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Midland, Texas, United States
I write. I make stuff.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rest Areas I Have Known & Loved

Oh, y'all know Official Highway Rest Areas are created for People Like Me! You know how I loathe public restrooms, with gas station and convenience store "restrooms"--translation: "Portals of Hell"--being chief amongst them. So, since I have a bladder that's the size of a pea and since it was sliced open by mistake at one point and really doesn't need to have any more trauma of any sort and does, really, need to be treated like A Queen, meaning that it should never, ever have to experience discomfort (I mean, they sliced it open by mistake; who the hell knows how well they actually REPAIRED it? Huh? I'm asking). Well. We try to humor Her. And rest areas are the only things that make road trips survivable. And honeys, I've known a LOT of them.
There's a lot of country out there. A lot of highway. A lot of rest areas. Not enough, of course. There should be one every ten miles or so, esp. in country that looks like this:
It would break up the monotony.
The ones in Texas are the best, especially along I-20, near Abilene, where there are a couple that require nothing of you--everything is automatic, with sensors. I don't even have to flush with my shoe, balancing on one leg while making sure my skirt doesn't touch anything. While holding my breath, of course.

No. These are gems, as far as public restrooms go. Meaning they're kind of the pyrite of the highways, but still. There is one rest area near Johnson City that is a diamond. My god, it's fabulous. Landscaped, with flowers and rolling hill-lets of grass and a playground and a picnic area that is a decent ways away from the Toilet Area, which is always a plus in my world. I'm like a cat: I prefer not to eat near the litter box, if you don't mind. This one, this diamond, is just gorgeous.

On the other hand, the ones in New Mexico--well, they're not even rocks. I love rocks, even the lowly pebble kind, so the analogy breaks down here. The rest areas in New Mexico are the pits. Literally: many of the "toilets" are just hot, airless rooms with stalls with big canister-like things perched above, uh, pits. As in, deep latrines. As in, GAG ME!

Plus there's this little issue:
Now, we have rattlesnakes in Texas, too. Honeys, we INVENTED rattlesnakes just to help us amuse us as we torment the yankees. But we somehow manage to keep them away from our rest areas. Maybe it's because, um, we don't think of "rest area" as a place where we dig a couple of deep holes and toss up a shell of a structure. No. We plant FLOWERS, OK? We don't just turn things over to the varmints and pretty much tell people, "Hey, y'all're on your own here! Bring your own toilet paper. And you might want to find a sharp stick!"

Then, in Arizona, things got a little better, cleanliness-wise. With actual plumbing and stuff. But they seem to have an odd idea about what people come to rest areas for. Get this:
Oh. My. God.
And they're not too big on upkeep. The concrete breaks up, they don't fix it. Lord, no. It's so much more colorful to just spray paint the upheaval as a warning.
Well, it sure made ME happy. We coordinated so well I almost stayed a while. But no. This frightened me:

California? Well, I don't remember specifics there. There's one really skanky one out in the desert. And somewhere along I-8 they had a couple of rest areas that were CLOSED, which I think ought to be against the law and punishable by death. I mean, really: if you can't keep the thing going, what the hell are you doing with those federal highway dollars? Oh, wait! You're doing this:
Yes, lovelies: this is our border security at work. Miles and miles of this. We saw a ton (read: shitload) of Border Patrol vehicles. Now, we're used to the border patrol checkpoints around El Paso, where they ask you if you're a citizen and if you have anyone else in the vehicle and then, this trip, have you roll down the windows so they can take a look.
"Anyone else in the vehicle with you?"
I wanted to say, "Nobody living. Just my dead mother, back there with the stuffed rhinoceros."
Wouldn't that have been GREAT? But you don't make jokes with the Border Patrol. They do not, as far as we can tell, have a sense of humor. Pretty much like Men in Black, but with crappier costumes. Uniforms. Whatever. They look way silly. I wanted to tell them, "Quit with those boots! And that belt--please!" But they would have shot me, so I let it go.

These are my favorite signs. I love them. I can just see the driver realizing that his rig has turned on him, has Had Enough of This Shit and has bolted, whinnying and slinging spit, slipping the reins and barreling at full speed off into the sunset. He pumps frantically on the brakes, to no avail, shouting, "Whoa, Nelly!" And the truck is going, "'Nelly'? Nelly my ass, you bozo. How's this for 'Nelly'?" And he snorts and picks up speed, careening towards the canyon wall.
And then this magically appears, and the truck goes, "Huh? A ramp for me? They actually built me a ramp of my very own? Oooooh!" And suddenly the world brightens, and all those hours and miles of bad gas (you know those truckers fart all the time in there) and jimmied speedometers and overweight loads fall away, and the truck turns onto the ramp as a wild horse to a pristine pasture. And all is well.

That's what I always think, anyway. I love those signs.
Here's us somewhere desert-y. Oh! I remember (snort! "remember") Between Phoenix and Tucson--I remember because the woman who came up and offered to take our photo has lived in Tucson since like 1969 and loves it. Beats the hell out of me why she loves it, but there you go. She was sweet, so maybe there's more than just those ersatz Whole Foods Markets (Tucson has two, and neither of them is a real Whole Foods but is, instead, a transmogrified Wild Oats, which is to The Real Whole Foods (as in the flagship store in Austin, a behemoth of several floors and A Chocolate Fountain and, oh! a salad bar to die for!) as a Geo Metro is to a Rolls Royce).
[Whew. Had to dig for that one.]
A while back I bought a bunch of packages of Dilbert magnets. I'm not sure why. They amused me. I brought them home and punched them out and put them all over the refrigerator, in that special Frig as Art Gallery kind of way central to the kitchens found in, oh, trailer parks. I moved them around and arranged them in artful configurations. And then got tired of them and thought, "What the hell am I going to do with all this crap?" I thought to donate them to the UU Garage Sale (this weekend, in case you're in town), but the whole bunch of these would bring in, what? Fifty cents? And then I had the Brilliant Idea to take them with and use them to Beautify Rest Areas. Yes! So, at each of the many, many, many rest areas where we stopped on our travels, I took a character and a word balloon and stuck them on the door of the stall (generally the handicapped stall, as those have the most room and are least likely to force my clothing to come into contact with any actual surfaces, of course). Sometimes the doors were not metal, or not metal-for-magnets, and I'd have to improvise. Like on the hand dryer. Or the trashcan. You know.
But, all across Texas and New Mexico (home of the Giant Underground Latrine of Hell, which I imagine lies under the entire STATE, which will someday sink into a pit of----augghhhhh!) and Arizona and California, there are Dilbert Moments.
I hope people laughed. I did. Making it sometimes difficult to aim, hovering as I was.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Home At Last!

