Thursday, January 26, 2012

Results Not Typical


Three weeks ago, my husband and I started eating healthier and less. As you may have read here, we’re doing this by following the Weight Watchers program online. Among other features, the Weight Watchers website has a ‘Success Stories’ section which includes pictures of people who have lost a significant amount of weight on the program and how they did it. There is always a disclaimer alongside each success story:

“Results Not Typical”

Every time I see the disclaimer, I question if I have what it takes to lose the amount of weight the ‘successful’ person shown has lost. I’m afraid that when it comes to weight loss—and gain—I’m dreadfully typical. I tend to gain weight if I eat too many processed carbohydrates, if I don’t exercise, or if I’m going through some sort of transition (i.e. the ‘freshman fifteen,’ or as I demonstrated, the ‘freshman thirty.’) I tend to lose weight for impending events where I’d like to look trimmer, when I’m exercising consistently, or when I have a lifestyle that supports healthy habits (i.e. I’m not living in a dorm room.) I’m using the college scenario as an example because I think it’s generally relatable, however let me assure you that in the twenty years since I graduated college I’ve experienced far more interesting moments of transition and lavish styles of unhealthy living. In any respect, these are considered typical scenarios by which to lose or gain weight according to most of the people I know.

I reckon that the amount of time I’m able to maintain a weight loss is also typical. People who’ve lost a significant amount of weight and are able to keep it off for ten years, let’s say, can be suspected of being atypical. I find this especially true if they are able maintain their loss through the holiday season. Even during my longest maintained weight loss—which I’m proud to report ended after three years and only with becoming pregnant—I always allowed myself to seriously indulge from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. I’d begrudgingly get back on track in January, full of pain and self-loathing. But as difficult as those first days back to eating right and exercising might have been, they were always worth the bacchanalian escape from reality that was the holiday season. Typical.

I’d guess I’m typical in how many times I’ve started and stopped Weight Watchers. In 2002, I experienced a decent weight loss on the program. I participated then by going to meetings, versus online. Aside from the weight loss inducing fear of having my weight recorded by the meeting leader each week, the best part about he meetings is receiving awards every time you reach a milestone in pounds lost or in attendance. That’s right, even by just showing up, you’re a winner. Weight Watchers is gentle with you in that regard. Thusly, after having attended meetings for sixteen weeks, I was given a small, gold-tone charm in the shape of clapping hands, engraved with the number sixteen. The charm can be attached to other award items that I would receive in the future or, if I wasn’t so darn typical, I might have already received in the past sixteen weeks on the program. Regardless, it was like earning the Girl Scout merit badge for meeting attendance. It bolstered my efforts to lose weight, attend meetings, and earn trophies. It kept me on a roll for a while. Until, as is typical, it didn’t. My weight loss stalled and I stopped going to the meetings. As the pounds crept back on, I gave up all hope of procuring more gold toned trinkets. Months later when I finally found my way back to a Weight Watchers meeting, it was strange to still have my clapping hands charm.

I thought, “I had earned it once, but should it not now be revoked? I know that they’ll give me another charm after sixteen weeks and what purpose will it serve to have two? Won’t it just remind me of the time I suddenly quit after attending for an impressive four months?”

My weight was recorded and I handed my clapping hands charm to the meeting leader, still wrapped in its plastic sheath. She was confused that I would give back such a prize. I felt a little silly and self-righteous explaining to her how it didn’t feel correct for me to keep it as clearly it was an honor for someone with less typical results.

Since that attempt, I’ve experienced several more beginnings and hiatuses and have received more awards. I earned the clapping hands again and even the coveted key chain award for having lost 10% of my weight—this is where the clapping hands charm is meant to attach. Sadly, now that I find myself heavier than I’ve ever been, these medals of valor seem aged and distant like a high school letterman’s jacket. The perfectionist in me envies the ultimate ‘Success Stories’ inductee who receives her trinkets in the reasonably allotted time frame and never looks back. She stays motivated until she has earned a key chain of triumph, laden with charms—Sixteen Weeks! Twenty Pounds Lost! Goal Weight! Maintenance Maven*! Lifetime Member! To Weight Watchers’ credit, it’s clear from their disclaimers that the individual who would earn her commendations in such an orderly fashion is not recognized as typical.

