writing

A winter solstice meditation

A couple years ago, I asked my mom why she loved Christmas so much. She said, “Because when I was a kid, it was the one time of year I could count on my mom being in a good mood.”

Wow. I had a hard time picturing my beloved GaGa (my mom’s mom) in a constant bad mood. She was always so wonderful to me.

In the 25 years I knew her, I think the only time GaGa was ever mad at me — more disappointed, really — was when I got in trouble at PSAP for going up to David’s dorm room with Roni.

And the only time GaGa ever said anything critical of me was when she suggested I get a nose job someday because, according to her, I had inherited my dad’s nose.

But MY GaGa, being mean and cutting to my mom all year long? Except for a short break at the end of December? I could hardly believe it.

The older I got, though, the more I realized I’d taken on GaGa’s role in my mother’s life: the critical, tense, controlling, and impatient parent, who treated her like a burden and a mess all in one.

So yes, I turned into a copy of my GaGa when I grew up — though not exactly as I hoped to emulate her. Sure, I traveled a lot, achieved certain professional ambitions, made some money, bought a house and furnished it nicely, hosted what my mom liked to call “restrained and elegant dinner parties” from time to time, just like my beloved and cherished GaGa did. I even built up a circle of strong, wise, and successful female friends, just like she had done.

But I also occasionally became hardened to the pain and need of others less fortunate. Sometimes I treated the people I didn’t like with curtness and thinly veiled disrespect. I could be a “Karen” — unreasonably demanding of people in service industries if I didn’t watch myself. I know I embarrassed Jason more than once with my ability to disregard the essential human right to being treated with respect.

None of this is to say that my grandmother ever acted as callously as I have been known to do, but she was impatient and could be a real snob. I know she was deeply burdened by being twice widowed and a single parent in the late 40s, then again in the mid 60s — having to find work in a sexist and unjust professional landscape.

My excuse is that my mental, emotional, and physical health had been chipped away by chronic stress and yo-yo dieting between the years of 2006 to 2019. I had buckled under the burden of taking financial and physical care of my ailing, indigent parents.

My health collapse manifested in two increasingly difficult to manage ways:

1. heavy periods and debilitating cramps that kept me bedbound (and often missing work) for 2-3-4 days per month

2. repeated failures to treat my mom with the kindness and dignity she deserved

Luckily, I got a hysterectomy. Through the relief that brought, and thanks to the lessons I learned surviving a catastrophic house fire in 2015, I do think I am becoming a better person.

I have been continuing to improve in my ability to care for others again, now that I’ve taken better care of myself. I’ve been able put on my own oxygen mask first.

On this second Christmas since losing my beloved mother, whose life I could have helped make a lot better than I did, this is what I am meditating on.

“At midwinter, the Twelve Days of Christmas offered weary gardeners time to visit and check in on one another.

Sharing abundance when it was to be had and making kindness a ritual by commemorating the innocence of a newborn.

If we saw need, we returned bearing food or firewood. If we saw loneliness or illness, we returned to raise spirits.

Lighting a candle, raising a cup, singing carols, bedecking the halls, adapting a seasonal family recipe, and remembering our part in making life kinder.”

⁃ Excerpt from The Heirloom Gardener, a book by John Forti.

writing

My month of extraordinary goals, at the halfway point

So here is why I believe self-care is vital to being able to keep doing the work we’re here to do.

I choose to embrace life after losing my mom. I need to make some changes to sustain me. Time to focus on my health now.

Taking care of mom in her last years, these past 20, gave me the opportunity to experience a form of parenting, many of its joys and some of its frustrations. My care and love helped my mom believe that she had led a life worth living.

Here is what I must do to make my life matter now that she’s gone:

I need to flex my journalism muscles and start reporting on how real and virtual communities are helping each other to stay physically and emotionally healthy in these times.

What got in the way last week? (besides work, which I am grateful to have)

Animal Crossing. A game I play as an act of deliberate self-care.

And why is my life worth caring for? Cause my mom raised me and she didn’t raise no bad kid. We were a family of deeply felt philosophers and utopians and rabble-rousers. Irish American storyteller poets, famine survivors made bootleggers made construction companies, made teachers and bankers and actuaries, artists and art dealers, made good. Like philanthropist good.

Why is that important to me?

Because otherwise, why am I here? I guess I just don’t want to waste my time. Or my gifts. Taking care of my mom was like raising a child in many ways. I succeeded. I did a good job at that. So I’m ready do go out and do more good. I just bring a mask. The one I put on before helping someone else with theirs.

 

writing

Heavy

I’ve decided to use my mom’s unfinished poetry journal for the memory book I started today. It’s the same faded old book, with a cover that looks like an offset print version of italian marbled paper, that I used for a last minute makeshift guest list at her service and memorial.

This is grief in the age of pandemic.

Mom bought the journal maybe 25 years ago, to celebrate landing an awesome job in the city. I found my dad’s journal today from that time period. He wrote, “Catherine’s going to work for the CFO of Fabrik Communications. We have health insurance again for the first time in 3 years.”

Now that made me cry. Did I know they were uninsured? I didn’t start taking care of them til the year 2000 or so.

Use what you have, I told myself the morning of her funeral. There’s no time now, to shop for the quote-unquote “right thing.”

Anyway, such a relief not to have to go out. And go where, exactly? That’s right, everything’s closed. This was before Books, Inc opened back up. She died at the start of Memorial Day weekend, 2020.

But in letting myself not over-plan anything, I was able to accept and even be grateful for, all the constraints placed upon me during the process.

I found the perfect notebook to upcycle.

