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Procrastination, and the Subversive Feminism of The Little Mermaid

Writing a second book made me a better writer. The upside to that is I think I’m a better writer. The downside is that I don’t think my first book is well-written anymore. I’m too attached to it to can it, so now I have to go back and fix my first book using the skill I think I gained from writing the second, but no doubt one day there will be a third and nothing I ever wrote previous will be adequate.

So I decided to update my list of favorite Disney movies instead. Made more sense to me.

I know this is the update the world has been waiting for. You’re welcome. (Spoiler alert: that’s a reference to a newly-minted top five fave). Having a daughter has had a funny way of clearing a cloud of nostalgia from my life. My personal fondness for things doesn’t hold the same weight or value as it once did, now that I can experience the joy in her eyes when she loves something new. Nothing beats that. And so, I give you, the completely unnecessary update to my ranking of every Disney movie.

  1. The Little Mermaid
  2. Sleeping Beauty
  3. Tangled
  4. Frozen
  5. Lilo & Stitch
  6. Moana
  7. Alice in Wonderland
  8. Lady and the Tramp
  9. Pocahontas
  10. Pinocchio
  11. The Lion King
  12. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  13. The Sword in the Stone
  14. Robin Hood
  15. Aladdin
  16. Zootopia
  17. Brother Bear
  18. Bolt
  19. Mulan
  20. Peter Pan
  21. Cinderella
  22. Bambi
  23. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  24. The Princess and the Frog
  25. Dumbo
  26. Fantasia
  27. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  28. Beauty and the Beast
  29. Big Hero 6
  30. Wreck-It Ralph
  31. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  32. Frozen 2
  33. Oliver & Company
  34. The Jungle Book
  35. The Rescuers Down Under
  36. Fantasia 2000
  37. The Aristocats
  38. One Hundred and One Dalmatians
  39. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  40. Hercules
  41. The Rescuers
  42. Winnie-the-Pooh (the new one)
  43. The Fox and the Hound
  44. The Great Mouse Detective
  45. Tarzan
  46. The Emperor’s New Groove

I still have only seen the following in snippets, so did not include:

  • Saludos Amigos
  • The Three Caballeros
  • Make Mine Music
  • Fun and Fancy Free
  • Melody Time
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (I’ve seen The Legend of Sleepy Hollow which would rank highly, but I’ve never seen Wind in the Willows and definitely haven’t seen them together in this packaged film)
  • The Black Cauldron
  • Dinosaur
  • Treasure Planet
  • Home on the Range (this is when things got real tough for the Studios)
  • Chicken Little
  • Meet the Robinsons

I don’t think anything can budge my top two. The Little Mermaid was my Frozen. The first song I ever knew by heart was Part of Your World. We sang it on the playground in first grade over, and over, and over. My generation of girlfriends grew up tossing our hair up and out of swimming pools because that’s what Ariel did when she grew legs and burst out of the sea. A lot of people I know have criticized The Little Mermaid as some sort of misogynistic manifesto because it’s about a girl who gives up her voice to be with a guy. I urge those people to look deeper. I could write an essay on how The Little Mermaid is in fact a feminist fairytale. Ugh, I can’t help myself. I’ll go into it.

The Little Mermaid works for me with two important premises. One. I like my protagonists imperfect. I want them to have flaws and dreams that are so at odds with each other they lead them to make bad decisions. I will root for a hero not because she is perfect (how boring) but because she is imperfect like I am, and manages to overcome her foibles to prevail over the dragon, or whatever.

Two. Giving up her voice to Ursula is a bad decision. This should be evident by the fact that she is making a deal with a devil, but based on how many people think LM is sending some sort of message to girls that giving up your voice for a guy is a good thing, I feel it needs to be said. Trust that your kids know the difference between a virtue and a terrible mistake. I was the kid watching The Little Mermaid. I got it.

With those two givens in mind, here’s my take.

Like so many fairytales, The Little Mermaid features a hero who wants more than her circumstances can give her. In Ariel’s case, her circumstances have placed her in the center of a patriarchal world with strict and insurmountable boundaries. She is one daughter in a veritable army of daughters of King Triton. There’s no mother in sight, though that’s never explained. Just a hyper-masculine father, and bunch of girls named by him who, when the movie begins, are paraded out with great pageantry to look lovely and sing pretty songs. That’s what is expected of them, and of Ariel.

But she skips out on that.

She doesn’t show up to her own debut. Instead, she is literally off with her best friend searching for treasure and fighting sharks. She wants to do her own thing: explore, learn, expand her world. Even with sharks around. She is curious and ambitious, and her father doesn’t like it. He wants her to use her voice to sing pretty and be pleasant. She wants to use her voice to ask questions.

Betcha on land, they understand.
Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters.
Bright young women. Sick of swimming.
Ready to stand.
And ready to know what the people know.
Ask them my questions, and get some answers.
What is a fire? And why does it—what’s the word—burn!

Remember, she hasn’t seen Eric yet. So even though this song is called Part of Your World, she is yearning that she wants to be “Part of THAT world,” and it has nothing to do with a guy. She just wants to know things about a world that seems so exciting, and one that everyone else seems to misunderstand.

Then she meets a guy, and yes that’s the carrot that leads her to openly defy her father. But let’s talk about that. She is defying him, but not at first. She loves her father and would want to share her feelings with him; she is desperate for him to understand, but he refuses. Like so many fairytales, The Little Mermaid is about the blossoming sexuality of a young woman and how the forces in her life try to control it, because they fear it. So King Triton destroys everything that matters to her. All of her treasures, especially the likeness of her new prince. Blows it up with his big magical man-stick.

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Do you not remember being a teenager? I do. I remember being so misunderstood, especially when it came to the guys I liked, that I made some pretty bad decisions. So Ariel, desperate and alone, runs off to seek help from the only other place she thinks she might find it, a witch. She trades her voice for what she believes is her last chance to be happy because she does not fit in at home.

Let’s talk about Ursula for a moment, and why she’s the most badass of all. Many of the characters in The Little Mermaid were shaped and developed by Howard Ashman, a lyricist and playwright with roots in musical theatre. He modeled Ursula after the legendary drag queen, Divine. Can we talk about how revolutionary that was for a Disney film in the late-eighties? Other than the army of indoctrinated daughters, Ursula is the only other female character in the film and thus Ariel’s only role model. It’s never explicit what the circumstances were, but we do hear Ursula go on about a time when she was in power, but has been banned from palace life which is why she now hates Triton so much. Let me just cut to the chase with my theory. The Little Mermaid came out in 1989, right at the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Our country had been ravaged by an AIDS epidemic completely ignored and stigmatized by its president (sounds familiar), and second-wave feminism felt like a thing of the distant past. The Little Mermaid was shaped and developed by a gay man who just a few years later would die himself of AIDS. I think Divine—I mean Ursula—represents all of that, and is fucking angry about it. If Triton represents the conservative patriarchy of Ronald Reagan’s America, then Ariel is the tool with which Ursula seeks her revenge.

So yes Ariel runs off and gives her voice to the sea witch. Ursula is very convincing in all the ways she sings about the performative power of being a woman (drag queen, remember), but frankly she straight up tells her the cost of contorting yourself to please a guy. “I’m a very busy woman and I haven’t got all day. It won’t cost much, just your voice!”

I say again, it should be very evident that this is a bad decision. Why do you think Ursula wants her voice? What could be the reason? Could it be because our villain knows that a young woman’s voice is actually the most important thing she has in forging her path in the world, and developing relationships? And therefore by taking that away from Ariel she knows she stands the best chance of Ariel failing, and thus possessing her soul for eternity—really pissing off her dad?