These days, I follow the Weight Watchers program online. For better or for worse, I am free of the accoutrement awarded at the meetings. The other day, however, I did notice a star emblazoned with “5!” in a small box at the bottom of my ‘weigh-in’ page on the site.

“Could this be an award?” I mused.

When I first signed up in October, I wasn’t really prepared to start in earnest (read: wasn’t prepared to change the size of my desert portion,) but I did record my weight twice that month to keep track of what my body was doing. In surprisingly atypical fashion, my weight dropped five pounds between those recordings. Though the loss had little to do with life style change—probably a gift of breastfeeding more than anything—I was awarded the “5!” badge. Those five pounds made their way back (or ‘weigh’ back?) onto the scale over the holidays. While it was shameful to record my heavier weight at the beginning of the year, the “5!” badge remained.

Since my first weigh in of 2012, I’ve lost a solid four pounds. I’m meant to record my weight again tomorrow and I’m dying to see what will happen to my “5!” if I reach that milestone again. Each time you record your weight online, a box pops up which reads something like, “You’ve lost again this week, keep up the good work,” or, “Your weight stayed the same, keep up the good work,” or, “You’ve gained this week, keep trying your best!”

What would be helpful for me to hear when I reach my five pound milestone again is, “Good for you. You’ve earned back that award we gave you. Don’t eff it up again.”

I’d also find it motivational if they wrote things like, “You do NOT want to look like this on your fortieth birthday. Dust off those running shoes, woman,”

Or, “I can’t believe you are still wearing your maternity clothes! How old is your child?”

Recently, Weight Watchers has made some changes to their program. I was just on their site browsing their ‘Success Stories’ and I’d like to report a correction. Instead of “Results not typical,” their disclaimer now reads, “People following the Weight Watchers plan can expect to lose 1-2 pounds per week.”

Let’s see, I’ve been on the plan for two weeks and I’ve lost four pounds. Award received: Feeling not typical.






*I don’t believe there is a ‘Maintenance Maven’ charm for having reached the maintenance level of weight loss but if you’ve ever encountered the plucky personality of a Weight Watchers Leader, you’d agree that there should be.



Photo: “The Triumph of Bacchus” by Diego Velázquez

Monday, January 23, 2012

Connie


In the early part of the 20th century, James Weir owned a general store near Market and Van Ness Streets in San Francisco. Later, he owned a bar in the same location. He named it ‘Connie’s’ after his daughter.

Constance Marie Weir was born on March 8, 1924. James’ wife was not Connie’s mother. As legend goes, Connie’s father had a mistress who fell pregnant by him. When the child was born, James took Connie as his own and raised her with his wife. Connie never met her biological mother nor did she know the circumstances of her birth during her lifetime. She did remember that the woman she called mother was very strict. Happier memories were of times spent with her mother’s friend who was in service at the Filoli Estate, south of San Francisco, and who lived on the grounds with her daughter of Connie’s age. Connie and her mother would visit them and were even allowed to stay the night in the servants’ quarters there. The owners of the estate had an ill child and Connie recalled the entire third floor of the mansion being made up as a hospital to care for him.

During World War II, Connie was an Army nurse stationed in the Presidio of San Francisco. Towards the end of the war, Connie’s unit was set to ship out to Europe. The day before sailing, Connie caught a cold and had to stay behind. She told me she’d always wondered what might have happened had she sailed that day. Later she married and had two daughters, my mother, Melody, and my Aunt, Cathy. Her husband, Monti Crooks, struggled in silence with the knowledge that he was gay and hoped that marrying Connie would somehow change who he was. When he could no longer stay silent, they divorced. Monti would go on to find his true love and live openly in the San Francisco Bay Area gay community. Connie also found true love in her second husband, Ed Marion. He adopted her two daughters and they moved to the San Francisco suburb of Belmont. In 1960, Connie gave birth to Ed Jr. when my mother was twelve years old and my aunt ten.

Four years later, Connie’s true love died of a heart attack in their bed. “I think your father is dead,” she yelled to her daughters sleeping in their basement room. He was 49 years old. Connie had dark days after that. My mother, a teenager then, took on much of the responsibility of running the household while Connie grieved. She never remarried after Ed passed.

