Archives: General

A Case of Myopia Writ Large


Oh, hey!  It’s been a while, huh?

Like, nine whole months?  Yeah. Nine months. A lot can happen in nine months.  Niiiiine months.

Yeah, so I have a baby now, everyone.  Surprise!  World’s worst baby announcement right there, folks.

I didn’t mean to time it this way or anything.  It’s just that I’ve had a grand kick in the ass recently (a life-affirming, HELL YES kick in the ass) and it prompted me to wipe the dust off this blog and start writing here again.  So here we are, all new and shiny and old at once.

Advice From My Younger Self

This piece won’t finish itself.   I was going to let it languish in the bottom of the “Things To Finish Later” folder on my laptop.
But then there were these signs that came my way, little bitty signs from the Universe that said: it’s okay to put this out into the world without a pretty ending.  That endlessness is in the air right now, the Universe said.  It’s the season of non-resolution.

Panama! Part 2

Those of you who know me know I don’t like small dogs.  I’m not subsumed by a baby-talking alter ego when I see their bulging eyes and stubby legs.  Instead I’m compelled to ask myself big, esoteric questions, like, How far I can punt this thing? Why can’t this thing carry its own weight in whiskey barrels or picnic baskets?  

Dogs have always occurred to me as Man’s Best Helpers, so the itty bitty ones that bark and fit into handbags seem like a gross abomination of the species.  They seem to be made only for behaving obnoxiously and making their face hair wet with saliva.  I hate them.  It’s probably because like repels like and our similar anxieties meet in the middle like two magnet ends trying to go at it.  Anyway, you should know all this because even I was surprised at how I responded to this little ball of fuzz:

I absolutely fell in love with him.  I can’t explain it.  If you had told me months ago that I would love a Pomeranian, I would have punched you in the face for even suggesting such a thing.  And yet, there I was, covered in sweat and allowing a small hairy thing to rub against my bug-bitten legs.  He wasn’t as barky as other dogs- so he had that going for him.  And he was genuinely cuddly without being cloying. He only sometimes came out to greet us when we came up the stairs.  He played fetch with a stuffed mouse for a short while, and then he stalked off like a nuclear physicist insulted by our pedestrian requests to know what pee-pee was made of.  He could take us or leave us, and that was refreshing to see in a small dog.  Would I be anthropomorphizing too much to say I thought he was moody?  Or brilliant?   I rather like the idea that maybe he wouldn’t come when he was called because he was sulking under the bed, writing in his diary, bemoaning how utterly alone he was in the world because his parents had brought him to this godforsaken place where no one understood him.  It didn’t feel like such a stretch.  And since there was a time in my life when I was also sequestered away in a bedroom ignoring the calls of my family and scribbling about my sad, what-does-it-all-mean-anyway life, I related.  It was like I was meeting the sixteen year old dog-version of myself.

Panama! Part 1

Well, the world didn’t implode.  It didn’t even hiccup.  It was just another day in Paradise the day I walked onto Isla Bastimentos and delivered a big ol’ hug to the Other Lauren Ziemski.

Our hug, our meeting… it was all very normal, really.  In fact, the whole trip had an air of total banality to it.  It was, as they say, soooo Panama.  Our plane almost crash-landed in Changuinola.  No biggie.  One day the whole island lost power.  Whatevs.  Whole sections of menus were unavailable at most of the eateries on the island.  Meh.   This is just how it IS on Bastimentos.


Yeah, so that blogging every day thing didn’t work out so well, now did it?  I should know better than to set the bar that high.  I mean, for God’s sake.  I’d just come off a jag of showering only sporadically and ignoring the laundry while trying to write a novel.  Who was I trying to convince that I would be able to blog every day?

The Twelve-ish Days of Christmas

I had this really good idea. I was going to post something every day, starting on December 1st, until we left for Christmas vacation on the 13th.  It was going to be so fun!  Updates from our crazy house every day!  Getting ready to leave, getting ready to spend the holidays with our families… so much to talk about!  I was all jazzed up after NaNoWriMo- so jazzed because the “novel” (let’s not call something I squeezed out in 30 days a “novel”, shall we? Let’s call it a novella.  A practice novella.  A pranella. Ah, yes.  There we are.  A pranella) really got me into the habit of writing nearly every day.  Well, every day starting on the 16th or so.  Yes, that’s right.  I frittered away the first half of the month and *technically* wrote the novel in 14 days or so.

