I Get Anxious

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy husband says I’m a delicate flower, and while, yeah, that’s true, it’s not all that’s true. I have anxiety. I have PTSD. I have issues.

This is not a case of disease-or-malady-of-the-week, a la celiac wannabees, or whatever Madison Avenue tells us this month is wrong with us (You need oat bran! You need Vitamin E! You need aloe!).

I really, really get anxious. I take a little pill each morning which cuts out the crazy part of anxiety — the part that screams all day long in my ear WE’RE DOOMED. YOU F*CKED UP AGAIN. EVERYONE HATES YOU. DIE DIE DIE. And for this, I am truly grateful to Big Pharma for coming up with a chemical that counteracts the panic in my brain.

There’s no need to panic. But my brain/body panics a lot. Count yourself grateful that you’re not me. Because it is beyond sucky to get into your car, and then be unable to leave the driveway because you suddenly had a vision of yourself hurtling down the highway and crashing headlong into another vehicle, and the impact accordions the front of the car, I am crushed, I can’t breathe, I am being squeezed to death, and blip, I actually, truly feel my soul slip free from this dying body. I felt it. It was real. #truestory that never actually happened.

There’s no need to visualize my daughters’ bodies severed under the rumbling wheels of the kiddie train at the zoo. It’s unnecessary to waste minutes or hours waiting for the earthquake that will flatten the house on top of me. I can feel the roof coming down. I can taste the grit in my teeth. I can see the meteor coming with my name on it. I think these things. I have done so for years.

But usually my anxiety is of a lighter shade of freak: I don’t want to go to a party. I don’t want to be on the freeway for an hour. I don’t want to go out and face the eyes that feel like a thousand needles or the smiles that sometimes seem like bared teeth. I don’t want to have to explain myself. I used to force myself to go, and ended the day feeling exhausted, broken, unable to string words together, my skin erupting in hives and my hands shaking with the palsy of terror.

But I don’t make myself “be good” anymore. I don’t perform because other people might be disappointed. I know how it feels to be kind to myself and how it feels when I’m not.

I didn’t go to an event yesterday that I had wanted to cover, that I’d looked forward to writing about, because when it came time to go, my inner animal said no. It didn’t feel safe or wise. (And it was totally safe — a gathering of women to celebrate other women heroines. Utterly, completely safe as can be.) I took care of my inner fear-bot with books and ice-cold raw cucumbers and pineapple chunks, with a lemon freezer bar and a nice walk around the block. I didn’t die a grisly death and no meteors hit me. I feel better today. I’m writing now, aren’t I?

You know the positive part of this? I write good stories. I make my imaginary stories feel real. I can use this power for good. Most days that’s what happens. But sometimes I drop out because it’s too much. I curl into an armadillo ball and breathe until the baddies go away. (By the way, if you also suffer from anxiety, try tapping for anxiety; it’s pretty amazing. It’s free, it’s drug-free, and you can watch it on the Internet. Plus, it works.)

Don’t take it personally if I don’t show up sometimes. It’s because I can’t. But I’ll show up the next time. Probably.

I am a delicate flower. And it’s OK that you know that about me.

What I’ve learned: Publishing and the march of times

When I was in my twenties and reading voraciously and spewing poetry on the page like a hydrant hit by a drunk driver, I wanted to get published more than I wanted a happy marriage, a suburban house and 2.5 children. In fact, I didn’t have a happy marriage, although we did get that house, and three whole children; my desire to be published outlasted everything but the children, who are grown up and doing very well on their own now; thanks for asking.

I subscribed to Writers Digest and Byline Magazine, and kept a journal and wrote every single day, if I could, if I didn’t have sick babies or sleepless nights, or, you know, life in general, which means I wrote a couple of times a week. Mostly about how tired I was. But I wanted, oh, how I wanted to be a writer. It was the being, not the doing, that I wanted, more than anything. This was before the Internet, and email, and the writing I did consisted of me with a notebook, scrawling verses, and me, with stationery, sending letters. I wanted to be a published writer now, today, not tomorrow, and not, by all that is holy, when I was forty, or fifty, or sixty, with Birkenstocks and a gray ponytail, just getting my first book of crappy poetry published. I wanted precocity. And I wanted it yesterday.

