monkey pirate

The Harrowing

I've let myself go, and lost my way, the past few years. I used having to take care of my daughter as an excuse for not taking care of myself. And, having not taken care of myself, I didn't have as much to give to and for love.

Loss and pain point the way to the truth of how far I've gone down. It's only now I feel as low as I have actually become.

But not for long. I have certainly experienced heartbreak in the past, and in the past I've wallowed for a long time in self-pity and paralysis. Not this time. Between being older, and knowing myself better and also having a daughter who I have to be present for, to be strong for, to be a good example for; I have not let myself wallow.

I've ruthlessly flogged myself out the door to exercise again and again. I've drastically curtailed my eating; from outright fasting for five days, to one small meal a day of small portions and strictly healthy foods. No alcohol, no sweets; nothing but heroic amounts of water and one small cup of coffee in the morning.

And I see myself on the other end of the harrowing. I'm not there yet, not by a long chalk, but I am certainly on the way. I've lost 20 pounds and am at the lowest weight I've been since before Eowyn was born. I can run longer and faster already, and doing so clears my head and gives me a sense of clairty; whirling thoughts tame down and become ordered.

For years, when I got upset, the answer was to eat or drink something to make myself feel better. Now, the answer is - get exercise. Make the body hurt, and watch as clarity follows on the heels of the pain. I've only just begun, by I am starting out very strict and very harsh with myself, so that I'll instill the habits I need to see this through to the end.

And in the end, I will be fitter, sharper, more mentally acute and more disciplined. I will have an open heart. None of these things will necessarily make me happy - but what they will do is oil the hinges on the door to happiness. I intend to open that door.

Harrowed, I will be whole. 
monkey pirate

Sensing the Change

It's Sunday evening. My sister and her wife and I have toured K-town in Los Angeles, she has a strange obsession with it. We finish our tour with great Korean BBQ at O Dae San, and then a restful soak at Wi Spa. I love hot tubs. I have an almost limitless capacity to sit in a hot tub. With a head full of vapors from shoju and Hite beer, soaking in a hot tub sounds just about perfect.

But instead, I'm sitting in the cold plunge. And it's not just a little bit cold, it's basically just above freezing. At first I sat down because I was feeling uncomfortably hot in the hot tub. And it's hot like I like it - so hot it hurts a little to move once you settle in. But after just a couple of minutes, my pulse was pounding and I figured I'd better cool off. I challenge myself like I always do, to slide into the cold plunge without my facial expression changing, at all. No outward indication that, in my mind, I'm giving high-pitched scream like the first girl to die in a slasher movie. I do this every time, but usually I get out just as soon as I get used to the cold.

This time, I just sit with it. I feel the cold seep in through my insulative blubber. I have to clench my hands so they don't hurt. Slowly, I start to shiver a little. Then my jaw begins to clench and finally teeth chatter. I am shaking uncontrollably, my body desperately trying to generate heat in my core so I don't die. My feet and hands don't hurt anymore, becuase all the blood has left to preserve my the most important parts in the center of my body.

I am getting divorced. A difficult relationship is ending, and I am trying to keep the most important part alive - a working co-parenting relationship for my daughter. She is the star about which I orbit, and always will. She is the most important thing there is to me, and I have to sacrifice some of the blood from my limbs to keep that core alive. I am selling my house. I will be finding a place on my own, much closer to work. But the most important thing is what's best for Eowyn.

I thought long and hard about what that means, exactly. Does it mean trying, again and again, to make a marriage work with someone who is unnkind daily, and unfaithful? Does it mean trying to make an open relationship work, so we can stay together as parents, and find romantic fulfillment separately? Or does it mean ending that relationship completely, trying to make sure I can stay close with her grandparents, (my soon to be ex-in-laws) and moving on?

At the end of the day, I'd rather either be alone, or even better, happy with someone else, than to let Eowyn's example of what a loving relationship is be what she sees today. I have to cut off the blood supply to these important, but non-vital parts, while the cold sets in.

But, life is not all the cold plunge. Eventually I can't take anymore, I'm as cold as I can reasonably get. There's a hot tub right nearby, though. In fact, first a warm tub, then a hot tub. I feel the heat seeping back in - first my limbs tingle as the blood flows back into my extremeties. My fingers and toes are pins-and-needles, my skin is bright and flushed. My heart rate increases again, and all my muscles unknot.

Just as it seemed that I was going to be alone for a long time; just as I despaired that anyone would love an overweight, weird, single father with a busy schedule and a pile of peculiarities, Anna reappeared in my life. Just describing all the ways that she challenged my lack of faith in anything like "fate" or "destiny" would take a book. And it won't be easy, us getting together - she's far away and just as burdened with circumstances as I am. But she has the will to make it work, and every time we approach one of these obstacles, it works out. Almost like it was meant to be.

