About Me

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Los Angeles, California
I am 47 and thriving in Southern California. One day at a time.
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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blue Valentine

i didn't know her.

she was one of 20 students who showed up for my UCLA Extension "Introduction to Memoir" class last April. all of us brimming with our story, like a cup of coffee ready to spill over and burn you with the hottest version of ourselves.

her name was "Mia More."

at first glance i thought, "really? this is her name?" it sounded like it belonged to a soft porn star, or at the very least, a children's sing-a-long entertainer doing one of those godforsaken tours of the boonies actors seem required to notch up straight out of theatre school. 

she wore combat boots, appropriate for the girl who killed the classroom's energy as she stormed in, immediately shifting it from Calm to RED ALERT. she marqueed her name placard with stars and half moons. mine stood in front of my coil notebook unmarked, but for the thick, black "X" i'd predictably had to draw through the letter "a" on the end of "Henriett-" and replace with my "e". [that's right, UCLA course administrator. i misspelled my own name when i signed up for the course. thank you for correcting me.] her hair was dyed that painfully white Playboy-bunny bleach blond. it looked like her scalp hurt. if not from the dye job, then from the ferociously blowdried tufts of hair she'd collected in frizzy bunches around her head. her makeup was slathered thick like war paint, primary-colored, childlike: dark blue eyeliner, deep stained lips—like it was done in a hurry, but intentional. intentional chaos. everything about Mia was intentional—thick lines sketched on her face like a road map meant to take Mia away from herself, but more importantly, away from us.

Mia wanted to be unique so badly, it was painful to watch.

whereas most of us scribbled notes on paper, Mia pounded away on her Mac—loudly. so loudly in fact, that our instructor J. had to ask her to leave during an in-class exercise. yes. she was one of those. a one-upper. we all had to know she wrote 1000 pages a night [or was it 2000 pages?]. we all knew that she had already completed 2 books by the age of 23. and in a smaller group, she gave me feedback on a piece that had run long—14 pages—8 pages over the assigned 6. as two of us waited patiently for her to finish—as she also corrected my grammar—she passively-aggressively sighed, continuing to stroke my piece red without raising her head, "it's really long."

Mia wouldn't listen. she was defiant. she refused to hear why her books hadn't been published yet. she gripped with throbbing fist her winning Wonka idea that it was because her books were "too hard core", not that maybe she had something to learn.

J.'s scalp must have hurt too, from the hair-tearing frustration of being unable to breakthrough to this hardworking, yet belligerent girl. because Mia couldn't yet see there was a difference between plot and story; couldn't differentiate between the lengthy laundry lists of her drug abuse and the "why should the audience care?" point of it all.

yes. Mia was also in recovery. which is why Mia drove me mad.

because here's the truth. i saw myself in her.

Mia was a peacock. i saw myself in the flourishes of her feathering plumage. when she stomped around in those combat boots, i was stomping down the halls of theatre school, hospital halls, the hollowed out halls of a marriage under construction.

with that face full of makeup we played hide-and-seek; desperate clowns. behind broad strokes of color, we hid from ourselves that which we highlighted with vibrancy and gloss for the rest of the world to admire.

and i'd mastered, too, those transparent behaviors we're so sure we've carefully veiled: the pronounced pounding on her keyboard; the measured mumblings under her breath, and i wanted to throttle her when she answered for me in class ..."you have to want it." oh, our juvenile attention getting measures. and the sad irony of it all. that once we got your attention, did we really have anything worthwhile to say?

even as i stared at her across the classroom in silent scorn, i wanted to take her home and tear away, as shiny wrapping paper, the trappings she thought made her real: the gloss and the garb and the goofs she couldn't withhold. i wanted to scrub her clean in a warm, sudsy bath and wrap her in flannel pajamas and hum a sweet tune of peace in her ear.

because that's what i wanted when i couldn't hear.

yesterday, i found out Mia died in a tragic car accident.

i also found out that Mia More was not her name.

[what would you do if you knew you had 9 months to live?]