Thailand, Day 2

So we decide to take the train to Chiang Mai.  Why? Because it was recommended to us.  Forty dollars to sleep the night away on an air-conditioned train and awake in a whole new part of Thailand. It practically shimmered with romance and intrigue.
At 6 pm, we roll our luggage noisily up the curb and enter the station. The place is large and overlit with fluorescent lights. There is a second floor, from which you can look down at the passengers camped out down below.  And camped they are.  Or rather, the white people are.  The Thais are sitting in neat rows of chairs, their hands in their laps, their gaze focused on the large screen TV showing a Thai sitcom.  The white folks are strewn about like trash, filthy and splayed over their grungy backpacks, their eyes sleepy.  There is a section at the front of the station, roped off, and populated by men in orange robes.  “For Monks Only” the placard reads.  A few of them cup their chins in their hands and laugh at the TV show.  Burdy and I go upstairs to scope out the food situation.  We have no idea if we’re going to be able to eat on the train, so we figure it’s best to eat our dinner now.  Before we sit down, though, we go to see the train on the platform.

It Looks Like This, Too (A Love Letter)

Upon my request, my husband has left me a thermos of coffee on the countertop.  He has made it in the early morning hour between his waking and mine.  He has left via the garage on his bicycle for work, having showered and dressed in silence so as not to wake me in that hour.  My husband has left me a drawing next to the thermos.  He has drawn me some birds surrounding a skinny, shaky heart.  He is man who was not used to drawing hearts before he knew me.  He has gotten so used to drawing hearts.

A Visitor

I had an unexpected visitor this week.  The little girl I used to babysit- on the east coast, in Irvington, NJ- was here, in Seattle, and sleeping on my office floor. She was on a road trip- a soul journey- the kind we all should take from time to time to sort out what’s next for us and what’s important to us.  I’ve taken my share of those, so I was SO excited to finally play the role of hostess to someone on a journey like that.   
Not that Eliana really needed any sort of sagely advice from me, or a soft place to land, exactly.  You know you’ve both grown up in a hard place when you offer your guest an air mattress and she insists on sleeping on the hard ground because, y’know.  We grew up in Irvington.  What’s a little hard ground? In addition to being a damned good roadtripper, this young woman is also an accomplished musician, a fabulous cook (she makes a mean veggie scramble), and downright delightful company.  We talked long into the night and laughed about all sorts of things (not the least of which was the most monotone, eyes-glazed-over, culty happy birthday song either of us had ever heard at one of the Sri Chinmoy eateries here in town).
We went out for food and drinks the night she rolled into town and we reminisced a little bit about our times growing up.  Each of us dug way back in the memory banks for funny stories to tell Mr. Burdy- like the time we tried to bake a matzoh from scratch in the microwave using borrowed flour during Passover (Whoops.  There’s a joke in there somewhere that starts “A Catholic girl walks into a Jewish home…”). Or the time I had to boost her through the window on the front porch because we’d locked ourselves out of the house. Or the time my brother told her he painted his nails black because it would hide the blood when he committed murders.  Ah, childhood. 
I would like to claim responsibility for this young lady’s remarkable outcome, but let’s be honest.  I really didn’t have anything to do with it.  I don’t mean that in any over-self-deprecating way, either.  We were next door neighbors for eight years or so, sure.  And we’d lobbed our share of water balloons and childhood taunts over the chain link fence separating our yards, but, it’s not like I taught her much in the way of life skills.  And also, I once dislocated her shoulder. RELAX!  I did it while we were dancing!  FIERCELY!  “Shiny Happy People” will inspire that kind of energy in young people.
It was her amazing parents that are really responsible for her outcome.  And her community.  And the fact that she’s always been a bright shiny star, a smart and charming and lovable human being- a  personality  that was formed way before I arrived on the scene. 
Her visit reminded me once again of the inherent messiness of our memories.   While we reminisced about all the minor damage  we’d caused  ourselves and others in our childhoods  (there was the requisite Showing Of the Scars with Accompanying Backstories over gin and tonics one night), it became obvious that we each remembered such different things.  She remembered the tile in her bathroom.  I remembered that her brother was obsessed with He-Man.   It always blows my mind a little how two people existing in the exact same space and time can produce such different memories of those times. I would think that I WOULDN’T be surprised at this point in my life. But, having three siblings, all of whom I feel very close to, has sort of skewed my sense of individuation when it comes to memory.  We spent SO much time together growing up; it’s hard to remember a story without them in it.  We four keep a memory alive in a way, I suspect, that a family of two or three can’t.  There is often so much material between the four of us, so much adding and re-calling, that the idea that different people can remember different things occurs as downright bizarre to me, still. (I often dream of writing a book with the three of them, telling the same stories from four different angles.  I’ve even figured out the cover:  four line-drawn head shots, done up in primary colors like a Warhol painting.) 
Recreating in a vacuum, which is how I’ve gone about writing the memoir I’m working on… that is challenging stuff.  The theme of my life for the last month has been how shaky, at best, my memory is when I have to remember alone.  It’s hard to recreate the past without the input of those other three lunatics who share my last name, or my former next door neighbor, or my former clients and coworkers.  I’ve been working on the memoir almost daily, and aside from the challenge of just committing to a time every day to sit here and write, there is this: what I thought was there, just at the edge of my memory, ready to spill over onto the page, is in fact a tangled mess of chronology. I find myself stymied by questions of time and order.  Did Mr. X do this funny thing in 2003 or 2004?  Was I promoted before or after I almost set fire to the wall of my office?  Did I work for that nutbag  the same year I was almost hospitalized for exhaustion, or the one before?
It’s funny how much pride we attach to being to being able to tell a story and recall every single detail- or, how much we want to punish those who embellish (ahemJamesFreyahem) in the void.  I’ve always prided myself on being able to reconstruct the past from just a few Polaroid snapshots. What this memoir is shoving right in my face is how, with the passage of time, those snapshots fade, and get replaced by new snapshots.  What shelf the chocolate covered pomegranate seeds are on, what corner of the garage we  crammed the tripod into, where I put those Christmas cards I bought on clearance at the end of the season last year… This is the banality of living that crowds out all that drama from so long ago.  And thank goodness, really.  My brain is overactive enough.  The last thing I need to do is find the Christmas cards and then feel the urge to call 911 because I’m remembering an electrical fire from 2003.
It was great to rehash the past during Eliana’s visit.  It was even greater to create new memories with her.  It’s comforting in a way I can’t really explain to know my childhood is safeguarded in the memories of more than just a handful of people.  It’s a blessing and a miracle to see that, despite our concrete jungle beginnings, some of us have been able to fold ourselves into the organic nectarine, fleece camping vest, sensible shoe wearing embrace of the soft west coast.  We made it out alive.  We’re taking roadtrips and seeing the world and asking big questions of ourselves.  That, too, is comforting.  Maybe somewhere in between the cuts and bruises and the shoving through windows, our two free spirited souls, unbeknownst to our conscious selves, were signaling to each other to meet on the West Coast in twenty years.
Oh, and Mrs. Kissner? That was three days for 8 hours a day at a rate of $3.00 per hour, so I will be sending you a bill for seventy-two bucks for the services of babysitting your daughter.  She ate all her lunch and then some, I only ordered her to drink alcohol twice, and she doesn’t one have ONE new scar to show for her time here. Unlike my memory, I’d say my babysitting skills have greatly improved.       

