Tired of thinking of what I am *not* going to do

So the main goal of my Sobriety Challenge is that I want to clear my brain and adjust my perspective.  Not drinking is one facet, but being more productive is something that I’d like to focus my attention on. I don’t want to obsess on what I am not going to do and I know that my time is better spent thinking of what I would like to achieve.  Writing everyday is high on my list of priorities. Thlis blog is a testament to that.  A little everyday, no matter how mundane.

This morning finally activated my Writer’s Market account to hunt down places to publish a couple of stories that I have written. No more dragging ass. It felt good and I have already found a couple of places that look promising.

My to do list for the day:

1. Gym- This endorphin rush is important!

2. Lowes: We are remodeling our bathroom and it’s finally time to paint.  I also need some small clay pots and soil for a small garden that I am starting.

3. Home school lessons with the minion. If we don’t work for at least 30 minutes a day, we get behind and spend too much time playing on the computer, watching television and doing everything else that rots the brain.

4. Laundry. The endless battle, but as a perk, I get to watch Empire while I do it.  I love you Cookie!

5. Edit. Killing my darlings and doing some rewriting.  I’m looking forward to this.

Challenge progress: Day 4 underway.  So far so good.. Chris was craving a burger and a beer when he got home from work,  so he took us out to dinner last night.  We went to BJ’s and I had the best N/A Bloody Mary. The bartender garnished it with a celery stalk, a dressed glass and two plump olives. It was the prettiest drink I’ve seen in a while and I felt fancy.  The best part of all was that  I ate my dinner not overly concerned about a calorie overload.  Having a short list of favorite mocktails is going to be a big help as I go through this challenge.  Best of all, the tab was lower than what we usually spend, which made our wallet happy. First time out at a restaurant successful.  

Breakfast with a ghost

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You would have turned 60 today.  Somehow, though, you knew that you weren’t going to be long for this place.  Its been two years since you’ve been gone and I still feel an dull ache in my chest if I let my mind linger too long on your memory.  I can still remember your face, your voice, and the thick callouses on the palms of your hands. Those never went away…not even after you’d been sick and at home for so long that the idea of a job seemed alien and ill conceived.

I’ve been grumpy and sleep deprived these past few days. I’ve  felt like something is missing or off kilter, needing to be fixed, like the anxiety caused by a crooked picture begging to be straightened, only the edges that need to be aligned are out of reach and invisible to the eye.

You’ve been visiting me in my dreams and lingering at the breakfast table as I sip my morning coffee, enjoying the brief moments of quiet before the kids wake up.  You called me on the telephone asking about Mom and hung up after only a couple of sentences, only wanting to say “Hello” and “I love you”. A conversation so typical of the daily calls that we shared when you were still on this plane with me.

I hate tradition until it concerns you.  Today I will burn candles, whisper prayers and sprinkle flowers at your grave, hopeful that this will be enough to keep you from pulling my toes as I try and coax myself to sleep. You were always able to keep me tied to the old ways and your influence pulls from beyond the grave.  I guess I have always been a daddy’s girl.

I miss you old man, and I’ll be visiting you in my dreams.  Stay close to the telephone. I want to call you and say “Happy birthday.”

Sobriety Challenge- 1 day down

Yesterday I poured out half a bottle of my favorite red wine.  That was tough.  I spoke to my best friend and told her that I was quitting drinking for a stretch, to which she exclaimed “Good for you” and then changed the subject to the world of parenting, parent/teacher conferences and worrying about your kids.  She wasn’t dismissive, but she’s had long periods of sobriety and doesn’t think that it’s that big of a deal, and it’s not, I guess. I shared my last post via Facebook and got a couple of “Good luck” responses, a small smattering of likes. I saw a couple of my friends post funny memes about the virtues of wine drinking and other testimonies to their Bon Vivant lifestyles. I didn’t think that they had anything to do with me, but for the first time I was hyper aware of the drinking culture.

So I took a moment to think about why I want to stop, aside from the vanity issues and I realized that I have moments of sheepish embarrassment when I think of my less glamorous sloshed moments. The slurred words, glazed eyes and staggered gait that is more Anna Nicole and less Keith Richards.  I thought about how I am scared that I won’t be fun, easy and free without a glass in my hand.  Then I realized that what a complicated relationship I have with booze.

So I’ve decided to chronicle my thoughts on the issue from time to time. I know that being too earnest is eye roll inducing, but this is my journey, and I’m a writer, so it’s important for me to write things down.  I made a list of what I would like to achieve and I feel pretty hopeful.  I’m a reader, so I started a book called Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety, which is funny and honest.  I’ve dived into abstinence as enthusiastically as I have embraced my excesses, because that’s how I roll. I’m an all or nothing type of girl and when I start something new I try to learn all about it. I want to be ready for anything.