Hooray! We made it! Nine days, 2500 miles, many, many $$. But we had a fabulous time and no horrors, so all is wonderful.

Just wanted to let y'all know that I'm home and will try my VeryVeryVery Best to get some photos put up here. It may take a while. I'm trying to answer the Work-Related E-Mails and figure out what time it is in The Real World--we've been on the sort of hybrid of central time plus mountain time plus the Weirdness that is Arizona (Which Does Not Do Daylight Savings Time (according to my dad, whom I called on the road to ask, "What's up with this?" since they were regular Airstream Travelers for years and know all this stuff)) Time and then Pacific Time and so are a little confused, body-clock-wise, and are now dealing with a passel (ie: herd) of cats who are offended beyond all belief that we left them for so damn long. Nine offended cats will take rather a lot of time. I've been doling out bits of California cheese and dancing with them to Aaron Neville via Randi's blog. It helps, but sucking up is in order for the next day or so. If you don't hear from me, please send someone with a shovel to dig us out from under the large mounds of shed cat fur.

They will bury us: can you hear them, growling, "We will bury you!" sounding remarkably like Arnold Schwarzenegger?

But, reallyreallyreally soon: photos!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My Newest Obsession: Pandora Radio Rocks

The other night I was trying to get Sirius radio to load so we could listen to it in the room, but I couldn't remember my password. Isn't THAT a surprise? So I checked for other smooth jazz stations and found Pandora, which isn't just smooth jazz but is every kind of music and is SO TOTALLY COOL--you can reject music you don't like and suggest stuff you do like--it's interactive and individualized and just the coolest totally Me Radio you're going to find. Such an addictive thing, to sit and listen and vote selections up or down, insuring that the music you like will play.

On the one hand, it's not a good thing, as it scours out so much new and good and cool. On the other hand, when you're on the road and just want something you LIKE to listen to after a day of being out and about, it's FABULOUS. Check it out and tell me what you think--

Meanwhile, I'll do my best to get some photos uploaded--another fabulous day in Southern California, where we did the Winery Thang and hooked up with some swing dance instructors and spent three hours arguing about atheism and abortion and then watching them dance to the live music. Wish I'd had my little video camera, but I did get some cool still shots.

Now to eat some vegetables--at last! They're harder to find than one might imagine. . . .

I Thought I Liked Art, But Maybe Not: Musings (OK = A Rant) on Contemporary Art

I'm having all these second thoughts about my love of art. I'm beginning to think I don't even know what art IS, for crying out loud. Because on Thursday, as I told you, we finally tracked down the Museum of Contemporary Art and wandered the exhibits there (home of the Dead Fish Penis, which is not, as far as I remember, the actual name of the photograph). And I was sorely taxed by this. Out of all the Art we saw, there was not a bit of it--Not. A. Single. Bit.--that I liked at all. That inspired me or moved me in any way other than, "What the hell is that supposed to be?" It was ugly, and it was sloppy, and here's what I think.

On the one hand, we're supposed to think this is Art with a Capital A and that it Means Something and is deep and thoughtful and full of import and that, if we don't Get It, the fault lies with us.

Right? Isn't that how you learned about art? That you have to study it and learn to interpret meaning and to seek even deeper meaning? And that if you don't, the fault is your own laziness and lack of insight, education, sophistication? Art is not about beauty, although it can be beautiful. It's about communicating ideas and emotions, about making the abstract concrete. It needn't be literal, it needn't be beautiful, it needn't be obvious.

But! What's the key word in that paragraph above? "Communicating." Let's think about that, shall we? If you want to argue that art is not about communicating but is, instead, about the artist expressing herself in a concrete manner, great. That's fine. Then those artists should make art and keep it to themselves. If you have no desire to communicate something, there's no reason to share it. No reason to show it.

So let's assume that the art we see has, as part of its purpose, a desire to communicate something with someone. And if it's somewhere where we can see it, then we are that someone. At least a part of that someone. And if that art fails to communicate anything to us except, "My god, this guy took a lot of photographs of skanky naked people shooting up," then what are we to take from that? That the artist is communicating that shooting up makes your dick look like a dead trout? Well, gee, you can get that in 9th grade health class from your football coach, minus, perhaps, the reference to your genitals.

And what about the paintings that communicated nothing more to me than, "Gee, I have a lot of old paint I want to use up before it goes to waste! Plus a lot of spare time on my hands, at least until my favorite episode of Law and Order SVU comes on at 11!" (Ooooh, look: Ricë made a cultural reference!)

Because when I looked at this stuff, I didn't feel moved or inspired or provoked. What I felt, really, was purely this: this stuff was the laziest stuff I've ever seen in my life. Nothing looked as if it had taken more than half an hour, tops, to execute. Nothing was detailed or carefully executed. There were crayon scribbles on manila paper. There were abstract oils, which is my least favorite thing on the planet, right up there with body odor and public toilets and neocons and the ghost of Jerry Falwell.

Oh, wait! There was one piece that obviously took a ton of time: a series of concentric circles, black ink on white paper. Hundreds of these, drawn right next to each other, covering a huge piece of paper. And what did that communicate to me? "I wonder what it would look like if I drew a bunch of circles on paper."

And then I started wondering: if the artists I interview are considered, for the most part, "crafters," rather than "artists," and these people who have work in this museum are considered Artists, then what the hell is art? It has nothing to do with skill or beauty or a desire to communicate or ANYTHING that I can figure out. Because as we all knows, boys and girls, the rule of effective communication is what? That the communicatee--that would be the VIEWER, in this case--has to Get It. Because if they don't? You haven't communicated effectively.

Yeah, yeah, you're going to say: It's not the fault of the artist if the viewer is so unsophisticated and poorly educated about art that they can't understand it.

Bullshit. We're not talking about impaired people or illiterate people or people with subnormal IQ's. We're talking here about regular people who happen to like art, or what they think of as "art," and then go and see stuff like this and begin to wonder what the fault is with them.

There is no fault. If a writer doesn't communicate with readers, then the writer hasn't been successful. Even "great" literature--if it's obscure and unreadable and you get halfway through it and can't figure out what the hell is going on or who killed the French doctor, then what's the point? And I had this conversation in graduate school, where we had to read some Truly Unreadable Crap. Other TA's argued that it was Fine Stuff and that it was my own intellectual laziness that kept me from appreciating it. I was younger then, and I thought, well, maybe that's true. Maybe I am lazy because I don't want to try to figure out what's supposed to be going on. Maybe it is my fault that I hate Donald Barthelme and don't want to read him ever again, ever.

Need I say that I have changed my mind significantly in the intervening years?

