numbers (2)

Back to Mom & Dad’s. Hilarious shopgirl attempt. Big box bookstore (beautiful). California whirlwind. First publishing job. Stet? Delete? Learning as I go.

“I can’t come to my life right now; busy working on a very important project—” until, while I’m in Portland, Mom’s heart attack.

First noncollege apartment! (Oak Park.) Germany/Spain adventures. A boy who says his heart is “a frozen block of ice”; another whose is secretly snakelike.

Quit my job; choose “love” over Sarah Lawrence (bad move); get a better job. Move in together against my beliefs. He barely helps me move.

Some numb months, ignoring friends, drowning in denial of truth and self. Two blessed breakups; the second sticks. Gained: great roommate, Lincoln Square love, a life.

Happy Thanksgiving: in February you’ll be laid off! Quick rebound into marketing. June: Grandpa dies; soon after I meet a curly-haired LOST fan at a layoff-related party…

Kansas Christmas with LOST boy; feels like family. In May we shack up, but I believe in it this time. A new job in June; everything is bettered.

Belated birthday present on the beach: diamonds. A whirlwind of planning alongside more work at work. July 22, amid the abundant love of our best friends, we say yes.


numbers (1): again

(this is a repost from 9/13/10 in advance of its sequel today)


Little Rabbit

Learned to read

First crush, two boys

Kindergarten + Days of Our Lives

Young Authors, losing teeth, construction paper

Brownies is the coolest except for BSC

Teacher rides a motorcycle & teaches me to write

Spelling bee finalist, fouled up on “roommate”: two ems

Obsessed with My Girl; want to be a movie star

I am the second-tallest girl with the biggest chest (neither lasts)

Lightning happens. Megan is gone, not me; will never not miss her.

Theater, my Italian second family, my first gay boyfriend, lots of locker notes.

Wrong high school; making the homecoming float in my garage; wishing I were “alternative.”

Second year of epic three-year crush; most of my friends are actors; thrift stores & disco.

Second Music Man, first short haircut/prom/boyfriend/group of non-theater friends. I’m square; they’re not.

Skip Shakespeare for prom; wrong choice. “Theater major? Hahahahaha.” In over my head & in two different worlds.

UIUC, because my brothers did. Breakup in the Union. Sorority girl roommate. Sketch comedy lovefest & PDP theater company.

Directing & writing & acting & producing. Splitting time: quad in nerd dorm/fake shacking up. Gracie born. Library love. Mono: F*@k!

Towers fall, lose my sh*t, drop out, teach rugrats, ride motorcycle. Grandma dies during Bye Bye Birdie (not while performing).

Best friends & roommates in the world. Crazy outfit pancake breakfast. More library. Dancing with fruit. Graduating (miracle!). Packing up. Driving away.

First, get enough sleep the night before. Seven hours is good. College You could get by on five. You are no longer College You.
[To get good sleep, strike a balance: not starving, not so full as to incite Cosbyesque dreams of Muppet sandwiches. A glass of milk or one beer helps. Maybe two. Never more than two beers or what results cannot actually be called sleep. Strike a balance with what you’ve done that night after work: not too much sloth, nor too much work. If you work up until bedtime, you will dream of deadlines. Too much sloth, and the things you “forgot” to do will creep into your dreams. Better to work and then to unwind. Television helps. One episode, maybe two. The West Wing works a little better than Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks too close to bed and you will dream of Bob.
Giant cats, handmade quilts, and kindhearted bedfellows are advisable for an optimal sleep environment.]

Hit snooze one time, only once, so you may complete your favorite recurring dream, the one where grownup life is a great version of camp, with every single person you love living right nearby, and communal meals, and tree-filtered sunshine, and the odd friendly competition. Shower, thanking your stresspile of a job for giving you money to buy the nice soap, thanking your waking limbs for all they do for you each day; lovingly prepare them for another day’s work.