I was born eight years later and Connie sold the house in Belmont to my parents where they still live today. She and Ed Jr., just barely out of high school, rented an apartment in the nearby town of San Mateo. She worked as a night nurse at the hospital so when I visited her she was always in her dressing gown and robe, either about to go to bed in the morning, or about to get ready for work in the late afternoon. When we went out to dinner with her, she wore her scrubs and ordered the breakfast plate. After Ed Jr. got his own apartment, Connie became ill and moved back into the Belmont house with us. She lived in the same basement room where my mother and aunt had slept twenty years earlier.

Connie knew how to play the piano and speed-read. When I had a singing audition for the school musical, Connie would accompany me on the piano so I could practice. When I got behind on the reading for a book report due on Hemmingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’ Connie speed-read it for me and told me what it was about so I could finish my work on time. It was one of those secret gifts grandparents give that they would never have given as parents.

She was a legendary San Francisco Giants fan and listened to the games on the small transistor radio she carried. Connie knew all of the players’ stats. She also knew about the rules of fashion and good taste. Connie was glamorous. She had a Betty White style blond coiffure and liked to wear coral colored lipstick. Her fingernails were long and painted. She wore silver rings set with large, southwestern Turquoise. One time, I modeled for her a shorter skirt I was going to wear to school for the first time. She showed me how to properly sit while wearing it and which angle of my crossed legs would be the most flattering to display outward. When it came time for the homecoming dance my Freshman year, she convinced me not to wear the more mature dress I’d borrowed from a friend’s older sister. Instead, she suggested that I let my mother buy me the new, more demure, age appropriate dress from Macy’s. It always seemed to me that my mother really valued Connie’s input, a rare thing in any mother and daughter relationship.

Eventually, Connie became too sick and was admitted to the hospital during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. She was only sixty-four years old but she was dying. As I cried at her side in the intensive care unit, she reassured me that there were people that would listen if I ever needed someone to talk to. I was confused at how she could be concerned about me at a moment that was so singularly about her.

Even though her heart always seemed to me heavy and life-worn, I think it created a stillness inside her that made her the very best listener. Connie had a vast calm, probably from having been a nurse for so many years. She made people feel safe. She attracted those in need. Little children and animals loved her.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Don’t Worry About Flies


I’ve had a weird couple of days. I started writing several different posts but none seemed to stick. I had writer’s apathy. Then yesterday happened:

I woke up sleep deprived, downed some coffee, started to get Lennon and myself ready for our new-mom exercise class—sort of Pilates-light where you can stop and breastfeed or change a diaper as need be. The lack of sleep, among other things, had my mind behaving disgracefully. I was fixated on all the things I wish I could buy but cannot. It is unlikely I will ever make enough money to buy them. This is true not only because, at present, I’m a stay at home mom, but my profession, at best, is a labor of love. This made me feel regretful and I ruminated on this as we walked to our class. Somewhere over the bridge to Prenzlauerberg, my thoughts spiraled to turning forty this year and the expectations of what someone my age should have achieved. It’s so late, I thought, for me to be getting my PhD. Most people probably get one at thirty. If they do get a PhD at my age, surely they already have an acclaimed body of work behind them. My body of work to date is so scrappy and uneven.

“I suck,” quoth I.

How come I don’t own my own house yet? Why do I live in a place where I can’t even speak the language; where the sun doesn’t even shine? Thus began a List of Envy in my head for everyone I knew (and some famous people I don’t know, also) who own a house, who have a lucrative career, who live someplace sunny, who speak German, who never experience envy, etc. At new-mom Pilates, things only got worse. The course is instructed in German, which normally isn’t a problem as I just look around and copy what all the other moms are doing. Today, the fact that I couldn’t understand the instructor created more self-punishment. Communicating poorly with the other moms in the class made me feel inconsequential and invisible to them. I felt dark blue on the walk home. I looked down at Lennon, hoping he would offer some support, but he had gone to sleep. Not even his pretty face cheered me, I’m ashamed to admit.

Finally, I got groovy, turned outward, and asked The Universe for help: Please help me see better—because clearly I’ve lost sight—and get me back to grateful. That The Universe always listens, has been my experience.