I also told my husband that I don’t expect him to quit with me and that I am ok doing this on my own.

So here I am. Day one. I would have counted Sunday, but technically I was having a double Crown and diet at midnight. Oh well..day 2 here we go.

Drying it up in the land of the thirsty

1950s Bar Restaurant Lounge Men Women Smiling Drinking Vintage Photo

I am going to quit drinking.

Just typing that sentence seems daunting and a little nerve rattling. I’m not an alcoholic. I don’t drink too much, or too little.  I may have a glass of wine or a beer one night during the week. On weekends, I have beer with dinner or if we visit with friends. I am the Queen of the comfortable buzz. If I pass the ever shifting border between buzzed and drunk  my biggest offenses usually include laughing too loud, corny jokes and borderline bad manners in the form of disregarding personal space.  I am a happy, celebratory drunk.

So why the sudden decision to change? Well, there was no hitting bottom or getting drunk and cheating on my husband. No embarrassing story of throwing up on myself at a PTA meeting, smashed on Pino Grigio in the middle of the day. The problem is that my body has started to disagree with my happy relationship with alcohol.  While I like how a beer will take the edge off, two beers is enough to ruin my sleep for the night.  I fall asleep quick enough, but I am restless and wide awake at 2 a.m.  My doctor has me on a diabetes prevention program and I don’t like how quickly my blood sugar levels will spike and drop when I imbibe. Having crazy insulin swings is worse than a hangover, and I don’t like how it affects my body and clouds my brain.  It also feels like a sham to bypass pastries and desserts only to indulge in drinks that are the equivalent of a few cups of sugar. Which brings me full circle to the lesser issues of empty calories,acne,  weight gain and beer bloat.  I’ve been working out 4 to 5 times a week and I’ve started to wonder how much more dramatic my results would be if I would just hop on the wagon.

So I’ve decided to quit.  At least for a couple of months, as an experiment and an exercise in will power.  I’ve quit before. I have two children that I nursed and I quit during those times, but those periods don’t really count, since they were periods of forced sobriety.  I’ve  done cleanses and once a Whole 30, and have quit for short periods, so I know that I can do it voluntarily.  I want to give sobriety a go in an attempt to clear up my thinking ( and my skin) and to improve the quality of my sleep and my health.  I’m in good company. I have some really good friends who are sober and they are some of the dearest people within my circle of friends.  My brother in law hasn’t touched a drop in over 5 years and he seems to have survived it.  A few months seems like a pittance to those who have made long term decisions.

What worries me is maintaining my resolve, which is why I am putting it out there for the world to see. I’m in a band and we play at bars, so it’s easy to rely on  a beer or a drink to ease your nerves.  I’ve also come to depend on the socially lubricating qualities of a nice shot of whiskey.  It’s going to be hard to walk away from the ritual of hunting down the perfect bottle of wine, popping the cork and savoring that first sip. I love the romanticism and glamorous feeling of wine and cheese and nice crusty bread.

Thank goodness for TopoChico and coffee. I’m not giving those two up without a fight.

Photo courtesy of Google Images/Photog Unknown.

Bad Vibes, warts and curse words.

I’ve been hiding and feeling a little blocked lately. It’s not that I haven’t had anything that I want to write about. In fact I’ve felt exactly the opposite.  There are a million things that I want to write about, real blood and guts things that make me feel like I am sitting naked in the middle of the room and everyone can see me, warts and all.  The thing is, I’m kind of a private person and I haven’t quite worked out how I feel about posting about my personal life in a way that leaves the people around me feeling exposed.  I don’t want to let out anyone’s secrets, but rather let out my own secrets, which I think might make other people feel uncomfortable.  Some of the things that run through my mind are nasty and so I am immobile. Do I approach the monsters in  fiction, talk about them on this blog, or both. I didn’t have this struggle when I was young and single, but now what I talk about can affect others.

