Monday, August 31, 2009

Laugh or Cry

The line between fun and fear is oh so close.

Just ask my younger child:  He was dying to go on the Sea World roller coaster two years ago; sobbing as his older brother ran ahead laughing like an evil cartoon villian and our still too little hero ached to have his turn being jerked, splashed and wooshed.  As the evil villian returned soaking wet, the sniffling hero was almost as soaked from his own tears.

But this Summer, it was all different.  Mighty Mouse ran to the ride and stood under the deciding line smirking 'cause sure enough, he was about a 1/2 inch in the good.  Then, we all ran to the queue [which was thankfully short due to inclimate weather].  Jumping in the car, he pushed hard on the safety bar to make sure he didn't fly out and off we went.  He giggled and laughed and looked and questioned - it was everything we had wanted it to be.

Three minutes later, we jumped off.  Hooray!  'But wait' says the big brother, that line's soooo short; let's do it again.  YEAH says hero-boy.  Again, we jump in the car and push the safety bar down, but this time it's with a good deal of anxiety:  "Is it tight enough, Mom?"  and then come the tears and screams (not the good kind).  "It's not fun if you think you're going to DIE!!!" he says, but it's too late now.  And this time, it's not fun - for either of us.  He's crying; it's too scary; he never wants to do it again.

Yes, that line between fun and fear is oh so fine.  And sometimes, not knowing what to expect makes it tolerable, but the knowledge of what's to come can fill us with dread.  [I hear this same scenario is played out in the second sky-dive.]

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mother (Part 1)

So, I am a HUGE This American Life fan, [And if you aren't, what's wrong with you?  You must visit this site ( and start to listen right away.] and a few months ago I found myself sobbing to a story told by sex writer Dan Savage.  The tears began to flow steadily when he told about his mother's fierce love and the maternal tiger she became when any family member criticized him (he's gay).  He says something like:  "Other family members knew that to get to me, they'd have to go through my mom."

Why did this make me breakdown?  It didn't take long for me to realize that I've never felt defended or protected by my mother.  In fact, many times, I was just a tool to be wielded to make some boyfriend of hers happy.  And let's be frank, what I needed protection from mostly was her boyfriends (ironic, yes?).  They were truly a parade of losers:  from pedophiles to angry stoners - my mom could really pick 'em.  (Oh, by the way, my Dad was the king of her losers, so here's to him.)

And when a scared little girl wants to feel safe but those closest to her are actually dangerous, she exerts control over the parts of her life she can affect.  Thus... my control issues.  Better than they used to be but still there serving their purpose.

I still long to be protected.  The world is a pretty scary place.  And I question how to best protect my own children.  Not wanting to go to the other extreme, I've tried to land on some middle ground, but frankly, it's messy.  I know (and so do they) that I'd rip someone's head off who tried to hurt them but sometimes they tell me that I don't pay enough attention to their boo-boo's.

My mother is completely to blame for the wierdos and misfits she invited into our lives.  She's weak but not malicious and common sense has never been her game.  After years of spitting anger at her, I've settled into a distant fondness that works as long as we don't slide too close to my memories and her denial ("I did my best.  What more do you want from me?"  Oh please.)

But the dream of her sprouting claws and growing teeth and eating the predators alive still lives.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vacation Blues

In Britain, they don't say they're on vacation; they say they're on "holiday."  They scorn the very notion of vacating - as if one had no brain.  Well... you know, they're Brits; they have standards.

This week, I'm on holiday.  And it's stressing me out.  I challenged myself to spend all day yesterday watching TV (well, after I cleaned out the kid's closets).  I watched about 5 episodes of Flipping Out on Bravo.  It wasn't too relaxing - maybe it would have been if I didn't watch a show about people stressing out at their work (!!!), but that didn't occur to me until after my marathon.

I find relaxing to be a challenge.  I'm not proud to admit that my daily routine (including the time spent at my work desk) is a comfort to me.  And this unstructured time hanging around the house is driving me a little batty.  My best unstructured time is carefully planned - haircut/massage/one or two errands/dinner.

But I know that it's important to get out of the work rut.  It helps invigorate the work.  But I don't exactly find it enjoyable.  This is why I think it's important to get out of town (which I did for a few days), but left at home, staring at the chores that I'm still avoiding and letting the kids spend too much time on the computer just makes me feel like a loser.

At work, I'm a winner.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Right-Brained? Nah.

I wish I was an artist.

For a long time, I thought I was, but then I grew up a little, took a look at myself, and I realized I'm a left-brainer. I'm more about the logic, the problem solving, the organizing and not so much about the creativity. It wasn't easy to accept it, but what choice did I have (see, that's logical).

But I still day-dream about it. My admiration of the artist is deep and I spend a good amount of my recreational time appreciating it. The auteur, the visionary, the one who can show me a different perspective or a forgein idea - I like those guys.

Artists are either lauded or despised in our culture. They're the richest or the poorest of people, but those of them that are driven by their desire to express an idea, regardless of it's marketability, are my favorites.