But there’s another layer here that gives Ariel some power, or at the very least commands our sympathy for her. Why else might Ariel be so willing to give up her voice? Oh I don’t know, could it be because that’s the only thing about her that her father ever seemed to care about, at the expense of all her other interests? He wanted to hear her pretty singing voice, and that’s about it, so what does she turn around and do? In a bold act of defiance, however misguided, she gives away the only thing he valued. If the only thing about me that my father cared about was my pretty hair, you know what I would do? I’d cut that shit. If all he cared about was my pretty voice? I might trade it to a Sea Witch to get out of that patriarchal prison.

But of course, you shouldn’t give up your voice to be with a guy. Ursula knows this. Sebastian knows this. Flounder knows. And her daddio, King Man-Stick certainly knows this. Perhaps this lesson is more of a home run in the source material when our little mermaid continues to evaporate after giving away her voice, until she is nothing but foam on the sea and wind. Pretty sad. Disney wasn’t going to end a movie like that, so we get a chance for our hero to be redeemed thanks to the loyalty of her friends, and the love of her father. Triton’s redemption pulls on this new parent’s heartstrings the most. Sebastian says to him, “Like I always say, Your Majesty. Children got to be free to lead their own lives.”

“Then there’s just one problem,” Triton responds. “How much I’m going to miss her.” And he bestows her with her own pair of legs to do with as she pleases, and lets her go.

I love the ending. It’s as layered as an onion. Our villain, Ursula, has been run through with the jagged, phallic end of a broken down ship, and sinks to the bottom of the sea. The very ship, in fact, in which Ariel first made her appearance in the film searching for treasure and fending off a shark. Don’t think I need to unpack the metaphor there. (I also just realized, in writing this, why there were so many phallic Easter eggs in the movie, like on the poster and the priest at the wedding scene. There’s an actual penis that makes up a spire in Triton’s castle, and one of his daughters has a phallus for a hairdo. These were legendary in the 90s. Funny, makes so much sense now. But I digress). Ariel runs off and marries her prince. Who knows if she ever found out what fire was. Or why it burns. Maybe not. I imagine that if Ursula had survived, she’d shake her head at Ariel, watching her trade one patriarchy for another, and sing in her divinely gravelly voice, “Good luck.”

I’m just going to say it. My generation of women has at times felt hamstrung by the rigid demands and definitions of second-wave feminism. We were Ariel, trapped between two worlds which Triton and Ursula represent. So maybe Ursula was also a victim of Triton’s Sea. And maybe Ursula helped get her out for her own reasons. Maybe it was messy, and misguided, and manipulative. But she’s out. She found her voice, and now at least Ariel’s got a chance. At least she gets to choose. And that, my friends, is how The Little Mermaid raised a generation of third-wave feminists.

You’re welcome.

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Something I found in quarantine

I miss my grandfather. He was a handsome Austrian fellow with piercing blue eyes and a mischievous grin. He died when I was 17 years old and I miss him. Here are some of the things that made him cool. He was a veteran of World War 2. He fought in the Pacific and looked better in a sailor uniform than Frank Sinatra. He taught me how to play poker. That was family game night. He was married to my grandmother for over 65 years. He used to sometimes swear in broken German. My grandmother would swear back in broken Italian. His name was Nick Sigl, but spelled Nicolaus. Isn’t that the coolest spelling? Nicolaus Sigl. Just try spelling it without looking at it.

He used to make this dish called Grout Fleckla. For years I have been haunted by the fact that I don’t remember much about the dish except that I loved it. It was savory, I think it involved noodles, and maybe onions? In addition to my frequent requests for it at family dinners, I asked him to make Grout Fleckla for me whenever there was any kind of cultural event at my school. All the families would bring their traditions and foods to share, and I can’t say I’ve ever had a strong sense of cultural identity, but there was Grout Fleckla. It was distinctly German, and distinctly Sigl.

I have known for some time that it could not have actually been called Grout Fleckla, but that was the phonetic experience of my young brain when met with my grandfather’s thick German accent (only employed when he actually spoke German). His command of the language may have declined over the years, but his commitment to the accent never wavered. It never occurred to me that in this, the year 2020, I now have any number of ways to look up the correct name of the dish. I don’t know why that is, except maybe the feeling of having lost something takes a stronger hold in our brains than the possibility it could be found, so when something like Google was invented, I never entertained the notion that I could sleuth out my grandfather’s dish. I think I also assumed it was unique to us, his invention. I had decided some time before that the recipe—whatever it was called—died with him, and I’ve mourned it ever since.

A few weeks ago, in the beginning of this quarantine, I decided to make a frittata. I don’t cook much, but this quarantine has made some kind of a chef of all of us. Frittatas are usually my husband’s specialty, but he was playing with the baby so I was on frittata duty. Frittatas in our house aren’t just crust-less quiches; they involve noodles. We will not go carbless in the Light house. Frittatas come about when we have leftover pasta and the next morning we put them in a cast iron skillet with a bunch of eggs, cheese, and veggies. I started by sautéing a ton of onions and garlic. While those caramelized, I rifled through the fridge in search of veggies and saw we had a head of cabbage. I chopped that up and threw it in. Once the cabbage softened, I added the noodles.

And that’s when it happened. I’m getting all flustered thinking about it. Something happened in my nose. The smell of sautéed onions and garlic mingling with the cabbage and noodles sent me into an overwhelming sense memory of being with my grandfather and eating Grout Fleckla. Oh my God. It wasn’t Grout. It was Kraut. Cabbage. And for the first time in nearly twenty years it dawned on me, I can look this up. I could have, for years, found a way to look this up. I’ve stalked old boyfriends with less information to go by, but now, I had cabbage.

Opens Google.
Search: German noodle dish kraut…

I didn’t even have to type kraut, actually. As soon as I entered German noodle dish my results came up. Krautfleckerl. “An Austrian pasta with caramelized cabbage.” I felt like I found my grandfather. I thought he was lost. Now I can visit him in more than just a dream. I can taste this dish again and memories are so much easier to access with your mouth and your nose than with your brain.

I finished the frittata, but the next night I looked up a recipe and made Krautfleckerl. As I served it to my family, I could picture my grandfather holding a large aluminum tray full of the savory noodles, wearing a bomber jacket with a fur trim, and polyester pants, helping me bring a bit of Austrian, a bit of Sigl, to share with whomever might be interested. 

If that’s you, if you’re interested, here is the recipe for Krautfleckerl. Though I might always call it Grout Fleckla.

I pulled this specific recipe from a restaurant in Vienna, but you could vary it. As long as you’ve got noodles, cabbage, onions, garlic, and caraway seeds, you’ll get the flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1 white Onion
  • 1 (head of) cabbage
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp. of caraway seeds
  • 1/2 c butter
  • Pasta, your choice on the shape but I think goes best with a Papardelle or Campanelle, or even an egg noodle
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic

Preparation:

Cut the cabbage (white, without stalk) into squares, cut onion finely and chop garlic. Let the sugar and the caraway caramelize in a big pot. Now add the half of the butter, the onion and the garlic, stir. Add the cabbage, salt and stir again. Let it steam for about 30 minutes with a closed lid.
Bring sufficient water to a boil, add salt and cook the pasta until al dente. Strain, rinse in cold water and allow it to drain well. Chop parsley. Mix the pasta with the cabbage and stir. Add the rest of the butter and season with parsley and pepper. Serve while warm.

