LJNDawson

Book publishing. And everything else.

My Own Bed

I thought I was too tired to blog tonight. But I was wrong.

We moved the heavy stuff today. Bernardo “hired” the son of one of our friends, who then refused payment. I was so touched at all his efforts; he’d helped his step-grandmother move the day before. And he’s the sort of kid who doesn’t distinguish step- vs. blood. It’s all family. It’s all ohana. His parents are both like that, which is why we are all so close.

I spent the afternoon and evening putting a bed together. I’ve never had a proper bed of my own before. I had futons before I married, and when I got divorced I returned to futons because I was conserving space; my kids got the beds. (When they were with their dad, I slept in the beds, but that’s not the same as having your Own Bed.) Then I moved in with Bernardo and shared his, and bunked off to the spare bedroom when my asthma and menopause came on and turned me into a midnight rotisserie.

Now I have a proper bed. Soon I will have a proper bath to soak my back and knee. It’s cool and dry here, and I’ve made sure it’s as dust-free as possible (thank you, James Dyson); it’s only a couple of degrees higher than it would be if I had AC, and of course we’re coming into nighttime. Tomorrow we’ll continue to continue – Bernardo will install the AC, the Bose systems, the TV, the AppleTV. I’ll put the kitchen, bath, and closet together. I am very bruised; I look like an apple that’s been kicked around. I kind of don’t want to go to yoga until some of these clear up.

But it’s all good. All is well. All manner of things will be well. And I think Bernardo and I love each other more than ever. Love is so very precious. It is the best thing we humans have going for us.

Ohana

On days like today, my lungs slowly turn into wet cement bags and my trachea swells up so much that it pushes against my esophagus and I develop a gaggy cough. It is 90-something and New York City humid, and has been for the last three days. I finally capitulated to my need for oxygen and turned on the air conditioning.

My new place is cool and dry. It’s a sunken first-floor apartment – up to its eyeball-windows in cool, cool dirt. While I am getting an air conditioner for days like today, I scarcely need one, so the bill will be low. And it’s dry. An oscillating fan should do most of the heavy lifting.

The predictable things are happening – I had to run to Ikea to exchange a bed (the picker had given me full- instead of queen-size), and the air conditioner I DID order turned out to be the wrong sort. I regret to say I am relying on Amazon for much of this move (I know, I know, I’m sorry) – part of its devilishness is that it makes things SO DAMN EASY for its customers. Yes, I read the New York Times article. I read the articles in response to the New York Times article. I have previously read Hamilton Nolan’s articles on Gawker about warehouse workers.

And yet. I fall onto the path of least resistance and compromise my conscience because I am In A Hurry. Tomorrow is moving day.

Bernardo has lined up the 22-year-old son of our friend Kim, and I’ve hired the van (again). Tomorrow all my books, clothing, and furniture will zip around the corner. Smaller things will come in dribs and drabs as time goes on.

Bernardo explained to John, Kim’s husband and Bernardo’s best friend, that we weren’t breaking up, but that I really needed “space”. That’s true enough – but in terms of square feet I’m trading a three bedroom house with a finished attic and basement for a two room apartment – with a kitchen the size of an iPhone, and a bathroom. It’s less about physical space and more about emotional and psychological space…and autonomy. When you live with someone who has tremendous needs like Gina does, you don’t get much autonomy. (Bernardo’s not taken a proper, Gina-free vacation since 2008. In ten years, he’s spent one night away, while I stayed with Gina. But Gina is also a massive source of anxiety for me, in ways that – because he’s her father – Bernardo doesn’t feel so much.

I consider us all a family. I still feel strongly that I am Gina’s stepmother. But the notion of “family” is a fluid thing. In the eternal words of Lilo, “Ohana means family. And family means nobody gets left behind.” Including me.

The Meaning in Small Things

I think that, at times of great transition, we see a lot of meaning in small things.

I’m honoring this transition with a full week’s vacation to get everything done. It’s a way of saying to myself: “This is real. This is happening. This is important. YOU are important.” Women almost never do this. We squeeze in self-care. A mani here, a pedi there.