If you're not communicating with your audience, you've failed. Pure and simple. That's it. Now, your chosen audience might be a small group of people just like you, and that's OK. But the rest of us have no reason to feel stupid and thick because we don't understand what the hell you're going on about.

And another thing: some artists (writers, painters, musicians, etc.) are just nuts. The stuff in their brain is not like the stuff in the brain of a normal person. And when it comes out in the form of a painting or assemblage or whatever, we have no need to try to figure it out and understand what it is, because it's not about us, or about Life or about Art or whatever. It's about whatever's going on in the brain of that really weird person we'd never want to have to attempt to engage in normal conversation.

I saw some people on the beach in Venice, selling their art along the sidewalk. Who's to say it was any better or any worse than the stuff I saw 4 hours later in downtown LA? The difference was that I got to see the people who were making it, and let me tell you that I would not be asking most of them for advice about anything. Not even changing a light bulb, should I forget how to do that (always a possibility) and need a refresher.

For instance: One guy was doing wood-burning on plaques. He was sitting cross-legged on a dirty blanket, smoking a joint, holding a magnifying glass into the sun and using it to burn the wood.

He was, I believe, far, far away in another land. I think some of the contemporary artists in the museum might be there with him. Maybe the other (not the trout dick one) photographer who took a photo of herself after she was beaten and given a black eye was there with him.

I don't know. They had several pieces by Robert Rauschenberg that were being explained to a group of tourists by a docent. She talked about abstract expressionism and was clearly enthralled by the work. I looked at it, walked around it, thought how much it looks like so many of the assemblages I've seen--you know, the ones it's now popular to coat in melted wax. One had a big stuffed chicken. There was a lot of paint. I tried to be open, but here's the thing: abstract expressionism just seems really lazy to me. Like you want to express something (which I kind of doubt: I think they just want to play with materials and are claiming, after the fact, that it Means Something--a skepticism I learned in courses on literary criticism, where someone would write something and then, later, read the critics' interpretations of the work and pick out a couple that sounded pretty good and go, "Yeah, that's it. That's what I meant," and then snicker to themselves).

OK. I've gone on long enough. In the end, here's what I think:
1. Art must have meaning. Otherwise it's just play. There's nothing wrong with play, but something deeper is necessary for a piece to be art.

2. That meaning cannot be so obscure that only the artist and the one critic who articulated it know what it is. That's self-indulgent laziness.

3. Don't show me any more dead trout dicks. They give me nightmares.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Oh, Sunny Southern California!

Oh, honeys! I have so much to tell you about, but it's just not going to happen. I'm so very sorry I'm not one of those people who blogs all their trips and adventures as they happen. I always think I will. I truly do. I take photographs and plan things I'll post, but then? Life happens. When we travel, we spend so very little time in our room, wherever it is. We come here to eat (because you know we have to eat most meals from things we buy in Whole Foods and Trader Joe's and Central Market, as there are few restaurants whose mission is to cater to Picky Eaters) and to sleep. And that's pretty much it.

We do have a fabulous room here in Temecula. It's a brand new La Quinta Inn and Suites, which you know I adore (they're the cleanest chain we've found so far). Being brand new is wonderful--it's like no one else has ever stayed here. I even went barefoot on the carpet! Yes! I NEVER do that--I always wear either shoes or socks, because of the skankiness. But here? And, plus, they gave us an upgrade to an "executive suite," which means we have a ton of room--couch and desk and chair and several tables and two windows--all for about half what the Stapled Wallpaper Room was. Ahhh. So we're staying a couple extra days. Of course. Cleanliness is next to nirvana. Who knows when we'll ever find a place this spotless again?

Yesterday we walked up and down Venice Beach, where The EGE was accosted by a guy on roller skates, wearing a turban and playing a guitar. He followed The EGE, singing loudly, until The EGE gave him all the change in his pocket and talked to him until he went away. I have photos. Promise to show them. Someday.

Then we spent the rest of the day walking downtown Los Angeles, hoping to find fabric in The Garment District. And, oh, did we! My. God. More fabric than you can imagine, lining blocks and blocks. And The Toy District, where I fell in love with a plush Japanese purse. And The Flower District. And The Museum of Contemporary Art, where I saw a disturbing photograph of a penis (as someone who actually LIKES them, I hate seeing them in their worst light. Looking like a dead fish is definitely in that light. It was very sad. I am still Disturbed.)

We walked for miles and miles and miles. I got sunburned, stupidly. I put sunscreen all over me EXCEPT, for some reason (duh: I forgot) my face. I hurt. Pity, please. I keep expecting The EGE to say, "That's what you get for being so damn white." He doesn't, bless his heart.

Today we Drove Over Mountains, which is Not Our Thang, and visited the offices of Stampington, where we schmoozed with my editors and took photos and had a great time. And then got stuck in traffic for like two hours on the way back here. We thought to forage for food and spend the evening in the room, watching a movie on tv. But then I found that one of the wineries (did I mention that we're in Temecula, where there are 18--that's EIGHTEEN--wineries?) has Flamenco Fridays, and so we drove out and listened to FABULOUS live flamenco and danced and had a fabulous time.

And some guy tried to pick us up. Boy, it's been a while since that's happened. But it has happened before, and I can't really figure it out. I think that people look at the way we look and figure there must be Something about us. They figure no "normal" couple would dress the way we do, or something. Last time it was a woman who tried to pick us up. This time it was a man. He told me The EGE was cute. I said, "I know. You can go to the back of the line, 'cause you're sure not the first one who thinks so." And it went on from there, until he started asking how I felt about butter and talking about "tossed salad," like I would either say, "Mmmmmm!" or have no clue. Wrong on both counts. I said, "OK. That's enough! You can just move on away from here, because we're not doing the salad. Tossed or otherwise." And he laughed self-consciously, all like, "You got me," and moved away to the restroom. And then came back and shook our hands really elaborately and wished us well. And you can bet I wiped my hand on The EGE's pants leg and came back to the room and scrubbed really well--I KNOW what he was doing, the little bastard.

Do I like tossed salad, indeed. Bite me.

But like anything else, it's all worth it in the end if it makes a good story. Which it does. If only I had time to write it out in all its glory. Maybe tomorrow. Or maybe not--tomorrow we plan to visit more of the fabulous wineries. And then maybe on to San Diego for the zoo. We'll be home eventually, because I really miss my cats. But, man, we're having fun! Minus the salad.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Just Google Me

Do you ever do that? Google yourself? Kind of creepy, isn't it? And pretty pathetic, if you do it a lot. But isn't it cool that "to google" is now a verb? And what's even cooler is that I got to go there today. To Google's offices. Like visiting my home page or something. More on that in a minute.