I'm back in the hot tub, and easing into the state of relaxed bliss I hoped for. The chill of the cold plunge is almost nothing but a memory. Feeling the cold set in, and then the relief of the heat returning, I know that in life, too - the cold is temporary and the heat will return. 
monkey pirate

Garage Door Opener

There's a garage door opener clipped to the visor in my car. There's nothing special about it, to look at. You've probably had several like it, throughout your life.

But I haven't. This is the first garage door opener I ever owned. And it's not just a thing that opens a garage door - it's a key that opens a portal into a kind of life I never actually thought I'd lead. It opens the door to the garage at the house that I own, in a city that I love, with a family I adore. It's not something someone gave me to open their garage door. It opens my garage door.

Growing up we just had a car port. My grandfather never saw the point in finishing the garage and enclosing it. He never saw the point in putting walls and windows on the back patio, either, to make it a useable space year round. Actually, he never saw the point in improving the house at all. For all his much-vaunted handiness, he actually never undertook projects that improved our lot - just did the maintenance that (mostly) staved off entropy a while longer.

But not my house! My own house. We started with an enclosed garage with bare studs on the walls and a half-rotted, water logged door that weighed a ton. We insulated and put drywall on the interior, painted it a nice clean white and then had that heavy old door replaced with a sleek modern, insulated one that opens at the touch of a button. Now it seems a shame to put a car in there! And there's a top notch workshop attached to the back of the garage, a perfect place for tools for everything from leatherworking to carpentry, and you can bet that's going to happen too.

pyr8queen deserves a lot of the credit of course - without her drive and the help of her family, we would have had to settle for something much more modest. But we got there - and my name is on the deed. I mean, not the only name - but it's on there! We've redone all the floors, repainted every wall and ceiling. Dug vast trenches in the back yard to root out the old defunct sprinkler system in advance of putting in a new one. We repaired and replaced lights and fixtures, added a hardwood floor to the kitchen with seriously sturdy 3/4" oak planks. We pulled out the toilet and repaired the seals. We plugged and waterproofed the tiling in the showerstall, and replaced the shower head with a luxurious rainfall shower head.

And we haven't even moved in yet. But ...this is my house. A beautiful place made even more beautiful by aching backs and sweaty brows; by labor from friends and family (but loved ones all.) My own house.

And for the first time in my life, I have a garage door opener. Given the wonder and amazement it causes in me when I look at it, you'd think it lead to Narnia.

My garage door opener.
monkey pirate

WWFMD? (What would future me do?)

I have in the past described the work of getting through depression, procrastination and general indolence (but mostly depression) in dramatic terms. I was slaying dragons, or fighting demons, or readying myself for an ambush by bears. I realize now that while dramatically satisfying, I was probably poorly served by imagining that work in such apocalyptic terms.

Closer to the truth is incremental but positive change. Because when I imagine myself slaying a dragon, there's this sense that one the work is done, it's just done. It won't happen again, I can dust myself off, sheathe the sword and carry on. But of course, life isn't that simple even for those of us who aren't burdened with recurring depression. Additionally, I can also do better for myself and for others, even while making the work of the moment easier and more gentle.

I've hit on a fairly simple trick. What would future me want present me to be doing? If I get up and think that through, I'm recruiting myself as an ally in supporting myself through incremental but positive change. This is vastly preferable to an internal critical monologue that focuses on what I haven't done, or have failed to do. Instead, I'm telling myself that I can start today a process that will continue seamlessly into the future and arrive at progress and major change over time.

But also, future me does want present me to take time to relax and savor what is good in the moment. I'm sure future me will look back on this time with Eowyn and Pascale and Blink and all the people I love and value (and if you're reading this, that's probably you!) as being truly precious and good. Future me would not want present me to focus on self-improvement, professional accomplishments or artistic achievement so exclusively that I failed to appreciate what's absolutely most important.

Present me is literally the only person in the world who can help future me. And future me is the best and most reliable measure of what present me ought to be doing. Without thinking about these sorts of things, I'm pretty prone to slacking off. Past me spent too much time lounging and enjoying life's more Hobbity pleasures. It wasn't time badly spent, but present me is paying the price, and future me will too if I don't start making some changes.

But I don't have to reinvent myself. I don't have to fight a battle or engage in any sort of violent metaphor. I exist in a continuum from past to future, and kindness to myself coupled with discipline will be a valuable tool in making every me on that continuum happier, healthier, more grounded in each passing moment, and more able to contribute meaningfully and positively to the lives of the people I love.

Future me will probably appreciate that I took the time to articulate this. Present me hopes I can stick with it.
monkey pirate


This is the second weekend we spent working on the Peacock Library. Yesterday we only had a little bit of time, and painted the kitchen with one coat before going to Dan and Justine's engagement party. As usual with all the family gatherings in La Canada, it was festive, friendly and had great food and drink. We arrived a little early to clean up and change. Then we helped set up out on the lawn, though most of the work was already done. Dan's family had also come from Florida for the event - they're all very friendly, smart, and completely in keeping with Dan, who is salt of the earth good people.