Mani-pedis are not self-care. A small part of self-care is self-indulgence, sure. And being aesthetically pleasing to ourselves is healthy. And I’ll get one after everything’s moved in and set up. But that’s different from saying to yourself, “What you’re going through right now is big, and even you will respect that.” Because we minimize our needs, and our desires, to privilege those of our kids, our partners, our partners’ kids, our bosses, our colleagues.

And yeah, this has been written about ad nauseum. But respecting ourselves and addressing what’s not working is the LAST thing we do, and the reason it’s been written about ad nauseum is because even feminists can’t always internalize the message. There’s too much around us to pull us off the path, too many hyperactive wolves pleading with Red Riding Hood to “pay attention to meeeeeeeee”.

And it’s not about deserving. I actually don’t really believe in deserving – with the exception of “I worked really hard today, I deserve pizza”. But in general, I don’t think anyone deserves anything. Wealthy people certainly don’t deserve their wealth. Poor people don’t deserve their poverty. I don’t think that looking at a problem through the lens of just deserts is a helpful way to go about things.

But I believe in self-preservation. I believe in self-respect. I believe in dealing with oneself deliberately, and not spending time with what doesn’t add grace to our lives.

Today I did the ritual clean-out. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I like it, but it is a way of taking ownership of my space. I clean off the previous tenant’s residue, and lay down my own personality. I scrubbed every surface. I vacuumed with my new teeny Dyson, mopped with the Swiffer I bought my kid years ago that she used once.

And while I was on the phone wrangling with Ikea, I heard a thud from the closet. When the call was over, I went to see what it was – the Dyson had keeled over, and the little canister had opened, dumping onto the floor everything I had swept up.

“Oh,” I thought, “I’ll just get the broom and sweep that up.”

But the dirt was so fine. It was DUST. And the broom just combed through it. I had to power up the Dyson and re-sweep it up. And it got every bit (well, granted, I didn’t have a microscope, but I assume if it got it the first time…).

It was a small thing. But it was an affirmation to me. The dust allergy that is largely behind my asthma is going to have a tough time surviving with that thing in the apartment. Sure, we could get a Dyson in the house. But I can’t clean a whole house every couple of days. It would be all I did. That little pile of dust – resulting from two rooms, plus a bathroom and a kitchen – told me I was on the right track.

Tomorrow, the Internet comes to the house. Tomorrow, I drive back to Ikea with the wrong bed parts and exchange them for the right ones. Tomorrow I scrounge some more boxes from someone (maybe even Ikea) and finish packing up my objects and my clothes. Tomorrow we confirm that the kid across the street can help me schlep boxes out of the house and into the home.

Tiny and Fast

I am a tiny person.

I’m maybe 5’2″ if I am really aspiring to it, and I’m 123 pounds (as my Fitbit scale told me this morning).

Today I discovered that a tiny person has no business driving a U-Haul van.

I thought it would be simple – I’d rent the van, drive to Ikea, buy all the pieces that make up a bed and a couple other things, take them over to the apartment, and then return the van. Man plans and God laughs. It was all I could do to freaking park the thing in the Ikea lot, and I took up more than my fair share of space.

It turns out that the bed I had my eye on is so amazingly heavy to a tiny person that she needs A SHIT-TON OF HELP. I couldn’t even steer the cart. I even Leaned In. Fortunately, folks (MEN WITH MUSCLES BIGGER THAN MINE AND I DO YOGA 5 DAYS A WEEK) were helpful. The guy-who-helps-you-load-your-car wanted me to back in, and I said, “I can drive this thing but I can’t maneuver it like that,” and he wrote me off as a Female Who Is Helpless and loaded my car for me.

I tipped him generously.

And I got the van home. And Bernardo loaded into it the stuff that had come from Amazon while I was away – carpets, a vacuum, a mattress. And, in the late afternoon, he drove the van and I drove Gina over to what is fast becoming my new home.

