fierce attachments

a mother-daughter blog about the fierce attachments in our lives… title inspired by Vivian Gornick's wonderful memoir

Category: unexpected adventures

migraine + book talk = wait – where am i?

by nikki meredith

Last week, my friend Esther Wanning, writer and psychotherapist, interviewed me at the Larkspur Library for their local author series. Above is the photo my husband took of the event.

Do you see anything wrong with the photo?

The first thing that’s wrong: you can’t see Esther’s lovely face. My husband was trying to be unobtrusive and couldn’t figure a way to get her face in the photo without walking in front of the audience. Sorry Esther! (Just the first in a series of apologies to Esther in the wake of this event…)

But there’s another thing wrong: if you look closely at the face on the right, you will see a woman with migraine in her sunglass-shielded eyes.

But before I tell you about the migraine, I want your opinion. Background: The conversation Esther and I were having at the library was about my book, “The Manson Women and Me”…there’s a subtitle but I hate the subtitle so I’m not including it.

Where was I? Oh yes, I was about to ask a question. I hate to make you take sides but I am curious about this. Do you think that it was wrong that I mentioned Trump in a conversation about Charles Manson? Or, if not wrong, was it unusual, unfair, rude, and/or an exhibition of bad manners?

I didn’t say the two men were the same, exactly. I said they shared some traits, especially when it comes to the treatment of people. We’ve all seen the way Trump uses over-the-top flattery when in an ingratiating mode and infantile name-calling when he’s in a humiliation mode. That was Manson’s M.O. And then, there’s the grandiosity, the braggadocio, the vile sexism. Manson ordered murders and probably murdered people himself. I have no evidence that’s true of Trump. In spite of that, and I can’t believe I’m writing this but if, at gunpoint, I had to choose between spending an evening with Manson or an evening with Trump I would choose the former.  (No sex in either case. If the gunpoint person introduces sex into the scenario I will have to declare a mistrial and withdraw my vote. I know that’s a mixed metaphor or a mixed something but, what the hell, this is a blog.)

What I was focused on that night vis-à-vis the two men was what could be called, loosely, their hiring practices. Trump has the people he showcases, and the ones he keeps more or less in the closet. According to people who claim to know, Trump wants the people who represent him publicly to look the part: well-dressed, well-spoken and, oh, obsequious bootlickers.

I would guess that his looking-the-part crew includes: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, his former communications director, Hope Hicks and, if you go for pit bulls, his new attorney Rudy Giuliani. And who can forget the way he drooled over Dr. Ronny Jackson in his rear admiral whites — the White House physician with a few bad habits. And then we have the others: the ones he keeps or kept, more or less, in the closet. Examples: his sort-of lawyer, schlubby Michael Cohen; his first press secretary, Sean Spicer; his first chief-of-staff, Reince Prebus. (I need a judge’s ruling on how Trump designates Kelly Anne Conway? I know where I’d place her.)

Manson had his back street girls, the ones who were not as attractive, like Patricia Krenwinkel, who did a lot of the work and kept a low profile; and his front street girls, like Leslie Van Houten, a coltish beauty who he used to attract guys into the fold. You’ll have to read the book if you want to know how all of that worked in the Manson Family.

So, back to the library. I talked briefly about what the two men had in common and in a minute, I’ll tell you why talking about it was a problem (hint: someone close to me, who may or may not have been the event photographer, objected.) Truth be told, I’m not precisely sure what I said about Manson and Trump. I can’t remember because I had a migraine and I was pretty loopy. My memory isn’t just a problem at the moment when I’m trying to reconstruct what I said about Manson and Trump, it was a problem that night.  I don’t think I ever completely lost my train of thought (subject to debate) but I do know that I drifted a few times. One person who was in attendance claimed that I drifted a lot. (hint: it was the same person who didn’t like that I brought up Trump.) All I know is that every once in awhile I would look over at Esther and notice that she was quiet, and, in fact, she looked to be waiting…waiting for what? And then I noticed that she looked a little concerned. Why is she concerned? Oh shit, she’s waiting for ME to…. WHAT? Oh, it must be that she’s waiting for an answer to the question she just asked me. WHAT THE FUCK QUESTION DID SHE JUST ASK ME?