Why My Next Tattoo Would Be An Apology

I should just start every damned entry here with : Wow.  I can’t believe how long it’s been since I last wrote. I am SO sorry.

If I could have a t-shirt made, or maybe a tattoo put on my arm, it would help diffuse a LOT of public awkwardness, especially about this blog.  It would be a handy catch-all tool, y’know? Like, if I ran into someone in the supermarket who wanted to know when I was going to post something else on my blog?  I would just smile and point to my t-shirt. If I received a text from friend who asked, didja get that thing I sent ya? I’d shrug, take picture of the tattoo, and hit “send”. Done.

Procrastination has been the name of my game and I’ve been a champion at it.  I should have a gold medal in putting things off.  Like, every time I think I’m going to finish something, I wonder what’s in the fridge. Oooo! Maybe there’s some peanut butter in there…

Like all procrastinators, I have really, really good excuses.  Like… I’ve been busy! Cleaning my house! And organizing my office!

No, seriously.  You should see my office. It’s friggin’ amazing.

I’ve also been doing this other huge thing.  I’ve been dismantling my empire.  I’ve been making this transition from full time employed bookkeeper to very-part-time-employed bookkeeper and most-of-the-time memoir writer.  See?  That’s something!

This transition… ugh, I can’t even finish that sentence. Okay. Take a breath, Lolo. This TRANSITION has been a challenge.  I am still finding my “groove”, as they say.  I’m used to going non-stop for 14 hours a day. This whole “having time” is a new concept to me.  And, because old habits die hard, I am finding myself wanting to fill my days with anything other than writing.  EVEN THOUGH I FIRED MY CLIENTS SO I COULD WRITE ALL DAY. You would think that after having let go of nearly ALL of my sources of income, and feeling like this book is burning inside me, just dying to get out, I would be at my desk all day and night, neglecting hygiene and regular meals and just cranking out page after page.

