Monthly Archives: December 2012

Peace Out, Kelvinator!

Last night, unable to sleep, I checked my email and discovered that my one-time friend and fiance, Kelvin Walsh, died after a six month bout with cancer.  I had no idea,  and  I am finding it hard to separate my thoughts today from a man who was bizarre, brilliant,  somewhat paranoid, and completely authentic.  He was only 62 — that crucible of an age where so many people seem to pass out of this life.

Kelvin was originally “Kevin,” but nicknamed himself “Kelvin” after the Kelvinator line of refrigerators and kitchen appliances.  He was an authority on the Kennedy assassination,  and was an ardent liberal agitator during the politically charged 1970’s in  Washington, D.C..  Fifteen years younger than Kelvin, I thought of him as a hippie and burst out laughing the first time I heard him say, “Dig this, man!”   After his first stint in the District, he lived in Key West as a free spirit, and wound up back in D.C. as a private investigator for many years.   When there weren’t enough leads to follow as a gumshoe, he worked as a painstaking carpenter and handyman.  He lived completely outside the conventional realm of career, success, and failure, and that’s a pretty hard line to walk in the Beltway area.   Sometimes he owned a car, sometimes he didn’t — when he didn’t, he trudged down to the Metro station in his overcoat that caused my friends to call him “Mannix” after the television private eye.  He was intolerant of fakery, cocktail party bullshit, and cruelty.   He and a group of exhibitionist friends used to  regularly pose around the national Mall in superhero costumes (I think he was Captain America?) where they greeted tourists and posed for pictures.  Once my co-workers threw a party, and Kelvin showed up as a Dominoes pizza delivery man.  I had agreed to keep quiet as the delivery man set down the pizza, entered the house, sampled hors d’oeuvres at the buffet table, and engaged the guests in political repartee, all under the increasingly nervous eye of our hostess  who wondered who the hell he was and how she might best eject him from her home.

He liked to stretch the limits of people’s credulity and propel them out onto a tightrope  past their levels of comfort and good taste.  We went to a  Halloween costume party as Jackie and John F. Kennedy, which afforded me the opportunity to wear one of my vintage suits and pillbox hats, and him to sport blood soaked bandages and some sort of home brewed brain matter we’d concocted.

We met when I was in my early 30’s and he was 47, the age I am now.  I had survived my twenties, was into my second graduate degree,  and thought my own journey of self discovery was the most important thing in the world.  Kelvin called me out on all my self-centered tendencies and believed he had a great deal to teach me.  He did, but I wasn’t always ready to listen.  Ours was not a smooth relationship, but we could be ourselves around each other and wound up in situations that could only happen to eccentrics such as ourselves.   Kelvin taught me to be at ease around mentally challenged people by introducing me to his wonderful sister,  Jeanne, and her friends.  He was a devoted brother and a stalwart caretaker, fiercely protecting her as a special needs citizen while also championing her independence and her right to hold a job and earn a living.

When my mother became terminally ill in 1999, my homesickness for Florida became too much to bear, and Kelvin and I transplanted all my crap in a Penske trailer back to New Smyrna Beach.   His plan was to move to Florida and bring Jeanne, too, but I was lost in a fog of misery without my mother and was irretrievably lost.   I pushed him away, and he stepped back when he realized that our paths were separating.   Gradually, some of the details about him, like that he loved pasta and hated credit cards, faded in my mind.

Kelvin was a strong personality, and you either engaged with him 100% or not at all.   It used to annoy me when people didn’t take him seriously or treated him with the disrespect reserved for nutty black sheep of the family.  I am ashamed to say that the last time I saw him,  I treated him this way, too.  With characteristic wacky timing, he showed up in Florida years later, with no warning,  at my job, right before I had to do a summer reading performance program for about 200 kids and parents. When he approached me on our outdoor break patio,  I wouldn’t relinquish my quiet decompression time, and I would not remove my sunglasses and make eye contact with him, even when he jibed me about it.  I stubbornly refused to drop everything and be manipulated by his expectations.  I was civil but cold, and he left.

One of my favorite stories that Kelvin told me about his groovy young manhood involved a beloved girlfriend named Ellie, a budding sculptor whose life and career were cut short by a sudden and tragic illness.   Visiting Ellie’s apartment one day, Kelvin watched as she threw a load of dirty dishes out of her kitchen window and into the alley because she didn’t feel like washing them.   He started tossing stuff

Kelvinator

Kelvinator (Photo credit: quinn.anya)

out the window, too, and they laughed with the destructive, joyful spontaneity of youth as plates and teacups crashed to the pavement.   I was sorry he lost her, because she seemed able to meet his great expectations and his ability to leap without fear, without a net.  I hope that Ellie is now able to meet Kelvin, and that they are somewhere laughing together and throwing plates at us.

