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Los Angeles, California
I am 47 and thriving in Southern California. One day at a time.
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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dear Bono

Dear Bono,

We’ve known each other forever, though we’ve never actually met.

 The closest I ever got to you was when I stalked The Edge and his family for a few minutes on the Santa Monica walking streets, dying to procure an autograph. But my inner groupie choked. I was certain he’d be a wholly justified asshole, dismissing me and my sycophantic grovel with a curt shake of his head and I’d never be able to listen to U2’s music again.

But you would never do that. You’re too good. Well, that’s your name, right? Not Paul Hewson, but “Bonovox”, which is Latin for “good voice”, —which you later shortened to “Bono”, which just means “good”, one extra “O” away from God. I always thought this was way cool. I grew up in the era of one-names—Cher, Madonna, Prince—but my name shortened (“Hen”) does not possess the glamorous mystery of your moniker, which sounds cinematic—like the title of a major motion picture: “Bono: The Light Side of the Force.” Mine is just a female chicken.

In the mornings, I’d jump out of bed, never hitting snooze, and dress my 13-year old, flat-chested frame for our morning sermon—(“Gloria”: “Gloria, in te domine”—Psalms 30). I could never get close enough to you. I would mash my Walkman’s headphones flush to my ears, underneath my chapeau-en-vogue—usually my John-Taylor-from-Duran-Duran fedora. It would act as rebar, securing the headphones to my head, all the better to vibrate with you. Your groan was so intimate, your wail so vulnerable.  Your confessions sustained me on the laborious, claustrophobic hour-long subway ride to high school. I couldn’t hear the plebian mutterings around me as I navigated the bleary-eyed masses; I heard only your testimonies of love—(“Pride”: “One man come he to justify.”—Isaiah 53:11). Your passion was infectious, evangelical. It felt like a religious ecstasy I couldn’t yet possibly understand. I forgot about the pubescent under-the-blouse-over-the-panty fantasies scribbled in my journals; silly stories always climaxing with the words, “And I came.” A sophomoric intellectualization since I had no clue how sex finished off. You were so much more satisfying.

Your call to arms was to follow and I did—(“I Will Follow”: “If you walk away, walk away.” —Ruth 1:16). I was only too happy to become one of your disciples. My glossy, metallic-purple teenage lips had no filter (still don’t), but yours didn’t either. You were always kicking and screaming about Apartheid or Greenpeace or some other 80’s cause au courant. You wore your heart on your sleeve, so I decided to sew mine there too, along with rock band patches like “Rush” and “The Police” and bedazzling, plastic jewels. Who needed religion, when I had your words? You sampled from The Bible, you did all the theologizing for me. So I rejected religion before it could reject me. All I had to do was slip on my headphones and turn the dial to 10.

You were the soundtrack playing in my head, in his room, when glassine thoughts of what we would do to each other hardened into the delicious reality of loving and licking; long, lovely make out sessions after school, before high school sweethearts turned sour. (“With or Without You”: “See the thorn twist in your side.”—2 Corinthians 12:7) You were wailing as we found deep rhythms in your rhyme. You must have heard me wailing too, as I finally realized what the women were talking about in those Nancy Friday books my mother would slide far beneath her bed. And in the flushed silence afterwards, we’d lie entwined, in the giggly, googly-eyed reverent awe first love dares to offer and you would croon of our bliss.

I loved your private performances, but it was in the pit where I could truly worship you, arms swaying, stretched high above my head, palms spread flat to the glory of the enlightened stage—(“The Fly”: “Love we shine like a burning star.”—Luke 10:18). Oh, and thank you, thank you, thank you, for the black leather cat suit. That’s a classic. I keep that image locked deep in the vault, perfect for days when I run a little dry for material. If you know what I mean.

BTW, I’m sorry I couldn’t invite you to my wedding. I’m sorry I had to answer in bold letters on the DJ’s questionnaire: “What kind of music do you NOT want to hear?”—NO U2 or HEAVY METAL or RAP. It’s unseemly to think about another man on your wedding night, right?

Don’t hate me, but I did tune you out for a few years. Your voice thrummed like white noise as the sound of my life overwhelmed me—kidney transplant, marriage, Hollywood. And what was with that video? I didn’t understand why you were all dressed like the Village People. But it was more than your cringe-inducing costumes. In the past, your message of love had anchored me to the clear vision I had for my life; a windshield free of the slimy smear of bad choices that were beginning to collect like dead insects, insects like “The Fly” you personified when you first donned your now iconic shades, never to remove them again. Is that why couldn’t I hear you anymore? Had you become a caricature? Or an iconic seeker?

