Posts Tagged 'narrative essay'

Thank You Henry Rollins for Your Offensive Comments About Depression and Suicide

Unknown(Reprinted from the Huffington Post)

This summer, Punk Rock icon, actor and writer Henry Rollins wrote a controversial opinion piece entitled ‘Fuck Suicide’ for the L.A.Weekly in which he viciously criticized those who commit suicide, including Robin Williams, who killed himself after a long battle with depression. “How in the hell could you possibly do that to your children?” Rollins wrote. “When someone negates their existence, they cancel themselves out in my mind. I have many records, books and films featuring people who have taken their own lives, and I regard them all with a bit of disdain.”

The article was shared 32,000 times on Facebook, and enraged thousands of readers who believed Rollin’s words showed a complete lack of respect for Williams and his grieving family. News outlets including the NY Daily News, Rolling Stone Magazine, Detroit Free Press, Washington Post, The Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald also reported on the backlash. But he wasn’t the only public figure to comment negatively about suicide and those suffering from mental illnesses. The KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons sparked outrage after saying he is “the guy who says ‘Jump’ to those who are suicidal.

Simmons then went on to imply that people with suicidal tendencies were attention seekers. He remarked “Shut the f**k up, have some dignity and jump.”  In response, several radio stations, including Power97 and BobFM in Canada declared that they will no longer play KISS music, as did leading Australian station Triple M – which owns five metropolitan stations across the country. After the fallout, Simmons also deleted his Twitter account to which he previously posted daily. Finally, last week So You Think You Can Dance judge and executive producer Nigel Lythgoe announced on the show that “committing suicide is both stupid and selfish.”

As much as I loathe all of these insensitive and offensive comments I am grateful that they have opened up an international dialog that is rarely that covered in our media and news outlets. However, amid the clamor, I believe that these public figures articulated some very real and strongly held beliefs that those who commit suicide and struggle with mental illness are weak, selfish and lack courage. That they should “pull themselves up by their boot straps” and “just snap out of it.” And that they don’t deserve our sympathy because “they did it to themselves.” I know that these horribly misguided comments are made over dinner tables, during happy hour and into cell phones because I have heard them. Most mental health professionals would agree that suicide is too often a result of mental illness.

There’s no “stupidity” involved when a disabling illness drives a person to take his or her own life.  The shame and stigma stat stem from these commonly held messages can cause a great deal of damage. Bruce Levin, psychologist and author of several books including  Surviving America’s Depression  wrote that people with mental illnesses “do not need positive-thinking or condescending advice, which assumes inaction stems from ignorance, creates only more pain. Instead, people need compassion, love, and various kinds of support.” In todays culture we hold our celebrities as up as role models, emulating their taste in clothes, music, homes, political causes, art, cars, food, reading material, and lifestyles. Their opinions are regarded by many to be the gold standard regardless of how ridiculous, misinformed or irresponsible they may be. These celebrities do not only echo public sentiment, they create it. Just consider Kim Kardashian and her empire.

However, most telling was how these three celebrities chose to respond to the public outcry against their insensitive remarks. Nigel Lithgoe took to Twitter and in three posts refused to apologize. He continued to blame the victims by saying, “I will not even begin to defend my feelings toward suicide. The belief that life is not worth living is wrong. Because a mentally ill person is incapable of judgement does not make the act of suicide any less stupid or selfish.” He also admitted that he has lost two people to suicide and perhaps his experience has impacted his misguided beliefs. It’s not for me to make this assumption. Rock star Gene Simmons has expressed regret in a Facebook message

“I was wrong and in the spur of the moment made remarks that in hindsight were made without regard for those who truly suffer the struggles of depression.” However, it was Henry Rollins’ reaction which surprised me the most. In addition to apologizing he also pledged to educate himself on the topic. After his original article, Rollin’s penned a follow-up titled, “More thoughts on suicide,” in which he took responsibility and thanked the people who sent responses.

“I appreciate them all because they were written with complete sincerity, even if some had only two words, the second being “you.” . . . I said there are some things I obviously don’t get. So I would like to thank you for taking the time to let me know where you’re coming from. None of it was lost upon me.” But then Rollins shared his own struggles with depression. “There have been some truly awful stretches, as I am sure there have been for anyone who deals with depression, that have at times rendered me almost paralytic.” Rollins wrote. It may seem appalling that he would make these derogatory remarks after suffering from depression himself. However, a research paper in the US National Library of Medicine entitled “Stigma as a Barrier to Recovery” noted the stigma may be so pervasive that “persons with mental illness may begin to accept these notions and internalize these stigmatizing attitudes and beliefs that are widely endorsed within society”.