Then we got a computer and a modem, and email.
And we got the Internet.

I made a few email pals via chatrooms and I joined some listserves, and about that time I went into college classes and started working on my Masters’ degree. There were no MFA programs yet. And then, almost overnight, there were MFA programs everywhere. My university switched over from the MA in English with a creative writing concentration to the MFA in (whatever) the semester before I graduated, so I could have paid for another three terms, or just finished up and been done. I finished.

I submitted work, and it was rejected. I went to open mics, where I sat through the horrors of other people’s work, and the horrors of reading my own. I went to writers’ conferences, those soul-sucking, money-sucking ventures where sci-fi poetry dudes in tweed with elbow patches flirted awkwardly, and my goody satchel contained a copy of Writers Digest, an emery board, a couple of free pens and a Visa application (kind of like the first day of college, minus the condom). I sent out work, and some of it was accepted. More and more, as I went on. My rejections were better, and then my acceptances were easier, and then I learned to target my subs, and my ratio increased.

So I was published.

Then I wrote a novel. I sent it out. I sent it out. I sent it out. I sent it out. And I sent it out. I gave up. I got a call, I got some letters, and I sent it out some more, and then I shelved it. I got divorced. I went back to newspaper work to earn a living, and then had the opportunity to start an indie newspaper with some smart people. Within two years, they wanted to expand the publishing business, and to print a novel. I showed mine, and they agreed it was a good start for the company. It was published.

You’ve never heard of it, so you know how that went.

But I was published. Right? And I was working as a writer, and I was writing, so I was being a writer. Right?

Guess how old I was? 40.

And over the next few years, I pushed that novel around, I taught some classes, I found a new project, I spewed out a couple more projects, including indie publishing my women’s history project, and working in a women’s publishing consortium. And this thing called social media popped up on the screen, and indie publishing was no longer a filthy abomination, and I’m still writing every day, and I don’t wear Birkenstocks and my hair is not quite gray yet.

On my self-made book tour for the Doris Diaries last fall, one of the book stores dismissed me, saying, “She’s not Stephen King.” A reviewer dissed the books and the project, because “It’s not like Anne Frank’s diary.” I had readings that went awry and events where the mic or the computer or the slide show didn’t work. I tore out the entire back of my vintage dress just getting out of my chair at a reading in my hometown.

Still no red carpet. I rode in the 4th of July parade last year dressed as Doris. Dorky? Yes. My idea of fame and fortune? Not exactly. But what the hell?

At some point along the way, I realized that I couldn’t be precocious because although back then I had the will, and a lot of the skill, I didn’t have the experiences, the treasure trove of life to explore. I hadn’t have the goods. No material. Somewhere, later, I realized that all of those struggling months and years were my apprenticeship. And I mine that shit on an almost-daily basis now.

About three years ago I stopped using the words “submit,” “acceptance” and “rejection” with regard to my writing work. I stopped giving the power of my worth as a writer to people who might or might not like it. Now I send out my work, and they like it or they don’t. It serves their needs or it does not. My work is good. I wouldn’t have lasted this long in newspaper, which is about as fiery a crucible as you’ll find for a young writer, with deadlines and editors who won’t worry about crushing your little feelings to get the story right. Editors who kicked my ass about word choice, grammar, punctuation and spelling eons ago. Before Spellcheck. Before Autocorrect was a thing.

So here I am. Not as successful as you, and way more successful than you’ll ever be. I’m somewhere in the middle, making a living at it. I’m writing what I want, sending it to people who will probably like it, helping others who ask for advice or “new eyes” on their work. I mentor those who ask for it. I share resources. I support my sister and brother writers. I keep working at it. I might get “there,” wherever the hell that mystical place is, someday. I might even have a gray fricking ponytail.

It doesn’t matter as much, knowing, as I do, that at least I’m on my way.