Elvis Costello is a good example of an artist who has ideas he wants to explore; maybe you'll come with him, maybe not, but he walking down his own path, and it's clear that he's driven by a specific vision without a whole lot of angst about how many records he'll sell.

I think Michael Jackson could have been that kind of artist. How great would it have been to see him explore other musical genres without attention to record sales? He was clearly talented, but talent muddied with a drive to be adored doesn't seem to be a good formula for artistic greatness (not to mention a happy life).

Now that I've embraced my lack of artistic talent, I'm free to enjoy, despise and criticize the creative landscape. It enriches my left-brained life.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Brows Don't Lie

I think my best physical feature is my eyebrows.  Lately, they've delivered an unwelcome message:  you're old.

I've paid regular attention to my brows since my early 20's.  Never one to be able to put up with the stinging of the pluck, I've been a waxer - once a month, at least.  My well-groomed brows gave me confidence - always natural looking, but accentuating my eyes.

However, since 40, I see my (usually Russian) waxer much less often than I used to, because I don't need to.  How is that possible?  Three weeks of neglect usually sent me running to the salon to shape the hedges!  Here's how - I'm aging.  My eyebrows are thinning (I recently bought my first eyebrow pencil ever to help fill them in ) and that's just the beginning.  My hair is graying, my skin is sagging, my wrinkles are deepening - it's just getting harder to avoid these obvious signs.

And since I consider myself a woman of substance whose brain and soul have been given at least as much attention as my eyebrows, I am surprised at how much it hurts.  I wouldn't be 20 again if you paid me, but I'd really like that 20 year old's body back.  I never appreciated it while I had it (you know the adage:  "Youth is wasted on the young."), but I know it'd be different now.  I'd stop picking it apart and complaining about being fat and how my breasts are too small and my legs too short.  I looked hot back then (pictures bear this out), but I didn't know it or I chose to not see it.

This makes me wonder if I can really see myself now.  Do I look okay (for 40-ish) and will I someday look back on pictures of now and think, "why didn't I appreciate that when I had it?". Hmmm... probably.  Hindsight (even with nicely accentuated eyes) is 20/20.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


We have no control over our genetic history.  For the most part, whether we're short or tall, brunette or blond, it's just a crapshoot followed by acceptance (and maybe an expensive trip to the salon).  But how about the life-altering DNA that we can't get away from?

Some unlucky folks inherit Huntington's Disease or the breast cancer gene... me:  I get depressed.

Thankfully, my DNA mixture is ten times better than my mother's (diagnosed bi-polar, suicide attempts, one short institutionalization) and a hundred times better than my grandmother's (many teenage years locked in her family's basement while she sobbed, a long institutionalization that included shock treatment and total hair loss and a final diagnosis of manic-depression). Whether my depression is lessened due to the diluting of the genetic pool or as a result of better treatment and meds, it's still a struggle for me.

I regularly find myself weeping into my tea with some existential sense of lonliness and despair that I can immediately identify as irrational.  What to do?  Therapy, exercise, medicate (although I am SUCH a cliche as I regularly decide to "forget" to take my meds and then wonder why I am having an anxiety attack - duh?!!), but in the end, it's a chronic disease and there is no cure, so I have to manage it as best I can and try like hell to mitigate it's effects on those I love.

Depression is depressing.  I dread the thought of continuing to deal with it for the rest of my life.  After my Grandfather's death when my grandparents were in their 80's, Grandma stopped taking her lifelong medication and her last years were a roller coaster (turns out, Grandpa made her take her "happy pills" every day of their long marriage after he got a taste of her disease in their early marital life), but you can't fight (well, win against) your chromosomes.  I guess that you "normal" people should protect your genetic pool, but with 10% of Americans taking anti-depressants, good luck.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Looking to My Higher Power

My name is Heather and I am a gossip-aholic. [If there was AA for this problem, we’d call it G.A. and we’d try to talk only about each other.]

My problem began long before the invent of the internet. Back in the day, I’d keep my ear to the ground to hear all about the love lives of celebrities – who was paired up with who/who dumped who. People was like having a daily ½ glass of house chardonnay. Even though I had a problem, my dealer’s stash was limited, so I was able to keep it under control.

When Thirtysomething was the big prime-time hit, I started to think of those characters as my friends. I looked forward to seeing them weekly (I never missed an episode even during those unbearable pre-TIVO years) and was genuinely upset for 24 hours after Gary died in a tragic bicycle accident.

Now, I’m drinking heavily. Twice-daily visits to Perez Hilton, LA Rag Mag and Page Six have made me the most uselessly informed mommy in Van Nuys. Last night I watched 5 minutes of Jeopardy and when the answer was: “What show was Chad Michael Murray on?” I yelled, “ONE TREE HILL!” to no one. Now, I’ve never seen One Tree Hill and probably couldn’t pick Chad out of a lineup, but I do know all about how the gays love him and that he had a short –lived marriage to an actress on that show. Why do I know this?!! Why do I let it take up space in my brain?!! As I said, I have a problem. I am powerless in the face of gossip, and my dealer is available 24/7 at the push of a button... well, a string of buttons.

