Wednesday, January 31, 2007

All Aboard

woosh, there went january — and i’m happy to see it go. what a miserable month it was. i’ve read that deaths during the winter months, particularly the holiday weeks, increase by 5% over the norm. and it makes sense how someone with maybe six months left in them would just throw in the towel early, when it’s cold outside and lonely inside.

but this year, it’s especially foul in its incessancy: week after week, various coworkers would need a day or two off to attend funerals. my officemate lost her grandmother, then other coworkers lost their aunts, friends, even a father. then came my own great-aunt just last week, with her funeral on a rainy L.A. day, which made for an exceedingly gloomy and muddy burial. i wasn’t close to her, but seeing my extended family grieving saddened me. yet what saddened me the most was hearing that my landlord’s boyfriend had brain cancer. plus, i’ve been reading depressing books lately, with themes on death and sadness, loss and transition. damn joan didion.

on the bright side, i’ve finally emerged from the personal funk that i blogged about below. i tried dismissing it as boredom or another episode of restlessness when in fact it was a mini-depression borne of indirection. the not-so-secret crux of the matter, i’ve realized, is that i need a goal to work toward — something long-term and bigger than the regular baby goals of exercising more and paying off my debts.

the last big goal of mine involved applying to, surviving and finally finishing graduate school. that occupied a good two-and-a-half years of my life when i never felt the gnawing restlessness of indirection. surely, that was a stressful time that didn’t allow much room for superfluous feelings, with its spin cycle of assignments and deadlines.

but i do recall that the time leading up to my decision to apply felt very much like these current times, when i would loiter endlessly in my head, kicking tin cans around, supervising the committee meetings of the mind, with everyone yelling at one another, the chorus of disagreements, all terrorizing me into deciding: what’s next?

and while it would seem that psychotropic medicine should be next, i have decided to embark on a Secret Project that i cannot yet publicly discuss lest all my good intentions fail to materialize into anything worthy (again), causing me severe personal and public embarrassment (again). i have realized that too much of my focus was wasted on thinking about the things i’d like to do and how i’m not doing them, when my real focus should have been on doing the things i’m thinking of doing, instead of the other way around. duh. clarity is so divine.

rest assured that Secret Project does not involve more schooling nor is it an attempt to write the Great American Novel that i’ll get around to one day. it’s more lifestyle related, long-term and exciting and new, we’re expecting you. just planting the new-idea seed in my head has done much to evaporate the funk fog i had been lost in these past few months — replacing defeatist thoughts with constructive aims. yet it’s still months away from sprouting so bear with me.

and all the death and sadness of january have served as great motivators, helping me realize that the now counts more than anything else, so i better get started on making my dream life happen.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Giving to Love

Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy Blue Year

i’ve resolved not to make any new year’s resolutions anymore, at least not publicly. instead i’m subscribing to my buddy Jeremy’s assertion that it’s better to talk about results instead of goals, otherwise “it’s like telling the universe what you expect to happen, then trying to sit back and watch.”

reading over last year’s list of the things i didn’t do (enough of) is yet another indication that achievement doesn’t always follow on the heels of good intentions. i tend to start strong and finish weak. i tend to fantasize about perfect outcomes, a magical dream life where my potential is limitless, dedication enduring. unfortunately, the hard work required for my fantasy outcomes never actually appears in my daily reality, where inertia is king.

i’d like to say that this year will finally be different, but i need to be realistic about my own track record, which weighs heavily on the hot air side, slim on the achievements. plus, i’m not discussing resolutions publicly. instead, i’ll turn them over in my head, trying to reconcile what i want to do with what will likely happen. it’s a big divide, and it’s been making me blue.

i had the week between christmas and new year’s off. Mo was in houston visiting his bro, and my other peoples were scattered around the country visiting family of their own. that week off was very relaxing, very bourgeois, as i spent the days shopping the after christmas sales alone, getting a facial, massage, all the while thinking, thinking, trying to answer the age-old question of what i want to be when i grow up.

