nonBlog: March 2007
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Thrills and Chills—Thursday, March 29, 2007
Tom and I found out recently that our six-year-old daughter Greta has no middle ear function. Nothing. After being suspicious on and off for two years that her hearing was abnormal and after seeing the doctor time and again and being put off, we finally got her to the Hearing and Speech Center of Northern California for a full evaluation. Before the first test, which shoots sound waves into the ear and then measures the response of the eardrum, the tester said, “Let’s see if we can make a nice mountain here.” She then pointed to a graph that was supposed to look like a sine curve. Bloop! The graph was straight. I said, “That doesn’t look too much like a mountain.” And she said, “Nope, it’s a flatline.” Greta’s other ear is the same.
So, surgery. I was fine until Greta was wheeled out of the operating room on her side with a rolled up towel against her face keeping in position an oxygen tube, her hand hanging limply over the side of the towel. Her eyes were slightly open, seeing nothing. I had to make a decision not to just sit myself down and cry for the last two years, for every time I snapped at her when she didn’t respond to me calling her name repeatedly; for the months when she was pulled out of her kindergarten class for the tutoring her old school insisted she needed over our objections; and for the hours she spent at the computer in front of Earobics, complaining that she couldn’t hear the sounds that her kindergarten teacher said she couldn’t distinguish because of some kind of undiagnosed language processing disorder.
Then she woke up like a character in Creature Feature, springing to vertical and looking about with crazy eyes. We had to steady her torso to make sure she didn’t flop right over. An hour later I whispered to her and she picked up her head to look at me. It was as fast as that, and as thrilling.
Brain Crash—Tuesday, March 27, 2007
It’s ironic that I should have suffered a brain collapse last night, at the end of a day that ended an era of seemingly unending work. Perhaps I had an attack of post-traumatic deadline syndrome? But I swear to you the following story is true.
Months ago I bought tickets to several talks at the Herbst. One was an evening with Anne Lamott. I bought two tickets, one for me and one for my friend Karen. I told Karen about the tickets and said I would give her the details later. I bought another set of tickets to hear Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Maus. I bought tickets for Tom and me and also for Olivia as a surprise, since she is a budding cartoonist. I booked Kelly far in advance to babysit for that night.
Friday and Saturday and Sunday and Monday I checked my datebook. Art Spiegelman 8pm (3) Kelly, it said, which is Stephanie for “go to Art Spiegelman at the Herbst at 8pm; you’ve got three tickets and Kelly is babysitting.” On Monday night I pushed Tom and Olivia to get ready in time. I changed clothes. When Kelly didn’t show at 7:30 I started to worry. I called her cell. “Kelly, are you looking for a parking spot? Just park in our driveway, we have to leave!” She didn’t answer. Tom said to call our neighbor Grace to see if she could use his ticket since he’d have to stay home. As Grace was saying no a call came through from Kelly. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I thought Art Spiegelman was on April 23rd.”
I looked at my datebook again, this time with my eyes actually reading. Annie Lamott 8pm (2), it said. That’s what it had said all along. I had experienced a sort of stress-induced blindness. Rushing to the event minutes later with Olivia in tow, I called Karen on my cell phone to apologize, feeling positively ill at what I had done. She said, “The universe must have been working very hard to make sure Olivia went with you instead of me. Maybe you just saved me from a fiery car crash.” And that is why I so love Karen.
Talk About Turning the Tables—Monday, March 26, 2007
This morning I handed in the two pieces of work that will bring an end to this eight-month spree of nonstop deadlines I took on when Helaine and I signed the contracts for Office Mate and decided it would be smart to keep publishing articles while we researched and wrote the book. I didn’t do any cartwheels, though, because the moment I sent the last file I turned to the pile of unpaid bills, overdue correspondence, and sheets of scribbled To Do’s to get started on those. So much for my break.
Then the phone rang, and it was a writer at BusinessWeek who wanted to interview me for an article about workplace romance scandals. It was like somebody pushed a button: Bing! You finished pushing that big old rock up the hill, Sisyphus? Here’s what it feels like to watch it roll down the other side! Swoosh. Hand in the last tidbit and you get a call from BusinessWeek, asking for an expert’s take on the recent hoo-ha.