Notes from the Poor House

Well, it’s a tough scene, but this is the scoop. Mr Husband is out of work on disability while we wait for back surgery, and a layoff shimmers on the horizon after that. We’re moving very quickly to a smaller, cheaper house (apartment, really) and have been packing, sorting and donating carloads of stuff. Cash flow sucks. I’m both trying to earn more as a freelancer while trying to move us single-handedly. So it looks like all that fun stuff on the June Food Stamp Challenge of a year and a half ago will come in handy…

Just thinking about some of the techniques (if they can be termed as such) that we’ve been using in the past couple of weeks to pinch pennies. Til they scream.

1. Use less dishwasher and laundry soap. Use less shampoo. Shampoo less often.
2. Coupons or sales for everything. Paying full price hurts. Physically. Eat everything out of the freezer. Even the weird sh*t. Grocery budget is about $10 a week at the moment.
3.  Use less milk. Add water to the juice. Powdered drink mixes = juice until further notice.

4. Have a calm discussion with son after finding half a banana tossed into the compost bucket. Refrain from killing him. Pat self on back for not killing anyone.

5. Sell books and DVDs so that we can take the boy out for ice cream for his birthday. Since we can’t afford a party or outing other than that, it was what we decided to do. Buying a quart would have been cheaper, but it was literally the only thing we did for his special day, so bite me. Don’t judge.

6. Eat less. I’m not kidding here. Popcorn makes a nice meal. 

7. Don’t throw out old coffee. Reheat, save in thermos, or keep in fridge. Make fresh coffee every other day (less coffee, more water). Use tea bags more than twice. No more than one teabag a day.

8. Make sure to take a snack and water on the road for errands. Working our way through the stock of granola bar flavors that everyone hates (strawberries and cream — yuck) (crumbles? no problem — just pretend it’s trail mix).

9. Enjoy old Halloween and Christmas candy because there isn;t any fresh coming in. 

10. Collect donation receipts from every place possible when donating, for next year’s taxes.

11. Look at everything with an eye for “how much could I get for that?” Put it on craigslist for sale. Lower price after a week. Lower price again. Put it on Freecycle or donate for receipt.

12. Make people pay what they owe instead of being magnanimous. (Daughters are supposed to pay $25 each toward cell phone bill but have slid a lot in the recent past. No more.)

13. Harvest fruit from neighborhood citrus trees. Make interesting juice combinations.

14. Send in all FSA medical receipts, rebates, refunds, etc. possible.

15. Stop donating cash and stop contributing to son’s 529 and my IRA until cash flow returns to normal.

16. Make a lot of something out of nothing. Example: cooked the tops of the broccoli but saved the stems. Making soup tonight with slightly soured milk and broccoli stems. Sounds disgusting until you whirl it in the blender. Then it’s the same as you’d get out of a can. But better. Because there will be no insects or thumbtacks in it.

17. Bake interesting treats — use shortening instead of butter (crisper texture), lots of walnuts (which we have in abundance for some reason), mixture of chocolate chips of various flavors and sizes. Delicious! Pumpkin pancakes and muffins are next — with walnuts, of course.

18. Buy margarine instead of butter. I know. Kinda gross. Too bad.

19. Think about drinking coffee black. This is where we get a little desperate. Might have to put kids into the poorhouse instead of forego my half and half.

I can’t afford #20, so I’ll stop here. Watch this space for more adventures from the edge of doom!

A Day of Grace (Part II)

I’ll be as nice as I can here, but the fact is I’m in such a foul mood. Really super-cranky. Not eating, or eating very little, all day will do that. I’ve also had a day of ups and downs emotionally. I find that by now, 6 p.m., almost dinner time, I am at the end of my rope, with no tolerance for nonsense; I am not concentrating well (I can’t think of the right word here, for example, so I’m just rewriting the sentence, and that keeps happening, and is frustrating as hell).

Reader’s Digest version: hunger not good. Everything that Tony the Tiger told you about eating a healthy breakfast is true. Concentration? Whack. Temper? Bad. Ability to feel hopeful? Limited. Self-esteem? Toilet-bowl. Kindness and compassion? $%&&**(*!!##!!  you.

