Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Life in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

I consider it a gift when I am seized by a surprise surge of emotion. It happened this morning at the airport in the Twin Cities. There was Native American chant piping from an airport store that sells things made by Native Americans (and probably some cheesy touristy stuff too.)Right next door was a store called "The North Woods" or something like that. A lake-y vibe. Canoes and snowshoes and moose. Minnesota, I thought, and suddenly my eyes were like lakes. I meant to spend my life in The Land of 10,000 Lakes. That had been the plan Mr. Ex and I had made. Have our So Cal fun in the sun, and if we started a family, we'd move back to Minnesota when the kid was ready to start school. "We" started a law firm instead. Our daughters are California girls.

There was a high winds advisory in the Twin Cities last night. The old windows in my condo rattled all night long. I was alone in the house, and spent the night with my iPad next to my bed with the a local weather website open and one ear cocked for the tornado sirens. The weather is still gusty with turbulence at high altitudes, and the airplane I am on as I write this post is practically skimming the ground at 15,000 feet instead of its customary 30 or 35 thousand. It's like a giant-screen interactive video game with no clouds obstructing the view of the ground on this sunny clear day. The lakes in the Twin Cities look like silver-gray silk and the terrain is so so green that the roads slicing through it seem to be tinted yellow. The green in Minnesota always makes me feel as though we Californians are being deluded. Minnesota is genuine green, it seems, while the hues of California green are some kind of tinsel-town fakery. Seen from the air, Minnesota is a marvel of lakes set into an emerald carpet, and it positively swept me off my feet this morning.

I've joked that I've been trying to repatriate my daughters to the Midwest. M. says, that in her case, the mission is accomplished. I heard her say "pop" instead of "soda" just a day or two ago, so I think if she learns to fish, she might be able to pass. C. detested her one year of college in Wisconsin, but now she's working on Lake Michigan in Chicago, and has nothing but praise for the boat, The Windy, and The Windy City itself.

As for me, California still has me on my knees--um...quoting a Joni Mitchell song, but yeah, I'm comin' home.

vintage photo of St. Paul: Lakesnwoods.com
current photo of L.A. is my own

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Sands of Time

The bride and the bridesmaids vibrantly tattooed. The groom and his men weeping. Bagpipes, a drummer, a vocalist with her own set of pipes seemingly made in heaven. My niece's (Mr. Ex's sister's daughter) wedding was a perfect and beautiful reflection of her and her beau.

Mr. Ex and I attended plenty of weddings in our days as a couple. When the vows were exchanged, he would reach for my hand and struggle to hold back his tears. I don't remember being very much moved by other people's weddings back then, so my own tears at this wedding came as a surprise to me. The serpentine journeys of both bride and groom and what they had to endure before finding each other filled me with joy for them and sadness at how breakable we humans are. When the preacher spoke of shared histories looked back upon from a future perspective for this young couple, a jagged fragment of grief over my lost marriage got caught in my throat.

It's a weird salad of ingredients that don't mesh well, this grief and the complacent loathing I feel for Mr. Ex. These feelings are like tomatoes and strawberries that would be so much tastier in their own separate bowls. Toss in Mr. Ex himself standing in the back of the chapel with his camera photographing the whole thing, and it's a meta salad of weirdness.

With two big family events almost back to back this month, I'm getting a taste for the smorgasbord of post-divorce offerings. This weekend we showed up at the table with a sort of  separate but equal attitude. Drinks with me. Breakfast with him. This side of the room. Now that side of the room. I find that I feel apologetic toward these members of his family with  whom we  so often shared the same table over three decades. Divorce requires twice the effort from them. Not from me or Mr. Ex, really, but from them. 

I'm trying not to think ahead to the weary road our children may one day find themselves on. Visit Grandma. Visit Grandpa. This holiday. That holiday. This family reunion. That vacation. Maybe if will be fun. If Mr. Ex and the Little Missus keep popping out babies, and if the daughters that Mr. Ex and I share start their own families in a few years, Mr. Ex's new children and his grandchildren can be playmates. I can be the doting grandmother who lavishes undivided grandmotherly attentions.

The best of both worlds.
Or another weird salad.