Read deeply on the train instead of checking Facebook and a million little websites. Go deep. Immerse and the time flies. Read deeper and your thoughts get wider, connected. A full day.

Understand that your work is your work, and whittle away at it, and know that it will subside eventually. Hold it like a crystal bowl. Too tight and you crack it (and you); too loose and you have nothing left but broken pieces. It is a treasured accessory. It is not what clothes you.

Have lunch with an old friend. You grew up in the same little town and now live in the same big city, but in different neighborhoods, with different choices, still walking around with matching memories in your head.

Appreciate the strange sunlight through your alley-facing work window. Acknowledge how strange it is to have gotten there, a little room of your own, a magnetized nameplate outside the door, some to-be-told level of temporary. Look around.

First topic: What does your name mean/come from? Do you think having your name has affected who you are?

My name means listener, and a listener I was. Until I discovered theater, I sat on the edge of everything, listening to the world, barely speaking. My loud family—two funny, handsome brothers with big voices of their own, and smart, opinionated parents—meant there was no need for me to speak. No one ever told me to be quiet; I just came out that way and saw no reason to change. And I guess because of this quiet nature, people came to me when they needed an ear. I couldn’t understand that the act of listening was enough; I thought that by hearing a problem, I was signing on to solve it. I listened to others’ problems and made them my own. I soaked it all in and never let it out. I was silent, somber, full. Not unhappy, but not balanced, and worries filled me.
I would have exploded, I think, if theater hadn’t let the lid off me. Appropriately, I fell into theater at Natural Helpers camp, where I was sent in seventh after many classmates listed me as someone they could tell their troubles to. I was training to be a peer listener.

I had act in a sketch at camp, role-playing about how to solve other people’s problems without losing ourselves. To speak in front of so many people terrified me, even with a script. But I was okay at it, I guess, and a teacher, a sweet teacher whose name I have forgotten but to whom I owe so much, encouraged me to try out for the spring play at school. And I became Waitress #2 in You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Werewolf. And everything began to change.
I sang out. I spoke up. For thirteen years. I wrote, too; I had so many words, I lent them to others, and the words I found came alive on the stage.

Art by ky_olsen; used under a Creative Commons license. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ky_olsen/3133347219/

But I adopted the persona of a theater kid, too, which meant that sometimes I was too loud to listen to anyone else. And I rehearsed my words and spent Saturdays in voice lessons and forgot about the worries of others. The pendulum had swung the other way. I was a loud kid, a free kid, present.

I tried at times to find that quiet girl. I went to college for psychology, training to be a listener, going back to my name and my roots. It didn’t stick. I loved my English and writing classes far more. I listened to others’ stories, but I didn’t have to solve the problems in them; I scrutinized them,but just for symbols, and all that was at stake was a grade.
Now, again I listen to others’ stories, at my day job as an editor. My job is to see what the writer has said, hear what he is trying to say, and build a bridge between the two with commas and clarity and gentle suggestions of new phrases.

Have I come full circle, back to the girl who only listens? Hardly. I am quick to complain about any small thing to my blessedly patient friends. I remind myself to listen, of that saying about the two to one ratio. I remind myself to balance. Listening and caring won’t eclipse my own needs. My diaphragm was strengthened by years of voice lessons; I’m too loud now to ever be silenced.


My legs are weak and shapeless, and someday I will regret not running.
I should run because old me can’t.

My heart needs protection: from stress and from hereditary high cholesterol. I take the pill dutifully (mostly) and think about what I eat (except when I am stressed, or busy, or it is the slightest of holidays or when I Just Can’t Think About That). I rise too quickly to anger, to freak-out, and let it burn burn burn.

My enormous gray cat sits beside me; he loves nothing more in the world than ten seconds of attention and pleasure: getting petted while he eats, a grade-A head scratching, chasing a dangling ribbon. But 30 Rock calls.

My luckiest day was when I said no to a pool trip and unwittingly to lightning that all else being equal would have been aimed at me. So my sweetest ever friend can never again ______.