Gina was pretty cool, all things considered. I had told her what was going to happen, but for reasons of her own she desired it to be a party – she was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t. But she sat in the folding chair we brought her, and ate the chips that Bernardo put into a baggie for her. She explored the apartment – especially the critical areas like the fridge and the cabinets (potential food homes), and by the time she was done, we had brought in everything from the van (with Bernardo CARRYING THE HEAVY THINGS SOLO YOU SEE WHY I LOVE HIM HE EVEN TURNED MY CAR AROUND SO I WOULDN’T BACK OUT ON THE BUSY STREET). We drove back, had beers and swims, and here we are.

He likes the apartment. That is important to me. He knows how I work – I move into a space, make it all homey and clean, and then dwell. People feel better after being in a space like that. So even though it’s kind of “meh” from the outside, it’s going to be a nestle-in sort of place once I get everything where I need it to be.

Tomorrow I go over and do the big vacuum/mop/bathroom clean. And get more boxes for more books – I did 3/4 of my shelves today. It’s an experiment in relationship-ing. But it’s unfolding very lovingly so far.

Self-care

There is no manual for self-care. Oprah’s built an empire out of the idea, but of course every “self” is different.

I am moving.

Bernardo and I are very much in love. But my asthma, chronic pain due to tendonitis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and (quite frankly) mild clinical depression are incompatible with living with a young (beautiful) adult with profound autism, anxiety and OCD.

She and I each need to spread out, claim space, breathe easy. So I am renting an apartment that is essentially around the corner from the house. And this weekend, next week, and next weekend are all about that.

I’m an odd tenant for this building. It’s a cheap apartment. Steel doors, industrial-looking, little things busted here and there. The landlady is quite nice, but like all land-people she won’t invest a dime in the building that won’t turn revenue around for her. I understand this. I can make improvements and take them off the rent, if I want. Or not – just putting up with it till I can upgrade (when Scamp is out of college) is not so bad.

Bernardo is being enormously supportive. He is actually helping me move; he wants me to feel better. Perhaps someday we’ll recombine. In the meantime, he’s being miraculously cheerful. I’m not used to not being screamed at, when moving out of someone else’s house. My divorce with my kids’ dad was acrimonious. So a lot of the emotions I’m feeling now are triggered by that very negative experience (my older daughter is feeling some of the same things, from her perspective; we’ve compared notes). It’s dredging up a lot – and there are physical results from it. I’m learning to read my body’s reactions to things as signs of stress, because my brain has a really hard time acknowledging it. (Oh, no, the water’s just a little bit warmer than it was – the frog is definitely not boiling!)

Like any self-respecting New Yorker, I have a therapist helping me through this. That environment is also hard-core. Every week I go to Bayley-Seton – a mental health facility that primarily sees people with very few resources (including prisoners). I like going there, though. It tells me that, as a nation, our mental health is something to be taken seriously. It tells me that I am the same humanity as the man in the Superman suit waiting with me in the waiting room. I don’t want to be reckoning with my stress and health in a posh environment that tells me I’m a special snowflake. We’re all on this earth, this country, this city, this ISLAND, and we are, in one way or another, in this life together. It’s REAL.

My therapist has seen it all. Her clients, in addition to people like me, are meth-heads, prostitutes, abused people, johns. She has an accent like Fran Drescher and the thousand-yard stare – and no time for bullshit. She’s rearranging the cells in my brain and I can feel it; she is a ninja.

I’m looking at this all as a weird frontier. And I’m blogging about it because…I don’t know anybody else who’s done this before. Declare your love for someone and suddenly not live with them? And stay together?

If anyone can do this, I know that Bernardo and I can.

Travel Season

Work travel comes in waves. I’m in Pasadena now, which is a welcome climate shift from the iceberg that is Staten Island. I’ve been walking a lot here, as much as I possibly can. Thanks to the Super Bowl, The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” has wormed its way into my brain and refuses to leave, so I play it while I walk (among other things). A quick trip to Whole Foods ensured that I have food that agrees with me. Say what you want about global commodification – and I hate it – it does offer the comfort of knowing you can get what suits you no matter where you are, so it’s one less thing to worry about.