I’m increasingly aware of the carefully curated image that so many of us create as we post on our Facebook and Instagram accounts.  Cool, artistic, intelligent and cynical with quick acid wit that can cut to the bone…that is if we weren’t all “blessed” and “taking the high road”, drunk on forgiveness and awareness.  That stuff is all well and good, but in terms of art, it feels fake and a little put on.  This is my struggle.  Figure out a way to talk about the raw feelings that are left after you’ve been betrayed, back stabbed, fucked over and mistreated   Being scared. The feelings that happen when you can see the high road, but you feel much better hoping that nothing but bad things happen to people who have crossed you.  When forgiveness isn’t an option because you know that sending out an onslaught of bad vibes and ill intent to someone who has done something bad to you is how you find your way back to the light.  I want to talk about how we all know that forgiveness can be overrated and when we hear about something bad happening to someone we don’t like, we smile a little on the inside. Not our finest moments, but real ones nonetheless.  I need to be able to examine the ugly and appreciate the beautiful, because we all know you can’t have one without the other.  I also know that as a writer, I’m full of shit if I can’t pull back the filters and show the full picture of what really happens as we try to make it through this life.

So I’m still here…pondering.  Thinking about how and when I am going to talk about the boxes(s) that take up space in my head.  It’s my baggage and I don’t mind it.  I think that I’m going to get in embroidered with my initials.  It’s made me who I am today, but  I’ve gotta  figure out way to shuffle them around a bit so I can make some room for other ideas to take up residence here.

The Madonnas of Echo Park- A review (kind of)

Madonnas of Echo

A few days ago I finished reading The Madonnas of Echo Park.  Reading isn’t the right word to describe it..I devoured it, inhaled it. I loved it. I hadn’t really realized how similar a small Hispanic neighborhood in East LA would have with a small Hispanic community in the South Texas city that I grew up in.  I I had an idea that it would be similar but the book talked about experiences that resonated with me. It brought back memories of growing up in a neighborhood that existed in between two cultures. My neighbors, the school I went to, the faces that I saw everyday, they could have been the same people that Brando Skyhorse was talking about.

Things were different in our little neighborhood from what I saw on television growing up. Aunts and uncles from different families grew up with each other, family feuds carried on for generations and people knew which houses were working class and which houses you crossed the street to avoid passing by.  A whole separate social system was encapsulated within our neighborhood and anything outside of the ‘hood was  like a whole other city  There were three white kids in my entire high school and I remember their names to this day: Brandi, an athletic blonde, Chris, a transplant from Houston, and Nanette, the red headed girl who got side eyed by the cholas when she showed up one day in Dickies and a black over sized t shirt. After a couple of weeks she was sitting at their table and it wasn’t until she started “messing” with another girl’s boyfriend that people remembered that she didn’t quite fit in.

Life for me was awkward in high school, but in retrospect I don’t think that anyone escaped their teen years unscathed. While most of my school mates wondered how to be down, I was interested by art, feminism, and the riot grrl movement- in a time when gang culture was really taking hold in our little community.  Lots of girls got pregnant and lots of boys dropped out of school to get jobs.  In my mind boys were toxic. I liked boys, I just didn’t want to get stuck as a teen mom living at home when there was a wide world to explore. I rolled my eyes at the skater boys turned gangsters.  Suffice to say that people  thought I was weird and at one point got labeled a lesbian because I was one of the only girls who wore combat boots and flannels (it was the 90’s!). On of my worst memories was when, for my senior picture, one of my classmates took pity on me and did my hair and make up, complete with crispy waterfall bangs and bright red lipstick.  She was trying to be nice and wanted me to fit in, when in all reality I was just biding my time until I could get the hell out. My husband laughs heartily at that picture whenever he sees it and I still have to restrain myself from putting my hands over it when my mom flashes it at family gatherings.

Skyhorse talks about all of those feelings.  The feeling of not quite fitting in where you should feel most comfortable and feeling like you have to groom yourself to fit into where you feel you belong. I wasn’t ashamed of my culture, but I couldn’t find the beauty in a world that I desperately wanted to get away from.  I wanted more than life in our neighborhood, where most of my extended family lived.  It wasn’t unusual for generations of families to live within blocks of each other, never straying from their little world.  The obligation and tradition seemed stiffing and claustrophobic. I got lots of side eye when I would tell my classmates about my dreams of New York, Los Angeles and my plans to see the world.

Duchess, the best friend of the protagonist, struck a chord in me.  She reminded me so much of my friend Cindy that it brought tears to my eyes.  Cindy (or Cydni as she preferred) became my friend in fourth grade and was my opposite. Where I was pale, lanky and awkward with straight hair, she was bubbly, confident and took pride in the fact that she could pass for Selena’s younger sister. We were thick as thieves in grade school. Together we debated the better qualities of Madonna and Cindy Lauper, learned how to Walk Like an Egyptian and giggled over the Beastie Boys.