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I Used to be a Runner

Am I even allowed to call this a running blog anymore if I’ve only run once since December? Maybe not. Dang, this whole working full-time/being a mom/creative/person with a clean house thing is tough. I have zero time to run. I could let other things go, but I don’t want to. Here’s what my day looks like. Maybe you can help me figure out where to fit it in:

7:00 AM – Wake up, get ready, get Z ready for daycare

7:45 AM – Drive Z to daycare, myself to work

9:00 AM – 5:30 PM – Werk

5:30 PM – 6:30 PM – Drive home

6:30 PM – 8:30 PM – Spend precious time with baby and husband, have dinner, get baby to bed

8:30 PM – 9:00 PM – Clean up the food hurricane that the baby caused in the kitchen

9:00 PM – 9:30 PM – Veg out on the couch a bit

9:30 PM – 11:00 PM – Either write, or watch TV, or catch up with husband

11:00 PM – Bed

Start it all up again the next day.

Where does running fit into this? I know you’re going to say I need to get up earlier. I know I do. It’s hard though. I do not do well on less than eight hours of sleep which means I would need to go to bed earlier which means I will have less time to write/veg/talk. And maybe that’s what I need to do, but like I said at the top, I don’t really want to trim anything off this schedule that already provides so little time for relaxing, decompressing, being creative. What I need is another half hour added to the day. Who do I talk to about that?

 

The only running I do lately is running after her. Maybe, for this season of life, that can be enough.

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How to be Honest

I am writing a personal book, the most personal thing I’ve written besides some things I’ve written on this blog. I went back to read old posts to get somehow in touch with past feelings, but I mostly cringed and hid a lot of this blog’s history from view. Here’s what I learned about writing, from the horror of reading one’s early attempts:

  • Be honest. If it’s untrue, it will suck.
  • Don’t try to be clever. If you try to be clever, then you’re not clever. Cleverness is something that you might stumble upon in service of a story but it should never be something you’re trying to achieve. See bullet point one.
  • If it can be more simple, it should be.
  • If in reviewing your writing something bothers you more than one time, it will always bother you. Change it.
  • You almost never need to use an exclamation point. Stop yelling.
  • If you don’t know what you meant by something, your audience sure as hell won’t either. Change it.
  • Sometimes something sounds really good in your head and it’s shit on paper. I don’t have a solution for this, except maybe keep evaluating if it fulfills bullet point one.
  • You rarely need an adverb. Find a better verb. This is also true for adjectives. Trust the noun.
  • Writers stress about commas much more than readers I think, but you probably don’t need them as much you as you think you do.
  • You probably overuse the words just and very.
  • Once you figure out how to use a semicolon or an em dash, you’ll be tempted to use them all the time, and then you’ll read like a pretentious fool. It’s not the 19th century; cool it with the punctuation.
  • You’ll have a hard time taking your own advice.
  • The sentences that you feel the most attached to, the most precious with, are the ones that will make you cringe the most when you read them a year later. Therefore:
  • Don’t be precious with anything.
  • No matter how good and seasoned a writer you are, you will occasionally mix up your and you’re. Be kind to yourself.
  • If you keep writing, you will get better at it. So keep writing.

Zelda’s Teeth

For this brief, tiny, delicate moment in time, you smile at me with bare gums. They are so sweet.

Then you have two teeth. And you will never smile at me with a toothless grin ever again.

Huh.

For this next brief moment you have only two tiny bottom teeth, but soon it will be three. Teeth move on.

You can do nothing but kick, smile, cry, sleep, or laugh when placed down on your back. You are stuck, not always happy about it.

But now you can roll.

Now you can scoot.

Now you can crawl.

Now you can climb up onto my legs and look me in the eyes. You are so proud of yourself every time that you do. I’m proud too, but also a little bit sad.

For a tiny window longer, you can’t yet walk beside me. You are still in baby position. You are in my arms.

You have no words. For only a second more, you tell me how you feel with coos, laughs, shouts, cries, and the occasional consonant. Tomorrow you’ll have words, and we’ll never communicate like this again. We’ll have new ways of talking to each other that we’ll love, but it won’t be like this.

You don’t always sleep through the night. Some nights you do. Some nights will soon be all nights, and there will be a last time we cuddle in the dark in the quiet hours, just you and me, and the bubbling fish tank. Soon you will sleep in your own room, with your things, and your own dreams.

We nurse. My body grew your body, and it still does. In the blink of an eye you will be done. But thank God it’s not today. Thank God my breast still comforts you. I thank God, I really do, for the bundle of your little body curled into mine as you stare into my eyes and play with my hair, drinking milk and loving each other. I’m not ready for the tomorrow when that ends. I never will be.

Today you had apples for the first time.

And broccoli.

And shrimp.

And mango.

You do not like cottage cheese.

We have ice cream in our future. You still possess a brain that has never experienced the wonder of ice cream. I can’t wait for that tomorrow.

Your teeth are coming in. They hurt you. The newness hurts; I know, baby. But soon they won’t hurt anymore. Soon you’ll have all your teeth, like me. And one day they will hurt again but not from their newness. From their oldness. From something called a cavity, which is a kind of hole that rots. Try not to let that happen. You do have some control over it.

Zelda, everything you are as a baby is like lightning. So bright, stunning, then it’s gone. I’m writing it down for you. To catch it in a bottle. It’s a bottle you might be interested in someday. I always will be.

I love the you of tomorrow. I love watching you learn, but I’ll miss your crawling, your coos, your milky breath, your whole body in my arms. I don’t want to go back, Zelda, but I wouldn’t mind the chance to relive a few of these moments. Just for a second. I’ll miss those two little front teeth featured solo on your sweet, perfect, baby gums.

Oh. There’s tooth number three. And the moment is gone.

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Zelda: A Birth Story

Three months ago my daughter, Zelda, was born. This is my and Zelda’s birth story.

On the evening of June 6, I sat in my living room with Brad and my mom, contemplating middle names for Zelda, coming up with some pretty silly options like Bluebell, and laughing about how convenient it would be if I went into labor in the wee hours of the morning, giving us time to get to the hospital before traffic. Well. Zelda was listening.

At 3:30am on June 7 I awoke to the strange sensation of warm syrup pouring over my legs. It gushed, but gently like molasses, not violently like gushing water. I turned to Brad and whispered, “I think my water broke,” which interestingly mirrored the exact same way I told him I was pregnant—waking him up in the early morning hours and whispering, “I think I’m pregnant.”

We got out of bed and confirmed what I had suspected all the day prior, Zelda had decided to begin her journey into the world. I got myself cleaned up and went into the living room to try and get some more sleep on the couch, in anticipation of what would surely be a long day ahead. I should have been apprehensive that my water had broken, since it essentially started a clock on getting baby into the world. My birth wish was to labor at home as long possible and give birth without any pain medication or Pitocin, but with broken water you can only wait so long before you have to speed things up due to the risk of infection. How long exactly is up for debate, but according to my doctor they want you to come into labor & delivery immediately. If I didn’t start contractions soon I’d need to be induced, but for some reason I wasn’t worried. I had a feeling that Zelda had it figured out.

