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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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What Does a Writer Look Like?

In which I write a blog post pontificating about what a successful writer’s life looks like. Not just an average writer, a mediocre writer, a casual writer, but a great writer. A flourishing writer. A prolific writer. What’s the behavior? What’s the schedule? How does the obsession to write manifest? I’m pretty sure it does not involve writing a blog post about writing, but perhaps therein lies the crux of my problem. I’d rather sit around and think about being a writer all day than actually buckle up and be one.

I think a successful writer writes as often as she can. I think she has to write; she doesn’t have to convince herself to write. A fish has to swim, a bird’s gotta fly, a writer must write. Like she’s running out of time. She looks for the opportunity, she doesn’t try to avoid it. I don’t write enough.

I think a successful writer can be a mom, but she probably pulls out her laptop and writes after the kids go to bed. She doesn’t collapse onto the couch and veg out with Netflix for the next three hours with a beer. She doesn’t mindlessly scroll through Facebook and Instagram. She doesn’t spend the time that her kid is asleep looking at videos and pictures of said kid. Okay maybe she does that, she is a mom after all. But she writes. She let’s the dishes stay dirty, and she has no idea what’s happening on Game of Thrones. When the kid is asleep, she writes.

She knows the value of an hour. A successful writer gets up an hour early if that’s the only time in the day to write. She doesn’t use her lunch hour to sample makeup at Sephora. She passes on happy hour because with everyone out of the office she knows that she can sneak in a writing session. Which brings me to socializing in general.

She doesn’t. Not when an idea has started budding. Not when she has a choice between hanging out or writing, between brunch or writing, between drinks or writing. She writes. She has come to be very unpopular.

She probably has a lucky pen, or glasses, or journal, or a writing sweater. I have those. That’s something. She salivates over cozy writing spaces with warm oak desktops, amber lamps, and coffee cups. I do. Points for me.

Everything I’m describing here? I love the idea of it. I love to fancy myself a madwoman, obsessing over plot points and character arcs. An eccentric who must lock herself away until the manuscript is done. A veritable storm of ideas. I like that idea.

But I’m not that. I love to sleep. I love to Netflix and chill. I love to look at pictures of my daughter while she’s sleeping. I love happy hours, and socializing, and blogging about writing. I love social media, and makeup. I love to waste time. So what, then? Can I ever be a flourishing writer if I don’t obsess over it? I have no idea. I’m not Type A. I’m short on grit. I guess I’ll just open the file for my novel and find out what happens. I’ll just write a bit, and maybe eventually it will add up to something. Maybe I’ll be the world’s most successful lazy novelist. A new mode. Write like you’ve got plenty of time. Your novel will be shorter, but you’ll be oh so relaxed.

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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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Opening My Eyes to the Good

Santa Monica recently implemented pedestrian-exclusive traffic lights throughout the downtown area. That means that both directions have red lights for vehicles, while pedestrians are given the green light to cross diagonally or otherwise, totally free from traffic. It was done with the intention of strengthening pedestrian safety and to relieve traffic congestion—the logic being that if cars turning right and left don’t have to wait for pedestrians to cross on a green light, they will move through the intersection quicker and traffic will back-up less. The logic makes sense and it works, but only if everyone participates. If just one person ignores the signs that say “Cross on WALK signal ONLY,” then the cars have to wait anyway and traffic is now actually going to be worse because they are back to waiting for pedestrians on their light and they still have to wait through the thirty-second pedestrian signal where no cars can move. It only works if we all participate.

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I don’t understand people who don’t get this. The truth is, I think they get it; the problem is they just don’t care. Their needs as an individual to get to their destination literally thirty seconds earlier, outweigh the needs of their community, which is trying to make walking safer and driving easier. Awesome. Well done, asshats. This seemingly trivial instance makes me burn with a shocking rage. Shocking. Red hot.