The next morning my husband mentioned that Esther had to work pretty hard to keep the train on the tracks. (You may have guessed that the problem was not only the pain in my head…it was what I grabbed from my purse at the last minute to take for the pain in my head.)  It was bumpy, I’ll grant you that. But his other complaint makes me doubt his whole take on the evening. (You may have guessed by now who it was that was doing all that objecting.) I observed, and not for the first time, that he still has a lot of Canadian in him and his inner Canadian, the little guy who is usually dormant unless hurling a puck into the net on the ice), was stirred into action when he heard me compare the two men.  He wasn’t worried that the comparison wasn’t accurate, he was worried that I would offend people who had come for a literary conversation, not a political one.

I am truly sorry that Esther had to work so hard “to keep the train on the tracks”  and, by the way, her questions were great…the ones I remember. I’m truly sorry that my behavior caused my husband to worry about whether we were in danger of losing our polite society cred but, and I’m almost afraid to admit this, I kind of enjoyed myself.

How can that be? I think I bombed. My husband didn’t use those words. All he said was “not your finest hour.”  One friend who has known me through decades of migraines, diagnosed it immediately but another friend said she thought I was simply tired. The thing is, I wasn’t tired. I was something but I wasn’t tired.

So this is one of life’s little miracles. For the past six months, I’ve been plagued by a fairly acute case of stage fright, certain that it was entirely possible that at some point in the course of promoting my book, I would have a historic melt down. Not only would the paramedics have to be summoned, they would have to use the jaws of life, to pry me from the floor, where I was locked in a fetal position. But I never collapsed, never even came close and I didn’t even experience more than what I assume is the anxiety normal people have. Maybe I did blow it at the library (and maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned Trump…I also need a ruling on that) but as I sit here thinking about it, I have a smile on my face. It is now the custom for people who are confessing embarrassing moments to say, “If I can spare even one person the anguish I suffered…” (because of anticipatory dread), it will have been worth it. If I can do it, anyone can do it and you might even have a good time!

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that brief period where I tried to hold on to my sanity: news blackout in the time of trump

by nikki meredith

 

I took a break from life in the mainstream – a six-month break to be exact. After the election, I dug a hole in the sand, firmly planted my head in it and vowed that I wouldn’t pull it out until there was evidence that my husband had won the worst fight we ever had. Let me explain.

On that dreadful morning when the country, at least the civilized portion of it, was trying to comprehend what had just happened, I looked across the breakfast table at my husband and noticed that he didn’t look terrified. “Don’t you dare not be undone by this,” I said. “I don’t want to hear any of your optimistic bullshit. This is a disaster of disastrous proportions…there is no good face to put on it.” He, nonetheless, dared: he said he continued to believe that our checks and balances were, eventually, going to right the ship. I told him he was dead wrong. The Republicans controlled everything. It was over. Read the rest of this entry »

where the rubber hits the road: a closeted prude listens to modern sex advice

by nikki meredith

dreamstime_s_13347370
I have a new secret pleasure. It’s not actually secret — I’ve mentioned it to a few people – and, though it involves sex, it’s not exactly pleasurable for reasons I’m about to explain. Come to think of it, it’s not even very new.

Every Tuesday, for the past six months, I put a leash on my dog, ear buds in my ears and head out the door to my local gym and on the way to that gym I listen to the Savage Lovecast, billed as love and sex advice from America’s sweetheart, Dan Savage. I kind of love Dan Savage. I say kind of because a while back he would occasionally go on fat people rants that I found offensive and not consistent with his generally compassionate approach to people. He doesn’t do it any more but I haven’t quite forgiven him. He is, however, an ardent advocate for LGBT rights…actually for lots of rights, gay and straight and, with the fat exception, I agree with him about 99 percent of the time when he’s not talking about sex. When he’s giving advice about sex, I agree with him about 97 percent of the time. Maybe it’s actually 95 percent or possibly 90. Sometimes it’s closer to 50 percent of the time or 20 percent. Perhaps, it isn’t his advice I disagree with. It’s the whole premise of the show. Read the rest of this entry »

