The honey heavy dew of slumber

For Cathy

I went to a meeting this morning, and because I was told to do this when I woke up at 29 years old suddenly sober, naked and terrified, I shared: I am in pain.

As it were, I’m not the only one. 

Living a sober life can be like sinking to the bottom of the ocean, a black, unknowable, blind pit, in a one-woman submarine, only there’s no release valve for the air pressure, so you go up and down in the water, you can’t see a thing besides what the dinky lamp attached to your craft shoots out, miserable and too small a light, and the pressure just builds. You want to open a window but it’d kill you. Gin is the window. 

So what you’re supposed to do is get on your knees and say, please god release this pressure so I can go help the next one-woman submarine who looks like she’s 5 minutes away from drinking the window. Or you meditate and learn to quietly tolerate the sensation of drowning. Lighten up, as they say.

And if you learn to stop obsessing over the fact that you’re alone in a tiny tin can in huge, unknowable, dark ocean, if you can shut up for long enough about how we’re all dying down here, maybe you notice a fish. Maybe it’s an ugly fish, and you curse at it’s weird lips like two stacked lumbar support pillows and it’s eyes which, due to bad placement (who invented these things?) can only see you with one eye at a time. Fuckface. It swims away and now there’s nothing but plankton, little flakes of white cascading in whirls and whooshes, directed by some kind of physics, I’m sure.

Another fish, less beautiful than the first.

And then you think, fuck, how can you guys stand it down here? This is terrible. It’s dark, it’s wet, it’s boring. The pressure is killing me. An ear pops.

More fish. A school! Numerous slimy silver bullets. Man, what I wouldn’t do for a Coors Light.

The way the light catches them, the little flares like stars on a space highway, it’s not bad. Groovy sci-fi stuff. A moment of grace punctures how sorry your feel for yourself, because suddenly: you’re there, you’re noticing what’s right in front of you, some mundane thing, numerous and circular and bigger than you. 

So you stare out your window and watch them move. After a minute they swim away again, and everything goes dark outside your one woman submarine. For this instant, you’re not so angry. The pain dissolves. Like everything else, it’s fleeting.

You glance down and notice a button. It says SURFACE.

It was always right there in front of you. 

You press it. Up you float.

You remember that you know how to swim. You move towards the light. 

There’s a prayer: It is in self-forgetting that one finds. You die all day to understand what it is to be alive. 

Lucky for us, nothing is solid. Not death, life, feeling, memory, truth, gin, fish, ocean, air. 

For my dear friend who is dying: thank you for showing me the SURFACE. Thank you for helping me find the light.

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Tooth

I have to remind myself that there are days when I get up in the morning and do all my little sequential actions: look at my phone, stand up, piss, make tea, get dressed, brush my teeth, put my hair in a ponytail, leave the house, say something at work that is agreeable, make a funny joke, perform a kind gesture, do the dishes. There are days when my kid is kind to me, when my husband is in a good mood and by some rare celestial alignment so am I.

What happened today is that I’ve been holding it together for 3 months.

It was a hard day at work, but I won’t bore you with the movements of this particular concerto. It’s pathetic crescendo was picking Lu up from daycare and being head-butted so hard my teeth clicked together, fracturing a lower front tooth. While we waiting for a bus that never came, she slapped me in the face. I hailed a cab.

I cried silently in the back of a cab while she looked at my phone, pushed my face away when I put it close to hers and told her I loved her. The driver looked at me with tenderness and helped us out of the car. I tugged Lucy’s arm when she refused to leave the car and he said to me, “don’t pull her, she will come.” He told me he had four kids. Kids are hard.

I came home with all the stuff and the kid on my hip and fulfilled the twin requirements of TV and graham crackers. I started making dinner. Take out the ingredients. Wash them. Cut them. Cook them. When Kyle walked in the door, I started sobbing so hard I choked. Loud, violent, hideous crying. The kind of crying that leaves a snot stain on the Ikea sectional like a dear john letter a week later.

Today was just another day. Spectacular in no way, except that 120 before it happened, and those were all hard, too.

