Wednesday, September 25, 2013

therapy moments

I'm not proud of some of my parenting. I can be lazy; I'm not a tiger mother who pushes the children to excel (Iris would have a lot more awards and honors to put on her high school applications if I'd tiger mothered her. "I am my own tiger mother," she remarked primly last year). The worst part of being my child is that I struggle with depression, and I know there is a toll this takes on Iris and Lolz. There's also the embarrassment (poor Lolz had to cringe when I picked her up at school this month sporting crazy-beautiful green and blue extensions and braids I'd acquired for Burning Man). 

The Sober Husband and I often remark upon things which happen in our home which could make good discussion topics for future therapy. But while I am far from perfect and am creating plenty of Therapy Topics, I am also amaze me no end, given my new insights as a parent myself, at how so many of my own Therapy Topics come from my parents attacking me for things a normal parent would have been proud of:

Having a gym membership and working out: my parents thought that was the stupidest idea possible and harangued me endlessly about it. Evidently I should have just found chores to do around the house for exercise; anything else was immoral. My sister kept saying that she and my mother knew the only reason I did it was to try to pick up guys. Even though I said, "If that was the case, I'd have quit a long time ago. I haven't had a single date from it", I had to keep hearing that.

 Having a reasonable number of sequential relationships in college: my parents were high school sweethearts and married young. Evidently doing anything else means you're a damned skank. "You're like a butterfly! You need to stop it. You're going to get AIDS."

 Being proud of having won a National Merit Scholarship: my father said, "You think you're so special. Well, there's someone like this in every town. You'll find out when you go to college that you are just ordinary."

Settling down with a special boyfriend (my first husband): my father told me, "He's too tall." (He was 6'4"). My father told my ex, "You know, you can do better than her."

Going to a movie with a friend: "You left your sister at home all alone! You should be ashamed! Your poor sister!" My sister was older than me, a 20 year-old college student.

 My sister got into a traffic accident: "It was all your fault. I hope you learned that the passenger has a responsibility to the driver." This is worse because I'd gotten out of the hospital the day before with meningitis, was still in a lot of pain and on heavy narcotics. That leads nicely to ...

being so sick with meningitis that I needed to go to a hospital.  "Obviously you have no faith, or you'd be healed by now."

 My mother had a weird way of running me down to other people and being proud of it. I worked at a jewelry store as a teen, and she ostentatiously thanked my boss in front of me for helping me pick up accessories to wear to my graduation from high school: "Thanks for finding her what to get. You know she would have gotten something awful on her own (theatrical shudder). You know her taste." 

My first fiance told me once he said to her, "Wow, she made me the most amazing lasagna last night," and he was freaked out when she laughed mockingly and said, "You're going to get sick of that. It's the only thing she knows how to cook."

 As a parent myself, I can't understand this at all.  Most parents like it if their child excels at something and want their child to be fabulous. Mine seemed hell-bent on proving that I was inferior and squashing whatever confidence I'd managed to cobble together. Is it a wonder as an adult I finally limped into therapy?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


It's almost October, which means we're almost into Halloween season. I love Halloween dearly. It's a big holiday in San Francisco, and my love for it seems almost tame here, compared to the people who go over the top creating haunted houses, laser cut jack-o'lanterns, and so on. But my enthusiasm doesn't get a big enough buy in. Today Lola and I were seduced by the upscale Halloween decorations at our neighborhood Pottery Barn. Lola loved the "antique mercury pumpkin objects" but overall was a bit of a damper on her mother's enthusiasms. "I think we only need one of those claw hands," she said as I gathered up two metal skeleton arms. "Arms come in pairs, Lola!" She said the same about the metal lanterns with cunning vampire bats worked into the front. "I think just one." Up at the cash register Lola looked disapprovingly at our spoils (aside from the "antique mercury pumpkin object" she'd chosen, which she caressed protectively). "Lolz, Halloween comes every year, so you can reuse the things for it and get more every year. And just think! By the time I die, you'll inherit such a collection of Halloween d├ęcor!" The gay man waiting next to us for more martini glasses to be brought to him broke out in a snorting laugh, which he then quelled as he gazed, embarrassed to be caught eavesdropping, into the middle distance.

Friday, September 20, 2013

what it was like to work with me at Burning Man

I made a homemade card for my friend J. who was severely injured in a fire only two weeks after getting married in a cathedral he built himself at Burning Man. It depicts the morning when poor J. was faced with a crew consisting only of your humble narrator and the Louise to her Thelma, the long-suffering N. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

the cathedral

This is the cathedral I went out early to help build this year at Burning Man, with J., our slaving and slavedriving foreman (now recuperating in a burns unit from an unrelated accident), silhouetted by the sunset in the doorway on a scissor lift.  The photo was taken by a member of the Lost Penguin camp.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

appreciating the banal in life

This week I woke up one morning and, as is my wont, checked my email and Facebook before getting ready to drive the children to school.  I learned that in the middle of the night my friends' warehouse had burned down.  They had jumped out of a second floor to safety, throwing their two dogs down (tragically their other two dogs were not reachable and died in the fire).  Both my friends were in the hospital.