Carol Doda, Rest in Peace

by nikki meredith

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 9.52.59 AMA national treasure died last month and because I had the opportunity to intersect with her, my life and even more, my husband’s life, was a tiny bit more thrilling. Carol Doda was a true pioneer — one of the first women, at least in the Bay Area, to have her breasts pumped up with silicone injections. One morning her bust size was 34B, later that day it was 44DD. A star was born. She was widely credited with triggering a nationwide topless revolution as a 26-year-old go-go dancer in 1964 and it was that year that I first saw her. Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 9.53.28 AMI was a student at Cal eating my lunch on the grass when I saw her walking across campus with the student body president, Mel Levine. In those days, Levine, who later served in the California State Assembly, was known as a bit of a prig but that day, strutting next to the lovely Miss Doda, he looked like he’d won the lottery. Pleased as punch comes to mind. In my memory he was wearing a three-piece pin striped suit but, in fact, it might have been a blazer – it was clear, however, that he was dressed for an occasion. As I watched them make their way to the Student Union, I was a little worried about Miss Doda. She seemed a little wobbly in her three-inch heels and because she was so tiny, gave the illusion of being perilously top heavy. (I say illusion because I don’t think liquid silicone is heavy.) It looked to me that Mr. Levine was trying hard to focus on walking and talking and not stealing sideways glances at her breasts. Anyway, they were on their way to some kind of appearance, though, for the life of me, I can’t remember for what event. A lecture on quantum physics? The history of the rotary engine? The silicone chip? Maybe I don’t remember the topic because I didn’t attend, I only read an account of it the next day in the Daily Cal.

Before I relate the account, let me set the scene. Read the rest of this entry »

can david hockney save my marriage?: one overly opinionated wife and her quieter husband

by nikki meredith

a bigger splash 1967 by david hockney

a bigger splash 1967 by david hockney

When I first discovered David Hockney a couple of decades ago, his paintings thrilled me. I found the cobalt cerulean hues of his swimming pools irresistible and his particular rendering of the southern California light evoked a longing in me for my childhood. He once called that light extravagant and said it was one of the lures that drew him to Los Angeles in the first place. It’s a light that owes some of its magic to air pollution and the skies under which I grew up were much smoggier than they are now. Often it was difficult to catch my breath without it hurting but those violet particulates permeated more than my lungs; when I left L.A. my heart missed that lambent glow.

This is not to say I considered Hockney a great artist. His images were so tinged with nostalgia for me, I couldn’t judge.

I recently attended a block-buster Hockney show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco – an exhibit The New York Times called a “sprawling romp.”  It featured room after room of eye-popping color and included portraits of friends and family, still lifes of fruit and flowers and dazzling, giant images of the East Yorkshire landscape where Hockney grew up and returned to a decade ago.   I went to see it with a friend who is an artist. I don’t usually go to art museums with friends who are artists. I don’t have anything against doing that it simply doesn’t come up very often. It came up this time when we discovered over dinner that neither of us had been to the exhibit and it was soon closing. A week later we were standing at the entrance.

“How long do you need?” I asked, looking at my watch. “Should we meet in the café?”

She shook her head. “No, no, let’s stay together.”

I’m not the kind of person who “stays together” in art museums. Actually I don’t “stay together” in any museum. I wander solo, lingering over some items, but speeding past quite a few.  I’m the kind of person who meets in the café post-experience. But I’m also not the kind of person who is able to say, “I’d really rather go it alone.”

One painting in, I realized it was going to be a little more complicated than two friends sharing an art experience. She was to be the teacher. I was to be the student.  I felt a migraine coming on. When I was an official student I did okay with official teachers but I’ve never been too enthusiastic about self-appointed ones.  But, Wait, I said to myself. She’s an artist. A good artist.  This is an opportunity to transcend my usual, I love it,  like it, admire it, hate it routine. Maybe I’ll learn something. And I did. Read the rest of this entry »

jew-ish: the life and times of a one-sixteenth jew

by caitlin meredith

me

me

I am one-sixteenth Jewish. It’s funny to say it like that, but that’s what it comes down to on the family tree. And, I guess that’s how much Jewish I feel. One-sixteenth.

How exactly does that translate?

Most of the time I don’t feel Jewish, but I don’t feel not Jewish either. I feel Jewish-ish. Since my Jewish blood comes through my mom’s mom’s mom (otherwise known as my maternal grandmother), it would be enough for Israeli citizenship should I want it, and, as my mom pointed out, it would’ve been good enough for Hitler. Blood is what I’ve got to go on since all the women in my family coupled with gentiles and it’s an atheist line.

My mom once told me that the closest she could get to defining her Jewishness was that she gets a family feeling when she was around Jews. I feel the same, but I wonder if that counts. Doesn’t everyone get a family feeling around Jews? Sort of like the Italian mama in the neighborhood is everyone’s mama. Read the rest of this entry »

pooches and pot

by nikki meredith

Alice and LeftyEvery week brings news of yet another way dogs help humans. We’ve know for a while they can be excellent detectives –  diagnosing melanoma with their noses, sensing dangerous blood sugar fluctuations in diabetics and discerning imminent seizures in epileptics. People with dogs are generally healthier – after acquiring a pooch they exercise more, their blood pressure goes down, their sense of well being goes up. And the list goes on. But when I read these studies, I often wonder if anyone has measured the negative effects of dog ownership.