Mia's parents contacted J. and asked to her to help guide them to writing scholarships/grants in Mia's name. J. was also told that Mia finally "got" it; the pointed power of writing. Mia had written a letter to J. thanking her, but it had never been sent.

we all think we are unique. we have unique talents, but we are not unique.

Mia was like me, defiant, intelligent, grandiose, but in the end, found humility and let herself learn.

[i am like Mia.]

Mia was beautiful, talented and human.

is that when we die? when we finally learn what we need to learn? or when we finally teach someone what they need to know?

because Mia never got to finish her book, but she'll be helping me finish mine.

i didn't know her, but i knew her.

[R.I.P. Mia]

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

a view from the 5th step

it's where the plebs go to hike.

on the "other" side of the hill, far across the San Fernando Valley, nestled into the foothills beneath the Angeles National Forest is where i go to hike.

where i now feel comfortable hiking.

[La Tuna Canyon.]

unlike the celebrity-littered Runyon or Fryman Canyon tucked inside the hollow heart of Hollywood, you will see no-one skulking under baseball caps or trailing a spritz of their designer perfume.

["Celebrities hike too!"]

it is not 1997, and i do not pass Christina Ricci or Alanis Morrisette; i do not gape and gawk with a mixture of self-disgust and awestruck wonder at my predictable rubbernecking at fame and the surreal nearness of these feted goddesses—while stealthily checking out the size of their asses. Teri Hatcher does not tear by us in a panicked jog—running uphill!—limbs pumping away the final calories of her morning bite of toast. i do not turn to Kevin and gasp, "how much smaller is she than me? he does not answer, "yeah, you'd have to lose about 5 pounds."

[or did he say 10?]


[just. let. go.]

the last time i hiked this trail, it was August 2011. i was 97 lbs. and weeks away from rehab, petering out on the fumes of Oxycontin and self-hatred. even the desperate, insistent beats of Lady Gaga's sophomoric album couldn't get me up the hill. aching arms limp by my side, eyes downcast, downgrading myself from something to nothing with every step i barely took.

nothing could get me to look up and around at the world i was inside.

today, as i panted up the hill, 20 lbs. heavier, Coldplay's U2-inspired "Mylo Xyloto" streamed through my ear-buds; The Edge's ripped-off riffs rippling to the tips of my toes—are you really "honoring your heroes"  if every song sounds like a U2 song? but today, nothing could stop me.

i heard my friend C.'s voice as i trekked around a quiet bend, shadowed dank by a queer blend of pines and palms, "aren't you afraid of walking alone?". i turned my face toward the fading warmth of a gloaming sun. i inhaled the thick piney perfume and felt my burden drop away as fronds steadily clipped by a skilled gardener who'd spidered to the top of a California Palm. and i exhaled my fear.

[just for today.]

for no, i am not afraid of walking alone.

for i no longer feel alone.

we are Anonymous, so i should not, do not, shout from the hill's sandy plateau; the vista that peers down to the scuttling 210 freeway below— my friend, M.'s, favorite freeway— that which i have found.

2 and a half years ago, when i last hiked this hill, i was determined to live life on my own, hands defiantly at my side. and i was stuck. unable to climb the mountain in triumph, and unable scale down and admit defeat. i was amputated.


today, a dog passed me. i laughed, able to let go of my grief and look it's owners in the eyes.

and i clapped. loudly.

it has been the greatest gift to learn how to use my hands. they are the only tools i need.

my hands do not hang limply by my side. i take the hand, the hands, that is offered to me.

of friends, fellowship and family. and even Higher.


and hold it.

and greater than that.

i now offer my own.

and don't take it back.

i feel like a toddler with an enormous plate of food in front of me, managing small bites, chewing thoroughly before swallowing as i've been taught. oh, but sometimes, i really want to pick up the entire plate and just whip it at the wall, or better yet, your face.

or still better, my own.

[progress, not perfection?]

it's 2014. it is 4 pm. i am still married and i am sober. i prefer the whiff of the Drakkar Noir-infused sweat on the BMX-biker that just whizzed passed me. i prefer my worn-out, New Balance runners and the size of my ass suits me just fine.

and now i know,  if i just reach out my hand, i'll get up that hill.

one step at a time.