I was cranky that the cats didn’t like their breakfast. I was annoyed that the bread was stale enough to feed the chickens. I had to pick up dirty dishes that my daughter left out and I wanted to kill her. The sound of my Boy whistling and prattling made me homicidal. And the disappointment when I discovered that he had drunk the last wee drops of milk, after I’d been planning to have milk in my tea (waiting hours, actually), almost brought me to tears. A letter in the mail about a large expense pushed me to a state of despair. And the devils in my head were relentless — one jabbing me and saying you’re cheating, you’re doing it wrong, everyone will know, and the other tempting me: you could just go eat  a sandwich, a bowl of ice cream, a frozen pizza, and no one would even suspect. You can write your way around it.

It seemed like a cruel joke that the only free coupons I could find were for hot sauce, toilet paper and a free movie. A friend with whom I barter left two bottles of homemade wine on my porch and I thought, “Well, G*d clearly wants me to drink these right now.” The free Taco Bell coupons I had in the house must have vanished up a teenager’s sleeve, and the ones in Patrick’s possession were tortuously out of reach — locked in his car in front of the house, with the keys in his pocket 25 miles away. Would it be worth it to jimmy the car door for a free Fruitista Freeze, margarita flavor? No. It would not.

I went out to feed my chickens about two hours late — concentration was already wonky by 10 a.m. That’s when I found out my garden had flourished overnight. A sunflower is in bloom, the tomatoes are suddenly hanging in heavy clusters like red-orange grapes, the green bean bushes have exploded, and zucchini plants are sporting phallic fruit. If I wanted to, I could have a vegetarian feast — which threw me into a tizz because that’s not how it was supposed to work, how could I experience being hungry if I wasn’t actually hungry, and the cycle of negative inner voices just chewed me down for a couple more hours. I ended up steaming a handful of beans, half a zucchini and some baby beets, totalling about 2 cups of steamed veggies. It was both satisfying and anxiety-producing, as the raw emotions ran loose, and the hunger pain went away for — I kid you not — about 15 minutes.

Did I mention that I have a project due tomorrow? That I still have a buttload of reading to do today to finish this on time? That I’ve already been paid for that job and this damned thing needs a lot of TLC? My ability to focus on the editing was pathetic, and finally I was so cranky that I took a swig of the homemade apple wine as a soporific and took a 3-hour nap. I awoke with a nap-hangover, a bad attitude and a pain in my stomach that is unpleasant, to say the least. Let me tell you, just now, it’s about time to make that pot of Top Ramen that Mr. Husband and I are going to share, and I don’t know whether to run off and eat the whole thing alone in the closet, give it to him and drink more wine instead, or throw myself in front of a train.

By the way, he had a lunch meeting at work, so had one good meal today. Since free food at public events was on the OK list today, I was going to go to this library ribbon-cutting and raid the cookie table. I found myself unwilling and unable to go, beset by feelings of exposure, greed vs. shame, disgust, annoyance and, frankly, a lassitude about getting dressed and leaving the house, when I could stay home and nurse my cup of milkless-tea and be a cranky bitch without talking to anyone.

So there, in a nutshell, is what hunger and food insecurity can do. It messes with your head, foils your ability to concentrate or make logical decisions, stamps out hope and pleasure, fans the flames of self-doubt and replaces it with apathy, which goes hand-in-hand with exhaustion, since you don’t have the fuel to get out the door. Tempers rise, alcohol and cigarettes beckon, and the call to fatty, sugary foods seduces you from the television, radio and every other media source. You stop caring about what other people want or need, while simultaneously absorbing shame and self-doubt since you can’t measure up to the rest of the world. Something to chew on tonight.

I’m done for the day — thanks for reading, but I’m off to slurp down my Top Ramen and a glass of wine.

BBQ and the Beast

Did you ever see such a happy hostess? No? I didn’t think so. Speaking to you live from Party HQ, where the Father’s Day BBQ adventure is winding down. Well, it’s done, actually. All guests gone, all dishes washed, and all food accounted for. Well, there I am in my pink flamingo apron, clutching my bar stool for dear life as I wonder if there will be enough food or too much, and if people will come, chat, behave, and then leave before bedtime.