An hour later, around 4:30 am, I started feeling contractions. Thank goodness. Now I get to describe what labor feels like! Oh, goodie. If you’re like me, I was dying to know. At this stage, contractions felt like totally manageable waves of intense menstrual cramps. With some deep breaths I could talk and laugh through them. At 5:00 am Brad called the hospital to see what they wanted us to do, since my water had broken. I knew they’d tell us to come in; that was their policy. Sure enough, the nurse told Brad to get our things together and come in right away. Sigh. Okay. We took our time gathering our things and headed out the door at 6:30 am to go to the hospital. So much for laboring at home as long as possible. Little did I know, however, it was a blessing in disguise. If we’d waited longer, it would have been one ugly car ride, maybe one that involved the birthing of a baby. My body and Zelda were ready and raring to go.

I’d imagined that the car ride to the hospital would be excruciating, thinking I’d be much further along in labor, but this was quite pleasant. Brad and I couldn’t contain our disbelief and excitement. We counted my contractions. We talked about, things. I can’t remember what, though, but I know there were things talked about. Probably involved the wonder of bringing a human into the world. I wasn’t in horrible pain. It was fun. I was having fun. Hilarious.

We arrived at the hospital around 7:00 am. The triage nurse greeted me.

“You been better?” she asked.

“No, actually, I’m really excited,” I replied.

I was. I’d always been as curious about labor and delivery as I’d been about pregnancy and motherhood, and now here I was; I was about to find out. The nurse gave me a smile like she knew what I was in for even if I didn’t. (She was right.) They admitted me ,and soon I had my own room with my own pair of awesome nurses and it sort of felt like I’d checked into a hotel. One of those weird ones that monitors your food and makes you do activities.

My contractions, which at home were about 6 minutes apart, had already picked up to 2-3 minutes apart and it was only 10:00 am.

Tips for mimicking a home birth while laboring in the hospital. Essential oil diffuser, speaker and playlists queued up, things that you can touch that feel like comfort. In my case I brought my sketch book, pencils, and Kindle. I knew I wouldn’t really want to draw or read, but having them there comforted me. Oh, and snacks. If the hospital’s policy is to not allow you to eat, ignore them. Sneak in snacks. I didn’t eat much, but a handful of cashews when my energy dipped was a lifesaver.

Contractions got more intense as time passed quickly. They still felt like menstrual cramps, but with the added sensation that I was being squeezed around the lower abdomen by a belt that had been lit on fire. Still manageable though. I was able to walk around, lean against the wall, squat, and my favorite coping technique at this point was to essentially slow dance with my husband. I swayed to some new age music, leaned into him and vocalized. My Linklater voice training came in so handy at this point. Lots of deep, humm mumm mumm maaas. Thanks, Boston University.

Before you think my labor story sounds like a smug fairytale, don’t worry, I’m getting to the good stuff. The truth, though, was that everything up until this point really had been incredibly pleasant and manageable. The pain was indeed painful, but what I read was true, it triggered a steady rush of endorphins that made me feel a bit drunk on love.

At noon everything changed.

You know the library ghost in Ghostbusters? How she looks all peaceful and harmless?

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To look at her you think, “Hey, ghosts aren’t so bad.” And then you get a little too close and she turns into this, and all hell breaks loose.

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Yeah, it was like that. It’s called Transition.

I’d read about it. We learned about it in our childbirth prep class. Transition would be the time I’d want to give up, but it also meant I was so close to pushing that if I could manage my way through transition I could most likely make it through labor without intervention. It was all true. Still, nothing could have prepared me for that kind of pain. Nothing. Nuh. Thing.

Let me take a step back. At about 11:30 am my contractions had gotten pretty intense and close together—about one minute apart, sometimes coming in double and triple waves. I was having a hard time catching my breath and apparently so was Zelda. Suddenly about six or seven doctors and nurses rushed into the room, prepping equipment and looking nervous. I was a bit out of it but I knew it wasn’t good. A calm but firm OB came up to me and Brad and told us that the baby’s heart rate had dropped and wasn’t coming back up like it should. They needed to see the heart rate come up immediately, so I had to get in bed and be put on oxygen and hooked up to all kinds of monitors. I wasn’t made nervous by the sudden frenzy. Either I knew that Zelda and I would work it out, or I was just too distracted by pain to clock the gravity of the situation.

I got in bed like a good patient. They put a fetal monitor directly into the birth canal, the kind that screws into the baby’s skull. Poor baby. They gave me oxygen which actually was quite pleasant, and it seemed that in short order Zelda’s heart rate improved. The doctors cleared the room, but with strict orders that I’d have to stay in bed and could no longer move around at will. I feel strongly that this confinement increased the pain of transition. Perhaps more than any other time during labor, the transition phase is when it’s most crucial to be able to change position, get in the shower, lean on a birthing ball, whatever. But I was stuck in bed, laying on my side and doing whatever I could to survive the pain from that position.

How can I describe it? At this point I can’t remember it, thank God, but I do remember my reaction to it. I remember feeling like I was being sawed in half. A cramp would start in my midsection and then radiate throughout my whole body until I was no longer in control, the contraction was in control. It was like every inch of my insides was being wringed like wet laundry. I had to scream. I wanted to throw up, not because I was nauseous but because it felt like whatever was inside of me was going to be squeezed out whether I liked it or not. I tried to breathe through it, vocalize through it, even kick my legs up in the air like I was in a Jazzercise class, (that’s actually pretty much the only thing that helped) but ultimately there was no match for this adversary. The contractions were kicking my butt. Physically I couldn’t quell the pain, so I tried to do so mentally. Sometimes I focused on the pain, intensely. Sometimes I tried to distract myself by focusing on something else. The most effective mental trick seemed to be to focus on it so intensely that eventually I began to disassociate the pain from myself. I remember repeating the mantra in my head, “I’m being sawed in half. It’s okay. I’m being sawed in half.” For some reason, it helped. Other images that came to mind at the time were the end of Braveheart when William Wallace is disemboweled. That felt about right. Also The Exorcist.

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I’m telling you guys, it was intense. It felt like, this cannot be a good thing. It felt like I was being broken—like I was going to die. My plan was to forego an epidural or any other drug. Brad and I had made a pact going into labor that if I asked for the epidural four times, he’d get the doctor to administer it, but before that he would try to talk me out of it by getting me to change position, giving me a massage, getting me in the shower, etc. Being confined to the bed, experiencing William Wallace torture pain? I begged for that epidural four times in quick succession. I knew that I was in transition, which meant that I knew I was close and should try to push through, but at the time the thought of surviving that pain for even ten minutes, one minute . . . I couldn’t do it. Let me rephrase that. I couldn’t imagine doing it, but doing it is exactly what I did.

At this point my designated nurses had been called to another delivery. The hospital was experiencing an unprecedented number of deliveries all at once, and no it wasn’t a full moon, just an auspicious Thursday. So when I finally begged for the epidural for the fifth time, my mom went to find a nurse, and since mine were otherwise occupied a new nurse came into the room to help me. Her name was Chanelle, and she was not a human but an angel. Something about her just calmed me immediately. She was real with me. She said the anesthesiologist was giving someone else an epidural (all those deliveries) and wouldn’t be ready for me for at least thirty minutes. I wanted to die. She offered me analgesics (loopy drugs) but she was straight with me and said, “Look, I can give you these and they may help, but they may not. And they’re going to make you sleepy and your baby sleepy and you’ll still be in pain, but you’ll be sleepy.” I knew going in that I didn’t want analgesics, especially this late into labor, and thanks to her candor I did not cave. At this point I just wanted Chanelle to stay by my bed and hold my hand.