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Thou Shalt Not Take Shit or Screaming Mimi’s Holiday Overshare

When I finally married a normal man, I thought I’d entered a realm of normal people.  I’ve known my in-laws for years.   We all get each other.  We sip cocktails together, laugh at the same jokes.  No drama, no temper tantrums,  no fist shaking or tacky  grandstanding or yelling,  “I hate you!”  or “I’m gonna beat your ass!” or “I think I’ll  just kill myself this year!”   We’re civilized.   Or so I thought.  I will have to excuse myself from the good manners table and go hang with the crybabies this  year.

I sit upon my Grinchy ass in bed right now, unable to tear myself away from Pinterest,

coby whitmore

coby whitmore (Photo credit: elena-lu)

my poor husband waiting on me hand and foot after my meltdown yesterday.  Was it you, Tracy, who warned me about this dark vortex of helplessness that would stalk me after I quit my job?

Truly, I’m just sulking about a large house restoration that never seems to end and the continued presence (like every day for the past two weeks) of an ex-wife who’s been cleaning our new house and helping my in-laws move in.  Not my idea.

I thought I was racking some good karma when I  took a few hits for the team (my marriage, my stepson, the importance of not upsetting our already-crazy dogs).  I climbed into bed every night, read a few comforting pages of my Alexander McCall Smith novel and reminded myself to be kind and tolerant before drifting off.  Here are a few snapsphots of my week:

1.  “How much you weigh?” hot Colombian ex-wife who runs 6-7 marathons a year and weighs 99 lbs asks me.

2.  “Wow, Angela is so strong!  She carried that sofa downstairs all by herself.”  My mother-in-law about ex.

3.  Trying to refinish a piece of furniture in the garage while ex squeals and giggles as one of our workers massages body lotion into her injured thigh muscle.  On mattress six feet away from me.   Everyone thinks this is normal.

4.  Washing and folding ex’s cleaning towels.

5.  Driving ex and stepson to movies and to her cleaning job because she loaned her car to a friend.

6.  “Maybe we can all go to Norway!” In laws excitedly crow about ex’s new Norwegian boyfriend.  (After all, as ex says, “He pay for everything!)

Did I offer to do laundry, do the driving? Yes.  Because I am nice.  And foolish.   I believe that if people take advantage of you, they will have the decency to realize that they are taking advantage of you and stop.   “Honey, this is like a sitcom,” says my dad’s partner, Bobbi.  “It’s funny, except it’s happening to you.”

Has anyone been rude to me?  No.  Both mother-in-law and ex are kind, otherwise this would be truly unbearable.  But their behavior puts them in the clear and makes what is fundamentally a bullying, disrespectful situation seem okay on the surface.  And who’s the bitch?  Who’s the  immature drama queen?   ME, yayyyyy, c’est moi!   Je suis un doormat,  je suis toxique!  Cashing in my karma points on a major hissy fit.

A few weeks ago I was gushing about how I loved Heron Haven, it was my dream house, blah blah blah.  Now I don’t want to go anywhere near it.   I can envision year after year of this multigenerational nightmare,  my in-laws becoming more and more reliant upon the ex-wife as I hear her upstairs collecting fees for cleaning, driving, manicures and pedicures and god knows what all (unless she goes to Norway).

Yesterday, plagued by a killer sinus headache and another furniture moving episode,  I snapped.  I found myself driving to North Carolina, sobbing, after throwing my medications and my Kindle and some sweaters into a bag, to be with my family.   Dad and Bobbi.   My husband talked me out of it over the phone.    My dad has a full house anyway, for Christmas, and my stepbrother just got engaged.  I don’t need my marital vitriol infecting everyone else (my rationale, not my husband’s).

My husband had a talk with his mom.  She said, “I can have whoever the fuck I want to clean my house! Angela cleans better than anybody else.”

I cannot win this one. I know. I also don’t need to be told that people remain friends with their ex-daughters-in-law, that they need to keep peace for the sake of grandchildren.  Every marriage has its saddle sores.  I get all that.  I approve.  All I ask is a little respect for me, my husband — their son– and our fledgling marriage.