As the story often goes, we drifted apart in junior high. Flat chested with braces and glasses, I was the Mexican Jan Brady.  Cindy had the nerve to grow boobs and with her friendly, confident personality quickly  became one of the cool girls.  Still we’d hang out on the weekends and talk on the phone.  She was the person who I confessed my first kiss to, the  person I smoked my first joint with and the person I got into my first fist fight with. To be fair, we were egged on by a mob of bloodthirsty preteens “ooohing” when an argument over a boy (insert eye roll) got blown out of proportion and who scattered when the assistant principal appeared.

In spite of all of the ups and downs, we remained friends, even when my parents sent me to Catholic school and different social circles pulled us in opposite directions. When I went back to my small public high school my sophomore year, she was the one who helped me bridge the gap between being the girl who “talked like a white kid” and being down enough to skip class with her and her friends.  Cindy was cool enough to date G’s (gangsters) and hang out with the two surfer kids in school who would take us on car rides jamming Men at Work’s ” A Land Down Under”. I remember how angry I was when one of her boyfriends blackened her eye for going to the mall without “permission”, and how disgusted I was when she forgave him and drove off with him in his old VW Rabbit. Our last semester of senior year she was trying to get in shape to pass the physical fitness test for the army and was being courted by a recruiter.  I felt her disappointment when she found out that she was pregnant and her dreams of seeing the world as a GI Jane ( the picture which hung in her locker) were put on indefinite hold.

Cindy dropped out and moved to Houston to stay with her aunt and I finished my senior year eager to leave.  I saw her one more time a few years later.  I’d bounced back to my parents house  and was trying to hatch another plan to get out of town.  By this time the laser focus that I’d had in high school had faltered and I’d discovered drugs and rock and roll and my idea of what counterculture was.  It was a cold sunny morning when she knocked at our door and she had the brightest smile when I answered.  The disappointment in her face stung as she looked me over saw that I’d changed.  We visited for maybe half an hour and she told me how she was going to school to become a teacher, how she loved being a mom and how life in Houston suited her. I remember how surprised I was by how grown up and full of hope she seemed. I remember feeling self conscious and stupid for some of the choices that I’d made and I told her about my missteps in those treacherous years between being a teenager and being an adult  The visit was cut short when she got a page from her aunt and told me she had to leave. Right before she got in her car she told me,

“You know Melissa, my mom was a junkie. That’s why I lived with my grandmother, that’s why my aunt raised me. My mom couldn’t get it together enough to be a parent, so she gave me up. You’re too smart for this stuff. I hope you get your shit together girl.”

I didn’t have much to say to her and I stood on the curb watching as she drove off, back to her son, her life as a student teacher, and a future full of possibility.

This amazing book that I read brought all of these memories back to me..my story was different, but the same.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Cindy for the better part of a week now.  I wonder if she graduated from college and if she is teaching young minds at a school somewhere, flashing her sunshine smile and dancing when she gets excited. (Remember the Roger Rabbit?) I wonder what her son, who must be in his 20’s,  is like.  Most of all I wish that I could thank her for caring enough to really take a look at me and tell me that she was disappointed.

Cindy, if you’re out there, I hope that your life is good and you are happy. I miss you girl.

For everyone else, read this book.  It captures the essence of growing up Mexican/Hispanic/ Latino without watering down the discomfort and tensions that I think get glossed over in today’s conversations about race.  If you don’t read it for that, read it for the beautiful story telling, because after all, who doesn’t like a good story.

Falling down the half empty hour glass

Some days I believe that age is just a number. I wake up with a spring in my step, quick to conquer a million  to do lists and enough energy to accomplish them. Other days feel like I’ve fallen into a half empty hour glass.  The body feels tired, or maybe the mind is tired and the body follows suit. Slog to the bathroom to wash my face and see an impostor staring back at me in the mirror.  Skin like crepe paper, still smooth but with the slightest puckers beneath the eyes and around the cheeks. Go to my vanity and paint on good health, sunshine and bright happy eyes..look good=feel good, right? Feel like a frump as I throw on clothes and I will  second guess every choice.  Do I look like mutton in sheep’s clothing?  Then the real question: why do I worry, why care about the opinions of strangers at all?

The day will eventually pass and I laugh at these thoughts. I remind myself that one day, I will be an old woman with grey hair, wrinkles and scars. Or delicately tinted Easter egg hair, wrinkles and scars, all worn proudly. I will tell the stories of my life, the truths that are too strange to be false, with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Most importantly, I will remember me as I am today and laugh a deep belly laugh about the woman in the prime of her life who spent precious time worrying about being too old.

YoungPhoto: Google images. Photog unknown