I asked her if she could check me again to see how close I was. She didn’t want to because my water had broken and they avoid going up there to decrease any risk of infection. But I desperately wanted to know how much longer I was to suffer. So I was sneaky. I asked her how we would know when it was time to push, and Chanelle said I would feel an overwhelming need. Like I couldn’t not push. I’d heard this from other women, but so far I only felt the need to push a little bit. It was certainly not overwhelming. I was desperate to move out of transition though, so I lied a little bit and said, “Yes! I need to push!” Chanelle agreed to check me when I said that, and sure enough I was fully dilated and effaced. I knew it. No need for an epidural. They cancelled the anesthesiologist. Thank you, Jesus! Chanelle went to tell my designated nurses that it was pushing time and in short order they were back in the room with me. Chanelle, I didn’t get to see you again after that except for a brief thank you in the hallway as they wheeled me to post-partum. If by some fluke you ever read this, you are the angel that got me through transition. Your candor and your warm, straightforward energy, saved me. Thank you!

What can I say about pushing? It hurt but nothing like transition. I was so relieved to be out of that phase, like giddy relieved. I was talking again and even cracking jokes. I was glad to have an objective, something actionable to do besides just survive. It was nice to feel engaged, but yeah, it did hurt. The nurses had me push during contractions, which is the most effective thing to do but it’s quite uncomfortable. It felt to me as if I had a really bad bruise on my insides, and when I’d push it was as if someone was kneading into that bruise with all their might. Unpleasant, but manageable. Mostly it was exhausting.

My God it was exhausting. I pushed for three hours! Most of my labor progressed really quickly, except for this part. I don’t think most women push for that long. Maybe the pain was preventing me from pushing as hard as I could have, or maybe I was just exhausted from transition, or maybe I was a little scared that I was about to meet my little human, but for whatever reason my body did not respond quickly to pushing her out. Three hours. I pushed in many different positions. On all fours. Squatting. All the positions I’d read about in Ina May to let gravity help get the baby out. Ironically, the most comfortable position really was on my back. So there you go. It’s not only for the convenience of the doctors.

Brad, my mom, and the nurses were so encouraging and cheered me on as her little head made its way down the birth canal. At one point they got me a mirror so I could see her. Whoa. That was wild. First of all, because my lady parts did not look like my lady parts, and secondly because, whoa, there’s a human head. The mirror was cool, but I had them take it away because it actually messed with my mind. When I’d push, I thought I was making a lot of progress getting her out, but then I’d look in the mirror and still only see a tiny peek of her head and feel defeated. I preferred to close my eyes and envision her whole head popping out.

And eventually it did! Despite my pleas for the nurse to grab her by her tuft of hair and yank her out, or get a little lasso around her tummy and pull, I was in fact the one that pushed her out. At about 3:30 pm the nurses brought in a table with a bunch of medical equipment and a bright light, and then the midwife walked in and I knew that meant I was close. The OB or midwife only shows up when it’s time to catch the baby, and my midwife was here! Hurray! About three rounds of pushing later and crowning was happening. The midwife abruptly told me to stop pushing because I was tearing, and then told me to cough. I coughed my baby out. Oh, and the whole tearing thing? I didn’t feel it, at all. In fact, pushing Zelda out was completely painless. Not sure if that was all the natural endorphins rushing through me, or my body just numbed itself, but I really didn’t feel it. No ring of fire, nothing but excitement and sweet relief and a fair amount of pressure. I coughed and coughed, and out pops her head. To get the rest of her out the midwife had me blow like I was blowing out birthday candles. The rest of her, shoulders and everything else, squirmed out and it felt super weird. Not painful, but not numb. I could really feel this living thing wriggling out of me, and it was absolutely amazing.

I was completely overwhelmed with relief as the midwife pulled her out and placed her on my chest. I moaned louder than any orgasm I’ve ever had, so I guess that’s why they say childbirth can be orgasmic. It’s really just overwhelming, mind-blowing, universe-expanding relief.

And then there was this person on me, and my entire world shifted. They suctioned her nose and there was her first cry, like an entirely new sound had been invented in a split second. A new color that had never been seen before burst into existence. A new element for the table. My Zelda. My perfect baby. I held her to my chest and marveled at her pinkness, her warmth, the way she felt both stiff and squishy. Her hands. Those perfect hands. Nothing had ever been so perfect as those hands.

I wept, and told my Mom how much I loved her, and told Brad how much I loved him, and how grateful I was for their help. They truly were amazing coaches. Brad, you are my rock and my foundation, and you have a future as a doula if you ever want a career change. I was in awe of you, but also knew the role would suit you like a glove.

I kept saying to my mom, my husband, the nurses, God, whoever would listen, I cried over and over again how much I loved my baby. “I love her. I love her so much,” I said. I didn’t even see her face until several minutes later because of how she was placed on my chest for skin to skin. It didn’t matter. I didn’t need to see her face. I felt her warmth and the beat of her heart, and I knew everything about her instantly, and I loved her with enough power to create a new universe.

I caressed her back and sunk into the euphoria of the moment, smiling as the midwife stitched up my vagina. She kept trying to warn me about little pricks of pain here and there and I almost laughed. She could’ve done anything down there and I wouldn’t have felt a thing. One, because childbirth, and two because I was so drunk on love hormones and endorphins, I couldn’t feel pain if I wanted to.

Zelda is now three months old, and every day I get to know her a little bit better, all the while grappling with the paradox that I knew her all along. There is such a thing as love at first sight. And first smell. And first touch. I am a warrior, and I have been charged with protecting a most precious soul. I will stay at my post no matter the circumstances. My life now has purpose, for what can be more purposeful than complete and perfect love? My baby is in the world now. Zelda, whom I loved instantly.

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A Familiar Beast

I have questions about rejection. I do hope you’ll bite and share your thoughts in the comments. As a student of the arts, I met rejection at a young age. I’ll never forget silently weeping in the back seat of our car when I found out that I wasn’t cast as a Von Trapp child in The Sound of Music when I was 12 years old. I was relegated to the chorus of nuns—or, rather, novices. Not even a full-fledged nun. The dealer of rejection in that instance was the director, aka my mom. I don’t blame her. She was my director and she made the best casting decision for the show. In hindsight that was a very important lesson for me to learn as an artist; nothing has ever been handed to me. But yeah, rejection was personal from early on.

We’re told repeatedly that rejection is an unavoidable element of our artistic lives, like a smelly beast with whom we must learn to live. I get it, but man, some days that beast is smellier than others. On those days I stop and ask myself in earnest, why? Why am I doing this? Will the glimmers of success or artistic satisfaction make the years of rejection bearable? I mean really, this is haaaarrrd. Will it be worth it? I don’t know the answer, but I theorize that even with “success” the beast will not leave me alone. I imagine it will change shape, change color, change smells, but the rejection will continue at every level in different forms, won’t it? In the form of bad reviews, higher stakes losses, chronic self-doubt, disappointing second novels, etc. So why? Why the torment?

Then I started asking more questions. Is this beast unique to the arts? Is there something about artistic fields that lend themselves to more rejection? Or does rejection exist equally elsewhere? Do my friends in STEM fields, or law, academia, business, entrepreneurs—do you experience the same frequency of rejection as my friends in theatre, film, TV, visual art, music, publishing? Are you as well-acquainted with the beast? Maybe you’re just better at keeping him on a leash. I’m genuinely curious because I’ve been so entrenched in the arts for so long that I fear my field of vision has become quite narrow. I also want to feel less alone. I want affirmation that I should not abandon my art for another path because a new beast will in fact be waiting for me on the “easier” roads. Is that true? Or is there a less painful but equally gratifying way to walk through life other than that of a perpetually rejected artist? My non-artist friends, enlighten me.