Since I’ve worked in Santa Monica this has enraged me daily, because it happens with regularity. Pedestrians ignore the signs, ignore the rules, and the system fails. Then one day I decided to look at things differently, mostly for my own sanity but also sort of as a test. I stood at the intersection, waiting for the pedestrian green light, watching a numbskull cross on the traffic light, making the oncoming cars wait, and instead of cursing that person, I looked around me. There was one person breaking the rule, but there were thirty people following it.

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At all four corners of the intersection of Broadway and 2nd, at least thirty to forty people did not cross on the green traffic light; they waited for the walk signal. Even when the dipstick outlier broke the law, most did not follow. They made the choice that was better for everyone. They did the right thing.

This shift in perspective—choosing how I look at a situation—brought me immeasurable relief. It is a mundane example of a larger truth. Most people are good. Most people do the right thing, and if I only focus on those who don’t then I let those jerks win. Most people care about their neighbor, their community, and the greater good. Becky, you have been so focused on the one negative individual that you failed to see the dozens who actually do care about walking more safely and helping alleviate traffic congestion for their neighbor. Or even if they don’t think about those things as much as you do, they know how to follow the frickin’ law and that’s something. There are more of us than there are selfish nutwipes halting progress.

There will always be that one clown walking into the intersection. We’ll always see that one bastard who cares more about himself no matter the cost to everyone else. Sometimes that intersection is a big one—a national stage. But there are more of us.

Open your eyes, look around, and say hello. So many good ones. Thank God.

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Day of the Cubs

Exactly one month ago, on October 2, Brad and I wandered into the Marion Davies beach house in Santa Monica. One of my favorite things about L.A. is how often one can stumble upon a historic gem without even trying; like reading a book that has those peek-a-boo windows that each reveal a surprise.

The Marion Davies beach house was built by William Randolph Hearst for his lady love, Ms. Davies, and is watched over by a team of volunteers who lure passersby in to the house for tours. As Brad and I peeked through the windows, we were greeted by a lovely retiree who offered to show us around the house and tell us about its history. Reluctantly (we like to do things on our own time), we agreed.

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But this is not a story about the Marion Davies beach house.

I can’t remember our tour guide’s name so let’s call her Cathy. Cathy, a blonde-haired woman of about 65, started out with niceties about where we were from.

“We live just up the beach in Venice, but I’m from Sacramento originally.”

“Yeah, and I’m from Chicago,” said Brad.

“Oh! I’m from Chicago too,” Cathy smiled, her eyes twinkling with that Chicago friendliness.

“Nice,” Brad returned the twinkly smile.

Then Cathy sighed.

“The Cubs . . .”

“They’re looking pretty good this year. Maybe they’ll finally go all the way,” I chimed in.

“Oh, I know.”

Cathy’s face washed over with a melancholy resolve.

“My dad passed away three months ago. He spent his entire life waiting for the Cubs to win the World Series. I know he would’ve liked to see them this year.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Brad said as we walked into an art-deco bathroom on the second floor.

“Yeah, he loved the Cubs.”

We finished the tour and made our way back to our bikes outside, peddling toward Venice. I never stopped thinking about Cathy and her father this entire postseason, and hoped I would be able to write down this story with a sweet ending.

Cathy, I bet last night was bittersweet. The Cubs won the World Series, and I know you were thinking about your father, gone so close to seeing his team win. With 108 years of loss, your story is not unique. Generations of devoted Cubs fans have passed through this world, waiting to see victory for their team and the soil they called home.

November 2 is Dia de los Muertos—a day to honor the dead. Through our remembrances and devotion we bring the spirits of our loved ones back to earth for a visit. The Cubs won the World Series on Dia de los Muertos, and let this give you comfort, Cathy. Fate lends a hand. Thank you Cubbies, for bringing home victory on the day of the year when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. You have generations of Cubs fans, including Cathy’s father, hovering in the ether over Wrigley Field, cheering for their team.

What a ballgame.