Perhaps this was the case with Rollins but it wouldn’t be fair for me to make that conjecture. Rollins concluded with a message of regret and a commitment to learn from this experience: “I have no love for a fixed position on most things. I am always eager to learn something. I promise that I will dig in and educate myself on this and do my best to evolve. Again, thank you.” To be sure, there are many who believe that these all are just insincere apologies by celebrities who are interested only in protecting their image and endorsements. I do not know if Simmons or Rollins are being genuine. I hope so because people can change. I know it, in fact because I have.

It shames me now to admit that I once held similar misguided opinions about mental illness but this was before I got a Masters degree in counseling, before I worked with students in crisis at Northern Illinois University, Illinois State University and UCLA and before I lived with a decade-long diagnosis of major chronic depression. In other words I got educated, I learned and I changed. The concept that mental illness is a disease which twists reality and affects the way one thinks, perceives and remembers is one that is not often discussed. Blame towards the victim and a lack of understanding is what keeps so many alone with their secrets.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in four people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. That is too many people who must bear the stigma and the judgement of the ill-informed. I am proud of the mental health community and media outlets who stood to be counted by taking these public figures to task. As a result damaging misconceptions were exposed and more importantly relevant information about mental illness and suicide was shared with the public at large. The  good news is that a more open conversation about suicide and depression may be on the horizon in this country, as the indie film, “Skeleton Twins,” a movie with suicide and suicide attempts at the core of the story, won big audiences in its debut weekend in movie theaters across the country. It is my hope that more people will get educated, learn and change.

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Into The Blue

Blue

Into The Blue
I flip the car visor to apply a slicker of raspberry. I’m so exhausted that I look like phlegm. But phlegm who’s wearing lipstick because everybody knows that lipstick can disguise anything. You never see any of those actors who play sick characters wearing it, not even if they are Angelina Jolie. It’s early and slippery outside, one of those days in Chicago when the fog feels like a permanent guest on the road. I move at a glacial pace. Sometimes one depression hour feels like a dog year.

Me, in another psychiatrists’s office. I keep my eyes to the floor like the guilty one on Law and Order. I am shamed. This is my Roswell 54. I’ve always prided myself on being a “happy, optimistic and motivated person.” I’ve even bragged about it but out of nowhere Depression just crept in through a basement window and I found him sitting there with his feet up on my nice, new mushroom colored couch and he decided to stay.

I took my first 2 pills. They were melon colored and shaped like kites and I felt like a teenaged girl waiting for her boyfriend to change his Facebook status to “In A relationship” because I wanted those meds to work and work fast. They didn’t. I tell no one about the black sinkhole except for Dan, my good and kind husband who guards the secret like it’s a magician’s trick. We both know that crazy and unstable does not get hired, does not get invited to fabulous parties. We both know that all crazy and unstable gets is judged.

Meds are added, taken away, tweaked and tweaked again. There are pretty little yellow pills, rainbow capsules and ones that look like teensy hotdogs. Another one make me feel l’m on a tilt a whirl and I throw up for 24 hours straight. Some work a little, some not. I don’t know. My brain skates the edge of winter-gray and presses at my brain.

1

INTO THE BLUE Arlene Malinowski

And then I just stop. Mail and magazines are left unread. Clothes with zippers and buttons and proper fit sit in the closet. The TV flickers like ghosts in the night. Phone calls roll into voicemail. The bed becomes both my shroud and sanctuary. I look into the mirror of the medicine cabinet. I’ve become invisible-even to myself. I wonder when is it time to find a new doctor? Until one day she says kindly; “I think we should wait to see if this lifts. Your body’s been through a lot. I don’t know what else we should try right now.” Six weeks later she moves away to a city that’s warm and sunny.

How are you? the question comes automatically from the mouths of others. “Fine, I’m just fine” I reply smiling, pink bubbly. A dozen years of acting classes, money well spent. In my soul, I dream about Sylvia Plath and Bell Jarring. I curse my electric oven. And then Dan does the unthinkable and betrays me. I hear him in the other room on the phone, “She’s clinically depressed. It’s bad. We need to get her into see someone now.” I panic, “What are you doing? I was just having a bad moment.” He holds me, “I had to tell someone. I’m scared for you”

My head is spinning lurid purple. “Don’t you understand they’re going to tell everyone!” He doesn’t listen. There are phone calls to brothers and friends and colleagues and I’m in, right away with a guy who is not taking new patients. They say he’s a rockstar but I don’t care. Now the whole family knows. Screw them.