Home again, I took a nap with Lennon. A long, two-hour nap. Then, Nicholas came home from work and I told him all about the bad day I’d had. How it occurred entirely inside my head. He told me that I should have called him at work and let him know. He wanted to be able to help while the bad day was in effect. Later that night, we sat as a family and watched a television program that includes the singing of popular songs set at a high school and which shall remain nameless. During a highly auto-tuned rendition of a 1970s love ballad, I looked down at Lennon nursing in my lap and started to cry. He gazed up at me and smiled. The most amazing person I have ever met was married to me and curled at my side. Flooded with joy and glowing with grateful, everything else washed away.

And just when I was certain The Universe had outdone itself, today Nicholas sends me this, cementing my joy:

In 1933, renowned author F. Scott Fitzgerald ended a letter to his 11-year-old daughter, Scottie, with a list of things to worry about, not worry about, and simply think about. It read as follows.

Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship

Things not to worry about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions

Things to think about:

What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:

(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

With dearest love,

Daddy



Source: Lists of Note by Shaun Usher on 1/19/12 via F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters.
Photo: F. Scott Fitzgerald with his daughter, Scottie, in 1924.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Statement of Rationale (and a disclaimer)


Every once in a while, I search the inter-webs with the words ‘mother, artist’ to see what they will bring up. I’m looking for blogs written by women who have a life’s work, a calling, and become a mom, in spite of it. I’m hoping to find someone who has written a how-to guide that I can follow. They’ll be able to explain how to fully immerse oneself in one’s art and still be a really good mother. My biggest worry about not having found these women yet is that maybe they don’t exist; that to attempt both is quixotic. Out of this fear began this blog. Here, I reckon I can become what I have been looking for. Maybe through writing about my own journey, I can create a manual for it.

“But, Amy, so far you’ve written about fairly disparate things, leaving open ends, left out parts. Not all ‘mother’ and not all ‘artist’ and sometimes neither.”– Fictional Follower

I’d like to offer some justification for my actions here. Not that you require it. I’d just like to provide it:

First there’s this—I live in Berlin, Germany. By my account, Berlin is an experimental city that continues to find and reinvent itself, over and over. The people who migrate here, in my experience, usually share the same ethos. They come to make bold, incongruous moves, artistic or otherwise, without the fear of dramatic repercussions found in other cities. One can’t do that as easily in places like New York or London where the expectations are as high as the rents. But Berlin is cheap and nonchalant. There is no dream too ridiculous for Berlin and if the dreamer decides to take a detour, Berlin will still be there for them when they return. In fact, Berlin will have even gone so far as to forget there was ever a dream to be had, offering the opportunity to find a new one without anyone the wiser. Folks here truly embrace Berlin’s carefree nature and end up living many lifetimes within its walls, unburdened by consequence. I’ve become accustomed to the ethic here insofar as I know what to expect, but, in truth, it runs contrary to every fiber of my being. That’s not to say what I’ve written is meant to be a criticism of Berlin or its inhabitants. Really good art is created here by really remarkable people. It is just often done in a way in which I have never been able to work: with abandon. You see, I’m serious business, folks. I show up on time and I stay late. My dreams loom heavily and I’m always working towards them. I am earnest and I do not deviate. Failure is not an option (see: The Traumatic Terrible.) As envious as you must be of my austerity, rest assured, it can be a big bore. I want to change. I want to be more like Berlin. I hope it rubs off on me. The format of this blog is a start. I’m just going to write what I am inspired to write, devil may care style, until I have the answers I seek. If I leave ends untied and questions unanswered, please forgive me. I see this as a necessary part of the process.

Then there’s this—One thing I’ve learned from being a mom is that I can’t also be a perfectionist. It’s not compatible with childrearing. Children are messy, literally and figuratively. Their brains and their bodies are not yet organized. The second you have them figured out they change. Also, as I’ve mentioned here, you are often required, by the very heart beating in your chest, to drop everything and just ‘be’ with your child. That means all else stops, including time, until you are done. The worst damage to your meticulousness comes when you realize that none of your schedules or your blog posts or your how-d’ya-dos matter one iota next to those moments, gone too soon. What was once a well calculated plan of attack on your next five years as an artist becomes unpredictable, catch as catch can. Like Berlin. Maybe like this blog. Maybe like what it is I’m looking for.




