my life kept recommending antidepressants. Recently, when I couldn’t get through a day without hysterical crying sessions, I called a friend in Ithaca who said she’d had a great experience with Lexapro, and I stopped resisting. It felt good to just let go of the burden of depression, give it up to the gods of the pharmaceutical industry. They know what they are doing, right? I even considered that maybe, if it worked out, I should stay on this drug permanently because my regular personality was just no good (as my grandfather once remarked to my dad, during his courtship of my mom: “Have a drink, Dave. You’re no good as you are.”). My regular personality could not hold down a job for long, or earn more than $15 an hour. It ended up single over and over; got a divorce, got knocked up, and had worse meltdowns than my now 2-year-old daughter. My regular personality wanted to drink a bottle of wine per night alone (but didn’t, yet). It had spent its entire 20s studying poetry, and not having enough sex. Accumulating grad school loans! Blowing up my first car, a Chevy Caprice, due to infrequent oil changes! I started envisioning the chemically-altered me as someone who would be “stable,” open her mail more than once every few weeks, create crafts and snowman-shaped pancakes for her child, marry a kind man and be able to stay married.

It was a snap to get Lex prescribed by my family doctor, and the first day of the drugged reality was pretty damn positive. I kept thinking, So this is what normal people feel like…! On the way to the store I got mad at some rude driver, as always, but did not then collapse into tears and consider self-annihilation; instead, I soon bounced back toward a vague cheerfulness. I had more energy and a sense of purpose; I functioned and accomplished shit. It was as if someone had turned a light on inside my brain, and I saw how dark, wet, and sad it had been before.

However, less than two weeks later I decided to wean off and explore the gentle world of yoga, vitamins B and D, and other less drug-induced cures because I couldn’t stand the price that is exacted: the inability to keep a thought in one’s head, complete loss of sexual function and creativity, and flat-lining of all emotions, like I can’t feel any of my feelings and am floating by the ceiling. I know that these drugs have side-effects which typically take four weeks to fade but these features, from what I have read, were not going to go away because they are the main things that such a drug accomplishes: the shutting-down or blunting of one’s feeling centers, which zaps bad feelings and, in the process, any really good ones. No thanks.

Ultimately, feelings are information, I think. We used to utilize them to keep from being attacked by wild boars; now, we modern folk don’t know what to do with them, how to let them offer their valuable, sometimes paradoxical messages and pass through our systems without getting stuck or needing to be escaped from. I’d like to get to the point where I can have a bad day and not need to unwind with a load of fries and wine. Then again, the idea of really not needing fries and wine sounds awfully Zen and slightly creepy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dining Alone

If I could marry a place, I would want it to be The Delachaise, a restaurant on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. And not in the “objectum sexuals” sense—as in folks, usually women, who fall in erotic love with inanimate objects such as the Eiffel Tower, a church banister, or a picket fence. Although I fancy the building itself—its curved, elongated shape, sparkling outside and inside with tiny white lights so that I feel I’m in a cozy, Christmasy train car—it is more than the structure that I want to merge with. Forgivingly dim lighting; decadent, eclectic small plates (the fries, done in goose fat with a creamy aioli, always make reality sting less); wine served in decanters so scents and flavors can unfold over time; cute bartenders, one with a 50s pompadour; a European feeling of sophisticated yet soccer-game-casual privacy that makes me comfortable sitting there alone with a book... Do I really need a reason? I go at least once a week, swallowing my financial guilt, alone and with my latest novel or poetry collection; and have written unsalvageable poetic nothings in a Moleskine while sipping Malbec, eating Shrimp Clemenceau, and eyeing one of the friendly yet beautifully distant staff members. Outside, a lit streetcar bearing tourists glides past every few minutes; the sky grows darker and darker, letting me know that it will soon be time to regretfully take a last sip of wine, close out my tab while flirting slightly and I hope imperceptibly, and hurry to Sara’s daycare to pick her up (Mommy is not drunk...).