What happens to one’s vocal cords when one yells “shut the fuck up ” 50 times a day to a dog who barks at all manner of threats such as the wind in the willows or her own reflection in the window pane at night?  And what about the effect on one’s lower back of bending over to scoop up dog poop twice a day to say nothing of the cumulative stress of worrying about the accumulation of millions of plastic bags filled with said poop? (And why isn’t there a law mandating that those bags be biodegradable?)  And for all the new friends you make because of the dog, how many do you lose because you’ve become a bore who talks too much about dogs and not enough about movies, books, politics – in short, a dog nut who is more likely to express astonishment at the number of breeds being bred with poodles (Did you know there are now poogles, woodles, schnnodles, scoodles, and Saint Berdoodles? And that’s only a fraction of the number of poodle hybrids.) than she is an opinion about whether Hillary should run or on the pros and cons of housing density along the Highway 101 corridor? Read the rest of this entry »

six weeks in the desert: green valley, arizona

by nikki meredith

desert museum landscape

At home above my desk I have posted this poem by Mary Oliver:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

Oliver calls the poem “instructions for living a life” and it’s advice I try implementing every day of the year — every day except for the six weeks between Memorial Day and the 4th of July.   I don’t have to work on it then because I spend that time in the southern part of the Sonoran Desert and paying attention is a matter of survival. If I don’t I might find myself with the fangs of a rattlesnake sunk into my foot, swarmed by Africanized bees, or charged by a Javelina – to name but a few of the perils I have encountered. One night when I wasn’t paying attention my husband and I, after dinner at a local restaurant, took a walk under a full moon and an ink black sky. I was wearing sandals and stepped on a hive of harvester ants.  Man, were they pissed-off! I spent the better part of that night dabbing toothpaste on multiple stings to relieve the pain. (It helped!)

Most people who can, leave the area in June because of  triple digit temperatures — many days it’s 110 and above — but initially I came because of the heat. If you’re looking for a place to write, the conditions are ideal. There is nothing else to do for most of the day but stay planted in front of a computer in an air-conditioned house.  If I’m not on the trail, by 7 a.m., my morning walk feels more like a death march. Read the rest of this entry »

this old house: my life in a highly permeable membrane

by caitlin meredith

the sad little house on the day I moved in

My house breathes. That’s not the technical term for it, of course – the technical term is that it has “excessive air infiltration.” I had an energy efficiency audit last week that confirmed it. Jim from the energy utility here in Austin hooked up a blower door to my entryway and let it rip. The blower door has a red piece of canvas with a big fan in the center that covers your front doorway. It looks like it would be used to inflate a circus tent but it’s the opposite. It sucks all the air out of your house and then tests the pressure. Well, at least it tries to – my house gave it a good run for its money.

Jim told me the appropriate level of seal for an energy efficient house in this climate would have to be less than 5 air changes per hour, or ACH, for those trying to quantify energy hogs like me. (He also told me that’s measured at 50 pascals of pressure, which I’m passing on to you, dear reader, because it means nothing to me.) The little computer attached to the blower reported that my house had 35 ACH. Was this the worst he’d ever seen? No, but he did later make a casual comparison between my house and a tobacco drying barn, a structure purposely built for open ventilation. Read the rest of this entry »

they do it better in dutch: sex workers and the disabled

by caitlin meredith

painted wheelchair on dutch beachMy mom’s last two blog posts about sexual surrogacy and the movie “The Sessions” (see part 1 and part 2) reminded me of one of my old pieces of dinner party trivia. In Holland, the government pays sex workers to have sex with physically disabled people. I know – crazy, right? At least that was my first reaction.

At the time I learned about this little social service gem I was working in Sudan living with three Dutch colleagues. So many of the things they revealed about their quirky country astounded me that I became used to having daily conversations sprinkled with counter intuitive nuggets. None of them had ever tried drugs, including pot? What was the point of living in the Netherlands?? The government had public health campaigns encouraging people to snort their snot back into their noses instead of using a tissue?? This was deemed more hygienic? Their national cuisine is a bowl of mashed up everything called stamppot?

By the time someone casually mentioned the generous sexual services benefit I was a bit jaded and it almost escaped my “Wait, what??!!!” radar. Almost. Read the rest of this entry »

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