I look around the waiting room. I feel like I’m sitting in the middle of a pharmaceutical Burning Man. The patients rock and mutter and sweat and tremble and stare glassy eyed and get up for cups and cups and cups of water. These are the last chance people and I am one of them. There is a place in your mind that is so far down you don’t see color. That’s where I am.

We wait for 2 hours and when we finally get into his office it looks like a bomb hit it. There is stuff everywhere, it feels like the inside of my brain. He looks nice, like the kind of guy that you should have gone out with in college instead of chasing the bad boys who would make out with you at a party and then dump you for a girl named April- at the same party. I hand him the history that Dan so meticulously kept and I tell him the dark side of calm. “The gnawing at my brain is relentless. I can’t do it anymore. I want go to sleep and never wake up again.”
Dr Last Chance leans in, connects with me my eyes and says in a low quiet voice;

“I know you’re in pain but you need to know that we have lots of options to try.” and then starts naming off lists of drugs and drug combinations. When we are leaving I throw my arms around him and hug him hard and he hugs me back.

Hope is a great gift- maybe the best of all gifts and that’s what he gave me. I slowly start to come out of it. Depression like mine doesn’t just go away, it leaves quietly and surreptitiously like the honey colored light at dusk but word about my break down spreads quickly and at full tilt. I am humiliated beet red but the most unexpected things happen. A funny card shows up in the mailbox. A hand reaches out. The kind opportunity to teach a class if I felt up to it is offered. And people whisper to me “Me too! I have it too” and I wonder “why didn’t I know this about you? Why didn’t we know this about each other? It would have made everything so much easier.” But these timid, tentative and big-hearted acts of care surround me. I swallow my fear and I recognize that loosening the shame and releasing the secret into the blue- saves me.

NOTE: My one-woman show  “A Little Bit Not Normal”  A serious comedy about depression-  Spring 2014.  This Blog, the show, talkback sessions, community writing workshops, articles in Huff Po, publications & the book- is part of my initiative to become part of the national conversation around mental  Illness.  Kickstarter will be launched later this year.  I hope you’ll join me- because its 1 in 4 of us suffer sometime in our lives- and much of that time it is in silence.

I Haiku- Do You?

Haiku?

Up until 7th grade poetry was either boring or stupid and often both at the same time.  I was never really moved by Carl Sandburgs’ “Fog comes down on little cat feet” Although I can still recite it by heart- and recite it with meaning. Rhyming couplets were especially hard to write because of the iambic pentameter thing.  And the limerick, I thought those kinds of poem had potential. They were funny and sometimes dirty but they had to be five lines long, written in a particular sing-songy rhythm that had an AABBA rhyming scheme and that was even harder. Then there was poetry-poetry, which was just complicated and didn’t make any sense- ever.  But the haiku was Japanese and had a lot going for it.  It was short, only three lines, but the thing that gave haiku its haiku-ness was the number of syllables in each line, 5-7-5.  I could do syllables and not everyone in my class could.  Haikus didn’t have to rhyme and most of the ones in our English book were about everyday things like rain and flowers.  And even the weirdest ones were easy to understand.

The first cold shower; 

even the monkey seems to want 

 a little coat of straw.        Bashō: 

This was poetry for the people!

I’ve always considered myself a writer; a playwright actually, penning such works as “The Christmas Ornament” which had a fireplace, a manager scene, 26 lines and a cast of 13.  Playing all the parts I would sign the dialog to my Deaf mother as she typed it. I could often complete an entire work in just under an hour since she used a manual typewriter so there was no going back.  But after mastering the one act play genre I longed for a different creative outlet.

My previous attempts at writing poetry in the 5th & 6th grades often fell flat.  They were full of clichés and awkward rhyming.  But haiku?  Haiku I could do.  Mrs Valenz, one of the pretty teachers who wore plaid miniskirts and go-go boots, judged my first endeavor into the art form a critical success.

We wait for robins 

hopping on the new spring grass,

flying in blue skies. 

This ode to spring was praised for interesting subject matter and correct syllabification.  I was burbling with pride.

I did most of my haiku-ing with Carmel Vena, my best friend.  She was skinny, buck toothed and by far the best poet I had ever met but she was never a bragger.  But when her haiku was chosen to be hung on the bulletin board I got jealous and acted a little mean towards her just to get even.  We wrote haikus about our classmates, the cats in the alley, the new purple vests we wanted and we wrote about our families.