The answer to all of the above was, I’m glad to report, a resounding yes. Yes, folks came, had fun and left, and there was enough food, and also too much. People came bearing gifts, and duplicates. For example, we ended up with a lot of watermelon, tortilla chips and 3-bean salad. Really, we all got the 3-bean memo, because 3, if not 4 people, made a 3-bean salad (including me).
Here’s Annie, cooking the chicken and burgers. All the food tasted good, and there were also leftovers. My challenge this week will include how to incorporate cooked hamburgers, cooked chicken and a hell of a lot of 3-bean salad into the rotation — without hitting the grocery store at all. Tonight, we are having a cold salad bar, with several offerings, while they are still crisp and fresh.
I took a little inventory this morning, and this is how the food scene played out: No one ate hot dogs, so those went back into the freezer. So did most of the buns. I have a partial bag of hot dog buns out and one bag of hamburger buns, which I will use as sandwich bread and toast this week. I just don’t like how buns defrost. They seem stale no matter what we do (toasted or not). So I’d like to eat up some of them, and freeze the rest anyway. We ended up with a half a watermelon, two baskets of homegrown raspberries (gift from my mom and her garden), an extra bag of tortilla chips, some leftover beers, and a smidgen of a bottle of Rock Wall wine that sat outside all night and part of the sunny morning until I rescued it — I’ll taste it later, and if it’s not funky, it will go into a soup or sauce this week. Also on the score list: my mom donated a bag of flax seed, which will go into our oatmeal and baked goods. Plus, there was a half a bag of chow mien noodles that will end up in someone’s salad this week or next.
Hungry? Have a party…
Look at that face! How could you not just *love* him! That’s Mr. Husband showing off his fully decorated tiki bar (note by the clock that it’s always 5:00 at the tiki bar). On that bar is a gallon jar of sun tea with gleaned lemons that quenched the thirst of children and non-drinkers of boat drinks. We also used tiki beverage and serve-ware, silverware and some plates, although the paper plates that were used are in the compost already. All the recycling was gathered up to be sorted later in the week. Green and frugal. It’s the politically correct way to say cheap! (Well, it is. But I’m OK with that.)
The Key lime pie, requested as a Father’s Day treat, was super. It had called for 5 egg yolks, and trying to be mindful of using all the food we have on hand, I saved 5 egg yolks in a tupperware. Two egg whites went into the cookie dough that I made (but haven’t yet baked), and the other three egg whites are going to be my breakfast tomorrow. I also used limes for Key lime pie; I squeezed about half the limes, and then cut some for garnish. The rest of the limes were cut up for drink garnishes. The gleaned lemons we got a week or so back were still on hand. I cut those up and used them for drink garnishes, including in the 3 containers of lemonade I made and the gallon of sun tea. Any leftover lemons and limes (there are some left) will end up in tea or juice sometime this week. And that’s about all there is to know about the Father’s Day fiesta on food stamps.
Now, to keep from wasting all that food…stay tuned!
Food as metaphor
It’s often been said that food is a way to express love. I experienced food as love today. There was a slight misunderstanding about where the Boy was supposed to be. He was at a friend’s house overnight, didn’t call when he was supposed to, made plans with an unidentified friend without asking, and then left the overnight friend’s house with a phone that was not fully charged. In the space of about 10 minutes I had one of those little parental heart attacks where you don’t know where your kid is and because of the reliance on technology that is also often unreliable, he was unreachable. Not cool. I was able to get a hold of him pretty quickly, but in no man’s land for a few minutes there, I was freaking out.
When I got him on the phone, I sent him back to the original plan, and jumped in the car. (I try to drive just two days a week — but when your kid’s in trouble, or needs you — out goes the rule.) I kind of jumped on his case on the phone, and on the way over to pick him up, felt a little guilty and that perhaps I had worried for nothing. When I picked him up and all was explained, it seemed a good time for a treat to make amends. I hadn’t had lunch yet, since I had a morning meeting and then cleanup of the backyard disaster. The Boy is always hungry these days. At first I fantasized about Taco Bell (my bete noir), then went to the dollar menu at McDonald’s, since I could get him an item or two. By then, I was going to skip feeding myself til we got home.