At almost 3 years in length, my relationship with The Delachaise is among the longer of my passionate entanglements. It was the first place in New Orleans that my child’s father, now ex, and I ate at—I instantly loved it, his response was lukewarm. We'd traveled down from upstate NY to check out Tulane, where he was considering completing his undergrad degree. I still have a picture on my cell phone from that early March night: reluctant to be photographed, J. is sitting across from me, with his muscly arms crossed on our table, wearing a green “Ithaca is Gorges” shirt. Every time I looked at this image after our return home, it reminded me with a rush of why I was in love with him: this surly, not-to-be-captured sexiness that filled out his T-shirt and watched me guardedly, yet with a melting hint of openness, from across the dark little table.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas moment

I don’t have much use for holidays. That’s not true: I just usually spend them depressed or grief-stricken (like 80% of Americans). So despite my efforts to keep myself above the water, so to speak, on Thanksgiving, I did not succeed and sank down again into a lot of hard feelings: of being completely alone in life (despite the fact that I did not spend the holiday alone, but with my ex and daughter); of being bad at creating emotionally warm situations, hosting, or holding anything together without huge amounts of stress; of past holidays with my grandparents which were full of people and food-abundance and champagne, and a world that only lives in my head anymore. I made an effort by having rosé champagne and making pasta, the food of Italian forebears, and key lime pie from a recipe I’ve had since 1992, from my grandmother. It’s on a postcard because she always used to mail me such things: postcards, comic strips, newspaper articles, on which she would make some cheerful commentary, her writing full of underlines and exclamation points. She possessed constant energy and enthusiasm and was able to relate fabulously, instantly, to anyone. These are not qualities I inherited.

So, Thanksgiving, and now we’re all about to wash up on the shores of the next holiday—and I inhabited a moment of a holiday feeling last night that surprised me because it was nice and reached back to things I used to feel. Sara and I were walking to the car from the Mexican restaurant we often go to—she eats the guacamole with a spoon—and the night air smelled of some delicious, faint smoke similar to sweet piñon smoke (I remember from living in New Mexico; it seemed the winter months were full of it). It was about 65 degrees out, but due to the humidity of this place there was a chill that felt wonderful. As we’re walking, we hear bells from a nearby church. I ask Sara about the bells and she says they’re “singing.” She wants me to carry her, so I do and once we reach the car we just stop, with me still holding her, and stand and listen. She is not squirming or fidgeting for once, so we can have a moment of not fighting, of just being together, physically close and under the same spell. We can see the church: grayish, stone, beautiful; and the music that is impossible to describe but sounds like any church bell, an old, delicate sound that doesn’t quite belong on this earth. I had a thought that this is the kind of parent I can be. There are things, so many things, I can’t do well: but I can do this. I can enjoy beauty with my child. I can stand here and be here and somewhere else at the same time, somewhere that is about beauty and imagination (my true homes). It’s something. There were also blue icicle lights hung on the porch of the shotgun house across the street. The house was dark so there was just the peaked shadow of its shape, and the mysterious soft lights creating a little space of privacy and joy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Structure of a new life

I miss J. His chest that I would rest my cheek on at the end of the evening.

There are yellow flowers on my table that were dying on the sidewalk, brought home from Sara's and my walk through the Irish Channel neighborhood a few blocks from here. We also saw a house with a stained glass window that had a large, bright sun, delightful and arresting.

My apartment, one half of a shotgun-style house, has windows on 1 side only. Getting from one end (the living room) to the other (the kitchen) takes an absurdly long time and I feel like I'm jogging through connected train cars.

Sara is my life, lying in her bed with her new little stuffed duck.

News of a friend's miscarriage over Facebook. What do you say. I give it space here in this room.

The stray cats on the porch act like they shouldn't exist, or like no one thinks they should. They hustle and slink away, heads lowered, eyes scared and knowing, no matter how often I put food and water out for them (along with my neighbor, who has been caring for them for years). A world has not wanted them to exist, and they are living in it. And I live in it, and don't want to.

I can't remember dreams lately.

My mother gave me a mother, Heather said. How is Heather? The other "mother"--from an art gallery in rural Alabama--is a wooden statue over a foot tall, made in Guatemala, with black dots of eyelashes around her eyes, a blue robe, and elongated, flat toes. She actually kinda looks like my mother.