I hate my parents.

They never hear what I say

Not because they are Deaf

I wrote because I liked it.  I wrote because my Deaf parents didn’t understand the hearing me, but mostly I wrote because one afternoon Jeffery Hazlet leaned over to me and said, “Hey, Haiku Girl, can I borrow a piece of paper?”  It was an extraordinary moment in an ordinary life, I was considered a poet, a Haiku Girl, by the cutest boy in the 7th grade.  Haiku not only expressed my emotions but helped me figure out what I was feeling and why.  By the time winter ended I was writing hardcore haikus about black sucking voids and Vietnam.

War; man against man.

Protesters against the man.

We fight at what cost?

I used haiku to tease out the mysteries of life and the most touching and most profound were centered, of course, around love.

Sonny how could you?

Is she prettier than me

or is she a whore?

I wrote because had something to say and no one to say it to.  I wrote because I thought my voice was important to my generation and I wrote to become famous.  Although I pooh-poohed getting my haikus published, it was considered “too establishment”, I did like the idea of reciting my poetry before an audience.  Maybe I would travel around with a folk singing group who drove a VW bus from gig to gig performing for hippies, yippies and beatniks. (Although I wasn’t quite sure of what a beatnik was.)  With haiku my future was pregnant with possibilities especially after I didn’t make the choir.

Everyday is new

I start all over again.

Will it be the same?

Then one day it was over.  I just didn’t feel the need to document every emotion and observation that I had about myself and the world.  7th grade gave way to 8th and “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe and basketball games and holding hands with Thomas Costello.  And just like that I stopped being Haiku Girl and I stopped being Paula Rutkowski’s friend and it was OK.  They both were like a pair of dungarees that no longer fit. I still liked them but they had served their purpose and I was excited to get a new pair of Wranglers.

I miss Haiku Girl.  She was full of alienation and hopefulness, confusion and hormones. I miss how easily the words came to her and her unshakeable belief that she was an artist.  I miss how the inner censor who screamed so loudly in so many parts of her life was reverently, respectfully silent when she wrote haiku. There aren’t many of those haikus left. They’ve fallen victim to too many careless hands and too many careless moves.  But on those occasions that I do think about Haiku Girl and my younger self, I see a smoky coffeehouse full of beatniks in black berets and a dim spotlight shining on a lone solitary figure sitting on a stool reciting her favorite haiku.

My dreams are like stars

Even on the darkest night

they shine on and on.

Wonnerful

My Deaf Mother flips down the visor and studies her face in the mirror.  She is wearing her post cataract surgery sunglasses.  They’re the cheap, plastic kind that wrap around your head to seal out the light and seal in the dark.

“I look like Movie star”, she muses.

“You do, Mommy”.

The traffic moves like an old man getting up from a nap and we are driving into the eye of a perfect storm.  It’s a Wednesday afternoon which means the stores in the area give a discount to anyone over 65, which includes everyone in Holiday City, a retirement community of ten square miles of the same 6 houses differentiated only by their lawn ornaments.  My parents have lived here for twenty years along with a set of gnomes, a twirling pinwheel and 3 fairies that poke out from the shrubs. These are the shrubs that my father manicures in the front yard with a pair of kitchen shears so they are perfect.  He likes to use a level.

I am driving my father black 1987 Mercury Grand Maquis, it is Jersey after all, and we creep/roll/inch/ along route 37 East which intersects exit 82 of the Gardens State Parkway.  It the main thoroughfare through Holiday City and it is the only road into Seaside Heights, Seaside Park, Point Pleasant and Long Beach Island.  It is July, it is sunny, it is Senior discount day and I am on the only highway to the Jersey shore.

I glance over at Mommy who sits on the edge of the seat bolstered by a car pillow looking like a chubby origami bird.   She closes the visor shut with a raised, penciled-in eyebrow.  The snap says, “Damn you Arlene, you never listen to me.”

The stop and go traffic lights are every few blocks and at the entrances of Sam’s Club, Walmart, Rosata’s market, Panda Palace, Burger King, the community hospital, the grey medical building, the blue medical building and the brick medical building.  I bear down on a yellow-turning-red light and Mommy throws her arm across my chest to brace me.  The old don’t drive like this.  They are slower, more mindful.  I am angry and in a hurry to go nowhere fast.

Mommy raises her penciled eyebrow again. “We should leave more early.”

“It’s only 3 miles away.”

“You never know, I no wanna be late.”