And it is my duty as the one who carries on
to match the strength of that bolt, to fight its randomness with intention, purpose, of an equal strength.

And it is my duty as the one who knows better
and has lost furry loved ones before
to take the time now to dangle that ribbon and appreciate the chance and the soft wonder.

And it is my duty as the owner of those legs and that heart
to give old me a fighting chance, to dance stupidly and chicken run and befriend
the daunting elliptical machine and hear in the whirr of each go-round and in each heightened heartbeat
I can, I can, I can.

It matters.

The food we eat: where it comes from and how it lived before we ate it. Delaying gratification today for a healthier, saner tomorrow. Which diet to follow; how closely to follow it. An exercise plan with the right balance of cardio and strength; breaking down lazy habits to build up bone and muscle so we are not hunched when we are old. Which 401(k) plan to invest in. A credit card with the best APR. Voting right with our few dollars.

It matters, too, the pink sunset through bare suburban trees. Watching the mermaid girl eat too much junk food on Halloween and telling her to pass the bag. A peach that is just a peach, removed of its history and politics and biochemical effects, perfect in its taste and presence. Accidental naps that make you miss a deadline. A walk that is just a walk, and the joy of moving your legs and the fact that they can move. Missing the big picture at the stage version of The Lion King because you are in love with the stilt giraffes.

How lovely it would be to have a recommended daily allowance of wonder. Can we furrow our brows at our loved ones and ask with great concern, “When was the last time you were silly?” Each citizen should be issued a comfy chair from which to lazily sip perfect jasmine tea in afternoon sunlight. We would not forget the future and our health and money and responsibility; we would be responsible to ourselves in another, additional way: honoring our duty to watch, to listen, to breathe, to love, to be.


My nephew calls out across the graveyard, pleased that he has found a tombstone with a name similar to his. He is seven and has never been in a cemetery before. In wonder, he lightly touches a wind chime placed at the grave of a family friend: “Was this hers?” We explain how people leave tributes.

My mom points out the graves of her parents; her photographer uncle; her best friend and cousin who died before reaching age 50. We smile at the grave of one my father’s party-loving friends; someone has left Bob a full Miller Lite.

It is the first Sunday of fall, and the sun is starting to set. We’d had a large dinner and afterward decided to walk to the cemetery, the only destination in walking distance of my father’s house. It is terrible timing, an insensitive suggestion: in thirty-six hours, my father goes in for a dangerous surgery that could kill him. In the dark humor my family all shares, Dad has titled dinner an end-of-life party. But he was quick to volunteer to stay at home with the toddler when we decided to walk to the graveyard. Gallows humor only goes so far.

I remember a few Memorial Days when I was little, decorating graves here with Mom, but I can’t remember being here with my brothers before, like today. Our town started out small, and Mom has lived here her whole life, so there are many stories to tell about the stones. She tells her grandchildren about the relatives they never met. My nephew promises to visit his mom, and she tells him he won’t have to worry about that for a long time. My mom announces she is partial to cherubs. I threaten to haunt my family if they make a poor font choice for my headstone.

We leave before it gets too dark, ready to go back to Dad’s and eat the cookies Mom usually only makes at Christmas. I ask my nephew how he felt about his first trip to a graveyard, how it made him feel. He stalls: “Ummm…Listen to that! When I step on a stick it makes a cool noise.”

We walk a while in silence except for the exciting popping of a stick under his Crocs. He tells me that his older sister learned that every five seconds, someone is born, and every five seconds, someone dies. He tells me that birth makes him think of his younger sister, and death makes him think of Superpapa: my dad’s dad, dead a year now. (When Superpapa went, my nephew’s practical and very modern question was whether he should delete Superpapa’s Mii character from the Wii system.) I tell my nephew that some people believe in reincarnation, and I explain what that means. We break sticks under our feet. He holds my hand all the way home.