How the fuck do we all do this? How do we go to work and raise kids and partners and behave politely in public and shave our legs and do laundry and wash the dirt off vegetables and eat them?

I’m lying in bed now. Kyle is taming the screaming in the next room, while I flick my tongue back and forth over the snag where a cube of tooth used to fit. I must’ve swallowed it.

Here is my mantra:

I can get up tomorrow and one thing at a time do a thousand things in a row. I know I can; I’ve proven this. The monotony will always be sliced through with solace, a gentle surprise. I hope my tooth doesn’t split. I hope I can reach down to some human cavern, untouched even by yoga or Pema Chödron or whatever kind of enlightenment I’ve ordered off Amazon Prime, and scoop out another modicum of patience I had no idea was inside me. Namaste, etc.

The thing about holding it all together is that eventually you have to let it go.

Bless This Mess

There’s something wrong with me. Lungs on fire, acid stomach, twelves hours of sharp, jutting pains through my midsection that came and went. I went to the doctor after a quarter of a yogurt made my esophagus light up like a Duraflame. He called for a nurse to be present while he dug his fingers into my midsection: Where does it hurt you, baby?

Maybe an ulcer. I bought $80 worth of prescription drugs at Walgreens on 23rd street and went back to work.

My colleagues asked me how it went. Their eyes clapped shut and opened wide in disbelief when I told them what it might be. How old are you? None of them have children.

The days are so long now. I used to have time to breathe. I remember when weekends were for recovery, when rest was possible, when sleep was more than the gulp of air needed to dive back underwater for another 15 hours. When I find little pockets of space now, a few minutes on the train where I’m not answering emails, half an hour after my daughter finally falls asleep before my face hits the side of the pillow with a splat, I am numb. I play Candy Crush. I have nothing left.

Feeling Things is not my forte. Feelings are messy, uncooked. I’m a planner, an organizer, a doer. I will acknowledge them only when they press me, or are not my fault. They get hurt and I will ask for your repentance. There now, it’s been handled. Keep swallowing.

Feelings have a way of rising up. They do not appreciate being ignored. I drank them down. When that stopped working, I spent hundreds of hours stroking and fondling them in recovery. I opened the door and let them in. I decided we could all live in this body. They settled in, despite hating the furniture.

Now, I’m a mother. There isn’t time.

I leave for work at the crack of dawn, before the sun or my daughter is awake. I walk the dog in the pitch dark freezing night. I pick his steaming shit up with a black plastic bag and feel it warm my hand. I sit on the commuter train with business men in suits with mouths like parentheses who skim quickly through the Wall Street Journal so they can watch Family Guy on their iPads. They wear wedding rings and don’t smell like anything.

At work, I think about cancer. One guy has six kinds of cancer and half an arm. He is not old. My heart breaks open. My brain says, “You are going to die, too.”

There is nothing I want to do more than this work. To keep the anxiety at bay, I walk to the water machine and push the button. Cucumber seltzer. It’s a good prize.

I leave a meeting early and hustle to daycare to pick up Lucy. She doesn’t want to leave. I bribe her into the car with a two-pack of Saltines. At home, she throws a tantrum when I put her down, pick her up, give her milk in the wrong plastic cup. I offer TV and she is happy. She doesn’t want dinner. I microwave something. I eat it out of the plastic tub on the couch while Lucy sits engrossed in cartoon mermen. I love her so much in this moment, where she is happy and my attention is not required.

I try to read her books but she’s impatient. We look for everything in her room that’s yellow. She wants banana, a yogurt, sweet things. She refuses pajamas. She smells like pee. I bribe her to change her diaper. Once the lights are out, she clings to me with force, won’t let me put her down. I sing Baby Beluga over and over again in the dark. When she’s almost asleep, she shoots up, realizing how I’ve tricked her eyelids into heaviness. She shouts for Dada, who is more fun. I leave, and they throw all the monsters out of the bed.