Photo source found here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Stage Fright, Part I: The Traumatic Terrible


It took thirty years of performing for me to become scared of doing it. I’d say I was the Benjamin Button of stage fright, but unlike a slow decline in confidence over a lifetime, mine was broken by a singular moment—The Traumatic Terrible. And unlike most memories that fade with time, this one lingers in my bones, morphing fresh to suit any present day theatrical situation. It blacks out the sun in a place that used to be flooded with light. It makes my palms sweat and my feet tingle. It makes sullen every thought I have about being on stage. I’m going to tell you about The Traumatic Terrible, in so many parts, to try and understand it for myself. Truth be told, I’ve been talking about it with nearly everyone who’ll listen since it happened three years ago, but it’s still a murky mess in my mind.

Part I: After a stressful opening weekend of a show that I had directed, I was on my way to an audition for a company I was hungry to work for. I had usually been good at compartmentalizing, but driving to my audition, I found that I couldn’t relieve the tension of the weekend. Trying to focus on the task at hand, I rattled through the monologues I’d prepared, drilling every line in an obsessive frenzy. To be fair, that’s what we do, don’t you know. Actors run through lines several times before auditions or shows. The difference here was that I must have ran through each monologue thirty times in that forty-five minute drive, attempting to use preparedness as a cure for nerves. And it didn’t stop there. When I got to the waiting room of the rehearsal hall where the audition was being held, I continued running lines. I was having trouble accessing my calm. But every harried run-through only served to feed my anxiety, finally convincing me that I didn’t know one word of what I was about to present, even though each one had obviously been well rehearsed.

My time slot was called, and as I walked into the rehearsal room, the casting director got out of her chair, came over to me, and gave me a big hug, welcoming me into the room. I knew her from having been a teacher for the company and had even auditioned for her before. None of this calmed my nerves. As I attempted to listen to her talk about the unseasonable weather and how bold it was for the previous auditionee to have performed a Lady Margaret piece being but a teen, the words of my monologues continued to cycle through my brain like the worst song, stuck. Finally, after what seemed like a bloody eternity of small talk, it was time for me to make my presentation. There were not enough deep breaths in all of the yoga classes, in all of the world to calm my racing heart. As I attempted one, the air came half way down my throat and stopped. There was nowhere left for it to go but up and out. I exhaled a short, sharp, and likely audible breath before diving into my first piece. It was a fast, comedic monologue whose success depended largely on timing. There was no room for thinking in this piece, which would have been a blessing at that moment. A nice pregnant pause would have at least allowed me to get some oxygen into my body. As I rounded the third sentence, I thought to myself, “I’m going too fast, I’m too frantic.” But there was no stopping this train, so I barreled ahead, my hands trembling with every gesture. But then, I stopped. Suddenly, I found I was no longer playing the character in my monologue but was just me, the actor, standing there, unable to remember what words came next. Quickly, I repeated the previous line, hoping that my muscle memory would kick in; that all of those repetitions would save me. I noticed the casting director respectfully take her eyes off me and turn them downward toward her notes, pretending that she hadn’t seen the three-ton elephant that just entered through the window. But my muscle memory was shot, and again, no words came. Except these:

“Can I start over?”

Now if you ask any High School drama teacher they will tell you that the second most important rule of theatre is never, ever ask to start over—particularly in an audition. Why? Because it implies that you haven’t learned the first most important rule: ‘The show must go on.’ I’d known both rules for so long, I couldn’t tell you when I’d heard them first. But there I found myself, in a state of shock, having stopped the show. I had forgotten my lines and instead of improvising my way to safety, for the first time ever, I declared defeat. Let me reiterate: In my thirty years of performing I HAD NEVER FORGOTTEN A LINE OR ASKED TO BEGIN AGAIN.

“Of course you can! Whenever you’re ready. Take your time,” chirped the casting director.

I stood there for another eternity, probably a good twenty seconds, trying to do some serious damage control on my psyche as I stared at the floor. I tried not to think of how unprecedented this moment truly was and took in as many of those short ‘deep’ breaths as I could manage, trying to drive them deeper. I eventually started again, this time thoroughly damaged, but able to get through both of my monologues, words intact. On the way out, the casting director asked how opening had gone over the weekend and I explained how stressful it was, underhandedly implying an excuse for The Traumatic Terrible that had happened just minutes before.