Friends, Romans, librarians, townspeople, relatives,  strangers, thanks for being my therapists this holiday season!  I know this is a bit personal for a blog, or at least a blog in good taste, but I’m sure we all have a little bit of holiday dysfunction that’s reached the boiling point.  If you don’t, well, you are very lucky and  Santa must really love you this year — Merry Christmas!

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Anxiety Dancing

Nothing like a good old anxiety dream to push me out of bed!  This morning,  I was having some REM drama where my mother had her dance company, and she expected me to perform several pieces.  She showed me the choreography at the last minute, about an hour before the show.  The show started, and I couldn’t find my costumes, I didn’t know what order my  pieces were on the program, and my mother was too distracted stage managing to help me or answer any of my questions.  The stage persona she wanted me to convey was borderline burlesque — I was somehow responsible for setting a psychological tone for everything that followed.  I worried that I couldn’t remember the steps, and improvising would be a disaster because she’d call me on it:  “What were you doing? That’s not what we rehearsed!”    At some point in the hopeless, pointless fugue, I decided that I’d better wake up because that way I wouldn’t have to perform.  “I’m not going back to sleep,” I groggily told myself, “so I won’t have to go on stage.”   Instead, I got out of bed and ran four miles like I’d promised myself the night before.

During my run, I remembered how often my mother’s dancing entered the dreams of other family members.  My dad dreamed once that he and my mother were on a vacation in some place like Haiti, and they were watching a secret voodoo musical ritual.  At some point, my mom started clapping and dancing enthusiastically, and Dad shushed her,  “Shhh, stop it, shut up! You’re going to get us killed!”  At that point, I’m sure he woke up, frustrated and fearful.

In our waking lives, Mom was prone to working out dance steps in the aisle of A & P, the bank, waiting for a table in a restaurant.    By the time I was 11, I was examining the cereal or the daily specials and pretending not to know her.

She’s been gone 13 years now, and I miss the shuffle step of her Tretorns on concrete, the count of

Book cover Tap Dance for Fun

Book cover Tap Dance for Fun (Photo credit: Crossett Library Bennington College)

“5, 6, 7, 8” under her breath.

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Trip Down Past Life Lane

(Note to all skeptics, those who think reincarnation is heretical, and people who barf at the idea of crystals and energy fields: here there be dragons, read no further.) For my friends who’ve wondered if I slipped into a previous life, never to return, have no fear.  I am back, safe and sound.  Alas, I cannot report shimmying as Josephine Baker in the 1920s, nor can I claim enlightenment, but I spent an interesting few hours in Mimi’s murky past.  Here’s the scoop:

I am not one of those people who is grandly convinced she perished on the Titanic or was Cleopatra.  However, I have always had a very masculine sensibility, and am fairly convinced that I’ve been a man several times, that I was British in at least one of these masculine lives,  and that I worked for the British East India Company.  Why?  I don’t know.  I never bothered to imagine what one of these lives might have been like.  Over the past few years, however, I’ve become eager to meet these incarnations, whether I was a Neanderthal or Lady Godiva, and possibly discover the source of some insecurities, fears, interests, and habits that characterize my life now.

After reading the vivid regression scenes from  Journey of Souls by Dr. Michael Newton, and Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss, I imagined I’d see a few of my past lives the way I’d see a movie in Technicolor.  Perhaps because I’d never been hypnotized, I never felt truly “under,”  i.e., I always heard my own voice and was very aware of my own thinking, and was annoyed by my stomach rumbling.  I glimpsed scenes through a cloudy, dirty lens.  At times I had to think about the hypnotist’s questions and struggle to look harder.  Sometimes the answers to questions would just pop into my mind in the form of words, not images.  It took nearly 30 minutes to reach a state of complete relaxation, if, in fact, I ever did.  After moving back through my childhood,  back through my mother’s womb, the hypnotist prompted me to look down at my feet.

I wore black leather shoes with buckles, and I stood on a wooden dock.  I wore a dark navy blue coat, breeches, and white stockings.  My hair was dark, and it was tied in a ponytail.  My name was John Eakins, and I was 36 years old.  I was a lieutenant in the British Navy.  I was in a waterfront town, with closely packed buildings or homes,  which I identified as Weymouth, England.  (I’ve never been there and don’t remember reading about it.)   My childhood was spent inland, among green rolling pastures, in an outbuilding on a large estate.  My mother (my mother in this lifetime — this is common, our souls lives repeatedly with the same clusters of spirits) was cheerful, but my father was redheaded, impatient, and was the groundskeeper or huntsman for the property.  He was resentful of his station in life, apparently feeling he was cheated out of land.  He managed lots of horses.  (In my current lifetime, everyone noted my obsession with horses as soon as I could speak and gallop astride a stick horse.)  Suddenly, I started sobbing as I recall my father beating or otherwise being very rough with the horses.  As I grew older, I trained in the import/export business and worked measuring  and recording units of ships’ cargoes.   I was always anxious I’d make a mistake (which could explain my math anxiety today).