My bedtime routine is 5 things, and I hate them. I do them anyway, and crawl into bed. I play more Candy Crush. I look at Instagram. Women are wearing bikinis and cooking beef short ribs from scratch. I compare myself to them. I click the lamp to black and let a podcast lull me to sleep, filling my brain with someone else’s story.

I take it back. I feel constantly. I feel guilt and shame about not spending time with my kid, and then guilt and shame about being so tired that when I do see her, I want to check out. I am sleepwalking through a room full of people shouting, “Wake up! You asked for this!”

I did. I want all of these things. I love Lucy, how she puts all of the monkey things together in one pile, how she grits her teeth for the camera, thinking that’s what a smile is. I love my job more than any work I’ve ever done before. I love the man with 6 types of cancer and half an arm and I want his suffering to mean something in the larger context of research and fighting and fixing and curing.

Here it is, everything you asked for. Job, daughter, husband, house. Meaning.

I love it. Please don’t take it away. Just tell me: how do I not self-destruct?

I took the day off today, my first day off. I didn’t need to. I feel okay. I am not shitting blood.

I’m reading. I’m lying in bed in a sweatsuit listening to Arvo Part with my dumb cats, feeling stuff. I’m moisturizing. I’m waiting for this aromatherapy diffuser I ordered to be delivered from Amazon. I haven’t decided yet which smell to experience first.

I think they call this a mental health day.

Tomorrow I’ll commute into the city for an endoscopy. An invasive medical cherry on the proverbial cupcake. As a former drunk, I am not not looking forward to the procedure’s required black-out. Sounds like rest, to me.

Bless this mess. Good things are rarely easy.

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via @taprootdoula

I Stopped Feeding My Toddler Dinner

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They should really stop calling it dinner, which sounds innocent, pleasant even, and rhymes with “winner.” A more fitting, if less mellifluous phrase, might be Apocalyptic Hell Hour or Lucifer’s Food Time.

My daughter, Lucy, thinks the effort I put into preparing food for her is quite funny. Regardless of what she is served, it will be smooshed, flung, dropped onto the dog, or rubbed vigorously into her eyes. She will apply yogurt to her face like an all-over beauty mask. She will get ketchup on the ceiling. She will not eat.

I went out to lunch with two mom friends last week, one of whom has a son Lucy’s age. He sat in his high chair without complaint, smiling, and lapped up a quinoa, shiitake, and broccoli frittata. He devoured a savory beet yogurt by the heaping spoonful. What that actual fuck? I balked at my mom friend’s parenting wizardry. I studied her child like a buried treasure map as he nibbled his way through a mushroom, the floor beneath him pristine, not a swipe of pink across his cheek.

One evening a few weeks ago, I made Lucy a very innocuous bowl of boxed Annie’s mac and cheese. Yes, I threw a few very offensive green peas in there to appease the part of me that doesn’t want my daughter to become a carbohydrate. She wouldn’t try a single bite. She alternated between screaming like a goat and barking like an injured seal. She communicated to me via our complex system of pointing, yelling, and grunting that she wanted a Brocolli Little, which is, despite its name, a small potato cake in the shape of a triceratops. I stuck the dinocarb on a plate in the microwave. She shattered all the windows and mirrors in the house with a high-pitched scream, apparently because she wanted to push the buttons. She pulled the microwave down off its shelf and it nearly fell on top of her. Then there were tears. Then she wanted a veggie burger instead, with cheese and ketchup. I’ll let you guess how much of that made it into her mouth.

Like every other mother I know, I decided when my baby was a baby that she would “eat what I eat”, and that I “wouldn’t be one of those mothers who cooks fifteen separate dinners a night.” I realize now that this is the language of a presumptuous asshole who has never experienced Chobani as a hair mask.

After I gave up trying to feed my pig-tailed tasmanian devil and combed the cheese out of her hair that night, I called my MIL, who is the gatekeeper to the land of parenting Oz. “Maybe she’s not hungry,” she said. “What is she eating during the day?”