I was tongue-tied. I’m used to asking the questions. It felt wrong to be on the receiving end—like putting your pants on backwards. I’m not sure I inhabited the role of interviewee all that well. I told Helaine to take the follow-up questions to make things equal, and to make sure our best quote made it into the magazine, even if it wasn’t one of mine. Frankly, I felt like interviewing Helaine about our book, taking some notes, and calling up the reporter with Helaine’s answers. Clearly my next deadline is going to have to be to learn how to give an interview. When is that due? I’d say yesterday would do it.
There Must be Some Misunderstanding—Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Sunday was my father’s 69th birthday, the one he was not supposed to live long enough to see. It was hard to know how to react. I didn’t buy him a gift because he’s a bedridden quadriplegic, but then I found out that he charged up hundreds of dollars of model cars and Lucite display cases for his collection as a gift to himself and ordered my sister to hang them on the walls of his apartment. He has not accepted—or does not understand—that his survival means that his $10,000-a-month care is not sustainable and he will have to move to a nursing home soon.
Having survived MRSA staph and sepsis, he got it into his head one to day recently to find out his new prognosis. So without telling my sister he called the hospice people to ask for an evaluation. Apparently he forgot—or did not understand—that once he is no longer a hospice patient he will lose many of the privileges he has enjoyed over the last few months. These include a whopping 14mg of Dilaudid—a derivative of morphine—with a 4mg boost for break-through pain every four hours. Once his status is changed he will be cut to 4mg every four hours, period. I have no idea what this drastic reduction in meds will do to him, but it will not be pretty.
He has often said that if he has to be in a nursing home he’d rather be dead, but now that he has no knee in his leg—just floppy flesh—he can’t live at home without a level of care that would quickly deplete his savings. Lately a lot of friends have asked me what’s going on with my father and I tell them that he seems to have recovered but that it’s not good news, and then I explain why. And as if they don’t agree—or can’t understand—they inevitably say something like, “Well, that’s good news” and then move on to the next topic. I don’t think people know what to do with survival when death would have been the better outcome.
Not My Doppelganger, Thankfully—Sunday, March 11, 2007
Everyone who sees Olivia says she is exactly like me, and of course I know what they are talking about. But at the same time they are completely wrong, and I am the only one who knows it.
There is the surface way in which they are wrong. Olivia doesn’t really look like me. I look like Olivia. I look like Olivia in the way that some of us “look like” someone famous—in the way that Cher’s old boyfriend Rob Camilletti “looked like” Sylvester Stallone. If you saw the actual Sylvester Stallone you would never mistake him for Rob Camilletti. Olivia looks like the famous version of me, the way I could look only if I had gone to a plastic surgeon 20 years ago and had my lips made fuller and my nose straighter and my cheekbones higher and my face more symmetrical. That’s the funny thing about all the jokes people make about me cloning myself, because all the modifications that make Olivia so gorgeous where I am merely attractive come from Tom.
But more than this, there is the down-deep way that Olivia is not like me, could never be like me, and for which I am grateful. When I was twelve, I could not get up in front of a large audience and perform with perfect comfort in a high-caliber school play, as she did in five shows this weekend. I could not have played lead guitar at the 12 Galaxies Club in front of an even larger audience at two U2 tribute concerts performed by students of the Paul Green School of Rock, as she did last month. When I was twelve I could never have been elected class rep and I couldn’t have been a high scorer on my basketball team. I had only one friend at the time and I couldn’t even dribble; I was the least popular kid in class and was called “Steffenpoop” and “Supergawk.” I was not comfortable in my own skin and I did not have an easy smile or a hearty laugh or a talent for drawing and the ability to ride a unicycle. When I look up on those stages and watch Olivia, I am watching an alternate version of my past, and when I consider how paradoxically fulfilling my life is now and project forward to the future Olivia might have with such a foundation, I am so excited for her that it’s a physical thrill.
Carving Time—Friday, March 9, 2007
My writing partner Helaine Olen and I handed in the final draft of our book to the publisher today. I feel numb. (Can a person “feel” numb?) It would require energy even to experience something as minimal as relief, and at the moment I am energy-free. Kind of like a Kansas oil field.