“We’re fine, Ma.”

“I like early.”

“I know.”

“Maybe we miss the doctor.  Then what happen? ”

“We’re almost there.”

“You can’t fool around with the doctors.”

“You’re right.”

Mommy readjusts her sunglasses.  “I got glasses free.  I like.”

“They were not free.  You paid for them with the surgery, believe me, you paid for them.”

“It’s wonnerful, I can see everything.”  She says as she leans forward towards the windshield to look at the sky.

“Operation yesterday, today I can see.  Unabelieve.  Almost is clear 100% but still blur a very little.”  She points to her eyes and then gently rubs her splayed hands against each other in front of her eyes, the sign for hazy, unfocused.   We’re stopped and I am grateful for a red light because I am having difficulty shifting my gaze between her hands and the road and I realize I am out of practice.

Deaf people can drive and have full conversations, arguments even with everyone in the car, the back seat included.  Their eyes dart attentively between the rearview mirror, the road in front of them and the hands along side of them.  Daddy’s never had an accident in 61 years and in the one accident that Mommy’s had she was in a parked car.  Their insurance rates are amazing.

The traffic light changes and the car lurches forward.  It’s got a hare-trigger gas pedal that I’m not used to.  I am not used to a lot of things these days; blowing out 53 candles on the carvel ice-cream cake, my parents moving from our house on Buffalo Ave, living though another Chicago winter.  “Sorry” this car is different from mine.” my hand quickly signs.

A year ago my sister called and said that Mommy was wearing shirts with food and stains and when she tried to ask about it Mommy got defensive.  I didn’t give it another thought because Diana and my mother were always quibbling over this and that.   But when I went home for Christmas the kitchen counters were a mess, there was dust everywhere.  When I went to go clean it she would snip “Arlee, Why for you clean again?  I just did”.

“Look, Mom, it’s dirty.”

But she would shrug and turn away, a physical punctuation mark to let me know that “conversation over”.

“I no see nothing. You too much fussy.”

Nothing could be further from truth.  She was the fussy one.  My mother could keep house, do laundry, check homework, be chaufeur and make homecooked meals while holding a full time job.  Yes, Mommy was 83.  Yes, she had stenosis that gave her back troubles.  Yes, she had trouble sleeping but I knew she hadn’t slid into the abyss of old age.  Up until that point I had never allowed myself to.

When the opthamologist told Mommy that she had cataracts she balked by saying that “I see fine. doctors try steal money from old people.  I know their way”.  Later, she confided that she was scared to have the surgery because she was Deaf and didn’t want to be blind too.

“You know blind worse than Deaf.”.  I told her, “Mom Helen Keller said that blindness cut her off from things, but deafness her off from people”.  My mother made a face and said, “She no know what she talk about” and left it at that.

Prepping for the surgery, with the exacting and demanding schedule of eye drops every hour, was more difficult than the surgery itself.  Although the mere thought of staring into a blinding light while a laser peels away your cornea was enough to make my stomach blerg but I kept my trepidations to myself .  Daddy teased Mommy about divorcing him when she saw how he really looked.   After interpreting and getting Mommy situated, the surgery it was over in less time than it took me to read the old People magazine in the waiting room.

The surgi-center itself was sterile and austere and surprisingly deviod of color.  I didn’t know if it was just bad decorating choice or purposefully designed so the office wouldn’t be too overwhelming to the newly sighted because Mommy was speechless when she realized what the world really looked like.  “Unnabelieve”

In the car while I’m yielding to the GD cars coming out of the  GD I Hop parking lot Mommy shakes her head in disgust.

“You never listen.  You no know what the traffic is.  I know because I live here.  You want too much your own way.”

“You’re right, I was wrong”,  I say taking a banana out of my bag.  It occurs to me that it’s probabaly not a good idea to drive, eat and sign at the same time but I’m hungry.  Mommy senses this and peels it half way and hands it to me.  As I reach for my breakfast, I see them out of the corner of my eye; a jeep full of girls wearing bikini tops and the long-legged swagger of youth, and I am reminded of that summer.

It was the summer of fervent anticipation, five best girlfriends, and a rented house down the shore.  It was having a drivers license, a job, scorching tight jeans and our freedom.  It was the joy of being lifted by a lazy wave, the lure of being pulled by an undertow as powerful as first love and the sting of a shaved bikini line in the salty surf.

It was the summer of Sun-In and lemon juice that made blondes turn golden, redheads turn penny and brunettes turn orange.  It was the blistering looks from skittish mothers as they dragged their children away from the melee.  It was the silent exchange of smug glances at the women we vowed never to become.