To the parents who are wagging their hoary organic heads at me, get over yourself. When a 12 year old boy needs comfort, a sun-baked sprouted quinoa patty is not going to help. Some chicken nuggets might. I know my Boy, and what makes him happy. The drive-through at McDonald’s was the way we chose to cement our friendship again. Note that the Dollar Menu sucks, so we ended up with an appropriately named Happy Meal instead. $3.39 for a bagful of grease, unhappy cow and petroleum byproducts, but emotionally, we survived the afternoon encounter and have moved on. It wasn’t a healthy choice, but one meal won’t sink the boat, and I will argue that an occasional indulgence from parents — especially step-parents, who are truly neither fish nor fowl, if you can follow the extended metaphor — will not kill the child. Nor the budget.

Reminder again that food stamps do not buy fast food. The only thing that food stamps and fast food have in common is the letter F. And the word food, actually. Technically, his meal did not “come out” of the food stamp budget I’m using. In the grand scheme of things, I suspect that most parents (even those on food stamps! who, by the way, are not bad parents because they are using government help to feed those kids) occasionally buy a special food treat when the situation calls for it. Comments? Chime in below.
In other metaphorical use, in recent weeks, I’ve noticed food as politics in all of the rancor about who’s using “our tax dollars” to buy food — or cigarettes and beer — or drugs. (More on this in another post.) I’ve noticed food as snobbery, in the elitist “slow food” movement, whose aim seems to be lording it over the pathetic fools who take their poor children to McDonald’s for a treat. Food is comfort, as we all know, a substitute for therapy, friendship, relationship, sex, companionship, love. Food is fun — ever try to catch popcorn in your mouth? Paint your lips with a red jellybean? Put an orange slice in your mouth and pretend you have orange teeth? Put olives on your fingers? Yeah. Food is fun.
But it’s also power: Monsanto owns the rights to huge amounts of genetically modified seeds and requires that farmers buy said seeds each year, instead of allowing the farmer to keep his/her own genetically viable seeds to use again the next year. The soy industry gives a lot of money to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) each year to help promote the consumption of soy (another overabundant product in this country, no better for you than corn). Vegetarians and vegans, did you know that? Do you know how much soy you can safely eat before you men begin to grow breasts and feel the estrogen surge? And the corn lobby is huge and pervasive. Recognize that corn, corn fillers, and corn sweeteners are in EVERYTHING. Recognize that the food stamp program does not even exist to feed hungry people, but to help FARMERS get rid of excess products. That’s why the USDA runs it, not the social services. Do a little research. Open your eyes to what you are eating and how it got to your plate. Just because you see an ad in Martha Stewart or Oprah or Esquire or Spin does not make it cool. Just because some “celebrity” wrote a book about it does not equate to your own research. All it takes is a minute on Google to get started.
Most of all, what food is to every person on this planet — security. It’s survival. It is the only way we can live. And it is flat-out wrong for some people to have more and some people to have little or none. Come to your senses, obese, diabetic Americans. Put your fork down and wake up. Hunger exists. It hides its face, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t here.
Sunday Menu
Breakfast: Coffee. Patrick: toast and peanut butter. Julia: oatmeal.
Snack: Julia: yogurt, banana.
BBQ (1 to 9 p.m.): various barbecued meats, salads, watermelon, iced tea, lemonade, wine, beer, chocolate cheesecake, Key lime pie, toasted marshmallows.
Monday Menu
Breakfast: Patrick: oatmeal, hard boiled egg, grapefruit. Julia: early meeting (coffee, $3.65, shared sweet roll); Simone: breakfast bar.
Snack: Julia: banana
Lunch: Austin: Happy Meal ($3.30); Julia: cereal and milk, banana; Patrick/Simone: leftover lettuce, tomato, Chinese chicken salad. Ana: Hot Pocket?
Dinner: Salad smorgasbord! Three kinds of 3-bean salad, Tuscan tomato salad, marinated veggies, watermelon, bread.