At some point, I fell in love with a young woman on the estate named Becky, but I knew she was above my station so I never expected her to return my affection.  During the time I was working import/export, I met a beautiful redheaded young woman (my current Aunt Maryhelen) who I wanted to marry.  However, we couldn’t restrain ourselves from physical passion, and although I never verified this, she conceived a child, was taken away, and died in childbirth.  “Nobody told me what happened to her,” I said under hypnosis, although John Eakins drew his own conclusions and blamed himself for her disappearance and death.  Heartbroken, I joined the British Navy and went to sea, one of the legions of men who took this step to distance themselves from emotional or financial setback.

At the point of my initial vision on the dock, I was waiting for a ship to receive its cargo.  For a time,  around 1803-1805, I had charge of a ship and there was an accident that wasn’t clear.  The ship took on water at sea, was rescued,  and returned to port.   Thinking it was out of danger, my crew and I left the vessel, only to find it underwater by the dock the next morning.  In my hypnotic state, I cursed and railed and bemoaned the loss of the cargo and the loss of my reputation.   For the rest of that life, I felt like a failure, cursed myself for making mistakes, and was seemingly unable to rise above setbacks.  I drank hard to blunt the absence of family and my lack of achievement.  At the age of 56, I died in lodgings, alone, from some unspecified fever.   A fairly unremarkable life, but my heart goes out to the man I once apparently was.   A sad peripheral life out of Dickens, and somewhat suspect since I’m a literature major, it nevertheless explains a few quirks in my Mimi lifetime.  My complete aversion to having children, for instance, and my terror of childbirth.  My nervous misery when sailing every weekend with my family, saying prayers I’d learned at Catholic school to stave off disaster, and my shuddering every time I saw a boat underwater at the marina.  Oversensitive?  Check. Drinking to relieve frustration?  Check.   I told my hypnotist that this particular life taught me “humility.”  Okay, Universe.  I am humbled. I get it!  Now can we move on?  I am ready to stop blaming myself for every mistake and misfortune, ready to stop hating myself when I walk through a restaurant with toilet paper on my shoe.

Regressing to this life took nearly the full three hours. Almost as long as it’s taking me to write this damn blog entry.  I partially accessed another incarnation where I was the slave of a man I recognized as the difficult, talented partner who dominated over a decade of my life today.  I was disappointed that I didn’t access an earlier 20th century life.  The session did not completely answer lots of other questions, like why am I obsessed with clothes, why do I love fast cars, why do I feel such a kinship to jazz musicians?  Apparently, I’ve been a writer before.  My Aunt Mary Helen  (a deceased lover of jazz who started a biography of Bix Beiderbecke in college, bore a professor’s child out of wedlock, and cracked in her early thirties into a shattered fugue of schizophrenia) appeared and told me to listen to Bix’s music, and I would know what to write about.  My favorite mid-century jazz drummer, Dave Tough, is apparently “my brother,” according to my spirit, although I feel guilty about that since I haven’t spoken to my actual brother for over five years.  Wait, I thought I was supposed to stop feeling guilty.  Or is he my “brother” in the sense that he also was a frustrated writer who felt he never achieved his full potential?

All said, there were moments that felt very real, like crying about the mistreated horses.  I am not a cryer, and I don’t break down in front of other people, usually.  There were other moments during the regression where I felt too much in my conscious mind, for example, when my spirit talked about finding my voice and space as a writer.  I could’ve made that  up any day, any time, any minute.  It’s the same old follow-your-bliss message that works until you have to eat Ramen Noodles every night and have to start waitressing again, or in my case, teaching English Comp.   However, when  I Googled Weymouth, it looked exactly like my regression scenes, and there was, in fact, a Lieutenant Eakins in the British Navy in the early 1800s, although his name was Charles instead of John.

So, maybe there’s something to it?  Would I do it again?  Yes.  In the meantime, I will try to stop being so easily defeated, and to consistently silence inner and outer critics.  Oh, another thing: my spirit name is “Linya,” to which I can’t find a historical reference, but in current slang it’s an acronym for “Like I Need Your Approval!”    Put down the bottle, John Eakins, and tell them where they can shove that cargo.