in my office at work, i have a smaller version of this poster printed and tacked onto the wall. my old officemate and i rallied our coworkers into signing the individual fries with their names. people always jump at the chance to sign it, as if being part of the small fry club were some great honor. and as they stand for a moment choosing the perfect fry for their names, i wonder how OK they are with it, how i can be more OK with it.

new years tend to drive it all home — the realization that time is no longer on my side, that things change less over the years, that i must conform to adulthood without complaint. and then come the counter-thoughts right on the heels — quit your whining, your life isn’t bad, accept your potential as a function of your limitations.

i keep thinking, hoping, waiting for the time when my restlessness will transform into resolve and make my dream life happen, make the entropy assume its next form. maybe this year. maybe not.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Meet the Parents

even though we had been living together for the last six months, dating for a year and a half, Mo still hadn’t met my family. this was the result of equal parts accident and intent -- ok, mostly intent. i’ll confess the thought of the Big Family Meeting made me uneasy, so i didn’t push it on Mo, who never asked. my parents, however, were asking often, and when they started up with “what should we get Marlin for the holidays?” i knew i could no longer delay the big reveal. we settled on the saturday before christmas at my parents’ house where we would exchange gifts and have dinner. my sister would be there with her husband and two kids. i would be there with Mo and my furry kid Juice. easy as pie.

truthfully, i had avoided the Big Family Meeting because it was too damn important. given that i’m 30, unmarried and jewish, such a meeting was incapable of being unimportant. and it was incapable of being easy: Mo is not jewish, nor is he russian — he’s actually a black man whose light skin allows him to regularly pass as white, a disorienting concept for most. he’s also without full-time employment, spending his free time daytrading and writing articles for Archinect. for me -- and probably Juice especially -- having him home often is a welcome treat, but for my parents, he’s probably not the guy they would have picked for me out of a crowd, especially with all the “nice jewish boys” on

plus, my family had grown close to my Last Serious Boyfriend and were as heartbroken as i was when things didn’t work out. during the unraveling of that relationship, my ex even told me, “tell your dad i’m sorry,” a message i relayed to my father who choked up and declared, “it’ll be hard for me to trust the next important man in your life.”

thankfully for him and me, there were plenty of unimportant men to keep me distracted until Mo came along. and while i know he’s important, i’m not sure that he’s “serious” in that one-thing-leads-to-another way that tends to be the hope of jewish parents with unmarried daughters who are 30. i feared that Mo might not be serious enough for the family introduction. his move-in was circumstantial and presumed temporary. we never discussed “our future,” never explored the mystery of “where is this going.” i always figured that our relationship would continue until it began to suck, at which point it would end, just like the relationships i’ve had before.


i woke up early the day of the meeting to begin chewing my cuticles and planning my exit strategy. was that pneumonia i felt coming on? doesn’t my numb left arm signify the onset of a heart attack? no, i probably just slept wrong. Mo gets up and i begin the prep pep talk while he fixes his morning coffee — “my sister’s husband is Patrick. he probably won’t talk to you much but don’t worry about it. my parents’ dog is Chip. he’s small so careful not to step on him.” Mo is barely awake, looking at me askew, but i keep the facts coming, regaling him with details, life stories, russian proprieties he must follow in order to make the right impression. (“you have to drink vodka with my dad.”)

Mo nods, or maybe it was an eye roll. he grabs my hands and squeezes.
“it’s too early?” i ask.
“it’s too much,” he says. “you’re worrying too much. today will be fine.”

i shake him off and keep going all the same, stuffing him like a holiday turkey. more information, warnings on their temperaments. i begin to think aloud: “maybe we should develop a secret language for today, like hand signals to let each other know what’s really happening. are you getting all of this?” phone rings. it’s my Ma confirming the time and asking whether Mo has any dietary preferences.