These are friends who are in the peak of life, just married a couple of weeks ago at Burning Man (it is the groom who built the cathedral, with the paltry assistance my friend N. and I could offer).  Now one is facing a couple of months in a burn unit, having already had two surgeries and with the prospect of many more.  The other one has just been released but is in a wheelchair.  They are homeless and have lost most of their possessions.

The Sober Husband and I resolved to check our smoke detector's batteries.  We have only the one working, upstairs.  We renewed our perennial squabble over having one on the ground floor.  I offered to try one out in the living room.   Long ago I took the controversial move of disabling the one near our kitchen, as it went off every single time I cooked, mistaking steam for smoke.  I don't even burn things, but that damn smoke detector was convinced I was a menace, and I couldn't have it screaming at me when I was trying to make dinner.  The dented ceiling still bears witness to the days when I'd jab up at the fire detector with a broom, angrily trying to silence that damn thing.  The smoke detector in the bedroom I have nothing but fond feelings for, however, and I'd be willing to try forming a relationship with another well-behaved, better-positioned one.

This week has been a dull one for me.  Lola spent a day home ill from school.  I've had a couple of unpleasant social encounters lately that have left me holing up at home, associating only with the children most days.  But rather than feel disgruntled, I'm happy to have the luxury to be in my home with my pets and children.  I'm not in a burn ward facing rounds of skin grafts.  I'm not having to replace all my things.  I'm lucky.

I went to a bookstore and bought a replacement copy of the book my friend was reading when her home was burnt down and added it to a bag of yuppie food treats to give her a break from the hospital fare, and I dropped it off for her at SF General without seeing her (she was tired, and I didn't want to bother her with having to make conversation).  If my house ever burns down, that's what I'd want done for me personally:  bring me whatever book I was in the middle of and some decent food.  The surviving dogs have already been taken in by other friends.

"What are you going to do for J.?" asked Iris.  Unfortunately I can't send food to my other friend, as the burn ward has very strict rules allowing only cards to be sent to patients (burn victims are at great risk of infection, and who knows what germs could be lurking in a bag of upscale food).  "I'm going to draw him a homemade card," I said, "with him thinking, 'I need some real #(&@ carpenters' while N. and I are trying to build the cathedral."

Check your smoke detectors' batteries, everyone.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

bruised but unbowed

I ran off to Burning Man this year and came limping home a few days earlier than planned to recover in the bosom of my loving family.   My psychiatrist was taken aback from this.  "Usually you don't want to come back from Burning Man, and you gain energy from it," he mused.

I nodded.  "Not this year."

So what happened?  First I went early in order to work on my theme camp's highly ambitious building, the Jerk Church Cathedral.  Skilled members of the camp had drawn up plans for a three story Gothic building; we had done the fundraising; the pieces had been cut and painted in the Bay Area already.  I was excited about this, thinking that it would be a lot of fun being with the artists and workers creating the event, learning valuable carpentry skills while watching the city arise around us and undoubtedly celebrating every night, long before the regular attendees arrived.  I negotiated a deal with the shrewd Iris where I was allowed to leave town before her birthday, eager to head out to the dust.

The reality was that when my friend N. and I arrived at night, earlier rains had caused the organizers to shut down the gates.  We spent over three hours sitting in our cars, and we had to sneakily pee by the side of the parked traffic (luckily not getting a stiff fee for it, as this year the BLM ticketed several Burning Man workers for peeing in the wild).  We pulled in after midnight and threw up our tents and crawled into them.

In the morning we put up our shade shelter and unpacked a bit, setting up what was supposed to be our home for the next ten days.  We were nowhere near done when we were informed that we were already late for our work shift.  J., the lead carpenter, was fuming.  No one had shown up to work.  No one.  N. and I were the sole crew, and we were, to put it mildly, "underskilled."  The sun blazed down, and we worked under the directions of an increasingly tightly wound foreman.  By the time we went to bed, we were exhausted.  "J, you're running a fat camp," said N. the next day.

Virtually everyone failed to show up for their volunteer shifts.  N. and I worked every day and every night.  Some more skilled people did come by.  One extremely talented carpenter got fired from his paid position building the Burning Man base and spent the morning working with us, as well as drinking my beer and telling N. and me his problems, but sadly for us he was rehired by Burning Man at lunchtime.

By the weekend more skilled people had arrived, so N. and I were demoted from the slightly more interesting tasks we'd been doing (we'd learned to wield an impact driver and to assemble the support structures, but we were back to carrying things, holding things, picking up things, fetching ice for J.'s cooler, and so on).  The sun still blazed down.  We were steadily acquiring a variety of small injuries:  blisters, a burn on my thumb shaped just like a wishbone, bruises.  The worst little injury occurred when we finally felt we could take a break from construction to finish setting up our own camp, and a fiberglass pole shattered in my thumb, leaving long, painful shards blocking the joint.  A friend volunteered to excavate this and cut most of it out with an very much not sterile knife.  I exhibited the gory shards to everyone, who were all suitably disgusted and impressed (I still have fiberglass shards visible in that thumb today).  A rash on the tops of my legs began to intensify and became scary.  I had several atrial fibrillation attacks.  My body was clearly unhappy.