When I finally made it to Joshua Tree National Park, I was certain it would change my life. You promised. You said it had changed yours when you recorded the seminal album, The Joshua Tree”. But the silence in the desert was terrifying; it was beyond quiet. It hurt. All I could hear was the wild-rapid rush of questions in my head—doubt, expectation, fear. My bones felt burdened by the oppressive heat, unable to hold my head up and see the vulnerable starkness that might inspire. I drove slowly, winding our car through a path of the spiked succulents, their crooked fingers pointing heavenward. And when I couldn’t take the sound of silence anymore, I turned you on—not to hear your voice, but to drown out my own—while praying that my sleeping husband in the back seat wouldn’t wake up.

My life began to spiral. But you knew that. You wrote my theme song—(“Vertigo”: “The jungle is your head”.) Nothing in my life made sense anymore—rejection, disease, death—all of it screeching like feedback, distortion impossible to equalize. So, I followed your mission around the world—distraction by exaltation. I brought friends! Alcohol! Drugs! We were believers! (“Wild Honey”: “You were my shelter and my shade.”—Isaiah 25:4). Through the shantytowns of Mexico City we followed you. We endured the crass, commercial strip of Kalakaua Drive in Honolulu and its cigarette-littered beaches, knowing I’d hear The Word that night. My insides were shrinking at the same rate my addictions were growing—quickly, fervently. With every song, with every swill of every pill I’d ratchet your homily higher.

In my California King bed at home, I lay next to love, true and loyal, willing to follow me anywhere, but I only wanted to follow you. Lost in my life, you were my compass: Self, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll—(“Running to Stand Still”: “Sweet the sin, bitter the taste in my mouth.”—Revelations 10:10).

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

I’ll never forget the first time I saw you. On heavy rotation on MTV, you strode masterfully across the flame-lit stage of Red Rocks, Colorado, fearlessly brandishing a white flag of surrender. You were brave, careless with your passion. And I fell in love—with your magic and your mullet—and joined your crusade.

But, you are no longer the incendiary front man. Your spiritual search no longer ignites, for your faith now smolders constant, burning steady like well-tended coals. Did you have the answers to faith all along? Clutched in your hands, the white flag as avatar of the simplest and most powerful of all life’s tools? Surrender. I surrender and I become empowered? Can it really be that easy? And did you know all along, but just decide to take me on a raunchy, raucous, soul-searching ride? Because I’ve loved every goddamn minute of it.

Your voice still stirs my soul, but gently now, like a soft gust that bounces a frothy bloom on its branch. Your gravelly groan reminds me of a time when I didn’t care that I was lost. But now I care. I’m not breaking up with you, I swear—(“Who’s gonna ride your wild horses?”: “Baby, can we still be friends?”). It’s just, I need to turn you down for a while, so I can listen to the silence I’ve evaded all my life.

And find what I’m looking for.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Are you grateful?

So it's Canadian Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving conjures up images of a long table laden with rich food, surrounded by laughing members of a functional family who actually like each other. We are told to stuff ourselves with a turkey dinner and unironically declare what we are grateful for. It usually goes something like this: "I'm grateful for my health, my family, my home...".


I humbly submit to you, my alternative:

1) I am grateful my kidney transplant failed. I would not have known what I can survive.

2) I am grateful my husband is out of town. I would not have known how much I can miss him.

3) I am grateful Daddy died when I was 10. I would not have known you can build a family with friends.

4) I am grateful for the isolation of arctic Canadians winters. I would never have savored the nostalgic longing of the California heat.

5) I am grateful for Facebook. I now understand the definition of "A Colossal Waste of Time." As an aside, I also understand the definition of "hypocrite."

6) I am grateful for our suffocating medical debt. I have learned the meaning of "Money Well Spent."

7) I am grateful I have never tried Botox. #1. As an addict, I wouldn't know when to quit AND #2. Damn. Those people look crazy!

8) I am grateful for the hell of a migraine. It puts me in the moment faster than anything on earth.

9 ) I am grateful Oprah is no longer on the air. Actually, That's a lie. I miss her.