It was the summer of surging beer shots and bong chasers, sleeping three to a bed and tiptoeing through a houseful of dozing bodies to make the noon shift at Maruca’s Pizza Parlor.  It was nursing sun burns, sand burns, whisker burns and rug burns with community tubes of Neosporin and aloe-vera.   It was letting ourselves be swept away by the endless flirting, the public make-outs and the sloppy breakups.

It was the simple, secret belief that we all would be young forever.

Mommy looks over at the girls, then back to me, takes the banana peel and puts it into a tissue.  “That was you a long time ago.”

“Thanks”

“Me too”.

“Yup”.

I watch her adjust the arm of her wrap-arounds where they bite into the soft skin above her ears. She sighs,

“Nothing stay the same.  Everything change.  That’s what life mean.”

“I know Mom.”Image

She smiles at the girls who bounce and sing along with Ke$ha’s, We R who we R and murmurs. “Unabelieve, I can see.  Almost is clear 100% but still blur a very little. It’s wonnerful.”

She tilts her head thoughtfully,

“Next time we should leave more early.”

Zipless

This is what we are reading in class:  “The zipless fuck was more than a fuck. It was an ideal. Zipless because when you came together zippers fell away like rose petals, underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff.  Tongues intertwined and turned liquid.”

Soft core porn dressed up as Feminist Literary Criticism???  Oh my God! I love Grad school.  It’s the 80’s.  I listen to Blondie, wear parachute pants and my hair is focused on one simple concept – volume.  Aids does not exist and you could eat sugar, fat and deep fried everything without walking into the Valley of Death.  I’m young, I am tan and I am aware, even as it’s happening that I should be living the perfect summer.

“Listen to this part”, I say.  I’m on duty and talking to the nice guy I work with in the dorms. It was our job to enforce quiet hours and make sure the students didn’t do anything stupid like throw a burning couch out of the window. Which they did- twice.

“This book says “zipless” is defined as a sexual encounter for its own sake, without emotional involvement.”

He smiles, Where do you get this stuff?

“It’s literature- Erica Jong.  She’s a fabulous feminist and very famous. She believes that the zipless trumpets unfettered freedom as women’s birthright”

“I am in the wrong major”  He sighs

I tell him, “You know what would make this a great summer for me?  Having a Zipless. It could be my feminist statement in support of all the women who have suffered under the tyranny of the patriarchal double standard”.

“Oh Christ” he says, You are insane.

The truth was- I was lonely, bone crushingly lonely. Only a few months before I had been plopped into the middle of the Midwest from Jersey to go to grad school. I knew Malls an big hair and NYC not this tiny collegetown that had a Farm and Fleet and a “Flying Ear of Corn” as a mascot. But the school had offered me a full-ride, a stipend and a parking space (which really sealed the deal).  My old roommate was moving out to California and I just couldn’t be bothered to find someone else to live with, so Grad school looked like a good alternative.  It was the bookish girls version of the army.  But that summer was hard on me and I thought “If I’m going to be lonesome I ain’t doin’ it alone”.

For my Zipless endeavor I decided stick to my tried and true menu of bad boys. The older, sophisticated, Mr IBM was perfectly appointed in a navy blazer, Izod with the collar popped and the bulge in his khakis indicated that he was a human torpedo.  We meet at a Ramada Inn hotel bar in the afternoon.  He is suave, he lights my cigs his fingers lingering on mine. We drink our Manhattans, he caresses my knee but seems incapable of forming a sentence without the words me, my or I in it.  It crosses my mind that If his conversation style is any indication of his zipless style- UCK!  So I go to my Data Analysis and Regression class even though attendance is not mandatory.

The long days continue to melt by like peach ice cream in the afternoon sun and I hang out with the nice guy constantly.  We eat together; we go out drinking, he cleans my apartment. “OK”, I say to him, one night as we scrape the vomit from the elevator.” I’ve eye lured 3 zipless candidates”.

“What is the eye lure?” he asks.

“I learned it from an article in Cosmo magazine called “How to Be a Man Magnet”.

#1. Make eye contact and smile. #2. Avert your gaze. Then #3. Look back and hold for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  I once did it accidently to a blind guy in the quad and if it worked on him it will work on anybody.

“Anyway”- I continue, “here’s the Zipless update:  The torpedo is too self absorbed so I’ve moved onto the Brazilian painter”.