He shouts and hogs the bed. He never bathes. His claws are sharp. No I’m not talking about Brad! Brad is an angel and takes very good care of his nails. It’s the beast. My invisible housemate. On the other side of my horrible beast is a tiny promise of glory. Is it real? A trick? If it’s not a trick, is it worth it? I don’t know, but beasty and I know each other so well at this point, even without the taste of glory . . . I’d probably miss him. And that, my friends, is the true madness of the arts.

 

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Long Live the Goblin King

David Bowie died this week. I read the news on Facebook, as I strangely discover most major headlines these days. Checking my feed before bed I read the words “No, no, no,” then “RIP,” then saw a picture of Ziggy Stardust. Didn’t take long to put the story together.

I’ll admit this one knocked the wind out of my sails. Legends die. We all do in fact. The death of Robin Williams last year was intensely tragic. Natalie Cole’s passing a couple of weeks ago had me waxing nostalgic about the times my best friend and I would drive around Sacramento belting Orange-Colored Sky at the top of our lungs. They were both taken too soon. But Bowie. Damn. A world without David Bowie is just WAY less bright, right?

David Bowie is many things to many people—which perhaps is the mark of a truly great artist. The ability to get in deep under the skin of your audience in a personal and individual way, all the while reaching across the globe. (Let’s be real, Bowie reached to the stars). Because of Bowie I finally felt cool at age sixteen, driving around in my orange BMW 2002 blasting Hunky Dory and Space Oddity. He had me thinking early on about what it meant to transform, adapt, and recreate as an artist. He made me want to do just that.

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But I won’t lie to you. More than the rock n roll, the performance art, the gender bending, the rule defying, the musician. More than any of those things, David Bowie was The Goblin King. David Bowie was my sexual awakening.

Don’t lie! I’m not alone! There are memes about this people. It’s a common joke that his character in Labyrinth was responsible for the turning on of millions of adolescents everywhere. But it wasn’t until he passed yesterday that I stopped to think critically about that movie and the role it played in my life. Those tight pants were no accident.

The mark of a great fable is a message masked so well in metaphor that the audience may not even realize the message exists without further intellectual excavation. This is especially true in children’s stories. Children hear stories on the first available frequency. Metaphors make their way into children’s heads, but are filed in a cabinet that remains locked until needed. The emotional impact a great story has on a child is the key that allows them to unlock that cabinet later in life and discover the complex layers of their favorite stories. Whereas an adult may read Alice in Wonderland and be able to pick out the commentary on Victorian society that Carroll was making while having his protagonist confront chaos, at the same time as simply enjoying the story, a child just jumps all the way into Wonderland. So it’s not my fault that I didn’t realize Labyrinth was a metaphor for the sexual awakening of young people. I simply watched the story feeling confused and interested in my attraction to this magical man at the heart of it.

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I thought about Labyrinth a lot yesterday. With my love and nostalgia for the movie I finally unlocked the cabinet of metaphors after 20 years. The first file I uncovered contained my complicated feelings toward David Bowie’s Goblin King . All at once I realized—this story was bold.

Labyrinth is about sex. You could take the safer umbrella approach and say it’s about “growing up,” but no, no no. It is quite specifically about the discovery and development of a young lady’s sexuality. In our culture we don’t like to talk openly about burgeoning sexuality in young women (or men, for that matter), which is probably why we end up fetishizing it. We really should allow ourselves to address the sexuality of young people in a more honest way. Unlike literary metaphors, sexual development is not a thing that should be locked in a cabinet until adults feel more comfortable. But I digress. Here’s the deal with Labyrinth:

The baby Toby is not just a baby, he’s Sarah’s innocence and childhood. The Goblin King is sex embodied. The Labyrinth is puberty. That’s the framework. Just as The Goblin King’s castle lies at the heart of the Labyrinth, sex and all its mysteries lie at the heart of puberty. If you lay those metaphors over the devices in this film it plays out beautifully.

Sarah feels the tedium of childhood dragging down her blossoming independence. In an adolescent fit she wishes it away completely. Enter sex. Sexuality, aka Jareth, steals her childish innocence, aka the baby, and hides it deep in a maze filled with temptations and tricks which she must navigate successfully before it’s lost forever.

You remember how the movie goes. Helping hands, talking worms, oubliette. Lets skip to the next act.

Just when she almost gets to the heart of the maze she is tempted by two things. She bites into a peach (not an apple by the way, a peach, think on it) and hallucinates her most romantic fantasy. She is the queen and paramour of a seriously sexy hero in a mask. If she just gives in she can live forever entrapped in this fairytale of dancing and swooning.

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This is the ultimate trap of our burgeoning sexuality isn’t it? We are drawn helplessly to the romances that play out in our heads—peppered more and more with adult content with each passing day of puberty. How many of you were pissed at Sarah for not staying trapped in that crystal ball with Jareth?

*Raises hand*

I wanted what I saw on the screen. But I also felt shame that I wanted it. I knew it was wrong to have romantic feelings toward this character because, well, he was a grown man, but also because he was the villain of the story. Through Sarah’s hesitation I discovered the shame that lingers so dangerously close to sex. I knew I shouldn’t want what I saw but I did. I wanted the movie to end there and stay lost in the reverie of princess gowns and mystery men and palace love-making. I VERY reluctantly followed Sarah out of the fantasy.

Our hero is strong. She knows something is missing from the masquerade and breaks free of the hallucination. So The Goblin King tries another tactic of the opposite ilk. He drops her back into her childhood room—filled with teddy bears, toys, blankets, and all the comforts of innocence. If she doesn’t want to be a slave to her fantasies then perhaps he can get her to regress into her childhood and control her that way.

Jareth’s second attempt at entrapping our hero fails. She is drawn to the comfort of her own innocence but she knows almost immediately that something is wrong. You can never go back. She bursts through the artifice that is a preserved childhood and journeys on to the heart of her sexuality. Brilliant.

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And what happens when she gets there? She plays a cat and mouse game with The Goblin King as he serenades her seductively. She sees the baby, her elusive childhood, always just out of reach. No matter. The baby was bait for her to confront what was really going on. And what’s really going on? I’ll tell you what’s really going on. David Bowie in Freudian bulge pants is what is going on.

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At the heart of the maze and the top of the castle there’s nowhere else to go. It’s just our hero and sex. And what does sex say?

“I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”

Bold words for a grown man in bulge pants to utter to a 15 year old girl, right? Let me control you, he says. Despite his offer our hero discovers the only truth that could at once save her childhood and free her from the madness of puberty.

“You have no power over me.”

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It’s so good, right? I especially love Jareth’s face when she says it. He’s not angry and screechy, Wicked Witch of the West style, like Oh no! You won! What a world! He just looks disappointed, yet knowing. Like he hasn’t been conquered, but relegated to a supporting role in Sarah’s story, to appear at a later date.

I watched this movie when I was younger than Jennifer Connelly, so from my childish perspective she was older and thus an adult, so she and Bowie seemed about the same age to me. It wasn’t until I revisited Labyrinth as an adult myself that my jaw dropped as I discovered, holy crap she was a child!

This story titillated 14 year old feelings toward a 39 year old man. Bold! It allowed us to explore that complexity, then showed us the way out. Important. It went there, you guys. You can’t deny it. It went there. It showed us that puberty is a thing that happens to you, it’s not a thing that defines you. It’s messy, and it’s tricky, but you drive. This movie held our hand and said it’s okay to feel sexual feelings in the same season of life that you might still be clinging to your teddy bear. We know it’s confusing. It’s okay.