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Lunch Break

I wait in line at the Mongolian BBQ in the food court of the mall across the street from my office. The line makes a crowded curve through the cafe, rendering the possibility of escape impossible when patience runs out and hunger turns to hanger. All I can do is wait. In the middle of the queue, I stand cramped between strangers like the noodles squished into the bottom of my bowl, waiting to be sizzled on the grill.

I glare at the chefs grilling an assembly line of vegetables and meats on a scorching metal surface just a few feet from my face. If they work at a Mongolian BBQ in the mall are they chefs or cooks? I’m sure they are chefs but I am grumpy so today they are cooks. They move slowly and it drives me insane. Don’t they care about anyone but themselves? Don’t they see the line spilling out into the food court? We are stuffed into this kiosk like corralled hogs. Cook faster.

A family has reached the front of the line. The cooks take their bowls of raw meat, vegetables, and noodles, and spill them onto the grill. There is nothing interesting about the sight of broccoli cooking, or the sizzle of beef fat melting. This is mundane, and at this point tedious—yet here is a girl of ten standing between her brother and her mother, and she cannot conceal a smile.

She grins from ear to ear, moving her hand to her face periodically in an attempt to conceal her glee. She is old enough to know that it’s no longer acceptable to find wonder in something as commonplace as standing close to a live kitchen, but she can’t help it. She is amazed. She glances up to her mom as if to say, “Isn’t this amazing? He’s cooking my food,” but only says so with her eyes. No words. She does not speak. She stares transfixed at the cooks and the grill and her broccoli.

She irritates me. I am wasting my entire lunch break standing in line at a Mongolian BBQ in a mall so that I can scarf down mediocre noodles and rush back to work, and this child has the audacity to find this situation valuable? What are you smiling at, girl? What could possibly be so interesting about a stranger cooking your lunch? Stop smiling. This is not special. I can’t wait until life takes hold of you and makes you realize that there is nothing significant about this. One day soon, you’ll rush back to work. Why are you smiling?

My thoughts steam. Everything around me and inside me is cooking. The girl has never seen anything as entertaining as the sight of this mall cook stir-frying her chicken. Oh to be a child, with time and luxuries like wonder. He swoops her food back into her bowl with a paltry flourish, and places it on her red plastic tray. Mom pays for their lunch. The wonder on her face fades into a general childish perk. They walk away to find an open table.

The cook grills my food. I do not smile or watch my broccoli darken. I stare at my phone to pass the time. I pay with a credit card. I find a table and eat as quickly as possible. I return to work.

Six o’clock arrives and I lock up my office. I am no longer angry, or hungry. I am content, and average.

Riding my bicycle home, I take a new route down Main Street. I have never taken this route before. I peddle over the freeway overpass and fix my eyes on the intersection a quarter of a mile down the road. The light is green and I think I can make it through without having to stop or slow down. I peddle as fast as possible until I can stop peddling and let gravity do the work.

I ride my bicycle downhill. The wind sweeps through my hair. The wheels tick tick tick, like they are screaming. My stomach floats up into my chest. My skin tingles as if touched by a lover.

I go fast. So fast.

Faster than ever before. There is no seat belt for this ride. No harness. Just me, my bicycle, and gravity. A moment ago and a moment from now evaporate, leaving only this. Something, a feeling, sneaks into my head through my mouth, eyes, and skin. It grabs the corners of my mouth and pulls them up into a smile. I cannot help it. I am flying.

I grin from ear to ear.

I whiz through the intersection like a falling star, and the ground levels. My bicycle slows, but I smile with abandon. I look around to see if anyone has noticed. I am a little embarrassed for smiling. I may have giggled too.

Another cyclist approaches. A commuter. His face is stoic. He has done this many times. He doesn’t care about the hill, or flying. He is late to get home. Late to bathe the kids, eat dinner, and send out the reports he didn’t get to at work. He turns to me as he passes, and I know what he is thinking. Why is she smiling?

Oh, I think. That’s why.

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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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