“i was just telling him all about you guys. you know, preparing him for today,” i say.
“what type of ‘preparing’? you think we’re all monsters or something?”
“no, mom! i’m just telling him everyone’s name and profession, that’s all,” i lied. an argument could easily erupt from here. “let’s have a nice day today, please.”
“ok, fine with me. come by in the afternoon around 5 p.m.,” she instructs.
“what should i bring?”
“your boyfriend and a good attitude.”
“i always have a good attitude, damnit!! Ma?? MA???”

but she had hung up. “damnit, she knows how much i hate it when she hangs up on me!!”
i feel the steam release from my ears, followed by a big exhale. i look at Mo, who’s quietly sitting on the couch, sipping his coffee.
“you know, my family,” i start, “they’re not going to be your ideal family to walk into. hell, they’re not my ideal family to walk into.”
“the craziest people anyone knows are always in their own family,” Mo says. “when i was growing up, the fabric of our couches matched the pattern of our wallpaper. they were both plaid.”


as we approach the front door of my parents’ house, i could feel the flight instinct taking over my body, making all my limbs twitch. for a moment i consider dropping the holiday presents i have in my arms, the bottle of vodka and bouquet of flowers i made Mo buy for my parents, just tossing it all aside and running toward the horizon, but Juice manages to snake her leash around my legs in a way that renders me immobile. i glance down and catch her big brown eyes, wide with encouragement. she had grown to love Mo as much as i did. there’s no reason the rest of my family wouldn’t do the same.

i look over at Mo for added encouragement and sense strain on his handsome face. in my selfish paranoia i had disregarded his feelings. immediately, my thoughts turn to his thoughts and i conclude that our thoughts are identical and still center around me. he must fear, like i fear, that the Big Family Meeting would make me too human, too flawed, too prepossessed of traits i couldn’t overcome. any remaining mystery that shrouded me — the exotic, lovable goddess i had imagined myself being in Mo’s mind — would vanish upon the unearthing of my roots, like cinderella at midnight.

door opens. cries of “hello, happy holidays” bellow from everyone. gifts are unloaded, hugs and introductions all around. my father and Mo stand facing each other, eye to eye, my two big loves, both six feet tall, dark-haired, bearded. the resemblance is undeniable. handshake. hug!
“do you drink vodka?” my pops asks.
“yes. definitely,” Mo replies, scoring points.
“good! hey Meel, i like him already. go help your mother set the table.”

and then, i don’t know. i helped set the table. we sat down, ate, drank, laughed, told stories — same as always, only now with Mo at the table. he fit in nicely, warmed up to everyone. there was no weirdness to sort though, no visibly tense moments. my family never brought up his job situation, and as i sat at the table looking over at my sister’s chinese husband and two biracial kids, i realized how silly i was to worry that Mo’s race would be an issue in my family.

my father seemed to appreciate that, like him, Mo wasn’t fond of cats, and he even found funny Mo’s story on how, during high school, Mo and friends used to record soft porn off the television in my childhood home, taking advantage of my family’s illegal “black box” that received all the cable channels, including the naughty ones. i beamed when the joke went over well, declaring dumbly, and perhaps a bit too loudly, “see, we all have the same sense of humor!!”

even Juice had a grand time, rummaging as she was through the pile of dog toys set aside for my parents’ miniature pinscher, who sat nearby looking forlorn. my sister’s kids were sparkling angels, despite my young nephew’s attempts at joining Mo as he used the restroom; and my parents and i got along splendidly, keeping our respective monster claws under wraps. Mo and i received various gift cards as holiday gifts, and were sent home with warm wishes and tupperware full of leftovers. on the whole, the night was thoroughly anticlimactic, almost unmemorable.

as the night was closing, i managed to steal a few moments with my parents for the debrief, which amounted to “so far, so good. bring him back!” on the ride home, i got the debrief from Mo, which amounted to, “overwhelming, but not bad. i could do it again.”
“‘again,’ really? it wasn’t too hard on you?”
“no, it wasn’t so bad,” Mo says with a smile. “i told you today would be fine.”