10) I am grateful Nickleback seems to have disappeared. It needed to be said. 

11) I am grateful Prednisone is the single worst taste on Earth. Anything after that morning pill is bliss.

12) I am grateful all of my dogs died. I would not have known how deeply I can love an animal.

13) I am grateful a tarantula (Lois) lives by my back door. She teaches me to walk through my fears every day.

14) I am grateful it's increasingly more difficult for me to get out of bed in the morning. Because once I'm up, I'm golden.

15) I am grateful I didn't succeed as an actress. I would never have discovered how much I love writing.

16) I am grateful Nicki Minai exists. I now realize how underrated silence is.

17) I am grateful my hair is falling out. I have learned the more I focus on beauty, the uglier I feel.

18) I am grateful organic meat is really expensive. I would not have discovered the glory that is tofu, tempeh and all things legume.

19) I am grateful for back fat. Not really. I just don't understand what it is.


20) I am grateful I am an alcoholic and a drug addict. I would never have found my god.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Taylor Swift Rules the World (Shake it Off)

  Was she singing on EVERY radio station?

I jabbed at my car’s dashboard. Preset 1. Preset 2. Preset 3. Taylor Swift was singing on every air wave throughout the Greater Los Angeles area. And we don’t even like Country! I slammed the radio off, shutting her down mid-wail. But really, there is no shutting Taylor Swift down. She is everywhere. I merged onto the 2 freeway, the silence inside my car growing thicker with every passing mile, choking me softly. I like driving to music. There is nothing better than blasting a crank-worthy pop or rock tune, windows down, hair flying as I cruise for home. And tonight I was in need of said salve; music to soothe this middle-aged woman’s aching soul. Anything—classic rock, new pop, even Old Skool R & B, but please, no more Taylor Swift! What was her genre anyway?  Country? Pop? Soft Rock?  Did she need to be queen of all genres? This nearly 46 year-old driver was growing increasingly more resentful towards a certain blonde mega-watt music star for monopolizing all the airwaves. Now I had to listen to the “What-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life?” anxiety whirling through my brain. She’d left me no choice but to drive home in the kind of doomed silence that leads to dangerously introspective thought which leads to cookie-dough binging which leads to the morning-after scale-weighing. And nothing good ever comes of that.

Taylor Swift. It’s all your fault.

A few years ago I watched a 60 minutes segment about Swift, as she prepared to launch her “Speak Now” world tour. Even Veteran TV reporter Lesly Stahl seemed slack-jawed at the way Swift deftly navigated her role as CEO of this undertaking. She’d vacillate adorably, frequently from impressionable 20 year-old, “Look! Sparks!” as technicians rehearsed with pyrotechnics, to an insight decades beyond her age when she spoke of her art and perspective of this life she’d been granted. It was annoying.

Swift rose to superstar status along the typical speed-of-light-trajectory that fame-craving Americans demand. There is an unspoken formula for stardom and it usually goes something like this. Take wunderkind, underage beauty (a la LeAnn Rimes) + undeniable raw talent + someone-willing-to-take-chance-on-you = overnight sensation.  I wanted to ignore her. Ignore her lithe and lovely frame, (Is she naturally that thin? Does she starve herself? Does she take pills?), her gleaming Rapunzel-like tresses so fairy-tale thick, (Are they extensions? Then surely a wig!) And I wanted to ignore every moment of her red carpet dance—never a misstep, never a tumble. Designers probably clamoring to clothe her perfect size-2 frame. (Or is she a size 0? Because that would be even more perfect.) All that without ever opening her mouth.

And when she did open her mouth, she belted out hit after hit after hit, even crossing over onto the pop charts. In 2008, she scored a Grammy nod for “Best New Artist”. By age 24, she was already on her 4th album. And she writes all the freaking music herself! She storyboards her own videos! (Next up, a perfume! Scratch that. She already has one.) Swift was dating cute singer after hot star after handsome dude. Me? I was sustaining “complications” in my marriage. And the awards! Don’t even get me started. This girl with the perfectly-dewy-skin-that-never-needs-a-rice-paper-blot, masterfully strumming her guitar and crooning about t-shirts and bleachers had nothing to offer me.

Even her name was perfect. Taylor Swift. Her first name—simple, strong, perfectly androgynous—sounded like the title of Giant Corporation (which she was swiftly evolving into. Pun intended.) And her last name was an active verb! My name is a bizarre ethnic jumble. 99% of the population mispronounces my first name, and no one ever bothers to try to pronounce my last name. They just wait for me to explain it to them, annoyed that it isn’t something simple like Smith. Or Swift.