“The one who lives out of his car for artistic integrity?” the nice guy asks,

“Yes, he says he wants to sketch me.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” He says.

“I’m going to lie on a chaise and say- “Yo quiero su carne.  Su carne es muy caliente”.  Which means I want your meat.  Your meat is hot.  You can really learn a lot from a Taco Belle menu”.

The nice guy locks his eyes on mine.  “Why are you wasting your time with these assholes?”

That’s when I see it- he doesn’t want to be my friend.  He wants to be my boyfriend. I don’t want a boyfriend- let alone him. You see, he was 2 ½ inches shorter than me and I had 20 pounds on him which meant my ass would always look fat next to his.  We’d look like Sasquach and Stewy from “Family Guy”.  Besides he wasn’t my type.  He was nice. I didn’t like them nice.  I liked them Italian and dangerous and from Brooklyn if possible.  He was was dangerous as thread.

I decide not to spend as much time with the nice guy and I definitely do not tell him about the hot bartender from TGIF who was studying for his GED on the side.  Then one morning the nice guy corners me as we’re dumping the dorm because some idiot has pulled the fire alarm at 3:00am.  “Lets go out to dinner”.  He sounds happy and hopeful.  There is nothing is worse than a happy, hopeful nice guy moon-pieing over you.  Then the nice guy gives me the eye lure.

Oh Christ, Now I’m going to have to give him- “the I’m really flattered-but I don’t want to ruin our friendship” talk.    Why do you nice guys always do that?   Why do you ruin everything by being so nice?  For dinner he decides on TGIF, which truthfully was fine dining in the town of the “Flying Ear of Corn”.  We go to dinner on a Tuesday night.  Not a date night.   I order ribs with extra BBQ sauce.  Not a date food.   I eat my entire plate and some of his.  Not date behavior.  We talk and laugh until I am snorting.  Not the right time for the “It’s me not you talk”.

As the nice guy goes to pay the bill.  (My one concession to the no date rule because I wanted to him feel good.) I see the hot bartender tossing bottles, literally throwing bottles of alcohol in the air- like Tom Cruise in that horrible movie.  I think “with talent like that who needs a GED?”  I don’t want my bartender to think I’m with-with nice guy I so strut up to him, a woman ablaze with defiance and purr “I’ll meet you at close”.  I give him the eye lure, He eye lures me back.  God it really works!

Later the nice guy and I sit on the loading dock behind the dorm. The night air is hot and humid. My skin glows in the shallow yellow streetlight. We’re silent, too silent. The “talk” is coming and we both know it.   As he idly plays with my hair, shivers start to pass through my body igniting a thousand goosebumps. I can feel us breathing together.  I start to. .. . No, No, No !  He’s the nice guy.  You don’t do nice guys. But my heart is racing and that irresistible pull is tugging.

As I as turn my face towards him I think “If I kiss him now will I ever get him off my back”.  He pulls me close and it is all sweet mouths and hot, salty necks.  Just as I am about to sigh “ give me a minute to shave my legs” he pulls away.  I can hardly catch my breath.  What?  What are you you doing my body screams? But instead the nice guy puts his hands into his pockets, brushes past me and quietly murmurs “I’m the happiest man in the world” and continues down the stairs, past the dumpster and disappears.  It was the sexiest night of my life.

I often think about that nice guy and wonder.  I wonder what time he’ll get home from work and what we’re going to eat for supper.

Cleaning the Junk Drawer

I am a bad person. Not a bad person in a deviant, psychotic kind of way, but a bad person in a disorganized, slovenly kind of way.

It’s the piles of papers to be filed, runaway shoes to capture, articles to read, junk mail to toss, drawers to sort out, CDs to transfer to my IPod, and RSVPs to be RSVPed that simply overrun my sanity and desire for a pristine, well ordered life. A life that boasts of cross-indexed online recipes and beautiful leather photo albums containing neat rows of childhood pictures made complete with the notation of date and location.

I fantasize about the consummate closet with a wardrobe that makes me look ridiculously thin and is arranged according to season and color on identical hangers all facing the same way. I swoon at the thought of a G-Mail contact list that actually has current names and addresses and I envision a pantry bursting with every imaginable canned good stacked, alphabetized and ready for the taking. I dream about a bill paying system so efficient that it would make an accountant’s heart flutter and I revel in the notion of a tidy medicine cabinet where the Nyquil and Vicodin coexist peacefully with the deodorant and Q-tips. All of these thoughts delight and titillate me until I open my eyes and take a good look around.