Meanwhile, I am pondering that shared history is nothing but an old story if you stop sharing the present. And the present with a new love is history forging its trail one lovely day at a time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

If This Were an Anti-Anxiety Potion, I'd Be Fine

I'm a better flyer these days. It helped immensely to have my therapist point out to me that it didn't seem that I suffered from a true phobia of flying. Repressed anger and grief,she told me, and I saw how much better I felt after I screamed and cried and told Mr.Ex everything I had to tell him in her company. I killed him a couple of times, too. "It doesn't mean you are actually going to do it for real, but do it here," she'd say, "or all of those bottled up emotions will hurt you."

So I try now to think of healthy things I can do for myself while I fly. Communicating is the best thing. When there's Internet, I don't feel alone. I can email and blog and hang out on Facebook. Without the Internet, it's harder. I try to concentrate on a book or a podcast,but if I'm a little nervous, it's hard to focus.

I'm in the air right now and I'm doing well despite the choppy air, because I feel connected to those of you who read this blog. So, thanks for being there.

The man who loves me always asks how it went for me up in the air. When I told him about the first flight I took without a sip of gin, and that it felt okay, that I was able to use my cognitive powers to soothe myself like my therapist said I would, he told me he liked knowing that there was this new version of me that Mr. Ex would never know.
I like that too.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Silver Lake Jubilee & The Rattling Wall

Hip young beauties gliding like giraffes in their ultra-high platform wedges. Rocker chicks. Rocker guys. Bands I'm too old to have heard of. Even the little children at this event were way cooler than I am.

But I found my tribe as a reader at the PEN/ "Rattling Wall" stage. Yes, some slasher-rock (I have no idea if that's the correct term, but their screeching made me want to cut my wrists) band was wailing away down the block. It didn't seem to matter. Our audience stayed in their seats and at least pretended they could hear. And since they laughed in the right places while I read, I think they actually did have some idea of what I was saying.

The other readers were fabulous, and I took a spot in the audience and listened to them while I devoured a delicious bahn mi and iced Vietnamese coffee. Azarin Sadegh, Lauren Marks, Hafeez Lakhani, Eric Layer (all current PEN Emerging Voices fellows) Monica Carter, Libby Flores, D.J. Pangburn (also in issue #1 of the Rattling Wall.)

As for issue # 1 of "The Rattling Wall," it is far more beautiful than I ever would have imagined. Kudos to the founding editor Michelle Myering, and the featured artist, Albert Reyes. I'm very thrilled to be a part of it.
Here's the link if you want to buy one.  http://www.narrowbooks.com/

I am absolutely in love with the essay by Don Winslow. He made me wonder about all these crazy dreams I have about houses. Maybe what I really need to do is drive.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Sleep was like water this morning as I dove under its murky surface and came up for air only to submerge again. The regular breathing of the man who loves me lulled me back to some nether world each time I almost woke. At the moment of one almost-waking, Layla sat in the corner of my bedroom where the pink velvet dog bed used to be back when she was still able-bodied enough to climb the stairs. She was young in my almost-dream--sitting up straight and watching me with her ears cocked unevenly.

In our first nights at my new condo, I'd fill the CD player before Lola and Layla and I climbed the stairs. I had never lived alone, and the music gave a beat to my jangled loneliness. I can't remember how many weeks it took to get comfortable with the idea of no man to share my bed, no other humans breathing in my house, but the dogs came to expect the music. Lola would get into her bed as soon as I got into mine,  Layla, however, would pace as I  made some attempt to read. When I turned out the light, she would come to my side of the bed and settle her chin near my pillow. "Good-night, good dog," I used to tell her.

And here she was this morning back for a visit.

Monday, May 16, 2011

How It Might Have Happened

We might have celebrated M.'s graduation together, Mr. Ex and I--flanking her as proud parents, smiling into someone's camera, shaking hands and accepting congratulations. We didn't.

And it was fabulous.

We had a party before the ceremony. A party I let unfold with its own casual style. It began with dirty dishes in the sink and the man who loves me washed them. It began where will we put this, and where will we set that, and do we have enough plates? People drove or flew for hours to join us, and then climbed up three flights of stairs. Old people, and pregnant people, and children. There was beautiful food and mimosas served from a dusty buffet, and everyone was happy to be there. Thirty-some people toasting and sighing with the relief and joy and sweet sadness of a milestone passed, and I just had to let it all spin out of my control into its own loveliness.

I thought of Mr. Ex a bit. What was he doing while the loveliness unfolded? Room service breakfast in front of the TV? Attending to his Blackberry? Talking to the Little Missus who did not come? I couldn't hold an image of him in my head. There didn't seem to be room there on the third floor looking onto the unfurling tree tops, passing happy faces in the hallway, jockeying with a cup of coffee from conversation to conversation.