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How creepy and perfect is this picture?

Her proclamation of control frees Sarah from the Labyrinth and she’s instantly dropped back in her room. Her baby brother, released from his metaphorical duties, is safe in his crib. She is now confident enough in her own growing up that she can let go of her teddy bear and pass it along to the next generation.

Back in her room she finds her Labyrinth friends, remnants of her journey, in the mirror. The aids we discover in the maze of growing up are always there in our reflection… should we need them.

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(especially for dance parties)

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I love this movie. I mean. I LOVE. This. Movie. Of the Legends, The Dark Crystals, the NeverEnding Stories, I choose Labyrinth every time. I mean don’t get me wrong I loved and continue to love all the epic childhood fantasies the 1980s produced, but Labyrinth stood out among the rest. My devotion is 25% Jim Henson’s puppetry, 10% Sir Didimus, 5% “I’m just a worm,” and at least 60% David Bowie. At least.

And so, dear David Bowie, Jareth, Goblin King, God of Sex, you really did a lot for me. Listening to bad-ass rock n roll while my peers were hooked on Britney Spears was great. (Who am I kidding? I also listened to Britney Spears). But that wasn’t your greatest contribution to my life. To me, you will always be the mystery at the heart of sexuality. The tempter, the hero, the villain, the prince. All of it.

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Rest in peace, my Goblin King.

 

 

 

Dear Tinker Bell, I’m Just Not Feeling It

Last month I ran the Tinker Bell Half Marathon to kick off the 2014 race schedule. I pretty much had a terrible time. I mean it’s Disneyland and Neverland and family fun times so all of the elements of fun were there but when it comes to the running, I had a terrible time. Due to circumstances sort of beyond my control I got a total of 6 hours of sleep in the two nights leading up to the race. That’s 3 hours of sleep the night before a half marathon. I don’t recommend it.

I love waking up with Brad on a race day. While making coffee, Brad makes jokes about how painfully early it is and I flit around the hotel room like a demented fairy, getting nervous for the impending 13 miles ahead. But this morning I just felt tired. SO tired. Deliriously tired. It was difficult to flit around. Pixie dust meter on empty. The thing about waking up at 3:30 am to run a half marathon is that no matter what time you went to bed the night before, you’re always going to be tired. Looking at your alarm clock at 3:30 am will always make you very very sleepy. So on this particular morning I didn’t register that I was more tired than usual. I just felt a malaise. The thought that entered my head was “I’m not really feeling it.” That thought is kryptonite to someone who’s about to run a half marathon. You have to, at the very least, feel it.

We got dressed. I decked out as Smee and Brad my Crocodile (the hat for the Croc being the culprit for my staying up until midnight. Stupid Krazy Glue!)

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Stumbling out of our hotel room at approximately 4:15 we make our way to the starting line. The energy surrounding me is as per usual for a runDisney event. Electric. Thousands of runners surround me, many seemingly first time half marathoners. I’m excited. I am. A detached sort of excited. I register my detachment and try to brush it off. This is exciting! It is! Next to us I see a runner dressed as Rufio from Hook. How awesome is that?

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The coolest!

5:00 am approaches. The national anthem is sung. The singing of the national anthem usually brings a tear to my eye. This morning it does not. Fireworks ignite the air. The announcers inspire. All of the elements of a fantastic runDisney morning are there and all I can do is continue to suppress the little minion in my head repeating the mantra “I’m just not feeling it.”

Ever feel like you’re in a fog? Like you’re going through the motions of your life, surrounded by things that should make you happy yet they fall upon numbness? Like you have a front row seat to observe your life from the outside? Inside you feel, just, nothing? I’m fortunate that I’ve never been seriously or clinically depressed, but I’m told the sensation is similar. If that is in fact the case then I can tell you that running 13 miles through Disneyland at 5:00 in the morning on 3 hours of sleep is much the same as being clinically depressed. Add to the mix some guilt. Guilt for not being happy at a runDisney race (it feels like sacrilege). Guilt that I paid so much money to run an event that “I’m just not feeling.” Guilt that I coerced Brad into running the same event. Though luckily Brad looks pretty happy. Brad appears to be having a good run. Phew!

Around mile 6, about the time when I’m just wishing the whole damn thing would be over, I start to panic. Am I falling out of love with running? Am I falling out of love with Disney? Are runDisney and I going to have to break up??? No!! Sheer panic. Why do I feel so terrible? Why isn’t Tinker Bell making me happy? What is this malaise? Why am I not feeling it? I still had not put 2 and 2 together that 3 hours of sleep the night before miiiiight contribute to my lack of excitement.

Brad runs with gusto. He is, as I said, having a great race and clips along at a good pace. I can’t hold him back in my fog. He takes off around mile 9 and continues on to have a fantastic final 4 miles. I just try to make it through.

There is one characteristic emotion of mine that can’t seem to be anesthetized, no matter my state of exhaustion or malaise, and that is my lovely stubbornness. Even though I’m tired and struggling and should really just take it easy if I ever want to enjoy running again, for some reason I decide that I want to finish in under 3 hours. I push it hard the last few miles to ensure that will happen and I cross the finish line feeling, for the first time, pretty damn good. What I soon discover is that since I hadn’t really been feeling anything the entire race, not excitement or joy or determination, I mistook these final emotions (extreme pain) as “pretty damn good.” I suppose I was just relieved to be feeling anything. Since a popular runner’s motto is “my sport is your sport’s punishment” let’s just say it’s not uncommon for a runner to mistake pain for pleasure.

I cross the finish line, find Brad, take our picture, get some water, and feel relieved the race is done. About 10 minutes later I feel everything a runner dreads. Nausea, extreme exhaustion, dizziness, chills, irritability. Damnit. My stubbornness caught up with me. Lactic acid comes rushing in.

Somehow I make it through to the other side of this episode. We find Mom and Dennis and head to Denny’s for breakfast. The thought of food makes me feel like I want to die whilst vomiting, but Mom insists that it will make me feel better. I suspect she’s right so I go with them to Denny’s even though all I really want to do is collapse. Mom orders me a chocolate milkshake and you know what, it was like magic. That magic guilt-free chocolate milkshake I downed at 8:00 in the morning perked me up and settled my tummy. Ice Cream really is the answer to everything. Best chocolate milkshake ever.

After breakfast we walk back to the hotel for a much needed nap, and now that my brain feels a bit more attached to my head I can start to think clearly again. I start to ask questions. Why does this happen to me? Why is it that sometimes I have a great race and sometimes I feel like shit? It can’t just be training. I’m actually pretty well trained for this race. Why does lactic acid seem to attack me only on some runs, and takes pity on me others?

By this point I’d gotten smart and realized that sleep deprivation no doubt played a major role in my malaise. After the milkshake cleared my head I had a light bulb moment and said “Ooohhh. THAT’S why I wasn’t feeling it.” Amazing it took me that long to figure out. I took this as a comfort, knowing that it’s something I can control. Next time I’ll just get more sleep. But this lactic acid question lingered and bothered me. I don’t feel as though I have control over its presence in my running. It seems to rear its ugly head when it wants to, other times a sleeping dragon. After our nap I set out to do some research on this evil foe. I want to understand how lactic acid really works in the body. Why in the world does our body produce anything that would make us feel so terrible right at the time when we need our body to work FOR us, not against us? The answers I found astounded me.