Here’s more proof: I was the first one in my office (and probably the Valley) to know Michael Jackson was dead, because I had TMZ on my screen when it was posted! (I spent the next week playing MJ videos and singing “Man in the Mirror” while faux-sobbing, but my connection with MJ’s crazy-ass is for another time.)

Like most addicts, I’m ambivilant about my addiction. Hate it/Love it/Hate it. I’ve vowed to quit before, and I’ve always fallen off the wagon. What do I find so damned interesting about those people? I guess mostly that they’re not me, that I get to feel superior to them, that I can wallow in their problems and avoid my own. It’s probably not more complicated than that.

But I do dream of getting clean – imagine it: really losing weight, solving global issues, having meaningful conversations with my children. Not likely, but I like to consider the possibilities.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Political Identity

When I left acting behind (a whole other story), I quickly found myself in the political world which isn't a surprise since "politics is show business for ugly people."

I had always been a die-hard liberal Democrat. I was known to shout down family members who defended the policies of Ronald Reagan and defend a woman's right to choose with fisticuffs. So when I landed with a political consulting firm raising money for democratic politicians, it was a dream-job. I rubbed shoulders with lefty pols who became U.S. Senators and got to know the inner-workings of electoral politics. I even held a personal fundraiser for a new-guy: Bill Clinton. I followed that job with a long stint at a green PAC. I loved my job, the people I worked with and thought I was doing the lord's work.

Then, gradually, I realized that I was identifing less and less with my lefty friends. It seems that I'd spent too much time in the white-hot political kitchen mixing a recipe like this:
  • A noisy dash of Dennis Prager
  • An exhausting cup of parent-hood
  • A bitter spoonfull of Monica Lewinsky and feminist hypocracy
  • A shocking pint of 9-11
  • A shitload of time working in the political sausage-grinder

I mixed it all together over the course of a few years with a healthy dose of cynacism. No matter how much sugar I added, I lost the taste for politics altogether.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a political junky, have voted in every election (even the small, stupid ones) that I've been eligible to vote in and I was lucky enough to witness this President's historic inauguration on the Mall in the company of my young son, but I just can't get worked up anymore. [I even didn't feel the elation of the throngs on the Mall during the swearing-in, but I faked it well enough.]

Behind this evolution is real pain. I don't know who I am politically anymore; I'm all over the place. Pro-Iraq war and a Bush-apologist, but Pro-Gay Marriage and a supporter of Obama's health care reform. There's not even a word for my politics anymore and it makes me really sad. I feel so left out.

I am a patriot. I've travelled some and have realized how free we really are - more free than any other nation - even the democratic ones. I wouldn't live anywhere else and think we are (get ready) superior to every other government on the planet. Among some liberals, that's blasphemy. But I can't relate to the right either. I mean - how fucking crazy are the birthers?! [Full Disclosure: I'm still a registered Democrat, partly so my husband doesn't boot my ass out of the house.]

So, here I sit - betwixt and between. As usual.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Facebook Fatigue

Us 40somethings make-up the fastest growing segment of the Facebook community. You don’t have to tell me that though – between networking for my job, finding old acquaintances from elementary school, and ongoing conversations with my “real-life” friends, Facebook has become a daily stop in my online routine. Okay, that’s not true; it’s become an hourly stop. Okay, let’s get real – I’m there every 5 minutes.

And it’s not good for me.

Facebook has become one more way for me to be positive that my life is not just inadequate, but the worst one on the block. When one of my “friends” posts: “watching my precious child’s summer day fade into twilight” or “squeezing my awesome husband thank you for these beautiful roses,” I think – Shit. And alhtough I don’t do it, I’d like to post: “fighting with my kids to put their shoes on” or “gritting my teeth ‘cause he didn’t kiss me hello”, but then I would be showing my over 500(so there!!) friends how things really are here in suburbia… monotonous, frustrating and even lonely.

Even people who I KNOW are not having the Best. Summer. Of. Their. Lives. look really good on Facebook. Beach visits, cart wheeling, and bbq-ing are just build-up for those whose summer is awesome. One friend’s pictures of her family in Paris sent me directly to McDonald’s to drown my sweaty sorrow in french fries (no homage intended).

Really, those friends can go to hell. [Okay, not really.] While I’m working away (well, for that I am lucky) in the sweltering Valley planning a vacation to…um… NOWHERE, I wish these jet-setters wouldn’t share their elation at their trip to the Pompedeu Museum or at least, they could temper it with tales of jetlag.

Look. I’m a cynic. It’s just a part of my DNA. I try to be grateful for the small things, but my mind wanders pretty quickly to the crappy big things that just aren’t what I want them to be.

So why do I keep coming back?! Maybe I’m hoping that Facebook will transform into real interaction between human beings where we describe our inner lives in more than 10 words ‘cause I know self-doubt and anxiety are human traits that most of us share and it’d make me feel better to know that I wasn’t alone.

Not that I’d post any of this there – I have an image to uphold.