My daughter can identify ice cream and goats by their pictures (which I hope will prepare her to do well in school) and she can speak in other voices, try to be Other. Yesterday she went down 3 slides when we were alone at the Annunciation Street playground. The slides had water, a very little bit, at their bottoms that I wiped away with too-small napkins from my purse, so just smeared the water. The look of grave joy she gets sliding down, her arms raised.

She asked where were the swings but there was a swingset without any--just bare poles, a structure there.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Letting my arms down

Since moving to New Orleans at the end of July, I have had my car broken into, contracted scabies, broken up, with great difficulty, a 4-year relationship with my child's father, and had one housing disaster after another: brief homelessness (through which I had to stay with my ex, who I had just left). Water shut off. Paying for 3 apartments at once, for over a month now: this happened when my ex and I sought separate housing. I couldn't move into the first one because I found out the neighbors were crazy and generally (possibly dangerously) invasive. I guess that wasn't a good enough reason to negate the lease, because I have now lost almost $2000 on a place I never set foot in for more than 10 minutes--a fact that keeps me up at night. I've talked to a lawyer but there is no clear way for me to get anything back; meanwhile the landlord keeps saying things like "Everyone in this situation is trying really hard" (to re-rent the apartment). Yes, but only I, out of all these earnest people, have lost $1800: so forgive me if I am not impressed with everyone else's "trying." Oh I'm sure they really, really care... The second apartment is the one Jon and I moved out of, for which we, too, have not been able to get new tenants since it's between semesters. Our daughter Sara has been sick 4 times in less than 4 months, including hospitalization with pneumonia. I have not been able to find a job and instead have found ever more elaborate ways to not find a job, such as joining ifreelance, a website where you bid for freelance jobs...against many, many people who are IDEALLY qualified for each job that comes up.

I've made this list lately in emails to friends or Facebook updates (that's how unhinged I'm getting...crying for help via status update) but I'm making it now from a different place. Maybe I'm not supposed to live in this town. Maybe it's not a safe place for a single mother and her 2-year-old. One could say that a job, a support network of friends or new love, and whatever else will all come in time. It could take years (as I know from experience in other towns), and I am starting to feel that I'm not up to it and do not want to keep subjecting Sara to this chaos. I say this because even as I have been--it feels like pelted with the hailstorm of New Orleans bad luck, there are many things I have been swooning over about this place. THE WEATHER. It's a bit nicer, especially in winter, than what I was used to in Ithaca. The luminously gothic, gorgeous-in-even-the-worst-neighborhoods architecture, coffee shops, culture, sheer variety and diversity of people and things to do. It's intoxicating and luring, like a love affair you know you shouldn't get into...rather than a nurturing partnership that will sustain me and my 2-year-old. Isn't it? I now live in a great apartment that is half of a house--a shotgun double--with a mantle/fireplace in every room, wood floors, a front porch...it's beautiful and fits all my furniture perfectly. But I am so depressed and broke I don't know how long I can stay here or how to enjoy it.

Today I feel tired and like...this is something a college ex-love used to say...letting my arms down. I think he meant it to denote some kind of surrender, admitting you're part of the human community; not being solitary and stuck. I'm sick of saying this will get better soon or is no big deal or I just need to fight, fight against every large external force to create the life I want. It shouldn't feel this hard. When I was packing to leave Ithaca, which I loved, in July, a thought floated across my mind that what I would learn in New Orleans is the pain of not listening to one's instincts and truth. I felt palpably that I should stay there, where I had a great support system of women, and family nearby; I knew the relationship wouldn't last despite all the complex reasons I still wanted it to...the relationship that I was following across the country with my cat, child, everything I owned, and no job. Four months in I still feel raw and scraped. I have discovered a lot of things, such as that the job I had in Ithaca (which I liked, but not the pay) was the best job on earth for the best salary ever and I cannot possibly do better as I appear to have no marketable skills, even after 12 years out of college; and now that job is gone. I've learned that boring can be good, if "boring" means continual access to the electrical grid and running water. I've learned that I have to create my life but it works better in happy, fertile soil rather than a blasted landscape of continual opposition. I've learned that romantic love, once and for all, won't save me though I have spent my adult life making plans that always put me off to the side somewhere, and the beloved in the center. I don't even know where I am anymore. And I need a lot of time, electricity, running water, and paychecks to find out, and then we'll see.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Dear potential employers,

I need at least $2000 a month which is as unlikely, it seems, as anyone thinking that Barack deserved the Nobel.