This morning we were up early and off to the P.L. - I painted the bathroom and finished the kitchen while we waited for reinforcements. Throughout the day we hauled about a half ton (literally) of whitewall from Home Depot to the house. Then pyr8queen and her father went and got a really nice piece of mission style furniture to be the entertainment center in the living room. One of my friends from back in the Scarlet Pimpernel days watched Eowyn while I finished painting in the bathroom and kitchen, and my mother-in-law varnished the inside of the kitchen cabinetry. Then we had to haul everything out of the house and into the garage in preparation for the flooring guys to redo all the hardwood this week. After that, plumbing and electricity, and moving in. I'd really like to move in next weekend, but it's looking like that's not a very good prospect.

Eowyn is relentlessly cheerful. She crawls at top speed all over the house, or rides me like a horsey, or stands up and pushes a chair around to balance on - all while giggling, screeching and babbling. Sure, someone has to watch her all the time, but her temperament has been as sunny as July, and she's a friend to everyone she meets.

Tonight is the season premiere of Game of Thrones. I'm still a little crushed that the script I pitched never got me a meeting with the HBO team...and so I've always been a little less engaged with the show as a result. But in the middle of all this domestic labor, we haven't observed it at all. Last year we had a big party at Steve and Kate's, and it was a great time. This year...I haven't even seen it yet, and it's been recorded for two hours.

Blink is sacked out on his dog bed in the corner. P is trying to get Eowyn to sleep, though she fights sleep as if it were robbing her of her chance to witness something stupendous. The shelves are bare of books, and most of the boxes already in storage in the new garage. It's odd to think that I've finally arrived at some sort of stable, middle class life. But here I am. I've failed a lot along the way - certainly never made my mark as a writer, at least not yet. But somewhere in there, I collected a group of amazing people that are kind, intelligent, generous, loving, and full of life.

My new policy is to, at any given moment, do what I think future me thinks I ought to have done. But I think future me would recognize that this is the good part. Everyone is healthy and happy. Are fortunes are on the rise. We are incredibly, profoundly lucky to live on top of a hill where the Pacific sea breeze swirls in through our living room window, with a healthy family who are supportive and above all - fun to be around. I think I can take a second to savor that.
monkey pirate

Manual Labors

Work on the Peacock Library has begun in earnest. After some spirited discussion about colors, we settled on paints. Friday after work I met up with the family and took some last measurements, made some last plans, and moved a few things into the garage.  On the way home I went to Home Despot for supplies. The real work started early Saturday  morning. I got there by 7:30 to meet an exterminator to get an estimate. I keep referring to exterminators as terminators, which I think is also fine and fair.

While I was waiting for the rest of the crew to arrive, I replaced the showerhead in the main bathroom with one I'd picked out the night before. I also replaced the light bulbs that were out with new LEDs, including the two in Professor Peacock, which involved balancing precariously at the very top of a ladder. While alone in the house. Thankfully I didn't fall. Saturday we spent a sold 12 hours priming and painting, covering the living room's sort of avocado color with something approximately the color of marshmallow fluff. We also put that in the hallway, the guest room, and the baby's room. We primed the dining room, which was previously a dark burgundy. That was a long day painting, but help from friends and family made it doable.

We reconvened early Sunday. We had more help that day, with Justine and Dan turning up, and eventually Aegon Blutarsky. I spent most of the day running back and forth to Home Depot, but I also repaired the seal on the toilet in the main bathroom (an unpleasant task) as well as getting a new dryer and washing machine ordered, and paint colors that are well complemented by the carpets. The living room has a contrast wall of a very dark blue, while the dining room is "peacock feathers" in color. A happy accident of the blue in the dining room is that the recessed lighting and barrel-vaulted ceilings change the shade of blue very dramatically, so it looks like the sky in late afternoon - dark at the base, light up high and very light near the top. It's hard to describe, but striking in person.

Eowyn loves clambering around on the rolled up carpets, and scooting across the hardwood floors while we work. She's not-quite walking, but if you hold her hands she can take awkward foal-steps. Meanwhile, back in Venice, she'll clamber up the couch and crawl up and onto the now-empty bookshelves, about head high. She is a ridiculous monkey.

I noticed that most of the businesses in my new neighborhood are cash-only. That and the dearth of services that are available draw a pretty stark contrast between upscale and racially integrated Venice and the primarily non-white neighborhood to which we're moving. Go into Wholefoods in Venice, and you'll see nothing but white people, basically. I think the only black guy I've seen in there was Karl Weathers. Go into Wholefoods in Windsor Hills and....well, ha ha, there's no Wholefoods in Windsor Hills. No Verizon FiOs, no bank,  no trendy restaurants, either. Which is ridiculous, because it's both a safe and prosperous neighborhood, with the highest concentration of wealthy African-Americans in the country.

This week the terminator will clear the house, and next week the floors will be refinished. Then we'll start moving in in earnest. I'm impatient to be there, frankly, though I know training Eowyn to sleep in her own room will be difficult and no doubt painful at first. But not waking up to find her burrowing into my armpit, and me chased all the way to the edge of the bed will be a welcome treat.