In another week, I go to Seattle. And then again two weeks after that. And then to London. And again to London two weeks after that. And then to Arlington. And then to San Francisco. Which takes us till June. I’m basically experiencing winter on a part-time basis.

This is okay with me.

My goal is to find yoga studios wherever I am and to make the time to go to sessions. This can be difficult, because there’s the expectation that you’ll socialize – heading for drinks right after work, etc. And I’m okay with that – I love my colleagues, and now that I’m working from home, I want to spend time with them when I can – but it’s tough to find a yoga class during a time of day when I’m free…never really knowing when exactly that will be. It might vary from day to day!

But at least there’s the walking and thinking. And I’ve been feeling much better. And the projects I’m working on are thrilling and challenging, and really give my brain a workout.

On y va

As Ta-Nehisi Coates says…

I’ve been feeling a bit reflective lately. I suppose drastic lifestyle change will do that to a person – it’s no more business as usual, but you have to think about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and value the positive actions. It’s interesting to go through a radical re-engineering of health while simultaneously, outside in the world, there are ongoing protests and incredulity and the sense that Things Are About To Change – in essence, some radicalism on the outside and on the inside. I’m feeling rather plugged in, empathetic with the protesters because I’m waging my own health protest from within.

Maybe I’m thinking too much.

Anyway, I’m coming to grips with the fact that my best resource for the things I need is Whole Foods. I hate that. But my membership at the Park Slope Food Coop has come to an end – I just cannot do the required shift work from Staten Island and New Jersey. We do not have a Wegman’s, and our natural foods store on Staten Island is small (and singular). Definitely the better solution is for there to be a Food Coop on Staten Island, but this is not a population that is open to those sorts of organizations. A Whole Foods will come here first, and that’ll be the end of it.

So on we go. Muddling through as best we can. I really like the sort of acceptance of one’s own limits that Roxane Gay offers, for example, or Russell Brand. The way our capitalist system is constructed, hewing to your ideals while holding down a full-time job and raising kids and learning and loving and growing – you can’t. You just can’t, in reality, execute all of that unless you are in a certain income bracket.

So Whole Foods it is until I find a better option.

Ten days into this new regime, I have made meals of lean pork, chicken breast, turkey breast, fish. I have eaten my weight in skyr, it feels like. I have eaten tofu, seitan, kimchi, so much kale. I have consumed much ginger in all forms. And whole grains. Nothing but whole grains.

I was heartened for a bit because I wasn’t losing weight. I’m happy with my body and the weight I already lost. But this morning I got on the scale and I was down another 2.4 pounds. So it begins. My body seems to want 10 days into a new regime to begin shedding or gaining weight.

Next steps are purchasing a stationary bike for the basement (walking doesn’t allow much for interval training), and going on YouTube to gather up safe yoga videos for muscle development. My time is highly constrained (thanks, capitalism!), so I cannot make any of the yoga classes when they’re scheduled at my gym, and the only gym equipment I can use safely these days is the bike anyway – at least until my hip heals these two torn tendons (tendons take A Long Time). It means the social aspect of things gets cut out, but given that I am not getting it now, I can view it as a step forward.

On y va.

 

A Foodie’s Hell

I love cream.

I love cheese – all cheese. I love eggs. I love full-fat everything.

I recently discovered that I have a cholesterol level of 352.

So I have to recalibrate. I’m told to stay away from the things I love, as well as most red meats, potatoes, and refined flour (so no white pasta). So basically, I can’t eat most of what Bernardo cooks – pizza, lasagne, steak, etc. I can’t even eat too much of the so-called “good fats” – olive oil, avocado. I just have way too much fat overall in my diet.

Which suddenly means I’m cooking for myself again (which is fine – I love cooking), and it’s all different from what Bernardo and Gina are eating. (Yeah, I had a little cry right before dinner last night while they were having Porterhouse steak and roasted potatoes, and I was having a Morningstar Farm fake-chicken thing.)