One of these reasons alone—her beauty, her talent, her social life would be reason enough to hate her. But all three? It just wasn’t fair.

Meanwhile, I didn’t understand why I knew so much about her. We have cut off our cable, I once called tweeting twatting, and I scroll Facebook mainly to see transatlantic photos of my second cousins. I am not social media savvy. I had satellite radio, but I never listened to country music. The music is pat, the lyrics mind-numbingly simple. I like music with angst, an intense guitar riff, a complicated lyric; head scratching, “But what does it MEAN?” significance. Give me a crotch-grabbing rock star over Swift and her guitar sitting on a stool like the lead in a high-school production of  “Our Town” any day. By the insidious osmosis of supermarket rags, mini-TVs at the gym and flat screens in waiting areas, we have been programmed to assimilate Taylor Swift. I will reject the Swift as Soma! I will not succumb! I will not become of one of her minions! 

And then the inevitable backlash hit. Singing live at the 2010 Grammys, Swift’s performance was less than stellar. Oh, let’s call a spade a spade. She bombed. And suddenly, she was a falling star, sparking out as fast as she had risen in the celebrity sky. We loved to love her, now we loved to hate her. This is part of the aforementioned recipe for success. We still have an appetite for destruction; we are gladiators at heart, even if we do dress up our dogs in tutus and paint their toenails. This was Part B of the formula for stardom: The Backlash. “She can’t sing. She can’t keep a man. She ain’t Country anymore.” For Swift, the hits just kept on coming.

This was when I began paying attention to Swift, because now she was an underdog. I understand the underdog. I am an underdog. Now, I have never personally bombed at The Grammys, but I understand a little about crawling out from underneath the weighty anvil of Public Opinion. We were suddenly sistahs.

At the next Grammy awards in 2011, she gave a performance of her hit song “Mean”. It was clearly orchestrated as retaliation dedicated to all the meanies and bullies who’d vultured over the previous year’s catastrophe. I remember the way the camera zeroed in on her eyes at the end of her performance. Swift's eyes like lasers seared the camera’s gaze, deeply, defiantly. And I thought, “Holy crap. Taylor Swift just told the whole world to Fuck. Off.”

Taylor Swift. You da bomb.

Now, I wouldn’t say I became a fan. Her music is still not my cup o’ tea, and I’m not a 20-year old male, so I have no reason to troll her videos on You Tube. But Rolling Stone described her "squirmingly intimate and true songs” to be "literally ripped from a suburban girl's diary." And 45 million Twitter followers can’t be all wrong. So I began to listen with open ears.

Once I got past the distracting filter of Auto-Tune on “I Knew You Were Trouble When You Walked In”, I realized I’d missed the sound of her soul tearing in heartbreak, the meaty drippings of unrequited love left on the recording studio floor. I’d missed that SNL’s parody of her stunned, open-mouthed gape at her Grammy win was only funny because she was so genuinely surprised. And I’d missed that her self-confessional lyrics were non-negotiable because she truly was an artist, one human being trying to connect with another human being. All the rest—her buffed and bedazzled fa├žade—blinds us to the reality that she is brave enough to manifest her inner Plato and examine, write about and volunteer up her life. And innately understand Life’s just not worth living if we don’t. Even if you are worth $200 million dollars.

Can someone that famous, that accomplished, that beautiful have angst, or if she does, surely it doesn’t run as deep as mine? Isn't true angst reserved for those suffering with Ebola or the homeless? But then I wouldn’t qualify for soul-searching either. All you have to do is listen to her heartbroken howl on “Trouble” —“OH! OH! Trouble, trouble, trouble…”—to know her angst is real. And maybe it isn’t mutually exclusive. Maybe you can have angst and be happy. I know I am.

But then, I’ve never been dumped by Jake Gyllenhaal.

And so I turned the radio back on. There she was, no surprise, grinding her way through the bridge, a hyper-sexualized woman-child bringing home her recent smash, "Shake it Off!" with its infectious chorus, “Shake it off! Shake it off! AH! AH! AH! Shake it off! Shake it off!” It reminded me we all have a story. And, mine? Life was good. I was driving home to my love. The one thing she doesn’t have.