My life is a demilitarized zone. Billows of dirty laundry cascade with the clean, unfolded laundry to mock me. Sections of The New York Times Sunday edition lay dismembered and silent in dusty corners and underneath coffee cups. Pots and pans practice a sophisticated balancing act in cupboards too small to contain their girth. Coins and paper clips, raisins and anti-depressants skitter and hide, oblivious to my incessant calling. Occasionally the cat will shimmy out from under the piles to snack on kibbles and bits only to disappear back into the lagoon of stuff. Occasionally my husband does the same.

It’s not like I don’t have help. I’m married to a man whose idea of a lazy Sunday morning is cleaning his golf clubs and arranging them by style and function before next week’s game. This is of course before he washes the cars and goes to church. (See, I told you I was a bad person.)

Helen, the soft-spoken Polish woman who comes in once a month to do the heavy lifting clucks her tongue disapprovingly while I pick up in front of her like a mouse frantically running a maze towards the promise of a tidy nirvana. Like the kryptonite that renders Superman powerless, I am convinced that during my autopsy scientists will discover a genetic defect hidden deep in my DNA that leaves me defenseless against the forces of chaos. Even that sweet, tidy husband who loves me is certain that in the event of my kidnapping he would be able to find me by simply following the trail of open drawers, cabinets left ajar and leftover lemon drops scattered about in the mayhem.

There is just too much to manage. I have tried everything from clearing my clutter with Feng-shui, to buying boxes and containers, files and magazine racks, bowls and organizers to help me. I have even subscribed to magazines that promise to unlock the enigma of an orderly life like it was the third secret of Fatima. However, instead of being part of the solution, they are part of the problem, as they lay strewn across the floor like nachos after a drunken Super bowl party. For me, organizing my life is like crash dieting. It holds great promise but never works for long.

This disarray does not restrict itself to my house. My car, my makeup box, and all of my books are crammed with notes and receipts, Carmex and business cards, writing ideas and Splenda. Even my purse looks like an Office Depot has detonated.  I am not dirty. I don’t hoard. I don’t even collect. I am just disorganized. I can’t get on top of it and can’t get out from under it.

Lately however, I didn’t understand why this suddenly bothered me so much. After all, I’ve spent the last 40 years living with mounds that kept growing around me as fast a freshman girl in a wonder bra and I was fine with it.

Then one afternoon, while chasing a fugitive set of keys, it struck me that I was mad. I was mad that I couldn’t control my mess and mad that I couldn’t control the mess that the world was in. I was mad at my health, and my thighs and the fact that my parents were getting old.  I was mad at BP for the massive destruction they’ve caused and the lies that they are still telling.  I was mad that I like to smoke and that broccoli is healthier than a double fudge lava cake.  I was mad that we were still debating this Gay marriage issue and madder that 40% of our homeless are Veterans. I was mad that even with my I phone, E mail, texting, Facebook and Twitter that I still feel disconnected. I was mad that we are being forced to cut budgets for disabled Americans and that the Bush administration rewrote our Constitution and no one noticed. I was mad that as an educated and socially responsible person I still want to read the tabloids- all of them and after we bailed-out wall street, the banks are foreclosing on homes at a record rate. And I was mad that my good and kind friend Molly had just died of cancer.

I was mad at God and all the Patron Saints, my spirit guides and Buddha, for that matter, for not showing up when they were supposed to.  And I was mad at Super-Pacs and all of the Kardashians for — well, for just being them.  I was furious that everything was careening out of control like that loose hubcap spinning on the expressway.

All in all, I was pretty pissed. So for days I tried to breathe, sit in the mess of my life, meditated and waited for some divine guidance. Nothing happened.  Then yesterday, I got sick and tired of all the breathing and waiting crap and decided to do something. Something that would move me forward or up or out of the chaos. So, I decided to clear off a tiny area in front of the computer on my desk.

I wanted to create just one small pocket of order that might give me some peace and reassurance. In other words, I would clean up what I could clean up. And there, elbow deep in the compost, I discovered a granite paperweight that had etched in stone. “A cluttered desk is a sign of genius” and for the first time in a long time, I laughed.

Thank You Steve

It was a splurge- over $3,200.00 and one that I allowed my husband to indulge me in. He’s terrific like that. We lived in a 2 room dorm apt at UCLA. I was a Ph.D. student and the Mac was a symbol of our faith that I would finish the program. It took 7 years but I did.  Thank you Mr. Jobs for not making me do it on my IBM Selectric Typwriter with the self correcting tape.