Yesterday I did a big shop and realized that – aside from the occasional chicken breast or lean pork – I’m essentially looking at a pescatarian lifestyle. And given that fish doesn’t really travel well into the office, I’m looking at it mostly being a vegetarian lifestyle.

Today I did what I used to do years ago on a Saturday – cooked for the week.

I made black bean soup, with parsnips and onions and fat-free chicken stock and a TINY amount of sunflower oil. It’s nice and sweet. I thickened it by using an immersion blender to mash up the beans and release their starch.

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Years ago, I was a vegetarian – I lasted about 10 years before the practicality of having little kids and little time intervened. But I’m familiar with vegetarian brands – I really like Morningstar Farms (though I’m aware that they’re fairly salty – which is probably why I like them). I made a ragout with MF “Crumbles” – basically flavored texturized vegetable protein. I used some tomatoes that I’d put up in August (Jersey-grown tomatoes do get a bit watery in the can, so I had to use some tomato paste to thicken it). This came out surprisingly well.

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I also made a braised tofu dish with soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and honey. Again, the MINUTEST quantity of sunflower oil, mostly just to keep the tofu from sticking during the searing process. I used to make this years and years ago.

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And I made a sort of chicken-and-parsnip casserole, with oregano, garlic, and lemon.

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And I roasted an acorn squash.

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So I should be all set to come home from work, heat something up quickly, and sit down with Bernardo and Gina. We were joking last night that Gina wouldn’t even be jealous of my food because none of it is anything she likes.

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Now, I have lost 25 pounds since June 9, mostly just through walking and monitoring my caloric intake. With this new way of living, it looks like I’m about to lose a load more – not intentionally, but just because I’m having to give up rich foods. Due to reflux, I’m also eating several tiny meals in a day – so I’m eating all the time, more or less. But it’s whole grains, nonfat yogurts, vegetable proteins or low/nonfat meats (turkey breast, chicken breast, fish), fruits and vegetables. Instead of seltzer, I’m drinking water infused with ginger and citrus peel. Instead of drinking so much caffeinated tea (basically, it was all day every day till 5 p.m.), I’m drinking more ginger/lemon tea. (Yeah, ginger’s kind of my best friend right now.)

Proof of Providential forces: a farmer’s market just opened up next door to my office.

 

How We Talk About Ferguson

Scamp texts me from a lockdown drill that she’s going to “wallow in bed all afternoon” because her anger has exhausted her.

Nothing from Diva – probably too angry to even talk.

With Bernardo, the conversation is sort of interspersed with other things. “Chicken cutlets for dinner.” “They’re blocking the FDR.” A staccato of inter-leaved realities. All important. Some more important than others. We’re on the same page. We don’t need to make sense to anyone else.

With my therapist – I emailed him in a moment of anguish on Monday night. Tuesday morning, I got a response that basically said, “No, you don’t need to come in because of this. What you’re feeling is utterly justified and there is nothing wrong with you.” Is it a mark of privilege when you need some sort of permission or blessing to feel justifiable pain, and let it spill over onto people you love? Or is it a mark of how incredibly screwed up we are?

My project manager comes into the office with his usual greeting: “How you doin’?” “Sad.” “Don’t even get me started, yo.”

Tomorrow we’re supposed to give thanks. Today I’m sort of trying to gather up the pieces of my frame of gratitude, and impose that frame on all this. It’s a better perspective than despair, I suppose.

In the meantime, I’m trying to come up with civil rights/feminist/human rights organizations to donate to. That’s the Christmas present I want Bernardo to give me. Suggestions welcome.

Oh, Dad

My father really loved Bill Cosby. We had a couple of his albums, along with Beyond the Fringe and other records. But Cosby…

My dad fought in the Newark riots. The Cosby Show was sort of mandatory viewing in our house.  Not even mandatory – we looked forward to it.

My heart hurts. Because, as my friend MiAngelo says, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And I hate it. Because my father expected better. He thought he had better. He fought for more than this.

I’m sort of glad that my dad is beyond where he can care.

But I’m not.

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