And now we're hanging out in Marina del Rey. It's a George Strait song, dammit. I just don't know the exact title, never mind that we looked it up online and listened to it so when the stupid melody kept playing itself over and over and OVER in our heads, one of us (that wouldn't be me) would have a clue about the words.

Because this is where we are, in Marina del Rey, California, at the Marina del Rey Hotel, which doesn't have a whole lot to recommend it, other than the view. Which is why we're here. But otherwise, um, no. Not really. Let's just say this: numerous patches of wallpaper have been repaired with A STAPLER. Yes. There are staples holding the wallpaper up. Look:
Y'all know how unimpressed this made me.
So we won't really say too much about the accommodations, except that we have a balcony, lots of nice pillows, a beautiful huge flowering plant outside that reaches all the up to the second floor. And birds. Sunsets. Sunrises. Tons of boats to watch.
And staples. So no paper-organizational crisis here. No!

But that's neither here nor there. Here's the reason we are here, on the coast of Sunny Southern California, just a stone's throw
from where I lived during junior high school. You could probably see it, on a clear day.

Here's where we spent the day:
Several months ago, a Man Who Shall Remain Nameless sent a note inviting me to participate in the Authors at Google program, wherein authors are invited to come to one of the Google offices around the country and present their work in an hour-long program that is videotaped and uploaded to YouTube (I'll put it here when it's uploaded, in about two weeks).

It's a really nice deal--they order a bunch of your books from their distributor and have them in a stack on the video conference room table, where employees who come to listen to your talk can pick one up. Google takes really good care of its employees, is all I'm saying. I'd imagined that I'd get a big tour and could ask questions and take photographs. Um. No. Instead, we were buzzed into the building and had someone raise the parking garage gate for us. We signed in and printed name tags and had to sign a disclosure agreement. So I'm just saying: it's a cool place, indeed, with many things decorated in the primary color scheme you see on the Google site, and toys everywhere. And places where employees and guests can help themselves to everything from bottled water to meals.

And that's it. Way cool, but I'm mum.
If they ever offer you a job, jump.

And so the video conference went to other offices as well, including the one in Boulder. So if I'd looked over my shoulder, to the screens behind me, I could have watched the people in Boulder who were watching me. Cool, huh?

So now that the gigging is done, we're hanging out for a couple of days. Or until I can't stand it any more--I'm already ready to go home, after three days away. I'm ready to get back where it's warm and normal--it's been chilly, and Oh. My. God. The traffic. The people. The homelessness. It's always a shock to come from home, where the economy is booming and unemployment is less than 3%, and come and see all these people--and some bizarre people we've seen, including many odd white guys with what would at first appear to be dreds but that are actually just fucking MATS that need to be CUT OUT, OK? We're really not sure if it's a fashion statement or just the lack of scissors. It's hard to tell the hip from the homeless. You don't know whether to feel really sorry for them or hope they grow up and learn the value of personal hygiene.
We saw a ton of two things: street people and BMW's. You tell me.

So we hung out today in Santa Monica, walking through the fabulous farmers' market and marveling at the fresh organic produce and flowers and then walking on the beach and wandering around all afternoon. And feeling bummed about the people on the streets--I don't know how people can live in places like this and see these street people every day and not just feel horrid all the time. I think they must become invisible to them, but I can't imagine that. How can people become invisible? And what can you think about them, seeing that many of them are stoned out of their minds and talking to trash cans and light poles? Pity? Anger?
Or just learning to make them invisible?

Tomorrow? I'm not sure--we're going somewhere else, but I don't know where. Maybe the beach. Maybe the garment district. Maybe Temecula, to check out the wineries. The big cities--they're fun to visit for about a day and a half, and then they're just overwhelming, with the money and the poverty, the people rushing to work and the people digging through the garbage for cigarette butts. None of them seem happy, and after a couple of hours, you just want to go home and make stuff and not try to figure it all out.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

One of My Artists

Checking up on some of my favorite artists this morning and found where Chris Malone has added the piece I wrote about him to his website. So cool to find it there--if you haven't read about this man, go here. And then spend some time looking at his work. Fabulous!

Another Cool Moleskine Notebook Video

I've been watching some of these videos when I take a break throughout the day. They're all good, but I like some a lot better than others. Here's one I really love:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Adventures in Dermatology

I got the last stitch out yesterday, and I hope that's the end of it. Who knows, though, really? You know that, in late middle age, Things Begin to Change. It's not enough that you get wrinkles and grey hair and The Lovely Menopause and intestines that begin to behave like petulant spoiled children. Oh, no! No, that would be too easy.

You also get parts of your body that act as if they not only have minds of their own but have also been taken over by aliens who have the agenda of making you look as hideous as possible as quickly as possible. To wit: things that should be full and lush are not. Hair, for example. Teeth. Brain cells, especially the ones having to do with um, what's that word?

Oh, yeah: memory. Having to do with memory, is what I meant.

And things that should remain sparse and virtually invisible, if not non-existent? Oh, those are the things that become lush and full. Hairs. Not "hair," which, if you remember (I'm sure I don't) I said was becoming sparse. That would be the hair on your head and, um, Down Below. Omigod.

No, I mean "hairs," as in the singular, stray ones that appear where you'd rather they not. Lips. Chin. Shoulders, for crying out loud. If you're male? The ears! Oy. What is that all about?

Or hairs that have always been where they're supposed to be but now marshal their forces and try to take over: eyebrows. Nose. Ewwwww. Let's not go on. I'm feeling faint.

But also other things change. Like moles. Ick. Isn't that a hideous word? Why couldn't those pigmented bits of skin be called something lovely? But if they were called, oh, say, "roses," then we'd think of "rose" as something ugly and hairy and appearing regularly on the tip of the noses of witches. Or, wait: are those warts? Another hideous word. Whatever. Random bits of fleshiness = aieeee!

Anyway. At some point, several years ago, as Mother Nature Began to Fuck With Me, for whatever reason I cannot fathom, as I have not abused the body she gave me in any appreciable way, unless you consider years of careless sun-tanning. Which is a crime, I admit--one day I decided that I was NOT going to become That Old Woman with The Mole on Her Forehead. I was heading in that direction, and it was time to take action.

Alas. My dermatologist had died. No surprise, as he is the only doctor I'd ever had who would leave the examining room every now and then and go into his office and smoke and then come back out, reeking of smoke and kind of hacking up parts of his lungs into a handkerchief. You'd think he'd have a clue, but maybe he studied only skin. Like he was reallyreallyreally good with rashes but kind of clueless with the whole Smoking Is Not Good for You studies. Maybe dermatologists don't read that section of the AMA journal.