On Sunday night the gates opened for regular attendees.  Exhausted by a day of construction under the hot sun, we Jerks were sleeping when we were awakened around three a.m. by a man shouting over an amplified sound system. "IT'S MY FIRST TIME DJ'ING AT BURNING MAN!"  Hours of terrible, distorted dubstep ensued.  Everyone looked homicidal the next morning as we went back to building.

Monday the deadline pressure was high:  we needed to finish the cathedral for a wedding the next day.  A bored girl said loudly to her friend as she passed, "They are always working on that thing!" in a Valley girl accent, and we took to repeating that to each other.  "Oh my God, they are always working on that thing!"  Lots of people were on hand, and we finally finished up in the middle of the night.

The cathedral was stunning when it was done.  The wedding was moving and delightful, two well-suited people getting married in a beautiful church one of them had built for the occasion.  Then the congratulatory drinking began, and the groom told me that he and one of his attendees were going to fight over at the infamous Thunderdome.  "I want to fight at Thunderdome," I said artlessly, and he cut me off, sneering.  "You couldn't handle it.  One blow to the head, and you'd be out.  Concussion!"

"I have a big head," I said challengingly.  I hate being told that there is something I can't do, and a six foot-tall lesbian who works a blue collar job jumped on the chance.  "I'll fight you," she said.  I agreed to this in the heat of the moment, and we all hopped on an art car which had been arranged to carry the wedding party over to the Thunderdome festively.

While we watched the groom and his attendant fight, the groom still in his wedding suit, I had second thoughts.  "This skirt is really expensive," I said.  "I should come back another day, when I'm dressed for it."  "Just lose the skirt," said my insistent campmate.

"I should have some kind of handicap," I said, looking at my larger, stronger companion.  "Let's just agree not to hit each other in the face.  That's our moneymaker: the face."  She agreed.

The groom's fight was short and weak.  Soon we were being hustled in and strapped in.  At Thunderdome, the two fighters are armed with pugil sticks (bats with a protective padding around one end) and launched at each other by bungee cords.  I normally do not like losing control over where my body is, but the adrenaline and endorphins took over.  They launched us at each other, and we came out fighting viciously, me in my underpants, crashing together and injuring all of our four collective knees.  They pulled us apart from each other, with us struggling to get more blows in, and then relaunched us at each other again, and we hit and hit at each other.  Finally they pulled us apart again, with us once more struggling to get more blows in.  "Relax, you won," the people on my side said as they disconnected me.  I gave a victory strut and flashed the crowd, and the very professional Thunderdome people pulled me off to the side.  "You're bleeding, you should see the medic," one said.  I hadn't noticed that I had a nosebleed.  "Give me your beer," I demanded to someone, and I rinsed the blood off my face with beer.  "No medic," I said posturingly.

"That was great," said one of my campmates wonderingly. "I would pay to see that kind of thing."

My opponent refused to accept that I had won.  To this day she is posting on Facebook arguing that she was unfairly "trumped by tits," refusing to take the point that I didn't flash anyone until AFTER my victory had been declared.  This is clearly seen on the video which my intrepid friend N. took, trampling many strangers to get a good angle, but still, my opponent won't admit that she lost.  The next morning she went to the medical tent to get a wrist brace and her knees bandaged, and I gave her some ibuprofen.

As for me, my left knee is still a bit wonky, and I still have some bruises from the many I sustained. over my thighs, shoulder and back.  For over a week after the fight, both of my knees were in constant agony.   It was horrendous trying to change position in bed, let alone ride a bike and run around Burning Man.

The final straw came when a rather innocuous mole-sort of growth on my neck, which I'd had for over a decade, began to bleed uncontrollably.  "You're bleeding," everyone who saw me informed me.  "I know," I said crossly.  It's too dry and hot at Burning Man for a bandaid to adhere (indeed I was having trouble with the multiple blisters on my feet, putting moleskin on several times a day over a base layer of stinging liquid bandaid).

"I can't take it," I said to N.  "Everyone's telling me I'm bleeding.  I gotta go home."  My knees, my bruises, my mangled hands, my atrial fibrillations, my rash, and this annoying blood dripping down my throat:  it was just all too much.  "I think I am getting too old for this."

The easy-going N. agreed, and on the spur of the moment we threw all of our dusty belongings into our cars and drove away.  The children and husband were thrilled to see me four days ahead of plan.  Carrying some of my luggage into the house, a bag swung and struck me on the left knee, drawing blood, and I let out a howl.  I showed them my knees.  "You should have seen the other person," I said.  If you're going to come crawling home a physical wreck, at least you should be able to brag of a mighty victory won in your underpants over a larger, stronger opponent.