Afterward, I consulted countless actor friends who all told me that they’d done the same thing in auditions, several times even! It wasn’t unprofessional, they said. After all, my resume spoke for itself, explaining to anyone who read it that I clearly did understand the two most important rules of theatre. Moments like The Traumatic Terrible just happen, to the best of us, I was told. It’s part of being an actor. It’s part of being human. We’re breakable and should be as artists. The following season, the same casting director would call me in for a show, proving that The Traumatic Terrible had left my career unscathed. But surely you’ve caught on that this post is not about the highs and lows my career. The Traumatic Terrible still lived deep inside me where I kept everything I know, brewing all manner of chaos. Two months after the audition, performing in what was likely my fortieth musical, I couldn’t remember how to work without The Traumatic Terrible taking over. Each night was a torturous routine of running my lines and lyrics until I walked onto the stage, exhausted, hoping that whatever caused me to forget them in that audition wouldn’t happen again. I’d been over it countless times: If I had been relaxed that day, had not had a stressful weekend, had not had tried to do too many things at once, maybe The Traumatic Terrible would not have happened. But ‘what ifs’ were useless. The scar was already there and it itched like mad.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Grateful



Lots of my friends blog about gratefulness and I think it is such a healthy lens through which to view every moment, particularly those where I find myself most agitated. It helps me see the situation more accurately. If I can weed out what I’m grateful for, what’s left in the pile is usually minimal and likely not worth much emotional anguish. It is especially important for me to practice gratefulness while living with two wonderfully loving people whom only deserve my best. Yesterday, I struggled. Here’s the blow by blow on how it went down:

I’m stealing some time at the computer, trying to finish a few emails, posts, etc. Nothing I’m writing is going to change the world, but doing so provides some space for me and me alone. Lennon is in his bouncy seat moving between what seems to be utter contentment and sheer misery. I go to him every three minutes or so to reposition him and re-engage him, when talking to him doesn’t seem to do the trick. I get a small reprieve by moving him into his new favorite spot, the car seat, which sits on our living room floor. I make sure his pacifier is in.

Side bar: Before I had Lennon, I would have been pretty smug reading about the above mothering techniques. My pre-mother self would never use a pacifier and would never consider using the ‘putting out of fires’ form of childrearing. Even now, I consider myself an attachment parent and spend most of my day joyfully playing with Lennon in a dream state of ‘Kairos’ time (props to Glennon and Don't Carpe Diem.) Our nights are spent bed-sharing and night nursing. We are careful with how we use the pacifier and make sure it is benefitting him more than us, when we do. But sometimes Mommy needs a minute, and so does baby. And lest you think this is a motherhood unexamined, I refer you to this, which among other feelings, aroused relief.

Continuing on now: My darling husband has just now come in with the vacuum to tidy up the floor and whatever concentration I had when it was just the fussing baby to contend with has gone out the window. Not to mention the tiny fruit fly that has been nagging at me and my tea for the past 30 minutes and whom I can’t seem to catch. If I were more egocentric I would say fruit flies were put on this earth to torment me specifically. I’m also tired again, despite sleeping in and taking an afternoon nap. And I’ve started eating better, so there’ll be no self-medicating with excess chocolate tonight. Damn. And another thing, it’s 5:30 pm and pitch black outside. In fact it’s been dark for the past hour and a half, a feature of winter in Berlin. Lennon is now starting to squirm again. Throwing a tantrum right now would feel pretty excellent. That would be me throwing the tantrum, just to be clear. There are moments I can still recall from my past where this combination would have set in motion such a fit. But today, I will behave and this is how I will attempt it, in so many bullet points:

-I pause and breathe. Just being able to do this at this moment makes me grateful.
-I look at my beautiful son and I remember how hard he is working to grow, on his own, in his car seat. I am grateful.
-My adorable husband is vacuuming. This is a no brainer.
-I have been eating healthy and on plan for two whole days now. I am grateful.
-I live in Europe. When I first arrived, I experienced severe culture shock, and thought I’d rather live anywhere in the States than here. My husband explained that the winters in Vermont were far worse. Somehow, this comforted me. I am grateful.
-I know why I am sleepy and know it will change. I am grateful.
-Fruit flies around my tea will always be the bane of my existence, but I have a home for them to be in and tea for them to buzz around. I am grateful.