So I had to find a new dermatologist, one who was not, as far as I could tell, dead. It's kind of questionable around here, though: we don't have a lot of them, and they're hard to get in to see, like maybe they bring them to life only sporadically. The one I finally found who could see me within the calendar year was someone I'd never seen nor heard of. From Elsewhere, let's say. From somewhere where people seem to learn to be very suspicious. In this case, the doctor passed this tendency to suspicion on to her entire staff.

I show up on the appointed day, at the appointed time, as a strip mall across town, down a couple of doors from the U Smoke 'M [sic] shop, and I'm thinking, "Omigod. Skin and smoking! It's a dermatological theme!"

I go in and sign in and sit down and proceed to wait. And wait. And wait. Now, this is in the Time Before Stitching, the time before I began to take stitching with me Everywhere. I had a book. Maybe a magazine. Whatever it was that I'd taken with me to read, I finished it early on. And so sat and tried to keep from looking at my fellow waiters, lest they have a variety of suppurating sores on their faces and hands. Pustules. Unidentifiable rashes. The like.

People would wander in, and eventually their names would be called, and they'd wander into the back. Eventually they would reappear. Or not. Maybe they, too, became dead.

I'd go check to see if they'd forgotten me. They would assure me that all was well and on schedule. What schedule would that be? Who's to say?

They call me to the little window. I have not, they tell me regretfully, met my annual deductible, so I must give them money.

"Yes, I have met my deductible," I tell them.

"No." They shake their heads sadly. "We checked it on the website, and you have not."

"What website?"

"It is a private website."

"Well, it's wrong."

Perhaps you can imagine the rest of the conversation, wherein they are sorry, but they must go by what this mysterious website tells them, and it tells them that I have not met my deductible and so must pay them. $300. I express amazement, and not of the pleased, just-received-a-gift-pony sort. I emphasize that my office visit co-pay is only $35 and express astonishment that they would want me to give them any more than that. Perhaps you can imagine me expressing this astonishment.

This goes on for a while. In the end, I do not give them money. I return to my sad plastic chair, under their suspicious gazes, and resume waiting. They watch me from the corners of their eyes lest I try to abscond with their dusty philodendron or their dog-eared and water-stained copy of the June 1984 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine.

I grumble to myself.

Finally a nurse comes to escort me back into a tiny, ugly, dimly-lit room that is EXACTLY what you would expect to find in a doctor's office that's next door to a tobacco shop. I'm thinking now that this mole on my forehead might be considered, in some cultures, as a beauty mark. Perhaps I should leave it alone. Perhaps I need to emigrate.

The nurse also eyes me suspiciously and cltches her stethoscope with both hands, having heard about me and fearing I might try to steal it and stuff it in my bag with the office plant and the magazine.

Finally, at long last, as I'm heaving my millionth huge sigh and growing more resigned to my really-quite-unnoticeable facial blemish, the doctor comes in. She walks over to me, looks at my face, and says, "Three benign moles. Insurance won't cover them." She hasn't even taken a breath yet.

I'm all like, "Hello! So happy to meet you, too. I was much younger when I first arrived here." I say this to myself. Out loud, I say, "I know they're benign. Why won't insurance cover them? It always has before."

"It changed." She shrugs.

"When?" I'm not buying this.

She shrugs again. "Recently. You want them removed, it will be $300."

This is when I lost it. I began with, "If you knew that insurance doesn't cover the removal of benign lesions, then your office staff should have told me that when I made the appointment."

"They didn't know they weren't malignant."

"I knew! They should have asked me!"

Then I really got into it, about how it was their responsibility to ask more questions before making the appointment, and about how it wasn't their responsibility to try to collect money from me before I'd even been examined, especially if I was being examined because they weren't sure I didn't have a malignancy, and how if they'd told me what they should have when I called, they could have saved me three hours of my valuable time, which had been wasted due to the ineptitude and apparent greed of her and her entire staff. And then I got warmed up and was on a real roll.

In the end? She hurriedly jumped in when I paused to take a breath and said that they would not charge me anything, not even the co-payment, and would bill my insurance company for the visit. And I turned to her and said she'd better be really sure about how they billed it, since I was going home and calling the insurance company and telling them the entire story as soon as I walked out of her tacky little strip-mall office.

Which I did.

I never heard from them again.

Several years pass. And I begin nagging Dr. Mendez, my GYN. He has removed a cyst (another wonderfully delightful word!) from my scalp, and I figure he might as well do my face, too. He disagrees.

"I don't do faces," he says, shaking his head. He says that, technically, he works only below the waist. I point out that he's worked on my scalp, and that my face is a lot closer to it than it is to my crotch. He shakes his head. "I don't do faces. Who knows how you'll scar?"

His office manager/nurse/assistant and Saint (as in "patience of a") has a tiny mole on her jaw that she wants removed. She's been nagging him for years, but in a very mild, Saintly sort of way. I enlist her help. I tell her that, if she'll help me, I'll nag him into doing my forehead and her jaw, and we'll both be happy. I set about my campaign. I tell him my Tale of Dermatological Woe, about my dead dermatologist and the greedy bastards in the strip mall. He nods. He checks my face, studies the moles, pinches my skin. Nope, won't do it. Months pass. I see him again. I nag again. He studies my face, mutters to himself. Shakes his head. Laurie and I look at each other and roll our eyes.

This goes on a for a while. But you know that, finally, I wear him down. (In the end, I wear down most everyone.)

"Fine. Make the damn appointment," he says on his way out of the room. Laurie and I give each other a virtual high five.

The actual facial surgery is anticlimactic after all this. He's worried about my bleeding, as that would obscure the skin and make it harder to get a perfect stitch that would be invisible when it heals. I meditate and bleed hardly at all. I heal remarkably well, as I told him I would. He takes full credit. He removes the stitch, rubs the scar, says, "Damn, I'm good!" Laurie and I practice more eye rolling.

In the months since, he's removed all three facial blemishes and, last week, one from my shoulder. After each one, he rubs his fingers over it, shakes his head, and says, "Damn!" rubs it again and says, "Shit, I'm good." We just smile and nod in agreement. I tell him, "When you're too old and feeble to get in there and wrangle uteri, you can sit on your stool and cut off moles. It will be something to keep you busy so you don't drive your wife nuts."

But nope. That's not what he's got planned. He's going to buy some land and raise pigs. He's decided he loves pigs. I think this should probably worry me quite a lot more than it does, but I can't quite figure out why, other than it just sounds icky for your GYN to be looking forward with great delight to living the the life of a pig farmer.

Pray that I don't need any more help with my skin. Any skin. Anywhere.

Cool Art!