If I were to feel something, however, I suppose it would be adulation, because not only is this sucker browned and basted, it is ready to serve. I can talk about the project now. The book is called Office Mate: Why Work Just Might Be The Perfect Place to Find True Love and it will be published by Adams Media in November. Adams Media is the Boston independent publisher that released Horse Crazy, the anthology in which my story about Olivia’s art appeared last year. They’re also publishing Cup of Comfort for Writers, the anthology coming out in September in which I have a piece about my disastrous first personal essay. So I have multiple reasons to be grateful to Adams, but in particular Helaine and I think rather highly of them because they were the only publisher with the guts to buy our book when the New York publishers slunk away after getting word from Corporate that they were prohibited from buying our book because they might be seen as endorsing office romance. Perish the thought! Adams has no corporate parent, which is what makes them an independent publisher. An independent publisher, we discovered, is a fine thing.
This is all rather funny because when Helaine asked me if I would agree to make Office Mate our next project together and tell the tale of how we met our husbands I told her that I thought it was too boring because nobody raises an eyebrow about office romance anymore. Ha! And Ha again I say. I was wrong. Helaine, are you reading this? I was wrong. We made quite a little flap with our proposal and now we can only hope we make a similar flap when the book itself comes out. Flap, flap, flap all the way to fame and fortune. Or the odd assignment and the occasional check, anyway.
Definition Two: The Crazy Life—Monday, March 5, 2007
It is nearly three weeks since I last contributed a piece to this not-exactly blog. What that fact should tell you (“you” being my six loyal readers) is that I am suffering from an unholy case of koyaanisqatsi—life out of balance. When you stop doing something you love, your life is objectively not working.
I knew my life was objectively not working on February 5th, when I got an email from a lobbyist for the California Compassionate Choices Act. She said that the act was being re-introduced in the California Legislature and that she would like my KQED Radio Perspective to be a part of the group’s press materials and for me to participate in the press conference on February 15th in Sacramento.
Here’s what I was supposed to do on February 15th instead: host about thirty nervous prospective Live Oak School parents along with the head of school and the director of admissions at a wine and cheese gathering in my home. I also happened to be on deadline for the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, and the story was not going so well.
My book partner suggested I cancel the party and go to Sacramento. And why wouldn’t she say that? An invitation like that is the reason—or one reason, anyway—that I dove back in to my commercial writing career well before it was terrifically workable. I couldn’t stand not getting invitations like that anymore. The lack of them was making me feel small.
But here’s what makes you feel smaller: declining an invitation to support the re-introduction of a bill you believe in so that you can throw a party that’s not cancelable. And it wasn’t cancelable—it was just a scant 10 months ago when I was one of those nervous parents, wishing for Live Oak to accept my girls and save me from single-sex education in Pacific Heights. Mine was the last wine-and-cheese of the application season. These parents didn’t have another chance to socialize with the people who were making the decision about whether their children would get the opportunity to attend the school they felt to be the right one.
So I gave the party, but I was a little bit of a mess. I spoke too frankly and drank too much wine. I thought about what I had missed; I wondered what the Capitol Building looked like; I tore up the driving directions I had printed off Mapquest. I logged on to the California Compassionate Choices Act Web site and found the link to my piece on the opening page. I then spent the next week—vacation week—on deadline when my sister and her family visited me for the first time since I moved here in 1998. I spent the week after that with my co-author in town fixing every page in our book because of a misunderstanding involving sidebars. Today I spent my first day without houseguests since February 17th trying to keep the kids happy since they had yet another day off of school and I had yet another day away from the five-inch pile of papers on my desk. After I make my book deadline on Friday I have to co-chair the school auction party and rewrite my piece for the Chronicle Magazine at the same time. There is not a day this winter or spring—nor was there in the fall—when the thing I am doing is the thing I need to be doing at the time, nor for the person I need to be doing it. When I need to be working my children need me to stop. When I need to be volunteering I need to be working. What I need is a solution, and I need the solution not to involve giving up any of the above.