Lennon is fussing again now but I remember that it’s time for his nightly bottle, which my husband prepares and administers, so I can be grateful again. Just to cover all my bases with the most patient man in the world, I apologize for any hint of annoyance. It really is a one moment at a time process, parenting (and also, I suppose, wife-ing,) forget about one day at a time. Then Lennon starts to cry before the bottle can get there. I drop everything and scoop him up because all I care about and want to do at this moment is hold him and be in love.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Vi


Violet Kondor was born on March 2, 1920 in New Mexico to Hungarian immigrant parents. She grew up in central Colorado on a farm with three sisters and one brother. There was a saloon for miners on the property that her mother ran, mostly by herself, due to the death of Vi’s father, the legend of which is highly disputed. Vi moved to San Francisco in the 1940’s with her mother, Elizabeth, her brother, Steve, and her younger sister, Christine. They bought several buildings in neighborhoods comprised of mostly middle-class, immigrant families, now known as the Castro and Mission districts. Vi had two marriages, both which ended bitterly and the details of which I don’t think she would want me to share. She kept the last name Cole from the first of the two. She had two children by Mr. Cole: my father, Jim and my Aunt, Elizabeth. Later, Vi would work in a bakery, her mother would work at Woolworths, and her brother would become a Merchant Marine. Christine, would become a wife and mother, among other things, but would live to see the death of her husband and her only son, both by heart attack. Though Christine was the youngest amongst her siblings, she herself would pass decades before the eldest of them. The remaining members of Vi’s family would remain in Colorado the rest of their lives.

I don’t remember when I met Vi and for most of my life she would seem always be there. Vi was the only person who knew about my imaginary friend, Charlie. He disappeared around the time my sister was born, but Vi remembers playing with the two of us and celebrating Charlie’s birthday with cake and presents, bi-weekly sometimes. I spent nearly everyday during the summer with Vi when my mother worked. She lived alone the majority of her adult life in San Francisco and managed the Edwardian building she owned and resided in. She had a truly amazing garden that she tended by herself. She owned a TV, but only ever listened to the radio in the morning. She told me once that she lost whole days sitting in her sunny front room reading the newspaper cover to cover.

She paid for my singing and dancing lessons many years when my parents could not, she took us on countless vacations, paid for my college education and conservatory training in London. When I moved to San Francisco after college, she let me live with her in a spare room and then let me live in one of the flats in her building, rent-free. Those years living so close to Vi were wonderful and aggravating. We enjoyed eating pizza, drinking beer, and going to museums together, but being an insecure 20-something, I felt that Vi kind of cramped my style. I reluctantly helped her with some of the work around the building that she couldn’t do and drove her car for her at night when she was afraid to drive. But sometimes I told her I was busy, that I couldn’t stay for dinner, or that I wasn’t able to help her because I had a date. She responded in turn by always letting me off the hook, giving me money when I needed it, letting me borrow her nicer car, often paying my bills, buying me lovely presents, attentively and lovingly listening to my every word, gushing about every one of my accomplishments, and always being eager and excited to see me.

Then one unexpected day, she was diagnosed with cancer. She died two weeks later. During those two weeks before she passed, I silently reflected on all of the moments I had taken for granted while in the presence of this dear, loving woman. When I found out she was sick, I was sure I’d have more than two weeks with her and, as one does, waited until it was too late to say the big things she really should have heard. But in truth, what I wanted to tell her I didn’t have the words until after she died. I didn’t know what she had been providing me until all I could feel was its absence. It’s hard not to call what I feel about my grandmother regret, but I won’t do it because I believe Vi finally made her point: Be generous with your heart—to be able to give from it is the blessing—and never ignore the gaze of those who truly love you.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Energy