My friend Wendy is always finding these cool sites. Check out this one--be SURE to read the intro first, though, before really looking at the art: it explains what these artists do for a living. And then you get to see what they do when they're given the freedom to make art.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Novel & A Little Jazz

Here's what I've been enjoying lately. Thought someone else might, too. Just finished this book,which wasn't bad. It jumped the shark in the second half as she kept adding all these quirky people and loading us down with coincidences and trying to tie up all the ends and give it a happy ending, but that's OK--I don't expect my fiction to be realistic, and I don't expect to agree with the choices made by the characters. In fact, I didn't like the plot OR the characters, both of which were pretty sappy and thin. I like the writer's style and way with words, and that makes lots of stuff readable. I read some reviews after I finished the book--and I'm not alone in thinking that the first half was quite good and then, in the second, things just got out of hand. Some first novels are brilliant, and some suck, and some just get away from the author. It'll be interesting to see her next book.

And this is a CD by the group we heard live a couple weeks ago.I'm loving this--especially tracks 1, 2 and 8--great to listen to out on the porch in the afternoon with a frappaccino or a glass of wine.

How to Organize Embroidery Floss

Answer: do like Mr. MacAllister did and score an old DMC floss organizer on Ebay. Wouldn't that be lovely? All your Floss Organizational Problems solved FOREVER.

Well, I try like hell to avoid ebay. Not only can it suck up your money, but it's even greedier about time--just looking around, seeing what's there. It can eat up HOURS. Who has that kind of time?

For years I've had my embroidery floss stored in those plastic organizers with three drawers, and inside each drawer I had 3 bins. But lately, as I stitch more and more (and so, of course, stock up on more and more floss), the skeins had been poking out of the top of the drawers and getting scraped out and falling to the floor every time I opened and closed a drawer. Time to figure out something else.

The EGE, seeing me standing in the middle of the sewing studio with my hands on my hips, glaring at the bins and humming to myself, suggested I get matt board and cut it to fit as dividers. This had crossed my mind, but I'd dismissed it as a dumb idea that wouldn't work. But if HE thought it would work, maybe I needed to re-visit it.

So I did it--I had some matt board left over from my bookbinding days, and I cut it into dividers. Only, since I don't measure things, I got the first three perfect and, when I tried to duplicate them without actually using a ruler, got the next ones all two short. I had a temper tantrum. Stablizing a too-short divider with packing tape was not fun. But in the end, it turned out OK.

I think I may go back through and rubber band colors together, so I can see how many of the most-used colors I have. There's a nasty rumor about DMC floss: The Dreaded Wal-Mart no longer carries it, and the Hancock's over by the gym, the only large fabric store in town, has quit carrying DMC in favor of Sullivan's floss. I talked to one of the women who works there, and she said the colors aren't the same (even though they print the supposedly-corresponding DMC # on the package), and she had real trouble with the floss breaking. Yikes. That's all I need.

Meanwhile, they have a sale, with floss at 20 cents a skein. Or at least they did on Tuesday--I need to go check. I bought up a lot of the old DMC, which is piled in baskets on the floor. I got all the orange, and now I need to go back and get all the other bright colors that I know I'll need someday. My fear, of course, is that DMC is going to get hard to find.

For now, though, I'm really happy with this new arrangement that allows me to open and close drawers without having to stop and pick up the overflow.
(A Note That Will Make You Cry with Me: when I was talking to the woman, I thought to ask what they had done with the old DMC display when they switched over. "Oh, we threw it away. It wasn't any good any more."
I whimpered.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More Than You Ever Cared to Hear About OCD

Kind of like some continuing daytime TV saga, I know. But I think of it as a public service. Yeah, I flatter myself. But someone's gotta. . . .

So. OCD is in the spectrum of anxiety disorders, along with panic disorder and post traumatic stress syndrome. It's related to depression--similar brain chemistry. There's a lot they don't know--20 years ago, they thought OCD was reallyreallyreally rare. I could have told them otherwise--if you know what to look for, you can spot others who have it. And there are a lot out there. I could tell stories, like watching the guy in the parking lot who was checking and re-checking and re-re-checking the doors on his car, circling and circling, pretending to be puzzled about the locks. But I knew. We can smell each other.

So there's what they know: that there are all sorts of things that go into OCD--genetics, life circumstances, trauma, brain chemistry. I read one long argument that it's on a spectrum with Asperger's and autism. If I were more interested in this sort of navel-gazing, I would look into this more, as there are some things in my own life that would support this. But how interesting is that, to spend your life trying to figure out how you're fucked up? It's not--it's not useful at all. The thing to do is to figure out what's going on and what you can do to make it better. Here's what I've figured out--it might not be true for everyone, but I've lived long enough to know this: if something is true for me, it's true for a bunch of other folks; we're not as different from each other as we'd like to imagine.

OCD is thought to be caused by a shortage of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is naturally released in the brain and then taken back up. When too much is taken back up, that's the problem. That's why SSRI--Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors--like Prozac, work with people suffering from a shortage of serotonin in the brain. You can also increase levels of serotonin with exercise, sunlight and diet. St. John's Wort. Other things--I think estrogen does it: I haven't read about this, but just from my own experience.

So. You don't have enough serotonin. You feel anxious. To counteract the anxiety, you engage in some behavior or thought pattern that has, at some point in the past, proven effective in lessening the anxiety. What it's about is control: we feel anxious in situations when we feel we have no control. For many people with OCD, situations like bedtime, leaving the house (esp. on long trips), new situations--these are traumatic because we feel as if we have no control over anything. If we're asleep, we have no control over what's going on around us: someone could get into the house. The stove could set the house on fire. Someone we care about might need us. Etc.

So, when we feel a lack of control, we try to control what we can: we check, we count, we wash. Little behaviors that we can control and that we think will make us feel better by alleviating our anxiety. And sometimes they do: if you're focused on washing your hands over and over and over, you're not thinking about how you're worried about the job interview or the date or the trip to NYC. You're focused on washing your hands.

It's hard for me to come up with an example of washing, although that's what people seem to think of most often. I'm not a washer and have never known anyone who said they were. I've known counters (and used to be one, in childhood) and checkers (that would be me!). Checking, to me, makes more sense than the others. Of course! We always rationalize our own behavior!

Here's what I believe: often, the relief we get from whatever behavior we use is not from that behavior itself but from eventual exhaustion and disgust. If you're late leaving for the airport because you're standing in front of the stove turning and turning and turning the knobs, eventually you're going to be exhausted, mentally, and thoroughly disgusted with yourself. Eventually one of these will replace the anxiety, and you'll feel, oddly, better. In a weird sort of way. Next time you feel anxious, you'll remember this, subconsciously, and feel that the checking will make the anxiety go away.