Uncategorized

A happy accident: the “Satsumaimo” cheesecake I just invented

So I went into Thanksgiving assuming, like every other year, it’d be a total calorie blowout for me. Simultaneously, because I’m a masochist I found Robin (and her progress) very persuasive, I chose this week, of all weeks, to start tracking everything I eat using My Fitness Pal.

One convenient trick of the app is its ability to to calculate calories and nutrients from recipe ingredient lists. I can either enter all the ingredients myself, or the app can scrape from an online recipe. Anyway, its main purpose is to keep track of all the calories and nutrients I’ve consumed, comparing those to my daily goal limits, and adjusting for all the steps I take and the exercise I log. Truly nifty.

I also follow an Instant Pot group online, ever lurking for insightful tips. I assumed it’d be impossible to make it work with my new LEAN regimen. I started searching for dessert ideas, listless, despairing that I would ever be able to combine good taste with restricted calories, sugar, and carbs. But on Wednesday night, I stumbled on a sweet potato cheesecake recipe in the instapot community, and I was all, “Eureka.” I knew I had everything and could make due if necessary on things that I lacked.

Behold, the Japanese sweet potato cheesecake I made.

It has half the normal amount of cream cheese, Oui lemon yogurt instead of sour cream, some plain goat cheese added for good measure, and is sweetened with monkfruit sugar instead of cane. My pantry lacked graham crackers for the crust, so I improvised with ground pecan meal, cinnamon, Nilla Wafers and butter.

And instead of dousing it in maple syrup and candied pecans like this guy did…

I used plain toasted pecans and Yacon syrup-sweetened whipped cream. I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out surprisingly well. Barely able to discern the sweet potato in taste, texture, or color, it was perfectly cheesecake-y, with mild fruity sweetness and bright citrus. And I didn’t wolf it down the way I might with a Full-Monty-style cheesecake.

This one was 183 calories according to My Fitness Pal. Better yet, it was totally satisfying and filling, and very tasty with coffee.

By Friday night, all the flavors and textures had set perfectly. I experimented again by topping it with some of the yacon-syrup-sweetened cranberry relish I made. Jason got a cherry jam covered slice. We were both quite amazed at how perfect it was 24 hours later.

Anyone want the recipe?

Uncategorized

Five

So I’m out late, pitching my latest project to my agent, Steve.

He brings us double Suntoris from the bar. We clink cheers, and I swig fast. Shit, too much. Cough hard. Fuck. That whisky is… something.

SHELLEY

(hacking)

Whoa. Not as smooth as you promised!

Steve smiles like Shere Khan, that liquid panther from the Jungle Book.

I clear my throat.

SHELLEY

(reading from her phone)

Working title: The Five.

Genre: Dystopian fantasy. Well, not fantasy, exactly. More like magical realism. And, Gothic horror! Just for good measure.

STEVE

Be honest. Post-apocalyptic feminist screed. Once again. Know your audience.

SHELLEY

But this one’s going to be way more fun. There’s a swashbuckling heroine.

STEVE

(arching an eyebrow)

I’m listening. Continue.

(puts on his schoolmarm voice)

This time, with feeling.

SHELLEY

Ha.

Setting: Near-future San Francisco.

Pitch: The Five are a men’s collective. Friends, neighbors, fathers. Pillars of the community. Protectors.

Main character: Daphne is one of The Protected. Until the night she stumbles into a gathering of The Five and learns what’s really going on.

The Five are ringleaders. Together they assault women, children, and weaker men. They use incels (involuntary celibates) to carry out their orders.

The number of dead from suicidal gun sprees increase daily. The Five promise the incel army everlasting, um…

(starting to lose composure)

STEVE

hard-ons … ?

SHELLEY

…an eternal afterlife…

STEVE

fucking compliant bitches?

SHELLEY

(laughing)

Yes, exactly. How did you guess??

STEVE

You need me. Don’t deny it.

SHELLEY

Ahem.

Setup: Control is wielded so subtly by The Five, and obeying them is so embedded in her culture that Daphne’s spent her entire 27 years barely noticing a thing. To be frank, she benefits from it.

Her world has been perfectly comfortable and secure, until the night the truth is revealed.

STEVE

Dum dum DUM—

SHELLEY

(scrolls up and down on her phone)

Oh, wait. Bee-tee-double-you, I’ve got some exposition I want to run past you. Not sure how I’m gonna work this in yet.

STEVE

Hit me.

SHELLEY

Okie-doke.

(in a serious voice)

As one of The Protected, Daphne is well-versed with The Rules. In fact, she views them as perfectly reasonable. Why would she? She has nothing to fear, nothing to hide.

STEVE

Right. I mean, I’m sure The Rules are only there for her own good.

SHELLEY

Again, you are so prescient.

STEVE

If only your readers knew how much I contribute.

SHELLEY

I’m not increasing your percentage. You are more than well-compensated.

STEVE

Another whisky?

SHELLEY

On your tab? Yes. But make it a single this time. And I want one of those, you know, those square ice cubes.

STEVE

So demanding. I hope your swashbuckling heroine is a closet submissive.

SHELLEY

Keep your kinks to yourself, this is my fantasy.

STEVE

Will there be mass castrations again?

SHELLEY

There have never been mass castrations. Just that one accidental one. Shut up and get me my drink.

He goes, clearly aroused by his own ridiculous imaginings.

I sit there, trying to figure out how I’m going to get this book past them. The publishing company already considers me an increasingly risky play.

This is going to be interesting.

Job one, I know I have to zhuzsh up Daphne’s sex appeal. Get the powers that be to want her. To underestimate her.

And me. To think that all this is just a little game.

My readers are waiting. They’re learning the code. They know that our day will come. We will rise again.

Ha. Good thing Steve’s so conveniently bisexual. I can work him, and make him sell this shit to the suits. I got dirt on them all.