The reality is that it’s going to take more than a few weeks to cure 30-something years of living like I’m running from a burning building.  I’m still getting used to the fact that normal, everyday activities are part of the process of writing, as well.  Nearly every writer I have ever read about didn’t spend more than a few hours a day working on their craft.  So, it’s normal to want to clean the office and take care of errands in between bits of writing.  It’s also normal to have this book filling your head for years and then to have a Cindy Brady moment when you sit down to write it.  I’m ON AIR right now, and instead of feeling like a well-prepared game show contestant, I feel pinned down by the weight of my task.  I feel like I can’t even type my own name without wondering if it’s right or true.

Now that I have that other stuff done (have I mentioned how amazing my office looks?), I have nothing left to do but sit here and type, so I need to learn how to break through that paralysis.  In the past, it was my work that kept me both chained up and upright in the face of a task.  It gave me purpose, and it didn’t matter that the purpose was not always fulfilling. Work was my drug, and I was addicted to the productive qualities of it.  Coming down off it and entering this world of much delayed gratification is giving me the shakes.  I still clamor to do something measurably “productive” during the day because, let’s face it, writing a book is a nebulous, possibly pay-off-less endeavor.  Sure, you’ll have plumbed the depth of your soul, and opened yourself up to criticism, and dedicated yourself to a task for a while, but, to quote a line, “Where’s the fucking money, Lebowski?”.  If there’s no cycle of work, get money, spend, and work more, I get fidgety. I start to dwell on the fact that I have become the person I both loathed and envied my whole life: someone who could afford to do nothing but swim around in her own thoughts all day.  My mandate has been: survive.  It is now: just be.  And write a book while you’re at it.

On my bad days, I start to turn book-writing into this luxurious folly designed for fops and layabouts. I start to feel like my connection to everyday people will peel away and, while they’ll be talking about commuting and diaper-changing and all the rest, I’ll have nothing to share but a clean office and a few pages of self-indulgent journaling a day.

See how nasty self-defeating and downright violent my language towards myself is?  Who’s to say I don’t deserve this “time off” from the noisy scramble I designed my life to be?   I’m so accustomed to trading in my time for money; this new thing is downright unnerving. There is comfort and routine in work, and clearly defined expectations.  This?  This is uncharted territory.  This has no map, no end-time in sight.  This is just me desperately flailing around in the water for a very long time until I get a rhythm going.

Then again, on my better days, I feel this sense of right-living, of right-being, like everything and everyone is lining up in such a way as to really make this happen. For example, last week I met with a writing coach.  She was encouraging and tough at the same time.  She was genuinely excited about this book!  And really, the average Joe on the street does NOT curl his lip derisively when I explain that, rather than work for a paycheck, what I do all day is write stuff.  My friends are incredibly supportive.  Everyone is HAPPY for me.  That alone keeps me thinking I have chosen the right path for myself.

I have to remember the path has many unforeseen twists in it. 

A few days ago, my friend Ruth and I sat on the floor of my office and fiddled around with one of my manual typewriters that wouldn’t quite work.  The carriage was sticking in places and part of the ribbon housing was dented and wouldn’t click back into place again.  Ruth and I sat cross-legged on the floor for more than an hour, trouble shooting.  We used an old pair of boxer shorts to dust and polish the thing.  Ruth used brute force to bend the housing back into place.  I typed the alphabet a few times to see how the carriage worked. It was so meditative and enjoyable to use our brains (and not the Internet) to work something out.  Afterward, when Ruth had left for the night, I looked back at the spot on the carpet where we’d sat for an hour.  It had been a while since I’d sat on that floor,or on any floor, really.  My life is spent in chairs, and at desks, and at chores that yield immediate and necessary results: chopping carrots, filing paperwork.  The typewriter repair was an exercise in letting the world go about its merry, digitized, faster-than-light way and about me letting my folly take me where it would.   I tried to remember the last time I’d just a) sat on the floor and b) did something entirely frivolous for hours.  It must have been when I was a kid, engineering some game or vehicle out of cardboard tubes and scrap wood. I nearly cried at the thought of it. Once upon a time, I played for playing’s sake.

I’m cringing a little how fitting this metaphor is, but what if this is not about swimming, but floating instead?  What if I’m struggling to move when what I need to do is be still and enjoy the view?  What if the ease comes when we realize there is nothing to do but stop paddling our arms frantically and let the world we’re in support us?  There is relief in surrender, sure.  But to know that what we need is TO surrender; that is the trick.