But it's like anything else: knowledge plus self-understanding plus self-discipline can help a LOT. I'm not saying that some people don't need medical help. Sure they do. I always have it in the back of my mind that if things got really bad, there would be drugs.

But what works for me is to realize that when I get anxious about something, I worry. And when I worry, I need to be in control. When I need to be in control, I need to check things to see if I'm controlling them: if I turned them off, if I've made them safe. So. If I'm anxious about, say, going to the doctor for something scary, I will have trouble leaving the house. I will need to check the stove (the biggie in my life, for whatever unknown reason) and, maybe, the pilot light on the hot water heater, depending on how anxious I am. Years ago, this could be difficult, as I would check and then, doubting that I'd done a good job of checking (was I really paying attention? was I distracted when I checked the knobs on the stove? was I thinking about something else?), check again.

But it's been a while. And here's why: studying Buddhist philosophy has been a huge help. Understanding that no one is ever really in control of anything in a constantly-changing world is a help. Learning to be in the moment, to pay attention to what's going on right now, rather than thinkingthinkingthinking things to death--that's a big help.

The biggest help, though, is understanding the equation: anxiety = worry = need for control = compulsion.

And the next biggest help is self discipline. If you know that diet and exercise and sunshine and maybe meds will make you feel better, then that's what you do. You don't make excuses and whine and feel sorry for yourself and use the OCD as an excuse to make everyone around you give in to your quirks, ie, having your husband make you up in the bed every night. Getting your friends and family to pitch in and join you in your OCD adventures is a long, slippery slope to acting like Howard Hughes with the Kleenex boxes, and you know you don't have the money to afford behavior that bizarre.

No. You do what needs to be done to take care of things and Do Not use your quirks as excuses for bad behavior. I can talk. I am/have been related to people who refused to take the drugs, refused to modify their diet and exercise, etc., and just pretty much insisted on indulging themselves in bizarre behavior at the expense of normalcy for everyone around them. And that's just wrong. Nobody has the right to impinge on the lives of others if there's anything they can do about it. I have a relative who really needed the drugs but didn't want to take them because they had side effects. Instead, he, an adult, ruled the lives of his parents, with whom he lived, by doing things like stripping buck naked and running down the middle of the street until the cops came and took him away.

He lives in a trailer in a "residential facility" not 10 miles away from me, but nobody ever talks about it, and I don't really know where he is exactly, and I haven't seen him in about 35 years. If he'd taken the drugs prescribed to him, he might have an actual Life, with family that came to visit, and a job and a home to live in.

When I could get my mother on antidepressants and get her to go to yoga and get her to eat normal foods, she did much better. But it was a constant struggle. All my adult life.

I admit: I have little patience with the lack of self-discipline. I do all kinds of things I'd really rather not do. When The EGE had a rise in cholesterol, we immediately began jogging and changed our diet, cutting out all red meat. When that didn't help, we cut out ice cream and all diary products except cheese. He takes the drugs every day and gets out and runs 5 days a week and doesn't eat any of the foods he likes best. I read the other day that 80% of people, told they have a life-threatening condition and told what to do about it--lifestyle changes and meds--will keep on doing exactly what they're doing. Keep eating the bad foods. Refuse the drugs. Keep the weight. I don't understand. It's not as if they're stupid and don't realize what they're doing. It's just a refusal to discipline themselves to give up the hamburgers and do some exercise and take the medicine that will make things better.

I hate drugs. I don't even like to take aspirin. So I've worked to figure out how to deal with things--arthritis pain, the OCD, a quirky digestive system--without resorting to drugs. Is it easy? Yeah, right. It's a pain in the butt. But is it worth it to be able to live a good life, to be pain free most days and to be able to walk out of the house without going back to check the stove? Absolutely.

You pay attention. You figure out what works for you--and you keep trying until you hit on it. And then you do it. You adjust, you learn, you work at it. Because a good life is worth the effort. And, really: outside of As Good As It Gets and Monk? Nobody is really amused by someone who insists on dominating every situation with their odd eating habits and insistence on Sierra Springs bottled water.

In Which Michael Aaron McAllister Graciously Answers My Nosy Questions

I love this guy! He's talented, he's funny, and he knows the true meaning of being just a tiny bit obsessed--I esp. love what he says about watching the same movies over and over and over. And I thought I was the only one who could do that happily. . . .He's FABULOUS!

(I hope I got his answers at least kind of close to Red #321.)

Where do you get ideas? Do they just come to you, or do you seek them out? They usually come from who I have read of in the past. But most of the portraits are sort of a chain reaction…the result of a “six degrees of separation” vibe. I research one person and then from that research I read of someone else they knew or dealt with who also had an interesting story. Researching Dorothy Dandridge (brilliant black actress before her time) and also came across her friends Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, her affair with Otto Preminger, her dating Peter Lawford and then JFK surfaced in some of the research. It’s all so incestuous in a way. Greatness attracts greatness.

What does it feel like when you get an idea for a piece? Do you know right away whether it's doable? I always know right away. I thought of point of view surfaces while I start preliminary research. I usually want to take something “we all” know of the person and then set that thought on its head. I tend to look at things in different ways and that comes out in the work.

What do you do first? Do you keep a sketchbook? Or do you take notes? Or do you do research? I do not keep a sketchbook. I wish I did. The thought is so romantic. Sitting in a café sketching “trendy people…people in the know.”
But because all of my work has its imagery come from many different places I have MANY sketches that take shape and morph into one master cartoon that I use.
I doodle little sketches on tiny post-its. I have hundreds of them. When I sketch…I do so primarily to work out formal aspects such as color, composition, movement, etc.

Do you start right away, or do you let ideas simmer? If so, for how long?
I start right away. Once I have someone researched and the design thought out…I file them away until the current piece is done and the off to the next one.

How do you make the choices--size, color, ingredients (beads and floss and ribbon, or just floss, or two of the three, or?) Is this part difficult? Size is easy. The embroideries are the size of a sheet of paper or smaller and the quilts are not much bigger. The color is easy for me. I always start with black, white and then #321. Red. This shade of red is in all my portraits. Linus has is blanket. Regis his Kelly Ripa. I have #321.
The next color is what comes from the feeling of the person depicted. Then three or four accent colors that tie in with the previously chosen are added. I am happy with all the color schemes I have worked out. Out of over 60 portraits I have only been disappointed with three. The other materials usually come from trend. Currently I have been jonesin’ the add beads on everything. I just recently finished not a beaded quilt…but a quilt of beads. The quilt is made of over 46,000 beads.

How do you start?
I go to my sketches and find the imagery that comprises my idea. Once that is done I work up a master cartoon and then transfer the cartoon on a lightbox or draw free-hand directly onto the broadcloth.