I am not: enthusiastic, energetic, highly motivated, pleasant, excited about my low-paying crappy humiliating job. I will not be cheerful when answering phones all day for $9 an hour. I will not be highly motivated as an attendant at the Marriott. I will not be a self-starter unless you pay enough for me to feed and clothe said self.

Do you realize that $600 a month for daycare, which I can’t afford, is unbelievably cheap? For this rate, when you pick your child up you get to stand in the rain waiting for someone to come to the locked door because the daycare doesn’t have enough money to pay a receptionist. (I admit, I considered applying to be their receptionist.)

I am not just out of college and will not accept perpetually being paid a rate that 22-year-olds have no choice but to accept with joy in their hearts. I have no joy in my heart unless I can afford good red wine.

How about I just write poems for you? I can do that. I have degrees in that. Writing poems—a real life skill! Just pay at least $20 an hour and expect that I will need to sit around for hours staring into space waiting for the creative spirit to strike; and that if it does strike, this doesn’t necessarily mean that A) whatever I’m doing will become a poem, or B) it will be any good. I will need to be well-supplied with coffee. None of that cheap crap, either although there is something poetic about the cappuccinos that come out of convenience store machines adjacent to gas pumps. Lonely machines that wait under fluorescent lights to be refilled! Have you considered paying me to properly honor, with song, these machines and their secret dark hazelnut-flavored product?

I need health insurance. I am a human being who may tomorrow be rear-ended or knocked flat by a bus. I may require 20 stitches, or glasses so I can see when I drive. I may need a little something done with my teeth once a year so they don’t fall out, thus entirely erasing my single-mom dating prospects. Expect that the human being will require maintenance in order to be cheerful, a self-starter, high-performing—or to show up at all.

If this sounds good you may reach me anytime at…oh screw it. Please call me now. I will be your steak cook, nail technician, night auditor. I will work at your HoJo in Slidell. Just pay at least $20 an hour and don’t expect me to have any of the skills / personality attributes you are seeking.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Out of touch

I feel some need to check in on this thing and mention why I have been silent for so long...so here is the quick update, for all of those of you who are listening (reading). My life is in a huge fog. It's under renovation. I have a cold. My child has snot constantly coming out of her nose and she screams when I try to wipe and/or pull it out so she can drink her bottle. My cat died and now I have a new cat and a new apartment...I just moved in but my landlord is already asking if I will renew the lease in August. Damnit, I DON'T KNOW!!! (The emphasis on "I don't know" should be seen as general.) Snow is general all over Ireland (Ithaca), falling faintly and faintly falling. I can't seem to get my poems published even in little lit-mags I had never heard of, and the poems I do not think suck (that is, they do not suck and are not of suckage...not the ones I am sending out, anyway). I feel a constant sense of panic. The snow does not come down vertically but is all floaty in the atmosphere and zinging around sideways. It actually, today, looks like it's snowing up out there. Well, I don't blame it. I'd go somewhere else too if I didn't have a huge desire to just go home (temporary home) and never go to work again. So...my life has braces on it. Does your life have braces on it? Is it a debris zone? My new cat is nice and her name is Lily. I found a handful of tiny little scraps of paper yesterday where I had written down, over several years and during phone conversations, stories from my grandmother's life. Since she had aphasia, the order of the stories is interesting and a bit random but I can still hear her voice in them. Splashes of humor, pieces of songs I don't know the rest of ("by the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea..."). I wish I had asked her more, but I didn't have patience. Well, now I have patience. I have all the time in the world to sit here and be here on earth without her and think about what she left me--the scraps, the floating snow, the grief, the being here uneasy with all of it, that's all for now.