Every January I get inspired to take on new projects. I also envision setting new patterns of greatness for the new year. You may recall my wanting to lose the baby weight and get running again? Those tasks are most definitely included in the upcoming greatness to yet be accomplished. My husband bought me Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child for Christmas and it has inspired me. And, fear not, I am aware the blog on that one has already been famously done, thank you very much. We will not be eating rich, decadent French food most of the time this year, but on occasion, I’d like to make my husband and our friends an elegant dish from the book. I also have a sizable pile of sewing projects I’d like to complete this year, a couple of which I have already gladly promised to make for one person or the other. And then there’s the ever-looming scrapbooking that always lingers on the backburner. I am the family archivist, after all. I’m proud of this title, even if I was crowned thusly because no one else wanted the job. I’ve also concocted a few more crafting ideas using some family artifacts that I’ll be trying my hand at after our trip this summer to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I’ll retrieve the artifacts and gather less expensive ‘American Made’ (read: cheap imported) crafting materials. I’ll post here about these makings when they come about. Let’s see, what else for this year? Oh yes, I’ll be starting my PhD in the fall. This is an independent research PhD, but what it lacks in course work demands it more than makes up for in personal accountability. The first academic year I’ve set for literature review and lots of organization of thoughts. A good, old-fashioned ‘hunkering down’ with some dense reading and a highlighter. More about my research can be found here, but please forgive my website and its many typos and formatting errors, not to mention its design. It’s still a work in progress. And I’m also very keen to bone up on my German this year via some independent study, again this will be a personal accountability gig. And that, ladies and gentleman, is what I plan on tackling in my 2012 ‘Frei Zeit’ when I’m not performing my full-time job as mother to Lennon and wife to Nicholas (though these days we both agree that Nicholas and I take the back seat to Baby Boy.)

But today, I am tired. I’m still waiting for 2012 to give me the kind of energy I had before pregnancy. The kind of energy I had when I tackled grad school, and SITI Company training, and wedding planning not two years ago. Lack of sleep, a re-regulating Thyroid gland, thirty extra pounds, too much sugar, and dusty running shoes are the culprit for my sleepiness, I’m afraid. Today I’m blaming it mostly on my Thyroid (personal accountability, anyone? Amy?) But no matter. Since writing this post—with one hand, mind you, nursing an infant in my lap—I have downed a cup of coffee and feel slightly better. More on my coffee sins in later posts as I struggle to go back to green tea. Like with parenthood, I’ll be taking 2012 one day at a time. Which is how I’ve taken all of my years, I suppose, metaphorically or not.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Weight


Right. As you may have noted in my last post, I gained 57 lbs during my pregnancy last year. The good news is that I lost nearly 30 lbs during the labor and the few weeks following. This still puts me nearly 30 lbs overweight. My husband was also a victim of pregnancy weight gain, though at over 6’ tall, it doesn’t show as much on his frame. Nonetheless, we are determined to get cute again this year. Not to mention that we would like to get pregnant again this year (much later this year) and need to be healthy. I have always had success with the Weight Watchers program and that’s the path we’re taking. It’s not as sexy as more drastic approaches like going gluten free or cutting sugar or eating raw, but frankly, after caring for an infant all day, I’ll require a bit of chocolate and my husband surely deserves at least a beer nightly. Of course exercise will play a large role. We were competitive runners prior to our journey to parenthood and can’t wait to literally dust off our running shoes and move again. For your information, this blog will not be solely about weight loss, though many great ones are, including my sister’s (more to come on that if she chooses to make her journey public,) but you may hear me occasionally bespeak my triumphs and disappointments along the way. Today, I sit down, with infant on my lap, to plan some meals, a shopping list, and a strategy.

By the way: Lennon’s ornament (January 1, 2012) was made by one of my favorite artisans, Paloma’s Nest

Sunday, January 1, 2012

"Keep hoping machine running." -Number 19 on Woody Guthrie's list of New Year's resolutions for the year 1942.



Lennon was born in 2011 and I became bigger person, and I’m not talking about the 57 lbs I gained during my pregnancy. I told some friends back in 2010, when I was hoping to get pregnant, that I imagined my heart expanding so I would be able to house the love for my child, the love for my family, and love for my work all together inside me. I thought of this largeness whenever I was confronted with fear and it usually made me braver. I became bigger than the fear and the volume of love I carried protected me. I grew last year but my expansion is not complete. In 2010 I wondered how a baby would fit into my life as an artist. In 2011 I wondered the opposite. I’ll be searching for answers in 2012 on a quest to become the big girl I really want to be.