Weymouth Harbour - Dorset.

Weymouth Harbour – Dorset. (Photo credit: Jim Linwood)

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This is so true. Performers already have given so much, and anything we could possibly say about it is pretty superfluous, although as arts writers, we try try try and try . . . .

JAZZ LIVES

I have been guilty of it in my jazz life.  Many times.  It’s an excess of love, not well moderated by impulse control.  I write not to accuse myself or my readers, but to enlighten.

We go to a club, a bar, a jazz party where the musicians are on the same level as the audience.  The band finishes a rousing set; the musicians grin at each other and have their little amusements, but it’s clear they are exhausted.  Music-making for forty-five minutes is hard work, physically, emotionally.  Musician A wants to eat something; B is trying to head for the restroom; C wants a beer; D wants to go outside and smoke or check her messages.

No.  We stand in front of any or all, eager, beaming, loving, our faces shining with enthusiasm.  We want to tell them how much we love them; we want to say, “Wow, that…

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Corn Mazes and Haunted Houses

English: corn maze Deutsch: Maislabyrinth in D...

English: corn maze Deutsch: Maislabyrinth in Delingsdorf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My friend Ellen asked me if I’d like to go to a corn maze this weekend.  I guess somebody shapes their farm’s cornfield into a challenging find-your-way-outta-here-scape, much like an English topiary maze.  I told her I was intrigued, but also told her that I was relieved to have the ready excuses of an already packed weekend (sorry, sigh, but on saturday I’m selling tickets and pouring wine for a modern dance company performance and sunday I’m helping my in-laws move).   As we noodled through the possibilities of who else would be interested in accompanying her on her outing, I quizzed myself about my trepidation.  The truth is, I’ve always been directionally challenged.  Ellen says with the corn experience, you are given clues to help you through it.  That didn’t sound fun to me.  It sounded ominous.  “One year,” she said, “these people called 911 on their cell phone, and they were only about 10 feet away from the exit.”

“Don’t you think that sounds like something that would happen to us?” I asked.

“Well, yes,” she admitted.  Ellen by herself would probably get out just fine, but the two of us together is a recipe for a Lucy and Ethel trip from hell, where our second guessing and mutually voiced insecurities would propel us in ever-confusing idiot loops and we’d be yelling ‘help, help’ and would have to be rescued by somebody on a tractor shaking his head.

When I was about ten, my dad took my brother Bubba and me to a  haunted house at a Halloween carnival.  We went in by ourselves while dad waited outside.   It was set up in a couple of trailers, with the usual dark passages, coffins, the usual maniacally laughing ghouls popping out of nowhere.  Somewhere between the two trailers, after seeing some large rats illuminated by strobe lights, I snapped.  My brother was six and generally a more practical risk taker than his pussy-woo older sister.  He would probably have walked right through all by himself, but like a pack mule that sees the lead animal bucking and frothing with panic, he caught my anxiety.  We could see the crowd on the pavement outside through some vertical bars, and there was my dad.

“Help!  Help!” we screamed, waving at him.  “We can’t get out of here!”   I guess he thought we were joking until he saw that we were practically hyperventilating and jumping up and down, then he read the situation for what is was and shook his head in dismay.

“God Dammit you kids, what the hell is wrong with you?!”   He located some teenage haunted house volunteers to go in and lead us the rest of the way through.  “Was it too scary?” he asked when we finally emerged.  “Mimi got scared,” Bubba reported.  How can you say, at ten, too young for the right words but also old enough to be embarrassed at losing control in a haunted house, that what is scary is not the ghosts and ax murderers, but the whole social challenge of negotiating a humanly constructed maze, the notion that there are turns to take and some of them are correct and some of them are not.  A lot of it is dark.  Most of it is self evident to most people, whoever the hell they are.  Mazes, haunted houses, and life are not for the easily frustrated.  This is why I never moved to New York City, even though I love it.  It’s why I hate being the first car in a pack when there’s construction on a highway and it’s night time.   My mind is already second guessing  the DOT by the time I hit the orange cones (well, it’s probably this way, but maybe they really want you to veer to the left, or stick down the middle).

By now, I’ve learned that about 15% of the time, I truly am being fucking weird and dysfunctional, but most of the time I’m just normal,  and everyone wants to pull over, put their hazard lights on, and cry in frustration sometimes while other people honk.

Have fun this weekend, Ellen!  Just don’t overthink it!

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