During the week, my 18-month-old goes to daycare so I can work. Behold, a sample menu from a single weekday:

Breakfast: half banana, cheese omelette, milk

AM Snack: Ritz crackers, water

Lunch: Veggie burger, peas and carrots, mashed potatoes, pasta with mixed vegetables, milk

PM Snack: Pouch, banana, water

She is being fed like an animal about to hibernate for 6 months, like a competitive eater training to take away that little Coney Island hot dog guy’s untouchable title, like me 3 days before my period. No wonder she’s not hungry for dinner; she’s already eating enough calories a day to sustain a family of elephants.

So, I stopped fighting with her about dinner. Now on the weeknights, she lets me know when she wants a snack. I’ll give her whole grain crackers with almond butter, a veggie pouch, popcorn, or yogurt, and she’ll eat happily while she plays. Instead of spending our evenings screaming, crying, and cleaning condiments off the ceiling, we now stack blocks, read books, and lick crayons.

Her disinterest in sitting down with me at 5pm to eat curry and talk politics doesn’t mean she’ll only eat white foods forever or never appreciate global flavors. She’s one and a half; dog hair is the height of culinary sophistication to her right now. Also, she’s full, and I don’t want to teach her that eating is required method of torture. This whole idea of eating three meals a day plus two snacks is just another thing someone somewhere made up, and now is law. It’s not actually important.

Over and over again, my daughter teaches me this: let go of your expectations. Trying to bend her spirit to fit into my idea of what kind of schedule she should be on doesn’t work. What does work is listening to her, letting her guide me to be the mother that she needs. It also results in less airborne applesauce.

A Lost Article from the Archives of GOOP

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We could all be a little more beautiful, cosmologically. Where beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder is the divine argument of nature, only an internal/external healing balance will help us to achieve perfection: diaphanous skin, a preternatural dew, zero blackheads.

Heed the advice of my chemically-sensitive skin guru, Tina, who goes by Juniper, and avoid allergens like dairy, wheat, nightshades, eggs, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, space, and time. As a part-time freelance actress, philanthropist, activist, server, and geisha, T.J. understands how day-to-day living can bombard the skin with powerful radons and electromagnetic ions that deplete your body of it’s elasticity and radiance.

“Every morning upon rising, I mix together an organic potion of organic honey, housemade guava, scratchmade avocado, local hemp, pure macca, matcha, and sweet holy basil by stirring 16 times counter-clockwise with a single sprig of rosemary. The ritual of stirring awakens a powerful force within my red and green chakras, connecting me to my higher spirit, a rare breed of lithe and pithy impala.” Once stirred, she coats her body in the brownish mixture and sits in the sun to let it set on her skin. “It feels rather like coating yourself in God’s almighty excrement; it’s a daily reminder to be humble and face the day as one with the privilege of the universal aesthetic.”

“Beauty is spiritual,” T.J. wrote in her best-selling magnum opus Being Metaphysical. “In order to be free, we must first actualize our a priori cosmological argument.” Juniper achieves this by dry brushing the skin with an organic horse-hair brush before her evening herbal bath. “It removes deceased skin cells without irritating.”

Tina Juniper does not approve of coffee or other “heavily magnetized” beverages. “Drinking these types of chemicals, such as caffeine, has been proven in several studies to pull your essence downward towards the earth’s core, resulting in premature sagging and wilting of the body’s essential essences. “I prefer hot water with lemon,” she wrote.

Juniper practices a custom blend of Wushu (military arts) and jogging. “Because I run with a Qian long sword, I can discourage evilism from entering my joints and muscles. The knees are particularly sensitive, but a continuous twirling of steel wards off any weakness.” She refreshes apres-jog with an ice bath and more hot lemon water. “The opposing temperatures confuse the body into being young again.”

In the evenings, T.J. realigns her intentions with a pore-minimizing masque. “It’s time to reflect,” she wrote in an email to our Celebrity Consciousness editor, Janeth Wilber. “The pores expand throughout the day, due to heat, light, and fractal ions. They need to be closed every evening, to obstruct the aging process. While aging is natural, we should never do it.” T.J. paused to reflect. “That, and eat hot dogs,” she added.