I discovered that lactic acid is actually meant to work for you, you just have to know how to use it. Mind blown. Suddenly I feel like if I can understand this villain of mine, perhaps we can be allies. It’s just as Honest Abe Lincoln once said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Lactic acid and I are about to become bffs.

I’ll impart my research on lactic acid at a later date. Before you roll your eyes, I promise that it’s interesting! I’ve got more studying to do however before I can write a worthy article. As far as Tinker Bell Half Marathon 2014 goes, I found myself in a foggy runner’s malaise and turned it into a teachable moment. And that’s why I run. Because although I briefly panicked that running and I were falling out of love, the great thing about a healthy relationship is that you can always work it out. Running and I, we’re working it out. We’re learning about each other.

Sunday afternoon I went for a breathtaking 5 mile run on the beach. I pushed myself. I philosophized. I worked through some mental cobwebs that had been bugging me. I felt centered. I felt grateful for my feet.

Running and I. We’re rekindling the flame.

Happy moments on the course

Happy moments on the course. A couple of people thought Brad was a dinosaur or an alien shark. This amused me.

If 14,000 excited runners can't get you in the mood, you're in for a long run.

If 14,000 excited runners can’t get you in the mood, you’re in for a long run.

rekindling the romance

a long walk run on the beach is just the ticket for rekindling the romance

Happy Places

I recently had a revelation while pondering what I want to do with the rest of my life. I’ve spent countless hours pondering that question when in fact I believe the answer has been staring me in the face.

Do you have places in the world that you would describe as your happy places? I do. And I don’t mean a metaphorical happy place wherein you imagine yourself surrounded by bluebirds as a warm light washes over you. No. I mean a real, tangible, physical, happy place. Places you go where, no matter what, you feel instant glee. Not just cool places. Not just places you enjoy or find fun or pleasant. Places that have something special. Places with a magical power to transplant you from the dullest of dolddrums to the utmost place of hope and contentment. I have some.

Libraries/Book stores

Sports supplies stores (especially running stores)

Craft and art supplies stores (Michael’s, Utrecht, even Home Depot fits into this category. Places where you can get stuff to build other stuff)

Disneyland

Museums/Observatories

The woods

Office supplies stores

The ocean

On my couch with my fiance and my cats

London

I would say that pretty much covers my happy places. I could get more specific (The Griffith Observatory, The American Museum of Natural History, Northern California redwoods, etc.), but these are the main categories. Kind of a weird hodge-podge wouldn’t you say? I’m kind of weird.

As I’ve been mulling over what I should do with the rest of my life, I can’t believe it took me so long to realize that my happy places might be providing me with an answer.

How did I come to this realization? I thought about the things I’m currently doing that I don’t make a living off of, but that I love doing, and I realized there is potential to make a living off of them if I put my mind to it. I own and operate Whimsy Do. I write this blog. I run. I go to Disneyland (ok so maybe there’s not potential to make a living off of going to Disneyland but I have a point, which I’ll get to shortly). A light bulb went off as I realized that these things directly correlated to my top happy places.

  1. I own and operate Whimsy Do. I’m instantly happy in art and/or craft supplies stores a la Utrecht or Michael’s.
  2. I write. I write this blog and I write stories. I’m instantly happy in a book store or library.
  3. I run. I’m instantly happy in a running store and on the running trail. My blog is also a running blog so 2 and 3 tie in together.

I’m creating, writing, running; but I’m not currently making a living off of any of these things. I could though. I could invest more time and energy into Whimsy Do. I could actually get my stories published. I could turn this blog into a source of income with the right strategy and determination. And here is how Disneyland ties in. Disneyland Half Marathon weekend is one of my ultimate happy places (and training starts this week!). I could work for runDisney. Running and Disneyland, two happy places combined. If runDisney ever starts up a California office, I’m there. I could, and I should, and I would. Somehow.

I know what you’re thinking. If you make what you love your job, you run the risk of not loving it as much. You might ruin it. What a sad thought. Think about what that means for a moment. That means we are not only willing to, but deliberately choose to do things we dislike for the majority of our waking lives (8+ hrs of every day!) because we’ve somehow bought into the notion that work = something to be tolerated. I say we change that presumption. I say it’s time for a paradigm shift. It’s time we spend the majority of our lives doing things that feel right in our bones. That feel meaningful and make us, yes, happy. And will we feel happy all of the time? Of course not. Will it sometimes feel like work, even though we supposedly love it? Of course. Anything worth doing is hard. Marriage, parenthood, career aspirations. All challenging. All worth it. Because there is meaning in the challenge. You think it’s easy to climb Mt. Everest? I guarantee you the people who do it aren’t doing it for the paycheck. Passion is hard, but there is a payoff that directly feeds into our core, our selfness, our most precious part of ourselves that generates love and spirit and hope and life. It’s the right kind of hard work. Most of us spend our lives doing the wrong kind of work. The kind that makes us stare at the clock until 5:00. The kind that makes us steal as many Facebook minutes as possible throughout the day. Anything to distract us from that paperwork, right? The kind that makes us live for the weekend. As if two days make up for the other lost 5.

So idealistic right? I know. It’s easy to talk about. It’s hard to do. There are bills. There are mortgages. There are children to send to college. There are debts to pay off. I hear ya. I’m in a version of that boat myself. But it doesn’t stop me from believing that it’s possible. It must be possible to honor our fiscal responsibilities while the work we do gives our life meaning. We just spend too much of our lives at work for that not to be possible. 33.33% of my life is spent sleeping, 33.33% of my life is spent working, and 33.33% of my life is mine to do with as I please. That tiny third also has to include laundry, cooking, cleaning, bill pay, errands, etc. It’s not enough. Life is too precious. I want more than a third of it with which to make a difference. I want more than a third of it with which to accomplish something magical and more importantly something meaningful. I want to love and not to regret more than a third of my life. I know it’s possible. Because I feel it happening. 4 years ago I left an office job I didn’t like and I turned my back on the restaurant business because they were sucking my soul. I took a leap of faith, and a week later I got a call to work for a non-profit that is changing lives. I have a great job. I don’t love it every day, and I don’t believe it’s where I’m meant to end up, but my days aren’t wasted. I’m grateful for that. And because I took that leap, the next stepping stones are becoming clearer and clearer.

If you’re lost, floating, drifting, unsure of what move to make next, first of all you’re not alone. Maybe think about a happy place. They really are quite neat. As if the universe gave them to us, as to whisper in our ear “This. Do more of this. You were born to do this.”

I’m genuinely curious. What are your happy places? Universities? Science labs? Boardrooms? Churches? Kitchens? Let Tahiti readers know by leaving your happy place in the comments below. Maybe you’ll inspire someone else!

Mountains in the snow. Happy Place.

Mountains in the snow. Happy Place.

Brad and I touring the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. Happy happy.

Brad and I touring the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. Happy happy.

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On our beach. Happy.

The Los Angeles Public Library. Happy place.

The Los Angeles Public Library. Happy place.

Michael's (especially at Halloween). Happy place.

Michael’s (especially at Halloween). Happy place.

Running the Disneyland Half Marathon. Can't you tell by our faces? Happy places.

Running the Disneyland Half Marathon. Can’t you tell by our faces? Happy places.

A Friday night with my boys. Completely perfect happy place.

A Friday night with my guys. Completely perfect happy place. Although Sharky doesn’t look too happy 🙂

And of course, Tahiti. I have a feeling that's going to be one helluva happy place.

And of course, Tahiti. I have a feeling that’s going to be one helluva happy place.