And then at the ceremony, I thought surely Fate would have us stumbling into one another. A doorway. A hallway. In the photo zone with our cameras as our daughter snared her diploma. I saw a man I thought might be him--but it wasn't.

I expected sadness, I guess. I just couldn't feel it in the midst of all the joy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dear Mr. Ex

What a lucky man you are. You have a wonderful daughter who is graduating from college. For her sake, I am happy you will see her stretch out her hand and receive her diploma and that she will share some of this weekend's events with you.
But let it not go without mention that you did not tell her that our marriage was about to end when she chose a college thousands of miles from home. Let it not go without mention that four years ago she and I made the journey to this new phase of her life without you. That your parting words to her at the airport were, "I hope I see you again sometime." Let it not go without mention that the entire college experience began beneath a cloud of grief that you seeded. And that the torrent that followed was of your making.
You are lucky, Mr. Ex.
Very lucky.
You are blessed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dear Minion of the Little Missus

Dear Minny,

First of all, your new nickname fits you. You are small.

In the event that you might be reading my blog again and  reporting back to the Little Missus, tell her I have no preference one way or another about running into her this weekend at Our Big Family Celebration. She is less than nothing to me. I don't care about her shoes, or what couture label she might wear, whether or not she will kiss Mr. Ex in front of me, whether she will hug my daughter, or sincerely congratulate her. I don't care about her 30-something hair or skin, or her nice manicure, or that her handbag probably cost more than my plane ticket.

I do care that she wrecked my family and had a hand in hurting my daughters--but not for the loss of Mr. Ex who was already lost in so many ways--and really not worth finding. I do care that my family is unable to gather around M. and congratulate her in a chorus of one united voice. But oh well, we will sing out that love for her separately. And maybe when The Kiddo graduates from something or other, Little Missus will be in a similar leaky little boat. Tell her that. Maybe The Kiddo's photos of his big day will be fragments of a family he once had. Just maybe. Ask her how she might like that, would you, Minny?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Population of Pleasure Palace and Pet Hospice Down to One

Layla the dog left this world today after two hours of lying in her bed and soaking up love love  love. It was often said that Layla could never get enough petting, and we sometimes joked that a petting marathon should be scheduled to see if she could be sated before being petted bald. The man who loves me and I did our best to honor that loving neediness of hers in her last hours. Sometimes known as “Love Sponge,” the love Layla gave actually exceeded the love she took. She made friends easily and endeared herself to anyone who became a regular visitor.
In her earlier years in the Clemen/Emanuel household, Layla seemed to be a dog with no middle ground. A three-mile walk was often followed by an afternoon on the couch. She did not enjoy toys, was afraid of balls and Frisbees, and professed little interest in bones. But give her a person to hang out with and there would inevitably be a conversation about love. Before becoming the minister of love in her adopted household, Layla, along with Lola, lived for a time on the streets of downtown Los Angeles before being rescued by Thumping Tails. It may have been her time on the streets that sensitized Layla to suffering. Easily startled and somewhat anxious, Layla was particularly upset by crying. On more than one occasion she mercilessly mauled a box of Kleenex, most likely blaming it for the tears of one of her beloved humans.
Layla was preceded in death by her litter mate Lola, and the cat Snowflake who both died in September. She is survived by Piper, Snowflakes’s sister, who will celebrate her 17th birthday this month. Having endured failing health for many months, Layla met death peacefully and seemed almost to sigh with relief in her final moments.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Home Again

At the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts I woke to bird song--which doesn't describe it at all. Think Hallelujah Chorus.

At my brother's place, I always wake listening for the hiss and hum of my mom's nighttime oxygen machine. If the house is silent, I know she's at the table with her first cup of coffee, that first cigarette already smoked.

Here at home I wake to---oh, it pains me to admit it, but I wake to woe. The local flock of crazed parrots does its fly-by and my brain starts to squawk too. Attorney bill, broken dryer, what about the whitefly infestation, can I actually go get  my hair cut or will Layla get stuck in the dog door, did I call the termite guy or have I thought about it so much that I only think I called the termite guy, should I get a housemate to help cover my expenses?

Really, Mr. Fortune Cookie writer, I don't think it's possible to concentrate too much on one thing. If it's the right thing.