Your last piece had over 40,000 beads. How do you motivate yourself to sew on that many beads, and what's in your head while you're doing it? There is no motivation needed. I am DYING to begin. The only motivation is to get myself to work on time. Leaving for work in the morning is the saddest part of the day. I love my commercial job…but staying home is much more fun. I usually think of the person I am stitching while I’m working. About what I’ve learned…or the cake I am going to make on the weekend…or trying to ignore Ethel who wants to be held…or simply white noise when my head is filled with nothing and the sheer numbness of beading takes over. It takes over like a bath that never cools.

Do you talk or watch tv or listen to music while you're working? Is there any stage where you need to be completely alone with complete quiet? I usually don’t talk. I can…but I like to be quiet and hear my heartbeat slow. Sometimes Bill and I will watch a movie and I will sing along (we have seen Chicago over 60 times) or laugh when he turns on Family Guy. That show is so wrong.
If I’m alone and watch movies…I usually have a group of five I watch over and over ad nauseum until I can’t see them again for a while. Currently it’s Dreamgirls, Boogie Nights, Amadeus, Infamous, and Frida”. I have been watching all of these over and over since December. I also watch cooking shows (Barefoot Contessa) over and over and over.

Can you take your work with you--on the road, to a coffee shop?
I do when I travel. I have to make sure that the piece is compact and I have enough.
When going on a cruise I take more supplies than clothes and get notes from the people who tidy our cabin about how much like seeing the portrait advance and complete itself.
During our last cruise they sculpted an angel out of a bath towel and set it above my hoop as a good luck charm.

With pure beadwork, you kind of know when you're finished. With other pieces, though, you might have to make that decision: It's Done. How do you know when that is? Are you ever tempted to go back and tweak it?
This tortures me. Sometime I WILL go back and do accents. Three pieces I have destroyed…keeping key elements and put them into another piece. Some pieces I have had to just QUIT because I was working on it too long. I try not to go back though…there are so many people I want to do portraits of.

How does it feel when you finish a piece? Is it satisfying? Or is it kind of a let-down? Extremely exhilarating. Perhaps the male equivalent of giving birth? That may be a horrible analogy. I would NEVER say childbirth is like embroidery…but when the piece is done. I make a hand embroidered label for it, tuck it away and five minutes later get it out and look at it again. Then I can zoom on to the next person.

Do you take some time off--a day, a week--or do you have another piece waiting in the wings? I rarely take more than two days off at any time. I have never considered this work. I have to do this or I just get TOO bitchy. Bitchy is SO overplayed. I am a romantic pacifist by heart and this keeps me honest.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Here Is a List of Things You Cannot Flush Down the Toilet"

Well, we don't know what those are, do we? We've been watching Every. Single. Episode. Of. Monk. On disc. And loving it, of course. Never mind that we have seen them all before! Or most of them! Imagine our delight to discover that there is at least ONE that we've missed! (Need I explain that I'm using The Royal We here, since I am, as you might guess, the only one in the house who's completely entranced by Monk. Alas. The EGE, ever a Man of Good Humor and Calm Disposition, watches cheerfully and laughs in appropriate places, but he'd just as soon be watching the Fishing Channel or CSPAN.)

But, from much experience Hating Toilets, I can imagine what might have been on that list given to Adrian by the bellman in the Mexican hotel.

1. Washcloths.
2. Banana peels.
3. Shoes.
4. Underwear. Especially thongs.
5. Dead poodles.
6. Drugs. "Because, at the end of the day, it's always about the drugs."

Of course.

I love Monk for many reasons. One is that one of the writers--of the episodes ("Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico" is one) and the books--is Lee Goldberg, who's the brother of Linda Woods, who contributed to three of my books--so it's all like family. And then, of course there's Tony Shalhoub, who's fabulous in every way.

And not the least important: watching someone--even a fictional character--with OCD makes me feel oh-so-normal. I laugh out loud to see someone doing things that feel oh-so-familiar. Sure, he's made up. Sure, he doesn't really exist. Sure, none of the writers actually suffered/suffers from full-blown OCD. Sure they make mistakes (the whole oven-mitt-fiasco, as just one example--but we'll let that pass).

I feel the need to talk about OCD every once in a while, in case there is someone out there feeling all alone and just completely nuts. All I know is that, for the first two decades of my life, I had no clue that there was anyone else on the entire planet who dealt with the things that plagued me. I never mentioned any of it--the checking, the counting, the constant anxiety--to anyone else. Ever. I thought I was just nuts. (And not in a good way, as I do now!)

And now, many decades later, I can sit and watch a silly comedy in which the main character does things that make perfect sense. The checking. The counting. Ha! It's funny and it's silly and I can laugh at it and and at myself and at life. The first person I ever talked to about OCD was The EGE. He is so very normal in every way that I might as well have been confessing to him that I was a vampire, or a Roswell alien, or a werewolf. But, true to his nature, he was all like, "OK. So, um, you want some more chips?"

I've got to tell you, it's not that bad. Oh, it's horrible, I'll grant you that. OCD is not a joke, and it's not about being a perfectionist or any of the other little popular culture quirks that make people claim that they have a little bit of that. I think to myself, "Bullshit." They may have some perfectionist tendencies, some little quirks, some funny habits. But OCD is not a joke. It's not the physical quirks. the ones that make Monk so charming. It's the crap that goes on in your brain, the conviction that you left the stove on or that there's a spark from the match you used to light the candle for meditation, and that spark is behind the chair, where it flew when you struck the match, and it's smoldering and will continue to smolder all week and over the weekend and then, when you leave to go to California, it will burst into flame and burn down the house and all the cats will be roasted alive.

See? It's not hypothetical. This will fill my dreams and wake me up at 3 am. It's full-on anxiety is its purest form, and it will drive you mad if you let it. But it doesn't have to. After all these years, I can say for sure that, if you learn to know it and face it and learn to say, "OK, this is what it is," you'll be OK. You learn what it is to you, and what you are with it, and how to live with your fears and your worries and how to deal with them when they show up. And you learn that they can't kill you--only you or a Mack truck or maybe all those Little Debbies and diet Pepsi can do that--and you'll be OK in half an hour or tomorrow.

Because Buddhist philosophy can help: everything changes. Life is change. This will change, and that will change; and then everything will change again. Except it's not "again," because it's constant. If you sit and breathe, everything will pass. The worry will pass. The palpitations will pass. The fear will pass. You learn to breathe and breathe again, and the oxygen works its magic and life moves on.

And isn't that marvelous? And as a bonus, there're all those episodes of Monk on DVD, just to remind you that you're not alone. Even if your company is completely imaginary. But, hey! If you're like me, most of your best friends have been completely imaginary, too!